Archive for December, 2013

Arctic Child

Arctic Child

At the end of the winter of Idunn’s second year, as the darkness let go of the world and the sun decided to once again work its way higher in the sky, Skadi, her mother, gravid with her next child, stuck her head out the window and sniffed the air. It was spring, or as close to spring as one could get, what with the heaps and mounds of snow melting down to half their mountainous size. Time to sweep her offspring out the door and give herself a well deserved rest.

The oldest helped the youngest while Skadi herself stuffed Idunn into her many layers of coats, sweaters, boots, and mittens. When the last hat had been pulled down over the last set of ears and the last wool clad foot had been stuffed into the oil-skin boots, Skadi shooed her children outside. “Be sure to come back in time for the noon meal,” she admonished them as she pushed the great doors of the longhouse closed. This was a code that the oldest children knew well. Stay away and don’t come back until meal time.

Katya, the middle sister, took Idunn’s mittened hand in her own and led her down the well worn path between the snowbanks and the side of the longhouse. The path led many places. Perhaps Katya meant to take her to the cow barns that they might play in the hayloft or pester the cows, themselves gravid with their own offspring. If they were lucky perhaps one of the cows would go into labor. It was very possible. Calving season was nearly upon them. The barns would be warm and Idunn would be out of the wind.

At two and a half, Idunn was a quiet and compliant child. She allowed herself to be led. She trusted Katya. Of all her sisters, Katya loved her the most. The world was bright, the snow white, the air cold on her plump cheeks. After a winter confined in the dim longhouse, breathing the clean, cold air was an experience to be savored. Idunn squinted in the bright light of day. She was having a hard time focusing her eyes in this world where the white of the sky merged with the white of the land.

Idunn very nearly stood on top of the dark shape in the snow before she finally saw it for what it was.

She stopped, pulling her hand out of Katya’s to stare down at the object half buried in the mound of snow. She could not make her brain understand what she was seeing. Why was this sodden mass of fiber wearing her dolly’s dress?

Dolly! This was Dolly, thought lost and much mourned. Idunn stooped to carefully pry the cloth doll from its icy prison.

Katya said something, whether protest or admonition, Idunn did not hear. There was a roaring in her ears that drowned out all other sound. This was Dolly. She had been a natal gift from one of Skadi’s sisters. An extravagance among a people who had no room for fripperies. Her father, Jordi, did not tolerate useless things. Little girls did not need dolls when there were real children to look after. Dolly, though precious to Idunn, had surely been a point of annoyance between Jordi and Skadi, whose marriage was a rocky road of unrequited longings and subtle injuries. Both were not above using their children as weapons in their endless sniping, inflicting cuts that did not bleed but wounded all the same. Idunn knew nothing of any of this. It would be years before she began to understand the twisted dynamics of her parents marriage of convenience.

Now, all she knew was that she held the rotting corpse of her precious Dolly in her hands, the stuffing spilling out of the shredded cloth of her face and chest, the beautiful, hand painted eyes forever obliterated, the cherubic lips unable to accept her kisses. The roaring in Idunn’s ears turned into the dim echoes of her own cries of despair, the memory of discovering Dolly’s disappearance an old wound that wanted to break open and bled anew.

Idunn was no longer a baby. She did not cry anymore.

Idunn stared at Dolly curiously. She and Dolly had been inseparable, once. When the doll disappeared it was as if a part of Idunn’s soul had been ripped away. Skadi had been furious at the doll’s theft but Idunn’s inconsolable wailing had not been tolerated for long. Idunn had learned the meaning of the dreaded words this past winter: Hush, or I will give you something to cry about. Skadi and Jordi, both, subscribed to this method of nurturing.

It had been a very long winter without Dolly.

Idunn went to that quiet place inside herself, the place where the infinite universe seethed just at the end of her fingertips and the caldera at the beginning of time whispered its song into the back of her mind. In the embrace of this place, the pain of one small human heart shrank to insignificance, leaving only stillness. Silence filled her, inside and out. Answers could be found, here, to questions she had not yet grown mindful enough to ask.

Her sister Katya recognized the stillness and froze, afraid. Katya had inherited enough of Idunn’s gift to instinctively know that something of great power was now looking at her world out of her little sister’s eyes.

“Perhaps the wolfhounds did this,” Katya said.

Idunn, caught up in the infinite silence, dropped the sodden mess where she found it.

It was sweet of Katya to offer some sort of explanation that would make the hurt sting less. Idunn knew better but she was only two and a half and did not yet have the language to explain the nature of the universe to her older sister. The forces of Light battled against the forces of Dark for dominion over the realms and Idunn was stuck on that paper thin line between them, keeping them both a bay, embracing neither the intractable, severe purity of the Light side nor the destructive chaos of the Dark side. Midst the storm of their conflict, it was Idunn who stood at its center.

The song out of the caldera at the beginning of time told her things, showed her things, shinning a light upon the shadows of her life, revealing the patterns there. The Light side had guided her Aunt’s hand in the making of Dolly and gifting her to Idunn, bringing joy and love and comfort in an otherwise austere and barren existence. Of course the Dark could not, would not tolerate Dolly’s presence. It had only been a matter of time. From the moment of her inception, Dolly’s days had been numbered. Idunn understood that now. The Dark did not want her to be comfortable. It lusted after the innocence of her heart and barring winning Idunn over to its bitter solitude, it would drive her from herself and out of the worlds.

The shadows had not carried Dolly out of the longhouse nor buried her with incorporeal hands in the snow. Human hands had done this. The Dark had somehow found a foothold inside the heart of someone in Idunn’s household, a crack in the walls of Idunn’s domain through which a shadow had slithered. Idunn did not have to guess who it might be. Jealousy and envy ate away at her sister Frulla’s heart, making it an empty nest in which the shadow might come to roost, whispering its poisonous thoughts into her mind.

Idunn did not hate Frulla for Dolly’s demise. It just made her sad and deeply disappointed. But the shadows had not stopped with Frulla. They had sunk their claws into Jordi’s heart as well. Her father walked this path everyday, passing by the poor eviscerated body, seeing it but doing nothing, saying nothing, leaving the toy in place for Idunn to discover, in some arcane hope of teaching her a cruel lesson about the harshness of life. In this, it became apparent that the shadow had taken her father’s heart long before she had been born.

Standing over the rotting corpse of her beloved toy, her sister Katya hovering nervously at her elbow, Idunn shook the veil of time out of her eyes. This was how it was to be. This was how it had always been since the beginning of time. It was now painfully clear. There was a war raging around her and she was the prize.

If she did nothing, if she let the Dark and the Light court her as they seemed to want to do, her life would be like that of a cork caught up in the eddies of a rushing stream, forever being tossed and twirled about, with no true headway being made.

Idunn scowled down at the thing that had once been dear to her. So. War was what they wanted. War it was. No quarter received and no quarter given.

Idunn looked up at the white sky. They did not know war, if they thought she would surrender to their affections. She would give them a taste of true conflict, conflict whose penultimate outcome would end things permanently. She would show as much mercy as was shown her.

Idunn took Katya’s hand in her own and tugged her into motion. They would go to the cow barns and Jordi’s favorite cow would give birth to a male calf. Idunn would watch it grow up, biding her time while her own body grew up. She would teach herself to fight. She would read everything she could get her hands on. She would apprentice herself out to anyone willing to teach her. She would learn to listen to the Light and the Dark, making sure never to be seduced by either of them, while keeping them close and dancing them to her will.

But she would never wholly trust a human again, knowing them to be weak vessels and easily confused. From that moment forward she would look behind the human facade to see which faction of this mean and ugly war was holding the strings.

For Idunn, not yet three years old, childhood was over. She now played the game in earnest, a game in which no one was neutral. Everyone was a player and fair game.

No quarter. None asked. None given.



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