Móðguðr stood towering over the River Gjöll. Her mighty giant’s frame, rippling with muscle, was barely contained under the scarred and weathered skin. She looked as any jötnar might. However, rather than be clad in the simple leather armours and armed with barbaric weapons, Móðguðr was adorned in fine chain and plate armour, with a shield of the strongest oak and a longsword with a fearsome bite. In the wind, the pleats of her jet black hair floated gently and snow swirled around her face. But she was un-phased and kept her eye trained along the length of the river.

A Man was approached from downhill, walking along the banks of the great frozen river. From where he had left the other giant down many leagues away, the river had been soft and quiet. Not a sound could be heard from the frozen waves. But now, as he must be reaching the source of the river, the sounds had become louder and louder. The torrent seemed to rage unending, trapped forever in its frozen prison.

He looked to Móðguðr. She was proud and tall, keeping vigilant watch over the Gjallarbrú. The Gjallarbrú spanned the wide and formidable river, might arches stepping through the frozen waters. A roof thatched from gold strands covered the walk way along the length of the bridge.

‘The dead may not pass,’ said Móðguðr, strong and proud in her voice. ‘Turn back, draugr, or feel my blade through what skin you have.’

‘What good would a blade be against the dead?’ asked A Man, coming to stand before the legs of the giant.

‘The dead are saved from the ultimate death of oblivion here in this after-life. Even those who are deemed to go to Hel want to be kept from the nothingness I will send you to.’

A Man glanced to Móðguðr’s sword. It was as long as he was tall and forged from mythril so heavenly that the gods would be in awe. It wore chips and tarnish along its length like badges of honour.

‘I met a giant some way down the path,’ said A Man, although when he turned to look from where he had come he saw just an endless tundra. ‘He said you might answer some questions I had?’

‘You spoke with Þmyr?’ said Móðguðr, ‘What say he?’

‘He said that this was the way across.’

‘There is no way across.’

The jötunn and A Man stood and met eyes, her large jewel-like gaze falling down with disdain onto A Man’s frozen ice stare. She looked him up and down, looking into his soul and searching his face.

‘I do not recognise you,’ said Móðguðr, ‘How did you come to stand upon the grounds of the dead?’

‘Perhaps you forgot a face in a river of but a million dead that cross into this land.’

‘No,’ said Móðguðr firmly, ‘I would remember each face that passes by. Especially more now. The Ragnarök broke the ways through which the dead crossed over here. Only a few lucky souls have found themselves crossing my bridge. And you were not one of them.’

‘What happens to the dead if they cannot make their way here?’

‘They are lost,’ said Móðguðr, now losing her patience, ‘And you will be too if you do not tell me who you are and where you are from.’

‘I am a bard,’ said A Man, although the words were a surprise in his mouth. How did they come to be there? Why would he be a… bard? ‘But I have no name. I am just A Man.’

‘You were not dead when you arrived here, where you?’ said Móðguðr, ‘The death clings to you like a sickness - like some foul disease which you caught. I can see it on your skin. The death of a draugr and the life of… A Man.’

‘I think I fell,’ said A Man, a sudden flood of thoughts coming to him, thoughts which he could never remember thinking before, ‘I fell through a gaping maw, in a battle against death. A battle against death itself. Crossed swords with Hel back to back with men whom I have since forgotten.’

‘You are a lost creature,’ said Móðguðr, almost mournful, ‘This land will take the life of the living. It will try to correct the mistake of you being here. It will do it the only way it can.’

‘How do you live here then?’

‘I was born into the spring of Hvergelmir from which this river flows. It is the source from which all rivers, and thus all life, flows. My blood is the waters of the world and I cannot die.’

‘You cannot die?’

‘Words that many dead men have spoken. My soul will never part into the afterlife, and this land knows it cannot claim me. But I am like all creatures, and I can be cursed into the void of oblivion.’

‘Death beyond death,’ said A Man softly, ‘Hel’s hearth is cold but oblivion’s is unlit.’

Móðguðr smiled, the first she had done so. ‘So you are a bard after all. Come, I will light us a fire before you journey on.’

‘Journey on?’ asked A Man, confused.

‘To Hvergelmir. The waters there cleanse the darkest souls, and then perhaps you can cross.’ Móðguðr drew her sword, and a mighty flame leapt along its shaft. She placed it upon a pile of kindling, a bonfire to A Man. For the first time since he could last remember, A Man felt true warmth in his body. For a moment, he remembered he was more than just A Man.

‘Do you often entertain the dead?’ asked A Man, feeling himself pulled ever closer to the warmth of the bonfire.

‘No,’ said Móðguðr as she sat down beside the flames, loosening her breastplate, ‘But neither do I have the ever entertain the living. But you are neither.’

‘I fear I have nothing to offer my host,’ said A Man, starting to feel himself breaking from his shell.

‘You are a bard? Surely you have a song to sing, and a flute to play?’

‘A flute?’ said A Man. He dropped his satchel and dug his hand into a pocket he had not known was even there. A flute found its way into the palm of his hand. He brought the carved metal mouthpiece to his lips and began to play a soft tune. The river seemed to silence, the land hearing music for the first time. A Man saw Móðguðr smile as she brought out a barrel of mead from the stores around her camp. Her eyes seemed to glitter in the firelight.

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