Short Story

 

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“LEGENDS OF THE VIKINGS: A KING’S DESTINY”

By Kevin McAllister

 

A father fights for his family. A king fights for his people. Both types of men should be approached cautiously, especially when they are one and the same. When a legend has conquered his dreams, all he needs to do is to protect it.

As Magnus sits alone high in the snowy mountains overlooking the village, he stares into the burning flames in deep thought. His fame and achievements don’t just come from the treasure or the songs written from his battles but is displayed by the peace in his kingdom. However, internal troubles are bothering him. The smell of battle lingers in the air. The gods are stirring in the icy breeze. He recalls the seer’s prophesy of fire and sword. Is it looming now?


King Magnus, his wife Áshildr, and their two children stand ready looking out into the large group of people in the great hall. In the dim-lit brisk setting, men and women are seen holding large horns of mead and wearing furs across their back to keep warm. All eyes in the audience are on the family anticipating what the king has to deliver. With a loud booming voice Magnus states, “our continuous efforts prove to be bountiful in our goal of unity throughout Norway. Once spring arrives, our people along with our new alliances we have formed, will sail to the west to expand our settlements and continue our path towards peace with the Christians. I believe they may be out of silver to give anyway!” The crowd bursts with laughter of the thought of their successful raids in the past. “Now enjoy yourselves and drink! Skál!” shouts Magnus.

The luminescent moon shines over the merry villagers as horns are emptied and men are frolicking with the women after the gathering in the great hall. In the bed chambers, sits Magnus hunched over sharpening his sword on a wet stone. He appears shirtless, with multiple battle wounds and scars on his back. He may seem like he has everything under control on the outside, but internally he fights this impending doom that he feels is coming. His wife, Áshildr enters the room and walks over to her husband laying a soft gentle hand on his shoulder.

“What’s wrong husband?” asks Áshildr. Magnus says nothing, just continues to sharpen his sword. After a short pause, Áshildr kneels in front of him and lays her palm on top of the sword to indicate that she wants his focus. “Talk to me Magnus,” says Áshildr in her calm, but authoritative tongue. Magnus perks up like he hasn’t heard a single thing she has said.

“Oh, I was just in deep thought. What do you ask of me?” Magnus states, with now full attention on his wife. Áshildr cups his grizzly face with both of her hands as she intently looks into his aged eyes. “A battle is coming. The gods have spoken, and I have heard their words. This may be the end, the end of me and everything I hold dear,” Magnus explains with a stern, but comfort tone. Áshildr knows very well what he is saying and after a brief pause to collect her thoughts and feelings, she accepts what the gods may have in store for her husband. She slowly leans in closer and begins to kiss Magnus with raw passion. Áshildr gives a firm push to her husband’s chest sending him backwards onto the bed. She pulls her dress off and gradually climbs up on the bed to straddle her husband. Magnus quickly kicks off his trousers and pulls his tunic over his head, throwing it behind him. The candle lit backdrop provides a romantic setting between a husband and wife, knowing that it could be their last night together.


A man labeled a warrior coming from the east, has nothing to lose. The tales have been heard far and wide across Scandinavia about the Thief of Peace. He goes from village to village striking down the petty kings. Not for fame or wealth, just pure anarchy. Sometimes the kill is stealthy when not one person sees the tragic act; other times it is a man versus man battle for everyone to witness. After each king is slain, he quickly takes his sword and with one smooth slice, the Thief of Peace collects their head as trophies. Fury, revenge, and destruction consume his mind and he sets his eyes on one goal.

His tales are never consistent. People provide a different point of view every time his name is spoken. Some say he is a foreigner from a faraway land. Others say, he is a true berserker providing Odin with more men for Ragnarök. He has also been called a god, but no one truly knows his origin or why he causes chaos in their land. At least they haven’t lived long enough to tell it.

“In my land many years ago, a group of you attacked my home. Silver wasn’t important to my family, as we had none. It didn’t matter though, because you struck down my mother and father right in front of my youthful eyes. See, my father hid me in the bushes to keep me safe knowing he was going to pay a price. The thing is, I remember that day clear, just like the day I took my own oath. To kill every last one of you and punish the man you think is king,” the Thief of Peace declares as he slits the neck of a dying man. In the background, bodies are piled up and blood flows like a river down to his feet. Another village slaughtered, as he continues his destructive path of taking the one thing away people take for granted, peace.


Spring has arrived as the snow begins to drip off the trees. Magnus and his son, Einar watch as a fleet of long ships sail off in the distance heading west.

“How long will they be?” Einar curiously asks.

“As long as necessary. Our sacrifice to Thor last night will provide them with great protection over the seas,” Magnus says calmly. They both stand watch, until the sails can no longer be seen.

During their early morning hunt, Magnus spots a small gray rabbit hopping around on the wet soft grass looking for food. The creature stops with both ears pointed up, while searching the area by smell and sound. The bow-string snaps, sending the broad head arrow to penetrate the skin of the rabbit killing it instantly. The blood begins to spread from the contact point on the fur of the rabbit. With a grin on his face, Einar turns to his dad and asks, “How’s that father?” Magnus slaps his sons’ back in celebration for the kill. “That’s my boy. Just remember to always breathe. Look at the difference it made with your shot from last time.” After collecting their kill, they begin to head home through the woods.

“Do you think mother will cook this for me?” Einar asks looking up toward his father. As Magnus looks down, he realizes how far his son is away from being a man.

“She would, however you need to learn how to cook your own meat son. What happens when I, nor your mother is around? You need to learn the simple things in life. One day, this rabbit could be life or death for you,” Magnus explains as he kneels down to be on the same level as his son.

Back at home, people are seen fishing off the docks and strolling through the market place looking to trade. More ships are being built and swords are being constructed. The village is busy and thriving. Áshildr and her daughter, Hervor are walking hand in hand through the village greeting everyone as they walk by. The little girl pans over to a group of obnoxious men drinking together.

“Mother?” asks Hervor. “Yes honey?” replies Áshildr.

“Why is everyone so loud when they drink?” Hervor asks in a childish manner.

“Oh darling, that just means they are having a good time. That’s all,” Áshildr explains delicately. Hervor keeps walking satisfied by the answer her mother gave her.

A man standing on the docks looking out into the water, blows a large horn that echoes and ricochets off the mountains, and travels throughout the village. It is a warning signal for potential invaders. Magnus and Einar are almost out of the woods, when they hear the horn go off. The king has a curious, but stern look on his face. His long gray beard falls to his breastbone. He takes a firm grasp of the hilt of his sword and looks toward his son. “We need to go now!” Men and women throughout the village grab their swords and shields and race off to the docks. Archers stand ready covering the perimeter. Magnus is running as fast as he can, while his son trails behind. He glances back at Einar and shouts, “you need to find your mother and sister. Stay with them until I find you. Understand?” Einar is breathing hard trying to catch up to his father and acknowledges his father by a simple head nod. “Remember what I told you,” Magnus shouts at his son while he continues to run.

A one-person longboat is seen ahead coming down the fjord. Magnus can’t seem to make out exactly what’s on the boat due to the dense fog hovering the water. As the boat inches closer, gasps are heard from the village. Clenching his fist and raising his sword, Magnus moves forward recognizing each king he sees. Several heads are dangling from the boat where the sail would hang. Decapitated from their bodies, the heads droop with blank eyes staring toward the village. With everyone’s gaze on the boat, it suddenly catches on fire. The flames rise high above the heads, slowly melting the corpse’s skin right off the faces. Magnus closes his eyes for a split-second listening for wisdom from Odin. Fire and sword, fire and sword.

As all the commotion is going on with people scrambling and Magnus shouting out to his people to take cover, one by one each home is set ablaze now encircling the fearless leader. Through the bright orange heat, Magnus catches a blurry glimpse of his wife and two children running around the homes trying to get back to the great hall. He sighs a sense of relief knowing that they are not trapped. His wife, Áshildr, is a strong warrior who can handle the protection of her children with ferocity just like him. It’s the trait he loves most about her, strength. His children are not ready for something like this and that troubles him the most. Looking around frantically, he helps anyone in need. He begins to try to find the source of this attack.

“MAGNUS!” a stranger yells. Magnus is caught aback seeing this man in the circle of fire with him. He can’t seem to recognize this man. “Your reign is over, your home is destroyed, and your family is dead,” states the stranger vigorously. Magnus immediately leaps forward with his sword directly under the man’s chin, touching the cold steel on his throat.

“What did you say?” Magnus roars.

“I have fed the raven today and don’t intend on stopping now. Did you really think, I wouldn’t come for you? Do you even know who I am, oh mighty king? I’ve only done, what you have done to my family so many years ago. The savages in this land may label me as the Thief of Peace, which I do find amusing. However, since this kill will be so intimate to me, I prefer you call me Eadmund,” the man explains.

Magnus begins to pierce the skin on this man with the tip of his sword. The only reason he isn’t dead already because he doesn’t know what the truth is. Is his family really dead? What did he do to this man’s family years ago? With a hint of hesitation, Magnus takes a quick peek around him scouting out for any archers, other enemies, and his people.

“What are you looking for?” asks the man. “I already told you, your kingdom is fallen. Before you even think that I have an army behind me hiding, I don’t. It’s just you and me. Fire and sword,” Eadmund declares.

Anger takes ahold of Magnus, but his opponent sensed his tendency and quickly pushed his sword up and off his throat and leaps out of the way.

“You take your position for granted Magnus. You let your guard down and sent your strongest warriors to the west. You left me no choice, but to end this now,” exclaims Eadmund. Magnus goes in for another killing strike, but once again comes up short to his opponent. Has age compromised his fighting? Is he not the warrior he once was? This killer is quick, strong, and confident, which reminds Magnus of a younger version of himself. His fighting style is unique. It combines brutality with elegance, something Magnus hasn’t seen from a man in all his years. “Come on, old man! I thought this would be a challenge. A fight that people would sing songs about one day,” provokes Eadmund.

The fire around them begins to cave in, immersing them in intense heat. Screams are heard in the distance of people being burned alive, while the two men battle it out in which seems to be a death sentence for either victor. With a quick and swift strike of the sword, the man slices into the upper arm of Magnus creating a significant wound. Magnus stumbles back grazing the hot flames against his back. He begins to fight back clashing their swords against each other. Each attack ends in a counter attack, until Magnus forces the sword out of his hands with a forceful strike, sending the weapon into the flames. With a successful stab to the man’s thigh, he spirals down in agony. He tries to brace himself with his hand pushing down into the dirt and kneeling on one leg. “I will not let you win! I can’t let you win! My destiny is to kill you! Ever since that day you came into our village, killed my family, and took my home, my life journey has been to destroy everything you stand for,” shouts the man.

“I’ve heard enough,” says Magnus. With one smooth motion, Magnus lifts his leg and kicks the Eadmund straight in the chest sending the man flying back into the flames.

A father fights for his family. A king fights for his people. A legend lives forever. The prophecy is here as promised, fire and sword. These two words ring loudly in Magnus’s ears as he heads into the fire gripping the sword at his side. The flames engulf the king providing a luminous orange background against the rocky surface of the mountains, lying directly behind the village. A large black silhouette stands tall, with only the reflection of the flames shining off the blade of his sword.

“Where are you?” Magnus screams. He steps to the other side of the burning flames in a clear opening, searching around him. The fire didn’t affect him. Did the gods protect him in this moment? As a raven his seen flying over his head, he follows it with his eyes. Until, he gets distracted from the destruction he sees. The village is in ruins. Black smoke is rising blocking out the blue sky, the smell of wood burning looms in the air, and the sounds of the fire crackling and popping provides a nightmare backdrop for the king. Homes are destroyed, livestock is dead, and people burned to their very core.

Before Magnus can even see his enemy, he is already falling to the ground. Eadmund crawled quietly behind Magnus and took the handle of his sword to perform a quick sweep at his ankles making him fall backwards. Struggling to stand, the killer strikes downward with his sword as he’s crawling on the ground and successfully hits Magnus directly on his forearm. With rapid succession, he continues to chop down on his forearm creating bursts of blood spewing out. Magnus screams in agony, but quickly gets on the offensive. While both men are still grounded, Magnus takes his other arm to perform a couple impactful elbows straight to the head of the killer as he hovers just behind him. This knocks him back and he loses the grip of his sword, ending the horror that was just done to the king. Both men are unrecognizable now with blood covering their faces completely. Each man is in agony and struggling to move, while lying on their backs wounded on the cold ground surrounded by flames. They realize that death is inevitable.

Magnus knows there is no point of return now. Instead of going after the severely wounded man still lying on the ground, he makes his way to the great hall. On the way, he takes his sword and hangs it over the flames to where the steel is now glowing in burning heat. He quickly applies the sword to his half arm to stop the constant bleeding. In this very moment, he never felt so weak, so useless. As the scorching heat of steel touches his arm he grimaces in pain and feels the world spinning but stays strong and silent for his path to Valhalla.

It felt like an eternity for him to maneuver around all the destruction and avoid the flames while he stumbles along. His vision is blurry, and his head is pounding inside. He takes a quick rest to catch his balance and throws up blood excessively. Magnus finally makes it to the front doors of the great hall. He leans on the doors out of exhaustion and they slowly open causing him to fall forward hitting his head on the ground and sending his sword out of his hands. He slowly crawls forward until he reaches the table to pull himself up. One step at a time he grabs onto the backs of each chair along the table to keep his balance. He hobbles past the eating area and into his sleeping chambers where he sees his worst nightmare. There, Magnus sees his wife and child laying on the floor dead with a puddle of blood beneath them. His daughter lays across Áshildr with her sword in her hand. He falls to his knees and rests his head on the stomach of his child and places his one hand in his wife’s hand.

“MAGNUS!” shouts Eadmund. He followed Magnus, now limping into the great hall. “This is not over!” he demands. He makes his way into the room where he killed everything that Magnus lived for and sees the man broken. Magnus hears the footsteps approaching from behind him. He doesn’t bother to look back.

“If this is my destiny from the Norns than I gladly accept my honorable death. I’m coming home All Father,” Magnus whispers to himself. “Now you see the truth. Now, this ends!” Eadmund states. With one smooth motion he plunges the back of a defenseless Magnus with his sword. Using the last amount of energy he had, the killer drops to his knees, then slowly falls face first right to the floor.

Everything is silent, only the sounds of the flames crackling, and the structure of the great hall is collapsing. The legendary Magnus leans over his family with a sword pierced in his back. His kingdom has fallen, and all peace has been lost. Out of the shadows in the corner of the room a figure appears. A young boy steps out of hiding and slowly approaches his dead family. Einar stands there weeping while hugging the back of his father. He feels lonely and afraid. The boy looks up and screams at Odin, not understanding why he took his family away from him. As he stands there, he hears the voice of his father talking to him from earlier that day.

“Always stay strong and fight. Protect what is yours and be relentless to fulfill the destiny laid out for you by the Norns. You will be a man soon enough and when that day comes, create your own legend.”

THE END

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