This serves as my current contribution to The Plan, but I'm not hiding this under a lock because
I love Edda questails requested an Edda/G drabble and it's not going to make one lick of sense to anyone without some back story. This comes from one of three Lengthy Original Projects I've been ignoring for months. Its working title is The Historians because I cannot think of titles, and it suits the characters' vocations. I'll be posting more back stories in the days to come which will flesh out the world these characters operate in, but for now, let's just say this is all based loosely on the concept of the Suddice, a hierarchy of spirits in Slavic mythology. Edda is one of two main characters and I'm desperately in love with him. Edda can also be represented by a tiny crow (please see icon). He has a tendency to steal/hoard pencils and coppery coins.
“Where I come from people say bad shit happening/ when they mean death."
-Euripedes, tr. By Lori Carson, from the Oresteia
When he came to this life, the long one, the inspired one, the life he would have not chosen if he had not been dead, Edda was weary of strangers. He should have been weary of familiars, seeing as how he had just been murdered by his devoted wife, but the shock had not worn off and he was suspicious of contact, of touch. He felt, as much as he could feel in the ghost of his shell and his spirit burning like fizzling oil, that any hand might hold a knife. He still felt the sharp un-pain of the blade at his throat but he was thankful his wife had not chosen the tool of her father’s profession: poison. He’d witnessed the effects of death by poison first hand and prayed gentle thanks to his early-late-wife for a quick dismissal to the ethers. He hoped she lived to a very ripe age, at the end of which he would meet her for a long conversation fueled by the sweet wine he’d discovered chilling in a stream when he first arrived to this place.
They had been forced to marry after all, given no choice in the matter – their parents had bartered them like skeins of wool, like barrels of fermented mare’s milk. They could have had a very good life together if Edda had simply buckled down and resigned himself to a life of hearth fires and offspring, but one very important matter stood in the way of their happiness, if a life of living currency could ever be called happy, and that astounding deterrent was this: Edda did not like women. Oh, he enjoyed the company of women and had been raised in the communal bosom of his mother’s prickly staff, but he did not desire women, not in the way that it took to ensure a future generation of scholars and artisans through Edda’s own private branch of the family oak.
Edda, of the old blood, believed conception came through inspiration and he was rarely inspired by slim shoulders. Unfortunately he had been often inspired by his wife’s brother; years of the affair were not squashed by marriage vows and secrecy, if anything their meetings had been diluted, but the fierceness still ached in their ignorant bones. They’d thought, rather stupidly, that the fortuitous marriage would only enhance their ability to meet in secret, to seek each other out with more frequency. Damn the law makers who upheld that a bride should be taken virgin – Edda had not planned on his wife’s worldliness, her knowledge of how the marriage bed should be. In truth, he thought he’d married an innocent that he could play as he must.
Her brother, Altan, made of a habit of drinking, of staying too late, of delaying his travel until morning. The family retired, as was their custom, and Edda waited until his wife’s breathing slipped into the deep, tremulous, anticipatory rhythm of dreams (none of which he could realize for her) before slinking barefoot to the guest room.
Altan was rarely as drunk as he appeared in his goodnights, but he sprawled artfully and lazily on the massive bed and peered expectantly toward the doorway as Edda entered.
“In a better life I would have taken you for a wife,” Altan whispered and smiled slowly, a strand of golden hair caught on his lip.
Edda smoothed his hair back and pressed his thumb against Altan’s mouth. “Wives are for breeding, like horses,” Edda said – the last of several statements, beliefs, he would have to answer for after his wife slit his throat.
“Then what are you?”
Edda stared into the fire as he considered an answer. He was many things: his father’s first son, a collector of histories, a story teller. His dark eyes were meant for searching and for watching; his hands were made to be stained with ink. Edda was many things but he was never meant to be a husband. He could thank his wife, much later, for dispensing of that mantel. She’d done him a favor. But that night as Altan stretched out beside him, real and warm and pliant as a young tree, more real than Edda’s future, neither thought of anything other than the language they’d created together, words truer than speech or script. They thought they were the only ones who knew how to speak it, this surreal communication of sighs and fingertips. Gladly later discovered, they had been wrong. Everyone, everything knew this language, though it was often barred by the strictures of flesh. The form didn’t matter, not really.
But the form most certainly mattered that night. The old house groaned in the late winter weight of snow and gale. Edda moaned against Altan’s lips and they kissed as if they’d invented the gesture. It had always been that way, ever since the beginning when their skin had met haphazardly, when they walked together in the forests of their youth. They were not much older in the large house with a sleeping wife, but they were old enough to know their wishes were greater than the risks. What seemed very frivolous was a well-considered decision.
Unfortunately Edda was depleted by their bliss and he eventually fell asleep. He was a sound sleeper, even more so for the strong arms that held him tight. He and Altan rarely had the luxury of melting into the aftermath. They lay together for some hours before dawn and Edda’s wife found them.
There was no way to measure time, at first. Sunlight blended with moonlight, perpetual twilight, the sky balanced, silver-grey. The word that came to Edda’s mind most frequently was stillness – in that place nothing moved, stones rested heavily beside and within an inactive river, a snaking trail of polished glass. Edda spent much time resting beside the river. Occasionally a spirit would visit him there, but the strangers said nothing until:
“It will soon be time for you to move on.” The voice started as a glint of light and finished as a tall figure with roughened skin like tree bark. His whiskers drooped down like the willow arms that stretched from the river bank to the water. It spoke deeply and slowly, like Edda’s father.
“I wouldn’t mind staying here if you would have me,” Edda said and meant it more than anything he’d ever said before. There was no conflict in that place, no unease bred from wanting things he shouldn’t have, no guilt from living falsely, a fraud. Edda could not yet remember his other lives – only the last one, the one he’d lived briefly but harshly, as if the thing that lived beneath his skin was clawing to get out.
Edda liked the river because as he sat there beside it, he realized that he desired nothing. He’d like to be a flower growing on its bank – what had the old priest said: they toil not nor do they weep . . . .
Edda did not mind if he grew roots and planted himself beside the water. The sun was not hot and the air was not cold.
“Well – you can’t,” the figure said. He gestured to the river with a long, gnarled finger. “The water steals your desire, but it also steals your will. I have a proposition for you.”
“No, thank you,” Edda said.
“But you haven’t heard my offer.”
“The last time I listened to someone’s offer I found myself sixteen and married to a beautiful woman.”
“I see nothing displeasing with that.”
“I prefer men.”
“Oh.” The figure appeared thoughtful. His whiskers twitched like a badger’s. “Hear me out. If you take the job I am offering, you may love whomever you please – and that’s just a start. No more frequent dying” – the figure flipped through a soiled notebook – “and it has been quite frequent, the dying. You’ve been murdered more often than you’ve reached old age. Why is that, you think?”
“I’m irresistible?” Edda offered miserably. He rested his chin in his hands and frowned at the river. He wondered what would happen if he dove in and swallowed a mouthful.
“Not likely and I wouldn’t consider it if I were you. Undiluted desire tastes like copper and it’s heavy in the stomach. Desire is very bad for digestion.”
“But I didn’t think I could eat here – how does a spirit digest?”
“I’m speaking of another sort of eating – spirits do it all the time. The earth is a reflection of the heavens, a damaged twin. Did you pay no attention to your studies?”
“I preferred the pretty pictures. I scribbled notes.”
“Proving that you are ideally suited for the task I am presenting to you.” The figure hitched up his gauzy robes and settled beside Edda on the bank. “I like you very much Edda . . .” The spirit dropped his notebook – “not like that, of course.”
“You’re not my type.”
“Good! There are others better suited to showing you the doorways between the worlds. I am a messenger, and I’m here to tell you that the job is very simple but we do not often find souls suited to the task.
“You will not be immortal – your form can be ruined by another’s intention; you may be killed by normal means: weapons, force, but your form will not age, nor will it be susceptible to disease. If you die, you will in time be reborn, as every soul is, but your will pick up where you left off – memories of your past will remain with you and the face that peers out from your mirror will be familiar. As humans die and move onward into their next incarnation, they are given a blank tablet on which to write their story. Their old memories are locked away, a blessing really, the chance to do well, unburdened by guilt. You will not longer be protected by forgetfulness.”
“I hate to interrupt – but you’re doing a poor job selling me on this idea, if that is your intention.”
“Hear me out. We’ll allow you to keep your cynicism but you will be offered a dose of patience.” The spirit leaned back, braced against his arms, and stared into the river. Edda greedily eyed the notebook resting on the whiskered messenger’s lap. “It’s not common for us to convert humans for these tasks, not as common as it used to be. Our spirits are all made of the same stuff, but we each have tasks to complete, different purposes. Human advancement is a wasteful process, most of us have always thought it such – you are all so free to make choices, to move up and down the ladder, to ruin lifetimes of knowledge in an instant. Blind as moles, you are forgiven, patched up and sent back down to try it again.
“You as much as the rest of them, but you should have not been placed in that loop to begin with. You’re half and half, as all the accomplished Historians have ever been. There was a recent event, so big you probably did not feel it, or else it came to you as a sense of unease, foreboding when you were half-asleep. Regardless, the event necessitated something we have not initiated in a very long time: recruitment. I’ve studied your file, watched you, spoken with the others – and we feel you are exceptionally suited to the task. In fact, you should have been recruited long ago.”
The spirit smiled expectantly and Edda took a deep breath. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” Edda said.
“Good! Then you’ll do it?”
“What’s the alternative?”
“You go back there” – the spirit gestured vaguely with his chin to a place behind his shoulder – “and you’ll pass another life feeling as if there is something you should be doing, something that you’ve misplaced – and you’ll trudge through your days plagued by this constant sense of forgetfulness until someone decides to murder you again, a mercy killing, really, like the others.”
Edda considered the spirit’s words. “And I will not be required to hide my nature.”
“You do not yet know your nature, but yes – your tastes will be respected.”
“I will be allowed to love?” Even as he said it, Edda realized love, as he once knew it, was a great inconvenience.
“If that is what you desire.”
Edda closed his eyes and listened to the silence of the world beside the river. He became aware, for the first time since he’d arrived, of a feeling akin to hunger. He missed too-hot summer and too-cold winter. He missed the familiar impetus of dissatisfaction. He missed other people, as troublesome as they usually were.”
“Tell me this,” Edda said. “Why is desire so important?”
“You need to answer that for yourself, and you will in time, but let me tell you this – desire is motion. Without it the world would go to sleep and never wake up. In sleep her dreams would be formless.”
The riverbank and the tepid air of the world where they sat was quiet and peaceful, but desire ran through its waters. Edda thought he would be fine if he could contain his desire like the river. “Were you ever human?” he asked.
“Once, very briefly, in order to assist a friend.”
“What did you learn from the experience?”
“I acquired what I would need to persuade you to take my offer.”
“You’ve hardly been convincing.”
“I would never do it again.”
“Assist a friend?”
“It is better, you will find, to hear a cry rather than to be the one crying.”
Edda nodded, he felt too tired to voice his decision; the gesture was enough.
The whiskered agent smiled sadly, fondly. “You will not regret it,” he said.
Edda laced his fingers through the pale grass and scratched at the ground to see if dirt would collect beneath his fingernails. It would not. When he looked up again, the spirit had vanished.
He did not move from the river bank. When they came to retrieve him – minutes, years later – they caught his attention with a snap of long fingers and Edda, obediently, followed them into the mists.