Raidho leapt off the ship with a flourish of his Southern-style cape. Finally, after traveling such a distance in this ship, there was a city in front of them! People to meet and trade with! People who had survived Ragnarok by living in this cave!
Raidho looked up to the grand walls of the city, which appeared to be made of pure marble. The ramparts, about 20 meters above the ground, were carved to look like animals playing atop the wall, and even at this distance Raidho could make out carvings of a coyote, a fox, and a raven. He counted six towers on this side of the wall, evenly spaced about 300 meters apart.
The others followed as he walked purposefully up the dock, illuminated by the light of the lava flows to the West so that his blue cape looked purple, and his white turban looked orange. After having watched the fight with the disfigured monsters who had attacked the ship, he was excited to see some fresh, new faces. He could see a group of people talking at the end of the dock.
As he approached, however, he slowed in his gait in apprehension. These were not the beautiful people he had hoped to see, but three more hideous monsters like the ones who had attacked them when they entered the cave. He pretended to slip a little bit on the wet dock to hide his hesitation.
Then he let his big, confident smile return to his face and he strode purposefully toward the group. They weren’t holding weapons, they were just ugly. He was pretty sure that the two smaller were women and the larger was a man, but they were misshapen enough for it to be hard to tell.
“Look at the size of that woman’s nose,” Sowilo whispered from behind him.
“And is the left half of that hunchback’s face larger than right half?” Perthro whispered back.
Raidho stopped listening as Thurisaz commented on another deformity. He walked right up to them, keeping his lunch down by sheer force of will as he made eye contact with the one who appeared to be the leader.
The woman who stepped forward had a hunched back, which made it more intimidating that she towered over the travellers. “Greetings, strangers and good day. What brings you to Nidhavellir?” Her tone was commanding.
“We are merely traveling, looking for other people,” Raidho said. ”You’re the second group of dwarves we’ve found, and the first who haven’t attacked us on sight.”
“I see you’ve met the soldiers of Modi. He has been guarding each of the entrances to Svartalfheim since the war began.” Behind the woman as she spoke, the other two exchanged concerned glances.
Sowilo spoke up, “Modi? A warlord named after the god of berserkers?”
“No,” the taller one spoke up. It was indeed a man’s voice. “It is the younger son of Thor himself. And his opponent in the war is his own brother, Magni Tho–.”
The woman who hadn’t yet spoken elbowed the man in the ribs, cutting him off. An awkward silence followed as the travelers and the dwarves looked at each other.
Raidho stepped forward and broke the silence. “Where are my manners? My name is Raidho the Traveler.” Raidho extended his hand and said, “With me are Sowilo the Seer, Perthro the Gambler, Kenaz the Cook, and Thurisaz the Giantslayer. And you are?”
The leader took his hand in her own. “My name is Fundis Nordrisdottir. My overly eager brother is Althjolf, and my quiet sister is Althjunn. We are the ruling council of the city of Nidhavellir.”
“A pleasure to meet such august people right off the boat,” Raidho said. “What brings people of your standing to the docks?”
“You do. We heard of a ship filled with warriors sailing to Nidhavellir, and we wanted to make it clear that we want no part in the war.”
Raidho laughed. “We have had enough of war as it is. We defended ourselves up North because we were attacked as we travelled. It is our hope that we will not be attacked in that way again.”
There was another awkward silence as three dwarves looked at each other nervously. “You should come with us,” Fundis said at last. “We will introduce you to the head of the ruling council.”
The dwarves turned and began walking Southeast quickly. Despite their deformities, their long legs made the travellers run to keep up.
They entered the city by a grand gate. The archway was carved in scenes from the gods’ lives: Thor’s foot sticking out the bottom of a boat, Odin hanging from the World Tree, an eagle chasing a smaller eagle through the air. The door itself was made of a glossy black stone, and was lowered towards them by dozens of iron chains.
The travellers marveled at the buildings, packed in close together. Tiny huts were built next to enormous palaces and everything in between. The smaller buildings were master classes in symmetry and elegance, rivaling most human palaces in their beauty. But the larger buildings were even more beautiful: mortarless stones stacked together in perfect precision to build mosaics of color which looked strong enough to survive being hit by a catapult.
Even the road was made with meticulous care, the cobblestones fitted together so tightly that even a baby could not fit a single toe into the cracks between.
The streets were peopled with more of the hideous dwarves. Though they would have been about as tall as the humans, they were so twisted in their shapes that they appeared shorter. Only a few, including their guides, were tall enough and straight enough in their bearing to appear tall to human eyes.
“Watch where you’re going!” cart driver bellowed, interrupting Raidho’s appreciation of the sights.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Raidho apologized, backing away. “I didn’t–” Raidho tripped over another cart behind him, landing hard on his left arm. While Raidho collected himself on the ground, rubbing his arm tenderly, the hideous dwarf laughed at him. “I’ll just go,” Raidho muttered.
The travelers followed the council into one of the more elegant palaces, this one apparently forged from pure gold. The walls were plain: no carvings, no fluting, no decoration of any kind. Just plain, flat, uncarved, gold. Raidho quickly lost a sense of the direction they were traveling through the twisting corridors.
The dwarves led them deep into the palace down many twisting corridors. All the passages looked the same: gold walls, undecorated, with nothing but the pale shadows they cast to differentiate them. The walls were so brightly polished that a single torch could light an entire passage way with reflections of its light.
At last they came to a door made of wood. The door frame, the doorknob, and even the hinges were of the finest silver, appearing to glow against the mat brown of the oaken door.
Fundis opened the door, and gestured for the others to enter. Raidho led the way, gawking at the ornately furnished office. The first thing he saw upon entering was a table with eight chairs. Each chair was made of the finest mahogany, and upholstered in silk. The room opened up to his left, where he saw a wooden desk with iron fittings.
Behind the desk was the ugliest of the dwarves he had seen thus far. The creature was bald on the right side of his head, with unkempt curls rising to its left. Its left shoulder was at least a hand higher than its right, and its sneer revealed that its teeth were all crooked. Even its clothes were hideous, though clearly well-made: gold lace trimmed a dark red tunic in a jagged, uneven manner that looked intentional, but painful to the eye.
Once the travelers were seated, the dwarf behind the desk spoke. “I am Nordri, king of Nidhavellir.” Out of the corner of his eye, Raidho saw Fundis bristle at this statement. “Why have you come here?”
Raidho opened his mouth to speak, but Thurisaz was faster. “Because you brought us here! We have no desire to be in this palace!”
Raidho didn’t really listen to most of the following conversation after this. When Thurisaz finished shouting, Nordri calmly explained about the mountains to the East, covered by Magni’s army. The dwarves don’t appear sure where Modi is, but his forces guard all the exits from Svartalfheim. The next thing Nordri said did catch Raidho’s attention.
“So we would benefit from some scouts, who would be willing to explore the regions west of Nidhavellir in search of Modi. Would you be willing to travel yet farther?”
“I’d love to!” Raidho said, and Sowilo nodded agreement.
Kenaz said. “I’m tired and hungry. I’m not going anywhere until I’ve filled my belly.”
“And I’m thirsty,” said Perthro.
Nordri was taken aback. “My servants will, of course, provide you with–”
Kenaz responded with fire in her voice. “No.” Kenaz stood, pointing out of the room. “I will find a kitchen and cook for myself. Come, Perthro, I’ll make you some soup.” She stormed out of the room, and Perthro followed.
Raidho noticed that Thurisaz wasn’t speaking, and wondered what conflict was brewing in the warrior’s head this time. “Will you journey with us, Thurisaz?” Raidho asked.
Thurisaz snapped out of his thoughts and glared at Raidho for a brief instant, before turning to Nordri. “I am uninterested in Modi, your majesty. I will seek Magni Thorsson.”
“In that case,” Nordri responded, “Bring him this letter reminding him that the city of Nidhavellir is to remain neutral in this conflict with his brother. I want no battles fought within bowshot of here.” Nordri pulled out a sealed letter, the wax matching the walls of the palace in golden color. Thurisaz took it and put it into his pack.
The meeting concluded quickly after that. With a few pleasantries, the travelers went their separate ways: Raidho and Sowilo went West to find Modi, Kenaz and Perthro went into the city, and Thurisaz went East to find Magni.
Raidho was excited to explore this strange new land!