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Luck of Frozen Pond

by Barbara Steinhauser 5 months ago in fantasy

After the Tornado

Shock jolted my body as my feet hit wood. Some leyline snapped between Mor and me; my chin jammed into my chest, rattling my teeth. What had just happened? Wasn’t I daughter to Mor and Da? Hadn’t my parents meant to better our family position by marrying me to King Ransom, purchasing his affections? Hadn’t my Rumple luck spun straw into a golden dowry?

My throat clamped tight. Sharp, bitter air flowed in and out of my nose, forming icicles. My eyelashes clung heavy with frozen tears. Skin once warmed by sunshine and hugs bore a thousand goosebumps. Shivers ran up my disheartened spine, exploding my head. I inhaled the frigid fog long and slow, steadying my mind.

Cascade upon cascade of blue ice rose above the pond’s smooth surface like an unshorn ewe glowering at me from a clear blue eye. I turned slowly, absorbing numerous dams of lambs who glowered from every direction, disconcerting me. Ewes shielded their young. I was an orphan.

“You are hamingja: our guardian angel,” Mor had said. Not, “I love you, my daughter.” Not, “I am sorry I must now leave you.” The woman had cast me upon Da’s fabricated wooden box with an admonition, “Guard our boy.” She’d left without a backward glance.

Was I the ewe? Confusion muddled my thoughts. I hadn’t changed from my wedding dress and wedding shoes and yet, the jacket and skirt upon me were woven of heavy wool. Visual memories of my former shape disappeared like runes drawn in dust. Hadn’t I hung above the tornado in dwindling green light with Mor, as she flapped her raven wings? In the Valley, she’d said she was a shapeshifter. Had I known she was a shapeshifter? I felt like I hadn’t known a thing about my mother. Not the shape of her.

I balanced upon Da’s crafted walnut box in rubber boots, glaring at the rigidity of the landscape where I found myself. Njord, god of wind and sea, had shaped formidable foes from waves here, rising waters and freezing them, rising waters and freezing them in position. Finally, the very surface of water and wave had reduced standing water to this open patch, this pond too small to turn a long boat. I stood with rigid knees, far from the glamorous, independent woman I had thought myself when dressing as a bride.

What had Da set inside this box? I heard no rustle, no knocking, no cry. He was a master craftsman; all dwarves were exceptional craftsmen. Pride expanded my breast, remembering this: my amazing, talented Da. The box beneath my rubber boots did not sink; it did not leak. It was sturdy as Yggdrasil standing tall against Ragnarök.

I remembered he wasn’t my Da. Sadness transformed the shape of me; my knees collapsed. I stroked the sides of my father who was not my father’s smooth carved box, bereft.

Hamingja were very nearly Norns: supernatural maidens who spun the fate of men. Hamingja influenced fate by bringing luck to their clans, generation after generation. Passed through time, one family to the next, they… we… I, I suppose… I was like a pattern woven in tapestry then hung on a longhouse wall to warm its inhabitants. Honored, even admired, but cherished for its usefulness, not loved for myself.

Not loved? Never? Mor and Da, despite all their differences, clung to each other like Freya to her disappeared Odr. They gave each other reason to survive dark days. Without their love, what reason had I to live beyond today? I’d meant to make the King happy, despite his narcissistic character. I’d meant to bear his children and love them as Mor and Da loved me. Mor’s strong mind had shaped my skin in this manner. Toward what end? I felt betrayed beyond bone.

Da’s walnut box kept me afloat in this gelid wilderness-- that offered some consolation. Its length and breadth were roughly equivalent to the withers, back and loins of my beloved yellow dun pony, Vafprudnir. Such despair! I would never see that cheerful face, her white forelock above the star marking her a Norse pony. Loss upon loss overwhelmed. Vaf’s back warmed me. The box upon which I knelt offered no comforting temperature. I might burn it.

How might I burn it? I saw no trees that might bear touchwood; I saw no vegetation at all. I had not time to boil the fungus in urine and I needed fire for to boil the pot. I had no pot. I had me and a wooden box and a frozen landscape. All were a circle and I mere luck, needing in the moment to balance upon Da’s box, though I knew not what it contained, nor how to access its contents. It and I were links to the past, I suppose. We would be carried together into tomorrow, if I were truly Hamingja.

The maiden I was had been raised by dwarf and shapeshifter to create order out of any chaos gifted me and now I considered the path of least resistance, absorbing the isolation extending out from my small patch of water. What was I meant to do with this? I stuck my hand into the water and yanked it out, licking my fingers to hydrate, rubbing them beneath my arm pits to relieve them of cold shock.

The body of water upon which the box and I rested might have been called a frozen pond, though the circumstance of its contained pondness was not a continuous bank nor sloping foothills, but clawing sculptures of ice: frozen waves threatening as the gargoyles of Wyvern.

As the sun rose, I saw that no translucent layer covered the pond’s surface; it reflected clear as calm water might. The early morning sky was sharp as sight. As above, so below, when it came to reflecting ponds. Shadowy claws like reaching fingers from the underground held Da’s sanded and sealed box within their lengthy clutches, as they moved below us, escaping dawn.

I rose my arm and swung it wide. Its shadow smashed tips from formidable teeth below. I might have been a Valkyrie; I would not succumb to fear. The shadowed teeth shortened, though their glinting tips grew more defined. None of this was caused by me. I was useless as a pleasant scent. What cruelty had led Mor to support such an end for me, her ever obedient child?

Shadows shrunk beneath me. Something caught the light and shone between my boots: a mosaic glass beaded necklace. Da, ever excellent in all things craft, had taught Mor flameworking: heating and pulling and winding and ornamenting and shaping broken glass that washed up along beaches into stunning, brightly colored jewelry.

Touching the bumpy surfaces bead after bead, I returned Mor to me, recalling her beaked expression before she dropped this bit of beauty upon Da’s crate. Even in raven form, I now understood her furrowed brow of despair, her throaty, mournful “kraa,” though she was no wordsmith. I held the weight of her artistry within my palms, each bead formed with sweaty precision. I remembered what she had said to me, what she had truly spoken. I heard the words inside my head as if she fluttered beside me. Or whispered them in my mind as she always had done without permission. She had not been brash. In my pain, I had distorted the truth.

What she had said was, “Now, our baby boy lies cradled within the floating box and you belong to him. The Norns willed it be done and so it is done. Bring him luck and joy even as you brought it to us.”

Bring him luck and joy, she’d said, as you brought it to us. I had brought Mor and Da luck and joy. I hugged the necklace to my chest and rocked my knees, exuding energy that transformed my vision of everything.

Glazed white surfaces extended beyond the vacant horizon, glistening a dawn of marigold yellow and orange crystals. I was not her child. I was her guardian angel: her advocate; her protector. She hadn’t existed for me; I had existed for her. I had crossed the threshold of time before. I had suffered the loss of her ancestors.

It was as if storming waves took a breath and settled their rage, slipping inside these calm waters hosting me: this frozen pond. I existed outside time. I didn’t die like ordinary people. I didn’t die! That was something.

The sun had risen. Light shone intense upon me, upon Mor’s box where my baby boy lay safe as Da could manage. A wail rose from within: a healthy, hungry sounding cry that cracked my face into a grin. Icy claws surrounding us began to soften and drip. The movement began a current, rocking us to and fro.

Slipping the necklace over my head, I felt the box quake beneath, cracking and splitting open like sprung angel wings. Inside lay a cradle. Inside the cradle wiggled the most perfect boy, eyes sparkling, cheeks rosy and smooth to the touch. Thus enamored, I failed to notice the broken shoreline until we butted against it. We had traveled from Niflheim’s frozen realm to Midgard, where fruit trees grew inside the fence.

fantasy

Barbara Steinhauser

MFA Writing for Children and Young Adults

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