Janni Lee Simner

Thief Eyes

Like Haley, I’m descended from a long line of strong

women. This one’s for them: my grandmothers,

Anne Rosenel, Jenny Simner, and Isabel Simner;

my aunts, Harriet Piltz and Ida Rosenel;

and most of all my mother, Roberta Dunker,

the strongest woman I know

and the reason I grew up never doubting

I could be anything I wanted.

I will not allow it.

I will not be given to the first man who asks for my hand, bartered like a horse or a sheep. I will determine my fate, as my father promised me long ago.

My father’s brother, Hrut, says none may determine their fate, not even Odin One-Eye and his kin. Hrut is a fool. He says I have the eyes of a thief and that men will suffer for me. He says it is the future he sees.

Let Hrut see what he will. I’ll show him what a thief’s eyes and thief’s heart can truly do. I draw my scarlet cloak close. None can see me in this cave beyond the Law Rock. None can hear me over the water that roars beyond it.

I take a skin filled with a fox’s blood and pour it into a wooden bowl—driftwood, come over waters I’ve never sailed. I longed once to seek riches across the sea, and my father promised me that as well. Then he told me his promises were a child’s game, nothing more. He told me I was no longer a child, and that my marriage to Thorvald, Osvif’s son, was arranged.

No matter. I have another uncle, Svan, a sorcerer who lives by Bear’s Fjord to the north. Svan is my mother’s brother, not my father’s. When I asked him to teach me sorcery, he did not deem his promise a game.

I take a black raven’s claw and pierce my thumb. Above the roar of the waterfall, a raven cries out, as if angered by the loss of its kin. What do ravens know of anger? I squeeze my thumb, using my own blood to draw a circle upon a dull black stone. A fire stone, cool in my hand, yet with heat enough to burn at its core. I cross the circle with three intersecting lines, then draw smaller lines and circles at their ends, combining the runes Svan taught me, one for possession, the other for time. The stone grows warm. I drop it into the fox’s blood. I toss a smooth silver coin—no mark upon it—into the blood as well, and then I chant, shouting to hear myself over the water:

Powers beyond the earth, hear me! Powers beneath the earth, aid me! Find her, turn her, Show me her place!

The blood begins to boil. I take a yellow ring, woven from strands of my own hair—a gift I gave my father long ago, meant to seal his promises. Those promises are broken. The ring is mine to give again where I will. I slip it over my finger and thrust my hand into the bowl.

The boiling blood burns, but I do not fear pain. My fingers close around the coin.

Flames leap up from the blood—the flames of another world, one of fiery giants and melting stone. The flames take on shapes as they roar all around me—a grasping hand, a gaping mouth. My skin blisters and melts away. Fire burns through my bare finger bones as the figures reach for my hands, my hair.

Then the flames fall away, and the cave walls with them. Through air that shimmers with heat I see a broad path beneath an open sky.

On that path, I see the years of my life laid out before me. I see beyond those years, to times when our warriors cast aside their swords and our weavers their looms, when our stories are turned to runes bound in leather, nothing more. Difficult times—but what time is not difficult? Better a difficult life than one controlled by others. So said my forebears when they parted ways with the Norwegian king and sailed for this land. So say I, as I look down the path.

I see my daughter, by Thorvald or another man, I cannot tell. She looks right at me—in this vision she is older than I am—and nods sharply. She is angry, and not only at my spell. Crafted of my anger as the spell is, it is drawn to the anger in all my descendants’ lives—to the moments of weakness when they might consent to my bargain.

The air whispers of my daughter’s anger—a slain son, caught unaware while sowing grain—but then she turns fiercely away. She is more interested in avenging this wrong than escaping it. I’m glad my spell won’t land on her. I will go farther—beyond my life, and my daughter’s life, and every last tie between my father and me.

I see my daughter’s daughters, and their daughters in turn, the path they stand upon branching as it stretches through time. The air around each woman whispers of a different grief: a cruel husband, a slain lover, a hungry winter, a deadly fall of ash upon the fields. For thirty generations, every one of them meets my eyes—and turns away. My blood grows thin, but my daughters remain strong, too strong to flee these moments of pain.

The branches that do not bear daughters are lost to me, one by one, until only two branches of my descendants remain. On one, a woman with long red hair trembles beneath my gaze. I hear whispers of abandonment, of a man fled across the sea—it is often about a man. Yet she also turns away. She has no daughters, and so her branch, too, is lost.

The other branch slips out of my reach, its daughters growing ghostly and faint as they journey across a different sea—until one of them returns to this land, a woman with fair yellow hair like my own. She meets my gaze and doesn’t turn away. I see the confusion upon her face: her line has forgotten much of magic. Tears streak her cheeks and make her gray eyes bright. The air around her whispers of betrayal, of a man lying in another woman’s arms.

There is freedom in having a man leave you—but perhaps she does not know this. Perhaps she seeks escape after all.

I can give her that—and in so doing, seize the freedom for myself.

“A gift!” I call. The woman’s eyes grow large as I draw the coin from the burning blood. There are symbols etched upon the silver now, the same signs I drew upon the stone. I throw the coin to her, through thirty generations of time. The woman hesitates, then reaches out a shaking hand and catches it.

The path trembles beneath us. A moment more and this woman and I will trade places. I will see through her eyes; she will see through mine. She will marry Thorvald, Osvif’s son, and I will be free.

The woman looks away, as if startled—by my spell or by something else, I cannot tell. She blinks hard, drops the coin, and runs.

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