The Adventurer's Guild
Ale flowed as freely down his chin as it did his throat. His head was cast back and with great, greedy gulps he drained the skin of its burden before tossing it aside. The limp sack landed on Kristopher’s fearful face but the boy didn’t flinch. The dead don’t do much of that. Besides the rotting and the staring they don’t do much of anything. The man stalked among their still forms, these who were once people but now were now mere masks of humanity.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, happily.
Hakon knelt by a man still clutching the boar spear in his gut, his slack features expressing an otherwise alarming lack of concern for his predicament. Another thing the dead do, or a lack of something they should be doing, he momentarily couldn’t decide. At the fellows hip, a small flask with a fancy, expensive-looking silver cap, elegantly shaped into the cross. Hakon plucked the flask from the belt, threw the cap over his shoulder, and once more threw his head back.
He opened his eyes, taking in the dark swell of Eisen’s skies, and spotted it there, near the top of the tree. That damned axe. The flask plopped into the mud by his feet, forgotten. Hakon gingerly stepped, hopped and skipped over the dead, ever closing on the lonely birch. He’d seen Karl catch a bolt in mid-throw and the axe had sailed high, arcing far across the battlefield for as long as he could afford to watch it.
This bloodbath might never amount to anything meaningful, but he’d have that axe. If he’d never insulted the man who bore it, these poor saps might yet have lived. Perhaps briefly longer. Some of these fools were fundamentalists. He couldn’t remember if he’d been on the same side as some, nor which side he was actually on at all. Something to do with a church? The axe glinted despite the dull, forbidding weather and Hakon licked his lips. Birches are troublesome climbs.
He peered at it with the eye that wasn’t swollen shut, struggling to gauge the height. He put his hand to the bark, let out a shout of pain as his other arm weakly moved a few degrees in the tree’s direction then returned to his side. Troublesome, indeed.
It was as he’d decided he should perhaps just cut it down with something that he thought he heard something behind him. As he turned his head, a massive fist punched his good eye. Twisting and stumbling all at once, he thud into the tree which, in an act of insensitivity, pushed the arrowhead in his side slightly deeper as it knocked the wind out of him. Karl reached down and hoisted Hakon to his feet. Even as the fear gripped him, he marvelled at the man’s impossible physique. Most saw Hakon as a massive figure, a brawny, towering northerner from the islands of giants.
Yet here he half stood, half hung in a true giant’s grip. Karl’s fingers wrapped around his neck, fearsome power in each one.
“Lucky you survivin’ all this jus’ so’s I can squeeze your eyes outta yer face,” Karl spat, “Vesten honey sucker!”
Hakon kicked out, but Karl’s legs were like tree trunks themselves. He wriggled, punched, grasped, but the implaccable monster that held him couldn’t be budged, hurt or unbalanced. Desperately, Hakon reached up toward the axe, its gleaming curves unhelpfully out of reach. Well, fine. He had tempted this fate and if you bother fate enough it might just deal with you. The internal conflict subsided. Gunvald knew he wanted to die, and when the unfathomable, personal darkness roared up from within he leapt to meet it.
Shortly thereafter, Hakon woke up to find a shining axe shallowly, but lethally, buried in the top of Karl’s head, the man’s fingers still around his throat. Few have ever felt so sorry for themselves to find themselves yet breathing. Eventually, he prised the axe from the giants’ skull. Examining the blade, he found an inscription along the axe-eye.
He did not know many Eisen words, but it did not take long to learn the word for revenge when one finds a country at war. Revenge. Turning it over in his hand, he’d later blame a concussion for seeing Hakon’s face in the blade.