I will never forget today in all my years. For today I crushed my father's skull in my bare hands. His warm blood and brains squirted onto my chest, and his arms twitched as the life left them, his eyes shocked at my strength.
I held his body for a moment, silently, before laying him gently down upon the stones. No one spoke. It was a solemn moment. The Old Bear had been a strong ruler, a mighty King, who over his many years had led our people to greatness. His death was something to be admired.
After a moment, I knelt and retrieved the ancient helm that lay at his side where it had fallen in our battle. I took a handful of snow and rubbed away a few spots of cooling blood that had landed on the twisting, spiraling horns. I held it skyward, examining it closely, marveling at its beauty. The mystic runes inscribed upon the metal shone in the morning light, and it seemed almost alive.
Still no one spoke. I continued to hold the helm high as I slowly turned and watched my audience. This was the critical time when tradition stated that any challengers to the throne could step forward and declare their intent. I stared hard at each warrior, each mystic in attendance. There was no debate in my eyes. They promised death. One by one, their eyes dropped, their gazes shifted away. None met my stare and held it. None challenged me.
I nodded, satisfied, and lowered the enormous helm upon my head. This was it. The moment I had waited for since I was but a boy. No more was I the Young Cub, the Boy, the Whelp. Those titles no longer applied to me, and none would dare utter them in my presence again. Only one would do: King.
I threw back my head and roared to the heavens, my fists clenched in ecstasy. My new subjects took up the cry and our voices shook the mountains themselves. We honored the gods with our call, thanking them for this glorious duel, for the passing of a mighty King, and for the birth of a new one.
I knew the Titans would be pleased, for our duel had been one of legend that the skalds would sing of for years to come. We had battled for many minutes, evenly matched in strength, in determination, in rage. The Old Bear was as canny and sharp a foe as any I have ever faced, and the years had not weakened his arms at all. But I had the quickness and endurance of youth on my side.
As my subjects showered me with praise and gifts, I reflected on the day's events. The Old Bear had been a ferocious opponent, one that had pushed my fighting abilities to their limits. But I knew I would emerge victorious. It was my fate, for I am destined for greatness. The winds themselves howl my name, the frozen oaks tremble as I approach. My blood flows with the rushing rivers, my blood pumps with the churning storm. This land is harsh, cold and merciless, just like us. We are the land. And the land knows me, fears me, respects me. I hear its voices guiding me, bolstering my resolve. They told me the first step on my journey to glory would be when I would seized leadership of our people from my father's dead hands. This I have done. The future awaits me.
Long live King Ymiron.
Life is good. The Vrykul are strong, and we rule this land. None are strong enough to stand in our way. Our fortresses adorn the hostile mountains, their anger tempered, crushed beneath our unyielding tenacity. The land teems with game, and we enjoy bountiful feasts every night.
Our clan has grown large, and expanded our territory across the tundra. I have named four commanders to monitor our people and guide them in my absence, for even I cannot be everywhere at once. Chosen from the mightiest of my vassals, Haldor, Bjorn, Ranulf and Tor have proven their loyalty and their valor repeatedly. I am confident they will only strengthen and empower our people.
In our explorations, we have across a strange type of creature our people had never seen before - like an enormous lizard, but with wings like a bird and fangs of death. Towering even our tallest warriors, these creatures can breathe flame and actually talk using our tongue. We disturbed one deep within the bowels of the mountain and were forced to retreat, losing many brave warriors.
But this only invoked our wrath, and we returned in force, trapping and cornering the beast, who named itself in the battle: dragon. We besieged the dragon relentlessly, hurling ourselves against it, smashing it down beneath our weapons. When it was dead, I decided that no longer were we to the Tribe of the Bear; now we would be named Dragonflayers!
We were amazed to discover that the beast had a brood, thought they differed in size, body structure and intelligence. We warily approached and though the brutes looked at us suspiciously, they did not attack or react aggressively. One of my braver, more reckless followers stepped forward and boldly walked up to the the nearest dragon. It reared back and its hind legs and screeched in his face, and we winced, expecting to see him torn to shreds in the next seconds.
However, the boy showed remarkable composure and did not flinch. Instead, he calmly laid a hand on the dragon's neck and whispered quietly to it, calming it with his gentle tone and soothing touch. Even I was amazed at the fearlessness of the act. I remembered him then - Skadi was the youth's name, and he had always been gifted at working with our wolves and bears, communicating with them on a level the rest of us could never comprehend. I immediately declared him in charge of raising, taming and training the remaining dragons. With such dangerous pets at our command, nothing would ever be able to oppose us.
Truly, life is good. It is good to be King.
We are a race of warriors, strong and hale. We fear not storm nor beast, for both can be bested by courage and strength. We do not fear death, for there is no greater honor for our people than to die in glorious battle. But what we face today is none of these things. It is something new, something sinister, something we cannot fight with axe or willpower. And it has my people terrified.
At first we assumed it was but a freak occurrence. We buried the monster in the woods where its evil taint could not spread. But the next child was the same - tiny and feeble. Limp and flacid. Possessing none of the strength normally inherent in our youth. Its eyes did not open, its bones were fragile and spindly, and it wailed pitifully like an shoveltusk calf.
The news spread quickly among the clans. Panic and fear washed through us like a tempest. Why were our women giving birth to these...things? What had happened? Had we offended the gods? Were we cursed? Damned?
I did not know, but I knew this unease could not continue. I ordered my clan-Kings to gather our entire tribe and come to my camp in a week's time. I ordered the creature taken to my longhouse and that I be left alone with it.
I studied it closely. It was clearly weak and helpless, and its cries grated on my nerves. I wanted nothing more than to take its soft mushy body and crush it in my grasp, toss it aside. But I needed to know why this happening.
I poked it, flipped it over. Stretched it out on the table. I could not back a sneer as its watery skin chafed and caught the rough stone, causing it great distress. It was no child of ours...and yet, indisputably, it had come from our people.
And the more I examined it, despite the many flaws and crucial differences, I realized that it did indeed resemble our kind - a weak, pathetic, scrawny version of us that possessed none of the traits that we value and hold in high esteem.
I realized with shock that this creature was exactly the opposite of what we strove to be. It was as if some cruel force had reached into our hearts and taken our deepest fears, our most hated traits, and given it life. I knew then that we our gods were no longer our allies. Whether we angered them or they found some fault in us, it was clear they had turned their backs on us and were punishing us, cursing us with these abominations that mocked everything about our proud people. What a cruel sense of humor the gods possess!
I seethed with rage. How could the gods, who we have always honored and wholeheartedly paid tribute, treat us with some disrespect! Our way was clear. The future suddenly shone with starting clarity in my mind. We could not stand these aberrations to live. Not only would they be useless on the field of battle and be unable to contribute to the clan, but if they truly were the reverse of our people, they would be cowardly, disloyal, and treacherous. They would splinter us, divide us, spread doubt and fear through lies and deceit. They would become our bane.
I looked at the thing on the table with newfound disgust and loathing. I hated everything about it, what it represented, the threat that it could become.
I reached for my sword.
It is done. I declared my decision to my people, and they were shocked by my words, by my declaration that the gods had abandoned us, cursed us with these foul offspring. They were scared, betrayed. But I am still leader of our people. Unlike our fickle gods, I will not forsake them.
"Forget our old gods!" I told them. "We do not need their protection any longer, for we have grown strong and brave without them! We have outgrown their manipulating ways, and now they seek to punish us for our greatness. They fear us, for we are mighty! But we will not bow down before them. The Vrykul bow down to no one!"
It was a good speech.
I decreed that all infants born malformed would be instantly destroyed, that they are of tainted blood, impure of heart. My people roared with approval, though I saw a face faces darken with uncertainty. I will not tell them that these offspring could potentially destroy us. My men would think me weak or addled, for what threat could possibly come from a tiny speck of flesh? They see danger only in sharped spear, a hungry animal. They would not understand.
It has been only a week, and already dozens of the mutants have been put to the sword. I can see doubt starting to creep into the eyes of my people, but I urge them to be strong, resolute. This is but a temporary hardship that will temper us, make us stronger, harden us to the weakness of compassion. It is one thing to boldly stand in the face of a terrible foe, denying his rage. This is no different, except this foe is not of flesh and blood, but of doubt. This fight is within our hearts. This trial will teach us true courage.
I have caught rumor that some of my subjects are rebelling against the edict, attempting to send their twisted, freakish spawn south to escape their fate. Such weakness is unbefitting and alarming. They must learn to obey their King. I have ordered Tor and Ranulf to comb the villages for such rebels, and take them to Gjalerbron for immediate execution. The Vyrkul have no need for cowards.
Still, I wonder how many of the twisted creatures escaped our grasp, were hidden away. I think of the ominous feeling I had when I looked at the lumpy infant in my home, of the disaster it could wreak upon us if survived to adulthood. I am...uneasy.
Fah! I worry for nothing. They are fragile and weak. They will never survive the harsh journey through the seas. Besides, they are so small, so stunted. So pathetic.
We need not fear them. They will never amount to anything.
Show/Hide Letter Notes
Anguish of Nifflevar - quest where you see a flashback of King Ymiron denouncing the Titans and mandating that the "weak" babies be put to death. Nice insight into Vrykul culture.
The Echo of Ymiron - quest where you see a flashback of two Vrykul parents deciding to protect their baby and sneak it away, despite Ymiron's declaration.
The actual history behind the Vrykul, and how they are actually the ancient ancestors of humanity, is something I find fascinating. I would have liked to see more of this, as I'm sure many players are unaware of this shocking fact and think the Vrykul are just generic barbarians.
These quests also give us a nice look into Vrykul society, and what is important to them. Pure bloodlines, strength and physical power, etc.
I wanted to eventually look into the inner logic of Ymiron when he made the fateful decision to cull the "deformed" offspring, and why he made this decision. I thought it would be good to first look at who Ymiron is, and why he is such a beloved king among the Vrykul. The answer was clear - he had to be an incredibly mighty warrior.
A classic mainstay in barbarian culture in fantasy settings is that the strongest leads, and new leaders are crowned by slaying the old leader. I put a lot of detail into Ymiron's observations during the duel because I think to him, it would be his finest moment, the memory that he would cherish for the rest of his days. I think barbarians would bestow fearsome nicknames upon each other based off ferocious beasts and animals that they fought, so the nickname of "the Old Bear" for Ymiron's father was a natural choice. Plus, it let me create a little side-story of how vrykuls poorly look at youth who haven't proven themselves, by calling the young Ymiron "the Young Cub."
Ymiron's giant helmet is pretty distinctive and impressive, so I thought it would be nice if it were like a crown, passed down to whoever rules the vrykul.
Haldor, Bjorn, Ranulf and Tor are the four dead allies that Ymiron will call upon when you fight him in Utgarde Pinnacle. I wrote them as powerful leaders in their own right, to explain why Ymiron would honor them by keeping their coffins nearby for strength.
Another classic trope is how the invincible physical fighters get completely unnerved and frightened of the unknown. For a race of warrior people, I think something like deformed babies, an aspect of life completely beyond their control, would horrify and deeply rattle them. For the first time, there was no foe to stab, no monster to slaughter, that would solve this problem.
While Ymiron's decision to kill all the weak babies is not surprising, I wanted his reasoning to be more complex than just "they're feeble so they must die." I wanted to make him actually more cunning and thoughtful than most vrykul, since he is their most renowned and beloved leader. He must have some smarts to him.
The idea that these babies were not only just weak and pathetic, but actually their antithesis - the anti-vrykul - was exactly what I was looking for. Ymiron would be the only one able to look past his disgust and rage to actually examine the creatures, realize this fact, and deduce that this is perhaps not a coincidence, but a specific curse laid upon them. Under this logic, I thought it made a lot of sense that he would fear them and what their cowardice and weakness would cause. To Ymiron, they weren't babies - they were demons.
Of course, he couldn't explain this to his dim-witted, simple subjects. So he had to appeal to their base emotions, their primal fears, and keep the secret danger to himself. I thought it was something an unusually-intelligent barbarian King would do.
Even so, Ymiron is still a Vrykul, and he would probably dismiss the survival of a few of the damned babies. In his mind, there was zero chance they would survive, since they were weak and helpless. Of course, he was very wrong (they became the humans) and his greatest fears did eventually come true, as we stormed their ancestral homes in Northrend and killed them.