The runes sat in their leather pouch in the centre of a round, heavy table, waiting to be taken. The room was still cold from Amma’s last reading, despite the burning fireplace. The attic was immense, larger than the tea house’s main floor. Remnants of Asgard’s walls and ash salvaged from the fallen World Tree allowed it to be so. The disorientation the room created opened their supplicants to the readings, and their dooms. Bookshelves lined the walls, filled with an odd mixture of musty-smelling leather tomes and modern coil-bound notebooks. Every vision the Norns had ever had, every secret they’d ever uncovered, waited there to be exploited. Events Tilda wished to be true, and dreaded arriving. She’d studied the future visions the other Norns had left behind too.
A flash of the future: wolves of flame, a grudge still burning hot after centuries, runes swirling around them joining past to future.
No, the future was what she wanted to avoid.
Tilda pulled open the thick curtains letting moonlight break through the darkness. The cold drifted away, and the fire warmed the room. The vertigo effect faded as the room ceased to be connected to Ginnungagap, the space between worlds.
Her hands hovered over the runes, fingers twitching with anticipation. She’d never get away with taking them. She’d never get away, period, if she tried. Which didn’t stop Tilda from considering the stones, jumbled together in their leather pouch, destiny waiting to be spilled out, an answer to any question, waiting only to be asked.
She whispered, “Where should I go?”
Urd’s voice, rough and sharp, steel on stone, rasped from behind her. “So. You still wish to go.”
Before she could answer, her grandmother said, “Of course you do.”
“You can’t keep me here,” Tilda said. “I’ll die.”
Urd’s eyebrows perked. “You have seen this?”
“Yes,” Tilda said, too quickly.
“Lies,” Urd hissed, “do not suit you. Truth is a far superior means to deceive. There are many futures. What we see is influenced by who we are, but the threads remain true, even if our interpretation of them proves less so. Be careful of what you wish to become true, or what you fear will be; those emotions will only make the truth worse.
“Don’t try to stop me,” Tilda said, not knowing what she’d do if Urd intended to keep her home. Not quite believing Amma was ever going to be ready to “retire,” when—if—Tilda did have a child to gift her visions to.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Tilda blinked. “Why not?”
“You desire to go. You will not be happy here. You will not accept your doom when this—” she gestured broadly around the rune reading chamber “—is all you have known. You are restless. Reckless. You are young. I could not allow your mother this luxury, but you have
time. Come home to us.”
“Thanks, Amma.” Urd clasped Tilda’s hands in a tight, cold grip. “You must return.”
“I will.” After a moment, Tilda asked, “Didn’t you ever want more than this?”
“Of course I did,” Urd snapped, each word a whipcrack of rebuke. “But my decision was made for me. I was the last of my line, and our work wasn’t done. I did not have the choices offered to you, or your mother, slim as they may seem to you. And so I did what I must.”
Tilda bit back a retort. Until this moment, she’d never been privy to any choices not pre-approved by the eldest of the Norns.
There used to be many norns, before Ragnarök, at least. Any witch, elf, or giant with a touch of the Sight called themselves a norn in those days. Tilda had never met anyone else who’d claimed the title, but Amma always said there were only three Norns who mattered. Only three to speak the truth of what was, will be, and what is. Since Amma had come over from the old country they’d revealed the basic thread of fate to their supplicants, whether they’d have a good, bad, or exceptional life. One lot drawn for every man, woman, and child on the planet, and no escaping it. Fate was fate, and the Norns were the last who could make it. Tilda knew her eventual fate, but knew if she tried, she could make a new one, for a while.
Another smile that could bend steel. “Then you must do as needs be done.” Tilda imagined her reciting her mantra, and the mantle of Skuld is all about need, the fire that burns in the darkness, the light that shows us the way. Urd’s eyes glanced at the table, and the runes. “Those remain here.”
Tilda looked away from the runes and sighed. “Yes, Amma.”
“Have you spoken to Verdandi?”
Urd almost never used their mortal names. “No, Amma.”
“You would have me speak to her?”
“If you wish it, Amma,” Tilda said. “After I am gone.”
Urd’s mouth twitched, not a smile, but a hint of humour, at Tilda testing her boundaries again.
“How will you protect yourself?” Urd asked.
“I’ll wrap myself in my mortal name,” Tilda said. “Mathilda Eilífsdóttir in truth, not Skuld the Norn.”
“You will not have your visions, then. Nor any gifts of our blood.”
“I know.” Tilda smiled. “I’m stronger than you think.”
Read more of “Far Gone and Out” in When the Sky Comes Looking for You: Short Trips Down the Thunder Road.