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Venner

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In the feral regions of the north, where forests grew tall enough to penetrate the clouded sky and ocean water raged and calmed with the will of the Gods, the seasons were changing. The cold winter had passed and summer was now bathing the land of the Vikings with new warmth and promise. Ragnar Lothbrok knew that if he wanted to raid before the next winter, construction on his new ship must begin immediately. The ship had to be at least 23 meters long, and hold more than fifteen herculean individuals. It would be built from the finest oak and pine, and it would carry him and his men west, where a land of riches awaited his plunder. This much Ragnar knew, but not much else. The task of actually constructing the boat would fall on Ragnar, his son Bjorn, and his friend Floki. With Floki's guidance and wisdom, Ragnar had faith that the enhanced ship would be finished in no time.

So far, his confident estimation had proved itself to be true. Within only two weeks, the keel and ribs of the boat had been completed. After the felling of a massive oak followed by relentless hours of carving and hewing the sacred tree, the skeleton of the ship had taken form. Ragnar and Bjorn would trek through the forest every morning before sunrise to aid Floki throughout the day and return home after nightfall, repeating the journey after a good night's sleep. Bjorn complained at first, whining fruitlessly of how tired he was, but was quickly silenced by his father's bitter order to 'Shut up and act like a man.' Because of his small size and lack of matching strength, Bjorn had been allowed to attempt to fell a tree only once, as a cruel joke, and then had been advised to stay out of the way. He really had no reason to be complaining without having done any heavy work.

After his desperate efforts of chopping into a tree were mocked and laughed at, the boy was directed to the incredibly tedious task of crafting the ship's vital rope which would be needed for the sail lines. Such condescending treatment was not uncommon towards the young Lothbrok, and although he didn't like being treated like a child one bit, Bjorn tolerated it and promised himself that one day he would be treated with the respect he deserved. Teasing was often received from his father, but Bjorn knew Ragnar only did it out of love and sarcasm. The man really did value and appreciate his son, deep down underneath his mockery.

But with Floki, it was different. Bjorn could detect a genuine pleasure bubbling up from inside the playful shipwright when the two of them made fun of him.

On the fifteenth day of their project, Bjorn sat on the edge of the forested clearing by the shore, comfortably perched on a broad tree stump braiding a long rope of hemp and flax for the ship while staying out of his father's way. He focused on his small contribution, growling at the stubborn strands of twine as he felt his fingers callusing. The rope had to remain taut throughout his braiding and twisting or the line would weaken. His duty may not have required the heavy lifting and axe-swinging work which the adults performed, but it was equally as important, and equally as difficult.

The echoing thwack of blades striking wood rang throughout the clearing. Bjorn's father worked on the massacre of yet another looming coniferous tree across the clearing with his friend Floki. Each man's axe struck only seconds after one another, alternating turns at the most proficient speed. The blonde hair on the farmer's bare arms glistened with beads of sweat, and was peppered with flakes of chipped bark. With the might of a bear, Ragnar Lothbrok swung his axe with both hands' grip, his endurance slightly wavering in steady pulses of energy and sudden bursts of force. Years of farm work and battle had made Ragnar a formidable brute and a respectable role model for his son. Bjorn wanted nothing more than to be as great and as strong of a man as Ragnar. Or perhaps even stronger and greater; a desire that was easily detected by Floki, a companion of his father who Bjorn had only recently been introduced to and was quickly beginning to dislike.

Bjorn still didn't honestly know what to make of the unusual hermit. He was nothing like the strong battle-worn men who Bjorn had become familiar with. Bjorn knew only of warriors and farmers, two lifestyles intertwined by the unity of the Chieftain who called men to war for one part of the year and released them back to their farms for the other part. Floki hardly owned a farm, although there were plenty of resources in the forest to keep one alive. And he most certainly was no warrior, being as scrawny and fragile as the trees around him and having the balance and coordination of a drunkard.

The young Lothbrok acknowledged his bitter judgements of the stranger with little remorse. Who his father chose to align himself with was none of the boy's business, and he knew that. Perhaps Floki's cockiness and utter disregard for personal space was still tickling the boy's nerves, or perhaps it was simply this uncooperative bloody rope. With an angry growl, Bjorn threw the rope to the compressed leafy ground, fed up with his struggle with such a ridiculous inanimate object. He let his frustrations cool, turning his attention instead to the men across the clearing. His father's swings grew more eager and powerful with the encouragement of the wood creaking, the splintered gash in its side becoming deeper and deeper. After receiving a warning bark from Ragnar, Floki retreated from the attack, grinning as he watched his stronger ally strike the final blows. Panting from the effort of hacking into the tree, the connoisseur let his lanky arms hang limply to his sides, keeping his own trusty axe loose in his exhausted grip. Feeling giddy excitement bubble up from within him, his feet danced slightly as he predicted the moment the tree would fall, resisting an instinctual urge to move further away from the danger of the enormous teetering pine.

Bjorn, too, was enthralled in the suspense as the great tree groaned a bit more with each pernicious hack of his father's axe. Depositing a mouthful of saliva to the ground, Ragnar glanced up once before continuing to heave his blade into the hard tortured flesh of the tree. "That's enough, that's enough..." Floki eased with a faint trace of a chuckle as he stepped over to put a dismissing hand on his friend's shoulder, looking up at the resisting tree as he concentrated on studying its slight sway. Ragnar caught his breath and ceased his blows, defeated and disheartened by the fact that the tree was still standing. Gripping his own axe tightly once again, Floki circled the trunk to the opposite side, the side facing the clearing and the side on which the tree would fall. After giving that untouched side a few more finishing wounds, the tree began to lean forward precariously, sending the two men hurrying out of the way.

Unable to bear the weight of itself with such a badly damaged base, the pine creaked and strained as it lost its balance. What was left of the trunk splintered and cracked, releasing the tree to the ground. With a thunderous crescendo of pulverized twigs, bouncing coniferous needles, and snapping branches, the great pine landed rather smoothly into the open clearing which was designated as their work space. Ragnar chuckled as Floki met him beside the fallen tree with a smirk upon his sweaty face.

Bjorn hesitated to stand and join them in the easier work of hewing the tree, still incredibly bitter towards his failure of weaving a rope but also nervous of getting in the way or bothering his father. Or worse, being so hideously made fun of again. Ragnar began cleaning up the tree, chopping at the thicker branches with his axe and discarding the prickly bushels of needles. Floki joined him, stepping over the felled tree with his long legs and hacking at a few branches himself. "Much easier than the Oak, was it not?" He grinned with triumph.

"Only took half a day to bring down. The Oak took almost two." Ragnar commented in agreement, laughing over towards his friend as they worked on shedding off the thickest branches of the fallen pine. "But it was worth it." Floki mumbled lovingly, holding a prickly bushel of needles out of his face and tossing the branch aside once his axe detached it from the pine. "It made a fine keel." He took a pause to wipe dirt and sweat from his face onto his tattered sleeve. "I believe that Odin favors our use of his favorite tree."

"Father?" Bjorn spoke up, remaining in his spot atop the old tree stump surrounded by leaves and twine. Ragnar glanced over at him as he stood up from the shrubbery of branches, stretching and cracking his sore back with a pleased grimace. "Yes, Bjorn?" Bjorn acknowledged the affable tone in his father's voice and stood up, more confident about his request. "May I help you on the tree now?"

With a smirk, Ragnar allowed his son's anticipation to be lengthened before nodding and removing a second axe from his tool belt to lend to him. Floki smiled broadly at the young Lothbrok, secretly smug at the child's difficulty finishing the rope. With the three of them first removing the superfluous branches-- and then the rough bark-- at a desirably steady pace, the twelve-meter-long tree was stripped before the hour. With the feeble tip of the tree removed, it turned out to be only ten meters long, but still plenty long enough to be valuable, strong wood. At its thickest point, near the severed base, it had the circumference of both of Bjorn's arms' embrace.

After the last branch was removed, Floki walked the length of the tree forward and back. Without its branches or bark, it was no more than a smooth pale log with small stubs sticking out in every direction. They'd turned a porcupine into a hedgehog. "You are tired, Ragnar. Go rest for a while." He muttered without looking up, still inspecting the tree. Ragnar just barely noticed that he still hadn't caught his breath after such vigorous hacking. He'd been working on that pine for hours on end, but so had his friend, and Floki seemed to be just as energetic as ever. "I'm fine." He declared, dismissing his friend's advice and tightening his slackened grip on his chipped axe. Bjorn took pride in his father's reluctance to cease working, listening to the conversation as he raked the heaps of branches and needles away from the log with a pitchfork.

"No. You are taking a break." Floki insisted with a motherly forceful tone as he pointed his axe at the stubborn Lothbrok, raising his eyes in humored disbelief that Ragnar would disobey him. With a smirk, Ragnar shook his head, unintimidated. He cleared his throat and instructed his weary body to walk alongside the log to the base end, about to make the cut that would split the log in half lengthwise. He was only permitted three strikes of his axe before Floki calmly snatched the tool from his hands on the fourth swing. "Floki-!" Ragnar growled in irritation, straightening his back to try and take his axe back. Holding the axe high behind him, Floki giggled and kept it out of Ragnar's reach, again taking advantage of his height. The persistent weight of his friend forced him to stumble backwards, but he kept his balance, and kept the axe well out of reach. Bjorn chuckled as he watched his father be taunted, remorseless as he rested his chin upon his hands as he leaned on the end of the rake, watching it all.

The task of retrieving his axe was an effective distraction for Ragnar. With his free hand, Floki untied and yanked off Ragnar's tool belt with hardly any trouble, gathering the heavily encumbered strap of leather in his arm as he repeated with a chuckle, "Take a break. You are worthless when you are tired!" Ragnar allowed his friend to scamper away from him only after giving him an acrimoniously hard punch to the shoulder. Floki trotted away giggling and snickering like a hyena who'd just robbed a lion of a kill. Bjorn silenced his own uncontrollable laughter after receiving a death glare from his father, quickly going back to raking the prickly pile of branches to the side. Ragnar gave Floki a sneer as he stormed off, climbing the hill to where Floki's cabin lay, and where food was generously provided.

Floki tried his best to hold his face together as he brought his laughter to a shaky close. With Bjorn doing the same, they watched Ragnar leave entirely before looking at each other and shamelessly releasing the rest of their laughter.


 

Ragnar returned after letting his temper cool off and reminding himself that Floki was only bossing him around because he truly cared about him and knew that he needed to rest, something which Ragnar's pride would never permit him to admit. He descended the slope with a dozen dried strips of beef over one shoulder and a pair of imperfect fruit in one hand, arriving back to the clearing to see the tree almost entirely split down the middle. Bjorn inserted another oak wedge into the semi-deep gash made from Floki's axe and Floki rotated the axe to hammer the wedge tightly down into the crevice, a repeated procedure which formed the system of splitting a log.

They acknowledged Ragnar's return with impassive smiles and continued their work. Ragnar took a seat upon a bench in the shack where his ship's skeleton was protected by a sturdy roof and a massive fur tarp. The shack was across the clearing from the ocean shore, a safe and far distance from the water should it decide to rise or become violent. They wouldn't want the ship to take to the seas early, now would they? Bordering the dormant ship was an array of workbenches, tables, and piles of wood of all different kinds and sizes. Tools lined the walls; axes and adzes, chisels, carving knives, files, and a number of other larger blades for shaping wood. Dried bushels of withered flowers hung from the rafters, an odd decoration that strangely brought a sense of serenity to the crowded and messy shack. A sparrow nest resided inside the top corner, where young fledglings chirped eagerly as they awaited their mother's return with food.

With the log split open three-fourths up from the base to the tip, Floki sheathed his axe and unsheathed a mallet of similar size, giving it to Bjorn and gently ordering him to hammer the wedges of oak deeper into the wood. The boy did as he was told, glad to have a hard job which wasn't physically impossible for him to do. He swung the mallet with all his might, perfectly mirroring the strength and determination of his father's swing. Floki watched him with a smile but didn't interfere or pester the boy, satisfied with a job well-done. Before long, Bjorn had finished the job and split the log entirely into two separate halves. Panting, he handed the mallet back to Floki and was dismissed with a chuckle of "Not bad."

Bjorn retreated triumphantly to his father, catching a fruit which was tossed at him. "I like that job. When you do it right, the tree parts like butter." He grinned, proud of himself and glad to finally feel some sweat dampen the nape of his neck. Ragnar nodded once and retained his smile as his son sat next to him on the workbench. "You did alright. I suppose." They sat together and ate while watching Floki from a distance. The shipwright flipped each half on its flat side and began splitting one log into half again. "Does he ever take a break?" Bjorn asked in profound amazement.

With a slow exhale of breath just short of becoming a sigh, Ragnar untied a strip of dried beef from the bushel he'd brought with him from Floki's cabin. "...Not that I've seen." He proceeded to tear out a mouthful of the jerky with his teeth. Bjorn took a bite of his fruit, studying his father's friend for any sign of fatigue. After finding no trace of it whatsoever, he suddenly turned on his father, asking with an accusing tone, "How can you get tired, but not Floki? He's so weak." With another bite, he turned back around and let his sharp words sting.

Cocking his head, Ragnar received his arrogant son's words with astonished anger. "He's not weak." He said nothing more but set his hawk eyes upon his son's blonde head. With a scoff, Bjorn faced him again with crude disbelief. "Have you seen him? He's as frail as a tree."

"You believe trees are weak, Bjorn?" His father immediately snapped, only physically holding himself back. With a small snarl, he demanded reconsideration. "Think about it." Bjorn shut his mouth and did was he was told, satisfied with the spark of annoyance he'd stirred in Ragnar. In all seriousness, he did reconsider his judgement. He thought about all they had done within the past few weeks, all the work that was required to fell a few trees in the forest. Their bark was rough and their trunks were thick. They were so tall they almost touched the sky, and when one finally fell, it practically sent an earthquake rippling through the ground.

Seeing a solitary tree from afar would definitely prompt one to believe it was frail. But grouped together in whole forests, trees could take on the form of a rock-solid wall. Even in a single tree, the majority of its strength remained hidden underground in a web of anchors. Although concealed from plain sight most of the time, the roots were the most vital and impressive part of a tree. With mild sheepishness, Bjorn rotated his fruit and renounced his earlier accusations. "I suppose not."

"Trees are incredibly strong. And so is Floki." Ragnar lectured, turning his attention back to his food. He would defend his friend from unjust accusations and disrespect, just as Floki had done for him numerous times. Bjorn munched on a chunk of his fruit and turned back to his father, asking without bothering to chew his food first, "How long have you known him?"

"A long time." His father answered without bothering to calculate the exact amount, but still with a pause as he began to reflect upon the memory. His curiosity unsatisfied, Bjorn pushed another question. "How did you meet him?"

"...By chance." Ragnar smiled as he met his son's open gaze. He grew quiet as he reminisced, turning his gaze to watch his friend in the clearing as the echo of an axe's blows reverberated through the forest. Bjorn shifted in his seat to get more comfortable as his father began the tale.

"I was fifteen. My father was ill with the disease that eventually took him and Rollo had left for his first raid season. I had to tend to the farm and my father alone. This was same farm I raised you and Gyda in. And this was the same forest which I hunted in. We could not afford to slaughter livestock for food, so I hunted what I could in the forest. The season was dry and bearing little rain. Our crops were struggling to grow. That year was very difficult. It was difficult for everyone."


 

A violent thunderstorm had finally ceased the reign of drought. The smell of fresh rain permeated through the outdoor air, caressing every breath with an essence of life. The grass was speckled with dew, each blade cherishing its own special drop of water. The trees, although heavy with the weight of the soaking rain, seemed to bloom with new energy and hope. The crops on the farm were reviving, and the livestock eagerly grazed in the fenced pasture with pleasure. The rain was a blessing from the Gods.

Ragnar Lothbrok, a young man of fifteen, gathered his hunting bow and quiver of arrows as he prepared to go on a promising hunt. Dawn was fast approaching and he knew the deer would be lured from their sanctuaries by the tasty rain-moistened foliage in the forest. After fastening a wolf pelt over his shoulders, the teenager glanced into his father's room and checked the rising and falling of his father's rib cage, a sign that he was breathing fine and sleeping well.

Silently promising to return home soon, he left the farm and marched into the quietly thriving forest. The rain was still drizzling down from the heavens, softly plinking on each leaf and thumping on the hard packed earth. Ragnar flipped his fur hood over his short braided blonde hair, scratching his chin as the beginnings of stubble impatiently struggled to grow. Although his body was starting to emerge out of puberty and shape into a man, he still possessed the slender frame and young face of a boy.

He traveled deep into the woods, his footsteps silent and his senses alert. An arrow was readily placed in the notch of his bow. It was a long time before he found a creature to kill, and sadly it was only a meager squirrel and not a handsome buck. Deciding it would be better to return home with a disappointing squirrel than to come home with absolutely nothing at all, Ragnar aimed and fired his bow from a hidden position. After another half hour of hunting, he shot and killed a second squirrel.

Sunlight crept over the mountains and through the holes in the looming grey rain clouds like golden yolk spilling out from cracks in an egg. The rain-bathed forest was soon glistening with soft warm light, shimmering as the sunlight touched every blade of grass and leaf. The passing clouds shadowed this marvelous effect frequently, making parts of the forest light up and dim out in a beautiful pattern.

Ragnar was on his way home, the two dead squirrels tied together at the ankles and slung over his back. The drizzling rain had ceased and the remains of the storm was also making its journey home. Keeping his gaze on the muddied forest floor, Ragnar let his thoughts wander as his body functioned on auto-pilot. He jealously dreamt of what his brother was doing at this moment, in the lands of the East enjoying himself with a crew of the finest warriors of Earl Haraldson's followers. Fighting in the war, accumulating fame and glory, earning battle scars worthy of legends. And here Ragnar was, stuck at home, burdened with his sickly father and poor harvest. He wanted nothing more than to be where his envied brother was right now, basking in some much deserved fame and glory for himself.

Suddenly, the leaves from a bush rustled from the side of the trail Ragnar traveled, startling him into looking up and awakening from his thoughts. He was pounced upon, burdened by the weight of another being for a split second, sparking a flame of fear within his chest. A wolf? What had caught him off guard and moved to attack him? He soon realized it was not an animal, but another human. The predator was gone in an instant, taking with him the two squirrels Ragnar had worked all morning to catch. Still on his feet, Ragnar whirled around and immediately felt the absence of his possessions, his confused and startled gaze landing upon the thief who had halted a few yards away and was inspecting his stolen goods.

The thief was another boy, almost the same age as Ragnar, give or take a few years. Older or younger, it was impossible to tell. The thief had no sign of muscle tone under his damp loose scraps of cloth and leather clothing, however his skeletal structure proved to be taller than Ragnar's; and his ability to grow facial hair seemed of greater ease. The thief had the beginnings of a mustache and some uneven dark brown fuzz around his jaw aspiring to become a beard. The medium-thick, wild brown hair upon his scalp was laden with drops of dew and sweat just like the grass of the forest floor. His gleaming beady eyes met Ragnar's, wide with the pulsing of adrenaline from within, and his hesitant smile broadened with a taunting pleasure at his successful robbery.

This mutual glance, this heist, this meeting happened in only seconds. But it began a lifetime of friendship.


 

"He robbed you?" Bjorn half chuckled in delight, half scoffed in disappointment. His father smirked in mild shame and great humor. He nodded and fought to wipe away the grin forming on his lips. "He was so fast, I didn't know what do." He remembered. He turned back towards his son and cocked his head as he slowly raised a correcting finger. "At first. Then I ran after him and caught him. I bore down on him with all my strength."


 

Enraged, Ragnar dashed after he boy, his boots churning up earth and leaves as he charged like a bull. The thief unleashed a panicked bout of laughter, his stride sharp and his own boots quick like the precise and sturdy hooves of a deer. The hunt continued, having been morphed into a chase.

Ragnar's fury and determination outmatched the thief's dire need to flee. Before they'd covered more than a hundred yards, Ragnar grasped onto the convict's jacket and pulled him to the ground. Torn between wanting to murder and wanting to take back what was rightfully his, the forest floor scuffle was long and brutal. Although his suspicions were confirmed- the thief had no muscle tone, just the skeleton and skin of a boy, albeit a very tall boy- Ragnar was surprised to find that his opponent put up a very good fight. Within the flying tangle of limbs and fists, Ragnar felt the bridge of his nose crack as the thief made contact. Wincing through the pain, he delivered a series of well-placed punches himself.

After a sharp defensive kick from the thief, Ragnar stood and ceased his angry blows. His whole body was sore and his nose was flowing with blood. His wounds served as an annoyance more than anything. Nonetheless, in his tight grip he held his two prized squirrels by their tails. Ragnar had won back his catch. With a final kick to the curled coughing body on the forest floor, he wiped away the blood from his nose and stepped back. Panting and bruised, Ragnar checked the damage done to his squirrels as he stumbled away. "You better pray to the Gods never to see me again!" He spat in vengeance, glancing back as the thief remained wheezing on the ground. "For if you do, you'll regret it!" Fueled by his triumph, he yelled back a final threat before leaving the small clearing.

As he walked, he felt a sharp object poking him in the back, and groaned as his suspicions were confirmed. He pulled his shattered bow from his back and examined the damage. It was completely irreparable. Throwing it to the ground, he checked his quiver next. Most of his arrows were also smashed. It was his own fault, being so rough while wearing them. Now he had no means to hunt with, and those two dirtied squirrels were all he had left. He didn't know how soon he'd be able to fashion another hunting bow and a good set of arrows. Perhaps, because of this fatal mistake, he'd condemned himself and his father to starvation. He stood and leaned against a tree, catching his breath from the fight and staring up at the sky, shamefully asking Odin to help him in his thoughts.

Suddenly he was shoved to the ground, his scraped and dirtied hands once again were robbed of their possessions. The trickster hovered, snickering at his own crafty devilry. He was stronger than he looked, and although bruised and scuffed up from the brutal fight, was still in perfect thieving condition. He was ready to bolt away, but hesitated to do so for the moment, as if he was waiting for his new playmate to get up and recover. Throwing an assailment of hateful curses, Ragnar scrambled up and the chase began once again.


 

"He robbed you twice?" Bjorn couldn't handle it anymore. This story was making his own father out to be such a pushover. Literally. He almost didn't believe it. His frustration escalated along with his amusement, two conflicting emotions that fought to overcome each other.

"Twice too many." Ragnar nodded, embarrassment and amusement heightening into his own internal struggle. "I was furious. He fled up a tree the second time, far from my reach. There he mocked me as I threw stones."


 

"You're a dead man! A dead man!" Ragnar screamed through his strained breath, running faster than he ever ran. His opponent only replied with exuberant laughter, his longer legs proving to be an advantage in his escape. The thief gained a good distance from his pursuer and leapt up a great oak, latching on to the base of the lowest branches with his arms and pulling himself up. Ragnar made a move to jump up right behind him, but his fingertips only grazed the bark of the lowest branch, and he crashed back down to the forest floor. The theif caught his breath and paused in his climb to watch the hunter's vain attempts to follow him. Chuckling some more, he proceeded to climb a good ten feet higher before resting and perching on a thick branch, examining the squirrels briefly.

Ragnar let the burning of his lungs ease before attempting to leap into the tree again, muttering and hissing threats of all sorts. It was no use. No matter how high he jumped or how long of a running start he gave himself, he could never get more than his fingertips to touch the lowest branch. The thief smirked as he brushed mud and dirt off of his new squirrels, still not speaking one word.

"Coward!" Ragnar threw an insult, at a loss of what else to do. "Coward." He muttered again, turning his gaze downwards to find stones to throw. The thief didn't even flinch as Ragnar began his best pitches. The rocks bounced off the thick hard bark of the tree, crashing through some leaves and twigs before falling back down and almost hitting their catapulter in the head. With a closed-mouth laugh, the thief spoke up. "You really want these squirrels."

"Damn right." Ragnar snarled, chucking another well-aimed rock up towards his loathed enemy. "Who the hell do you think you are!?" He demanded after watching his ammunition fail to hit his target. The thief didn't acknowledge his rude way of asking what his name was. "Seriously, who are you!?" Ragnar called after catching his breath.

"Nobody." The thief smiled, petting the dead creatures as he inspected the wounds which Ragnar's arrows made. "But you... you are a very good hunter." He identified.

"The best." Ragnar corrected, boosted by his own ego. "Give them back." The thief looked up from his squirrels and stared Ragnar in the eyes. He expected the egoistic hunter to beg. Sighing, Ragnar seethed out his case. "My father is dying. The crops on the farm are, as well. I need those squirrels."

The thief's face remained sly and taunting. "How do I know you are not lying?" Ragnar did not give an answer, so the thief leaned forward, straddling the branch underneath him, and chided, "It does not matter what your excuses are. If you want these back, you must take them back. I will not give them to you."

Ragnar accepted the challenge with quiet hatred. Taking the small knife from his belt, he walked a small distance to another tree and began digging into the tough wood. He worked for hours. The sun rose higher and the clouds disappeared. The thief remained in the tree, watching his pursuer determinedly cut a sorry-looking plank of wood from the branch of that tree, shave off its sappy bark, and craft a makeshift bow.

"Very interesting." The thief voiced after a long while, relaxed and leaning against the trunk of the tree as his eyes drooped with sleepiness. "You do not have the skills to climb like me. But you are a better hunter. So you carve a bow." Respect and wonder touched his voice. However, being a master wood carver himself, which Ragnar did not know yet, he could clearly see that the bow would not serve its purpose. Under so little preparation, time, and care, it would not hit its target, which was himself.

"You think I will miss?" Ragnar questioned accusingly, glancing up at him with a glare as he began carving an arrow from a suitable twig. His knife was wearing down and growing dull, and he did not know if his idea would work. If he had an axe to chop lumber from the tree, the knife's blade would have been spared and it could have better served its true purpose of strictly carving.

The thief smiled and cocked his head, cradling his squirrels in his lap as he slouched in his comfortable seat."You might. But you might not." He forced his face to remain enticing and unsuspecting although he was absolutely certain that Ragnar would badly miss his target. His efforts would be in vain. Ragnar took a thread from the bindings of his quiver and fastened it to each end of the bow, gently testing the stretch of the thread. "We will see." He muttered, confident yet desperate. He strung the sharpened pine arrow and pulled his arm back, lining up his sight and aim. "Last warning. Give me back my squirrels."

The thief grinned and didn't move, excited to see the arrow falter and drop no more than a few paces from Ragnar's feet. Ragnar was about to unleash his arrow when some twigs snapped behind him, and the earth was smothered under the heavy footsteps of a massive paw. The thief's face fell as he gazed at what emerged from the depths of the forest behind Ragnar. Ragnar turned slowly, half lowering his amateur bow. A great bear had detected the blood in the air from the dead squirrels, Ragnar's heavily bleeding nose, and the few wounds exposed on the thief. It had detected lunch.


 

"That was the first time I saw a bear." Ragnar finished the last strip of beef he'd brought down from Floki's cabin and set down the strings which held the jerky together on the work table. Bjorn was silent with suspense and wonder. He himself had never seen a bear before, but it was no secret that they were the strongest and most dangerous things in the wilderness.

"Were you scared?" The boy asked, questioning his own self if he would feel fear in such a situation. Ragnar leaned in close, a gleam in his mischievous eye. He whispered shamelessly to his son,"I was terrified."

End of Part 1
Part 2 coming in August