Blades of Wolfsbane - episode one
A story in the Ravenglass Universe.
“It is evident that the wyverns, blessed with a power to sway and govern the thoughts of mortal beings, doth hold sway over the affairs of men. The extent to which their influence hath moulded our past remains shrouded in mystery, and it may be by the grace of divine providence that humanity hath not yet purged them from our lands.”
- A Discourse on Wyvernkind
Ragnar Wolfsbane stood in the shadow of Meerand Castle and gripped a blunted iron shortsword and battered pine shield, sweating, dirty, aching, and bloody. He gazed across the training ground as the older boys’ shield walls clashed. Swords, axes, and spears collided, bringing with them the clatter of oak and steel.
Many of the lads would come away with scars and bruises, but Creation blessed those who fought proud and true.
Ragnar longed to join them, to show his prowess to his fellow warriors, young men who one day he would lead. But living only twelve summers, it would be two more years before he was allowed to train in the shield wall.
His uncle Olaf marched before Ragnar and the younger boys. A seasoned veteran and master at arms, Olaf drew a hand down his braided beard and eyed each boy in turn.
Leather straps crossed his chest, securing his greatsword across his back while fur leggings clad his thighs. He wore a light tunic, leaving his arms bare to the shoulder as dozens of silver kill bands jangled on his forearms.
He stopped before Ragnar and glared. “You think you should get special treatment because you’re the chief’s son?”
Ragnar’s gaze drifted to the ground. “No, Uncle.”
Beside him, Sven sniggered.
Olaf turned to face the older boy. “Something funny?”
“No, sir!” Sven barked, his voice the deep baritone of a man near-grown. By summer, he would join the older warriors to train in the shield wall. He was everything a Meerand warrior should be—strong and fast, lean and muscular. Blond hair held back with a leather thong hung thick down his back. He stood with his feet planted firm on the packed dirt, his left hand gripping a large, round shield— polished oak covered in leather and bound in iron—his right hand wielding a dulled steel longsword.
Olaf clapped his hands and signalled for Ragnar and Sven to pair up. “Fight!”
Ragnar adjusted his helmet and took a deep breath. Though Sven had the height and reach advantage, Ragnar could outrun him. Though running would do him no good here.
He did not want to end up staring at the clouds again, or worse, having his wounds stitched in the infirmary.
Shifting into a ready stance, Ragnar held his shield out before him and circled Sven in a broad arc.
With a smirk, Sven shot forward, his sword clashing with Ragnar’s shield.
Ragnar staggered back, a jolt of pain numbing his arm.
He gritted his teeth, his breaths coming out long and deep.
He swung and missed, the shield feeling much heavier than it did moments before.
Sven circled Ragnar, his smirk turning to a wolfish grin as he tossed his shield aside and gripped his sword with both hands.
He bashed Ragnar’s shield, once, twice, each strike bringing with it an explosive crack.
A flash of white filled Ragnar’s vision.
He righted his helmet and stumbled back. With each of Sven’s strikes, he tried to block, tried to parry, tried to counter.
But it was no good.
Sven was too fast, too tall, too strong.
He ignored the other boys’ laughter, ignored Sven’s taunts.
If he could get one good hit in, he could return to his bed with his head held high.
But the swings were relentless.
Ragnar dropped to one knee, his shield held up to protect his head, his sword flailing wildly.
“Hide behind your shield like a girl.” Sven punctuated each word with a sword strike.
Using all his strength to keep his shield in place, Ragnar clenched his jaw and rose to his feet. He parried and shoved Sven back.
His biceps squeezed and ached.
Blows rained down on his shield.
He hoped Sven would tire himself out.
With a jolt, Sven yanked the rim of Ragnar’s shield, tearing it from his grip.
His head rocked with the force of Sven’s pummel.
He followed his shield to the ground and lay sprawled in the muck, dirty puddle water soaking his clothes.
Sven stood over him and shook his head. “You will never be my chieftain.”
Scrambling to his feet, Ragnar spun to face him as his uncle and the other boys watched. He could act like a child, or act like a man. He held out a hand to Sven. “Good sparring. You’re going to make a fine warrior.”
Sven spat on the ground and stepped back into line with the other boys.
Ragnar picked up his shield and nodded to himself. Sven was bigger and stronger, but one day his lack of honour would be his undoing.
Trying not to show the pain in his shield arm, he fell back into line between his friends Kest and Harald, and stared across the headlands to the Braun Sea.
“Let this be a lesson to you all,” Olaf said. “There will always be someone faster or stronger, larger, or better trained.” He rubbed the gnarled scar running down his left cheek. “But not everyone is born with the heart of a warrior.” He shook his head and sniffed. “Now, be off with you.”
Ragnar let out a breath and strode towards Kest.
“Ragnar, you stay.”
Ragnar turned to his uncle and held in a sigh. “Yes, sir.”
A group of lads joined Sven’s side, slapping his back and sharing jokes Ragnar couldn’t make out.
“Come. Sit.” Olaf sat on a log at the edge of the training ground and patted a space to his right.
Ragnar sat beside his uncle and rested his elbows on his knees. “What is it?”
“When your father and I were your age, we had already mastered the axe and sword, the mace and bow.” He turned to Ragnar. “I could have beaten Sven at half your age and not broken a sweat.”
Ragnar gazed down at his trembling hands. “You could have bested a boy of fourteen when you were six?”
He glared at Ragnar then shook his head. “I tell you these things not to belittle you, but to make you realise you will never be a true warrior.” His voice hardened. “Go home and become a cook, or tend to the birds, or the dogs…something useful. But don’t waste your time thinking you’re a warrior. Because you’re not. And you never will be.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Yeah?” Olaf rose slowly to his feet, his lip curling. “Well, life’s not fair. The sooner you learn that and stop wasting my time, the better.” He waved a hand and marched away from Ragnar, leaving him alone.
Ragnar let out a sigh and stared across the waves at the gauzy horizon for a long time.
“Ragnar!” Kest’s voice cut across the empty training ground.
A slender lad with a mane of black hair jogged over to Ragnar. He slumped down on the log beside him. “You hurt?”
Ragnar tried not to glare at his friend. “What do you think?”
“You know Sven’s just a massive arsehole, right?”
“True. But he still manages to beat me every time.”
“Yeah. But one day you’ll be his chieftain, and then you can make him clean the kennels, or dance like a chicken, or whatever.”
“Exile him and his family, more like.”
“Exile’s a bit harsh. I mean, yes, he’s from a long line of massive arseholes. In fact, they’re such massive arseholes I’m surprised they can walk around without shitting themselves.”
Ragnar snorted out a laugh.
“Just ignore him and be glad you don’t have a nose like a raven. And I don’t just mean a raven’s beak. I’m talking the beak, the body, the feet, the wings, the tail.”
Ragnar laughed again. “I always thought it looked like someone strapped an axe head to his face.”
“Rag, I’m serious.” Kest met his gaze. “Imagine if you had to live like that. Not only are you a massive arsehole, but you’ve also got that nose. You’d be pissed off too.”
“You’re right. It’ll just be the kennels then.”
“Or, even better, have him see to the ravens.” He raised a forefinger and grinned. “They’d take one look at that stupid nose of his and see him as one of their own.”
“Sven, chief of ravens.”
“And arseholes.” He clapped a hand down on Ragnar’s shoulder and got to his feet. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. Harald said there’s a travelling company here from Sieshin.” He rubbed his hands together. “Some of their women…”
Ragnar rocked to his feet and headed back to the castle.
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