The Shattered Veil by Newton Webb
A foggy gloom had settled in the valley. Three figures strode through the mist across the glistening grass. Morning dew soaked their feet through their thick woollen socks and leather sandals. The wind blew hard at them, turning the damp into freezing cold. The travellers pulled their cloaks tighter.
Myrddin strode ahead, his trousers marking him as a Briton. His friends, however, marched in tunics, which unfortunately marked them as both Roman and cold. They stoically endured the British weather alongside Myrddin as the wind gusted around their thighs.
Their destination lay in front of them: a large flat stone altar surrounded by fae stones. The three of them stared at it.
‘Are you sure about this, Meddy?’ Myrddin asked.
‘Don’t call me Meddy, Briton,’ Medraut snapped. ‘And yes, I am sure. The Dobunni warned the Legio Augusta to avoid it. Said it was haunted.’
Myrddin turned around. ‘Well, that would have been pertinent information before we marched for three days to get here. You said it was a relic that would make Avita love me!’
‘It is. You just need to run around the altar ten times whilst holding your breath. Then the old gods will grant you a wish.’ Medraut shivered. ‘So be quick about it. I want a bowl of whatever alcohol these wretched, no offence, people have and a seat by the fire.’
‘None taken; I’m Deceangli. The Dobunni are most assuredly wretched.’ Myrddin looked at the altar and prayed to the old gods and the new that Avita would leap the flames with him at the harvest festival.
Stretching, he bounced on his feet and took several deep breaths before leaping forward and tearing around the altar. He managed six before explosively gasping as he collapsed on the grass, taking deep, shuddering breaths. The others laughed, Artorius’s deep guffaw and Medraut’s rich peel blending into a symphony of ridicule.
When he’d recovered, Myrddin stood up, eyes fixed on the altar. ‘Stand back.’ He advanced. This time he took it slower.
One, two, three, four - easy.
Five, six - his lungs felt tight. Seven, eight - spots danced in front of his eyes.
Nine - the grass underneath him shattered like glass and all of a sudden, he didn’t need to breathe anymore.
* * * * *
The valley was gone. The cold was gone. Alone, Myrddin was standing on a rainbow. Looking behind him, he could see through the thick fog the outline of the fae stones. Art and Med were reduced to shadowy wraiths, seemingly inhuman to his eyes.
I must have passed out.
In front of him, the rainbow arced straight to a giant castle. Four walls and four towers of marble gleamed in the sunlight.
It wasn’t even a conscious decision. Myrddin was already striding forwards. He had to know what lay within.
The castle grew ever larger as Myrddin marched towards it. It was gargantuan. As he approached a set of open gates, he saw a grim-faced warrior standing in front of a closed portcullis seemingly grown from ice. Myrddin was tall, but this warrior was still a solid head taller than him.
‘Heimdall?’ Myrddin ventured.
Heimdall nodded at him. ‘What are you doing here, little one? It has been a long time since a mortal from Midgard graced these lands. Has the concord failed?’
Myrddin shrugged. ‘I don’t know anything about a concord. All I know is that I was at some haunted ruins and now I’m here.’
‘This doesn’t disconcert you mortal?’
‘Not particularly. It’s too unreal to be alarming. It has to be a dream. It isn’t my first taste of the sacred brew. I’ve never seen anything like this before, though.’ Myrddin looked around him in awe. Should I touch him?
‘Do not touch me.’ Heimdall boomed.
Myrddin jerked back. ‘You can read minds?’
‘I have eyes. They can see your hand moving.’ Heimdall waved his hand. The portcullis began to rise.
Best not ask if that is magic. He could be signalling to someone out of sight. A soldier appeared. Thought so.
Heimdall pointed behind him. ‘Enter the hall. Woden will want to see you.’
Myrddin followed the soldier, drinking in the beautiful people and the architecture. Gold and jewels were everywhere, as were the accoutrements of war. Even the meanest citizen walked around fully armed and armoured. He looked at the floor. It was tiled with gold. Wealth was so commonplace here that he wondered if it even had value to these people.
The doors of a large central keep swung open. The soldier led him inside. Myrddin followed and blinked at the contrast. The keep’s interior was wooden and plain, save for the ferocious trophies on every wall. The internal architecture wasn’t that dissimilar to the halls of his own chieftain.
The great Woden, instantly recognisable from his eye patch and the raven on his shoulder, watched Myrddin approach from his throne. The room quietened.
His spear pounded the floor. ‘How did you enter Asgard?’
‘I ran around a rock a few times.’ Myrddin waited as Woden stared at him. ‘How do people normally get here?’
‘Impossible,’ Woden mused. ‘I would know if the concord was breached.’ He gestured and a warrior nodded before loping out of the hall. ‘Sit.’
A space was made between two warriors. Both were clad in furs and wearing metal-plated armour which was coloured so dark a red that it was almost black.
They eyed him curiously. One of them offered him a horn of mead.
Gratefully, he reached out.
‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’
Myrddin turned to see a topless Asgardian whose long, wild, curly hair framed eyes which were shadowed black with coal. Tattoos covered his scrawny body. Thin though he was, he was still as impressively tall as the others.
‘The food and drink of the Asgardians are not for mortals.’ His eyes flickered with amusement. ‘I doubt you would survive the experience.’ The Asgardian reached over and drained the horn, gasping with appreciation.
‘Am I dead?’ Myrddin recoiled as the man slid his hand up Myrddin’s exposed arm.
‘Hmmm? Oh, the afterlife is a myth, though lifeforce can still be harvested, so there is some merit to death.’ He grinned. ‘Less so for those dying, one supposes.’
‘What do you mean harvested?’ He pushed the Asgardians hand off gently, receiving a mocking smile in return.
‘I’ve been to Midgard before, not for many of your years, but I have. It was a refreshing change.’ He gently tapped Myrddin’s head. ‘I wasn’t supposed to, of course. Nobody is. But I did.’ He shrugged. As Myrddin’s eyebrows rose, the man clarified. ‘Through a rift, the same way you did. Slipped through the cracks. They can be found if you know where to look.’
The soldier who had left the room returned.
Woden gestured at the door.
‘I will send him home, Father.’ Myrddin was led down the path towards the end of the rainbow. He could see the stones ahead of it.
‘It is here then. Interesting. You will hear from me soon.’ The Asgardian suddenly spun round and gripped him by the throat. Reaching down, he kissed his forehead in a disconcertingly tender movement. ‘Wake,’ he whispered. In Myrddin’s mind, the quiet voice thundered. His head felt as though it was exploding with pain.
His eyes clamped shut.
* * * * *
‘Are you ok?’
Myrddin forced his eyes open to see Medraut and Artorius looking down at him. His cold, wet back informed him that he was prone on the grass.
They leaned closer. ‘Myrddin, your eyes—’ Artorius exclaimed.
Myrddin raised himself to a seated position. His head was still excruciatingly painful.
‘—They are green.’ Medraut finished.