Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Stalker's Second Tale

Mordechai ben Yosef was a short, stout man from a Caliph’s land far to the south. It was rumored to never have seen snow, and the people were said to move about by way of mounting strange, four-legged beasts with bumps on their backs. He was a man of books, sent from that land because he’d insulted the intelligence of his teacher by insinuating that the trainer had mistranslated a word in a Greek text while preparing for a discussion at a temple.
The teacher, an extremely egotistical old man, had Mordechai banished on the next trade caravan heading north. As tended to happen, that trade caravan was ambushed by nomads fifty miles north of their departure, and everyone who had not been killed in the ambush—totalling twenty people—were captured and put to irons. Mordechai was one of them, and came close to death several times simply because he continuously complained about his station in life.
The slavers’ patience wore thin, and the only thing keeping a blade from hacking off Mordechai’s head was the suspicion that the Jewish scholar might pull a decent price as a galley slave. While incredibly undernourished for such a position, the Jew showed a good amount of stamina by not dropping dead in the desert heat, which several other slaves had. The only problem was the man’s incessant yammering, but that could easily be solved by sewing the man’s mouth shut.
At any rate, they didn’t make it to their destination. As the slave caravan passed into Asia Minor, they stopped at a small river to rest for a few hours. Mordechai had been allowed a bit of freedom after he pulled one of the guards’ dead tooths. He wandered off to the river and plopped down in the bank-side dirt for a nice, long think—most of which had to deal with him analyzing his present situation and deciding whether or not he’d be able to get away with fleeing.
About ten minutes into his interior monologue, Mordechai looked up from his reverie to see three very odd-looking ships, long, wooden things with square red-and-white sails and horrible beasts that resembled Leviathan's description on the front of the boat. Men were on those things. hulking men who looked like they could rip someone in half with their pinky fingers. They stood at the sides of the boats, clutching sharp axes and straight swords, things that lacked the grace of a decent weapon. Mordechai, of course, was scared the point of petrification.
As they drew closer he heard their chanting. It was a guttural sound that hugged the water and the ground, and crawled instead of flew through the air. They thumped their axes against the decks of their boats. “Go back to the caravan and warn them,” Mordechai thought—for a moment considering the caravan more like family than these people. “Yeah,” Mordechai thought, gulping, “screw that. Those goyim can—” his thought was interrupted by a small axe whizzing through the air and burying itself in the ground right next to his right leg.
The men on the boat laughed and leapt off onto the shore.
A couple of the caravan guards had come to the river to fetch the Jew, saw the longboats, and called for help. Mordechai looked dumbly from the longboats to the slavers and gulped. “Oh God, help me please,” he prayed. Not that he expected anything to come of it. This was the same God who allowed him to be put in this position in the first place, caught in between a group of terrifying pale-skinned barbarians and people who wanted to sell him.
No sooner had he thought about all of this than one of the Vikings knocked him unconscious.
When he awoke, he was in a dank, cramped room and was slowly swaying from side to side. He bent up and blinked a few times. He felt around him and noticed that someone had taken away his tefillin, which at least the caravan had had the decency to let him keep. “Great,” he thought. “First I’m cast out of Yerusalem and now where am I? Stuck on a boat somewhere with no tefillin. Can’t pray. There’s no getting out of here.”
Several thumps landed on the ceiling above his head, followed by raucous shouts and more chanting. A section of the ceiling lifted up and one of the giants, a man with one eye and a huge, ratty beard leapt down the stairs from the outside, walked over to Mordechai, said something in his grunting and spitting language and laughed, and then picked Mordechai up and threw him up on the deck.
Compared to the dark of below-deck, topside was blinding, and it took even longer for Mordechai to get used to what he was looking at. When he did adjust, he wasn’t happy with what he saw. The accumulated gems and treasures and coins of the guards were piled on the decks of the longships in what looked like roughly equal amounts. Smoke raised from just beyond the rise separating the river from where he remembered the caravan to be. In the middle of the deck, about four yards from where he stood, two of the guards were tied to the mast of the ship, blood streaming from their noses, their heads lolling down.
“Oh good Lord,” Mordechai said.
The giant behind him spat something out, laughed again, and pushed Mordechai forward, towards the other end of the ship. As they passed the mast, one of the men looked up, blinking, and said, “Salaam, please, help us off of this place and—”
He got no further before another giant, this one with stark red hair, lopped off his head with an axe. The head flung up in the air and the man caught it by its head, shouting out something. The rest of the men on the ship, about twenty, all laughed. The giant prodded Mordechai along to the other end of the longship, where another man, this one a bit grayer about the face and, yes, without an eye and a whole lot of scars across his arms—presumably across his torso as well, though that happened to be covered up by a leather shirt—held a large piece of parchment and argued with another man.
Mordechai stopped three feet away from the man, and his prodder said something.
The old man looked up and over Mordechai. He pointed at the parchment. Mordechai tilted his head. The younger man, who had black-and-gray hair and spoke in Greek, “You are Jew!”
Mordechai blinked. His Greek wasn’t the best, but he was more surprised that a man who had the skin color of a man whose home was a tomb knew Greek. “Yes,” Mordechai ventured.
“Jew knows writing?”
“Yes,” Mordechai ventured again.
The man talked to the old man. The old man responded and the young man said, “My father is leader of our expedition. He says you translate map or we kill you with blood eagle.”
Mordechai gulped. “What’s ‘blood eagle?’”
“Eh,” said the younger man, “it is something that is very bad. Very painful. See, Erik Redbeard—” he nodded to a towering, barrel-chested man with a long, red beard who was kicking one of the guard’s corpses on the bow—“he will take a knife. He will take the knife and he will cut your torso open, at which point, he will take your ribs and—”
“Okay,” Mordechai said, feeling sicker than he had since the day he’d been asked to go to the butcher’s and pick up some fresh meat. “Okay, okay. That’s enough. I’ll translate your map just—oy vey iz mir, just don’t talk about any more of your ways of having fun with dead things.” Mordechai wiped sweat off his brow and walked up between the two men, and looked down at the map.
It was a poorly-made thing, he could tell that immediately. The ink on all of the physical features bled together, creating a greenish-blue blob whenever rivers met plains, as they did so often on the map. From Mordechai’s reckoning, they were somewhere near the Black Sea, which should have put the danger from the maniacs on horseback—with whom the caravan wanted to trade—instead of the maniacs on boats, in whose hospitality he found himself. Far to the east, at least a fortnight’s ride if the map was anywhere near scale, was a trading city in the middle of the land of the Khazars.
Mordechai nearly leapt in joy. The Khazars, while assuredly as barbaric as everyone else in this godforsaken land of steppes, sand, and the barest of grass—not an olive grove to be found, can you believe how these people lived without olives?—were supposedly Jews. Mordechai glanced around him and quickly studied these people.
All men, no women and no livestock of their own. Some of them were engaged in bringing the trophies of their raid of the caravan down into the empty holds. Mordechai would have wagered that these men were not looking to settle down in the area—there was no way their fair skin and predilection for gutting people could make them friends in this civilized area. So if they were hoarding materials, and trying to translate a map, he figured that they were going to either pillage their way around the world, or eventually stop and trade. Now, whether they’d pillage the Caliph’s lands was the question, but, ultimately, Mordechai didn’t care. The mamzers back there had sold him into slavery and they could go shit in the ocean for all he was concerned.
But the Khazars—they were rumored to be people one did not want to fuck with. Armies, ships patrolling their waterways, that sort of stuff. Added to the fact that they were supposedly brothers of the maniacs on horses, and thus carried some of their bloodlust, and it was pretty certain there was a way to get out of this. “Well over there,” Mordechai said, in Greek, pointing to the few buildings sketched on the map, “is a city—can’t pronounce it, but I’ve heard of it. Trading outpost, from what I know.”
The older man nodded and spoke to the younger, then walked towards the bow of the ship and conferred with Erik Redbeard. The younger said, “Jew, you and I will go to this place.”
“I’m sorry?” asked Mordechai. “You and I? H—Wh—How?”
“We kept four horses alive. The rest are food now. My father Wotan Baldricksson sends us out to search, destroy, and spread the fear and war of the All-Father as we go.”
Mordechai looked at the towering, grinning man with his gapped smile and bloodshot eyes and gulped. “I—I’m not really one for long trips. The longest trip I’ve taken was a couple years ago and that was the butcher. Know how that ended? I plotzed when I saw the lamb carcasses. No, I think I’ll—uh...” He looked around the boat at the gore and treasure. “I can teach your friends Talmud?”
The tall man burst into laughter and slapped Mordechai in the back, sending him hurdling forward and nearly falling off the top of the longship. “I like you! Jew has name? My name is Sven Wotansson, and I have killed ten men today—” he held up ten fingers, “—and many more in the past. How many have you killed?”
Mordechai pulled at the neck of his robe and cleared his throat. “Once I killed a lizard. That was on accident. It stepped in front of me and I stepped on its head and cried shortly thereafter. My mother, she told me to stop being a moron and slapped me and brought me to the rabbi, who called me a moron and slapped me, so I don’t really—”
The Norseman boomed laughter and shouted in his guttural language. His shipmates, in turn, also burst into laughter. “What was that about?” asked Mordechai.
“I say that the Jew will be like a sentry for them. If we are in trouble, you will scream loud enough for Valhalla to hear!”
“Oh,” said Mordechai. “What’s Valhalla?”
“I will tell you all about it. Come, friend Jew, we begin a long journey.” Sven Wotansson smacked Mordechai on the back once again and left to gather supplies for the long journey to Khazaria. The rumored towers and high city walls of the exotic nation rose up in Mordechai’s mind, just enough to allow him to overlook the stinging pain of the Nordic man’s less-slap-more-bash.

The steppes never ended. Mordechai had never conceived of something that could never end. After all, his world existed within the confines of a walled city. But these lands, with their repressive flatness and vegetation that was, well, alien, stretched out far and wide with few signs of habitation. That evidence he did see was mostly ruins, shells of buildings and burned-out frames of huts, with some dead and decaying animals nearby. “Battle,” Sven Wotansson said. He sniffed at the air and squinted into the distance. “Battle from these beasts.” He shook his head. “Not the right battle, though.”
“Sorry?” Mordechai asked. He’d long ago taken off his coat and hat. Stripped down to his shirt, trousers, and yarmulke, it was still too hot. He wondered what the rabbis would think of avoiding heatstroke as an excuse to trim his beard, but decided he better not tempt bad things. “There’s a correct sort of battle?”
Wotansson nodded. “That is right. From ships. A quick raid, just enough to take a village’s gold and maybe some women, yes?” He boomed in laughter. “There was a time, we sailed down River Volga—you know Volga?”
“Can’t say I do, I’m afraid.”
“You should see Volga. I think we are near it, actually.” He squinted into the distance. “Yes, I recognize this land. My boat sailed through here years ago and took enough prizes and—”
A horn sounded somewhere in the distance. A low sound, almost like that of a shofar at Rosh Hashanah, cut across the steppes. Sven silenced himself immediately and his hand jumped to the base of his double-bladed axe. Mordechai gulped and a chill went down his spine. “What kind of bird was that?” he asked.
“Friend Jew, this was no bird,” said Sven, hoisting the axe in his hand and stopping the horse. “Look,” he nodded off into the distance.
Mordechai looked. For a moment, he saw nothing. Then came the cloud. Then he saw the horsemen and felt the charge. There must have been a whole army of them, he thought, to feel their approach this far out. “Do we get off our horses?” he asked. “You know, dig holes, hide maybe?”
Sven only shook his head. From the pack on the back of his horse, he grabbed a long knife and tossed it to Mordechai, who caught it, barely missing cutting his palm open on the blade. “Oh,” he said. “Thanks.”
“Wield it well and honor your ancestors.” A terrifying grin spread outwards on his face as Sven spoke. “For today we die, friend Jew.”
“Oh fuck me,” Mordechai said. “You’re kidding, right? You’ve got a plan, right? My ancestors—forget it. My father was a baker and my mother’s family were musicians. Warriors they were not and, oy, if they were to go into battle, then well they’d plotz, I think. Sure wouldn’t be abl—”
“Then you will be the first to die honorably in your family, and you will meet Odin in the halls of Valhalla and feast and fuck until Ragnarok. Fight from the saddle.”
“With this?”
“Yes, with that,” said Sven.
The riders were now close enough to loose some arrows at the pair. Mordechai knew this because an arrow sailed through the air and hit his horse in the throat. He learned something, then, that he never thought he’d have to learn: Horses do not like being shot in the throat with arrows. His mount reared up and bucked him off, sending the Jew falling onto the ground. The horse ran off back the way they came and Mordechai had just managed to stand up as the riders rode up, screaming in a horrible language.
The next five minutes were brutal and bloody, and, weeks later, Mordechai still wasn’t able to recall everything that had happened. He did know, however, that he somehow managed to live and, judging by the way Sven Wotansson clapped him on the back so many times, he must have killed someone.
He guessed it happened as he backed up to Wotansson’s horse, which was treating this like it was just another day in the life. As the riders—all wearing thick leather armor, caps with flaps that covered their ears and oily black hair (he figured out this detail as the decapitated head of one of the riders flopped down at his feet, followed shortly by the rider’s corpse)—rushed and circled them, the horse grazed at the grass even as blood speckled its body and the Norse warrior screamed nonsense about Odin, Thor, and that Valhalla place while heaving his axe all around him.
Mordechai, figuring that there might have been safety in the calmness of the horse was pressed up against the beast, clutching the knife out in front of him. As Sven fought above him and the riders circled, one of them, whose horse was nowhere to be found, charged at Mordechai from the circling ring of madmen. The only detail Mordechai caught was the man’s teeth, which were godawful, and bared like the man was some sort of damn baboon. But the more worrying part of this was the sword the the man held and seemed quite intent on burying in Mordechai’s skull. The scholar froze as the barbarian charged, screaming and bringing the sword down in an arc.
At the time Mordechai was begging Adonai’s forgiveness for all his sins, the horse decided that he didn’t actually like this spot. Perhaps the sudden deluge of blood had ruined a patch of grass. Anyway, for whatever reason, Wotansson’s mount moved slightly, but just enough so that Mordechai toppled over backwards and the rushing barbarian, carried by surprise, stumbled a bit. Mordechai reached out with the knife and swiped at the man’s calf. Judging by the spray of blood, he connected—and then promptly vomited.
The man toppled forward and, through a couple of freak occurrences that worked out quite well for Mordechai, stabbed himself through the gut by falling forward onto the blade.
Soon after that, the riders fled the wrath of Sven Wotansson. The Viking leapt down from the horse and gave Mordechai a kick in his ribs. “Friend Jew, I hope you are not dead; someone must read the maps.”
Mordechai rolled over, squelching in the blood-soaked dirt. “No, that would be a kindness. And when has God been kind?”
Sven laughed. “Odin is kind to those who kill.” He nodded at the dead rider a few feet away. “Is that your work?”
“Oh, oh shit it is.”
Wotansson barked a laugh—in the back of his mind, Mordechai worried for this man; no one should laugh this much, and if they did, they probably had some severe birth defect. “Well met, friend Jew. It is a shame we travel through a country where one man can kill fifteen and receive only a scratch across the chest.” He pointed at a deep, bleeding wound running across his pectoral muscles. “You brown men are weak. Too much sun, I think. Drains energy, makes you rely on those weak bows instead of an axe.”
Mordechai sat up and made a perfunctory effort to dust off his robes. “Yes, well, I don’t know quite about you, but I spent most of my life learning to read.”
“Read?” Wotansson asked, puzzled.
“Never mind. Let’s move on, shall we? I wouldn’t want your horse to get sick from eating grass affected by, er, entrails.”
“Not yet,” Wotansson said. “First, we loot.”

The looting was, somehow, even more barbaric to Mordechai than the massive amounts of killing. Maybe it was the unadulterated glee Wotansson showed when he mocked the various dead men on the ground as he went around, stealing lightweight, valuable-looking items. Of course, when Wotansson tossed Mordechai a long, curved scimitar, there wasn’t much complaint out of him.
And then, several hours later, near dusk, they made camp at a bend in the river they followed. Mordechai made the fire and then had to instruct Wotansson on the proper way to cut the meat from the lamb he’d killed earlier. “I’m not eating that,” was how it started.
“What do you mean?” Wotansson asked. “It is a perfectly good brain.”
“Oh, God, no. Just, no,” Mordechai said with a shiver running up his spine. “Look, that’s not good for you. It is well-known that the people who eat kidneys have plagues called down upon them by God.”
Wotansson gave Mordechai a blank look. “What?”
“Okay, look, take my uncle Yeshua. My uncle, he was a member of a trade caravan, yes?”
“I have killed many trade caravans. They are weak.”
“Fair enough,” Mordechai said, “but that’s not the point of this story. Look. One day, they’re travelling north from Yerushalem, yes? Well, they run out of food because some schmuck up ahead got lost and thought they were following a Phoenician Road when they were really following a Xian road, okay?”
“This is all nonsense,” said Wotansson. “They should have been in boats. Rivers go one way. Never get lost that way.”
“Okay, I’ll make sure to tell that to the trade companies when I return. Can I continue?”
“Please do.”
“So they run out of food and, thanks to God, they find a herd of wild sheep. So, they proceed to butchering them. Well my Uncle Yeshua, he was never the smartest man in the family, so he starts eating literally everything from the body, because he’s so hungry, you see.
“Well, as you probably know, there are certain things forbidden to man to eat—”
“What?” Wotansson shouted. “What sort of god would forbid man to eat something? This is madness, and you too are mad.”
“Anyway,” Mordechai continued, “after he eats the sheep kidneys and, ah, various unmentionables, a group of raiders not entirely unlike yourself sweep through and eliminate the entire caravan.”
Wotansson shrugged. “They were weak and had probably eaten sheep with sickness. I tell you, kidney is fine to eat. This sheep I killed, it was fine. No zig-zag walking and it sounded perfectly normal. I eat brain, look,” Wotansson did, indeed, take a big bite out of the boiled kidney. He wiped his mouth, belched, and tossed the organ on the ground. “It is fine. Tomorrow, I will be alive, healthy, and I will kill another fifteen men if Odin the Gallows God wills it. Now, you tell me about your mad god who makes people follow stupid rules to make him happy, let me tell you of my god.”
Mordechai, still disturbed by the wanton consuming of something so blatantly treife, nodded.
“Excellent!” Wotansson said. He clapped his hands, cracked his back, and sat up straight. “Many eons ago, after he was born, Odin killed a frost giant and carved the world out of his armpit.”
“The hell?” asked Mordechai.
“Yes. It is true. It is also known that this was one of the first times that Asgard and the frost giants clashed—but it shall not be the last. For when Ragnarok comes, all will be bathed in fire and warfare, and the righteous dead—those who have died honorable deaths in battle and have feasted with Odin and the Aesir—will fight alongside the gods against Loki, Hel, and the giants.”
“What? Who are these people? Define your terms.”
“Yes, yes. The brown ones do not know Odin and the Aesir.  Loki is the trickster god who killed Baldur, the favorite son of Odin, the All-Father. Ragnarok is the end of all that has been made, when Fenrir breaks free of his chains and Loki rips out of his son’s intestines.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Ah, yes. Loki was sentenced to be tied to a rock in a cave by his son’s intestines while a snake drips poison onto his head. But he shall return, angry for whatever reason, and lead the combined races of giants and trolls alongside Hel’s armies of the dead too weak to have died in battle. And in the ensuing war that will sweep across the surface of  Midgard, which will be called Ragnarok, Man and the gods will be eliminated.”
“Wait,” Mordechai said, breaking in and shaking his head. “What sort of gods can die?”
Wotansson tilted his head to one side. “The gods. Not your god, who is a finnicky eater and requires you to dress in woman’s clothes.” Wotansson pointed at Mordechai’s robes.
“What?” Mordechai responded, gesticulating wildly. “You’re mad. This is the only proper way to dress; not parading around, in fur leggings like some—some... faun.”
“What is faun?”
“One of the freaks the Greeks see when they’re drunk. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you, and all your people are barbaric morons, drunk on blood and delicious, delicious honey wine of yours—speaking of which, do you still have any?”
“Friend Jew, it might not be wise to drink mead when it is hot enough to make Thor sweat.”
“Eh,” Mordechai said with a shrug. “I’ve made worse decisions—like joining you, for example.”
Wotansson laughed and held out the skin of wine.

The next day found them hiding behind a rocky outcropping at the top of a hill. They were still in the steppes—as Mordechai feared, the steppes truly did appear to be never-ending—but at least it was overcast today, which blocked some of the heat and made the hangover much more bearable. That said, there were times through the day when Mordechai seriously considered lopping off his own head with the scimitar.
But now, around midday, Wotansson, the horse, and Mordechai had stopped dead in their tracks and right in the middle of another argument about whether Odin could beat Adonai in a fight. They stopped because just over the hill was a camp full of men who looked exactly like the riders who had ambushed them. The camp was arranged in a circle and made up mostly of brightly-colored, circular tents. To the west, a small herd of horses and sheep grazed in the grass. Fires rose up from within the main camp as some men stood over stone pits and turned spits. A few men wearing swords and bows on their backs walked around the edge of the camp, eyes on the horizon.
Inside the camp, there wasn’t much activity, since a good number of the men had been killed the day before. Those who weren’t watching the animals or patrolling the perimeter were all congregated one man in particular who stood on a raised, wooden platform. The man wore a purple version an outfit that reminded Mordechai of one of the priests in the Temple. The difference being that while the priests were distinctly Jewish, these men quite obviously worshipped some sort of blob—at least, that’s what Mordechai judged by the bronze-cast splat-shaped object attached to the man’s hat. He shouted—Mordechai could hear bits of his speech, but not enough to get any specific words—and held his large staff in the air, bandying it about like he was trying to stir the air. “Have you seen these guys before?”
“I have not,” said Sven. His face was devoid of the sadistic glee that Mordechai was used to seeing and his eyes seemed like they’d turned to ice. “But I want that staff.”
“What? Why?”
“That icon is of bronze; bronze can be traded for more than gold in some places—and with that much, I can have my own ship.”
“You’re crazy, you know that? We go around these sorts of things. People in the thralls of religious mania are not to be crossed, Sven. That’s why the armies of Israel have never—what are you doing?”
Sven Wotansson stood. “I am going to find out what they’re doing.” He dropped his axe on the dirt and said, “Friend Jew, give me the knife I gave you.”
Mordechai did.
“I will be back.” The glint returned into his eye. “Or not, if Odin wishes to feast with me this day. If that happens, then you must return to my people on the northern end of the river Volga and tell them that this land is not for the likes of us.”
“It’s not?”
“Of course not. All lands belong to Odin. But, my people have not the patience to come this way anyway.”
“I don’t understa—”
Wotansson smacked him on the back with a hearty laugh. “Worry not, I shall return.” And with that, Wotansson crept down the hills. Mordechai was impressed. Such a man as him, what with his massive frame and all-around loudness should not have been able to creep, but there he was. The horse wasn’t bothered by its master’s departure, apparently; it kept grazing, tail flicking back and forth.
The Northman, after a ten minute descent, reached the edges of the camp. He hid behind a tent and peeked around a corner, spotting a lone rider walking away from the center—unarmed. Wotansson headed his way and the two intersected about six yards away from the rearmost tent on the south-western side of the camp. There was a moment where the rider stood in confusion and was about to shout an alarm, but then Wotansson buried the knife in the man’s throat and heaved him to the ground.
The viking then removed the clothing the rider wore and put it on himself. Surprisingly, it fit. And the only problem he now faced was how to hide his face. A Nordic man such as himself would stand out easily in this group of men with braided black hair and tan skin. So he looked around, had an idea, and cut a strip fabric off of a nearby tent and wrapped it around his face, hiding all but his eyes. He then put the man’s wool cap on his head and walked into the camp.
The center of the camp was in such a horrible state that Sven Wotansson sighed and considered lobbing off the head of the man closest to him, but decided that wouldn’t get him any closer to learning what was going on, or getting a hold of the priest’s staff. So he lingered and listened. The man spoke in a language that sounded as if he were trying to dislodge a hunk of pork from his throat, punctuated by a wheezing breath that, Wotansson supposed, was some sort of vowel. Regardless of the hideousness of the language, it was clear that the man was working himself up into some sort of frenzy, and that was having an effect on his congregation. The riders started chanting in the same language and holding their hands into the sky. Wotansson, still wanting to blend in, mimicked the group. Then, for a brief moment, the world grew dimmer. He heard a deep thrumming all around him and, just as soon as it had begun, it ended.
He shook his head and everyone lowered their arms. The priest spoke a few more words in his language and then shuffled off of the platform, walking into a large, red tent crowned by a large, iron blob much alike the one that was on top of his staff.
The crowd, murmuring passed by Wotansson. A few clapped him on the shoulder, speaking to him. He grunted back, and the others laughed and walked off towards the horse pasture. The Viking, though, kept focused on the priest’s tent. He realized that he had little time before someone discovered the corpse on the edge of the camp, and he had to act fast. He doubted that the priest—who seemed from this close to be surprisingly thin, and eyes sunken—would be able to put up much of a fight, so he figured on a good ten minutes to take him out and remove the bronze icon. Then the fun would begin. He grinend to himself and figured that the bloodshed would begin when it would begin.
He strode to the priest’s tent and walked inside, immediately hit with the stench of a hundred different oils. He blinked in the low light and saw the priest in detail—a wrinkled, old man with blackened teeth and milky-white eyes. The man looked at him and began murmuring and pointing at Wotansson.
Knowing just what to do, the Viking leapt and buried his knife in between the priest’s eyes. The warm red spurt covered Wotansson’s chest, but he didn’t pay it any attention. The body dropped to the floor and the Viking picked up the staff, which leant against a small table towards the back of a tent. Also on the table were a few gold icons, also shaped like different kinds of blobs. Shrugging and figuring that gold has universal value, Wotansson picked them off the table, stuffed them in the stolen robe, and grabbed the bronze blob on the staff.
The world went dim then, except for a deep, bass throbbing. His head felt like it was going to pop at any second, then went to the other extreme and felt like it was going to shrink into a size smaller than his eyes. There came a guttural language, something that resonated at the back of his head, as if he’d heard it before.

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