Atlas [ Chapter 4b ]
“Before I can begin your training I first need to tell you how I came to learn the art of the Great Impact. Taishôgeki is not just a philosophy, but also a martial art.
You may have heard of some militaries practicing these; long lived traditions, often born in war, sometimes in peace. These days, most practitioners, or I should say most masters, are wise enough to see the greater value in peace. The arts have been held in low regard since the Age of Heroes ended, because the spell fighting arts of such groups as the White Lancers of Aerialis or the Mighty Worms of Arda have always proven more deadly in war,” Plâton explained, but failed to suppress a snorted chuckle, “I apologize, I can never say their name with a straight face. Anyways, I hear that these days there are even martial arts tournaments in Yamato, so maybe people are warming up to them.”
The small fire they had started from twigs and branches the strange man had had the two of them gather crackled and warmed their camp sufficiently while it slowly grilled the haunch of deer roasting on a stick suspended above it. Plâton had not taken longer than it took Atlas and Ayveron to gather firewood to hunt down a deer, refill their water, and gather some mushrooms and herbs from the forest. The man seemed to be capable of performing miracles when unobserved. Now they sat there, perched on the bedrolls provided by Archibald’s generosity, in hungry anticipation while their succulent evening meal was dripping grease into the flames as it cooked. Atlas was hungry, but he still listened carefully to what Plâton had to say.
His red hair began to sway in the soft evening breeze while he stared into the fire as if it had the power to reveal the secrets of his past. Then he spoke again. “It is a story that begins with the day my mother first held me in her arms.
This may seem like the normal beginning of any story, but I was no newborn at that time: I was a dying young boy. Wandering the icy lands of the high north I lost my way. Had I been hunting with a party back then? With my father perhaps? I don’t remember anything of that life, much like you don’t remember most of your past life, Atlas. All I know is that I was lost in the ice and stumbling towards a slow death, surrounded by cold white nothingness.
I walked and walked forever, and five eternities seemed to pass me by as the snow fell endlessly. When I finally fell to my knees, two giant men seemed to appear in front of me. But they were no men: they were statues, the pillars of the Bifröstgate, which leads to the Bifröst, a rainbow river of light that flows to the realm of the old northern gods, you see. It is as much legend to the Nords as those gods themselves, and that I was born a Nord is as easy to see as the fire in my hair. When I laid eyes upon those two guardian statues, the northern lights began to erupt from the night sky, thick clouds above suddenly tearing open, glowing in all the colors you can imagine, cascading down, down to where I was kneeling, flowing into the gate like a river of light.
I saw a veiled figure emerge as the world turned darker and darker in my fever. I thought it was a sweet maiden come to carry me to Helgard where my ancestors were waiting for me, but it was not. It was a woman of the Aesir, the old gods. She had come through the Bifröst and found me lying there, dying. She picked me up and carried me to her hall, into the realm of Asgard that has been cut out of time by the faceless world-shaper. That is where my story begins.
Ah… The meat is ready!” he suddenly said and took the stick with the haunch down from the fire to carve out some juicy pieces for Atlas and Ayveron.
He jammed the meat on small pikes he had whittled for their meal and handed one to each, then he put the next haunch over the fire to roast while he chewed his share right from the bone. Atlas and Ayveron had grown silent as the grave while Plâton was talking. “What happens next?” Ayveron urged. He seemed as taken with this fantastic tale as Atlas.
If Plâton had indeed lived with real gods then it did no longer surprise Atlas that nothing seemed to faze the man no matter what happened. Plâton turned the second haunch dreamily and one glimpse revealed that he had already cleaned his meat to the bone when Atlas and Ayveron had not looked for a few seconds. He really did perform miracles when nobody looked! “Very well, you shall hear the story of the boy who would live with the gods…
I opened my eyes with the dead sleepiness of the snow slumber still in my bones, but the cold had been swept away by the warmth of a crackling hearth and the lap of a woman grown. I was a boy of eight, perhaps ten years, and the frost had taken most of my memory with it as if it was a prize to be clawed from me in return for the life the woman had stolen. Her smile was as warm as her embrace and her hair yellow like the midday sun, her eyes blue as the sky. “Mother?” It was more instinct than question that made me blurt that word with my weak mumbled voice and I could feel the breaths painfully whenever fresh air filled my lungs.
The cold had bitten deep. Her smile faded then, I remember it, but it was not anger or denial I saw in her features then, just marvel, she marveled at me. Why did she marvel at me? Such a beautiful woman, marveling at an ordinary child such as me, why?
“Yes…” she then replied, “Yes, I am your mother.” She wrapped her arms around me to hold me tighter. “My son,” she said. And my eyes closed again and the sleep overtook me once more.
But this time I did not dream of deadly cold and encroaching ice, just of warm spring and soft, rolling hills and the smell of beautiful flowers that were scented just like the kindly woman who now was my mother.
I awoke again two times and went back to the dark just as quick, before I had regained enough strength to finally rise. The woman never left and kept me warm in her lap. I could not tell for how long, for time seemed meaningless to me in that moment. Death was looming too close still, and he is the only true lord of time. When death walks near you his power over you is greater than that of the Great Clockwork. The gears fall in line before him and turn to his melody.
When I woke for the fourth time, I could drag myself onto my feet. The kindly woman was still with me and with me she rose. Around her neck she wore a fox pelt shawl of white, her cloak was made of a thousand thousand white and gray feathers, and her gloves were made of fine black leather, though one of them lay there besides the place she had sat.
I still remember that one glove lying on the ground as if it had been just yesterday. My hand went up to my forehead where I pressed it firmly. My mind seemed not to be in order that day. I thought of a rainbow river, a storm of ice, a great hall, a small shack in a light, mossy forest with a white, little stream running before the door, but I could focus on none of those things as they all spun around so quickly and turned into a blurry haze that taunted me so.
“Easy my child, the frost was upon you when I found you and you were slipping into the snow slumber. The strength will leave you soon again if you stand too long,” the kindly woman said and she pulled a beautifully carved oaken chair from a long table for me to sit on.
I almost missed it when I tried to sit down. I felt tears well up in my eyes, though why I did not know. “What happened to me? Where am I…?” there must have been fear in my voice for she embraced me as a mother embraces her child when it is afraid, and it made me feel safe again. Her warmth seemed to incorporate all the opposites of the dead cold that had tried to drag me to Helgard before.
“You got lost in the snow and the spirits of the ancestors guided you to the Bifröstgate. They guided me there as well and that is how I found you,” she said with a voice like a summer breeze, like the oceans waves and the mountain winds. “You have swum the rainbow river and entered the realm of Asgard, one of the two that remain of the nine realms of the beginning.” Looking about, I saw that I was in some sort of large shack or longhouse made of strong, old wood. On the other side of the long table was a big hearth. There also was a large bed with many ostentatious pelts. On some sort of shrine at the wall stood a bowl of clear water with a small gear inside that stood up on its side all by itself, turning endlessly like a waterwheel and creating soft splashing sounds that calmed the mind. “Who are you? … and who am I?” I kept asking. There were so many questions; things that I once took for granted had gone with the frost and I could not remember, no matter how much I wanted to. The fear was still there, so I returned the embrace this time, almost clawed into her back as if I was afraid she would go away if I let go.
“I am Freyja, the keeper of the small woods, most just call me Lady,” she explained, “and your name I do not know. Would you like to have one?” she asked kindly.
“Frey-ja…” I said slowly to see how the word would feel on my tongue. “I… would like to have a name, yes!”
She nodded and pointed to the bed. “I shall see if I can acquire a lexicon. You should lie down and rest some more. Just have some of this before you go to sleep.” She opened a small cupboard and pulled out a wooden bowl and spoon and filled it with hot soup from a cauldron above the hearth’s fire.
It was the best thing I had ever eaten, or so I thought. I could not remember eating ever before. After I had emptied the bowl, the sleepiness had spread out from my bones back into my body and head once again and I did as I was told, lying down inside the pelts and furs. They were soft and warm, but somehow none so as the lap of the kindly woman, Freyja. That time I mumbled the name over and over before falling back into oblivion. I wanted to burn her name into my mind so I would never forget and show her that I could remember. She was my mother and I wanted to be the best son to her that I could, there was nothing else for me in the world, everything else had been taken. And with these thoughts on my mind I went back to sleep…
Hmm… The hour grows late,” Plâton ended. “Finish up your deer, we will sleep until sunrise, then we move on.”
All of a sudden, Atlas felt not the least bit tired and one look told him the same was true of Ayveron. The story had been too enticing and they had to know more. What was this small wood? How did the realm of Asgard look like? And who was this Freyja? The name sounded very familiar to Atlas’s ears, but where had he heard it before? Was she one of the gods? “Please,” Atlas said, “continue the story.”
But Plâton’s mind was set: “The next eve I will. Now my eyes are tired and my throat grows hoarse with no mead or ale in sight.”
And he would hear no more of it. So Atlas and Ayveron finished what was left of the meat. Plâton had somehow used the mushrooms and herbs he had gathered to also cook a delicious soup with some of the fat, bones and entrails. Most of it was left untouched so they could eat it tomorrow. When they were done, he put out the fire and lay where he sat, soon closing his eyes.
“Plâton,” Atlas whispered.
He opened one eye. “Yes, Atlas?”
“Shouldn’t one of us stay awake to guard the camp? What if the Guardians are upon us?”
Plâton gave a short harrumph to that. “Do not worry, my young friend. I have met neither person nor creature that could creep up on me yet. If something nears, I will wake for it, so rest in peace.”
And so Atlas did. He just assumed that as soon as he himself closed his eyes, Plâton’s unobservable miracle quality would come into effect. So he did just that and woke not until morning.