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The return ride to Fjall was a quiet one, as just as soon as Vitharr had left the forest, he mounted his horse and started off without a single word to Young Halldor who awaited him. His nerves were shaken by his brief stay in the forest, and his brief visit with the elder. Young Halldor had not seen his brother this way before; fear gripped at Vitharr, it was obvious, and it was a sight Halldor had never seen even when they were small boys. Along the way, Halldor’s questions were met only with silence, and he knew that whatever happened in that forest may have given more weight to their father’s warnings than he anticipated. It was still an early hour of the night when the two returned to Fjall and stabled their horses. It was only then that Vitharr stirred from his silence.

“You were right to take me there.” Said Vitharr as they walked toward Jarl Skur’s hall. “I do not have my answer yet, but there is a place where I may yet find it. Scarfrost Cave.” Young Halldor listened as he hurried along beside his brother, dropping to a whisper as they came near the doors of the hall.

“I could not see your path as clearly, but if the elder says it is there you must go, then there can be no doubt.” Whispered Halldor.

Vitharr did not feel as if the elder was misleading him, though the oddness of the description, this ‘black feathered door’, left him pondering. “For now, we wait for Guthred.”

Morning was quick to come, and it was only around midday as the sun lingered directly overhead that Guthred of the Havardr had arrived in Fjall, from his time in the south. It was Sveinn that had caught the young hunter’s arrival whilst playing in a contest of arm strength against some of the Jarl’s warriors. Though the young brute was having fun defeating opponent after opponent with his raw strength, he eagerly rushed away from the contest in order to bring Guthred to Vitharr straight away. Vitharr, Runa, and Young Halldor awaited in Skur’s hall, they themselves idly speaking with the men within, answering questions posed about their travels to the Storm Isles.

“Lord, it is Guthred!” Called Sveinn the Pup as he and the hunter stepped through the hall. Vitharr and the others turned to regard the hunter.

“Tell me.” Vitharr said to Guthred as the distance between them closed, keeping well away from the ears of Skur’s men in the process.

“Erlend has been gathering his men at Lunland, Lord. There I saw one hundred or so warriors at least. No more than that at one time, Lord.” Confided Guthred, his volume low.

“Less than we’ve seen here in Fjall alone.” Runa now said from beside Vitharr.

“It is why Jarl Erlend sought us out at all.” Explained Vitharr as he thought on it. “Without us, he could not hope to overpower Jarl Skur’s numbers. Yet it is Jarl Skur that wishes to maintain a peace.” Vitharr quieted as he focused on his thoughts now, leaving the others to wonder what his plan would be. The Viking leader gave Guthred and Runa a brief look before turning away to regard Jarl Skur who had been seated at his longtable, enjoying a meal of bread and meat. “Lord.” Vitharr said first before approaching the table, catching Skur’s eye. “Fate has deemed it time for us to leave. I must ask, do you know where I might find a place called Scarfrost Cave?”

The entire hall went silent a moment just as soon as the name left Vitharr’s lips. The Jarl stared at Vitharr suspiciously.

“That place is cursed.” Warned Skur, taking another bite of bread.

“Even so, it is where my path leads.”

To that Skur gave a grunt. If the boy wished to rush head first into danger, then it would be his own doing. “It is in the unclaimed land between my lands and Erlend’s. Near the base of the mountain, a wide cave mouth you cannot miss. The ride south will not be a long one.” It was Guthred that had ridden south and then north through the unclaimed lands, so Vitharr turned to the young hunter as if to question.

“I-I had seen a place with that description, Lord. It was not something I could forget.” Revealed Guthred. To that, Vitharr gave a nod of his head to Skur and turned to depart, beckoning to the others to follow.

Before they could leave the hall, Skur called out, “Go with honor, Vitharr Halldorsson. I might like you boy, but remember my warning. Sword, axe, and nail.” Vitharr’s exit was paused only a moment in order to hear the Jarl’s departing words, but the Viking said nothing in return. Vitharr’s path was clear and set, and alongside his friends, he departed the town of Fjall on horseback and set off southward.

“Guthred.” Said Vitharr as they just left the confines of the town. “Return to Torhvild Hall and gather five men. Meet us at the mouth of Scarfrost Cave. And bring torches.” With an affirmative, ‘Yes, Lord’, the young hunter set off on his way east toward the mountain pass, whilst Runa came forward on her horse to question.

“You expect a battle, Vitharr?”

The Viking wondered about that himself; the words of the mad elder perhaps left him overly cautious. “I do not know, I only know that it is better to be prepared. What awaits us in this cave could be death itself, and I would rather face it with more blades than just our own.”

Runa leaned back on her horse, her kohl painted eyes staring at the southern horizon. “I can still barely believe you met with a maddened seer. Alone.”

Commented Runa, a hint of disappointment in her tone, something Vitharr took notice of. “Would you have liked to have come with me?”

“Hah! I would have liked to have seen the face of Halldor the Furious finding out his son met with an elder.” She and Vitharr shared in a laugh, but Runa confided, “It does bother me how you always tempt fate. One day fate will not be kind, Vitharr.”

Though Vitharr scoffed in response, he did not ignore the worry behind her words. “It is good that I have friends with me. If fate comes with death, it will be met by the axe of Runa Stormlashed. What is there to fear?”

The journey to the unclaimed land to the south took somewhat more than a day to reach, forcing the Companions to make camp along the way. By the time they reached their destination, the sun had already begun to set. When Jarl Skur implied the cave itself would be difficult to miss, he meant no exaggeration. The cave mouth stretched high, appearing almost as if parting the mountain in two, when looking up at it from its base, where it was wide. From a distance its shape appeared almost like a candle flame. At the entrance the Companions stood, alongside Guthred and the five warriors he had gathered from Torhvild Hall. Vitharr stared into the darkness of the cave, approaching it slowly as he got a feel for what they were moments away from delving into. “Halldor, remain out here with the horses.” Young Halldor would not be able to lend any aid in a fight, he knew this, so he did not bark about remaining behind, even if he wished to see where the elder had led his brother. With the torches Guthred had brought set alight, it was Vitharr that led the way, while other torch bearers, the newbloods, followed behind with Runa, Sveinn, and Guthred. The cave echoed with the dripping of water, and the scurrying movement of insects and vermin. The light that was pouring in from the outside would soon be snuffed out as the nine warriors moved deeper.

The path was most assuredly leading them downward, and though the tunnel continued to narrow as they went, they could still manage to walk through easily enough. Save for the oversized Sveinn the Pup who had to hunch forward to avoid hitting his head against the ceiling at times. Further down the Vinnish party went, into the thickening darkness of the passages. Vitharr did not know how deep they delved, he only knew it was the furthest underground he thought was possible for a man to go. Oddly enough, the tunnel began to widen before them, until they came to a great cavern.

The range of light from the torches they carried could do little to illuminate more than a few feet around them. What they could see of the massive space within the cavern brought about growing uncertainty and a measure of fear, mostly within the hearts of the newer Companions. For as they followed Vitharr and stepped through the pitch black cavern, the crunching of bits of bone resounded from beneath their feet. Vitharr came to a halt, and so did the others as the viking gazed down. Bones, both small enough to have been from cave vermin, while others were large enough to be from grown men. Vitharr attempted a few more steps, and still the floor remained littered with yet more bones. Raising his eyes to the darkness, he gazed around, wondering what could have been living down here, and feasting on the lives of men. As they had come to a halt, Guthred approached Vitharr now. “Something moves in the darkness.” Counseled the young hunter in a panic, the fear in his eye was plain as he looked out into the thick black of the cavern. What the young hunter had seen or noticed, Vitharr could not say as whatever it was had eluded his own attention.

“Stay close together.” Advised Vitharr to the others.

The Companions drew together, heeding Vitharr’s cautious order. In the darkness, there came the sound of the dragging of feet against dirt, and claw against rock. As if knowing that their presence was no longer undetected, whatever was present in the darkness began to stir more loudly. Now, all Companions were aware of something lurking, but could not be sure of where it could be. Whatever it was that stalked them sounded heavy, its feet stomping and dragging across the cavern floor. As the Vinmen began to focus on it, they could make out strange sounds. It was difficult to hear, as if the creature was attempting to keep itself hidden, but Vitharr felt the vocalisations were something he had heard before. Tensions in the group began to mount as the nine warriors formed a circle, backs facing inward. Swords and axes were drawn, and the torch bearers held their flames taut.

“Come on. Come on!” Whispered an agitated Runa as her dark painted eyes frantically searched the black cave, eager to commence what fight may be coming.

Though they waited, nothing came, and though nothing came, the sound of movement in the darkness did not abate. Vitharr, Sveinn, Runa, and Guthred held as they managed to stifle their fears, but it was the newer Companions that joined them who began to waver. As the tension continued to mount, one of the torch wielders loosed a fear-filled battle cry and charged out from the formation. “Hold! Hold!” Shouted Vitharr but met only fear-deafened ears as the young man charged into the darkness. They could see where he went, grace to the torch he carried.

It was without warning that the aspiring Companion was set upon. Immediately the young man lost his grip on his torch, it landing just aside, robbing the other Companions of the sight of what was lurking in the shadows. The man’s yelling lasted until a resounding snap of breaking bones could be heard, followed by rapid crunching. The creature was feasting right near to them, but not for long. It left its fresh meal aside in order to return its attention to the other warriors. The fresh kill seemed to have sent it into a frenzy as it charged past the fallen torch with shocking speed. It lumbered out of view and into the darkness again quickly, but in that instant the Companions could see it. It moved on four legs, its body more than twice the size of a fully grown black bear. In truth, that is what it appeared like, an oversized bear, but Vitharr’s keen eye had seen something more than black fur. He had seen black feathers.

More of which he would see soon enough as the creature came charging into the Companions’ formation. Its massive weight easily battered Vitharr and Runa aside as it came barreling through. “Monster!” Cried one of the aspiring Companions. The creature’s thundering screeches filled the cavern. No, not screeching, for they had all heard the sound this creature made at one time or another; the cawing cry of a raven. It stood before them now in plain view, illuminated by the torch bearers. Its great body was without a doubt one of an oversized black bear, but its upper half, its head and front legs, were anything but that. Fur turned to feathers halfway up across the creature’s body, and its front legs were not claws but talons that could shred through leather armor with ease. Its massive skull was smoothly feathered, and it had a long, black bloodstained beak as dangerous as any blade.

“Not a monster at all, but a beast!” Shouted the young hunter Guthred. “It is a corvbear!”

It was Vitharr that was the first to shake the initial shock and charge in against the beast. He brought his troll felling sword, Gifrbita, down against the corvbear’s hide, slashing into its thick black fur, though his blade found difficulty creating anything more than shallow cuts. The corvbear whipped around with frightening speed, bashing Vitharr to the ground with its beak before loosing an annoyed cawing. Vitharr’s charge however gave courage to his allies. Runa and Sveinn took up their axes, while Guthred readied an arrow. Their blows against the creature were almost as superficial as the cuts Vitharr managed to get in; the hide of the corvbear proved incredibly tough. Though Sveinn, with his mighty strength and the swings of his greataxe, was able to unbalance and push the creature with each strike, this proved only to draw the beast’s focus. The corvbear thrust itself against Sveinn, toppling the young Vinman and pinning him to the ground. With every ounce of his strength, Sveinn could only manage to protect against the corvbear’s snapping beak while pushing against its neck, trying desperately not to be crushed beneath the beast’s weight. Vitharr had recovered and returned to his feet in the meantime, and every Companion bore down against the beast trying to force it off of Sveinn who was at its mercy.

Before it could try and dig its talons into Sveinn, Runa chopped at its leg with her handaxe, and before it could clamp its black beak onto Sveinn’s skull, Vitharr bashed his blade across its razor beak. Guthred all the while pinned its hide full of arrows, though how effective it was proved difficult to determine as the creature did not flinch. Though their attacks were sufficient enough to annoy the beast and force its attention elsewhere. It turned aside and instead pounced against an unsuspecting Companion newblood. With the Vinman in its claws, the corvbear punctured several gaping holes in the man’s chest, and tore out chunks of fresh flesh as it feasted on him living. While Guthred helped the wounded and battered Sveinn to his feet, Vitharr and Runa both loosed battle cries as they charged against the creature. Though their attacks proved to do little so far, they would not relent, for should today be their time to die, they would die well.

The creature whipped around once more, its sharpened beak slashing across Runa’s arm and axe-hand, her blood splashing against the cavern floor. She screamed at the pain and lost hold of her axe, her arm proving difficult to move without crippling effort. Vitharr was no safer, as the corvbear raked its shredding talons across the Vinman’s front, ripping apart any protection he had and sending his blood into the air. The force of the stroke was enough to throw him to the ground, and once there, the corvbear pounced atop him, pinning the warrior to the cavern floor and rearing its head back to skewer the Vinman.

Its beak came forward, just moments away from cutting a hole through Vitharr’s skull, but it missed its mark. The sharp beak of the beast crashed into the stony ground. It squawked and cawed, its movements and struggles slowing as it remained standing on top of Vitharr. The Vinman hurriedly crawled backward and out from underneath the creature, heavily panting as he and the others watched it slump forward into the dirt and be still. The Companions watched on with confusion, all except Vitharr who struggled to return to his feet with pained grunts. “Is it dead? What happened?!” Barked Runa as she held her bleeding arm.

Stepping over to the corvbear’s side, Vitharr pressed both his hands against its hide and yelled as he struggled to push it. Managing to roll the creature over, he revealed its underside. Blood was gushing from beneath it, and nearly sunk beneath the surface of its resistant skin was Vitharr’s sword, Gifrbita, stuck fast in the great beast’s heart. With both hands, it took all of the Vinman’s strength to pull his Vinnish sword free of the corvbear’s flesh. For when the creature had pounced onto the fallen Vitharr, it fell upon his blade with all its weight, a gamble Vitharr had planned to attempt, as its hide had proven strong enough to even resist the strikes of Sveinn the Pup. The Vinman used the corvbear’s weight against itself, and proved victorious in the end. Realizing this, it was Runa who first loosed a triumphant cry, followed suit by the others. Their cheering echoed through the cavern whilst Vitharr took a moment to sit and catch his breath.

“We have slain a monster! A hunt worthy of a story!” One of the surviving Companions said. The encounter was likely their first taste of combat. Though many of them were wounded, and though some of them had found their deaths, there was no sadness, only joy at overcoming what could have been their ends at the hands of this living omen of death called a ‘corvbear’. The raven doubled in size and with the strength of a bear, what could have spawned such a thing, they wondered. Jarl Skur had claimed this place was cursed, and he was most assuredly correct in their eyes. Vitharr pressed a hand against his clawed chest as he stepped over to see to Runa. As he tried to get a look at her arm, she turned away and barked before he could speak, “I am fine, Vitharr!” Blood flowed dangerously quickly from her arm, and as Vitharr looked to his other Companions, he could see most of them proved to be in battered shape. Save for Guthred, as his bow allowed him to avoid the charging and clawing of the creature.

As they lingered, and as the blood of the corvbear continued to flow onto the cave floor, there came a sound echoing through the cavern. It was the sound of shifting and sliding stone. On a far wall of the cavern there moved a slab of rock, revealing a passageway that was illuminated by the light of fire within. Vitharr and the others each took hold of their weapons, even the wounded Runa, with her axe-arm shredded as it was. Vitharr came forward cautiously, his blooded sword Gifrbita in hand as he stared at the lit passage.

His eyes widened as he realized, “It is as the mad seer said. A ‘black feathered door’. The corvbear has revealed the path.” Vitharr spoke with wonder, for this meant his answer lay within the passage ahead. He turned to his friends, watching them a moment. “Guthred, Sveinn, take Runa and the others back to the cave’s mouth. Have Halldor see to the wounded.”

“I said I am fine!” Runa shouted, though she was clearly not fine as Sveinn had to keep her from falling over, the blood loss taking its toll already.

“What about you, Vitharr?” Inquired Sveinn.

“I will see what the elder wished me to see. Wait for me with Halldor.”

Though Runa complained between grunts of pain, she did not resist as she was helped out of the cave by Sveinn, while Guthred and the other wounded followed behind. While they returned to the surface, Vitharr set his attention back upon the opened and lit passageway. Without fear he raised a still burning torch and walked toward the passage, his bloodied blade Gifrbita in hand and at the ready. The passage was narrow though clearly carved out by the hands of a craftsman. It did not take long for the young Vinman to pass through it and come to a small chamber located in the stone, it too appearing carved by expert hands. Inside, the origin of the light he had seen were a collection of lit candles that illuminated the room. At the end of the room a figure shuffled, cloaked in what appeared to be a cape with a mantle of black feathers. The figure’s face was shrouded by a time worn hood, and in truth the stranger seemed to be avoiding looking directly at Vitharr as he entered the chamber.

“Have you come for me, my Scorpia?” The man’s voice, deep and elderly, came out somewhat muffled by his hood, but in it Vitharr could tell the great emotion behind his words.

“There is no Scorpia here. I am Vitharr Halldorsson.” The young Vinman came forward, his torch held aside as he tried to get a better look at the man. The shrouded figure was using the walls as a crutch as he walked about.

Upon realizing who had come was not who he thought, the man’s tone changed to one of defeat. “It is over, my death is here.”

“Who are you? What is this place?” Asked Vitharr as he tried to peer beneath the man’s hood, though the figure stepped accordingly as to keep it hidden from prying eyes.

“Names, there are many, but most I have forgotten. I was once called Crow-Curse, once Omen Caller, once Old Throrr, but I am simply Throrr, son of Fengeir, and this place is my home.” At hearing the names, Vitharr lowered his bloodstained sword, the look of shock worn plain as he recalled the stories both Jarl Skur and Jarl Erlend had spoken of, and of the story the old elder had passed to him. He thought the elder mad, and could not decide which story was true between the Jarls and which was not. If the man was who he claimed to be, then this would be the only man alive that could tell me the truth of how the blood feud began.

Though Vitharr was beset by a far more worrying thought. “If you are Jarl Throrr, how can you still live?” The question did not come as an unexpected one, though vexing to Throrr as his time continued to wane.

“That tale is a sad one. I live because of my dear Scorpia. But, my life you have now snuffed out.” The dying Jarl slid down against the wall in order to easily slump into a sit. “You are no doubt the one that slew my guardian.”

“If you speak of the beast, the corvbear, I and my companions ended its life, Lord.” Vitharr thought now that perhaps this creature was something precious to the man, though Throrr did not appear nor sound angry.

“This place was once home to many such beasts. The one you slew was the last here, the den mother without children. My eternal protector, deemed so by my dear Scorpia.”

Vitharr drew closer to the seated Throrr and put away his sword; this man is of no threat to anyone, not anymore, Vitharr thought. Now he was simply a dying old man. “Who is this ‘Scorpia’ you speak so much of?” The figure’s breaths became wheezes, though still he held onto life.

“To the east, the land of Frosset, her people were. They- she moved with the cold, danced with snowstorms, and consorted with ravens. Her skin, so beautiful. How I wish I could see its color again, it was like a clear summer sky. A softer blue you could not ever hope to see. Her hair, sharp white as the glinting of winter snows.” As the old Jarl held his chest and proceeded to cough, Vitharr was slowly coming to understand just what the old man was describing.

The young Vinman kneeled before the ancestor Jarl when he drew closer. “You speak of… the blue death. The creatures of omen.”

“I first saw her roaming my lands, but I did not run. I was frightened, as the ravens followed her. I too began to follow, for though she carried death with her, I felt only love.” The shrouded Jarl reached up to the hood which rested upon his head and finally pulled it down.The old man’s face was heavily wrinkled, and his hair had lost its color decades ago. What Vitharr saw before him was no great Jarl, but a feeble old man on his final breaths. “It was here, in this place, I followed her. The corvbears belonged to her, and she loved them. So I would care for them, for her. Anything for her.” The Jarl reached down to part his ragged cloak and shirt, baring his chest and revealing a scar where his heart was.

“The elves of Frosset understand death beyond any of us, beyond me. How she did so, I do not know, but she delved into my heart with her knife of glaciers and chose the den mother. My life connected to her beast, and her beast connected to I. Now that it is slain, so too am I slain, and so now Old Throrr goes to his rest.”

The Jarl’s story could not be truth, Vitharr thought. And yet, it could; the blue death, walking omens and symbols of the end, perhaps they had this power. Ways to live beyond what should have been one’s path to the Grey Ones. This unknowable elf had given long life to the Jarl, and because of this, fate had delivered Vitharr his answer to the troubles of the present. As Throrr began to slip from his seated position and fall to the ground, Vitharr reached forward to grab his shoulders and hold him steady. “Lord, I must know, how did the blood feud of Skur and Erlend, of your sons, begin? Your help may prevent war!” The old man had not passed, nor would he wish to yet as he heard Vitharr’s words.

“No, no, it must not happen again!” Throrr confided, his tone growing weak. “My… my sons, my precious sons. They could not understand my love for Scorpia. They feared that… my time in this place, with her, was going to curse me and all my people. It was only my eldest, Kjoll, that could see, could understand.” Throrr reached up to weakly grasp at Vitharr’s armor. “My two youngest feared if they did nothing, death would… my Scorpia would… bring the end to our land. With my spear they slew my beloved, then slew Kjoll when he hid me away. My sons… kinslayers. They divided my land between themselves, and had their peace. Now those sons of my sons… they feud but do not remember why. More of my blood will be kinslayers, and it is my doing.” The three tales passed to him were wrong, and yet right. Details missing, changed, forgotten. As Vitharr thought on this, thought on what could his decision possibly be, knowing how both Skur and Erlend’s ancestors had equal claims, not one more worthy than the other, Jarl Throrr tightened his grip on the young Vinman’s armor. “Vitharr… Halldorsson. I beg you, as I die here, do not allow more of my blood to be named kinslayer. Bring peace to my sons, please, bring… peace.”

The dying man struggled to say more, to let more words of counsel flow, but death would not allow it. Life slipped away from him as he fell limp in Vitharr’s arms. It took the young Vinman a moment to understand that Jarl Throrr had now passed. Though he could not himself understand what sort of love could have possessed the noble Old Throrr to pursue a creature so haunting as the blue death itself, in Vitharr’s mind this was still a man of honor, an ancestor now finally having met his end. It was not in that moment that Vitharr came to his decision on what he should do concerning the blood feud of Skur and Erlend, nor did he come to it as he carried the body of Throrr through the cavern and back up to the surface. It was when he came to the cave’s mouth, the Jarl’s body resting on his shoulder, and saw the faces of his Companions. The young faces of Vinmen that had seen no part of war, of the infighting that consumed Stal Vindur ages past. Young folk that, now with the passing of the Odeking, the last and only man to bring a lasting peace to their people, would no doubt be swept into the petty wars of squabbling Jarls seeking dominion. Squabbling not unlike the blood feud the Companions find themselves on the borders of. What Vitharr wished was not to war with his own people, he wished to explore the world outside these islands, to find more places of riches and wealth, and to do so alongside his friends. To see them all rise with him.

“I have found my answer, and made my decision.” The Companions who had made camp at the mouth of Scarfrost Cave all looked up at their leader, seeing he carried with him a hooded and cloaked corpse on his shoulder. He set the corpse down onto the ground gently and with care, next to the wrapped corpses of the Companions that lost their lives in the fight against the corvbear. “Tonight we build a pyre, and honor the dead. All of the dead. Then, we go to Lunland, and to Jarl Erlend.”

***************************

Upon horseback, the seven Companions had left the mouth of Scarfrost Cave not long after the sun had risen. The wounds of Vitharr, Runa, Sveinn and the other newer Companions had been tended to by Young Halldor, though it would be some time before they were near ready to battle once more, especially Runa. The day turned to dusk by the time the Companions arrived at the seat of the southern portion of land once belonging to Jarl Throrr, Lunland, now ruled by Jarl Erlend. There the Companions were spotted, most notably Vitharr, as Erlend had given orders to his men to expect the visit of a young man with a face painted with the image of a dragon headed serpent. There they stabled their horses, and were led to the modest hall of Jarl Erlend, in comparison with the one owned by Skur to the north. Within, there were many men gathered. Loud were their cheers as they played games amongst one another and drank heartily. These men were no doubt the warriors gathered by Erlend as he sought to invade the lands of Skur. Vitharr could not spot Jarl Erlend in the sea of veteran warriors before him, though there was no need for him to as his arrival had already reached Erlend’s ear. “Vitharr Halldorsson!” Came a shout above the noisy crowd. The hall quieted, though only slightly for the men were still preoccupied with games, as Jarl Erlend called out to Vitharr from the other end of the hall.

Vitharr’s expression was one of determination as he approached the Jarl that summoned him, he and his friends moving through the crowd to stand before the Jarl. Erlend was seated on his high seat, committed to the drinking and feasting he and his warriors were involved in. “You have come! So! You have made your decision then? Well, out with it. My men are ready for war!” Demanded Erlend with a laugh.

Vitharr looked aside at the men that were gathered. “There will not be a war, Lord.”

“What, boy? Louder!” Erlend insisted, either unable to hear over the cacophony of sound, or bewildered by what he had heard.

“There will be no war, Lord!” Vitharr obliged and spoke somewhat louder. The hall now grew quiet as some of the warriors turned to hear the conversation.

“Why is that? Are you saying you will not give your oath, or that you have sided with Skur!?” The Jarl was quick to anger as he posed his questions. Conversely, Vitharr spoke not with anger but with utter clarity and calm.

“You lied to me, Lord. Jarl Skur has no desire to claim any land, nor desire to begin a war. He does claim all these lands should be his, yes, but he would sooner choose peace than bring death to his own people.”

In his growing anger, Jarl Erlend slammed his cup of ale against the table before him, causing it to shatter. “Which makes him a coward, boy! I will have what should be mine, no matter how many must fall!”

“Without the Companions, you would be destroyed. You do not have the numbers, and I will not allow war to come, Lord. I am sorry.” It was now that Jarl Erlend quickly rose from his chair, so quickly as to cause his seat to topple over and crash to the floor.

“Then I will kill you, and take Torhvild Hall and the Companions for myself, boy!”

Despite their wounds, the Companions all made for their weapons as Erlend threatened Vitharr, for each of them would not let harm come to him, even while they still ached with the wounds suffered at the hands of the corvbear just a night ago. The warriors within the hall, who greatly outnumbered the small party of Companions, made for their weapons just the same. The Companions would meet only a slaughter, surrounded and outnumbered as they were, but Vitharr did not come here to begin a war. Whether that war be between Skur and Erlend, or Torhvild Hall and Lunland. No, he had come before Jarl Erlend for one purpose. “I challenge you.” Declared Vitharr. “In front of your warriors, it is to be holmgang! My life against yours!”

Both the group of Companions and the hall of warriors were shocked to hear it. A duel of single combat, to the death or incapacitation, something Vitharr had willingly and purposely entered into against an opponent far older and experienced than he. Jarl Erlend’s anger seemed to fade as he heard it, staring blankly at the young Vinman as if he had done something unspeakable. Before long he nearly doubled over into a fit of laughter, joined in by some of his surrounding warriors.

The wounded Runa came forward, clasping her hand tightly on Vitharr’s shoulder in order to pull him toward her. “What are you doing!?” She spoke in whispers. “You have not healed yet, you will get yourself killed, and for what!?”

Runa was right, the cuts of the corvbear’s talons had sunk deep and had not yet closed, nor did his bones stop aching from being battered by the large beast. Even so, Vitharr did not lose his determination. “For you, for my friends, for the Companions. For our honor as warriors, and our honor as Vinmen.” He said aside to Runa before pulling free of her hand and stepping closer to the laughing Jarl’s table. “Do you accept or has fear taken you, Lord?”

“Hah! And what will you claim, Vitharr Halldorsson? My lands, my title? Do you wish to be Jarl!?” Erlend roared as he questioned, there was no doubt in his mind this boy simply wanted more status than what should belong to him.

“Yes.” Answered Vitharr. “Your lands, your title. I will take them, but not keep them. Once they are mine, then I shall give them to Jarl Skur, as it is his right, Lord, and as he wishes for peace.”

Jarl Erlend did not know which was worse; that this boy wished to steal his influence, or that he wished to give it to his one and only enemy. Neither did well to stifle his anger, and Erlend gripped hold of his table and flipped it over, causing plates and food and drink to crash to the floor, and causing a few warriors that sat to fall over. Jarl Erlend stomped across the toppled table, standing just inches away from Vitharr, staring him down with crazed eyes.

“Then I shall claim your Torhvild Hall. I shall make Runa my whore, and behead both your brother Halldor and your closest friend Sveinn. I will take the young warriors you have gathered and loose them on my enemies. It is to be holmgang!” Erlend declared with a shout, and was answered by the cheers of his warriors.

Vitharr let the cheering rise and waited for it to fall somewhat quiet once more before speaking. “When shall we start, Lord.”

To that, Erlend gave a snort. “Oh, no, we will not wait. It happens now, Vitharr Halldorsson. We form the square!”

All within the hall rushed outside beneath the darkening sky. All warriors, men and women, gathered around Lunland’s town center. A square of rocks and sticks were formed as the dueling area of the two warriors. To flee would mean dishonor; the only way for these two to end this contest of blood was through death or unconsciousness. “I think I shall let you die slowly.” Stated Erlend, making the end to their contest clear enough. In truth, Vitharr meant to bring an end to the Jarl aswell, though not out of anger, hatred, or disgust. For the blood feud to end, the unrelenting and warmongering Erlend must not draw breath. Both warriors removed their armor and wore only their light tunics, and were handed a shield. Though they had their choice of weapons, Vitharr chose his own, the sword Gifrbita, while the Jarl chose to take up his handaxe. Both warriors, unarmored but not unarmed, now faced one another. Cheering began in the crowd that surrounded them as the duel was to commence. The Companions all watched on, all of them with worry, and all of them shouting their hardest for Vitharr’s triumph. Vitharr came forward, slowly and cautiously closing the distance with his shield held up. Erlend had far more years of experience over Vitharr, who was no more than a pup before this great bear of a man, and as such the Jarl carried himself with unending confidence.

It was Erlend that struck first, laying down swift chops of his axe again and again against the outstretched shield of Vitharr. When the young Vinman moved from behind his shield to thrust with his blade, his arm was bashed aside by Erlend’s own shield, leaving Vitharr wide open for the Jarl to butt heads and knock him into a stumble. The experienced warrior did not relent as he swept his axe low for the younger Vinman’s feet, and though Vitharr managed to parry well enough, his front was met by a bash from Erlend’s shield. He was knocked into the crowd, who then pushed him back into the fight. As he stumbled forward, Erlend’s axe came forward for his skull, almost cleaving his head in two, but luckily Vitharr managed to duck beneath.

Vitharr could not have known that it was simply a ploy for him to leave his back open. When the young Vinman ducked underneath the axe swing, Erlend turned to shield bash Vitharr’s exposed back, and knock the young man onto the hard ground. Erlend raised his axe and sent down a chop, meaning to bury it squarely in the Vinman’s back, but Vitharr managed to roll aside. As he attempted to return to his feet, however, Erlend sent an axe chop across the back of his leg. Blood flowed out of Vitharr, causing each step and movement of his leg to pain him. With pained breaths and limping, he faced off against Erlend once more, his shield up.

The Jarl on the other hand raised his arms with a laugh, taking in the cheers of the crowd, his confidence ever growing. The boy had not landed a single blow, nor would he, thought Erlend. He made a promise that he would kill the upstart Vinman slowly, as such he meant to make things more interesting than the simple slaughter of a child. Erlend tossed his own shield into the crowd, declaring before all that he would not need it, a brazen challenge. A challenge that Vitharr would meet, as even though he was far more inexperienced and on the losing end of this bout, he would not have it said the contest was won with a handicap. Vitharr tossed his own shield aside aswell, meeting Erlend’s eyes with determination. With a war cry, Erlend voiced both his approval and his desire to kill. The Jarl came forward, swiping his axe at the young Vinman who parried as best as he could, though Erlend managed a deep cut across Vitharr’s left cheek. When Vitharr’s head was turned aside from the force of the blow, Erlend came forward and threw the young man back onto the dirt and onto his back.

Erlend dropped down ontop of him, pinning the young Vinman’s arms by setting his knees down on Vitharr’s biceps, forcing him to be unable to swing the blade in his hand. He was now completely at the Jarl’s mercy, and the crowd cheered. Save for the Companions who yelled desperately for Vitharr to rise. Erlend raised his axe above for the final blow, while Vitharr managed to work his free arm out from underneath Erlend’s knee. With desperation and all his strength, he reached up to catch Erlend’s clenched axe hand as it came down, struggling to keep the axe from his face.

Vitharr was no weakling, even now, and was able to keep the axe from cutting his skull. To remedy this, Erlend drew his axe back suddenly and grabbed the side of Vitharr’s head with his free hand. He swung his head down, butting it against the young Vinman’s forehead. The Jarl reared back and butted heads again, and again, until Vitharr was disoriented enough as to be unable to struggle against his axe swing. Vitharr, dizzy and dazed, stared up at Jarl Erlend as he raised his weapon high once again. There was not a chance he could halt the axe swing with his mind so disoriented, he knew, and as the axe was about to come down, Vitharr’s fist shot upward, a pinpoint strike for the Jarl’s neck as he bent slightly forward for his swing.

Erlend’s wind pipe was instantly collapsed. Between the sudden shock of the pain the young Vinman had finally inflicted on him, and the desperation of trying to breathe, Erlend’s swing was halted. He grasped at his throat, leaving Vitharr capable of dealing yet more blows. The man could not breathe, so Vitharr would make it worse by sending another punch for the Jarl’s stomach, winding him. Erlend fell off from ontop of Vitharr and rolled onto his side from the struggle of being unable to breathe. The cheering crowd had quieted at the sudden turn of events, the sudden turn of fortunes, as the bloodied and brutalized Vitharr returned to his feet. He still limped from the cut he had taken to his leg, and his face was covered with the blood from his cut cheek and the blows of the Jarl’s headbutts. But now he stood over the fallen Erlend, sword in hand. Even now, however, Erlend did not relent as he tried to desperately swing his axe against Vitharr, but each swing was clumsy and erratic. Vitharr found his chance and rushed forward, plunging Gifrbita into the old Jarl’s chest with a war cry.

Erlend had taken his final breath. Vitharr pulled his blade out of the Jarl’s chest and stumbled back. The old veteran warrior slammed into the ground, a lifeless corpse. There was no cheering to be had now in the crowd, for they were all just moments ago the warriors of Jarl Erlend. The Companions came forward, now that the duel had come to a close. Runa and Sveinn helped Vitharr to stand as he was still disoriented and heavily wounded, while the other Companions drew their weapons and stood between Vitharr and the crowd, incase they intended to do him harm as revenge for their Jarl. Even still, Vitharr spoke, raising his voice for all gathered here. “Holmgang is ended! What belonged to Jarl Erlend is now mine, as honor dictates!” No warrior there voiced their displeasure, in truth they were both surprised and inevitably impressed that Vitharr had at all managed to overcome. The boy had fought honorably, against an opponent he was likely to have lost against, but fought to the end in the name of peace for this land. Whether or not the warriors felt anger to have lost their Jarl, no warrior there could deny that Vitharr Halldorsson was worthy of their respect. He had won holmgang, as such they were now his men, as was all of Erlend’s land, to do with as he saw fit.

“Do not look to me as your Jarl, warriors of Lunland!” Continued Vitharr. “These lands I will entrust to the one that has the blood claim to them, Jarl Skur. I will ride to Fjall, and there I will lay Jarl Erlend’s lands at his feet.” Though he meant to saddle his horse and ride off immediately, neither Runa nor Halldor would let him go anywhere with the wounds he had taken. For now, Vitharr had no choice but to remain in Lunland for the night. A single night where Vitharr Halldorsson, a boy from the little known village of Nothorwic, was recognized and treated as a Jarl. His first and only act as Jarl was to decree that though Erlend wished for war, and though they fought to the death, he remained a Vinman worthy of an honorable funeral. He instructed for a great pyre to be built, as befitting Erlend’s status and reputation. He felt this was right, as his thoughts turned to the protection and well being of the land that was now under his name, for the time being. He worried all through the night that with a simple mistake it could all burn down in front of him. As he rested in Jarl Erlend’s bed, Vitharr dreamed of the future that was perhaps bound for the Companions; a future where he could perhaps give them land like Lunland, and watch over them, his friends, as a Jarl would.

***************************

Vitharr did not wish to waste any time, and as soon as he had awoken in Lunland, he gathered his Companions and set off on the journey north. It was several days before the Companions were able to reach the northern town of Fjall. They arrived in the middle of the day, the sun was at its peak amidst a clear sky. The still recovering Vitharr and the others were brought into Skur’s hall immediately, directed by some of his men. Word of the holmgang had no doubt already reached the ears of the Jarl, who was sitting comfortably in the high seat of his hall. The Companions were now gathered before Jarl Skur’s longtable, and it was Vitharr that came forward, limping as his leg had not yet fully healed, nor did his cheek, no doubt to be heavily scarred once its healing was at an end. “Lord. Jarl Erlend is dead, and with him his dream of war.”

“This I have heard. You challenged him to holmgang. I would have called you a fool for doing so, as he was a capable warrior, but here you stand, so I call you a brave and skilled fool instead.” Jarl Skur wore a smile on his hairless face as he said this. Vitharr breathed a sigh of relief, he had considered the chance that Skur would have taken his new title as a threat, but it was true, Jarl Skur wished only for peace, and would have it with Vitharr if he wished to be Jarl of Lunland now.

“I have come, Lord, to give you what is yours, by right of blood. I relinquish my won title and won lands to you.” At this, Jarl Skur slowly rose from his chair. There was utter disbelief on his face at what he had heard.

“You would willingly hand to me all that you have won? What is it you wish in return?”

“Unify the lands of Jarl Throrr once again, Lord, and hold the peace. That is my only wish.” Jarl Skur could now see the truth of this boy. He had a heart of great ambition, it was true, but an almost pure sense of honor he had rarely seen in his lifetime.

The Jarl came forward now, and set his hand onto the young Vinman’s shoulder. “I will accept the lands, but I will not accept that you receive nothing in return. As it is in my power now, I will grant you and the Companions a portion of Erlend’s treasure, and give you lands on my eastern border, north of your home village of Nothorwic and Torhvild Hall. There, men and women will work the land and bring you tribute. But I will not have you swear an oath to me, for you will remain a free man. Let this be my gift to you.”

The other Companions that had come with Vitharr all looked to one another with shock and happiness. They did not think, now with Erlend dead and their promise of riches gone with him, that the Companions would receive anything. Yet Vitharr’s deeds and reputation had made it so, in the end. The young Vinman lowered his head, “Lord, you… do me a great honor!” Truly, Vitharr expected nothing in return, nor would he have asked. He had done what he had set out to do, the honor of the Companions remained whole, that would have been reward enough. Vitharr turned his gaze aside and motioned toward Guthred who lingered in the back. At his signal, the young hunter came forward, carrying in his arms what looked to be a feather mantled cloak. “Lord, this is also for you. This belonged to Jarl Throrr, and found in Scarfrost Cave. It is the last thing of his, it should belong to the son of his sons.” Skur gazed at the black feathered mantle of the cloak; he did not even question if this truly belonged to Jarl Throrr or not, and how Vitharr could know, for he had come to trust that the young Vinman spoke only in truths.

“Then this I also give as a gift to you, Vitharr Halldorsson. Wear it proudly, as I honor name you Vitharr Omenclad! For wherever you go, you bring with you the promise of good fortune, and let all those that are dishonorable tremble at your presence! You have my respect.” Jarl Skur declared with a shout to all within his all, for them all to know that from this day forward, Vitharr Halldorsson was also Omenclad. Let them spread this word so that all can come to know of it, and that the Skalds can come to sing of it. The story of the Crow-Cursed Jarls would be a tale entered into the growing saga of the Companions of Vitharr, so will sing Dag the Skald one day to all that will hear.

Now, with their journey at an end, the Companions departed Fjall and set their sights for home and hearth, Torhvild Hall. There, they would share the story of all that had happened with the warriors within, and display the trophies they had won in their pursuit of honor. The acquired wealth of Erlend was spread amongst them all fairly, and no man was left out of the spoils. To the north now lay land belonging to Vitharr, who had men and women come to his hall with tribute and well wishes, as they shared in the offered food and ale of their new Lord. The hall itself was soon decorated by the mounted head of the great beast, the corvbear from their story, for all visitors to come and see and to know the truth of what they would hear. The corvbear’s tough hide was fashioned into armor, enough for Runa, Sveinn, and Vitharr to now don and use in combat. The bones of the beast were given to Young Halldor to add to his rituals of the Grey. And upon his high seat of the grand Torhvild Hall, sat Vitharr Halldorsson, wearing proudly the black feathered mantle of Old Throrr, now the feared raven mantle of Vitharr Omenclad.

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About the author

justashadowwriter

Bio: I'm not the greatest at writing, I wouldn't say I'm good either, but I've always enjoyed creating a narrative and creating characters of my own.

It's always been a source of fun for me and nothing more. I don't have any aspirations for it to be more than an outlet and a source of entertainment for myself, but I wanted to host the stories somewhere safe and easily accessible.

If you, or anyone, happen to read what I write, it's frankly an honor, and thank you for sparing some time reading. Whether it's a chapter, page, or paragraph, I'm delightfully surprised and thankful.

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