On the field of Vígríðr, the green grass had stolen back. Once a flat and even plain, now it was all a tumult of strange hills and mounds. The last of the dead had long ceased their moaning, and the earth shook no more; the waves crashed no longer against the Jotun hills, and in the sky the clouds of the Fimbulvetr parted, so the pale light of the sun shone once more on the blackened earth, strewn with the bodies of gods and giants, alfs and men. The gods were taken to their biers, to be burned and treated with honor, but the giants and monsters were left where they lay, and the carrion had grown fat on their bones, and finally the earth had claimed them.
Ulln stared out across the great field of Vígríðr, fingering her staff of bone, which was carved with runes. Grey hair streamed untied about her head, and she pulled the cloak tighter around her, grey eyes searching among the mounds. She walked upon the dead that day, over the skulls of giants and over the shattered spine of Jörmungandr, where still there were pools of venom that hissed and boiled in the black earth, and near which no grass would grow. Rust-covered blades and empty, eyeless helmets sheltering worms and insects marked the fall of man and dwarf, but still she climbed and clambered on. As the pale sun dipped down once more to afternoon, she came upon a hollow formed by a strange crescent-shaped hillock, and found in that hollow a traveler seated upon a stone.
By hair and height she guessed he was of the surviving Æsir, ruddy copper locks and a bushy orange beard on his chin, shot through with strands of gold, but he dressed as any warrior might, with a coat of mail and a helmet set at his feat, a broad sword sheathed at his belt, a shining shield upon the tuft and leaning against his left leg, and at his right food stood a spear, standing straight and tall as it was stuck into the earth. In his own two hands he held a knife and a pale yellow apple, which he was busy cutting into pieces.
"Hail," he said, as she stood upon the hillock, "and who might you be, to stand upon my cousin?"
"I am Ulln, widow of Ullr," she said, "and which son of Odin are you, to claim Loki's spawn as kin?"
Keeping an eye on the Æsir, Ulln came down from atop Fenrir's corpse, and with keen eye began to scan the sward of grass that had grown over and around him. The Æsir, for his part, watched her with interest.
"I had heard of Ullr," he said between bites, his beard sticky with juice, "a mighty magician. They say when Odin was exiled for ten years, Ullr took his place and his shape, so none would strike at Asgard in his absence, and when Odin returned her readily gave up the throne. I did not know he had a wife."
"Aye," said the woman, poking and prodding at tufts of grass with her bone-stick, "what you have heard is true. He honored Odin, and did not touch Frigg for ten years, claiming a war-wound; but by the same lie he could not touch me, and so I lay barren. When Odin returned he retired, and there would have been children; but he was slain by men, who feared him come among them."
Ulln was at this point on the opposite side of the small hollow formed by the curled corpse of the great wolf. She stopped and looked at the seated Æsir. "A game, my lord, to pass the time. Ask me three questions, and I shall answer. Then I may ask you three questions, and you may answer."
The Æsir paused to consider. "I do not know if I will profit by this game, but perhaps it will amuse us. Why came you here?"
"A widow I am, master Víðarr, and I have little in this world. Yet I loved my husband, and he me, and in his cups and in his arms and in our bed he taught me certain secrets, and where I might find more. So for my knowledge and my power I have come to Vígríðr in search of secrets."
The red beard seemed to bristle and the eyes narrowed, but Víðarr's tone was even. "Do you come here to rob the slain? For I swear there is no booty here of gods, nor little enough left of men or alf."
Ulln shook her head. "A widow I am, master Víðarr, but I am no thief. I swear on my husband's staff, I seek no treasure of man or god, alf or giant."
Víðarr's brow burrowed, but he only cracked his jaw. "I have asked two questions, and you have answered. Let us make the game more interesting: ask me your three questions, and I will save mine for last."
"Very well," she said, "where stood Odin, before he fell?"
"Why, right where you stand now," the Æsir said, "spear in hand, cloak rent and torn, his mail split, one boot filled with blood - that is where my father stood, when Fenrir closed his jaws upon him."
She looked around now, staring around at the scene.
"And his birds? Where was Huginn, where was Muninn as their master was devoured?"
Víðarr's brow knotted further, and his eyes seemed to look back upon that fateful day. "They struck the wolf's eyes with their claws, and he snapped and snarled at them. Quick they were, but not quick enough! One - I know not which - was swallowed whole; the other was crushed beneath his paw - there." He pointed to a mound, from which the great grey curve of a claw could be seen.
"And a final question, master Víðarr - why are you here? I had thought the gods all gone back to Iðavöllr."
"Some did return," Víðarr said, "to live in temples. Others left, to be kings and fathers of kings, and now their sons sit upon their thrones. I, who have known battle...I was not made to live in temples, or sit upon my father's throne. I was born to avenge my father, and now having done that, I find no purpose or joy in life. So I have come to ponder awhile the grim joke, of outliving one's destined purpose."
Tossing the core of the apple away, Víðarr cleaned the blade and sheathed it at his belt. "Now Ulln, widow of Ullr, tell me truly: why came you here today?"
Now Ulln smiled. "Watch."
And so saying she took the staff of bone and dug out beneath that great wolf's claw, and the hours passed, even as afternoon passed to midnight, and moon shone pale to light the way for the ghosts and ghouls that yet haunted that field. By the moonlight she unearthed every bone of that bird who had been the secret-keeper and scout of Odin, and by its scarred beak Víðarr knew it was Huginn. With a small dagger Ulln worked to carve a rune on its skull, and whispered a certain charm until her voice was a raspy whisper. In the moonlight Víðarr saw the terrible miracle as the witch's magic took hold, and the dead bones of the raven cracked and clicked in grim mockery of life. Moonlight reflected off where its feathers should have been, giving outline and shape to the grisly thing, but shadow and bone gave it form and function, and from the pale skull the shade of Huginn stared out at the night.
"Why?" he said, at last.
"Because we have outlived the destinies written out for us," said Ulln, as he darkling familiar hopped upon her shoulder, "but that does not mean we are quite done living."
You write "Muginn" twice there, at the end. Is that deliberate, an amalgamation, or is it a typographical error?ReplyDelete
Typo. Good catch.ReplyDelete