Thunder Road: Prologue (part 1)
Earth shall be riven
and the over-heaven.
11th century Skarpåker Stone, Sweden
The sky was a slaughterhouse. The ice-crowned crater dominated the tortured landscape, smoke broiling from its broken temple like dark, troubled thoughts. From treacherous fissures steam swirled, reeking and scolding. At the threshold of a lava tunnel stood the crone, wreathed in scorched rags. A gnarled hand wrapped around a warped staff as though carved from the same piece of storm-blasted wood. Eyes blinked open, white and sightless, yet sensing something beyond the spectrum of human vision. Beyond the howling of the wind subtle ears picked up a different sound. The old woman tilted her head – iron-grey plaits stretching to her shrivelled thighs restless in the biting gale – and smiled a black-toothed smile.
In the distance, a growl of thunder, growing louder. Then, out of the blackness, a beam swept across the broken land. At the foot of the mountain, where the dirt trail ended, the bikes converged. One among them got off and ascended – his large figure picked up in the headlights which helped to light his way – casting a giant shadow before him.
The crone waited for him to climb to her.
Finally, he was before her – a giant of man, clad in rank leathers. A leather eye patch, decorated with a grinning silver skull, covered one side of his face. His long white beard was whipped by the wind. From beneath his cut, bristling with studs, he pulled a fistful of glittering treasure and flung it at the crone’s feet.
‘Witch, give me a vision!’ he roared, his voice carrying over the storm.
‘No sweet words? Once you tasted of my spring and I gave you a gift of the Futhark.’
‘And I lost my eye as a result!’
‘Nothing is without cost, Bolverk One Eye. Kneel!’
Slowly, he knelt before her – not taking his one good eye from her, its cold orb a sun of fierce ice.
She placed her claw-like hands over his head, fingernails digging beneath his leather eye- patch into the ruined socket. ‘An eye for an eye…’
One Eye tensed, but did not recoil. He bore the white flashes of pain.
Her white eyes swirled with colour and her form blurred. At times she seemed young, a sparkle of youthful allure and mischief in her eyes; then suddenly, a woman in her prime, powerful and confident; next, in a juddering smear, the crone showed through once more – the skull beneath the skin.
‘Each of us wears many faces, but our soul remains the same. Do not forget who you truly are, Bolverk One Eye, even if the world does. Your name will be chanted at the end of days.’
Swaying, wailing, and frothing at the mouth, the hag-mother-maiden started to recite his many names.
Each one was a chisel and mallet to the tomb he had made of his life. A hammering, growing louder until a vision exploded into his mind. A vast tree, growing between the worlds. Nine spheres of shadow and mist, flame and frost. Mighty races of gods and giants, monsters and men. A bridge of seven colours stretching across the worlds from a realm of gleaming halls, flowing with mead served by proud swan-maidens. Warriors boasting of their deeds before the throng. Then a dark cloud covering all. The dream shattered by the crowing of three roosters – golden-crowned, red-billed and black. The howling of a monstrous dog. Vast armies marching to war. Cities shattered by terrible battles.
‘Aarghh!’ he cried.
Her claw dug deeper. Writhing in her skin, the sightless seeress chanted:
It sates itself on the life-blood
of fated men,
paints red the powers’ homes
with crimson gore.
Black become the sun’s beams
in the summers that follow,
weathers all treacherous—’
She sensed his restlessness. ‘Sorry. Am I boring you?’
One Eye hissed through gritted teeth: ‘Get on with it, old woman! But speak up! My hearing isn’t what it used to be!’
Grumbling, the crone enunciated her prophecy:
‘Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
– an axe age, a sword age
– shields are riven –
a wind age, a wolf age –
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.’
One Eye gritted his teeth as the hellish vision flashes into his mind. Mountains shook, oceans rose … a winter without end … Old enemies awoken … one by one they fall… The Earth split asunder … all was consumed in flames, smoke and steam – until he could bear no more.
Crying out, One Eye pulled back: ‘Aargghhh!’ He crumpled on to the floor, breathing ragged. From his ruined eye a line of blood trickled down his face. ‘What I have seen … Will it come to pass?’
The crone looked at him with inscrutable eyes. ‘This is the wyrd of the world. Only a fool would try to prevent it. Even the gods must die. Their end has come.’
The mountain shook beneath her. From the summit, smoke and ash billowed, crackling with lightning.
‘Ragnarok is nigh!’ she cackled. ‘You have slept for too long, Bolverk One Eye. As have I. Time to awaken! Humanity has neglected us for too long! Man has fouled my body; treated me like his thrall; abused my sisters. But no more! It is time for him to pay! To know the wrath of the goddess! Katla awakes!’
The long-dormant volcano erupted, vaporising the glacier plugging it in a massive fire-cloud, which sent material thousands of feet up into the air. Molten debris rained down upon the the slopes. From deep within the lava tunnel they stood in came a blast of searing heat.
‘We’ve got to get out of here!’ One Eye roared.
‘Run, Bolverk One Eye! Run as though you wear magical breeches!’
One Eye dived out of the tunnel just as a river of lava gushed forth from the volcano’s bowels. The old woman was not so fast – or chose not to escape her fate. Her ragged cloak caught alight and she was wreathed in flames.
Zigzagging down the mountain, boots sliding on the scree, One Eye made for his men. Gobbets of hot ash and cinder fell around him, bouncing off his cut displaying the three interlocking triangles of the Wild Hunt patch.
The dark riders gunned their engines as their leader leapt on his metal steed – a beast of chrome, snorting fire. Tyres cut black crescents into the fallen ash as they skidded out of the path of the hypercaustic cloud rolling down its flanks. One Eye led them at speed away from the mountain of fire – spewing high into the night sky, a she-wolf raging against the heavens, howling with hate.
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020
Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring – available soon!