Gna's house as Mary Arden

By Linda Demissy

Part 1: Thirty and Three

 

I stood across the street, pulling my silvery fur coat tighter against the chilly snowfall. Frost formed at the moist corners of my eyes, making me blink. No wind, or barely any; just cold snow crunching under my boots as I shifted to the other foot.

A six year old boy, whose brown hair matched my braid, peeked over the street level window sill. Eyes wide he looked out, breath forming frost on the glass. The year was 1570.

“I must go.” I whispered as I glanced at the row of white capped roofs.

“Mary!” he wailed, as he wrestled with frozen hinges to open the window wider. “Are you there?” He was scanning the street to the left.

I stepped to the right, stopped, and looked back, wishing he wouldn’t wake the household. I’d expressed my love to the boy, along with my thinly veiled goodbyes, as I put him to bed last night.

I should go and spare myself pain, but perhaps I deserved it. Battling my better judgment, I crossed back to his side of the street. Each step felt like lead as I went, wondering how my first born son had become my judge.

“Mary!” he exclaimed as he caught sight of me, his fair face brightening with the rays of dawn. He knew I didn’t like being called ‘Mother’, and it was simpler that no one knew my true name. “I was scared you were gone. Why are you sad?”

I chuckled through the start of tears – young ones are so perceptive. “I am sad,” I said after a deep breath, “because I must go. ”

“But you’ll come back, won’t you?”

“No William, I will not.”

He stared a few moments in stunned silence, the house so quiet with John and the baby still asleep, and shivered in his pale woolen chemise.

“I don’t understand,” he said, and his lower lip quivered. “Have I been bad? Why won’t you come back?” His small hand tried to reach me as he wrenched the window half open with his shoulder.

I came closer, grasping both hands with one of mine, ruffling his hair with the other. “There are rules, child, rules even I can’t disobey.”

“But Mother, you always say ‘Not all rules are good to follow’.”

Glancing down, I choked out the words I so often spoke: “Don’t call me Mother. Call me Mary.”  I couldn’t meet his eyes as I softly confessed: “Especially not now, since I’m proving myself unworthy of the name.” My hands dropped as I turned away, yet his whimpering held me to the spot more tightly than his little hands ever could.

Looking up at the sky, a snowflake hit my eye, and I managed not to blink. I wanted to extend its ephemeral life, stretch it out as long as I could. Even so, but a breath later it was only water among my tears. William was like that snowflake to me, infinitely beautiful, complex, and brief.

“It’s true,” I said as the street became blurry, “Not all rules are good to follow, yet one must weigh the consequences and price to pay. This is one rule I sadly cannot break, for I agreed to it before I came.” His soft sobs easily broke though my resolve, and I soon found my moist face pressed against his. In a whisper I spoke: “I told you one day I would leave.”

“What did I do wrong, Mary?” he said, moving back so we could see each other’s eyes. “I promise I’ll be better and won’t call you Mother ever again! Please stay a little longer.”

“Nothing, my beloved child, you did nothing wrong, and you are the best son I could ever wish for. But my queen calls and I must answer,” I said softly as a tear finally escaped my eyes. “Thirty years and three I was granted as gift, enough time to be born, be loved, to love, and bring forth a child: All the things denied me in my other life.”

Gasping he asked: “You’re going serve Queen Elizabeth in London?”

I pressed my lips to avoid laughing, then said: “No William, the one I serve is queen of a faraway land.”

“Can’t you stay till Christmas?” he begged, “It’s only a week away and I made a gift. You can’t go before I give it!”

I shook my head. “I cannot stay a week or even a day. I have to go right now.” I glanced at the position of the sun and gulped in worry.

“Wait,” he interrupted with a panicked shout, “I’ll get it for you, it’s a…”

Suddenly my eyes widened and my arms went limp. Somewhere, the last grain of sand had fallen to the bottom of my hourglass. Gods no, I thought, not now! Not here in front of him. I need just a few more minutes! My prayers went unanswered – I was all out of time.

My heart broke at leaving my child. Worse, it literally broke and I fell to my knees, a going tremor through my body as they hit the ground, cries of “Mama, Mama!” fading in my ears. The pain! It was like nothing I’d ever felt, exploding in my chest like a thousand swords, shredding me. I gasped, feeling my breathing and realizing the comforting beat of my heart was there no longer. No, I thought again, I can’t die here! I was supposed to die in the woods, out of my son’s sight. Stupid, selfish woman! In trying to grant comfort, I’d given him front row seats to his mother’s death. I would have screamed if I could, more for betraying him than for the soul wrenching agony, but all was darkening as I faded.

  ≡

Between each breath, a snippet of memory shot through me, as the world flickered in and out:

Suddenly I’m back in Frigga’s council room, reliving my past, with twelve and one distinctively carved seats around the long table. Sitting alone beside the Queen, my face lays flat upon the wooden table in utter defeat.

Frigga sighs, I see worry and concern creasing her brow. “You are no use to me like this, Gná. Go. Go to Midgard, live a life without the burden of godhood. You have my leave for thirty and three years, to be human and work through your pain,” she says softly.

  ≡

Another breath, the snow oddly warm on my knees, then a flash, a later moment snatched from time:

I see a whirlpool of light over the pregnant belly I am choosing for my escape to Midgard –  running away as I always do, a part of me comments. The blissful wet, floating darkness; the light, first breath; being small, so cold, and held warm in Mother’s arms. Being named Mary, Mary Arden, a good name for one soaring high[1]; feeling welcomed, having a home, deep joy, a house I can stay in as long as I want… as long as I am allowed.

 ≡

The ground, the snow, it seems closer now. I’m falling, no control of my body; another breath and another memory:

I’m seventeen, looking down at the marriage contract on the wooden dining table. I sign by drawing a running horse, then smile up to my chosen, savoring the scandal of an aristocrat like myself marrying a low-born man. John smiles back as I hand him the quill, so handsome in the new clothes I gave him – a black doublet with white ruffles at the wrists – then signs by inscribing the symbol of two compasses[2]. We kiss, though we shouldn’t yet. His beard tickles, my family scowls, and I don’t care.

  ≡

I hear a thump as my face hits the ground, another ragged breath as the body fails me, and another part of my past emerges:

The joy of my first born child; holding Joan, so tiny and frail in my arms; naming her after the famous French heretic, hoping she too will hear the spirits. So much love fills me I feel I could burst. John is away, my older sister holds my hand. I wish he were here so I could say “See your beautiful daughter!” I can’t help wondering if it’s selfish, having a child I will not fully raise, knowing I will soon die.

Then I’m at Joan’s grave, wailing, pounding the ground, soaked to the bone by rain, cursing the plague that took her as grief shatters my mind.

A moment passes and for a moment I’m again in the birth room above the parlor, pushing, screaming as William is born.

Summers and winters flash before my eyes, and I find myself running in our garden on a warm day. We’re playing ‘catch me if you can,’ five year old William giggling as he tags me. An easy victory, since I’m so full with child, but I laugh and hug the little devil anyway. His outfit is the blue of the flax we grow, save for the mud spots, and I call him “My little flower.” Then he rubs my belly, cocks his head and asks: “What will you call the baby?”

“If it’s a girl I’ll call her Joan,” I answer, silently adding: and may she live longer than the first.

 ≡

My left cheek is cold, wet, denting the snow. My eyes unblinking are hazing over and I wish I could cry. One great sob escapes, and then even my breathing stops as nothingness embraces me. I don’t want to…

  ≡

Suddenly I found myself standing, Mary Arden’s corpse cooling at my feet. That body’s child was kneeling before it, barefoot in the snow, clutching her clothing and sobbing as I stared with growing detachment. I was once more myself, wearing my blue diamond quilted gambeson[3] coat and riding breeches. Over them the tabard showed Frigga’s crest of sky blue and cloud white, held in place by a belt. The child could not see me of course, not unless I used my powers, and I knew no good would come of haunting the boy. Tugging my blonde braid to the front, I wondered: Was I using you little one, just to experience being a mother? Was I using your father? Did I bring only misery by living what life I could?

With a sigh I turned to see Hoof-Tosser, my trusty grey steed, awaiting me.

“I’ve missed you,” he said simply inside my head. “It was a long vacation.”

“I missed you too, beloved. I don’t want to be human again, not for a long while. It hurts too much.”

“That’s probably for the best,” he agreed with a nod.

Laying a hand on his smooth shoulder, I looked back to my human son’s agony. His cries were muted by the Veil – it hid spirits like myself completely from mortals, but also dimmed our senses while in Midgard. “Here I am, running away from responsibilities again,” I sighed. “Was my passage through life more a curse than a blessing to those I loved?” I mused with a grimace.

The horse didn’t even glance back, just snuffling a sigh: “Does one ever come without the other? This departure was pre-ordained; it can’t be helped. ”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, head hanging down as my stomach weighed heavily with guilt, before he started moving forward. “Let’s go home, Gná.”

“I can never have a home. You know that,” I objected.

He just craned his head back, and with a sad eye upon me said: “For a little while, let us pretend we can.”

I nodded, and with tight lips, stared at the swish of his tail as I followed him toward the forest. Eventually we would ride through the skies back to Asgard. For now though, he wisely gave me space to grieve by walking alone. I wasn’t yet in any mood to fly.

Suddenly I remembered what day this was, stopped, and looked down at my boots as I said in a soft voice: “Happy birthday to me…”

 


 

 

Footnote: At the start of writing I knew I had to find a famous writer of the 1500’s as Gna’s son, and got the names Mary and John. I searched in vain for this John, daughter of Mary, but then found a Mary Arden, married to a John. That she signed documents by drawing a running horse and he with glover’s compasses are historical fact I discovered during research. Now if you’re curious, go look at who Mary Arden was, and what her son William was famous for. Or not. I was personally astonished by the horse signature. I don’t know how much is true, I just write the stories I get as best I can.

 


 

[1]Ard’ means “high” in Gaelic. Arden is said to be derived from English place names meaning “eagle valley,” or from ancient Greek “to lift up high.” The Prose Edda says “from Gna’s name comes the custom of saying that something gnaefir [looms] when it rises up high.”

[2] He was a leather glove maker. Glover’s compasses were used in measuring. This drafting tool is the kind of compass we’re talking about, as found in geometry kits or as a Freemason symbol.

[3] A gambeson is a padded jacket made with up to 30 layers of cloth quilted together, usually linen canvas, used as armor or worn underneath metal armor. Stitching every two inches or so creates the gambeson’s characteristic grid or diamond shaped pattern. It may have full, half or no sleeves, be tied at the front for convenience or laced on the sides for better protection.
This is a women’s stuffed gambeson, with too few layers, but it’s the right color and tied at the front like Gna’s – though hers has button loops. A real one is about an inch thick and has a grid of stitch lines. http://fuhlendesigns.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/1039709_10201647195724881_558075685_o.jpg

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Comments
  1. “I don’t want to be human again, not for a long while. It hurts too much.” It’s like your words penetrate my very soul…This was a fantastic read 🙂 Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lofnbard says:

    You’re welcome, and thank you for commenting! I’ve been writing these stories for three years now, and getting feedback really helps motivate me to get it done faster, so all twelve Ladies have stories for people to know them. My writing skill is finally reaching my standards for sharing. Also, the Ladies have been getting impatient, and would rather not wait for me to achieve “perfection” to make them available. 😉

    Gna is really fun and light-hearted most of the time, and I often talk to her during car drives. She likes speed.

    Like

  3. […] about her: Heartcleft Road. See the Story Index for a list of all […]

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  4. sonyjalerulv says:

    The scene of Mary dying and what followed was gut wrenching. Very emotional.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      Thank you. This story’s first chapter came out of a Writer’s Circle exercise on the theme of “Loss.” I asked my Ladies if anyone wanted a story about that, and Gna answered, so I wrote it for her. I never imagined it would become the start of an epic, it was meant to be a standalone exploring grief in excruciating detail. I’m glad it worked.

      Like

  5. Sarah Z. says:

    “Thirty years and three I was granted as gift, enough time to be born, be loved, to love, and bring forth a child: All the things denied me in my other life.”

    ~
    William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, died at 71, not 33 and Will was 8, not 6. I’m not sure how you could miss that fact, if indeed your intent was to write her as Shakespeare’s mother.

    Like

    • Sarah Z. says:

      I’m sorry, I mean to say he died eight years after she did. He was not a boy, but a full grown man.

      Like

    • lofnbard says:

      Congratulations, I’ve waited three years for someone to figure it out, you win! Yes, Mary Arden just dropped dead in front of her son William Shakespeare. And yet you are correct in that her death is recorded decades later. How can this be? Well, this is a fantastical tale, so you’ll have to read on to find out. Rest assured the paradox will be resolved. 🙂

      Is this The Truth(tm) ? I don’t know. I’m just telling a story and hope you’ll enjoy it while getting to know Gna. Because stories are how we mortals usually get to know the gods.

      Like

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