Tales of Bothwell: The Heirs of the Raven
The rain thrashed down over the sea, hammering on the planks of the darkened pier. The thick sheets of water, buffeted by the wind, perfectly screened the sudden and brilliant flash of light at the very end of the ageing wooden structure. Where there was nothing but sodden planks now stood a figure in a heavy cloak, pulled tight around him against the weather. Under his cloak he gripped his wand, an 11-inch twisted piece of black iron, and muttered “varmr”. The noise suddenly changed from a relentless thunder of raindrops to a gentle hiss as the rain evaporated around the figure. Guarded by his shield of heat the cloaked man made his way down the pier towards the town.
Sensing the presence of mundanes, he removed the spell quickly and it didn’t take long for the downpour to soak him to his core. He walked along the sea front, following a route taken many times until he reached a narrow, cobbled alley. He looked both ways before darting up it towards a pub called The Pixie’s Draught.
“Good evening mister, what can I do you for?” chirped the jolly barmaid behind the counter. She was wearing an odd assortment of clothes, like a time traveller had picked something up from every century on their way to the present. Her head was crowned with a hideous lacy bonnet, a low-cut working woman’s thick blouse rolled up at the sleeves occupied her midriff while some brightly coloured tracksuit bottoms warmed her legs.
“Good evening madam” replied the hooded man, tapping his boots and shaking off his cloak. “Where might I buy clogs at this hour?”
“Oh bloody hell, there’s no need for code phrases! Yer friends are already in the back warming themselves by the fire with one of my latest brews. It’s sure to warm your cockles quicker than the fire.” Rose chuckled, “I presume, as usual, it’s not worth asking if you’d like me to take your cloak?”
“On the contrary Rose, now is more important than ever for pass codes! What if someone showed up having assumed my appearance?”
“And who’d wanna look like you eh? Not with that ugly mug and a great chunk of yer skull missing! ‘sides, I don’t even ‘ave to look at cher to know it’s you, yer big ol’ brute, you have a presence.”
“Tip top customer service as usual Rose. I’ll stick to my usual mead thank you. You’ll bring it to me in the back?”
“Of course, dear” smiled Rose, mocking him with a deep and low courtesy.
“Be careful Rose, you’ll put your back out at your advanced age” he shot back over his shoulder as he walked towards the back of the small pub.
“You’re not so young yourself old timer!” Rose called back, chucking her dirty dish cloth at the back of his head, falling short by a good yard or so.
Still in his sodden cloak, the hooded man strode through the men’s toilet door, ignoring a sign which read “Out of Service”. He stepped into the middle cubicle and locked the door behind him. With his wand he tapped 4 digits of a phone number carved into stall walls. Without a sound the toilet collapsed in on itself to reveal a stairway. After climbing up the stairs, he stepped into a chamber with a large table and mismatching chairs, all pulled towards the fire where 20 or so people sat.
“Our great Odin! You’re finally here! What took you so long!?”
Odin stepped through the doorway and calmly closed the door. “I had to slip an enchantment, the Guardians have already sensed our increased activity. One Thane of the order in particular seems to have a personal vendetta against us. I hope all of you took the necessary precautions?”
The congregation in the chairs all turned to face the new arrival. All of them wore raven masks with short beaks. Most of them were smoking stone pipes that spewed brightly coloured smoke that spiralled and danced at the top of the room, mixing to create a pungent aroma that could smell strongly of citrus at one moment then of lavender the next.
“Of course! We’re not school boys here, well, not all of us” barked a squat individual nearest the fire.
“Good, good. We need to be more careful than ever.” Said Odin as he peeled back his hood to reveal long grey hair and a streaked beard. But, what was perhaps more disconcerting about his appearance was the large leather eyepatch over his left eye, which didn’t quite cover the scars which protruded from either end. He stepped into the room and unbuckled his sword belt, hanging it over the large wooden chair left for him at the head of the long table before taking his seat. The room was abruptly filled with a loud scraping as others dragged their chairs away from the fire to join Odin at the table. “I hear we have some new arrivals today?”
“We sure do,” replied a tall, thin man sat close to Odin. “Fresh off the boat, we had them initiated last week, I’ve told Rose to bring them in when you’re ready.”
As though summoned, Rose burst through a door hidden in the wooden panelling of the room at the far end carrying a silver tray. She set down Odin’s mead and three old drinking horns.
“Send them in Rose” Odin said, smiling warmly at Rose.
“Yes, your highness” she replied, resulting in a deep scowl that followed her out of the room.
Odin poured himself a drink as two similarly cloaked people stood up and moved to flank him either side of his chair, standing resolutely still, hands on sword hilts as they awaited the new arrivals. It wasn’t long before the three new recruits treaded nervously into the smoky chamber.
“Come closer new heirs,” spoke Odin softly as he gulped his first sip, “I’ve been told you’re newly initiated. Presumably, you’ve already seen the magic of the masks we’re all wearing, except me, of course?” The three initiates nodded, one much more slowly than the others. “I can see you haven’t,” Odin outstretched a finger towards the tardy nodder, “worry not child, the masks are powerful, they hide your identity in many clever ways. The most powerful being the memory charm, you could take your mask off here and now, reveal yourself, then put it back on and none of the people here would be able to recognise you as a Raven.” Odin beamed at the three nervous figures in front of him. “What I’m saying is, you’re safe, you can relax.”
One of the inductees audibly sighed and let their shoulders drop. “What do you know already about the Heirs of the Raven?” Odin asked, then sat back and raised his horn to his lips, as though expecting a long reply. There was a pause before anyone could muster up the courage to speak, then the masked initiate in the middle piped up, “mostly just that you want to reveal the magical world, sir.” Odin raised an eyebrow and continued to stare before the recruit hurriedly carried on “well, sir, I was studying and read an article you see, about the Heirs in the 1960s having their arses kicked, and…well...erm…there was all this stuff about the Heirs being an evil cult, but it didn’t seem that way to me. I’m sick of hiding too, we all are, but everyone just puts up with it”
“Relax child, slow down, that is a good answer. The 1960s eh? Yes, that was a few Odins back, a debacle of a foray into the realm of television. Tell me, what do you know of our history or why we’re here?”
“well, I don’t –“
“A few Odins back?” The leftmost initiate cut in, “So, you’re not the Odin? The God?”
Raucous laughter exploded around the table, someone even tipped back on their chair and covered themselves in Rose’s ‘latest brew’ resulting in a plume of purple steam rising from the spill.
Odin raised his hand to quieten the room. “No child, these are merely codenames we give ourselves. I am the head of this…organisation…and thus my codename is Odin. I also don’t wear a mask so you know my identity in times of trouble and danger.”
“So, what about the eye? The beard? Is that just a coincidence?”
“The beard yes, the eye…no. All of our Odins give their left eye for knowledge, the gift of sight. It is a dark and difficult ritual that confronts the shadiest daemons of the nine worlds. A rite of passage to become the head of the Heirs of the Raven that can sometimes result in death.” Before the recruit had time to ask another question, Odin continued. “I believe, it is my time to speak. Clearly our recruiters have done a poor job of informing you before you arrived here but I can see your intentions are pure. Please, take a seat now, you are one of us and I will tell you of our origins.”
“Here we go.” Murmured the tall slim man who had spoke earlier, rolling his eyes.
Odin shot a sideways glance before continuing; “it is important for you to know the history of our organisation before we bring you properly into the fold. Ours is an old organisation. We trace our linage back to when Danelaw occupied much of England. We are the heirs of Viking raiders, or at least we used to be, before we opened up our recruiting to allow others who share our cause. The Vikings allowed the practice of magic you see; we were their sorcerers, their mediums and their skalds. We weren’t just allowed to practice magic, we were heralded, we held high ranks in mundane society. Before every battle we threw the rune sticks and consulted them for their wisdom, we painted runes on our warriors to protect them and we stood at the front of every shield wall before battle. Have you never wondered how such small bands of warriors could take half of England un-checked?”
“We settled, we farmed, and barring the odd raid from our greedy brethren, lived relatively peacefully. Until it was all undone by King Alfred who dreamt of the idea of a united England. He assembled armies, the feared, from all corners of England and built well-garrisoned castles. Their overwhelming size was too much to deal with for our sorcerers. We began to see doom in the sticks and this unsettled the men. The Vikings were defeated and the area known as Danelaw would eventually dissolve into nothingness. The Christian King, too blind to see that the ‘miracles’ of his saints were in fact witchcraft, ended openly practiced magic in the land. Our King, Guthred, was baptised and became a Christian himself. That was the day the Heirs of the Raven was formed. Self-styled as the heirs of Odin’s raven, whom it was believed our powers came from. We formed a community, our own band of warriors to fight the injustice and to practice magic openly again.”
There was a pause around the room as many touched the iron Thor’s hammer at their neck. Odin took a sip from his horn before setting it down carefully on the table. He let the pause linger, waiting for one of the initiates to speak first.
“So,” said the one recruit that had been silent so far, “when do we start?”
Laughter, again, penetrated the room, shattering the eerie silence that had lingered moments before. The initiate was congratulated for her bravery with hearty slaps on the back and a few drinking horns thrust in front of her. She grinned, picking up a horn but continued to stare straight at Odin awaiting the answer.
“Ha! We need a suitable code-name for you! I believe we lost our Magni last year, that seems fitting for you!” He laughed, “well, that seems an appropriate moment to bring you all up to date with the plan. You other two… let’s see… what names do we have left.”
“Ah, you,” he pointed at the middle initiate, “shall be known as Kvasir. And you, believer in gods, shall be Idunn. As you already know, I am Odin and these are my aides, Huggin and Munnin. This,” he said, pointing at the tall thin man now, “is Loki, he is our master of spies.”
Next, he pointed at a small woman with burnished red hair flowing from the back of her mask, “Thor, our chief warrior mage. I assure you, while she is small, not to mess with her. She’s the most powerful witch I’ve seen this side of the Danube. If it comes to fighting, rally around her.” Then, he pointed to the corner of the room where, even under the heavy cloak, a clearly dishevelled figure sat. “This is Vor, come here to the front Vor,” he beckoned her, “she is our master of mundane studies and the most important person in this room.”
Vor stood slowly then shuffled to the front under the watchful gaze of the three new recruits. Odin continued talking; “Our goal is to reveal the magical world. To do this we must use knowledge of the latest mundane technology to broadcast to as many people as possible in a believable fashion. As you so kindly pointed out Kvasir, in the 1960s, we tried television and everybody dismissed it as a hoax. We were no more believable than the bogey man. But this wasn’t our first failure, oh no, it has been a history fraught with frustration. In the 1400-1600s we remained mostly quiet, due to mundanes being particularly witch-fearing at the time. However, in the 1700s we tried distributing our own pamphlets, in the 1800s we performed shows and distributed photographs, in the early 1900s we circulated films, 1990s we tried the internet. All apparently not enough to convince mundanes that magic exists, they’d rather continue their miserable lives safe in the knowledge that this ‘power’ cannot harm them. They’ll do all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid the truth.”
“Vor, show them our next move” proclaimed Odin as Vor had finally reached the front of the room.
“This,” she said, digging in her cloak and pulling out a seemingly innocuous smooth black rectangle, “is our plan.”
“Ha! Shiny bricks!? That’s our plan!?” Laughed Loki, sitting back in his chair.
“I know what that is!” exclaimed another Raven from the fair end of the table.
Vor continued in a whispering and raspy voice, raising the brick with a gaunt, bony, liver spotted hand; “This, my fellow children of Odin, is a mobile telecommunications device. It is the current pinnacle of mundane technology.” She pointed to various holes and buttons on the device; “These are cameras and they can immediately broadcast to everyone in the world.”
“You mean the internet? But we’ve tried that before Odin! What’s so different about this?” interrupted Thor.
“Listen to the woman!” Odin shouted in a sudden burst of anger, slamming the table. Thor and Loki exchanged a curious glance. “Please, do continue Vor, ignore these cretins.”
“My dear Ravens, this brick holds a power within,” Vor went on as though uninterrupted, “through the internet all of these devices are connected. Nearly every mundane has one, even in the lands of the far east and the scorching deserts of the south. These have been the subject of my research for many years. The mundies use a thing called The Face Book and, oh, what was it…” she tapped her skull violently, “…tweety bird…no, that’s not it. Ah well, it doesn’t matter. The point is, everyone looks at these things several hours a day. The real power though, is this tool, if you will, called ‘live streaming’. It is almost like a mind link, but simultaneously with everyone in the world.”
Vor paused as a gasp filled the room and the gathering looked at each other wide-eyed.
“Thank you Vor, I’ll take it from here,” started Odin after letting the room settle. “Vor has been building up ‘followers’, am I using that right Vor? Followers?” Vor gave a curt nod before Odin resumed, “on The Face Book and all the other ...ones... The best thing about this ‘live stream’ is that it cannot be refuted, it cannot be tampered with. We will live stream an event that the mundane world can no longer turn its eyes away from. I’m sure it has been said before, but this is the time! We will succeed!”
Satisfied with the impressed gazes around the table, Odin turned his attention towards the three initiates sat bolt upright. He grinned a wolfish smile, “For the event we will capture? Well, you three are current students of Bothwell, right?”