Prologue – The Hollow Hill
As Leif-Erik walks up the slope he can’t help but lament his age. Fifty… fifty years ago he could have run up this slope, only to run down, and then run up again without breaking a sweat. But that was half a lifetime ago.
He sits down on the ground and just tries to breathe. In five.. no, in ten minutes he’ll get up and walk again. An impatient growl alerts him to the fact that he is being lazy. “Oh don’t take that tone with me, missy.” A second growl, more of a yip fills the air. “Are you mocking me?”
An old daschhound breaks through the underbrush and collides with Leif-Erik. The daschound tries to lick him and he tries to avoid being licked.
“Mathilda!” “Mathilda stop it!” Mathilda gives him an baleful look and mirrors his sitting position. For the sake of appeasement he gives her an scratch, one she accepts, if grudgingly.
He turns around and…
… just absorbs the magnificent view. The city of Fallowfell lies beneath him. Fallowfell, which was old when Columbus discovered the New World; Fallowfell which was old when the Folk-Kings gathered on the plains and decided to create what would eventually become Sweden.
Mathilda puts her head against his shoulder, giving him a light nudge.
“Fine, don’t let an old man enjoy what could be his last look of his hometown.” Mathilda’s eyes are filled with reapproach. “I am just kidding.”
He gingerly gets up.
“Let’s be on our way, shall we.” Mathilda barks an reaffirmation.
About ten minutes later she grinds to an abrupt halt. She sniffs the air. Then she sniffs the air a second time almost as if to be certain. Leif opens his mouth and tries to smell whatever it is she smelling. Whatever it is, it must be far away, because he can’t smell anything. She opens her mouth and gives a soft whine. Then she growls, a harsh and discordant sound. “What is it?” Leif-Erik tries to interprete the signals that she is giving off. “Something disgusting? No, that’s not it. Something frightening? And .. something dangerous?”
In a sudden burst of speed Mathilda slips her leash. Normally Leif would be able to hold her, but the lack of warning coupled with a bad case of arthritis conspire to stop him. She darts into the forest at a breackneck speed.
He starts to walk fast, as fast as his knees will allow. “Mathilda!” She barks back at him from a distance. “Mathilda you get back here now right now.”
She doesn’t respond. “Don’t think you’ll be getting any treats from me now!”
He walks slightly to the left of the slope, towards a forested area. As he enters the leafy area, he spots something odd. There is a large pillar of stone, next to hidden behind two large trees. He walks up to it. There are vines and overgrowth covering it, but he removes it with a knife he always carry- just for opportunites like this. Squiggly lines have been carved into the rock, and with that little fact he realizes what he has in front of him… this is a bautasten, a standing stone!
He marvels over it. This particular area must be hundreds of years old.
One of his grandmother’s rhymes come to him. He opens his mouth, trying out the words.
“Standing stone, of which I have known
a blue bone, the dead unknown..”
He start to think. What was the last line? No matter how hard he tries, he can’t remember it. Something about three things known….
His reverie is broken by the sight of something moving. He turns softly, not wanting to upset whatever it is. A tendril of fog snakes through the trees. He turns in a half-circle, seeing fog filling the area. He resumes his brisk walk, but this time with more care. It wouldn’t do to fall and break something- Fallowfell is a long way off.
“Mathilda, where are you?” Her bark comes from northeast, so that’s the direction he move in. The fog limits his sight, but he can tell he is moving upwards by the incline of the ground. Mathilda barks again. “Yes, I hear ya, loud and clear!”
A red and ominous light flares to his left. He pauses. Curiosity killed the cat..
… but satisfaction brought him back. He approaches the red light slowly. He starts to laugh; he can’t help it. The source of the eerie red light is a fungus, radiating bioluminescence.
I am really getting old. Nursery rhymes and being scared of glowing mushrooms. Irene is probably laughing at me right now.
He walks upwards, once more. About fifty metres in the fog abruptly clears. He finds himself walking into a meadow with a large hill. Mathilda is sniffing the ground. There is something odd about the meadow… It takes him a moment to place it. The noise- or rather, the absence of noise. There are no birds here.
He takes one step forward, and in doing so he accidentally steps on something. He looks down. A tiny sparrow lies on the ground.He gets down on the ground and look for a wound. He finds none. “In the providence of a sparrow…”, he intones with a certain relish. He walks around. He’s maybe two metres from the dead sparrow when he finds another dead bird, a raven. He checks it too- with the same result. No wounds. “Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door….”, he muses.
A third step brings him to a dead hawk. He walks through the meadow finding every type of bird in the region; sparrow, raven, hawk, geese, even an eagle. But that’s not all. Rats, snakes and what even looks like a raccon lies dead in the meadow.
As he completes the lap around the meadow he sees a large form on the ground. Holy crap.
A bear, and not a small one. He walks closer. There is something different with it. The other animals showed no signs of injuries. But the bear lies in a pool of blod. Leif crouches on the ground. He opens the eyes of the bear. They’re blodshot and irritated. Its throat…. simply isn’t there anymore.
Now, what could tear the throat of a bear out? A pack of wolves maybe? Some of the larger cats?
Mathilda barks in a come-hither-voice. She is standing on the hill in the center of the meadow. He strides through the tall grass. “Don’t think you’ve gotten away with anything-” He stops. Mathilda is barking at a hole. In the hill.
Leif puts a hand on the edge of the hole in the hill. Strange, there is some kind of mud on it… He peers carefully inside. There is a large hollow space and a throne made of some kind of black stone. The wind brings a gust of stale air. And that’s when it hits him. The air. The raised earth. The circular space and the throne. This isn’t a hill. It’s a mound, a barrow-bell.
“Mathilda!” He prounounces her name in a voice that brokers no disagreement. She trotts up to him. “We’re going. Now!” He takes up his phone and starts to dial the number to the police.
His grandmother’s old rhyme rings through his head, once more. This time he remembers the last line.
“Standing stone, of which I have known
a blue bone, the dead unknown
a blacken throne and carnage foreknown.”