Part 3: How Legends Are Made
Fear permeated the room as the decision was made. Thornar’s face looked as though he’d soiled his pants. Valk in his typical eager fashion knew little of what would await them as he boasted of his future triumphs on the field of battle. Others were more contemplative. Of course, Vargo was muttering his concerns and advising discretion. It was Bodie’s somber expression that took Odain aback. “My own flesh and blood doesn’t want to fight the Hillmen?” It was nearly unheard of for a Valkaran not to grow battle ready at the mention of that dreaded people. Yet here was his eldest son dangerously unsure about their decision. While the others broke out in frantic conversation Odain casually pulled Bodie to the side. The timber hall’s interior was drenched by a rare sunny day in the dead of winter. Both Odain and Bodie drank in its rarity silently. Odain hated things like this. The right words never formed. He was a man of action, of battle, why then did a simple conversation baffle him? Searching he found the fewest words that needed to be said. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked, hoping to restrain the frustration he felt. Bodie’s expression drew inward, realizing Odain had caught wind of his true feelings. “This journey could see us all killed, father. I know the Hillmen are dangerous but this battle you are leading us to? You are talking about the potential extinction of our people.” “And would we not face the same threat if we waited for the Hillmen to come to us?” Odain countered. “Yes, but we know these woods. We could fortify the city, make it so it could withstand a siege for months. You know how the Hillmen are. They’d grow impatient and eventually give up the fight, potentially breaking their loosely held alliance in the process.” “What of honor, Bodie? These men slaughtered Frode as if he were a young goat. We cannot let that stand.” “So, now Frode is an old friend we must avenge?” Odain snapped at the comment, “No, he was a lackan snake, but he was a Northman. That is better than the half naked wild men who roam the south.” Odain paused to shake his head. “If only the others had listened to me sooner it would have never come to this...We could have cut them down when they were weak.”
“Well it has father, and I for one don’t see the prudence in marching our forces into the bear’s cave. Surely you can see the wisdom in my words.” “You’d have us behave like a coward then? Shaking behind our walls, letting the enemy taste our fear?” I would have my people alive! By whatever means necessary. Even if that means my reputation.” Bodie’s eyes grew cold as he peered into his Father’s gaze. “You wish to remain behind then?” Odain asked, his tone detached from any emotion. Bodie grew contemplative for a moment. Could he be considering it? “I will go. Only so I can know our people’s fate before they discover it for themselves. And who knows perhaps I can help prevent their doom.” “Ahh lad, you will,” Odain said, placing a reassuring hand on Bodie’s shoulder. “This is where great men are forged, son. In moments like these.” “That depends on your definition of greatness, father,” Bodie retorted, taking a step backward. “This one spent too much time with the nursemaids growing up. It’s softened him to the core,” Odain thought with a scowl. Something suddenly crossed his mind. Could Bodie be the...No, not his flesh and blood. That would be going too far. Not even the realm of the dead was reserved for kinslayers. Odain watched as his eldest son retreated from the room. His towering frame didn’t quite pout as he went but it was close. Odain turned his attention to the others gathered in the room. A mix of anticipation and dread swirled among them. Valk leading the former and Vargo the latter. Marching south...It had been some time since Odain had visited those lands. home to a thousand rolling hills and clear starlight skies. It was no doubt a beautiful place. If only he could see the vermin who dwelled there gone from the face of Islandia. His ancient fathers had once trusted these men and it lead to their dooms. He would not share in their foolishness. For too long Valkara had been tainted by traitors and friends turned foe. No, longer. He was determined to bring his home out of the shadows and forge something new, something stronger than any had seen in the north. “So, the moment of greatness awaits.” The voice took Odain aback. He only hoped he hadn’t shown that. Behind him was the grinning face of Fen Wolfsbane. “Time to forge our way into the histories written with blood isn’t, Odain?”
“These Bloodhorns are lackan strange,” Odain thought turning to face the man. “You look forward to the spilling of Hillmen blood?” Fen’s lips tightened into an even larger grin, “I enjoy any blood spilling, Chieftain. You know why they call us Bloodhorns don’t you?” “I don’t need the grizzly tale retold,” Odain said, waving a dismissive hand. “Ahh Odain, don’t pretend your own hands aren’t covered with the same substance. It leaves its mark on whatever you touch.” “You dare speak to me like that?” Odain raised his posture ready to cut down the sinewy creature in front of him. “What you need, Odain, is more truth in your councils. Is that not why you’ve kept me around these last few years?” Odain felt his shoulders loosen. Fen knew more than he should. That much was true. “You see? I am but a tool. Sharpened and ready for use at my master’s call. As of right now, that master is you and where you point I will shed the blood that needs spilling.” “And when you find a new master?” Odain asked. “A tragic day it will be won’t it?” Fen said with a wicked grin. Ancient fathers, this thing before him was a vile creature. Did he dare keep Fen amongst his company? “If I send him out who knows who might wield him next...” Odain mused. It was best to keep the sharpest swords in your own sheaths. “Well then if you remain my weapon I suggest you prepare to spill as much Hillmen blood as you can stomach.” Fen gave an approving wink, “I’ll make sure to leave the vilest of them all for you. Drust was his name I believe?” A name that made Odain’s blood boil. A name that soiled northern soil in blood not meant to be spilled by outsiders. A name that would soon come to ruin. A name that would make his own greatest among all in the north. “Just make sure to carve a path for me to cut him down.”
Clear skies of powdered blue hung overhead. Less uncommon but still a rarity this time of year in the Lowland Hills. Protected by a westward mountain chain the Lowland Hills avoided some of the nastier weather that the north faced. Only splotches of snow remained from the blizzard several weeks ago. They looked like dotted clouds spread across a deep emerald expanse. The lush fields before him ended at the base of the western mountains that sent their heights towering overhead. They stood like a row of razored teeth of grayish complexion. At their peaks rested a thick layer of snow that cascaded to their center. Odain knew these lands well from days of old. Days of raiding with his father and his father. How he wished they could be at his side now. They’d dreamed of a day like this. With all the north at their back ready to finally bring these decrepit people to their knees. A war horn sounded in the distance breaking him from his dreaming. “They know we are here, Chieftain,” Vargo said, voice nearly shaking. Odain had to give the man credit, he never imagined Vargo would make the trek south with them. When he glanced behind him the number at his back made him think there couldn’t be a soul left in the north. All had rallied to his cry to face their long hated foe. Men adorned a plethora of armor and weaponry. Some bore leather, and others fragments of plate. In their hands were painted shields that displayed the histories of their clan. Distinct yet unified. They needn’t be like those effeminate Sahrans in the south, who adorned themselves in unified armor and fine patterned steel. This was the north. Men and women forged from the harshest elements Islandia could offer. They needn’t fancy trinkets or the newest weapons. It was heart, steel, and strength that would win them this day. In the distance ascending a hill came the first signs of their enemy. A host of men decorated themselves with swirls of blue paint. In their hands were all manner of weapons. Many of them only wielded elongated knives and hatchets. It was the tools of survival they used, not weapons of war. Pathetic. A few of the more notable among them carried spear, axe, and the occasional sword. Yet, their number was few among the tide of Hillmen. “Even with their numbers how had this force ever done what they had to Frode? In his home no less. That’s when something strange caught Odain’s eye on a nearby hill. “Men on horses?!” cried Thornar behind him. Hundreds of mounted Hillmen suddenly poured over the southern hills. A battle cry that shook the air rang out at their arrival. Odain watched as both of the Hillmen forces charged toward them.
Turning his attention to the greater threat Odain ordered the few spear wielders he had to take formation. His men knew how to counter such foes as they’d faced some mounted enemies before, but this? This was something all too terrifyingly new. As the horsemen drew near one man, in particular, stood out among them. Large antlers protruded from his helmet and unlike his companions he adorned himself in chainmail and fragments of plated armor. Leading the horsemen, the antlered leader collided with the first of Odain’s defenses. With the swing of his sword, the Hillmen warrior left his first victim headless. The bulk of the two forces met turning the field of battle into a tumultuous sea made of screams and the ringing of steel. Odain watched, anxiety growing, as the horsemen cut down his frontlines with ease. Valkarans reached with axe and spear toward their foes atop their mounts to no success. Thank his fathers the ingenuity of the north soon kicked in. Instead of prodding with their spears, men began to hurl them at the enemy. One such spear caught a group of mounted Hillmen, flinging them from their steeds and pinning them to the ground. The tide of riders was only temporarily halted by this counter. Regrouping they pushed forward once more and to Odain’s realization directly at him. A sudden roar sounded above all other noises. Valk and a company of men rushed to meet the oncoming tide of riders. As if possessed by the ancient berserker himself, Valk let loose an animalistic rage as he tore a rider from his steed’s back. Others came to pierce Valk with spears but he shattered the shafts with a single swing before cutting away at their horses' legs. Several riders toppled, soon overwhelmed by the host of men who descended on them. It dawned on Odain that he’d forgotten about the other Hillmen descending on them from the west. Turning his attention that way, he witnessed a mass of painted warriors crash into his own. Odain’s warriors roared a cry of bravery as they sank axe and spear into flesh. The chaos erupting around him was a familiar scene. It wasn’t what left him with a sense of unease. No, it was the sheer overwhelming force they now faced. He’d never seen a host like the Hillmen had been able to muster. Faced with an unfamiliar form of warfare Odain felt the faintest bit of doubt creep in. Perhaps he had led them to their doom. A flash of steel filled his peripherals. He moved to dodge the blow only to feel the sting of cold steel a second later. Thrusting the opponent away Odain caught sight of his attacker. Standing with a bloody dagger in hand was Vargo. His typical calm demeanor had vanished, now replaced with malice. “So, you are the snake,” Odain said, panting from the pain. He raised a bloody hand from his side as he said the words. “A snake? I’m not the one whose only desire in life was to wipe out an entire people. For years my family lived in the shadows hoping no one would know what my mother truly was.” Odain gave Vargo a puzzled look, “What are you going on about?” “Your grandfather, the man you hold in such esteem? He took me in as an orphan all those years ago. Let me join his court, treated me like family.” “Your point,” Odain said, taking hold of his sword. “What he didn’t tell you, why he took me into your house in the first place, was that he killed my parents. When it was discovered my father had taken a Hillmen for a wife...Well, that just couldn’t be. So, they were put to death. Others thought I should be as well. An abomination they whispered in secret. But your grandfather thought the sins of the parent shouldn’t fall on the child and so he took me in.” “So, you’d slay his kin for showing you mercy?” Odain growled, taking a step forward. He could feel the battle rage begin to flow through his veins. “Mercy!? You Valkarans would call that mercy! Every day I’ve lived I fought to end this madness you insist on keeping alive. I’m sick of bloodshed.” “Looks as though you don’t mind it.” Vargo looked down at the bloody dagger in his hand, “Sometimes one must die to save the many.” Odain roared as he lifted his sword to cut Vargo down but as he did he felt a tug restrain his arm. Suddenly another restraint gripped his left. Peaking over his shoulder he could see two Hillmen had snuck behind him amid the chaos. “Lackan snake kept me distracted,” Odain raged to himself. “You’ve always been dim, Odain. It’s just catching up to you,” Vargo sneered. He rushed forward ready to plunge his dagger into Odain’s chest. Just before he sent the final blow Odain felt the two men holding him loosen their grip. Hot liquid sprayed across his neck as he felt them collapse. In a blink, he watched as an axe flew above him finding its mark in Vargo’s face.
The traitor collapsed in an instant, his life gone before he even knew what happened. “Now that would have just been wrong to let another one of you die by treacherous means,” said a voice behind him. Odain turned to see Fen Wolfsbane mounted on a horse, that all too familiar grin on his face. “People might start rumors that your family is cursed.” “By my fathers, Fen...Thank you.” “I still think you have a shot to make yourself something today. Figured I wouldn’t let that go to waste. Come I promised you a clear path to Drust didn’t I?” Fen extended a hand for Odain to join him on the horse. “I...” “Come now, Odain, you can’t be afraid of this can you?!” Fen said, genuinely shocked. Odain shook away his apprehension taking Fen’s hand. Fen gave the beast an order and the mount burst into a dizzying gallop. Odain gathered himself as all-around turned into a blur. Fen only gave the order to slow their pace as they neared a cluster of men who stood encircled around two foes. Bodie cautiously moved within the circle facing the antlered warrior from early. The Hillmen encircling the two chanted one name, “Drust! Drust! Drust!”. Drust swung first, a blow of immense strength that nearly caused Bodie to stumble. Odain’s eldest son quickly recovered sending a counter of his own at the Hillmen’s neck. Drust’s sword caught Bodie’s blade in time but not before it grazed the skin of his neck. Batting Bodie’s sword away Drust sent a flurry of blows that Bodie struggled to keep pace with. Withstanding the blows Bodie moved to send his own onslaught. The two warriors clashed, the ringing of steel a deafening sound. With a high swing, Bodie caught an antler on Drust’s helmet, rending it in half. Drust moved unfazed as he sent a counter slamming into Bodie’s left bracer. Wincing Bodie retreated, flexing the numbness from his hand. Drust pressed the attack sending a swing at the weakened arm. Sidestepping the swing Bodie sent a downward slash catch Drust’s hand. Two bloodied fingers fell to the ground but Drust smiled unfazed. Too much adrenaline pumped through the man to feel any pain. On and on they went, both occasionally landing a blow. Both warriors panted, exhausted from the fight. Odain could see Bodie’s left hand grow purple as the bruising to his forearm spread. Drust likewise struggled to keep his grip with a blood soaked hand. Both men had given their all. As if knowing time was short Drust sent half a dozen wild slashes. The last of them caught Bodie’s unguarded shoulder, tearing flesh and muscle. Odain watched as his eldest son cried out in pain, his sword arm instinctually reaching for the wound. Drust saw his opening. With one strong thrust, he sent his weapon deep into Bodie’s stomach. Odain felt the cry in his throat before he heard it. The battle rage overcame him and before he realized it he jumped within the circle sword and axe in hand. Drust turned to his new opponent. A weary yet eager smirk on his face. That sealed his fate. With a fury, Odain had never tasted before he leapt toward the man with all his strength. He flung the sword from Drust’s hand with ease and quickly sent his blade against the unprotected side of Drust’s chest. Odain felt the bone and sinew give way before cutting into the pocket of air known as a lung. He watched uncaringly as Drust’s eyes turned from gloating victory to cold fear. He couldn’t recount what happened next. Only that he kneeled before his son covered in a sticky red substance. The men around him stood in stunned horror unsure if they should speak or stir him. They were wise not to. Bodie’s cold lifeless eyes lay staring up at the powder blue sky. How had he not known it until now? It was looking at those lifeless eyes that he realized why he’d done all that he had. Why was it too late to realize it? His mind floated back to a cool spring day countless years ago. A young Bodie giggled as he clacked a wooden sword against his brother’s. Astrid was there too, her blonde hair woven into a beautiful braid. That moment had been when Odain vowed to do whatever it cost to protect his family. It was the day he’d been determined to wipe any threat to them from the face of the earth. Only now, he realized what that fear had driven him to. Its result the lifeless corpse he once called his son. Grief overwhelmed him in a way that threatened to pull him under but resisting he stood to his feet. In amazement he saw a host of men retreating into the distance, their skin painted a dark blue. “My chief, the Hillmen flee! Should we make pursuit to finish them?” Asked a nearby Hersir. “Leave them. The battle is won. No need for more death today,” Odain said in a lifeless tone. The Hersir gave him a quizzical look but followed the order. What came next was a stream of moments that Odain neither recalled nor wished to remember. It was only the sound of his other son’s voice that brought him back to the world around him. Unfortunately, Valk’s voice was dripping with rage.
“Father! Is it true you called a halt to our slaughter? Why did we come here if not to pursue the enemy and kill every last one of them?” Odain licked his lips. The words of Vargo, of Bodie, swirling in his mind, “They were right,” he thought. “All my violence has only taken from me what I love.” “Father!” shouted Valk again. “It’s over, son. The Hillmen have seen what we can do to them even after all their efforts. They will not threaten us again.” Valk’s face flushed with anger until his eyes caught sight of his brother. All his malice melted away as he knelt beside Bodie’s corpse. Shaking Valk took his brother’s head in his lap. Valk’s eyes turned to the Hillmen army retreating in the distance, “I hate them! I will slaughter every last one of them!” His screams washed over the men around him causing them to retreat from his presence. Odain had no words, so he walked away, wishing he could walk away from everything. A voice stopped him, however. It was Fen, still carrying a grin, only a little smaller this time. “So, the legend is born,” Fen said to Odain as he passed. Odain wasn’t sure if he should sock the man in the face or burst into tears. A strange sense of knowing stirred behind Fen’s silver eyes. As if he’d known all his prodding would lead to this. A legend born, a son dead, and a hatred cemented. Odain met Fen’s silver eyes. “But at what cost?” “Only the future will tell.”
The grief was better now. It had taken years when Astrid had passed to escape his grief. Her sickness somehow left him ready when her time came. Bodie had been different. Like a vital piece of himself had been stripped away when he wasn’t looking. He’d soon join them though, perhaps even today. His frail body was nothing like its former glory. It made him uncomfortable any time he saw it when the nursemaids came to change the bed he never left. The old dagger wound of betrayal ached from time to time. He sighed breathing in the fresh air wafting in from a nearby window. It was springtime in the kingdom of Valkara and the newly built keep was a comfort he was unaccustomed to. Closing his eyes Odain allowed a sense of warmth and light begin to embrace him. As soon as he did though that old fiend named guilt quickly took its place. Too many doubts about the future swirled in his head. Many thought of him as a triumphant legend. They’d even named those lackan mountains after him in the Lowland Hills. He hated that most of all. He wasn’t a legend. He was a murderer and a fiend, a man given too much power and not enough wisdom. At least when it mattered. He let out another sigh. “How wisdom is wasted on the young,” he thought. A pain shot up his arm and a tightening in his chest suddenly gripped him. “So, it would be today,” he thought. As the last of his breaths filled his lungs he muttered one last vain hope that the days ahead wouldn’t be engulfed by violence again. He’d restrained Valk’s lust for revenge for decades now hoping its fires would be snuffed out. Fathers knew though what was in that boy’s heart. There was Fen Wolfsbane to consider as well. A tool to be wielded he once said to Odain. “What tool of madness will he be in my son’s hands?” That is if he decided to stay loyal to Valk. Something about the man had always left Odain uneasy. Something about those silver eyes... A final breath of air escaped his lungs. He spent that moment with one last plea for forgiveness. That maybe his life, his legacy, his family could somehow bring something different to this world than he had. With that utterance Odain, King of Valkara, fell into the final sleep.