The Norsemen used to rule of the seas, from England in the west, France to the south and to Russia in the east. The Norsemen were second to none when land or sea. Their ships touched shores without names and sailed into unknown seas and lands where no man dare to tread, in search of glory, gold and the old kingdoms ruled by generations of the dead.
The king of Denmark, Gorm, would spend hours listening to the sea rover Thorkil, a heavy-set man with sun-bleached hair and skin like untanned leather, had sailed beyond Iceland to the very edge of mortal men and returned, weaving tales about far off lands and strange creatures with god-like powers, of hidden treasure guarded by giants and foul creatures of the night. Gorm’s restless feet got the better of him, and he wanted to see those lands for himself.
Gorm hired Thorkil to captain his men on the journey of a lifetime. That winter Thorkil and the men built the three largest longship that ever sailed the seas, even bigger than the famed Dragon Ship in that assaulted England. Each ship had fifty benches and able to seat over a hundred oarsmen. By spring, they were ready to set sail.
Early one spring morning, after the blood sacrifice that turned the keels red, they were laboriously rolled down the logs. The ships creaked and groaned under their own massive weight until they slid silently into the sea. With ornate battle axes and swords, their armor, and shields stowed away along with enough provisions for several months they set sail.
Gorm made Thorkil the helmsmen of the first ship, putting the wind to their backs, they effortlessly sliced through the waters between the Scandinavian mainland and Denmark, into the open sea. Sailing passed the mountains reaching for the sky that frame the fjords of Norway. Passing Helgeland and Finnmark they slipped into the unknown seas. Thorkil navigated by the sun and the stars, flight of birds, shoaling fish and many other sights and sounds that only a seasoned seaman knew.
The time stretched into months as the three ships steadily sailed north gliding through the dark sea. The seaman signs that Thorkil followed became fewer until they were gone. No birds catching the air currents, no fish could be seen surfacing around the ships hulls. The nights grew longer and darker with the moon spending more time in the sky than the sun. Even the stars, above seem thinner than when they first left their home, such a long time ago. The sparseness of the stars, mixed with the long nights and the silence of the sea, lead to an uneasy feeling among the crews. They had entered the land of night where mortal men should not be.
Only the splash of the oars slicing into the seas and the creaking of the oarlocks broke the eerie silence that filled the darkness. An uneasiness filled the men with the sense that they were being watched, but they didn’t see a thing. There was no measure of time as they laboriously moved through the endless night, until they heard the waves crashing against some distance rocks. Thorkil turned the boats toward the sound and it continued to grow louder until then the darkness gave way to a silver glint of white foam in the distance.
This is only the outpost. Take what you need and no more. That much is allowed. Thorkil told the men, as his voice resounded over the crashing waves. But these were Northmen, used to taking what they wanted. Even Gorm, the king whisked away Thorkil warning. They beached the ships in a small inlet where the land was covered with pastures filled with livestock, that just looked at them with wondering eyes, unaware of the massacre that would inevitably follow.
The Northmen butchered far more than they needed, killing everything they found. Their ships rode low in the water with just enough space for men around the carcasses. Their vessels creaked and groaned from the extra weight, as they set sail. The men nervously looked about, feeling strange presences among them, just before specters materialized before the men, bellowing in some unknown language. The faceless phantoms floated from one man to the next, rocking the ships violently as their screeching pierce the still air.
The ships filling with water, came dangerously close to capsizing, Thorkil’s voice rose above all else. What is the price of the slaughter? The turbulent rocking subsided and the ghostly figures said that one man from each ship must be thrown into the sea. At first the men grumbled, and the vessels begin to tilt and sway again. Thorkil looked at Grom, who nodded in agreement, and Each boat drew lots, with the loser being tossed into the cove. As the ships headed out to sea, the agonizing screams of the three men left behind faded until only the splashing of the oars with the creaks and groans of the oarlocks filled the air again.
The agonizing screams of the men faded as the three longboats sailed away from the island until was silent again, except for the splashing of the oars slicing into the water and the creaking of the oarlocks. Thorkil words hung heavy as he handed out a talisman to the men. €œThis will protect you through the worlds, there are three rules you must follow; only speak among yourselves, only eat your food and if it is not yours, don’t take it. As if on cue the stars disappeared from the night sky as he finished passing out the amulets.
The Northmen rowed for what seemed like an eternity through the stillness; no one spoke taking Thorkil words to heart, after remembering what happened after a time, when they ignored his words. Soon riverbanks are seen on each side of ships as they moved up a river and beach their crafts on a gravel shore. Except for the beach, a dense forest lined the river with on a wolf song carried on the calm air.
Without saying a word, the men rushed around following Thorkil words as the men circled their camp around several bonfires that lit the night like beacons in a sea of darkness. From somewhere in the darkness each man heard their name being called, but they did not answer. Thorkil stood at the edge of the firelight looking at a shadowy figure standing twice the height of a typical Northman, watching them. The man appeared to be aged, with sunken eyes and a long white beard.
For a long moment, the two men studied each other before Thorkil hailed Gudmund, the guardian of mortal travelers. When Gudmund asked why no one would answer his calls, Thorkil told him that the Northmen do not speak his language. With a disturbing smile, Gudmund requested to enter the camp and Thorkil invited him to join the crews.
After a brief stay, Gudmund lead the men down a trail next to the frozen river, before winding inland. Passing ancient trees and across snowfields they came to a great hall that looked like the familiar mead halls of their homeland. Except larger than any mead hall in both height and length with walls of translucent ice, such that the torches that burned inside filtered through giving the place a surreal look.
Inside was a garden of fruit-filled trees covered in frost. Rows of tables set for a warriors feast, full of meats, cheeses, and large drinking horns. The men admired the feast set before them as each shook their head, refusing the feast. Thorkil told Gudmund that the food is too rich for mortal men. With a cold smile, Gudmund looked at the men, what of my lovely daughters, are they not worthy of kings. Gorm courteously refused, and his men followed, all but four.
When the four broke ranks, their pace was slow and steady with hands reaching for the maidens. Upon touching the ladies, the men faces went flush as the life and memories left them while being pulled into the realm of the shades to remain in the borderland of the dead world until eternity. So you won’t speak, you refuse my food and my daughters, so what do you want from me?
You will not talk with me, nor wed my daughters, you have turned down this feast before you, what do you want here? Gudmund asked. Thorkil, thought for a moment, making sure to choose his words wisely. They only wish to see the Thor’s fire bolt and Geirrod in his hall. They desire to see the giant’s daughters that lay at his feet. They want witness firsthand the splendid treasures made by elves and dwarves before the time of man. We ask for safe passage there a back, Thorkil asked with a stern but polite voice.
Yes, I grant you safe passage to Geirrod, and I will not interfere with your return. But be warned, do not touch anything, Gudmund told them. He led them back down to the river where an ancient arch bridge that crossed. Follow that trail and it will take you to Geirrod, he told them, before heading back to his castle.
The path wound to and fro across dunes of sand and rock, before opening up to flood plain the stretch off into the distance. They had journeyed for hours before the trail ended at a causeway as they entered Geirrod’s lands. Their eyes transfix on the hellish terrain that lay before them, a place that no mortal was meant to see. The land rolled like the sea while belching green vapor that snaked into the air with a stench that could turn a billy goat stomach. Pikes adorned with decaying heads lined the walkway that disappeared in the mist.
Not to be deterred they marched down the trail into the foul mist. Past dilapidated houses of a forgotten village, with torn animals bodies and rubbish littering the streets. Ghostly figures floated around the buildings and dark alleys. Shades spoke a strange language as they shrieked trying to get the men to come to them. With faces black as a moonless night, they watch as the company of mortals walks through the town, toward a solitary mountain on the horizon.
Up the mountain they went and across snowfields the men trudged on until they came to an enormous castle on the mountain pinnacle. The massive charred doors leading into the Geirrod’s castle stood before them, beckoning them to enter. Thorkil reminded them not to touch anything as they filed into the enormous room carved directly into the mountain.
Bloated and partially decade human shapes that were at least thrice the size of a man laid scattered across the floor. Faceless shadows swirled and coiled along the walls, and the rooms’ stench was unbearable. Sitting at the end of the room was Geirrod with a massive blackened spear protruding from his midsection. At his feet lay his daughters with broken backs, only able to turn their heads. The adventurers’ skin turned pale as they struggled to hold down what little food they had left in their stomachs.
Off the main chamber was a tiny room with its door dangling by one hinge. Inside, dwarven tankards made of gold with bands of silver and inlaid gems, ornate ivory tusk with rings of gold and platinum. There were gold bracers and armbands in the shape of a snake, drinking horns made of gold and silver. Fine woven robes and ornate weapons filled the room, as the Northmen stood in awe. They had never seen so much treasure so close and yet so far, for all they could do was look.
Three men could not resist, and charged into the midst of the horde, one grabbing the tusk, it shivered thrust itself into the man’s chest. One picked up a gold and silver snake armband that came to life and sucked the life out of him, leaving a dry, mummified body where he once stood. The third picked up a one of the gold drinking horns, an image of a dragon flashed on the side of the horn and the man collapsed on the spot.
Thorkil commanded them to leave, they have seen the treasure of old and it was time to return before they all succumb to the temptations of the room. Even Thorkil couldn’t forbear and felt a soft blanket that lay in a pile on a stone pillar. Turning toward the door, they found it blocked by scores of shades and faceless creatures, even the shadows on the walls were alive and were advancing. Piercing screams, snapping jaws, and sharp talons attack the Danes as they fought their way out of the castle.
In an organized movement, the Northman clashed with the demons, as one man fell another would move in the fill the space. Down the path, they hurried fighting for every inch. The Northmen dropped what was not needed as they sped down the causeway and through the town and the noxious vapors. As they entered Gudmund’s lands, they listened to the screams of the angry specters behind.
Only twenty of the original three hundred made it back to the ships. Leaving two ships behind they took the fastest and headed for home. For centuries, bards sang about Gorm and Thorkil and the returning men that crossed into the ancient realms. Where the dead still rule.