The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes Historical Fiction
The Shroud Of Darkness.
Baldr stirred, his dull moan echoed quietly in a damp dark stony prison. He stumbled to his feet disorientated, a prominent headache pounding in the back of his skull, trying to smash through coming on in a steady tempo. His stomach twisted as if he hadn’t eaten for days, burning and writhing. The darkness closed in around him.
The cold floor felt smooth on his shoeless feet. He became groggily aware of a sickness which like a wave came in pangs as the headache paused for affect. He fumbled in the darkness, trying to find his bearings. He began counting slimy paces, one, two three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. His coup was ten by ten. The room was small and as it has no windows must be underground. The only source of light visible was candle-based outside the large arched wooden door. He did a diagonal pass, cross examining every square inch of the walls where he could lay his hands. He began high up in the corners of what he assumed to be the left hand side but turned out to be the right, rough rock, grainy and unfinished, the mud based mortar eroding to his touch. Moss crept up the wall in what he imagined to be long arms stretching out from the earth waving and looking for the stagnant light. The smell was rank. How long had he been here?
There was a minute chink. It reverberated piercing the silence. Something sharp threatened to pierce his foot. Realising he jumped backwards. Sitting and rubbing his foot he scooped up the metallic object. It was a key, old and heavy possibly made of brass or iron. The alloy was smooth but scratched. A circlet of metal for its handle and an intricate patterned locking device could be felt in the darkness like jagged teeth. A brief dilemma faced him. Stay, lie in wait for someone to look in on him or try the lock and explore his prison. Disregarding this initial thought and allowed survival to take hold. The key slipped in, the lock moaned a little click. As the door fell out of the groove, the slit of golden light grew longer and burst into the room suddenly revealing his cell. It cut into the plain rock illuminating his underground dungeon prison. Simple but effective. Chains rustled and Baldr’s attention was dragged to the end of the narrow corridor. A sentry was posted there holding two rabid dogs. They gnashed and snarled, howled and barked ferociously. Heckles up and pulling on the taught chains. His captor was pale and gaunt. A typical Swedish blonde with fierce glaring blue eyes. His barely traceable goatee the only accompaniment to his thinning hair. He smiled revealing blackened teeth. He unhooked the beasts and they darted forward. “You’ll die down here Dane”
Two sleek black shapes swiftly like shadows gained steady speed, tongues lapping in their greedy open mouths as they advanced. One gained a body length more and pounced. Baldr instinctively moved to the side slightly and brought his full weight down on the dog’s neck. The snap echoed but was soon over come by another yelp. The second canine had descended upon him. A swooping kick from the ground directed it comfortably off course. Now it regrouped and pushed for another bite. This time its teeth sank deep into Baldr’s forearm. It clamped down with crushing vigour. Baldr released some disgruntled pain and reached to snap the back legs. They gave quickly. A yelped escaped the mouth and it released Baldr’s arm. Incapacitated the dog lay whimpering in pain. The sentry shifted his position in order to fight. Brandishing a silver tipped whip the wrought twisted shape longing to lick the air. It sanctimoniously relished the fleshy meal it was about to devour.
Baldr shrugged off the coming pang of sickness and soldiered onwards. The disorientation clouded his vision. He stumbled reaching out for the wall to support him. He was snapped back to reality by the cracking whip. Searing pain coursed from his leg which caused him to fall forward. He heard a callous grunt from the gaudy cretin. His shadows outline indicated a pull for another shot. Baldr waited cunningly. As the arm travelled forward Baldr still prostrate scurried forward and rolled away from the silver tooth to avoid another scratch.
Off balance the outstretched arm began extending the whip. Baldr recovered from his forward roll, snapping upwards, the sentry looked shocked. Baldr smashed his forehead into the mans skull. His nose bucked under the pressure. Blood streaming Baldr initiated the second phase of his assault. Shifting his stance he kicked forcefully sending the sentry flailing to his knees. Swiftly Baldr disarmed the man, locking the wrist and breaking it with a simple turn. The sentry gasped. Tried to grab with his free hand. Baldr simply carried on twisting forcing his opponent to lean further forward. With a powerful blow to the elbow the bone broke. The sentry already bloodied and now with an external fracture screamed, voicing his excruciating agony. Baldr silenced him efficiently. Breaking his neck. The crunch echoed in the narrow hall. The candles wavered slightly and recovered as a breeze swept through the hall. Baldr noticed his weapons, sword, dagger, and boots. He hastily equipped them.
The gloom of the narrow dimly lit hallway was made worse by the stagnant heat. Close, dry coarse air that scratched at the back of your throat, tickling almost making you cough. After the lust of battle had settled he became aware of the still whimpering dog. He returned and dealt swift peace upon it. Moving forward he bandaged his bloody arm. The tooth marks were deep but ultimately superficial. No major veins or arteries had been severed. He brandished his long sword and moved up a small number of stairs. The room he entered was grand. A high ceiling with soft plush carpet. A marble statuette of Huginn and Muninn perched precariously on the polished surface of mahogany. The tiled floor was striking; criss-cross black and white mosaic tiles each smiling the same gleam. There were no candles in this room, several chairs huddled close to a table some left out signalling there were at least two more unidentified targets.
Nothing was amiss in this room with its immaculate bookcases covering the left wall, books bound in leather sat snugly each watching his advancement as though they had already envisioned his swift demise. He moved as silently as possible careful to check his bating breath, focusing to slow his heart rate. He could hear the pounding in his ears. Adrenalin was pumping in this alien place. His hand touched a smooth spherical handle. The oak door fell from its mould and scraped a space big enough for Baldr to slip through. He shut it cautiously; he was in a mess hall. Long tables with equally proportioned benches placed symmetrically almost filled the room. At the head of the tables loomed a carving table. Flies had begun to congregate on the fresh remnants of congealed blood and flesh. Each table must house four men sat side by side. Is this some kind of guild? He thought. Girt silver candle stick holders sat as the centre piece. Simple, plain, elegant. At the head were two cuts in the stone that descended into the bowels of the estate. Baldr noted almost certainly the kitchen on the right and the maid quarters to the left. Cutting quickly across the banquet hall he moved through an already ajar door that was placed in the centre.
There was a manservant at the door. Simple attire, plain cloth breeches and a plain white cloth shirt. At Baldr’s entrance he turned subserviently and uttered “This way please sir,” Baldr was taken aback, “What in Odin’s name is happening” he retorted rather audibly. The man just turned courteously and replied “All things will be explained soon my lord” and with that last utterance he bowed his head and resumed his familiar route. Curiosity had overwhelmed him. He wanted to know who was behind it. The greying man knocked before he entered. The room was much brighter than any other he had previously passed. A roaring fire was licking the chimney breast sending smoke pluming in the night sky. Candles were ablaze along the walls. More perfectly aligned bookcases each full. “Thorkild be gone, bring our guest food and water.” It was a soft voice. Coming from behind a wooden desk, books were here too. Piled three high, papers scattered over the remaining surface. Baldr sheathed his sword safe in the knowledge that he had a dagger which was good if an altercation should arise. “Now Baldr, my dearest. What brings you here?” It said playfully. “Here,” He almost shouted raising his voice again, “You’re the reason I’m here. What’s going on?” He was suddenly aware of the sickness and the headache. “WRONG,” the voice was female, it was filled with vehemence. “My dear, you are the reason you’re here; lured by fate.” She rose from her seat.
Her figure was sleek, slender, as if she had been cut and smoothed from white limestone. Scarlet hair fell from follicle to scapula. Her slender form cut the air gracefully. Thin wrists, almost ghostly pale; a jewelled bracelet hung, blood red rubies held together by a circle of silver. Her features were equally crafted flat cheeks, striking red lips and a cleavage not too much but just enough to tempt a glance which added to her promiscuity. The brief silence was broken by Thorkild. “Sir salted meats and wine.” He lay a spread across a second low table. “Please eat,” she gestured toward the food, and sensing more subterfuge Baldr hesitated, “Thorkild eat something just to show our guest it isn’t poisoned” after taking a generous helping of each item she moved forward and struck the man forcefully. “Now get out” she spat with venom. The man cowered hiding tears and rushed from the room. She turned to Baldr, “Eat, please you must be hungry” Her voice had shifted into a softer, more caring voice almost goading. Baldr pulled a stool close to him and hungrily eyed the food. He tasted the salted pork and some bread. Only sipping the wine which was refreshing to his parched throat. She watched him avidly,
“Now, rise come to your queen” she said this commandingly although with it Baldr seemed compelled to move forward. He was facing her about a foot taller than she was. She brushed crumbs to the floor. “It’s me, my love, your darling,” She began to smile as she could see Baldr attempting to resist. “Come sit,” she guided him swiftly to a seat by a window. Slightly ajar the breeze stroked his face. His sickness and headache cleared up as he felt the morsals settling and the breeze gently caressing his burning body. He was entranced by the scenery. Tall trees surrounded the estate and walled him in, then his thoughts were interrupted by her voice, “Gunnar,” she shrieked. There came a din from beyond the door, he could hear chains dragging along the floor, soon the door flung open. The guard Baldr killed earlier knelt submissively, blood still staining his face. He felt his senses return. He was dead… “I know funny isn’t it” The woman interjected smiling as she looked at him with a analytical gaze. “Don’t think of anything heroic because it’ll be in vein and I’ll know.” Baldr was overwhelmed; this thin scrawny bitch was the infamous Vigdis, the fugitive. Baldr was cautious not to think anything but made slight alterations to his posture. She returned to her subordinate.
“Gunnar how did this happen?” she baited.
“You know how my queen” He replied courteously.
“So I do. You played your part well. Now fetch me the boy” She turned to call for another servant. Baldr’s hand slowly crept for his dagger. In a split second he threw it. Darting through the air the missile found its target like an arrow, but it was the wrong target. Gunnar intercepted it using his body to block the path of the incoming dagger. It pierced his chest sinking deeply.
Moving like a spooked cat Vigdis coiled round. A set of fangs visible in her top row of teeth, a snake ready to strike. “Fascinating you even tried. You will know your place soon enough. But as for Gunnar, it is such a shame. It took years for me to find someone like him.” A boy entered shifting nervously into the room. She looked at him, “No not now, send Thorkild to move this.” She pointed at Gunnar’s heaped body; the boy scurried away, relief etched into his young countenance. She bit her bottom lip and cast reproachful eyes upon Baldr. “What am I to do with you?” she uttered. Baldr’s hand instinctively crept to his hilt as he rose to his feet sensing a change in the atmosphere. “Truthfully I have a fondness of you, you will be mine, I will make it so.” Her erratic mood-swings unnerved him. She was wielding the dagger pulled from Ulrik’s chest. Baldr had nowhere to run. “I don’t want to harm you, but if you make me, I will kill you.”
She placed the dagger on the table and pushed the tray of meats to him. Baldr shook his refusal and in an instant she was incredibly close to him. She clasped his wrist firmly, she was too fast as she turned her centre and threw Baldr down. He hopelessly tried to break his fall with his left hand and arm but collided with the small wooden table, the tray scattered across the floor. “You are about to encounter an opportunity.” She walked around past his head struck again, below the elbow. Both radius and ulna broke. The pain was excruciating.
Baldr was incapacitated and fear was brimming inside him. Hildur! “Don’t be such a child, she is gone forever.” She unveiled a stiletto blade and slammed it straight down, through the clavicle on his left side. It exited under the armpit. She snapped the thin blade where it stuck. She was positively beaming now. Revelling in the fear and pain she was unleashing on her victim. Baldr was knelt helplessly at her mercy. Broken right arm, useless left. He felt cold fingers curling around his throat; they began constricting, forcing air from his lungs. “You taste divine” she muttered. Before he could process this, her fangs had sunk into his neck. He expected to die. To twitch like Gunnar but he didn’t. “You were ready to die no?” she questioned. “Ready to deliver yourself, give yourself over…” He hung on every one of her twisted words. Unable to escape his growing despair he exhaled trying to push words from his restricted oesophagus, only hollow scrapes managed to squeeze through. Vigdis was becoming frustrated again. She grabbed a silver candle stick and bludgeoned Baldr, striking his cranium. Dominantly she allowed him to fall face forward into the floor, dazed, confused he slipped into unconsciousness
© Stephen Shimmans. July 13th 2011