Chapter Seven – Secrets of Runes
Mist had told me it would get easier once I gained basic control of my wings but like many things in my new life it was easier said than done. That first training session that liberated my wings from my subconscious was what felt like the toughest challenge I’ve ever had to do. And that’s saying a lot when you think about the hoops Freya makes you jump through to join her ranks at an unwinged level. Yet I thought wrong.
After six independent stretches from each feathered limb Mist persuaded me a bit deeper into the shiver-creeping sea lapping the beach. She had me stood in it up to my waist and I had to stretch my arms up and at the same time stretch both my wings out.
“It’s a bit harder than patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.” She teased, perching on a rock nearby.
“Like before just try doing it slowly so you feel when each set of muscles are beginning to tense and twist.”
“Ahuh.” I grunted trying to remain upright as each wave attempted to push my stomach out of the way.
“Don’t look so disappointed. You’ll get to fly eventually, we’re not as gifted as young birds born with the knowledge of how. We have to learn how to fly like you learn how to walk, by crawling first.” She gave me a smile of encouragement. “Now, first lift your arms to shoulder height and then focus on your wings.”
I practiced and repeated each set of simple actions until I was doing them confidently enough to string them together, one step after another. After an hour or so I could managed to perform the exercise twenty times before my muscles began to complain.
“Well done, you’re making good progress. Now fall into the water, let it cool your back.”
I did so a bit too enthusiastically at the opportunity to rest and found my face under the murky water. When I came up Mist was joining me off the rocks.
“Come hold on to here; let the waves wash off the seaweed scrub.”
I strode towards her, accidentally flaring my wings out with my arms as I battled the waves I was crossing.
“You’ve got to learn to be wary of what your wings are doing in all your movements. Maintain the control long enough and it will become instinct. Just because you’ve mastered a few moves doesn’t mean you won’t fall head first over them.” She laughed at me.
I stopped, independently lowered my wings to my back and tried to walk through the waves keeping my arms by my sides as much as possible. It wasn’t elegant but it was the simplest course of action to take and it worked. When I had reached her side I stuck my tongue out at her.
She laughed again. “You always were too eager to jump the next hurdle.”
“What’s that meant to mean?” The waves started to push up against my back but I’d misjudged how hard they would push my front up against the rough rocks. The chill tickled between each of my feathers as it crept up my wings.
“It means dear student you have the unfortunate habit of believing that once you’ve mastered one challenge you can master everything else. Remember when you first learned how to use the rune Is?”
“Yeah.” I admitted, it was the first runic charm I had learnt to conjure and control.
“You were so proud with what you had achieved; you pestered me into showing you Ken, which is a stronger and more difficult rune. You nearly burnt your hair off with its flame because you underestimated its strength in comparison with Is.”
My hand was in my hair needlessly as I recalled those tender days of my new life with these new and very different people.
“You did learn to master it, eventually, but only after further time spent studying it and other runes in comparison. You must take the same approach with your new wings because if you make a mistake once you’re up in the air – well, only years of experience teaches you how to pull up after a fall.” I sensed a deep gentle wisdom in her gaze compared to the threat contained in Freya’s. “Take time to understand what you are learning and not the simple actions of how.”
I just nodded no words to defend myself against the truth which she spoke. After a few more minutes in silence amongst the beating waves and sea breeze she led me back onto the beach and scrubbed off the remnants of the seaweed scrub.
“Now for some fun, run up and down the beach flapping your wings slowly and gently, just to dry them of sea water. I don’t want to see both of your feet off the ground. Just do as I do.” She then began jogging out in front of me and held her arms out like the wings of an aeroplane and lifted them up and down at a relaxed pace.
I followed her after watching her movements thinking it was easy but as usual I misjudged things. I managed to flap my wings and my arms in similar movements but I only got complete synchronicity a few times, most of the run they were completely out of sync. But to be honest I wasn’t really trying that hard to be perfect as it turned out to be more fun than I thought. Well it was more liberating, feeling the ground racing by beneath my feet and the wind rushing between my damp feathers and the force of air being pushed away from me. I couldn’t not laugh with delight at this new sensation, the closest thing I’ve felt to flying so far. I began to run faster and flap my wings faster, screaming with laughter like a little girl discovering the joy of running free. I was a short distance from the rocks and began a long curve to go back the way I came, a silly grin on my face as I nearly collapsed at Mist’s feet.
The rest of the afternoon was spent resting and doing shoulder rolls occasionally but Mist further confirmed I was going well with these early exercises. Whilst she cooked a fish soup for tea she gave me a leather bound book to read. It contained her writing on various Bindrunes, the more advanced level of rune casting, where several individual runes were marked together. The various combinations surprised me as there were some elements that I didn’t think would work together, kind of like mixing fire and ice.
“Each rune could be described as having two faces,” Mist explained when I voiced my puzzlement. “A positive face and negative face depending on how you cast the rune of course. Take Daeg for example,” she drew it in the sand with her fingers, its shape that of an N with another line running across its inside diagonally from bottom left to top right. “It aids with insight when the caster is in a situation where deceit may exist but if cast deliberately incorrectly it will do the opposite, create misleading visions for those within its influence. This, if you are in need of a quick Houdini style escape may ultimately be beneficial. But utilising this negative side has great risk for it could backfire and lead to your downfall in various ways.” She drew another rune in the sand beside Daeg which was the classic diamond shape. “But if you use Daeg opposite with Ing in a positive position, then it balances out and Ing will aid the success of the faulty vision so it doesn’t impair your own.” She smoothed the sand of her runic drawing and returned to stirring the cooking soup pot. “Bindrunes are tricky to create because of these complex meanings. Many young Valkyries have suffered injury and humiliation for making such a casting and failing to see that one feature of a rune actually leads to the failure of the entire casting. It’s a lot like creating a pyramid of cards, you must select and use the right ones that will not only support but compliment the rest for your desired result. Pick the wrong one and the whole stack will unravel and cause chaos.”
The serious nature of combining runes dawned on me slowly but even then I still had deeper thoughts of what runes I could combine to create certain ends. I rested the book by my side as I was handed a bowl of steaming fish flesh amongst muscles and thin strips of seaweed. We ate in silence as the tide began to creep towards us and the sun was beginning to glimpse the edge of the horizon.
“Will we have to move the tent further up when the sea comes in?” I asked realising that this cove probably floods at night.
“No, Aegir has sworn to give us our space.”
“Wow, that’s nice of him.”
“It is, he is the hardest of the Aesir to bargain with.”
“What was promised to him for such an oath? Freya’s not going to sleep with him is he?”
Mist bellowed a big laugh, nearly making a mess of her soup. “No, no, it has been many years since Freya offered her body as part of any bargain. I believe Freya promised to claim the souls of a few whale trawlers up in the arctic.”
“Oh, I’m surprised he cares.”
“The Aesir aren’t as hard and cruel as they appear to be. Each has their favourite creature and whales are Aegir’s just like Odin loves his wolves, Freya has her cats and Thor has his goats. They all work hard to protect their favourites from the harshness of man.”
“What’s your favourite animal?”
“Owls, in particular the Little Owl.”
“Any particular reason?”
“The Little Owl was the first owl I saw. How about you?”
I thought for a short while, trying to sort through my memories which always seemed to become a foggy swirl when searching for the answer to a personal question. It was as if the afterlife coated any remnants of my former life in some kind of goo forever blurring out faces, muffling voices and making names always fade just out of my mental reach. “I think I liked dolphins when I was alive.” I lied boldly plucking the first animal that came to my mind when I glimpsed out to sea in the struggle for the truth.
“And you don’t now?” She asked curious.
“I just ... don’t feel much of a connection to this to have much of an interest, even in my favourite animal.”
“I can understand that. The world changes to us all once we are outside it.”
With nothing more really to add a morbid feeling filled my gut as I admitted to myself unknowingly that this land didn’t feel like home anymore. That my twenty odd years here really was a part of me that was as distant as Denmark is to the coastline I sat on. I knew it existed out there but the sea of time and change was an unbridgeable void between my old life and my new afterlife.
It was dark outside when I heard the owl hoot. I thought it was merely an echo from my dreams so rolled over but then that was disproved by the distant howl of a wolf. I lay there, straining to hear any other random calls of the wild, trying hard not to rustle my wing feathers the slightest. For a brief time there was no other sound and I was ready to return to sleep when there was a noise of wind beneath wings. I could hear two voices speaking quietly, one was female and so had to be Mist but the other was deeper and older and male. I climbed out of my bed, keeping my wings in their closed position and crawled towards the door of my tent which was tied shut. Prizing the flap open slightly near the ground and peeped out into the darkness.
My suspicions were correct for there were two figures including Mist sat around the bright embers of the open hearth. Yet the other figure was not of a man but of a large bird that was so black I only glimpsed it by the beak and eye shining in the dim light. It was from this creature that the deeper voice was coming from even though the beak never moved. Both were speaking in the old language, a very old form of Norwegian although many scholars that have since joined our mass in Asgard have tried to determine its true origins and they still can’t confirm anything.
I let the flap close slowly once more and quickly thought of which runes to cast to let me eavesdrop on this secret night time meeting. I cast out Ansur to amplify and translate their conversation in my ears and Peorth at the same time to hide my runic magic as Mist would certainly detect the small power I used. It worked perfectly but was very disorientating at first because the sound that attacked my ears wasn’t their voices but the load roar of the sea as it swept up at the rocks and cliffs outside the cove. I fought not to groan out loud for it was a truly deafening cacophony in my head but as the runic magic began to settle into my immediate area the pair of voices were depicted clear to my ears.
“I’m surprised these new wings ruffle Freya so much.” The deep male voice commented rather critically.
“Anything that even attempts to rival her beauty ruffles hear feathers, Father, you should know this by now. Remember how she sought the Brisingamen necklace?”
“Yes, yes, the dwarves are constantly reminding me about it each time I bargain with them.” The voice muttered abrupt and irritated.
“They are nowhere near her eagle markings though, just a tint of gold and browns along the edges, that is all. The rest is white.”
“It is intriguing though is it not? After all, out of the eight of you with white feathers this one should arise with colour.”
“I agree, the pattern does make me curious, even Jennifer asked about it and Freya simply told her it was due to the mixed blessings of both Sun and Moon. I think it’s the fact that she is a soul. We were all converted instantly upon our deaths. Jennifer has been a spirit for ten years already.”
“Hummmm, that is the more reasonable theory. Did the girl believe what Freya told her?”
“Yes I think so although she hasn’t really questioned or pondered the immense transformation she has gone through or the powers that enabled it to happen.”
“That is good, the less questions she asks the better. What are Freya’s plans for her?”
“Teach her to fly and then set her to protecting the twins.”
“Who’s protecting them whilst she is training?”
“Geirölul at present but I think they are taking it in turns.”
“Has the boy spotted them yet?”
“No, but I can’t say anymore for certain as I’m no longer part of that operation. But I think they will remain unobserved a lot better than Jennifer.” It sounded like Mist was smirking and my stomach was already as tense as a tectonic plate with the way they were talking about me.
“Indeed, hopefully the boy will merely dismiss her sighting as another bizarre feature of his blindness.”
“You can’t blame her; she was only doing her duty against a Werewolf. It was that incident that got her introduced to them.”
“Did you know she was the one that was even sent to collect their grandfather from hospital that same night?”
“Would I lie, Mist?”
“No, of course not, Father, but, it’s just so...”
“It’s another worrying coincidence that links the trio together. I don’t like the way your Mother is weaving these events at all.”
“She never weaves any fates deliberately, only what occurs due to a set of decisions, you know this, so don’t start blaming her.”
The male voice grunted loudly. “Have you sensed any future from her as you’ve taught her?”
“I tried but it’s like searching for the bottom of a dirty pool. Her future is as blank as paper because her past is so faded still.”
“Your apprentice is as full of riddles as Mimir was when he got drunk. Freya was wise in entwining her so close to her ranks. A soul so full of unknowns as this one has the capacity to become a liability.”
“It is strange how she struggles to recall her mortal life. Because she remembers little we know even less about her. All we know is that she died in the Poole area, October 2001. We don’t know how or where, she was a wandering soul.”
“Hummmm, wandering suggests traumatic death and it must have been to impact her memories ten years on. That does not bode well at all. I fear she may be more trouble than we think and the way events are forming I’m afraid I might be right.”
“As of yet, Father, I have sensed no threat or darkness within her. As she works closer with us, I and the other Valkyries will be able to watch and guide her. Mother always said hindsight is only given when the knot is tied in the thread, whilst the needle still works nothing is certain.”
“Innocent until proven guilty in plainer speak.”
There was a pause and I could hear the crumbling heat of the embers.
“Have you found Katherine yet?” Mist asked, her voice sounding nervous.
“No, whoever has her is using every trick in the book to mislead our search and keep her hidden.”
“Have you spoken to Hel?”
“Yes, many times and each time she denies any involvement. She says her warriors haven’t claimed any holy being since the tsunami. Loki is still keeping company with my python so I am still unsure as to who might be keeping her body.”
“That’s presuming she’s dead.”
“It’s the better outcome because if and it is a rare chance, that she is somehow alive but captured, she will be tortured by gods knows what and that will corrupt her spirit so badly it would be a mercy for her to have faded to oblivion.”
Another uncomfortable silence allowing the sea to fill it with its presence. I heard a crunch as a log was thrown onto the embers.
“Have you asked the Vanir for help?”
“No, not yet, I may do if we have no evidence of her soon. However even if that occurs I am sure I can find plenty of answers whilst on the Great Hunt.”
“Ah yes, is it that time of year already?”
“Not yet, but nearly. Sleippnir is already getting restless.”
“I know, he rode to Mother’s recently. She fed him and was allowed to stroke his mane.”
“So that’s why the little stallion looked so pleased with himself. I will have to visit your Mother again and try and persuade her to not make my best mount fat with her treats.” The old voice chuckled, a sound warm with hints of affection.
“She would like that.” Mist replied hopeful.
“Maybe I shall, once this mess is sorted out.”
“Father?” Mist asked cautiously.
“If we do find Katherine, will she be able to return to us?”
Fire began to crackle and crack the log as the man in the guise of a raven thought. “I cannot say. But if we have not found her by the start of the Great Hunt then I fear the powers that have her may be too strong and corrupt her soul to much to face our light again. The Great Hunt season doesn’t just make my powers peak and allow me upon Midgard. It’s the reason why we hunt the shadows of the midnight moon.”
“It will be a pity to lose her.”
“I know it will be, but if your Mother had not woven the fate she has now than the twins would still be protected and you wouldn’t have a juvenile with wings in you ranks.” He added a bit harshly.
“You can’t keep blaming everything on Mother, Father. She hates the position she’s in.”
The man gave a weary sigh. “I know, I have drunk from the well of Mimir and even have his head still speaking prophecies in a jar and to top that I even hold a Norn’s heart but I still can’t change anything despite knowing nearly everything.”
“What will be, will be, que sera, sera.” Mist began to chuckle to herself.
“What does that mean?” The man demanded roughly but only causing Mist to laugh louder.
She muffled her voice quickly realising she was getting louder and managed to calm herself. “It’s just something a mortal told me once a long time ago. I didn’t know at first but Mother explained it well, you’ll have to ask her.”
“You make it sound like she is wiser than me.”
“No, Father, there is just a difference between knowing everything and being wise about everything.”
“Ugh riddles!” He complained.
Mist began to chuckle again.
“You even laugh like her.”
Mist instantly became silent.
“I will let you get back to your rest, daughter.” The last word was spoken slowly with care.
“Thank you, it was nice of you to visit.”
“Just making sure you are safe, I don’t want another shield maiden of mine missing.”
“It is kind of you to care.”
“I am the All-Father, am I not? I care for all under my rule as if they were my own family.” Pride and prestige stiffened his voice into a false imitation of a king.
“It is a great honour to be protected as such.”
“With you, daughter, the honour is mine. Compared to our dearly adopted Freya, you thankfully have more sense than her vanity. Return to Asgard as soon as you can so I can keep a closer eye on you.”
“I will do when things are in place, Father. But you’re always watching me so do not worry.”
“That may be but when you are home there is less of a distance to cover. Keep on guard, my daughter.”
There was a rustle of feathers, a deep throated squawk and a whoosh of air.
“Goodnight, Father. Keep the ravens flying.” Mist sighed, poured sea water onto the fire, watched the embers hiss and sizzle before walking slowly into her own tent by the fire.
I quickly scrubbed out my runes and made it silently to bed. Lying there in the dark I surprised myself by not feeling shock at such a conversation involving me and Kate, instead I felt pity for Mist. I know understood why Freya termed offspring of the Aesir ‘bastards’ not because they were simply out of the wedlock between Frigg and Odin but because she herself was in command of one of them. One of her own Valkyries was a bastard child, the culmination of Odin having an affair with a Norn, Skuld, I believe from the reference to weaving people’s future fates. It will explain why Mist is so gifted at runic magic compared to her shield maiden sisters and perhaps even her name as the Norns are thought to have born out of the mists of the Gunningagap, otherwise known as Oblivion, the Great Void from which all divine life originated. It led me on to wonder if Mist became a Valkyrie out of choice? Talent? Or maybe Odin asked Freya to do it as a favour? Did Mist really ever want to be a Valkyrie? Did she want to live with her mother, Skuld, instead and learn to weave the fates of all living things? Although having thought that she would be waiting until the time of Ragnarok, which hopefully is many an eon away yet. Did Frigg know about Mist’s blood ties? Did she approve or disapprove? Or was Frigg always more concerned with her own offspring such as Chloe and Nathan? Which actually was the more frowned upon affair as mixing divine blood and mortal blood always lead to trouble, just look at the all the chaos caused by Hercules as the earliest example not to mention the most famous one ever known in human history, Jesus.
All these questions I wanted answers to just kept evolving into more and more complex conspiracies and theories until I eventually thought myself back to sleep not considering the uncertainty the following day would bring and the disregard I had treated my own involvement in Odin’s night time conversation.