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The Norseman's voice echoed across the vast mead hall and suddenly all eyes were on me. I froze where I stood and observed the unwelcoming stares with a less than admirable dose of trepidation. Not only am I an introvert incapable of carrying on a decent conversation with new acquaintances without the help of a generous swig of Odin's special elixir, but I also stammer when speaking to any group of people consisting of more than one person.
So I stammered, "Huh?"
"Jeg sa, 'Hvem faen er du?!" Trond Trondsen was screaming at me in Norwegian from the comfort of his massive wooden throne.
Even if my own verbal Swedish language abilities didn't suck harder than an Electrolux vacuum cleaner, there's still no way in hell I would have been able to understand his thick norsk accent through all the chunky bits of reindeer steak caught in his jowls. It didn't matter though, because he recognized the expression on my face as one of universally unmistakable stupidity and switched to English.
"Who the fuck are you?!"
Discombobulated from the twenty-odd hours of travel required to reach this remote Norwegian outpost, I attempted to remind him that he had agreed weeks ago to let me interview him. He just stared at me at first, but then a smile broke across his blond-bearded face, which was followed by the most sincerely jovial sound I have ever heard. Drunken Viking laughter is truly a wonder to behold and, apparently highly contagious, because everyone else joined in.
Still standing in the doorway with the cold autumn wind gusting at my back, I finally slouched inwards and pulled the heavy door closed behind me. It was covered in ornate neo-Jelling style carvings of long, twisted animal figures and as I bent closer to admire the artistry in the dim torchlight, my mind drifted towards what little I actually knew about the man whom I had arrived here to interview.
Nicknamed "Troll-Breath" since his youth as the boy with the worst breath in his home city of Trondheim, Trondsen is a complete throwback to the robust gusto of the original Viking glory days of a thousand years ago. Appropriately enough, it was Troll-Breath himself who thus kicked off the mass violence that has more recently spewed out of Scandinavia. Now collectively known as the Modern Viking Movement, these hostilities were principally the result of centuries' worth of increasingly unstable Nordic emotional repression. While suicide may have been an acceptable channel for venting primal frustrations with the banality of modern existence in decades past, only epic berserking could quench the flames of rampant emotional dejection for certain disenchanted members of Scandinavian society in the early 21st century.
The Scandinavian psyche officially began its collapse on June 8, 2004 when Troll-Breath and his fellow whaling buddies unexpectedly reestablished a hostile Viking presence in England during a fit of drunken rage. Their victorious sacking of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne essentially opened the floodgates for other malcontent Scandinavians to follow suite as the entire North Atlantic succumbed to the Norse menace for the duration of the summer. Unfortunately, most reports pertaining to these acts of Scandinavian aggression remain unsubstantiated, including allegations of Troll-Breath's own subsequent mass rape of Lindisfarne's attractive tourists and enslavement of the ugly ones, as well as his supposed ritual involving beached whale sacrifice. My hope in coming to this strange place was to get to the bottom of all the hearsay and determine just where exactly the facts end and the myths begin.
My thoughts were soon interrupted by the unholy stench of ass mingled together with that of fermentation. The perpetrator, a vicious devil dressed all in green, was scampering around on the ground down near my feet. I jumped backwards when he began to grope for my bags and hoisted them out of his reach. He stretched for them in vain, spitting out a harsh string of Irish-tinged profanity, "Give 'em here, ye muzzy bastard! No feckin' malarkey, ye hear? I'll give ye a feckin' mighty wallop with me shillelagh, I will!"
An unusually lanky Viking stepped forward. "Shit's all right, Rowdy. You can give them bags to that there little fucker. He'll take 'em on over to yonder guest quarters for ya."
I awkwardly relinquished my bags to the little bugger, and the Viking bent down closer to him. "You git now, ya here?" he admonished. "You git n' don't ya be messin' nothin' up! I'll be a-comin' right after ya n' there'll be hell ta pay if I catch ya causin' any trouble. Now, git!" And with a swift kick to the rear, the diminutive porter scampered away with my luggage.
The Viking turned back to face me. "Name's Henrik. I handle the leprechaun wranglin' 'round here. That little bastard ya just met's been assigned ta some household chorin' duty for some no good recent mischief. You see, we caught his yeller ass makin' some moonshine down in his cell not so long ago. Somehow he'd done managed ta smuggle in all them raw materials n' I'll be damned if he didn't set himself up right quick a miniature distillery right there underneath our very noses. We don't generally keep too close an eye on them bastards once they's been all locked up at night. Hell, he probably coulda even gotten away with all that there hootenanny if he hadn't done started blabberin' all 'bout it soon as he done got himself hammered. So now's it's all these here chores till he's got himself cleaned up enough ta get back on the assembly line 'gain."
"Assembly line?" I was beyond confused.
The enslavement of numerous leprechauns had been another of Troll-Breath's many purported accomplishments, but not one that I had ever suspected of having any foundation in reality, because, well, it has to do with leprechauns for fuck's sake. But as the story goes, the whalers-turned-Vikings were chased out of Dublin after a brazen attempt to lure passersby into shackles on their vessel and an ensuing life of slavery. Leaving the city ingloriously behind them, they scoured the countryside for pillaging opportunities and coincidentally stumbled upon a pot of gold. A vast leprechaun colony thrived nearby and the Norwegians subsequently conducted a large-scale enslavement operation, the end result of which still remains unknown to the world at large.
Consequently, Henrik didn't seem too surprised by my bafflement. "Why, a'course," he smiled. "We got them there little bastards makin' shoes for us on a big ole assembly line down in one of the buildings right here on the property. Sure is lots of booty to be made in the shoe-manufacturing business, I tell ya what. But I best be gittin' now myself, you have yourself a fine evenin', Rowdy." And with that, he abruptly nodded farewell and headed after the short miscreant.
I remained standing there, too dazed to move, when an incredibly attractive woman appeared beside me and immediately detracted all further thoughts away from folkloric Irish imps. "Would you please follow me?" she smiled. Oh, would I ever, I wanted to say, but instead I just nodded the affirmative and speechlessly trailed after her.
I noticed plenty of other attractive Scandinavian women circulating the length of the great table, attentively satiating the Vikings' needs so that no mead horn need run dry. Surprisingly many women, actually, considering that Norway is a nation famed for its supposed progressiveness, but I wasn't about to complain; the abundant cleavage felt soothing on my tired eyes. My guide motioned towards a seat near the foot of Troll-Breath's throne.
"Would you like a drink?" she inquired. I couldn't tell if she was saying it flirtatiously or if it just seemed that way because of the particulars of her trade. Such is the mysterious nature of Viking Hooters girls.
"I guess," I answered. What the hell kind of answer was that?
I blame my lack of enthusiasm on sensory overload. I was jet-lagged out of my mind, had apparently just encountered a real-life leprechaun, and was now being offered a drink by a centerfold-worthy beauty. But in actuality, I couldn't agree with her offer more. What better pick-me-up could I ask for than a gigantic horn full of sweet, sweet mead? Plus, if I drank enough, maybe I'd sufficiently overcome my inhibitions and actually attempt to cavort with her or some of the other scantily clad womenfolk.
She vanished and reappeared a moment later bearing a large horn full of frothy mead that she set down with a delightful "Varsågod." I looked from her to it, then back to her, and felt my loins quiver as she walked briskly away again.
I stole a glance at Troll-Breath in his throne beside me. A large man with long blond hair and a prominent amulet of Thor's hammer hanging from his neck, he sat unmoving, looking down at me, his face unreadable. Intimidated, I gave a quick grin and turned back to my mead, but before I even had a chance to sample the brew, he suddenly cleared his throat and stood up. "Quiet down everyone. I have a few words I'd like to say."
The stillness was immediate. Troll-Breath surveyed the hushed crowd and began, "A few years ago we had the honor of making a little history together. Most of you know how it started, but not all of you." His eyes darted downward at me as he said this. "I was having a piss-poor week, what with that fucking bitch of an ex-girlfriend and the ridiculous problems I was having with my Volvo, and then, to top it all off, I had just found out that one of my best friends was quitting whaling so he could move to Denmark and go back to school. So there I was, already in this fucking bad mood on account of that whole mess when that goddamned nose hair started tickling my nostril just a few days after we hit the whale-road. And it wouldn't stop. I couldn't manage to actually pluck it out with my fingers and I didn't have any tweezers onboard. The fucking thing was driving me closer and closer to normal, spontaneous, berserker-rage, but then something just snapped inside my head in a way I hadn't experienced before.
"Thoughts about everything that was wrong with my life just hit me all once. Sure, I'd had bad days at times, thinking about stuff, everyone does, because, you know, sometimes everything in life just seems so stupid and pointless. I mean, look at us especially. As whalers, most people in the world totally fucking hated us even though they didn't even know a damn thing about us. They only knew that we legally killed whales for a living. But, still, it's stuff like that that gets you thinking about whether or not your life has any purpose to it. Don't get me wrong, though; I'm not saying that I wished I'd never gotten into whaling. I've always thrilled in the hunt of the whale, it's just that there were times, like when we'd be flensing the blubber, that I'd be wondering if that was really all I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
"Maybe it was just my bad mood, or maybe it was because those thoughts and feelings surfaced all at once and to such a high degree that they caught me off guard. I'm not entirely sure myself, but needless to say, instead of going berserk on the spot, I instead got out the aquavit and we all got drunk and proceeded to make some very interesting decisions, one of them resulting in the fact that we became the very first whaling crew in modern times to literally go a-Viking when we sacked Lindisfarne and raided its souvenir shop!" The gathered Vikings all cheered at this. "A better decision I have never made, and it really opened up some impressive doors for us. And we ended up having some good times, too, together over the course of the rest of that summer. Acquired lots of plunder, had some memorable adventures visiting parts of the world we hadn't been to before. Shit, I'll never forget the time ole Ture over there nearly got smothered to death by a damned walrus in heat when we were up near Baffin Island hunting for some fucking ivory!" A grizzled Viking seated about midway down the length of the table nodded and grunted while several of the centerfolds nearest to him oohed and ahhed in admiration.
"Or how about the time we were camping out in the Shannonside of Ireland and ran out of mead?" continued Troll-Breath. "Knut, being the lush that he is, decided to march all the way to Bunratty Castle by himself to get some more but didn't realize he had forgotten his sword till he tried to plunder the meadery and had to turn back empty handed!" Everyone laughed heartily, including a Viking beaming beet red. "There's no doubt about it, we had a good run, a really good run…till that fucking fiasco at Stamford Bridge when the Anglo-Saxon Armed Forces put an end to it…but I think we can all agree that the good times outweighed the bad.
"And that is why it's so unfuckingacceptable that our deeds have gone almost completely unnoticed in the outside world! But that is all about to change. As you all saw earlier, our new guest today, this here Rowdy Geirsson as he calls himself, don't know Norwegian." A murmur of disapproval at this. "But we can't hold that shit against him. You know why he is here. It's the reason I called for this little reunion to get together in the first place. The weavers of fate have chosen him for the mighty task of recording the glory of our deeds and making them known to the rest of the world!"
Waves of cheering erupted, effectively raising my already heightened sense of self-consciousness. Personally, I liked to think that I had arrived at the mead hall of my own initiative, that it was my own impetus that drove me to seek what truth, if any, could be divulged from the rumors of reincarnated Viking belligerence. After all, the actual history of the Modern Viking Movement remains incredibly murky. The media had largely neglected it in favor of celebrity sex scandals, the conniving of various political parties, and unfounded speculation regarding both natural and man-made disasters. Likewise, the international academic community had turned the other cheek in favor of its own preferred special interests. What little research I had thus far conducted myself indicated that the Movement had only affected a very small percentage of the population of Northern Europe, but I didn't consider that to be an acceptable excuse for the absolute dearth of information on the topic.
Ultimately, I wanted to publish whatever findings I might uncover in a future book, and in that regard, Troll-Breath's aspirations and mine were in perfect alignment; Vikings love the propagation of their own glorious undertakings. However, he is such a damn convincing public speaker that I began to wonder myself if our plans weren't really our own and that I wasn't just simply following the course that had been set out for me by some benevolent norn at the time of my birth.
With the cheering still shaking the rafters, he looked over at me and said, "Drink up, fremmed."
I grabbed my mead horn, doing my best not to spill it, and looked around. Not knowing what else to say, and desperately hoping to avoid being coerced into giving some dumb speech that I would surely ruin, I said the first thing that came to mind, and it was probably the best thing that I could have possibly said: "Skål." The all-purpose Scandinavian word for "let's cut the shit and start drinking." And then I tilted the horn to my lips and drank deeply.
Or at least what seemed deeply to me. When I lowered the horn I noticed that my effort was, in fact, completely pathetic. Now, to my defense, I'd like to make it clear that it was a very large horn. It had to have held at least two and a half pints when full, and this was no chugging mead. This wasn't watered-down, frat-boy horse piss; this was a carefully crafted nectar of the gods. Nonetheless, embarrassment and disappointment, which are never that far away in the game of life, quickly reentered mine with a crushing victory and reaffirmed the fact that I am no Viking.
Troll-Breath put his arm around my shoulder as I stood gaping at my sorry performance. "Not bad for a nothing," he said curtly.
The crowd hushed and I could feel the color drain from my face. This word, nothing, is not a compliment, and a thousand years ago it certainly wasn't a joking matter to call somebody one. But this wasn't a thousand years ago and things were obviously done differently now. A thousand years ago the host wouldn't have started the party early, forgetting or disregarding that a guest of honor was even on the way. But then maybe I'm not considered an honorable guest. I don't really have a whole lot of honor. Maybe he thought of me as more of a glorified wolfhound than anything else.
I just looked up at him, my mouth agape.
His face twitched and then he burst out laughing, "Ah, I'm just messing with you!" Even the centerfolds thought this was hilarious, so I pretended to share their sentiment. "Skål!" he shouted, and all around the drinking began anew.
Troll-Breath introduced me to a few of his closest companions and we chatted about the unique advantages of Viking diplomacy in international relations, the future challenges presented by locally proposed legislation concerning the heretofore legally undefined, mythical shoe-manufacturing industry, and the interesting developments occurring within the Viking metal musical subgenre. But as the night wore on the men's attention gradually drifted away from conversation and towards the various mead maidens hovering in ever-increasing proximity.
They tended our mead needs with excellent service and several even exchanged a few polite words with me during those inopportune moments when competition for the attention of Troll-Breath and company was at its fiercest. Despite this, my initial thoughts of cavorting gave way to total apathy. The unending deluge of alcohol had made me too tired to even care. Besides, unlike the men surrounding me, I didn't flaunt any arm rings or any other blatant symbols of status and wealth, and so there, under the protection of the wooden serpents adorning the mead hall's pitched roof, in the company of modern Vikings, and with only the vague ponderings of what the next day might bring, I slipped into the firm grip of drunken darkness.
About the author:
When not overtly shoveling his life away at the behest of the machine, Rowdy Geirsson aimlessly prowls the streets of Boston under the influence of daydreams that involve the sacking of unsuspecting coastal settlements. He attempts to promote his research about the Modern Viking Movement at www.scandinavianaggression.com.
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