"Now, let's form a semicircle…everybody! Quickly!" Taya shouted again, ordering the warriors to follow her words.
Instantly, all the kids formed a perfect half-moon shape around their Master, who started again to speak: "for the newcomers, listen to me carefully… I won't speak a second time."
After those words, Dag remained still and paid attention, also looking at the red-haired girl, out of the corner of his eye, noticing that she was focused on the speech, but, feeling to be overlooked, she turned her eyes in Dag's direction and he looked away, embarrassed.
"Here on Skjold, warriors have a key role in society. Whether you are a man or a woman, a Berserkr or a Skjaldmaer, deciding to be a warrior, you must swear eternal allegiance to Odin, the Alfather. The highest aspiration you can pursue in your warrior life is Death. Only who dies in combat will reach the Valhalla!" Taya continued, addressing the crowd of young warriors.
"The strongest warriors of Skjold are called 'the Everlastings'. Each of them owns an ancient artifact, a symbol of power. These artifacts are the 'Emblems'. There are ten emblems on the entire planet. Einar, the King of all Vikings holds the Emblem n°1".
"Can anybody become King?" interrupted a voice, that echoed from the crowd.
Taya lowered her gaze and looked among the recruits, finding out that the voice came from Freydis.
"Yes, little girl. But to be King you have to defeat Einar, the Lone. The legend tells that nobody's ever been able even to scratch his golden armor! But don't worry, Jernhest, the capital and all cities around the planet need warriors: each of you will find his place in this world. What you only need is a constant devotion!" Taya answered amused.
Freydis seemed dissatisfied with that answer, while Dag couldn't stop staring at her.
"Today, it's time for you three novices, to swear in front of Odin. To do so, I called the Chieftain of the 'Jernhest Berserkr's Order'."
When Taya finished her speech, a muscled man walked from the back.
He was a tall man, with a black beard collected in a thick braid and a ring on his nose.
A big, black tattoo of an open-winged eagle was painted on his face, from the forehead to the chin.
He looked accurately at each of the guys in the crowd, including Dag, and after a few seconds of freezing silence, he said:
"My name's Arne, and I'm the Jernhest Berserkr Order's Chieftain… who are the new recruits?" he asked, in a deep and raspy voice.
Timidly, Dag was the first one who raised his hand, followed by Freydis and Karl.
"Step forward, children" he ordered.
They obeyed, stepping forward and getting ready to the 'pledge', not even knowing what it consisted of.
Behind the big man, two of his servants brought a metal bucket with smoke coming from the inside, and after that he got closer to that unknown object, turned again to the young soldiers and called the first of them.
"Your turn" Arne said, pointing his finger to Karl.
The shy boy slowly walked toward him, trembling and swallowing in fear when Arne put his big hand on his shoulder and helped him taking off his shirt.
"Now say: I swear to Odin, the Allfather…"
"I s…swear to Odin, the Allfather" Karl repeated, following instructions without asking.
"That from now on, my life is his, and I will serve him without hesitation until the day I'll die…"
Karl repeated again.
"… when I will seat among Thor, Freya, and all the only true Gods in the Valhalla, the hall of the Aesir!"
After that Karl repeated also Arne's last words, filling the sentence, the man turned back, grabbed a molten rod from the iron bucket, and pushed its fiery, sharp tip on Karl's shoulder, who began screaming in pain, trying not to move.
Freydis looked down, closing her eyes, unable to hold back the fear she was feeling.
When Arne removed the rod, a little, bloodied mark appeared on Karl's skin and he remained motionless for a short time, recovering from the shock.
When the boy turned to put his shirt back, Dag was able to see the mark, that represented a big shield with an axe at its center.
Painfully, Karl put his shirt on, covering the Berserkr's Symbol and his white, clean shirt, to turn red on the back, in correspondence of the marked spot.
He slowly walked back to his previous position, next to Freydis and held back the tears, not to show his weakness to the other soldiers, that had already faced that difficult moment.
"Your turn!" Arne repeated impassively as if this was his daily routine, pointing at Freydis.
She took a breath and, when she was ready to go on, Dag made a step forward, positioning before her and saying: "I'll go next. In this way, when she will get her mark everybody can turn around, without looking at her body naked."
These words left everybody in the arena speechless, also Freydis, who looked at him in amazement, hoping that what had just happened would not compromise her pledge and thinking that, nobody had ever spoke like Dag did, to preserve her woman dignity.
"How dare you, little…" Taya said, stepping in and joining the conversation.
"It's fine, it's fine! Don't worry, I can handle this… tell me a thing, kid… are you from Earth?" Arne continued, giggling and looking at him in the eye.
"Yes, but it won't change my request, sir!" Dag answered, worried about the consequences but sure of what he had just said.
"Only an earthling could say such a thing. If you were a Skjold native, I would probably have banned you from the Arena. But you yet lived enough misfortunes, so I'll be glad to accept your request. Do you have anything against this young, brave man, little girl?" he asked Freydis, that unhesitatingly shook her head, not to aggravate the situation.
"Let's continue the pledge then! Step forward, earthling!" replied Arne, dipping the rod in the smoking iron bucket for the second time.
Dag walked towards the Chieftain, turned himself around and put his shirt off, ready to fulfill his duty.
"Now repeat with me…" Arne began.
"I swear to Odin, the Allfather that from now on, my life is his, and I will serve him without hesitation until the day I die. When I will seat among Thor, Freya, and all the only true Gods in the Valhalla!" Dag said in one breath, interrupting the man, that looked at him, surprised that he had already memorized the all swearing.
A hidden smile appeared on his meanest-looking face before he grabbed the rod and pushed it on Dag's right shoulder, making him feeling an unbearable pain, as if something was digging in his body, burning.
He managed to stay still, with his eyes closed to resist the suffering.
At the end of the process, without a word, he got dressed again and got back through his comrades, that admired his deed.
Taya was looking at him and didn't seem to be proud of that action, narrowing her eyes and trying to figure out Dag's true behavior.
"It's your turn, girl. Everybody! Turn around, respect your comrade's action!" Arne continued, incredulous of his own words, generated by Dag's courage.
The apprentices turned around, chatting to each other and Finn looked at Dag, thinking how was it possible for a kid to have a say with such a powerful and authoritative warrior as Arne.
Freydis pronounced her oath, followed by the sound of burning skin.
She mourned and after her pledge, everybody turned around again, facing Arne, that ordered the young girl to get dressed and join her friends.
"The pledge to our Gods is over. From now on, these three fellows are officially Warriors of Skold, Berserkrs and Shieldmaiden. Please welcome them!" Arne yelled, leaving the rod back in the basket.
Each warrior in the crowd raised his sword and with one voice, shaking in time their weapons, they all yelled together: "Uh! Uh! Uh!"
In a few seconds, Arne stopped them with a gesture of his hand.
Please switch to the pop-up to complete the payment.
This's an experimental test for reading assistance in case.
We highly recommend you to enjoy the beauty of the original words.