The Tree at World's End

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2.15

Eirdis was in her kitchen, taking an inventory of her dwindling supplies.

There was a knock and she froze.

No one had come to the house in such a long time that she had no idea who it might be. She tiptoed to the door and peered through the spy-hole. She wasn’t going to take any chances, either. Desperate times caused people to do desperate things.

Two, no, three people were standing in the gloom outside. Impossible to make out who they were. Likely thugs, come to steal whatever food she had left. The warnings over the air returned to her, do not open to strangers, they cautioned.

“I’m armed,” she said in a loud voice. “There’s nothing for you here. Go away and don’t come back.”

“Eirdis! It’s me, open the door,” said a voice.

They knew her name? How could they?

And that voice…

“Einar?” she whispered, as the room grew dark around her.

She almost blacked out as impossible hope and terrifying fear overwhelmed her.

She cried out.

“Einar? Einar!”

Her hands were shaking as she struggled with the door bolts, but finally she got it open and collapsed into his arms.

It was her Einar.

He’d come back. She wasn’t dreaming - this was real.

Then, suddenly, all her trembling became fuelled not by relief, but by uncontainable rage. She pushed him away with the same intensity she had held onto him only a moment before.

“How dare you?” she snarled, hammering him with her fists.

“You left me! You left me completely alone, you bastard! And you crawl back now? Get out! Get out!”

But his arms were once more around her, holding her tight, holding her rage and her grief.

“Eirdis, Eirdis…” He whispered her name over and over as she strained against his hold, but he would not let her go.

Soon her railing broke, became sobs of unimaginable grief, and still he held her until they too subsided and Eirdis went limp in her husband’s arms.

He carried her over to the couch and sat beside her.

He stroked her hair and kissed her face.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you sooner,” he said soothingly. “I couldn’t reach you from where I was. You’ll not believe the things that have happened and the things I have to tell you!”
His attitude was unbelievable!

So dismissive, it almost set her off again.

“What do you mean? You couldn’t get back sooner than two and a half years?”

His confusion was not faked. He looked bewildered.

“Two and a half…? What? No! No way. It hasn’t even been two days, what are you talking about?”

Suddenly he turned to his two companions and spoke to them rapidly in a language she had never heard him speak before.

When he turned back to look at her, his eyes were wide with horror.

“No! No, no, no, no, no…”

Then he was instantly beside her again, taking her hands in his.

“Eirdis, I’m so sorry! I didn’t … if I’d known … oh, my god, I’m so very sorry … two and a half years?”

Einar repeated the words as though they had become stuck in his mind.

“I thought it was only yesterday that … or the day before, at the very most.”

Eirdis believed him. She knew he was speaking truly and was about to reassure him when the stranger interrupted.

Eirdis finally saw the couple who still stood in the doorway. They were the two most unlikely people she’d ever seen.

The woman stared up at the sky and spoke earnestly in her strange tongue.

“Eirdis, we have to go,” Einar said, and the urgency in his tone got her attention. “We’re running out of time!”

“Einar, where have you been? They told me you’d been killed, by terrorists. And now you’re here, telling me we have to go? It’s been two and a half – no, what am I saying – three years, of uninterrupted winter! There has been crisis upon crisis. More terrorist attacks than ever before, wars breaking out everywhere, they’ve even used nuclear weapons! Half of Europe is at war with the other half. Parts of Africa are reduced to smouldering, radioactive ruins. Same with South America. They’re saying that we’re on the verge of total annihilation!”

She took a sobbing breath.

“Go where, Einar? What does it matter where we go now?”

“You have to trust me,” he answered immediately. “Right now. Grab some warm clothes, shoes, that kind of stuff. Pretend we’re going camping. Do it.”

She made to protest, but he forestalled her.

Right now,” he insisted. “I will explain as we go, but we have to get moving.”

Einar was different. His words held a power she never would have thought to hear in him.

She glanced past him, at the bleak, cold night.

“Where’s the car? You don’t even have a car?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about that. We have to go. Now.”
The tone behind his words got through.

While she gathered a few things, he disappeared into his study. She heard him rummaging noisily.

“Ready,” she announced putting on her coat.

Einar came out and immediately reached for her hand. He drew her outside. The strange couple followed them.

“Who are these people?” she asked.

“Líf and Lífþrasir,” he answered, as he pulled her out onto the frozen lawn.

There was a roaring noise in the sky.

“Oh,” was all she said when she looked up.

High above the clouds, bright lights were criss-crossing the night.

“It is happening, isn’t it?” she whispered in a frightened tone.

Einar nodded.

“It’s Ragnarøkkr,” he replied. He raised their joined hands and the stranger immediately clasped them.

In that moment a blindingly bright light burst through the clouds.

Eirdis shrunk in terror as the world faded around her.

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