Tag Archives: Iceland

The Way it Happened

There now, I have chopped off half the winter.’ Traditional tale ending.

Chapter 33: The Way it Happened

The old man sat back in his battered armchair and groaned. ‘Ah, my bones. This cold has made them worse than usual. They ache like a seawife’s heart for her drowned sweetheart.’ Snorri wore a thick Icelandic cardigan, patterned with snowflakes and sunflowers.  His craggy face was like a map of sorrow and hardship, and yet there was a spunk of fire in his eyes beneath the kindling of his eyebrows. In contrast to his stiff, jagged body his hands were mercurial, conjuring gods and monsters out of the air with the simplest of gestures.

Around him in the Harbour Master’s Office, where he had temporarily taken up residence, sleeping in the lighthouse, and running a scratch school in the office while the main school remained closed, were the children of the community, those ‘not too old’ for stories or too young to understand, although some infants lay curled against their mothers, who helped run a makeshift nursery between them. Others had ‘called by’, on some vague errand, and lingered in the doorway, eavesdropping with a mixture of scepticism and amusement.

Snorri’s afternoon story sessions were becoming a popular fixture of the community. In the gulf left by online entertainment folk had taken to making their own again – board games, singalongs, drumming circles, and storytelling.

‘So, nobody wants another story do they? You look tired. Perhaps you should all go home and have a nap…’

‘One more story. Please…!’ cried the children.

He raised his bird-hands in mock defeat. ‘Very well then. Only one more mind. Then it’s hometime. Otherwise I’ll be run out of town, for leading you all into the hillside of tale like some Pied Piper. Which one shall it be? Scary? Sad? Funny?’

‘Tell us about the end of the world again!’ someone cried, and others joined in, echoing the sentiment.

Snorri laughed, stroking his fox-like beard. ‘The one I told yesterday? And the day before that? Ah, you have appetites worse than Thor! Y’know, once he dressed up as a woman to fool the king of the Frost Giants and win back his hammer, Mjolnir. Thrym liked the look of this fine figure of a woman – bearded and bicepped – so much he decided to marry her. At the wedding feast Thor ate a whole ox from tail to horn, eight mighty salmon, all the cakes and sweets, and two barrels of mead, which impressed Thrym even more!’ Everyone laughed and Snorri went to get up and leave.

‘Stay! We want our story!’

‘What?’ He smacked his forehead. ‘Plain forgot! My memory! It’s like a Swiss cheese in a colander!’ He settled down again, scanning the eager faces, lit by the candles set up around the room. ‘Very well, then. Let me tell you about the end of the world. This is the way it happened…’

‘Our Eddy, yes! Eddy Leif Redcrow of Gimli, Manitoba! Icerider! He who had crossed the Atlantic Ocean on his iron steed! Friend of giants and foe of demon raiders! He had a difficult job to do! He had to reach Law Rock, the ancient rock in Thingvollr, the crack in the world, where all the laws of Iceland were proclaimed. Why? Because there he had to recite the Runestone given him by his grandfather, my old dear pal, Running Bear, may his spirit be at peace in the arms of the Great Creator. If he could he could bring an end to the war of the gods that had locked the world in an icy embrace. He could bring an end to the end. Unfortunately, between him and his goal there was that loathsome trickster, Loki, and his hellish hordes: wolves! worms! trolls before them! Ice Force shock troops behind! The chasm of the sundered world below!’

The audience gasped in delightful terror.

‘But our hero was not alone! Oh no! He had mighty friends! Odin One Eye, the Allfather, riding his eight-legged steed, Sleipnir! Tear, god of war, who, with one hand could do more damage than a ten men with twenty! Rig, the guardian of Bifrost, blower of the great horn that woke the gods! And the rest of the Raven god’s crew – Will and Way, his powerful brothers! Fearsome Frey! And let us not forget the formidable Fenja, the frost-giant’s daughter who had melted Eddy’s heart! They led the Wild Hunt into battle – the final battle that they would fight! Many others had been lost along the way. It had been a hard road. But soon all would be reunited in Odin’s hall! This was the day foretold by the Weird Sisters! Ragnarok! The twilight of the gods! The world had endured the terrible Fimbul-Winter! Frost giants had walked the Earth, crushing humanity beneath their big boots! The Death Ship, Naglfar, made from the untrimmed nails of the dead, had sailed. The legions of Hel herself had sallied forth, raining down fire on the world! Surt woke up and his breath choked the sky! The Sons of Muspel rode out and nowhere was safe! Even Gimli!’

He looked around at the adults, who now were hooked too.

‘Yet Gimli was foretold to be where survivors of the end of the world would live … it is the place protected from the fire! We’re tough! We fight! And we protect our loved ones! But without Eddy’s bravery we would never know safety! The place more beautiful than the sun would always live in the shadow of conflict! And so the Wild Hunt had to do what they did, for us all. For communities like us across the world. For people who didn’t even believe in them, who didn’t even know they existed! Their sacrifices that day would be forever unknown if not for the one who survived … but I get ahead of myself! All things in order. Everything and everyone must play their part in the web of wyrd. Ask the Weavers!’ He pointed at the women in the room. ‘They know! They understand! The warp and weft… there must be a pattern to it, a sequence!’

‘We’d better not let you near a loom then!’ one of them called, and they all cackled.

‘Harrumph!’ His frown melted into a smile. ‘So, the Wild Hunt fought against Loki and his lackeys – and what a battle it was! There, where the world is sundered. If it was not already so, the force of their clash would have broken it in twain! What a sound! The Earth shook!’ He stamped his feet up and down on the floor-boards, making a dull rumbling sound. ‘The sky was shattered by lightning!’ He weaved his hands back and forth, his rings glinting in the candle-light. ‘Crash! Boom!’

The young audience gasped in mock-terror and delight, while some of the adults rolled their eyes.

‘The outcome of such a battle was very close. Very close indeed. Such valour! Such deeds were seen on the Plains of Vigrid that day! It was the ultimate Holmgang—’

‘What’s that?’ asked a wide-eyed child.

‘Well, little one, I’m glad you asked. Holmgang is a Norse custom for settling disputes. The two feuding parties would go to an island to sort out their differences – only one was allowed back. It was a fight to the death. As it was that fateful day! One by one, the mighty gods fell – like tall trees in the forest. The Allfather is eaten by Fenris the Wolf in gigantic gulp…’ Roaring, Snorri used his arms to mime the jaws snapping shut. ‘Like that!’

The audience gasped.

‘Tear is torn apart from Garm, Hel’s own hound, while slaying it with his dying breath!’ Snorri growled and howled. ‘Frey and Surt destroy each other. Biff! Bash! Pow! And Rig, wily Heimdal, runefather and friend to all, falls at the hands of Loki, even as he delivers a fatal blow to that double-tongued trickster! And like trees in a storm, the rest of the Elders of the Wild Hunt topple. But they’re deaths are not in vain! Eddy reaches Law Rock, guarded by Fenja! He pulls out the runestone and … he can’t read it! It’s all in runes! A fatal flaw in the plan! All their deaths in vain!’ He smacks his brow in disbelief.

‘No!!!’ the children cried out.

‘Except … Fenja, she blows wisdom into his mind – puff! Like that! And suddenly, he can understand the markings! A-ha!’ He points a finger up in the air.

‘A-ha!’ the children echoed, mirroring his gesture.

‘He starts to recite the runic inscription, as the gods die around him, and the remains of Loki’s horde swarm towards the rock! Fenja fights them off as best she can, but she is hideously outnumbered. She can only hold them off for so long… All seems lost…’

Snorri looked around and saw even the adults were awaiting his next words with baited breath. The candle-light seemed frail in the gloom. This golden circle of humanity, so precious, so fragile.

‘Then Eddy’s words, spoken with power – he’s not a rocker for nothing – were finished. There was a vacuum of noise into which all the din of battle was sucked.’

Snorri paused for effect. You could hear a pin drop.

‘And then a great blast of energy rippled out from Law Rock across the Thingvollr, across Iceland, across the Atlantic, across the world! KA-BOOM!’ He clapped his hands. ‘Eddy released the Ragnarok runes, encoded on the Vérendrye Runestone, lost but found, right here in Manitoba! Preserved for centuries by the Redcrows! The tablet crumbled to dust and blew away in an icy breath of wind. Whoosh!’ He flicked his hand.

‘Whoosh!’ the children copied.

‘Eddy lay unconscious on the Law Rock. All was still and silent. Slowly, painfully, he revived. A patch of blue appeared in the sky overhead, and a shaft of sunlight pierced the gloom. Sunlight! Golden, like the hair of his beloved… Fenja! He got up and saw her at the foot of the rock, her broken body on a pile of the demon hordes. “No!” he cried, and stumbled down to her. Her body was limp and lifeless. He held her in his arms and wept. They had won, but at what cost?’

Snorri looked slyly about the room and saw there was not a dry eye. Satisfied, he continued. ‘Eddy sat there for a long time, holding the body of his sweetheart, amid the corpse-strewn battlefield, a feast for crows. If the Valkyries moved among the valiant, taking them to Valhalla, he could not see. All he saw was the white landscape running red with blood, his heart as black and as cold as the rock he sat upon. Then a slit appeared in the freezing air, glowing bright blue. It widened and heightened until a giant was framed. It was the King of the Frost Giants! Eddy was too weak, too bereft, to move, to react. If his time had come, so be it. But the frost giant wept too – tears of ice – and, reaching down, tenderly picked up Fenja and, turning back into the portal, carried her away.  ‘Wait! Stop!’ he cried, but it was futile. The King disappeared into Jötunheim, but, strangely, the portal remained open – and looking closer, Eddy could see, on the far side of the mountainous plateau, another portal, and through that, he saw … home! Gimli!’

 A cheer went up.

‘And so he took his leave of that place, where his words had healed the wound of the crack in the world. He stepped through the portal and …’

The arrival of another made Snorri stop and everyone looked up.

In the doorway, looking weak, but alive, was Eddy Redcrow.

‘Hey there! Am I missing anything?’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Meltdown

traffic jam file new delhi

BBC WORLD SERVICE

Icelandic volcano eruption causes major disruption across Europe.

A recent spectacular eruption in Iceland, predicted for sometime by experts, has closed down European air space yet again. In 2010 the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, grounding 100,000 flights in the largest commercial air-traffic shutdown since World War Two. And now Katla, a neighbour in the Katla Geopark, has erupted – causing an earthquake 6.4 on the Richter scale, which created shockwaves that reached the north of England. Since late on Saturday night vast amounts of toxic material have been thrown up into the jet-stream, where it is causing a major hazard to aircraft. Aeronautical engineer, Helen Macdonald said: ‘When ash is sucked into a jet engine, it is heated to such a high temperature it turns into molten glass. When it reaches the back of the engine, it cools, solidifies on the turbine blades, jamming the engine and causing the plane to plunge out of the sky.’ Vulcanologist, Sten Olafsson, said: ‘This has been a long time coming. The last time Katla erupted was in 1918. It threw up five times as much ash as Eyjafjallajökull and extended Iceland’s south-coast by three miles. The glacial melt released was similar in volume to the Amazon river. There was major destruction, although amazingly no one was killed that time. Unlike when Laki went up in 1783. That explosion killed a fifth of Iceland’s population, and created an ash cloud that covered the northern hemisphere for months, reducing temperatures to three degrees. Winds brought tonnes of lethal sulphur dioxide and sulphuric acid to your Britain, where an estimated 23,000 people died from poisoning and extreme cold. The poisonous ash created a fog that closed ports. The sun turned the colour of blood. Crops and farmworkers died in the fields. Some believe it triggered the French revolution.’ Europe’s travel systems are in meltdown as millions of travellers attempt to get to their destinations by other means. Train stations are experiencing chaos and major roads are gridlocked. Jeremiad Hopkins, controversial social media ‘influencer’ tweeted: “We are finally paying the price for the cholesterol of capitalism. The blood clots of a corrupt system. Europe’s infrastructure is having deep vein thrombosis.” Leader of the GB-Homefront party, Roger Fandango, said: ‘This is exactly why we need to get out of Europe. If we go down, we go down with them.’

Chapter 1: Meltdown

The young man on the Ducati motorcycle filtered through the gridlocked traffic. Eddy Redcrow had been riding all night. From Italy, through Switzerland, and now, at first light, into Germany. He’d travelled further down any of these poor souls would for some time, but with the endless jams he hadn’t been able to get up to speed and had barely covered three hundred and sixty miles in twelve hours. Yet, slowly, he was making progress. Up ahead, the traffic message boards weren’t boding well. Serious delays ahead. What, worse than this? Time to find another route.

Looking down, he checked updates on his satnav. His phone was playing up; the signal fracturing. He gave it a frustrated tap. No good. On a whim he turned off the autobahn as soon as he could – a junction to somewhere obscure – and pulled over on the slip road. He flipped up his tinted visor – showing fierce blue eyes, an angry brow, red skin. A ponytail of long black hair poked out from the base of his lid like dark tail-feathers. His appearance seemed apt for his name, so his friends joked. He pulled out the atlas from his tankbag and followed his intended route with his finger, from Pisa to Calais: fourteen hours, fourteen hundred clicks. He spotted a straight-ish country road, going north-by-north west, and nodded. Looked promising. He was tired and rubbed his eyes. He would need some coffee soon. The new day was about to start, though you would barely tell it.

The sky was dark again. Traffic jams stretched into the smoggy distance of the autobahn – an endless stream of red and white lights. Nothing was moving. As dawn broke over the land to a chorus of car-horns and road-rage, it could have been a scene from an apocalyptic movie.

Tired of the babble of rolling news, which seemed to be stuck on a Moebius loop of clueless politicians, failing to quell the rising panic, vox pops and punditry – Eddy Redcrow changed from radio tuner to music – selecting shuffle and revved the bike into action as a blistering rock track kicked in. He felt the tension of the autobahn melt away as he accelerated to a hundred along a blissfully empty country road. He would use his own navigational skills (‘your blood’s sat-nav’, Grandpa Running Bear called it) to cross this benighted land.

As he lost himself in the rhythm of the ride and the hard chords of the rock music, his mind flipped back to Pisa.

‘What do you mean, it’s over?’

Eddy held his arms out in disbelief. He wore a faded AC-DC t-shirt, Levis and shades. His girlfriend, a light summer dress which revealed more than it concealed. They had parked up in a view of the famous leaning tower. Tourists snapped away around them, the digital cameras making artificial shutter sounds. Despite the early summer crowds, it should have been perfect. The Italian sun caressed them, made everything stand out like a Surrealist painting. Their body language was a tableau, classic ‘arguing couple’.

‘I can’t go on, Edward.’

She always used the formal version of his name when she was upset. He hated it. He wanted to correct, but gritted his teeth.

‘We’ve only just started the tour! You wait until we’re all the way out here to tell me … this! You know how long it took to save for this trip. How many crummy shifts!’ He let his hands drop, shook his head. ‘I just don’t believe it!’

‘It’s hard to stop you, once you get started. It’s like when you ride that damned bike. I swear you have a death wish.’

‘Ah, that’s the real problem here. You hate the wheels. But you knew the deal. You chose to go out with a biker, for crissakes! When I suggested a bike tour of Europe, you leapt at the idea.’

‘I know. It sounded totally wild. But I didn’t realise it would … take so long to get around. And we’d have to wear all that gear. Uh. And hardly take any luggage. My butt aches after being on that thing all day.’

‘You seemed to like it at first – enjoying the views. It was a buzz, you said.’

‘Yes, we saw Naples; nearly died. But the thrill has … worn off. I want to travel in style and … comfort.’

‘Listen to you – you sound like someone whose retired! I thought you wanted some rock ‘n’ roll?’

‘Sure. But I like to change the station as well. That rock is deafening – after a while, it all sounds the same. Planet Rock, pluh– lease. Give me a break!’

Eddy looked over the glittering waters, scanning it for some meaning in all of this. ‘I thought you were different. Not just another Lake girl. You were so spontaneous. Now I see you just wanted a bit of excitement – to liven up your life.’

‘Oh, because it was so dull before you came along! Get real! Some of us grow up, get real jobs, want a real life. Not to keep riding…’

‘What are you getting at?’

A group of Japanese tourists stood watching them, filming it all. Eddy gave them the finger.

‘You can’t keep running forever, Edward.’

He gripped the rail, knuckles whitening.

‘A girl can’t pin her hopes on some … tumbleweed, blowing through life. Maybe one day you’ll realise that.’ She turned on heels and walked off.

Eddy watched her go.

Numb, he walked absentmindedly until he ended up by the bay. The black holes of his shades mirrored the beautiful vista. The seagulls harsh call seemed to mock him. Letting out a roar, he kicked the spare helmet onto the beach, to the alarm of Italian sunbathers who gesticulated their annoyance with verve. Sighing, he went to collect it. He picked it up, dusted it down, and walked along the beach, scanning the breakers. Their boom and hiss said it all.

The Ducati roared along the straight country road – an old Roman road, surely, Eddy pondered –  the needle pushing a ton. The rock track reached its feedback crescendo as he shot over some train tracks just before the barriers came down. A train rumbled past as he sped ahead. Suddenly, beneath a line of poplars he spotted a figure. A woman, with her thumb out.  As he approached he slowed down a little. She had a good figure. A very good figure accentuated by tight jeans, high boots and a leather jacket unzipped to reveal a figure hugging top. Designer shades. Spiky ash-blonde hair.

Eddy dropped gears and tugged on his front brake, sending the bike into a semi-circular skid, leaving a crescent of burning rubber. He rumbled to a stop, just a few yards passed the crossroads. He turned to look back, as she flicked away a cigarette, picking up a small bag, which she slung over her shoulder and walked towards him. ‘Walked’ doesn’t do it justice – the movement her lower body seemed to make, independent of the upper half. He took off his helmet and found himself beaming. ‘Want a lift?’

‘Sure,’ she said, with a faint Nordic accent, lifting up her shades, revealing eyes the colour of glacier melt. ‘Nice bike.’

‘Wish it were mine.’

The woman looked at him steadily.

‘Not that. Hired, for the grand tour that never was.’ He shrugged. ‘Where you heading?’ He was mesmerised by her face – and the rest of her he tried not to think about.

‘To the coast. I need to get to Britain.’

‘You’re in luck. So do I. I hear they’re still letting flights out of Aberdeen. Hop on.’

She appraised him and the bike coolly. ‘Can I trust you – on this?’

‘Lady, I’ve been riding bikes since I was a boy. Have a hog, but I wanted to check out a European bike. Belong to a gang back home.’ He anticipated her response. ‘No patches –  just for kicks. But you’re safer with me than some of the clowns on the road.’

‘I have your word of honour?’

Eddy laughed. ‘Not a word you hear very often these days, but, of course.’ He placed his hand on his heart. ‘By the code of the Runestone Cowboys – share the road, but not your woman!’

She took his hand and held it very firmly, nails white as teeth. ‘A man who does not live with honour is no man at all.’

‘Phew, I bet you’re one helluva ball-breaker when you wanna be, huh?’ He got off and unlocked the tail box. ‘Here, you’ll need this.’ He handed her the spare helmet, shaking out the remains of the sand.

She laughed, showing bright teeth.

‘Eddy Redcrow.’

‘Pleasure. I’m Fenja … Bergrisar.’

‘Pardon, mam?’

‘It’s an old name. Fenja with a ‘j’ but you pronounce it with a ‘y’.’ Eddy looked confused. ‘You can call me Fen if you like.’

‘Whereabouts you from, Fen?’ asked Eddy.

‘Guess.’

‘Somewhere Scandinavian, clearly..?’

She shook her head.

‘Mm, Icelandic?’

She smiled inscrutably. Nodded. ‘That’ll do.’

‘Icelandic? Cool. Can you go tell your freakin’ volcano – enough already!’

Fenja looked puzzled at this.

‘Never mind.’ There was an awkward pause. ‘Now you’re meant to say: And you?’

‘And you?’

‘Gee, thanks for asking. Well, a butt-hole called Gimli, Manitoba. New Iceland, they call it – lot of puffin-eaters. Sorry, that’s what we call your fellow countrymen – you might feel at home there!’

He watched the woman struggle with the helmet. ‘Here, let me show you…’ The strap clicked into place. He adjusted it so it sat true. Fenja said something, muffled. Laughing, he flipped the visor up. She gasped.

‘Is it meant to feel like you can’t breath?’

‘You’ll get used to it.’

‘It smells of … another woman.’

‘A long story. Listen, I don’t know about you but I’m dying for a coffee. Shall we find somewhere for breakfast? We can talk more then?’

Fenja scried him with piercing pale grey eyes. ‘Okay.’

‘Ridden a bike before?’

She smiled innocently.

‘Sit still, don’t lean. No funny hand signals. Hold on.’

Eddy mounted the bike, sitting between her thighs, which felt hot – even through his leathers.

Fenja placed her arms around him.

Smiling, he flicked his visor down and fired the 1200 into life.

It growled down the lane, leaving a tail of dust.

A new track kicked in.

***

Thunder Road – coming soon

Extract from Thunder Road copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

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A GROWL OF THUNDER

Thunder Road: Prologue (part 1)

Earth shall be riven
and the over-heaven.
11th century Skarpåker Stone, Sweden

The sky was a slaughterhouse. The ice-crowned crater dominated the tortured landscape, smoke broiling from its broken temple like dark, troubled thoughts. From treacherous fissures steam swirled, reeking and scolding. At the threshold of a lava tunnel stood the crone, wreathed in scorched rags. A gnarled hand wrapped around a warped staff as though carved from the same piece of storm-blasted wood. Eyes blinked open, white and sightless, yet sensing something beyond the spectrum of human vision. Beyond the howling of the wind subtle ears picked up a different sound. The old woman tilted her head – iron-grey plaits stretching to her shrivelled thighs restless in the biting gale – and smiled a black-toothed smile.
            In the distance, a growl of thunder, growing louder. Then, out of the blackness, a beam swept across the broken land. At the foot of the mountain, where the dirt trail ended, the bikes converged. One among them got off and ascended – his large figure picked up in the headlights which helped to light his way – casting a giant shadow before him.
            The crone waited for him to climb to her.
            Finally, he was before her – a giant of man, clad in rank leathers. A leather eye patch, decorated with a grinning silver skull, covered one side of his face. His long white beard was whipped by the wind. From beneath his cut, bristling with studs, he pulled a fistful of glittering treasure and flung it at the crone’s feet.
            ‘Witch, give me a vision!’ he roared, his voice carrying over the storm.

‘No sweet words? Once you tasted of my spring and I gave you a gift of the Futhark.’

‘And I lost my eye as a result!’
            ‘Nothing is without cost, Bolverk One Eye. Kneel!’
            Slowly, he knelt before her – not taking his one good eye from her, its cold orb a sun of fierce ice.

She placed her claw-like hands over his head, fingernails digging beneath his leather eye- patch into the ruined socket. ‘An eye for an eye…’
            One Eye tensed, but did not recoil. He bore the white flashes of pain.

Her white eyes swirled with colour and her form blurred. At times she seemed young, a sparkle of youthful allure and mischief in her eyes; then suddenly, a woman in her prime, powerful and confident; next, in a juddering smear, the crone showed through once more – the skull beneath the skin.

‘Each of us wears many faces, but our soul remains the same. Do not forget who you truly are, Bolverk One Eye, even if the world does. Your name will be chanted at the end of days.’
            Swaying, wailing, and frothing at the mouth, the hag-mother-maiden started to recite his many names.
            Each one was a chisel and mallet to the tomb he had made of his life. A hammering, growing louder until a vision exploded into his mind. A vast tree, growing between the worlds. Nine spheres of shadow and mist, flame and frost. Mighty races of gods and giants, monsters and men. A bridge of seven colours stretching across the worlds from a realm of gleaming halls, flowing with mead served by proud swan-maidens. Warriors boasting of their deeds before the throng. Then a dark cloud covering all. The dream shattered by the crowing of three roosters – golden-crowned, red-billed and black. The howling of a monstrous dog. Vast armies marching to war. Cities shattered by terrible battles.

‘Aarghh!’ he cried.

Her claw dug deeper. Writhing in her skin, the sightless seeress chanted:

‘Behold Ragnarok!

It sates itself on the life-blood
of fated men,
paints red the powers’ homes
with crimson gore.
Black become the sun’s beams
in the summers that follow,
weathers all treacherous—

  She sensed his restlessness. ‘Sorry. Am I boring you?’
           One Eye hissed through gritted teeth: ‘Get on with it, old woman! But speak up! My hearing isn’t what it used to be!’

Grumbling, the crone enunciated her prophecy:

‘Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
sisters’ children
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
whoredom rife
– an axe age, a sword age
– shields are riven –

a wind age, a wolf age –

before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.’

One Eye gritted his teeth as the hellish vision flashes into his mind. Mountains shook, oceans rose … a winter without end … Old enemies awoken … one by one they fall… The Earth split asunder … all was consumed in flames, smoke and steam – until he could bear no more.
            Crying out, One Eye pulled back: ‘Aargghhh!’ He crumpled on to the floor, breathing ragged. From his ruined eye a line of blood trickled down his face. ‘What I have seen … Will it come to pass?’
            The crone looked at him with inscrutable eyes. ‘This is the wyrd of the world. Only a fool would try to prevent it. Even the gods must die. Their end has come.’
            The mountain shook beneath her. From the summit, smoke and ash billowed, crackling with lightning.
            ‘Ragnarok is nigh!’ she cackled. ‘You have slept for too long, Bolverk One Eye. As have I. Time to awaken! Humanity has neglected us for too long! Man has fouled my body; treated me like his thrall; abused my sisters. But no more! It is time for him to pay! To know the wrath of the goddess! Katla awakes!’
            The long-dormant volcano erupted, vaporising the glacier plugging it in a massive fire-cloud, which sent material thousands of feet up into the air. Molten debris rained down upon the the slopes. From deep within the lava tunnel they stood in came a blast of searing heat.

            ‘We’ve got to get out of here!’ One Eye roared.

            ‘Run, Bolverk One Eye! Run as though you wear magical breeches!’

            One Eye dived out of the tunnel just as a river of lava gushed forth from the volcano’s bowels. The old woman was not so fast – or chose not to escape her fate. Her ragged cloak caught alight and she was wreathed in flames.
            Zigzagging down the mountain, boots sliding on the scree, One Eye made for his men. Gobbets of hot ash and cinder fell around him, bouncing off his cut displaying the three interlocking triangles of the Wild Hunt patch.
            The dark riders gunned their engines as their leader leapt on his metal steed – a beast of chrome, snorting fire. Tyres cut black crescents into the fallen ash as they skidded out of the path of the hypercaustic cloud rolling down its flanks. One Eye led them at speed away from the mountain of fire – spewing high into the night sky, a she-wolf raging against the heavens, howling with hate.

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Continue reading…

Thunder Road: Prologue (part 2)

Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring – available soon!

Laying the Dust

The Cove Avebury

The Cove Avebury

9-15 July

Last Tuesday my German friend O visited (a month before she gets hitched to a fellow storyteller) and we went to Avebury to rendezvous with Z, resident of The Lacket – her family home nearby in a ridiculously picturesque National Trust village. If you can imagine a filmset for a movie about fairies intruding on a quaint English hamlet, this would be how it would look … but it’s for real. A line of thatched cottages surrounded by recumbent sarsen stones, Lockeridge Dene feels as though it straddles the worlds between mortals and the Good Folk. In exchange for giving our hostess some feedback on the incredible story she is writing about her and her famous grandmother, who was married to Scott of the Antarctic, we got to stay the night. We shared stories by the fire in the ‘Little Room’ as the living room is known, the shelves and walls steeped in history (rare volumes; memento mori; old photographs of famous friends and relatives).

The Little Room, at the Lacket

The Little Room, at the Lacket

Sipping sherry left over from her father’s funeral and eating some creamy camembert on home-made rye bread, we talked into the wee small hours. Then I staggered out into the night – and nearly ‘drowned’ in the sea of stars above my head – a spectacular star-field, due to the lack of light pollution (or anything from the 20th or 21st century) around. I stumbled my way to the Roundabout – the cute thatched ‘gnome’ house which was to be my bedroom for the night. I felt very privileged to be staying in such a place. Thank you Zzzzz…

Gnome, sweet, gnome - The Roundabout, my bedroom at the Lacket

Gnome, sweet, gnome – The Roundabout, my bedroom at the Lacket

The Lacket

Stars like sarsens

scattered across the sky’s meadow.

A house heavy with bristly thatch,

eaves, a furrowed brow.

Timbered frame riddled with history,

the ghosts of literati,

dubious diplomats,

the Polar extremes of Scott and Peter Pan

(the explorer’s son named

after their friend Barrie’s creation).

A lost father immortalised in the Neverland of ice,

leaving Wendy to run the house.

The garden, a habitat of Tinkerbells,

hedges good enough for a Woolf to jump in.

A cow-licked meadow

of glacial erratics,

a stone circle workshop,

Avebury in utero.

Here, great dreams and fragile visions are born,

eminent Victorians nurtured,

erudite Edwardians pandered,

visiting diplomats indulged.

Ineluctably, at the Lacket,

magic is forged,

protected in a vale of deep peace,

where time takes a hiatus

(wristwatches stop in the middle of the night,

stuck on the Roundabout of dreams).

A funeral sherry is sipped

in the snug of the Little Room,

beneath the sepia gazes of

the famous and familial.

The timbers, spines of rare books,

stained with the centuries of

mercurial repartee, firefly passion, hearts

breaking like an Antarctic ice-shelf,

minds locked into themselves,

imprisoned in the past,

imaginations roaming free.

 

Kevan Manwaring

July 2013

 

The next day, we went for a walk up Cherhill with Kevin, gurned to the camera in front of the Lansdowne monument and white horse, before ending up at the Black Horse for some quaffing.

Cherhill sunset

Cherhill sunset

The next day I accompanied O to Bath, and met up with my Icelandic friend, Svanur (aka, ‘The Viking’ as we affectionately call him), who was passing through town on his way back to his homeland, where he works as a tour guide. The last time I’d seen him was Easter 2012 in Cornwall, so we had alot of catching up to do – which we did over a few beers. His wife, Suzanne, and friends joined us for a pleasant afternoon sat in the beer garden of the Pig and Fiddle. Skol!

The Viking in Bath!

The Viking in Bath!

On Saturday my friend Robin visited and we walked the Wansdyke – even though we set off at 4pm, the heat was still formidable, and it was hard work to get up onto the ridge. Stretching from Bristol to Marlborough, this ancient earthwork is attributed to the Danes, hence its name, Wansdyke, or ‘Woden’s Ditch’, but it might well pre-date this. The fact it links several significant ancient sites – hill-forts, long barrows, and camps – makes it feel more like a processional route than a defensive structure. This is certainly how it feels, walking along it. I remember once on the way to Tan Hill (its highest point, and site of a famous fair) I found a verse and melody popped into my head, something along the lines of ‘I’m on my way to Tan Hill Fair, I hope to find my true love there.’ It seemed to arise out of the rhythm of my progress along the ancient way – the May trees, in full blossom, enhancing the sense this was the sacred route to the Hill of Bel-Tane. Higher up, there was a trace of pleasant coolness, and the going was far easier – it felt like one was a giant striding over the land; that one could go on for miles. Just as well, as we had several to go to our destination – the Barge Inn, Honeystreet, where there was a summer knees-up – and the shadows were lengthening (‘our shadows taller than our souls’). By the time we dropped down into the Vale of Pewsey and made our way along the tow-path to the pub, the sound of revelry guiding us, it was getting dark. We arrived five and half hours after setting out, having walked around 12-3 miles, with detours (navigational haziness; a Roman road that was now a blocked right of way; a vast field with no way out like the one in Ben Wheatley’s new film ‘A Field in England’). We were in need of sustenance – alas, the kitchen had shut. The slender bar-maid failed to inform me there was a BBQ, so I got us some Ford Prefect peanuts and myself, a pint of ‘Croppie’ (de rigeur in Wiltshire’s legendary crop-circle pub, a favourite watering hole for cerealogists, stranded aliens and yokels). These were consumed with ravenous haste. Then I managed to grab the last veggie-burger (minus a bun) and some cake – thus was our West Country repast for the night. Fortunately, the beer was good and the atmosphere pleasant. We sat and watched the bands for a bit – even vaguely dancing at one point, although the swaying might have been more from exhaustion, and being on the state of collapsed. Replete with the fullness of the day, we staggered off to find a place to wild-camp, which we did, nearby in Alton Barnes, by the squat Saxon church – found at the end of a Corpse-path in the middle of a field. Dog-tired, we didn’t notice any ghosts – only something rustling in the undergrowth and the police helicopter overhead, searching for rogue males, no doubt! Nevertheless, it was a peaceful and pleasant night’s sleep – it was so warm, a mat and sleeping bag was all that was needed. I awoke, hearing the first bird break the dawn – before being joined by the feathered choir for the morning’s chorus.

Robin on Adam's Grave

Robin on Adam’s Grave

We arose and walked up to the ridge, stopping at Adam’s Grave, a long barrow, to enjoy the sublime view – the mist burning off in the Vale below. It was only 7am and we had the whole morning before us, a good feeling – and practical, as we avoided the heat of the day. Following a seldom frequented stretch of the Ridgeway, we reached Avebury from the south in a couple of hours, arriving via the Avenue of menhirs (this was about my fourth time walking up it in a month and it was starting to feel like Groundhog Day). We’d run out of water, so replenished our bottles, and I brewed up by the roadside like a tinker. There were no buses back to Calne, alas – so we grabbed some sarnies from the NT cafe, and hoiked ourselves along the road, thumbing up. Drivers looked at us as though we were escaped criminals. Fortunately, at the Beckhampton roundabout an old hitcher on his way back from a car-boot took mercy and gave us a lift up the road – it wasn’t far (7 miles) but boy, were we grateful: my feet were blistered enough by the time we got back. Limbs scratched and dripping sweat, this bardic bod was in a sorry state – but I felt exhilarated too. Our footloose foray had been a success. We freshened up and had some lunch – again, the simplest food can be so satisfying when you have a proper appetite (and not just eating out of habit). I got changed and ready for a tour I was due to lead in Bath – no rest for the bardic! I gave Robin a lift to Chippenham station, then blatted it over to Aquae Sulis, where I met up with a couple of Americans from Maryland, on a whistle-stop tour of English culture spots (Winchester, Stonehenge, Avebury…). Despite being wiped out by my Wansdyke walk and the heat, I think I acquitted myself well. An hour and a half later, I was given a very nice tip and bought a pint of Bell-ringer in the Coer-de-Lion, Bath’s smallest pub – this most certainly needed to lay the dust of the road down, like the pump used to do by the Marden river in Calne. By the time I got back to the Wiltshire town I was not much more than a bardic zombie, shuffling around sore-footed and staring, looking for a take-away.

The following night I went back to Bath for the Storytelling Circle at the Raven, which I used to run. It is now hosted by David Metcalfe, a fellow Fire Spring member. At first, there was only a handful of ‘usual suspects’ there, but it rapidly filled up and there was a good crowd and an entertaining cross-section of offerings. I told the story of The Far-travelled Fiddler from my forth-coming collection of ‘Northamptonshire Folk Tales’ – being published by The History Press – in the week I had received a proof of the gorgeous cover from Katherine Soutar. To see seeds sown in early Spring (when I submitted the manuscript) come to fruition is immensely satisfying, and offers some consolation for my ‘exile’ in one-horse Calne, which the visit of friends and various sortees makes more bearable.

Friends by Cherhill

Friends by Cherhill