Outside, irregular spatters of rain and the sound of wind chimes as the breeze shifts. Inside, the hum of the computer. It’s chilly in my room-—maybe that will help me stay awake. I breathe slowly and deeply, counting, and feel my focus shift. On my mountain it’s cold and wet too. I hurry down the path, and it grows warmer. The trees keep off the rain, or maybe the rain is now in some other dimension. I come out onto the plain of Midgard and call to Raven, who comes circling down from above.
She bears a message from Heimdall. The party tonight is in Svartalfheim.
Really? I didn’t know the gods would leave Asgard at this season. On the other hand, I bet the dwarves make great toys. And it’s not as if I don’t know the way. I’ve passed it many times, but never gone in.
I turn and see the arching root of the Tree, its underside polished by the many who have brushed beneath it. The stone is worn away below. Bending a little, I enter the passageway, and the dim sourceless light lets me see my way. I pass through the mists that flow down from Niflheim, but when I hear the clink of dwarven hammers, I turn from the path and take another, that winds among rocks toward the sound. It is paved with close-fitted stones, and though there are sheer drops to one side or another, the path itself is level and secure.
As the noise grows louder, I see that the rock itself has been carved in columns and arches, a little low for one of my height. I suppose the gods have to bend even more. At the moment, however, they are sitting down, on benches behind long, low tables laden with food.
As I enter, one of the dwarves comes to meet me. He is about four foot high, with a brindled brown beard, heavily muscled in the shoulders, a little bandy legged, dressed in a tunic of mustard yellow edged with black fur. Around his neck is a gold chain.
“I am Dvalin,” he announces, “and I bid you welcome. You have called on my cousins who hold up your world often enough for us to know you. And you have studied forgework. That’s enough to win you a welcome here.”
“Studied only, not done,” I reply.
“Well, that’s more than most folk know these days. Of course we also keep up with the times—“ he nods toward another chamber where the cave turns, and I glimpse the blue light of a computer monitor. I can smell machine oil as well.
The tables are full, but he seats me on a bench by the forge. I breathe in the scent of charcoal, and admire the finely made and beautifully cared for tools that hang on the wall. Another dwarf brings me a pewter platter with roast meat. Elk, I think, cooked long enough to be tender. There is also a tall pewter tankard of foaming beer. As I eat, I look over at the table where the gods are sitting. Each of them has been presented with a toy, and food is going untasted as they play with them.
By Thor there is a beautifully crafted sun-wheel in a wagon with a horse of bronze, but its legs are jointed, and it steps delicately down the table, pulling the wagon. Odin has been given a silver beaker with interlace around the middle. As I look at it, the gripping beasts writhe and shift position. It must be the beaker—I haven’t had that much beer. Frigga has a mechanical doll that stirs the contents of a bowl. I can see that might be useful, so long as one knows how to make it stop. I remember what happened with the Sampo. Some of the other gods have moving mechanical animals, or puzzle boxes, or jewelry. There is nothing so fancy as Skithbladnir or Mjollnir, but these are only party favors, not competition pieces.
I watch the gods and the toys, laughing as Idunna’s bird buzzes Thor as it flies about the room. His laugh reverberates through the stone chambers. Through other archways I can see the glow of firelight and glimpse much larger forges and furnaces. But presently I have finished my food, and I can feel that the night is passing. I thank Dvalin for his hospitality.
“But you have been our guest, you must have a gift too,” he says.
“I don’t think I can carry it back to the part of Midgard from which I come.”
“Keep it on this side, then. “ He goes into the next chamber, when he returns, he is holding a compass in a silver case. Or at least I think that’s what it is. Beneath the crystal face it is spherical, and has pointers that can go up and down as well as to the sides. Around the edge there are runes.
“What is it?”
“Yes. It is a compass,” he replies, “for finding your way around the nine worlds.”
I nod. “That will be a useful gift indeed.” It is on a long chain, so I can hang it around my neck.
“Tell it where you want to go,” says Dvalin.
“Home to the Midgard that lies without—“ I say, and the dials spin. The gold one points straight ahead, and the silver points upward Holding it, I make my way out of the cave and along the path, stopping from time to time to check as the dials quiver and shift.
I reach the main path and turn to my left and upward, passing Niflheim and emerging onto the plain in front of the Worldtree. Here Raven leaves me. I know the way home, but it is interesting to watch the dials move. When I come to my mountainside, I stop and build a little cairn of rocks beneath which I set the compass. Then I quicken my breathing, twitch my shoulders, open my eyes and return.