The Character of Aslaug is Copyright Â? Joan Jacobsen
The Characters of Tigermark and TL are Â? Tigermark
The Character of Aramis Dagaz is Â? Aramis Dagaz
The Characters of Joe Latrans and Annie Latrans are Â? The Silver Coyote
Characters are not to be used without prior written permission of their authors.
No part of this story may be reproduced or placed on any website without the written permission of the author.
This story is copyright Â? Aslaug, 2007
It was winter. At least, that’s what she had been told it was, but Aslaug was less than convinced. She’d been with the Latrans family for several months, and she was slowly getting used to certain parts of her new life.
Bras, for one thing. She couldn’t stand them, but she was slowly starting to understand the necessity for them. At least most of the time. Electronics was still mostly a total mystery to her and the lack of other he?°ni was generally bothering her. A lot.
Joe had told her she could probably find others over the com-pu-ter…and the in-ter-net. Then he’d rushed off to work. Sometimes, the filly really thought that coyote needed to slow down so that his thoughts could catch up with the rest of him. She still walked in a big semi-circle around the com-pu-ter. It seemed to laugh at her, whenever she was near it. Pushing little keys to make signs appear on a screen was weird. Didn’t seem at all natural to her.
The filly grumbled and supported her head in her palms, elbows on the table. She was sitting in the Latrans family kitchen…the room in the house she liked the best. Where she came from, time together was spent around the fire, while cooking. Here, it seemed a lot of time was spent watching the sejd-box, together. She did like the sejd-box. It was a major reason why her english skills were improving. Which was a good thing. Aramis’ language spell was starting to become unreliable. It still worked…most of the time. It was clear to everyone though, that it wouldn’t for much longer.
It wouldn’t be so bad. The big yellow bird thing had taught Aslaug a lot of English. So had the cookie-munching blue creature although mostly, that one made her laugh. She liked the way it’s eyes swivelled.
She’d at least be able to get by, when the spell failed. She could read too. She’d gone from reading children’s books to reading more complex things such as books on history. It was pure, morbid curiosity and she knew it. She wanted to know what the difference had been, between her world and this one. Where the division in paths happened.
It was a stunning…and horrifying revelation when she found out. Prince Knud, whom she had fought for and nearly died for…had been killed in England. Shot, while swimming. In her own world, the one shot had been Knud’s brother, Harald. In this world, Harald became king, as Harald Bluetooth…and he had forced Christianity on his people. The books said it was a necessary step to avoid the Germans invading…but Aslaug had been there. Beaten the Germans.
Harald had been a coward. A weak, frail coward. His son, Svend Forkbeard had taken over because of that. Ousted his father, but there had been too many Christian priests in the country then, and he couldn’t stem the tide. It had been too late. Even though Svend had been a true he?°ni, even though he’d conquered England…it had been too late. His own son had converted. Dan’s Mark was Christened.
Aslaug remembered the trip to the museum. She’d seen her armor and helmet there…shattered, broken. She had died, in this world. For nothing. To stem the tide of something she didn’t believe in. A noble death…but a useless one. It was heartbreaking and it had certainly rested heavily on her mind ever since.
And now it was winter.
And so blistering hot, that she still had to wear T-shirts. Where was the snow? Thick enough that she could stand in it up to her chest? Where was the howl of wild canids in the night? Where was the thunder, as Thor raced across the skies on his way to slay jotunn?
It didn’t happen that way here. There were moments…moments like this one…where the equine asked herself if she hadn’t been better off dying on that battlefield. This was so confusing. Everything was. Annie had explained e-lec-tri-ci-ty to her not long ago, and said it was harnessed lightning. Aslaug had managed to remain calm while asking where this harnessing was done. Annie had explained that it happened at something she called a trans-former station. The fox hadn’t realized what she had just said until after she had said it, and it had taken Joe well over an hour of his most smooth talking and reassurances to prevent Aslaug from hefting her axe to go and liberate the lightning, on account of that belonging to Thor.
What a winter.
The last couple of weeks, the Latrans home had undergone some real changes too. Lots of sparkly things had been put up around the house. Bright lights covered the outside of it in long chains. There were new shows on the sejd-box, most of them featuring some great, fat, very jolly polar-bear with a long white beard, giving out presents to children. Aslaug had decided she liked the polar-bear. He seemed genuinely nice. What she didn’t like was that he’d apparently stolen Thor’s chariot and replaced the wild rams with reindeer instead.
She had, of course, asked what it was all about.
‘Christmas’ had been the answer.
The word made no sense to the filly, until Joe had explained it was a shorter form of ‘Christ’s Mass’. Which had made her nearly jump out of her skin. Annie had to explain that all the decorations didn’t mean that they were turning their house into a religious place. Aslaug still wasn’t quite convinced. Besides, the polar bear didn’t look like White Christ. Okay, he was white…but he wore red clothes and laughed a lot…and he didn’t preach Christianity.
She stared across the room into the living room, where the com-pu-ter was standing quietly on it’s workstation. She could swear the thing was laughing at her. Joe had said one could find answers to almost anything on it, but Aslaug HAD tried asking it questions and it didn’t work. The filly was smart enough to realize it was probably a matter of her doing something wrong. She’d figured out that if you pushed a certain button, the screen came on and a jingle played…but sitting down in front of it to ask it questions wasn’t working. It just stood there. She knew it had something to do with the keys on the flat board in front of the screen. But she wasn’t sure how to use that yet.
This was one of those moments where she really wished Tigermark and his family were at paw. She felt pretty sure the tinx could help.
Aslaug considered herself a fairly astute observer of ‘modern life’, and one thing she had figured out was that the younger a child got, the more they had been raised with com-pu-ters being part of their lives. Kids of 9 or 10 would use them like they had been born with the knowledge of how to do it, while their parents would still struggle to do anything but the most basic things with the machine.
It was the world in reverse. Children sighing overbearingly at their parents and teaching the older furs how to use the tools necessary for living a normal life.
Aslaug shook her head. She’d figured out how to use the coffee machine but she couldn’t understand why anyone would want to willingly drink the stuff. Tea was new to her as well and that was much more to her liking. Annie had needed to reassure the filly that she wouldn’t convert automatically by drinking ‘Christmas tea’, though.
It tasted nice. Spicy but mildly so.
It was still early morning and neither Joe, nor Annie, had gotten out of bed yet. It Sunday. They’d need to go to church soon. Aslaug had gone a couple of times, but the general consencus was that it was probably better if she stayed at home most weeks. She asked too many questions. It kept interfering with the sermon, and besides, what was the point of going if she didn’t believe in the things that the rabbit up in front spoke about?
Turning water into wine.
The filly chuckled. She’d have been more impressed if it had been good ale and mead. What the Christians called miracles, she’d called sejd and shrug off as nothing particularly fantastic. Although in her world, sejd was usually less visible. Less direct.
It was as if the furs of this world needed to see things to believe them. They doubted a lot. Fiercely in fact. But at the same time, they would claim at the top of their voices that they had no doubts about one thing or another. Especially when it came to religion. Aslaug personally found that rather tiring.
She put the kettle on the stove and waited. It’d boil soon enough.
So this was a religious time of celebration for Christians. She nodded to herself. That was okay. Most of the Christians she’d met since coming here had been good furs. And to Joe’s great and undisputed credit, he had showed Aslaug the flip side of modern Christianity, too. He’d gone to some difficulty to explain that certain groups were as mad and intolerant as the furs the filly had been used to from her own time. He’d done so after Aslaug had watched part of a Sunday morning sermon, televised from some church far away. The filly had been absolutely disgusted by the preacher whom had been all but foaming around the mouth while shouting up a storm about how everyone except those who believed like he did were evil and horrible furs, and how everyone who listened should give him money for saying so.
Those kinds of furs, Joe had explained, had nothing to do with being a good Christian.
Aslaug readily believed him. By now, she had come to accept that Christians in this world were different than they were in hers. But she had also figured out, by now, that there were other faiths in this world. Many, in fact. It stood to reason that there would be he?°ni as well. Somewhere.
“Good morning Aslaug…” Annie’s voice said behind the filly.
Aslaug turned and smiled. “Good morning, Annie,” she replied. “Just making a cup of tea.”
Annie nodded. “Seems Aramis’ magic has finally stopped working. You’re speaking with an accent…” she said and wrapped her robe around her, sitting down by the table.
“I do? I don’t hear it…but if you say so, it must be true.”
“It shouldn’t be a big problem. Your English is actually pretty good by now.”
Aslaug nodded and took the tea-pot from it’s place on the shelf, before finding the tea-bags.
“What’s on your mind, filly? You look thoughtful,” Annie said and smiled. She was still half asleep. It felt good to sleep late just once in a while.
It took a while for Aslaug to answer. She realized Annie was probably right about Aramis’ magic. She had to search for some of the words she needed. Somehow, it didn’t seem like it’d be a problem.
“I wonder…when the day is…shortest?” she asked and scratched her neck.
“That’s one week from today,” Annie answered and put her arms on the table, leaning forward a bit. “Why’s that, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Aslaug never got to answer. Joe entered the kitchen, wrapped in a robe of his own and looking incredibly bleary-eyed.
“It’s solstice. Her holy day,” he mumbled and sat down heavily by the table. “I need coffee. Galons of it. So thick that if we drop one of Aslaug’s shoes in it, it’ll float.”
Aslaug looked down at her hooves. She wore some protective covers inside the house, to avoid ruining the floors with her metal shoes, but for coffee to be so thick it could make metal float…? She couldn’t really imagine how that was accomplished.
“It’s a metaphor,” Joe explained, seeing the equine’s befuddled expression.
“Me…ta…phor…?” Aslaug asked, squinting. This was going to be a difficult morning, she could feel it already.
Annie nuzzled Joe’s cheek with her right paw, smiling. “The spell wore off at last, Joe. Small words for a while, okay?”
Joe blinked, then nodded, leaning his head into the caress and making snoring noises. He really looked like he could use more sleep, but then again, he’d been working a lot of overtime the last weeks.
“A metaphor means he says something that means something else,” Annie tried to explain.
“Erhh…that’d be…” Aslaug tried and searched for a word again. “…dishonest?”
Joe chuckled. “Imagine if I fell and broke my leg and we were far away from a place I could get help, Aslaug…”
The filly nodded, sitting down. This was going to take some explanation.
Joe blinked some more sleep out of his eyes and looked at his friend. “After you had carried me on your back for two days straight, what would you say?”
“That you weigh more than Tormod…even though you don’t…oh…oh I see,” the filly answered and nodded. That wasn’t as hard to understand as she had feared.
“Exactly. It’s what we call a ‘figure of speech’,” Annie said and got up. “I’d better make some coffee then.”
Aslaug fell quiet for a while, looking at her half-asleep coyote friend across the table. The same coyote who had fought next to her several times in her own world…and who was wearing a blue and white striped robe and an extremely worn expression. Then again, she reminded herself, nothing was the same here as there.
“I have some…questions…if it is okay?” she asked after a long silent spell.
“Go ahead?” Joe answered and rubbed his face, slowly starting to wake up.
“What is ‘Christ’s Mass’ really all about?”
Joe smiled. That, he told himself, was a bloody good question. It was also a damned hard one to answer properly. He looked at Annie for a while, but she was busy making breakfast. He had to answer it. He’d like to, but he wanted to make sure it was done properly. And honestly. Most importantly that. Aslaug was keen. She’d figure things out from half information a lot of the time, or at least see where what she had been told and what she was seeing didn’t match.
“Christmas is a lot of things, really. The basic part of it is that we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ. The bible tells us that he was born over two thousand years ago, in a place called Bethlehem,” he said, looking at Aslaug to make sure she understood all of that.
The filly nodded. So far so good. So it was a birthday party. That seemed harmless enough to her.
“Go on…” she said and folded her arms on the table, listening.
Joe smiled. “Well, what the bible really says is that the Emperor Augustus had ordered that everyone in the empire had to go to the place of their birth and have their names written down by scribes. That way, he could find out how many furs lived in his empire,”
“Smart fur…but what about furs who lived very far from where they were born?” Aslaug asked.
“Ahh, you see, that is exactly what the case was with Mary and Joseph. They lived far from Bethlehem, but that was where they came from. Joseph was a carpenter, so he had to move around to find work. The problem was that Mary was pregnant and almost due to give birth. But they still had to go,” Joe explained, trying to formulate the story so that Aslaug could follow it.
“Ahh…so he was a bad emperor, this Augustus? When he didn’t let Mary stay home?” Aslaug asked.
“Augustus? I think he was probably a pretty good ruler, but he had to make some demands once in a while and this was one of them,” Joe answered, truthfully. “History says he was a good ruler at least.”
“Was he Christian too?”
“Oh no…there was no Christianity yet at that time, Christ hadn’t been born yet, after all.”
Aslaug nodded. That was logical enough. She could understand that part. If White Christ was how Christianity had started then it stood to reason he’d have to actually arrive first. She motioned for Joe to continue.
“Well, Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem but there were so many others there, waiting to have their names written down that there were no places left for them to stay. All the inns and hostels were full. They had arrived late because of Mary’s pregnancy, you see. So they found a stable where they could sleep.”
“Well, it’d be warm there, at least…probably a bit smelly too,” Aslaug chuckled.
Joe nodded, smiling crookedly. Aslaug was probably the only fur he knew who’d point something like that out. “Probably. But you see, in the sky above, a star shone more brightly than normal. It had done so for a while and far away, three wise males…wise Kings, in fact…had seen this bright star and an Angel had told them that they must follow it until they find a new born child, born to rule. The King of Kings. So they did, each of them setting out from their kingdoms, carrying gifts. Gold, incense and myrrh.”
“Incense? Myrrh?” Aslaug asked. “What’s that?”
Annie put the coffee pot on the table and got a few mugs. “Incense is something you burn and then it smells nice. Back then it was very valuable, because most furs didn’t know how to make it…” she explained before turning to pour the now boiling water from the kettle over the tea-leaves.
“That’s easy…” Aslaug said and shrugged. “Light a dry twig of pine and…ex..tin…quish…it fast. Then the smoke smells nice.”
“Something like that, only made from all sorts of other things, in a place with no pine trees,” Joe explained. “Myrrh is a kind of balm that you’d use on your feet, if I remember right. It was very expensive too. Not quite sure why but it was.”
Aslaug looked thoughtful. “I think I can guess what happened next. The wise Kings found Mary and Joseph, yes?”
“Clever filly,” Joe grinned. “Yeah, they did. You see, that night, Mary gave birth and she named her child Jesus. There was no bed to put him in so they had to empty one of the feeding troughs in the stable, wrap the child up to keep him warm and let him sleep in that. A group of shepherds from the hills and the three wise Kings found them found them around that time.”
“Ohhhhhhh…” Aslaug said and looked thoughtful. It was almost as if one could see the gears grinding behind her eyes. “That must’ve been nice. They were in a smelly barn, so the incense helped. They had walked a very long way to get there, so the balm was good for their feet, and carpenters aren’t rich so the gold probably helped a lot with a new child to take care of. I bet Joseph was a grateful dad…”
Joe cleared his throat and looked strange for a moment. “Well, you see…Joseph wasn’t the father…”
“God was the father…”
Aslaug looked incredulous and leaned forward a bit, narrowed her eyes and tried to figure out if Joe was yanking her tail. “So you’re telling me…that the Christian God in all his splendor came down to Mary, shoved Joseph out of the bed and said ‘move over, it’s my turn’? I don’t buy it. You said there was no Christianity yet, so Joseph wouldn’t have known who this God-fur was, and he’d have gotten angry. Whenever Odin pulls a stunt like that he at least has the decency to disguise himself first…even though he still gets found out.”
“Ahh…erhm…” Joe tried to keep a straight face. The mental images Aslaug’s words had conjured up were hilarious, if highly sacrilegous. “It didn’t happen quite like that…”
“Then explain please…” Aslaug said.
Annie put a paw over her husband’s and smiled. “God came down to Mary in spirit only. What we call the ‘holy ghost’. He didn’t actually sleep with her.”
Aslaug squinted. “So you’re saying that some ghost came down from the sky and made Mary pregnant, then left again?”
“If I was Mary…I’d be disappointed!” Aslaug said and crossed her arms across her chest.
Joe felt like slamming his forehead into the table. This was how things usually went when talking Christianity with Aslaug. She just didn’t grasp the basic ideas. At least this time was slightly humerous. He tried to wipe off the smirk that had settled off his face, shaking his head. “Only you, Aslaug…only you would say something like that.”
“And you’re telling me that Joseph didn’t get angry anyway? Sounds like a wuss to me. Or didn’t Mary tell him who the real father was?” the filly said, scractching her mane.
“Oh no, Mary told her husband…and he accepted it,” Joe explained.
“Pfehh…” Aslaug muttered. “If some femme back home were to tell her husband ‘oh, love…I’m pregnant and Odin is the father’, that male would go looking all over the village for the REAL father, armed to the teeth. Sounds to me like Joseph was a bit stupid…”
“ASLAUG!!!” Annie burst out and blinked.
“Well it does. Still is a good story though. Go on…” the equine answered.
Joe couldn’t help laughing anymore. He knew the filly well enough to see the joke in the entire situation. Wiping his eyes and clearing his throat to regain his composure, he shook his head at Annie to tell the fox that it was pointless to argue that with Aslaug.
“Okay…” he grinned, “After the wise Kings found Jesus in that crib, they realized that he was in fact the King they had been looking for, and they gave Mary and Joseph their gifts. Angels sang in heaven at that moment, that’s for sure…”
“Ahh…so these three rich and wise Kings find a carpenter and his wife craddling a newborn child…in a feeding trough…and they decide he’s the King of Kings?”
“Sounds like they needed to have someone check their eyes,” Aslaug mumbled. “Some tale, though. Okay, so this is what you celebrate on Christmas?”
Joe nodded. He was pretty amazed. It wasn’t as if he’d used a lot of hard words but it was obvious that Aramis’ spell either had failed totally or was on it’s death-throes. Aslaug’s speech was accented and her pronounciation was occasionally a bit strange. But she’d understood it all, more or less. Admittedly, she hadn’t understood the religious parts of it, but Joe frankly hadn’t expected that anyway.
“It is,” he answered.
“Where does the big, fat polar-bear in the red clothes, giving out all those presents come into it?” the equine asked.
Annie laughed. “That’s Santa Claus. I think the story goes that he was a bishop, many years ago, from the middle east somewhere, who saw some poor women weeping that they had no food to eat on the eve of Christ’s birth. He decided to help them and tossed a package of food through their window so they could celebrate properly.”
“He could’ve just walked up to the door and given it to them…” Aslaug pointed out.
“True, he could have. But his generosity to the needy was a true act of Christian charity. He did other good things. So nowadays, he’s been turned into this jolly polar-bear giving out presents to children,” Annie explained.
“Ahhh…he probably wasn’t a polar bear then. No polar bears in the middle east,” Aslaug said. “It’s a kind of nice story but you know, Christians aren’t the only generous ones.”
“True…I’ve got to admit that we can’t claim monopoly on charity,” Joe admitted.
Aslaug leaned back in her seat and put on that thoroughly thoughtful expression of hers. Annie and Joe both knew to let her think when that happened. It usually meant something intense was going on underneath her blonde mane.
“So ‘Christ’s mass’ is a mass at church, celebrating White Christ’s birthday…but it’s become more than that, and now it’s turned into an excuse to give everyone EXCEPT White Christ a present?”
Joe squinted. That was a new take on things. “Well…yes. More or less. There’s still an important religious part of it for Christians, though.”
“I think it’s unfair. I’m going to buy White Christ a present. It’s not fair that everyone has celebrated his birthday for two thousand years and no one bothered giving him a present yet. Frankly I think Christians ought to be ashamed of themselves!” Aslaug said, sternly.
Joe blinked and stared at Aslaug. “You are going to get Christ a present? How are you going to get it to Him?? And Aslaug, you’re not Christian…why would you care?”
“I don’t pray to him and I don’t worship him. I never said I didn’t think he could actually be out there somewhere. All I said your God is not my God. It doesn’t mean he can’t be there,” Aslaug said and got up. “I’ve got a bit of pocketmoney to spend.”
Annie blinked and looked at Joe. They had gotten into the habbit of giving Aslaug an allowance. In many ways, having the filly around the house was like having a child there again. Aslaug had to learn after all and besides, having no money at all meant things would get boring pretty fast. It wasn’t a lot but it was something.
“What’re you going to get Him?” Joe asked, mentally slapping himself for it. Curiosity killed cats, not coyotes, he reminded himself.
“I don’t know. I’ll think of something,” Aslaug said, thoughtfully. “I’ve got to get a few things for the shortest day anyway. It’s…solhverv. My holy day.”
Annie nodded. “You know…I think it’s an incredibly sweet thought of you. Maybe it really does take someone like you to see that we forgot something important,” she said, thoughtfully. “I think the main reason people don’t give Christ a birthday present is that…no one really knows his mailing address?”
Joe chuckled and put an arm around his wife’s shoulder. “That’s not exactly true. We go to the house of God every sunday, don’t we?”
Annie nodded. “That’s true. We do.”
Aslaug nodded and turned to leave the room.
“Wait…Aslaug…hang on,” Joe burst out. “Please. You said you needed some things for solstice, yes?”
“Sol…stice…yes…that’s the English word. Have to remember that. Yes, I do,” the filly said and canted her head, slightly. “Why?”
“Well, what do you need?” Joe asked and shrugged. “We may have some of it around the house.”
“I couldn’t ask you to do that, Joe. It’s not a Christian ritual.”
“Don’t be silly. You’re our friend and if you don’t mind, I would like to just watch. Just…observe. Not take part or anything,” he said.
Aslaug looked at her friend a while. She was happy that he’d made that offer. She kept telling herself that she was amongst Christians and she had to adapt. It was difficult a lot of the time and she did feel lonely, occasionally. This would certainly help with that.
“You mean that?”
“Of course I do. Don’t be silly. You’ve come to church with Annie and me. You ask a lot of questions there, but everyone expects it by now. It would not be fair and equal if I didn’t at least see what you do when you worship your gods, would it?”
“You’re a good fur, Joe Latrans,” Aslaug said and smiled. “I just need eggs, ale and fire…”
“That’s all?? Not a problem,” Joe said and smiled.
Annie nodded. She could see what Joe was saying and at least he wasn’t going to take part. Besides, it was the only fair thing to do to the equine.
“Annie…could I get you to make some hot soup for that night too?” Aslaug asked.
“Of course…you need to bring it?” Annie asked, curiously.
“No…it’s just the way it is. Where I come from, that is a cold night and when you get back, you share a meal. Usually something hot to warm you back up,” the filly explained.
“That’s no problem. I’ll have hot chicken soup ready for you when you come back,” Annie responded and smiled.
Joe’s tail started wagging vigorously. “Ahhh…chicken soup…”
Aslaug laughed and turned around. She had to go find a birthday present for White Christ.