Time and Terrible Wounds



i have beaten him the dunlending they call derfel

i have beaten him but though i have beaten him he has surpassed me not in prowess but in swiftness for the power of my arm can no longer outmatch any man east or west of the snowbourn as it did in my youth. i struck him and yet my shoulders ache i threw him and yet my knees hurt me sore and now i think to myself how shall i go on when the ache grows too sore and i swelter and die like common men swallowed up by time and terrible wounds

that is no way for a knight to die and a knight i am as my fathers were before me in the ancient days of yore. and they in those days were men of prowess and vigour and men well-liked by their people until their deaths and even their deaths were famous for who can forget wígmund the wise from whom even lawspeakers sought counsel and whom men feared for his prowess in flyting and fighting or mighty gúthwig who with my ancient sword won glory in helm king’s day

but i cannot remember gúthwig without wálhreow his sword for there is no gúthwig without wálhreow for without that blood-drenched heirloom of my house i would be but a common man and not the descendant of mighty men who walked before me in ancient days men who were not surpassed by young dunlendings in the meeting of hands for those were brave warriors brave warriors whose deeds are famous now so that any man i may ask in the warband will surely have heard of their exploits or else i will tell them and they will look in awe for few men have done deeds as the men of my house

and my house is nothing if not famous for we are warriors whose heritage is strong warriors and manful and not weak as men are these days whose might for all their battle-strength dwindles day by day until at last they will die ignoble deaths in shallow graves as once was told to the pretty lad who would not deserve such an unlovely fate

but like men these days the oathsworn is feeble for i know the tales of the oathsworn of old of mighty heroes who did not falter at the fight who did not have to name for their champion a man growing feebler day by day a man hated in his own country by his closest kin

my mighty mothers never grew so feeble as the stories tell it and though they say always that a woman’s touch led to the slaughter when snowbourn’s thanes were playing the game of ball they were strong and mighty folk and famous for their deeds of courage and bravery for how they would deal death to all who opposed them

and though gúthwyn was called a slaughterer that day for the bloodshed after the game of ball she was strong she was feared and none dare touched her with a sword for they all feared wálhreow but not only wálhreow they feared the woman who wielded it for she was strong 

and none will contest the will of the strong

i would i were as her grandmother gúthcwen who wrestled a horror back into his grave and discovered the sword within that grave for even grey she did not wither and she died with honour. she was strong and powerful and though i know she was lonesome after she cut down her own husband with the cursed blade

they said it was a dragon’s work that it was a cruelty like scatha had done unto fram king the way she slew her own husband but i say better to be a famous knight of cruel deeds than soft and ignoble for even the evil death of her husband lives on in my memory and i know her name even after her bones were buried deep in the ground. i must become famous so they will hear in snowbourn of my exploits so my name will outlast my broken body i must be famous for if men do not speak of me my name will pass into the night as if it never were

if my daughter does not speak of me her sons will never know my name

and this life of cruelty will all be for naught