Chapter 13 – Training Hard
I awoke feeling surprisingly refreshed. While Hermione bathed, I messaged Harry. I told him what Odin had said about the non-magical Britons and how surprisingly adept Captain Davies had proven to be in seid-weaving. Harry was taken-aback, but almost immediately declared this to be an advantage which must be pushed. It would help him in his dealings with Tony, who had asked him and McGonagall over dinner "but what's in this for Britain?"
Harry told me that the trove of documents impounded at the Prophet building and Cuffe's home was yielding more evidence than originally thought. There seemed to be enough to convict Barnabas and to raise serious question about several opposition Gamots who were not currently jailed. "We can't arrest them with what we have today, but I am encouraged that we will find more. At minimum, we know who is dangerous, as opposed to those who simply honestly oppose our policies. The biggest thing is notes of a meeting with slug-Slytherin in Barnabas's own handwriting. That is awfully damning. No direct links between Slytherin and anyone else, not even those we've jailed."
Harry and I exchanged words of love, I bathed quickly, then it was off to breakfast. I was not surprised when Odin suggested we eat all that our bellies would hold, because we were likely to work very hard straight through to dinner. I already knew to stuff some food into my pockets. I took two whole fruits of unknown identity and two rolls made from the local Asgard grain. These wouldn't foul my pockets.
Odin led us all to the throne room. "Just line up in a straight row, starting here." Odin pointed to the starting point and motioned in the direction he wanted the line to follow. His hand motion told me that lined up, excluded me. He opened a side door to the outdoors and a dozen ravens fluttered into the room. They sat along the edge of the raised dais, which held Odin's throne. With a sweeping motion of his right arm, Odin sent his swarm one by one in quick succession toward the line of Questers. It was a strange sight. The first bird landed upon Cissy's shoulder, since she was at the end of the line nearest the dais. It then hopped to the next shoulder, then the next, and the next. As soon as it left Cissy's shoulder, it was replaced by a new raven, until the seventh raven chose to stay with her. It took over an hour for this ceremony to be completed and at its end, Cissy, Captain Davies, Mona, Hermione, and Professor Sturluson hosted ravens.
A beaming Professor Sturluson declared "I knew it! The ancient lore points the true way."
Odin then addressed those he called 'the honorable raven bearers' and instructed them on how to exchange mental messages with their birds, how the birds liked to be 'petted' with a smoothing, whole hand, wrap-around, sweeping motion down the top of their necks, across the full length of their back and wings, and ending with an up-sweeping stroke across the tail. "These are working birds not pets, well they also are fine pets, but they are trained to work. Most especially they are outdoor birds. You should not keep them indoors for more than a day, two at most and if they insist on going outside, then you must release them at once. Indoors they need water, and..."
A long list of mandatory and alternate foods was given as well as a reminder that the birds needed an acceptable place to relieve themselves. Odin produced a little bag of what I quickly realised were wooden bird whistles. The whistles bore identifying marks and were banded together in pairs. Odin matched the whistles to the birds, pocketing the whistles of the birds who hadn't selected a bearer. This is just how my mind phrased the situation, but my thought was confirmed when Daphne Greenglass piped up with a complaint.
"Keep your whistles safe. Hide the second one as a spare but hide it where you can always access it quickly if you misplace the primary."
"Why did two Muggles get birds, while Witches like my sister and I did not?"
"I know that you British Witches and Wizards have an expression: 'the wand chooses the Wizard.' It is the same with my birds. I have no more idea why a bird chooses a bearer than your wand seller knows why your wand chose you. Perhaps it is your smell, or your mental vibrations, or it simply chooses a pretty face. They do much prefer females to males."
Daphne was clearly offended by the 'pretty face' comment, but Odin was already continuing his instruction and explaining an exercise with the whistle. The bearers were to spend a half hour stroking their birds and softly speaking to them. "Let you bird rest its head against yours. Try to tell what it is thinking. Think thoughts to your bird. Now, I want you to blow into your whistle a few times, so your bird becomes accustomed to the exact sound. You will blow naturally, because you must blow the same way each time. Good, good. Now tell your bird 'away!'.
"If you can't think the thought to your bird, then you must say the word aloud. And you must practice thinking it."
All the birds were aloft and flying around the buildings in a wide circle. Odin instructed the bearers to blow their whistles. The birds returned and landed upon the bearer's left shoulders.
"Excellent!" Odin declared. "Now you and your bird must spend some time together in my charging ovals. Talk and think to your bird while you are in the oval. A half hour per customer pair. We'll start with those who couldn't think to their bird. Captain Davies and Professor Sturluson, please follow me. Hermione, you must fetch your Phoenix and introduce her to your raven."
While Odin and Hermione were away, I searched the ground for twigs, eventually cutting two twigs from a short tree. Frijjo stared at me the whole time, as I Witch-sculpted two spare whistles. I tucked one spare into each of my boots. Frijjo found this all very amusing, finally giving me a verbal jab "you are a very foolish little Witch not to have done that much sooner."
As soon as Frijjo turned her back and walked away, I quickly sculpted two more spares, placing one in the upper pocket of what Hermione called my 'explorer outfit'. Both the shirt and the pants were made of hemp and had numerous pockets. The outfit was far more practical than robes for... well for just about everything.
To the raven-less, Odin declared "not to worry. The ravens don't make friends with everyone. Some are wolf-persons, others raven-person, or horse-persons. They all love Odin. Almost every animal does. Now we are prepared to safely enter seid-space." We will do so in teams of three of you and one of us. I'll lead Captain Davies, Hermione, Daphne Greengrass, and Aagog's sister." Frijjo will lead Ginny, Barb, Colonel Cholmondeley, and Aagog."
As Odin set off with his team, Frijjo whispered at me "see, Odin taunts me with one of the Acromantula. Where's your bird? We'll need Blacky in there, I'm not going to depend upon a spider."
"I think he's in seid-space. I've summoned him."
"You could have done that earlier, but fine, you're not much of a planner. We'll start with identifying weave colors and tying, and untying knows."
Blacky arrived at that moment, which reinforced my sense that Frijjo was just looking for things in order to lord it over me and continue our personal cold war. But it wasn't a personal war. It was Britain versus her goal of personal power and glory at almost any cost. Not surprisingly, we began our instruction with the glowing-slime crystal and tying and untying knots. I had as good an eye as any in our group, when it came to identify faintly different shades of colour and extrapolating to what they would look like in different lighting. Frijjo had brought two other lights with her for this purpose, one of which was quite bright, but very necessary to safely travel the ribbon in the dark. Yes, I was discovering that seid-space has a night-time and that was the time Odin had chosen for this lesson.
After over an hour of this activity, Frijjo had announced that we would march along the ribbon and then she would pick a spot for us to dismount. I was wondering how she would choose a suitable dismount spot, since it was also dark in the world outside this part of seid-space. Of course, I had no way of knowing whether we were passing through the present or the past. It was impossible to tell which of Odin's worlds lay outside of the ribbon, although I hadn't noticed any of the pronounced up- or down-slants, which I associated with moving to a different world. After marching for what seemed like an hour, I felt that we were still in Asgard's past or present. Neither Frijjo nor Odin had seemed comfortable with travel into the future.
Frijjo suddenly stopped and took a seat upon the ribbon. I also sat and pulled out my water bottle and one of my rolls, thinking that this was a rest break. That thought was dispelled as Frijjo announced in a loud, commanding voice "okay, this is where all of you get off. I'll see you all back at your camp, unless you fail this test. Go. Go! I have other things I must do today. Oh, don't forget you can't just dismount and get right back onto the ribbon. I'll stay here a while and just order you right back off if you return too quickly. You need to explore enough to be able to tell me where and when you are. That's the question I'll be asking upon your return. Good luck."
I got up and led my little team off the ribbon and into real space. I took a sip of the water and shoved the roll back into a pocket. As soon as we left the ribbon, Aagog scrambled up my body and sat upon my shoulders. "I smell spiders!" she alerted me.
I thanked Aagog and explained the situation to the rest of the group. We were clearly in the distant past of Asgard, somewhere in its primordial forest, complete with many, many Acromantula. I asked Aagog if she thought she would be able to speak to the spiders and convince them that we were friendly.
"Language change. I think so. I am with you. They see that; decide you are friend. I hope!"
I declared an official rest break, explaining "we need to wait until it is light enough to get our bearings on the spot where we left the ribbon. We'll just sit here, at least all except a watch guard, facing the ribbon, until it is light enough to see landmarks. Don't get scared and start shooting. If any spiders come along, we need them to see Aagog and hope that persuades them to be friendly."
"What if they decide we stole an infant spider?" a surprisingly frightened Colonel Cholmondeley asked.
I was sufficiently concerned about her level of anxiety that I asked her to make certain her trigger lock was on. I was sufficiently anxious myself, that I told everyone that a small swig of the liquid luck was in order. My team didn't require any persuading. Aagog's warning had frightened us of this dark forest and of every sound we heard. We heard a lot of sounds. Some of the sounds were clearly birds. Unfortunately, other sounds had to be from ground animals.
I sent Blacky aloft to do a quick scout of the area. She was gone half an hour. She had killed a small bird and was prepared to eat it, but first she jumped up on my shoulder and showed me what she had seen. There was a small herd of four deer-like animals, but no giant spiders in sight. Of course, it's easier to hide a black spider, even a very large one, at night, than it is to hide four deer. I think Blacky recognized that obvious fact and watched the deer for most of her half hour aloft. Nothing attacked them and they showed no sign of panic. I took this to be a good sign.
We ate, drank, and chatted. Our fear receded into the background – always there, but no longer oppressive. As the first light of dawn appeared, we knew the definitive direction which was west. Don't ask me why, that's just the way it is on Asgard, unlike Terra or Vanaheimer. I hadn't needed any confirmation beyond "I smell spiders!" to be certain which world we were on, but this was at least confirmation. The spot where we left the ribbon was due west of where we were seated. It was dark enough to detect the faint shimmer in the air. I paced off the distance. It was the same hundred feet I had paced off when we dismounted the ribbon.
"Is Frijjo trying to kill us, sending us back to the time of the giant spiders?" Colonel Cholmondeley thought this highly likely.
I told my team that we should give at least serious consideration to the possibility that we were brought to this time and place for a reason. I could think on only one reason. "I have a hunch that we are near Odin's well," I told the team. "That is important to visit, and it makes sense that the ribbon would run very close to that well. Yggdrasil is the center of everything. Our task is to find the well, without getting lost."
"Or eaten," Barb corrected me.
We gathered sticks and stones to build a marker at the exact point where we needed to remount the ribbon. I told the team that we had less than a day to explore, and then we must return. I blew my whistle to summon Blacky. I looked at what he had just seen from the air. There was no apparent danger. I instructed him to search for the well from the air and then immediately come back to me.
"Your conclusion on why we were sent to this place makes sense," Barb told me. "But why this time?"
"Only four times make any sense to me: before any Aesir, post the Light Guardian, found the well; when Odin's predecessor - his name escapes me at the moment - found the well; when Odin found the well; and when the Aesir burned the forest to kill the spiders. Some of those times are far scarier than others."
Blacky returned to my shoulder. There was a mound a half mile ahead, which he thought was the mound of the well. I relayed this information to the team, suggested we might want to make a quick return to the ribbon to renew our twenty-four-hour window. I told them that it also might help to have Aagog's mother with us, if we were about to meet unfamiliar Acromantula. She would be proof that we hadn't kidnapped an immature spider. I whispered instructions to my team. Secretly, I wanted to make certain that Frijjo wasn't on the ribbon and spying upon us.
We marched back onto the ribbon. Frijjo was there. She complained that we hadn't spent enough time off the ribbon.
"Place is Asgard, only a hundred feet from Yggdrasil's well. Time is before the pre-Odin Aesir burnt the forest to kill the Acromantula. Our assignment is complete, and I can't believe you just dumped us, without warning, in a forest full of Acromantula."
I whispered to each of my team members, as I gave each a congratulatory pat on the back. As I finished, I spoke a hearty "well done, all. I think we passed that test."
"Don't be such a child. I stayed to protect you. You had Aagog to speak with the spiders on your behalf. You should have been fine. Yes, there was a very small amount of danger, but this was a test of your bravery and ingenuity as much as it was a test of your skills. I must say, you failed the bravery part of the test. I thought your natural curiosity would lead you to at least explore the well. I guess I over-estimated you. You're just a scared little Witch."
"I intend to explore the well. We wanted to reset our twenty-four-hour time limit, try to recruit one of our adult Acromantula so it didn't look like we had kidnapped Aagog, and make certain you weren't back here spying on us. You may be 'protecting' us from the safety of the ribbon, but somehow I feel less safe with you here."
It all happened very fast. Blacky screeched; Colonel Cholmondeley shouted for Aagog not to bite; Aagog said "I bite very hard"; Frijjo turned and searched for Aagog. Barb and I touched wand tips and shouted "Off!" Frijjo was gooped where she fell, her hands fixed at her sides and her eyes and hands covered.
"Not much time guys. Blacky and Aagog retrace our steps and bring back an adult Acromantula from Odin's property. The rest of us search for the branching from the ribbon, which I know must be here and must lead to the entrance from Yggdrasil to seid-space."