I’ve been experimenting with writing in a different medium, namely screenwriting. As a dyed-in-the-wool movie buff this seemed like a logical progression: from short stories to novels to scripts. This particular effort is near and dear to me: it’s a screen presentation of the opening of the Orc book. I’m still casting about for a title, but for the moment I’m calling it GRIMNIR. It needs something better, to be sure.
So, my friends, settle back in your virtual theater seat. The house lights dim as you munch your virtual popcorn . . .
EXT. THE DANISH COAST – DAY
Thunder splits the heavens; rain lashes the bent forms of TWO MONKS struggling along the rocky Danish coastline, their brown robes flapping in the howling wind.
The older of the two is BROTHER NJAL (30’s), a giant Dane who gave up the axe so he might spread the word of God. His companion is an eager young Saxon from Wessex, BROTHER AIDAN (20’s), irrepressible even in this foul weather. Brother Aidan tugs on the halter of a donkey.
Brother Njal points to a cave mouth up the slope from them.
(shouting over the storm)
Praise be to God!
Is it safe?
Safer than standing in this wrack!
INT. DANISH CAVE – DAY
Stamping and slinging water, the two monks enter the gray-lit cave, with Aidan pulling the donkey. Inside, the place is like a cathedral: water sluices in from above, filling a small pool that drains away through natural fissures.
SUPER: Sjaelland, the Danemark. The Year of Our Lord 1000 AD.
Lightning illuminates the cave’s interior.
It is dry further in, brother.
Aidan pulls back his hood, glances around. Someone has left a store of dry wood in the corner, and graffito is scrawled on the walls, some in Latin, the rest carved runes. Lightning flashes; high on the wall Aidan and Njal see a stylized eye glaring down at them.
What bandits’ lair is this?
What matter? God has granted us shelter from the storm, brother. Would you turn up your nose at a gift from the Almighty?
(looking at the eye)
Satan’s own front porch is no gift.
Njal gives his young companion a reproving look.
Come, you kindle a fire while I unpack the donkey. You will better appreciate the Lord’s generosity with warm feet and some pork in your belly.
Working in tandem, the two monks quickly build a small campsite in one corner of the cave. They settle in and soon a hank of salted pork is roasting. Brother Aidan notices a breeze coming from deeper in the cave, stirring the flames of their small fire. He frowns.
How far under the earth does this go?
Njal hands Aidan a wooden plate with a piece of pork, a hunk of bread, and a handful of dried figs. The older monk shrugs.
Those wretched pagans I am forced to call my ancestors say these caves were hacked out of the earth by the sons of Ymir, foul ogres who drink the blood of good Christians.
Are you a good Christian, Aidan?
I pray so.
The younger monk turns back to look at the rear of the cave even as a jag of lightning casts its glare.
A FIGURE is illuminated, barbaric and cruel. It fades with the light.
Aidan jumps, his plate clattering to the floor of the cave.
BROTHER AIDAN (CONT’D)
Lord God Almighty!
What ails you, brother?
Aidan points toward the rear of the cave. Slowly, he finds his voice.
We … We are not alone, brother. There’s something back there. A devil–
Brother Njal, who sailed the Whale Road before coming to Christ, picks a flaming brand from the fire and holds it aloft.
Devil? Your imagination runs away with you, brother. I see no–
But something MOVES in the darkness. A strobe of lightning reveals the glint of ringmail, a swirl of a wolf pelt as something vanishes behind a spur of rock.
Njal snatches up the knife he used to section their pork.
No fighting man, Aidan shrinks closer to the fire.
BROTHER NJAL (CONT’D)
Who goes? If you be a thief, we are but poor sons of Christ! We have nothing! Show yourself!
A harsh, flinty VOICE answers.
You have food, poor sons of Christ.
We do. Little enough for our own needs, but what we have we will share with you.
At what price?
We ask nothing in return. Our charity is the charity of Christ. Brother Aidan, fetch a plate for our guest.
Aidan moves to the fire; the Voice, however, LAUGHS — a sound like stones sliding into a grave.
Why do you laugh?
Faugh! Just like a Dane to claim ownership where none exists! Yes, poor son of Christ, I know your people! Spear-Danes and Shield-Danes, Bright-Danes and Ring-Danes, West-Danes and South-Danes! I have slain them all in my day!
I … I don’t understand.
He is not our guest, brother. We are his.
Aye, you are mine, Dane. I will trade you hospitality for food. Keep your dead god’s charity! Do we have a bargain?
We have a bargain. I am Njal, son of Hengist. My brother is Aidan of Wessex. We are bound for the church at Roskilde. How are you called?
The figure MOVES slowly out of the shadows. The thunder is fading, the rain a soft hiss. Weak flares of lightning reveal little more than a twisted silhouette, powerful limbs gnarled with age.
I am called many things, Dane. Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent. I am ulfhedinn, called the Hooded One.
You call yourself Grimnir?
I call myself nothing. That is the name given to me by my people.
Aidan comes forward with a plate of food.
Who … who are your people?
As Grimnir moves closer to the fire, his features are slowly revealed: long black hair woven with bits of ivory and silver, a craggy face with eyes the color of rusted iron, a mouth full of sharp, yellow teeth, and tattoos of cinder and woad snaking across his swarthy hide. Grimnir is clad in antiquated and barbaric splendor: a hauberk of ring-mail and black leather, a leather kilt, a cloak of wolf-skins, and arm-rings of silver and black iron. His black-nailed hand rests on the worn hilt of a seax.
It is evident that Grimnir is not human.
Christ’s mercies! Keep away from it, Brother Aidan! It is a devil in truth! Skraeling, I name you! Back, child of Satan!
Njal pulls Aidan back and brandishes his knife, no longer a monk but a Dane facing an enemy.
Grimnir drops to a crouch; he draws his seax. The slow RASP of steel on leather is sinister punctuation to the sudden silence.
You forget our bargain, Christ-Dane?
There can be no bargain with the spawn of Lucifer!
Faugh! Bugger your Lucifer!
But, before Grimnir and Njal can come to blows, young Aidan thrusts himself between the two.
Stop! Put down your blades, both of you! Njal! Is it not written that we should love the sinner though we despise the sin?
This is no mere sinner, Aidan! It comes from a race of traitors and oath-breakers and defilers of corpses. No less than St. Ansgar himself declared them anathema!
And were not your people once declared anathema by the Church? How runs the prayer, Njal? Do you remember?
(lowering his knife)
‘Deliver us, O God, from the savage race of Northmen.’
You are wise beyond your years, Brother Aidan.
Njal drops the knife by the fire.
BROTHER NJAL (CONT’D)
Forgive me. We are ill guests to abuse your hospitality so. Will you not join us?
Grimnir’s eyes narrow with suspicion as he glances from monk to monk. Slowly, though, he straightens. Finally, he sheathes his seax.
Tonight we eat, and you will sleep in peace. But, come the dawn, I might just split your miserable Danish skull.
Njal takes the plate of food from Aidan and holds it out to Grimnir.
Come the dawn you may try, if that be God’s will …
Grimnir laughs and joins the two monks by the fire.
* * *
(C) Scott Oden, 2011. All Rights Reserved.