Norse

Duel

Beower saw his opponent standing before him in the clearing of the forest. The Northern light glowed a pale green that cast ethereal colors on the snow and animated the shadows of the trees. The warrior before him stood shirtless, scars covering his arms and a tattoo of the world serpent across his chest. His eyes seemed to glow a sickly blue from behind his helmet in the night and his smile was cruel. The axe in his hand was red with dried blood.

 

Beower stood and pulled off his cloak followed by his mail and his shirt. The cold bit at his skin and he fought the urge to shiver. He unsheathed his axe and readied his shield. The two men walked towards each other with slow but meaningful purpose. Beower hated the smiling face in front of him. He let the hatred spread to his limbs to fight the cold as he swung hard.

 

The axe smacked into the shield and the battle began in earnest. Both warriors swung with intensity, chipping away the signs and paint of the other’s shield. His opponent was swift and always seemed to melt away just before Beower’s axe could find its mark. However he kept his guard up, weathering blow after blow.

 

Sweat beaded in spite of the cold and dripped in warm rivulets down his face. The warrior in front of him growled with pleasure at the struggle, immune to the winter. He charged forward and knocked Beower to the ground with a blow of his shield. Snow clung to his back as he scrambled to recover his shield. The warrior’s axe came down too fast to block so Beower rolled away, surrendering his defence.

 

He clambered onto his feet, holding his weapon now with two hands. The enemy laughed and tossed his own shield away. The gesture only poured more hatred into Beower’s blood. He roared out in anger and swung again. His opponent blocked it and brought the handle of his axe into Beower’s face. He could feel blood running from his nose.

 

“Give up” the warrior hissed to Beower, grinning with a row of white teeth. Pressing forward, Beower kept the offensive up, swinging hard. Blow after blow glanced off his enemy’s weapon or chopped harmlessly through the air. His muscles burned and the cold air burned his lungs. His hatred was still thick in his blood but it wasn’t enough. His opponent’s axe tip kissed his face and drew more blood.

 

Beower couldn’t breathe. The hatred and exhaustion closed his throat and he struggled to keep his grip on his weapon. His enemy’s swings were getting harder and harder to dodge. He seemed to be immune to the world and fought with nothing held back. Desperate, Beower lunged forward and tackled his rival.

 

The two men collapsed into the snow and the battle turned into a grapple for life. Punches landed hard in Beower’s stomach, robbing him of what little wind was left in his body. His foe was fast and impossible to pin.

 

“Give up” he said again, malice dripping from his words spoken through gritted teeth. They traded more punches but Beower knew his strength was gone. His opponent saw his opening and jumped forward, pinning Beower on his back. Before he could even begin to struggle, two calloused hands seized his throat. His foe’s face hung over his own, eyes burning against the night. Beower could see the face that had been lurking underneath the helmet, which had come free in the struggle. It was the face he knew well and had poured so much hatred into. A face his mother never lived to see and that his father cursed.

 

Beower was staring at himself.

 

“Give up” the words dripped onto his face like poison.

 

All the hatred he’d gathered across his life failed to keep the spark of life kindled now. His vision greyed as the cold seeped through his limbs. The blue eyes crackled with a hatred of their own as Beower’s last breath struggled to exit his throat.

 

He’d fought his hardest and failed. The weight of the failure was less than he imagined it would be. His whole life spent running from falling and here he was. The cold rose through his stomach, traveling steadily towards his heart. His enemy’s anger radiated from his fingertips and seared Beower’s throat. Death was fast approaching, but there would be no valkyrie to claim his soul.

 

“Live.” The voice caused Beower to open his eyes. Looking to the horizon beyond his foe, he saw a vision. A light, brighter than the North Star, grew and spoke to him again.

 

“Live.”

 

The light changed into the form of a woman clad in grey furs and flanked by a brace of hounds. She wielded a spear and a hunter’s bow. Her hair was shaved on the sides of her head, pulled into a tight braid and white as the snow on the ground.

 

Skadí.

 

The light surged through his body and he felt himself transform. From Beower’s chest sprung a pelt of black fur. His teeth extended into fangs and his hands into the paws of a bear. With a terrifying roar, he surged back to life and bit hard into the throat of his enemy. His foe screamed in pain but Beower held firm, dragging his claws across the back of the man. Locked in a lethal embrace, Beower clenched his jaw tighter, the taste of hot copper filling his mouth. The fire in his heart burned hot enough to arrest the cold that had surrounded it.

 

With a great and terrifying force, Beower tore out the throat of his foe. The man fell dead to the ground, turning the snow red as he did. Beower climbed out from underneath his foe and turned to the sky. He let loose a roar that made the trees shudder and the Northern lights seemed to swell in a flash of green and blue.

 

Beower gasped for air. He sat next to his foe, covered in blood and sweat. His chest swelled up and down as he breathed for the first time since the duel began. He could feel a fire burning deep inside him and its warmth traveling to his extremities. Next to him was his enemy’s corpse. He turned the body over and looked at himself. His face was frozen in pain, blue eyes still wide at the moment of death. Beower could feel the snowflakes resting on his skin and the fire in his lungs turning into steam as he exhaled.

 

He stood up and turned to the west. He pulled his furs back on after shaking the snow off his body and steadying his breathing. As the last drop of hatred fell to the ground, he started walking, head raised high and his march purposeful. With each step, his vision of his path became clearer and clearer. He’d sail across the sea of wyrms for Iceland and be free of his past. For the first time in his life, he’d be free.

 

As he approached the forest, he turned to look back one last time at his enemy. The body was gone.

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Way of the North

Renrir stared into the dark and storm-churned waters of the Sea of Chaos. The winds carried ice and stung his cheeks, but he stood still. His bondsmen and attendants stood by him, waiting for a command from their Jarl.

It had been almost two years since his son took to the sea at the helm of his own ship. Other raiders had returned with spoils and slaves but none had any news of Volkmar. The Vitki had no wisdom or insight to his son’s fate, only the same words Renrir had heard when he was a boy.

The Blood Father only rewards the strong.

Some of the warriors had told him that it was a sign that the boy was weak and that it is best he die on foreign waves. They reminded him of how there is no room for weakness in the North. Renrir didn’t argue with them, for he knew they were right. But deep down, he felt a small tinge of worry and shame. I hope he died well, he thought.

The boy had survived childbirth when his mother did not. Born amidst blood, the Vitki told him. He was marked by the Blood Father, they said. Renrir had felt great pride in the boy and secretly hoped that it would be Volkmar who would take the title of Jarl when Renrir’s time had come.

The wind picked up and the ice cut even harder into his weathered skin. The cold crept through his furs and clung to his bones. Renrir could feel the years wearing down on him. His muscles, still taut and powerful, felt rusted and chipped. Pain radiated from his fingers when he held his sword and he felt the cold more and more each day. He could see the way his warriors looked to him. They still believed he was the Renrir who had taken to sea and cleaved his way through the empire all the way to Sylvania. They would remain fiercely loyal until it was clear that he was too old to fight.

He had prayed to the Blood Father and the Winter Lord for a son capable of sending him to the Halls of Glory. But now it seemed that he would have to take to the sea again to find death.

“Ship!” One of the warriors shouted, pointing to the storm-covered horizon. Renrirs’s entire hold peered into the distance and sure enough there was a lone red sail. As the ship drew nearer, it was clear even from a distance that the craft had seen dozens of battles. Arrows still stuck from the shields that lined her hull and the sail was ripped in many places. A giant’s skull hung from the ship’s bow.

The reavers aboard the ship were adorned in mail and fur, with hungry looks in their faces. When Renrir saw the captain of the ship, he smiled to himself. The young warrior was tall and had shoulders as broad as a bear’s. His pale blond beard was clasped with the runic symbol for Ulric fashioned from whalebone and his arms were covered in scars. He had carved the mark of the Blood Father into his neck and a large scar ran across his face, splitting his left eyebrow. It was hard to imagine that this man had once left the shore as a bare-faced youth.

Renrir’s warriors clasped these sea-reavers in tight embraces as they stepped onto the snow-covered ground. From the ship, they unloaded what seemed like an endless pile of treasures and trophies. Coins from the empire, banners from Bretonnia and even the giant axe and helmet of a felled Orc warboss were carried off the longship. Following their treasures came the thralls, elves and men alike. All were bloodied and bruised as they cowered and shivered in the cold of their new home.

Volkmar stepped before his father and bent his knee, the antlers adorned to his helmet pointing out like a wall of spears. “My lord, I offer you this mighty gift.” He said, wasting no time in adhering to the code of the Graelings. He produced a battle-axe with ornate carvings in the hilt and the flat of the blade.

“Taken from one of the horse-lords of the South and anointed in battle, may it shed fresh blood in your hands.” He spoke, his shipmates, lowering their heads as the gift was presented.

Renrir took the weapon in his hand and lifted it into the freezing air. Feeling the rush of youth again, he swung the axe and cleaved the head off of the closest thrall. A jet of blood flew into the sky as the elf’s body collapsed to the ground. Suddenly, the entire shore was alive with the roaring of Norscans as they cheered and beat their weapons against their shields. The roaring and cheering grew louder as the the Vitki dragged the corpse to the water to offer it as thanks to the sea gods for bringing the reavers home.

From the meadhall, Renrir could see his thralls and servants preparing for a great feast. He could practically taste the mead and roasted elk. As the warhird started to march towards the hall, Renrir stole a glance at his son, who was at the head of his men and already exciting Renrir’s warriors with promises to tell them of his exploits in the South.

Finally, a worthy challenger. Renrir thought. You will make my death glorious.