I was born amidst the cold dark of northern winter. My place of birth, a cave hidden amongst the pine-cloaked knees of Valkador’s three sentinel mountains. That night the wind’s searching fingers penetrated the semi shelter where my mother, Bera, held her newborn son. It was touch and go that first night, but somehow mother and son survived. And so started my story: Barin the Northman, wayfarer and sea voyager, redoubtable warrior and ale swiller. Born in exile whilst my father’s enemy sought my kin’s eradication.

My line goes back to the days when Leeth and Valkador were allies, before the long feud, and before the Ice Witch arrived from ‘Everdark’ –  that place beyond the northern ice. My people have always been mariners, none more so than my grandsire, Bolharic, Lord of the Island. He it was who gained our island’s independance from mighty Leeth, by stabbing that country’s king in the throat at a feast on the mainland. The king, Frahli, had insulted my grandsire’s wife, Raissa, at table – the result being the commencement of a decades long feud.

Bolharic was strong, he protected our island from the many raids by the vengeful offspring of Frahli. And his luck was good, and therefore that of his people too. During that time Valkador thrived. Things changed suddenly when Raissa died giving birth to Bolharic’s second son, a twisted deformed child, who my grandsire in drunken fury drowned in the sea. From that day on they say Bolharic was cursed. Events following perpetuated that rumour.

After losing wife and child, and racked by guilt of his bloody deed, Bolharic took to the sea for months with his best fighters, leaving Valkador vulnerable to raids from the mainland. His surviving son, Ketil, did his best to protect his father’s realm, but at sixteen winters was inexperienced, and many folk were lost to the raiders of Leeth. But then at last Bolharic returned from his long voyage a new man. He looked younger and stronger than before. At his side purred a beautiful young bride.

Her name was Helga. Her skin ice pale and eyes flints of chilly jade. Where she came from no one knows. They say my grandsire claimed he found her sitting on a lone rock on a deserted shore – a stranger washed by wave, forlorn and lost. Victim to the wilderness. But Helga was no victim. She was a calculating killer, and one who wielded witchcraft.

For many years she did little, save preen and bully her retainers. She wasn’t popular – not that Helga cared about that. Her husband adored her. For his part, Bolharic drove the raiders across to Leeth and then raided their steads in return, paying the ememy back in dividends. They say my grandsire had become crueler than before. That said the island prospered again for a time. During one of Bolharic’s raids, Helga’s green gaze fell on his son, Ketil – now a handsome warrior of twenty two summers. She worked her witchy charms on Ketil but he remained true to his child sweetheart, Bera. When Ketil spurned Helga’s advances she flew into a rage, her beauty fleeing like northern summer. Instead Ketil saw a wrinkled crone standing before him.

Helga cursed Ketil. She signalled Bolvaric’s guards arrest him, claiming his son had tried to rape her. Though Ketil escaped into the wild, the witch’s last curse found him, and as the moon rose clear and bright, Ketil’s form changed most horribly into that of a great bear. Soon after word got out that a viscous beast was killing stock and taking young children too – lies fed by Helga the witch. On his return Bolharic lead a vengful party out into the winter night. There Ketil met them in bear form. He slew the guards despite being surrounded by spears and, before he could stop himself, tore open his father too. Deed done, Ketil (a man again) fled weeping back into the night.

Bera found her love naked and bloody, wounded beyond repair. Ketil told her of Helga’s treachery and Bera promised him their son would prove his avenger. Ketil died that night, but not after Bera told him she was pregnant, and that her son would inherit his father’s bear strength. In the weeks to follow Helga send men and hounds deep into the woods to find Ketil and his lover. But she was thwarted, Bera sailed to the coast of Leeth with Ketil’s body and their mewling newborn son. And so I, Barin, came to be!

Next up from me. Barin verses the Ice Witch!

Barin’s full story will be published as Valkador by J.W.Webb.Featured image