Chapter (Kapittel) 1/2;
«Not again», Gorm sighed as he examined yet another mangled carcass. This was the fourth sheep from his flock he had found dead in as many weeks – literally ripped apart. The town elders had told him it was because of the sickness that had riddled the town. But Gorm was convinced that the elders were mistaken. «The black death doesn’t cause this kind of bloodshed”, Gorm thought to himself.
Gorm was a shepherd, he had seen about 40 harsh winters come and go. A quiet man, he kept mostly to himself after the black death had claimed his wife and two children. Hel, the goddess of death, had appeared herself as an black hooded, old woman and taken Estrid, and the children – daughter Tora and son Skarde.
He spends most of his time following his flock in the forest and mountains around Ravenhall. His green, tattered wool robe hangs heavy on him, soaked in the freezing autumn rain, and his heavy leather boots desperately tries to find foothold on the slippery, jagged rocks. Estrid had made them for him before she passed – they were uncomfortable, and often made his feet swell and blister. But they reminded him of her, and the pain eased his everlasting grief.
Ravenhall had been his home all his life, a small village barely hanging on – clawing out a little patch of land at the foot of the vast Jotun mountain range. It used to be a prosperous village – a few thousand people, good crops and livestock and a lot of trade with travellers passing through. But for years – the sickness, the plague, the black death – had almost decimated the village. There were only a few hundred of them left now, huddled together in a couple of the remaining longhouses, with only molded grains and leather-like mutton to eat. “Safety in numbers” the elders had proclaimed, and everyone was too scared to say anything else.
Gorm didn’t like the elders – “old, inbred men that believed in fairy tales”, he often muttered to himself. They often preached the legends of Hrungnir, a giant jötunn that was said to live somewhere in the nearby mountains. Hrungnir had a head, heart and shield of stone, carried a massive whetstone as a weapon and riding his horse Gullfaxi. Known to disrespect the gods, especially Thor, he frequently did battle with them.
One known tale the elders often spoke of was his wager with Odin, where Odin staked his head on his horse, Sleipnir, being faster than Hrungnirs steed, Gullfaxi. During the race, which Sleipnir wins, Hrungnir enters Asgard, the fortified home of the gods, and there becomes drunk and abusive. After they grow weary of him, the gods call on the god Thor to battle Hrungnir. According to the legend, he is slain by Thors hammer Mjölnir. Though the elders doesn’t believe he was killed, and is wreaking havoc deep inside the mountain range.
Gorm had always dismissed the eldersd rantings as tales for the children so they would behave, eat their food and go to bed at bedtime. However, during the past few weeks the bedrock of his belief had startet to crack and splinter. The sheep he had found had clearly been killed by some sort of animal, and not the sickness. He suspected both bears and wolves, but he hadn’t seen any tracks from either beast.
The freezing rain wasn’t showing any signs of letting up, dusk was rapidly getting closer. He found some shelter from the rain under a couple of massive spruce trees and made fire with his flint stones. The quiet bleating of the sheep and the heavy raindrops from the dark skies were the only sounds. Even though this was something Gorm had done for many years, it still had sort of an eerie atmosphere as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. The heavy clouds blocked out the moon, making it an extra dark and gloomy night.
After having eaten his stale bread and old, dried out mutton, Gorm drifted off to sleep. Being lulled to sleep by the bleating from his sheep that stayed close, enjoying the warmth of the fire. A few hours later he was suddenly awakened by massive cracking sounds. As he was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he thought he could see huge trees bending and cracking as twigs. The sheep had gone quiet – scared stiff, as if they knew what was coming.
To be safe, Gorm picks up his iron axe from his pack. He lifts one of the burning logs from the fire as a makeshift torch, but all he can see is…. nothing. The darkness is starting to feel like walls, closing in on him as the cracking sounds draws nearer.
Then…. there!! He is able to discern the sounds. Besides the cracking of the trees, it sounds like….it can’t be…. footsteps. Massive footsteps, the ground shakes for each step this being takes towards Gorm. His flock of sheep has all but vanished, scattered in all directions. All but one, that has his hind leg stuck in a small fracture of the jagged rocks. The giant jötunn slowly becomes visible for Gorm, a massive grey behemoth. Since Hrungnir is mostly made of stone, he blends in with the backdrop of the giant Jotun mountains ever stretching towards the heavens. He’s covered in moss and small trees that somehow has been able to plant their roots in the small cracks of Hrungnirs head and body. Due to the gut wrenching screams from the sheep, the jötunn doesn’t notice Gorm and picks up the animal with his moss covered hand. The cracking of skull and bone can be heard, almost for miles, as he bites the sheep. The forest goes silent, and Gorm – now covered in the sheeps blood and guts, is as frozen in ice while the monster eats.
The silence is suddenly broken by crackling from the fire, and Hrungnir spots the bloody Gorm. Hungry for his second course, the jötunn lowers his hand as to try to grab him, but Gorm narrowly escapes and runs into the forest – not noticing running towards the lights from Ravenhall. By every other step he takes, he slips and falls on the rocks, making the escape bloody and painful.
Hrungnir follows, not wanting to miss the sweet taste of humans….
To be continued….