Chapter 5: At Last
I went back and talked to Valdrel, after regaining control of myself. He still didn’t believe me, but I wasn’t discouraged. As soon as the documents I had called for arrived, finally, after a week of constantly convincing Valdrel not to leave, they came.
I entered Valdrel’s room, and told him to “sit down and listen closely.” I continued, fervently hoping he would see the truth. “I know you don’t believe you are king of anything, but these documents prove otherwise.”
Valdrel injected suspiciously, “How do I know they’re not forged?”
I looked at him intently, smiled, and said “because you wrote them yourself.” I laughed slightly at his disbelief, but when I handed him the documents that follow, his eyes widened with shock.
Valdrel, III 573.12.14
Today we embark upon a journey to my ancestral palace, the same one stolen by the treacherous Gandrun. We seek to recover a sword hidden in the catacombs: a sword of great power, blessed by Fenrisúlfr, the great wolf. However, there are no ways to enter that sanctuary of the Wolf except though the castle, so we must go through the burial chamber, also a sanctuary, and then find the sword. There is a secret entrance in a stairwell that we must find and enter. It is a daring raid, but I know that the gods are with us, for a pack takes care of its own.
Valdrel, III 573.12.15
We have arrived. We leave our sanctuary in search of the sword at midnight, for it is then that the powers of Jörmungandr, the great Serpent, and his minions are at their weakest. I have chosen five loyal men to accompany grey-eyed Herrel and myself, while steadfast Rikrel will stay at out fortress.
Valdrel, III 573.12.16
Success! We have made our way in, and are now holed up in the sanctuary. This may seem bad, but out enemies have no knowledge of our existence here, for they cannot enter the sanctuary.
We snuck past a dozen or so guards, as a wolf might stock pray, invisible to the one the pack hunts. Before reaching the catacombs, I myself snuck into treacherous Gandrum’s room in order that I might steal amulets of his for our priests to examine. After all, it is easier to defeat a foe that is understood. If we can find the source of the magic, we can neutralize its power.
Valdrel, III 573.12.17
Today we escaped from my old home, though were caught escaping. We were forced to fight out way out.
At dawn we left, but we should have left hours earlier at midnight, as we had come. Two of my best men would then have survived. As we left, chance had a guard turn and see us, raising the alarm before he could be silenced. I did silence him moments later, but it was too late. We were discovered. I immediately hit him with a rock, but it was useless. Guards streamed down upon us, but we killed them all quickly and efficiently, like a wolf pack that had hunted together for years. One of our men fell, and we were forced to carry them so that he would not be desecrated.
Another of my men soon died fighting cruel Ginnar, my treacherous brother, before I wounded the traitor badly just above the hip. While I stayed to do this I was left behind accidently, and I was alone. I ran for the burial chamber. I reached our ancestral hall, and paused, looking at the familiar sight before me. High was the ceiling and long were the banners. Though heartbreaking to see, so desecrated was the hall, its beauty was great. I raised my sword, and ran forward, swiftly, silently. My need was great, and a miracle needed.. I bowed my head in prayer to the Great Wolf, who answered. My way was safe. The only moving things I passed were a dozen or so guards, easily dispatched, and a half dozen shining blurs that raced ahead of me. I also passed countless corpses of fallen guards leading straight to the burial room. By its entrance I saw treacherous Gandrun along with my two traitor brothers and a dozen small snakes fighting against the blurs I had seen earlier: they were not blurs at all, but wolves. Spirits sent down from above, fenrimundes, sent to protect me.
From on high a voice boomed out, “Go, my child. My warriors will take care of the serpents”.
I escaped into the hall where my men and grey-eyed Herrel were waiting. We buried the two fallen respectfully, and are now preparing to return to our fortress.
Valdrel, III 573.12.21
It is now the solstice, and our enemies will not attack until tomorrow: we are blessed with special power on this day.
When I returned from my raid I gave the amulet to the priests and then went to the war tent. That was two days ago. Yesterday we mobilized our forces to three mountain passes that are easily defendable, and the only ways into the valley where our fortress lies. In case we fall, I am going to meet with the historian Tyr’ron. He will record my life and store it away, safe, so that should we die our story will not.
He looked up in disbelief. “I…I don’t believe it! I remember writing this! But how is this possible? Why can’t I remember?”
“Read on, my friend…”
I was born of a king, trained for war, but destined for suffering. My parents rightfully and justly ruled out land. They were kind, but their wrath was terrible to behold. Like wolves, stalking their prey, surrounded by the chilled air of the north. Stalking, silently, together. So does my family wait in silence, striking together at the opportune moment, yet never giving away their intentions until it is too late. I too, and four of my seven brothers and sisters are, or were, like wolves.
My parents, being rulers of the land, naturally attracted enemies. Further hatred for them sprouted from the decisive way in which they destroyed their foes. The survivors, though few, would never forgive, never forget.
Despite my parents being wise, they could not foretell my uncle’s betrayal. My uncle, the treacherous Gandrum, had trained in sorcery, in secret. So angry was he that the gift of the Great Wolf had passed him by that he turned to the Serpent, Jörmungandr, for revenge.
Gandrum longed for a way to combat his brothers’ cold fury, so he turned to heat. Fire and hatred were his obvious tools, but above these were deception and treachery. He allied himself in secret to the few survivors of my parents’ wrath, for he had access to the records of battles, and easily found those who survived. Where he could, Gandrum sought to save my parents’ enemies in order to win their allegiance. For twenty years did he plot and scheme, amassing a hidden army that nursed hatred for my parents. He began before my birth, but waited until I was old enough to show signs of the great gift to attack. When I did, he passed me by. He wanted me to join him, as my two older brothers, Ginnar and Feiken, did. Had I not been gifted by the Great Wolf, I may have joined him. However, I was, and so the possibility was out of the question.
Finally, the time came when Gandrum’s plans were fulfilled, and his armies were strong enough to crush my parents’ kingdom. He struck like only a coward would, in the dead of night, killing my father before he could awaken, and had my mother shot, ignoring the rules of combat. I tried to help, but my treacherous brothers stopped me. I perhaps could have defeated one, but not two, for they had more training, and there were two, but I was like a wolf in combat. My sister, loyal Fríðr, who had also not received the gift of the Great Wolf, remained loyal to him and sacrificed herself to save me. I ran, finding my sister Herrel and brother Rikrel fighting soldiers over the bodies of more soldiers and my younger brothers, Hidrel and Sigrel. I charged, changing the tide of the battle and killing two guards instantly, and then we banded together to defeat the rest.
We gathered twenty loyal men, instructing the rest to meet in the forest sanctuary, where servants of the Serpent cannot go. We chose the best and the quietest, those that moved and hunted most like a pack. We had them simply guard our backs, but instructed them not to be seen. We paused, looking at the familiar sight before us. High was the ceiling and long were the banners. Though heartbreaking to see, so damaged was the hall, its beauty still showed. I raised my sword, and ran forward, swiftly, silently. Our need was great, and a miracle needed. I bowed my head in prayer to the great wolf, who answered. From nowhere, three shimmering wolves appeared, one for each of us. We recognized them from legends as the fastest of the fenrimundes. We climbed on, using them as mounts, and they ran forward, carrying us each to our destination: the fallen bodies of our siblings.
Finally, the spirit and I reached the tower, fraught with darkness. Coils of mist surrounded our heads as we looked for our fallen brethren. Our mission was simple: to retrieve the bodies of our siblings for an honorable burial. Royalty, and all who die honorably in battle, as they did, should have a proper burial. I went for my fallen sister, loyal Fríðr, who had saved my life, while the others rescued the bodies of our fallen brothers who had died honorably. We succeeded, each saving their charge. By blood were we bound, by blood would we stand, until Ragnarök comes at last. Onward we pressed, hiding inside the great catacombs for burial.
Only the servants of silent Fenrisúlfr can enter the burial chamber and other sanctuaries, and so the three traitors had avoided all sanctuaries for the last couple of years, always making excuses. All who did not serve the great wolf yet entered none the less would meet a horrible fate, though I have yet to see what that is. There are a number of tunnels underground, leading to other sanctuaries. Though not impenetrable, they are difficult to pierce: not because of the gods, but because of their thick walls and, of course, their being underground. We escaped into the chamber, safe and sound. We gave our fallen brethren the proper burial for those who died with honor: we laid them out on the holy altars of Fenrisúlfr, stripping and cleansing them. This, naturally, can be done only by priests or members of the royal family (who are priests in their own right). After the cleansing, we anointed them with oil and laid them out in full armor, their weapons clutched in their hands. We placed a crown of thorns on each of their heads, symbolizing the pain of their death. We placed golden bands upon their forearms, symbolizing their honor. On their swords we inscribed a prayer to the Great Wolf, asking for passage to the eternal hunting grounds. Finally, we laid them to rest inside the great depths of the blessed catacombs.
After the burial, we travelled through the tunnels to where the troops were waiting for us. We saw about a thousand loyal soldiers, healthy, strong, and fully armored. We also saw about a dozen flaming corpses. I laughed, realizing that this is what happened to those who enter a sanctuary without the blessing of the wolf. Indeed, these spies who had turned their lives to the great flame had now died by it.
I turned to my soldiers, pointed at the corpses and said, “That is the price of treachery. Even thoughts of treachery will be fatal to you. I say this as a warning, not a threat. Do not betray us, in actions, words, or even in thoughts, for the Great Wolf knows all, sees all, and punishes all. If you ever have a seed of doubt in your hearts, pray to Fenrisúlfr for guidance. He will answer. Do not be drawn by the promises of the Serpent, for they are false. Should you choose to do so your fate will be the same as these thirteen traitors, whether by my hand or the Serpent’s. He will use you and then burn you away into empty husks. His wrath is like the sun, as is his entire being (though he does not actually control the sun). It burns all, consumes all, uses everything around it to fuel itself. It cannot be contained, save by the power of the gods, and Fenrisúlfr himself.
“Your options stand thus: you can fight with me, for duty, honor, country. You can fight against oppression, for all those who cannot fight for themselves. Or, you can betray me and fight for our enemies. This, however, would be futile, for we have the power of the Wolf on our side. Instead, fight with me, that we may destroy evil. Fight with me, that we may destroy those who betrayed us and win back our freedom!”
At that a great cheer went up, as I had intended, and we began to prepare to fight immediately. Finally, we were ready (or so we thought), and marched to an old, abandoned fortress. This was a fatal mistake, one that lost us far too many men. Never should we have left our sanctuary.
Our enemies discovered our intentions, and deigned to trap us: for the fortress to which we travelled was surrounded by a ring of mountains, with only three passes large enough for an army. Our own spies discovered that the brunt of their attack would come from the south, so I marshaled four hundred of our soldiers, a hundred of our best and then about sixty archers, and took them to the southern pass. About three hundred soldiers, with only fifty of our best but about the same number of archers went to each of the other passes, the east held by my brother and the west by my sister. We left about a hundred of our best at our fortress, in case the enemy should break through. We know we can hold, as long as we are not surrounded, for the pass allows for small battles, and our soldiers are superior. That is where I now am. Tonight the battle lines will be drawn, and I hope to the gods that we can hold. Already have my siblings been assailed, though their losses have been few. That is where this whole business stands. Wish me luck, my old friend.
“So you recorded this?” he asked me surprisedly.
“Yes. You spoke, I recorded. Read on, Valdrel. Your questions will all be answered.
Valdrel, III 573.12.22
The first day of battles was gruesome. It had been so long since I fought a real war that the amount of death surprised me, although I got over it quickly. Me and my retinue of priests and elite warriors held the center, while our finest infantrymen held the edges of our position. The less trained soldiers waited for some breach in the line to appear, that they might fill it. We had about half our elite troops guarding our archers, whom we positioned on the high ground above us. They would have no problem holding. As expected, the enemies’ numbers and weapons were far greater than our own. However, numbers alone do not win battles, however much they help. They had neither the devotion to our cause nor the training that we did, and so we would hold.
My own personal guard lost not a single warrior, and of our finest we lost only two. Of the other three hundred or so warriors we lost less than ten. In return, we killed at least three hundred of them, if not more.
My men and I held all day, through a combination of magic, superior positioning, and my own cold fury. We killed at least a hundred on our own, my own holy sword smiting dozens of foes. However, they lost a small amount compared to their full numbers. We cannot afford to grow complacent, for they will strike when they sense weakness. There are too many of them, and already my men tire.
Valdrel, III 573.12.23
They attacked again, and it was a very similar story to yesterday. They lost hundreds and we lost few: three core infantrymen and about a dozen of our other soldiers. If not for our archers, we would have fallen.
Valdrel, III 573.12.24
It is a miracle! Our line was on the verge of breaking, even though I had killed a hundred on my own, when the great wolf himself seemed to appear. A great shadow in the shape of a wolf suddenly towered above us, and from behind us a hundred wolf spirits, fenrimundes, ran out to attack our foes. They seemed incapable of dying, slaughtering all before them. Our foes scatted, running futiley for their pitiful lives.
I ordered a charge, and our entire force attacked. About thirty of our men fell, five of them coremen and one from my own guard, but we killed thousands! Thank the Wolf for this great victory.
Valdrel, III 573.12.25
Today they did not attack. I believe they are still too scared of the Wolf to do so, but they will be back tomorrow. We took the opportunity to bury our honored dead, and burn the cursed bodies of our enemies, as well as saving what men of ours could be saved. We feasted, marking today as a celebration to our lord, the Wolf. Also, today is a full moon, so I wish that they had attacked. When the moon is full we have increased power, so not one of us would have fallen. Either way, thank the gods for this day of rest.
Valdrel, III 573.12.26
Last night the great spirit came to me in a dream, instructing me to challenge my traitorous brother Feiken to single combat. I have done so, and he accepted: knowing that if he wins the battle will be over without more loss of men. This shows, at the very least, that he is still a good commander, for he cares for his troops, or for victory, which he knows he cannot achieve with the same tactics.
After I returned to camp, a messenger came saying that my brother Rikrel had been overrun and killed, and his entire force decimated. The dozen or so survivors were hiding out in the mountains, but had most likely left to reinforce our main fortress. Apparently, fenrimundes guarded their bodies.
I wept. My last true brother is dead, and now I go to kill my traitor brother. I weep still. Shall I ever stop weeping?
Today is for mourning, tomorrow for glory and for battle. By the power of the great wolf, I shall pay back the traitor Feiken for leading an army that killed noble Rikrel.
Valdrel, III 573.12.27
I fought, and I won. I survived, while Feiken did not. It was fate.
The sun was hot, bearing down on my neck. I was tired from the endless fighting. At the same time, I was energized by my day of rest and from the task ahead of me. I step out into the hastily erected arena, containing a large rock in the center as well as some smaller rocks, enclosed by a magic ring that allows no one out or in until one of both of the combatants is dead or has yielded. I don my helmet and walk into the arena. I look at my brother, my fury boring into him. We step up onto the rock in the center, and I walk around, getting a feel for its shape. I pull down my visor, draw my sword, and wait. He mirrors my movements.
Slowly do we circle, neither wanting to move first, neither wanting to make a mistake. Suddenly, I stop, and let my sword hang loose. This is foolish, why should I wait for the attack that will not come? Instead, I must bait one out, or otherwise strike first. And anyway, perhaps he will take the bait…
He does! He too drops his guard, confused at my intentions. In that moment I move with the speed of a wolf, striking him. He blocks, but barely, and falls backwards of the rock. His reactions are good, but that doesn’t matter. I have what I want. Now I have the high ground.
For ten minutes he attempts to even the playing field and either get back up or pull me down. For ten minutes I stop him time and time again. Suddenly I jump at him, sparking a cheer from my men. I had forgotten they were there. I attack furiously, but he slithers away, receiving only minor injuries.
Again, the game of waiting. Any mistakes would not be fatal. I feign left and jump onto the rock, hoping to gain the high ground advantage once again. However, he sees through my feint and follows me up. We are once again equal, though on the high ground. For an hour, at least, we continue this deadly game, neither gaining the advantage. Feigning, striking, recovering once again. Finally, I make a mistake. I stumble. It is small, but allows Feiken to disarm me, hitting my sword off of the rock. I stand and stare at him, my hatred boring into his being. Now I am truly angry.
He attacks. So predictable is he, I know his every move. He stabs, I dodge to the side. He slices, I duck. And finally, he brings his sword down over his head, onto mine. I step only slightly to the side, grab its hilt and smash the pommel into his face. I now have his sword, but I don’t want it. I break it in half as easily as one might break a stick, and throw the shards at him. He dodges, while I just stand, laughing, between him and my own sword. He runs at me, attacking desperately, but it is not enough.
I block everything he throws at me. He cannot win. He will not win. I will win. Finally, I smash my gauntleted hand into his leg, then his arm, then into his face. I grab the same arm I hit, spinning him around and forcing him down. He falls, crying. I put him into a position of such pain that he cannot move for several moments. In those moments I retrieve my sword. He kneels there, pleading with me for his despicable life. He does not deserve to live. He killed my sister, and led to the death of my parents and three of my brothers. But… he is also my brother.
“Do you yield?”
“Yes! I yield, I swear!”
False words. I turn, but see the barriers still in place. He lied. I turn and swing my sword, timing it perfectly. He had run at me, seeking to wrestle the sword from my grasp, but I stopped him in his tracks. Off came his head, and down it fell. He doesn’t deserve to live. I had to give him what he deserves.
Valdrel, III 573.12.30
The last couple of days have been spent hunting down the survivors. I did not include this earlier, but this is the recounting of what happened after I killed Feiken.
It was finished, or so I thought. Suddenly, hails of arrows flew at me, the protective barrier gone. My priests erected their own barriers in front of me, saving my life. However, a single barbed arrow pierced my knee, and I went down, twisting in pain. It was the most painful thing I had ever felt. The rest I do not know for certain, I write only what has been told to me.
The enemy forces advanced. However, the old ways are not to be taken lightly.
The gods once again intervened. My army did not even need to fight, so angered were the gods at the treachery that had occurred. Lightning struck our foes, Thor himself angered. Fenrimundes appeared among them, tearing the enemies to pieces like sheep for the slaughter. Few survived their onslaught. Now, none do.
I have been told that because of my severe injuries, I should not be alive. When I fell my head hit a rock, creating a large dent in my helmet. Indeed, it is hard to think. It hurts. I should be dead, but I will not die. Not until Gandrum is dead and my kingdom is restored will I finally die. I will have to wait though, for I am being hidden in another world. Apparently the portal was discovered in the first age, and a number of our best men went through, never to return. Back then the main weapons were large axes, few using swords as they do today. Those men did not return because they loved it there. They brought our gods to the people of this new world. I am told that my memory will be affected, and so I am glad that Tyr’ron had me write all this down. I will need it someday. He will be with me, though I will not recognize him. My memory will be altered because my injury must be healed. It is the price for my life, from Hel himself. I hope, at the very least, I remember my sister, grey-eyed Herrel, my family, and my revenge.
“So that’s why…what happened in the deal between me and Hel? And…who is Hel?”
“We will discuss the gods later. The deal…well, you were on the verge of death. We could have saved you, but you would have been crippled, so we made a deal with Hel. She would take most of your memories in return for your life and health. She knew that you might regain them, but she said she wanted the memories so she might have some say if you took power.”
We talked for hours about the documents, discussing battles, people, and above all, Valdrel’s injury. “Tomorrow,” I told him, “I will explain our beliefs and the gods.”