The Girls of Skogtarnisor
Chapter 2: Unn

Copyright© 2020 by Tarasandia

No one ever did get banished through the Labyrinth Gate, and eventually the horror of my skogkatt experience faded; it became a standard family funny story with which I laughed along. Occasionally, new people would come to live in our village, and sometimes people passed away, but no one ever passed out through the Labyrinth Gate.

No one ever did get banished through the Labyrinth Gate, and eventually the horror of my skogkatt experience faded; it became a standard family funny story with which I laughed along. Occasionally, new people would come to live in our village, and sometimes people passed away, but no one ever passed out through the Labyrinth Gate.

I was ten when Sassa and her daughter Unn came to live in our village. as was our custom, we held a great feast for the whole town to mark the occasion. As a Village Elder, my father was expected to take a prominent role in preparing for the celebrations; as his wife and daughters, my mother, sister and I dutifully supported him by working with the other Elder’s wives and daughters to do the actual preparation of the celebration, and counted ourselves lucky to serve as an example to the village.

The evening of the feast was the first time I actually got to see Unn and her mother, before that they were hosted in another villager’s home, and not given freedom to roam about the village. Unn was like no one I had ever seen: her skin was rich and golden, with and iridescent shimmer of pink, and her hair was a glistening mass of hot pink curls. She wore a simple black tunic, leggings and boots that somehow seemed not funereal but electrifying and mysterious all at once.

I had prepared a small gift for her: a corn doll I had fashioned for the Ostara festival, freshly adorned with some bluebells and a daisy perched upon her head like a hat. Unn saw me approaching, and my sister Brenna close behind.

“Hello!” she said, approaching us with cheerful openness that startled me. “I’m Unn.”

“Hello, “ I replied, “I’m Astrid, and this is my sister Brenna.”

“Hello Unn!”

“I’m so glad there are girls my own age here. My mother said it was a small village, and there mightn’t be many children.”

“There are others,” I said. “You’ll meet them all at school tomorrow.”

Brenna piped up now, “Astrid has a present for you!” she said, eager for me to present the doll, whose daisy-hat had been created by herself. I fished the doll out of my pocket, but my delight turned to dismay as I noticed the flowers were crushed. I tried to pretend the doll wasn’t the intended gift, but Unn took my hand before I could return the doll to my pocket.

“She’s lovely,” Unn said, and took the doll from me. Then, she did a curious thing: she brought the doll very close to her face, almost as if she were going to kiss it. She studied it for a bit, then closed her eyes and blew gently on the flowers. To my astonishment and Brenna’s, the blossoms came back to life.

“How did you do that?!” I exclaimed. Brenna just stared with eyes as wide as saucers.

“Oh, don’t you know?” Unn said, as if what she had just done were common knowledge. “Well, I asked the flowers if they wanted to blossom again, and so they did.”


As children will who have not yet learned to fear the extraordinary, Brenna and I soon became fast friends with Unn. Her strangeness was of course remarked upon by many in the village, but I heard little of it, and wouldn’t have understood what it betrayed about my fellow villagers even if I had. Unn was a polite and cheerful little girl, so they were by and large willing to overlook her odd skin and haircolor, and our friendship blossomed naturally.

Over time, her color seemed to be just a bit less odd and brilliant; I wasn’t sure if it was my memory playing tricks on me, or a change taking place in my friend herself, but it was slow change, and it made her fit better into the village. Even at ten I could sense that this was good from the perspective of the villagers, because what little talk there had been seemed to disappear as Unn became more normal looking.

Brenna in particular seemed to idolize our new friend. She had come from the World Beyond, and Brenna constantly plied her for stories of places she had been, things she had done and seen that were unknown to us in the village of Skogtårn-i-Sør.

I suppose I felt a bit stung by being displaced in my sister’s affections, and I began to gravitate toward the young women just a bit older than I, who were transitioning into women’s roles in the village. I was young, however, and still sought Brenna and Unn’s company when the women didn’t need me around; and Unn was so gentle, generous and inventive that I could not long be around her without falling under her spell a bit myself.

So it was that Unn first led us to look beyond the Labyrinth Gate one day. Like most of our adventures, it began with a barrage of questions from Brenna.

“Unn, why don’t you do more magic? Like you did with the flowers.”

“It’s not magic,” Unn replied, as if this should have been understood. “I just help answer questions.”

“Well, it looks like magic,” Brenna insisted, “Those flowers were dead, and you brought them back to life!”

Unn smiled, “That’s only because they wanted to; they knew they had been asked to greet me, and they wanted to do their job, Brenna. But here in the village, the wanting has been beaten out of most things. They won’t even listen to me, much less tell me what they want. So I can’t help them.”

“Oh.” said Brenna, as mystified as ever, and then again, “Well that’s silly of them. If I were a flower, I’d love to be in bloom all the time!” As she did this, her fingers slipped the final knot into the daisy chain she was making, and she placed it upon her own head.

I was a bit more intrigued by what Unn had said. “If you could talk to some flowers outside of the village, do you think they might want to talk? I mean ... in your old village, there must have been hundreds of flowers to talk to.”

“Oh yes!” said Unn, “and the animals and all the creatures,” she said. “In my old village, everything wanted to be known, be remembered. Be loved. That’s what it is, you know - the ‘magic’, as Brenna calls it. It’s just recognizing the soul of at thing. When you can see that soul with your heart, then you become a mirror for the thing itself, and it can remember how to heal itself.”

“But here in the village, everything is already just fine.” I said, without really thinking about it.

“Yes, well ... they think they’re fine, anyway,” Unn said sadly.

Now it was Brenna’s turn: “Why don’t we go to the Labyrinth Gate?” she said.

Unn and I turned puzzled looks in her direction, and she explained, “You can see through the gate there. Maybe you can talk to some of the flowers that live near the gate.”

Unn was off in the direction of the North Field and the Labyrinth Gate before either Brenna or I could say another word. “Come on!” she said, “I’ll show you!”

“We shouldn’t!” I said, suddenly rooted to the ground in fear.

“Why not?” said Brenna, “We’re not going through the gate, silly. We’re just going to the gate, so Unn can talk to some flowers.”

Now it was Unn’s turn to be surprised, “What’s wrong with going through the gate?” she said. “Isn’t that what gates are for?”

“Oh no!” I cried in alarm, “Not the Labyrinth Gate. We really shouldn’t go there. No one is supposed to leave through that gate until Freya opens it to bring us all to Folkvangr.”

“Oh you don’t seriously believe that, Astrid, do you?”

“Brenna, I do! Please, please, please don’t go!”

Brenna just heaved an exasperated sigh. “I’ll go with you, Unn.” she said, turning her back to me and locking elbows with her friend. “We don’t need her to find the gate. Let’s go!”

Alarmed and against my better judgment, I decided to go along and make sure they would be okay.

After all that drama, the actual trip to the gate was pretty anti-climactic. There was a frisson of fear at first (what if we got caught?!), but it faded as I pondered the question more seriously. What if we did get “caught”? It’s not like there was a law against walking up to the North Wall, or looking through the open grating of the gateway itself.

Still, there was an unspoken taboo about the place, and I suspected our trip would be seriously frowned upon by some in the village. And then I thought, “So what? There’s no thing wrong with going to the gate. For pity’s sake, we celebrate most of our holidays there.” And as for the frowners-upon, I figured that what they didn’t’ know wouldn’t hurt them.

The most surprising thing about our trip to the Gate was Unn herself. I would swear that, as she approached it, she seemed to brighten. Her step had an energy I hadn’t seen in a long while. There wasn’t much to see beyond the gate itself: just a grassy clearing through which the village road continued a short way before disappearing into the Labyrinth Forest. Being unused, the path itself was barely even discernible: a few stones that showed in clusters between stands of wildflowers and tall meadowgrass overgrowing it.

Near the gate but off to the left was a small patch of daisies whose time appeared to have come and gone for the year. It was to these bygone blooms that Unn turned her attention, and reached through the iron grate toward them. I noticed in her hand the small corn doll I had given her when first we met.

Brenna and I knew what would happen next, but for all that we were still amazed and delighted when the blossoms lifted their bright faces toward the sun.

“Unn - your hair is sparkling!” I exclaimed. “And your skin is shimmering golden-pink again!”

Unn smiled but said nothing, clearly in a happier place that she did not want to disturb by speaking, and I watched in fascination as she spoke to other green things beyond the wall, and the entire forest entrance was soon bedecked with an arching canopy of blossoms and fruit.

It was Brenna who noticed, in the darkness beyond, a slip of blue light like a beckoning finger. I was so entranced by Unn’s “conversation” with the flowers and trees that I missed it completely until I heard a harsh grating and a grunt of effort and frustration. I looked up to see Brenna struggling with the vegetation that had grown up and over a small guard door set into the wall beside the main gate.

“Brenna, no!” I cried, and quickly leapt up to pull her away from the gate.

Brenna seemed to snap out of a fog when I touched her, and looked around in confusion at the destroyed vines partially pulled away from the guard door. The skin of her hands and forearms was badly scratched, and a small drop of blood followed where I helped her extract a thorn from the blackberry bramble she had been wrestling with.

“We should go,” I said quietly, as I tended her hands. “And we should not come back. That Will-O-Wisp nearly lured you away!”

Some threads, once pulled, can only unravel: and so it was with our little trio and our village. Unn seemed to withdraw from me, and Brenna with her. I pretended to be absorbed by the women’s work into which I was quickly growing: I was the eldest of our trio, and so it was a haven for me. Still, deep within I knew that in trying to protect my sister and my friend, I had somehow broken a deeper trust.

I saw them, of course, and so did the other Women of the town. There was much shaking of heads and tsk-tsking as they were observed going to and from the north pastures and the road to the Labyrinth Gate at unsanctioned times of day and month and year. Always, Unn would seem a bit brighter, and I would bite my lip in consternation, torn between the twin perils of failing health and the lure of the Will-o-Wisp that threatened my sister and my friend.

I heard the Women speak of Unn, especially, in disapproving tones, and I would defend her sometimes in impassioned speeches ... in my head. One day, I even found the courage to open my mouth.

“Those girls are bound for Trouble, I tell you. You just wait ... it’s the Labyrinth Gate and the Skoggkatts for them for sure, if someone doesn’t get a handle on them proper and quick!” said Sister Corrine over a large vat of boiling white linens one day as Brenna and Unn passed by on the northern village road.

“Sister Corrinne, I know it’s dangerous ... but Unn really does have to go!” I said timidly. “Her health depends up on it,” I explained.

Now, I was well known as a “good girl”, so Corrine was very kindly interested in what I had to say, and was not dismissive as she might have been with a less dutiful village girl. Here eyes conveyed genuine surprise and concern when she responded to me: “My dear Astrid, whatever can you mean?! Please ... help me to understand.”

I felt encouraged by this response, and I spoke more boldly in turn: “Do you remember when Unn first came to the village?” I asked. “Do you remember how bright her hair was, and how her skin seemed to have a golden shimmer when she moved or spoke?”

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