Mánagarmr—I pray that my word finds you well and that the winds bring you victory and good favour. If I may be of any use to you, cniht, small and weak though I am, please do not hesitate to call on me.
Mánagarmr surveys the blood sacrifice with a detached air, though the twist of his lips quickly deepens into a full smirk.
“Tunglið barn…” he mutters. He cannot read the message, but as a god the prayer is felt.
He has chosen human form for now and his followers look to him almost warily. The elders of the clan are not quite so restless. They can sense his satisfaction.
The men and women by his side chuckle.
The Ulfhednar were a group of Viking warriors who originated from ancient Norse religious rites. The Ulfhednar wore wolf skins, and their own skin was black-died. Like the Berserkers, they preformed chants and rituals prior to battle, when, through adrenaline, they became 10 times stronger and faster, became immune to pain, and bled less.
Unlike normal berserkers, these warriors wielded no shields. They eventually merged with the Berserkers in name, yet continued to prefer their own methods.
I’ll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood,
Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated,
Those who wade out into battle?
Wolf-skinned they are called. In battle
They bear bloody shields.
Red with blood are their spears when they come to fight.
They form a closed group.
The prince in his wisdom puts trust in such men
Who hack through enemy shields.— Þorbjörn Hornklofi, the Haraldskvæði saga
The word rang in her head and sat on her tongue like ash. Dragged through the camp in chains. The Great Hound’s men all come to leer and shout and spit and grab. Filthy beasts. She would see them all die slowly for their insolence. Her men would rise up. The war was not over. Not yet.
The collar around her neck bit in to the skin when the man holding the chain pulled her forward again. She would kill him first. He’d struck her. No one raised a hand to her. Much less some common animal.
He dragged her to the tent at the centre of camp. A huge tent of dark, heavy fabric. Like a cloth fortress. Men guarded the door. Large men who had won the honour. She was shoved unceremoniously past, through the doorway. In to the dark.
When her eye adjusted, she saw skins from more animals than she could name. Spoils of war from places further than she had ever been. It smelled of mead and wine and meat. There was the smell of blood and dirt that came in from outside. And fire. Always the smell of fire.
And there he was, sat in his high chair. Larger than the rest by a head at least. Hair as black as night. His thick beard obscuring his face. His beetle black eyes glittering in the low light.
Fylgja stood defiant. Staring back at him with her jaw set and eyes hard.
Mánagarmr laughed a great, booming laugh as his shield-brothers and sisters shared their tales of the battle and subsequent victory. They’d cloven through men like wheat - unanticipated and ruthless. He drank deeply from the horn handed to him before passing it on.
His attention was drawn to the entranceway of the tent when a small figure was thrust through without ceremony. He’d already taken many of the women who’d failed to take up arms against his army. The few other survivors he’d left to his men but this… this girl. She was a stranger to him.
He sneered as she glared up at him, hatred burning in her eyes so brightly that he was secretly surprised it did not outshine the glinting firelight.
“Hvað er þetta?” he said. He need not call. All was silent when he spoke.
“Gleðispillir, herra,” came the response.
He looked her over. Aside from a few bruises - presumably from the capture - she seemed relatively unharmed. He grunted approvingly.
At this, his loyal followers laughed.