You can’t do that! I cry out in fear,
watching the woman laid bare on the bed.
A blade presses gently against her arm,
trailing an invisible line across her skin.
And then once more further down,
across the thigh above the knee.
It is diseased, you say.
All between the lines you see.
There is no other way.
I cry, I fear, I panic and think
that woman will die.
For how could she not?
You listen not to me.
Your hand is steady,
you cut and reshape
the flesh that remains.
It is with great relief I see
the woman stand
alive and free of pain,
free of all that was.
So much, cut away,
she’s now no taller than a child
but still alive.
Yes, I see her walking.
Through painful loss,
and frightful aid,
a brand new life.
I am awake.
How long I have slept, I can’t tell.
Rising from bed I come to face a mirror.
Tracks across my bare skin, I see them there.
Footprints, paw prints, bird prints,
prints of unknown beasts.
With a careful finger I follow the tracks,
trying to make sense of what can not be.
More, there is more.
Pictures emerging, figures and faces,
beings of this world and the next.
I marvel at the sight.
Fading, they are fading quick.
Record them, photograph them,
commit them to memory
before they are gone.
The wilderness passes by at a slow pace, to the clop-clop-clop sound of hooves. It is not a horse I ride, not even a pony. Just a donkey, so small that my feet nearly touch the ground.
Clop-clop-clop-clop, on we go.
Something catches my eye beside the road, something moving between trees and bushes. A blurr of colour, orange or yellow, swiftly gone. To see it better I take the spyglass from my side and raise it to my eye, seeing through the tube a picture only somewhat clearer.
A tiger. Slowly stalking through the edge of the forest, slowly coming closer. I lower the glass, the animal has come close enough for me to clearly see it even without such tools. It has its eyes on me. It is coming.
Clop-clop-clop-clop I urge the donkey on along the road. We are too slow, all I can do is hope the attack never comes.
In rainwater soak
Leaves of birch chopped fine
Into it coarse salt pour and
Mix with almond oil
Strip down bare
Even if cold
Leave not a thread
Even if cold
As thorough as ever then
Wash your limbs
Wash your body
Wash your hair
Rinse in running water
With salted birch and oil you then
Scrub your limbs
Scrub your body
Scrub your hair
Rinse in running water
Clean new clothes
Chamomile and honey tea
Sleep and be reborn
The flame of Odin’s candle flickered, thrown back and forth as if in agony. I took a breath but found no air. I closed my eyes but found no solace. Guide me, I asked. Please, guide me.
The writhing flame only screamed.
Please, I asked. Please.
Every twist of the sacred flame charred my intentions. Please, I cried.
Not when word of self loathing mark your body. Why would I speak to one who is worthless, one who is no one?
The flame crackled and twisted around its own self as I reached for my blade. My hands were steady even as my heart trembled. Sharp, so very sharp, against skin.
Words of self loathing, I scraped them off. Words of self degradation, removed from my flesh.
When not a trace of shame remained, the flame grew silent.
Such words are not easily erased. The naked eye might not see the hateful lines, but still they are there.
He did not speak to me. No booming voice nor gentle whisper. Only agony.
Do not approach me so tainted.
… and uniforms, we all wear them. Crisp and clean, we are to look good for the camera. Look good for the public. I have to remind myself to smile and hold my back straight, to keep pretending. My gaze flickers from one person to the next, never lingering too long on those I know to be friends. Just a little while longer must we hold it together, this act of ours. Just a little while longer.
On my right side suddenly stands a woman. I know her not by name, but that matters little. She is one of us. One who has had to give up everything, had to renounce her faith and put on a mask of uniformity, just to survive.
I see her shaking. Her lips, her arms, her entire essence, trembling. There is sweat across her brow and a look of desperation in her dark brown eyes. By my side she stands, whispering with a voice muddled by tears.
“I can’t… I can’t do this…”
The chill of danger floods me. Too many around us, there are too many.
“Please don’t go without me,” she whispers. “I… I…”
Too many watching. I lean in, lower my head by hers, face to face as were we about to kiss. Shielding her expression from being seen. My upper lip grazes against hers as I whisper.
“You can do this. Breathe. Don’t think. We won’t leave you.”
Just a little while longer.
A child’s mind is not the easiest thing to comprehend. Her frames of reference, her sense of logic and reason, it is something else.
Before I knew the runes, one came to me. To me and my cousin, who was of the same age. It was before we had begun at school, before we had learned the proper ways of modern living.
I don’t know where it came from. I didn’t know then either. We just knew that this, this was important. And powerful. It meant protection. It meant hope. It meant a way out for he who is trapped, and a way in for he who is locked out. We could not put to words why, but this we knew.
We called it Norrombergen. A name that made sense to a child’s mind, though to you it may seem strange. Norrombergen, we knew, consisted of one vertical line, splitting into three at the top. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I learned it had another name – Algiz.
No one taught us. This was secret knowledge that we had stumbled on, and we told no one. For years and years, we told no one. Norrombergen was a secret, and it was ours.