Balder awoke from wicked dreams,
his thoughts unordered; all was amiss.
A flash of dread filled his mind;
his sleep that night did not come back.
When morning came, he called the gods,
the lordly Aesir, to listen to him.
The Aesir bade Balder to speak;
he told them all his utmost fears.
“Noble Aesir, Allfather’s brood,
I saw my death, the doom of the world.
A frightful dream of fire and blood,
haunts me ever; all is amiss.”
The noble gods gathered in Thing;
beneath Yggdrasil, on Idavoll they met.
They made it their duty, dreams or no,
to keep well safe the son of Odin.
“Gentle Balder, born of Frigg;
your fellow Aesir, your faithful kin,
will strive to shield you from strikes and blows,
and evil schemes of all such like.”
Balder’s mother, bride of Odin,
sought to ward her son from harm.
She fared alone to find all things;
she sought out oaths from every thing.
All then swore the safety of Balder.
Frigg gained the oaths of earth and sky,
of fire and water, fowl and tree,
of snake and metal, sickness and stone.
Mirth came often to Asgard then.
The gods threw stones and struck him blows,
but Balder was safe and barred from harm,
or so they thought, simple Aesir.
They shot arrows at Odin’s son.
Then all the gods, giving sport,
laughed and cried with carefree glee.
Breidablik’s lord, was beloved of all.
Loki begrudged him; Laufey’s son seethed.
He hated Balder, the Blind One’s son.
He hatched a scheme, a hateful plot,
to harm Balder, best of the Aesir.
Loki then fared to Fensalir,
abode of Frigg, Balder’s mother.
He garbed himself in girl’s clothes;
Frigg then thought him a fair maiden.
“Wise and noble wife of Odin,
your son is now safe from harm.
Tell me how you took the oaths,
those oaths that bind all the world.”
“Gentle maiden, I must not brag,
but I will tell you my tale of cunning.
I sought out oaths from every thing;
now all have sworn the safety of Balder.
“I gained the oaths of earth and sky,
of fowl and tree, fire and water,
of snake and metal, sickness and stone;
I gained the oath of every thing.”
“I could not, noble queen,
have tied so neat a knot as that.
You’ve bound the world to Balder’s health.
Was nothing missed, nothing at all?”
“Well-spoken lass, you lovely maiden!
There was but one whose oath I missed:
the mistletoe was much too young.
It swore no oath; I asked it not.”
Wicked Loki, laughing with glee,
took his leave and left the hall.
His mind was full of fell tidings,
of direst thoughts of doom and fire.
When next the gods gathered for sport,
and struck at Balder blows of glee,
Loki met them, mistletoe in hand.
He saw blind Hod, son of Odin.
“Why do you stand there, striking no blows?
Your brother awaits, Balder the Good.”
“Surely Loki, Laufey’s son,
you know that I, not able to see,
do not take part in playful games,
as do my other Aesir kin.”
“I have in my hand a harmless thing,
the merest shaft of mistletoe.
I bid you use it, Odin’s son;
sport with your brother, Balder the Good.”
Hod took the shaft shared by Loki;
his aim was true though his eyes were closed.
The shaft flew rightly; it rent the skin.
Balder was stricken; his strength fled.
Balder’s life drained; his body slumped,
bereft of breath, to rest in death.
The Aesir fell fully mute,
none able to speak; all were stunned.
Their hands worked hardly at all;
they could not lift the lifeless body.
Their eyes still worked, the weapon was clear:
the murder was done with mistletoe.
The Aesir turned their ire on Loki.
They could not harm the hated As;
within the walls of Asgard,
all are safe, even killers.
Then the gods gathered in Thing.
They made of Loki, Laufey’s son,
father to a wolf, a wolf himself:
a hated outlaw, from hence a varg.
Loki then fled; in fear he ran.
The Aesir failed to follow him;
they only had thoughts for all they had lost,
the light of their lives, beloved of all.
Filled with grief and fearsome loss,
the Aesir lifted, with angst-born strength,
the lifeless body of Balder Odinsson.
Then to the beach they bore the corpse.
There they readied a ring-prowed ship,
a ship to carry the corpse of a god,
out to sea, off to the west,
like the setting sun, to circle the world.
The gods came all, Aesir and Vanir,
led by Odin and Lady Frigg,
father and mother to fair Balder;
sorrowful gods, and grievous wounded.
Valkyries and ravens came;
Frey rode a cart fronted by a boar.
Riding a horse, Heimdall came;
Freya’s cart by cats was pulled.
Odin laid Draupnir, the dwarf-forged ring,
onto the pyre, onto his son;
a gift for Hella to gain her favor,
while Balder was held in Hel her realm.
A golden ring of great power,
every ninth night the armring dripped,
and eight gold rings, even in weight,
fell from its body: Balder’s hoard.
The righteous gods now readied themselves.
They tried to push the pyre-laden ship;
they pushed and strained, but strength failed them.
They could not move the mighty ship.
The Aesir were stunned; they stood in wonder,
not knowing which way to take.
To Jotunheim, for Hyrrokin,
for the giant witch, word was sent.
Hyrrokin came, carried by a wolf;
her reins were snakes, writhing in her hands.
She gave the beast, growling in anger,
to four berserkers sworn to Odin.
The wolf was fierce and fought his wards;
they knocked him down and knelt on his side.
Then his lady was led to the beach;
she viewed the ship that vexed the gods.
The witch began a ghastly chant;
it froze the hearts of the holy gods.
They heard the words she wailed and moaned;
as she danced, the Aesir watched.
When her song was done, her dancing stopped;
the Aesir waited, wonder in their eyes.
Hyrokkin pushed the prow of the ship;
out it slid, into the water.
Flames burst out from the rollers;
the earth quaked in every land.
It groaned with the weight of grief for Balder;
the world had wisdom of waiting doom.
Thor was maddened; he made for the witch.
He tried to hit her, his hammer was raised.
Then the Aesir asked forbearance,
for Thor to spare the Thurs witch.
The Aesir were distraught, addled with grief.
They lifted the body of Balder Odinsson.
Weeping as they walked, they went to the ship;
they laid him to rest on the readied pyre.
Then his wife Nanna, Nep’s daughter,
saw the body of Balder her love.
Blood fled her face; she fainted away.
She fell to the ground; of grief she died.
The gods then lifted her lifeless body;
she was laid aboard Balder’s ship.
A fiery torch touched the pyre;
the ring-prowed ship was red with flames.
Thor stepped forward, fearless god,
to bless the pyre and Balder’s death.
He raised Mjolnir, his mighty hammer;
with Thrym’s bane, he bellowed the words.
The gods then watched, weeping freely,
as Balder’s ship, ablaze with light,
drifted out to sea, off to the west,
like the setting sun, to circle the world.
Frigg then asked, full of grief,
who among them, mighty gods all,
would ride to Hel, the realm of death,
to bring her son Balder home.
Hermod Odinsson answered her plea.
Sleipnir was readied, saddled and shod:
Allfather’s gift, greatest of horses,
for Hermod to ride to Hel and back.
Once he was ready, Odin’s brave son,
he mounted the steed and made for Hel.
For nine long evenings, Odin’s son rode;
he crossed valleys deep, dark and blind.
Then the horse reared; a river blocked them.
Gjöll it was called, Gjallarbrú spanned it;
a bridge of gold, it glowed in the dark.
A maiden was its guard; Modgud was her name.
“What is your name, noble farer,
and from what line of fathers are you?”
“A son of Odin, on Sleipnir I ride.
My name is Hermod; my home is Asgard.”
“Five troops of dead men have trodden this bridge.
Now Odin’s son sounds as loud.
Why do you fare, filled with life,
to the realm of Hel, home of the dead?”
“I ride to Hel with hope for a guide.
My dead brother, Balder Odinsson,
has late been felled by foul trickery.
He was brought to Hel to bide his time.”
“I saw your brother, Balder the Good.
He crossed my bridge, bearing for Hel.
To Hel he drove, downward and northward,
downward and northward, with Nanna his wife.”
Hermod rode hard, to Hel he went,
following the way wised by Modgud.
After some time, his eyes saw Hel;
high walls there were to ward the realm.
The gates were high but the horse leapt over;
Hermod then flew to Hella’s abode.
Alighting in front of Loki’s daughter,
he fared inside to find his brother.
Balder sat there, in a seat on high,
Nanna beside him, Nep’s daughter.
He seemed alive, but a life not full.
Balder offered a bed to Hermod.
Hermod slept poorly in Hella’s abode.
He rose with the sun to wrest Balder free.
He knew he must master Hella;
Balder must come back to Asgard.
He begged of Hella Balder’s return.
He told her all the Aesir’s grief,
of how the gods grieved for Balder,
beloved of all, Odin’s son.
“This love for Balder brooks no spleen,
to hear your tale of teary gods.
Let’s test this love by letting all things,
be they wan or bright, weep for him.
“If all things weep, to Asgard he goes.
If one withholds, in Hel he stays,
forever my guest, with great honors,
but never leaving, nonetheless.”
Hermod then left the hall of the dead.
He spoke to his brother, Balder Odinsson,
and Nanna his wife, Nep’s daughter.
Away from Hella they held a Thing.
Balder gave Draupnir, the dwarf-forged ring,
to Hermod to bring back to Asgard;
a gift for Odin, Asgard’s lord.
Nanna gave linens for Lady Frigg.
Hermod then left Hella’s cold realm;
he went to Asgard, to Allfather.
He told the gods his tale of Hel;
they knew the work awaiting them.
The Aesir sent riders all over the world;
they asked all things to open their hearts,
to weep for Balder, the Blind One’s kin,
like the hoarfrost, heated by the sun.
The riders drew tears from tree and fruit,
from man and all the animals,
from earth and stone and every metal.
All those they met mourned for Balder.
Then they heard, hiding in a cave,
a Thurs woman, Thökk she was called.
They asked her to weep; she would not cry.
They now knew Loki wore ladies’ clothes.
The Aesir were wroth, addled with grief;
they bemoaned the loss Loki had wrought.
Loki was fearful, he fled the gods;
His deeds were foul, his flight was worse.
The Aesir went home, to Asgard they went;
they held a thing, thronging together.
The gods all swore to go on a hunt,
to catch Loki, killer of Aesir.
[S.R. Hardy is a poet, novelist and translator whose work has appeared in venues such as Northern Traditions, Death Head Grin, Widowmoon Press and the Eunoia Review. He is currently at work on a variety of translations, poems and stories. In addition, he blogs about words atwww.anarcheologos.com.]