The Tree at World's End

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Einar Halldórsson’s coffee machine spluttered as he frothed the milk for his latte. He had just begun to pour it into a cup when his mobile rang.
He let it ring until he had brought his coffee ritual to completion, but by then the caller had disconnected.

He checked the screen.


Well, he would have to wait.

Einar put his mobile down and sat before his laptop to see what the day held in store.

A few enquiries about his online course, some tweaks required on the website, and half a dozen phone calls that needed answering. All in all, a pretty easy day, which suited him just fine.

Einar sighed, and looked out the window.

All he could see was white haze, snow and ice. Was this winter ever going to end? It was already nearly the end of April, a full month after the spring equinox. While the occasional blizzard was not unheard of, even this late in the year, never had winter extended so long nor clung so stubbornly.

The whole thing was unprecedented. And it was a world-wide phenomenon, not something restricted to the northern hemisphere. Even the southern hemisphere, where it should have been summer, and the tropics, where temperatures remained much the same all year round, these too were virtually shut down by icy gales and snowstorms.

The news channels talked of little else.

He skimmed over announcements of violent demonstrations and the list of nations that had declared martial law in a desperate bid to contain the crisis. But there was no effective containment for this. The scientific community were in a mad scramble to come up with alternative sources for both energy and food production.

Einar sighed as he watched the latest antics of the president, when a text message caused his phone to buzz and thrash about like an overturned insect.

Carl again.

Urgent. Check email. Call me.

Einar frowned.

Carl was the kind of person who didn’t normally do urgent.

He flicked over to the email server. A score of messages, some spam. One message was from Carl.

No subject line, no comment, just a single attachment: an audio file.
Normally Einar would have relegated any such missive to the recycle bin faster than he could blink, but Carl had just warned him about the email.

He hesitated, the mouse cursor hovering over the file, before he clicked to open it.

The audio was terrible and for a moment he could not understand a word that was being said.

He adjusted the volume and replayed it.

The speaker had a strange accent. Einar recognised some of his words, but the syntax was all over the place. He wondered if this was a dialect he had not heard before.

He clicked on the file and played it again.

And then again.

It was as though he could understand the individual words, but not the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

He continued to replay the sound file until something fell into place.

He froze.

The language wasn’t any Icelandic dialect.

It was Old Norse.

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