The hound is no longer young, and his hips creak and grind like the spars of an abandoned ship on mornings like this. Yet as it pushes its still muscular frame into a run it feels a little of its past vitality return.
Heading down the dirt slope through the quickening village, it avoids the boardwalks where it can and scrabbles across them with great clawed feet where it cannot.
Now, with purpose, loping past a pair of young women burdened with water-pails, then leaping over an abandoned, yet still smoking camp fire. Shoving its way past children and knocking into the early morning inhabitants; barking all the while as if to sound an alarm.
The animal seems to draw the eyes, cries and pointed fingers of the entire waking village, until finally, with nowhere left to run, it reaches the estuary shore and begins to whine and pace, stepping in and out of the water as if unable to contain itself, as if able to smell something coming in under the mist with the morning tide.
For the past few days, by the edge of the river and on the heath-land close to the low walled border of the village, a tented shanty town has been developing. A group of men, denizens of the various small encampments welcome a pair of new arrivals, a father and son who have arrived by land from the south in two covered wagons.
Smoke drifts across the ground from fires both in and outside of the other waking households. While below, by the waters edge, a dozen or so small boats are moored by several rough wooden jetties that stretch into the lapping water.
Three larger ships have been dragged onto the shingle beach, warships, long-ships, dragon-ships, their serpent headed prows stowed away so as not to offend the local spirits of river and shoreline. One of the three, still with its striped awnings pulled over its midsection has a light within, still showing signs of habitation.
Close by a group of children playing by the waters edge stop mid game, one of them points out the dog to his grandfather who leans on his staff gossiping with the washerwomen at the shoreline. Turning the old man nods and whispers to another young lad by his side, who runs back along the path taken by the frantic hound, away and up the slope he runs, toward a large house built upon the higher ground that lay a little way from the shore.
The house, in truth a meeting hall as much as a living space, dominates the settlement of Thingsalla, a settlement which stretches from the brow of a long low hillside in the east and down toward the edge of the wide river.
As the boy reaches the great longhouse a large heavy cloaked man checks his pace. The man, the shorter of two guards posted before the door to the house is armed with a spjot, a tall spear of ash, tipped with a broad leafed blade. Shifting the weapon skilfully into the path of the youngster his cloak moves aside revealing a coat of mail and a sword hanging from a sheath slung across his broad chest. The boy points back to the old man by the water and with his assailant distracted, ducks beneath the spear of the disgruntled looking guard, disappearing inside.
Moments later the boy reappears from the doorway of the great hall, a huge, scarred and grey bearded man at his side whose mere presence causes the guards to straighten.
Hakon looks toward the river as the old man gestures to the dog with his staff, then shouts.
“The animal smells them… they’re coming!”
“And not before time.” the Jarl mumbles under his breath.
Then giving the young boy a hearty smack on the shoulder, his voice booming, shouts.
“Send the word lads! Tovi and Bryn are down river! Prepare the quayside, we must celebrate and honour our friends! TOVI AND BRYN ARE RETURNED TO US!
With that he strides back into his house.
The old man gestures excitedly to the children who run off in all directions echoing the cry of their chief.
“TOVI AND BRYN… TOVI AND BRYN ARE COMING!”.