“You have got to be kidding me,” Mercy said.
Muriel sat with her arms crossed on the table, having finished telling us what she's said to Joseph and me at the convenience store, though with fewer interruptions. “That's the plan. Start up Ragnarok, fight in it, let everyone else live happily ever after without the tyranny of Odin.”
Mercy stared at her. “Do you know the first thing about Odin? I can't even begin to explain how many things are wrong with what you just said.”
I interrupted. “Hold up a minute. Let's do a little background first. Mercy and Joseph, if you think what I'm saying is off-base, jump in.”
“Okay,” I began. “First off, Odin doesn't feed off of pain and suffering. He may not always be the nicest guy, but he isn't a total asshole, either.”
“He has human-like flaws,” Joseph said. “It's one of the more fascinating things about the Norse gods. They were very human-like in their characteristics. Neither good nor evil, per se, just massive strengths and normal flaws.”
I nodded. “Odin brought back Mimir's head so he could learn more. It wasn't a great thing to do, but it was an ends and means kind of thing. And Odin collects knowledge from all over the world, by way of Mimir and the ravens - whatever their names are...”
“Huginn and Muninn,” Mercy offered.
“Thanks,” I said. “He uses this information as a way to try to put off Ragnarok, not because he feeds on pain and Ragnarok will end it, but because Ragnarok will destroy the world and most of the people in it long before the happily ever after ending.”
Muriel frowned, thinking about this.
I continued. “He tries to put off massive and really painful death, knowing that no matter what he does, it will still come someday and that he will die during the battle.”
“Then Baldur takes over, right?” Joseph said.
“Who's Baldur?” Muriel asked sitting up. “Keith never said anything about any Baldur.”
“Baldur is the god of love and peace,” Mercy said. “Flowers spring up where he steps. All of nature loves him. His rule will usher in the era of peace, but only when most of the other gods sacrifice themselves in the battle to save the remnant of humanity.”
Muriel seemed confused by this information. “There is a Norse god of love and peace?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s not one of the stereotypical Norse things, but Baldur is beloved of all the gods.”
Muriel shook her head in denial. “Keith said that only by destroying all the Norse gods in Ragnarok could humans live in peace. Under the rule of the savior.”
I frowned. “Well, some people do see Baldur as a kind of savior god, but I always thought of that as a carryover from the Christianization of our worldview.”
Mercy nodded. “That is a very liberal interpretation of Baldur, but not really wrong.”
Muriel shook her head. “No. I mean, I don't think Keith was talking about a Norse god. He seemed pretty sure that all the Norse gods needed to be killed.”
“Maybe we should be asking Keith about this savior god,” Joseph said.
I nodded. “Perhaps it’s time to check out Keith's little events.” I looked at Muriel. “Where do we find him?”
Muriel shrugged. “He's doing a show tomorrow at Circle Centre Mall.”
“Great. We'll be there.”
“No way!” Muriel said. “You guys are gonna get in there and cause a bunch of trouble and I don't want anything to do with that. You leave me out of this.”
“Fine,” I shrugged. “Stay away from the show. But you need to get somewhere safe.”
“I'll go to work and then straight back home.”
“Safer than being alone, Muriel.” I looked at Mercy. “Can you babysit?”
Muriel jumped up. “Jesus! I don't need a babysitter. The rest of my family is at home. We can look out for each other.”
I frowned. “Fine. But please don't get into trouble. If we are going to be rocking the boat, I don't want you falling out.”
Muriel scowled. “Maybe you shouldn't be rocking the boat, then.”
I grinned. “If you can tell me that this little discussion hasn't given you some reasons to question what Keith's been saying, I'll drop it right now and head home to Ella.”
Muriel lifted her chin and stared at me for a long moment before dropping her eyes. “Fine. Talk to him. Make him prove what he's saying. But then you have to leave us alone.”
“Deal.” I tossed half the bags of remaining food to Mercy and half to Muriel. “Take it and let's get going. We need to get some rest before we face off tomorrow.”
Muriel picked up the food I'd tossed to her and stood up, her gaze falling on the parking area. “Uh oh.”
I followed her eyes to a spot near the car and let out a string of cussing under my breath. “Just what I need,” I muttered.
A tall man in a black trench coat and top hat stood on the side of the road with his hands in his pockets. His eyes were hidden by small, round sunglasses with dark red glass, giving him the appearance of Dracula a la Gary Oldman. He never moved as I walked over to him with Joseph, Muriel and Mercy on my heels.
“Theo,” I said. “How's Rowan?”
Theo's mouth tightened before he spoke, his voice a smooth tenor. “Lady Luna Rowan Lightfeather”, he emphasized each word as if correcting me, “sends her greetings, and a warning.”
I raised my eyebrow and crossed my arms over my chest. He hesitated as if he wanted me to say something first, but I kept my mouth shut. I refused to give him an inch.
“My lady wants you to know that she is aware of your presence in the city,” Theo continued in his buttery voice.
I might be wrong, but I think he was a bit pouty that I wasn't playing along.
“You were banished for your disgraceful behavior some years ago. Your sentence has not been revoked. You will leave.”
I cocked my head to the side. “Uh hmmm,” I drawled. “And if I don't?”
Theo turned his head to face me with his sunglasses. “You don't want to find out.”
I dropped my arms and laughed in his face. Probably not the most diplomatic approach, but really.
“You and your lady can try whatever it is you want to try,” I said. “But your so-called banishment had nothing to do with my leaving and has the same effect on my decision to stay or go in this city as does a mosquito bite.”
I brought my finger up to hover barely an inch from the bridge of his nose. I barely hid my smirk when he flinched slightly.
“You have no right to tell me to leave,” I continued. “I'm here on family business that has nothing to do with you or Rowan, or your little group of whatever the hell you are calling your coven these days. I will finish my business and you will leave me the hell alone while I do so.”
I turned on my heel and walked to the car. As I reached for the handle, I called over my shoulder. “And tell Rowan it's a shame she is still so bloody butt-hurt about what I said. No one but her thought it was even a thing.” I glanced back at Theo. “Maybe her ego really is that fragile.”
I got in the car and turned on the ignition. The other three jumped in as I put the vehicle in reverse.
Theo had removed his glasses and stood glaring at me, lips pressed together. I laughed as I drove away. Theo was still really big on having the last word in any conversation, no matter how small, and my exit had cut the opportunity for that off. Oops!
Muriel gave me directions to her neighborhood in a low voice that stood out in the silence that had fallen over the four of us. We dropped her off where she asked, even though I gave her a look when she asked to be let out at a local park. However, our run-in with Theo had really pissed me off, and I'd already started to fume over the situation. So I just left her on the sidewalk and headed back to the Rainbow Bridge to drop off Mercy.
After a few more minutes of driving quietly, Mercy leaned forward from her seat in the back. “So who's Theo and Rowan? And what was that all about?”
I frowned. This was not my favorite topic.
Joseph jumped in. “About five or six years ago, Nicola was offering a class in one of the local shops. What was it? Astrology?”
“Yeah, anyways. She asked Rowan if she would like to help, since Rowan was always trying to get a foothold in that particular shop to do her own classes. It seemed like a really good partnership. Nicola got to have someone help her with the natal charts, because they are so time consuming. Rowan got to give a class in the shop so she could get some history with them.”
“I should have known better,” I bit off. “Rowan always was a crowd chaser. She wanted to be famous, well-known, whatever. I should have known that that would be her priority.”
“You are just too willing to give people a chance,” Joseph said, patting my shoulder. “So, during the class, one of the students asked a question about... what was it?”
“Progressions. He wanted to know about progressing through the signs.”
“That's right. So, Rowan jumps in with this long speech about how progressions give you a way to predict how people are going to behave. Essentially, she said you could use them to predict your future.” Joseph shrugged. “That's one way to look at it.”
“Rowan finished answering and then I said that that was one way, but not the only way, that astrologers interpret progressions.” I glared at Mercy in the rearview mirror. “I told the class that most astrologers don't mess with trying to predict the future, unless they are writing horoscopes in a daily rag or something like that. I said that progressions are usually interpreted to show how the person is likely to develop their personality over the course of several decades. Frankly, I was being diplomatic.”
I paused, thinking back to that moment, years ago. Seeing Rowan's face when I turned back from telling the class the more common view on progressions, the rage and disgust she'd shown. The moment of numbing confusion I'd felt in response to her anger.
Rowan had immediately slammed her notes down on the table and walked out of the shop. The shop owner had sworn she’d never invite Rowan to teach another class.
“She didn't like what I'd said. It seems she felt I was contradicting her in front of her students. She announced - announced! - that I had betrayed her, set her up. When she found out I was moving, she declared that I was banished from the city for my actions and that I was no longer welcome in any coven in the city.” My grip tightened on the steering wheel. “As if she could even hope to have that kind of authority over me.”
Joseph nodded in sympathy. “She's been after Nicola's blood ever since,” he said. “She never passes up an opportunity to tell people how horrible a person Nicola is. She's gone after me a few times just because I won't disavow her. It's BS politics and I won't play the game. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that believe Rowan, go along with her, or just don't argue the point.”
Mercy sat back. “So she pretty much gets away with it.”
I nodded. “Yeah, though only people new to the local community believe her about me.”
“Will she follow through with her threats?” Mercy asked.I stared silently at the road ahead of me. I didn't know the answer.