The ringing sound of steel on steel filled the early morning air. The low blue-grey mist attempted to hide the fresh coat of late winter snow and the garish signs of battle. The snow was marred in several places by human and horse foot prints; further still defacing the ground was the blood of fallen souls fighting for what their leaders believed in. The cries of mortals falling to their deaths at the hands of unremorseful men could be heard across the mountaintops. The grey clouds hung low in the sky as if the gods were trying to steal a better view of the battle that raged below them. The battle hounds could be heard baying as they hungered to be released upon their adversaries. Horses stamped the snow impatiently awaiting their chance to enter the fray of battle.
Upon a hillside overseeing the scene below him, Edvard sat high upon his steed surveying the battlefield that lay before him. Smiling solemnly at what he saw transpiring before him. He longingly wished he did not have to bear witness to another battle, watching those that he called friend cut down in their prime. Further still, he took no pleasure watching those that were barely able to wield a sword and shield struggling in the deep snow being cut down before they even knew the gentle touch of a woman other than their móôir (mother). Edvard contemplated the things that brought him great pleasure -- the things that he found himself fighting for today. They were simple things in life: his woman at home tending to his fire, the gentle way that she touched his cheek during the long harsh winter nights. He longed to be hunting with the other men of his tribe shoring up their reserves for the long frigid winters. What was the use in battle? Other than to gain entrance into Valhalla, what truly was the purpose of this useless bloodshed?
Stray arrows pierced the air about him, drawing his attention back to the here and now. The tribe they were warring with had begun yet another push forward, their archers growing closer and bolder. Edvard watched the ebb and flow on the battlefield beneath him. He was hardly concerned with what looked to be a slaughter facing his men. His horse stamped the ground impatiently, waiting to join the fight below. His faithful war dog whined and paced restlessly about the warhorse, tossing glances up at its master, longing also to join the fray in the valley.
Edvard Folkvar was a powerful figure perched upon his horse. Flat-footed on the ground, he towered over most men in his village. At nearly six feet seven inches, his broad shoulders and deep chest seemed to be the embodiment of a warrior. His skin was crisscrossed with spiderweb-like veins and scars. He wore as armor the tanned hides of the beasts that he had hunted that prior spring and summer. Painstakingly cured by his woman, he wore them with great pride and they seemed to be honored to be draped across such a noble soldier. Edvard gave a deep yawn as if he were thoroughly bored with the war that raged before him, awaiting the proper moment to call in his reinforcements. Edvard knew that his counterpart had wasted everything on the initial foray into battle, hoping to overwhelm Edvard's clan and bring about a quick victory.
Slowly Edvard unlashed the helm that had been held in place on his saddle. He lifted the helm upon his head. It showed the signs of many battles. The once shiny metal was now dulled, marred and dented in several places. The spiked helm had been crafted with great skill and care. Sharp goat horns projected downward at his jaw line; the dull metal shrouded his face in almost utter blackness. His sky blue eyes sparkled through the darkness that hid his face from those around him. The eye slits allowed him to see remarkably well despite the protection it offered him. With deliberate movements, he checked his hide armor by shifting his shoulders and slightly moved his neck from side to side, attempting to relieve the tension that was mounting in his shoulders. He made the final adjustments to the leather thongs that held the animal skins in place. Finally he pulled his sword from the scabbard that was tied to his horse, looking around him at the men that awaited his command. He nodded slightly and gave forth a bellowing war cry, kicked his horse in the barrel, and the beast leapt into the air, sending Edvard and his men finally into battle.
On a more distant hillside hidden from view sat another man upon a black horse. Possibly because of the frigid temperatures, the man sat in layers upon layers of hides making it impossible to tell that there was an actual man sitting upon the magnificent beast. He watched over the battle that raged; more importantly he was watching Edvard. The elders had charged him with overseeing this peculiar warrior. A man who would rather come to a peaceful resolution to a matter than to battle, Edvard was described as an oxymoron, for his heritage taught him to battle first make peace later. And yet he would rather discuss everything to a peaceful resolution than lose those that he held dear to him in a senseless battle.
Animal, as he was known, watched intently as Edvard suddenly entered the battle. The man appeared to be a god among men on the battlefield; the barbarian's horse reared and struck with its hooves at would be attackers. His large black hound protected his backside, slowing those that would attempt to catch the man unaware. The man himself fought with vigor, slashing with a purpose at the men who threatened him and his clan. Arrows appeared to fall by the thousands all around him. There seemed to be an aura of protection around him. The few arrows that did penetrate this field of safety bounced harmlessly off his helmet or his animal pelts. When Edvard finally dismounted from his horse, he seemed possessed by some demon from the Helheim. His sword seemed to be everywhere at once and nowhere at the same time.
Animal was indeed impressed by the man that laid waste to his foes. He showed no mercy upon the battlefield, knowing none would be shown to him or his clan. With each new felled foe he seemed to gain strength and vigor. Even as those around Edvard seemed to grow weary, he seemed to have an unrelenting source of energy and strength. He switched his sword smoothly between his hands never wavering in his ever-merciless march across the snow. He moved with a determined purpose towards the commander of the other clan. The enemy's leader was a man that towered even over Edvard, his bright red mane almost acting as a beacon, drawing Edvard towards him.
Animal watched with a detached amusement as the two giants squared off at each other. The redhead circled Edvard with his massive battle axe. His hide armor long since discarded or cut from him, the giant was dressed simply in a loin cloth and hide boots. Edvard was obviously better prepared for the impending encounter. He was barely winded, while the giant struggled to fill his colossal frame with air. While the battle raged on about them, the two giants eyed each other wearily. Neither warrior wanted to be the first to make an ill-fated charge. The voyeur leaned forward in his saddle attempting to gain a better view at the impending exchange.
Edvard glared through the eye slits of his helm at the man who would dare challenge his village. He drew in slow deep breaths of air, exhaling slowly. His visible breath hung in the air giving him the visage of a demon. The hulking redhead gasped for air as he attempted to make his battle axe dance between his hands. Edvard watched as the pattern became predictable. At the moment when the axe hung in the air with neither hand on the shaft, Edvard lunged suddenly, closing the distance between them in one single breathtaking movement. The piercing blow was true finding its mark deep within the left side of the chest of his counterpart.
The redheaded adversary bellowed in agony and anger as he felt the cold steel rip through his chest. He immediately attempted to fall and roll away from the piercing strike in an effort to wrench the sword from Edvard's hand. Despite expecting the move, Edvard lost the grip on his sword and the thong on the pommel of his sword acted as a lever, propelling Edvard suddenly through the air without protection from the giant man who was soon attempting to close in upon him. Edvard rolled away, as the thong finally snapped. He began instantly searching the battlefield for potential weapons or shields. Edvard continued to roll away from the hurried assaults from his nemesis. Once he found his footing, the combatants began circling each other anew. The redheaded man struggled with the massive axe, Edvard's two handed sword still sticking out of his chest. Knowing that he would not likely see the spoils of the victory of his clan, he was determined to take his antagonist with him to meet the Valkyries and enter Valhalla together with him that night. The giant redhead's breathing was even more labored than before. Edvard's eyes never left his rival as they side stepped in a continuous circle around each other; he without any protection and the red headed giant still making his axe dance between his hands. Suddenly Edvard stumbled across the leg of a fallen warrior. Edvard landed heavily and unceremoniously in the snow on his back briefly knocking the breath from his lungs. Seeing his opportunity, the redhead leapt to close the gap between them. He hefted the axe high above his head and began to swing down with great force, attempting to split the man in two from head to groin.
Animal's breath caught in his throat as he watched the impending death of his charge. But he dared not intercede on behalf of Edvard. He was charged with watching, but not acting until the proper moment. Suddenly from somewhere on the battlefield as if it had been summoned, the large black war hound charged towards the enormous red head. Animal watched with great interest as the dog kicked up large clumps of snow, galloping with great purpose across the battlefield. The war hound leapt into the air at the assailant of its master, catching him fully in the side of his chest and throwing the menacing redheaded giant off balance, enough to allow Edvard to scurry out of harm's way as the blow fell harmlessly into the snow at Edvard's feet. Edvard relished his new-found opportunity at life and jumped at the redheaded man struggling to find his balance in the snow. Pulling his sword free of the assailant who moments ago appeared to be a certain victor in their exchange, Edvard spun and slashed in one movement, violently severing the man's head from his shoulders.
Now feeling suddenly very old, cold and tired Edvard peered down at his foe's twitching body, at the head that lay near it. Dead unseeing eyes peered back at Edvard, almost asking why its life had been ended so suddenly, why the life-blood was finally drained completely away. Saddened that he had been forced to take yet another life to protect those he cared about, Edvard removed his helmet, which had abruptly become suffocating, wishing to say a prayer that his shamans had taught him over the fallen warrior. His faithful dog trotted back up to him, looking at him for approval. Edvard lowered his head, closed his eyes and muttered the ancient phrases, hoping that he would one day see his foe in the halls of Valhalla. As he opened his eyes and looked at the snow near his booted feet, he noticed fresh droplets of crimson forming into an increasingly large pool. Scanning further up his body he noticed a single arrow sticking through his chest just above where his heart was struggling to beat, growing ever more sluggish in its rhythm. He unexpectedly felt very weak and tired; he dropped to his knees. He reached for his faithful friend, his hands falling just short of the dog's fur, and darkness claimed him.
Animal smiled grimly as he knew that this was his cue and gently pressed against his horse with his thighs. The battle did not rage much longer, with both commanders lying dead near each other. There was no one to issue commands and the common warriors soon fell back into defensive positions. Battlefield etiquette dictated that each clan be allowed to claim their fallen brothers without harassment from their enemies. Animal and his horse began moving slowly through the snow to the body of their would-be recruit. It was a somber mission, but one that Animal knew he must see to with meticulous care.
Glumly Animal and his horse trudged through the snow as new flakes began to fall down onto the battlefield, threatening to cover up the remnants of the battle. The late winter sun which had been hidden behind grey skies was all but a memory now. The moon began to peek through the patch work of snow white clouds, starting to slowly rise in the eastern sky. Animal paused from time to time at the various fallen warriors. Some still meekly moaned as their life's blood slowly seeped from their bodies and into the snow-covered earth; Animal would bring swift mercy to those in agony with a firm gaze. He guided his horse through the macabre scene towards his target, which was still being guarded by the black war hound. The beast had lain down beside her master and whimpered softly from time to time. Attempting to wake her lifelong friend, the black hound would from time to time attempt to lift her master's hand onto her head for one last loving caress or gingerly lick at the death wound of her master, concern etched upon her scarred and fur-covered face.
In the distance the visages of beautiful warrior women could be seen galloping ethereally towards the battleground. Animal inhaled deeply through his nose clearing mucus-like substance from his nostrils, lowered the hare hide that covered his face, and spat the venom-like fluid in the direction of the wraithlike creatures. The hide-covered man slid from the horse and dropped to the ground near his charge. He tenderly touched the hound, which had begun to growl menacingly, bringing it an eternal peaceful slumber. Animal was hidden from view of the common men by a fog that seemed to cling to everything; with great ease he hefted the massive man onto his shoulder and then unceremoniously laid the body across the rump of the midnight black steed and tied the corpse of the clan leader firmly to the saddle. Then moving with great agility, Animal gathered the sword and helm of the fallen warrior and tucked them amazingly into the rather small saddlebags. He then quickly and lightly mounted the horse, turned towards the ever rising moon kicked the steed, and leapt into nothingness.