The Secrets We Keep

So many died that day, and the Valkyrie missed my ghost. I returned home to my wife not knowing I was dead.

That is the only secret; the only fantastic thing.

***

Tom Pivens: Erik – do you mind if I call you Erik?

Me: Go ahead.

Tom Pivens: Tell us what it’s like being one of the Valfadr’s einherjar.

Me: … perpetual.

Tom Pivens (laughing): But not without humor! I guess you’d have to be, up there in the fields with guys like Loki and the Thunderer knocking about.

Me: It helps.

Tom Pivens: So, you get up every day and practice battle for the dark days of Ragnarok. How do you prepare?

Me: I’m earning a degree in Engineering Physics.

Tom Pivens: Sounds tough – and not exactly what we think of here in NYC when we think about the ever-living warriors. You used to live up in Asgard, didn’t you? Tell us what it’s like.

Me: Like here. But colder.

***

Everyone wants to know what its like. What the Gods are like. But I’ll say this: we all have secrets. Loki isn’t funny, he’s malicious and enjoys pain. He doesn’t get to tease Thor because the Thunderer is stupid. It’s because he’s too honorable to be anything other than himself. If you want funny, spend time listening to Freyr and Odin shoot the shit. Freyr has no sense of propriety and Odin isn’t afraid of anything, especially looking like a fool. Their jokes last for centuries.

And the most powerful, of course, is Frigg, Because she knows the worst suffering doesn’t come from death or sorrow or eternity. It comes from love.

***

Tom Pivens: We spoke with Gunrild the Graywalker last week and she told us about riding over battles to choose the greatest warriors. Do you remember seeing the Valkyrie who picked you?

Me: No.

Tom Pivens: … is there anything you can tell us about your last moments?

Me: ….

Tom Pivens (laughing): The studio and audience at home can keep your secrets. Go on, Erik, the people want to know.

***

I was summoned to the Valholl last week, and although I did not wish to vacate the comforting leather of my apartment study, it is impossible to ignore such a thing. So I took up my bear-skin and donned the bronze and gold rings of my company.

They waited on their thrones, Odin and Frigg, side-by-side and still as statues. I knelt, warmed by their presence. The bear-skin pooled over my calves and feet. All around me the Asgard-bound einherjar watched from long tables and mead-benches. I smelled burning fat and ale, the sweet pork that was breakfast, lunch, and dinner here, and smoke clung to the loose denim of my jeans.

“Rise, brother, and take your fill of drink,” the Valfadr rumbled.

As I stood, Olrun the Valkyrie walked to me on silent slippers and offered a shallow bowl edged in gold. Her gray eyes were solemn behind the rim, but when I sipped the honey-mead she smiled. She retreated and I said to the thrones, “Hello, Mother and Father of my death and life.”

Frigg smiled widely and spread her hands. “Come up to us, Eirikr,” she said. I mounted the steps and she stood, taking my face and kissing me. “Such smooth cheeks, my warrior.”

“He would look like a boy,” Odin said, standing, too. He clapped my shoulder. “You fit in better, I suppose, in this new millennium.”

Eyeing his thick beard, I said, “I don’t like to draw attention to myself.”

His fish-belly blind eye squinted at me. “We know.” He’d never understood it; how I could be so strong and skilled with my ax but entirely uninterested in glory.

Frigg’s smile changed. None of us said anything for a moment, until she slid her hands down my face and rested them against my chest. “Love, dearest, we have a job for you.”

“A job?”

“You are still ours, are you not?” Odin put his fists against his hips. His words were light, but there was only one answer.

“Yes.”

“Then you shall do this thing.”

“Yes.” I didn’t have to ask what it entailed. They summon, they direct my hand, and I bring my weapon to bear.

***

Tom Pivens: A spear, was it? That must have hurt.

Me: Not so I noticed.

Tom Pivens: You were caught up in your battle-rage?

Me: Berserk. Yes.

Tom Pivens: And that, what does it feel like?

Me: Nothing.

Tom Pivens: Nothing?

Me: It is a void of thought. A rush of blood. Like spinning around and around, or the moment just before the roller-coaster car plummets down and you are flying while strapped in, and unable to control your scream.

Tom Pivens: Sounds impressive.

Me: Terrifying.

Tom Pivens: Like war, I suppose.

Me: More like love.

***

As I left the Valhall, Olrun caught up with me. She wore a white apron dress with green and yellow skirts from the old days. I would’ve liked to tell her she’d look smashing in high heels.

“Eirikr,” she called, fingers skimming the rough fur of my bear-skin. I paused and turned. Her beauty glistened off her cheeks and hair. All the Valkyrie are so: strong and lovely. It is the one thing the Valfadr and his wife agree upon.

Olrun slid a thick ring of twisted silver over my wrist. “Use my name, if you need.”

I did not imagine why I would need it, but thanked her. The silver ring remained warm for hours.

***

Tom Pivens: Love? Ah, now this is what our viewers want to hear. Tell us about that, Erik. Who does a famous einherjar love?

Me: … There is a Valkyrie. Olrun. With long yellow braids and a small quirk in her smile.

Tom Pivens: You love her?

Me: She is wise. Very wise, and I admire that. She sees things that I could never expect.

***

For my interview, I left off the bear-skin in favor of a tailed coat and MC Escher tie. I brought my axes, because Odin said the interviewer would wish to heft them himself. I arrived downtown and was ushered into a dressing room where a dark-skinned woman fussed at me for having such short, un-Godlike hair, because she’d been practicing her braids all week. I allowed her to pat makeup onto my skin and draw dark lines against my eyes so that the blue irises would “pop.” She forgave my hair when I agreed to trade my coat for a sleeveless long vest similar to one that Odin himself had been seen wearing, caught by a stray camera on his way to Idun’s apple orchard.

I watched her ministrations in the mirror. Why me? I’d asked the Valfadr.

“Because you are photogenic,” he’d said, a ferocious chuckle convincing me I’d been chosen solely for his amusement. Frigg had patted her husband’s thigh and added, “Because we trust you to keep our secrets.”

***

Tom Pivens: Thank you so much for coming on our show, Erik. We appreciate you taking time out of your schedule for us. You must know how much the American people thirst for tidbits about our Gods.

Me: I thought it was mostly sated for this decade after the scandal last year with Gullinbursti.

Tom Pivens (laughing): Ah, yes, we’ll never forget the winter Freyr’s pig had an affair with a girl from Illinois. Any insight for us about what makes the Aesir so drawn to humans? Why are you fascinated with us?

Me: I couldn’t say. I was human once, too.

Tom Pivens: We do tend to forget that, when it comes to you glorious dead. I’m sure if you opened up auditions for new members for your ranks, though, you’d have plenty of takers.

Me: I’m sure.

Tom Pivens: If you could go back and choose, would you still have gone to war? Knowing you’d be spirited away by the Valkyrie?

Me: There was never any choice.

Tom Pivens: Ah, well. Is there any last thing you’d like to add? We’ve got to go to a commercial.

***

Yes.

I’d say: I stood up from the battlefield alone. Surrounded by the stench of death, by reeking green corpses and the harsh barking of crows. I shoved bloated bodies cracking with dried blood out of my way and yelled at the wolves. I went home. Over fields and iron-bogs I ran, through the river-cut valley to the cliff side.

I went home and as I strode through my village, my boots crunched against frost so that my steps echoed in the solid-cold night. I came to my house and pushed open the door. The fire was low and long down the center of the building, and all my wife’s family lay under furs, snoring and clutching together. The icy wind teased at her hair and she sat. “Eirikr?” Her voice was a whisper softer than the language of fire.

“Nauma.” I held out my hands.

Her body shook as she stood and she pressed skeletal fingers to her mouth. Tears fell against her hands and I dragged her against me. She was small, thin, and weightless as a feather. “Nauma,” I said again. Her eyelashes dragged tears against my neck.

But she pushed away. “Go.”

“What?” My hands against her cheeks were larger than shovels.

“Go. Now.” She shoved at my chest. “Take your axes and mailcoat and all the beautiful inches of your body and leave.”

“Nauma!”

Bodies behind her stirred. I tried to take her elbows and pull her back to me.

“You are dead, my husband.” Blood showed in fierce blotches under her skin. “If you stay, we will bury you in a mound with your head removed from your body and hawthorn branches laid over your heart.”

“Nauma.” It was all I could say. I wished to lie with her, to kiss her and give all my sorrow and battle-weariness into her.

“Go. I banish you from my home, for you are not welcome here. Go.”

“Nauma,” I said again, but as I retreated. Back to the door. Back over the threshold.

She stood just inside, clutching at her heart. “I loved you.” She shut the door.

I dragged branches and dead leaves into a pile and set it alight. The roar filled the solid-cold night and I roared with it, screaming my name again and again that I would not forget when I stepped into the pyre.

But the Valkyries came on their war-wolves and like so many before me and so many since, they carried me to the Hall of the Slain.

***

Tom Pivens: Erik? Is there anything you’d like to add before the break?

Me: … No. Nothing.

image by njum

15 thoughts on “The Secrets We Keep

  1. Oh, good. I think I might have been in some kind of trance when I wrote it, actually, and wasn’t sure it would resonate for anyone else. 😉

  2. “Tom Pivens: Sounds impressive.

    Me: Terrifying.

    Tom Pivens: Like war, I suppose.

    Me: More like love.”

    Ah perfect!

  3. lol. This was the best exchange, right here.

    And I’m glad you warned me of this before I wrote my fic of Death on a radio show/ commercial. MAN we have to stop sharing a brain.

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