The Spirit Tamer
" Burn, You Bastards, Burn ! "
" We will need as many men, women, and even some of the older children to be given torches. They will light the leading edge of the forest, for a mile or more, and burn everything in the valley. The only way out for the Ajatar will be at the other end of the valley, where we will have a marksman archer waiting to kill the great beast. " the Shaman told the king.
Halldorr did not wait for anyone else to speak. The warrior stepped forward and stood frozen for a moment with his chin proudly raised in the air.
" I would like to volunteer to be the one to kill the Ajatar ! " the warrior demanded.
The king was about to say yes when Naddoður shook his head, and interrupted.
" No, my friend ! I will need you, and King Faravid, to supervise the burning of the forest. There must be no gaps that can allow the snakes or the Ajatar to escape in the direction of the torch bearers. If the burn is not done correctly these creatures will kill the torch bearers, exit the forest, and attack your village. " he told Halldorr.
King Faravid nodded that he agreed.
" I will ask for volunteers from among my finest archers. For whomever is brave enough for such an endeavor will surely die from the gaze of the Ajatar. " he informed the Shaman.
Naddoður bowed slightly before responding.
" Forgive me, my Lord, but I have someone already in mind, and if he agrees to kill the creature no one who is not already sick will have to be sacrificed. " he explained to the king respectfully.
Faravid thought for a moment.
" If this warrior is a capable marksman I will have no objections to him as your choice. " he replied.
Halldorr, though dejected over the refusal of his offer, also agreed, but had one more question for the Shaman.
" How soon can we do this ? " he asked.
Naddoður patted his friend on the shoulder.
" I know that you are eager Halldorr, but we must wait until the wind is blowing through the valley from east to west. Otherwise, the winds will hamper the fire's spread, or possibly blow it back on areas that are already burned out and extinguish what we have started. " he explained.
Halldorr nodded that he understood.
" Of course ! We must get this right the first time, for we may not get a second chance to kill the great serpent. " he agreed.
Naddoður then bowed to the great king of Kvenland.
" My Lord ! I will take my leave of you now, for there is someone I need to speak with. " he told the king with a bittersweet smile upon his face.
Halldorr frowned and seemed puzzled over who the Shaman wished to speak to.
" May I join you ? " the warrior asked.
Naddoður patted his friend on the shoulder again.
" Your company is always welcome Halldorr ! " he replied with a grateful smile.
To Halldorr's great surprise Naddoður walked to the center of the Great Hall and stopped. The Shaman stood over a large warrior, who was obviously very sick, for several moments before kneeling down and speaking to him.
" What is your name great warrior ? ' he asked.
The ill Berserker fluttered his sunken eyes open and looked up at the man who had spoken to him.
" My name is Ossurr. " he replied wearily.
Naddoður took off his Thor's hammer and said a few words evoking the Thunder God's protection for the stricken warrior. When he was done he put the hammer around the warrior's neck, and spoke to him sternly, but honestly.
" You know that you are going to die, and I know that you fear that Niflheim is the only place that will open it's doors to a warrior who dies from sickness. " he said calmly to the stricken man.
Ossurr grabbed hold of the Shaman's hand and held it tight.
" This is no way for a warrior to die ! " he replied in a hoarse whisper.
Naddoður nodded in agreement.
" And what if I gave you the opportunity to die in battle ? " he asked Ossurr.
The warrior suddenly perked up as if he had been struck by the point of a needle.
" I would be forever in your debt if you could make that happen ! But I am too weak to wield a weapon against a foe. " he said sadly.
" Are you a decent marksman with a bow and arrow ? " he inquired.
" I prefer an axe, or a sword, but I can hit a running squirrel from fifty yards away with an arrow ! " he told the Shaman confidently.
Naddoður looked deep into the warrior's eyes.
" Rest now, for soon you will have your chance for glory against the Ajatar ! " he assured the warrior.
Five days went by without the winds being favorable, but on the sixth a stiff breeze blew up out of the east. With five days to prepare, everything was ready. Every able bodied person from the village knew where they would be stationed along the mile long edge of the forest to ignite the dry brush that had been gathered and placed just within the treeline. As the morning progressed Naddoður had Ossurr dressed and made ready to meet his final destiny. The Berserker had requested that he be allowed to wear his bear skins when he killed the Ajatar, and the king was more than happy to allow the warrior his last request.
The Shaman stepped up onto the cart which was to be driven by one of Halldorr's warriors who had helped him put the large warrior in the back. As they bounced along the rocky wagon path Alva flew up onto his shoulder. She soon discovered the bumpy ride to be very uncomfortable, and took to the air to talk to her friend.
" It is a shame that such a brave warrior should die in such a senseless way. " the fairy told the Shaman.
Naddoður agreed in part with what she was saying, but he also knew that in the warrior culture it was an honor to die in battle.
" When it comes to life and death no one knows how they will meet their ultimate demise. That is why the brave are allowed into Valhalla while the cowardly are forced to reside in the cold mists of Niflheim. " he explained to her.
The conversation went on for some time with Naddoður speaking of the warrior's code, while Alva talked mainly about the male ego. The whole time the warrior, who drove the cart, gave the Shaman odd looks as he spoke into thin air.
When they reached the end of the forest they stopped in the center of the valley. Here where the forest came to almost a point , and only a narrow path led up into the mountains beyond, was where, if everything went according to plan, the Ajatar would try to escape the flames. The Shaman unhooked one of the horses and immediately sent the warrior racing back to tell King Faravid and Halldorr that all was ready, and that they could begin lighting the fire. All Naddoður and Ossurr could do now was wait to see if their plan would work.
By noon Ossurr pointed out to Naddoður that he could see smoke beginning to rise into the partially cloudy skies over the forest. The Shaman assured the warrior that he too saw the billowing smoke, but reminded him that despite the forest being very dry, from lack of precipitation over the past months, it would still take a while for the fire to burn all the way across the valley.
King Faravid and Halldorr raced up and down the line shouting out orders, and making sure that there were no gaps in the fire, and that everyone was moving forward at an even space through the charred remains of the trees that could no longer act as fuel for the great blaze that they had created.
As night descended upon the valley everyone feared that the winds might change direction, or worse yet, end altogether, stalling the fire or allowing it to die out completely. They needn't have worried, however, because the winds stayed strong, and in some cases blew from several directions in rapid succession which helped to fill in the few gaps that existed in the line the remained.
By morning light, approximately three quarters of the forest had burned. Halldorr, though he did not know it at the time, stood upon the charred ground where Naddoður had spotted the Ajatar days before. All throughout this area the burned bodies of snakes, that could not slither away from the rapidly moving flames, still smoldered and sizzled where they had died.
" Burn, you bastards, burn ! " Halldorr yelled at the serpents as if they could still hear him.
When the sun dipped behind the mountains on the second day only a thin strip of forest still remained unscathed at the far end of the valley. Naddoður and Ossurr, safe among the rocks that led up into the mountains, could now see the flames as they made their way towards them, and they quickly made themselves ready.
Ossurr, with Naddoður's help, was able to slide off of the cart and stand upright, leaning up against the edge of the wagon for support. Ossurr almost immediately began to tremble, not from fear, but from the strain of standing on his own. The Berserker was not worried, for he knew that he would be ready when the time came. He did, however, have to admit to himself that it was a little worrying that the Shaman had turned around and was now watching the forest through a mirror. Ossurr did not have long to dwell on it because a short time later a desperate shrieking emanated from the forest which seemed to get louder as the moments passed.
Alva, unlike with the Nokken and the Mare, also could not face her enemy this time, and flew with her back to the woods as she gazed into the little silver mirror. For not even a powerful Elf could look into the disease riddled eyes of an Ajatar and live.
" It will not be long now ! " she told Naddoður.
The Shaman glanced up from the mirror for a moment to look at the sky.
" I hope that there is enough light for Ossurr to see the Ajatar. " he replied.
Alva turned her head and took a long look at the warrior.
" I fear that Ossurr will not be steady enough to make the kill. And a wounded Ajatar is a much more dangerous creature than a healthy one. " she whispered nervously to Naddoður.
Naddoður looked over at the fairy, that buzzed around the mirror like a gnat, and grinned.
" I have faith in him ! " he replied confidently.
Just as Naddoður had finished the last syllable he heard Alva gasp.
" There it is ! " she shouted.
Ossurr pulled back the arrow on the bow string with shaking hands. When it was set and ready the Berserker took careful aim. As the Ajatar became set in his sights his hands stopped shaking and a great calmness came over him. Even as the Ajatar's penetrating eyes reached deep into his soul and caused more disease to come upon him, Ossurr remained as steady as a rock.
The arrow flew straight and true at the creature that was silhouetted against the raging fire behind it. The Ajatar, for it's part, had concentrated far too long on spreading disease through the human's body, and not enough time on evading the arrow that was streaking towards it. The arrow's point hit the serpent right between the eyes, shattering it's skull, and ripping through it's brain before partially exiting through the back of the creature's skull.
Ossurr, now fighting off extreme pain from the Ajatar's diseased stare, screamed as he struggled to use the last of his strength to place another arrow on the bow, pull it back, aim, and release, before collapsing on the ground writhing in agony. The second arrow flew as true as the first, and would have hit the creature square in the heart, if not for the monster beginning to fall from the fatal first shot. The arrow hit the Ajatar in the throat crushing it's windpipe and finishing off what the first arrow had started. Moments after Ossurr hit the ground the creature crumbled into the ashes at it's feet dead.
Ossurr, knowing that every breath was surely his last, looked up into the smoky sky and cried out :
" Odin ! I am yours !! "
- End Chapter 16
- Next : Chapter 17 : The Valkyries Will Have To Wait
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.