Posts Tagged ‘Helheim’

Women of the Armored Combat League

Chapter 19 – Torn Between

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Once more, twelve dead Asgardians in their finest armor made around us the circle of law. Shining Balder stood out in his pale tunic, one of the few men among many fallen shield-maidens. It was odd seeing the exuberant god of peace being so quiet.

Mordgud waited on my left, both of us wearing black. Hlin was across with white tabard over mail. Syn beside her had shrouded herself in the brown hood of her cloak, hiding eyes in shadow once more.

Will siding with Syn make things better, I wondered, biting my lip, or am I gambling away the last few friends who will have me? I clenched my jaw, glancing at Garm. No, these two watched me fail, without warning me to my fate, all for political gain. They are jailers and puppeteers, not friends.

Mordgud gave me a pat on the back, with a smile I refused to return.

“Cheer up,” she whispered, “you passed your initiation test with flying colors. Once we settle this affair, you can go visit your son William.”

What? I… she… (more…)

Chapter 18 – The Price of Murder

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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.” (more…)

Chapter 17 – Bridge of Blades –

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I was floating on fluffy clouds, eyes closed, enjoying how they gently rocked me back and forth. But as the winds rose, their motion shook me with rising violence.

“Stop shaking me,” I commanded, but they did not obey. I opened my eyes.

A giant face filled my entire view of the sky, that of a man more wrinkled and ancient than time itself. What manner of wind god is this? (more…)

Chapter 15 – Down With The Fishes –

 

I was startled awake by the knock on the door, just one tap, repeated every few seconds. Ganglati I suppose…

My wife was still purring, head on my chest. How strange that I have a wife now, I mused, when not long ago I had a husband. For that matter, am I a widow if I’m the one who died? Or am I still married to him? I suppose it doesn’t matter, if Hela held her end of the deal, since Mary Arden’s body lives once again.

With a hand on her forehead, I pulled Grisella’s eyelids open. No response. The rapping at the door continued, so I lifted her up enough to free myself. As I walked past the iron frame mirror, I spied my reflection getting her own gambeson from atop the chest. Her face sagged as she slipped it on.

Is the other me good to my family in Midgard? Does she make little horses out of twigs to amuse William? I hope she has a kind soul. (more…)

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. (more…)

Part 9 – Looking Up From The Mud –

Calm yourself Grisella, I told myself, don’t be giving them the satisfaction of seeing you cry.

Face down in the dirt, I took a breath. I’d been so intent on ignoring Bertha that I had not seen her trying to trip me. Whatever heaven you be in Father, I prayed, please give me strength, send me help.

“Go back to your mound,” she said with scorn. “We don’t want your kind touching our food.”

I gathered the onions, avoiding eye contact with my tormentors. It had been getting worse of late, since they’d seen my mark on the Day of Bathing.

The old gods were little good to me here, and the new god was no better. Maybe I’ll try being a good Christian when born again to Midgard, I thought, then made a sour face. There be little difference between the followers of either faith, I reminded myself. No matter what I did, I’d be alone if I could not mould myself to be like them.

Brooding in misery, that was when my dark angel appeared.

She was the first in a long while to take interest. Clearly a goddess, yet she was awkward, with a haunted look in her eyes. Like me, she seemed lost, alone.

Then to my surprise she acted like lads did – the ones who found my looks pleasing. Well, this at least I understood. It was something I could give, in a place where none wanted anything to do with me.

I’d not lain with a woman as one does a man – it being a sin and all – but then none had asked. Being already as damned as I could get, there be nowhere lower for me to sink. So, I thrust my chest out and put on my best smile for the lady. Being a whore for a goddess, that be better than what I had so far. Well, until she found someone prettier, less boyish, as the lads always did.

“Perhaps we can be friends? I am Gna, messenger of Asgard, or was until recently.”

Friends? Is that what they be calling unnatural relations these days? I can do that… (more…)

Part 8: Little Friends –

I rolled out of bed and shambled to the window. Pulling the curtains, I was greeted by the sun peeking over a forested horizon. Except it was too red – had I slept through the day? Blinking a few times, I realized it was merely a painting of sunset covered with curtains. It wasn’t even on the outside wall.

“Funny, very funny,” I muttered, remembering this was my room in Helheim. Crypts did not have windows.

I ambled to the wooden water basin near the door and gave it a sniff. I was wary of what might pass for hygiene around here, but the liquid was clear and without a suspicious odor. Come to think of it, I hadn’t really noticed much in the way of smells since I’d died. After splashing water on my face to wake up, I went to find a towel, washcloth and soap.

Thoughts of the previous day brought me a smile, and I marveled at the improvement of my mood. I had to see her again, I decided. Being alone wasn’t good for me, and I’d do almost anything to avoid returning to that frozen state of Silence.

Once dressed, I stood at the mirror. My skin had more color, looking less dead than yesterday. I whistled an old wind summoning tune as I redid my braid. From there I practically flew down the stairs to the outer doors.

She was leaning against the garden fence, fidgeting with the drooping end of her belt as I stepped out, and she wore a green kirtle dress today.

“Greetings Grisella,” I said. (more…)

Part 7: Mirror, Mirror –

Ganglati provided me a room in the castle, tastefully decorated in dark burgundy and black – quite lavish actually. The canopy bed had all manner of beasts carved into its dark red wood, as did the dressers, chairs and such.

I spent quite a while flopped on that bed’s comforter, drawn into staring at the embroidered spiral of life tapestry that hung above me. I missed the one in Asgard with constellations. It always brought me comfort when I wasn’t on the road, sleeping under the stars. At least I’m still alive… sort of, I told myself, running a hand over my hair.

After the not-quite-nap, I wasted more time frowning in front of the standing mirror. I looked surprisingly good in Hela’s colors. Royal blue was best for blondes, but all-black made me look more dangerous. Better for intimidation than diplomacy, and since I was tired of being pushed around, I liked it. The job, I wasn’t so sure of.

My new linen coat – stitched in diamond patterns with silver thread – marked me as agent and messenger of Death. I glanced down at myself. Leather boots and riding breeches completed the outfit. A belt held the short knife Oathbreaker in its sheath. Syn would love my new uniform, I reflected with a faint smile; she flat out refused to wear our official white “shoot me now” tabard, as she called it. My chest tightened with the memory. I missed her.

Don’t trust them, she’d tell me if she stood by my side. Reveal nothing. Show no weakness. You’re too naïve Gna. I sighed, almost feeling her hand on my shoulder. Mordgud and Ganglati had been kind to me, welcoming in their own way, and I didn’t know when I’d be allowed to see Hoof-Tosser. Could I truly spend years in service here alone without trust or friends? Asgard had rejected me and I’d sworn myself to the tender care of other side. I’d made my own bed of thorns, and now I had to lie in it. (more…)

Icy river

Part 6: Deals with Death –

 

Tightening my grip on Mordgud’s hand, I steeled myself for the stench of decay, but it was the scent of ripe apples that welcomed me to Helheim. On this side of the wall, the dusty Hel-Road became moist black earth, the barren ground around us a carpet of yellowing leaves, and dead trees were replaced by fruit laden ones. It was like I’d just stepped into Vanaheim on a peaceful Fall day just before Harvest.

“Not what you expected, I gather,” she said, bemused.

“Not at all. Where are all the dead?”

“They’re here, you simply cannot see them, and few come this close to the great wall.”

Over the tree line I could make out the black glassy spires of Elvidnir, twisting their way into the sky as if to pierce it. Even at this distance, Hela’s castle was an impressive sight – made as it was of shiny obsidian rock.

(more…)

Part 5: Hilt or Blade –

Blue gambeson

Blue gambeson.

A dark foggy path stretched before us as we rode, pierced only by pinpoint stars in every direction. Grey mane in one hand, the other held the Winds, sweat beading on my forehead from the strain. I felt foreboding mixed with hope, now that we were finally making progress, and glanced nervously behind us every now and again. This had been one of the most gut wrenching days of my life, and I feared more misfortune would befall me ere I lay my head to sleep once more.

Our trail ended at a shimmering wall, distorting the stars that seemed behind it. We followed the Deer through, and I got a mouthful of heavy snowflakes as I opened it to speak. Lit by the first hint of dawn, blown by blizzard winds, flakes froze the moisture on my scalp, settled in wet masses on my golden hair, and covered my blue coat with whiteness in mere minutes. I had no power to spare to calm the storm, and it wouldn’t listen to me anyway. The winds of Niflheim were always cranky but right now they were angry with me.

Trapped us, they howled. Free the Four Elders, their hoary voices demanded, their icy breath stinging my face. (more…)