Syndri stumbled back against the tree, dazed eyes lost in the sunbeams streaming down in the forest all around him. He looked to the red Weapalu ribbon tied around the jewel-encrusted handle of the dagger that was pierced through his side; crimson as the blood flowing out all around it. At the sight of this, Syndri began to feel even more sick and light-headed. His breaths became shallower as the initial painless shock faded into a gradual hurt, then a piercing pang with each breath. The sounds all around him were muffled as if he were submerged underwater. His vision blurred as Magnar and Anselma swiftly walked into the clearing.
Fritjof mounted his horse with a sinister smirk.
“Meet me on the beach at Brimcliff for our duel,” he said just loud enough for Magnar to hear him as he turned his steed.
“Most certainly not!” Magnar stomped at him as he fled, “I refuse to fight you and that is final.”
“We’ll see about that,” Fritjof murmured as he sped away.
Anselma smiled and shook her head as her husband yelled after the brute, briefly shooting an amused look at Syndri who was leaning against the tree.
“Flee to those cliffs and far beyond!” Magnar raised his fist and shouted with a laugh as Fritjof and his horse became a distant blur among the trees, “Leave Dryhtenhaven altogether and never return!”
As she admired her husband’s decision not to fight the warrior, Anselma glanced over at Syndri again and noticed that something appeared to be wrong with him. His eyes dashed around frantically as he reached out for her. Too frazzled to speak clearly, he muttered as he fell upon her. She quickly thrust out her hands to support him, but he limply collapsed half in her arms.
“Magnar!” she cried loudly in a shaky voice as she struggled to catch the injured lad, “Magnar! It’s Syndri!”
Magnar, still shouting and laughing after Fritjof finally turned to see Syndri lying on his back and Anselma crouched down beside him; eyes instantly settling upon the golden dagger protruding out of the lower left side of his brother’s abdomen. Syndri’s chest heaved up and down as he gasped for breath, eyes dancing back and forth between his sister-in-law and his brother who fell to his knees at his left.
Anselma stared in awe and worry at Syndri’s wound and the pool of blood soaking through his garments. Magnar gazed upon him in surprise, anger, and disbelief. For a few seconds, all was silent and still, save Syndri’s deep gulps for air that gradually subsided into quick, shallow breaths.
“Brother,” Magnar finally spoke, “Are you alright, brother?”
Syndri half shook his head and half nodded at once.
“Are you hurt? You are hurt,” Magnar stuttered in panic, glancing all about.
Anselma raised her hands to cover her mouth. Her heart was beating fast as she assessed the situation.
“Syndri, brother,” Magnar continued, half worried and half angry, “Who has done it? Who has done this thing unto you?”
Deep down, Magnar knew the answer to his own question, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe that a lowly dastard such as Fritjof would go so far as to murder someone just to convince an opponent to participate in a petty duel. He also didn’t want to come to terms with the fact that his own refusal to fight had brought this grievous thing upon his brother.
Syndri nodded, for he knew that Magnar could guess who had done it. Magnar glanced over at the spot where Fritjof had stood just moments before. Clenching his teeth and fists, he decided not to immediately act in anger, but to address the situation at hand. His brother was dying. He needed to act quickly if he wanted to spare him. Breathing heavily and glancing all around in a panic, Magnar quickly settled on what to do first. He swiftly rent the fabric of his own clothing and attempted to compress the wound.
“Here!” he grunted authoritatively, “We must get that horrid dagger out of you.”
“No!” Anselma and Syndri cried simultaneously, the former reaching out to stop her husband’s hands, and the latter instinctively grasping at the wounded area to shield it.
Magnar looked up in surprise.
“No. One should never remove a sharp object from a deep wound such as this,“ Anselma pleaded, “Doing so would only bring about more harm and pain-- the blood will drain ever more quickly, and the little time left will surely be lost.”
Syndri nodded in approval of this statement.
“Alright then,” Magnar said hesitantly, gently wrapping the piece of fabric around the dagger, “It’s okay. Take deep breaths, Syndri.”
“I-- I can’t-” Syndri gasped, “It pains me to breathe.”
“Shall I fetch you some water?” Magnar asked, trying to think of anything that could help.
“I--I--” Syndri shook his head slightly, then tried to speak, “My time in this realm is drawing nigh.” His eyes began to wander up through the leaves of the trees around them.
“No, it isn’t!” Magnar half laughed very nervously as one in denial, “You mustn’t say such.”
Syndri closed his eyes and shook his head.
“Just listen, brother,” Magnar frowned, “I shall get help for you.” Saying this, he attempted to arise, but Syndri’s bloodied hand quickly grasped his arm.
“Please, brother, don’t! Don’t leave me, I pray thee,” he quickly spat, breathing heavily with worry and fear in his eyes, “I will have surely given up the ghost by the time you return from town with a physician.”
“Nonsense,” Magnar argued, “It won’t take me very long--”
“Please,” Syndri gulped, “I-- I don’t want-- to die alone-- lying-- out here with no one to comfort me.”
Magnar shook his head in disbelief and turned to his wife.
“Anselma!” Magnar said hurriedly, “Anselma will stay with you.”
“Brother... please--” Syndri breathed erratically, holding on tighter to Magnar’s arm, “I have not much more time in this earth.”
“Alright,” Magnar exhaled contemplatively, “Anselma can get help, and I will stay--”
Syndri clenched his eyes shut and Magnar observed that he was holding tightly to Anselma’s hand as well.
“There isn’t time-” he breathed weakly.
“He’s right,” Anselma murmured, “The village is at least a mile out, and I couldn’t possibly run there and back--”
Magnar glanced up as Syndri’s horse whinnied.
“We can take him to town on the horse!” Magnar suggested.
“Nonsense!” Anselma reflexively shouted, with an alarmed look, “We cannot move him at all! Doing such could cause the knife to do far worse damage than already is being done.”
Magnar looked to Syndri (who was much versed in medical knowledge) for confirmation. The lad blinked and nodded lightly.
“Besides, the motion of the horse will cause much discomfort to him,” she barked harshly in a low voice through clenched teeth, “His final moments will be gruesome and he’ll surely arrive at the village a dead man.”
“Then, what can be done?” Magnar asked in a worried tone.
Anselma glanced down at Syndri, then solemnly shook her head.
“Nothing. Nothing can be done,” Syndri struggled, shaky eyes gazing off into the leaves of the canopy above them, “Brother, I shall soon be gone from this place.”
Magnar’s eyes grew big. His eyebrows lowered in thought, then lifted optimistically.
“It is not so, brother. Something can be done, I’m sure of it,” He said, but it was more of a question than a statement.
“I’m afraid not,” Anselma said solemnly, “The nature of the injury is far too great.”
“...Then, whatever shall we do?” Magnar asked.
“We can only stay with him and comfort him…” she whispered softly, weary eyes drifting to Syndri, “Until...”
“Please do not abandon me until you are sure that my spirit has left me,” Syndri breathed quietly, “I would hate to die alone.”
“Nonsense, brother!” Magnar croaked, “You mustn’t speak that way.”
“It is a fate we all must face one day,” Syndri murmured, “And I shall face it today.”
“No. No. Not so! It’s quite alright, brother,” Magnar rambled, “You’ll be alright. You’ll have to be alright.”
“Yes, brother. I will be alright...” Syndri breathed, “...in the next world.”
“NO! Not in the next world! In this world!” Magnar shouted, half in anger, half in sorrow, for his voice raised but cracked slightly, “You must be alright, brother! You simply must. I swore upon my life to protect you!”
“And you’ve done a fine job of it,” Syndri said softly.
“A fine job!?” Magnar retorted in disgust of himself, “No I haven’t! Look at you!” he motioned to his brother and glanced at the golden dagger that sat firmly amidst a fountain of scarlet flowing from his side.
“You couldn’t have known,” Syndri whispered.
“I could have known! I should have known!” Magnar yelled, more at himself than anyone else.
Anselma watched with a quivering lip, still clutching Syndri’s right hand and arm tightly; his fingers intertwined with hers as he began to tremble.
“This.. is not.. your fault, brother,” Syndri assured him, voice cracking in pain.
“Yes, it is! It is all my fault,” Magnar retorted quickly.
“No it isn’t, Magnar,” Syndri sputtered, “You mustn’t blame yourself.”
“I am solely to blame,” Magnar insisted.
“No, you are not,” Syndri pleaded.
“YES I AM!” Magnar growled.
“No, you--” Syndri’s sentence was interrupted by a sharp intake of breath and a grimace as pain shot through his body. Struggling to compose himself, he looked up at Magnar.
“Shall our final exchange be bickering words?” he asked slowly and deliberately.
This caused Magnar to take a deep breath in realization that these truly were their last moments together. He caught his breath in his throat and stared down into Syndri’s innocent, olive green, child-like eyes. He admired the lad ever so. He was shy but very wise- wise with a wisdom that must have been imparted unto him from The Shining Lord Himself.
Magnar’s blue eyes began to well with tears as the thoughts hit him- all the memories of times spent together, all the adventures they’d gone on, all the times he had rescued Syndri, and all the times Syndri had rescued him (whether Syndri realized it or not)... Magnar looked up to Syndri, although the lad was his younger brother, and it was evident that Syndri was the one who was supposed to (and who really did) look up to him. Magnar was the brave, gallant, strong, fighting, hunting, heroic one. But Syndri was the gentle, meek, kind, smart, careful one. Magnar’s breaths grew heavier and heavier as he took his brother’s hand into his own. He closed his eyes in acquiescence and nodded solemnly. Observing this, Anselma began to weep silently.
“What do you desire to say to me, brother?” Magnar asked calmly.
“....There…in my mind… I...” Syndri stuttered as the pain intensified, “There are so many things all at once… yet nothing at all… I cannot seem to gather my thoughts.”
Magnar’s face fell to sorrow.
“Besides...” Syndri breathed, “It… it pains me to speak...”
“Then...” Magnar started apprehensively, “What do you desire to hear of me?”
Syndri’s breaths became shallower as he grew colder and weaker. He clenched his brother’s hand tightly and shivered.
“Please...” he stammered after pondering for a moment, “Please, tell me of The Other Side… once more before-- before I behold its full glory firsthand-- with my own eyes.”
Magnar’s heart dropped at the thought of his brother departing, but his mouth curled into a crestfallen smile as he tightened his grasp upon Syndri’s hand.
“Of course, brother,” he breathed, holding back tears, “It is a glorious place....”
Syndri’s eyebrows lifted as Magnar began the story.
“The streets are pure gold, and the gates are built with magnificent pearls,” Magnar continued, “As you enter, you will hear the angelic voices of the heavenly choir singing praises to The Shining Lord.”
Syndri smiled slightly, his eyes drifting away from his brother and up towards the sunlit heavens. Anselma formed a sad smile, blinking a few more tears from her eyes.
“You will hear the music and you will dance upon those streets of gold,” Magnar stated, choking up a bit.
“And, then,” he proceeded with a flourish, “THEN. You will see the great beasts surrounding the throne, and you will behold the beautiful face of the One upon the throne, The Shining Lord Himself, in all His glorious honor;” his voice lowered into a dramatic tone, “The one. True. God.”
Still holding Syndri’s hand with his left, he gently stroked his younger brother’s curly black hair with his right hand as the lad closed his eyes.
“And, behold, you shall also see the flowing rivers of living water,” Magnar smiled, a tear escaping from one of his blue eyes, “For the crystal clear river of life flows from the throne and all around the city. . .”
As Magnar paused to take a breath, Syndri’s eyebrows drew close and he gently squeezed his brother’s hand.
“No, Syndri,” Magnar breathed a laugh, more tears falling from his eyes, “I haven’t forgotten the tree. Oh, the beautiful tree. The tree of life that yields twelve manner of fruits.”
Anselma exhaled a sob as her smile quivered, her right hand still tightly clutching Syndri’s, her left wiping tears away from her face.
“And ye shall eat of the fruits and drink of the water and never again hunger or thirst,” Magnar’s voice grew unstable as another tear leaked from his eye, “You shall meet The Shining Lord... and all those in this world who were lost--- Even mother! Sweet mother.”
Hearing this, a teardrop streamed from Syndri’s closed eyes.
“All of you will gather at the great table, brother,” Magnar sniffled, still stroking Syndri’s hair, “And there shall be feasting and celebration alway.”
“And...” because of The Shining Lord,” his voice calmed into a whisper as Syndri’s weak hand had loosened its grasp, “The city shall be full of light forever and ever.”
Anselma inhaled and looked at Magnar. They both looked over Syndri and saw that his movements and breathing had slowed severely, nearly ceasing.
“We WILL. Meet again, brother.” Magnar breathed in a voice full of determination with a hint of sadness, “I promise that.”
For a few moments, Anselma and Magnar sat, glancing over Syndri in anticipation of any final vital signs, gestures, or words from the lad. When his brother produced nothing, Magnar inhaled and let go of his hand.
“He... is gone?” Anselma asked in a whispered breath as she herself let go of Syndri’s other hand. Magnar looked down solemnly. Anselma nearly reached over Syndri to place her hand upon her husband’s shoulder when, suddenly, there was a sharp intake of breath.
“Wait!” Syndri shouted as he shot up into a sitting position, reaching out in front of himself and looking straight ahead with crazed eyes.
“Wait? What?” Magnar blurted quickly with a serious countenance that masked his surprise, “I haven’t left you, Syndri!”
“Brother, please don’t go!’ Syndri cried.
“I’m right here, brother!” Magnar said, taking hold of Syndri’s shoulders, though the lad still seemed to be reaching out and looking straight in front of him.
“You mustn’t go!” Syndri continued in a panic, “Please, you shan’t!”
“I’m here, Syndri!” Magnar said boldly, “By your side until the very end.”
“You cannot! I beg of thee!” Syndri panted.
“Cannot what?” Magnar asked in worry, “Mustn’t go where?”
“D-dd-d-don’t--Magnar,” Syndri sputtered.
“Don’t what?” Magnar shouted in confusion.
“Please, don’t--” Syndri exhaled before his voice ceased in his throat.
“Brother?!” Magnar called again but received no response, “What is it, Syndri?!” Magnar slightly shook his brother whose limbs slowly relaxed to his sides. “Speak to me!” Magnar choked up, breathing heavily with sorrow.
Seeing that his attempts were to no avail, Magnar laid him back down on his back. Anselma sobbed at the sight of Syndri’s inert eyes staring up at the heavens above where his soul had surely gone. Magnar’s surprise and sadness quickly faded to anger as he roared loudly with all his might. His chest heaved in fury as he pushed himself to his feet and began pacing back and forth. Anselma sniffled and slowly took Syndri’s hands, folding them upon his chest. Then, she gently closed his eyes and planted a tender kiss upon his cheek.
“CURSE YOU, FRITJOF!” Magnar yelled with clenched fists, “CURSE THE DAY YOU WERE BORN!”
Anselma shook her head in tears as she watched her husband’s rage.
“Killing an innocent lad, just so that I might fight you?!?” he growled, “You dare challenge me?! Is that what you really want!?!?”
Magnar swiftly stepped over to his brother’s corpse and violently yanked the dagger from his side, causing Anselma to gasp in horror.
“THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED!?!?” his bellows echoed through the forest, “VERY WELL, THEN! I ACCEPT YOUR WRETCHED CHALLENGE! You will surely regret this! For this duel between you and I will surely be your LAST.”
“Magnar,” Anselma wept, struggling to her feet and walking up behind her angered husband.
“FRITJOF,” he huffed again, “I VOW UPON MY LIFE THAT I WILL FIND YOU THIS DAY AND I WILL--”
“MAGNAR!” she screamed, grasping her husband by the shoulder, “Please, don’t.”
“I will find him and there is nothing you can do to stop me,” Magnar said angrily, yanking away from her.
“This is not the answer,” she pleaded, “These actions-- they are unnecessary.”
“Unnecessary?!” Magnar roared, “Who are you to say such a thing? He killed MY brother!”
“Yes, I know Syndri was your brother,” her voice crackled as she gently touched her husband’s cheek, “And he was my brother. He was everyone’s brother. Do you think this is what he would have wanted? What do you suppose he was trying to tell you at the last?”
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT HE WAS TRYING TO TELL ME,” Magnar roared, grasping his wife by the wrist, “He’s dead now and I must avenge him.”
“But, Magnar,” Anselma protested as he threw her hand down and turned away.
“You don’t understand,” he breathed, “I swore upon my life to protect him and I failed.”
“You did not fail,” Anselma retorted.
“Yes I did,” Magnar spat, “If I couldn’t protect him in life, I will avenge him in death.”
“Magnar--” Anselma whimpered.
“Take him to my father,” Magnar pointed to Syndri, “So that he may behold him. And, then, give him a proper burial.”
“Shan’t you be present at the burial?” she asked.
“No use in that,” he murmured, tucking the dagger away and mounting Syndri’s horse, “Now, do as I have said, woman.”
“Havardir has already lost one son,” she argued, “Do you suppose he cares to lose another?”
“My life no longer has any worth,” Magnar bellowed in anger, “I broke the one important promise that ever really mattered, and now my only purpose is to slay the slayer.”
“What about me, Magnar?” she wept, leaning forward against the horse on which he was mounted.
“What about you?” Magnar grunted harshly, yanking the reins so that the steed cantered out of place.
Anselma gasped, taken aback by her husband’s response.
”...I’m sorry,” Magnar exhaled, “But this is something that simply must be done.”
Anselma nodded, reluctantly backing away from the horse, “But, what if... what if he kills you?”
“If I die, so be it. Father would probably like it better if I were dead also,” Magnar said gravely, as he galloped away upon the steed, ” I swore upon my life, after all.”
“Magnar!!!” Anselma yelled after him, but he did not look back. Distressed, she stared at the lifeless body and the vast forest all around her.
“However am I supposed to do this? Alone with no horse?!” she wailed in frustration, “Do you expect me to drag him to town by the leg!?”
But Magnar was already afar off, so she collapsed against a tree and wept.