“It’s so nice of your mother to let me stay at such short notice,” said Penni, the couple had borrowed a campscrid from the airdock at Elk Base and were currently driving along the snowy Northern Carriageway towards Kuopio. “I’m quite looking forward to meeting her.”
“Jaa, I suppose she will be pleased to meet you,” remarked Sirki a little cautiously, putting her hazel coloured lenses into their case.
Penni thought on her answer for a while. “She does know I’m coming, doesn’t she?”
“I sort of haven’t mentioned it, in fact I sort of haven’t mentioned you,” Sirki’s eyes now shone with their usual lilac hue.
“Whoa, she doesn’t know about us?”
“Err… she’s a little old fashioned, I want her to meet you in person. You’ll win her over I’m sure.”
“Loge, Sirki!” the Beta exclaimed, then. “Well, Bren’s mother hates me so I suppose it’s to be expected,” she answered resignedly.
“Did Hilly tell you that?” asked Sirki. Her husband’s mother, Fro Scartho, was a harpy who had clashed with her daughter-in-law many a time.
“Not as such but I’ve seen her disapproving look, I think she’d like nothing better than for me to disappear from your lives.”
“Kova paska for her my lufestre, she’s nothing but a leuhka huscarl who got lucky and married the Thegn. You’re part of our lives now!” asserted Sirki. As they turned off to join the minor road to Kangashakki, Freya started to wake in her safety seat. “Hei lapsi, you’re a sleepy head.” she cooed before pathing to Penni. “It’ll be fine.”
“I don’t care about Bren’s mother she’s an awkward old sod, but I want to get on with your mum,” she path’d back.
“We’ll be there soon best leave the talking to me, rakas.”
Penni pulled the vehicle in at the front of Sirki’s family home and they all were there, Uncle Beorn with Adi, Axel her mother’s partner and, of course, Mia herself.
“Terve, Sirkku, you have just the one huscarl as escort?” asked her uncle in surprise as they got out.
“I don’t need half a Legion with me, Uncle Bear, I hate all the fuss and I wore my lenses so one recognised me,” replied Sirki.
“No-one recognised the most famous woman in the Reignweald, I seriously doubt that?” replied her uncle.
“Well, anyway, this is Penni Anderson. Her plans for Yule fell through and I didn’t want her to be stuck at the barracks on her own.” explained Sirki. It was only a little lie.
“Moi, I thought you were her bodyguard, so you’re a huscarl?” asked Mia cautiously.
“Ya, ma’am, Cempa, 3rd Elites.” replied Penni, realising that Sirki’s mother was scanning her.
“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you, Penni.”
“Moi, I’m always pleased to meet a friend of Koo’s.” Adi stepped forward to embrace her warmly.
They exchanged yuletide greetings then, after coffee and saffron cakes, the men went out, allegedly to fetch logs, while Adi went with Penni to take little Freya to see the swans overwintering on the lake.
Sirkku was now alone with her mother. “She’s a Beta?” asked Mia. “It’s strange but she resonates like an Alpha.”
“That’s because she’s broken her genetic conditioning and doesn’t feel compelled to link to anyone.”
“Oh, well, that’s rather good isn’t it?” The genetic engineer’s original paradigm was for Betas to be brood mothers for the Alphas. It was considered an unforgivable act of callousness by all novae alike.
“Do you like her, mami?”
“Juu, she seems nice, I’m glad you finally feel able to introduce me to your friends,” replied Mia.
“Good, because Bren’s mother hates her,” asserted Sirki.
“Well, Fro Scartho’s what you might call a difficult woman.” Mia Lahti and haughty Hildegard Da N’tan were from very different cultures and they found it hard to get along. “You know, you should have told me you were bringing a guest, I’ll have to sort out a room for her.”
“It’s alright, mami, Penni can sleep in my room,” said Sirki brightly.
“In your room?” the shock in her mother’s voice was palpable. “But there’s only the one bed?” the aptly named penny started to drop.
“You, and her?” her mother’s voice rose an octave as the penny hit the floor with a thud.
“Jaa, is there a problem?” Sirki could guess what was coming next.
“Oh Sirkku, when you married the Thegning I thought that would be the end of this behaviour?”
“What, that I’d suddenly stop being bisexual?”
“But your husband, you have a child by him, don’t you love him?”
“Of course I do, he’s the most wonderful understanding man I’ve ever met!”
“Does he know about her?”
“Jaa, of course!” retorted Sirki.
“And he permits it?” her voice was quite shrill now.
“Did you not hear what I just said? He understands me and is happy to let me fulfil my needs!”
“Is she the real reason why he didn’t come here with you?”
“Nej, Bren really is tied up with commitments at Scartho and he has to spend Yule with his dreadful family,” explained Sirki before adding. “And anyway, we are all in this relationship.”
“You and him and her?” asked Mia in dismay.
“Usually all together and at the same time, mami.” replied Sirki. “I shan’t go into detail.”
“Oh gods, you are depraved!” and with that Mia stomped into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her.
Happy Yuletide everybody, thought Sirki.
“Look, Auntie Penni, a wood horse!” exclaimed Freya pointing excitedly at the large black bird stood on the opposite bank.
“I think it’s called a capercaillie, lapsi.” smiled the Beta.
“We call them the Horse of the Woods in Soomi,” added Adi before pathing to Penni. “So you and Koo are together?”
She looked in askance at her. “Ya… you’re a Psi?”
“What surprises you the most that I’m a Psi or I know your little secret?” Adi Akinobe was an atypical psi and hence did not possess the blonde hair or cornflower blue eyes common to most novae. She had once been a prominent member of the Psi Wing until thrown out for her part in exposing a plot to control the government. “I have never had any problem with Koo’s sexuality, but Mia, well, she has very old-fashioned ideas.”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that…” replied Penni.
“Three of you are involved, I realise that. Don’t worry, dear, if it’s working and you’re all happy it’s fine by me.”
“Thank you, I think?” Penni noticed Adi’s attention had been drawn to Beorn and Axel on the opposite side of the lake. They were both carrying high-powered rifles. “Are they hunting something for the Yule table?”
The dark woman frowned. “Nej, the Kallela’s have had a report of a lone wulf around here yesterday, a big one by all accounts!”
“A wulf?” exclaimed Penni. “We don’t get them in the Western Isles.” She instinctively placed her gloved hand on the scabbarded seax worn by all novae.
Adi smiled at the tall blonde woman. “I doubt it would go after you but best not let this little one stray far” she mussed Freya’s hair. “It’ll be dark soon, we ought to go back.”
“This country and its bloody long dark winters, did Sirki tell you about us then?” Penni asked as they crunched through the snow back to the main house. She was carrying the little child, who was quietly singing a yuletide song, on her shoulders.
“Nej, but I could tell by how you two looked at each other.” And I know about that other thing too! Her partner and his friend were returning. “Hej rakas, did you see any sign of that wulf.”
“Nej, my kulta,” replied Beorn. “I reckon old man Kallela got it wrong.”
“We’ll go further into the woods tomorrow,” responded Axel, who had more faith in their neighbours.
“You really think we should?” asked Beorn.
“Better safe than sorry,” advised his friend.
“I’ll come with you!” exclaimed Penni eager at the thought of excitement.
“Check, we’ve spare rifles, I won’t bother to ask if you can shoot!” laughed the ex-huscarl.
Sirki and Mia, now back on speaking terms, were sitting by the fire in the large lounge and Freya, now out of her outdoor things, ran to sit on her mother’s lap. “We saw a Horse-of-the-Woods, mami,” the little girl informed her, emphasising the words carefully.
“That’s nice, lapsi, sit with mami for a while and we’ll have some hot chocolate in a minute.” She glanced at the huscarl officer who had just entered the room. “Penni dahling, look at your hand!”
Penni held out her left hand which was almost white. “Don’t fret, Sirk, you know the cursed thing always goes like this when it gets cold.”
“Come and sit with me by the fire,” insisted Sirki and she began massaging the fingers to warm them up, feeling her mother’s disapproval as she did so.
“You’ve had a regrow?” asked Axel in surprise.
“Ya, a grenade took the original from me a few years ago.”
“My waelcyrie’s seen a fair bit of action you know?” announced Sirki proudly.
“Sirki please!” said an abashed Penni.
“You can tell us all about it tomorrow. It’ll be a change to hear some new tales, Beorn and I have told the same stories so many times before,” remarked Axel and her uncle nodded in agreement.
“Tomorrow?” asked Sirki curiously.
“Jaa, your friend is coming with us to hunt for the wulf” he replied.
“What?” she exclaimed.
Sirki relaxed on the bed in post-orgasmic rapture and regarded the beautiful face framed by her thighs. “Well, I suppose I ought to let you off, I mean, I’d expect Bren to escape the Yule preparations by going hunting, but you…” Penni dropped her head down again. “Ooohh!” gasped Sirki clutching at the mattress. “Alright, I completely forgive you!”
Freya had woken in the room next door and peered behind the curtain at the moon, high in the sky next to the dancing Northern Lights. Mummo had read a bedtime story about a beautiful goddess who lived there in a glowing palace and the little girl, thinking how nice it must be to walk on the bright surface, felt a strange lightness come over her.
Penni enfolded Sirki in her arms. “How are things between you and your mother now?”
“We are in a state of armed neutrality, dahling. There is one positive though, she likes you so she’s put all the blame on me, as usual.”
“Well, you did seduce me.”
“You bicce, you were interested the moment we met, don’t deny it!” laughed Sirki.
“Na comment!” replied Penni. She placed her hand on Sirki’s abdomen. “I can’t feel anything yet.”
“It’s too soon, you polho! Shut up and go to sleep, you’re going hunting tomorrow and I have to stay and help mami with the cooking.”
“You’re cooking?” exclaimed Penni. Sirki’s culinary skills were legendarily bad.
“Don’t worry, lufestre, they only want me to chop and peel.”
The hunters set off before ten the next morning this would give them six hours of daylight to find the alleged wolf, and since all three were Alpha they could extend that time by using their night vision, but it could strain their eyes if used too long.
“How often does this happen?” enquired Penni, her breath misting in the cold air.
“Hardly ever does a wulf venture this far south,” answered Beorn.
“If it’s a loner that means the pack have kicked it out and that means it’s a bad wulf!” stated Axel assuredly.
“Dangerous?” she asked.
“Jaa, bloody dangerous, there’s tales that during the Q-war they were affected while in stasis just like we were,” continued Axel. “It’s said they can move in quickspeed.”
“Paskapuhe!” snapped Sirki’s uncle. “Penni, take no notice of this polho, it’s just a fucking animal!”
“Check!” the officer grinned and the trio continued past the lake, into the forest.
“Mami, I flew round my room last night,” remarked Freya. She was drawing at the large dining room table while her mother was busy writing.
“Really lapsi?” asked a preoccupied Sirki. “Were you dreaming?”
“I did fly, mami, really I did!”
“All right, lapsi, I believe you,” she looked at her daughter’s drawing. “That’s a nice picture, what is it?”
“Kuutar, in her palace on the moon,” she announced, proud that she had learned a new word. “Mummo read me a story about her.”
“Oh I remember the Saga of Kuutar, your mummo used to read that to me when I was a little girl,” it was a happy memory.
“Mummo said we could put a bowl of porridge out for the elves?” asked the little girl, her grandmother had promised to let her perform the traditional Yuletide custom.
“Gods, it’s been a long time since I’ve done that,” laughed Sirki.
“Oh, there you are Sirkku, I did think you might want to help Adi and I in the kitchen but no, you’d rather be sat here doodling,” path’d Mia upon entering the room.
“I’m looking after Fry!” retorted Sirki.
“She could help too then perhaps she might learn to be a good cook.”
Sirki’s lilac eyes flashed angrily. “There is more to life than being a cook and housekeeper, mami, even in this backwater! Freya has true artistic talent and I am writing a new song!”
“What for, you’re not the Nation’s Sweetheart anymore and you don’t need to sing for your supper? You are going to be the Thegnestre of Scartho one day,” Mia path’d back. “That’s if your husband puts up with your silly games for that long!”
“I’m planning to get Harvest back on the road for a brief tour before…” Sirki stopped abruptly.
“Before what?” asked her mother?
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Can we leave porridge for the elves, mami?” asked Freya looking up from her drawing. Through the window she could see the winter moon, pale in the daytime sky.
Mia decided to join them, leaving poor Adi to bake the Yule pastries and pies on her own. The giant ham would be cooked early on the day of the Julfest. Sirki felt a little happier as her mother was making a half-hearted effort to be nice.
“Can you fly to the moon, mami?” asked Freya, wrapped up warmly in her heated Fimbulwinter suit.
“Hundreds of years ago, some folk went there to live, lapsi,” replied Sirki, they had placed a bowl of butter-topped oatmeal on a tree stump as an offering to the woodland spirits for luck.
“What happened to them?”
“No-one really knows lapsi, a long time ago, some countries got very angry with each other and they forgot all about the moon.”
“When I am growed, I will fly there and find out what happened,” the little girl announced determinedly.
“You have to go in a big rocket,” said Sirki smilingly.
“I won’t I-will-fly-there my-self!” the little girl stated firmly.
“Alright, lapsi,” laughed her mother.
“I can fly!” insisted Freya.
“Why do you say that, Fry, my dahling?” asked Mia. “Sirkku, it is possible she may be able to levitate, both my mami and mummo could.”
“What, mummo Sirki could levitate?” asked her younger namesake in surprise.
“Jaa, I’m surprised you can’t since you followed the same path as her.” As a youngster Mia, bullied by her peers for her psionic abilities grew to hate them, keeping them suppressed. Her daughter’s embracing of her own powers was just one of many causes of the animosity between them.
“I lev-vi-tated last night!” stated Freya brightly.
“Did you, lapsi, really?” asked Sirki.
“Juu, mami, you and Auntie Penni were laughing so loud in your room that I woke up and I looked at the moon and I wanted to go there so I flew out of bed,” she related in a matter of fact way.
“You woke your daughter with your depravity?” snapped Mia telepathically.
“She thought we were laughing so no harm done,” Sirki replied guiltily.
“What sort of a mami are you?”
“I’m a good mami, far better than you were!”
“What do you mean by that, Andra?”
“Oh here we go again, calling me by my horrid first name like I’m a different person. I’m Sirki not Andra.”
“You are not the same little lapsi I loved all those years ago.”
“Oh jaa, I am, you’ll be blaming the imp inside me next!”
“You changed, you became different.”
“You sent me away to boarding school.”
“I had to…”
“You sent me away!” interjected Sirki.
“Didn’t want you to suffer for being different, just wanted you free from Psionic influence, from Adi, from… me!” Mia began to cry.
“Mami, I’m sorry.” Sirki hugged her mother. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever said that to you before?”
“Sirki, I do love you I just find it hard.”
“I know you do, you’ve put up with my tempers, my addiction and all that fuss when I was expecting Freya, Freya?” she realised her child had been witness to all this. “Fry, it’s alright, mummo and I were just being silly… Fry?” but the little child wasn’t there. Sirki looked around frantically but Freya was nowhere to be seen. “Mami, she’s gone, Fry’s gone!”
“We’ll find her, Sirki, she can’t have gone too far!”
“It’s my fault I should have kept my eyes on her.” Sirki began to cry.
“Adi, we need your help, Freya’s gone off on her own!” path’d Mia as Sirki began frantically screaming her daughter’s name.
The hunting party discovered the spoor of a very large wolf, only to lose it again in a fall of snow from the trees. Worryingly, the direction it was heading would take it towards the main house.
“Beorn!” the thought came clearly into his head.
“Mia is that you?” he said aloud.
“Of course it is, brothur, we have a serious problem, Freya’s gone missing!”
“What! How on nerth did that happen?”
“Sirki and I were fighting and she went off on her own.”
“She’s only five, how far could she go?”
“She’s told us she can fly, I think she has mami’s levitating ability and if so she could be anywhere, Adi’s contacted the Ward and they’re sending a flyer and some drones.”
“Loge, we picked up the bloody wulf’s trail and it’s heading towards the house!” he pathed in horror.
“Thor’s Hammer, brothur, you must find it before it finds Fry, Sirki’s hysterical and blaming herself.”
When he told the others of the predicament, Penni went pale then asserted authority. “We’ll split up, Axel, head east for a quarter mile then south, I’ll do the same west and south. Beorn you go straight south the way the fucker was going when we lost it, that way one of us should get the bastard. Let’s move with a purpose, soldiers!”
“Jaa, ma’am!” replied the pair of former huscarls sharply.
Adi was scouring the area north of the lake with a binocle as Mia tried to comfort Sirki who had uncharacteristically broken down to sob on her shoulder.
“Sirki, the Ward’s on their way and there are three armed warriors out there looking for her, they’ll find Fry.”
“It’s my fault, my fault.” she wailed.
“Mami…” the voice came to her.
“Lapsi?” Sirki it was her daughter.
“Mami, I’m scared.”
“Where are you?”
“Don’t know!” the response came.
“I can feel Freya’s thoughts, mami.” said Sirki.
“Tell her to stay where she is and keep pathing to her.” Mia went back to the house to fetch a rifle and upon returning, asked Sirki. “See if she can hear this?” before firing three shots into the air.
“She says jaa,” reported Sirki.
“Does she know which direction it’s coming from?”
“She thinks so.”
“Right we’ll head into the woods and fire the rifle regularly, she’s to listen and see if it gets louder.”
“I’ll tell her, we will find her won’t we, mami?” asked Sirki tearfully.
“Of course, lapsi, come on, let’s not delay.”
Penni, making her way towards the house heard the three rapid reports and forcing her meagre psionic power outwards, managed to contact Sirki. “What were those shots?”
“Mami is firing a gun so Freya can locate us, I feel so helpless and she’s being wonderful.”
“Tell her to let the others know.”
The Beta continued south for a while but upon hearing a panting noise paused. Spotting movement in the corner of her eye she turned as the wolf charged, knocking her down and sending the rifle flying. As it rounded to attack again she went into quickspeed and sidestepped the charging animal, catching it on the flank with her seax. The animal howled in pain and fled, leaving Penni to watch aghast as it ran off in a blur. It was moving in quickspeed! Sheathing her blade, she snatched up the fallen rifle and gave chase at the same rate but was eventually forced to slow down before she drained her energy. Penni then spotted a trail of blood on the white of the snow. It was still leading in the same direction, straight towards the house.
Freya, entranced by the daylight moon had floated up unobserved by the telepathically arguing adults, she had then flown northwards completely unaware of the distance she was covering. Finally tiring from the mental exertion she floated down to land almost two miles from the lake to see one of the big black birds regarding her curiously. It was quite unperturbed as it was almost the small child’s height and the pair stared at each other silently for a while until the bird, cocking its head to one side as if listening, made a strange mechanical clicking before running into the undergrowth to leave Freya alone and scared. The girl began to cry, calling for her mother and to her surprise her voice came faintly into her head. After listening to her instructions and hearing the gunshots she moved gingerly towards them, quite unaware of the black shape watching from a distance.
The wolf, in pain from its gashed flank, knew that the small red-suited creature would make a tasty morsel to replenish its strength, and that it could put up no fight. So, slowly, it began to stalk, Freya, who was oblivious to the danger she was in.
The beast picked up speed as it charged then suddenly it was seized by an invisible force to be dragged backwards so fast a veritable cloud of snow marked its passage. The wulf’s unexpected journey ended forcefully, with a crunch and a short yelp, against a thick tree trunk.
On hearing this, Freya turned to see the snow settling and a familiar figure standing before her.
“Mami?” she asked.
“Nej, child, I am not her” replied the woman in the falcon cloak.
“You look like mami.”
“She and I are the same but she has yet to remember.”
The being’s enigmatic statement was lost on the child, who looked at her bare feet and thin dress with curiosity. “Aren’t you cold?”
“Nej, little one, I do not feel the cold.” she answered with a smile that seemed to radiate warmth.
“My name’s Freya,” said the little girl.
“That is a very appropriate name,” the figure laughed lightly, taking her hand. “Come, little Freya, let’s get you home.” the beautiful apparition led her towards the sound of renewed gunshots, leaving perfectly formed footprints in the snow that exposed the forest floor beneath.
“What’s your name?” asked Freya.
“I have had many names. So, tell me, child, how did you get here?”
“I le-vi-tated, I wanted to fly to the moon to meet Kuutar.”
The apparition smiled widely again. “I think you will fly to the moon one day, Freya, but Kuutar does not live there.”
“Are you Kuutar?”
The being regarded Freya with eyes as lilac as hers, and her mother’s, to say. “Kuutar is but a name, just like Freya.” She paused, listening intently. “Your mother’s friend, Penni, is coming, so you nej longer have any need of me, moi-moi, little one.”
Penni, following the trail of blood, had discovered the wolf’s twisted corpse and took note of the broken bark and matted hair where it had struck the tree. She wondered what could have thrown the large creature with such force then was baffled further, as following the curious track through the white covered ground led her to a set of footprints that were vanishing as she spotted them. Next to them was a line of smaller, booted, prints, Freya’s!
“Auntie Penni, Auntie Penni!” the child ran to her to be snatched up and held tightly.
Of the mysterious cloaked figure, there was no sign.
Sirki was dozing on Freya’s bed, a protective arm around her daughter, when her mother came into the room. “Is she asleep?”
“Juu,” she whispered in reply.
“Come down and join us, daughter, she’ll be alright now.”
“I’m never leaving her alone again, mami!” asserted Sirki.
“I understand, lapsi, may I sit with you?”
She nodded and Mia took the chair next to the bed. “Freya said the nice lady who helped her looked like you, didn’t she?”
“And Freya said she had no shoes on and wore a falcon cloak, just like I did when I sang with Harvest. It was just her imagination; I had an invisible friend when I was her age.”
“Whose name was Freya as I seem to recall?” noted her mother. “Makes you think.”
“Fry was scared, she imagined the whole thing.”
“Penni said there were footprints in the snow that disappeared as she watched, did she imagine them? And, Sirki, something killed that wulf, threw it hard up against a tree!”
“You surely don’t believe a non-existent goddess saved her?”
“Do not question the gods, Sirki, especially this close to the Revontulet!” answered Mia sharply. “A lot of people around here still believe in them, you know?”
“Perhaps Freya has telekinesis and used it without realising?” suggested Sirki, thinking of the Mjolnir tattoo on her right thigh and the times she had hypocritically begged Thor for help.
“Well I suppose it’s possible, lapsi.” Mia paused, then. “So, when were you going to tell me you were expecting another baby?”
“You know?” Sirki was aghast, her mother knew when she was carrying Freya but she had been much further on.
“Of course, the moment you held me I felt it, just like before and Adi could tell the minute she saw you. I’m very pleased for you, and I like Penni too. I’m not too certain how this triple relationship works, but if you’re happy I’ll try and get used to it.
“Thank you, mami.” Sirki had tears in her eyes.
Mia put an arm across her shoulder. “God Jul, Sirki, my dahling daughter!”
A useful glossary
Fro – Lady, used as a title
Kova paska – tough shit
Lapsi – affectionate term for child
Leuhka – stuck up, toffee nosed
Loge – the trickster god, used as a swear word
Lufestre – lover (fem)
Mami – mum
Moi – hi
Moi-moi – goodbye
Mummo – grandma
Nerth – the Earth
Polho – fool
Paskapuhe – bullshit
Rakas – love, dear
Revontulet – the Northern Lights
Scrid – car
Terve – hello
Thegn – a minor noble, equivalent to a baron except that the title is hereditary
Thegnestre – the wife of a thegn or it can mean a female thegn in her own right
Waelcyrie – mythical female warrior