~ By Courtesy of Others ~
Amos and Red
He'd had his rough times to be sure, just a year ago he and Samantha had divorced, and the sting of that still rose to haunt his mind. The only other notable fact about Amos' life was that many many years ago he had broken away from the Christian path and foud his way into the ideals of the Norse pantheon. Amos was an Asatuar, proud yet secretive of his faith, and nursing an old grudge.
It was early June and winter's hold was at last utterly broken. It's last vestiges carried off by Hraesvelg's wings to await the turning of the year. The sun looked down on a busy Tuesday morning and the songbirds were growing weary of having their tune interreupted by a newfound precussion section to their orchestra. The sound of nailguns clacked away at the construction site where R.F. Ottar and Sons Contracting Co. were raising a new house to replace one that had mouthed off to a tornado about a month ago.
Amos' gloved hands grabbed hold of a load of framing timber from the supply area. He liked his job here, it was good honest work. Not like that job he'd had before. He shuddered to remember the call center, it's cold flourescent lighting, the all too grey desks and office aparrel, the constant buzz of computers and the drone of amalgamated voices broken on occasion by the high nasal voice of Sally Tetham's voice in the next cube. "World Savant Enterprises, this is Sally, how may I help you?" Amos shuddered inwardly and shifted his grip on the timber as he carted it back to the foundation. 'World Savant my ass,' he though as he went. Chuckling inwardly another thought boiled it's way forth from his mind, 'More like World Serpent Enterprises.' Amos considered the parody and found it to his liking. For indeed that job, that life, was like being crushed in some great wyrm's coils. The little stresses over nothing really important, the grinding measured and timed life, making crap for people who made crap for people who made crap. Amos shrugged. Ah well, he'd found a way out that he liked. He preferred the open air and the sheen of sweat that spoke of a job well done.
With a grunt, Amos lowered the armfull of timber to the ground.
"Looks like Charlie needs a hand over there. If you can just keep the framing timber coming to the cutting table today we'll be in good shape."
Red almost never failed to make Amos do a double take. Even though he'd known Red for weeks while they were clearing the debris and setting the foundation to the new home he was still taken aback by the man's appearance. Red was a giant of a man. He posessed a figure that would make a professional weight lifter's eyebrows curdle with jealousy, though his form was not that which the rag magazines of the era made out to be handsome. Rather, Red's build was one of the hearth, the home. He was the hard working father, the bread winner, built to massive porportions and with a strength forged of rugged work and not a little daring. He wore a nondescript weathered workshirt above a faded pair of jeans which the snags of clearing debris had put a few holes in. His boots were solid leather and looked as if they had caught the dust of a thousand miles of trail. Red sported a beard unlike any other and consequently had led to his defacto nickname. It shimmered like fire in the sun and like coals in the shade. Red would always stand out in a crowd. And then there was that hammer...
From the very first day Amos had met him when he walked up on that sad wreckage of the home they would be remaking he'd had that thing at his hip. Amos guessed it as a fancy sledge that had had it's handle broken at some point and had just had the break point cut flat and sanded off. Red used it for damn near everything a hammer could be used for and a few things Amos had never thought of. Red never needed a nailgun to be sure. Frank ragged on him about it one day saying that you couldn't possibly get the same quality or speed from it than you could from a nailgun. Red had smiled and challenged Frank to prove it against him. The whole crew took a break to watch as Frank and Red squared up on two pieces of scrap two by four. Charlie had drawn in marks where the nails were to go and kicked off the showdown with a count. Amos remembered how the nails had flown out of Red's hand and been solidly and straightly set with a single hit from that one handed sledge. Frank had stood there gaping as Red finished five nails ahead of him, each set as straight as if it had been set with a protractor. No one ever ragged on Red's hammer again.
The morning passed solidly with Amos sweating away carrying load after load of framing timeber to the cutting table where Mark cut it to the required lengths and angles with a variety of saws. The sun reached it's zenith, hanging heavily in the sky and every man on the work crew began to feel the subtle abdominal growl that told them it was time for a deserved lunch break. Amos wiped the sweat from his brow, grabbed his lunchbox and sauntered over to the Rowan tree in the back of the lot which had miraculously survived the devastation of the house and nearly every other piece of shrubbery around. He lay back on the grass for a moment, feeling all the little aches sort themselves out of his back before sitting up and grabbing a sandwich out of his lunchbox. The sound of heavy footfalls heralded Red's coming and Amos felt a momentry and near irresistable urge to stand up.
"S'alright you can sit there," came Red's voice like muted thunder over a distant hill behind Amos.
Amos nearly coughed up his sandwich. Damnit, hadn't he hidden it well enough? He only pulled it out from time to time when he was was really flagging for strength between the piles. He'd hold it for a minute in his hand and then get back to work feeling a bit of the load taken off him.
Amos hated questions like this. It just didn't seem right to lie about it to people who asked, and yet then he'd have to deal with the quizzical looks, the counter questioning, the look of pity in most people's eyes when they realized that he woshipped a 'pagan' pantheon. And finally and most revoltingly, having to smile as whomever he had just gone through this song and dance with gave that pitying look and offered to pray for him. It made Amos sick. Hundreds of years of the sword, fire and forced conversion and now these bastards had the unmitigated gall to pray for him?! Because they couldn't accept that he was happy with his choice! Because he couldn't accept the precepts of this desert God and....
Amos looked up into Red's waiting and expectant gaze, "Ummm," he tried to think of the right words, "well it's a symbol of my faith." He cut it off there hoping this would be enough to placate Red and change the subject.
"You know about Asatru?," inquired Amos with a look of a starving man who's been told there's an inexpensive restraunt just over the next hill.
"Well," said Amos, the gears of his mind turning more easily for Red's candor and unjudging demeanor, "I used to be a christian a long time ago. Mostly I think because it was what I was supposed to be. My whole family is christian or some variant thereof." Red gave a knowing nod. "So at any rate I was following that path for a long time. It was well enough when I was little. God was good and great and always looking in on me to make sure I was ok. But then as I was growing up I began to see the world outside of a kid's eyes. Every now and again I caught Mom and dad fighting, the other kids at school gave me a rough time, all the crap that goes down on the six o'clock news... and it started to seem that God just wasn't paying attention or he didn't really love his 'children' so much if he allowed all this crap to happen to them. I talked to Reverend Martin about it, he was our pastor, and he spun that old line about it being God's will and to just keep being good." Amos paused a moment pensively.
"Well, that was the start of my splitting off. The world of the church and the real world just didn't keep in synch. I kept up with it but I was already looking for other paths that made more sense. I bought a book on wicca, that was just before I married Samantha." A forlorn look briefly passed over Amos' face. He continued, "So I read that and began poking around into other people's ideas. By this point I didn't go to church anymore. I remember the last service I went to quite well though. The hymns we sang sounded just like thirty or more people saying words very loudly; there wasn't any song. The psalms they read were just rambles from an old time, they didn't hold any wisdom. Reverend Martin talked about knowing your place in God's plan but it was all bull. I remember Mr. Baxter the banker sitting up in the front of the church in his pressed blue suit with his four children in their white bowed Sunday best. I also remember Janine Sanders was there that day in the back. She was 18 and pregnant, her boyfriend had just run off with some other girl and didn't even acknowledge her. I looked back at her a couple of times during the service. I'm pretty sure she was crying, and ya know the damnedest thing Red? The thing I won't forget about that?"
Red cocked his head, awaiting the answer Amos eagerly wanted to expulse. "I remember the looks the other folks in the church gave her. And so help me there wasn't a hint of sympathy in them. Those looks asked only one question of her 'What are you doing here?' And they all but added 'whore,' on the end of that question. I tell ya Red, a flock of sheep comfy in their fold, Mr Baxter in his blue pressed suit, the old folks afraid to die, a sermon on God's plan ringing in your ears, and Janine Sanders the expectant mother crying in the back. That was the last service I ever went to." Amos checked himself, he half drew a breath in expectation of Red to break into the conversation with his own take. To his surprise the lips behind that great red beard had not even parted. A little surprised, Amos continued.
"So after that I was in limbo for a while and I investigated a bunch of alternate paths. I had a really shitty job and Sam and I were just starting to chafe in matrimony. I studied some history and boy did it raise my dander. I mean I had learned all the stuff from high school but damn I never knew the amount of persecution the christians did until I started reading about it. The Crusades, the inquisition, the extermination of heretics, and of course the quashing of the native faiths. It just made me sick Red and I knew I'd never look at Christ the same way again. Far as I was concerned that sonvabitch was covered in blood head to toe. I shuffled around then for a few years. Joined some groups, left some groups. Most of them were just too 'fluffy' for my taste if you know what I mean. Too much 'love everyone,' and 'harm ye none,' for my more grounded sensibilities." Amos looked into Red's face and recieved a knowing smile. "By then Sam and I were at our wits end. Things just were not working out on any level and the divorce was pretty much a guarantee. She really raked me over the coals. I took up drinking for a few months and I think that was the lowest point of my life. I think I've told you all about that before though. So when I came out of the funk I wanted a clean slate. No promises, no bullshit, just a straight up and honest faith. I wanted Gods who would be friends and not Masters looking at me with a disapproving eye from the other end of time and space. I think rhat's the day when the Norse Gods called me." Amos scanned Red's face for the usual shock, disapproval, or feigned interest he expected but he found none; only an honest ear and a will to listen to a friend.
Amos was taken aback once again and appreciated how good a friend and listener Red was. "But I didn't jump right into it though. I read the myths, a saga or two, I bought a few books. I really decided it was the right path for me. No crap, no promises, no BS happy fuzzy world pulled over your eyes. Dieties who are fallible and who would need me just as much as I might need them. Things as they are, and a reliance on your own honor to be the best you could be. I like that more than anything."
"It sounds as though you've followed you path stoutly to where it has led you. But you seem to have brought a lot of baggage with you on the way."
There was a momentary pause, and the stillness crackled. "You would be carrying a sword of vengeance for people whose bones have turned to dust and whose spirits have long since found their way to the halls of their fathers. Why bear a grudge for people you never knew in times which were not yours? I believe that your perview is the present and the future and not the past. It is hard to move on when such things hold you back."
"And I see your point about the duplicity of morality, but even in choosing another way one must remember that the heart message of the church on top of the politics and connving is to be a good person. This is the same in Asatru and it is only the people left in charge of this message who choose to corrupt it to their own ends. I think, Amos, that you've held a grudge for the wrong reasons. If you must feel ire, feel it toward those who have twisted the message like a crooked smile. Don't feel it towards the core which is still built around an excellent idea. Bear your blade for the proper battle."
"Hmmm," murmured Amos, chewing on Red's unexpected yet profound words, "I hadn't thought of it that way before. I suppose he message of most faiths is for one to not be a dick, as much in Asatru as in any other. But still I..."
"Red, I..." Amos began questioningly.
Red rolled his eyes and broke in with the tone of a parent who has caught his child with his hand in the cookie jar for the first time. And without wanting to frighten or alarm him needs to explain why it is wrong. "Amos," Red said simply, "Your name is Amos. Your parents gave it to you. Now I've read a saga or two myself...," a brief pause," ... for a literature class I took in college, and never did I see a mention of anyone in there taking on some special name. Even nicknames were earned by circumstance or deed and I know damn well that your father's name was not Egil, Amos. You do your family a disservice in seeking a heritage that is not your own."
Amos blinked. He had certainly not expected this strong a reaction from Red no matter how much he knew about Asatru.
"Hmmm," rumbled Amos with a deep exhalation. He was incredibly glad that he'd found someone he could chat with about these matters with in surety but he'd been given a lot to think about. Some of Red's comments made sense to him and some didn't. For a long moment he was lost in thought as Red, sensing Amos was pausing in pensiveness directed his attention to the bag of chips that comprised the last contents of his lunch box.
Amos wasn't sure just how much longer he sat there in thought but the sound of Red's lunch box slamming shut broke him from his reverie. "Oh sorry Red, I was lost in thought for a moment there."
"Well, " said Red rising to one knee and beding over to sieze his lunchbox and his massive hammer, "we better get back at it. That frame's not going o raise itself, and also," Red's hammer tapped the ground twice, sending a shudder up Amos' shins," there's that rain to consider."
"You and your stupid rain," said Amos as his friend finished standing up. Red looked down at him and winked. Amos was about to make a dismissive sound when he saw behind Red a great greying of the sky and behind it in the far distance an inky darkness that spoke of thunderheads and a drenching shower. "Well I'll be damned," he murmured.
Amos tossed the remains of his lunch into his box as his mind teemed with new ideas. He glanced at Red as the big man took leisurely strides away from him so that Amos would be able to catch up. Sure was a big sonovabitch, strong as a mountain, that hammer, that hair. He walked towards the building site, the hovering far edge of the coming storm forming the background to his head. 'Was it possible?,' thought Amos, 'Could Red be?'
"Nah," said Amos quietly as he picked up his lunchbox and hurried after his friend. 'Justa crazy coincidence,' thought Amos, 'And besides, we gotta get that frame up before the storm hits.'