“By Odhinn’s ravens, what manner of a grim face is this, my son?” Blasted out Kveldulf Gundarsson, the jarl of Njärdshölm over the loud hosts as he ripped through the tender wild boar meat he had been gnawing at for the past few minutes. “Havent you returned victorious with that blasted Vargr’s head on a spear as you wished for?”
Turning slightly his head to meet his father’s eyes, the grim warrior just sat there, eyes cold as steel. Silently staring half consciously, half elsewhere holding a now dripping horn tilted to its side. And as the mead flowed on his leg and onto the floor, he remained thus. Like a sitting statue glimmering a bronzen hue under the many torches illuminating the long hall. In his ice cold eyes, a fire danced reflecting the shimmering light from the many dozens polished shields that decorated the walls all around. After a long uncomfortable moment for everyone around that became aware of the tension, Thörgrimr slammed his horn on the solid oak table sending it in pieces in the dishes of the others sitting near by and onto the floor. The speed and force used by the powerful northman to obliterate the large ox horn took everyone by surprise as their merriment suddenly came to a stand still. Silence came after a few seconds throughout the hall and it was Thörgrimr that broke the spell first.
“Aye. Victorious a man might think himself blessed by the gods, returning to his woman his hands bloody with gore and a sword sharp enough at his side. But for the decree of the Three who weave all men’s destinies what made him worthy of praises if not for the sacrifice of his brothers? What songs will be sung at this very table if not their names soon to be carved upon Valrkòna?” The crowd remained silent. Some completely lost, wandering why the infuriated warrior, now standing, seemed in such a rage while others were too afraid to utter a sound. After a breathless pause, he followed in a somewhat lower tone, still holding his father’s gaze.
“Today, I have marched across the windswept valley in the cold with my brothers in arms as I have done countless times before. We faced our enemies and we conquered them. Yet on this day, I tell you now, Odhinn be my witness, I hold no victorious chants in my heart.” At that moment, Ulf the grey moved to get up from his bench to speak when Kveldulf signalled him to sit back down and keep silent. This he obeyed without a word.
The Jarl rose from his richly decorated oaken chair, carved with intricate interlacing forms of beasts and sacred runes. Emptied in one long sip his horn then spoke in a calm yet commanding voice, purposely loud enough for all to hear. “I too silently weep the loss of many brothers, sons and fathers in times of war, my son, but such is the way of the warrior. Such is the way of our clan, by the spear of Odhinn, of our whole race.” The powerful Jarl turned his attention away from Thörgrimr for he was now raising his voice almost to a yell. He was now speaking to the whole room and none dared move, drink nor taste their meat while their chieftain addressed the hosts. “Since the times of our forefathers we, northmen have always known bloody conflict against foreigners as well as inter-clanic rivalries. We have shed as much blood from our own kind than that of outsiders. But that is our way of life. That is what makes us what we are; the sons of Odhinn, the war god. And he expects nothing less from his children. We were born to wield sword, axe and spear for that is the sacred dance of the Sky-Father, and what would he think of us if we refrained from honouring his heritage? For to die in battle is an honour, as well as vanquishing our enemies. What say you to that my son?”
The silent crowd turned to the only other man standing before their Jarl. Thörgrimr, stood as a sculpted oaken pillar amongst the sitting forms. A dark orange fire gleamed in his eye showing a mix of defiance and respect towards his Jarl first, his father, in his heart. Without ever lowering or moving his attention away from his chieftain, he spoke in the same commanding tone he inherited from he who gave him life.
“Never have I failed or hesitated to christen my sword nor any other blade with the blood of a foe, be it to defend our borders, our women or our gods.” Then he raised his voice in one thundering blast that echoed through the longhouse. “And I shall have words with anyone who says otherwise.” Marking a complete circle around the room as the words faded, mixing in with the low whispering that began to spread. “That is not what keeps me from filling my gut with mead and food on this evening. This battle we waged against the gathered clans of Wùlfrick, Dainar and Hleimgard, was not the will of the war gods. To see us revel in our own glorious madness as we slaughter our own blood, and for what? Their mere amusement? Nay. That massacre was the sole work of treacherous serpents roaming the armoured halls of our rival’s great domains. Their eyes burning with greed and power, and conspiracy in their foul breath.”
“What are you implying my brother”, cut short Ùlf, the first one who dared to speak up dismissing his Jarl’s earlier order to be silent. An initiative he hoped would not bring upon him the anger of his chieftain. “That some machiavellian wormtongue orchestrated this whole conflict only to have us clans obliterate each other? What purpose would that serve?”
“That for which every small and crawling thing dream of my friend: power.” Thörgrimr was now looking at his childhood comrade and no hint of impatience was discernable in his tone of voice. At that, Kveldulf gave Ùlf a hard look but showed no signs of disapproval or offence at his son’s old time friend. For they have both been through many battles on many lands and have proven themselves their unwavering friendship through the test of fire and steel, oathbond by the blood of countless wounds.
“What wretched men will do to cut down a strong tree like our Jarl, only to shrub away their great shadow so they can taste the sun’s light, is unthinkable. Their dishonour is equalled only by their cowardice. And I say to you now, I say to you all present that such a coward secretly conspires to send us at each other’s throats.”
“Have you proof of this my son?” Inquired Kveldulf, clearly intrigued by his son’s affirmation. And for the first time since the beginning of what seemed first a confrontation of titans, Thörgrimr lowered his gaze. His response was almost a whisper. “Nay.” The crowd started to chatter amongst themselves all at the same time. Fingers pointing and rumours already taking form over empty mugs and horns and men sodden with ale.