Another Chuck Wendig challenge: tell a story in ten chapters, and no more than 1000 words. This one comes to about 720. I think the brevity of the saga style lends itself rather well to the format.
Bjarki was a Jarl amongst the Northmen, a proud and generous giver of gold and silver; many renowned warriors were in his hird, and the greatest skalds wrote poems of his prowess in battle and of the deeds of his ancestors.
One summer, Bjarki wished to go raiding amongst the peoples across the sea, who were known to possess rich treasures. And so he went to his cousin Gunnlaug and entrusted him the care of his lands during his absence. And Bjarki and Gunnlaug broke bread, and swore oaths to seal their loyalty and friendship, and Bjarki was content.
Then Bjarki took his longboats and his huscarls across the sea. But scarcely had the sails disappeared beneath the horizon before Gunnlaug, treacherous and greedy in spirit, broke his oaths and seized his kinsman’s manor and all his lands.
Bjarki went amongst the people across the sea, and he raided and plundered all summer, and when his longship was filled with treasure, he went home. Suspecting nothing of his cousin’s treachery and longing for the comforts of home, he went to his manor. But there had Gunnlaug laid ambushes; the kinslayer’s sin was in his thoughts. Many of Bjarki’s warriors died that day, and his longboats were burned to ashes, and the Jarl himself, ignominiously, was forced to flee.
Enraged, Bjarki went to the King to plead his case and demand justice. But the King was weak and indecisive, and he held his crown at the pleasure of the Jarls, amongst whom Gunnlaug was now the strongest. And so Bjarki’s claim was denied and he was unjustly exiled from the realm.
Three winters and three summers then did Bjarki wander in the Northlands. And he did many great feats of arms and valour in that time; but always the thoughts of the injustice that had been done to him festered in his mind. And he made no friends in that time, although that would have served an exile well; a wrong having once been done against him, he had come to expect nothing better from any man.
At last came Bjarki to the lands of Frostinnheim, where the giants dwelled. And the witch-king of the giants held feasts for him, and spoke to him of dark secrets and made many promises that took root in his soul; and so, thirsting for vengeance and restitution, Bjarki renounced his honour, and he swore oaths and entered pacts with demon princes and devil lords and all manner of creatures that wish evil upon mankind.
Then Bjarki returned from exile, terrible to behold, with an army of trolls and mares and wraiths and many things that walk and fly and slither in the dark; and the royal host took the field against him, but no huscarl or liðsman in the realm could match arms against his foul forces. Struck down was then Gunnlaug the Oathbreaker, and struck down was the King who had denied him justice, and none was there on the blood-soaked field who dared oppose him.
Now Bjarki was crowned King. But evil had poisoned his soul and body; where once he had ruled as a wise and generous Jarl, he now reigned as a cruel and greedy King. And before long, the realm grew restless, and the people named him Ill-Ruler and Svárta-Jarl and rose up in rebellion against his foul laws. And though Bjarki went forth with great strength and cruelty against those who took arms against him, every part of the realm was filled with dissent; each Jarl did as he pleased and paid no heed to the wishes of the crown.
At last King Bjarki Ill-Ruler died, having seen only two score and seven summers in his life. But soon after his death, the Emperor of the South brought an army of many knights and archers to the Northlands, and ravaged as it was by many years of strife and torn by dissent, the realm could not withstand him. Thus was the kingdom of the North brought down and added to the lands of the Empire, and this was the end of the freedom of the Northmen. Let this then be the lesson of the life of Bjarki Jarl: That the King rules well that rules wisely and justly, keeping the peace in the realm and securing justice for his people; but treason, dishonour and injustice will bring even the strongest realm to fall.
(Image: Detail from “Håkon den Gode og bøndene ved blotet på Mære” by Peter Nicolai Arbo, public domain.)