Asgard is a subterranean kingdom populated by the descendants of Viking colonists whose vessels are blown off course and who are eventually stranded in the Canadian arctic. The subterranean kingdom also includes various aboriginal peoples from North America (Anasazi, Haida, Siksika, Inuit), Central America (Maya), and South America (Inca), and intelligent bears.
There is an ancient prophecy that on the millennium anniversary of the arrival of the original Vikings, a blonde surface woman of Icelandic heritage will wed the current prince and usher in an age of untold prosperity. The blonde woman was foretold to appear at a hot spring (one of the natural entrances to the subterranean world) during a full moon when the lights were dancing in the northern sky. Princess Malicious, daughter of the King, covets the throne of Asgard. Her treacherous plans threaten the peace and survival of the kingdom.
Viking, Mayan, Inca, Haida, Anasazi, Siksika, and other aboriginal myths and history are woven into the story.
Descriptions of the cavern world (stalactites, stalagmites, crystals) are realistic. Seeing is an important themeseeing in dreams, seeing in wakeful visions, vision quests, drug-induced visions. Faith and conservation are other important themes
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About the Author
Lane Robson, MD, is a Canadian pediatrician. As a professor of pediatric nephrology and pediatric urology, he published hundreds of medical papers. He has also published numerous non-medical articles on subjects that include William Blake, CS Lewis, and Canadian Postal History, and some poetry. He recently published, Stop Washing the Sheets, a book on how to cure bedwetting. He started telling fantasy stories to his two daughters when they were very little. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Read an Excerpt
By Lane Robson
iUniverseCopyright © 2014 Lane Robson
All rights reserved.
Why me? Jens thought. I'm just the boot boy, and any one of the kitchen staff could have been sneaking a midnight snack, or it could have been one of the royal guards for that matter—they're always in the kitchen. Why couldn't it have been one of them? They're brave and would have told. I didn't mean to spy on the princess. Why did she have to come down while I was there?
Fresh berries were a seasonal treat, and the crates unpacked earlier in the day had offered a temptation Jens couldn't resist. He had waited several hours, until everyone in the castle was asleep, before he dared to sneak down to the kitchen. Barefoot, the boy had navigated the dark hallways and circular steps without making a sound.
The head cook personally checked all the fruit and vegetables and culled the choicest produce for the royal family. There was always a lot left over, and Jens was pleased to find the berries already separated and in bowls on the preparation table. There were several large soapstone bowls filled with berries that had not been chosen for the royal family. What was left was appreciably less than what had been delivered, and Jens was sure that the kitchen staff and senior royal attendants had already eaten their fill. As such, he started to feel less guilty about sampling "his" share. Now that the tasty berries were within reach, his pangs of guilt disappeared in favor of pangs of desire and hunger.
I'm just as important as any of the kitchen maids. Why shouldn't I enjoy a few berries that no one will miss? he rationalized as he scooped a handful into his mouth.
The berries were wonderful, but later, Jens would wish he had never eaten a single berry and feel sure that none would ever taste the same again.
When Jens first heard the footsteps, he presumed one of the maids was sneaking down for the same purpose, and he might not have hidden but for the realization that the person coming down the stairs was wearing shoes with metal toes, an affectation peculiar to the princess, and the soft but unmistakable clicks confirmed her identity as surely as if a royal herald had announced her name.
The pantry served as a convenient hiding place, but even with the door closed, Jens could still see most of the kitchen through the cracks. Of course he looked, but afterward, he would wish the door had been solid.
The princess was carrying a sack, which she placed on the table. There was something wriggling inside, and Jens wondered what creature was trapped and for what purpose.
After lighting candles in the wall fixtures and several on the table, the princess started a fire under a small black cauldron she had filled with water. The candlelight softened the princess's gaunt features and imparted a warm yellow tone to skin that normally looked pale and anemic.
She wore a long black tunic gathered at each shoulder with oval brooches, between which hung a string of carnelian beads that connected with a larger round brooch in the middle of her chest. The brooches were silver and had an intricate design of intertwined serpents with tiny rubies for eyes. Under the tunic she wore a gray silk chemise without sleeves that was buttoned at the top with a carnelian bead the size and shape of a small acorn. Her bare arms were thin and wiry and reached out to similarly shaped fingers capped with nails bitten to the quick. An amber clip secured thin, translucent, plaited hair that fell over her back and between her bony shoulder blades.
In this light she almost looks pretty, thought Jens, but then the princess's red eyes flashed in the firelight. A cold chill rippled down his spine, goose bumps erupted on the back of his neck, and Jens thought otherwise.
Once the water was boiling, the princess opened the sack and removed a toad the size of a kitten, which she dropped into the water before the poor creature could so much as croak a protest. The princess stoked the fire and again brought the cauldron to a boil and then went back to the table, where she rummaged in the sack and removed several items.
Jens watched while the princess placed the bloated body of a dried fish covered with tiny spines, the skull of a small animal, some brittle leaves, and the dried roots of several different plants in an alabaster mortar. She ground these items with a pestle and transferred the resultant dirty gray powder into a wooden bowl. The cauldron with the boiled toad simmered on the fire, and the princess skimmed a translucent oily scum from the surface with a wooden spoon and added the thick fluid to the powder in the bowl. As she mixed the contents, she chanted an incantation, most of which Jens could not hear. The only part that he thought he heard was "the living dead," and he heard this only because the princess repeated the phrase several times.
After the princess added the oily scum, the powder in the bowl turned from dirty gray to glistening white and crystallized into what looked like salt or sugar. Jens watched as the princess carefully transferred the white granules into a tiny vial, taking special care not to let even a grain come into contact with her skin.
The princess carefully cleaned the mortar and pestle and put the bowl, spoon, and sack into the fire. When the flames were high, she immolated the remains of the toad on the tiny funeral pyre. Once the toad had been consumed, the princess doused the fire with water from the cauldron. After a glance confirmed that all evidence of her nocturnal visit was gone, the princess placed the vial into an inside pocket of her cloak and left.
Jens did not come out of the pantry until the soft clicking had disappeared far up the stairwell. When he did emerge, the vapors from the toxic fire still lingered and made his eyes, nose, and throat burn. Poison, he realized, but for whom?
Jens considered whether he should inform the king, but like most of the castle staff, he was frightened of the red-eyed princess, and the fear hindered his otherwise good intentions. He spent an agonizing day trying to steel the courage necessary to do the right thing, but each time he started toward the royal chambers, he lost his nerve and returned to his cleaning duties.
Later that day, as he was cleaning boots in the stables, he learned that Queen Freyja had just collapsed and died, within seconds of eating some vegetables that she had salted. When Jens cried, everyone thought his grief was for the queen, but his tears flowed more for shame than for sadness.CHAPTER 2
Hiking into a Prophecy
"Hardly anyone knows about this valley," Kate remarked as she hoisted herself up onto a shelf that looked north over a pristine spruce forest punctuated by alpine meadows. The last week of July found the area alive with Indian paintbrushes that waved in the warm southerly breeze that had followed them all morning.
"Apart from the native Indians who hunted this far north, few others have bothered with this rugged corner of the British Columbia wilderness," Kate said. "My great-grandfather might have been the first European to trek into this valley. He was a prospector at the turn of the nineteenth century. Since then, our family has returned many times. Now it's a tradition, a back-to-our-roots sort of adventure."
"Works for me," said Ian, "although being a week away by horse from the nearest highway, hundreds of miles from the nearest town, and out of cell phone range makes this more than your average adventure. When we left the horses this morning to hike along these tiny mountain goat trails, I wondered if we were a little crazy. What if the weather turns or we're attacked by a grizzly bear?"
Kate, who worked for Parks Canada as a wildlife-management specialist, smiled as she took his hand and helped him onto the shelf beside her. "This view alone is worth all the effort and the very acceptable risks. Besides, you and I need to know this country well. Someday we'll take our son or daughter on this trip so they can continue the tradition. And as for weather, do you seriously believe nature can throw anything at us that we aren't prepared for?" Both Kate and Ian were experienced, fit, and well-equipped backcountry hikers.
Kate's thick, shoulder-length blonde hair was tied in a ponytail with a green ribbon. She seemed taller than her five feet, until she stood next to Ian, who at six-foot-two, towered over her. Her smile was happy and her green eyes inquisitive.
Ian gently squeezed her hand, but the apprehension he'd begun feeling just after they left the horses had continued to grow, and he hoped that Kate didn't sense his concern. He conjured up a confident smile.
By nature, Ian was not prone to anxiety. At twenty-nine, he had recently finished four years' service attached to a Canadian Special Forces unit, a commitment that he had undertaken a decade earlier upon entering the Royal Officer Training Program in Kingston, Ontario. Courtesy of a master's in geological engineering at Queen's University, he had been commissioned as a lieutenant and quickly promoted to captain and had served in the Canadian Armed Forces in a variety of peacekeeping operations, first with NATO in the Balkans and more recently in Afghanistan. During the latter, his skills as an accomplished mountaineer had been important, and by the end of the tour, he was no stranger to the dangers of war or wilderness.
Ian's curly red hair spoke for his Scottish heritage. As a young lad he had been covered in freckles, but most had disappeared with puberty. He had a handsome symmetrical face with a ready smile and a countenance that made him look younger than his age.
For the last year Ian had worked as a PhD student for Kate's father, Mac, a professor of geology at the University of Calgary.
Ian had known Kate was the girl he was meant to marry from the moment he saw her reading in her father's study. Now, after a year of courtship, they were married and on their honeymoon, and until that day, the trip had been idyllic.
For Ian, the growing angst was as unusual as it was unsettling. He remembered to the moment when he had first felt uneasy; the sense of foreboding had started just after they had stabled the horses.
They had spent a pleasant morning riding up a canyon. They had followed a mountain creek, now only a stream courtesy of an exceptionally dry summer that had followed a winter without much snow. Based on the width of the canyon and the water stains on rocks at the sides, they could see that the creek had been a small river at one time, as wide as a football field in some sections and at least ten yards deep, but now spruce trees populated the outer reaches of the riverbed, and the higher ground in the center was covered in mountain dryads. The yellow flowers of the dryads had given way to silken seed plumes, some of which pointed in the direction of the prevailing wind and others of which had started to unfurl into tiny umbrellas. In due course, wind gusts would release the tiny seeds, and they would float away like tiny parachutes to a new alpine home.
The horses found the silt beside the pebbled riverbed easygoing. The Rocky Mountain sky was cloudless; leathery silverberry bushes glistened in the midday sun; shrubby cinquefoil, showy aster, common yarrow, and yellow columbine were blooming along animal trails beside the river; and the air was fresh and still.
The animals they encountered were tamer than any Ian had ever seen and looked at him and Kate with friendly curiosity. Chipmunks strolled rather than streaked across their path, and red ground squirrels chattered without the customary alarm. Rather than run, the squirrels paused to watch them. Ian felt as if he were an animal in a moving zoo, and all the squirrels were the patrons who watched him from the tree branches. Instead of candy and popcorn, the squirrels munched on conifer cones. They rotated the cones in tiny paws as they cut away the husks with precise alacrity. The detritus fell onto red-brown heaps and grew into middens at the bases of the trees. Boreal chickadees hung upside down from branches and watched with nosy interest as they rode by. Gray jays flew from tree to tree and kept pace with them until the novelty of following wore off.
The canyon ended at a tiny emerald-green mountain lake surrounded by glacial boulders speckled in faded orange lichen that marked an edge otherwise encroached by tangled stands of lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce. A tiny waterfall at the north end emerged midway up a mountain. The top of the mountain was capped with a modest glacier that sparkled in the noonday sun.
Ian was the first to arrive at the lake, and his horse, having journeyed there before, perked up and without instruction led Ian a short distance through a stand of aspen that blended into an evergreen forest, and thence into a tiny grove encircled by a chest-high fence that served as a stable. A lean-to was nestled into the woods at the southern end. The shelter was constructed properly to protect the animals from the colder northerly winds that swept down the valley in all seasons.
The fence looked very old to Ian, but the lean-to had been constructed later, perhaps only a decade or so ago. The structures were sturdy, built from the spruce felled to make way for the stable. Ian reckoned the fence and lean-to must have taken more than one person at least several weeks to build. He wondered who the builders were.
Kate must have sensed what was on his mind. "My father and mother rebuilt the horse shelter when they were about our age," she said. "You can still see a few timbers from the one built by Grandpa. No wood is left from the original shelter made by my great-grandfather, but Dad found some turn-of-the-century nails and used them on the inside."
With a proud smile, Kate continued, "I could show you the nails if you like. Great-Grandpa used them during one of his trips. Just like us, he needed a place to stable his horses and pack mules before he continued his explorations into the valley behind the falls. The trails ahead are okay if you're a mountain goat or bighorn sheep, but horses don't do well. Mules can make the trip but are real slow. We only use them to pack in heavy supplies."
Kate looked up at the waterfall with a resigned expression. "Seems like every year the falls are smaller," she said with a sigh. "In Great-Grandpa's journal, he wrote that the falls were so wide and thick that the base of the mountain was shrouded in mist. Then, one summer he arrived at the lake to find that the waterfall was only a modest trickle by comparison to the prior years."
"Were the preceding winter and spring really dry?" asked Ian.
"No, and that made the change all the more remarkable. The preceding winter and spring had been unusually wet! Even in the wettest years since, the waterfall hasn't seemed to increase much in size. We keep expecting to arrive one year to find that the waterfall has stopped."
"That is curious. I don't think even a string of dry seasons could make such a sudden difference. Has the glacier above changed in size over the years?"
"No, the glacier is roughly the same size, which makes the reduced volume of water even more of a mystery."
"Wow. That is a puzzle. The water must have gone somewhere. It's almost as if the mountain swallowed the water," offered Ian. "Well, even if the waterfall is less than it was, the falling water still looks great to me. From my perspective, that waterfall is our Niagara. This is our honeymoon, and there's more than enough water for us." Ian gave Kate a tender hug, and she responded by raising her lips to his.
Ian looked over at the horses, and Kate anticipated his next thought. He liked that about her. They seemed to spend time in each other's mind.
"Don't worry—the horses have more than enough grass to graze, water to drink, and even a salt lick."
As she spoke, Ian saw that notwithstanding the drought, a creek flowed through a corner of the grove and within the boundaries of the stable.
"We've regularly left the animals alone for up to two weeks," said Kate. "Grandpa told me that his father once stabled the animals for most of the month of August, and he only lost two pack mules, a male and a female. It was a bit of a mystery. The animals disappeared, but the fence was intact. Great-Grandpa found some bear tracks outside the stable and wondered whether the bears had killed and dragged away the mules, but there was no blood or other evidence of a struggle. Anyway, we don't need to worry because at this time of the year, the bears have lots of berries to pick and trout to catch."
Excerpted from The Prophecy by Lane Robson. Copyright © 2014 Lane Robson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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