The sword came in too high. Ulfrick pulled his head back and scowled. The figure in front of him was too small and trying too hard to press him to be a seasoned warrior. Stepping back he took a moment to survey the battle field. Only a couple of defenders were still fighting. Resistance was waning.
The low clearing was flat and had been perfect for his purpose. The wagons and its small group of guards had come to a halt to have their mid day meal and his men had them quickly surrounded.
A jab, this one better placed – low and almost opening his thigh – caused him to come to a decision. The fight was over. Instead of swinging his shield arm down to block the incoming blow he simply shoved it hard and out into his opponent’s face. Nose bent and teeth broken, the boy dropped his sword and fell to his knees; Ulfrick came quick and hard with his sword arm and smashed the flat of the blade against the side of the boys head, picking him up off the ground slightly. The boy landed in a pile of furs, teeth and blood.
Ulfrick looked down at the heap, “Always expect the unexpected in a fight. That way you’ll never be surprised.” he said in the tone he used for training young boys of his own village.
The boy did not respond.
He tossed his shield to the side and sheathed his sword, calling out; “Tall! Get over here!”
One of Ulfricks’ men came running up. Lanky and almost a head taller then any other man in their tribe, if Tall had any other name only his mother knew it. A seasoned warrior like Ulfrick he had been devoted to his leader ever since Ulfrick had bested him in a fight over a woman. The woman, as it turned out, had been the wife of another man. This man had tried to kill Ulfrick and Tall swore that Ulfrick had saved his life that day. The two had been good friends ever since and Ulfrick couldn’t have asked for a better second. Tall looked down at the boy.
“He’ll be sucking whale fat ‘fer sure. Ha!”
“For a long time – It’s just a boy. Are there any men here at all?”
Tall looked around, squinting at the noon sun,”Mine had a bit of life in them but I knocked them all down. The rest should be down shortly.”
The pair made their way over to the wagons. The fighting had indeed stopped and his men were gathering the survivors and moving them off to one side, away from the two wagons. Ulfrick noticed very few of his men were injured. The few bodies that were scattered here and there weren’t his own men. He had trained these men well and they had restraint, only killing when necessary.
Prisoners were valuable as both workers and traded commodities; to other tribes for valuables or to return his own captured men to their homes. Of the newly captured men most were young boys with just a couple being much older men. Not what he had expected at all. He had been told there was a wagon train of prisoners headed to the Witch Queen’s land as tribute from his long time rivals, the Arngrim clan.
Ulfrick would never dare take anything belonging to the Witch Queen but as the prisoners hadn’t been delivered yet and, in fact, hadn’t left Arngrim territory he considered them fair game. So the ambush had been planned and exacted. Bejring, leader of the Arngrim clan, would never leave something as important as tribute to the Witch Queen in the hands of children and gray hairs. Wrong information from this source was a very bad sign.
Gunner, one of his men came up to the pair, “That’s all there is, eight. Was…maybe fifteen altogether…maybe less. I think when we first came up some ran for the woods.”
Gunner spat and looked over at the small group. “Not the Stormcloaks best I’d say.”
Ulfrick walked to the small group of prisoners, “Whose leader here?“ He called out.
“I am.” A blond boy slightly more filled out then the others spoke clear and with no fear.
“What fools errand are you on, boy?”
“To find a fool…find a fool and deliver a message.”
Gunner stepped up and brought his helmet in an arc across the boys face. A large welt quickly turned red then blue, swelling to close the left eye. The boy cried out and then brought his head back to look at the men in front of him. His knees buckled a bit but he stayed straight.
“Mind your manners boy!” Ulfrick scowled. “Deliver your message then,” he eyed Gunner and let his scowl turn to a smile. “You found the head fool.”
Tears came from the boy’s right eye but he stood his ground and tried his best to conceal the waver in his voice.
“There are two gifts for you in the cart – one a broken tool and the other a nid. (1)
My message is this;
Here I place this nid and turn it against the Stormcloaks.
I call upon the rimthurses (2)
from the depth of Niflheim
that you may freeze to your death
before you get a chance
to freeze others out.
I call Surt and his fire-thurses (3)
that you may burn to your death
before my people burn
by any hands.
And I call upon the witch queen
that your young men
have their manhood gelded,
never being able to create anything good
never getting peace
I set this nid
until these drooling servants
leave the land now ours.
I set this nid and seal it with a sacrifice.”
With that said the boy set his gaze on the wagon.
Ulfrick walked over to the wagon. His men stood frozen staring at the boy in superstitious awe except for Tall who snorted and followed his leader. “I know Juunter from the old days. He’s no religious satrap. What is this crap?”
“Lets see.” Ulfrick reached out to the wagon and threw the covering off revealing a large pole with two bodies nailed to it.
The pole was set between two ‘y’ shaped logs to hold it above the bed of the wagon. Like a large roasting split it filled the whole bed. Ulfrick climbed in to the wagon bed and looked down. The first body had been nailed to the pole at the wrists; his feet had been broken and bound in a lotus position so it appeared he was sitting at the base of the pole. A large iron ring had been set in to his chest hanging like an obscene knocker threaded in to his rib cage. (4) Fresh blood oozed from the wound on to the dried blood already covering most of his body.
The second body was even more astounding. It was a dark blue and had a small sheen in the light. It was a woman, naked except for an unclean horse skull set over her head. She had long white hair that had been used to bind her feet and waist to the pole above carvings of pointed eared creatures breathing snow and evil looking winged fey cavorting and laughing. She too was crucified but on a cross piece craved to look like a tree branch on fire. Iron nails were driven through her palms and a ring around her neck held her fast to the top of the pole. She was alive and her breathing was labored.
“Vlaiyd!” Tall went to the man at the bottom of the pole. This was the man who, disguised as a trader, had gone to the Arngrim village and found out when the tribute was leaving and what path it would take. He was the one whose information had brought them after this group.
“You can’t help him…get over here and pull!” Ulfrick had his hand at the throat of the young girl. He was pulling on the iron band around her neck.
Tall jumped to the other side of the pole and pulled on the band. Together they bent it open and off the neck of the young woman. Tall cursed as he tossed it aside. Ulfrick caught her head and called out for pliers. His men – still frozen and staring at the boy who delivered his curse – jumped to obey.
The woman opened her eyes revealing solid red orbs.
Bloody lips parted and in a raspy voice she said “My name is Pandora…I am your nid.”
(1) Nid – From nidstang, a Viking runic curse pole. Topped with a horse skull it called on Hela goddess of death to curse the person or group it faced.
(2) Frost Giants
(3) Fire Giants
(4) An iron ring around (or in this case through) was supposed to leave little room for the spirit or bound it in the afterlife to Hela.