Dana looked at her pictures taped to the mirror. Her promises of what she was, and what she swore she would be again. It sometimes seemed like a brighter idea than others.
Two years ago, her hair had been long golden waves that Sif would have been proud to claim as her own, a face darkened by sun, eyes marked by laugh lines and bright with the promise of tomorrow. The picture a year ago before going for chemo showed the glory of her hair crowning a face haunted by the fear that she might not see another spring, fixed smile painted over screams she dared not start lest she could not stop. There was the strength that she held hard against the fear, but then, and even now, she had no idea how it could be enough.
Looking back at the face in the mirror, she took in the bald skull, the perfection of her bones had not changed, but the skin over them was drawn tight over the cheek bones, hollow in the cheeks, yet puffy around the dark hollows of eyes whose blue no longer shone like a spring sky, but the deep blue of the tidal surge that shattered ships and shore alike.
It took the better part of an hour to put on her makeup, her wig, and restore her face to the woman she used to be. Her husband, her children, her friends were happiest with it. She was happiest with it. She looked in the mirror and did not know who it was who looked back at her.
Yule had passed, and with it the lives of some friends. It was the dying time, the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest, and she would be lying if she didn’t feel the fingers of the cold deep in her bones, didn’t hear the whimpers in the quiet of the night, the memories of those times it was too much and she just prayed for it to end, for this to be the last night. You can’t shake the memories of those nights as easily as stepping into the sunlight, for some chills are written in your bones, some screams written into your silences, and can never be forgotten.
Today she didn’t have it in her. Today she didn’t care. Let others shy away, let others shudder at the spectre of the fate her face whispered of. Today she would not pretend she didn’t see, pretend she didn’t care. Today she just didn’t have enough left to carry anyone else’s fear, or anyone else’s shame.
Coffee. She needed coffee, and humanity could just frigging deal with it.
She scraped the windshield as the car heated up. Her kids were already at school, and this was her time. The coat was heavy and caught the wind when it gusted, she had not the weight she once had, and sometimes the wind sported with her more than she liked. Her toque and scarf kept her warm, the cold Atlantic winds could bring colour to her pale cheeks, and make her fingers clumsy, but her strength was coming back and it could no longer make her tremble. Caffeine, she needed caffeine. She had an article in her laptop she wanted to read, but it was not something to read un-caffeinated. One coffee there, and a second to take home should do her. Her reward for a week survived.
She spotted the new coffee shop that had looked so interesting. A pair of amber cats framed the sign Golden House. Sure enough, two regal looking cats, about the size of lynx, observed the customers from a cat tree that dominated the wall opposite the counter. The place was a happy untidy babble of conversations from a dozen dark hardwood tables that looked a lot like the benches of a mead-hall, heavy dark chairs, high backed and post carved offered hanging for coats and hats, as everyone had clearly done. A roaring fireplace filled the wall opposite the window, and the firelight gave the place a warmth that made the outside winter hard to remember. The smell of fresh coffee and mouth-watering baked goods made her stomach remind her she had not felt up to breakfast this morning, but perhaps now she might?
The owner of the coffee shop was dancing between the tables, there was no other word for it. She had long golden hair and a figure that was as opulent as Dana’s had been before the choice had been to offer her breasts to the knife or her life to the cancer, and leave a battle long fought half won.
Where you would swear there was not room between the tables to pass a ruler she spun and twisted with a heavy tray in one hand and a second that seemed to alternate between waving to those far away, and patting those she passed between, somehow letting each know they had her complete and joyous attention for one glorious moment. It was easy to see why the place was packed.
“Take off your coat, stay a while. I hardly ever bite unless asked nicely” The woman’s voice rolled over Dana like the finest mead over the tongue, sweet and smooth, unleashing a warmth at its passing that bypassed thought altogether and undid the knots of tension, pain and fear that held her wound tight as a sewing bobbin.
Without thinking she shrugged off her coat hung it and her toque upon the chair before she remembered that she didn’t wear her wig today. Freezing in fear, she tried to turn and snatch it back up again, but before she could, impossibly strong hands gently pushed the throne like chair under the bench, seating her at the table as smoothly as if it and she weighed nothing.
Turning to look at the figure who had pushed in the chair, her breath caught. He was dark haired, wild maned with long and bushy hair and beard, a body long and rangy under a loose fisherman’s sweater with a woven pattern of giant wolves alternately devouring men and being torn asunder at the jaw. He wore heavy boots, not quite work boots, nor yet biker boots, they were somehow brutally and uncompromisingly functional in the way a thing put together without any care for appearances can somehow acquire a stark majesty almost despite itself. Nodding respectfully to her, he walked around the bench and gestured at the cinnamon buns fresh from glazing, still warm from the oven, and made a vague motion similar to a seated bow towards Dana that seemed to suffice to the owner as an order, causing her to laugh.
“My silent friend her is quite taken with you, and asks if you would care to have a fresh baked cinnamon roll with your coffee, I recommend the Egg Nogg latte, it’s a little on the rich side, but if you don’t allow yourself any guilty pleasures you will just die innocent, and we can’t have that now!”
Dana blushed and stammered something incoherent in acceptance. Once she would have accepted such attention as her due, but since the cancer had robbed her of her colour, her grace, her muscle tone, her hair and breasts were only the most obvious of the blows she had taken, she had gotten used to fearing the look of her body, rather than loving it. Granted her strength was coming back, and with it the grace she was winning day by day, step by step, thrice as hard to rebuild as to first win, but she was now not the woman she remembered drawing attention.
The owner glided back sliding two cinnamon rolls the size of dinner plates in front of them, the rich smell of cinnamon, the sight of tiny nuts and little candied fruit promising a heartier fare than the norm, made Dana’s mouth begin to water.
Tall Eggnog latte in large ceramic mugs joined the cinnamon buns in front of the silent man and Dana, and before Dana could muster her social defenses against men getting the wrong idea about approaching her as a married woman, the owner ran her hands with casual familiarity down the long shoulders and chest of the man, and pulled his rangy hair back to kiss him impishly upon the nose.
“Oh he does have an eye for the beauties. He will never be any sort of a conversationalist, but the Silent One pays attention, and looks more deeply than his father ever did. That is his second-best quality, right after knowing what a tongue is really for!”
Dana almost choked on her latte at the uncomplicated joy the woman took in casually discussing such things in a restaurant full of locals who roared with approval and pounded the table to her clear delight. Dana knew there was no mockery here, but she was not willing to accept praise for what was long taken from her, the beauty she never knew she treasured until it was stolen by the thief that sought her life.
“I am hardly a beauty any more. I mean…” Dana made a hand wave that took in her bald skull, pain haunted eyes, and the flat hanging sweater that was stretched out for the generous curves she would never have again.
Sliding sensuously over to her side, the woman ran her hand across Dana’s bald scalp and Dana felt her entire body catch fire, back arching in helpless pleasure towards the fire of her simple touch, she felt her hands continue down the back of Dana’s skull and catch the necklace she wore under her sweater.
Tsking softly, the woman slowly drew the necklace from under Dana’s sweater and laid the simple Thor’s hammer below the hollow of her throat upon the soft sweater.
Murmuring softly, amber eyes burning into Dana’s blue ones like dancing fire, the woman spoke
“Such a kissable neck should be highlighted, the hammer is a nice start, a statement of strength, but it needs a touch of fire to bring out your colour”
Taking one of the strands of amber that hung around her own neck, she softly ran the back of her knuckles over Dana’s collar bones and neck to fasten the strand of amber at the back of her neck, to lie half way between Thor’s hammer and her throat, drawing every eye to the regal curves of her shoulders and neck, the proud lines of her cheekbones and richness of her eyes and lips, the stark strength she alone could not see shining there.
Dana had not been with a woman since long before she was married, but her body trembled from this woman’s touch like it had not since those teenage days of experimentation. Before her touch could arouse the defenses of a woman who had no intention of straying, the owner swayed away, to be replaced by the two large and graceful cats that now butted at her hands for attention from either side of the table.
Dana muttered a protest. Voicing at last the fear that howled at her each time she faced the mirror in the morning.
“How can you say that? I am not that pretty girl any more, I won’t ever be again!”
There was half a mile of pain and two full fathoms of fear in that cry, and it hung upon the air like a challenge.
It was the Silent One that spoke at last, his words ground like a blade on a stone, tearing away dross and damage to leave naught but the brutal purity of the naked edge behind.
“You are not the girl that didn’t know, nor the woman whom the foe found, you are she who won. You are the face of victory”
Both their eyes were upon her now, the shining golden one who danced like flame, and the dark silent one whose eyes held the shadows of prices paid, and in them both she saw herself not as what she lost, but at last as they did, as she who won.
——-I have lost dear friends to cancer this year. I have had had other dear friends who have won their fight at terrible cost. I remember my father on his third bought with cancer, it was the fifth a decade later that would kill him. He rewarded himself by getting his tattoo touched up. He had got an eagle tattoo on his arm when he finished jump training in the Canadian Airborne, but cancer had carved long ropes of white like lightning all up and down his arms, through his tattoo, taking most of the colour.
When he got it touched up, he had the colour of the tattoo restored to full glory, but had the cancer scars outlines like living lighting where they defaced it, rather than having them coloured in to undo the damage done to the original tattoo. I asked him why he didn’t hide that damage, and he looked at me honestly confused. “Why should I hide, I won.”
Odin does hide his missing eye, nor Tyr his missing hand. Our gods bear their scars openly, proudly, for they are the boasts of victors, the proof of prices paid, and victories won. Our gods do not turn their faces from the scars of our life, not the inner ones, nor the outer ones. The shame we heap upon scars and the prices paid by survivors is cowardice born of fear we might not have the strength to ever face such ourselves.
Freya is goddess of passion, love, and the old and terrible magics. Hers is the raw, the brutal and primal magic of death and life, hers the first choice of the valiant dead. Freya is goddess of that fire that screams its joy at life from the brink of death, and howls its ecstasy to stand upon the edge of the abyss and know by its own will, it will stand and not fall.
Vidar, the Silent One, Fenris bane is the god of prices paid, the god of leavings, the one who knows the cost of what others boast about. He is silent, for he boasts not. He is the god of deeds, not words, of paying the price to do what must be done, and salvaging what seems lost. His boots are made of the scraps thrown away, yet at Ragnarok they will shatter the jaw of Fenris Wolf, for he understands what it is to grow strong at the broken places.