“An omnipresent unreality,” was the way Garr described Elsa’s funeral, and indeed there were like opinions from all who witnessed the event. The horizon was almost nonexistent as the midnight sun played its tricks with haze and light, and an exceptional calm beset the ordinarily turbulent Greydeep until it bore the likeness of stained glass swirled with hues of pink, violet and grey. Adding to the mystical quality of the event, was the way Elsa’s water-borne bier floated inexorably toward the waiting sun seemingly of its own volition, the perfectly duplicated reflection trailing obediently along. Though there was only the utmost ethereal tranquility, the emblazoned sail billowed full, no doubt, with pride for its ward. This was befitting magic for a wife and mother who measured her worldly pleasures in the degree of happiness she could bring to others, unfailing such resolve even to her death. As the longship took Elsa Guntarkvinne lovingly from their sight into the eternal horizon, the placid breath of silence whispered…. “Goodbye.”
Ilsa eventually went to bed that night and beckoned Garr to do the same. Garr lied that he would be along shortly but instead kept a silent vigil long into the night and finally was overcome by weariness and slept until late the next morning.
Huldred was shaking Garr awake as the sun almost blinded him. He then became aware of the aroma of cooking meat and realized for the first time that he had not eaten in two days. Nothing had ever smelled so tantalizing, he thought, as he began to salivate. “By the gods!” he said, “I am famished.” He stood and stretched; noticing sore muscles for the first time, and was surprised to hear Huldred’s reply.
“Yes we are all a bit more hungry than is to our liking, I’m sorry to tell you that the trulls left us scant larder. What little they didn’t devour or plunder, they spoiled. It was providence alone that kept the filth from discovering my root cellar. We have roots, taters and dried beans aplenty, also some oats and barley for gruel but naught more palatable than that I fear.”
This befuddled Garr completely for he was sure of his sense of smell. “But, Huldred,” he protested, “I distinctly smell meat cooking. Indeed, I can almost taste it. Surely, you too must sm…..’ He stopped in mid-sentence as Huldred looked away from him, downcast eyes betraying obvious embarrassment, something Garr had always assumed was omitted from her repertoire of emotions. Garr turned to locate the direction from which the aroma emanated but his field of vision was restricted by the charred remains of the village. He followed the scent out into the village’s single wide thoroughfare and what he saw made him shrink in shame and disgust. Tykk and Helmut were engaged in the unenviable chore of collecting Josdahl’s dead and heaping them on an enormous common pyre in the center of the village. His appetite thoroughly obliterated, Garr hid his flushed face in his hands and wept for shame as he fell to his knees. This, he thought, had to be the crowning irony to wipe clean his slate of emotions and yet he felt this hurt more profoundly than seemed possible. He wondered when the tests of his endurance would end.
As if she read his thoughts, Huldred said, “It is only just beginning, my boy. It was an innocent mistake. One assumes that human meat must stink and it is natural to be appalled when you discover that it just isn’t so. Nevertheless, you cannot afford to let such a revelation take an emotional toll on you. You must, I fear, dress your weaknesses in armor until such a time as you can afford them. Much lies ahead.”
Garr was solaced and reprimanded in one breath. Could no tragedy dampen Huldred’s laconic art of expression? Huldred wasted nothing; least of all, words. As he stood, shaking off his shame to adopt a more staunch demeanor, Huldred said, “Did you ponder friendships as you were instructed?”
“Yes, I did.”
Huldred rolled her yellowed eyes and exhaled in a wheeze that signified exasperation.
Not wanting to arouse her ire Garr stumbled for an answer and finally blurted, “Well, I learned that one doesn’t need a lot of friends, just good ones. At first I was a little troubled but Tykk helped me to realize that I am much luckier with the few friends I do have than a man with many acquaintances but no true friends. I guess it is more important how well trusted one is than how well liked.”
“Good,” said Huldred. “Doff is searching for any stores the trulls may have overlooked. Help him and then search for the horses. Many escaped to the hills when those blundering bugs-arses broke down the stables. When these things are done, I want to see everyone in the hall. Go now.”
Garr found Dolf and the two decided to search for the horses while the daylight lasted and look for stores later. Both were surprised at the ease with which the roundup was accomplished once they located the first two horses. The last group of horses was located in a small orchard about half a mile from Bjarni Knuttsen’s house and all were gorged fat on apples. Garr was relieved to find his piebald stallion, Baldur, in this group. Dolf had recovered his mare, Freyja, earlier in the day and Garr was becoming increasingly concerned for the fate of Baldur.
When they returned to the village, Tykk and Helmut were finishing up their grisly detail and helped in the search for stores once the horses were all secured. The first order of business in this search, Tykk suggested, was to find a cart that had not been too badly damaged. They found a cart that, somehow during the melee, had gotten half submerged in the brackish waters where the Heldig River flowed into the Greydeep. Besides being soaking wet, the mid-sized cart was otherwise in perfect condition. After hauling the cart out of the water (because they were unsuccessful at coaxing the chubby pony, Mushpot, into the water) they harnessed up and started the grimy task of sifting through the ashes and searching for cellar hatches that might have escaped detection by the trulls. Helmut, naturally, wanted to start with the armory but was vetoed by Tykk, Dolf and Garr who decided in favor of foraging the smokehouse and other places where food might be found.
Contrary to what Huldred had said about all the food stores being despoiled or ruined, they were thankful to find that for once she was at least partly wrong. Although the meat that they were able to salvage was covered in ash and extremely unappetizing to all outward appearances it was, nevertheless, edible. After gleaning as much as they could from the smokehouse, they washed it clean and hung it in the sun to dry; but not without devouring some right on the spot to assuage the complaints of vacuous stomachs. As Tykk put it, “In my case, at least, these are no small grievances.”
After partially satisfying the gnawing hunger, they continued their search. Helmut said, “You lads go ahead and scrounge fer vittles or sundry stuff, I’m gonna see what I can dig outta the armory.”
“Why waste yer time?” said Tykk. “It’s been razed proper. Anything in that fire has lost its temper. I know, I know,” he said, fending off Helmut’s welling rebuttal, “yer a blacksmith. But yer a smith what’s got his smithy all burned up by trulls. An’ all ya got’s charcoal ‘cause yer fat-arsed SON-O-MA-BITCHIN’ partner couldn’t git no coal on account of the dwarves has closed down the Skerry mine, when that renegade, dffal-eatin’ Skarpy Crapshoe and his band o’ scum started rai….an’… Wassa matter with you?” he asked as Helmut stood shaking his head.
“With me?” said Helmut. “You are a long winded bag o’ hot air, ain’t ya? Why, once you get started, ya ro1l on and on like a turd goin’ downhill. I got one question. Are ya done?”
“Good. Now, in the first place, the hus is burnt but the forge ain’t wrecked so bad that I can’t get it workin’ again. The bellows is shot but I figure I’ll use the hide o’ one of these dead horses we got over yonder to refurbish it. In the second place, I ain’t got a lot of coal but I do have some and if I mix it with the charcoal I can make do. So what do ya say t’ that, smart-ass?”
Tykk silently scratched his head and finally said, “Well then, why didn’t ya just come out and say so? C’mon, I’ll help ya dig.” Then he turned to Garr and Dolf saying, “You boys go on with what yer doin’. I’d better help this poor lame old fart or he’ll never find anything in that mess,” and the two walked away with Helmut’s caustic comeback being drowned out by Tykk’s uproarious laughter. Garr and Dolf just stared.
“Are they always like that?” asked Dolf.
Garr nodded. “As long as I’ve known them,” which, he didn’t bother to add, was most of his life. “They’ll never change and I’m sure I wouldn’t want them to.”
Garr and Dolf had more success than they dreamed possible. Apparently the trulls were in a terrible hurry when they sacked Josdahl. Most cellars, although burned in rubble, still held a good deal of provender. The huses at the north end of the village had their cellars emptied but as they searched further south, they found more cellars that still held their goods. They could see a pattern developing. It soon became obvious that the trulls attacked from the north and Dolf suggested that they may have been looking for something or someone in particular. But Garr didn’t feel right about the ‘something’ angle and said, “Someone maybe, but if they were looking for a particular object I think every one of these cellars would be ransacked. Think about it, Dolf, if they were looking for a person, one glance would be enough to convince anyone that there either was or wasn’t someone hiding in these cellars. None of them offer too much cover for something the size of a person. But an object could, depending on its size, be stashed almost anywhere.”
“Very astute observation,” admitted Dolf. “Well, whatever their reasons for the attack, they came through as if their tails were ablaze and their arses were catching. It’s hard to imagine trulls with a sense of purpose, but no one’s going to convince me that this was an arbitrary foray.”
By the time they had done all the dust picking they could see any sense in, Tykk and Helmut came shuffling up with what they considered to be a veritable treasure trove of iron thingamabobs. Obviously pleased with the fruits of their labor, the two huge figures stood smiling like a pair of Cheshire cats. “Oh, but we did find you some good stuff to help ya go a-vengin’” said Tykk.
Garr stood for a moment, trying to digest the meaning of Tykk’s statement. The realization that hit him was like a steel ram in the mid-section. Of course, tribal custom demanded that he, as the aegis of his tribe, seek vendetta on the trull hoard that dared rape the sanctity of the valley of Josdahl. This was law.
At that moment, Garr knew what it meant to be Garr Guntarsen, son of the most renowned Viking chieftain in all of Norgeve. It meant, reclaiming the clan’s honor or die in the process. Without compromise, he must now become not only a man, but vindictive spirit of the Josdahl clan as well. The raid on Josdahl could not go un-avenged as long as one member of the tribe survived. For once in his life, as bitter a vetch as it may have been to swallow, Garr had a goal. One that, even now, made his strong hand itch for the pommel of a sword. Fear, he felt, was unavoidable but vengeance was the law, pure and simple.
Law or no, there were chinks in the logic of such an undertaking, not the least of which being the sheer implausibility of such a task. “Tykk,” said Garr, “please don’t think me a coward, but if I were to try such a thing, the outcome would likely be to rid Ilsa of her last remaining relative. What chance has a lone warrior of seventeen years against a hoard of rabid trulls?”
“You are no coward, Garr. Anyone who would believe that did not see you wavin’ yer sword and challenging the whole damned trull army. If that’s cowardice, then I must be made o’ fairy flops ‘cause, I don’t mind tellin’ ya, I was scared,” said Helmut, rummaging through a burlap sack full of miscellaneous iron things.
“Besides,” said Tykk, “who said anything about ‘lone warriors, anyway? You do have friends, ya know.”
“That’s right, Garr. We’ve all got scores to settle with that bunch of scum. You’re not the only one that lost friends and family in this little bargain, you know,” said Dolf with clenched fists. “I want trull blood, Garr, bad!”
Garr looked each one of his comrades square in the eyes and had to grin. Finally he said, “Thank you. Come, Huldred wants to see us.”
In this chapter the story’s characters are thrown into an alliance that will shape the fate of the Earthlands.