Things Left Unseiðr

by Kirisaki Nizuki (霧崎弐透)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/227887.html)

Shouts still rang out through the war camp, echoing through the shallow valley and making it difficult to tell which side of the besieged city they came from. The tents surrounding the breached stone walls sported almost as many scars and stitches as did the warriors running to and fro, each focusing single-mindedly on his assigned task with little regard for the corpses littering the blood-stained grass underfoot.

The fourth wave had fallen back after the walls had been breached, both yielding with only a bit of reluctance to Commander Ragnar’s orders. The man’s voice rumbled through the valley like thunder from Thor’s mighty hammer, audible above the din even when one’s own voice was not. Had it been anyone else leading the siege this season, the ferocious Ulfhednar berserkers in their wolfskin coats would have forced their way into the city, its houses, and any peasant men or women holed up within. But it was not yet time. Ragnar was said to know everything except defeat, and his warriors held none but the gods in higher esteem. The fifth and final assault would not begin until he gave the command.

Trudging through the camp with a pail of scented water in hand, the only man who looked upon the carnage around him with distaste stepped gracefully around a bloody axe wedged into the ground. Its wielder was still holding it in a white-knuckled grip, unwilling to let go even with his torso lying a good ten paces away. The man with the wash bucket closed his eyes for a moment and lowered his head, his tangled brown curls falling in around his ashen face as he whispered a silent prayer to the Valkyries for the fallen warrior’s soul.

Ulfvald had never understood the appeal of the annual campaign. The other men of his clan revelled as much in bloodshed by day as they did in honeyed mead by night. When they were not at war, he loved the culture of his people, the food, the stories, the music, the poetry. But everyone else seemed to see that as just one half of the rhythm of their lives. For him, it was the only half he could relate to. In the winter, his preferred half was dominant, but with the turn of the seasons came the return of this unpleasant business. And to what end? So the dead warriors’ souls could be taken up to fight with the gods in yet more wars?

He turned to continue onward with the bucket he had been asked to fetch, yet a particular sound made him stop abruptly. With all the chaos raging around camp, no other man would have heard the faint palpitation, but Ulfvald knew it was a sign of trouble. It was the beat of a cowardly heart, seeking a way to convince itself that it was not afraid; Ulfvald knew from experience that a weak soul in a strong body was not to be taken lightly. Reaching his free hand into his white robe, he grasped his bronze pendant tightly, feeling its radiant energy curling eagerly up his forearm and making the fine hairs stand on end.

“What do you want, fat man?” said Ulfvald, his eyes narrowing as he turned to face the interloper. The man in front of him was indeed large, his shield and spear the size of toys next to his girth.

“Fucking stroðinn,” spat the man, making an obscene gesture with his spear. “Been penetrated yet today? That’s what you seiðr witches do all day, isn’t it? How you work your cowardly magic?”

The ignorant man knew nothing, as always. Ulfvald sorely wished to show him what the mystical art could do. But he felt his teacher, Lady Vanadis, trying to reach out to his mind and remembered his task at hand.

“I don’t have time for this,” said Ulvald. He made to walk away, but the man kicked something in his direction. He had to sidestep to avoid the severed head, water from the pail spattering over the sides and soaking his boot.

“What’s your hurry, woman? Busy fetching rags for the witches while the real men are out spilling blood?” The man took two steps toward Ulfvald, who took two steps back. The shape of his pendant burned against his palm, eager to tear into the offensive man’s soul like a piece of tender meat, but then another thunderous command pierced the air and the man turned his head to listen.

Ulfvald hurried away, though the man continued his taunts. “That’s right, stroðinn, run back to the whore tent where you belong. Out here you might be mistaken for part of the booty.”

Insults like stroðinn were among the worst one could utter to a Viking man, as they accused him of ergi, or effeminacy. Courage and masculinity was highly prized among the Vikings, and to be used sexually by another man was considered the most passive and feminine of acts. Sure it was fine to fuck another man; the warriors did that to the conquered quite routinely. But to be on the receiving end, and willingly? Ulfvald never understood the double standard. If anything, bottoming took more courage.

The only socially acceptable way to respond to such an accusation would be to clear his name through a duel. But Ulfvald was not a normal Viking man. He was a seiðman, one of the very few men who could use the female mystical art of seiðr. He couldn’t clear his name if he tried.

But he was in a hurry right now anyway. Lady Vanadis, a wise and powerful seiðr practitioner, the army’s lead seiðkona, had been injured in the mystical struggle with the seiðkona that was protecting the city.

As her apprentice, it was Ulfvald’s duty to tend the wounds to her body and soul, and as the Lady’s eldest apprentice had been killed in the second wave assault, Ulfvald was the only one in camp who could do the latter. Using seiðr divided the attention of the soul between one’s own body and the surrounding world, leaving an unprotected practitioner easy prey. Lady Vanadis was guarded by some of the strongest Ulfhednar berserkers in the camp, but even they could not protect her from attacks to the soul.

Ulfvald wove deftly in and out of the horse-hitches until he came to the large rectangular tent he was looking for, standing amid an almost circular patch of vibrant green grass, free of the blood and grit that seemed to permeate the rest of the valley; well, mostly free. Disconcertingly, there seemed to be some blood and a few chunks of wood inside the edge of the barrier. Normally he would have shed his mud- and blood-covered boots before stepping into the ring protected by Lady Vanadis, but the crack in the barrier worried him.

A half-dozen enormous wolves lounged on the grass around the entrance, heads on their paws, resting, but alert. Clearly no warriors had broken through, so why was he feeling so unsettled? Two burly old guards, their beards reaching a good halfway down to their knees, spread their halberds and nodded solemnly to him as he passed. These seasoned warriors had been in countless campaigns before, and had a justfied fear of seiðr; if they still disapproved of a man’s learning the mystical art, they didn’t show it.

The moment he entered the tent, Ulfvald felt a shiver pass over his arms. Three of the younger apprentices were talking in hushed voices in the corner, but the dais in the centre was empty.

“Where is Lady Vanadis?” he asked, his hands trembling as he called out for her in his mind. He had just heard her voice moments ago. Where was she?

The young apprentices stopped chattering and busied themselves with a half-hearted examination of the carpets, half-dried tears visible on their cheeks. A lump grew in Ulfvald’s throat, though he couldn’t bring himself to swallow. He closed his eyes and strained his ears, listening for Lady Vanadis’s calm and comforting heartbeat, the one he had homed in on so many times when being chased through the streets as a child, but he could hear only noise.

Ulfvald dropped the scented pail and rushed back out of the tent just in time to see a body in the distance being carried away toward the grave site – a body covered in a white shroud.

“No!” he shouted. “No, Freya, please, don’t take her yet! We still need her!”

Cursing the goddess’s awful timing, he started off after the corpse-bearers, but a boy with barely a shadow of a beard caught him by the arm. “Sir Ulfvald,” he said. “You’re Sir Ulfvald, right?”

The unfamiliar term of respect threw him off-guard momentarily, though he craned his head to keep sight of the procession. “Yes, what is it?”

The boy tilted his head, his amber eyes wide with curiosity. “So it’s true that you don’t have a beard. How old are you?”

“I don’t have time for this,” Ulfvald said, grasping at resentment lest he fall into a panic.

“No, Sir Ulfvald, I’m sorry,” said the boy, clinging desperately to the sleeve of Ulfvald’s robe. “I– I have a message.”

“Then speak quickly,” he said.

“Sir Ragnar needs to speak with you, immediately.”

Watching the corpse-bearers disappear into the distant woods, Ulfvald sighed. “Fine.” He turned brusquely toward Ragnar’s tent and hurried off. “You don’t need to use Sir with a seiðman, child. There’s no need to show such respect.”

“I know,” said the boy, a tear welling up in his eye. “But there should be. Sir, I want to learn too someday, I’m–” But Ulfvald had walked out of earshot without any sign of hearing him.

When he got to the commander’s tent, he found Ragnar outside with several of his warriors. Ulfvald cursed under his breath. Ragnar never showed him disrespect when he came to the seiðr tent to coordinate the attacks with Lady Vanadis, but in front of the men, he would no doubt need to save face.

He could already feel the scornful stares of the warriors drilling into him as Ragnar beckoned him to step up, though none dared to speak before their commander. “Ulfvald,” he said, “I have just heard report that Lady Vanadis has succumbed to her injuries.”

I’m sure that’s ever so inconvenient for you, thought Ulfvald. If you hadn’t decided to attack such a well-fortified city, she would still be with us. “She is no doubt with Lady Freya now,” Ulfvald answered, trying to hold back his tears. The warriors would be angry enough at having to retreat and await the arrival of another seiðkona; it would be better not to show any weakness in front of them. “She had always wanted to meet the goddess.”

“You will take her place,” said Ragnar gravely.

With that, everyone present went silent. The warriors looked as shocked as he was. “Commander, how can you say that?” said a burly warrior, stepping forward, his face twisted in disgust. “We cannot fight under the taint of this wretched witch-man’s ergi.” There were murmurs of agreement and indignation among the warriors, but none other dared to speak up.

“Then you, Grimulf, are a coward. Let it be said that Grimulf Grettisson has so little confidence in his manhood that he fears fighting under a seiðman‘s spell might turn him into a mewling woman.”

The red-bearded warrior’s face grew bright red and shook with anger and he raised his axe as Ragnar stared him down. The other warriors laughed heartily, but gave Grimulf some space. The Vikings loved a good exchange of insults more than an exchange of blows; the legendary barbs traded by sharp-tongued Loki and the other gods were favourite stories at mealtime. Grimulf’s only honourable response would be to challenge Commander Ragnar to combat, a feat they all knew he had no hope of winning, yet the air around him was still tense. At long last, he lowered his axe and stepped back, though continued to glare at the commander.

“Men, do not forget that Lord Odin himself uses seiðr,” said Ragnar. “He is said to have learned it from his wife Freya and used it to defeat an army of Ice Giants who did not expect such sorcery in the absence of a woman. Odin’s strength lies not only in his body, but in his mind and in his soul; that is why he is the greatest among the gods. So let not fear and prejudice sow weakness into your hearts.”

“Or between your legs,” said the boy from before, only now catching up and smiling shyly at Ulfvald. The men laughed once again.

“See, young Falki is not afraid of seiðr, not afraid to do what it takes to achieve victory,” said Ragnar. “Is there a warrior here with half the bravery of this boy who will stand in the ritual with Ulfvald?”

Ulfvald had recovered his voice enough to protest. “But sir, I cannot! Lady Vanadis was an expert at the battle hymn, she had been on a dozen campaigns in the past, but I–”

“Silence,” boomed Ragnar’s voice, loud enough to snap even the strongest warrior from his berserker trance. “You will perform the ritual in Lady Vanadis’s place. We are one strike away from taking this city and ending our campaign for the season. Would you have us pull back and try to take the city later as the snows fall?”

Ulfvald closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sir Ragnar. I– I will perform the ritual,” he said as he clasped his trembling hands behind his back. He had seen it performed many times, but he had never tried it firsthand.

“Now, I ask once again,” repeated Ragnar, “who will stand in the ritual and lead our warriors to victory?”

It was a pitiful sight to be sure. Grown, battle-hardened men, with their horned helmets and blood-stained axes, looking this way and that, shuffling their feet, grunting or coughing without saying a word. Ulfvald felt like a complete fool, but who could blame them? They knew the rituals could get rather intimate, but did they have any idea what to expect? They were used to seiðr practitioners being female.

It was the boy, Falki, who spoke up in all sincerity. “Sir, I would stand in the ritual with Sir Ulfvald.”

Ragnar smiled for a moment and then laughed. “I admire your bravery, Falki. And I will remember it. But you have not yet completed the rites of adulthood, have you?”

Falki looked sullenly at the ground and kicked it absently as he shook his head.

“No matter. You are more a man than any of these ergi warriors.” He spat. “The rest of you have a long way to go before your souls will be selected by the Valkyries to fight alongside the gods. They have no need for cowards. As you are now, the Valkyrie would simply clean their boots on your beards and move on. I will stand in the ritual myself.”

Falki looked up at the commander with respect and awe as the warriors stood with their mouths agape. Ulfvald didn’t know what to think. Ragnar was fit, but he was old enough to be his father. But then something unexpected happened.

“No, Sir, I will stand in the ritual.” It was Grimulf. “The men need you on the field, and I would like to show them that my manhood is more than up to the task.” Ulfvald stared at him in disbelief, yet Grimulf’s gaze was fixed on the commander. He was just a few years older than Ulfvald, yet somewhat shorter and stockier. While not particularly long, his orange beard was clean and had a slight fork to it, with each point braided neatly.

“Very well,” said Ragnar, nodding his head slowly. “I take back what I said before, Grimulf. You have balls, unlike many of these other so-called men. Go put them to good use. The rest of you, take your noonday meat and mead and begin preparations for the next assault.” Then, with a nod to Ulfvald, he said “We begin when Ulfvald sends the signal and not a moment before.”

Ulfvald stood dumbfounded while the crowd dispersed in a cacophony of metal. They say the gods are fond of surprises, but what a turn this day had taken. He could almost feel Lady Vanadis watching him from Freya’s heavenly hall of Sesrumnir. A tug on his sleeve brought his attention back to reality.

“Sir Ulfvald, may I watch the ritual?” asked Falki, a slight smile raising one corner of his lips.

“I’m sorry, um…Falki was it?” began Ulfvald. “I’m not sure, it’s not really appropriate for childr–”

“You sure can, boy,” shouted Grimulf, louder than necessary. “Bring your friends! They can all see Grim’s manhood in action!” Ulfvald rolled his eyes.

“But, Sir Grimulf, my friends are all back in the village,” said Falki. “I’m the only o–”

“Then be sure to watch carefully and tell them all about it when we get back!”

“Yes, Sir!” said the boy with all too much enthusiasm.

Ulfvald lowered his head and began rubbing his temples. Lady Vanadis must have put Loki up to this. He could almost hear her musical laughter. Ulfvald might have laughed too, were it not for the sadness at her passing and the nervousness in the pit of his stomach. He could probably pull off some kind of curse, though dealing with Grimulf might be trying to say the least.

When they returned to the tent, the younger apprentices had already started packing their things for a retreat. They looked concerned when Ulfvald explained the situation, but after a few harsh words from Grimulf, they began scrambling to prepare the scents and oils. Male seiðr practitioners were not unheard of, but it was rare to see one leading a battle hymn, and clearly these young girls did not hold Ulfvald in as high esteem as they did their late mistress.

Falki was surprisingly eager to help out, though. He was keenly observing what the apprentices did, aiding them with the cleansing and then helping to rub the scented oils all over the two kneeling men. Normally it was impossible to tell which hands were which, but with Falki it was night and day, and incredibly distracting. Ulfvald gave a shiver as the pair of chilly, trembling fingers slid far too slowly over his cock and down his leg. He tried not to look at Falki too much, lest he embarrass the boy; surely there was no harm in letting him help out for now. After all, if seiðr was his calling, he would need guidance.

For once, Ulfvald was thankful that the warriors tended to steer clear of the tent. They might give Falki a hard time if they had seen him. Fortunately, the only one to see was Grimulf, the idiot who had invited him to stay in the first place.

Without his armor and fellow warriors, Grim seemed a bit nervous, yet his heart did not exude cowardice as had the fat man who had accosted him earlier on his errand. If anything, it felt relatively stable and confident, if still a little ego-bruised from Ragnar’s insult. His bravado, transparent to all but perhaps Falki and himself, seemed to mask his discomfort at not knowing what he was expected to do. Yet Ulfvald felt he could be counted on to do what was asked, which was mildly endearing.

“Can I at least touch the other apprentices while I fuck you?” asked Grim, reaching toward one of the young women. She deftly drew away from his reach.

Ulfvald fought hard not to laugh. “The apprentices are virgins for a reason, Grim. If their purity is violated in any way, the gods will curse our clan for eternity. All our warriors will lose their virility and sire no children and we’ll be dead within a generation.” Or something like that. Actually no one had ever told him why the young apprentices had to be virgins. Maybe it was just to keep them out of trouble.

But Grim seemed gullible enough; he pulled his hand back as if he had touched a hot coal. He suddenly looked very pale. Ulfvald grinned. “For the purposes of this ritual, Falki is an apprentice as well. So don’t get any ideas.”

The boy blushed as Grim inched away from him. The expression Grim made seemed calculated to show disgust, but his heartbeat reacted the same toward Falki as it did toward the apprentice girls. Ulfvald was starting to think this might be kind of fun after all. He had no idea the warriors were this inexperienced off the battlefield. “Also, you’re not going to fuck me.”

“WHAT!?” shouted Grimulf. “Ohhh no. I’m not going to take another man inside me.”

Ulfvald rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry, that’s not how it works.”

Grimulf stared at him blankly as Falki’s chilly fingers massaged the oil into Ulfvald’s back.

“Let me put this simply,” explained Ulfvald. “If you fuck me, your milk is going to end up in the wrong side of me. It does no good there.”

Grimulf scratched his head with one of his huge hands. Falki’s chilly fingers were joined by a warmer and firmer touch pressing gently into Ulfvald’s lower back. He gave a faintly audible breath, but Grim didn’t seem to notice.

“I need to drink it,” Ulfvald said, eliciting a giggle from Falki. “That’s why we call it ‘milk.'”

“Oh. Of course! I can do that,” he said, fidgeting with one of the the floor cushions.

Ulfvald wondered if Lady Vanadis managed to explain the ritual to her men. “Once the ritual begins, there will be no talking.” Out there, Ulfvald had little sway with anyone, but in here, this was the domain of seiðr. Most dared not enter this tent. The warriors may not exactly have liked those who practice seiðr, as it didn’t have the kind of glory they often praised in stories, but those who had seen the battle hymn take hold had a begrudging respect for it.

It was a strange feeling for Ulfvald to choose when to begin. Timing was important in this ritual, timing and rhythm, but he normally just followed Lady Vanadis’s lead for such things. But realizing that waiting would not make things any easier, he looked one of the apprentices in the eye and nodded.

The attendant nodded back, then shared a knowing glance with the others. One took Falki by the hand and led him to a nearby cushion, instructing him on the proper way of sitting. Another poked her head out of the tent and spoke softly to one of the guards outside, who then left his post; the war drums began shortly thereafter. The final apprentice added some dried herbs to the fire and the smoke in the tent began to shimmer. Perfect. Now for the hard part.

Grimulf’s gaze was darting around apprehensively, but he was silent. Ulfvald doubted he knew anything about the rituals, though he no doubt heard the war drums and could assume it had begun. He seemed very tense, ready to leap out should an enemy somehow make it into the tent. While it was nice to know that he would fight to protect the seiðr practitioners, that tension would not do at all.

Ulfvald was surprisingly swift and had Grim on the floor while the apprentices were still stoking the fire and finding their seats. Grim struggled to get up, but in the tangle of cushions and blankets, Ulfvald’s unexpected strength seemed too much to overcome easily. When he grabbed at Grim’s crotch, he was surprised to grasp a cock every bit as hard as the muscles writhing beneath him. Perhaps not quite as big as he’d have expected from the man’s size, but he must have enjoyed the apprentices’ oiled hands more than his nervousness let on.

There were still no words, just a few muffled grunts. Ulfvald felt a grin coming on as he lay atop Grim, his face buried in Grim’s shoulder. But he had to concentrate. The men outside would be rallying for their final strike now, and if he could complete this ritual, fewer men would get hurt. As much as they relished the season of war, no one liked to lose a comrade at arms. They were his people, flawed as they were, and Ulfvald wanted them all to return safely for the feasts.

Grimulf’s now half-hearted struggles had acquired a rhythm, so Ulfvald began tightening his grasp in time to it. With the smoke filling the air, he could hardly see the others, yet he could hear their breaths, then their heartbeats, then the pulsation of their souls. Twisting around to sit on Grim’s chest, he put his lips to the edge of his hand, Grim’s cock just barely sliding into his mouth at the end of each thrust.

He swiped his tongue deftly across the head each time it reached his mouth, and reached out his awareness further. The souls of the three attendants pulsed in sync with the rhythm of the motion. Falki’s heartbeat was excited and slightly faster, but still close to the rhythm of the others; he definitely had some aptitude in the area.

Grimulf placed one of his massive hands on Ulfvald’s hip, holding him down, while the other pushed his head down further. With so many sensations, it was hard for Ulfvald to concentrate, but he tried again. The wolves were nearby, their heartbeats slower, their steady and confident alertness drawing a sharp contrast with the discordant noise outside. Everything else was a mess.

But Grimulf was beginning to shudder. Not yet you fool, thought Ulfvald in frustration, as he let up on his tongue a bit. Fuck, how did Lady Vanadis manage to time everything so well? Redoubling his efforts, he strained his consciousness further and further out from the tent, deciding to leave the rhythm itself to Grim’s ever-increasing pace rather than trying to keep it steady. The apprentices quickly adjusted to the new rhythm. At least they were paying attention.

Now . . . who was who? Apart from those in the seiðr tent, Commander Ragnar’s heartbeat was the easiest to recognize. It was more like the wolves, fitting for a former Ulfhednar captain. The men closest to him were more stable as well. The chaos seemed to increase the further men got from the commander – with a single exception.

Grim began to writhe more violently; a particularly hard thrust caught Ulfvald offguard as it hit the back of his throat and almost broke his focus. He was close. There was not much time left.

The exception must have been coming from the defenders within the city walls. It extended from a small group of men and women, and it sounded a little different, a little more warbly. The moment he recognized that, the rest of the battle came into perspective. They were like different instruments playing a different melody. How could it not have been so clear before?

Ulfvald adjusted his angle so he could get Grim’s cock down deeper. The hand on the back of his head pulled him down again and almost choked him. It was now or never. He let go of Grim’s cock completely and grabbed onto his ass, pulling it towards him in the same rhythm, only stronger. Licking and gulping each time the head reached the back of his throat, he let the rhythm flow through him, pulsing like the beat of a drum, pulsing outward into the noise and bringing it into line.

Surprisingly, he felt a mouth close around his own cock, warm and wet, causing his rhythm to stumble momentarily, but he quickly regained composure. The sounds were beginning to coalesce into the rhythm.

Grim’s thrusts interspersed with his own. Each time Grim’s cock pulled back from his throat, he thrust his own forward, along the waiting tongue and felt lips mouthing at his pubic hair. He barely noticed the chilly hand pulling at the back of his thigh. The rhythm now had a counter-rhythm, and he wove it into the chaos, alternately ramping up both harmony and discord.

As each thrust became more longing, more desperate, it pierced deeper into the crowd, the sounds becoming clearer and louder, each time seeming as if the rhythm couldn’t become any more tighter, yet each time it did.

Shaking, shuddering, vibrating, and then, all of a sudden, a crash, muffled as if he were underwater. Ulfvald felt the come spurting out of his cock at the same time as it came bursting into his own mouth, as if he had just been sucking himself. He swallowed it like water. Each gulp seemed to flow out of him in waves; it felt a tide rising, spreading through the valley, muting and muffling the sounds of the heartbeats outside.

Some seemed to swim faster in the water, like fish, while others seemed to flounder and drown. But his focus dispersed too, and all he could think of was thirst. He drank like a man who had been marooned at sea for months with nothing but salt water all around, and this the only kind that would quench his thirst.

And then, as the shivering cock ran dry, and his thirst ran out, and the noise faded away into the ambient cry of birds, he fell back, satiated and satisfied, into sleep.

When Ulfvald awoke, he felt dizzy and badly hungover. Seiðr always took a lot out of him. He didn’t know if he’d been asleep moments or weeks, but he recalled not a single dream or vision, so he felt only disoriented. Looking around, he saw the bright green grass of what could only be the seiðr tent.

A wolf sat nearby, curled up beside and sniffing at Falki, who blushed at Ulfvald as he licked his lips. To the right, Grimulf sat shirtless talking to some of the other warriors, his hair and beard in tangles, but his face beaming with pride. To his right, Commander Ragnar came striding towards him, face serious as ever but as close as it ever got to a smile. He slapped Ulfvald on the back.

“My boy, that was impressive. Congratulations are due to you both!” said Ragnar.

“Then…it worked?” asked Ulfvald.

One of the warriors talking to Grim answered. “Worked? It was incredible! I’ve seen Lady Vanadis curse the enemy before, sapping strength and rage from their veins, but whatever you did went far beyond that.”

“Archers were tumbling down from their walls,” said another. “Men collapsed under the weight of their own armour. I saw one drop his own sword and then topple clean over!”

“And you blessed us too,” said one grizzled warrior. “I’d heard of seiðr giving men new strength, but I felt better than I had in decades. I swear I jumped half the height of the wall in a single leap.”

Ulfvald looked worried, but Ragnar was quick to quell his fears. “You sapped so much of their strength that they fell asleep, Ulfvald, can you believe that? We do not kill sleeping, defenseless foes. Once disarmed, they became harmless civilians. This is now our city, and they have surrendered.”

“I have never seen such a powerful spell,” he continued, “but I would be honoured if you would fight alongside us again next season.”

Ulfvald looked at Grim and saw a newfound respect gleaming back. “It would be my pleasure,” he said, and for once, he meant it.

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