Today Is A Good Day


I am not sure what exactly this is, and I am not sure what I am trying to say by it, but it incorporates a vision I have long had of a battle in winter by a river with the blood smoking as it came out from the cold in the air.  I don’t tend to agree with the whole fatalistic approach of the old Norse, but I have always liked the idea of the last stand for something one believes in and whether you think they are right or wrong in what the did and how they did it, I leave that up to you my readers.  Enjoy. 

 

twenty men stood along the dark river’s edge near dawn, looking out across the fording place at the line of trees made into a dark smudge of green and brown by the chill mist.  The water ran black and cold over the shallows, ripples and froth glimmering briefly as it swirled over the rounded rocks and gravel, the gentle chatter of the water the only sound to break the perfect stillness.  The breath of the men created its own mist, coming out in hot puffs of vapor to freeze stiff into their beards.  Some stood, some paced, some checked their weapons or tightened their harness but all was done in silence.  As the light grew more full two stood apart, walking together right to the water’s edge.  One knelt, cupping his hands and dipping them into the icy stream, splashing the water onto his face, the sting and burn of it chasing away the sleep that had been growing on him.  His companion stood still and tall, eyes straining to the far shore and grim woods beyond for any sign of the foe they awaited.

“Gods blast the waiting.  If I must die, I’d rather it be done quick and I find myself warm and drinking mead in Valhalla than freezing off my arse here waiting for the spear that will send me there”  The man who had been crouching stood as he cursed, water still streaming from the blond braids of his beard.  He spat with force into the river, hard blue eyes never leaving the far shore as if they could suddenly conjure his foes there.

“All in good time Haarald, we will all find ourselves in Odin’s hall in his good time.  My only hope is that my blood this day will buy our thane time to raise the others. ”  The other’s voice was milder but carried the weight of age with it.  The man he called Haarald was perhaps in his twenty-fifth winter, where as the other had perhaps seen forty but despite his advanced years there was still iron in him.

“Well we shall never know if he does or doesn’t that is the only truth.  We await only our deaths here and all know it, all knew it at the choosing.  I think there is something to knowing the name and hour of my death, most men do not and I can at least be thankful I will not die abed mewling like a babe” both men chuckled grimly at this, the laughter breaking the stillness but not forced as many men’s would be in hours like these.  “Herger, it will be a good day to die”

“As good as any other…but hark, I think I hear the wings of ours.  Bring up the men, we shall have our friends with us soon enough.”  The crack of snapping branches echoed out into the dawn air as Herger spoke, a token heralding the coming of those whom they awaited.  A light shot up like cold fire in his eyes and he felt his blood quicken.  “Hurry now, it will not be long”  There was a panting eagerness in his voice, he who had admonished patience a moment before now hungering to leave waiting behind and let his sword sing.  Haarald turned back to the others waiting there, calling out names and orders, the men forming two lines of ten along the shore, one behind the other.  Voices rose now, the scene becoming almost boisterous as jibes and jests were thrown back and forth, a feeling almost of release.

“How many you think you’ll send to Hel Snorri?”

“As many as care to stand in front of me while I’m still able to swing!!! Ha!!!  But probably a damn sight more than you, you old goat”

“Odin’s one good eye, it’s about damn time…I can’t feel my cursed toes waiting for these lazy women to come kiss my axe”

“Aye, this “Christ” they are prattling on about seems to prefer womanish men, just look at those fools he sends in dresses.  It is right for the Thane to give them a ride on Odin’s horse and good riddance or we might all become soft as those about to kill us”

The dawn that had been so still was now filled with mirth as these hard, grim men prepared themselves, the few who had bows drawing them, planting arrows beside them at their feet while others drew axes and swords, ready round shields, spat, cursed, all of them watching the far shore with anticipation.

There was a vast rustling then, the heavy green needled branches parting as from the wood marched about two hundred men, all as grim and hard as those at the river, covered in mail, spears bright, the thunder of their step rumbling before them like a herald.  At the front of their line strode one not of their people, a pale, thin man wearing no weapon or mail, not even a torque but rather a black robe.  Instead of a spear he carried a long pole atop which was a cross of gold yet he wielded it as if it were Gungnir itself.  The men waiting across the river laughed despite the numbers against them at the sight of their foes being led by one such as he.

“Look, they have brought one of their women with them! Now why did we not think of that brothers?  It would have made the cold waiting through the night much warmer!”  The twenty men cast their despite in the teeth of those who marched toward them so very serious and not a few turned resentful eyes to the strange leader they found themselves following at the behest of their Thane.  These were after all their own countrymen they faced and only for the reason that they chose to remain heathens and would not submit to the right and proper lord God and Jesus Christ which for some of the men in the larger host seemed a rather foolish reason to fight.

At last the two forces stood facing each other, the only thing separating them was the black line of the river.  Twenty stood against two hundred and this only an advance force of the larger coming behind.  The men following Herger and Haarald were here not to win, they knew that.  They were here to die buying their Thane time to raise his army, call his Jarls to him so that he may defend their people, their homes and wives and children from the swords of the Christians.  Each man here knew the hour of his death now and were ready.

The priest leading the enemy strode forward with his standard, right to the waters edge and spoke with a great, booming voice as if he were a true man and not a weakling, womanish southerner not worth the time it would take to split his skull.  “You who stand before this righteous army of the Lord God, lay down your arms and join him now.  There need not be blood shed this day, join with Christ now and you shall all be spared, for if you do not, you will all surely be killed.  Why throw your lives away when you can clearly see the might of the Lord bef…AAAAAAARRRGGGHURGLE”

The arrow knocked him onto his ass, sitting him down as it tore through his pelvis just above his groin, the point exiting below his left buttock and nailing him to the ground.  “That shut him up well Olaaf, an impressive shot despite the fact that he is one who wouldn’t miss what you took!!!”  The roar of the defenders laughter filled the air, sneering, full of contempt.  The priest sat there and bawled, screaming and sobbing, calling for his mother of all things, the snow about him turning to slush from a mix of his blood and piss.  Those behind him looked almost ashamed.

“Enough of this!!!  You have all come here where you have no right, bringing feud on behalf of weaklings such as this puking bitch grovelling in his own filth.  Not one of you is a man that can follow anything like this!!!  If it must be done, come, get it done now, show us you still have some steel in your cocks or turn your arses back home to hide under your mother’s skirts.  I am Herger, son of Haalaf and I say I am the best of all you dogs.  Prove me wrong if you dare, my sword is hungry and will gladly take as many of you to Hel with me as I can let it!!!”  The men behind Herger roared, swords and axes banging shields, all of them howling like wolves before sheep.  They all knew they would die this day so there was no fear for them.

The enemy began to march forward, the cold water swirling around their boots as they began to ford the river.  Arrows arched and took a few as they crossed, hard iron points biting into flesh as the first screams began, but it was only a few before they made it across and battle was met.  The twenty held their ground well, they were all veterans and knew the craft of slaughter well.  The numbers of the enemy would be what won the day here but they would pay so dearly.  The air began to steam, red blood smoked on the blades of swords and axes and turned the snow to bloody slush and mud.  One by one the defenders fell, one born under by his foes, another run through his guts by a long spear, another dying strangling his slayer with his own bowels cut loose from his belly by a low axe swing.  The reek of blood, sweat and shit hung in air that had been pure just scant minutes before.  At the last, it was Herger who stood, shield riven, sword broken halfway to the hilts, panting, bloodied in a ring of his foes.  They stood, poised for a moment like dogs held at bay by a wolf or a bear.  Herger looked out at them, his eyes blue icy chips of fire, a mad grin on his face as he spat blood.

“You will remember us, all the rest of your days, and know that we were the better men”  His last words rang in the air as he threw his body into the wall of men, sword rising and falling until they tore the life from him.  At the last, he was on his knees, eyes skyward.  In the end, they may have killed fifty, perhaps a bit more and they would never know if they had bought their folk enough time, but in the hearts of those they had faced, whether they could admit it to themselves or not, these men had won.

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5 Responses to “Today Is A Good Day”

  1. emisformaker Says:

    Will you write my book for me? All I seem to be able to do is plan it. The only caveat is that I get full editorial control, especially over punctuation.

    • So I take it that you like this then? I would love to write your novel for you, however I think this an unlikely solution as I can’t seem to write my own novel, lol. I understand about the grammar and punctuation, but were there parts of this piece you thought worked in particular, or didn’t work? I felt rather odd after posting it, as if it was talking around the story I had actually wanted to tell. Give me more of an idea of how you read this if you can, I would really appreciate it.

      • emisformaker Says:

        I think that your wording really captures an authentic voice that matches your content well – as though the story was narrated by another of their party that remained unseen and was partially psychic. The crudeness of their jokes, the simple poetry of their thoughts and musings were things that worked particularly well. I thought the pacing was good, too: it’s about waiting for the battle, and two thirds of the story describes the waiting.
        I can do a line-by-line analysis if you want.

      • A line by line analysis won’t be necessary but I do appreciate the feedback. You seem to have picked up elements that I hadn’t really appreciated before as when I finished this piece I thought it particularly ugly, like it didn’t flow very well and had almost no poetry too it at all. This is why I think another critical eye can be so valuable as a part of the process. That being said, I do still want to ask if there was anything that you think didn’t work, from a story stand point? I personally thought the ending felt rushed and somewhat incomplete, not really standing up to some of the passages that had come before. I would also confess myself curious as to what it left you with, what kind of meaning did you take away from it? I had not intended to write something that appears to be glorifying the ideal of honorable death in battle but that seems to be where I ended up anyway. Anything further you have to say will as always be most welcome. 🙂

  2. Lilly Iamson Says:

    This is great. I love the passion and flow. I love the language and the feel of this whole piece and hope maybe you’ll write more like this

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