The sky was a slaughterhouse. The ice-crowned crater dominated the tortured landscape, smoke broiling from its broken temple like dark, troubled thoughts. From treacherous fissures steam swirled, reeking and scolding. At the threshold of a lava tunnel stood the crone, wreathed in scorched rags. A gnarled hand wrapped around a warped staff as though carved from the same piece of storm-blasted wood. Eyes blinked open, white and sightless, yet sensing something beyond the spectrum of human vision. Beyond the howling of the wind subtle ears picked up a different sound. The old woman tilted her head – iron-grey plaits stretching to her shrivelled thighs restless in the biting gale – and smiled a black-toothed smile.
In the distance, a growl of thunder, growing louder. Then, out of the blackness, a beam swept across the broken land. At the foot of the mountain, where the dirt trail ended, the bikes converged. One among them got off and ascended – his large figure picked up in the headlights which helped to light his way – casting a giant shadow before him.
The crone waited for him to climb to her.
Finally, he was before her – a giant of man, clad in rank leathers. A leather eye patch, decorated with a grinning silver skull, covered one side of his face. His long white beard was whipped by the wind. From beneath his cut, bristling with studs, he pulled a fistful of glittering treasure and flung it at the crone’s feet.
‘Witch, give me a vision!’ he roared, his voice carrying over the storm.
‘No sweet words? Once you tasted of my spring and I gave you a gift of the Futhark.’
‘And I lost my eye as a result!’
‘Nothing is without cost, Bolverk One Eye. Kneel!’
Slowly, he knelt before her – not taking his one good eye from her, its cold orb a sun of fierce ice.
She placed her claw-like hands over his head, fingernails digging beneath his leather eye- patch into the ruined socket. ‘An eye for an eye…’
One Eye tensed, but did not recoil. He bore the white flashes of pain.
Her white eyes swirled with colour and her form blurred. At times she seemed young, a sparkle of youthful allure and mischief in her eyes; then suddenly, a woman in her prime, powerful and confident; next, in a juddering smear, the crone showed through once more – the skull beneath the skin.
‘Each of us wears many faces, but our soul remains the same. Do not forget who you truly are, Bolverk One Eye, even if the world does. Your name will be chanted at the end of days.’
Swaying, wailing, and frothing at the mouth, the hag-mother-maiden started to recite his many names.
Each one was a chisel and mallet to the tomb he had made of his life. A hammering, growing louder until a vision exploded into his mind. A vast tree, growing between the worlds. Nine spheres of shadow and mist, flame and frost. Mighty races of gods and giants, monsters and men. A bridge of seven colours stretching across the worlds from a realm of gleaming halls, flowing with mead served by proud swan-maidens. Warriors boasting of their deeds before the throng. Then a dark cloud covering all. The dream shattered by the crowing of three roosters – golden-crowned, red-billed and black. The howling of a monstrous dog. Vast armies marching to war. Cities shattered by terrible battles.
‘Aarghh!’ he cried.
Her claw dug deeper. Writhing in her skin, the sightless seeress chanted:
It sates itself on the life-blood
of fated men,
paints red the powers’ homes
with crimson gore.
Black become the sun’s beams
in the summers that follow,
weathers all treacherous—’
She sensed his restlessness. ‘Sorry. Am I boring you?’
One Eye hissed through gritted teeth: ‘Get on with it, old woman! But speak up! My hearing isn’t what it used to be!’
Grumbling, the crone enunciated her prophecy:
’Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
– an axe age, a sword age
– shields are riven –
a wind age, a wolf age –
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.′
One Eye gritted his teeth as the hellish vision flashes into his mind. Mountains shook, oceans rose ... a winter without end ... Old enemies awoken … one by one they fall... The Earth split asunder … all was consumed in flames, smoke and steam – until he could bear no more.
Crying out, One Eye pulled back: ‘Aargghhh!’ He crumpled on to the floor, breathing ragged. From his ruined eye a line of blood trickled down his face. ‘What I have seen ... Will it come to pass?’
The crone looked at him with inscrutable eyes. ‘This is the wyrd of the world. Only a fool would try to prevent it. Even the gods must die. Their end has come.’
The mountain shook beneath her. From the summit, smoke and ash billowed, crackling with lightning.
‘Ragnarok is nigh!’ she cackled. ‘You have slept for too long, Bolverk One Eye. As have I. Time to awaken! Humanity has neglected us for too long! Man has fouled my body; treated me like his thrall; abused my sisters. But no more! It is time for him to pay! To know the wrath of the goddess! Katla awakes!’
The long-dormant volcano erupted, vaporising the glacier plugging it in a massive fire-cloud, which sent material thousands of feet up into the air. Molten debris rained down upon the the slopes. From deep within the lava tunnel they stood in came a blast of searing heat.
‘We’ve got to get out of here!’ One Eye roared.
‘Run, Bolverk One Eye! Run as though you wear magical breeches!’
One Eye dived out of the tunnel just as a river of lava gushed forth from the volcano’s bowels. The old woman was not so fast – or chose not to escape her fate. Her ragged cloak caught alight and she was wreathed in flames.
Zigzagging down the mountain, boots sliding on the scree, One Eye made for his men. Gobbets of hot ash and cinder fell around him, bouncing off his cut displaying the three interlocking triangles of the Wild Hunt patch.
The dark riders gunned their engines as their leader leapt on his metal steed – a beast of chrome, snorting fire. Tyres cut black crescents into the fallen ash as they skidded out of the path of the hypercaustic cloud rolling down its flanks. One Eye led them at speed away from the mountain of fire – spewing high into the night sky, a she-wolf raging against the heavens, howling with hate.
One Eye opened his good eye, breathing heavily, sweat trickling down over his patch. Heart racing like a 2249cc engine, he tried to get his bearings. Next to his head was a black pool ball, which he knocked as he turned. ‘Ow!’ He watched it roll into the pocket. A bottle trembled on the edge. Then the room shuddered as though a massive juggernaut had thundered past and several toppled onto the stone floor. The smashing seemed unreasonably loud – like he’d just kicked in a plate glass window. Yet the shuddering subsided, and the heavy snoring around him continued. Groaning he slowly sat up, every sound, a needle to the brain. His leathers unpeeled from the baize, and his tongue from his gums. His mouth was drier than a camel’s cunny. Not that he would know, although there were some in the club who probably would. A few of them lay sleeping it off around the bar. It must have been quite a party last night. He wished he could remember it.
One Eye slid off the table and tried to defy gravity. It was a mistake. Gripping the sides, he waited for his head to stop spinning. Then, crunching through the broken glass, he staggered to the toilets. He was busting.
Bladder empty and face splashed with water, One Eye felt a little better. He inspected himself in the grimy mirror. What a magnificent specimen! Fuck, he looked old. Every party took its toll, which was every night with the Wild Hunt. He had a reputation to maintain. Standards. He was their president after all, and if he couldn’t out-drink them, out-fight them, and out-ride them, then some other fucker would, and that would be that. And now he was having these crazy dreams. Same shit every night. An infinite extended cut of some apocalyptic flick, but starring him, which he kind of liked. Sometimes he felt like he was meant to be something else, something bigger. Like there was a whole other life in their waiting to be lived. Yet for many, just being president of a club would be enough – the pinnacle of a biker’s ambition. They all looked a mess this morning, but when the Wild Hunt took to the road, you knew it. What a sound they made! Folk gave them space, gave them respect.
One Eye straightened his cut, and smoothed back his grey mane and white beard. ‘You’ll do,’ he said to himself. He’d have to.
Stepping outside was a big mistake. Daylight. He reached for his wraparound shades. The northern sky was a grey ragged cloak of cloud, but it still hurt his eyes. The bracing wind woke him up a bit, but tasted foul. Something mean was on the air. He hawked a good one onto the concrete, hoping to get bitterness out of his mouth. The bikes were all racked up – three hundred, at the last count, with more joining them every day, gleaming beasts every one of them. Better looked after than their owners. It was the back of Chasey’s, one of their favourite stop-overs, Nearby the mountain road snaked downwards towards the haze of ‘civilisation’, well, Manchester. Soon they’ll be on it and heading west. They had a Gathering to get to. It was going to be a big one. Colours from all over. Deals struck, scores settled. Road races, rock’n’roll, and … more partying. He groaned a little inside.
Sounds from the kitchen drew his attention. Talking. A television. Clattering and sizzling. The reek of hot fat made him nearly gag, but then the thought of a fry up suddenly seemed appealing.
The fire exit was open and he popped his head round. Sitting at the metal worktable were four ‘survivors’, who happened to be his closest crew: the massive bulk of his daughterson, The Hammer, the club’s enforcer; Rig, his solid, reliable road-captain; and hot-tempted Tear, their one-handed sergeant-at-arms. Balder lay with his face smushed on his arms, snoring, and displaying his shiny tattooed pate to the world.
‘Behold, our glorious leader!’ roared Tear.
They cheered, the Hammer spitting out bits of her breakfast. In each hand she held a greasy butty, dripping egg yolk and ketchup down her thick forearms.
‘Morning, chief. Coffee?’ Chasey was working the grill, rolled up sleeves revealing his ex-army ink.
One Eye nodded and sat down heavily.
Chasey grabbed a mug and the coffee pot and hobbled over. Since he’d had the spill and the pins, he’d stopped riding on two wheels. He sometimes came out on the trike, but he was a businessman now. Had a bar and grill to run: the classic pit-stop on Serpent Pass, as the popular biker run was known – offering thrilling twisties over the Pennines. A beer and a burger at the halfway point was a tradition for many bikers in the area. For the Wild Hunt, it was a useful stopover on the way to the west coast and the ferry to the Isle of Man.
‘Cheers,’ said One Eye, gratefully accepting the mug of steaming joe.
‘Full English?’ asked Chasey, shifting his weight to his good leg.
‘How about a full British?’ he smirked. ‘I’ve got lots to soak up.’
‘Mmm, a challenge! I like it! I’ll see what I can rustle up!’ He hobbled back to the store cupboards.
‘A great night, gang. Skol!’ One Eye raised his mug.
Rig and Tear did the same, and The Hammer raised a butty with a grin. ‘Skol!’
They had a few Nordic affectations – all part of the club’s mystique, making out like modern day Vikings.
Then One Eye remembered his dream and shuddered.
‘Someone walk over your grave, chief?’ teased Tear.
He feigned a laugh, but the feeling spooked him.
Nobody noticed. They seemed distracted that morning, and One Eye followed their gaze back to the TV on the wall. ‘What’s happening in the world, then? More shit from that Koil guy?’
Tear shook his head. ‘Not this time. For once his idiotic babblings have been blown out of the sky.’
‘The guy is entertaining, I’ll give him that,’ said The Hammer between mouthfuls.
Rig was glued to the set, watching the shaky live footage from a helicopter of a mountain spewing out fire and ash. ‘There’s been a big eruption in Iceland. Katla, or something. Might explain that rumble we just had.’
One Eye’s good eye widened. He remembered. He remembered it all.
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