The Story So Far: Loki, Odin and Hoenir have made humans and have been watching over them for a short while… enough for generations of people to be born. But then up comes an issue: a jotunn with a wicked sense of ‘justice’ and a taste for human flesh
Their lives are so short.
They hold the gifts all the living possess. Time under the sun and moon… and then a final darkness.
The fire under the meadhall had burned until late in the night. Three travelers met and drank and ate in silence until all else had fallen asleep.
Then one spoke.
“Bear in mind that we gave them our names.”
The second traveler nodded.
“We did.” answered the Third.
“And when trouble fell, is it any wonder that they came to us for help?”
The second traveler rubbed his temples with worry.
The Third rubbed his arm. “It was as predictable as the oncoming rain.”
“Then tell me what happened.”
“The story (as I heard it) was that Askrson was looking for timber for the fire. The humans had never been so far from the Midgard before, but the winter was shown to be coming hard, so they pushed out past reason. And Askrson was the first to find wood of worth.
He had gathered a number of old logs and deadwood, lashed them together, and was pulling them slowly towards home, when one of the forest trees moved. A thing, clad in bark, big as any tree in the forest. Trolla. Gygyr. Jotunn. And Askrson, fool that he was, was not afraid at this new thing.
He greeted it as a cousin, wary but not enough. The gygyr offered to help him with his load. There was a price, though. After helping him with the wood, the gygyr proposed that they would play a game, a trolla game. Unwise though he was, Askrson asked what the stakes were. The gygyr offered they were no more and no less precious than the load he was helping Askerson carry.
The two returned to Askerson’s home in the Midgard and the people of that place made sure both were fed and treated with respect, as the gygyr set up the game. He grabbed a great stump, that no one had managed to free from the ground, and pulled it out by its roots. Setting it down near Askerson’s home, he unrolled the hide of a reindeer and set it upon the stump. The hide was scored with marks, creating little connected squares, nine across, nine down. The gygyr dumped a handful of corn on the board. One kernel, in particular was large and juicy.
‘Nine are yours, oh man.’ He smiled and his teeth were very sharp. ‘Eight to guard, and one…’ He pushed the largest kernel to the center of the board. ‘One to rule. One to run.’
Askerson looked over the board, curious. Then the gygyr dumped sixteen black stones on the board.
‘These are my people, the people of the Black River. We are coming for you.’
He arranged the pieces at the edge of the board. ‘Here is how it is played. In the center is the Gard. Stay there, lord of man and remain safe, until four of my people surround the gard, rip down your walls and eat you.’
The man paled. What kind of game was this?
‘We move north to south, east to west. Should two surround one, then the piece is taken. The game ends when the king is taken. Or the king leaves the field.’
Askerson’s voice trembled now. ‘And the stakes of this game?’
‘No more than I asked for before. You took from my place the bodies and bones of my people. Should you win, the debt is paid. Good game and fair weather to you.’ The gygr licked his lips. ‘It seems only fair, though, since you are burning my ancestors this foul winter that I demand one thing and return.’ He leaned forward. ‘One child if I win. One child alone.’
The crowd, hearing this were roused to anger and the gygr, seeing this, rose to his full height. He laughed and the clouds gathered. He swung up his fist and blood came from the sky. ‘One child in payment if you loose, or the Black River people come here now and haul you all back to the sacred groves.’
Askerson saw the fear in his people’s eyes and he honestly didn’t know if they had the strength to best this thing. Even then, there were rules and traditions, given to them by their creator, on how to treat their guest.
So far, other than blustering, the gygyr had done nothing more than promise dire consequences if Askrson broke his word.
But if he played the game…
Askrson met the gygyr’s gaze and the weather cleared. He reached out his hand and moved a kernel of grain.
The gygyr sat down across from him and the game began.
The two played long into the night and far into the next day. The gygyr playing for the people of the Black River; Askrson playing for one’s own. And Askrson was clever. His pieces wove and dodged around the gygyr’s own. He called out “one” when a path for his king to go to the end of the field opened. And he would have called out “two” had two paths opened and the game been won.
But two paths never opened. The gygyr was patient for things of his nature and he had the superiority of numbers. His men whittled Askrson’s men down little by little, blooded though they were by Askrson’s pieces as well. And when the end seemed to be near, they herded the king like a ewe into a place ripe for the slaughter.
It was with a pale and shaking hand that Askrson finally admitted he was trapped. And the gygr took that kernel and popped it right into his mouth.
“Your son, oh man. I want your son.”
So, the man went into his house. He kissed his boy on either cheek and on his forehead. And then he went to his sacred altar, the one that had maintained from the first of his family, from the old times, and he prayed.
He prayed to Oske for salvation.