The Wolf of the North

Submitted into Contest #205 in response to: Make your protagonist go through a rite of passage.... view prompt

2 comments

Historical Fiction Coming of Age Fantasy

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

In the medieval age, the Vikings were known by their enemies as ruthless raiders who pillaged and plundered all along the Franisk and Anglo-Saxon coasts. They were unrelenting in their conquests, with some establishing realms. Yet as time changed, the Viking way of life changed too. They became more like their neighbors, the ones they raided years ago. They became traders, forgo their pagan rituals, and put aside the berserkers they once were. However, only some people remembered. To the south, the Byzantine rulers heard stories from merchants detailing the exploits of famous Vikings like Harlad Haldrada and Brjon Ironside. Impressed by these tales, The Byznaintes wished to offer any Northman a place in their court as a Varangian, the elite bodyguard of the king and queen. Soon, a tournament was established to select the very best of the Northman to join the emperor's court. Since then, countless Northerners, men, and women have joined the call and fought for the position. Thus our story begins in Constantinople on the eve of this year's tournament, following one such Northman.

Constantinople

The city was alive with the hustle and bustle of people making their way to the area. Everyone wanted to see this year's competitors. The emperor allowed young Viking men and women to partake in the games for the first time. All young braves, wishing to prove themselves, flocked in massive droves. All had their own reasons to join. Some wanted glory, others riches. Some even wanted to begin their own tales. However, one, in particular, had an altogether different reason. Hailing from the frozen North from a small clan was a young man no older than fifteen winters. He had silver hair, deep blue eyes, and was very skinny but still muscular. His skin was pale, with many calling him a Draughr or undead. He paid no mine to their jabs. His sole focus was on the tournament. Wearing no armor and carrying no weapons except for two small knives, the other competitors made the young man a social outcast. He did not care. His sole focus was on winning the tournament.

Underneath the area, the competitors trained for the fight to come. While everyone practiced with their weapons, the outcast did the opposite. On the far side of the room, he prayed in a corner.

"Odin, creator of all that's good, please grant me your audience. Lead me so I might slay my enemies. I ask this of you with absolute devotion, o mighty one. Empower me with your sacred light," he said softly.

"Praying again, Ulfbjorn?" said a voice from behind. The young man turned around and saw a female Viking no older than him. He smiled at her.

"Hello, Ranveig," he said to her. Ranveig Nikolasdottir also came from a small clan like him. Yet her clan was already revered among the Northerns. Her clan was a clan of berserkers, elite Viking warriors who wore the skins of bears into battle and fought without fear. While many in the clan were males, she was the first female berserker and wished to make a name for herself in the emperor's court.

"I see you are not training, as usual," she told him. He let out a soft chuckle and got up from the dirt floor.

"You have your ways of winning. I have mine," he replied back. Dusting himself off, the pair conversed with each other until the announcers called for them. Rushing over to meet the others, they listen to the official instructions for the tournament.

"Each of you will be called individually to face the emperor's challenge. Each one is unique. Some of you may fight waves of enemies or some of the elite Byzantine guards. Others may fight wild beasts. The possibilities are endless," said the announcer.

"How will we know if we have gained the emperor's favor?" asked Ranveig. The announcer explained that the emperor would watch for technique, skills, character, and overall performance. If one should succeed in all categories, the emperor will make a decree.

With the rules established, everyone patiently waited for their turn. Taking a seat, Ulfbjorn and Ranveig continued with their conversation.

"You know, I never asked you why you entered the tournament. You don't seem the type of person who would join," asked Ranveig.

"My reasons are ... different than others. Glory does not drive me, nor do the promises of riches," stated Ulfbjorn.

"Then what?" she asked. He then let out a sigh.

"Where I come from, we are assigned at birth a date of which we must become men. Upon reaching this date, men in the clan must undergo a ritual of sorts to unlock their inner beast. These beasts are the protectors of the clan."

"So this is why you came to the tournament? To awaken this beast?" she asked. Ulborn nodded his head.

"Indeed. When I was born, I was small and feeble. Many believed I would die, but the gods seemed fit to let me live. However, they played a curse on me, making it impossible to awaken my beast. Without it, I can never go back home with honor," he said. Ranveuig was intrigued by this. She had heard of such rituals within her Berserker clan, yet to learn of another following the same customs was rare.

"Tell me, what clan do you come from?" she asked. Before he could respond, the announcer called her name.

"Seems we'll have to continue this later," she said. Grabbing her ax and shield, she followed the announcer up to the stage of the area. Back down below, Ulfbjorn could hear the crowd's muffled sounds and the emperor's voice. He then heard Ranveig's loud war cry, which excited the crowd. He smiled at the thought of her battling a horde of enemies. After that comforting thought, Ulfbjron closed his eyes and waited for the end. Hours passed, and suddenly, he heard the sound of the area door opening again. He looked from his seat and saw the announcer followed by two guards carrying something in white. Ulfbrjon needed clarification.

"Where's Ranveig?" he asked. The announcer ignored his question and asked the guards to leave it there. He then turned to face Ulfbjorn and told him it was his time. Ulfbjorn needed clarification. He still needed his answer.

"Where. Is. Ranveig," he said louder. The announcer groaned and asked the guards to remove the white cloth. Untying the not at the top, the guard loosened the folds to reveal a beaten and bloodied Ranveig. Her face was blue and purple. Her armor was torn to shreds, and parts of her body were missing. Ulfbjorn was at a loss for words. What could have done this?

"We must go," said the announcer. Ulfbjorn clenched his fists, hardened his heart, and glanced at the man. With a firm nod, he followed him up to the arena. When he reached the very top, he was greeted by a thundering wave of cheers and applause. Ulfbrjon could care less about them. For now, his goal had turned from personal gain to revenge. As he made his way to the center of the sage, he turned and faced the emperor. The young Viking stood and waited as the emperor made the same remarks he had done previously. When he was finished, he turned his attention to the young Viking.

"Northerner, what is your name?" asked the emperor.

"Ulfbjorn Vargson," he said aloud. His name was somewhat unusual, even for a Northerner. Nonetheless, the emperor applauded him for coming to the tournament. As the emperor continued rambling, Ulfbjorn ignored him and thought about what demon he would face. Just then, the emperor made the announcement.

"Citizens of Constantinople, today you have seen many brave men and women fight for the chance to serve your emperor's court. Yet none have succeeded. Will this young man be the first to change that?' he asked aloud. The crowd's response was mixed at best.

"Then, let us begin. Brave Ulfbjorn, I present to you your opponent, Cacus, the fire-breathing Giant," said the emperor. Turning around, Ulfbrjon saw a massive gate behind him opening. Once fully opened, the ground began to shake with each step. Then, emerging from the darkness was a being one would say was a child of a giant. His features were large and broad, and his arms and legs resembled tree trunks. In his hand was a massive metal club with spikes all around it. The Gaint roared at him, showing a row of blunt teeth. This would make any average person fearful. However, Ulfbjorn was different from most people. Unsheathing his knives, he charged directly at full speed. As the Giant swung down to strike him, the young boy evaded and slashed at the Giant's heels. The blades cut into the skin but not deep enough to do actual harm. He then tried attacking the Giant's unprotected legs. However, he opened himself for an attack as the Giant grabbed the small boy and threw him several feet across the area floor. The young Viking landed hard on the ground, coughing up blood. He gritted his teeth and pulled himself up. His body screamed in pain, but he could not back down.

This time it was the Giant's turn to charge at him like a raging bull. The young Viking moved aside at the last second, narrowly avoiding the Giant's massive foot. Breathing hard, he jumped onto the trunk-like leg and climbed up. Cacus grunted as they tried reaching for the boy. Ulfbjorn reached the top of Cacus's head and furiously stabbed directly into the Giant's head. However, he encountered the same problem: the skull was too thick for the blades to penetrate. Suddenly, a massive hand reached above and grabbed the young boy. Then Cacus began to squeeze Ulfbjorn, crushing the small boy.

Ulfbjorn screamed in pain as he felt his bones break in the Giant's hand. Cacus let out a deep laugh, feeling victorious once more. At first, the emperor and the audience believed another Northman would fall to the Giant, but something suddenly changed. Something no one could predict. Ulfbjorns scream turned into a roar of his own. The young Viking's appearance began to change in front of everyone. His pale complexion turned a ghost white, and his silver hair hand turned black as soot. But that was not even the most shocking part. His face also began to change from a man to that of a beast. More specifically, a wolf. Black rings formed around the outside of his eyes, and his teeth began showing a mouthful of fangs. Stunned, Cacus dropped the child and saw the boy's complete transformation unfold. Ulfbjorn got on all fours as his body further changed. His legs began becoming more wolf-like, and down his back was a thick fur coat. His hands turned into claws, each tip with a razor-sharp digit. Foam began oozing from the side of his mouth. No one in the crowd said a word. All were stunned and horrified. 

Once his transformation had finished, Ulfbjorn turned his gaze back onto the giant Cacus. He let out a growl and then leaped into the air, mouth open and teeth exposed. Before the Giant could react, Ulfbjorn lunged on the Giant's neck and chomped down on his throat. Caus was gurgled and tried to pull the young Viking off him. However, Ulfbjorns bite was too strong. He then dug his claws into the throat, puncturing the skin and drawing blood. Cacus was now scared. He then tried hitting the Northman with his club, but the blows did not deter him even as he struck him. Suddenly, Ulfbrjon tore a massive chunk out of the Giant's neck, with more blood gushing out of him. Cacus stumbled for a moment before collapsing onto the ground. His body fell with such power it shook the very area. With the Gaint gasping for his last few breaths, Ulfbjron went for the kill. Using one of his claws, he slashed open the jugular vein, causing even more blood to spill out. Struggling to breathe, Cacus made one vain attempt to gram the Viking, but Gaint went limp and lay dead on the ground before he could. His red blood stained the yellow sand. With the battle over, all was quiet. No one could believe what had just transpired before them. Not even the emperor himself could make sense of it all. As for Ulfbjorn, he did not care what came next. For him, he had accomplished his goal. He had awakened his beast and become a man. No longer was he Ulfbjorn Vargson, the small. He was now Ulfbjorn Vargson, the Ulfhednar. A werewolf of the North.  

July 07, 2023 18:22

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2 comments

Raj Bridges
17:59 Jul 14, 2023

I love the setting, especially the first paragraph! Giving the context like that gave the story and setting much more grounding. I found the fantasy elements of a giant and werewolf unexpected but very interesting! The idea of a warrior having an inner beast (that ended up being literal rather than figurative) was a cool piece of worldbuilding. I also liked the characterization of Ulfbjorn, especially the idea of a warrior that prays rather than trains or warms up. I was a bit bored after the historical introduction up until the the convers...

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Gabriel Garcia
18:10 Jul 14, 2023

Thank you for your honest feedback. This was the first story I ever submitted to a reedsy prompt

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