The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Thirty-six: All the
Heavens of Earth
Brunhilde made a high, wide circle around the monumental central
hill of the Celestial City, the native proudly showing off the
local sights to the tourist.
In the center, a
massive pyramid dominated the scenery, but it was not the
multi-thousand-year-old ruin that Sara had once visited. Its
whitely gleaming limestone façade was smoothly intact, an
awesome sight unseen since the dawn of recorded history. There
were other pyramids from other continents, all in pristine
condition. The nearby Parthenon was as it had been in its glory
days atop the Athenian Acropolis. Many,
many other symbolic structures were represented as well, such as
Angor Wat, the Pantheon, Chichen Itza, the Statue of Liberty,
Hagia Sophia, Stonehenge, and the Taj Mahal. There were still
others from forgotten realms that had long ago crumbled to dust
— including the Philistine edifice brought down by Samson —
now faithfully restored to glory. Only the Alamo was in less than pristine condition,
since its metaphorical importance was as the bullet-scarred fortress of sacrifice
it became, rather than its original mission.
called out the names of the ones she recognized.
not the habitations, Sara Corel," Brunhilde shouted over
the windy noise of their passage. "They serve to represent
expressions of reverance, made holy by the consecration of their
Sara shouted back, "So which ones are the godpads?"
is Olympus, abode of the gods of two worlds, Hellenes and
Romans, and inspiration to philosophers of myriad ages and
A craggy outcrop
of granite supported a few dozen exquisite marble-columned
dwellings clustered around a central ampitheater. No movie matte
had ever done the scene justice.
abide the animal-headed Egyptian deities along with millenia of
dynastic god-kings and their retinues," Brunhilde cried, pointing to enormous
sandstone palaces surrounded by massive Pharaonic statuary and
another huge complex of structures overlooking the river from a
bluff at the base of the hill.
the Kremlin? What's it doing here?"
made gods of what once were men. The creations of obedient mass
adulation have aquired immortal status. In that place reigns the
avatar of the god Stalin, though his soul lies elsewhere."
Sara replied. "I guess that explains the Chinese Forbidden
City and the Japanese Imperial Palace."
had many masters, though not as numerous as the Pharaohs. They are
attended by the soulless shades of their most fanatical
worshippers, courtiers, and factotums. Hordes of ideologues,
political commisars and grey bureaucrats serve the Soviet gods,
and slogan-chanting students waving little red books proclaim
the Chairman's religion. The Reichschancellory is there,"
Brunhilde pointed, "and Camelot is over there."
that little old place?" Sara asked, pointing below
them. It was a mansion
from the Old South with a pink Cadillac in the driveway.
"Doesn't look like a godly dwelling compared to everything
else. Who lives there?"
With the sun
nearing the horizon, they made their final approach. As they
neared the bridge, Bifrost, that provided the only access to
Asgard, they were intercepted by
a great number of wingéd beings of indeterminate gender who laboriously rose to
meet them, flapping frantically with the great effort needed to
cope with their unlikely aerodynamic design. Brunhilde did not
seem to be very pleased, but made no attempt to avoid them.
they?" Sara asked.
of the Heavenly Host," she replied, with all the enthusiasm
normally reserved for door-to-door Bible-bangers. "Annoying
busybodies, but unavoidable to all who stray within their range.
'Twould be best to humor them."
gowned mob escorted them to a wide plaza enclosed by their
innumerable barracks, singing robustly to the accompaniment of
harps, cymbals and a vast collection of modern, medieval and
even antique musical instruments. They made a great and joyous
noise unto Heaven, altogether louder than a rock concert and in
likely violation of local noise ordinances.
One poor fellow
struggled mightily with a tuba, barely able to stay aloft, much
less loose an occasional bassic blast. Their flying might leave
something to be desired, but Sara had to admit that their
harmony was first-rate. They probably have a lot of time to
practice, she thought.
down amidst a noisy celebration, each heavenly denizen
proclaiming his or her rapture more expressively than the next.
It took some bit of time for the praising and worshipping to die
down enough to make conversation possible.
a guest unknown to us, sister Brunhilde. Wilt not thou makest
introductions?" said their chieftain, a large and imposing warrior
exceeding fairness, an eternal youth with abundant
platinum curls, garbed in flowing white samite and golden fighting
harness, clutching a silver spear.
Corel, human soul — Raphael, archgeneral of the 3275th
Blesséd Legion," she intoned formally and perfunctorily.
If she'd had a watch, she'd have glanced at it.
meet you," Sara curtsied.
presence doth honor ye," he replied. The throng surrounding
them shouted affirming halleluiahs and amens, flapping and
singing, rattling their tambourines and bleating their horns.
Sara looked at
Brunhilde, who sighed and rolled her eyes skyward. This could
take the rest of the afternoon.
When the tumult
died out, Sara said, "Yeah, it was a real moment and
everything, but we've got an appointment…"
verily" he replied, "And thou hast kept it! Come —
rejoice with us and know the everlasting Word of glory!"
Another round of wing-fluttering hosannas and fanfares swept the
was able to say, "Actually, I came over from the
be! Thou shalt be one of our company as our holy crusade issues
forth to smite the enemies of righteousness!" He
exclaimed. Singing erupted, accompanied by martial melodies —
as if John Phillip Sousa had joined forces with the Mormon
impromptu parade finally ground to a halt, Sara protested,
"This 'smiting' stuff… Is that really necessary?"
crush the blasphemy of disbelief!" The crowd went nearly
hysterical in their show of patriotic fervor.
Sara was finally able to say, "Frankly, I'm hoping we can find a way to keep
the war from happening."
to speak, and then stared uncomprehendingly at her with his
mouth open. The assemblage was stricken with quiet.
At last, one of
the company said, "You mean, no fighting?"
what I hope," said Sara.
point in that?" another said, King James accent forgotten..
killing," said Sara. "No smiting. No wounding and
said still another, "It's… It's prophecy."
we're supposed to do," a voice complained.
dead anyway, and we're immortal."
"What about all the suffering that goes with it?"
They looked at
each other, puzzled. One said, "We do not suffer."
would," Sara pleaded.
just stared at her. Their expressions seemed to say, And your
point is…? Brunhilde examined her fingernails.
anyway," she continued, "you're just as corporeal as
the rest of us. I wouldn't be too sure about not getting hurt.
They're not gonna try to sing you to death. Have you ever
gotten up close and personal with a tank?"
naught. We are the Heavenly Host, fell and impervious,"
Rafael intoned. A few half-hearted responses were heard and the
tuba player blew a sour note.
said Sara. "Tell you what. Why don't you stick me with that
toothpick of yours and see what happens?"
hesitated unsurely and Sara taunted him, "Come on, your
archgeneralship. Show me what you got. We're gonna have to
rumble pretty soon anyway, right?"
He looked at
Brunhilde, who gave him a most disdainful look, wounding him as
surely as arrows. The crowd began
to egg him on.
reared back and hurled his weapon straight at her. His aim was
true and his technique superb, talent and practice in the
martial arts clearly evident. It rebounded
from the center of her emblem and clattered noisily to the
pavement, its elaborate point bent into uselessness.
my turn," she said, advancing on Raphael. She punched him
very carefully in the stomach — not a hard blow, but there was
a mountain of momentum behind it. He crumpled, clutching himself
in unaccustomed pain.
he moaned reproachfully. "That hurt."
His troops were
stunned, uncomprehending. This was a nasty bit of cognitive
Sara bent over
and helped him to his feet. "You better think about this,
all of you. If you want to fight this silly fight, you should
know it's not going to be anything like choir practice."
been hurt before. Their entire existences had been devoted
entirely to song and ease, oblivious to any kind of strife or
lack, every wish fulfilled and every whim satisfied. They had
never known birth, life, suffering, inconvenience or even discouraging words. Their lot was the stuff of unearned — and
therefore unappreciated — fantasy. Pain and defeat
were alien to them by the very act of their creation. Their
minds refused to even grasp the concept. They could not
understand that things might be different now.
A new sound
thundered onto the plaza from the far corner as a long line of
chromed Harleys blasted up out of a tunnel from some
subterranean source and motored noisily toward them, farty four-stroke
p-p-p-pops echoing their hard acceleration from the surrounding buildings. The
feathery herd respectfully made way for the newcomers, who were
clad in intimidating black-on-black outfits featuring protruding
studs and spikes and other un-charming decorations. They were a
rough lot, like characters from a string of dreadful
post-apocalyptic B-movies melded with the nightmare
paintings of Heironymous Bosch. Everything about their demeanor
proclaimed them to be badasses.
screeched to a halt in front of Raphael, trailing a cloud of
hot, oily exhaust. His leather jacket was emblazoned on the back
with a large circular patch bearing his initials, 'B.L.Z.',
arced above a flaming death's head, with his handle, 'Bubba',
grinning below it.
acknowledged him distractedly, "H'lo, Bubba."
Rafe," Bubba replied, eyeing Sara. "Who's the new
something-or-other," Rafael responded poutily. "She says we
shouldn't fight the Last Battle."
The army of
nightmarish bikers howled derisively. Bubba barked at Sara,
"What are you? Some kinda human?"
am," said Sara proudly. "I care for my fellow humans,
and this whole silly war is ridiculous. There's got to be a
"I thought they was
all warriors up there, not a bunch of girley pansies.
If you don't want to fight that's cool with me. Maybe me
an' you can have some fun before I kick your ass back to
Hell," he leered suggestively. His mates roared their
Sara looked at
Brunhilde, who shrugged. So she deliberately walked over to
Bubba's bike and picked it up with one hand.
He snarled at
her, "Nobody fucks with my bike, bitch."
She folded it in
profusely, Bubba swung his huge, knarly fist at Sara's face,
connecting solidly. The shock of contact stunned him
he moaned reproachfully. "That hurt."
commiserated, "She hurt me, too. And ruined my spear."
The two of them
looked at Sara uncertainly. The silent crowd edged away from
her. Brunhilde laughed.
the throng, "If you idiots are so intent on fighting, then
you'd better realize that those humans out there all know
what it's like to suffer and die — and you'll likely find out
yourselves if you mess with them. What could possibly be worth
going through that? Do any of you even know why
everybody's so set on this?"
beside her and said, "They need not ken the reason for the
task to which they are set. But they will do what they have to
do. Just as I will, friend Sara Corel. Just as will your
straight," said Bubba.
verily," said Raphael.
They have no
souls, Sara reminded herself. They cannot be but what
There was an
awkward silence until Bubba announced, "Screw this. Let's
affirmed Raphael, and all the glorious bedlam started
anew as the two groups together moved away from the girls. A
hymn broke out, cymbals clashed and flutes tootled. Bikes were
kickstarted into raucous life, popping squealing wheelies. The tuba
player hurried after the rest, wings waving and cheeks puffing.
They quickly disappeared into the barracks of the 3275th —
wings, tubas, motorcycles and all.
Sara, "Well done! Mayhap this wast the quickest method yet
seen to dispatch these boors. Let's away."
proved to be dark and foreboding in the gathering gloom of
evening. There were stoneworks, but most of it was ornately
carved heavy wood that smelled faintly of forest mustiness and resin.
Dragons and trolls lurked in every decoration, and the complex
surfaces sucked up sounds and cast disturbing shadows by the
flickering of torches. Smoke had stained the ceilings black,
leaving a bite in the air that tickled the throat and teased the
It was a Heaven
devoted to battle and death, whose only glory derived from duty
and honor in the face of certain doom. Its comforts and rewards
were in strong drink and gluttony, rough comradeship and the
warmth of a blazing hearth on a cold night. Here, the wolves
ushered Sara into her father's study. He sat heavily astride a
fur-covered throne of bones, his one good eye gauging the depths
of eternity. The great black ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who flew
forth daily to gather tidings of events great and small, perched
dolefully on either side, close to his ears. His countenance was as bleak as the frozen northern
wastelands, and he huddled within himself, a wizened husk
hoarding unspoken power.
Allfather, sire and lord. I bring a traveler for your blessing
and wisdom. She is called Sara Corel and is a mighty warrior, a
soul of the human kind possessed of godly attributes."
His eye fixed
them like a bolt. "Brunhilde, my dear. I see so little of
my precious daughters these days. Come hither that I might
embrace thee. And bring your friend. I know somewhat of her, and
somewhat of her doom."
him and he laid his ancient hands briefly upon their shoulders.
They sank back into the piles of skins that littered the stone
floor before his seat.
you have of me, child?" he asked Sara.
her. His strength and wisdom poured over her like an icy flood,
chilling her senses and piercing her mind like an icicle. She had been so
full of questions that now seemed so foolish in his presence.
She felt an unaccustomed shyness and lowered her chin, looking
back up at him like a small child. All she could think to ask
was, "Why…?" in a very small voice.
gravely at her. "Your friend is wise, daughter. She asks
the question that cannot be answered."
Sara was at
first mortified, but seeing Brunhilde's beaming smile finally
realized that he had shown her an unmistakable sign of
called the Twilight of the Gods, fortold in every lore, part of
the basis of human understanding of their destinies. For we
immortals were begotten by humankind who knew the limits of
their wisdom. In us was vested the unexplainable against that
time when they could understand for themselves the meaning of
the question you posed. And when that time comes, humans must
wrest from the gods their stewardship of the unknown.
not pass quietly, nor will we pass utterly. There is usefulness
for us yet. But the hold of superstition must be confronted and
the fears overcome. This will be a battle of tokens fought in
the unconscious ubermind of humanity, defining collective
rationality against which individual dreams can be measured.
and suffering must needs be real, and the outcome uncertain. An
abyss of chaos lies beneath us all, and the old gods may return
in greater force, or new gods arise, enslaving their masters for
millennia in fundamentalist intolerance. There are those ever
ready to slay reason at the altar of dogma, and humans have a
weakness for idols of their own making.
"The essential difference between those beings with souls and such as
we is that for them, the concept of 'death' is meaningless. It is the true life, but it is formless and without meaning. They partake of 'life' as a diversion, a challenge, a means to enhance the structure of their underlying essence. Experiences are born of imagination, and that is the only meaningful capital in the economy of eternity."
motionless throughout his speech, and there was silence for a
time after. Finally, she said, "But the pain… Few will
die quickly in such a battle. Many will linger in agony for who
knows how long. There's got to be a better way to —
he said, "there will be a convocation of the Higher Powers.
You shall be my guest. Now it is time for dinner. Will you join
us, Sara Corel?"
Like she would
walked with Odin and Brunhilde to the enormous main hall of
Valhalla with its roof of shields
and 540 doors, each wide enough to pass 800 warriors abreast.
The rough and raucous cacaphony of the heroes filled the great
space (…almost as big as the Astrodome, Sara thought).
There was a tremendous shout when their party entered, and a din
of ram's horns (…sounds like the Astrodome, too, she
added). The other Valkyries were gathered before the long head
table from whence Odin would preside over the nightly feast that
always concluded a day of fighting drill. Even those who had
been grievously injured were made whole in time for supper.
motioned for Sara to follow her. The shieldmaidens did not sit
at table, but rather tended to the heros they had fetched from
myriad battles, pouring wine and trading coarse jests in a
familiar manner. Each of the sisters had been responsible for
bringing in about a twelfth of the horde and knew every one of
them by name. Some they even knew intimately. After all, they
could choose whosoever they would amongst the slain, for
whatever reasons they wished. They were all valorous men, of
course, but some were more valorous than others — and others
were more, shall we say, manly.
made quite a fuss over Sara as she moved among them, making
boozy offers and launching flagrant gropes. It was all she could
do to avoid having some of the bolder ones try to throw her over
their shoulders and carry her away. Her apparent youth was not a
problem among men from a culture where life must be lived
quickly and girls Sara's age had already borne their Viking
Brunhilde and asked, "Is it always like this?"
nodded enthusiastically and whirled into the thick of a massive
brawl in order to encourage their mayhem all the more.
There was an
enormous quantity of food available, mostly of the
heart-attack-on-a-plate variety — except that there weren't
any plates. Or silverware, besides lethal-looking knives. Forget
glasses or even cups: mead, ale, wine and other adult beverages
flowed from skins or resided briefly in drinking horns —
which, once filled, could not be set down and must therefore be
emptied. There was enough alcohol (and meat byproducts) on the
floor to consitute a fire hazard.
was summoned to the head table and introduced to the other gods
in attendence that night by Brunhilde, interrupting the usual
litany of boasts by Thor. She recounted their brush with Raphael
and B.L.Z. 'Bubba', which drew laughs of appreciation from most.
Thor never liked
being upstaged — especially by a girl — and snorted
derisively, "Bearding such halfmen is hardly a worthy deed.
Those mincing flutterers and their brimstone-stenchéd lovers
are not worth a good kicking."
laughed at him and said, "Regard her not lightly, brother,
or she may pull your beard."
so?" said the easily offended champion of Asgard. "You
think this brat my challenger?"
braggart. That I do."
Thor looked as
if he had been slapped. That was a grievous insult, one he would
not take lightly even from a Valkyrie kinswoman. A current of
anticipation swept through the multitude like a wave at a
football game. Oho! The wench would match herself with Thor!
a minute," Sara objected. "I'm not trying to pick a
said Thor contemptuously.
"Nay. Not a
mere fight," Brunhilde countered dramatically, playing to
the masses. "A contest!"
bellowed their appreciation. This was what they wanted to see.
For they knew a contest involving the gods — especially Thor
— was never what it seemed.
manner of contest?" Thor asked suspiciously.
said Sara, "what?"
has made a long journey to be with us tonight and has served
our heroes well, taking nothing yet for herself. What poor hosts
we have become if we do not offer to assuage her hunger, for
surely she must be famished by now. And mighty Thor has barely
touched his meat. We know he has an appetite!"
exploded in laughter — for, indeed, his was renowned.
methinks," Brunhilde went on, "the poor waif's is the
greater this night. Why, she is so thin and pale she must have
much need of nourishment. Let us see if great Thor can keep
apace with her."
The noise was
deafening. The gods applauded. Even Odin smiled. Thor looked
like he somehow knew he was being blindsided and couldn't do
anything about it.
Poor Thor. He
tried — and it was a mighty effort — but he never had a
chance. And nobody else got seconds that night.
besotted warriors either passed out or crawled away as the
torches guttered and smoked into mere embers. The gods retired
and a wagon was brought 'round to carry away Thor's insensate
bulk. For a few days, he would be a 'thunder-god' indeed.
apartments, in a separate wing, shared a common area. There,
Brunhilde introduced her sisters: Grimhilde, Kreimhilde, Sigrun, Svava, Kara, Hilda, Hriste,
Miste, Skuld, Urd, and Belledande. They were all as gloriously beautiful, strong
and proud as Brunhilde and welcomed Sara as a fellow warrior who
had given their brother a well-deserved comeuppance.
understand Sara's squeamishness about the battle, looking
forward to it themselves in high excitement. They had witnessed plenty of
fights over the centuries, choosing the worthiest warriors to
carry away when they fell. Though their souls went to Hell
with all the others, their doppelgangers dwelt still in
Valhalla, carousing and fighting, preparing for Ragnarok — now
so," said Sara. "Some of the guys back there looked
awfully familiar. So their 'souls' are out there with the
humans… And the Valhallans? They don't have 'souls'? I don't
Skuld was the
brainy one of the lot. She tried to explain, "All who are
in the Heavens are but symbols, metaphors, representations. As
we are immortal, we are also unchanging, fulfilling the purpose
for which we were created. And so it is with the shades of these
slain examples of what it means to be a warrior. They each defined
the honorable warrior spirit, and so their avatars are represented
in this place made for them. It is so in
many cultures, where there have been places prepared to receive
the valiant dead. But the essence that created each model
perished, only to be resurrected from Hell for this purpose."
like Muslims or Cossacks or Japanese soldiers who believe they'd go straight to Heaven if they died in combat."
mankind must in part face himself in this battle to end his
gods. Some souls must confront their own superstitious
Most of the
Valkyries slipped away during Skuld's speech, changing from
their battle dress into something softer. They had trysts to
keep and flew silently away into the darkness one by one. Only
Brunhilde, Kara and Sigrun stayed behind to visit with Sara.
They cozied up in
front of the fireplace on a pillow mountain, their giggly
conversation turning eventually to the subject of men.
They were keen appraisers of maleflesh, comparing notes about
the relative merits or weaknesses of the lovers they'd taken.
embarrassed but fascinated by their stories. "But I thought
that 'shieldmaiden' meant…"
They laughed at
her naïve notions, Kara explaining, "Today I am a maiden, and
tomorrow I will be a maiden still. But tonight…"
her, "We are goddesses. This is Heaven. If you return to
the ice cream shoppe in the morn, you will find it
said Sara. That bit of information sounded very important to her
shall we find suitable for young Sara?" Sigrun asked
Kara responded, "She merits our best hospitality."
"Now, wait a minute…" but they carried on.
is a patient, gentle man…" suggested Brunhilde.
her to sleep, like as not," Sigrun countered.
Olaf? He is mighty…" Kara said.
quick," Brunhilde testified to general laughter.
Gunnarsen wields a great spear…"
And betimes not."
fancies Gunnar Gunnarsen."
said Sara. "I'm very grateful, but, really, even if I
wanted to take you up on your offers to, uh, help me, it just
wouldn't work out, believe me. I mean — I don't know how to
put this — I really am indestructable, y'know. Really
always sister Hrist," Hilda said. "She has an
Amazon lover on Olympus." The others tittered.
"As do you,
sister dear," said Kara.
"As do we
all," said Brunhilde, "when our revel-sotted he-men
cannot be roused to do their duties."
goddesses laughed. It was clear, though, that they took the
burdens of hospitality seriously..
swell," said Sara. "Yeah, I'm really flattered, but I
don't think I wanna swing that way."
shushed the rest. "Please, the jest goes far enough,
sisters. Let us honor our guest."
know you mean well. Honest, I appreciate it and all. Maybe I
wish it was that easy." She looked a little wistful.
Brunhilde reminded her, "This is Heaven, Sara Corel. All things
must be possible here…"
When at last
Sara slept, she dreamed of gods.
© Patrick Hill, 2000