A Norse Reprisal

There was a man named Grim, son of Vali the farmer, and he was a great Viking warrior. As young men, his brother, Ulf, and he joined with the king's men on an expedition and had brought home many riches and bountiful honor. But, when Ulf and Grim were coming home after a long journey they met their deaths in a brawl at the hands of two berserks, Kveldulf the Broad and Thorlaug the Hump, over a matter of slander. When the news reached their families in Hod there was much grieving because the two brothers were very good husbands. But soon the grief subsided because the more pressing matter of the duty of revenge was to be decided. Who would be held to keep the brothers' honor?

 

There was faint singing as Grim awoke. He was cold from the journey and tired. He wished for a bed and food. Ulf looked to him and shook him. Grim assured his brother that he was indeed awake and quite spirited.

The longboat slithered along the dark waters with little more than a ripple as it neared the grim shores. The only noise from the Dragon was the men rowing, singing war songs and accompanied by the winged boats of the Shield Maidens. They neared the sunken shore and could see in the distance a great hill upon which stood a large fort, immense and grand. Farther away other halls could be seen, and beyond a lurking forest. There was excited murmuring among the warriors.

They landed and scuffled out of the Dragon. The wind was bitter on their backs as the whole hoard of men marched over the bridge to the fort. It was old and stamped with runes carved from bright stones that caught the light and twisted the colors. A fierce man clad with a heavy sword and white horn guarded it. Ulf and Grim marveled at the bridge for they had seen nothing like it in all their travels. Fire laced the entrance and only on the guard's command was it quenched for the men to cross. Many hesitated before crossing, but it was the only path that led to the fort and so they marched on, wrapped snugly in their wool and furs as the bitter wind blew.

The bridge was long, it seemed eternal to Grim, but slowly the fort began to tower upon the sky ahead and he crossed the gate. "Made for giants it looks," his brother said. Grim said nothing. A great laughter flooded their ears and the crowd of men parted. Food was lain out upon twelve vast tables: a great boar sat upon the spit and was surrounded by numerous lambs, cattle and deer, silky cheese and the purest milk, scores of wine and grapes and berries, golden bread and a bounty of beer. There were foods there that Grim and Ulf had never seen but heard of from those who had traveled to the East, even foods they had never imagined. All around the tables the Mead Maidens served the sweet nectar as a mass of musicians played with stunning instruments made of dark wood and laced with gold.

Then a man spoke who stood upon the grandest table, overlooking the hall upon a dais. He was large and well set, fit and handsome, and he had but one eye.

"Welcome to Valhalla, brave men. You have died well in battle and are chosen by my maidens to sit here in my hall. Swear to serve me at the end of the world and fight with as much ferocity as you did in life and I will repay you well," he said, and added, "Look around you if you doubt my word or ask any man here so sworn and he will tell you no different." And all looked to each other and nodded in agreement of his fair words and one by one the new men swore his allegiance to the gods.
But when Grim came up to swear his allegiance he stopped before the great table and said, "Do not be angry with me, lord, but I cannot swear to you yet. My blood is still hot from the manner of my death and I cannot be at peace until it is avenged." Behind him, Ulf agreed. The god's brows dropped slightly and said, "Very well then. Follow this maid to the Hall of Justice. There you may wait with your brother until the matter is ended. Only then may you come back to Val-father and swear your allegiance." Grim and Ulf thanked their host and followed the woman through one of the many doors of Valhalla and out into the strange lands.

They came upon a new hall, smaller than the Hall of the Slain and as they entered, the Swan Maiden led them through many strange passageways. She left them then in a dark room, musty and old, where at the heart stood a large vat filled with dark water. Ulf crept close to the cauldron and looked within. He saw the water slowly stir before a raven flew into the room and land, shrieking, in the rafters before flying out again. In the doorway a man stood, slim and clad in gray.

"Welcome fallen soldiers to the Hall of Justice. Here you may wait until your honor is returned, and watch the land of Midgard," he said. Grim and Ulf greeted him, then asked, "Tell us, who are you? Are you a god or some lesser spirit?" The man smiled. "Of course. Yes, well I am one of the lesser helpers of the god of justice. I tend to the fallen warriors like you, Grim Bad Breath and Ulf the Scar, who have been dishonored and wait to be redeemed. You may call me Aldi."

He then brought out a scroll scribbled in runes and studied it carefully. "Now, to see who can avenge you," he mumbled. "According to the law, the first to avenge you should be your father," he stated. Both the sons' brows dropped. Grim said, "Our father is an old farmer and lame. He cannot avenge us." "Well," said Aldi, "there are others to take up the task if he cannot. Your sons for instance." "Yes, my eldest son is promising with a sword. He is young but strong. He will be right for the task, even against Kveldulf," Ulf boasted. Aldi nodded and jotted the name upon the page but Grim's brows dropped even further on his face. "My eldest son died as a child and my other son is only three," he said.

"Ah, I see," Aldi said, "Well, there are others yet. Next would be your brother…" he said and the brothers looked at each other. Aldi looked at them and cleared his throat, "…but I see he has died with you. Very well, very well. No problem. According to the texts the next to avenge you will have to be your father's father." Aldi waited for a long while, his pen poised over the parchment like an English monk. Finally Ulf said, "Our grandfather died twenty years ago." "Oh! Oh, yes. Of course. Very well then…" and he leafed through his papers. The brothers looked at each other again and frowned.

"Aha! What about your son's son?" Aldi asked, cheerfully. "My son is only three," Grim said harshly. "And your other son?" Aldi asked. "He died as a boy," Grim answered. "Oh…oh yes. Sorry. So that's 'no' on that then…" he mumbled and leafed again through his papers.

Two warriors entered the room, followed by the shrieking raven. Aldi looked up and waved the raven away. "Ah. Your son is preparing to go out if you want to watch Ulf. Just look into the cauldron," Aldi said and returned to his papers, "Now…how about you mother's father?" "He is also dead," Grim answered and the warriors chuckled beside him. "I see that Aldi is helping you," one of them whispered to Grim, "Get settled. His help comes slowly." Grim's eyes were lost behind his brows. "I am Sigborn," he greeted, "and this is my friend Gríss the Fat." Grim barely nodded.

"Aldi," Gríss asked, "how goes my vengeance?" "Ah…well…I believe your son is still on the search for your killer," the disgruntled helper said. "He's been searching for twenty years! Cannot you not give him some divine inspiration?" Gríss asked. Aldi stared at him. "If you want help ask someone else," he said and the large man became furious. "BUT YOU'RE A HELPER!" "Oh…yes, well…I suppose. But not with interference. Just with vengeance," he said, "Go ask one of the messengers or something." Gríss glared at him and departed. His shouts were heard throughout the hall for many hours.

"Now, as for you," Aldi said turning to Grim. "Grim! Come look! It is my son!" Ulf cried from the cauldron. Grim came to him and within the pool was the sparkling image of his nephew, strong and proud as he prepared his sword for battle. "Ah yes. A strapping young man. I'm sure he'll survive," Aldi said, "Now Grim, we still have to find you your defender." "What about my son? I'm sure he can best both those men. He's the strongest man in all of Hod," Ulf said. Aldi thought of it, "Well, no…no not really. Oh, wait. Hod! I thought you said Nod…sorry. Wrong religion." The brothers and Sigborn stared at him.

"Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Now, how about your daughter's son?" Aldi suggested. "He's even younger than my son. He hasn't been born yet," Grim answered. His face was hard as iron. "Oh yes…slipped my mind," Aldi murmured, once again looking at his papers, "Your father's brother?" "Don't have one," the brothers answered. "Ah…Well then…your nephew then," Aldi confirmed, "He will be up for it?" Ulf nodded, "Just like I said, my son can do it."
And so they watched the cauldron as Ulf's son took up his quest. He marched out to Kveldulf's house and called him out. Kveldulf in his confidence accepted the challenge and began the dual. It lasted for hours and as the brothers watched more and more warriors entered the room to cheer him on. And then, as both men neared the end of their strength Kveldulf dodged the boy's sword swipe and stabbed his through the eye.

All the warriors gasped.

And then the boy died.

"Oh dear," Aldi said, "Stroke of bad luck there. Let's see…whose next?"