Rebekka and the Unwashed Child of Eve
Finnboga stretched in the warm sun, its weak rays struggling to penetrate the permafrost of the glacier. With the onset of summer, the days were drawing out, heralding an increase in her workload. Today, dawn had woken her just after five, and she faced more than sixteen hours of daylight with which to toll. She grew melancholy as she thought of the fast-approaching midnight sun.
She closed the door in the rock, sealing it with an incantation. With it shut, nothing hinted at the secret world below her feet. A vast network of tunnels plunged deep into an environment hidden from humans, and within, a whole village of huldufólk dwelled. Near the surface, the light álfar dominated the homes cut into the rock, and as the passageways twisted deeper into the hillside, dark álfar and spirits were crammed left and right into every nook and cranny.
Finnboga hitched her skirt and squatted on the ground. With a long, elegant finger, she drew a circle and then reached into her pocket and pulled out a velvet pouch.
The runes jiggled inside as she shook the bag, making a satisfying clacking sound that excited her with their whispered promise of an auspicious day. Finnboga put in one hand, and without looking she selected five and cast them into the circle. The mjöll had turned to hjarn now, so the stones lay proud on the hard, icy surface. She chewed a long thumbnail and leaned in for a closer look. Her long, silver hair cascaded forward, shrouding her svelte figure and the stones.
Finnboga studied the icons on the runes that had fallen symbol up. First was Dagaz, two reflecting equilateral triangles joined point to point. She smiled at the rune—Hope and Happiness—it was decades since she threw this rune. She sniffed the air, summer was in the wind, but so was something else. A turn of fortune maybe?
The next rune represented the God Ingwaz. The neat, diamond shape signified the beginning of something. Her eyes widened as she saw it lay next to the last rune, their smooth surfaces touching. Dagaz and Ingwaz joined was a fortuitous omen. Over the last five hundred years, Finnboga couldn’t remember casting this rune. She scanned the horizon. It was too early in the day for a miracle, but her fingers tingled with the promise of its imminent arrival.
Finnboga returned to the stones at her feet. The triangular P-shaped Wunjo, butted against the edge of the circle. Finnboga’s hand went to her chest. Joy. Her heart warmed and her fingertips tingled in anticipation. She remembered being happy once—in the distant past, when Fönn’s laughter filled her home. She glanced over at the ravine and shuddered; only when her daughter was freed, could she be happy again.
The fourth stone was familiar. For one hundred years, she rolled Isaz day in and day out. No matter how she tried to influence the selection, or whatever uneven ground she tossed the runes onto, Isaz appeared. As sure as night followed day, that rune haunted her. Its straight line mocked, as it stated the obvious—Ice. It had been her sole focus this past century. She skipped over it and spied the backwards Z-shaped rune, Sowilo.
“Ha! Take that ice!”
Sowilo and Isaz together were a contradiction that could only mean one thing. When Sun and Ice battled, there was to be one victor. If Sowilo was the stronger force, it heralded the end of Finnboga’s enslavement to the crevasse and signified the beginning of a new service to the sun.
“I do believe today is the day I have been waiting for!” Finnboga gathered up the stones and slipped them into the pouch. She placed the bag back in her pocket and took her ivory comb, dragging it through all five feet of her silken, silvery hair. Slowly, she untangled the threads and the monotony of the task lifted the álfkona’s burden from her shoulders. An hour later, the glossy strands shone as bright as the sun and Finnboga picked up her magic bucket and strode to the river to begin her task. But today, for the first time in one hundred years, she felt fortified by the runes’ forecast.
At the riverbank, she placed her pail into the water and took a seat on a large stone. The wooden vessel vibrated, and a low hum emanated from it. It jostled and shook, churning the water around until it until it bubbled and spat. Just as the pail threatened to fall and be washed away by the currents of the river, a second bucket rocketed out, shooting high into the air. It somersaulted and landed with a resounding splash in the water next to the first.
Within seconds, a dozen buckets popped from the first and stood in a neat row in the water but still the multiplying continued. Each of the ten replicating until a thousand clones splashed into the river. When there was no more room, the reproduction stopped, and Finnboga wriggled her nose and pointed a long elegant finger at them. One by one, the pails grew legs and dipped themselves into the icy waters. Once filled to the brim, they marched up the glacier towards the crevasse, a regimented, shadowy snake inching up the glacier.
Once the last bucket joined the line, Finnboga marched them forward, and, as they meandered across the ice cap slopping water from side to side, the buckets hummed and chanted as they labored. Finnboga joined them in song, and her voice was as silvery and magical as her flowing hair.
At the crevasse, the thousand pails fidgeted on their tiny feet, waiting for their mistress. The álfkona peered over the edge and her hands fluttered to her chest as she saw the column of ice below—a block that was so pure it took on the light blue hue of the sky.
She sighed at the child entombed within it. Her long fingertips longed to touch the ice—but it was still too far to reach. Finnboga’s temper rose. How could the runes’ message be true? Even with every one of the thousand pails making a thousand trips to the river, they could never carry enough water to raise her daughter today.
She clapped her hands together. “Empty.”
The first bucket leaped into the air, somersaulted, and tipped its contents into the ravine. The water turned to ice almost as soon as it hit the frozen surface below and the bucket landed beside Finnboga, its tiny legs vanishing. One by one, the animated buckets purged their contents and jumped inside the first pail. When the last one disappeared, Finnboga snatched up her magic pail and trudged back to the river.