‘There are many wild animals roaming around.’ She had a bloodthirsty smile on her face. ‘But this is not reason enough to explain you. Amerongen never cared much for hunting.’
‘The deciding factor was me being Gol’s best friend. He was an excellent swordsman and had taught me skills few guards know.’
‘Yes, mistress Mathilde.’
‘Gol had no friends.’
She approached him very closely and never had I seen in this long life of mine, me, Jonas Sverker, such effort in anyone, man or woman, to keep at bay their desire to slit someone’s throat. Her gaze went wild with unbridled rage, and her chin was twitching. Still, she all but whispered the following.
‘I know all the guards Orian ever spoke to. You were not among them. You did not follow a single command I issued. I know what you did with the trenches. You buried them, and in them you’ve buried the bodies of my many loyal guards. You brought your own men. Do you think I am unaware of the dagger at my throat and that the tower guards’ arrows aiming at me, or of the gate being unlocked? I wonder who dragged you here to begin with.’
‘Almric, Olof’s brother.’ He smiled and lunged at her with a dagger.
She grabbed the sharp end with her hand, confusing him for a moment, then giving him a powerful knee kick to the crotch.
The guards pulled out their arrows and tightened their bows.
‘Stop…’ Tamson gurgled, but I could no longer hear him, for I went numb out of fear for our fates.
At that moment, from the highest point of a tower an arrow pierced the rebel’s leg, and then the other went into his palm. The mistress grabbed him and blood covered her long, white fingers. ‘Almric, you say?’
Dark shadows were dancing on her face, while the guards were returning the arrows to their quivers.
‘Are they dead as well?’ Tamson asked. His confused look was aimed at the archers, many of which, as he knew, were hidden in the deepest parts of the tower. It was the last line of defense, therefore it had to have been heavily guarded. ‘Where are my men? Maybe in that trench you mentioned?’
Mathilde burst out laughing.
‘Give me my sword back, you damn Norrbotten witch!’
The shivers that had overcome his body up until that point were gone completely, which she noticed and whispered ‘Almric…’ anew, adding ‘I can understand that. I would have done the same myself. Raise an army of monsters and crush Amerongen, bathe in his blood under the light of the pregnant moon. But where is the wretch now? There he is chanting to himself in the solars begging the serfs to ride him. There are no living here, not anymore.’ To this I, Jonas Sverker, quivered in fear, but Mathilde had already sent away the guards that wanted to shackle Tamson. There was a tumult in the air from all the rage. Tamson looked at their faces, but they were cloaked. ‘This is your army?’ He laughed. ‘Yeomen whose blood you drank?’
‘How poignant.’ She laughed and tossed him a two-handed sword. ‘I like your courage. What else can you do besides being brave? Since you cannot fight, which we’ve established during regular training.’ She turned her back to him, giving him the chance to cut her down. ‘I can hear the trotting of feet moving to the gates. The monster is here, to lay the beast to rest.’ She spoke without rhyme or reason.
Tamson stood on his shaky feet, the sword in his hand equally as shaky.
‘You wear the robes of Amerongen, giving out the same commands he would, drink blood far more greedily and suck the life out of Norrbotten more rammishly and passionately than he ever could…You are Amerongen. Your soul is rotten, words vile, innocent blood rests on your hands!’ He shouted, swinging his sword to Mathilde. She swiftly turned and he landed on the sharp end of her blade, his heart pierced.
‘You should have killed me first, then give a speech,’ she said, wiping the sword on Abaddon’s back. She turned to the guards.
‘Open the gates for Almric.’ She uttered this verdict under the flaming ball burning away in the open sky, for it no longer was the sun, but rather a burning monster, a flaming torch about to start a wildfire.
‘It’s as if lava is about to run from the sky, followed by blood. Then fire comes and swallows all,’ the Undead one concluded.
‘You are right, my love,’ none other than my undead daughter Laetitia added, dismounting Abaddon, and then, hand in hand the two moved through the garden, along a narrow alleyway to the castle gates which closed like a maw behind them…
The entry fortress was open for Almric’s army to enter on their lavishly clad horses. The infantry threw boulders at the defenseless towers of Hässe. Almric’s knights rode through the gates armed with spears, swords and maces. One part was made up of simple peasantry clad in animal hides, armed with axes and pitchforks.
This was how Amerongen was abandoned by his gods. Alfhild, goddess akin to our immortal mistress Mathilde, joined forces with Loki’s daughter Hel, ruler of Niflheim.
The Road of Death, a bridge stretching over Hornavan, joining the isle of Naki with the surrounding mountains, was Amerongen’s concoction just like the Bifrost connecting Midgard to Asgard. We decided that, if we were to survive the wrath of gods, we would ride out of Hässe, the realm of eternal cold, the miniature Niflheim of Amerongen’s tenebrous mind, which started burning under the swigs of flaming swords of Surtr, the god creator of stars and Bergelmir.
Hässe was disappearing, under the rain of flaming arrows, in a fiery vortex. I saw a strange apparition at the tallest tower up which, along the ladder, the enraged villagers were climbing, howling wolfishly.
‘Amerongen is here!’ Taken by anger, they cursed his name, called on him to surrender the ‘bitch of Norrbotten’, while the great sven looked at them cold, tall in a long gown, cloaked.
A sword flashed which he held in his hand steadily, calmly, as if he were in a world of unnatural coldness. Too far for me to notice any other detail, it seemed to me that he stepped forward, as if he is about to dive into the fire at any moment. The curses and begging of the villagefolk were interrupted by a whip cracking in his other hand. Some fell from the ladder, pierced by arrows from the opposite tower, the ‘Eyes of Hässe’, fired by surviving guards of Orian. I listened in carefully. I heard his mumbling and a whisper to nobody in particular, except to one…the Sun!
‘Let me see you now.’ I was sure he was talking to the sun, for his entire body was turned to the flaming mass in the sky towards which he seemed an alabaster statue, solemn in his motionless stupor and lack of interest to the battle behind him. ‘Mock, shaman, keep on mocking. I will see you there…any second now!’
I could clearly see his skull grinning and his skeletal hand (‘Is he even alive?’) that he held up his sword with towards the sun. En garde, he started moving along an imaginary line along the edge of the tower, measuring up the opponent up in the heavens. I was certain then that he had lost it. ‘And now a lunge at the opponent!’ This he said, blessed Thor and jumped, laughing maniacally, into the fire.
After the master’s fall, the remaining guards charged and clashed blades with Almric’s army. Through the smoke, sword clinking and the all-devouring fire, I spotted a distraught Hilde with unkempt hair and torn garb, running towards me, so I took her into my arms and threw over one of Orian’s Arabian horses, defending myself along the way with an ax I took from the battleground, and I rode the horse to save us from certain demise in an insane trot.
The flames shivered around our heads, but by the grace of the gods, or some other miracle, we were unharmed, and what a miracle it was, I gave myself the task of finding it out after I had found myself on the other side of the Death Road, for I knew the shortcut that lead into the hills specked with muddy village huts that during the rebellion, I believed, were abandoned.
As if reading my thoughts, to the noted above Hilde said to me. ‘This Arabian horse was gifted to us by our mistress Mathilde. She is already in Valhalla with our daughter, Jonas – they dance with the Valkyries.’
No other option remained for me but to hold her words as true and that the mistress sent her this message from hell itself, for we rode the battleground filled with cries of those fallen from the towers, that dropped, with deafening noise, one after another, in a fateful battle and clash of two-handed swords with axes and iron bars. Not one bit of that touched us, nor were we seen – by either Almric’s troops or Tamson’s infantry made up of the Norrbotten village men – as we rode past them. At one point, the shaitan-horse passed through the body of a guard in armor. ‘See? Not a regular horse,’ my wife said triumphantly, the moment before the horse flew over the drawbridge and into the fire which we then left unharmed.
Hässe was convulsing and breathing its last breaths, while I prayed to Odin, begging him to send the Storm, to have at least a flower or a rock remain of the castle, to which Hilde bumped me on the head, and I thanked dear Odin that my head had never been filled by unsightly thoughts, to which my wife laughed heartily. ‘The mistress gifted me as well, not just you.’ I looked at her, spurred the horse far away onward, as far away as possible from the castle that the devil himself claimed.
Odin split the gut of the sky asunder with his thunder and smacked the ‘Eyes of Hässe’. A lively colorful fire burst over the decorated tower. Hässe was moaning amid its death rattle. Dying slowly and finally exhaling one last time, leaving no man alive, for Hässe belonged to no one other than Yambe-Akka.
I tell all of this in your mercy, chaplain Larsen, so that you could take pity on our fates and, considering our knowledge and fealty to the masters while they were alive, take us into Västerås to live in peace and pray to one god.
Captain Larsen coughed reading the scroll written by the unskilled hand of a simple serf.
– He writes like a king or a monk would…There must be an explanation for this as well.
He scratched his head and started reading the stableboy’s writing in pure Latin.
– ‘And mistress Mathilde, with our daughter Laetitia Sverker, came to our dreams these past days, forcing us to plead with you and explain what really happened in Hässe during your absence.
Wishing for her will to be done properly, she greets you, chaplain and Father, and she hopes not, for your sake, for an upcoming encounter.
Your humble servant,
– I am Ishmael.
– Umar told me of you.
– Have you read the history of Hjalmar and what had happened?
 One of the Nine realms, the land of the dishonored dead who did not die heroically.
 Home of the gods.
 Giants living in the fire realm of Muspelheim.