Short Story #7: A Fool’s Grin

Before you cut off my leg, let me tell you what happened.

When the sun came up yesterday morning, my soldiers and I were about to battle a fool’s army of exiled bandits and thieves.

“Mael the Bucktooth is a motherless bastard!” I shouted. “We’ll rip his men apart! I’ll have his head as an ornament on my castle wall!”

My men roared and hoisted their weapons in the air.

On that day, I was going to show the gods why I was called Sigurd The Mighty!

We charged his army of bandits through the rain, and attacked without mercy. This wasn’t a battle, it was a slaughter. My soldiers dragged Mael to his knees while the carnage continued. As each of his soldiers was cut down, we beheaded them, throwing bodies into one pile, and heads in another.

 

When we finished taking apart his army I turned to Mael and said, “Bucktooth, your head will be a warning to all others on this island! I’m going to cut it off and strap it to my saddle. When we ride inland everyone will see your gaping maw and cry out in fear.”

I told him to stop weeping like a child. I wiped my bloody axe with a rag, and threw it at him to wipe away his tears. He tried, but instead, smeared the blood across his face.

Spitting at my feet he said, “You think this is the end of me? You’re wrong. Once I’m dead, I’ll return and I’ll drag you with me to meet Hel. Your men won’t help you, you’ll be dead before you make it home.”

I laughed, and then I took off his head with one swing of my axe. I grabbed it and raised it to the sky. My men roared in victory.

I tied his head to my saddle, and I told my men do the same with the other heads.

We mounted up and rode through the island to every settlement. Mael’s head would bounce around on his tether. His teeth scratched my leg like tree branches. I thought nothing of it; a fool’s grin couldn’t harm me!

When we arrived in each town I’d shout, “Behold! Your hideous leader is dead! This land belongs to the vikings now!” Children ran in fear. Women hid their faces, and men trembled.

By nightfall we set up camp. When I laid down, I couldn’t stop scratching at the place where Mael had marked me. It felt like I’d ridden through a forest of thorns.

 

I awoke this morning to find my leg oozing pus, and hot to the touch. I limped to my horse, and looked at Mael’s head. His twisted grin was a mess of crooked teeth and blood. The bloody streaks across his face had dried except for around his mouth. That blood was mine.

We rode fast for my ship. That bastard’s teeth continued scratching my leg until I cut loose his head. It rolled away into the bushes.

When we arrived back at the ship, I fell into my bed exhausted. In my dreams Mael’s head chased me, laughing. No matter how fast I ran, he was always there. One of my men shook me awake. He said I was screaming in my sleep.

Peering around the dark room I saw Mael’s head on the table across from my bed, grinning. He’d followed me! Shivering, I couldn’t look away from him.

I pulled back the covers and smelled the rancid meat of my wound. The sheets were soaked with pus and sweat. There were black lines on my leg, running from the mark towards my heart. I shouted to get rid of the head, and to find you and bring you here.

It was that fool’s grin. Don’t you see? His spirit pierced my leg and now he’s in me, killing me.

I told my men to get you because you’re the cook. I thought your delicate skill with a blade would allow you to take the leg without making a mess.

Did I fall asleep just now? I can’t tell, my head is swimming with fever and I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.

And now that I’ve told you my tale, I’m afraid it’s too late to save me. I’m already dead, I know it!

His grin is the death of me.