Life lessons from the ice cream King of Mumbai

In my travels I’ve met a lot of interesting people. Some real Assholes that I couldn’t wait until the door hit them on the way out and others who I wish I could put in my suitcase. Both types of people teach me lessons, either “be more like them”or “slap me if I’m ever like them”. I wasn’t “enlightened” in India like all the hippies and yogis claim to experience. Way too many starving begging kids in the streets. At the heart of my trip I found people that were a lot like me, hard working and hungry for knowledge. But of all the students at evolution Mumbai gym, one really blew my mind.
Everyday when I woke up, I had this guy knock on the door to fetch me for practice. He tried carrying my gym bag for me, always asked me If I wanted anything, coffee, breakfast etc. And every night he’d walk me to the door, making sure I had everything I needed until the next day. I assumed he was just another gym lackey, especially one night when he started offering to take my laundry to have cleaned. Boy did I feel like an idiot when I found out the truth.
So one night we are driving home from a day of sight seeing, he asks me if id like to go for ice cream. I don’t know who he talked to beforehand but ice cream holds the key to my heart and soul. So off we went, down a few side streets before pulling up to an ice cream shop. I was excited. We walk up and my unnamed friend walks behind the counter, passed the employees and into the freezer, grabbing this and that. My jaw dropped a bit as he handed them to me, the employees of the shop not skipping a beat at all. Come to find out, this is his shop. He not only owned this one but 28 others just like them. So basically I stuffed my “fat kid at hearts” face, even rubbing it in a little bit to the guys that had fights coming up. The joys of not cutting weight are infinite.
Anyway on the drive home me and the The ice king cream talked a bit, I had to know what this ridiculously humble and unassuming guys story was.
“When I was a boy, I wanted to own an ice cream shop so that I could eat all of the ice cream I wanted”. That one sentence is at the heart of every young mans existence. He took it to the next level. He moved to Mumbai with $40 in his pocket and a dream. He got a loan from the bank and got started. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, he took his losses, having to restart a few times with nothing. He told me there were days he worked 20 hours, sleeping on the floor of his ice cream factory with his workers, he couldn’t afford a place of his own because he put everything into the business. Police constantly looking for bribes, mafia dipping their hands Into the ice cream pot, set back after set back. He cried himself to sleep sometimes, ready to quit, to give up. But he held onto the dream, opening his second, then his third shop. He’s now in a position where he doesn’t have to work, he has managers and employees who handle the day to day. He’s 31 years old now, pretty much mission accomplished. He is the ice cream King of Mumbai.

I asked him what’s next, he’s basically the ultimate ice cream champion of the world, where does he go from here? He says he’s happy with where he is at, that life is good, but he is not satisfied. That resonated with me instantly. I feel the same way after a fight, like cool, I won, nice shiny belt or medal, but that’s not it, I’m not done yet. In a few years he’s going to sell the business, his home,car, etc buy a backpack and travel the world. If I didn’t know better, with him being rich and doing martial arts, this guy is on his way to being Batman. Amazing. That’s the secret with the hugely successful types, a hunger for the next step. But let’s not forget; this guy asked to do my laundry. Humility isn’t the right word for this guy, it doesn’t cut it. He’s on another level. This guys story should be in the bible, forget the guys who have God like power, this is a man who came from nothing with a dream and faced setback after setback, triumphing in the face of adversity to reign supreme over all ice cream cones. To add to his character level, he would say no to having his name written in stories. He doesn’t want his name in this blog, doesn’t want recognition for being who he is. He isn’t the ice cream hero Mumbai needs, he’s the one it deserves.
“V” you have my respect and my admiration. If you ever visit the US, you can sleep on my couch, I’ll buy you yogurt-land every night and I’ll have someone do your laundry.
Ous.

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The importance of an alter ego

Pretty much every superhero I can think of has some form of alter ego. Whether it’s who they were before they became a superhero ala batman/Bruce Wayne or a disguise to hide their abilities like Clark Kent/Superman, most superheroes have an alter ego, someone they become when the mask comes off. Those that have superpowers/special abilities and don’t have an alter ego become something else entirely: the super-villain.
Imagine, you wake up, you have the ability to overcome or overpower any man on earth. By force or mental abilities, the world is at your disposal. But you have a bit of character in you, a spark, a jimminey cricket that says to use your powers for the greater good. You help others with your talents, you are a beacon of charity and hope in an otherwise dark and unforgiving world. Go Superyou!
After saving the world/a cat in a tree, from the brink of destruction, you go home to your mansion/apartment, put on your reading glasses, read a chapter in your favorite book while your dog is curled up at your feet. You might even have a family who thinks you just got home from the office. You and the world are at peace, until it isn’t. You’ll always be ready with your cape/cowl and spandex.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”

Having these abilities could tempt a man or woman to become the opposite. Why be good when you can control the world? Take what you want when you want. If someone is weaker than you, crush them. The world is yours! That guy has a lot of money, take some. She’s pretty, just overpower her. That line is too big to wait in, cut to the front, what are they going to do about it?
This is the attitude of guys like “the Joker” and “General Zod”. They let their power consume them. Any sense of compassion or humanity has left them and replaced by greed and power. If they want something, nothing can stop them. There is no need for an alter ego at this point, their lives don’t require peace.

We see this on the big screen, books, comics etc. But it’s in the real world too. I’ve known John Koppenhaver for a long time, we both fought in a Mexico based organization years ago. He’s always been a cool guy to be around, constant jokes and an all around nice guy. He’s a hell of a fighter too, no quit in him. His UFC fight with Jared Rollins was legendary, and his latest fight where he went to sleep rather than tap just showed there is no quit in him. He truly is a “War Machine” in the cage.
But their isn’t an off switch with him. He was born John Koppenhaver and became War-Machine. What he did the other night to Christy Mack isn’t the person he used to be. He used his “power” to overcome those without. Whether she was sleeping with another guy or not, you never hit a girl. Since birth that’s been absolute law written in stone for my family. It’s sad to see him caught up in all of this. A person as talented as he is should be fighting in front of a sell out audience on live tv. Instead he’s a fugitive on the run, facing inevitable jail time. All of his talent will be wasted in a cell. A once bright future lost in an act of villainy.
Hearing what Josh Grispi did to his wife just sickens me. Maybe this is my bias but that man has kids, he beat the mother of his children and sent his dog after her. I have no remorse for that guy. He’s the type of person that gives fighters our bad reputation.
As fighters we need to have an alter ego. When we go to the gym or the cage it’s all business, we become animals and tear each other apart. It’s part of our sport. The savage in us should not be exposed to regular people. We need an off switch. When we take our gloves off we have to leave the savage in us at the gym. So many times in public I want to bash peoples faces in for cutting me off, being rude etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m one wrong word away from blowing up on someone. I know for a fact that I could do some serious damage to avg untrained Joe. Lucky I keep it in check, There is an off switch. It’s absolutely necessary as fighters to have an alter ego, for our sanity and for others safety.

Note: I don’t know the full story of what happened, I just know that a woman is in the hospital severely beaten and a once great person will never be the same again. I Hope you find peace Warrior.

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The pursuit of mastery.

The pursuit of mastery.

I remember as a kid when I saw something on tv, I wanted to be that guy. Fireman? Yep. Ninja? Just wait til I get to Japan. General in the Army? Where’s my rifle. Not just tv, places I went too. I’d “pretend” to be it all. One time we did a family trip to sea world, saw professional people swimming with dolphins and whales. At that moment I knew from the bottom of my heart, that was my destiny. But then I got older and discovered how much work it actually took to do something like that. Suddenly it didn’t seem so appealing. You can’t be GREAT at everything.

“What the hell do you mean I can’t be great at everything , (insert inspirational quote about doing impossible)”
You’re probably right, YOU can. But Let me tell you about Michael Jordan, arguably/not really arguable at all, the greatest basketball player of all time. Dude was amazing, broke records and dunked from the free throw line, boom, the greatest. Retires from basketball, decides he wants to play baseball for a bit, not so good at it, like, not at all. Yes he was still awesome for trying, he’s an amazing athlete, but his avg baseball skills did not measure up to his “mastery” of Basketball.
History is full of these people. Just look up any decathlon athlete. They are jacks of all trades but masters of none. They aren’t breaking records in all ten events. Bad ass athletes no doubt, they have to be good at all of the events.
Crossfitters are similar. They have their strong events and their really weak ones, some lift heavy ish but can’t swim to save their lives. They get that though, it’s part of the randomness of the sport. They are trying to master the random, or whatever they tell themselves (haha)
Now to my point!
My news feed is wonderful, lots of awesome people showing off their skills in various walks of life. Hairdressers like Gerry Brooker showing off their amazing prom client do’s, master chefs like justin Lyon cooking up amazing meals for his clients, photographers like my friend Aga bringing beauty to otherwise ugly object, like me haha.

But then we get to the bullshit. Why is everyone posting about “meal prep” and “gains”. Posing in front of mirrors like a Gahd damned bodybuilder. I’m constantly face palming when I look at my feed. Why is everyone trying to highlight fitness and exercise, when honestly it all looks like the same shit. Is it REALLY your passion? I get it, we all should exercise and eat healthy, but why are you suddenly a fitness coach selling products? Inspirational quotes with your selfie? How about go do something great first. What happened to that thing you are really good at? You’re going to trade a mastery of something for a half assed effort in the fitness industry? What’s going on here?
I remember when I trained at tiger Muay Thai in Thailand, there was a massive guy, who under the guidance of Thai hulk, a bad ass bodybuilder, lost a ton of weight. Next thing I know this same weight loss guy (but still tremendously heavy, obese) was training people. Blew my mind. I get it, you want to help people, fair enough. But that’s when you point them in the right direction, like to the Thai hulk, a MASTER of his craft. Look I’m sure I could cut someone’s hair, definitely could buzz it, but I’m not cutting hair. I’m going to point them to my favorite barber/hair stylist. I can’t do it all, and I’m ok with that.
When I was a kid I realized I couldn’t be great at it all. I’m an adult now, I can’t be a ninja warrior yoga master painting actor modeling baseball playing and a fighter at the same time. I’m good at this fighting stuff, I want mastery! I spend hour after hour trying to get better and put off everything else. I would love to do other stuff like bodybuilding or crossfit competitions, but I know the preparation for that would take away from my martial training. Why the hell would I give up my pursuit of mastery to be mediocre at a few things? I want my black belt in bjj and to kick peoples asses. How cool is it going to be in thirty years when I can show my grand kids all the cool shit I won. Do you think your grand kids are going to think it’s cool that you quit what you were good at to do half ass personal training or amateur bodybuilding?
I donno, call me crazy but the thought of being a master at something is exciting. It’s going to take me a lifetime to get there, but that’s what makes it worth getting. Can we all stop trying to BE what’s popular? If every person that loses weight is now a personal fitness/life coach, it’s diluting the product. This goes with BJJ too. Lots of bullshit teachers popping up. I wish I had a sponsor that sent me to schools to debunk these supposed “black belts” that are popping up. Why am I hating on people? Because these people are taking away from the legitimacy of our sport! If anyone can have a black belt, why the hell would you want it.
Listen, I’m pleading with you. Stop hand-standing, everyone’s doing it, remember “planking”, same shit. If you lost 10lbs, don’t call yourself a fitness pro. If you just got your blue belt, don’t open up a bjj school, and if you’re a three week white belt, don’t hashtag bjjforlife because I might run into you someday.
Pursue mastery in your PASSION, there is something you are exceptionally gifted at. Go for it and don’t be distracted or tempted by the popular stuff on the sides. Food prepping is a chore, no idea why it’s suddenly a thing, especially when you’re pounding beers on the weekend, defeats the purpose doesn’t it. Maybe I’ll start videoing when I vacuum the floor because it’s the same thing. 5 lbs on your mediocre max means nothing to anyone except you, give yourself a high five and carry on. Show off YOUR talent, the mediocre is worthless filler.
When I meet someone, I want to talk about something that makes their eyes light up, an idea, a plan etc of what they want to be, the thing they are passionate about. You can’t legitimately tell me that your mediocre gains are your passion. It’s like watching a B rated movie, kinda is a movie but not even close at the same time.

Before I get destroyed by the fitness maniacs, good for you and your weight loss. If that’s the field you want to pursue, awesome. Consider who got you there, what their qualifications were. Just make sure you’re good at what you do, taking someone’s health into your hands is a big responsibility, make sure you’re qualified.

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Namaste bullshit from India and Kuwait

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Kuwait was amazing. The American media is one big misinforming mess of information. They don’t hate us, their hospitality was amazing and they kissed my cheeks (traditional Arab greeting). The promotion GFC put me in a pretty swank place on the beach, complete with a massive pirate ship. Every day I woke up and had my Bulletproof coffee, worked out and ate my usual fasted feast meal. Life as per usual. Made weight, fought on Friday, won the fight and met a tiger on a farm. Amazing. My last day I went to a next level palace of a spa, got a rub down from a man with very strong hands, hugged my Arab Friend, Prince Khalid and said Ma’asalama. It’s a good thing too because that Hero fighting business and dates(the fruit) were making me fat.
Moving on to India, Mumbai. I was contacted last year by Mumbai’s first Mma gym, Evolution fight team, to do a seminar. So here I am cruising the streets of Mumbai in rickshaws, the Indian equivalent of taxis.
So it’s been a week since I fought over in Kuwait, I’m still pretty sore, I jacked my arm up pretty good winging a right hand that didn’t even dent my opponents composure. I’m settling into Mumbai life. One of the gym guys soosh, I call him sooshi or sooshkabob, has been so kind as to lend me his room. I told him if he comes to America he can sleep on the couch, in someone else’s living room. He has a good sense of humor.
The weekend was eventful, I ref’d the two day grappling nationals, taught a Bollywood star how to throw properly and was taught a weird dance thing. I asked everyone if he was famous and they shrugged and said “soap opera”. I’m really stoked at the level of grappling here. It’s definitely come a long way since it’s beginnings, evolution sports a full stable of up and coming Mma fighters. One kid named “Yod” put everyone he went against to sleep. Kid had a mean grip, and is very nonchalant in everything he does, reminds me of a Fedor demeanor. Another is Chai, he reminds me of me, doesn’t talk much, just wants to train. He had a ton of questions on mma, philosophy and diet that I was happy to share my past mistakes about. “Vicki sir” is the gym owner, a very kind and welcoming person. He met all my weird requests of coffee and a chicken a day, even opening his doors for me one night to have dinner at his home. Delicious food by the way, they made it extra not spicy at all for me. Perfect.
The last guy I’m going to do a separate blog on, he wants to remain anonymous but let me tell you, thought he was some dude, turns out to be the ice cream lord of Mumbai. There were a ton of guys at the gym that left an impact on me, Rudi, I swore he wasn’t Indian, more like a Rastafarian mix of a lot of cultures, Meme, the king of the Chinese looking nagalanders, too many to name.
They schooled me a bit on the culture of cricket, Bollywood and the western fantasization of finding themselves here and the namaste hippy culture. People come here to find themselves when really it’s the same as anywhere else. After practice one day they were like “coach can we take a group photo with our shirts off”? I was like holy shit you guys are vain too? It’s universal. No one is walking around saying namaste or wearing those goofy fisher pants except tourists. People are racist here, vain, arrogant, mean, happy, loving, laughing, lost etc just like we are in America. Nothing is different as far as people go except they don’t think they are different. It’s we that assume the rest of the world is. Self centered America :)
One day they took me site seeing around Mumbai. Went to the queens necklace, a place where they built a special harbor for the queens arrival. Also we passed by the most expensive house in the world owned by the third richest man in the world. I felt it was a bit out of place, this looming skyscraper situated next to a less than ideal slum type area.
Everyone earned me about the smell, while it’s true most had BO, I’m happy to report that the gym guys did not, and I will leave reinforcing that knowledge by being stank free.
The poverty level was sad, lots of beggars and people sleeping on the sidewalk. The worst was seeing a naked boy sitting down. He was obviously positioned this way to gain sympathy for hand outs but it was still pretty rough on the eyes. Funny thing a friend said of Phuket, that it changed his outlook on life, that the best things are free. I was like yeah mfer for you, meanwhile a poor Burmese guy is working 16. Hour days paid nothing for construction or farm work and a Thai girl is sucking old dude dick. How are westerners so educated yet so dumb at the same time? Blows my mind.
A few of the gym guys got hooked on Bulletproof coffee, they were skeptical at first but now it seems to have taken off. I shattered my mason jar mid way through the trip so I had to buy a Starbucks venti shaker cup thing, works pretty good so I won’t go without.

Today’s my last day, taught class early, caught a bit of a stomach bug so I’ve been on bed rest all day. Headed to Phuket tonight for some much needed R&R and meeting up with Noah and Trent. Missed those mfers. I need a vacation from this Mma stuff. Coconuts and palm trees is all I want to see for the next few days.
Namastay over here while you idiots find yourselves ;)20140610-173404-63244928.jpg

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The ultimate warrior

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Ultimate warrior

When I think of professional wrestling, a few names immediately come to mind. Hulk Hogan of course, the undertaker, sting, the rock, just to name a few. I can’t say that I watch today’s wrestling. When I was a kid I believed it was real, the larger than life giants of men fought their hearts out, chasing after the glorious heavyweight title.
My brothers and I would take all the cushions off the couch, put them on the floor and stage “epic” battles. Jumping off the arm of the couch was the equivalent of the top rope. I was more of a “cruiser weight” because they were too big to lift up, so I did a lot of jumping haha. When Shawn Michaels won the belt from the hit man I remember leaping up out of my chair, clinching my fingerless leather gloved fists in triumph like it was me in there. Amazing moments for me.
It hit me like a ton of bricks when I found out pro wrestling was fake, it was the equivalent of finding out Santa wasn’t real. Terrible, earth shattering news for a twelve year old boy. I was absolutely disgusted, I quit watching cold turkey, no more wrestlemania or royal rumble ppv’s at the house, my parents were probably happy to skip that bill. I moved on to “real” wrestling in school, thus beginning my mma career.
As I got older I looked at wrestling in a different light. These men are amazing athletes. The physical demands they put on their bodies would break lesser men. The grueling schedule, the constant injury factor etc. You can only pull so many punches and slams before the impact is for real. Then you have to shake it off and keep going. Nothing but respect for these great men.
Onto the “ultimate warrior”. No one entered the building like he did. His music, the sprint to the ring, the wild hair and war paint, it was all so powerful. You can’t not get pumped up when he comes to the ring. I remember the crazy adrenaline dumps I’d get watching him perform. When he’d get clubbed and start head bashing, just awesome. Everything about him was larger than life. Even his incoherent interviews were amazing, no one could understand a word he said but it didn’t matter. This was the walking talking equivalent of Conan the barbarian, a man from a different world that was half here and half somewhere else. My long hair is a testament to “warriors” like him, a boyhood emulation in my adult life.
Hearing that he passed away, a little part of me and every wrestling fan goes with him. It made me happy hearing that he was inducted into the hall of fame. He was given his last moment under the bright lights before Valhalla called him home. I’ll never be a fan of wrestling again, I’m from the hulkamaniac days, everything after paled in comparison.there will never be another like you. Thanks for the memories Warrior, you left an impact on a small boy that will never be forgotten.
RIP James Hellwig aka The Ultimate Warrior

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Warrior diet

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“No citizen has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
I don’t make any secret of trying new diets, experimenting to find the right one. My will-power is pretty strong, I’m not the type to go smash a cake or go to a Buffett (except for post fight, then, glutton). It’s a never ending quest to find the one that suits me best, the one that will make me perform better, smash training partners and opponents alike :) . In terms of “goals” I put overall health above everything. Being mortal, I’m very concerned with this whole dying thing, it’s bothersome. I was fortunately/unfortunately blessed with a tongue that lacks taste buds. Plain oatmeal or gourmet restaurant, it’s all the same.
In mma it’s a constant struggle to control weight gain/loss. If I get too heavy, it’s a struggle to get back down to fight weight. So needless to say, I’ve tried every diet from lower calories, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, you name it. They all worked in different ways. I’ve made weight using all of them, so no doubt a controlled diet will do that job. But which one will make me perform the best? Vegetarian made me moody, it was like I was having a man-period at all times, damn near crying over spilled milk. Paleo taught me a lot, processed food robs the nutrients from food and the perimeter of the grocery store is where you want to be.
The latest thing? Warrior diet. For those of you who you don’t know, here’s a quick run down. 20 hour fast, four hour feast. I’m not going to get into the science behind it, a quick google search will give you a more in depth do’s and don’ts. So here’s what my days have been looking like…
1. 8am:Wake up, slam 16oz of water with green tea extract, vitamin d drops and half of a squeezed lemon
2. 830: #bulletproofcoffee which consists of two cups of coffee, two tbsp of grass fed butter, one tbsp of mct/brain octane oil and a tbsp of collagen protein, all blended. Taken in place of a preworkout, while calorically high, guaranteed to have a steadier state of energy with no crash.
3. 9am: workout, lifting/sprints/metabolic, one or the other.
4. 1030: post WO recovery shake, 1 scoop of #nutrilite meal replacement powder, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, tbsp chia seeds. I prefer meal replacement over protein because it has a good ratio of carbs and protein.
5. 1-130: various nuts, almonds, walnuts etc about 20 total and 1cup of mixed berries, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, whatever is on hand.
6. 3:00: salad! I chop two cups of various unimportant veggies, whatever is in the fridge, two handfuls of spinach or kale, 1 tbsp each of olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
7. 5-9pm feast! All the chicken/fish/steak I want. I don’t mix proteins so it’s one or the other. I also try to have some more fat, avocado usually. Last night I had 13oz of chicken thighs and two cups of Brussels sprouts with garlic and onions.
Training session number two varies for time, usually 630 for technical training/sparring/rolling depending on the day. Some days I have a third session earlier in the day.
Water intake: I try to finish a gallon of water with cayenne pepper, lemon and bcaa’s throughout the day.
Energy levels: thus far have been good, the bulletproofcoffee is the best pre workout I’ve ever had, no energy spikes just a steady rate, love it. I broke a deadlift PR yesterday and Last night was marathon roll, 10x5min rounds back to back. I didn’t gas at all and went at a hard pace with high level guys each round.
Hunger: So the snacks keep me satisfied throughout the day, the water keeps my belly full until feast time. Usually when you don’t have cravings for fatty/sugary/salty foods it’s a good indication that your metabolism is running efficiently. Happy to say I’m not craving anything one month in.
Weight loss: I haven’t been measuring weight loss, I don’t unless I have to make a deadlined weight. My upper body is a lot bigger as I’m doing strength training at the moment, waste size is down fortunately. If take a selfie or before and after but honestly there are enough pictures of me shirtless out there, I think you get the picture. No need for more self indulgence haha.
Overall I’m happy with this diet/style of eating. I like that I can eat a bit chaotic for four hours of the day and controlled for the rest. It’s a nice balance. I’ll need to do it for a longer period of time to really see the effects, so far so good. I’m not saying this is the best one out there and it might not fit your goals/needs/lifestyle, but it’s definitely working with mine. As always, to the death and namaste, mfers.

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Not even death

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Rough draft and incomplete, feel free to leave me comments/suggestions. Hope you enjoy what I have so far :)

You would have thought the sky was on fire with the shades of orange and red that flashed as far as the eye could see. Clouds streaked the sky canvas, painting the heavens with dazzling shapes and colors. A brilliant sight to anyone, save the two young lovers. They stood on the sandy beach, hopelessly lost in their own world.
The man brushed the hair back from her face, stroking her cheek. Kissing her forehead, he pulled her closer. She smiled, burrowing into his chest. He squeezed tightly, feeling her crush into him, as if trying to make them one being. He exhaled deeply, leaned in, and whispered, “I’ve missed you, my love.”
*******
The soldier flipped up the Visor on his helmet. Sweat dripped down his brow, stinging his eyes. He wiped them with his red and yellow surcoat. Dirty though it was, the stinging subsided. He looked up at the battlements, the blue flour de leis banners still rippled in the wind. French archers sent volleys of arrows down at the English invaders who scurried up ladders. Smoke still wafted from the failed siege ram, set alight by the boiling pitch. A foothold had yet to be won on any portion of the walls, a testament to the resolve of it’s defenders. He slid the whet stone down the head of his hand ax, as much for the sharpness as to keep his mind busy. The mind has a way of fighting battles before the real ones even begin. He studied the edge, confident in it’s edge, he slid it into his belt loop.
A distant horn sounded. The men around him gathered up their weapons, falling into formation. He sighed, “Just one more charge”. Flipping his visor down, the soldier drew his sword, pointing at the walls “Give me glory or give me death!” Battle cries and roars erupted around him, his men buzzing, they marched.
They held their shields high, forming a turtle shell as the arrows rained down on them. A few of the men went down, screams echoing around him, some arrows finding their mark. He finally reached a ladder and turned toward his men. “See you at the top”. He laughed at his own joke. Shield held above his head, sure footed and nimble, he climbed the rung . Nearing the top, he slowed, almost bumping into the man in front of him. Suddenly, the man in front of him screamed, a spear jutting out of his back. He pitched backwards, falling towards him. The soldier swung himself off the side of the ladder, holding on with one hand as the man plummeted down the tall ladder, knocking off others before crashing to the earth. He recovered his position, shield held high and determined, he continued his climb. At the top of ladder now, he drew a hand ax from his belt. A defender loomed in front of him, spear outstretched. The man thrust the spear toward him, narrowly missing as he swayed his head to the side. The soldier grabbed the haft of the spear, pulling the spearman closer. He thrust his head forward into the crown of his foes unprotected head, sending a crimson spray of blood as the mans nose shattered. Dropping the spear, he vaulted over the parapet and onto the wall. He raised his shield, charging the spearman into the wall. A sickening crack sounded as they hit the wall. The spearman slid to the ground, his skull leaving a trail of blood on the wall.
The soldier dropped his shield and drew his sword. Joined now by some of his comrades that had found purchase on the wall, he saw their chance. Caution to the wind, he rushed into the fray, sword and ax cleaving into flesh and bone, felling men all around him. He was in a berserkers rage, battle lust pushing all thoughts of pain and fatigue aside. Head tilted back and arms spread wide, he roared. ” to the death!” and charged into the defenders with his comrades at his side. The defense was faltering, they were losing ground now. The effect the soldier had on his enemies and his men had turned the tide. His ferocity only increased as men streamed up the ladders now, unimpeded by defenders.
He was barely aware of his surroundings, cutting and stabbing with both hands, sending men to their ruin. A sword ripped into his side, breaking through the chain-mail. Pain enveloped him but was quickly replaced by rage as he launched a riposte into the attackers face, his sword going through the mans mouth and out of his neck. He hurled his hand ax into a bowman who was notching an arrow. The bowman fell like a sack, not knowing what hit him.
The castle walls had been won, the remaining defenders retreated back into the keep, barring the doors. It would take some time to clear them out, but for now, the men lay down their arms for a moment of respite.

The soldier sat slumped against the wall, exhausted beyond belief. Bloodlust had warn off and he was keenly aware of his body now. His arms ached from the many blows thrown, jarred on metal and flesh. Blood seeped out of a score of wounds, the gash on his side bled profusely. His helmet had long been discarded, lost at some point in the battle to an errant mace blow. Lifting a water flask to his lips, he sipped the water,reflecting on the day. A hooded field aid wandered up to him and began dressing his wounds. He winced as the aids cloth dabbed at his wounds. “Hold still now warrior, this will only hurt a little longer.” He presses a cloth to his side, it stung. “The men are speaking of your valor, sir…they say you won the battle single handedly”. He smiled at this, shaking his head “Relax, close your eyes… rest…You’ve earned it”. Said the aid. The soldier stared off. He thought of her, that last night, weeks ago. He wished she were here, if only for a moment. His eyes closed.
*******
“I don’t want you to go”! She yelled. He stared at her, long blonde hair cascaded down her back. Sheer as it was, her night gown left little to the imagination.Even with her features locked in an angry scowl, she was beautiful. Her full lips kept moving, but the soldier just stared at her, the words lost to him in his revery. Suddenly he held his hand up. “Enough… Tonight I want to forget ourselves…I want to be lost with you, let tomorrow worry about itself…This night, this moment.” Her shoulders slumped, exhaling. Smiling at her He held her cheek, kissing her full lips. He swooped her into his arms effortlessly, and carried her to the bedside. “Wait. I want you to promise me that you’ll come back to me. I need you, the thought of losing you, I couldn’t bare it. Say it, say that you will come back.” She said. “Nothing on this earth can keep me from you. I will return to you, my love. Not even death and certainly not the French could keep us apart.” She smiled. They fell onto the satin sheets, lost to the world as their bodies joined.
*******
“A messenger for you milady!” Rushing down the steps, she could barely contain her joy. News from the last battle had reached them, the English army had overwhelmed the French defenders and they had taken the castle. She had been waiting every day since for word of his return. Reaching the doorway, she stopped. “Milady” said the grim faced messenger, bowing. Snatching the scroll from his hands, she broke the wax seal and unraveled it. Quickly scanning the parchment, her hand raised to her mouth. The paper fell to the floor. She bolted up the stairs, tears streaming from her face. Her door slammed, echoing down the stone hallway. She threw herself onto the bed, burying her face into a pillow.
Later in the evening, candles flickered in the room. Her face was pale and drawn with a grim expression. She had stopped crying, resolve had set in. Taking a quill from the desk, she dipped it into the ink well and hastily scrawled an apology onto the parchment. Setting the quill down, she walked to the window, opening the latch. Pushing them open, she stepped onto the ledge, looking down at the crashing waves below. The height was dizzying, she swooned. Steadying herself, she caught her breath, and closed her eyes. “Not even death” she whispered.
******
A thick haze covered the great road. He could barely see a few feet in front of him as he was guided by the small figure in front of him.
The little boy held the soldiers hand, though there were no distinguishable landmarks, he seemed to know exactly where to go. It wasn’t long before they came to a massive wooden hall. The soldier had never seen the like, it was bigger even than the great cathedral at Canterbury. Using his wooden sword, the boy rapped on the massive oaken doors and shouted “Værge,åbent! The doors swung open, allowing entry. They walked through entrance and into the hall.
The room was packed. Various drink filled the mugs of the gathered warriors. A samurai touched his small ornate cup to the foaming mugs of a giant man wearing a horned helmet and another bearded warrior wearing a conical helm.”Kanpai! Skål! Za zdorovje!” All around the hall similar scenes played out; feasting, drinking, arm wrestling, knife throwing, wrestling, all forms of manhood being tested.
Looking down at the small boy he asked “What is this place?” The boy spread his arms wide and replied “Its Valhalla! Resting place of the honored dead. Come, let us get you something to fill your belly and spirits to fill your cup.” He motioned toward the stacks of barrels containing ale and wine and the tables overflowing with all sorts of roast game. Flustered, he shook his head. “No. Where is she? Take me to my love.” He said. The boy shifted nervously, “But sir, she is in another place. This is a hall for the greatest heroes, only the noblest of warriors belong here. There is no better place for a man to rest.” Said the boy. “Valhalla be damned!” Roared the man. “There is no rest without her, we belong together!” Turning towards the door, he rushed towards it. “I will not stay another moment in this God forsaken place!” Warriors all around glanced up, interrupted from their revery. A moment passed and they quickly resumed their feasting and drinking. The boy was crestfallen as the soldier stormed out of the mead hall, slamming the great oaken doors as he left.
********
The lady shuffled along the misty road with the others. She had no recollection of how she had gotten there, but she was compelled to follow. One foot followed the other, methodically onward, destination unknown. Curious. She couldn’t hear the sound of her own footsteps.
*********
His opponent was good, his strikes fast and precise. They parried back and forth, the swords clanging together loudly. He ducked under a wide sweeping strike, his hair rustled as the blow passed, narrowly missing. Recovering quickly, he thrust his sword forward, his opponents eyes widening as he leapt backwards. Both breathing heavily, he smiled, and switched his sword to the other hand. His opponent visibly shaken by the turn of events, he pressed the attack now, his strong arm prodding, jabbing for an opening. He lifted his knee as if to kick, drawing his opponents eyes towards his feet while his sword arm swung in a mighty sweep. The blow connected with the side of the wooden dummy, ending the “duel”.
Sheathing the wooden sword into his belt, he ran back into the house. His father was sitting at the table, whittling a piece of wood. “What are you making pop”? He asked. “I’m finished, here, it’s yours”. He held out the small wooden figure of a knight, sword and shield in hand. The boy grabbed it, hugging his father tightly. “Thanks, pop! I love it”. A moment passed as he stared at it in wonder. He thought for a moment.”Pop, do you think mom sees me from heaven? I miss her, I her to see me become a knight.” His father looked away. “I don’t know, son”. It had been a month since the plague had taken her. His father had been grief stricken, staring into the distance and saying very little to anyone. He had lost so much weight, his skin sunken on his face. Not knowing what to do, he walked into his room. He set the wooden knight on his bedside table, next to the other carvings of soldiers and knights. He lay down on his bed, rolling to his side. He reached behind him feeling for the lump that had steadily gotten bigger in the last few days. It ached dully, but he brushed the thought away. The sound of his mothers melodious laughter echoed in his mind. He missed her. Closing his eyes, he quickly fell asleep.
*****
He was completely lost. After leaving the hall, anger drove him mindlessly onward. The problem was, everything looked the same on the road. The perpetual mist made seeing just a few feet in front of him difficult.

*The more I do in life the less bothered I am with dying. I think that those that grow old and look back with regret have a hard time coming to terms with it. Others that jumped at every opportunity and really lived life to the fullest seem to find a certain peace that I envy. Here’s hoping to finding the road less traveled and answering the door when opportunity knocks. To the death!

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