So there he was. Feared and respected throughout all the north, this old man was just another obstacle to Logen. He'd had his share of tough fights, yet something in Threetrees' grey eyes gave him the feeling this fight would be up there.
Despite his bad hunch, Logen gave his opponent a dreary grin. Had to keep up the spectacle, after all.
'If you can take your enemy's morale, the battle is half-won,' his father had always said.
Not that he'd listened all that often, but Logen felt like this piece of advice rang true.
"I am Logen Ninefingers, champion of too many battles too count, bringer of death to plenty of men just as famed as you, old man. I fight for Bethod, true king to the North."
Logen widened his grin and gave the old man the look he knew could terrify ordinary men.
But this was no ordinary man. Threetrees didn't flinch.
"Some call me the Bloody Nine," Logen added, for good measure.
"They call me Threetrees," his opponent answered, seemingly unmoved by Logen's speech. He spat. "I don't need much of an introduction, since I've been known throughout the North before you and that swine you call a king were even born."
Outside of the circle, Logen could hear Bethod give them a short, crude laugh.
Threetrees drew his weapons.
"Prepare yourself, Bloody Nine."
Well, Rudd Threetrees certainly knew how to get to the point. The old man readied the large shield and sword that had made him famous.
They were always the same, his opponents, cocky at first, but soon enough the fear would set in. Even the pleasure of seeing that happen had lost its appeal to him these days.
Logen raised his heavy sword, as the circle of shields around them visibly tensed in anticipation.
For a few seconds, Logen and Threetrees circled each other, like wolves waiting to launch themselves at each others throats.
There was something in this one's eyes that gave him some of the old rush from when fights had still been new to him. Logen smiled and licked his lips, and as expected, Threetrees chose that instance to attack.
Logen dodged, having anticipated the lurch, and swung his sword the side.
Threetrees' heavy shield caught the blow, making Logen's arm quiver.
Logen didn't hesitate and spun the sword the other way, just in time to catch Threetrees' blow for his head.
Their blades screeched as Threetrees executed a strange manoeuvre, almost making Logen lose grip on his hilt.
Logen jumped back, and not a second too soon because Threetrees' sword slashed through the air where his legs had been.
Seizing the opportunity, Logen went in for the kill, only to be rammed back by the large wooden shield with surprising strength.
And there was that damn sword again. Logen grunted as he almost failed to parry the blow, and a stinging gash opened up on his shoulder where Threetrees' sword had bitten his skin.
Red anger took control of Logen, and he used that to drive his opponent back, giving himself a bit of respite.
Reaching for air, both men took a step back for a moment.
Logen had managed to wound Threetrees on his right thigh, though it seemed but a superficial wound.
Meanwhile something wet and warm was trickling down from the cut in his shoulder, which was remarkably deeper.
The blood made something stir, deep within him. Logen knew this feeling, he'd had it in so many battles, growing almost accustomed to it as of late, in the thrill of Bethod's wars.
Almost, because there would always be something unearthly about it.
Logen knew the cold thing rising from his gut for what it was.
"Is this all the great Bloody Nine has to offer?" Threetrees asked, never allowing the alertness to leave those grey eyes of his.
Logen didn't respond. Instead he watched as a small trail of blood trickled down his arm, over the fingers clenching his sword. Fingers gripping it with a force causing them to turn white.
Not his fingers.
The Bloody Nine smiled.
The muscles in his arm flexed, and more warm blood came steaming down, but the Bloody Nine barely noticed.
He looked at the opponent before him. An old man. His death wouldn't satisfy him much.
The old man charged, swinging a shield and sword. Tiny tools, compared to the Bloody Nine's steel.
Yet the old guy managed to surprise him with his speed. The Bloody Nine grunted and increased his own pace, laughing in joy when he noticed that his own blows were actually being matched.
For each cut he managed to land, the old man drew blood on him in return. Exhilarated, the Bloody Nine pushed himself further, wanting to make the old man regret the arrogance of daring to challenge him like this.
With an thunderous, splintering sound his broadsword got caught in the old man's wooden shield. The men around them drew a collective gasp, and the old man had the audacity to smirk as he plunged his sword in the Bloody Nine's side.
A gurgling laugh filled the circle of shields, striking fear in everyone present.
The Bloody Nine swung his sword, still lodged in the shield, and the old man flew with it, dragging along the ground and losing his grip on the sword still buried in the Bloody Nine's body.
Redness coated the Bloody Nine's entire right side, but he just kept on laughing, delightedly taking in the terror on the faces around him.
They would all die soon. But first, the old man.
He lowered his eyes to find the old man squirming, trying to free his arm from the wooden shield, and the Bloody Nine shook his sword again and flailed his victim along the muddy ground.
He raised a foot on the old man's ribs and heard a satisfying crack as he pressed down.
And yet his prey squirmed, freeing himself from the shield at last.
The old man rolled too swift for even the Bloody Nine to stop him, throwing mud at his eyes.
The Bloody Nine dodged the mud, but was surprised to find his vision blurring nonetheless, as the old man shoved his fist hard into the wound on his side.
The Bloody Nine shook his head.
"Enough," he said.
He grasped the old man by his throat, pressing tight, and grinned. He would enjoy seeing the life leave this one's eyes, grey and defiant, even now.
A small voice from within him yelled restraint, but the Bloody Nine ignored it.
With every second he could see the light growing dimmer in those eyes, but each moment of struggle also made his own sight more blurry, darker.
The Bloody Nine snarled in annoyance, and the smaller voice roared.
"Enough," Logen wheezed.
Threetrees collapsed on the ground, slipping from his grip.
Logen looked around, meeting the terrified eyes of the men in the circle around him.
"I'll spare your life, Rudd Threetrees. Consider yourself indebted to me."
That was the last he could mutter before the darkness took over his vision, dragging him down towards the mud.
Cheering voices filled the edge of his hearing, crying both victory and despair.