The Hope of Gods

11 December 2014

This was written as a thank you to the staff at the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital, who had cared so brilliantly for my daughter during her recent hospital stay.

Both the Gods of Asgard and the Fire Demons of Muspelheim know that all the children of Midgard are special, for within them lie all hopes and fears. So Odin, the ruler of Asgard, and Surt the fire giant and ruler of Muspelheim, have fought many a bloody war in the theatre of childhood. For without hope, the Gods themselves would not exist. Without fear, the Demons would wither, and die. So the battles that rage amongst the young folk are, in fact, the fight for the very existence of the higher and lower realms of the Nine Kingdoms.

Many Middle Earthers, too wrapped up in the mindless drudgery of lives that are inherently unsatisfactory because the lands they inhabit are neither here nor there, are simply unaware of these wars. Besides, the ancient battles are much subtler affairs than the bellicose affairs of men, who needlessly maim and slaughter their brethren under the delusion of 'freedom'. The battles fought by the Gods and Demons are played out within the deep psyche of the young folk of the Middle Kingdoms. And because the higher and lower realms have ever been, and shall ever be, these wars are eternal. That's not to say they are meaningless, for in their disorder lies a balance.

Thus, the afflictions of youth are often the manifestations of the dreams and nightmares that are the ancient wars of the Gods and Demons. It goes like this; when children first enter Midgard, their elders experience a fleeting moment of innocent beauty. They witness the world unsullied by the greed and self-interest of men. Then, even the most bitter experience a flash of hope, and wish that, one day, their kindred will fashion a Middle Kingdom that is much worthier than that which they have inherited. But within that hope lies danger too, because if it burns too brightly, the Demons of The Land of Fire notice and they will try to redress the balance. They do so by forcing the child to endure their malevolent intent, through illnesses and suffering.

Tara was just such a child. The day she was born, she perfectly embodied the hope of a beautiful spring morning that broke on Middle Earth that dawn. The Gods saw, and celebrated the new life loudly. But the Demons had heard too, and war had raged. Thus, Tara had endured much during her short journey upon Midgard. Three times Surt had all but managed to consume her with the fears honed in his fire pits. But three times had Odin rushed to her aid, recognising that that balance of the Nine Kingdoms depended upon her safety. Each time he had vanquished the giant's nightmares with a single terrifying cut of his sword Tyrfing. No demonic dreams could withstand an expert blow drilled through an eternity of practice, executed with deliberate ceremony, and delivered during the highly focused mental state of Samadhi. Dreams of the upper realms of Alfheim, the land of the Light Elves, instantly supplanted Tara's fire strewn nightmares. Hope burnt brightly in Tara once more.

Odin's final strike was the mightiest of them all, and for a while it seemed as though the war had been won and Tara's nightmares had been banished forever. But the demons of Muspelheim harbour a ferocious bitterness toward the Gods, for without them they could extend the dark realms unhindered. So they do not give up quite so easily. Not but a year passed before Tara's dreams turned dark once more. But whereas previously the war had raged in her head, this time it was fought around her dan t'ien, the seat of her soul, found about one small finger below her naval and a thumb width in front of her spine. As the Gods and Demons began skirmishes, Tara began experiencing more and more nightmares, which the demonic forces were fashioning in an attempt to draw Tara into the underworld. These began to take a terrible toll on Tara's health, because she was forced to vomit violently in order to expunge the traces of demonic poison that the dreams left behind. This put her in great danger, for she was unable to hold down the food that all Middle Earthers depend upon for sustenance.

The Gods are not unaware of the mortal needs of man and had realised that Tara was becoming quite poorly. So they arranged for Tara to be rushed into hospital. These were dangerous times for all public services, because the Government of the time had been heavily infiltrated by demons. They had instigated a mean-spirited program of austerity measures on the weak and the poor, and were busy selling off key resources to their dark angel brethren, in order to feed their greed so that they would hammer the needy ever harder, instilling fear ever wider by doing so. The hospitals were particularly vulnerable, because the dark forces recognised them as a place for good and were desperately trying to bring about their ruin through 'efficiencies', which were really a ruse for stripping the hospitals so bare, they could barely function. Nevertheless, they remained a safe haven for the very needy, for the hospital front lines were still a stronghold of the Light Elves and Angels that were forces for good, who were making a stand and fighting the ancient battles against their foes from Muspelheim.

Thankfully for Tara, she was delivered to one such battle-hardened hospital unit. Odin ensured that was so. The Senior Consultant on her ward was a vardøger, or alter ego, of the God Freyr, ruler of Alfheim, home of the Light Elves. He submerged Tara in love to help her overcome the fire-laden dreams that the demons had forced her to endure. When Freyr couldn't fight alongside Tara, he would send his twin sister Freya, the Goddess of Love, to care for her instead.

The demonic forces began to turn up the pressure. Krampus, the horned beast and scourge of children everywhere, forced Tara to dream of being tied up in a sack and dragged down to the pits of hell. Freya countered by gently circling her right index finger on Tara's wrist, which represented the sack being untethered so that Tara could escape. Then the Kobold Chim appeared in a dream as her best friend, Elfie. Elfie and Tara laughed and giggled as they played a happy game of Stuck-in-the-mud in the school playground. But then Chim suddenly transformed into his true elvin-like form, with sickly green scaly skin and mocking eyes. He cast Tara into a shadowy cave with flickering flame, where frightening silhouettes flitted across the dank walls. Freya nullified this act by cupping Tara's hands ever tighter into hers so she could feel the warmth of her soft skin. They walked hand in hand away from the horror of the Elvish cave. The trickster Nagual was the next to try and lure Tara down into the depths of Muspelheim. He did so by pretending to be her father. Tara sat on his knee and played lovingly, becoming enthralled by a pattern that the folds of her skirt had fashioned. When she turned back to her father, to tell him that the folds looked like a dragon, he had transformed into a fearsome puma with fiery red eyes and large, snarling teeth. He snapped at her neck. She flinched, avoiding the blow, and let out a scream that transcended her dream and pierced the real world. Freya knew it at once and wrapped her arms around Tara, gently kissing her on her forehead. The kiss broke through Tara's nightmare as the loving embrace of her mother, and with that act, Nagual's subterfuge was defeated.

Tara was becoming weaker because the nightmares were leaving even greater traces of demonic poison. Tara needed more help, so every morning, when Tara returned from the cold, stark corners of her elvish nightmares, the Gods began rewarding her with gifts. These were charms imbued with a great deal of shield magic. They were fashioned to help her escape from the clutches of the dark elves and make her nighttime fantasies much more pleasant, thus preventing her from being sick. They were also intended to be trinkets for her to look forward to, thus ensuring that she wanted to return from her dreams every morning, no matter how hard her ordeals. Even the bear she hugged was really a representation of a Shamanic Berserker, a divine warrior capable of countering the battle strategies of the demonic forces.

However, the Gods knew that despite their help, and all the charms around Tara's bedside, nothing they did could force her to find hope; she had to engender that herself. So in reality, it was up to Tara to fight the great battle and lead the charge back from the depths of hell. So Freyr decided to set Tara a task where she would need to display great character in order to succeed. If she did so, then the Gods would know that she was worthy of even greater assistance. Of course, all children are given the loving embrace of the Gods, for Odin knows that it is the children themselves that help Asgard, through hope and belief. But those burdened with the touch of the dark elves, who also show great courage, receive the most help from the Gods. For it is they who sow the seeds of unending hope amongst all children. So Tara would not be abandoned, no matter what the outcome. Nevertheless, much was at stake.

Around a branch of the great tree Laerrad, which stood at the far side of the forest at the Northern boundary of Valhalla, Freyr clasped a beautiful golden necklace called Brisingamen, known throughout the Nine Kingdoms. As Tara slept peacefully, he then envisioned a dream for her that placed her in the land of the fallen heroes, many valleys and mountains distance from the necklace, and whispered gently in her ear, “go find that necklace sweet angel”. Both Freyr and his twin sister Freya then sat by her bedside and worried about the little girl that had already been through so much. Tara had been granted the gift of great resolve, so in that regard, the Gods felt that they needn't worry, for they were certain that they could have asked for no greater ally. So Freyr and Freya cast their concerns aside, clasped hands and tried to conjure a golden light around each other's hearts, in order to foster hope. Then they waited.

Tara first dreamt of a cave underneath a vast mountain range. But where the demon's caves were dank and forbidding, the caverns here were warm and welcoming, lit brightly by great torches. She giggled as she imagined that the torchlight was in fact a frog jumping across the walls. This attracted the attention of the dwarf Alviss the Wise, who had not heard laughter in those parts for longer than it took to fashion a golden Tiara fit for a queen (which took a very long time). He was delighted by Tara's cheeky demeanour, and resolved to guide her safe passage through to the other side of the range. This took many hours, during which the pair became the most unlikely of friends. So much so, that when Alviss had taken Tara through the range and out to the Great Plains, he gave Tara the gift of his greatest wisdom, "follow your heart, and not your mind, and you will not fail to find the right path. For the heart is steadfast, but the mind plays tricks". Tara thanked Alviss for his help and planted a tender kiss on her dear friend’s cheek, which made the old dwarf blush like a teenager. He then bid her farewell, and smiled the smile of happy memories of their time together as he watched her head out across the valley alone. But this did not concern him, for he knew that such a gentle angel would not have far to go before receiving more help. He was right, because help soon appeared in the form of the Golden horse Gulltop, who was busy grazing on the vast green grasslands. This was the God Heimdall's horse, sent to aid Tara on her quest, for Heimdall knew of the great battles she had fought and understood she needed more help because much was at stake. Gulltop trotted over towards Tara, neighed joyfully, and nuzzled her neck lovingly. Tara was delighted. She clasped her arms around Gulltop's great neck in order to plant a kiss on his strong jowl, and she gasped as she was hoisted onto the horse's broad back. But intuition told her to trust, just as Alviss had advised, so she brought her face up to the mighty Stallion's right ear, and whispered, "take me wherever your heart so wishes, beautiful horse". Gulltop obliged and galloped like the wind, crossing the plains in a blink of the Great Owl's Eye. He slowed as a line of trees spread out before them and then he allowed Tara to climb down from his flanks. He began to head back to the lush green grasses he had been happily grazing upon, but not before letting the lovely child tenderly stroke his mane in gratitude for her safe passage. Tara watched as a flash of gold disappeared over the horizon, before she began to push her way onwards and make her way through the woods. This was no dark unwelcoming affair of demonic origins, dead to all but the shadows, but an ancient oak woodland, bristling with the chatter of birds and full of age-old folklore and the magic of the healers. Tara felt loved and became enthralled by happy reverie of the great oaks that lay before her. Then the great boar Gullinbursti broke the spell, by darting out in front of her. Tara imagined that Gullinbursti looked over his left shoulder and beckoned her to follow. Again she resolved to follow Alviss's advice and listen to her intuition that she should run after the boar. She lost the trail a number of times, but each time she would hear the great boar's grunt and spy a quick flash of his vast hind quarters. Before she knew it, she was at the far edge of the ancient forest, at the Northernmost reaches of Valhalla. Somehow she understood that the boar had disappeared from her gaze forever, but before she could bemoan her loss, she spied the dear Eikthyrnir feeding on the green leaves of a magnificent oak. This was Laerrad. Tara wandered over quietly, hoping to get closer to the deer, for she was a beautiful creature who exuded love and Tara felt the need to touch her. Of course, the deer knew of Tara's coming, so she could have just as well stomped over loudly instead. But just as Tara got within touching distance, Eikthyrnir reared on her hind quarters in order to reach up to a branch with particularly lush green leaves. Tara watched in awe, but just then, she spied Brisingamen and gasped. She reached up, took the necklace, and clasped it around her slender neck. With this act, she passed Freyr's test. And as she did so, she awoke.

Tara's father was somewhat startled to see his daughter wake up and sit upright so suddenly. But he was also pleased to see her looking as well as she had in a good while. "Good morning my angel", he said, breezily. "I'm hungry daddy!" replied Tara, somewhat surprised to feel so. "The nurse thought you might be! I don't know how, but it seems she was right. She left you these honey drizzled crumpets". Tara gobbled them up greedily. Tara's father had not seen her eat like that in months. He was so excited he somehow missed the beautiful necklace that had magically appeared around Tara's neck.

The God’s rejoiced. They had thwarted the ulterior motives of the demonic forces that had infiltrated the present government. No matter that they were busily seeking to destroy the good forces through austerity measures that were a guise for inducing fear amongst the masses. The God's, Light Elves, and Angels fighting on the front lines of the hospital wards, were victorious. What's more, they were confident that if the dark elves had further ordeals planned for Tara, she would fight the good battle alongside them. By doing so, the eternal hope that kept the Gods secure in Asgard, would be held safe in Tara's heart. The future looked bright.