Daughter of the Windswept Hills
Part Seven – Honour Is Satisifed
A vast multitude from all the clans of the Aedring assembled to watch as the two chiefs met, to settle the dispute as to who would lead the raid, and of the status of Fianna in it.
“He is right, grandfather,” Fianna told Hraega. “I should have left the village already, gone into exile as it was meant to be. I am at fault in this.”
“Is this what you think?” Hraega asked. He loosed his muscles by swinging his hammer around in whirling arcs. “This dispute has been a long time brewing. One way or another, Rafgar would have found an excuse to challenge me. It was unavoidable.”
A roar sounded from the throng as the two men stepped forward into a ring formed by the watchers. Hraega wore his shirt of bronze scales and carried his hammer, while Rafgar was in iron mail, carrying an axe and shield.
Cautiously the pair began to circle around each other, watching out with the wariness of a prowling wolf. They moved with the grace of hunting cats, all sleek and flowing. Rafgar was first to attack, letting forth a roar as he leapt at Hraega, his axe cutting a glittering arc through the air. Hraega was not there though, dancing aside with the instincts honed from birth in a harsh land and the blow cut through naught but air. Rafgar leapt back again after his strike had missed, tapping his axe to the iron rim of his shield.
“Yield to me and you will live,” Rafgar told Hraega. “You will be banished, as is customary, but you will not die this day.”
Hraega laughed long and loud, throwing scorn upon the idea. “To live in banishment after surrender is not to live as Aedring. There can be honour in exile, but not the way you propose. I would die rather than to betray my position as leader to you.”
“Then die you shall, and still I will lead.” Rafgar promised.
Hraega was then upon him, with swift strides across the uneven ground to close the distance and his great hammer came crashing down. Rafgar took the blow upon the shield, but such was the force of the blow that it shattered. Rafgar tossed the remnants of it aside, clenching the fist of his shield arm tight. His axe swung low and caught Hraega in the side, though the scales of his armour took the strike and resisted. Even so Hraega growled like a trapped beast and stepped back.
Both men were cautious now, having taken blows and injuries, even if no others could see them. Hraega whirled his hammer about and leapt forward with a shout. He smote full at Rafgar, yet the man had moved aside so that the hammer slammed into the ground. An axe swung at Haega and he was forced to duck beneath it, letting it whistle just above his head. A boot lashed out, glancing off Rafgar’s leg, even as Hraega heaved his hammer back up form the ground.
For a moment the two men paused again and took stock, their chests heaving as they breathed in. Both had taken the measure of the man across from them, knowing now that this was no easy thing, and that the result would be decided more likely than not by a simple mistake or random luck.
Rafgar came charging in again, intent on ending it quickly so that it did not drag on, to lessen the chance of an accident interfering. A series of axe blows hammered in at Hraega, who turned them aside with the heavy handle of his hammer, each strike cutting notches into it.
The end came so quick that few had time to see it, only the aftermath. An axe blow rained down, just one more in the onslaught, caught upon the handle, but before Rafgar could recover, Hraega swung the end of the handle into his opponent’s face, smashing it open. As the rival chief staggered back, Hraega tightened the grip on the hammer and crashed it down on Rafgar’s head, reducing it to a bloody pulp of shattered bone and teeth and grey matter.
Rafgar fell backwards, the only sound to be heard over the silence of the observers that of his body hitting the ground.
Hraega looked steadily around at the gathered hillsmen. “Honour is satisfied,” he told them.
“Honour is satisfied, as we bear witness,” they responded in the time honoured way.
Hraega strode away as men of Rafgar’s clan came to recover his body, and more importantly, his arms and armour.
“He almost had me there,” Hraega grunted as he rejoined his clan. “He may have broken a rib or two as well. Little matter like that won’t stop me though. Tomorrow we march.”
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