Ascending To The Top
One of the first things that both Kolskeggr and Bjarnlaugr looked into, after Valdarr's death, was the way that the mind altering elixir was made from the mushroom known as the Bug Agaric. Though few had ever become sick from the potion made from this mushroom, despite the fact that they knew it was mildly poisonous, Valdarr's death was a reminder of just how dangerous it could be.
Women from the village were enlisted to try making the potion in different forms. Then each of these experimental versions was fed to a captured Vingulmork prisoner. After months of trial and error, and a fair number of deaths, it was found that parboiling the mushrooms for a short period of time weakened the mushroom's toxicity, but still allowed the mixture to have a mind altering effect on the individual, which made it possible for a warrior to reach a level of fury that matched that of their animal counterparts, the bears, and berserkergang.
When Bjarnlaugr tried the new mixture himself he was impressed with the effect it had, not only on his mental state, but also on his strength, and the perception of invincibility that it gave him. Satisfied that their women had perfected the potion Kolskeggr and Bjarnlaugr placed a woman named Gillaug in charge of brewing the elixir.
Bjarnlaugr, however, also gave her fair warning :
" You will always be the first to drink the potion ! " he had told her.
Although Kolskeggr and Bjarnlaugr led the Berserker they were only one small part of the overall Vestfold army that was commanded by King Sigmarr. The king rarely, if ever, came to see the Berserker. Sigmarr considered them a valuable part of his army, but he feared them as much as he valued them. When a dispute over territory with their neighbor Vingulmork developed, however, King Sigmarr made his rounds to each division of his army to inspect their fighting readiness.
When he arrived at the Berserker camp King Sigmarr was impressed by the wisdom of the old Berserk Kolskeggr, and very much intrigued by the youth, who was less than half his age, but commanded the respect of the other Berserker with his mere presence. The king had not planned to stay in the Berserker camp after the inspection, but after Kolskeggr invited him to stay for a feast, Bjarnlaugr placed his huge hand on the king's shoulder, and nodded that he should stay. King Sigmarr stared at the youth's hand, which was easily as big as his head, and felt compelled to remain. Quite frankly the young warrior scared him !
By the time Mani began his ride across the night sky King Sigmarr was glad that he had stayed for the Berserker feast. The roasted boar was delicious, and the camp " maidens " kept his horn constantly filled with ale. One serving maiden in particular was being especially nice to the king. Every time she came over to fill his horn she sat on his lap, and gave him a little friendly kiss on the cheek. Sigmarr enjoyed the special attention, and it made him glad that he did not bring his wife Ragnhildr along on this inspection tour.
As the night wore on King Sigmarr noticed that the Berserker were beginning to gather around a totem pole in the center of the compound. Four small bonfires were lit each facing a different point on the compass. Intrigued, the king rose up off of his bench and attempted to enter the circle to better see what was taking place. A young warrior named Porsi stopped the king immediately.
" Only Berserker may enter the den of the bear ! Not even a king can break the circle of fire ! " he informed the king sternly.
The king's guards came running to his side the moment Porsi stopped Sigmarr, and they were about to push the lone Berserker aside when the king raised his hand to stop them.
" No ! I will respect their sacred ritual and watch from here ! " he commanded his guards.
The king looked on in fascination as the Berserker removed all of their clothing and covered themselves in bear skins. A woman stood at the edge of the circle of fire with a pitcher and passed out horns to each of the Berserker. She poured each warrior a generous amount from her pitcher before leaving the circle. The Bear - hides then donned grotesque bear masks, and began to growl as they shook with anger. From outside of the circle men began to bang on drums, to which the Berserker danced in time to their rhythm.
As the Berserker circled around the bear totem pole they became more and more animated, and their growls turned into screams of fury. Then they began to do something that King Sigmarr found to be incredible ! One by one the Berserker jumped through the low bonfires as they circled around the bear - pole.
King Sigmarr had heard of such rituals that could prove, among other things, that weapons and fire could not hurt these great warriors, but to see it for himself was quite a thrill, and a rare honor. The fire ritual lasted for quite some time, and King Sigmarr was beginning to think it would never end, when suddenly the drummers stopped beating their drums. Unsure if he should clap or cheer for their remarkable performance, King Sigmarr did nothing. He simply stood transfixed there waiting to see what would happen next.
Another maiden then appeared out of the shadows, caused by the flickering light of the bonfires, and handed a sword to Kolskeggr. The old warrior took the weapon and slowly walked over to Bjarnlaugr. Kolskeggr knelt in front of the young co - leader of the Berserker, and raised the sword up above his head with both hands.
" What is it old man ? " Bjarnlaugr demanded to know.
Kolskeggr looked up and smiled at the warrior who was proudly dressed in his hard won bear skin.
" This is Valdarr's sword. " he explained.
" I am, as you have remarked, ' an old man '. The Berserker need a young ferocious warrior to lead them into battle . Therefore, and after careful consideration, you have been selected as our new leader ! May Valdarr's sword cut through your opponents like a bear's claws through human flesh ! " he told the young warrior proudly.
A great roar rose up from the Berserker, which seemed to indicate that the decision had been a unanimous one. Bjarnlaugr took the hilt of the sword in his right hand , and placed his left hand on the sharp blade. Slowly he ran his hand over the blade until it ran red with his blood.
" With my blood I take here an oath before my brother Berserker to lead you to victory, .... to honor,.... and to Valhalla !! " he screamed into the night sky.
King Sigmarr shivered a little as he watched this momentous occasion. Not because of the chilled night air, or the strange things that he had seen on this night. He quivered because he realized that he had witnessed the passing of a sacred symbol from one generation to another !
- End Chapter 8
Next : Chapter 9 : The Chosen One
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.