Monday, September 29, 2008

One year ago today

In a quiet, little Tuscan village, my Pan promised me a thing or two. Thank you, love.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The last flight of St. Caderine the Healer

The cathedral bells started chiming that very evening.

The people of Laysham, who had barely got their tongues unstuck after the New Wife had stepped through the castle gate with a flummoxed knight of the oak in her wake, could not stop wagging them now.

It was five and twenty years in the past, and I still echoed their questions, peppering Gemma as she was sitting by the fire. Was the king mad? Was he spellbound? Had he bought his beauty from a livereater witch, who now had come to collect?

- Never mind the witchcraft, Gemma used to huff, being of a practical disposition. – And never mind the sorrowleave. How did that ditherdolt expect us to put on a royal wedding overnight?

But she had loved her ‘ditherdolt’, as did the rest of the townspeople, and they would not dream of refusing the requests of king Corian’s blood. So they got busy, steeping tenderberries, sweeping floors, shining silver and topping off lantern oil.

There were no flowers to be gathered, so they put ribbons on redbranches and put those on the cathedral steps instead. There was no sweetdrip to be baked into the wedding cake, so they laced the batter with honey. There were no knights of the willow, nor of the dwarrow birch, nor of the rowan to invite, and so they scrubbed their faces and cut their hair and hung their best clothes out to air in the numbing spring winds.

When the bells began their last, frantic call, the Layshamer were as ready as they could be. They milled up the steep hill to the cathedral, which loomed above the gorge as ever, turning the dull, grey morning light into the gleam of St. Caderine the Healer.

I was a child when Gemma told me these stories, a mere apple picker with no other worries than stingworms and sap rot. And to my taste, this was where the tale got interesting. I flung out another flurry of questions. Where was Gemma standing? What was she doing? Did she hear it crack? Did she try to warn them?

To my frustration, she changed the story with each telling, I suspect to punish me for my impatience. Sometimes she stood in the back, close enough to smell the salt on the New Wife’s dress when she glided past. Sometimes she was in the rows with my mother in her lap, craning her neck to see if the King was shaking with witchery, or if the New Wife would reveal her inky teeth, or if little princess Edela wore her golden curls loose.

Sometimes, and this was my favourite, she was in the front row of the altar gallery, leaning forward, gripping the banister, silently begging of the inverted stone eyes that for a slip of a moment stared into hers, to grant her wish: stop, stay, please break away!

If she was there, she would have given a groan, as did everyone in the galleries. For they could see what the wedding party could not: the flight of St. Caderine the Healer.

I know you have never seen the eyes of St. Caderine, nor have I, of course. But Gemma says that they had watched silently for a thousand years and more. From her lofty step under the pointed cathedral ceiling, under the milky glow of the ice window, our saint had watched the Narrow people wash her steps and leave her thorns and sick babes. She had seen them leave. She had watched king Corian limp through her arched doors, hurt and hungry, and with her unflinching eyes, she had healed him. She had seen him stay.

All this she had witnessed patiently with her marble fingers locked around her praying staff. She was a mother to whom one could turn for solace. She was a healer to beg for miracles. It was unthinkable that she would do anything but gaze down upon the wedding of the king and his New Wife.

And yet she did. As the monks began their wedding song, her cold figure somehow left its perch and dove gracefully down past the bright white walls and silver carvings, like an ash otter slipping into a clear forest pond.

Gemma's wish was not granted. She always said she could not watch. But because she did not think to cover her ears, she heard St. Caderine strike.

It was a blow that struck thrice.

It struck the New Wife, who never had the chance to touch her dark lips to her groom’s mouth. Instead, she had her kiss from a saint, who took her life in the embrace, spilling every drop of blood the northerner kept inside her stained skin.

It struck the king, who had to be carried into his chambers, and lay there whimpering for three nights before he gave his last breath to sadness.

And it struck princess Edela, who was found amid the chaos and rubble, pinned down by the only whole piece of St. Caderine’s statue, her praying staff. The young girl’s hips were crushed and her womb marred beyond the help of any healer, save one. But that Healer was no more.

Gemma always thought it was the price our saint exacted for letting a livereater into her home, and we still pay it. We pay every time the herring barons come strutting up the fjord roads to flaunt their piety and smelly money. We pay every day the queen stays shut up in her chambers, stitching the face of her beloved saint onto tapestries and pillows, hoping for a miracle, while her greedy suitors roam the castle.

- Yes, my dear, Gemma finished, and here she never strayed. - We pay dearly and with salt to spare. For as sure as if by marriage, the last of Corian’s blood belongs to St. Caderine the Crusher.

(This Sunday Scribbling is another scene from one of my stories. It takes place after The Invitation.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dragon (benevolent) and dogs (weird)

Lin and I were walking home from Sankthanshaugen when we met these two dogs. They were hanging out in the front garden of one of the pretty, little houses on the dragon hill.

One of the dogs was very friendly and tried to climb the fence to get his ear scratched. Then he tossed his head back in a very peculiar fashion and silently howled at the sky. The other dog kept in the background with a stuffed mini skunk in his mouth.

Honeys, I think the dragon has been filling your heads with stuff, which is fine. Just don't believe absolutely everything he says.

Three more good things: Lin got a new job, Eiv is from now on guitarist in one of his favourite bands, and I (though this is a little less impressive in the grand scheme of things) finished chapter 12.

With a little snick the walls shifted from parchment to mirror, and that was all I needed. Snickety snick snick, done.

(And that's my dragon spire up there. Thanks).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Confessions of a total idiot

Yesterday, the universe kept bombarding me with hints. I can hear myself in retrospect, blabbering on.

- The Lord of the Rings films? Well, they certainly look good, particularly the Hobbiton scenes with the birthday party, and...

- Oh, look this chicken must be used by the 22. of September. That's today!

- Ha! It's (acquaintance)'s birthday today. Facebook really is handy. I'll leave a message on her wall.

- Sure I have Kjeld's number if you need to call him. It's...

And so on. I went to bed earlyish, but I couldn't sleep. And I absolutely didn't get why, there had been no scary movies, no caffeine binging, no frantic late night writing. Then I woke up this morning and found a mock-wounded message on my mobile.

Kjeld, I'm so sorry! What can I say but happy birthday yesterday, my very best non-sibling, non-husband friend. You are a wonderful guy of the Napoleon quoting, moonwalking, paternity leave taking, chivalrous, fairy tale sort, and I'm a total idiot.

I do love you, though.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The invitation

The queen had only been dead three nights when the New Wife came riding up the hill, or so my Gemma always told me. And she would know, she was there in Laysham that terrible spring.

The New Wife wore a white dress with shells on the bodice and a long veil that trailed behind her and the rump of her gaunt horse like a sail torn from the masthead. She was dressed like late snow that smothers newly planted fields. She was dressed like a bride.

The people of Laysham gathered in the muddy streets to watch her ride by, muttering and whispering of curses and the blackening of livers. Most were too afraid to speak up, because of the New Wife’s kind, not one had been seen for a hundred years.

But one man, a red-faced guardsman who had spent his sorrowleave in the gloom of the mead house, took a few steps forward, putting his meaty frame between the rider and her goal.
- What business have you with a town in mourning, he cried, drawing gasps from his fellow townspeople.

But the New Wife never spared him a glance. She let her horse push the challenger aside and continued her climb without a word. After this, the people did not try to hail her again, but they followed her like rats summoned by a flute.

It was true that Laysham was in mourning. The flagpoles carried black streamers and the fires had been put out all over town so that the dead queen’s spirit would not be hampered by the smoke when it left for the Woods. But this was no reason not to welcome a stranger.

You see, this stranger was dark of hair and dark of fingers and dark of lips and mouth, and having listened to their own Gemmas, the Layshamers knew what this meant. She was a livereater from beyond the Northwater. She was the enemy.

The town fell away beneath her, with its small orchards and pigsties and tarred houses, and she wound her way through the shadow of the cathedral, which jutted up from the mountainside like the fang of a whitecat. Only when she reached the castle gate did she halt. Her horse bowed its head, but she continued to stare straight ahead.

The men at the gate called up to her, but she did not look at them and she did not speak. Not until the gate creaked and swung open and a knight of the oak came prancing out on his fine, large destrier.
- Lady, you cannot enter here, he boomed, so that all the townspeople could hear him. - The king is grief-stricken and will not give audience.

The New Wife drew her eyes in and fixed them on the knight. It was as if she pierced his armour with hot coals, Gemma always claimed, though I’m not sure how she could know, for she stayed in the back with my mother in her arms.

But all of Laysham know the New Wife’s answer, because is it was caught by those who could hear it and spread through the crowd like a fire that to this day has not died down.
- I have waited to enter. I will enter. I have an invitation.

(This is my first Sunday Scribblings entry. Lots of fun!)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't forget to look up!

Look at these pretty things!

They're little cards with Lin's photos on them. These are just a few of them, with Camilla's beautiful daughter Ada, and Pims, and me at Dromedar, and my brother all Munchesque. So cool!

The cards are nice on the other side, as well. 'Don't forget to look up', they say. And it's true. You mustn't spend your life staring down at the asphalt. Up is where the birds are, and canopies, and sky, and spires.

- But what do you do with them, my Pan asked.

Stupid question! I don't have to do anything with them. But if I were a business woman, I would hand them out at meetings, confidently and with a smile.

- Here's my card. Just follow the instructions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Clarity of the elven kind

This is me, sitting next to a mountain lake. I have just had hot, spicy tea from a thermos. The air is cool, but not cold, and the sun has come out to warm my back.

I look happy, you say? I am. My view is an old hunting lodge called 'Alfheim', or 'Elven Home', and my brothers and sister making rocks skip on the lake.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Let me tell you about the path my grandmother walked to school when she was a little girl.

Every day she left the farm where she grew up, which perches on the edge of a stupendously steep ravine, crossed the green fields of the previous post and slipped under the cover of trees to descend to Åmotan.

Åmotan means 'Rivermeet', and four icy mountain rivers come together there, the last one in the form of a thundering waterfall dancing into the blue waters of the others.

The only reason it is possible to go down the hill is that sinewy roots of very brave trees reach across the path to form little steps, which you can climb down one by one, sometimes using a rope fastened to the grey, cool rock.

My grandmother and her brothers did this every day, following the roaring voice of the waterfall until they reached the riverbed, which is so moist and smells so green, it seems like wild strawberries and bluebells could burst into existence midair. Then they crossed two rickety suspension bridges and climbed up the equally steep mountainside on other side of the valley, to the school on top of the hill. This before nine o'clock, you see.

- But it must have been so dangerous, I said to her. There would have been snow most of the year, and ice.
- Oh yes, I broke my leg one time, she said. - No more school that year.

And that's the school on the other side, outlined against the sky.
Most pictures by Lin.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Clean, sharp, golden

Back in Oslo, after a wonderful time. Wishes granted, with red cheeks in lieu of freckled. There was also: a crazy walk to school, some very tender venison, an elven hunting lodge, quite a few juicy plums, and a fierce baby adder.

But more later, must write now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Going home

This weekend will be spent in Sunndalen, in the mountains, in the valley, under the waterfalls. Which isn't really home at all, I've never lived there. But where childhood summers are spent, you own a key to the door, if only a mind key.

I'm hoping for snowcapped peaks, icy waters, a freckled nose, earfuls of Summerchild wisdom, new ideas, or faith in old ones. And an exact reminder of what my Grandmother's old clock sounds like.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eivind fun facts

It's my brother's birthday today! This is Line and Eivind in Trondheim, on the cobbled streets of Bakklandet, outside my most favourite little café in the entire world. Wish we could go there today and have carrot cake and lattes with cardamom, but my brownies will have to do.

Cool facts about Eivind:

* He is never quiet. He hums, or sings, or plays the guitar, or imdroidonates R2-D2 or speaks cat with the cat or tells jokes. But he is never silent.

* He is seriously funny. He takes my jokes and tells them again, and suddenly, they're hilarious. But mostly he invents the jokes himself. I think his brain is pickled in funny goo.

* He knows how to riverdance. But only when he has had quite a few beers.

* He can instantly add voices to any tune, and instantly play whatever he wants on the guitar, and instantly knew how the Ballad of the Viscount goes.

* He shovels food into his mouth exactly like Dad used to, and once ate an entire cake at a buffet luncheon on a riverboat in Egypt. Yes, every single piece, before anybody else got round to dessert.

* He once fit 18 'saltstenger', which are 10 cm long, thin pretzels, into his mouth at the same time. I managed four.

* He can impersonate Darth Vader like no other person alive. You know it to be true.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Treasures! And stealing! Hurrah!

I've been feeling like a bucket of slop these last few days, and Lin brought me treasures to cheer me up.

And what glorious treasures!

Two apples of the sharp, juicy, sweet kind you only get in September, a white dragon egg with glimmering cut-outs, and really strong, spicy tea.

And speaking of apples: one of the Inners is the land of stealing apples. I was dumbfounded when I discovered that there is no word that expresses this precisely in English. In Norwegian, 'slang' entails sneaking into someone's orchard or garden, usually in the dark, and stealing fruit or vegetables, which are to be gobbled up, unwashed, unpaid for, unbeliveably tasty, in the nearest safe alley or ditch. It's not considered exceedingly naughty (except maybe by the owner of a single apple tree), it's just something kids do come autumn.

(I do realise that you might get shot if you trespass in the USA, so maybe it's not so strange after all. I'm so glad we don't have all those guns lying about).

Anyway, Apfeld is an Inner, a wide, beautiful valley full of orchards and dewy fields, where all the inhabitants steal apples and cabbage and carrots and plums for a living. They make the most wonderful pies and stews and ciders, and enjoy their loot in front of roaring fireplaces while wispy fog gathers in the night. Only problem is, they have to avoid The Farmer, a faceless, dark man with a deadly shotgun and the ability to move silently and very fast.

I think maybe this would be the Inner I would choose to live in. All the days golden and crisp, all the nights tingly with cold and excitement.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Happy birthday, Pims!

My little sweetheart is one years old today. We have tried to celebrate in style, but she doesn't like canned tuna, even the fancy sort. Well. Three heartshaped, weird smelling cat treats it is, then.

This picture was taken the very first time we met. She waited in the background until her brothers had crawled all over my Pan and me, and then she tiptoed across the floor, climbed into my lap and kissed me on the nose.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Spelunking and secrets

Several secrets are hidden in the cave Lin desperately tries to escape from.

There is a chain, which leads to a collar, which is filled with a mirror, which leads to somewhere dark and named for the moon.

There is a feather, which smells of frost, and glows when you touch it, which is stuck in a handle, which leads to a crack in the dark.

There is a girl, who bleeds from her fingers, who is reflected in the snow, which is melting while she is not looking.

And the clock just ticked three times in a row. Better hurry, little one.

(Writing music: Hannibal, Hans Zimmer. Oh, and did you know the word spelunking? It's my favourite useless word to use.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Three nice and three wonderful things

This morning I felt uneasy, upset even, for no particular reason, just that I'm not sure the world can be trusted to do the decent thing these days.

I sat down at my computer, but after a brief glimpse of storms and slander, I felt too grey to even look at my writing. How could there be escapes and magical observatories when even noon feels murky?

So I decided to find three wonderful things to set things right.

1. Autumn is coming. Just now, I had to light candles in my kitchen because I was a little cold, and I had hot oatmeal for breakfast.

2. Pims purrs like a friendly geiger counter, and I am very radioactive.

3. My Pan loves his new job, which is part of a project to capture carbon emissions, and I have hopes that he will save the world.


All good stuff, of course, but I need something wonderful today.

1. The weather vane on the building next to ours is gone! I'm pretty sure he went on a journey, to see Russian domes and cathedral spires and to perch with seagulls on the masts of very old ships, and that he will be back to show slides to the winds.

2. There are windows in the cupola underneath the missing weather vane, four round ones and one square. Someone lives there! I think it must be a missing royal sibling, a pale faced younger sister, who, having been born with three wooden fingers, chose to live in seclusion and play the steel guitar and write left handed poetry.

3. The ducks on the river were quacking ferociously just a moment ago, and though you might think it was because some kind lady with a shopping bag full of leftover naan came by, it was actually because the dragon from the hill streaked by underneath them. Having escaped because of all the (pointless, it seems to me) digging in the dragon hill, it rushes up the river like a silver spike, off to jump the waterfalls and whisper secrets below the bridges.

If you find yourself on one of those bridges today and hear anything, especially anything pertaining to a treasure, let me know.

Hee hee hee

This is taken from a test given to Norwegian eighth-graders. Click on the picture to see the text.

Cold things, indeed.