Kauna. The Berserker

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
988 AD. Yngvar Eindride and his Vikings are travelling through Gardarike (Russia). In a brothel, he is looking for a witch who can tell his future.

The rune Kauna is a symbol of fire, vision and sexuality.


Yngvar Eindride, Hakon and Olaf Tryggvason are characters in my novel "Sons of Disobedience", which takes place 11 years after this tale. While Olaf Tryggvason is King of Norway and his mind is set on converting it to Christianity, Yngvar Eindride is the leader of the Berserkers who struggle to preserve the old ways.

I am working on a series of short-stories set in Viking Age centered around runes and their symbolic meanings. With "Kauna" I am exploring the psychology of Berserker rage.

Submitted: August 06, 2015

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Submitted: August 06, 2015

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Wisps of smoke spiralled in the dimly-lit chamber of the brothel, thick and shifting like clouds in the sky at dusk. The smokes caught shapes of beasts and humans painted in coloured greys, breathed in and breathed out with lust in rhythmical motions. Bodies of men and women wound lasciviously to the music, laid together on the floor or at the table, or simply dreamed away listlessly. My eyes looked around for one person in particular.

From behind, I felt an airy touch on my arm. I turned around and saw a woman emerging from beyond a curtain, dressed in clothes coloured in purples, reds and coppers, like the sunset. Her thick black hair was braided with strings of silk and gold coins and jewellery glittered around her neck and arms. She was dark in skin, not like the Rus but rather like the women I saw during my travels on Mediterranean shores. She was not very young, but beautiful nevertheless. And her eyes like the night followed me, mysterious in glance. It was she, the woman I was awaiting.

“You are Yngvar Eindride,” she whispered.

“How do you know about me?”

“The boyar Miroslav sent me to take care of you.”

“I am afraid he does not know what I need.”

“Perhaps, but I do. I know what everyone needs. They call me Vesna. Come with me, Yngvar.”

She pulled my hand leading me behind a wall where some furs lay on the floor. A metal recipient filled with red-hot rocks was placed in the middle. We sat down on the furs. Vesna opened a bag and took a handful of weeds, sprinkling them above the recipient; the weeds began to scorch, letting out a scented smoke that filled my nostrils with smells of lavender, mint, chamomile and hemp seeds. She spoke, not taking her eyes off me:

“You and your Vikings came to Novgorod not long ago. You are praised by your men - you won a great battle. But your high ambitions shall lead you in search of much greater achievements. Your travels take you far and wide. You also know the way of witches very well: your mother Valdis was a witch of great renown in Iceland. And you are a Bear-Warrior too, a Berserker.”

“These things I already know about myself,” I replied. “Your knowledge of them merely proves that you asked around about me. Is there anything new you have to say?”

“Yes,” she lifted an eyebrow, “of course, you have come to me so that I tell you what you don't know. You see, I've had men your age, two times, three times older than you - they all took what they had for granted, they all thought themselves deserving of the highest honours, never questioning their ways. But you... you are something different, are you not?”

She took a cup of wine in which she poured drops of a milk-like liquid, poppy juice no doubt, then she handed it to me. I exhaled the smoke in my lungs and sipped the wine. She smiled with satisfaction.

“You are a far-travelled man: you have tasted these dream-giving mixtures before. So young and yet you must know so many things! Life has taught you horrors unwillingly, in many wrongs you've taken part with intention and by need, and in many more you shall still. Hear this: who your enemies are, I care not; what you religion is has no meaning in my house. I have admirers of all factions - they clad me in gold and silks for my outstanding skills. The idols you worship shall not stand in the way of our encounter, for destiny is one and the same indifferent to religion. And I can reveal yours to you.”

Vesna held out her hand and I gave her a bracelet wrought in gold and precious stones; but, with a slick smile, the woman closed her palm so that I fastened the jewellery myself around her wrist. Then she began:

“There is tremendous power within you, it makes you almost invincible. A great leader among men you shall become - warriors shall love you as chieftain and honour you as hero. But be wary: from among your closest, an enemy shall rise and only his death shall set you free.”

I locked my eyes on her inquisitively:

“Will this happen soon?”

She answered with caution:

“He shall envy you for the things your valour earns. And then it shall happen.”

“This enemy, is he here with me now?”

She was playing with her hair, wrapping her locks around the finger.

“He shall show himself when he feels that your powers become a threat to him.”

“I see. And what shall I earn that is so great? Will I be king?”

I felt her hesitation behind her mask of self-assurance. She was trying to hide something from me - her own insecurity.

“You are an uncrowned prince already, are you not? Divine by blood. King Yngvar... many shall speak this name.”

She smiled alluringly removing her purple veils as she spoke, beginning to open her dress.

I felt my pulse beating faster... ah... I understood now: she lied! When Vesna has no more answers to give, she tries to gimmick me with red lips, curves and vain words, mistaking me for some weak-minded fool! Her magical powers are all but lies: a vulgar game designed to wrest money out of the purses of weary travellers, to fool newly enriched pirates into spending with beautiful company, to flatter naive warriors into believing themselves heroes... to deceive monsters into believing for a brief moment that, despite what they feel in their cold hearts, there is good inside them! But she could not play her tricks on me – she was right: I know witches too well...

“Such eerie beauty in this face, this silver hair of yours, such power in these ghostly eyes,” she whispered caressing my arms and casting the empty wine cup from my hand aside. She guided my hands on her body. With my mind slightly dazed, I saw spirals of rose-red smoke slithering upon her curves as she unfastened my garments.

I wanted to refuse; I had come here for the prophecy, not for cheap wantonness. And yet... I was afraid that, if I grabbed her hands to force her away, I would not stop... ah... was it the drink, the smokes of her dream-giving plants, her words? What made my heart beat in such rush? My mind was unwillingly invaded by repulsive images that I had thought forgotten, memories that I could force away no longer, stirred by a growing anger within me. Vesna bound her arms around my neck kissing my lips, but I, somehow, seemed to watch from afar the witch bent above me as she stood – but, no! it is not Vesna, but it is my mother, my mother Valdis kissing my father's lips: his head is severed from his body and she holds the head wrapped in white veils in her lap! I struggled to block this vision from my dizzy mind, but I heard dogs howling in dream-like whirls, I heard screams, the horrified screams of the victims that Valdis would torture before my eyes!

Vesna's hands now touched my chest – how can she not feel the struggles under my flesh, how can she not feel the wrath? This divine fury that torments me, the gift of Odin, the rage of Berserkers that flows in my blood, invading my mind! What kind of treacherous idols she worships if they could not warn her against me? Can she not guess that the darkness inside me rips and tears everything my hands try to touch? She is no witch if she does not see that I am a beast!

Then, was there anything true in what she said? Does she have any powers at all? Tell me, tell me, Valdis, you who made me into the monster I am now! Vesna's dark naked skin felt warm under my touch like the heat of the burning leaves... she laid me on the floor while she remained above me, so luscious and arousing, and yet I was overwhelmed with an urge that I barely could resist... an urge not to possess her but to grab her hair, those black tresses like water snakes, and pull her to me... to taste her lips that caressed my skin, those full dark lips that whisper shamelessly false words - not to kiss them but to bite them, bite them to feel their warm blood... I'll hurt you, I'll hurt you, I wanted to cry out, to warn her, to warn her to get away while I still let her go... tell her to run until I clasp her shoulders and push her down with my hand in her throat, my hand that took lives... her throat pulsing, pulsing under my fingers... her heart beating in terror.

I tore the shawl from her shoulders and tied it around my neck and around my wrists - to hold me chained, to keep my body immovable, unable to hurt. I needed to be restrained until I could unleash it... She lied to me, yes, but it was I who deserved the punishment, not her! I put the shawl around my neck in her hands. She startled at my gesture but then she understood; she did not stop her sensuous motion but pulled at the noose to strangle me. I felt it hard to breathe, to swallow, I choked... I felt my strained muscles loosen as my mind sank into a colourful oblivious darkness... her face disappeared in a rose-red haze... thoughts dulled and sensations heightened... I wonder... if punishment is what I needed... why was it bliss that overwhelmed me instead of guilt?... why did it feel so... delightful?... all my anger faded away and I was a monster no more... my mind reeled intoxicated, enraptured... drowning me into ecstasy.

 

On sheets and pillows on the floor, amid the commotion and the half-darkness of the hall, I look for Hakon. I find him by the sound of his voice that was telling a travel story in Northern tongue. I see him lying on the pillows, drinking and eating grapes with some girls who kiss and caress him, laughing whenever they hear him laugh, although I doubt they understand his tale. Then the girls lift their eyes at me with an unquiet curiosity; their thoughts are easy to perceive – it is not their thoughts that I need to read. Hakon... my comrade in so many years, the only one who has stood by me in my dark times, the only one who knows all that I have been through... how well do I know him? I ask myself. The words of Vesna, sounding obsessively in my conscience, are all I can think about right now. Witty and well-spoken by seducing lips, I did not believe them, and yet, why do these words haunt me so? Whether there is a grain of truth in them or not, I need to find out on my own.

Hakon notices me and calls out:

“Yngvar? What in the Nine fucking Worlds happened to you? Shouldn't you look more euphoric after all the...”

But then, the young man's eyes enlarge a moment as the events of the evening come back to his mind. He stands up in rush, knocking over his cup of wine:

“What did you do to the woman?”

He elbows me aside to pass and goes to check on Vesna in the room where I left her. I imagine he finds her dressing and arranging her jewellery, still nervous at the memory of our encounter, pondering on... my strange needs. I imagine they talk about me shortly, but she is discreet. After a few moments, the young man returns looking at me with relief, as if he had expected worse of me:

“I don't even want to know... I was truly enjoying myself until you came along,” he shakes his head. “You don't seem to have a way with women but, somehow, they are drawn to you! But mark my words, Yngvar: this was the last time we ever visited a brothel together!”

The women who had kept him company call him back to bed in their language but he tells them he must sadly leave them for the moment. He picks up his clothes wanting to dress but I grip his arm to halt him and search in his face: what if it's true? could he be the man that Vesna warns me about? He looks at me, his warm blue eyes not in the least strained or intimidated by my inflexible countenance and grasp.

“Are you all right, brother?” he touches my shoulder in concern, but just then, a shadow passes by the door and Hakon glances at the side, subtly signalling me towards the apparition. “There goes the other freak.”

I nod and let him go. In front of the house, the man in the shadows stops by the wall. I feel he is conscious of our presence there, yet he does not turn.

“Olaf,” I utter. Olaf Tryggvason.

He still does not glance up, but sits on a wooden crate with hands joined together in deep thought. To a stranger he would look calm and composed, but to me... there is a twitching in his eye that betrays great turbulence inside. I know it very well.

“What news do you have?”

He answers in grave voice: “He refused. He said it was the only way, he said our pagan idols shall turn against us.”

“Damn it!” Hakon exclaims. “We expected that...”

But Olaf interrupts him abruptly:

“I killed him. I killed him in his own silked and laced bed and left him writhing in blood behind locked doors. At dawn the chamber shall be swarming with slaves, meddlers and guards.”

At such words, Hakon bites his fist in vexation:

“Our people are lazing all around this whorehouse and you slay the fucking boyar who owns it! How subtle is that?... Knut! Pay up and gather the men. Gisli, send word to the ships to hoist the sails. We're leaving. Now!” he calls out to some warriors who stand in the door. He throws a glance at me and sighs: “Well, so much for our trip to Holmgarðr. Normal men ease off with women and drinks, but you two... Wed him, Yngvar, you'll never find yourself a better match!”

He winks at me jestingly and hurries away after the men. I know we ought to leave, but my eyes are still locked upon Olaf, searchingly. Could he be the one?... He stands up from the crate, straightening his sleeves and the richly embroidered collar of his dark red tunic. He comes to me, looking up into the lights of the house that now bathe his visage:

“Let us sail to England, like you said. We will find a way. The gods will make justice. Yngvar!” He suddenly takes hold of my wrist, forcefully: “We shall have our kingdom, Yngvar. We stop at nothing, you and I.”

His sharp eyes twitch and glimmer at me like sunlight upon writhing, shifting waters.

I nod.


© Copyright 2020 Helevorn. All rights reserved.

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