A Fire A Sword and A Heart

Custom User Avatar
More by this author
The men crept quietly and swiftly through the forest. A red evening sky hung forebodingly overhead with splotches of grey clouds dappled about the horizon. The chieftain, Olaf, led the way through an overgrown path with his battleaxe out and at the ready. But he was not afraid of what they were approaching, and neither were the other men with heavy metal chainmail, drawn swords, and brass helmets tinted with gold.
That is, no one except for Sven.
Today was their first raid in Ireland, and Sven could scarcely hold his sword steady in front of him. The other Norsemen had been going on raids since they were no older than Sven, and brutally took over villages throughout Denmark, and the edge of Scotland in the Shetland Isles. All of them considered this as just another duty, and for some of the older ones like Olaf, an amusing killing.
Sven was the youngest by far. In fact, he was only sixteen and was not really supposed to be there. None of the other Vikings took any particular notice of him, matched in the same clothing and with his own weapons too.
When Olaf’s raiders had taken over a village in the Shetland Isles, Sven’s home, they had murdered everyone in his town but had some of their men killed. There were a few of Sven’s friends who were coming back into the town with him after the Vikings had already taken over, and were horrified to see what had been done. In a panic, they had fled out into the forest, in search of another village for safety. Sven however, had rushed to what was left of his home to see if his mother and little sister were alright. But Olaf had met him along the way, and with his desperate need of more men, had told Sven most definitely that he would become one of his raiders, or would be killed. With one glimpse of Olaf’s sharp sword, Sven had agreed, and was recruited as a new Viking; given the name he now bore, Sven. He did not bother to argue with his new name since he liked it better than Patrick. Even though he simply hated being with these Vikings, knowing that they had murdered his mother and sister, he could not do anything about it, for his life depended on it.
The men snuck on into the woods, approaching a town not too far from the shore where the longboat was docked in the peaceful waters. Sven hoped that after many days of strenuous rowing and little rest that the Norsemen would want to take a break before the raid. But it had to be done tonight when it was almost nightfall, Olaf’s preferable attack time. None of the other men seemed to mind this, and did not appear the least bit tired.
Then, just as Sven thought he would have to drop his heavy stone sword, a deep cry broke the silence.
“Charge!” Olaf bellowed in Danish, as he raised his battleaxe above his head violently. All the other men cried in contentment, and ran forwards, unsheathing swords for those who were not already carrying theirs. Sven jumped when he heard the war call, and although he could not see any village, darted forwards with everyone else, or he would probably be trampled on.
Oh, Sven thought, there’s the village. For right in front of him was a low stone wall with a battered timber door surrounding small wooden houses with thatched roofs. Some of the burlier men got out their axes and broke down the door before Sven even got close to it. They then clambered into the village, all the men yelling vicious odes that frightened the townspeople, and even Sven, which made him want to escape. Nevertheless, there were still fierce men behind him that would notice if he tried to slip away, so Sven had no choice but to rush in too.
Since he had never been on a raid, Sven thought Olaf would proclaim the town for his own with his frighteningly sonorous voice and force people to leave, but Sven was wrong. It was much worse.
The Vikings wasted no time, and Sven saw Olaf stabbing a woman with his sword, then turning around to kill another man without a second thought. All the people were fleeing from their houses, trying to get out of their ‘protected village.’ Most of them did not get as far as the gates, being killed by the raiders instantly.
“This is horrible...” Sven muttered to himself, frozen to the spot in shock. Then he smelled a foul burning scent from all about him. With a look around, he realized that the little wooden houses were being burned, and thatched roofs were being devoured by the fire so rapidly that anyone inside had no chance of escape. Even worse, the crisp air blew furiously, spreading the fire faster and wilder than ever.
“Fight, boy!” a warrior called to Sven in the middle of a combat. Sven pulled up his sword and ran deeper into the village.
I can’t kill anyone, he told himself, running past cowering townspeople that were trying to make a getaway. Some of the Vikings were running out of the houses that were in flames, carrying their helmets stuffed with precious goods and fancy golden jewellery.
“Take that house!” a man with his arms full of heavy furs barked as he pointing to a solemn looking house concealed behind one that was blazing with fire. Sven headed towards it, coughing in the thick billows of smoke that engulfed the air around him.
When he entered the tiny, dirt-floored house, he heard a little whimper. Tucked in the corner between a small bed and the wall was a little girl with a horrified tear-stained face. Jenny, Sven thought, immediately thinking of his little sister. The girl was the same age as his sister, and even resembled her a little. Sven walked towards the girl and she screamed, burying her face into her dress.
It was then that Sven realized the repulsive truth: a Viking would kill her, or she would burn as the house was set on fire. With a look around the house, Sven knew he would have to do something, a Viking was right outside fighting and would see if Sven left it unharmed, and probably would jab his sword through Sven as well as the girl.
He reached out his sword in front of him, ready to take a blow at the child. Quickly, do it quickly, he told himself as he shook. Then Sven thought of his sister again. This was probably the last thing she would have seen, a fierce Viking about to kill her.
Without a second thought, Sven threw his sword on the ground beside him, and the girl slowly lifted her head up, pushing dark hair out of her face.
“Don’t you kill me now?” she asked, trembling.
Sven reached out his hand, “I can’t. But I will get you out,” he said pulling her to her feet.
She looked up at him inquisitively, “Where’s my mommy?” she enquired.
“I don’t know,” was all Sven could say, “We have to hurry.” He raced out of the house, pulling the little girl along with him. He knew if he stopped to think about what he was doing then he would probably realize just how stupid it was. The other raiders were still fighting, gathering treasures, and burning the ornate houses down.
Night had already fallen, the sky taking up a charcoal hue. “Quickly, run to the end of the village and don’t be seen,” Sven ordered, gently pushing the girl along, “I’ll help you over the wall in a few minutes.” The girl looked stunned at the chaos around her, but ran as fast as she could to the far wall.
Now, unfortunately, Sven knew he must burn down the house. He picked up a piece of scrap wood from the ground, and held it in the fire of a burning house. At least no one is in the house, Sven told himself as he held the flaming wood to the girl’s house and waited until it started burning. The straw caught quickly, and soon it blackened, and then curled, embedded with red hot sparks. Sven threw the burning wood in the house just as it was about to collapse in a flaming mess.
Sven turned around, ready to head to the wall where the girl should be. He broke into a run to the other end of the village. He had guessed that there would not be any Vikings at the far wall, but he was wrong. The houses were being burned to the ground, and people being killed everywhere. I have to lose this armour, he thought, as the axe and chainmail were weighing him down. Sven pulled the axe out of the leather strap on his back and dropped it.
When Sven reached the back wall, he panted frantically and spotted the little girl. She was hidden from the view of the other Vikings behind a burning house. Sven did not care if any of the men saw him here, they would already be angry with him for conveniently ‘losing’ his sword and battleaxe.
“I’ll get you over the wall,” Sven stated, pulling the girl over to the stone fortification. It a little taller than Sven, but he knew he could easily lift her. He immediately raised her up over his head, and she pulled herself to sit on the wall.
“I can’t get down,” she said.
“Jump, and quickly,” Sven told her glancing nervously around him.
Getting teary-eyed again, the girl looked at the other side of the wall and gasped, “It’s too high.” Sven started to feel a noxious feeling in his stomach. He knew that he himself would have to go over the wall, and if he did not go right away, he would surely get caught. With some difficulty, Sven lugged himself to the top of the cold, stone wall and jumped down. He was in the thick forest instantly, and it made him feel so much freer without the Norsemen right behind him.
“Hurry,” Sven said to the girl, “I’ll catch you.” She nodded, and let herself drop down from the wall. Sven caught her, and lowered the girl to the ground. “Run away,” Sven demanded to the dark-haired girl, “It may be scary, but you have to.” The girl nodded again, and started running. He watched until she got out of sight, and then turned back to the wall.
Sven gasped when he saw Olaf on this side of the wall with his sword pointed inches away him.
“Helping a child,” Olaf spat out in a bitter voice. Sven did not say a word, he was too shocked that he did not notice Olaf come over the wall behind him.
A cold night breeze danced around them, continuing to make Sven’s heart pound viciously in his chest.
“You have a choice, boy,” Olaf growled, “Come back and kill every townsperson with us—child or adult,” he bellowed, bringing his sword up to Sven’s bare neck.
“Or,” he added, and Sven could see anger blazing in his dark eyes, “You die.”
Sven had never spoken up to Olaf, and had no idea what he should do. If he returned with him, could he kill the innocent people? Sven thought of his sister again—she would probably tell him to run away this instant. Although it was too late for that now.
“I need an answer,” Olaf roared in a deep, restless tone.
But Sven had already made up his mind. He took a step back from the sword, took off his brass helmet, and threw it on the ground. “I’m no killer,” he said strongly, though his mind was wavering in fear. “You can do what you want with me, but you cannot make me one.”
Olaf frowned, and bared his teeth, “So be it!” he exclaimed and drove his sword into Sven, who stood perfectly still, then fell.
*
*
*
A few days later, the little girl reached a village after fleeing from the Vikings. The people kindly let her in, and asked how she could have escaped. She would not tell them much, only that there was a good Viking who helped her. Although nobody believed her, since they knew that the Vikings were all fierce warriors. But the girl knew differently, and she told all the other children, and eventually her own children about the Viking whose heart was not blackened in killing, but who was kind and unblemished by the others around him. He had true courage, a valour that bled through his timid exterior. Something leading him to do the right thing, no matter how painful that may be.





Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback