VIKING - 41: GRIMNIR FORESEES A KING'S DOWNFALL - The Gotar Gain A New King
"A king's son should be thoughtful, thorough-going, witness all yet say nothing, be brave in the shieldwall. A man should be happy and well tempered to his dying day".
A king of the Gotar*, Hraudung had two sons...
"Be seated, take a drink from the ale-wife and sit still as I tell you a tale that will send shivers down your backs and make you think about the lives you lead! Be still at the back there and listen, you might learn something that will profit you one day! Drink, but do not drink so as you will not gain from hearing me - right, then I shall begin..."
"A king of the Gotar, Hraudung had two sons named Agnar and Geirrod. When Agnar was ten summers old and Geirrod eight these two brothers gathered together rods, nets, bait and other fishing gear and rowed out to see if they could catch something worthwhile netting.
The wind blew up a storm and their boat was caught in the grip of the wind. They were driven far out to sea beyond sight of land. Shadows grew long, the light failed and in the darkness their boat was thrown about, pitched and yawed. Finally they saw they were close to skerries and somehow reached the foreshore before their boat was broken apart on jagged rocks. They stood soaked and bedraggled in the shallows with a wind howling and waves crashing around their feet. Agnar and Geirrod had no knowledge of their whereabouts and set out inland to find shelter.
In the morning Agnar and Geirrod found a crofter and overwintered with him and his wife. She found tasks for Agnar and her husband saw to it his younger brother learned many things. They strode across the heath together, talking about only they knew what. Came the foreyear the crofter gave Geirrod a boat he had put together and and made seaworthy. One day the man and his woman took the brothers to the shore and the man steered Geirrod to one side. He put an arm around the lad's shoulder and quietly counselled him before he and his brother boarded the boat. With a fair wind and pointers the crofter and his wife gave.them they came to their father's dock.
Shouting 'Go where the trolls can catch you!' Geirrod at the prow snatched the oars and leapt onto the landing boards and shoved hard on the boat to send it back to sea with Agnar helpless. Geirrod strode to his father's hall to learn that the king had died, grief-stricken during the winter. The men of the hall ringed him, asking where he had been over the past months. They wondered that he had come back alive and well. They shook their heads, worried when Geirrod told them of Agnar drowning months earlier.
So Geirrod was made king, his father's hersir swore fealty to him. Great things were awaited from him, Hraudung's son, after such a wondrous return from death. As Geirrod aged he began to show himself as more and more worthless. He would lash out angrily without just cause, his cruelty was known throughout the Northlands.
The Allfather and his wife,Frigg, sat on the high seat Hlidskjalf looked over the nine worlds.
'Do you see your foster-son Agnar?' Odin asked. 'There he is, mating with a giantess in a cave, fathering trolls. My ward Geirrod is a king, you see, and rules a great kingdom'.
'He is such a tight-fisted so-and-so!' Frigg answered, 'that guests who stop off at his hall whilst he entertains others are welcomed at first before he inflicts suffering on them'.
'That is shameful back-biting and unworthy of you, Frigg!'
They agreed to test what they had heard and Frigg sent her maid Fulla with word for Geirrod.
'Be aware that an old warlock who comes your kingdom wishes to lay a spell on you. You will know him in that the worst tempered of your hall hounds will only growl at him.
It was slander that Geirrod was so tight-fisted, as it happened. Although he was faithless and moody he kept open house for all. Nevertheless he listened to Fulla's warning and told his men to hold this wanderer whom no hound would set on. and it was not long before the wanderer showed. He wore a dark blue cloak and gave his name as Grimnir 'the Hooded'. That was all Grimnir would give away. When he stayed quiet as to whither he stemmed or was bound, why he was at Geirrod's hall he merely kept his own counsel. Geirrod was angered. Thinking back on Fulla's warning he shrugged and said 'You must have grounds for your silence'. Grimnir kept his silence.
'If you will not speak freely', Geirrod growled, 'then maybe I can bring the words to your lips'.
Grimnir said nothing even then.
Geirrod had Grimnir bound and slung on a post between two blazing fires, like a hog on a spit,
'You will talk', Geirrod laughed, walking back to his high seat. Grimnir hung there over a week and still said nothing.
Geirrod had a son named Agnar, of ten summers. Everyone from the highest to the lowest liked him. When he set eyes on the suffering Grimnnir he felt for him. When everyone in the hall had drunk too much and snored Agnar went up to Grimnir, offering him a full drinking horn.
'Father is wrong to do this to you', Agnar murmured.
Grimnir drank the horn empty. The fires by now singed the cloak on his back. He began to talk,
'Fire draw back, you are too harsh, my cloak smoulders, flames scorch the fur trimming. For eight nights I have hung here and been overlooked by all but the lad Agnar. Geirrod's son will be sworn as ruler of Gotar and Borgundar. Greetings Agnar, the Lord of Men hails you. You will never be better rewarded for that one welcome drink!'
*There were several kingdoms in early Scandinavia. The Gotar were also known as the Goths, many of whom migrated east and south to lands between the Black and Caspian Seas before moving west to northern Italy. Some, the Ostrogoths stayed there and spread out around the sub-Alpine region of Noricum. Others, Visigoths migrated further west to the Iberian peninsula. Their distant cousins who stayed in Scandinavia were absorbed first into the Danish kingdom and in the later Middle Ages into Sweden. The area is known now as Gotaland on the SW of Sweden near Gothenburg, Goteborg in Swedish. There is also the island SE of Sweden called Gotland that may be linked to them.
'Listen! Where the gods and light elves dwell the land is hallowed...
... Thor will live in Thrudhjem until all the gods are no more. The other gods also have halls, the first being Ydalir where yew trees grow. Ull lives there. The second is Alflhjem where the light elves dwell. The gods gave that to Frey when he cut his first tooth.The third is Valaskjalf, Hall of those Slain in the shieldwall - one god had that built for himself and by their own hands the others thatched it in silver. The fourth is Sokkvabekk of the sinking floor, lapped by cool, bubbling water on all sides. There, every day Odin and Saga sup gladly from golden cups.
Gladshjem is the fifth, haven of gladness with Valhol close by, great and bright as gold. Odin holds sway here. By day he finds the warrior dead. Each morning they arm themselves to fight in the great garth, slay one another and ride back to Valhol to feast with the Valkyries. You can see the hall easily, with its roof of shields, spears its rafters. Chain mail is strewn over the benches. At the western door lurks a wolf, above hovers an eagle. Andhrimnir within boils the boar Saehrimnir's flesh in a great fire-blackened cauldron. The boar flesh is the finest of meat, although few come to taste it. The War-father feeds his wolves Freki and Geri with chunks of flesh. On mornings the Allfather's ravens Huginn* and Muninn when loosed overfly Midgard to learn what is new in the world of men. My fear is ever for Thought, who might lose his way, although I hold the greater fear for Memory losing his store of knowledge. Thund the raging torrent that hurtles on by Valgrind, the outer gate of Valhol's garth. The sun, fish of the wolf, dances on the water. Deep the river seems, and wild that the slain hold back - fearful lest they are swept away when they try to ford it. Within Valgrind are the hallowed inner doors. Although the gate is old few knew know how to bolt it. Valhol has five hundred and two score doors and when the time comes to fight the wold Fenrir eight hundred warriors with stride forward, shoulder-to-shoulder through each door.
Thrymhjem is the sixth, where uproar rules among the mountains where the giant Thjazi dwelt. It is now owned by his daughter, the fair Skadi who was Njord's bride. Seventh is Breidablik, Broad Wonder, Baldur has his hall there in the fair lands, blessed and untainted by wickedness.
Himinborg is eighth, the Cliffs of Heaven and Heimdall is is master, watchman of the gods who takes mead in his wondrous hall. Ninth is Folkvang, field of the common folk where Freyja says who is to enter Sessrumnir. Daily she shares the fallen with Odin.
Glitnir has pillars of red gold, its roof inlaid with silver, that is the tenth where Forseti can usually be found, taking stock and looking into the rights and wrongs set before him. Eleventh is Noatun, the haven in which Njord holds court in his high-timbered house of worship. Vidi is twelfth. Vidar lives there in a land of long grass and young saplings. That forthright god will leap down from his steed to get even for the death of his father.
Heidrun, the goat that grazes close by Valhol nibbles the shelterer Laerad's leaves. She gives a pitcher of fine, honey-toned mead daily. From the mead that comes from it, the pitcher must be bottomless. The stag, Oak-thorned that wanders beyond Valhol's walls also grazes on Laerad's leaves. From his horns a gill tumbles into Hvergelmir, the Roaring Cauldron, from which runs every river in the Nine Worlds.
Heed their names, Slow and Broad, Sekin, ekin, Cool and Loud-seething, War-defiant, Fjorn and Rin and Rinnandi, Gipul and Gopul the torrent, Old and Spear-teeming, Vin and Holl and Tholl, Grod and Gunnthorin - these are the rivers that meander across the fair, broad meadows of Asgard.
Yet that is not all - Vin, and Vegsvin that knows which way to go; Nyt and Naut the river that sweeps folk away, Nonn and Hronn, Slid and Hrid, Sylg and Ylg, Vid and Van, Vond, Strond, Gjoll and Leipt are the rivers that swirl through Midgard and drop from there onto Hel.
When the gods go daily to talk together at the Well of Urd Thor must wade through the rivers Kormt and Ormt as well as the two Kerlauga. All the other gods gallop across Bifrost on their steeds we know as Joyous and Golden, Shining and Swift, Silver-maned and Sinewy, Gleaming and Hollow-hoof, Gold-mane and Light-foot'.
Kevin Crossley-Holland relates the legends of the Norse gods from the beginning of the world, to Ragnarok and their downfall through the death of Baldr. Well told, figurative and imaginative 'tellings' with explanatory notes and index of the Norse pantheon with their areas of 'expertise'.
Norse Myths, Gods of the Vikings
'The World Ash Tree, Yggdrasil has three roots...
...one is embedded in Niflhjem, another in the world of Frost Giants, the third in Midgard. All day, every day the squirrel ratatosk scurries up and down its great trunk, bearing insults between the eagle perched on the topmost branches and the worm Niddhogg - the Corpse Sucker in Niflhjem. Four harts - Dain and Dvalin, Duneyr and Durathror - toss back their heads to nibble the tender topmost shoots.
Below Yggdrasil are more serpents than a slow-witted man might dream of, Goin and Moin the sons of the gnawing wolf. Grabak and Grafvolluth, the Bewilderer and the Bringer of Sleep. They will gnaw at Yggdrasil's roots until the end of days. Yggdrasil suffers greater hardship than men can know, deer crop its crown, Niddhogg gnaws its roots and the trunk itself rots.
In Valhol, Shaker and Mist, Axe Time and Raging take turns to bring me my brimming horn. Nine other Valkyries bring ale to the slain warriors, their names Warrior and Might, Shrieking, Host-fetter and Screaming, Spear-bearer, Shield-bearer, Scheme-wrecker and Gods-kin.
Arvak the Early Waker and Alsvid, Early-swift are the names of steeds whose tiring task is to haul the sun across the heavens. Long ago the gods took pity on them and added bellows to their yokes. Like a shield before the sun Svalin stands guard lest the mountains and sea burst into flame. Skoll is the wolf that chases the sun's tail. He will chase her until one day she is run down in Iron Wood. Hati, son of Hrodvitnir, is the wolf that chases after the moon.
Mother Earth was made from the flesh of Ymir, the seas from his blood. The gods made the hills from his bones and the trees from his hair. The roof of the heavens was his skull. They took his brows to put up the mountain wall, Midgard to be the haven for mankind. From his brain they kneaded the dark, welling clouds.
Ull and the other gods will smile on the man who first reaches through these flames. They might then look through the smoke-hole and see how uncomfortable I am if someone were to heave the cauldron away.
In days long past the sons of the mighty dwarf Ivaldi made Skidbladnir, the proudest of ships, a gift for Freyr. In the same way Yggdrasil is the finest of trees, Odin the greatest of gods and Sleipnir the fastest and most sure-footed of steeds; Bifrost is the bridge of all bridges, Bragi the most skilful of word-smiths; Hobrok is the finest of hawks, Garm the keenest of hounds. I have shown my face to the gods and have made myself heard by those who feast with Aegir.
Now I shall tell you the names I am known by. I am Grim, Gangleri, Raider and the Helmed One, I am the Friendly One and the Third, I am Thud and Ud, Death-blinder and High One, I am Sad, Svipali, Sangetall, I am Glad for War and Spear-thruster; I am One-eyed, Flame-eyed and Worker of Wickedness, I am Fjolnir and Grimnir, the Hooded One; I am Glapsvid and Fjolsvid, Deep-hooded, Long-beard, Sigfod, Hnikud; I am the Allfather, Atrid and the Load-god. I have never been known by only one name since first setting foot in Midgard.
Now, here in Geirrod's hall I am Grimnir and Asmund knows me as Gelding. I was known as Keel-ruler when I rode on a sledge and at the meeting of the gods I am Thror. Vidur is my name when I stride to the fight. The gods have known me as As-high, Wish-fulfiller, Shouter, Spear-shaker, Gondlir of the wand and grey-bearded Harbard. I took the names Svidur and Svidrir to outfox the giant Sokkmimir and slew him, Midvitnir's renowned son.
Old One-eye turned from young Agnar to Geirrod and fixed him with a baleful stare,
'You are a drunken sot, Geirrod. Again you have drunk yourself into a worthless, thoughtless stupor. Think of what you will have lost. Neither I nor any of my slain warriors will come to your side. Little have you done about what I once told you. The one you trusted to take word let you down. Now I see my friend's blade drawn and bloodied. Ygg the Terrifier will claim your wound-scarred corpse as your life is at an end. Look at me, I am Odin! Draw your sword on me if you have the mettle!
Now I am Odin, once the Terrifier, the Thunderer, the Wakeful, the Shaker - I was the Wanderer, the Caller of Gods, I was Father, Bewilderer, Bringer of Sleep. All these names are one and the same, names of none other than me'.
King Geirrod sat dazed, listening. His sword lay across his lap, only a short way unsheathed. When he heard his 'guest' give out that he was the Allfather he leapt to set him free. The sword slipped from his hand, however, falling to the rush-strewn floor hilt-first. Geirrod stumbled as he left his high seat, tripped and fell on the tip of his sword. The blade burned through his bloated stomach and he lay there, lifeless before his followers.
Odin was gone then, as a dream at the awakening. Agnar was made king and reigned well for many a long year - aware that what became his father could be his own end, should he forsake his underlings as Geirrod did.