VIKING - 38: BALDUR'S DREAM, The Young God's Death Brings On The Dawn of Ragnaroek
"Wise enough, a man should be, not too crafty or clever. A man's wyrd should be kept well hidden, to foster well-being".
"Gather around -
Good folk seat yourselves close around me here near the hearth, so that you can hear me well. I shall not speak loudly, because you never know who might be listening. The dark elves may be afoot. It is that time of the year again, long nights, short days. The evil ones roam without, looking for some forlorn soul to steal. Hel may be close, eager for followers into the afterlife in her grim, grey, ghastly halls of Niflhjem - the realm of mists where none leaves, save by her say. Listen closely and keep a drink with you, the thirst might come upon you... You never know'.
Baldur moaned, twisted and writhed in his bed. He tried hard to flee the dark ones, the ugly shapes in the gloom. He breathed hard, panted, moaned once more. It was then that he awoke in the darkness of his room. The hanging, long cloths that hid the doorway seemed to give shelter to the unseen ones. Light and shadows moved beyond the hangings and for some time he wondered what he was looking at. Then he realised it must be dawn and the household thralls were about, seeing to their daily tasks.
He lay there, trying to think of what it was he had seen, trying to put a name to the shadows that had beleaguered him. The shapes that dwelt in the shadows faded as he became more aware of the room around him. What he was afraid of earlier was now merely shapes in the hangings around his bed. His pale brow was bathed in sweat, long, white-blond hair tousled and wet, the bedding loose around his legs and waist. Baldur kicked the bedding away and dozed again. The shapes crept toward him again, hideous shapes that would blot out the life in him if they came close enough. He thrashed and kicked the shadows away once more. His shouts brought him round and again the shapes faded into the hangings. The fear became a deep foreboding. He was out in the open, doomed.
The gods and goddesses heard of Baldur's dream and gathered to talk of its meaning.
'He is the kindest, gentlest and most beloved of us all', one of them told the others. 'He does not merit this sad nightmare that has been visited on him'.
Another said nothing of the like had ever before passed the threshold of Breidabik. Yet aside from disturbing themselves and him they came to no agreement over what they should do - and Baldur's dream was not understood.
The Allfather called on all to be quiet and told them he would go out into the Nine Worlds and find an answer, somehow. As Baldur's father he felt it was for him, as the great seer, to look for a way to answer his son's fear. Having saddled his eight-legged steed Sleipnir he pressed him into a headlong gallop, over Bifrost, along the long, winding track that led north away from Midgard. Sleipnir thundered down into the gloom and swirling mists of Niflhjem, to the Underworld.
Garm, the Hound of Hel could hear the Allfather as he neared
Garm snarled, the hair on his throat and chest caked with blood. He bayed loudly where he stood, straining at the chain in his cliff cave by the gate to Niflhjem, the Underworld realm of the dead. The Runemaster paid no heed to him and passed, still galloping hard. The frozen earth beneath Sleipnir's hooves jarred and still the Allfather did not ease the reins until he came up to Hel's high and empty-sounding hall.
He leapt to the hard earth and peered into the gloom, crowded with the damned and gleaming with gold rings and gold wall trappings. He led sleipnir to the eastern door by which a seeress had been buried untold years before. Odin stood for a short time beside the burial mound, fixing it with his one good eye that glittered in the half light.
Speaking slowly, he recited a spell to raise the seeress from her slumbers in the cold earth. She rose and loomed over him.
'Who is the outsider who makes me rise to hear his woes?' she wailed. 'The snow has settled on my grave, rain has bleached my bones and the morning dew has crept into my skull. Long have I been dead, so why is it you want to hear me now?'
The Allfather lied,
'I am Vegtam the Wanderer, Valtam's son. Tell me the tidings I should hear from Hel. Having ridden through the Nine Worlds already I am weary, so tell me - and why are there gold rings and trinkets strewn along the benches of Hel's hall, why are the walls bedecked with gold? You have someone coming who merits this sudden show of wealth?'
'The shining mead has been brewed for Baldur', the seeress told him. 'A shield covers the cauldron. For all their bold glory the gods will despair this eve. I would not have told you this, and I want to tell you no more'.
Odin bade her linger. 'And you should give me answers to what I will know. Who is it who will slay Baldur, and draw his life-blood?'
'Blind Hoder will bear a branch that will bring death to your young son. It is he who will bring Baldur's death, bring forth the life-blood. I did not wish to tell you this and I will tell you no more', the seeress told him once more.
'Stay, seeress', Odin asked her. 'Give me the answers I seek. Who will wreak vengeance on Hoder, and who will bear Baldur's killer to the pyre?'
'Rind will lie with the Allfather', she answered, 'and their son will be Vali, borne into the world in Vestrsalir, the western hall. He will wreak vengeance when he is but one night old. He will not wash nor comb his hair before he has sent Baldur's killer to the after-life. I did not want to tell you, but I will tell you no more'.
'Seeress you must bide a little longer by me. Give me all the answers I seek. Who are the maidens who will weep then, toss their headscarves to the sky?'
'You are not Vegtam ', the seeress wailed. 'I believed you to be him. You are Odin, the sorcerer who is as old as time itself'.
'Nor are you a seeress', Odin laughed, 'Or as wise as you make out. You are one of these hideous creatures, mother to the three monsters'.
'You have no call for gloating, Allfather. Ride home and brag of your skills', the seeress keened, her words echoing laughter in her blackened heart. 'No-one will raise me ever again until my father Loki breaks free of his chains, and all the creatures of darkness gather on the eve of Ragnaroek!'
With that the ghostly figure started to seep with the pestilence and she sank back into her grave. Odin turned away from watching the fetch* as she slipped back beneath the cold, dark earth and mounted Sleipnir.
Knowing what was to come, his heart was heavy...
*A fetch is a ghost or spirit
Snorri Sturlusson's blend of legend and history - so far back in time no-one knows any more which is which. An entertaining read for a dark night by the fire with a good drink and handy nibbles. Got mine - you?