As their boat neared the shore, Ulaf gazed at the dark forest just a few paces inland. Having just attained his status as chief of the war-band, he was not yet as confident as he was sure he one day would be. Especially seeing as how he was leading a large group of his tribes’ best warriors to help a traditional enemy.
What was it they said, the enemy of my enemy is my friend? He was not completely sold on that idea, but if the reports of the Chauci were to be believed this great foe was the worst terror to ever appear. Ulaf and the other war leaders had listened to the envoy’s tales of whole tribes slaughtered, their men butchered and women and children sold into slavery in the direction of the sunrise.
They had been given promises of peace, which in all truth was only worth the empty air the words spun through, but the possibility of these Roman terrors subduing the southern tribesman and then turning their attention across the north seas to their homelands had roused the men to action.
The call had went out for the war-bands to assemble. Fish had been smoked or salted, water stored in barrels and blades sharpened. The men of the north would go to the aid of their southern neighbors.
“So here we are,” Ulaf roared to his men on the beach. “We have heard of the threat of these Romans. We have weighed the balance and decided to come fight. Not out of fear or the promise of plunder, but out of the noble desire to protect our homes and our families.”
Ulaf snatched his spear from where it was tied across his back and jabbed it into the sky, emphasizing each word with the blade.
“We will stop this scum. We will destroy them. We will make sure they never look this way again. And we will return to our homes, safe in the knowledge that our children will be safe.”
“Not all of us will return, but what better way to join our father Wodin than carried by the Valkyr to his side? Men are not made to cower in fear, but to go out to the enemy and if he die, die with a blade in his hand.”
“We are hardened by our winters and by our struggle to live. Our people are the strongest of all. We have never been subdued, never enslaved. So, let’s go show these southern goat humpers how real men conduct warfare.”
The answering roar crashed off of the thick trees and scattered birds from their nests.
* * * * *
Arminius welcomed Ulaf into his tent. Actually, tent did not do it justice. It was a tent in that it had a canvas roof, but the walls were of packed sod and logs. A fireplace crackled at one end, with a long table half covered by papers and a large map taking up the center of the room. A bedroll was adjacent to the fireplace.
Arminius himself was a striking figure. Tall and muscular, with blond hair and striking green eyes, he was surely beloved by the women. But most arresting to Ulaf was the intelligence that caused the southern leader’e eyes to sparkle.
As Arminius spoke, Ulaf also noted flashes of rage that crossed the man’s face as he recalled the unspeakable acts taken against his people.
“I was assigned to Varus because I had served the Romans faithfully since my youth. What other choice did I have? And, besides, I was fighting against people other than my own. I thought what I was doing could benefit us down the road, but I should have known better.”
“Rome’s appetite for conquest is insatiable. They have not suffered a setback in generations, so they believe it is their destiny to subdue all before them. It was only a matter of time before they attacked my home.”
Arminius reached out and gripped Ulaf’s shoulders, “Do not for a moment think that your people are safe. If we are defeated here, Rome will in time grasp for your lands. The sea is no defense for them. They have conquered lands across the sea before. In Africa and Brittania. They will come for the north lands.”
He released Ulaf’s shoulders and strode to the long table in the center of the tent. He picked up a scabbard and blade and turned to Ulaf, holding out the handle to the northman.
“I need your men. I need their savagery and unbreakable will. In return I offer you the best of my weapons and equipment. I also offer you security from attack by all under my control. This can mark the beginning of a new age between our peoples. An age of peace and security. Together, none can conquer us. We will be free.”
Ulaf’s gaze moved from the blade to the man. He stared into Arminius’ eyes for a drawn-out moment, then reached out and accepted the blade.
“I haven’t come all this way to turn back now, Arminius. We will fight. As for afterwards, well, what happens happens.”
Grinning the two men embraced, then Ulaf left the tent. It was time to prepare.