“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
— Dylan Thomas
For all that I will attempt to explain and describe to you, I will fail. These things cannot be understood save through living them, and these things I would condemn no one to live out as I have.
Let me first attempt to describe to you brother’s love: a tiny, mewling thing, his cries grate on your nerves. You are only two yourself. You know no better. You hit him. He cries louder.
Father has a temper, but he doesn’t raise a hand to you. Instead he leads you into the next room, where he tells you to wait for Mother. Crying yourself now, you wait.
Mother’s voice is kind. She holds you in her lap and she soothes you. “He knows no better than you,” she says, and you understand. You never hit the tiny, mewling thing again. Mother teaches you to love him, and your love grows fierce.
When you’re older, as is he, Father leaves for a time. He is four and he misses Father to the point of tears. The truth is that you do too, but you have to hide it because you can’t stand strong for him if you’re crying, too.
Together you ask Mother about Father. It is not the first time he has gone away — he visits his other wife and children, and he travels far with Uncle and the Others. But this time when She says She misses him, too, She also says She doesn’t know where he is.
“But he’ll be back.” She smiles as She holds her arms out to you and your brother, inviting you to come sit with Her at the hearth. “He always does.”
That night you hear your brother crying because he wants Father to tell him a story. You sit on his bed and make up stories of your own. They’re not as good as Father’s, but your brother falls asleep to them anyway.
Father returns after a while and we jump on His back and into His arms. He laughs and picks us up and swings us around. He brings with him a strange, eight-legged horse, but when we ask about it He only laughs some more. When we ask where He’s been, He winks and ruffles our hair, telling us it’s all a story for another time.
For nights we stay up late making up our own stories about where Father went and how He came by the strange horse that He would gift to Uncle.
Growing older we join Mother and Father to visit Uncle and the Others in the heart of Their city. At first we are excited. Walking next to you He jumps with excitement and His eyes grow wide with wonder at all that He sees.
You are still young but even so you see things which he does not. You see the way They look at Father and Mother in turn, but mostly you see the way They look at your brother. They look at you the same way, because Father is an other, so you and your brother are half-other — un-whole, belonging neither to Them nor to Father’s people.
It makes you angry, the way they look at you. You can feel a little aching under your chest, like someone buried a burning ember there. But even worse is the way They look at him — that cuts deeper, burns worse, because you know he doesn’t know.
In time the look hardens you. He doesn’t realize because, like Mother, He expects the best of them. It makes him blind to it until he hears the whispers. He doesn’t cry — he’s too old for that now. He just realizes, and comes into the understanding you have lived with as he remembers the way They moved and spoke around him, and the looks.
He doesn’t speak against the words. He just puts his head down and lowers his eyes, feels the shame they put upon him and everyone he loves the most — Mother, Father, you.
You break their nose. They bruise your face.
Back at home He touches the swollen bruise on your cheek and He says sorry for getting you hurt. It wasn’t His fault. He disagrees.
He reveres you. He follows you and tries to be you. You pretend to be annoyed, but when no one is looking you hold Him tight and scruff your fingers through His hair. He laughs and hugs you tight. He tells you you’re His favorite. Well…He’s your favorite, too.
Let me now attempt to describe the fear: you do not understand, and neither does he. Neither of you know what is happening, or why you have been dragged out of sleep and warm beds into the snow and cold.
In your fear, you struggle. You look at people you know and the confusion makes it worse. You try to pull free and they hit you. When they cuff you on the ear it reaffirms everything you have quietly known for so long. They bear no more love for you than they bear or the half-brother they fettered or the one they tossed into the sea. They bear you no more love than they bear for the people of Jötenheim, for their blood is half of yours, after all.
But you don’t care that they batter you. You don’t care that your ear is ringing or that the snow burns your bare feet. When they batter your brother, though, you strike back. They hit you again, like you’d smack a disobedient dog, and they push you to the ground. You look at your brother and you see His nose is bleeding.
He took after Mother, with dark hair and green eyes. One of them comments on what a pretty boy he is. “Pretty for the Sky-Treader’s son,” they say. “Pretty for a freak.” I imagine breaking every bone they own, but I…you cannot break free of their iron grip.
Then they look at you, and they glare. They say nothing about you, who look every bit your Father’s son. They pull you back to your feet and push you along.
As they walk you through the snowy forest, you hear snippets of their conversation. You hear something about a banquet, about Uncle’s favored Son. They’re talking about Father but you don’t listen. Your brother is crying beside you.
There are tears dripping off his chin even though he’s too old to cry. His tears are silent. You say his name quietly. Mother hears and She looks at you, silently pleading with you to be quiet. You drop your voice to a whisper and ask if he’s alright, if his nose hurts. He says, “Don’t be afraid.”
You are terrified.
Next is the anger. I do not know how to begin, because it is like a warhorse riding you down, trampling you into the snow. It fills you like a great bloom of white flame and your cheeks burn though your skin is cold. You gnash your teeth and strain against the hands that hold you. It courses through your veins like poison as you watch them put your Father on His knees in the snow, naked and soaked, water freezing in His red hair.
The anger makes your heart beat louder when Father smiles at Them and They hit him again. This time, when He rights himself, His mouth is bleeding.
With the sound of your heart raging in your ears, your skin boiling and chilled, your cheeks flushing with indignity, you look at Them. They gather to bear witness.
Can you feel it, boiling up in the hollow of your chest so there isn’t room for anything else?
You can hear the drum of your heart in your ears just as easily as you can hear Them talking, making charges against Father. He denies some, accepts others with a laugh which makes Them bristle.
Father counted them as friends.
Father was a fool.
Before there can be madness, there must be hope. I remember it clearly as crystal. It was just a glimmer. An instant when you see a way out, if not for you, then for Him — a gap in the men and the snowy trees.
Mother sees it, too. Her cheek is red where they slapped Her when She protested. “This has nothing to do with them,” She said. Now She is meeting your eyes and Her nod is almost imperceptible. Go, She is saying. Before it is too late.
They are distracted, arguing with Father and yelling at Him, though He keeps on smiling and never raises His voice. It is that moment — that second when you and your brother are forgotten that you take.
You twist free, breaking one of Their wrists. It feels good to feel Their bones crush under your hands. Whatever this is — this thing you were not involved in until They dragged you, your brother and Mother out of bed and made you a part of it. It feels good to hurt them after they made your brother bleed.
You hit one with a hard fist. Your hand explodes in blistering pain. His nose breaks and He lets go of your bother. You grab Him by the shoulders and shove Him towards the trees. “Run!”
For a moment He looks at you pleadingly. He doesn’t want to go without you — without Mother or Father. But, in the chaos that has broken out, the shouting and the cursing, he does.
He shouldn’t have hesitated.
His feet crunch through the snow, kicking up little white puffs behind Him. As you fight the men who would chase after Him, you believe He’ll get away. You truly do…
The realization. They strike you and push you down in the snow and you hear your Mother screaming. The sound is unlike anything you’ve heard before, like something dieing long and slow. When it’s joined by Father’s yelling — “They had no part in any of this!” — you realize…
You cannot win.
How does on describe madness? The pain which preceded? The feeling of bones breaking and bending or the feeling of muscles and tendons ripping and reshaping… Imagine the pain is filling you. Do you think it is what drove you mad? Or perhaps they set the madness upon you…
Does it matter in the end?
Because then the madness is all there is. There is no snow under my — your running paws which had once been hands and feet. There are no shouts and screams behind you, just the whoosh of blood in your ears, the taste of snowy winter on your tongue.
But you don’t want winter taste, you want life taste and behind you they are shouting and their words are driving you hard through the snow and in front of you He is running, His flight begging for you to give chase.
A flash of fangs and a strain of muscle — He goes down under the weight of a wolf and the wolf is you — the wolf me, and He is screaming and pleading and fighting…
“…Stop! It’s me, Brother, please…”
…but the sobs and the wailing assaulting my ears do nothing, mean nothing and my throat continues to snarl and my tongue continues to thirst — they’re not my own — the fangs continue to slash…
His arms are ribbons. The copper taste of blood drives the hunger deeper, makes the madness wilder. When I nip his cheeks they are salty with tears. I take my brother’s throat and He isn’t screaming anymore. The blood pulses in my mouth like my heart beats in my ears…
The hot blood runs from my wolf’s fangs and drips off my chin into the snow, each drop melting its icy crust. Hot, rubbery intestines fill my mouth and roll over my tongue as I pull them out. They are steaming in the cold.
The men are approaching and I — no…you — he…he is himself again and he…he sees them coming. His brother lies in the melting snow.
He looks at the men with golden eyes. He returns to himself.
I am Vali, he remembers as he opens his bloody, salivating jaws and drops the intestine to the snow.
The fur along his shoulders and back stands on end as he backs away from the lifeless body into the forest behind him. His tail stands rigidly up as he pulls his lips back and snarls at the men.
I am Vali, he thinks, knowing this is Their fault and They are coming to get the body, but he doesn’t want them to touch his brother.
They come nearer and he snarls, snapping at the air. Blood smears the fur of his jaws. His breath rises in steaming puffs through the air. He hears his Mother wailing and his Father screaming.
I am Vali, he thinks, and he looks at his brother in the snow. And I killed my brother.
He whirls on his paws and bolts into the forest.
Seeing it is too much — the skin which was hot and pink just minutes ago now white and cold while the blood that had colored and warmed it streams free…the eyes half-closed and dulling, staring dreamily into the forest; the open stomach, its contents trailed into the snow…
Remembering it — the taste of the blood and the feel of skin tearing and the way the intestines slid in his mouth…it is too much.
And so he runs. He hears Them shouting after him and he runs faster, even though he doesn’t care if They catch him and skin him. He doesn’t care, he doesn’t care…
They don’t chase him. They watch him turn and run. They watch him vanish into the trees and snow, running as fast as he can to leave the world behind because They’ve taken it all away anyway. He runs as fast as he can to leave behind the knowledge of what he’s done.
But he cannot forget.
[Tahni is beginning to lose track of how long she has been a practicing pagan, but she believes that it’s been somewhere around eight years. She recently became a devotee of Loki, but continues to work with deities and spirits from many pantheons. She often honors the deities and spirits she works with by telling stories for and about them in her art and writing. Some of her work has been featured in Huginn, Lilith: Queen of the Desert and Unto Herself: A Devotional Anthology for Independent Goddesses. She often shares snippets of writing at tahnijnikitins.deviantart.com.]