Ulfar watched the smoke billow up from the smoldering corpse of the pillaged hamlet. The air was thick with the smell of sweat, blood, and death. But the joy of it all was lost.
When he was young, Ulfar had loved to watched the fire dance across the thatched roofs, to hear the final chorus of those trapped inside. He had been on more raids than he could count; his old face bore thick scars as testimony to the fact. But the excitement had long ago started to die. Now it was fully deceased.
He now found himself simply going through the paces—screaming his warcry to intimate the villagers, before he cut them down with his large axe. He envied the younger warriors who still had that look of bloodlust on their faces. Oh, the joys of being young and eager.
He didn’t know what to do with himself. The shamans said that he had to die in glorious battle if he wanted to make it to Valhalla—which would then mean an eternity of endless fighting. Ulfar wasn’t sure that was what he wanted after all.
“Ulfar,” one of the younger fighters beckoned to him.
It was Bragi, a relatively small man for a Viking warrior, but fierce nonetheless. Ulfar had a lingering respect for the man, who worked twice as hard as any other to make his name.
“What is it, whelp?” the older warrior asked with a smirk.
“Skuti has offended me,” Bragi complained. “He has taken what is rightfully mine.”
“What has he taken?”
“My prizes from the house of the man I killed. The loot was mine by right, since it was my sword-arm doing the work. But while I continued with the battle, he snuck in and stole the golden pieces. I demand justice. I want you to stand by me when I challenge him to a fight to the death.”
“Are you sure he took it?”
“Yes, I saw the bits spilling from his pockets.”
“And are you sure you can beat him in a fight?”
“With your spirit aiding me, yes, I believe so.”
Ulfar stood for a long moment, in deep thought. There had to be a better way. They spent their days killing villagers and the nights killing each other. All this killing was becoming exhausting. There had to be a better way.
“Do you have any evidence of your claim?” Ulfar asked the younger man.
“Yes, I have the ear of the man I killed, the owner of the house. And many others warriors saw me and commended me on my skill.”
Ulfar drew his hand down his long, gray beard. He felt the scars on his chin, hiding deep underneath the matted hair.
“I will stand by you,” Ulfar said. “But not at the circle of death. I have another idea.”
“What are you thinking?” Bragi asked.
“We will go present your case to the Jarl. I will be your advocate. We will offer him our evidence and plead for his judgment. No one need die, and we can establish a precedent to prevent this sort of dishonorable thievery in the future.”
It was a good plan, in Ulfar’s opinion. He knew he had a sharp tongue. And the new Jarl was rather weak-willed. It could work. And no one would die. There would be a fight, of course, but a totally new sort of fight. Bragi looked unconvinced.
“Trust me,” Ulfar said. “Have I ever lost a battle? I do not intend to lose this one.”
“And you would do this for me?” Bragi asked doubtfully. “What do you get from it?”
“Just a small share of the loot.”