Skathi’s Spite

Hung in dark heavens,
her father’s eyes gazed,
the were-gild she’d demanded,
recompense for his death;

outside the gates of tall Valhalla,
a war-needle of frost in her hand,
a battle-shield at her side,
— crafted of oak heart,
ringed in cold iron —
and she’d clattered her spear’s point
against the boss of her shield
raising her voice in a shout,

“Justice, justice, justice,
where is the vaunted justice
of the Aesir
for a murdered father?”

And the gods came to their gate,
and Odin spoke her fair,
told her with all gravity and reason,
that her father had taken arms against them,
had died in glorious battle —
no man or giant could ask more.

And yet she raged,
and storm-clouds ringed the welkin,
and ice frosted their beards,
as she demanded an accounting,
for now she stood alone,

and the All-Father replied,
“even if I could return your father to life,
I would not, fair maiden,
for if I did, he would only
take up arms against us again.

But I will place his eyes
where he can always look upon you,
where you may always see him.
and I offer you one of my own,
a husband, after the fashion of
both our peoples, so that you
will no longer be alone.”

She’d acceded; it had seemed fair,
and she thought that for her pain
she deserved much;
she was alone with the cold of her heart,
she was empty; she deserved to be warm,
to be filled with light and life.

And so when Odin brought forth the gods,
She was surprised when he said
“You may choose your own husband,
But choose him by his feet.”

“A face can lie,” she agreed, finding
wisdom in his words. “Loki might
wrap his face in seiðr, but I doubt
he’d remember to conceal his feet —
which surely have long, unkempt nails,
as horny as the hooves of some goat.”

Given this chance,
it was Baldr that she wanted,
Baldr whom she intended to claim,
The brightest treasure of the Aesir.
With him at her side, her cold would melt;
with him at her side, she could … yes.
She could carry on her father’s war!
Who would say no to Baldr,
the god whom all the world loved,
when he called hosts to war
on behalf of an injured wife?
All she needed, was for him
To love her. She’d do the same
For him, wouldn’t she,
carry her bright spear of ice
into battle at his side,
laughing in his light?

She kept her eyes low, in honor,
looking for some sign,
and found a pair of feet
as soft and clean as any maiden’s.
No sign of callous from hard hide boots,
No trace of dirt or shit from any field.
These, she knew, must belong
To Baldr the Beautiful,
And she reached out to clasp the god unseen,
Saying “This one is mine, and I will take no other.”

But as he folded his arms around her
she smelled salt-brine and fish,
and she looked up into his eyes,
and found Njord of the Sea
smiling down into hers.
He looked so happy,
But she felt cheated, tricked —
His feet were clean because he stood
in water wherever he went.

He had no warmth to him, she thought,
no light, and she felt empty
as he took her hand beneath the stars —
her father’s eyes 
and promised to be her husband.

She refused to dwell in his house
hidden among the waves;
he traveled deep into her mountains,
enduring cold and her scorn
at his refusal to fight on her behalf
against the Aesir, his kin.

Her winds howled and shrieked,
spitting spite, raising his waves,
which tumbled endlessly.
Sometimes he’d rage in response,
and their tempests sank ships.

He returned to his house among the waves,
and she crouched among her crags,
sending avalanches to shatter
the bodies of any who approached,
slicing open their flesh
with teeth of ice and rime.

Once a year, in spring,
he comes to her still,
asking her to forgive him
for not being what she’d wanted,
but to take him for who he is.

Sometimes, it’s said, she even relents,
and the glaciers weep,
sending sweet water down
to mingle with his brine.

[Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling and Pushcart nominations and appeared in over twenty journals; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, and The Fantasist. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com.]

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