Into the Great Wide Open
A few days later, not many, perhaps just one or two, the village of Lurstrand sent it’s daughter Lilja to the stars.
Everyone helped build the fire. Same hill as when they called the ships to port on the last day of autumn, just a different fire. This one they built of firewood from their sheds and store rooms. That one had been leftovers from summer’s fallen
They’d all come. Young and old. Men and women. Boys and girls. Healthy or ill. Sane and insane.
Actually, that’s a lie. The sane came, but the insane one did not. Vissla had managed to get the girl dressed and out of the house. How she’d managed, no one knew, but they all agreed she was a proper battleaxe, their Vissla – in the best sense of the word of course. You wouldn’t want to get her angry with you.
Either way, she got Kala proper dressed and out the house, missing ear and everything – but she didn’t get the girl up the hill. Refused to set foot on it where the path lead up. Not a word. Just stopped walking and wouldn’t budge. Short of getting the brothers to carry her there was no way she’d get to the top of the hill.
Might as well let her skip it.
Probably just ruin the mood anyway, she would. Remind everyone about the others missing. Let her go and leave her alone and try not to think about her. Bad omens. Ill fortune.
So Kala went home and everyone else went up on the hill where the village lit its fires.
And as it burned – wood and flesh – the villagers sang and remembered. A song not unlike wolves’. Slow and sad. Loud and lonely. A song to soar above the ice and snow. A beacon of sound to guide the leaving soul towards the stars.
It was a good fire.
It’s what the village needed. They’d had a tough start of the winter. Death, madness, and suspicion. The fire helped. There’s nothing quite like standing around a big fire in the dark of winter howling at your fears and your sorrows with your close ones.
You just stand there, and the flames warm your face, and perhaps you hold someone’s hand or you cradle your daughter in your arms or you lean on your brother’s shoulder – and you’re part of something that’s bigger than yourself and your family and old as time itself.
Or you can lock yourself up in your house alone.
– – –
A few days later Fannar arrived.
He came walking over the ice of the bay from the direction of Lurensborg. No one saw him where he walked, a lone dark shape under a layer of black clouds, in the long winter night.
It had begun now. The sun no longer came close enough to the horizon to tint the sky even a single shade of grey. Wouldn’t for months.
He carried no light. Small wonder no one saw him. Not that anyone looked. What’s the point in keeping a lookout when all it takes to remain unseen is to not bring a light?
Sure, there’s danger out there. Sometimes it comes close. Wanders among the buildings of the village. They’d seen the tracks. Feet, paws, claws. Soles of strange shoes. So yes, they were there, but what could you do. Stand around in the cold and dark and wait for something that might or might not come? Better stay inside, by the fire, with your family, with your axe and rifle on the wall, just high enough the kids won’t reach.
So, yes, Fannar. The shaman. You remember him, right? Recall the name at least? To be fair, it’s not like I really told you anything else about him, is it? Well, apart from how Vissla isn’t too keen on him, but that’s her problem, not yours.
Either way, whether the old hunter likes it or not, the shaman’s here now. He stands in the open space in the middle of the village pondering one of life’s important questions. Tea, or coffee?
He’s a tall man. Wears a big robe with a deep hood. Carries a long staff tipped with bones and feathers. Like a proper shaman should. If nothing else he’s got that going for him – sure looks the part.
And underneath the hood, wrapped up in a scarf, hides and old man’s face. White beard cropped close. Sunken cheeks and bushy eyebrows. Face lined with age. Those eyes though – there’s nothing old about those eyes. Bright. Full of life and energy. Quick. Curios. Alert. Sees everything. Perhaps more than you’re quite comfortable with.
– – –
The outer door of the arrivals hall opened. Hulda straightened up and had a quick look around. The fire was coming along nicely. Steam rose from the kettle. The light was on in the ceiling.
Normally she didn’t forget the light, but it did happen now and then.
Everything was in order. She’d had a lot more villagers come by early on lately, ever since Pall came by. Not every day, but more often than not. Usually they wanted to use the phone. Usually they wanted her to keep quiet about it, and many of them brought her a little gift to make sure she didn’t remember them being there.
No one wanted to be found out having called for the shaman.
She’d received a really nice pair of goggles from Dagny, and a scarf from Torrd. Not that she ventured out if she could help it, but it was nice to have.
The inner door opened and large figure wrapped in a big cloak stepped into the hall.
Hulda gasped and froze in place. Fannar. She recognized him by the staff – by the trinkets and talismans hanging in straps from the top end. He was finally here.
“Hulda,” came a muffled word from within the hood of the cloak.
A mittened hand reached up and pushed the hood back. He tugged at the scarf wrapped around his head, laid the staff across the table beside him. Both hands free he pushed up the goggles to his brow.
“Hulda,” he said again, his voice deep, and perhaps a little bit out of breath.
“Shaman Fannar.” She almost curtsied, but stopped herself and just nodded instead. This was her domain, and he was the guest.
He looked around the hall, and with a thin smile he clasped his hands in front of him and took a step towards her. “I trust this morning finds you well, girl?”
Hulda swallowed. “And you, shaman.” She too clasped her hands in front of her and bobbed her head while securing the smile on her face. “Would you care for a cup of tea?”
“No.” Fannar took a deep breath. “I’m afraid I will have to respectfully decline.” He paused for a moment, bowed his head, and took another few steps towards her. “See, I’m just calling in to ask you to address a small concern of mine.”
“Oh?” Hulda stiffened. She hadn’t done anything bad. She kept to regulations, mostly, on things that mattered.
There must be something she’d missed, or not noticed. Had something happened back home? Why hadn’t anyone called? “What’s happened?”
Fannar’s smile widened, and something sparkled in his eye. “There is no cause for concern. I have no reservations against you. I’m merely here to ask a small favor.”
Hulda frowned. “What?”
“See, whenever someone asks to use the telephone, would you mind asking them to explain their reason for calling to whoever picks up on the other end?” He bobbed his head and grinned. An amiable old man, making a reasonable request. Nothing strange at all about that.
“Uhm… Sure. I can do that.”
“Thank you Hulda. That would be most kind of you. See…” Fannar paused and thought for a moment – turning to glance toward the door to make sure no one else was coming in. “See, for the last few weeks, station master Gullbrand has received several telephone calls enquiring about my availability for conversation.”
Hulda nodded. She knew that.
“Unfortunately, none of the people who telephoned in has explained the reason for their need to converse with me.”
“Oh…” Hulda’s face fell.
“See?” Fannar nodded. “It makes it very difficult for me to prioritize my obligations if I am not aware of why I’m called upon.”
“Yes. Yes of course. I’ll understand.”
Maybe she could put up a little sign? She knew they could read here, most of them. There wasn’t a school, but they had a teacher come around every now and then and teach the kids the basics. Or she could just put it up and they could ask her what it said.
“Excellent. Thank you my girl.” Fannar bowed his head and took a step back – still with his hands clasped in front of him.
Girl. Hulda forced herself to keep her smile in place and held her head high. Her station. Her domain. “You are most welcome Shaman Fannar. How long will you be staying in Lurstrand?”
“Not long. See, I will have to leave tomorrow, at most the day after.” He flipped up the hood of his cloak and grabbed the staff from the table. “Presently, I will see to it that my quarters above the post office are ready to accommodate me. Later, I am likely to take you up on your offer for a cup of tea – provided it still stands, of course.”
Hulda clasped her hands behind her back and nodded. “The offer still stands. You will be most welcome Shaman Fannar.”
– – –
Alone again. Good.
She’s a young woman, not a girl, and you’ll do well to remember that. Unless, of course, you’re the stupid shaman. When you’re the shaman you can just call people whatever you want and speak like you’re issuing a legal proclamation and people will just have to listen and deal.
The young woman in the station master’s uniform sits by herself on a chair in front of the fireplace in her hall. Needs some time alone. No one better come in right now. She’ll chew their heads off. Doesn’t even have her smile on.
No more steam rose from the kettle, but the flames roared in the fireplace. Girl indeed.