Gaps & Firelight Vigils
The sun vaulted through the sky, until dusk threatened an autumnal chill and more of the Hallows' unfortunately rotted wood became fodder for a bonfire. All others shifted back to their Realms, but Finnegan, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus and his loud burp. Raynar sat in a canvas camping chair beside Jase, who seemed to never run out of beer. A double-wide camping chair sat Caleb and Karisma, her friends herded back through the passage by Handmaidens who demanded little Princesses and their Champions get proper amounts of sleep. Nevermind their friend was swaddled up by the fire, it was a special occasion for Karisma. Their first evening at home. First night as a proper family, without their lives threatened or the bubbling up of a mystic war. Nestling his arm around his daughter's shoulders, Caleb could no sooner help the smile on his face as he could shiver at the events of the last few days. Still, what did they have to look forward to tonight but a couple of sleeping bags in a half-constructed ruin of a room? The fire crackled, and Caleb was grateful. “So, in the end, all Eros needed was a brother and bam! He grew up!” Ares smacked his hands together, as Hephaestus snort-yawned awake. The beer in his hand sloshed, fingers rustled up to tug at his long beard. “If I knew he was waiting for brothers to catch up, Ares would have had more sons a century before! Goddess’ hillock, an eternal child can you believe it? Although his chubby cheeks gave me life abundant.” Aphrodite ran her hand through her hair as she re-tied the honey coloured messy bun, in the fire light. “You didn’t complain much, I recall.” Ares kissed Aphrodite’s temple and pulled her into his lap, as she reached for champagne and grinned down at his rugged face framed by fire and moonlight. “I do love babies. If you think we’re stopping…” “Dite! Give a god a few centuries to breathe!” “You’ll never win that battle, Olympian. Stop while you’re nigh metres from being ahead. Who’s turn is it?” Hand on a whiskey bottle, Finnegan bellowed with laughter, and plunked down on a branch, which grew from an elm tree, formed for his spine and stature. “It’s Papa’s turn. Um, how… did the world start?” Snuggled in her unicorn hoodie against her father’s side, Karisma stifled a yawn. In front of the fire was all she wanted, connection for the gangle-limbed girl who found the world ill fit. “It was licked out of ice by a cow.” Raynar fidgeted with his whiskey, eyes flickered on Jase, who nodded back with a gentility foreign when he swung his hammer. “… that’s one way to put it, Dad, but I think you’re missing…” “Missing nothing. One day, a cow found Ymir the giant in a block of ice, and the cow was thirsty. World started, the end.” The norseman shifted in his camp chair, the same hollow haunt to his cheeks as when the furniture none of the Æsir or Vanir dared bring up the lane themselves appeared. Cowards the lot, distant kin. “Awful reductionist origin of the cosmos, innit it, Ray?” Finnegan poured another helping of whiskey to the norse duo, father and son. “At least there seemed more’n that I do recall.” “Yeah. Thanks Finn.” Raynar Einridsen clunked his drink against Caleb’s and Finn’s. The camping chair took his weight with a creak of canvas, and the discomforted nordic ran his hand through locks of blond hair. “Do I have to?” “What sort of example are you keeping for impressionable me if you don’t tell a story in the story circle?” Karisma Calebdottir sipped her hot apple cider with a wink to her dad, the adults were scanning above her again, their eyes in mid-conversation they thought she didn't notice. “Ares told one, Hephaestus too although Dad covered my ears for most of that one and I will expect a full detailed discussion about why later. Possibly with euphemistic sock puppets.” “No disappointing the kiddos.” Quiet hands threw another log to the fire, Hephaestus shoved his index finger at the coals to help keep it alight. The fire burst back to life, and Hephaestus tossed on another log much to Finnegan's chagrin. “Rrrggh… ja, ja…” Ray grit his teeth, rubbed at the crest of his nose with the back of his thumb. “Y’sure we can’t get-“ “DAD!” “Ja! Unskyld! Sorry! Before the great tree Yggdrasil grew its first leaf, there was Ginnungagap.” Raynar’s baritone echoed in harmonics at the word. Concept breathed into life. Sparks of fire swirled around a void above the flames, Raynar’s raised fingers flicked and the sparks showered down to the embers and coals. Ares leaned his back against the log, Aphrodite sat in his peacoat and let her fingers play in his short ginger hair. As the sparks and flames increased, Caleb sat back and propped one boot atop the other with a smirk as Karisma shifted to follow his lead. The girl was sweet in moments like this, as uncomplicated as listening to old stories while Jase helped Finnegan pass around a couple of well earned beer much to the Leprechaun’s timid horror. “The eternal caustic void is the centre of útangarðr, lawless chaos anathema to order. The Outside Place without place, the lack of all things. Chaos, the Hellenes called it, the formless waters upon which Elohim swam and Eurynome danced. In Egypt it was Nun, the formless and disordered. For Daoists, the void was Wu Chi, eventually divided into Yin and Yang. Ginnungagap at its northern expanse grows beyond cold to spark the frigidity of Niflheim, to its’ south, the flames of Muspelheim. Ginnungagap is the dominion of none but those foolish enough to stare at the abyss and expect to control what is beyond all comprehension. Within this formless deep, a mountain of ice crystallized from the waters, thawed and frozen by the fierce heat of Muspelheim and the frigid winds of Niflheim. Droplets of frost congealed into the giant Ymir, ‘one who screams’.” Casting his hand to the fire, Raynar lit the air with multi-prismic sparks and the hisses from drops of whiskey off the tips of his fingers. The sparks and steam swirled together, until the skeleton, then muscle, then skin of a giant built in the crackling dark. A moaned shriek sizzled from a wet log tossed onto the flame. Karisma gasped, arms thrust around her father’s chest. “You asked for this, sun-spot. No take-backsies.” Chuckling softly, Caleb leaned to kiss his daughter’s turquoise hair and tug her into a side embrace. “I-I’m good.” Sputters of chuckles blushed Karisma’s cheeks more than the heat of the fire as Raynar grinned from the side of his lips and sent the image of Ymir into a shroud of smoke shaped as a mountain. “But Niflheim’s cold froze Ymir’s tears into a mountain of ice. Ymir would have died of starvation if not for Auðumla.” Dancing smoke and flame conjured a clumsy cow. The syllables of Auðumla’s name hummed like a forgotten yoik, a soul-song touched by Raynar’s rumbled voice. Air reverberant, it delighted in the rich hum, which settled within each skin and bone of the deities and demi-gods collected around Caleb and Karisma’s first bonfire. “Hungry for salt, Auðumla licked at the mountain with her warm, wet tongue. Ymir freed their mouth and drank of Auðumla’s milk in proof few norse folk were lactose intolerant.” “Dad.” Caleb groaned, another wealth of whiskey warm down his throat. “Unskyld, I couldn’t help it… Ymir drank, and Auðumla lapped at the ice mountain, until Ymir was free.” The mountain of smoke shattered and the giant of spark and frost rose, arms swung wild atop the flames of their bonfire. “Now, Ymir was the primordial giant, male and female in tandem. Through Ymir’s roiling, aching roars, the race of giants were born. One might think the cosmos delighted, but Ymir was the embodiment of útangarðr, the disorder outside one’s walls. A hungry cow, Auðumla lapped until she freed Buri from the murk. Unlike Ymir’s offspring, Buri was the first of Æsir blood unyolked by the chaos of the deep. Buri laboured and bore us Bor, who took the giantess Bestla to wife. By now, Ginnungagap was rife with útangarðr and anarchy as was the giant way, and as Buri taught his son Bor many truths, the dangers struck. Thus were Odin, Vili and Ve born, sons of Æsir and Giant, who leapt into the pitch with all the verve of ravenous dogs. While the Æsir are beings of innangarðr, of order and the building of encampments, of civilization, the giant blood in Odin and his brothers continued to bite and claw.” Furrowed grew the brows of Caleb’s father as he searched the fire and its’ miniature battle. Odin, Vili and Ve tossed and roared from the huddled arms of their parents, battered at the chaos within the yawning void. Raynar’s words cut from his tongue such wicked figments, ancestral pangs which plagued his ribcage and tightened his chest. The disquiet threatened to steal all round the fire into a void of their own, until Jase slid his hand on Raynar’s shoulder. “There is no order without blood. Fortification came from no quarter but their parents’ arms, nothing existed in the Ginnungagap but the void and the ice, and the giants. Bor and Bestla hovered with arms open to their sons. At least in the embrace of family, life was better. So were Bor and Bestla’s thoughts, but a void with few to cling to was not enough for Odin Borson. Odin spurred his brothers to kill Ymir. The triplets were as vicious as the Ginnungagap was expansive, they carved Ymir’s flesh apart and with it…” Hand returned to the campfire’s curls of smoke, Raynar split Ymir’s body into bits. “… Ymir’s blood became the waters. All lakes and rivers and streams. They lifted Ymir’s skull to create the vault of sky above us, hoisted until Ragnarøk by four dwarves Odin conned into holding its’ weight. From Ymir’s hair comes all flora, from Ymir’s brains each cloud. Sinew and muscle became the soil, while mountains and valleys were carved from Ymir’s bones. Thus Odin, Vili and Ve crafted Midgard, the first innangarðr, or enclosed place, walled all around to keep out the giants and their útangarðr anarchy. Yggdrasil sprouted, its’ roots to its’ topmost branch spread around the nine realms and connecting us all.” “The… the world’s made of dead people?” “Dismembered giant, yeah. Never said the origins of my people were easy, sun spot.” Caleb whispered into the top of Karisma’s head, gave her shoulder a tight pull. Was the confusion and wonder as much a part of his childhood as it was for Karisma, or was Caleb’s mind always soaked in the waters of Mimir’s soggy pond? The juice of Eden’s apples? Huddled by the fire, the crackle of the flame grew darker. Greens and blues as cold as an unforgiving Scandinavian winter. Delilah, why did she keep their daughter hidden away, an ignorant secret? Shadows upon shadow, walls built by Delilah’s machinations were burning and it took a cabal of deities to complete what Caleb’s daughter ought to know since birth. He shook his head and hissed as the fire sputtered. Raynar watched his son through the flames, his humming and deep yoik reverberant through the remainder of the collected gods. “Only through embracing the anarchy of útangarðr were Odin and his brothers able to create the fortifications of innangarðr, just as in here…” Raynar pressed two fingers against his granddaughter’s forehead. “… lies a conflict between disorder and will. Vili is the strength of will, Ve the temple… and Odin…” Another long breath shuddered out of Raynar, the fire’s colourful display of Midgard dying for the one-eyed wizened wanderer of Asgard’s halls wrapped in a cloak of sickly green and grey flames. “Odin is what’s left of Ymir’s scream. He is the wild in us, the urge for wisdom and cloak of war. To create a circle of protection around siblings and parents, the destruction of life was necessary. It is a hard path, Kari. The path of Odin is one of berserk rage and deals not lightly defeated. I am glad to be rid of the old bastard.” “And yet the old bastard isn’t rid of you.” Footsteps thudded through the bric-a-brac as a gigantic section of log crashed into a void in the circle. Barrel chest wrapped in a flagrantly Scandinavian wool sweater, well-kept red beard flowed past two knitted goats in profile on the centre of his collar. Thor shifted his loose, pocketed grey trousers and sat down with a huff. The fire crackled with flicks of yellow lightning. Air as electrified as Ares hopped to his feet, Aphrodite with his mug, gaze flicked to Caleb and the girl. “You’ve got the upend of cheek!” Finnegan too launched to his feet, roots planted as if oak became the Fae’s legs. A loud crack of a beer can broke across the collected silence, as Hephaestus took a sloppy swig and chuckled deep in his belly. “No son of mine..” “I am not…” Fist white and quivering, Raynar slid his left foot back. “You are! I am your father, Moði. Nothing you do rids my vitriol in your gullet.” Thor’s gruff voice ached through the fire circle, blue eyes cold as bad weather settled on Raynar, then Caleb and Karisma. He heaved a leather bag from behind the log, set it down between spread thighs and brown boots with worn, cracked leather. “Now. No son of mine’s having a night of revels without appropriate booze.” The thick lip of the bag flicked by Thor’s mighty thumb revealed bottles of glass, fired clay, a myriad of tipples from larders across the expanse of realms. He chucked a thin bottle at Aphrodite, who caught it with a short laugh and a shake of her head. “Feck me, the Aesir of thunder and overreaction comes all the way to Midgard for a booze run… ought to be offended, methinks…” Finnegan crossed his arms over his chest, turned his chin when Thor offered a bottle of what appeared to be whiskey. The Æsir shrugged and set it down beside his log. Dug into the bag and proffered a bottle for Caleb’s daughter. “Not for the little one!” Caleb intercepted the bottle, tried to shift it and read the label in the semi-dark of the flames. “A child can’t have ginger beer? Gee, you’re a tough parent, give the girl a complex.” “Woooaaah.” Shoulders high as her earlobes, Karisma nibbled on her bottom lip and glanced up to her father’s grit-set jaw. “Um.. Dad? Is that… I mean really? Really, really?” Twisting the bottle in his hand, he read the label in the light of the fire. A grunt after a sniff later, he handed it to Karisma, whose sheepish fingers covered in her hoodie’s sleeves, snaked out to take it and pop the top. “Pish! T’think I’m here and ruddy Thor of Asgard feels the need to come and ensure there’s enough tipples afloat!” Finnegan puffed up his chest. “The nerve! You’d come all the way thinkin’ I’d let a bloke go thirsty!? At a… a party!?” “Finn.” “Oy aye, if I aren’t offended by the cheek! The catastrophic cheek! Me! Finnegan the Fae! Run out of booze!” “Finn!” “How’s my grandson supposed to set up his permanent residence without a liquor cabinet worthy of Bilskirnir's hall?” Thor heaved another duffel full of clinking, sloshing bottles between the log and the fire. “I’m a single parent, what do you think I’ll be doing?” Caleb’s eyebrows quirked, mouth agog at the sheer amount of liquor which poured out of the seemingly endless bag. A small cask pulled out next, Thor glanced Caleb over and smacked his lips. “Not stopping at one, are you? Be a shame, you’re not that bad a looker. Girl, you don’t want to be the only one responsible for this lot, do you?” “Oh my God, Dad!” “Thor, everyone! My father Thor, Æsir of overreaching and awkward public moments! What’s next!? The Allfather performing kareoke and vomiting up the mead of poets?!” “Told him to bugger off and stay home. Far too embarrassing.” “Great! Then you dropped off the endless booze bag, you can go.” “Can’t a man see his son?” “You did see me. Two days of me before you sent Magni and I adrift!” “You know it was more complicated!” “Oh do I!? Æsir of Wrath, my anger must cloud me! I must’ve missed where abandoning your infant is somehow complicated!” “You are angry!” “Yes I’m angry! You pitched us out to sea!” “I kept you alive!!” Thor roared to his feet, chest collided with Raynar’s as the caw of a raven echoed beyond the clearing. “Enough!” Caleb grabbed both men from the locks of hair at the base of their necks and yanked with a swift pull. Although both his father and grandfather outweighed and outgrew him, Caleb held both men firm. “Do you both good to smack your heads together and make the coconut noise! Do we want this to be Karisma’s first memories of family? Of our community? Both of you! Sit down or I will seat you. And… Thor… thank you for the thoughtful housewarming gift, I’m sure we’ll enjoy spending the next thirty years getting through it.” “This isn’t the housewarming, it’s for tonight!” Thor rubbed the back of his neck, body still but for winter-eyes, which bored into the son who paced and shook his head. As if the wild in him was as real as the grief of a father, whose god-father condemned an infant to the eternal outside. “Your anger would have destroyed us, Moði, after Baldr our rage was undeniable. Not a one within Asgard held to their hugr. Every wail from your mother’s embrace sunk us, if we possessed mercy it died with my half-brother. It died when you were born. By the time I got my head, you were already his.” Thor nodded behind Raynar’s shoulder, the warmth of the fire a pale candle flicker to the compassion in Jase’s eyes. “And what? Cast out before I could talk because a filthy old charlatan’s head told Odin to toss me away. I found my way, you can’t blame me for it.” “None of us do. There’s an argument here, which needs to be fleshed out. But not tonight.” Ares leaned his elbows to his knees, a brief glimpse to Aphrodite’s prodding face. “Truce. Damn it, strange word to come from War’s mouth, but truce. Agreed?” “Leave it to the Vikings to have the bloodiest creation and most complicated family since Tiamat and Abzu’s first spat.” Finnegan’s toothy grin shone even in the firelight, the old Leprechaun sloshed more whiskey down his throat and gave a loud belch. “S’all blood and guts for most, young lass. What else do you get, when your people were born into a frozen wasteland with less arable farmland than a townhome’s back garden?” “What happened to the cow?” “Wh… what happened to the cow? You learn the origin of the planet under our feet, get visited by Thor the Parental Wunderfail and you want to know about the primordial cow?” “Animals matter, Papa Ray.” “…” Raynar’s lips quirked in a pout, his face contorted in thought. “You know? I never asked…” “I could tell you.” Thor slid a mead horn from his lips, stared sidelong at the girl who caused such rows Thor hadn’t seen their equal in Asgard’s many halls. “Not! Happening… you probably ate it.” Raynar thumped back into his camp chair, cup missing its’ liquor. “I know why you didn’t turn to útangarðr.” Again the drink tipped to his lips, Thor relished the act without care to how short life seemed to those encompassed in the mortal realm. “Your mother’s Aesir, boy. You have too much god in you and not enough giant. Like your son.” “My mother was a dairy maid.” Caleb shook his head, whiskey momentarily devoid of its’ flavour. “A dairy maid…” Thor blinked, horn paused halfway to his lips. “Your mother…” “Bet I can best you in a drinking contest, Einridi, man!” Finnegan flopped against Thor’s shoulder, shoved a bottle of whiskey to his nose. “Sure, you lot have mead and cider a mean apple, but you’ve nothing against an Irish Whiskey!” “Bahahaha! Finally the little leaf knows what a party’s for!” Skin flushed by the fire, Thor clapped his hands together and a wash of sparkling yellow flickers burst into the air like stars. “Ares, you love-dog! Join us! See who has the best stomach in the Realms!” “I’m in.” Jase sunk down the last of his beer, and took a plastic cup from a stack beside his chair. “Euch, if you say…” “Finn.” Eyeing the peculiarity of Finnegan’s boisterous switch, Caleb pursed his lips. “Right, alright, only joking. Having a lark.” “Bah! Aphrodite can have us all drunk under the ashes before the sun’s up, I assure you!” Ares sat forward, his cup drained and waiting. “I’m in.” “But… Aphrodite, you too!?” Caleb grunted, his arm firm around his daughter’s shoulders. “Are we doing this? Having a drinking game in front of my teenaged daughter? No! You’re all way too many lifetimes of adult to act this immature.” “And miss a chance to see the mighty Thor and Finnegan soused? Game on, Mauthisen. Judge Stick-in-the-Mud.” Aphrodite flourished her wine flute, delicate bubbles down her throat. “Heph, you’re in, right?” A loud burp and the thrust of Hephaestus’ empty cup was all Aphrodite needed. “Yeah… yeah, you’re in.” “It’s not like I’ve never seen people drink before, Dad.” Karisma shoved his arm, groggy inhale captured before it turned into a yawn. “Shush you! I’m trying to be a responsible parent.” “C’mon, Caleb! Have a bit of revels in you, join the fun.” Finnegan brandished a bottle and started pouring liberal shots, emerald eyes paused on Raynar, who exhaled with a hiss as he sat back in his camp chair. “Good, good! Fill our cups, little leaf man. Fill them, and let Thor of Bilskirnir trounce you all for glory!” Thor took his pour with all the grace of a booze hound in a complimentary happy hour, a grin diminished once he caught the pause to Raynar and Finnegan’s eyes. “No! The kid, my gosh, wh-what… don’t pour some for me, hey I had whiskey in there already!” Caleb yanked his glass away too late. “Finn, seriously…” “Don’t be a soggy blanket, Dad.” Tugging her anorak around her, Karisma picked up the slumbering war pup and curled him into her embrace. The pup licked at her face before settling its head on her arm. With a long hissing sigh, Caleb shook his head and pulled his jacket off and wrapped it around his daughter and the pup. “Damn it. Hey! I have more than anyone!” Caleb peeked through everyone’s glasses. Finnegan shrugged with a wild eyed smile. “You’ve got to catch up, son.” Raynar punched Caleb’s shoulder and the circle of beings thrust their cups, glasses and horns into the middle. “A toast, to building walls.” “And the strength to guard them.” Ares roared, the liquor doused down his throat. Another round, then another and Finnegan stood to sing a shanty he’d learnt when his forest nestled to the sea’s kiss of county Wicklow. Laughing bright and warm, Aphrodite kissed Ares’ cheek, thrust her champagne flute for more. “Next round’s on me!” Jase poured a golden coloured whiskey into their cups, while Finnegan blinked and searched for where he’d got it. “Could’a sworn that bottle were empty…” “Don’t count a gift horse’s teeth, little leaf man!” Thor bellowed and slapped his weighteous arm across Finnegan’s shoulders. The fae vaulted toward the fire, stumbled and caught himself on Hephaestus’ stump of a leg. “Oy! Why I!” Finding his feet, Finnegan balled up his fist and threw a sloppy jab to Thor’s chin. A thunder crack his reward, Finnegan grinned with a cackle, “Crazy viking! It’s not looking a gift horse in the mouth!” “Bah! Little Leaf! I didn’t bring a horse!” “I’m a perfectly respectable size, you gargantuan grub!” The fireside ignited with the scuffle of boots and the roars of a companionate brawl. Former enemies threw elbows and tossed cups to the sod, Caleb staggered in the centre, fielded a drunken smack from Finn as the veneer of his station sloughed off until the ached morning. The brawl stilled in a contented pause, Caleb was laughing. “Alright! Alright, who wants me!?” He shoved his father into Ares, as Aphrodite circled around and popped the cork out of another bottle of wine. Eyes which fed love into the ocean and wind and stars took in the rowdy incursion, the progress on a home found in rubble. She swaggered to Karisma and towed a sleeping bag over the girl’s shoulders as Karisma gave a final yawn. Eyelids weighted by an exhaustive day’s work drifted shut, lulled to sleep by how beautiful it was to have an entire circle of protective arms to keep the chaos of útangarðr away.