Lessons In The Forest
" That's my boy ! Always ready ! Always eager for the fight ! " Domaldi shouted proudly.
When Alrekr realized that he was in no real danger he put his sword back in its sheath, and yawned.
" Another test teacher ? " Alrekr asked his mentor.
" Yes, ...... and no ! " he replied.
" I am very glad to see that you are always prepared for battle, but today there is something much more important that you must do ! " Domaldi told his prize student.
" And what may I ask is that ? " Alrekr inquired with another yawn.
Domaldi placed his hand on Alrekr's shoulder and talked to him as though he were his son.
" To truly become my successor you must go into the forest for one month and become one with the forces of the natural world. Until you have learned the lessons of the forest you are not truly one of us, ..... an Úlfhéðnar. " he explained to Alrekr.
" And remember to watch the wolves carefully boy, for when they work as a pack they are almost unstoppable ! You must run with the wolves to become one of the pack ! " he added with a grin.
Alrekr looked at his teacher, and although he was certain of the answer, he asked :
" And when does this test begin ? "
Domaldi walked over to the door and opened it.
" The moon is full ! Right now boy !! " he replied with a chuckle.
Domaldi motioned for Alrekr to leave the hall. Knowing what to expect, he slowly made his way to the door. As he exited the hall and reached the first bright rays of Sunna's magnificent glow, he placed his hand over his face to block Her blinding glare. What he saw outside startled him slightly, but did not take him by complete surprise. Lined up outside the door , and making a corridor by standing across from one another, were all of the Úlfhéðnar.
As Alrekr walked between the two rows of Úlfhéðnar they began to howl, and beat their weapons against their shields. The line of Wolf - hides ended at the wolf totem. Here Domaldi told Alrekr to leave all of his weapons except his knife, which he was allowed to keep with him. Then Domaldi pointed toward the woods, and turned his back on the young man.
Alrekr smiled as he walked into the forest for he knew that he was about to embark on a tradition as old as the Úlfhéðnar themselves. The rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.
For many, a month is the forest would have been a daunting, if not impossible task, but Alrekr had been taught by his father Vestmundr to be self sufficient. He knew that he only needed three things to survive. First, a clean water source. Second, food. And third, a safe place to shelter himself.
The fresh water was the easiest to find. After walking for about a day and a half Alrekr came upon a lake in a valley between two mountains. He followed the lake around until he found the stream that fed it. Then he simply followed the stream up into the hills to its source. On the way to finding the spring Alrekr spotted a small cave that went fifteen or twenty steps into the mountain. It was the perfect shelter ! It would protect him from inclement weather, and the cave entrance conveniently overlooked the valley below.
Food was his next concern. Using vines Alrekr made snares to entrap rabbits, and other small creatures. The resourceful young man also searched the forest floor for the tell tale signs made by wild boar when they dug up roots with their huge tusks. When he found an area littered with these shallow depressions he dug a pit with his knife large enough to trap the beasts, and then sharpened stakes and placed them in the bottom of the pit to kill the boar.
Alrekr had also noticed a number of trout in the stream as he followed it to its source. Using vines he tied together sticks to make a type of gate. Then he made a second one. He made sure that the sticks were far enough apart to allow the water to flow through them, but close enough together not to allow the trout to escape. He place a section of the cage upstream, and the other about thirty feet downstream. Then Alrekr slowly moved the gates closer together until the trout were contained in a small enough area to be easily " fished out " .
Every night while he was eating a delicious meal of fresh fish, berries, and mushrooms, Alrekr heard the howling of wolves reverberating throughout the mountains. Occasionally he would even catch glimpses of them as they hunted in the valley below as well.
One day, while he was out checking his traps, Alrekr spotted a pack of wolves attacking a reindeer. He watched in awe as the wolves worked in perfect unison as a team to bring down the great animal. While two of the wolves kept the deer occupied by feigning attacks on its front, four or five others circled around and harassed the beast by continuously nipping at its hind legs. When the great hart turned to attack the wolves, who were trying to bring it down from behind, the two that had kept it busy simply attacked its front legs. Soon the legs of the great antlered beast had been bitten so many times that they weakened to the point where the animal could no longer stand. When it finally collapsed under its own weight, the wolves attacked ripping at its belly, and hind quarters. The reindeer tried to fight back, but it was too late. It made a few pitiful cries, and then it became silent.
Observing the wolf pack tactically take down their prey gave Alrekr an idea that he felt could be used in battle. When watching the Berserker fight as a child he had noticed that they were taught that the opponent they were engaged with was the target to be focused on . " Defeat him and move on ! " he remembered Valdarr telling his warriors. But what if the Úlfhéðnar attacked as a group. If as each of them defeated their current opponent, they then quickly turned and slashed with their sword, or hacked with their axe, at an enemy who was engaging one of their comrades. It might give their comrade just enough of an edge to defeat their opponent as well. And in Alrekr's mind they should be able to cripple the enemy to their left or right without breaking stride to their next opponent.
Everyday Alrekr moved in closer and closer to observe the wolf pack which seemed to have staked a claim to that area. He watched how the alpha male dominated the pack, and how while on the hunt it was this male who directed the other in the attack on their prey. As he watched this dominate male he could not help but make comparisons to the way that Domaldi led the Úlfhéðnar.
At first these wolves were wary of their human observer, but as time went by, and they realized he posed no threat, they paid him little or no attention. And when the moon rose in the sky Alrekr stood at the entrance of his cave, and howled at Mani just as loud as his kindred spirits, the wolves, below in the valley.
When Mani's face shone full once more over Midgard, and lit the night sky with his brilliance, Alrekr knew that it was time for him to return to the Úlfhéðnar compound. That night he erected a primitive totem pole of his own, and carved the image of a wolf near its top. Through most of the night he danced around his wolf totem chanting war songs that he made up as he went along. In the background echoed a chorus of howling from his wolf friends in the valley below. Alrekr laughed as he wondered if they were howling at Mani, or if they were howling at his awful singing. The boy was now a man, and he had never felt more alive or free !
The next morning Alrekr began his journey back to the compound . He regretted having to leave his little home on the side of the mountain, and he knew in his heart that he would miss the wolves he had grown to know and love. The journey back was made easier knowing that he had his own wolf pack to come home to .
Two days later Alrekr reached the Úlfhéðnar compound just as Sunna rode over the mountains, and darkness fell over the countryside like a black curtain. Although he wanted very badly to announce his arrival, he made the decision not to reenter the camp until early the next morning. He felt that if Domaldi could wake up his student in such a rude fashion when he left , than it was only fair that he had the right to wake up his teacher in a similar way now that he had returned. And he would outdo his mentor by waking him at an even earlier time.
As Mani began to descend to mark the end of one night, and the beginning of the next day, Alrekr quietly made his way into the camp. When he reached the Wolf's Lair he threw a large rock into the bushes to distract the guard, and when he went over to investigate what had made the sound, Alrekr slipped through the door.
Once inside Alrekr quietly pulled one of the benches over in front of the door, and then walked over to the fire pit, picked up several pots that had been cleaned the night before, and a large serving spoon. With a smile that reached clear across his face Alrekr began to bang on the pots as loud as he possibly could.
" Get up you lazy Úlfhéðnar ! I have come back from my ordeal, and wish to be initiated into your ranks as a full member of the Wolf - hides ! " the brazen young man shouted at his commander.
The door immediately flew open, and the guard, who Alrekr recognized as Vigr, ran into the room, and promptly flipped over the bench that he had strewn across the opening. Alrekr could not help but laugh at his fallen comrade !
Most of the Úlfhéðnar sat up in bed and began to curse the young man, calling him everything from a dumb ass to a Christian ! Domaldi, however, swung his feet over the edge of his bed, and grinned from ear to ear. The commander of the Wolf - hides slowly got up off of his bed, and walked over to the exuberant youth.
" You will be initiated into our pack tonight,..... or tomorrow..., whichever is the next night ! " he told Alrekr as he tore the pots out of the youth's hands.
Domaldi then took a closer look at Alrekr, by the firelight.
" Well son, you look no worse for the ordeal you have just endured ! " he told his pupil.
Domaldi then scratched his beard, and frowned .
" Did you gain weight son ? " he asked.
Alrekr patted his teacher on the shoulder, walked away, and lay down on his bunk.
Domaldi chuckled as he made his way back to his own bed.
" By Thor's hammer, I wish I had twenty more just like him ! " he whispered to himself.
After everyone had laid there heads back on their pillows Vigr cried out in a weak voice :
" Can someone help me, I think I am injured ! "
The entire Wolf's Lair erupted into laughter !
- End Chapter 6
- Next : Chapter 7 : The Death Of A Legend !
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.