“It is best if you go look upon Yola. Remember your friendship with him, for it will be the last time you see him. His spirit is still here with us. He is watching,” Gudbjartur said gently.
The boys looked at each of the men. Halfdan nodded and gestured with a lift of his chin, and the boys walked slowly toward the corpse. The men let them go alone, following closely. Life could be cruel, but the young must know how to accept it. Violent death would follow them all the days of their lives, to swoop down without warning; they must learn to confront the specter of death without shirking.
The boys bravely looked down at the remains of their friend. Ivar’s inner strength held him rigid, while tears coursed in rivulets down Lothar’s cheeks. Yola’s head had been crushed like an egg, his body torn to pieces. The smooth, young features were distorted and misshapen. “His face is gone,” Ivar said. Broken ribs, white as teeth, stuck out of the squashed chest. Splintered bones protruded from one leg. The bones of the other leg were intact except that the upper leg muscle hung asunder. One arm hung from the exposed socket. Ivar glanced at his brother. “He does not look like Yola anymore.”
Lothar’s shoulders shook with silent sobs. He nodded abjectly at Ivar’s assessment and turned toward the men. “Will we bury him here?”
Halfdan answered. “Yes, we will do it now. We cannot take him back with us. He should rest here where he died. No useful purpose would be served by his mother seeing what remains of her son.” He took a breath. “We will camp here for the night. It will be dark soon, so let us be about it.” He finished gruffly, feeling an unfamiliar surge of emotion. I must be getting old. On the other hand, maybe it is because of Frida. I feel things more intensely now. She has changed me in many ways.
Gudbjartur put a hand on the shoulder of each of his sons. “Come, boys, we will all bury Yola together. You must help us prepare Yola for the afterlife. He was your friend and you must do him this final honor. Afterwards, Halfdan and I will show you how to butcher the bull you killed and prepare the meat for the boat trip back to Halfdansfjord.”
The four of them grouped around Yola, each with his own thoughts.
Gudbjartur tried to soothe his sons. “Yola did not suffer. I heard him scream once as the bull attacked, but then he died. He was so afraid that he would not be able to feel pain. That is the way of things when we fight; our fear dulls the pain of our wounds.”
“He did not have time to fight before he died,” Lothar said. “I was right next to him and the bull had hold of him before he could move.”
“He fought nonetheless, Lothar. Even the least of us will fight to survive.” Halfdan put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Now, let us put your friend in the earth, to rest.”
They cleaned up the small, torn body as best they could, washing away the blood and gore and putting the torn flesh back in place. Both boys had to overcome their initial revulsion at touching the grisly remains.
“I cannot do this,” Lothar said, stepping away to retch as the gorge rose in his throat.
“Come, boy, you must steel yourself.” Gudbjartur held an arm out for his son. “It is the way of things and the reason you both were included in these preparations. In this way, you will know what you must do for a burial. Playing an active part fosters acceptance of your friend’s death.”
Lothar reluctantly returned to the task. His face was tight, his lips bloodless and pressed into a severe line as he fought down nausea.
Finally, they finished the work with the body. They straightened the shattered limbs and wrapped the corpse in a wool sleeping robe. Then with Gudbjartur at one end and both boys at the other end, they lifted the pitiful bundle and carried it to the grave. Tenderly they laid their burden in the dark, shallow hole.
“We want to bury him with his weapons.” Ivar looked at his father, his chin thrust out, his eyes defiant.
Gudbjartur regarded his sons in silence. He looked from one to the other. Then he nodded. “I think that is proper. The gods will make the young warrior welcome. He will have need of his weapons in the afterlife.”
The boys sat at the graveside and snapped the arrows and bow in two as they had seen the men do, to kill and release the spirits within. Ivar forced the blade of Yola’s knife into a crack in a handy boulder and leaned into it to bend the blade over. They arranged the weapons on either side of the body. Then their final act for their friend was to push the cold earth over his body, refill the grave, and mound it over with earth and rocks.
***Later that evening, after the men gorged on chunks of spitted moose liver, the four sat around the campfire staring into the flames.
“Eat some more of this liver.” Gudbjartur urged the boys.
“I cannot eat, Father.” Ivar glanced at his brother.
“Nor I. The liver makes me sick,” Lothar said.
“How about a steak then?” Gudbjartur asked.
Both boys shook their heads.
Conversation ebbed back and forth for a time before silence reigned.
Halfdan told us that our arrows would have killed the bull. Glancing in the direction of his father and Halfdan, Ivar’s mind sifted through the events of the day. Catching his brother’s eye, he winked and smiled slightly at him. Lothar returned a weak smile, bobbed his head slightly, and sighed, telling Ivar without words that he knew what he was thinking. Ivar looked at his brother for another moment, and then laid back full length on the ground, hands clasped behind his head. He stared at the countless stars winking in the clear night sky. A meteorite scribed a bright trail across the blackness overhead. A spark from Thor’s hammer. His eyes followed its path until the light winked out. Yes, we did kill that bull. Father cut off his head, but Halfdan said he would have died from our arrows. And all but one of them came from my bow.
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©2010 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved