Schedule? What Schedule? Also, Vikings!
February 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
Oh Gods, grant me the Ocarina of Time so that I can get all my work done.
In more realistic news, I’m moving quickly today. I have lots of work to do and less and less hours to do it in, so I’m posting this quite early. Well, earlier than I normally do it so you can have something to do on your lunch break.
Also, so that I can finish my short story for the Toronto Star short story contest! The story is due before midnight Sunday, so if you’re interested THEN GET WRITING. I’m done mine, but the editing will devour basically all the time. All. The. Time.
So while I do that, have more story! I’ll update the .pdf in the next few days, quite literally when I get the time.
“So Arngeir here, Arngeir gets smacked right in the chest by this big fellow. Knocks him right on his arse and nearly split him in two right there!”
“Yes you did, no point in hiding it now.”
“No, y’damn idiot, the big guy’s name was Knut.”
“Oh right, yeah, so Knut then rips off his helmet and starts screaming something. Couldn’t hear nothing, what with the wind and the boats crashing each other into sticks, but-”
“Wait, not Knut, weren’t it Ulfied? Jarl Svipdagr’s man?”
“Nah, it was Knut, Jarl Gunnarr’s boy.”
“But he weren’t at that battle! We were fighting at Stenhus, between Svipdagr and Ásfarð. Gunnar was over in Angleland at that point.”
“Look here, Arngeir, it’s always a joy to call you simple, so you’re wrong. It were between Gunnarr and Óleifr, over the black-haired girl, and it were at Ebeltoft.”
“You calling me simple? Simple? I’m Arngeir the Sharp, son of Ráðormr the Half-Faced, and it was me that took off Jarl Svipdagr’s head at Stenhus, you piece of talking dung, so watch who you’re calling “simple.”
“Well if you ain’t simple, then that makes me a liar. You calling me a liar? Are you calling Sævarr, Jarl Óleifr’s last loyal man, a liar?”
“One of us is calling the other something they don’t like, and I don’t like none of that!”
“I don’t know what you said, you son of a half-arsed donkey, but I’ll kill you for it!”
Patrick leaned back as Arngeir (huge and tall, red-bearded and scarred) and Sævarr (huge and short, black-bearded and scarred, but practically identical), stood up and started wrestling each other. The men were the size of small horses and threw each other about with lusty abandon. Tables crashed as they were knocked over, spilling mead and meat onto other einherjar’s laps. The ghost warriors cheered as Sævarr got his arm around Arngeir’s neck, but Arngeir just lifted him off the ground and dunked Sævarr in the stew cauldron.
Hai whispered in Patrick’s ear. “I wonder why they don’t just ask Gunnarr or Knut who it was. They’re sitting right over there!”
Patrick shook his head. “Because then Sævarr wouldn’t have as good a story to tell. You can’t let facts get in the way of a good story, especially when you’re bragging about it to someone who wasn’t there.”
“But now they’re fighting and neither of them is telling a story.” Hai neatly dodged a flying table leg. The einherjar cheered as Arngeir was thoroughly sacked.
“True, but something tells me these men like a bit of fighting. Well, a lot of fighting, really. See? Now everyone’s having fun, and we get a bit of a show. Win-win.”
Hai frowned in confusion and Patrick lingered a second too long over the angel’s pretty face. He took a sip of mead to distract himself, but had to admit that she looked fetching in chain-mail and winged helmet. It was a necessary deceit, once they had entered the hall and all eyes were on the new-comers. Only warriors were allowed in Valhalla, the legendary paradise of the old Norse religion, so Patrick and Hai had to look the part.
For Hai, it was easy. She just had to switch her robes for armour and a helmet and she was the spitting image of a Valkyrie. Patrick had to quickly imagine himself in what he assumed was traditional Viking garb. He quickly realized that he was the only person in the room wearing a horned helmet, but the others thought it made him special. That, and the fact he was the first new-comer in a long time (or what felt like a long time to the gathered souls), meant he and Hai were allowed up on the head table. Arngeir and Sævarr, who despite the current violence between them professed to being the greatest of friends, introduced themselves and starting everyone telling their greatest tales of valour, violence, and occasionally sexual prowess.
It was clear that everyone had heard all of them before and was in no particular hurry to hear them again, but it was also clear that if Arngeir and Sævarr wanted to do something, they would. The others appreciated the violence this engendered, at least.
Patrick took this chance to ask Hai the most pressing question on his mind.
“So you never completely answered why Valhalla is in Heaven.”
“Not this again? Forbidden from answering?”
“I have some ideas, but everything breaks down at some point. See, I can understand something about the power of the belief of millions of Vikings making it real, but I would think that, y’know,” Patrick pointed to the ceiling, “G-man would have something to say about that. I mean, belief can only go so far, right?”
“Oh you’re no fun.” Patrick sipped his mead. A thought occurred to him and he pointed to the man in the bearskin, obviously some sort of priest. “Maybe I should ask him?”
Hai gripped his shoulder, her face pale. “Maybe we shouldn’t tell them anything? Hmmm?”
“Why not Hai? What do you think would happen?” Patrick asked, innocently.
“The gates of Heaven would be destroyed and all would be lost in the Last Battle.”
The voice belonged to a cloaked man who sat down in the seat vacated by Arngeir. He gently rubbed the crumbs off the stool, took off his pointed hat and leaned his staff against the table. Patrick took him in, but aside from an enormous white beard and the fact he was missing an eye, he was in no way familiar. He was very old, at the age where wisdom and experience just radiated off of him, and he wore a knowing smirk that was obviously calculated to piss off the receiver.
Maybe it was the mead, or maybe it was the unquestioning respect of the other einherjar, but Patrick was feeling frisky. He took the smirk that the old man sent him and returned his own. It wasn’t bad, all things considered, but he hadn’t had thousands of years to perfect it.
“Oh really? And what makes you the authority on that? You’re the first person in this place that’s admitted Heaven even exists, so what does that make you? Another angel? Maybe, a saint this time? Come on, who’re you?”
Hai, seated on the other side of the man, shook her head in terror. Her eyes were bugged out so far from her skull that she looked like a winged chihuahua. Patrick turned his smirk on her and once he noticed her pure, unadulterated fear, he realized that he may have just committed an error. Not knowing what, he was instantly filled with regret and another familiar feeling.
There is a particular moment in a conversation when someone, someone who has been passionately and obnoxiously arguing a point for the past few minutes, realizes that their stance is completely, irrevocably, entirely, and the very worst, obviously, wrong. This is, in its way, a brilliant moment. If the timing is done correctly, the face on the realizer opens up like a flower and light begins to shine through their eyes. Enlightenment, after a fashion. The depth of their error is realized and the backpedaling can begin.
With varying degrees of success, of course.
Patrick went the route of humour. He affected a high-pitched laugh that even to him sounded like a cackle.
“Hah ha! I mean, because this is obviously Heaven, and we’re surrounded by angels and saints, so clearly you’re one of them, right? I mean, you’ve kind of got to be if you’re up here, and considering that “saint” just refers to someone who’s in God’s presence, which I guess would mean all of us, you’d be one of them too…”
His voice trailed off as the old man sat there, holding Patrick’s eyes with his own. Few humans realize how powerful sitting in silence can be. The speaker thinks they have something to prove, while the listener can think “God, what an idiot” to his heart’s content, while himself not being an idiot. Silence is a tool not often used by the human tool-user.
“I am no saint, nor am I an angel.” The old man said. His voice was rough and heavy, but wispy, like a heavy smoke that even though it weighed on the world was still weak enough to be blown away by the wind. “I am what I am, and that is not for you to know. But perhaps you might recognize me by my name. I have been called the All-Father.”
Patrick blinked. It did not register.
“Really?” The old man’s eyebrow rose and a note of humour entered his voice. “Have I been gone that long? Alright, perhaps you know me as the Delight of Frigg?”
“The Spearman? The Father of Magical Songs? The Wise One? The Wanderer? The Yeller? The Lord of the Hanged?”
The man chuckled. “Not even “Horse-hair moustache?”
“Not even that.”
“That’s a pity. It was my favourite. The descriptive names were always the best. They would call me “Long Beard” or “Broad Hat” sometimes, as though I was the only one who could ever have a long beard or a broad hat. Although I am very proud of my hat, I can assure you that it is not the broadest of all possible hats. Nor is my beard particularly impressive, at least by our standards,” his eyes took in Patrick’s hairless chin, “and yet they always knew exactly who they were talking about. Perhaps what I am gives certain power to your assumptions of me. Men could have long beards and it would mean little, but when I had a long beard it would shake the foundations of the world. Strange, that, don’t you think?”
Patrick found this whole conversation strange. “Yes.” It was the truth.
“For now, you may call me Óski, and I shall call you Patrick.”
“But I never told you my name!” Patrick realized that he was far, far out of his league, but he took the lessons of Babe Ruth to heart: you don’t become the best hitter in the league without also being the worst hitter. Or something like that. Regardless: swing, baby, swing.
“I know. I know everything about you, Patrick, son of Flanagan. I also have need of you.”
“Have…need of me?”
“Yes. You have been chosen to be our saviour in this time of trial.”
“Wait, trial? Saviour? And who chose me?”
The Long Beard smiled. “I did.”
Óski stood and banged his staff on the table. Although it was a weak sound that could hardly be heard over the fighting, it slithered its way into the ears of all present. Little fingers of sound crawled in the ears of the einherjar and turned them towards Óski. Even Arngeir and Sævarr stopped fighting. Arngeir had Sævarr in a headlock, so Sævarr got a few elbows in before he realized that his attention was needed elsewhere.
Silence hung heavy over the room and fear filled Patrick’s heart. One by one, the einherjar went on their knees, as each man and woman hung their head in obeisance. Awe filled the eyes of the warriors, awe that verged on fear. These men and women beheld something that went deeper than appreciation or respect. In the old man standing before them, they saw majesty, power, and terror. From his craggy eyebrows to his mud-stained leggings, from his lined face to his wrinkled hands, they held it all in reverence. It was a love and fear that Patrick, one who had grown in a time when religion had turned from spirit to sideshow, could barely understand.
What he did understand, however, was the a single word that fell from their lips like blood.
It was whispered, so if it came from one voice it would have been lost in the wind. Blow away like it had never been there. But it came from many, from many mouths well-used to speaking it. The word gathered together like snow and the sound hung in the air like starlight. Men moved through the sound, and swords, and the sight of blood on snow. It drew itself into a great tree, from which hung a noose and a raven’s cry. It tore itself from the silence like a bloody eye ripped from a face and rolled down into the darkness. It stilled the room from roof to cellar, and not even the fire dared crackle.
Patrick chugged his mead until Hai knocked the goblet from his hands.
“My men, my women, my doughty children all, I bid you welcome. Too long have I been wandering, too far have I been from this home. I bring doom from afar, doom both great and terrible.”
The bear-skinned man, Auðbjörn, stood and spoke for the spell-bound einherjar.
“Does this mean, Lord Óðinn, that the Fate of the Gods has come? Is it the time of swords and the bloody dawn?”
“Garmr has not yet stirred in his cave, Lucky Bear, that doom has not yet come to pass.” The einherjar let out a collected sigh, both of relief and of regret. “But I have need of heroes yet.”
He put his hand on Patrick’s shoulder. “This one, your brother, Patrick, was no great warrior in life. Never did he drink of the blood of his enemies, nor did he crush the bones of his foe-men. He was as soft as the monks of the Christ-god and as weak as a new-born calf. Milk flowed where in men does blood, and even his seed was wanting.”
Patrick felt thousands of viking eyes turn on him. He tried to slink down into his seat, but as it was a stool, he almost fell off the back. Hai urgently whispered in his ear.
“Patrick! He’s talking about you!”
He put his head in his hands and knocked off his helmet. “Thank you, Hai. I realized he was once he started talking about how I didn’t crush any bones or had wanting seed. What does that even mean?”
“It means you were weak and sterile.”
“Oh. Well that does explain a lot, actually.”
Óðinn continued, heedless of Hai and Patrick’s whispering. “And yet the world still has need of him. He is no einherjar who shall strive for the future of Man, but he shall have need of you. He bears a burden on his shoulder almost as great as yours, and should he fail, then a darkness shall fall across Midgard, greater than any night. Should that be so, then our battle will be lost ere it is even begun.”
The Vikings recoiled in horror. They bashed their weapons on the tables, shouting and screaming, as they reacted to Óðinn’s news. Auðbjörn stood and placed his shaking hands on the table. The enherjar fell quiet, but not silent. Murmurs ran through the warriors, dark and fearful, which in turn made Patrick’s stomach flip. If the greatest warriors the vikings had ever known were afraid, then his animal brain was gently suggesting that he scream and freak out right about now.
But his human brain was firing on all cylinders. He liked to think about things, and he was thinking now. Óski, rather, Óðinn, or whatever, said he had need of Patrick, and before had suggested that the fate of Heaven was at stake.
That was, in his books, bad.
Yet he also said that he needed einherjar to help him. Having the best of the best of ancient Viking warriors who had spent the last thousand-or-so years constantly fighting the best of the best, on his side was only a good thing.
But that also meant that Óðinn probably thought he needed their protection. That was bad.
While his brain was busy digging itself into holes of logic, Óðinn leaned against his staff, appearing as if weary. He asked the breathless einherjar, “He and the valkyrja shall have need of protection. I require a body guard, one who shall treat Patrick as flesh-of-his-flesh, blood-of-his-blood. Who’s sword shall never tire nor who’s shield shall never break. Who shall not fear the bite of cold, nor the breath of fire. Hunger shall be your bed-mate, and hardship your armour. Who shall stand, then, for this man of suet? Who shall protect this man of milk and fat, and upon who’s shoulders lies the future of Midgard?”
Every single man and woman in the hall leapt to their feet and shouted their names. They screamed their accomplishments as each tried to outdo the other, every warrior eager, almost desperate, forÓðinn’s attention. Two crows that had been perched in the rafters cawed furiously, their voices small in the cacophony.
There were, however, no men more eager than Arngeir and Sævarr. Sævarr actually climbed on top of Arngeir’s shoulders to get higher than the crowd, but Arngeir objected to his friend’s elevation and waved with one hand while trying to tear off Sævarr with the other. The two bumped into a pillar and knocked loose a torch. Sævarr reached for it and beat Arngeir about the back, setting the man’s shirt on fire The smoke and sparks bothered the ravens, who, squawking and screeching, fluttered around the men and furiously pecked at any exposed skin. They looked like a totem pole in a civil war.
Sævarr clung on with only his legs as he flailed at man and bird alike, while screaming, “Choose me, Óðinn! Sævarr, Jarl Óleifr’s last loyal man, shall defend this milk-blood with every breath in his body!”
“Bugger that!” Arngeir roared, his burning shirt as red as his hair. “Arngeir the Sharp will slay any who threaten the weak one! His sword Gunnlogi will shine bright his path!”
Óðinn slammed his staff on the ground. “Be silent!” The noise silenced the din as suddenly as if he’d doused a campfire with the ocean. Sævarr clung to the burning Arngeir, both as still as statues even as the ravens pecked furiously at them. Óðinn nodded his approval.
“What a mighty pair we have, and such foolish fearlessness unexpected. Indeed, Arngeir, son of Ráðormr, and Sævarr, son of Barði, have you the strength to see this duty through? It shall take all of you and more before it is over. You may be consigned to Hel, even should you succeed.”
Arngeir smacked his chest in pride. “Hel holds no fear for me. I am einherjar! Even in death, I do not fear…uh, more death!”
Sævarr executed an awkward salute while still managing to hold off the ravens and get a good whack in on Arngeir. “I was loyal unto death, and now I can be loyal beyond death! No-one could be more loyal than I!” He suddenly looked troubled. “Unless they live a second time…”
“They’re as dumb as bricks.” Patrick whispered to Hai.
“Trust me that if Óðinn wants to do what I think he wants to do, dumb as bricks might still be too smart.”
“Tell me Hai, what is he exactly?”
“I’d say “Um” but I honestly don’t know.” She looked troubled by that, and Patrick wondered just what she did and did not know about what was going on. Maybe she was as lost as he was, and twice as scared because she knew a bit about what they were getting into. It’s far easier to gamble when you don’t know what the stakes are, at least until an angry loan-shark applies one directly to your chest. “Valhalla was part of the Plan, but Odin wasn’t supposed to be…Óðinn. There was supposed to be a döppelganger, but I should be able to tell if it is!”
“Oh yes, you’re mortal. Whoops! I forget sometimes.” Patrick opened his mouth to question how an angel could forget anything, but Hai carried right along. “When there are certain populations of souls that don’t understand the teachings of God quite as well as others but who still deserve at least a taste of the Eternal Reward, they often get shunted into these side-heavens. Sure, it’s not supposed to be “real”, but it keeps them happy and lets us get along with the Plan. The döppelgangers just pretend to be some of the heathen gods to keep the peace, which keeps these folks happy, and that works for everyone.”
“So you’d lead these souls on? Isn’t that lying to them?”
“I don’t know!” Hai wailed. “We usually do it without needing to actually lie to them! I mean, no angel grabbed the first einherjar, pumped his arm and said, “Welcome, welcome! Welcome to Valhalla! I’m the god Odin!” It just sort of…happened that way!”
“And this Óðinn isn’t playing by the rules, I take it?”
“No! I don’t even know what he is! And if the Thrones get word of this…” Hai actually shuddered and Patrick barely resisted the urge to put his arm around her shoulders. Maybe try and sneak in a kiss? The armour plate she wore covered any attempts at brushing a boob, but Patrick could be a patient man.
He shook his head. What the hell was that thought?
Hai continued. “He’s not acting according to the Plan. The Thrones are very particular about acting according to the Plan, and if word of this gets out, then they might “restore” the Plan. Energetically.”
“Hai, I don’t like how you phrased both “Plan” and “restore.” That sounds suspiciously like someone saying a crashing plane is experiencing “difficulties”.”
“In this case, there would be less crashing and more banishing to Hell.”
Patrick nodded soberly. “And I assume we’re smack in the middle of this?”
“It is decided!” Óðinn shouted. “Arngeir, Sævarr, I shall bound you to my service. Until the day of Ragnarök, and beyond, I bid you guard this man, protect him as you would your children, and without delay or hesitation heed any order he gives you. Obey me in this, and you will be at my right hand when the Fate of the Gods is at hand. Disobey me in this, fail me, and you shall be nailed to Yggdrasil where my ravens shall pluck out your eyes and the Múspellsmegir shall know you for the oath-breakers you are.” He took a knife from the table and slit open his hand with it. He tossed the blade to the towering idiots, who hastily slit their hands open and raised their bloody palms to the god.
“It is so.” Óðinn smashed his staff into the floor and a flash of light blinded all present. A second later, Patrick felt himself falling through the air.
“Oh, for the love of G-” was all he was able to get out before crashing into a branch. It bent under his weight but the thick boughs held. Unlike falling to the ground in Elysium, however, there was significant pain associated with this collision. Patrick was pleased and disappointed that he could still feel pain of this degree. Groaning, Patrick rolled over and nearly peed himself. Again.
He was lying on a tree-branch as thick around as an elephant and attached to a tree broader around than most skyscrapers. He, in fact, could not see the edges of the truck from where he lay. What he could see, was that the ground was so far away that the tops of the clouds seemed small.
Hai flew up and landed beside him.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.” Patrick remarked while his brain struggled with the impossible dimensions before him.
“Kansas? What’s that? And what’s a “Toto”? Have I ever been there before?”
Patrick didn’t bother answering. He just noticed how much that cloud over there looked like a man on an eight-legged horse, riding as hard as he could towards them.
It was practically life-like.