No voice calls out between the scrawny pines. They only creak and groan under ages old snows; roots grasping for grip over icy stones. No, only the whisper of the north wind calls to my ears; its voice bitter, biting.Closer.
I peer between the frozen trunks, searching the brooding forest. I might in vain search for tracks, his presence grows; a looming weight in my heart. Nothing stirs in the gloom save the creak of rotting branches and the soft crunch of snow underfoot.Closer.
Still he lures me on, his chuckle a deep tremor underfoot. I tremble at every echo, and every shadow seems to be his skulking guise.
“Where are you?” I call out, sick of his taunts. My voice echoes between the twisted trees, spitting my words back.
Where are you?
Anger leaps through my veins as wildfire.
A deep rumbling; the very noise of landslide, shakes the ground beneath me before slipping into frozen silence.I make out the chuckle, a throaty growl, more beast than man. More of a monster, capable of a mockery of human speech.
Black clouds brew overhead. Thick and fast, darkening the sky. The world howls with all the bite of winter; three long years of it. Purpose guides me, my heart warm against the storm. Courage, my watchword.
The trees grow thicker. Roots snake about the ground, snatching at my feet. Wide branches reach to prick me with their thorns. The pines roar on the heights. White wisps of snow haunt the marches and clog the desolate fens. Still I search; still I am beckoned closer, forever closer. The calling of fate relentless.
I run forward, towards his voice, right for where the trees are thickest. I push through, branches scraping at my face, roots tangling around my knees. My breath steams out into the frigid air. The trees think I come to wake the slumbering beast, but a blade does not wake a monster. My fingers weave their way across the hilt of my sword, the steel cold to the touch, the gleam of its edge enough to ward all that might oppose me.
A white plain stretches to the mountains all around, and far away.
The giant wolf murmurs, the ground shaking softly with enough force to rattle my bones.
“You are in the ground?”
The very ice rumbles, creaking under the strain of the being it blankets; steadily rising after centuries slumber. With a crack, it breaks, the weight of the ice buckling under his strength. Deep fissures race through the ground, revealing an ominous, gaping maw.
Come, that I might greet my slayer.
The wolf pronounces to the creaks and moans of Gleipnir, his strength waning, calling me forwards.
Gleipnir, the slender band! Oh, the gods did fear me, so brave Tyr stood tall in deception. What a warrior! That he would play the fiend, chief of tricks to see if I would bite his hand that fed.
His words ring mockery inside my head as I tread downward, the walls of ice blocking out the roaring wind.
So brave, so strong, that when worthy match was made, he chose to turn tail. Man is brave, brave enough when all strength is his, but when you sense the hint of death, all manner of trickery is game.
I thrust his words out of my head; how apt that one with such ancestry as his should talk of tricks.
Brave Tyr, God of War would not fight a pup. So without sword, he leashed me instead. Pinned me, stabbed me; bravely ran away till Ragnarok come claim us all.
He does not need to recite the verse, I know the lays already.
“Face me beast,” I call into the darkness, my sword singing in my hand.
Oh, so you have found your voice child?
The ground moans, shakes and buckles. A giant snout, a wall of a muzzle, a blazing sun of an eye, emerges from the dark.
“Now, you have taken your revenge. It is time for me to do the same,” I pronounce, raising my blade in hand, stepping forward.
Silence boy. I have lain here, underneath the world, buried so deep that I could even nibble the roots of Yggdrasil. I have had all eternity to listen to the whisperings of time. My anger is dulled. My fury as cold as the ice.
His words disarm me, staying my blade, inches from his open jaws. One thrust. One stab. One movement. Then it would be done, without even a drop of my blood.
“Why should I take your words as truth?”
Oh, how can anyone take anyone’s words as truth? I have a terrible ancestry, I know, and I won’t try to deny or defend it. All that remains is that you make your decision. Do you trust me, or do you trust your blade?
A master of words, from a wolf no less. What tutelage did the gods give him before the fateful words were pronounced thus?
“You killed Odin.”
Where then is the body?
“You smote his body to shreds.”
Did you inspect the pieces?
“Enough! No riddles, no wordplay. Else I’ll cut your tongue.”
What good that will do?
He glares at me, deliberately tapping the tip of my sword with his tongue. No words come from his mouth, but his mockery still continues.
“Why do you taunt me so?”
A good question, your first yet. I shall explain. Come; sit by my eye so that I might see you better.
I hesitantly oblige.
Good, good. Now, where to begin? Imagine, my brave slayer, imagine that you have been tricked of your freedom for all time. Imagine that in your fury, you bit the hand of the friend you once trusted, knowing that he was the chief deceiver. Now, Imagine that you have all the centuries, all eons tethered to the one spot. What desire stands the test of time?
“I said no more riddles.”
Is it a riddle? Should it be so when I ask you to think? My dear slayer; words do nothing when stated flatly. To make you understand, I must not tell you, but show you myself.
No, I am done. You must answer my question. What desire stands the test of time?
“How should I know?”
I don’t ask you to figure it out now. Time is something I have in ample supply, patience as well.
“This is idle prattle, the fates wrote our battle, and so it shall be,” I spit. I am done entreating with the spawn of the trickster.
I? The trickster? No, your stupidity amuses me, you only can see as far as your sword. The fates would write so, and you would be their lackey?
“Their word is the way of things,” I state flatly, blade ready once more.
This conversation of ours was not fated, yet is still has happened. I know enough of the Norn’s weaving; Odin the wise heeded their writings, and thus willingly set up his own end. But would I kill the one who raised me? If he hadn’t believed their lies, this would not be.
“The fates do not lie, they cannot lie. They are irrevocable. Which only leaves you,” I press again, raising my sword, placing it between me and his looming eye.
Oh me, the liar? I might be the unfortunate spawn of the trickster, but I am a wolf, and no liar. Only man lies. Maybe if they didn’t betray me so, then what is said to pass might never pass.
He pauses to let loose a puff of great steaming breath from his muzzle; causing the ice above him to melt, showering down upon us. His eyes soften, his tone growing longing, melancholy.
The fates, are nothing but three old hags. They weave one thing, but they forget how we always can choose. What desire stands the test of time? It is not anger. That is a flame that burns hot and fierce, but snuffs itself out quickly with vigour. No, my desire is simple. I long for the love of the hall, the warmth of the hearth and the companionship of my fellows. I wish no harm for Odin, I only wish to forgive him.
“It’s been three years without summer,” I warn, fortifying myself against his sudden turn of sentiment. “The Fimbulwinter grips the land. Odin rode out for battle, and has not returned.”
Can you see past your sword child? Does that blade in your hand make you feel more of a man?
He tilts his head towards me, a wolfish grin creeping across his muzzle.
Power is a delicate thing; it manifests itself subtly, in ways far sharper than your blade. Why do I question you standing there with your blade? Because you hold the power here. But who gave you that power, and why? A blind warrior is not one at all, and you blind yourself child. Question those who have the power. Why do they exercise it thus, what is their intent?
“I think you’re stalling for time,” I warn, moving closer.
I’ve had plenty of time. It’s nothing precious to me. Just think of my words boy, whatever you decide.