by Joe Nelson
TGDI Contest Entry. Two mages battle for the future of a Viking town.
Child of Frigg.
By Joe Nelson.
The aurora borealis danced gracefully over the bay’s horizon signalling the long anticipated transition from winter to spring. But despite its haunting beauty the spectacular display inspired only fear amongst the people of Sigtuna.
Throughout Sweden there were many legends about the origin of the mysterious lights, but it was the people of Sigtuna that knew the reality and none more so than Gunnar Andersson.
With a tankard of ale, Gunnar watched the magical lights from the steps of Sigtuna’s Great Hall. Though he was long past drunk and his body was numb he could not block out the bitter winds of winter’s end.
He choked upon taking another mouthful of the salty swill that passed for ale and coughed violently as the liquid trickled down through his thick beard, soaking his furs beneath.
Half heartedly, he wiped his thick brush with his hand and caught sight of his white hairs. He sighed upon remembering his age, surely it was not that long since he was a strapping youth?
Those were the days. When he was six foot tall with bright blonde hair, eyes of a hawk and strength of a bear. The days when he would sail across the seas with his kinsmen, smiting their enemies with animal ferocity and inspiring fear in all who dared stand in their way. Those were the days.
Now he had trouble walking home from the hall. The cold made his bones ache and he needed to piss four times a night. His once vibrant mane of gold had become a balding, straggly mess of filthy grey and he struggled to lift his family’s ancestral sword. What happened? he thought. Time happened, even the Gods were at its mercy.
He was not lucky to have lived so long, perhaps that was his own fault for being such a skilled a warrior. All his friends had received the honour of dying in battle and were now at Odin’s side in the halls of Valhalla while he was left in a daily mixture of piss and vomit.
There are worse things than growing old he thought as he turned his eyes back to the night sky and remembered.
* * * * *
Inga stood at the cliff edge, watching the emerald glow that emanated from the sea’s horizon. The northern lights were at their zenith and it would not be long before they arrived.
Turning her head towards the stars and closing her eyes, she listened carefully to the song of the forest.
To a normal person it would have been deathly quiet but to Inga the woods were alive with nature and life.
It spoke to her through the silence, reaching into her body and touching her soul. It told her of its fear and concern, it told her she had to protect all there was and that she was needed once again.
She nodded silently before opening her eyes. The aurora borealis were becoming violent, its light began moving faster as if it came closer to the land.
They did not come every year but that did not mean she was not needed. Without her they would dominate, they would win. Despite the years of boredom she was ready, she had to be. Child of Frigg.
Inga ran through the forest as fast as he little feet could carry her. She hurtled through the foliage skilfully leaping over fallen trees and exposed roots as stray branches swiped at her skin. She knew the forest well, it was her home and it would never hurt her.
A pealing howl resounded through the night and she ran ever faster upon hearing the doleful cries.
Before long she could hear the rapid approach of padded footsteps from behind. She turned to see two monstrous wolves chasing her, their bright eyes shimmering in the moonlight.
Inga’s pace quickened but the wolves were faster, their jaws slathered in anticipation of what was ahead.
In seconds they were upon her, flanking her on both sides and slowing their speed to match hers.
“Ulf, Rolf, where have you been?” she asked as her guardians took their rightful places. “Never mind, we have work to do.”
The wolves barked in unison, eager for the fight ahead.
* * * * *
“You must have some good stories old man!” the youth said as he sat at Gunnar’s table.
Gunnar regarded his youthful arrogance with contempt. Little shit, he thought. Ten years ago I would have broken your spine for that! But instead he said nothing. The worst part about getting old was that he couldn’t fight anymore. These days the unctuous little prick would have wiped the floor with him. Besides, he was too tired to cause trouble now.
“Tell me about Sigvard the coward.”
“Ask someone else!” Gunnar grunted, staring into his ale.
“No one will say anything. They’re all cowards.”
Gunnar shot him a glare
“Be careful who you call a coward boy, I know many who will skin you for such an insult!”
The youths confidence dropped as he realised the ale had loosened his tongue to a point that may get him killed. Shifting his tankard to one side and resting his head on his arms he repeated his question with respect.
“Please old man Gunnar, tell me about Sigvard the coward.”
Gunnar sighed. If being out of the cold meant he had to humour the boy then so be it. After coughing to clear his throat he began
“Sigvard the Bold, as he was called then, was one of King Eric’s most trusted advisors. He fought with him in the Battle of the Helgeå, but as the battle reached its critical point, Sigvard revealed himself to be a traitor and tried to murder the king. He failed and as punishment he was thrown into the sea with rocks tied to his feet. But before he sank into the watery depths he swore that he would return to claim his vengeance upon Eric’s people.”
Gunnar took another swig of ale and belched in the boy’s face before continuing “Because of his treachery and cowardice, he was cursed by Odin and rejected by Hel. Unable to enter Valhalla or Helheim he now wanders between worlds seeking his revenge and awaiting the day he can satisfy his hatered.”
Silence followed as the youth thought about the old man’s words and Gunnar returned to his ale.
“Did he ever come back?” the boy asked.
“We’re still here aren’t we boy?” Gunnar boomed incredulously.
The youth was ashen with embarrassment at asking such a stupid question
“But why is everyone so scared of the lights?” he asked.
“Because legend has it that the lights are the dark magics Sigvar uses to return to this land. Evils magics that allow him to rise from his watery grave and roam the land like a mortal.”
The boy was silent, fear had taken him. He knew he would not sleep tonight. He doubted he would ever sleep again.
“Rrrraaaarrrrgggghhhhh.” Gunnar suddenly roared, waving his hands in the air.
The boy screamed and fell off his chair. Gunnar nearly pissed himself laughing as the boy fled back to his friends. The youth had given him the best laugh he’d had in years but it soon went and Gunnar was left with his memories once more.
* * * * *
Inga came at last to her destination. The beach was deserted and barren save for the husks of a few discarded row boats. It was a testament to the difficulties of winter for the people of Sigtuna.
The waterfront was bitterly cold at this time of year and the three companions were at the mercy of the freezing winds that blew inland from the sea.
She watched her canine companions as they panted in the night air and couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy at their thick fur coats.
Ulf looked at her quizzically, whining as though to apologise for being warm. She smiled and rubbed behind his ear.
Rolf broke the silence, alerting them with a low growl and they all cast their eyes towards the sea.
“They’re here” Inga said in a low voice.
With her heart in her throat, Inga watched as the dark skull emerged from the sea with eyes of an evil fire that bored into her.
One by one more emerged, lifeless decaying corpses rising from the murky water and making their way onto the beach.
There were five in total and it wasn’t long before they all stood silently in a semi-circle around her.
The wolves growled viciously as the one with the fiery eyes stepped forward and raised its fleshless arm, pointing towards Inga. Its voice was a hiss from everywhere and nowhere, as though the very air spoke in its place.
“Begone child! You are of no consssssequensssssss to ussss.”
The spirit was right, she was a child, at least in body but her spirit held something far more powerful.
Inga wrinkled her nose and growled like her wolves, angry at the creatures arrogance
“You know not what you deal with ghosts of traitors. You begone!” she waved her hand dismissively, as though the spirit were nothing more than a naughty child.
The wight screeched in defiance, its hideous cry causing Inga to recoil momentarily and the shadows vanished as the creature became alight with baleful.
Rolf and Ulf sprang forward, charging at the skeletons and leaving Inga to face their leader.
The wight pointed at her again and released a searing burst of flame from its skeletal fingertips.
Inga twisted in the air as she leapt out of the fireballs path.
Chunks of charred earth showered over her as she landed on all fours like a beast.
Quickly regaining her composure she threw her arms into the air and with an arcane whisper she summoned forth a whirling cloud of sand.
The creature stepped cautiously backwards as the small whirlwind surged toward him before dissipating into the night air.
It stepped forward once more, this time with a shadowy nimbus about his form.
“You are no match for me, Child of Frigg!” the words screeched from behind long decayed lips, echoing in her brain.
The thing was right. The phenomena known as aurora borealis only ever occurred when the spirit realms overflowed. It was the only time mortals could see the winds of magic and it offered near unlimited power to those who knew how to manipulate it. That was the magic the creature was using, dark magic. By contrast Inga was a shaman of nature, her strength lay in the wild places of the world and if she were to stand a chance of winning then that was where she had to be.
“You will not catch me cursed of Odin, reject of Hel!” Inga shouted before fleeing back to the forest.
The wight screeched its fury at her hurtful words, though its heart was long gone.
At the tree line Inga looked back to see it following her. Good she thought. Now we’ll fight on my terms.
Inga hid in the branches of a tall oak as the spirit searched the forest for her. The glowing winds of the northern sky could barely be seen through the thick forest canopy but she could feel its magic pulsing through her.
She was in her element now and the raw power of nature echoed like a song in her mind. She was ready.
With an animalistic roar she leapt from the tree and landed gracefully behind the creature.
It turned with a hiss only to be attacked by thorny vines that rose from the earth. Screeching its evil curses into the night, the wight writhed as it became entangled by the forest.
“This land does not want you spirit!”
The foul light in its eyes burned brighter as it screeched its defiance and
the vines tightened their grip, reaching their way into its bones and pulling the wight apart. The creature hissed its evil words and the vines began to rot and die.
Inga squaked like a bird and the creature recoiled as hundreds of crows swept out of the forest, surrounding its evil form and ferociously harrassing it. The evil being danced hysterically under their assault, swatting at the birds and desperately trying to free itself from their attack.
Inga crouched low, putting her forhead to the cold, damp soil and whispered words of power into the earth. The wight began to sink into the ground as her words trailed off. The crows continued their relentless assault, only dispersing when the creature was neck deep in the earth.
Finally it stared spitefully back at Inga who was holding a large rock in both hands.
“You cannot killlll meeeee child. I am far older than youuu” it hissed.
Without hesitation Inga brought the rock down on its head with all her might, shattering the skull in one deadly blow.
After a moment Inga sighed, releived at her victory. She turned to see Rolf and Ulf watching her contently. Both were chewing bones taken from their latest prey and slobbering all over the grass.
Inga laughed softly, pleased that her guardians were safe and well fed.
“Time to go.” she said and without any further hesitation, she darted into the trees.
Rolf and Ulf glanced at each other before following her into the forest.
* * * * *
Gunnar snored drunkenly as he slept face-flat on the table, his hair drenched in spilled ale. His pig-like sounds drew amused comments from the others in the Great Hall and some of the younger ones would play pranks on him while he slept.
He didn’t care. In his dreams everything was perfect; he was thirteen and he was strong. Soon he would go on his first voyage but more importantly he was in love.
Inga Toste was betrothed to him and she was his everything. It was the most joyous occaison of his life for he loved her with all his heart and though he would never have admitted it to his friends, he would have given up everything to stay with her.
It was a blessing that in sleep he would not dream of the memory that tormented his waking thoughts. The memory of how she could see the future and talk to animals.
The Elders of Sigtuna had called her a child of the Gods. Not of our world they would say. Inga’s destiny was not like theirs, she was sent for a reason. And so they could not be married, Inga was to be exiled from the village, to live amongst the forest. Her place was not with Gunnar but in the wilds. The Gods would keep her safe so she could watch over him and their people. She would never know the pain of growing old, she would be forever young. She was the daughter of Odin. The Child of Frigg.