The Myling

Hugin and Munin each morning fy
Over the vast earth:
Hugin, I fear, may fail to return,
But I fear more for Munin.
- Grímnismál
These are the raven nights; when the darkness draws tight about the day, before
the frst frost comes. The ravens gather in the trees, reveling now that their time
approaches, and the streets empty. No-one goes out past sunset that can help it.
Late drivers rush home, chasing the comfort of their headlights; I feel their gaze
wash past as I turn my shoulder against the light. I have nothing to fear, not the
ravens or the darkness. Not any more. It would be a pilgrimage, if I had a
destination. Instead it is the opposite. My path turns about a single point, fxed
hard as stone, rooted in the earth. I can feel it always, in every step of my slow
circuit of the city. I dare not go closer.
They say that the sound of your own child crying afects you more than
anyone else. That you are tuned to their call, as they are tuned to call for you.
Maybe that is why my feet are already moving when I hear the sound. Maybe
that is why I turn in towards the city and cross the border that has kept me safe
without a second thought. The ravens watch impassive as I run, stumble, and run
again, drawn towards the sound.
It is him.
It cannot be him, but it is.
I fnd him amongst a copse of trees, the last of the city’s greenbelt waiting
to be consumed by the slow creep of progress. The leaves are damp as I push
through them, the contact leaving an oily residue on my face and hands. I forget
the touch of it when I see him. There is no blanket here, no tough, clear-glass case
to keep the air pristine about him. He lies in a pile of autumn’s frst fall with his
spine curled tight, a shield to protect him from the world; his fsts are clenched,
free of tubes and tape; his face turns towards me at the sound of my approach.
It cannot be him. It cannot be. But it is.
He opens his hands towards me, a plea that echoes in the rising tone of his
wail, and I reach for him with an eagerness that overcomes all caution. I was
never given the opportunity, even when it was clear that there was little that
isolation could do for him. I lift him now and gather him to my chest so that he
can feel my heartbeat, that he can know me as his father. He is feather-light,
insubstantial, and as I cradle him his cries die down - a whimper, a sigh, then
silence. Holding him, I know now what he is. He is lost. I stand, taller than I have
for many years, and turn towards the city’s heart. There is a church there, and
behind it there is a grave. Save for the day we buried him, I have not been back.
He shifts against me, settling as he senses my intent.
The frst step is the hardest - years of habit are hard to break - but once I
have taken it the righteousness of the task heartens me. As I walk, he feels more
solid in my hands, the weight of him reassuring against my forearm. My resolves
summons him back to me, and I am rewarded. The ravens follow after, focking
from tree to tree, pausing on gutters and cornicing to croak and squawk at me.
Their cries sound mocking, and I pull my coat about him as a shield from the
worst of it.
We are barely halfway when I realise that my arms are shaking with the
efort of carrying him. He grips my shirt front, his weight pulling the material
tight about my shoulders and neck. He hangs in the bow of my arms, no longer
cradled against me, and with a surge of strength I lift him to my shoulder to keep
him from falling. He grumbles in protest, but settles quickly, and even though I
can already feel my side beginning to cramp from the efort of standing upright, I
am comforted by the feel of his arm warm against my neck.
I lurch through the gates of the graveyard to silence. The ravens have
deserted us now, the clustered headstones and the high iron fence scribing a
pattern in the earth that wards against their presence. There is no sound here
save for the labour of my breath and the thunder of my heartbeat. He is so heavy
now I can barely stand beneath his weight. With every step, I lift my foot
knowing that this will be the one where I fail. With every step, I make sure that I
do not. He does not cry, but I feel him cling to me ever tighter in anticipation of
our parting, my jacket torn where he has twisted it in his fst.
As I reach his grave it feels as though he doubles in weight, and doubles
again. I sink to my knees, unable to resist the motion, and the darkness that
gathers at the edge of my vision is more than just the night. I turn as I fall,
drawing him to my chest so that even if it is the last thing I feel, I feel him in my
arms. As I sink into the grass and the ground beneath, I catch sight of his face
and know that he was not lost: I was. I want to say his name, to let him hear me
one last time, but I have no breath. Holding him is enough. My son. My heart.