The small bonfire crackled and popped. Sparks flew up into the night sky, which was clear and brightly lit with thousands of stars. The silhouette of an older man moved around the blaze, placing a few more pieces of timber across the glowing embers. He settled back down onto the sand and watched as the flames began to hungrily consume the new fuel. The grey hair outlining his face was illuminated by the firelight. The flames from the fire also revealed the man’s weathered skin, toughened by decades of living and working along the coast.
The sound of gentle waves, served as a backdrop to the crackle of the fire. A slight breeze blew across the land toward the ocean, offering an occasional gust, which excited the glowing embers. The old man paid no attention to either. The wind and the waves had accompanied him his whole life. Unless they suggested to him that there might be some concern, they disappeared from his thoughts as though they didn’t even exist.
The old man looked up into the sky and pondered the stars for a moment. He remembered during his childhood, how he would study the night stars and remember stories of how his ancestors had navigated their great ships through the icy seas that surrounded their towns and encampments. He smiled, thinking how different his situation was today — the breeze that blew in from the ocean was warm and calming. It was a great day for a family gathering, and to share his memories and the tales of his ancestors.
“Do you ever have a feeling that you are somehow different from the other children you know?” asked the old man. He paused for a moment, allowing the words of his question to take hold. “Do you wonder why you are called a Varg? Do you know what it means even to be a Varg?” He raised his arms up toward the sky. “The Varg are special indeed– unique among all who live here in this world. And you share that uniqueness, even though at times you may not comprehend its depth.”
“My teacher has asked me where that name came from,” said one of the children gathered around the bonfire. There were ten children in all, listening quietly as their grandfather spoke. It was not often that they were all in one place together. Tonight was very special.
“What’s a Varg?” said another boy, imitating the rude tone of one of his classmates. “Is that some kind of vegetable?” The expression on the boy’s face told all that needed to be said. It was obvious that he had been teased because of his name. Yet, the old man could see that the boy had learned some restraint and had at least attempted to ignore the comments from others.
“These are challenges that you will face throughout your lives,” explained the old man. “People will not understand you. They may think they do, but the truth is, they do not. Nor will they ever. It is your responsibility not to judge them too harshly for their ignorance. It is not their fault that they don’t understand, just as it is not your fault that you have the bloodline.”
The old man nodded his head. He understood their frustrations. He also knew that, in time, they would all have learned how to cope with the questions and comments about their ancestral name.
“He thought you were a vegetable?” said one of the girls. “That’s so stupid. But you should try being a girl and having the ability to beat the boys in my class at sprinting! The boys all laugh and wonder why my parents would have named me that. And the girls tease me because it’s not normal for a girl to play infield in kickball and throw out three boys in a row. Actually, it’s not normal for anyone.”
“I think it’s a great name, Varg,” chimed another boy. “But my teacher thinks it sounds rude. ‘Why did your parents name you that? It sounds vulgar. I don’t think you should tell people that it’s your real name.’ That’s what she tells me. I don’t even know what she means by ‘vulgar’.”
“I told my friend’s parents that my family’s ancestors were Scandinavian,” said another of the girls. “But they said that was unlikely because I didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes.” Although it was true, that all of the family was of a direct lineage from their Scandinavian ancestors, all of the children had light brown hair, which darkened with age. Their eyes were hazel, green and brown, depending on the reflection of light. The stereotypical blonde hair, blue-eyed Norwegian didn’t always hold true.
The children, ranging in age from five to fourteen, all seemed to jump into the conversation. Each one seemed to have a series of stories to relate about being teased or taunted because of their abilities or name. At first they took turns expressing their frustration, but soon they began to talk over each other and interrupt. It wasn’t long before the quiet discussion had turned into a melee of words.
Even the gusting wind and the sound of the ocean were lost in the clamber of the conversations. The old man sat quietly for a while, trying to listen to his grandchildren as they vented their frustrations. He was pleased to have them all gathered together. The remote location among the Florida Keys was ideal, giving them freedom to come together without attracting attention. But now that they were here, it was obvious that they needed more guidance on what it meant to be a Varg. They needed to learn more of the history of their ancestry and of their rich heritage — their unique heritage — and the realities that accompanied their lineage.
The old man began to speak and then realized that none of the children were paying any attention to him. Each had engaged with another, sharing in their common plight. The conversations grew even louder and, perhaps, emotional, as the children continued. Finally, the old man had had enough.
“Thegya!” His voice boomed into the night. Like a sudden thunderclap that explodes during a raging storm, the old man released a roar that eclipsed even the loudest of the children’s voices.
The children quieted immediately. What may have at first sounded like thunder was quickly recognized as more of a roar, followed by an unmistakable growl. To anyone else, the sound would have been eerie and inhuman. But to the children gathered around the bonfire, they recognized it as something familial, something to be respected and revered. No one needed to explain its meaning to them, as each child responded instinctively to the sound.
The sound of the wind and the waves returned. Not that they had gone missing, but their presence had been hidden by the youthful voices of the old man’s grandchildren. The crackling of the fire again became the only sound competing with the voices of nature.
The old man sat still for a moment. The children’s gaze now fixed upon him once again. It was then that they noticed a change about their grandfather — his eyes. Something dramatic had happened in the brief moment when he shouted out to them. Whether it happened before, during, or after was unknown. His usually hazel eyes had turned almost yellow with just a hint of the green hazel they were accustomed to seeing. And, somehow, around his pupils was a brilliant yellow ring, as though the insides of his eyes were glowing.
Like the roar and growl, the color of his eyes did not startle or frighten the children. Again, it was something that just seemed natural. Not that they had ever seen it in anyone else’s eyes. But with their grandfather, it was just the way things happened. They accepted it, whatever it was. He was a truly unique man, and they all inherently understood that.
What they didn’t fully understand is that they shared that uniqueness. What made their grandfather special had been handed down to them as well. The reason for their gathering was so that he could begin sharing all of the mysteries of their ancestry.
“The blood that runs through your veins,” he said quietly but with authority, “is of the original line of 12.”
The children all sat quietly, giving heed to every word that the old man uttered. They all knew this was somehow important, that it would affect their futures in ways that they could presently not comprehend.
Whether through force of habit or because of where his mind was now venturing, the old man reached one hand up to the pendant that hung from a silver chain around his neck.
“Tell us about the wolf pendant, grandfather,” said the oldest boy. He had seen it many times, but had never felt like it was appropriate to ask before. Now, with the family gathered, and something about the setting they now found themselves, it seemed like the proper time to inquire about its meaning.
The old man held out the pendant and looked down at it. He had worn it most of his life, or at least, as long as he could remember. It had been passed down by his father and, according to what he understood, from his grandfathers for several generations back.
“It is the symbol of the Varg,” he began to explain. “It’s meaning goes back through many, many generations of our family. This particular pendant has been handed down from father to son for hundreds of years. No one knows exactly how old it is, although my own learning about it suggests that it goes back to our Scandinavian ancestors — perhaps over a thousand years ago.”
“A thousand years?” exclaimed one of the children. “It should belong in a museum or something.”
“Well some may think so,” chuckled the old man. “But the value of this pendant is far more than any historian or museum worker could ever possibly understand. It isn’t how much money it might be worth, or what it might reveal about the history of an ancient people. It is a part of our family, a part of our heritage that only a few truly understand. Sadly, if this pendant were to fall into the hands of some museum curator, it would likely be placed in a drawer with a dozen other curious artifacts. And there it would sit, lost to the family to whom it belongs.”
“So a Varg is a wolf?” asked another boy.
“Yes, and no,” began the old man. “The Varg is a warrior. It is one who takes on the attributes of a wolf. When the time comes, the wolf-nature of every Varg will be revealed. But this is not some random occurrence. There must be a reason. There must be some higher purpose to be accomplished before the true nature of a Varg can be summoned. It is not something to be taken lightly or to be trifled with. Never should one trifle with a wolf, and certainly not with a Varg.”
“I’m confused,” said another of the old man’s grandsons. “I’ve never felt like a wolf. I don’t feel much like a warrior, either.”
Some of the other children laughed at their cousin’s comment. But the old man silenced them gently with a raised hand. It was a valid comment, which every one of them likely agreed to — they just weren’t quite willing to admit it.
“There is so much more to all of this than what you might consider.” The man stroked the pendant gently for a moment. “Being a warrior isn’t all about using weapons and fighting. That’s what television and Hollywood teach us. A true warrior — a Varg — however, makes use of all of his senses. He is able to smell things and see things that others will totally miss. His hearing is acute, and even his sense of touch is heightened. But that’s only the beginning. You see, a mature Varg is also very intelligent, with a seemingly natural aptitude for learned knowledge: the arts, the sciences, history, math. Then there is a physical keenness that is hard to describe. Most of you probably don’t think much about it, but every one of you is good at sports and athletic activities. You have an inborn sense of balance and agility that can’t be learned.”
The children sat quietly, contemplating what their grandfather had just told them. Each one of them sensed that what he said was true. It wasn’t that they didn’t have to put forth effort to get good grades or to learn a new game or activity, but they seemed to master the skills much more easily than did other children their own age.
“Have you ever noticed that each of you is physically fit? None of you has food allergies or problems with your diet.” He stood up and began slowly walking around the fire, pausing momentarily to look at each child as he talked.
“You see, being a warrior is much more complicated. But a Varg has some other qualities, which make him different than all of the others. In particular, it’s the Varg’s sense of right and wrong. No one needs to tell you when something isn’t right — you just seem to know it. Even if there’s no written rule you understand when something is unjust or unfair. And all of you know what I say is true, don’t you? I don’t have to convince you of it, you see, because, you already understand that. It’s the very nature of the Varg to know these things, even before someone tells you or explains it.”
He continued around the fire until he came back to his seat. The flames had died down, leaving only glowing embers. He reached his arms up toward the sky as though he were embracing the very heavens themselves. And as though responding to some magical cue, the breeze began to grow in intensity. The gusts became more pronounced and stronger. The ocean waves seemed to also respond to the old man as he reached up into the night sky. The waves were no longer gentle, but began crashing against the shore.
Several coconut palms, which dotted the shoreline, began swaying with the wind. The sudden gusts came and went, adding to the motion of the tropical trees and grasses. It was as if the whole of nature was responding to the old man’s presence. The embers in the bed of the fire seemed to stir with new life, and a single, energized flame rose up and licked the air around it.
Perhaps other children would have been startled by all of this. Nothing that was happening around them was very typical of a family gathering around a campfire. The story telling was perhaps a common practice, but the other events, the wind and waves and the roar of the old man’s voice, added a unique quality to the evening’s events.
He finally turned and resumed his seat. The wind died down and the waves calmed themselves. The fire seemed to cool, leaving only a glow in the center of the embers. One of the older boys pulled a few pieces of wood from a pile stacked nearby and placed them across the glowing coals. It wasn’t long before the fire was again blazing, lighting the night sky and sending sparks upward toward the stars.
“What else can you tell us, Grandfather?” asked one of the children. They all watched as the old man looked thoughtfully into the fire. They knew there was more to the story. They had heard bits and pieces over the years from their parents and other family members. But no one had yet been able to give them a clear picture of what it meant to be a Varg. Now, with the senior member of the family calling them all together in one place, there was the sense that they would all go home with a more complete understanding of who and what they were. More importantly — why they were what they were.
“Remember I told you that a Varg is well versed in history?” he began. “Tonight we will have a history lesson. Although you may learn in school about the land your ancestors called home, your teachers will never be able to explain to you the details that you will learn tonight.”
Each of the children settled into comfortable positions. They could tell that this was not going to be some quick lecture or story. Their grandfather was about to send them on a journey back in time. There would be nothing abbreviated about the lesson.
“Thousands of years ago, in the time of gods and dragons, out of the cold, harsh lands of the northern-most region of Scandinavia, a fierce and powerful race of humans were forged. These people were bound by one common belief, which they have persevered throughout the centuries — the belief that the fight itself makes the man, and that even gods can fall to the most gifted warrior. To this end, the Norse produced bloodlines of warriors that stood apart from the raiding multitude. And from these elite warriors, hand-picked by Odin himself to bear the burden of the chaos of the mortal world, twelve young males were given a gift that would follow them and their descendants for all time — the Varg.”