A Message from the President
President Koil, after recently convening his emergency security council, Asgard, made an announcement from StormEye. He said, ‘These are real tricky times, but rest assured, citizens of the free world, we have the situation under control. My special friends are ensuring the status quo within our borders. Remain in your homes. If you have stockpiled resources and are able to help your fellow citizens send out a signal by any means you can, and helping hand will soon be on its way. Defend your property, as is your God given right, but do not resist the Jötun patrols. These are bad nasty fellas and I wouldn’t wanna pick a fight with ’em. The Navy and Coast Guard are protecting our overseas assets and coastlines with the assistance of my boys in white, Ice Force; Hel-jets guard our airspace; and Star*Wolf defence systems, our assets in orbit. This great country will not only survive this time of difficulty, it will arise stronger from the ashes, while our enemies will all fall. America will be the last man standing, ready to instigate humanitarian aid to our allies and a new world order when the storms have passed.’
Chapter 17: The Serpent
‘I wish I was in Carrick-Fergus,
only for nights in Ballygran
I would swim over the deepest ocean
the deepest ocean to be by your side…’
Riding side-by-side with Eddy, Bog’s tuneless singing pierced even the sound of the Wild Hunt as the pack of bikers crossed the ice-field. It would have made him smile, if his face wasn’t frozen.
‘But the sea is wide; I cannot swim over;
Neither have I wings to fly
I wish I could find me a handy boatman
to ferry me over to my love and I…’
‘It’s going to be a long journey with your singing!’ shouted Eddy over the growl of the engines struggling over the uneven surface of the ice.
‘Ah, yous just jealous of my fine Fenian voice! Besides, we’ve got to keep our spirits up, haven’t we now? Carrick Fergus, here we come! I can almost smell the soda bread and Irish stew from here’ And Bog continued…
‘These childhood places bring sad reflection
of happy days spent so long ago
my childhood friends and my own relations
have all passed on like the melting snow.
O the night was dark and the sky uneasy
the mighty ocean was tossed and wild …’
Bog’s warbling became one with the drone of the bikes on the ice. The white void stretched away into infinity – featureless, monotonous and deadly. Might as well be riding through the Land of the Dead, brooded Eddy. The continual vibration of the bike was the only reminder that he was, in fact, painfully alive. His hands were numb, his feet were numb, even his head felt numb. Only the constant jarring as the bike struggled over the ice churned up by the two-wheeled phalanx making its way with grim determination north by north west towards … what? Nobody seemed sure exactly. Some dust-up at the end of the world. The Wild Hunt was compelled by some instinct. Was this what it was like, being a migrating bird, Eddy whimsied, starting to feel the wrong side of sane.
His own homing instincts were kicking in, and he was determined to somehow make it back to Manitoba. Iceland provided a convenient stepping stone, so for now he was happy to toe the line. He’d made his vow and was one of the pack now – and at present, the only thing keeping them all alive was … each other. Safety in numbers, for sure.
Ahead, he glimpsed the Elders, leading the way. With The Hammer on his side, Eddy certainly felt safer. She had taken down a jetfighter! If she could perform such a feat, then who knows what the other gods were capable of? One Eye had seemed subdued after the initial sturm-und-drang of his awakening. He seemed always preoccupied. Something was gnawing away at him, that was sure. The attack of the fighter jet had cast a shadow over the group, and not just from the loss of comrades. Having survived the Devil’s Hogs and the Jötun, suddenly they were on the radar of a bigger enemy.
As if surviving wasn’t hard enough in these interminable wintry conditions. It was as though they had been forgotten by the sun. Well … not quite. Eddy thought of Sol, the golden one. She rode pillion in the middle of the pack, with Cruz on the million-dollar bike, and even just a sight of her glowing presence from a distance warmed his heart.
And then there was Fenja. As Bog sang of his own ‘sweet Bridget Macy’ Eddy’s thoughts turned to his very own true love.
She haunted his dreams. He only had to close his eyes, to be taken back to her mountainous realm of ice and snow.
‘Ten minutes! No more!’ roared Rig. There was a sigh of relief and groans as bikes slowed and came to a stop. Weary bikers climbed off their saddles and stretched numbed limbs.
‘A pitstop! Thank fuck!’ said Bog. He pulled out a hipflask from his flying jacket. ‘Want a nip?’
Eddy shook his head, and slumped down by his engine, absorbing its warmth through his leathers. He only closed his eyes for a second…
Fenja stood in a vast crystalline chamber, hewn from the heart of a mountain, arguing with her father – a sepulchral figure who sat upon a huge obsidian throne. Frost-giant elders petitioned her to see sense. To remember where she came from, where her loyalties laid. That was her tribe, Eddy distantly wondered? Then he realised: she was like him – a half-breed, but one who was the offspring of a Jötun and human. The gods could change form – move amongst us. It would seem once her father had done. Flashes of the king’s former life appeared in the crystal facets – moments frozen in time, summoned by Fenja to make her case. A beautiful woman, plucked from the wreckage of a plane crash on a mountainside. Hearing her cries to the old gods, he had saved her, and she had saved him – melting his tundra heart, for a while at least. But he was not just any frost giant, but Thrym, King of his people. He had a realm to rule, and grew cold again, distant – even when the human presented the infant girl born of their union. As the child had grown, the mother had faded. It had been more than a mortal frame could bear, bringing such a being into the world. Fenja visited her tomb where she remained, perfectly preserved in ice. Her tears melted away a lock of hair, which she now offered to Thrym, hoping it would melt his heart – for it was his will that had encased the world in a perpetual winter, and his which could release it again. Glacial, the monarch pondered the lock of golden hair as he sat upon his mountain throne…
And Eddy was jolted awake. Bog kicked him again.
‘Get up, yous lazy fuck. Time to be on our merry way!’
Eddy groaned as he got up.
‘Nice catnap? Don’t worry, we’ll soon be reaching the coast of the fair green isle. I will be able to guide you round to Derry, then I’ll be bidding you and your pals a fond farewell.’
The bikers set off.
After roughly another hour the dark line of the coast could be seen.
‘That way lies Belfast,’ pointed Bog, ‘but I suspect it’ll be easier going on the ice. And besides, orange doesn’t flatter me. If we keep going another hour I reckon we’d make Rathlin Island – a good place for a proper rest. We’ll be passing some spectacular coastline. Game of Thrones and all that shite. I’m your local guide! Good job yous brought me along!’
And so they pushed on.
Finally, the dark mass of Rathlin Island appeared in the distance and, encouraged, they forced themselves forward.
‘Once we reach Rathlin, it’s only about another fifty to Derry. Then its sayonara from golden-tonsils here.’
And beyond that, brooded Eddy, there would be another eight or nine hundred miles to go to Iceland. They were averaging thirty miles an hour, so that was still thirty hours of riding to go, he estimated. He groaned, his body hating him.
Why couldn’t he have got that flight home! Yet that choice-point at Aberdeen belonged to a world that did not exist anymore. A nuclear winter, frost giants, frozen oceans… Weird was the new normal.
‘Hey, Red, how’s it going there?’
It was Blitzen, grinning at him wolfishly as he rode parallel.
‘Riding through a desert on a horse with no name, huh?’
‘Something like that,’ Eddy grimaced.
They both steered around a buttress of ice.
‘To be honest, I’m loving this!’ called out his friend. ‘How often do you get to ride across the Atlantic! Charley and Ewan eat your heart out!’
Eddy shook his head, laughing. Petrolheads! Same all over the world. Always up for something insane.
Just then the ice beneath them shook, nearly knocking them off their bikes.
‘What the Hell was that?’ cried out Blitzen.
The boom faded to be replaced by another and the ice beneath them groaned as though something was trying to break through.
Eddy looked down. Something large and dark was moving beneath them!
‘Don’t tell me they’ve sent in a sub!’ Blitzen murmured.
‘Wild Hunt! Be on your guard!’ bellowed Tear.
Just then the ice split apart, sending deadly shards flying – one narrowly missing Eddy. Next to him, he heard a cry of pain. Before he could check, all Hell had broken loose, literally it seemed.
‘Mary, Mungo and Midge – would you look at that!’ cried Bog.
Eddy blinked and looked again.
A giant sea serpent had risen up out of the fissure in the ice, and was seizing a biker in its massive jaw. It was like something from a fantasy movie and Eddy’s brain tried to rationalise it as such, imagining the CGI involved, the teams of computer animateurs. But it was for real, all the sailors’ nightmares of the deep come true.
Here Be Dragons.
‘Get out of its range!’ hollered Rig, riding towards it, weapon raised.
The other Elders were also on the offensive, circling it with their bikes.
‘I don’t need any persuading, fella!’ shouted Bog, accelerating out of harm’s way with Eddy. ‘Don’t fancy a date-night in Davy Jones’ locker with hot-lips here!’
It was too late for half a dozen of the rank and file, but now the serpent was too busy dealing with the attention of The Hammer, Tear and the others.
The Hammer leapt onto its head and began pounding it with her fists. Tear went for its long throat, tore at it with his hunting knife – trying to find a weak spot in its thick hide. This inspired the others to courage, and they tackled it from the edge of the ice with their guns and knives, although it was hard to get a clear shot, and bullets seemed to bounce off of it.
‘Save your ammo!’ called out Rig.
The Hammer had pulled open its jaws and stood between them, straining to rip them asunder. Its forked tongue wrapped around her torso, and foul bile covered her from head to foot. ‘Gaarggh! You really need to sort out that bad breath problem!’ she roared.
One Eye roared close on his snarling bike, trying to draw it away from the fallen. As he gunned the engines and fire leapt from the exhaust, the serpent shrivelled back, hissing.
‘Fire!’ One Eye called out. ‘Burn the serpent back into the abyss!’
‘Allow me.’ Sol stepped forward, casting off her cloak. She raised her hands before the serpent, and between them manifested a burning fireball, which she cast into the serpent’s mouth. It convulsed, and The Hammer and Tear were thrown from it, back onto the ice.
The monster thrashed about manically, trying to vomit up the fire in its belly, but it was too late. Sol’s gift consumed it from within – making its scales glow like a stained glass window. It shrieked in pain – an ear-splitting sound that made Eddy keel over.
Then it stopped and the smouldering serpent slid back into the boiling waters – leaving behind a Rorschach of blood smeared across the ice..
The Wild Hunt stood gasping, overwhelmed by the deathly silence in its absence.
Eddy rode to Blitzen – who had been impaled by a shard of ice. He quickly dismounted and knelt by his friend’s side.
Blitzen tried to speak, but could only manage to cough up blood. His dagger lay dropped on the ice. Briefly his eyes flicked to it, and Eddy picked it up and placed it in his friend’s hand.
Blitzen shuddered and went limp.
Eddy bowed his head for a minute in respect, but he was disturbed from his mourning by cries of anguish. He looked up to see The Hammer, dripping bile, stagger from the gap in the ice, then fall to the ground.
Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020