Beloved of All, But One

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.

Balder spoke:

“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.

Odin spoke:

“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.

Loki spoke:

“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.”

Frigg spoke:

“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.”

Loki spoke:

“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?”

Frigg spoke:

“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.

Loki spoke:

“Why do you stand there,     striking no blows?

Your brother awaits,     Balder the Good.”

Hod spoke:

“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.”

Loki spoke:

“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.

Modgud spoke:

“What is your name,     noble farer,

and from what line     of fathers are you?”

Hermod spoke:

“A son of Odin,     on Sleipnir I ride.

My name is Hermod;     my home is Asgard.”

Modgud spoke:

“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?”

Hermod spoke:

“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.”

Modgud spoke:

“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.

Hella spoke:

“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 TraditionsDeath Head GrinWidowmoon 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.]

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