“I can’t believe they would build a church here,” said Haraldr. “I understand that Olaf is ordering churches to be built, but on the former site of an important hof? That’s just poor taste.”
Eiríkr thought about that as they watched the king’s men work in the distance. They hauled lumber and stone, hammered boards into the walls, and extended the framework of the structure ever upwards. The church was already taller than any building that Eiríkr had ever seen, and they hadn’t even gotten to working on the roof yet.
“I think it’s symbolic,” said Eiríkr. “They tore down the hof so they could build the church on its foundations. It represents the old gods becoming replaced with the new one.”
“The new one?” asked Haraldr.
“The Christians only have one god,” said Eiríkr. “It’s kinda their whole thing.”
Haraldr laughed so loudly that his blonde beard shook and several of the men in the distance looked up before returning to their work.
“They believe only one god built the entire world?” he asked between chuckles. “Now that’s just silly. This is really what they want to replace the old ways with?”
“Well, do you really believe that Thor disguised himself as a bride to steal his hammer back from the king of the giants?” asked Eiríkr.
“No, not really. Or at least not so much anymore,” admitted Haraldr. “But it’s not about whether or not I actually believe our stories. It’s about having to give up our heritage and our culture just because some Englishman managed to convince the king’s gullible father that his own was superior.”
“Stories are just stories,” he said. “Telling them is a wonderful way to amuse ourselves, but believing them is for children.”
“So what are you saying?” asked Haraldr.
“That I don’t really care what this foolish king wants Norway to believe in, because none of it really matters,” said Eiríkr. “None of it’s real.”
Eiríkr was about to say more, but his words were cut off as a deafening whooshing noise thundered above them. Both men looked up to see a big object streak across the sky and towards the forest behind them. It moved too quickly for either of them to discern any details other than a trail of pale yellow light left in its wake.
They lowered their gazes once the object was out of view and met each other’s eyes. There was no need for words at the moment. The look they shared conveyed all there was to say. As one, they looked up at the king’s men building the church in the distance. The men continued to work as if nothing strange had happened, showing no sign of the object that had passed overhead. Suddenly, there was a need for words.
“They didn’t notice that thing in the sky, did they?” asked Eiríkr.
“No, I don’t think they did,” agreed Haraldr.
“I can’t help but wonder how that’s possible,” said Eiríkr.
Haraldr chewed on his lower lip and idly ran a hand through his big blonde beard. Then he smiled.
“Because, unlike those men building that church, we are the true sons of Norway,” said Haraldr. Now it was Eiríkr’s turn to scratch his beard in thought.
“I don’t get what you mean,” he said.
“Eiríkr, can’t you see?” said Haraldr. “We just witnessed Thor’s chariot flying through the sky! We were doubting the truth of our own beliefs as the Christians take over our homeland, and then Thor showed himself to us.” Eiríkr frowned.
“I didn’t see any goats,” argued Eiríkr. “Thor’s chariot is supposed to be pulled by goats.”
“The chariot was moving too fast for either of us to make out any details, and you know it.”
“Alright, fine,” said Eiríkr. “We just witnessed Thor’s chariot fly over our heads. What now?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Haraldr. “We follow it.”
Haraldr spun on the heels of his boots and took off towards the forest behind them. He vanished into the dense foliage a moment later. Eiríkr stood there alone and shifted his weight from foot to foot. He cast glances back and forth between the clearing where the king’s men worked and the woods his friend had entered. Eiríkr cursed under his breath, then ran towards the forest.
It took less time to catch up with Haraldr than he thought he would. Haraldr was standing in place about a quarter of a mile into the forest. Before him was a clearing that looked like it had just been more forest that morning. Freshly splintered trees lay strewn at haphazard angles and Eiríkr spotted what remained of several crushed birds. However, none of that was what drew the two men’s attention.
Sitting in the center of the wreckage was a massive disc made of a dull, matte metal that Eiríkr couldn’t identify. The disc was easily the size of a jarl’s home, a big bump protruded from its center. Eiríkr took in the sight, then walked up to Haraldr.
“I still don’t see any goats,” said Eiríkr.
“Alright, so it’s not Thor’s chariot,” admitted Haraldr. “But it must be somehow from the gods. How else do you explain this?” Eiríkr ran his eyes over the giant metal disc.
“It looks like scrap metal,” he said. “If it’s from the gods, then it must be Asgard’s trash.”
As soon as Eiríkr finished speaking, the bump in Asgard’s trash began to slide open. Tendrils of smoke poured out from the growing opening and almost obscured the strange little creature that emerged. Haraldr and Eiríkr watched in dumb disbelief as the creature climbed out of the metal disc and waddled towards them.
The creature was about three feet tall and had entirely hairless gray skin, a disproportionately large bulbous head, and massive black eyes with no irises. It opened its mouth as it approached, revealing rows of tiny, needle-like teeth, and spoke. The creature was clearly forming words, but its language was unfamiliar.
“What’s it saying?” asked Haraldr.
“How the Helheim would I know?” said Eiríkr.
The gray creature ceased speaking and withdrew a small black rectangle of a material Eiríkr could not discern. The creature wore no clothes, so Eiríkr was left to guess where it had taken it from. The creature examined the rectangle, frowned, and reached towards its back with the rectangle. The black rectangle vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared.
“My apologies,” said the creature in the Norse language. “I thought I had landed in England, and so I was speaking their tongue.”
“You thought this was England?” declared Haraldr. “I’m not sure where you’re from, but this is Norway!”
“Haraldr, I think we have bigger issues at the moment,” said Eiríkr under his breath. Haraldr seemed to agree with him, and quieted down.
“Once again, my apologies,” said the creature. “I’ve never been here before, and it’s a long way from my home.”
“Where exactly is your home?” asked Eiríkr. “Are you from Asgard?”
“Asgard?” said the creature. “I do not know this word.”
“So it’s probably safe to assume that you’re not from there,” said Eiríkr.
“Yes, it’s probably safe to assume that,” agreed the creature. “May I ask about something?
“Sure,” said Eiríkr.
“When I flew overhead, I saw you two gentlemen staring at the construction of a building,” said the creature. “You seemed rather unhappy about this construction, and I was wondering why.”
“They’re building a Christian church on the site of a former hof,” interjected Haraldr. “A hof my friend and I both worshipped at since we were children.” Eiríkr found it interesting that Haraldr neglected to mention that they had all but stopped visiting the hof since reaching adulthood, but he decided against pointing that out.
“I fail to understand what you are trying to communicate,” said the creature flatly.
“Some people from an island far away are imposing their own religious beliefs on us, and working to destroy our own people’s religious beliefs in the process,” explained Eiríkr. “My friend is very upset about this.”
“You mean to say that people from another culture far away are coming to impose their belief system on you?” asked the creature. “That’s just awful.”
“Exactly!” said Haraldr. “See, you understand.”
“That’s just awful,” repeated the creature. “That’s what we were going to do.”
“Come again?” said Eiríkr.
“We’re here to spread the belief of Zardhu Of The Seven Tentacles, the supreme being of the galaxy,” said the creature. “And while we were at it, we were probably going to colonize the shit out of this place and strip it for what natural resources we could. Zardhu would want it that way.”
“I’m starting to like you a lot less,” said Eiríkr.
“But the problem is, we can’t do any of that if you’re already doing it to each other,” said the creature.
“You can’t?” asked Haraldr.
“Do you have any clue how difficult it would be for us to spread the way of Zardhu among your masses if we have to compete with you pushing your own beliefs on each other?” said the creature. “And, if you’re pushing religion on each other, then I’m guessing your kind has a habit of looting each other's precious minerals and other valuable resources?”
“We’ve been known to do that,” admitted Eiríkr, whose father Óláfr had been a notorious Viking raider with a fondness for hanging severed heads off the prow of his longship. The sight of his father returning home accompanied by the bloated, bloodless heads of dozens of dead men had been enough to dissuade Eiríkr from the martial profession at a very young age.
“See, my point exactly,” said the creature. “How can we efficiently loot this world if you’re constantly looting each other. That seems like a real headache.”
“I’m having trouble sympathizing with you,” said Haraldr.
“We had this same issue when we last visited you, a little shy of one-thousand of your years ago,” said the creature. “You were busy colonizing and pushing your various religions on each other, which left no room for us to do that. We were hoping that your species would’ve evolved enough to no longer be doing that by now, but I guess we overestimated you.”
“But that’s exactly what you want to do to us,” pointed out Eiríkr.
“Yes, but we have the right to,” said the creature. “Zardhu is on our side.”
The creature stretched its stubby gray limbs and took in the forest around it. “It is rather cold in this place,” it said. “What did you call it?”
“Norway,” said Haraldr.
“Yes, Norway. Thank you,” said the creature. “Anyway, it is very chilly in this Norway place.”
The creature bent down and scooped a handful of snow in its big, four-fingered hand. It brought the snow up to its bulbous eyes.
“And I don’t care for this frozen water all over the ground,” it said. “We don’t have it where I’m from, and it makes my feet feel like they’re about to fall off.”
The creature dropped the handful of snow onto the ground and waddled back towards the giant metal disc from whence it had emerged.
“One of us will be back again for the third time in about another thousand of your years,” the creature called over its back. “If it’s me again, I’m going to choose somewhere much warmer to land. Maybe somewhere with lots of sand. I’ve always liked places with sand.”
The black rectangle reappeared in the creature’s hand. Eiríkr was still unable to tell how it had gotten there. The creature tapped the front on the rectangle with one overly long finger and the giant metal disc began to hum. The creature climbed onto the disc and into the opening it had come out of. It turned around to look at the two men.
“We’ll be back to see if you’ve improved this awful behavior,” said the creature. “And if you still haven’t, then we’ll leave and come back until you have. But eventually, you’ll be ready to be ruled by Zardhu Of The Seven Tentacles.”
The top of the metal disc closed itself over the creature, obscuring it entirely. The disc hummed with increased volume and began to float off the snowy forest floor. The disc arched itself towards the sky. A moment later, it took off and was out of sight.
Haraldr and Eiríkr looked at each other but didn’t say anything. At that moment, neither of them had anything to say.