A cold draft of air hit me as I stepped into the tomb of kings. I made my way down the long hall, glancing over the weathered skulls that jutted from the walls beneath flickering torches. My boots scraped in the silence against the smooth stone floor as I approached my dead ancestors.
The hall ended in a long, narrow flight of stairs that led further underground. I pulled my furs closer around me as the subterranean temperature dropped. The torches cracked fitfully, and the wind whistled through the passageway.
I stepped from the stairs into a circular large circular chamber lit by burning braziers. Cold marble thrones sat within stone alcoves carved into the walls, with crossed iron axes lain at their feet. Some alcoves were empty. To my left lay an empty one with my name chiseled into the stone. Svold Tarheim IV. It had been written the day of my birth.
Directly ahead of me lay the tomb of my father. The pristine stone had been shattered, and dust lay heavily on the ground amid shards of dark rock.
“Hello, son.” My dead father lounged on his marble throne, his rotting hands curled around the hafts of the axes that had before rested atop his grave. As I approached, he sat up straighter and raised one of the blades to point at me. His jaw, exposed beneath his decomposing face, opened again and he continued, “You have already taken one throne from me. Do you mean to take this one as well?”
I loosened my sword from my belt, adjusting my furs so I could quickly draw it. “I didn’t take your throne, father. You died.”
My father stood abruptly, allowing me to see the entirety of his undead frame. The frigid temperature of the tomb preserves bodies well, but it only lasted so long. His skin had begun to rot away, revealing pale bones and black tissue. Fully half of his face was gone, and the points of his ribs jutted angrily from his torso.
“And when I died,” he said, “you put my kingdom at the mercy of the Arashan warlords.” His voice was a haggard, accusatory whisper.
“No one is at the mercy of anyone. I made peace.”
“You signed my kingdom away to those I spent my life fighting. For seventy years I kept them off the ice and as soon as I die you let them in.”
I pulled my sword from my belt and leveled the blade at him. He started down the steps from his throne.
“Go back to your grave, father.”
“Send me there.”
I stepped towards my father as he leaped from the steps and thrust my sword toward his heart, but he caught my blow on one of his axes and flipped over me. He swung his other axe at my back as he landed behind me. I sidestepped it, in awe at his movement. That jump should have been impossible. Somehow, in death, he was stronger than he had even been in life.
And he was nearly unbeatable in life.
I recoiled as he unleashed a flurry of blows; his axes carved inhumanly fast circles through the air as I ducked and parried. Despite the apparent atrophy of his undead muscles, I felt his strikes. My blade reverberated with the force of them.
“You were always weak,” he said. “I should have known you wouldn’t be able to defend my kingdom. If only the gods had left me your brother.”
“My brother was insane.”
“Your brother was a warrior.”
I brought my sword up and caught his axe on it, grunting with the effort. My father twisted his bearded axe, catching my blade in it, and brought his other axe crashing into my left side.
Pain exploded through my body. I collapsed to my knees—my sword fell from numb fingers. I felt the cold iron of an axe head on the back of my neck.
“Finish it,” I said. The words emerged as a groan of pain.
“I think not.” The iron left, and was replaced by cold flesh as my father grabbed the back of my neck and, with his inhuman strength, dragged me to his grave. He flung me onto his marble throne, where my red blood stained the white. “You made a deal with my enemies, so I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll trade you, a throne for a throne.”
I watched, each breath coming shorter and more painful, as my undead father ascended the stairs to my kingdom.