Story Excerpt
Protecting His Own

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Ulfr ran through the trees, uncaring of the branches that slapped painfully across his face. The terror that livid in his chest stole his senses. He didn’t realize the direction he had headed in until the trees suddenly parted and he found himself at the river’s edge.

The river was the edge of their clan territory. The tall mountains beyond the far bank were forbidden, rumors of berserkrs inhabiting the dark lands. None who entered ever returned and the howls at night frightened even the most courageous heart.


Ulfr whimpered in fear as he turned to face the woman speaking with a voice that had soothed his hurts and calmed his heart all of his years. He took a quick step back in fear. Would she too call him cursed? “Móðir.”

“You must hurry, sonr.” She shot a quick glance over her shoulder. “Your faðir cannot hold the jarl and his soldiers off forever.” She shoved a large leather bag into Ulfr’s hands before pushing him toward the riverbank. “You must go and don’t come back.”

“What did I do?” Ulfr didn’t understand why he was being forced from his home. A sob of despair broke through his lips. “Why did faðir try to kill me?”

His mother stopped trying to push him away and instead drew him into a tight hug. “You have done no wrong, Ulfr.”

“Then why?”

“The seið-kona has foretold that you will become a berserkr. The jarl has ordered your death before that can happen. Too many are afraid of berserkrs, including our chieftain.”

Eyes so wide they hurt, Ulfr glanced down at his mother. He had been inches above her since he was ten. He was always a big child. Now, it sort of made sense. “A berserkr?”

Could it be?

Ulfr glanced over his shoulder again, his eyes taking in the tall foreboding mountains beyond the river. His fascination with the mountains had often gotten him in trouble. It was forbidden to cross the river so he would sit on this side and just stare across at the tall peaks, wondering what secrets they held.

“You must go, my sonr. It is no longer safe for you here.”

“Where do I go?” he asked as he looked back at his mother. How would he survive?

“The world is big place, Ulfr. The gods will guide you.” She started pushing again, steering Ulfr toward the riverbank. “Please, sonr, go before Jarl Alrekr and his soldiers arrive. If he catches you, I cannot stop him from harming you.”

Ulfr took a step back, and then another. “You do not…hate me?”

The sad smile that graced his mother’s face was more than likely the last one he would ever see, and Ulfr knew it. “No, my sonr. I do not hate you. Your faðir does not hate you.” For a moment, she pressed her hand against Ulfr’s cheek. “We are very proud of you and will carry you in our hearts even into Valhöll.

More tears found their way down Ulfr’s cheeks. “I do not want to go, Móðir.”

“You must.”

Even as the words left her lips, Ulfr heard the sounds of people hurrying through the forest. Jarl Alrekr and his soldiers never learned to move quietly in the woods, crashing through the underbrush like bulls in a langhus.

“Go, Ulfr,” his mother whispered harshly. “Go now!”

Ulfr turned and ran for his life. His steps didn’t stop when he reached the edge of the riverbank. He just plunged right into the frigid water, swimming when he could no longer feel the earth beneath his feet.

By the time he reached the opposite bank, he was quite a ways down from where he had entered the water. He crawled up onto the riverbank and collapsed, panting so heavily he thought his heart might beat right out of his chest.

When he heard shouting, he lifted his head and glanced back toward where his mother had been. The fear that had grabbed him when his father raised a sword in his direction was nothing compared to the terror he felt as he watched his jarl slice the blade of a knife across his mother’s throat before dropping her body to the ground.

“No!” he screamed as he dropped the bag she had given him and jumped up, racing down the riverbank until he stood across the river from his worst nightmare. The jarl had his father and three brothers on their knees at the edge of the water. Ulfr’s mother lay half way in the water, halfway out, unmoving.

When the jarl went for his father and brothers, Ulfr screamed, helpless as he watched the man he had always looked up to chop down his family until not a one was left standing. The golden sand on the edge of the embankment turned red with blood.

Ulfr screamed until nothing more would come out, his voice broken much as his family had been. Something cold and dark took a hold of him deep down inside, growing larger until it moved throughout his body, numbing him to everything but the rage burning through him.

Ulfr didn’t bother wiping the tears from his eyes as he watched his former jarl clean off his sword on Ulfr’s mother’s dress, ridding the blade of the blood staining it. When the man stood and turned, staring across the river at him, he must not have liked what he saw. Jarl Alrekr paled before gesturing to two of his soldiers. The men balked until the jarl shouted at them and then they began wading into the water.

Knowing that there was nothing he could do for his family, and knowing his time for revenge would come some day, Ulfr ran back for the bag his mother had given him, the only thing he had from his family, and then he started the long journey toward the forbidden mountains.

He was going to become the monster they thought him.