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Table of contents
- The Tip Jar
- The Serpent's Banner
- The Relics of Asgard: The Einhjorn by Arreana
- Publisher Description
Above the scaled face. The total eclipse is coming. To the east the Sun rises over the opaque sea, and to the south the Moon, a pale gray shadow against light blue skies, rushes after Her. I cross my legs and set the calendar upon my thighs. The celestial engravings point towards the empty sea as we watch the undulating waters together. Milky whiteness, salt pillars, and the gentle ripples of perch finning. Nothing lives in the Sythian Sea but fish and monsters.
The breeze from this morning has departed with its cool, fresh air, and now nothing remains but stillness and dread. The Sun vanishes behind the Moon. My chest itches and the hairs the back of my neck stand on end. Static energy without a storm, darkness without night. The shadow follows, engulfing the coast and skating out across the still water. Minutes pass, but my heart has slowed and time pauses. The Sun and the Moon lock together, and I watch their intimate dance. The eclipse is beautiful when it has no right to be.
Left in its place is a black void framed by drops of light. My family, my friends, my neighbors. They will be watching. They will realize what it means. Has the void claimed someone already? Could it take me? I curl my fingers around its wooden shaft and force myself to take a few measured breaths.
The moment will pass. The Sun and Moon will break apart. Then I will gather my people. We will bury the dead.
The Tip Jar
Together, we will curse the cruelty of the Moon and the apathy of the Sun. I am still watching, waiting, when the first sound draws my attention away from the drab skies: a ripple, a splash, a gurgle.
Harpoon in hand, I spring to my feet. The calendar, my calendar, lands upside down on the salty shore. Rising from the water, gray skin drooping, fanged mouths slack, are the creatures we fear above all others. They come in pairs, gills flapping, webbed-fingers flexing, and lidless eyes staring at me. Only a few at first, but then more surface from the lapping tide until hundreds crowd the shallows.
They stagger from the water and gulp down their first breath of air. I am not a fighter, and my salt magic will not stop the horde. I wish I could claim bravery, but what I do next is not an act of bravery. I run for the animal pens. I run for the protection of villagers bigger, stronger, and more courageous than myself. Behind me, they clamber over the rocks and teeter on wet fins.
An army of them march on us, on our little village perched on the top of the bank. Our little huts made of elk hide and mammoth bones will not stop them.
The Serpent's Banner
Our men are too few and our weapons too weak. My friends and my neighbors and my family are racing for safety. I am sure Petya hates me. I am sure he blames me for not warning his family. One of his boys is dead, drowned. The other is cowering in a cellar. Since the eclipse, I have well considered the lives I could have saved if I had only warned them. The calendar gave me notice, after all, plenty of notice. The villagers might have had hours had I not tried to spare their feelings instead.
Petya may hate me. I will not try to soothe his feelings. I escaped with my life while his youngest son had not. His wife and remaining children are locked away beneath the earth. I am the first child my parents did not throw to the sea. I am Soren Veduny, and Petya is my servant. Then I shall be at your side.
He holds out his harpoon. A clot of red flesh still hangs from its hooked barb. His words swear fidelity, but his beard quivers as he grinds his teeth. His eyes are two black hollows glinting in the dim cellar. His eldest son, his only son, sits in the corner, tugging at his long hair. Petya fought to save his family. I ran to save myself. My moose waits outside. My harpoon, shiny like new, hangs limp at my side.
The tiny leather pouches lining the inside of my vest are full. The next morning we leave. He sits in the cart and I sit astride my moose, and through the dreary rain we spot the first flicker of lamplight. The first sign of civilization since pulling ourselves up those slick ladder steps. Good, Petya grunts. He does not stir to look. His harpoon lies flat across the salt crates.
His wet hair hangs flush to his forehead, cropped short on the right, long and tangled on the left. The lantern in the distance hangs above the door of a large cabin. Its chimney smokes, and the two windows are fogged but glowing. A sign post sits crooked in the muck by the front step—a pewter mug against a splash of orange.
The paint is fading, but I understand its meaning without Petya translating. We will sleep inside tonight. Near a week spent curled up beneath the cart, struggling to light fires from damp brush. So I swing myself off Vadeem and pull away the riding blanket before the rain soaks through it. I carry it back to the cart and stuff it under the oiled canvas with the rest of our dwindling supplies. We must hide the cart because the salt is the closest thing to currency we possess.
I have brought all Vadeem could pull, and yet I still fear I will not have enough to buy the army we need. Vadeem is unhitched, and together Petya and I lift the cart and push it into the underbrush.
The Relics of Asgard: The Einhjorn by Arreana
A couple sodden boughs thrown on top complete the disguise. The bulk of the salt should be safe from anyone traveling this abandoned road, and the salt stashed in my pocket should be enough to buy the services we need. Vadeem does not care for the crackling, smoking lamp smoldering above the door, nor does he seem to trust the old nag tethered to the hitching post. I curse him as I loop his lead around his antlers and tie him to the post. I glance at Petya, catching his sneer before he can turn away. A familiar chill races down my spine. Guilt washes over me, prickling my skin. No one will touch Vadeem.
The beast is taller than a man. Point to point, his antlers are an arm-span wide. My father raised him for me and trained him for my particular use since he was a wobbly-kneed calf. He only means to upset my composure. He means to wound me. His calendar, the Veduny calendar, is now a forgotten stone on a rocky beach. He takes a long look at the both of us.
First at Petya with his long hair, naked right arm, and his harpoon, and then at me with my salt tattoos and blue vest. His gaze lingers longest upon my azure eyes. The ground is strewn in straw. A man is laughing, and somewhere unseen the powerful aroma of rotten meat and leek soup poisons the smoky space. The man speaks, but not in words I recognize. Petya responds. He knows some of the language from having spent two years learning at monastery, but he is not proficient. His pronunciation is blockish and garbled as he scrounges his memory for the right word. His voice is several octaves higher and his face several shades paler when he speaks again.
He arches an eyebrow, not believing us. Salt, I say, withdrawing the larger pouch from my pocket. The salt it contains is not like the salt hidden in my vest. This is just salt, plain and pure. Salt is a word recognized in every language. It is coveted in every culture and prized by every kingdom. In the entire world, only we know how to harvest, mine, and evaporate it.
We know how to work its magic. Now that we are a dying race, how will its value climb? He only knows salt. His eyes go wide. A black speck appears and disappears in his blonde beard—a louse. Not all of it! I hiss. Tell him. Not all! The innkeeper stares at the pouch, licks his lips, and glances furtively between us. He says three words I soon understand to mean, How much? I consider the hay-strewn floor, the warmth radiating off the hearth at the back, and the pungent stench of leeks. An ounce. He disappears behind the reed mat separating the main room from the adjoining kitchen.
He clatters through his dishes and the racket silences the revel-makers tucked in around the hearth. Shaggy-faced men. Villagers, millers, farmers. They might not have seen a clean bath in weeks. Their skin is tough like bark. When they whisper to one another I spy brown teeth. The owner appears again, barreling from his kitchen with a tiny copper cup clutched in his hand. He offers it for me. The men lick their lips, and the smoky fire makes the room seem much too small to hold us all. My fingers know the weight of salt. They know its strengths, its properties. From touch alone, I can tell how it was harvested and from where it was taken.
Salt tells a story that my people have spent centuries recording. I wear a chapter of its tale on my skin, just as my father did before me and his father before him.
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She brushes the fish with honey and cooks it over cedar chips. The man takes his cup, cradles it to his forehead, and weeps like a child. I turn to find all five strangers on their feet. Two of them have drawn knives. Not made of bone or glass, but of dull iron. He shouts at them in their language, and his garbled demands lend a panicked edge to my confusion. I know the arrangements of my salts by heart.
Second to the top and on the left: gray salt. My fingers shake as they loosen the draw cord. He unwinds the hemp rope from his harpoon. The smooth wooden shaft sits against his bare bicep, flexed and twitching. I hate that behind us the innkeeper is still sobbing and still clinging to his little cup of salt. One of the men breaks from the others. He charges for Petya, and Petya, doing what he knows best, throws his harpoon. The throw drives him back through the moldy straw. It kills him instantly. The others charge over the body of their fallen comrade, expressions tight with a combination of emotions I recognize: fear, anger, desperation.
It was the same look frozen upon the faces of my dead warriors back home. The barb must be hooked on a bone. The first man jumps him. His little knife thrusts between the ribs. Petya gasps but keeps to his feet. The gray salt strikes the floor. With a crack and a sulfuric stink, a plume rolls out across the space, obscuring us all. Someone falls. Another man trips over a bench in the haze. A third man dives after me, but grabs the innkeeper behind me instead. I fall to my knees as the man howls in pain. No response. I scramble about on all fours, searching the floorboards.
Above me, the men are bellowing at one another. Get up, I hiss. I dare not raise my voice. Please get up. He twitches and his pulse thunders against my fingertips. His heart is quickening, and sticky blood coats my hand as I find his mouth. He is dying here, here of all places, in a bed of straw, having accomplished nothing, having saved no one.
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I loosen a second pouch—red salt. A couple granules would be enough to light this tiny cabin aflame, but in my panic I take a hearty pinch. The men are regrouping and sweeping the ground trying to locate me. Flames erupt from my fingertips and cut a yellow and orange hole through the gray. My fire finds their faces. It eats at their beards, and their limp, muddy hair burns like candlewicks. These heathen men were Vikings. Of the other twelve 'divine' goddesses. Vor was a goddess from whom nothing could be hidden and watchful Syn was invoked by defendants at trials.
Most of her myths concern attempts by the giants to abduct her. In Teutonic mythology, she was named Frigg. Friday is named after her, Freitag in German and vrijdag in Dutch. He was one of the Vanir gods, who were responsible for wealth, and the brother of Freya. Thor threw a rock at her, and she ran off, howling. It will certainly stay on my shelf. Blood ran. You've chosen the wrong quarry today, you base and loathsome scoundrel. Shame on you for thinking I'd betray the man I love. You know now that I mean what I say: if you don't leave at once, I'll physically boot you out.
Norse mythology is a collection of Scandinavian oral traditions that functioned as a belief system for the Nordic people prior to the introduction of Christianity. Thor represents the inner strength to stand up to monsters. You spawned your fair son on your own sister — so at least you knew what to expect!
There's nothing Frigg does not know. A blast of icy wind rushed into the hall. These verses constitute the second part of Voluspa. His is very much the fullest version and I have taken it as the basis for my retelling but have introduced a number of details from Voluspa that Snorri did not choose to perpetuate. Rated 4.