The Monks

The trio of monks walked with cowl covered heads bowed along the dirt road. Ralf had never seen these holy men before. He recognized the robes as similar to those worn by the Christian who had visited their village last spring and tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the good folk of Bjornvik that Wotan was a false God. That man had arrived in a wagon amid much clatter. He carried provisions and gear to sustain him as he trekked across the north in service to his God. These men carried no packs, led no draft animals and appeared completely unprepared for the cold weather of September.

A corner of his mind smirked and derided the fools for believing that their dead God would let them survive the cold north unprepared; at least the fool from last year understood the realities of the world. But what if they were not as they seemed? Did Wotan himself not travel disguised as a hooded figure in gray to test his people? What if this trio was Wotan and a pair of his Valkyrie or even two other Gods? What if one of those figures was Freyr? Ralf honored Freyr as the God of his household; the God would not smile on him or his family if Ralf did not offer hospitality and compassion to a traveler.

“Ho friends,” Ralf shouted as he emerged from the stand of trees.

The trio halted and pivoted as one to face Ralf. Their heads remained bowed and their hands were hidden, each clasping the other in the opposite sleeve. A shudder passed through Ralf; this was strange behavior. Normally a traveler would evidence surprise or possibly fear when an unknown armed man suddenly appeared behind them on the road. This trio was calm and wooden; perhaps his guess that it was the Gods in disguise was correct.

“Good day to you travelers. I mean no harm. I saw you passing and thought I would be rude if I did not offer you meat or drink for your travels.”

The trio remained as silent and still as statues. Ralf felt nervous sweat trickle down his back. These men were stranger than the last Christian but they were unarmed travelers and he was armed with an axe and dagger, surely they should not inspire dread.

“I see that you carry no packs or skins for water,” he said and was shamed to hear a quiver in his voice. “I would offer you something to ease your travels; perhaps some meat. I would dishonor my God if I did not give hospitality to a stranger, especially on Thor’s day.”

The trio remained immobile. They did not even bother to lift their heads to meet the eyes of their potential host. Ralf felt boiling anger push away his nervousness.

“Well speak up, would you accept hospitality or not? I have tasks to perform and cannot stand here all day while you three stand mute.”

The lead figure shuffled forward. His robes hardly made a sound where they brushed the road. His head remained bowed as he approached Ralf. Perhaps this was Wotan in disguise, wishing to remain unseen until he had come close enough for only Ralf to gaze upon his holy visage. The figure stopped in front of Ralf and reached out a hand toward his shoulder. Too late, Ralf saw the bulbous knuckles, the dead white skin and black claws tipping each finger. The figure raised its head and the cowl fell away revealing a stark white face.

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