His skills were enhanced by a growth spurt that saw him rise several inches in just one year. His weight also increased, and muscle replaced the loose flesh of his youth. Bjarnlaugr was now almost as big as Valdarr, and nearly as strong. He had also become one of the more feared warriors in camp.
Bjarnlaugr was happy in this new environment of rituals and violence. In the outside world he could not express his anger without causing untold trouble, but here within the Berserker warband his anger and fury were not only accepted as being part of the norms of their creed, it was expected from him.
When Valdarr felt the youth was ready he sent Bjarnlaugr out to become a man. He was given nothing more than a spear, his sword, shield, and a knife, before being sent out to either kill a bear, or be killed by the bear. And if he did come back Valdarr warned him:
" You had better be wearing a bearskin ! "
It took several days for Bjarnlaugr to find signs of a bear, and many more before he was able to catch sight of it. He did not think the bear all that intimidating until he saw the creature stand on its hind legs to pull down a small branch of berries. It was then that the young Berserker realized that the bear was a foot taller than he was, and at least three hundred pounds heavier !
Bjarnlaugr continued to track the bear until he cornered it among some rocks on the side of a small cliff. The bear growled menacingly at him as he approached, and rose up on his hind legs to intimidate its tormentor, but Bjarnlaugr no longer feared injury or death. As the great bear towered above him, he threw his spear into the belly of the great bear with all his might.
The bear howled, but to Bjarnlaugr's surprise, and dismay, the bear did not back down. Instead, with a two foot spear point in its gut, and while dragging a six foot wooden spear handle beneath it, the bear attacked ! Bjarnlaugr fell to the ground and drew his sword. He quickly covered his vulnerable neck and head area with his shield, as the bear tried to bite at his upper body. When he felt the full weight of the bear on top of him, he thrust his sword into the great beast. Then he felt the searing pain as the animal went berserk on him, ripping at his stomach and lower torso with its long and very sharp claws, which were the size of small daggers.
As the bear continued to slice his body to pieces, Bjarnlaugr jabbed his sword into the belly of the bear again and again. The struggle soon became a contest of who would die first , bear or human ! Bjarnlaugr's lower body was shredded by the bears claws, but as bad as these wounds were they were only superficial . His sword, however, caused fatal damage deep within the bears body with each thrust. Each time he stabbed the bear another organ was perforated, and the creature began to quickly bleed to death internally. Soon the bear was taking its last breaths as it continued to chew at Bjarnlaugr's shield. Moments later it died, its massive form draped across Bjarnlaugr's body like a five hundred pound blanket.
Despite being exhausted, and shaking from the adrenaline that was pumping through his system, Bjarnlaugr used his last bit of strength to crawl out from under the dead bear. The weakened youth managed only nine steps and then passed out in a heap on the ground near the carcass of the bear.
When Bjarnlaugr woke up it was morning. Whether it was the next day, or if a week had passed, the confused youth had no idea. Nor did he care ! His mind was alert, but his body was stiff and sore from the intense battle he had endured with the bear. Many of the cuts in his skin had scabbed over, but a few of the deeper ones still oozed a dark colored blood. He knew that he had to clean his wounds immediately or he would die.
Bjarnlaugr remembered a small stream he had passed while tracking the bear, and slowly, and painfully, made his way there. He followed the stream a short distance until he found a spot deep enough to bathe in. Bjarnlaugr carefully undressed, trying hard not to pull off any of the scabs as he did, and then slowly walked into the very cold water. As he reached the deepest part of the stream he submerged himself.
When Bjarnlaugr surfaced he let out a scream that reverberated through the surrounding hills. His mind raced back and forth between the intense pain of his wounds as they drained, and the sheer agony of the near freezing cold water. The cold water did have two therapeutic effects however. First the water cleaned out his wounds of the dirt and pus that had built up, and secondly, and more importantly to Bjarnlaugr at the moment, the cold temperature of the water after a short time numbed the pain.
Bjarnlaugr stayed in the freezing water until he could stand it no longer. With his teeth chattering, and his body trembling dangerously from the cold, the young man dragged himself out of the water and up onto the bank of the stream. After drying himself off he ripped his shirt into long strips to make bandages for the wounds that were still oozing. When he regained feeling in all his extremities Bjarnlaugr dressed and made his way back to where he had killed the bear.
When he arrived he was glad to see that the carcass was still intact, and that the creatures of the forest had not yet begun to feed on the bear. It was very important to him because he needed the hide undamaged, for this would be the badge of courage that he would wear into battle from this day forward.
Bjarnlaugr knelt down beside the bear, and using his sharp knife he slowly cut open the belly of the beast . The stench was almost unbearable as he pulled out the stomach and entrails. Carefully, and restricting himself to one small section at a time, he began to cut the hide away from the bears body. Unfortunately, the smell of the innards, and rotting flesh, attracted what seemed to Bjarnlaugr to be a thousand flies.
When he had finished the laborious task of removing the hide, Bjarnlaugr hung it between two trees to dry. Exhausted, and in great pain from a myriad of cuts, scrapes, and other assorted wounds, Bjarnlaugr sat down a short distance away from the rotting carcass, against an old linden tree. Sleep quickly overtook his weary mind.
Bjarnlaugr awoke to the sounds of growling ! He had his sword and knife on his belt, but the weapon he truly wanted, his eight foot spear, was lying against one of the trees where he had stretched the hide to dry. Luckily for Bjarnlaugr the wolves were paying much more attention to the bear carcass than to him, which allowed him to slowly get up, and circle around to his weapon. As he crept along he remembered one of the Sayings of Har.
" Don't leave your weapon lying
about behind you back in the field,
You never know when you may need,
all of sudden your spear. "
When he reached the hide he could have simply taken it, grabbed his spear and left the wolves to feast on the bear carcass. But he didn't ! Despite the fact that he had no use for the rotting meat it angered Bjarnlaugr that these wolves were trying to take what he had fairly won. With his shield in one hand, and his spear in the other, he attacked the wolves.
The first wolf was surprised, and was badly wounded in the hindquarters as it tried to run away. The other wolves turned on their attacker immediately ! Two of the wolves confronted him from the front, growling and bearing their teeth at him in a menacing way, while the other four broke up into teams of two each, and circled around their nemesis.
Bjarnlaugr saw what the wolves were planning, and quickly went back on the attack. He jabbed his spear at one off the wolves in front of him, making both retreat, and then he turned and ran after the wolves behind him and to his left. He had chased them only a few feet when out of the corner of his eye he saw the two on his right try to rush him . As he swung around he gave one a hard blow to the snout with the edge of his shield, while the other received a spear point in the mouth.
Seeing their comrades injured the three unhurt wolves backed off, though they were still snarling menacingly at him. Bjarnlaugr slowly walked back to the carcass. When he stood just in front of the fly infested rotting corpse, he turned, stuck his spear into the ground and pulled out his knife.
Bjarnlaugr cut a large hunk of meat off of the bear and threw it to the wolves. Cautiously, as though they suspected this to be a trick, the wolves walked over to the meat, eyeing him the entire way. When they felt comfortable enough two of the wolves went for the meat, and began to fight over it.
" Now , now ! There is no reason to fight over the meat my friends. I have plenty more right here ! " he called out to the wolves.
The young Berserker cut off piece after piece of meat and threw them in all different directions so the wolves would not have to fight over it. Slowly, one by one, except for the unfortunate wolf which was injured in the mouth, the hungry canines grabbed a piece of bear meat, and began to tear into it.
Bjarnlaugr stayed and watched the wolves as they fed for a while, but soon he became tired of the game, and almost sick from the smell of the rotting meat. Finally he put away his knife, picked up his shield and spear, and walked over to the bear skin and took it down.
Before he left Bjarnlaugr turned and faced the wolves with a huge grin upon his face.
" Now that I have proven that the one who wears the bear skin is superior to wolves, I will graciously allow you to have the rest of the carcass ! " he told the wary wolves with a grin.
The moment that Bjarnlaugr was out of sight the wolves came back to the remains of the bear and tore it to pieces.
- End Chapter 5
Next : Chapter 6 : Lessons In The Forest
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.