Marauder - Valhalla Unleashed
Chapter One - Healing Wounds
Death, glorious death…
The lifeblood of one’s clan is built upon a field of corpses strewn about a magnificent battlefield. We stand upon death, that of our foes and our great Norse ancestors. Their flesh, blood, and bone have been beaten, grinded to dust beneath our feet, building the very pathways to our destiny’s end. Sharpen you blades, fierce warriors of Odin, make your hearts hard like iron, and focus on the tasks the gods have set before you this day. Death will be your song, your banner, your resolve. Become the things you fear, the things that linger in the darkest corners of your miserable soul, become…
The destruction had been done by the Draugr despite them fleeing the battlefield of Bjorgvin at the behest of their dark winged masters, the Valkyries. Most of the village lay in ash and ruin, embers floated amongst the smoke filled skies and all was lost, save the Great Hall. Jareth and I eagerly returned to what remained of our households and tended to our wounds. The weeks ahead were filled with a constant aching and an unnerving feeling that our enemies would return in the dead of night. Through burning sun and blistering cold, men of Bjorgvin stood at their posts and watched the tree lines endlessly. Our enemies never returned to finish what they had started, lest they temp the rage of the All Father. As we rebuilt our homes and mended ties with loved ones, we reflected on those who had moved on to the glory of Valhalla. Many a night, I stared upwards at the burning lights in the darkened sky and wondered if they were torches leading us to Asgard. When I was a child, sitting around the fire my father told me great and wondrous tales: that the lights were the shine from the weapons of our ancestors, that our loved ones kept them sharp and brilliant so we could one day find our way to them. A soft voice suddenly emerged pulling me back from my night time gaze.
“It’s cold, my love. What are you doing awake so late with the door open?” I looked back to see Sada, the concern on her brow evident. Turning back, I gazed outside at the crescent moon that slowly fell behind the snowcapped mountains. The streaks of light bouncing off the white powder lit our village nearly as bright as morning. I sighed deeply.
“They will return for us. I hear the mountains groaning; the gods are restless but they do not show themselves. I fear our new found allies may have forgotten us already.” Sada stood from our fur draped bedding; walking to me, she placed her hands around my waist resting her head on my shoulder.
“Do not despair, my love. Odin has a plan; our destinies have already been woven for us. When the time is right he will be here to guide your hand to victory or Valhalla. Until then we must be strong; the gods demand strength. Are you not just happy to be home?” Sada cocked her head to one side with a slight frown upon her face as she moved her hands to my bare chest. She had worked hard to be a good women and any unhappiness from me only made her question her usefulness.
“Of course I am. This time of peace is greatly cherished but I am haunted by the fact that it will not last much longer. Each sweet moment is one I cannot reclaim and soon they will be but memories faded into dust.” I paused to take in a deep breath, the air cooling my lungs. “Do you feel it, Sada? The frost is returning to Bjorgvin. The mountain passes will be snowed in presently.” Sada’s chin sank deeper into my shoulder.
“And I am glad for it. We have enough to worry about always gazing at the sea.” Sada was right. With the passes closing, we only had one route for our enemies to strike. I pulled a small axe from my belt and ran my thumb along the blades edge several times. The blade of the axe was still pitted from our previous battles; perhaps it was time to visit the blacksmith to renew its edge.
“I should go check on the watchman; see if they require anything.” As I stepped out of our home Sada grasped my wrist and pulled me back towards her, pressing her warm body against mine.
“Stop worrying and come to bed. The men can handle themselves for one night. You have worked hard for many days and are in need of respite.”
“I suppose you’re right, as always,” I said reluctantly and returned quietly to our bed. As I lay down a sigh left my lips. Sada began rubbing my chest and rested her head next to mine.
“You’re a complicated man, Audan. You worry too much. Put your fate in the hands of the gods and all will be well.” Sada’s words echoed in my head bouncing from ear to ear as I lay awake staring at the straw covered ceiling. I turned to my side and uneasily let sleep come over me as I twisted and turned hearing the words prepare over and over again in my skull.
“Audan,” a voice called loudly from outside my home. “Audan, wake up.” I rubbed my face coarsely; slowly opening one eye I reluctantly replied.
“Who…, who is it?”
“Who do you think? It’s Jareth. Get up!” I turned to my side and exhaled deeply in frustration.
“Go away!” I said in protest.
“We have business to attend to.”
“It is early, brother. What the hell do you want?”
“It’s not what I want, it’s Father. He demands your presence in the Great Hall.”
“Now?” Jareth popped the door open slightly, peeking his head in.
“Now.” Finally opening my eyes, I could see the suns light peaking in. I had slept soundly after all; no bad dreams. The corner of my lip was cold and as I wiped my face, I noticed I had drooled all over myself. Perhaps the first night of good rest in a long while. I looked over at Sada who barely moved, her beautiful pale feet stuck out from beneath the furs. Leaning over, I gently bit her heel, smiling as I did so. She pulled her feet quickly underneath the furs and cocked her head back to look at me through her long messy hair.
“What do you want, my love? Is something a matter?” she asked.
“I have to go see Father. Have food ready when I return.” Sada moaned and went back to sleep. Standing up, the cold air greeted my body. My muscles ached as I stretched about looking for my clothes. Once dressed, I quietly headed outside to greet the day. The village was silent as the mornings light beat away the dew left by the evening mist.
As I made my way towards the Great Hall, no more than several ships length from my hovel I saw the watchmen standing alert at their post with shield and spear in hand.
“Good morning,” I said. The young men popped up rapidly to return the greeting.
“Good morning, Audan,” they said in unison.
“I take it the evening was uneventful?”
“Quiet as the grave. Not a soul to speak of.” I looked about the village turning my neck slowly left to right.
“Where is your relief? Should he not have been here by now?”
“They are due in any moment. Probably still washing their balls.” We laughed quietly under our breath, everyone was dreadfully tired. A bright color form the watchmen’s shield suddenly caught my eye.
“What is that?” Reaching for the man’s shield I turned the front towards me to see a newly painted scheme. “The head of the serpent. Is this the one I slayed in the North Sea?”
“The very same. We wanted to strike fear into the Draugr should they return. Do you approve of it, Audan?” I cracked a smile and handed the shield back to the watchman.
“It looks more terrifying than I remember,” I said enthusiastically. “I’m putting you in charge of painting everyone’s shield just the same. Can you do that for me?” The watchman looked at the other guard and then back to me.
“It would be an honor brother. I will begin right away.”
“Very well, back to your duties then.” The watchmen resumed their patrols, keeping a wary eye on the tree line. The Great Hall was now in sight, a warm glow emanated from the fire inside. I pounded my fist on the thick wooden doors and a meek voice called out from inside.
“What’s your business?”
“It’s Audan. I’m here to see my father. Just open the damn door.” The door swung open slowly; as I stepped forward I could now see the guard that was inside. Father was just ahead sitting in his chair with furs draped over him keeping off the cold.
“Hello, Father.” He turned, looked up, and smiled at me.
“My son. I’m sorry to have awoken you so early. I trust you slept well?”
“I did, Father.”
“No nightmares?” he asked.
“No, Father. No nightmares. Not this time anyway.” He motioned to the wooden chair draped in furs next to him.
“Please, sit. Stay by my side for a time. Perhaps we can share a meal together.” He looked up at his guard by the door. “Tibor, leave us please and send the slave girls to fetch us some breakfast. My son must be hungry.” Tibor nodded his head.
“Yes, Rurik.” He briskly stepped outside. The door closed loudly behind Tibor echoing in the Great Hall.
“So what is it that you want to speak with me about?” I asked curiously. Father tugged roughly at his auburn colored beard over and over again; I thought perhaps he may pull it out.
“Tell me again, son, what was it that attacked us on the day that you and your brother returned home from your absence?” I was puzzled by this question.
“I don’t understand, Father. You were here fighting with us.” Father slammed his fist on his arm rest.
“Just answer the damn question!” he yelled staring at me with wide, angry eyes. I stood in frustration placing my hands on my belt. It was too early for yelling in my opinion.
“How many times must I tell you, Father! It was the Valkyries and the Draugr that besieged us that day. You were not seeing visions or dreams.” Father rubbed his face vigorously with both hands as if to wipe away the memory from his blue eyes. Lowering his arms and grasping the decorated leather bracers on his wrist, he turned and looked at me with disbelief.
“I saw it with my own eyes and still to this day I cannot believe what I have seen. Undead creatures, flesh hanging from their bone walking amongst those that still draw breath. Beautiful winged women turned to skin eating demons before my very eyes. How could such a thing be true? Why would Odin allow such creatures to be released upon my people?”
“What troubles you, Father?” Rurik was clearly vexed by something closer to home.
“The Jarl, my son. The Jarl troubles me, his scheming and plotting behind closed doors vexes me terribly and I fear this may be our last winter in Bjorgvin. Damn Steinar that arrogant fool!” Father kicked another chair next to him in anger knocking it over.
“We sent messengers. What do they say?” Father laughed sarcastically under his breath lifting his head towards the sky.
“Ha! They say nothing because Steinar has given them nothing to say. They send no message, no sign of good faith that our alliance will be maintained.”
“What of the other Chieftains? Surely they will…” I was cut off quickly.
“No word, not even trade or commerce from our usual companions. The Volsung Clan, ScyIding Clan, and the Wylfings have all been completely silent to our calls for aide. I fear we have been everlastingly cut off from the Jarls good graces.” Father stood now, stroking his beard as he stepped away from his chair. “We have done well these last few months to repair our village, to fortify our defenses and prepare what men we have for another attack, but I fear it’s not enough to hold off the living and the dead.” Dropping his head father kicked about a small patch of dirt at his feet.
“So we are alone then. We must continue to prepare for an attack, double our efforts.” Father turned to me and crossed his arms atop his blood red tunic.
“It is good to hear you say that, son. Just last season you would have suggested we raid Steinar before he had a chance to attack us. You have matured beyond your years and for that I am grateful both as a chieftain and father. You will make a fine leader of your people one day.”