The Yule Promise
Each morning Sunna's appearance over the eastern rim of the mountain filled Valdarr with a sense of joy and relief. It was not the darkness that he feared, but the rock or tree limb buried in the snow, that might trip him up, that worried him. Tumbling out of the bush to escape the wolves days ago had caused his arm to throb once again, and the thought of landing on it again made him tense up as he recalled the agony of the fall. With Sunna's gracious gift of light he was able to watch every footstep with the greatest of care.
Much to the dismay of Valdarr the ridge began to slowly rise in altitude. At first the upward grade was mild and barely perceptible, but soon, all too soon, the path he walked upon became an uphill battle against both gravity, and his own exhaustion. At one point it seemed as if he slid backward half a step for every one he took. And to make matters worse the depth of the snow increased with every twenty feet of elevation he gained.
The climb soon became an intense struggle, not only against the mountain, and the conditions, but also with his mind and his body. Every step added to the torture, as the drifting snow rose up in places to his waist, and the footing became more and more treacherous despite the aid of his spear to balance him. Time after time he fell head first into the snow, and each time he tried to fall on his left side to not further injure his right arm, but with the conditions being what they were he could often not control his body as it slid out from under him. Many times Valdarr lay in the deep snow until the cold numbed the inflamed wound, before forcing his way back up and continuing on.
Valdarr was nearly to the end of his strength and resilience when he finally reached the peak of this region of the mountain. With tears of relief welling up in his eyes he tried to remember the name of these mountains, that he now cursed with every step, but he could not recall it. With a sarcastic grin he looked back at the steep path he had just climbed, and whispered through dry cracked lips :
" I will call you Jotunheim,...., and as the Gods do, I will curse you, and fight you, with every breath I take ! " he told the snow covered mountain range.
With a final wince Valdarr turned away from where he had been and looked reluctantly down to where he had yet to go. Instantly his shoulders slumped, and his head hung low against his chin. The path he must now follow traveled down steeply for about a hundred feet, and then disappeared into a thick blanket of snow that covered the entire side of the mountain.
Valdarr had heard the skalds tell tales of how heroes were given difficult tasks by the Gods to prove their worth. He remembered how, at the time of the telling, he envied Beowulf, Sigurd, and the others, but now, confronted as he was by these daunting obstacles, he felt only anger, and self pity.
" What do the Gods want of me ?! " he shouted angrily to the dark snow clouds that were building overhead.
" I have given you my blood, my sweat, and my arm ! What more do you want !! " he screamed louder.
At first he was answered only by his own echo as it reverberated through the mountains, but then he heard a much more ominous sound. Howling in the not too far distance announced the return of the wolf pack. Obviously the wolves had chosen a new leader, and they were once again on the hunt. Valdarr no longer had time to ask questions of the Gods, nor did he have time for self pity. Once again all of his thoughts were directed at surviving this new threat.
As quickly and carefully as he could Valdarr moved down the steep path. His only hope was to reach the few trees whose top branches still remained above the jumping height of the wolves before they caught up to him. As he dug his spear - walking stick firmly into the deep snow for balance, he took his first unsteady steps down the path.
Valdarr slid the last ten feet on his ass, stopping only when his feet hit a snow bank that blocked the path, and which continued across the slope to where the path seemed to emerge from the snow about a quarter of a mile in the distance, and five hundred feet below his present location. Carefully Valdarr lifted himself up and looked at the deep snow. He wondered for a moment if it would hold his weight, or would he sink into it like a rock in water.
" If only I had time to make snow shoes ! " he told himself.
But there was no time ! As he looked back over his shoulder he caught sight of a wolf peering down at him from the mountain peak he had just left. Without heeding to caution Valdarr quickly stepped into the snow with one foot and listened as it crunched beneath his weight. One foot, however, would not tell him how deep he would sink into the snow. With closed eyes he moved his other foot forward, and set it on top of the snow. This time his entire body sank deeper into the snow. To his great relief, however, the snow only reached up to his knee. Without further testing Valdarr took off as fast as he could in the direction of the closest tree.
Valdarr felt as if he were moving in slow motion as he did his best to make his way through the snow to the evergreen tree that he hoped would be tall enough to be both his sanctuary and his fortress against the wolves. Curiously he remembered back to having similar dreams as a child in which he was chased through a treeless plain by a fire dragon. In these recurring dreams he moved at half speed while the dragon flew twice as fast as he could manage. To his relief he always woke up from the nightmare just as the dragon caught up to him. Unfortunately for the adult Valdarr there was no way to " wake up " from this reality !
When he finally dared to look back Valdarr was glad to see that the wolves were having as much, if not more trouble, navigating their way through the deep snow as he was. Actually, if the situation was not as dire as it was he might have even thought it funny to watch as the wolves jumped like rabbits from spot to spot in the snow that came up to their chins as they moved forward. Unfortunately, he also quickly became aware that despite their difficulties the wolves were moving faster than he was, and might catch up to him before he reached the tree !
With the wolves nipping at his heels Valdarr placed the spear in his mouth, and jumped for the highest branch he felt he could manage to grab hold of. His left hand firmly caught hold of the upper branch, but his left boot, which was covered with snow, slipped off of the lower branch, and he swayed forward under the upper branch. As he rotated backward one of the wolves sunk its teeth into the calf muscle of his right leg. Despite the extra weight, and the intense pain, Valdarr was able to reset his left foot, and climb up, out of the reach of the other wolves.
As Valdarr screamed in pain he leaned his body forward against the branches as a counterweight, pulled the spear from his mouth, and began to stab at the creature. It took a dozen jabs at the enraged wolf before it finally, and reluctantly, released its grip and fell to the ground. When he looked down at the injured wolf he saw a piece of his pants, and a bloody chunk of his flesh in the wolf's mouth.
Valdarr quickly placed the spear back into his mouth and scrambled up into the higher branches to be out of the wolves reach. When he felt he was no longer in immediate danger the full impact of his new wound hit him. As he closed his eyes, he bit down on the spear and screamed.
His throes of agony echoed through the mountains like thunder. Then, much like thunder, Valdarr heard a low rumbling in the distance. Reluctantly he opened his eyes just in time to see a wall of snow cascading down the mountain like a tidal wave upon a beach. Valdarr's jaw sprung open in horror at the approaching white mass. As the spear fell from his mouth he scrambled as high as he could into the tree before the avalanche made impact.
The terror of the wall of snow hitting his safe haven was tempered only by the satisfaction of watching the wolves being carried away by its force.
" Now if only the tree can remain....., " he started to say before he heard a loud snap above the roar of the snow.
Within moments he was carried away with the flood of white death. As he clung onto the branch with all his might he could feel the tree being ripped apart by the blast of snow.
" If an object as strong and resilient as a tree cannot stand up to this avalanche, then how can I ! " Valdarr thought to himself.
When the roar finally died away there was only silence, and the sense of being held tightly in place. Before his world went dark Valdarr thought to himself :
" So this is what it feels like to be buried alive ! "
- End Chapter 9
- Next : Chapter 10 : The Hordaland Army Returns
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2018.