The sun cast shadows upon the meadow, long tendrils entwining the branches of distant trees into a single shade.

The warrior sat upon a rock overlooking the rolling fields that lead to town and home, allowing his thoughts to cast their own shadows, collecting into one thought: "How much longer can I do this?"

With effort he lifted his weight and stood facing west. He felt the pain surge through his broken knee and the burn beneath newly forming scabs on his back. He stood and prayed aloud.

"Odin, my guard and guide. For 55 seasons I have lived. For 36 of these I have fought the Beast into submission, annually sending its weakened body and depleted spirit back into the caves to sleep and heal through the winter. I wield sword and shield in Your name and provide safety for my home, my family, my village. Each year I fail to destroy the Beast and like the certainty of each spring it returns. I am tired and wounded and this time I fear tired beyond this battle and wounded of not only body, but spirit. How long, Odin, how long can I continue?"

The warrior gave into his pain and stumbled to one knee, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword and brow upon his forearm. He could hear the music and singing beginning already, drifting across the darkening meadow in celebration of his victory. He knew better. He knew that the beast would live and in a few months they would renew their battle, and he doubted. He felt not only the pain of injuries that would heal, but the weakness in his limbs and mind that would not.

Tonight the village would sing. Tankers of ale would be hoisted in his honor. The voices of maidens would sing and young men would weave another chapter in the tale of his valor. Their Hero was invincible. The winter would be safe.

But next season would come.

A breeze lifted his thinning hair as he raised his head.

"Odin," He spoke almost a whisper, "Tonight we will celebrate. I will not worry about the aging of my bones, or the weakening of my strength. Tonight I will give you thanks for our victory, another year of safety. But, tomorrow I will not lift tankers of ale or songs. I will forget the victories of the past, and I will prepare for the battles to come. I will lift whetstone and blade, shield and arm and return back to the work of a warriors training. I will not quit. Odin, you have my word and my life."

As the last word drifted away on the breeze, a tired man stood and began walking to the village.