I grabbed two knives from my belt and crunched down to make myself smaller in case anything tried to jump me. The darkness was impenetrable. The growling continued as I waited for something to happen. Nothing did.
Slowly my eyes began to adjust to the darkness: shapes in various shades of grey appeared around me.
I looked around, trying to see what I was dealing with. It seemed like I was trapped in a large underground room. With its uneven rock wall and stone floor, it was taken straight out of a mediaeval dungeon. In front of me was, what looked to be, three big doors instead of the usual cells. Nothing else seemed to be hiding in the darkness with me, so the growling had to come from behind the doors. And, of course, I had to enter one or more of those doors to get the lighter; it couldn’t simply lie around on the floor in the monster-free room. That would have been too easy.
Knives at the ready, I inched closer to the door on the right. I must have triggered something because a second later, torches blazed to life and lit the room.
I crunched down again, waiting. The growling intensified, but nothing happened. I had no clue what the hell was going on, but I didn’t like it. Maybe Freyja had been wrong, and the whole place was, in fact, booby-trapped.
Careful not to step on any stone that looked suspicious, I walked up to the door. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a door handle – the next was the slashes on the door. Bending closer to study the marks, I realised that they weren’t claw marks but runes. My knowledge of the runic alphabets was decent, but I hadn’t read anything written in runes in ages.
I let my fingers run over the marks and slowly read their ancient message.
“What is that wonder I saw outside before the Doors of Day? Eight feet it has and four eyes and bears knees above its belly.”
So there it was. The first riddle. And it wasn’t just any old riddle; it was one of Odin’s. I recognised it from one of the texts I’d once read. Unfortunately, the original text contained quite a few riddles, and I couldn’t remember them all. Guess I’d just have to solve it the old fashioned way then.
“What is that wonder I saw outside before the Doors of Day?” Outside before the Doors of Day. So we were dealing with something outside. I didn’t know the meaning of Doors of Day, though. It could simply refer to something outside during daytime or it could be a specific place. I searched my memory, but nothing came to mind. ”Eight feet it has and four eyes and bears knees above its belly.” The answer seemed to hover in my memory, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. “Eight feet it has.” What had eight feet? Was he referring to Sleipnir: Odin’s eight-legged horse? But Sleipnir didn’t have knees above his belly. That sounded more like a – “Spider.”
The runes began to glow, and I quickly stepped back. With the sound of a lock turning, the door opened a fraction.
I just stared at it for a second; desperately hoping that the riddle wasn’t referring to the kind of monster I would find inside. I hated spiders. They freaked me out more than anything. I knew it was a silly fear because most of them couldn’t or wouldn’t hurt you, but that didn’t stop my brain from going into high alert every time I saw one.
Shaking the apprehension off me, I slowly pushed the door open, so I could evaluate the situation through the small crack.
The big-ass wolf sitting on a large wooden chest in the middle of the room made me slam the door shut.
I quickly put my back against the door and braced myself for the weight of an unnaturally big wolf hitting it. But to my big surprise, nothing happened.
Puzzled, I carefully turned around. The door opened a fraction, but no massive beast came storming out to eat me.
I opened the door again and watched the wolf growl at me through the crack. He just sat there, looking pissed off.
Slowly I pushed the door open enough for me to place a foot inside the room. The wolf showed me his nice, big teeth, but he didn’t move.
I took a small step into the room; the big beast followed the movement. His pissed off growling intensified, but he still didn’t move.
Remembering the cloak, I slowly, and oh so carefully, took off my backpack and unzipped it; all without taking my eyes of my new friend. When I pulled out the cloak, the wolf stopped growling and turned his head to the side, inspecting the feathery bundle in my arms.
“Ah, you like this, don’t you?” I untangled the cloak and held it up in front of me like a shield. I took another step into the room and kept walking slowly towards him. My blood was rushing through my veins, flooding my system with adrenaline. The insanity of the situation was starting to dawn on me: I was protecting myself against a huge wolf with a magical cloak made of feathers. This had to be one of the stupidest things I’d ever done.
Careful not to make any sudden movements; I slowly spread the cloak out on the floor.
”Sit.” I pointed to the cloak.
The wolf looked up at me before studying the cloak. A small whine escaped his massive body.
“Come on. Sit.” I put some more command into my voice and pointed to the cloak again.
The wolf jumped down from the chest and sat on the feathers, silently watching me with his pink tongue hanging from his mouth. At least the sharp teeth weren’t visible anymore.
Still not taking my eyes off him, I walked slowly past the massive beast and inspected the chest. It didn’t look particularly unique. The rounded lid had no carvings, just a smooth, dark surface.
I checked to see if there were any obvious booby-traps, but nothing stood out, so I carefully opened the lid. Inside, the chest was filled to the brim with copper coins.
I gently pushed the top layer to one side, but more coins appeared. There wasn’t anything else.
I started digging through the stack to make sure that the lighter wasn’t hidden amongst the treasure.
A few minutes later, I had to admit that the lighter wasn’t there. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and looked behind me. The wolf was still watching me from his place on the cloak.
”It’s not there.” An annoyed sigh escaped me. I didn’t want to solve any more riddles, but it seemed like I had too.
I got to my feet and closed the lid.
The wolf jumped onto the chest and watch me pack the cloak back into the backpack. When I went to leave the room, the big guy started whining.
I turned around to see his sad face watching me. “What do you want?”
He kept making small, sad sounds.
”I have to go, and I suspect you can’t leave this room.”
I felt bad about walking out on him, but what was I supposed to do?
I kept the door open, just in case he decided to leave his little room. Then I went to the second door and bent down to read the inscription.
“Who is that great one who grasps the earth, swallowing wood and water. Bad weather he dreads, wind, but no man, and picks a fight with the sun.”
A big smile spread across my lips. I remembered this one. “Fog.”
I watched with confidence as the lock began to turn, but the feeling melted away when a deep growl seeped out of the open door. It sounded like another grumpy wolf.
My suspicion was confirmed a moment later when I slowly pushed the door open. An even bigger wolf than the first one was giving me the stink eye. She was as big as a large horse and towered over the chest she was sitting on.
I slowly took off my backpack and pulled out Freyja’s cloak. The same thing happened with this wolf. As soon as she saw the cloak, she stopped growling and turned her head to the side.
Once I spread the cloak on the floor and asked her to sit on it, she jumped down from the chest and watched me curiously from her new spot on the floor. Her body was far too big to fit within the cloak, but she seemed happy to sit there.
This chest wasn’t booby-trapped either which didn’t bode well. Surely, whoever went to such length to hide a magic lighter would make sure that the chest it was hidden in was nearly impossible to open.
When I flipped the lid open, the shimmery shine from a thousand silver coins was reflected in the lit torches on the walls.
With another sigh, I started rummaging through the many coins, but after a couple of minutes, it became clear that the lighter wasn’t in there. Of course, it wasn’t; that would just have been far too easy, wouldn’t it? Of course, it had to be in room number three. I looked up to find a curious wolf peering into the chest next to me. Her enormous head turned, and her huge blue eyes stared into mine.
I blinked. She blinked back.
”It’s not in there.”
She turned to look into the chest again as to confirm my statement. I got up and closed the lid.
“Next one it is then.” I started to put the cloak back in the backpack but decided to keep it out. I had a sneaking suspicion that I would need it again for another wolf behind door number tree.
My newest friend didn’t want to go back to the chest. She followed me all the way to the door.
I left it open, but she didn’t follow. Instead, she sat down and gave me a pitiful whine.
“I know, but I can’t do anything. I’ll ask Freyja if she can help when I get out of here. You shouldn’t have to live down here.”
The wolf kept whining as I walked towards the last door. Trying to ignore the heartbreaking sound, I bent down to read the final riddle.
“What creature is that which cradles men, it bears a bloody back, and shelters fighters, from shaft and point, gives life to some, and lays its self inside a soldier’s grasp?”
I read it again. It didn’t make more sense the second time I read it – or the third. Not good. “What creature is that which cradles men.” I didn’t have a clue. “It bears a bloody back, and shelters fighters, from shaft and point, gives life to some, and lays its self inside a soldier’s grasp.”
I stared at the riddle, but I had no clue what Odin was talking about. Think, Ying. Think. It was something that protected fighters from harm and was used by soldiers. So, it was used in wars or fights, and it had a bloody back… It sheltered from shaft and point which had to be swords and arrows. Protects from swords and arrows… Bloody back. The answer hit me like a lightening bolt.
“It’s a shield! Odin, you old troll.”
The final door opened and an odd sound seeped out from behind it. It was like a mangled growl filled with pure hate.
Second-guessing my decision to take this case in the first place, I held the cloak up in front of me before slowly opening the door. It never hurt to be careful. It would just be my luck if I opened the door, thinking there was another wolf behind it, and had my skull smashed in by an angry troll.
I peered into the room and forgot everything around me.
A giant wolf, the size of a double-decker bus, starred at me with his angry, yellow eyes. A giant sword was wedged between his massive jaws, and a small stream of saliva had made a narrow stream in the floor. The sticky water flowed out of the space through a crack in one of the walls. Around his thick neck was a narrow silk ribbon which was tied to a massive rock in the floor.
Not believing my eyes, I carefully opened the door a bit more. It had to be the Fenris wolf. It had to be. The sword between his jaws and the silk ribbon around his neck. He had to be the mighty wolf; son of Loki and the destined killer of Odin, ruler of Valhalla.