Bill blinked, shook his head, and looked around again. The low gray clouds and cold air told him to expect snow. Frost crusted the brown leaves on the forest floor along an almost imperceptible walking trail. Gray, leafless trees surrounded him for as far as he could see.
Bill mumbled, “I must be losing my mind. I can’t be here and in the hospital.”
He felt the soft wolf’s fur hanging from his shoulders and the sharp axes nestled in their straps on his waist. Bill ran his finger down the front of a blade, and blood trickled to the ground.
“It feels so real, but they can’t both be true.”
A wisp of smoke far ahead caught his eye, and he began walking towards it. The crunch of the forest floor echoed around him. He slowed his pace and stopped well short of a clearing.
A large man with long, wavy red hair and a thick red beard sat by the fire. He was bare-chested and wore a bearskin off his shoulders, much like Bill’s wolfskin. A large, two-handed battle ax leaned against the log he was sitting on. The man looked up from the fire and began to sniff the air.
“Brother, come sit by the fire. It’s much warmer than from behind the trees.”
The large stranger hollered, “I can smell you from here. Don’t you recognize your own brother?”
Bill hesitantly stepped out from behind the tree.
The man motioned Bill over, “There you are, come, sit.”
Bill walked over and sat on a rock next to the large man.
“I am William of Oden.”
The stranger laughed, “Of course you are. You really don’t recognize me?”
Bill slowly shook his head.
“I’m Harold, your brother. It has been a long time, but I thought you would remember me.”
Bill looked down at the fire while he spoke, “I didn’t know I had a brother. To be honest, I’m not sure of anything at the moment. One minute I’m in the hospital, the next minute I’m here. I don’t understand.”
Harold spoke softly, “Yes, Joshua, that old wizard.”
Harold reached over, grabbed Bill’s knee and gave it a shake as he spoke, “Joshua, he’s a powerful wizard who can play tricks with the mind.”
Harold released Bill’s knee, and Bill leaned in toward Harold. “What sort of tricks?”
Harold leaned closer to Bill and whispered, “Like making two brothers forget about each other.”
Bill sat back upright. “That’s ridiculous. Why would this man, if he exists, care if we’re together?”
Harold looked around the woods and then answered, “Because we’re not only brothers. We’re Berserkers. One Berserker can take on a small regiment, but two Berserkers have taken out small armies. No king could defeat us if we were to fight together.”
Bill sat quietly for a moment and warmed his hands near the fire. He finally answered, “I, for one, don’t want to be a king or a conqueror. The love of my life and my child were killed by raiders or terrorists. My world is upside down, and I don’t know what is real anymore. I only know she’s gone, and somebody is responsible.”
“I can help you. That’s what brothers do.”
Bill pulled his hands back and looked into Harold’s blue eyes. “Thanks, all the same. I’ll have my revenge. Besides, you said yourself, I can take out a regiment, what is one man to me?”
Harold asked, “What if you run into Joshua?”
Bill pulled out his axes, and Harold’s hand extended towards his weapon but did not grasp it.
Bill answered, “Then I will kill the man who kept me from my brother. I’m tired of people separating me from my family.”
Harold’s hand returned to his side, and Bill returned his weapons to their proper resting place.
Harold spoke, “Then, I wish you Godspeed. Keep following the path, and you will find your answers. Where will I find you when you’ve finished your quest?”
“I am a child of Helvsgud. I’ll return to the village once this is done.”
“Very well. I’ll wait there.”
Bill stood, “Let the king know you’re my brother. He will treat you well.”
“Many thanks, brother.”
Harold stood and locked Bill in a bear hug. Once he was free, Bill began back down the frozen path. Light snow had started to fall, but Bill could still find his way forward. The entire forest looked grayer, more dead as the white snow formed a thin, white blanket on the ground. Before much longer, the trees began to look more like shadows as night approached.
Up ahead, Bill could make out a large fire, and he quickened his pace. He boldly walked upon an older man. He wore a flax coat with a hood. His hair was gray, and his face held a few wrinkles that peeked out from the shadows of his hidden face.
Bill asked, “May I join you?”
The stranger answered, “Of course. What is your name?”
“I am William son of Oden, protector of Helvsgud.”
Bill could see a smile in the shadows of his cloak.
“My name amuses you?”
The stranger answered, “My, how you’ve grown.”
Bill stared intently at the stranger, “Do I know you?”
The stranger continued, “When I knew you, everyone called you Billy, and then Bill.”
Bill sat down next to the stranger without being invited and stared hard into his eyes. Something seemed familiar about them. He remembered seeing them across from him in an office in the orphanage, but then again in the Viking village.
Bill said, “Perhaps you can help me. I have memories, many memories. Of this place, and another. A place with offices, hospitals, and cars.”
The man nodded his head. “Yes, I know of that place. Both exist. One in your mind, and the other here on earth. You must have been through a great trauma to be in both places.”
“Yes,” answered Bill.
“Here and there?” asked the man.
Bill answered. “Yes. I don’t know which is real, but I feel like I’m living two nightmares.”
The man answered, “I can help you, but you must find me in that other place. There I am called Joshua Zeev.”
Bill leaped to his feet and drew his axes. Joshua quickly stood and pulled his sword.
Bill growled, “Liar. Harold warned me about you. How can you be from these lands with a name like Joshua Zeev?”
Joshua answered calmly. “Look who’s so smart, Bill. What else did Harold tell you?”
“All that I need to know. You’re a wizard, a trickster, and you kept us apart and wiped my memory of him.”
Joshua lowered his sword but kept it in his hand. “Your brother is partly correct. I did keep you apart, but not because I’m a wizard. I’m a doctor. We used to be close, you and I. We were like a family. Your brother was in another place, another land if you will. I traveled to help him like I had helped you, but things did not go as planned. I could not return. So, I had your memories of me hidden away. Now, it appears something has unleashed them.”
Bill swung his axes twice. “Why should I believe you.”
Joshua shrugged, “Why would I lie?”
Bill hollered, “Because you’re a liar.”
Bill’s axes swung towards Joshua, and he deflected both with his sword. Bill’s world turned crimson, and he growled, “You will pay with your life.”
Joshua pleaded, “Listen to me, you must find me when you wake up. If you don’t, you could be in great danger.”
Bill stopped. “From whom?”
Bill howled and dove towards Joshua. A bright light flashed between them. Bill’s body jumped, and he blinked. A dim light remained, and he blinked again. The familiar smell of antiseptic told Bill he was back in his hospital room. His eyes darted around as he attempted to get his bearings.
A new nurse walked in, “Oh good, you’re awake. Your surgeon is here. Hang tight.”
The nurse left the room and a few moments later returned. A man in a white lab coat followed her into the room. He was at least as tall as Bill, but lanky and wore gold rim glasses. Judging from his graying hairline, Bill assumed the doctor was in his late fifties or early sixties. The doctor walked up to him, gently pulled down the sheets, and started removing the bandages before saying a word.
Finally, he spoke, “I’m Lewis Sundberg. You’re quite a lucky man. No organ damage, some minor muscle damage. I would release you tonight, but I hear you don’t have family in the area.”
Bill answered, “Yea, I have a few friends.”
Dr. Sundberg spoke without looking up. “Are you close to the young African American woman I saw in here most of the day?”
Bill said, “She’s my administrator and a friend.”
The doctor looked over at the nurse. “Betty, remind me to fire my administrator. She’s obviously falling down on the job.”
Betty let out a short laugh.
Bill answered, “I’m serious.”
Dr. Sundberg turned to Bill with a smile on his face. “About her being just an administrator?”
“Yes.” Answered Bill, annoyed.
“And you’re friends?”
“Yes, only friends. My fiancée was killed in the office attack.”
Dr. Sundberg scowled and looked away. “I’m sorry, I didn’t make the connection.”
Bill remained quiet as the doctor finished his work.
Dr. Sundberg said, “I think we can release you tomorrow. I’ve put in a prescription for some NSAIDs and opioids. I would use the NSAIDs and only use the opioids at night, and then only if you really need one.”
“I can do that.”
Dr. Sundberg continued, “I would feel better if somebody would stay with you for the first few days. The injury is not bad, but you don’t strike me as the kind of guy that sits still. If you tear some of the stitches, I want to know you have somebody that can get you in here.”
“I can arrange it.” Said Bill.
Dr. Sundberg nodded and headed towards the door. He stopped and turned, “Sorry for your loss.”
The doctor left the room.
Betty walked over, “Do you need anything to help you sleep?”
“I don’t think I want to sleep with the dreams I’ve been having.”
Betty padded his arm. “You’ve been through a lot. I’ll give you something that should help you rest without the nightmares.”
Bill looked up at the ceiling, “That would be a welcomed change.”
Betty walked over to the computer stand and began typing into the keyboard. Her voice rose above the clicks, “What will you do when you get out?”
Bill answered. “I have some people I need to find. We have some unfinished business.”
“Well, don’t’ work too hard. I’ll be back with your medicine.”