Viking - 36: Odin's Unasked Guest - Loddfafnir Looks in on the Allfather at Asgard
"Wise enough a man should be, not too sly or clever. The best of lives is led by those who know the way things are... no more".
Was Heimdall asleep when Loddfafnir crossed Bifroest to Asgard?
In a Midgard dwelling men and women whiled away a winter's eve. Outside, the snow lay heaped against walls, deep, crisp, cold.
Folk talked, laughed and drank mulled ale or sweet southern wine brought by ship from southern lands. The women and children sewed and sang, the men boasted and swapped tales - the more they drank the taller the tales became. One of the gathering stood and ambled to the hearthside. It was only when he cleared his throat that the others stopped what they were doing
'I think I should take the skald's seat', Loddfafnir told them all, to more laughter.
One of the men asked, seated at a bench playing Hnefatafl with the head of the household,
'What have you to tell us? You spend your time shovelling dung in the stables, nothing untoward ever happens to you'.
'I have stood by the Well of Urd, stared into its still, unfathomably deep blackness. I have wondered, stood and thought long at the door to the Hall of the High One, the Allfather no less. He saw me and spoke out loudly from where he sat on his great high seat, his ravens glaring at me'.
'Listen Loddfafnir, listen well. My counsel will be of use to you if it is heeded. You will do well if you take it at its true worth. Never rise from your bed at night but to relieve yourself in the midden, or to fend off those unwanted guests who would rob you blind'.
'Listen Loddfafnir, and heed my words! My counsel will see you through dark days. Never listen to a spaywife's sweet words and soft, ensnaring warmth. She will cast a spell on you and your life will lose all meaning. Meeting with your friends will no longer warm you. Seeing meat will upset you and all sweetness will be soured. You will take to your bed, weighed down with your troubles'.
'Listen Loddfafnir, and listen well. My counsel will see you well if you heed the words. Never try to bed another's wife, or try to steer her from her husband'.
'Listen, Loddfafnir. Listen well, as with my counsel you will never err. If you need to cross the high mountains, ensure you have enough food with you to last'.
'Listen Loddfafnir, listen and heed. Trust no man who is known to be, or seems to you not to be trustworthy when your luck seems to fail you. This sort of man will take the good from you and repay you with falsehood. I know a man who was deeply wounded by a bad woman's words. Her flickering, serpent tongue became the cause of his death; yet not one true word had been spoken'.
'Listen Loddfafnir, listen closely and heed me. Should you want a trustworthy friend, foster his friendship and do not cross him. Do not let time get between you - brambles and long, waving grass grow quickly on an unused path'.
'Listen Loddfafnir, listen carefully. Find a wise man to befriend, and be wise to his healing skills for when you may be wounded'.
'Listen Loddfafnir, take heed of my counsel. Do not ever be first to stretch or break the ties of friendship. If you are unable to let another man know your thoughts fear will gnaw at your heart'.
'The Allfather told me many things I should understand, that an evil man will give much less than he is given, that when one fellow can open his heart to another, that is true friendship. You can win more renown by being true to another than by scaling the foe's walls with your axe. A good friend will tell everyone how good you are. Nothing is worse than a liar, and you may as well not know when false men tell you only what you like to hear'.
'He said that three words spoken in anger to a bad man, who when he lets his sword talk for him can cost you your life. Make only footwear and spear shafts that you will use yourself. If a shoe turns out to fit badly that you have made for someone else, or if a spear shaft another has bought from you turns out to be useless you will be sorely beaten'.
'More, he told me not to make peace with those who wish me harm, that to do evil brings no lasting good. Doing good things for others lasts long and will make you glad. Never raise your eyes when the battle rages and the sons of man are filled with hatred keep your eyes down lest spells are cast on you that will ensnare you. That if you wish to win a woman's love and bask in her sunlight you should promise her only that which you can fulfil honestly. No man turns away his just rewards. Be careful, but not fearful. Beware of too much ale, another's wife and a thief's sharp wit'.
'There are many words he used, and I have been hard put to recall them all. I am doing my best to tell you everything. There was this: never mock a guest or a traveller. Often enough a man who sits in his own dwelling knows hardly anything about his guest. No man is so good that he has no shortcomings; no man is so wicked he counts for nothing. Do not look down on the grey-haired singer. The aged are often wiser than yourself. They may hang with the hides or flap with the pelts, rock with the blustering wind even. Those in shrivelled skins often have good counsel to share from their own store of knowledge. Be openhanded to the needy, Loddfafnir, he told me. However, the beam raised to let in your guests should be strong. Put a ring over it, or your open house will serve to bring you down'.
'Lastly he counselled that when you drink ale temper it with the strength of earth. As earth cures ale, fire cures sickness and oak cures a man whose stool does not come readily. Use an ear of corn against witchcraft, rye against rupture, the moon against hatred, grass against scab and runes against a sword cut. Earth soaks up the flood'
'Now the High One has spoken in this hall', Loddfafnir told his listeners in the stillness. Only the fire crackled in the hearth. 'Words they are, for the good of the sons of mankind, curses for the sons of giants or trolls. Hail to the speaker and he who will listen! May whoever will heed and learn do well because of them. Again', the One-eyed son of Bor finished, 'Hail to the listener'.
Everyone in the room was still, as yet unaware that not one man, woman or child had coughed, spoken a word, as spellbound as they were by Loddfafnir's talk.
'A tall tale indeed!', one young fellow laughed. 'Shut up!' his neighbour told him. 'Did you not mark one word of what the High One told Loddfafnir? Be still if you cannot speak aught but nonsense.
'Well, I mean -' He did not finish. His words froze as Loddfafnir got up. Behind him sat another guest, a man with a blue, wide-brimmed hat. A blue cloak covered his shoulders and when he turned, the young man saw he wore an eye patch.
The guest said nothing, but rose and left for the door, followed by a grey wolf and a pair of ravens. Turning at the low door, he clapped his hands and called,
'Come, Huginn, Muninn, it is time we took the road back to Asgard - Heimdall will wonder where I am this dark night, Bifroest slippery'.
Wisdom has he who does not boast, nor claim he possesses wisdom. Wisdom possesses the man
Travel back in time to the days of the gods. Not high-handed - like your next door neighbour rather, when your kids' ball bounces into their garden - the gods had their own domestic problems. look in on Odin as Loddfafnir did... Let Kevin Crossley-Holland guide you through from an icy beginning, across Midgard and over Bifroest, the rainbow bridge the gods use to cross from Asgard into Midgard. Heimdall watches everything that comes and goes, and every now and then goes to join mankind as Rig... Want to know more? Turn the pages.
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© 2013 Alan R Lancaster