Anna was a beautiful child, though few in the village noted it. They were more likely to mention the state of her dress than the halo of honey-colored hair that frame her face. It was so with her that her mother often wondered if she was fairy-touched. With scraped knees, bruised fingers, and cuts on her elbows, the girl was often in disarray. Her thoughts wandered, shifting with the wind, and carrying her feet along with her.
“Watch where you are walking, Daughter!” her mother would reprimand as Anna bumped into the parson or the cooper or the smithy down the street. “Must you always look everywhere except where you are going?”
“I am sorry, Mother.” Anna would reply with all sincerity. “I thought I saw a pixie behind that woodpile. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
Though at heart Anna was a good girl, her promise was usually forgotten with the rising of the sun. The very next day, her mother would watch from the window as the girl dropped from her perch high in an apple tree onto the packed earth below. When questioned about such dangerous, unlady-like activities, the girl would once more apologize, her explanation simple, her penitence real.
“I was trying to practice escaping pirates, Mother. I shall be more careful from now on.”
“We are one hundred leagues from sea, Anna.” her mother reminded her. The woman’s face, which was at first pale with fright, now flushed crimson with anger.
“I thought I saw one outside Father’s office the other day.” Anna insisted, her voice bold. “I want to be prepared.”
Years passed in a similar fashion and dear Anna, despite her wild streak, grew into a lovely, young woman. She learned to act genteel in society, to embroider with the older ladies, and to dance with the gentlemen who came to her father’s parties.
Still, her heart never lost its yearning for adventure and, in the chill of the early morning mist, she would slip off to the nearby woods. There she would wander the deer paths, losing herself to the freedom of childhood imaginings. A sturdy branch became her sword as she defended a rabbit warren from the pirate king, who suspiciously resembled a broken-down, old oak tree. A circle of ancient stones became a fortress, and from here she ruled as Queen of the Forest. Startled by her noisy splashing as she chased a frog through the creek, a buck raised its head and their eyes met. He quickly became a lost prince and her one true love, at least until it was time to return home for tea.
It was on one of these mornings, a cold and bright-dawning, late-autumn day, that Anna met a god. He introduced himself and settled into her mind as she sat upon a tree stump. Charming and handsome, at least within her head, he showed her where to find the last protected lavender blossoms and where the fox sometimes hid with her kits.
Winter swept in and, reluctantly, Anna’s walks became shorter. Still, she went into the woods, for the god only came to her where all was deep and quiet.
They spoke of many things, Anna and the god. He complimented her clothes and her comportment, and she whispered to him the secrets of her heart and how she still loved to climb trees, even though she knew she was much too old for such excitements. The cold darkness passed more swiftly than usual for Anna, and soon it was springtime and she found to her surprise that she was madly in love.
“Marry me,” said the god when she boldly told him of her feelings. “Tell your parents you are engaged, make all the arrangements and I will come to you in one month’s time.”
Anna was thrilled and hurried to do as the god instructed. She managed to convince her family that she was indeed getting married. It did not take as much effort as she thought it would, for her mother had been much concerned that Anna’s winter wanderings were a sign it was time to send her daughter to the convent.
All the preparations were made and Anna stood at the altar, her beautiful dress giving her a glow that enhanced her rugged, natural beauty. The family was in attendance and a large hall was decorated for the feast.
When the god appeared, only Anna could see him. Still, his voice boomed out and everyone knew he was there. Her mother was impressed with the match and quietly acknowledged to the other ladies that she could not have done better herself.
Anna and the god were married, with rings and cake and dancing and all. As they danced, Anna could not feel his arms around her and he sensed her concern.
“Do not worry, love, for I shall come to you tonight and in the morning when you awake, I shall seem as a mortal man to you and all you know.”
Relieved, Anna smiled a sleepy smile, for the wine was strong and steady flowing.
Soon the party began to dwindle and everyone went off to bed. Anna got into her sleeping gown and curled up in the comfortable bed in the guest room of her parents’ home. She smiled that she no longer must share a bed with her sister. Always they had fought for covers and kicked at each other, but now Anna had a bed to herself and when the god came to her, she knew she would share the covers gladly.
All night Anna lay awake, waiting for the god to appear, to manifest beside her, to become a man, just for her. Dawn breached the windowsill and the light grew brighter as morning took form, and he still did not appear.
All the family was up and about and Anna rose, a morose weight upon her shoulders. Remembering that much of her clothing was still in her old room, she crept in so as not to wake her sister.
With horror she found a man asleep in her old bed, curled around Marie like a lover. His skin was grey-tinted and he looked like the imitation of a man. He wore the false face that a god who lived in the forest might use to convince mere mortals he was human.
Both of them roused slowly as Anna stood there, unable to move. Her sister noticed her first and
nudged the false god with her elbow. He looked up at her and smiled.
“Dear Anna! It is you! I was looking for you last night, and came to the room that felt full of you. You were not here, but your sister was, so I stayed.”
Anna could not form words, the syllables dry as sawdust on her tongue.
“He thought I was you, for a little while anyway, and by the time he figured it out, he just decided to stay.” Marie was apologetic, but her words rang less than true.
Anna, still saying nothing, took the ring from her finger. It dropped from her hand onto the floor as she walked out the bedchamber door. Becoming more dazed with each step, she stumbled out of the house.
Her feet carried her down to the barn where the stable boys lived. They were out in the field trying to catch her father’s stallion, so no one saw her as she used the shears to cut off her hair. No one saw her, either, when she stole some of the boys’ clothes and a sturdy pair of shoes.
“I shall live as a man and not feel this pain any longer. I shall be strong and free.”
With this declaration, the bit of power imbued in her by marrying a god moved through Anna’s body. From that moment on, no one ever questioned that Anna was a man. She walked the streets and no one found her claim of manhood lacking. Her father even met her once in town and called her “A good lad” when she shined his shoes properly.
Everyone thought that Anna was a man and, during the day, even Anna believed it. She was a good man, too. She worked hard and earned her pay, she shared what she earned with the poor and did good deeds. She even helped rescue a child who had fallen into a chimney, her lithe, boyish frame able to reach where the larger men could not.
But when night fell, Anna could feel everything shift back into its natural place. There, in the dark of her little bunk at the back of the dry goods store, Anna remembered she was a woman, scorned and abandoned by the one she loved, and she wept.
One day Anna, trying so hard to believe she was a man, was cleaning out the merchant’s stable
when she saw the false god and her sister walking by, arm in arm. The façade of her male armor broke down, shattering into a circle of shards around her feet. Anna crumpled onto the steps, her legs unable to hold up the weight of her grief.
As she cried, the sorrow threatening to drain her heart dry of life forever, a pair of boots appeared before her. Eyes still full of tears, she looked up, the glare of the sun blocking the stranger’s face from view.
“Anna, I have been looking for you.” the stranger said. “You have been deceived by my brother and I would make amends for his indiscretion.”
The man crouched down next to her, so she might see his face. His skin was not quite the right color either and his right eye sparkled a little too much with kindness while his left sat dull and grey. When he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, she could feel a little taste of the raw power that flowed through him. It tickled the back of her throat.
“I can help you, truly.” he said when she gave no reply. “I can release you from your grief.”
Anna’s shoulders slumped at the words. Her strength had been spent on making her into a man and now all she could do was nod a little as tears streamed from her eyes.
The false god’s brother lifted her into his arms and took her into the paddock behind the stable. He placed her gently on the ground and kissed her forehead. His lips were soft and Anna thought she heard the sounds of ravens cawing to each other and wolves howling from within his shadow.
She smiled at him when he stood up, but soon realized she was smiling down at him. She felt good, she felt strong, she heard the wind whispering in her ear to come and try to catch it.
Soon she no longer felt like Anna. After a while, she forgot she was ever human. Time passed and her heart began to mend.
Now she races the wind, eight strong legs pound the ground like thunder, her mane flapping like a flag. Anna is happy and has a new name and cool, fresh grass to eat. Sometimes the kind god comes and asks to climb onto her back. Together they fly across the sun and dig down into the depths of the earth. They race across fields of snow and dance over the waves of distant seas. Once the kind god even came to her for help and together they battled the pirate king, rescuing a seaside village from the brigand’s brutal attack. As her hooves chased the pirates back to their ship, Anna’s soul sang with joy and that night she slept soundly, the final cracks in her broken heart mended at last.
[A web designer by trade, a writer by passion, and a practitioner by calling, Jennifer Lyn Parsons has spent 20 years exploring a variety of spiritual traditions and modalities, finding a home in shamanism and the Norse pantheon (Hi, Loki!). She runs Luna Station Press and offers various healing modalities through Dispatches From Asgard. You can visit her at aseaofonesandzeros.com.]