Then home the goats to the hall were driven, They wrenched at the halters, swift were they to run; The mountains burst, earth burned with fire, And Othin’s son sought Jötunheim.
The Lay of Thrym
Chapter 30: Jötunheim
The world turned inside out. Eddy felt like a rubber glove pulled off the hand, his soul now on the outside. The encroaching darkness and violent chaos of the streets of Gimli was replaced a stern, silent world of intense light, which made him shield his eyes at first. It was an icy landscape, but turned up to eleven, he thought. The very ice beneath them seemed to glow with its own effulgence, reminding Eddy of the ultra-violet lights in the bars he’d played in. But here the neon was replaced with stalactites and stalagmites of fierce intensity – the fangs of a leviathan into whose mouth they were devoured. Cliffs of black glass, waterfalls of frozen prisms, rose upwards vertiginously, disappearing into the pulsing brainscape of the clouds, flickering with synaptic lightning. They rode along a precipitous path hewn from the side of a gorge that dropped into miles of mist below. Sometimes it was little more than a cornice or arête, sculpted by the glacial wind that howled down the chasm. An ice-bridge took them over to the other side, where the path hugged the cliffs like a snake. Blood pounded in Eddy’s ears, blending with the sound of a horn. Each fresh vista seemed to shout out in glory.
Eddy stopped the snow-mobile. He got off and retched; gulped down the icy air. Hand against the smooth obsidian cliff. The trembling finally eased.
‘What is this place?’ called out Eddy to his passenger.
‘Home!’ Fenja shouted with joy, holding out her bare arms, relishing the freezing air on her face. ‘Jötunheim, the realm of my father. We use the snake-hole to take a shortcut across the nine worlds.’
‘How do you know how to navigate it? Do you have a map?’
‘In my head,’ Fenja smiled. ‘My mother explored many of them – she had a wanderlust that did not let her go, even after she had me. Wrapped snug next to her body I would travel with her. I was weaned on her wanderings as much as her milk.’ Her gaze glistened as she scanned the distance.
‘What happened to her?’
Fenja’s mouth tightened. ‘One day she walked into a snake-hole and never came back… I like to think she’s still out there somewhere; that one day I will find her again. I thought I picked up her trail in Pompeii, but it was a dead-end – until I met you… I am sure she would not have left me on purpose. She is trying to get home, I’m convinced of it.’
Eddy slumped onto the snow-mobile, stroked the handlebars. Tears welled as he noticed the little bumps, scratches and quirks on the chassis.
Fenja slipped her arm into his. ‘What is it?’
‘My grandfather …’
She nodded. Closed her eyes. Smiled. ‘There are many afterlives … Some intersect. We merely change worlds…’
Eddy’s eyes widened. ‘How…?’
Fenja traced the two-dimensional chandelier of a frozen cobweb. ‘Our webs are connected now. I feel the filaments stretching … across time and space. Your grandfather is travelling the way of ghosts. His spirit is strong. But, I sense he does not want to journey to the Isles of the Blessed yet. He is worried about you, about the family. He watches over you with eyes of the eagle.’
Eddy brushed the tears from his face. ‘Thank you.’
‘We’d better get going. Time is different here, but in your world, the Wild Hunt is running out of it.’
The journey through the realm of the frost-giants was a dreamlike experience. They rode over ice-formations that resembled giant sculpted figures. It was often hard to tell whether the profiles were optical illusions or actual slumbering Jötun. To pass the time, Fenja described the origins of her homeworld: ‘At the beginning of all things there was a giant of giants formed from the abyss, Ymir. He was Grandfather Hrim-Thurs, the first ice-giant. He awoke starving and, groping about, found a giant cow Audhumla, formed like himself from the steam and frost. He was nourished by The Nourisher, from her four streams of milk. As she licked an ice-block for salt, the head of a god emerged, Buri. Feeling sated, Ymir slept, and from the sweat of his armpits – don’t laugh! – a son and daughter were born, and from his feet, a six-headed giant, Thrudgelmir, who begat Bergelmir – the father of all my father’s kin. These frost-giants were the natural enemy of Buri and his sons. The war waged for an aeon until Borr, son of Buri, married a giantess, who bore him three sons, Odin, Vili and Ve. You may have heard of them! They joined their father in fighting the frost-giants, and together they managed to slay Ymir, from whose vast body Midgard was formed. From his wounds gushed so much blood it created a deluge which destroyed all of his race except Bergelmir. Escaping in a boat with his wife – just like a proto-Noah and his wife – they finally found sanctuary in a remote, bleak place. Here they made their home, calling it, you’ve guessed it, Jötunheim. They set to breeding a new race of frost-giants, who grew up with an antipathy to the gods. It continues to this day, but … my father married a human – as once his ancestor had wedded a god – and he dotes on me, his daughter. Midgard was formed from the sacred bones of Ymir, after all. We are connected more than you think. And so, after much work, I finally managed to persuade Thrym, my father, to help save Earth rather than destroy it … Love really is the only thing that saves us.’
Eddy wanted to hug her there and then, but now was not the time.
They rode over bridges of ice so transparent it was as though they rode over solid air. Far down below Eddy glimpsed flower-starred meadows irrigated by tumbling cataracts, the turrets of noble dwellings surrounded by thick forests, lakes of shimmering beauty, and wildlife of magnificent grandeur – everything on a larger scale.
They finally paused for refreshment at a glittering spring, which gurgled from the cliff-hugging roots of a vast yew tree, the branches of which formed pathways across the chasm. Sitting in the bend of one of these, they held one another, and admired the view.
‘The popular idea of Jötunheim being gloomy is mainly thanks to the propaganda of the gods and those ne’er-do-well storytellers. They make us out to be oafish barbarians, easily fooled by the cheap tricks of the wily Aesir. Hah! Well, now you know the truth behind all those tales of the “cross-dressing” Thunder God! The gods aren’t what they seem, and neither are my people. Like most creatures of the nine worlds, they want to be able to live and thrive in peace.’
Fenja turned to him, a strange light in her eyes. ‘They want to be able to raise their offspring.’
It was hard to tell if it was the enervating spring water, or Fenja’s words that made him shiver with delight, but before he could pursue that thought, she grabbed his hand.
‘Come! The Wild Hunt! One more ride and we should make it there.’
‘Back to Reykjavik?’
‘No. The battle has moved inland, to the Plain of Vigrid.’
‘The crack in the world, where the final reckoning will transpire.’
Eddy and his grandfather rode their snow-mobiles back along the tracks they had made towards Gimli. The geometric skyline of the settlement emerged from the white landscape, like paper shapes cut out of the sky. The light, what little of it there was, drained rapidly from the coastline as the Earth rolled inevitably into the dark. The eastern side of the lake was already overwhelmed by the penumbra. Like a wave of dark rain, it swept towards the western shore.
‘We’re losing light!’ hollered Running Bear. ‘Step on the gas!’
The grandfather revved ahead, leaping over the ramp of a snow-drift with a grunt.
They raced down towards the outskirts of the rural municipality, but instead of turning off for the Redcrow homestead, the grandfather led them straight to the recreation hall. The journey to the shack and back, the talking … it had taken longer than they’d thought. The precious light had slipped away.
They turned down the main avenue. Only a couple of blocks and they’ll be there.
A murder of crows lifted from the rooftops, making Eddy turn his head just as something hissed past.
Another missile hit the side of the snow-mobile, bouncing off.
‘Ambush!’ cried his grandfather, steering his ride in an erratic pattern.
Eddy checked his mirrors and saw the night-cloaked riders emerge from the gathering shadows, the eyes, nostrils and mouths of their steeds burning hungry fire.
Eddy copied his Running Bear’s crazy dance – just like in the powwow. He’d once seen his grandfather light as a kicking foal, lifting up his legs to the thunder of the drums. Now Death held the beater and made them both dance.
The runestone was heavy on Eddy’s back, slipped into a knapsack. He prayed it would not get struck by a stray bolt. It was too precious to lose. So much was riding on it.
Suddenly, he heard his grandfather cry out and slump onto his controls. The bike swerved and ditched in a snow-drift.
Eddy raced to him. Three crossbow bolts stuck out of his back like porcupine quills. The old man coughed blood. ‘Go! Leave me!’
‘Never!’ roared Eddy. He lifted his grandfather onto his bike as the hooves of the horses pounded closer, bolts hissing into the drift.
The deadweight of his grandfather slumped forward onto him, Eddy hit the revs and the snow-mobile blasted away just as the riders reached them. The snow churned up in their faces provided him with temporary cover.
Accelerating down the avenue, he knew he had lost the precious gap between them and it was only a matter of time before a bolt found his own back.
Up ahead was the turning for the recreation centre and, for a second he thought about drawing the raiders away, but he knew that would be a suicide mission, and he had to get his grandfather to the doctor.
He swung the bike right, and gunned it towards the hall, the raiders hot on his tail. ‘Hold on grandfather! I’m gonna get you some help!’
Bolts hissed closer and closer, clanging against the chassis. As one reloaded another fired in a single swift movement.
Suddenly the report of a firearm bounced off the walls of the surrounding buildings and one of the raiders fell as his horse toppled beneath him.
Ahead, the sheriff was providing covering fire.
Eddy skidded onto the forecourt. ‘He needs help!’
Rivet nodded to a couple of the men as she kept blasting. ‘Get him inside!’
They lifted him from the snowmobile, but the old man protested.
‘Leave me be…’ Running Bear made a weak gesture, shooed them away. Back against the wall, he slumped. Blood trickled from his mouth.
‘No! The doctor…’
‘It’s too late, Eddy. But don’t worry… Death is merely a change of worlds.’ Running Bear smiled, and then was seized with pain. ‘Stay on the Red Road, grandson. Save Gimli, save the wo…’
‘Grandfather!’ Eddy screamed, grabbing Running Bear as he toppled forward.
His world turned to black ice; shattered into a million pieces.
Rivet cried out, staggering back, clutching her arm – a crossbow bolt skewering it. Gritting her teeth, she aimed and fired back. But it was hopeless.
The Raiders swept by in a hail of bolts. At least seven of them survived and they had all night.
The wound made Rivet weaker. ‘Eddy, get inside. Lock the door…’
He shook his head. Took up his grandfather’s rifle and stood by her side. ‘Not a chance, sheriff. I’m gonna take some of those fuckers down with me.’
Together, they stood side-by-side and fired at the encroaching enemy.
The raiders circled, their cloaks enlarging their silhouette against the snow and making it harder to strike a vital organ.
‘They’re mocking us…’ said Rivet, wincing and holding her arm to her side.
Both of them were wounded in different ways. Eddy could not believe that his grandfather had been taken. The anger kept him going, but inside, he was turning to stone.
Gunshots snapped them both back. Gunfire coming from the surrounding buildings. The raiders reacted swiftly, returning fire into the darkness.
‘Must be BZ and his gang,’ Rivet spat through gritted teeth. ‘They’ve come back.’
For a moment, Eddy’s heart leapt. Back-up!
The door to the hall opened and Siggy came running out. ‘Grandfather!’ Magnus lingered on the threshold. ‘Siggy! Come back here! It’s not safe!’
Eddy turned to her. ‘He … didn’t make it.’ His words were like pebbles in his mouth. ‘I’m sorry …’
His sister cradled the limp body of their grandfather, shaking with grief.
‘Come, let’s carry him inside…’ Magnus gently helped her up, and together they lifted the body with some effort.
Magnus looked at Eddy. ‘Do you best.’
They carried the body inside and closed the door.
Out of the darkness came screams. The gunfire fell silent. Shapes moved in the shadows.
‘What the hell?’ breathed Eddy.
Six of the raiders remained and now there seemed to be something else out there, prowling on all fours.
One of the creatures savaged a gang member, who blasted away at it.
Then the screaming stopped, and a savage howl split the night, joined by a feral chorus carrying across the rooftops.
Eddy and Rivet gave each other a look – the whites of their eyes standing out in the gloom.
Suddenly the horses of the raiders whickered, turning nervously. Something was coming down the avenue. They could feel it approach – the vibration of each slow step.
‘What next? A buffalo stampede?’ spat Rivet.
Around the corner, stark against the snow, came a giant figure, snapping off a stop light as its massive bulk brushed past.
‘Oh no…’ said Eddy.
‘What the …?’ whispered Rivet.
The first frost giant was joined by two more. They towered over the rooftops, the phone lines and lamp-posts.
Eddy recognised the three giants from the ice.
‘Oh fuck…’ His hands shook as he tried to take aim with the rifle. Then he noticed the woman walking in front, dressed in a strange tunic, arms bare, spiky blonde hair like a flame.
The Jötun towered before the raiders. For a moment they stood – a strange mythic encounter on the streets of Gimli. The leader of the raiders trotted forward, crossbow raised. He spoke some harsh, piercing language – they sounded like nails scraped over broken glass.
The first of the giants suddenly raised its massive foot and brought it down on the raider.
The other raiders retaliated – sending a hail of bolts at the assailant, who brushed them off like midge bites. The other two Jötun waded in.
While the raiders and the giants were engaged Fenja ran forward. ‘Eddy! Quickly! You must come with me! I’ve negotiated a truce with my kind – but who knows how long it will last. Do you have the runestone?’
Eddy stepped forward. ‘Tell my family I love them!’
‘Where are you going?’ Rivet called.
‘To end this. Where it began!’ he shouted back.
‘Eddy! The snow-mobile!’ Fenja commanded.
He leapt on and fired it up.
‘Any chance of a ride?’ Fenja smiled.
They rode between the legs of the giants as the battle raged around them.
Fenja reached out a hand and scratched the air with a long fingernail.
Ahead, a slit in the dark street appeared – a tear in reality. It made Eddy’s head hurt to look at it. Beyond glowed a cold blue light.
‘Go! Now! Before it seals!’ Fenja called, and Eddy rode the snowmobile into the closing portal.
measuring the span of the quick, the dead. Urd on her spindle, Verdandi, her rule,
And Skuld with the scissors to cut them all.
Chapter 27: The Lighthouse
The small group made their way through the freezing mist – the only sound, the breathing of Eddy and Siggy’s exertion, carrying the makeshift stretcher, and the occasional grunt of pain from their charge. The doctor walked on in front, stopping frequently to orientate himself in the defamiliarised streets – lit by sparse pools of sodium, the shadows between more of a presence than an absence. Flanking them, the two patches, irons poised, scanning the white silence for any hostile signals.
Eddy grunted with the effort, still weak from his epic ride. ‘How far is this med-centre again?’
‘It’s two, three blocks, tops,’ replied his sister, her speech manifesting as a cloud. ‘Keep you’re end up!’
‘That is, if ole Doc Halliday here can remember the way…’
The old physician had paused once again at a crossroads – the stop-light blinking its idiot signals to the snow-bound main street. A side-wind hit them, sending up flurries from the drifts.
‘Jeezus, come on doc, we’re freezing our butts off out here!’ said one of the patches, who was clutching his side.
‘Gonna fuckin’ bleed to death too!’ groaned the figure on the stretcher.
‘Gimme a moment. It all looks so strange like this…’
‘What? and you haven’t seen Gimli under snow before! How long have you lived here?’ complained the other.
‘Hey guys! Give him some space!’ said Siggy. ‘But do hurry up before my arms drop off!’
A trash can was knocked over, bottles spilling onto each other. Everyone froze. The patches raised their weapons in the same direction.
‘It’s gotta be a fox or something…’ said Eddy, teeth chattering.
‘Shhh!’ hissed his sister.
Out of the mist came a figure, walking in a haphazard way.
The old woman, dressed in a thick bath robe and once fluffy slippers, had restless, darting eyes and long, unruly hair. Her skin was like Egyptian parchment.
The doctor stepped forward. ‘Ah, Mrs Clutterbuck! You gave us all a fright! What are you doing out in this infernal weather? You’re not really dressed for it, are you?’
The patches relaxed, one cursing, the other spitting into the snow.
‘I heard horses…’ She scanned the blank printout of the mist. ‘Is there a parade today? I do love parades.’
‘Not today, Mrs Clutterbuck. Now, come along with us. You’ll catch your death like that. Let’s get you to the med-centre.’
‘Catch your death … the med-centre,’ she muttered, about turning and walking confidently off.
‘Come on!’ said the doctor. ‘She knows the way, even in her sleep!’
‘Great! Now it’s the mad leading the blind!’ whispered Eddy.
Siggy shushed him, but smiled.
The group followed the woman as she walked down the street.
‘Hey, I recognise where we are now!’ puffed Siggy. ‘This is Highway 9. Look! That’s the Husky over there!’
On their right the gas station emerged, a couple of station wagons drifted over in the forecourt.
‘I can’t feel my arms anymore!’ moaned Eddy.
‘You big baby! Look at this guy. He’ll die if we don’t get him to the Health Centre!’
‘Hey! If I die, your dead, you hear! Dead fucking meat!’
Eddy looked down at the wounded gang member, tattooed face in profile.
‘Weren’t these guys just about to shoot the sheriff and take over the town?’
‘That’s by the by, now,’ said Siggy. ‘They’re part of our community, and they helped defend it. We owe them.’
Eddy thought of his old high school friend, Junkie Jon, as everyone called him. Got into the hard stuff. Hell, everyone tried everything back then – but Jon … he didn’t know when to stop. He’d never forget finding him in the shack, passed out. He thought he was dead. It had been close. But Eddy had managed to call an ambulance just in time. Jon’s life had been on the skids since dropping out of school. Eddy had tried to keep in touch, but it was hard. He was moving on, trying to make something of himself – admittedly not much – but he held down a job, even if it was in the local garage, and he had his band. Jon … all he had was Madame Heroin. The odd bit of folklore came back to him then, from a friend who had travelled to Thailand. They believed tobacco originated from the breasts of an old woman who died, and from her grave grew the plant where her nipples used to be. And from between her legs grew opium. It was the ultimate death trip.
He hoped he was okay.
Eddy was ripped back from his morbid reverie by his sister abruptly stopped, making him nearly drop the stretcher.
‘What gives, sis?’
Eddy strained to hear. Just the stifling silence of the mist. Their breathing. But then he felt it through his feet. Horses!
‘The raiders! They’re coming this way!’ whispered Siggy. ‘We need to get off this road! Mrs Clutterbuck! Mrs Clutterbuck!’
The old lady carried on shuffling along the avenue, oblivious.
‘There’s nothing we can do. Come on!’ Eddy insisted, dragging his sister away.
Reaching the junction of Centre Street, they swung left, and hurried down the sidewalk, hugging the walls close.
‘That doorway!’ the doctor pointed to the covered entrance to a store.
They just made cover when the riders appeared – dark silhouettes with cloaks and crossbows.
‘Who the fuck are they? The Nazgul?’ Eddy breathed.
The riders galloped straight past, heading south.
For a heartbeat they thought they had got away with it; but then the thunder of hooves stopped, and resumed, getting closer again.
‘Fuck!’ whispered Siggy.
The riders appeared at the junction, and turned their snorting steeds towards them. They wore what looked like black skull masks beneath hoods. The eyes and mouths of the horses glowed with fire.
‘Run!’ screamed Siggy.
The patches covered their flight, firing at the approaching riders, who appeared and disappeared in the mist.
Eddy didn’t see what became of them, just heard their screams.
They struggled on, but with the man on the stretcher it was pointless. It would only be a matter of seconds before the riders caught them up. The cars strewn across the road broke their gallop and bought them some time, but not much. Their pursuers took to the sidewalk. There must have been a dozen of them. One took aim, and a crossbow bolt whizzed by Eddy’s head, shattering a shop window.
‘Go! Leave me!’ muttered the wounded man.
‘We can’t!’ cried the doctor, gasping for breath.
‘I owe these bastards. I’ve got some bullets left.’
Eddy nodded, and Siggy reluctantly lowered the stretcher.
They ran on, helping the doctor, who was beside himself with fear. Behind, they heard the gunshots. A horse whinnied; then, a scream.
They made it past Fifth Avenue, Fourth, before the riders appeared again.
Eddy felt a stitch starting to develop. Siggy was faster, and helped the doctor. He wished he had a gun, something!
They pushed on past Third, but by Second the riders had caught them up; were upon them. Crossbow bolts whistled by their ears. One struck the doctor in the leg and he howled in pain, toppled over, taking Siggy with him.
Eddy crumpled by her side, shielding her protectively with his body.
The riders formed a half-circle around them, their steeds snorting fire. Taking their time, they reloaded their crossbows, then, as one they raised their weapons.
The scene around them took on a surreal vividness. Here they were, right on the main drag: first avenue. A sign read ‘Welcome to Gimli: your place in the sun’. A signpost pointed to the ‘historic’ Harbour Masters Building and Lighthouse, and the Lake Winnipeg Visitor Centre beyond. Had he come all this way, endure so much, on to die here, on this crummy Centre Street?
‘Fenja…’ was his last thought.
Then there was the deafening report of a rifle and a rider went down, blasted off the back of his horse, which reared up, panicked the others. The formation broke, and another rider went down.
It took a moment for Eddy to work out what was going on.
‘I know the sound of that rifle!’ shouted Siggy. ‘The lighthouse, now!’
Lifting up the doctor, they frogmarched him towards the Harbour Masters Office, where the tell-tale flash of a rifle could be glimpsed from the lighthouse.
They scrambled inside and collapsed.
A man in a winter hunting gear appeared at the foot of the stairs wielding a rifle. He made his way to the door and checked the street, before closing it, and pushing a chair against it.
‘Think we’re safe for now. I’ve given ’em something to think about.’ The man pulled back his hood and yanked off the balaclava from his face.
‘Grandfather! I knew it was you!’ Siggy leapt up and gave the old man a hug.
‘Ow! Steady now, you’ll break me in two!’ he chuckled, wincing in pain.
‘Are you hurt?’
‘Oh, it’s nothing.’ Running Bear pushed her away. ‘Quit your fussing. Worst than the wife, Great Mystery protect her.’
‘Here, let me have a look.’ The doctor got shakily to his feet. He looked done in, thought Eddy. Still in shock.
Nevertheless, his professional concern took over. ‘Take off your jacket; open your shirt. Sit down, don’t move.’
‘One sec there, doc. Here, can you use this thing?’ Running Bear offered Eddy the rifle.
Eddy was surprised. His grandfather had barely spoken to him since he’d got back. ‘You used to take me hunting, remember?’
‘Oh? I’d forgotten! Thought you weren’t interested in that stuff anymore! Just motorbikes, guitars and girls.’
‘Well, they have their appeal…’ Eddy smiled, but took the rifle with a nod.
‘Keep your eyes peeled. From the tower. Best spot.’ The old man finally settled and let himself be poked and tested.
Siggy nodded. ‘He’ll be fine with me. Do what he says!’
Eddy knew better than protest. He made his way up the lighthouse and sat in the eye, keeping watch down the street. He found a blanket and a pair of binoculars, plus a spare round of ammo.
Dropping down wearily, he settled in for the vigil. There wasn’t anything moving out there. He could just make out the Chinese, and the Art Club, the flats with the Robin beneath, and the quayside parking. Adrenalin alone kept him alert. That was a close call!
Eddy had nearly nodded off, when his grandfather appeared at the top of the stairs, carrying a flask of coffee. ‘You’re not sleeping on the job, are you?’
‘What? No, gramps. I’ve been awake the whole time.’
‘Move over, give me that. Here, this’ll help.’
Running Bear exchanged the gun for the flask. He checked the barrel and the sights, and scanned the street.
‘I thought you were meant to be resting?’ Eddy smiled, filling the cup. ‘Do you want any?’
‘No thanks. Can’t sleep. Doc patched me up, said I had a broken rib. I had to climb over a fence when I first ran into the raiders. Landed badly. Ain’t as nimble as I used to be!’
‘Grandpa, you’re amazing! You have saved practically the whole of Gimli from the raiders, single-handedly! You’re a hero!’
Running Bear snorted at that. Watched the street.
‘She’s resting. Tough one, that grand-daughter of mine. You could do with some of her grit, boy.’
Eddy sipped his coffee, smirking.
His grandfather turned. ‘I can hear you smiling. What’s so funny?’
‘Oh, just thinking about how I’ve fought with armed biker gangs, giants, a monstrous serpent, and I rode across the Atlantic ocean… I guess that doesn’t count as grit?’
Running Bear gave him a hard look. ‘Grit is about being reliable when the chips are down, about digging in and making it count. Not going off, having fairy tale adventures!’ He coughed, and winced.
‘Take it easy, gramps. I guess you set the bar high when it comes to grit.’
The old man stared out at the misty vista. ‘It’s a hard, hard world out there. You need to be tough to survive, boy.’
‘I’m doing my best.’
‘You need to do better. You need to be the strong one, when I’m gone. Someone has to look after the family. ‘ Another coughing fit.
Eddy took a long sip of coffee. This was a prospect he wasn’t anticipating.
‘Gramps, we need to get to the health centre, get supplies, head back to the sports hall with the doc. People may need us.’
‘We ain’t going nowhere till sun up. The raiders … I’ve got a feeling they’re nocturnal. We’ve got a good three hours till first light. Drink up that coffee. And tell me about your trip. It’s going to be a long night…’
President Koil has broadcast this recent message from his crisis command centre: ‘Citizens of the Free World – this is your president speaking. These are unusual times and they call for unusual measures. If you have seen giants walk the Earth do not be alarmed. My Frost Giant friends, the highest level of special, are helping with the security of our great nation. Keeping our country safe. The threat of Icesis has been met with ultimate force – the rebels are holding out in their stronghold of Reykjavik, but rest assured they will soon be neutralised. The USS Naglfar is at this moment engaged in hostilities. Some bleating liberals have complained about civilian casualties. All I say to that is: collateral damage. What price is freedom, people? We must hold to our resolve. The enemies of truth, justice and the American way are out there, plotting to over-run our country in the midst of this environmental crisis, made worse by the woolly policies of my predecessor. We should have been investing in our natural reserves of energy instead of squandering hard-earned tax-payers money on ‘wind’ and ‘wave’ and ‘solar’ power – what use is any of that now? We need coal, we need oil, and we need geothermal power, which Iceland has in bucket-loads by the way. They can’t keep it all to themselves. This unprecedented global crisis calls for unprecedented measures. Keep warm. Stay safe. Pray for your President. Good night.’
UPDATE: Ice Force units have already been deployed in the field in Iceland from the USS Naglfar, moored off shore. Units have been despatched to deal with the Icesis insurgents holed up in the capital, who have been accused of using the ‘human shield’ of Reykjavik population to hide behind.
Chapter 21: The Bone Road
Eddy looked out over the endless ice of the frozen ocean. Here he goes again… He must be a glutton for punishment! But he had two good reasons now to go, to undertake this suicidal endeavour: to return to his people; to find the runestone. When he was given the quest by One Eye Eddy had been torn at first. The whole point of going home was to stay there to protect his family, his community. But now he was going to have to turnaround and come right back – provided this mysterious stone could be found, if it even existed. Yet the Elders seemed convinced that somehow it would be pivotal in the great battle to come – and if it brought about the end of the terrible war of the gods currently devastating Earth then he would be saving his loved ones, perhaps more effectively than anything he could do, a rock musician, in Gimli. What use was an electric guitar against a frost giant?
Eddy stamped his feet, slapped his shoulders, trying to warm up a little. He checked the trailer again before remounting his bike. He cast one last look southeast, where the boom and flash of the battle made him shudder for his comrades. Yet it was the best cover he was going to get – now was the time to fly. The day had begun and he had a long way to go. He pulled on his helmet, and pressed the ignition, rolling the bike down onto the ice with great care.
Canada, here Icome! He prayed that Fenja’s hamingja would save his skinny red ass and get him home safe. He really was in the lap of the gods now.
The frozen surface of the sea vibrated disconcertingly with each shell blast from the bay, or was it the thunder and lightning ripping the sky apart? Eddy, grunting at the effort to keep his bike upright, hoped the Wild Hunt was giving as good as they got. They were not many to stand against the full might of Koil’s Ice Force, but they had gods on their side, even ones that were not as strong as they used to be. If only the rest of the world knew … many more would honour the Aesir and their might would increase. But their time had passed and this was the end of things. The best they all could hope for was to end it well.
Finally, the thunderous vibrations subsided and Eddy was left with just the sound of his bike and his breathing. He murmured a song to himself – one of Eddie Vedder’s, his musical hero. It really felt like he was going into the wild this time. But he was not completely alone – he had his upbringing and traditions to draw upon. Growing up in Manitoba, where the temperatures could drop to minus forty centigrade in the winter, he was not unfamiliar with extreme cold, and was probably better able to cope with it then most. Then he had skills taught to him by his beloved Dakotan grandfather – ice-fishing, by making a hole in the ice; hunting deer; building a shelter; starting a fire, even in the wet, with birch bark; navigating without a compass … essential survival skills, which he now realised were incredibly useful and precious. He breathed a heartfelt thank you to his grandfather, who suddenly felt very close. He could hear him now, Running Bear, telling him his wild stories on their trips into the backcountry about Ictinike the Liar, Rabbit Boy, giants and ogres, White Buffalo Woman, the Thunderer … The old man always took a while to open up. It normally took a few hours of trekking. He had never been a great teller, but in his gruff, matter-of-fact way, enthralled his grandson all the same. Eddy smiled, realising that perhaps the White and the Red Roads weren’t that dissimilar after all.
He made good time in the morning, covering a hundred bleak miles. He pulled over at an iceberg, frozen into the ice-locked sea, and in its shelter, he poured himself some coffee and had a snack.
So far, so good.
Iceland was no longer in sight. The horizon was dead flat in every direction. Eddy thought of Gunnar, his other grandfather of Icelandic descent, who had died when he was a teenager. Unlike Running Bear, Gunnar was a natural storyteller who couldn’t open his mouth without spinning a yarn. He remembered the outlandish stories he told about the Norse gods, stories from the ‘old sagas’, as he called them. He always swore he knew someone who was descended from the gods and heroes mentioned, ‘back in the old country’. The story that had thrilled the young Eddy most was old Gunnar’s account of the Viking discovery of America. He recalled it now, as it gained fresh relevance…
‘Once there was a hapless sailor called Biarne Herjulfson who set sail from Iceland to Greenland, a hard country where some of our people had settled. Biarne had little knowledge of the winds or waters he navigated and was soon lost in fog thicker than your grandmother’s broth. Nevertheless, he pushed onwards and managed to miss Greenland entirely, which was very impressive, as it’s larger than your grandmother’s behind (but don’t tell her I said so). Finally, after many weary days of blind sailing, the fog cleared and the sailors found themselves off the coast of a fair land – hills green with pine, not mountains pointy with ice as he had expected. They did not make landfall, but sailed on to another. The sailors, desperate for firm land beneath their feet, said they should make landfall, but Biarne refused and they continued. After five more days at sea, they finally made it to Greenland and were relieved to see the huts of their own people on the coast.
‘The story does not end there, oh no. Pour your grandfather another vodka – don’t tell you’re your grandmother – and he’ll tell you more. So. When Biarne visited the court of Eric, Earl of Norway, he related his strange journey over the feast, as the mead flowed, poured by the comeliest of maidens. Ah, where was I? Yes! This account was finally heard by the son of Eric the Red, Leif Ericcson, who had colonised Greenland. Leif paid Biarne for his ship and with a crew of thirty five men (including a German named Tyrker) he set sail in search of the mysterious land found by Biarne. His skills as a sailor were far better and Leif had soon discovered the first land Biarne had encountered. It was a barren place, which he called ‘Hellu-land’, the ‘Land of the Flat Stones’ upon landing. They set sail southwards and came to a low-lying wooded country, which, as his foot touched the shore, he called ‘Mark-land’, or the ‘Land of Trees’. They put out to sea again and finally came to a strait lying between an island and a promontory. Here they made landfall and raised huts. The land was fairer in aspect and climate than Greenland – a loving bride as opposed to a reluctant one. Leif split the party in two – he led one, the German led another. Tyrker went missing, but they found him eventually, excited at the discovery of vines laden with grapes, just like his homeland. Loading the ship with the fruit and with fresh timber, they set sail in the spring away from the country Leif called ‘Vin-land’, the ‘Land of wine.’ Leif Ericsson returned to Greenland with news of his discoveries and it was recorded in the annals. Five hundred years before Christopher Columbus Leif Ericsson had discovered Canada and America: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New England.’
Eddy smiled at the memory – his Icelandic grandfather getting livelier as the story progressed. His tolerance of alcohol was legendary and he drank the stuff like water. Yet it had killed him in the end. His stories lived on in Eddy’s memory, and he thanked Gunnar for them. They would keep him going, along with his Dakota grandfather’s skills, over the coming days.
Eddy ploughed on, praying his bike wouldn’t let him down. He did not fancy his chances for surviving long out on the ice, hundreds of miles from land, even with the skills and stories of his grandfathers. Remembering the kiss of Fenja warmed his though – boy, he needed her hamingja now! So many things could go wrong with the bike, with him – after all, he was just as likely to break down as the machinery under him. He had maintenance supplies for both on his trailer – food, coffee, vodka, cooking gear, toolkit, spare fuel, spare clothing, a tent, and an all-season sleeping bag. The crater community had been most generous. Perhaps they had just been relieved to see them go, to have the Wild Hunt draw the wrath of Koil away from them.
Eddy thought about the President. Loki! It felt right, by the crazy bullshit he kept coming out with, the increasingly ‘mad dog’ way he had been acting since getting into power. If one man had been responsible for bringing down this shit-storm on Earth, it was Koil. He must not win. Eddy would do all he could to stop him, for what it was worth!
The president must be shaking in his boots!
The following days passed in a blur of vibration, stillness, snatched sleep, caffeine, and prayers. Eddy rode a hard sixteen hours a day, averaging around five hundred miles. He made decent progress, but he could feel the toll the extreme conditions were taking on his body and on his bike. And his mind. Eddy was haunted by the possible fate of his family, his friends, and of his comrades back in Iceland. The winds howling across the ice at night sounded like their voices.
On day five Eddy’s way was abruptly stopped by a massive crack in the ice, a lightning bolt in negative, stretching as far as the eye could see. He parked up and got stiffly off the bike, pulling off his helmet. Shielding his eyes against the glare, he stared down into the waters churning away beneath the broken ice – the furious sea, straining to break free of its icy fetters.
Eddy kicked a block of ice, roaring in frustration. It went skidding over the frozen surface like a puck. Sighing, he got back on the bike, and, after a moment’s hesitation rode northwards along the fissure. His heart was racing wildly. He hoped that somewhere the gap would be small enough for him to cross. Every mile out of his way added time to his already long journey. Time he couldn’t afford to waste. His supplies, his gas, would only last so long.
He rode on for a desperate couple of hours until finally he saw something that made his heart leap. At a point where the fissure narrowed there was an ice bridge, formed by large fragments which had splintered off and refrozen, wedging themselves against one another. It looked hazardous, to say the least, but it was the only chance he had.
He took the bike on a wide arc, giving himself sufficient distance to build up enough speed – and revved the engine.
Muttering a prayer to the gods of the Northmen and the Dakota, he gunned the bike forward.
Just before he hit the edge of the bridge, a giant figure burst from the ice-flo. It was a female, going by her barnacled dugs. Seaweed hair hung down in long, dripping tresses over skin the colour of a walrus. From her wide mouth protruded two huge tusks. Eyes as black as a seals looked curiously at him as she thrashed in the water, a bather coming up for air. By instinct alone, he was able to swing the bike in an averting skid just in time – the bike coming to a stop inches from the freezing waters. The counter-swing of the trailer threatened to pull him in but he punched the release cable at the last second.
‘No!’ he cried.
Eddy watch in dismay, as the precious trailer skimmed onto the waters, coming to a stop in front of the giantess, who caught it in her hand.
‘Ahh, offerings… Poor Modgud does not get many in this age!’ the giantess complained, her voice like grinding icebergs.
Eddy killed the engine and, trembling, got off the bike. He pulled off his helmet, letting his long dark hair fly.
‘What a racket you make! Modgud has not heard such, even when the grey armies of the dead in their ship of nail-clippings passed this way. They were silent, compared to you, but they cut through the ocean’s skin with their big iron ships…’
Eddy’s mind whirled – did the giantess talk of phantoms, or of Koil’s Navy, on its way to Iceland?
Tilting her misshapen head, Modgud blinked. Looked closer. ‘But you do not have their pallor… You have too much colour in you. Red blood … What business have you – crossing the Bone Road?’
Eddy had to think quickly. ‘I wish to visit my ancestors. I … miss them.’
‘Miss them, mmm. Family is everything, is it not?’ The giantess seemed lost in wistful thoughts for a while. Eddy did not want to move, in case she took it the wrong way. One swipe of those arms and he would be mince-meat. ‘Since you have been nice to Modgud, and brought her presents, she will let you pass. Come, cross the pretty bridge she has built. Modgud will not let you fall.’
Eddy bowed – unsure what else to do – and quickly got back on his bike. He felt sick at leaving his supplies, but he had little choice. He turned the bike about and directed it towards the fragile bridge, which the giantess held up.
Heart in mouth, he crossed within feet of her, smelling the rotten fish breath of on her mouth. Pulling the bridge apart, she clacked her tusks and dragged the trailer under the water.
Eddy pressed on.
He prayed he had enough petrol to reach home. As for his own sustenance – he would just have to live off thin air. At least he had not ended up as Modgud’s supper.
StormEye command has reported insurgent activity upon the frozen Atlantic. Rebel groups are attempting to cross to America. They seem to be heading towards Iceland, but the Commander-in-Chief has said ‘These bad people are hoping to use Iceland as a staging post for an invasion of our great nation in a time of crisis, and they must be stopped. But fear not citizens! I have sent a Hel-jet strike force to deal with them.’ Satellite footage shows the rebels, hiding out in an ice-locked trawler. A direct hit appears to neutralise the insurgents. If other footage exists, it has not been released yet. The identity of their rebel insurgents is not clear. Could it be an Islamic terrorist cell? For now, they are being nicknamed ‘Ice-Is’. White House spokeswoman Sheryl Bragg, said: ‘With the Atlantic frozen in the unprecedented wintry conditions, believed by many scientists to have been caused by the volcanic eruptions in Iceland and elsewhere, there is a real threat of waves of climate refugees risking the crossing. The east coast has been put on the highest alert. We cannot allow these illegals to enter our country. Every nation on Earth must look after their own and deal with this natural crisis the best way they can. Nobody is boarding our ark.’
Chapter 18: Ice and Fire
Still dazed from the death of his brother-in-arms, by the time Eddy reached the fallen Enforcer, it was already too late. One Eye knelt in the ice by his daughterson, head bowed, holding her mighty hand. His two ravens sat upon his shoulders, observing all. Around him the Elders and, in a second circle, the patches. The serpent’s venom had seared through her leather armour, burning into her skin. The giant frame, that had survived so many battles, endured so much, convulsed.
‘Allfather!’ she gasped, breathing hoarsely. ‘The serpent … is it … dead?’
‘Yes,’ wept One Eye. ‘You saved us all.’
The Hammer shuddered and sighed, then her massive form went limp in her father’s arms.
Hugin and Munin took off, cronking harshly in the still air – inky black wings brushing Eddy’s face as they flew past.
One Eye lifted his head up to the dark lid of cloud, his one good eye searching it for meaning. With a voice hoarse with grief he uttered these words:
‘Oh, sky crack!
Drain the moon of milk,
Venus of her hot blood –
there will be no more kindness,
no more evil love.
The sun has snuffed out,
and with it all warmth,
all joy. Darkness will rule,
night shall be my day.
Place my heart on a spike –
I have no need of it.
Let the crows feed
on its useless meat.’
The gathered let their leaders words fade, as they stood, heads bowed.
Finally, the President stirred. A clear tear ran down one cheek, a bloody trickle down the other. ‘Go to my halls and await me there, daughterson. Take your seat among the greatest. Your name will be remembered forever.’
One Eye slowly got to his feet, a little unsteadily.
Will and Way went to help him; then others, but Tear stopped them with a scowl.
‘This … is a cruel harvest,’ spoke the leader, his voice ragged, supported by his brothers. ‘Our enemy sends hellfire from the sky, monsters from the deep – but we have defeated them. With courage, with strength … but at great cost. Our mightiest champion has fallen, but we … must continue. We must finish this journey and face our enemy on the field of battle, when all accounts will be settled.’
Gaunt, but determined, the blood-stained, frost-encrusted warriors looked to their chief. Eddy understood then how great leaders can kindle greatness in their followers. One Eye, in his grief and dignity, inspired his admiration more than he had ever done. In showing his suffering he showed true strength.
Tear stepped forward to issue commands: ‘Cover the bodies of our fallen – and let us take them to Iceland to receive proper burial. But be quick – we cannot linger here. Every moment upon the ice makes us vulnerable to attack. Onwards!’
Eddy mounted his bike and sat there, drooped forward for a moment, until someone brought him a horn of mead.
Eddy felt numb inside, but robotically accepted it as it was passed around. It filled him with warm fire, though did not ease the dull aching in his heart.
With the help of Bog and Cruz they lashed the body of Blitzen to the back of his bike, and made ready to go. ‘Sorry about your pal…’ said the Irishman, for once his humour failing him. Cruz placed a kiss upon the German’s brow and muttered something in her own tongue.
One by one the bikes pulled away, leaving behind the dark wound in the ice, the gelid waters already scabbing over.
‘Will you look at that!’ cried Bog.
They turned to see that the serpent’s blood had been used to spell, in ten foot high letters gouged into the ice: L O K I
Mercifully soon after, they made it to the jagged flanks of Rathlin Island. Here the weary bikers made brief landfall, taking shelter in one of the coves from the incessant wind. Driftwood was scavenged, and with Sol’s magic touch, a good fire was soon going. As the riders thawed, food and drink was passed around and things seemed a little bit more bearable. The mood was still subdued. Nobody wanted to be seen making merry after their losses. But … they had made it this far.
The Hammer’s body was laid on a fur-covered rock. Her father sat next to her, drinking horn after horn. His brothers stood strong behind him.
The flames crackled as the driftwood thawed out, spitting and shifting in the pyre.
Suddenly Tear stepped forward. ‘It is true that The Hammer and myself didn’t exactly see eye to eye…’
The attention of the circle fixed on the Sergeant-at-Arms.
‘…But she was more woman than you could handle, and more man than the lot of you!’ He raising his flagon. ‘The Hammer!’
The Wild Hunt raised their drinks, and, finally, so did One Eye. ‘The Hammer!’
Others stepped forward to make tribute, sharing their memories, and the atmosphere eased a little. The drink started to flow and tongues loosened.
Bog collared Eddy as he was going for a refill. ‘Well, Red. What can I say? It’s been a gas. Attacked by jet-fighters and monstrous sea-serpents and all that. But I’ll be off in the morning. Sorry to break the fellowship with Gandalf and his merry hobbits, but my road lies south – and boy am I looking forward to some actual fekking road. It’s a short hop to Derry, and then down the coast to Sligo and onto mighty Connemara – land of my fathers, although which one is my biological da, me ma, Saint Bridget watch over her, still won’t say.’
‘I’m sad to see you go. I’ll even miss your awful singing. But thanks … for everything.’ Eddy clinked bottles with him
‘Stay shiny side up, Red. If we all survive this … let’s meet up and have a few cold ones, hey? Just ask for Bog in Lowry’s Bar, Clifden, Connemara. Everyone there knows me.’
Bog split off from the main pack as they set off at first light. He had guided them round the coast of Northern Ireland, and his work was done. The bikers honked their horns in salute, and he waved back as he headed towards Derry Bay.
Then they grimly pushed on. The vast expanse of the frozen Atlantic stretching before them.
‘Right, Blitzen, my friend, next stop, Iceland,’ muttered Eddy.
Stopping every hour for ten minutes to warm up they made slow but steady progress. They were hyperalert for further attacks but no more came. The hours and the miles passed by in weary succession. After twelve hours they had done three hundred and sixty miles, refuelling twice. Nearly halfway there. Everyone was dog-tired, but it was too cold to rest on the ice. The only option was to keep moving.
They rode through the night, their way lit by the eerie effulgence of the aurora borealis. Whenever the freezing temperatures got too much Eddy rode close to Sol, who radiated warmth and light. This was just enough to stop him getting hypothermia, but it was still a punishing ride, his hands like blocks of ice, his face numb. He couldn’t go on much further, and nor could his bike. The needle was dangerously low. He’d flipped it to reserve some time ago, and was pretty much running on fumes. The bike felt underpowered, and started to act erratically.
‘I’ll catch you up!’ he shouted out.
He waved to the pack, and pulled over. Kicking down the stand – the ice so solid it didn’t sink in – he killed the engine.
‘How you doing there, Blitzen, old buddy? Enjoying Valhalla I hope. Hope the mead and the maidens are flowing.’
Paying his respects to the frozen bundle lashed to the back, he released the bungees holding the can of gas to the pannier-frame, and did his best to refuel without spilling any in the biting wind, which drove across the ice-field from the north.
Eddy took his helmet off, letting the blast of icy air shake the grogginess from him.
Away from the light and roar of the bikes temporarily, the vast emptiness overwhelmed him. For once the skies were clear and the star-field was immense. It felt like he could simply let go of Earth’s spinning ball and fall forever.
The aurora pulsed in wavering bands of blue, green and gold – and he watched, soothed by its strange dance, which made all the struggling for survival, the fighting for resources, the jockeying for prestige, the endless power games, seem so … petty. He could feel the crackle of energy on his skin. The ancestors. He heard their esoteric whispering.
He pictured his own people looking up at the same sky, and a deep pang of longing swept over him. At that moment he felt so lonely and wanted more than anything to be back with them.
Yet – he was getting closer. There was still an unimaginable distance to cross, but … one step at a time. Reach Iceland, rest, then prep for the next stage. Eddy had always been a ‘one day at a time’ kind of guy. Best not to over-complicate things by getting all worked up by what wasn’t present. Each day brought its own shit to deal with.
The can was empty. He gave it a good shake, and got a last trickle out of it, but that was it. He’d given himself about fifty more miles, tops. There was at least two hundred to go. But he’d worry about that when it happened. There was jackshit he could do about it. If he was destined to deepfreeze out here, so be it. Least he’d have nothing to worry about then. The hurting would stop.
Suddenly, the aurora seemed to coalesce into a figure – a tall, lean, woman – who swam through the sea of stars, reaching out her arms to him. Her features formed for a moment and he gasped.
Arms raised, he tried to touch her – but it was futile.
But her eyes glinted and she breathed out a vaporous cloud towards him, enveloping him in its milky opalescence.
‘Share in my hamingja, Eddy Redcrow. May it sustain you in your difficult journey… We are one mind, one heart.’
Eddy filled with cold fire. He had a flash of the frozen sea from above, stretching around the curvature of the Earth; and then a sudden leap of scale, as Earth became one of nine worlds connected by a vast tree. He felt part of everything – the roots, the sap, the bark, each leaf, each life. A serpent gnawing the roots, the eagle in its highest branches, the squirrel scampering between the two. Every world. Every realm. Every monarch and monster. Every nobody and somebody.
A half-breed rocker and a frost giant’s daughter – separated by an imaginable gulf.
It was almost too much, his mind threatened to snap. But Fenja’s voice came back to him, soothing him, singing him back into his body. ‘One mind, one heart…’
The vision faded, but he was filled with fire.
Lyrics started to form in his head around a melody: ‘Woman with stars on your skin, touch me with your fire, kindle me within …Touch me with your fire, your love is no sin.’
Humming, he lashed the can back on – you never know – and gave Blitzen a friendly tap, then got back on the bike, his limbs complaining like a stubborn mule. He gunned the engine – that was warmed up, at least – and did his best to catch up with the others before their tail-lights vanished altogether.
‘I see Heaven in your eyes, the Devil in your smile,
night is set aflame with your lovin’, fire-child…’
Just as Eddy reached the pack, the familiar rumble of bikes on the ice was deepened by another layer of thunder. At first it was hard to place – it echoed around the sky ominously.
Rig signalled for the bikes to stop and they circled around, forming a defensive cluster. Eyes were drawn to the west, where out of the star-field, two, three detached themselves, and started to draw closer.
‘Incoming!’ shouted Tear. Everyone braced themselves. They were sitting ducks.
One Eye parked his bike and climbed off, slowly walking forward – as though to his doom. He seemed, to Eddy’s eyes, to have grown in stature.
‘Enough! They trespass in my realm. Defile the Bright Dancers. Let them taste my wrath!’ He raised his hands to the sky, and storm clouds broiled out of the darkness.
The jet fighters roared closer – sonic booms splitting the night apart. They would strike at any minute.
But One Eye roared louder, his voice becoming thunder that shook the ice, threatened to shatter the world apart. Lightning forks flashed and they were momentarily blinded by the flashes of the explosions.
Out of the sky careered three burning fuselages, which plunged into the ice – snuffed out like candles.
His two ravens circled the wreckage before returning to him, landing on his shoulders.
One Eye let himself calm down before turning back to them. No one could meet his furious gaze. There was an immense power about him that was terrifying. The patches bowed to him, as he got back on his bike and rode off.
The endless cycle of ride, rest, ride, rest, blurred into one. Time was becoming as chancy as the ice they crossed – impossible to get a fix upon. Was it day or night, Eddy wondered? With the constant lid of cloud and the dull glow of the endless ice it was hard to tell. The only certainty was – it was getting colder, if that was possible. The bikes were stopping to make funny noises, and act erratically. Rig did his best – checking the bikes at every pitstop. The rest breaks intended to be every couple of hours now were every hour – as the conditions got icier and the fatigue took its toll. Every new mile on the saddle became agony. But on they must go.
Eddy’s bike spluttered out. He checked the fuel gauge – frozen solid. The reserve switch had been flipped some time ago. There was no denying it. He was out of gas. ‘Damn!’ He hit the tank, and slowed to a stop.
So much for Fenja’s hamingja, he thought!
But ahead of him the Wild Hunt had stopped too.
They had come to a small fleet of frozen trawlers. He got off his bike and stiffly walked closer – his heart beating faster. As Eddy approached the shout went up. ‘They’re Icelandic!’
He mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to his lover.
A quick search revealed plenty of fuel. The patches worked in chains to refuel the bikes, supervised by Rig. Others fashioned a scratch meal from what could be scavenged – a pungent fish-broth, uninvitingly slimy but surprisingly restorative. Eddy welcomed its warmth, slurping it down between mouthfuls of oatcakes. Feeling the chill start to lift from his bones, he noticed the nimbus in the east. Perhaps they would make it through the night after all.
Refuelled and restored, they set off. As the thin light of the day drew back the pawl of shadow they were greeted with a welcome sight. In the distance they could see the dark smudges of mountains.
‘Land ahoy!’ someone cried out, half in jest. The news rippled through the pack, and the response was delirious relief, spurring them on to make landfall. Iceland – where it all began, and where it would all end.
Eddy sent a prayer of thanks to his beloved and sang to the dawn: ‘One mind, one heart.’
Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020
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.
NORAD announced an unprecedented multispectral pulse of energy detected on their monitoring system, its epicentre confirmed to be within the Isle of Man, a crown protectorate of the United Kingdom. It is suspected that a weapon of mass destruction has been tested there, which the UK government strongly denies. No footage or eye-witness reports have come in yet, although we can safely assume US defence satellites would have captured the blast. President Koil tweeted ‘If they’ve got big guns, we’ve got bigga!’
Chapter 11: Woke
Eddy opened his eyes slowly, wincing at the light, though the sky was dark, the day as grey as steel. Thunder rumbled over head, threatening to rip the world apart – this he felt more than he heard. It made his whole body vibrate. A wind howled around him, going by the accoutrements of the dig being blown across the hill fort – tents; tables; plastic sheeting; signs. Everything was muffled, nearly drowned out by a persistent whine. He tried to sit up and groaned. He appeared to be twenty feet from where he last recalled standing. There had been a blinding flash. Then … How much time had elapsed? Where was everybody?
Painfully, he got to his feet – it was hard in the strong, urgent wind to stand upright. He pulled his jacket tight around. It had suddenly got biting on Chapel Hill, exposed as it was the southwest. The seascape looked decidedly apocalyptic – lightning cracked the darkness open, X-raying the clouds. Far below, the sea surged like a wild beast.
The marquee was still standing, just – guy ropes thrumming like double-bass strings. Eddy struggled towards it, as though wading through deep water. He ducked as a transparent plastic tool-box shot passed his head, snatched up by the wind like a Lego-brick.
Inside, he saw the archaeologist and his team cowering. They visibly flinched when they saw him.
‘I’m sorry!’ he shouted, probably louder than he realised.
Of One-Eye, the others, and the horn, there was no sign. What the Hell had happened? This was no time to ponder. ‘Get off the hillside!’ he bellowed. ‘It’s not safe!’
They looked terrified. He pointed down the hill side and mimed ‘shelter’.
He could do no more and turned to leave.
When he finally made it back to the lane he discovered only his bike remained. A car had been blown over and had narrowly missed crushing it. He got on, and started her up. It wasn’t going to be any fun riding back in this gale, but he had no choice. Holding on with all of his strength, Eddy made his way onto the lane back to Peel as lightning pole-axed the hillside.
It was a hairy ride back, to say the least, as Eddy dodged fallen trees, flying wheelie bins, and crashed cars in his way. Fortunately there was no other traffic on the road. Nobody in their right mind would be out in this … but then Eddy knew he had forsaken that status since missing his flight from Aberdeen.
All for the love of a frost giant’s daughter…
By the time he reached the town he was dripping sweat from the effort, but relieved to be amongst the shelter of the stone buildings temporarily. The town had weathered many a hoolie, and was taking it all in its stride, so far. The squat, dark buildings seemed to hunker down. The castle could hardly been seen in the squall. Only the eruption of waves against its seawalls delineated it now and then. He half expected the camp to be blown away, but it was still there, and as soon as Eddy rode down the ramp the wind and rain dropped away. Sunlight burst through in a corona of rainbow and it seemed like he had ridden into another country.
The atmosphere in the camp had changed dramatically – from one of Bacchanalia to reverence. The main marquee had now become a kind of temple, with bikers lining up to pay tribute to the inhabitants, who sat upon their chairs as though they were thrones.
After the intense gloom, the bright colours made him squint. He passed one of the Elders – the tall, regal woman in her white leathers and fur. She seemed even more dazzling than usual – indeed the sunlight seemed to emanate from her directly. By her side stood her pale-faced shadow-cloaked companion, who basked in her glow, radiating his own silver effulgence.
A beautiful bald-headed man walked amongst the dark-clad bikers in a pristine white shirt and waist-coat, laughing with a man in shades, wielding a walking stick of pale wood – whom he guided with a light hand upon his shoulder.
Something weird had happened, that was for sure.
Eddy pulled up on the hard-standing and killed the engine – laying a hand on the tank, he thanked the stolen bike. It had got him back in one piece. His hearing had started to clear. There was drumming – slow and deep – and a Georgian choir-like effect, accompanied by pulsing guitars and synths from the club band. The air was thick with incense, smoke and blood. Eddy looked on, astonished, at big, tattooed bikers, fallen to their knees, weeping, heads back, arms raised in worship. He even spotted Cruz there, crossing herself again and again.
What on Earth had blowing that horn done?
With dread fascination, he approached the marquee. Strange lights danced around it, like a mini Aurora Borealis.
He stepped through this veil and beheld the committee. They looked exactly as they did before, and yet there was a different demeanour about them. They carried themselves more nobly and a light seemed to emanate from them.
‘Ah, you made it back, Red. Good! We thought you had been blown away!’ Rig smiled, standing proudly to one side of the ‘thrones’. He bore the horn on his back, attached by a leather-braided strap.
‘I nearly was! That blew away the cobwebs, for sure! But what’s going on here?’
‘You’re not in Kansas anymore, Eddy Redcrow!’ boomed One Eye, and they all laughed.
Eddy looked at the President – still the pot-bellied, grey-bearded larger-than-life biker, but something about him looked … kingly. ‘Does that make you the Wizard of Oz now?’
One Eye looked at him with his glittering eye, as keen as an eagle’s: ‘Perhaps,’ he smiled, raising his tankard. ‘But then you must be Dorothy!’
Everybody roared at this.
They were all there: The Hammer; Rig; Tear; Honer; Niggard … all now with a new energy about them. Not scrubbed up – but a power still shone through the grime.
‘Come sit with us, drink. You have earned a place here, Hornfinder.’
Uneasily, Eddy sat at one end of the bench, which lined the sides of the marquee, framing the central ‘high table’.
He was greeted warmly by fellow patches – a horn of mead thrust into his hand. He diplomatically raised it first to the committee. ‘Hail to our … President … Not sure what to call you anymore?’ he called out.
‘Oh, One Eye will do. I have been known by many names through the ages. What need do we have of formality at the end of the world? Our names will no longer matter, only our deeds.’
Fists thumped upon the benches in agreement.
‘We have been slumbering for too long,’ spoke One Eye. ‘We have let our true power smoulder. But we shall smoor the hearth no longer! The final battle is coming and we must make ready! The signs in the sky, in the sea, in the land, are clear. Ragnarok is upon us! The crone’s prophecy has come to pass. Brother fights brother. It is a gun age, a bomb age. Our enemies circle near – but the Devil’s Hogs are mere cockroaches. We will shirk from the lesser skirmishes, but we must be prepared to fight the greater. The President of the West is our nemesis – he does everything in his power to bring about the destruction of the nine worlds.’
Eddy’s mind reeled. Koil? Was One-Eye talking about the president of the USA? He was a gold-plated ass-hole, for sure; and had some questionable friends, but surely…
‘Koil is the one god who didn’t go to sleep,’ One Eye continued. ‘But finally, we have awoken from our centuries of slumber … Hugin! Munin!’ He shook his head, and the tattoos on either side of his skull came alive.
Eddy blinked as two ravens suddenly hopped onto the president’s shoulders, cronking and stretching their wings of folded night before settling down.
One Eye made a twisting gesture with his ringed fingers and from the eyes of one of the ravens beams shot, splitting the smoky shadows. He whistled and from the other raven came sounds to match those images.
Eddy watched in wonder at the flickering kaleidoscope of newspapers, newsreels, websites, social media, CCTV footage, and satellite images, flashing onto the walls of the marquee. Images stretching throughout history of conflict, warfare, pollution, hate crimes, corruption. One Eye snapped his fingers and all at once the swirling montage froze on the face of a man, at times a captain of industry, a politician, a media mogul … appearing in paintings, engravings, grainy photographs and footage from over the centuries to slick corporate portraits of the present day – different at first glance, but as the images enlarged, zooming in on the eyes, Eddy noticed the similarity.
The eyes, they all shared the same pair of eyes, gleaming with malevolent amusement.
One Eye laughed bitterly. ‘I can see it so clearly now my true sight has been restored. He has blinded us all, but no more! Koil is none other than our beloved Loki. What better job for the old trickster god himself than the President of the most powerful nation on Earth? And if half of them had known his true nature they would have voted for him twice over. He marshals all the forces of chaos and destruction at this end of times, and we must be ready to meet him in the field of battle.’
His head spinning, Eddy staggered from the tent. Falling to his knees, he gulped down the icy air. A familiar pair of killer boots stepped before him. He looked up and beheld Fenja, who stood there before him, her skin glistening with frost.
‘Is it … is it true?’ he gasped.
She gazed down at him with her fox-fire eyes. ‘Yes, all of it.’
The Manx Archaeological Trust have just announced a “potentially major discovery” at the latest excavation currently underway at Barradoole, site of the famous Viking ‘ship burial’. Dr Mark Webster, director of the dig, said: ‘One of my student volunteers called me over on the last day, saying “Hey Mark, I think I’ve found something…” She certainly had – with great care I took over. After lots of painstaking effort, a magnificent decorated horn was revealed. We’re currently cleaning it, but it looks at least 10th Century and is remarkably intact. We’re very excited about this, but don’t want to make any grand claims until further analysis has been undertaken.’ Experts from The British Museum are due to be joining the team shortly, their arrival delayed by the cancelled flights and extremely busy ferries. If the horn proves to be genuine, it could be a real boost for the island. The Governor’s Office emphasised that any such finds remain the property of the Manx government and must remain upon the island. Staff at the museums in Douglas and Peel are obviously keen to see the discovery and to help with conservation. General public are advised to stay away from the excavation. A temporary exhibition will be opened once the dig is complete and the area declared safe.
Chapter 10: The Horn
Life in the camp continued as usual for the next couple of days – the endless boozing, macho games and male-bonding, punch-ups and punishments, street wheelies and beach donuts, the tinkering and polishing of bikes – albeit with a rota to keep watch for the inevitable ‘pay back’, courtesy of the Devil’s Hogs.
At the daily ‘Camp Thing’ – a rowdy club meeting meant to attend to the business of the day – it was argued vehemently by Tear and his followers that ‘attack was the best form of defence’.
‘Strike down the bastards while they’re sleeping off the grog!’ he growled, smashing his fist down and sending flagons flying. ‘A pre-dawn raid. Go in, guns blazing. Take out the high command. Cut off the fat fucking hog’s head!’
Fists banged on the tables.
‘Maybe we shouldn’t be so rash, ‘scuse the pun!’ beamed Balder, leaping up onto a bench.
The mood was surly, but everyone loved Balder, so it seemed to Eddy. He was the golden one, always adding a positive comment, a joke, a kind gesture. He was like a ray of light in a cave.
‘If we slaughter the Hogs, then what message does that send to the other gangs? To their allies? Before we know it, we’d be fighting off enemies on all fronts. It’ll be total war.’
There were grunts of approval at this.
Tear stood up again, bristling. ‘Maybe we need a good war, to purge the weak from the world!’
Some roared in agreement.
‘You can fight all you like, I prefer a cold beer and a hot woman in my arms!’ smiled Balder, and the tension eased with the laughter.
The Hammer suddenly stood unsteadily to her feet – ‘Me too!’ She hiccupped and collapsed back on the bench. The tent exploded in merriment.
Tear and Balder eyed each other uneasily, but both sat back down.
Then Rig got up to say his piece. ‘Whether we attack or not, that’s up to the president, but I agree with Sarge that we do need to be ready. We badly need some discipline around here. We don’t want the Hogs to catch us with our pants down.’ Crude laughter and heckles from the floor, but Rig let it subside. ‘Make sure your bike is road-fit, and make sure you are too. I suggest no more partying until we’ve dealt with this threat. I know, I know. It pains me too! I like a beer as much as the next man, and I could drink half of you under the table—’ He was interrupted by friendly jeers from the floor. ‘But, come on guys. Let’s get real here for a moment. The Hogs could come round that corner at any minute, guns blazing. So let’s make sure we give them the welcome they deserve. Bikes tuned. Weapons loaded. And heads clear.’
Fists pounded the tables at this, then turned to One Eye, who had sat silently, watching it all, with a slightly amused expression on his face. He got up, stretching his back with a groan. ‘Heed your road captain, you miscreants. Rig once again talks sense. No more partying until this fight is done. Get your shit together. Inspection at noon. Meeting over. Now, where’s that coffee?’ The president looked bleary-eyed this morning, rubbing his grizzled face. He caught Eddy’s gaze momentarily but it was hard to read his expression.
He walked from the tent with relief into the fresh air. Were these really the old gods of the Norse? It was hard not to see them for just a bunch of ageing bikers who had turned a midlife crisis into a lifestyle, sadly clinging onto former glories and all that ‘born to be wild’ bullshit? Didn’t they notice, it wasn’t the Sixties anymore, nor the Seventies or Eighties for that matter. It was a new century, one that already was soaked in blood. The only myths and legends anymore were to be found on social media, where gods were raised and destroyed every day.
Eddy wandered to the groyne at the far end of the beach, away from the worst of the noise. The tide had turned and the sea was lively this morning. A restless energy was in the air. He sat down and pulled out his cell. He hadn’t checked his messages since he’d got to Man.
There were about twenty from his sister.
He groaned, and scanned through them: concern quickly turning into vexation, then anger, rage, and fury. By the end it was a full on hurricane of spleen. Eddy held it at arm’s length, wincing as he read them.
Time to face the music! He pressed speed-dial and waited for his sis to pick up.
Finally, the call was answered. Eddy realised with a pang of guilt that it was very early over there.
‘Big sis! How’s it going?’
The line was crackly at first – a blizzard of white noise breaking up the voice on the other end. ‘Eddy? Eddy, is that you? You muvvafukka—’
‘Good Morning to you, beloved sister! Nice to hear your dulcet tones! Sorry for waking you!’
‘Shut up, scumbag, before I throw this cell across the room! Where the Hell have you been? What happened to that flight? We waited at the fucking airport! For three fucking hours!’
‘Ah, I’m sorry about that. Really am. I decided to go to the Isle of Man.’
‘The Isle of Man? Is that code for a biker bar somewhere? You sound like you’ve been on a bender for days.’
‘Well…’ He realised he had. You need to sober up, Eddy! ‘You see, I met this girl…’
‘Met a girl? You was with a girl! On holiday together! Remember! She’s back home now and wondering what happened to you? She was seriously pissed with you, but even she was starting to worry. Mom and Dad have been beside themselves. I’ve tried to reassure them that Eddy, y’know, he’s just on one of his “vision quests”, the usual shit. Never again!’
‘I’m so sorry, sis, I really am. But she’s really special, this one. I’ve found … the one!’
‘I don’t care if you’ve found Poca-fucking-hontas. What you’ve done is inexcusable. All it would’ve taken was a message or two – just to let us know you hadn’t been killed by a falling plane or something!’
Eddy laughed. ‘A falling plane. That’s a new one. Who do you think I am, Donnie Darko?’
‘You jerk! Haven’t you been watching the news?’
‘Err, no. Been a little bit pre-occupied.’
‘The volcanic eruption threw up so much material into the jet-stream it closed…’
‘I know, sis, that’s why I had to ride across fucking EuroDisney…’
‘But a Russian jumbo ignored the warnings, and its engines got clogged up. It crashed, losing all of its passengers and crews. Hundreds. All over the news…’
‘And now there have been reports of earthquakes along the mid-Atlantic ridge and warnings of tsunamis all along the Atlantic seaboard, and you’re on a fucking island! Nothing to worry about, Eddy! Sure! Why not top up your tan? Hang out on the beach all day.’
Eddy looked about him at the camp. ‘Ummm. Thanks for the heads-up sis, I’ll … head for high ground. Listen, I’ve got to go. But it’s been good talking. I miss your well-intentioned nagging. And you’re cooking. Say love to Mom, Pops and Gramps for me. Love to you, big sis! Bye!’
He ended the call, and looked nervously out at the water – restless with white caps this morning. Perhaps he should tell the others? Surely, there would be a local warning, if anything like that was on the horizon? He vowed to check the local news and weather.
First, another cup of joe.
Over a steaming mug, Eddy flicked through the Manx news website, eyes glazing over at the dreary items about traffic regulations, changes in bylaws, planning applications, and closures of public services. There was a mildly interesting debate on its forum about the hordes of bikers currently on the island: ‘The Gathering: gain or pain?’ Some argued that it was an important boost to the tourist economy, which had slumped in recent years due to the foul weather and cheap flights to the Med; others, that it drove tourists away, and the policing and clear-up costs cancelled out any benefits. Eddy was all too familiar with being labelled a ‘menace to society’. Sure, some bikers at the extreme end of the spectrum – the nutters with a death wish, the neo-Nazi biker gangs and crime syndicates – were; but the majority were, well, middle-aged wannabe rebels. North of forty Sunday anarchists. The ninety-nine percenters. Eddy realised, with a wry smile, that he was now officially one of the one-percenters, being a patched-up member of an outlaw bike club. He didn’t feel any different inside. There were some things he wouldn’t do – knowingly kill a man, for instance; but some laws were just for the sheep to follow. Crowd control for the supine populace. He was, by nature, a wolf.
He couldn’t see anything ‘tsunami warnings’ – just increasingly foul weather on the way – and he was about to browse another site, something more exciting, when a minor news item caught his eye: ‘Viking horn found in recent excavation’. He tapped on it, and read the article with increasing interest.
Eddy’s heart beat like an overwound drummer monkey. Maybe it was just too much caffeine, but he felt strangely excited by this. He had to tell the committee! He got up and walked over to the main marquee. Despite the semblance of activity in the camp, as the rank and file made ready for the midday inspection, most of the ‘old gods’ were dozing, still sleeping off last night’s binge. The pervading smell was one of hops, body odour and farts. Behold, the Aesir! Eddy smiled. So much for being battle-ready…
As he went to enter, the massive slab of Honer appeared from the wings and placed a firm hand on his chest. ‘Do not disturb, wetpatch.’
‘I’ve got some news I think they’ll like to hear.’
The tailgunner gave him a sceptical look from beneath his furious eyebrows. ‘Tell me, I’ll decide.’
Eddy took a step back. ‘I’ll … wait.’
‘Let him in.’
It was Fenja, emerging from the back of the tent. She wore a t-shirt and jeans as though they had been painted on her.
‘It’d better be good.’ Honer breathed, letting him pass.
Eddy stepped into the marquee. Catching Fenja’s warm gaze, like a steaming geyser by a glacier, he nodded thanks.
‘What is it?’ she asked, softly.
‘There’s been a discovery that I think this lot would like to know about…’ He showed her the article and her aurora borealis eyes widened in the gloom of the tent.
‘Hey, ass-ears, wake up!’
Groans, slight stirrings, further snoring.
‘I said WAKE UP!’ Fenja bellowed with a voice that could wake the dead. An icy cloud blasted from her mouth, shocking the groggy sleepers out of their post-session slumber.
Eddy stepped back, freaked out as much by Fenja as the imminent wrath of the committee.
‘Nidhug’s knackers, woman! Can’t a fellow catch forty winks around here!’ groaned One Eye.
‘There is something important that you really need to see…’
Fenja chucked him the phone, which Tear snatched out of the air with lightning reflexes.
‘Hey, that’s my phone, by the way!’ Eddy grumbled, but they all ignored him.
The sergeant-at-arms checked out the site with his cold, dark eyes, nodding. ‘She’s right.’
Eddy rode near the front of the column of bikes as they roared south to Barradoole. As the ‘discoverer’ he was afforded a certain status within the pack, although as Tear was keen to point out that it was only ‘temporary’. The majority of the club had been ordered to stay behind, to guard the camp, with Frey in charge, backed up by The Hammer. The rest of the committee were with One Eye, as he led them towards the site.
The sky was dark – it was always dark these days since the eruption – and it was distinctly chilly, certainly feeling less like early July and more like early autumn. No doubt One Eye would think it was to do with Jormungandr shedding its scaly skin or some such, smiled Eddy.
It felt good to be moving, to be doing something, instead of just drinking beer or sharpening knives. And all the target practice was making his ears ring. Too many guns are unhealthy for a man’s constitution. What kind of club had he got himself involved with? Grand theft auto, homicide, possession of illegal weapons, and dizzying delusions of grandeur too boot! The really wrong crowd, his sis would say.
They passed the sign for Barradoole, and turned onto a narrow country lane which finally came to a terminus in a slightly wider gravelled area that no doubt normally served as an adequate car-park for the odd visitor, but today, already over-run with a couple of landrovers, a minibus and a van, couldn’t cope with the influx of fifty bikers. For a while it was chaos, as the bikers parked wherever they could, gridlocking the lane. The road captain ensured the Elders had a clear passage, and bellowed at the tailgunner down the line: ‘Guard the exit; keep it clear!’
To increasing profanity as leather-clad bikers (none of them on the slim or agile side, Fenja and Eddy being the exception) squeezed through a kissing gate, they followed the brown heritage sign bearing the legend ‘Burial Site’. Eddy had read about the remarkable Viking ship burial and couldn’t believe he was actually visiting it. Like many, he initially thought a whole longship had been buried there, in the small village on the south of the island, but eventually realised it was a symbolic ship, demarcated by stones, in which the burials had taken place.
Silence descended amongst the ranks after a snarl from Rig, as they made along the footpath winding its way over the hillside.
‘An Iron Age hillfort,’ observed Niggard, the club treasurer who also was a bit of a prehistory anorak, as it turned out. ‘The Viking burial is on top of a Christian site and nearby Anglo-Saxons cysts. It is possibly a deliberate repurposing of the site, and yet the earlier graves weren’t destroyed. Were they hedging their bets, or just wanted to use the dramatic location?’
As the view towards the sea in the southwest appeared over the brow of the hill, Eddy had to agree with that – it was a dramatic backdrop, looking towards the setting sun, or, in this case, a vast sky of dark cloud, like anvils ready to fall. Up ahead they say a marquee, a couple of gazebos with tables, and a portaloo. Behind a taped off area, a group of scruffy students went about the dig, sporting hi-viz tabards over their fleeces and hoodies, supervised by a man in a Barbour with an Indiana Jones hat, a thick beard and glasses, holding a mug while scrutinising a tablet. When he saw the approaching bikers, he dropped his mug, drenching his leg in tea. ‘Ouch! Fuck it!’ He unsuccessfully tried to sponge it dry with a couple of paper towels and gave up. Taking a deep breath, he came towards them, waving his hands. ‘Sorry! No public! We’re not allowing visitors yet. Come back in a couple of days.’
One Eye gave him a broad smile. ‘No problem then. We’re not the public!’ He nodded to his warriors, who broke through the tape and circle the pit.
‘Hey, you can’t do that!’ spluttered the man, identified by his badge as Mark Webster, Manx Archaeological Trust, by his site ID. ‘Maggie, call the police!’
Tear placed a mailed hand upon his shoulder. ‘I wouldn’t do that, if you know what is good for you and your students.’
‘We just want a look, that’s all. You could say we’re enthusiasts,’ beamed One Eye.
Webster went pale, and licked his suddenly very dry lips. ‘Maybe hang on two ticks, Mags.’
The young assistant frowned, thumb hovering over the mobile phone.
‘That’s the spirit!’ grinned One-Eye, showing his fearsome dental work. ‘Now, talk us through it!’ He placed a hand like a baseball mitt on Webster shoulder.
‘Umm, well.’ The archaeologist took his glasses off, which had become steamed up, and gave them an ineffectual polish, hands shaking. ‘Let’s see. We dug a test trench…’
‘Just cut to the chase,’ One Eye winked.
‘This is quite unusual… Mm. We discovered the artefact two days ago … Knew it was a mistake, sending that press release. The site in and around the ship grave has been thoroughly excavated, but I won a grant to do a geophys of the whole hillfort. I wasn’t expecting to find anything earth-shattering, but you live in hope.’
His students watched on, nervously. Some were clearly uncomfortable at the lascivious gazes of the bikers.
‘Well, as luck would have it… The nearby quarry – that gopping eyesore over there…’ He pointed to the massive ‘bite’ taken out of the hillside. ‘Destabilised the edge of the fort. After recent heavy rains there was a landslip and a new burial was unearthed – an older burial beneath the current one, predating the Viking, Christian, and Saxon. Even the hill fort itself!’
Webster walked One Eye and his party to the marquee. Eddy tagged along and was apparently tolerated, although Tear gave him a look like he was something he’d picked up on his Grinders.
‘And that’s when we found this…’ Webster eyes gleamed as he showed them the finds table. ‘Well, technically, Zoe over there found it.’
A speccy, gangly girl gave a shy wave.
‘Though I was the one who excavated it, so joint credit. She’ll certainly be a co-author … or one of the authors … in the article for Archaeology Today…’
Tear bared his studded teeth and hissed.
Webster coughed, and, shaking, pulled back the plastic cover from the polystyrene holding case.
One-Eye’s one good eye widened, and Eddy strained to have a look as the club-members crowded in.
‘It has been precisely dated yet. The stratigraphy is somewhat scrambled from the landslip. The dates it suggests are … crazy. Palaeolithic…’ Webster could see their eyes coveting the jewel-encrusted metalwork. ‘Yet the style suggests late Viking, ninth or tenth century.’ He scratched his head. ‘It just doesn’t make sense.’
‘May I…’ One Eye went to reach for it.
‘Hold your nelly, it can’t be…’ A dozen knives were at Webster’s throat. He tried to gulp.
‘Don’t worry, I’m wearing gloves.’ One Eye picked it up, as the students gasped. He turned it gently over in his leathered hands, gazing at it in fascination with his one good eye. ‘Strange. It … stirs something in me. A dream I once had; a life I once knew…’
The onlookers were all mesmerised by the intricate pattern of the horn, the size of an auroch’s – though One Eye handled it like it was as light as balsa wood.
Lost in his own thoughts, the president wandered to the doorway. ‘Memories … waking up inside me, like a volcano…’ He held up the horn to the dark rumbling sky. ‘Am I a man who dreams he is a god, or a god who dreams he is a man…?’ One Eye he brooded. ‘Road Captain…’
‘Didn’t you used to play an instrument … a saxophone or something?’
Rig’s eyes flared. ‘Yes, I did.’
‘Then give us a tune!’ One Eye tossed the horn, to the gasps and cries of the archaeologists. Rig caught it elegantly. ‘I may need some air for this.’ He walked outside with it, and everyone followed.
‘No, no, no!’ cried Webster.
Tear placed a spiked hand on the archaeologist’s chest.
With his back to the group, framed by the dark sky and the iron seas to the west, Rig put the mighty horn to his lips and blew.
Oh boy! Crazy weather! But fear not, great nation! Fortitude and Faith! I’ve invited some allies to help protect our assets in this period of difficulty. DO NOT BE ALARMED! They may be ugly bastards, but the friendship I have with them is the highest level of special!
I share some common ancestry with them on my mother’s side.
Nordic, of course. HA! HA! HA!
I once was entertained by a really hot Scandinavian chick in one of my hotels over there, in Norland. Boy! She was an 11! She could piss ice-cubes! Never had bourbon on the rocks like that before! I hope we aint distant cousins!
Chapter 9: The Twilight of the Gods
‘That went well…’ Eddy eased his battered, aching body from his stolen bike.
Dash and Blitzen were in an even worse state than him – black eyes and bloodied noses, but they grinned maniacally. ‘Can’t beat a good scrap!’ said Dash through swollen lips. ‘Let’s go and get wrecked!’ suggested Blitzen, spitting out a loose tooth.
Hobbling and helping each other, the three of them made their way to the bar – laughing and wincing in equal measure.
Around them the Wild Hunt was buzzing with post dust-up adrenalin. Wounds were being proudly shared and discussed, bikes were being checked, weaponry readied. It chilled Eddy to see the handguns, even the odd semi-automatic. Jeezus! Things were getting serious! He should have expected it, joining a serious biker gang. It was never going to be a peace picnic. But he didn’t expect to see so much armoury this side of the pond.
As they got their beers and sank down onto the bench, they clinked bottles and, between careful appreciative sips of the chilled brew, discussed what was going to happen next.
‘An open attack between gang members will inevitably lead to all out war,’ declared Blitzen, taking a tug.
Dash nodded. ‘The fragile truce of the Gathering had been broken. Things are going to turn real nasty.’
The gleeful tone in his voice made Eddy think he was looking forward to it. If it was anything like the bikers wars back home, it wasn’t going to be any kind of glorious war movie. He remembered with a shudder the stories he’d heard from eye witnesses, victims, and survivors about the Quebec Biker War.
‘But …’ Eddy tried to find the right phrase. ‘Our president was warning us to do the opposite – to work together to survive the greater threat…’
‘Oh, I loved all that Ragnarok shit, man!’ said Dash, eyes shining from behind the bruises.
‘If it’s the end of the world, then we need to look after our own,’ commented Blitzen, finishing the dregs of his beer. ‘Talking of which, I believe it’s your round, Red. You probably owe us several after what we went through back there to save your half-breed ass!’
Eddy raised his hands. ‘My bad. I better get some shots in then.’
Dash and Blitzen cheered, high-fived each other and regretted it. ‘Ow, my fingers!’ ‘I think I’ve broken my wrist!’
As Eddy waited by the bar, looking over the high-spirited revelry, he couldn’t help shake off the feeling he was on the deck of the Titanic.
The sky was an abattoir over the milky, limpid waters of the bay. Eddy sat on the groyne, thoughtfully watching the dying light. He sucked in the bracing, acrid air and tried to clear his head. The sea was at low tide, and the waves expired upon the sands with little energy, exhausted after their long journey.
He felt the same.
Perhaps it was just the inevitable come down after such an adrenalin high – the buzz of a biker rumble. But maybe it was more.
He sighed and it sounded like the last gasps of the waves.
‘Hey, how’s it going there, troublemaker?’
Eddy turned to see Fenja, and his heart lifted. Here at least was one – very good – reason to be here, to stay.
She slipped her arm into his and they watched the blood-milk waters together.
‘I’ll live. The way everyone jumped in, back there… I’ve never had anyone cover my back before.’
‘Welcome to the Wild Hunt. We protect our own.’
‘The Hammer and Tear – they were like fucking superheroes, man!’ Eddy mimed some of their moves. ‘Wow!’
‘Yes, they’re handy in a fight, those two,’ Fenja smiled.
‘How are they?’
‘Oh, none the worse. A dust-up like that gives them the horn. They certainly made the Hogs pay, as did Honer, our tailgunner. He reckons they iced a dozen between them, at least.’
Eddy gazed over the deepening crimson of the bay, feeling sick inside.
‘Don’t feel guilty. They started it, and they had it coming. They’ve attacked our club and our allies more times than I can remember. A lot of blood was owed.’
‘But … there will be reprisals. An eye for an eye… When does it stop?’
Fenja looked at him with surprise. ‘Stop? This is the way of the world. Life. Death. The blood of birth; the blood of the dying. It’ll end when the world ends.’
Eddy looked at the last embers of the day. The bloated red sun, as it slipped over the horizon, seemed to wink shut like a giant eye.
‘According to One-Eye, that’s happening.’
A green flash shot across their line of sight; then a chill breeze swept in from the darkling sea.
‘The tears of Venus … Yes, I’m afraid it is…’ She shivered and Eddy put his jacket round her shoulders and held her close. She suddenly seemed vulnerable, gazing at the encroaching night.
‘Come on, you don’t believe in all that stuff do you? Surely One Eye was talking figuratively? Sure, the weather is fucked. We know that. But it’s nothing to do with wolves and giants?’
She pulled away from him, furious. ‘Isn’t it? And what do you know?’
‘Hey… I’m sorry, alright.’ He held out his hands in peace. ‘I’m out of my depth here… All I know is what my senses tell me. I see a bunch of cool bikers with a president trying to do the right thing. He was the only one talking sense up there on that hill. We do need to work together to survive. It’s not just the weather that is screwy. The world is fucked. That Koil guy. Sheesh. Ass-holes like him are making it worse. They’re not just fiddling as Rome burns – they’re pouring on the gasoline.’
Fenja’s stiffened body language softened, and she allowed herself to be held again. ‘Your senses do not deceive, but there is more than meets the eye here too. The world you see … it is only one of many. And the people you see around you … One Eye, The Hammer, Rig, Tear, Honer … they are more than just men and women.’
Eddy’s brow furrowed. ‘What do you mean?’
Fenja took hold of his face with her long fingers and looked him square into his eyes. Her pale blue eyes seemed to suck in the remaining light and almost glow praeternaturally in the twilight. ‘We are the old gods and we live amongst you. Once people worshipped us, and we were mighty. But man is cursed with amnesia. He forgets the oaths he made, the offerings. The blessings we showered upon him and his line. We made the Vikings great. Inspired them to cross the Whale’s Road, to be feared and followed. Their legacy lives on in far-flung corners as well as the old lands. But these are modern times. It is a digital age, a cold age, an age of communication when nobody says anything, an age of speed when nobody is moved. People stare at screens instead of the sky, worry about petty things instead of wonder about great things, worship the machine and let it run their lives. It is an age of cowards and cretins. You have forgotten how to fight for what you love and are led by fools. You do not dream hard enough and are lost in the false dreams of others. Who remembers the old gods when you only have time for the god of greed?’
Eddy was moved by her passion. Her words struck him to the core, but the little voice in his mind could not help but question Fenja’s bold claims. ‘The spirit of what you say rings true, but … are you saying that our committee are the – what did Grandpa Gunnar call them…’ He searched for the word from childhood memories of his grandfather’s sagas. ‘…The Aesir?’
Fenja stood up, towering above him at her full height. She seemed even taller than usual, her spiky white-gold hair framing her head like a glory of the mountains. ‘Yes. And gods who became men can become gods again.’ Her voice took on an icy edge. ‘You are not the only one here with the blood of two worlds flowing in your veins, Eddy Redcrow!’
He got to his feet, wincing a little at the effort.
The power of her voice made him instantly obey and he dropped to the sand.
‘My father is a frost giant. Once his heart was melted by a mortal woman … but I am my father’s daughter. Sometimes I feel I belong more in his realm of ice and mist than here, in Midgard. But … your messed up world fascinates me.’ She scanned the camp, the town beyond, with a haunted longing. ‘Perhaps part of me wants to reconnect with my mother. The love she had for my father killed her. I am afraid ours may too be a fatal attraction. Be warned!’ Her breath escaped in a freezing cloud.
Eddy trembled before her, as an icy atmosphere engulfed him, but he gritted his chattering teeth. ‘Wherever you are from; whoever your parents were … all I know is this. I love you, Fenja! Let me be your lover! I am not afraid!’
The icy cloud faded, and Fenja seemed to reduce in height a little, and became once more ‘just’ a dangerously beautiful, tall, blonde biker woman. She stepped forward. ‘You may stand if you wish…’ she smiled.
Eddy did so, with a little grunt of effort, and they embraced. She held him close, trembling. ‘You’re freezing!’
‘Let me steal your body heat, human!’ she laughed.
They kissed and the heat of that flooded through them.
‘Run away with me, Fen,’ he whispered to her.
She looked at him sceptically, white eyebrow raised.
‘Let’s leave this place, this island, this madness. Come back with me to Canada. It is full of wild beauty. Long, long roads through the wilderness. Great riding! I’d love to introduce you to my people. We could start a life there…’
She pulled away from him. ‘No. This is your tribe now. You have your patch. Your colours. You need to choose, Eddy. Where do you want to belong? When you’ve made your mind up, let me know!’
Fenja stormed off, and he watched her go, his heart heavy.
The last redness in the sky had been obliterated by the grey cloud. The sea was a black, uncrossable mystery.
Where did he belong? Who was his tribe? Perhaps he was fooling himself, trying to fit into this mob? Norse gods? Frost giants? They sounded crazier than him. Sure, his friends, his family back in Gimli, were just as crazy – with all their quirks and peccadilloes – but it was a craziness he could deal with.
Eddy gazed across the dark sea. Perhaps it was time for him to leave.
President Koil declares national emergency & martial law
In response to the escalating ‘climate chaos’ – hurricanes, storm surges, mass flooding –President Koil this morning has taken what he calls ‘desperate measures for desperate times’. He has declared a state of national emergency. The Home Guard has been mobilised to defend key resources and martial law has been imposed to prevent rioting. In the last couple of days cities across the US has seen panic-buying in the food stores, and violence flaring at gas stations as drivers queue to fill up their tanks. Schools have been closed and the public have been advised to not to travel in the extreme weather unless absolutely necessary. Many airports remain closed, and there is gridlock along coastal interstates as citizens attempt to abandon the threatened areas. An escalating series of tsunamis have already devastated many major cities along the Atlantic seaboard and Pacific west. The number of fatalities is unknown. President Koil was recorded in a message from a secret location for ‘America to remain strong. Your government will protect you and is doing everything in its power to keep the Land of the Free safe. Stay in your homes, keep your loved ones close, and await further instructions.’
Chapter 8: The Thing
The next morning Eddy walked across the camp, oblivious to the foul weather that lashed the beach. Glowing inside, he was trying to get used to the double-whammy of being Fenja’s lover and a patch. He wore his colours (still damp from the night before) with pride. He had certainly earned them. He was greeted by nods, the odd slap on the back. He was one of them now.
Eddy entered the mess tent, drawn by the smell of bacon and coffee.
‘Had a good night?’ queried one of the older members, waggling his eyebrows, while his mates guffawed.
If Eddy could have turned redder he would have done. Instead, he said defiantly: ‘Out of this world.’
‘Beats me how a wetback like you could get laid by the hottest bitch on the camp’, sneered another while picking his teeth. His bald head mirrored the cannonball of his gut.
‘Club rules are club rules,’ added the grey beard. ‘Our women can sleep with who they like – their call. But to sleep with another’s regular broad is a patchable offence. So tread carefully, Red.’
Eddy nodded and walked to the serving area. Thanks for the advice, fellas! he groaned inside. No point creating enemies on his first morning. Perhaps they meant well. But Fenja was clearly her own woman. She didn’t belong to anyone.
He bumped into his fellow newbie in the queue. ‘Hey.’
‘What a night!’
Cruz contemplated this for a minute. ‘Si.’
He wasn’t going to get much more out of her, so he patiently waited for his turn.
With his tray laden with good things, he scanned the mess tent for somewhere to sit.
‘Hey, Red!’ Two younger members waved him over. He gratefully joined them.
The one with the blond Mohican offered a fist, ‘Dash.’
‘Blitzen,’ said the other, who sported a dark beard and a straggly mop. He sounded German, the other Scandinavian.
‘Your set the other day was cool, man!’ enthused Dash. ‘You’re shit-hot on the axe.’
‘Jah, jah. Sehr gut. Hope we hear you again soon.’
‘Cheers, guys.’ Eddy tucked into his bacon ‘butty’ with relish. ‘Oh, boy! Need this.’
‘They feed you good here,’ said Dash, rubbing his belly. ‘Tuck in, because it’s gonna be a big day.’
‘Why, what’s happening?’ asked Eddy.
‘The Thing,’ said Blitzen, as though he should know what that meant. He looked none the wiser, so the German elaborated: ‘Interclub council at Tynwald, where they decree the laws here in English and Manx every July 5th, Tynwald Day. It’s the oldest parliament in Europe, based upon the Nordic All-Thing, or Thingvallr. We take it over – and the authorities … tolerate it. It brings in massive tourist revenue, after all. It’s the main reason why we’re all here.’
‘Speak for yourself,’ quipped Dash. ‘I’m here for the road races, the girls, and the beer!’
‘Jah, jah, that too,’ smiled Blitzen. ‘But we are heading out 11am. Full colours. Attendance compulsory. And, anyway, you don’t want to miss this. You haven’t ridden until you’ve ridden out with the club.’
Eddy guzzled down his coffee. ‘Refill?’ They shook their heads. He was going to need coffee, lots of it!
The sound of the collective engines was incredible as they roared out of the camp and onto the road inland. Eddy was towards the back of the pack, but he didn’t mind. He was grinning from ear-to-ear. Here he was, riding with the Wild Hunt! The triple-triangle patches filled his field of vision – there must be a thousand of them. The town’s people stood along the roadside, watching them go. Drivers patiently waited – nobody wanted to mess with the Hunt.
‘Fuckin’ cool, hey!?’ shouted Dash, riding next to Blitzen.
‘Hell, yeah!’ he fist-bumped his new pal, feeling part of the gang.
The vibration of the engines rippled through his body – it was a sound that hit you right in the chest, the sound of thunder.
The pack accelerated out of town, heading east. The Hog’s bike was unfamiliar beneath him at first – a customised Buell Ulysses, by his reckoning. Decorated with skulls and swastikas, it was uncomfortable to ride, but fellow members nodded approvingly. It was spoils of war, simple as that. Anything that stuck it to the Hogs was alright in their books. Nevertheless, Eddy was relieved to hiding in the midst of the pack.
No point tempting fate.
As they rode along the winding country road beneath the overcast sky, his thoughts wandered to Fenja – who would be no doubt riding near the front of the pack on her restored ride. He couldn’t help but smile, thinking of their night together.
Oh boy! It was hard not to get a hard on – the vibrations not helping. No wonder some women loved to ride a fat bike! That woman was truly a goddess! He was the luckiest man on Earth!
He eagerly awaited the next instalment. He hoped to see her tonight, but he didn’t want to push things. Play it cool, Eddy. Play it cool!
They headed down the A1 and were there in no time, though it took a while to filter onto the site and park up in their designated area, with so many of them.
It looked like MCs had come from all over the island that day. Eddy had never seen so many in one place before. He scanned the gangs nervously for the Devils Hogs. Surely his presence was just throwing diesel on the fire?
But attendance was compulsory. He had no choice. He was one of the Wild Hunt now. He hoped there would be safety in numbers.
Eddy followed Dash and Blitzen to the hill. It was hard to get close but they did their best, pushing through the crowds as diplomatically as possible. They carefully stayed with their own club, all too aware of the stares they were getting from the others. Some gave them respect, ‘friendlies’, as Dash described them (Eddy saw the Banshees, but couldn’t spot Bog amongst the multitudes); others were blatantly hostile – notably the Devils Hogs – but this was The Thing, and an uneasy truce pervaded.
The Council sat upon the Hill – its tiers demarcating the hierarchy of rank. Eddy noticed that One Eye was in the top tier, alongside the leader of the Devils Hogs; the Hells Angels; and their arch-enemy, the Bandidos; plus the Russian president of the Night Wolves. The tension was obvious in their body language. Away from the Hill these are people who would instinctively tear each other apart.
One Eye looked clearly bored by the various speeches from the different leaders – making boasts, bold statements, or complaints. Alliances and truces were declared upon the Hill each year, explained Blitzen, feuds and grudges established or settled – often by races, knife-fights, or all out shoot-outs. Every year there was ‘blood on the streets’. Every year the authorities tried to crack down on it, force it to be cancelled, but such a vast number of bikers was hard to police. They were a law unto themselves and while the Gathering last, biker law prevailed.
And on Tynwald Hill was where biker law was declared.
One Eye listened with weary patience, and when it was his turn he slowly got to his feet, cracked a shoulder and yawned, before stepping up to the mike.
He cast his one good eye over the thousands below him, who anticipated his speech.
‘Our Prez always tells it like it is. His speech is often the highlight of the day,’ said Dash, clearly excited.
One Eye leaned towards the mike and let out a giant raspberry, which echoed across the crowds.
He waited for the impact to settle. Bikers jostled nervously – some shouted out heckles. ‘Old fart! Disgrace! Gerrim off! The old man has dementia – put him back in the care home where he came from!’
One Eye laughed coldly. ‘That’s what I think of all the petty edicts and posturing. None of it matters. None of it. You know why? Let me tell you. Look up at the fucking sky!’ He pointed up at the dark lid of clouds. ‘Airspace closed over Europe. Traffic chaos. That’s just the start. The bitter air is just the start of it. Your Knoz-rings aren’t going to protect you from what’s coming. The Icelandic eruption seems to have triggered a chain reaction along the mid-Atlantic ridge. More volcanoes are erupting each day. And none of you realise the significance of that. But I do.’ One Eye knuckled his raven-inked temple, shook his head clear. ‘I’ve … seen it.’ His eye suddenly flashed fire. ‘Surt the Fire God is waking up!’
The crowd jeered him. ‘He’s fucking lost it!’ ‘The old man has gone mental!’ ‘Somebody take him to a care home!’
The leader of the Wild Hunt seemed to grow in stature – his voice a growl of thunder that got everybody’s attention. ‘Beneath the Earth Fenris the Wolf tears at his chains, causing earthquakes, tsunamis. The Midgard Serpent writhes, whipping the seas into a maelstrom. And the Frost Giants are rising again… We’re in for a long, hard winter, my friends, mark my words. Winter is not fucking coming. Winter is here! The world is like a headless chicken, still running around, not realising it has lost its head and is bleeding to death.’
An uneasy silence had descended over the crowd. To Eddy’s eyes the sky looked like it had got notably darker. And was that a flash of lightning, right on cue?
Then, an underpowered clapping from one of the tiers. A small man with a swastika tattooed across his face, and a Knoz-ringtm stood up. ‘One Eye talks out of his anus!’
‘That’s the leader of the Hogs, Adolf Mosley!’ said Dash. ‘Grade-A asshole.’
‘He thinks it’s the end of the world!’ continued Mosley.
The Hogs roared with laughter, scowled at by the Wild Hunt.
‘Yes, it is the end of the fucking world, fuckheads!’ rumbled One Eye. ‘And we have a choice – so simple even you morons can understand, so listen up.’ He waited for silence.
‘Join forces and survive, or fight each other and die.’
The impact of his words sent murmurs of discontent, scorn, and scepticism through the crowd. ‘Yes, you heard me right. We have to put aside our differences. Bury the hatchet, and not in one another’s skulls. Dark times are here. What we do now will matter, and make the difference between seeing the dawn again or not. You may not like the idea, but look at your fellow bikers. Flesh and blood, like you.’
‘Except the Devils Hogs!’ called out a member, to laughter, until he was punished by the Enforcer, who knocked him out with a single punch.
‘A petrol-head, like you. Likes his or her freedom, like you. We may be the only bastards able to act when it hits the fan. Most people, trapped in their little boxes, won’t stand a chance.’
‘What can we do?’ called out someone with an Irish accent from the Banshees.
‘Work together. We’ve got the manpower, the mobility, and the means. It’s up to you. I’m done.’ One Eye stepped back from the mike and sat back down, looking exhausted.
Uproar ensued, as everyone argued about what he had said.
‘Come on Red, got a feeling this is going to turn nasty. Let’s split,’ called Dash. ‘Looks like the Road Captain is calling us back, anyway.’
Eddy was swept along by the departing Wild Hunt, heckled by the other biker gangs, who called them ‘pussies’ and ‘tree-huggers!’ His mind reeled, reflecting on One Eye’s speech. To him, what the president had described, sounded all the world like climate change. Was he just speaking metaphorically? Yes, the weather was fucked. If so, what could a bunch of bikers do about it?
He found his bike but as he went to pull out of the compound, his way was blocked by a bunch of Devils Hogs members, wielding chains.
‘Where do you think you’re going, scumbag?’ snarled the one in front. From his filed teeth, Eddy recognised it was Sharkman.
‘You’re on one of our rides… Tut, tut. Wonder how you got hold of that…?’
In a blur of motion, one of them whipped a grappling hook into his front wheel, as two others yanked him from his bike, chaining his arms, and the fourth held the bike secure.
In an instant he was bikeless and helpless. Sharkman wrapped his chain around his fist, and snarling in satisfaction, went to land him one.
Eddy flinched, but before the blow could land, Dash, Blitzen, and a whole bunch of other Wild Hunters piled in.
‘Attack one member, you attack us all!’ shouted his friends.
For a while they looked like they were going to wiped the floor with the attackers, but as the altercation was noticed by the departing crowds, more Hogs poured in, many pulling knives. It was turning bloody.
For a moment Eddy was forgotten, and was able to shake off his chains. Fists free, he joined in the fray.
Soon, they were all but surrounded by the Hogs, who rapidly outnumbered them. First Dash went down, then Blitzen. It was going to turn into a massacre…
‘Aargghhh!’ Eddy looked up to see Hogs being scattered left, right and centre as though a bull was charging through them. Suddenly the Hammer appeared, towering over the attackers. She clenched her fists and pounded into them, breaking teeth, breaking skulls. By her side appeared Tyr and Rig. Both loved a good scrap, and set to it.
Eddy was able to seize back his bike – with a few well-aimed kicks and punches he was back on it, and revving it, nosing it forward through the melee.
Slowly the tide was turned, and the Wild Hunters fought their way to the exit. Finally, there was a clear run to the road.
‘Go!’ commanded the Hammer, covered in the blood of her opponents.
Eddy needed no further prompting. He gunned the engine and skidded out of the compound, followed by his fellow members, who poured forth like a breached dam.
Eddy turned to see The Hammer and Tear fighting on, while Rig mounted his bike, and raced to the front. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here before World War Three starts!’
The Road Captain led the Wild Hunt back westwards, to the coast. A posse of Hogs tried to follow, but the gunshots he heard confirmed what his fellow bikers said, ‘The tailgunner’s sorting it. Keep going! And don’t stop ‘til we’re back at the castle!’