The fury the crowd had shown at Ootana’s entra…

The fury the crowd had shown at Ootana’s entrance flared to new heights when the bear approached the gate, but Snorri’s booming laugh silenced them.

“Call that a bear?” He lowered his arms and thumped his chest. “I am of the Undoreth, the Children of the Hammer. The blood of Odin runs in our veins. Storm-born we!” He pointed up at Maeres with his transfixed hand, dripping crimson, knowing his tormentor. “I am Snorri, Son of the Axe. I have fought trolls! You have a bigger bear. I saw it back in the cells. Send that one.”

“Bigger bear!” Roust Greyjar shouted out behind me, and his fool brother took up the chant. “Bigger bear!” Within moments they were all baying it and the old slaughterhouse pulsed with the demand.

Maeres said nothing, only nodded.

“Bigger bear!” The crowd roared it time and again until at last the bigger bear arrived and awed them to silence.

Where Maeres had procured the beast I couldn’t say, but it must have cost him a fortune. The creature was simply the biggest thing I’d ever seen. Dwarfing the black bears of the Teuton forests, overtopping even the grizzled bears from beyond the Slav lands. Even slouched behind the gate in its off-white pelt it stood nine foot and more, and heavy with muscle beneath fur and fat. The crowd drew breath and howled its delight and its horror, ecstatic at the prospect of death and gore, outraged at the unfairness of the killing to come.