"For many of us, the end of the world is a sort of obsession. We craft our lives so carefully; but how fragile they are! How easily our greatest works and deeds might come to naught! This fellow I spoke of, the Northman, said that his people consider such an end inevitable - that it has been prophesied, and is already woven into the three Fates' many-hued tapestry. This is what he told me of it.

"First Midgard will suffer three winters' wars, and slaughter shall rule. Then three winters will bring famine and despair. A great wolf will swallow the sun, and his brother the moon; the stars will simply disappear. The earth will shudder, and all shackles, all bindings break.

"The ocean will be frenzied from the world-serpent Jormungandr's writhing. Naglfar, the dreaded ghost ship made of dead mens' nails, and Loki captaining a ship manned by all the dead from Niflheim will sail towards Vigrid, the plain where all who remain will gather for the last battle. The giants will close in on Vigrid, too, tearing the sky to ribbons and breaking Bifrost, the rainbow road, to pieces behind them.

"Yggdrasil, the great ash tree that always has been and always will be, will moan and shudder with the violence of it all, even as two humans - Lif and Lifthrasir, a man and a woman - hide themselves within it. The gods and the monsters and giants will battle for days, drenching the worlds in blood and fire, destroying one another as was foretold. All will perish, or almost all, and everything will be plunged into darkness; and the earth will sink into the ocean.

"But that is not the end of the story. Death always precedes rebirth, as the folk of the North are quite exquisitely aware, and they believe that after this world has ended, another will rise from the sea, green and fertile. Those few of the gods who survived, and Baldur and Hod who once perished but were freed from Niflheim, will sift through the ruins and tell stories of the world that came before, and will build new halls, more beautiful places. The underworld too will be recreated, perhaps even more vile and unlovely than before.

"And finally, Lif and Lifthrasir will emerge from Yggdrasil's comforting embrace into this new world, lit by the sun's daughter. They will populate it with their children, from whom a new race of people will descend."

Mr. Gilby halted, finally, for his stories were finished, and at last he concluded, "This is all I know about the Norse. A fascinating symbology, I daresay, and an interestingly cyclical perspective. I wonder, though, how any of our deeds might be considered important in such a world; especially with Fate such an overpoweringly dominant force. I shall have to ask him someday."

"Do that," smiled Miss Sunnington, "but in the meantime, there's someone I think you should meet elsewhere in the Atrium."


A Magnificent Apple Tree