Part 4 (Chapter 16 - 20)

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Chapter 16

King Theodoric resented the feasting hoard in front of him. These supposedly great heroes stuffed their faces and drank themselves senseless every night on the cities provisions, which with the onset of winter only days away were dwindling at an alarming rate. It was not just the heroes that needed to be fed. They had all brought crews and small armies that if not kept fed threatened to run riot through his city. If the feasting and drinking continued at this rate, there would not be enough food to feed the people in the cold months to come. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. He had summoned these men to kill a beast that had plagued his kingdom and instead of killing the beast, they were going to eat and drink the city dry. The riots and starvation that would follow would be a greater threat to his kingdom than ten of the great wolves.

He lifted the drinking horn to his mouth. He only drank at these feasts, choosing to eat with the queen and his daughter beforehand. On most nights, the queen avoided the feasts preferring to remain in her quarters weaving. To begin with he had feasted as hard as any of the heroes. But as the days passed and not one of them had succeeded, he had grown more and more withdrawn from them. The heroes did not care for his company. All that mattered to them was that they had enough food and drink to gorge on.

Tonight his mood was even darker than normal. Today he had let a boy go to his death. He could not fault the lad's courage, but even with the honour his death would have brought him, it seemed a waste of a life. To make matters worse Hallbjorn also appeared to be dead. If he could not succeed against Varg, what man could?

There was one other to rival Hallbjorn status as greatest of the heroes gathered. He looked at Magnus and shook his head. He wasn't desperate enough t to risk Magnus succeeding. His price was the throne and that was still too much to give. Though if nobody killed Varg soon he would have no choice, but to give Magnus his chance or else sit back and watch his kingdom starve.

'They are dead,' Magnus yelled banging his fist against the table. 'Many of you thought that Hallbjorn was my equal but no man is. I am Magnus the Magnificent and I still stand before you.'

'That is only because you have not faced Varg yet,' called out Fritjof. Several of the heroes laughed and Magnus scowled at them. Catching his eye, they fell silent not wanting to be singled out.

'The king will not give me a chance,' Magnus said. 'He knows that I will bring back Varg's head on a plate.'

'I tire of telling you Magnus,' Theodoric said. It had become an evening ritual. Every night Magnus demanded his chance and every night he had to be told to wait his turn. 'You will wait your turn like every other man. Let's have the draw now and perhaps you might get your wish.'

On the kings orders the barrel was placed before the dais. Theodoric climbed wearily down from his throne. All the men leaned forward in anticipation. He sighed seeing the hunger in their eyes. One of them he was about to sentence to death. On the plus side, it would be one less mouth to feed.

He sunk his hand into the barrel. He moved the trinkets around with his fingers searching for one he liked the feel of. A jewel-encrusted ring took his fancy. He closed his hand around it and lifted it from the barrel. Holding his fist high enough so that all the men could see, he began to open his fist.

Suddenly the doors burst open and a young soldier came running into the hall. As the king's eyes fell on him he froze. The excitement in the soldier's face faded to fear under his king's cold stare.

'What is the meaning of this interruption?' Theodoric snapped turning on Hakon.

Hakon emerged from the shadows at the side of the hall. He glared at the young soldier. 'If you do not have a good reason for interrupting the king I will have you beaten.'

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