Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Gathering of Jarls (Blood & Iron prt 5)

The sun was high in the sky when the Jarls of the various clans, not yet at war with each other, gathered in the shadow of the holy oak tree that dominated the sunlit clearing that was cut out from the dense forest a few miles from Kveldulf’s village. The natural perfectly circular patch of high grass, although mostly buried under the snow, was enclosed by a row of menhirs that stood erect, some at as much as 15 foot to the sky. Upon the rugged surfaces were carved intricate patterns of vines and entwined animal forms, runes and sacred symbols pertaining to the sun, the moon as well as many of the gods and goddesses that populated the rich pantheon of the Nordic tribes. At the center of this circle stood the great oak tree some say was planted by the gods themselves as a shrine for men to gather around and converse with the high ones. No one was permitted to as much as cut off a piece of its sacred bark less they be struck down by Donnar, the thunder god himself.
The sky was clear, the air coo and invigorating and the wheel of sun dominated the heavens.

Twelve chieftains came to Kveldulf’s call. The Jarls of the clans from the western borders with Svealand as well as the clans from the east, near the Ukrvorod borders, land of their sworn enemies, and as far as all the way north, where the snow swallows a man whole and never melts when the spring awakens after a long hard winter’s cold. 12 men with their armed companies, traveled by day and by night to gather in this protected place to discuss the fate of their land and the bond that links them. Beside Kveldulf, stood Thörgrimr, fully armed and eager to speak his mind.

Kveldulf, as host, engaged the matter at hand, standing straight and raising his right fist to his heart, he spoke with his natural rugged deep voice;

“Hail to all that came to this gathering today.”

“Hail!” Clamoured the Jarls in an almost perfect unison. Then the Jarls seated upon smaller stones within the larger circle, in silence save for the clanging of weapons and the wind singing through the conifers. The armed guards remained standing. After a pause in which everyone gathered murmured secret prayers to the one-eyed All-Father in the halls up high for his protection at his sacred circle, Kveldulf spoke again first.

“You have all read the missive I have sent you by my riders. You know why I have summoned you here under the ever watching eye of Odhinn. Let there be neither lies spoken here nor evil machinations brooding in any man’s heart. Odhinn reads man’s innermost thoughts and his spear will strike dead, he who breathe over and give life to the embers of deceit. By this blood of mine, pure as the white flame that forges the steel with which I draw it, I swear to this oath of blood and iron.” With his seax knife, Kveldulf cuts deeply into his left hand and by tightening his fist, lets his blood fall upon a patch of earth cleared of snow. Solemnly, all the other Jarls do the same ritual, thus linking their chieftain’s honour and bond of friendship under the gods, to each other and the sacred earth.

It was Ingvar, of the western clan near the Svealandian territories, which spoke first now. “Kveldulf-” Spoke in a coughing voice as if afflicted by some illness to the throat. “Long have I, during my travel here, pondered the matter addressed here today under the oak. And I must speak frankly-“

“As we all should brother” Cut short Kveldulf, a hand raised in salute.

The Jarl paused a second. Ingvar was a large man with a bulging belly. Short legs like tree trunks and thick arms restrained by large silver arm-rings on his biceps. In the burning heat of summer or the frozen blizzard of winter, Ingvar always wore his sleeveless black wolf-skin coat, impervious to the cold to show off his arm rings. He wore the traditional marks of the chieftain; a long breaded beard and the heavy bronze and silver Tork around is large neck. Wrought with four wires twisting over and under in a near full ring ending at each extremity with magnificently sculpted animal heads in pure gold. The various totem beasts associated with the spirit of the clan. His was the bear. A large bladed sword rested sideways upon his dear hide covered knees and a heavy wrought iron Donnar’s hammer upon his chest.

“Indeed we must, and I say that there is matter for debate over this conspiracy against the clans. Yes we have been quarrelling with other clans through the years for the same reasons our fathers and their fathers before them have; land to prosper on and sovereignty over them.”

“And riches too…” All turned their heads toward Ahnbrenn, chieftain of the clan in the deep forest just north to Kveldulf’s. A tall thin man, too thin for the usually large and bulky northmen, with eyes like that of dear protruding from his skull and thin lips pointing down, like his lean nose, as an eagle’s beak. He alone wore a much shorter beard but hair reaching to his knees. He tried to hide his skinny and frail looking body with many layers of linen shirts and thick leather armour. Yet not successfully reaching his desired effect, he looked like a weakling compared to all the other warriors. Also, he had yet to demonstrate his valour in battle to his kin as much as he had already shown his enthusiasm when talks of money and wealth and possessions of material things was brought up. To no surprise, his Tork bore the heads of snake at its ends.

“For some indeed” snapped Thörgrimr at Ahnbrenn’s intervention, a sneer of disdain on lips and irony in his voice.

“Thörgrimr!” Retorted Kveldulf, signalling with his hand at his son. The giant warrior in full leather lamellar and mail shirt with sword at side did not care much for those whose priority in life centered on themselves and the gain of personal wealth over the well being of their own folk. A foul character trait not worthy of a chieftain in his mind. For an instant, the two men eyed each other across the circle of stones. It was not permitted to insult a guess at this meeting and this remark caused some unease amid the group, but after a few seconds of staring into the blazing steel-blue eyes of the man towering before him, Ahnbrenn judged prudent to release his bony hand from the jewelled hilt of his sword, a wise choice indeed.

The men focussed their attention back to the discussion at hand, but their body guards kept a watchful eye on Kveldulf’s impatient son. A light wind arose blowing from the south-west, carrying the warmth of the ocean even though miles away at the mouth of the fjords.

Kveldulf resumed. “At the last battle against the three clans, we lost many men. What my son brought to my attention, although I would not listen at our victory’s feast then, was their may be someone, or many individuals working to bring strife to the various clans so that they wage war on one another thus clearing the path.”

“The path for what, an invasion?” Thundered the deep voice of Böli. By far the most imposing amongst the Jarls and the entire inhabitants of Nordheimr. A man with the stature of a giant, at least a full head above Thörgrimr himself. His gentle pale grey eyes buried under a thick golden mane that shun in the sun betrayed the massive bulk of his body. Adding to his gigantic stature, he wore a heavy boiled leather armour with chain mail to his knees, a huge white mountain goat’s fur rested on his massive shoulders. Buried in the snow at his feet, lay his famed long battle axe by which countless foes have met their bloody doom at its sharp edge. He bore the heavy accent of the people from the far north.

“What manner of a coward works his evil through manipulation and deceit instead of facing its enemy face to face on the battlefield like a man?” Spitted out Boli while gripping his great axe’s long handle in his head-crushing grip.
“The ones who have no courage or honour.” Answered Thörgrimr, folding his iron mailed covered arms upon his chest.
“I believe my son has something to say to this council.” Announced Kveldulf showing his son to advance and present himself to the circle of chieftain.
“Many of you already know me. For those who do not, I am Thörgrimr, son of Kveldulf the grey wolf. The reason you are here today is mainly because of me. I am no diplomat nor do I care to learn about the political twist and turns, and all too often treacherous ways, of power. While wealth and a carved throne might make one chieftain in his own hall or in his own head, I raise a mead filled horn to he who has won his Tork through the sword and deeds of honour. Birthrights are all too easily taken for granted these days and fail to bring forth the scars of a hard fought right to lead a people and be called Jarl.” To this, all the Jarls let out a great Hail as weapons banged on shields. Only Ahnbrenn remained silent looking about, an untold hatred aflame in his raven eyes.

When the clamour calmed down Thörgrimr resumed. “For far too long we have been at war with one another for both valid and foolish reasons. On all sides we have spilled our enemies’ blood. That blood has been that of your brothers, your fathers, your sons. And although our swords did sing in the fury of battle, their songs have not all been that of victory and glory.

“Odhinn bestow upon the moment of our birth, the burning flame of his breath of life. This spark which turns into glowing embers which in time become a blazing fire, thus forging the indomitable iron will of our race, is the very thing that links us all. By his sacred spear, aren’t we all his flesh and blood?” Another loud unanimous Hail resounded among the stones.

“Just a few days ago, I stood in the gelid valley of Thrundall, my sword black with gore and the snow about tainted with the blood of hundreds of my kinsmen. I did not revel in their slaughter. And although I was forced to defend my clan against their attack, I secretly wished it was not so. If by this I have offended the war gods, than let their wrath strikes me down now.” All kept silent for a moment as if expecting the skies to rip open in a terrible blazing fury of storm clouds and lightning to slay the blasphemer before them.

The sky remained clear, and Thörgrimr stood there, solemn and motionless in this moment of judgement. When no vengeful doom from the heavens manifested, he took a deep breath and turned to his father. The great Jarl gave his son a nod of approval. Thörgrimr turned to face the gathered throng of men half attentive, half still expecting some godly intervention.

“I am not a man to speak about what I do not know, but I do know when my gut is telling me something. And that instinct of mine tells me that we are all being moved by some unseen hand, be it natural or no. In the short period of three moons we have battled more than in the last thirty years. What say you to that?”

The men look at each other with questioning eyes and low whispers. Then Ahnbrenn stood up, is knee-long hair dancing in the soft wind. “My clan has never been attacked thus far since I have been Jarl. And I fail to see the relevance between your allegations of some phantom force working to bring our downfall, with what we have always done in the past; fight each other. I feel no blood bond with no one here and why should I? In two days from now, anyone of you present could besiege my village on a whim. Or perhaps the true conspiracy lies with you trying to gather the clans under your banner to conquer all the lands.” Ahnbrenn pointed a long accusing bony finger at Kvelfulf, his thin lips etching a malicious grin.

“Spawn of Fenrir, you snake!” Thörgrimr unsheathed his long sword, spitting curses as his eyes gleamed a raging bale-fire, ready to leap across the circle as a mad wolf, but a powerful hand gripped his arm. It was Kveldulf’s, still sitting calmly facing the man that had just accused him of conspiracy before the whole council of Jarls. By now, all the chieftains were standing weapons drawn yet none moved. It was not permitted to openly insult another Jarl, especially the host. Kveldulf rose from his bench still holding his son’s tensed sword arm with an iron grip. Out of respect, Thörgrimr remained still but a vengeful fire burned in his icy stare.

“The only reason you are still alive at this very moment Ahnbrenn, usurper of your father’s throne, is because my son respect’s his father’s wishes. And I wish not for you to die a painful death here before the gathered chieftains. I would certainly not offence Odhinn with your coward’s blood upon his holy tree. Nor let this sacred earth be poisoned by it. And I, will not raise my axe against you for what honour would I be given to battle a weakling who has never even killed another man before he sat upon the throne as chieftain? Be gone worm. Do not dishonour this place with your cowardice and the filthy words that hiss from your foul mouth. As a snake you have come here, and as a snake you shall leave. Be gone I say!”

The man shot a long malicious stare at the assembly which was still standing, weapons drawn. Without uttering a word, he threw his dark woollen cloak over his shoulders and mounted his horse. Followed by his cohort, he trotted away from the circle of stones without looking back, cursing with every breath the clan that insulted him.

The remaining men sat down in a noisy hubbub of interrogations, bemused and lost for words. Kveldulf motioned them to calm down so that they may proceed with the reunion as planed, but Ingvar interrupted.

“Why by the hammer of Donnar, haven’t you split open that wretch’s head?”

“Because, my old friend, for once I have sought the path of wisdom instead of brawl.”

“And what is this path of yours so that we may trod upon it and profit from that same wisdom ourselves?”

“All my life I have been nothing but a hard headed bull with an axe for a brain, and this has not always guided me on the right path. I do not regret anything I did, but I will not let my stubbornness jeopardize the future of my clan. My eldest son Gruttle his destined to become Jarl when I join my fathers at Odhinn’s long table. I won’t ruin that by letting my anger, although boiling in me as I speak, prevail over what is right. Besides, as I have said, Ahnbrenn’s blood is tainted with the poison of weakness and we all know how he managed to sit is bony hind on his father’s throne. I shall not suffer such dishonourable wretch at my side.

“Would I go against the will of the All-Father on his holy soil, I would attract his wrath and doom upon my people and my bloodline. No. If Ahnbrenn must perish, it will be when at war with him on an open field, under the burning eye of Odhinn.”

“For all we know, Ahnbrenn could as well be that conspirator you suspect so much Kveldulf.” Exclaimed Boli, his thick roots-like fingers groping through his beard.

“Let us not too easily be fooled by our rage here.” Intervened Thörgrimr. “As much as this idea has crossed my mind, I seriously doubt that Ahnbrenn possesses the necessary intelligence and strategic mind to plot such a scheme.”

“Then who by Odhinn’s ravens?” Asked Ingvar thumping the snow with his furry boot. “Are we to sit here for days squabbling about something we do not even know is real?”

“Calm down Ingvar the westerner.” Begged Kveldulf. “We are not without any hope of having some light shed upon this darkness. The attention of the group was now captured. “As perhaps some of you know, my wife’s mother was a völva. She could know things we men could not or wished not to know about, for such witchery is of the domain of wenches and not of warriors. Our daughter, Gunnhildr, has that ability. Seidhr she calls it but that matters not, what matters is that she, my wife and also my son Thörgrimr seem to believe her visions have something to do with our problem.”

The Jarls looked at each other amazed by what they had heard from the lips of a man renown for his untameable down-to-earth spirit. Upon hearing this, Ingvar spat in the snow and pointed a inquisitors finger at Kveldulf.

“Do you mean that we have to base our judgement upon the senseless dreams of an adolescent girl? Hear me my friend, I do believe that some of our women seem to have the gift of sight, whether it be bestowed to them by the gods or cursed by Loki, I believe this is very thin a thread for us all to bond with.”

The circle became agitated with murmurs and interrogations. Kveldulf stood up and tried to bring order in the group. Finally the calm was restored. Midday was now upon the sacred circle and the light of the sun shimmered upon polished helmets and unsheathed steel.

“I am not implying that we must blindly believe everything my daughter claimed to have seen, but there is motion for discussion nonetheless. For she revealed to me things that she could not have possibly known at her young age. She spoke of a battlefield filled with the lifeless corpses of my clan amongst that of all your men, a dark form was midst the bodies. She also spoke of a temple in the woods breathing with evil, and…” Kveldulf hesitated for a second.

“And what?” Asked Ingvar impatiently. “What else is she not supposed to know about?

“She mentioned…Gröndr.”

Silence instantly fell upon the whole gathering, a moment earlier noisier than a hundred galloping war horses. In a second; tanned, rugged complexions turned to deathlike paleness and stares like that of horrified children disfigured the burned battle-forged faces of men who’s courage were carven deep in their fabrics like an artisan carves the prow of a long ship in age-old oak. A long forgotten terror from a time since before the migration of the sons of Vindsvàlr awoke in their hammering hearts. And they lost all attention as each man reminisced through the cobwebbed corridors of his own blood-memory.

The skies darkened with clouds that seemed to come from nowhere. The air grew cold as the wind gathered. Only Thörgrimr’s voice shattered the icy silence. Unwavering with control yet not immune to the same immemorial fear that now seized the hearts of all his kinsmen.

“Aye, she knows its name”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

"The Völva" (Blood & Iron prt. 4)

Gunnhildr awoke with a piercing scream that traveled through the silent corridors of the long house like a shrieking ghost agonising in the first light of dawn. Her now matured bosom, rising and falling rapidly from sheer fright. Trying to catch her breath, she brought her delicate hands to her breast as if to physically force her heart to slow down its pace. From the only overture through the southern wall, covered with a dried and stretched placenta from a goat, a dim light penetrated the small room and partly illuminated the pale, half naked form. She was now a woman in her own right at the eve of her twenty-first winter. Nature having blessed her with all the natural attributes of a true woman from the north, she would soon be the envy of every young men seeking a wife to wed.

Her thick golden hair falling in a myriad of curves all the way down to her knees like serpents covering her marble skin. A skin, soft and milky white and even more so beneath the beams of light, seemed to radiate in the penumbral confinement of her small room. And her eyes; emerald green, almost unnaturally glowing, accentuated by long curly lashes. Eyes of a wise woman that seemed to possess the wisdom of a hundred lifetimes of mysteries and forgotten lore.

The heavy wooden door swung open, causing the iron hinges to squeak and crack. It was Helge, Gunnhildr’s mother entering in a rush, seax blade in hand, her panicked eyes searching every corners of the room looking for some invisible foe daring to spoil the sweet innocence of her precious daughter. When her fears revealed to be nothing, she turned to her weeping child. Her large eyes crying in the faint light, her arms folded around her trembling nude shoulders.

“What is it my poor child? What could have brought such a terrifying sound from my sweet baby?” She spoke in a comforting voice as not to frighten the poor child more than she already was.
Her voice still sobbing and gasping between breaths, the girl managed to break the paralyzing spell of fright. “A shadow walks amongst the trees in the moonlight. I saw a giant of wood with eyes like brimstones and a doom befalling all the tribes of the north.”

“You had a vision again my daughter.” Exclaimed Helge, obviously not surprised at her daughter’s cryptic revelations. And as the caring mother brought the linen sheets and wolf hide over her child’s shoulders to hide her femininity in case anyone else entered the room, she brushed away the curled bangs off her forehead and kissed it gently. At that moment, Kveldulf stormed through the door, axe in his hand dressed only in a long linen shirt, hair and beard loosened wildly about his shoulders and chest, eyes flaming with anger, he roared.

“What is the meaning of this? By Odhinn’s beard I will-” But his wife cut short the charge of her husband, all too eager to swing his long axe again.

“Shhhhh! Lower your voice my husband, you’ll frighten our poor girl back into a crying fit. And put that huge dented blade aside before you hurt any one of us.”

“Do not raise your voice at me woman. I am still Jarl of this place, by the gods.” Answered Kveldulf somewhat taken aback by the commanding tone of his wife.

“And I was your wife first before you became chieftain old goat, so do not speak to me like I am some spineless subject to his royal highness. This is the rude northlands my dear, not the imperial court of the soft and civilised. Regain your manners.” Kveldulf etched a soft grin hidden under his long beard remembering why he married that woman in the first place.

Turning her attention back to the young girl; “She has seen again with her eyes closed. Let her speak out.” The pallid youth sunk into her mother’s embrace and let out a sigh of relief before she proceeded with the other visions that haunted her dreams just a moment ago. “It is not clear as spring water mother. I see images and hear terrible sounds in my head but they do not always make sense. I…I cannot…”

“Calm down child. Breath slowly and look at me” Taking Gunnhildr’s face between her strong hands, Helge stared into her wet eyes with a motherly tenderness that dissipated all fears from her daughter’s mind. “There was a thing that walked like a man yet was no man in essence. I saw a temple in ruin amidst the trees, buried in snow, from which I felt an age old evil sleeping within its crumbled walls. I stood at the center of great battlefield surrounded by the lifeless bodies of thousands of men, including our clansmen. I also saw that thing on that field watching me from a distance, pointing an accusing finger at me. Then suddenly it threw back its cloak of darkness to reveal a man’s face: his eyes aflame with hate. And this sound, like a low vibrating mantra: Groooond… I cannot imitate that terrible sound which reverberated like thunder from the sky. Then you entered my room.”

Kveldulf erupted. “This is madness woman. I will not suffer this nonsense again under my roof.”

“You know very well that our daughter has the gift of sight, husband. Like my mother had and her grandmother before her. There is nothing we can do.”

“I know that this curse appears every two generations, praised be the gods, I haven’t suffered your part of this.”

“Old fool. You should not be so blind to what your eyes cannot see and your axe cannot hack. There are more to this world, or the next, than blood and iron. Thörgrimr understands.”

“Ah! And I will never understand him. As much as he inherited my common sense, he seemed to have been poisoned by this womanly curse of yours.”

“Our son is no more cursed than our daughter my husband.” Answered sharply the proud wife in a defensive tone, holding her daughter in a protective embrace. She was like a she-bear protecting her cups. “Nor does he cowards before the unseen like many. Yet as opposed to you, my goat headed spouse, he acknowledges that there are things in this world that cannot be bled to death with steel. So do not confuse his natural instincts towards the unfathomable for superstitious ignorance-”

“Please, stop this, both of you!” snapped the young girl, regaining her composure, a hint of annoyed anger in her voice. “I have never asked for this, curse or gift of sight, yet all my life I had seen what others cannot. Does that make me less your daughter in your eyes father? Am I to be sent away to the hills with the beasts of the wild like some banished crone?”

Kveldulf’s body language changed as he softened his composure. He knew in his heart; hardened by a lifetime of conflicts and the political intricacies that come with the duties of sitting upon the throne of a Jarl, that his harsh words were only hurting his child, his own blood. Reaching for the fatherly love that still burned in the depths of his being, he spoke softly, his eyes now sorrowful and gentle.

“Forgive my brute manners my child. I have no mind for such matters which I, a man of the earth, cannot grasp with my bare hands nor see with mine own eyes.”

“Then stop fearing what you cannot understand father. I do not grasp the meaning of these visions myself and seek only to lift their terrible weight from my soul by sharing them with you. If only I could make sense of them.”

“The gods are speaking to you through your dreams my child, this I know.” Intervened Helge, still holding her daughter’s hand. “And we must find out what they are telling you, for the gods would not have sent you these images if there were no hidden warming behind them. What is it my husband, you seem troubled suddenly?” Kveldulf was passing his thick fingers trough the locks of his white beard his attention fixed at the floor. “Just something that came back to mind from a few nights ago. That day when we vanquished the clans of the west, at the victory feast in the great hall that followed. Thörgrimr and I had words, for he mentioned something about some mischievous plan, some conspiracy to set all the clans at each other’s throat. But surely this cannot be related.”

“You must send for him immediately-” Said Helge. “Our son’s instincts are as keen as the wolf’s eye when it concerns matters of imminent danger. You should have taken more into consideration the wisdom that lay hidden in his words. Fetch for him now.”

Kveldulf rose and exited the room without uttering a word for there was none more to be said. He was made of the stuff rulers are made of and that left no place for superstitions and beliefs in visions in dreams. He cursed himself for his stubbornness but he knew that this wouldn’t change a thing. He was getting too old for this anyway. When the fate of his people may be on the balance, he refused to open his all too narrowed mind to the deceiving plots and hidden political agendas of those who would bring down empires forged in blood and fire, for their own greed and lust for personal power.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"The sleeping god" (Blood and Iron prt 3)

The thin silhouette, almost feminine in shape seemed to hover above the large planks of pine that constructed the floors of the partly crumbled temple. This was a long forsaken place. A once sacred Hòf dedicated to forgotten gods from before the arrival of the first tribes. Now, unattended by man, it became the abode of every creatures from the thick dark forests, for nature had taken her rightful rule over the rotten wood and fallen stones once again. And the frozen breath of Ùllr, the winter god, blew violently over the remains.

The slithering form moved stealthily through the rumbles of old idols that had succumbed to the ravage of time and the elements. Crudely carved multi-faced deities lay about, their lidless eyes gazing to the stars, abandoned by those who have brought them to life with their primitive yet skilful craft. Amongst the ruins, a greyish haze floated in mid thigh, reeking of putrefying remains of dead animals and something else unnameable. Thus, the black shadow made its way to what seemed to be the once main ritual chamber. A large circular room with a conic shape roof that was partly fallen to let the snow in. Everything was made of thick timbers placed horizontally on the lower half the walls while the upper half were placed to the vertical. The timbers that remained to form the ceiling converged to its apex through which the largest of the age old pillar protruded outside and towered down to the floor below like the world pillar Yggdrasùl that held all the nine worlds together. That center piece was still richly ornamented after all this time. At least thrice the height of an average northmen, which is no dwarfish city dweller, the wooden behemoth managed to sustain the wrath of the winds of time while all around it had fallen prey to nature’s laws.

Carved in its centuries old wood were cryptic runes in an ancient and lost dialect that hasn’t been uttered by man since the time when the frost giants roamed the northern lands. Near the top of the totem, a grim and menacing bearded humanoid face was carved with great precision. Its wide opened eyes staring down at whoever stood before its piercing gaze, as if aware of ones presence. There at the base of the wooden god that the remains of what seemed to be an altar made of stones laid in rumbles. And it was before this that the dark form, until now only a shadow, threw back its cloak to reveal its true shape. And it was not that of some devil spawn from the icy realm of Hol beneath or some grotesque abomination of nature roaming on two legs like men, but an almost normal humanoid form if not for its abnormally elongated limbs that seemed to waver like a mirage in the moonlight penetrating the temple. Its body, lithe and genderless, tilting to and fro in the wind offered no discernable indications as to its intrinsic nature. Even that which would normally be its head and face was noting but impenetrable darkness from which no life emanated, only cold and timeless void.

Then the thing uttered a sound. It was more like an echo carried upon the wind than a human voice, but it was clearly a language. Archaic and long forgotten. The sound took shape as a certain rhythm began to structure its chanting into some form of tribal incantation. And as the sound grew in intensity and loudness, the very environment began to change. The wind began to blow more violently and the gathered snow that lay upon the rubbles of the broken altar flew up into a twisting blizzard that engulfed the mighty towering god of wood. Debris of wood and stone crashed all about as the confined snow storm picked up in momentum accompanied by the equally intensifying chanting of the dark shape. And as the deafening sound of both nature’s fury and unnatural summoning climaxed to a thundering choir of sheer madness and chaos, an eldritch ghostly light beamed from the totem’s eyes and bathed the circular room in reddish hues as if the very air were aflame with hell’s fire. Amidst this maelstrom boomed a terrible growl that shook the temple’s remaining foundations, and even, vibrated enough to cause another part of the roof to collapse. In that low tuned sound could be heard one single audible word, if a word it was: Gröööööööönnnnndrrrrrrrrr… The guttural vibrato that reverberated throughout the whole temple stretched for a long moment before it began to fade through the cracks of the ruins and out into the night’s sky.

Then all went silent. The swirling debris fell straight to the ground and the eldritch light dissipated, returning the room to its previous primordial blackness. Only the dark humanoid form remained before the sleeping god. It stood there for a moment without moving save for its ever wavering outlines; a spectral apparition in a frozen tomb. Thus it stood under the shadow of its god and finally, it spoke. This time, in a clear human voice, with the long lost accent of the northern tribes. It spoke grim words of hatred and of a doom that was soon to come.

“Aye my lord, the blood of Kholdbjörn will perish…”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blood and Iron prt 2

“By Odhinn’s ravens, what manner of a grim face is this, my son?” Blasted out Kveldulf Gundarsson, the jarl of Njärdshölm over the loud hosts as he ripped through the tender wild boar meat he had been gnawing at for the past few minutes. “Havent you returned victorious with that blasted Vargr’s head on a spear as you wished for?”

Turning slightly his head to meet his father’s eyes, the grim warrior just sat there, eyes cold as steel. Silently staring half consciously, half elsewhere holding a now dripping horn tilted to its side. And as the mead flowed on his leg and onto the floor, he remained thus. Like a sitting statue glimmering a bronzen hue under the many torches illuminating the long hall. In his ice cold eyes, a fire danced reflecting the shimmering light from the many dozens polished shields that decorated the walls all around. After a long uncomfortable moment for everyone around that became aware of the tension, Thörgrimr slammed his horn on the solid oak table sending it in pieces in the dishes of the others sitting near by and onto the floor. The speed and force used by the powerful northman to obliterate the large ox horn took everyone by surprise as their merriment suddenly came to a stand still. Silence came after a few seconds throughout the hall and it was Thörgrimr that broke the spell first.

“Aye. Victorious a man might think himself blessed by the gods, returning to his woman his hands bloody with gore and a sword sharp enough at his side. But for the decree of the Three who weave all men’s destinies what made him worthy of praises if not for the sacrifice of his brothers? What songs will be sung at this very table if not their names soon to be carved upon Valrkòna?” The crowd remained silent. Some completely lost, wandering why the infuriated warrior, now standing, seemed in such a rage while others were too afraid to utter a sound. After a breathless pause, he followed in a somewhat lower tone, still holding his father’s gaze.
“Today, I have marched across the windswept valley in the cold with my brothers in arms as I have done countless times before. We faced our enemies and we conquered them. Yet on this day, I tell you now, Odhinn be my witness, I hold no victorious chants in my heart.” At that moment, Ulf the grey moved to get up from his bench to speak when Kveldulf signalled him to sit back down and keep silent. This he obeyed without a word.

The Jarl rose from his richly decorated oaken chair, carved with intricate interlacing forms of beasts and sacred runes. Emptied in one long sip his horn then spoke in a calm yet commanding voice, purposely loud enough for all to hear. “I too silently weep the loss of many brothers, sons and fathers in times of war, my son, but such is the way of the warrior. Such is the way of our clan, by the spear of Odhinn, of our whole race.” The powerful Jarl turned his attention away from Thörgrimr for he was now raising his voice almost to a yell. He was now speaking to the whole room and none dared move, drink nor taste their meat while their chieftain addressed the hosts. “Since the times of our forefathers we, northmen have always known bloody conflict against foreigners as well as inter-clanic rivalries. We have shed as much blood from our own kind than that of outsiders. But that is our way of life. That is what makes us what we are; the sons of Odhinn, the war god. And he expects nothing less from his children. We were born to wield sword, axe and spear for that is the sacred dance of the Sky-Father, and what would he think of us if we refrained from honouring his heritage? For to die in battle is an honour, as well as vanquishing our enemies. What say you to that my son?”

The silent crowd turned to the only other man standing before their Jarl. Thörgrimr, stood as a sculpted oaken pillar amongst the sitting forms. A dark orange fire gleamed in his eye showing a mix of defiance and respect towards his Jarl first, his father, in his heart. Without ever lowering or moving his attention away from his chieftain, he spoke in the same commanding tone he inherited from he who gave him life.

“Never have I failed or hesitated to christen my sword nor any other blade with the blood of a foe, be it to defend our borders, our women or our gods.” Then he raised his voice in one thundering blast that echoed through the longhouse. “And I shall have words with anyone who says otherwise.” Marking a complete circle around the room as the words faded, mixing in with the low whispering that began to spread. “That is not what keeps me from filling my gut with mead and food on this evening. This battle we waged against the gathered clans of Wùlfrick, Dainar and Hleimgard, was not the will of the war gods. To see us revel in our own glorious madness as we slaughter our own blood, and for what? Their mere amusement? Nay. That massacre was the sole work of treacherous serpents roaming the armoured halls of our rival’s great domains. Their eyes burning with greed and power, and conspiracy in their foul breath.”

“What are you implying my brother”, cut short Ùlf, the first one who dared to speak up dismissing his Jarl’s earlier order to be silent. An initiative he hoped would not bring upon him the anger of his chieftain. “That some machiavellian wormtongue orchestrated this whole conflict only to have us clans obliterate each other? What purpose would that serve?”

“That for which every small and crawling thing dream of my friend: power.” Thörgrimr was now looking at his childhood comrade and no hint of impatience was discernable in his tone of voice. At that, Kveldulf gave Ùlf a hard look but showed no signs of disapproval or offence at his son’s old time friend. For they have both been through many battles on many lands and have proven themselves their unwavering friendship through the test of fire and steel, oathbond by the blood of countless wounds.

“What wretched men will do to cut down a strong tree like our Jarl, only to shrub away their great shadow so they can taste the sun’s light, is unthinkable. Their dishonour is equalled only by their cowardice. And I say to you now, I say to you all present that such a coward secretly conspires to send us at each other’s throats.”

“Have you proof of this my son?” Inquired Kveldulf, clearly intrigued by his son’s affirmation. And for the first time since the beginning of what seemed first a confrontation of titans, Thörgrimr lowered his gaze. His response was almost a whisper. “Nay.” The crowd started to chatter amongst themselves all at the same time. Fingers pointing and rumours already taking form over empty mugs and horns and men sodden with ale.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Blood and Iron

He rose from the bloody snow that surrounded him. A dark red, almost black in colour. A tainted snow that would have normally drank the blood if it was not for this Thulean cold that came with the winds from the far north. Holding his sword in his right hand and a half shattered oaken shield in his left, Thörgrimr looked up to the heavens expecting to receive another volley of arrows from the enemy’s front line but the darkening skies were empty except for the gathering clouds announcing the storm. As if the desolation around him wasn’t the result of such a devastating blizzard of blood and iron. The sound of steel against steel, axes against wood and sharpen blades penetrating flesh in a grandiose opera of chaos and fury. In the distance, all that remain are the fading moans of the dying.

Amidst this frozen ocean of death, only the Nordhman remained half standing. His ice-blue gaze trying to gather the immensity of the carnage that filled his sight to the farthest horizons. To him, it seemed that the broken bodies and torn banners flying in the wind reached the very roots of the mountains. And then, the silence broke. With a terrible sound that ripped through the gelid valley, the giant bronzen horn of Valaskjàlf thundered with the might of a thousand hammers against the early morning cold. The battle was won. But at what price? That of a thousand sons of the north? All too many having not even seen their twentieth winter. Oh, such is the sacrifice one must pay for the survival of ones folk.

And as the echo of the horn traveled upon the windswept ocean of snow, Thörgrimr raises his arms to the sky and gathering all his breath, he roars a victorious hail to the Sky-Father. A yell carried throughout the northern landscape and captured in the wind billowing overhead. A hail that Odhinn, in his golden halls up-high, himself hears as he rejoices from the battle that just ended. For only in the fury of combat can a man truly know himself and measure his worth before the gods.

Tonight’s feast at his village of Njärdsholm, will be a feast of victory and remembrance for those who fell. But no tears will be shed as they have joined their ancestors at the oaken table of Odhinn. Songs will be sung and mead will flow as the glorious dead names will be engraved in runes on Valrkòna; the stone of the fallen.

Yet, despite all this joyful merriment, Thörgrimr remains deep in thought. Brooding at the end of the long table…