Chapter 12 – An Apology To My Questers
I contacted Odin and received permission to stay a little longer. He wanted stability in Britain and was shocked at the problems I described, although pleased by the progress we had made in putting an end to many of our troubles. His approval was hardly necessary. Reinforced by Cissy and Cho, Hermione and I travelled to the Ministry with Harry as his trusted truth-tellers. None of the prisoners said a word. Spiked Veritaserum could not loosen their tongues or weaken their resolve.
I had just one more thing to do before I left. I told Harry that I wanted to visit Prudence and the other wounded from the attack upon the Wales school. Harry told me that he would come with me, although he had already made an official visit as Minister. I was pleased and relieved that all the injured were doing very well and would leave St. Mungo's tomorrow. Some could leave already but were staying as a demonstration of solidarity. They planned to leave as one and go immediately for interviews and photos with The Quibbler. Prudence proudly declared "We've read The Prophet and are determined that the truth be told. We are the ones who were there. We were injured protecting our students."
I thanked her for that service to our community but also couldn't help blurting "I'm a little surprised, because I never saw you as a fighter."
"You did not see me at my best on Vanaheimer. I was so shocked that I froze during the battle at the White Column chamber. I couldn't believe what Miomor was obviously doing. I know that you have forgiven me, since you are here talking to me. I expected never to see you again."
"I know. I expected the same. You were so courageous that I had to confirm with my own eyes that you were well. Also, everything that you told me about my dad's problems turned out to be true. I know that you did your best to help him deal with the stresses of being Minister and that he was more responsible than you for the other problems."
The wounded wished to have a remembrance ceremony for the dead. I led a Light Guardian religious ceremony. The wounded took turns describing the dead. They were all good people who had either volunteered to teach the students or students who had arrived in our world in a daze, shocked by their newly discovered wild magic and determined to fit into our society. They recognized that they were separate from the Hogwarts students for a reason. They felt like something of a special problem or embarrassment to their new community but were determined to learn and prove themselves. We would all have been proud of them. They realized that the numbers of the newcomers swamped the capacity of Hogwarts but were glad the Wales school would not be reopened and prayed that the government did not create another segregated school. I could tell that Harry felt very awkward and shamed, but he promised that Hogwarts was being expanded and that he would do his best to make the single overflow school not be segregated. He said that the advanced ages of some of the newcomers was a problem which would require thought. He would arrange for them to meet with Neville, McGonagall, Fran Lester, and Hermione's mother.
Hermione and I snogged our husbands, then Apparated to the pyramid for our return to Asgard. I suggested that Cho and Cissy might want to stay in our world for a week to visit friends and family. Cissy declined, but Cho happily accepted. The British soldiers, Commander St. John and Colonel Cholmondeley, along with our two Hogwarts students, and a very jittery Professor Sturluson were waiting for us inside the pyramid. The professor's body language said 'well, it's about time. I've been waiting forever.' He headed straight for Hermione. They chatted, while I organised the team to walk into Asgard. We walked to the World-between-worlds and then onto my Asgard land. We had just finished greeting the Unicorn herd, when Yggdrasil summoned us to the library. Odin and Frijjo were seated in the library, waiting for us.
"You're back a little sooner than you led me to believe. What happened."
"The prisoners weren't talking, so truth-tellers weren't needed. It's now Mrs. Longbottom's problem to prosecute the prisoners and Shacklebolt's job to catch any of their allies still participating in the fight. We've taken a deliberate decision to step back from fighting. I believe that's what the Light Guardian wants us to do."
"Bah!" Frijjo waved a dismissive hand at us. "Will you at least participate in the battle of seid-space."
"Yes, that is our plan, but we need further training to do that."
"And that you shall have, starting tomorrow morning," Odin promised. "It is a good thing you are well rested. The learning and the work promise to be hard."
"Actually, we're knackered. We've slept almost not at all the past two days. Our return home was not at all restful."
"I truly do wish that I could make allowance for that, but the schedule does not permit. Let's hope nothing disturbs your sleep tonight. Your team has a head-start on you, in terms of training. I'm sure you'll catch up in no time."
"Almost immediately, I've decided it's only fair to send most of the team home for a few days. They need a rest as much as we did, and they won't have the demands on their rest time that we did."
Odin had planned a large dinner for us and our team. Percy and Callista were included. Because we had arrived sooner than expected, we had three hours before the feast. I said we'd stop by our camp to check in with the team. Odin told us that half the team was at Valaskjalf, already. Why didn't we take half an hour to chat at the camp, then all who would be attending the feast could come with us to the palace. Odin whispered to me that he knew some of the team would remain in the camp to guard our secrets, even though Frijjo would be with us at the palace. It sounded very silly when he said it like that.
I told those at our camp that any wanting to take a trip home should feel free to be gone for three days. I apologised that Hermione and I had been away as long as we had, explaining that this wasn't the plan and recounting all that had happened to delay our return. I thanked them for staying to protect our secrets from Frijjo, telling them about the comments from Frijjo, which had led me to react as I did. Silly as my concern was, I was anxious to discover who was guarding our weapons and camp. I found Captain Davies and Aagog in charge. My first question was about the integrity of our camp's security. I told them I was pleased that the weaponry was covered by cloth sheeting. "Security has been good," Captain Davies assured me.
"Frijjo come and stare at sheets. She want to look underneath. I tell her if she do that, I bite."
"I might have needed to raise my weapon, but she left camp quickly enough," Captain Davies added. "Also, your Blacky has over-flown the camp quite frequently, especially at night. I've had guards deployed in shifts. I guarantee that Frijjo had no opportunity to steal our secrets or our supplies. She was most annoyed when she left."
I asked if their training had been effective. "I learn lots," Aagog assured me. "I teach you. I learn things that Odin and Frijjo not teach. My mother also teach me.
"Excellent," was Captain Davies' crisp reply. I was taken aback, not expecting a non-magical Briton to be able to tell good seid instruction from useless instruction.
"Captain Davies is very good at seid," Aagog assured me.
So there! Captain Davies felt the need to elaborate. "We did a lot of work on identifying the precise color of the weave. We tested various light sources in order to find the one best suited for the job and our eyes. We practiced tying and untying several kinds of knots - quick loose weave, very tight weaves, weaves made to look like nothing happened. Fortunately for me, my gran' taught me both knitting and embroidery. In the military we learn all kinds of knots - how to tie them in the dark, how to untie and retie them after you've passed, how to swiftly cut through them. We are trained to work in the dark. I can disassemble, clean, and reassemble not only my primary weapon, but three others blindfolded. I can work in gloves. All our soldiers can. We can be of use in this. I also had an advantage, because my eyes and mind are very sensitive to minor differences in color shades. At university, I began my studies as a studio artist. I was good, but I was neither pretty enough nor unusual enough to succeed at the PR needed to be a commercial success. So I chose the military as a career. Still, I retain my art training. Some singers have perfect pitch. I have an unusually keen ability to discern slightly different colors and to see color in different types of light and mentally correct to what they would look like under different lighting. My troops can't match that skill, but they most definitely can provide value in seid-space."
That was good to know. Why was I just learning this now? Why did my team constantly need to assert useful skills, which I had over-looked in my comfort-zone choice of familiar bodies and hands to do even tasks for which they weren't particularly suited? I vowed to talk to all my team more frequently. I realised that Hermione, who wanted to avoid killing far more than I did, had been put in too many bad situations by my treating her as a fighter, just because she was very familiar and I had absolute faith in her, even though I knew she wasn't a fighter. She needed to think more and fight less, just as I needed to. She especially needed to be steered to key work that didn't require fighting.
When I looked up from my thoughts, I saw that Captain Davies was looking at me and waiting for my attention to return to her. I suspect she thought I was receiving a Stone missive, rather than mentally scolding myself. "Blacky stopped by a couple of times looking for you. I think she found something important. I watched him as carefully as I could. I don't think he reported to Odin. Perhaps you should blow your whistle, or whatever else you do, to summon him."
I thanked her and immediately blew my wooden whistle. I also made a mental call to Blacky through Yddgrasil. I think the whistle worked, because I only had to wait ten minutes until Blacky was perched upon my shoulder. He had found three heavy spots, one a very heavy spot, in the areas of seid-space I asked him to explore. One of Odin's ravens had flown above him as he observed one of the heavy spots. That was probably why Blacky felt no need to report to Odin. I was able to pluck the image of those spots from Blacky's mind. It was literally a birds'-eye view, but I looked at them long enough and from several angles as Blacky approached and flew past them. I was able to convince myself that I could find them from ground level on the ribbon. I thanked Blacky and asked him to continue his patrols in seid-space and to also watch over the pyramid and Government House on Vanaheimr. He lifted off my shoulder and disappeared down the well in Odin's observatory. That was clearly the quickest route to both seid-space and Vanaheimr.
Captain Davies and Commander St. John volunteered to stay behind to guard the camp. If Odin, and especially Frijjo, hadn't already recognised how skilled Captain Davies had become at the mechanics of seid, I didn't want her to accidentally give away that secret. The possibility that non-magical Britons could be effective in seid-space would undoubtedly be viewed by Frijjo as a serious threat. They could supply far more seid warriors than we had Witches. In addition to the non-magical Britons, we had the spiders. If Frijjo found out about Captain Davies' skill, she would see her dream for Vanir control of seid-space gone, rest of other joined Odin and our fellow Questers in the throne room of Valaskjalf.
Odin took the time before dinner to reprise the prior days' lessons on seid. He spent most of the time discussing the subtle color and style differences that allowed a seid-master to determine the age of a portion of the ribbon of history and edits made to it, and to identify the weaver of that little bit of time. He demonstrated how subtly different the colors looked under a dozen different light sources. We agreed upon the light source which worked best for us. It was a crystal container filled with the dye of a phosphorescent fish from the river that flowed past the mountain upon which Valaskjalf perched.
Odin talked about vertical Apparates to gain perspective, without leaving the ribbon and losing one's way. He talked about choosing an appropriate point from which to exit the ribbon and how to determine where to remount it. One wanted to exit in a built-up area, with distinctive buildings. The worst thing was to dismount in open farming terrain and have to travel miles to find something identifiable. Yes, there was a danger of being seen and captured in a built-up area. One just had to be careful. We had our cloaks and he could make himself invisible. There were also dangers in traveling across pasture or planted fields - you stood out and were quickly tagged as 'stranger'. To remount, it helped to memorize the scenery of your departure point and memorize a fixed key point in its relationship to the sun or moon at a time of day. When you were close to the re-entry point, there often was an intermittent, barely noticeable, shimmer in the air in front of that point. It was much more visible in the dark. Some had the ability to sense it with their minds or even by contact with the sensitive skin of their face or forearms. Most importantly, the ribbon seemed to have a certain affinity for the departee, which began to diminish after a day and was fully gone after three. It was easier for the departee to find the access point than for even a well-trained student of seid who had not very recently departed the ribbon at that point. It was as if the ribbon remembered you and thought you belonged upon it at precisely that spot.
It was important not to stay off the ribbon for long. In addition to re-entry being more difficult, life became progressively unluckier for those who were in the wrong time and place. The universe knew you weren't supposed to be where you were, and it fought you. Very frequently, you met with a tragic accident. If you found yourself in such an unfortunate situation, the best means of saving yourself was your raven. For that reason, we must always work in teams and each team must always have its raven. Cho had a raven. He needed several more raven keepers. He would try to teach one non-magical but wasn't at all convinced this was possible. He did make this rather stunning statement: "Being magical is at least as much about training and being in an area having a sufficiently strong compatible magical force as it is about genetics. Magical and non-magical humans, Aesir, and Vanir are all basically the same people. Oftentimes a non-magical human becomes at least a little magical if the magical force is tuned a little differently. We are the same people at root but have moved apart a little at the genetic level due to separation and frequency of the magical forces in which we matured."
That was all he wanted to say. It was time to eat and he led us to the dining hall. I was pleased that I would not have to convince Odin to give us more ravens. If I had stayed longer in Britain, I would have tried to recruit a local raven. That was a task for my next trip home.
The food was a delicious and exciting blend of Aesir, Vanir, and Earth ingredients and preparation styles. I went to my bed in a very good mood.