“Bill, wake up.”
Bill smiled at the sound of Lori’s voice. He tried to open his eyes, but had to shield them from the sun’s glare. Lori’s familiar silhouette stepped in between him and the sunlight.
Bill stammered, “Wait, where am I? I don’t understand.”
Lori stooped down close to Bill. The smell of leather filled his nostrils. Lori’s familiar shiny black hair and hazel eyes gazed at him, but her outfit was made of rawhide. A short sword hung at her waist, and an ax head peeked out over her shoulder. Lori’s familiar toned, olive legs peered out from underneath her thick leather skirt.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Bill felt a cool breeze on his chest. He looked at himself and realized his shirt was missing, and his pants were made from some sort of hand-tooled leather. A piece of fur hung at his waist. He felt up his back to the top of his head, and his hand landed on a set of teeth. He scrambled to his feet and tore off the fur. The face of a wolf stared up at him from the ground.
The wind chilled his back, and Lori put her gloved hand against his bare chest.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“Where are we?”
Lori slipped her arm around him and moved to his side. “Don’t you recognize your own town? This is Helvsgud.”
“Am I dreaming?”
“No. Did you hurt yourself when you fell off the longhouse roof this morning?”
Bill closed his eyes and tried to remember. The familiar stench from the pig farms made him feel at home.
Bill asked, “How long have I been sleeping?”
Lori hugged him with both arms and nestled her head against his chest. “Not long. Are you sure you’re doing okay?”
Bill gave her a squeeze and then pushed her back. “Of course. Over there are the accursed pig farms that keep our little town wealthy. You should start to worry when I forget about those. Speaking of wealth, has my father returned from Britannia yet with this year’s taxes?”
Lori shook her head.
“Very well. I suspect nothing less from my parents. I’m sure it will be worth the wait.”
Bill gazed out over the wall at the flatlands that lay outside their protections. Lori placed the wolfskin back on his head, and he reached down to find his familiar battle axes at his side. In addition to the pig farms, the flatlands were a patchwork of grains for the village.
Lori asked, “Are you going to order the villagers inside the town before the raiders arrive?”
Bill rubbed his chin, “It could be minutes or days until they get here. We will devastate our own village by taking the farmers from their work without the raiders having to lift a finger. No, we’ll call them in at the first sign of trouble.
“Now, go attend to the militia and make sure they are ready when the time comes. I’ll remain up here.”
Lori dipped her head and quickly descended a nearby ladder. Bill smiled as he admired her form. She disappeared between the thatched roof houses nestled close together. In a few moments, she reappeared in the clearing near the longhouse. He watched her head inside and return. She blew a horn, and the men and women of the town assemble before her.
Bill turned back toward the farms, and the woods, lost in thought. He spoke quietly to himself. “Is this a dream, or was that a dream? Both feel so real. I know who I am. I’m a soldier who was called by Oden to protect this town, but that other place. Those people, they needed me. And Lori..”
His train of thought was interrupted by the sound of the sentry’s horn on the village wall’s far corner. Bill blinked and realized smoke had begun rising from the farms, and the villagers were running towards the gates. Without hesitation, Bill slid down the ladder and bounded out of the gates towards the smoke. His battleaxes hung at his side.
In a few moments, he heard the creaking of the gates as they closed. Then they opened again, and Lori sprinted to his side.
“Where’s the militia?”
Lori caught her breath, “They’re still forming. Freja’s in charge and will be here soon. Besides, the two of us can take on a band of raiders.”
Bill grunted, “Only one of us has Oden’s hand upon them.”
“I can take care of myself.”
Bill’s gazed into her eyes. “I know you can.”
The raiders soon appeared through the smoke and fire. They stopped at the sight of Bill.
The leader yelled out, “We have no fight with you, Berserker.”
Bill answered, “This town is under my protection.”
The leader did not move from his position but asked, “What is your name?”
“I am William, son of Oden and child of Helvsgud. What is your name?”
Bill blinked and stood silent for a moment. “That’s it? Just Bobby?”
“Yes.” Answered the stranger.
Lori and Bill looked at each other, and Lori shrugged.
Bill turned his attention back to Bobby. “Leave now, and I won’t take your life for burning the farms.”
Bobby’s laughter surprised Bill. He knew who he was facing. How could he be so cavalier?
“Did I say something amusing?” asked Bill
Bobby quipped, “There are two of you, and fifty of us. Even for a Berserker, you don’t stand a chance.”
Bill thought about his position. If he was alone, his odds might be better, but Lori was an accomplished fighter and could hold her own. Still, he had to stall for the militia.
Bill hollered back at Bobby, “I won’t surrender the town, but tell me what you want.”
Bobby pointed towards the wall, “We want your pigs and the taxes from Britannia that have arrived.”
Bill crossed his arms. “Friend, you have been misinformed. The taxes have not arrived, and we have not gotten word of anyone returning from Britannia anytime soon. I’m afraid you’ve arrived too early.”
Lori laughed at the end of Bill’s statement.
Bobby pointed at Lori, “Then I’ll take the winch.”
Bill dropped his arms, and his hands clenched the top of his battle axes. “You and I will both die before that happens.”
The sound of the gate opening behind him caught Bill’s attention. With a blow of the horn, the militia came pouring out of the town. Bill turned back to find Bobby and his men rushing towards them. He pulled out his axes and sprinted towards his prey.
The pounding of Bill’s feet was soon replaced by his heartbeat. His vision grew more acute, and the world turned crimson. Bill pulled out one ax and threw it. Its blade landed in the skull of the fastest man. An arrow pierced his side. The shaft protruded from his stomach and back. The pain from the weapon brought a shiver of pleasure to Bill, and he howled and headed for the man who shot him.
He knocked two more men aside and yanked the young archer up by the throat. Bill reached behind with his free hand and pulled out the arrow, laughing as it exited. The terrified young archer watched in horror as Bill spun the shaft around. He buried it in the young man’s chest. Bill released his grip, and the body fell to the ground. A blade attempted to bite through his wolfskin. Bill spun and grabbed the sword by the edge and snapped it. His fist connected with the raider’s skull with a sickening sound of bones crunching. Bill took the broken blade and stuck it through the raider’s throat.
A commotion caught his ear, and he turned to see what was going on. Raiders backed away, and men and women of the militia fell back towards the town walls. Between them, Bobby stood with a knife to Lori’s neck.
He yelled, “Stay back. I’ll kill this winch.”
Bill walked towards Bobby undeterred. He growled, “Let her go.”
Bobby pushed the blade harder, and a trickle of blood ran down Lori’s neck. Bill’s pace quickened.
Bobby yelled in a panicked voice, “Stop, or I’ll kill her.”
Bill’s voice caused everyone but Bobby to fall back further, “Leave her, or I’ll rip your throat out.”
Bill stopped, reached down, and took a sword from a dead raider. “Leave her.”
Bobby stammered, “Don’t make me do it.”
Bobby’s hand quivered, and the knife bit deeper. Blood began to pulse from Lori’s neck. Bobby dropped the blade and started backing up with his hands in the air. Bill started running at him. It felt like an eternity to Bill before he reached Bobby. In his rage, Bill lifted Bobby off the ground by his neck. With a quick twist of the sword, Bill slit open Bobby’s throat and yanked his spine out through the opening.
Pieces of Bobby’s throat came flying out of his neck, and blood sprayed from the wound and covered Bill. Bill dropped the body. He turned and fell to his knees beside Lori. She lay in a pool of her blood, trying to speak. Bill howled in anguish, and everyone ran away.
Lori sputtered, “I love you.”
Her eyes glazed over and then stared blankly at the clear sky. Storm clouds began to roll in, and the sun disappeared. Bill howled again and cried. The crimson world quickly dissipated. He gasped for air, and the heavens opened, and rain-drenched his body. Lightning struck the ground around him again and again. He fell onto his hands and knees and then rolled over on his back. He hoped he would drown in the rain and join Lori. Nausea washed over his body, and then Helvsgud slowly disappeared.