New Force to Combat Terrorism
The President has announced the creation of an elite new wing of the armed forces: Ice Force. Ice Force will comprise specially-trained Special Forces units. ‘Our boys will have the training and tech to deal with the extreme conditions out there. Nobody will match us, on the ice. Ice Force will kick their asses!’ Ice Force units have been in top secret development for ‘sometime’, said a Pentagon spokesman, adding: ‘Ice Force has recruited from the Armed Forces – cherry-picking the very best to protect American assets across the world’. General Surt, commander of this new wing, commented: ‘Ice Force will root out evil wherever it rears its ugly head. The world will be a safer place with the white skulls looking out for us.’ The General is referring to their distinctive all-terrain Death-maskstm. Sales of newly-released Ice Force merchandising is expected to spike with today’s announcement. ‘Do your patriotic duty, and support our boys out there, fighting for freedom, by purchasing official Ice Force products,’ the General urged. ‘Every sale gives them another round.’
Chapter 14: The White and the Red
Fenja walked barefoot along the frozen wave of the arête, oblivious to the thousand feet below. Eddy tried to scramble after her, but slipped for the umpteenth time. He was exhausted, after pursuing her for days. Every fibre of his body ached in agony, telling him to stop. But he could not give up, could not let her go. She carried his heart in a pouch, hanging from her waist. Her cried out to her, and she paused, half-turned to him, and smiled – silhouetted by the dazzling light around her. She had reached the summit – and the unearthly light beyond the mountain framed her in a pulsating aurora. Then, she took another step, seemingly into the abyss. ‘No!’ Eddy cried, scrabbling to the edge, only to see her traverse an ice-bridge hidden by the false summit. This connected to an even greater mountain, a fortress of ice so vast it pierced the sky, its utmost towers lost amid the stars. Eddy watched as her slender figure receded in perspective, until it reached the far side of the bridge, where massive doors opened, bathing her in a fierce blue light. Giant figures welcomed her and she followed them inside. The doors closed with a tremendous boom, which shook Eddy awake.
At first he was disorientated, then as his breathing steadied and his vision cleared, he realised he was in the hall, asleep on a mead-bench. A booming sound rocked the hall, making flagons tremble on tables or clatter to the floor. Flagons, for fuck’s sake!Eddy shook his head, still getting used to the seemingly solid reality of the hall the Elders had conjured up out of thin air.
The howling wind sounded like a ravenous pack of wolves, one that scrabbled over the roof – scratching, tearing, and trying to find a way in. Loose shutters and gates clattered and banged. The timbers of the hall creaked like a man o’ war in the high seas breasting the swell of a storm-lashed sea.
Many of the Wild Hunt slept through all of this, snoring loudly as they lay prone over the benches and tables, or on the floors. Eddy couldn’t believe anybody could sleep through such a tempest. The very air seemed antagonistic, and he was vibrated to the very core by its angry energy. He wrapped the blanket he had slept under around him tightly and shuffled to the fire pit, where he tried to stop shaking. He found a half-drunk goblet of mead, which he sipped on, hoping it would warm his blood. Even in Canada he had never known it to be so cold, and that was saying something. This freak winter seemed to be getting worse and worse. How long would they last out here? Surely they’d eventually run out of firewood, of food? Or could the Elders conjure them like so many fishes and loaves? Eddy cast an eye over their slumbering forms. Sleeping off the night’s excesses like the rest of the Wild Hunt, they seemed human enough – and yet … he had seen them fight off the giants, for crying out loud. Never mind the raising of storms, summoning of lightning, and performance of incredible feats of strength. How strong were they, he wondered? They were evidently not invulnerable, as Balder’s fate had shown; and not immune to vanity, folly or fits of anger either. From what he seen so far they were as dysfunctional as any family. Immortals with feet of clay.
Eddy was glad they were on his side.
One of them was even his lover. But … where was she? The dream came back to him then, and he cast about with increasing anxiety.
‘Fen? Fen?’ he whispered, but there was no response from the snoring forms. He desperately wanted to clear his head – and escape the fug of stale alcohol, body odour and damp fur and boots. Then it occurred to him: perhaps she was outside.
Eddy made his way carefully between the sleepers to the main door, which was straining under the barrage of the storm. Surely, nobody in their right mind would be out there? But then his Fen was no ordinary woman. And she seemed in her element in the blizzard.
Why did he have to fall for a frost-giant’s daughter? He never seemed to pick the easy ones, but this was taking it to a whole new level!
As he went to reach for the bolt, a hand grabbed his wrist out of the darkness. He went to cry out in alarm, but another muffled his voice. The grip was like iron.
‘Be still! Be silent, fool!’ the voice breathed low into his ear.
Out the corner of his eye, Eddy could see it was Mani, the pale-skinned pock-marked sentinel wrapped in his night-dark cloak, and relaxed a little. He nodded.
The watchman let go, and Eddy tossed back his hair like a horse flicking its mane. ‘I just wanted some fresh air!’
‘And kill us all? Do you know what is out there?’ Mani’s pale eyes glinted like silver daggers in the gloom away from the fire.
He shrugged. ‘Snow. Wind.’
‘More deadly than that. Look.’ Mani shot back the spy-hole and gestured him to it. ‘What do you see?’
At first, Eddy could see nothing except blinding whiteness that made him squint, but finally his sight adjusted, and in the snowscape he saw shapes moving, giant shapes. ‘Jötun!’ he whispered.
Mani nodded. ‘They are making ready to attack. We need to rouse the others without making a din. Let them think we slumber. We will give them a good morning greeting with our steel.’
Eddy understood, and following the watchman, stole quietly around the hall, gently awakening the Wild Hunt. Finger to lips, a gesture to the main doors, another to their weapon.
Within minutes, the company had been roused.
One Eye strode to the front, flanked by The Hammer and Tear. He wielded a mighty two-handed battle-axe, conjured from the same top hat as the hall itself. The rest of the Elders held similar weapons from another age; whilas the rank and file of the Wild Hunt had guns, knives and chains. Eddy cast about and found a large spanner. It would have to do.
At One-Eye’s signal, the heavy wooden beam was slid from the door and they burst forth, into the teeth of the storm.
The next few hours passed in a blur of blood and snow. The Wild Hunt was assailed on all sides by wolves and giants: the Devil’s Hogs – possessed with ferocity more beast-like than human, a blood-lust in their eyes – fell upon any who showed weakness and tore them apart; and the dark towering Jötun swept out of the blizzard, causing devastation with a single blow.
And yet both forces were matched by the men and the gods of the Wild Hunt – daubed in the Vergvisir rune, they stood grimly in the blood-stained snow. Not an inch would be given while they drew breath. Frithgard, One-Eye had called it, but they defended the hall as though it was Valhalla itself. Together, they were a band of brothers and sisters – united in their purpose, defending what they loved; whileas their assailants were driven by mere hate, by an insane desire for destruction, by a dark wish to snuff out the fire of the tribe.
The Hammer, Tear, and Rig urged them on, gave them courage, the Elders fighting side-by-side with the patches.
Eddy’s arms ached from striking blows and fending off attacks, yet the surges of adrenalin made him temporarily immune to the freezing temperatures, the snow soaking into his clothes, numbing his feet, his limbs. It was strangely exhilarating, fighting side-by-side with his gang. Blood pounded in his ears like war-drums, the braying of battle-horns. He was a warrior, for now, and to die in battle, weapon in hand, the blood of his enemy upon him, would be a glorious thing. But then the drumming changed to the steady thump-thump-thump of a powwow.
Over the rough music of the skirmish – the clang of steel, bang of a gun, and cry of the wounded or dying – he heard the high pitched ululation of his people, singing their laments, expressing their sorrow at the loss of life, giving voice to the ancestors.
Eddy stopped dead amidst the tempest, his weapon slipping from his hand. The white noise of the blizzard changed to a red, filling up his vision. The Red Road, calling him home…
Then, a blinding flash of pain as he was struck by a glancing blow, and he fell to the ground and knew no more.
Eddy was vaguely aware of figures moving about in front of firelight. He felt warm and safe. The smell of smoke, brewing coffee and baking bread relaxed him and he was convinced that he was back home. That he would wake up and see his ma and pa, his big sister, his grandfather… But when he opened his eyes, he was confused to see he was back in the hall on the Isle of Man, surrounded by the Wild Hunt, proudly comparing battle-wounds, repairing kit, or the storm-battered building, drinking, eating, and relaxing. He groaned.
‘Hey, take it easy, fella. You had a bashing.’
It was Cruz, looking all the world like a Valkyrie in her blood-splattered leathers.
‘Have I died and gone to Odin’s halls?’ he half-joked.
She smiled as she tended the wound on his temple, dabbing it with something that made him wince.
‘What’s going on? The enemy…?’ He tried to look around.
She pushed him back down. ‘Lie still! We’ve driven them off, for now. They hit us hard, but we hit back harder. They’ll be licking their wounds too, and thinking twice about having another go.’
‘How is everyone? Did we lose anyone?’
Cruz was tight-lipped. ‘Too many.’
Eddy’s chest tightened. She nodded to another bench. He turned his head and saw Blitzen sitting next to the prone body of Dash, head in hands.
Others looked on grimly at their fallen comrades.
One Eye’s voice boomed out. He was splattered in gore, but looked none the worse for it – indeed he seemed to more alive than ever. ‘We have lost good men and women, but they fell in battle, facing their foes, with weapons in hand. They go to my halls, or Freyja’s: Valhalla or Sessrúmnir.’ He raised his meadhorn. ‘To the Fallen!’
The Wild Hunt stood, if able, and raised their goblets and horns in honour.
‘The enemy will attack again. And again. Mark my words. They will not give up, for a greater evil drives them – uses them like a weapon. But we will not cower here like dogs, waiting to die. We must gather our strength and ride out again. The Hammer will clear a way to the bikes; Sol will melt a path for us. For we must ride. It will be a rideout like the world has never seen. The seas are frozen, and across this Bifrost we must travel – to where it all started: Iceland. The road will be hard. Nigh on a thousand miles of ice, blizzards and freezing nights, and who knows what perils? Prepare yourselves. We will burn this hall and our fallen within it – the enemy will not despoil their bodies. And our survival will honour their memory. Now, rest. Recover. Come dawn, we ride!’
Eddy’s head swirled. ‘Riding to Iceland? Are they nuts!’ He tried to sit up, look about. ‘And where’s Fen! Is she—’
Cruz pushed him back onto the bench. ‘Your girlfriend has gone.’
Eddy’s eyes widened. ‘No…!’
‘Shut up and listen! She asked me to tell you – don’t worry for her, she’s gone to see her people. To ask for help. And she’s left her bike to use as barter if we need to pay the ferryman for our crossing. I suspect we might.’
Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020