Sinric re-entered the tree, not as a submissive passenger this time but as a wanderer, guiding his own journey.
He didn’t return to the cave under the earth, or to the witches waiting for him. They could wait. They had no right to claim over his time.
And now he knew the way of it, he has other places he wanted to see.
As one weaving the chords of a song, he wove the path ahead, his fingers brushing over the surface of the tapestry of creation.
Eyes closed but heart and mind open, he felt the thread he seeks sing under his fingertips.
In the gardens of the palace, Emperor Saga is bent over his writing desk, official documents piled high. An army may march on its stomach but and Empire stays afloat on a raft of paperwork. Sinric sees the frown on Kamino’s face, the tension around his eyes. He reaches up to play his fingers through the cherry blossoms, causing them to swirl in the afternoon breeze. Kamino looks up from his writing desk, smiling as the petals fall over his pages. Official documents set aside; he picks up a brush and begins to compose a poem.
On the still warm tiles of the roof, Yan’s three sons and his one beloved baby daughter listen intently to their father’s tale. The tales of the Lark and the Heron are always their favourite. Tonight he tells of the rescue on the Sand Sea. His youngest cries at how pitifully ill the Lark was, but his elder brother reassures him. “It’s alright, little brother. I know the Lark lives, I remember him from when I was a baby.” Yan tries not to let his children see the lump in his throat. One day they will ask him what became of the Lark and he will have to tell them. He will have to tell them how the Lark sacrificed his freedom for the Heron’s life. He wonders if his children will ever forgive him for abandoning Sinric.
Sinric calls softly to a nearby lark, asking it to sing for Yan and his children. As the bird perches on the branches of the elm, it’s sweet song washing over the little group. Yan weeps, hoping this is the forgiveness he has prayed so long for.
Constantine sheds his armour, his new first captain setting each piece aside to be cleaned. “What news while I’ve been away?” The emperor asks as Castor eyes a burr on his blade.
The emperor’s secretary shuffles through his papers. “The provisions for winter festivities are settled and have been laid in as per your instructions. The hospital wing of the barracks has been stocked in preparation for the army’s return. Also, the Master of Slaves has some new acquisitions for your approval.”
Constantine nods and holds out his hand for the list as Castor helps him into a robe. He glances over it, noting the number of kitchen boys and stable hands that have been added. “This one seems rather expensive. A solidus for a boy of less than five?”
“The Master of Slaves does note that the boy is of exceptional beauty.” The secretary points out apologetically. “He ordered the boy be gelded immediately, in hopes he would be ready for your return.”
Constantine raises an eyebrow, “And is he?”
The secretary flutters, a little flustered. “No, my lord. He is not. The boy has taken with fever.”
“I shall see him at once, this golden boy.” Constantine nods, signalling for Castor to follow. “Cyril has a good eye. If he says the boy is worth the cost, I don’t doubt it.”
Sinric watches in silence, a shadow in the corner of the room as the broad shouldered, dark haired man leant over the feverish child, kissing his brow and whispering to him. It was like watching his own birth, for he had no life before that moment. Before Constantine took his hand and told him to fight for life. That if he lived, he would be loved.
He watches for some hours it seems, not moving from the beauty of the tableau. But like the west wind, he feels the tapestry calling and he’s forced to look away, stepping back into the flow of time.
A young man stands on the rocky beach, his auburn curls whipped by the storm winds. He squints out into the roiling sea, lighting making terrifying shapes of the heavy clouds that roll over the Holy Island. There be dragons, and all number of other terrible beasts.
“It is the end of days.” The youth whispers, crossing himself.
Sinric steps in front of him, unseen but for a moment creating a lee to protect the youth from the storm. “No, beloved,” he whispers, reaching out to caress Athelstan’s cheek, “It is the beginning.”
The youth shudders and crosses himself again. But something inside him feels warm, despite the storm.
On a field to the east, a warrior sits down heavily, blood and sweat and dirt smearing his face. The battle is over and the ravens come, choosing amongst the slain. These poor bastards have even less than the Vikings in way of gold and goods. No more than farmers fighting to defend what little they have. Blood drips down over his eyes and he moves to wipe it away. For a moment he sees not ravens but the Valkyrie, carrying the dead to the halls of Valhalla.
He sees another. Blonde like the Valkyrie but small, delicate. No shield-maiden in that clean and flowing tunic. The sun is bright and he squints to see the figure better as it raises a hand, pointing west.
Rollo flops down beside him and Ragnar’s vision fades. He smiles to his brother. They fought well and there is much to celebrate. But late that night, a horn in hand, Ragnar looks to the western horizon. Perhaps it is time. Time to talk to Floki around a boat.
Another part of the palace, another time. Blood pools on the mosaics as Caster is driven to his knees, his sword clattering against the tiles. He holds out a hand, trying to pull Probus to him but the strength is already leaving him.
Their hands meet on the handle of Caster’s sword, the ceremonial blade given to him by Constantine when he was made first captain. His eyes lock with Probus’, seeing his own fear reflected in them. Leo’s gloating words, his obscene threats were nothing but the roaring of the wind to them as Caster gives the last of his strength to push the blade towards Probus. “Do it. Save yourself.”
Probus knows what Caster means, knows what he must do. But still in his heart he fears. Hell on earth or hell in hell.
Sinric steps forward, reaching to steady his brother’s bruised and bloody grip. Probus sees him, not as he is but as he was – a golden youth unmarked and unmarred by the trials of time.
Sinric touches his cheek, sad but warm. “Constantine is waiting for us. Do not be afraid.”
Probus nods, drawing up the sword without hesitation. Constantine is waiting. Father, Lover, Emperor.
Ignoring Leo’s bellows or the soldiers rushing towards him, Probus presses the point of the blade to his breast and plunges it deep.
Sinric takes his hand and helps him to his feet, reaching for Caster with the other as the world fades away. He brings their hands together in his own, grateful just to hold them again. But time is short and he has no place with them. Not yet. “Go. I will join you in time.”
Probus kisses him, a single salt tear falling on his cheek. “We will wait for you. However long it takes.”
As they fade, Sinric touches the tear and brings it to his lips, tasting nothing but love.
A wanderer makes his way through the twilight streets of Ribe. The trade port is prosperous but small. A seed of things to come. The wanderer follows the jovial sound of drinking, attracted by the human warmth of it.
He looks up as he rests his hand on the tavern door, sensing someone watching him. He sees the figure, glowing gold in the gloom. And he smiles. “The circle closes.” He whispers, knowing his voice will carry. Because he remembers this. And will remember it again.
“Love him well.” His younger self answers, in words felt rather than heard. “As he has loved us.”
The elderly wanderer shakes his hair. “What else could I do but love him. We always have.”
The Völva crouched around the fire, the smoke smudging everything dark as they sought for some message from the gods, some answer, any answer. The boy, the seiðmaðr they had been promised was dead. He hung limp on the tree, his chest did not rise or fall. He had been their hope, their path. He would take them back to glory. And now his heart beat no more.
“We must take him down.” The seer announced, trying to speak with a strength she did not feel. “His body, it will show us the path.”
But his body was gone. Limp he had hung, his fingers and toes black with cold. But no more. The rope that held him flapped in the wind like the torn cloth or shredded skin.
At the base of the tree stood a figure, so bright and gold it was painful to behold. Baldr surely. For who else could shine so bright.
The figure lowered its hood. Sinric smiled. It was not a kind smile.
He was not as his limp body had been - blue and dead, but vital and warm. No longer naked but dressed in splendid furs and fine wool. No longer pale and thin but full cheeked and strong.
They fawned, and simpered, and came towards him. The gold under his skin grew bright and hot and they cowered.
He walked into to the cave, seeking the worldly things he had set aside when first he came. When first they fed him mushrooms and the promise of power. He cleaned the dirt from his pouch and set to back on his hip, the silver bells he laced about his wrist. “I leave you now. You will let me pass in peace.”
The seer stepped before him. “No. You will not pass. You have gone unto the tree and come back changed. You have gained great power. That power is ours. You owe it to us.”
“I owe you my thank, for setting me on the path. But no more than that. My gift to you is that I leave, and do no harm here.”
“You have to take us back!” One of them grabbed at him, reeling back as screaming as if burned.
“The gods! The gods foretold-” Another started,
But Sinric cut her off with a look. “You believed that but it was never so. You killed a child before it could breathe. A child the gods had blessed. The gods grant you no favour. They revile you.”
One swung a staff at him but Sinric merely lifted his hand. The staff broke and fell to the ground.
He gathered his things, burning the clothes he had arrived in; too soiled and torn to be of any use to anyone. “Nine days Odin hung on the tree, a spear wound in his side. Twice nine charms he learned. I hung but four days. But twice four charms I learned. Twice four and one. The last was the charm to dispel witches, to spin them around in the skies so that they will never find their way back to their own doors again. This charm was given to me, should you try to stop me from leaving.”
He folded the last of his things, slipping them into a pouch too small to hold so much. “The gods will have none of you. You are cast down. Try to return, or cry vengeance on those who you believe wronged you, and the ninth charm I will use. And you will know peace never more.”
He straightened and lifted his head, looking at each of them in turn. None would meet his eye, cowed and sullen.
And so Sinric left them, stepping out into the moonlit night. There were lights in the distance, some farm house or other. The wind tugged his hair. Yes, that was the right way.
And so he went.