“What?” Ulfr demanded, his smug certainty suddenly evaporating into angry confusion. A vein twitched at his temple as his eyes grew wide.
Kaldr’s blood boiled in fury, not merely at the truth of having been ensorcelled – enthralled! – but at the lack of mettle of the man who had controlled him. With the practice of long years, he forced his emotions down. This was a battle like any other. Calmness was the order of the day.
The sounds of battle drifted in through the arrow slits. The Vidofnings drew nearer at a rapid clip, if Kaldr was any judge of matters. Thjofgrir had not held, and although he hoped his Mate had not fallen Kaldr was glad.
“Have you forgotten, Usurper?” Kaldr breathed out his icy rage. “By your own words, if I go to seek justice, I will forget, and you will escape.”
He chuckled bitterly. “No, perhaps you will not escape this time. Breidelstein cannot hold Stigander back now, if the men defending the hold have even a fragment of my doubt. By all reports, they have more than that. But that seems an un-fitting end for a man of your stature, does it not?
“So you command that I go. I will not. You command that I forget. I will not. Consider it my last loyalty, as Breidelsteinn’s Ice Wolf. If justice cannot be had… then only injustice remains, does it not?”
“You cannot!” Ulfr responded, a hint of desperation beginning to enter his voice. “You are bound in the Weaving! You should not be able to even think such things!”
“Have you forgotten so easily, Thane, your loyal captain’s advice about relying on magic?” Kaldr advanced on the throne, marveling at the ease of it. He drew his blade with a slow, satisfying rasp. “Magic fails. I do not know what the ritual performed on Stigander’s ships did – but something has unraveled. The Witch’s threads have slipped – and I am unbound.”
He paused. “Your crimes against Breidelsteinn and its people demand death, but I do not wish to kill an unarmed man. Draw your sword and die on your feet, if you are a man at all.”
Ulfr bore no weapon, though the great blade, Grjóthrun, hung in the Hall as the sign of his Thaneship. The Usurper scrambled from the throne toward the hanging sword. “Does your fifteen-year oath mean nothing to you?”
“Strange you should say that, Ulfr, considering that you were just mocking me for my loyalty.” Kaldr strode easily after the fleeing man. “But if you think about it, you’ll see that my oath demands this.”
Ulfr grasped Grjóthrun and turned, confusion evident on his face as he raised the blade in unpracticed hands. Kaldr responded with the feral grin of a wolf who has captured his prey. “As you said – I am fated to be loyal to Breidelstein’s Thane.” And a man who makes thralls of his free subjects is no Thane.
Ulfr opened his mouth – to protest, likely, that Kaldr had made his point for him – then stiffened as he realized the true meaning of Kaldr’s words.
The sounds of fighting echoed more strongly through the Hall. They were at the gate, by the sound of things, but if Thjofgrir could not hold the gate would crumble. He maintained his icy smile, though it did not touch his eyes. “Stigander and his men draw near, Ulfr. One way or another, it ends.”
Ulfr raised the blade with a shout and lunged at Kaldr, throwing himself entirely off-balance and nearly falling on his face. He had spent decades in indolence, and Kaldr was a Captain of warriors, trained as a warrior himself from his youth. Kaldr stepped aside easily and struck, his blade steady and sure. Ulfr’s body collapsed to the stone floor, his head rolling over twice before coming to rest in the rapidly expanding pool of his own blood.
“You lived as a coward and a tyrant. For honor, you should have died as a dog, executed by the rightful Thane when he retakes his place.” He regarded the headless body of the man who had raped his home for so long. “But we cannot permit Breidelstein go from the hands of a Usurper to those of a Kinslayer.”
This would be his last act, in all likelihood, but it would be the act of a free man. The price for killing one of the Thane’s blood – no matter how deserved – would need to be paid. But with his sacrifice, Breidelstein would be able to move forward.
I wish I could see it.
Kaldr did not give a second glance to the body on the floor, but moved to sit on the edge of the dais by the foot of the throne. He rested his sword point-down between his feet, his elbows on his knees, and took a deep breath as he awaited his Fate.
When the door swung open not many minutes later, he faced the true Thane with the equanimity he had always prided himself on.
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