The Viking’s Chosen – Quinn Loftis

T he hand fell to the ground with an audible thud, accompanied by a scream from its previous owner. Hager was the third man to lose a limb or appendage in a fortnight. Such a staggering casualty of limbs was understandable during war time, but the Hakon clan—my clan—was between raids. Instead of spending this brief respite of peace at home with his loving wife or in the alehouse guzzling his weight in mead, Hager was now lying on the ground, writhing in agony. I turned away from the bleeding man. The blood didn’t bother me, of course. I’d seen much worse on the battlefield. Neither did the brutality of the punishment, which I had been tasked with administering. I was sick and tired of seeing my countrymen—fine warriors and assets to our clan—punished so severely based upon the word of one soldier. Wasn’t a man supposed to have a say in his own defense? Didn’t he have a right to confront his accuser or see the evidence presented against him before judgement was passed? But Jarl Magnus gave his clansmen no such chances. The jarl commanded absolute obedience, and anyone suspected of being less than completely loyal was dealt with swiftly and severely. I had been the jarl’s hersir—chief general—for a mere three months and I’d already severed a dozen limbs at his command. I’d crippled a dozen men, so they could wield neither plow nor sword—no longer able to defend or provide for their families. I could handle cleaving an axe through human flesh. At times, I confess, I might even have enjoyed it, especially when the victim had the audacity to invade my homeland of Ravenscar, threatening my brothers and sisters—my clansmen.

I could handle the screams. I could handle the blood. But I couldn’t handle knowing that I’d weakened my clan. I couldn’t handle knowing that I’d wet my blade with the blood of my clansman without tangible cause. Such was not our way—or at least, it shouldn’t have been. But that was exactly what I had to do. Many others in the clan would’ve killed for my job, and they may yet. Magnus, childless, had no heir, making the clansmen become restless. They could feel a storm brewing on the horizon. All-out war was coming—the Oracle predicted as much—but whether from within or without, we didn’t yet know.

The jarl being heirless only exasperated the feelings of unease. If the jarl died without a successor, the strongest of those who remained would take over. A civil war would no doubt follow. Clan Hakon would weaken, distracted by infighting and vulnerable to invaders. If things worsened further, the clan could splinter, collapsing from within. The Oracle, my mother, prophesied that unseen enemies threatened Clan Hakon, and that the clan was more vulnerable than it had been in a hundred years. My appointment as hersir was greatly protested, many decrying my age, as I’d only reached my twentieth winter. Indeed, the Oracle reckoned I was the youngest hersir in the history of the clan. They did not think that I was strong enough to serve in such an important and sacred role. It was as though they had forgotten that I was raised a Norseman warrior and would do whatever was necessary to see my clan survive.

And, though it was not my desire, tradition often saw the hersir ascend an heirless jarl’s vacant throne, but never without a fight. But I did not know what I would do if such things came to pass. Regardless of what storms were on the horizon for Clan Hakon, I only wished for the strength and vitality of my clan. Whatever it took for those things to remain, I would do. I would see clan Hakon survive generation after generation. I would see the strength of clan Hakon echo throughout the hall of Valhalla, so the even the gods themselves would take notice. M IT İS FORTUNATE TO BE FAVORED WİTH PRAİSE AND POPULARİTY. IT İS DİRE LUCK TO BE DEPENDENT ON THE FEELİNGS OF YOUR FELLOW ~THE HAVAMAL, BOOK OF VİKİNG y attention was drawn from my troubled thoughts by a voice that reminded me of the scraping of an axe on a grinding wheel—a voice I’d come to despise. “Torben, meet me in the training yard,” Magnus commanded. Swallowing down the contempt I felt toward my king, I followed him to the fenced-off area where my warriors practiced and readied for battle.

I stood silently by his side while he watched the men run through countless drills—drills not typical for our people. Most clan warriors were merely converted farmers, laborers, or skilled workers. It wasn’t common for a clan to train its warriors so rigorously, continuously honing their fighting skills. Such practice took away from time spent hunting, fishing, or farming. But these sacrifices strengthened the clan as a whole, and, I believe, were well worth the time spent. This regimen was put in place by my predecessor, who was a wise battle strategist. We’d won many wars under his command. I trusted his judgment; so, after he died and I ascended to the rank of hersir, I continued the program. We watched the warriors sparring in tense silence. Brant, one of my most trusted warriors and kinsmen, was engaged with two green recruits.

A mountain of a man, Brant bellowed to the heavens and then swung his huge war hammer in a giant sideways arc. The rightmost recruit held up his shield in a feeble attempt to ward off the blow. With a yelp, the man’s shield splintered, the force of the blow sending him flying backward into his companion, sending them both toppling. “Ha! A game of Kubb with greenhorns. This is fun! Who’s next?” Brant let out a hearty chuckle, holding his hammer high while scanning the crowd for another challenger. Finding none, his shoulders slumped and his face fell comically. “Perhaps they’re more scared of your breath than your hammer, Brant. I don’t think any of them want to get within a sword’s reach of you for fear of the smell,” I yelled across the training ground to the huge man who was now leaning easily on the haft of his hammer. “I’ll take any advantage I can get on the battlefield,” he responded, still chuckling. “Go grab a drink in the mead hall before you kill all our recruits.

I’ll meet you there in a little while. And try not to drop your hammer on anyone’s foot again. I need these men in fighting shape.” The other warriors seemed to take this as their cue that training was over for the day. The luckier of the two defeated recruits, the one who’d been pushed off-balance by his comrade rather than Brant’s hammer, helped his partner back to his feet. After picking up the pieces from the shattered shield, the pair followed their fellow warriors toward the armory to stow their equipment. Magnus and I leaned against the wooden perimeter of the grounds, watching as the warriors departed. The king, who was almost as large as Brant and certainly just as fierce, had not engaged in the open banter with one of his strongest warriors. “It’s time we went on another campaign,” Magnus said, finally breaking the tense quiet. “We’ve been idle long enough.

” “Have you decided on a direction?” I asked, careful to respond without hesitation. I had been expecting this—yet another reason why I didn’t need Brant maiming any more of my recruits. If we were going on a raid, we’d need our warriors at full-strength. As it was, Magnus had incomprehensibly wounded enough of his own people lately with his maniacal campaign for ‘justice’. He’d been carrying out his vigil among the clan ranks, ensuring he had absolute loyalty from his subjects, even if such loyalty was encouraged by the point of a sword. Raiding right now was folly, and everyone in the clan knew it. Why Magnus couldn’t see this, I couldn’t begin to guess. Our men needed rest and recuperation. Our last raid was but a mere three months ago and the lives of countless good men had been lost. The remaining clansmen didn’t need to be tossed back onto unfamiliar grounds where they would be required to fight for their lives.

And their reward? Glory and riches for Magnus and more toil and loss for themselves. “I think it’s time we visit our friends, the English,” Magnus replied. If he sensed my unease, he made no note of it as he continued. “News has reached me that a royal wedding is on the horizon. The English king is marrying off one of his daughters to the king of Tara. Weddings require gifts, of course, meaning riches will be transported between two kingdoms. It is the perfect opportunity to strike.” “It also means the two kingdoms are uniting, which could result in creating a larger enemy to fight,” I said, pointing out the tedious fact. My reasoning was sound. Surely the king would see the error in kicking the English hornet’s nest, especially during a time when they were forging allies with their neighbors, growing in strength while we felt the lingering effects of raid after raid.

“We will be doing things a little differently this time,” Magnus said, staring at me but not seeing me. He was lost in his thoughts. “The courting period for the princess’s hand will span a month’s time. At the end of that month, the two kings will hold a ball to celebrate the engagement. The wedding will occur in Tara. This presents us the opportunity to surprise our enemy instead of attacking them head-on. We will be as ghosts among the English’s soldiers and King Cathal’s court. While we are infiltrating them, we will also take the opportunity to loot but don’t be blatant about it. We are trying to keep from engaging them until I have decided exactly what my intentions are. We will be able to do this during the month-long courting period, so we have time.

We will infiltrate the castle guards, replacing the English king’s men with our own.” As he paused, I had a moment to consider his plan, which could lead to fewer casualties for both sides than our normal, brutish strategy. “We will lay in wait until the engagement party. Then, we will strike in full-force, take what we want at the point of a sword, and then leave. By the time they know what occurred, it will be too late.” We were quiet for a few minutes after he explained the plan. It was too simple for Magnus. As I considered my jarl, I got the distinct impression he was hiding something from me. I had long ago realized that no matter how much power Magnus had, he would still crave more. And no matter how much gold he brought back from the civilized lands, he would never have enough.

His lust for battle was never sated, nor was his greed. While Magnus revealed how he would acquire riches on this endeavor, the strategy to obtain power was yet to be seen. “When do you wish to leave?” I asked, mentally preparing for the worst. “How soon can you have our troops ready?” It was the answer I knew was coming. I thought long and hard before I spoke again, knowing Magnus would not accept a lengthy delay. His mind was made up. Any opposition on my part would only result in provoking his temper. “Our warriors are strong, but our new recruits are more adept at wielding a hoe than an axe. Still, if Odin is with us, I think I can get everyone ready in a fortnight.” “Make it a week.

” He growled. Without waiting for my counter, he stalked toward his hut. I sighed as I stared at the jarl’s back as he tromped away. Well, at least Brant will be happy, I thought to myself. While Brant wasn’t as bloodthirsty as Magnus, and he didn’t kill other men for sport, I knew he enjoyed cracking a few skulls for the glory of his gods. He would probably run the mead hall out of ale this evening when I told him. I was in for a long night. Smoke wafted from the sturdy hut that stood about a quarter mile away from the rest of the village, resting on a small knoll overlooking the crags of the Skagerrak bay. The smell of stew and freshly baked bread reached my nostrils, making my stomach growl. Having no doubt I would be offered a bowl, I resolved to eat as much as I could—I’d a full stomach if I wanted to stay on my feet.

Brant wasn’t going to leave me alone until I’d drunk at least as much as he had, and his tolerance of libations was legendary. He was probably already crooning the Lament of Ymir and the sun hadn’t even set. I pushed open the door without knocking and found my mother standing with her back to me, humming to herself as she slowly stirred the contents of a small iron pot hanging on a tripod stand over a low-burning fire. She preferred to live alone in her small house, rather than with one of the large families in a longhouse, even though she would be more than welcome. My mother was small for a Norsewoman, but now she looked even smaller. She stood slightly hunched, a sign not only of her advanced age, but of the toll her visions had taken upon her. Her long silver hair was woven in a braid, which looked like a worn and frayed rope that trailed stiffly down her back. “When do you leave?” she asked, breaking off her humming without turning around. “I…we…how did you know?” “You grew up in this house, and yet you ask me that? A mother doesn’t have to be a seer to know when her son is troubled.” “Still, it’s… unsettling.

I just wish you’d let me actually tell you some news once in a while.” “Ah, but you have already told me. It’s written all over you, boy.” “You can’t even see me, Hilda.” I growled, moving to the cupboard, I took out two bowls and placed them roughly on the table. Years ago, my mother had insisted I use her proper name rather than calling her Mother, even when we were alone together. She said that it was important for the clan members to see her as the Oracle first and foremost, and that anything else she might be, including my mother, was secondary. I knew, however, she didn’t feel that way in her heart. She had foreseen early on that I would achieve remarkable things and I would have to grow up much faster than the other children. If the clan heard me call her by her name or by her title, they would be more likely to accept me—as a man, a warrior, and a leader.

“I see you more clearly than anyone, even yourself. You can’t come stomping up my walkway without giving yourself away—you never could. It’s in the way that you move, the way you carry yourself. The shuffle of your feet might as well be a war horn sounding your troubles, and I know what troubles you; you think our warriors aren’t ready.” “I know they’re not,” I responded, pouring us each a cup of water from a pitcher on the table. “I see there are two cups on this table. You were expecting me.” “Of course I expected you. Shouldn’t an old woman expect her son for dinner? What’s wrong with that?” The corners of her mouth quirked upward as she continued stirring. “Don’t give me that old woman crap, Hilda.

” I barked. “I know you’ve had a vision. That’s how you knew we’re about to go on another invasion.” “You didn’t answer my question,” she pointed out, ignoring my sore attitude. “We leave in a week.” I finally sighed as I pulled out the chair that seemed much too small to sustain my weight and sat down ungracefully. “Will you be going?” I asked as I leaned my forearm against the table and pressed my forehead to it. My mother was the only person I would allow to see the taxation the jarl’s obsessions were taking on me. She grinned at me. “Of course I will be going.

When has he ever left me behind?” “What are you so happy about?” I asked, staring at her with a puzzled look on my face. “That is not enough time for your troops,” she responded, ignoring my question, “but that is not for me to say; I’m no battle priestess. It is, however, the appointed time that I foresaw. It is the time frame you must adhere to. You mustn’t be late, or early, for that matter. Rather, you must arrive precisely at the appointed time, or you will lose her. The arrow that does not fly true, the scorned seeking revenge, and the greedy who is never satisfied. You must not be late.” It was clear that I was in the presence of Hilda, the Oracle rather than Hilda, my mother. Many of our conversations evolved in such a manner—she would slip into seer mode and start spouting prophecies, telling me that our clan must do this or that.

Sometimes she made sense, most of the time, however, I had no idea what she was talking about. “Meet who, Hilda?” I asked, not sure if I wanted the answer. I felt a heavy, foreboding presence fall over me, like a tunic that was much too tight. It made me feel exposed and vulnerable. As I waited for her reply, she shuffled over to me and, to my surprise, smacked the back of my head. I ducked and frowned. “What was that for?” “Do you ever listen when I speak, boy?” she huffed. “I have already told you about the prophecy many times. You are the one who chooses not to listen. In order to protect our clan, you must take a foreign bride.

Up until now, I wasn’t sure, but with the upcoming raid it has been made clear to me your bride just so happens to be from England.” I wanted to groan, but I didn’t want to be smacked in the head again, so I held it in. Apparently, she was speaking as both seer and mother this time. “That is one prophecy that cannot come to pass, Oracle. Our clan would never accept an outsider, neigh, an English princess at that, to become our queen. They would not respect her—they would consider her weak and simple-minded—it cannot be.” As she filled our bowls with the stew she’d prepared, I watched her lips pinch in frustration. Her eyes, always cloudy, were shadowed, and she appeared weighed down by some unseen force. “It is not up to you, Torben, my son. No matter what you think, it is what needs to—no—what must happen.

If we do not change, if this clan doesn’t turn away from the old ways, we will destroy ourselves. The world is changing, becoming smaller. We must be ready; we must adapt.” “Tell me the prophecy again.” I held up my hand to stop her. “I know you’ve told me before, but I want you to tell me again.” I watched as my mother’s eyes became unfocused and she seemed to slip into a trance just before she spoke. A young warrior, who is just, fair, and wise beyond his years, will take his rightful place as leader of his people. As he makes his ascension, he will not be alone. The warrior-turned-king will take a bride, not of his people, but from across the sea with a new vision for the Hakon Clan.

She is a warrior in her own right and a healer—a rare kind for her race—but she keeps the skill hidden from her people. They fear it instead of embracing the gift that it is. Together, they are a catalyst for the change that will save Clan Hakon. Without their union, the Clan will be snuffed out, ground into nothing. We will be forgotten, a people lost to history.” “I suppose you believe I’m this young ruler?” I asked. Once she’d returned to herself, she wordlessly took the seat next to mine, said a quick prayer to the gods, and began to eat. I did not repeat the question; there was no point. She would answer when she was ready. Several bites later, she decided to speak.

“It does not take a vision to see that you will be the next king of this clan. But, then again, you somehow manage to bury your head in the ground when something is staring you in the face.” Whatever else she might be, my mother was honest. “Am I to marry this foreign bride —to bear offspring with her?” “What?” Her piercing gaze met mine and mischief danced in her eyes. “Do you think her body will somehow be inferior to those of the women in our clan? Do you think she will repulse you? Perhaps she’s deformed in some way because she is not a Norsewoman, with three eyes, six breasts, and a forked tongue. Is that what you fear?” “Damn, woman, you have a sharp tongue.” I choked as I tried to swallow the bite I’d taken before she’d begun gushing her nonsense. I took a quick sip of mead to clear my throat, and then, because I am my mother’s son, retorted, “You know I do not think such things as well as you know any warm-blooded male would be thrilled to find out his wife has six breasts. He wouldn’t even notice the forked tongue or the third eye.” Cackles of laughter rolled out of my mother as she covered her mouth with her apron.

She shook her head at me, and then she patted my hand. “I am hoping she can match your wit and stand up to your pigheadedness. Having a sharp tongue would probably serve her well also.” “You are cruel, Mother. If a sharp tongue and stubbornness is what you desire in a daughter-in-law, I might as well marry one of our own clanswomen. I don’t have to look far to find those things.” She stood and took our bowls to the wash bin and began cleaning them. Her back was to me, but I could see the tension in her shoulders. “A Norsewoman is not what you need —not what we need. We need a healer, not a conqueror.

” “I will not wed a woman I do not love,” I told her as I stood and walked over to her, setting my cup on the counter next to the wash bin. “Can you not love an Englishwoman?” She pressed.


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