Character Backstory: Halvar, Rune Bearer
The boy stirred. A movement in his room brought his senses to him. It moved like a shadow, hunting across his wall, and he feared he was the prey. Slipping quietly from his blankets, he reached under his bed, and swiftly brought forth the shield his father had given him. None too soon, as green flame erupted from the shadow, streaking across the room. The boy raised his shield, as the flames crashed upon him. In the same moment it was over, the boy standing among the scorched wood, his shield glowing brightly from the runes inscribed on its face. The shadow stepped forward, no longer a monster but a human figure, and bowed deeply.
“You have within you the secret of the runes,” it said in a voice impossible to place. Shifting in tone and pitch, the boy was uncertain if he was watching a woman or a man. He was starting to think it was another entirely.
“The gods are not dead, nor is magic. Your sword, your blood, is proof enough. Your destiny calls you, Halvar. Take forth your sword, and learn its true name. Reveal the secret of the runes. You, Halvar, you will–”
A loud belch erupted from the man next to him.
“Give it up, Halvar! We’ve heard your tale a thousand times. It’s a good story but a better lullaby once we get into the mead!”
Laughter sprung up, and Halvar leaned back into his chair. The dark bedroom faded from his mind, replaced with the warmth of the nearby fire. The inn was empty, save them, and it felt vast compared to his memories. After a long drink from his cup, he spoke.
“Alright Baldur, I see I may talk you children to sleep with my tales of greatness and destiny. Come then, you tell us one!”
As others rallied the cry, the door to the inn was thrown open, and a figure stumbled in. Dressed in the armor of a town guard, he glanced around the room in a panic, before focusing on the hearth and the gathering of men there.
“The road! Wolves! The caravan is under attack!” He shouted.
Halvar rose without hesitation, as those around him looked to him.
“Baldur, watch closely. This is how legends are made!”
He ran from the inn, reaching to his hip and finding his sword. He hadn’t remembered putting his belt on earlier. He must have done so without thinking.
Too eager for song and drink! He mused.
As he neared the edge of the village, several others joined with him, and together they began down the road. Howling could be heard on the wind, and the woods were lit with the dancing light of torches.
Halvar turned to the others. “I will go first, and draw their attention. Ivar, try to target the ones in the back with that bow. Tad, you go for the wagon. Our goal is to draw them from the caravan. Once they’re away, get the wagon moving!”
He turned, then, and ran, not waiting for his companions replies. He knew time was short, and greatness lay only around the bend.
Running fast, sword in hand, he came upon the caravan. The horses were frenzied, but still harnessed. A small blessing, he thought, then regretted, seeing the first of the dead. To his left he could see two wolves in the brush, and he guessed three more must be near his flank. He turned his back on the two, taunting them, as he moved past the wagon. His simple farce worked, and the wolves made to pounce. The first wolf fell to his blade, as the second danced to his side. From behind, he heard movement, then a yelp. He dared a glance, and saw two more wolves. One was laying on its side, an arrow from its neck. The other began to circle.
A sudden crack of reins drew his attention away to see the cart lurch forward. The distraction was enough, and one of the circling wolves lunged. It caught Halvar’s empty arm, and pulled him off balance, to the ground. Slashing wildly, Halvar quickly recovered. His arm was mangled, the blood dripping from his hand as the spittle dripped from the wolves mouths. The second wolf then lept, but was caught mid flight by an arrow, and fell to the ground lifeless. Now outnumbered, the remaining wolf retreated to the darkness of the woods.
Ivar was upon him then, supporting him as they quickly made after the caravan. His arm burned, his chest pounded, and his head swam with anticipation of Baldur’s face, when he shared of his glory.
“Good shooting, Ivar! That’s two for you and two for me! Wait until Baldur–”
In a white blur, Ivar was torn from his side. Stumbling slightly, he turned to see a great white wolf, the size of a small horse, with Ivar’s neck in its teeth. With a snarl, it ripped the life from him, and as blood dripped from its mouth, it spoke in the common tongue.
“You will die this night, rune bearer. You cannot be allowed to live.”
Halvar took up his stance. His left arm useless, he put it between him and his enemy. The wolf then bellowed an unearthly howl, which echoed in the woods and was joined by more voices.
Unfortunate, he thought, This would make for a great tale. And not a single skald around to watch!
The two circled. The great wolf snarled a laugh of sorts.
“Do you know of me, manling? I am a daughter of Fenrir. I am to join my father in Ragnarok. I will feast upon your gods carcasses, and drink of their blood! You are not a god. What hope have you against one as great as me? Bare your neck, and I will end your life quickly.”
Halvar smiled. “Do you know of me, pup? I am Halvar, son of Haakon, son of Eirik, son of Odinson. I carry the secrets of the runes, and will herald the return of the gods! You dare impede my destiny?! You will serve only to further my legend!”
With renewed vigor, Halvar attacked. Sword was met with fang, as blow after blow was traded. The great wolf, no stranger to the weapons of man, danced around the blade. As each grew bloodied, they parted, panting and weary.
“You fight well, for a runt.” Halvar managed between breaths. “Tell me your name, great wolf. No warrior should live in legend unknown!”
The wolf bared its teeth, perhaps mimicking a smile. “I am called Ísstonn, ice fang. A vetrgarmr. Daughter of Vetrkona, Daughter of Hati Hróðvitnisson.”
A crushing of snow behind him signalled more wolves. Halvar knew his time was over.
Never a skald around… He began, then was interrupted by a yelp and a thud. He glanced over his shoulder to see one of the two wolves laying still, an ax in its side. From the woods, a figure emerged.
“You’re not a skald, but you’ll do!” Halvar shouted, a grin now upon his face. His father stepped forth, drawing the handax from the wolf, and moved to join him.
“Father and son shall fall by my fangs!” Ísstonn barked, and the fight resumed.
Once more, sword met fang, and blows were traded. Halvar and Haakon fought the winter wolf, as other wolves howled in the dark woods. The bravery and skill of the two was too much for the great wolf, and before long she lay bloodied and defeated on the snow.
“You fight with conviction, Haakonson,” she spit, as blood ran from her mouth. “Beware my father’s fang, manling. He will devour your gods.” The light faded from the great beast, as the last fog of its breath disappeared into the cold night air.
The two men made haste to the village. The night now silent.
“Halvar, what happened tonight, no one in the village may know of it.” Haakon said, as he bandaged Halvar’s arm.
“Surely you joke! What happened tonight is a story to rival the legends of old! Ow!” Haakon squeezed Halvar’s arm tightly. Tears welled in his eyes, as he stared with an intensity Halvar had not seen for many years.
“Halvar. You indeed have a great destiny before you. This village is in danger if you remain. You must leave here, and find your legend beyond these fields.”
Haakon then stood, and dared clear his eyes with his sleeve. After a brief pause, he went and retrieved a small chest. He heaved the heavy container onto the floor besides Halvar, and beckoned him open it.
Within, Halvar found a suit of chain mail, polished and oiled. Beneath it, a leather tunic, and nestled next to it all, a helmet.
“This was your grandfather’s, and his before him.” Haakon said. “If the stories are to be believed, this mail saw many battles, some during the great war.”
Haakon then placed two hand axes next to the chest. “These are yours now. Muninn and Huginn, named for the All Father’s favorite ravens. May they serve you well, as they do him”
Finally, he laid Halvar’s sword upon his lap. “And this, you know of. What you may not know is the legend of this sword. Here, a drink and our final toast.” Haakon handed a cup to Halvar, and they drank.
“Ages past, when myths were made, and magic was commonplace, the keepers of the runes used their powers to gift man with powerful weapons and armor and other trinkets. This sword is one such weapon. I know not its true name. My father told me it was called Eljunvegr, Enduring Hope, as I have told you, but there is another name, lost to time. These runes, they are more than just decoration, as you well know. Legend says, in the time of the great war, this sword was used by a great berserker of Odin. Odin’s ritual to save humanity would destroy any and all around him, and Odin commanded his men flee and live. This berserker refused the command of the god, and fought alone to protect the All Father, ensuring his victory. He fought with this sword, as you now will.”
Haakon then helped Halvar don his armor, and brought to him a pack. They then went outside, to meet the dawn. Haakon led to Halvar a horse, and then returned to the house. Before entering, he turned.
“You do honor to your family, Halvar. Never forget that.” With that, Haakon moved inside, and closed the door.
As Halvar neared the edge of the village, there stood two men. He recognized one as Baldur, and after a moment recognized the second as Tad.
“Leaving so soon? Surely you’ve tales of your daring rescue last night?” Baldur said, stifling a yawn. “Where are you off to so early? It looks like you ride to war!” He chuckled.
“You saved this village last night. That caravan had food and medicine.” Tad chimed in.
“We saved the village, Tad. You, me and Ivar. We did.” Halvar replied, his voice lacking in its usual bravado.
“Well, seems your adventures were a bit humbling. I admit, I fear what an actual adventure will make you!” Baldur laughed. His expression then grew sober. “Every great warrior needs a shield, Halvar. I know how much this means to you. I restored it as best I could.”
From his side, Baldur lifted a round shield. It was expertly crafted, and perfectly balanced. Upon its face, a rune was burned into the wood, and gelded in silver.
“Take this too, it’s from my family.” Tad held forth a horn, carved of bone with a steel mouthpiece. “Consider them a reminder: your legend started here. Now go, your father will have our beards if we’re seen with you.”
With a nod, Halvar rode from the village. He knew not to where he went, but he knew his destiny would not let him stray far.