2018 is starting off hellishly, in terms of bad things happening. Even worse than last year.
I’ve been writing a bunch this week of characters that are based on people I know. Most of that is to help my friend Mar, who had a brain aneurysm on New Year’s Day.
This, this is not for that. It’s for someone else. Another fyrd brother who has days to live.
North Road, Svellheim
Somehow, a large drop of rain slid through the birch leaves, evaded Geirr’s hood, and landed on the tip of his nose. He woke with a start.
He stiffly rose and with only one slip to his knees in the morass that had once been dirt, he reached a birch tree and relieved himself. His cold hands fumbled with the string of his pants, but eventually he was able to get everything back together. He started back to his bedding when…
What that something rustling?
He stood motionless, ears seeking to hear something besides the next drop striking its target.
He was not reassured when he did not hear anything. He went to his sword, noticing that Thyri was already stringing her bow. He pointed at his ear without saying anything. She nodded.
“Jussi and Sveinn?” he whispered.
They looked at Ansgar, who had awakened and was watching them silently, but not moving or trying to escape.
Geirr stared out into the rainy blackness. “I don’t like this.”
“Nor do I.”
“Cut him free,” he gestured at Ansgar.
Her eyebrows rose.
“This isn’t right.” He looked at Ansgar. “I’ll cut you free, but you must do as I say.”
“Aye, I’ll be doin’ that. I’s feelin’ something, too. Like one a’ them mountain wolves we’s havin’ in the Rueckenberge or worse.”
Suddenly, the darkness was split with a battle cry.
“That’s Sveinn!” cried Thyri.
“But which way?”
Then, just as suddenly, a bright light erupted down the hill.
“Ansgar, stay here!” Geirr sprang down the hill, sword in hand and shield at the ready.
Thyri followed, cursing the rain, again, but stringing her bow nonetheless.
After clearing the trees around the campsite, Geirr could see Jussi holding up a stone that was infused with some magic. The stone glittered, clearly some sort of quartz, and the light came out in rainbow beams. He held his sword in the other hand, but he was not being attacked at that precise moment.
Sveinn had charged into the two great creatures, thereby giving Jussi the time to pull out the lightstone.
Are those bears? Giant wolves? Geirr stop wondering what those creatures were to race towards the fight.
Sveinn chopped at one of the beasts with his favored sword, one that was almost as tall as he. Geirr could see water fly off both the blade and Sveinn’s beard as he twisted all of his sturdy form into the immensely powerful strike. The drops shimmered in Jussi’s light, glinting like diamonds.
The beast screamed in pain when the blow landed.
But it didn’t fall! How could anything not be slain by that? Geirr stopped wondering as he reached the nearest beast. It turned from Sveinn, swinging the back of its great paw.
The blow impacted on his shield and it shattered. Pieces of oak flew past Geirr’s head. He staggered at the power, but stabbed instinctively at the wolf-bear’s belly. His blade sank deep, and Geirr yanked it out with a twist.
But the wound simply enraged the beast. It smashed its clenched paw straight down at Geirr, who managed to escape most of the blow. It still hit his shoulder, and knocked him down.
The creature roared and stepped forward. An arrow sliced into the light to hit it in the chest. Another followed a breath later. The impact of Thyri’s arrows caused the creature to step back and give Geirr time to rise again.
Sveinn, meanwhile, had been knocked aside as well, but the tough huscarl bounced up with a lunge that went full into the beast’s chest. The wolf-bear shouted his anger and flung itself around. Sveinn had tried to hold onto his sword, but the creature’s twist sent him flying. Geirr heard a thud in the darkness as Sveinn landed.
Geirr stepped in with a quick slash at the creature’s knee. He did not follow through on the blow, as he had done earlier, but he did nick the wolf-bear and bounded out of the return swing. He stepped forward and nicked the other leg.
It seemed like the beast barely felt the wounds, but once again Geirr was able to step backward and avoid the creature’s swipe.
Three arrows in quick succession flew over his shoulder to impact in the wolf-bear that had tossed Sveinn away. Two sank next to Sveinn’s huge sword. One went deep into the creature’s roaring mouth. The creature stumbled off as it tried to catch its breath with an arrow in its throat.
Geirr jumped in again, just as he had done before, but this time instead of aiming a quick swipe at the creature’s legs, he swung at the arm descending upon him.
The impact knocked Geirr to the ground. He heard the sundering of his family’s water-patterned sword and saw the tip shine in Jussi’s light as it flew away.
The blow had hurt the creature though. Its arm dangled, barely attached at the elbow. It tried to pound Geirr with it and looked confused as it did not react properly.
Geirr pulled out his short knife, though he had no idea what he would do with it against that thing.
It stepped forward to swing its other paw. Geirr braced for the impact. An arrow whistled past his head to join the earlier pair.
The creature hesitated, but only for a second, and again Geirr braced as the paw descended upon him.
But the paw suddenly curved up as the beast bent backwards. Sveinn had staggered back and he was calmly twisting his own knife deep into the back of the creature’s knee.
He was covered in blood. A nasty knock on his head slid down his hair and his cheek, giving color once again to the beard that had long since started towards gray. The creature’s blood gushed over his arm as he twisted the knife.
The creature turned towards Sveinn, ripping the blade out of his hand and raking his claws along his hauberk. The iron ripped, and blood seeped through the mail. Sveinn fell back.
But Geirr finally saw what to do with his short blade. He jumped on the creature’s back and jammed it into its neck.
It rose in a roar, throwing Geirr off to the side.
He looked up with blurry eyes as three more arrows streaked in, but it was Geirr’s knife that did the trick, and the wolf-bear, clutching its throat, toppled over, landing on Sveinn’s legs.
Jussi rushed to Geirr.
“I’m fine.” He coughed. “Or at least I will be.”
“No you’re not,” spat Jussi.
“I’m fine enough,” repeated Geirr. “Just help me up.”
Dubiously, Jussi helped Geirr stagger to his feet.
“Now go look at Sveinn.”
“He’s not my lord.”
“No, he’s not. I am, and I tell you to go look at him,” snarled the Jarl of Skjaerdalen.
Startled, Jussi rushed off.
Geirr started towards Sveinn, but would have fallen if Thyri had not come up and caught him.
“Careful, Geirr. You’re not fine.”
Geirr stretched. “I think maybe a rib isn’t right. And my knee is wrenched.”
“You’ll have Woden’s own headache tomorrow.”
He touched his head where a lump was forming and grimaced. “Help me to Sveinn.”
Jussi had set the stone next to the huscarl and was fussing over him.
Sveinn watched with his normal relaxed expression as Geirr tottered up to them.
“How is he?”
Jussi snapped, “Let me work, boy.” He glanced at Thyri. “See if the two of you can push that creature off Sveinn’s ankle.”
It took Thyri gathering a largish stone and a fallen oak branch, plus garnering Ansgar’s help, to allow them to lever the creature off Sveinn.
His foot was twisted, the ankle obviously broken.
Sveinn glanced down. “Not seen it look like that before.”
Geirr barked a laugh at Sveinn’s dusty dry comment. “When’s the last time you let a wolf-bear thing fall on you.”
“Now that you’re sayin’, I don’t recall.”
“We need to get him, and you for that matter, back into some shelter,” said Jussi. “Thyri, you and Ansgar, carry him back to our campsite.” The older huscarl glared at Geirr. “And you, boy, you carry the lightstone. Try not to fall.”
Geirr nodded and followed quickly as he could. The others trudged, carefully, up to the campsite. Sveinn said nothing, but the pain of each step forced gasps out of his throat.
When they set Sveinn down, Jussi reached into a pouch and handed Thyri a small stone. She raised her eyebrows when she saw it. “We could have used a firestarter earlier.”
“We didn’t need a fire then,” snapped Jussi. “But we do now, so get it lit.”
She rapped the stone sharply on another rock, and then slid into the tinder and kindling that had earlier resisted all her previous attempts to light. Soon a fire blazed, hotter than normal, with steam rising off the wood.
By that point, Jussi leaned back, coughing. Thyri caught him before he fell into the fire.
“Sveinn?” asked Geirr.
He ignored him, and with fumbling hands, splinted Sveinn’s ankle.
“Sveinn?” repeated the jarl.
Jussi crawled to his bedroll. “He’ll need water. I’ll need food… when I wake.” Almost immediately, he fell asleep.
Geirr looked at Sveinn. “How do you feel?”
“Not my best, lord.” Sveinn said drowsily.
The jarl held up a waterskin, and Sveinn drank. Then, pushing it away, the huscarl nodded off.
“I’ll be back in a moment, lord.”
“Where are you going, Thyri?”
“I want to make sure the other one is actually dead.”
Geirr considered Ansgar. Then looked up at her. What was it? I’ve never seen the like.”
“Neither have I.” Thyri hesitated.
“But I’ve heard of such creatures. They never come down to the North Road, though. They’re seen in the deep mountain valleys. Many ridges to the north and east. Not here.”
“Well, they are now. By all means, make sure it’s dead. We can’t have it attack other travelers.”
“Yes.” She slipped away.
Geirr tried to stay alert, but he too soon nodded off.
Thyri woke him with a soft hand to his shoulder. “Some guard you are, lord.”
“The worst,” agreed Geirr.
Ansgar chuckled. “That was certainly my chance.”
The jarl snorted. “You’ve had others.”
“Yes, lord. But I do what Eleonore says.”
“Or you’ll die.”
“I’d rather face whatever that was than her, iffin’ I hadn’t done as she said.”
Geirr shook his head as Thyri laid Sveinn’s sword next to him, the pommel close to his hand.
“So it was dead.”
“Yes. Though how it ever lived so long I’ll not know. It was about a mile down the road.”
“Did it attack anyone else?”
“No.” She paused. “I didn’t see anyone else.”
Geirr’s eyes widened. “No caravans? No travelers at all?”
Thyri shook her head.
“Over a mile or so of the North Road? Right now?”
“No, Jarl. Not a soul.”
“Something is terribly wrong.”
She nodded. “I’ll get more firewood.”