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
Aslaug was hurting in ways she wasn’t sure a fur was meant to hurt, and she was feeling great. She was looking at her own apartment. It wasn’t big, but it was hers and it was home! A real home. One she could do with what she wanted, as long as she didn’t wreck it, at least. And at least this meant she wouldn’t be overstaying her welcome with Joe and Annie any longer. She knew they would never complain about having her around and that they probably honestly didn’t see it as any kind of problem, but she did.
She didn’t like being dependent on anyone.
Now the place was furnished. Not excessively, and most of the furniture was second-paw, but she didn’t mind. She loved it. It was a new start and she had needed that.
As long as she lived with Joe and Annie, she had been somehow bound by how she had arrived in this world…and by her past. This was where she could start afresh.
She brushed her paws off against one another and nodded in satisfaction. This was home now. Not where she had once come from. She had friends here. A job she loved. A life to live…endless though it may be.
She knew how many furs in this world longed for eternal youth. She didn’t really understand them. She looked at age with respect and reverence. Old furs had had the necessary years to accumulate wisdom and experience, after all.
She turned and looked at the wall behind her. Her axe was hanging there. A new suit of chainmail hung on a specially constructed rack, with her long spear leaned against the shoulder. A helmet looked at her from the shelf. Next to the axe, on the wall, hung a huge, round shield. It was exceptionally well made too, Aslaug had to admit. Right down to the way it had been properly covered in very thinly layered animal guts. It was something few furs knew about, she had learned. But it was absolutely necessary, or a single arrow would split the shield down the middle. The innards meant the wood was almost impossible to split like that. It was painted red with a black rim and a black cross meeting at the shield buckle in the middle. A sun-wheel, for spiritual protection. She needed to thank Tigermark next time she saw him for helping her get that. The tiger liked…what was it he had called it again…Ren Fairs? There were skilled artisans at such events and she had managed to get the armor through those channels. The quality was good. The steel was of superior quality compared to what she had been used to…in her old life.
On a small table on the opposite side of the room, she had arranged a small, indoor shrine. Joe had patiently explained to her why the use of the sun-sigil was considered very bad in this world. The hooked cross had been used by the most evil of furs as the symbol under which millions of innocents had been butchered.
Aslaug did not approve.
She had fought and killed. She’d taken part in raids and she admitted that she had innocent blood on her paws. But in the world she had come from, it was something everyone did. It was a violent world, but even there one would not usually see warriors trying to slaughter innocents wholesale. Not without a very good reason. It was bad for future prospects of plunder after all, and it was pointless. One couldn’t bring back the dead as thralls, after all. This world was different. Slavery was an abomination to the furs of this world, and there was no need for the kind of butchery Joe had told her about. No need and no justifiable reason.
In any case, warrior though she may be, she had always agreed with the Norse philosophy. First trade with furs…and if they stop wanting to trade with you or turn you away, or if they cheat you…then go back with armed friends and make them see the error of their ways. Trade got everyone what they wanted, anyway.
It was occasionally confusing to think of the huge differences in mentalities. She would never even consider doing things the ‘old way’ around here at least. The thought was slightly nauseating, in fact.
It told her just how much she had already changed. For the better, she liked to think. Joe had teased her at one point about how she was getting a Christian world view. He’d only teased her briefly. She’d snapped back at him and reminded him of the homeless in the streets and the hypocrisy of ‘Thou shalt not kill’. She had sneered something she couldn’t even remember about how Christians still took their moral guidelines from texts that had been ancient when she was born.
It had led to one of those awkward moments which had always been rare with Joe and Annie, but which reminded her that she did need to move out on her own, every time they happened. Joe clearly realized he’d stepped too close to a line that should not be crossed, and she had instantly regretted the harshness of her reply.
In any case, she had listened to Joe’s advice and promised not to use the hooked cross again. Ever. She had also promised that if she ever got to lay her paws on the git who had abused it, she’d dismember him slowly for the insult. Joe had chuckled and informed her that the fur in question had been dead for sixty years or so. But that there were still a few idiots around who held to his ideas.
What was the name again? Aslaug tried to remember.
Hasper? Hentner? Heilter? Something with an H, at least…something along those lines.
Anyway, she had settled for a sun-wheel instead of the sigil.
She let herself fall backwards into a chair, before picking up a beer. She’d never get used to the awfulness of American beer, but she had asked around to find out where good beer was made. There were many countries where they made really good ale. She’d then managed to locate a store less than an hour’s drive away where she could buy several different types.
She’d bought a balloon as well. Not one of those things that kids played with, but one of those neat things used for home brewing. She wanted to make her own mead. She’d asked Joe where to get the necessary items and the coyote had helped her find a place where she could get that. At first she’d been a bit confused at the concept of the balloon but when it had been explained to her, she had to admit it was a neat idea. All she had to do was dump in the necessary ingredients, swirl it once or twice a day and sift it once a week, and it’d take care of itself. Easy! She liked that.
Her job was perfect too, but the problem was that the football season didn’t last forever. She needed another income but she had been offered further employment by the school.
Teaching a class of self defense to the young femmes. Aslaug grinned. She had long since learned of the concept of ‘martial arts’. It probably worked. In fact she knew it did. Tigermark was living evidence of that. She knew nothing of that kind of thing, though. But what she did know was how to protect herself and how to take down an attacker fast and effectively, and that was what the young femmes needed to learn. The school also wanted her to help coach some of the other school-related sports. Like track and field. She could make a living like that. Not a fortune, obviously, but enough for some measure of comfort.
“This looks comfy, Coach!” Minister Berg said from the doorway.
Aslaug turned to look at the mountain lion, smiling. “It’s perfect. This is just what I needed. A place of my own. Anyway, come in, make yourself comfortable. Want something to drink? I’ve got something actually worth drinking for once.”
“Then congratulations on your new home, and yes please, I’m quite thirsty. Oh my…is that axe real?” the minister said, stepping inside. He took his jacket off and discreetly placed his crucifix inside his shirt.
Aslaug noticed as she held out a bottle of some Scottish brew. She wasn’t sure how to pronounce the name but she liked the taste. “You know, the cross doesn’t bother me. You’re welcome to your beliefs, William.”
William nodded and smiled, getting the cruficix back out again. “Thank you. Well…I just didn’t want to offend. It’s your home and everything.”
“Oh, and by that you mean you’d happily offend me if it wasn’t my home?” Aslaug asked and grinned.
William slumped slightly and groaned. “You know what I mean, Coach. Behave!”
Aslaug chuckled and pulled up a chair for the minister, before looking back to the wall. “To answer your question, yes…it’s real. About eleven centuries old…”
Blinking rapidly, William boggled at that. Then he nodded sagely. “Ahh…the type you mean? An accurate reproduction then?”
“No no, that particular axe is more than a thousand years old. It’s not a reproduction,” she said and sat down, sipping her ale, looking at the mountain lion to gauge his reaction.
William wasn’t sure how to deal with that information. The axe was gleaming. In perfect, mint condition. A thousand years? It would surely have rusted many times since then. At best it would look like a museum piece. It belonged in a museum if it was that old. The chain mail didn’t look like a reproduction made for show either. It was heavy, tightly knit and long enough that it’d reach the filly’s knees, with sleeves that would cover half her arms. The shield…now that was something. He had thought the symbol painted on it had been a cross until he realized that the black circle rim and the black cross was one symbol, and that the cross wasn’t the symbol in itself. He didn’t recognize it.
But the strangest thing was the helmet. It didn’t have the attached horns he had grown up associating with Vikings. He knew the equine sitting across from him venerated the Viking gods, at least. That was common knowledge around town and he’d known this since before sitting down to talk to her in the park that night not so long ago.
He’d kept his promise too. It was with his help that Aslaug had gotten the apartment they were now sitting in.
But that helmet was strange. It was fairly straightforward, really. Round, but with a neck-guard from the same blackened chain-mail as the whole coat, hanging on that rack next to the axe. What caught William’s eyes was…this thing had goggles. Or glasses. Or something. He wasn’t sure what to call it. But it felt as if it was staring at him. Like…something was really looking at him through those empty eyepieces.
He cleared his throat, suddenly slightly uncomfortable. “A thousand years, Coach? Shouldn’t it be at a museum…?” he asked.
“That’s where I got it back. They had found my bones…and my axe. The mail coat is new. So’s the shield. The helmet is original as well.”
“Your…bones…?!?” William asked. He’d totally forgotten his beer. “Coach…you’re not making a lot of sense right now.”
“I know,” she said, matter-of-factly “But you did say you were in the business of believing. And I assure you, I’m not lying. I don’t lie. It’s considered very bad form by my Gods…”
William scratched his neck. He’d heard some strange stories. That Joe had some out-of-state friends who occasionally came in the dead of night. That no one knew where they went. That one day, they had come back with the equine, and that she had been…like a blast from the past, to anyone who had met her. That she seemed not to understand things that were commonplace and everyday to any ordinary furs.
The kids she trained spoke of how nothing seemed to hurt her for very long.
Reuben had told him that he was sure he’d heard the equine’s collarbone snap during practice once, when she had taken on two linefurs on her own, without protection. Ten minutes later, it seemed that nothing was wrong with her and her arm had functioned perfectly again.
But he’d been certain he’d heard the crunch.
There was something unnatural about the equine, and while William was a good, devout Christian, he wasn’t quite sure what that meant. He believed firmly in Angels, but his own interpretation of them was that they were spiritual entities and not embodied creatures. In any case, Aslaug’s flat refutal of all things Christian made it hard to think she was such a being. But she wasn’t a demon either. He was equally certain of that. She wasn’t evil. He prided himself on his ability to recognize evil when he saw it, and he was convinced that Coach Aslaug was a good fur.
Everything about her told him that.
“You said you wanted to know…” she said, shrugging. “Does my helmet bother you?”
William shook his head, but he found it hard to take his eyes off it. “No…no it’s just that I always imagined that they would have horns.”
“Leads a glancing sword blow directly to your temple. Horned helmets would be suicidal.”
Aslaugh smiled. “It’s alright…” she said “Go ahead and take it if you want to have a closer look. It won’t break.”
William put his beer down and got up, walking up to the shelf, looking at the helmet more closely. It was almost as if he could hear screams and clashes of steel against steel. His fingers slowly reached out. They came back sticky. There was blood on them. He blinked. Had he accidentally cut himself on a sharp edge? He looked at Aslaug but she didn’t seem to notice anything. Instead, he looked at his fingers again. They were clean and dry.
Of course they were. His imagination was taking off in a strange direction, he told himself.
“I want to know…” he said, hoarsely, turning to face the equine again “What is going on? Tell me everyth…”
Aslaug raised her bottle to empty it. Darkness seemed to flow from it’s opening and she blinked, suddenly uncertain of what was going on. She snapped her head around. William Berg was frozen in place. His mouth half open as if not quite done talking.
“Tursen blast me,” Aslaug growled and got up. She reached out and grabbed the axe on the wall. As she turned back…she realized it wouldn’t help her.
The room was covered in the liquid darkness, and it was still spreading.
“Aslaug…put your weapon away,” a voice said. It sounded both young and old. Female.
“Show yourself!!” the equine growled. “I do not fear you!”
The voice laughed wearily. “Why should you? You…the deathless one, fearing the hereafter? No…Aslaug…I think you long for what I have to offer. And I can’t offer it to you…”
Aslaug’s eyes narrowed and she gritted her teeth. “I know you, Hel…and when I died, I died in battle. I do not belong in your realm!”
“Precisely. You can’t accept what I have to offer, nor can I offer it to you,” the voice said. The darkness covered the whole room now.
Aslaug looked around to see if the darkness was any less anywhere else. Her eyes struggled to see. She felt a certain weight on her shoulders and shrugged slightly, instantly realizing that she was armored. Her shield leaned against her leg. She picked it up and strapped it to her back. Her two Franciscas appeared on her belt. This confused her for a brief moment. She had used those long, long ago. She had thought them lost.
“Do you feel safer now, shieldmaiden?” the voice asked “I do not mean to make you ill at ease…”
“This is Hel. YOU are Hel. What is there NOT to feel ill at ease about, Lokedaughter?” the equine asked.
A form slowly appeared out of the darkness. Aslaug narrowed her eyes again to distinguish it. It was more or less what she had expected, and it still made her stomach turn. On one side, the femme approaching her was beautiful. Youthful and elegant, a young female wolf in the spring of her life. On the other, she appeared as a rotting corpse, long dead.
“Am I really so horrifying, Aslaug?”
“I fear only the lord of Fire, you know that already.”
Hel smiled. She looked tired, Aslaug realized. “Yes. I know that. But the revulsion is obvious on your face. Strangely…that seems to be how many furs react to me.”
“You rule the realm of the ignoble and the liars and the honorless. That’s what I find revolting. I acknowledge you, and I would never disrespect a Goddess,” Aslaug said, actually bowing her head respectfully.
Hel put her healthy paw on Aslaug’s arm, still smiling. “Good. You are all that I have heard you would be, then. But don’t you see…look at me again, Aslaug Larsdatter. Look at me. What do you see…precisely.”
“I see rot and decay, and I see youth and vigor,” Aslaug said, looking back up. “I see opposites. I see division. I see two sides…one which must follow the other, but not the other way around.”
Nodding slightly, Hel looked at the equine for a long moment. “All true,” she answered. “Do you know why you are here now?”
Aslaug looked around again. The darkness was lifting a little. It never actually became bright. More like a constant dusk. But she could see shapes move around. Decrepit, bent, broken forms of furs. Mewling, moaning, whimpering and clawing the walls or the very mist-covered ground.
She looked down.
The ground was made up of more such shapes. Like a living floor of despair.
“You must be tired, shieldmaiden,” the Goddess said softly. “Please, have a seat.”
A chair materialized out of the mist. A table followed. A goblet, filling with some liquid. There was a plate. A dagger was stuck into a freshly baked bread.
“If you won’t take it as a deep offense, Hel, I shall prefer not to accept your hospitality. I know of your plate…of your dagger…” Aslaug said, carefully.
Hel laughed. It was a strange sound. Both rasping like the last rattle of a dying fur, and fresh, springlike laughter like that of a young maiden. “I cannot offer you that, as I told you. There is nothing wrong with this dagger or with the plate. I assure you, it is quite safe. Please, do sit with me. I wish to talk to you…”
Reluctantly, Aslaug sat down and reached for the dagger and the bread. She cut a little corner off it and ate it. It tasted nice. And she didn’t feel more hungry. She cut a bigger slice and bit down on it. It tasted like…
Her eyes widened. Then closed slowly and her head fell back as she could hear her mother’s voice again. Her father’s laughter. The scent of fresh bread spread in her nostrils.
Her mother’s bread. This bread.
She heard her father sing, softly. He had always had such a comforting voice. He sung of fields of rye. Of ships with square, woven sails. He sung of the sunrise over the inlet where she had grown up. He sung of life…and love…and family. She looked at him. Saw her mother hug him, kiss his cheek.
Her mother…was pregnant?
“I will have a strong son!” her father said, smiling widely. “He’ll grow to be a strong male, and he will take over this land when I am no more. He will live and love and honor the Gods…and I will teach him all I know.”
“Who knows,” her mother answered with her usual glint in her eye “You may have a daughter instead.”
“Same thing then!” her father burst out and spread his arms wide “No difference. I will raise her to love life, live it to the fullest, to be strong and to honor the Gods just the same, and then the land will be hers!”
Aslaug felt her words catch in her throat. She realized what Hel was showing her…
Then it faded away and Aslaug opened her eyes. She was still holding the bread in her paw. Her cheeks were wet from tears.
“He kept that promise,” she said, quietly. “He kept every word of it. Except that I didn’t take over the land. I couldn’t…as a shieldmaiden.”
“Your mother kept the land, Aslaug. When you died, she was too old to have more children, but she married again after your death. Her new husband had children. They took over. They lived well…they remembered you…never forgot.”
“Why do you show me this…?” Aslaug said, swallowing back more tears.
Hel sat down opposite of Aslaug. An elaborate, bony throne formed out of the mists under her. “You needed to see it. You needed to know what had happened to those you left behind…”
“What of Ulf? What of Tormod? What of all the Hird?”
“In your world or the one you came to?”
Aslaug stopped and nodded, slowly. “I never knew these furs in my new home world. I…know I died in that world, in fact. In my own then,” she said at long last.
Hel smiled crookedly…a strange sight, showing teeth and bone on her decaying side. “Wise choice. The dead from your new world is not with me. We don’t rule that realm, after all. But to answer your question…Ulf is here with me. He died old. Very old. He told the story of your last battle to everyone who would listen, and there were a lot who would. Tormod is in Valhalla. He died in battle a few years later. A glorious…noble death.”
“What?? Ulf is here? By what ignonimity??” Aslaug burst out “He was a noble, brave fur. Why would he…”
She stopped. Hel had raised her bony paw to stop her. “He is here, but he is elsewhere in Hel. He died peacefully in his sleep. He lived to see eighty three summers, Aslaug. But he was a noble fur, and I would never let him languish in this gruesome pit.”
Aslaug looked at the grotesque shapes moaning and writhing around her. She had almost forgotten them. “What is this then?”
“This is Hel, as I am. I am it, and it is me,” the Goddess said, smiling a little. “This is where the liars and honorless go, just as you said…”
“But where is Ulf then, if he is not here?”
“He is here,” Hel said and placed a paw over her heart. On her healthy side. “Do you not see? I am two. Opposite sides like you said yourself. Do you think that all who dont die in battle are forever doomed to this kind of life? You warriors and your beliefs…” she chuckled. “You just saw your mother, while expecting you, didn’t you?”
“How…how did you…?”
“Because she is here too, Aslaug. In your heart and in mine. The good exist here peacefully. Forever in dusk, yes…but where they are it isn’t cold. It doesn’t stink of death. Don’t waste your life…isn’t that what you always say?”
Slowly, Aslaug nodded. It was difficult to grasp. “Can…I see Ulf? Can…would you…”
Hel smiled again. “Please Aslaug, you look so tired…so hungry and tired. Eat a little more. Relax. Let some of your doubts go…”
Slowly, the equine raised the bread to her mouth again, taking another bite. She chewed, slowly. She could smell the scent of meat roasting on spits. The laughter of brave furs rang in her ears. She could her bawdy songs somewhere. Again, tears of loss forced their way down her cheeks. She opened her eyes again and stood up.
“ASLAUG…Where in Vidar’s name did you run off to?” a voice boomed.
She turned, slowly, and found herself engulfed in a massive hug by her old brother-in-arms. He was old. His fur had gone almost white from age, but he was still strong.
“Ulf…” she said and smiled. “Look at you. Did wisdom manage to catch you before you passed on?”
“Oh, they say so…they say so,” the old warrior chuckled “I’ve waited a long time to hear what went on with you. I know that Tormod ended up in the golden halls but I didn’t hear about you…”
“I’m not there. I’m still alive…” Aslaug said, softly. She shook her head, realizing how crazy that sounded.
Ulf blinked. “A thousand years? Oh my, you make me feel YOUNG again, filly, and look at you…not a day older than when you…well…didn’t die, then? I was so sure you fell on that battlefield. Why didn’t you come back if you didn’t die?”
“It’ll take a lot longer than I think we have to explain it all…but maybe Hel will tell you some of it…”
“Poor old girl,” the wolf chuckled. “She’s not a bad hostess, you know. Look at this place? I get to eat and drink with those warriors who were too good to get killed in battle. I am not complaining. All of us here were brave, good furs in life. We just happened to die of old age. Not that you feel it with most of them. They’re a lively old bunch…”
“Oooh, who’s the pretty lass, Ulf? You didn’t say you were expecting a friend to arrive! And what gives? You’ve been dead for centuries! You can’t have known her in life…” an old badger shouted and waved a gnawed off bone around.
“YEAH!” an even more aged lynx grinned. He looked like he’d be too old to stand up on his own but he almost leapt out of the seat “Nevermind how he knows her. She’s one fine lookin’ filly. Bring her over here. Sit down with us. Share some stories!”
Ulf chuckled. “Be quiet, all of you. This is Aslaug…the same one I’ve told you about so many times. She’ll end up in Folksvang when she finally does go. But she isn’t dead. She’s visiting.”
“Oooooooooh, one of Freja’s eh? Folksvang? That’s nice, that’s nice.”
“Woooow. Hel lets in visitors now? That’s pretty nice of her! Let’s invite some more shieldmaidens and valkyries, boys!!”
Aslaug felt many pounds lighter. Like most of her worries faded. “You all look so spry…” she said and smiled at her old friend.
Ulf shrugged and jumped, clacking his heels together. “Why wouldn’t we? Wouldn’t be much of an afterlife if we, after living good, honorable lives for that long, had to continue existing with stiff backs and decrepit eyesight, now would it? Hel is a good hostess. I do miss watching the sunrise sometimes, though…but at least it’s always evening here. Always time to feast and sing and tell each other stories…”
“Not all is bad in Hel…” Aslaug said, softly.
Ulf nodded, then smiled and waved. Aslaug was about to ask why, when the meadhall began to fade. She waved back. Again, she felt a lump in her throat. She knew she would probably never see her old friend again. But now it wasn’t as bad. Now she knew he was happy.
“Thank you,” she said once she opened her eyes again.
“You are welcome,” Hel answered and crossed her dead leg over the healthy one. “Don’t you wonder why I brought you here…just now…however?”
Slowly, Aslaug nodded, clearing her mind and her throat. “I do. And I also think the Christian God is either going to throw a hissyfit about you yanking me out of his world, or you agreed with him in advance.”
Hel laughed that strange laughter of hers again. “It was arranged in advance. Apart from Loke we’re not disrespectful enough to just hop around worlds like we see fit.”
“Then why now?” Aslaug asked. She looked at her paws. Her fingers were trembling a little.
“Because you have been asking yourself enough questions…it is time to ask someone else some of the same questions, don’t you think?”
“What…Joe? Tigermark? Aramis?”
“They’re already in this. Wouldn’t really help you, would it?”
Aslaug shook her head. Hel had a point. “No. Not really. You’re referring to William then, aren’t you? That’s why it happened now. I was about to tell him who I am. Where I’m from. About all this…”
“You heal wounds, Aslaug. You always seem to doubt that. You never really understood that part, I think.”
“Loke said much the same…”
Hel smiled. “That he did. He came here…told me about your meeting. I’ve been waiting since that evening for when you were ready to share your burden with an outsider. Don’t you see, Aslaug…what it is you are doing?”
Aslaug was about to shake her head. Then her eyes went wide. “Oh good gods…”
“Well…most of us aren’t too bad,” Hel chuckled.
“I was about to place trust in a Christian, wasn’t I? Real trust. I was about to tell him the whole, absolute, absurd and messy truth. And not just a Christian, but one of their priests.”
Hel’s smile widened a little. She reached out to take the goblet from the table. Running a decaying finger around the rim, she nodded again. “You look thirsty, Aslaug Larsdatter. Here…please drink and be alone no longer…”
She held out the goblet. Aslaug took it.
She emptied it.
Bright light went off around her.
“Not all is bad…in Hel…” she whispered and fell backwards. The misty chair disintigrated under her. There was nothing to see, except light and darkness, swirling in and out between one another.
She felt wood under her hooves. A floor. Steady ground.
She raised her head.
“I am not what you think…” she said, quietly “And most furs would never believe me when I told them…”
William closed his mouth. “But…how…the shield and…and the armor…it was right there and now you’re…how did this…?” he tried.
Aslaug straightened her back and looked at the mountain lion. “I am Aslaug Larsdatter. I was born during the reign of old King Gorm and his Queen, Thyra. I lived life to it’s fullest, I loved my friends and I honored the Gods. Like my father taught me,” she said.
She reached out and took her helmet, placing it on her head.
William looked at the helmet. And the femme wearing it. He could hear clashes of weapons. Screams. Behind Aslaug, it looked as if an army was charging down a hill. It was there for less than a second, but he had seen it. He had smelled the blood.
Then he nodded. Just once. Very slowly.
“I believe you,” he said, quietly. “Hell’s bells, Coach, you look like you’re getting ready for a battle!! Tell me all of it. Everything. As God is my witness, your secret is safe with me.”
Aslaug put her shield down. She took the helmet off again and hung her axe back on the wall. “You have no idea how fitting that expression is,” she said and smiled a little. “Anyway, it all started on a heath…”
She stopped herself and shook her head, then sat down and looked at the mountain lion with a long, searching look. “No,” she corrected herself “It didn’t. It began many years before that. With my parents…”