The Tree at World's End

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Twenty

Fjiorn’s journey through the tunnel was wet and interminable.

Fortunately, he had lost all reference points and was quite incapable of measuring the passage of time. But he somehow knew that this passage was taking a long time.

He struggled through yet another wall of foliage and was almost disbelieving when he emerged into the open once more. Yet his delight was short lived, for he now faced a battlefield littered with the remnants of terrible slaughter. The bodies of thousands lay upon what had once been a lush green field, and was now a devastated earth soaked dark with blood.

Ravens took to wing with indignant cries as he stepped further into this field of death, but then soon alighted once more and resumed their feast upon fresh cadavers.

At the crest of the hill stood the enormous white structure he had glimpsed earlier.

He picked his way gingerly through the battlefield, trying to avoid stepping on any of the dead, but unfortunately this caused him to see all too closely the true horror of the massacre.

Crossing this death-field proved even harder than navigating the wood on his hands and knees.

When he reached his destination, he stood for a time marvelling at the impossible edifice. A row of tall, slender pillars stretched away in both directions, presumably encircling the entire structure. They rose dozens of spans in height, but almost immediately behind them a wall of white marble barred the way.

Fjiorn could not make up his mind if this was a temple or a fortress. But whatever it was, he had no doubt that it had been erected by gods, for human ingenuity could not have conceived such an edifice, let alone built it.

Up close, the structure appeared even more enormous than it had seemed from afar.

“Hey there!” he called out, but there was no movement or sound from the battlements.

Fjiorn turned to look out over the forest that surrounded the fortress.

The sky was still laden with cloud, but his higher vantage allowed him to now see over an immense distance, to where rich and fertile farming lands lay, lands that his own people – accustomed as they were to rocky and inhospitable slopes - would be incapable of imagining.

These fields were bathed in broad shafts of sunlight, and beyond them vertiginous mountains reached into elaborate formations of cloud that were themselves reminiscent of fantastic realms. He wondered then if he was seeing Valhöll itself, and marvelled at the feelings that this sight instigated in his heart.

His vision was suddenly incredibly sharp and clear and the vista seemed bathed in colours of impossibly exquisite hues.

This contrasted wildly with the devastation closer to hand.

Fjiorn began to move again, picking his way carefully around the bodies of the slain.

He noted that nowhere had even a single drop of blood landed on the white stone pillars. He questioned how this could be, but found no answers.

He physically started when a voice spoke directly behind him.

“I’ll grant you this, you are one of the most enterprising men I have ever encountered.”

The goat-god stood leaning casually against a spear that had skewered a warrior to the ground.

“Dear me, just resolved one conundrum and another presents itself…”

Fjiorn continued walking.

“Do you have anything useful to say to me?” he asked testily.

The god laughed.

“That’s what I like, irreverence. I do dislike it when humans grovel. Just because you are mortal does not mean that you should lower yourself before anyone who is not. But to answer your question, yes, I do have something useful to tell you. There is an entrance to this place, but you will not find it in the direction you are headed.”

“That is as useful as being told that I don’t know how to get in.”

“Ah, but with this knowledge you can save yourself from circuiting the temple in vain.”

“Unless there is something along the way that you don’t want me to see.”

The goat-god shook his head as Fjiorn resumed walking.

“Not very trusting, are you?”

“Loki has a reputation, even amongst mortals.”

“I am not Loki,” he replied, but for the first time Fjiorn detected frustration in the god’s voice.


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