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Chapter Four

 With a shout, Amundr charged after them.  He might not be old enough to be considered a man by some, but he knew what the vergrinn would do to those younglings and he wasn’t going to stand by and let it happen.

Ahead of him he heard the muffled cries of the children.  Behind him he heard frustrated shouts and heavy footsteps running through the forest.  Suddenly he burst through a thorny bush and into a clearing where he faced eight vergrinn.  The children had been tossed aside and were whimpering at the base of a tree while the vergrinn were all waiting and facing the bushes through which Amundr had just charged.

“It’s a trap!” he shouted.  The vergrinn bared their fangs and started to maneuver to encircle him cautiously.  He was only one man, but he was armed with a spear and the spear still displayed evidence of its recent use.

Amundr backed slowly until he was near the base of a giant oak.  He might not be able to take eight vergrinn, but he wouldn’t make it easy for them and he intended to make them remember him.  His grip tightened around his spear as he backed into the tree trunk.  “You want me, come and get me!” he said.

The vergrinn didn’t understand his speech, but they clearly understood his meaning.  Amundr’s spear was positioned to protect against the center of the vergrinn formation, so when the beast to his left was the first to lunge forward Amundr briefly wondered what death would feel like.  His thoughts were interrupted by the spears that came out of the bushes to his left and intercepted the charging monster.  Several more spears emerged from the bushes to his right and suddenly there were six vergrinn facing eight spearmen and one intimidating knight.

The next thirty seconds flashed by in a blinding swirl of teeth, claws, spears, and Hundolfr’s sword.  When Amundr paused to catch his breath, all eight vergrinn lay bleeding on the ground along with three of the spearmen and Sir Hundolfr.  The spearmen were already dead, and as Fastbjorn cradled Hundolfr’s head in his arms the knight gasped with his dying breath “Vergrinn… never smart enough… never patient enough… for something… like… this…  Remember… your oaths.”

Fastbjorn, who was the least bloody of the survivors, gathered the children together and shepherded them back towards the road.  Amundr and the other three spearmen gathered the weapons from the dead.  “Where do we bury them?” Amundr asked.

The other three exchanged a look.  One of them, Hallr, spoke up.  “There is no time.  We know that the vergrinn are in these woods but we don’t know how many or how close.  We can take their gear but we must leave the bodies.”

“But they’ll be eaten!”

“Lad, if we stop to bury them then the vergrinn will probably catch up with us and eat us.  We can’t risk a pyre and stones are too few here for a mound.  We have no picks or shovels, so digging would take too long.  We swore an oath to protect these people.  What do you think Hundolfr was trying to tell us before he died?”

Amundr hung his head.  They were right, of course.  Let the dead bury the dead, the living had more important work to do.  He trudged back with them towards the road.  Somehow the knowledge that he had fought and slain his enemies didn’t outweigh the grief he felt over the loss of his companions.

***

By the time they reached the road, the wagons were almost ready to move out.  The horses had been calmed and the minor injuries inflicted upon the children and their defenders had been tended.  One of the horses of a fallen spearman had taken the place of the dead cart horse.  It wasn’t as strong and it was more temperamental, but it was better than not having enough horses and slowing the wagons down.  The remaining horses were tethered to the last wagon in line.

Aoalbert was busy trying to sever the head of the vergrinn Amundr had slain.  Saegrimr leaned heavily upon his spear as he caught his breath.

“We must move out.  Come along milord.” Olafr said as he rode up, leading Aoalbert’s steed.

“I will have my trophy before we leave.”

Olafr’s voice dropped to a whisper, “Milord, the only trophies worth taking are the ones you earn yourself.”

“You will not speak to me so!”  Everyone around fell silent as the youth rebuked the man.  Aoalbert regained his composure and spoke again in normal tones.  “I will take this trophy so that we may show the Duke the strength in arms of our people.  I do this to honor all of us.”

Olafr shook his head and kept his voice low.  “Sir Hundolfr and the others laid down their lives for us.  If we tarry here who will we be laying our lives down for?  We will show the Duke our worth by bringing these people to safety.

Aoalbert stood and wiped his bloody sword on the fur of one of the vergrinn corpses.  “This beast was far too small to make a decent trophy.  I will take the head of a vergrinn worthy of my station.  At least we have now met and defeated the vergrinn that had you so worried yesterday evening.  We will continue down the road at all speed.”  He swung astride his horse and proceeded to the head of the column.

***

As Amundr trotted alongside Saegrimr he said “You appear to have done all right.”

“I held my ground until your father got there.  The others saw you chasing those beasts and took off after you.  Hallr said that you got two more in the woods.”

“I may have.  It was all a blur to me.  I have always wanted to be a man.  Now that I am here I wish my father could tote me around on his back and tell me that the vergrinn are just a child’s bad dream.”  He sighed as he glanced at the nearest wagon “I fear that no matter how many vergrinn we kill we will not keep them all from their supper.  Let’s see how long we can delay it.”

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