Hakon squinted as he peered through the snowfall. The world was whitewashed and silent, only muffled sounds of the warriors at his side made a noise. The snow caked his beard and stung his exposed cheeks. The winter storm left him half-blind. But somewhere in that white haze was an army of thousands.
For days, he and his brothers had marched across this foreign land in a desperate gamble to return to their ships. Five days of running with only the snow on his face for sustenance. His stomach ached, yearning for even meagre scraps. His muscles were sore from the constant march and his head felt like metal scrapping against metal. But as tired and weary as he was, his face betrayed not a single sliver of weakness.
In the distance, Hakon could make out a shadow in the white. The shadow seemed frozen in place, but he knew better.
“The Southmen have found us.”, said Kori. The men grew still as they turned their gazes to the west. Slowly, the grey shadow took the form of men and horses. They were took close to run from. No, the final moment would be now.
“I would have liked to have seen home once again”, Harek said, his voice a mix of resignation and sadness.
“I always knew I’d die far from home”, Hakon ignored Kori’s fatalistic comments and turned to face his men. The faces looking at Hakon were weathered and gaunt. The younger men were afraid while the veterans gripped their weapons tighter. Death was marching towards them. Now was not the time for speeches or dramatics. Hakon put his helmet on and said two commanding words, “To arms”
The warriors dawned their helmets, unsheathed their swords and raised their shields. They would meet their deaths like warriors. As they waited, the snow gathered on their bodies. Across the field, the distant muffle of thousands of feet filled the air.
There would be no peace offering, no white flags. The southerners would kill every last one of them, no matter the cost. Just as well, thought Hakon. He’d rather die than be made a slave of the dragon-worshippers. He placed both hands on his greatsword and raised it into the air.
“Lorgar watches us today. Do not embarrass him.”, he said as the banners of the enemy grew clearer. His thoughts flashed to his wife and his three sons across the sea. He wished he could have seen them grow up, or to see his wife again. He didn’t want to leave them, but he couldn’t forsake his oaths either. He didn’t want to leave his children without a father. He’d wanted them to grow up with something more than a memory. However, if all he could leave was a memory, then he’d give them one to be proud of.
The southerners were charging through the snow, eager to exact revenge for decades of conquest. Their lines were disorganized and loose as they waded through the knee-deep snow.
“Form the serpent!” Hakon screamed to his warriors. The two hundred men formed the mighty shield wall and braced for battle.
The enemy crashed into their line like a wave. The first few southerners who had outpaced their comrades were quickly slain as the battle began in earnest. The crashing of shields and the screams of the wounded pierced the roar of battle. Kori split open a southerner’s head with his war-pick while Hakon tore open another’s chest with a mighty swing of his greatsword. The bodies of the dead fell to the ground and spilled blood turned the ground red.
The rush of battle filled Hakon’s muscles with strength and he fought like a man possessed. His sword seemed to grow lighter in his hands, his armor near weightless. Even the cold, that dark presence that had haunted him since he began his march, was gone in this moment. There was only the hot breath of battle. The shield wall was holding and the southerners were dying in scores. Their numbers were weighing against the northmen though as they began to spill over the ends of the wall. Hakon charged into the men who’d flanked the wall and ran his sword through the belly of a foe.
Kori was at his side, claiming life after life with swings of his war-pick. Hardened leather and mail was pointless against Kori’s rage. He tore through his enemies like a bolt of lightning through the night. He painted the air with jets of blood from his fallen opponents, dancing and striking with no thought to his own defense. Hakon brought the pummel of his weapon across the face of a soldier before pressing the blade against his neck and slitting the man open.
Northerners fell dead to the ground and the wall contracted. The southerners were now encircling the warband. Hakon roared over the fray for his men to charge. The serpent’s back broke in an instant and the warriors surged forward against their enemies.
As Hakon stole a glance to his brothers, he dared to hope that maybe, just maybe they could survive. These chosen warriors could rout the endless army of peasants. The thought drove Hakon to fight harder. The dead began to pile in the snow.
Through the melee, Hakon watched one of his men die as a spear was shoved through his back. The warrior struggled to stand before being stabbed by half a dozen peasants. One of the dogs ripped off the fallen hero’s helmet and a great black beard unfurled. It was Harek! The peasants sank their blades into his neck and chest as Harek collapsed into a heap.
Hakon swung his blade in a wide arc, killing all the men in front of him. He’d make the dragon-worshippers pay for each man they killed. His rage blinded him for a moment as he pressed through the snow and corpses. With each step he took, he would see more of his men die. Their sacrifice fueled his rage as he carved a bloody path to his younger brother.
Then a flash of pain.
Hakon saw the spear tip break through where his ribs ended. He turned and saw a southerner, now unarmed, staring at him in horror. Hakon chopped the bastard’s head off.
“Behind you!”, Hakon turned just in time to see Kori block a sword and then bring the tip of his weapon through the eye of his foe. Hakon knew his time was limited. He summoned all the strength and breath he could as he turned to face west. Somewhere across that field was a noble in command of this slaughter. Hakon would claim that noble’s head before he died. Kori followed behind him.
The two fought through the crowd of enemies. Every movement was now heavy and taxing for Hakon. His feet were as heavy as boulders and he could barely breathe. White-hot pain echoed through his body and he felt his blood running down his body. Another foolish peasant came charging at him. Hakon raised his guard. Too slow. He felt another finger of fire pierce his stomach. He knocked the peasant to the ground and pressed on. Kori opened the boy’s skull.
A pair of spears entered Hakon’s side and he fell to his knees. He watched Kori fight on, struggling against countless foes and completely surrounded.
“Go!”, Hakon screamed with all the strength he could muster. But a peasant cut the back of Kori’s knee open. As he fell to his knee, six spears were jammed into his body like he was stuck pig. The coward who’d cut his knee proceeded to cut off Kori’s head as more and more of the peasants gathered round, stabbing away at their felled prize.
Hakon felt numb as the sound of his foes cheering in triumph grew dim. He couldn’t feel the cold and was barely aware of the multiple spears in his body. His eyelids grew heavy as the world greyed. All he wanted to do now was lay down and rest in the snow.
The last sensation he felt was a hand grabbing his hair and pulling his neck back. An ugly blur of a face looked down at him. Hakon could make out a vague smile as he felt a knife being dragged across his throat. This fatal wound struck Hakon more as an annoyance than anything.
As the last few drops of life pulsed out of his neck, Hakon looked up to the sky. The grey clouds were still shedding snow. Before he closed his eyes to the world, he could see his wife and boys looking back at him.