Heartcleft Road 15 – Gna’s Story

Posted: July 22, 2015 in Aesir & Asynjur, Alfar & Duergar, Gna, Jotnar, Stories
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Chapter 15 – Down With The Fishes –

 

I was startled awake by the knock on the door, just one tap, repeated every few seconds. Ganglati I suppose…

My wife was still purring, head on my chest. How strange that I have a wife now, I mused, when not long ago I had a husband. For that matter, am I a widow if I’m the one who died? Or am I still married to him? I suppose it doesn’t matter, if Hela held her end of the deal, since Mary Arden’s body lives once again.

With a hand on her forehead, I pulled Grisella’s eyelids open. No response. The rapping at the door continued, so I lifted her up enough to free myself. As I walked past the iron frame mirror, I spied my reflection getting her own gambeson from atop the chest. Her face sagged as she slipped it on.

Is the other me good to my family in Midgard? Does she make little horses out of twigs to amuse William? I hope she has a kind soul.

I turned my back to her and went to the door. Pulling it open, I faced Ganglati in her patchwork dress.

“Midnight,” she said with a pinched face, “come now, we begin.”

“Very well,” I said, “let me wake her. Oh, and do you have time to make me tea like last time before we go? With a spoon.”

She grumbled a bit but nodded, and soon we were all following her down to the kitchens.

 ===

Mordgud was waiting outside as we stepped out of the kitchen entrance, the moon god’s light reflecting on the curves of her dark metal armor. Though I had misgivings about her, she was the closest thing I had to a friend here – beside my new wife of course. I mulled over my feelings for a moment.

“Mordgud,” I finally said, “I am glad to see you. It has been a… rough day.”

She nodded. “And I you, my friend. Hela spares no blows in preparing her chosen for their duties.”

“May we,” I said, unsure, “embrace for a moment? Or is that not done here?”

She smiled and enfolded me in her arms, my head laying against the cold hardness of her breastplate. She had no helmet tonight, and her black hair was loose in the cool night breeze.

“You are doing well,” she whispered. “Transition is always hard, keep your spirit up.” Releasing me, she turned to my wife. “And you Grisella, congratulations on impressing the Queen as well as for your marriage. I think you’ll find Gna is well worth holding onto.”

“Aye,” my lover nodded, “and it be an honor Milady, this invitation to join your ranks.”

The giantess chuckled, “There is no need for Milady-ing any longer, we are to be sisters in arms, all three of us.” Then she pulled us both in for a double bear hug. “We’ll all get along great, I’m sure of it!”

“Can’t… breathe,” I gasped.

“Gna, you silly thing,” she laughed as she released us, “you don’t need to breathe anymore, remember?”

“Maybe,” I coughed, “but I still like to, and I need it to speak.”

“So shall we get on our way?” She enthused. “There is much to do on this night.”

“One moment,” I said. Hung over my shoulder was a wineskin filled with sweetened mint tea. Ganglati had mumbled it would be more practical than a bowl on our trek.

“I feed you,” I whispered, “winds and breezes, wanderers of beauty. Be at my side when I call and have need of your breath. Friends of sky and storm, songs of frenzy roaming free, murmur your messages, whistle your words to me. For I am friend to winds who are friends to me.” I uncorked the skin, and with a thumb over the opening, sprayed my offering into the breeze. A tittering of laugher reached my ears and I smiled. There were maybe seven or eight little spirits blowing in that gust. “I am Gna,” I continued, “and we shall speak more later my friends.” Capping the skin, I turned. “Lead the way, Bridge Keeper, I’m ready now.”

Mordgud’s head was cocked, gracing me with a slight smile. Nodding, she turned heel and strode to my right – toward the back of the castle.

That part of it was mostly in ruins, and we had to step around blocks of gray stone. Some floors still stood, I noticed as I gaze upward, but outer wall had crumbled away. Surprisingly, there was some movement and light on those levels. Before I could inspect further, we veered onto a barely visible path into the woods.

Grisella was busy watching where she stepped, seeming lost in thought, so I left her and caught up to our guide.

“Mordgud, I’ve been meaning to ask someone… where is Hoof-Tosser?”

“He is,” she said as she pushed aside a yew branch, “waiting for you at my tower, on the other side of the bridge.”

“Tethered I’d imagine?”

“Nonsense,” she chuckled, “he would never leave, certainly not without your say so. While you are within our walls he is bound by a better rope than any I could devise. He will join you when you leave on your first mission.”

“About that,” I stepped over a fallen branch, “what will I be doing?”

“Report to the tower,” she grinned as she looked back, “and it will be revealed.”

“And what about checking in on my son William? And the impostor who replaced me as Mary Arden? When can I do that? ”

Mordgud merely started whistling a German ballad.

I sighed.

We walked among pines in silence after that. There was no chirping of insects; only crunching needles beneath boots and the hiss of my own breath. The very air seemed to be pressing upon me, and as I blinked, I caught sight of others beside us.

Blink. An old woman in strange garb, ten paces to our left. I clenched my fists.

Blink. A child with long hair in a reddish cloak, fifteen paces to the right. I swallowed hard.

Blink. I jumped back; an old man wearing furs and antlers was walking close enough for me to reach out and touch him. All of them were going the same direction we were. A chill ran down my spine.

My companions didn’t seem to notice anything amiss, so maybe it was my own mind playing tricks on me. Or was my hellish night-sight somehow misbehaving? I bit my lower lip and stared straight ahead, but my vision was becoming blurry. I took Grisella’s hand, and she looked up with a small smile, perhaps thinking I was supporting her. Truth told, I was trying to avoid running into trees. I smell moistness. Did I not notice us going into a fogbank? That still didn’t explain the apparitions though, ghosts were solid people in this place. I shuddered and squeezed her hand harder.

“How can you see in this fog?” I whispered.

“I don’t,” Grisella murmured back, “I be following the big lady before us.”

“Is there anything else weird about what you’re seeing?”

“No, why?”

I didn’t answer. She had enough on her mind.

A specter crossed right in front of me, and I pulled back on my lover’s grip, almost making her stumble. I barely managed not to scream.

“Almost tripped,” I lied when she looked back with lowered brows.

She gave me a pat on the hand before taking another step forward.

“Anything wrong?” she asked, as I resisted her pull.

“No… everything’s fine, just catching my breath.”

Soon the trees parted and we found ourselves before a vast lake, shimmering in moonlight. The fog crept to the water’s edge but no further, caressing the damp mossy ground with wispy white fingers. We seemed alone, until I blinked again.

There were more apparitions around the shore, hidden by mist under the canopy of trees. Beneath overhanging branches of needles and yellow leaves they sat and stared: old women and men, holding frame drums. I still couldn’t see them directly, they only appeared in those afterimages.

The ones nearby I saw best, strands of colored cloth hanging from their costumes, wrinkled faces peering at us. Further on, they wore animal skins. Humans, giants, dwarves, there were more of them than I could count, stretching their circle as far as I could see. And yet when I approached one of them, I found myself alone. They were both there and not there. I returned to my companions, letting my trembling hand rest on the hilt of Oath-Breaker.

So distracted was I that I barely noticed the queen who stood, silent, staring across the lake. She was between us and the water, a few yards away, wearing mottled buckskins stained with soot that hung down to the ground. Small antlers adorned her headdress. Eerie as she was, her presence was the most solid thing here.

“Morgud,” I whispered, “Aren’t antlers usually a male thing?”

“No,” she responded, “female reindeer have antlers, though smaller.”

Grisella went forward, her steps audible in squishy mosses. The Queen turned to face us, showing black smears on her face. My wife curtsied low.

I tried to follow but our guide held me back. “You can watch,” Mordgud said softly, “but give them space.”

Hela traced patterns on my wife’s face, speaking softly, her words lost to the rising sounds of drums. Drums? Why hadn’t I noticed the start of their drumming?

Grisella nodded, and I couldn’t tell if she spoke, seeing only the pale braid at the back of her head bobbing now and then. Hiking her dress, she went around Hela and stepped into shallow water. The rhythm of drums changed, and I saw her head turn, scanning the surface before her.

“Get comfortable,” Mordgud advised, “this will take a while.” She sat on the mossy ground, as much as her armor would allow, and I joined her.

Over the course of a few hours, Grisella progressively went deeper, eventually letting her dress get soaked. She seemed to be talking to people, though I could see no one with her in the lake. Still the elders continued beating their drums. I wanted to ask Mordgud about them, to know if she too could see and hear them. Yet whenever I tried to speak of them, no sound would escape my lips.

“What is she doing?” I asked, about halfway through the proceedings. Part of me was bored to death, while the other was more than a little spooked. I’d been excited at first to see how ascended ones were made in the underworld, but this was far more solitary than the Asgardian rite. Snotra’s made sure everyone had a role to play when a goddess was made.

“She is meeting her munin,” my guide slowly answered, “all the people she has been across her many lives. It takes time, especially for humans.”

I nodded. That made sense. With short lives, a mortal could have a hundred incarnations in the span it took for us to have one or two.

“And the splashes?” I asked.

“Those are the munin,” Mordgud acknowledged, “swimming around her.”

“The munin are fishes?” I asked in surprise.

“Here, they are fishes,” she agreed. “But when they approach, she sees them as people. Some of the munin rise as birds. I assume you would be more familiar with those.”

I nodded. Snotra’s initiations were starting to make more sense.

“So she just talks to them, learns their wisdom?”

That would be impossible, especially in such a short time. She must choose which ones to sacrifice among them.”

“Sacrifice?” I leaned away, eye wide. “Explain?”

“Watch,” she answered, “and understand that nothing is free, that no life comes without death.”

Grinding my teeth, I wondered what gruesome cost my companion would have to pay for her powers. Yet all I could do was wait.

As the drumbeat diminished, I saw Grisella turn and come to shore. She held her dress hem before her, holding something within.

Mordgud got up and motioned for me to approach. Curious, I looked down into the oddly clear waters. There was single fish there at Hela’s feet – one I’d never seen before. It was the length of my forearm, flat and oval, hard shelled and spiky.

“What is that?” I whispered to myself.

An eastern breeze blew its answer into my ear: “Trilobite… very ancient fish.”

I mouthed my appreciation to that little wind for the information, and noticed Hela’s bony fingers waving to the odd fish. Was that her munin?

On my side, three fishes were approaching. Nervous, I looked away before I could tell what sort they were – I didn’t feel steady enough to be meeting my past lives, and Grisella was almost at the shoreline.

In the folds of her skirt she had a trout, a salmon, and a catfish.

“Salmon, a wise one who guides and decides,” Hela declared in her raspy voice, suddenly loud in the silence. “Trout is bold in exploring, and catfish meditates in the depths. A good selection, their lives will serve you well.”

Looking up, I realized Grisella’s eyes were red with crying. She nodded.

“Let us return to cook them,” the Queen announced.

Biting my lip, I gave a small wave to my three fishes without looking and moved away.

I put an arm around my wife’s wet shoulders as we took the trail. Between her hands, water was rapidly leaking out of the fabric. The fish were gasping, shaking, dying. She herself was softly sobbing and shaking. My heart tightened; there was little more I could do.


 

Note: My editor’s life got a whole lot more complicated, which delayed posting, and it won’t get any better for a few months. So I’ve decided to just post the stories un-edited, save from my own multiple passes. That way they’ll be out where you can all enjoy them. 🙂

As always, comments are greatly appreciated tips for the bard. 

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Comments
  1. Ly says:

    This is so cool! The idea of the past lives/munin represented as fishes in the lake in Helheim is pretty fascinating.

    The question is, what effect would they have, upon consuming them? Would Grisella be imbued with the qualities of those lives or would her memories extend to include them also? And what kind of effect would it have?

    Of course, this may all be addressed in the next chapter which will hopefully be soon :p

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      One of the problems with calling on the souls of the dead is dealing with reincarnation. If there is no reincarnation (while assuming an afterlife), then you’d have an ever growing underworld with all the bajillion souls that ever lived. It’s also tricky if you decide that dogs have souls… because how far down the food chain would the underworld go if it allowed animal souls?

      If there is reincarnation, then most of the time the spirit you want to talk to would already be reincarnated, and their old life buried somewhere inside them. My spiritualist friend accounts for this by saying that if there’s no answer, it’s because they’re reincarnated. Others seem to access the dead no matter what.

      Munin Lake allows it both ways. Either you can find the soul in the underworld, or if they’re reincarnated, you can summon the munin that holds the life experience you need. Like a story in a book, it only comes to life by sharing the brain of the one who reads it…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ly says:

        That’s a really good explanation, I’ve wondered about the whole ‘what if they’re alive’ thing, but like you I know people that can seem to get through no matter what. The idea that those experiences live on in shades that can still be accessed like, for lack of a better word, a hologram, that makes more sense.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Needed this on a rough week. I may be taking a FB break, but I will always find myself deep in this tale… ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      I was worried when I tried to notify you of the new chapter and found your account was offline. Thank you for commenting here, it sets my mind at ease. As always, I’m glad the stories lighten your load. 🙂

      I’ll post the next chapter before I leave for KG next Wednesday. It’s called Dance of the Munin, and oddly appropriate for the fest theme this year. I think you’ll like it. See you soon! Virtual hugs!

      Like

  3. Teka Lynn says:

    Love the imagery in this chapter!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      Thank you! It was hard to get this imagery. I had the basic concept but I kept asking “okay, but what does that *look* like?” Fishes. Okay, fishes it is!

      There’s a number of mythical stories that involve gaining wisdom by eating fish. One is the Salmon of Knowledge that swims in the Well of Wisdom and eat the nuts of the nine sacred hazel trees. The one who eats that salmon gains all the knowledge of the world. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salmon_of_Knowledge describes it briefly.

      An almost identical story exists in Norse Lore, with the cooking, burning drop of juice splashing, and sucking off a finger to gain wisdom, except Sigurd was cooking the dragon Fafnir’s heart instead of a fish. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_of_the_birds for details. It’s also very reminiscent of Taliesin getting wisdom from a drop out of Cerridwen’s cauldron.

      The big question for me as I wrote was: if one were to gain wisdom and power, where would it come from? Odin’s mead of inspiration is ultimately derived from the spit of all the gods. So it’s godly wisdom. But Hela’s not so big on free gifts, you have to pay for them in sweat and blood. So her empowerment comes from your own wisdom and power, gained across many lifetimes. It is already within you, just generally inaccessible.

      Like

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