A Cold Winter’s Night

by Chip Dunning

 

 

It began in a single hut of a nameless Vykir village during the height of the winter. A storm so cold and dark that not even the oldest in the village could remember its like. Thick wet snow fell from the sky blotting out the sun and casting everything with the glow of twilight. As the villagers gathered in the longhouse to drink and sing away the night there came a tremendous knocking upon the door. With everyone in the village crammed into the longhouse it must be a demon come to claim their souls — for no man could survive in the storm.

Before anyone could move to see who stood outside, the door crashed open, bringing with it a cold blast of winter snow. Inside the doorway stood not a demon, but a large man covered in ice and snow. His brown hair and full beard marked him as a brund, who often warred with the Vykir for hunting and trading grounds. He carried a brace of snow-rabbits over his left shoulder and a large flail hung from his right hip. In respect of Vykir laws he presented the snow rabbits to the innkeeper in exchange for a place to stay.

The crowd was silent as the man shook the ice off his travel cloak and took a seat near the central fire. When Issac, the inn kepper, brought him two of the rabbits on a spit and a mug of hot cider the conversation slowly began to creep back into the room. While much of it centered around speculation about the stranger, none of the people tried to talk to him and he pointedly ignored those around him.

It was the piercing scream of a woman the silenced the crowd. The second scream just moments later sent many scrambling towards the door. When they looked out into the night they saw Jarl in front of his house waving a firebrand about wildly. Jarl’s sister was close with child and he stood watch over his house while the midwife took care of his sister. As each Vykir strained to see into the night they soon caught sight of thier worst fear, an ice demon had come into their village to steal the newborn babe. As the Vykir grabbed up spears and rushed out of the longhouse to Jarl’s defense, the great beast grasped him about the chest and tore his body in two.

Their battle cries echoing in the night, the men of the village rushed to do battle with the demon; however, it was the bellowing cry and thrashing of snow behind that that caused them to pause. Through their ranks the Brund rode atop his shaggy horse, his flail whirling overhead like the hammer of god. The stranger threw himself at the demon before it could reach into the house.

The battle that followed forever lives in the legends of the village as the Brund battled the great demon. Through sheer determination he drove the thing away from the house as the Vykir moved up to stab and slash along its flanks. His flail rained down upon its head with deadly precision, but still the beast would not run. Instead, he reached our and tore the Brund’s shield as easily as paper and crushed the arm underneath. Blood stained the snow as demon claw battled human steel. Over everything was the Brund’s battle cry, though none in the village could understand his words.

His horse mortally wounded, and the flail ripped from his hands, the Brund drew new weapons and closed with the demon. With dagger and axe he renewed the vigor of his attack until at last the demon fell. The Vykir stood in shock as the Brund, standing in snow colored red with his own blood raised his weapons overhead and screamed into the night sky. As the last echos of his cry faded, the Brund feel face-first into the snow.

The Vykir did their best to save the Brund’s life, but so great were his wounds during the battle that many believed he should have fallen long before the end of the battle. The next morning the storm had passed and everyone in the village spent the day gathering wood for a great funeral pyre. Atop the pyre, in the place of the greatest honor, rested the body of the Brund. As the pyre burned out its ashes were mixed with the winter floor and ground into a bread for everyone to share, so that the Brund may forever be a part of the village,

How do I know this legend so well? My name is Brunson and I am Jarl’s nephew that was born upon that fateful night. Named in honor of the stranger that gave his life for mine, I now travel the Brundswag in search of anyone that can tell me about the stranger. The only clue I have is the small amulet my people found upon his body. For six years I have searched with no luck, but still I don’t lose hope — for he never lost hope when facing far greater odds in the battle for my life, now I battle to bring glory to his name.

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