Mirkov just bowed his head, slightly, getting to his feet as well. “We’re all brothers and sisters serving under Odin.”
Gunnarr nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps that’s what surprises me,” he said. “I did not know any vargs served Odin… Today is full of surprises, it seems.”
“Indeed,” Ridgeback said, but that was all.
"Right. She's back at Endibraut" Ærik replied. "Uh... When we get there, you should probably stay out of sight while I go in and get her. She wants you alive, but some of the other patrons might not be so understanding."
“Ridgeback and I are in a similar predicament. We’ll keep you company while that happens, Gunnarr.” He added, bowing his head, slightly.
“Very well,” said the berserker. “I shall wait with the vargs.” He glanced at them and added sincerely, “I’d be honored to.”
The group then set back in the direction of Endibraut, with the assorted would-be monsters in tow.
"Glad ya liked them apples," Nulgus breathed jovially to Gunnarr as they went. "Maybe next time Ah venture south Ah'll bring a whole lot more back with meh, makin' sure Ah've got extra fer ya."
Gunnarr offered him a toothy smile and replied, “They were very good. Perhaps I underestimated the Empire’s cooking. Thank you, master dwarf.”
The group soon returned to Endibraut, but they left Gunnarr waiting with Mirkov and Ridgeback a ways away from the gates, out of sight of the guards. When they returned to the hall itself, they found it full of life and music. Joergen still sat in his throne, surrounded by men listening to his tales and women halfway listening while staring at his muscles.
The only person not enjoying herself was Grimhild. She sat in a corner, dark and brooding, the fanged cowl of her wolf cloak shadowing her face. When Ærik, Nulgus, and the others reentered the hall, however, she got to her feet and strode over to them, her hands devoid of any sign of a tankard and her face devoid of any sign of drinking or revelry.
“Did you find him?” she asked tersely.
Ærik, Nulgus, and Katherine led her back outside the hall. Along the way, they saw other Northmen wearing various animal skins break off from what they were doing to join them. None of them said a word.
They soon rejoined Mirkov, Ridgeback, and Gunnarr. The assembled handful of berserkers, led by Grimhild, stopped and watched him in silence. Gunnarr did not balk under their gazes, getting to his feet and silently enduring their judgment.
Only there was no judging. Not a single one of the berserkers regarded him with hatred or disgust.
“Gunnarr,” said Grimhild, and for once they saw her smile.
Gunnarr smiled as well. “Grimhild,” he said.
“You were a great warrior, my friend, and so you shall be again. Odin does not forsake his followers, even those who lose themselves. Tell me, do you still want to fight in his name?”
“As I always have.”
The berserkers parted as another man made his way through their ranks. He wore no animal skin – wolf, bear, raven, ram, or anything else – and he had a dark line of deep green paint across his eyes.
Of all the berserkers, even as impressive as they were, this man topped them all. Tall, broad-shouldered, his body rippling with large and well-toned muscles, this man carried himself with an enigmatic kind of humility. He had shoulder-length, golden blonde hair and a matching beard, thick but well-trimmed close his face. A pair of green eyes peered out from his chiseled and handsome face, and he was clad in a suit of form-fitting, sleeveless leather, his strong body painted here and there. He carried an axe on his belt and a round shield on his back – the shield rim riddled with teeth marks.
The man offered a smile as he stood alongside Grimhild, and Grimhild said, “Tell me, Gunnarr, what do you know of the Accursed?”
Gunnarr blinked in surprise. “I heard they were a myth,” he said simply. “Things that berserkers sometimes whispered to each other to make themselves feel better.”
The blonde, bearded man gave a hearty laugh. “They are not, my friend,” he said in a powerful voice. He stepped forward and offered a strong hand to the verrbjorn. “I am Nick Wolfe, former berserker and now pack leader of the Accursed. Grimhild sent a raven to me to tell me that someone needed my help… and now I see why.”
Gunnarr quickly took Nick’s hand and shook it. Everyone could tell the bear-man’s grip was probably crushing, yet Nick didn’t even flinch.
“Pack leader? Are you a lycanthrope?”
Nick didn’t even balk. “I am,” he replied. “I was once like you, but the rage took the best of me. Now only the gods know what I’ve truly become, but I follow Odin’s will, and he has yet to lead me astray.”
Nick Wolfe then turned his attention to Ærik, Katherine, Mirkov, Nulgus, and the others. “I thank you all for what you’ve done here today. Few would’ve seen fit to spare Gunnarr’s life, particularly given his form.” His gaze lingered on the pair of vargs, and Nick inclined his head briefly in respect. “I’m honored to be in your presence, Wolves of Odin.”
Ridgeback, surprisingly, inclined his head as well. “Likewise,” he said, but again, that was all.
Nick went on, “Since I see not all of you would be accepted at Endibraut for the night, I have an offer. You clearly aren’t too alarmed by Gunnarr’s form, and you’re willing to work with vargs… my pack and I have an encampment not far from here, on the edge of the Warm Wood, near some hot-springs. You’re all very welcome to stay there until you gather your bearings and decide where your next destination lies.” He gave a shrug. “We don’t ask for gold, simply that you don’t judge anyone by their appearance… and you’ll find a variety of appearances indeed among the Accursed. We are what most Men would consider ‘monsters,’ but none of us are monsters at heart. And I can assure you that the werewolves, including myself, will not harm you. You’ll find only hospitality, good food, and good music in or company. What say you?”