Freyja: the Seven Stories of the World (Novel)
In the week after his capture, the Thief told the Goddess Freyja the seven stories of the world. While he entertained her, he hunted for his escape.
Copyright 2018 Peter Quinton, Published by Peter Quinton
Images: Hati and Wolf Totem, c. Canberra artist Indya
You and I are different and the same. I wear this totem to remind me of the fragility of life.
fragments from the story
This story is a dialogue between two beings, Freyja (a goddess of the old Norse) and the Thief (a wolf).
Touch the spinning thread of destiny,
Rejoice the portion racing past your fingertips,
Relish your life in fair wonder with others,
Until the great destroyer takes us back, whence we came
Hush! There is no need to say any more. I will not make this harder for you, and I will understand your silence from here on. I think all we did was to try to keep alive a dream we all once wished for.
I am not writing to make a point. I write only to bring a smile to your face as we wait for the end.
But, while we wait, I will try to answer an old question: so old, so obscure and so perplexing.
I first heard the question from a friend I met as we walked the border. His name isn’t heard much these days. Snorri is, was, his name.
I see a glimmer of a smile at such a strange name. Surely he is one of Tolkien’s inventions.
No, he is a real man, a “law speaker”. Not a dwarf. It is now nearly a thousand years since he died in his cellar, but I make no claim to be so old. “But how, and where”, I hear you ask. “Not here, not yet”, I reply
Snorri, a learned and confusing man, only asked one question so far as I know. He asked, “What is a wolf?”
No. Not the real wolves that hunt in the real forests. He asked what the nature of those other wolves was: the wolves that sometimes take human form. The wolves that sit and pace in the shadows of our despair and loneliness.
[You, seven days earlier]
She drifts on the tides of history
When men first see her, they seldom believe their good fortune. Lost, vulnerable, in need of everything a man could give, she inflames their desires, responds to their touch, and bends to their dark, same, wants. But when time comes to discard her bruised body, they find themselves bound, and then drained, and then consumed.
Time after time, she feasts on the dreams and passions of these men, and then wills them to be no more. At first she delighted in their simple dreams; the dreams of men who study the currents and farm the sea. But as she savors each new find, less succor she gains from their shared same lives.
Until, by accident, he comes into her reach. A thief. Far from home. He twists in her gaze with desperate stories from other worlds. As he sings to her of places far distant, he struggles in her web, fighting for his freedom.
She pauses, unsure. Drawing him close, he offers to close her wounds, and protests his affection, while he hunts for his escape. While confused she smiles and ponders her decision.
During the first days of his captivity, he started to tell her the seven stories of the world, singing her the songs of the sky and showing her all he knew of love and war. But as yesterday became today, his diversions cease to be a game.
One night, as the stars swept over him, she stands beside him as he slept. Suddenly she plucks him from the world, from the past, and drags him into the future.
This tale takes seven days to tell. Maybe I will live long enough to finish it, and maybe I will not.
Less you forget, I have told you some of my his-story in an earlier life. But then I did not know why I have to write nor the answer to the question. And because all things fade in time, I will tell this story complete, if not from the start.
Chapter One: (Friday) The Story of the Forgotten
The Thief takes Freyja's hand and leads her to the top of a nearby ridge, beyond her palace.
They arrive by starlight as the final traces of light fades from the sky. He gathers an armful of tree litter and lights a fire. She sits on a flat rock warmed by the glow.
They sit in silence watching the Milky Way light the sky, slowly moving across the sky. Their faces are touched by the soft golden light of the fire and the dark blues of the high sky.
Freyja whispers, “I feel the world moving.”
He throws another branch onto the fire, hot, bright embers sweeping into the sky.
She continued, “It is Friday. Friday is my day, the day named in honor of me, the goddess of release and abandonment. I want you to tell me a story of love. I want you to tell me a story that stirs passion and awakens desire.”
This is the Thief’s first story, on the day they called Friday, in honor of the wild female goddess, Freyja.
Freyja looks at the Thief and motions for him to start.
The Thief speaks:
People across the world wait for Friday and venerate it as the last day of the working week; the day on which most are released from modern curse of wage slavery. People hunger for Friday night. They imagine themselves dancing in freedom. Or they dance vicariously, in the reflected light of the young. Or they dance in their quiet memories and the twilight of their worlds.
On Friday night we imagine speaking words of love and play. Yet, when put to the test, few of us have words to describe the feelings love engenders, whether in quiet passion or willful abandonment. Instead, an industry of writers in the modern era constantly strive to broaden the lexicon of love, through poetry and song. But most of us fail, remaining enslaved by a few well-worn staples. We murmur those silly love songs over and over; those words that feed quiet passion and dreary sentimentality alike.
This is a story about a man and a woman who time (and historians) forgot, but who changed the world. They are long gone to the stars. It is sometimes said that history is written by the victors. But sometimes we forget the names and stories of the victors while the present is polluted by the lies and petty squabbles of academics. Do not allow the future to be beholden to such minds.
Imagine a woman. Patyegarang, the gray kangaroo, who was guardian to the knowledge of the Eora, the people of the land. As a young girl, she sat by a fire such as this, learning the stories of the sky, into the morning as the waves washed to the shores of the edge of time. The eyes of the young were valued then because they were uncompromised by the hardship of age. She knew how the stars rotated through the nights and seasons, around the pivot point in the skies from which the southern winds blew. She knew the names of the bright stars, could distinguish the faint star clusters (Molumolu). She studied the two close galaxies that can be seen from the land, Calgalleon (Cal-gal-le-on) and Budoenong (Bu-do-e-nong), which today we call the two Magellanic Clouds, and which only a handful of the modern people, and even fewer academics, have seen for the looking.
Imagine a man. Dawes was a seeker of knowledge. He traveled to a far off country, in order to study the return of Halley’s Comet, a quest destined to failure because of the confusion of other people. He came to Patyegarang’s land and separated himself from the noise of colonial settlement. He moved out of range of shouts from the Governor’s men to a far point, into the great harbor on which they had settled. There he built a building, a long room with wood, 5 long paces long by 4 paces connected to a circular room on rocks behind the building, 3 paces in diameter. On the walls of the round room, he built a rotating roof, through which he could see the sky and covered it against the weather with heavy sail canvas.
Patyegarang watched him, wondering at Dawe’s interest in the stars.
The man was the first fleet astronomer, William Dawes. Into his world stepped Patyegarang, an Eora woman.
Patyegarang came to his house and asked him about his interest in the stars, but he could not make understandable words. So, she set about the difficult task of teaching him how to speak. He was not beyond teaching. He was a thoughtful man, trained to take careful observations. He had an absolute belief in science and had been taught in war and peace the value of study and absolute loyalty. He spent his night times studying the stars from the observatory room and keeping detailed records of the weather.
The man and woman met on the edge of their civilizations. They were together for a couple of years, and then they were sundered apart.
During that time Patyegarang taught him many words. Dawes wrote their story slowly, every night, by a candle in his diary. Every night, as he learned her language, she would call on him to put the candle out. She refused to learn his language. At first, she taught him the names of the four winds and then the phases of the moon and sun and then she spoke to him of the stars.
(The Thief stood, and fed the fire. Then hands on hips he turned to her, standing deliberately between her and the glow of the fire. Freyja felt the cold, and cocked her head, and demanded that he move. He asked, “You feel the touch of cold, when I stand between you and the fire.” She nodded. He moved a little, allowing the warmth of the fire to fall again on her and the golden glow to return to play on her face. He continued, “The language of the first people needs to be understood in the context of the fire.”)
The Eora had words for things we do not. That touch of cold, caused by the deliberate removal of the warmth of the fire was Ŋyínadyımíŋa.
Dawes started to call her Patye. One dreary day, beset by rain, he started to transcribe bits of his diary. He took each of the words she had every used, and wrote them in the notebooks, and annotated each with the meaning they had agreed upon, the Eora language. We have misplaced his diary but still, have his notebooks.
After a downpour of rain, she removed her clothing and stood by his fire naked. He asked to put her clothes on, but she refused. She said, “Gore dyú tágarın.” At first, he thought she meant that she did it to take off the cold, but later he understood that she stood naked in order to get warm sooner.
He asked about the ritual scarring on her breasts and the removal of the little finger on her left hand. She asked him what she meant to him.
Then they talked of love.
She taught him words we use every day, and some of the things we no longer understand or forget we once understood.
She taught him “putuwá” (poo-too-wor): to warm one’s hand by the fire and then to squeeze the fingers of another person gently. She taught him “boamere” (bo-a-mere): to blow with your breath. She taught him to play, to sing, to wink, to laugh, to tickle, to pinch, to bite, to hug, to kiss and to breathe. She taught him to walk, to talk about last night and to fly. She taught him to undress and how to make love. She taught him about dreams and tomorrow.
She taught him about relationships: how two are enough. She taught him of sweethearts, of partnerships forged by time, and of relationships forged by place. And he told her he would stay for a very long time.
But it was not to be.
Relations between the settlers and the Eora deteriorated. One day, Dawes said that if Patye washed often, she would become white. She threw down the towel as in despair, and said, “Tyerabárrbowaryaou” (I shall not become white).
On another occasion, Dawes asked her why her people had attacked a settler. Patyegarang responded, “Gūlara” (Because they are angry.)
Dawes asked, “Mínyın gūlara eóra?” (Why are the Eora angry?)
She replied, “Inyám ŋal wí̇ white men. Tyérun kamarıgál” (Because the white men are settled here. The kamarigals are afraid.)
He said “Mínyın tyérun kamarıgál? (Why are the kamarıgal afraid?)
She replied, “Gu̇ nın.” (Because of the guns.)
When violence led to bloodshed, the Governor insisted that Dawes accompany an armed retaliatory band to kill Eora, without compassion. Dawes initially refused, only agreeing when the matter came to an internal crisis. He navigated the troop into the bush, and away from the Eora. When they returned to town, Dawes angrily criticized the Governor. His principled stand against arbitrary violence at the hands of a senior officer serves as a salutary lesson in humanity. It also made his plans to remain in the colony untenable.
But Patye had one more word to teach Dawes: “Galgalla “ (smallpox). Galgalla spread through the ranks of her people, killing most without remorse.
Dawes has not told us what happened to Patye in his journals, and his diaries have not yet been found. The story of their love and the names of the stars told him by Patye, and recorded in his diaries are still missing in some untapped box in a library or private collection. Slowly his other diaries, meteorological records, letters to Greenwich and reminiscences of other colonials are emerging. Or perhaps the story has been blown like leaves before a hurricane in Antigua.
But this man, who could not bring himself to write about the past, went on to join Lord Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish slavery and worked to that end until he died, impoverished. At a time when the movement required actual support, he gave it, helping to tip the balance and change the world.
Lord Wilberforce once said, “I don’t believe there is in the world a more solid, honest, indefatigable man, more full of resources and common sense.” But credit here is more widely to be shared.
Freyja lay back on the rock, letting the thief's voice die into the distance. A train called across the valley. The rising moon lit the forest on one side of the ridge and the tollway to Ware lit the other.
The Thief had been stoking the fire, and she could feel the heat of the coals hot and white blue. She looked into the deep black northern sky, searching for a hint of her face. She heard herself thinking, “Compose yourself when looking into the mirror.”
But Freyja could not compose herself. She lifted herself back and said to him, “I am confused. Why did you tell me that story? I do not ask you to educate me; I want you to entertain me.”
He said, “I am telling you the seven stories of the world; what makes us human. I am not telling you how to kiss a fisherman.”
Dimly, lightning flashed in her eyes, and he smiled, “You must let me go.”
She shakes her head, “No.”
The Thief takes a dull stone from his pouch and says, “You are far from all those places from which you draw power. If you do not let me go, we will travel to my country instead.”
She looks at him in shock, as he casts the rock into the fire. She scrambles to her feet, demanding, “What is that?”
He says, “The old people call it ‘the Law Rock.’ It commands the weather and molten rock, holding old powers of the world in check.”
She watches as the rock takes on the hue of the fire and then the color of the blue-white coals, “What are you doing?”
He says, “You will be safe, but only if you hold my hands and simply watch.”
He reaches to her and takes her hands. Suddenly the ground beneath them becomes transparent, and the Law Rock falls towards the center of the earth. A moment later they follow, plunging down a narrow passageway, dimmed and cooled by a field extruded around the stone.
Freyja shouts, “No! Take me home!” But this time, the cry lacks something, the power of her magic. She struggles against him, but he holds her tight, smiling “You cannot speak to the man at the helm. The fall will last 42 minutes.”
She growls and starts to cast a counter spell as they fall through the intestacies of the world:
Come, travel to my home!
Not just because I command it, but because you wish it yourself. If you come, you will understand why I am attached to my place: the old house, the site and the view. It is only 40 miles to Boston; you can come and stay here after work without interference with your daily schedule. You can travel here a couple of different ways. The roads to Ware and New York lead in the same direction. Both these roads are suitable, and the scenery is varied. The old road to Ware runs to the bottom of my hill and is the more direct route; but because it travels for the most part through towns and villages it can be a slow journey. The Turn Pike to New York is also quite close, cutting a broad path through wild areas, with woods running down to both sides of the road. Once there were farms here, but the forests have retaken the fields, and the buildings are melting into the towns.
While old, the house meets all my needs. It is at the top of a steep drive. The house faces south and has an extravagantly high-steepled slate roof; similar to those you see in old medieval Bavarian villages. Grand pediments and bay windows frame the entrance portico. To enter you must enter an enclosed porch which partly circles and shades the house, decorated on the exterior with gothic finery; bargeboards carved in a fanciful trefoil pattern. A sufficient refuge from winter winds and snow, it remains warm as it catches the sun on two sides in winter and its windows can be opened to allow warm spring air to circulate. Interior doors lead to an elegant room for entertaining guests. I have had shelves placed here to hold my books. This room opens to an inner dining room furnished with a large dining table and an old grandfather clock. Warmed by a fireplace, the windows of the dining room look out to a small courtyard at the back of the house and looking north one may see the little forest at the back of the house. Sitting before the fireplace, you may look through the other rooms of the house and portico to the road and forests on the distant hills to the south, east, and west. To the left is a chamber that holds my study, my computers. To the right are the kitchens, a small bay for eating breakfast and a bathroom.
Above the ground floor, staircases will take you to bedchambers and the main bathroom. Each of these rooms looks out on different views of the distant hills; the main bed chamber catches the first morning light. From there, up hidden stairs in the spaces under the high roofs, are spacious areas for relaxation, hobbies or storage, where one may rest contemplating the steeples of the distant town or escape to listen to the soft drumming of rain and hail on the surrounding roofs. From the upper stories you may look through high windows sheltered by openwork rondels and carved truss works down to the courtyards and surrounding gardens.
Soft New England grasses border the gardens, with vines on the east of the house a rockery to the south and ancient trees at the bottom of the hill. In the trees flit birds of every color and size, the blue jays and the great owls. In the wilds at the back, beyond the old wood pile, live the wild animals of the region, mainly woodchucks and squirrels, but bobcats, deer, and rangers have reported brown bears in the nearby woods. On a calm day, you may hear the cry of the hawk that makes a home on the edge of the forest or watches his battles with the blackbirds which oppose his domain. Here one may walk shaded by the trees in spring and summer or the direct sunlight of winter, along with long winding trails to one of the ponds or lakes nearby. Here you may find the indefinite traces of the old orchard serving the house, but of the rest of the original agricultural purposes have disappeared, except for the basement.
Below the earth in the cavernous basement of the house, are the old storage bins for produce, apples, and quinces, while next to them are concrete and brick walls for keeping sheep and horses from the cruel winters. The furnaces that heat the house are in the basement, fed by tanks of diesel; the southerly aspect of the home and the aspect of the portico minimize heating during the day. On a winter’s night, one may feel the sudden rush as the furnaces ignite below to burn away the biting cold of the New England winters.
Inside, the house remains a relatively constant temperature, regardless of the season. According to the time of day, I may sit and read on the portico, or resort to my study or even the dining room to research an issue. For this house was built for contemplation. Built to last, it has served other writers and dreamers in its time. And the ghosts of the past still cling to its soul.
The convenience and charm of the house have only some small drawbacks. Because of its elevation, water pressure is not great, and the sound of travelers on the road at the bottom of the hill can find its way into the house. But apart from these minor problems, these small drawbacks are amply overcome by the situation of the house. For it is also close to the town of Spencer, which supplies all my everyday needs and which boasts an excellent library only 15 minutes’ walk from my door.
Her voice changes, from description to prescription: Choose to tarry here to longer! Leave the confines of your life and travel to my retreat!
As she spoke, the center of gravity changed, and now down is up, and up is down. She finished speaking, but her summons failed. Instead, they arrived on the other side of the world, falling to the ground, upside down. The ground they land was translucent for a moment then suddenly hard, wet with a sun-shower and thick grass, with the sound of a creek nearby. The Law Rock steamed and cooled.
They lay together, unable to move. The Thief smiled, his voice broken and dry, “Welcome to my world.” He coughs, standing unevenly and replacing the Law Stone in its pouch. She watched as he walked to the creek and cupped his hands into the water. He took a long drink.
He turned to her and cleared his throat, “I am sorry. Your summons did not work this time.”
Lightning flashed in her eyes, and she called on every shred of power remaining to her to strike him where he stood. She shut her eyes and called terrible dark things to do her bidding.
But all she felt was the sun on her skin and the touch of his fingers on her lips, as he offered water from his hands.
She looked at the sun, hanging low in the sky, suddenly remembering that they had come from night. She asked, “What day is it?”
He said, “We have fallen from your Friday into my future. It is Saturday here.”
Chapter Two: (Saturday) The Story of Names and Regret
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 taunted Freyja 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 their destination. She refused to move further.
He apologized, but she ignored him. She said, "I know a few stories as well. Rest here, and I will tell you the story of the pagan priestess, Steinvora."
The Thief thought and shook his head, "I do not know that name". He brought her water in his hands to sip and sat to listen.
The people named all the days of the week, save one. When it came time for the people to name Saturday, all the Gods were dead. The great tree lay in ruins, and the rainbow no longer bridged the worlds.
Wolves roamed the land, and chaos was spread in the name of the new religion of the Romans.
At this time, the adventurer Thangbrand was one of the Christian missionaries who sailed to convert the heathen of Iceland. Off shore, the fleet was met with a storm, and the leader of the crusade was killed. Thangband took his place
With wild green eyes and easy promises, Thangbrand was intent on change. He made many promises of good health, long life, and victory, in the name of the new Roman God, the Christ Jesus. On his way to convince the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, his band killed many who did not agree with them. On the Hill of the Laws, one of his missionaries blasphemed the gods, calling Odin and myself naught but ‘domesticated wolves.’
Eventually, Thangbrand and 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, Steinvora ensured that it was conducted with restraint and respect.
Steinvora preached the heathen faith to Thangbrand, emphasizing certainty, culture and tradition. 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, emphasizing the value of conformity to Rome and immortality in the hereafter. Thangbrand named each of the human failings of each of the heathen gods, no better than those men and women beset by pride, avarice or greed.
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 was all around and wolves in human form prowled throughout all people, both Pagan and Christian.
Seeking compromise, the pagan priestess Steinvora asked, “What matter the names given to the Gods? Perhaps they are the same, yours and mine, just called by different names.”
Thangbrand said, “Names matter, they are the power of the world. Those who name the Gods, rule.”
She asked, “Have you heard that Thor challenged the Christ Jesus to single combat, but 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?” Thangbrand was silent, for Thor's lightning had destroyed the ship. He remembered the dead alight and screaming as the flame burnt them with no divine help, despite their holy quest. The priestess saw where his mind led him and answered herself, “No God, yours nor mine, saved the innocent.”
Despite the breadth of the debate, their arguments were inconclusive.
Thangbrand left before the matter could be brought to an 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 heated 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. The people 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 concerning children and those of horses 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.
Steinvora had remembered what Thangbrand said of the power of names. The Icelanders and their kin continued to honor the old gods in the names of each weekday. Sunday belongs to Sol, of the Sun. Monday honors Máni, of the Moon. Tuesday honors Týr, the god of Justice and War. Wednesday belongs to father Odin. Thursday honors the people's defender, Thor. And Friday is mine.
They gave away only the name of one day to Rome: Saturday.
(Freyja's voice quietens in the silence of the sunset. The Thief felt the coming cold, watching her sitting 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 speaks of the dawn of that modern 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 home.”
She ignored him but then protested, “So far, from you, 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 walked along a creek to 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. He turns to Freyja, his eyes closed.
This is the second 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.
Once content to carouse and fawn at the table of the Gods, Loki tired of the pretense. While cold hard sober he risked the enmity of the Gods by honestly describing what they have become. Like Thangbrand, the Christian missionary, he named each of the faults of the gods. He cataloged pride, avarice and infidelity. He blasphemed the name of Odin and your own.
Like the unraveling of an old saga, the risk of dire consequence built as action prompts 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 gentle children by his lawful wife are destroyed for fear of his unruly children by his unlawful wife. He is bound in a cave while, outside the cave, the wolf children by his mistress, slip their chains and roam the world in anger.
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.”
Sigyn replies, “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 and 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.
He shuts his eyes and sleeps.
Lying close, they both dream as the fire slowly turns wood to coals. Their bodies intersect; her head on his shoulder, his leg touching hers. But their shadows move separately, 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, watching.
Across the world, the shadow emerges in her home, drawn by the echo of her failed summons. It stands on the side of her house on the other side of the world.
His shadow shouts, “Leave me be! We cannot survive together. As long as we stay together, our lives cannot progress."
Her shadow watches in silence from below and then reaches to him.
The shadows touch, and there is a jarring remembrance past and present. For a moment he ceases to be the Thief and she ceased to be a goddess.
He remembers how he first came here, into her land of people and forests and universities. The center of western civilization. And how it rained; and how he could not adjust to rain. It rained there all time of the day and night, often unexpectedly and often quite heavily.
Her shadow coaxes him onto her porch, and their shadows file past the BBQ. She rekindles a remembrance of how they sat here, cooking and eating.
Her shadow tries to coax him back inside her home, but then his shadow takes flight and runs across the world, to the west. She joins the chase, running shoulder to shoulder with the wolves of his depression.
As he runs, she 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 sudden flight. The Gods have left this place; the Bifrost no longer spans the nine worlds.
Back in the safety of his home, his shadow rejoins his body, and the dull red rock dims.
Her shadow returns, and with the wolves pacing around him, watches.
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.
Her shadow flickers and blurs. A cat watching them arches his back.
Chapter Three: (Sunday) The Story of Reality
Here lies a shadow of 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.
In his dream, he stood on an ancient battlefield. The ruins of war were scattered around him, for as far as he chose to look. The dark shapes of ravens and wolves moved in the distance. A drum rolled and the echoes of ancient trumpets mingled with the sounds of horror long past.
She came up behind him and asked, “Where are we? Why have you brought us here?”
The Thief paused turned to her, “I am dreaming. This is not real. You are not here.” Low mist poured into the area, and strange lights played on the scene. Involuntarily, he turned to look for an audience
She turned on him, arms of hips, “I am not a fighter. These are your delusions, not mine. Take them away.”
He said, “Go back to sleep.”
She said, “Who are they?”
She pointed to a group of people. An old man and young woman were arguing in the mists.
The older man, well dressed but his voice slurred by wine, spoke loudly, “Thespis! Are you not ashamed to tell so many lies before such a number of people!”
Thespis replied, “Solon, I am honored by your presence. Sit a while, and talk to me. Maybe some more wine? It is true, I did not know what words were actually spoken. I made some guesses. But the audience loved the play! Didn’t you?.”
Solon snarled, “No! None of what you portrayed here today happened. You made it all up.”
Thepsis laughed, “Old man, there is no harm in telling lies in a play. It is all make-believe.”
Solon angrily struck his staff against the ground. Dust rose, Thepsis shrugged her shoulders, and Solon turned to watch her exit the stage.
A second older man appeared in the mists. He greeted Solon, with a skin of wine, “I sympathize. That play cast you in a poor light. In seeking Happiness I have found Imagination instead." He turns to an invisible nymph, "Go away, I entreat you by the gods and close the door behind you for I do not want you. But you have come according to your old fashion. I am not angry with you: only go away.”
Solon took a drink from the skin, and growled, “Yes Aurelius.”
Solon turns to address an unseen audience. The stage darkens or, perhaps, darkness flooded the world. Solon said, “If we embrace unreality, even here on the stage, someday our lives will be touched by those same lies.”
Light fades from the scene, for a moment. Then a single spotlight widens, showing the Thief sitting on a bar stool, with Freyja standing near him.
The Thief spoke:
Some of my earliest experiences were of the stage; my parents loved musicals. The love has remained strong, and I have played many roles, from writer, lighter, director to actor, lead and support, over the years.
In the early days of the computer revolution I bought a franchise to design and sell games, to my disappointment, the franchise excluded computer applications. Undeterred, I developed computer aided programs to assist in the manual tasks, but then found that experience unlocked a wondrous world, barely matched by the primitive graphic capabilities of the day, of fractals, and geometric progressions. Studying the excited literature of the day, a team of designers gathered around me, and together in a spirit of frantic enthusiasm, we gave our all to meeting the design problems of the day; how to encapsulate time-based movement, how to create primitive real time games.
The team was good; within a short period of time, we had exhausted the technological capabilities of the equipment within grasp, and we started to explore basic game dynamics.
One enquiry examined how to build games that many players could engage in simultaneously; both from a distance and close. Another examined interactions across complex game scenarios; a little like players taking on a role within a play; and continuing to play those roles, over an extended period.
Preparations for an extended three day play period one hot January, involving about 200 people, attracted some attention from within the local drama community. Assistance was offered in relation to building sets, creating props and creating costumes. In one meeting of game designers, script writers, builders, and organizers, a consultant director suggested that I approach the national drama association for financial support; assured that the association would be both interested and willing to meet some of the mounting costs of the production.
An application was prepared and dispatched, and, just as quickly forgotten, as the hectic preparations continued.
Within the confusion of that period, the boisterous meetings, the boundless enthusiasm of the day, the capacity to draw emerging technologies into mix (a video camera, still a luxury, was hired at great cost to record the event, a university supercomputer to print currency and create world maps) the meeting with the association still seems surreal.
I was summoned to the national drama association mid-afternoon, into the foundry, a small theatre used to develop new plays and rehearse those in the early days of production. Low, built in the style of an old roman villa, with baked clay tiles, it looked ancient.
I dressed in all my finery, my revolutionary jacket, flying boots and, an afterthought, a cloak. I entered the dusty hall, to meet the committee. In the half-light, I saw them, sitting on the stage: three actors: Solon, Thepsis and Aurelius. They asked me to stand before them, in the seating area reserved for the audience.
“We have your application; we do not understand what you propose. Explain the type of entertainment you propose”, Solon demanded.
I propose a different type of entertainment. All around me is a passive audience. I believe that the audience can be empowered; that within the bounds of a scripted drama everyone within the theatre can be engaged.
“Nonsense; the essence of drama is the focus. Where is the focus?” asked Thepsis.
Imagine an event of great stress within a bounded community. A drama might be scripted that takes each of the audience out of themselves into a world of our making, confronting them with choices, allowing the plot to develop as the community develops.
“Let me get this right; you are not scripting this drama?”, asked Aurelius with a smile.
Not quite, significant events might be partially scripted, perhaps even delivered by a professional actor or filmed and thrown onto a screen in the playing area.
“So the audience would not be sitting in their seats?”
No. I propose to build a series of props through the theatre. The audience would populate the props and play out the lives of the characters.
“How would this happen?”
Each player, member of the audience, would be given a sketch of their character. Their physical characteristics would be set mathematically, to allow interaction in the event of a tussle of wills, the use of an artifact or exercise of skill.
“We don’t understand you.”
Assume we set the drama in a tight community, perhaps an island, like Prospero’s Island. At the start, each member of the audience would be given a role to play within the community of the island. Into the lives of these characters, we would introduce discordant themes, perhaps a series of threats to the safety of the community which every member must contribute a part in the meeting. We might expect to see the predefined leadership roles change as people work together to solve problems and build solutions.
One of the ‘audience’ might play a guard. The guard might determine the nature of a threat and report it to her superior officer. The conversation might be overheard and reported to town folk, while the official report is taken to the town council.
If the guard confronts the threat, we would determine outcomes on the basis of chance and the mathematical profile of the guard, and the threat.
“Sounds pretty boring. How would you keep people’s attention?”
I have described a single threat. Within the initial set up there may be many pre-existing stresses between numbers of the ‘audience.’ And the threats brought to bear internally and externally would be designed to amplify some of these and create new dynamics.
“Remind me, why are you doing this, who is watching?”
Well, the ‘audience’ is participating in the action, every person sees a different part of the action. Each person will come away from the drama with a personal appreciation of what has happened.
“Is there a Director?” snarled Solon.
A committee has been working on preparing each of the character sketches, but there is no director.
“Enough. This is the most stupid idea ever presented to this committee. It cannot work; the audience will get bored and walk away. It is not entertainment. There can be no cohesion without a script. There is no focus without the essential elements of a stage and an audience. The stage focuses an audiences’ attention; it allows a director to refine the drama. The separation of stage and audience permits every member of the audience to appreciate the same action. Without a stage, there can be no drama. Since plays were first performed, in the Greek amphitheaters, there has been a stage, and the audience there has been the focus, and script. There can be no development of excellence. How could it be repeated? Who would come back to see it? It makes no sense.”
“Come back to us with drama, and we will reconsider your application.” I walked away from the national drama association, confused.
The convention went ahead as planned at the end of that hot January in a massive old hall, the Albert Hall, located on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, and at the end of three days of solid drama, the 200 members of the ‘audience’ collapsed in exhaustion and argument about what they had experienced.
There was excitement, everyone knew they had done something never attempted before, but no one could describe any more than they had experienced. The audience came up with a name to describe the experience; they called it freeform role-play, a unique form of ‘drama.’
The original story line developed by the committee had had to be thrown away at the end of the first day, the ‘audience’ generated a powerful dynamic driving the story in directions unanticipated, unplanned and highly emotionally charged. We had not anticipated the strength of emotion: ‘audience’ players laughed, cried, argued, fell in love, hated and lived.
The threats we had devised proved too easy for a coherent community to overcome. On the second day, the Committee had to sabotage the town council and send in a team of actors as wave after of wave of coherent threat. As island members were killed, and new leaders arose to meet new challenges the community started to twist before us in ways the committee could not contain or control. It became powerful and hungry. It demanded new stories, new ideas, and when the committee failed to deliver, the community improvised.
The committee retired exhausted, fragments of the day captured by a cameraman engaged to record the event, with promises to try to make sense of the event.
The form was reported through the youth network. Variants were tried with different degrees of success in other world cities within the year. Merged with ideas of computer assisted games, the vision of a ‘virtual’ community started to appear in literature, and became the focus of computer application development.
Decades later, with the emergence of the internet and powerful graphical applications, virtual communities became a reality, with all the strengths and weaknesses we observed that hot January in Canberra.
They called these entertainments massive multi-player online role playing games. No attempt to describe these as dramas; there was no stage apart from the individual portal provided by each player’s computer screen. There was no audience apart from the watching eyes of every participant.
Into these games fell a generation and like the initial audience, they laughed, cried, argued, fell in love, hated and lived within the bounds of the electronic community. No longer bounded by a three-day long weekend in Canberra on a hot January, people started to live their lives in the artificial worlds and communities.
The spotlight fades, leaving the stage in darkness.
Cold morning light drifts through the view windows, illuminating the room in which they are asleep, dreams fading. On a low table nearby, an empty cider bottle.
On the couch, holding each other against the cold, Freyja and the Thief.
Close to the fireplace, now just a collection of dim red coals, a cat sits. It looks at the Thief, perceiving two people but only seeing one.
Waking, the Thief looks at her, searching for his path to freedom.
Her eyes shut, Freyja turned to him and smiled.
At breakfast the Thief grumbled, “Where is reality.”
She retorts, sharply, “Stop muttering.”
Silence returns, and she continues, "Reality is over-rated. Tell me a story.”
He asked, “If I do, will you tell me your real name?”
She said, “I am Freyja. You have been to my hall. You have seen my home here on Earth. But you ran away. Why should I tell you any more?”
He said, “I do not remember. Names are important. If you tell me your real name, the spells that hold you thrall to imagination will fade, and you will come down to Earth.”
“Once you have told me the seven stories, I will tell you the name I once had here on Earth. But now I am hungry. Feed me with a real story and food.”
This is the third story the Thief told her, on the day they called Sunday, in honor of the god Sol who rides her fiery chariot drawn by the two horses Árvakr and Alsviðr.
The Thief speaks:
I come from a land of old volcanoes: the Warrumbungles, Canobolas, Palerang. Not like your great palace; the volcanos here have been long quiet.
To the north, my childhood memories are of the Warrumbungles. Decaying volcanoes, cores, and dikes, weird, impossible shapes. Littering the shores of an inland sea that ceased to be.
In the center, governing my school-year memories, the monolith Canobolas. The giant that still directs the weather.
And in the south where I live today, dread Palerang. And in her black heart, the pool of tears.
I have been to the pool of tears a couple of times. It is a deep mountain pool high on the slopes of old Palarang. Secret crystal-clear waters, protected from the winds, a pool that reflects the soul stars of those killed by the volcano when she roamed the land as a woman.
Last time I went there, I was taught the law of the healing ceremony, organized by my mate Bill.
(The Thief pauses, placing his hand on her shoulder, the one he broke a week earlier. He shook his head in pain.)
The trip up the mountain was exhilarating. Through the morning mists and up old bush fire tracks through the bleeding gums at the foot of the mountain. Through the cool of autumn in the grip of recent rain. Past the stone walls made by Chinese gold miners 150 years earlier and up into the denser temperate forests of the higher reaches of the mountain. Then, near the top, through the twisted trees wasted by the winds and cold, dripping moisture in the lifting fog. After the city, it was so fresh, so noisy with birds and the sound of the wind in the gum trees.
I left my horse, a borrowed stock horse, below the camp and followed the smell of burning eucalypt to a small clearing near the pool, and the Kadaitcha.
Kadaitcha are the lore holders of the first people. They are not simply herbalists, in the harsh reality of native life, they are a part witch doctor, part assassin. They dispense justice, with spears, boomerangs, and deadly magic. There are frightening stories of the Kadaitcha; they can become invisible when they put on their shoes made of kangaroo hide, with emu feathers glued together with blood. They can will a person to death or turn a person into a rock. Palerang was made stone by Kadaitcha, and all around her, the Monaro, the bodies of her victims. Frozen as hills as they fell, their naked bodies become visible as the mists burnt away.
Kadaitcha are not all bad. They make and trade aphrodisiacs and hallucinogens, compacts for healing physical wounds and diseases and mental anguish. Bill has told me how they also can heal people, often from afar, sometimes using a form of magic. Transference magic.
I don’t believe in magic anymore.
(Freyja winces, shrugging his hand off her shoulder. He paused.)
Anyway, I don’t believe Bill. He is earnest, but retention of a specialist knowledge of a native pharmacology seems unlikely. But he has visited the tribes out back and has come back pumped full of knowledge and hope.
There were two Kadaitcha waiting for me at the top of the mountain. Bill, my mate from town, had his back to me, fiddling with headphones and smoking dope. On the other side of the fire, unexpectedly, a tribal man I had not seen before, stripped to the waist, gaunt, with deep ceremonial scars across his chest.
Crouched on his toes, staring at the fire, the old man raised his hands to his face, warning me not to make any sounds. He rose silently, leaving Bill still trying to sort himself out with his cigarette in one hand fighting with a can of beer and a Walkman in the other.
The old man took me into the bush, among the calls of the bell birds and the honey eaters. We collected herbs. We found a gum laden with mistletoe – from a leafless shrub with green stems and small flowers he took a number of round yellowing fruits. On the trunk of an ancient tree, a Belgravia (a large evergreen with big glossy leaves), he cut deep into the bark and took some of the green wood. We collected bark, bluebells and the inner fronds of tree ferns. As we collected the plants, he stored them in a small possum bag tied to his waist with a hemp belt.
We returned to the camp, about mid-morning.
Coming into the camp a second time I stepped on a branch and if cracked like a whip. Bill spun around, losing his beer and almost falling in a heap. “Jesus wept!”, he said (he is a very polite man, not given to swearing); as he tried to avoid looking at me. Eye contact is not permitted between males; a rule strongly enjoined, but very difficult. The old man retraced his steps and started to prepare the herbs on a stone pestle.
Bill called me over. “Ok, let’s get this over with. First, we paint you, then we sing the songs”, motioning to the Walkman, now hooked up to a pair of speakers. I had been warned about what would happen next.
Bill and I have known each other for ages. He considers me a friend because of a long history. More so, though, I once saw the old law rock, the spark that controls the weather and holds the world together. But there is another reason why I have been invited back to this secret place, one I cannot speak.
We both stripped off to our underpants; it was surprisingly cold, and we moved closer to the fire. Neither Bill nor I have the ritual scarring strictly necessary for these ceremonies; he talked incessantly as we rub our bodies and faces with red clay – and he then painted the scaring onto our chests. He has a new girlfriend; I should come round and have dinner with them. He is thinking of going to Cairns this winter to avoid the cold. He went to the cricket in Melbourne recently, saw the Indians on tour. Slowly his chatter starts to fall off. The sun is getting higher but not much warmer.
The old man finished pounding the herbs and sat a little way from the fire, staring into the distance. You can see the Pacific Ocean from here, on a clear day. Already storm clouds are piling off along the coast and the afternoon breezes are starting to push the clouds toward us.
Bill, feeds the fire, stamps his feet, raising the dust and turns on the music. It has an old beat, I do not know the words, but the beat is clear. The old man picks up his music sticks and plays along to the beat, murmuring words.
We sit listening to the sounds, Bill lights up another toke, and the smell of eucalypt and dope hits me. The old man throws some of his own mixtures onto the fire, and opens my mouth, placing a piece of bark under my tongue. A whole new set of sensations fires my mouth and chest.
Bill turns to me. I have told him what I want, back in town. He wants more than me. He says, “Your soul has been pinched mate, we should get that back for you as well.” But I shake my head; my soul is old.
Bill gets out some notes, and reading them aloud takes a woomera from his backpack and starts his dance. He spins the woomera on a string, in ever widening circles, until the roar of the woomera and click of the music sticks drowns out all other sounds. He lets the woomera fly, and then in the new silence comes and stands in front of me.
Bill looks me in the eye, breaking the taboo. I fight back the urge to run. He clenches his fist and drives it into my upper chest, just below my shoulder.
I feel no pain. Whatever I have been chewing has made my whole body numb.
But the force of the blow wrenches me off my feet and into the dust. My hand hits the ground really hard. Bill switches off the music, helps me up and we go off to the Pool of Tears to clean up.
“Sorry about that mate,” Bill doesn’t look all that sorry about the bruises and cuts on my body, the fall cut my hand, and there is a huge welt where he has hit me. Instead, he is nursing his hand, which must be hurting to blazes. “You right to get back?” He has come by ute, I saw it back some distance far below us on the track. I tell him I need to return the borrowed stock horse, and, in silence, we pack him up and put out the fire.
The old man left some time earlier, pressing bark and herbs into my broken hand, indicating silently how I should use them later in the day.
By the time I get half way down the mountain the afternoon mountain mists have recloaked Palerang. I had to get off the horse, feeling returned to my body and I was in serious pain. Back at the station, I sort out the horse and explain my hurt to Kathy by saying I fell, something she thinks I am quite capable of doing.
By the time I got back to my farm. I was feeling unwell. So I kept going, into my townhouse. By the time I arrived, the pain was almost unbearable. My shoulder had completely seized up, and there is a terrific bruise forming. I got undressed to go to bed, remembering at the last moment the old man’s parting gifts.
The first was mistletoe fruit mixed with charcoal. I smeared it on my chest and down the sides of my legs. It has a strange arousing smell. The second was the green wood we had collected earlier. I lay on my sheets and chewed it.
Unlike the bark the old man had put under my tongue, the green wood was acrid. As I chewed it, a violent intoxication overcame me. The pain in my body was not released. Instead I began to hallucinate.
It was night. I was back on the mountain. The fire had been restarted and made huge. There were a number of men around the fire. Old Kadaitcha. As they donned their emu shoes, they became insubstantial, only shadows cast by the fire and dust rising from the ground showed where they were. I felt a hand drag me to my feet. I started to dance. I remember the dust and the beat of the music sticks, the sounds of the didgeridoo, dingoes snapping at my body, howling with hunger. I fell and standing over me, one of the Kadaitcha raised a spear and drove it into the place Bill walloped earlier in the day.
One of the Kadaitcha pressed emu feathers and clay onto the wound. Before unconsciousness overtook me, the Kadaitcha told what I must do.
I slept straight through the next couple of days, traveling in a dream, to a land of fire and ice.
Bill came around a couple of days ago, a cigarette in one hand, his dark skin with a sheen a sweat from the steps (the lift was busted). “So, how did you pull up,” he said, shaking his hand. I showed him my bruise. He was impressed. In the center of the bruise was scar tissue. “Must have hurt,” he said. “You told her yet? You know, the way you treated her, I was like doing her a favor mate. Tell her we cut off your balls as well, chicks like that.”
I thanked him for his concern. He smiled a big white toothy smile at me.
“Wasn’t nothing mate, do the same for a guvu.” I tried to smile. He said, “Learned the ceremony out in the real country. Old bloke. Taught me to make my shoes, and to step inside whirly-whirly.”
I thought about the other Kadaitcha on the mountain and asked Bill to thank him as well. He shook his head, “Weren’t no other bloke mate; just us two up on the mountain.”
So, I guess I just dreamed the whole thing. Only, the emu feathers were still there, on the floor where they fell.
Freyja’s eyes were alive; she fed on his words.
She remembered finding him seven days earlier in her hall. A Thief. She remembered that he broke her shoulder. She remembered reaching out, touching the scar on his chest, and feeling her shoulder snapping back into shape.
At the same time, his shoulder shattered, and he screamed in pain. Nursing his frame, he fell to his knees. A tear glistened, reddened by the fires below.
The sunlight flickered in the sky.
Freyja demanded, "That story was about the imaginary transfer of pain. Tell me the story again, but this time not about yourself."
He asked, “Then you tell me your real name? I am tired of imaginings. Only reality matters to me.”
Freyja retorts, “Superstition hurts. I am always careful of Friday the 13th. Everyone else is as well. Imagination can kill.”
The Thief retold her his third story, on the day they called Sunday, in honor of Sol.
The Thief speaks:
There does not need to be an objective evil lurking nearby. The propensity within us all for hysteria is just as dangerous, even for superstitions or gentle hysteria like ‘Friday 13th’.
Are particular races or countries, peculiarly susceptible to hysteria? Take France. Seven hundred years ago, 13 October 1307, was not a good day for the Knights Templar. They were all arrested on charges of heresy, tortured into making confessions and those that survived were then executed.
But is it just particular countries? ‘Heresy’ went on to become the preferred charge brought against witches in the great religious persecutions throughout the Christian world and which only ended in 1750.
Freyja interrupted, “Ha! Are you blaming organized religions now?”
It has become trendy to blame the Christian Right for the witch trials and the campaign against the Knights Templar.
Certainly, some in the Christian Right have reacted very defensively to such claims. Apologists have argued that only 40-50,000 women were killed during the witch trials, not the 5 million claimed.
Others in the Christian Right have reasserted their absolute belief that witches exist and have helpfully republished King James “Daemonology.”
He stands and helps her stand. They walk towards his kitchen. As he passes his library he retrieves a new paperback. Flipping to the back he quotes, “They ought to be put to death according to the Law of God, the civill and imperial law, and municipall law of all Christian nations.”
But, I think that the assumption of guilt by the religious right, whether in sorrow or with a little more enthusiasm is suspect.
Allocating blame is not an easy matter of accusing present day religious movements, races or some other objective evil because the fact is that the witch-trials were conducted by secular authorities.
Like the Knights Templar, witches were tried and executed under legal processes established and run by the State, albeit in an atmosphere of community hysteria.
The most famous of these trials was prosecuted some 300 years after the Knights Templar in the community of Salem.
She sat and watched him prepare toasted rye with salted butter.
She said, “Salem is along the coast, north of my house. They have a pirate museum, and there is a place there on the wharf that makes the best clam chowder. And a shop that sells witch clothing. What has Salem got to do with the Knights Templar?”
Salem is on the coast of Massachusetts, a couple of hours north of New York. The trials that took place there in the 1690’s, the Salem Witch Trials, are an important part of our shared legal history. Maybe you remember Arthur Miller’s play: ‘The Crucible.’ Most of us have a passing knowledge of these events through the play. The trials have left us a record of a catastrophe of almost unimagined cruelty as a community turned on itself.
From June to September of 1692, 24 men and women died in jail or were convicted of witchcraft and hanged. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft in Salem until the horror faded.
The secular authorities were well prepared.
Thomas Newton had come to Massachusetts from England just 4 years earlier. He was one of the first legally trained lawyers in Massachusetts. He was appointed by the state as the King’s Attorney to prosecute the witches. Half way through the trials his place was taken by Anthony Checkley, the first person designated as ‘Attorney General’ in early colonial Massachusetts. Unlike Newton, Checkley was a merchant with no formal legal training. Indeed, he was accused of being “not only ignorant of the laws of England, but...himself an illegal trader.”
Despite their very different backgrounds, both prosecutors were able to secure convictions and executions. Undoubtedly, their job was made easier because the state had set up a special court which applied its own rules of evidence.
Against the terror of a community in the grip of hysteria stood a few brave men.
Giles Corey was by all accounts a stubborn man. A farmer, 80 years old, he was fascinated by what was going down. On expressing criticism of the witchcraft proceedings, he was dragged into them and was eventually pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to trial.
Giles Corey’s death was recorded. As weights were piled on his body, Judge Stoughton could see his lips moving and thought the old man might have changed his mind and decided to plea.
The jailer looked at Corey’s face for a moment. Then the jailer stood.
“Is he ready to enter a plea, constable?” Stoughton asked.
“No, milord,” the man answered.
“Then what was he saying?”
“He said ‘More weight’ milord.”
The writer Tomas Brattle was one of the most outspoken opponents of the witchcraft trials. Like the farmer Giles Cory, Brattle had real doubts about the trials. A contemporary of Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley, and at considerable risk to himself, he published a pamphlet denouncing the trials. The October 1692 pamphlet concluded:
“If our officers and Courts have apprehended, imprisoned, condemned, and executed our guiltlesse neighbours, certainly our errour is great, and we shall rue it in the conclusion.”
Brattle’s pamphlet had a profound effect in the colony. The governor forbade further imprisonments for witchcraft and eventually released those still imprisoned.
Time heals most things. Judge Samuel Sewall and twelve of the jurors asked the community and the dead for forgiveness. And today, two of the main protagonists, prosecutor and objector Brattle, lie at peace in the King’s Chapel Burial Ground in Boston.
For another 50 years, the Salem experience was continued through Massachusetts and much of the Christian world as the state apprehended, imprisoned, condemned, and executed their guiltless neighbors. Sewell still convicted the odd witch and sentenced her to a painful death.
However, after Salem, the pace gradually slowed. It slowed as people started to emerge from the craze, as the world learned about Salem and the tens of thousands of communities similarly affected, and the bravery of so many, who like Giles Corey and Tomas Brattle stood their ground. Increasingly, prominent leaders including a couple of influential Jesuits stood forward and brought the madness to a complete stop.
Salem remains important; it occurred at a pivotal time in history in a place destined to become an intellectual powerhouse.
Tomas Brattle was a part of the Harvard University establishment in Boston, an establishment they helped make the engine of Western intellectual thought, and one that has survived as such for three hundred years. An establishment that gave us the great American judges of the early Twentieth Century, those who have helped craft the modern notion of a fair trial based on rational evidence. Judges such as Oliver Wendell Holmes the American jurist who adopted a common sense approach to the law, who rejected the prevailing property-rights ideology embraced by law, and who deferred to the decisions of democratically-elected legislatures.
The Salem experience still deeply influences Western thinking as a result.
Those people in Salem who were hanged, lost their lives under legislation which made heresy a capital offense. But this legislation was made hurriedly after the alleged crimes were committed. Retrospective criminal laws should not be tolerated, and such legislation is abhorred under international and national instruments.
Much of the telling prosecution evidence at Salem itself relied on witchcraft or torture. Spectral evidence, evidence that cannot be objectively tested, was outlawed in 1703 by the Massachusetts General Court. Torture has been increasingly discredited as a forensic tool in international and national instruments.
From a juristic point of view, the abuses by the prosecution in the trial were to become an inspiration to prevent future abuses of process.
The Thief added steaming coffee and cut fruit to the collection of food.
Now, I don’t mean to belittle French bohemians, and their imaginary goals of Truth, Liberty, Beauty, and Love. These are noble goals to which we should always aspire, if only unsuccessfully. We should always try hard to see the innocent in everyone in general and some in particular. But these goals are remarkably unhelpful in working out the detail, and it was the detail that allowed Cory to be crushed and Spectral evidence to be tendered.
She said darkly feeling hungry, “And, in times of great stress, the temptation to backslide becomes irresistible.”
When the wicked are all around us, the arguments for exceptional powers are never properly tested.
We have seen this time and time again during periods of great community stress. At one end of the continuum we have the McCarthy hysteria of the 1950s; hysteria that overran entire nations. On a lesser scale, we have seen communities tear themselves apart over allegations of sexual abuse in preschools, or within cults. Instead of evidence, we let emotion and our own wishes about what might be true rule our heads. It seems that it is part of the human condition that we are predestined to revisit the Salem hysteria.
She complains, “That story had nothing in common with your story about transference magic.”
He smiled, “Hysteria is the best form of transference magic I know.”
She shook her head, “Where do you eat? I will tell you a proper story in honor of this day.”
He helps take the breakfast and leads her out onto a verandah that caught the morning sun and deflected the chill of the prevailing winds. They sit and eat in peace for a moment.
On Sunday, Freyja chose to tell him the story of the sun god, as they drifted into the bitter cold of the year’s recession.
Her story started as the sun fell on her shoulders.
Freyja speaks, reaching her hands to the sun:
We all once knew that the sun is a two-horse chariot, a device that can usually only be justified in the interests of war. Not a device for our meadows and bogs, it is a machine used sparingly in the armies of the steppes and the plains, far to our south.
The sun is the goddess Sol’s chariot. She stands in the chariot, guiding it through the stars.
In the predawn, the two sky horses Árvakr and Alsviðr, “Early Awake” and “Very Quick” draw the chariot in darkness. But in the dawn, their manes ignite just like molten lava from our own volcanoes.
And then the chase recommences. For Sol is being hunted across the sky by two wolves.
Freyja looks at the Thief, her eyes narrowing.
At Ragnarök, she will be taken and torn apart by Sköll. Her gore will fall on Asgard. But for now, the sky horses avoid the wolves by swiftly pulling the chariot across the sky, each day a slightly different path.
The heat from the manes is intense, and the horses and the goddess are protected from the heat by weird technology; some say wind-bags, others cool-iron. The heat from the manes is enough to sear the Earth itself – to burn away both the water and the rocks. Another natural deity, Svalin, the atmosphere, forestalls this result.
In summer, when the days are long, the wolves sorely test both Sol and Svalin. Here on Earth, the world heats. But as winter draws near, Sol avoids the chase by taking a different path across the sky, and ice takes the world into its grip. Very occasionally the wolves catch the chariot, and we can see them dancing as an eclipse darkens the sky.
Originally the old tribes did not see the wolves. They simply thought Sol grew brighter as her chariot came closer to her lover’s hearth. Later Sol was perceived as having a bright and dark side, and day and night were conceived according to whether we saw her left or right side. There was no talk of wolves or paths in the oldest stories pressed into sheets of metal.
So why now do the wolves pursue Sol? But these are not any wolves. These are children of the Ironwood. But still, we do not know what condemns Sol to track these dangerous paths nor why the wolves are intent on the pursuit. In the absence of an answer, we presume that from the earliest time, the wolf pack through its nature will seek to pursue and kill when given the opportunity.
She paused, confused. “All our brave men are dead, and we will all be destroyed. My hall will be destroyed. All I have worked for is being taken apart.”
He said, “Get a grip. It is not real. It is nothing that is being destroyed.”
She turns on him, “You are nothing, Thief. I struggled for this. I earned all of this.”
“Sessrúmnir?” he asked.
“The hall, my power, my position, the respect I am due,” she draws herself up.
He says, “But they are imaginary. It is an imaginary world that is being destroyed. Your role there is finished, there is nothing you can do. Here, on Earth, is your only place of refuge.”
She stares at him; her hands are clenched. He continued, “We have not changed from creatures of flesh and blood into beings of pure energy. We are not puppets to our imagination. We are real.”
She relaxes back into the sun, gradually shutting her eyes. In her dreams, she remembers she is searching for something, and that the Thief is the answer to a question she has.
The Thief looks at her, searching for his path to freedom.
Chapter Four: (Monday) The Story of Paths
She found herself outside, the day starting to age, a cold breeze ruffling the lawn. She looked around her. A world of unattended tasks. She found herself a place that deflected the wind from the sun and sat. She remembered the Thief talking in his sleep of his path to freedom.
This is the fourth story the Thief told her, on the day they called Monday in honor of the moon, who takes different paths each night, each path predictable, and all within the same orbit.
The Thief speaks:
Through the valleys below, the old people followed the same old footpaths for a millennium.
The same paths: shared by the people, the animals, and their spirits. A network of paths, unchanged save for the occasional detour to avoid a tree brought down in a storm or a creek that had flooded its banks: paths used for travel and hunting and burning and trade and war. Paths used by Kadaitcha, hunters, gatherers, children and lovers alike until they were adopted by the shepherds and surveyors and mail deliverers and road builders, and now the chariots of our own time.
As the first people walked, they told stories.
We still crest each hill at the same point as the old people. With the spirits of those who came before, we view the same landscape of hills and creeks through our eyes as existed far into the past. And we still listen to the old stories, just wrapped a little differently each time.
Once upon a time, a giant followed a stream from the sea to its source in the mountains. As he went, he scooped deep pools into the stream and stocked them with fish. He carved high cliffs around the stream to preserve the path for his people. We travel those secret paths in hard summers when the sisters of the Pleiades suck the water from the land and burn all before them.
Or does the story travel a different path within the same orbit?
The river system formed over many tens of centuries. Great floods scoured out the canyons and falls of the original stream, leaving plunge pools at the base of high waterfalls: a refuge in times of cyclical drought as the sun burns hot, then cold.
Stories are not the same as the slow trudge of the giant up the path of the stream. Tney are not the step of those seeking refuge. Stories serve a different purpose: to teach, to lull, to control, to answer the obvious.
His body rises and drifts into the mists surrounding. Dark shapes rise from the ground and follow him down into the valleys below. Drawn to the place they last met. A howl leaves his lips, and he throws himself into the sky.
He drifts for an age, the old stories slowly becoming intangible.
Below, the mists start to resolve into forests and towns. The path becomes a highway. No hint of wolves here, unless the occasional police car might be thought to have taken their place.
Chapter Five: (Tuesday) The Story of Justice
Freyja touched the Thief’s nose and calls for a story about her, told to her. She leans back, her eyes, wide open. A story told to her, where she can see her eyes and no one else’s reflected in his.
So, he told her this story about the coming of the wolf age. But her eyes dimmed as the night deepened, and fell asleep asmile.
This is the fifth story the Thief told Freyja.
The Thief speaks:
On the day called Tuesday, in honor of the god of justice, I will tell you the oldest story humans know. It takes many forms, but I will tell it to you in the way the Northern people retell it around warm hearth fires in the grip of winter.
I learned this story around Garmr’s fire. Garmr draws his power as a story teller, because he watches.
The story is about Fenrir, the most powerful of the wolves. The story crackles with its own power. Each retelling changes the world, sometimes more, sometimes less. Simply retelling it draws unwelcome attention.
(Yes, she is here too, trying to stay awake. She asks sleepily, “Which wolf are you?” and he shrugs.)
This is a hard story; a lesson in failure. A story of the frailty of purpose. You tell me you will stay awake deep into the night to hear the story. But I know you will not. While your eyes swim in mine as I start, others watch as yours dim. Others watch as your purpose fails and you finally fall asleep, while I tell you the story about how justice fails.
Garmr watches the nine worlds. High, three cold worlds are the province of gods and alfs. Lower, three warm worlds are the home of giants. One, Middle Earth, is also the home of men. Lowest, three hot worlds are home to dark creatures and the dead. Garmr is captive to the ruler of the lowest of the worlds, Niflheim. Hel is her name, daughter to a past companion of the gods, Loki. She is half radiant beauty and half malignant decay.
From his cliff, he watches for the end of the life cycle, for the death of all things. His task is to meet each of dead, human or other, stumbling into Hel’s domain. He then moves them on, to the ranks of the army of the dead gathering around Hel. All those who die an ordinary death, away from the glory of battle, come here.
Past his post is a confusion of footprints, leading from the graves of the dead. All the footprints of dead humans start at graves in Middle Earth.
Follow the footprints of the wretched dead back from whence they started. In the barrows of the dead kings scattered in the steppes of Middle Earth are treasures beyond our understanding. Here are the instruments of war; there are the baubles they lived and died for. Here are the great named swords, created by sorcerers to bite or parry. There the bulwarks, some smashed, some untouched.
Look closer and patterns appear. Stitching in a leather helm, betraying the movement of a hand from so long ago. Shining rocks collected far from here; brought by trade or deluge. Though the voices are stilled, there are stories here.
See the small statue, a male with one right hand missing, in this barrow. Another without a right hand in that grave. And those in others almost beyond counting, even in the pauper’s scrapings. The same deliberate pattern, repeated time after time.
The statutes look like a man, but they are actually a god. He is an old god, old almost beyond remembrance. Yet we still honor this god: Týr. We honor him with the name of the day Tuesday.
Týr was known to the tribes of Middle Earth as the god of war and justice. Originally one of the more important gods, his primacy faded as the tribes fought their way into Europe. But not completely.
Tonight, we remember him as the god of justice. When war fades, justice becomes central to the notion of civil society. When justice fails, civilization descends back into war and strife. Týr is implacably opposed to chaos, the enemy of justice. And his greatest challenge is upon him.
The three children of Loki by Angrboda were fearful beyond imagining. We have already met Hel, who strives to control the three lower worlds and builds each day the army of the dead. Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent encircles the three middle worlds just out of reach of men and alf. Now, on the fields of the three upper worlds, the third child, Fenrir runs free and has grown large playing with the children of the gods.
The older gods fear Fenrir. He has taken his mother’s form as a wolf of the Ironwood. In the god’s fear, they agree that Fenrir cannot be allowed to reach maturity. He must not challenge them for the rule of the last three upper worlds.
The gods first turn to the dwarfs, who construct a chain of iron to bind the great wolf. The chain fails at the first test.
The dwarves labor to construct a replacement far stronger, which fails as well.
The gods turn to the dark alfs, who construct a different chain. Like sentiment, this chain binds tight but is made from the most intangible items we can imagine: the sound of a cat’s step, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, bear’s sensibilities, fish’s breath and bird’s spittle.
Fenrir has suffered the gods testing his strength with chains twice. He has no need to prove himself a third time. So now the gods turn to Týr, the God of Justice.
Týr, the champion of justice, is opposed to only one condition: chaos. Like the alf’s new chain, Týr weaves his law spells in the most intangible way with appeals to fairness, remembrances of peace, and foils designed to blunt the fiercest blood. The chaos of revenge slaughter is replaced by the golden threads of the law: juries, summons, applications and adjudication before courts of respected community members.
As he approaches Fenrir, Týr sees his old foe instead and feels the cold fear of approaching chaos. He pledges his word as the God of Justice, that if the chain binds, he will remove the chain. This is a pledge he must not break. He cannot break his word, without unleashing chaos. For, how can the promise of a mere mortal be expected sacrosanct if the God of Justice holds such promises worthless.
Fenrir weighs the risks and as an added security takes Týr’s right hand into his mouth.
While the chains of iron were easily broken, Fenrir cannot break the new chain. This should not come as a surprise. Our world is bound in chains of sentiment. We are all bound by the most intangible chains and these chains bind us tight.
Fenrir turns to Týr. He concedes defeat.
(He turns to her, her eyes wide shut. Breathing softly asleep asmile.)
Here the story should end: the noose slipped and Fenrir, beaten and humbled, freed to take his chances in a changed world.
This is the moment, the point at which everything is in balance. It is now that the gods could break that terrible path they tread towards their twilight. Here is the point justice could prevail. Fenrir has broken no law and justice demands no penalty. Fenrir has just learned that he is not invulnerable.
He appeals to the God of Justice for his freedom. It is his right. That was the bargain.
Týr looks at Fenrir.
The God of Justice weighs his options. He has broken Fenrir; no longer is he invulnerable. But Týr looks at Fenrir and sees chaos. So, instead of honoring his bargain with the wolf by releasing the bonds, he chooses to break his word and draw the chain tight.
The loss of Týr’s hand is the least damage done here. While the threat of chaos in the form of a free Fenrir recedes, the intangible rules of justice start to unravel across the world, as bargains between gods and between humans are set to naught. And chaos is unleashed.
The seer whispers:
“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.
Do you still seek to know? And what?”
Across the steppes we find the discarded statues of the old god of justice, one hand missing. A reminder of how chaos follows the failure of justice.
Far from Asgard, Týr’s fate unravels.
The wolf Garmr had pledged allegiance to the gods and accepted domestication. For this act of loyalty, he was chained by Loki’s daughter Hel.
At the time of Ragnarök, it is fated that Garmr holds his deal with the gods at no value. Instead, he will join the giants in their fight against the gods and will leap at Týr’s throat. They will kill each other
(The Thief falls silent, his story ended.)
The night is is inky black. He feels her body move gently next to his. He hears her gentle breath. But in his eyes now swim other fires. Those eyes stare at him from afar, wild and dangerous, unforgiving.
“Come back to us, to Middle Earth,” they call as the first rays of light touch his hair. A wolf howls to her pack in the cold wastes outside the hall as the wind suddenly whips through the trees outside, clearing the clouds.
Chapter Six: (Wednesday) The Story of Love
On the day they called Wednesday, in honor of the chief god, called Woden in the old languages of the steppes, Freyja awoke.
Snowflakes fell through the mist into the field outside her hall. She opened her eyes and smiled, feeling his warm body beside her. She propped herself up on an elbow, looking at the snowflakes and feeling a touch of cold.
She frowns. The snowflakes turn into plum blossom and warmth enters the room. She stretches deep into the ruins of the bed.
The world around her swirled. But, before she can react, everything freezes. Then she is pulled from her world by a powerful summons.
The summons takes her to the hall of the chief God. In the darkness, his old eyes burnt brightly. Freyja tried to shrug off the cobwebs of her sudden translation. A soft growl from the shadows, one of the great wolves that slept at his feet.
Woden waits. He did not need to ask questions.
“I have done as you asked,” she said. “The undead of my hall have opened the doors and now march towards the battlefield. There is nothing more I can do, save stand back and cheer for your victory.”
“But both the sun and the moon lie torn asunder. And a stranger has come to my hall. Just a man”, she said.
His eye burned brightly in her mind.
“You think he is more than a man. He is not. But, he will entertain me a while until I let him go. He has another life back on Earth.” As I had once, she added to herself, suddenly tired of Woden’s way.
The old god opened a view to a prison cave, shackles askew on the floor.
“The half-God Loki has escaped? How can this have happened!” she gasped.
“Your friend is no random occurrence,” he whispered with hate in his voice.
“You know what the stakes are. We have been tricked.” She dared not breath.
“Betrayed”, he snarled.
“Simply destroying him in your hall is not enough. You need to find him on Earth so we can destroy him here.”
Time stopped, and he demanded, “Who is he!”
“I do not know,” she looked through his face into his eye.
“Find out. Meet him here. On Earth. And destroy him. He must not unleash his children into battle.” He gradually released her from his eye bond. “If you fail the nine worlds will be destroyed. Your hall will be burned. Our lives will end.”
He shut his eyes, dismissing her.
She falls back to her hall, into herself.
The world shudders again. For a moment everything is frozen.
Plum blossoms fell through early sunlight onto the field outside her hall. She opened her eyes again, feeling his warm body beside her. She propped herself up on an elbow, looked at the plum blossom.
She turns to the Thief, and changes tack. His eyes open. She smiles. “Who are you?” she asks.
“I do not belong here,” he says.
“None of us belong here,” she agrees. “Let us return together to the real world.”
“I don’t know who you are,” he countered. “For all I know, you could be a goddess, playing a human,” he grimaced.
“Believe me; I am just like you. Come. Join me for a while in the real world. Come talk with me. I like your voice. I like your stories.”
She raised her hand and the sky around Sessrúmnir crackled with lightning. The goddess Freyja prepares to summon her Thief to back to Earth.
Above the thunder, he says, “They are not stories, they are my life.”
He lifts his left hand, “I do not like my life.” In the sea around Middle Earth, Jörmungandr the Midgard Serpent, is released.
“My depression stalks me,” he turns to the black shape trailing him, and raises his right hand, and Fenrir silently slips his bindings.
“What are you doing!” she cries. The walls of the palace shudder.
He raises his hands to the door hovering before him in the sky. The door opens onto the deck of a ship. Hel raises her face and smiles at him. The door disappears.
The wolves are loose.
“We have met before,” he says to the goddess.
“Who are you?” she cries as reality shudders.
The world around them swirled. The armies of the dead arise. Before them, from each of the nine world, armies move towards Asgard, at the behest of the three wolf captains. Before she can react, everything freezes. Then they are pulled from her world.
On the sixth day of his captivity, Freyja woke to the sound of a muffled cry. The Earth was still in darkness. She opened her eyes feeling his warm body beside her. She propped herself up on an elbow, listening to his breath.
In the silence she heard the sound of the grandfather clock counting the seconds.
Behind the sound of the clock she heard another voice.
A child speaks softly as the morning starts to dawn:
I will tell you the story of the child I was. Of the end of the world, and how I survived.
When I was young, I thought the world of my father. He was tall, quiet and confident. He was a leader. People came to him to seek his advice. They came to him to resolve their conflicts. I was there when he was asked whether a stand of trees should be grown. I sat with him when he mediated water rights. When people were in serious trouble, he was called. I saw him strap minor breaks, helping those in pain and heard how he pulled people from the wrecks and burning buildings. When I was four, I smiled when I saw him pretending to be a secret gift-giver at the local hall. I promised not to tell the other kids about his role. Then he sat next to me on the night before my birthday and asked me never to get old. I thought the world of him then.
He told me how, before I was born, it had rained. He joked that I had brought the sun. It never rained when I was young. The sun reigned. The Earth had got hotter. The creek became a trickle. The dam next to our home died. The old volcanoes shimmered in the sun.
I remember us together. We went high into the high mountains scouting for a fire I had smelt. The gums had dropped their branches along the top of the ranges. The old sheoks clung grimly to life only by breathing the sea breeze. I caught my breath as he led us off the forest trail down a dry gully to follow my pointed hand as I tracked the first signs of smoke. How we held the fire as he called in support. How they let me spray the last of the embers till they winked out. How I sat on his shoulders waving the crews home. How the sunset glorious with the smoke haze.
I remember how he broke. I heard him sobbing. Out of sight. How he turned away from those who had filled his days. How he rejected those around him. How he no longer talked to me. How much it hurt.
And then everything changed.
Wnstead of an old farmhouse, we lived in a palace with 540 doors. It was vast. In the morning the eastern breeze filled the vast halls as a cold sun rose. In the late afternoon, the house was warm: lit with the deep golden glow of the falling sun. There an eagle held lonely vigil. There a wolf lurked.
As he aged, my father started to feed the wolves. Two followed him closely in the shadows through the house. I drew pictures of them in the dust on the floors. I could see them, even if my brothers and sisters could not.
He had become important to many people. But his empire was in decline, beset on all sides. He didn’t trust those around him. He turned to the wolves to keep the discontent from him. When the wolves took human form, people called them his praetorian guard. They were drawn from the cold lands far to the north. Sitting high above the congregation in the great cathedral, I saw them cut strange runes into their seats as they waited for the service to end.
Out of their armor, their featureless martial faces changed to smiles and teeth, iron and leather became furs and claws.
When I was five, they let me sit next to them, drawing their shapes in the dusty floors. I crawled up to them in the lazy afternoons and slept safely in their furs. I traced their runes with my finger, watched their magic and listened to their strange language. They told me stories of the cold northern lands, the women that ruled their homesteads, their gods, and their wars. They told me their laws.
They told me other stories about my father. Dark stories of betrayal and cruelty, debauchery and waste. They respected his power and wealth, but the barbarian’s laughter was hollow to the horror of his reach.
My father called two of the wolves by name: Freki and Geri. These great wolves slept at his door. They escorted those to him who sought an audience. They took those away who had served their purpose. One day, fighting with his boyhood friend, he shouted at his friend in anger. He called him a trickster. Freki and Geri took him from the palace to a cave prison.
Freki and Geri had an army that arrived at the city in high-beaked dragon boats. They patrolled the city outside the palace. Of the wolves, they alone stayed at the palace when my father traveled to the West at the head of the imperial army, once to put down an insurrection, once to prevent barbarians ravaging the land. They stayed to care for me. They knew when he was about to return, and they would set their ears high and lope out to welcome his return.
The wolves told me the story of their cruel god Odin, the Alfather. He also lived in a palace of 540 doors. He also was loyally served by two wolves, named Freki and Geri. He knew the law spells that controlled those around him. But, even though he was the ruler of the gods, he broke the law with impunity. Nevertheless, he thirsted or power and knowledge. For the runes of power, he hung on the world tree half dead. The great wolves cut these same runes into their posts high in the cathedral, and I copied them onto the dust of the floors and watched the motes of dust burn brightly as stray beams of sun released their magic.
Once, when my father was away, the wolves took me to a camp of their kin, outside the walls of the palace and the great city. I was shown strange wonders, fur from the great white bears, combs carved from tusk and antler and amber that shone like the sun.
One of the traders died that night, suddenly and unexplained. His partner, a wild, independent woman, built his fire pier and placed his body during the next day as we watched. Intoxicated she rent her body then ran to each of the other traders, coupling with them in wild abandon. With smiling face, she climbed rough stairs on the pier and held the latch of a door held in the sky by the traders. She stood without flinching as a hag in the camp strangled her.
The strife outside the city increased. My father left more frequently, returning drawn and exhausted. Then one day he did not return. My father was finally killed by his childhood friend, and chaos descended on the Imperial city. Freki and Geri calmly stripped the palace of all its valuables and took them, and me, north up the rivers of the steppes to their homelands in the ice lands.
And that is how I escaped the end of my world.
As the child's voice faded, Freyja turned and watched plum blossom fall outside the window. In the silence between her and the sleeping Thief, raindrops fell loudly on the tin roof.
She felt him reach for her, but she caught his hand, and returned it saying, “It is your turn to speak.”
This is the Thief’s sixth story, on the day they called Wednesday, in honor of the chief god, Odin, called Woden in the old tongue.
The Thief spoke:
My sixth story is a love story, old beyond memory. It comes to us by words spoken from one woman to another. I do not know whether the number of retellings in this form was thousands of generations, or simply one. But the truths the story tells are old, and it contains within it the stories that every mother tells her daughter: despite every life burden, it is within the capacity of people to kindle a powerful and enduring love.
This is a difficult story for a man to tell. It is a savage story, unbelievable, but I want to believe it. Perhaps the original should be told by an older woman to a younger woman because it is a story about being a woman. Perhaps I can only tell the story from a male perspective.
It is an old Inuit story; you may have heard it. It is about a bone girl.
As a young man, he had heard a terrible tale. So terrible that his family only spoke about it in hushed tones. Fishermen from the community refused to fish the bays to the north.
The tale concerned a wilful young woman from the North. She offended her family in some unspeakable way. The young man knew that most young women do that sooner or later.
But this time, her father had taken her to the cliff edge and argued with her. It ended in the father throwing her onto the rocks below, and her torn body was taken by the ocean.
So the young man’s story starts with the death of the bone girl.
He grew, learning to survive in the cold of the world. Fishing from ice and kayak, with net and line made from sinew and bone.
One year, he paddles north, into waters unfished for many years, ignoring the warnings of other fishers.
He came into the bay in his kayak. The bay is bordered by cliffs. He casts his net into the water.
Instead of fish, he snags the remains of the bone girl. He thinks he has caught a big fish and pulls the net towards the boat. Awoken by the touch of the net, the bone girl struggles to free herself.
In the process, he gets entangled in the net himself. When finally he sees he has caught the bones of a girl, he panics and tries to cut the net, but cannot.
He paddles the kayak back along the coast as fast as he can home, with the bone girl skipping behind him, over the water. The bone girl becomes aware that she has left the bay where she was killed and is being taken somewhere new.
The young man staggers from the boat to his snow house still tangled in the net. So the bone girl comes into his home as well.
In the darkness of his home, he lights a fire, fearful of what has happened.
He slowly recovers his breath and sees the sorry mess before him in the net. He imagines the bone girl looking at him; imagines seeing the reflection of her father, and fear and hatred shimmer through her bones.
The young man is tired but tries to make sense of the situation. He gently removes the bones from the net and places them into their original position. Sorry for what has become of her, he sings a song of remembrance and covers her bones with furs.
The bone girl is confused by his actions and watches him carefully.
He lies down near the fire. He enters a waking dream. A tear forms in his eye. He imagines the bone girl shifting closer to him until she is close enough to drink his tear. As she drinks his tear, flesh starts to grow back around her bones.
During the night, the bone girl raises herself and looks at him. He feels the soft thump of a drum; his heart is beating loud and strong. She hears his heart call her, and she stands near him and plunges her hand deep into his chest. She takes his heart.
He cannot breathe, watching her hold his heart carefully to herself. He watches her let the furs he wrapped her in fall to the ground. She comes and lies next to him.
She gives him back his heart. He opens his eyes and smiles. They share his heart, and she wraps her breasts around them both, to keep them warm.
He finished, “This is the story I was once told. Others tell it a little differently.”
She watches him fiercely.
The Thief asks, “Have I said something wrong?”
She said, “I do not need your pity nor your excuses. I do not need you to straighten out my bones. My heart beats well without having to take yours. I do not feel the inclination to wrap my breasts around us to make us warm.”
He said, “Last night you held me close and whispered words of desire. Now you keep me at a distance. I feel caged, not desired.”
She raises herself and looks at him, eyes dark and fearful. He feels the soft thump of a drum; his heart starts to race. She hears his heart call her and shakes her head. Plum blossoms fall behind her.
She imagines plunging her hand deep into his chest and taking his heart.
Chapter Seven: (Thursday) The Story of Death
She imagines 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.
“I dreamed that the moon was sundered and that you had destroyed him,” she said, turning back to him. “I thought you set the wolf captains to the ruination of the nine worlds.”
The Thief looked at her and shrugged. He weaves a simple glamor spell, one designed to let her see the world as she wished it to be. “The moon is still in the sky. The sun may even rise in the morning. You brought us here to be safe, in your refuge. Perhaps you imagined those things?”
“I can smell blossoms,” she said, tasting the evening air, “I cannot smell in my dreams.” She is wondering whether her memories of the last two days were just dreams, or parts of dreams. Looking at the blossoms falling she asks without turning, “Who are you, really?”
The Thief avoided, “Just a man. Does it matter? Sunrise is still a way off. The night holds sway. Come back to me. We will exchange stories. Perhaps we might cuddle and play.”
She ignores his answer, and he murmurs, “Or, you can let me go.”
Freyja swung back to him, lightning flickering in her hair. His eyes widened. She had caught him, and he was not going anywhere.
She turns back to the full orb of the moon, rising from the distant hills. The pull of the moon is making her restless. She wonders about the nine worlds and the Thief. She frowns and the moon hides behind clouds.
In the darkness, she holds her hand toward him, soft blue fire flickering around her fingers, illuminating his face. She looks at him, trying to pierce his defenses, to see the true form behind his skin.
She asks, with the voice of command, “Who are you?”
The Thief says, formally, “You have named me ‘Thief’.”
She says, “I have described you as a Thief. You came to my hall to steal the treasures deep within. The name suits your purpose, but it does not tell me who you are. Now, heed me well. Do not tell me you are a man. Tell me if you are a giant or wolf wearing the shape of a man. Tell me of your real life hue.”
The Thief says, “I will try to answer your question. But, to help me frame my answer, tell me who you are so I may know by example what words to use.”
She says, “You know who I am. I am Freyja, powerful beyond your imagining, and I live in the moment.”
He says, “Promise me that, if I answer in the same terms, you will not do something I will regret.”
She says, “If you answer in good faith, I will respect your answer.”
He bends his head to her, and says to her feet, “I am Thief, adept in moving in shadows, and I live in your moment at your will.”
She clenches her fists. Looking at her feet, he takes a breath and continues, “Show me by example how I may better answer your question.” Then he laughed, and shifted his gaze directly to her eyes, “Or come play instead.” In the deep background, the world flickers and steps back a week. The Thief utters a silent prayer.
He twisted on the bed intending to assume a pleasing form. She growled, blue fire flickering around her hand, and froze him instead. She searched his mind, only finding wisps of cobwebs hidden behind mist. Abruptly she commands him to a deep sleep.
She hears a grandfather clock strike midnight in a distant room. Leaving the Thief asleep on the bed, she concentrates on the blue fire in her hand and lightly touches each of her allies back in the nine worlds. One by one, she calls forth views of their distant halls. Despite her earlier memories, one by one she accounts them busy carousing or attending to their own affairs. Each of them ignores her intrusion; even the ancient one waved her away in annoyance. Only the wanderer was missing.
She turned to the dark night. She could not confide her confusion in any other. She would have to do this the hard way. She raised her hand and the sky around her refuge on Earth crackled with lightning. She opened a portal back to her hall in the Nine Worlds.
Taking a pathway empty of retainers, she walks through her great hall, Sessrúmnir. Through her sleeping chambers, she enters her treasure room. She seeks her garb of feathers. Donning the cape, she calls forth the form of a hawk.
Freyja blurs and shifts shape. High and far into cold skies she takes flight.
Above the worlds, she soars looking for the captains of the dead. The wolf that takes the form of the Midgard Serpent circles the Middle Earth as it always has. The dread wolf Fenrir lies bound by Týr’s sacrifice. The guardian of the underworld, Hel, is behind the walls of her citadel. The father of the wolves is within his cave, bound to the stone platform by unbroken fetters. The moon and the sun are still sky-bound. The Nine Worlds are at rest, if not peace.
She flies over the Ironwood.
Below she sees an ordinary picture.
A mother, her children, her grandchildren. Grey and black pelts gleaming in reflected light. Small hurts from scratches and bruises licked better. They are half dozing after an afternoon of play and feast.
Here in the fading light, they rest. Bellies full, content. Together, as they always have been. The wolves of Ragnarök, the seeds of chaos.
The hawk calls as she circles wolf-home. Deep in the forests of the wolves she rises again, high above the land.
Here she sees the wanderer on the edge of the Ironwood.
Far from the bright halls, the wanderer trudges his doom, stalking the stalkers, those fated to kill him at Ragnarök. He was once a friend to their father, but now he pursues the dark creatures that roam the forests, his old friend’s children, the wolves of the Ironwood. He pursues this obsession tirelessly. He kills the children when he finds them, with a gift from their father, his hammer, Mjolnir. Unwittingly, the farmsteads have prospered from his slaughter and, for this, regard him highly. Farms have become towns and, as he trudges his lonely path, towns are becoming cities.
But despite this slaughter, his doom remains. It is sleeting. Half ice and half water. Just a little, but it is testing his spirits. He is alone, drifting, unfocused. Still, trying not to make plans, to brick up the future in a particular way. Savoring each moment, in the remembrance of the past. Tonight his hunt will be barren; the wolves are safe from Mjolnir.
In the past, before this age of wolves, the birds had chattered incessantly. The sounds of the weekday city had passed into dreamy weekends.
Curiously dislocated from the community around him, through the ice he trudges, noises of the city around him silenced in his mind, almost as though its daily toil deserves no second thought.
Far above, Freyja looked down on him and remembered their nights of drinking.
The wanderer’s anger lies deep inside. It is bewilderment of the unfinished things which littered his life and his capacity to hurt others. But most of all the way he left. Some little things canker, the tip of a knife unfixed, the wall of a room unrepaired, a boat half made, a path unraked, a fallen tree uncut. No glimmer of joy is allowed to enter his world, and maybe he will never smile again. The colours of autumn are remembered all around, the greens of the refreshed gums, and the colours of the trees turning, yellows, bronze, red.
He had told Freyja of a meeting once with a flower seller at the markets. He saw her, standing in the sun, her flowers arrayed in front of her. Elderly, yet happy in the warmth of the morning. She saw him. He looks at her wares. She called him over. He asked her price. She fell into the easy rhythm of question and response. What were these flowers? How should they be kept? How much would she take? In this melody, he heard a question followed by an answer. As experience built on experience, he heard variations on the questions and growing nuances in the responses. Question and answer; anticipated or unexpected.
The wanderer told Freyja that dialogue was just a pattern; spoken in eye contacts and shrugs. A question an answer; an action a response. He said that with love, and violence, action, and response become merged. We seek to climax together, the giving of joy or pain and feeling of joy or pain, simultaneous.
But then he described abandonment, simply a loss. The agony of violence without the immediacy of the touch of a knife, the slap of a wrist, the smashing of glass. The agony of love, now left. The questions left unanswered. The looks left unwatched. The shrugs forgotten. The descent into self.
Below her the wanderer trudges. He stops and looks at the shadow passing over him; the end is so near he can taste it. He snarls and spits into the snow. The spittle lands on a hot road between city blocks. He hears the cry of a hawk and returns to his lonely hunt.
Freyja returns to her hall. She blurs shifts shape and returns through a portal to her refuge on Earth.
Before her lies a shadow of a man, asleep on her bed, dreaming of hell on earth. Of hot winds, and mountains shimmering in the heat, fading into the past.
But, just a man.
She sat on the bed, watching the sunset, blue light around her hand. She awoke the Thief with a curt wave. They walked onto the back deck, and she brought him a dish of fruit and cider, ignoring his questions.
Instead, she lit a single candle and demanded a story from him, as plum blossoms fell around them.
She said, “I awoke this morning fearing death upon us both. For a moment I worried about what would become of me.”
The Thief said, “You need not fear death.”
He reached for her, but she again resisted his touch, saying, “Tell me why I should not fear death.”
This is the Thief’s final story, on the day they called Thursday, in honor of Thor, who will kill and be killed by Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent.
The Thief spoke:
Stories are told to the living. Sometimes we tell stories about dying to help the living.
This story I will tell you now predates our organized religions, and is old beyond memory. It was collected by a school teacher in colonial times, his keen eye clouded by the enthusiasm and despair of the time. Just for good measure, the sands of time placed another layer of dust over it.
The first people followed the rivers and other paths of the land, according to the seasons. In the warmth of the year, they live in small bands, enjoying the company of close kin and friends. In the evening, when the children sleep, there is a chance to sing songs that may only be sung by a wife to her husband, and to warm hands near the heat of a flame, to touch their chosen one in tenderness.
During the warmth of the seasons the small bands of the first people birth and feast on the bounty around them. In the cold of the year, the bands talk across great distances by smoke in the still of the morning. As the seasons become cold and food exhausted, the bands join together, and the tribe travels to new places, surviving by the strength of numbers in the time of cold and challenge. Sometimes in the cold they feast, sometimes there is famine.
The first people teach their children the names of the beaches and rivers of their land. They teach them the names of the deep holes in which the fish spawn, the shallows in which traps caught fish, the grassy verges on which tubers grow, and avenues on which they honor the dead, the grasslands from which they take seed. They honor the names of the landscape in ceremony and by careful listening. As their children came into the world, they took the name of the river or valley or track closest to their birthing.
You can still hear the names of a river, or a valley, or a track if you sit a while and listen to the wind or water.
Each of first people carried a map of the river paths in the powerful muscles of their legs. During lifetimes, they traveled the great circles of the rivers many times. In muscles was a recollection of the path of the rivers on the land, past feasts, and famines. There was the memory of where there are dangerous mountain crossings, powerful river currents, or strangers who will take food and kill.
At night, around the fires they teach their children a different sort of map. Across the night sky, in the patterns of the stars, lies a path and, near it, the unseen river: Currendelella. The colonials who came to their land call this the Milky Way.
Currendelella is always in the sky, in a vast land. That land, in the sky, constantly moves. Even though it is more often than not obscured by the sun or the moon, the First People know the shape. When, in the darkest nights, Currendelella becomes bright, they show their children the deep holes in which they can fish. They tell them the stories about when the gaps in Currendelella appeared, and how some of the stars rained on the earth from these places. They show them the shadows of hunters waiting to trap the unwary and point to dangerous currents they must avoid.
They teach their children that we will all die. When we die, our spirits will travel to the edge of the world and wait for the path and the unseen river to touch the horizon and give us access to the sky. Then we will leave this world, the world of our birthing, and journey to that country that awaits us.
Around us, as we travel the land of our birthing, are many eyes. Some of the eyes have bodies that are substantial, like the dragonfly. Other eyes have bodies that are insubstantial, always just out of sight. But like Currendelella we know they are there. We can see the path they take by the tracks they leave on the land. We can see the glint of their wings as they jump into the air. We can feel the winds they call.
Some of the insubstantial are gentle spirits that respect life, but others are dangerous spirits, intent on big trouble and responsible for wind storms.
One night, the world changed. It happened when the edge of the world came close to Currendelella, the Milky Way.
A gentle spirit with long wings like a dragonfly was being hunted by a dangerous spirit. These spirits, wullundigong, inhabit every part of the bush and once gave man his shadow. The dangerous spirit wished to take the gentle spirit, against her will. In the course of the chase, the gentle spirit came to the edge of the world. She hid in a group of human spirits, recently dead.
These spirits of the dead were arguing among themselves as to who should lead them on their last journey to their new home in the sky. The gentle spirit heard the bitter arguments and listened to the lack of trust. At the same time, she saw other spirits taking the path into the sky without being troubled by arguments about leadership.
She also heard the approaching dangerous spirit, and at first was inclined to hide in the seed pods of the flower bushes nearby. First the creamy flowers of the Lomatia (where the bushes were full of seeds ready to burst), then the great red Waratah (a huge sweet flower), and then the Lamertia (a crimson flower, sweet as honey). But when the dangerous spirit arrived, she saw all were in danger, and so hid the human spirits in two of the Lomatia seed pods.
She then tore her own wings off and placed them on the seed pods the humans were hiding in. She called on the dangerous spirit to blow his tempest. High clouds rose, thunder claps could be heard in the distance; insects rose into the air pursued by small birds; ants colonies marched to higher ground.
The gentle spirit died, her form preserved in the creamy flowers of the Lomatia. But the seed pods, with their wing, sped into the sky, taking the human spirits to Currendelella.
When facing death, do not waste time choosing one to lead you into the sky.
The path is clear. Just follow the rising of the Lomatia seeds.
The Thief finished his story and sat as the candle guttered, and the seeds of the Lomatia flew into the sky.
Chapter Eight: Insight and Chaos
Zephyrs 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.
The old Icelandic law speaker Snorri picked up his quill and dipped it in ink. He wrote:
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 Magdalene 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 have 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.
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.”
Ten days before:
He stole into her world in search of riches, dark and terrible.
Across the ice fields of Asgard, he rode, shunning all habitation until finally, he drew near to the walls of Folkvang palace. From a nearby Craig, he looked down into the huge fortification. There below, protected by intricate stone walls, was his target: her hall, dread Sessrúmnir. He bid his dark mount keep clear of the palace and let it roam.
From his vantage, hidden, he watched movements within the palace as the sun raced across the western sky, pursued by wolves. The palace was a place of great beauty. It was heated within by lava flows, yet water also flowed within the walls through fields of ornamental trees. Her female retainers were everywhere in evidence. They prepared meals, tended fields within the walls, fed the great cats that powered her weapons of war. He watched them don armor and mount flying animals and birds, to bring the battle-dead to her hall
For three cold, bitter days and nights, he held his position until the ordinary routines of the palace were etched into his mind. Early on the fourth day, he crested the mounds around the palace walls and climbed the outer walls. Below him lay the Room of the Sun, a huge area fractured by lava and ice. Thin stone walkways provided an uncertain path across slow moving lava.
As he watched, the burning sun rose. Sol’s chariot charged towards the western ocean pursued by the wolf Sköll. The manes of the free horses that pulled her chariot lit the world and consumed his shadow. Without his shadow, his chances of delving deeper into the fortification diminished.
He mouthed a quick prayer to the giants that lend him support and faded into the walls. Shielding his eyes, he turns to Sol, watching her progress. He seems to wait forever, as patrols pass through the great doors. Then the light dies unexpectedly. Confused shouts arise from the hall as the dead that guard Sessrúmnir, and its mistress, shout warnings, and surge to places of better vantage. The sunlight dims and flickers as dark shapes dance around Sol’s chariot.
Dancing in new-found shadows, he commences his run across the Room of the Sun to the great gate that connecting this part of the keep to the fields and the inner buildings. He keeps one eye on the sky, the other on his shadow. Part way across the field, the gates ahead of him unexpectedly open. He freezes as she comes to him, blue power crackling around her.
“Hold Thief,” Freyja cries.
Angry rising in her eyes, she strides to him. As she arrives, the sun pulses and flickered. She turns, momentarily confused. He knocks her to the ground, snapping her shoulder.
Through her ruin’d eyes roil’d
Killed him there she could
Freyja cast a glamor on the man, transfixing him in his terror. He tried to shrink away from her. No mortal can look upon her beauty, as she rose.
She looks back to the sky. She cries in pain, “What have you done!”. He caught his breath; his plans are undone so easily.
“I do not belong here,” he whispered.
In the sky, the wolf Sköll and his dire pack have almost caught the chariot of Sol, and dance between the two horses Árvakr and Alsviðr. Shadows enter the world
She says to herself, “It cannot start now.” Turning to the Thief, she raises her staff and promising death, “You don’t know what you have done!”. The dead rise around the Thief is waiting for him to join their ranks.
She pauses, “I know you do not belong here. Where do you belong?”
He shields his eyes from the light of her being, fear alive in his eyes, “There is nothing we can do,” he motions to the sky. “Let me help you. I can help.”
She could not restrain the look of scorn - A Thief. She reached out, touching the scar on his chest, and feeling her shoulder snapping back into shape.
At the same time, his shoulder shattered, and he screamed in pain. Nursing his frame, he fell to his knees.
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.
After the Thief told his seventh story, the world ended, unexpectedly.
She waited for it to restart. She recalled that the connection had been tenuous and slow. So she took all the usual paths. She queried the world servers, but they were all unresponsive. She reached out to the world community, but the forums were silent. She glanced at her private feed and was confused by a torrent of angry messages. She read a couple at random, all demands that she wake up. Then, like the world, the feed disappeared into the ether.
When the world failed to restart, she took her VR goggles and headphones off. It was dark and suddenly cold. An owl called in the distance. She stood unevenly and felt her way to a light switch. She kicked over the furnace and waited for the warmth to start to radiate through her house. Deeper in the house, her phone was flashing a large number of unread messages. She found her way into the kitchen and fixed herself a cup of warm milk.
Then she went into her darkened entertainment room and lay on a couch. She wondered at the unfamiliar touch of her couch below her; her couch in her home. She thought about switching on the TV or playing some music. Instead, she slept.
She dreamed. In her dream she stood frozen, awaiting an approaching storm. She did not want to face the approaching shambles alone, but still she hesitated. In front of her, soft light falls through the window onto the open book. The calfskin covering it has dried and begun to crack, scattering browning at the outer edges of the boards. The title on the spine is fading, a translation of the letters of the younger Pliny. A small piece of shot from a past accident is lodged below the title, buried just below the surface. The pages are lightly browned, delicate tracery from a long dead worm is in a lower margin avoiding the printed words, which dance on the page, as sharp and distinct as the day the book was printed. She shimmers in the light, alone. Low thunder rumbles in the distance, and she reaches out to the book. Blue light jumps between her hand and the book. In her mind, she remembers the Thief’s last story to her and he appears before her. She reaches to him and whispers, “Come, travel to my home.” Urgently, she takes his hand and drags him into the future.
She wakes alone. Daylight streams into the house, the sun is warming her face. She touches her face; just a face. Her headaches and her whole body are sore. After a moment, she pushes herself off the couch and prowls through the house, ignoring unwashed plates and incomplete housework. She suddenly craves real food. She pads upstairs and takes a shower, changing into clean clothes. Outside she jumped into her jeep and drove to the town center. It was early, and the supermarket ignored her.
Back home, her home, she sat and tried to remember that last day. The Thief had told her his seventh story, on the day they called Monday, in honor of the Moon, who is chased by the wolf Hati. She paused, the story shimmering just out of reach.
She shook her head. She put a thin scrape of butter on the rye. She poured coffee with a taste of hazelnuts and half & half. She spent a moment dividing and grilling rashers of bacon and boiling potatoes for a later meal. The phone interrupted her. She picked it up, and she heard the voice of a younger man demanding, “Where have you been!” She hesitated, not recognizing the voice, “Who are you?” The voice descended into a tirade of almost incoherent abuse. She listened for a moment as the man accused her of destroying the world. Once she had heard enough, she put the phone carefully onto the table and went back to cooking, the voice shouting silently into the air. She then fixed herself some rye and butter and sat on her front deck watching the occasional stream of cars heading along Main Street. She replaced the silent phone into its cradle, deleted the unheard messages and directed her steps away from her study.
She let her mind wander, for 42 minutes. Then she rebooted.
Who am I? I am Freyja.
What are you? I am ...
Who are you, really? I am Anthem.
What are you, really? I am a defense analyst.
What have you been doing? I have been infiltrating an online community, to gain intelligence about a threat.
What happened? I have been deflected from my task.
It took Anthem a day to track down the Thief’s online identity and then another to find him. She tasted every sliver of information she could find but found nothing to implicate him as part of the threat she was chasing.
She sat and thought.
She remembered the last story he had told her. Something about holding onto the past. About the story written by Cervantes. The story of Don Quixote de La Mancha and his tilt at reality. He said that it had owed its origins to convulsions difficult to comprehend.
She had vaguely remembered Don Quixote, the mad Spaniard who thought himself a knight and tried to battle a windmill. The Thief had reminded her:
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness.
Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”
He told her that Cervantes’ genius created the first modern Western novel, a story of stories. However, his book was based on a far older work. Scholars of the Andalusian kingdoms had discovered, treasured and translated an old comedy written by Apuleius, a Nubian from the age of the Roman Empire about the Metamorphoses of Lucian, a scholar from an ancient city in Algeria. It too was a story full of stories. Apuleius’ Metamorphoses was in turn taken from an old Grecian story written by Lucian of Petra, an ancient Grecian city-state. So, the Thief said, the world’s first modern novel was based on an ancient story.
She had complained that a recounting of academic research was of no interest to her and demanded a proper story. The Thief told her that all the stories of the world were just reflections of earlier stories and that he had nothing but ripples to offer her.
Freyja looked at the Thief, “You have come into my world. You have tried to make my reality in the form of your own beliefs. Tell me something real”.
She caught him in her eyes and demanded a story about him. Thunder rumbled in the mountains.
The Thief spoke:
With the millennium came the drought. To the east of Palerang, two ancient forests started to dry. The Duea, a vast sunken forest, is as old as the hills, isolated in its inaccessibility. And along the top of the range, the narrow band of rain forests, a shadow of an ancient time, before memory, when Palerang breathed from the same hot fires as her Antarctic sisters.
With the drought the forests dried. Torn by wind storms, battered by cold and heat, the forests dried and started to die.
Along the ranges, a forest that had survived millennia finally perished. And then, one terrible summer, the memory of the forest burned.
We fought the fires in the Duea. Along the western escarpment, we tried to contain the devastation to the forest, to keep it from breaking out and destroy the nearby farmland. At night, like a barren, desolate landscape – the old forest smoldered, hills lit like craters, burning fiercely like a scene from hell.
And finally, as that fire finally consumed the last living morsel in that old forest, fire settled on the mountain tops, west of Nowra. A strange war, the fronts carefully mapped and remapped at the fire control center in the town, a town that did not sleep for months, as the fires raided its outlying homes, destroying the isolated and unprotected, like a predator stalking a frightened herd.
It was my first command. I led a dozen trucks to fight this fire at night, then back to town to sleep, fitfully in the heat of the day.
A pattern emerged. From sunset, in the first hours of darkness, the fire burned hot and unpredictable. The risk was high, we moved cautiously along the high mountain roads, frightened of the fires below sighting us, and racing up the slopes to join us. The fire traveled high in the trees, loud, pervasive, alive and free.
When the humidity started to rise, the tables turned. Then we moved to the offensive, laying down our own fire, establishing breaks around the isolated farms and sheds, along the old bush roads. The world was as light as day. Bright in the explosion of the dry wood, the crackling of bush, the crack of falling timber, as we set fire on fire.
Finally, in the early hours of the pre-dawn, the fire settled back into the earth.
Only the candles, hollow trees alight, continued to light the sky, showering surreal showers of sparks onto the blackened landscape. In the cool of the rising humidity, the stars blanketed the sky, sharp and vivid, before the moon arose,
Tired, and black with soot, the men and women would make a temporary camp the fire trucks quieted, lighting a fire for a billy, as the mountains closed in against us, and the world shrunk to the glow of the fire.
In the silence, the sounds of the bush returned: the call of owls and other night birds, the shuffle of wombats and kangaroos, the cry of the injured and dying and the dingoes.
On the first night, we heard just the one infrequent call. As the nights continued, so to the number that would sit, outside the light of our camp, retreating further still, as the pale light of the rising moon would cast a soft blue light among the ashes of the forest.
Days and nights ran together, an easy camaraderie developed, but we fell silent when the dingos joined us. As they gave voice to their corroboree, calling for the sun to rise.
One night, part way through this time, a small branch fell from a tree and dropped me, shattering my goggles. I should have died; but the heavy helmet took the damage. I do not know how long I was unconscious on the forest floor.
A crew leader roused me, fire all around. I remember the fear in her eyes, my wet face, the taste of smoke and a strange fey scent in the air.
Later that night, around the fire, she said she heard a dingo calling, and thinking that she might finally catch a glimpse of one, she followed it to my unconscious body. She joked that the dingo was planning to make a meal of me. The laughter died down, as the dingos ringed the camp, and joined each other in lament.
Early that morning I made a discovery that has haunted me ever since. Not far from where I had rested, in a small hollow, one of the dingos had died. It was a young female. She was badly burned and in poor condition.
I don’t know why, but I fell to my feet and cried. In the blue light of the moon, ashes from the bottlebrush fell around me like snow-shadows cast as bright as day.
I know you are there: snowflakes in your hair melting
as tears in my eyes
Her shadow followed me from that place – a silent reminder of my failure. And she watched, as my life fell apart. She was there when Nowra burned. And then the Brindabella Ranges, Canberra, and Wee Jasper. She dogged every move I made, watched the lie of my life unravel. Finally, when we rescued a child, three years on, high in the mountains, I begged her to save the child’s life. I argued with her for hours as the child lay there, lifehue gradually fading. I begged her to take my life instead. But she simply stared at me...
And so I ran. I ran, hiding in far places; and she followed me.
Thunder crashed closer, and then the world ended, and the future began.
We had talked from time to time.
The first time to cure a misunderstanding. He wandered into my world and deflected my life for a moment.
The second time I spoke to him was when I saw something amazing and needed to talk to someone about it, and then it sort of kept happening.
Somehow I had got lost in his daydream, wondering about my weird friend with a strange accent.
Anthem’s mobile rang.
He said, “Hey there! I found the dragon.”
I told him what I thought of his dragons, but he was not going to let go of the fantasy just yet.
His daydreams: made life interesting. She remembered that one night, as the stars swept over him, she stood beside him as he slept. Suddenly she plucked him from the world, from the past, and dragged him into the future.
The reference to Snorri is to the Icelandic law speaker Snorre Sturlason (1179? - 1241). Snorri’s name is rendered a number of different ways in English, most recently morphing into Snorri Sturluson. A history of the man is set out in the translation of Heimskringla edited by Erling Monsen and translated by AH Smith, 1990, Dover Publications.
Chapter 1, (Friday) The Story of the Forgotten
The Thief’s story is based on the Notebooks of William Dawes and contemporary accounts and letters. Dawes 'base' diaries remain missing (but then, academics have been claiming his material has been missing for years). There is some possibility that the diaries were lost after his later marriage, or after a hurricane in Antigua that destroyed some of his personal papers.
The Notebooks were 'rediscovered' in 1972 by the librarian Mander-Jones. They are published by the School of Oriental and African Studies at http://www.williamdawes.org/index.html
His Metrological diaries were 'rediscovered' in 1977 in the Library of the Royal Society in London by McAfee. The diaries were only subjected to detailed comparative analysis in 2009 by Gergis, Karoly, and Allan:
Letters from Dawes to Maskelyne (including a sketch of the proposed observatory) are summarized in an article on The William Dawes Observatory: http://www.southastrodel.com/Page031b.htm
In passing I note Watkin Tench's remarks in 1793 on scarification and the epithet "white" at Port Jackson (his references to Dawes are also worth looking at):
"But the love of ornament defies weaker considerations: and no English beau can bear more stoutly the extraction of his teeth, to make room for a fresh set from a chimney sweeper; or a fair one suffer her tender ears to be perforated, with more heroism, than the grisly nymphs, on the banks of Port Jackson, submit their sable shoulders to the remorseless lancet.
That these scarifications are intended solely to encrease personal allurement, I will not, however, positively affirm. Similar, perhaps, to the cause of an excision of part of the little finger of the left hand, in the women, and of a front tooth in the men; or probably after all our conjectures, superstitious ceremonies, by which they hope either to avert evil, or to propagate good, are intended. The colours with which they besmear the bodies of both sexes, possibly date from the same common origin. White paint is strictly appropriate to the dance. Red seems to be used on numberless occasions and is considered as a colour of less consequence. It may be remarked, that they translate the epithet white, when they speak of us, not by the name which they assign to this white earth; but by that with which they distinguish the palms of their hands."
I have mostly ignored academic commentary on the material which has become a plaything in the history wars, climate change disputation, uncertainty theory, and cautionary feminist critique. Much of the discussion about the events tell us more about the commentator than the time. There have been some recent considered works of fiction and non-fiction on Dawes, (which I have likewise disregarded in writing this story) but which have been prepared by those who have studied this history in microscopic detail and which I have enjoyed reading/viewing after forming my view on the material:
1. Kate Grenville, The Lieutenant (2008, fictional, second book in a trilogy of novels by Kate Grenville about early Australia)
2. Keith Vincent Smith, who was senior researcher for the first episode of the film documentary First Australians and who has written about this period in a number of places (eg. see his review on Grenville at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/on-fact-and-fiction/story-e6frg8q6-1111117879082)
3. Jeremy Steele, The Aboriginal Language of Sydney (2005)
It is uncertain when Dawes met Patyegarang. Smith considers that in may have only been a period of about three months in 1791 (there is a reference to them being together in his notebooks in mid-September 1791). Departing from Smith, I do not think an earlier date can be ruled out. They may have met as early as the observatory designs were sketched (designs April 1788) or the observatory commissioned (1st August 1788). If that is the case, it is possible that the relationship persisted for 2-3 years. A letter written by the free settler Mrs. McArthur on March 1791, suggests that Dawes had acquired sufficient command of the Eora language to have formed some views on the history/religious beliefs of the first people (something that would require far greater lead-time than a relationship stretching July-September 1789). On a less scientific basis, Dawes dissuaded Mrs McArthur from pursuing an early avowed interest (with him) in the night time field of astronomy (which might have revealed the relationship) and instead directed her in the daytime pursuit of botany (not without her enigmatic observation that he "is so much engaged with the stars that to mortal eyes he is not always visible").
After reading this chapter, my friend Monique Helfrich posed a number of questions. Firstly, when old langages disappear, do the named things disappear too? Is there an association between the capacity to express ideas and violence ("For thoughts, perhaps , we need words to think... But for feelings ? Those who can't express their feelings in words, are they suffocate by unexpressed (and then unexplained) feelings")? I responded by noting that Dawes lived by himself in his observatory so far from the colonial base at Sydney, within months of the settlement being founded. Perhaps it was his humanity that commended him to the First People, or maybe Patye placed him under her protection, or maybe the first people placed trust in their capacity to influence the colony through him. Whichever is true, his actions in defying Governor Phillip were brave and principled. (I also mentioned that the French astronomer Joseph Lepaute Dagelet wrote a letter to Dawes while travelling with the illfated Lapérouse expedition in L’Astrolabe and La Boussole (perhaps the last communication from the expedition). I could only translate a little of the letter, which is reproduced at: http://www2.sl.nsw.gov.au/archive/discover_collections/society_art/french/letter/letter.html). I thought that the distinction Monique drew between thoughts and feelings was correct; i do not doubt for one moment the depth of feeling some of my long-term parrot mates have for each other. I was staggered by the number of words and sophisticated phrases in the Eora language to deal with relationships, both of a tender and relationship basis, perhaps outstripping common English formulations. An example might be language structures surrounding falsehood and imagination. The language allowed them to easily distinguish between non-reality due to falsehood and that due to imagination and that due to dreams. It allowed for rapid communication, where a language without that facility might be stuck trying to explain the long way. Then there is the role of fire, which as civilisations we have given away to central heating and air-conditioning. Love without a fire is like a long-stemmed flute with no champagne. Monique Helfrich responded by noting that she read the long letter Lepaute Dagelet wrote to Dawes. She admired the passion of these scientists and researchers. They needed and wanted collaboration in interest of their thirst of new knowledge.
Douglas Adams famously joked that the answer to the meaning of life was '42'. It would also take approximately 42 minutes to fall, under the influence of gravity, from any point on the world surface to another, if a passage were available.
Freyja's description of her house is modeled on a letter to Gallus by Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus describing his Laurentine villa.
Chapter 2, (Saturday) The Story of Names
The original story told by Feyja about the Pagan priestess Steinvora and the Christian missionary Thangbrand (naming as a form of power) is found in the old Icelandic Saga: Njal's Saga (http://sagadb.org/brennu-njals_saga.en).
The Thief's second story follows on from the Norse myth 'Loki's Flyting'. 'Flyting' is an old northern word not much used today, which used to mean truth telling. It is an especially unpleasant or shameless truth telling as in a quarrel, often between poets (the most litigious of all people). Today, non-poets simply "call a spade a spade".
The story about shadows is adapted from CW Peck's retelling of a Booandick story.
The underlying argument in this chapter concerns the relationship of things to ideas and is partly based on the arguments of Eco and Camus about precision/order and partly on the metaphysics of map-making.
Chapter 3, (Sunday) The Story of Reality
The exchange between Solon and Thepsis (archetypes respectively of political power and the theater) is reported in the ‘Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, Plutarch,' Translated by John Dryden, Edited by A. H. Clough. Solon’s words were: “Ay,” said he, “if we honor and commend such play as this, we shall find it some day in our business.”
The second old man is the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. His reflection on reality is taken from ‘Meditations.'
The Thief' 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 is based on the Sagas, the Heimskingla (Snorre Sturlason) and The Poetic Edda.
Chapter 4, (Monday) The Story of Insight
The short stories of the Man in the Moon, Hati and Hyrrokin are based on the Sagas, the Heimskingla (Snorre Sturlason) and The Poetic Edda.
The extracts attributed to Omar are to the Eleventh Century astronomer-poet-public servant Omar Khayyam from Naishapur. The quotes are literal translation of the poet’s quantrains (a stanza of four lines, especially one having alternate rhymes). Omar Khayyam’s work is known in the West from the lyric translations of Edward Fitzgerald (which in turn changed a little between various editions)
The three passages quoted are rendered by Fitzgerald in a different form:
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahram, that great Hunter--the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.
Ah! my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
To-day of past Regrets and future Fears
To-morrow?–Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.
Indeed, the idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men's Eye much Wrong:
Have drown'd my Honour in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.
The extract attributed to Snorri is from the Prose Edda (Snorre Sturlason).
Chapter 5, (Tuesday) The Story of Chaos
This is one of the oldest stories I can reconstruct. This fragment deals with two wolves from Icelandic lore, Fenrir, and Garn (Garmr) and follows on from my lecture "On Certainty". The story is based on the Heimskingla (Snorre Sturlason) and The Poetic Edda.
Chapter 6, (Wednesday) The Story of Love
Freyja’s story of childhood deals peripherally with two wolves from Icelandic lore, Freki and Geri (wolf guards of Odin). Descriptions of Odin's hall are taken from the Heimskingla (Snorre Sturlason) and The Poetic Edda. The story of the Rus funeral is adapted from Ahmad ibn Fadlan's eye-witness record.
The bone girl story is from the story that has entered into popular culture, but which originated in a short five line spoken-poem given by Mary Uukalat to Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Estes retold the story as "The Skeleton Girl" using it to demonstrate lessons about love and relationships in "Women Who Run With the Wolves", 1992, Ballantine Books. The story now has been retold on many occasions (including a number of animations). I have retold the story from the perspective of the fisherman.
Chapter 7, (Thursday) The Story of Death
Freyja’s flight briefly introduces the Midgard Serpent, a wolf in the form of a dragon encircling middle earth, and the journey of the dead to the stars.
The Thief’s story is an ancient one about death. It probably predates organized religions and is adapted from a story told to Charles William Peck, an Australian school teacher, 120 (?) years ago by a storyteller from the first people.
For some time now I have been building a collection of what i think of as proto-stories (stories where i can find resonance between the saved stories of the first peoples of many places from the Yuin and Wiradjuri of my land to the Inuit, Icelanders and steppe nomads of the Northern Hemisphere).This is perhaps a futile pursuit because cultural contamination is almost instantaneous, and what is sometimes considered ancient is simply an echo of an invading people. But it would not be proper to overlook the fact that this story selects and retells a number of those stories (perhaps some that have previously been overlooked or placed in a narrow social or cultural context).
Rather than simply presenting the stories as a collection, i am treating them as non-fiction, with the chance to retell them in the context of a story. The stories themselves can be dry, often intended for leaders rather than children, so placing the stories within a novel also gives me the chance to play with them. I spent a while a couple of years ago cutting up the sagas and looking for internal patterns. One i did not expect to find was the association the sagas made between each of the great 'named' wolves and each of the days of the week. I wondered whether this was just a side theme, something for the storytellers to fill the prose with, and the listened to nod their heads at. But then i noticed the gaps and i wondered whether it was possible to reconstruct them using even older stories of the first people. Likewise, the story of Freyja is woven into so many different patterns. The fracturing of the Danelaw left many of the pieces scattered, it is hard to work out what is original and what is an embellishment. In this story, i have called her the goddess of sensuality, in whose honor we venerate Friday (Freyja’s Day). A shapeshifter, she can with ease don the form of a lover, an eagle or the other goddesses or gods. Sometimes she is thought to be the consort to Odin (as the goddess Frigg). Freyja lives in the moment, and that moment may be her as a child, a lover, a homemaker or seer. The world view here is alien to that we have today, where we tend to reject these combined attributes and instead have moved to highly artificial single-point in time images of body and self.
During the course of writing the story, many people gave me assistance along the way. As of today, about 100,000 people have read part or all of the story. I would like to firstly express my appreciation of those who have patiently waited as it has unfolded.
Some of you have gone a little further, directly or indirectly offering support and advice. In this regard I would like to thank CR Bravo for her advice and suggestions through the process as we worked on a separate collaborative project. Monique Helfrich has been a well spring of constructive thought, challenging the story in many different ways, and inviting me to reconsider my own approach to feelings and thoughts. Ann Pollak helped me untangle some of the themes, in her own beautiful prose “Unexplained visitations, a scar where there was no breach, time that cannot hold to a line, places that struggle to occupy the same space perhaps separated only by a thin membrane of time: it's a confusing world for an ordinary mortal” (i trust that one day we will be able to enjoy her own writing). This time Ann also reminded indirectly me of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam which sent me back to his original writing rather than that of inspired Edward Fitzgerald. I thank Chris Sutton for his interest and his pictures of Dawes Point which kindled renewed interest in the story of Patye and Dawes. I thank Zeljka Rakocy, who gave me strong encouragement throughout this process, madhura ravishankar who quietly encouraged from the sidelines, Michael A Koontz (one of my favorite on-line writers) for his comments (and am looking forward to his take on the saga cycle), and +Daniel Martin (a superb Australian artist) who gave support a couple of times when I needed it. As in the past Kitten KaboodleInc , Klara Moody , Laisa Gran , Flo Franc , Aure Martinez , Trudy Grossman , Charleen Stokes , Edneuza Nascimento Silva and Renee Leach gave me gentle pushes from time to time. My friend marilyn David has the knack of pointing me in the right direction, and this time you made me smile with your “Where we headin to Dearest Quinton?”
I would like to thank Shirley Caslick for her interest and support (and treasure her comparison with Dean Koontz) J. Shirley told me that she “…read forward is to get the story. Read backwards by paragraph is to understand”. Until she wrote this, I did not realize that this is how I read challenging texts as well. I appreciated your comment Lacey Reah touching on "Women Who Run With the Wolves" – I wish that more people took the time to read this important work. I have the highest regard for the insights of both Al Chris and shonie Hutter (and Shonie's wolf) and take great pleasure knowing that you are near when I am writing.
I also express my appreciation to all of those who took time to comment on the draft book or accompanying imagery during the writing process. Writing is a lonely task, your interest was greatly appreciated: norsi norsi , Peter Kofi , ahmed melhem , Al Chris , andrei caldare , Beatrice Esheru , Benedetta Di Primio , Beshoy Nabih , Buyi Sithole , chandler khorton , Cosmic Rock-N-Roll Cowboy , Dale Kearns , Damaris Akyoo , Edgar Lillane , Elias Magul , Eniola Lawrence , Farhan Molla , farnoosh taheri , Fredlyn Teague , Gary Brown , Glenda Blount , Justice the slayer , Kinnie Keet , Kwaku Stephen , le thuy van , Long Nguyễn , Loupu Sumo , Mable Msiza Msiza , Mahidi Hassen , malak ahmad , Martin himmaste , Mhmed Dorgham , MR.chalenge , Mudy Kipetu , Orxan12 Abbasov12 , Peter Ndungu , satinder kaur , steven leno , sunita Rana , talia hunt , Temitope Mary , Thokozozani Nxumalo , whatsupgirlet love , Zahra Ahmad , ابو قاسم , ايمان الشمري