[Editor’s Note: Bindings I: Not Forgotten can be found here.]
“I could not die — with You —
For One must wait
To shut the Other’s Gaze down …”
I had never known you to be fearful, Brother. Your fear made my blood run as cold as the snow through which our bare feet crunched when They marched us into the forest.
“Don’t be afraid,” I told you as They pushed us ahead of our Mother through the forest where once we’d played. Mother had never seemed so tall or hard as She then did.
Often I find myself wondering what you thought as we made that last long walk together. Myself, I thought of the games we’d played among those trees.
During the short springs and summers we came out to run beneath the blooming branches, little green buds unfurling above our heads. You wanted to play war games while I wanted to play exploring games. You were kind to me: more often than not we played exploring games.
But you always carried a dagger in your belt. Its blade was made of obsidian, the handle of reindeer antler. Remember how I used to steal that dagger, Brother? Remember how it angered you when I snuck it out from beneath your pillow and carried it out to the hearth? When I held it up to the light of the fire I could see little glimpses of rainbows in its black depths.
Father gave you that dagger. He brought it from one of the far away places He so loved to go — places you and I could never quite imagine. Places whose deepest chambers were illuminated by stone that ran like water and burned like fire. Places deep down in the bowels of the earth and places so cold the snow never melts.
Though I often snuck your dagger away to admire the rippling, oily colors hidden in the black, Father never brought me a blade of my own. Perhaps He understood that I would never use it like you used yours — to kill and skin small animals for the stews Mother made, stews that made our home smell like salt, soft carrots and potatoes, tender meat.
Sometimes Father came with us into the forest to play. You always stuck your lip out and pouted when Mother dressed you in thick, warm furs before we ventured into the winter snows, and Father always laughed and tapped His knuckle against your mouth. “Warriors don’t pout when they must put on winter furs,” He would say.
He taught us to climb those trees, to steal honey from bees and fish from bears. He taught us to talk to birds in that forest, to light a fire and keep it burning. He taught us to listen to the songs the fire sings.
There were no unfurling green buds that night. The lichen-grayed and tree trunks were black pillars against the silver snow, their branches boney fingers stretched across the moonless sky — even Mani refused to watch that night, when we were dragged from our beds at spear-point and brought to where our Father knelt naked in the snow. The only color was His red hair — and yours.
“Don’t be afraid,” I told you, because there was nothing either you or I could have done to change what was to come. You didn’t know this. You had raged against Them, Their words and Their sidelong sneers.
You had always seen those sneers, heard those words. I had only wonder for the great walls they built to encase their even greater castles, the beauty of their vast and tumbling city. You saw and you heard; you came home with bloodied noses and bruised eyes.
Mother cleaned the blood from your nose, from the cuts and scrapes on your hands and elbows. She cleaned the dirt from your face and she combed your red hair back from your brow. She whispered softly in your ear while She did, while Father watched from the door, His arms crossed over His chest tight as a corset, His chin bobbing back and forth as He ground his teeth.
“We’re not of their ilk,” Mother once said to me, gently, like I’d always imagined She spoke into your ear while She cleaned the fight from you. “But blood is not all that makes a clan, dearest. They are only afraid, and only for now. In time They will learn to trust. In time They will see.”
For so long I had stared from the highest window in our home, stared out into Their city with its tall spires from which inky black ravens flew at dawn and returned to at dusk. For so long I had admired their wall creeping with long, coiling vines and emerald leaves, the new blocks where the wall had once been broken the color of faded gold against the silvery stone of the old bricks. For so many years I had anticipated our trips into Their city like other children anticipate a sweet.
They did not want me. They did not want Father. They did not want Mother. They did not want You.
“They are only afraid,” Mother had said.
Fear is a conjurer of strange things. And what was there to be afraid of? Mother? Sweet and small and pretty with dark hair that tumbled like rivers. Father? Playing tricks and telling jokes, He only loved to laugh. You and I? Children.
“Don’t be afraid,” I told you.
Either we would die or we would not. Fear would do nothing for us.
Father was not afraid. He smiled and He laughed. He spoke gaily, with the same voice He once used to tell us His crazy stories.
Remember how we used to sit up long after story time, whispering in bed about which stories we thought true and which stories He’d made up?
I can’t say why, but when they marched us into the forest, when I saw our Father on His knees in the snow, at the feet of the people He’d called family, I knew all His stories were true. Even the ones that seemed most unlikely. Nothing had ever seemed more obvious then as did the truth of Father’s stories.
They had Their stories, too, Brother. I’m sure you heard — you heard so many things. But I wonder if you listened while They whispered, pushing us along in the dark.
Did you hear Their story, Brother? The story They told of the death of Baldr? Would it have stung you like all Their whispering rumors had before? Would it have made you bristle like a mad dog to hear Father accused?
You were always good at making up stories, my Brother. When Father was gone you told stories to soothe my mind. I never knew the endings of any of your stories. I always fell asleep. I wonder if your stories even had endings. Somehow I think not — I think you’re not the kind to tell stories which are meant to have an ending.
And I wonder if it ever hurt your feelings that I fell asleep while you spoke. It meant only that you’d comforted me, that I could let go of the day and go to dreaming instead.
If you ever dreamed, I imagine they were dark dreams. I imagine they were dreams of wolves with fangs and boys whose blood melted the snow; dreams of fathers tied up with long strings of innards and mothers without sons. You were never one to laugh like Father always had, and you had none of Mother’s trusting.
You were hard and cold, though never to me. To me you were gentle, you were the protection of a warm blanket from the cold, of fire from the darkness. You were solid as stone and consistent as a mountain.
You know all of this. I just don’t know if you remember.
Had you not seen it, had I not seen your eyes dart toward the small opening in Their ranks, the path out into the forest you and I had mapped and knew, I never would have thought to run. I wonder what would have come to pass had we not tried.
Their voices echoed through the trees while They argued with Father. Their eyes riveted on Him while He twisted Their words and threw them back in Their faces, not once rebuffing Their accusations.
They struck Him. He smiled.
I had never known you could move so swiftly — spinning out of Their grasp, twisting a wrist and thrusting it back and down at an odd angle that snapped like wood in the cold, slamming a fist into another’s face before shoving me through the gap.
“Run!” you screamed, and I stumbled through the snow.
So often we’d played in these forests. I knew the abandoned dens once scraped out by wolves readying for a litter. I knew the streams and the lakes better than Father ever had. I knew how to climb and to hide. I knew how to survive.
But when I looked back at you, when I met your wild eyes, I wasn’t certain that I was supposed to.
Our family was not meant to survive, Brother.
It was fear that powered my legs. I ran through the forest as fast as my legs, my heart, my lungs would allow. The air was like glass shards and needles in my chest, like claws on the inside of my throat. I knew to where I would run, and I pointed myself there, to an ancient dead tree whose center had been hollowed by rot and bugs and pecking birds. I would go there, I would hide in its shadowy depths …
Though I knew I would not. I heard the fight break out behind me and I knew.
I could not stop running. When I heard the thunder of your paws in the snow I ran all the faster.
Had I, too, run with the speed of a wolf, I still would not have outrun you.
Here it is not bright. The sunlight does not reach the cheeks of those who live and rest here. But I would not call it dark, or cold. The halls are like stone. Things live in their cracks and crevasses and shadows. Strange things with long, thin arms and legs which move like spiders in the corner of your eye. But I’m not afraid of them. What is there to fear in death, Brother? Besides — I am not alone. Here I am with family.
Things are worse where you are than they will ever be here. Where you are — that is where I wish to reach you, while I stand alone in the long dark caverns and stare up, to a place I imagine as bright with sun and cold with snow, a place where you might be.
You are loved, my Brother. Of course I cannot tell you this. I cannot hug you or hold your hand, cannot tell you a story or comfort you. I tell this story to myself, to remember, lest you, wherever you have gone, cannot.
Though perhaps, dear Brother, it would be best if you did forget. For things are as they are, maybe as they must be, and that is okay. Remembering will change nothing. It would do you no good to remember the snow beneath your paws or the blood in your mouth.
So live, Brother, and forget. Live for me, and I will remember for you.
[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.]
This is such a powerful, haunting tale. You have written it so beautifully. I have tears in my eyes.
Amber Drake said:
Such a powerful story. It brought tears in my eyes.