Atop the peak of the highest mountain in all of Greece, he stared emotionless at the dense cluster of dark dreary clouds that hid the Aegean Sea. He knows this place yet it was so long ago in a land so very far away.
Echoes of his despair brushed against his ash skin like a lover's caress, seeking entrance through one of the many small chinks in his mental armor. It felt familiar and with its familiarity brought a sense of morbid comfort. But Kratos was no longer the man he used to be.
Close your heart.
He is older. Wiser- wise enough to recognize his old "faithful" companion. If he greets this sadness and let it in, he knows he will never be able to make it leave again. Memories of another life time resurfaced to the front of his mind. Years spent drowning in anger, guilt, sorrow, and bitter wine. Not a moment of peace graced his days or nights.
Every battle, and there were many, fueled his rage. It gave him the strength to crush his enemies and anyone else who stood in his way. It made things easy. It made things simple.
It became addicting.
When he wasn't controlled by his anger in battle, he was alone with his real enemies. He has defeated gods and monsters but his thoughts always emerged victorious against him. His fists that can punch through rock cannot harm them. His Blades of Chaos that can strike any foe down cannot harm them. Not even his screams for release could make them go away.
It was madness.
He craned his head back to gaze at the sky.
"The gods of Olympus have abandoned me." He had once said, not knowing that they were never with him to begin with. He looked down where the edge dropped off into the sea covered clouds below and felt... nothing. "Now there is no hope." He thought death was the only way to escape.
Kratos closed his eyes and remembered how warm Faye's hand was against his cheek.
"There is no point in looking back, Kratos. You suffer and suffer but to what end? Do not dwell on who you used to be because you are not that person any longer. Focus on who you want to be now. Be better than the man you hated. Be better; be good."
Remembering her words brought forth a strength stronger than his rage could ever match. It helped him clear the muck of toxic anguish from his mind. With his new found clarity, Kratos narrowed his eyes in suspicion. He has not for many years thought of the day he jumped of a cliff to die and after meeting Faye and then having their son... Greece and Olympus were but distant memories. There is no reason he should be dreaming of his past, especially this moment. His lips curled down and he could feel his anger rise but he kept it in check.
"Athena," he growled low in his chest. He didn't have to see her to know she was there. The Greek goddess revealed herself as she went to stand next to him by the cliff. He glared at her, ready to banish her from his sleeping mind but before he could do or say anything she spoke.
"I saved you," she said coolly.
"You robbed me of choice." Kratos corrected her sharply.
"I made you a god."
"All I wanted was peace."
"You could have had it!" she snapped, raising her voice. A tense moment of silence followed and when she spoke next the goddess of wisdom was back to sounding calm and collective. "You could have had peace if you would have just given back what was mine in the first place. Instead, you gave it to them. To mortals." Athena waved her arm and the air before them shimmered and an image of Olympus appeared, restored to its former glory and shining with gold. "We could have built a new world together. A better one than our father could have ever created because it would have been in our vision-"
"In your vision, Athena. Do not think me a fool after all this time."
"No, of course not," she said, dropping her hand and letting the visage of Olympus fade. Her face betrayed nothing to let him know what she was feeling but he knew her better than that.
She clasped her hands together and strolled away from him, forcing him to turn around to keep her in his sight. She stopped and with her back facing him she said, "I understand we've had our differences, Kratos. But we are still family... or what's left of it." Her shoulders slumped as she sighed wearily. "You are not the only one who has had a long time to think about things. The past and its regrets, the future and the hope it could still hold. How lonely it can be in a world of chaos."
The edges of his vision darkened and he felt heavy, as if an invisible force were weighing in on all sides. A cacophony of identical screams filled the air. Kratos had the undeniable feeling they were Athena's. The goddess in question didn't appear well. She was shaking slightly and had her hands raised to either side of her head, her fingers curling in a way that resembled the crooked branches of a dead tree.
It ended as quick as it began. Everything reverted back to normal; his vision cleared, the air lightened, and the screaming stopped abruptly. All that was left was Athena who stood facing him, calm as ever.
"It doesn't have to be this way," she said, a tinge of hope in her voice. "There is still time. You can fix all your wrong-doings! Everything will be better again. All I need is your help, Brother. You are all I've got left."
"I will not help you, Athena," Kratos declared. "Whatever delusions of hope you have are false and will lead you nowhere. Forget the past and move forward."
"Forget the past?" she echoed, a chuckle escaping her lips. "I am the past. You-" she pointed as his pale skin, "You are wearing your past."
Anger hot as lava filled him, catching him off guard. He hasn't been this angry in a long time that he has forgotten how powerful it was. How easy it could consume him. He looked down at his hands. They were shaking violently. A flash and his hands were smeared with blood but when he blinked his hands were clean. It was only an illusion.
"Ah," Athena said with a small smile. "There is that famous spartan rage. You were always a slave to your emotions."
In a burst of perverted rage, Kratos lashed out with a shout but his fist merely phased through her body. Immediately he wanted to strike again but he forced himself back. He was not some undisciplined child and his anger will not control him and make him act irrationally. He is better than this. Better than his rage.
Athena was apparently taken aback. "I see. You've learned to have better control over your anger. I am impressed, Kratos. You may not believe me but I am also proud." Her usually stony eyes softened. "I've always wanted what was best for you. When Ares betrayed Zeus, I knew you were the only one who could defeat him. I didn't only help you for the survival of Olympus. What Ares did was cruel and I felt for you. I wanted, in a way, for you to avenge your family. I never wanted..."
There was something in her eyes that confused Kratos. Perhaps even make him feel the slightest hint of concern. Athena had always been there for him, right from the very start of his bloody quest for vengeance. She was an ally in his darkest of times. Yet towards the end of his journey, something happened and she started becoming less of the Athena he knew and more of some distorted version of the goddess who eagerly encouraged the blood of her father and the rest of her family members.
"Athena?" He said softly, reaching out a hand to touch her even though he knew he could not.
Her glowing green eyes snapped open. "If you won't help me then you've left me with no choice. Remember that, Spartan." Her ghostly body began to brighten. In a matter of seconds she became so bright it was like staring at the sun. Kratos had to shield his eyes from being blinded by it. "The past is the future. I will be the future!"
It all comes around, Spartan, he heard her voice in his head. It all comes around...
"Father!" Atreus' voice cut into his mind crystal clear. The fear in his child's voice snapped Kratos awake, his hand instinctively reaching behind to grab the leviathan axe at his back but his fingers wrapped around nothing but air. It was then he realized, after taking a quick scan of the area, there were no enemies in sight. In fact, he was standing at the edge of a cliff, barefoot and without his armor.
"Father?" A small voice said from behind him.
Kratos turned half-way to see his son, barefoot in the snow as well and shivering, griping the back end of his pants.
"What are you doing, Boy?"
Confusion welled up in those round eyes. "What am I- What am I doing?" he asked rather incredulously. "What are you doing? You were about to walk off a cliff!"
He waved half-haphazardly at said cliff, prompting Kratos to glance back at it. His frown deepened. Gods and their foul tricks.
"What happened?" Atreus asked. "I woke up and I didn't know why until I saw you walking out the door. I thought you were going off to do whatever you do but I saw you were barefoot. When I tried to stop you, your eyes were closed and no matter what I did or say you wouldn't wake up! And then I saw where you were heading. I didn't know what to do. I thought you were going to fall. I was ready to stuff snow down your pants if I had to!"
"It is of no concern to you." Kratos said, "Come, it is foolish of you to be in the cold barefoot and without warmer clothes. If you get sick it will be because of your carelessness."
"I won't get sick. I'm a god! And a giant!"
Kratos sent him a disapproving look, "And part-mortal. Do not forget that."
"Oh... yeah. But I just- Urgh, whatever," the boy muttered and trudged after his father towards the direction of their home.
It wasn't long of a trek, made a bit harder due to the large trench in the earth which was a left-over effect from his and Baldur's fight. The memory made him frown deeper. It was a tough fight, not something he liked to admit even to himself. And even though he and his son defeated Baldur in the end, Kratos had to wonder about the possibility of fighting the other Norse gods, especially the one called Thor. It was going to happen, no point believing it won't.
Kratos used to believe he was infallible concerning his fighting prowess and his ability to defeat virtually anything in his path, but Baldur changed that. No, he didn't change it. He proved one of Kratos' worst fears: That there will come a day he cannot protect his son. Like he could not protect-
A growl ripped through him and he physically shook his head. No, he will not think of her. She is the past. He needs to focus on the future. He needs to focus on Atreus.
Kratos glanced behind him. Atreus was following loyally, his face casted downwards in a pout unbecoming of a boy his age. Kratos never pouted as a child. He never complained. Instead he endured. Life was harsh so he expected nothing and if you expect nothing you don't have anything to complain about. Why didn't his son understand that was the way of life for a spartan?
Because he is not you, Kratos realized. He is your son.
"Thank you," he grunted over his shoulder. He expected Atreus to say something. He grew concern when there was no immediate response. He looked back to check on the boy only to see him grinning from ear to ear.
"You're welcome!" Atreus replied cheerily, skipping forward to walk beside him. "I wasn't about to let you die from sleepwalking."
"I doubt I would have died."
"Huh, I guess you're right. I don't think any god has died from something like that." Atreus rubbed his chin in contemplation. "But hey, it would have been quite a surprise to wake up to!"
Kratos made a noncommittal grunt and quickened his stride when their home came into view. He was just at the door when Atreus froze, eyes wide and lips parted.
"Boy, what is it?" Kratos demanded, keeping the worry out of his voice.
"I- I don't know," Atreus answered. He then turned and looked at a spot high up in the trees. "It feels like... we're being watched."
Kratos shifted on his feet, fists at the ready in case they were about to be attacked. Faye's protection boundary stopped working when he cut those trees down. He intended to get the magic reinstated but the only person he could think of who may have the ability to do that was Freya and well...
Atreus visibly relaxed and rubbed the back of his neck. "No, never mind. It's gone."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
Kratos didn't move when Atreus opened the door and stepped inside the warm confines of their house. He stood outside for a little while longer, waiting. When no beast came charging forth, Kratos relented and went inside. The temperature inside was slightly chillier than the time he went to bed and upon further inspection found the culprit. The fire from the fireplace had dwindled down during the night. In response, he went to fetch more wood from the stockpile in the corner. Usually it was not safe to keep a fire going unattended but without it he was sure his son would freeze to death in his sleep. Winters were never this cold but like Brok had said, this was Fimbulwinter- the winter to end all winters. It wasn't just an exaggeration.
"No need, Father!" Atreus sat by the fireplace and held his hand out and whispered a language Kratos did not understand. Soon the small flames grew to how it was at the time of its birth. The boy looked up from his work, pride written all over his face. He did not expect for his father to snatch his wrist in a tight grip, a scowl hardening on his face.
"What is that? What did you do?" he demanded.
Atreus was quick to respond, "I didn't do anything! I only asked the fire to keep us warm until dawn."
"You cannot speak to fire, Boy." Kratos said, releasing Atreus' wrist.
"Maybe you can't," he said, rubbing his wrist. "But I can. I can hear the fire and the rivers and even the trees. They don't talk like we do. It's different. More like a feeling." His son looked at the wall across from them, a frown tugging the corners of his lips downwards. "The trees are cold and they are scared. They know this winter."
Kratos rested a heavy hand on his son's shoulder. "The trees can be afraid all they like. We do not fear." Atreus nodded silently which was enough for Kratos. "Come. We must rest." He climbed on the bed and slipped under the heavy fur covers, his son sliding in after him. They laid back to back and close together to preserve body heat. Kratos closed his eyes and practiced clearing his mind like he did every night. It was therapeutic and usually left him more relaxed. He was jolted from his calm reverie when he felt two icy feet press against his legs.
"Sorry," Atreus whispered, "It's freezing!"
Kratos only grunted and tried to continue his meditation but dark thoughts plagued him. The coldness of his son's feet; would it be the same if he were but a corpse? If Kratos could not protect him-
He sighed heavily and stared at his hand. There were wrinkles there that had not been before.
Kratos balled his hand into a fist. He is old, not decrepit and if he can still fight he'll fight to his last breath protecting their son and that meant teaching Atreus how to protect himself when Kratos is gone. The boy cannot be reliant on him forever and Kratos cannot shield him from the dangers of this world- already proven by their journey to the mountain.
It has already been decided in his mind. Kratos will begin the next level of Atreus' training. The boy's spirit will be hardened, his skin will be turned to steel and he will become familiar with the taste of his own blood. Discipline and strength will be his only companions to walk with him on his long road into becoming a true warrior.
That was the way Kratos was taught.
It was the only way he knew. So why did he feel so uncertain?
It wasn't the first time he wished for Faye to be here with him. To help him. She would have known exactly what to do. Kratos could only depend on his past experiences to determine his future choices. And, of course, to be better. That was Faye's saying and he followed it diligently.
Kratos waited until he felt his son's breathing even out to go to sleep himself. Thankfully this time, it was dreamless.
In the halls of the Asgardian Palace...
The Allfather sat back in his throne and rested his cheek on the knuckles of his fist, lost in deep contemplation.
"The boy sensed I was watching him." He said out loud, his voice booming in the empty hall. "The magic of his heritage grow ever stronger."
"Indeed," said Odin's new adviser, her ghostly body appearing from thin air.
"He is becoming a threat." Odin didn't care that the boy was a mere child. Children grew up to become warriors. It will better to nip it in the bud and be done with it.
"Do not be so hasty," she chastised him, probably the only one in all of Asgard brave enough to do so. "Kratos' son may very well be the last of the true giants to walk all the nine realms and within him, all their secrets."
Odin huffed, annoyed that what she spoke is the truth. That small boy could be the key to unlocking what the giants kept hidden from him. The key to his survival come Ragnarok.
"I suspect you suggest I focus my efforts on the Spartan then, Athena?" Odin said slyly with a raise of a bushy brow, already knowing the answer.
"Kratos is not one to be taken lightly," she quipped. "Zeus knew that and killed his son when he saw the chance. Unfortunately for him, Kratos came back with an even bigger vengeance."
"This Ghost of Sparta is an anomaly in my world," Odin said with a wave of his hand. "As are you. You should know that who was once considered unbeatable in their realm can change in another."
"He has defeated your son," she reminded him.
"Out of pure luck. Baldur is a fine opponent but nothing compared to the strength of Thor. He has only kept up for so long because of the magic Freya casted on him. Without it, he is nothing. It was due to his own recklessness that he fell against your spartan."
Athena narrowed her glowing eyes, "Do not underestimate Kratos. Many have and they have all perished because of it."
Odin stilled and stood up to his full height, towering over the goddess' ghostly form.
"I underestimate nobody," he said grimly. "Not even you, Athena."
She raised her chin and met him square in the eye, not one to ever be intimidated, "I only want justice for my family. Nothing more. It is up to you whether you believe me or not."
Odin hummed deeply, peering at her with his one great eye. "Goddess of Justice. It must bother you, you do not live up to your namesake."
He wanted a reaction from her but he did not get any. Her face was carved in stone and her eyes equally thus. No wonder Zeus cherished her the most out of all the others. If he had a daughter like her, he would have been just as proud. Odin drew away and walked behind his throne and towards the end of the hall where a circular shaft was built. He stood upon the elevator and it descended at once.
"Fimbulwinter has come," he stated gravely. He was greatly displeased of the fact. His plans of slaughtering all the old giants had failed when they escaped Thor's mighty hammer, Mjolnir. And it was with the help of the last person he thought would betray him. No- Odin knew Tyr would betray him, the man was too just for his own good. He just hadn't wanted to believe it.
The elevator came to a stop far beneath the earth, ending at its lowest level. He stepped off and strode confidently down a long dimly lit passageway, passing by rows and rows of prison cells.
"I have kept the bitch alive as you advised," he said. "Her belly is swollen with her soon to be runts."
Athena appeared floating beside him. "It is wise of you to do so. It is foretold one of her children will strike you down. But if you raise it to be loyal to you first, then you will have one less thing to worry about. Although the same cannot be said for Hel and her legions nor the Vanir and what is left of the Jotunns... and of course Kratos."
"I worry not of my sister and her Hel-Walkers. I have defeated her before and I will do so again, more easier this time now that I know the magic of the Vanir." He raised his hand, golden light twirling through his fingers. "Without Freya and her leadership, the Vanir will fall just as easily and of the giants, I will leave them to Thor to finish what he started."
They approached a circular room with hallways splitting off in all sides. Odin took the one on the left and came to a large door at the very end. Two guards stood in place at each side and bowed before their king. The door opened in a spiraling manner, revealing a ginormous round room that had one floating walkway that lead to the middle where the wolf mother was imprisoned. Or should have been.
Shocked, Odin flew to where the prisoner should be; shackled and chained yet there was no sign that the beast had ever existed save for the numerous claw marks on the floor. He bent down and snatched one of the huge shackles.
"No," he seethed between his teeth, the magical iron shackle crumbling in his fist. He straightened up, his eye burning gold and said in a deceptively calm voice, "Where is she?"
"Not in this realm," Athena answered, impassive to his anger. He could practically see the gears turning in her head. "The guards are still alive. If the beast had escaped the grounds, she would have left a bloody trail." She floated to the shackles laying forgotten on the floor and inspected them. "You yourself casted your own magic in order for them to open when you wanted them too. Somebody pried them open with their bare hands."
"Impossible. No one can defy my magic."
"Yet someone did," she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
The cell darkened and Odin appeared to grow in size, "Speak carefully, Athena. I need not to remind you it was your idea to keep the wolf mother alive and now your mistake could cost me everything."
"You should be more concerned of the person who released her," Athena replied, phasing through him to continue her investigation. "They did not escape using the elevator nor did they escape through the walls. They cannot still be in Asgard or somebody would have seen them by now and Yggdrasil is always protected. It appears they have simply vanished into thin air. Unless, you know of another way that doesn't require the World Tree."
"All beings need the World Tree to travel between realms. Without Sleipnir, even I would, too," he admitted albeit bitterly. "No one has ever traveled through the realms on their own except for the dwarves and-"
Odin turned and swiftly left the cell that used to contain the wolf mother. His pace was quick and he wasted no time heading to another cell, this one far back and deep, with more guards stationed at its entrance. He stopped as he came upon the door to the cell and closed his eyes. It lasted for a fraction of a second before the door spiraled open. The inside was exactly alike like the previous cell with one main difference; its occupant was still chained and this prisoner was no beast.
With every step he took, the Allfather began to falter. He came to a stop before the prisoner and simply stared.
Odin could not see his face for the man held his head low, letting shadows shield him. He looked sickly, his body frail and his skin pallid. Once he were a mighty warrior, even able to contend against Thor himself. Now, he has withered away down here. All because he had betrayed his father.
"Father," Tyr rasped and raised his head to look him in the eyes even though Odin knew it must have been a great struggle. The next words to come from Tyr's mouth angered and astounded Odin. "Do not... hurt them."
"It is too late, Tyr. Thor has made sure many of the giants fell during their cowardly escape."
"No," Tyr groaned, his face twisting in agony. "There were families. Children. Thor would never-"
"He has," Odin stated coldly.
Tyr gaped at him in horror and Odin watched the hope in his son's eyes disappear. He hung his head low again. A violent shudder jerked through Tyr's body as the God of War wept for the people he failed.
Once, he would have been moved by his son's tears. But that would have been a very long time ago.
"No, it cannot be!" Tyr cried, yanking at his chains that cut into his skin. "I do not believe you! Thor would never murder innocents! Never! Never!"
"Then you are a fool to hold onto your pathetic delusions," Odin thundered, itching to strike out and slap some sense into his son. Unexpectedly, Tyr chuckled weakly.
"A fool, that I am. To have trusted you, you because you were my father. I believed you finally wanted peace. Unity. I was wrong. You lied." Tyr tried to stand but he collapsed. "I want to see Thor. I want to talk to him." He tried again but his body was too weak. He fell onto knees and stayed there. He threw his head back and screamed.
"I want to see my brother!" he raged in his last finality that sapped whatever strength he had left from his body.
Yet despite his outburst, Odin remained stoic.
"You can see Thor. You can even be freed of your self-imprisonment," he said. "Redeem yourself as my son. Tell me how you traveled between realms."
"... Is that all you care about, Father?" Tyr said quietly, a deep sadness in his voice. "Your knowledge. Your power. Without those things, what will you have left?"
"Tell me your secret, Son," Odin persisted, crouching down to be at level with his son. "And if you cannot at least tell me who it is you taught it to."
"I never told anyone my secret."
"Do not lie to me!" Odin warned, "I know you have. Tell me who it is!"
Tyr's voice was thick and tired, "I do not lie, Father. Whoever it is you seek I have no knowledge of. You've wasted your time."
Odin growled and raised his hand to strike him but stopped. There was no point in this madness. Tyr was right. He was wasting his time and time meant everything to Odin. He smothered his anger and stood up, glowering down at the pathetic man who was his son.
"We know they have traveled using a rift in the dimensions." Athena said, revealing herself. "It is not much but there are traces of the location they might have went to."
"Where?" Odin grumbled.
"I will send Thor at once. There is too much at stake to allow the wolf mother to give birth now."
"I wouldn't advise it," Athena said. "While Thor may be the mightiest of your warriors, Fimbulwinter has allowed Hel to claim the mortal realm. There is much discord there. Too much death. Your sister will be at her strongest."
"I cannot wait three years to kill my enemy!"
"You must. There is no other way."
Odin seethed at the situation he found himself in. What will he do? By the time he sends Thor, the wolf pup may have grown to be a challenge. It was, after all, destined to kill the Allfather.
"You really are out of time," Tyr said, breaking Odin from his thoughts. "Fimbulwinter? Ragnarok. The Doom of the Gods. It truly is the end of times."
Athena cocked her head at the shackled man. "Have no fear, Odin. The wolf pup may not even survive to adulthood if what they say about Fimbulwinter is true."
Odin barely registered her words. "Yes indeed, there are numerous possibilities. Events can change. There yet may still be hope. Meanwhile, I must begin planning and preparing my army for the last great battle." He made to walk away but hesitated. He took one last look at his son and felt something stir in his chest. He crushed it before it could grow. "You have brought this upon yourself, Tyr. The giants were not your family. We are."
The Allfather left. He could no longer bear it to see his son.
Athena stayed behind.
She gazed melancholic at something only she could see.
"Knowledge. Power. These were all things I wanted." She floated closer to Tyr to get a better look at his face. He glared back at her with distrustful eyes. She placed her fingers as if to touch his cheek. Of course she could not. "You are a good god. Not like the others. Not like me. You understand the importance of family. Of love and honesty. I didn't care for any of that until I lost them all."
"Leave my father alone," Try growled. "I know of the madness that has befallen upon the Greek Pantheon. Do not bring your chaos to infect our lands!"
"You know nothing of true chaos. But you will. All of you will," she promised darkly, her eyes glowing brighter as her body began to fade.
Tyr struggled against his bonds. "Leave him alone!" he shouted. "Leave him alone!"
Through chaos comes order.
Athena's voice echoed throughout the chamber.
Through destruction comes creation.
Tyr was struck by a vision. Asgard was in ruins. The World Tree was on fire. All the nine realms were destroyed.
It was Ragnarok.
It was chaos.
Hello all! This is just a fun thing that has been forming in my mind ever since I played GOW4. That game is just too good! Don't know if I'll ever finish this fic but I just wanted to write it for fun :P Some lore changes and also the drawing of Yggdrasil does not belong to me. It belongs to http://mythologian.net/viking-symbols-norse-symbols-meanings/
Thanks for reading!
The nights of this particular winter were pitch black. Even during the day when the sun rose to shine its warmth onto those below it was blotted out of the sky by ominous dark grey clouds. Tonight though was a full moon and those relentless harsh clouds parted, lighting Midgard in its soft glow. It was on this very night, deep in the forest, a realm tear seared into existence and out stepped two strange figures.
One was a wolf of great size- taller than a horse and bigger than a bear, made larger by the swelling of her stomach. Her dull fur coat blended easily within the darkness and if one weren't careful, could easily go unnoticed until it be too late. The other was a tall and broad individual, covered head to toe in sharp, jagged black armor; their head shrouded underneath a hooded cloth.
The wolf mother raised her head, taking in the full moon. Too long has it been since she has seen anything other than the walls of her cell- dark times indeed. She still had the scars of her imprisonment, the fur around her ankles permanently gone revealing pink rough skin. She sniffed the air and smelled the frozen earth; animals burrowed deep in the snow, a death far away to the east, the stink of a troll sleeping, and the faint traces of an urination marking days old made by an alpha male wolf.
Instinct told her to find and locate the wolf pack in the area. If it were a different case, she would have been fine on her own but she had her soon to be cubs to worry about. So to ensure their survival, she needed the safety only a pack could provide.
The wolf mother stepped forward and then remembered her mysterious liberator. She looked back to see the dark warrior had not left nor had they moved to stop her. They simply stared at one another. She did not know why this person had freed her and her curiosity was fleeting. All that mattered were her cubs. Having deemed it safe to leave, the wolf mother took off at a light romp, disappearing into the trees.
She moved swiftly, pausing every once in a while to re-catch the scent of wolves. They were near. The trees around her lessened as she came upon a clearing that opened up at the side of a rocky mountain. Unbeknownst to her, it used to be a mining place for the dwarves during the time when peace reigned all throughout the nine realms. However, that was short-lived and after the treachery of the Allfather, the mine had been deserted and left for nature to reclaim. Now, a large wolf pack (unusually bigger due to the winter) had moved in. There they found shelter from the cold but it did little to aid them with their hunger.
A howl rang out and the wolves living their emerged from their dens to face the intruder. The wolf mother, unafraid, stood tall and carried her tail high, exerting her dominance. The wolves surrounded her in a circle but kept their distance, waiting for their leader. Sure enough, he came. A grey brown male confronted the wolf mother. He bared his teeth at her, a growl erupting from his chest. She in return, remained silent.
She understood her brothers were starving and if she failed to cement her place as their new alpha, they would try to eat her despite her size and healthier appearance for she was kept well fed during her imprisonment. They were desperate and willing to face such a stronger opponent if it meant they could stave off their hunger for a little while longer.
The alpha male struck first and leapt directly at her. She reacted quickly and opened her great maw, enveloping her teeth around the male. She closed her mouth but made sure not to pierce flesh. The other wolves followed suit, one jumping for her hind leg. She kicked the wolf and swerved her entire body, using her tail to knock a few others down. With the alpha still in her mouth, she roared fiercely, making the pack back off with their ears flattened to their skulls and their tail tuck between their legs. She breathed hard through her nostrils, glaring at each wolf in the eye until they broke eye contact with her.
She sensed it in the air. They were afraid of her. But it would do her no good to only be feared.
Careful not to hurt him, she released the ex-alpha from her teeth and allowed him to get back up and shake off her saliva. He then faced her and submitted. She was alpha now. In a display of friendliness, she relaxed her posture and let each wolf greet her. Then, she made her way into the mines where she found a spot warm and safe enough to turn into her den. Days later she gave birth to six young pups, black furred and blind, whom began nursing from their mother immediately. The other wolves, try as they might, could not find meat to bring back to her and if they did it was not large enough to sustain her body.
The wolf mother grew weaker and weaker as the weeks passed and she feared she might not have the strength to see her young ones to maturity. So as soon as her pups opened their eyes and began to crawl around, she left them safe in the den and went out to hunt, taking with her the fastest and strongest in the pack and leaving the rest behind to guard her children.
They set out, going slow to conserve energy for the real chase. The wolf mother did not intend to hunt elk or other such animals. She was starving and her appetite was as equal to her size, if not more. No, she was going after the big one. The troll's scent she had smelled all those weeks ago was still in the area, meaning it must have made its home there.
She led her hunting pack, sniffing the air to correct her direction. It lead her out of the woods and nearer to the open wide rocky grounds. It was there, atop a frozen lake, a troll slumbered out in the open. Some would think it unwise to rest in a vulnerable place but trolls do not have any natural predators and there only true enemies were the men and women of Midgard. But they were dying off because of the winter, so the troll had nothing to fear.
The hunting pack crept low on their bellies toward the edge of where the ground elevated to gain a better viewpoint of the lake below. When they saw who their intended target was, some of the wolves whimpered and backed away. The wolf mother threw her head around and growled a warning. She was hungry, they all are, and she will not miss this big opportunity due to cowardliness.
The wolf mother sent the most stealthiest wolf in the group first, the rest waiting at the sidelines while she remained on top, hidden low. The lone wolf silently made its way across the lake. Once, the troll snorted, causing the wolf to instantly freeze, but the monster only scratched his belly and continued his thunderous snoring. Still, the wolf waited a bit before closing the distance between them. It hopped onto his chest, trotted up to his face, placed a paw over one closed lid and scratched its claws deep into the soft gelatinous eyeball.
The troll roared in agony, one large hand reaching up to cover his shredded eye. He caught a glimpse of the animal who dared attack him in his sleep and reached out to grab the pesky runt. But the wolf was quick and dodged the grab and scampered away to safety while the rest of the pack ran out. The troll got to his feet and lifted his massive pillar.
"ᚠᛟᛟᛚᛁᛋᚺ ᛞᛟᚷᛋ!" the troll bellowed, facing his attackers. "ᛁ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᚱᛁᛈ ᚦᛖ ᚠᚢᚱ ᚠᚱᛟᛗ ᛃᛟᚢᚱ ᛋᚲᛁᚾᛋ ᚨᚾᛞ ᛈᛁᚲᚲ ᛗᛃ ᛏᛖᛖᚦ ᚹᛁᚦ ᛃᛟᚢᚱ ᛒᛟᚾᛖᛋ!"
The wolves rushed at him but did not attack. Instead, they only circled the monster, dodging every swing and smash of its pillar. They continued this dance of hit and miss, herding the ignorant troll closer and closer to the cliff where the wolf mother hid. Right as the monster took one last step closer did she sprung from the cliff. She soared through the air, her mouth stretched wide open revealing rows of sharp teeth. The troll saw her coming but he was too late. She collided with the monster and sunk her teeth into his throat right at the same time the troll wrapped his fingers around her thin stomach and wrenched her away.
Fortune did not lie with the troll, for he had accidentally ripped his own throat out when he threw the wolf mother. He had underestimated the power of her jaws and now he will never learn from his foolish mistake.
The troll staggered back, clutching at his neck. Incidentally, he tripped over his pillar and fell down with a loud crash. So hard was his fall that cracks in the thick ice formed underneath his body. A choked gasp and the monster was dead.
The hungry pack of wolves did not take time to relish in their victory. They drove into his flesh, eager to open him up but their food's skin was thick and hard to rip open with their tiny fangs. They backed away when the wolf mother approached and tore into the troll's stomach easily. Steaming intestines slid out, coating the frozen lake's surface red.
They ate and ate and when they had their fill, they ate some more.
After, they returned to the den, letting the others who did not participate in the hunt have the leftovers. The wolf mother, tired from the day's events, regurgitated some meat for her cubs and watched them eat. She observed them, noticing the runt of the litter, a tiny thing, struggling to get food from his siblings. Although he was her son, she did not interfere. If he were to survive he had to do so on his own.
The runt cried and cried, waiting for his mother to do something. Eventually, he learned that no one was going to help him.
Standing on wobbly paws, he padded over to the pile of meat and tried to squeeze his head through the wiggling bodies of his siblings. It seemed impossible at first- they were too strong and blocked him out. He whined low in his throat but did not give up. If his brothers and sisters won't make room for him, he'll just have to force them.
Using his hind legs, like his mother had done to launch herself at the troll, he did the same and broke through, diving head first into his meal.
The wolf mother raised her head high, proud of her tiniest son. She knew he and the rest of her children will grow up to be as strong and fierce as their mother.
They will survive.
She awoke from her light slumber. At first she did not know why. She checked her cubs and saw they were safe curled up by her side. Sensing something wrong still, she left the den to investigate. Outside a great storm raged, the night sky a mixture of angry dark clouds. Heavy pelts of rain fell from the heavens and powerful gusts of winds created by Veðrfölnir bent the once proud trees.
The wolf mother raised her head and sniffed the air.
Her hackles raised. It stank of death.
Lightning flashed across the sky.
Her pack laid strewn all over the earth, resting in pools of their own blood and in the middle of this massacre stood the dark warrior.
The wolf mother growled low in her chest, her claws digging into the muddy soil. They faced each other the same way they did many nights ago.
Her eyes burned into the darkness of the warrior's hooded face.
Mud flew into the air as her paws left the ground.
Lighting struck again.
The runt of the litter blinked its tiny eyes open. It was cold, so very cold. Where was his mother?
He whined loudly, hoping to call her back from wherever she went. When she did not return, he eagerly got to his paws and wobbled through the tunnel, following her scent. He made it to as far as the entrance of the mines.
His tail wagged and he yipped in excitement when he heard the approaching sound of footsteps.
The footsteps stopped and he grew confused, wondering why his mother didn't come to him. He could see her standing at the entrance but she remained still.
An unexpected flash of light lit up the darkness, casting a tall shadow over the small wolf.
The runt cowered in fear. It wasn't his mother.
It was a monster.
The storm passed when morning came, leaving a serene calmness to settle over the land.
In the middle of a clearing, six wolf pups laid in the snow. The runt of the litter slowly cracked its eyes open, breaking a thin layer of ice forming over its eyelids. It whimpered faintly and struggled to uncurl his freezing limbs.
He spotted the balled up shapes of his siblings and went to the nearest one. He sniffed his brother and bumped his nose to get his attention. There came no response. Still, the runt tried again and whined when nothing happened.
He was cold and hungry and all he wanted to do is curl up within his mother's embrace.
Tears leaked from his eyes, freezing into his fur. The little wolf sought after warmth, no longer caring where or from who it came from. He crawled through the snow towards the dark warrior.
Halfway, the runt stopped, exhausted. He couldn't go on any further.
The dark warrior looked at the frozen pups and then to the one who tried to crawl towards them. The snow under their feet crunched as they went to the runt and picked it up by the scruff of its neck. They then tucked the runt into the black himation they wore and left the clearing.
A light snowfall began, covering the wolf pups. Soon, only a smooth sleet of snow remained.
In an abandoned settlement, the dark warrior started a fire and sat close enough that its heat could penetrate through the cloth and warm the freezing pup. Time passed and not once had the warrior moved. If one were to walk upon them, they would have thought the warrior to be dead, frozen to the spot for all eternity.
The wolf pup began to stir, wakening from its deep slumber. It poked its little head out and began whining for food, unknowing the noise would attract unwanted visitors.
Two trolls emerged from the treeline and lumbered there way over to them and halted behind the dark warrior whom had still yet to move an inch.
"ᛃᛟᚢ ᚲᚨᚱᚱᛃ ᚦᛖ ᛟᚠᚠᛋᛈᚱᛜ ᛟᚠ ᛗᛃ ᛒᚱᛟᚦᛖᚱᛋ ᛗᚢᚱᛞᛖᚱᛖᚱ," one of the trolls said, hefting his pillar onto his shoulder. "ᚺᚨᚾᛞ ᛁᛏ ᛟᚡᛖᚱ ᚨᚾᛞ ᚹᛖ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᛗᚨᚲᛖ ᛃᛟᚢᚱ ᛞᛠᚦ ᛩᚢᛁᚲᚲ."
They waited but the warrior remained still.
"ᛞᛠᚦ ᚦᛖᚾ, ᛃᛟᚢ ᛞᛠᚠ ᚠᛟᛟᛚ," the same troll declared and swung the butt end of the pillar down, intending to squish the puny mortal.
Quicker than the eye can see, the dark warrior twisted around and collided their fist against the pillar, shattering stone and sending dust spraying everywhere. The warrior flew out of the dust cloud and perched onto the troll's shoulder. They grabbed its tusks and with a measly tug, easily broke them off and drove it into both of the troll's eye sockets.
Meanwhile, the other troll raised its still intact pillar and swung it at the warrior who leapt out of the way. The pillar smashed into his friend's face, driving the tusks in the troll's eyes deeper till the tips of it peeked out from the other side of his head. That troll went down, dead before it even touched the ground.
The second the dark warrior's feet touched the ground they took off in a sprint and jumped, slamming their fist against the living troll's knee. A loud crack pierced the air and the troll went down on one knee. A large bone protruded from the assaulted knee, which the warrior used to break off and stab it into the other knee. The troll wailed and blindly slammed their fists on the ground, hoping to crush them. He missed, of course, and that would cost him his life.
The dark warrior picked up the troll's own pillar and smashed across the side of his head, knocking him flat on his back. The warrior got on top of the troll's chest, raised the pillar over their head and brought it down once, twice, and a few more times until there was nothing left but a red smear on the ground. They then tossed the pillar aside and went back to sitting at the fire.
Again, the little runt stuck its head out and whined.
A while later, the wolf pup chewed happily on fresh meat. With its belly full and warmed by the fire, the pup dozed of in its cozy cocoon, feeling as safe as it did when it was with its mother.
A full moon shone down on them. The dark warrior stood a good distance away from the cabin, orange light glowing from the windows indicating people lived inside. The warrior pulled out the wolf pup and placed it on the snow floor. The runt immediately wobbled back to the warrior's feet.
The warrior crouched and nudged it with a finger in the direction of the cabin. The wolf pup did not understand and simply crawled back but the warrior repeated their action.
The pup whined but got distracted by the smell of food wafting from the cabin's chimney. Hungry, the runt made its way to the cabin door.
They silently watched it go and waited till the door swung open and a boy stepped out.
"Father, look!" the boy exclaimed, picking up the wolf pup and turning around to show it to whoever was inside.
A large pale man came into view and the warrior turned away swiftly. Slowly, they looked back.
The dark warrior stared at the family from within the darkness.
Then, they opened a rift, stepped inside and disappeared without a trace.
#1 "Foolish dogs! I will rip the fur from your skins and use your bones as toothpicks!"
#2 "You carry the offspring of my brother's murderer. Hand it over and your death will be quick."
#3 "Death then, you deaf fool!"
Chapter 3: A Guest by the Pyre PART ONE
ᛋᚨᛜᚲᛏᚢᚨᚱᛃ ᚷᚱᛟᚡᛖ | Sanctuary Grove
Freya cleaned him first.
Washed the grime from his body. Scrubbed off the dried flakes of blood that clung to his skin.
When she reached his hand, the one the mistletoe had pierced through, did the pain return.
She had been numb during the flight back to her home and now reality was catching up with her. The anguish that had been held at bay came crashing over her like a tidal wave, throwing her around like a rag doll. It mattered not that she was a god or (ex) Queen of the Valkyries; they all grieve in the end. They all suffer.
Freya brought his hand to her face and sobbed.
Her boy. Her baby boy.
He did not deserve this. He did not deserve to die. Not him.
It should have been her.
Freya let go of his hand to hold his face, rubbing her thumb gently across his cheek. He looked so peaceful, as if he were only asleep and at any moment he would open his eyes and be alive again.
Her hands began to tremble at the thought.
"Be alive again," she whispered faintly, a wicked idea forming in her mind.
Freya jumped into action, driven by a mother's determination misguided by delusional grief.
She can bring him back. She can save them both from this misery!
Her son's body is still fresh, stiff yes but he was a god! Vanir and Aesir combined, with a hint of Jötunn blood mixed in there as well. Their divine bodies do not decay the same way mortals do. She can do this. This can work. It will work. She will have her son back.
The goddess flew around the room like a woman possessed, snatching the proper ingredients to fulfill the twisted deed. So focused on the task was she that when she smeared the luminescent concoction on the palms of her hands and brought said hands to her son's broken neck, she jolted when the image of Mimir's decaying head popped into her mind, staying her hands.
She had reanimated the faun out of necessity. If it were under any other circumstances, she would have not. Reanimation is a vile piece of magic, not one she would wish on even her worst enemies. Not even Odin, although that would be because she would have preferred him dead permanently.
Do not be fooled. To reanimate does not equal resurrection.
The reanimated do not feel. They do not eat nor can they even taste or smell. Pain and pleasure is but a memory, never to be felt again. They are still dead and will continue to decay.
If she reanimates Baldur then he will face the same fate. It won't be living. It will be torture, it... It will be exactly what she had done to him.
You ruined my life.
Freya's face twisted in a mixture of horror and shock as she began to understand what she had put her own son through. She croaked a wretched moan and withdrew her hands like they were fire going to burn her son's skin. She stumbled back, digging her fingernails into her skull, the concoction mixing into her hair.
"No... " she breathed, shaking her head like a child. "No, I was only trying to protect you."
No... no. I would never have wanted this! You... you had no right.
"You don't understand! It was the only way," she pleaded, although there was nobody to plead to but herself.
Take it away, Mother. Please... please, please take it away.
Hot tears slid down her cheeks, a deep shame blooming in her chest. She lied. She lied to him and then she stood by and watched the hope die in his eyes.
Kratos may be an animal but Freya was a monster; For what mother could ever do that to their own son.
"I couldn't," she said to the body of her son. "I couldn't let you die. You were my son, my child. I loved you more than anything." She approached her son and gazed down at his face, remembering how he looked when he was a baby sleeping in her arms. She closed her eyes and willed that memory away. It only brought her more pain and misery.
With a heavy sigh, Freya finished washing his body in silence. Then, she wrapped him up and adorned him with flowers from her garden.
Once again she carried her son, holding him close.
"Hemili," she ordered, though the word sounded faint in her ears.
The ground shook as Chaurli the turtle rose from the earth. She waited for him to finish before stepping outside only to be greeted by all the animals she kept safe in her sanctuary. They surrounded her home- deer, elk, rabbits, squirrel and birds and even Chaurli who brought his head low to peer at her with knowing eyes. The boar and her very good friend Hildisvíni came forward and lowered his great head, offering his condolences.
They all felt her pain. They all understood her loss.
It goes against nature for a parent to outlive their child.
Freya breathed in deeply and began walking. They parted like the tide for her, their eyes following her. She headed towards the pyre she had built and gently laid him down to rest. She cupped his cheek and said the two words Baldur had been waiting his entire life to hear:
Flames coiled from her fingers, catching on to the wrappings. Freya slid her fingertips down his cheek and across parts of the pyre, leaving a trail of fire where she touched.
Freya stood back and watched the fire grow and grow, eating away at the wood and her child.
It raged hot and wild, reflecting the cold fury she had felt towards Kratos. But the rage inside of her grew dim. A deep, dark hole grew in her chest, sucking all the joy and light in her life away until she was left completely hollow inside.
And like her son, she felt nothing.
The fire burned throughout the night and come dawn did it begin to dwindle until there was nothing left but smoke and ash.
From her spot on the ground, Freya got up and put her son's ashes into a small pouch. She cradled it in her hands, wondering how something so alive and real and physical could be reduced to nothing in a blink of an eye.
Did they not know that, that is her son? Did the world not care? Did anyone cared?
Numb to everything but her sorrow, she returned home and ordered the turtle to lower itself beneath the earth.
And there she will stay for many moons, hidden away from the world, left to grieve alone.
Freya woke up to the world shaking.
At first she thought Chaurli was rising without telling her but the lack of sunlight streaming through her windows told her that they were still underground.
An earthquake then, was the second thing she thought.
But earthquakes do not make strange animalistic sounds and as the drowsiness of sleep cleared away, she realized the tremors in the earth felt and sounded more like a stampede of hooves. Yet that wasn't what alarmed her the most.
In the very air of her sanctuary, she sensed a powerful presence that felt... familiar. She didn't know whether or not that was a good thing.
Freya stumbled out of bed and swooned over when she suddenly felt faint and very, very dizzy. She managed to regain her balance and then clutched her head, trying to recall the last time she ate.
"H-Hemili," she groaned.
As the turtle rose she went and grabbed her sword. She knew it was pointless- Odin made sure she could not fight or even defend herself but old habits were hard to break and even though she couldn't use it, it brought her some amount of comfort having it near.
Natural light pierced through the windows, blinding Freya and she was forced to shield her eyes. When it no longer hurt to see, Freya marched out of her house to confront the intruder.
She was right when she thought she heard hooves. Boars, bigger than Hildisvíni, ran in a circle around her home, pulling a chariot behind them. They were going so fast and kicking up a lot of dust that it was hard to make out the figure riding in the chariot. The large warrior boars (for there was no mistaking this type of breed) made deep guttural noises that put Chaurli on edge. Freya placed a comforting hand on the turtle's neck, already annoyed with her unwanted guest for making her kind old friend feel uncomfortable.
Freya waited rather impatiently for the boars to come to a slow halt with the chariot stopping right before her. There she saw a man in the chariot, wearing a deep fur coat and armor that appeared ethereal when it caught the sunlight just right. She was surprised of how similar it looked in comparison to the light of Alfheim and wondered if it truly was the magical light floating over his armor.
The man tied the reins and stepped out of the chariot. Even then standing before her, she could not see his face for it was covered underneath a helmet.
Freya spoke first before the man could have a chance to speak.
"I don't know who you are or how you got in here but you are not welcomed in my home," she said with a scowl that would make most men turn tail and run. "Your beasts have greatly disturbed my friend and they trampled my garden so I ask that you leave. Now."
Instead of jumping back in the chariot to flee, the man took a step forward. Freya tensed up immediately and she was surprised when he froze and slowly raised his hands in the universal gesture of friendliness.
"I'm sorry," he said, chuckling nervously. "I meant no harm. Sometimes these 'beasts' have a mind of their own. Isn't that right, Gullinbursti?"
One of the boars, a particularly big one with fine golden fur, snorted and kicked at the ground.
Meanwhile, Freya's scowl vanished when she heard his voice. Her bottom lip began to tremble and for the first time in a long time she felt a rush of emotions swarm inside her. It was so sudden that she felt faint again.
She breathed in and out slowly, regaining her senses. Freya stared at the man with wide, cautious eyes, tears threatening to spill.
It cannot be.
"Take off your helmet," she ordered, ignoring the way her voice wavered.
The man hesitated yet listened and pulled of his helmet. Long auburn hair fell down past his shoulders and when the man looked up at Freya, her eyes locked onto a pair of identical ones that matched her own.
"Hello, Sister," Freyr said with a vulnerableness in his eyes that betrayed the uncertainty and fear he felt inside.
What was he afraid of? What did he have to fear from her? Did he not know how long she has waited for this moment? Or maybe this was not real. Maybe this was just another dream, again.
Freya approached him slowly, never once taking her eyes off him for fear that he would disappear. Her brother did not move when she raised a hand and trailed her fingers down the side of his face. Her eyes widened when she realized he was solid. He was real.
"How?" she breathed, her voice overcome with emotions.
Later, his voice said in her mind. Then, a deep pain filled his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Freya."
It felt like someone cut through her with a heated blade, freeing all the anger and sorrow and anguish that she had locked away.
Freya didn't fight it any longer. She held onto him as she cried and raged.
With wet cheeks, Freyr held her even tighter.
There was still much to discuss between them but for now, her brother was here and he understood and that was all she could ask for.
Freya opened the windows to let fresh air into her musty home and scrunched up her face as a blast of dust hit her. She coughed violently, using her hand as a fan to blow it away.
"Are you alright?" She heard her brother ask.
Freya waved dismissively, "Yes, I'm fine. Please, have a seat at the table."
There was a bowl of fruits that she liked to keep around. She intended to serve it to her brother only to find out it had spoiled. Anger and shame swept over Freya. Can she do nothing right?
A hand touched her shoulder, startling her.
"No worries," Freyr said with a gentle smile and outstretched his hand and from outside sprouted a young tree. Its branches entered through the window and curled its way over to Freyr's hand and from its tip an apple grew, deep red and round. He plucked it from the branch and the tree shrunk into the earth just as fast as it grew. He took a bite and smiled at her, juices from the apple dripping into his beard.
Freya fought the urge to roll her eyes and instead let out a tight-lipped sigh.
"Thank you," she snipped and shoved the bowl into his arms. "And didn't I tell you to sit down? Go, sit down."
Freyr raised his hands and walked to the table, chuckling. "Alright, alright! I'm going, I'm going. Hundreds of years and you haven't changed one bit. Still as bossy as I remembered you."
"I am not bossy," she said defensively. She searched the cabinets and protruded a bottle of mead and two cups. "And you are just as juvenile as I remember you." She quipped back. She sat down across from him and poured their drinks. A pang of nostalgia hit her in the chest when Freyr laughed. It was warm and hearty and reminded her of a time before Odin and the war. A time when she felt safe and hopeful.
Those times were long gone now.
They drank from their cups and lapsed into silence, neither sibling willing to talk first.
"Is that Vanaheim?" Freyr asked, breaking the silence. He left his seat at the table and went to stand by the enchanted window. Freya followed and wrapped her arms around herself.
"It's just a window," she muttered softly. A deep longing filled her. It happens every time she sees those trees. When she was young, she had grown so attached to them that she could feel the breeze blow between the tallest of their branches and feel the earth breathe through their roots. They used to make her feel like she was a part of something bigger than herself. She has made friends with the trees here in Midgard but it wasn't the same.
Freya glanced at her brother and caught him already looking at her.
"Why are you here?" she asked and then shook her head. "No... no that is not important. How are you here? How did you get here? Odin- he blocked all access to and from Vanaheim."
Freyr grabbed her hand gently. "I don't think that's important right now, Freya. What is more important is your loss. I can still feel your pain. You carry so much guilt. Why? Why do you torture yourself this way?"
A wave of anger swept over Freya.
"Baldur is my burden to carry and only I alone!" she snapped, a fire blazing in her eyes.
"Baldur?" Freyr echoed, his brows furrowing in confusion. "Odin and Frigg's son?"
"He was my son," she grieved, her fingernails burrowing into her chest. "He was mine. Not his! Mine!" She squeezed her eyes shut, her lips pulled back from her gritting teeth. She breathed hard through her nose and then exhaled deeply, releasing her rage. "He was mine," she continued in a steadier voice. "He was my son and I lost him."
"I'm sorry, Freya. I didn't know," Freyr said softly. His face then hardened. "Odin will pay. I swear it on my sword and on my life. He will pay for what he has done to you and my nephew."
Freya shook her head. "It was nobody's fault but mine. I did this. I brought this upon myself."
"Don't say that. You have done nothing wrong." Freyr said incredulously, cradling his sister's head in his hands.
"You don't know that," she grimly replied. She sat down and gazed at her enchanted window. "You don't know what I have done."
"I don't believe that," he said resolutely, taking a seat next to her.
"Why?" Freya whispered, her eyes wide with disbelief.
Freyr took her hand and held it firmly. "Because you are my sister. You are strong and good and I know there is nothing in all the nine realms- not even Odin himself- that can ever change that."
"I-" Freya looked away, shame written all over her face. "I cursed him. I had a dream that my son was going to die a needless death and I couldn't- I couldn't let that happen. He was all I had. I couldn't lose him. So I cast a spell over him, one that I had read in mother's journal long ago when we would sneak into father's chest."
Freyr's eyes widen, "The one that-"
"Yes. That one."
Freya inhaled deeply, overcome with regret and anger at herself. "I made him immortal, not realizing there were consequences to my actions. So you see, it was all my fault. If I hadn't let my selfish desires control me- my fear, my son would still be alive. I don't care if he would have still hated me. As long as he was alive, it would have been worth it."
"Is that what you told yourself when you made him immortal, too?" Freyr asked.
Freya blinked in shock and slowly realized that yes, he was right. That was exactly what she had told to convince herself that the decision to strip her son from all touch was right. She was so dumbstruck by her epiphany that for a moment she could do nothing but stand there.
"We all make mistakes," Freyr's voice swam into her mind. "Some worse than others and I'm not going to lie Freya, using mother's ancient dark magic, especially that one, was wrong. It brings nothing but misery and then insanity."
An image of a behemoth of a giant with wild dark hair and pale dead eyes flashed through her mind. She knew it wasn't she who thought of their mother but in fact her brother. He was projecting his thoughts into her mind, something they have been able to do since they were babes.
Freya squeezed his hand, catching his attention. "She is gone, Brother. She can't hurt you anymore."
"I know... I know," he repeated, though his face had turned pale. He took a deep breath and exhaled. "Just... promise me you won't use anymore of her magic ever again."
"I promise," Freya said without skipping a beat.
"Good, good," he mumbled and then cleared his throat. "Back to what I was saying... We all have said and done things we will regret for the rest of our lives; believe me, I know. But you are not bad, Freya. Misguided, like all parents are, but not evil. Not like Odin and not like mother. You know that to be true."
Freya smiled bitterly, "You know I can't believe that." She was a monster and she will always be one for what she did to Baldur.
Freyr gave her a small tired smile, "Stubborn as always. You know, ever since we were kids we could never agree on anything."
"That's why we made the deal to agree to disagree," she finished with a fond smile as she recalled her childhood memory. "I'm sure if we hadn't, we would have killed each other a long time ago."
"No doubt," Freyr replied.
They both grinned and giggled like children. Freya once again was hit by a wave of nostalgia. She didn't know until now how much she had missed this. How much she had missed him.
She thought her departure to Asgard to be wedded to Odin was the last time she would ever see her brother. Freya still remembers with vivid clarity how hurt and angry he was the night before she left. He hated her. He didn't say it for he did not need to. Their bond, the one thing that kept them physically and spiritually connected, was severed. She had never felt so alone as she did that night. It was a feeling she would never forget.
Their giggling died down and she stared at her brother.
"Why are you here?"
Freyr sighed heavily, as if he had been waiting for this question the entire time and dreading it.
"I came because you are my sister and you were in agony."
"You called me a traitor."
To her credit, she did not cry but that word still felt like a stab to her heart.
Freyr's brows upturned, creating deep wrinkles to form on his forehead. He slid off the window seat and got down on one knee. He held her hand between his own and gazed up at her with tears in his eyes.
"Freya, I am... I am so sorry. I was a foolish young man who did not understand the sacrifice you were making for our people. I was so blinded by my own grief and anger that I wasn't there for you when you needed me the most."
"You had every right to be," she said but he shook his head.
"No, no I did not. If I had loved you as much as I claimed to have, then I would have understood and reacted differently."
"You made a mistake. That doesn't make you a horrible person," Freya said, prompting her brother to laugh at the irony.
"Yes but I hurt you. And that is something I can never forgive myself for."
"Freyr-" she began to say but he cut her off.
"I loved you, Freya. When you told me you were going to marry someone else, Odin no less, I was devastated. I thought we were going to win the war and I was going to spend the rest of my life with you. But things never go the way we hope it does, does it?" He smiled sadly. "I may have been your lover but I was your brother first and I should have stood by your side and supported you. What I did, abandoning you in your most dire of times, is inexcusable. I don't expect forgiveness. I just want you to know that I am sorry. I can't begin to imagine what you went through but I would do anything to make up for all the years I could have been there for you."
Freya cupped his cheek with her free hand and smiled down at him, "Brother, you have already been forgiven a long time ago. I could never hold any animosity towards you."
Freyr broke out into a smile that rivaled the sun. They hugged for a long time and unbeknownst to Freya, the garden outside where her flowers had been trampled bloomed back to its full glory and it spread throughout her sanctuary, making it look like it were the beginning of spring.
Freya was the first to break the hug. "Now," she said, wiping at her eyes. "Tell me, how in all the nine realms did you get here? And why didn't you come sooner?"
"Because I didn't know where you were!" he exclaimed. "When news came that the treaty of peace was dropped because my sister had 'broken' the marriage, I went to find you. I knew you would never have destroyed any peace for our people without a very severe reason, but when I talked to the goat-man-"
"Mimir?" Freya interjected.
"Yes, Mimir. That was his name. He told me you had fled and nobody knew where you went."
"Mimir was lying," she revealed. "But don't be angry with him. Odin must have forbade him from telling the truth and the truth is, I was here in Midgard. Odin had used my own magic against me and bound me here to this realm."
"You taught him our magic?"
"No," she said quickly. "Not the important ones but little things. I never thought he would learn to understand it. I was foolish and I underestimated what he was capable of. Not ever again, though."
Freyr sat back, his brows knitted together in a deep frown. "That is grave, indeed. The one thing we held over the Aesir and now their leader wields it... nothing good will come of this. But I still have hope."
"How?" Freya asked, puzzled.
Mischief twinkled in his eyes, "He may have learned one of our secrets but not all. You asked how I got here well, it wasn't easy. I couldn't have done it without my wife and her friends."
Freya blinked in shock, "Your wife? You've gotten married? Someone willingly married you?"
"Aye Sister, you wound me. I had my charms or rather, she did, over me."
"I must hear this," Freya said eagerly, scooting closer.
"No, it is not important. We have more urgent matters to discuss."
Freya gave him a stern look. "I am a war-goddess but I am also the god of love and I will hear how my boar-headed of a brother found his chosen one."
"By Ymir," Freyr muttered, rubbing his face. "You really haven't changed one bit. Fine, but I will only tell you the short version because my time here is limited and there a things you must know. I saw my future wife one day here in Midgard, in a meadow bathing in its pond."
"Pervert," Freya interjected.
"Hey! I was not spying on her. It wasn't my fault I stumbled upon her in the middle of the forest in such a precarious state. Anyways, I shielded my eyes but not before catching a glimpse of her face and Freya, it must have been some sort of magic or bewitchment because I knew I loved her the moment I saw her. She then, of course, picked me up and threw me away so far I flew over a mountain! But her strength only made me desire her more."
Freya frowned, "I don't think that was her intention..."
"So I sent Skírnir - you remember Skírnir? - to make my affections known to her. I would have gone myself but I had a feeling she wouldn't have been pleased to see me and you know how protective the giants are of their homeland. They would have never let a god, Vanir or Aesir, into Jotunheim. Well, except for Tyr but he was special."
Freya almost shot out of her seat. "Your wife is a giant?"
"Yes! Gerd is her name."
"Does Odin know?"
"No, we have hidden her true heritage from his sight for I'm sure if he did know, he would have sent his murdering son to kill her by now. I'm sure Thor would have tried to kill me too and play it off as an accident." He paused and they both reflected on the monstrous appetite that Thor had for violence and murder. Freya didn't want that psychopath to sully the mood so she taped Freyr's hand and gestured for him to continue. "Ah, right, where was I? Oh, so I sent Skírnir but it turned out that Skírnir was in love with me and he tried to kill Gerd! I was sadden by the news that my friend perished by Gerd's hands. Though I was grateful that Gerd was alive, I wished I could have talked to him or he to me. Maybe things would have been different and there would have been no need for this bloodshed."
Freya held his shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright Freya. It was a long time ago." He smiled tightly and continued. "By then Gerd must have thought I sent an assassin to kill her brother. Why she thought that, I still do not know but I knew I had to act quickly or I would have lost her forever. I knew if I went to Jotunheim I would have to do something big to convince them I wasn't a threat. So I gave up my sword, Sumarbrandr, to Gerd's father."
"But you loved that sword!"
"I know, I did but I loved Gerd more. Afterwards, I was tasked to fight Beli, another of Gerd's suitors, bare-handed to the death- ow!" Freyr winced when Freya hit him.
"How could you have done such a thing?" she exclaimed in anger. "You could have died!"
"But I didn't!"
"That's not the point. It was stupid and reckless and as the leader of the Vanir I thought you would have known better. I left our people in your care. What would they have done if you had died? You have always gotten into trouble but this time the consequences doesn't only affect you, it affects everyone. You can't just go off and do whatever you want. You have responsibilities to your people." She sighed, rubbing her temple when she felt a headache coming on. "I mean, imagine if you had been killed. Odin would have surely used that opportunity to go into war against the giants, claiming it was to bring his Vanir wife's brother 'justice'. It would be just another excuse for him and Thor."
"Aw, Freya," he mumbled, taking her hands and pecking her knuckles. "Don't be mad. I know what I had done was selfish and wrong. I understand that and I am no longer that kind of man anymore. I'm better now and you do not have to worry." He paused and looked at her until she nodded. "Do you still want to hear the end of the story?"
Freya pinched her lips, "Of course."
Her brother grinned, "Then after, I slayed Beli by using the antler of a hart and pierced it right through his giant heart. I thought it was over but there was still one more challenge- that being I had to wrestle Gerd herself."
"You won, then."
"No, I lost. She was a large woman. I stood no chance."
Freya frowned, "How did she become your wife if you lost?"
Her brother smiled and shrugged, "When I lost, I was on the ground exhausted and defeated, thinking I would be heartbroken forever but then she smiled down at me, picked me up and threw me over her shoulder and took me to her father and declared to him I was going to be her husband. We were wedded then in true jötunn fashion, though it took me a while to convince her to come back to Vanaheim to rule with me." Freyr gazed at the view of Vanaheim through her enchanted window. "Ever since then, she helped me see things more clearly. She helped me crawl out of the dark hole I was in and helped me become the leader the Vanir needed in your absence. I wouldn't be who I am today without her."
"I am glad you have found somebody like her then," Freya said, hiding the sadness from her voice. In comparison, her marriage was the complete opposite. She pushed those dark thoughts away and smiled. "And I am proud of you. I know it has not been easy. You never asked nor wanted to become the leader of the Vanir and all the responsibilities it comes with thrust upon you. But you did it, like I always knew you could. Father would have been proud."
Freyr blinked and swallowed down a lump in his throat. "Thank you, Freya. You don't know what it means to me to hear you say that. Although, there is one thing I must disagree with you on. I can never be the leader you were." Freya opened her mouth to disagree but he silenced her. "For once Freya, do not disagree with me. You know it to be true. You will always and forever be the true leader of the Vanir."
Freya balled her hands into fists, "They hate me. They do not want me, Brother. In their eyes, I am nothing more than a traitor."
"That hasn't stopped you before," Freyr urged. "When father died and we were the only line to the throne, they did not want us, remember? They detested us for being our mother's children. They thought we were as retched as she was but you proved them wrong and when we went to war with the Aesir, they followed you into battle. When you were captured, the Aesir tried to burn you three times but you came back from the ashes, reborn, glowing in a fiery halo! Now not only did your people follow you, they worshiped you. Trust me, Freya. They will do so again."
"I never wanted them to worship me," she admitted, suddenly feeling very tired. "I only wanted to protect them. That was all I ever wanted."
He gripped her hand, a seriousness in his eyes that Freya has never seen before. "Then you must do so again. They- we need you now more than ever."
Freya leaned in, her stomach twisting in knots. Something was wrong. "What happened?"
Freyr licked his lips nervously and stood up. He walked over to the table and grabbed the bottle of mead and threw his head back and drained it halfway. Alarmed, Freya followed him.
"What is it? Tell me," she demanded, anxiety gripping at her chest.
Freyr looked her in the eye and spoke four words only: "Ragnarök- It has begun."
Just speaking the name Ragnarök brought a chill down Freya's spine. She stared at her brother, hoping for him to smile and say he was joking but he remained serious, a grimness in his eyes. He was scared.
Freya took a step back and leaned against the table for support. She blindly grabbed for the bottle of mead and downed the rest and slammed it back on the table.
"That is not possible," she muttered, her eyes round as saucers. "Ragnarök isn't supposed to happen for another hundred years or so."
"Everyone thought so, too, but it is here now and very, very real."
"No," she said defiantly. "That cannot be."
"It is true. See it for yourself, Freya." He raised a hand. "Feel the air in Midgard. Speak with the earth and you will see."
Freya did as he said. She closed her eyes and felt herself leave her body.
Her brother was right.
The air, it held an unnatural cold crisp to it- not one belonging to any normal winter. She left the sky and flew down to earth, mixing in with the soil and water. There was nothing out of the ordinary but as she began to explore deeper, she felt something was off. Using the large roots of the trees, she zoomed from place to place, trying to find the source of it. The closer she got to whatever it is, the more the nature around her began to decay. She followed the decay to a clearing in the woods where a village had long since been burnt to the ground.
There, she followed the trail behind a hof where there laid a cemetery. The source of the decay was coming from there, in one of the graves. In no time she found which one. Freya dove into the ground and was confronted by a rotting casket that was covered in wriggling worms and maggots. She descended further and entered the casket.
A putrid stench filled her nostrils.
Inside laid the body of a deceased woman with long shriveled strands of dark hair. She was dressed in a simple white gown and adorned with all sorts of jewelry she must have treasured when she was alive.
The stench and the complete wrongness of the place got to Freya and she moved to return back to her body.
A hand cold as ice latched around her wrist with a vice-like grip.
The dead woman's eyes were wide open and staring at Freya with such an intensity it paralyzed the goddess. Her cracked pale lips widened into a ghastly smile, revealing rows of black teeth. Some kind of black ooze that looked like oil but much thicker and denser, erupted between the cracks of her teeth and streamed down her chin.
A bone-tingling voice echoed in her mind.
"ᛚᛁᛏᛏᛚᛖ ᚡᚨᚾᛁᚱ ᛈᚢᛈ. ᚲᛟᛗᛖ, ᛋᚢᚲᚲ ᛟᚾ ᛗᛃ ᛏᛁᛏ ᚨᚾᛞ ᛞᚱᛁᛜᚲ ᛗᛃ ᚱᛟᛏ."
Freya came back to her senses and began yanking at her wrist in a panic. She had to get out of there! Horrible laughter drowned out her own thoughts, growing louder and louder by the second.
Desperate, Freya did the only thing she could think of: She severed the bond she had with the earth of Midgard.
White hot pain blinded her of all her senses, the consequence of returning to her physical body quickly. What she did was dangerous but she knew if she didn't, something terrible would have happened to her. Something worse than death.
Freya's eyes shot open and immediately she grabbed her wrist, growling in pain. Her entire arm shook as red fingerprints appeared on the skin around her wrist and they burned.
Her brother was quick to react. Without asking, he knew where her ointment was and fetched it. He returned quickly and rubbed the luminescent concoction over her ice burn. Upon contact, the burning stopped and she let out a sigh of relief. She collapsed into a chair and took a moment to catch her breath. Her entire body was drenched in a cold sweat and she could not get the image of the woman's face out of her head.
"What was that?" she finally said.
"Not what. Who." Freyr took a seat, too, the tips of his lips turning downwards. "That was the giantess, Hel, goddess of the underworld."
"Odin's sister," Freya muttered. "But how? I thought she was banished to Helheim by the combined magic of Bergelmir, Odin, and father?"
The vanquishing of the evil goddess Hel happened long ago, way before Freya's birth. All that she knew of it came from reading ancient historical texts kept in her father's library and what she did know was very little. The texts states a great battle between Hel and the king of the giant's Bergelmir, Odin, and her father Njord. It was the first and only time a Jötnar, an Aesir, and a Vanir fought alongside each other.
"Hel still is in Helheim. The woman you saw is just a vessel. It is not her true form," her brother explained.
"Then we must burn the body!" Freya proclaimed, jumping to her feet.
"It won't matter," Freyr said, his hands balled into fists.
"Why not?" she asked, sinking back into her chair.
"Because if we burn one body, Hel will return in the next and then the next and the next. By then Fimbulwinter will have already overrun Midgard and she will be too strong to stop."
"Is there no way to defeat her?" she urged, hating the resignation in her brother's voice.
"No, not any that I know of."
Freya frowned and stared at the fingerprints around her wrist. "There must be a way. I have never felt such cold, such evil. We cannot allow Hel to win."
Her brother sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't know, Sister. I don't know what to do. I have been trying to find you for so long. I then began to believe you didn't want to be found. It wasn't until I felt your pain through our bond that I finally knew where you were. I didn't care if you didn't want to see me- my sister was in pain and she needed me. I begged Gerd and the rest of the giants I managed to sneak into Vanaheim during Thor's massacre to help me find a way to go to you. They helped me of course, gave me some kind of travel rune that can only be used twice."
"I came here because I need your guidance. I don't know what to do. Ever since the end of your marriage with Odin, things have been tense between the Vanir and the Aesir. No one wants war but it seems war is coming anyway. And with the arrival of Fimbulwinter; this war will be the last great war." Freyr grimaced, looking older than he was. "I don't want the annihilation of our people. That is why I thought siding with Hel against Odin would buy us some time."
"Never," Freya bellowed, her voice booming in the room. "Hel will only betray you. You've read the texts. She strives to kill all living things. She wants Ragnarök to happen. You cannot side with her, Brother. It will only spell doom upon the Vanir and everyone else."
Freyr closed his eyes and breathed in and out deeply. "Thank you, Sister," he said, opening his eyes. "I didn't know what to do and I thought that was the only way. I let fear and desperation almost drive me to make a foolish decision. This is why you should return as our leader. They need you. Not me."
"I don't know if I can," she admitted quietly. She touched her back. "I don't know if I can ever be that person again."
"He took them, didn't he," Freyr said. It was more of a statement than a question.
Freya didn't respond. Her brother already knew the answer.
"Fimbulwinter, Ragnarök, and now Hel? By Ymir... What have we done?" she whispered, sighing heavily.
"That's not all." Freyr said lowly, making his sister's head snap up. He scooted his chair closer to her. "The Valkyries, they have come to Fólkvang bearing bad news from Valhalla. Something terrible has befallen upon Odin's einherjar."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Freya snarked, feeling no sympathy for Odin's chosen warriors.
"Yes but this... this is something different. I don't completely understand it myself."
Freya sat up in her chair. "What happened?"
"I can show you better than I can ever tell you. Sigrun allowed me to create a copy of her memories so I can pass them on to you."
Freya was relieved to hear that her Valkyries have been freed. She heard what had become of her sisters and her hatred for Odin grew ever more. It was one thing to cast Freya out and take her wings but it was another to do what he has done to his loyal servants. They did not deserve it. If it weren't for Kratos... Freya frowned and stopped that line of thought.
She held out her hands. "Show me then," she said, pushing Kratos and his son out of her mind.
Her brother grabbed her outstretched hands and they both closed their eyes. Their breathing evened out and their heartbeats synced as one.
Freya felt herself slip from her mind and plunge into darkness.
1# "Little Vanir pup. Come, suck on my tit and drink my rot."
ᚡᚨᛚᚺᚨᛚᛚᚨ | Valhalla
The mountains of Midgard shrank from view as Sigrun flew higher and higher towards the heavens. With a grand wave of her hand, the sky split right open! Luminescent colors of the rainbow spilled out from the tear, shimmering down into the sky. Sigrun passed through the portal and entered into the remnants of the yawning void- Ginnungagap.
Unlike the roots of Yggdrasil, the realm between realms, Ginnungagap was an endless place of darkness, lit faintly by the trillions of stars scattered throughout it. One could witness such beauty even in Midgard, when the night sky is clear of Ymir's fluffy brains and the four dwarves- Austri, Norðri, Suðri, and Vestri, settle down after a long day of holding up the sky, is when Aurvandil's stars are most visible.
Sigrun always held an appreciation for the raw heavenliness they possessed and every time she passed through here, it would leave her in awe.
Not this time, though.
For some strange reason, the darkness between the stars put her on edge. Out of the corner of her eye, she swore she saw something move behind the stars but when she turned to look, there was nothing. She wanted to investigate further for she knew she sensed something but her sisters and Valhalla await and she mustn't get distracted from her duty. There was much to do in the hundred of years they have been trapped.
When she exited the void, a cold mist enveloped Sigrun. Droplets of water formed on the surface of her armor as her nonphysical form became corporeal. It wasn't the same like that wretched, breathing body she had been imprisoned within. This was the form the Valkyries took when entering Valhalla and any of the other spirit realms. The only difference was instead of blue skins, their skins glowed like molten gold and it was said if a mortal happened to gaze upon a Valkyrie in this form, their eyeballs would melt like wax.
The mist turned into water and water turned into a grand waterfall. She flew to the top where a platform extended beyond the cliff's edge and on either sides erected large statues of warriors clutching their swords. Sigrun sailed past them and all the way down a long bridge that lead to a great mountain where the hall of Valhalla was carved into its side.
Under the sunset, Valhalla shined golden. It was a majestic structure indeed and its fine detail of stone artistry done by commissioned dwarven experts only extenuated its beauty even further. There was said to be five hundred and forty doors inside that were tall and wide enough for eight-hundred men to pass through, but there was only one main entrance to the building itself that towered among the rest- the ancient gate Valgrind. It was where the statues of an eagle slaying a wolf hung from the top and it was here that Sigrun spotted here sisters.
She dipped low and came before them in a smooth and swift landing. Her sisters greeted their queen with a respectful bow. Sigrun looked at each of them one at a time, grateful to see all of them again. She frowned behind her helm when she noticed one Valkyrie was missing.
"I am glad that you all have been freed but where is Gunnr? Is she still trapped?"
"No, my Queen. Gunnr was here but she left, saying something about a great battle between two gods. It is just like her. A hundred years of imprisonment and the first thing she does is go towards any conflict," answered Göndul, the most beautiful and wittiest of the Valkyries.
"Enough about Gunnr!" Hildr, the 'Mistress of Battle', snapped impatiently. "I demand to know what happened to us. The last thing I remember is you, Sigrun, locking me up." The Valkyrie curled her fingers into tight fists, frost forming on top of the armor covering her hands. "Explain yourself or I will be forced to believe you were the one who cursed us!"
Kara, the most composed and even-tempered of the group, stepped forward. "Calm yourself, Hildr. We do not yet know if that is true. We cannot freely accuse our Queen of a crime she may or may not have committed."
"I agree with Kara. We must know the truth and all of its facts," said Olrun. She was the resident historian of the Valkyries and possessed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. It would only be natural of her to learn what truly happened to them. "Under the laws of Tyr, I declare Alþing. Rota will be our lawspeaker and she will be the only one to pass judgment for she will know whether our Queen speaks the truth. If she speaks falsely, then she will have to forfeit her right as queen as well as her wings, as in accordance to the lawful punishments instated in all the realms."
Rota, their appointed lawman, approached Sigrun. "Forgive me, my Queen," she said. "I find this all highly unnecessary. I know you are not the one who has cursed us."
"It is alright, Sister," Sigrun reassured and glanced at her shield-sisters, all of whom she considered family. "I am not doing this for my sake. Go ahead. I have nothing to hide."
Sigrun raised her head higher as Rota hovered both hands on either side of her head. There was pressure for a moment and then release, like a stream flowing down a river, except this river flowed backwards. Visions of the past surfaced to the front of her mind, starting at the very end. It showed Sigrun locking herself in her own cell, then doing the same to the other Valkyries. A brief moment displaying an intimate moment with Mimir went by quickly and soon they reached the very beginning when Sigrun was cursed into becoming corporeal and then- Odin's distaff in hand pointed towards her, his unmistakable voice whispering primordial words belonging to the seidr.
"She speaks truthfully," Rota announced, a hint of a smile in her voice.
"If not you then who?" Hildr said rather unhappily, probably disappointed the culprit wasn't Sigrun. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Who would dare cross the Valkyries?"
"The Allfather," Sigrun answered. "He was the one who cursed us."
Geirdriful, the 'Master of Arms', gasped dramatically while the others shifted where they stood, ruffling their wings nervously. None of them liked the prospect of their own king being the one who betrayed them.
"Why would the Allfather do such a thing?" Geirdriful cried loudly. "What have we done to invoke his punishment?"
Göndul chuckled dryly, "The old crow probably did it for fun. Or maybe Munin and Hugin didn't return before the morning meal. Knowing the Allfather, it would have been 'such' a catastrophe."
"Watch your tongue, Göndul," Hildr warned lowly. "The Allfather is still our king and I will not have him be disrespected in my presence."
"That's ironic. You think Odin cares if you protect his honor? He favored you the most and yet he cursed you, too. Just like the rest of us."
Hildr growled and took a menacing step towards Göndul.
"Enough!" Sigrun bellowed, using her wings to send a wave of air that can knock down a mortal man but to the Valkyries, only gained their attention. "We do not have time for this. Hel is overrun with lost souls and they are spilling into Midgard! We will check on the einherjar and then resume our duties immediately. We will speak more of the Allfather's treachery after we restore balance to the realms. Geirdriful, open the gate."
"Oh, I fear to see what has become of my pupils!" Geirdriful bemoaned. "A hundred years without someone there to discipline them- can they even hold a sword anymore?"
"With all the mead they've been drinking, I doubt they can even tell their 'swords' apart," Göndul said mirthfully.
Geirdriful gasped in horror. "The sorry lot!" she exclaimed. "First thing I'll have them do is climb up the mountain and back a hundred times! Then a hundred times more! That'll teach them."
Sigrun ignored the rest of her sister's conversation when Olrun came up beside her.
"You do not think it is him," Sigrun stated.
"It is a possibility, I cannot deny that," Olrun mused. "Given his past records of meaningless cruelty, it would seem like cursing his own Valkyries would not be something that is beneath him. What I can't understand is why? There is nothing he gains to benefit except his own demise. It does not make any sense."
"You spent time with the Allfather most out of all of us. You must have noticed something," urged Sigrun. "I do not believe he simply cursed us in petty spite because of Freya."
"No, he wouldn't have." Olrun rested her knuckles against her helmet where her mouth should be- a habit she does when deep in thought. "I used to talk with the Allfather about many things but that changed around the time he had Mimir imprisoned. He isolated himself and only came out for audiences or council meetings. One day, I was in his library. He had given me an invitation to read there at any time long ago and I saw him conversing heatedly with a spirit."
"Did you know who it was? Did you hear what they were saying?"
"No, I did not recognize her and I do not know what they were talking about because at that very moment, the Allfather knew I was there. I was afraid he would think that I was snooping and I was surprised when he welcomed me over and began a friendly chat with me. By then, the spirit had already gone."
During the time they were talking, Geirdriful had succeeded in opening the doors of Valgrind. As they entered into the main hall of Valhalla, one that stretched as far as a mortal eye can see, Sigrun already knew something was greatly wrong.
The einherjar, Odin's vast army of elite warriors that has been chosen since the beginnings of Ask and Embla, were all gone.
For the first time since its creation, Valhalla was silent.
"Where have they all gone?" Eir, the healer of the Valkyries and the one who had been quiet thus far, said. Her voice echoed in the empty, hall.
Olrun went to the first of many long tables stationed in the middle of the hall. She reached out and held her hand above an untouched plate of food.
"It's still warm."
"My Queen!" A voice cried from behind them.
Sigrun turned around just in time to see Gunnr soaring through the doors and straight to them. So fast she arrived that she almost crashed into Sigrun, who held her up by the arms in fear the Valkyrie would collapse from exhaustion.
"My Queen," Gunnr panted. "The god, Baldur he- his, his soul-"
"Speak clearly, Sister. Ragnarök isn't upon us yet."
"Baldur, Freya's son. He is dead!"
Sigrun drew her head back in surprise and glanced at Olrun. A god, especially one of the Aesir, hasn't died in hundreds of years. That shouldn't happen...
"Who killed him?" Sigrun demanded.
"It was the pale man with the red tattoos and his son," Gunnr told. She shook her head. "When Baldur fell, I went to judge his soul but... but something else got to him first."
Sigrun opened her mouth to ask what but before she could, dark sleazy chuckles sounded from above, making all the Valkyries lift their heads to see a man leaning against the second floor railing. They have never talked but Sigrun recognizes the man to be Modi, second son to the mighty Thor and Lady Sif. If he was here in Valhalla then it could only mean one thing.
"Modi, son of Thor," Sigrun said in greeting. "You too have been slain in battle?"
"You sound surprised. I'm sorry, were you expecting my brother?" he rasped, a grin splitting across his face. From where she stood, Sigrun began to take notice on how sickly the god looked; his face gaunt and his skin unbelievably pale.
"Do you know what happened here?" Olrun asked.
"I hear that Baldur is finally dead," he grinned, ignoring her question. "Hmm, oh well. He was my least favorite uncle, anyways. He always preferred Magni. Everyone always preferred Magni. But that's alright. Uncle is in a better place now, where he can feel all the pain he likes. As for my brother... They didn't need him. Funny, isn't it? I was the one They chose. I was the one They wanted..."
"You shame yourself and your parents for speaking so ill of your family," Hildr spat.
"Family?" Modi repeated incredulously, an unhinged smile appearing on his face. "I don't have a family."
"Sigrun," Rota whispered beside her, an urgency in her tone. "He should not be here. He did not die in battle."
"You're right!" Modi boomed, catching them both off guard. "Getting fucked over by a kid doesn't qualify as 'worthy' to the Valkyries, does it?" He covered his face with his hands, smothering his chuckles, and then dragged his fingernails across his head. "But who- who- who the FUCK are YOU to judge me? You know- you know nothing. NOTHING." Modi shifted between deranged laughter and moaning sobs. "But you will, oh you will know very, very soon. They won't judge you. They love you."
Modi threw his head back and let out a piercing scream.
The heavy doors of Valgrind slammed shut with a loud boom, causing a rush of air to blow out all the fires, leaving the hall in darkness save for the moonlight streaming in through the windows.
"Sisters, to me!" Sigrun barked, partially covering her body with her wings. The Valkyries did as ordered and formed a tight circle.
Lists of enemies passed through Sigrun's head but none made sense. No enemy of Odin could penetrate Valhalla. Could it be Odin himself then, trying to kill them? It would explain Modi's appearance but if that were true, where was Thor? If Sigrun had to die, it would be insulting not to have the strongest god in all the realms face her in battle. It was the least Odin can do.
Sigrun sensed something speeding towards her. At the last second, she used her wing to deflect a long black stoned spear that would have pierced her heart. Instead, it lodged itself into the wooden flooring.
"Coward!" she roared at the darkness, her blood rushing in anger. "Reveal yourself!"
The moment she stopped speaking, Sigrun felt a familiar presence she felt back in the void- the thing moving behind the stars. It was watching her even then... waiting for her to reach Valhalla.
This was a trap.
A figure emerged from within the darkness, a warrior unlike any Sigrun has ever seen in all the nine realms.
"That's him," Gunnr said, pointing at the warrior in black armor. "He is the one who took Baldur!"
"He thinks he can defeat the Valkyries?" Hildr laughed sadistically, ice shards protruding from her knuckles. "He will die."
Sigrun did not feel the haughtiness her sisters felt. Instead, she was wary. The foreign looking warrior with dark armor did not slow down and was walking a steady path straight to them weaponless. She could not even see his face for shadows concealed it under a hood, making it impossible to tell what he was thinking or feeling.
Halfway to them, the dark warrior outstretched his gauntlet covered hands and out of thin air materialized two jagged shaped, forward curving blades; its length similar to a long sword. The warrior, gripping his hellish blades, crossed them over his chest and picked up the pace.
"I will deal with him," Sigrun declared, her blood thrumming for battle.
Her eyes narrowed. He comes at her with no fear. Then she will do the same!
A battle cry tore from her throat. With a powerful flap of her wings, she shot forward like an arrow, the wind whistling past her ears. She threw her hand out and summoned her scythe, ready to bring down a swift execution.
In the blink of an eye, the dark warrior parried her assault with such tremendous force that it rattled her bones. His strength shocked her but only for a moment before blinding pain exploded on the side of her head. She hit the ground and tried to get up. A fist of iron snapped her head back and her vision blurred.
The dark warrior raised his blades, aiming for her neck, his weapon sharp enough to render a clean cut.
A disk like projectile hurtled at him, distracting him long enough for Hildr to sweep in for an attack.
"Sigrun, are you alright?" a voice asked as one of her sisters came to her aid.
Sigrun blinked away the dizziness to see Eir helping her stand. A cry rung out across the hall. Sigrun spotted Hildr hurl into one of the tall and thick support posts and broke it in half.
"What sort of damned creature has Odin sent to kill us?" hissed Olrun as Gunnr, Kara and Göndul swooped in to face their attacker. The dark warrior greeted them with silence and began his deadly dance of striking quickly whilst evading their blows.
"He is strong," Sigrun stated, the pounding in her head a severe reminder of how much damage those fists can do in so little time. He had caught her off guard for she had underestimated him. She won't make that mistake again. "But he plays on the defense. He knows he is outnumbered and we will use that to our advantage. Rota, Eir, we will triangulate around him while our sisters distract him still. Geirdriful, Olrun, fly high and try to slow him down with your arrows. Do not let him touch you!"
Geirdriful and Olrun took flight and Sigrun dashed into the fray, Rota and Eir shadows at her sides. Their arrival signaled a shift in the battlefield, one Sigrun knew the dark warrior felt.
One against three was possible but one against eight...
Yet despite the odds, he did not retreat. The dark warrior faced them and fearlessly met them head on.
Sigrun would have been disappointed if he hadn't.
They locked in combat, clashing again and again, neither side able to land a critical strike against the other. So fierce they fought that the Valkyries began to glow fiery hot and where ever they went, fire spread catching onto the wooden tables, floors and walls of Valhalla.
In the midst of battle, Sigrun grew impressed. This warrior offered a fight unlike any other she has experienced. There was no display of anger or fear or even bloodthirsty happiness.
The dark warrior fought with no passion... and that was what made him dangerous.
He possessed a deadly cold focus and she noticed every move he made was calculated; every strike holding purpose.
A worthy foe, indeed, and one Sigrun held the privilege of fighting- but now it was time for this to come to an end.
She chanced a glance up at Geirdriful and Olrun whom had their bows at the ready. At her signal, their arrows flew loose.
The dark warrior sliced the first wave mid-air but his attention was captured by Sigrun and the others, letting the second wave hit true to their mark. He stumbled and that was all it took. A cut to the back of his knee crippled his speed; a deep slash to his arm, cutting through bone, had him drop one of his blade. Gunnr drew her scythe back, ready to deliver the final blow.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sigrun spotted Hildr speeding right to them in a rage consuming aura.
"Hildr, no!" she shouted but it was too late. Wrath blinded Hildr and she crashed into the dark warrior, sending them both down the hall and away from the rest of the Valkyries. Alone, Hildr stood no chance.
The dark warrior struck quick, knowing his time was limited. He burrowed his fist into her gut, stealing her breath and snatched her arm and broke it like a twig. Blade in hand, he aimed it at her heart.
Sigrun was there faster than her mind could process. She screamed in fury and knocked him away. The warrior soared through the air and crashed onto the tables, food and drinks flying everywhere.
She breathed hard through her nose, shaken to have almost lost one of her sisters. She had enjoyed the spirit of the battle but that was too close. They had to kill him and kill him now!
Right as she thought that, the air grew cold despite the heat from the flames.
The dark warrior got to his feet and faced them.
His hands curled into fists.
The fire raging around them turned a hellish blue, making the halls of Valhalla look like some demented underworld.
"What kind of magic is this?" Olrun whispered.
"It doesn't matter," Hildr said, her broken arm being healed by Eir. When it was done, she flexed her fingers and rolled her shoulder. "Magic cannot save him now."
"Silence!" Sigrun barked, "We will finish this, now!"
The Valkyries took off as one, the combined flaps of their wings bending the fire. As they approached, the warrior slammed his fist down upon the edge of a long table that could have sat thirty men. It flipped into the air with a creaky moan and with a show of inhuman strength, he chucked it at them.
Sigrun growled and sped up. She broke through the table, wood splintering under the impact. Like angels of pure fire they descended upon him with a fury to rival the sun!
The full weight of the Valkyries proved too much to bear. The dark warrior fought valiantly but Göndul's sword struck true and pierced him through the chest. A hush fell over the hall, quieting even the roar of the fire.
It was done.
They must now find the einherjar and-
The dark warrior clasped the blade and pulled. Göndul gasped in horror as he slid closer to her till he reached the hilt. She stood frozen and could only watch him raise his hands and clutch her head, his fingers bending the helmet. His thumbs entered the eye sockets of her helm and she screamed.
The sound of utter agony would haunt Sigrun to the end of her days.
"Göndul!" Hildr cried, her voice wrought with despair. She summoned a mighty frost axe and lodged it impossibly deep sideways into his shoulder.
The dark warrior didn't even make a sound. He simply broke the blade still in his chest, threw a two-headed spear into the ground and snatched Hildr with both hands. He lifted her up and skewered her on the spear and let go.
Sigrun watched her sister's body contort as she slid down it agonizingly slow, her hands slapping weakly to hold onto the spear to stop the torment.
There was no time to process the horrors Sigrun was witnessing for Göndul stood up from where she sat curled up covering her face. Her sister sobbed and thick soupy blood slopped onto the floor from underneath her helmet.
"Something's wrong," Göndul whimpered before clutching her stomach and doubling over. She fell to her knees and threw her head back and screamed in pain, her fingers scratching at her helmet. Sigrun could only watch as black tendril like veins emerged from the eye sockets of her helm and spread through out her body. Her glowing skin turned a sickly pale and her golden armor melted into her flesh. And her wings, by the gods her wings were on fire! It burned until there was nothing left but fleshy skeleton wings.
"Göndul?" Sigrun whispered, stretching a hand to her weeping sister.
Göndul fell silent.
"I can hear them now." Low chuckles came from under her helm. "By the dead gods... it's beautiful. It's beautiful. It's beautiful..."
Sigrun paled. She jumped in fright when the dark warrior took a step towards them, looking just as healthy back when they started the battle. Her stomach dropped. She knew- she knew he had taken damage. He cannot be alive!
"Sigrun," Olrun said uncertainly, a nervousness to her voice.
Göndul staggered to her feet and spread her skeletal wings, flinging blood everywhere. She raised her hand and a scythe appeared but not one made of metal but of grotesque flesh.
Their attention shifted from Göndul to Hildr. The Valkyrie's prone body jerked back to life and she at once wrapped her hands around the spear and struggled to pull herself up. Eir moved to help their sister but Sigrun blocked her with her arm.
Horrible screeches escaped Hildr and she moved like an animal. Her head snapped to Sigrun, her eye piercing her to the spot. It was filled with ungodly rage.
Whatever these creatures were, they were no longer the Valkyries she had once called sister.
"We must leave," Sigrun uttered, taking a step backwards, her scythe aimed at the dark warrior as if that would deter him.
"We cannot leave them. They are our sisters! We must help them!" Eir shouted in protest.
Göndul chuckled and twirled her scythe as she and the dark warrior started towards them.
Sigrun wanted to stay, wanted to save her sisters but she risked the possibility of losing them all and gods help her she will not let that happen!
"We must leave, now!" she bellowed just as Göndul shrieked and shot at them. Sigrun flew back and shouted Kara's name. The Valkyrie nodded in understanding and used her magic to summon draugrs to keep Göndul and the dark warrior busy while they fled to the entrance.
Sigrun slammed against the heavy doors and with her sisters, pushed them open. It took all her strength but eventually they got it open... only to be overwhelmed by a horde of draugr! They were dragged into the mounds of screaming undead warriors. Sigrun squirmed and tried to break free but there were too many hands holding her down. Thinking quickly, she folded her wings and shot them open, creating a powerful wave of air that staggered her drove her attackers back.
Free, she took to the sky. Safe for the moment, Sigrun searched for her sisters and dove down to help Geirdriful. She pulled the Valkyrie free from the draugrs clutches. She then made sure that the rest of her sisters were in the air before flying away.
From way above, Sigrun realized there was not just a horde of draugr but millions of them.
"By the gods, where have they all come from?" Gunnr said.
Geirdriful sniffed and with a deep sadness in her voice said, "They are not draugr."
Confused, Sigrun peered down at the draugrs and focused on their faces.
Human. They were just men but they looked wrong. They looked like monsters.
"The einherjar..." Olrun breathed in realization.
"How did this happen?" Geirdriful wept and Sigrun felt her pain. They were Odin's men yes, but the Valkyries were the ones to hold their souls and lead them to a better life. These warriors were their responsibilities and they failed them.
"Is this Odin's doing," Sigrun asked to Olrun.
"No, this is... this is something far much worse. We must escape this damned realm and warn the Allfather-"
"No," Sigrun snapped. "Odin may not have been the one to have done this but he did curse us, that I know. He is no longer an ally to the Valkyries. We will go to the Vanir instead. Maybe they will help us."
A scream so loud pierced the air, drowning out the roars of the einherjar. Sigrun hissed and slapped her hands over her ears or would have if she weren't wearing a helmet. Thankfully it stopped, allowing Sigrun to open her eyes and spot in the distance the dark warrior riding on a strange horrifying beast. As they grew closer, she realized it was a grey winged stallion and its long wings left a trail of blue flames.
The horse opened its mouth and the same ear-shattering scream left it.
Even from here, Sigrun could tell the horse flew faster than any of them could. It would be upon them in seconds if they tried to out-fly it.
"Kara, a storm!" Sigrun yelled. "We will lose them in the clouds."
Kara nodded and flew up. Her armor sparked yellow shots of light and with a shout, a whirlwind formed, creating grey dense clouds and heavy winds. They wasted no time flying into the storm. The wind tore at their wings, threatening to knock them askew but they pushed through.
Sigrun stopped and shouted over the wind, "We are far enough! Olrun, a portal!"
Olrun waved her hand and a portal to Ginnungagap opened.
A scream drew their attention. Sigrun turned just in time to see Rota being dragged down by Göndul and Hildr. The last of Rota seen before disappearing in the dark clouds was her hand outstretched for a savior that would never come.
A hand clasped Sigrun's shoulder. "We must go," Olrun said, as if knowing Sigrun's desire to fly after Rota.
Sigrun clenched her fists and sighed heavily. She moved to follow Olrun to the portal but paused and suddenly flapped her wings, barely dodging a spear. The dark warrior on his damnable horse broke through a cloud and charged at them, throwing another spear.
"Go! Go!" Sigrun yelled at the others. They all made a break for the portal and at the same time trying their best to avoid getting hit.
Sigrun was so focused on getting to the portal that she didn't notice Olrun dive to her side.
"Sigrun!" her sister shouted. "I know! I remember! In the library, in a book I read! It said- Watch out!" Olrun flipped over Sigrun and a spear shot through her stomach. The Valkyrie crashed into Sigrun and clasped hold of her.
"Chaos," Olrun whispered.
She let go and her body plummeted down, the clouds below swallowing her from view.
Sigrun wanted to mourn her death but there was no time. She made a bee line straight to the portal where the rest of the Valkyries waited inside. Sigrun entered and the portal started to close behind her.
For reasons she will never understand, she looked back.
The dark warrior stared at her. In one hand, Olrun's body dangled from his grip around her ankle. His other hand drew back and he threw one last spear.
It soared towards her in slow motion. Sigrun surprised herself when she knew she would not move. Maybe she deserved it.
The portal closed and she was left with only the stars.
Freya opened her eyes and slipped her hands away. She got up and walked aimlessly to the middle of the room and hugged herself, her hand covering her mouth.
"That thing," she spat, replaying the memory in her head. "What did it do to them?"
Freyr swallowed thickly, "We do not know. We speculated it could have been some kind of corruption magic, like the draugr."
"No," Freya muttered, shaking her head. "Draugrs are mindless pitiful creatures driven by anger and the ones Sigrun saw... Freyr, they were happy." She shuddered, remembering the smiling faces of Odin's men, their eyes gleaming with gleeful malice. Sigrun was right, whatever they were, they were no longer human.
Chaos... Freya remembered Olrun say before she died. Could she have meant Ginnungagap? Did the void have something to do with the dark warrior and his awful magic?
"The Valkyrie, Olrun, knew something before she died. A book she said she read in Odin's library. Do you remember reading such a thing during your time in Asgard?" Freyr asked.
Her lips tightened, "No, there was a forbidden section in the library I wasn't allowed to browse through. He must have thought me a threat even after our marriage. Smart of him. I would have used his secrets against him the moment I had the chance. But one of his Valkyries, especially a kindred spirit like Olrun... she must have posed no threat to him or if she had, it would have been insignificant; like an ant to a king. That was how he viewed people beneath him. They were all just ants to him."
"We must get our hands on that book," Freyr muttered, rubbing his beard.
"I may know someone who can help with that," Freya said slowly. "But I am unsure if she will help us or first, how to even contact her."
"At least it's something," Her brother said encouragingly and stood up. "I will take my leave then. I cannot stay in Midgard any longer."
Freya hid the disappointment from her face and followed her brother to the door. He opened it and then faced her.
"I will tell everyone you are alive and well. It will bring hope to many." He paused and bit his lip. "I must ask, have you ever heard of a giantess named Laufey?
"Laufey the Just?" Freya uttered in surprise. "That is a name I haven't heard in a very long time. I never met her and after the the gate to Jotunheim disappeared, she vanished as well, like the rest of the giants."
"She didn't vanish," Freyr said. "She was their guardian and she stayed behind in Midgard. The giants speak vehemently of her son, a giant by the name of Loki. They... they speak of him like he is some kind of savior. They foretell a prophecy: a ship, Naglfar, will sail from the underworld when water quenches the fires of Muspelheim and the water in Niflheim boils. When the 'Twilight of the Gods' begins, Loki will stand at its helm and lead the army of the fallen into the last great battle of Ragnarok."
Freya frowned as she heard the last part. "I have never heard of him but if what they say is true, then we must make him an ally of the Vanir."
"My thoughts exactly," Freyr replied with a grin. He moved to exit but Freya placed a hand on his shoulder, halting him.
"Wait," she said and rushed over to the enchanted window. Delicately, she picked up the pouch containing her son's ashes and returned to Freyr. "Take him," she whispered, holding it out to her brother. "Spread his ashes in Vanaheim, in our meadow. He deserves to be there. He deserves to rest somewhere he can be at peace."
"I will. I promise," Freyr said. He took her son from her hands and hugged her. "I may be leaving you now, Freya, but remember you are no longer alone." He pulled back and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "The giants and I will find a way to break you free of Odin's spell. You will see Vanaheim again Sister, I swear it."
"Until then," she said in farewell.
"Until then," he repeated.
Freya watched him go on his chariot from her doorway and felt a pang of loss.
"Until then," she echoed softly, fingering her necklace her brother made her when they were young. She closed her eyes, allowing herself a moment of peace before snapping them open. There is a war coming, one that will shake the cosmos and bring about the end of all things and she will not stand by and do nothing.
For the first time since Baldur's death, Freya cleaned herself, sheathed her sword and left her sanctuary.
If she were to become the leader the Vanir needed again, then she must take back what has been stolen from her.
The head on the floor sang a merry tune of a man who drank too much cervesa and married a woman who turned into a horse and dragged the sorry eejit into the lake to drown.
The singing stopped when Freya's footsteps echoed through out the ancient temple.
"Huh? Sindri is that you? If it's Brokk, you can go feck right off, ya big wallaper! I won't be doing no more measurements for you, you hear! Leave me be!"
Freya scooped up the head by its horn and slammed it against the wall.
"F-Freya!" Mimir blinked in utter shock.
"Where did he take them?" she hissed lowly.
"I-I'm sorry for your loss but if you're here to have your revenge then I must warn ya, you're making a huge mistake. Kratos did what he thought was right-"
She again slammed his head against the wall, her lips pulled back in a snarl.
"Where are my wings!" she bellowed, silencing the head.
"Not here!" Mimir replied quickly and coughed to clear his throat. "Ah, I mean not in this realm m'lady. What you seek lies in the land of fire, where the great Surtr sheathes his flaming sword in lava to stay warm for the day Ragnarok comes when he will destroy Asgard and-"
"Muspelheim," Freya interrupted him, her heart sinking. She had hoped it would be somewhere here in Midgard. How naive of her...
"Freya," Mimir said softly, breaking her from her thoughts. "I truly am sorry for your loss."
She stared at him, her eyes hard and guarded.
"What do you know of chaos?" she said, ignoring the pity in the goat-man's eyes.
"Yes, chaos. Have you heard of it, read it somewhere. Tell me what you know."
"Not much I'm afraid. In your realm, chaos is Ginnungagap, the natural order or rather 'disorder' of things before the creation of the cosmos. Why do you ask?"
"It is none of your concern," she snipped before finally noticing the huge bright portal in the temple. She approached it and gazed in awe. "Is that-"
"Jotunheim? Aye, it very well is."
"They actually did it..." she said under her breath.
Kratos and his son achieved what even Odin couldn't do... and it was all for their mother. Despite herself, her heart clenched at the thought of the boy spreading his mother's ashes. He was too young to have her ripped away from him. But that was life and life was cruel. Still, she hoped over time the boy's pain will ease and peace will find him. He deserves that much.
Somber, Freya laid Mimir's head down. "Thank you," she said quietly and began walking away.
"Anytime, m'lady," she heard him say.
Freya exited Tyr's temple and halted. What will she do now? Her wings are in a different realm and she doesn't know when Freyr and the giants will come to break her spell, if that even is possible in the first place.
She craned her head back to the sky and closed her eyes. She felt utterly defeated and lost.
Something cold touched her cheek. Freya flinched her eyes open and touched the spot. Her finger drew back wet. She looked up and realized a light snowfall had begun.
If she could do nothing now, then at least she could protect her sanctuary against this winter. Her thoughts then strayed towards Ragnarok. Freya gazed at the wide lake and at the forest and the mountains in the distance.
Whoever he was, Loki was out there. The giant to lead the last war of the gods...
The wind rustled the feeble leaves hanging high above the ground.
The young boy stopped in his tracks and glanced up.
Disembodied voices whispered in the wind.
"Atreus," his father called, snapping the boy from his trance.
"Coming, Father!" Atreus hollered and shifted the load of rabbits higher up his shoulder and jogged to catch up to his father.
The wind rustled the leaves again.
WHOOOOOO, I finally finished writing these chapters!!
There was some lore changes, for example in this story Skadi isn't Freya and Freyr's mom but some other giantess. And I took a ton of liberties creating the personalities of the Valkyries. But writing that fight scene got me shook, it was super difficult to write but I liked how it turned out in the end.
Anywhooo, thank you all for the support! It's nice to know people are interested in this story :] Thanks for reading!
Chapter 6: ᛞᛇᛗᛟᛋ | Deimos
Atreus hit his opponent again.
In a display of grandeur, he leapt forward and with all his might swung his sword!- vanquishing his enemy.
Victorious, he rested his hands on his knees, his labored breathing echoing around the old temple. From a collapsed wall, the winter air chilled the atmosphere in the old temple, causing him to break out in a cold sweat.
He peered up between his lashes.
The straw dummy stared back.
Atreus screwed up his face. He growled and swiped at the dummy in frustration. He then turned sharply around and stomped a few feet away, gripping the handle of his wooden sword tightly with a pout.
"Why do you stop?" he heard his father say from above an elevated platform that overlooked the main hall that was chosen to become Atreus' training area.
"Because this is stupid!" he exploded and pointed at the dummy. "We've been doing this for days. When will I get to fight with a real sword against a real enemy? I've already fought against draugrs and trolls and even a god."
"You think this unnecessary," his father said, his tone even and emotionless. It made it hard to determine whether the man was angry or not. Atreus grew uncertain under his father's unyielding gaze but he had already opened his big mouth so he must speak his mind.
"Well, yes," he said slowly yet clearly. "I know you don't think I'm ready but I am. I am ready for so much more. I know I am..."
He gazed down to where his hand clutched the wooden sword and something deep inside him ached.
He could be doing something more.
He could- no, he should be out there already! Out there fighting the bad guys and saving the day. Just like his mother did.
Atreus' chest tightened.
She was a hero.
His father keeps talking about being better but how better can you get compared to her? If being better meant being like his mother then he wouldn't want to be anything less.
And then when he is better, he will show the world that gods can grow good, just like Tyr always believed. He will be better. He and his father. Together.
He snapped his head up as Kratos jumped down from the platform, landing easily on his feet despite it being a sizable drop.
"Uh, what are you doing?" he asked meekly, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
His father strode over to a bunch of weapons all lined neatly in a row on the floor. He bent down, snatched two swords (which had once belonged to draugrs) and returned to Atreus.
"Here," he grunted and tossed one at him.
He caught it easily and looked at his father uncertainly. "What are you doing?"
"You are ready," Kratos replied. "You said so yourself."
Atreus blinked and shuffled backwards. "Oh but, but what if I'm not?"
"You said you were," he stated whilst giving the sword a twirl. In his hand, it looked more like a toy than a dangerous weapon.
"Yeah but... but what if I'm not?" Atreus cast his eyes downwards and he lowered his voice. "What if I'm not ready. What if I never will be?" He knows he must sound ridiculous to his father but these were the thoughts Atreus just couldn't shake. Things used to be simple when it was just the three of them hidden away but after their adventure to reach the highest peak in all the realms, he realized the world was so much bigger than his tiny forest. Suddenly, nothing felt certain to him anymore, not even himself.
He gazed up at his father. Eyes round with innocence he asked quietly, "How will I know if I ever am?"
Atreus lowered his head after he said that, unwilling to see the disapproval surely forming in his father's eyes. He was taught to be confident, always, but here he was doing the exact opposite. Was he not strong enough? Was that it? Did his father think him weak? He hoped not. He would hate it if after everything they went through, Atreus would still be seen as a failure. That he will still be lesser than the son he knew his father wanted him to be.
He sensed his father's approach yet kept his head bowed.
His father got down on one knee, making him eye level with Atreus.
A heavy hand rested on his shoulder, causing Atreus to look up into the face of his father. There was not a hint of anger or even a frown and even though he tried to search, his father's eyes only reflected a stern sort of calmness.
"Only you can decide that," he said. "No one else."
His father stood up and nodded towards the sword in Atreus' hand.
"Are you ready?"
Atreus glanced at the sword in his grip.
Only you can decide that. No one else.
His grip on the sword tightened. There was still doubt in his heart but he pushed it aside with a firm smile.
Kratos moved back to put a good fighting distance between them while Atreus tossed the wooden sword aside. He held up the real sword and tested its weight in his hand. It was heavier but not completely unfamiliar.
"Remember your training," Kratos said. "Block when necessary and strike with purpose."
Atreus gave a curt nod and fell into a fighting stance. They locked eyes and despite his father's intimidating stature, Atreus held himself with confidence, a quiet determination in his eyes.
He charged forth and swung high. In a blink of an eye, his attack was blocked and he found himself rooted to the spot, the tip of his father's blade aimed at his neck. He swallowed thickly and glanced at his father.
"You come at your enemy blindly. Do not expect your first strike to be a killing one." Kratos withdrew his sword and grunted, "Again."
With his neck no longer in any possibility of getting cut, Atreus nodded and jogged back to place. He got back into his stance and waited for his father's signal.
This time, Atreus refrained from rushing in. He approached his father slowly and when he was close enough he struck. It was blocked but this time, Atreus managed to bring his sword back up and parry his father's blade. He didn't get to enjoy his little victory for long. A light tap on his side drew his attention. Atreus groaned when he saw his father's blade prodding his stomach.
"Do not get distracted," he gruffed.
"Yeah, I know, I know," Atreus moaned and trudged back into position. He raised his sword with a sigh and waited for his father's command.
"Boy," Kratos called, surprising him. He lowered his sword and looked at his father curiously.
Kratos appeared stern as usual but there was a lilt in his voice when he said, "You did well to block my attack."
It took a moment for Atreus to realize his father was appraising him and when he did, warmth flooded his chest. Getting a compliment from his father happened rarely but when it did he treasures it forever. It may mean nothing to his dad but it meant a whole lot to him!
"Thank you, Father," Atreus said with a bright smile.
His father responded with a grunt and raised his sword.
Kratos observed Atreus in silence.
He was making good progress from when they began weeks ago. The boy was a quick learner and always eager to try again when he fails. It was just in the beginning of his training that his son ran into his first problem. Not one of skill but of the mind.
He held a lack of confidence within himself, one that Kratos never experienced when he was younger. He had always lived a fight or lose kind of mindset. There was no time for self doubt because he was too busy surviving. Too busy killing. Too busy winning.
That kind of thinking served him well as a soldier yet looking back now as an older man, that same kind of thinking isolated him from what was truly important.
Kratos swore to never be that kind of man ever again. He must be better. For his son, he will be.
Currently, that self doubt that plagued his son seemed to have dissipate. He had grown more confident in his handling and he was able to keep up a steady rhythm. But then Kratos noticed the boy was becoming a tad too comfortable, which in a real battle meant certain death.
So when the boy threw out his blade to block, Kratos inserted a smidgen of his true strength into his swing. He broke through Atreus' defense easily and caused his son's sword arm to jerk away and imbalance the boy. Atreus fell flat on his back with a grunt.
Kratos pointed his sword at him. "Do not expect your enemy to stay the same. You must always be alert. Things can change quickly in a real battle. There are no rules and fairness does not exist. Your goal is to survive." He narrowed his eyes. "If this were a real battle, you have failed that goal."
He finally lowered his weapon; a silent permission for the boy to get up.
But he did not.
Atreus sat himself up with his head hung low.
"Do not apologize," Kratos replied and it sounded more like an order than a suggestion. "Learn from your mistake and do better."
Atreus scrunched up his face, "I know, I'm just... I'm sorry. I didn't know how serious this is to you." He gave his sword a little swing before letting his hand drop. "I would be dead by now, huh..."
Kratos looked down at him emotionless. He could say something to cheer the boy up but it was not in his nature to lie. The soldiers that trained him during his time in the agoge never lied.
You are weak. You are nothing. You will die.
The truth broke him.
And he defied it.
Be strong. Become something. Persevere.
All of that came true... but at what cost?
No. This wasn't the agoge and Atreus wasn't Kratos- for that he will be forever thankful for. He was unquestionably at a loss and not for the first time did a pang of longing hit Kratos' chest. If Faye were here she would know what to say, what to do. If she were here...
Kratos shook that thought away.
Faye isn't here.
Like he has done countless times, Kratos ignored the thoughts in his head and went to his son and stuck out his hand.
Atreus stared at it, his eyes flickering to meet Kratos' and hesitantly he took it. He pulled the boy up like he weighed nothing, swiftly swiping the forgotten sword off the ground as well.
He placed the sword back in Atreus' hand and in a softer voice he said without thinking, "A spartan warrior never lets his back hit the ground."
Atreus' eyes lit up.
"Really?" he asked, a grin spreading across his face. "Are you saying I am a spartan?"
The tip of Kratos' lip twitched.
"No," he replied bluntly and glanced out at the sky through the opening of the collapsed wall.
It was beginning to darken earlier than usual. Normally daylight hours would stretch to midday in winter, but there was a certain crisp in the air that foretold troubling weather. Soon it will get dark and he did not want them caught outside without shelter when it does. It was already cold as it is and travelling during the night would only spell more problems.
Between the freezing temperature and the pitch black nights, there was also something else that put him on guard.
Now, Kratos is not a man easily spooked. He has faced unimaginable horrors; killed a few, too. So no, not a lot of things can 'scare' the god of war. But sometimes, in the dead of night when everything is as quiet as a mouse and when his thoughts keep him awake, he'll hear noises coming from deep in the woods.
Animals, he tells himself, or draugrs wandering around. That he can handle. Yet when he goes to investigate, as well as clear out any enemies nearby their home, he finds no evidence that anything was out there. Not even footprints.
"That is enough practice for today," Kratos said with a frown as the clouds outside turned a darker shade of grey. "Collect your things, boy."
"Yes, sir!" his son chirped and took off to do just that.
After they got done packing, they wrapped themselves under layers upon layers of heavy fur coats. It weighed them down some and made trudging through the snow harder but it was effective in protecting their bodies from the cold.
They then headed back to the entrance of the old temple. Kratos glanced at Atreus to make sure the boy was covered up before shoving his fingers into the crack between the two heavy doors and sliding them open with a loud thud that shook down some snow from above. Kratos stepped out first, his son right behind, and scanned the sky.
His frown deepened.
He was right in his predication. The weather was taking a turn for the worst and if they hurry, they might just make it back to the cabin and avoid the worst of it.
Kratos walked a few feet ahead before noticing Atreus wasn't following him. He looked back and saw his son hadn't moved an inch, the boy's gaze locked onto the stormy clouds in the distance. He appeared to be deep in thought and whatever it was his son was thinking about, Kratos could see it bothered him greatly.
"What is it?"
Atreus' brows drew together. "I don't know. I feel like... I felt like something bad is going to happen."
"There is a storm coming."
"It's not the storm. It was something else. I don't know how to describe it."
Kratos peered at Atreus with consideration. During their journey, his son began to possess an affinity in sensing things no normal kid or even a god can do. If he felt like something bad was coming this way, then Kratos would be a fool to disregard him. Could it be that the storm will be worse than he originally thought? Or was it like what Atreus said; was it something other than the storm that put his son on edge.
Whatever it is, they will deal with it and then only if it involves them. As of right now, their focus must be on getting home.
"There is nothing we can do about that right now. Come."
Atreus glanced at the dark clouds.
"Yeah, you're right," he said softly. "It's probably nothing."
A light drizzle began when they finally returned home.
An early dinner was prepared and by the time they crawled into their own respective beds, the rain outside became a downpour.
Thunder rumbled somewhere beyond the mountains; sounding more like the growling stomach of a starving beast.
Kratos laid wide-awake, letting the soothing pitter-patter of raindrops outside lull him to sleep.
When he opens his eyes next he sees two boys training with spartan spears and shields. Faintly, he realizes that the boy with the shaved head and scowl on his face was Kratos himself; the other boy with the peculiar birthmark to be... Deimos. His brother.
Kratos became drunk with sorrow while his younger self remained foolishly haughty. He could only watch as the young Kratos knock Deimos flat on his back and then shove the pointy end of his spear at his own brother's throat, barely breaking skin.
"A spartan warrior never lets his back hit the ground!" shouted the young Kratos. "Even in death, a spartan stands tall for battle. You are a spartan, are you not?"
"I'm sorry," Atreus answered, suddenly being the one on the floor instead of Deimos.
"Too late," a deeper voice replied, and the Ghost of Sparta sunk the spear into Atreus' chest.
Kratos whipped out his hand and crushed the spear in half. He fell to his knees and with one hand cradled his son's head while the other gripped the broken half of the spear still lodged into his body.
His son's eyes flew wide open and his face morphed into one of panic.
"No!" he shouted with desperation in his voice.
No! a feminine voice joined underneath his son's own screaming.
The sky crackled and lit up, blinding Kratos.
He jolted out of bed, reaching behind his back for his axe when Atreus' screaming snapped him into focus. He was at his son's side in an instant, checking to see if he was hurt anywhere. Kratos looked at Atreus' face and saw he was still sleeping.
A nightmare. Only a nightmare. His son is safe.
"Atreus!" Kratos yelled over the raging thunderstorm and his son's screaming. He took the boy by his shoulders and shook him while calling out his name again.
Lighting flashed outside, lighting up their home through the cracks in the wooden walls. Atreus shot up, his eyes unfocused and wild.
"He killed them!" he wailed, tears welling in his eyes. "He killed them all!"
Kratos squeezed his shoulders. "Atreus, Atreus! Listen to me! It is not real."
A look of anguish crossed Atreus' face.
"He's going to kill her," he cried. "He's going to kill her! He's going to kill her. He's going to..." His eyes slid shut and Atreus went limp in Kratos' grip.
"Atreus?" Kratos said but the boy was fast asleep. He didn't want to wake him so he gently laid the boy back down. He observed Atreus' face for any signs of more nightmares but it portrayed nothing but peacefulness.
Reassured that his son will be fine, Kratos left his side and returned to his bed. He looked at it and knew he would not be getting any more sleep. With a heavy sigh, he sat down at the edge of the bed and stared into the dwindling fire.
He can't recall it all but he does remember dreaming of his brother.
Hollowness gnawed the back of his heart.
How could he have been so cruel to his own brother? Kratos only wanted to protect him- make him strong. Yet what he thought was good for his younger brother, what he thought was tough love, was not love at all. His own brother used to be scared of him because he could see the monster hidden beneath the boy. He could see the Ghost of Sparta before anyone else could.
If only he could go back. He could have changed a lot of things. Acted differently, cared more for the ones he loved. If only...
Let it go, he hears Faye's voice whisper in his ear; a firm but gentle reminder.
It only breaks his heart.
"I can't," he says out loud. "Not tonight."
Tomorrow, he can lock away the memories and the pain and regret it brings and be the father Atreus needs.
But for tonight, he lets the monsters in his head win.
For tonight, he is weak.
Chapter 7: Brave New World
A chorus of insanity inducing screams echoed in his mind.
A flash of blinding light streaked through his vision. And then Atreus can see him.
A dark figure in the rain.
Atreus stared into the darkness underneath that hood and he is paralyzed with fear. All the happiness he has ever felt in his life drained away, leaving him cold and empty inside.
There was no hope.
Or that was how he felt at that moment. Now in the waking world and far from the reaches of his nightmare, Atreus went over his dream with a clinical point of view than an emotional one. He wanted to make sense of it, something his mother always used to tell him to do right away before he forgets. Unfortunately, his recent dream slipped from his mind like a fish escaping a fisherman's net; leaving only a few scales behind, the only proof anything was there to begin with. It was the same way with his dream.
The entirety of it had swam free into the ocean while only a few scales remained, fragmented pieces that made no sense to him.
Atreus opened his eyes and stared at the drawing. There on the paper was the dark figure from his dream, reaching out to him with claw-shaped armored fingers. He posed the tip of the pencil over the blank area where the figure's face should be.
A shiver crawled down his spine.
It did not feel like there was only one person under that hood.
Atreus scribbled in the face, just a solid black, and snapped his journal shut.
One thing was for certain: he never wants to encounter that thing in real life, even if it was only an imaginary illusion his mind made up. The feeling alone, one of despair and agony, had shaken him to his core. He never wants to experience that again.
From way up high, sat upon the branches of his special ash tree, Atreus breathed in the cool crisp air and set his sight on the beautiful white landscape that was Midgard. Everything was so calm and peaceful.
It made it hard to believe that this was the beginning of the end of the world.
Could this winter truly be the infamous Fimbulwinter? And if so, would the world truly come to an end after the third winter? Freya seemed to think so and so did Brok and Sindri and Mimir as well. He even got the feeling his mom did, too.
Atreus gazed at the land he called his home and frowned.
He overheard what Mimir said to his dad; How Fimbulwinter wasn't supposed to come for another hundred years or so. It made Atreus sick to his stomach. He hoped they aren't the reason for the world ending prematurely. If anything, he would do everything in his power to stop Ragnarok. If he and his father did something to speed up the prophecy, be it a small role, he believed strongly it will be their responsibility to fix their wrongdoings.
Anyways, it would be the right thing to do.
Something Laufey the Just would do.
Just as he began imagining his mother defeating Odin and saving Midgard, he was broken out of his fantasy.
"Atreus!" his father's voice called from a distance.
Reality came crashing back down on him.
His mother was dead. She's not coming back and she won't save the day.
She is gone.
And he has never felt more alone.
The wooden cross necklace was a tiny thing resting in the palm of his hand. It weighed nothing yet somehow it was the heaviest thing he has ever carried.
He remembers how it swung from his closed bloody fist, the only clear memory he retained from the battle in the Scilly Isles. How long ago it seemed, from the man he was to the man he is now and all because of a miracle. All because of Him.
"Having second thoughts, my lord?"
A woman, taller than the tallest of his men and of strong built, appeared next to him.
Olaf Tryggvason closed his hand and gazed wearily ahead at the ocean that encompassed their ship. "Father Tybalt says my faith will always be tested and I should not falter."
"Believe me, I am not testing you," the woman known as Thrud snorted. She crossed her arms over her large chest and said, "I am asking you if you still think this is a good idea."
"The seer said I am to be king, a great king who will bring faith into this hopeless land."
"The seer is of the same faith. Of course he would say that," Thrud quipped dryly.
Olaf smiled at her which looked more like a grimace on his tired face. "And what would you prefer we be doing?"
"Heading back to England," she replied. "I'd rather be raiding and wetting my hammer with Saxon blood."
"You know we can't do that. I already agreed to the Danegeld."
"So? What's the worst that can happen? Æthelred having you baptized thrice?"
Despite himself, Olaf chuckled. "The King of Wessex is a coward, I agree, but he is one with deep pockets. So long as Sweyn and I let him continue playing king, we will profit."
"Less fun that way."
Olaf gave her a look and she grinned right back.
He shook his head, the tip of his lip curling up. "If I were a younger man..." He ran his thumb over the cross in his hand and was reminded why he could not turn back. He breathed in deeply and exhaled. "I have been chosen, Thrud. Chosen by Him. I cannot reject the path He has put me on."
Thrud made a non-committal sound and looked away. "Gods and gods and God," she muttered, a frown on her face. "They are no better than us. They just live longer, that's all."
The corner of Olaf's lip twitched before it thinned into a straight line, the wrinkles on his face deepening. "I did not ask you to follow me."
"No but I followed you out of Midgard to raid with only but a few men and half a coin to your name and then found myself staying in Wendland for three fucking years for you. I followed you into battle against Bluetooth, although that was fun, but I hated fighting for a roman kuk. And I followed you to see that damn seer. So no, you did not ask me to follow you on your delusional religious conquest and yet, here I am."
Olaf had kept silent during her entire speech and when she finished he said, "You are a true friend, do you know that?"
"Yes I do. And you are going to get yourself killed, do you know that? We are heading back to Midgard. Soon as the other jarls hear about your religious campaign they will kill you. And not even the jarls but the people of Midgard. They are all faithful to the gods. They will not accept you and they will not listen to a single word you have to say." Thrud's face softened and their was a hint of worry in her voice. "Your quest will end before it even begins."
A part of him, the more reasonable sane part, knew this to be true. Midgard will crush him like a bug. But... but the other part of him believed.
Olaf looked up at the sky and not for the first time questioned his place in all of this. Why him? He would ask and he would always never receive an answer.
"I have to try," he whispered.
He can feel Thrud staring at him. She must think him insane. Hel, even he does, too.
A voice rang out from the bow of the ship. One of Olaf's men, who had been assigned to watch duty, cried out: "Land!"
Olaf's heart skipped a beat and he strode across the long boat quickly.
"Land, m'lord," the watcher repeated and stepped aside for his king.
Olaf took his place and looked out across the wide sea. Indeed the watcher saw true for in the distance he could see the green of Midgard's tall trees and the misty shapes of her mountains, their peaks blocked from view by thick dreary clouds.
His breath caught at the sight and nostalgia seeped into his heart. Midgard looked exactly the same the day he left. Back when he was boy, he had never considered it home and now here he was, returning to a land that was a stranger to him with the intent of forging a future with her people.
How times have changed.
"Olaf," Thrud called and the concern in her voice caught his attention immediately. She was frowning at something over the railing of the ship and when he joined her side and peered overboard his hand went for his sword.
"Wait," she snapped and they watched in silence as one impossibly large tentacle lined with suckers bigger than a man's head brush against their boat, an even larger shadowy form distorting the water's surface. It slipped underneath the water and was gone just as suddenly as it had appeared.
Only when he was sure the kraken had left did he relax, drawing his hand from his sword. "It did not attack." He gazed at the water around the other boats and noticed that there were more dark figures swimming by and yet none of the monstrous creatures so much as tipped a ship. "What are they doing?"
"Fleeing," Thrud answered and nodded at something behind Olaf.
He turned around in time to see the ocean had become land.
"How thick do you think it is?" one of the men asked.
The crew had stopped rowing and formed a crowd at the side of the boat that floated parallel of the land made of ice.
No one answered the man's question. Nobody did anything but stare.
In the corner of his eye, Olaf noticed Thrud take out her long hammer and without warning brought it down upon the ice with a force that rocked the boat and startle his men. Once everyone regained their bearings, they eagerly looked to see the result of her strike. Aside from some thin spiderweb cracks shooting from the point of the hammer the ice remained intact.
"Lord?" the shipmaster, Esben, called to him. They stepped aside and away from the other men. "I don't think we are going to get the boats to shore. Maybe if we gather the men and set them to break through the ice we can create path to shore-"
"Or how about we just walk it?" A young man chained to the boat by his wrists and ankle interrupted.
"You dare speak again, slave?" Esben growled.
"Let the boy speak," Thrud cut in lazily.
"Thank you." The man gave her a charming smile and in response Thrud rolled her eyes. He appeared unaffected by her response and instead squinted his eyes in the direction of Midgard. "We are... about less than a land mile from shore. It won't take long if we walk and the ice seems thick enough to hold our weight."
Esben frowned in displeasure, "Are you saying we should abandon the boats?"
"All I'm saying is that it will take way longer trying to break through that ice." The man leaned back, or as far as the chains would allow him to and shrugged his shoulders. "And to be honest, I don't really feel like hanging around in the sea for too long. Don't know what could be lurking under these waters. Right, lord?"
Olaf realized the man was addressing him directly. He glanced at Thrud and knew that they were both thinking of the krakens that passed by not too long ago. If those creatures decided to come back...
"Esben," Olaf said, "Sound the horn. Let the others know we will go on foot from here."
"But my lord, if we leave the boats unattended they may get stolen or swept away by the current."
"That should not be a problem, then. Midgard is our home now. We won't be leaving anytime soon. Now, do as I say."
"Yes, lord," Esben relented and walked away to do his king's bidding.
As the men packed their belongings, Olaf nodded towards the slave still shackled to the boat and asked Thrud, "Who is he? I don't recall seeing his face anywhere. What wrong has he done to have become a thrall?"
"He is Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red and grandson to Thorvald Asvaldsson. He was caught trying to sail off with one of your boats back in Northumbria."
"No. He paid men in silver to row with him."
"Where did he manage to get all that silver?"
Thrud looked at him and smiled, "From you."
Olaf paused and then chuckled, shaking his head. "I can see why he is a thrall now."
"Hopefully, he will be a better thrall than he was a thief."
After everyone got off they were joined with the rest of Olaf's men from the other boats. Among them were three peculiarly dressed people. They wore baggy woolen clothes that hid their shape and not one sported a hint of armor although each had heavy looking wooden cross necklaces hanging from their necks.
"How was your trip, Father?" Olaf said in greeting to their approach.
Father Tybalt, a short astute old man, waved his hand flippantly as if that itself was answer enough to Olaf's question.
"I'd rather be back in Wessex," he grouched, "It is a miserable place but at least back there I could feel my own arse!"
"Father!" one of the priest's assistants gasped. He was a tall yet lanky individual and in Olaf's opinion, looked like he couldn't pick up a sword even if his life depended on it.
"Oh, shut it," Father Tybalt snarked, causing Olaf to grin in amusement. He slugged a heavy arm around the priest and squeezed.
"Of all the priests that could have gotten chosen, I'm glad it was you."
Father Tybalt snorted, "Lucky me."
Olaf patted him on the back, "Come now, Father. You are doing God's work. Cheer up."
When everyone was ready to go they set out immediately in a quick pace across the frozen sea. About halfway, the air grew colder and there was this sense of foreboding every time he looked at the trees; growing bigger and taller the closer they came. He chanced a glance up and saw the last of the sun disappear from view as thick roiling clouds consumed it.
It was to everybody's relief when they stepped onto real land.
All except Thrud.
She had stopped walking and stood in place at the very edge of the frozen sea where soil met ice and simply... stared.
Olaf frowned at her, "Thrud, what is it?"
Thrud looked back, at the wide frozen sea and beyond, then looked towards the land of Midgard.
"I never thought I'd ever return to this place," she said softly.
Olaf understood. He never thought he would, too. Too many bad memories.
Thrud smirked, a dry and humorless one, and stepped onto land.
It started with a rumbling boom in the distance, then the very ground beneath their feet began to quake! Olaf crouched to regain his balance, looking around wildly for a place to find cover if the trees beside them decide to fall.
Someone cried out: Landskjalpti!
Another pointed west and screamed, "Miðgarðsormr!"
Olaf's blood went cold. He couldn't have heard him right; he could barely hear anything at all. The man must be delusional. Mad! It was impossible! It could not be-
He spun around and his heart leapt into his throat.
"By God." Olaf heard Father Tybalt swear under his breath as the head of a serpent peaked into view. It emerged from between the mountains and slithered onto the frozen sea where Olaf got a good look at how big it truly is and it was monstrous, just as the stories told.
"By the gods," Olaf whispered in terrified awe, "It's the World Serpent!"
Thrud stepped back, warhammer already in her hands. "No," she breathed, a shakiness in her voice, " It cannot be. He's supposed to be asleep."
For a moment, all he and everyone else could do was stare, unable to comprehend what they were witnessing. More of the serpent spilled out onto the ice and its sheer size and weight cracked it apart. The serpent didn't seem to notice that some of its body had become submerged under the ice and continued to make its way towards deeper water.
That is... until its gigantic body stilled. It lifted its head and even from this distance, Olaf could see its nostrils flare as it sniffed the air.
Olaf has never experienced true fear in his life. Not even when he laid dying atop the shields of his comrades.
The serpent's head snapped in their direction, its eyes burning with an intensity he could see from here, and it pulled its thin lips back into a hideous grin, revealing rows and rows of teeth.
Olaf has never experienced true fear... until now.
Terror seized him as the serpent shot towards them, moving faster than he thought something of that size was capable to do. Somewhere in his mind, he registered Father Tybalt going down on his knees, praying to the sky while Leif the slave shouted to be released.
Finally, something inside Olaf snapped and he unsheathed his sword. He may have forsaken the gods and given up entrance into Valhalla but he will be damned to the Devil's Hell if he didn't die a warrior!
It appeared his show of strength spurned others to draw their weapons out, too.
"No!" Thrud yelled in anger, "Away. Put them away if you want to live."
"It will kill us," Esben shouted back.
"It will if you attack him." Thrud's eyes pierced into Olaf's. "Tell your men to stand down if you value their lives. Do it now or else you will never live to regret it."
Olaf hesitated. Only for a second.
"Stand down," he bellowed at his men. Some of them looked at him as if he were crazy. His faced morphed into one of anger. "I said put down your weapons. Put them down!" His voice carried out amongst the terrified soldiers, strong and commanding that they listened and did as told.
Olaf himself placed his sword on the ground and looked to Thrud who gripped her hammer tightly, her knuckles a pure white.
"Thrud! You still have your weapon."
She glanced back at him and chuckled a sort of desperate chuckle. "He won't attack you," was all she said.
It was then the serpent was upon them.
It was even more gigantic up close -and that was only its head- and five times more terrifying. It took every ounce of his willpower for Olaf not to grab his sword and shield when the monster lowered his head so it was at eye level with them, one large eye roaming over their tiny figures. It focused on Thrud longer than it did with the rest of them and drew back to face the woman head on.
The serpent opened its mouth and for a second Olaf feared it was going to eat her but then it did the impossible.
Or what he assumed was the monster's version of speech. With every word hot air that reeked of fish blew over them. It was the worst thing he has ever smelled but it failed to distract him from the legions of razor sharp teeth that lined the inside of the creature's mouth.
By some miracle, the serpent drew back and turned around, heading back to the sea. On its way there, it demolished their boats as it plunged head first into open water. Everyone jumped when it burst out again, flinging its head back with its jaws opened wide to snatch a kraken mid air.
Although the monster was gone, Olaf stood frozen in place. He only regained awareness when Thrud hooked her hammer onto her back and turned facing him. She wore the exact expression he was sure his own face reflected.
They locked eyes and despite the situation, a slow grin grew on her face and before he knew it, they were both laughing. Some of the men around them joined in and Olaf could practically feel the tension in the group ease away.
Thrud trudged up to him and clapped him hard on the chest.
"Welcome home, lord," she said and headed to the treeline.
Olaf swallowed and finally found his voice.
"Come on! Let's go," he barked at his men. He retrieved his sword and sheathed it and followed after Thrud.
He knew it wasn't going to be easy building a future in Midgard.
But this was just insane.
Olaf snatched his cross necklace and brought it to his lips.
God be with me.
For this was a brave new world of monsters and men.
Chapter 8: Village of Fish
A temporary campsite was set up further into the woods. Tents were erected, situated in a way that had Olaf's tent, bigger and more spacious than the rest, residing in the middle. During the evening meal, he called a meeting inside his tent. Only a select few were permitted to attend and they were only those that were inside Olaf's circle of trust, including the priest and the priest's two assistants who stood quietly among them.
'Twas there where Thrud rolled out a map of Midgard on the floor, the parchment brownish with age and sporting cuts and tears that told of past use. Olaf observed the drawings with appreciation. They were more than good and obviously the person who made it held some artistic skill.
"This is a good map," he commented idly.
Thrud ran her fingers over delicate thin mountains and he watched a quiet melancholy enveloped her face.
"It's not mine."
The sadness on her face vanished and she pointed towards the left section of the map. "We are here." She slid her finger through some trees till it stopped on a drawing of a village situated at the ocean's edge. "Over here is the village of Fiskr. Last I heard, the jarl's only son, Alvid, has taken over leadership. I met him briefly during my travels but that was a long time ago. I cannot say what kind of man he is now, but from my experience he was an intelligent boy, good with his words, unlike his father. Out of all the jarls in Midgard, I'd say start by making friends with him first."
Olaf stroked his beard. "He will support my cause?"
"No," she replied bluntly and leaned in. "I am not thinking about the mission. Olaf, you must understand. We have arrived during the worst time imaginable. Winter in Midgard can be deadly without proper shelter and food."
Esben tsked, "So what you are saying is that we should beg to be let in? We have almost forty men. Why should we not take this village for ourselves?"
"Because it will not be godly!" Father Tybalt cut in furiously, the old man's face flushed red.
"We are not 'godly' men, priest," Esben sneered and turned to Olaf. "My lord, if we take over the village, news will spread of our victory. The first thing our enemies will know about us is of our strength. Not of our 'godliness'."
"That wouldn't be... such a good idea," a quiet, timid voice spoke out.
A collective of heads turned to look upon a woman; the other assistant of the priest. A nun.
With all eyes on her, Olaf would expect the nun to be nervous yet he was mildly impressed when she stood up straighter and stared right back at them with an unyielding gaze.
"Never mind her lord, she does not know her place." Father Tybalt faltered when Olaf raised his hand.
"It is alright." He gestured at the nun. "Tell me..."
"Edith," the nun answered quickly.
"Edith. Tell me, Edith, why would sacking the village not be a good idea. It is a sound move and I understand in the eyes of Saxons it is brutish and cruel yet to our people, it will be a sign of strength. Not doing so shows we are weak."
"I hear you, lord," she began slowly and he appreciated her effort not to sound argumentative. "But from what I understand, the sole reason we have come to Midgard is to spread the word of our Father. I believe our first impression as His children should be one of peace. Not war."
"And what of the ones who do try to fight us?" Olaf inquired. Hesitance flickered across her face and he knew he got her there. He admired her idealism but things were never as easy as one thinks. "There is never peace without bloodshed."
"If conflict cannot be avoided then we mustn't think of them as our enemies. 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' They reject God because they do not know Him. It will be our responsibility to educate the ignorant-"
"With the end of my blade," Esben cut in with a chuckle, rousing a few laughs around the men.
"Make sure not to poke yourself too hard, then," Edith quipped without missing a beat.
Thrud barked out a laugh while Esben's face went red.
"Why you little-"
"Silence!" Olaf bellowed and the whole room went quiet. When he was sure all eyes were on him he said, "Thank you, Sister, for your thoughts. I will take them into consideration when planning our next move. As for the rest of you, get some rest. it will be a long day tomorrow."
The men began filing out of the room when Esben says in a loud deep voice, "Olaf!"
Everyone takes pause, wondering what the shipmaster had to say.
"Are we going to ignore them?" was all he asked, a bitter mockery underlining his tone.
"Ignore who?" Olaf's face is one of steel although underneath he knows exactly who Esben is referring to.
"The gods." Esben waved around the room. "They have sent the World Serpent upon us as a warning. They know your mission and they are angry! They will kill us all if we continue to follow your cause."
"They will do nothing!" Father Tybalt said. "There is only one true God and He will protect his children."
"Shut up, priest," Esben snarled and turned his attention back on Olaf. "You can get on your knees and pray and play with your balls while you do it but it will not save anyone from Odin's wrath."
A murmur swept around the tent. Olaf didn't know whether it was in agreement or not. It seemed to spurn Esben on, though.
"Why should we die for you? For your god? Are we not still men of our land?" He questioned this to the crowd around them. "Do we not still follow our ancestors? Why let the gods punish us? The gods will judge the traitors. Not us!"
Now Olaf could hear and see some of the men nod along to what Esben was preaching.
A loud thud silenced them all.
Thrud's war hammer rested with its long handle sticking up into the air. Olaf said nothing as the woman crossed the space between her and Esben. Standing next to her made the man look small. Puny.
"You speak for the gods now, Esben?" she said, her voice dangerously low.
Esben appeared at a loss for words and from the reflection of the firelight, his face shone with sweat. Gone was the bravado of a foolish man who'd spoken so carelessly.
Thrud snatched the back of his head and yanked him in close.
"Do not think for one moment the gods will ever care about you or anyone else other than themselves. You could die today, you could die for them and they won't even notice." A hiss escaped Esben as Thrud tightened her grip around his head. "And the only god who did care is dead."
"Thrud," Olaf intervened when it looked like Esben was near about to piss himself. He didn't do it out of compassion. Esben knew like everyone else not to talk too much about the gods around Thrud. It never failed to make her irritable.
Thrud held onto Esben's head for a little longer before shoving him away and returning to her spot.
Olaf rose and addressed his men. "That is enough for tonight. Get some rest. Esben-" he called to the shipmaster, "- Take stock of our supplies. I want to know how much food we have left."
"Lord," Esben answered bitterly and joined the rest of the men filing out of the room, sending a sideways sneer towards the missionaries when he passed them.
Father Tybalt came up to him and wished him goodnight, as did his two apprentices. Olaf gave Edith a warm parting smile and watched them disappear through the tent flap, leaving only Thrud and himself to remain.
"I like her," Thrud commented. "She's not boring like the others."
Olaf silently agreed but that was the least of his concern at the moment.
"Are you fine?"
Thrud's face hardened. "Yeah," she muttered and turned her focus on the map. "It's you I'm worried about."
"You don't have to worry about me," he replied calmly.
Her eyes flashed with irritation. "Yes, I really do. You realize that most of the men are here because you paid them with coin from your share of the Danegeld and the promise of more wealth if they come with you to Midgard."
"There are men who came for me."
"Few in comparison to the hired soldiers. We should have brought more loyal to your name."
Olaf sighed wearily, his face grim. "I could not leave my wife and our home unprotected. If something were to happen to her, if Alfvine heard news that I have gone to Midgard... I understood the cost of my journey and I took the sacrifice anyways. Do not make me think I have made a mistake, my friend. I'm already beginning to think I've made one already coming back here."
Thrud cocked her head, "What do you mean?"
"You heard what Esben said. It was the World Serpent we saw. Thrud... maybe the gods really are angry with me."
"Olaf," she said as if speaking to a child. "The gods have better things to do with their time than waste it on some pagan saint."
She managed to squeeze a chuckle out of him before he became somber again. He stared into the fire, its flickering flames dancing in his eyes.
"Every time I think I have found my strength, it always slips through my fingers. Is it because, deep inside of me, I don't know who I stand for anymore? I thought coming out here and doing God's work will help me understand my place in this world yet I am left even more confused." A heaviness settled over his shoulders as he asked softly, "Is it fate for me to fail?"
The question hung in the air.
He didn't expect for her to know the answer. Only the Norns or God could tell him.
"You know," Thrud began, "My uncle used to tell me that fate is what you make of it. That there is always a choice and that, that is the only real thing we could call our own."
"Your uncle sounds like a wise man."
Thrud paused and cleared her throat. "So, have you decided how we'll approach the village then?"
"I have. Edith's words rang true for me. I don't want to present myself as a conqueror and I think distancing myself from who I used to be will help me with that. When we arrive at Fiskr it will not be with our weapons drawn. With luck, they will hear our situation and provide my men with whatever supplies they can offer until this winter ends. Of course, we will entice them with some gold."
"And even then, what if they won't?" Thrud asks. "The norsemen aren't exactly accepting towards people of your faith."
"That is why we will keep that a secret- for now. I want only ten men to come with us to Fiskr. The rest, including Father Tybalt will stay behind until we work something out with the jarl... maybe we could offer a thrall as a gift, in show of our good nature."
Thrud's brows scrunched together, "Only ten, lord? Isn't that pretty risky? What if things go bad?"
"I won't worry. I'll have you by my side."
She snorts at this.
"Besides," Olaf continues, "I don't want the jarl knowing how many men we have out there in the woods."
Thrud relented with a sigh, "Fine. We've done crazier things. Just, try not to get us all killed?"
“Have faith, my friend."
A peculiar look crossed her face and she smiled at him strangely, as if there was something she knew that he didn't.
"Sleep well, lord," was all she said. She collected the map and headed to the exit.
"Oh, Thrud, one more thing," he called to her before she could leave. "I want Esben to come with us. I don't trust leaving him alone with the men."
"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," she said. "Got it."
She disappeared through the flap and left him to his rest.
The ones travelling to Fiskr gathered outside Olaf's tent early in the morning. Ten men, handpicked by Thrud, were present including Thrud herself. Olaf took note that Esben stood among them as well as Leif the slave, rounding the number in the group to be thirteen.
As they made their way out of camp, Esben was informing him of how much stock they had left when, from out of nowhere, Edith was at Olaf's side, Father Tybalt trailing after her calling her name but the nun ignored him.
"My lord, we weren't informed you were heading to Fiskr already," she said.
"Aye. We will return in a few days time. Will you pray for a safe journey for us, Sister?"
"Yes we certainly will, my lord," Father Tybalt said quickly when he finally caught up to them, sounding a little out of breath. "From our place here, in the safety of this camp."
"No," Edith said firmly, "Forgive my brashness, lord, but our place should be by your side. Midgard must know who you stand with."
"Your presence will only bring trouble, girl," Esben said with a sneer.
Olaf raised a hand to shut Esben off and spoke in kinder words, "It is not that I do not want you there but our supplies are running low and the best chance we have to survive this winter is if we strike a deal with the jarl."
"So you will have us hidden away, like a family's shame." She shook her head. "That is not what we have come out here to do. If you cannot stand in His light now then you will never have the courage to do so again."
Olaf was stunned into silence. He felt the weight of all eyes on him, waiting for him to do something. He was relieved when Leif the slave spoke up, drawing everyone's attention away.
"I think she is right," he declared, having all heads turn towards him. He returned their stares with an easy smile and walked to them in a leisurely pace as if he weren't handcuffed. Thrud stopped his approach with the blunt end of her hammer to his chest, her head cocked and a dry smirk on her face. The thrall raised his hands and smiled even wider. "Let's say we don't tell the jarl about your little friends here. What will happen when they find out? Because eventually, they might. Now, if I were you-"
"You are not," Olaf interrupted.
Leif smiled tightly. "If I were you, I'd rather be seen as an honest man."
Thrud laughed out loud. "Coming from a thief?"
"I am not a thief," Leif corrected her, his expression serious for once. "I was simply borrowing your boat and I would have repaid you back in ten times the silver I borrowed too. Look, all I am saying is that it would be better to be upfront with the truth than let it bite you in the arse later on. And who knows, they might even respect you more because of it."
The group fell into silence as each one of them considered his words. Olaf's eyes flickered towards Edith. She was looking at him eagerly, hope in her own eyes.
Esben cursed and spat at the ground where Leif stood. "The slave will get us all killed and so will she. I will not march into a death sentence."
"That is not for you to decide," Thrud reminded him with a glare and looked to Olaf. He could see the strain in her eyes, telling him that she too didn't want Edith and the priest to come.
"They will join us."
Thrud sighed in exasperation while Edith gave him a firm nod. They waited for a moment while Edith and a grumpy looking Father Tybalt went to fetch their belongings and when they returned they were joined by the tall lanky assistant.
They set off again, Thrud in the lead with the map and Olaf and the others following. A little after they passed by the final tent, Thrud slowed down to walk beside Olaf.
"You said you would try not to get us killed."
"I have made my decision," Olaf replied sternly. "If anything goes wrong, it will be on me."
"The well-being of your men should be your main concern," she muttered and thankfully dropped the subject.
Her feet were beginning to turn numb with each step she took on the snowy ground.
Edith didn't mind; it was only a minor discomfort and a small price to pay for the win she had back at camp.
Father Tybalt on the other hand saw things differently and he was highly vocal about it.
"Bah! Why did you have to open your mouth, girl?" he grumbled, his lips turned so far down you would have thought he had lost the capability to smile. "We could have been back at camp, warming ourselves by the fire yet here we are treading through snow!"
Edith refrained herself from rolling her eyes. She was beginning to understand why the other priests back in Wessex picked Father Tybalt to be the, 'Missionary of the Forsaken Land'."
A great honor, she was sure.
She just managed to drone him out when she caught sight of the slave.
"Edith? Edith, where are you going?" Father Tybalt called after her but she ignored him.
The slave noticed her approach and smiled warmly.
"Have you come to convert me? Sorry to say but I've already dedicated myself to a very beautiful and strong goddess."
Edith shook her head with a small smile. "No, I have not. I came to thank you for what you did back there. You didn’t have to.”
“I did not.” He leaned over her, his face darkening. “I expect you to help me get free of these chains.”
She stiffened, a trillion thoughts racing through her mind, most of them chastising her of her stupidity.
He is a thief.
She was startled out of her thoughts when he drew back and laughed. Realization dawned on her and she was too relieved to be angry at his cruel joke. Funny enough, she found herself laughing along with him.
Their laughter died down into chuckles and she wiped at her face. ”May I ask you your name, sir?”
“Sir? Well that’s the first time somebody’s called me that. I am Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red and grandson to Thorvald Asvaldsson."
Edith raised both her brows. “Edith, daughter of farmers.”
Leif chuckled. “So Edith, daughter of farmers, what did you do to be sent here?”
”Nobody sent me. I came on my own free will.”
”Why?” he asked with an incredulous expression on his face.
”Why did you try steal the lord’s boat?” she snipped back.
”Borrow,” he corrected. “And believe it or not, I am an explorer. It's kind of a family tradition, actually.”
”Really? Have you discovered many places?”
"Eh..." Leif scratched his ear, the shackles around his wrist clanking noisily. "None yet. But there is this one place I've been yearning to go."
Edith asked where that was and he told her of this merchant, a man named Bjarni Herjolfsson, whom after being blown off course, saw a strange land west of the Green Land.
"Everyone thinks he's crazy," Leif says, "But I think there really may be a whole new world out there just waiting to be discovered and I want to be the one to do it."
Edith nodded her head slowly. "So that's why you tried to steal the boat."
"But you said your family was in the business of traveling. They must surely have plenty of boats, too, and men to row them."
"That was the plan at first but my da, he's a believer in omens, he takes them very seriously. So one day, he falls off his horse and..." Leif shrugged his shoulders. "He forbade me from going and said if I wanted to go, it would be with my own boat and my own men. Said he wouldn't help me to my death."
"I'm sorry," she offered genuinely. She really did feel bad for his misfortune. "At least you can say you've made your success on your own."
He grinned boyishly. "Exactly."
"So, if you had discovered this land, how were you going to repay all the coin you stole from lord Olaf?"
"Well... I was hoping there would be gold and silver in the ground, being it virgin and all."
"You were going on luck then," she deadpanned.
"Seems like luck doesn't favor me seeing as I am here."
Her reply was cut off short when Esben suddenly appeared, a sour look ever present on his jagged face.
"No talking to the slave, girl," he growled menacingly.
"Don't call him a slave," she threw right back. She raised her chin higher when he stepped into her personal space, towering over her short form. In and instant, Leif inserted himself between them.
"Leave her alone," he warned lowly, surprising Edith to hear how serious he sounded. Where was that easy-going man she was talking to not a minute ago? They were standing so close, almost nose to nose, and Edith tensed, ready to do something if a fight breaks out and she doubts that Esben would care if Leif was still shackled or not.
"Is there a problem?"
The trio turned to see Thrud with her arms crossed and just like that, Edith felt the tension in the air dissipate.
"No," Esben seethed and spat on the ground where Leif stood and left to join the others.
Leif turned to her, back to his regular self. "Are you alright?"
From the corner of her eye, Edith noticed Thrud waving her over. "Yes, thank you," she said, giving him a small, tight smile before heading over to Thrud.
"Yes my lady?" Edith asked.
Thrud's face scrunched up. "Don't call me that. Thrud's fine."
"Oh, yes, sorry my la- Thrud."
The warrior maiden started walking so Edith fell into pace beside her, though she had to quicken her steps in order to keep up with Thrud's long legs.
"I like you, Edith. You are strong, unlike your companions." Thrud looked down at her, catching her eyes. "I need to make sure you are aware of how dangerous it is for you to be here."
Edith kept her face relaxed, making sure not to reveal any emotions. "I am. I heard rumors of what they do to people belonging to the church."
"Then you understand that the only reason you are alive right now is because you are under Olaf's protection."
"I understand and I apologize for my brash behavior. It is not my intention to be a burden to lord Olaf."
"I did not mean it that way. I'm just telling you to be more careful."
There was a kindness in the warrior maiden's eyes, one that Edith was surprised someone like her could posses.
"Thank you but I can handle myself." Edith tried to sound polite but there was an edge to her voice she couldn't quite hide. "I've done it before."
From the corner of her eye she saw Thrud give her a questioning look but Edith marched forward, eager to escape the conversation. She already said too much.
Her hands were shaking when she returned to Father Tybalt and his curate, Doran. She was afraid that they would ask her what was wrong but the priest resumed his complaining as if she had never left. In her attempt to calm herself, she accidentally caught sight of Esben.
Fire and the echoes of terrified screams intruded her mind before she could block it out.
It's not him.
She closed her eyes, wondering for a brief moment what in the world was she doing, and prayed for strength.
She was going to need it.
They traveled on in silence with the only sound being the crunching of their footsteps in the snow. Olaf began to feel the first telltale sign of fatigue creeping over him and when he glanced back at the group, he could see on their faces that they too were beginning to wear out. A short break might do them good but the way the cold seemed to find his skin, even underneath his clothes, made him reconsider. It will be wiser and safer if they took rest at Fiskr, where they can warm up by the fire.
Thrud stopped in her tracks and bellowed, "Stop!"
"What is it?" Father Tybalt began to ask but was quickly silenced by Olaf.
Without the sound of their footsteps, Olaf became aware of how deathly silent the forest was.
A twig snapped somewhere within the trees.
Olaf wrapped his fingers around the handle of his sword, straining his ears to hear something.
He cursed when a man burst from out of nowhere, going straight for them. There was the collective sounds of swords being drawn but the man did not stop.
"Please!" he cried, stumbling through the snow. "Please help us!"
The man almost tripped reaching them but Thrud threw out her arm and the man latched onto her like she was his lifeline. Up close, Olaf saw the man was covered in blood, his eyes unfocused and wild.
"What has happened?" Thrud asked, her voice a controlled calm despite the situation. The man whimpered and continued blubbering nonsense.
"He's mad with fear," Olaf said. That fact mad him uneasy. The man was running away from something... Shouldn't they, too?
"Tell me what happened!" Thrud commanded, her voice cutting through Olaf's thoughts and waking him up like he had just jumped into a winter's lake. He felt fear growing in his heart and he banished it away with disgust.
By some miracle, the man's eyes focused onto Thrud. "Draugrs!" he revealed, "They came out of nowhere. There- there were too many. Please, please, help us!"
Olaf's stomach clenched. If there were draugrs in the area they should avoid them. As much as he wanted to help the unlucky men, he could not afford losing his own.
He was about to voice his opinion when he caught sight of Thrud and the look on her face told him all.
"We don't know how many there are-!" he said but she was already off, running in the direction the man came from. Olaf spat out a curse and turned towards the man and gave him a dagger. "Protect them," he ordered, pointing to Father Tybalt, Edith and the priest's assistant. "They die, you die." He didn't bother to wait for a reply before running after Thrud, yelling behind his back, "Lets go!"
Walking through snow was difficult so running through it was nigh impossible. Olaf barely managed to keep Thrud in his sight while at the same time trying not to trip on his own sword. The sound of screaming and swords clanging alerted him that they were near.
And also the fact Thrud leapt into the air and brought her hammer crashing down on a draugr's head, obliterating it completely.
"Form a wall!" Olaf commanded over the chaos. The men got into position, standing shoulder to shoulder and raised their shields. As one, they encroached upon the draugrs, Thrud at the rear to protect their backside. It seemed the arrival of new warriors caught their twisted interest. Multiple sets of glowing rage-filled orange eyes locked onto them and for a brief moment Olaf froze.
Only for a moment.
"Any man who runs will meet the end of my hammer!" He heard Thrud announce from behind.
The grip he had around his sword tightened and a harsh smile carved across his face. Leave it to her to lighten the mood.
They moved as one and when the first draugr came at them in a frenzy, they managed to bash it back and slip a sword in between their shields and stab it. They got three before two draugrs broke through their wall with the force of a charging bear. Olaf was knocked to the ground and not a second later he shot his sword up, blocking a deadly blow.
To his relief, Thrud appeared and dispatched the draugr. She helped him up and they both continued the fight. Thankfully, the men they had come to save found their courage and joined the battle and with their forces combined, they slayed the last of the terrible creatures.
Olaf's heart beat too fast for him to relax and he kept looking from draugr to draugr, half expecting for them to get up again.
"My God!" Father Tybalt exclaimed, causing Olaf and the warriors to jump. "Hell is here and demons walk your land freely!"
As if on cue, a lone draugr burst from the trees with a hellish shriek. Thrud reacted instantly and swept her hammer up, knocking its head clean off its shoulders. The head soared into the air and fell right into Father Tybalt's hands. The priest let out an unmanly squeal and dropped it.
"She isn't here and they are not 'demons'," Thrud said, wiping at her bloody nose. She turned to the group they had just saved and pointed at them. "You. Why does the dead run free? Have you not done the rituals to prevent such a thing?"
None answered her at first. Eventually one of them came forward and said, "We could not. These here are our fellow comrades. They were sent out two moons ago to hunt for food. When they did not return we were sent to find them."
"Who sent you?" Olaf asked.
"Jarl Alvid of Fiskr."
Thrud cocked her head. "Why did he sent out a hunting party? I thought the village depended only on fish."
"We did but the sea had frozen solid and so did our river. There was no food to be had."
Olaf tensed and glanced at Thrud and she at him. Aside from shelter, food was part of the reason for their journey to Fiskr. If the village itself was suffering from a sudden food shortage, then they may be in more trouble than he thought.
"We are not hunters," the man continued. "We are fishermen."
A sudden opportunity arose in his mind.
"We may be able to help you. My men know how to hunt."
"You have to talk with the jarl about that."
Olaf gestured with his hand, "Then lead us to him."
"What of the bodies?" one of the fishermen asked.
"They are not the men you knew," Thrud answered. "They no longer need to be buried and it will be dark soon. Would you rather let the cold reunite you with your friends?"
The group of fishermen whispered among themselves and in the end they agreed it was better to leave for Fiskr.
"You believe Alvid will agree to your deal?" Thrud asked as they followed the fishermen through the woods.
"I do. They need food and we need shelter. We both can give each other what we want."
"So you say."
"If he is smart, he will see reason in my offer."
It was a short journey to the village. Olaf has never been to Fiskr so he did not know what to expect but this... this certainly wasn't it. He could not see the village for it was enclosed behind feeble standing fortifications that ended when it reached the frozen river; wattle walls that looked to have been put together in a rush. He doubts the walls are sturdy enough to withstand even a soft winter breeze.
As they drew near, Olaf eyed the various stakes jutting from the ground. Some had dead draugrs impaled on its pole, arrows sticking out of their bodies. The man said the draugrs they fought were men from Fiskr... so who are they?
The guards at the gate pointed arrows at them, a customary greeting for strangers it seems. Luckily for Olaf and his group, the fishermen they saved granted them easy passage. Inside, the village of Fiskr was of a humble sort, nothing spectacular and rather crowded, their houses huddled together with thin walkways left in the middle. One of the fishermen led them through another gate which opened up to the river where there was more space to breath.
Since the village was situated close to the point where river met ocean, the river of Fiskr was massive, spanning a width that could probably fit one more village. And it was all completely frozen.
They followed their guide across a long dock that led out into the river where a group of men were gathered atop the ice. One man was hammering away at the ice with a pick and Olaf realized that they were trying to chip their way to the sleeping river. It was a futile endeavor but the horror of starvation can make any man desperate enough to try.
"Jarl Alvid," their guide called and the man who was currently hammering looked up. Alvid passed the hammer and climbed onto the dock.
"Biorr, you are back. Did you find them?"
"Yes but as you feared, they were already turned. They attacked us and they would have killed us, too, if it weren't for them." Biorr nodded at the group. "They saved us."
Alvid eyed them, a wariness in his eyes and said, "Thank you for saving my men. You have my gratitude. But if you've come for a reward, we have no coin to spare. I can only offer you warm beds for your troubles."
"That's all we ask," Olaf said and decided now was a better time to start the negotiation. "Jarl Alvid, I am Olaf Tryggvason. I have men who can hunt and I hear you need help tracking food. I can offer you their service for free in exchange for housing."
Confirmation flickered in the jarl's eyes. He probably suspected something even before Olaf threw his pitch. A cautious one, he is.
Alvid's voice slipped into a business like tone, "How many men are we talking about?"
"More than what you see with me." Olaf wasn't about to give away their numbers. Not until he has secured something.
"Thank you but I must decline your offer. I have already made a deal with Jarl Haakon concerning food," Alvid said and Olaf did not miss the confused look Biorr sent to the jarl. "Besides, it is not that we cannot hunt for ourselves. It may not be our strongest point but we manage. It is those damn draugrs everywhere. They make it impossible to hunt in these woods."
"Why is there a bunch of draugrs running around?" Thrud asked, catching everyone's attention. "And how is it possible your river is ice? Of all the winters that has passed, I have never seen it freeze."
"I don't know how it is possible, either. This winter came early, took us all by surprise..." Alvid trailed off and squinted at Thrud. "I know you. I remember you. You helped my father slay those krakens that attacked our boats. You and your friend- where is she?"
"We parted ways long ago," Thrud answered, rather snippily. She gestured to Olaf. "I follow him, now."
"Then if he is with you, I will allow your men to find shelter here. It is repayment for what you did for us." Alvid turned to Olaf. "It will be dark soon. Tomorrow you can send a man to fetch the rest of your group. For now, eat with me in my home and we can discuss how your men can help our village get food."
Olaf silently wondered about the deal Alvid claimed he had with this Haakon fellow. He supposed it was better not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
But, there was one thing he should get out of the way first before it can come back and bite him in the arse.
"I am grateful for your hospitality. So that is why I am telling you now that there are Christians in my company." The men moved aside to reveal the trio. "If that bothers you I will hear of it now."
"As my teachers and advisers."
Alvid looked surprised for a second. Olaf would be, too.
"That is fine, then. Just make sure they stay out of trouble."
With that said, they walked back into the village and to a longhouse that was surely the biggest one in the area. His men entered the house except for Thrud who veered off path, heading towards the stables. She came back with a sturdy horse in tow.
"Where are you going?"
"There is something I got to do."
"Is that why you are stealing the jarl's horse?"
She laughed and mounted the horse, grabbing a hold of the reins. "I got permission. Expect my return by nightfall."
Olaf's lips tightened. "You are going out there alone?"
"You know I will be fine. It'll take a lot more than a few draugrs to kill me."
He shook his head, amazed at how reckless his friend is. "You are not a god, Thrud," he said, hoping to knock some sense into her.
"Don't say that. You might give me a complex." She grinned and the horse took off in a trot. "I'll be back!" she yelled over her shoulder.
Olaf watched her go and when he could not see her anymore, he sent a quick prayer for her safe return and entered the longhouse, ready to discuss business.
Chapter 9: Daughter of Thunder
Young Aaric Alvidson has always been an adventurous boy. He preferred running around playing war with the other boys in his village or go exploring the woods nearby rather than sit and follow his father's instructions to read and write. It wasn't because he didn't want to, he just found it hard to focus on something so boring.
For example, right now his father was in a deep discussion with one of the newcomers. Aaric didn't care to understand what they were talking about and the longer he sat listening to them drone on and on, the more bored he got until he couldn't sit properly in his chair without fidgeting every few seconds.
He felt an itch to move- explore, do literally anything than stay here.
It was easy to slip away from the table and out of the house. No one paid him much mind, not after they had a few drinks in them. The village was empty save for the usual patrolmen going about their nightly routine. He hid from them in the shadows and when he reached the western gate it was nothing for him to wiggle under the wall by a groove in the ground.
Aaric relaxed when he reached the docks without getting spotted. The boy strolled to the end, humming a random tune and didn't hesitate to jump down onto the icy river. He thought it was kind of fun that he could walk on water, sort of, though, his father didn't share his enthusiasm. He guessed it was because they needed the fish swimming beneath the ice. Sometimes, if he looked hard and long enough, Aaric could see something moving down there.
He giggled as he slid across the ice. A soft gasp left his lips when he slipped, landing hard on his side. He sat up with a groan and moved his aching arm. It didn't feel broken, from what he could tell.
The pain was quickly forgotten. A faint orange glow appeared from below the ice, catching the boy's attention. Aaric hovered his face above the ice, trying to get a better look at the mystery thing. He wondered if it could be a fish made out of gold and maybe if he caught, he'll make the whole village rich again!
The strange light glowed brighter and to his surprise, it diverged into two.
Two gold fish! And they were swimming up, closer and closer to the surface but the light was getting... smaller?
His confusion swelled when he felt the ice underneath the palm of his hands grow warm.
The surface of the frozen river cracked, making him jump, and then it began to bubble, like water being cooked.
The two glowing lights were not golden fishes.
They were a pair of frightening orange eyes that paralyzed Aaric with horror.
A sunken in nose followed by gnarly rotting teeth till the entirety of the draugr's head emerged from the melted surface.
The monster opened its jaw impossibly wide and screamed.
The doors to the barn creaked open loudly.
"It's fine. It's just me," Edith said as she slipped through the doors, careful to not drop the cup of mead and plate of food in her hands. "I brought you food." She sat across from Leif and placed the meal down in front of him.
Leif went straight for the mead, downing it in one go. "Ah. Thank you, Edith. It's been awhile since I've had my last drink."
She watched him eat, shoving the food into his mouth. He was acting like he has been starving. Have they not been feeding him enough?
"You shouldn't have to eat out here like an animal." She couldn't hide the anger in her voice and she didn't want to.
Leif shrugged, "I am a thrall now, which makes me lesser than an animal."
"That's not right. It's barbaric."
"And the people back in Wessex, do they not practice slavery, too?"
"It is not the same," she said, ignoring the incredulous look on his face. "Slaves are bondservants and they receive payment for their duty. God says to treat them fairly, as well."
"Sounds like a load of shit."
Edith scoffed and shook her head. "You do not understand. That is why your people treat you with such cruelty. They know no better."
"Is that why you've come here, then?" Leif set down the empty plate and sat back against a stack of hay. "To teach us? To save us from our 'barbaric' ways?"
"Is it not barbaric to slaughter an entire village?" she practically yelled. Anger roiled inside her gut and she knows her face must be red but she didn't care. "To murder innocent people? To throw babes on the road and rip people to pieces!" She gasped as memories of that night flashed through her mind. She forced them away but the damage was already done.
In times like these, Edith focuses on something trivial, like how her hands can't stop shaking. She clenches them hard into fists until she could feel the sting of her nails digging into the palm of her hands.
The barn is thankfully silent and it gives her a moment to control her breathing; to calm her mind.
"How did you survive?" Leif asks softly.
"I was lucky."
"God was with me. He protected me." She inhaled deeply and wiped the sweat from her face. "They came at night. I though they were animals at first. They howled and growled like one and they were covered in fur but underneath... they were but men. My parents got us to the church. We thought we were safe. They weren't coming in." She paused, remembering the feeling of being squished between all those bodies. "We didn't know that we were actually trapped."
"They lit the church on fire. My father, he broke a window and threw me outside." She pushed up her sleeve to reveal a long jagged scar. "I remember him telling me to run and I did. I didn't know where I was going. I just ran. Until I saw him... and he saw me."
"He looked like a bear. He charged at me like one." A sudden calmness settled over her. "I didn't run. Maybe, I was too afraid to move but I didn't feel scared. I don't know why but he stopped and we stared at each other and then he was gone. I hid in the pig's pen till morning, covered myself up with shit so they wouldn't see me. I only came out when the soldiers arrived. I was taken in by the nunnery after that. They changed my name to Edith, after the saint. They told me I was alive because God made it so."
Leif hummed thoughtfully and said, "I don't know about your god but there might be another reason you survived that night."
Edith narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "What do you mean?"
"The men you described that attacked your town, they sound like Berserkir; Beserkers, warrior-shamans."
"What are they?"
"They are animals."
Edith frowned at him, wondering if he were playing another joke on her. "That is not possible."
"Yet it is. They can be as strong as a bear or as fast as a wolf and you are lucky you covered yourself in pig shit or else they would have sniffed you out."
Edith frowned because that, that somehow made sense. "If they are animals, why didn't the man attack me?"
"Because you stood your ground." Leif laughed and she found it strange that he could find any humor in this. "I have a lot more respect for you. You are a tough one, you know that? It is a shame you have devoted yourself to your god. You would have made a fine follower of Prudr. She values strength and courage."
"Wait, Leif, hold on. You are not making any sense."
Leif sighed, over dramatically in her opinion.
"The warrior belonged to the bear-shirts. He made a bluff charge at you like any bear." He smirked, amusement twinkling in his eyes. "And you called his bluff. A little girl. I would've loved to have seen that."
Edith went quiet, digesting the new information given to her. So it wasn't just any normal Dane. The warriors who attacked her village belonged to an animalistic pagan group. That narrowed the search down, some, but she still needed more to go on.
"Where would one find these 'beserkers'?"
Leif gave her a strange look, "No one can say for certain. They tend to roam around in a pack and like a pack they do not stay in one place for too long... Edith, are you trying to find them?"
"Yes," she answered with no hesitation. Her blunt honesty rendered Leif speechless.
"Why?" he finally asked.
"It is my purpose."
"To die?" Leif sat up, the worry in his eyes making Edith uncomfortable. "Don't you know what they will do to someone like you? Why in Thor's hammer would you ever-"
"God had a purpose for taking my parents away." She gripped her cross necklace tightly. "He wanted to show me how far the faithless have fallen so I can help them. 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do'. They are not my enemies. They have just been in the darkness for too long."
Leif's face softened. "Is that what you truly believe?"
"Yes," she whispered. "Otherwise, what would have been the point of it all?"
He didn't answer and Edith didn't know if she wanted him to.
A commotion outside drew both their attention away. It sounded like people yelling.
"What could it be?" she muttered to herself.
'Edith, be careful," Leif said when she got to her feet and headed to the door. She poked her head outside and was met instantly by the sounds of screaming and people scrambling in all directions. Someone, a guard it appeared, ran past with a torch shouting at the top of his lungs:
Her heart skipped a beat. She has only seen them one time but once was enough. She ducked back inside before anyone could see her.
"Draugrs are attacking the village," she reported, her voice shaking.
Leif cursed in an unknown language. "Edith, listen to me. You have to go back to the jarl's house."
"But you are still chained!" She rushed to his side and grappled at the chains. "I will not leave you to die."
He snatched her wrists, causing her to wince. "You don't have a choice! The jarl's house is the only safe place for you now. Now go. Go!" He pushed her away but she was reluctant to leave. She could not abandon him.
"It will be alright," he said, as if sensing her internal conflict. "I will be fine. Go."
Edith's chest tightened.
She took a step back.
"I will be back for you."
Leif didn't say anything. He only nodded.
It took every ounce of herself to leave that barn.
She hoped it wouldn't be her biggest mistake.
"Aye, and all seasoned warriors. Your draugr problem won't be an issue any longer."
Alvid sat back in his chair and asked with a wave of his hand, "All this in exchange for housing?"
Olaf smiled tightly, "We don't yet have the resources to get us through this winter. It is all I ask, and any work you may need done know you have our hand."
"How long do you plan on staying?"
"After the winter or sooner."
The jarl eyed Olaf, studying him most likely. He must be thinking if he can trust him or not. Olaf isn't worried; he has spoken only the truth, albeit there are a few information he has withheld from the jarl. It was none that he felt Alvid needed to know about. For now.
Alvid sipped from his drink and when he set it down, all trace of hospitality was gone from his face.
"What are you really doing here, Olaf Tryggvason; Lord of War, The Briton's Foe, one who bleeds the sea red."
Olaf stilled. "You know me."
"I know of you. Stories mostly, of your conquests. You commandeered an army of thousands and defeated all who dared challenge you. You are the man whom lesser men feared and whom the gods favored..." Alvid gave a sideways glance to the missionaries sitting quietly together, "... or whom they used to favor."
"Whatever you have heard, that part of my life is over. I am no longer that man."
"Because you follow their god now?" Alvid's eyes hardened. "I don't believe that."
Olaf's face remained perfectly blank as he silently forced himself to relax his fingers wrapped around the cup. He was sure if he did not, he would break it.
"It does not matter what you believe," he replied calmly.
"It does when the Olaf Tryggvason comes into my home, eats my food and drinks my mead." Alvid waved his hand. "Come next morning an army is waiting outside my door, ready to kill all that I love."
"That won't happen."
Alvid's lips thinned into a straight line. "When a Lord of War arrives, there will be war."
"Why not kill me now?" Olaf asked and lounged back in his chair, suddenly tired of this conversation. If there was going to be a fight, he'd rather get it over with.
Alas, it seems the jarl had other plans for him.
"The last thing I want to do is kill you. Olaf Tryggvason alive and here in Midgard will benefit us... and you as well. But first-" He raised a hand in prompt of Olaf's perplexed look, "- You must tell me the truth." He leaned forward, never once breaking eye contact. "Why have you really returned?"
Olaf contemplated whether telling him the truth or not. He was wary of those who were not his friends but, he was a stranger in these lands and he was in need of an ally. At least Alvid claimed he did not want him dead. Not yet, anyways. If that time ever comes, Olaf would find a way around it.
"I have come to fulfill my destiny. I am to unite this land and its people under the true god."
Alvid gave him a funny look. "Is that all? I am surprised. I thought a warrior such as yourself would desire something more than that. I assume your destiny also says you will be the one ruling Midgard under your 'god'."
"Under my rule, I can change Midgard into something better. No longer shall we be divided, depending only on raids to sustain us. When I am king, I will see this land become independent and powerful like all the other kingdoms across the seas."
"It's a bold dream," Alvid commented, "But I cannot see what is wrong with how things are now. We have been living this way for generations, and it has never failed our ancestors."
Olaf swiped his hand through the air. "That is the past. I am talking about the future. There will come a day when the coins in our pouches won't have been stolen from another man's sweat. We will make our own fortune, from our own hands. I swear, I will see that day come to pass."
"Then there is only one man who stands between you and your future," Alvid said, his face grim. "Haakon Sigurdsson. He is the current reigning Jarl among all the jarls in the land. You must get rid of him first if you want to rule."
"Is that not the same man you claim gave you a deal for food?" Olaf asked with a frown.
"For an outrageous price," Alvid spat. "My village has always been self-sustainable but with our current state it seems Haakon finally has an advantage over us to get us into debt with him. And as if that weren't enough, he demands for my daughter to warm his bed."
Alvid cursed the bastard while Olaf was left mildly confused.
"Why not trade from the other villages?"
"It would be a waste of my time," Alvid sighed. "Haakon controls most of the trade, except for the fish market of course. The other jarls will turn me away under fear of Haakon's punishment. None will help me... unless they fear someone greater than Haakon."
Olaf grew skeptical. "You think they will go against Haakon because they fear me?"
Alvid nodded astutely. "When words comes telling Olaf Tryggvason has returned to conquer Midgard, most will side with you. The people of Midgard grow tired of Haakon and his ways. I personally know a few jarls who would be glad to get rid of him."
Olaf hummed, stroking his beard. "Say I defeat Haakon. What after? I am not foolish to think the other jarls will submit to my rule that easily."
"I cannot speak for the others, but know you have my allegiance. If your dream comes to pass, I intend for my people to profit from it."
"As you will," Olaf assured. "As Christians."
Something flickered in Alvid's eyes, too quick to decipher. He brought the cup to his lips but stopped and chuckled. "I think that is the only thing Haakon has in his favor. He is devoted to our gods."
Olaf smiled but it did not reach his eyes.
"There is only one true God."
Alvid's eyes snapped onto Olaf and finally Olaf could see a spark of hesitance in them.
"They are all faithful to the gods. They will not accept you and they will not listen to a single word you have to say."
Thrud was right. They are all faithful to the old gods.
But the old gods are the past and must be erased to make way for the future.
Before Alvid could reply, the doors to the entrance of the longhouse burst wide open and a few guards hurried inside. Olaf and his men shot to their feet but the guards did not attack. Instead they went directly to the jarl and told of draugrs at the gates. By the way they were acting, Olaf would have assumed this was the first time they have seen the undead.
Even he got a chill, remembering the horrible glares of the dead. There was something about draugr that coaxed fear into fearless men's hearts and he knew it wasn't something natural.
"They're attacking from the river. They've never done that before!" Alvid said as they rushed outside the longhouse.
Olaf didn't like the sound of that. "Have they ever gotten into the village?"
"No, never. We've always managed to hold them back."
As they made their way across the village, a familiar voice caught Olaf's attention and then a woman was grabbing a hold of him. It was Edith and she was babbling about draugrs and keys.
"Not now, Edith! Get back inside the jarl's house. You will be safe there," he ordered and was already off running to the gate, hoping the nun listened to him and gotten to safety.
They reached the wall and he followed Alvid up a plank structure where on top the archers stood shooting arrows below. From where he stood, Olaf could see the entire expanse of the frozen river and just at the shore, draugrs. The godless creatures emerged from melted pockets in the ice, shooting off into a sprint to the wall. They were shot down quickly and the few who did reach the wall didn't last for long.
The last draugr fell, and there was a collective breath of relief.
"That was the last of them, lord," Biorr informed.
Alvid nodded, "Good. At sunrise I want them all burned."
A sudden hush fell over each man.
They all stared at the river.
Olaf's heart sank but he gripped the handle of his sword nevertheless.
One by one, a little orange glow appeared underneath the ice, until the entire river was lit up.
"By the gods..." Alvid whispered in horror.
No - Olaf thought as the first few draugrs clambered up out of the ice.
The gods have abandoned them.
A lone horse galloped through the thick dark woods, each stride kicking snow up into the air.
Its rider looked towards the heavens.
Way up high, the dark branches of trees whizzed by against the pale grey sky, its tree limbs blurring together as if the völva herself were weaving them into a basket.
It as has been a long time since she has traveled through the forests of Midgard but she did not lose her way.
The sky began to darken when she finally caught sight of something hanging from the tree branches. She tugged on the reins and circled around the tree, trying to get a better look.
Barely visible, a string of tiny bones hung, swaying slightly in the frosty wind.
It was a warning for most.
She nudged the horse forward but let it stay in a steady trot. The women who lived here like their solitude. Foolish mortals who strayed too close may find themselves wandering the forest forever.
The further they went, the more she spotted bones littered among the trees.
A soft growl came from her right. She whipped her head to catch a glimpse of something disappearing behind a tree. Crunching snow sounded from her left but there was nothing there when she looked.
The horse snorted and shifted nervously in place.
Without a word, she got down from the horse and slowly scanned her surroundings. There was only trees and trees- She stopped and swept her sight back on a man who stood out in the open. He was so still she had almost mistook him for another tree.
Another! To the right made themselves known. She counted more than ten strangers circled her, possibly more behind where she did not bother to look. Some let out soft huffed barks and some crawled closer to her on their hands and knees, appearing more like an animal draped under all that fur.
The horse neighed frantically and lifted its fore legs off the ground. She placed a firm hand on its neck and instantly the horse relaxed. It knew no harm would come to it with her around.
She took a step forward, eyeing them, waiting for them to make a move. A gruff snort was her only warning.
A beast of a man charged at her, his mouth stretched wide open making short grunting huffs. His eyes, wide and wild, reflected nothing but madness.
She stood her ground and yelled in a loud commanding voice, "Stop!"
The man froze a hair's breadth away from her, shaking like he had been doused in cold water. She startled him out of an attack but the desperate craze was seeping back into his eyes and she knew it was only a matter of time before she lost him to the animal inside.
She bent her head down, making sure to keep eye contact and said in a low voice, "Move aside, cub."
That only served to rile him up more and it seemed like he was going to maul her. She would have thought him brave if his mind was not under the effects of the henbane. She recognized the magic brew from the smell on his breath.
"Let her pass."
The man looked behind him, giving her a view of the person who had spoken.
"Vala," she said when she saw the shaman- a woman with long dark hair wearing a skeletal headdress, black powder smeared down her face that made the whites in her eyes pop out. She carried at her side a twisting wooden walking stick; her wand, her power, her distaff.
"Follow me," was the seeress curt response and she turned around and simply walked away, leaving bare footprints on the fresh snow.
The animal-like people let her follow after Vala without trouble. She led her horse by the reigns, glancing back once to see they have disappeared.
"I did not know the völva kept berserkirs and the úlfheðnar for company," she commented when she caught up to the seeress.
"We require only their protection against the draugrs."
She raised a knowing brow at the seeress. "The völva do not need protection."
"It is better to lose a few 'hounds' than one sister," Vala replied coldly.
"You are using them," the horse rider accused, an edge of anger in her voice.
"We do what we must to survive, and they are not without reward. Henbane is what they desire most and we have plenty to give..." Vala stopped and looked up at her. "But you have not come here to discuss business trades of the völva. You want to see her; the Deer Mother. You have questions you believe only she can answer."
"How did you know?" She paused and shook her head. "No, nevermind. Of course you already know."
They left the forest and arrived at the encampment of the völva. Her horse was taken to the stables while she followed Vala through the grounds. Throughout the camp, only women, young or old, could be seen going about their mysterious tasks. They passed by a group surrounding a fire pit, chanting to their goddess Freya while draining a goat's blood into a bowl. A little girl sat squatting next to them sucking on a shriveled up chicken's foot.
Vala ended up taking her to the other side of the camp. There, there was a steep path that led up the side of a mountain. If one were to fall, it would be instant death for way down below rested tide pools surrounded by jagged rocks. Even if one survived the fall and the rocks, the tide would sweep in and drown the unlucky fellow, giving the crabs and the fish a hearty feast.
"The Deer Mother will be waiting for you in a cave at the top." Vala handed her a torch. "You will get your answers up there."
The seeress made to leave but she quickly called her name.
"Vala, have you- have you seen her?" Her heart was hammering inside her chest but she had to know. She had to know if she was okay. Even though she was the one who left.
Vala's face softened, "I'm sorry, Thrud. Nobody has seen her in years. I tried to look for her in my visions but I can only see fog. She is either hiding or... or she is gone."
Her heart clenched but she smothered the worry down. She was here on a mission and she needn't be distracted by personal problems. She part ways with the seeress and began her travel up the mountain.
The air grew colder the further up she went. Once, on a particularly steep slope, she stepped forward and her foot slipped. She inhaled sharply and she shot her hand out, gripping onto a curve in the wall. She regained her balance and watched as snow and some rocks fell down, down, down... It was too dark and she too far up to see or hear it hit the bottom. She chuckled breathlessly, gathered her wits and trudged the rest of the way up.
At the top, the path ended onto a wide flat platform. Ahead, the entrance of an enormous cave was carved into the side of the mountain in the shape of a triangle, fire torches lit on both sides.
There was no snow on the ground.
Mystified, she bent down and touched the floor.
Cold, like it should be, and yet it is like this place has gone untouched by the winter surrounding them.
Finished with her observation, she straightened back up and headed to the cave. She halted just before the entrance and stuck her torch out. The darkness was impenetrable. She could not see anything. There could be something right in front of her and she would be none the wiser.
She tightened her grip on the torch and entered the cave, the darkness swallowing her from sight.
Down a tunnel she went, deeper and deeper until only her footsteps could be heard in the silence. She was beginning to wonder how far down she had to go when she caught sight of a glowing orange light. She approached it and found herself stepping out into a spacious cavern. The light that she had seen came from torch sticks placed in a circle in the center of the room and in the middle of the circle of light rested a pile of dirt. Though there was no danger present, she kept herself on guard as she wandered closer to get a better look.
One step forward- crunch!
She froze and lifted her boot off the ground.
Teeth. Hundreds of tiny, human, teeth. Sprinkled in the shape of a circle surrounding the pile of dirt. It's been awhile since she's brushed up on her knowledge on magic but it was safe to assume this was some type of barrier. To contain or repel, she had no clue.
A sudden draft of wind swept through the cavern, followed by low whispering that made her swat at her ears. The torches blew out one by one, including her own, and she was left standing in darkness for only a second before the ceiling cracked wide open. Mystical blue light poured into the cave followed by humongous tree roots that curled onto the floor, worming their way inside the heap of dirt. A low guttural moan sounded from underneath.
She watched as the dirt moved as a naked old woman revealed herself, crawling out of the dirt like some draugr. Her skin was dried and wrinkled and her tits sagged flat to her stomach and she was completely hairless save for a few white strands sticking against her balding head.
The area around her eyes were two sunken holes and from them flashed two glowing blue orbs.
The witch opened her mouth and spoke but her voice sounded wrong, like there was multiple people talking at once.
"Prudr, daughter of Thor, ally of the Stone Trolls. We have all been waiting for you."
Prudr tensed upon hearing her true name but she hid her surprise with a curious raised brow.
She slowly circled the witch, examining her closely. Behind, tree roots supported her up by her spine, digging inside her skin. Spiderweb like roots spread at the back of her neck, pulsating a blueish glow.
"You're not the Deer Mother," she commented idly.
"We only occupy her body."
Prudr hummed and came to a stop before the witch. "How do you know me?" she asked, her hand creeping behind her back to brush against the handle of her war hammer.
"We know everything about you, little butterfly."
Prudr flinched. "Don't call me that."
The possessed witch tilted her head and what could be mistaken for melancholy passed her face.
"Butterflies are so easy to crush," she whispered. "He will crush you, too."
Her hammer was out before she even realized what she was doing. "Who are you! What do you want?" she growled between clenched teeth.
The witch's glowing orbs narrowed into slits and when she spoke it sounded like she was talking to somebody else. "Ah, ill-tempered, just like her father."
Anger flared hot in her belly.
"I am nothing like my father." Prudr gripped her hammer tighter, a drop of sweat rolling down her face. "I won't ask again. Who are you. What do you want."
"We have only come to see you with our own eyes. The last piece of the puzzle." The witch reached out for her, as if fascinated by her presence. "Your return has set in motion things you cannot begin to understand... Speak now, child. Ask us what you will from the Deer Mother."
Prudr hesitated. She didn't know if she could trust their word but she decided she didn't come all this way for nothing.
"The serpent," she said finally and licked her chapped lips. "He is awake."
"Smelt your father's blood running through your veins."
"There's draugrs everywhere." Prudr tried to keep her breathing under control but it felt like something was squeezing her chest. "The dead are not staying dead."
"Not enough room down there anymore."
"And this winter!" Prudr laughed but it sounded odd in her ears. She shook her head, her eyes wide and her bottom lip quivering slightly. "We are in the middle of summer!"
"Ask us what you already know to be true, child. Ask us now!" the witch bellowed, a gush of wind blowing through the cave.
"Ragnarök!" Prudr exclaimed. "Is this Ragnarök? Is this the end?"
The wind died down and all was left still and silent.
Prudr felt sick to her stomach. Her heart skipped a beat.
"My mother! Is she-"
"She is alive."
A wave of relief washed over her. Prudr leaned on her hammer and closed her eyes. "Then it is true. I have come back home to my own destruction. Maybe it was fate all along."
"It is only fate to those who've never gotten off the stage."
Prudr squinted at the witch. "How would you know. Only the Norns-" Her eyes widened and suddenly it clicked. Prudr straightened, finally realizing who exactly she was talking to.
She could've sworn she saw a glimpse of a smile pass the witch's face.
"Go now, child. Your friends need you. Hel has come to claim them." The witch's body began to deteriorate, pieces of her flesh becoming ash. "If you fail to stop her now she will have Midgard by dawn."
Prudr's hear stopped. "Olaf," she whispered and turned on her heels and dashed for the exit. She barely heard the last sigh of the witch before she was running through the tunnel and out the cave. Outside a blast of wind hit her in the face along with little droplets of rain. As she ran across the platform, the light sprinkling turned into a sudden and fierce downpour.
Down the mountain she went, almost slipping many a times in her rush. The wind howled like a caged beast and with its might threw her against the wall! She held on for dear life when she felt it pushing her the other way in the direction of the stair's edge. The rocks cut into her fingers, spilling blood but she gritted her teeth through the pain and cast her eyes toward the heavens.
A thunderstorm unlike any she has ever seen greeted her. It's fury -she could not help but feel- directed all at her.
He demands you return home! The witch's voice said in her mind.
"No!" Prudr screamed at the sky.
A bolt of lightning struck the side of the mountain, breaking off boulders. The thunder that came after shook the ground. It was a clear warning. But she refused to give in. She refused to be scared of him.
"I am not my brothers. I am not afraid of you!" she yelled over the storm. "You do not own me and you cannot control me!"
She was huffing for air by the time she ended her speech. Despite her threat, the storm continued and she hid her face in the wall, squeezing her eyes shut and hoping to wait it out, although that wasn't the best idea since Olaf and the others were in trouble. She could not, will not, let them die. Not to draugrs and not to Hel herself. It was her duty to protect them; protect them all.
It was something her father had once sworn to do.
Anger sparked in her chest and in her defiance she cried, "You will not stop me! Strike me down if you must but you will never defeat me." The rain relentlessly hit her face to a point she couldn't tell whether her cheeks were wet with it or wet with her tears.
Prudr threw her hand up. "Do it, you coward! Strike me down!" She waited but only thunder boomed in response. She screamed in rage. "Do it!"
A gasp tore from her lips. Lightning struck the mountain, too fast to count how many times. She covered her head as rocks fell over her.
Prudr didn't move until she could no longer hear the thunderous booms or feel the droplets of rain on her skin. She peeked her head out from underneath her arms. The storm had vanished as quickly as it came.
Exhaustion swept over and she slid down onto her knees. She let out a choked sob and smashed her head against the wall and screamed. In fury, pain or sorrow, she did not know.
How did this happen? When did things go wrong?
When did they start hating each other?
Prudr could have stayed there, lose herself to her misery but the thought of Olaf made her rise. Her friend was in trouble. Hel was going to kill him and kill everyone in the village.
She will not let that happen.
"Thor lights up the sky. Something must have angered him greatly to draw upon his wrath," Vala said on her arrival back into camp. Prudr ignored her, heading straight to her horse. "What did 'they' tell you?"
Prudr paused and squinted at Vala. "You knew?"
"The Deer Mother sacrificed her body and her life to serve the Norns. The least you can do is tell me what they told you."
"Ragnarök is upon us." Prudr untied the horse. "Hel walks the earth, and she is going to slaughter an entire village if I don't stop her."
"Then take the úlfheðnar and the berserkirs with you. They will help you."
Prudr gave her an odd look. "You would give them away so easily?"
Vala snatched her arm in a tight grip. "If Hel is not stopped now, we will fall next."
Prudr nodded and the völva released her. She led the horse outside the camp and was greeted by a group of wildmen. A man shrouded in wolf fur approached her alone.
"I am Gundulf. The witch promised us more henbane to fight with you. Once the battle is over we will take what we want and leave."
"Fine," Prudr spat and mounted her horse. "Go to Fiskr. Help the men there."
"Where are you going?" he asked when she maneuvered her horse in the other direction.
Prudr raised a brow and smiled slyly, slipping a troll necklace out from underneath her shirt.
"I'm going to bring a friend."
Chapter 10: Night of the Living Draugr
Olaf let loose another arrow; another draugr down.
Yet no matter how many he managed to kill, two more took its place.
"There are too many!" Biorr yelled.
Alvid cursed from beside Olaf. "We cannot let them breach the gate!"
A deep ominous moan filled the air, drawing their attention. From the river, a monstrous claw hand erupted from the ice and from it crawled out an ogre, its skin cracked leaking lava. The undead creature opened its mouth impossibly wide and let out a ferocious roar.
"Shoot it! Kill it!" someone screamed and Olaf snapped his bow up and took aim at the creature. He shot arrow after arrow but it did nothing to deter the ogre from making a beeline to the gate.
Olaf's body tensed just as the ogre crashed through the gate, breaking the support railing they were standing on. He was thrown off and he hit the ground hard. The strong taste of iron exploded in his mouth and his head throbbed like someone was pounding at it with a hammer. He slammed a hand on the ground and shoved himself up into a sitting position. Despite the pain, he zeroed in on the now open gate.
The ogre was already running around and wherever it went terrified screams followed.
Olaf growled and pushed himself to stand. He staggered over to a fallen Alvid and pulled the jarl up.
"Die later," he grunted and unsheathed his sword just as the first draugr appeared through the gate. "Now, we must fight."
With a shout, Olaf charged at the draugr. Its beady orange eyes locked onto him and Olaf could feel the hatred- the uncontrollable unadulterated need to destroy the living. They may have once been human, may have once experienced love and happiness like any one of them. But all they are now is a monster and they will kill without remorse, without pity.
Even as fear gripped him, Olaf raised his sword and met his death head on.
"Don't worry my children, we will be safe here," Father Tybalt muttered, palming at his cross necklace.
Edith was pretty certain the priest was trying to reassure more to himself than to them.
They were hiding out inside the jarl's house along with the servants. When they spoke they spoke in hushed voices, nobody daring to talk loudly in fear that someone or something might hear them.
Father Tybalt got on his knees and wiped at his forehead. "Come, let us pray, shall we? Yes, yes let us pray. Edith, why don't you lead us in prayer- Edith? Edith!"
Edith ignored him. She refused to do nothing while Leif was still imprisoned out there. She opened the door a crack, letting in the sounds of battle. From her point of view, she could not see any of the fighting. A troop of men rushed by making her jump.
"Hurry! They broke through the gates!" She heard one of the men yell.
Edith's stomach dropped. The draugrs were in the village. Leif is chained. If they found him, he won't be able to protect himself.
She had to do something, and quick!
"You!" She pointed to one of the servants. "Please, I need a- a sort of weapon," she stuttered and wracked her brain thinking what could break through chains. "An- an axe or a hammer of sorts."
The servant looked confused but disappeared and came back with an old, rusty axe. Probably one for cutting off chicken heads. She grabbed it anyways and with a quick thank you she dashed out the door. She didn't think for if she did she would freeze and panic. She just ran head first into the fray of battle. Due to her small form, she easily made her way through dueling opponents, clutching the chicken axe like it was her lifeline.
Something knocked into her from behind and she went stumbling forward, crashing against a man.
"S-sorry," she mumbled automatically despite being in the middle of a battlefield. Her line of sight traveled up to meet the man's face. She shrunk back in horror.
It was one of those things, those draugrs! The demonic creature screeched at her and drew back its sword.
"God, no!" she screamed and raised her arms as if they could save her. Millions of thoughts raced through her mind, mostly about what a huge mistake it is to have come to Midgard and how Leif might die because she couldn't get to him in time. Then, there was one thought, whispering like a gentle breeze, wondering if she will see her parents one last time in heaven.
The killing blow never came. At the last second, a man appeared out of nowhere and sliced off the draugr's arm plus drawing its attention away from her. Edith didn't have time to register who the man was, couldn't even see his face. She wanted to thank him but knew there was no time for that. This was a second chance to save Leif and she wasn't about to pass it up.
The barn came into view and she ran straight at it without stopping. She ran so hard that she crashed against the door and swung it open.
"Leif!" she cried, rushing towards the slave.
"Edith?" Leif said in alarm. "Edith, what are you doing here?"
"What do you mean? I came to get you out!"
Leif looked like he was in pain. "No, no Edith. You shouldn't be here! It's not safe for you- Watch out!" He grabbed her and threw her aside. She landed on a bunch of haystacks and watched Leif dodge a jab from a draugr. The monster swiped at him again but Leif launched forward and roll out out of the way. He stopped behind the creature and wrapped his chains around its neck.
"Edith! Edith, kill it!" he grunted as he struggled to keep the thing still.
Heart pounding, she dashed at them and swung the axe down, cleaving it down the monster's head. She grit her teeth and yanked it out, spraying gooey orange blood all over her. The monster fell to the ground with a thud and did not get back up.
"Good job, Edith," Leif said and chuckled breathlessly. "Maybe next time, don't close your eyes."
He spread his chains on the floor and looked up at her expectantly. Edith glanced at her chicken axe, then to the creature's sword. She abandoned the useless thing and took the sword. It was heavy in her hands but it was better than the axe for sure.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
Edith scoffed in disbelief. "Are you?"
"Right, sorry. Continue."
She raised the sword over her head.
Leif flinched. "Don't close your eyes"
By some miracle, the chains broke upon impact. Leif beamed and squished her against his chest. "Yes! Yes! Thank you, Edith, thank you! I am forever in your debt."
"You don't owe me anything," she said, struggling to breath for air.
Leif laughed and grabbed the creature's sword. "Ah you Christians, always doing things out of the goodness in your hearts." He took the shield from the corpse and slipped it securely on his arm. "Stay hidden. I'm going to help out."
"Wait," she said when Leif headed to the door. "I can help you fight!"
"Do you even know how to?" he responded.
She grew quiet and that was answer enough.
"Edith, stay here and stay hidden. Don't make a sound. When this is over and if we're both still alive, I'll come back and get you."
She wanted to say something but stayed silent as Leif closed the barn door.
Useless, she felt so useless. She swore if she got out of this alive, she just might ask Thrud for a few lessons or two.
As ordered, she hid herself behind some haystacks and kept deathly quiet. She didn't know how long she sat there but she passed the time praying.
Her prayers were interrupted when the barn doors swung open violently. She jumped and peeked her head over the haystack. A warrior, badly wounded by the looks of it, came stumbling inside. She tensed when a draugr came in after. The warrior collapsed and stayed down.
He can't move.
Edith's eyes darted around the barn and caught sight of the chicken axe.
Quietly, she crept to it, grabbed it, and made her way behind the creature. It was about to finish the warrior off when she let out a cry and drove the axe into its exposed back.
Unfortunately, this time it didn't kill it.
The draugr groaned and turned around, the axe still deeply secured in its back.
She gulped and backed away. It took a step toward her and she took off.
Edith ran in a random direction, not caring where she was going as long as she put a safe distance between herself and the creature. She chanced a glance back and her panic rose twice-fold. Just as she thought, the thing was following her and catching up fast!
The jarl's house was not far now and as much as she wanted to go inside she couldn't. She would be leading that thing straight to the others.
She almost tripped on her own two feet and happened to catch sight of a dead man, his sword and shield still clutched tightly in his grip. She looked back, saw the draugr coming, and lunged for the dead man. The shield was easy to slip off but the sword was harder. She had to pry his stiff fingers from the handle but she freed it in time to jump into a fighting stance, heaving the shield between her and the draugr. Her arm began to shake from the strain and she prayed to God to give her strength to hold it.
The draugr screeched, paralyzing her. In a blink of an eye, it hit her shield with its sword and the impact made her entire arm vibrate. She cried out in pain and fell flat on her back. Instinctively, she curled her legs to hide under the shield. Tears streamed down her face as the draugr rained down hit after hit with relentless brute force. If she hadn't a shield to protect her, Edith would've been chopped up into pieces by now.
She didn't see an end in sight from this chaos and so when the blows stopped, the first thing she thought was that she was dead. Her eyes shot open and she realized she was still very much alive. It was the draugr who was about to die.
A humongous hairy warrior grabbed the draugr's head and yanked it clean off.. Edith yelped and ducked under her shield. The head of the draugr landed on the ground next to her, causing her to shriek and scramble away.
Edith stumbled to her feet, looking bewildered and frightened. One look at the beast of man and she pointed the sword at him, flashes of that horrific night in her hometown flashing through her mind.
The large man growled defensively. His wild eyes pierced into her own and she was suddenly transported back in time. She was no longer a nun but that little girl who had lost everything and knew only fear.
The growls died down and the man, this beast, went completely still. A deep sorrow etched across his face, a sorrow that can only be caused by a great pain.
Edith snapped out of her trance and felt a twinge of pity for the man. Despite the danger, she lowered her sword and reached out with one hand, a question upon her lips.
The moment was destroyed by a deafening roar.
Across the village's main path, a monstrous animal charged terrifyingly fast... straight towards Leif and Olaf.
The fighting seemed to go on forever and exhaustion was creeping on him like a deadly disease.
It was getting harder and harder to raise his sword but each time he felt the urge to simply give up, Olaf pushed himself to continue block, continue stabbing, continue surviving for that was truly what he was doing; surviving.
This was unlike any of his past battles. Back then, he fought against men, living fearful men. These things, these unholy bastards were incapable of being afraid and they never got tired, never faltered, never stopped. And when they eventually kill him, he too will turn into one of these mindless rage machines, his soul lost for an eternity.
It was all becoming a blur of block, attack, block, that the next sword he deflected caught him by surprise. Not of the sword itself but of the person wielding it.
"You have betrayed the gods," Esben mumbled, hysteria setting in his eyes. "We are being punished because of you! I will not die because of you!" He growled menacingly and swiped at Olaf. "The gods will favor me for killing the traitor. They will make me king!"
Olaf prepared for the shipmaster to attack but was caught off guard when a draugr popped out of nowhere. He barely deflected a strike and cut the creature down just as stinging pain sliced across his side. Olaf pressed a hand to the bleeding wound and bared his teeth at Esben.
"Die traitor," Esben hissed. He drew his sword back, swung, and froze mid-way, his eyes bulging out of his sockets. The tip of a sword erected from the ship master's chest, glinting in the firelight. It slid back through him and Esben's corpse slumped to the floor, revealing Leif the slave.
"Never liked that guy," Leif said breathlessly and stuck out his arm. Olaf took it.
Once he was up on his feet, he gripped Leif's forearm and gave it a squeeze- a wordless thanks. There was no time to talk since new draugrs appeared, forcing them to fight again. Stinging pain flared up each time he moved, making it harder to use his sword, but it was nothing to that deafening roar, one he dreaded to hear.
Men and draugr alike were tossed into the air like rag dolls as the ogre came charging straight at Olaf. His instincts screamed for him to run but he knew it would be pointless. The only thing he can do is stand his ground and fight or die trying.
At the last possible second, the ogre tripped.
Confusion filled Olaf and then he watched in tense surprise as the ogre was dragged by its ankle and left dangling in the air from the fist of a mighty troll.
The troll brought the squirming ogre to his face and snorted, clouds of smoke shooting from his large nostrils. The troll set down his granite totem and snatched the ogre's other leg. Quick and brutal, he tore the ogre apart and flung its body away.
Olaf jerked in surprise as a draugr sailed through the air. He heard the neighing of a horse and like a godsend, Thrud appeared.
Relief flooded him despite there being a troll standing a few feet away. During the entire battle he felt off and now he knew why: no matter where or when, through thick or thin, Thrud's always had his back and it was only natural that they fight together.
"Not dead yet, I see," she greeted with a grin.
"It would take a lot more than a few draugrs to kill me," he said, making her shake her head in amusement.
"Uh, he's with you, right?" Leif asked in alarm, pointing at the troll. Curiously, the troll muttered something while wiping at his hairy nose.
Thrud chuckled and shook her head. "He won't hurt you if that's what you mean," she replied.
Howling filled the night air. For a bizarre moment, Olaf thought that wolves were in the area and his stomach sank at the thought that they were undead wolves. He was (fortunately) proven wrong as a swarm of half naked men and women flooded into the village, brutally clashing against the draugrs. So fierce they fought -and some fought with only their bare hands- that they managed to push the draugr invasion back, giving Olaf and present company enough breather space.
"The úlfheðnar and berserkirs! You brought them here?" Leif exclaimed.
Thrud smirked, "We're fighting draugrs. They just even the odds."
Alvid came running up with a group of men, the jarl looking worse for wear. "Who brought them here?" he yelled.
Thrud raised her chin, "I did. They're here to help."
The jarl cursed, "I have no money to pay them with!"
"That's already been taken care of. Our main concern should be saving the village."
Alvid's face screwed up in anger. "The village is lost! The only thing we can do now is give the people enough time to evacuate. Then we can retreat and join the others and head to the nearest village."
Thrud shook her head, "No, they will only follow us and there will be even more death."
"We will all die if we stay!"
"There is no other way. We have to stop this now."
Olaf observed the battle whilst they argued. Although the number of draugrs were dwindling, the amount of bodies on the floor will be an army for the undead.
"Thrud is right," he announced, drawing everyone's attention. "We have to stop this now. The draugrs are coming from the river. If we are to regain any hold on the battlefield, we must drive them out of the village and fight them there. Thrud, you and the troll make a clear path to the river and take the úlfheðnar and berserkirs with you to slow down their invasion. I will follow closely behind with my company."
Alvid nodded, "I will gather my men then and we'll clear out any remaining draugr left in the village. If all goes well, we will join you at the river."
"Let's do this, shall we?" Thrud nudged her horse and shouted some type of language at the troll who grabbed his totem and followed her. She raised her hammer and a strange feeling overcame Olaf. It was as if he were in a trance, and Thrud was all he could see. The úlfheðnar and berserkirs were drawn to her too like wolves to a bunny, chasing after her as she led them towards the river.
His wife's voice calling his name echoed in his ears.
Olaf's spirits rose at the sound and an intense desire to see her again seized him. Vivid in his mind was her wise eyes, and the many times he lost to her playing chess made him warm with longing.
The draugrs still put fear in his mind but in his heart, strength bloomed.
He will fight to live if only to play chess with her one more time.
The beating gallop of the horse matched in sync with her heartbeat. Prudr felt the animal's fear like it was her own; knew it could smell the dead around them. She urged it to go faster, gifting the horse some of her courage.
She glanced to her left. Her longtime companion, Grendel of the Mist, ran beside her. "Not scared yet, are you?" Her troll speech was a bit rusty but she was sure he understood her. Prudr knew the troll did not like draugrs. He once told her that living men were ugly enough.
Grendel grumbled unhappily.
She flashed a charming grin at him. "Aw, don't be like that. Here, you can eat one of my friends- you can eat Olaf! He was the one with the blonde hair. He's going to be a king."
The troll scrunched up his nose as if he smelt something awful. "His blood reeks."
"That's too bad. How about a drink after this, then?"
"I'll drink you dead, little god," he chuckled as he stomped on a draugr.
Funny!" Prudr exclaimed, spotting a draugr coming up. "That wasn't what happened last time!" She winded her arm back and bared her teeth as she struck the undead square in the chest with her hammer, sending it soaring into the air where Grendel demolished it with his totem. She whooped at the sight, a tinge of battle adrenaline leaking into her veins.
This was surprisingly refreshing.
Hiding your godhood among mortals was all about restraint and patience- admittedly two things she was never good at- and letting go like this felt amazing. It felt like old times.
Damn, it was a miracle she didn't go mad.
They passed through the gates and she could see where the draugrs were coming from. She looked back. The wild men were hot on her trail.
Prudr lifted her hammer and as the horse reared back on its hind legs she yelled, "Kill them all! Make them wish they'd stayed dead!"
The úlfheðnar and berserkirs roared like one giant crazed beast and clashed with the undead. One good thing about these animal warriors: they were too far gone on hallucinogens to process fear. When a regular soldier freezes, petrified at the sight of a walking rotting flesh, the úlfheðnar and berserkirs see it as another enemy, another challenge, or maybe instincts take over to just kill, kill, kill. She didn't really know. She only tried Henbane once, anyways.
Prudr got off the horse and patted its neck, thanking it for its bravery, and sent it away from danger. She turned and jumped into the fray, letting herself get lost in the battle.
By the time Olaf arrived with his men, they had cut the draugr's numbers in half, and when Jarl Alvid appeared the draugr invasion slowed to a trickle. The men and women cheered in victory as the stray few draugrs were slaughtered. Prudr joined in on the brief celebration but her elation dampened. They may have won the battle but the amount of bodies on the floor was a greater loss.
This shouldn't have happened. Lives shouldn't have been lost this way. This wasn't man against man. This was man against evil. And where be the gods whom it was there duty to deal with such evil? Where be the god who has taken the title of 'Protector of Mankind', who has sworn to protect the weak? Prudr couldn't help but bitterly think that if her uncle were alive, he would have came to their aid. He would have been the first person there.
The crying cheers of the crowd faded away.
Hushed, they watched a thick blanket of fog creep from the river. No one dared to move or utter a sound, not even the úlfheðnar and berserkirs. They can all sense it in the air. Something dangerous... something sinister.
"Father!" the voice of a young child cried out from somewhere deep inside the fog.
Jarl Alvid made a sound of surprise and lunged forward only to have Olaf and a few men hold him back. "Aaric!" the jarl screamed, struggling against their hold, "Aaric!"
"Stop, stop!" Olaf grabbed onto the man and shook him. "It is too dangerous to go by yourself. We don't even know what's in there!"
Alvid's face twisted in a mix of fury and despair. "He is my son!"
"Then I will go, with a group of men and we will get your son back."
Prudr was listening intently when she heard someone whisper her name. Her head swiveled around, trying to find the person calling her until she realized the name they had used was her real name.
Her head snapped in the direction of the fog.
"Why can't we all go?" Leif asked.
Olaf shook his head, "The ice is already badly damaged by the draugrs. All our weight could make the whole thing collapse and we'd all drown."
"None of you are going," Prudr declared, drawing everyone's attention. "I will. Alone." She emphasized the last part. She hated repeating herself. Of course, the only person to disagree would be Olaf.
Her friend grimaced. "No. Not without me."
"You are injured, Olaf." She wasn't blind. She saw the way he winced with each step he took, saw his hand reach for his side, the cloth stained brownish red around the area.
"I will not let you go in by yourself," he whispered harshly and hissed in pain, his hand pressing against his wound. He snapped his head up. "Dammit! You are not a god, Thrud!"
Prudr blinked and gripped his shoulder firmly. "Do you trust me?"
Olaf stared at her intensely and said nothing but she already knew his answer.
"Then have faith in me." She smiled, a twinkle of mischief in her eye. "What is it you Christians do? Pray? Do that for me. Perhaps your god will hear you this time."
A silent acknowledgement passed between them and she let him go. Prudr turned to the jarl.
"I will bring your son back. I swear it."
Prudr tipped her head and turned around.
"May Thor protect you," the jarl said.
She paused mid-step, cocked her head, and for once, decided not to speak her mind.
The crowd parted to let her pass. Confident, she strode towards the river but slowed down when she reached the edge. It felt wrong, this fog. It felt unnatural.
With a sense of foreboding she entered the cloud of mist. Cold like she has never felt before engulfed her. She was freezing to the point she had to clench her teeth to stop them from clattering. Mustering up her strength, she forced herself to continue walking, hammer at the ready in case anything decided to jump her.
She didn't know how far in she was when she decided to call out for the boy. She stilled and strained her ears to hear something, anything, even for the sound of water moving for the boy could have fallen in on accident... or he could be drowning right at this very moment!
"Aaric!" she yelled again, her heart pounding. "Tell me where you are!"
I'm over here.
A swift whisper passed by her ear. It was a child's voice but it sounded off. Either way, Prudr went to where she thought she heard it come from. She breathed in relief when she caught sight of figure barely visible through the mist.
"Is that you, boy?"
The figure whimpered but said nothing.
Prudr gripped her hammer tighter and drew near. The closer she got, the more she could see better. It was definitely someone but it was still hard to see what or who since the person was huddled on the icy floor.
"Aaric?" she whispered.
The person- woman's head rose slowly, her neck cracking loudly. Black soulless eyes paralyzed Prudr to the spot. She was trapped under that cold gaze and for the first time in a long time, fear began worming its way into her heart. She gasped as if she was choking for air and struggled to remain calm. In her panicky state, her mind recalled the jarl's parting words, 'May Thor protect her' and for the briefest of moments, a small part of her expected to see her father come crashing from the sky to rescue his daughter.
But he didn't and she knew he wouldn't. So why did it still hurt?
The soft cries of a child snapped her out of it.
Prudr wrenched her hand from around her neck. The realization that she was choking herself was pushed far back in her mind to focus on the boy, Aaric, who was in the clutches of the woman. The terror reflected in his eyes sparked Prudr into action. She moved forward but froze when the ice underneath the woman and thus Aaric splintered as if something extremely heavy was dropped on it.
Aaric's cries of fear was smothered by a pale hand as the woman glowered at Prudr.
"One more step and you'll be fishing him out of the sea."
Prudr's heart skipped a beat. "He's just a child!"
The woman tilted her head. "This child has died many times already." She brushed her fingers through the boy's hair and peered at Prudr. "So have you. Over and over and... over." The woman wrapped her fingers around the Aaric's neck. "What's one more time?"
"Y-you're her, aren't you?" Prudr stuttered quickly in an attempt to distract the woman. She licked her lips nervously as she eyed the hand loosen from the boy's neck. "You are Hel."
Hel shifted her weight, sending Aaric deeper into her cold clutches. "You should leave, girl," the goddess warned darkly. "Run back home to Asgard and leave Midgard and all its inhabitants to me."
"I won't do that," Prudr stated firmly. "I will not abandon them."
"This is not your fight, child. You are not their protector."
Prudr narrowed her eyes. "Actions speak louder than a simple title, don't you think?"
"You will perish along with them," Hel hissed.
"You say that but you cower behind a child." Prudr pointed her hammer at the goddess. "You have been defeated. It's over. You've lost."
A fierce expression crossed Hel's face. "You think you've defeated me? You can't stop me. You can't stop Ragnarök. Odin knows this and soon, so will you." The ice ruptured from underneath them and Hel went down, taking Aaric with her.
"No!" Prudr lunged at them and landed hard on her stomach, her hand finding Aaric's wrist. With one quick yank, she pulled the boy out of the water and squished him against her chest. The boy was sobbing as Prudr wrapped him in her fur cloak. "Hey kid, it's alright. It's okay. It's over now, she's gone," she reassured him and stood up, carrying him in her arms. She began walking back the way she came.
"Are you really a god?" a quiet meek voice asked from within her cloak.
Prudr glanced down at the boy and raised a brow. "What makes you think that?"
Aaric sniffed and shrugged his shoulders. "The mean lady said you lived in Asgard. That's where the gods live." His face lit up. "That's where Thor lives!"
Prudr was glad to see that the kid was feeling better, despite his newfound affinity for a certain god.
"You like him?"
"Yeah, he's my favorite. He has a hammer that can smash through mountains! He's the strongest of all the gods. I wish I can be like him someday. Then my father can't force me to learn how to read and write because I'll be strong."
Prudr chuckled softly even though a heaviness weighed her down. "Physical strength isn't everything." She poked his chest, right above where the heart should be. "Strength from here, that's where it really matters. That kind of strength will never fail you." She grinned and flicked his nose, making him giggle with delight.
They were nearing the edge of the river and she could see Olaf and the others waiting for them.
She leaned down to whisper into his ear, "Hey kid, no telling nobody, okay? This is just between you and I."
"Don't worry. I swear I won't tell anyone."
"Good." She set him down and nudged him in the direction of Jarl Alvid. "Go on, now. Your father's been worried sick."
"Pa!" Aaric shouted excitedly and ran to his father who in turn rushed to meet his son halfway. Alvid embraced his son in a tight hug, utter relief and joy on his face and Prudr smiled.
She was glad the boy was okay and the father saved from the devastation of losing a child. It was times like this that reminded Prudr that even in this world of cruelty they lived in, there was still love to be found somewhere, no matter how small or insignificant and to someone, that kind of simple love is their world.
Jarl Alvid released his son, though keeping him close under his arm, and marched to her. He stuck out his arm and she grabbed his forearm instinctively.
"Thank you," he said firmly, "You've brought me back my son. How will I ever repay you?"
Prudr smiled softly. "There is no reward for saving another man's child."
Alvid nodded in understanding and freed her arm just as Olaf approached them and clapped her on the shoulder, a wordless way to say he was glad she had returned safe. They were all distracted when the fog shrunk back and dissipate into thin air, leaving no trace that it had ever been there.
"That's it, then. It's over," Leif proclaimed breathlessly, the ex-slave covered in blood and dirt.
"No," Alvid looked around, his face grim. "There is still much to do. We must burn all the bodies and send word that the people who fled can return."
Prudr tightened her lips. "You cannot do that."
The jarl threw her a questioning look. "Why not? It's safe now."
"It is not safe."
A nervous murmur swept through the crowd and the air became ripe with tension.
"What does she mean?" someone voiced.
"Are there more?" another cried out.
"Thrud," Olaf said, worry interlaced in his voice. "What aren't you telling us?"
She could feel everyone's hopes plummet, the strength she had gifted them draining from their hearts and the truth, the truth of Ragnarök will only make things worse.
"It's not over."
Prudr gazed at all the faces present and knew she won't be able to save them all.
"This is only the beginning."
After hours and hours of hunting in the snowy terrain, father and son caught only a pair of twin, white coated hares.
"They'll make for some fine stew," his father commented, stringing them at his waist.
"Again?" Atreus grumbled but stopped when he caught the look his father sent him. He hadn't meant to complain and he did feel bad about it but there was only so many times they can eat rabbit stew before it weathered down on the tongue. He craved variety. He craved warmer weather.
Nighttime was coming fast.
They were on the path home when a thunderstorm caught them by surprise. It came so suddenly that by the time they managed to find some cover underneath the alcove of a rock, they were both soaking wet.
The raindrops echoed in the small concave as they sat in silence waiting for the storm to pass.
Atreus was gazing out at the gloomy landscape when in the distance, multiple strikes of lighting hit the side of a mountain!
"Father!" he shouted and pointed in awe as the sky over there lit up. He has never seen anything like that before and he realized with a slight tinge of fear that this couldn't have been natural.
"Something's angered Thor," he said quietly, just in case the thunder god himself could hear him and strike him down, too.
His father made no comment and when the rain stopped, he got up and tapped Atreus on the shoulder. "Let's go."
As soon as they stepped inside the cabin, they shed their wet outer clothes and huddled by the fire, watching the stew bubble inside an iron pot. Once it was deemed edible, Atreus poured some stew into two bowls and served his father first, then himself.
He took a few bites then sighed. "I miss mom's cooking," he mumbled softly.
No reply. Then-
"So... do I."
Atreus peered at his father. He set the bowl down on his lap, frowning at it.
"I just... I don't understand." His fingers tightened around the spoon. "She was fine. There was nothing wrong with her-"
"We will not talk of this."
Atreus blinked up in surprise. "But I thought-" I thought we could talk about this. About mom.
Kratos stared back with a quiet intensity in his eyes, the fire flickering in their reflection.
Anger swelled in Atreus' chest, making his arms buzz with the need to throw his bowl across the room. But he didn't do any of that. One, because he knew it was wrong and two, he knew his father would make him clean it up afterwards.
So he sulked, unable to take another bite from his stew.
"No, I get it," he snapped, looking anywhere but at his dad. "You don't want to talk about it." His father didn't reply and somehow he wasn't satisfied with that response. "You know, I thought things were different. I thought I could talk to you. But, you're not mother. You will never be her."
The seconds those words left his mouth, a stab of guilt hit him. He hadn't meant to sound so harsh. He was just angry and... hurt?
His father didn't say anything so he continued eating in tense if awkward silence.
"Son," he heard his father say, "you can talk to me-"
"Do you hear that?" Atreus got to his feet and stared at the door.
"I hear nothing."
"Something's out there." The feeling of hunger gnawed at his stomach but hadn't he just ate? And it was cold and they were scared. Atreus made to the door and swung it open, ignoring his father's protests.
He saw nothing at first but trees and snow. A soft mewl drew his attention downwards and there, almost buried in the snow, was a tiny wolf pup.
"Father, look!" Atreus exclaimed, picking up the wolf pup and turning to show him.
His father came up behind him and tilted his head, examining the pup with indifference.
"We will not keep it."
"What?" Atreus practically shouted. "Bu-but we can't leave him out here. He'll die."
"Then it dies. It is none of our concern."
Atreus stared at him in shock. "How can you say that? What if it was me shivering in the cold."
Kratos gave him a funny look. "You are my son."
"That's not- what, why can't we keep him? I can train him!"
"It is a wolf, a wild animal. They will never be tamable."
"I won't leave him out here to die."
"You will do as I say. It is just an animal."
Atreus clutched the wolf pup to his chest possessively. "It is not just an animal. He's alive and he's scared. He just wants to survive..." He cradled the pup and it looked up at him with big round eyes. "... just like us."
"Fine," his father said. "Then stay out here with it."
The door slammed shut before Atreus could utter a word. He stood in disbelief for a moment, then tucked the pup underneath his shirt and sat in the snow in defiance. He didn't care. He wasn't going to let his father win.
Kratos grumbled and went back to his seat by the fire.
Disobedient child. He has still much to learn.
Calliope was never this defiant-
Every inch of his body tensed and a cold sick feeling washed over him. His heart pounded underneath his rib cage and he squeezed his eyes shut, his teeth grinding together till it ached. It felt like the world was spinning and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
Her voice filled his mind.
He could see her now, her face clear as day.
"Why is this happening?" he had once asked, delirious and afraid.
"Your anger is all gone."
The first bouts of breathes were always the hardest but it got easier the more he controlled it. It took years of practice to calm his mind, then his body. But the thoughts still lingered and that was something he never had control over.
He sat, staring into the fire, trying to let it consume his mind so he could not think of anything else when his son burst to the forefront of his mind. Steadily, he stood up and went to the door.
Outside, Atreus scrambled to his feet and held his chin high, trying to appear strong when Kratos can see him shaking in the cold night air.
To his credit, Atreus did not immediately dash into the warm cabin and instead stubbornly stayed in place. "We're keeping him?"
"We will keep it."
"Him. We are keeping him."
Kratos squinted at his son. "We will keep 'him'."
Atreus smiled victoriously and jogged inside, nearly running to the fire. Kratos followed him and sat, eating his stew, watching his son pet the wolf pup and feeding it chunks of cooked meat.
"Do not get too attached. We will only keep him until he is able to fend for himself," he said when he saw his son being too happy with the pup.
"That's fine," his son answered nonchalantly, making Kratos suspicious. "He can help us hunt till then."
Kratos hummed. The thought hadn't crossed his mind but it wasn't all too bad an idea. If, that is, the wolf can be trained to do just that.
"Boy," he called, gaining Atreus' attention. "The wolf is your responsibility now. You will take care of him and train him."
"I understand, Father. I will."
With his stew gone, there was no more food to be had for the pup so the little thing wandered over to Kratos. The animal wiggled its body, whining for any leftovers. Kratos eyed the pup and placed two fingers on its rear.
"Sit," he said, forcing the pup's hind legs down. It sat and he gave it some food.
The second he removed his fingers, the pup got on all fours again, wagging its tail for some more deliciousness.
"Sit," Kratos commanded, this time not reinforcing the action with his fingers. Surprisingly, the pup sat.
He raised a brow. Impressive.
"Have you chosen a name for him?"
Atreus grinned. "Fenrir. He's a wolf from mythology. He eats Odin."
Kratos huffed in amusement. "A fitting name."
"Father, about what I said about you and mother. I'm sorry."
He gazed at his son, a gentleness in his eyes. "I will never be like your mother. No one can ever be the person she was. But know that you can talk to me. Maybe never in the way you did with her. But... I am here. Remember that always."
Atreus smiled a small smile. "Thank you, Father."
The fire was put out and they crawled into their beds to rest for the night.
As per usual, Kratos laid awake, practicing his meditation when he heard something moving to his left. He felt soft fur brush against the side of his face and then a warm body curled around his head, followed by a lick or two.
He was tempted to dump the pup back on Atreus' bed but he couldn't be bothered. It wasn't hurting anyone.
Besides, it kept his bald head warm.
Chapter 11: The Serpent, The Goddess and The Squirrel
The bright light of the moon shined upon the frozen surface of the sea.
All was quiet save for the faint deep sound of water churning below.
A tiny crack sketched itself along the surface, followed by another and another until the ice rippled and the peak of a head rose from the cold watery depths.
Fragments of shattered ice trickled down the body of a dead woman as she stepped onto the frozen sea. It had only been seconds in the time she had left the water but even then, the ocean wind attacked her face; her chapped lips turning solid and snow formed in her eyebrows and the tips of her eyelashes, making them appear white. Her fine expensive clothes were soaked and clung to her figure, her long hair pressed flat to her face.
If the woman were alive, she would have been dead, and since she was already dead, her corpse would have been frozen beyond functional use, but this was no ordinary corpse, and no ordinary woman, for from her eyes reflected something ancient and wicked:
The goddess of death locked her sight on a group of draugrs before her, the undead warriors standing still as statues. A guttural groan reverberated from her chest and there sounded the pop! pop! pop! as her fingers curled into fists.
She marched to the closest draugr, stiffly and awkwardly, snatched its sword and sliced the blade down her arm like one would do when skinning an animal.
No pain. The dead do not feel.
Hel raised her skinned arm and observed it with visible disgust.
This pathetic body dealt her a crucial defeat tonight. If only she were really here, things would have gone differently with that Aesir brat.
"Well that was embarrassing. I should know, I was there watching the entire time. You know, it's funny how nobody takes notice of the squirrel in the battlefield. Makes me feel invisible, to be honest."
Hel craned her neck in the direction of the voice- a small, ordinary looking red squirrel. The only peculiar thing about it was a tiny pouch slung across its shoulder.
The squirrel shivered, its fur perking up. "Alright, enough with the staring, will ya? Giving me the creeps."
"Ratatoskr," Hel groaned like the aging of old trees. "You have what I need."
"Got it right here." The squirrel patted his shoulder pouch with a cheeky smile.
Without a word, Hel bent down and held out her hand. Ratatoskr unclasped the pouch and furrowed around before magically pulling out a wooden vial, most definitely larger than his pouch.
He gave it to her and his curly tail twitched. "Hey! You could have warned me about the girl. The little shit tried to eat me!"
"The dead have no need for food," Hel said as she examined the vial.
"Yeah whatever," Ratatoskr grumbled, pawing at his nose. "What the hel is a living girl doing in the underworld, anyways?"
His question was ignored.
Hel straightened and gestured to one of the draugrs and hidden from behind, a little girl appeared.
Ratatoskr jumped with a squeak. "Ah! It's her! Don't let her eat me!... Oh, wait." He eyeballed the girl, his little nose twitching. "Hey, that's not her. It looks like her, but it ain't her. This one's dead."
The little girl approached Hel and looked up at her from frizzy feathery light blonde hair, the inky pale whiteness of her eyes the only telltale sign of her passing. Hel gazed down and cracked open her mouth, the girl copying her action. They did this several times, like the girl the puppet and Hel the puppeteer.
After making a few sounds through the little girl's mouth, Hel crouched down and placed her fingertips on the frozen surface. The ice disintegrated, leaving a medium sized hole, revealing the dark ocean water below. She stood and popped open the vial and tipped it sideways.
Droplets of blood fell from the vial, becoming lost in the sea.
The squirrel looked up at her inquisitively. "What're you doing?"
"Jörmungandr will smell her blood. He will come for her, even if he does not remember her."
"Jorm wants to eat her?" squeaked Ratatoskr.
"He will be curious." Hel tilted her head. "The giants may have taken his memories, but he will never forget her."
The little girl walked along the edge of the hole and sat down, her legs swinging in the water.
Hel backed away, and wisely, so did the squirrel.
She closed her eyes and focused all her energy on the girl.
The little girl began humming, her voice not her own but of another little girl who lived in the dark tunnels of the underworld; scurrying around like the rats, searching for her next meal and yearning for the company of her dead mother.
The little girl's humming was hauntingly beautiful and her voice carried throughout the watery depths...
There was no grand sign that the world serpent arrived; Only the shifting of something large moving beneath the ice.
The ground began to vibrate as the serpent hummed along to the tune.
Hel knew the serpent did not know how or why he knew the little hum. It was instinct, something lodged deep in his subconsciousness that'll never go away.
It was his downfall.
Hel seized the opportunity and drawing upon her strength, she unleashed a wave of magic, turning the water below into solid ice and freezing the world serpent within. It won't be enough to kill - he won't die by her hand - but it was enough to trap him. She did not need him interfering with her plans. When the time is right, she will release him to fight Thor.
Ratatoskr scuttled closer to the girl and knocked rapidly on the ice. "You froze him solid! Aren't you worried he'll break free?"
Hel gazed at the little girl still humming, her legs trapped in the ice. "She will keep him asleep."
"Risky business. He won't be happy when he wakes up." Ratatoskr's whiskers twitched with excitement. "Ooh, I can't wait till he wakes up! I've waited a long time for Ragnarök to happen. It's always fun to watch! It never gets old!"
As the demented squirrel squeaked happily, a strange throb pulsed through her body and Hel raised her arms. The pale dead flesh began to frost and when she balled her hands into fists, they shattered into frozen chunks.
Too much power was used and this mortal corpse couldn't handle it, just like how it couldn't handle Thor's daughter.
But her true body was still trapped in Helheim.
Though, not for long.
Everyday she could feel Midgard slowly dying and soon this land will be dead and cold enough for her true body to inhabit, and when that time comes, Asgard and all the others realms will be next.
It was only a matter of time.
And this time, the end will be permanent.
Chapter 12: Exile of a Giant
A herd of deer wander around a small clearing in the forest, nibbling on twigs and patches of grass hidden under layers of snow.
Kratos is silent as he observes Atreus.
The boy has changed from the time of his very first deer hunt. There wasn't a hint of nervousness on his face; only the collected calmness of focus and determination.
So much like Faye...
A young wolf zoomed between them, charging at the herd, yipping and barking excitedly. The deer scatter and Atreus lowered his bow with a huff.
"Fenrir, no! Stop!" he shouted, jumping to his feet. Kratos stood from his crouched position as well since staying hidden no longer mattered.
The young juvenile wolf paid no heed to his master's orders and went about sniffing the area.
"Call your wolf back before it wanders off," Kratos advised, a plan formulating in his head to track down the fleeing deer.
Atreus nodded and cupped his hands around his mouth, "Fenrir, come on, boy. Let's go!"
Fenrir glanced at him, his eyes sharp and bright in contrast to his pitch black fur, and continued sniffing.
Kratos began walking away.
"Come!" he barked without looking back.
Fenrir snapped to attention and bounded after him like an obedient battle hound. From behind, he heard his son let out a noise of indignation. The young wolf stopped beside him and barely managed to bump the top of his head against Kratos' fingers, and if one weren't paying attention, they would have missed him extending his fingers, just barely, to greet the wolf back.
"You should have more control over you wolf by now, Boy," he chided when Atreus caught up with them.
Atreus pouted and kicked the snow. "I'm trying to but he only seems to listen to you."
"That is no excuse," he replied apathetically.
"It's not an excuse," his son snipped rather defensively. "Wolves are pack animals. They only follow the strongest, the leader, and that's not me at all..."
The insecure tone in Atreus' voice had Kratos peering closely at his son. He didn't say anything at first. He let them travel in silence as they followed the deer tracks through the woods, Fenrir in the lead.
Finally, he inhaled deeply, hardening his face.
"Your mother and I came upon a wolf hunt once," he said before he could change his mind. He ignored the way Atreus' head whipped toward him, surprise probably written all over his face. "She pointed to one and told me that was the leader. It was neither the strongest or fastest, nor the biggest, but it held itself with a quiet confidence that commanded respect. When they chased after their prey, the wolf took charge and chose all the decisions that would lead to the pack's success. That is what makes a true leader."
Atreus chuckled nervously. "That sounds intimidating. I don't think I could ever command respect over, well, anyone. In that way."
"It is easier than you perceive." Kratos' mind briefly drifted to the past, to an old and distant life. "I commanded armies similar to the way a wolf leads its pack. There was no time for self-doubt when there were wars to win."
"Not all of them were wars, though," Atreus said quietly. Kratos stared at him in confusion until he finally spoke up again. "I remember you told me, you killed a lot of people... many who weren't deserving."
There was an awkward silence that passed.
"I have, conquered many places, all in the name of Sparta." He frowned deeply, a sliver of disgust curling in his stomach. "No. That is an old lie. I did not fight for Sparta. I fought for glory. All the wars I led, all the people I've killed, it was all for glory."
Kratos was tingling with unbridled shame. To finally admit to one of his major faults, something that was looked down upon in Sparta and in their whole way of life, left him feeling uncomfortably vulnerable, even if it was all in his mind. He was trained to be a soldier that served his people selflessly, and in the end, he had failed to become that soldier. Worst, he held too much pride to admit it.
Until now, that is.
He still felt disappointed with himself but coming to terms with his immoral leadership did lift a weight off his shoulders he hadn't known he had been carrying.
"Sounds like a waste of time, to me," Atreus commented nonchalantly.
Kratos was caught off guard at his son's response. Then, an amused smile flickered across his face.
The conversation was dropped as they returned their focus on locating the herd. When they found them, Atreus got back into position, readying his bow while Kratos gestured with his hand for Fenrir to sit and stay put. All was going smoothly when the group of deer suddenly took off as if spooked by something. Multiple set of hooves stampeded through the snow, their departure revealing a strong looking buck that remained in place, standing unfazed in the swarm of fleeing deer.
The herd was gone, leaving only the buck.
A growl erupted from deep within Fenrir's chest. A raised hand from Kratos quickly silenced the wolf.
A steady exhale and Atreus took the shot. The arrow flew through the air and soundly struck the buck through its heart. The animal did not cry but simply collapsed like a wooden toy.
Atreus let out a relieved exhale and smiled proudly.
They left their hiding spot and approached the downed animal. They stopped before it and Kratos pulled out a large, shredded knife.
"Clean the kill," he ordered and handed it to Atreus.
He took it and went to work immediately. When it got time to slice open the underbelly, Fenrir growled and leapt at him.
"Fenrir, what are you doing? Stop!" Atreus managed to shove the wolf away and jabbed a finger in his direction. "No," he snapped bluntly and went back to finishing his task, ignoring the whining wolf.
The second he cut it all the way open, an ungodly stench filled the air, making them slap their hands over their mouths and noses. Atreus jumped back when a pile of rotting intestines slid out onto the snow.
"What the hel?" Atreus exclaimed from beneath his hand. "What is wrong with him?"
They both stilled, watching the intestines shift as something moved inside. In the blink of an eye, a small black creature shot from within the corpse, heading straight for his son! Kratos barely had time to react when Fenrir appeared out of nowhere and snatched the creature in his jaws. The wolf shook his head vigorously until an audible crunch sounded and he spat it out, licking his lips like he's tasted something nasty.
Atreus quickly went to look at the thing, Kratos coming up behind him to peer over his shoulder.
"It's a rat," he revealed, his face scrunched up in a mixture of disgust and confusion. He bent closer and gasped and backed away immediately, pushing Kratos back, too. "It's a plague rat!"
"All rats are a plague," Kratos said with a grimace.
"No, you don't understand. This is a 'plague rat'. One bite and you're done for. Mom says they carry all the disease of mankind and if you're bitten, you'll get all of it." Atreus shuffled around the rat cautiously and used his foot to bury it with snow. "I've never seen one before but that's definitely it. Did you see? It had crows feet."
Kratos cocked his head slightly. "Is it edible?"
Atreus paused, dumbfounded. "I don't know... I don't think so." He finished covering the rat and went to Fenrir and crouched before the wolf and began petting him. "I'm sorry, boy. You were only just trying to help."
Fenrir licked his face, causing Atreus to draw back and wipe at the saliva.
Kratos looking away from the two and up towards the sky. "We should keep moving."
They went on their way, leaving behind the rotting buck and buried rat.
With Fenrir leading them by his nose, Atreus said, "I still don't get it. What would a plague rat be doing here? I thought they only lived in Hel."
"It could have been a trap." It was just a suggestion, a speculation really, but it made sense to him.
"But who would do that? That's just... wrong."
"Perhaps it was Hermes."
"Nobody worth knowing."
The deer he shot was slung around his father's broad shoulders.
Atreus felt a twinge of guilt. He still hated that he had to kill an innocent animal but, like his father says, it is simply survival.
At least this one wasn't hiding any surprises inside.
They were heading in the direction of home when Fenrir halted and sniffed the air. He had a gut feeling something bad was going to happen and wouldn't you know it, his wolf shot off like an arrow, ignoring his and even his father's calling.
"Fenrir, come back!" Atreus yelled, chasing after the damn wolf. For being a young adolescent, Fenrir was fast and it took every ounce of his stamina to stay on his tail. He was huffing and puffing by the time he caught up with the wolf, or really Fenrir stopped running, allowing Atreus to close in on him.
The sound of battle snapped his focus to what he and the wolf stumbled upon.
Before him, a nasty group of draugr were closing in on a lone woman, and to make matters worse there was a troll!
He heard crunching in the snow behind him and a quick glance back revealed it to be Kratos.
"We have to save her!" Atreus exclaimed and dashed bravely to the aid of the fair maiden, in despite of his father's vocal protest. With his bow in his hands and Fenrir at his side, he aimed and shot one of the draugr through the head. His heart beat wildly as he rolled to the side, dodging a lunge attack. Settling quickly into a crouch, he raised his bow, arrow pulled back only to hiss in pain as the draugr knocked his bow aside.
He would have been dead meat if Fenrir hadn't snatched the draugr's forearm in his mouth, temporarily distracting the undead warrior. Atreus wasted no time putting two arrows through his eye and chest.
Whilst he and Fenrir were picking off the last of the draugr, a blur of white passed them by. Atreus turned and saw his father had entered the battle and was heading straight for the troll.
The troll, smaller than the previous ones they've encountered before, faced the incoming opponent and promptly roared in greeting, the moss draping from his back and shoulder quivering from the intensity. Faster than he thought a troll possible, the creature swiftly careened the flat end of his mossy stone totem at Kratos. His father darted to the side, barely avoiding contact, and hurled the axe which lodged into the troll's chest.
The axe must feel like a toothpick in comparison since it caused the troll little to no damage but Kratos didn't seem to mind or care. Strangely enough, his father did not call the axe back and instead jumped on the totem and traveled up the troll's arm. Before the troll could shake him off, Kratos dove for the axe and using his momentum, swung up in an arc and planted his feet on the bottom of the troll's chin.
Atreus has witnessed the amazing feats of strength his father was capable of and it came as no surprise to see the troll's head snap back, his feet lifting from the ground and come crashing back down on his back. Meanwhile, Kratos grabbed the stone totem midair and prepared to obliterate the troll's head to smithereens.
The woman came out of nowhere and body slammed into Kratos, knocking them both off course. The totem landed with a resounding thud, followed by two bodies rolling awkwardly to a stop in the snow.
Atreus stood in shock: one because the woman they had been trying to save just attacked his father and two, she had knocked his father away- in midair!
Kratos was on his feet in an instant and so was she. They both pointed their weapons at each other; an axe and a warhammer. Suddenly, this whole saving the maiden quest turned into something completely unexpected...
"What in all the nine realms do you think you are doing!" the woman demanded fiercely.
"We're here to rescue you," he answered since he didn't think Kratos would. In fact, his father looked just about ready to fight.
The woman eyes darted to him. "By murdering my friend?"
Confusion swept over Atreus. "Your... friend?" At that moment, the troll clambered to his feet, rubbing at his sore jaw. Though the woman claimed to be friends with the creature, Atreus couldn't help but take a step back. Fenrir yipped happily, completely unaware of the situation.
The woman sighed and stood up from her battle stance. "Look, there's clearly been a misunderstanding."
"Clearly," Kratos said gruffly.
She gave him a sharp look but shook her head. "Thank you, for coming to my aid but I wasn't in any danger from my friend here. It was the draugr who sneaked up on us, as to be expected."
Atreus shouldered his bow, no longer seeing them as a threat. "Why are you out here then if you knew you were going to be attacked?"
"It's my job, kid," she replied with an easy smile.
"Who are you," Kratos cut in, reattaching his axe and crossing his arms.
The woman raised a brow. "I could ask the same of you two." She placed a hand over her chest. "I am Thrud and this is Grendel of the Mist. We're part of the search and rescue division. Actually, we're out here looking for people like you."
Atreus could practically see his father tense as he unwrapped his arms, his hands tightening into fists. The last time somebody came looking for them ended up being a disaster, more or less.
"What do you want?" his father said in a low, threatening tone. If Thrud noticed his hostility, she didn't let it show. Most people would have been scared by now but she simply ignored it.
"I don't know if you've noticed but there's been a recent wave of draugr popping up. This area and whoever lives here is considered dangerous and at most risk. Do you live around here?"
"That is none of your concern."
"We live in the WildWoods."
Atreus flinched and mouthed sorry when his father sent him a look of annoyance.
"The WildWoods huh," Thrud muttered, rubbing her chin. "That is a well hidden area. No wonder the draugr haven't swarmed you guys by now. Yet, you two are still at risk. I was ordered to find any remaining straggles and take them back to the caravan. From there we'll head to base camp. It will be safe there."
"We can take care of ourselves," replied his father.
"I can tell," she said while looking around at the bodies of the undead strewn about. She then glanced at the sky. "I understand you won't be traveling with us to back to camp, but at least spend the night with the caravan. It's late as it is and you wouldn't want to be caught out there in the dark."
"We'll be fine," Kratos grunted and moved to leave.
"I'm not talking about you."
Kratos stopped and his eyes met Atreus'.
"It will be just for one night. There'll be plenty of food and water to go around and a tent for you and your boy. There's also children his age he can play with."
"Really?" Atreus gaped excitedly. He's never met other kids and he's always wondered what it would be like to have friends. Don't get him wrong, his mother was great company, his father... not so much but he would have preferred the company of a sibling. Sometimes, he would get lonely playing by himself and at times he would wish for somebody at his side to go exploring with and a wooden toy wasn't a fulfilling substitute.
He looked at his father intensely and with pleading eyes said, "Can we go? Please?"
His chest fell. "But it will only be for one night!" he sputtered.
Kratos narrowed his eyes at him. "I said no."
Atreus snatched his wrist, "Please Father. I never ask for anything. Please, please just do this one thing for me and- and I promise I won't ask for anything ever again. Just... please?"
He waited with bated breath for his father's reply, and just when he thought his silence was a clear 'no', Kratos grunted a stiff, "Fine."
Atreus could practically leap with joy but he settled with a grin.
Thrud nodded her head. "Alright then, since you're coming I would suggest getting your kill before your dog over there eats it."
They both whipped their heads to see Fenrir tugging at the forgotten deer's thigh. Kratos growled and marched over to fetch the animal. When he was out of earshot, Thrud crouched beside Atreus and gently nudged his shoulder.
"Hey, what's your name, kid?"
He turned and found her way closer to him than he expected. From this distance he could see her face better, especially the tattoos around her eyes. They were printed in the shape of butterfly wings and every time she blinked he imagined they would flap. The tattoos enhanced her beauty and though she may have not needed rescuing she was a fair maiden indeed.
"A-Atreus," he stammered and suddenly remembered his father. "And he's Kratos."
Thrud eyed his father. "Is he really your pappa?"
"And... where is your mother?"
Atreus' nervousness disappeared and he lowered his head. "She's dead. She died before the start of this winter." Tears welled up in his eyes. He thought he was done crying. Apparently, he was wrong. It didn't help that he was going to cry in front of a total stranger. His cheeks flamed at the thought.
"I... I am so sorry."
Atreus looked up because she sounded as sad as he felt. He was surprised to meet glossy eyes.
"I didn't know," she whispered.
They both blinked at the sound of his father's return. Thrud wiped at her face and stood, appearing as if nothing had happened.
"Follow us, then," she said with a firm nod. She and the troll began walking away, leaving him and his father with no choice but to follow.
"We're getting close to the caravan. You might want to keep your dog close to avoid a panic. He looks like a wolf."
"He is a wolf," Atreus answered and the look on her face made him add, "Oh, don't worry. He's friendly!"
Thrud looked to Kratos in disbelief.
Inwardly, Kratos grumbled. He knew problems like this would arise and that was one of the many reasons he wanted to avoid human population. It was an annoyance to be around people and he much preferred the serenity of solitude. He had to remind himself that they would only be staying for one night and by tomorrow, things will go back to normal.
"Fenrir," he yelled and the wolf came zooming back to him. When he was beside him he told the wolf to heel and Fenrir obeyed flawlessly.
Thrud looked at the wolf funnily. "Fenrir?" she asked quizzically.
Atreus smiled, "He's not the real Fenrir. He would be a lot bigger if he was."
She nodded in understanding. "Ah, I see you're not a fan of the Allfather I take it?"
"Are you kidding? He tried to- uh, I mean he's not my favorite god," Atreus finished awkwardly, scratching the back of his head.
"That's okay. He's not mine, either."
Grendel the troll said something to Thrud and departed.
"Where's he going?" Atreus said, watching the troll go.
"He's going back to base camp where his tribe is."
"Will he be alright traveling alone at night?"
"He'll be fine," she said reassuringly. "Trolls have a natural affinity to the cold and they can see better in the dark, better than even an owl." She curled her fingers into the shape of a circle over her eyes and hooted at the boy, making him giggle.
When his giggling died down he asked, "How did you become friends with a troll? I thought they hated men."
If Kratos' ears pricked with curiosity, that was his own business.
Thrud rubbed the back of her shoulder, "Oh, well that is a very long story and yes, trolls don't like men, some more than others."
"Don't they eat people?" Atreus said slowly.
She shrugged. "Like I said. Some more than others. That's why Grendel made me this." She slipped out an amulet from under her shirt and showed it to him. Kratos eyed the jewelry. It was carved in the shape of a circle but the two ends in the bottom didn't connect and instead overlapped the other and curled at the end.
Atreus frowned at her. "But this is a trollkors. They're supposed to ward of trolls."
"Only the ones who intend to do me harm." She hid the necklace back underneath her shirt. "Of course, it doesn't really ward off trolls but it does weaken them. It makes fighting them a whole lot easier."
"I wish we had one," Atreus mumbled.
Thrud cocked her head. "You and your father fight a lot of trolls?"
His son opened his mouth to respond but Kratos thought it was a good time to cut in.
"That is enough. Leave the boy alone."
Thrud quirked a brow. "Settle down, big guy. We're here."
The caravan came into view. It was less of a caravan and more of a stray collection of tents with weathered looking people and their livestock. Many shied away from the trio, many more eyed Kratos with a mixture of curiosity and fear. He ignored their stares. He was used to this by now and it seemed where ever he went people will always be fearful of his presence. And they didn't even know the evil he has done.
"The evening meal should be done soon. It's public so I suggest getting there early so you can get your piece hot." She strolled down a few tents and disappeared into one and after a moment came back out with two rolled up tents which she handed to them. "Here you go. One for each if you'd prefer. I've got to make sure everything's ready for departure tomorrow so I'll see you two at dinner. In the meantime, make yourselves comfortable and if you need anything just ask." Thrud held out her hand and took the deer Kratos had been carrying. She appeared to leave but she stopped and came back. "Oh, one more thing. The caravan has a curfew. No one leaves their tent after dark. If you have to relieve yourself, bring a buddy."
"Why?" Atreus said with a frown.
"People have gone missing and it only happens at night. Our resident völva thinks it is the doing of a Hulder."
"Are they dangerous?" Kratos finally spoke up, catching both their attentions.
Atreus interrupted her before she could answer. "They can take on the shape of any of your loved ones and lure you out into the woods and kill you- er, or that's what mom told me." He shrunk away from their stares, giving them a sheepish smile.
Thrud shook her head, smiling. "They can suck the life out of a man in seconds, if that's what you mean," she said to Kratos and then looked down at Atreus with a reproachful gaze. "So don't stray from the caravan. The völva's magic can only protect you if you are within her circle."
"Why haven't you killed this thing yet?" Kratos almost seethed. The woman claimed it would be safer to stay at the caravan but here they were, getting attacked by some creature. And it was too late to travel back to the cabin.
She looked at him as if he were talking mad. "It's almost impossible to hunt a Hulder down. Their backs are made out of wood. They can just wrap themselves around a tree and stay hidden, and there are many trees."
Kratos' frown deepened. To him, all he was hearing are excuses. If there was a threat to his son's safety, he would chop down every tree until one of them bled blood. It was a good thing they were only staying for the night. By the crack of dawn, he and his son will finally be rid of all of these people and their problems.
Thrud shifted the deer strung around her shoulders and blew away a strand of hair that fell on her face. "You and your son will be safe. Vala has strengthened her protection runes to keep the Hulder's reach from the caravan. But follow the curfew anyways and do not leave the area. There are still draugr out there."
With that, she departed with their deer, leaving them to pitch up their tents. After they've finished, Kratos intended to nap until dinner when a gang of kids ran by waving around wooden sticks.
He glanced at his son and saw the look of longing on his face. He could go but Kratos sensed a hesitance that hindered him back. Kratos did not understand what was so intimidating but he reminded himself Atreus wasn't like him. When he was a boy, he had no friends other than Deimos. Actually, now that he thinks about it, he hadn't cared for any companionship in the slightest.
Everyone was either an ally or an enemy. If they were neither, then they did not matter.
His views hasn't changed much.
The only exception was... them. His family. The two people that should have viewed him as their enemy...
He burned the creeping image of their faces from his mind and nudged Atreus' shoulder.
"Go." The way he said it sounded more like an order than a suggestion.
His son looked up at him warily. "What if they don't like me?"
"Does it matter?"
Atreus' face took on one of thoughtfulness. He shrugged. "I guess not." The boy moved to jog after the group of kids but Kratos caught his shoulder.
"Stay in the camp." This time it was an order.
"I will," his son replied with a nod and an excited smile. "I'll be back!"
Kratos watched him go for a bit before crouching to enter his tent. Fenrir tried to follow after him but he stopped the wolf.
"Go with him. Keep him safe," he said and he wasn't surprised to see comprehension pass through the black wolf's eyes. He knew from the start that Fenrir was something else; something special.
The wolf took off after Atreus, garnering some frightened looks from their neighbors. Kratos didn't care. If they had a problem with their wolf, they can take it up with him.
Somehow, he knew they wouldn't.
He crawled into the tent and laid flat on the hard ground to get some rest, knowing he won't be disturbed.
This is a dream.
Vala knows her body is asleep inside her tent; knows no harm will come to her.
It didn't make the dark and dreary trees surrounding her any less scary.
She whirled around, trying to find a path or an opening through the darkness but the scenery blurs across her vision making her dizzy.
The world halted to a stand still.
Vala breathed in deeply, trying to slow her racing heart.
Every fiber of her being tensed, like a deer suddenly realizing that something wasn't right. Her eyes lock onto the darkness between the trees. Nothing moves and the only sound she could hear was her own ragged breathing.
A twig snapped, ricocheting through the emptiness. A short gasp tore from her lips and she dropped to her knees in the snow and with shaking fingers, hurriedly began drawing protection runes.
The snapping of multiple twigs grew closer and the closer it got the more louder it became, turning from tiny twigs to thick branches that made her flinch with each snap.
Vala could barely concentrate through the overwhelming panic building up in her mind. She had to run. She had to wake up.
She bit into the palm of her hand, drawing blood and hovered it above the runes, chanting, hoping this would protect her astral body. She shook uncontrollably as an icy cold gripped her body. The tree trunks before her twisted and curled with a deep groan as something slowly emerged from within.
Vala chanted louder but the words jumble together as a spindly deformed creature crawled out into under the faint moonlight. It was spider-like in appearance, but the many appendages were branches and the torso and head morphed into the form of a naked woman, her face covered beneath stringy jet black hair.
The thing raised its head and a stark white eyeball pierced into Vala's soul. The creature cracked open its mouth, its face rotten and grotesque.
"Vala," it hissed and lunged for her.
A choked scream bubbled up her throat as she clawed at the fur blankets. She jumped when someone entered her tent. In her sleep groggy state, she half-expected to see the creature, coming to kill her in real life, but it was only Thrud, the hammer wielding shield-maiden.
Her body relaxed at the sight of the warrior but the peace did not last long. A sudden powerful headache pressed on all sides of her skull. Vala screwed her eyes shut while she touched her forehead.
"I can come back." She heard Thrud say.
Vala raised a hand to stop her. "No. Please, water," she gritted out, blindly pointing in the general direction of where she last left her skin flask. She couldn't see Thrud but she heard the woman make her way through her tent and soon she felt something solid press into her outstretched hand. Vala grabbed it and opened it, greedily gulping down its contents. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and simply laid there, waiting for the pressure in her head to clear.
"I'm sorry to have woken you," Thrud spoke softly, something which Vala was grateful for since any noise at the moment sounded extremely loud to her ears.
Her mind cleared and she blinked open her eyes. "You did not wake me," she grumbled, pushing herself up into a sitting position. The light in the cracks of her tent flap told her it was still day but the chill in the air told her night was coming soon. It would be better to get up now than go back to sleep.
"Another nightmare," Thrud stated.
Vala rubbed at her temple and froze. The smell of copper infiltrated her nose and she held her hands away to get a better look at them.
Blood... but no teeth marks.
Thrud gently grabbed one hand and examined it.
The shield-maiden's face twisted into a grimace. "She's messing with you." Thrud stood up and walked to the middle of the tent and crossed her arms. "She's messing with all of us."
Vala stared at her bloody palms. "How can you be certain it is her- Hel?" she asked, the image of that horrific creature popping into her mind.
Thrud placed her hands on her hips. "Grendel and I were attacked by draugrs when we were out searching for survivors and I don't think it was random. It was planned. Somebody is targeting us. She is targeting us." She shook her head, her eyebrows drawn together with worry. "And Hulders don't normally go after big groups like ours and they shouldn't be able to wheedle their way through your magic."
"You are right," Vala said, getting out of bed to wash her hands in a bowl. "A stronger strain of Seidr is cutting pockets through the barriers I put up. I have to tear down the entire wall and build it back up when she does that." Vala couldn't quite hide the bitterness from her tone. It was exhausting to have to go through the process of building and maintaining the barrier and she was growing frustrated with how easily Hel kept penetrating through her protection walls. She has prayed to the Vanir goddess, Freya, for her strength and wisdom but so far has not received any sort of blessing.
Either the goddess Freya wasn't listening, or they mortals were truly all alone come Ragnarök.
"Vala," Thrud called, catching her attention. "I want to thank you. I know the völva do not usually interfere with the matters of others and I know this is tiresome work. It's not your duty to help us but you volunteered anyways. All I can say is that we are grateful. I am grateful."
"Don't be." Vala went around the tent, collecting the items for the ritual and setting them down on a mat on the floor. "Hel wants more bodies on her side. Bringing the caravan to safety will be beneficial to the völva's survival."
Thrud snorted and she could practically hear the grin in the woman's voice when she said, "I know you care."
"If that is all, I need to eat and prepare," she replied curtly.
Vala didn't bother to check if Thrud had left or not.
Tonight was going to be another long night but at least they were leaving tomorrow. Soon, she will be back with her sisters and finally get a good rest.
She looked back. The shield-maiden stood by the flap, letting in light and the winter air.
There was something different about the woman. In all the years she has known her, Vala has never seen such sadness in her eyes.
"You can stop searching. She's gone," was all Thrud said before leaving Vala alone to her task.
Kratos awoke to a tongue sliding across his face.
He groaned and pushed Fenrir away. At the tent's entrance, Atreus held open the flap, a goofy smile on his face.
"Come on, Father! They're serving dinner without us."
Thrud was right about getting their early. By the time he was next in line to get his portion, the potato stew tasted lukewarm. Fenrir laid beside him, chewing on raw meat he had cut from the deer, and that appeared tastier than the stew. All to soon, the meat was all gone except the bone which the wolf gnawed on happily.
It seemed the entire caravan was there and the people were livelier than they were when he first entered the camp. A select few individuals had a beat going on as they played on their drums and an odd version of the lyre. The combination of food and music enchanted the people away from the dreary gloom of reality and up on their feet they went to dance by the fire.
The joy in the air hovered around Kratos but he did not embrace it. These people can grasp happiness while they can but he knew better. This feeling is only fleeting and it will be gone just like everything else.
That was reality. That was life.
Kratos' eyes narrowed with suspicion as the woman, Thrud, walked up to them. He made sure they were sat deliberately away from other people so her coming all this way to sit with them was intentional and most importantly, bothersome.
"Food tasting good?" Thrud asked with a friendly smile.
Kratos did not reply but his son nodded, his mouth full. He swallowed and they began talking of the Hulders, trolls, and many other magical beings. He tuned out for most of it although he did keep one ear open. Thrud was friendly and welcoming, yet he still did not trust her, especially around his son.
Their conversation was interrupted when a young girl around his son's age approached them. Her eyes flickered nervously at Kratos before settling on Atreus.
"Would you like to dance?" she asked with a shy little smile.
"Uh.." Atreus opened and closed his mouth and looked to Kratos. Kratos did not look back.
Thrud elbowed the boy. "Don't keep the girl waiting. Go on, dance with her. Your pappa and I need to talk anyways."
Kratos snapped his eyes at her.
Atreus still looked to him for approval and he gave it silently with a gesture of his head. His son got up and let the girl take his hand and lead him to where the others were dancing. He eyed the two all the way, making sure if there was any danger present he would know exactly where his son was. It was getting dark, after all, and he didn't want any Hulder or draugr surprising them.
"Relax," Thrud said. "She isn't going to eat him. I'm sure your son will be fine if you leave him alone for a while."
"What do you want?" Blunt and direct- the fastest way to get answers in his experience.
She munched the food in her mouth, looking around slowly. "Faye is dead."
Shock registered throughout his body and it took him a second to fully realize what she had just said. When he did, his body tensed automatically, waiting to see whether danger was present or not.
Thrud had been avoiding his gaze until now. "Did you kill her?" she asked, looking him dead in the eye. Any trace of friendliness she had shown to his son was gone.
"You would not be asking if you thought I did," Kratos replied, returning his sight on Atreus. He didn't care how she knew about his wife's passing or how she knew Faye in the first place. He already deduced Thrud had recognized the Leviathan Axe, just like Sindri and Brok had.
The woman hummed. "Huh, you're more perceptive than you look."
"I answered your question," he grunted, hoping she got the obvious hint that he wanted to be left alone.
Thrud chuckled, shaking her head. "Oh Laufey, you married this guy?"
Kratos didn't bother to say anything to that so they lapsed into a steady silence as they watched Atreus dance with the girl- or tried to. The boy stumbled around awkwardly but the girl just giggled.
"That's really her son, huh," Thrud said softly, watching Atreus with a sad look in her eye. She wiped at her cheek. "Of course he is. He's got her eyes. I wish I could have been there. I've been wondering all these years where'd she'd gone and now I know." She set down her bowl and inhaled then exhaled deeply. "Who killed her. I need to know. She was my shield-sister. I must avenge her death- unless you have done so already."
Kratos' face hardened but he kept his temper in check before answering. "No one. She was sick."
"That's impossible. Giants don't get 'sick'." The surprise Kratos was feeling must have shown on his face since Thrud added, "Faye is a giant. You know that, right? As she must have known who you are."
Now this time alarm bells were ringing in his head. It was one thing some stranger knew his wife (Faye kept a lot of things about herself a secret, it seems), but it was another thing for a stranger to know him.
"Enough with the hostility!" Thrud exclaimed. "I'm not going to attack you and to be honest, you are pretty recognizable." When Kratos didn't settle down, she sighed. "Look, I only know about the 'Ghost of Sparta' because of my uncle. He was a little bit obsessed with you actually, well, with wanting to help you-"
Kratos loomed over her, his face darkening. "Do not call me that."
Thrud cocked her head. "I can see why Faye fell for you. You have such the charming personality."
He grumbled and sat back down. He thought this was the end of their pointless conversation but out of the corner of his eye he can see her staring at him.
"Was she happy?"
A memory of Faye, cradling their baby child in her arms, humming a melody, was the first thing that popped into his head.
It was one of the rarest times he's witnessed such purity and at that moment, he knew exactly how she felt. He felt the same when he caught his baby girl and held her in his arms. To gaze upon her deformed face and become wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and bliss. To look into her wide, innocent eyes and have all the turmoil in your mind silenced. There was only peace.
Kratos gazed at his son and softly said, "She was."
Melancholy filled Thrud's voice. "Faye was like the older older sister I never had. We were thick as thieves, the two of us. We went on wild adventures, took on dangerous quests with only our wit and strength to keep us alive. But, no matter how good things were for us, she always acted like it wasn't going to last. I think I was the only closest friend she had. Everyone else, she never got too close. She always kept her distance."
"One day I woke up and she was gone," she continued. "It hurt. She didn't say anything or leave a note. I was mad at her for a long time but really, all I wanted to know was why. I won't ever know, now, but I'm glad she was happy in the end. I'm glad she found a home. She deserves a family after what her own 'family' did to her."
Kratos sat up in interest, his curiosity piqued. He knew next to nothing about Faye's blood family. "What do you mean?"
Thrud peered at him cautiously, maybe because he acted completely uninterested in their conversation until now. "The giants exiled her. Look, I don't know much about Jötnar culture, my uncle was the expert on those kind of things, but I know that exiling another giant was their ultimate form of punishment. It's kind of like disowning a family member and that's what they were, one big family, if you believe the legends."
"Why would they exile her. She was their guardian, was she not?"
It was Thrud's turn to stare at him quizzically. She was probably wondering how did he know that and that was something he did not want to get in to. Thankfully, she didn't ask and he didn't say.
"Yeah, 'Last Guardian of the Jötnar', not 'Last Guardian of the Nine Realms', which she was by the way and anyone who says otherwise can shove it. She told me she would argue with the giants about using their powers to help others but surprise, surprise, they didn't want to." Thrud chuckled dryly. "And they judged Odin for hoarding his knowledge. Anyways, Faye wanted to help everyone, not just the giants. Maybe that's why I liked her so much. She reminded me of my uncle."
"They exiled her for choosing to aid others?" Kratos said.
"That and she mentioned something about a forced marriage." Thrud shook her head and clucked her tongue. "Faye did everything for them and in the end, they abandoned her. If there was ever a way to get back to Jötunheim, they didn't tell her."
That last statement puzzled Kratos. If the giants never told Faye how to get back into Jötunheim, then why did she send them on a journey to the mountain if she didn't know how to get there herself. Could she have known and simply lied to Thrud to protect the giants? But then, why would she protect ones who exiled her, unless that too, was a lie.
He wondered, briefly, what other things could Faye have been lying about.
Thrud curled her fingers into fists. "I guess you don't leave the family without a few scars," she muttered darkly. She abruptly stood and brushed her hair back. "Thank you, Kratos, for telling me she was alright. I feel better knowing she wasn't alone."
She left in a hurry after that, making Kratos frown at the strange behavior.
He glanced down at Fenrir. The wolf looked up at him and tilted his head with a whine, his round eyes filled with confusion. Kratos reached down and scratched the top of his head, thinking of Faye and her mysterious past.
Kratos opened his eyes. Atreus had entered his tent holding a candle wick and sat by his feet.
"What is it, son?"
Atreus did not answer. He pouted and twiddled his thumbs but uttered not a word.
"Speak," Kratos ordered, sleep already tugging at the back of his mind. He was rather comfortable sleeping on the hard ground, and with Fenrir curled around his head, it was a perfect combination for a good night's rest.
"The girl who asked me to dance... she kissed my cheek and she said I had to kiss her cheek back. I didn't want to but I also didn't want to make her feel bad. I didn't know what to do, but then I remember how mom would sometimes get really sad. I asked her about it one time but she only smiled and acted all happy like. I think she was pretending to make me feel better. So that's what I did. I pretended to like the girl and I kissed her cheek to make her feel better... Do you think I did the right thing?"
Kratos had sat up, listening intently to his son's story. "Your mother was sad?"
Atreus shrugged. "Yeah. I think it's because she missed her family. She would tell me about them sometimes but I never knew they were giants. I understand why she was so sad now..."
"You did what you thought was right," Kratos said, answering Atreus' previous question. "In life, there will be far more difficult choices you will have to make. Do not worry over the simple ones."
Atreus nodded his head enthusiastically. "I understand. I won't. Goodnight, Father."
Once his son left the tent, Kratos laid back down, this time unable to fall asleep.
She was sad. She missed her family. How had he never noticed it before? Why didn't she talk to him about it? Why didn't she ever tell him about her family? What they did to her?
What else did she kept secret from him?
"They knew everything that was going to happen."
His son's voice echoed in his mind when they discovered the drawings of their journey carved in a mural on the wall inside the cave.
Did Faye knew everything? Their journey, Baldur, finding Jotunheim... her death.
If she did, then why didn't she tell him? Why let this happen?
Fate is a lie. If she would've told him, he could have done something, anything.
Why let this happen?
The answers he so desired could only be answered by the person who created all these questions.
But Faye was gone and so were her secrets.
Kratos' frustration to know the truth was driving him mad.
He silenced his troubled mind and reaffirmed himself with what Atreus had said. If she had a plan for them, he could only put his trust in her.
Yet, with each new information revealed about his wife, he wondered if trust was something they had shared all along.
As he drifted off to sleep, the last thing he thought of was the drawing hidden underneath the tapestry.
"Besides..." his son said, "She hasn't been wrong yet."
Vala inhaled deeply, taking in the smell of incense in the air.
She had settled down in the middle of the rug, bones carefully placed in a circle around her, and began the process of building the barrier. She's done it so many times already that it didn't require her full attention, and so her mind slipped into other things.
Thrud said Faye is gone. She would never have believed it if only for one thing: Faye would have been here by now.
Vala wouldn't say they were close. She had met the woman when she was but a little girl. Her grandmother, with the same name as Vala, knew her better. Despite her unfamiliarity with the warrior, she knew Faye to be the hero type, a woman who fought against the bad in the world.
In conclusion, if Faye were alive, she would be here fighting against Hel.
But she's not.
A flicker of sorrow passed through Vala.
Faye was a good woman. It is truly unfortunate that she is gone.
Vala set the memory of the woman aside and returned her focus on the barrier. It was complete and all she had to do was slip into a sleep like trance meditation. When she goes under, time won't have no meaning. It would be like a waking dream.
Nothing typically happens during this time, which was why she was surprised when an imagery zoomed to the forefront of her mind.
Children, dancing in a circle out in the woods. They were giggling and had wide smiles on their faces. None of them seemed to notice a Hulder picking them off, one by one, sucking them dry and dumping their cold bodies in the snow.
They just continued dancing and laughing and laughing-
Vala's eyes flew wide open. A drop of sweat dripped from the ridge of her nose.
Their laughter still echoed in her mind. Their horrified faces seared into her memory.
It can't be real. She scanned the barrier.
Panic seized her.
It was gone. All of it. There was nothing protecting them.
The children- it was real. Gods, they could be dying right now!
Vala threw herself to her feet and dashed out of the tent, uncaring of anything but to get to the children in time before it was too late.
Atreus awoke to someone calling his name.
His mind was sluggish to become fully aware of his surroundings but he did recognize the familiar face of a girl. It was the one who had asked him to dance; Mia, he thinks her name was.
"Wake up, Atreus," she whispered. "We have to go."
"Where?" he mumbled half asleep.
"She's calling for us. Don't you hear her?"
"I don't hear anybody."
Mia paused, like she had heard something. "She's calling for us. We have to go."
Atreus opened his mouth to ask who was calling for them but she was gone before he could speak. He knows he shouldn't wander around when it was dark but he also didn't want to leave her out there by herself so he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and grabbed his weapons- just in case. He stepped outside his tent and looked right, then left, and spotted her skipping merrily through the snow.
"Mia!" he said in a loud staged whisper.
The caravan was eerily quiet at night and he was surprised no one woke up from the crunching of his footsteps as he briskly walked after her. He slowed down when he noticed a few of the other kids in the camp appear from the darkness. They did not greet each other and they all went in the same direction. They all seemed to know where they were going without saying anything.
Curious, Atreus walked with them until they reached the edges of the caravan. There was a warm orange light coming from the ground. He drew closer.
It was a torch still burning, melting the snow around it. The guard who it belonged to was slumped in the ground, snoozing on the job.
Atreus glanced at the kids. They kept on walking like nothing was amiss. They didn't even look scared when they went into the forest.
The thought of the Hulder lurking out there popped into his mind.
What are they doing? They were going to get hurt!
He marched over to the guard and shoved him but the man was fast asleep. He yelled and nothing. Was the man dead? No, he can see him breathing, so why wasn't he waking up?
Now he knew; something was wrong, terribly, terribly wrong.
He should have got his dad. He'll get him right now and he'll know what to do-
The sweet singing of a woman reached his ears. It filled his mind, drowning out all his worries. He felt light and happy, and the air outside wasn't so cold anymore.
Atreus vigorously shook his head but the woman's singing overwhelmed him until her voice was all he could hear.
He was drawn to it like a moth to a flame and just like all the other children, he disappeared into the deep dark woods...
It was their first night sleeping in the cabin they had built together.
They'd made love by the fire and afterwards laid on the bed in silence.
His wife sat up and draped her arms around her knees, exposing her bare back to him.
Kratos caressed his fingers down her spine.
"I love you," he said.
They knew everything that was going to happen.
Faye did not reply.
I think she was pretending to make me feel better.
She turned her head, just enough to see him from the corner of her eye.
"I love you, too."
I think she was-
Kratos snapped awake. His left cheek stung and he had seconds to realize he'd been slapped in the face when yelling pervaded his ears.
"C'mon big guy, wake up!" Thrud raised her hand, probably to slap him again.
The Leviathan Axe was in his grip in an instant and he swung it. She dodged just in time but that didn't stop him. Like a bear rudely awakened from his hibernation, he growled and followed after her as she rolled out of the tent.
He came bursting outside and tried once more to cleave her face in.
She yelped and dodged that, too. "Stop it you maniac! I'm not the enemy!"
He pointed the axe at her, breathing heavily like a wild animal. "You attacked me."
"I was trying to wake you up!" she spat, keeping a healthy distance between them. "You were under a sleeping spell but that, that's not important right now. The children, their gone and I think your son may be, too."
Kratos glared at her, not wanting to turn his back to her but he did so anyways. He tore open the tent flap, his son's name upon his lips, and froze. It was empty. Atreus was gone and so were his weapons.
He turned his head slowly.
"Where is he," Kratos said lowly, a dangerous look in his eye.
Control. I control my rage.
"In the woods I think. I'll explain more on the way-"
He fisted the front of her shirt and yanked her to him. "You said he would be safe," he growled into her face, anger brewing beneath his skin. He didn't know who he was angrier at: her for lying or himself for believing her.
Thrud snarled and broke free from his grip. "I was wrong alright!" She cursed and wiped at her face. "I'm sorry. I was wrong but now isn't the time for this. Faye's son is out there and I'll be damned if anything happens to him. So, are we going to fight and waste time or are we going to find your son?"
No apology would ever be good enough for him but now wasn't the time to hold petty grudges. Their main objective was finding Atreus. Nothing else mattered.
He called for Fenrir. No response.
Kratos stormed over to the tent and ripped the flap open. Fenrir was still asleep. He shouted the wolf's name, making the wolf jump to all fours like an explosion had gone off.
"Vala said something about the children in the woods," Thrud explained when they both exited the tent. "She wasn't making any sense. She ran off after that, to get the children herself, maybe. I don't know where she could have gone."
That would be no problem.
Kratos crouched next to Fenrir and captured his focus.
"Find Atreus," he ordered the wolf and he knew he understood.
Fenrir took off left bound and they chased after him. The wolf led them through the camp and into the woods.
The forest was pitch black.
It was hard to see without the torches placed around the camp. Luckily, he always carried the bifrost key and it was bright enough to light the way. Plus, Thrud snatched a torch, extending the reaches of their combined light.
They followed Fenrir as fast as they could and occasionally, the wolf would run back and forward, egging them on.
"Go, Fenrir!" Kratos yelled, flapping his arm. "Do not wait for us. Get to my son!"
Fenrir barked and sped off like an arrow, the darkness swallowing him whole.
Kratos trained his sight on the snowy floor, tracking each paw print that zoomed by. He was so focused that he almost missed a trail of bare human feet that broke off from the path. He skidded to a halt and followed the track with his eyes until he glimpsed a humanoid figure standing in the dark.
He whipped around but there was nobody there.
He broke out in a cold sweat. He swore it sounded like... Lysandra.
"Pater," whispered a young feminine voice.
Kratos didn't have to look to see who it was. He already knew. Her voice used to haunt his every waking moment.
He turned his head slowly, his eyes burning, and a ragged gasp tore from his lips.
She was right there, staring at him from behind a tree- His daughter, his sweet, beautiful daughter.
He staggered towards her, his body trembling, and reached out a hand.
Calliope turned and ran.
"Wait!" he almost screamed, going after her. He was stopped by somebody who snatched his arm.
"What are you doing? We have to go!" Thrud pulled at his arm but he jerked free from her like she was fire. She tried to hold him back but he ripped free from her grasp and raced to find his daughter. He heard Thrud yelling his name but he did not care. He had to find her.
That must be why he was in the forest at night. Calliope got lost. He has to find her. He has to make sure he is safe- wait, he?
He was lost. No- she was lost?
They're- she is counting on him.
He won't fail her. Not this time, not ever again.
There was nothing more important than finding his daughter.
Nothing. Nothing at all.
Atreus has never felt this happy in a long time.
The last time he's been this happy, well, must have been when his mother was still alive. After she passed away, he hasn't been the same since. Past Atreus wouldn't recognize present Atreus. They were two very different people now and in a way it felt like he had lost a part of himself.
It saddened him, but his moment of gloom ended quickly and he was back to feeling happy again. He'd even forgotten what he was so sad about in the first place!
He was with other children and they giggled as they held each other hands and skipped around in a circle in the snow.
He didn't notice some of the children stopped skipping. He continued on his merry way until something snatched his arm. He was dragged into the face of a woman, her features lit up by the torch she held in her hand. She shook his shoulders vigorously.
"Stop it!" she shouted. "Wake up, child. Go, you must go! Run back to the caravan. Go now-!"
The woman went rigid. She coughed and blood spurted from her lips. She looked down and so did Atreus. The pointy end of a sword poked out from her stomach and swiftly slid back out.
Atreus yelped in fright as hel-reavers, not draugr but real, breathing(?), hel-reavers grab the woman, making her drop the torch. All the happiness that warmed his body blew out like a candle and the fear and the cold returned. He made a break to flee but draugrs surrounded him and forced him back till he collided with the other children.
They were trapped and with nowhere to go. He could only watch the hel-reavers drag the bleeding woman through the snow and dump her in front of another woman with no arms.
The torch faintly illuminated the arm-less woman's face.
Atreus pushed back against the children.
Her eyes were all black and he felt an ancient aura emanating off of her like an icy breeze.
She was not human and he was in more trouble than he thought...
Vala's strength began to slowly slip from her numbing fingers. She was losing too much blood too quickly. It was only a matter of time.
She raised her shaking head and glared at the woman standing in front of her and knew exactly who she was. Hel may not look like the horrific monster that plagued her nightmares but there was no mistaking the sinister signature the giantess' magic gave off.
"Let them go," she said through clenched teeth to stop them from clattering. "Do whatever you want with me but let them go. They're no use to you. Just let them live."
She added the last part more forcefully. Vala knew she was in no position to start making demands but there was always a chance it will work and that was good enough for her.
What had she to lose anyways? Besides her life, she supposed. But as long as she convinces Hel to leave the children be, she'll think of something to escape her current predicament and for all she knew, Thrud could be on the way with help. If she could hold on long enough, she might just survive this.
Hel peered down at her and tilted her head slightly.
"You are right, Vala," Hel croaked and it sounded awful. "They have no use to me... but you do."
Realization dawned in her mind and her stomach twisted. She thought she was going to be sick. All this time, it was never about the children. Her nightmares were warnings and their caravan was being targeted because of herself.
The children were used as bait and she fell right into Hel's trap. She shook not because of the cold but with fury.
"Bury her," Hel said as if Vala was nothing, as if she weren't a living, breathing human being. There was no mercy or love in that wretched heart of hers, this Vala knew.
Vala shouted in fury and thrashed around as the hel-reavers dragged her and dumped her into a ditch she hadn't notice there before. Pain flared everywhere when she hit the hard dirt ground, especially where she had been stabbed through the stomach and she knew she had lost more blood from the fall. She managed to stand up and swooned in place. Snow and dirt falling from above almost knocked her over. She grabbed onto the dirt wall, sinking her nails into the fresh soil.
She looked up into the face of her soon to be murderer.
"Curse you!" she shrieked, inserting as much venom and hatred into her voice. "May you rot for an eternity!"
Hel sneered in amusement but it did not reach her eyes. "I already am."
Vala struggled to take even the tiniest of breaths and she staggered back and collapsed. Dizziness swarmed her mind and somewhere between her thoughts she kept telling herself to press the wound, stop the flow- stop the bleeding.
She watched a rain of snow coming down above her and everything went dark.
They were burying her alive.
Atreus knew he shouldn't do anything. His father taught him to survive and surviving meant, in his father's terms, saving yourself but he couldn't just stand by and do nothing!
His mother wouldn't either.
The undead woman with no arms kneeled by the now covered snow pile and was chanting something he didn't understand and he would never since he shot an arrow through her neck. He pulled back two arrows and double shot the two draugrs in front of him through their heads. He intended to roll and shift his body around to shoot the rest of the draugrs but his feet refused to move.
He glanced down and to his surprise, his feet were magically frozen to the spot. Literally frozen in ice!
"Bring him to me," the undead lady, with an arrow sticking through her throat, demanded. Atreus squirmed as the hel-reavers brought him over (the ice melting from his feet) and forced him to stand before the woman. She got up from her knelt position and loomed over him.
He fidgeted as she stared at him intensely, as if trying to crack him open and look into his soul. Despite his discomfort, he didn't want her to know she was making him feel that way so he puffed out his chest and glared right back. She showed no reaction to his little display of defiance.
"Cut his hand," she ordered.
He resisted at first but the grip around his wrist made his bone ache so he relented and let them stretch out his arm. Atreus had little time to react before a hel-reaver sliced his palm open. Instinctively he tried to pull his hand back but they kept a firm hold.
Blood bloomed from the open cut, dripping onto the white snow.
The undead woman twisted around and called to something in the woods. "Garmr, come to me. Reveal his lies and show me the truth."
Atreus frowned. The name sounded familiar to him but he couldn't quite recall why...
He snapped his sight onto a cluster of foliage as an animal emerged from within. It was a dog, looked to be a Dyrehund by his mother's description. His mother used to tell him about hunting dogs. This one wore a type of collar around his fluffy, blood stained neck. The dog must have belonged to a hunter, and sadly it seemed, they must have went on their last hunt.
It clicked in his mind why the name Garmr sounded so familiar; He was the Hound of Hel.
He glanced from the dog to the woman and his eyes widened. It couldn't be-
Atreus clenched his teeth and watched as Garmr lapped up his blood. The dog's tongue felt unnaturally rough rubbing against his skin and he was glad it ended quickly.
The undead woman, possibly Hel, crouched beside the dog and let it whisper in her ear. Whatever the dog said, the woman stood and scowled at Atreus.
"Loki," she snarled, her voice unnaturally deep and loud and from the dark of her eyes spread thin black veins that crawled over her skin like spiderwebs. Atreus shrunk back, frightened by her appearance. She hissed, her lips pulled back revealing rows of rotten teeth. "You think you can fool us? You may have changed your father and your face but we can still taste your mother's blood. Kill him!"
Garmr barked and lunged for him, his mouth opened wide.
A blur of black whizzed by, knocking the dog away.
"Fenrir!" Atreus yelped as the wolf and the dog tore at each other.
"Fenrir?" Hel echoed.
Garmr was a bit bigger than the wolf but Fenrir swiped at him with his razor sharp claws which proved to cause more damage than the dog's bite ever could. Fenrir managed to get Garmr's neck in his mouth and there came popping and crunching noises and the dog went limp. Atreus thought that was the end of it but the wolf didn't stop there.
Fenrir shook and gnawed at the neck like an obsessive beast, making the most disturbing of sounds. He didn't stop until the head of the dog plopped into the snow, its cold lifeless eyes staring up at Atreus. Even with the dog dead- er, Fenrir continued to growl, his body rigid and hunched over, saliva drooling from his snarling lips.
It was like Fenrir was a completely different wolf; feral and wild like the wolves that would attack him and his father but more intense, more crazed.
It was the first time Fenrir has ever made Atreus feel afraid of him, afraid he will hurt him, and he hated it.
"Fenrir, stop! What's wrong with you?" he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Fenrir silenced his snarling and blinked at him, wagging his tail. He tensed when Hel stepped towards him.
"Fenrir, you're alive," she uttered, sounding surprised. "Come with me. I will take you home and we will destroy Odin together."
Atreus looked at her as if she were crazy. His wolf wasn't the real Fenrir unless... Well, he supposed, crazier things have happened, what's one more?
They were all distracted by the wolf when a loud boom caught them all off guard. The snow underneath his feet vibrated and Atreus looked back in time to see the draugr surrounding the group of children exploded into body parts! Joy replaced confusion as Thrud appeared, war-hammer in hand.
"Back away from the kid, you rotten piece of shit," she spat.
Hel glowered at the shield-maiden. "Your mother should have strangled you at birth."
Thrud grinned and nodded to Atreus. "I see you're still hiding behind children, again."
"Not anymore," Hel muttered darkly.
By the time anyone decided to pay any attention to Atreus, he had already yanked one of his arm free and used it to slip out his knife and stab the other hel-reaver, freeing himself completely. One of the hel-reavers drew back its icy sword to stab him but Fenrir bit its arm and pulled the reaver down.
Hel shrieked with fury and screamed, "Kill them all and bring me their hearts!"
"Incoming!" Atreus yelled as a horde of draugr poured in from the trees. They were surrounded at once and though his enemies were many and his father nowhere to be found, Atreus held no fear. This was just like the time his father left him to journey into the Light of Alfheim, yet unlike that time, he wasn't alone.
Fighting alongside Thrud was similar to fighting alongside with his father, in the sense that each could hold their own against multiple enemies. The only difference was that he didn't feel the pressure of being watched. Sometimes, Atreus would fight a little harder, a little faster, all to impress his father but with Thrud, he could focus on just fighting. It was also nice that she didn't throw insults or praises at him.
Fenrir was also a major plus to have in battle. Any doubts he had for the wolf evaporated each time Fenrir would leap in front of him, risking his own life to protect Atreus'. The wolf was unquestionably loyal and Atreus felt a little ashamed that he ever thought Fenrir would ever hurt him.
The draugr numbers were dwindling and Thrud must have noticed it, too.
"Take care of them," she said and charged at Hel. As it happened to him, her feet froze to the ground, encased in ice but she broke herself free with her hammer. Hel raised her arms, if she had any, and screeched as Thrud swung her long hammer and knocked the undead woman's head clean off her body!
Atreus finished off the last of the draugr and wandered over to them. To his horror, the head of Hel was still screaming, putrid black goo oozing from her mouth. Thrud stomped over and slammed her hammer down. She raised it gingerly and brain matter and other undesirables stuck to the hammer. Atreus made a noise of disgust and she simply rubbed it off in the snow.
"Was that Hel?" he asked.
"Was," she said, peering around. "Was there a woman named Vala here?"
Atreus gasped. He had forgotten about the woman! He ran over to the fresh grave mound and started digging with his hands. "She's in here! They buried her alive," he hollered over his shoulder. He dug his fingers in deep and scooped up a bunch of snow mixed with soil.
He recoiled sharply.
Dark crimson blood bubbled towards the surface. He looked and the entire mound of snow stained red.
"Get back," Thrud hissed and dragged him behind her by his shoulder.
Fenrir began to pace back and forth, growling at the grave.
"What's going on?" Atreus said in alarm, palming at his bow.
Thrud grimaced. "I don't know. Whatever it is, it's nothing good."
"That's okay, we can kill it easily."
"No, kid," Thrud crouched and held his shoulder. "Listen to me closely, alright? I got an important mission for you."
Atreus shrugged her arm off, "I'm not a kid. I can handle this. I know how to fight."
She chuckled, "I don't doubt that one bit but you see, they don't." She nodded her head at the group of children huddled together tightly, their wide innocent eyes filled with terror. "This is very important, Atreus. I need you to get these children to safety. Can you do that? Can you do that for me?"
Atreus wanted to pout but then he looked at those children again. They were scared out of their minds and shivering like brittle leaves. He felt bad for them and he didn't want them to get hurt.
His mother would save them.
His father would, too?
"I know this is a huge responsibility for one person but I need to know if you can do this."
Atreus straightened his shoulders and tightened his lips. "I can do it."
Thrud smiled and he blushed from the pride in her eyes. She slapped his shoulder and stood. "Get them back to the caravan, you hear me? And don't stop for nothing."
"Got it!" He shouldered his bow and jogged over to the group of kids, snatching the forgotten torch on the way. The fire was dwindling but he whispered a few words and coaxed it back. He held it up and looked at each child. "Let's go. I'm taking you home."
Mia was the first to follow him and the rest joined along. He glanced back once to catch a glimpse of Thrud and hoped he will see her again.
Since he had no idea where he was and how to get back to camp, he let Fenrir take lead. The wolf seemed to know exactly where he was going and it was proven true when he saw the firelight of the camp growing between the trees.
"Over there!" he shouted, pointing in the direction of the light.
A scream rang out, alerting him to a sudden presence charging at him. In reflex, he dodged the fist that sailed past him and swiftly got out his bow, arrow pulled back, but who he saw made him loosen his hold.
"Father?" he uttered.
His father roared and punched him in the face, making him fly back. His head spun and the screaming of the children was muted by the ringing in his ears. He blinked and gasped. He rolled aside in time to avoid being pummeled by his father's fists and was on his feet in an instant.
"Go! Go! Get out of here! Get to the camp!" he yelled at some of the children who stayed behind. He took his eyes off Kratos for a second to wave desperately at the children and when he looked back he yelped and ducked, feeling the air whoosh above his head.
Kratos growled and tried to grab him but Atreus ran between his legs. He faced his father and aimed but he couldn't shoot.
"Father, stop! What are you doing?"
"I won't let you hurt her!" his father screamed like a madman. "I won't let you take her away from me!"
"Who?" Atreus shrieked but it fell upon deaf ears.
Kratos took out his axe and pulled back his arm to throw it but Fenrir stopped him. The wolf bit his arm and wouldn't let go until Kratos smacked him away. Fenrir made the most awfullest of whining, one that tore at Atreus' heart and he let loose the arrow.
This would be the second time he's shot his father.
Kratos staggered back and looked down at the arrow protruding from his chest.
"Father?" Atreus whispered hesitantly, hoping he had snapped out of whatever was confusing his mind.
Kratos raised a hand and yanked the arrow out without even flinching. Burning golden eyes zeroed in on him and Atreus took a step back.
His father's face twisted into one of rage and Atreus grappled for another arrow, jogging backwards.
Atreus raised his bow as Kratos jumped into the air with a roar and descended upon him with the wrath of a burning sun.
Prudr watched the kid go.
She knows that's Faye's son but she can see her in him now as clear as day. Like his mother, he knew when to fight and when not to. Knew that helping people was more important than proving one's self or feeding one's ego.
Prudr had to admit, she was proud of the little sucker. If only Faye were here to see him, see the boy she raised exercising her beliefs. She would be proud of him, too.
She shook her head clear of all thoughts of Faye. There are times to reminisce and right now isn't that time. She turned her attention back on the red grave and approached it carefully.
Atreus said Vala was buried alive down there. Prudr hoped her friend was still alive but that was wishful thinking.
She stopped right in the middle of the grave, hammer at the ready. Her body was tense and she expected something to happen but nothing ever did. She was beginning to think there was nothing when the snow underneath her exploded and fingers wrapped around her throat and squeezed. Prudr's eye bulged from their sockets as she was lifted up, up, up into the air by the hold on her neck.
Her legs dangled in the air as she used her free hand, the other still clutching her hammer, to scratch at the arm of the person choking her. Prudr was pulled closer and came face to face with Vala.
It wasn't her, she knew. Just a monster using her friend's face.
Vala's eyes, once black now silver, glinting like fragments of glass, dug her nails into Prudr's throat, breaking skin and making her bleed.
It was Hel's voice. Of course it was Hel. Prudr knew killing her had been too easy.
She was lifted up and thrown down with such force that she cracked the ground where she collided with it. Prudr coughed and wheezed for air. Damn, that fall knocked the wind out of her! She was still trying to catch her breath when she spotted Hel flying down after her, her arms outstretched and her hair blowing like a cape.
Prudr mustered whatever strength she had and struck the ghastly goddess with her hammer, sending Hel careening into the trees and breaking them in half upon impact. That should give her some time to recover.
Once she caught her breath, she staggered to her feet only to be knocked to the ground and pinned there.
Hel floated above her and screeched an ear-shattering scream. The pain in her ears proved too much and Prudr screamed as well and socked Hel in the face, thankfully silencing that horrible noise! She tried to wiggle free but Hel slammed her head down and kept her there.
The undead goddess opened her mouth. Prudr was afraid she was going to start screaming again but instead she began to feel weird, odd, like she was getting tired. She blinked the sleep from her eyes and realized what was happening. Hel was doing this sucking motion with her mouth and Prudr witnessed with her own eyes her very own essence being drained like one would drinking sweet mead.
Prudr gave a shout and doubled her efforts to escape but with each second that passed her strength waned.
Fight! Fight! She yelled in her mind but there was nothing she could do. Hel was stealing the life from her and there was nothing she could do.
Her head rolled to the side as consciousness seeped away from her.
Through the darkening edges of her sight, she spotted something poking out of the snow near her fingers. It grew and grew and revealed itself to be... wheat?
The night sky cracked open and everything went blindingly white.
A thunderous boom and Hel blasted away with a scream of pure agony.
Prudr, on the other hand, felt like she had just been resurrected, which she probably had been. Electricity coursed through her body and she swore her heart would jump out of her chest! She leapt to her feet and bounced around to discharge some of the excess energy but it wasn't enough! She snatched her hammer and the metal vibrated as it sucked up some of her power.
She gazed up at the hundreds of stars twinkling in the sky and smiled.
"Thank you, Mother."
It was nice to know somebody in her family was still looking out for her. She had no doubt the lightning bolt was her mother's idea and though her father was as stubborn as a mule, her mother was a force to be reckoned with. No way was she going to let her only daughter be killed.
Agonized moaning drew her attention away. Hel was on her knees, her body curled in on itself. Her head snapped in the direction of Prudr and she shrieked and fled into the dark trees.
Prudr thought about chasing her down and finishing her off when barking erupted from behind her. She turned around and there was Fenrir.
"What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be with Atreus?"
The wolf barked at her again, this time more desperately and come to think of it, the wolf was acting strange, like it was in some kind of distress.
Something was wrong.
She glanced in the direction Hel went to and bit her lip. Damn it.
"C'mon, Fenrir," she said, running after him. "Show me what's wrong."
Atreus didn't know how much longer he can keep this up.
His father was relentless in his psychotic pursuit to annihilate him. It would be easier if he were someone else, someone Atreus didn't care about so he can kill him for good but this was his father and he will never do that.
Since killing his father was out of the question, his only other choices were to dispatch or trap him somehow, long enough to see what is making him act so crazy. But how?
He shot an arrow to Kratos' knee but it didn't stop him. Argh, so much for that! He backpedaled quickly to put distance between them but accidentally hit a tree that halted his retreat. It was only for a second but Kratos took advantage of it and chucked the axe at his head. A hammer whizzed by and hit the axe with a loud clang.
"Thrud!" Atreus yelled as soon as he saw her and Fenrir. "He's gone nuts! He's trying to kill me! What do I do?"
"He's bewitched," she answered, settling into a fighting pose as Kratos turned to meet his new opponent. "The hulder is messing with his mind. It must be nearby. Find it and kill it! I will keep him busy."
Kratos outstretched his arm and the axe came flying back obediently.
Thrud did the same thing but nothing happened. She scoffed, "Well that's bullshit."
His father, it seemed, wanted a fair match so he tossed the axe aside and settled into a stance.
"C'mon, big guy," Thrud said with a biting grin. "Show me what you got."
Kratos lunged at her and Atreus took it as his cue to go find the hulder. He had to be fast since he didn't know how long Thrud can keep his father busy. She was strong but he was stronger and Atreus has seen what those fists can do to enemies.
He dashed to grab the torch and ran, stabbing every tree he came upon with his knife. He flinched when he heard his father's unmistakable roar. This was taking too long. There were so many trees, how was he supposed to find the one the hulder was hiding at?
Atreus gave a shout when Thrud soared through the air past him, crashing into a tree and breaking it. His father ran after her but halted and looked at him.
"Uh-ho," he mumbled, taking a step back.
His father moved in his direction when Thrud appeared from out of nowhere. She jumped on his back and locked him in a chokehold.
"Go, dammit! Kill the hulder!"
Atreus nodded and ran away. Great, now he was back to where he started. He yelped when Fenrir pawed at him. The wolf barked and took off.
A grin broke out on his face. "Good job, boy! Find the hulder!"
Fenrir led him to a tree that looked like any other but they knew better.
Atreus took aim and prayed this was the right one...
The gods will not take his daughter from him!
They can send all their legions, all their armies, all their monsters but nothing will stop him! He will crush them all and destroy the gods and everything they love!
Kratos struggled with the Olympian Sentinel on his back but the damned creature won't let go. He tried slamming it into trees but that only resulted in the hold around his neck tightening. He growled in frustration and as a last ditch effort, he propelled himself backwards and landed heavily on the ground. It worked since the Sentinel loosened its arms, allowing Kratos to slip free.
He kneeled over the creature and began punching it with no mercy. Every time his fist collided with its face, it drew more blood. His nostrils flared. He wasn't going to stop until this damned abomination was nothing but a shit-stain in the snow.
He raised his fist once more-
"Stop it!" a voice shouted, cutting through his blood lust.
He blinked in confusion. It felt like he was dreaming and he'd just woken up. He looked down. The Sentinel was gone; there was only Thrud, bloody face and moaning in pain. He looked to the person who had just shouted.
"Atreus?" he mumbled in a daze. The sight of his son distracted him long enough for a fist to slam into his face. Kratos sprawled onto the floor, his left eye throbbing.
He blinked and Atreus was by his side, cradling his head.
"Father, are you alright?" he asked urgently, the tone of his voice thick with worry.
An uncontrollable burst of rage consumed his mind. He snarled and grabbed for the boy but he jumped out of reach. Footsteps to his right grew louder and Thrud appeared standing above him, war-hammer in hand. She drew back the hammer with a look of determination on her bloody face.
"Wait, no! I killed the hulder!" He heard his son yell but it sounded far away.
The last thing Kratos saw was Thrud, swinging the hammer, and then pain, then nothing.
Funny thing, I was reading the God of War (2018) comics and found out they had a volva named Vala too! So I decided it would be cool to make her the grandmother of my Vala character, that way it would be a fun way to connect these stories haha.
Next Kratos awoke, the first thing he noticed was that he was no longer in the forest.
And there was a young woman touching his head.
"Oh, my-" she retracted her hand and back away from him. She appeared nervous and kept fingering at a wooden cross necklace dangling from her neck. "You're awake. I- I'll be right back-" She scampered out of the tent before he could say anything.
Kratos groaned and sat up. There was a slight pounding in his head, but it was only minor and didn't bother him at all as he took in his surroundings.
He was not in the forest, nor did he think he was at the caravan. This was a huge tent and he laid on an actual bed with fur blankets. There was another identical bed across from his and he assumed this tent belonged to two people. It looked lived in, as if whoever owned this tent had been living here for a while.
Kratos tensed when something came bursting through the entrance flap. Fenrir barked happily and jumped onto the bed and attacked him with wet, slobbery kisses. Atreus, Thrud and the young woman entered afterwards.
"Father!" his son greeted cheerily and ran at him with a hug. Kratos stiffened and unsure of what to do, awkwardly patted the boy's head. "You're okay," his son whispered, hugging him tighter.
"I am," Kratos said and gently pushed his son back. "What happened?"
He faintly remembered that night but it all felt like a dream.
"You broke my hammer, that's what happened," Thrud answered, crossing her arms but the smile on her face told him there was no anger in her words.
"You were under the spell of a hulder," Atreus explained. "But don't worry, Fenrir and I found it and killed it. I'm just glad you're okay. You were out for a long time."
Kratos frowned at Thrud. "You hit me."
She shrugged. "It was only a precaution. You were still under the hulder's influence. Besides, you broke my hammer. Think of that as payback."
He grunted and asked her where they were.
"We're at base camp. You were still out cold and I couldn't leave you two there so we dumped you in the back of our wagon and here we are." She jammed a thumb to the entrance of the tent. "Now, if you're feeling any better get out of my tent and get something to eat. You're scaring my roommate."
Base camp was a hundred times bigger than the tiny caravan. It was as if the entire population of Midgard had decided to congregate in one spot. It couldn't even be called a camp, more like a city made of tents.
The eating area was located somewhere in the middle of the camp, if he had to guess. There were dozens of tables and it mustn't have been meal time since there was barely anyone there. He didn't mind, he liked it this way better.
They ate in peaceful silence, though his mind was far from peaceful.
The other night's events were starting to come back to him in pieces. The only clear memory he retained was running through the woods with Thrud and then it got a little foggy after that. He also remembered feeling great sadness and powerful rage. The rage part frightened him.
He's spent many years trying to control it. If it could take over him so quickly, was all his work for nothing? Could it happen again? Will it happen again?
And if it does, could he stop himself from hurting the ones he loved?
He set his spoon down, unable to stomach his food.
"Atreus, did I hurt you?" He spoke softly, ashamed to have to be saying these words out loud.
The boy froze and swallowed. "Nah, well nothing I can't handle. You beat up Thrud pretty good, though." He tried to laugh it off but Kratos' face darkened.
"I hurt you. I lost control." he said lowly, his hands balling into fists. Fenrir whined and licked his arm but it did nothing to comfort him.
"It's alright. It's not a big deal," Atreus mumbled with an irritated frown, stabbing his spoon into the porridge.
Kratos slammed his fist on the table, making it shake. "I could have killed you!"
His son jumped up. "What's wrong with you?" he cried out in alarm. "I told you it was no big deal."
"Sit down," Kratos snapped and the boy complied. He leaned in and said gravelly, "Listen to me. If I try to hurt you- listen to me! If I ever try to hurt you, you must defend yourself. No matter what. Even if you have to kill me to survive, you will do it."
Atreus' face flushed red with anger. "I'm not going to kill you! You're my father."
"That means nothing if it compromises your survival," he hissed. "Your life is more important than mine."
"I'm not like you," his son spat. "I love my father and I would never kill him."
Kratos narrowed his eyes and slowly stood to his full height. "You are crossing a line, boy. You speak of something you do not understand."
Atreus stood up as well and squared his shoulders. "I understand that my father told me we must be better and we must end the cycle and now he is telling me the complete opposite."
He leaned across the table, staring his son down. "You will do as I say."
"I will." Atreus met his gaze unflinchingly. "I will be better. I will never kill you."
They were stuck in a tense battle that required no swords or words and it didn't seem either side was going to give up anytime soon.
"Sorry to interrupt but you two have been summoned by lord Olaf. He wishes to speak with you now."
Kratos snorted in frustration and turned away from his son. "No man can summon me," he growled.
Thrud crossed her arms. "He isn't any man. He is a king and he would like to speak to the both of you in regards of the job proposition."
"I serve no king," he stated.
"Can't we hear him out?" Atreus asked.
The boy shifted uncomfortably. "But, but I already, well, I kinda, um-"
"Speak up," Kratos barked.
His son peered up at him. "Well, I uh, sort of promised we could help out with a problem they're having..." His voice got higher towards the end and he chuckled with a sheepish grin.
Kratos hummed in severe disapproval. His foolish son had already given his word and he couldn't go back on it. That would be renege and that was the one thing he took very seriously. If his son promised they will help the king, then they will. If Kratos vowed to slay all the gods and have his revenge, then he will and he did. But, he always wondered if it was the right thing to do, in the end.
For better or worse, he kept his word. So will his son.
"Lead us to your king," he ordered Thrud who raised a brow but said nothing and showed them the way. He glanced down at Atreus. "Don't ever make promises without consulting me first."
"I know, I'm sorry. I will from now on." He quieted down but it didn't last. "It's just, mother would have offered her help."
"Do not presume to know what your mother will or will not do."
"I know what she would do," he muttered under his breath but Kratos caught it anyways.
He wanted to berate the boy for his insolence but steadied his temper. He only spoke what he believed to be the truth but the person he knew Faye to be wouldn't. She was the one who decided to live out in the woods far from civilization and he went along with it because he too liked the isolation. Not once has she ever shown an interest in other people or their affairs. She was kind, yes, but she never struck him as the hero type.
Then again, she never bothered told him anything about her past while he poured his all out to her.
It was a while before they came upon a tent much larger than the rest, probably the biggest in all the camp. They were about to enter when four men came outside. One of them stood out from the rest as he was dressed in finer clothes and adorned expensive looking jewelry.
The rich man's lips curled at the sight of them. "Hersir," he greeted Thrud crisply.
"Jarl Haakon," she greeted back like the name on her lips were poison.
He sent her a dirty look and he and his men went on their way.
"What's his problem?" Atreus asked innocently.
"He's an arsehole, that's what his problem is," she replied sourly. She entered first and they followed in after.
There was a group of men surrounding a table with a map sprawled across it. They seemed to be in a deep discussion and did not take notice of the new arrivals.
"My Lord, Kratos of the WildWoods and his son Atreus are here to see you as requested."
A man standing in the middle straightened up and briefly inspected both of them. There was nothing particularly kingly about him in Kratos' eyes. Olaf, he recalled his name to be, looked more tired than anything else.
"I see. Welcome, I hope you ate well. Thrud informed me how you helped protect the caravan. Such selflessness shall be rewarded with payment."
"It was nothing," Atreus chirped happily. "We're glad to help."
Kratos cut straight to the point. "My son offered to help with your problem. What is it," he demanded, his patience wearing thin. Olaf appeared to have taken no offense to his blunt words and in fact looked relieved. Maybe he was just as eager as Kratos to get down to business and not waste time chatting about less urgent matters.
"We need a location we can fall back to in case of emergencies." Olaf tapped his finger on Tyr's temple in the map. "The temple is surrounded by water on all sides and the only way to get there is by its bridge but its location proves a challenge to us. It's not easy to access in the case hundreds of people need to flee with all their necessary belongings, especially if we have to make a hasty retreat."
"Why would you have to retreat? What are you running from?" Atreus asked tentatively.
Olaf's face went grim. "My scouts have reported spotting hordes of draugrs out in the danger zone. It seems they are coming together to create an undead army. The good thing is that their numbers are small compared to ours but, if you've ever fought a draugr you'd know how dangerous they can be."
"The temple will be your people's tomb," Kratos commented. He couldn't help himself. It's been awhile since his military days but the battle strategist inside him took over; before his hunger for power and needless violence took control of the smart man he used to be. "You take your people there, they will have have nowhere to go."
"What other choice do I have?" Olaf dragged his finger across the map. "Mountains block our way to the east and we do not have enough food to make the trek across the snow lands to the north. The sea shore west of us is frozen for miles not to mention we would have to build and drag over a hundred boats across it without getting attacked. And to the south is where the horde is. Compared to the rest of our choices, the temple is our best bet."
Kratos shook his head. It was a nonsensical plan. "It is crowded. Your people will starve before they die."
"That won't be a problem." Thrud interjected herself into the conversation. "The temple was built with huge subterranean structures that could house around, maybe more than a thousand people. There will be plenty of room."
"What! There is?" Atreus exclaimed in awe. "I didn't know that existed."
"Of course it does. Where do you think the famous 'World Market of Midgard' was? The dwarves were the ones who built it since they were the most knowledgeable at digging tunnels and the works." She smiled like she had just remembered a joke. "They did a good job, only they made it so only the size of a dwarf could fit through! Tyr had to make them re-do the entire thing so even a troll could fit. They were so mad."
"Wow, that's amazing." His son chuckled and his face scrunched up. "Wait, how do you know all this?"
She pursed her lips and shrugged. "I read about it... in a book," she added and quickly changed the subject. "Anyways, using the market as a last minute shelter is a solid idea."
"The only problem is how to get there easily," Olaf concluded. "Now, your son mentioned you two have a solution to our bridge problem. It's currently over here and we need it over here where there is flat path for our wagons. In legend, it is told that the temple bridge can move but only if one has a-"
"Bifröst key!" Atreus finished excitedly. "We already have it. We can move the bridge for you."
"You have a Bifröst key?" Thrud exclaimed in bewilderment.
"Yes," Kratos answered in a tone that conveyed he wasn't in the mood for any further questioning.
"That's good news," she muttered. "You can use the key to open the market. There are three pillars you will find on the main walkway, right before the entrance to the temple. One of them should have a key hole in the shape of the Bifröst. Use it and it will open the market."
Olaf waved his hand. "Then it is settled. Move the bridge over to the gate near us and you will be rewarded handsomely.
"We're on it," Atreus chirped and moved to leave.
"One more thing," Olaf said quickly. "I have sent a few men to check out the temple beforehand and they've come back saying it's haunted with spirits. I don't know the credibility of their report but just in case, be on the look out for any ghosts. They could be dangerous."
"Won't be our first time but will do," his son replied dutifully and jogged out of the tent, Kratos and Fenrir following after him.
They made their way through the city camp, which provided them with a pretty good look at the people living here, which were many. Old and the young went about their daily lives despite their current living conditions. Surrounded by this many people, it reminded Kratos of the cities in Greece, except with major cultural differences.
Beached on the pebbly shore laid four fishermen's boats.
"Isn't this stealing?" Atreus asked as Kratos placed one foot at the end of a boat and gave it a light push. The boat shot across the shore and into the water.
"We need it," he simply replied.
Halfway across the Lake of Nine, Atreus peered over the boat and into the murky depths below.
"Weird," he mumbled. "The lake's not frozen and there wasn't any snow back at the camp. And it's warmer here. How is that possible?"
"I do not know. Ask the head."
Atreus plopped back down. "You're right. Mimir might know what's going on. I'll ask him about it when we get home."
They reached the island and after rowing the boat to a stop next to a platform, got off and headed up a row of stairs that took them up to the main walkway. To the left were the double doors of the temple and to the right were the three circular pillars Thrud mentioned.
Kratos went over to the circular structure and found the strangely shaped keyhole she must have been talking about. He inserted the bifrost and watched as the structure lit up with blue streaks of light. The circular design on the floor began moving, slithering around like snakes until it opened up into a huge hole. The day's light reached the first few steps but darkness consumed the rest of the way down.
"Let's go explore it!" Atreus made a dash for the stairs but Kratos hooked his fingers around the back of his shirt and dragged him towards the temple.
"No, that is not our mission. We will move the bridge and return home. Nothing more."
Atreus sighed, over dramatically in Kratos' opinion, and jogged over to the entrance. He had to wait impatiently as Kratos walked over and slid open the heavy doors, allowing the boy and the wolf to run inside eagerly. They slowed to a stop when they spotted the dwarves. The brothers were talking in raised voices, obviously having another fight about something Kratos could care less about.
Sindri was first to notice them.
Kratos wished he hadn't.
The overtly neurotic dwarf threw up his hands and exclaimed, "Oh thank the gods, it's you two! A group of mortal men stormed up the place and- AUGH! What is that!" He physically leapt back and pointed at Fenrir with a shaking finger.
"This is Fenrir," Atreus introduced, petting the wolf's head. "He's friendly."
"OH, oh no, get that thing away from me. You don't know where's it been. How can you even-" He covered his mouth as he made a puking sound, "-even touch that thing with your fingers! Oh gods, I think I'm going to-" Sindri dashed behind the forge and bent over a bucket.
Brok waved him off. "Ah, ignore him. Just make sure the mutt don't go n' bite me or something and we'll be all peachy." The blue dwarf wandered behind the forge and began hammering at some golden metal arm. "By the way, we had a little vermin problem. Some mortal men passed through here acting like they own the place."
"Indeed, they were very rude," Sindri added, wiping his mouth.
"We went invisible soon as we saw 'em. Knew they weren't customers." Brok pointed his tool hammer at the shelf. It was stocked with all the collectibles Kratos and his son had given them. "Greedy assholes tried to steal our shit."
"But we outsmarted them, didn't we brother?" Sindri wore a proud smile. "See, mortal men are easy to spook since most if not all are highly superstitious. That said, we pretended to be ghosts and that did the trick, far better than I thought it would."
Brok threw back his head and bellowed with laughter. "You got that right! Ya should've seen 'em run; bunch'a cowards."
Atreus looked back at Kratos." The king said his men encountered ghosts. Guess they don't have to worry about being haunted."
Sindri popped out of nowhere, startling Atreus. "King? Did you say king?"
The golden armored dwarf mumbled something to himself and asked, "Does this king, let's say, have a lot of people following him? Warriors, in need of weapons, perhaps?"
His son scratched the back of his head. "I guess. They are fighting draugr."
The dwarves looked at each other and twin grins broke out on their faces.
"You hear that, Brother? Customers!" exclaimed Sindri.
"This'll bump up business," Brok said and waggled a finger at them. "Hey, you tell the king if he needs weapon to come talk with us, the Huldra Brothers. We'll make him sum."
"For a reasonable price, of course," Sindri added with a light chuckle.
"Tell him yourself," Kratos snapped, heading to the travel room.
Sindri straightened up like a plucked chicken. "W-wait, what does he mean by that?"
"The king wants to move his people into the market." Atreus perked up towards the blue dwarf. "Brok! Did you know there's an entire market underneath the temple?"
"Course I do! Was there myself after it was built." He placed his hands on his hips and shook his head. "Those were the days."
Sindri looked about ready to freak out. "Uh, excuse me! Are we forgetting the fact we're about to be over run?! No, no way thank you very much. I do not do well in crowds. You tell the king we were here first and the temple is our space. Completely off limits, you hear me."
"Boy," Kratos called.
"I will," Atreus said and joined him into the travel room. They weren't there for long. It took no time to insert the bifrost and change the destination location to the desired gate. They were out and walking back to the exit.
"Remember! The Huldra Brothers are open for business!" Sindri's voice wavered after them as they left the temple.
They headed back to the boat when Kratos realized his son wasn't behind him. He turned and spotted the boy staring out into the wide open lake.
"Father, the world serpent is gone."
Kratos glanced to where the huge reptilian usually rested and like he said, it wasn't there.
"Do you think something happened to him?" His son's voice was thick with worry. Kratos, on the other hand, wasn't.
"It is a sea serpent, is it not? The snake has left for the sea."
"Yeah, you're probably right. He must have gotten bored laying there all day. I would."
"We all watched the bridge move. I never thought it possible until I saw it with my own eyes." The king motioned with his hand and one of the guards came up to Kratos with a baggie of gold. They had no need of it but better to have it than not. "Your payment as promised."
"There's no ghosts," Atreus piped up as Kratos tied the baggie to his belt. "It's just Sindri and Brok, the Huldra Brothers."
Thrud snapped to attention, a curious look passing her face. "The Huldra Brothers?"
"Who are these, 'Huldra Brothers'?" Olaf inquired.
"They're dwarves and they're brothers," Atreus answered. "They live in the temple. They're blacksmiths, too."
"The best blacksmiths in all the realms," Thrud boasted and when she saw everyone staring at her she cleared her throat. "My lord, their work is incomparable. We would be lucky to have their weapons in the hands of our men."
Olaf raised a brow. "That is a heavy claim. But if they're blacksmiths, why do they scare our men away?"
"Your men tried to steal their stuff. It's not their fault. I don't think they knew it belonged to them," said Atreus. "But Sindri and Brok said they don't want anyone else in the temple. They want it to be off limits."
"Done," Thrud said.
Olaf gave her a sideways glance. "We will take that into consideration when it comes time for negotiation of space. Thank you, young Atreus, for telling us. Will you and your father being staying?"
Atreus opened his mouth to answer but Kratos beat him to it.
"No," he stated gruffly. He did not miss the frown Thrud directed at him
Olaf's lips thinned into a straight line. "That's too bad. I could use a warrior like you. If you ever change your mind, seek me out. Otherwise, safe travels to you and your son."
He grunted and left while Atreus waving goodbye. He hadn't taken but five steps before Thrud was on them.
"You can't be serious. After what you've seen, what you've heard? How can you return home? It is no longer safe there."
Kratos halted and nodded at Atreus. "Go. Wait for me over there," he commanded. His son pouted but Kratos gave him a hard look and the boy obeyed, taking Fenrir with him. He watched him stop and wait a little ways away out of earshot. He faced Thrud.
"You heard what Olaf said. There is an army of draugr out there and other things of the night. Why would you want to risk you or your son's life like that? You must stay. It will be safer here."
"You said that last time," Kratos reminded her bluntly.
She squinted at him. "The situation is more dangerous than I thought. Hel, goddess of death, she walks among Midgard. She's the one causing all of this and she won't stop until every last one of us is either dead or undead, including you two."
"I can handle gods."
"Right, of course. You have plenty of experience." She shook her head with a defeated sigh. "Fine, I know better than to waste my words on someone who's already made their choice. At least take this with you. It will protect you from basic magic, including a hulder's." She reached behind her neck and took off her troll necklace. "Take it," she insisted when he didn't immediately reach for it.
Not one to turn down items, especially ones that might have some use, he took the necklace and slipped it into his pouch. There was nothing left to say and he was eager to leave and return back home where he could be alone.
"Stay safe!" she yelled in farewell, though it sounded more like a demand.
Atreus nudged his arm. "Father? Can we come back sometime to visit? I like it here."
"Why not? It's nice here and they need our help."
"Their matters are of no concern to us."
Atreus stopped walking and glared at him. "How can you say that? We are-" he paused and looked around and lowered his voice," We're gods. We should be helping. That's what gods are supposed to do, isn't it?"
"Do not be naive, Boy. You've seen what the gods truly are." He continued walking, leaving Atreus to jog after him.
"But that's not us. Until gods grow good, remember? We can be the change. We can be better."
"We do not belong here."
"Mother would help them," he replied defiantly.
Something snapped inside Kratos. He swiftly turned around, catching Atreus off guard. "Your mother is gone," he hissed, looming over his son. "If she wanted to help these people then that is her decision but not mine. Do you understand?"
Atreus glared at him but nodded.
"I said do you understand?" Kratos repeated more forcefully.
"Yes, sir," Atreus bit out.
The boy was hurting, Kratos could see it.
He knelt down, placing a hand on one skinny shoulder.
"Your life is far more important than any of these people, even my own. It may be selfish but this world, Atreus, is cruel and lonely. I learned this the hard way, and I am telling you now to prepare you for it. There are no heroes. Only monsters and the ones who survive them."
He stared at his son, willing him to listen and understand.
Atreus had his head tipped down and when he looked up, there was a hardness in his glossy eyes that has never been there before.
"You're right. Mother is gone." He shrugged off Kratos' hand atop his shoulder and marched away.
Fenrir tagged after him but the boy coldly ignored the wolf. Defeated and with ears down, Fenrir wandered back over to Kratos. He sighed heavily and brushed his fingers through his fur as he stood up.
His son had much to learn about the world and even more to accept the things in it.
They set off back to the cabin they called home. There, they could avoid the dangers of others and deal with their own.
And if any god wanted to hurt his son, the Blades of Chaos always craved for more blood.
Sister Edith pulled her hood further over her face.
She was in the wrong side of the camp and it would be in her best interest to keep herself as inconspicuous as possible. After all, not many people liked her kind. Don't get her wrong, she was proud of her faith and many in Olaf's circle tolerated her, but that was only within Olaf's side of the camp.
Lord Olaf's authority did not reach these parts so if she were to get into any trouble, help wouldn't come.
Merchants young and old selling this and that squawked at her, egging her to take a look at their wares but she only wrapped her cape tighter around her body and moved away from them.
She arrived at an open tavern and sat down at an empty table. A roundish lady with a stern face came around and curled her lip at Edith.
"You again. Are you going to order something this time besides water? Tables for real customers."
Without raising her head, Edith didn't hesitate to deposit a few gold coins onto the table.
"Water, please, and bread."
Thankfully, the lady made no more comment and scooped up the coins and left her to her business.
And what business was that, exactly? Edith had no clue.
What exactly was she hoping to accomplish? Aside from stalking a man that could rip a draugr in half, she was getting nowhere.
The beserker who had inadvertently saved her that fatal night, she found out through basic forms of stalkin-investigation, liked to visit this establishment. He never comes alone, always with a pack of wild men that deterred Edith from approaching him. She couldn't talk to him afterwards since the wild men lived outside the camp; slept in the woods like animals and she wasn't brave enough to go out there alone.
Being in this part of the camp was risky enough.
Soon, a rowdy group of burly, half naked men arrived and sat themselves a few tables away from where she sat. They were an odd sight even amongst their fellow Norsemen.
Edith spotted him immediately.
He was the biggest in the group, yet strangely the quietest.
When he sat he would curl his shoulders inward, making him appear smaller despite his size and the thick bear skin he wore over his head and back. When the lady gave him a jug of mead he would cradle it and stare forlornly into the cup, as if something was bothering him.
What a beserker could be thinking about, Edith had not the slightest idea. For all she knew, he could be daydreaming of murder and violence. It seemed to be what these brutes lived for.
She watched from a distance. Observing their behavior, studying them. They appeared docile at the moment but Edith knew better. She witnessed what they could do first-hand, and twice. One, when they raided her village and killed all those people, including her parents. Two, when they fought alongside Olaf against the invading draugr.
Yet, that was all she knew of them. Other than that, their culture and beliefs were a mystery to her. If she were to do the Lord's work and convert these lost souls, she would have to get to know them better and who better to start than with the man who saved her.
After a while the wild men got up and left.
Edith followed after them and made sure to be discreet about it. Every time she hoped he would stray from the group and catch him alone but it never happened. Until now.
She frowned when the hulking man veered down a path, separating from the group. Quickly she went down the same path. He kept zigzagging through the tents and she struggled to keep him in sight. In the back of her mind, she noted that they were getting closer to the wall- a tall lumber border that ended with spikes at the top. It was the only thing separating the people from the forest outside.
There was nobody around when he disappeared into the space between two large tents. She rounded the corner after him and bumped into solid rock. She slowly looked up into the face of the beserker.
Her heart leapt to her throat and she stumbled backwards.
"S-sorry, I didn't see you..." Her words faltered when he turned and began leaving. She jumped into action and threw out a hand. "Wait!"
To her surprise, he listened.
The beserker faced her and she grew nervous under his frightening gaze.
She bit her lip and drew back her hood, revealing her face. "Do you recognize me? Back at Fiskr, you saved me." She paused, waiting for him to confirm that he knew what she was talking about.
The beserker stared at her, then turned and walked away. She scurried after him.
"Wait, please, I just want to thank you-"
Edith choked on her words when he pushed her back with one hand. He did it with no force but to her, she could have been a leaf for all it mattered. Somehow, she managed not to fall.
"Alone," he growled deeply and again turned to leave.
She stepped towards him, "My name is Edith. Do you have a nam-"
In the blink of an eye, he whipped around and roared in her face, dribbles of spit splattering on her skin.
Edith's eyes shot wide open and she was so stunned that she hadn't realized she'd fallen until her butt connected with the muddy ground. From her place on the floor, she could only watch him stride away without even a glance back.
The shock finally left her body and she struggled to her feet. Her nerves were still jittery and she had to steady herself as she took a few deep breaths. Once she felt like she wasn't going to die, she glanced down at her clothes and sighed. They were muddied and ruined. She was going to have to clean them.
The walk back to her tent was an unpleasant one. Doubts plagued her, telling her this whole idea to understand and convert one of those animals was a waste of time. She'd come out here for no reason but to fail.
Despite her depressing thoughts, a flicker of hope lit in her heart. The task set before her by the Lord was not an easy one. It would test her resolve, both physically and mentally but she won't quit. He has guided her here to Midgard for a reason and she must put her trust in Him to once more guide her on her path, wherever it may take her.
Edith entered the tent feeling better than she had before.
She froze in her steps, a little 'o' falling from her lips.
Her roommate, Thrud, sat on the floor, holding a sword to her face.
"Excuse my intrusion. I will be out soon." Embarrassed, Edith tip toed her way over to her side of the tent. She changed quickly and grabbed her dirty gown and headed to the exit to go wash it by the lake.
"Wait," Thrud called, "Can you help me?"
Edith paused and hesitantly turned around. "I can try. What is it do you need?"
Thrud set down the sword and cocked her head. "Oh come now. You're supposed to bargain with me. A favor for a favor."
"That would be ungodly of me," the nun replied with a growing frown.
The shield-maiden smiled. "I jest. Come." She patted the spot in front of her and Edith went to sit there. It was then she noticed two bowls of what appeared to be crushed berries and the other kohl. She gazed shyly at Thrud's face and saw what the two ingredients must have been used for: The berries the soft red in her lips and delicate pink in her cheeks; the black kohl lined around her almond shaped eyes, making them pop.
In the back of her head, Edith thought the make up unnecessary. The warrior was the most beautiful woman she has ever seen. But it wasn't solely her looks that made her quite attractive, in her opinion.
Strong and proud was what she would describe Thrud, and despite the woman's rugged exterior, there was a sort of grace to her that bespoke of royalty. No one else seemed to notice it, but Edith was always the inquisitive type. Plus, she did share a room with the woman.
"Do you mind braiding parts of my hair? Every time I try to do it, it always turns out sloppy. It's been so long that my fingers have forgotten to do anything other than handle a weapon," Thrud confessed with a light chuckle.
"Of course." Edith set down her dirty clothes and used a comb to brush the warrior's long hair which was surprisingly smooth. She began braiding some strands and as she did her task, she felt it safe to ask, "Has somebody caught your eye?"
The corner of Thrud's lip curled upwards. "No. Olaf wants me to lead a group down into the market, make sure it is safe before letting civilians inside. It's been abandoned for over a hundred years but who knows what's really down there."
Edith hummed and couldn't help a smile from growing on her face.
"What?" Thrud asked, raising a brow.
The nun shrugged. "One doesn't go into battle looking pretty."
Thrud squinted at her and smirked. "You're clever, for a nun."
Edith only smiled and finished braiding one side and started on the next. When she was done with the other, Thrud moved to stand but she reached out and stopped her. "Wait, the kohl around your eyes, it's a bit smudged. Let me..." She pulled out a cloth she kept in her pocket and refined the edges of the liner, making them look less fierce and deranged and more neatly shaped.
As she cleaned away, she couldn't help but examine the tattoos on the warrior's face.
"The markings around your eyes, they look like butterfly wings."
"They're beautiful. Do they have any meaning?"
Thrud's smile disappeared and her face became stony.
Edith immediately withdrew her hands. "Forgive me. I overstepped."
"No, it's, it's okay." The warrior sat back and looked up. "When I was a little girl, my father had this nickname for me. 'Little Butterfly' he would call me because I was kind of the social butterfly back then. I was the kid who never knew when to shut up. I still don't know when to shut up." Edith giggled as she continued talking. "My poor uncle, I would ask him questions for days and looking back, I'm sure I talked his ear off but he never showed he minded. That was just the kind of person he was."
Edith listened intently and asked, "Your family, are they here? In the camp?"
"Oh, no. They don't live in Midgard."
"That's good to hear. I am glad your family is safe."
"Me too..." Thrud clicked her tongue. "What about your mamma and pappa? Aren't they worried about you being here?"
It was Edith's time to feel sad although she did not show it. "My parents were killed by raiders."
Thrud's eye flickered. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked."
"You meant no harm. I was young when it happened. Time and prayer have given me peace over the years."
Then why are you here? a little part of her mind questioned. Edith chose to ignore it. "I do have a favor for you," she said slowly.
"Oh? What happened to being ungodly?" Thrud laughed and nodded. "Let's hear it."
"I want you to teach me how to fight." There, she said it. She held her breath in anticipation.
"Why does a nun want to know how to fight?"
She let out air she had been holding. "Because I want to protect others. I still believe prayer is the ultimate weapon against evil but I- I, I don't know what I'm saying."
"I understand," Thrud reassured firmly. "You have no need to explain yourself. I will train you to use a sword. To be honest, I think that's the only thing you can handle. What do they feed you in that church of yours? We gotta put some meat on your bones!"
They shared a companionable laugh and, after Edith retrieved her bowl, walked with Thrud, chatting all the way about the basic of sword handling. She was so engrossed in the conversation that she did not notice someone approaching her until said person shouted in her ear making her shriek with fright.
"Leif!" she said breathlessly, clutching at her hammering heart.
Leif Erikson, slave turned warrior in Olaf's army, laughed in delight, as did a group of men she could only assume were the party Thrud was leading into the market. She punched him in the arm and he pretended it hurt. The explorer got a taste of his own medicine when his sight settled on Thrud. He gave a shout and tripped, falling flat on his rear. The men laughed even harder at that.
"Thrud! By the gods, I almost didn't recognize ya."
Thrud crossed her arms, unimpressed. "Get up, will you? We have a mission to do."
He grinned and jumped to his feet, saying, "Up and ready!"
Thrud rolled her eyes.
You will be careful, won't you?" Edith said before they could leave.
Leif grinned at her. "Aw, don't worry little sister. We're always careful." He grasped her by the shoulders and smacked a kiss right between her eyebrows. She scrunched up her face and finally he let go.
"Leif, let's go," Thrud called.
Leif petted her head, much to her annoyance. "Pray for me," he said and left to catch up with the others.
Edith knew he doesn't really mean it. It was just a thing they had going on, like an inside joke.
He doesn't know that she does pray. She prays every time.
The hand is a delicate structure, Sindri has come to learn.
It's not as simple as connecting finger to finger, but to allow them to be separate and joined at the same time with all the flexibility and fluidity of a real one. Out of all the things he has created, a hand had to be the most detailed and difficult to craft.
That was why he was hunched over his work table, sweat dripping from his brow as he carefully and painstakingly slowly connected a metal tendon in the knuckle area of the metal hand. He wished he can take a break but if it were his brother doing this, the brute would take a hammer and beat at it and claim that it is done.
No, it had to be Sindri working on the finer points of their latest project. He, after all, had the skill for more, let's say, 'advanced' metal crafting. And don't let his brother say otherwise!
His concentration was a vital part for their success.
It was why he almost had a heart attack when a loud, grating noise cut through the air, disturbing his focus. He let out a rush of air, immensely frustrated. It sounded like the entrance doors sliding open.
"Oh, Thor in a dress! Who in all the realms could that be?" he grumbled to his brother.
"I'll go check it out," Brok said and left his place behind the forge. "Hey! You ain't supposed to be in here, ya hear? This place is off limits so fuck off!"
A familiar laugh echoed down the hall, freezing Sindri in place, his mind going stark blank.
"You haven't change one bit, have you Brok?"
It was her voice. It was unmistakably, undeniably, her voice.
"By the braided hairs of Odin's butthole, Prudr, is that you?"
"Who else, ya halftroll!"
A commotion broke out. Sindri silently made his way around the forge and hid behind a table. He peeked around the corner and inhaled sharply.
It was Prudr. It was really her.
She and his brother clasped the other's arms and head butted each other.
"Prudr, where the fuck have you been?" Brok said as soon as they released arms. "Last I heard you ditched Asgard and fucked off into nowhere land."
"The first part is true. I did leave Asgard but I didn't go nowhere. I hanged around Midgard for a while but things happened and I decided to leave. I went overseas, traveled a bit. Got to meet new people, see new places. But enough about me, Brok, do you know you're blue?"
"Really? I never noticed," he snorted sarcastically. "I ain't blind, missy, at least not yet, I ain't! My brother claims I touched too much silver with my bare hands but that's an insult to my work ethics. A good smithy always use their gloves and I'm the best there is."
Without thinking, Sindri sprung up from his hiding place and declared, "That is not true!"
He froze when he and Prudr made eye contact.
The intensity in her eyes proved too much for him. His chest tightened and it became hard to breath.
He felt like he was going to faint.
He felt like he was going to throw up.
Sindri ducked behind the table and clamped a hand around his mouth. No, no, no don't you dare throw up in front of her, dammit! That would be the highlight of his day wouldn't it? Of course it would be just like him to embarrass himself in front of the goddess he hasn't seen in over, give or take, a hundred and six years, four months and seven days but who's counting, right?
"Sindri?" her voice called out to him.
Despite the churning in his stomach, Sindri gathered his wits and crept out from behind his hiding place. He stepped out into the open and opened his eyes.
Gods, there she was.
She hasn't changed one bit. Well, she looked more mature but other than that she was still the same old Prudr that used to come by his workshop whenever he and his brother were in Asgard. She always asked if they needed anything, did retrieval quests for them with her brothers, or simply hanged out and talked with them. He always thought she would get bored of them, of him, but she never stopped visiting.
Remembering those times resurfaced old feelings Sindri had spent years trying to squish down, to forget, because with those feelings came the bad ones. A reminder of what happened all those years ago.
"Hello, Sindri," Prudr said softly, a faint smile on her lips.
It hurt to look at her. Sunlight streamed from the open doors, lighting her up in a fiery halo, and when the light hit her just right, her hair glowed bright, just like her mother's.
He dared to look her in the eyes and his heart skipped a beat. "Hello, Prudr."
A silence filled the room. It wasn't awkward or tense like Sindri had feared. It was just... there. It felt right, not to say anything. It was peaceful. Prudr always had a way of making him feel like that. She was the 'live in the moment' type of person and not the 'worry every second of the future' kind of person like he was.
Brok made an obnoxiously loud disgusted noise and threw his hands into the air, startling them from their reverie. "Ugh, you two make me wanna hurl," he muttered, returning to his forge and continuing his hammering.
That peaceful quiet moment passed and the weight of the situation he was in came bearing down on Sindri.
He wrung his hands, helplessly hopeless. "Prudr, how- how have you been? It's been a long time since..." Sindri bit his lip and wanted to hit himself in the face. Stupid, stupid! Why did he have to bring that up? What is wrong with his brain? Oh great, now he's ruined everything and now she's going to hate him if she hasn't already.
"I've been doing better," she replied and there wasn't any venom to her tone. She nodded towards the forge and his brother. "I see the Huldra Brothers are back together. That's good, you guys make the best weapons together."
"Y-yes, we are..." he trailed off and frowned, "How did you know we separated?"
She blinked and glanced away. "Well, after I left Asgard I searched for you two but I found out that you guys parted ways and no one has seen either of you two ever since."
"You were looking for me?" Sindri asked quietly, staring up at her with round, hopeful eyes.
Prudr opened and closed her mouth as Sindri waited eagerly for what she was going to say next. A loud bang made him jump.
"She was looking for both of us you numb skull," Brok snarked as he took a cloth and wiped at a piece of dirty metal. He threw it down and pointed at Prudr with a wrench. "Now this has been such a 'lovely' reunion but my brother and I got work to do so either you got something that needs fixing or get your immortal booty out of here."
"Brother!" Sindri exclaimed, completely and utterly mortified.
Prudr laughed and reached behind her back and pulled out what looked to be a simple, metal rod. She tossed it onto the table as well as a huge leather pouch that made a clinking noise as it landed next to Brok.
Brok grabbed the rod and inspected it while Sindri wandered next to him and picked up the heavy pouch. He untied it and scooped up a pile of metal chunks and showed it to his brother.
"The hammer you made me. It broke."
"Shut your mouth," Brok gasped as if she had just cursed his mother. "Our weapons never break. What did you do to it?" He clutched the rod possessively and stared at her accusingly.
Prudr placed her hands on her hips. "You know that big tall guy, white skin, red tattoo, always has something up his ass. I knocked him out with my hammer. Turns out it was a bad idea."
Sindri pressed the baggie to his chest, "Are you okay? He didn't try to hurt you, did he?"
"I'm fine. He was under a spell and I had to knock him out so he wouldn't hurt anyone else."
Sindri let out a sigh of relief and grinned. "Well, Kratos can be a bit hard headed... " he paused and chortled. "Get it? 'Hard-headed'"
Prudr giggled and it did funny things to his heart.
Brok groaned. "Why are you laughing? It ain't funny."
They were interrupted by a masculine voice calling from the entrance.
"Hey, Thrud! What's taking so long? We gotta go!"
Sindri leaned over the desk to get a better look at this mystery person. It was a strapping young man, your typical warrior adventurer type-esque. But the most important part was that he was handsome and manlier looking than Sindri could ever be.
Bitterly in his mind, he couldn't help but think that this man was the type of person Thor would have approved of...
"I'll be out soon, Leif. Wait outside," Prudr yelled and the man disappeared from view.
Sindri scrambled back to avoid being caught looking.
Prudr took out a baggie of gold and began shifting through it. "So, what do I owe you two to make me a new hammer?"
"Oh! Oh no." Sindri shook his head. "Our services will always be free for you and I won't hear otherwise."
Brok made a disgruntled noise and Prudr pushed her hair back behind one ear.
"Thank you, Sindri. That's very generous of you. I do have one special request, if that is alright with you guys."
Sindri slipped into his business persona. "Sure, let's hear it."
"When you make the hammer, can you make it so I can call it back to me? I realized that would come in very handy for a lot of situations. But can you make it that it only listens to me?"
"No problem. That is our specialty. We would require a small portion of your blood though, so we can infuse it into the metal."
"Here," she said and stuck out her hand.
Sindri cringed, leaning back. "Uh.."
"Here I got it," Brok grumbled and used a knife to cut the palm of her hand. Sindri covered his mouth and nose as blood dripped down into a bowl. The cut didn't last for long as it healed up almost instantaneously; the perks of being a god, he suspected.
"Thanks," Prudr said and rubbed the blood from her hand, something Sindri had to look away from in fear of puking. "When do you think I can stop by and pick it up?"
Sindri waved his hand. "You don't have to walk all the way over here again. I can come to you."
"Really? Are you sure? I live in the camp and there's a lot of people-"
"No, no it's fine." He gritted his teeth at the thought of walking into a camp filled with dirty, close quartered people. "It's really no big deal."
Prudr raised a brow. "Okay. If you're ever there, ask one of the guards on duty to take you to Thrud. That's my mortal name. Can't have them knowing I'm a god, right?"
"Right," Sindri agreed, his palms sweating over the anticipation of going to the camp. He wasn't there yet and he was already nervous.
"Oh, and you don't have to worry about anyone squatting in the temple. This place is your space, I've made sure of that."
Relief flooded him. "Thank you, Prudr. You don't know how relieved I am to hear that."
She smiled kindly. "I do. That's why I did it." She sighed and glanced towards the doors. "I got to go. We're clearing out the old market and my men want to get it over with already."
Sindri pursed his lips. "Be careful. You don't know what icky horrible creatures could have moved in over the century."
"That's exactly what I thought. But no one listens to us."
"No one," Sindri added with a chuckle that faded into an awkward silence. He cleared his throat. "Well, safe travels and I will have your hammer done as soon as possible."
Prudr gazed at him, making him uncomfortable. "Goodbye, Sindri. It was nice seeing you again."
"Yes, um, yes it was very nice seeing you, too."
Her eyes flickered behind him. "See you later, Brok."
"Yeah, whatever," came his usual reply.
She smirked and looked back at Sindri.
Say something you idiot. But no words left his lips.
She smiled tightly and walked away. His stomach dropped with each foot step until she was out the door and gone.
Why didn't you say anything?
"You're an idiot, you know that?" he heard Brok say.
Sindri sat down on the stool and slumped over the table, hiding his face inside his arms. "Yeah, I know," he mumbled miserably.
The person he's loved- still loves- shows up unexpectedly and he acts like a complete fool. Great.
He was glad she didn't bring up what happened, or perhaps that was his fear talking. He knows, deep down, that eventually he will have to talk to her about it or she will confront him about it. Either way, the conversation he has been dreading for over a hundred years, that made him run away like a coward, was bound to happen, whether he was ready or not.
Not only that, he has to deliver her hammer. Inside the camp. With all those people.
He should just bring a bucket.
He's going to need it.
The idea of Sindri/Prudr came from the mythology of Alviss. He was a dwarf who wanted to marry Prudr but Thor didn't like that so he asked him questions to test him until the sun came up, turning Alviss into stone. Course, I changed things around with Sindri's version of the tale.
Low key ship those two for real. Thank for reading!