1. Winning the Battle, Losing the War

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Like most farmholds in Akiniwazi, the little collection of families in Aattaettirstrond was sitting down to eat their supper. Bountiful crops rustled lightly in the night breeze off the lake, softened by the thin screen of trees to their south. Crickets sang the lullaby of evening, with the occasional cry of a killdeer leading a predator away from her nest. The seagulls and crows no longer argued in the fields as they looked for easy meals. Cats prowled protecting the farmhold's homes and storehouses from vermin.

The air was thick with delicious smoke from the meals over their hearths. The smell of goat and lamb stews with dense barley cakes and dark rye breads baked over the fire. Sporadic laughter could be heard drifting between the longhouses from the families inside as the farmholders sat around their hearths telling sagas, singing songs, or smoking and talking about what tomorrow might bring. It was a good time to be alive. The year was in her prime and promised an excellent harvest.

"Reimar!" Anton barked at his son. His hand shooting out a split second too late to prevent the stringy boy from tripping over the buckets of water at his feet. The harsh exclamation made Reimar flinch, sending him sprawling over the two buckets wetting the hard packed dirt floor. Anton let out a curse as the spill washed around the hearth and out the door. Reimar looked up at his father, more afraid than hurt. His eyes already starting to burn with tears.

"You better not start," Bjorn, the eldest brother, taunted.

"Shut up," Anton snapped back at his gloating firstborn. Little Katrin, his youngest, covered up her face by cuddling her doll as her father prepared to let loose an angry outburst, or worse. Erik, his second oldest, watched silently with his mouth full of stew, forgetting to chew while watching the eruption. Anton's eyes, hot with exasperation, turned back to Reimar. His wife, Anette, irritated with her clumsy youngest son, crossed her arms in disappointment at her husband's quick temper.

"Anton, not now." When will he ever learn to look where he is going, she wondered.

"You coddle him too much," he said turning to her. Reimar held still, clenching his teeth while keeping silent and tear free.

"This boy is a milksop thanks to your constant doting."

"He is ten. You can have him when he turns thirteen. Till then, he is mine. Look at Bjorn and Erik. They turned out just fine, and I treated them the same." This was an old argument. Anton seemed to believe all boys should go from babies straight to adulthood. An attitude that drove his wife to frustration. She swiped an errant lock of dark blond hair back under her coif with her uncommon grace.

"You are off in the fields or the pinery all day hunting and logging. It is my job to make sure that you have boys ready to become men when their time comes." Anette would not allow her husband to denigrate her child-rearing skills. He may be the head of the family but she ruled the house and the children and would brook no criticism of it. Redirecting his emotions, Anton tore off another chunk of cooling bread from the iron rack and scooped another big ladle of stew then sat back down on his chair. Anette leveled her cool blue eyes on her youngest boy.

"Go get some more water," she said.

"Jah, Ma," Reimar said. Taking the two buckets, he awkwardly let himself out the door of their longhouse.

Torvald Skrott'e, their big orange cat sat there proudly, with a dead rat in its mouth, expecting a reward. Torvald complained with a meow muffled by the body of his prize.

"Go away, cat," Reimar said. "You are not getting any people food tonight. Papa is mad, so eat what you caught." The cat gave an insulted snort through his nose, and with a rude flick of his tail and sauntered away as only an aggrieved cat could.

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