His seax slid through the meaty flesh and tough sinew of the deer, as if they were no more than thin, dusty parchment. Crimson blood seeped through the open wounds, greasing each careful cut, each methodical mark. Gritting his teeth, Wagluk sliced again, pulling apart a thick cut of meat that shone bright in his hands. He relished his work as a scavenger, and he respected the animals that he hunted in this strange land. They were plentiful and naive, very unlike the scarce and hesitant beasts of his homeland.
This was Wagluk's bloodiest raid under the command of Rognwulf - having landed only a vika ago at the shores of a town the Saxon's called "Ythanceaster", Wagluk and the other Norse raiders had slaughtered or enslaved the populace, and afterwards had burnt much of it to the ground. One of very few structures still standing was a small chapel that carried the same name as the town. It was made of stone, and Rognwulf now used it as a base of operations for further raids into the countryside of Angleland.
Most of the meat had now been sliced into proper herbergi and packed away inside the burlap that Wagluk had brought with him. He bent forward, seizing hold of the animal at his feet, and heaved with a mighty grunt to carry it upon his shoulders. Without the excess meat, Wagluk inwardly remarked how light the deer was that now sat astride him.
"Wagluk! I was told I might find you out here!" A familiar voice called out to him. Wagluk turned, a small grin already spreading across his mud-painted face.
"I can't imagine you're disturbing my peace for anything urgent, now can I, boy?" The "boy" that Wagluk spoke to beamed back, though he had been a man for over five vetra now. Old habits died hard for the grizzled veteran.
"Being a pain is the eternal duty of the apprentice to his master." He replied impishly. Wagluk had trained with him for nine long years, and throughout the course of his training - and his rebirth as a feared warrior - the boy had become more like a son to him than anything Wagluk had ever known. "Sometimes I fear that you come on these voyages not to breathe the open air of the sea, or for your blade to taste the flesh of the Saxons, but so that you can sit dressing deer all day, Wagluk. Will you ever tire of it?"
"Will you ever tire of your incessant questioning, Aleifr?" The banter between the teacher and his student knew no end. "Though it was fortunate that you came upon me at this moment, boy." Wagluk grinned mischievously, his teeth yellowed and broken from old age and mistreatment.
"Why do you say that?" Aleifr was wary now, narrowing his eyes.
"You can carry the carcass to Aktorn for me!" His belly nearly bursting with laughter, Wagluk's barrel chest rumbled with the mirth he felt at his own cruel joke. He shouldered the body onto the ground and continued walking in the direction of Bradwell-on-Sea. His old apprentice sighed as he crouched down to clutch at the burden his master had left with him. Aleifr sensed that he had a long day ahead of him.
The camp's butcher grabbed for the burlap sack that Wagluk carried strung across back. He stepped away, just out of the rotund man's reach, playfully grinning as he did so.
"This is Rognwulf's meat, Aktorn. I trust that he will be receiving all of it, this time?" Wagluk intoned, a faded smile on his lips.
The butcher pointed to a jagged scar that stretched across the taut and leathery skin of his left cheek, "I know what happen, if I make same mistake." Aktorn's thick accent always managed to garble the beautiful language of the Norse peoples. He had been taken a slave from the far eastern shores, and had never quite mastered the native tongue of his captors.
Wagluk dropped the burlap at Aktorn's feet, already turning away to make his report to Rognwulf. "See to it you never forget." He walked away with wind on his heels.
"No man should rest his head beneath the roof of a false prophet." Wagluk muttered under his breath.
Rognwulf drained the ale of his tankard swiftly, grunting at the effort. A Christian priest grovelled at the foot of the stairs that led to Rognwulf, to no avail. The Viking paid him no mind, instead focusing his attention upon the man who strolled easily into the hall of the chapel, with a blood soaked tunic and his seax blade sheathed behind his back. Rognwulf was normally delighted to see his comrade, but this time he greeted Wagluk with a toothless smile, and a grimace that hid behind his eyes.
"Your return, Wagluk, is the only good news I have." Rognwulf heaved his great mass from the high chair he was seated in. He rose to his full height, and at nearly seven feet tall he was a veritable giant both on and off the battlefield. "I bear reports from my son, Welf, that a large Saxon force marches upon us, no farther than a tími from Ythanceaster. I pray to Odin your blade remains sharp.
"Always, Thane." Wagluk replied simply. As he looked about the great hall, the carnage and bloodshed that the walls of the chapel had seen were almost sickening. Priests and nuns lay dead, their carcasses strewn about like sacks of refuse. The Bishop had been tied to a tapestry that hung on the far wall, with numerous arrows that jutted from his torso. The Saxons would give them no quarter after seeing such brutality, and he knew that he would have to find Aleifr, that he must escort him to safety in the coming battle before it was too late. He had promised the boy's father on his deathbed that so long as Wagluk still drew breath, no harm should ever befall Aleifr.
His word was his lifeblood.
A horn sounded from one of their sentries. "The Saxons bear down upon us!" Wagluk heard the soldiers outside the chapel calling out commands. He drew his seax, turned to make his way outside with Rognwulf and the other members of the inner circle. Through the doors of the Chapel, the Viking men were greeted with absolute chaos. The few remaining buildings of Bradwell had caught fire from the flaming arrows that rained down upon them, while the screams of dying men and the clash of weaponry against armour echoed across the renewed battlefield.
Rognwulf roared a battlecry before he lifted his great axe high and charged against the enemy. Wagluk was more cautionary, he knew he was growing too old to attempt a battle against a far superior enemy. His only hope for Aleifr was to retreat to the docks. He began jogging towards the sand of the beach, praying to the gods that Aleifr did not attempt to win his place in Valhalla.
"Wagluk! Help!" Aktorn's terrified voice called to him. Wagluk turned in an attempt to locate the former slave, and he saw the butcher wielding his meat cleaver against two Saxon warriors. Wagluk took a step forward, but his help was too late. Aktorn now gurgled on his own blood, a swift cut from one of the Saxon's slicing cleanly through the folds of his neck.
The warriors now turned upon Wagluk, marching calmly with purpose towards this new threat. Wagluk swung his seax, but was easily parried by his more youthful opponent. The second Saxon raised his sword high, but before he could arc it downwards a sword stabbed through his throat. With a soft choke he collapsed, revealing Aleifr as Wagluk's saviour. The remaining warrior spun to face this new threat, but Wagluk proved to him how fatal a mistake this was, as he stabbed his seax deep into the man's ribs, piercing his heart. He was dead before he hit the ground.
"My thanks, boy. This is no time for errant words, however, we must make it to our ships!" Wagluk spoke quickly, with an urgency that rose in his voice. Aleifr nodded soundlessly, and they continued their way towards the docks.
A guttural scream of rage reached Wagluk's ears, one he knew too well. They had just reached the soft sand of the coast, and he looked to the nearby dock to see Rognwulf with a spear protruding from his gut. One of their two ships burned fast behind him, with the other unfurling its sail away from shore. Aleifr made a move towards the dock.
"It is too late for him, Aleifr." Wagluk held his charge back with one arm and a heavy heart. He had stood beside Rognwulf near his whole life, and he had been a stalwart ally both here and in his home. A great Saxon bear stepped toward Rognwulf, a broadsword held firmly in both hands. With a single swing he cleaved the Viking warlords head from his shoulders, and blood sprayed over the warriors that encircled him.
Rognwulf never loosened the grip upon his axe.
"Bídsteall, hæðene!" A rough voice demanded. Wagluk wheeled around to the sight of four Saxon warriors that stalked forward.
"Aleifr, listen to me. You must swim to that ship. Now." Wagluk muttered.
"I'm not abandoning you."
"I gave your father my word, Aleifr. You will not dishonour me. Give me your sword and swim, damn you!" The Saxon's were edging ever closer to their foes. Aleifr chewed his lip, unwilling to leave Wagluk, but with a sigh he handed his sword over to his former master.
"You will be missed, félagi."
"Swim well, boy." Wagluk gripped his sword confidently, the splash of Aleifr diving into the water barely audible above the blood that rushed to his ears. The first combatant, a bearded Saxon on his right, charged at Wagluk soundlessly. He parried a blow that came high, disorienting his opponent before stabbing his sword cleanly through the Saxon's chest.
The remaining warriors charged as one, slashing and stabbing at Wagluk as they cried their fury over their fallen comrade. Wagluk kicked the man who held a short spear in his hand backward, and struck at the man to his left. A sliver of pain stabbed through Wagluk's adrenaline as his third opponent sliced open his right side. His attempt to cut into this man was met with futility as he was parried by his shield, the sword in his hand knocked free from his grip.
A mailed fist struck Wagluk on the left cheek, sending him spinning to rest in the shallow sea water. Sand and salt filled his mouth, and he struggled through his disorientation to rise to his knees, fighting his body's cries for mercy. He stared ahead to the ship that remained moored just off the shoreline, before his concentration was broken by the light tinge of pain that came of a fresh wound. He felt the sting of a wasp in his chest, but as Wagluk glanced downward he saw the tip of a spear protruding from his chest. Blood oozed from the hole it made in his heart, and a cough sent his essence spewing out of his mouth.
Wagluk looked ahead one last time, to see a shape that he prayed was Aleifr being hoisted over the edge of the ship. The wooden prow was forced out of his focus, but he felt a sense of calm wash over him, with the knowledge that he had kept his promise to an old friend.
The spear was ripped from his body, and blood sprayed into the water below him. Wagluk fell to the ground with a smile on his lifeless lips, and distant shores now ran red with the blood of the Norse.
Author's Note: Editing this was the least fun I've had in decades. 200 words cut so I could just barely swoop in to the word limit at a cool 2000 words, so I hope everyone enjoys this still :) Vote for me if you truly loved it ;D
Author's Glossary: The Saxons tell them to "Halt, heathens!" in their native tongue. Aleifr calls Wagluk his "comrade" in Old Norse. A seax is a small sword (but longer than a knife) that has a drop curve to form the point. It was a common blade among Saxon and Viking peoples during the Dark Ages (and throughout the Viking Era). A vika is a week in Old Norse, and a vetra is a winter. Herbergi is the word for quarters.