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Winter of the Year of Our Lord 876, Somerset Levels, Somerset, Kingdom of Wessex
Olaf watched the impenetrable darkness. The cold air that blew from the sea across the marshes whipped his blond hair. The rest of the war band sat close to the fire, without their boots for days of walking in the cold swamp had soaked the every stitch of leather. If they kept walking with them, their feet would rot. But the flickering light from the fire robbed Olaf of his night eyes. This was no northern winter. Winter her was not one of howling frosted winds, drifting snowbanks or eternal darkness. No, this was wet cold, seeping cold that twisted leather and rusted weapons. It drained a man’s strength and will by the day until he was spent and useless.
Yet the enemy was somewhere out there, in the dark and it was Olaf’s war band duty to find them. He spotted a pair of lights in the distance. No, there where eyes, like the eyes of a hound that caught the fire’s light.
Sharp pain erupted from his throat. The arrow robbed him of breath. He grasped the shaft with trembling hands. Ilurn tumbled past, a axe buried deep between his shoulder blades. Olaf’s vision blurred, his limbs grew cold, his heartbeat thundered in his ears, his voice gone. Olaf fell on his back.
Then it came.
A man, a beast from the darkness, a thing with a man’s body and the head of a giant wolf.
“Heathen,” said a raspy voice above him, “join your ancestors in hell.”
The wolf-man sank a spear through Olaf’s belly. The cold claimed him and the marsh swallowed him.
And the Wolf’s Head returned to the night that birthed them.