thousand years ago, I'd have been a Viking - a Norseman - a wolf-of the- sea. Call it what you will; they're merely different terms for the same sailor-pirate-warrior-traders who used to terrorize the northern world because it was easier (and more soul-satisfying) than subsistence farming between glaciers and fjords.
That's if I'd been the same genetic "me" then that I am today: a rangy six feet tall, with a face full of angles like a Norwegian cliff and long hair as yellow as the sun that shines up north. Never mind the name - Snorri Sorenson – and the fact that I can't ever seem to stay in one place long enough for boredom to spread its dust on me. Maybe I could've done the violence thing - the old rape, pillage, plunder bit – but I like to think my own private heaven would've been the pure wanderlust of sailing out of sight of land on a long, sleek drakkar, bound for Russia, Ireland, Iceland or even the Americas.
I was, in fact, born 10 centuries later, complete with an identical twin named Hrolf, with whom I shared a powerful urge to go roaming whenever possible, while nominally attending a big Southern university. College was really an excuse to sample everything I could that had any bearing on my heritage, like studying Old Norse, hanging out with the local medieval re-creation society (where I learned the basics of how to swing a sword and use a shield) and perfecting that most universal of young male skills: how to hold my liquor. I didn't try to be a rebel, I just was. Or maybe less a rebel than simply my own man. With a twin as a built-in best friend, I had no need to meet others' expectations.
But if I don't stop this infernal scribbling and take my turn at the oars, I won't be anything - not in a form that's sentient here in the Shadowlands. There's been a good wind on this black sea, so we haven't had to do much rowing - and no one's behind us that I can see - but that doesn't mean anything, and one can't afford to drop one's guard.
Still, I wonder as I write this why I bother, except that maybe I want to leave some proof that I was not only here, but that I tried to achieve something lasting and grand, which I never had a chance to do on the other side. No, scratch that, I want to leave Hrolf proof, for when he crosses over, as I know he will because he's my twin and my other half and my other half and my only significant Fetter. He's been the one thing that's stayed with me forever, never judging me like our folks did, and never wanting anything out of me, like all of my friends did. I hope I'll be his Fetter, too, if it can work that way. Or maybe we're each other’s Shadows. I’ve thought about that a lot, actually. Maybe when we meet we'll sort of swap over and become two discrete wraiths, like one dark and one light. That'd give the theosophers over here something to ponder besides the permeability of the Bosnian Shroud or whatever the hell.
But I digress....
I've named this
ship I'm captaining Naglfar, after the
vessel the Vikings thought would appear at Ragnarok: the ship made from the nail
parings of the dead, as this one is made of their souls. I stole it a dozen
islands back and named it, because a man ought to have a ship, and a
ship ought to have a name. I named the
Names matter, I've discovered. Names give power to things and places, and that keeps’em "alive," here if not in the Skinlands. One day, too, I will get to Stygia and visit its great library, and read all those names: all those lost plays by the Greek playwrights, and those Norse sagas and Mayan codices that exist beyond the Shroud only on lists of things destroyed by the living.
But that's for
later. For now, I have one thing to do – one Passion, if you will - which is to
And if Odin's priests think that hanging on a tree once a year for knowledge makes 'em the genuine article, I'm afraid they've got another thing coming.
Unfortunately, so do I, because I managed to piss off a bunch of 'em when I leveled that first sanctuary. I just came riding in off the tide and nailed it with a couple of well-placed barrow-bombs – with them all inside, of course.
I was young then, freshly dead of a broken neck.
I was playing lacrosse when I got hit wrong, landed wrong and
- SNAP! -180 pounds of young manhood became so much surplus meat with a still-working brain stuck on. Well, and a mouth that could beg my twin, as I lay in the hospital, to take a discarded needle out of the trash and inject a fatal bubble of air into my IV drip. Which he did. Maybe that damned him there, but it saved me here.
I'll need all the help I can get, too, because a man with a Passion that flies in the face of convention is always a hunted man. And my goal is simple, like I said: destroy the false Valhalla I found here among the Far Shores (after I spent nearly a year trying to get here, once I heard of the place), take word of that falsehood back to the Shadowlands proper and proclaim to anyone who'll listen that their own former blood and bone are being enslaved and deluded by bogus priests. I might even point out that a war of liberation would be a damned fine idea.
But first I have to get proof, and to do that, I have to find it, secure it and return with it intact. Naglfar is a means to all three ends, and besides, it makes me feel good to captain it, even if I don't trust the wraiths in my crew - possibly because their agenda isn't the same as mine, and possibly because my Shadow knows their agenda too, and likes it better than mine. At least I feel bad about the mayhem I practice in a righteous cause. The Shadow doesn't. For it, rape and pillage suffice.
Thank Odin for the berserker-thing that keeps my dark half in check. Though come to think of it, he might be pretty damned useful if his plan works - his wildly audacious, all-too-obvious plot. (Which of course makes me suspicious. You never can tell with your Shadow.)
In any event, I really need to put down this pen that never runs out of ink for a while and set my shoulders, with the others, to rowing.
I'm back now. I've been sitting in the stem watching that screwy smoke that comes from ice-cold barrow-flame rise up to merge with a sky that darkly mirrors its colors. My smoke. My cold-fire. My revenge.
Maybe I should transcribe this as poetry - staves of perfect alliterative verse. It'd be the Viking thing to do, I bet.
But I can only recall.
We came upon them at dawn. I knew the place, because it looked exactly like my namesake said it did in the Elder Edda: an island rising from an icy sea, fjords surrounding it and an enormous mountain rearing sheer-sided from the center, like one of those South American mesas that gave birth to the legends of the lost world. There was a rainbow bridge, too, made of souls that cried out to us as we trod upon them, each pleading for a liberation I couldn't yet grant.
I had a sword I trusted, and a band of warriors I didn't. And I ran up that long railless span two yards at a stride, with my Shadow yammering "Bloodlust! Bloodlust! Bloodlust!" in a steady, deadly drone. When we reached the top, I let him drive. Those who support lies that enslave others deserve what they get. That's something I believed Quick, and something I still believe now. The Shadow believes it too, but without any of this "everyone has a right to exist" crap. Or maybe (he tells me), he simply got tired of indulging me. In any event, we both fought.
Fought, hell! We engaged in battle! Men and women in full combat kit -all rings, intricate gilded soulsteel and boiled leather - all after our blood, our souls, our heads. It was marvelous mayhem, too; blade against blade, and wounds we knew were true because our foes fell down before us, like as not, missing important parts. They didn't get up, either - at least not before we could get manacles on 'em and lead 'em away to the ship, so we could take 'em where they could be free.
That's how it was supposed to be -and for once that's how it actually was: Ragnarok with a rock-and-roll soundtrack, because someone had a relic CD player and a relic CD of "Immigrant Song."
And then we were all howling our way toward the massive soulsteel doors of bogus-Odin's bogus citadel. They gave way before us since, to our surprise, someone had left them unbarred. The door posts whipped by in a blur of complex zoomorphic carving and we entered the Hall of Heroes.
But there were no heroes anywhere about, just that damned Odin wannabe standing there with his eye patch, his wide black hat and something pretending to be his famous eight-legged steed.
No sword. No weapons of any kind.
“Thought and memory,” he thundered, naming the raven shapes that hovered near. "Huginn and Muninn. Thought and memory run things here."
I glared at him, and almost ran him through then and there. My Shadow wanted to, but I fought him down. "You aren't Odin," I spat.
He ignored the accusation. "You're a long way from your twin, boy. A long way from your Fetter."
Anger wracked me, yet somehow I contained it. There was no way he could have learned about Hrolf. And yet-
"How do I know?" Odin smirked, not waiting for my reply. "Maybe I got tired of having my coasts ravaged, and consulted a certain seer, who told me that the great Captain Snorri Sorenson had a twin in the Skinlands - a twin in jail under suspicion of murdering his own brother. A twin who might hang himself when he realizes what he's truly done."
"Thereby dispersing me," I growled bitterly. My Shadow had certainly told me enough about that.
you tend your kin," Odin grinned. "Better you let,
indeed!" I shouted back. Before he could even reach for a sword or shield,
I hewed his head from his shoulders. It hit the floor, bounced twice, then spoke from where it lay atop the pavement with plasm
slowly oozing from the stump of its neck.
are the son of my blood across 50 generations. I who was a Viking and made this
place, because some kind of
I turned from him, not believing at that point, then rallied I my troops and put the place to the barrow-bomb. The icy conflagration blazes still, assailing the sky like a god's funeral pyre.
And me? It seems that I must wreak vengeance on myself. Like Signy, I have betrayed one to whom I was bound by blood, when I was already bound to another. I think, therefore, I owe myself a death - my own, I guess - for killing my own kin. So now I'll return to the Shadowlands, where, somehow, I’ll contrive the demise of my still-living twin and be consigned to Oblivion. My death will be doubled for my ancestor’s, and all things will be set right.
But that still
raises the question: Where do souls go when they die? I don't know, but I still
believe, more fiercely then ever, in