Chapter 13: Grave Flower

Art and love and life.

Grave flowers fed by the blood of the dead.

Out of much atrocity, much beauty can sometimes find a way to spring to life. Maybe to help us forget the horrible things we’ve done…maybe to help us remember.

I stood there watching the field of flowers blowing in the breeze.   Blood-red flowers too numerous to count.  Even the purest love can be bred from the deadliest hate and there is no cycle that cannot be broken.

They say an ancient battle was fought here and the dead were piled into mass graves.

They say at night this place is thick with the spirits of the lost.

They say you can hear them howling…

Today marks the first day of my training under the swordmaster, Ulfr Giersson.  He was renowned for his skill and had been called upon by many kings and rulers to train their sons or soldiers.

He stood in the field with his eyes closed, loose flower petals blowing in little whirlwinds around him.  He wore a plain white shirt, animal hide pants, metal boots and a gauntlet on his sword hand.

The crags of a distant shore could be seen on the horizon, jutting up like tiny gray teeth.

“Kol,” he said, as he opened his eyes to look at me.  “It is Kol, right?”

I nodded.

“From what I’ve heard, you’re pretty handy with a blade.  Yeah?”

I nodded again, although from out of nowhere a ripple passed through my body.  Starting at my toes and ended in the hairs of my scalp and arms…a ripple of doubt.

“They tell me that you fight like a berserkr…that you have no restraint.  You killed some of your own men, yeah?”

I nodded a third time, although I was starting to feel a little foolish and fidgeted a bit.  My father had woken me up early this morning and told me to come here.   As I walked out the door he had said that him and the elder had talked and decided I needed to hone my skills.  That with proper training I would be an invaluable asset on any battlefield.  That with proper guidance I could be unstoppable.

“Pay attention boy…You may think you’re some kind of badass but this is real, and I’m not a frightened unarmed slave.  Any idiot with a sword could have done what you did.  Any idiot with a sword can raid some unsuspecting villagers and usually without taking out a handful of his own people.  You know what you are?  What they told me?  A liability.  They don’t trust you, they don’t like you, and I don’t either.  There’s a chance you won’t walk out of here today, and I almost hope you don’t.  I’m too old to be dealing with crazy fucks like you, so get out of your head and get ready.  This is going to hurt.”

When he was finished, he closed his eyes again and raised his arms up to the sky, sword in one hand and shield in the other.  Some of the little red flowers that had caught in his long hair and beard were blown away by a gust of wind.  The lines in his face were deep and he had many scars.

I was exercising restraint.

This man was intentionally trying to goad me into doing something foolish, and I saw it coming.

I did nothing at all.

“You couldn’t hit me if you wanted to, you pathetic little shit.”

This is a test…refuse to act on impulse.

“You’re father told me that he hopes I’ll put you out of your misery.  He said if you can’t fend for yourself then I should just end you, here and now.”

His eyes still closed, his arms still raised, and I did nothing at all.

“Your mother was a demon-fucking whore.”

…and in that instant all I saw was red.  The world divided into the simplest of axes.  Forward and backward, left and right.  No more flowers.  No more wind.  No more distant crags.

Just me and him, still standing there with his arms in the air.

Unable to think of anything else, I raised my axe and my sword and rushed in to attack.

If my mother was a demon-fucking whore then prepare to meet her monstrous offspring.

I swung first with Thursbanr, and Ulfr brought his shield down quickly to block my blow.  Without a second’s hesitation I swung my axe which he parried with his own sword and flung from my grasp with a flick of his wrist.

That ripple again, nipping at my toes and cutting through the blood haze like an insect distorts the surface of a body of water.

I can taste the blood, I can hear it.

Again I swung with Thursbanr, a horizontal strike and he took a half a step backwards out of range.

When my swing had passed and as I prepared for another he closed again and bashed me with his shield, knocking me off balance.

I used the momentum to swing again straight down on him, a powerful crushing swing, and again he side stepped just only enough as he needed to as the blade whizzed by his body and into the ground beside him.  Before I could raise it up he kicked it with his armored boot, but this time I held on for dear life.  I was sent reeling in a semi circle and my back was exposed so I again used the momentum to spin completely around with another deathblow.  This time I connected with his shield which was splintered from the mighty swing.  As he threw it away I lunged at the place with it had been with all the fury I could muster.  He moved too fast.  He swung from the ground up, sending my sword arm up into the air and as I skidded to a halt I could feel the pommel of his sword smash me in the back of the head.

I stumbled forward and fell on my face.  I could taste the blood, only it was mine.  My heart was racing in my chest and my demon’s blood burned in my veins.

I rolled over in time to block his next swing with my sword and tripped him as he tried to recover.

We scrambled to our feet and my ears began to drone…a barely audible hum coming from the distance like the sound of an approaching storm.

My vision began to fade and again I found my eyes could only see a target.  I have no focus, you say?  This is extreme focus and I don’t need to see anything except for you.

I took a few shallow breaths and charged again.

I put all of my energy in one final swing.  The strike to end this fight and it came down, crashing like thunder onto his blade and I could feel Thor standing with me.  I came down on his sword with so much force that it was knocked from his hands.  Without hesitation he grabbed my arm and twisted it in such a way that I could no longer hold on either and Thursbanr hit the ground with a quiet thud.

He leapt back and grabbed a handful of dirt from the ground, throwing it my eyes.

I coughed for a second but my vision was already so far gone that it barely affected me.

I could feel the blood burning in my lungs, tickling at the back of my throat.  Hot in my belly and fists.

This time, he attacked.  Maybe he expected me to be blinded by the dirt, but I dodged his fist and countered with one of my own, landing squarely on his cheek.  His head snapped sideways and I punched again, this time in his stomach.  He doubled over for a second and this time I went to kick him in the face but he grabbed my foot and pushed me backwards.

I stumbled over his broken shield and fell backwards onto the ground.  From this angle, I could again see the million flowers that swayed in the gentle breeze and for some reason I thought of my beautiful mother.

Before I had time to react he was on me again and he landed a punch with his metal gauntlet above my right eye.  The flesh tore open and blood ran out, blinding me further.

I kicked up at him, hitting him in the neck and he stumbled backwards, gasping for air.

I struggled to my feet, losing blood from both the back of my head and the gash above my eye.  I ran and dove into him, tackling him into the ground.

For the tiniest, fleeting moment, I could smell the flowers as I was beating my fists into his face.

He began to block and somehow turned me over so that I was on my back and hit me one, two, three times before I saw a flash of light and felt my body go limp.

When he saw that I could no longer defend myself he stood up and spit onto the ground.

Peering through this tiny window in the fading vision of my good eye, I realized that I had lost.

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