It was getting very late and everyone was dispirited after the last announcement given personally by the nervous station master who had since retired to his snug office with the small but bright fire in the grate.
“Unfortunately due to the heavy snowfall there will be no trains until tomorrow mid morning by which time the line is expected to be clear enough to allow passage through.” were his words. “I’m sorry to say that, because of the weather, you will have to make the best of the accommodation we have here…” he had waved around somewhat feebly, at the confines of the simple waiting room, they were situated in. “At least there’s a fire, and plenty of logs to feed it with”, he had said.
After the station master had hurriedly left there had been some grumbling but they all agreed there was really nothing they could do. There was no hotel or guest house open for miles as it was winter, and this was a thinly populated suburb and not a skiing resort of any nature. They must make the best of it. So some tried to make rudimentary sleeping arrangements, chiefly consisting of finding a corner to prop themselves up in, or annoy their neighbours on the seating by falling on them every few minutes as they fell asleep.
A thickset man, in his 50’s, a salesman he’d said, decided to try and cheer things up, in his own oblique way it must be said, by coming out with a few stories of things that had happened to him, in his travels on the road.
One or two others became interested and reciprocated with their own tales, but after a while they seemed to be drying up, until a well-built blonde woman at the back in the darkness of the railway station’s waiting room said in a low voice to a man who may or may not have been her husband, as far as the listeners knew.
“Tell them Tommy. It might help.” she said. Her partner, who was probably in his early 60s, seemed reluctant to go forward, but eventually he moved towards the light and speaking hesitantly at first, said, “I’ve an experience to share.” He looked around at the expectant onlookers. “My sister thinks it might be good for me if I tell you my story. She calls it a story, anyway. But it won’t make the snow disappear and I don’t think it will make the train come any sooner.”
When no one laughed, he continued “Well, if you’re okay with that… my name’s Thomas Haldane, people who know me call me Tommy, and normally, I live in a fishing village called Bud. That’s in western Norway.” He had a soft lilting accent. No one here could tell if he was from Norway, Denmark or Sweden but if he said he was Norse, they believed him.
“Tonight I’m here because I’ve been visiting my sister and her family in England. I’m supposed to be travelling to London to catch a flight back home in the morning, and like you, I was expecting to be at my destination soon, instead of being stranded here. But you know, if that train takes a while, I won’t be too unhappy.”
This time no one spoke.
“Sorry”, he said.
“Well we’re glad to have your company anyway, Mr Haldane. But as for no train, well I think some of the folks here would have an issue with you.” said a voice.
“Please… not Mr Haldane. My friends call me Tommy, and as I think it’s going to be a long night perhaps, we will become friends and hopefully you’ll call me Tommy too.”
His acquaintance said with a smiling voice, “Right you are, Tommy,” so Haldane continued.
“It was October and the cold weather had arrived, but dogs need walking, as Sion says. (Sion’s my wife. She’s from Wales, not too far from here.) There were a few doubtful nods and encouraged, he continued. So as eager to fill my lungs with good fresh air, as I was to exercise our dog, I left the house on one of our usual trails. It was very cold of course. The freezing air cut into my airways, and while my eyes streamed with tears, I inhaled the smell of the spruce. It’s very good for your nasal passages they say.
Well I keep walking into the forest, cones and needles crunching underfoot and echoing between the pine trunks, the dog snuffling her way through damp brush. She’s never brought me a truffle yet, but I hold out a little hope.’ He paused for a laugh, but there was none. Difficult audience tonight, he thought to himself.
As I bent down to pass under a low hanging branch I felt my hair part and a funny thing, a low vibration thrummed above me, then a boing sound somewhere behind me, but quickly died away before I could raise my eyes to look. I may have just caught the bough with the top of my head, but I didn’t really know what had moved the, let’s say, the molecules around my head, although the dog’s golden tail was still flashing, between blades of the grey-green ahead. But you hear funny sounds when you’re out in the trees. They’re alive you know. So everything appeared, for the most part, to be still right with our little world.
In a clearing while Jana investigated holes some animal preumably dug, I kicked up the small stones, there are hundreds around there, mining or something I guess. Poking around in the gravel and grit, I found a flint arrowhead. It was beautiful. There’s the remains of a fort around there. I told the dog on the way home it must be from the Iron Age. Jana likes conversation, although she’s more of a listener than a talker. Her history isn’t great, but I like to try and keep her in the loop.
A few days passed, and a warm front pushed the cold snap away back North for a while. A few crocuses and snowdrops began to peep upwards, looking for spring sun’s gently warming rays. I knew they were early and would soon regret their crass eagerness. Oh the precociousness of youth, I suggested to Sion. But she said they’d go into stasis if the freezing weather returned, and hopefully revive one day. As unlikely as this sounded, I always believe what she says, as she’s wise beyond her years.
While Sion stayed at home planning her latest masterpiece, Jana and I took Rhodri to stay with his friend Henrik at the farm near Farstad. Rhodri’s 10 years old and getting to be a fine strong boy. He may spend his days causing mayhem amongst the meagre population we have around here, but Sion wouldn’t let him hike to Berghaugen Gård, without an escort of man and dog for company. A walk along the Valley wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t also pause for some archaeological digging at the Fort.
When I got home that night after the hike I told her “Rhodri-boy found 6! 6, mind you,”I told Sion later, “6 flints, in a small group, scattered in the shadow of a rune stone on the far side of the first ascent. He’s a devil is that boy.” I said proudly, though Sion said I must be mad allowing him to run up the scree.
“Ah… away with you, he loves playing the daredevil.” I answered. “You should have seen his face when he found these. I was standing some distance away…”
“I bet you were” she said but I continued, as it’s best not to let her get started “…and suddenly he leapt up and raised both his arms in the air in triumph, just like he’d won the Cup!”
“But instead of the Cup he brought up something far more valuable, some things that had been lying there maybe for thousands of years.“ I’d got her imagination fired now.
“I know, incredible, just look at them Sion.” I held out my hand and the stones hunched there glowering in my palm, shinier than I remembered them and creased with small runic inscriptions in quartz. She thought they were beautiful and poked them around in my hands turning them over and over with her fingers.”
“Before going to bed, as usual I made sure the dog had a few treats to keep her going overnight, so she wouldn’t disturb our sleep. Finally I checked both doors to satisfy the OCD gods, and then I mounted the stairs.
“He’ll be all right won’t he?”
“Rhodri, of course.”
“He’ll be having the whale of a time. He’s only in Farstad for God’s sake.” Feeling bad, I followed it up with a squeezed hand.
“Don’t worry” I said.
Then after another page or so of our individual books we turned out the bedside light.
The next thing I heard was Sion calling me. It sounded like her voice was coming from the front bedroom, but there were no lights on, and that in itself didn’t seem so strange because always, if we got out of bed in the night, we each take…” I hesitated here and swallowed a little but carried on “We each take care to try to not wake the other.”
‘Tom?” she called to me.
“What is it? What are you doing. Come back to bed.”
“Come here Tommy. There’s something strange happening outside. Come and see.”
Fine. She was looking at something, but expected me to get up to tell her what it was! Wonders never cease.
Sion was leaning against the window sill her nose pressed on the glass.
“See, over there.” She nodded with her head into the swirling darkness, but I couldn’t see anything.
“Sion, you’ve lost it this time. Too much imagination, that’s your problem. There’s nothing out there. I’m going back to bed.” I turned away longing again for the warmth.
As I crossed the room to the door the plain dark walls became bathed in coloured streaks and patches, like sunlight pouring through a church window.
“There!” she said in triumph. “There you are!” I turned round and crossed back to the window.
“Now will you believe me?”
“Jesus!” I breathed. It was like our own Aurora Borealis, but way more spectacular, and in the sky around our house.
Balls of pastel colour, orange and pink, pale blue and green flew around, bouncing into each other and off again, like a giant outdoor pinball game but it was soundless. We watched this heavenly fireworks display and were so fascinated. Then the colours started heading for the house like meteorites, sky rockets or missiles locked on to the house. We threw ourselves to the floor and when they hit the windows, it seemed they must break through and destroy us, but they disappeared in coloured shards on contact. As suddenly as it had begun, it was over. All the remaining spheres gathered themselves into a huge fireball and it zipped away up and over the mountain, and took all the light with it. It was as though we were blind! It took sometime for our pupils to recover and if they had, we’d no idea, because we could still see only blackness.
We waited a little in silence for the lights to return, but eventually I put my arm around Sion, and gently tugged at her, to prise her away and back to bed.
“There’ll be no more tonight. I’m sure it’s over now.”
When we awoke we started straight into talking about last night.
“What the hell was that?” I ventured as Sion slowly woke up.
“I’ve no idea, but it was so amazing. We’ll have to ask Mrs Pedersen if she saw it.” We’re lucky enough to have a lady who comes into clean for us, Tommy explained.
“Did you ever read that book “The Day of the Triffids”?” I said to Sion, looking up at the ceiling.
“John Wyndham? No, you don’t think….?”
“Don’t be silly, woman” I laughed “Can you see?”
“Of course I can.”
“So you remember, in the book, when the ones who saw the lights woke up the next day, after the lights in the sky, the ones who’d seen them were blind?”
“Oh yeah” she smiled “Well that’s a good thing anyway.”
Kate Pedersen had no idea what we were talking about, and nor was she blind.
“Lights, what lights?” she said. She and her husband were sound asleep. By implication we should have been dead to the world too.
After some cereal and a quick cup of coffee, I left Sion to Mrs Pedersen’s bantering and headed out with Jana for the morning walk. “A quick trot around the policies” I’d told her, and she grinned like only dogs can.
“Let’s leave those women to their blathering” her eyes gaily said to me “…and we’ll have a high old time.”
Although normally right 99% of the time, on this occasion she’d got it badly wrong.
On a path through the forest, a pine unexpectedly creaked, and crashed down, roughly 10 yards in front of us, across our path. A cone or a rock, I don’t know which, flew up as the trunk hit the track and must have hit Jana full in the eye. She howled and put her head down, then covered it, tore at her face, and then covered it again, until I got to her and held her paws away. Her eye lay on her cheek, a skein of blue veins and and a dull white ball with a slimy red showering of blood. She moaned and struggled to free herself, then let out a great shiver and stopped.
I knelt down anxiously and momentarily was dazzled by a long flash, like a silver sword slicing through the forest’s gloom but I had to put it aside because of Jana’s obvious distress. Perhaps she’d passed out from the pain or worse had a stroke. I grasped her front and rear paws, and lifting her off the ground by them, managed to get her behind my neck and onto my shoulders. Then I staggered back along the path, we’d walked along so blithely only a quarter of an hour ago.
We passed below Matteson’s cottage and I hauled us both up the path with silver birch tickling my face, and through the gate. I heard the steel hammer clanging rhythmically in the smithy. Surprisingly the shop was empty, but in the house or wherever he’d been, Matteson had heard the gate.
“Can I help you?” he said politely, then realising it was me with a dog over my shoulders, and not a prospective customer, he said “Oh Tommy, what’s happened?”
“She’s badly injured. Can you take me to to Thomsen’s?”
He held out his hands palms up, so as to take some of the weight I was carrying.
“Sure. But we can’t carry her there, and the car’s in the porch. Wait here, I’ll bring it round.” In all the years I’d known him, I never realised how fast he could run.
The vet managed to save my dog’s eye, although I’d have to wait to see if she’d ever see through it again. I couldn’t sit in to watch his work, but I’m sure he used just enough force and just enough care to re-seat her eyeball after some very fine stitching of damaged veins. When he called me back in, Jana was still deeply sedated and her eye was covered with diagonally strapped, thick wadding. Sion had arrived to see her and take us back home to begin the long process of care and watching, the dog would need, but Thomsen said better to leave her here overnight, so he could keep a watch over her.
Conversation on the short journey back home was sparse. I was lost in my own thoughts. I blamed myself for what had happened to Jana.
“You mustn’t blame yourself Tommy” said Sion reading my mind, as ever.
“What makes you think I was?”
“I know you. You dote on that dog. You’d do anything to save her pain and suffering, and so if anything happened to her like it has, you’re bound to blame yourself. It’s what you do.”
“Well if I hadn’t taken that path through the forest this would never have happened. I don’t know why I did. I hate the darkness and being closed in. I must have been mad. What if she loses her sight?”
“When she gets home, all we can do is look after her and get her through this, and take it from there.”
Of course Sion was right, but it didn’t stop me from pulling myself apart over Jana’s injury.
Rhodri came home a couple of days later, when Alfie and Grete Knudsen, and Henrik along for the ride, dropped him off at the end of the drive on their way to Bud Best, the local convenience store. Living on a farm Alfie could generally look after himself but he was no brewer and was partial to some porter they sell there, and a bottle of best Scotch whiskey, the Talisker’s his favourite. What better excuse did Alfie need than dropping Rhodri back home?
As soon as we’d waved the Knudsen’s off, the first thing Rhodri said was “Where’s Jana?” I held him close, and tussled with his hair, explaining what had happened to the dog, but he broke free of me, becoming distressed.
“Listen before you go in the house, there’s something else I have to tell you.”
“Oh God, what now, Dad? Is it worse? What could be worse than what you’ve already told me?” He looked genuinely distressed, but I think he was also pretty exhausted from his weekend away at Henrik’s. God know what they’d got up to. Boys, you know?” But it appeared none of the audience did. Yes sir, a real tough crowd tonight.
“Well I was upset too…” I started to tell him, but he interrupted.
”But it was my fault! If I hadn’t gone to Henrik’s this might never have happened!”
“Rhodri, it was never your fault but you have to be a strong boy for your mother. Like I was saying, I took what happened to Jana badly, but I’d no idea… I mean I couldn’t tell, how badly your Ma would take it. Just be careful how you talk to her. She flies off the handle at any old thing. I mean when you can get through to her.”
“I’m going in to see for myself.” he shouted and thumbed his rucksack strap to lift it higher where it had slipped, and ran up the steps into the house.
“Mum! Mum! I’m home! Where are you?”
I went into the living room and sat down on the chair and looked out at the larches waving gaily in the breeze. Jana lay in her basket looking into a corner of the room at nothing in particular. She hadn’t even glanced up when I’d walked in.
“Jana!” said Rhodri falling to his knees. “How’ve you been. You’ve had a terrible time, old dog. I’m home to look after you now.”
“Did you find your Mum?”
“Yeah, but she was tired. She was lying in bed, but she wasn’t asleep. She was listening, but I don’t think she heard me. I don’t think she was listening to me. It sounds mad I know but… “he giggled “No, it’s too stupid!”
“What? Go on…” I replied, but he shook his head and carried on playing with Jana.
“I think I know, what it was.”I said. He looked at me. “You think she was listening to the rune stones you found. Don’t you?”
“She had one in her hand and was kind of, stroking it and looking at the ones on the table next to her bed, like they were babies or something.”
“I know. She’s been acting strange like that since yesterday when we woke up. I can’t get any sense from her. I check her now and again to make sure she’s all right. You know, sometimes I actually think she’s talking to them!?”
The following day dawned er than it had been for a few days, and I thought I might take Jana out early before breakfast and get her moving around. She’d lain about for long enough. She needed to start using her eyes right away. I wouldn’t have her lose her sight. Not on my watch.
No point in waking Rhodri just yet, I said ‘Hello, old girl” to Jana, giving her coat a good rubbing, and then I gave her some biscuits to get her energy levels up.
I made some tea and took a cup to Sion. She murmured something and turned round to look at me. But I don’t think she was talking to me. She looked at me as though I was a stranger, which I’d become to her I guessed. I didn’t try to make a lot of noise while sloshing about in the bathroom but you can’t always help it, can you? I guess I’d have to ring the doctor, today or tomorrow. This couldn’t go on.
Still, I didn’t make enough noise to disturb Rhodri, it seemed. He must have been shattered from his few nights away.
But when I’d dressed and gone into his room I was surprised to see a bed, that had been slept in, but was now empty. He hadn’t been downstairs when I was saying hello to Jana, I was sure of that. So where could he be? He must have thrown on yesterday’s clothes and gone into his treehouse to watch the morning sun come up. I hoped to God he’d remembered not to watch it through his telescope, like we were always warning him not to.
I went outside and over to the stunted oak. Up above, the treehouse door was squeaking open and slamming shut, which normally indicated someone was in residence.
“Hey lazy bones you can’t escape me. Come on, Jana’s taking me for a walk. She wants you there too. Aren’t you coming?” I cried.
The tree creaked in acknowledgment and its remaining desiccated leaves, a skin of green, brown and gold rattled, but there was no human response.
“All right then, stand by for boarders” I warned, then stormed the ladder. But the lair was empty.
I ran down two rungs at a time and opened the sauna door expecting to be drowned in steam and to find a laughing boy, but again the room was empty.
As I turned back to the house I thought I saw a couple of figures passing between our large shed and the corner of the house. Pretty big men…. they could have been motorcyclists still wearing their helmets… maybe delivery men?
“Hey! What are you doing here? Wait!” I ran after them as fast as I could, but when I got there, there was no one. I listened for anything, a revving engine but there was just a pile of leaves, whirling in a whispering vortex, whipped up by the wind. A stray cat wandered by, tail straight up in the air, warily keeping his distance.
No one was talking today.
I turned back to the house to ask Sion if she’d seen Rhodri. I didn’t know if she’d have had her tea and be up to talking but it was about time she pulled herself together. He was home. Well maybe not right now. But I didn’t think I’d dreamt I’d seen him yesterday.
As I opened the kitchen door I heard Sion’s voice singing somewhere in the house. This was a good sign, although I didn’t understand a word of the song. Maybe it was from her childhood. Gaelic? I’m very far from being an expert. It’s as much as I can do to keep a handle on my knowledge of my own country, never mind of Wales’. Intrigued, I walked towards the bedroom to find her. As I turned into the doorway of our room, there was a stab of pain at the back of my head and that was it. Nothingness.
I wavered in limbo-land for what seemed like days, and all the time thought I could hear a child crying somewhere.
“Where are you Mum?” it moaned
“Mum, Mum, Mum where are you?” the voice cried.
Still no answer.
Eventually more of me was awake than asleep, and I started to try and get up but I couldn’t. I’d been tied up and lay on some hard surface.
“Mum? Mum!” It was a hopeless whimper now.
I called back but he didn’t stop. I wasn’t his Mum. It was okay, I understood. Everyone cries for their mother when they’re in their deepest darkest place.
I cried for his despair, but not my own. I’d get out of here and find this kid and help him.
Eventually he quietened down to a whimper, and exhausted from listening and emoting, I zoned out.
I was woken by another voice, but in my own cell, and it sounded like Alfie, asking “Where are ya? I can hear you. Why don’t you say something? Come on, tell me, who are you?”
I told him, and of course he was as shocked at me being there, as I was. We were interrupted by the sound of a lock being opened, and several men walked in. The sound of people singing and chanting somewhere blew in, until the door slammed again. Flickering light from a torch, showed me a chained up Alfie, lying on in a corner of the floor. I couldn’t see his head, but I could make out his feet and legs.
One of the men came towards me. I had a sense of deja vu when I saw them, but then I realised they weren’t motorcyclists after all, even though they had head-gear. Their helmets were dark with nose-pieces, not perspex visors, and some had broadswords at their sides which rubbed against their tunics. He grabbed me roughly, sliding me off the bed, to my feet. Alfie was dragged to his as well, and we were moved unwillingly out of the room, into cold night air.
When we got outside a thin mist of sleet washed over us, which had the effect of making me feel more alert. A smirk do you call it?” he said to our little group, but none of the assembly answered, so Haldane continued.
“With Alfie and his captors moving along somewhere behind me, I was dragged along by my elbows, lifted off the ground and moved up a forest path, lit by the occasional guttering torch toward a much bigger and er light above us, over to our left, showing several silhouetted trees. Our guards said nothing voluntarily, and when I asked where they were taking us, they responded with scornful blue-eyed stares. So far, they were acting like TV hoods, and nothing made me think they were anything other than young goons, using a historical society to live out their Viking wet dreams.
As we got closer to the increasingly er light, further up the meandering path, the dark trees got bigger and closer, but eventually they fanned out into a large open clearing, containing lots of moving, vibrant noisy people, lit up by a large fire burning and crackling, that was giving off immense waves of heat and the incandescence we’d seen when we set off. On arrival in the clearing we were tied to sturdy birch trees and then our captors melted away into the crowd. I flexed my hands on the tree trunk and felt its thin fraying skin under my fingertips, trying to enrol it into my army to help me survive.
For Alfie the past few days probably hadn’t been the gradual vortex of weirder and wackier events I’d been experiencing. He had been tipped from what passed as normality for him into a nightmare. No wonder he wasn’t taking any of this well. His eyes had glazed over and his brain had shut down. The heat from the sweltering fire wasn’t helping him string two thoughts together. Alfie was completely unaware of anything that was happening to us and I felt happy about that, at least. It was as though he’d downed a bottle of whisky in a couple of minutes like it was a draught of cold spring water, and he was now completely out of it. Determined to try and stay sane and not overthink things, I distracted myself by scanning the babbling throng for someone, anyone, that I might know, who might recognise us and get us out of this. I could smell the sweat from the crowd and feel their emotion as they became wilder by the moment. Either alcohol or drugs must be at the heart of it. I could see some strangely shaped bottles being quaffed from here and there. All in all things suggested these folk weren’t acting like they were from the present day. It’s funny how philosophical a man can be close to death, because that’s where I imagined myself heading.
At that moment there was a movement in the horde, and I realised it was slowly parting, directly ahead of us, like God splitting the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites. A blond man, taller than any I could see and carrying himself like a noble, was the impetus. He was walking beside a woman with long black hair. And this tall stranger carried a long staff (all the better for splitting the Red Sea I assumed) but he was frowning and not smiling. Perhaps all was less than well in the State, after all, in spite of the onlooker’s excitement.
It never ceases to surprise me how the human brain works. Here I was looking death full in the face, and that strange device, deja vu*, hit me like a lost chord. These two lauded folk were being protected by soldiers with his ravens Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) flying above, who then swooped low over the crowd, causing some panic, but always coming back to hover over and guard our celebrities. God knows why they needed protection, such was the crowd’s obvious love and desire for them. Perhaps their defenders were concerned that if they were sucked in, they’d be consumed in an orgy, not of fire, but of love. As it were, the hoi polloi bowed and scraped, often falling over themselves to get close, as the couple came level, and then passed them by. And all the while a chorus of singing by the crowd followed them around their parade.
Although half of me was terrified, the other half of me could do nothing but admire this display. Was I becoming a convert? However I was interrupted from watching them, by the sight of a small boy being forced along a path by a guard. They appeared as silhouettes against trees from out of the forest path Alfie and I had been steered along. As my boy came nearer, at first my heart warmed to see him, but then it chilled, when I considered their reason for bringing him here. I didn’t know why any of the three of us deserved harming by these strangers. Rhodri’s captor tied him so roughly, that my boy, Lord bless him, started punching and kicking him until the guard tired of it, and took a full hand swipe at him. The boy calmed down quickly after this. He stood with his head bowed but still scanned the crowd, warily through his floppy fringe.
As the fulcrum of the crowd’s attentions reached us, the regal twosome stopped and He put up a massive hand to quieten his followers who immediately hushed their song. He stared down through glacial eyes at us mortals.
I remembered the cold I’d experienced, walking out with Jana in the Valley, was it only days ago? It had stung my nasal passages with its rawness, but when this God or King, stared at me, I was stung to my very bones. The massive forest fire had no restorative effects on me after his gaze.
“Thomas Haldane!” he thundered.
My squeaked response “Yes?”, was lost in the reverberations of his voice.
“You have been brought here to answer for your misdemeanours. How do you plead?”
Stunned, I said nothing. What could I say? Instead the anger that I’d hidden while examining ways out of this, gave me some strength to respond.
“Plead? Your men captured me, my friend and a boy and terrified us by imprisoning us! Now they’ve dragged us to this place, where God knows what you’ll do with us, and you’re asking me how I plead? What have we done to deserve this atrocious treatment?”
“He…” the tall stranger pointed at Alfie “He’s here because he’s a friend of yours, and you two…” he nodded at my son and I “…I know, need no introductions. Both are cohorts in your gang of thieves!”
“Thieves! We’re no thieves. A 10 year old boy? This shattered old man? Tell me, tell me what we’ve stolen?” I cried. I was going to go down fighting or be damned I’d now decided.
“I came here today to regain my property,” and as much as I resented him, I had to admire his handsome face with its strong bones and high forehead and those sharp blue eyes that stared me down, as he declared himself “I am Odin, father of Thor!” and the crowd echoed his name in a growing wave of sound until, again, he held up a hand and instantly they ceased.
“I told you, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” I said.
“Don’t tell me you’re ignorant of this. It’s obvious by now you’ve sold or exchanged my property for something you consider worthy, but compared with the treasure you’ve filched from under my nose, is as worthy as the dirt under my shoe. I condemn you to everlasting agony in Niflheim. May Nidhogg gnaw your bones for eternity!” And to the armed men now standing at his side, almost as an aside, he said “Rid of us of these wastrels!”
With that they undid our bindings, and took hold of us, to steer us away, probably for the last time. Though why they didn’t murder us there and then I didn’t know.
I swallowed hard and called to Rhodri, who was terrified. “Don’t be afraid, son. They can’t harm us.” I must at least pretend to be strong for him.
Alfie had a vague smile on his face, but it was obvious he’d no more idea of what was about to happen to him, than had the tree he’d been tied to. Maybe he’d pass out before the flames got to him, for surely that would be our last resting place. I’d nothing else to hang on to now other than these vaguely reassuring platitudes.
Instead of dragging us to the fire though they took us in the opposite direction into darkness. My eyes became accustomed to the gloom as we traipsed through the long wet grass and the planets in the clear night sky suddenly seemed very . I could see shooting stars lancing the blue velvety sky, their spark shining in the eyes of nocturnal animals who’d come out to see what the noise was. The man presented with death, suddenly realises how wonderful life is, and everything he sees takes on a glorious wonder, that he took for granted, when life seemed almost never-ending, and this was exactly what was happening to me now.
We halted when suddenly the land in front of us disappeared. Perhaps this really was the end of the earth, Odin’s coup de grâce. Rhodri spoke for the first time, pointing down. “Dad, look! Down there. It’s the Fort.” I was amazed by his bravery, and his excellent eyesight. Far better than mine!
There was a great shout behind us, but it wasn’t Odin. It was a woman with a sing-song voice. Far pleasanter than the crashing roar of the God of Victory and the Dead
“Stop! Leave them be!”
“How dare you Freyja! What in Hel do you mean by this?” It was the woman who’d stood by his side.
“Odin, I forbid you to destroy the lives of three pathetic humans for your own petty revenge. I’ve got your little toys here, and you’re welcome to them. They were fun for a while, but I’d no idea these pretty little things could mean so much to someone who calls himself a God!” and she threw them towards him.
I saw Odin leap forward and appear to catch something tiny in a great hand and start to grasp on the floor for the trinkets Freyja had thrown. In spite of my utter confusion and increasingly loosening grip on reality, it suddenly hit me like a lightening bolt when I realised the possessor of the sing-song voice was someone I knew not as a mythical goddess, but as Sion, my wife. As used to the darkness as we had just become, the blinding flash that seared our eyes was far greater than we could stand. The three of us instinctively threw ourselves to the ground, thankfully away from the drop, as the earth began to tremble.
Rhodri and Alfie kept their heads down. But desperately needing to know what was happening, I glimpsed through open fingers as the fire exploded into a massive explosive conflagration. Trees were ripped up whirling away into the darkness mixed up with a revolving disappearing stream of the folks who’d been partying and lauding Thor and Freyja only a few minutes ago. Flaming boughs turned over and over on their beam to soar into the sky. Thor and his ravens, then Freyja followed, amid the final glowing coals, leaving us standing alone in an empty, echoing and scarred field, the sky at first light.
Rhodri stood up, then helped Alfie to his feet.
“Are you okay, son?” I asked Rhodri.
“Think so Dad. My eyes are aching badly but I’ll be all right. Alfie’s not so good.”
The old guy, white hair stood on end, was rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands and peering at us both as though we were strangers.
“What the hell?” was all he could mouth.
He twisted his head this way and that trying to get some light into his eyes.
“Jesus, I can hardly see…”
“But what happened? Do you remember coming here?”
“Just give me a minute… I remember leaving Grete to fill up the van at the pumps, while I went into the toilet. Then these two big guys came in, and attacked me. Then they hustled me out of the back door… I was thrown across a horse, yeah, a goddam horse and then, well I must have passed out…” he shook his head.
“Next thing I remember was this, just now, waking up in this field to see you and Rhodri.” Then “Where’s Grete?”
Hopefully Grete was just missing Alfie but was perfectly safe, and not far away. That was a long shot too.
But as for Sion, I’d given up on her. Where was she now? Who was she?
I guessed the rune stones Rhodri had taken must have played some part in awaking a curious Freyja. She’d seen us on the mountain, watched Rhodri find the stones, and tracked us down and took over Sion’s body. Maybe she wasn’t strong enough to resist. Now Odin had demanded the return of his runes, Freyja had gone in a fit of pique, little caring how she’d ruined our lives. Sion would now either be a husk, devoid of any life-force or could she possibly have regained her humanity? I shook my head in total confusion at all these machinations and connections with what I’d always assumed to be mythological worlds, and never having any impact on ours.
Then standing between my companions I put my arms round them both, and set a course for where I thought home must be. If we could find our way back down into the Valley, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the way home.
Some hours later when we crawled back to Bud, and the village was buzzing away in its usual manner, cars and trucks on the roads. It was as though nothing happened unless it was in Bud. There was no connection between this normality and the supernatural goings on we’d seen and which had nearly destroyed us.
Greta had left a message on Alfie’s phone, asking where the hell he was, and how dare he leave her alone at the bloody convenience store, for God’s sake. She thought he was on one of his benders with me somewhere.
But of Sion there was no trace.
In our room everything was as I’d left it. It wasn’t as if Freyja had called in and emptied Sion’s wardrobes. But I decided to leave the room as it had been, on the day she’d gone away, and I moved into the spare room. That was almost 3 years ago, and we’ve had no reason to open the room up since. She’s not come back. At least not yet.
“Well thanks for listening.” Tommy said nervously “I think my sister was right. It’s been good to tell you my story and get it off my chest. It doesn’t help me forget how our life’s changed, but, I still have my boy. There’s still something to go back home for.”
Tommy went and sat down with his sister, amid a hubbub of conversation about his tale.