The Soul of a People


“It is done, Konungyr.”

Vysing’r golden hair and long beard danced freely in the wind, released from the braids he always tied before battle. Half his head was shaved, the other half filled with a tattoo of a wolf, now stained by dried blood splatter, as if it had just found a kill. And a kill Vysing’r had found; large enough to feast the High Table, perhaps.

“Your throat, Eingen,” he replied, his own voice hoarser than usual.

“It will pass, lord,” the warrior said, not without having to contain a cough. “Command me.”

“Did they survive?” the king asked simply.

“The Fimblood was wounded. There’s some sort of poison in his veins, but the Women say he’ll make it.”

“Good,” the king spoke sternly. “Keep him alive, if you can. He led us here, he boarded the ship, he made amends. What of the other?”

“Svhen…” the warrior paused, stroking his dark brown beard uneasily. “He was blooded by the Warg in the mountains, Konungyr, and his blood awoke.” Without realizing it even, Eingen kissed his fist to ward off evil. “Ooki said it happened when he was stabbed but his words are still weak, his mind confused. In any case, Svhen came out… changed.” Vysing’r raised an eyebrow, half his face surprised, the other half frowned.

“Feral?” he asked after a moment but Eingen shook his head. “A Lord,” the warrior replied simply and paused, thinking a little before he went on. “Still, he brought the witch’s head, instead of her breathing. He had… chewed through her neck.”

Helvete,” the Konungyr cursed between his teeth. “Where is the Vangyr now?” he asked, his mind racing.

“It… He, I guess, threw the head to the camp then left for the forest. Some tried to pierce it, an arrow did, I saw, but I called for our warriors to let him go. I thought you-”

“You did well,” Vysing’r nodded reassuringly. “Have we heard from Skölja?”

“Nothing new, lord,” the trusted warrior said. “Last we heard from her, she had already disrupted three convoys, using southerner ships and leaving no survivors. Gudmund’s as good as stranded in the south.” Vysing’r nodded, satisfied.

“I am sorry about the creature’s death, Konungyr,” Eingen said. “I know that bringing it alive to Aarheim would have served you well in your plans. I should have gone with them, make sure.”

“It is a shame about the alf-witch, ‘tis true,” the Konungyr replied. “With Svhen’s testimony that the shamans were about to supplant me and the alf-witch telling them about their cooperation with the Volvas, I would have enough to sway all and keep mystics away from the seats of Kings, I think. Yes, it is a shame. But it is his shame for failing me. Instead of her, I have the service of a Vangyr Lord. A fair trade, I think.”

He paused, the fumes from below finally reaching him as the winds shifted. Bringing his scarf over his mouth and nose, he coughed and cursed, then shouted annoyed.

“Witches, shamans and idiots,” he said. “That is what the High Table is filled with. Gone are the proud warriors of old, the High Kings of legend. Yes, one of them still sits at the table’s head. But it is not the same man. Like the rest of his blessed kind, the touch of gods has claimed him; only where others were eaten by savagery and wildness, he was consumed by sloth and the comfort of a safe nest. And now, sniffing his weakness, the Old Lion woke up and eyes the seat for his bony ass, while the seductresses put their puppets in neat order around the table. But as they clash over expensive wines around the High Table, this is what they’d bring to Mannheim for a seat stolen from their enemies.”

He waved around, as he coughed again and Eingen with him, the winds now truly shifted and bringing the fumes to them. Like a beached whale long dead, the giant ship’s carcass was broken, pieces of chitin keel spread around the field of Hlorcarg. It had taken all he had to bring the fake-beast down – and still would not have been enough without the work of the two who had boarded the ship alone. But, in the end, down it had been brought, its bile spread around the land, as fires of yellow and green and blue and colors yet unnamed danced around the wreckage, burning through snow and ice and wood alike.

“To Hel with all of them!” Vysing’r shouted between coughs. “To Hel with their spells and visions, to Hel with their plots. Steel and might. That is what Mannheim is. See here! Two men, with bonds forged in battle and the wilderness, it took. Two warriors, two warriors of Mannheim. They two brought me victory today and those two to the High Table I’ll bring; Steel and might to win the soul of Mannheim.”

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