Gotha son of Gorm stared into the foggy depths, his dark eyes blazing. He stood in a half-crouch, on the prow of the sleek longship, as though ready to spring off the edge and into the sea. A slow grin spread across his gaunt, bearded face. All was good. Today was his.
He gazed into the fog, letting his thoughts wander. With an irrepressible glee, he thought of all the death he would deal today. The slaughter, the reaping.
Gotha the Slayer, they will call me, he thought. Or perhaps Gotha the Reaver. He allowed himself to muse for a moment, over which name he preferred. The Reaver, he decided resolutely. A name that all would come to know. A name to give children nightmares, and make widows weep.
His ship cut through the still waters, gliding silent in a world of grey. The drums and the rowing had ceased. The dozen men behind him were still, their bodies and minds preparing for violence. Gotha looked over his shoulder, and flashed them his wolfish grin. He saw his brothers, Gunnvid and Hakka, at the rear of the boat. Hakka returned his grin, but Gunnvid simply nodded. Gotha felt a fierce sense of pride; a nod from Gunnvid was worth far more than a smile from anyone else. Things felt right, at last. He was back among his brothers, and they would witness his glory. He would prove himself to them. Never again would he wake crying in the night, his ears burning with shame as memories of his youth came upon him, unbidden, in his dreams. Memories he had tried so hard to forget.
A childhood of pain. Youngest of many siblings, turned into an amusement for the rest. A plaything. Beaten by his brothers and sisters alike. Made to wear his sisters' dresses, forced to caper and dance about like a fool. Lítten Trúđur, they had called him. Little Clown. Above all, he remembered the laughter. It was that which had driven him away, in shame. It was that which plagued his dreams.
But today was different. He had returned, from his self-imposed exile as a mercenary in the rich southlands. Those years had shaped and forged the mettle of his soul. Fighting with the armed companies, he had grown strong and hard. Slain many innocents, and taken many women. He was a man among men, and today he would prove it.
There will be no more laughter, Gotha thought grimly. I will quench the laughter in blood. I will drown it in the screams of the women and children. With every limb I sever, I will tear it apart.
He sensed a sudden thinning in the fog. He raised a hand slightly, signaling the men behind him. He held his breath, feeling the moment of his destiny descending upon him. The fog parted abruptly, grey curtains pulled back to reveal a beautiful sight. Gotha took it in, and felt tears sting his eyes.
It was perfect.
* * * * *
The boy made his way down the grassy slope, towards the pebbled beach. The fog was thick this morning, but he would not fail in his task. He did this every day, fetching water for mama, to help her with her work. He knew she would be watching him, as always, from the window of their small hut, where she would be mixing her herbs.
He knew how much she loved him, because she told him all the time.