“I would say that Svandis is part right,” said Hund. He did not look up, did not look at her. “The gods are created by men. But once they are created, they become real. They are mind-creatures, born of our belief, but once they are born they have power even over those who do not believe. I too think they are evil, created from wickedness.”
“Even Ithun?” said Thorvin harshly, staring at Hund’s apple-pendant, sign of the healer-goddess. Hund did not reply.
“But if Hund is right,” Shef went on, “then we have to accept another thing. That there are gods besides those of the Way. The Christian God. The God of the Jews. The Allah of the Arabs.”
“So why have they not blasted us?” asked Hagbarth. “Their worshipers hate us enough to wish it, to believe in it.”
“Hund has given a good answer to that. He reminds us how many of us there were—he and I among them—who were brought up as cradle-Christians, and had no faith at all. Only habit. It may be that the mind-stuff of which the gods are made is delicate and tricky, like the Greek fire. Perhaps some minds, most minds, do not produce it. And remember, the Christians have their saints and visionaries too.
“Besides, if the gods come from us, then they have our strengths, our weaknesses. Just as Svandis said. The Christian God does not act in this world. He takes his followers to another.” Shef remembered the awful vision he had seen once of King Edmund, martyred by the heathen, passing beyond him to some fate he could not even glimpse. “Our gods, the gods of the Way, work in the world, as do their priests and their worshipers. They believe in things made with hands.”
Brand laughed as he saw the strained faces round the table. “I am a man of the Way,” he called out. “I bearded the damned Ragnarssons for the Way, did I not? But the more I see and the more I hear, the less I believe in anything except three things. My ship, my gold, and ‘Battle-Troll’ here.” He lifted his silver-inlaid axe from where it lay beside him, flourished it, and drank again from the quart pitcher of beer that the new fleet had brought with it.
“So far we can follow you,” said Thorvin. “I do not like what you say about the Christian God, but I can accept it. After all, we have always said—you have always said, and you have proved it by your deeds, see Hardred here—that our quarrel is not with Christ nor with Christians, but with the Church that comes from Rome. Because while we listen to what you say, and consider it, if you said it to the Emperor and you were in his power, you would be lucky to earn death alone. The Christian Church brooks no rivals! Will not share power or the claim to truth. That is what our founder Duke Radbod saw and foresaw. That is why we preach the Way. So that everyone may choose their own way.”
“Everyone may choose their own way,” Shef repeated. “That is why we are here.” He drew a deep breath, for this was the moment of decision. “I think it is time for new ways.”
“New pendants. New knowledge. Svandis has made a start, with her quill-pendant. It stands for the study of our minds, the writing down of all that has seemed to us most fleering. Mind-study, and mind-stuff. Who is the god that you have taken as your patron, Svandis?”
“No god,” Ivar’s daughter replied. “No goddess either. A name in our myths. I wear the quill for Edda, that is to say ‘great-grandmother,’ for old tales and traditions.”
“Edo means ‘I write,’ in the Latin tongue,” observed Skaldfinn. “Svandis did not know that. It is the kind of accident the gods send. I think this is new knowledge we should accept.”
“Another pendant we need,” said Shef. “The sifr sign of the Arabs, the round hole that means ‘nothing.’ The powerful nothing. If I did not have my own sign I would take that one. It should be the sign for those who can reckon, and its god should be Forseti, who settles disputes and brings certainty.