School: The Royal Blind School
The day was grey with streaks of brightest white cloud in the sky, the sun absent. Crystalline droplets of rain cascaded down to flow across the already saturated hill, constructing small muddy rivers with blades of green curved so they resembled miniature scythes.
The boy stood at the precipitous verge of the hill, his large blue eyes fixed on something invisible to others. He was a very skinny boy with tangled brown hair he had trimmed himself. Even though he wore a thick heavy cloak of black fur, his teeth still chattered making a noise like scurrying mice or clattering pebbles.
Another lad, skinnier and smaller with a black cloth eye-patch over his left socket, had approached him from behind and announced his enquiry loudly. However the boy didn’t start as anticipated.
‘What can you see?’ he asked curiously, in a harsh tongue.
The boy didn’t respond. He knew the other would accuse him of lying, and he himself was half convinced that he was dreaming.
‘Nothing,’ Malcolm muttered finally, wrenching his eyes away. ‘Let us go.’
One thin eyebrow raised sceptically above the worn eye patch, but his friend moved on without question. Malcolm followed, taking a last glimpse over his shoulder.
In the sky, protruding out of the wet clay-like clouds to the north was a bridge made of sculpted ice. It glittered and shimmered with its own pale aura, blocks and intertwined railings of frozen water marching away into the distance. Beyond the bridge he could see a dazzling pearl-like sky.
The village that the two boys inhabited had less than two hundred in its dense population, who all lived in similar huts of weathered bark. A fierce wind raged and light fall of snow leapt gleefully into the boys’ faces as they ventured towards a particular house.
After knocking on the door, they entered cautiously. inside the interior was warm and snug with many pelts. Salmon and other delicious fish hung dangling from the ceiling, their shimmering white and pink flanks illuminated by the candlelight, their blank pale eyes staring accusingly at the humans below.
‘Ah, One-Eye!’ came a loud craggy growl. ‘Finally.’
The being who had spoken, Malcolm was unsurprised to see, was a large bear-like man with strong hairy limbs and small beady eyes glaring fiercely over a shaggy grey beard, a scowl etched across his face. Malcolm had never understood if this man was One-Eye’s father, and had never asked.
One-Eye looked up coldly, bold despite the difference in size. ‘Be careful of what is said,’ he warned quietly.
‘Is the boy staying, then?’ He jabbed a finger at Malcolm, who flinched. ‘The storm’s pickin’ up.’
One-Eye peered at Malcolm. ‘Yes, I assume so.’
‘Right then. Supper’ll be on the table as quick as Sleepnir can gallop!’
‘I’ll just get some air,’ Malcolm murmured to One-Eye who nodded before disappearing into the next room.
The surrounding landscape had transformed in the moments Malcolm had spent in the warm yellow glow of One-Eye’s hut: snow swirled down in large mirroring flakes, forming a slim blanket under his boots.
The skies were steadily growing darker, the clouds fading into misty vines of quicksilver. A pale aura, brighter than snow, suggested the moon’s near arrival, and by it he noticed something.
Something that shook him entirely out of his thoughts.
Something that made his spine shiver.
in the heavens, high above the hillside, there seemed to be an enormous shape; fifty feet tall, terribly humanoid with a head that seemed to the boy as large as the moon. It stood there, framed in the swirling sleet and ice.
Fear coursed through Malcolm’s body like quick-acting venom, numbing him through his heavy clothing, so that only his eyes moved. Through the now howling gale, he heard the distinct animal-like roar of triumph as the figure disappeared in a cobalt flash of lightning.
That night Malcolm couldn’t sleep. He twisted and turned in his woollen blankets, the rough material digging into his flesh and despite the piercing cold outside, precipitation ailed his skin.
At dinner, which comprised stewed mutton, One-Eye and his apish friend had been quietly discussing matters he could not comprehend. They had kept throwing Malcolm side-ways glances, and the words ‘second form’ and ‘Utgard-Muspel’s stirrin’, you blind fool!’ had drifted over to him.
Reluctantly accepting sleep wouldn’t come, he clambered to his feet and padded outside, rubbing at his eyes.
The sharp brittle fresh, cold air on his face and hands was refreshingly welcome in a way no rest could bring.
‘So, you have come,’ murmured a ragged voice from above.
Malcolm froze. The voice issued from somewhere upon the roof; it sounded thin, tepid and ancient. ‘Who…?’ he stammered.
‘Norse men should not stutter,’ reprimanded the visitor. ‘But the wise can often lose words occasionally. Yet thou must wonder whether hanging from a tree for nine days is the definition of wise…’
This made no sense to the lad, who was growing more curious all the while. ‘Who are…?’ He tried again, unsuccessful once more.
‘’Who?’ is very unimportant,’ replied the voice. ‘’How’, on the other hand…’
At that moment, another sound floated to them, a sound of ripping and churning wood, of crunching earth and of a sudden, brief scream of terror.
Malcolm spun round, his heart positively trying to escape his ribcage. The village stretched all the way to the boundaries of a forest near the braes, and he saw instantly that a cluster of trees had keeled over and the rubble of several huts was scattered around like ligneous bones.
A horrifically familiar form came into sharp relief.
The monstrous twisted face hung in the night, small spheres of molten rock for eyes; staring, penetrating. Its squalid coal-black locks and throat necklaced with scars were grotesquely misshapen. Its massive shoulders, peaked with obsidian spikes, extended into pillar-like arms carpeted in sleek ivory hair; his legs sprouted out of his muscular torso like two fiery oak trunks.
From its left hand was a large spear of crafted steel, tipped with golden flame and silvery needle-like barbs.
‘Utgard-muspel!’ the voice cursed. ‘The Lord of Muspelhiem, the World of Fire. Fantastic.’
Malcolm gasped as the giant trampled more huts, as the screams grew louder. ‘Why is it here?’
‘Looking for you, of course.’ He paused. ‘Come now, child of Misgard. We must flee.’
‘B… my friends… my family…’
‘I’m afraid they’ve gone,’ the voice said with the faintest trace of sorrow. ‘May we depart?’
A blurred figure slid from the roof and landed gracefully in front of him. Standing tall and grim, clad in a frayed silvery gown and a patched wide-brimmed hat, was a muscular man, his beard a wiry granite-coloured mass. A black cloth eye patch obscured his right eye, whilst his other surveyed the boy imperiously.
‘I am Odin,’ the man revealed, as fiery balls of rock smashed into the ground in the distance spasmodically. ‘Lord of Asgard.’ He brushed down his clothes ostentatiously, peering around curiously. ‘A risk meeting thou, son of Misgard, but a necessary one.’
Malcolm stared up at him, overawed. ‘Odin?’
A wry smile rainbowed across his face. ‘I see you possess hearing. May we venture on?’