Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Soldier

By: Michael Carta


Forty moons have passed since we set out on our voyage. This is the longest that I have ever been at sea. My legs feel weak and ache for land, as does my heart. I strive to prove myself in battle and earn honor as my father and brothers have done before me. Though, fear slowly creeps within like winter’s chill each day I spend rocking back and forth. It is not because I am not afraid to die; I look forward to the day I earn a seat with my ancestors in the halls of Valhalla. Even though to do means that I must die a fearless death in battle. No, I fear that my strength is leaving me and that when the time comes, I will crumble like the waves beneath our ship. This is the life of a soldier for our people, for our legacy. When we reach landfall I pray that the Valkyrie hear our shields clash and watch over us, for they are the angels of death that will carry those worthy to the afterlife. Those worthy… what happens to the others; the unfortunate, the weak? Father’s stories do not speak of them; I will do my best not to find out.

My older brother Hagen, the oldest and strongest of my father’s sons, lead the expedition that founded and established our house in the new northern territory. My father, King Jerrik, believed that Hagen has to earn his inheritance by expanding our dominion to this land known as Finnmark. For several seasons we received envoys packed with goods and livestock acquired from his exploits. Then suddenly, it all stopped and we had no word for many moons. At first we thought Hagen was returning, but as the days passed, father’s face grew colder as his hope faded. There were always rumors of the strange people and creatures in foreign lands, especially in the north. But, Hagen took with him his best soldiers, more than fifty seasoned veterans of battle. A force that some would say could rival Odin himself!  

It was because of the long silence that father decided to send me along with ten others, two of which are my brothers. I am the youngest and the only one not to have tasted actual battle. We are tasked with finding Hagen, or what is left of him and his soldiers. If we do not return from Finnmark, father should abandon this colony and not waste any more lives. Though, his pride is great and he will most likely make the voyage himself with all of our remaining kin to achieve vengeance, or die trying. I doubt his sword will stay idle if he loses his sons before his own passing.  Either way we will be united again soon, as is our destiny.

In a booming voice Vragen shouted, “Awaken!” as he grabbed my shoulders. Instantly, I jumped up as my heart pounded and lost my footing. I landed hard on my back and quickly scrambled to my feet. I was then welcomed by the laugher of the entire crew. Vragen taunted, “You let your guard down by gazing off into the distance while thinking about the warmth of a woman! That will get you eating by the wolves!”  I barked back, “I doubt they would have any appetite left for me after they finished with you. The whole pack would have their fill”. “Hah! You’ve got a quick wit there, keep your mind sharp. Don’t worry; soon your spirit will be as unmovable as Brogiern’s.”  I glanced towards the large shadowy figure of Brogiern towards the rear of the ship; he was as stern and serious as a mountain. He was the oldest out of the group and had silver hair. For a brief moment I think I saw him smirk, that was the only time I ever saw any emotion displayed from him. Vragen helped me to my feet and patted me on the back. “We will make a soldier of you yet, you will see. Try not to lose your sword before we make it to land!” Vragen laughed to himself as he returned to the helm. Soon a wave of seriousness would fall on us all as we prepared for what was to come in our own ways.

Brogiern would solemnly chant in an extremely deep voice prayers of the ancient tongue. Vragen would drink mead until sleep took him. Most of the others either joined Vragen, or sharpened their weapons. I chose to lay back and look up at the sky while listening to Brogeirn’s voice. There was something calming about his voice that helped me to relax. That was when the rain started. For the next two days it would persist, it was impossible to stay dry. I spent my time at the bow of the ship peering onward through the gloom of the sea’s mist. The days were nearly as dark as night and with the rain it was hard to tell the difference. My heart stopped when a thick blankness began to emerge in the distance. Was it real? Was it Jormungandr, the sea serpent father warned about that took his brother and all of this ships many years ago? A swift breeze swept away the fog and the blankness doubled in size. I stood up quickly and reached for my sword.

Vragen’s hand caught me at the wrist as I gripped my sword. Before I had a chance to shout, he covered my mouth with his other hand. As I struggled, he sharply whispered, “Quiet, my brother! –not yet! It’s just land, but it would be best for us to remain unnoticed… there are more dangerous things than man in these parts.” His grip released as a wave of relief and anticipation rushed over me. We made it, finally, land.   

What happened next, I can only remember in pieces. We reached the shore which was only a few yards leading up to a thick, dark forest of wretched old trees. I remember how strong my legs felt once they finally stood on solid land, I felt so grounded that I could not help but lunge and jump a few times. Next, I remember my head throbbing with pain and Brogeirn charging past me at an incredible pace. He had several black arrows protruding from him; the one in his neck was very wet from his thick blood. The arrows were like flies on a horse, he paid them no mind. I then remember blackness and hearing Vragen shouting my name, I could not respond, my limbs were too heavy to move. His voice was drifting farther and farther away until I could only hear the sound of footsteps around me. That is all. I then awoke in this moody pit with my hands bound in a poorly crafted wooden cage next to you, stranger from a distance land. You mumble and sleep often and I know you cannot understand me, but I must tell someone of my journey; so that I will not be forgotten like the failed crop discarded. They toss scraps of food down once a day, what will become of us? Or, is it that I am already dead, but failed to gain the Valkyrie’s favor?  Have I missed my chance for Valhalla and to see my brethren again? Hah, such is the life of a soldier for our people, for our legacy…

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