A flashback insight into Ragnar’s past from Blade Breaker (The Shadow Wolf Sagas #1)
The Shadow Wolf Sagas is meant to follow the same structure as a series of detective novels (like the Dresden files if you are a fantasy fan), with the central character appearing in a series of episodic novels that build over time. The central conceit is that little clues into Ragnar’s past and the mystery surrounding it build over time.
They call the place the Spearmarch because the tall pines loom like the pikes of an army alongside the old, well-travelled roads. It was peaceful, deep within the royal Domains and surrounded by the lands of the Great Clans on every side. No one expects an ambush in such a place.
We only had a handful of scouts and outriders. These were overwhelmed instantly. Thus, when the depths of the Spearmarch disgorged a horde of Skraelings fit to overrun an army ten times our size, it stunned me. How could such a thing happen, here in the bosom of our lands? Such was the sense of disbelief that men who would normally throw themselves into danger lost heart. When the enemy charged, shaking the ground under their innumerable boots all seemed lost.
Yet, Siggurd Stormbreaker, the High King of all the North, refused to run. He moved calmly to the front of the army, pushing his way through his protesting Kingsguard, myself the only member of the Shadow Wolf Clan honoured with a position among them in more than a hundred years. His gaze swept the enemy and then he spat dismissively and lifted his sword, Garmsbita, above his head. Invoking the Gods to witness the battle he rallied. His last line, the last words from my king are still clear in my mind.
“Stand with me now brothers and let us show Gods and Ancestors that we are brave and true; Come ruin! Come glory! Come courage and red joy!”
We met them head on, charging into the onrushing horde instead of taking up a defensive position. Thyra was beside me, bright and strong. At first we made great headway. We formed around Siggurd and clove into the screaming, frenzied Skraelings, seemingly unstoppable. Were we not the men and women of the North? Was Siggurd Stormbreaker not the very king who had routed The Devout in his youth?
Bright blades rose and fell, red with blood. The air was thick with the war-shouts of the North and muttered oaths to the Gods of my people. We killed and killed and killed, and although the enemy was all around us, we did not waver.
Then a Murder-Wight, fearsome and fell-handed came upon the High King at the forefront. Dread was the blade it wielded leaving a trail of shadow in the air. It cut down two of the best men among us in a heartbeat and then it was upon the King. They fought and it seemed to me that both armies paused and parted to watch the struggle. The Wight was swift and strong, but the king was hard as iron and battle-wise. A sudden stumble caused my heart to leap, but it was just a ruse. Cunning Old Siggurd caught that terrible sword on Garmsbita and then struck the Wight’s head from its shoulders in a single blow. It was glorious.
For that one moment we felt as if we could do anything. We howled and my voice mingled with that of Thyra screaming next to me. Our weapons were light as air, our armour was unbreakable. Each man that fell was a hero. We pushed on; full of life, all cares forgotten.
Then, just as the enemy seemed sure to break, I caught sight of a shadow behind the High King and then he was gone. There is something broken in my memory of that moment. My mind cannot make sense of the image, and it is as if the identity of the killer was ripped from me. This recollection was no different.
When Siggurd fell, the tip of our spear was blunted. Confusion reigned; and we faltered as word of the king’s death spread like wildfire in dry grass.
The remaining Murder-Wights rallied the Skraelings and drove them forward once more. They pushed into us. We tried to hold, but we could not reform our lines and, as flooding waters will find the holes in a dike, they surged through the gaps. Our formation disintegrated. Men went down, too fast, too many. All those who died were as brothers to me.
We fought in knots, then pairs, then finally alone. For every Skraeling we killed two more took its place. The tide of bodies drew me away from Thyra and my heart fell as a monstrous Wight came upon her, brandishing a smoking red blade in one hand and the heads of my brethren the other. The berserk came upon me then and much of what happened next is lost to me.
Thyra made her name on the field that day. Where most were killed or cursed, she stood her ground and became a legend. The tale of Thyra Hurnsdottir, The Unbroken Spear, of how she and her band of ten guarded the High King’s body from the horde until reinforcements came, is well known. They were they only survivors of the Drajinskyg, the Kingslaying at Spearmarch.
As for me, I remember fighting for what seemed an eternity, consumed by rage and heedless of my wounds. Somewhere along the way, my hand was cut off, but it seemed a small matter then. Then suddenly the berserk ended. The enemy was all around me. A blade blossomed from my chest. My mouth was full of blood. It was impossible to draw breath. Looking back, my eyes met the dead gaze of a Murder-Wight. It tossed me to the ground and the Skraelings closed on me hacking and biting, filling my eyes with red.
I died and rose again, seven days later, dragged out of my grave by wolves, only to be branded a coward and exiled by my clan, despite Thyra’s protests.