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beware the frozen heart

What had gone wrong?

The sharp knife slid easily through the vegetables that Svea was cutting in preparation for the ceremony later that evening. Everyone from the nearby villages would be attending, as the initiates made their sacrifices to Rhaegar and became adults in the cult. There was a mixture of modernists and traditionalists in the area, and while both forms of the sacrifice would be seen later, Svea’s father had insisted that all of his children be initiated properly. Now Svea was the only one left in the house, uncertain of her future in any sort of trade. At 23, she should have found her tool, and remarks were frequently made among the older members of the sect about her shortcomings. As a poor fighter and pacificistic for someone in this religion, she was unsuited to follow her two older brothers into the Sword Brothers. Gylfi, the elder brother was already well on his way into the Company of the Wolf.

“Are you finished with those yet?” her father grunted around the timber he was holding. It was strange to Svea that a sacred fire would need to be fed wood, when Rhaegar could simply keep it burning by his will alone, but it had been this way her whole life. She nodded, though her father couldn’t see, and left both vegetables and cutting knife to help carry the fuel. With the exception of the scar running all the way across her left palm, Svea’s palms were soft and smooth, not the rough hands of the tradesmen and women of the fairies around her.

“Are you certain, Pabbi, that Fađir Henrik will be attending the initiation? That’s an awfully long way to travel.” Svea had to tread lightly. Her father had informed everyone at the last ceremony that one of the 12 would be arriving for the initiation to watch and provide a reading from the rune stones. It also meant that she would have to recite one of the most important stories from the Helgarspioll in front of him. Svea’s hands were trembling as she lowered the wood into the cart they would take to the Great Temple. If her father noticed, he acted as though he didn’t. The priest was proud that someone of such high placement in the cult would find his ceremony worth visiting.

“Ja, so everything needs to go perfectly. This could mean good things for me, Svea,” he said, his harsh eyes softening in hope. As the priest of one of the great temples, Ragnar believed he might ascend to the great 12 someday, and wanted to ensure that Fađir Henrik did not find him unworthy of the honor. Though the council did not get to vote on who would be made a member when a space opened, having one or more approve of the nomination seemed to encourage voters from across the Nordic states. The implication in the words was resounding in Svea’s mind: don’t mess this up.

Without another word, she returned to the kitchen to finish the food for the feast that would accompany the sacrificed meats after the initiations were completed. The animals from each candidate’s family were in a pen at the temple, with the family members who would witness the initiations having traveled across the entire country to attend. Homes had been opened, tents had been set up, and to the confusion of the human population in the area, every hotel room had been booked well in advance. Everyone was counting on a perfect ceremony.

As happens in the winters in the far north, the sky darkened early as father and daughter hitched their pony, Afi, to the cart and trekked to the temple. When they arrived, already there was a crowd gathered, and many of the men took the load from the cart to help set up the sacred fire. The ground was blacker than even the night sky as the beginning of the ceremony approached.

Svea took her place near the shrine as her father began the opening rites. Passages were recited, and finally each young man and woman stepped up one at a time, leading their animal and with a pin or knife to make their sacrifices, spilling their blood on the rough stone that had seen so much blood before. Svea turned away from the carnage as Ragnar plunged the sword with always hung by his side, into each animal, making the ritual mutilations over the stone. Blood soaked into the already blackened ground, and as the first offering was made, the Norđurljós, or Northern Lights, were appeared, dancing, reflected in the gore.

The final boy finished his rite of passage, and Svea knew it was time to stand strong. Rhaegar was a warrior; he didn’t approve of fear in his followers, as nerves could get you killed. Balling her fist until her nails dug into the old scar, she stepped forward, into the pool of blood before the statue of her god, and scanned the crowd. Everyone she had grown up with was here: smiths and cooks, soldiers, scribes and butchers, all watching and waiting for her to mess up. And in the center of all of them, were the wolf ears that could only be part of Fađir Henrik’s ceremonial hood. This wasn’t helping.

The only one among the attendants not wearing fur for warmth, Svea shut her eyes and began to say the words she’d listened to and spoken for her entire life, words that were said for every initiation and many of the other rites of passage as well. Blessings from Rhaegar and reminders about his wrath should anyone fall from his icy path. As she spoke of the horrors that the end of the world would bring to those who did not follow the word of Rhaegar, an icy wind blasted across the plateau, biting at the ears and noses of everyone but the speaker. When the wind died,a gasp rose from every mouth simultaneously, causing Svea to open her eyes and look around. What had grabbed everyone’s attention, what had brought a fury in the eyes of her father and the council member, was something that seemed impossible.

Now everyone was staring from her to the sacred fire, or where the fire had been. All that stood now was an ice sculpture, with icy tongues of flame licking at the sky. No heat warmed the gathering, only the cold air of the Icelandic winter. This was a poor omen, to be sure. How was Rhaegar to watch over the initiates if the fire were extinguished in such a manner before it had ended.

With a bruising grip, Ragnar pulled his daughter back into her place as she stared at the ice in fearful shock, and finished reciting the sacred words himself.

Meat now ensconced in a magical freezer, there was only pastry and vegetables for the feast, and Svea sat on one of the boulders, watching the heated discussion between her father and the cult’s leader. Both men stole glances at her, and the angry gesturing tightened the knot in her chest. She really was a horrible member of the temple. With tears in her eyes, Svea stood and began the long walk back to the house, leaving the pony for her father.

Though the cold had never before bothered the young fairy, she wrapped her arms around her body as soon as she was out of sight of the temple and the frozen eyes of the fire. Unable to control herself, Svea was wracked by tears and grief over the loss she was now facing. She really hadn’t meant to dishonor the Nordic god, and now she’d be excommunicated for sure. She’d be damned with the rest of the world, and she’d be alone. Ragnar wouldn’t stand having her under his roof, just as he hadn’t been willing to keep Svea’s mother in the house when she had drifted away from the Rhaegarean religion.

High-pitched barking was the first thing to snap Svea out of her self-pity, and she wiped what tears hadn’t frozen from her cheeks. The woofing was echoing around the land, but it wasn’t hard to see the glow of the moon and north lights reflecting on the white fur as a pup came running after her. Never before had Svea seen a dog as white as this one, though some had patches that came close.

“Wait, wait for me,” the dog woofed, tongue lolling from her mouth.

“Shouldn’t… shouldn’t you go back to your owner?” Svea asked. Did it really hurt at the moment if she was going crazy, or hearing voices? She was going to be kicked out anyway, might as well take every other curse while she was at it, but the puppy just tilted her head at Svea, smiling. Something inside the fairy believed the dog didn’t think she was crazy, but how that was worked wasn’t something she understood. Though, Svea knew she might end up with a familiar some day, it happening within the same night as Rhaegar clearly cursing her had not been in any rune stones she had ever tried to read.

The puppy just wagged her tail and began again along the path toward Ragnar and Svea’s house. “I’m Nana,” she barked, with a little hop. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

      • accepted -

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