The Saga of the Stolen Wooden God
by Bertil Falk
Domalde’s patch was not much to make a show of and Gardar saw that the crops would be meager. Short straws, which soon ought to be ready to harvest but did not seem to be making it. Domalde would not get much barley for the winter.
They stood at the border of the patch. Gardar caught sight of a snapped off rootstock, which did not belong to the spot where it was. Gardar went down on his knees and picked it up. It was greenish. From it had run liquid which had turned yellow. Gardar sniffed at the rootstock. Once more he recognized the sweet smell and that confirmed what he already knew when he picked it up. Cowbane! Why was this dangerous root far away from its locality? He examined the spot where it was found. It was a spot of soil that had recently been squashed flat, four ells square.
“There must be a neighboring lake somewhere?” Gardar said and got to his feet. He put the rootstock beside the ladle under his tunic.
“Sure. How did you know?” Liv asked.
Gardar did not answer. He had asked the question because the plant wherefrom the rootstock arose grew only in water.
“Far away?” he asked.
“It takes a whole morning to walk there and back. Look! Here comes Domalde.”
Domalde was a man, who looked young at a distance, but when he approached one could see that the middle age had begun to make incisions in his face. His bushy beard was as long as was Gardar’s. He was not well dressed, but he wore an unusually stylishly formed Thor’s hammer of silver in a leather band around his neck. The two men exchanged greetings. Since Liv knew that Gardar wanted to speak with Domalde alone, she left them.
“I understand you’re here to find out who the thief is,” Domalde said.
“Liv asked me to do it. She doesn’t think the old sejd-man did it. What do you think?”
Domalde’s face cracked into a hearty laughter. “The hag-man. No, Einar wouldn’t steal any gods. But Orvar had reason to steal it.”
“In order to blame the theft on Einar the Caresser.”
Gardar let the unexpected statement sink down into his skull. ”Why would he do something like that?”
“It needs thinking about,” Domalde said.
“You must know why, otherwise you would not suspect Liv’s father.”
“I’ve already said too much. But I’ve not said that Orvar is the thief. I’ve only said he had a reason.” Domalde paused. Then he added: “A very good reason!”
“And you? Do you have a reason?”
“How was it? Didn’t you want the villagers to take a special turn round your patch with Frey?”
“Three special turns,” Domalde corrected Gardar. “Assuredly, I did, but they pointed out to me that it was not according to custom. I had to yield.”
Gardar took out the rootstock he had found and showed it to Domalde. “Do you recognize this?”
Domalde looked surprised. “What is it?”
“A small part of a rootstock,” Gardar said.
“That I can see, but...” He was interrupted by a young man who came running and shouting at them. “That’s my son Dag,” Domalde muttered. “I wonder what that ne’er-do-well is up to.”
The youth was dressed in gray frieze. He was slightly out of breath and stopped in front of them. “Another one has arrived to....”
At that moment, Dag understood that the stranger he had thought of telling his father about was the man his father was talking to.
“Yes, I’ve arrived,” Gardar said in a good-natured voice.
The young man, who had small, light downs on his upper lip, now saw the root Gardar held in his hands and he turned red.
“Do you recognize this?” Gardar hit as quick as lightning.
“I don’t know... I... no... What is it?”
“Can’t you see it’s a root?” Domalde bellowed.
It did not seem to be much love lost between father and son, but Gardar had the feeling that Dag had recognized the cut rootstock. Domalde scolded his son and Gardar left them to their antagonism. He returned to the longhouse, where a shy figure approached him. It was a middle-aged woman, small and frail and white-throated and with a fair countenance. He could see at a distance that she wanted to talk to him. She turned out to be Menglöd, Domalde’s woman and Dag’s mother. She took him aside, anxiously looked round and then she turned to him.
“Two days before Frey was stolen, Orvar Magnesson got to know that he has been a cuckold for years. Domalde told him,” she whispered and she was obviously very afraid that someone would see that she was talking to him
Gardar realized that this piece of information contained something important. Inwardly, he tried to put it together with what he already knew, and he had the feeling of a pattern, but a pattern with many possibilities.
It was obvious that someone had poisoned Einar the Caresser the evening before Frey was stolen. The person who had poisoned him must most probably have been the one who also stole Frey. Or...
Gardar understood that he still did not know enough, but he began to see that the whole story was more complicated than he had thought at the beginning. He wondered how the matter stood when it came to unmanliness of the old sejder. He decided to scrutinize that side of the riddle.
* * *
At that moment Orvar Magnesson came out from the longhouse, and Gardar took the opportunity to intercept him on the village path.
“Let’s talk,” he said.
The short man nodded and looked at Gardar with a sullen expression. “You think that you can solve the riddle of the stolen Frey,” Orvar said and Gardar heard that this was a statement sprinkled with distrust.
“Yes, I almost think I can do that,” Gardar said. “I know in any case that Einar was poisoned that evening. But he was not given enough ground cowbane in his mead. That’s why he didn’t die. Instead he got awfully sick and did not notice that Frey had been stolen. He was either asleep or he was away vomiting when the thief came sneaking in the middle of the night.”
Gardar took out the broken rootstock. Orvar, who had listened without batting an eyelid or or turning a hair, regarded it and said, ”Why would someone get the idea to poison the old hag-man?”
“Maybe he has not always been totally effeminate?”
“No? What was he then? I’ve seen him sejding and dancing. I’ve difficulty to think of something more womanish? Furthermore, it’s well known that he cuddles with men.”
Orvar paused and Gardar saw he was exerting himself inwardly, as if to decide whether he would say what he thought. At last he nevertheless said: “Some time before Frey was stolen I visited Domalde and he told me a few things.”
”What was that?”
“It doesn’t matter, but when I left his house and passed by his meager patch, I saw something at a distance at the fringe of the forest. I saw Einar cuddling with Dag, Domalde’s son.”
Gardar nodded. Undeniably, it confirmed that Einar the Caresser was what he was, but that Dag had similar affections was news. “How long did they do that? How much did you see?”
“Some moments were enough to know what it all was about.”
“One short moment was enough.”
Thoughtfully, Gardar regarded Orvar Magnesson while trying to tie together this new bit of information to what he already knew. At last he said: “I understand that it was after Domalde was denied three Frey-turns around his patch that he told you one or two things?”
”How do you know?” Orvar looked astounded.
“A well-founded guess, which you now confirm,” Gardar smiled.
Orvar scratched his head. “True, it’s true, but does it have anything to do with the theft?”
“Perhaps. Or with the poisoning,” Gardar said ambiguously.
Gardar realized that a conversation with Dag was needed if it would be at all possible for him to get to the bottom of this tangled skein.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk