The Saga of the Stolen Wooden God
by Bertil Falk
Fair Sigryn came to him in a dream. She smiled her beautiful smile. He reached out to her. Her smile turned into huge laughter and now she was the hag Völva, who scornfully sang her sejding song of sorcery: “Pig-shit, horse-muck and cow-piss.” Her grin changed into the face of the murdered Gunhild. It was a mess of blood.
And then her horrible picture became the countenance of Brynhild. Her eyes were crazy with victory and hatred until she saw the dreamer. At that her smile of victory distorted into rage and she rushed at him, her knife raised. Its sharp edge glittered. At that Odin came riding through the air dressed in a hood and a cloak and his only eye issued a ray of fire and hit Brynhild at the same time as her knife hit Gardar’s face.
Gardar jumped out of his bed of twigs with a moan and put a hand to his cheek. The fire crackled and sparks were flying around the hearth. Brynhild’s stab was a spark from the hearth that had hit his face.
Thoughtful, he sat up looking into the flames. The memory of his work as riddle-solver had caused his dreams. That much he understood. Women of a near past mixed and changed shapes. The dream also had a deeper meaning and belonged to the secret world between Midgård and Asgård, united by the Biforst, the bridge of the rainbow. There was a message there fed by his own experiences. That message had evaporated when he woke up.
Soon Gardar was asleep again. This time he dreamed of Odin and Frey. They came walking. All of a sudden the fecund one disappeared. The one-eyed Sidhatt shambled on alone in his shadowing headgear, staff in hand, towards the grounds of sorcery, where he flew away in the guise of an eagle accompanied by his mind and memory in the shape of two ravens. Gardar was not aroused from that dream in a hurry.
* * *
He woke early at daybreak because he felt chilly. The fire had gone out. The morning fog was heavy. It would soon dissolve in the warm rays of the sun. Shivering, Gardar collected some dry branches and made a fire.
If he did not find a settlement before evening he would make a campfire in the form of a nying that would burn the whole night. The nying would also keep the wild animals, vættirs and other kind of trolltyg away. It was a must when he was alone in the wilderness.
He boiled himself a hot rose hip drink, whereupon he gathered his belongings and walked southwards. He had glimpses of elks and lynx. Though he tried to walk through dense shrubbery as quietly and carefully as possible, the birds stopped singing when he trod on branches, which snapped under his feet with small crackling sounds. After some time he was thinking of taking a mid-day break and eating something when he all at once came across a well-worn path.
Exhilarated at the prospect of meeting people, he took a turn onto the path which meandered southwards, which in any case was the course he had chosen. He had not walked many steps when he heard a singing sound that was well known to him. He crouched down. At that moment a deer started up about twenty ells from where he was. It set off at full speed. Gardar saw that the animal had an arrow in its back, but then the deer was gone.
Now he heard another movement. It rustled somewhere near him. About ten ells away was a man with a bow in his hands. He was watching the deer. Obviously the man, the head of whom was totally bald, had not noticed Gardar, who decided to be careful. An armed stranger was not to be trusted.
Gardar got a surprise when the man turned his head. It was Bölverk the Boldheaded, the man who had taken command of the ship when it was attacked. Obviously he had succeeded in getting ashore and had helped himself to one of the Vikings’ bows. He too seemed to be on his way southwards.
Gardar decided not to make his presence known. He did not know Bölverk and he did not feel he wanted to. Bölverk walked away on the path. Gardar stayed in hiding. After a while he warily got to his feet and moved away. Henceforth he kept a hundred ells between himself and the path.
He rested and cut a piece of skyrke and dried ham. He reflected on his situation. He realized that there were many a long day’s march ahead before he reached his native district. He made up his mind to walk as long as the sun shone.
He had not walked many steps when he heard the barking of dogs. He quickly clambered up a tall pine tree. A few hundred ells away he saw a middle-sized village consisting of older longhouses and newer, smaller wooden buildings. Some men were talking, and he recognized Bölverk. He must have been the one the dogs were barking at. After some deliberation, Gardar once more decided on avoiding exposure and circled around the village.
Gardar found the path again just before sunset. He scouted out the southern side of a hillock and found three thick, two-ell long branches. He made a nying of them in front of the hillock. It would burn the whole night and emit a uniform heat, which the side of the hillock would reflect and give him even more heat. He lay down between the fire and the hillock and fell asleep straightaway.
When he woke up the sun had already moved up behind the hillock and was dissolving the morning fogs. An old man in a slouch-hat stood looking at him.
The man had a long, billowing white beard and was dressed in a gray shift of rough homespun. Gardar was not surprised that the old man held a hiker’s staff in his hand. One side of the broad-brimmed hat covered one of his eyes and Gardar had a shivering feeling that he knew who he had to deal with.
The old man regarded him in a quiet way and said in a low voice:
Much I walked,
Much I tried,
Much I put the forces to test.
What did Odin say
In the ear of his son
When Baldur was on his pyre?
“You are the only one who knows the answer to that,” Gardar said and tried to sound bold. “You asked Vafrudner that same silly question. If I remember it rightly.”
”A well-versed boy seems to have arrived in the large forest,” the old one chuckled. “Do you know the runes as well?”
”So-so,” Gardar replied. ”What are you doing here in Midgård?”
The old one laughed a strange laughter in a high piping tone. “You silly fellow,” he said. “I’m not Sidhat as you seem to believe. I’m called Einar the Caresser.“ He smiled wryly. “Don’t ask me why.”
He took off his slouch hat and now Gardar saw that the man was not only bald. Both his eyes were alive. Small red eyes, watery. They trickled with age. Furthermore one little finger was missing. ”Would Ygg himself be me, the villagers should not make fun of me and detest me and suspect that I had stolen Frey. And then I would have solved the riddle of the theft.”
Gardar was all ears.
An enigmatic theft!
”Who are you then?”
“A female born male, who likes other male ones,” the old man said. “A man turned awry, who in the past for sure was despised but who also was engaged in order to sing songs of sejd and perform the sacrifice but who today is considered a disgusting village idiot, whom nobody trusts. Time worsens. Ragnarök is near.”
Gardar looked at the stranger with disgust mixed with expectation. No one could sejd like the effeminate ones. “Did not Odin himself hit the sejd drum like an old crone until Loki blamed him for his unnatural behavior?!”
“I, too, can sejd,” Gardar said, “but without lapsing into womanishness.”
The old man shook his head. “I don’t think much of that kind of sejding.”
Gardar did not answer. Instead he asked: ”What did you say about Frey being stolen?”
“There were three wooden images in the sacrificial grove. Odin in the midst with his rune staff, just like mine, but better. Thor on his side, his hammer lifted to strike. And on the other side, Frey, his knees yoked together under his body, his male limb directed upwards and his eyes bulging with rut. A few days ago Frey disappeared. They think that I’ve stolen him.”
“Why do they think that you’re the thief?”
“Because I used to sleep behind the wooden gods. I always felt safe behind their backs. I could not sleep in front of them. I could not stand their staring eyes. I always used to wake up when someone approached, but the night when Frey was stolen, my sleep was unusually deep. I felt intoxicated in some way. I was sick when I woke up. And I woke up a couple times and vomited.”
He paused. “That lad Dag shot an arrow at me. Fortunately, he’s a lousy archer.”
“Has that to do with the theft?” Gardar wondered.
“It happened before the theft. I’ve just come to think of it.”
“Did you drink or eat something specific the evening before the theft?”
“A horn filled with honey-mead. It was given to me by the daughter of Orvar, the village chief. She’s called Liv the Walkeress.”
“Liv the Walkeress?”
“A tremendously beautiful girl! Quick and kind and sweet and the only one who is fairly friendly towards me. However, she always walks with enormous strides. It’s enough to take one’s breath away. And after the honey-mead, I ate pea-bread and some whey porridge, which I also got from Liv.”
”Hm. How often has she been that kind to you?”
The old man discerned the suspicion in Gardar’s voice and replied: “Every evening. But now it has come to an end.”
”Why is that so?”
“Because I don’t dare to go to the village. I don’t dare sleep behind the two remaining gods. I support myself by eating berries, nuts, herbs and roots. It’s possible now, but not when winter comes.” The old man gave a laughter and showed a toothless mouth. “Then it’s time to die,” he said.
“I think that I’ll take a look at your village,” Gardar said. “You’ll come with me?”
The old man shook his head. “I stay here.”
”Here. I’ve a small den in the earth over there by the bushes.”
Gardar made a meal and shared some of his cold food with the old man, who greedily sucked a piece of skyrke. Then Gardar left him to his fate, found the path and went back to the village. On his way Gardar thought of his dream.
It was not by chance that he had dreamt that Odin had lost his wanderer friend Frey. It was a sign from the High One telling him to intervene.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk