One-Eyed Wolves

Ragnar was young, just after the very edge of childhood, 15 or 16 winters, he could never keep track. This day he found himself in the deep woods surrounding his mother’s camp, a place he fled to often. His mother’s Karls were fearsome warriors but they made poor company for Ragnar and when he needed to escape their merciless teasing and downright violent games he went to the woods. At his side was a small hunting knife he’d “borrowed” from one of the Karls who’d had a bit too much to drink, in the past he’d carried a bow when he left, but that had earned him mockery in itself so he stopped that as well. Ragnar moved through the woods doing his best to put their cruel words behind him as he trekked further into the wilderness. Ragnar walked for some time until suddenly he saw a massive hairy figure crouching hidden in the bushes, at first Ragnar thought it was a bear, but as it moved shifting in it’s crouch it became clear that the figure was not an animal, but a man, a large hairy man with a sword strapped across his back. Ragnar’s heart raced, “an enemy scout?” he thought frantically, he needed to return to camp and warn his mother. He began to walk backwards slowly, hoping to escape without the mans notice. Just then his foot caught on a vine and he tripped, crashing into the brush. Ragnar didn’t look to see how the man reacted, he only ran trying to put as much distance between them as possible. Soon Ragnar felt a hand on his shoulder, he spun around with his hunting knife slashing at the hand and shouting, his assailant simply knocked the knife from his hands , stepped forward, placed one hand under either of Ragnar’s arms, and before he could do anything Ragnar was lifted from the ground, “LET GO!” Shouted Ragnar, trying to break free to no avail. As Ragnar struggled he got a look at the man, he was large, with thick dark hair covering every inch of exposed skin, he wore a heavy beard and had a lain leather eye-patch covering his left eye, with the other being a bright blue color, matching Ragnar’s own. The man held Ragnar for a moment, never budging even as he tore and bit the mans arms in a desperate attempt to be free. Slowly the man began to grin before shouting, “I’ve found you! My son!” and pulling Ragnar into an embrace. Ragnar stopped struggling as the man set him back on the ground, “Father? How did you find us?” he asked, his voice shaking and tears welling up in his eyes. His Father smiled and clapped him on the back, “Come my son, I will explain more as we go, there is much to show you.”

Ragnar awoke from the dream in a bed not his own, he looked down at the figure sleeping soundly beside where he’d lain and smiled, then silently, he began to get dressed, he needed to take a walk. A few minutes later Ragnar had left began walking the trails in the wilderness, his thoughts, scrambled and painful, were on the events of the Forum, his folly, his weakness, and his pride. The Friar had told him he needed to learn from this, maybe he did, but what was the lesson? Ragnar walked in silence for some time, his thoughts his only company, until he heard a growling in front of him, Ragnar looked up and saw a wolf. The Wolf was clearly haggard and weak, emaciated from lack of food, it’s fur turning grey along the edges marked it as an elder, and a scar running across the space where it’s right eye had been marked it as a warrior. Ragnar looked around for signs of a pack, and strangely found none, this wolf was alone. Ragnar stared at the beast blocking his bath, it bared it’s fangs at him, growling a challenge, he simply stared back. Frozen in time Ragnar was forced to make a choice, did he move forward as he always did? Did he try to take a different path, to change the way he walked? He stood at a crossroads. Finally Ragnar made his choice and he stepped back keeping his eye on the wolf, he did not wish to fight, he would not accept it’s challenge. All at once the wolf lunged at Ragnar growling, Ragnar spun to avoid it but it’s jaw still clamped down on his arm and the momentum pulled him to the ground. As he fell he spun, placing his free arm on the wolf’s neck and when the landed he landed on top of the beast, pinning it. Ragnar tried to pull his arm free, hoping the shock would have loosened the wolf’s grip, but the creature sank it’s teeth further into his flesh preventing him from leaving, Ragnar roared in pain, his free hand searches for something, anything, until his fingers close around a rock loose in the dirt. The Wolf tears at the flesh on his arm, Ragnar screams and raises the stone, he brings it down. Once, a sickening thud. Twice, a violent crack. Three times, the sound a liquid spilling. Ragnar pulls his arm free from what remains of the wolf’s jaw, covered in blood. The body of the now headless wolf lays in the dirt, spilling it’s lifeblood onto the ground, Ragnar vomits. “Why had the wolf attacked him?” Ragnar thought, but deep down he knew. In a daze Ragnar cleaned his wound, the injuries were deep, but not serious, and then he returned to the bed that was not his own where he slept once again, dreaming of One-Eyed Wolves.

Burning

Ragnar strode into the deep wilderness coming into a clearing, a moss covered boulder sitting half buried in the ground at it’s center. Ragnar’s hands were wrapped in cloth and a gentle breeze rustled the leaves overhead, a picture of peace and serenity, a juxtaposition to the burning rage within. Ragnar squared up against the boulder, his longtime opponent, and threw a punch, the jolt from the impact ran up his arm and into his shoulder, regardless he threw his 2nd, then his 3rd, until finally he was screaming at the top of his lungs and pounding into the stone. The boulder of course, said nothing. When the cry finally died in Ragnar’s chest and blood fell from his knuckles to the cracked earth he collapsed to his knees and headbutted the stone letting his head rest against the cool rock, now slick with his own blood. The same blood that ran down his hands and mixed with tears. Ragnar thought of Luqa, and of Rolf, of his mother, and- oh god was his father even still alive? he had no way to know. Ragnar tried to find peace, but as was often the case, only found resentment and burning hatred, searing him from within. When the rage controlled him it burned so bright that compassion and love were left as cinders. He’d always felt it, but it was only recently he’d begun to call on it, and every time he did it got easier. The rage within Ragnar burning brighter, “how long” he wondered, “before there is nothing left but that Burning?”

Broken body, unbroken spirit

Ragnar had finally recovered from his many injuries at the last forum, and just in time to visit Runeheim again. He chuckled slightly then frowned, how many times had he been through this very same song and dance? Fight, lose but live, recover, and repeat. His life had been a never ending series of battles, not unusual for someone like him, what was strange was how he kept surviving, he’d greeted death more time than he’d care to count, but somehow Ragnar managed to avoid taking that final step. At first he thought it was luck, but no one was that lucky, then he thought it might have been skill but his branding taught him that wasn’t the case, a skilled person wouldn’t have fallen as he did. And so it was then that Ragnar settled upon the reason, stubbornness, he was simply too stubborn to die, every obstacle in his life had been bested not by skill, or luck, or even divine intervention. No every problem Ragnar solved was solved with gritted teeth and painful repetition. Ragnar’s thoughts now drifted into the events at Runeheim the people he’d met and those he’d lost. Perhaps it was over stating to call Rolf a friend, but he supposed the man wouldn’t mind what he though anymore. He couldn’t stop thinking of his friends last request of him, “Do great things.” It was a request he intended to fulfill, but how? Rolf had fought the old gods and worked to slay them and free his people, and he’d done it better than Ragnar ever could have, there were others who would continue that work. But all of this was a farce, Ragnar knew what it was he would. He simply feared what it would cost him. There was more than one kind of Tyranny in the north, and just as there were those that fought the old there must be those who faced the new. Ragnar stood, letting the aches and pains of a life well lived settle into him, he would face it with a Broken body, but an Unbroken spirit