I will not allow it.
I will not be given to the first man who asks for my hand, bartered like a horse or a sheep. I will determine my fate, as my father promised me long ago.
My father’s brother Hrut says none may determine their fate, not even Odin One-Eye and his kin. Hrut is a fool. He says I have the eyes of a thief, and that men will suffer for me. He says it is the future he sees.
Let Hrut see what he will. I’ll show him what a thief’s eyes and thief’s heart can truly do. I draw my scarlet cloak close. None can see me, in this cave beyond the Law Rock. None can hear me over the water that roars beyond it.
I take a skin filled with a fox’s blood and pour it into a wooden bowl–driftwood, come over waters I’ve never sailed. I longed once to seek riches across the sea, and my father promised me that as well. Then he told me his promises were a child’s game, nothing more. He told me I was no longer a child, and that my marriage to Thorvald Osvif’s son was arranged.
No matter. I have another uncle, Svan, a sorcerer who lives by Bear’s Fjord to the north. Svan is my mother’s brother, not my father’s. When I asked him to teach me sorcery, he did not deem his promise a game.
I take a black raven’s claw and pierce my thumb. Above the roar of the waterfall, a raven cries out, as if angered by the loss of its kin. What do ravens know of anger? I squeeze my thumb, using my own blood to draw a circle upon a dull black stone. A fire stone, cool in my hand, yet with heat enough to burn at its core. I cross the circle with three intersecting lines, then draw smaller lines and circles at their ends, combining the runes Svan taught me, one for possession, the other for time. The stone grows warm. I drop it into the fox’s blood. I toss a smooth silver coin—no mark upon it—into the blood as well, and then I chant, shouting to hear myself over the water:
Powers beyond the earth, hear me!
Powers beneath the earth, aid me!
Find her, turn her,
Show me her place!
The blood begins to boil. I take a yellow ring, woven from strands of my own hair—a gift I gave my father long ago, meant to seal his promises. Those promises are broken. The ring is mine to give again where I will. I slip it over my finger and thrust my hand into the bowl.
The boiling blood burns, but I do not fear pain. My fingers close around the coin.
Flames leap up from the blood—the flames of another world, one of fiery giants and melting stone. The flames take on shapes as they roar all around me—a grasping hand, a gaping mouth. My skin blisters and melts away. Fire burns through my bare finger bones as the figures reach for my hands, my hair.
Then the flames fall away, and the cave walls with them. Through air that shimmers with heat I see a broad path beneath an open sky.
On that path, I see the years of my life laid out before me. I see beyond those years, to times when our warriors cast aside their swords and our weavers their looms, when our stories are turned to runes bound in leather, nothing more. Difficult times—but what time is not difficult? Better a difficult life than one controlled by others. So said my forebears when they parted ways with the Norwegian king and sailed for this land. So say I, as I look down the path.
I see my daughter, by Thorvald or another man, I cannot tell. She looks right at me—in this vision she is older than me—and nods sharply. She is angry, and not only at my spell. Crafted of my anger as the spell is, it is drawn to the anger in all my descendants’ lives—to the moments of weakness when they might consent to my bargain.
The air whispers of my daughter’s anger—a slain son, caught unaware while sowing grain—but then she turns fiercely away. She is more interested in avenging this wrong than escaping it. I’m glad my spell won’t land on her. I will go farther—beyond my life, and my daughter’s life, and every last tie between my father and me.
I see my daughter’s daughters, and their daughters in turn, the path they stand upon branching as it stretches through time. The air around each woman whispers of a different grief: a cruel husband, a slain lover, a hungry winter, a deadly fall of ash upon the fields. For thirty generations, every one of them meets my eyes—and turns away. My blood grows thin, but my daughters remain strong, too strong to flee these moments of pain.
The branches that do not bear daughters are lost to me, one by one, until only two branches of my descendants remain. On one, a woman with long red hair trembles beneath my gaze. I hear whispers of abandonment, a man fled across the sea—it is often about a man. Yet she also turns away. She has no daughters, and so her branch, too, is lost.
The other branch slips out of my reach, its daughters growing ghostly and faint as they journey across a different sea—until one of them returns to this land, a woman with fair yellow hair like my own. She meets my gaze and doesn’t turn away. I see the confusion upon on her face: her line has forgotten much of magic. Tears streak her cheeks and make her gray eyes bright. The air around her whispers of betrayal, of a man lying in another woman’s arms.
There is freedom in having a man leave you—but perhaps she does not know this. Perhaps she seeks escape, after all.
I can give her that—and in so doing, seize the freedom for myself.
“A gift!” I call. The woman’s eyes grow large as I draw the coin from the burning blood. There are symbols etched upon the silver now, the same signs I drew upon the stone. I throw the coin to her, through thirty generations of time. The woman hesitates, then reaches out a shaking hand and catches it.
The path trembles beneath us. A moment more and this woman and I will trade places. I will see through her eyes; she will see through mine. She will marry Thorvald Osvif’s son, and I will be free.
The woman looks away, as if startled—by my spell or by something else, I cannot tell. She blinks hard, drops the coin, and runs.
Foolish woman! You must never run from magic, least of all magic born of fire. Thirty generations is not time enough to forget that.
The fire returns, roaring around us both. The ground lurches. Flames leap at the woman. They burn through cloth and skin to ignite the bones beneath. She has no time to scream—in moments the fire consumes her.
My sight clears. I kneel once more in this small cave, my hand yet immersed in boiling blood. I draw it free and overturn the bowl. Blood stains the dark rocks. My hand is whole and unburned, save for a band of red where the ring, woven of my own hair, used to be. The coin is gone, sent through thirty generations of time only to be dropped and lost in a single instant.
I touch the band of red and find it warm. I close my eyes. Flames roar up once more behind my lids. “Free!” an inhuman voice cries, somewhere deep inside me. A fiery hand strokes my face. “We will be free.”
I know then that the spell is not through. The fire will consume me as well, and the powers that wield it be released into the world. Yet through the flames, I see something more. One last daughter, with yellow hair and strange dark eyes. The fire’s roar is loud; I cannot hear her whispered anger. She reaches for the coin where it fell into the dirt. The earth trembles once more as her fingers close around the silver.
The flames subside. The land grows still. I feel the power of the fire realm burning in me yet, but it is contained now within my hair—the same hair in my ring, the hair I gifted to the realm of fire—and also in the coin this new daughter now holds. My spell has been mended. My life has been spared.
Does this woman—no, this girl, for she is younger than me—seek escape as well? I reach for her. She leans toward me, and I know the spell remains alive between us. Yet it is weaker now. The girl was not its target. I cannot simply take her place.
Not yet. Instead, I look at this daughter of my daughters and ask, “What is your name?”
Icy rain blew into my hood and dripped down my neck as I knelt on the mossy stones. The sky was gray, layers of cloud hiding any hint of sun. The wind picked up, and I shivered, missing the hot desert skies of home. It was way too cold for a June day.
Not that Dad noticed. He grinned as he traced a crack running through the rocks. “Amazing, isn’t it? You can almost feel the earth pulling apart.”
“Yeah. Sure.” I looked down into the small fissure and saw nothing but endless dark. I shifted my soggy backpack on my shoulders and rubbed my eyes, gritty from a night spent flying across the Atlantic. I’d never been much good at sleeping on planes. Yeah, Dad, I followed you four thousand miles to Iceland so we could stare at holes in the ground.
I got up, stretching stiff legs. Beyond a metal fence, the cliff where we stood dropped down to a grassy plain. A gray river braided its way through bright green grasses, and a few wet geese hunkered down by its shores. The geese looked cold, too. Probably they were thinking the same thing I was: the sooner they could get somewhere warm, the better.
“So this is where it happened?” I tried to sound casual, like I didn’t much care.
Dad looked up. His dark eyes were shot with red—he wasn’t good at sleeping on planes, either—and his hair stuck out from beneath his windbreaker, dripping water. “You mean the rifting? It’s happening throughout this valley. The North American and European tectonic plates meet here, and they’re forever pulling away from each other. Only the pulling doesn’t all happen in any one place, so—”
“That’s not what I mean.” I fought not to let my frustration show. You know that’s not what I mean.
Dad sighed. “No, Haley, this isn’t where it happened.” His sleep-deprived eyes took on the lost look I’d come to know way too well this past year. The look that made me decide Dad didn’t need to know if I’d blown another test at school, or fallen asleep in class because nightmares had woken me in the middle of the night again, or was tired of peanut butter and jelly for dinner but just as tired of cooking if I wanted anything else.
I’d come four thousand miles. This was more important than a few bad dreams or missed meals. “Where, then?”
A couple brushed past us, clutching the hands of the toddler who walked between them. Dad looked at the cracked earth. “Logberg. Law Rock.”
“Where’s that?” Rain soaked through my running shoes, turning my socks clammy and cold. Back home, we canceled track meets for weather like this—but I was the one who’d asked Dad to bring me here. He’d wanted to stay at the guesthouse and catch up on his jet-lagged sleep.
Dad sighed again. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
Let this go? I dug my nails into my cold, damp palms. No need for Dad to hear me screaming, either. When your mother disappears without a trace, you don’t just let it go. “I want to see. Is that so much to ask?” I kept my voice calm, reasonable—the same voice I’d used to convince Dad to take me to Thingvellir today, because I really wanted to visit the national park that was the site of Iceland’s ancient parliament and in the middle of a rift valley and, oh, yeah, just happened to be the place where my mother disappeared last summer.
“Fine, Haley.” Dad got to his feet, and I knew for once I’d won. I followed him away from the lookout, my running shoes squishing on the wet gravel path. Dripping tendrils escaped my blond ponytail and clung damply to my cheeks. I slowed to match Dad’s pace. I’d grown taller than him this past year, which still seemed strange.
The path cut down through a cleft between blocky stone walls that formed a perfect wind tunnel. Goose bumps prickled beneath my damp sleeves. Dad looked up at the rocks. “You can almost see how they must have fit together once, can’t you? Before the rifting tugged them apart.”
What I saw was my father hiding behind another geology lecture. Maybe Dad couldn’t help it. Maybe when you spent your whole life studying rocks and earthquakes, you forgot how to talk to people.