The gate guards were suspicious at first, but at last they seemed satisfied that they were a Varisian Caravan from the South: a fact that was patently obvious in any case. Ailukka, Ragnar and Kelda did most of the talking, and eventually they were allowed to enter.
Dinald for one was glad to enter- he didn’t like this place. The Nolands were bleak and inhospitable- a range of downs and broken crags, with the occasional ancient ruin perched like broken teeth on rotted gums, while further east a tall mountain range reared ominously in the distance. Much of the time it was covered in mist anyway.
The Steading wasn’t much to look at he noted- a longhouse in the centre of the village, surrounded by a couple of dozen workshops and lesser dwellings. More importantly to him was the fact that it was surrounded by a stone wall, some seven or eight feet high: not a great defence perhaps but certainly better than nothing, especially with the four foot ditch dug around the outside perimeter.
He shuddered at the tales the Northerners had told of cannibal bandits. He noticed that a lower stone rampart ran along the inner edge of the wall, allowing the defenders to fight from some cover. These people certainly lived in expectation of danger, and he noticed that spears and shields were stacked in small shelters at strategic places around the perimeter. The gate guards had been fairly well armed with large shields and reinforced leather armour.
As they pulled the wagons in they were met by a middle aged man, flanked by a couple of armed warriors. The man was fairly tall, and had an Ulfen longsword at his side. Behind them a couple of dozen locals marched in as the autumn dusk descended: Ailukka had explained to him that the Steading served a small Tin Mine in one of the fells nearby. Tin and sheep were what enabled this small desmesne to eke a living from the harsh landscape-both commodities which were in demand in the markets of Jol, a day or so to the north.
The man squinted as he saw Ailukka, Clad as usual in her distinctive greys and furs. She held up one palm and spoke to him.
“Vel mødt master Alfric. Vi mødes en gang mere og vi anmode om gæstfrihed af din steading for en aften.” she called in her clear voice, which had a more melodious quality speaking the rich Ulfen tongue, rather than in her broken Taldorian.
“Vi mødes igen ung dame. Du er meget velkommen til lille gæstfrihed vi kan tilbyde. Vel mødt”,the man replied, and Ailukka turned to face the others.
“’Dis iss Thane Alfric, master of Steading of Stanbein.” she explained. “I pass through many months when i go sout’. He says welcome to us, Yes?”.
The caravan’s wagons were directed to an open area in one corner of the steading, and the interest of the women folk and their questions regarding the goods they were carrying, indicated that they might have to do a little trading the following morning, for politeness sake if for no other reason.
As camp was being set up and water drawn from the well, Ailukka came over from where she had been speaking with one of Alfric’s Housecarls.
“‘Der iss feast this evening, and T’ane Alfic he invites us to the feast.” she explained. “It wutt be appropriate for the leader of the caravan to offer some gift or present to de’ T’ane. Not as payment, but as a token.” Here she looked across at Sandru.
Dinald for one was glad of the break in their dreary journey, and the change of pace the evening would bring. He looked around the steading; everywhere there were reminders of the mining existence upon which this small community depended for its existence. The chieftain’s hall was of a reasonable size, and even now women folk were assembling tables and making the preparations for the evening feast. While he did not observe many signs of great opulence, it was clear at least that these people managed to feed themselves adequately.