[align=center]//Some references seen below are explained here: Rakis Island[/align]
[align=left]Rúni Biormaðr, son of Ulfr Járntænn. As it is a custom of the Fjallvættir people, right after birth they undergo an aging ritual where are aged up to childhood. Rúni learned the ways of his people from his father during this time, taught in the ways of farming, herding, hunting and martial prowess, for which the Fjallvættir are best known. Children of the Fjallvættir are constantly prepared for the Ritual of Dawn, some taking moons upon moons to be ready for and still failing, because of the harsh conditions.
Rúni's "Dawning" to adulthood was no different.
Armed with only a ceremonial dagger and his first wooden shield bearing the clan crest, he was sent up the frozen Dead Rise mountain, the Osberg, to visit the elders on the summit and gain his adulthood. It was a harsh snow season at that time, and Rúni was soon to discover that he would need every wit and muscle in his body to even survive the weather conditions alone, not even taking the vast amounts of dangerous animals into account.
Luck was on his side. He found the freshly killed carcasses of a small pack of wolves, skin punctured by what looked like the tusks of a mammoth. He spent his first night inside one of the carcasses, skinning the others simply to stay warm. He crafted his first fur clothing the following day, as well as a simple bow and arrows and a spear to hunt and defend himself. Even after almost freezing to death on a few colder nights, cornered by territorial daeadons, chased by a pack of wolves and almost walking straight into a mountain tribe outpost.. he managed to reach the top, battered, bruised and wounded.
The elders were pleased with his arrival. Only one was ever able to reach the summit in less than two weeks, and now Rúni had done so as well. His wounds were treated, the seven day ritual successfully completed and Rúni had now reached adulthood, ready to be drafted into a Fjallvættir warband and start his life of raiding and starting a family of his own. Back in Vellstadt he took over his father's farm and continued to run it for many moons, until that fateful day..
That one raid that changed his life forever..
[align=center]Prologue: The Bear and the Fox[/align]
His boots sunk into the rough sand of the Longvell riverbed, followed by those of his warband brethren as they jumped over the railing of the longboat. In the distance there were screams and signals were lit, as the people of the village of Fljótheim were very well aware of the raiding party that had just landed at their doorstep. Rúni's father, Ulfr, led the raid and drew his axe as he turned towards the men:
"Cold is the steel of our sword and spear. Cold is the will of the Gods that smile upon us this day, giving us the strength to purge the weak. Cold is the air we shall breathe in from the dead and exhale with every strike they deserve. There is no glory for those who perish today, unless it is with weapon in hand. Warm will be the the meal for when the day is done! Mead will roll down into our bellies as we will live to tell the tale of today. One of blood and victory!"
The men battered their weapons on their shields as they cheered from the top of their lungs. The bloodlust in their eyes yearned for only one thing: glory. Such is the highest achievable amongst the Fjallvættir people. Gunnar, Rúni's long time friend and brother in arms, could barely hold the chains keeping his hyaenodons Callum, Kirgian and Thorben in tow, their howls sounding nearly like mocking laughter. Along the hill leading up to the village, warriors were starting to line up, Ulfr's warband rushing forward like a tidal wave readying itself to hit the shores. Amongst the villagers were archers, causing the warband to stop in its tracks.
Ulfr's words were enough for the warband to huddle together in an instant, creating a barrier of shields to resemble the shell of a turtle, in order to resist the volleys of arrows that were fired their way. The brethren braced themselves as the arrows hit and pierced their shields. The opposing side formed a shield wall as well and carefully moved their way down the hill. After the third volley, the villager archers drew their melee weapons.
Grunting with each slow step in rhythmic motion, the warband advanced to the point where the groups were only fifteen steps removed from one another, where both groups came to a halt. The following silence was tense, the heavy breathing and widened eyes painting the canvas of the moment. Rúni nodded over his shoulder, Gunnar, his pack and the last row of brethren slowly advancing between the ranks to position themselves behind the shields, waiting for Rúni's signal.
Shouts from the villagers, and like a herd of raging ovis ran towards the warband. Rúni gave the signal. "Now!" The front row made room for the brethren that advanced from behind and the bows were drawn, Gunnar staying low and at the ready to release his hyaenodons. The arrows were fired towards the villagers, dropping one by one towards the ground and burying themselves into the sandy edge of the hill, as the brethren braced themselves for impact.
"Brace! Brace!" Like a pack of rabid direwolves the villagers threw themselves onto the warband shield wall, hacking, poking and slicing away at the armored beast before them. The ground became a canvas of blood as from both sides warriors gave their last breaths, words did not matter anymore. They were incomprehensible gusts of air in the chaos of a greater good. The brethren pushed forward once more and as most of the villagers were slain, the enemy was broken and fled back towards the village.
"Archers! Finish them!"
Ulfr gave the final order, the archers picking off the fleeing villagers one by one, their cries of fear ended within moments time. With a loud whistle from Gunnar, he released his pack to finish the job and drew his battleaxe to join the brethren in the final push. These men were no true warriors. The Vellhallr would only welcome the brave. There would be no place for the cowardly. Only death and no gain. To turn away from glory and face their meaningless deaths.. it was a big price to pay. But so it was that day. The brethren would gladly collect their toll.
The warband deserved their victory, but the battle wasn't done. Driven by bloodlust still, they rushed towards the seemingly empty village, ransacking each house and plundering at will. Rúni set his sight on the big cottage at the end of the path. As he headed towards the cottage, he watched as his brethren killed the rest of the men and took the women and children outside. They were bound and taken towards the longships, forsaken to a life of servitude back in Vellstadt.
He approached the cottage, softly pressing his ear against the door to listen. Between the cries and shrieks and hyaenodon howls behind him, he could hear soft wimpering inside. He removed his ear from the door, holstered his sword, took a deep breath and kicked the door open. Drawing his axe and having it ready to strike, he rushed in but was immediately stopped in his tracks. There they were, women, children and other helpless folk. Drops of sweat and tears glistening in the light of the torch, mounted on the wall. In front of them, a woman. A woman, arms spread like an argentavis spreads its wings to protect its young, shield in one hand and an axe in the other.
"It's over, woman. Put it down and I will promise you a quick death."
The woman spread out her arms even more and steadied her footing, her eyes locked on his and following his every movement. The fire of the torch reflected in her eyes, she was not intending to step aside. Rúni carefully circled towards her right. "Put it down. Nobody in this room has to die." The woman remained silent, keeping herself between Rúni and the village folk, still whimpering and huddling up to comfort eachother. The woman just shook her head slowly. Rúni extended his hand towards her axe, keeping his own behind his hip, but ready to strike. He beckoned towards her to give the axe to him. Only a few steps left..
In the blink of an eye, the woman swung the shield in her left hand towards his hand, hitting it as hard as she could. Rúni, caught off guard, swung his axe towards her, but she managed to deflect his blow and stepped sideways, wooden beams blocking the path between them as Rúni regained himself and tried to corner her. Clenching his fist a few times, he was clearly surprised by her speed and unexpected movements. Again, they stood face to face in the middle of the room, eyes locked onto eachother and the tension cutting the moment like a hot knife through butter.
Both of them mirrored their every movement, trying to gain an advantage on the other.Suddenly she lunged forward and before Rúni could fully complete his swing, she already deflected it with her shield and lunged her axe forward. Rúni however, was quick to stretch out his off hand and sent her launching towards the end of the room, her losing her axe in the process. There she lied, watching the axe near the exit and looking at the people in the corner of the room, fully consumed by fear. Rúni slowly advanced and looked at her for a moment, as she clung on to the shield with one hand and her other hidden, her eyes barely over the edge of the shield.
Rúni holstered his axe and stretched out his hands as he crouched down, approaching her more closely. "Shhhh.. it's over." she tried to kick him, but her feet were held down by him, as he carefully placed himself over her, kneeling down and sitting on her to keep her down. Every time he tried reaching over the shield, she replied with a cry of desperation, pushing his hand away with her shield. He then carefully held down the shield, pressing it on top of her to keep her fully locked in place. Eventually, she calmed down.
"I will remove this shield from you now. Will you promise to stay calm?" Rúni, crude as he would be normally in a situation as this, did his best to regain his temper. She first seemed to shake her head, but it fluently switched to a few nervous nods. "I will remove the shield." Rúni carefully released his weight from the shield and lifted it up to reveal her one hand which he then held tightly. He traced her other arm as he laid down the shield, but before his eyes reached the hand, she threw it up to reveal a cloud of sand and dust, screaming from the top of her lungs.
Rúni reached for his eyes and lost his grip on her body as he moved upwards in a crouching position and the woman took the chance to use her free leg to kick him in the groin area. Rúni, blinded and unable to hear her with the ruckus outside, swung his arm left and right but the woman was not near anymore. Until the moment he could feel her shield hit the arm in front of his eyes. He was launched backwards, landed on his back and could feel the creaking of the floorboards as she neared him. It hurt, but vaguely he could see her again. She was standing in front of him, threw away her shield and held her axe above her head with both hands, ready to strike.
Shouts from near the exit.
She turned her head towards the exit, after which Rúni took his chance and grabbed both of her ankles and gave them a quick and powerful yank, pulling her over his body as her axe dropped towards the floor once more, digging itself into the wood. With a grunt, he grabbed her wrists as she ferociously tried to fight him off. But it was useless. She simply had no energy left in her to fight Rúni anymore. Laying on top of him with her hands locked behind her back, she looked into his eyes once more and he into hers. Several men rushed inside, only to see the people in the corner and them on the floor.
"Are you quite done here?"
Bloðorn, one of the veteren brethren, laughed as did all the others. Rúni could not keep his eyes off her.
"This.. this one is mine."
Prologue: The Bear and the Boar[/align]
Rúni entered the underground of the Vellstadt arena, the portcullis closing behind him and the cheers of the crowd drowning out him catching his breath and the sound of his footsteps, as he walked down the steps. Streams of blood and sweat running along his body, but not his. The man who stood before him just then was well known amongst the "Brandr" ranks, the local warriors, glory fighters. Mostly for entertainment purposes, but also to settle disputes between clans. Torrsten "the Giant" represented Clan Sýrfólk, the people of the Daeaodon, boars as they were known locally. Rúni's father Ulfr had a land claim over them and it would be settled by battle. Honor demanded that any hostility would be dropped afterwards.
A head taller than even Rúni, the odds were against him. But he made up for strength in stamina. The giant could have split Rúni in half with a single strike of his battle axe. But in the end, the sword's flexibility usually wins the day when met with such brute strength and this day was no different.
Rúni lived, for he felt the Gods had other plans for him. This wasn't the day he was destined to die. Not knowing when he would strengthened him. Still, he yearned for that glorious moment then. When the Gods would put an end to this mortal life and invite him to the Vellhallr, the home of the Gods. Until then, his sword would remain sharp and bloodied in times of peril, when the fire inside him burned the most. It was the beast that guided him and only blood could tame it. Rúni had no choice but to feed the beast, for the beast could otherwise control him.
He opened the doors to his chambers, tossed aside his shield and walked over to the round, concrete water fountain, carefully placing his sword against the wall, and took the cloth on the fountain's edge. Still panting from the fights, he wettened the cloth and with it washed his hands and face. The echo of a woman's voice danced around the walls of the room.
"You did not die."
He stopped washing his face for a few seconds, but continued after. "Everybody dies, woman. Not the fate I faced just now." over his shoulder, he saw that same look in her eyes still, unchanged from the day he took her from her village. It had been months since the raid, and she tried running away quite a few times but to no avail. He was a decent tracker and she was easily tracked. She was his possession now. Out of breath still, he didn't feel like spilling out much words. He beckoned the woman to come over. He pulled one of the benches in position, took a seat and Lyra hurried herself to take a position behind him, a bucket with hot water in one hand and a piece of cloth in the other. She placed the bucket on the cold floor carefully and dipped the cloth in the hot water, wringing out excessive water.
She placed the cloth on his back and roughly washed away the blood and sweat. She hesitated a moment before she spoke. "I have seen the boars ravage the bears. The gray bear and the brown alike. One will make place for the other, but both might die. This is no place for a fox." the same vague words she had been repeating for the past few weeks, every day. Rúni grunted as she roughly washed his lower back. No cuts, but the giant's stomping feet were just as dangerous and she rubbed the big, blue-ish green bruise that was forming. "Stop your riddles, woman. Boars don't kill bears. You're ma-" his words were interrupted by loud voices down the hall. He could hear his father, and some other voices he did not recognize. Rúni's gaze went towards the fountain and observed his sword and then the door. Lyra dropped the cloth in the bucket and took a few steps backwards, hiding behind one of the concrete pillars.
The voices became louder and louder. As Rúni stood up and wanted to go for his sword, the doors slammed open and inside came a group of men holding Rúni's father and lastly, Asrod, patriarch of Clan Sýrfólk entered. Dangling from his clenching fist the family Brandr amulet, worn only moments ago by Torrsten, the man Rúni had slain in the arena. Asrod threw the amulet before him. "You owe me my son!" Asrod flicked his fingers and two of the men stepped beside him, one holding Ulfr and the other drawing his sword, letting the blade touch Ulfr's throat. "It is settled, Asrod! Honor demands you let it go. The Gods demand you let it go." Ulfr’s face was red with anger. He was right. Fjallvættir law was clear on the matter of disputes and duels. Torrsten lost and with that the land claim.
Rúni realised Lyra's words. The boars opposed the bears, like her waking dreams had told her and as she repeated just now. She had forseen this? He gazed over his shoulder to see Lyra peeking around the pillar, but his mind didn't linger for long as he turned back to face the group. His fists clenched, heart raced and he could feel his blood starting to boil. "Let my father go, it is done!" Asrod pointed at the Brandr amulet. "Damn honor, damn the Gods! You will pay for sending my son to the Vellhallr. A life for a life!" Asrod noticed Lyra peeking from behind the pillar and grinned. ".. or lives." he flicked his fingers and nodded upwards towards the girl. Two of his men circled around Rúni and headed towards Lyra.
"She is mine, leave her!"
Rúni stepped back and tried to keep an eye on the men heading for Lyra but could not focus on Lyra for long. He turned back to face the the group and his father being held by them. Behind him, he heard Lyra scurrying away and the men laughing as they chased her. Eventually they got a hold of her as she tried to squirm from their graps, spitting at the men as they took her towards the wall near the doors as well, where Rúni's father was being held in position, sword still on his throat. "You can keep the land, but you will lose your family." again Asrod flicked his fingers and like a moment lasting forever, his father dropped to the ground on his knees, grasping his throat. Rúni froze, until he saw the first stream of blood clawing its way through his father's fingers, his breathing intensifying.
The men holding Lyra stepped forward almost instantly after that, holding her in position for the swordsman to slash as well. He raised his sword, but in the blink of an eye and in a haze of fury, Rúni rushed forward and extended both his arms towards the swordsman's head, smacking it into the wall and the man dropped to the floor. The men holding Lyra let her go. She fell to her knees and scurried away as the men reached to draw their swords. Without thinking straight and almost like in a berserker state, Rúni was quicker than the first, grabbing his sword hand and slashing the other with it. Afterwards he broke the man's sword arm, wrapped his hands around the man’s head and snapped his neck. His eyes widened and breath stopped as he heard another sword being drawn behind him.
"Your legacy ends here, Rúni. I think your father could use a hand to reach Vellhallr." Asrod grinned, after which he raised his sword but stopped with a grunt. Rúni rushed forward, but then the tip of a blade carefully appeared through Asrod's abdomen, his sword dropping on the stone floor below. Asrod fell to his knees, revealing Lyra letting go of the sword and looking Rúni straight in the eyes. The fire in her eyes was gone and made place for something else. To him, it felt as if Rúni looked straight into her soul just then and he could feel her eyes doing the same to him, the barrier once there now gone.
"You.. saved my life."
Her body trembling from the adrenaline, her words nearly drowned in the silence after the storm. Rúni saw his father on the floor from the corner of his eyes, but could not take his eyes off of her.
"As you did for me.."