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War-Journal of Bue Geirsteinson - Part Vby Jacob Skytte
Vatermont 21st, the year 1000 After Crowning of the First Emperor of the Thyatian Empire
It is madness what I have done! 'A warrior strong and true.' To raise arms against a faceless enemy has never been hard. To fight in mock combat is a sport. But to spill the blood of your fellow clansman, a karl sworn to your family's service, is utter madness. And I have accepted this madness, I have asked for help from the 'Blessed' Warriors of Thor and have gotten exactly what I asked for.
As we entered the domain of Noslosford, we were met by a force of karls, wanting to protect their land from the invader. I tried to reason with them, to explain our purpose, when suddenly the berserkers of the Ravenguard let loose a mighty battlecry and tore into the ranks of my clansmen, beginning a slaughter over my cries of protest. A battle lust was upon them and they would not yield until every man standing before them had drawn his last breath.
In the confusion of the battle my kinsmen fought in terror against my overwhelming forces, and one of them came face to face with me. He did not hesitate but struck at me with his axe, and I was forced to put him down if I would not lose my own life. As much as I might have preferred that to the shame I would carry always for this terrible incident, I still had an obligation to save as many of my clan as I was able. I knew that should I fall, Hord would not hesitate to let the Ravenguard continue this slaughter all throughout the domain till my clan was extinguished. But the horror of killing a member of my own clan will never pass.
At the end of the slaughter I found the man responsible, Sven Svenson, renowned Warrior of Thor and leader of these berserkers. Confronting him I asked for an explanation of why they had attacked, while I was negotiating.
His reply chilled me to the bone. "The Ravenguard do not negotiate. It is not the nature of a Warrior of Thor to settle disputes with words. We have chosen to follow you, but you do not rule us. Our orders come from the God of Thunder and from the king of Ostland. We are told to fight bravely against any enemy, to punish any who would stand against the throne. Taking up arms against us amounts to treachery and will be punished as such."
I had no doubt what this would lead to if I allowed these Warriors of Thor to enter Leirbotn, the clan hall. My entire family would be slain and along with them numerous clansmen. There could be no reasoning with men like these in my army. And if word got out of what had happened here today, my clansmen would take up arms for fear of their lives and, thus, would invite destruction upon themselves. I could not allow this to be.
Gathering the berserkers I addressed them. "Sven Svensson and his Blessed Warriors of Thor. You have fought well today, bravely and with honour. You are a credit to your God. The fear you have struck in our enemy by this glorious victory has already defeated him. When word reaches Leirbotn of this momentous event, every warrior standing before us will lay down his arms in defeat. All that is left for us to do is to march into Leirbotn and accept their surrender. I thank you for your services."
One of the berserkers scratched his beard. "Are you saying there will be no more fighting? No slaughter, no plunder, no singing glorious hymns to Thor?"
"Indeed, mighty karl. Your prowess has already been proven. Your enemies quaver in fear before you and dare not take up arms against you."
"If so, then I want no part in this. I can find more action back at Zeaburg than among scared peasant villages. You march on and accept their surrender. Brynjolf Bloodaxe will not waste his time with this."
Mumbles of agreement spread among the Ravenguard. Sven Svensson stepped forward to speak to me. "I know what you are doing. I saw you during the battle. You do not have the stomach for slaughter. But you are making a grave mistake. When you are killed by the troops that will be waiting for you, the berserkers will once again be sent to take care of this mess, and we will show no mercy. You have only postponed the inevitable. And should you succeed, I will not forget that you have spurned the help of Thor's chosen. You would have done well to affiliate yourself with us, from this day on we will see you as a coward and a trickster."
With that the Ravenguard packed up and left for Zeaburg. Asta Katlasdottir approached me. "Now you know what the rest of us have learned long ago. The Ravenguard lives to fight and cannot be controlled. You point them at your enemy and step back. They are not good at strategy or negotiation, only at killing. Our king knew this when he sent these men with you."
I knew there was truth in her words. "You are saying that the king wanted as much carnage as possible. I do not want you to be right, but I cannot delude myself. Of course he knows of the nature of these berserkers, he knew that they would attack anything in their path. He is using me against my kin because this excites him. But he is the chosen of Odin. How could one such as he hold the throne of Ostland? Do the Gods enjoy seeing men manipulate each other?"
She lay her hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. "It may well be so, Geirsteinson. They sit above us and play with our lives like we were pieces on a game board. Why should they care about individual lives and feelings? But I believe that some do. Only others are taking their time and attention, like Loki the Trickster or the Queen of the Underworld. And their plotting takes so much time from the caring Gods that they cannot always intervene on our behalf. Hord may be cruel at times, but he is still a strong king, one that will hold Ostland tightly together and defeat any threat to our nation."
"And yet his schemes may defeat the country from within," I replied. "Setting brother against brother will not endear him to his subjects and one day this might be his undoing. Our nation needs to stand together, not be divided in squabbling regions. We have lived too long thinking that the strong shall rule over the weak, I fear."
Asta contemplated this. "You sound like the queen, Yrsa, she who is also called the Deep-Minded. She too proposes change for a less authoritarian rule. She has found support, but mostly among women and some men who are not fighting men, but free karls. It is odd to hear a warrior, such as yourself, think along those same lines. You are among the strong, the son of a ruling jarl as well, and yet you do not hold fast to the ideals of most men such as yourself. It is as I have heard then. You are truly a man of honour and wisdom, one deserving of admiration. I am pleased to serve in your army."
Again I was surprised by the women I met. Asta is clever as my sister Oda, but without the malice she possesses. And while her exotic looks mark her not as a true Northlander, still she is one who cares for our nation and wishes the best for its inhabitants. I wonder what it is I have done to deserve the admiration of such a woman.