Chapter 4 –
The hull of the boat cut effortlessly through the glistening water as it carried Wjolnir further along the coast line. On the horizon, the sun was beginning to rise and was soaking everything it touched with a peach glow. Any other time this would have lifted his spirits and brought back memories of his childhood summers, spent fishing for small trout in the villages river. Today however it just irritated him. It was a painful reminder of a pleasure he would soon have taken from him by his impending death. The only escape from the plague was death and anything else was just delaying the inevitable. That was if the Tornburgh mercenaries didn’t catch up with him first and put him to the sword. Despondency crept in and he considered putting himself out of his misery while he still had control of his destiny. The thought was a brief fleeting one that held no real bearing on him. He was far too much of a coward to make such a bold move. No, he would wait out his fate and spend his final days lamenting his luck and the cruel humour of the gods. No doubt when the time came for him to shuffle off this mortal coil he would cry and soil himself, making sure he had no dignity to take with him to the beyond. An unexpected giggle burst from his throat as the ridiculous image flashed through his mind’s eye. He idly wiped away tears that had been forming in his tired eyes with the back of his rough filthy hand and let a small grin escape from his chapped lips. He gripped the wheel and pulled it hard toward land.
Along the shore was a coniferous forest that dominated the landscape. The great green expanse was thickly packed and would allow him to travel inland without being seen. He knew of several small hamlets where he could live out his days in relative comfort on the coin he had saved throughout his career in the black market, keeping him in wine and women until he eventually succumbed to the rot in his body. He ran the boat at a relative speed into the shallows and the bottom of the vessel ran aground in the rocks, screeching to a halt. Usually this would have angered Wjolnir however he would never captain the boat again and resented the idea of it serving anyone else after him. A fickle thought perhaps but he had spent so long aboard the ship in his years that it felt like part of his very being, to have anyone else at the wheel would feel like adultery. Opening the thick framed timber door to the cabin he began to collect any belongings he thought he may need. Into a small leather knap sack he carefully packed a thick blanket, dried meats, his ancient tinder kit, a change of clothes and the remainder of his coin. He slid out of his fur jacket, carelessly dropping it in a pile at his feet. Over the top of his hauberk he buttoned up a white travelling shirt and slid a heavy woollen, hooded poncho over his head. The oversized hood covered his face and gave him the appearance of a peasant, a look that he hoped would prevent anyone attempting to relieve him of his belongings. He slung the knapsack over his good shoulder and stooped to pick up a rough iron axe with a hickory handle. The axe head was ground heavier on one side to allow the axe to be used for carving timber, however this would not hinder its use in felling a tree or scaring off would be attackers. With his belongings in check he sighed and made his way off his beloved boat. He vaulted the hull and landed with a splash in waist deep water. The shock of the cold water stole his breath and for a moment he could do nothing but exhale in short, sharp breaths as his body adjusted to the temperature. As his breath returned he started to wade toward the forest. His feet sank gently into the sandy, gravel strewn shore, making the walk harder than he had anticipated. By the time he had reached the boundary of the wood he felt drained. The forest looked far more imposing than it had done from the beach and he was beginning to question if entering it was such a good idea. After a small pause to get his breath back he threw caution to the wind and strode into the woodland as confidently as he could.
What seemed like hours had passed as he stumbled over fallen trees and forced himself through tightly packed gorse hedges. He had managed to scratch himself on the short thorns above his eyes and the sweat from his brow was stinging as it mingled with the wounds. He paused for a moment to take a pull from his flask and felt a sense of tranquillity wash over him as he soaked in the natural atmosphere. Little light made it through the thick canopy and it lent the forest a supernatural quality. He slid the heavy knapsack from his shoulder to the floor and sat down with his back against a great pine tree. He laid his hand axe by his side and helped himself to a strip of the dried beef from his provisions. Its texture was that of rough leather however he was used to the less than pleasurable rations he had carried with him on his travels. He sat in the dim light chewing the meat and scanning the surrounding area for any movement. A thick layer of moss covered the floor here and he could hear nothing but the evening bird song and the occasional rustle of the forests denizens. He rested his eyes and allowed himself to drift off, planning to continue his journey after a small nap.
In his dream, he was running from an unknown assailant through a boggy marsh, each step propelling him through the damp darkness toward a clearing ahead. A droning buzzing noise filled his ears overwhelming his senses, blocking out all other noise. It felt as if it was coming from within his mind instead of around him. Swarms of flies encircled him and darted at his face. He wildly flailed his arms trying to swot them away as he ran. The clearing was closer. He was almost there. He broke through the tree line and the swarm of flies dissipated in the light. He turned his head to see his attacker and saw a wave of shadow rushing toward him. Everything the shadow touched within the marsh shrivelled into an empty husk of itself. Trees collapsed under their own weight as rotten timber gave way, animals and birds decomposed in an instant and the very earth became logged with mould and fungal growth. His foot gave way underneath him as he slipped in the clearing and he fell face first into the wet moss. He panicked and tried to raise himself from the wet floor but found mould and filth growing at an alarming rate over his limbs, pinning him to the ground. He looked up in desperation and saw the ground before him erupt, earth and filth showered over him as a gargantuan figure rose from the crater. The figure was comprised of a huge mound of blubbery flesh that rose higher than the highest tree. The sheer bulk of the creature was impossible to comprehend and it moved in a way that didn’t seem physically possible. Its skin was mottled with pus filled boils, scars wounds and open sores that created a mosaic of pain. Its face was comprised of a long grinning mouth beneath dark pitted eyes that pierced into his very soul and showed a flicker of evil sentience that no man should ever see. Its sour breath reeked of death, decay and faecal matter. The creatures great gut split open and swarms of giggling creatures burst forth dancing and frolicking in the beast’s entrails and bodily fluids, gnawing on his flesh and tearing through his milky yellow fat. Wjolnir retched and spilled the contents of his stomach into the dirt. The great being’s mouth parted revealing worm filled teeth etched with dark lines and stained as brown as earth. It spoke a single word and Wjolnir’s bladder failed him.
He awoke with a start and reached instinctively for his axe. He was dripping with sweat and his trousers were soaked with bitter smelling urine. The realisation that it had been a dream crept in and he began to relax as the shame of his ‘accident’ settled in. He reached into his knapsack for a change of clothes and cursed under his breath, was there no end to the torment he must endure? As he was rummaging through his belongings he caught site of a figure out of the corner of his eye. He rose sharply and raised his axe at the unknown person. In front of him, sitting cross legged on mound of moss was a tiny humanoid figure, draped in old torn robes giggling to itself. The face was obscured from his view by the things hood however the skin that was exposed was pitted, pale and translucent. The thin frame of the creature was withered and feeble. It altogether seemed sickly and weak however something primal within him screamed to turn and flee. “Explain yourself or I will sever your head from your body!” he shouted at the thing. It began giggling in a gurgling manner and pointed a thin emaciated finger at him, its hood slipping, exposing a sunken warped face that resembled skin stretched too loosely over a large drum. It spoke with a voice that seemed to come from within rather than from the creature’s mouth. “You have been chosen Master Wjolnir, I have come to aid your transcendence on behalf of the father”. The creatures gurgling laughter reached a crescendo of madness and Wjolnir’s blood ran cold.