“I don’t remember doing anything to deserve this.” Asbjorn looked around the battlefield with a frown as he pulled his axe from the body of his last opponent.
“I don’t remember needing to do anything to deserve this,” Gunnvor wiped his sword on the cloak of his downed foe and picked at the slight chips in the blade. “Ah, you’re lamenting this new religion of yours, yes? Do unto others and all that.”
“It just seems that we spend a lot of time smiting our enemies and not much spreading the word of god, as it is written in the book.” Asbjorn walked over the bodies, trying not to stand on them, but with the number of dead on the floor, it was impossible for every step to miss.
“From what I recall of your book, your god spent more time smiting than he did talking.” Gunnvor grinned as he dropped his sword into the back sheath, “As it should be.”
“But how are we supposed to earn our place in heaven if we only ever kill those who stand against us?” Asbjorn’s brow furrowed.
He’s doing that a lot more since he listened to that man of god from across the water...
“Work through it with me,” Gunnvor nodded as he pointed to the nearby hill, “and let’s see if we can figure it out before my gods see fit to throw us another fight.”
“Well, there’s a god,” Asbjorn started.
“Many gods,” Gunnvor grinned, “On that we agree.”
“One God,” Asbjorn frowned, knowing that Gunnvor was just teasing him, “And he cast us out of the Garden of Eden to make our way on this world, knowing that it would be difficult to do, knowing that the Devil would tempt us into doing the wrong thing.”
“Er, Loki from your gods,” Asbjorn nodded, “Someone who once lived above in the kingdom of our god but who was cast down for being a dishonest trickster and trying to kill God.”
“So I fight for Odin and the gods against Loki and the Giants and you fight for ‘God’ against ‘the Devil’, I’m not seeing where the confusion is.”
“Down here, the Devil has much more power than God, and it is only through our actions that our God can be strong enough to face him on his own terms.”
“I’m not sure I like your new ideas,” Gunnvor paused on the hill as the sounds of battle drew closer, “The God you’re choosing isn’t strong enough to face his own enemies so he’s asking you for help...You...?”
“Only by all of man rising up can the Devil be conquered,” Asbjorn nodded, “This was what the priest said when he came to the village.”
“And what should we be doing to help him then?”
“Leading lives without sin, doing good for others, forgiving them their sins.”
“Alright, I’ve had all I can hear from this; your god clearly wasn’t from round here was he?” Gunnvor looked down the hill at the field of bodies strewn across it, “Over here we fight or die, that’s the laws our gods put in place, that’s what they demand of us.”
“And what if that’s where we’ve been going wrong?” Asbjorn sat on the stone opposite Gunnvor and opened his hands, “What if all we needed to do all this time was forgive them and try to understand why they’re doing this?”
“Why they’re doing this?” Gunnvor scowled, “They’re doing this because they want our village and our women, and when they’ve got them, they’ll go after the next and the next...”
“So what if we could talk to them, find a way to get through to them?”
“The only time I’ve got through to one of Einherjar was when I’d made a hole in his head and talked to him through the gap,” Gunnvor sighed, “We’re not fighting against men here, and if your god needs our help in his own battles, then we should finish up here before we try and help him.”
“But if we don’t give our help now, tomorrow may be too late.”
“And where is the priest who told you these fine words?”
“He is on, spreading the word to everyone else so that they might know the truth of it.”
“So not up here fighting the good fight for his God, no?”
“Some are called to fight; some are called to bring his word.”
“You got the short straw then?” Gunnvor grinned as the orange glow on the other side of the hill grew brighter, “Come on, we’re not going to please either of our gods sitting here.”
The sounds of battle were louder now, the screams of the dead and dying clear from the other side, hundreds, maybe thousands dying on the field over the ridge.
“So what does this Devil want?” Gunnvor drew his sword as Asbjorn readied his axe.
“He wants to rule over men’s hearts and minds, draw them down till they behave as he does, and when he has all men with him, then he will rise up again and take back the place he wanted so many years ago.” Asbjorn nodded, “That is why we have to be more than we are now.”
“And what does the Devil behave like?” Gunnvor suspected he already knew...
“Gets drunk, goes whoring, steals and pillages, kills people for no good reason.” Asbjorn glanced over at Gunnvor, “I know, I know.”
“So like us then...?” Gunnvor grinned, “I don’t know about you my friend, but it sounds to me like someone didn’t like the way we did things around here and came up with something that was everything we are and called it bad. This Devil, does he take all the people that don’t measure up to your god’s standards?”
“No, he only takes those sound of mind and body who choose to follow his thoughts and desires.”
“And your god, he accepts everyone that follows him?”
“As long as they follow his teachings...”
“I may have the answer to your quandary,” Gunnvor grinned as he came to the top of the ridge, “Tell you what, live through this and I’ll...”
His voice trailed off as he looked down into the valley below, hundreds of bodies scattered everywhere, many of them dressed in the colourful furs and patterns of the tribes, but a core of soldiers dressed in white with a single red cross upon their chest and shields. Gunnvor looked down into the melee, the soldiers in white moving over the bodies of the fallen, nothing penetrating their shield wall. A second wave of Norsemen arrived on the other side of the ridge and came screaming down the hill towards the soldiers. The square changed and became a long wall four men deep with shields on the three sides they were being assaulted from. The Norsemen smashed against the wall and drove it back but did not break it. A second wave followed behind, pushing the wall back again.
“Do as your heart wills you my friend,” Gunnvor raised his sword high and looked over at Asbjorn, “I have business down there with men not of my lands...”
He charged down the hill without another word, remaining quiet till he was a few steps from the back of the line and then giving vent to his rage as his sword cleft one of the soldiers head from his shoulders. There was a cry of alarm from those next to him and the wall in front of them bowed as others turned to face the new threat. Gunnvor struck again, his sword causing the chain helm of his opponent to bow inwards as their skull collapsed under the attack. Others turned to face him and he brought his sword up high above his head.
They’ll get me, but it’ll be a high price...
He waited for a second as the three stepped towards him, preparing to attack him from both sides at once. He feinted high and swept low, the sword cleaving his opponents’ leg from under him as their shorter swords found their target in his arm. He let go with his left arm, swinging his sword up high with his right to try and keep the momentum going. A howl from his left and the soldiers’ eyes went wide as Asbjorn charged in, his axe splitting one head in half, the chain making no protection against the ferocity of the attack. The remaining soldier turned and stabbed at Asbjorn, leaving a long gash around his knee before Gunnvors sword cleaved into his chest and he fell, clutching at his tabard as his blood turned the front of it red.
In front of them, the surprise of Gunnvors charge had broken the spirit of the white clad soldiers and they fought in a decreasing circle, their shield wall tactics no longer able to be applied when in so small a number. Gunnvor stepped back and looked down at Asbjorns leg, now bleeding heavily from the knee.
“That’s going to need some healing,” Gunnvor nodded, “You’ll not be running on that for a few months.”
“If at all,” Asbjorn kept the weight off his leg as he grimaced in pain, “Felt something break in there, they’re fast, these white bastards.”
“Aye, comes with being a man of God...”
“Eh?” Asbjorn looked over at Gunnvor as he retrieved a bag from one of the soldiers’ belts, sitting down on top of the body.
“Recognise this?” Gunnvor pulled a book from the bag and handed it to Asbjorn.
“It’s one of the books the priest was carrying,” Asbjorn sat down on the floor, his leg no longer able to hold him up. “Their holy book.”
“Some are called to fight...” Gunnvor mused as he tore a strip from the fallen soldiers’ tabard and tied it around Asbjorns leg, “Some are called to bring his word.”
“They came here to conquer,” Asbjorn threw the book at the body in disgust, “By words or fighting, either way would work, and I was here listening to them while they planned this.”
“Well, look on the bright side,” Gunnvor grinned as he tied another strip around Asbjorns leg and placed a herb poultice over the wound, “At least you’re not in any danger now.”
“Danger from what?”
“Remember what I said up there?” Gunnvor pointed up to the ridge, “That I might have the answer to your problem?”
“Well, you said that their Devil only accepts those fit of mind and body, yes?”
“So here we are,” Gunnvor opened his arms to encompass the whole field, “Unbalanced and wounded, we’re neither, don’t you think?”
Asbjorn laughed, the sound cut off as his leg spasmed and he put one hand over his knee, he looked over as the last of the soldiers in white fell before the tribesmen. Asbjorn nodded and looked up the ridge as Gunnvor started to bind his arm.
“Better the Devils Leavings than the chosen today.” He looked down and took the wrappings from Gunnvors arm, binding it properly to slow the bleeding. “Come on my friend, I believe I owe our gods an apology.”
“An apology?” Gunnvor flexed his arm and helped Asbjorn to his feet.
“Aye,” Asbjorn nodded, “I think getting drunk to show I haven’t forgotten the true way might go some way towards convincing them I’m sorry...”
“Reckon that’s all it’ll take?”
“My friend,” Asbjorn tested his leg under him for a second and then hopped forwards with Gunnvor supporting him as he grinned. “I think that getting slightly drunk wouldn’t be a big enough apology, I don’t intend to surface for a week.
“And then we’ll see how much more apologising I have to do to make it right...”