It has always been my contention that no one but Odin ought to ever sit at Hlidskjalf, his throne from which he looks out over all the Nine Worlds. Yes, he does allow others to sit there from time to time, but no good ever comes of it. Other people — by which I mostly mean other gods — tend to see things they lack the wisdom to deal with properly, and trouble ensues. Like the time Frigga was sitting there and got jealous because she saw one of Odin’s favorites wearing the crown he’d won at the expense of her own protege, his brother. Even Odin probably regretted having let her sit there, that time; that whole King Geirrod episode was such a nasty business. So as soon as I got word that Freyr wanted to see me, and that I was to report to him at Hlidskjalf, I expected trouble. And I was not disappointed.
It’s a long, hard climb up to the Seat of the High One, which is carved right into the craggy peak of the highest mountain in Asgard. It gets steadily colder, too, as you climb, but despite the chill I was sweating by the time I reached its summit and paused to catch my breath — which wasn’t easy, because the air is awfully thin up there. From a nearby rocky perch, a raven called out loudly, scolding me. Yes, one of those ravens. Hugin knew we didn’t belong up there just as well as I did.
I was still wiping sweat from my forehead when Freyr called out impatiently from his own rocky perch — the High Seat he was currently usurping. “Don’t just stand there, Skirnir, get over here. You’ve got to see her.”
Her. I might have known. This was going to be bad.
I went, but stopped short as I drew close enough to see his face. Because Freyr, golden boy of the Vanir — Freyr who is always confident, always smiling, always cheerful — was pale and trembling. We immortals generally don’t get sick, but he looked as if he’d been languishing from a human fever. His long golden hair was disheveled and dull. His handsome face was coated with beads of sweat, all color was gone from it, and his eyes were sunken and glassy. “Master?” I said, truly horrified. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Never mind me,” he snapped at me. “Look at her.”
“Who?” I looked around. There was no one else in sight, other than the raven — and this raven was not a she.
With an uncharacteristic growl of exasperation, Freyr stood, grabbed me by the shoulders, and — before I had time to protest — hurled me onto the High Seat of Odin. Standing close beside me, he grabbed my chin and pointed to direct my gaze. “Her!” he repeated coarsely.
I looked. I did not like what I saw. He was pointing far away to the east, where a raven-haired beauty stood looking out from a high balcony into the gardens below. The trouble was, the balcony was attached to a castle, and the castle was in the mountains of Jotunheim. And the raven-haired beauty? A giantess named Gerd — daughter of the redoubtable Gymir, an implacable enemy of the gods.
Freyr undoubtedly knew all of this as well as I did, because somehow sitting in Odin’s Seat also gives you the ability to identify what you’re looking at. But did he care? No. He was all but swooning. “Look how pale her skin is, Skirnir,” he gushed. “Look how her arms gleam in the moonlight. I must have her.”
This was insanity. What was it about these etin-maids that the gods seemed unable to resist? “Master, begging your pardon, but what you really must do is get down from Hlidskjalf and put this etin-woman out of your mind. What do you think her father will do to you if you go waltzing into Jotunheim to court his daughter? Unless, of course, you plan on borrowing Mjolnir to bash his head in with.”
Freyr straightened himself indignantly, his hand going to the hilt of the blade at his side. “You forget, Skirnir, that my own sword swings of its own accord against etinkind, and never stops until they lie dead. I can handle Gymir.”
“So you say, but is it worth the risk? What do you think your sister will do to me if I let you put yourself in that kind of danger?” I shuddered. Truthfully, I would rather have dealt with Odin’s ire at finding me sitting in his High Seat. And at that thought, I realized I was still sitting there and leapt up as if the stone chair had been a red-hot iron. Within a heartbeat, Freyr had taken my place and resumed staring dazedly off at his forbidden heart’s desire.
“I must have her, Skirnir,” he said morosely. “I will die unless I make her mine.” And looking at his slack features, his pale skin, and his blank stare, I almost believed him.
I sighed heavily. Clearly, there was no way out of this. “Then let me go. Lend me your horse; my own is not equipped for traveling between the worlds. And you’d better let me take that sword of yours, too, in case Gymir decides he’s not too fond of the idea of having a Van for a son-in-law.”
Readily, he agreed, a flicker of hope lighting those glorious green eyes. As for me, I prayed this fool’s journey wouldn’t prove to be in vain.
I left within the hour, but not before securing some bridal gifts for the maid — a basketful of Idunna’s golden apples, and a magnificent golden armband I planned to tell her was Odin’s own arm ring, Draupnir. As well as a few other supplies that might be needed if things got ugly. Some of these troll-women were as well-versed in magic as any of the Vanir; as Thor himself was fond of saying, when it came to etins, the female of the species could be even deadlier than the male. Of course, this was coming from a god who — following the example of his own father, as well as Freyr’s father Njord — had taken an etin maid as one of his own wives. I didn’t understand why flirting with that kind of danger was such a lure, but at least Freyr was in good company.
As usual, it was risky business crossing Bifrost, with those colorful flames darting and licking at the hooves of Freyr’s horse. As I had truthfully told Freyr, my own horse couldn’t have made the trip. The flickering rainbow fire spooks most horses, not to mention the fact that if you look down at the wrong moment the flames are likely to part to give you a very clear view of the Thunderflood roaring beneath your feet, with apparently nothing between you and those treacherous waters. But while not as sleek-footed as Sleipnir, my master’s horse trotted across the bridge with a fair amount of confidence. I nodded to Heimdall as we passed, and we were on our way.
It really isn’t all that far to Jotunheim if you know the way; after all, Thor makes an almost daily commute to its borders, and Odin has been known to stop over for lunch and the seduction of giantesses and/or harassment of wise old etins. It wasn’t long before I was making my way through the mountain pass leading to Gymir’s castle. The castle was impressive even by giantish standards —immense but crumbling outer walls, uneven towers that seemed to pierce the very clouds, and a twisted iron gate with a pair of huge, snarling black dogs tied to it that would have put Garm to shame. What more could any giant want? The bumpkin shepherd sitting on a hill just opposite the gates was the perfect finishing touch. “Hey, you there,” I called out to him, “How can I get inside to have a word with Gerd Gymirsdottir?”
The shepherd gave me a bored shrug. “Gerd Gymirsdottir has nothing to say to the likes of you.”
Just then, the raven-haired beauty herself appeared at the gate with plates of food for the fearsome dogs tied there, who looked a whole lot less fearsome while competing with each other to cover their mistress with slobbery kisses. “Good doggies,” she said, reaching through the gate to pat their heads while she slid the food dish under it. Then she straightened, and one raven’s-wing eyebrow raised when she saw me. “Oh, do we have a visitor?”
The shepherd shrugged again. “Just some guy who says he wants a word with you. He’s letting his horse eat all my grass, and making a general nuisance of himself. Tell him to go away.”
“Now, now, brother.” Gerd waved her forefinger at the herdsman. “Where are your manners? I swear, you’re going to mouth off to the wrong person some day and get yourself skewered. It’s obvious — to anyone with half a brain — that our visitor comes from the courts of Asgard. Do you really want to stir up unnecessary trouble?”
The herdsman muttered something under his breath. Gerd shot him an annoyed glance and then returned her attention to me. “You’ll have to forgive my brother, and come in for a drink.” Removing a huge ring of keys from her belt, she began unlocking the gate. “So, which of the Aesir or the Vanir are you? Or are you one of the Alfar? There are so many of you, I can never keep you all straight.”
After tethering my horse to a gnarled old tree and grabbing the satchel of supplies I had brought, I stepped through the gate, skirting the dogs carefully. She relocked it behind me, then began to lead me up the stone-paved pathway to the huge doors of the keep. “Actually, milady, I’m not one of the gods, or even an elf,” I explained. “I work for Freyr Njordsson, most valiant and glorious of the Vanir, and I’ve come all this way — over the fires of Bifrost and through the mountains of Jotunheim — to seek your hand in marriage on his behalf.”
Gerd stopped walking abruptly. One hand was on her hip, the other still holding the ring of keys, as she stared at me. “Are you out of your mind?” She gestured towards the keep. “Do you know whose castle this is? Are you aware that my father Gymir would jump at the chance to eat a Van lord — or his little errandboy, for that matter — for breakfast?”
I sighed. “Yes, milady, I am aware.” I shrugged. “Look, putting my neck at risk by coming here like this isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. I know who your father is; I know he hates the gods. I know he’s a kinsman of Surt, who hates the gods even more. But Freyr saw you while he was sitting on Hlidskjalf, where he had no business being, and … well, what can I say? He’s impetuous, and stubborn, and he wants what he wants. And what he wants is you. It was love at first sight, you might say. And to tell you the truth, he’s in a bad way over you. He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t drink, and he looks like he hasn’t slept in a month. I fear he may waste away to nothing unless I come riding back to tell him that some agreement has been reached between you. And on your side of things, you aren’t going to get much of a better deal than Freyr as a husband. He’s gorgeous, he’s rich, and he’s a Van, the brother of Freyja — and I’m sure you can guess what that means. So, what do you say?”
She stared at me for one more long moment, dark violet eyes filled with utter disbelief. Then she sighed heavily and began walking briskly towards the door of the keep again. “I have seen Freyr,” she admitted as she walked. “Oh, don’t look so surprised,” she added without looking at me. “Surely, you know that many of the Mornir have the gift of sight. Some of us have more of it than the Vanir do, even. You didn’t really think Odin seeks out so many of my kinswomen simply in order to have sex with them, did you?”
I shrugged. “Actually … that is what I thought.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, no matter. The point is, I have seen your master, and I approve. I would hardly be averse to the idea of marrying Freyr and becoming a goddess. But as for my father .… My father is another story altogether. To say that he hates the gods is really an understatement. He would love nothing more than the chance to crush Asgard utterly — all the Aesir, all the Vanir, and all of their servants.” She flung open the doors and ushered me inside. “Oh, don’t worry,” she said as she saw my worried expression. “He’s not home right now; we have a little time.” She glanced at my satchel. “So, what have you brought me? Or more importantly, what have you brought my father? Convincing him to allow me to marry a Van and go off to live in Asgard is going to be no mean feat.”
I tossed the satchel onto a nearby table and opened it, removing the basket of shining golden apples. “Here,” I said, presenting them to her, “are eleven of the golden apples of Idunna, which grant eternal youth to the gods.”
She took one and crunched into it. “Not bad, but my father would be more impressed if they were real gold. Not that he needs gold; he has more than enough here, believe me. But he distrusts Aesir magic, and isn’t going to want to part with me in exchange for a basketful of fruit. What else is there?”
I took out the golden armband. “I have brought you Draupnir, Odin’s own arm ring which was burned with the body of his slain son Balder, and then restored to him from the depths of Hel.”
She took the ring, glanced at it, and then flung it into a corner of the room. “Now you try to play me for a fool. Did you really think you could convince me that that was Draupnir? Or that Odin would part with the real thing in order to buy a bride for Freyr?”
“It was worth a try.”
“Well, you’re going to have to do better than that. Gymir isn’t any more stupid than I am, you know.”
So the gifts weren’t going to do the trick after all. I’d been afraid of that. With a sigh of resignation, I removed the last items in my bag: a gandr carved with runes, a rune risting tool and a blank strip of wood.
“What have you got there?” she said, her eyes narrowing as she stared at the rune wand.
“It’s simple,” I explained. “I meant no harm to you milady, but … well, as I said, my master really is in a bad way, and that means I’m desperate. I’m something of a rune master — though nowhere near on a par with the likes of the High One, of course — and I was prepared to curse you, if necessary, to convince you to marry Freyr. Now, since you say you’re willing, that won’t be necessary … but your father doesn’t have to know that, does he? We can easily convince him that you’ve been coerced against your will. Look here.” Deftly, I carved three Thurs runes on the strip of wood, and then followed them with three more runes in succession. Then I lifted the wand, brandishing it and pointing it at her. “Troll runes I carve for you: frenzy, loathing, and lust. You will be an outcast even among the giants, as famous and as lonely as Heimdall is among the Aesir. You will be forced to watch, alone, as Ragnarok approaches. You will despise the taste of food, and all of the giants and the gods will despise the very sight of you. Weeping and howling with despair, you will wander homeless though the courts of the frost giants. You will never enjoy the touch of a man, but will be forced to endure the caresses of a monstrous three-headed thurs named Hrimgrimnir, who will take you at the roots of Yggdrasil in Nastrond, by the corpse-gates, where your wedding drink will be goat’s piss. Odin will be angry with you, Thor will be angry with you. Freyr will hate you. You will be the most wretched among women … although, I can rub these runes off as I carved them on, if there is no need.”
Okay, I admit it: I had lied to the girl. Why merely pretend to cast the spell, when I could cast it for real? Too much was at stake to trust her word that she was willing to become Freyr’s bride. And even if she was telling me the truth and only needed a means of convincing her father … well, a real curse is ever so much more convincing than a pretend one.
Anxiously, I waited to see what effect the spell would have on her. Any moment now she would break down crying and begin pleading with me to relent and begging to be taken to Freyr at once. Any moment now. I waited. And waited.
She stared at me, her violet eyes implacable, for a long moment. “Or,” she said at last, “you could just give my father that sword of Freyr’s. You know, the one he gave you to bring along. The one that swings of its own accord against my kind until we lie dead. I’m sure my father would accept that as a bride-gift …although I’ll wager that one day Freyr may regret having given it.” She shook her head slowly, with disgust. “You really are an idiot, to try to bewitch a Mornir. You really don’t know what some of us troll-women are capable of, do you?” Then she sighed. “I’d love to enlighten you, but our time runs short.” She went to a nearby cabinet and filled a crystal cup with mead. “Let us drink to our deal: my hand in marriage in exchange for Frey’r sword.” She drank, then passed the cup to me. I followed suit.
“Oh, one more thing,” I said. “When will you go to him? And where?”
She shrugged. “I’ll meet him in the grove called Barri, nine nights from now.”
I looked at her. “I did mention that he’s impatient, didn’t I?”
She smiled. “Well, if I’m good enough to go through all this trouble for, I’m guessing he can hold it for nine more nights. Plus, I need time to pack and get myself ready. Get pretty for him, and all that.” She shook her head again, laughing to herself a little. “Me and Freyr, huh? How about that?”
The horse seemed to fly back to Asgard, as anxious to leave the mountains of Jotunheim behind as I was. We found Freyr exactly where I’d left him — sitting in his forbidden perch at Hlidskjalf, staring morosely off towards the east. He leapt up when he saw me coming and started forwards.
“Well?” he said impatiently. “Don’t even get down from that horse until you’ve told me everything.”
“It’s done,” I said. “The price was higher than expected, but she has consented to be your wife.”
His eyes lit with green fire, an intense joy that began to spread throughout the rest of his face. He beamed at me, and it seemed as though all the sunshine had been gone from the world and had now suddenly returned to it. “I don’t care about the price,” he said. “Where will she give herself to me? When?”
I told him, and his features fell. “How can I bear to wait three nights, let alone nine?” he whined. “Even one night is longer than an eternity to me, without her.”
I sighed, exasperated. What a pair these two were going to make. Sometimes, you really can’t win.
[L. Beth Lynch is a priestess of Odin, seeress, and cunning woman. She is the author of two devotional short story collections: Odhroerir: Nine Devotional Tales of Odin’s Journeys, and Water from the Well and Other Wyrd Tales of Odin. She maintains both a website and blog, and can also be reached via email. A former denizen of the northeastern U.S., she now lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her partner, a pride of cats, and one ridiculously cute little dog.]