Base pleasures had always dulled the ache of shame. It was no surprise to anyone that Segrim greedily revelled in them after the Battle of Thetford as he had many times before, only leaving the company of carousing warriors to watch his lord’s broken body burn to ash. He sat apart from Erik Lord’s close kinsmen as he nursed a half-finished cup of wine, more lost in his own thoughts than mourning the loss of his lord. It was colder away from the fire, but his blue cloak of rich fabric warded off much of the night’s chill.
The cloak was a last gift from a girl back home, he had said, though like many of the things he said about his past, that wasn’t the exact truth. Other men said that she must have liked Segrim well to give as rich a gift as that—but Segrim was always as tight-lipped on the matter as he was about the rest of his past. Once, the cloak had been his sole possession of value, but he had other treasures now: Christian baubles of gold and silver; a fine comb of ivory; a glittering byrnie looted off a Saxon’s corpse; and, most dearly, the Mjölnir pendant his brother Semund had given him the night before Segrim fled from the homestead.
It was no secret that Segrim was an exile, but men questioned him little for he had both fighting prowess and proven loyalty to his new lord. He had gained a measure of fame among them and a new epithet to come with it: Segrim the Black
they had begun to call him, so named for the hair that hung dark and lank past his ears. It pleased him well to be rid of his father's name and to come a step farther from his ignoble past—a step farther from the murder he had committed in Denmark. Segrim had joined Erik’s host soon before the fighting began, swearing himself to Erik’s service soon before they had left Denmark. Service to his new lord made him glad, for it allowed him to escape the possibility of becoming a wolfshead in the wilderness of Denmark. Still, the memory of the secret killing Segrim had committed burned in his memory. The night’s revelry had dulled his senses but did little to soothe his guilty soul.
Freedom. Segrim decided that freedom was what he sought. He had no desire to return to Denmark, to be among those who would—if they suspected his involvement in the crime—pursue him as they would a savage wolf and slay him. Neither did he wish to be in a land so deeply tied to his guilt. But too there was little freedom to be had in the land of the Saxons where the law of Denmark drew all too close for his liking. He needed to escape, to go elsewhere, but where to he did not yet know.
Segrim rose to his feet and ambled towards the pyre of his dead lord, his face lit strangely by the red firelight. He drained his cup and wiped the wine from his dark moustache as Erik's body dwindled to nothing.
“Erik Lord died with honour, Åse,” Segrim said, his dark eyes upon the man's widow, “and that is more than many men receive.” Or deserve,
he added darkly in his mind. The man's gaze turned to Kjartan, the dead lord's brother, and he took a deep breath.
“Too it is painful, losing a brother,” he told the man, speaking slowly. “But at times like these, I recall the wisdom of ancient verses:
Cattle die and kinsmen die;
The self will die the same—
But I know one thing never dies:
Dead men's famous deeds.
“Your brother, Kjartan, was no unknown man, and he will go to Valhalla without shame in his heart. There are many men who could not say the same.” And Segrim the Black is chief among them.
But Segrim was never one for idleness, and he would leave soon for some new couuntry if he could, perhaps to Iceland or to Greenland or to fabled lands further west—and perhaps on those distant shores he could at last leave his troubled past behind.