It was an odd night at Meilori's.
The shadows were thicker, the customers more ... unique. It was my birthday and that of my friend, Siv Maria, half a world away.
Her book, SECRETS OF THE ASH TREE, was a fine book. A novel of coming of age, of wanting to know the truth behind family illusions ... and the price of that truth.
"PRICE OF TRUTH," intoned an eerie figure.
He seemed made of stained glass. His hood was grey. His eye was one. The patch covering the other was obsidian.
The two ravens sitting on his shoulders peered at me. "Memory," cawed one. "Mind," cawed the other.
Wotan, as I knew my guest to be, said,
"A taste for truth at any cost is a passion that, like all passions, consumes all it touches. Thou mayest have truth or peace. Thou cannot have both."
He disappeared leaving the wavering image of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Ratatoskr perched on its huge trunk.
He gazed up at the distant branches (You see Meilori's has no ceiling -- only mists)
He bounded to my table top. "Friend Roland, you are in danger. Birthdays are the crossroads of Fate."
He leapt to my shoulder, "Fear not. I, Ratatoskr, will fight by your side."
I reached up and nuzzled his chin. "I feel better already."
Suddenly, three females sat at the base of Yggdrasil:
The very old one, Urðr I knew her name to be, graveled, "Thy destiny is thine own and cannot be shared."
The young woman of the three (Verðandi) said, "Think not overmuch of tomorrow. This moment is all that thou hast. All else is mist."
Skuld, the young girl with the face of a skull giggled,
"It is dangerous for mortals to be examined by too strong a light. The torch of Truth shows much that we cannot, and all that we would not, see."
Ratatoskr chirped, "If I promised to miss thee, would thee leave?"
They did, and the surprised squirrel turned to me. "That was easy."
The carpet bulged to our right, split with the sound of splintering floor boards,
and a huge scaly dragon head the size of the National Debt burst through.
"Nidhogg!" shrilled Ratatoskr, hiding behind my head, his tiny clawed fingers holding on painfully to my throat.
"Miss me?" asked the dragon, sounding like Anthony Hopkins magnified a thousand times.
Glasses on every table shattered at his voice.
"Not really," chittered Ratatoskr. "Why not go away and see if I do then?"
Eyes that were molten pools of lava bored into me. "Would thou like to become Jonah?"
Ratatoskr squeaked in surprise as a cat made of azure stained glass leapt on the table, calmly walked in front of me, and sat down as if to defend me.
"Gypsy sent me," she purred. "From Valhalla."
A brittle voice of death and dawn spoke beside me, and I looked up at a beautiful blonde warrioress made of glowing stained glass.
It was Freya, gleaming rose shield in hand. She twirled her spear in a wheel of spun fire.
"I was told thou weret going to pick thy favorite Norse God or Goddess. I came to hear. So, mortal, who is thy choice?"
Stained glass flames eerily flickered in a dance of razored shards beside her as Loki appeared at her side. He looked like a beared Brad Pitt. "Why me, of course!"
Nidhogg chuckled, "Oh, DreamSinger, how wilt thou get out of this one?"
I smiled, "That is an easy choice: Ratatoskr. He came to stand by my side though the odds were impossible, and he was afraid."
Freya nodded approvingly. "Thou spoke well ... and true."
She imperiously waved her spear and all but Ratatoskr were gone.
Ratatoskr breathed out slow and ragged.
He jumped down to the table-top and turned to me, dancing in place. "Where is the Little Squirrel's Room!"