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Viking

Grond flexed the muscles in his right arm in an attempt to undo some of the painful knots in a forearm and bicep, sore from the overuse of the weight of a large axe, in this case the axe used to chop lots of firewood for the cold winter months ahead.  Sinewy muscles were very evident throughout Grond's body, not just in his extremely powerful right arm.  Every part of him exuded strength and vitality.  To back up this unsettling physical presence was an equally disturbing tension, and a stare that missed nothing, being very animal-like in its intensity. 

Grond lived alone, miles from anywhere, preferring this way of life than any other.  He had come to terms with the fact he disliked people and they him.  He was big, ugly, and inherently nasty.  There were few redeeming features to his makeup, with little quarter given to any who crossed his path.  Villagers talked in whispered asides about him or when in his company, and would dare not confront the man on the occasions he appeared in their village.  He was more ogre-like than human.  Childlike innocence had long gone from his mind and demeanour.  He was alone and preferred to be alone.  He had no reason to question his life in any way whatsoever until that fateful day.  

Who was this Grond, and where had he come from?  It doesn't really matter, not in so far as this story is concerned.  It is a story for another day.  It is enough to know he was a product of his environment and of man's hatred for another. 

A hard life had etched many scars on Grond's mind and body, effectively resulting in a consummate warrior of some renown who wielded an axe as if it was part of his own anatomy, an axe that could split a man in two and had done on numerous occasions.  In an effort to remove himself from any further horror he had used the strength of his back and the little savings he had to settle away from any who could cause him further harm.  Life was now one of survival against the elements only.  It was enough, more than enough it seemed to Grond.  The elements were not so unforgiving as many of the human race were, not as far as Grond was concerned, but they were a challenge nonetheless. 

Nothing in Grond's life was anything but harsh in aspect or outlook, he preferred it this way.  Burnt into Grond's psyche was the need to remain strong at all times.  Never to show fear or weakness to any adversary.  There simply wasn't anything but rigid inflexibility in regard to emotions left in his daily persona.  Feelings for another were buried in some dark place in his subconscious and hardly ever to see the light of day again.  Grond was now more like a beast than a man in this regard.  A beast that would bite you should you dare come close.  

The day came when another trip to the village was necessary.  It was quite a trek, but one required to be made as so as to keep body and soul together.  Certain supplies were to be found there, and by a process of barter, Grond was able to exchange his pelts and furs for goods he could not acquire from the wild.  Even so, they were not essential items, and he could survive very well without them.  Maybe the trip meant more to Grond than he would have owned up to, or even be aware of?  It could be he simply found some comfort from seeing another living breathing human being.  The short visit recharging whatever emptiness had made its presence felt. But it was unlikely.  Maybe it was more of a scouting trip to keep an eye on any that might intrude?  To make sure there was sufficient space between him and others?  The village was growing and there might come a time when Grond would have to up sticks to move to somewhere even more remote.  Whatever the reason Grond loaded up his packhorse and cart and set out. 

The snow underfoot emitted a reassuring crunch on each footfall. The air was crisp and clear.  It was no day to be exposed to though if you were not properly attired.  It was brass monkey weather.  Such beautiful snowy vistas belied a merciless nature for any who wasn't fully prepared.  Grond's huge frame was all the more imposing under thick fur as a result.  His marked and grouchy face, allied to an altogether unfriendly gaze, would be off-putting on someone of much smaller stature, but when atop a mountain of a man it was simply scary in the extreme.  When he hit the village people gave him a wide birth, keeping their head down to avoid eye contact. The huge axe strapped to his back didn't help allay any fears.  They hoped he wouldn't venture into the part of town where other men of his calibre frequented.  The part of the town where alcohol could be obtained.  He wasn't known for being a drinker but you just never knew.  Maybe today was to be such a day?  

In every motley collection of homesteads, in every hamlet across the land, there was the quintessential village bully.  An alpha male who liked to strut. feels the need to strut, to rise to the top of the pile.  The village where Grond now frequented was just such a place.  This bully had surrounded himself with lackeys, those only too willing to make life difficult if not unbearable for others.  Such men were troublesome when sober, but completely out of control when having imbibed a few.  Courage can exist in the bottom of a bottle or tankard.  These men were not exactly cowards though, just given to cruelty to those less fortunate.  Their arrogance had grown over time through never being challenged in a sobering manner.  At first, they were nothing but a nuisance, but their numbers had grown as had their influence.  At the head of this growing entourage of gangsters, one man stood head and shoulders above the others.  A man who was thoughtful and manipulative.  A man whose behaviour was bad enough when sober but all the more alarming when oiled up in any way.   A calculating man with a heartless soul.  A dangerous man in effect.  A malicious man who exploited any weakness he could see and took delight in doing so.  A man who crushed the souls of others under his care.  A man with a long-suffering wife and child. 

As per usual it seemed as if Grond paid little attention to who passed him by, but he was fully aware of their aspect and demeanour, their purpose.  Not at any time did Grond relax his observational skills, even those in his peripheral vision were not overlooked.  It had been drummed into him that by doing so was a quick way to an early grave.  A part of him did react favourably to his close proximity to others though, but it was a fleeting regard that was soon satisfied.  A trip to the store and quick exchange of pleasantries were enough to recharge his batteries for another few months, at least as far as his need for company was concerned.  'Pleasantries', as far as Grond was concerned, was interacting with the store owner with a series of grunts.  It had been years since Grond had actually spoken to anyone.  The store owner allowed what he thought was a reasonable deal for the goods exchanged - pelts and furs for supplies and some coins, instinctively knowing not to try and cheat this huge and gruff customer.  He and his other customers walked on eggshells when the likes of Grond frequented the place.  He took up a lot of room too, and this, along with a wide birth afforded him by others, meant the store owner was only too glad for him to leave on good terms and for normality to return.

Grond breathed deeply of the bitingly cold air. A few coins rattled in his pocket. Truth be told he didn't really have much need for them, but they were always handy in a pinch. A thought crossed his mind that a shot or two of something invigorating would not be a bad idea, they would help warm his innards a little, an aid for the return trip. Just a few mind, for medicinal purposes you understand. It would take far more than a few shots of whatever rotgut was on offer to have much of an affect on someone of Gronds size. There didn't seem any harm in quickly nipping in and out of the local watering hole. Just a very short visit was his intention as it was not the type of weather to keep his packhorse standing around for long. A few slugs and off they would go. Grond knew where the establishment was, though he had never crossed its threshold before now.

After tying his horse to a suitable post, and making sure his supplies were safe, Grond took a few steps forward and pushed ajar the heavily glad door to the seedy dive. The stench of alcohol, sweat, and other manly odours filled the rank air. When the door closed behind him heads turned and the usual silence prevailed. Unperturbed, he strode purposely to the bar. Casually pointing at a bottle of booze and laying a few coins on the counter a full glass of drink was served him in a none to clean glass. It was apparent there were a few who were somewhat under the weather, drunk in other words, and as Grond was now the focus of attention a few choice remarks were thrown his way. Anyone with half a brain knew things were not going to end well for the raucous revellers. Some began to back off to make room for the impending storm.

Rellik, the leader of the drunken pack, took it as a personal affront that a bigger man than himself existed.  He instantly felt obliged to put this usurper in his place.  What better way than to belittle him, to browbeat him, to break the man's resolve and confidence?  The same tactics had always worked in his favour before, so why should the outcome be any different this time around? Loudly Rellik proclaimed his presence and approached Grond in a seemingly jovial and welcoming manner, though in an obviously insincere one.  It was a mistake right from the off.  No-one had laid a hand on Grond for many years.  Rellik, by attempting to swing an arm over Grond's shoulder, had inadvertently overstepped the mark.  Such instances as these engineered an instinctive response from Grond that he had little control over, they being so speedily performed.  Grond's huge fist and right forearm brushed aside Rellik's less muscular one and with his left fist struck Rellik such a blow to the chest as to propel him backwards a good 8 - 10 feet back where he finally grappled with the counter for support.  At least he didn't end up on the floor, but it was a close thing.  The tables had turned on Rellik before he had even a chance to play his little game.  No man had ever bested him before now be they as big as Grond or otherwise.  Revealing a large bowie knife weapon he launched himself back into the fray as a result.  It was a big mistake.  

Rellik died at the hands of Grond without so much as a momentary pause in its fluid deliberation.  As Rellik rushed forward Grond had reached back to unsheathe his heavily chipped battleaxe and without hesitation had brought it down with such force as to split Rellik from his clavicle to his sternum, the edge of which entering just where his neck ended and his left shoulder began.  At least he hadn't beheaded the man there and then, but even so the grotesque and gruesome manner of the end of this man's life was shocking in the extreme, even to the misbegotten crowd who frequented this particular dive. 

Grond removed his axe from the sprawled carcase, wiping clean the edge on the man's own garments, all the while keeping a close eye on the rest of the bar-room inhabitants.  He needed have worried as no-one in his right mind, or drunk for that matter, could fail to see that Grond was a killing machine, a consummate axe-man of the highest order, having dispatched Rellik as an ordinary man might have swatted a fly, it being of so little consequence to him, and one he had obviously carried out on numerous occasions in the past.  What then of the ramifications?  What then of the reprisals?  What then of the law of the land?  Had Grond made himself an outlaw, an outcast, someone to be hunted down?  A man with a prize on his head?  Nah, not in this fledgeling town of little import.  Not as yet anyway.  No-one could go around slaying people willy-nilly though without facing the wrath of others, but in this case, it was Rellik who was known as being the town baddie.  So, as far as this episode was concerned, Grond was their saviour in some regards; but even so, the manner of this particular dispatch hardly endorsed Grond in glowing terms.  Grond left the bar and the village without too much concern though.  It was just another violent episode in a string of many others to him.  Grond was accustomed to them.  Immune to them, you could say.    

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