Warrior of Odin
The loud roar – a furious war-call filled the area and forced to shudder, apparently, even the sky. Hundreds and hundreds of warriors were running towards each other, dressed in sparkling chain armors and inexhaustible fighting passion was sparkling in their eyes. There was neither doubt, nor fear – only a thirst of battle and a war fury – to kill the enemy before you fall on the battlefield yourself. But those who have fallen in a fair fight are winners already, they are destined to enter the sparkling halls of Valhalla and the almighty Odin himself will lead them into new battles forevermore. Let him guide them into this struggle for their enemies to fall before the power of the mighty Odin!
A blow – a turning. A turn – a strike. The joy was filling him – finally, a battle which he has thirsted for so long, a decent struggle once more! A waving of hand – battle ax falls upon a helmet of the enemy – and he heavily falls to the ground. Another swing – and a blow of monstrous force dissects a chain armor of one more. Drops of blood, streaming from a body of the enemy… repeated blow – and a new enemy has fallen. Here his fighting comrade swings too – and practically splits into two parts another foe.
There were no rules here – and nimbler and crafty sometimes prevailed. A sword, which has fallen flatwise on a back of his battling friend… some sort of squeezed rattle, coming from his throat. Here his comrade falls on a knee, trying to turn and strike back the attacker – but the attacker, who has sneaked from behind, strikes again, this time with the edge of his blade – and it breaks off chain armor plates… One more instant – and everything is finished.
In such instants, he ceased to feel the pain. He ceased to feel the weight of his weapon, for the hundredth time striking into iron plates, he ceased to feel time itself. A shout of desperation and pain broke from his breast – pain from the death of his friend with whom he has been diving one bread and hardship of war marching. He has been twisting and twisting his lethal weapon, feeling no weight – and enemies scattered before him. Most brave – or stupid – perished instantly. More careful preferred not to get inside the dance of sparkling steel. But enemies were many and their number has been, apparently, only growing.
Shouts and groans. Sounds of clashing blades. Battle was boiling.
* * *
The battle has been raging for a day – and warriors of Odin have prevailed. Only a hundred warriors from former several thousand…
“Glory to the Great Odin!” the battle shout was carried around, once the last enemy has fallen.
“Glory to the Odin!” many warriors repeated in an echo, him including. They have won the battle, they have prevailed once more. Their fallen brothers will stand in the light halls before the Great Father – for new battles and new victories. And one day he will meet them too…
* * *
He moaned. In powerless fury punched a table with such a force, that it has almost collapsed half-in-half.
Why, why, why? Why should he do that? Words fell into silence and were dissolved in it without a trace. Words were gone – yet his inner voice did neither abandon him nor give a chance to rest. No longer a voice of the warrior of Odin.
Monastery. Why should they attack this monastery? This is an unworthy battle! Murder of innocent ones for the sake of looting of stronghold's treasures…
And he, he must lead his hundred-warriors squad – only to see how monks fall under blows of axes and swords, having lifted their crosses highly and begging their unknown to him God for protection… This will be a massacre instead of a battle – bloody slaughter because of avidity. And he, one of the best, will be their leader… and he cannot refuse for the price for that deed is a death and eternal damnation, forever depriving the one of entering into the golden chambers of Odin. Why doesn't he have a choice? Why must he exterminate defenseless ones – not warriors in any sense?
Or must he?
He roared in a powerless frenzy. Swept up on the house. Then grasped an ax and started smashing everything in the vicinity. Then somehow ran across a butt with water and tipped a head over there. This helped. He returned to his senses, calmed down.
Has been silently sitting, reflecting. So an hour has passed. Then he has sharply and fitfully risen up, as though having solved for himself a question of utmost importance.
“It is decided,” he thought clearly, “it is decided”.
* * *
They were landing ashore from war galleys and he was commanding them – warriors of Odin. Warriors of a god, deadly for their enemies.
And battle shouts and enthusiasms were born once again. His brothers-in-arms were almost the same – yet their enemy was different now… Here the last of warriors is descending on a coast – now he should lead them into battle against yet unaware of their presence defenders of a monastery, that has conveniently arranged itself on a slope of mountains one kilometer away from here.
“Now or never. Now or never”.
“Warriors,” he cried out. “Great warriors of Odin, who have won in hundreds and hundreds of battles for the glory of our God! We are daring and courageous, and Odin leads us into the righteous battle! The fate of our enemies has already been sealed, for Odin himself directs us!”
A loud shout of approval was his answer.
“But I call to you, warriors. Whether we are going to fight for a worthy purpose for now? Whether a battle that is awaiting us is worthy of the glory of true fighters? We are obliged to destroy foes of ours – but whether they are real enemies for us? We have always battled worthily and have finished battles as conquerors – yet we will not leave this fight as conquerors, brothers! This fight is not ours, it will not lead us to the glory and golden halls. We must not conduct it!”
Rows of warriors started arguing. It seemed as if they all were greatly confused.
“Even one, a single one from you, support me, brothers. At least one courageous enough for that…”
“Yes, Hrothgar said right! This battle is not ours!” and one of his soldiers stood forward, saying these words. “I too have thought of that when has received my task to go under his command – and I have decided that this fight is not a deserving one. We will find no glory in this battle, but rather kill those who are unworthy to fight against the Warriors of Odin!”
Warriors started whispering among themselves. Some were winding heads in confusion, looking at what others were going to do. Yet this did not continue for long – totally not long. Only several dozens of seconds.
“You are the traitor! You dishonor victorious fighters! You are unworthy of entering the halls and will be forevermore damned for that cowardice!” Another warrior came forward as if almost spitting out these words in him.
“Betrayer!” he repeated and has approached Hrothgar, highly raising his battle ax. But during that moment the one who has supported Hrothgar has blocked his way and unshakably risen up in arms, being ready to fight – or to die. They are really going to die here soon – two against dozens…
And so he spoke again. Convinced them of an error, which they were almost ready to make. Urged them not to start this unworthy battle. Told of better battles and worthy encounters. He tried to find all those words clear for them – speaking their language, which has almost become distant for him.
And while he was speaking, another dozen of soldiers left the ranks and stood nearby him – in their eyes, there was the same courage and readiness, if required, to die here – as well as in his own. Yet entire thousands of fighters remained motionless. It seems that they are really going to die today – and be subject to eternal damnation for this apostasy…
“Listen not to this coward and liar! Each one, betraying the mighty Odin in battle is losing the right to enter His halls forever. Cowards are not welcomed in the halls of daring! Let us wipe off these traitors and liars – and start a great battle! Attack, true warriors of Odin!”
Accusatory words once again – and the ardor of warriors is flaming up. Confusion is disappearing from their faces to be replaced by fierceness and pitilessness once more…
“Well, brothers, we have to die here today,” he mentally addressed eleven true warriors. But they perfectly understood him even without these words – only have stronger seized their weapons in hands and moved closer – shoulder to a shoulder.
An instant – and one hundred warriors are rushing towards them.
An instant – and weapons are clashing.
Instants – are like eternities themselves.
Here twelve warriors stand shoulder to a shoulder, ready for fighting and dying.
Here the first run up enemy swings his blade – and his blow is beaten off.
Here more and more enemies are coming – and blades are striking tirelessly – they, these twelve, didn't feel weariness this day.
Here the first of them is wounded – and they stand closer to protect him inside the formed circle.
His war cry, which was carried far away by a wind. And here the first wave of enemies rolls back from them as from an indestructible barrier. But enemies assault once again – and two more defenders are wounded. The circle closed even tighter and attacks became even more furiously.
First, second, third, tenth, twentieth… Enemies ran up and were forced back away from them – like from impenetrable wall. But there were many… so many of them… Here only five defenders keep fighting – the others have either been wounded or killed.
Four… three… two…
Only he and the warrior who have first stood for his defense remained. Here he turns to face him – and great wisdom and understanding shine in his eyes.
“Let us battle, brother!” and he stands to his back, protecting.
So, standing back to each other and striking aside incoming blows, they have held for two more minutes. And then almost seven dozens of warriors have crushed them and overwhelmed – and rushed to a monastery, encouraging themselves with wild roars…
* * *
Instant? Eternity? How much time has truly passed?
He didn't know – only remembered his last fight – one of twelve fighters – and a final blow of poleaxe, which has crushed him.
He didn't die? He didn't… Enemies have considered him dead and didn't finish off…
But… if they haven't managed to resist them… it turns out that monastery has been plundered and razed… They haven't stopped them, they have failed…
He moaned – even not from incredible pain, swirling throughout all his body, but from an aching sensation of melancholy and grief. They couldn't stop them… He and eleven nameless warriors…
Having made extreme efforts and cried from a cutting pain, he managed to rise up. About thirty warriors lied motionlessly before him, having silently observed the sky. And among them were his courageous fighters. Died ones… Let they, worthy ones, be not damned, but blessed instead – and find peace in the world they are traveling to now!
He looked around – there was no sign of war galleys. This means that the fight has already finished and warriors sailed back home. It means the monastery cannot be saved anymore… But maybe someone managed to survive the attack there. Somebody… even if one of the monks is still alive – he is obliged to help him, obliged to come for a rescue – that way he can at least rectify his mistake. Besides, he hasn't a way back, for now, he is both the exile and a cursed one – damned by his own people… let they consider him as dead instead.
Still constraining groans from intolerable pain, he rose up and slowly started walking in the direction of the monastery. One thousand meters, just one thousand meters… his debt.
He walked and fell. Then rose and walked again. And fell again. Then he started creeping by the ground.
Probably, a day passed. Possibly, a whole eternity instead. He knew not – he had one purpose and one way for now – and he was walking it. Even being practically flat-out – was still walking. And when at the long last strong walls of a monastery appeared before his obscured look, he has risen on his weak hands and smiled.
“I have found you at last,” his lips whispered silently, and he fell unconscious.
* * *
Quiet sad song. Someone's hands, sliding on his face. And then – a cold water stream. He groaned and moved.
“Alive!” he heard through a veil, enveloping him.
Alive. He lives still. What for, if he wasn't able to fulfill his duty? What's the point? He tried to open own eyes – but only some vague red haze welcomed him. Then he closed them and submerged into a dream.
He slept and slept. From time to time he woke up for about ten minutes – and then fell asleep once again. When he has woken up again and tried to open eyes for one more time – the bloody mirage has gone. And then he has vaguely distinguished a human figure inclined over him and heard her voice – a tender voice of the girl.
“Sleep, it's still too early for you to move. Wounds haven't yet healed. Sleep”. He didn't resist a dream.
Then from time to time he woke up to hear her voice again and tried to distinguish her face through a haze – and failed to do that many times. But that memorial day came once when he has roused without assistance – and both his sight and hearing have cleared up.
“I have found you at last,” suddenly almost-forgotten words came up to his mind.
Yes, it was a girl, still very young, probably seventeen – eighteen years old. Only an adult hardness could easily be read in her eyes already.
And then he dared to ask.
“Where am I?”
“You are in our monastery,” the girl answered. “In my monastery,” she added and sobbed.
“You… you have helped me… Why?”
“You are not from those who have attacked us. I have understood that immediately. Our… my… brothers… have misled attackers into woods… to find their death there… survived barbarians returned here… and plundered the monastery. All those whom my brothers have overcome in battle remained in the woods – and you have approached the front of monastery walls instead. If you were among the attackers – you wouldn't even risk doing that. You are not from the ones who have killed my brothers,” she said solidly.
“Y..y..e..s… t..ha..ths… so…” he uttered quietly with still disobeying tongue.
“Then why have you come here?” and she moved very close to him, studying his face with her demanding sight.
“I wanted… desired to stop them… and… couldn't… forgive… forgive me, if you… still can.”
“You wanted to aid us?” her eyes opened widely in surprise, “why is that so? You are a one of their kind… you have stood against them?”
“I… couldn't… allow… slaughter…” words came out very slowly and hardly from his throat.
“But it had taken place nevertheless… However, what difference does it make for now! Take a rest, sleep – and tell me the rest afterward.”
She was right, he required a rest now – lots of rest – and thus he plunged into that attractable dream once more.
* * *
He woke up and felt her warm hand lying on a forehead.
He decided to keep his eyes closed – only tried to listen to her measured breathing. When at last he opened them – she removed her hand from his forehead, and brought a sponge to his face, impregnated with something cold.
“Woke up, did you?” this time her voice was much more affable, than the last time, “alright, stand up, now you should be quite able to do it.”
He tried to rise – and for the first time in many days, his body obeyed him. He sat down on a bed and with a cleared sight looked at her. She was surprisingly beautiful – at least she should be considered as such by the measures of her people. Fair hair was stretching down to shoulders, the smile was playing on her lips – for the first time in many days. Her eyes reflected own vivacity and at the same time some form of adult firmness. A white robe she was wearing.
“H… how much did I sleep?”
“A week, for almost a week you have remained here. Ate very little, has been practically sleeping for all day long. You, probably, don't even remember that for now – minutes should have passed for you, I guess.”
“W… why have you helped me?”
“You strived to help us, after all, yes? Even if you… if it wasn't possible for you then… you still weren't among these barbarians. I was obliged to lend you aid, it was my personal debt. Oh, if only you have come here in time… were on time… but what could you possibly do against one hundred of fighters…”
“N… not alone. I wasn't battling them alone… there were… twelve of us. They all… died.”
Following these words, tears came out on his coarse cheeks – but he hasn't allowed himself such inexcusable weaknesses before at all.
The girl smiled somehow sadly and with a hope at the same time.
“All in all, there are still those men on earth who haven't lost their heart, still they do exist. A pity you couldn't help us. But what twelve soldiers could make against one hundred…”
“You said previously, that your brothers have died…”
“Yes, barbarians slaughtered them all. I was the only sister of this monastery… and the only survived one. Only to mourn over their death.”
And she, despite all external firmness, started crying.
“How have you survived then? Haven't they touched you?”
“I… have hidden in a monastery. We had… a secret… entrance… and tunnel, leading from a monastery,” she was speaking, still sobbing, “I have survived a storm in there, how my father has ordered me… However, this storm has destroyed everything close to my heart…”
It seemed that she would be totally overwhelmed by her grief from returning memories. He stretched his hand and took her hand in own palms. May she know she's not lonely in this world still…
They have been sitting quietly, having strongly compressed each other's hands. So ten minutes passed. Finally, she managed to calm down.
“Have a rest, warrior,” she whispered silently and left the room.
* * *
The first day, the second, the third… Week, another, third…
He finally completely recovered from his wounds and they have got a possibility to talk every evening. She missed these simple human conversations greatly now – and so did he. They shared the same trait in this – they both have become exiles, both lost their relatives.
Gradually she started to come visiting him more often. When she, suddenly, started remembering of these memorable grief days of her recent past – he consoled her. Sometimes she asked him to tell of his former battles – and listened to what he was saying with such an attention and care, which he hasn't noticed in any woman before.
Then their days of joint walks on monastery vicinities have come. These were remarkable days – bright and sunny days of spring. Winter snow has finally thawed – and has apparently taken away all worries with him. It was a wonderful time. Perhaps, one of the best in both his and her lives.
They were standing, having embraced, under a crone of some tree, through the foliage of which a sun was playing with its beams on their faces. He was saying these words that moment – ones of his heart. He has sworn that they will never part ways and always, forever, both in life and death – will be together.
Eternally will be together. Forever.
With her, unique her – he has truly fallen in love. Unlike he loved anyone else he loved her. He is still loving her. And will always be – in life – and in death.
* * *
“Get ready! Move away! Ignite!”
The flame rushed upwards, desperately trying to devour in a flash of time a tenacious piece of a tree together with a man, bounded to it. Here its tongues are coming closer and closer – already dancing before his eyes. Soon it will all come to an end. It ends all so very soon…
Their common happiness didn't last for long.
A new raid of his horde came a year after – and only two defenders remained to protect the monastery – he and she. They have been captured – and he was recognized. At first, they have considered him as the Messiah – a one revived from dead – but shortly afterward someone has declared that he simply hasn't managed to thrust this traitor through a breast well enough with his ax. He didn't observe the one speaking these words – only his voice seemed somehow very familiar to him…
Traitors are never forgiven. Death is the fate of theirs. Through burning. Unprecedented execution for his people – they were usually killed in a fair fight. Probably he didn't even deserve such a fight judging by his brothers' decision – only a stab in the back.
She too must be burned to the death – as his accomplice – and that was the most terrible thing of all. But, as it came out, not for her – only not for her.
“I will remain with you forever – remember? In life and in death.”
“In life and in death – always,” he answered. And they embraced – for the last time in this life.
She was dragged away. Then she was fastened with iron ropes to the same pillar. And then a fire was ignited.
The flame assaulted with blinding and burning waves, devouring its legal victim. But the pain wasn't felt any longer. Two burning pillars. Two courageous persons.
“Together – forever!” he cried out with all remaining powers.
“Always!” her words reached his ears.
A new impact of elements – and they both have disappeared in the fire.
The crowd was shouting in ecstasy.
And only a few ones, who have turned away from this fire-site, swore to themselves – were giving a sacred oath of true warriors – to never in their lives allow such a thing anymore. To struggle for justice. Always. Only these few ones have seen, how two light spirits have soared high from burning columns. How they embraced and smiled to each other – and have risen up to the heavens.
“Together – forever,” they have overheard.
“Always,” repeated they.