Heartcleft Road 18 – Gna’s Story

Posted: September 2, 2015 in Aesir & Asynjur, Alfar & Duergar, Deities & Wights, Gna, Hlin, Jotnar, Stories, Syn
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Chapter 18 – The Price of Murder

(Click here to read from the beginning)

I couldn’t move. I could barely feel my body as I lay there on my back, but there were voices.

“I’m sorry, all right?” a voice said. “I didn’t mean to kill her. She was my friend too.” Syn, that had to be Syn.

Silence. I could imagine Hlin’s disapproving look. Mothers have mighty power when it comes to making people feel guilty. Good! Let her feel shame, I thought.

“I was so angry,” she continued. “She wouldn’t yield, and after she used that hellish magic I… lost control. My old habits kicked in.”

I heard a deep sigh. “That may be, but we now have a corpse rather than a captive, and that friend is lost to us forever. So close to Helheim, we may not even be able to bring back the body for a proper mourning and funeral,” Hlin said.

“I’ll carry her back myself,” Syn answered softly, her voice cracking. “I owe her that much.”

My eyes opened just a slit and I saw them, standing a few yards beyond my feet through the yellow grasses. It seemed I’d been dragged a bit closer to the Hel-Road. Hlin’s chain-mailed back was toward me but I could see Syn’s face under her hood. Her jaw muscles were clenched in determination, yet there was moisture glistening down her cheeks.

I took comfort in her tears, though still bitter at her causing my demise. Footsteps? I heard noise behind and to my left. Someone coming out of the tower?

Mordgud came into the edge of my sight and made her presence known by clearing her throat.

They turned, ready to draw weapons. She simply stood facing us, arms crossed over her black metal armor.

“Indeed,” she said with an arched eyebrow, ”you wish to declare war by attempting murder upon one of our Hel-maidens? A foolish notion I should think.”

Hlin’s hand fell away from hilt at her her hip. “We do not seek war, Bridge-Keeper, simply to retrieve one of our own.” A gray strand had loosened from her braid and hung over one of her eyes.

Syn returned her spear to its vertical position, relaxing as well, and with a hand over her leather-armored chest added: “We acted rightly – by Odin’s rule of treasonous deeds – using necessary force according to the laws of the Golden Realm.”

“Did you now?” Mordgud mused with the hint of a smile. “I disagree. We can resolve this by assembly of law or by war, here and now. What say you, emissaries of Asgard?” She said it pleasantly, in the tone of one offering tea. “Shall we start a war today and set the Nine Worlds aflame?”

While I had no wish for war, no matter what side I was on, I took perverse pleasure in seeing my friends sweat as they nervously whispered to each other.

Eventually Syn spoke: “We have no authority to start a war; we choose law.”

“Excellent!” Mordgud replied. “Let me summon some souls to bear witness.” She turned toward the bridge. “Oh, it seems they’re already arriving,” she added with a smirk in her voice.

If I had been able, I would’ve slapped my own forehead. Mordgud had been in the tower the whole time, watching us fight instead of helping me. The two of us could have taken them down, I silently raged, so why did she not… then it struck me. If we had attacked the Asgardians and won… would it not be us declaring war? This was a trap, I realized, and I was the bait. With souls beyond the gate, just waiting to be summoned ? Clearly this was a setup.

Was I recruited as a Hel-maid… just to be thrown away like a pawn in a Queen’s gambit? I wondered. I did not think Hela so callous as to sacrifice her people like that. Then again, I was new to her service. My loyalty was still under question. Whatever your endgame, Hela, I thought bitterly, I hope it was worth my life.

I managed to crane my neck up to see a dozen faring across the bridge, mostly women wearing armor, walking behind a blond man bathed in golden radiance. Holy Mother! They brought out Balder for this? They hadn’t let anyone see him in centuries. Playing a trump card like this, clearly meant to impress, made me feel a bit better about my death. Whatever she was after, the Queen was pulling out all the stops. Balder wore a white tunic this time, emphasizing his previous role in Asgard.

They processed down the Hel-Road, then came through the grasses to stand behind the watchtower’s guardian. My former allies stared at Balder, eyes wide, barely believing he was finally allowed out.

Ha! I know something you don’t! I thought with amusement. Hela’s consort can surely leave whenever he wants. I was sworn to secrecy though. Also, I was dead, so I would tell no tales. I didn’t feel very dead though…

“I believe you have experience in legal defense, Lady Syn,” Mordgud continued, “so I propose you act in that role as well as that of the accused. Do you agree?”

Confident in her skills of law, Syn nodded curtly. “I can do so, but I doubt we can agree on a judge.”

The raven-haired giantess smiled. “Hlin is wise with experience of loss, and I believe her to be fair. I will accept her as Lawspeaker to judge these proceedings. Is this agreeable, Asgardians?”

Their mouths hung open, but they agreed with a nod.

“Finally, we have with us twelve to bear witness. Do you recognize them as your peers? All of these warriors lived their lives in service to the glory of Asgard, did they not?”

Hlin was still staring at Balder, and took a hesitant step to greet him. He raised a hand and lowered his eyes, indicating he did not wish to speak. Uneasy, she turned back and nodded to her companion.

Syn lowered her hood, revealing brown tresses as she scanned the assembly. For the briefest of moments she looked like a trapped animal, realizing as I had that this was a setup, but then a mask of composure settled over her features. “I do.”

“Marvelous,” the dark lady said, “then let us begin.” The twelve moved into a circle around us at her gesture, forming an enclosure of law.

“In the name of the Crown of Helheim,” she continued, “I accuse Lady Syn of attempted murder upon a vassal of said Crown, which actions are an incitement to war. How do you plead, Lady Syn?”

“Not guilty,” Syn said, though her glance to my corpse said otherwise. “We are within our rights to dispose of our people as we please.”

“The matter seems thus,” Hel’s lady declared. “If Gna was in service to Asgard when she took her oath to Hela, then she is forsworn and you are within your rights to capture or kill her. If she was not, then this is an attack upon one of our Hel-maidens.”

“Agreed,” said Hlin warily.

Mordgud then strode over to me and said: “The Crown calls its first witness. Get up, Gna.”

“But I’m dead,” I whined. Hey, I can talk!

“No one dies in Helheim unless Her Ladyship so wishes, especially not one of her vassals. Stop lazing about,” she scolded, poking my ribs with the tip of her leather boot. “Your testimony is needed.”

Sensation had indeed returned to my body, I realized as I sat up, though I’d been too distracted to notice. How many times had I died or nearly so in the recent past? I’d spent centuries dodging death during dangerous missions, but now everything seemed Hel-bent on speeding my demise. Three times I’d died, and yet I lived. Still, it was getting a tad annoying.

A wave of tension went across Syn’s face as I stood, but Hlin gave me a smile of relief. I was glad to see she still cared, and to know that rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated.

“When last you visited Asgard,” the dark lady asked, “were you performing duties in service to that realm?”

“No,” I answered, eyes darting to see the reactions of my audience. “I had been given thirty-three years of leave, and was acting on my own.”

“For what reason did you return there then?”

“To secure a soul from Gefjon, to replace mine and raise my child.”

“And did you speak with said goddess?”

“No,” I said, looking away. “Heimdall wanted to arrest me for freezing Midgard without permission. I was barely holding onto the winds of time, I couldn’t wait for an audience so I fought him and fled.”

“And what did Heimdall declare would be the cost of fleeing his arrest?”

I lowered my head. “He said I would be an outlaw if I did.”

“Did he,” she asked, with a finger tapping her chin, “have the authority to make it so?”

“I believe he did,” I shrugged, “since he said Odin wanted me imprisoned.”

“Tell me Gna, what does ‘outlaw’ mean among those of the Asgardian tribe?”

“It means,” I answered, with a glare to my former friends, “that you lose all rights as a citizen, and can lawfully be killed or detained without consequence.”

“Legally,” she smiled, “it means you’re no longer an Asgardian, nor bound by their rules, does it not?”

“I suppose that’s correct.” I brushed myself off and tried to see if I was still bleeding. Or if I’d been bleeding at all. I couldn’t see the middle of my back, but by touch it seemed dry. First day on the job and I’m already going to have to patch up my armor, I grumbled to myself.

Syn stepped forward to question me: “How long have you served Frigga?”

“Let’s see… “ I rubbed at the top of my hairline, “about seven hundred and thirty-two years I believe. Wait, in terms of which world are you asking? That would be around nine hundred in…”

“Doesn’t matter, let’s just say a long time. Do you still feel loyalty to Frigga? Do you still wish to serve her?”

“I… yes,” I said lowering my head again. It was weird to see her go so quickly from a frenzied beast trying to tear me open… to a cold and rational lawyer. Two sides of a coin I suppose.

My almost-slayer smiled slightly, then turned to the Bridge-Keeper: “I wish to confer with my fellow. We’ve not had any time to properly prepare a defense. May we have a few minutes?

Bemused, Mordgud nodded, and the two emissaries walked a dozen yards away from our assembled circle.

I shifted and waited, gazing with curiosity at members of the jury. Oh, I think I recognize Brynhilda… and is that…

“Gna, I know you can hear me,” Syn said from all the way over there, though her back was to me. “Between your elven ears and the winds ferrying words, we can have a discreet conversation. Nod if you understand, Hlin is looking at you now.” She had gone to stand where I would have line of sight between two witnesses.

I nodded. Of course I could hear them. I just didn’t expect them to remember this fact. Clearly I was underestimating Syn’s cunning.

“Very well,” she added, brown braid bobbing at her back. “This can go in one of two ways. If you wish to side with them, there’s very little I can do for you. But if you are true to Asgard and working with us, we can get a judgment to bring you home. Cross your arms if you want to return to Frigga’s service.”

I glanced at Mordgud, who was busy talking and laughing with the dead jurors. Did I want this? I brushed off some more dirt from my black gambeson while rolling the thought around. I was loyal to Frigga, but I’d made a deal with Hela. Oath breaking was bad, this I knew, but breaking a promise to the Goddess of Death brought a whole new level of badness to the table. Closing my eyes, I felt my heart, seeking a tug that might direct me. Oh right, partly dead. My heart did beat, but only infrequently. This could be a problem… which I will solve right after I get home and apologize to Queen Frigga. I crossed my arms.

“Excellent. Here’s what I want you to do.”

I listened and replied, touching my nose, coughing, and using all manner of signals. Finally they returned. A chill breeze started blowing and bending the yellow grasses. Syn was smiling. Hlin was not. She’d never been comfortable with subterfuge. Things were about to get lively in the land of the dead…

 


Next week will be the final Gna chapter for this portion of the story, and the week after that I’ll start on Fulla’s. Comments much appreciated as always. 🙂

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Comments
  1. Ly says:

    ANOTHER cliffhanger!

    This is an incredible chapter, I can’t wait to see how Gna gets out of this one and part of me wonders if Hela is orchestrating the whole thing anyway.. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sonyjalerulv says:

    Great trap, well sprung. Hela is a clever and subtle one. Now, there are two things I wonder about, in his chapter.
    First, Gna’s attitude. Not so long ago, she mentionned Asgard feeling more and more distant and her growing attachment to this place. Not to mention Grissella. But now her focus seem to be more on going back to Asgard. True that she knows she have to be back in a month anyway. 🙂
    Second… the offer Syn made her seems to go against what she already said. She is talking of going back to Frigga’s service while Gna already lost all rights and the only thing left to determine is which additional punishment will be levied against her. Either Syn is lying, or she is confident she can get the decision reversed.

    Like

  3. lofnbard says:

    Yeah, Hela’s clever, but Mordgud is the one carrying it out. I like her being badass, even at the expense of Gna’s feelings.

    Gna was feeling detached from Asgard while trapped in Helheim, but she just saw her best friends. And had to fight them. That was *hard* for her, and she really wants to be on their side again.

    Syn’s offer… ahem. You have to keep three things in mind. First, Syn is a vicious assassin when the situation demands it. Second, Syn is a lawyer. Legal defense is her specialty according to the Prose Edda. Third, Syn is a lawyer. Do I really need to spell that out? She’ll say whatever is needed to win the case and haul Gna back to Asgard. Didn’t Gna mention a number of chapters back that Syn considers her overly trusting and naive? 😛

    Syn didn’t promise anything she couldn’t deliver. She asked Gna if she wanted to return to Frigga’s service. Which Gna does want, of course. A good lawyer never asks a question they don’t already know the answer to, and the Defense is an excellent con-artist. The only thing she did promise was a judgement to bring Gna home. Being brought home and thrown in a dungeon, or even summarily executed, would fully satisfy that promise… everything else was only implied.

    That said, Syn may very well want to see Gna reinstated and do her best to defend her in Odin’s court from the King’s wrath. But we’ll have to wait to find out.

    Like

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