Through Blood, the Knowledge

The war of the gods     laid waste to the land:
none were winners     and neither side lost.
They found each other     when the fighting was done.
The gods stood still;     they struck no more.

A bowl was fetched,     brought for the gods;
all were there,     Aesir and Vanir,
kinfolk of Odin,     kinfolk of Njord,
to seal the peace,     sought by them all.

The bowl was filled     with both sides’ spit.
The gods then made,     molded from the brew,
a man who was called     Kvasir the Wise;
his knowledge lacked     nothing at all.

Kvasir then fared     far and wide;
long did he roam     in the lands of men.
He sought to teach     sound and meaning,
the olden lore,     to all he met.

One day he came,     while dimness grew,
to a house of dwarves,     dark and grim.
Two brothers lived there,     one loud, one not;
Galar and Fjalar,     good for nothing.

The dwarves seemed kind;     their darkness was hidden.
Once the door shut     they shouted in anger.
They set to hammering     their hapless guest;
they killed him then,     Kvasir the Wise.

The evil dwarves     drained his blood;
they were much keen     to catch his wisdom.
The blood filled two cups,     Boden and Son,
and a kettle too,     called Odroerir.

The dwarves then stirred,     straight into the blood,
golden honey     gathered from bees.
To all who drank      even one sip,
the gift of poetry     would give itself up.

When Kvasir never     came back home,
the Aesir grew grim:     all were worried.
Looking high and low,     they left Asgard.
They asked everyone;     all knew nothing.

One day the Aesir,     ever seeking,
came to the den     of the dwarven brothers.
Galar and Fjalar     gave them rest;
they talked a while     of what they knew.

The dwarves then said     they’d seen Kvasir,
but the norns had woven      a wicked braid:
Kvasir had gagged,    a gruesome death;
his store of wisdom     had stuck in his throat.

The Aesir were hollow,     their hearts were grieved.
They left the dwarves     and drove towards home.
The dwarves then laughed,      lolling with mirth.
The Aesir had been fooled;     they had fallen for the lie.

One day the dwarves,     dwelling at home,
were roused from sleep     by sudden knocking.
Gilling the giant,     great in size,
stood before them     flanked by his wife.

The giants then asked,     gently enough,
if they might stay,     until morning only.
They were weary,     having walked quite far;
the dwarves’ house     looked dark but warm.

The dwarves were worried.     They were wary of giants;
never had they found     a friend amongst them.
They thought of a scheme     to thwart their guests;
they would use cunning     to kill the giant.

They asked Gilling,     great though he was,
to go out to sea     to seek for fish.
Gilling agreed,     game for the sport.
The dwarves then walked     their ward to the boat.

Gilling sat aft,     angling the boat.
The waves were rough,     round and swollen;
the dwarves were frightened     to fare so deeply;
they did not know    the Norns’ weaving.

The dwarves were right;     grim death was near.
The boat flipped over     and out they fell.
The brothers could float,     they bobbed in the sea,
but Gilling was drowned:     he did not swim.

The brothers then flipped     their boat back over;
they rowed for shore,     rueing its farness.
They did not know     what next would come;
they rowed with strength,     riven by fear.

When the dwarves came home,     darkness was gathering;
waiting inside     was the wife of Gilling.
Fjalar told her     truth’s neighbor:
Gilling had been lost     unluckily at sea.

The giant’s wife     wailed and moaned.
She was racked by sobs;     they rent the air.
The dwarves were angry,     almost in tears.
They hated her howling;     it hurt their ears.

Fjalar then hatched     a hateful scheme.
He told Galar,     his trusted brother,
to hide above     their house’s door,
and hold in his hand     a heavy millstone.

Galar then granted     this gruesome wish.
He laid in wait     weighted by the stone.
His watch was haunted     by the widow’s sobbing.
Fjalar hated     her heaving moans.

Fjalar spoke:

“Grieving widow,     I’m gravely sorry.
Your husband was     a hardy giant.
Would you like to see     the selfsame spot,
the very wave     where he died?”

The Widow of Gilling spoke:

“I thank you kindly,     thoughtful dwarf.
My heart would be eased,     as you might guess,
to see the spot     where sank my husband.
But I am wondering,     where is your brother?”

Fjalar spoke:

“My brother has gone     to gather wood;
we must have flames     to fan for warmth.
Follow me now,     fairest lady;
I will take you     out to sea.”

Gilling’s wife went out,    one last time,
crossing the doorstep     of the dwarves’ house.
Galar was ready,     wretched dwarf.
He loosed the stone;    her life was ended.

Gilling and his wife     were wanted at home;
hushed word soon spread     of wicked deeds.
The dwarves were known     for deeds of ill;
many were the tales     told of their evil.

Suttung Gillingson     sat in his hall,
Hnitbjorg by name;     high were its vaults.
He heard the news,     hard though it was,
of his father’s death,     and the death of his mother.

Suttung was angry;     all were in fear.
Hnitbjorg’s lord     heeded no one;
he brooded by night,     with blood on his mind:
two dwarves there were,     soon dead to be.

Suttung hurried,     in haste he flew,
to the dark house     of the dwarven brothers.
He grabbed the dwarves,     dragging them out,
then he set out to sea,     swearing to drown them.

The dwarves were scared;     they screamed and wept.
Suttung put them,     soiled and weak,
out on a skerry,     screeching and wailing,
waiting for the tide     that told of their deaths.

Great fear now filled     Fjalar and Galar;
the dwarves were shaking,     their doom foretold.
When the high tide     topped the skerry,
the water reached     their retching mouths.

The dwarven brothers     begged for their lives:
they had no money     to make a weregild.
Then they offered     the only thing they had:
the blood of Kvasir,     the cunning mead.

Suttung agreed     to grant this trade.
He rowed the dwarves     right back to shore.
He took the mead     that many wanted;
he gave it to his daughter     Gunnlod to keep.

[S.R. Hardy is a poet, fiction writer, and translator whose work has appeared in venues such as Mythic Circle, Eunoia Review, Eternal Haunted Summer, the Beorh Quarterly and anthologies such as The Shining Cities, Beyond the Pillars, and Northern Traditions. He is currently at work on a variety of poems, stories, and translations.]

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