Inside the blackness, the mound visitors stoop blindly down the low, narrow passageway. The howling wind outside is muffled, then silenced. Finally, they findthat they can straighten up in the darkness. Torches are lit, revealing the high, dry, stone-lined chamber that lies in the middle of the mound. Warm fires are kindled. Booze and food emerge from travelling-bags. As the group settles down to wait out the storm, the dusty heat and fierce sunlight of Jerusalem seem vague and far away: an abstract unreality.
In this extract from Beyond the Northlands, the book that put me on track of the Jaculus, our norse travellers use a mound as a shelter. They do not encounter any wraith or skeleton, there are no weapons nor treasure.
They left their names in runes in the neolithic mound, "Jerusalem-travellers broke into Orkhaugr, Hlif, the Jarl's housekeeper, carved".
The treasure they seek is the remission of their sins thanks to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
I enjoyed the dungeon delving evoked by the extract, but then wondered, why don't we have more pilgrimages in our medieval somehow fantastic settings? Those endeavours gathered a heteregeneous lot and they were adventures in themselves.
Pilgrimages are not limited to the Christian faith, there is much inspiration to be found in other religions. One fascinating point: completing the Hajj pilgrimage grants Muslim the "Al-Hajji" title, a marker of religious commitment.
Pilgrims themselves make up interesting NPCs, otherworldly determined to reach their goal, and live to tell the tale (and enjoy some status boost).