"What?" Skander said blankly. "What did I just say?"
Brody blew out a sigh. "Who knows, that's mythology for you – no such thing as a straight answer."
I looked at Loki. "So, do we really want to pursue this?" the waking of the Sleepers is one of the precursors to Ragnarok. Of course so was the loosing of Fenrir and that turned out all right for our side but still…
He shrugged. "Probably not, the boy is safe here for now. It would be an unnecessary risk."
"But what did I say?" Skander repeated.
"I guess you're right," I said, a little dubiously; "Mimir?"
"The decision is yours to make, Chief of Asalings," he answered unhelpfully closed his eyes and turned back into featureless bark.
"But what did I say?" Skander said again.
Brody was thinking hard. "Whoever was hunting the kid is probably watching the camp now. We could lead them right to the Sleeper."
"Will somebody please tell me what I said!" Skander insisted.
"Very true," I sighed. "Okay let's let it go for now."
"Hey, Loki!" Ivor Waylandsson appeared around the Tree looking annoyed. "You're supposed to be game-mastering for us, remember?"
Loki snorted and rolled his eyes but turned on his heel and followed Ivor, the two of them heading north towards Tyr's hall. I started to suggest we resume our interrupted tour of camp but before I could get two words out Skander had grabbed me by the arm and shook it hard.
"What. Did. I. Say?'
I looked at him surprised then realized. "Oh, right. You don't understand Norse yet do you?" He just glared. I thought a moment then repeated the kennings in English:
"Dream wrapped lie they, under Ymir's skull dome
Mickleburg the great their bed-place marks,
At Austri's feet they drowse, the sons of the Great Ash
Well guarded is their couch, by coiled lindworm warded
Beware the Blinder, Fire's brother."
Skander let go of my arm. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Welcome to our world," said Brody.
"Actually it does after a fashion," I explained. "'Under Ymir's skull dome means the Sleepers are here in Middle Earth not one of the other worlds."
"Mickleburg the great is New York City," Brody added helpfully. "And I'm guessing 'at Austri's feet' means the Lower East Side." My mate isn't the sharpest axe in the bundle but you can't be a Northern hero without getting really good at solving riddles.
"Probably," I agreed. "And a lindworm is a kind of dragon -"
"Wingless and breaths poison instead of fire," Brody put in. "Real nasty."
"But it's the last line that really worries me," I continued. "What's Helblindi up to in New York?"
"No good," Brody shrugged. "Maybe we should find out?"
Skander heaved this why-do-I-bother kind of sigh. "What's a Helblindi?"
"Who," I corrected. "He's a Jotun and Loki's brother –which is no recommendation."
"He's trouble," said Brody.
A mounted combat class had taken over the mootgarth and not wanting to be trampled or speared or stuck full of arrows the three of us detoured through the forges wending our way between smoke belching furnaces and steaming cooling troughs. Sparks flew as red hot metal was poured into molds or hammered into shape on anvils. New steel flashed, brandished by smiths testing for balance, and chunked into bars of iron or blocks of stone as they tested the edge.
Like I said before camp looks like complete chaos which it's not - quite - but it is pretty unstructured and it takes newcomers a little time to get the hang of the place. Skander was now kitted out like the rest of us in leather training armor with his seax belted at his side, his shield slung over his back and using his new spear like a walking staff. And he wasn't staring around him in round eyed shock anymore, just justifiable caution. It's important to stay alert around here.
We made it back to the mead hall to grab a late breakfast. The longboat battle was over by then and we found the winners inside sharing a second or third breaker with the losers – you could tell which was which because the losers were soaking wet. Afterwards we took Skander out to the porch and showed him the schedule-board; a big slab of wood with a scraped sheepskin pegged to it.
The skin is ruled horizontally into nine sections labeled First Light; Sun Up; Sun Rising; Fore Noon; Noontide; After Noon; Sun Setting; Sun Down; Last Light – we're not much for exact times here. Each section is filled with dozens of activities; some written large and neat others scribbled small and squeezed in wherever they would fit meaning the schedule board isn't the easiest thing in the world to read. As usual a number of campers were standing around studying it with others sitting on the benches and steps of the porch killing time as they waited for their next activity to start.
"Wow, you guys sure keep busy," Skander said scanning the skin. "Who makes up this thing anyway?"
"Everybody and anybody," I answered and pointed out an item in Tyr's bold writing signed by his arrow shaped rune in the 'Sun Rising' block. "The instructors set what you might call the official schedule of classes and training exercises and the rest of us fill in unofficial activities," I shifted my finger, "Here's the football game we saw earlier, we have a soccer league -".
"Also Field Hockey and Baseball," Brody put in.
"And there's the ship combat." I continued, "And the RPG Loki was supposed to be mastering -"
"You guys play table-top games?" Skander interrupted sounding kind of disbelieving.
"Oh yeah," Brody answered cheerfully.
"It's good training in strategy and tactics," I explained, "Especially with Loki running the game." I led the way off the porch towards a neighboring building. "This is the main gamer hangout, Tyr's Hall."
"I thought that was Tyr's Hall?" Skander said hooking a thumb over his shoulder.
"His mead hall, this is his living hall."
The doors, carved in a pattern of crossed swords, stood open. We passed down a short passage between two little store rooms into the hall proper. Candles were lit to supplement the light from the open doors, smoke hole and numerous small windows. Everything from 'tafl' (ie: assorted old Viking board games) to Middle Earth based RPGs and Warhammer Fantasy were being played at the long tables on either side of the cobbled section of floor around a cold firepit.
I pointed out the curtained berths behind the tables. "New campers sleep here and train with Tyr until they're chosen by a war band," I explained. "I've short circuited that by taking you as my armor bearer – you can refuse by the way -"
"No," Skander said hastily.
"Fine, that makes me responsible for your training."
"In how to use this," Skander said raising his spear slightly.
"That's only part of it," I told him. "You have to learn ship handling, enough smithcraft to repair your own weapons, Runecraft-"
"And yards and yards of sagas and poetry." Brody put in.
"In old Norse?" Skander guessed.
"You got it," my mate said gloomily.
"The language comes easier than you'd think," I said as we went out. "And you just need a good memory for the lore."
"You won't have any problems," Brody told the kid. "Half-Alfar soak it up like sponges."
Skander looked like he doubted that but Brody was absolutely right, and a more than a little envious. Thor's kids tend to have problems with the more academic side of heroing.
We crossed the lakeside meadow careful to avoid a class of new campers being put through intermediate sword drill by Tyr and a group of Berserkers getting their arses handed to them by a handful of pretty Flidrirekkr girls (have I mentioned how much that hurts?). I missed a step spotting a pair of duelers squaring off on a staked out cloak then identified them as Svinfylking and moved on. Not my problem.
"That's Gefjon's hall," Brody said pointing out a long wooden building at the other end of the meadow, "The big girls' hangout. You want to keep well clear of there."
"Don't exaggerate, Brody," I was beginning when Trudi called to us from the doorway.
"Just the guys I'm looking for! Get yourselves in here."
"Why?" Brody asked suspiciously.
She rolled her eyes. "It's okay, I'm inviting you. You want to see this, promise."
Brody's excessive caution re: the girls' hangout is based on a seriously ill-advised prank that went very wrong from the Berserkers' point of view. Actually there's no reason at all for a guy not to go into Gefjon's hall if he's got cause, though I'll admit you feel pretty conspicuous if you do.
The enclosed porch, as usual, was full of girls sitting on the benches under the windows on either side with their tongues going as fast as their spindles as they talked and spun. Trudi led us through the inner door into a hugely long room with looms all along the walls including the two enormous ones against the end gable where they make the sails for the longboats. Gefjon was there, teaching a class of beginning weavers, and the usual number of girls working at various projects. One of the two tables was completely covered with an incredibly long piece of embroidery - think the Bayeaux tapestry but with much better perspective - Fenrir and Dagny were standing over it studying the pictures.
"What's this?" Skander asked curiously. "I mean I can see it's a tapestry but what's it about?"
There wasn't exactly a simple answer to that. The last several years had been rather full ones with the Jotnar working towards Ragnarok and us working frantically to stop them. It had all finally come to a head last December in a huge battle before the gates of Utgard. It was hard to know where to begin.
Hard for me that is. Brody didn't have any problem at all. "A big honking battle we fought last winter. Look, there I am wrestling Jokul." He pointed to two giant bears, one embroidered in white wool, the other in brown, rolled together in a ball. I grimaced remembering the blizzard of fur and blood. It looked a lot tidier in needlework.
"And there's Dane cutting Utgard-Loki down to size," said Dagny pointing to a little embroidery me facing a huge, hulking giant.
"Cool," said Skander.
"It really wasn't," I said grimly.
Trudi rolled her eyes. "Ignore old Misery-guts," she told the kid. "He's always like this."
"Anybody'd think he didn't like fighting," Brody added.
"I love it," I answered. "It's the clearing up afterward that depresses me."
Trudi understood – sort of – she'd lost her share of campers too. "Valhalla is where we're all going," she reminded me, "When doesn't matter much."
"Valhalla's amazing," Brody told the kid.
"So is Middle Earth." I said.