Okay, the whole Norse mythology thing because my mom told me to post it. All nine pages of it, yup. (wow this is really bad and old)
Vidar Stendall was not an especially brave man. He was never the first to volunteer for anything, and he didn’t like to draw attention to himself. He was quiet. He stayed back and watched while, in grade school, his friends played dodgeball; he hung back when, in high-school, his classmates met girls at parties; he stayed at home and read while, in college, his roommates pretended to hit every pub in town. It was the way he looked, his mother always said – mousey hair in his eyes, skinnier than most, always staring off into the distance like some old cat – and his father would nod solemnly, and state in a businesslike fashion that Something ought to be done about it. But nothing was ever done, and his mother kept on tutting and his father kept on shaking his head, until Vidar moved out of their old flat and into his own, and got a job in a coffee shop on the bottom floor of a deserted apartment building where nobody tried to do Something about his shyness.
He wasn’t shy, though: that was the thing about him that his parents never understood. He was a watcher. An observer. He liked to stand back, and see how other people went about having a good time, and smile mysteriously to himself, as though it were all a joke only he could understand. All he ever needed to have a good time was a book, and a place to stand back in where no-one could bother him.
Vidar Stendall was not a brave man. But he was a curious man, and he liked to find things out. If he was walking down the street and wasn’t in any particular hurry, he would veer down side alleyways just to see where they led. More often than not, they led to small cafes, where he would sometimes stop for a drink and spend the afternoon reading by the window. However, he never went down the dark alleyways that looked like they led to a dead end, because despite all his curiosity he still was not brave, and those alleyways always sent an ominous shiver down his spine.
Vidar Stendall was a twenty-three year old man, with mousey hair, skinnier than most, working in a coffee shop and living in his own flat. Vidar Stendall was not an especially brave man, but his curiosity lent him more courage than he knew.
Chapter 1: The One With The Storm
It was raining.
The rain that day wasn’t an ordinary rain. None of that misty grey stuff that made people hurry home holding newspapers over their heads. This was a thunderstorm.
The water was pelting down in thick, globular bullets of wet. Nobody was in the streets – as soon as it had started coming down harder than they could stand, everyone had run for the nearest shelter, in the hopes that the curtain would eventually peter out, so that they could return to their daily affairs.
The storm had been pouring down since nine a.m., for full three hours, occasionally punctuated by bursts of thunder and lightning, showing no signs of relenting. Vidar Stendall was stuck inside the small coffee shop, freely handing out various small pastries to the half dozen other people trapped inside. It was the least he could do: he knew they were probably having even less fun than he was. A young woman’s baby wouldn’t stop crying; Vidar decided that it was the most irritating noise he had ever heard. A teenaged girl was sobbing quietly in a corner: June had spoken with her, and had found out that she had missed her first date.
June was Vidar’s co-worker. Their shift had ended two hours ago, but she seemed much less worried about not being able to leave than Vidar. If he had been trapped at home, he would have been perfectly fine with it: home was where all his books were, and he could have sat in his armchair next to the reading light, a Douglas Adams novel open on his lap, listening to the raindrops against the windowpanes. But here, he was trapped with nothing to read, nothing to do, desperately hoping the unwilling customers didn’t demand to see his manager for some reason or other. Vidar hated being trapped like this. June, on the other hand, was merrily pouring mug after hot mug of coffee, chattering pleasantly about sports or clothes or whatever her growing audience wanted to hear. June had a way with people that made Vidar sometimes forget not to stare.
It was at that time, two hours after his shift, with a baby crying and a teenager sobbing and June chattering away, that Vidar looked up from his doodle of a cat in wellingtons and saw shadows moving in the rain. He didn’t waste any time blinking, or being surprised. He moved out from behind the counter and towards the door, and before he could open it to let in whoever was mad enough to be moving around out there –
-the door swung open, and in they strode.
There were two of them. One was large, taller than anyone else in the room, built like a bulldozer, but still somehow managing to stand straight. The other was much shorter, thinner even than Vidar, and walked with a light step. They both wore thick hooded raincoats made of some greasy black material, and when they removed them they were perfectly dry. Vidar had the impression for a split second, as the thin one’s hood came down, that his head was on fire; but then Vidar blinked, and the thin man simply had red hair. His face was clean and fox-like, and his fingers deft as they undid the buttons of the strange raincoat. Vidar immediately knew he couldn’t trust the man, though he had no idea why. The large man, on the other hand, looked very much trustworthy. Between a dirty-blond mane and an even dirtier beard, his face wasn’t plain, or stupid; and while there was a trace of fury there, there was gentleness also. The two stood apart somewhat, as though they had know each-other for a very long time, but perhaps not under the best of terms. The blond man seemed not to trust the redhead any more than Vidar did.
The fox-like man’s face broke into a wide grin. “Quite the storm, isn’t it?” He moved lightly towards the stools at the counter. Not only did he look like a fox; he moved like one, too. The large man followed, not quite so gracefully. “Two lattes. Hold the chocolate.” Vidar eyed the pair suspiciously as he poured the coffee. Eventually, he spoke. “That rain has been pelting down hard for hours now. Where did you two come out from?” The redhead shrugged, and grinned again. His green eyes flashed. “The taxi driver couldn’t find his way. So we agreed to be dropped off, and let the poor sod drive back home.” Vidar placed the cups on saucers, and placed the coffees in front of the two men. “Well, it looks like you’re going to be here a while, so you might as well get to know the rest of us. I’m Vidar. That’s June, she works here too, and the woman she’s talking to is Abigail…The middle-aged guy is Mr. Mansard, we see him a lot, and I think the crying girl is called Lucy…” Vidar trailed off. “That’s all I really know. I haven’t really been doing a lot of talking,” he confessed. The thin man shook his head dismissively. “No worries, my friend and I aren’t really in the mood for mingling either.” The tall man said nothing; he seemed to be letting the redhead do all the talking, ready to correct him if he made a mistake, but otherwise silent. “My name is Locke, and this is Theo.” Theo nodded down at Vidar, storm-blue eyes twinkling momentarily. Vidar smiled suddenly, the knowing smile he had when he knew he had met interesting people. These two were certainly not ordinary, in any case.
“Well, Locke, Theo, feel free to stay as long as you like – June and I will do our best to make it the least awful experience possible; and anyway, it’s not like any of us really have a choice to begin with.” Locke gave a brief laugh, and Vidar wondered what he had said that was funny. But the redhead waved a hand, saying, “Inside joke, sorry,” while Theo shot him a narrow glare. Vidar wasn’t sure what had just happened; but what he did know was that, even if he didn’t trust Locke, he certainly liked him, and Theo as well. It was going to be an interesting day.
The storm didn’t stop. Several of the customers demanded that a television be brought in “from the back”, so that they could hear what the news had to say about the storm. Vidar apologised profusely, explaining that, because of budget issues, they had no television, no Wi-Fi network, no nothing, “because my boss is a Mormon, that’s why”. Locke chuckled at this, but the anxious prisoners grew even more anxious, and went back to muttering sullenly in their corners.
After a couple more hours, Theo whispered something to Locke, who hesitated, then nodded; and Theo boomed, in a deep voice that sounded like it came from an even bigger man, “Gather ‘round for a story”. Vidar started at this, and most of the customers turned round to stare. Even Locke looked surprised. After a brief pause, June said, “A story would be great! Go ahead, Theo. We’re listening.” Vidar leaned forward on the counter, propped up with his elbows beneath his chest. Theo cleared his throat, making a sound like a small avalanche. “Once”, he began, “a very long time ago, there was a wanderer.
“This wanderer took the appearance of an old man, but he wasn’t really old, for the world was just beginning, but nor was he young. He simply was. This wanderer had many sons, and ruled over many kingdoms, and his subjects worshipped him; but what he valued most was wisdom.
“At the bottom of the world, there is a well. It is as a great lake, vast and deep; and out of this well grows a tree, in whose roots and branches are nested all the worlds. The well grants the power of wisdom to all who drink from it, while the keeper of the well is wisdom itself, and knowledge, and memory. The wanderer came to the keeper and asked to drink of the well, so that he might become wise. But the keeper of the well told the wanderer that to drink of the well, he would have to make an adequate sacrifice. So the wanderer said he’d give his right eye. And the keeper smiled, and nodded, and took the wanderer’s eye from him. The keeper handed him a horn filled with water from the well, and the wanderer drank; and in that moment, he became wise, and everything was clear to him.”
Evidently, this was the end of the story, as Theo then threw back his head and poured his eighth coffee down his throat in one go. Locke hadn’t touched his; as soon as that first cup had been placed in front of him, he had carefully removed it from its saucer, dipped a long finger into the liquid, and had been idly doodling on the saucer all the time he had been talking for the past two hours. Now, as Theo requested a ninth drink, Locke looked around him surreptitiously; when he thought no-one was looking, Vidar saw his hand tighten around the cup. Vidar blinked. Was it him, or…It had to be a trick of the light. Nobody’s hand just glowed like that.
But a moment later, the cup of coffee that had been cold for the past couple hours was steaming hot as Locke relaxed his grip and took a satisfied sip of the beverage. Vidar shook his head and went back to cleaning the counter.
Theo’s story had evidently perplexed some of his audience. They were looking around at each-other confusedly: clearly it had been some kind of fairytale, which was odd by itself; but it hadn’t even been one of the good ones, with dragons and princesses and things in. Just a couple of old guys drinking magic water. After another cup of coffee, however, Theo began again, and the next story was a good one. He talked about how the wanderer’s son got on a boat with a giant, and cast his fishing line into the water; and how the great world-serpent was caught on the line, and the wanderer’s son wanted to catch it and slay it, for it was a wicked creature; but the giant, out of fear that the battle would bring about the destruction of the worlds, cut the string, and the world-serpent escaped. He talked about how, in the end-days, the world-serpent’s brother, a nightmare wolf, opened wide his jaws and devoured the sun and moon. He talked about how the wolf slew the wanderer; and how the wanderer’s other son, the silent one, in turn slew the wolf.
“Kicked its jaw right open,” he proudly proclaimed, “and then pulled it apart so wide he snapped its face in half”. He downed his eleventh latte. “Which brings me to a story about another of the wanderer’s sons -” And there he hesitated, glancing down at Locke, who shook his head slightly, No. The exchange would have been too quick to notice if you didn’t know what you were looking for, but Vidar was used to watching people, and caught the gesture. He wasn’t sure why, but for some reason Locke didn’t want the story told.
Theo recovered smoothly. “A guardian, he was, someone who watched over the great fortress of the gods”, but it was clear to Vidar that it was not the same son as the one whose story he had been about to tell. Locke caught Vidar staring at Theo, wondering what had happened; and he gave Vidar a look, though the boy couldn’t for the life of him decipher what it meant.
It was gone nine o’clock, and the storm still hadn’t let up. The dozen-or-so people in the building were genuinely worried, now; but Vidar, June and the three cooks whose shift it had been managed to find enough blankets and old coats to serve as makeshift beds in the old, abandoned rooms that made up the upper floors of the building the coffee shop occupied, enough to accommodate everyone for the night.
It was ten o’clock when Vidar wearily pulled loose his necktie and collapsed onto the bedroll that was a pile of parkas June found in a closet somewhere. He was on the top floor, his room connecting to Locke’s and Theo’s, with June and Lucy in the room opposite. The woman with her crying baby were all the way on the first floor, which was a relief. Some of the rooms contained ratty furniture, left by the long-gone former occupants of the rooms; Locke’s room held a chipped end table, bearing a dim but functional desklamp. June’s contained a moth-eaten armchair, dust-coated and, June suspected, nit-ridden. Vidar’s room was a glorified broom closet that looked like it might once have been a child’s bedroom; he had discovered a scrunched-up wad of paper in one corner, and nothing else. When he managed to unfold the paper, he found that it bore the message “Dady com home” scribbled in purple crayon, and nothing else. He threw it against the wall in disgust.
As he sat with his back against the wall, unable to sleep, he found his thoughts meandering back to Theo’s stories. He was familiar with nearly all of them: they were Norse myths, a book of which he had read over and over as a child. For some reason, though, Theo had omitted the character’s names and status of godhood. Vidar recognised them: Odin, the wandering god. Mimir and his well. Thor, god of thunder and Odin’s son; sworn enemy of the world-serpent Jormungand. Fenrir the wolf. Heimdall, guardian of the gate to the realm of the gods. There were others, just as prominent as the ones Theo had mentioned: Loki the trickster, who loved fire and magic. Freya the fair, who could weave the tapestry of fate. Idun, whose magical orchard kept the gods immortal. Tyr the valiant. Hod the blind. Hel of the underworld. There were so many.
He thought of the Ragnarok, the end of days where the gods would battle the frost giants, and they would slay one-another, and bring down creation with them; and then be reborn, and creation would be reformed as though nothing had happened, and the cycle would start over. Some of Theo’s tales had been about the Ragnarok; the ones about Fenrir, for instance, when he devoured the sun and moon, or when he slew Odin. Theo had then spoken of Odin being avenged by his son, though, and Vidar didn’t recognise that part of the story. Odin had many sons, it could have been any one of them.
Vidar smiled to himself, in the dark of the little room. He had always loved those myths, even though it was sometimes hard to keep track of the many, many characters. It occurred to him to wonder why Theo would tell those myths, specifically – a humorous anecdote would have been more appropriate to the situation. Still, it had been a pleasant surprise to hear the stories again, first heard so long ago he could barely remember most of them.
He closed his eyes, and breathed in the room. It smelled old, and lived-in. There was dust, which made him cough. It reminded him of his grandmother’s house, the day she’d died. There had been flowers everywhere, lilies mostly; but also pink orchids stuck in vases, looking entirely out of place. The house had smelled of aspirin and old people. The ancient furniture hadn’t been dusted for years, it seemed, and the air was choked with dust. His mother had opened all the windows, trying to let in what sunlight she could; but it had seemed at the time to Vidar that the air itself had been drained of colour. His father had taken him to see his grandmother’s body, laid down all in white on her old four-poster bed, skin the colour of ash, closed eyelids a bloodshot purple. Then he had been taken downstairs, where all his uncles and aunts and cousins were talking in hushed voices, and when they saw him they all told him what a brave little boy he was being. He hadn’t seen why; he had never liked the old woman, he had always seen her as a crone – but his parents had taken him for regular visits to her musty grey house, and had somehow gotten the impression that he had grown quite attached to her.
If he almost opened his eyes, just enough to let in a slit of the real world, he could see them again, standing there in their suits and ties – aunt Victoria in that horrible black dress that came up above her knees, even though she was over sixty…Uncle Tony, his omnipresent fat cigar tucked under his yellowing moustache…Aunt Clara with her blue hair, who wasn’t that old at all…Cousin Christopher, who never strayed far from a glass of whiskey…Vidar could see the cars parked outside, feel the sadness, smell the cigar smoke, hear the voices…
Vidar opened his eyes. No, that had been real. He turned his head, and saw that the door connecting his room to Locke and Theo’s was open a crack, the desk lamp’s dim light streaming through.. They were talking in low, hushed voices: Vidar couldn’t stop himself from sidling over towards the glow of the lamp. Locke’s words were the first he made out.
“You shouldn’t have told the one about the wolf”, he was saying. “He wasn’t ready to hear that one.”
“We would have had to tell him sooner or later. Besides,” Theo added, “there’s no way he’d know it was about him.”
“The problem with you is that you can’t keep your mouth shut.”
“You’re one to talk! I remember how they literally had to sew your lips together that one time. When I or Father or anyone gets in trouble, nine times out of ten it’s because you couldn’t hold your stupid forked tongue.”
Vidar gently pulled the doorknob, opening the door just enough to be able to see what was happening. Locke and Theo were standing a few feet apart, and it looked like they were trying to have an argument quietly. Locke held a glass of wine in one hand.
“Look,” Locke said, passing his hands over his face in exasperation, “I know this mission means a lot to you. It makes sense, he’s your brother. But you have to learn to keep a low profile, that’s always been another problem with you. We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t break it to him slowly.”
“I think reminding him of his heritage was a good start.”
“His -? Listen -” and then Locke called Theo something that sounded like “Theo” but wasn’t – “When you tell a kid he’s the son of a god, you don’t start by telling him stories about gods and then say, ‘By the way, that was you in that last one’. We can’t just up and tell him, he’d think we’re crazy. Like I said, keep a low profile.”
Theo grinned suddenly. “Keep it low key, eh?”
“Shut up. Just don’t stop the storm, it’s the only excuse we have to be around him right now.”
“Yeah…About that. Don’t you think the whole ‘storm’ thing is the exact opposite of keeping a low profile?”
“Lay off, I’m improvising here. We don’t exactly have much time for elaborate plans.”
“Which you love so much anyway. Look, why don’t you just show him what you can do? I don’t mean set his house on fire or anything, but…I don’t know, hover a bit?”
What, said Vidar’s brain, which up until this point had rationalised all incongruities as complex metaphors.
“He’d probably panic or faint or something. He is human, I understand they tend to do that.”
“You have no faith in him. He’s one of us, he’d understand.”
“Not yet, he isn’t. He’s spent too much time in this realm. He’s forgotten what it’s like to feast in the great hall, to walk along the walls of the city -”
Locke paused, seemingly lost in thought. His attention slipped from his glass enough for it to tip over gently; a trickle of blood-red wine fell onto the rough floorboards. Locke appeared not to notice. Vidar shifted his position to look at Theo, and saw him watching Locke impatiently. Finally, the gaunt man spoke, softly. “You nearly spoke of Baldur just now.”
Theo sighed. “Can we not do this right now? I’m supposed to be keeping you out of trouble, not…Not indulging you in your guilt trips. He’s fine, okay? He doesn’t even blame you. That’s why people like him so much, he never ever holds a grudge. You don’t have to beat yourself up over every time you screwed up the first cycle.”
Locke flinched at this, and rallied with, “Not everything I did was bad. It’s all a matter of perspective, anyway, isn’t it? Depending on which side you’re on. Just because I helped both sides doesn’t mean I’m not just a really helpful guy.”
Theo snickered darkly. “You’ve never tried that one before. You must be desperate for redemption.”
Locke seemed to sag. “You have no idea. I’m just glad they all came back…Nari, Váli…All of them. All safe.”
A pause. “Not all of them”
“Yes, of course. That’s what we’re here for, after all.”
Longer pause. Locke turned his back suddenly and moved out of Vidar’s area of perception, so that he could only see Theo.
“Well,” said Locke, suddenly cheerful, “we’d best get some sleep. I have a feeling this is going to take a long time.”
With that, the table lamp went out completely. Vidar waited a few more minutes, but nothing else happened, so he crawled back to his makeshift bed in a daze. He lay down, stunned and very much confused by the midnight conversation; his head was swimming with questions, and he wasn’t finding any answers. He finally fell asleep, images of wolves and snakes and glowing men floating on the edge of his vision. He had many dreams, most of them unpleasant, but wouldn’t be able to tell you what they were afterwards.
Vidar’s pillow faced the room’s tiny window, so when he woke up the next morning, the first thing he saw was rain.
The storm hadn’t abated in the slightest, and the general unease of the customers was rising into panic. Still, Vidar did his best to put up an optimistic facade as he served them breakfast. It was difficult, though: he couldn’t keep himself from trying to unravel the previous night’s puzzle.
He had begun to think it had all been a dream, shortly after he had woken. Only, then he had gone to Theo and Locke’s room to wake them in turn, and while he found that they had already gone downstairs, there was a dark, wine-coloured stain in the middle of the floor. So it had all been real.
Gods don’t exist, said a stubborn part of his brain that refused to accept new data. Odin and Thor and Loki and the rest are all just myths, they live in a picture book in your mother’s attic somewhere.
Think about it, though, said the part of his brain that still, on some bedrock level, believed in fairies. If the norse gods DO exist – and already I can think of a few ways to find out if they do – wouldn’t that just be the best thing ever? If not the best thing, then the most interesting thing, anyways. I mean, come on, we work in a cafe. How about a bit of adventure?
Adventures are dangerous, Vidar reminded himself, but the rest of him seemed to be shouting for answers unanimously.
Vidar could think of several ways to gather proof of the Norse gods’ existence – just saying the sentence in his head made him feel a bit silly – but only one of them was immediately testable, as well as both fully conclusive and practical.
He walked up to Theo.
“Morning”, said the blond man as Vidar approached, a private sort of smile creeping over his face. Then, “Some storm, huh?” Theo added, as if he’d just remembered that he was supposed to be impressed by it.
“Sure is”, Vidar said, still smiling, “finest I’ve ever seen. But I’d really appreciate it if you stopped it now, Thor.”
Vidar imagined that he could see Theo’s thoughts screech to a halt and begin running very, very fast in the opposite direction. There was a long pause.
So long, Vidar began to worry that he’d broken something.
Then Thor smiled.
Chapter 2: The One With All The Exposition
Vidar had expected multiple things to happen when he asked Theo to stop the storm. He had expected Theo to laugh at him. He had expected him to look at him like he was crazy. He had expected a double-take.
What he hadn’t expected was for Theo to turn out to actually be Thor. So now, he was driving in his car, on the way to his flat, and he had two passengers in the back seat: Thor, god of thunder and lightning; and Loki, god of fire and trickery; and he had pinched himself multiple times and hadn’t woken up yet.
It was only when they had reached Vidar’s flat when Locke broke the silence.
“How did you know? Have you retained your memories?”
Vidar blinked. This conversation was shaping up to be like the one he’d overheard; his brain was already aching in anticipation. “Memories? What…What?”
Locke – or Loki, Vidar was still confused about that – pursed his lips, and Vidar got the feeling he’d disappointed the man – or god – somehow. “Fine. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to explain everything, but…Fine.”
“An explanation would be welcome”, Vidar proposed helpfully.
Locke nodded. “I’ll get to that. First, though…How did you know? I mean, how did you know who we were if you didn’t even know the Norse gods were real?”
No backing out of this now, Vidar thought. Out loud, he said, “I more or less…Well, I eavesdropped on your conversation last night. Heard you talking about…Hovering, and, uh, setting my house on fire…”
Locke must have seen the hesitation on Vidar’s face, because his face was suddenly split by a quick smile. “You don’t have to worry about that sort of thing. The fire, I mean. We’re here to help you, not incinerate you…” The fire god tilted his head to one side, curiously. “You really don’t remember anything, do you?”
Vidar shook his head slowly. “Um. No. Er. Should I? About what?”
Locke straightened his head. “You heard us talking. You tell me.”
Vidar thought back to what they had said.
Vidar sat down.
When you tell a kid he’s the son of a god, you don’t start by telling him stories about gods and then say, ‘By the way, that was you in that last one’.
Vidar the Silent God looked up.
Vidar the Silent God, Son of Odin and Brother of Thor, keeled gently over backwards.