(Novel) Freyja: the Seven Stories of the World
PlacesAsgard: One of the three higher worlds. This ice world is commanded by Odin.
Chapter One: Freyja
Chapter 2: Tuesday, Justice, and Chaos
Chapter 3: Wednesday, the Rus, and the Bone Girl
Chapter 4: Thursday, The Last JourneyIn the deep of night, she imagines plunging her hand into his chest and taking his heart. She hesitates, catching a glimpse of plum blossoms. She holds up a hand staying the thief’s questions. She jumps from the bed and looks out of the window, seeing the rising moon.
Chapter 5: Friday, Love on the Edge of Time
Chapter 6: Saturday, Names
And so the thief and the woman who was once Freyja came to that day without a real name. Only the touch of a long failed Roman god, the god of feasting and role reversals, still stains this day with his red wine.
The thief led her to his farmhouse, asking her along the way, “So, what shall we call you, now you are mortal?”
He taunted her with a threat to call her Saturday. She told him to give her a break and managed to kick him hard before he danced away from her. Then she sat, on the bank of a small dam, with her arms crossed. They were still some distance from his farmhouse. She refused to move further.
He apologized, but she ignored him.
Instead, she said:
When it came time for the people to name Saturday, the Gods were all dead. The great tree lay in ruins, and the rainbow no longer bridged the worlds.
The Christian missionaries were led by Thangbrand. He was intent on change and made many promises of good health, long life, and victory, in the name of the new God. On his way to convince the Icelandic parliament, his band killed many who did not agree with them. On the Hill of the Laws, one of the missionaries blasphemed the gods, calling Odin and myself naught but ‘domesticated wolves’.
Eventually, the missionaries came to the home of the pagan priestess, Steinvora. She invited Thangbrand into her house and provided food and drink to his retainers. Thangbrand and Steinvora debated theology for a day and night. While the debate was fierce, it was conducted with restraint and respect.
Steinvora preached the heathen faith to Thangbrand. He listened while she tried to persuade him of the error of his doctrine. Then she listened while Thangbrand answered her and spoke against the heathen doctrine. They joined argument on all points of the religions. They found that there were many things they agreed on, but many they could not.
They agreed that the world was not touched kindly by the Gods. Life was short and unpredictable. Risk abound, wolves prowled throughout the world, among both Pagan and Christian. She asked, “What matter the names given to the Gods?” He said, “Names matter, they are the power of the world.”
Finally, the pagan priestess said, "Have you heard how Thor challenged the Christ Jesus to single combat, and that the Christ ran?" Thangbrand replied, "Thor is naught but a hollow name, a thing of dust and ashes. The old Gods live only at the behest of my God." The priestess then asked how it was that the most powerful ship in Thangbrand’s fleet of warships had sunk in a thunderstorm. “Where was the Christ Jesus when a storm awoken by Thor shattered the ship to pieces?" But perhaps she answered herself, as she continued, “No God could help.”
Despite the breadth of the debate, it was inconclusive. Thangbrand left before they could come to a concluded outcome.
Further down the road, the high annual parliament of the Icelandic people feared the bloody imposition of the new religion of the Christ Jesus. The Althing sat and deliberated. After a violent debate, it eventually appointed the Law Speaker of the Parliament, a male pagan priest, to mediate on the matter. In the year 1000 of the current era, the Law Speaker declared Christianity to be the religion of the people. But, while a male priest had led the people to Christian theology, it had been without the blessing of the female priestess.
The people were reluctant to give up the old ways. The old songs continued to be sung. They remembered and honored the old gods in their language and refused to give more. Deeper within the social fabric and the names of the world, the old traditions continued. The earnest purveyors of religious dogma were kept at bay with the very words that were spoken. As the people smiled and nodded, their language rejected the stasis of the Rome and Byzantine churches. Without the need to talk, children continued to be fostered, and when they departed, the people returned to their old way of hosting the world. Not just in Iceland, but throughout the world, wherever their fierce ships sailed. Scotland, Ireland, all of England save for the barbaric Welsh, Normandy to the gates of Paris and through the Germanic tribes, and beyond to the steppes of Russia.
They gave away the name of one day only, Saturday.
Her voice disappears into the silence of the sunset. The Thief warns of the coming cold as she sits sipping the night air, shadows falling across her face.
Gradually, all things change. As the bodies of the slain become black coral, the names and stories started to twist. The dead seers still tell of the end of the world, but a new chapter has been added that tells of the dawn of that new day that follows the last gasp of the Gods. The old sagas, in the care of the Scandinavian Bishops, now talk about the cycle of destruction and rebirth. Of the fire and the green sprout. Of how the Christ Jesus took Odin’s crown.
The thief had sat on the bank, listening to her, “Come with me, and drink cider in the warmth of my farmhouse.”
She ignored him but then protested, “So far I have heard little about the gods or the wolves. You have not tried to answer the question you said you were chancing our hand. Instead, you have talked about all sorts of irrelevancies.”
He thought, “But the old gods are gone now.” What little we know of them is confused in wistful imaginings of enthusiasts, the suspect accounts of contemporary religions, patterns of thought hidden in our language and the vestiges of celebrations. Scant memories, but still enough, perhaps, to make a difference; enough to distinguish one culture from another. Not enough to answer the question with any authority.
He heard her complaint: “It is cold here. Use your law stone. Make everything alright. Take us back to my home.”
The stone lay lifeless in his pouch. Heavy, far heavier than any other rock he had ever held. Heavy and dull red; a solidified fragment from Palerang’s climb to the surface. He once found the precise spot from which the piece was taken. But he now has no knowledge of how it might be used. Just like the memory of the old gods, a vestige without context. “I do not know how to breathe life into this artifact. The only use I have ever discovered is to return to this place.”
The Thief stood and offered his hand, and together they enter the autumnal colors of his farm. She sees a flicker of worry cross his face as he enters the house yard. She feels the stab of pain through him, a weakness.
They walk up a small flight of stairs and across a deck. Into a large room, where she slumps and watches him build a fire against the growing cold. Stuck here is she, without any answers. She suddenly thinks, like Kormak and his friends, this winter they will spend enclosed within his homestead, near the fire to ward off the gathering cold, playing games while they wait for the future. Still, she thinks, from here he can do no great damage.
He offers her refreshment and they sit, watching the sun fade. He dreams a waking dream of other hearths in other places. Silently, she concentrates on igniting the blue fire in her hand to touch each of her allies back in the nine worlds. But the blue flame fails to ignite. She shakes her head, for a moment relieved that she need not have to weave herself between their machinations. Without intending, she imagines each of their distant halls. One by one she imagines them busy carousing or attending to their affairs. She has befriended each of them in turn, but from this distance her heart is cold. She pictures each of them uncaring and inattentive. Her mind touches something sharp, something in the image that she does not understand.
The thief stirs, his eyes remaining closed. He turns to Freyja, his eyes closed.
This is the fifth story the thief told her, on the day they called Saturday, in honor of no god.
The thief speaks:
The Norse told harsh cautionary tales about the power of language and how the naming of things could end in disaster. One concerned the almost-god Loki; it is not a story about you or me.
Once content to carouse and fawn at the table of the Gods, he has become tired of the pretence. While cold hard sober he risks the enmity of the Gods by honestly describing what they have become. Like Thangbrand, your Christian missionary, he named each of the faults of the gods. He blasphemed the name of Odin and your own.
Like the unraveling of an old Icelandic saga, the risk of dire consequence builds as an action is met by the reaction; in circumstances where no one is willing to stop the spiral. An injury follows the exchange of hard words to trusted servants and friends. Then directly the protagonists engage, as the world is drawn into the conflagration.
The almost-god Loki runs. Grimly, the Norse tell how, when he is found, his children by his lawful wife are butchered for fear of his children by his unlawful wife. He is bound with the entrails of one in a cave. A serpent above the cave drips poison in his direction from on high.
Only his lawful wife, Sigyn, remains with him. She tends him, keeping the poison from dripping onto his body. Pain racks his body when she leaves his side to empty the bucket in which she collects the poison. The pain is so great that earthquakes rock the nine worlds.
In this dark place, they grow older in the pain of each other’s company. The memory of the outside worlds dims with every passing year. Only the reality of the cave remains.
He says “I know your name. Sigyn. You keep the poison from burning me away. You leave infrequently, but when you are gone the poison drips unstopped and with each drop my body screams in pain. You fend off the evil bent on consuming my body.”
“Once we had a life, a home, and hall, and stories; so many stories. Full of life, full of plans; a new room here, blinds in this chamber, rugs here, a rose just there. Wealthy and, if not respected, feared. Laughter echoed around us, if not honest, at least mirthful.”
“Your silent presence reminds me of those ruins. There you stand, faithful to my unfaithfulness. Children of my mistress threaten the world, while our kids are dead. Those children hunt and stalk the Gods, while the hard entrails of our son bind me to this rock. And as you go about your silent tasks your eyes catch mine, and your hate burns me more than the poison you catch. My heart screams in pain.”
Finally, after an age, Sigyn leaves and does not return.
The poison finally consumes the almost-god Loki. He rips his bonds and rents the fetters that have bound him all these years.
Here he sits in the dark; pain filled useless muscles and nausea preventing further flight. Tired and broken, he will need to relearn how to walk – to escape the cave. But for now, he is simply a man. A shadow of himself, whoever that may have been.
In the cold winter, in the comfort of their hearths, the Norse had time to refine their stories. This story is harsh.
The thief looks to Freyja, sleeping. He tests the bonds by which she holds him, and they tighten a little more. A smile plays over her mouth.
Interlude One: Thief's first dreamLying close, they both dream as the fire slowly turns wood to coals. Their bodies intersect still, her head on his shoulder, his leg on hers. Their shadows move in the flickering light.
A crackle of light from the fire and his shadow springs up along the wall. Next to the sleeping thief, the dull red rock rolls from its pouch and begins to glow. When molten hot, it lights the darkest night, just like the moon. The light creates deep shadows. White is white; Black is black. There are no grays, no room for doubts.
With a quick glance backward, his shadow flees across the walls and through the cracks in the living room door. Her shadow follows in a blur, watching.
Across the world, the shadows race. Eventually, they touch her home on the other side of the world, drawn by the echo of her failed summons. His shadow appears on the side of her house. His shadow tells her shadow, “I cannot fish the seas. If you stay with me, you risk the anger of those close to you. At the end of the day, I am just bad for you. There can be no color in our lives.”
Her shadow tells his shadow to calm, reminding him that shadows can be seen but cannot be grasped nor hurt. For a moment his shadow relents, and reaches for a flower to give to her. Instead, as he touches the flower, it became possessed of its own shadow. Her shadow, in turn, reaches for a tree and a dark shadow of branches appears. Her shadow gives a laugh, and together they roam the exterior of her home, laughing as they create shadows together.
Her shadow coaxes him from the exterior walls onto the protected walls of the porch, and they drift past the BBQ, laughing as the fire ignites. Firelight makes the shadows around them flicker, dance and change into fantastic shapes: waves, mountains, cities in the sky and wolves. For a moment her shadow is uneasy; what risks in a world where the essence of a thing can become something different with ease.
Her shadow paused and wondered what might happen if she touched him, shadow to shadow. Would his shadow develop a shadow? She reached out and touched his shadow. There is an explosion of light, and instead of a shadow, the thief suddenly appeared. Her shadow gives a delighted shout, but the thief is in a deep sleep.
Her shadow wonders how she may take advantage of this development, and kindles images of how they might sit here, cooking and eating while they watch local police cars chase out of town cars along Main Street below.
The thief is asleep on her porch, dreaming. He dreams of the land, people, forests, and universities; the center of western civilization. And how it rains and snows all times of the day and night, unexpectedly and heavily. In his dream, the people of New England appear as hobbits, most never leaving their hometown or state, knowing that the world exists, but supremely indifferent to it, living instead in a confusing whirl of ceremonies, malls, forests, and tollways. This aside, nice hobbits; hobbits with guns.
Her shadow tries to coax his shadow and the thief inside her home. But the summons is losing its charm, and his shadow takes flight dragging the thief, still asleep, behind. It flees into the west. Her shadow joins the chase, running shoulder to shoulder with some of the other shadows they had made. Her shadow makes out the seven wolves of the end of days:
Angrboda, the mother of chaos
Hati who stalks moon trace
Sköll who dances with the sun
Garmr who will bring the god of justice, Týr, to account
Fenrir who will challenge Odin himself
Jörmungandr who is bound to Thor’s fate
Hel who commands the armies of the undead
As they run, her shadow hears him ask:
Is this how it ends?
Miss’d springs, winters without warmth
Summers without you
So long we tarried
In dreams so real, almost real
Lives dreamed away
Ice tributes melting
No bard will sing of those deeds
From that hollow time
But who sings today
The deeds of Finn, or Beowulf
Of men forgotten
The shadows race across the seven climes of the world. No magic aids this flight. The Gods have left Middle Earth. The Bifrost no longer spans the nine worlds.
The shadows return to the thief's farm. Briefly, the shadows chase each other among the old lichen rocks of the high ridges. Her shadow, grim-faced, dances on the old seat of power. But as the light from the old law stone dims, the shadows return to their sleeping forms. Back in the safety of his farmhouse, his shadow rejoins his body, wolves pacing around him, and the dull red rock dims.
Her shadow returns but watches from a slight distance, tasting weakness.
The thief dreams:
The Cat 1 fire truck hugged the hills to the west of Canberra as it traveled from the forward airbase abandoned that afternoon back to the Forest Command. It drew up next to a dozen like it. Huge, silent, powerful machines; the machines that had finally tamed all the fires that had burned in the mountains, and the coast earlier in the year. A premature night was falling; the city baked in the half-light of a day cut short by the smoke of a dozen fires. There were no stars.
He climbed down from the cabin and entered the compound; a huge meeting area and meals area under a tent that stretched forever. He made his way to the base coordinators; exchanging familiar smiles with the older men, who had spent so much of their years training crews for just this challenge before them; uncertain nights fighting a dangerous fire front high in the western mountains. Now the fire could be seen as a pale reflection of the clouds of smoke lifting far above them, a testament to its heat.
Expecting to be fighting with other crews, he was told instead that he would be leading them. Taking over from exhausted day crews, they would use the night to attack the fire, forcing it from the control lines. In the cooling night, they would turn the fire on itself by throwing it deep into the distant mountains, creating cool firebreaks and pushing the fire far from settled areas. Far.
At the control center, he met friends from previous engagements; men and women who had directed efforts on the coast a month earlier, who were now returning the favor. Briefly, he renewed acquaintances; a handshake, a nod, the offer of a light beer, directions drawn in the dust of the tent, assurances about the coordinators. But in the easy camaraderie, other shadows moved, other eyes watched.
The command base was now filled with 40-50 of the Cat 1 trucks and more than 200-300 seasoned men and women, one of the largest single groupings of fire control resources any of them could imagine. Proud in a mix of bright yellow uniforms and, mute testament to earlier efforts, soot-stained clothes.
He left the hall with some of his officers, to ponder the unexpected command of part of the force, and to look at the trucks. Stone damage to the tire wall of one of the smaller strike vehicles required a change, and after allocating charge of this task, he wandered briefly away from the command center.
In the fading light, he heard a call. “Hey, Mister!”
It was a young boy, on a bike, watching from the road that circled the command center, probably from the forestry settlement next door. As the command center faded from him, the forestry houses took shape. A clean semicircular line of houses, surrounded by lawns, the dark greens of the pine forest nearby giving a false impression of greenery.
He walked closer to the boy. The yellow of his uniform was hidden by a large full length over jacket. Only his rank was visible in the reflected night lamps of the work behind me.
“They your trucks Mister?
“Where you from?”
“Other side of the shire, on the Great Divide. But some of us are from the coast.”
“You been fighting the fire?”
Under his coat, his yellow uniform was dark stained with soot and grime that would no longer wash out, a scar on his face was still healing, a burn on his arm still raw. He thought of the last few months and then that day a week before when a dry storm loosed a fury on the ranges both east and west. He remembered being in a strike truck as the lightning crackled around them; a sickening feeling as he waited for the rain that never came, and then the panic as plumes of smoke blossomed all around his world. He remembered sitting on the plain to the east helping to triangulate some of the nearer fires before the desperate race to those on the mountains began.
“Yes, a few.”
Behind him, he saw another boy listening, perhaps a younger brother.
“My dad says the fire will not come here.”
“It is a severe fire, but there are lots of us here to fight it.”
“Dad is in the forests; he said we are safe.”
The boy pointed to the line of houses, lit with soft lights. The thief could make out the occasional adult sitting on a step, smoking or doing chores, within listening distance of the children.
The boy looked at the thief, his eyes white in the light.
“When the fire comes, will you be here to help us?”
In the dark, he felt the dark shape of his companion as she pricked her ears and a growl formed and softly rose in her throat. Still, the boy waited for him. The thief laughed uneasily, everything suddenly silent around me.
“We will stop it mate. It will not get here.”
He turned around and looked at the camp. A hundred lights stared back at him; the command center was now a buzz of activity. He turned to the boy and gestured at all the trucks and the command center.
“We will be here.”
The thief smiled at the boy.
Four days later he stood in the same place. All around him, destruction. The command center was a twisted ruin of generators and pallets of blackened stores. The line of houses burnt to the ground. Acrid smoke still rising from the devastation.
In the boy’s front yard, a twisted shape, his bike. When the fire came through they were not there to help him. He and his mother and young brother faced the terror alone. Around them, other families had to do what best they could, with a tragic result.
But by then, the thief’s time at the fire front had ended, and others had relieved his crews and him. High in the mountains, he had seen the coming storm. They had fought the fire to a stop at his front and then forced it back. During a break, he had walked to the crest of a hill 500 meters from the front, and as he crested the hill, he saw Canberra just below him. Home lights so close, car lights coming and going. So close.
Then the weather turned, and hell broke out. When the fire hit the command center, he had been posted far away on the eastern ranges. He watched the huge cloud snake from the west, flaring with internal lightning as it twisted and lifted over Palerang. As the command center exploded in the firestorm, the snake paused, raised its head and momentarily turned back to regard the devastation. It then turned and punched it’s deadly cargo deep into Palerang’s side. When it lifted its head to resume its path to the Pacific, it left a hundred thousand pseudo fires; smoke rising from every small vale and dell. Hopelessly they mobilized the few trucks left to defend the East and rushed to find the menace that has suddenly been unleashed on them. Instead, they found half burnt leaves and branches, frozen but still smoldering from the ascent into the higher atmosphere. And while they were occupied with this feint, Canberra burned.
And as evening fell, the sea breeze came from the east, cloaking Palerang in dew and a black rain fell.
He falls into a deep sleep. The fire burning in the room finally dies, and darkness descends.
Her shadow flickers and blurs. A cat watching them arches his back. Her shadow sees a man, asleep on the lounge next to her dreaming of hell on earth. Of hot winds, and mountains shimmering in the heat, fading into the past.
Her shadow and the seven wolves circling him, sink into his body.
Chapter 7: Saturday, Names (resume)
Interlude Two: Thief's second dream
Chapter 8: Sunday, Reality
Chapter 9: Monday, InsightZephyrs race across the sky from the west. Suddenly thunder is all around and lightning dances around them. Freyja flickers beside the thief as he is thrown to the ground.
Everything around him fades.
Before the thief a hundred images twist. He sees the God of Justice and the great wolf Fenrir arguing on the fields of Asgard. In the icefields, the Bone Woman pursues the heart of her man. In the tangle of undergrowth, a gentle spirit lies dying while the winged seeds of the Lomatia rise into the air. On a cold grave site, the spirit of the scientist Dawes watches his lover Patye dance in the fire of the sun. Against a parched sky, fire trucks drive towards clouds of smoke.
His eyes turn to an old man, bent over parchment.
Then said Gangleri: "What is the race of the wolves?" Hárr answered: "A witch dwells to the east of Midgard, in the forest called Ironwood: in that wood dwell the troll-women, who are known as Ironwood-Women. The old witch bears many giants for sons, and all in the shape of wolves; and from this source are these wolves sprung. The saying runs thus: from this race shall come one that shall be mightiest of all, he that is named Moon-Hound; he shall be filled with the flesh of all those men that die, and he shall swallow the moon, and sprinkle with blood the heavens and all the lair; thereof-shall the sun lose her shining, and the winds in that day shall be unquiet and roar on every side. So it says in Völuspá:
Eastward dwells the Old One in Ironwood, And there gives birth to Fenrir's brethren; There shall spring of them all a certain one, The moon's taker in troll's likeness.
He is filled with flesh of fey men.
Reddens the gods' seats with ruddy blood-gouts;
Swart becomes sunshine in summers after,
The weather all shifty.
Wit ye yet, or what?
The thief shakes his eyes, feeling the dull red stone hanging by his side. He raised himself from the cold ground. He sees an ancient woman sits watching him in the mists. He asks, “Where am I?”
The seer says: “You are here. Here on Earth.”
She shakes her head, “No. It is harsh in the world; whoredom is rife; an ax age, a sword age; shields are riven; a wind age, a wolf age; before the world goes headlong. No man will have mercy on another.”
She pauses, the mist roiling around us. She says, “Do you still seek to know? And what?”
The wind answers the seer. Suddenly the sun cuts through the mist, and the seer disappears as the mist boils away.
The thief stands unsteadily. Freyja flickers beside him. He smells lightning and feels the dull roar of thunder.
The thief said, “A storm. It may be playing havoc with our connections.”
The thief and Freyja carried their breakfast plates and cups back to his kitchen. Dark clouds and dull roars crowd the horizon.
Freyja looks hard into the world, blurred at the edges of her vision. Her feet are moving slightly above the floor.
He invites her into his library. She sits in an old smokers lounge and watches him walk to a bookcase, running his finger along the spines of a hundred volumes. Suddenly he smiles and pulls a book of poetry to him.
The palace where Jamshid held his cup
The doe and the fox now rest and sup
Bahram who hunted game non-stop
Was hunted by death when his time was up.
The thief said, “So here we are now, in Omar”s lost palace. I love his poetry; it can be read on many different levels. Like Pliny and Pepys, Omar was a public servant used to writing messages within messages.”
“How so? These are just pretty words”, she said.
“Very pretty,” he agreed. Then he frowned, “But perhaps more. The first two lines of the poem is a particular and powerful call to a body of thought long lost in the West, the Gnostic tradition, which held that the Christ Jesus was human and that Mary Magdeline was a founding member of the church.”
He smiled, deferring to the pagan goddess sitting before him, in a bathrobe. “I don't mean to buy into religious ideas, perhaps it is not important to have a settled view on the matter, and the truth is that I don't know much about the Gnostic tradition other than it accorded women a powerful mystical role within church and society.”
He continued, “The palace where Jamshid held his cup is a reference to the same mystic tradition we find in the old stories of the court of Arthur and his quest for the grail. Perhaps the quest for the grail is simply a quest for equality and respect. The second line, talking about the doe and the fox seems to drive home that this is about the reconciliation of men and women.”
“The last lines are about the relentless movement of time. It speaks to me: in one sense our virtual world is both the ultimate expression of a world with no temporal ties. At the same time, even here, the accumulation of property is a relentless preoccupation.”
“All up, the poem is a sort of code, to those that knew it. Perhaps, Omar's attempt to restore some of the balance between men and women. That is, this is not just a beautiful poem but a code for living.”
“Whatever,” she turned from him. “I wanted my world to last forever; you destroyed that.”
Softly he continued:
O friend, for the morrow, let us not worry
This moment we have now, let us not hurry
When our time comes, we shall not tarry
With seven thousand-year-olds, our burden carry
She stopped and looked at him. He said, “Cherish this moment. Live now. The journey is more important than the destination. The end is not clear, 'when our time comes' seems to be a reference to death. the reference to 'seven thousand-year-olds' is more confusing. Some translators replace the reference with 'for ages.' Did Omar think about the first humans (7,000 years is one of the figures given for the existence of the world at his time), which, as an enlightened man, in his time would have been the old testament figures.”
She said, “Stop over thinking stuff. It is simple: tarry in pleasure, because death will come soon enough.”
He persisted, “No, it is a little more, a little deeper. Respect the moment, for in time we will be dust, and we will embark on the same path as those before us. But instead carrying our own individual burdens.”
She took the book, and read:
In childhood, we strove to go to school
Our turn to teach, joyous as a rule
The end of the story is sad and cruel
From dust we came, and gone with winds cool
She exclaims, “A man did not write this. Your Omar was a drunk; his lover wrote these lines. See the joy of experiencing life is contrasted with the void of death; she gives life the attribute of time: joyous and warm”, she said.
He smiled, “So far, Khayyam has spent his time enjoying the moment. He must have been a happy man. What we thought to be important, all our worldly knowledge, our possessions have absolutely no value when death comes upon us, and once again we find ourselves back where we began.”
The thief turned to Freyja and said sharply, “Sessrúmnir destroyed or you dying: either way all is dust.”
Freyja flickered in the light of the library. Suddenly she seemed less tangible.
Thunder crashes close to the house.
She said, “Read on. Perhaps these dreams may live on in a different way. Come what may.”
He persisted, “I think his code to live by in this stanza is to be able to appreciate ourselves and people without worldly embellishment: that possessions and knowledge are ok to have but to be humble in all that you own and not to make it the main focus of your existence, because, after all, it really has no meaning in the end.”
She glared at him, suddenly impatient. He continued:
If my coming were up to me, I'd never be born
And if my going were on my accord, I'd go with scorn
Isn't it better that in this world, so old and worn
Never to be born, neither stay nor be away torn?
“A complaint, perhaps from an old Khayyam, weary with life. He is sneaky, though. He points out there are some things you cannot choose. Obviously, you don't get to choose to be born. And you don't get to choose when you go. Nor can you stay forever so even if we pre-empt fate, by filling our own cup, there are limits imposed by 'destiny' and the relentless movement of time.”
She said, “No. The last two lines cannot be what he really feels. He is laughing at all those who complain about life, and death.”
He smiles, “So when we are old and gray, would it be better to age with dignity in the company of other elders or to fill our own cups to the brim and be reborn as adolescents?”
Her image flickers and blurs. The cat watching them arches her back.
She says, “Enough metaphysics. Tell me your last story.”
The thief says, “It is not yet Monday. But perhaps I have already told you it.”
Freyja shuts her eyes. Time speeds up. Shadows deepen. He falls into sleep. Next to him, Freyja blurs and shifts shape, flickering in and out of reality.
A week earlier:
From the star-lit sky, bathed in the blood of the sun goddess, the wolf Sköll howls his victory. The thief twists on the ground, his shoulder shattered. Near to the thief, suddenly there is another movement. Yellow burning eyes appear from the shadows, they are fixed on him before a second wolf lifts its head and joins Sköll’s triumph.
Lit from below, by the flames dancing over the lava, the goddess Freyja reaches down and grasps thief Shadow’s hair. Dragging Shadow behind her, Freyja takes him from the Room of the Sun, into the Room of the Moon. The second wolf follows them.
“What beast have you brought into this, my home,” she demanded.
‘I have no power over her”, his excuse begins as the dingo circles him. The dingo sits to scratch an imaginary flee and begins to grow.
Freyja lets him fall and looks at the moon.
We all once knew about the man in the moon. Above her, the Norse god Máni pulls the moon through the sky. The path and timing taken by Máni are different to that taken by Sol. We once knew that the moon does not reserve its appearance to the night, Máni splits his time between night and day, hiding in the light. But this path compels him to track through the darkness of night, and it is here, and in the waning of the sun in mid-winter, that we usually see the orb within his care. We once knew that the movement of the Moon exerts a powerful pull on all who live on Earth; he is said to control the tides of the oceans, women, and cats.
Máni also determines the waxing and waning of the moon; phases that do not appear to exert a physical change here on Earth but which can create a light so bright that one might think it an almost day. A cold light. In this cold light, and the precision with which Máni attends to his task, we build our calendars, plan our plans and fight our wars.
Freyja looked for signs of pursuit. Máni is pursued by the wolf, Hati, brother to Sköll, children of Loki. But whereas Sköll chases from behind, Hati dances in front of Máni, fearful of the war cats that defend the moon and yet eager to seize it. To bring on Ragnarök, Hati will finally need to risk all and mangle Mani. Some say he will also swallow the moon. Freyja shakes her head, her hair wild: “Not now, not yet!”
In the changing cold light of the moon, the thief struggles to look at her. “Yes, now. You cannot stop it.”
She says with contempt, “The Gods will not allow it.”
The thief speaks:
Look closer at your Gods.
None of your Norse gods can lay claim to being morally good. All of the gods would occasionally kill without remorse. No contract was sacred. No promise unbreakable. They drank, swapped partners, and broke the rules whenever they thought they could get away with it. In short, they were ordinary, the sort of people we all know and sometimes are.
At the funeral of the finest of the gods, Balder, a giantess called Hyrrokin helped the gods launch Balder’s pyre ship Ringhorn. She rode to the funeral on a wolf, using vipers for reigns. As she walked to the shore to push the boat into the forever, she left her mount in the care of the gods. The wolf mount was passed to four berserkers, dressed in the skins of her kin, slain by Thor. The sight of the berserkers in their animal skins angered the wolf. Her eyes flickered, and she snarled. She resisted restraint, and the gods injured her and left her for dead in the sand. To prevent reprisal, Thor attempted to kill Hyrrokin even as she assisted the gods in their funeral duties.
The gods do not respect the rules of hospitality. And they are not alone, the Christian god the Christ Jesus sits wringing this hands as his adherents wither and starve. Unlike the newer gods, the Norse gods did not pretend rewards would come to people on Earth who perform good deeds. The gods are indifferent; there is no special place reserved in a Norse heaven for the real estate agent that donates cash to his local church.
However, Norse gods do attach some value to those, man and beast, who fight well and the dead are taken from the battlefield and join the ranks of the armies which one day will serve the will of Freyja and Odin.
There is no greater shame for a warrior to live to die of wounds after a battle. They and those who die in peace are consigned to Hel’s care, and we will rise under her lead at Ragnarök and take the fight to Asgard. Without remorse, we will have our day, to tear at the riches of those indifferent, but powerful, gods. And, instead of trotting behind, in the lead will be the wolves.
She walks over to him and places her foot on his throat. “Cease your prattle.”
With a wave her hand, she releases the Skogkatts, the war cats of the moon. They bound high into the air, matching pace with the Moon. The moon is high in the cold sky. Mists rise, and in the distance, an owl calls. In the distance, the monks are singing their early service against the dark.
With a gasp she releases him. He turns to where the dingo had been and then looked into the sky, as Hati throws himself into the air and pursues the moon.
From the star-lit sky, bathed in the blood of the moon god, the wolf Hati howls his victory.
Freyja shakes her head, glaring at the thief. She suddenly feels spilt between three places: her dread hall; her home in New England; and this place, his farmhouse. None feel real. She wonders why she dreams of the end of time.
Suddenly her eyes widen. She demands, "What did you come to steal?"
The thief looks at her. "You. I stole you.
The original story about the Pagan priestess Steinvora and the Christian missionary Thangbrand is found in the old Icelandic Saga: Njal's Saga (http://sagadb.org/brennu-njals_saga.en).
Interlude 1: The story about shadows is adapted from CW Peck's retelling of a Booandick story. The underlying argument, about the relationship of things to ideas is partly based on the arguments of Eco and Camus about precision/order and partly on the metaphysics of map-making.
The thief's 2 sixth stories about transference are based on original research. The story about Salem is framed around a speech i gave a number of years ago on hysteria.
Freyja's short story of the Sun in this chapter are based on the Sagas, the Heimskingla (Snorre Sturlason) and The Poetic Edda.