ICE

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

In a place of ice, Bjarne Ekland meets his destiny when Norse Mythology collides with science fiction.

 

 

ICE

 

G. J. Saunders

 

It was the Swedish festival of Valborg, a time of revelry and feasting. Now evolved into a modern secular festival, it had been built on the bones of the ancient Pagan and Nordic Mythologies and was ultimately a celebration of the victory of spring over winter's tyranny; that creeping edge of frozen darkness where the spirits of the dead roam the earth unhindered.

The nine nights are venerated in remembrance of Odin's self-sacrifice. Odin hung himself from a branch of Yggdrasil, an immense mythical tree that plays a central role in Norse cosmology, where it connects the Nine Worlds. It is said that Odin pierced himself with his spear, and peered downward into the shadowy waters below. According to legend, it was on the ninth night that the Norse god saw the ancient Runes, grasped them to his bosom, and for an instant of time, died in a supreme sacrifice. At that moment, all the light in the nine worlds was extinguished, and the universe was cast into dark chaos. Then at the final stroke of midnight, the light re-emerged in dazzling brilliance and order was restored. It heralded the time for the ceremonial fires to be lit and the celebrations and feasting to begin. On Valborg, the dead have momentary dominance on the earth but it marks the ending of the endless night, the ending of the time of the Wild Hunt and marks the rebirth of the worlds – The return of the Sun. And for the ancient Norse men, even more than that; nothing less than the return of hope.

 

~O~

 

Bjarne Ekland had driven across Sweden heading north in his Volvo SUV. The destination was a frozen Lake at Mellanström near Arjeplog. Arjeplog was where in the winter, the population swelled as auto companies came to take advantage of the remote area on the edge of the Arctic Circle to run tests on the frozen lakes and expose their vehicles to the brutal winter conditions.

Away from all this this commotion at the remote lake edge, the Ekland family owned a log cabin that nestled along the water's edge. In summer it was a place of fragrant wooded walks and fishing under the warm sun. It was a place of rejuvenating escape with its reindeer forests, lake tracks and glimpses of enchantment as the Northern Lights lit up the sky. As the solstice made its tentative turn away from winter, but still under its bite, the lake's magic was of a different harsher kind: the kiss of ice, the crack of the frozen lake under foot and the Valborg festivities.

The long journey to the lake took ten or eleven hours and was a substantial undertaking but a tradition that had been something the family had done since Bjarne was a child. When he was sixteen he had convinced his parents to let him bring his girlfriend Eostre to the frozen north. Eostre had been raised in a succession of care homes after her parents had been lost in a road accident. Bjarne instinctively wanted to care for her, give her a family that she had never known. She was a beautiful child and even more so as she became a young woman, especially to Bjarne's eyes. She was reserved and feminine, but self sufficient, tall yet sturdily built; her small breasts showing as soft points under her sweatshirt. Her long blond hair framed her classically elegant face that was often caught in a smile of curiosity. Bjarne was already in love with her and felt that she had the same feelings; the trip with him to the frozen lake was however, one from which the teenage girl would never return.

 

~O~

 

No one had heard of Eostre since that day; there was no reason to consider foul-play, it was assumed that she had died in the frozen landscape after wandering off alone. Out on the ice, hypothermia can strike quickly. A body lost on the frozen lake might be quickly covered in a blanket of snow, until with the coming of spring it might sink into the melting water, never to be found. Since those tragic days Bjarne had stubbornly refused to return to the site of his loss. Even as a grown man, after his parents had died, he refused to accompany his sister and her partner to the cabin.

He blamed himself for allowing his beloved Eostre to wander off alone. He had spent days along with the others searching but she had gone without trace. Eostre had taken a part of Bjarne with her and had left him deeply troubled. The invasion of grief swelled inside him leaving him helpless against its assault. His lack of her gnawed at him, making him incomplete and desolate. Ultimately, after an attempt on his life, he was forced to accept the need of psychiatric help for the grief that would not pass. He had been under the watchful care of Dr. Engström and had spent several months in the Sanatorium before slowly regaining his health and appearing to the world as whole again.

But this year after more than a decade of refusing to visit the lake, his sister Helka had finally convinced him to make the journey and enjoy the festivities while her children, Astrid four and Maja just three, were still young. So he had relented; his heath had long recovered and, he thought, maybe enough years had passed, maybe it was time to move on and end his grief for a lost soul-mate. He drove his sister and her two girls the ten hours up into the edge of the Arctic circle from Sundsvall where they lived. The following day had been spent ice fishing and skating on the smooth frozen lake water in anticipation of the night-time festivities.

As the night drew on, already mellowed by shots of vodka, Bjarne looked up across the flames and shimmering sparks that lifted into the sky from the huge bonfire and saw a figure in the distance dancing all alone. She was moving to the driving melody of a song that only she could hear. It must have been the first time he had seen her yet she seemed so familiar as her blue eyes flashed with an inner fire. He was captivated by her pale slender form, her blond hair, almost white, streaming behind her as she wove her dance in the chill air. It felt to Bjarne that he had somehow always known her. In his mind she had become Eostre, yet his lost soul-mate would now be twenty seven, his own age and this girl looked barely out of her teens.

Caught in the light of the flames she looked tall and elegant, almost a transparent as she moved like billowing silk against the ice that shone with the orange reflection of the fires. Her dance took her across the snow with what seemed to Bjarne to be the natural bearing of a queen. Something about her seemed ethereal as if she did not quite belong to this world but had gifted it her presence for a brief transient moment.

Bjarne's sister who's arm was linked with his own, gripped him tightly. Her face shone with the glow from the orange flames. Her eyes flicked across to make sure that her children were still safe and had not wandered too far.

"Isn't it wonderful?" She said as she looked into the fire. "Aren't you glad I made you come?"

He was, and he pulled tight against Helka's warm body.

"I'd forgotten how magical the Valborg festival is out on the frozen lake." He said.

Bjarne turned his gaze down to Helka and smiled.

"Do you know who that girl is? the one dancing alone." He asked. Helka gave him that knowing smile that only sisters can give. A slightly mocking understanding of what might lay behind her brother's interest. He had shown no obvious interest in women since losing Eostre and Helka thought that it was high time that he let the past lie where it belonged.

"No I've never seen her before." She said lifting her face to him, smiling and happy.

"Do you mind if I wander across to her?"

"Of course not, go and have some fun."

He let his sister's arm drop and kissed her cheek.

"I'll not be long..."

"Enjoy yourself." She called to him as she twirled away across the cracking frozen ice to gather her girls up in her arms and join the crowd who had collected before the circle of fire. Helka gazed up as sparks from the fire rose into the dark sky like stars newly liberated from from earthly captivity. The firework display had already started by the time Bjarne had made his way across the edge of the great fire to bring himself closer to the dancing apparition. The sky was ablaze with exploding star bursts as he finally caught her eye. She held his gaze for a long instant, drawn suddenly from her dance by the sight of the handsome man who's presence had demanded her attention. He moved closer and she seemed to pull back towards the shadows as if gripped by some uncertainty.

All he saw in her eyes was joy, maybe an instant of recognition as she saw him. Or was it just the reflection of his own loneliness that seemed to have caught her in sudden stillness? She moved away as if overcome by some emotion.

"Don't go..." Bjarne said. "I mean you no harm."

As she locked eyes with him she could not be absolutely sure who she was seeing, it had been so long. He was still slim at the waist and hips but had matured, put on muscle; if it was Bjarne and her heart told her that it was, then he was even more beautiful than he had been in his callow teenage years. She allowed a gentle mocking laugh to escape into the chill of the night as she suddenly and with certainty, knew him.

"You could never harm me Bjarne." She said with a flash of some strange understanding behind her eyes. Her face softened after a moments hesitation when she had seemed to study his face. The memory of that searching look remained etched in Bjarne's mind. Then, as if a decision had been made, she held out her hand to him.

"Dance with me." She called and there was real joyous laughter in her voice as she took his hand and wove him into the pattern of her dance. Wove him like a new thread added to an intricate tapestry, the warp to her weft. It seemed to Bjarne that now he too could hear the sweet melody of her dance as he let her direct his steps across the winter landscape.

"How do you know my name?" He said when her dance had slowed and she drew him into a closer embrace.

"I am a Nordic Goddess, I know everything." She said and her words were so filled with confidence that he almost believed her.

"Won't you tell me your name?" He said.

She slowed her movements and pulled him closer to her. She was as tall as he and suddenly Bjarne felt overawed by her presence. His white breath hung motionless in the air in anticipation of her words.

"I will tell you, but not yet, such information might be too much for a simple mortal such as you." She said with a smile.

"You must be the Goddess Freyja." Bjarne said in a sort of mocking humour.

"Perhaps I am."

"So where are you from?"

Her reply was strangely believable.

"I come from Asgard in the shade of Yggdrasil."

It must have been the drink – no one took the Nordic Mythology of the nine worlds seriously in the twenty first century. But by then his head was swimming with the pure joy of the celebration and the intoxication of the young woman's sweet breath against his cheek.

When the first threads of dawn appeared over the horizon they were both exhausted from the dancing. By now they had wandered away, far from the crowds and sat together against a stunted pine that had found a home at the edge of the frozen north. Their breath steamed against the orange glow of the distant fire's dying embers. The sparkling laughter from Bjarne's enchantress had changed into something more serious.

Her head lay against Bjarne's shoulder and she started to softly sing a lullaby. He could feel the rhythmic movement of her body as she drew in breath and then a sudden trembling as she spoke.

"I'll have to go now... It's very late... almost morning." She whispered.

Bjarne looked up into the intense blueness of her eyes. The idea that she might want to leave was almost unbearable.

"Won't you stay?" He asked softly in a voice that, if not quite pleading, spoke of a sudden and deep longing.

"You don't know what it would cost me to stay too long, far from where I belong." Eostre said.

"I know what it would cost me to see you go." Bjarne replied. "I think you've put a spell on me, you really must be a Valborg spirit."

The girl's eyes twinkled and she laughed, her voice clear and pure like a virgin snowfall.

"If I am a Valborg spirit, then so are you Bjarne." She said because she too had been caught in the enchantment of the evening. She felt torn, ripped in half to have to leave him.

"I am not what you think Bjarne. But know that I love you and have waited for you for far too long."

"I don't understand..." He said "all I know is that I can't stand to see you go."

"Be strong Bjarne." She stood, her figure silhouetted against the pale early morning sky. Meet me again tomorrow come to the lake as the first light shows. If you come, I will send a messenger to lead you to me."

"A messenger?"

"You will know her when you you see her. Come alone Bjarne, dress for the worst conditions; your journey will be hard."

With that the girl walked away heading north, she broke into a loping run and was soon lost to his eyes.

 

~O~

 

Back in the warmth of the cabin he found Helka still up waiting: she sprang at him and grasped him in a hug. The children were curled up under soft furs, warm and sleeping soundly like little nested woodland creatures.

"Where have you been, I've been so worried." Helka said.

"I'm sorry Helka, I met the girl, you know the one."

"Yes, of course I know the one; the dancing queen. When you didn't return, I was frantic and asked some of those I'd met at the festivities who she was."

"What did they say?"

"Nothing that made much sense."

"Mm, well we got talking and the night just seemed to disappear in an instant. I think I'm in love Helka, for the first time since..."

"Since you lost Eostre all those years ago."

He nodded, even hearing her name was still painful.

"Am I forgiven?" He said.

Helka punched her brother on the arm and looked into his eyes, saw the gathering rim of moisture.

"Of course you are forgiven darling. So tell me about her, what's her name?"

"I don't even know her name, it's as if I've known her forever but the more we spoke, the more she told me, the less I seemed to understand. Helka all I know is we were meant to be together. As we talked, lost in each other's company, she sort of joked, claiming to be a Nordic Goddess, she said she was from Asgard."

"Asgard, the home of Thor and Odin and the rest of the guys."

"It's what she said."

"And she's quite sane, this enchantress?"

"I've never met anyone saner, you know, as crazy as it sounds, I'm almost inclined to believe her. If the Norse Gods still roam the earth then she must be among them."

"That sounds like love talking. So are you seeing her again?"

"Yes at first light tomorrow... I'll go out onto the lake again. She says to expect a hard journey but will send a messenger to guide me to her."

"A messenger?... This is starting to sound a bit weird... It was just Vodka you'd been taking?"

Bjarne laughed.

"Maybe a little beer as well but trust me, I was quite sober."

"Mm. OK... So are you hungry after your night out on the ice?"

"I'm starving."

There was no electricity out here in the remote spot but the Mellanström cabin still had a store of dry pine logs and the wood burner filled the cabin with warmth and a comfort.

When they had first arrived at the cabin, after the drive from Sundsvall, Bjarne had hooked up a fresh gas cylinder to the cooker. While waiting for Bjarne's return Helka had prepared a hearty stew. All she needed to do was warm it.

"Have you slept Helka?" Bjarne said as realised what a burden he still was to his sister. All those years after he had lost Eostre and he had fallen into a deep depression, she had been there for him. Visiting him in the institution when he had needed professional care and then supporting him when he became well again. She even helped him in his endeavours to start his ultimately successful software company GrönSkog Technologies.

After he had eaten, before the children stirred from their peaceful slumber, he stood with Helka under the sky. Taking her hand as they looked into the shimmering morning. A soft snow had started to fall in delicate flakes, that hung almost motionless in the still air like a veil, defying the pull of gravity.

"I owe you everything Helka, my big sister and yet I feel that I am going to have to leave you."

"For this woman?"

"I think so."

"Bjarne, when I talked to those people about her..." She took her brother's arm. "You will be careful won't you?" She whispered "We have no idea who this woman is... There are rumours that she..."

"Go on, what?" Bjarne said.

"No it's silly..."

"Go on, say what you heard."

"Well, no one knows who she is but they've seen her over the last few day hanging around but never coming close, never engaging with anyone... They liken her to a... A Valborg spirit."

"In joking I told her the same thing, that she has bewitched me, but come on Helka, it's me who supposed to be the mad one in the family; you surely can't believe that."

Helka laughed to cover her embarrassment.

"No of course not... not literally, but you are half convinced that she's a Norse Goddess for goodness sake." She pulled close to him. "Just be careful darling."

Across the lake the snow glinted under the feathered light but Bjarne felt that he had already left his old life far behind, his mind was back in the frozen wilderness waiting for the return of his enchantress.

He let Helka sleep while he amused the children and then after lunch he helped Helka cook the fish they had caught through the fishing hole that they had carved in the ice.

The food was comforting and Bjarne's eyes grew heavy as he sat before the crackling fire. His mind was held by one thought, the first light tomorrow. The time of their rendezvous. He slept well and woke early. Remembering what his Goddess had told him he dressed in layers, thick gloves and goggles wrapped warm in his thick thermal Parka. He woke Helka, not certain when he would see her again, he hugged her tight. Wiped her tears and made his way across the snow to the gnarled pine that stood against the frozen lake. It was the tree where he and Eostre had sat together, where she had rested her head on his shoulder, where she had made him hers – even if she did not know it.

There was no sign of her and for an instant he was caught in panic as he looked up at the infinite stretch of the sky. The first rays of the sun broke across the dark sky and Bjarne watched as the stars were lost one by one to the morning light. The air felt raw and held an intensity that Bjarne had never experienced before. Low across the horizon and arcing up like flames into the sky there flashed the last shimmering pale green of the aurora that had filled the night sky with magic. As he looked across the flat whiteness of the lake he seemed to see the shape of a snow goose picked out against the pale sky. The bird circled as if searching for something and then in total feathery silence it seemed to catch sight of him and flew down low, little more than head height, circling about him with effortless sweeps of its wings. Slowly it landed on the frozen lake a few paces away looking at Bjarne.

Are you my messenger? Bjarne thought and he eased himself to his feet and walked a little way onto the ice. The snow goose lifted into the air again, heading north towards the sky where the Aurora had kissed down from the heavens. Bjarne followed the silent creature. It was clear that the goose was guiding him, soaring up it would circle waiting for Bjarne to catch up before swooping on further drawing him northwards. The bird was pulling him fast across the landscape, already the trees were thinning, growing sparser as Bjarne was drawn into the Arctic wastes where humans hardly ever ventured. There was a wind to his back which seemed to push him on and now the falling snow was starting to grow thicker and less penetrable with each step. For minutes on end he lost sight of the snow goose and then just as he was feeling hopelessly lost, she would appear again. A sudden gusting flurry of snow brought him to a halt. Why is she bringing me out here, he thought as he felt the energy starting to drain from him.

He pulled back his gloves to check his watch. He had been marching steadily now for six hours. The icy wind bit against his exposed skin and he replaced the glove with a shiver. The snow was settling on his goggles making it hard to see. The snow goose was no where to be seen and in a sudden flash of panic he dragged the constricting goggles from his face feeling as if he was being buried alive in a dark airless coffin and fought against a sudden feeling of being overwhelmed. He gasped in lungfuls of the frigid air feeling suddenly liberated but the raw cold instantly brought tears to his searching eyes. The liquid tears lasted only seconds before they froze like frosted diamonds on his cheek.

As the unrelenting cold bit into his body he could hardly remember his real motivation for being out here. All he wanted was to be able to speak to his goddess again – tell her just one more time what she meant to him; this woman of mystery who had cast her spell over him. His mind was being slowed by the cold, numbed in concert with his tortured muscles by the frigid conditions. He tried to reason what had brought him out here. Was this something about a personal challenge? He struggled to remember through the haze of his numbed brain. He no longer knew, he could hardly sustain a rational thought as his brain gave up the struggle to form coherent thoughts. But finding some strength from deep inside he trudged on deep into the afternoon.

His pace had slowed and unsure where the snow goose had gone, Bjarne finally dropped to his knees on the frozen hard-packed snow. The storm had come from nowhere, whipped up by some infernal ice demon. For the past hour he had been unable to see more than a few paces in any direction. The sun was slowly sinking now and with it his hope was floundering. There was little chance that he would survive a night out here alone with no resources. He was lost in an unforgiving whiteness, reduced by the ice-born sting of pain to nothingness, even his thoughts were slow, the remnants of his reason seemed frozen. The normal razor sharp clarity of his mind was being dulled but so was any sense of fear. He had no energy left for that luxury, the only emotion left to him was the aching nostalgia of an unforgotten love.

Bjarne heaved himself forward with a sob and struggled on into the teeth of the swirling storm. He was driven by some deep rooted instinct that told him that if he gave in to the crushing desire to lay down and sleep it would be his last conscious act. On he trudged each step slower and more painful than the last. He was beyond hope now, living in a sequence of frozen instants, where time seemed to have lost its meaning. His eyes closed and he stood still, searching for some threads of an inner peace. Was this the end? Had he finally reached the point where even that question had no meaning?

His mind slipped back to an earlier time, a time of summer meadows and warming sunshine. As he hovered in his daydream he became vaguely aware that the wind was softening. It was as if he had entered the still eye of a hurricane, a calmness wrapped itself around him; the swirling snow, that had been like an icy desert sandstorm fell away to reveal a translucent peace. Bjarne opened his eyes. There was suddenly a soft pinkness in the sky from the low sun. Bjarne kneeled down, his freezing lungs fighting for air. He closed his eyes again for a moment and the fragile warmth of his blood melted the crusts of tears that had frozen on his lids and eyelashes. He looked up and once more saw the snow goose she had not abandoned him and he felt love for the creature.

There was a tinkling sound in his ears – he was not sure if it came from the world or was being generated by his failing mind. It was half remembered from the past, not the familiar random cracking of the shifting snow and ice which he had long ago become accustomed to. This was ordered, meaningful like the ringing of crystal bells. It was a sound he somehow knew. Contained within the ringing chorus was the unforgettable melody of a lullaby. A lullaby that she had sung to him when they sat together by the fir tree; it was her voice reaching out to him. Out here in a place where there could be no other living being; it was her voice. He lifted his eyes, blinking and trying to focus beyond the buckled ridges of ice that were suddenly cast in stark shadow. Then with a gasp of disbelief he finally saw it.

There in the distance, drawn against the pale sky he saw a massive shaft of ice rising up transparent and glorious from the featureless white landscape. It was like an ice cathedral shimmering blue and amethyst with the polished facets flashing golden in the feeble sun.

Bjarne scooped a handful of snow into his mouth and let the melt-water trickle down his parched throat. He sat, knees bent under him, looking at a sight that he knew was impossible – beyond reason. But her voice drew him on and he hauled himself back to his frozen feet and leaden pace by leaden pace, trudged towards the icy shaft. He was spent, there was no energy left but still he staggered towards the amethyst spire that drove up from the ice. It stood tall as he lifted his eyes until it vanished into the sky like a Manhattan skyscraper.

~O~

 

There seemed to be a door, a shading in the ice's structure that looked like some kind of an entrance. He did not know how, but by force of will he pulled himself on and then stumbled through the portal drawn on by the insistent melody that he knew he had to answer.

He found himself in a chamber of echoing sounds like the ringing of a thousand scintillating icicles. Each one tuned to a harmonious musical note. Above the ringing was the sweet rhapsody of her voice. Her voice... Her voice. As he entered the snow goose followed and then it settled on the floor, its wings folded its head down, unmoving dead as if it had given all it had to bring him here. Bjarne was gripped by an aching sadness for the snow goose and he knelt down and stroked its feathers.

"Don't feel sad Bjarne, she's just a machine in slumber."

Bjarne looked up; steps seemed carved in the ice and yet it was no longer ice, not even glass; some crystalline substance that was beyond his understanding. The steps led up to a distant chamber shrouded by what seemed to be vast silken curtains that billowed in the chilled air. He thought he could see the noble shape of a huge ash tree behind the veil... Yggdrasil the tree that represented the Norse Cosmos and its nine words. All of this was impossible even in his present state he knew that.

Finally there, slowly descending towards him, he saw her coming to him. He saw her face and he knew her. Her radiant smile and then the warmth of her kiss as she knelt down and took him in her arms.

"You are safe now." She said offering no other words of explanation.

The voice was velvety and yet filled with a resonance that sent a shiver down Bjarne's back; he knew that voice and the memory of it was not just from the last days but stretched back his whole life, maybe beyond even that. He lifted his eyes and saw her; saw her shape that had lived in his imagination since he had seen her dancing on the frozen lake with the sparks from the bonfire searching up into the sky. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. He saw her smile picked out by the silver light that somehow filled the chamber. He saw a nervousness, an anticipation in the way she stood almost like a child on her first day at school.

"You came." She said as if his presence was the only thing that mattered to her.

"How could I not." He replied and with the shared understanding that came from those simple words, all of Bjarne's fears were suddenly assuaged. He took her hand, warm despite the light clothing she wore.

"Your journey... It was a test that the Asgarden demanded; to know if you really reciprocated my feelings and were willing to struggle to come to me."

"Did I pass?"

Eostre laughed.

"With flying colours. It's why I could not tell you who I am. Forgive me for putting you through it."

"Then who are you?"

"I think you already know... It is me Bjarne, I can tell you now... I'm Eostre come to find you after all these years."

Bjarne sought her lips and she returned his kiss as if they had known each other forever; as if they had been lovers since the beginning of time.

"I almost knew that it was you but could not allow myself to believe it. You are so young, we used to be the same age, what has happened since we lost you on the ice all those years ago Eostre? What is this place?"

"I will tell you everything now – It will be hard for you to believe what I have to say but first you need warmth and food and drink."

Together they ascended in a sort of lift that took them up to a higher chamber. It was softly lit by a glow that seemed to emanate from the walls. It was a small intimate room, warm and comforting. The room was curved and along the edge were what looked like soft cushions. We sit on the floor Eostre said taking his hand and settling Bjarne in comfort. She approached a panel on the wall that was illuminated with a different colour. Her fingers danced over the panel and a container materialized as if from nowhere, resting within Bjarne's reach. Eostre sat next to Bjarne and slid open the cover by placing two fingers on the container and gently tapping. She lifted bowls of hot food and drink and handed them to Bjarne.

"You need to gain your strength, eat." She handed him an implement similar to a spoon. Bjarne had not eaten since early that morning and his appetite was strong. He filled his mouth and found the food delicious.

"What is this Eostre?"

"The Asgarden call it fortbrot, its a type of vegetable stew."

He emptied his bowl and then another while Eostre watched him with a smile of love on her face. When Bjarne had eaten his fill he leaned back on the cushions.

"I have so many question Eostre that I hardly know where to begin."

"I can understand that, let me tell you what happened to me when we were teenagers at the festival of Valborg... I was already in love with you even though we were young. I think you felt the same."

Bjarne nodded, their shared love had its foundation while they were still children, before they had any understanding of romantic love.

"So, feeling elated on that morning and full of excitement I felt the sudden need to just run across the ice. So I raced across the frozen lake up into the woods and there I saw a snow goose. A beautiful creature that seemed to beckon me on. I followed her into a clearing and there in a pool of amethyst light I saw three figures. They explained to me that they had come from a place called Asgard. You will know that Asgard is the home of the Norse gods and I was suddenly filled with panic as if I had stumbled into some strange other world dimension.

"You must have been terrified."

"I was, I think I must have fainted. When I regained my senses I was in a place like this. Do you feel the sense of peace that fills this room Bjarne?"

"I do, I thought it was just being close to you."

Eostre smiled.

"I'll take that as a compliment. But the Asgarden have found a way to subtly manipulate their environments, to bring feelings of peace and contentment. So these gentle people calmed me down, made me feel safe and explained what they wanted. This is where it gets strange Bjarne." Eostre said.

"You mean so far it's not strange... If I wasn't experiencing this I would take the whole thing to be a fairy-tale."

"I know, so would I... hush now and listen. What we understand about Norse mythology is based on fact... well a poor understanding of what was told to the ancients. The Asgarden have been visiting the Earth for millennia; back in the mists of time a handful of the ancients had also made brief encounters with the Asgarden. Slowly a mythology grew based on their poor understanding of what they observed and were told."

"So who are the Asgarden if not gods?"

"From the perspective of our distant ancestors, they must have seemed like gods; their technology defied understanding and would have seemed like magic to them."

"So what is the truth?"

"The truth is even stranger than magic. Asgard is a planet near the centre of what we call the milky way."

"What?"

"Just listen Bjarne... So far the Asgarden's search of our galaxy has revealed many worlds with life but only nine worlds with intelligent life. They represent their positions in the galaxy in a stylised tree shape. This is what we are familiar with as Yggdrasil. The Earth, known to the Asgarden as Midgard is one of these planets. The Asgarden are the most technologically advanced of these civilisations and communicate across the galaxy giving technology where it may be of benefit and withholding it where it may do harm."

"This is making my head want to explode Eostre, it's too fantastic."

"Listen Bjarne, it may be fantastic but it's all true. The Asgarden are from a hugely ancient civilisation, its emergence into a technologically literate civilisation is directly traceable back over half a million Earth years. Over their advancement, they have survived war and conflict, over population and planetary exploitation, magical thinking, and irrational hatred to become a peace loving pearl in the galaxy; these are the same struggles that are now risking the survival of our planet."

"I think most of us know that, just not how to grow beyond our primitive urges."

"We are not alone Bjarne, the Asgarden emerged from these struggles with difficulty but are now a people united by some binding principals. The greatest and simplest of these is simply to show love for all sentient beings in the universe. They have finally built a civilisation without war, without poverty or greed or adherence to superstitious belief."

"It sounds idyllic."

"I know... you have to experience it to know just how wonderful it is. So working under the principal of minimum interference with other civilisations, they have established a cooperation with other advanced worlds and hold a watching brief of the three less developed worlds like Earth."

"Go on Eostre this is astonishing; is there hope for the Earth?"

"Well the Asgarden think there may be. To cut a long story short, because they saw that our planet was on the cusp of either finding enlightenment or plunging into self destruction, they came here again recently to observe us, took some young people back to Asgard to study to try and discover if our species was a lost cause or not."

"Have they made a decision?"

"It's a work in progress. They found love in our species, which is a good start but feel that on balance we are quite likely to self destruct, already our planet is facing existential problems that our politicians seem to be ignoring, sacrificing us all on the alter of short term greed."

"Can nothing be done?"

"The mandate under which the Asgarden operate is one of minimal intervention, but some voices are raised in favour of exposing the Earth to the perilous state it is in. This would be a shocking revelation for the people of Earth and might precipitate hostility towards Asgard. The counties of Earth are too quick to respond to challenges by resorting to war... The combined might of the Earth could never hurt us, but Asgard would would turn its face away from our planet and leave it to its self destruction."

Bjarne nodded, he felt for the first time how fragile his finite blue planet was.

"How far away is Asgard?"

"It sits near the centre of the galaxy about 25,000 light-years from Earth."

"That means it would take forever to travel that distance."

"Travelling at an average of half the speed of light, which even the Asgarden technology struggles with, it would take 100,000 years for a round trip."

"So how have you managed it in a decade?"

"The Asgarden have constructed a worm hole about 80 astronomical units from the edge of the solar system in deep space. Each of the nine worlds has at least one operational worm hole. The fact that I seem a few years younger than you now is a function of worm hole time dilation. Don't ask me to explain how any of this works; even most Asgarden have only a vague understanding of the mathematics involved.

"So why have you come back Eostre?"

"For you Bjarne... I was cared for and protected on Asgard, treated as one of them. I was given everything I needed... more than that... but they could not give me what my heart longed for: the soul mate I left on the frozen lake all those years ago."

"You have no idea how much I missed you Eostre, my life fell apart when I thought you were dead."

"We have a chance to put all that right if you're willing to take it." Eostre said as she drew herself close to Bjarne. "I guess this is where we are supposed to kiss." She said softly as she looked into his eyes.

"It's not compulsory." Bjarne said.

"Oh I think, after travelling across the universe to find you, it might be." Eostre took hold of him and pulled him down into the embrace of the soft cushions.

Bjarne could feel the beat of his heart growing faster as he was suddenly faced with a reality that for so long had been nothing but a tormenting dream. He could almost taste the sweetness of her breath as it fell on his cheek. He wanted her more than anything, wanted to possess her and wanted to give himself to her. Their strength of feeling, stretched back over a decade of longing, overpowering both of them. Eostre gasped at Bjarne's touch, gentle yet strong. He touched his lips against the closed lids of her eyes and felt her shiver in ecstasy. Then Bjarne's lips pressed against her mouth and now beyond any conscious control Eostre's body pulled him tight against her. Her lips parted, her tongue dancing against his, her limbs twining against his as they pulled each other's clothing off and made love, a love that had waited for far, far too long for its expression. Finally finding their release, a stillness fell over them, like the silence between heartbeats, like the silent explosion of a supernova somewhere in the infinite cosmos.

As Bjarne revelled in their love making there was a nervous edge that gnawed at the back of his mind. There was a question, one among thousands, that stood out demanding an answer but all he could do in that moment was sleep.

 

~O~

 

When the grey dawn lifted the darkness from their slice of the Earth, Eostre leaned over his sleeping form to silently watch him. To watch the rise and fall of his breath, sense the beat of his heart. Finally she could see him through a new lens, as if for the first time: his enchantment of her was stronger than ever now, the sexual spell that had been cast over them long ago before she even really understood those feelings was reignited. Bjarne has slipped from his mortal guise into something closer to a god for her, as real to her as Odin.

Opening his eyes and seeing the love in Eostre's face, he finally found the courage to ask his question:

"Will you stay here with me now Eostre, come back to Sundsvall so that we can make a life together?"

"I knew the question was coming... I knew before I had even left Asgard."

"So you must have an answer."

"My life is on Asgard now. I have been accepted as an emissary between our two worlds. I begged them to let me return and see you. They understand love, in all senses of the word and when they saw how much you meant to me, they allowed me to come. Bjarne, my darling, I had hoped that you might be willing to give up your life on Midgard, Earth as you call it, and return with me to Asgard."

"You are asking a lot of me Eostre, I have family here, what can I tell them?"

"Well that is another problem..."

"What?"

"This is all bigger than the lives of two people... Any intervention I make on Earth has to be kept secret. I have already explained something of the conflicting opinions about if, or when, Earth should be told of the Asgard. Many are not convinced that the people of Earth are ready to know the truth of the nine worlds. Four of the worlds are already in a federation, one is still too primitive to be considered, the other four are not thought to be ready for the enlightenment. Earth is the closest but our human race is still in a state where, for example, warfare seems a reasonable way to settle disputes. Destructive exploitation of the planet and the extinction of its other precious life-forms seems normal. It took the Asgarden tens of Earth millennia to find their enlightenment and try to spread it across the nine worlds.

Asgard's existence must be kept secret until a consensus among the federation is reached. Centuries ago our visits gave rise to the Norse Mythology, that was regrettable. If we were so show ourselves too soon it might be catastrophic."

"I can understand that but it does not answer my question... What can I tell my sister?"

"There is currently a secrecy protocol which controls how much contact the Asgarden can have with the people of Earth. I have been given the privilege of bringing you back to Asgard with me; to live there as my partner, maybe raise a family. We would not be the only people from Earth who live on Asgard there are a handful of us, most of the others have never visited this little blue planet but were born on Asgard.

"This is all too much to take in Eostre... I love you with all my heart but am I ready to leave my entire world behind to follow you?"

"Only you can decide that Bjarne, you know what I want."

"So what can I tell my sister?"

"You can tell her the truth, as long as there is no strong physical evidence of our presence and only one or two are told the truth then no one will believe them."

"Are you sure?"

"Look at the numbers of people who claim to be victims of alien abduction; are they believed?"

"No, not by most... except you are a living example."

"I suppose so in some sense, but that proves the point. When I went missing no one would have thought Oh well Eostre must have been abducted by space aliens."

Bjarne laughed.

"I take your point, you were always more clever than me, I can see why the Asgarden chose to take you."

"Bjarne if you come with me, we can share the love that has burned in our hearts for so long and there are such splendours to discover out in the galaxy and beyond that will blow your mind, I long to share all the wonders with you. What I'm offering you is an opportunity that is unimaginable."

Bjarne nodded, he was excited at the prospect that Eostre lay before him but also terrified of the unknown that stretched before him.

"So if I agree, what will happen; can I see Helka again?"

"There are reasons of protocol that mean that I'm unable to take you back straight away. I will have to return to Asgard very soon. So you will have time to put your life here in order before I return."

"How long before you return?"

"Several months, even using the worm hole, the journey to Asgard is a long one."

"So how will I find you when you return?"

"I will give you something, an amulet to wear, it will alert you of my return. We should agree to meet at the edge of the lake where the festival takes place. Somewhere remote where the craft will not be easily seen."

"Is there no radio communication between our worlds?"

"It's hard to comprehend the distances Bjarne, even for me who have travelled them. There are beacons at the edge of the worm hole ports that allow some data transmission but it takes over 30 days for a one way radio transmission to reach Earth from the worm hole, a similar time at the other end, so holding a conversation is not very practical."

Bjarne shook his head and gave a little laugh.

"Are you sure all of this is not all a dream?" He said.

"Very sure my darling; so will you come with me? Please say you will; it has cost me a lot of negotiation and pleading to convince the Asgarden council to allow my journey to find you."

In the few moments since the offer was made, Bjarne had come to a conclusion.

"How can I refuse Eostre? So when must you go back?"

"I'll see you back safely to near Mellanström and then I must leave immediately."

"And I won't see you again for several months?"

"It should be late September, I can't be exact. You will have one last summer to enjoy with Helka and her children."

"It sounds so final, one last summer on the planet of my birth; it's like contemplating my own death."

"What you face is not death Bjarne, quite the opposite, a new life rich with wonders waiting for you. Bjarne you will gain so much more than you lose."

 

~O~

 

Early, when the sun was just starting to brighten the frozen eastern sky, Eostre took her lover back to the lake on a form of sledge. By a means that Bjarne could not understand the small vehicle was able to skim silently a few centimetres above the surface of the snow and ice. It travelled at speed following the rise and fall of the ice and was a far easier journey than the trial that the snow goose had led him on. To Bjarne that journey, filled with hardship and uncertainty, now seemed a lifetime away.

Bringing the sledge to a silent halt, they kissed on the lake, the ice still thick despite the coming of spring. Still warm, in her hands, she handed Bjarne the promised amulet. It was hung on a delicate silvery chain. Don't lose this, It's a symbol of my love for you but also a piece of Asgardian technology that will allow some communication once I am back on Earth. Bjarne took the amulet, it was made of some argent metal that seemed almost translucent. The rectangular shape reminded him of an artefact that he had once seen in the Swedish History Museum.

"This reminds me of something." He said as he gazed into its shimmering surface. "It's the Kvinneby amulet... I'm trying to remember... was it found in the 1950s. I think it was buried in the village of Södra Kvinneby in Öland, of course that one was badly corroded, made of copper."

"Ah yes, that was a copy of a similar amulet that a handful of the ancients saw on an earlier mission to Midgard. The copy was made by those old Norse men as a talisman that they hoped might bring the gods back from Asgard."

"Well maybe it eventually worked..."

Eostre's face lit up with a smile.

"Maybe but the Asgarden are not gods even if they seemed so to the ancients. Keep the amulet with you at all times Bjarne."

"How does it work? how can we communicate with it?"

"Think of it as something like a sophisticated pager, it can do more than I can easily explain but when it alerts you, you will know that it's time to come to the lake."

"And if for some reason, I can't get to the lake... will you wait for me?"

"The amulet will tell me about your situation... Bjarne if I sense that you are in difficulty, I will somehow come to you."

"Won't that break the secrecy protocol?"

"It may and if it does we may not be able to return to Asgard, neither of us."

"And you would still come for me at the risk of losing your future on Asgard?"

"You are the most important thing to me Bjarne; I would give up everything to be with you. You have brought peace to my heart with your decision to come back with me. I know that my future must be with you no matter where we find ourselves." Eostre said. "Take care my love and I will see you soon."

The two figures wrapped each other in their arms and then, pulling free with silvery tears in her eyes, Eostre mounted the sledge and slipped silently away across the frozen landscape.

Bjarne watched her until she disappeared into the whiteness and then tuned his face towards the distant family cabin. As he paced towards it he tried to draw his thoughts together, tried to compose an explanation for his sister, something believable. But how could he convince her of what had happened, of what was about to happen, when he hardly believed it himself?

There was a fine tendril of wood smoke curling into the air from the cabin as he approached. The morning was clear, the exertion of the walk had warmed Bjarne and his breath hung before him in a frozen cloud. Helka had risen early, she had expected Bjarne to be back before now and was starting to worry. Feeding her children she peered though the window and saw Bjarne's approach from a long way in the distance. It was a relief to see him back and as he got closer she pulled on her heavy polyester fleece anorak and ran across the snowy terrain to meet him. Happy but not a little angry she launched herself into her brother's arms.

"Hey..." Bjarne said as he spun her round.

"Where have you been, I expected you back yesterday?"

"I'm sorry Helka, things got rather complicated."

"Did you find her this Norse goddess of yours."

"Yes I did. You'll find this hard to believe Helka but she's Eostre."

"Your lost girlfriend? No... how? this makes no sense."

"Let's get you back to the warmth of the cabin. I'll try to explain... you'll have to make a huge leap of faith to believe what I have to tell you."

Helka took her brother's arm.

"That doesn't sound too promising, but come on, its good to have you back. You know we are supposed to head back to Sundsvall today."

"I know, I need to get back anyway; I have to make some decisions regarding the business."

"Why?... Bjarne tell me what's happened."

"Helka, I'm going away with Eostre. Now that I've found her again, I can't imagine life without her."

"So bring her to live at Sundsvall, I don't see a problem."

"It's not that easy Helka... come on lets get inside, I need some coffee."

The last few days had been an emotional drain on Bjarne, he seemed happy to let his sister take care of him, once she had fed him and while the children were playing outside in the snow, he started to tell her what had happened.

"Bjarne, you really expect me to believe this? You're telling me that Eostre was taken by aliens and lives on a planet called Asgard?"

"It's true Helka, all of it."

Helka knelt down in front of her brother and took his hands. She knew that the encounter with the strange woman had tipped her brother back into the troubled state that had, a decade ago, sent him to the sanatorium.

"I think we should get you home darling. I don't know what's happened to you but you've been agitated since you came up here to Mellanström. I blame myself for pressuring you into coming; I should have known that this place would have brought back bad memories. Listen to me sweetheart, I think seeing that girl, who might look a little like poor Eostre, has triggered something in your psyche, something that has tipped you into this strange fantasy. I would like you to see Dr. Engström; he helped you before."

"Look this is completely different... When I thought I'd lost Eostre, I fell into a depression, I accept that but what I've just told you is not some kind of a delusion; it's not something that I need help with. Trust me Helka, I just do not need Dr. Engström or anyone like him."

Helka remained unconvinced and after they had packed up their things she insisted on driving back to Sundsvall while Bjarne slept in the back of the Volvo. Helka had hoped that just returning to their normal lives might have snapped her brother from his delusions but once rested from the journey he began making changes to the running of his software company. Over the following weeks, he appointed his friend and co-designer Max Löfven as managing director, and without Helka's knowledge, signed the company over to his sister appointing her Chair of GrönSkog Technologies effective from September 1st.

He was content with his decisions but the time seemed to drag heavily as he lost his interest in his company. His mind was focussed on the future, a future with Eostre and a life he struggled to imagine.

Bjarne had managed to fend off his sister's demands that he speak to Dr Engström but as he remained convinced of his story, Helka started to worry; she called the doctor and asked his advice. Dr Engström remembered Bjarne's depression well, he had been pleased with the outcome and was alarmed to hear of these delusional thoughts. He told her that the trip could well have triggered a relapse. The advice he gave Helka as her brother's next of kin was to insist that he seek help. His words rang in Helka's ears in the days following her call to him:

This illness is unlikely to go away of its own accord; in my experience it is likely to get worse and I believe that ultimately it may threaten his well being at the most profound level.

It was late in the day when Helka arrived at Bjarne's home that stood on the hills above the harbour, a place that reflected the comfortable life-style that his business allowed him. His apartment was on the top floor of a four story building and the wide sitting-room window looked out over a street lined with birch trees that raked against the pale sky, swallowing the last of the evening light. A blackbird silhouetted on a branch sang but its voice was all but lost to the double glazing.

Helka had brought chocolate cake and she made coffee while they chatted. As they sat together her heart hammered in thick beats against her ribs, she didn’t know if she could speak the words that needed saying and listened with astonishment while Bjarne told her that he had transferred ownership of his company to her.

"I have no experience in such things, why me?"

"Who else would I leave it too? I've handed over the running of the company to Max Löfven, you met him last year, you remember?"

Helka nodded, she remembered the man, his greying hair and trim beard made him seem solid, capable. There might even have been a moment of attraction for the, still young, single woman.

"There will be little for you to do in the business Helka." Bjarne said.

She looked deep into his eyes, at his alert intelligence that gazed back at her bewilderment. She couldn't quite believe that her brother was insane, yet here was the proof.

"You're still convinced that you are going to fly off to some distant planet and leave us all behind?"

"Nothing has happened to change my mind Helka; why can't you be happy for me?"

"OK let's say that I believe you and you are perfectly well... what harm would it do if you just spoke to Dr. Engström... not for you but just to ease my mind?"

"I'm only supposed to tell the people closest to me, I've explained this. The world is not ready yet to be exposed to the reality of Asgard and the nine worlds."

"You're just referencing ancient mythology, can't you see that. Asgard is not real, its the home of the Norse gods, no one believes they are real in the 21st century. You must see that. Bjarne I'm sick with worry for you..." Helka's eyes filled with tears.

Shocked, Bjarne took his sister in his arms.

"I'm so sorry Helka, the last thing I want is to upset you."

"Then come with me and see Dr. Engström."

Bjarne kissed his sister's cheek.

"OK, if it will ease your mind, once I speak with him, he will see that I'm quite rational. I'm sure he won't believe my story but on all other measures he will see that my mental state is perfectly normal."

"You'll come with me Bjarne?"

"Yes, If it's what you really want... I can see you're upset and I don't want to be the cause of that."

"You'll come tomorrow?"

"OK, the sooner we get this done and Engström gives me my not insane certificate we can get on with our lives. I want to enjoy one last summer with you and the girls here in Sweden. I've cleared my desk at work. I have all the money I need and I'd like to take you and the children on a holiday of a lifetime. Something for you look back on when I've gone."

Bjarne's words did little to ease Helka's worries but at least he had finally, after weeks of struggle, agreed to see the doctor and she took a little comfort from that.

The next day she drove him up into the hills beyond the spruce forest to the ominously familiar Sanatorium. Bjarne stood in the gravel carpark and looked at the view that spilled over the distant city and across the grey haze of the Gulf of Bothnia that separated them from Finland. This land was his home, the land of his birth and despite his desperation to be reunited with Eostre, he would miss this place kissed with sun and ice. He smiled at Helka, a smile of reassurance that comforted neither of them.

The day was overcast, the sky spat flurries of rain as Bjarne guided her with a light touch on her shoulder through the familiar entrance. A lamb to the slaughter Helka thought hating herself as they passed the departing visitors, touched by their own melancholia, edging towards the entrance and their escape.

"So let's get this over and done with." He said wanting only to be back in the car and heading home again. He would take Helka and the children to dinner when this minor interlude was all over and discuss the plans he had made for the summer; it was something to look forward to.

They had to wait for Dr. Engström to be free; Bjarne seemed calm, at ease with the familiar, if dispiriting surroundings, at ease with his mental state. His sister sat nervously, her awareness turned inwards, her eyes darting each time a door opened or a bell rang. Once Bjarne had been taken to the doctor's rooms, she relaxed a little and considered the rights and wrongs of pressuring her brother to come here. She consoled herself with the understanding that Engström was a good man and would take on the responsibility for her brother's welfare; lift it from her fragile shoulders as he gave him the care he needed. As the minutes ticked slowly by, counted by the interminable sweep of the wall-clock's second hand, she realised that her arms were hugged across her chest as if she were protecting herself.

It was almost an hour before Dr. Engström came to find Helka. His expression was serious as he sat next to her and took her hand.

"How is he doctor, what do you think?"

"Your brother seems superficially normal but the delusion he is under has quite a grip on him. The more I probed, trying to push him to accept the reality of the situation, the more agitated he became. In the end we had to administer a mild sedative to calm him."

"My god."

"I think, given time, we can help him... With anyone else I would recommend a period of assessment but with your brother's past history, I feel we should err on the side of caution. In all honesty, I feel he would be safer if we were to admit him into the sanatorium."

"It's the memory of his attempted suicide a decade ago that has me terrified doctor but I don't believe he'll agree to being admitted."

"I understand that, in fact it was my suggestion that he should be admitted that precipitated his aggressive outburst. It was a familiar reaction that I remember from Bjarne as a young man."

"So what can we do?"

"Under the Swedish mental health act I am authorised to instigate the compulsory community care of patients that I believe may represent harm to themselves or others. In your brother's case I feel this would be a wise course of action. If we start treatment immediately I think we should be able to recover Bjarne's health in a relatively short period."

"I rather dreaded that this might happen, I was hoping you might be able to treat him as an outpatient."

"In Bjarne's case the commitment to his delusional thinking is very strong, I believe, in your brother's case, a compulsory admission would offer the optimum outcome."

"I have to take your advice doctor."

"There is no legal obligation for me to seek your consent but as Bjarne's next of kin I would be happier with your stated approval. Perhaps you would oblige us by signing a standard form of admission on your brother's behalf."

"Yes, yes of course."

As Helka drove home alone, her eyes were misted with tears. What she had done seemed like a betrayal of her little brother. Since her partner had left her in pursuit of younger flesh, Helka had leaned on Bjarne as a foundation of her own emotional stability. Now, until he recovered she would have to stand alone, be strong for both of them. Before leaving they had given her Bjarne's personal effects for safe keeping. There was his wallet, his watch and an amulet hung on a silver chain. I was something that Helka did not recognise. Back home she put all the items in a drawer awaiting Bjarne's return; the amulet seemed to flash with a soft glow as she closed the drawer on her brother's possessions but she took little notice. Turning back and wiping her eyes she knelt and hugged her children.

Bjarne, felt the pressure of not being believed start to weigh heavily on him. He felt to be in a situation that he could not win and an anger started to develop as he saw his confinement as a betrayal of his rights. His anger swelled and his outbursts were taken as confirmation of his fragile mental state. Dr. Engström instructed that Bjarne's sedation should be increased. As the days grew into weeks, the thoughts were starting to draw him into a genuine depression and he fought against that as well as he could. The drugs they were giving him, left him in a state of confusion, the sharpness of his mind softened into a sleepwalking fog.

The summer and the anticipated time with his family was fading into a lost hope, Bjarne was starting to despair, to believe that what the doctors told him might be true. Maybe, they were right and it was all in his imagination. Maybe Asgard was not true, Eostre really had died all those years ago and only his longing for her had tricked his mind with the insane idea of Asgard. He thought long and hard of this possibility. There was no hard evidence that he and Eostre had ever met on the ice. Nothing now that could convince even himself.

Helka made her daily visits to see her brother. Before entering, she would stand before the sanatorium's facade gathering courage to enter. It looked a foreboding place and she found it unbearable to think of her brother lying alone in this eerie impersonal building. She had tried to remain cheerful but as the seasons slipped by, she had not seen the promised improvement in Bjarne's condition. One late afternoon she brought him some of his favourite Punchrulle, a small decadent roll of crushed biscuits covered with green marzipan, the ends dipped in chocolate. It was a simple treat but it made Bjarne smile.

"You don't blame me for bringing you here darling?" Helka said.

"I can hardly remember anything about when I came, my mind is fuzzy... I was trying to remember, there was something, something that I thought Eostre had given me. It was precious but now it's gone. Was any of it real Helka or was it just a dream?"

Helka thought of the amulet that she had placed safely away. It had seemed a strange thing, the way it shimmered, but her mind was full of guilt when she had returned from admitting Bjarne to the sanatorium and she had put it from her mind.

"When you were admitted they found an amulet, do you remember?"

Bjarne looked up, he seemed suddenly jolted back to reality.

"Yes, the amulet... where is it?"

"I took it home for safe keeping."

Bjarne's brain seemed suddenly to grind its rusted cogs back into life.

"What is the date Helka?"

"It's the tenth."

"The tenth of what?"

Helka suddenly realised how deeply her brother had been sedated over the weeks of his confinement.

"September, darling, its September."

"My god... I need the amulet Helka."

"Why, it's just a trinket, I have no doubt that it was given to you in love but..."

"it's is far beyond a trinket Helka, it's a piece of advanced technology... don't you see it's the concrete evidence that proves my story."

The amulet had seemed of little importance to Helka, maybe the dancing girl on the lake had given it to him, some artisan jewellery of little value she had thought. But now she saw how much it meant to her brother. Maybe she could somehow find this girl and bring her to the sanatorium; maybe even seeing the amulet for what it really was would be enough to snap Bjarne from his depression.

"I could bring it tomorrow." Helka said.

"No I need it now, the time has slipped away... Believe this or not Helka but Eostre is returning this month. Get me out of here... if you love me at all, get me the hell out of this place."

Helka did not believe her brother, not what he was claiming. That invented story surely was evidence of his insanity but the treatment he had been receiving over the past weeks had seemed to make him worse. If she were to go along with her brother maybe he would ultimately see that himself. Although the girl on the ice was real enough, what Bjarne had done by draping her in the personification of his lost Eostre, was at the root of his madness. The mythological girl was a creation of his mind, born of his grief for Eostre; the real Eostre had perished over a decade ago. If she could make him see that the amulet was nothing but a cheep keepsake it might open the path to his return.

"All right darling I'll go along with your plan but how do I get you out of here?"

"Tell them that you're taking me for a quick walk in the grounds and well jump into your car and be long gone before they have time to realise."

"Are you really sure Bjarne, this could put back your recovery."

"Think about it Helka, have I been helped at all by my time here? there is no recovery because I have not been unwell. Not until they started pumping me full of drugs."

Helka had to agree that he seemed worse, not better from his time in the sanatorium; she came to a sudden decision:

"Alright I'll do it, come along."

There was something daring and exuberant in it as Helka helped her brother to his feet. He was a little unsteady, the fog in his brain was dispersing but still lay its chemical numbness across him.

"Just taking Bjarne for a turn round the grounds." Helka said to the nurse who lifted her eyes from a stack of paperwork. She smiled at Helka's familiar face.

"It's a nice evening, take advantage of it; there won't be too many more before winter starts to bite."

"Yes, I suppose not... well just be half an hour or so."

They made their slow escape to Helka's little Renault Zoe; walking stiffly across the lawns, thick with a carpet of fallen yellow leaves. They drove away silently, guiltily into the gathering dusk.

Back at her modest home in Sundsvall which sat within the toll of the Gustav Adolfs kyrka's bells, Helka found her brother's things and passed them to him. The Amulet was all he was interested in and he grasped it in his hand. There was a warmth from it as his fingers closed around the shimmering metal. Then he felt a strange sensation, it was a sudden understanding, a knowing of something he could not know.

"Eostre's already here, she calling to me. He said. "We have to get to the lake before she leaves. You have to drive me Helka, we must leave now."

Helka's plan seemed to have fallen to dust, it was clear to her that Bjarne was gripped deeper into his delusion than she had imagined.

"I can't drive all that way in the Zoe."

"Then come on, drive me to my place, we'll pick up the Volvo."

"The kids... I can't leave them with the baby sitter."

"We'll pick them up on the way... come on time is short."

Helka found herself unable to argue. She held onto one last faint hope that when Eostre failed to appear at the lake, her brother would be forced to see the truth and from there his recovery could start.

 

~O~

 

It was already dark when, with the children snuggled in the back of the Volvo, they finally set off on the long drive to the family cabin. The journey would take all night and they would not reach Mellanström before the eastern sky had started to colour with the morning sun. Helka who was not a confident driver once away from the familiar city roads, was forced to take the wheel as Bjarne was still fighting off the effects of the sedative drugs which had been administered to his unwilling body. He was holding the amulet which was now hung round his neck again. He could feel it pulsing almost like a heart beat which seemed to be growing stronger and faster as they slowly approached their destination.

They pulled into an all night truck stop to fill with petrol and grab something to sustain them. They sat in the Volvo eating bagels piled thick with cloudberry jam and sipping at take-away cups of strong hot coffee while the children slept soundly, cocooned in thick woollen blankets.

As they finally closed in on their destination, Bjarne seemed to be recovering from the drugs, he became more alert, more attuned to the pulse of the amulet "Hold on Eostre," he whispered "we are almost there."

Helka looked across at him and shook her head wondering if she was doing the right thing. She felt now that she should have consulted Dr. Engström before charging off on this mad adventure.

Bjarne did not know how, but felt that his amulet was making his words known to Eostre. Her reply that seemed to come to him in disembodied thoughts was reassuring, urging him on as if she too could feel the narcotic fog that he was fighting off.

Helka pressed on peering wide eyed into the landscape that grew increasingly isolated. There was almost no traffic now as they entered the remote north. The fir trees that lined the road seemed to cast dancing shadows like reaching witches arms across their path.

They finally reached the lake and passed their usual turn off which would have taken them to their cabin. Bjarne, now wide awake, directed his sister to leave the road and edge slowly into the wilderness. They drove on past the lake and finally arrived at the familiar fir tree where he remembered he and Eostre had sat and talked.

"Stop here Helka." Bjarne said as the pulse from his amulet rose to an excited shiver. "This is the place."

Invigorated by the icy air he walked towards a clearing where a circle of trees had been felled. Standing on the edge of a mound of slightly raised ground, his heart pounded in his chest as he saw the crystal cathedral again; Eostre's craft that would take them to the stars. He turned to Helka who had followed him. She had dropped to her knees, her hands on her head.

"Bjarne... I didn't believe you even as I drove you here. I thought when you saw that there was no one here, it might let you regain your senses. I'm so sorry... how could I have doubted you?"

Bjarne turned back to his sister.

"It's OK... nothing matters now; the truth is here to see."

"Look, look it's the girl." Helka called.

Bjarne turned back to the craft and saw as Eostre emerged from the portal. The sun was just kissing through the trees, the golden light flashing on Eostre's face as she stood for a moment of utter deafening stillness.

Eostre was home, yet not.

Breathing in the pine scented air of the Earth she began walking across the shadows as if they were stepping stones across the universe. Bjarne could see her emotion as it flooded her eyes. Then as he held his arms wide for her she started running towards him. Bjarne felt a surge of love that almost overwhelmed him as he grasped the understanding that this woman had travelled half way across the galaxy to be with him... just him in all the universe.

"I love you." He said as they clung together.

"What happened?" She sobbed. "When I emerged from the worm hole I should have been in contact with you through the amulet but there was nothing. I almost turned back thinking you had changed you mind."

"No, no never that... It's a long story, I'll tell you later. Come and say hello to Helka."

He guided her back towards his sister.

"Hello Helka."

"Is it really you Eostre?"

"Yes it really is."

"You look younger than you should."

"I am younger than if I'd stayed here, its just a trick of the light... light speed." Her eyes twinkled with mischief.

"If you say so... I can hardly argue with anything you say after seeing this." She pointed to the craft that sat shimmering in the clearing.

"It's hard to take in, I know." Eostre said.

"Will you take care of my brother?"

"He's my soul-mate Helka; I struggled to be allowed to come and bring him back with me, you think I'll let him out of my sight for a minute ever again. It's a terrible cliché but our hearts are one."

"I think I can see that; losing you all those years ago ripped him apart but he's whole again now... Eostre when do I have to say my final goodbye to him?"

"This is the moment Helka, I have taken a risk coming so close to civilisation, we can't stay long."

"Time for a last hug?"

"Of course."

Helka moved to her brother and they grasped each other in an embrace.

"I've put all my property, all my shares in GrönSkog Technologies into your name. To cover my disappearance, I've given my lawyer a letter saying that I have emigrated to Canada. I don't think there are any loose ends."

"Oh darling, you did this before I took you to the sanatorium?"

"Yes."

"Will you ever forgive me for that?"

"I'll work on it." He hugged his sister tight. "Look after those two darling girls of yours, Maybe sometime you might tell them about their uncle who loved them very much but had to go far away. I'll miss them and I'll miss you my lovely big sister."

Helka sobbed as he pulled away from her and took Eostre's arm. Together they walked away and turning to wave, disappeared through the portal. She watched in stunned silence; there was almost no sound as the gravitron flux engines lifted the 'cathedral' into the air. It gathered speed at an astonishing rate, there was a brief roll of thunder as the craft broke through the sonic barrier and then moments later as it edged beyond the Earth's atmosphere, a shooting star lit the heavens for just an instant as the photon engines accelerated her brother towards the stars... towards Asgard, the home of the gods.

 

The End

 

 

Also by G. J. Saunders:

A mystery romance free to download:https://books2read.com/u/4N9ga6

 

An action adventure : https://books2read.com/u/mlwOp7

 

A gentle romance: https://books2read.com/u/3nv7yx

 

Follow the links for more information.

 


Submitted: May 14, 2020

© Copyright 2021 G. J. Saunders. All rights reserved.

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