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Three Fates

Three Fates

Guest Fiction piece by Mateusz Płoszczyca

Oda, called Twice Cursed, smells the air of the burned southerners’ village. It reeks of fear. Fear of the weaklings, who have dwelt here shorter than an hour ago. Weaklings who could not even survive a day in the Mannheim. No wonder that they could not put anything resembling a resistance. They have died so quickly, and effortlessly, he had no need for calling his Einherjar gifts. The thought brought him to the rest of his raiding party. All these younglings wanting to prove themselves, and show their Jarl they are worth something more than a walking meat most of them are. He could slaughter this village alone, yet he let them blood themselves for the first time. Gods, it made him laugh aloud seeing how eager they are to fight anyone, and anything. They have even killed all the cattle, young fools. He sees maybe a handful that could have a future in his Jarl’s warband. The rest will cull themselves soon enough. Even such a seemingly pointless carnage has its reasons. The southerners will react, and then there will be a real battle. Oda smiles, thinking about it. He cannot wait to show the children of Surtur what it means to face Twice Cursed.

Borko kneels in the old shrine which remembers the times when even his grand grandfather was a child, barely fit to carry a water for an evening meal.  He watches the wooden statue of his all mighty god for a while, and then starts to formulate first words. He prays to Theos as he was taught by his father, his mother, and the preacher who sometimes visited his small village. He thanks Him for the life given, free of suffering, and many blessings he got in his short life. He thanks Him for his pretty wife, and the child she now carries. He thanks Him for a good harvest this year, and the years before. He thanks Him that he can now repay all those generosities, by slaying enemies of the Faith. He is proud to be chosen to join the militia, even if it makes his wife sad. He watches the old, battered weapon of his grandfather, and smiles. Soon, the northern savages will get what they deserve.

Cornelius dons his heavy armor alone. No squire for a knight of his calling. He takes each piece slowly, and murmurs a short formula, before strapping it to his body. Every part is honored in the same way. It may resemble a religious ceremony for the uninitiated, but there is no place for a faith in his mind. It would be pointless anyway, for his gods are long dead. When he is finally ready, he straightens his armored arms before him, showing one mailed hand open, and the other closed in the fist. It too is a symbolic ritual, only his brothers would recognize the meaning of. Open hand is for Ninuah, the giver of new life, and the closed one is for Cleon, protector of the wronged. He remembers their sacrifice, and promises to carry their virtues. After a moment he takes the long sword from the weapon rack, and leaves his cell. He looks at the sky, brightly new dawn coming rapidly to this forgotten part of the Hundred Kingdoms. He sees the birds flying high in the big flock, and a tiny smile crosses his stern features. No one around notices it, his face hidden behind a helmet of his following. He welcomes the destiny he will soon meet.

Gather your wits, you rabble. No weakling’s place here! – Jarl Gorm’s bellowing breaks the barely bearable silence. Each warrior looks at their leader, not sure how to proceed. None can simply forget what has just happened. All fight within, between the loyalty to their leader, and the horrifying spectacle they have been witnessing. Oda can hear their hearts beating heavily, their blood being pumped rapidly. Every sense tells him to attack, and tear them apart, in frenzy of Fenrir. Every muscle yearns for a continuation of what he has just stopped. Every thought focuses on the weakest spots in their shield wall. He looks in their eyes, and sees fear there. He also sees a strong determination. They will not be an easy prey. The beast inside him is pleased. Easy prey brings only food, no fun found there. He is prepared to unleash it, when another voice comes to his ears. It is the soft whisper of Svend, the ancient shaman. It goes inside his head, and somehow placates the beast. All fury leaves Oda like it was never there. He is almost calm, feeling not entirely himself. He will not be any trouble – The old man announces – until the battle is joined, where the enemy will feel the wrath of the gods. And what about Afli? – one of the Huscarls points to the bloody ruin of the young warrior. He should think twice before crossing one of the gifted – shaman says before leaving without further words.

Last Four days took their toll. Borko was exhausted. All of them were. March to the planned battlefield alone would not be easy even for men like him, used to hard work. Yet the armsmaster of his lord apparently found their soldier skills wanting, and decided that a heavy training was necessary. Hours after hours of battle drill made a short work of each day. At the end of the fourth, Borko felt like he would be unbeatable, providing he does not die now from the pain ache in every muscle. He barely found the way to his tent, before falling asleep immediately after touching his blanket. The strange dream came right after. There was a face of his wife calling him to return. He never saw her so scared. She has been terrified of what she saw. Suddenly the understanding hit him that the whole time she has been looking at something behind him. Now her dread was his too. Something unfathomable, but horrifically real. Sound of slow but purposeful stride on the soft earth, told him that it is dangerously close. First, he smelled the wet fur. Then, he heard the sound, one he knew from the woods, and woke up screaming.

Cornelius walks slowly throughout the camp, watching its frantic activity. Last battle drills, last meals, last plans formulated. He does not interfere in any of this, yet his presence is felt anyway. Every soul is watching his passage. Some are thankful for his presence in the army, some can barely hold their resent. All has one thing in common though. All fear him, albeit differently. Conscripted peasants fear him as an embodiment of a legend told them by their forefathers. Nobles fear him as a reminder of the ancient might of his organization that keeps them from destroying what is left of these lands. And there is a fear also in the eyes of the Theist priest, as much as that one tries to cover it with posturing, pretending that his calling makes him above everyone. Cornelius sees the truth, even despite of priest’s helmet. He is as scared of him as the rest, knowing he could not stop him even with his sorcery, called blessings by the ignorant. Yet there is a single disparity in the camp. When he is crossing the Militia training field, there is one who shows a different reaction. Young Errant of the Order of the Shield stops his battle drill for a moment, and nods politely in his direction. Cornelius responds with the same gesture. Brief moment of fraternity passes, and each resumes his current activity. The battle will soon test them all. Ones who fear, and ones who are feared, without discrimination choosing to pass its judgment.

He starts as always in his standard human form, carrying his trusted battle axe in one hand, and a round shield in the other. He knows that it cannot last though. As usual the call of Fenrir will silence all other sounds, and only the fury of his gift will remain. After slaying another man at arms, barely noticing the numbers, he feels that it is a time to shapeshift. In seconds he drops his weapons, and starts the transformation. He sees the horrified southerners watching this, and turning to run. He lets them for he already notices a better target. Standing among a small squad of militia, is an armored figure that he believes the weaklings call a knight. Few quick strides get him to them, and he is surprised that none of them tries to escape. Despite their obvious fear, they decide to face him, encouraged by the knight’s commands. He feels a dozen of pikes reaching and piercing his body in different places at once. He laughs inside, the beast outside him only growls. The knight batters him with his heavy shield, and follows with the sword impaling him through the torso. The young champion is assured of victory, yet he knows nothing about the power of Valdeyr. He makes a mistake to come too close, thinking his enemy defeated. Oda awaits this, and in the right moment his head snaps around knight’s helmet. He crashes it with his mighty jaws, feeling a human brain being pulped inside. He howls to the sky, announcing the world that a Twice Cursed has yet to meet his second fate.

They fought for an hour already, stoically staying their ground against the barbarian horde. Borko felt alive as never before, cherishing every moment, adrenaline rushing him to new levels of bravery. He was defending his homeland, his lord, his faith, and it made him a hero. He already thought how he would be greeted after returning to his village. All will hail his name, shouting his mighty deeds. His head full of ideas barely registered sudden change around him. He notices that his comrades start to shake, pointing their weapons towards something at the front. He hears their young knight commanding them to hold ranks at any cost. Then, when the first row of pikes lowers to meet the new enemy, he finally sees what is coming for them, and starts to shake too. His nightmare from the last night is rapidly closing on his squad. He recognizes the terrible sounds, and empties his bladder, without even noticing it. Horror who became reality does not allows for more reactions, hitting their ranks with the speed unbelievable for something its size. Yet, it is stopped by the weapons of his comrades, and to Borko’s amazement his own too. The Errant comes closer to finish the beast, and for a moment they are triumphant once more. Borko is breathing heavily, still too dazed to properly understand what has just happened. When his heart stops a little crazy hammering, strange image greets his eyes. When seconds before there was a mighty knight, slaying the monster, now a dead armored body hits the ground. Borko looks at the hulking shape coming at him and turns to flee, knowing he cannot outpace it.

All who dare to face him die. He kills them without fancy blade work his calling is known of. He slaughters them like animals they truly are. Methodically he dispatches them, one after another. Soon, he is attacked only by the bravest or too lost in the fury of battle. They call themselves Bearsarks, if he remembers correctly. They die the same as their comrades before them. Only enough effort spent for each as needed, no more. He does not grace them with an afterthought, he barely notices their passing, too focused on saving others through his own killing rampage. He discovers some turbulence appearing on the right flank of their force, so he follows the path, directed by the growing shouts of panic. He sees the huge wolf like beast massacring everyone around, and recognizes his true place in this event. To his regret he is not fast enough to prevent the death of the young Errant. Yet, there is a life that still could be saved. Beasts chasing the lone peasant stops, and responds to his war cry with its own. He braces himself for the imminent charge, his every muscle ready for this ultimate challenge. He moves like a barely visible blur, yet the monster somehow matches his speed. Its attacks may lack his finesse, but their strength is enough to tear his armor to shreds. He manages to hurt it several times, but it seems to not notice any of it, and its wounds are closing even now. Cornelius knows that this encounter must end soon or all will be lost. He knows he has only one strike possible, and it cannot be distracted by anything, even such trivial thing as life and death. Cornelius, the last of his small priory, delivers a perfect kill stroke. Wolf beast eyes seems entirely human at the moment it recognizes that its life comes to end. The knight of the Order of the Sword lands right next to the slayed monster, his innards savaged by its last blow. He smiles watching northerner’s head rolling nearby. Last thing his eye see is a face of terrified villager, who somehow is still alive.

Christopher Nye
Christopher Nye

Content contributor account for the underspire!

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