Preamble: Neil Gaiman just released his new book Norse Mythology. I am a Gaiman fan, I began consuming it immediately, putting another book on pause to do so. Much like reading Haruki Murakami never fails to capture some hidden sliver of my memory of Japan, Gaiman’s new book puts me back in the space when I first attempted to write a novel in college. It is a cumbersome, broken thing, centered around Norse myth and a modern initiation of Ragnarok. It followed a teen, as I was little more than a teen when I started working on it and was filled with enough world-building and purposed reinvention of myth that even now some small part of me smiles every time I look back at what I tried (and failed) to accomplish.
It is slightly long. It is old. It is not what I would consider well written, but I am feeling nostalgic, and there were several independent stories in the book that were made to flesh out the world. I posting one today. It is the one I like most, mostly for the trolls and their affection for a certain type of feathered deer.
Even the greatest beauties of the world began to fade when you stare at them long enough. I stared at those sky blue mountains for so many years. They were once home to the trolls. Huge, behemoths of gnarled flesh and hateful tongue.
They used to roam freely, small groups wandering the land searching for nothing. They never fed. Never once did I ever see one eat, not even the things they killed. But my how they drank. Anything, as long as it was in quantity. Then a time came where others resorted to hunting them mercilessly, one too many a loved one taken in the dead of night, one too many head of livestock sodomized and tortured over a fire pit. Dozens of them murdered in their packs, left to rot where they died. The smart ones ran to the mountains, hid in its branches. Eventually, those that hunted them stopped, their dominance asserted.
But the trolls were never meant to be contained in such a way. They still wandered, only around the base and the lower reaches of the mountains, the higher altitudes crippled them. Their sheer physical size and comparatively small lung sets made them prone to over-excursion. This would leave them with a great deal of free time.
They would spend it throwing rocks at one another. They would leave gashes deep enough to fit whole digits into, they could found no greater joy than the feeling in mutilation. It was almost a ritual, something to do, something to feel. I never believed that the trolls did anything out of malice. I don’t think such a complicated thought ever occurred to them. It was only their nature to wander from one sensation to another. The who, what, where, I don’t think they ever thought anything of it.
Somewhere in between, they took to raising their nameless feathered companions. One an endless mound of violence and reaction, the other a timid, pristine beauty with legs so agile that its speed matched even my own. The trolls would spend countless hours with one sitting in their lap, stroking their pristine white feathers with their stubby callused hands. I don’t know if they still are. The unspeakable things they use to do when someone wandered into their home. Any creature besides them or their precious deer.
I’ve confronted them before. They were slow, dangerous, but slow. Back when I was young. When no one feared what I was, or what the fates say I would become. I wonder if that is what I am now? It always goes like this. Remembering…At first they, these memories released me. Like the unmistakable air of the deep forest. At first, it’s a blanket, warm, uplifting, you can remember it perfectly. Then as the memory ages, it begins to pull, the once warm embrace becomes a grip tightening around your neck and you begin to choke. The memory becomes a caustic phlegm. Something you’ve had but will never have again. The comfort becomes a sadness and the sadness burns.
Even from here the embers of the night’s fire singe my nose.
Forty meters away from the solitary wolf is an enormous mead hall filled with drunken men and women. The hall is made from massive elven wood, stretching nearly a quarter mile long. It is surrounded with field and forest, the wolf sitting on a small grassy hill that dropped off into staring off the cliff, the hundred yard drop off to a verdant expanse, dozens of miles away, a mountainscape reached for the dual moons hanging over it.
The people wander from around the encampment to the single standing structure. A place of half-worship and overindulgence. Singing the praises of a man whose motivations they will never understand. He stuck the wolf next to where the humans would congregate the most. A message, that even a beast such as him nothing compared to the All-father’s boundless influence. Moonlight does little to hid their open contempt for the wolf.
The mead hall is lit with three large encased fire pits. Each flame performing its dance over the knee-high stone encasement, bright shapes burning from the holes etched in the rock. It allows the fire to breathe, it’s licking heat spitting tiny weightless embers and ashes onto the marble flooring. An unambiguous voice bellows an overpowering, warm laugh from inside. It was his night at the hall, it’s community present in his honor, many his own men. Their last victory was several new moons ago, not that you could tell from the ferocity his people consume and laugh. Dozens of fine wooden cones litter the halls The beast can tell he is going towards the exit, the hell hound’s exceptional ears painting a picture with a greater clarity than even the most outstanding eyes.
The man’s figure is over twice that of those in his company. His white linen shirt stained with drunkenness, a pale leather vest hanging off his shoulders like scraps of meat. his pants a mix of black wool and linen, suspiciously clean. He will leave them to their merriment, leaving with two full cones of mead. He has had his fill of them for the night. The morning with come soon, if he has learned anything in his times with them it is that human are much less tolerable sober.
The giant figure stumbles beside the wolf. He is one of the few who acknowledges the beast out here, also one of the fewer who come within even a fraction of his size. One has much to do of the other.
The red-haired man offers the stranded an offering of the halls refreshment.
Silently the wolf takes the cone between his teeth, tilting his head forward the liquid slips from his tongue, down his throat, and warming his stomach. Contended, the beast bites down on the glass, shattering the wood, small splinters digging into his teeth. It tears up his gums, a dog with a bone, he is concerned only with the tastes and the memories they hold.
“How’s it going mutt?”
“The moons shine well,” the wolf growls, biting down again on the coppice urn. “It makes me restless.”
“You’ve got to relax, pup. Life is still in you, that is more than enough to celebrate.”
“Say the same when your world is four steps long.” he chews again. Would you even call it a life?”
“Life is the air you breathe, not the actions you take.” The half-giant leans against the grass.
“You would deny one the right to move and tell them they are made of luck?”
“When the battlefield takes an arm feel blessed you have a spare.” The man belches in silence.
“Are you suggesting that there is another life I am capable of living through? That there is some body I may snatch so that I may run these fields, feel the wind in my fur?” he swallows the whole of the cone. “There is no beauty here.”
“You are not dead. There is much life within you. You are bound because he fears you. God willing, that will fade in time.”
“I am bound because you and the others are liars.”
“And you were prideful.”
“If pride were a blade, no one of us would be standing.” He growls, an irritated sigh sending the warm air from his nose into the cool evening grass. “I am through arguing this with you.”
“Good, it is much too pleasant of an evening to bicker.”
Something inside of the hound awakens staring at the sight of those two porcelain moons. He howls the voice coming without hint, or warning, but taking all of himself with it. The song is serine, loud. A song filled with sadness, neglect, broken pride, and a quiet hope. A sorrowful lament of a creature damned by time and the forces it controls.
“Such an evening it is.” the wolf responds, the howl fading to a low whimper before travelling weakly into unreachable world. He sets his head onto the cool grass.
They listen to the wind and the world passing by around them.
“Why do you think he chose the humans?” the chained beast asks suddenly.
The giant pauses for a moment and watches the passing men, dressed in their furs, all wading various depths of the drink. He groans to himself, carrying the note deep in his gut.
“They are the perfect followers. As individuals they can be thoughtful, selfless, dangerous even. But together, they are mindless, violent, and steadfast. Do what they are told, with only the most minimum of promises.”
“They are heavy handed and loud. No measurement of them should be in our halls or gardens.”
With a boisterous laugh a drunken figure pours from the door, a woman wrapped around his arm, his hand firmly placed on her breast. The man’s face radiates intoxications, while the woman’s head turns towards away from the peering darkness, her beautiful face sullen and ashamed.
“You are well within the right to hate them,” says the half-bred giant. “They are insatiable in their lust and their fortune.
The leashed animal and his guest watch as the man stumbles further from the hall, forcing his tongue down his attaché’s throat while his arm digs beneath the front of her blue dyed leather robe.
“They do not like them?”
“Who? The ladies of death? It is their place. When they are not on the field their purpose is here.”
“They fight alongside them and then are forced to bed them without any say in the matter.”
They continue to watch as the man begins to grope his way across the woman in the dark, his hands slowly treading downward.
“A man distracted, cannot be expected to battle well. A man has needs, you know that wolf.”
“Than like me, they can use their tongues.”
“Neither they nor I are as agile as that.”
“Then one’s own hands can provide the same services. at least those are willing.”
“They are women. One cannot improve upon their perfection. One could be expected to settle for nothing less when it is available.”
“They are warriors, same as those bags of flesh, yet their duty is doubled? Would you defend me if I were to take myself upon one of your men in a moment of need?”
“You confuse the will of a man with that of a woman.”
“Are they so different?”
“Oh, to be young, wolf.”
“Do not patronize me!” barks the beast.
The snarl in his voice causes a few of the passing men– some with women, others in their own groups– all momentarily off put by the guttural bellow, except for the one groping lustfully in the dark of the hall in front of them.
“I am simply stating,” says the half-giant. “Women do not perceive the same the same as men do. When left to their own way, they become confused, they know not what to do with their hands. A man is there to lead them and tell them what to do with their hands.”
The man now has the woman against the side of the mead hall, his hand pulling up her clothing, bracing her inner thigh while burying his lips in her neck. The woman crooned forcibly in his ears, her eyes still distant, elsewhere. She strokes his lap rigidly, her obligation.
“They’re ridden of the burden of choice because they are not smart enough to do so on their own?”
“They feel, but they do not think.”
“Have you seen them fight?”
“And they fight well, for women.”
“The ladies fight in dozens, while the ones they service fight in hundreds, and still wade in deeper blood.”
“They are human, they cannot be compared to the us.”
“Nor can the valkyrja, they are from an entirely different world, similar enough to exist among us. Though not before your father dismantled their mother culture.”
“I am neither speaking of my father nor of his actions and the intentions behind them. All I mean to say is that in all my time I have yet to find a woman with which I can converse on equal terms.”
“Perhaps they simply don’t wish to fall that great a distance to reach your ears.”
There is a silence between them. They watch as the man undoes his pants and enters inside the maiden. She groans lightly, while he huffs and puffs into her ear, feverishly thrusting, pinning her between his force and the cool wooden frame of the hall. A malnourished urge twinges in the hellwolf’s loins.
“Perhaps you are right,” admits the giant. “I will speak not of the morality of their plight, simply that they are of unnatural beauty and are a master of all the deeds they are told to do.”
“You have used them?”
“Used? You speak them being treated unfairly yet accuse me of using them like I lay with them as I do many maidens, it is not such an ugly thing as being used. I would say they enjoyed it as well as I did.”
“A living creature, regardless of its potential, when torn from its own will is only capable of being used.”
“And what happens when they don’t get used? What happens when they are bound to earth without purpose? Day, after day, after day.”
“Do not presume because you sit beside me that I am beyond tearing off the flesh stuck so weakly to your face.”
“I am making a point, wolf.
“They lived their lives before we found them, I would bet the bodies of your men they still have the abilities.”
The drunken mating continues, the two bodies pinned together, the thrusts becoming shorter and more violent. The man’s breathing raised to a percussive heave.
“They most certainly did. Where you aware of what it was they were doing when we found them?”
The wolf shoots him a glare.
“Ah, of course not. Anyway, When my father found them they were the personal military and consorts for the world’s king, I forget his name. We had began the raid of his castle that morning, and has spent hours assaulting the various gates he has set up. They were a sight to behold, I doubt I will ever see anything as strange as those again.”
“He is no doubt knowledgeable of our presence, with a pile of bodies large enough we might as well have built a bridge in the sky to get to him. Just the same, when we entered his chambers we were expecting conflict. Instead, we found every last one of those girls waiting in line for the old hog’s blade. He had bedded something near eighteen of them while his kingdom crumbled around him. They did not fight us, they only begged us to let them continue their duty.”
“His end was near,”
“If I were to die, I can think of no better way to do so.”
“Aye to that. What I am saying is they are creatures of sex and blood. They get both. Their world can be no worse than that of the other.”
“They went from defending and loving their king, to killing the enemies of your father and bedding creatures of which you and I cannot can scarcely stand.”
The drunken man lets out a long desperate squeal, his seed spilling into the woman. The warmth sending a spasm between her thighs.
The giants sits up, a forced causality to him. Making his way to his feet, the wolf begins to stand onto his front legs to meet him before thinking better of it a moment later and descending back into the grass.
“All of this speak of women has my blood pumping. I think I will go show these humans how a god makes his presence felt.”
“Such a title is not meant for things like us.”
“Their words, not mine.”
“Then leave them where they lie.”
“Goodnight, pup.” says the giant.