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Short story: “Fort of the Gods”

The old guard fort on the island of Gotland called “Torsburgen”, might not have been named after the god of thunder, but I took that idea and other stories tied to Thor and the fort and rolled with it.

As I am wont to do these days, my inner image of the old Norse gods tend to be a mix of the old mythological beings and the Marvel movies.

***

Michael and his parents had been driving around on the island all day. His mother had been completely enamored by all the little fishing villages with its huts and boats and things, talking about how this was how her great grandmother had lived. His parents had purchased smoked fish even though Michael didn’t really like fish and now he was worried that they were going to have fish for dinner today when they got back to the little house that they’d rented. No one had asked Michael what he wanted to do today, but of course he had to go along with whatever his parents wanted. What Michael really wanted to do was to swim in the ocean and scour the pebbly beach near their rented house for neat stones and things. Maybe he could find a dinosaur tooth or some other cool fossil.

Yet now they had driven their Swedish rental car way off into the forest, because his mom and dad wanted to look at a whole lot of stupid nature. Apparently this was some old fort thing used in the Viking times, but it didn’t really look like a fort if you asked Michael. There were some walls, to be true, but there were no buildings or towers or anything else fort like. He felt rather disappointed by it, though his dad went on and on about the size and how many people it would have taken to carry all that limestone to make the long, long wall. It didn’t even look like the big wall in China and that was a big wall.

Well, they’d made a picnic on the table just inside the big wall, the one that his mom wouldn’t let him climb even though it wasn’t super tall and looked really easy to get onto. Fortunately, the fish came out now, so it wasn’t for dinner, but it didn’t give Michael much incentive for sticking around for long after he’d finished his lemonade and his large cinnamon roll, without icing on top.

“Mom, can I please, please go exploring for a bit?” he said, shifting in his seat slightly, to avoid the worst of the fishy smell from his dad’s plate. “I know where you are and all…”

His mother exchanged glances with his father and then nodded. “But you have to promise to be within shouting distance!”

Michael nodded, with perhaps a bit more gusto than he’d intended, which made his dad cock an eyebrow at him. This was always their secret signal that one of them was questioning the other. Michael grinned at his dad, to reassure him that he’d not misbehave. Then he took off, following one of the paths leading off into the inner sanctum of this large ancient so called fort thing.

He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, perhaps some evidence that this had indeed been a fort where warrior Vikings had fought to protect their families, but all Michael saw were trees and bushes and lots of strange plants on the ground. Once he saw a bird taking off from one of the tall trees, but other than that he saw nothing alive and moving other than insects. He continued onwards, attracted by some sort of siren song of…He wasn’t quite sure actually. Around him the tall pine trees thinned out and the forest was replaced with a whole bunch of mostly flat land, yet still he found himself walking further and further, forgetting his promise to his mother.

Part of him hoped that maybe he’d find one of these treasures that had been found around this island, someone thus far undiscovered. Finding some old coins or swords or something would be really cool, he decided, some proof that this place had really been a human fort. Yet as he began to pick at some rocks on the ground, he also remembered his mom telling him something about how this place was a nature preserve and was thus protected from people digging and tearing it up too much. In his disappointment he flung the rock off into the distance, wondering if he shouldn’t just turn back. Then he heard someone grunting in pain.

He felt his belly fill up with ice and very hesitantly he walked towards where the sound had come from. Had he hit someone with his rock? But he hadn’t seen anyone! But there, between the trees he saw an old man sitting a little crouched up, leaning against some big rocks, rubbing at his head.  As Michael got closer he saw that while the man’s long hair was mostly white, just like his beard, with some streaks of reddish-golden blonde mixed in it, he still looked rather strong, with thick arms under the weird cloak he wore. The stuff we wore actually made him look a bit like the people dressed up for that Medieval Fair thing that Michael and his parents had visited earlier.

The old man turned around and looked straight at Michael, his blue eyes like crackling lightning in his furrowed face.

“Are you the person who flung this object at me?” he said, holding out the offending rock.

Michael shuffled his feet and nodded. “‘m sorry, sir. I didn’t know there was anyone here.”

The old man sighed.

“Not many notice my presence any more, not since I lost the weapon my father bestowed upon me in my naive and reckless youth”

Michael perked up. “If you lost it here, maybe I can help find it for you!”

It certainly felt like adequate payback for the rock and the man did look pretty sad about it. But the man just waved his hand at him.

“Calm yourself, boy”, he said. “It is not here that I lost it, the place where Mjolnir now resides is not any specific location. I think what happened it that this realm thinks my time here is done.”

The old man sighed once more, making a sound like the rumbling of some far off thunder and hung his head.

“The truth is, boy, is that I came here to find an honorable end to my days. In this place you mortals once built and named in my honor.”

It was Michael’s turn to frown now. He wasn’t quite sure what the old man meant.

“Run off with you now, child”, the old man said. “Your gaze should never have fallen upon such a wretch as me. Now leave me here to die.”

Michael wasn’t sure what compelled him to say what he said next.

“Come on mister, you don’t look sick or anything, so why should you die?” he said. “My nana was really sad when grandpa died, but she didn’t lie down and die…And you only lost some weapon!”

The old man’s face furrowed once more, like a grey cloud on a warm summer’s day and for a second Michael was afraid that the man was angry at him. But then his face relaxed and he leaned back heavily against the rocks.

“What would you have me do then, child?” the man said wearily. “Compel me to remain here for eternity with nothing left to me but my own two hands?”

“Aw, don’t you have any family or anything you could go live with? My nana came to live with us for a bit when she was really sad.”

The man appeared deep in thought for a bit and when he spoke his voice was dreamy, as if he was just thinking out loud.

“My father and mother have passed, my brother might still reside somewhere, but would he really relish my company? But then there’s her…Perhaps her children might…”

Finally he turned to face Michael and for the first time his face looked a little happier, lighter…It was actually a little how he imagined the face of God to look when they talked about it in church.

“My thanks to you, boy. You have given me much to consider”, he said, then slowly pulled himself upright. “But I think you are wanted elsewhere at present.”

The wind that blew across the field, the very innermost sanctum of the fort played with their hair and when the sun poked through the clouds the old man suddenly didn’t look all that old anymore, but strong and young. Kind of like his dad or maybe one of those wrestlers he saw on TV.

“Goodbye mister, don’t go do something stupid!” Michael said and began to retrace his steps the way he’d come. The old man raised a hand to wave at him and smiled.

“Farewell Michael, son of Daniel. You will bring your father nothing but pride and happiness.”

Michael was going to ask him how he’d known his name…or his dad’s name for that matter, but when he turned around again the old man was just gone. He didn’t have much time to ponder that because now he could hear both his mother and his father yelling his name. His father came at him and Michael nearly ran straight into him.

“Michael, you promised you wouldn’t go far”, his father said with a deep frown.

“Dad, dad!” he cried. “I saw a really weird old man.”

His dad raised an eyebrow as he led him back towards the picnic table, his mother leading the way with the kind of angry strides that told Michael he’d be told off quite sternly once they were back in the car.

“Sure you did, champ”, his dad said, ruffling his hair. “Was it the old man that told you to run away out of earshot?”

Michael pouted. “He didn’t do anything…”

He paused then added:

“Well, he did say to go back…”

“And a good thing he did, because your mother is quite angry with you now”, his father said.

As they passed through the gap in the big wall, Michael craned his neck to look at the signs.

“Hey, dad”, he asked. “What was this place called again?”

His dad smiled.

“Well, the signs call it ‘Torsburgen’…”, he said. “In the old language of this island it could be translated to ‘Thor’s castle’. Neat, huh?”

“Really neat!” Michael said and remembered the old man, with the voice like thunder and eyes like lightning in a grey sky.

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