THORIS V.S. MALDARON
King Thoris's Dilema!
King Thoris IV was perplexed. When the first report had come in, he had ignored it as an odd joke. Cows and other livestock missing was not unusual this time of year. With the surrounding villages getting close to winter, food was becoming more scarce. And on an island this size, it was not usually long before the thieves were discovered and justice was done. It was only in rare instances that he had actually had to deploy his soldiers to handle a ‘situation’. And that hadn’t happened in years. Then, one of the villages had sent word of something…. Strange. The letter did not mention what, only that his immediate attention was required. In his annoyance he had almost ignored the cryptic demands. But finally his advisors had persuaded him to send a few men to at least appear he cared about their squabbling. A month later, no word and none of the ten soldiers he had sent had returned. Worse still, a lone child from a village near the one he had sent his men to had appeared at his gates. Delirious and bleeding, babbling about demons attacking in the night. Furious he had sent forty veteran soldiers to investigate, they had all returned almost a month later with dire stories of several villages razed and pillaged. Farms burned to the ground, livestock slaughtered and butchered. Peasants left dead in their homes. But worse than that, they had returned with this… thing.
“What do you make of this strange thing, my liege?”
Thoris glared at Gimrik, his head advisor and frowned. “It is clearly a ship, you fool. The only odd thing is its proportion”
Gimrik bit his lip and nodded apprehensively. “Do you think children made it?”
Thoris ran his hand across the railing or the ship. It was fifty feet from bow to aft, and finely made. Hand carved with strange writing and symbols. Everything was sanded and polished smooth. The rigging was expertly tied and well maintained. The hull had been joined together in such a way that not a single nail had been used in its design. The most unusual feature was the scale of everything, it had been crafted in dimensions that could only comfortably suit someone of very short stature, roughly child sized or half the height of a regular man. The shipwright he had summoned had nearly gone mad from excitement. Then there was a matter of the gold. The cabin at the rear of the ship and the meager hold underneath had been filled with gold and trinkets of varying origins. His historians could only accurately trace the origins of a handful of items. There was definitely no doubt in his mind, no children had made this.
“Gather all my soldiers. Send as many men as you can to the nearest villages and have them raise militias. We must stop this terrible plague, whatever it may be.”
His advisor nodded sagely. “Most wise my liege. It shall be done!”
Felonius looked up sharply from his dinner.
“What’s wrong dear?” His wife asked with wide eyes.
Felonius swallowed his food and pushed himself away from the table. “Did you hear something?”
His wife and four children glanced at each other curiously then shook their heads in unison.
“I swear I heard something…” He muttered as he walked over to the window. Throwing the shutters open he squinted in the darkness. A faint red glow greeted him from over the hills. With a chuckle he closed the shutters and sat back at the table. “The folk down the road are having a bonfire again.” “You know…” He muttered between bites, “they always invite us to their festivals. I wonder why they didn’t this ti-“
“What in the name of the gods is that?” He shouted, leaping to his feet.
The wooden walls of his home were shaking under the assault of unseen attackers. Incoherent shouting assailed their ears, defeaning them with its volume. “ODHINN! JHAVAK JOTUN! GIM HIE RAGK THUNARR!!”
Terrified his wife and children dove under the table and huddled there.
“Who is that?!” Felonius shouted. “By the gods you prankster had better-“
Felonius’s jaw dropped as a heavy axe blade ripped through his door. “What the hell…”
Smoke billowed from the burning village. Ten bloody soaked warriors lounged around one of the smaller fires, cooking freshly slaughtered livestock or drinking what meager alcohol they had procured.
“Bah!” Spat one, in disgust. He had led his warriors in every raid thus far, and not a single one had met with Odhinn yet. The few warriors they had encountered had shrieked like women, fleeing only to be cut down like cowards. “These Jotun are but a pale shadow of what they once were. Coppers and silvers… Where is the gold? Where are the warriors?” His fellows murmured assent. He looked mournfully into his tankard. “Even their drink has gone soft.”
The assembled warriors leaped to their feet at the cry, axes and swords appearing in hands as if they had always been there. Breathless, one of their number stumbled into the light of the fires. Grumbling they lowered their weapons.
“Thieves.” He panted, pointing back the way he came.
“What are you about?” The leader growled.
“Jotun came!” He shouted excitedly. “Almost two score!”
The leader shrugged and swilled the rest of the cheap mead. With a belch he tossed the empty tankard over his shoulder.
“They took the ship!”
“WHAT!” The leader roared, sending the newcomer tumbling to his rear. “So why did you not challenge them? And show them the way to Valhalla?”
“I did better!” The newcomer shot back. “I followed them and found it!”
“The ship?” Someone quipped from the rear.
“No!” The newcomer growled. “Jotunheim!”
Thoris dashed his cup against the wall in furious rage. “Blast it all! What good are you?”
His two remaining commanders bowed their heads in shame. The younger one glanced uneasily around. “Well, my liege… It is rather difficult to fight what we can not find.”
The older commander glanced up sharply and cuffed the younger one across the head. “Don’t make excuses!”
Thoris turned his angry glare on the grizzled commander and crossed his arms. “Oh? Then why have you not succeeded where your peers have failed? Why have over half my villages on the island been burned to the ground yet no enemy has been produced? Why is the only thing we have right now some strange ship filled with gold and piles of dead?”
The younger commander rubbed his ringing head ruefully. “The men believe it was a ‘ghost ship’. That the spirits were angered and are causing this terror.”
“No, that’s not it!” The older Commander growled. “Look at the size of the captured ship. Not one scrap of iron anywhere on it! It is obviously the wee folk! Fey! They’ve come back from the faerie realm to avenge themselves.”
Thoris took off his crown and rubbed his temples in aggravation. “Ghosts, faeries, what is this? I ask for results and you give me children’s fables!”
Both commanders bowed their heads in shame.
“What must I do?” Thoris barked at them. “My Kingdom is dying and no one can tell me what to do to prevent it!” He turned to his advisors, who up until now had been trying to blend in with the shadows, hoping to avoid his wrath. “What would you have me do?” He asked them. “This enemy terrorizes my people at night, butchering them like cattle. Half my soldiers have been found dead at the villages they were supposed to protect and still, we have not seen our enemy.”
Gimrik cleared his throat uncertainly. “My liege, I would agree with our commanders. Something must be done with the mysterious boat. At the least it will prevent them from leaving, at best it will draw them out into the open and we may deal with them.”
Thoris took a deep breath and made his decision. “Burn it.”
The warriors stood on the cliffs with stony faces. Knuckles gripping the hafts of Axes and hilts of swords were white with barely concealed rage. The ship that had carried them far from home, to many distant lands that most never even dreamed of; that had sheltered them through raging storms, and had been their lair as they had looted and pillaged so many places for so long, the ship that had become their home. And now it was burning. The lead warrior stood with unnoticed moisture in his eyes, a small part of him grieved for the loss. He had built the ship with his own two hands, many years ago, when his beard was not so long. He stroked his beard absently, how long had it been since any of them had seen their ancestral home? Years? Decades? Longer? Gray that had not been there before had begun to streak his beard in the last few years. Stories of the Jotun had inspired him and his fellows to seek them out. Forty had started this voyage, twelve remained, thirteen if one counted the gnome.
The navigator and cartographer bobbed his head nervously. “Ohnothisisveryveryverybad.” He muttered nervously.
The priest eyed the gnomish navigator and shook his head slowly. Of all the warriors there, he stood out the most. His head was shaved and tattooed with mystic runes. A band of runes crossed his face, just below his eyes, and more could be seen winding their way up his arms and under his sleeves. His beard had been shaved down to a goatee and braided so that it reached the middle of his chest. “This is a sign from the Jotun and the Val-Father himself.”
The leader, leaning on his axe, eyes never wavering from the burning boat cleared his throat. “And what does it mean?”
The priest grimaced and pulled a pouch from his belt. Eyes heavenward he called upon the Aesir, the entire pantheon of his gods, naming them each in turn except for Loki, whom none dared utter his name aloud. With the prayer finished he shook the bag, sending several runes flying. The priest leaned down and examined each critically. “It is a challenge. The Valfather is pleased and has called our ship to Valhalla so that those who have sailed with us may have a ship to call their own between battles and revelry in Odhinn’s hall. This has been done so that when it is our time, our ship will be waiting to take us to Valhalla to sit with Odhinn and wait to take our place at Ragnorak. The Jotun have challenged us.”
The leader nodded, a grim smile on his face. “At last… Ready yourselves. Odhinn has given us his blessing. The Jotun have issued their challenge. Both, we accept.”
Thoris paced his halls nervously. It had been a week since the ship had been destroyed and nothing had happened. His advisors and commanders had applauded themselves on their course of action. Claiming they had defeated their mysterious enemy. But a feeling of trepidation clung to him. He had not slept, for when he did, nightmarish visions would have him screaming in terror. And now several of the guards had disappeared. Finally he decided he was too agitated. Striding quickly he found the stairs that wound their way up to the northernmost tower of his keep. Taking the stairs two at a time, he quickly made his way up to the rampart. The chill night air made him shiver and revitalized him. He took a deep breath, enjoying the calming night air. Closing his eyes he tried to relax, forcing himself to believe that whatever nightmarish things had plagued his people was now gone.
“ING NOTAK VITKAR GHUK DIEM ODHINN!”
Thoris’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the unearthly cry echoing up to his ears. Frantically he peered into the darkness, trying to spot the thing that made such a cry. Some thing dark tumbled end over end heading directly for him. With a cry Thoris flung himself backwards, vainly trying to escape his unknown assailant. The dark object landed on the rampart with a hollow ‘thunk’ and a dull splat. Thoris recoiled in disgust as he saw blood ooze from the tangled mass.
Several guards rushed from their posts, having heard the Kings cry and fearing attack. One poked the misshapen mass with his sword and paled visibly. “It’s… Jarek and Syers… It’s the commanders…”
Thoris brought himself to his feet and pushed his way forward. “What? That’s impossible. I just saw them earlier…” His voice trailed off. His words forgotten as Jarek and Syers severed heads stared sightlessly up at him. Both had gone off with a dozen men each in search of the missing soldiers.
A young guard looked to his king with fear in his eyes. “What kind of beast could have done this?”
Thoris turned away, unable to respond. Far below a new sound was forming.
Everyone on the rampart leaned over the wall to try and decipher this new cry.
“Vit-kar! Vit-Kar! VIT-Kar! VIT-KAR!”
Squinting in the darkness they could pick out a burly figure striding directly for the wall with something large and faintly glowing in each hand. As the figure neared, they could distinguish the object as a large hammer, glowing with an eldritch fire in each hand. Thoris watched in horror as the burly figure raised the hammers high and shouted a fierce cry before slamming them into the wall. SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! Impossibly with each strike of the hammer, the walls shook to their very foundation. SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!
Guard and king alike fell to their knees as the rampart shook beneath them. Terrified Thoris prayed to God for help. ‘What have I done to call down this evil upon myself?’ He wondered as his world shuddered all around him.
Maladorn ThorHammer grinned fiercely as he watched the priest hammer through the stone wall of the Jotun’s keep. When the priest finally broke through, he jumped up with his axe at the ready. “ODHINN!” He cried as he barreled past the priest. As one his remaining warriors echoed his cry and surged after him, weapons flashing in anticipation. As one they charged down the halls and corridors bursting through doors, cutting down those who were too slow to flee, laying waste to everything that stood in their path. Maldaron rounded a corner and screeched to an abrupt halt. Before him three dozen Jotun had formed a tight phalanx, standing shoulder to shoulder, pikes at the ready. A moment later the rest of his warriors, caught up in battle-frenzy rounded the corner behind him. With a grim smile he raised his axe in salute and charged. “ODHINN!”
Hacking and slashing the battle-enraged warriors tore through the startled phalanx like they were leaves. Maladorn leapt high and came crashing down on the first two, splitting one’s skull with his axe. Wrenching it free he thrust it forward, disemboweling a startled Jotun before he could recover. The rest of the mad warriors were hot on his heels, hacking and bashing through. No sooner had the first few Jotun had fallen to his axe it was over. They swept over the phalanx like a violent tide, washing the walls and even the ceiling with blood and entrails. Beside him his priest grinned. “All have fallen before our might! Not one of our own has been claimed by a Jotun blade this fight, Odhinn is with us truly!”
Maladorn nodded and wiped Jotun blood from his axe. “Now we have defeated his warriors, we must face their Jarl.” He turned to his warriors. “You all must search this place, be sure no Jotun remains. I must find their Jarl and face him alone.”
The ten warriors nodded and murmured their approval, each giving him a warrior’s embrace before leaving to hunt down their own opponents, each knowing that the next time they see each other may very well be in the halls of Valhalla. The priest was last. “Odhinn has truly granted his blessing upon you.” Shaking his bag of runes he cast them at his feet. Silently he scanned the runes, trying to decipher their message. Finally he nodded. “Your foe lays in wait for you.” He pointed down the hall. “Go, you will find him that way!”
Maladorn nodded to the priest gratefully. “If I do not defeat him. I will save you a seat in Odhinn’s Hall!”
Thoris gripped his sword tightly, the sounds of battle having faded. A dozen guards surrounded him their faces determined.
“Do you think it is over?” One asked nervously.
No sooner had he spoken than the door to the chamber split with a sharp CRACK! The guards stepped back, both in surprise and to protect their king. As their assailant stepped through the door all jaws and eyes dropped nearly to the ground. Thoris gaped in disbelief at the warrior who stood before them. Just over half their height and nearly as broad at the shoulders, the fierce barbarian wore an odd assortment of leather, chain and plates topped with a wickedly horned helmet and carried enough weapons to arm a village. His fierce bristling beard reached nearly to his broad waist. The warrior paused and raised his axe as if in salute. “Jarl Jotun! Jhai Maladorn Brugar Ve Odhinn!” With that he gripped his axe tightly with both hands stepped forward.
“What are you waiting for!” Thoris shouted. “Kill it!”
Two guards stepped forward, pikes held at the ready, only to be cut down in two vicious strokes. The remaining guards gasped in shock at the swiftness of the brutal strikes. The short vicious barbarian seemed to shrug and step over the twitching bodies. Again it raised its axe in challenge and stood fast.
Thoris gulped in fear. A small part of his mind knew he was not getting out of this room. The warriors eyes were fixed on him. Desperate he urged his guard forward. “Take him!”
This time the guards moved forward as one, surrounding the short warrior in a ring of steel. With a grin of satisfaction the warrior nodded once and sprang in to action. Hurling his axe he nearly cleaved one unfortunate guard in two and cleared an open path to Thoris. Before they could blink the savage fighter had drawn two shorter axes, almost like hatchets and charged forward.
The two guards to the either side of their unfortunate comrade stepped in to stop him. The one on the left swinging his pike like an axe. The haft caught shorter warrior just below the helmet and snapped.
The stunned guard stared at his broken weapon in shock a split second before a hatchet swept across his stomach, ending his life. The guard to the right seized his chance to lunge forward, thrusting with his pike. Only to have it batted aside and his skull cleaved in two.
Thoris watched in horror as his remaining men were slaughtered where they stood, each attack parried and brutally returned. When the last one fell to the floor dead, the warrior turned to him and gave a half bow. Slowly he dropped the bloody hatchets to the floor and retrieved his axe, wrenching it from the fallen body of the first guard.
In desperation Thoris lunged forward, swinging like a madman. The shorter warrior easily parried the wilder blows, responding with a low swing that made Thoris leap back or lose his knees. “Why are you doing this?” He screamed.
If the short warrior understood him he gave no response.
With a wild yell Thoris charged again, seeking to cleave his adversary with a powerful overhand blow. At the last possible second the short warrior side stepped the blow. Thoris heard more than felt his sword clatter to the ground and found himself staring at the ceiling. A small part of his mind wondered how this was possible since he had been falling forward. Then the blackness claimed him.
Maladorn sighed wearily and picked the fallen Jotun Jarl’s head up from the ground. A small part of him was disappointed. In his father’s stories, Jotun had been towering and imposing foes. Obviously they had declined through the centuries. He now realized his true purpose here had not been for his honor, but for the Jarl he had felled. Obviously this Jotun had lived well. His wealth was evident in the many thralls and magnificent keep he owned. But age was coming to this one. And Maladorn doubted that the Jotun Jarl had many years left in Midgaard. Odhinn sent him, to give this Jotun a warrior’s death. So that his deeds would be remembered and he too would sit in Valhalla. “You fought well.” He commended the severed head. “I was honored to give you the warrior’s death you deserved. When we meet in Valhalla you will have to tell me your name, so I can drink to it in your honor.”
With a faint smile he placed the head on the ground next to the neck of the body and raised his axe high. “VALFATHER! I have done as you commanded and claimed this Jotunheim in your name! Let this deed be remembered and sung by the valkaries when my day comes to sit at your table!”
Now all he had to do was build a new ship.
By: Jason Haley