Season of Marvels
by Deb Houdek Rule
“Season of Marvels” is a dark fantasy based on the Icelandic Viking sagas of the 12th and 13th centuries. It’s written largely in the style of the sagas. ©1994 D. A Houdek (Deb Houdek Rule)
It was a season of marvels, the sorcerers said, and even the Christians agreed. The visitations began in the darkest part of winter, near the solstice, in the last year of the first millennium, which the Christians looked to with dread. Those in the district who were still friends of Thor and Odin even went so far as to suggest that this might be the beginning of the Ragnorok, the time of the last, great winter when the gods themselves would die. Most scoffed at that idea though. The marvels were meant as a warning to someone, wiser voices said, but this too was ignored.
Kieran, a slave of Einar the Earless, listened to the tales and speculations from a chilly corner near the door of the long house and refrained from comment. Because he was Irish, taken on a raid several years ago, it was thought he was a Christian, but Kieran adhered to a far older religion, one where, like the pagan religion of Iceland, marvels were more common than miracles. He carved on a wooden cup, shaping the wood with intricate designs, and said nothing.
On this night, quiet between winter storms, Hallbjorn Half-Troll, chieftain from two farmsteads distant, sat by Einar on the High-chair of the Main Hall telling the tale of the ghost that visited his home. Nearest him sat the men of the neighboring farms with a few servants and kinsmen. The women of Einar’s household sat among them while servants kept the drinking horns well filled.
“It was the ghost of my wife’s father,” he claimed, taking another swig from his horn. With each drink the story grew more involved, as he told it for the third time. The children of the slaves and servants, and the first son of Sigridur, Einar’s daughter, listened with wide eyes to every word. Sigridur cowered, as usual for her of late, in the furthest corner of the hall, her eyes occasionally meeting Kieran’s through the gloom. “I knew he’d not take well to being dead when I killed him,” Hallbjorn said, “so I hacked his legs off with my axe and raised a great burial mound over him. That worked well enough to hold him until three nights ago.”
Hallbjorn’s household had been gathered around the hearth during the last gale. The wind first blew damp from the ocean, then with an icy blast off the Vatnajökull glacier. Amidst the howls of the storm Hallbjorn’s wife suddenly claimed to hear noises from the cod bin. All were quiet as they stared toward the door and listened. From the bin came a rustle. None dared move as the rustling with —some said — the sound of demon slavering continued for hours. Finally, after a long time of silence, Hallbjorn crept to the bin and peered in. Every bit of the winter’s supply of fish was gone, devoured by the hungry spirit, down to a few well-stripped bones.