The Great Game: The Blood of Frey, pt III

Geirr snarled. “Nobody has denied the courage of any stril. Courage is not unusual. Even war-skill can be had by training. It’s the bloodline they haven’t got, the blood of Frey from ancient times. They are not like us, and never can be.”
“Do they not? Will you look me in the eye and say you’ve never fathered a stril bastard?”
“Well… but how could we tell? Anyway, any such blood would have been sullied by the base work it’s been put to. And there’s another thing : Who’ll work the factories?”
“We just conquered twenty million Germans, remember? Let them work for their food. But this is useless. Let me state your real objection, for all to see. You just plain don’t like strils, any more than you like niggers and wogs, and you won’t associate with them. Isn’t that it?”
The value of plain speaking was ingrained in Ynglings from birth, and hypocrites were despised. Geirr looked surprised for a moment, then considering; like most people, he hadn’t actually considered the source of his opinions, but with the virtues of his vices, he was honest enough to recognise truth, even about himself, when it was pointed out. He nodded slowly. “All right. You’re right. Well then, that is my objection, and I don’t care who knows it. If you let the strils in, why next you’ll be letting the polaks and Balts in, and where will it end? Niggers having the vote? I’ll die fighting before it comes to that.”
“Well then. That’s the nub of the matter, isn’t it? Because, as you must know, that’s just what will happen. Either we extend Yngling privilege to the fighting strils, or the Norwegian Realm breaks apart into warring factions, and we all die. So, I have to ask : Do you really, really mean it when you say you’d rather die than let the strils in? Because that is the actual choice.”
Geirr stood a long moment, thinking. Then he squared his shoulders. “Yes, damn it. I do mean it. I am a man of the Ynglings, and the blood of Frey flows in my veins. I can march a hundred kilometers in three days. I can kill a man with my bare hands. I can hit a sparrow at a hundred paces. It is my destiny and my honour, and if you take away the purity of our line, then I am nothing. Let your rebels and foreigners invade; I am a man of the Ynglings, and no man shall move me from where I choose to make my stand.”
There was a long, awed moment of silence, and when Harald spoke again, there was respect and regret in his voice. Even the liberal Tingmenn were still Ynglings, and they could feel the pull of the old mysticism, the pagan drumbeat of pure blood, of our tribe. “That is well and honestly spoken. For myself, I might join you in that final struggle, and make our foes pay a deadly toll for the privilege of destroying the Ynglings. But I have children, and grandchildren, and I cannot so lightly cast away their lives; nor will I let you make such a choice for them. Let us settle it here, then, in the old manner, with axe and shield.”
Only a Tingmann could challenge another to holmgang, and the privilege was rarely invoked; few issues, after all, were so important as to be resolvable only by force. Besides, duels between Ynglings rarely ended well even for the survivor. Such a duel was held to bind both Ting and Folk, since the alternative, in a conflict men were willing to die for, was civil war. Geirr nodded soberly. “Very well; let it be as you say.”
Preparations were swift; weapons were always held ready in the Tinghall for such an occasion. Inside of five minutes, the opponents were circling each other warily. Then there was a sudden blur of motion and a twin crack, and both men were staggering back with the left arms hanging useless behind shattered shields. Each had correctly anticipated the other’s attack, and blocked it; and each had broken the other’s shield, and arm, with the devastating upper-body strength of Ynglings.
Geirr grinned through the pain. “Now I think Harald has lost,” he said, “for his shield is broken.” Harald smiled back, equally strained, and completed the quotation. “He is not shieldless whom God fights for.” Then they were on each other again, a flashing blur of metal and muscle. When they separated, Harald’s right arm was spurting blood where Geirr’s axe had bitten to the bone; but Geirr was spilling intestines to the floor. Even so, he was laughing as he fell. “I win, comrade. You’ll bleed out in a minute. It’ll take me a day to die of this.” Harald gasped back “He is not weaponless that has a pair of good boots”. His axe had dropped from a dangling, useless arm; but his right foot flashed out to connect with Geirr’s head with a sickening crunch. Dazed, Geirr nonetheless tried to get his axe into a defensive position. But although a trained will can overcome pain and shock, no amount of will can supply leverage when the stomach muscles are gone. Harald kicked the arm out of the way, then stomped down on his opponent’s nose with all his weight. This time the skull broke; the body spasmed once, then was still. Harald stood, panting, as his friends rushed to bandage his wounds. “Die then, as you wished it,” he ground out. “And raise a glass for me in Valhall. You were the last of the Old Ynglings. I hope the New will be worthy of your memory.”

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