Read The Sleeping Army Online

Authors: Francesca Simon

The Sleeping Army

BOOK: The Sleeping Army

The Sleeping Army

by the same author


Helping Hercules
Don't Cook Cinderella
The Parent Swap Shop
Spider School
The Topsy-Turvies
Moo Baa Baa Quack
Miaow Miaow Bow Wow
Café At The Edge Of The Moon
What's That Noise?
Papa Forgot
But What Does The Hippopotamus Say?


The Sleeping Army

First published in 2011
by Faber and Faber Limited
Bloomsbury House,
74–77 Great Russell Street,
Profile Books Ltd
Exmouth House
Pine Street

Typeset by Faber and Faber
Printed in England by Clays, Bungay, Suffolk

All rights reserved
© Francesca Simon, 2011
Illustrations © Adam Stower, 2011

The right of Francesca Simon to be identified as author of this
work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

A CIP record for this book
is available from the British Library


2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

For Steven Butler and Emily Woof


… The gods die,
or never lived. They crawl home, damp and slow,
to the subtle, shallow sea that made them.

Emma Jones, ‘Daphne',
The Striped World


1 The British Museum

2 Bifrost

3 The Well of Urd

4 The River Irving

5 Jotunheim

6 Thrymheim

7 Hekla

8 Hel

9 Asgard

10 London

What if Christianity didn't exist? What if
people still worshipped the old Norse and
Anglo-Saxon Gods …


1 The British Museum

‘Gods damn you!'

Freya's father held the phone away from his ear as her mother continued screaming. ‘Why are you so useless? Why can't you get anything right?'

‘I'm sorry, Clare, I messed up, I'll sort—'

‘You have Freya on Thorsday nights, every Thorsday night, how hard is that to remember? It's a school night, and you've dragged her into work—'

Freya stopped listening. Her father's shoulders, in his too-tight black uniform, tensed up to his ears.

She felt sorry for him. It didn't seem right, somehow,
to feel sorry for your father. Clare, her mother, so efficient, so competent, and her father, working nights now as a security guard at the British Museum since he'd lost his office job. He'd changed shifts, and forgotten he had her on Thorsdays not Wodnesdays now, and every other weekend.

It was funny, her mother was always preaching to her throng to follow the gentle Baldr's example yet the moment she spoke to Freya's dad all her soft words deserted her and she became a demented troll.

Her father hung up. ‘Sorry,' he said. ‘Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.'

Freya wished he'd stop apologising all the time.

‘It's okay,' said Freya. ‘I like being here.'

It wasn't okay, but she did like being in the museum. She'd never been here at night before, and it made her feel special. The cool, quiet rooms were all hers now.

In the daytime, it was so crowded with tourists clustering round the armour, or the Rosetta Stone, or that creepy human sacrifice from the Lindow peat bog garrotted by heathens long ago that it was hard to actually see anything. Especially if you weren't very tall. Clare used to bring her all the time when she was young. Once a guard had called her a little Loki when she'd tried to climb up the giant marble statue of Thor
guarding the entrance. Freya shivered. She hated being told off.

‘My boss knows you're here,' said Bob. ‘She's not happy, but she's got kids, too, and I told her what a good girl you were. Just wait here for a sec, while I sign in. I'm patrolling the upper floors tonight.'

‘What's up there?' asked Freya.

‘Wodenism in Medieval Europe. Aztecs. Japan.'


Freya had hoped he'd be with the Egyptian mummies, or even the Ancient Greeks. Bob saw her face.

‘I know I've made a mess of things, Freya, and I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'll make it up to you, next time you come over we'll do whatever you want, your choice.'

‘It's fine, Dad,' said Freya. ‘Really.' She was an only child, and used to trying to make things better.

Freya ambled about the Great Court, enjoying the sound of her feet slapping against the white marble floor. Just for fun she walked all the way round the old circular library, reading the inscription carved on the top of the wall:

5000. T

Freya was one of those people who read anything with writing on it. Cereal packets, bus adverts, graffiti. To kill time she read all the banners, gnawing absentmindedly on her fraying sleeve.

There were posters announcing the forthcoming exhibition of Italian drawings, including the sketches for Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting of Woden feasting with his warriors at the last supper in Valhalla before Ragnarok. Freya yawned. The African masks looked a lot more exciting.

She sat down to wait for her dad at the base of a tall lump of carved stone. Idly, she read the inscription:

Anglo-Saxon sandstone hammer shaft. Late 38th to early 39th century AW. Hammers such as this stood as powerful images of the Wodenic faith in Anglo-Saxon England.

Freya yawned again. She'd had PE today, which she hated. She stopped herself from leaning back against the stone with a jerk and looked around to make sure no one had noticed.

‘Right, Freya,' said her dad, pulling on his black fleece jacket embroidered with the white British Museum logo. ‘Heave your bones. And stop chewing
on your sleeve.'

Freya sighed. Not so loudly that Bob would tell her off, just loud enough so that he knew she wasn't happy. Then she followed him up the great staircase, flanked by the marble mausoleum lions, counting the stairs as she went. She knew there were sixty, but she liked counting them just the same.

‘What's Ragnarok?' asked Freya.

‘Don't they teach you anything in that Fane school?' said Bob.

‘No,' said Freya.

Her dad grinned.

‘It's the day when the world ends and the Gods die in a great battle,' said Bob. ‘The prophet Snorri Sturluson called it the
Twilight of the Gods
. It's fascinating that—'

‘Got it, Dad, thanks,' said Freya. Bob had a way of going on and on whenever you were dumb enough to ask him a question.

They reached the top of the stairs and entered the large foyer. Everything was dark and still. The exhibition cases were little pools of light in the surrounding darkness. The gold helmets and treasure from the Northumbrian hoard gleamed dully. It was actually a little spooky, all these old bits and pieces.

Bob turned off the foyer into Room 40. Next door she
could hear the clocks sounding their out-of-time bongs.

Freya looked around. She'd never been here before.

This room is dedicated to exploring the spread of Wodenism as a major religion throughout Europe and the heathen cults which preceded it.

And that of course was why she'd never been here before. Freya sighed loudly.

‘Freya, listen to me,' said her dad, switching on his flashlight. ‘Don't leave this room or you could set off an alarm. There's a chair in the corner you can sit on to do your homework. If you get tired we can chuck you in a sarcophagus with a pillow.'

‘Ha ha,' said Freya.

‘Here, have some chocolate,' he added, handing her a KitKat. ‘And take a look at that display of medieval silver chalices from Woden's shrine at York,' he called over his shoulder. ‘Very exciting.'

Freya put the chocolate in her pocket, and obediently bent over the display case.

This silver gilt cup is a rare survival of a fine English chalice and was designed for ceremonial use on Woden's Feast Days.

‘Oh, Hel,' muttered Freya under her breath. She made a face. She got enough religion at home with her mother, thank you very much.

Sometimes it was embarrassing being religious. Even though the Queen was head of the Fane of England, and Britain was a Wodenic country, not everyone believed in the Gods any more. Baby-namings were still popular, and swearing on Thor's sacred oathring of course, but apart from that the Fanes weren't exactly bursting at the seams. The Archpriest of York had devoted his
Thought for the Day
on BBC Radio 4 this morning to criticising people for their lacklustre religious observance. Freya had had to listen to him droning on while she was eating her cornflakes.

Not that this was a subject Freya could discuss with her mum. Just last Sunday Clare, looking splendid in her long white robes, had been railing from her altar against atheists like Richard Dawkins for his book,
The Gods Delusion
, and had forbidden Freya from even looking at it. ‘Remember, Freya, there are no atheists on aeroplanes,' Mum liked to say.

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