Chapter Six:

The Art of Flight

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    Several days past full, the moon shone a soft glow onto the east side of Asgard. The beacon spires around the sky mountain's base added their own amber glow. Lights in pale green, pink, blue, yellow, violet, and gold, some of them moving, sparkled among the peaks and in the valleys. High in a star-spattered sky the waving, glimmering curtains of the aurora, the Spears of Odin to the Norsefolk, mirrored the lights of Asgard. Narrow bands of light glowed on the cliffsides of the mountain; soft music and laughter emanated from some of them.

    One of those bands was Sessrumnir. Giant fireflies clinging to the ceiling shed a soft light that filled the hall. The four cushions shaped like bearskin rugs, filled with air, were laid in a neat row under the window and the blankets, neatly folded, lay atop them. The head and skin of Odin's salmon, boots still on its feet, was splayed out in the manner of a bearskin rug on a wooden plaque that hung on the cliff wall. Gold-and-violet flames danced in the hearth while Freyja paced the floor and guided the valkyries as they practiced levitating and thrusting.

    "We know Trollhavn,"Brynhild said as she rose from the floor to the ceiling, "but Trollhavn doesn't know us," she said as she sank back to the floor.

    "You hope," Borgny said. She was floating waist high off the floor, lying belly down on thin air, and practicing thrusting herself forward and then stopping her forward motion.

    "I'm certain," Brynhild said. "It was dark and those men did not get a good look at us. Even if they had seen us clearly, they would not likely recognize us clean and well dressed."

    "The people shall know nonetheless that you're valkyries," Freyja said.

    "Yes," Brynhild said, "but we have found that people seem to be less hostile to us when they believe that we have not eaten any of their kin."

    "Have you eaten any Trollhavners?" Freyja asked.

    "We don't know," Brynhild said.

    "There was a battle near Trollhavn," Borgny said, "and we ate well for three nights, but we cannot say whence our dinners came."

    "It would be reasonable to guess that some of them came from Trollhavn," Kari added, "but there's no way by which we can know for certain."

    "The Trollhavners believed that they had certainty in their grasp," Tori complained.

    "Yes, they did," Brynhild agreed. "But their eagerness to build their beliefs upon weak evidence shall favor us now." To Freyja she said, "The Norsefolk see you and Thor as good friends. When they see that we fly with you as companions, they will make themselves believe that we have not eaten any of their kin."

    "Yes, I believe that you're right," Freyja said. "And perhaps Odin's story has already begun to change what people's thoughts are saying to them about you, making you acceptable in the council chambers of their hearts."

    "The new thoughts are still weak and the old ones are still strong," Tori said. "When people notice that we are not feasting, they will remember why, and the memories will bite the new thoughts."

    "Perhaps there's something smooth and sweet we can say that will excuse us from eating without waking up the memories?" Kari guessed.

    "No," Freyja said. "Such words would only proclaim more loudly that you are not eating and wake up the memories all the more quickly. If you would help the memories sleep more soundly, you should try to let people see you eat a little something and perhaps hear you say that it's good." Borgny groaned in dismay. "Then take a larger portion," Freyja continued, "and walk around as though eating it, but when no one is looking break off pieces and drop them to the dogs."

    "People will be watching us," Tori said.

    "Not all the time," Freyja replied. "Thor and I shall capture their attention, and I suspect that I shall hold it firmly."

    She put her hand into the pouch on her belt, drew it back out as a fist, and then opened it the display the three disci lying on her palm.

    "Are those Runes?" Borgny asked, floating over to Freyja to examine them.

    "Yes, they are," Freyja said. "Everyone will suspect that I have them, so they will watch me more closely than they will watch you."

    "Ooh," Tori said. "Could we see you cast one?"

    "I made these for the wedding," Freyja said. Then after a short pause she said, "Oh, well, I suppose I could show you the simple one. I can make another later." She put two of the Runes back into her pouch and held the third one between her thumb and forefinger.

    "What's it going to be?" Kari asked.

    "A bow and arrows," Freyja said.

    She gave the Rune a light toss. It hit the floor and exploded with a soft whump into a roiling, glittery brown cloud that elongated and pulled in on itself to become a clutch of arrows that was bound up by a ribbon tied in a big, neat bow.

    Borgny floated over to the arrows, swooped down to pick them up, and took them to Freyja.

    "Where's the bow?" Tori asked.

    "Hmmm," Freyja mused as she examined the arrows. "There doesn't appear to be one. How strange! I am certain that I sang the Runecall correctly."

    A worried expression crossed Borgny's face. "Uh, you do fly better than you cast Runes, don't you?" she said.

    A broad smile spread across Freyja's face.

    "Just you try to keep up with me tomorrow," she said.

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    They knew the story, of course. They knew that Odin and his brothers had slain the primordial Frost Giant, Ymir, and made the world from his body. The crumbling pieces of Ymir's broken gray bones had become the mountains and his blood, cold and colorless as only a Frost Giant's blood would be, filled the Ocean Sea and the fjords. Ymir's rotted flesh had become the soil and his hair had become the trees. From the giant's icy skull Odin had made the dome of the sky. ("And they call us ghouls," Borgny had commented when she heard the story.) Then into this ghastly realm the gods had put life and light, sweetness and beauty, friendship and love.

    The valkyries had never dreamed that they could ever see that world as the gods see it, from high upon the Wind Roof of the World. But now, far above the peaks of the highest mountains, higher than any bird could hope to come, they soared and saw what they believed must be the whole Norseland, if not the whole world, laid out below them. The gray of the mountains with the white of snow and glaciers on their heights, the deep gray green of the forests, the white threads of rivers and waterfalls leading to the sparkling blue of the fjords; all of it floated by beneath them slowly, majestically, as the clouds float by overhead on a summer's day. And yet they knew, they had been told and could see for themselves, that in the time they would have taken to eat a complete meal they flew farther than they could have walked in ten days or more.

    They followed Freyja into a shallow dive toward the head of a cliff-walled fjord, approaching it from the northeast. They followed her when she rolled right and pitched up into a wide, graceful climbing turn and then rolled back left and pitched down into level flight along a path that followed the fjord to the sea. They were still high enough above the mountains that they could see far out over the Ocean Sea, as far as what looked like the edge of the world. Below, in the fjord, specks of debris floated on the water.

    Where the fjord opened out onto the sea, there Freyja rolled over onto her back and fell. She pitched up and watched the water above her, coming closer slowly at first and then faster, float down before her, its surface tilting as she pitched up, and slide beneath her as she leveled out her flight a tree's height above it. Standing hard on her thrust, she sped up the fjord.

    Spread far apart to avoid colliding with each other, the valkyries followed Freyja through her maneuver, each rolling over onto her back and pitching herself up into a descending half loop. Unaccustomed to judging altitude, they pitched up hard and came into level flight high above the water, much higher than Freyja was flying. Seeing Freyja speed away up the fjord, Brynhild rolled a little to the left, using a little of her levitation to move herself closer to the cliff, and then, using the cliff as a guide and with Tori above and behind her, she pitched down into a steep dive, pitching up and leveling off a tree's height above the water. Borgny and Kari, flying side by side, pitched down into a shallower dive and leveled off slightly behind Brynhild and Tori. Coming around a bend in the fjord, they saw that the specks of debris that they had seen earlier were actually double-prowed canoes, each carrying five or six men, who were pointing and staring in awe.

    They pitched up into a shallow climb to rise with the floor of the narrow valley at the head of the fjord. Borgny pulled herself forward to fly next to Brynhild, flying on Brynhild's right. Tori sideslipped a little to her left, remaining above and behind Brynhild, and Kari took up a position above, behind, and a little to the right of Borgny. Thus flying as they had seen migrating geese do, they increased their speed to pursue Freyja. Almost effortlessly they soared past the cliffs that walled in the little valley and then rose above them, following Freyja in a wide right turn toward a broader neighboring valley.

    When the turn swept her line of flight over a large lake, Freyja rolled all the way onto her back and pitched up, changing her turn into a moderately steep dive toward the lake's near shore. Falling, almost weightless, in her dive, she lazily rolled a half circle and pitched up to resume level flight, coming out of her dive only a few body lengths above the water.

    The valkyries duplicated the maneuver, staring in astonished delight at their reflections in the lake's smooth surface and coming out of their reverie at the last instant to pitch up into a steep climb that barely missed colliding them with the trees on the lake's far shore.

    Flying high over the forest, Freyja looked over her left shoulder and saw empty sky. Looking over her right shoulder, she also saw no valkyries. As she climbed to get above a ridge on her left the council of her thoughts debated the desirability of returning to the lake. The council was suddenly adjourned by the sight of Brynhild and Tori flashing by her in a steep dive, the valkyries passing much too close to her for her comfort. She rolled a quarter circle to her right and pitched up into a sharp right turn just as Borgny and Kari, in a fast climb, soared past her. She rolled again, changing her turn into a steep turning dive. She rolled back to the left and pitched up, leveling off her flight path just above the treetops.

    She saw a long gap in the trees ahead of her and she rolled into a left turn. When she came over the gap, she dropped below the trees and cruised up the river at its bottom. She rolled a full circle, scanning the sky and seeing no valkyries. Then she relaxed and enjoyed the sight of white water and quiet pools gliding swiftly by beneath her. She luxuriated in the feel of the air flowing over her in a swift current, fluttering her hair and dress and caressing her body. Only when she noticed that the trees along the river's banks were beginning to thin out did she look up and see that the ridge at the head of the valley was not far away.

    She cast a glance over her right shoulder and was startled to see Borgny floating above and behind her with Kari floating just beyond Borgny. Quickly she looked over her left shoulder and saw Brynhild and Tori floating above and behind her. Brynhild flashed her a grin and wiggled the fingers of her right hand in greeting and Freyja laughed. She rolled a quick full circle and pitched up into a climb with the valkyries following her in their migrating geese formation.

    Over the rainbow, the shining Bifrost Bridge of the Norse tales, Freyja led the valkyries, along the front of a towering thunderstorm, and into a rift in the dazzling white clouds. Up a dark, cloudy canyon they flew, bouncing on the turbulent air. Blue-white light flickered somewhere below them, startling the valkyries with its bang and pleasing them with the firm thump that shuddered their bodies. Strange beatific smiles crossed the valkyries' faces as thunder boomed around them. Rising above the storm, Freyja led the valkyries around a thunderhead, soared past Asgard, turned south, and cruised southwest along a path just inland from the coast. High above rumpled mountains and glittering sea they flew, until Freyja saw on her right the fjord that she wanted. She rolled a third of a circle and the valkyries did the same, regaining their formation as they fell in weightless grace in a wide arc down toward the broad meadows, far below, at the head of the fjord.

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