Winter, 871 A.D., The North Sea:
Einar's beard was solid from the frozen ocean air. The whole world was gray and white around him and his ship, the snowing blinding, deafening and numbing. The longship lurched slowly forward, as if it was powered by the sheer will of the vikings at the oars.
Einar stood at the head of the ship, squinting into the cold. His massive red beard covered in white, as was his thick mane that emerged from under his horned helmet. His heavy brow cast a shadow over his eyes, which were scrunched up in a futile attempt to see. The wind howled and his cheeks and nose were red from the cold. He wore a brown fur coat that rose up to the top of his head, and had tight leather and fur pants. From his belt hung a frighteningly large war-hammer, and in his hand was a massive wooden staff with a eagle's head carved meticulously into the top.
The war-hammer on Einar's belt was stained with blood. Throughout the ship lay piles of foodstuffs, clothing, and valuables. All that remained of the village from which they came.
The longship moved slowly. The wind, the chunks of floating ice, the choppy waves and the sheer cold and exhaustion of the warriors all contributed to the hindering of their progress. But still, they pressed forward. Einar barked orders and encouragement at them regularly, and every time, the speed would momentarily pick up, only to grind slowly back to the speed it had previously been.
Einar wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his coat, for the wind forced tears from his eyes. He scanned the blurred and distant horizon for any sign of relief. Land, a bigger ship, or a rival raiding party would all have been a welcomed relief from the monotonous torture. They had been rowing for days, and enough of them that no one had been able to keep a count. Einar had made the same journey many times before, but never had the conditions turned this harsh, not at this time of year. He knew they were approaching their destination, and he would not be deterred now.
Einar saw a flicker of color in the distance, barely visible through the gray-white reality surrounding the longship. He raised a powerful gloved hand to his brow, shielding his eyes from the piercing onslaught of snow. He strained his vision, and he saw it. There was no mistaking it. Faint and distant though it was, Einar could see fire.
He roared in rejoice and commanded his men to row toward the flame, and they did so, their vigor renewed once more. The distant orange grew bigger as they approached, and now Einar could see that it was more than a single fire: it was many! It was the fire-lit windows and streets of a village. They'd made it.
Within minutes, the longship pulled up onto the shore, and the warriors piled out behind Einar. They praised Thor for safe journey, Odin for their lives, and Tyr for their spoils. Einar pulled the largest of the boars that they had taken from the Saxxon village and slung it over his shoulders. The other men carried the rest of the raid's prizes: barrels of ale and wine, chickens and a turkey, bundles of grain and piles of warm clothing. Einar started up towards the village, and his men followed.
Einar trekked through the snow up to the center of the village, where a huge fire already raged. A little boy, skinny and frail ran up to him and hugged Einar's thunderous leg. Einar looked down at him and smiled. He dropped the boar on the ground next to the boy, who lit up instantly.
"You'll not go hungry tonight, my son."