The five-member team stood gazing out across Iceland’s vast Vatnajökull glacier. One got the impression of a frozen desert, with the sunshine reflecting off the glacier’s uneven surface, and the wind swirled top layer of loose granular ice and snow.
Clive Thurston, treasure-hunter and the team leader, studied the cloudless sky, his thoughts on discovering the lost treasures of Niebelungen, supposedly stolen by Loki and kept in his temple. Off to his right, he could see Hugo Strom, a big strapping man, speaking with their elderly guide in the native language. Thurston chuckled to himself at the thought of calling their guide elderly. True, Ulf Bjornstad was in his seventies, but he still had as much vitality as a man half his age. Unlike the rest of the team who wore heavy parkas and thick gloves, their guide wore little more than a gray-white fur vest over a thick woolen shirt. After the conversation ended, Strom hiked up his backpack and made his way over to Thurston.
“Our guide says that an abandoned, ancient, temple to Loki was exposed after an earthquake and lies just ahead, along the southern edge of the Grimsvōtn caldera,” Hugo said, his English only slightly tainted by his Icelandic ancestry.
Thurston called out to his longtime friend and associate, Daniel Alcott, “Daniel, mark our present location on the map and give me a distance on the Grimsvōtn crater.”
Daniel unrolled the map and estimated the distance, “I’d wager that it is about eight kilometers from our present location.”
The team leader turned to his left and spoke to a ruddy faced man, “Reginald, write this down: 25 July 1911. Temperature is steady at 52°. We are but eight kilometers from our goal, a lost temple of the trickster god Loki.”
Reginald Gledhill, “Reggie” to his friends, wrote down the information in the logbook. Tucking the book inside his parka, Reggie quickly donned his thick woolen gloves.
“Let’s be off then, shall we?” Clive Thurston said as he pulled up the hood of his parka.
The trek to the crater was uneventful; the only other sign of life besides the men was a lone Arctic Fox, its gray-white fur blending in nicely with its surroundings. Bjornstad raised his right hand and commented in his native tongue. The fox offered a quick bark in return and trotted off.
Reginald, uncomfortable with wildlife of any kind, questioned the translator, “What did he just say?”
“He told the fox that we mean no harm and that we have the blessing of Loki.”
For some reason, that made Gledhill more nervous than the fox did. He did not hold with pagan gods and their rituals, but the money promised him would be more than he could make in a year.
Upon reaching the crater’s edge, the guide gestured to a small gulley and headed down. Hugo went next, followed by Clive, then Daniel, with Reginald Gledhill bringing up the rear. At the bottom of the frozen rivulet was a cave opening into the side of the volcanic crater.
Clive threw back his hood and lifted his protective eye gear, revealing his medium-brown eyes. The men gathered around a cave entrance, each deep within their own thoughts. All appeared excited, with the exception of Reggie, who despite the mild temperature had a drop of sweat running down his cheek. Alcott noticed Reggie’s apparent distress.
“Not afraid of the dark, are you Reggie?” Daniel teased.
“Well, when one thinks of temples, one imagines a building, with steps, columns and the like, not a hole in the ground.”
Daniel smiled and patted the redheaded man on the shoulder, “Relax mate, we shan’t let anything happen to you.”
“Okay gentlemen, torches on,” Thurston directed.
The team each snapped on their lights, the beams illuminating the first few feet of the cave. Before anyone entered, a commotion broke out between the translator and the guide.
“Is there a problem Hugo?” Clive asked.
“Ulf says that this is as far as he goes.”
“Fine then, tell him to wait here. We shan’t be long.”
The guide stood aside as the rest of the men entered the ice cave. The lights reflected off the ice walls. Reginald was the only team member who could walk without hunching over, being the only one under six feet tall. The team weaved their way through columns formed by the joining of stalagmites and stalactites.
“Here are the columns you wanted mate,” quipped Alcott, patting one of the frozen monoliths.
“Yes well, I still do not care for this underground business,” replied Gledhill.
A little over 10 meters, and the cave became more spacious, allowing the men to stand up straight. At the rear of the cavern rose several steps, carved from the ice. An enormous, ice encrusted, altar rested atop the stairs. An intricately hand carved chalice sat in the center of the altar top. Oddly enough, the chalice was free of ice.
Daniel Alcott reached the altar first, running his gloved hand over the top and sides, displacing some of the loose ice. Beneath the ice, he found the altar inscribed with deep rune markings.
“Reggie, bring your torch over here.”
Reluctantly, Reginald moved closer, shining his light onto the altar top. He could see the grooves, but had no idea what they meant. Reggie shifted from foot to foot, anxious to be away from the altar and out of the cavern.
After a moment, Reggie asked, “Can you make out what it says?”
“Patience mate, I am a little rusty.”
Reggie muttered, “Probably a death curse.” The shiver up his spine had nothing to do with the cold.
Strom and Thurston explored the cavern walls, and came upon a niche covered by a sheet of ice, almost like a window. Clive directed his torchlight inside. It looked as if something lay beyond the makeshift glass. He tapped the end of his light against the ice, barely making a mark.
“See if you can break the ice Hugo.”
Strom reached into his backpack and withdrew an ice-climber pickax. Clive stepped back to give him room. Hugo drew back a powerful arm and slammed the pickax dead center, the ice shattered, sounding like the crack of a bullwhip.
Thurston stepped up and peered into the niche. Reaching in to clear out the ice, he discovered a gold ring, marked with runic symbols. Gently, almost reverently, he picked up the ring.
It started as a small shudder, the trembling hardly noticeable, and then escalating into a violent shaking. The team members struggled to maintain their balance. Soon cracks started to appear in the cavern walls and floor. The men stared about them in horror. Reggie stumbled to the ground. Hugo grasped a nearby column, while Daniel held on desperately to the altar. Clive tucked the ring into his pocket and began to make his way out of the cave.
“Blast it all!” yelled Reggie, attempting to scramble to his feet. There was a large cracking sound directly above him. Reggie never knew what hit him.
Hugo stared aghast at the prone form of Gledhill, whose right arm protruded from beneath a fallen slab of ice. Hugo did not move until Alcott crashed into him and began dragging him away. Ahead they could hear Thurston shouting for everyone to hurry.
Supporting each other, the two men ran for their lives. All around them large cracks appeared, columns shattered and fell, and the ground undulated like a storm tossed sea. About three meters from the exit, Daniel fell. When he tried to raise himself, a searing pain shot up his leg. He looked up to see Hugo already heading out.
Bracing himself against the pain, Alcott pushed up onto his knees and rose unsteadily to his feet. The ground beneath him collapsed. Daniel scream echoed throughout the cave. The shaking continued and an icy slab dropped, sealing Daniel in a makeshift tomb.
Outside the cave, Clive Thurston and Hugo Strom stood dumbstruck. With the collapse of the cave entrance, the shaking finally ceased. Hugo recovered first, falling to his knees and began to dig barehanded at the former cave entrance. Thurston stared at Strom for a moment, still shaken by the tragic events. Suddenly it dawned on him, that not only did he lose a longtime friend and an associate, but also their guide was nowhere to about.
Ignoring Clive, Strom continued to excavate the fallen ice, his hands red and raw. Worry and anger creased his brow. He did not think of the futility of his actions. Finally, the stress, cold, and fatigue wore him down, and Hugo reluctantly ceased his digging.
Clive came up behind the large man and patted him on the back, expressing his sympathies. “We would need heavy equipment to get them out. We cannot help them now.” Hugo stood up and sighed. He shook his head sadly and said nothing.
“We have another problem. Our guide seems to have vanished. He must have become frightened and fled.”
Strom looked around and shrugged, “Maybe he has, but I do not see any tracks leading away from here.”
Startled, Thurston also studied the area. Hugo was correct, the only tracks around were the ones they had made arriving. He did notice that there were fresh animal tracks in the area. These appeared to be fox tracks.
The remaining members of the ill-fated team began the arduous journey back to civilization. After three kilometers of silent travel, Hugo Strom halted and pointed east. Ominous, dark clouds, streaked with lightning rushed towards the weary travelers. A wall of ice-cold wind slammed into Clive and Hugo, almost lifting them off their feet. Desperately the men clung together as thunder crashed overhead and the clouds blotted out the sun.
Strom shouted, “This is an unnatural storm, we do not get weather like this in July. The ring is cursed; you must get rid of it!”
“Do not be absurd! This ring is proof of the legendary treasure of Niebelungen. The name of Alberich the guardian is engraved upon it!”
“Get rid of the ring or we will perish!”
“Never! I will not return empty handed!”
Strom groped for Thurston’s pocket. Clive pushed Hugo away and stepped back apace. The increasing wind dropped more ice and snow, obscuring Hugo from view. Clive threw up his hands to prevent the ice from covering his eyes. Hugo Strom disappeared from view.
Panicked Clive called out, “Hugo! Hugo!” The wind snatched the words and dispatched them into the ether.
Distraught but having no other options, Clive pushed onward, using one hand to shield his eyes and the other hand kept over his pocket and the treasure it contained. Thurston never heard the howling wolf or the mocking laughter that trailed him. Nor did he see the image of the man he knew as Ulf Bjornstad watching his passage.
“As you can see, this is an extraordinary piece of jewelry,” said the proprietor.
The woman studied it for a moment, admiring the heavy gold ring, “Do you know what these markings means?”
The proprietor replied, “According to the story, on his last venture, Clive Thurston acquired this ring shortly before the demise of his associates. He survived an earthquake and a freakish storm. When he finally returned to England, sick with pneumonia and losing the tip of his nose and ears to frostbite, Clive retired to his estate here in Southampton. On his deathbed, he continually muttered that the ring had caused his luck and the runes stood for “All be Rich”. So as you can deduce this ring was considered quite lucky and kept him safe.”
“That is quite a story. It will make a wonderful anniversary present for my husband,” and wanting to impress the proprietor she added, “I will give it to him on our voyage to America. We have a berth on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.”
Thomas James is an aspiring writer with interests in Web Design, Art, Weight Training,
Fitness Instruction and Horror stories, novels and movies. His favorite and
inspirational authors are H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Po, Brian Lumely and Stephen King,
and on occasion Shakespeare which he finds truly scary.
A collection of other short stories can be found in his digital book
Of Pagan Gods and other Tales, available from smashwords.com and barnesandnoble.com