Heartcleft road 13 – Gna’s Story

Posted: June 10, 2015 in Alfar & Duergar, Deities & Wights, Gna, Stories
Tags: , , , , , ,

Chapter 13– Feast of the Dead –

Amazingly, we made it out in time for the evening feast.

Grisella was a fast and eager student once I got her relaxed. Gifted even, and I had no regrets on that front about our accidental marriage. If you really want to know the details of our lovemaking – and it was lovemaking, not sex – then you have a dirty mind, and I approve. I’m still not going to tell you though. Some things should stay private between wife and wife.

Down the stairs we went, hastily dressed. I ignored the outer bone doors to my left and went with her through the ebony ones. I gave a lustful glance to the vast library as we passed, but there was no time to dally since we wanted food. After all that exercise, assaulting Hela was also a lower priority than dealing with my tummy’s rumblings. Our hands were still bound. Let them wonder at that, I thought with a grin.

One last set of doors and we were in the great hall, filled with people in their best tunics, sitting on benches at the trestle tables. Same layout as when I first faced Hela, minus the dust and most of the cobwebs. I wondered how they managed to go from that “deserted for decades” look to a “fit for feasting” one every night. And presumably back to the creepy version afterward.

A minstrel played a violin nestled against his beard, a sad haunting tune, slowly making his way around the room. His colorful costume had saw-tooth trims of white and red on his long burnt-orange coat. He bowed to me as he passed and kept going.

Deeper within, Hela sat on her throne of bone. Sun had set, so again I couldn’t discern what the stained glass behind her was showing. Come to think of it, there was that whole ruined side of the castle behind what I presumed was an inner courtyard – so how was it ever illuminated? Her impassive gaze paused on us, then continued. She wore a dress of flowing black velvet tonight. Only her bony foot moved, slowly tapping along to the tune. Heh, never would’ve pegged her as the foot-tapping kind.

Grisella pulled me along, bypassing all the sweet-smelling roasts and the quietly dining guests. Once on the far side, we stopped in front of a double-latched wooden door that was set in one of the many deep alcoves.

“Could you please open that door?” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Of course, but why do you need me to do it? Is it part of the gallantry you expect?”

“No. It be because I can’t see it, and even if I did I couldn’t open it. Employees only,” she shrugged.

“All right.” I pushed one latch down and the other up to release the door, then stepped through… right into the dining hall. The same dining hall we’d just left. Well, not exactly. Whereas before we were mostly among humans, now the majority of guests were Giants. Some were made of ice, some of fire, a few three and four-headed ones, along with mostly normal fleshy fellows with chunks of rock sticking out of their skins.

“What the…” Hela was still at the end of the hall. However, she was now two-headed, one side being a living skull with burning eyes, and the other an ever changing face. Men, women, children, dark and light skinned, it was a bit dizzying to watch her continuous shifting.

She wore a patchwork of still-bleeding animal skins. Her throne was black and writhing, made of a mass of insects.

“This be how the Giants like to see her,” Grisella commented, “so she obliges them. Come along.”

I ogled the crowd as she dragged me to the other side. In this hall there was a Giantess beating an enormous drum, dressed only in slashes of body paint, with ornamental bone piercings over much of her skin. Many of the diners wordlessly banged the table in time with her beat. It was every bit as solemn as the previous room had been.

My bride pointed to the same sort of double-latched door and I obliged her.

I stepped through and glanced around. This was the modern room – ruffled doublet jackets were clearly prominent among men’s fashions, and Elizabethan dresses among the women. Oil lamps hung from wooden rafters and smoking braziers placed along each wooden support beam filled the place with the scent of myrrh.

To the right, Hela once more appeared seated. This time she was a black winged angel of Death. Tears of blood dripped from eyes made of perfect darkness, and a white linen chiton dress completed the outfit. In her hand was a scythe. Her skin was a mask of porcelain white, one side showing cracks.

It was mesmerizing.

“How does she even do that?” I asked, “and how do you know?”

“I worked in the kitchens for a short while. I served food in a few of these halls. As to how, I have no idea,” she shrugged. “But I was sure you’d find it interesting. It goes on, too.” She pointed to another set of double doors across from us.”But I be hungry, so let’s pick one to eat in.”

I nodded. “Let’s go back to the first one.” We made our way, until we reached the one where half of Hela’s face was alive and the other showed bone under rotting flesh. If I was going to confront her, I’d rather it be in the form I was familiar with.

We sat beside each other next to a couple, the lady giggling as her man whispered something in her ear. Her tunic was royal blue over a white long-sleeved under-dress – it reminded me of Frigga’s colors. He was dressed in tatters of black and white. Upon closer inspection, they were carefully cut tatters. A mummer’s costume perhaps? In any case, I ripped a piece of meat from the roast bird before me and started chewing while Grisella did the same. I paused before swallowing, wondering if this might be illusion over something far more rotten than it seemed. As an Alfar, dispelling such illusions would be easy, but should I?

My wife seemed to be enjoying the food with abandon, commenting on the sort of fare that was usually served.

First to mind, I was dead. Whatever the true nature of this food, it was clearly suited to the likes of us, and there would be no other alternatives. Second, it tasted good. I decided that if I was in fact eating maggots, I’d really rather not know. I swallowed, then took a swig of ale from the wooden bowl my companion had filled for me. Some questions are best left unanswered.

“Glutton,” she reprimanded, “shouldn’t we be toasting first?”

“Of course!” I agreed. “To what shall we toast?”

She raised her bowl. “To unexpected blessings!”

“To unexpected blessings,” I repeated, knocking my vessel on hers before draining it dry. Not bad ale. Not Aegir’s, but not bad. She lifted my chin with the hand tied to mine, to plant a kiss. Mmmmm. I could get used to this sort of attention.

We finished our supper undisturbed, aside from our own flirting and feeding each other bites. I know, it’s so… cloyingly sweet? Simperingly romantic? But it was fun.

Glancing at Hela, I said: “It’s time to confront her. Maybe we should undo the golden yarn now, I’d like both my hands free.”

“I suppose so,” she nodded. I pulled out Mordgud’s dagger, but she stayed my hand.

“Let me untie it, as a souvenir. Be a shame to cut it now.” I smiled and allowed her to fuss over it until the knot came loose.

She carefully folded it, tucking it safe away in her cleavage, then tapped her heart three times. What a romantic, I thought with a smile, wishing I’d thought of it myself.

“Before we go,” she said, chewing on a fingernail, “I have one question. If you be a goddess and we be married, what does that make me?”

“Hmmm,” I paused, bringing a finger to tap on my chin. “I suppose that would make you a divine consort, until and unless you reach a position of your own. I’m not exactly in a place to award you titles right now, be they Asgardian or Hellish.” I shrugged, and she nodded.

As one we rose, and strode down the hall toward the throne. There was no high table here, I realized, no place reserved for the noble born. All are equal in death, I thought, or so she’d like people to think. It was a lie of course, but one that appealed to the commoners that filled her realm. There were always people above with more power and responsibility, if not always more wisdom. I shook my head. Everyone equal? This sort of nonsense would never fly in Asgard.

We reached the open space before her throne and I glanced down at that same three legged stool. I would have wagered good money that it irked her, being on a dais three steps above her people. It didn’t go with that whole equality propaganda of hers. But inequality was a fact of life, and elevation was simply practical if she wanted everyone seated to be able to see her. Saga would likely say she was merely acting out her role on a stage.

I heard the noise behind us diminish, as folk noticed something going on.

“I was in my study all afternoon,” Hela rasped, looking down on us. What she really meant was: “You kept me waiting you cow, I don’t like being kept waiting.” But a queen wouldn’t say something like that.

I smiled, and it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “Your ladyship, we were occupied with consummating our marriage.” I took Grisella’s hand. “Which occurred after you so graciously restored her to the fullness of herself.” Translation: “You fucked with us and I couldn’t care less that you were inconvenienced.”

She nodded regally. “If you wanted to be married, you could have asked me to officiate.” She brushed at her rotting side with the back of her hand, and a piece of her cheek fell to the floor. Translation: “You kept me out of the loop, disrespected me, and made me feel like a fool. If you do that again I’ll have your skin made into a chaircover.”

I kissed Grisella, then nodded. “Ah, but your majesty, you know how impulsive young lovers can be in the heat of passion. Before I knew it, it was done. We had to improvise of course, but had we not, the moment would have been lost forever, to all of us.” Translation: “I barely managed to save her unlife, you bitch, and you should thank me for rescuing one of your subjects from your nearly fatal misjudgment.”

Folding her hands together on her lap, she continued. “Indeed, it would have been a shame to lose that… moment. A loss for all of us. I want my people to be happy, despite what you may think of it.”

I narrowed my eyes. She was almost talking plainly now, and almost apologized. Not good enough, and I was tired of the doubletalk. I let go of Grisella’s hand, aware that she was starting to wilt under Hela’s gaze, and took a step forward with an accusing finger.

“So now you listen, and listen well,” I said. Heat rose to my face as I prepared to lay into her, but before I could finish my sentence, a mist descended upon us. I looked around, the background sounds of the crowd had fallen to nothing. Only we at the front were encased.

The queen leaned forward. “Privacy,” she simply said. “You may speak freely now, no others will hear.”

Clever. I’d thought to embarrass her before her people, but she’d deprived me of that leverage. No matter. This was private anyway.

“Our deal,” I growled. “I made that deal in good faith, and you played me like a pawn! Is that why you left me alone ? Because you planned on me meeting her and falling for her? To bind me to you and your realm?”

A small smile rose on half her face. “You give me too much credit, Gna,” her breathy voice carried clearly. “I gave you time to come to terms with your death, as I do for everyone who joins my service. How you chose to deal with it… that was all your choosing. Though not yet a queen, I tell you this in truth: it has been centuries since you were a pawn.”

I clenched my fists. “Assuming you’re not lying, what in the Friggin pits of Svartalfheim did you think you were doing when you sent her to kill me?”

Slowly her head turned to Grisella. “It was no lie when I told you of my situation, that I receive mostly murderers, thieves and heretics these days. The common, decent folk, all go to that other god.” She sighed. “Nastrond is overflowing with broken, twisted souls. I have had to expand it twice now. The good souls I send out for rebirth… do not come back. I would not mind so much if they went to Asgard, but they do not.” She frowned. “The situation is… intolerable.”

Grisella had gathered her nerve by then, and was slightly shaking. “Was that why you made me forget half my life?” she asked, also getting red in the face.

“I did no such thing,” the Queen responded. “You chose to forget, made yourself young again, which is why you did not end up in Nastrond with the snakes like the others. That is why I took interest in you. It was… unusual. I waited to see how it played out.”

My wife raised a shaking fist, knuckles going white. “You and your Hel-maidens, you ignored me and all my asking for help to remove this blasted cross on my forehead. Made me feel I was trash! No one would speak to me! Why?”

“I needed to know…. if you were the one.” The queen fidgeted with her hands. That gave me pause. Hela, fidgeting? Nervous? Unheard of!

“The one what?” I asked guardedly.

She glanced my way with her eye socket. “The one to save them.”

“You’re speaking in riddles,” I accused her.

“It cannot be helped,” she shrugged. “I had to test her, see if she was merely hiding her rot, or had renounced it. Do not think I enjoyed it, elf, having to misdirect her, making her think I wanted you dead.”

“What,” I asked more softly, “would have happened if she’d stabbed me with that knife of yours? What dwarven dweomer did it hold? I never inspected it.”

“Nothing. And none.” the Queen answered. “Nothing would have happened. None may die in my realm without my willing it so. It was an ordinary knife, entirely unable to kill you further.”

“And what would… would… have been done of me if I did?” Grisella stammered.

Hela’s full gaze fell upon my lover, pushing her back, making her stumble. In an echoing voice the Queen declared: “You would have joined the snakes in Nastrond as befits the murderer you are – not for mere revenge but for betraying the one you love most in the worst possible way, for greed of power, repaying her kindness with treachery.” She shook her head slowly. “You would not have been the one I sought.”

I would have thought Grisella’s heart was giving out, the way she held her chest, if she wasn’t already dead.

“But… but… you ordered…” Grisella quibbled.

“I gave no such order,” Death said as she denied the point. “I told you she would not be truly one of us until all dead, which is true. I told you to do the right thing. You filled in my omissions with your assumptions.”

I went over to my wife, supporting her elbows. “And what was my role in all this?” I asked.

“Incidental,” Hela continued, “an opportunity, which I took. You are not the one, but you are useful, powerful in your own way. I have need of such as you.”

Grisella spoke, so softly I could not understand.

Hela stood slowly, her long black hair draping down, and with regal deliberateness limped down the stairs toward us. “Speak up, girl,” she said when she stood before her.

“Be I… be I the one? Did I… pass the test? Do I become… a Hel-maiden as you said, for doing the right thing?”

The queen’s living hand rose, placing a finger under Grisella’s chin. She inspected her, cocking her head to use her hollow eye. I felt my wife trembling in my arms as the seconds flowed away. She’d almost failed, almost stabbed me, though I convinced her otherwise. Was that good enough? I held my breath, awaiting the verdict.

Finally, the queen spoke: “You, Grisella…”

Come on, I thought, the suspense is killing us!

“You are… the one,” she declared with a nod.

My lover slumped in my arms with relief, and I took a breath as we both wondered what was to happen next.

In that moment I realized I was a fool. This wasn’t my story, it was Grisella’s: the story of her ascension. And if it wasn’t my story, then perhaps I was merely a chapter in hers, on the inevitable downfall of a goddess into darkness. It was not I the bards would sing of, and that made my joy for her… bittersweet. Still… I would support her. That seemed to be my role, and I would do it to the best of my abilities.

Depressed, I wondered if any mortal bard would ever bother writing about either of our ordeals… or if our struggles would entirely be forgotten once the new god reigned supreme.


 

Note: Comments and musings are very much appreciated. That’s how you tip the bard. 🙂

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Comments
  1. Ly says:

    Aha!! I knew it was never Hela’s plan to kill Gna!
    She can be cold and objective in my experience, but NOT an evil queen.
    So as to her differing appearances, makes me wonder how many she has?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. owanderer says:

    I still haven’t read the previous chapters before 11 but I’m still super into this story. (This is oliver BTW)
    I’m fascinated by your description of Hela’s hall and the aspects of her you dreamed up (or have maybe even glimpsed yourself!)
    I’m curious to know if She has a hall for every race. Is there a vampire hall? A hall for faeries? A hall for trolls? Are they unending halls? So many questions.

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      Well, you can see more of Hela in previous parts, and Gna runs into Heimdall too! Just go to the Story Index tab or use this link: https://lofnbard.wordpress.com/stories/

      As to Hela’s halls and faces… I don’t know. I experience the worlds through the memories of the goddess in question, or that’s what it feels like anyway. Saga’s blessing I suppose. I sometimes know a bit more than what’s in the story, but that’s usually more in terms of layers of meaning that are better hinted at than spelled out. Kills the pacing and tension if I explain everything with endless exposition. I try to leave interesting linguistic artifacts and historical concepts in the footnotes instead.

      I often don’t know what’s going to happen before I write it. Sometimes I know in general terms, and sometimes a whole section gets inserted. “Make me funnier!” “Oh, I forgot, you should really mention this” “Wait, there’s a whole bit you’re missing here.” They’re always cool bits, but they mess up my posting schedule something fierces. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  3. sonyjalerulv says:

    Loved the endless version of halls. Well done, and so logical. Poor Gna, realizing that happened was not about her at all. hehe

    Like

  4. lofnbard says:

    Hosting all the dead in one place is a logistical nightmare. It’s the best solution I could find. It may even be true!
    Discovering “It’s all not about me” is a big step in growing up. And it sucks. This isn’t Gna’s ascension story like the ones I write for many of the other goddesses, it’s about her growing up and becoming an adult, which is probably more significant and relatable.

    Like

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