Day 3, Asgard: "I have learned kingship on borrowed thrones."
I entered Midgard again in the morning, as it was obvious that I was going to have to use Bifrost. After cleaning and showering in cold water, I walked back to the area where I'd met Eadgar before....recognizable because of the large squarish rock formations jutting up from the sides of the road. He was in the yard of the inn, and I called him over; he came willingly enough. I still didn't quite trust him - in spite of his friendliness there was an air of "user" about him - but I figured that he'd be the one to tell me where Bifrost touched ground. I shared my breakfast with him, and paid him a coin to guide me to Bifrost. Tannin and the Tashlins had magicked those hand-forged silver coins to seem irresistible to anyone who saw them, and he agreed quite willingly.
It took about half an hour to walk to the place - I used the Ehwaz runespell to speed our path, which impressed him - and then we came to an open field which I lined up with our field. The place he led me to ended up being next to the poles and lines of the former wedding pavilion. "This is it," he said. I was confused, but then I realized that Bifrost wasn't exactly a permanent structure. "You have to call for it," he said.
So I scattered the rest of my cereal on the ground and shouted to all the birds that fly between Midgard and Asgard to come and take it as an offering, and tell them that I was coming. Eadgar looked at me with huge, horrified eyes. Well, if there was no sneaking in, then it made no sense to be shy. At any rate, as I stood there, something mind-boggling occurred. In my home world, a bloody big bird flew right over the field - I'm guessing it was an eagle from the splayed wing tips - and simultaneously in Midgards, Bifrost came swooping out of the sky, following the eagle's flight - and stopped on the earth not six feet in front of me. All I could do was stand there with my mouth open. I've never seen such an impressive double-world special effect before. Oh my fucking gods.
Anyway, I shouldered Bag and went to climb it, but it was slippery. My feet wouldn't stick to it. I turned to ask Eadgar if this was normal, but he'd taken off. I looked back at the inaccessible Bifrost, still waiting … a big old fuck-you. So I sat down of the ground and cast runes on the Asgard section of the magic cloak. They said that I should call the dead to help me. But the dead are down below, in Helheim, yes? Not necessarily. There are dead in Asgard as well. I doubt anyone in Valhalla will aid me, but Sessrumnir … I remembered that Freya took a percentage of the dead warriors; that's her bargain with Odin. That included, especially, warriors who were female, and, I expect, neither. Considering that Freya likes sissy boys in skirts, and they wouldn't be exactly be welcome in Valhalla. So I called out to Freya and told her that I am the speaker for the third gender dead, and if she has any that would like their stories told, she should send them down to fetch me.
And it worked. In a minute or two I saw two figures coming down the bridge towards me. As they approached, I saw that they are both wearing old-fashioned uniforms, in styles that I am too ignorant to place. They were both women, although they were both very butch and one looked entirely like a young, beardless man. The slightly more feminine (and I do mean slightly) one gave me a hand to shake and said her name was Kay. The other one named him/herself Mark, with a grin. I asked if they would bring me up, and Kay told me to close my eyes and start walking. As I closed my eyes, I felt each of them lock on to one of my arms with an iron grip. I expected my foot to fall on an upward plane, but it fell on something solid and seemingly horizontal. We kept walking, and then I felt grass underfoot, and opened my eyes..... and everything was golden and we were in Asgard. I turned to look and there was no Bifrost behind me, just a high sheer cliff and clouds.
Standing in front of me was someone who I guessed was probably a god, with an annoyed expression on his face. He was flanked by guards, and I guessed that this was Heimdall, or Sharpeye as the giants called him. "Who are you?" he asked, looking a bit disgruntled. Kai and Marc, next to me, were silent.
I held out my arm and showed my tattoo. "I am Hel's own, and Odhinn has asked to see me." He frowned and looked disbelieving. "Who are you that you should be allowed to enter Asgard?" he asked.
I was suddenly very tired of this, and I smelled a test, "I am the Dreamer whose dreams come true," I threw back at him, not knowing if that would help.
He looked at me for a minute, unreadable, and then he said, "You may enter. But you will build no anchors into this world. You are here on our sufferance, not under your own power." OK, so no cairn anchors for Asgard. I told Kay and Mark that I would see them tonight at Sessrumnir, and I go off to find Gladsheim.
It has a roof that is actually glittering golden hay, with what seemed to be a giant goat (or more than one) grazing on it. I knocked on the door and told the doorkeeper that I was there to see Odhinn. I was shown in with no fanfare. Yes, he was expecting me. I got the feeling that the Bifrost incident was a test of my mettle, to see if I was good enough to get in by myself.
Odhinn is a shapechanger, so I expect the form that he showed me - fortyish, lean, dark hair past his shoulders, dark beard close-trimmed, silvering at the temples - was merely one of many faces he can put on. Tall, but not broad. Keen gray eye, the other one covered by a patch. He asked me to serve him a drink, and after a bit of fumbling I managed to bring him a cup of the pomegranate mead. He asked me what I thought I needed to know about being a shaman-king. I told him there was likely so much I needed to know that I would gladly take any lesson he taught me. He gave me a lesson on humility and arrogance. The first part I won't describe, because it's personal, and not the sort of thing to put publicly on the Internet, but I'll try to describe the point. will be hard to describe. But I have to do it.
I had to go to the privy, and instead of simply letting me go, he escorted me there, and stood in the doorway while I shat, talking about his year living in skirts with Freya. "I trusted her to be ruthless with me," he said. He seemed to feel I needed to know about that.
"I know what you really want," he said. "You want to know how to make them respect you, even when you are doing the humiliating things that come with the shaman's job." And he taught me that a shaman-king must have utter arrogance and utter humility, both at once simultaneously. "When you are playing with people's lives, that is when you must have utter humility," he said. Then he showed me when it was right to have utter arrogance....when you were doing some shamanic contortion, some spiritual gyration, that would look absolutely mad to an onlooker. It's at that time that you have to be completely, arrogant, to show that no matter how bizarre your actions look, you have absolute faith in their rightness, and your decision to do them.
"Can you be arrogant now?" he asked as he forced me to publicly do a difficult thing. I can still hear his tone of voice; it was not mocking, but serious: that moment was the time for being arrogant, for holding my head high.
So I got up with all the arrogance I could muster, and I followed him back to Gladsheim with my head high, and there we had the second half of the lesson. He had me sit on his throne, and he paced back and forth in front of me, throwing challenges that someone might make to a king. "Why should I respect you when you (insert deviant behavior)?" I answered as best I could, which was all wrong at first. "I do X because …" Wrong answer. "Let me explain…" Wrong answer. "It shouldn't matter that I do X, as long as I do Y." Wrong answer. "You should respect me because I do Y." Nope, complete evasion incorrect as well, as was anything involving justifying or explaining. I finally started to get the hang of it - the right answer is the one that subtly challenges their biases, and will not allow them to think further on the subject without confronting them. Example: Q: Why should I respect you as a king when you do X? A: Do you consider yourself to be a freethinking individual who doesn't slavishly follow unquestioned programming? Really? How can you say that when the only sort of leader you seem comfortable with is one who puts appearances over integrity, who would rather kowtow to stereotypes than challenge them? Clumsy example, but he finally let me down off that throne where I felt like a kid kicking his heels in a grownup's chair. I don't know how many mortals have been honored in that way, but I'm sure none were more relieved to leave it.
I scored a point, though, afterwards. Outside of Gladsheim, I brought out the golden ship that Bella had sent with me, our wedding centerpiece. She had told me that I could use it magically to cross water, if I needed to. Immediately half a dozen Aesir, including Odin, tried to pressure me into giving it to them as an offering. I thought fast and told them it belonged to my wife, which considering that she built it and brought it out to me, wasn't a lie. Odin made some comment about husband and wife being one and sharing property, so therefore it was all right. I thought fast again and told him that I was on the way to his wife's hall next, and that if Frigga said that it was all right for a husband to dispose of his wife's property against her will, then I would give him the boat. He rolled his eyes and said that it was clear I was decended from Loki, and dropped it.
So off to Fensalir, which is white-painted and surrounded by birch trees, golden in the autumn. I walked across a carpet of falling birch leaves to get there. Waiting in Frigga's hall, one of her handmaidens - I don't know her name, but she wore white clothing - looked at my tattoo and said that it looked bad. Actually, what she said was, "That was cruelly done." I got the feeling that she didn't disapprove of the tattoo itself so much as my being forced to go wandering while it was so fresh, and the fact that my body was having trouble with it. She blessed my little pot of lotion, and a couple of applications later, it didn't hurt nearly as bad.
I offered to sit and spin with the maidens - I had brought my yarn and spindles - and they shared some good-humored giggles about the mortal man in a skirt who was offering to do women's work with them. I told them that to imply that women's work was beneath me would be to call women inferior, and I was not willing to do that. This brought on more giggles, but they allowed me to sit and spin with them.
Frigga is tall and elegant and has a kind of dignified graciousness that Martha Stewart could only wish she had. I begged a boon of her - to help Bella to better understand and come to terms with queenship duties. In return, she asked that I send her news of her son, once I got to Helheim. "A great light went out of my life when he was taken," she said. She took the skein of yarn that I'd spun in her hall and did something to it, and told me that I should write her a letter with the news, tie it up in the skein, and burn it, and the smoke would rise from Helheim to Asgard and she would be able to read it.
Then I went to Iduna's cottage. Iduna is the plainest of all the Aesir goddesses - a big farm girl with dirty hands - and she gave me an apple tree root to make into a rune-stave for Allyson. She ate lunch with me and shared my fruit, although she commented that outworld fruit was strange-tasting. Then I went to Sessrumnir, where I played guitar and sang for people until moonrise. Kay and Mark came and sat near me. They told me snatches of their stories - disguising themselves as men and going into the military - but I was never clear on what country they were from and fought for (it wasn't America) or what year they were born in (it wasn't the 20th century). I wish I could research it, but I'm not sure where to start looking for stories about passing-women in Europe more than a hundred years ago.
When the moon came up, I went crashing through the woods looking for the Well of the Norns. It took a long time, and it finally lined up with the pool by the bridge. I threw in three coins, and they came, robed in black. I asked them to speak my wyrd, and they did. (Always trying for a glimpse of my own file!) No, I will not write it here.
The next morning, I ate breakfast in Sessrumnir, trying to be unobtrusive. I was strangely reluctant to leave, less because I wanted to stay, and more because I just felt uneasy. "You're stalling," Kay commented, and she was right. I finally got my things together and moved between worlds to Alfheim, with a strange dread in the pit of my belly.