Gudbjartur and Halfdan ran as fast as conditions permitted toward the mayhem. Branches and saplings whipped and tore at their faces.
The cow and calves they had intended to drive toward the boys’ hiding place froze in position in the chest deep water as the yelling apparitions swept past. Disturbed water and bulrushes flew in all directions as the cow ran into the security of the forest, closely followed by her calves.
As Ivar loosed his third arrow, realization slowly dawned on the bull that an enemy was nearby and he wheeled to confront him. The remnants of little Yola hung in tatters from his antlers as he charged, mowing down saplings and standing dead trees he crashed toward the new target.
“Shoot him, Lothar!” Ivar shrieked at his brother. He darted around a tree and loosed his fourth arrow into the center of the bull’s chest. Gasping in fright, he wheeled and ran for his life. Unconsciously he used the trees and undergrowth to slow the animal’s charge, darting in a tight circle to give Lothar a clear shot. A big tree saved his life when he swerved around the trunk a heartbeat before the bull crashed into it. Ivar jumped back and forth around the tree trunk while the enraged bull, an arm’s length away, blew snot over him in his effort to hook the boy with his bloody antlers.
Lothar, who had stood rooted in place while Yola died and his brother shot arrow after arrow into the great beast that towered over him, suddenly regained his senses. Ivar’s screams galvanized him to action and he ran to the side far enough to get a clear shot through the trees. “Yahhh!” He screamed to distract the bull from Ivar, pulled his bowstring to the head of the nocked arrow, and loosed it into the animal’s ribcage. The shaft penetrated all the way to the feathers without visible effect.
The bull wheeled toward him and charged. Lothar darted behind a small evergreen. The tree bent over and snapped off at the ground like a twig as the bull crashed against the trunk. The boughs of the falling tree ensnared Lothar. The bull straddled the tree’s trunk and swung his head back and forth, as he tried to crush the crawling boy with his antlers. Lothar’s whimpering terror seemed to enrage the animal further. His flailing front hooves stripped limbs from the evergreen’s trunk like dry leaves, missing the boy’s body by a hand’s breadth.
A yelling Ivar ran to the animal’s side and shot his last arrow low into the ribcage behind the bull’s shoulder.
Lothar scrambled from under the entanglement of boughs. His bow snagged on something and he let it lie, running for his life.
The bull charged after the running boy.
“Run, Lothar! He is coming after you!” A shrieking Ivar went in pursuit.
The men burst through the undergrowth with Halfdan in the lead. Yelling to distract and confuse the bull, Halfdan swept his arm back and threw the heavy hunting spear with all his strength at the bull’s shoulder. The razor-sharp head sliced through the animal’s shoulder muscles and lodged in the massive shoulder joint. The bull staggered from the force of the impact, dropping his head to regain his balance.
Gudbjartur leaped toward the bull with his axe held high for the stroke.
“Odin!” The battle cry rang through the forest as he closed the distance.
Without checking his forward momentum, Gudbjartur chopped the axe blade down across the juncture of the beast’s neck and shoulders. The bull’s straining neck muscles popped apart like overripe fruit as the keen blade sliced down through them.
The bull’s head dropped. The corded neck muscle no longer supported the weight of his head and neck. He crashed to the ground, all but beheaded by the axe stroke.
A shudder shook the beast. He tried to rise. Slowly he rolled onto his side. Muscles twitched in confusion. His brain no longer sent usable signals to his body. With a great sigh, he died; accusing dark eyes gazed unseeing on his slayers.
Gudbjartur left the axe stuck in the bull’s body and bolted toward Ivar. Dropping to his knees, his arms encircled the boy, crushing him to his chest as emotion swept over both of them. The young boy trembled in his father’s arms. Gudbjartur was speechless in his relief at finding his son unharmed.
Halfdan attended to Lothar. He turned the boy round and round, inspecting for injuries. Lothar unashamedly wept with relief and sorrow. Halfdan hugged him and patted his back. “It is over, boy. You are all right.” He turned to Gudbjartur. “Lothar is all right, Gudbj, just scratched up some.”
“Come here, son.” Gudbjartur held an arm out to the boy.
Lothar walked to his father, his eyes downcast and wet with tears. Gudbjartur wrapped his arms around both his sons. Kneeling before them on the ground, he rested his head on their shoulders. A shudder shook his body as pent-up emotion receded. “Thank the gods you are safe.”
“I can hardly breathe, Father. You are crushing me.” Ivar’s words served to calm the three of them.
Gudbjartur released the boys and searched their faces for a heartbeat. “You did well,” he said, his voice husky with feeling.
Halfdan let Gudbjartur have his moment with his sons by examining the dead bull. When finished, he pulled the buried axe blade from the animal’s neck and stepped over to join them. “They shot six arrows into him, Gudbj. Any one of them would have killed him. But not before he got both of them.” He handed the bloody axe to Gudbjartur.
“I only shot him once. Ivar shot him the most,” Lothar’s voice caught in misery. “I could not move I was so afraid. But not Ivar. He shrieked at the bull while he shot arrows into him.”
The two men made brief eye contact. They keenly appraised Ivar while the boy relived the events with his brother.
“Your arrow saved me, Lothar. He almost got to me before you shot him. My last arrow may have saved you. I think it hurt him because he blinked. If you had not scampered from under the tree right then and tried to run away, he might have turned on me.” Ivar grinned at his brother. “I was just as scared as you were. Anger and fear made me act. I was trying to save Yola. I did not know he was already dead.” Ivar spoke in a strong voice, his emotions controlled.
“You both did well, as your father has told you. I know grown men who could not stand their ground under such a threat.” Halfdan gestured toward the bull’s corpse. “You did better than well, both of you. I am proud to have you as my young warriors. The people will tell tales of this hunt for some time to come.”
Both boys were silent; the tragedy that had befallen them filled their thoughts. They basked in their chieftain’s praise, but stole furtive glances at the remains of Yola.
Read the conclusion of Chapter One, Confrontation, An Axe of Iron Novel with Installment #5, on 27 January 2012.