Eyeballs Deep in Scarlet Emerald


A Riddle for Midgard

This rune marked on Freyja's pool
Sets the brow with a cunning jewel
Then woe betide the middle realm
When a wise maid swings the mighty elm

Astrid ignored the moths batting the flickering lighting above her, the smell of pee and bleach, the peeling green walls, the horns and yelling outside – everything except for the symbol so artfully scrawled amongst vulgar gang tags, insults, and band stickers.

She first saw the Norse-style riddle a week ago. It took her that long to get back here with all she needed. Of all the places to find it!

Astrid had done her research well, discovering that this rune was called the Eleventh Key, a powerful symbol that unlocked an irreversible spell. Her people used these old stories and kennings, poetic word play, to caution the foolish and to veil secret hidey-holes.

Astrid was quick-witted and knew the old eddas, the cunning art of flyting; a duel of insults to shame one’s enemies. This included learning kennings to keep her mind sharp. A battle was a “worm dance,” the sea was called “whale road,” and a pack of wolves became a “valkyrie horse.” Even mighty Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir was a kenning: four men carrying a coffin.

Amongst all this graffiti, the riddle and the rune were doubly veiled. Freyja was a ravishing sexual goddess, so Astrid surmised that her 'pool' was a kenning for the thick circular mirror beside the tarnished sink, already out of place in a gas station, even in the women’s bathroom. How else could one mark upon water?

Something was hidden here, and by her hamingja, Astrid aimed to find it.

She took out a vial of consecrated water and a spotless homespun cloth, singing a song to the High One for protection and to exalted Freyja for guidance as she cleaned the mirror meticulously with a steady hand. It was well to show the Gods courage while walking a sworn path few truly did these days. Valkyries, the Choosers of the Slain, served both Odin and Freyja equally, bringing bright hope or grim death in their wake. Astrid took a steady breath. She must tread carefully now. She took out a white grease pencil, drawing the complex rune with care on the mirror's surface before stepping back.

Nothing happened.

Astrid sighed deeply, raising drooped shoulders with an outthrust chest and arms raised.

“Wise One! Concealer! Father of all magic songs! I am Astrid Guðmundsdóttir, Aesir-sworn! Bearer of secret ways and sacred fire – of seithr! In this, you are joined with the wise and beautiful Vanir Queen. I thirst for knowledge, oh Hanged One, as you thirst for war! Open my eyes so that I might see.”

Still nothing but muttering voices and some commotion outside the bathroom. Just as Astrid was about to give in, she reached under her hoodie to draw her sax knife and jab the rune. She sucked her breath in shock as the mirror rippled like a pool of water. Silver-white light shined up from its depths.

Sheathing her knife, Astrid reached her hands into the fluid mirror, which parted to reveal the source of the elfin fire - a wand of polished elm, hefty and carved in a spiral runestaff from tip to butt. A small iron awl jutted from the tip. The elm tree was called Embla, “the water pot,” and it represented the First Woman. Of course! Another kenning to match the riddle.

Joy flooded Astrid’s breast, even as she fought the fear of the magic portal closing on her arms, she whispered prayers to Odin and Freyja both, in as flattering a form as she could muster given her thundering heartbeat. She already guessed that the wand was similar to a Spartan Scytale, except this one would be rolled across clay or paper with dye, showing the true form and message of the rune staff. No one but the initiated could get this far. Who knew what secrets the wand contained? As Astrid drew out the wand, the mirror’s surface closed, rippling from the rune at its center. She kissed the wand in thanks to Freyja and all the Gods.

A furious pounding on the door made Astrid realize someone had been knocking outside for uncounted minutes. Going with her instinct again, Astrid splashed the rune away with her palm. The rippling pool became glass again, revealing her victorious grin in the reflection. Despite the yelling and pounding outside, Astrid stepped onto the toilet tank to scratch out the riddle and rune with the wand’s awl tip. She jumped down wearing that victorious smile again, glowing with the pride of accomplishment and ready to face whoever slammed on this paltry bathroom door, ready to face anything in the world.

Woe betide the middle realm indeed.