A few weeks back, I posted a short story I wrote for my father as a cheap Christmas present. He wasn’t the only one getting a Word document in his proverbial stocking, though. A dear friend of mine is even more of a Norse mythology nut than I am, so when I came up with a story idea that was heavily inspired by the Nordic myths, I knew I had to write it for her.
Now, I’m sharing that story with you, my blog readers. As with the previous tale, it’s something I threw together very quickly, but I think it turned out okay all things considered. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Thought and Memory
© 2014 by Tyler F.M. Edwards.
A woman ascended a lonely hill.
Her legs burned, and her body ached. Each ragged breath tore at her lungs in the thin air. Clouds drifted all about her, and her clothes hung heavy in the dank air. She had traveled long and hard to come to this place, and the journey had nearly destroyed her.
Yet the pain in her body was naught before the pain in her heart, a gnawing emptiness like a wound of the soul.
She came, at last, to the summit of the hill, an island in a sea of mist. A great tree grew there, reaching upward until its branches were lost in the endless fog. Strangely, it tapered downward, such that its trunk was its thinnest part, seeming too small to support the great bulk of branches above. It was as if the tree was just a finger of something far greater, reaching down to touch the earth below.
The woman drew her and sword and drove it into the soil before the tree. “Gods above, hear me!” she cried, her voice echoing through the mountain air. “I have fought with bravery and lived with honor; I have said my prayers and made my sacrifices, and I demand to be heard in return!”
She waited for long moments, breathing heavily. The echoes of her words still shivered through the air, like the whispers of ghosts.
A flutter of feathers met her ears, and she looked up to see two ravens alight upon the tree’s lowest branches.
The raven to her left spoke. “You called, and we have answered.” Its voice was not at all birdlike but instead that of a young man, smooth and calm. “Indeed you have lived with honor, and so you have earned at least the right to be heard. What boon do you ask of the gods?”
The woman felt her blood run hot, and her fists clenched with rage. “They took him from me!” she burst out. An image appeared in her mind of a tall man with strong hands and blue eyes like shards of the summer sky. “Foreigners and wretches! Those who would curse the names of the gods!”
Now she felt tears run down her cheeks, achingly hot in the cool air. “My love was slain by their blades. He has earned his place at the gods’ side, but I cannot live without him. I beg of you to send him back! Call him back from the foreign land where he lies buried and let him once again draw breath, that we may be together again.”
The raven crooked its head. “Nothing worth having comes without sacrifice, as our master knows better than anyone else. What will you give up, what will you suffer, to earn that which you ask?”
She looked to the second raven, who had still not spoken a word. She swallowed. “Memory,” she said. “Take all the memories from me of death and loss and pain. I have no wish to endure them any longer.”
The first raven shook its head. “Nay, that is no sacrifice. It is but a second blessing.”
She took a shuddering breath. “Then take it all!” she declared. “The joy and the sorrow, the good times and the bad times. I would sooner forget my love’s face then let him lie forgotten in foreign soil. Give him the joy of a long and blessed life that I am denied.”
The first raven looked at the second, and for the first time, the second spoke.
Its voice was unlike anything she had ever heard. It was the grinding of the earth over long centuries, and bells tolling the end of eons. It was everything, and it was nothing.
“Very well,” spoke the second raven. “Your memory for your love. The choice is made.”
It took flight, soaring straight toward her. Sharp talons hooked into her face, drawing blood, and she saw its beak looming large before her.
It thrust forward, and its beak tore into her right eye.
Her scream echoed off the slopes.
The raven kept digging and tearing, feasting on the soft flesh of her eyeball until only an empty socket remained. Blood and other fluids streamed down her face, and the pain was horrific, but she forced herself to endure.
As the raven feasted, she felt more than her eye disappearing down its gullet. She felt herself bleeding away, her memories flowing from her mind like water from a broken bucket. Moments of peace and the screams of battle, love and hate, friends and enemies – all vanished from her, until only emptiness remained.
She collapsed onto the rough grass, and the last thing she heard was the rustle of feathered wings.
* * *
A woman awoke upon a lonely hill.
Her face ached, and she shuddered with her horror as her groping fingers found a ragged hole where her right eye should be.
She tried to remember where she was, or why she had come there, but her mind was empty. She could not even remember who she was.
She looked up and saw a strange tree at the summit of the hill, but something about it made her shudder. With no better options, she began to descend the hill, pausing only to collect a sword she found lying next to her.
She kept moving throughout the day, though she went slowly. Each step was a labor, as if she had walked for days.
That night, at the foot of the hill, she made camp. Rummaging through her pack, she found tools to make a fire, and some furs to sleep in. And then something else at the very bottom of the pack: a book.
Carefully, she opened the cover, finding the pages within covered with runes. And she began to read.
It was a diary. It told her everything about who she was. It spoke of her life to date, and it spoke of a man with strong hands and kind blue eyes. It spoke of how to find him.
The woman smiled up at the stars. They had taken her memory, but not her thought.