No, don't turn on
the lamp; who I am is not important. The lamp wouldn't work, anyway. If you
shout for your parents, they won't hear you. Are you afraid? There's no need,
I'm here only to tell you a story. If you wish you may pretend I'm a figment of
your imagination, product of a fever dream. Oh, yes, I know about your fever.
Your mother thinks you're coming down with something, but it's not that, is it?
It's guilt. You feel bad and there's no one to tell. Such a small thing, too, to
punch a boy on the nose and make it bleed, and in a noble cause, for what else
can a person do but step in when a bully is hurting the weak? Unexpected though,
the sound of breaking bone, eh? That noise, that meaty creak makes it all real.
Tomorrow you'll pluck up courage to tell your mother, and she will wipe away
your tears and snot and tell you it doesn't matter, to forget it, that you did
the right thing. Which is why I'm here. It does matter, you see, and nine is not
too young to learn these things. Everything you do is a step towards who you
will become. We are born in blank ignorance, a kind of darkness, if you will,
and every act, every thought is a little piece of knowledge that illuminates the
world and leads us farther from the nothing of our beginning. We don't always
like what we see but it is important that we look, otherwise the steps mean
nothing, and we become lost.
I see your hand by
the lamp switch once more. Very well, try it if you must. You see? I told you
the truth. Everything I will tell you is true, at least in the ways that matter.
There's no need to scrunch up in a heap like that, no reason to fear me. Perhaps
the light bulb simply needs replacing.
But light can be
such a comfort, can't it? There are some times and places, some circumstances
which only make it more so. I am here to tell you about one such time and place.
Listen carefully; it matters.
In Norway a thousand
years ago, all dreaded morketiden, the murky time of winter when the sun hides
below the horizon for weeks on end and the very rock sometimes stirs to walk the
steep fjell in troll form. Families lived in lonely seters, and in winter,
trapped by snow and darkness, the only comfort was to lift a burning twig from
the hearth and touch it to the twisted wool wick floating in a bowl of greasy
tallow, to watch light flare yellow and uncertain, and to hope the wind that
howled down the fjell would not blow it out, leaving nothing but long twisting
shadow from the fire, whose coals were already dying to deepest black tinged
In the Oppland lived
one such family, a hard-working man called Tors and his strong-minded wife,
Hjorda, and their sandy-haired daughters Kari and Lisbet, better off than most.
They had a fat flock of sheep and fine cows for milk, their seter was large and
well covered with living sod and surrounded by sturdy outbuildings, and in
addition to their bond servants, they could afford a shepherd in winter, two
hired men to tend the fields and mend the walls, and a dairymaid. At this time
it was the end of summer and the livestock were fat, the grass green and the
storehouse full, but Tors and Hjorda were worried. Oh, it was not their
daughters, who ran about the fields like little plump geese, not a care in the
world. Nor was it the hired men or the dairymaid they both mooned after. No, it
was that even as the nights began to draw in, Torsgaard did not have a winter
Hjorda decided that
Tors must go to the All-Meet, the Thing, that year. "For while it is not always
true, more heads may on occasion lead to greater wisdom."
So Tors went to the
Thing, and he and his neighbours from Gjendebu and Leine and other places as far
away as Dragsvik talked of fields and sheep and the price of oats. On the last
night they drank vast quantities of mead. "Last winter trolls came to walk the
fjell," Tors said. "Our shepherd disappeared and no local man will be persuaded
to watch the sheep this year." This was very bad, and no one had any advice to
offer. Eventually, many horns of mead later, Grettir, a farmer from the richer
lowlands of Leine, stroked his beard and said, "There is a man, a strange, rough
man, Glam by name, who might watch your sheep. But I would not want him watching
my sheep if I had daughters." Despite the mead, Tors was not a stupid man, and
he agreed that it is better to lose one's sheep than one's daughters. Especially
if you have a woman like Hjorda to deal with at home.
The next day, he woke up feeling as though his head were seven times too big for his hat and his
legs three times too weak for his body and, to top it all, his horse was gone.
None of his neighbours could spare him even a nag; he would have to walk the
long, long path home. Mid-morning found him tramping the springy turf of a
narrow valley between two hills. Autumn berries grew bright around him but the
air was chill, and he worried about what Hjorda might say when he returned to
Torsgaard not only without a shepherd but without his horse. And then, crossing
his path, was a man, a huge bundle of faggots on his back. If the bundle was
huge, the man was more so.
"What is your name?"
asked Tors in amazement, looking up at the massive brow, ox-like shoulders, and
the muscles of his bare arms which were plump as new-born piglets, but white.
"They call me Glam."
His voice was harsh, like the grinding together of granite millstones, and he
tossed the bundle to the ground as though it weighed less than his hat--a greasy
leather thing. His hair, too, was greasy, black and coarse as an old wolf's. The
face under it was pale and slippery looking, like whey, and his eyes were a
queer, wet dark grey-green, like kelp.
"Well, Glam, I need
your help." Tors had been about to ask for directions to a farm or settlement
where he might buy a horse, but his head ached, and he felt out of sorts, and
thought perhaps if he didn't tell Hjorda about Grettir's warning, all might be
well. "Grettir tells me you might be persuaded to work for me at Torsgaard as my
"I might, but I work
to please myself and no one else, and I do not like to be crossed."
His harsh voice made
Tors' head ache more. "Name your terms."
"Where is your last
"We are haunted by
trolls. He was afraid." No need to mention the fact that he had disappeared on
the fjell, where the trolls walked.
"A troll will
provide me with amusement during the long winter nights."
They bargained, and
Glam agreed to start work on haustblot, the celebration that marks the first day
of morketiden. As soon as they spat on their hands and shook, Glam slung his
bundle up onto his back without even a grunt, and though his walk was shambling
and crab-like, it was fast, and he was gone behind a stand of aspens before Tors
could think to ask about a nag. But scarcely was Glam out of sight when from
behind the very same stand of aspens came trotting Tors' very own horse. Its
eyes were white ringed and it was sweating, but it seemed pleased to see Tors,
and it was only later that he began to scratch his beard and wonder at the odd
coincidence. So he went home a hero, with his horse and his promise of a winter
shepherd, and waited for morketiden.
The people of
Torsgaard and the surrounding farms went to the hov to celebrate haustblot: to
welcome the winter season and implore Thor to protect them against disease,
sorcery and other dangers, and Frigg to ensure warmth and comfort and plenty in
the home during the time of dark and bitter cold. With all the fine white
beeswax candles lit the strong light showed men in their best sealskin caps and
women with dried flowers woven into their hair. All made merry, for soon the
dark would come. Amidst the singing and laughter and drinking came Glam.
He wore the same
greasy hat and despite the cold his arms were still bare. All his possessions
were bundled in a jerkin and slung over his back. He walked through the suddenly
quiet people toward Tors, and Tors' two hired men stepped in front of the
dairymaid, and Tors himself looked about for Hjorda and his girls, and people
moved from Glam's path, from his queer gaze and hoarse, ill breath. Hjorda
appeared from the crowd and stood at Tors' elbow. "Husband," she whispered,
"tell me this is not our shepherd."
Glam stopped some
distance from them and folded his arms. He shouted, so all could hear. "It is
morketiden and I am come to look after Tors' sheep." A murmur went up in the hov,
and Hjorda said privately, "Husband, look how the very candles sway from his
presence. Send him away," but Tors did not want to be gainsaid before his
neighbours, so he turned to Hjorda with a ghastly smile, and said, "Hard times
need hard remedies." Raising his voice he called to Glam, "Welcome to Torsgaard.
Now our sheep will be safe." And it was done.
The rest of
haustblot passed uneasily, with Glam tearing into a great ham and draining horn
after horn of feast mead, and Tors telling people Glam would no doubt be on the
fjell every day with the sheep and manners after all were not everything.
And, indeed, the
next morning Glam left with the sheep before Tors woke and did not come back
until the evening fire was dying. And as the days passed, even Hjorda had to
admit that Glam was a master of sheep herding: they seemed terrified of him, and
all he had to do was call out in that terrible hoarse voice and they huddled at
his direction. Days turned to weeks, and he lost never a single sheep. But not a
man or woman or child would go near him, except as they must when he called for
meat and drink, and even the dogs slunk away when they heard his tread.
Many weeks passed in
this fashion and the days drew in upon themselves and the nights spread until
even noon became just a thin, pale dream of daytime and nothing seemed real but
the cold, the howling wind, and the red flickers of firelight. And still Glam
called for his sheep in the dark of every morning and led them into up the hills
to find grass, and every night he came back in the dark, face white as clabbered
milk despite the cold.
Midvintersblot was a
day sacred to Frey, when all the people of Torsgaard gathered to beg Frey to
ensure fruitfulness for people and animals and crops during the coming year. It
is a day of fasting until the evening feast, when holiday mead is brought out
and the plumpest hog roasted, and the people feast by torchlight all night and
don't sleep until dawn. That midvintersblot, Glam rose as usual in the dark and
called for bread and meat. The noise woke Kari, the eldest daughter. His
shouting grew louder--no one seemed to be attending him--followed by a great
thump as if he had sent a man flying with a casual blow with the back of his
Kari rose from her
bed. "Today is midvintersblot. We fast until the evening to honour the gods."
Glam sneered. "I
have never seen a god and I have never seen a troll. And who are you to say
whether I should eat or drink? Now go get my food!" And he stepped aside so Kari
could see the bondservant lying senseless by the cold hearth. Kari, frightened,
brought his food. When he stepped out into the dark, shouting in that horrible
voice for his sheep, she went to her mother and spoke of what had happened.
Hjorda saw to the
bondservant, then sought Tors and told him of events. "Glam must be paid off and
turned out, husband."
"But what of the
sheep, wife? Besides, the man was probably just hungry."
"The servant's cheek
is broken, and he is only now recovering his wits. He would have done the same
to Kari, had she not obeyed."
"Nonsense. No doubt
the girl misunderstood, frightened by his loud voice." He turned back to the
warmth of his wolfskin coverlet and slept. He didn't hear the rising note of the
north wind, the first flurries of driving snow. He didn't hear Glam roaring
above the wind for his sheep, the shouts getting fainter and fainter and further
off. By the time he rose, Glam could not be heard and the snow was settling in
fat white folds on sills and stoops. The hours slipped by, with all the servants
and the women of the house working over spits and ovens and Tors working over
his tally sticks. The flurries became a blizzard and the dairymaid, when she
went to milk the cows, could not see her hand before her face.
The scents from the
kitchen grew more delicious, the wind climbed to a high-pitched howl. The
trenchers were laid on the board, and still Glam did not return. The hired men
and several male servants came to Hjorda. "It's cruel outside, but if you asked
we would venture into the cold and dark and wind, as some misfortune might have
"No, no," said
Hjorda, thinking quickly. "Glam is strong and wily. No doubt he can look after
himself, and the sheep have fine wool coats. See that you don't bother Tors with
mistress," they said, knowing full well that Tors might take them up on their
offer--and the bondservant with the addled wits and broken cheek being a friend
of theirs. And so the feast was laid out and eaten without Glam, and not a soul
missed him until it was long past midnight and Tors asked, "But where is our
winter shepherd?" By this time, the snow lay hipdeep and the wind was cold
enough to freeze a person's breath in their throat, turn their eyeballs to ice
and crack open their very bones. Tors declared no man could step forth and live,
so they turned their back to the door and drank barrel after barrel of ale, cask
after cask of mead, and sang loudly enough to drown out the terrible noises and
deep vibrations that rolled down the fjell--though Lisbet, the youngest
daughter, who had fallen asleep on a bearskin after her third horn of mead, had
strange and awful dreams of dark shapes battling on snow. Not long before dawn,
sodden with celebration, they slept.
They woke after
noon. Headaches and guilt are fine partners, so Tors did not have to urge the
men to put on their boots and fur capes and caps and set off up the mountain.
The pale winter sun shone brilliant on the new-fallen snow and the air lay
still. Snow crunched and one of the hired men could be heard groaning softly to
himself every time his boots thumped down. They walked and walked, and
eventually they heard the faint bleat of a sheep, and suddenly sheep were all
around them: some nothing more than frozen woolly mounds in the snow, some
bleating pitifully, some standing lost on crags or caught in bushes. Past the
sheep they found a place where great boulders and trees had been torn from the
ground and the snow beaten down in some mortal struggle. They walked faster now,
and found a bloody, levelled place where Glam lay on his back, his strange
seaweed eyes open to the sky and covered in snow, which did not melt. His skin
was mottled and bloated, as though he had been dead a long, long time. Huge
tracks, the size of barrel hoops, filled with frozen blood, led off to a deep
and narrow gully. Something had fallen and splashed blood--hogsheads of the
stuff--all about but there were no more tracks so the men could not follow. The
hired man stopped groaning long enough to peer into the gully, look at the
blood, and say, "Nothing, not even a troll, could have survived that." There was
general agreement, and the hired men and bondservants returned to Glam's body.
The bolder among
them tried to move him, but it was as if his bones had turned to stone and he
would not shift. Nor could they close his eyes. They herded up the sheep and
returned to Torsgaard. "Glam is dead," they said to Tors. "He killed the troll
and most of the sheep are living. We tried to bring him down but his body is
"Well, take a yoke
of oxen up the mountain and drag him down if necessary," said Tors. "We must
bring him back to the hov for a proper send off."
"No," said Hjorda,
"take faggots and tallow to the gully and burn him there, like carrion."
"Yes," said Kari.
"Yes," piped up
Lisbet, whose dreams still hung about her.
"No," said Tors, and
the men tried not to sigh. They took the oxen up the mountain, and some rope,
but even with the oxen Glam's body, black as Hel now and bloated as a bladder,
would not move even along level ground. After hours of this, with his men surly
and tired and his own fingers and toes going white with cold, Tors unyoked the
oxen. "He seems to want to stay here, so let him. We will cover him with
So it was done, and
they walked back to the women and a warm hearth.
Three days later,
Lisbet woke in the middle of the night and ran to her mother. "Glam walks in my
dreams!" Hjorda cuddled her close and they both fell back to sleep. They were
woken in the morning by a shriek from the dairymaid, who had opened the door and
tripped over a dog--or what was left of a dog--on the stoop. Later that morning,
the haunch of mutton on the spit was found to be green and black on one side and
the servant who tended the ovens clean out of her wits: "Glam came down the
chimney, Glam came down the chimney, Glam came down the chimney," was all she
could say, over and over.
Glam did not lie
easy in his grave. He came again, and again and again, driving more people mad,
sending one hired man--who had take the sheep out--headlong down the fjell,
falling and breaking his neck, and the dairymaid running away to another farm,
snow or no snow.
Hjorda found Tors.
"You must burn him, husband."
But upon toiling up
the mountain with faggots and tallow, and heaving aside the stones, they found
nothing. When he returned, Tors told this to his wife, who nodded. "The troll
lives in his bones and walks abroad wearing his skin, even under the sun."
While Glam could
appear during the day, it was at night that he spread true terror: he ran on the
rooftops until the beams buckled, he rolled great boulders down the fjell,
destroying some outbuildings entirely, and he laughed. His deep horrible
laughter ground over Torsgaard and the farms of Oppland, crushing the spirit of
men, driving cattle mad, and women to weeping in their terror that Glam was
coming for them. The dairymaid who had escaped to another farm was found
by a barn, used and torn and tossed aside, like a broken doll. The still-living
hired man ran mad and took an axe up the mountain, foaming at the mouth, vowing
to chop Glam to pieces. His head, and pieces of his torso, rained down on
Torsgaard all that night. The whole countryside felt disaster looming. Hjorda
bade her daughters to sleep in her alcove, and they carried eating knives in
their belts that were a little too long and a little too sharp for manners.
But as the days grew
longer and the sun stood higher in the sky, the hauntings lessened.
"Summer sun is not
kind to trolls," Hjorda observed. "But when winter comes he will be back, and no
one in Oppland will be safe."
Tors did not want to
hear it. He hired more men and a new dairymaid and worked to rebuild the broken
outbuildings. His wife insisted that he strengthen the doors and roof beams of
Torsgaard. And when this was done she sent him to the Thing, only this time she
sent Kari with him. "Find a good strong man," she told her daughter, "one who
can do more than tend the sheep during winter. Spend your portion to hire him if
you must--for what good is a dowry to a dead maid?"
Now it happened that
at this time, a ship came into the fjord and Agnar the Strong, who was tired of
adventuring in foreign lands, came to the Thing and heard that Tors of Torsgaard
needed a winter shepherd but that no man would take up his offer. He sought out
Tors and asked of him, "Why will no one take up this offer of yours?"
"The last shepherd,
Glam, died on the fjell and there is some superstition attached to his name,"
said Tors evasively. "Have some of this mead." Now Tors was generally an honest
man, and his shame at speaking false would have been apparent even to a lesser
man of the world than Agnar. Agnar declined the mead and watched thoughtfully as
Tors walked away, ashamed.
"Sir, allow me to
offer you the mead again," came a woman's voice from behind him. He turned to
face the maid with bright blue eyes. "I am Kari Torsdottir. Drink the mead and I
will tell you of Glam." He did, and she did, leaving nothing out, and finishing
"--and so if you would look after our winter sheep and keep them safe, you could
have my marriage portion and welcome."
"Money is no good to
a dead man."
"My mother says that
if you are but a strong man, good and true, and willing to listen to her, you
will prevail, for trolls, even trolls who wear a man's skin, are stupid being
made mostly of rock."
And so Agnar the
strong agreed to come to Torsgaard and be the winter shepherd, but instead of
waiting for morketiden, he returned directly with Tors and Kari, for he was
curiously unwilling to let Tors' daughter out of his sight.
His open face, clear
blue eyes and ox-wide shoulders were welcomed by all. He noted the great gashes
in the doors and the rents and holes in walls and gates but kept his own
counsel. All through the summer, Agnar helped at the farm. He repaired stone
walls and cut huge trees to reinforce roof beams, he helped herd cattle, and
walked with Kari and Lisbet when they went berry-picking. As the evenings drew
in, he held their yarn while they span and Hjorda did not fail to notice that he
was always willing to fetch a cape for Kari, or pump the bellows to coax the
fire hotter when she sat by it. A good man.
On the eve of the
first day of morketiden, Hjorda drew him aside. "Glam will return, perhaps as
soon as tomorrow."
"Then you are more
of a fool than I thought. He is more stone troll than man, and more heartless.
Alive he was twice as powerful as a brace of bulls. Now even bulls would flee.
And he wants to destroy this farm and all the people in it, only this time he is
stronger and will be after choicer fare than the dairymaid." Hjorda noted
Agnar's quick glance at Kari, combing her hair before the hearth. "Yes. Glam
will come for the eldest daughter of the house. If you wish to save her, you
will listen to me." But Agnar knew in his heart he needed nothing but his own
strong back, and he laughed, and walked away.
That night, the
ground shook as Glam stalked the farm, his bones so heavy his feet sank ten
inches into the turf. His awful, grinding laugh filled the dark as he tore off
chunks of wall and gate. A rending crash and a high-pitched scream split the
dark, followed by the terrible sound of a large animal being torn limb from
limb, and the splash and patter of blood on the iron hard ground of the barn
enclosure. Then with a roar of satisfaction he ran up the mountain and was gone.
When the people crept from the hearth hall the next day, they found Tors' poor
horse ripped into quarters and its guts arranged in a rune of challenge.
The next night,
Agnar the Strong, who had been a-viking as far as Novgorod and the shores of
Ireland, who had burnt priests and fought the hordes of Rus, who was famed for
his strength and bravery from Oppland to Hordaland to Rogaland and beyond,
sought out Hjorda, the woman of Torsgaard. "If you speak on this subject, I will
listen, and do as you say."
And so as the sun
went down that evening, Tors found himself strangely sleepy and while the great
fire still roared in the hearth, he fell sound asleep and snored on his wallbed
by the inglenook. Hjorda directed Agnar to pick up her drugged husband and
bundle him into the bed at the far end of the hall, away from the passage that
led to door. Then she dressed Lisbet in her warmest clothes, and the two of them
stole out to hide in the barn, cosy in the straw with the cattle. Then there was
only Kari and Agnar. They stood opposite each other by the hearth.
himself in his fear for her, took her by the hand. "It's not too late to hide
with your mother and sister."
"You will need me,"
she said. "We must bring Glam inside."
When the embers
began to die, Kari, still wearing her clothes, left the curtain between the
passage and the hall open, and lay down on the wallbed by the inglenook, and
Agnar, similarly dressed, wrapped himself like a sausage in an old, heavy fur
cloak so that one end was tucked tightly under his feet and the other securely
under his chin, leaving his head free so he could look about. Then he settled
himself on the wall bench opposite Kari's bed. In front of the bench lay a bench
beam, a huge ancient thing set into the floor when the farm was built. He set
his feet against it and straightened his legs so he was firmly braced between
the beam and the wall. And then he waited.
The embers glowed
then dulled then sighed into ash. Kari's breath grew soft and slow and regular.
Once, there was a rattle as a gust of wind shook the only gate still standing.
Far, far away he heard the lonely howl of a wolf. But Agnar's heart did not beat
soft or easy, it hammered like a smith beating hot iron into an axe-head, and he
touched the sword at his belt constantly. The hilt was cold as only iron can be,
and he could no longer quite feel his feet.
Sudden as an
avalanche, something leapt onto the roof and thundered about, driving down with
its heels, until the new beam buckled and splintered and the roof almost fell
in. Glam. The walls shook and Glam jumped down, and the earth trembled as he
strode to the door. A sharp creak as he laid his huge horny hand on the door and
suddenly it was ripped away, lintel and all, and moonlight briefly lit the
hearthroom. But then Glam blocked out all light as he thrust his huge head
through. The whites of his strange eyes gleamed like sickly oysters, and Agnar's
heart failed him. Glam's head brushed the roof of the passage as he came into
"Glam," said a soft
voice, and Kari stood there slim and brave by the door, her hair silver in the
moonlight. "I will come with you, but it is cold outside and I must have a
bearskin to lie on. Bring that old cloak on the bench by the fire. I'll wait for
you outside." And Agnar's heart filled with admiration for her and there was no
room left for fear.
Glam strode to the
sausage-shaped bundle of fur, and tried to pick it up with one hand. Agnar was
braced and ready. He made no sound and the fur did not move. Glam pulled harder,
but Agnar braced his feet all the more firmly. He was sweating now. Glam
grunted, and laid two hands on the bundle, and now a titanic struggle began,
Glam hauling up, Agnar fighting to push against the bench beam with all the
strength of his muscle and sinew yet make no noise. But then Glam put his back
into it and the old cloak tore in two. He stood there, the fur in his hands and
his horrible eyes staring, and Agnar flung himself at the troll, gripped him
around the waist and set his feet. With a massive grunt, he squeezed tight and
started to bend the monster backwards. It would not be the first time he had
snapped a man's spine in a wrestling match.
But Glam was now
more, much more than a man, his bones were made of the rock of the mountain, and
with a single heave he had Agnar off his feet and was flinging him about. But
Agnar had been in many wrestling matches and he did all he could to brace his
legs against roof beam or hearth edge, bench or wall. In the passageway he
strained until the veins stood out in his neck and sweat sprang out on his
forehead, and always he avoided the ruined doorway. It was bad enough in the
enclosed spaces of the hall; outdoors, it would be seven times worse. Closer he
was drawn to the door, and closer still. Sweat poured from him. With a furious
wriggle, he eeled around in Glam's grip until his back was to the awful face and
bull-like chest. He dug his heels against the threshold stone and with a
strength that was equal parts fear, determination, and desperation, he leaned in
towards the last breath of warm, indoor air. As Glam hauled backwards with all
his might, so too did Agnar thrust backwards, and his last strength and
the inhuman force of Glam's heave hurled them both outside. Glam, with Agnar
still clutched to his breast, landed spine down across a rock. The spine parted
with a loud crack, a sound that would live in Agnar's mind for the rest
of his days.
Agnar could not
rise; all he could do was lie like a gasping fish in the dying troll's grasp,
drained not just by the effort of fighting a monster, but by the awful touch of
its skin against his own. His strength ebbed and ebbed, until his muscles were
made of lead and his bones felt like lace and he could not even touch the hilt
of his sword with his fingertips. And then Glam spoke, hoarse and horrible in
"You will live,
Agnar the Strong, but you will never be the same. You will always look into the
dark and see my face, hear my voice, and know yourself." And the troll laughed,
dark and full of wickedness. At the laugh, Agnar felt the strength flow back. He
sprang to his feet, pulled free his sword, and swung. Once, twice, three times,
and the muscle and sinew and bone of Glam's neck parted, and the head, like some
vile rock, rolled free, and Agnar did not laugh, but wept.
The moon tugged
clear of its cloud, and Kari ran to his side, and Hjorda and Lisbet emerged from
the barn. Even Tors stumbled up from his drugged sleep and stood blinking and
beaming with happiness on the soiled turf. "Agnar the Strong! You can have
anything of mine you name!" And Kari took his hand and kissed it, and laid it
against her cheek. Agnar held her close but could not meet her gaze.
He stood, numb and
tired, while Kari wrapped him in the wolfskin and the servants brought him mead
warmed by the hurriedly stirred fire, and while Hjorda ordered in a great voice
that the hired men bring faggots and tallow and waste not a minute.
They burnt Glam
right there, outside the hall. And then they burnt the ashes. And when the ashes
were cold they were gathered in the torn cloak and wrapped tight, and Hjorda saw
to it that it was thrown into a chasm, and huge boulders hurled down on top of
all day and into the evening, with men and women arriving from all over Oppland
to share the good news. In all that time, Kari remained at Agnar's side, and she
noted how he shook with fatigue. Eventually the fire dwindled and the torches
were doused. Everyone slept. In the middle of the night, Kari was woken up by a
strange noise, like a child crying. It was Agnar, trying to light the torch and
rocking back and forth. "He will come for me. He will come for me."
"He is dead,
"I am all alone and
he will come for me!"
"You will never be
alone again." But he would not hear her, he just rocked and rocked, back and
And the story goes
that though Kari stayed by his side every living minute, much to the disapproval
of the very traditional Opplanders, and married him not long after, his fear
grew worse and he began to rock back and forth and light torches even in the
daytime. In the end, they say he ran out, barking mad, and Kari was left without
a husband and the hall at the Oppland farm gradually declined. No flowers ever
grew on the chasm where they had thrown Glam's ashes.
And that's the end
of the story. Agnar was a hero. He saved a household from Glam, the man who
became a troll. But before that he was called a hero for slaughtering women and
children, roasting priests on the spit, and burning down churches while he drank
the altar wine and laughed, and "Never mind," his father would have said after
that first trip a-viking, "forget that sucking sound your sword makes when you
pull it from a woman's stomach."
And so you punched a
bully on the nose and broke it, and some will call you a hero, and some will
think you a beast, and you feel so confused you have worked yourself into a
fever, and it's not something your mother can kiss away in the morning. Nor
should she, for if you pretend it never happened you will never bring it into
the light to examine and it will fester there in the dark and grow strong, as a
troll does, and one day when you are grown and you punch a man on the nose, the
weight of all the things you have done and tried to forget will rise up and eat
you up from inside.
There, now, you're
sweating; perhaps the fever is breaking. In a little while you will sleep, and
your mother will wake and come sit by your bedside, and in the morning she will
be the first thing you see. You may pretend that this never happened, that I was
never here, that this was all a dream. If you like. It's your choice, weigh it
carefully before we meet again.