Bastard Arthas departs, giving command of the warband to Rothnar the Bear-cultist, another NPC. He assigns Egil Skallagrimsson and his hero band (the PCs) to the warband of Prince Alfas of Vinland (basically Denmark).
The hero-band is summoned before High King of White Hall.
Lecture Mode: The pseudo barbarians have many tribal kings. The Bastard Arthas is the son of the Varmandi tribe's King, who is also the King of the PCs. There are three High Kings, who rule what are essentially federations. Although currently surving Sigurs, High King of White Hall the PCs in theory serve Ingold, High King of Dragon Rock.
One Sigurd's kings refuses to burn his boats. Now the Empire are approaching very fast, and shockingly, during the winter.
The Sea of Storms (Bay of Biscay and the North Sea ... no England, no English Channel) prevents the Imperial fleet from approaching from Zingara (Iberia/Spain). However if the Imperial forces can seize the boats of the coastal tribes they could endanger White Hall.
The High King needs small groups, like the PCs, to infiltrate these villages and destroy boats. The men have all been called to the High King's muster, so the villages should largely be undefended. And at the end of the day, the characters are raiders. It's what they do.
The High King asks that as little damage to the villages/villagers is done as possible. They are still his people, after all.
The group prepares and departs. But strangely for the players, they don't plan. They have no contingencies.
The night approach to the village is spoiled by a boy and his goats, a herder on a long and lonely vigil. this was the first "distasteful moral choice" and the group lets him live. He flees, and two of the players "chase" him, more to distract the villagers than to harm the boy. The other three slip along the stoney strand and start trying to stave in boards and set fire to the village's boats.
Soon they are joined by the two who chased the boy. They hadn't really planned to draw away the villagers, so they join with the rest of the hero band and aid in the destruction of vessels. The group is surprised by a small party of Imperial Scouts, southern Peltasts in dark clothes, who were here to secure vessels. The conflict is short and bloody.
The delay, and the noise, has given the villagers time to organize. A party of just over a score of women and youths, with a couple old men, approach the beach armoured only with shields, holding javelins and spears. They are led by the village's Law Thane, a man who is quite probably a wizard.
The band doesn't negotiate, Thorvald the Storm Priest unleashed his wind magics, and it is go time.
What follows is a confusing and deadly melee. Two of the band refuse to fight innocents, two charge up the beach, and the Storm Priest calls down blasts of wind and bolts of lightning.
The villagers are not defenseless, however. Two Earth Priestesses cause the group some difficulty, and the Law Thane, who spends most of the combat stunned, manages to get in a couple big couonter-spells.
A lucky cast of a javelin cripples Egil's left arm. He bulls through the pain and engages. It is not Egil who draws first blood, but the first mortality it his.
The villagers are starting to break, under the rarely lethal but very debiliating wind attacks of the Storm Priest. However a slain woman lies on the beach. The group know this is bad, but they've never seen a woman slain defending her home, they know the Earth goddess will be angered, but they don't know how.
The woman rises. Her clothes have sloughed off, she is now painted in sworls of red madder-dyed clay. In her hand is a bone-hafted stone axe. A Red Avenger! A corpse possessed by the Earth Goddesses mad sister, a creature of blood and earth. With one chop she fells Egil. He was sorely wounded when his arm was broken, now he lies bleeding and unconcious as she readies her weapon for the final avenging stroke.
Thorvald, his brother, prepares to blast her with his magic. He is shocked to find that the Storm God will not strike down a servant of His Earth Wife, his magic will not respond.
Hallgrim, Egil's boon companion, and a secret priest of a dark forest presence, one that also treasure the power of earth, and of blood, attacks the Red Avenger. The Player, Rob, made two perfect rolls. A mortal critical destroyed the skull of the Red Avenger, and again the woman drops lifeless to the stony beach.
Healed by Hallgrim's bloody magic Egil and his band tumble into the last boat and put to sea.
Egil and Ragnar's hands are died crimson, and no washing will remove this stain. They have slain women of their faith, they are marked as outcaste.
the return to White Hall is done in stealth. The two outcastes are spirited to the temple of the Storm God for atonement. He, in turn, directs them the the temple of the Earth Goddess.
The two of them are offered a choice of atonements. Both chose to never strike a blow of any kind against a woman until the end of their days, knowing that while they walk upon the earth this geas will haunt them.
There were many choices. An approach by stealth. Negotiation, or even intimidation. I was surprised that the Storm Priest Thorvald "went to guns" so soon. Aaron, the player, is given to speaches. The results of this raid almost destroyed the group. Ole/Bill and Ragnar/Chris refused to get involved, Chris was dtragged into the conflict in self-defense.
The encounter shook up the "we are the party and we are right" mentality. There were some strong words shared over coffee. Some "never agains" were spoken.
And the Imperial Army is just days away, marching through the snow as inexorable as time.