Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Soul Chaser - Grand Reveal of Chapter 8 - Dreams and Stories

It's taken me more than 6 months to complete and even then this chapter deviated a lot from my original chapter plan but it has all been the better good as I hope it reveals even more about my main character and helps establish a firmer connection with the reader, it has done with me anyway, most of the secrets revealed in this chapter came about as quite a natural occuring suprise. And it creates a great build up to the excitement and runic magic planned for Chapter 9! Remember though that this is still a rought draft and may well complain  plenty of spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes that I apologise in advance for but I just love to share the world of SC when it's straight from my finger tips like this. So please do have a scan through and let me know what you think - or better yet go to through chapters 1-5 via links above to emerse yourself truly into the world of gods, souls and legends that is ........

Chapter 8: Dreams and Stories

Water splashed and sloshed against the sides of the boat, almost creating a natural series of beats as the oars sliced into the surface of the sea. Each stroke was firm and gentle, strong and sure, but at a steady pace which suited the warmth on our backs and the gentle breeze tickling our naked arms. My hands gripped the sides not out of fear, but for the need to hold onto something, as the hands I wanted to hold were manning the oars. I looked up into the eyes of the man rowing us smoothly amongst the bigger and more expensive boats and ships docked that day. I sensed no ill intentions from his returning gaze, just the glow of happiness, the pulsating love he had for me, but something lingered behind it all, a small worry perhaps? I looked elsewhere, wondering who the people were who owned the rich yachts, what the rooms inside were like, whether there was caviar and champagne in the fridge. I noticed a vortex of seagulls swirling directly above our heads, their loud, mind piercing calls heralding the summer’s mid-day sunshine.
            “Are you hungry?” The man asked making me turn my focus again.
I didn’t answer because I wasn’t sure. I didn’t feel hungry but then again I didn’t feel not hungry. I was afraid it might be sea-sickness which would spoil the day for us both. In the end I just shrugged.
            “Mum made you an extra set of sandwiches in case we got hungry on the way out. You’ve got marmite and cheese or chicken salad?”
I knew the first option was my favourite but the fact that he offered me the other showed they were still trying to get me to eat healthier.
            “Well I might have one of the chicken salad; this rowing has built up my appetite.” He put the oars at rest and knelt over the large food chiller container that sat between us.
            As he unzipped the box open I felt a shadow swoop over us, I looked up and the seagulls were scattering across the vast blue sky, shrieking louder than before. I couldn’t detect anything wrong; I wasn’t even sure what predator if any the seagulls had in the sky. I could still glimpse the harbor side crammed with people out enjoying the day. It is out of that moving mass that one black thing emerged, gliding smoothly over the boats and swooping across the dappled sparkling sea. I watched, curious and fascinated as to what it could be. It grew as it shrunk the distance between us, its identity revealed as a bird as black as Whitby jet. It let out a call as harsh as rocks being crushed to dust in a grinding machine. Just the eeriness of its call made me grip the boat tighter. I tried to call to my companion, my curiosity transforming to fear. I looked down into our humble boat and neither he nor our chilled picnic box was there. Disappeared. Vanished. I was on my own and facing a terror that was so intense it had taken away my voice. My eyes were now bewitched with the incoming threatening black bird that now landed onto the vacant bench before me. It stood tall, twitching its head from side to side, showing one red eye and then one black eye. It fluttered its wings and opened its beak, I cringed expecting the horrid noise from before but my fear became shock as a croaking voice uttered. “Reignlief!” I lost control of my senses and felt myself fall into the bottom of the boat. The bird’s aged voice repeating that one word over and over again before the blackness that had consumed my vision finally blocked up my ears.
*** *** ***
            Typical. Bloody typical. The Norn’s must be having hysterics when weaving my thread, to let my mind become so absorbed by a nightmare, that taunted me with memories I could not name in my heart. Those were my thoughts when for the first time in five years I lay in my bed, shivering with cold panic and tears blurring my vision. I gulped hard to control my weeping eyes and wrapped the blankets tighter against my body only to make myself jump at the unfamiliar sight of my wings mimicking my arms. I wrapped my front in my large white feathers. It was a very strange night I was having but then I laughed at myself without care when I remembered all the other strange nights I experienced previously. No, that night wasn’t strange, it was new, full of new lessons, new limbs, new challenges and the fear that comes with each snippet of memory my soul discovers.
            I rubbed my eyes, shook my head a little and sat up slowly allowing my wings to recoil back behind my shoulders. For a moment I sat there focusing on their presence, it felt like I had a large, warm, friendly goose strapped to me. After another moment of relaxing in the security of their connection to me, I relit the candle on the table with a small flash of the rune Ken (^) and rummaged in the bottom of my trunk. Amongst the heavy shadows of clothing I came across, with some relief, the small ash wood engraved box containing parchment, quill and ink and a few pieces of my Valkyrie jewelry such as my silver torque bracelet. Bringing it up onto the table I caught myself marveling in a rather silly manner at the scenes the flickering candle light depicted before me.
            Each side of the box had a scene from famous Norse legends and sagas. The one on the front with a silver clasp in the middle depicted Sigurd the Blacksmith, slaying the dragon Fafnir, the left side had Grettir the Strong being hurt by a wicked enchantment from a log that washed up at his secret hideout. On the right end was four figures holding what appeared to be a giant platter until you see beneath it is a small marking of a tree with a couple on its left and a cow and dog on its right. That was Yggdrasil at the birth of the world with the four Giant Dwarves, their names that of the four winds, holding up the sky so tree, man and animal could live. The rear side of the box though was particularly special, a scene very few of those who live outside the Norse Pantheon know about.
Engraved is a paradisiacal landscape with great plants and wondrous creatures, and under a pavilion in the centre are sat two women, one clearly older than the other due to the length of her dress but each holds a bird at her feet. The older and more regal holds what looks like a hawk or eagle, the younger and sterner of the pair is holding what could be first perceived as a goose but when examining the flair of its wings is clearly a swan. This secret scene depicts the untold legend of how Frigg and Freya recognized each other upon the Peace Treaty and Alliance with the Vanir. Frigg gave Freya the gift of a royal Eagle; Freya in turn granted her new Mistress the grace and beauty of the Swan. All Valkyries in training are granted magical swan feather cloaks in honour of that exchange yet only ever will Freya be allowed to adorn the wings of an eagle.
That box, like so many special items I’ve been given or earned during my handful of years with these gods and their shield maidens, always had some saga, tale or legend attached. Its own life story of how it came into being, how it came to be owned by whom and all that happened after. Such as Freya’s Brisingamen necklace, to be wrought of gold so fine that it glowed as bright as the sun even in a dark room. It was crafted by four dwarf brothers when they discovered a boulder sized lump of gold that had no impurities found in the much smaller lumps in their mineral mine. Only the Aesir Gods and some of the oldest Viking Einherjar remember the part of the saga where the four brothers had to slay a Wyrm King who slaughtered their family in pursuit of their discovery. No, everyone remembers the more exciting and even naughtier part of that necklace’s tale, how Freya sold her beauty and body in order to gain it.
It’s this eternal link to someone’s past, someone’s life, someone’s memories and experiences that I quickly appreciated as I learned that my own past life was missing from my soul. When I learnt that truth I felt cheated by some cruel force by not just ending what life I had young but withholding what life I did have. I was like a faulty toy on the production line, somehow, before, during or after my demise Death in whatever form it was, released my soul incorrectly, almost leaving a remnant of me behind in my physical body. A bit of me that may seem unimportant now I’m forging a new life but without the past I don’t truly know who I am or who I was. I know things about me unconsciously like what foods, music, and clothes I like and what things I don’t like but I have no real reason why. I have no truth or experience behind even the smallest of my decisions.  
Martha compared my amnesia of the past life to those mortals who suddenly and quite randomly forget everything in a form of amnesia known as retrograde amnesia. They have to remake entire lives and relationships with those who knew the old them. Some of them never did revert back to their old ways and recall their old memories. Some never could rebuild those relationships that could be closest to them. Things had changed too much. They were too different. The major difference in my situation is I have no one to tell me I didn’t use to like marmalade or I used to be head over heels in love with some celebrity. I’m a blank page in the middle of a book with no story behind me and the story of my future yet to be written.
It was that great void in the centre of my being that drew me to gorge upon any and all legends and sagas I came across or heard a member of the Einherjar discussing and this ultimately led me to befriend my first Aesir God. Bragi, God of Poetry and Skalds. The father of narratives true and fictional, long or short, famous or folklore. He was the ancient story teller and he wrote special sagas for every single one of Odin’s Einherjar. There wasn’t a Norse epic or legend he didn’t know and he even knew ones set before the time of Ask and Embla.
During those first few weeks of my internal struggle to accept the truth Bragi was the only other Aesir to approach me without making me nervous or feel unworthy. He helped me gain a taste of what normal was like.
Bragi first introduced himself when he came across me, alone, by the side of a natural spring in the great woodlands surrounding the central citadel of Asgard’s old quarter. I was still yet without a role during those first weeks as Kate consulted as much as she could with the Norn’s, Freya and Frigg regarding my unusual memory condition.
I knew Bragi was one of them, one of Odin’s family, by the way he dressed in the traditional greens of a national park ranger yet he had a ruggedness about him that made me think traveler of some type. He wore a moss green wool jumper with a long waistcoat of various green patterned and tartan fabrics. His trousers were patterned like army camouflage and I remember raising an eyebrow at the modern hiking boots he wore. I tried not to look too much at him. I didn’t want his company or attention. I just wanted to be alone and away from others so I didn’t feel so out of place.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?” He called across to me, not taking any further steps once we were aware of each other.
I observed his face, his delightful smirk, the sparkle in his oak brown eyes and his shoulder length hair the colour of golden sand.
“Should I?” I replied uncertain and nervous. I wasn’t yet sure what would happen to my already faulty soul if I did, by accident or purpose, anger a God.
“Depends on how much you like a good story.” He began walking casually towards me. “There are those that can only go to sleep if I weave them a tale to slumber by. There are some who shed not a single tear in regret, pain or grief yet when I describe two lovers kept apart they weep like I have broken their hearts.” He flung his leather satchel upon the grass and knelt down. “And there are some that have been around as long as I have and can’t stand my arrogant voice anymore.” He held out his hand. “I’m Bragi, the story man.”
How can you not smile when such a character walks up to you?  I took his hand in a limp handshake and gave him a fragile smile.
“I’m Jennifer but I prefer it if you call me Jenny.”
“Well, Jenny, why are you enjoying the woodlands by yourself? Where are your friends?”
“They’re all busy.”
Bragi gazed down at me, his smile fading a touch. “When did you arrive in Asgard?”
“Only a week or so ago.”
“Have you not been assigned to a Hall yet?” Bragi enquired regarding the various Halls of resident Gods. Souls could seek employment to them be it Freya’s as a Valkyrie, Frigg’s as a Maid or even Idunn’s orchard as a Gardner tending to her Golden Apple trees. That is of course if you were a woman, men had the choice of Odin’s Hall, Valhall and become Squires to his Einherjar, live with Thor and you could become master blacksmiths or even become Watchers under Heimdall who will teach the many ways and signs of tracking both supernatural and natural foes. The third alternative was becoming a local in a sense and resuming a version of mortal life in the many district quarters and set up a shop or tavern to cater for other locals.
“They, I mean I, don’t quite know my talents yet. I haven’t decided.”
“Well why not base your new role on what profession you had in your past life?”
I stared away into the blades of grass and randomly picked a daisy to fiddle with. “I don’t know what it was.”
“Ah, I see, a little memory loss is normal with the conversion from death, you’ll remember in time and then you’ll know which Hall to choose.” He explained the problem as if it was a very minor setback. “Did you visit any nice woodland like this when you were alive?”
“I’m not sure.” I kept my eyes fixated on the daisy; its white petals glowed in the shafts of sunshine coming through the trees canopy.
“Ok then, did you leave any family behind in your past life? Parents already passed on or still alive?”
“I don’t think so…my memory is still fuzzy.”
“What can you remember from the time before?” That was the first time I detected a hint of concern in his voice but the shame of my condition still wouldn’t let me meet his eyes.
I could only give him an honest answer as what little truth I knew was all I had. “I know my name is Jennifer Wallace. I don’t remember what my life before was like. I don’t remember why or how I died. I remember Kate finding me and bringing me here. That is all I know of my life before, this.”
“Do you even know where you died?”
“No. I remember no names of people, nor names of places.”
“Hummm.” He turned around and delved into his bag, dragging pieces of paper out in a rush. “I think I might be able to help. Will you let me try?”
I let my eyes connect with his then, at the hope of learning all the truth about me, although I didn’t stop to wonder why Kate hadn’t introduced me to Bragi earlier if he was a possible cure in some way.
“Sure, I have nothing to lose if it doesn’t work.” I joked feebly. “What do we need to do?”
“Firstly I need you to write your full name on this bit of parchment and then coil it around this quill you will use to write it with.”
“Erm, don’t we need a pot of ink or something?” I was a bit confused.
“Oh, no, no, this quill is enchanted, as it writes it produces its own ink and never runs out. Perfect for when I’m collecting stories you see.”
“Ok.” I laid out the parchment across my leg and tried to write as clearly and as neatly as possible, although it did come out more like scribble than I’d hoped. I then wrapped the quill as he’d asked.
“Good now I want you to hold it at the feather tip end and I will take hold of the quill bit. We need to use both hands so just put it between them. That’s it. Hold it gently so you don’t bend the feathers just keep in contact with it.”
“Now what do we do?”
He shuffled around a bit to sit cross legged in front of me. “Now, I need you to close your eyes and focus in your mind on your own name. Imagine it up as words before you and keep repeating it over and over again inside. Keep concentrating on it until I tell you to stop, ok?”
I nodded once and closed my eyes. The shafts of sunlight passing over me as the soft breeze stirred the trees, turned my inner vision into a kaleidoscope of glittering gold and shimmering purple shades against a background of ruby red. I focused and imagined as Bragi instructed and I felt my breath become slow, my muscles ease and my mind less tense with the simple task of repetition. I could hear the fragile dappling sound of the spring gurgling up from the earth. The breeze rippling through the leaves in the towering trees made me think of the sea’s waves rushing against a stone and sand beach.
The vision inside was broken when Bragi’s voice reawakened my senses.
“Well, you certainly are unique.”
“Can I open my eyes?”
“Yes and you can let go of the quill and parchment too.”
The sunlight dazzled me for a tiny portion of time. I noticed Bragi turning the parchment piece over and over again, his quill stuck rather casually amongst the grass blades into the soil. I wondered if this enchanted quill would clean itself of dirt too.
“Well? Did it work?”
“Depends on what you mean. If you meant did I get to read your soul then yes. If you meant did I learn anything about you and your past, no, not really. Although…”
“Although what?”
“A connection was made. Your soul did leave its mark. See?” He handed the parchment back and where my name should have been written was now a small square written with the same ink. It was a blank square. Just four lines, a box.
“What does it mean?”
“That is actually a rune. Its name is Wyrd and is linked with Fate, the Unknown. It’s a rare and peculiar rune in that it has no defined mark and so it is often just symbolized as a blank square. Its meaning is always dependant on the person who has drawn it and the context it was drawn. I’m not as adept at runes as most of the other Aesir but I would advise in your case that this rune represents your transition from your old life into this. It perhaps suggests that whatever life you had before is not as important or as crucial as you might think, at least not yet. Wyrd’s symbol without a square is unending and thus has no beginning. In relation to you it means that your true purpose, not just in your life in Asgard, but your presence in the very universe, regardless of which realm and in what state, living or dead, is yet to be determined but it does not mean you will be without purpose forever. Certain events, choices or actions may yet have to be performed before you become aware of your true purpose and only then will your past and present become complete and help you follow your future destiny.” He took the paper gently away from me and stuck it back in his satchel along with this quill. “But, as I said, if you want a more precise rune reading you had best seek Freya or even Odin for that. They are the true masters at interpreting the signs.” He added with a smile which denied his bashful claim. “In simpler words, the presence of Wyrd represents you rather well at the moment, as a blank page. A story yet to be told or read. And you know what I always say about stories I don’t know yet?”
“If there’s a story I don’t know, it’s either because it’s not worth knowing or, because the story is of such epic proportions that when it is enacted it leaves such a mark on the universe that its fame will echo through the ages, it won’t require me telling it by a million firesides.” He took my hand and held it in a caring manner. “So who knows what kind of story you will be part of, so do not despair just yet of your memory loss, it might be a key part of your life’s narrative.”
“Do you think I’ll ever remember what I’ve forgotten?”
“I sincerely hope you do Jenny, if only because you are now a great curiosity to me. And I mean that in a good way.”
“Thanks, I think.” I stared back into the pool of spring water as a dragon fly whizzed across it.
“Now, I’m pretty sure I know of a story that will make you smile, at least it will make you giggle.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yes, most certainly because you will be the only person in the whole of Asgard who won’t know any of the stories I hold in my head. Would you like to know why Loki has no testicles?”
I chuckled which made his smirk bloom into a grin.
“Would it surprise you then to know how he lost them in an amazing feat of making the Giantess Skaldi laugh?”
And that was the beginning of my often daily story telling sessions with Bragi whose skill as a Skald for stories old and new numbed my loss and made me feel a bit more connected to the new world I found myself in. It was his idea a few months later that I keep a journal of any flashes of possible memories such as visions of places, faces, voices, scents or sounds.
So I recorded what I could remember of my newest nightmare vision into my journal. Its pages were well used due to the many evenings I’d felt lonely or sad and flicked through it in the hope reading the same notes over and over again will unlock the blackness in my head. That night though, just like the fresh feeling of shivers when I awoke from the nightmare, when I wrote the word,
as I presumed it was spelt, I could hear the echo of the raven’s harsh voice and recall the gentle smile of the man in the boat. It made me hold my breath just glancing over that word, a word I have no idea what its meaning is and what its purpose was in the nightmare, nor why a raven spoke it to me. I felt nervous at the strange and vague familarness of it. I was afraid because I did not know if it was some confused part of my lost life, contained in that one word, or perhaps the nightmare was something worse. Not a vision of my past, but of a possible link to the future, some yet unexplained peculiar side effect of being blessed with wings and having shared the blood of nine Elder Valkyries and Freya herself.  
            Not wanting to unnerve myself any further I quickly folded the parchment back into its well worn position and placed it right at the bottom of my chest of possessions, where my finger tips alighted upon something soft, warm and throbbed with familiarity. I pulled it out from the mass of shadows that was the contents and cradled it in my hands, I smiled. Even in the flickering light of the candle I could make out the runic letters representing J and W entwined in a similar fashion to Bindrunes, in gold and copper toned threads on the suede pouch.
            “Hello fella’s”, I whispered to no one but myself and brought the pouch of runes up to my heart. I felt a light tingle spread out from my chest and down both arms and wings to the tips of my fingers and feathers. “I know I’ve forgotten you lately haven’t I? A lot’s changed, I’m sure you’d understand.”
            “Is anyone at home?” Mist called through the tent entrance flaps.
            “Yes, I’m awake if that’s what you mean.”
            She strode in looking none the worse for her early hours visitor last night and to prevent myself looking even the slightest bit guilty I hurriedly packed my belongings away. But Mist stopped me before adding my pouch of runes.  
            “Keep them with you, their powers are needed today.”
            “Why, what’s the plan?”
            “I believe your soul has recovered enough from your transformation to begin the Scry of Seidr. It is a powerful ritual which will guide you, with the support your own runes, to identify the Seidr word locked deep within you. Knowing your Seidr word and understanding its meaning to you, will allow you to summon and dismiss your new wings at will. This will make it a lot easier for me to begin teaching you how to fly.”
            “Fly! I’m finally going to learn how to fly!” I shrieked in rushed excitement.
            “Hush Jennifer, not quite yet but soon, you must first complete the Scry of Seidr first if we are going to take your training to that level.” She held open the entrance flap, allowing the lazy dawn sunshine to light up the tent. “But first we must get you well fed; you will need all your energy and focus for this challenge.”
            “Great, what’s for breakfast?”
            “Eggs, bacon and beans.”
            “You didn’t steal them all did you?” I added with slight suspicion, remembering the chicken from yesterday.
            “Eggs yes, but I couldn’t steal bacon straight off a pig’s back now could I?” Mist laughed, guiding me out to face another new day on the north-east coast.

Follow my blog if you ever wish to gain even the slightest clue about the future of our young Valkyrie as she learns not just to master her wings but learns more about herself, and those around her, in ways she has yet to imagine - in Soul Chaser - to be continued....  

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