Saturday, July 24, 2010

Story: Blood of My Enemies

This was a story I wrote for a heroic, swords clashing anthology.  It didn't get in.  I was told the ending was cliche.

After you read this, can you think of any different ending for a viking?



     Destiny did not automatically make one a great warrior.  If he wanted his place in Valhalla, he must still earn the right to become einherjar.  Overlooking the hordes of invaders sleeping in the valley, Urlrik knew today would bring much glory to his name.
    "Today is a good day to die," said a warrior behind him.  There was no malice in the speaker's voice, no anger, no desperation.  Nothing but a need to slaughter their attackers, to prove himself in battle, to avenge their kinsmen.  Urlrik grunted in reply, his thoughts distracted.
    They're still abed, the guards drowsy.  How confident are they?  Have they heard nothing of our tactics, of our berserkrs?  They set themselves up for wholesale death.  For the audacity of attacking our people, they shall receive just that.  Gripping his axe, Urlrik gave the signal to advance.  With the creak of leather and rattle of mail, the Norsemen edged toward the encampment.
    Urlrik's hird was not the only war-band on the hunt.  A score of clans were represented, united against men from the south.  The southern army was enormous, destroying great tracts of land, consuming resources until there was nothing left.  They were a plague, spreading death everywhere they went.  Voracious, the foreigners seemed undefeatable.
    Then they'd entered the northern lands.  Snow and steep mountains had slowed the marching army, but not for long.  Soldiers created roads where there were none, seeking every clanhold and village they could.  They slew every true blooded man and woman they found, razing every building, taking livestock for their rolling larders, devastating the ancient culture.
    I must stop them, Urlrik told himself, breathing deeply of the icy air.  It was almost light enough to see, the sun slowly making its way above snowy mountains.  Let every motherless pigwhore be dead before the sun is overhead.  Urlrik tightened his grip on sword and axe, leading his men to battle.
    The Vikings roared, starting to run, weapons held overhead.  The guards stared in disbelief, dying before they could raise the alarm.  Blood scent filled the air, and the ground shook from the pounding feet of a thousand chosen warriors.  Horses screamed in their pickets, and the camp roused.
    Urlrik was one of the first men in the camp.  He shouted out his challenge, watching as southern soldiers stared in surprise, unmanned by his cry.  He swung his axe, taking a half-naked man in the chest.  The southerner gurgled, eyes wide, and Urlrik wrenched his axe free, growling at his next target.
    Cowards and fools, he snarled mentally, his short sword gutting a youth.  Not a real man amongst you.  Your blood is weak, and you fight like young boys.  His thoughts ran freely, his mind sharpening as he brought death to the deathbringers.
    The camp was in chaos.  Sleepy men burst from tents, less than half of them armed, and quickly fell to rampaging Vikings.  Berserkrs howled, carving great swaths through the enemy, ignoring their wounds, living only for the kill.  Some intrepid warrior had cut the horses loose; the beasts pounded through the camp, wanting to join the fray.  The foreign soldiers became confused, lost without orders from superiors.
    Too easy, Urlrik complained, slaying his twelfth man.  No challenge, no one worthy.  This is worse than culling herds.  There is no glory here.  Gritting his teeth, the warchief continued fighting; vengeance must be metted out, regardless of the glory of the fight.
    Not that these beardless fools understand glory.  Their behavior shows what cowards they are.  Seigorney deserved a better death.
    His wife's face rose in his mind.  Memory of the way she smiled, and braided her hair, and the soft spray of freckles all conspired to heat his blood.  Seeing again her pale form broken and blood drenched, Urlrik roared, charging his enemy.
    Officers started barking commands, getting their soldiers in order.  Short spears and leaf-bladed swords started meeting axe and sword and shield.  Norsemen howled, weapons bloody as the sun peeked over the mountains.  Golden light filled the valley, and the battle changed.
    Soldiers formed solid ranks that bristled with weapons.  Vikings continued to cut down solitary fighters, keeping ranks loose.  Berserkrs threw themselves onto spears, cutting weapons to pieces, breaking the lines, killing as many invaders as possible.  Horses were caught, then brought to bear on the Vikings, only to be cut down as easily as their riders.
    Urlrik laughed, cutting and hacking, ignoring his wounds, an unstoppable force of death and destruction.  What do sons of Odin fear from horses?  These beasts are as unmanly as the soldiers.  We shall make an offering of everything in this army.  I will prove that I am worthy of the Allfather's feast.
    I will give Seigorney a dead southerner for every day she lived.
    Relentless, he kept moving.  His axe rose and fell, cleaving skulls and severing arms.  His sword darted here and there, gutting and gouging any man who stood against him.  Sweat and blood stung his eyes, but he ignored them.  He felt no pain from his wounds, and suffered no weariness.
    Urlrik's hird fought as ferociously, inspired by him.  They broke through lines of southerners, shouting their battle cries, each warrior worth fifty of the soldiers.  Outside of their formations, the foreigners were at a loss, falling like harvest grain as the Norsemen swept through them.
    The sun was finally free of the peaks, and the Vikings had slain but a fraction of the army.  We'll be lucky to kill half of them by noon, Urlrik thought, taking a moment to gather his breath.  For the length of several heartbeats, he felt the impossibility of his task.
    The Volvas said I would turn aside the invaders.  Odin picked me to lead our warriors in this righteous battle.  Our failure means the end of our people.
    He remembered the broken villages, the burned out homes, the flies swarming around rotting corpses.  Urlrik felt the pain of losing his wife again, the heart-wrenching sight of his son dead in her arms.  He wished he could sell his life a thousand times to keep any other warrior from such a sight.
    I need only break them, show these effeminate ergi that we Norse are not pushovers.  We are real men.  His blood rose, his vision narrowing to his next opponent, and Urlrik started forward again.
    Vikings howled, still chewing through the army, yet wounds started to take their toll.  Norse warriors fell to southern spears, and ranks of soldiers began surrounding war-bands.  The enemy took heart at first, thinking they could defeat the northern men.  Fallen warriors did nothing to halt the Viking advance, and soldiers began to quake in the face of indomitable spirit.
    In his head, Urlrik began reciting the name of every kinsman that had died by this army.  Every soldier that fell eased the burden in his heart, brought him that much closer to his destiny.
    Odin, hear us as we battle.  Our axes sing of death.  Our spears sing of glory.  Our swords sing of victory.  Watch us trample our enemies beneath our boots.  We send them to Hel's cold hall, forever to suffer the pains of an inglorious life.  They wounded your sons and daughters, and now pay with their lives.  I cleanse their taint from the earth with their blood.  Send us your valkyr, and let not this day go unnoticed.
    The fight blurred, and Urlrik became lost.  The enemy was a mass of flesh to be hewn by axe and sword.  He stopped thinking, stopped feeling, becoming an automaton of slaughter.  His warriors still followed him, still fighting to the death, their numbers slowly winnowed down.  He had no concept of time or numbers, only the endless rhythm of death.
    Eventually he found gaps in the wall of flesh.  His weapons slowed, having less opponents.  His limbs became heavy, his movements sluggish.  There were less Vikings around him, and Urlrik began to wonder how the battle was going.
    Something heavy lodged in his chest, driving him to his knees.  His vision sharpened briefly, and he saw a weary soldier looming over him, clutching a leaf-bladed sword.  A handspan of cold metal pierced Ulrik's armor.  Blood welled slowly, mingling with blood from a dozen other wounds.  Weakness began to lap at him, his vision dimming as cold stole through his veins.  Seigorney, I will be with you soon.
    Mustering the last of his strength, Urlrik slashed, gutting the darker skinned man.  The soldier cried out, blood and entrails spilling, and Urlrik watched with momentary dizziness.  Hands numb on his weapons, he tried to rise, to fight on, but his strength had finally left him.
    A horse snorted, harness bells tinkling.  Revived by the sound, Urlrik opened his eyes.  Drawing a breath free of pain, the warchief sighed.
    Sitting astride a massive stallion was a striking young woman.  She was dressed for war, and every buckle and piece of metal gleamed, blindingly bright.  Her mount stamped his feet, eyes rolling as he fought the bit.  The woman smiled, reaching for Urlrik.  Taking her hand, exchanging no words, he knew he had been found worthy.

1 comment:

  1. How else could they expect a Viking story to end?

    I loved it, just the way it is.

    ReplyDelete

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