The Saga of the Stolen Wooden God
by Bertil Falk
The young boy with the yellow hair and the downy upper lip was easy to find. He was practicing archery behind one of the longhouses. When he saw Gardar, he put aside his bow. It was as if he was expecting a visit.
“What do you want to know?” he said in a very low voice, almost whispering, as if he was afraid that someone would hear him.
“Simply, what were you and Einar the Caresser doing?”
The youth turned pale and then red. “It’s not about that,” he exclaimed and his voice rose in a high piping tone. “It’s about what he wanted to do with me.”
“You mean that if someone saw you two cuddling, then...???”
“It was he and not me. He came towards me. And then he began caressing me. To begin with I didn’t get what he was up to, but then he searched towards my teors and then I understood more than enough and I walloped him.”
”You hit him.”
“Indeed. He dropped.”
Curiously, Gardar regarded the young man. He did not look very strong. But there was fire in his eyes now. A fury that in the absence of brute force very well could move the sejder.
“How about the root? Did you recognize it?”
The anger in the blue gaze died. ”That I don’t know nothing about,” Dag muttered and took up his bow and aimed at a tree.
”Of course you do,” Gardar said.
Once again the boy put aside his bow. ”There will only be trouble if you continue this poking,” he roared in a surprisingly biting tone.
“Here has been poisoning and thefts, not to mention desecration,” Gardar said. “Were you the one who stole and perhaps you were the one who dug also?”
Dag Domaldesson stared at Gardar, his mouth open. “Would I’ve dug? No, but...” He kept a stiff upper lip as if he had said too much, turned his back to Gardar and walked away.
Gardar smiled inwardly and in his mind he untied another knot in this tangle he was involved in. It was about time to gather the people for a settlement. But there was one more question to ask.
”Did you hear when your father told Orvar the truth?” Gardar cried.
The boy gave a start and turned around. His lips quivered. “You’re skilled in witchcraft!” he exclaimed. “How did you know?”
Instead of answering, Gardar repeated his question.
“Yes, I heard it,” the boy admitted.
Gardar looked at Dag with a stern countenance. ”It seems to me as if some people here always are trying to blame someone else for whatever has happened,” he said.
* * *
All the people of the village except Einar the Caresser gathered on the tun. Even Bölverk the Baldheaded, who had nothing to do with what was going on, was in place. There was Dag, who looked worried and guilty, standing by the side of his mother Menglöd, who was the slender-limbed woman with that fair, pale visage. Her husband Domalde stood there with a wide smile as if what happened had no bearing at him.
Liv the Walkeress carried her unshakable countenance. She did not turn a hair. What Gardar thought that he could read from those features was an expression of great expectation. She sat on a stone with runes and waited for the proceedings to take place.
Orvar Magnesson showed no signs of either alarm or repose. He did not even seem to be curious.
A certain degree of apprehension characterized the existence. Gardar was himself standing on another runic stone and he held a spade in his hand.
“I’m Gardar Varinsson,” he said, since most people could not possibly know who he was, ”and I’ve discovered some oddities. I’m a riddle-solver. You, folks, you have at least one riddle that should be solved. Your Frey has been stolen and that desecration is perhaps not as terrible as you may think. I suspect that there was a certain firmness of belief behind that theft.”
Gardar surveyed the assembled people. Nobody made a sign of being touched by his words. Domalde smiled his eternal smile. As before, expectation was like cut into the face of Liv the Walkeress. Bölverk scratched his bald head. Menglöd regarded Gardar with wonder and Dag stared straight in front of him.
”Everything that has happened here is a result of the fact that Domalde was denied the opportunity to reinforce growing power of his crops by means of Frey,” Gardar said, “This refusal triggered a series of events. Domalde made the decision to reveal to Orvar Magnesson what everyone in the village knew, except Orvar and his daughter Liv.”
Gardar cleared his throat and continued. ”That was not a nice thing to do. It was an act of vengeance. You all know what I am talking about, all except Liv, though it is about her. Domalde revealed that Orvar had been a cuckold. The fact is that I suspected it at an early stage. Why had Liv’s mother been so kind to the unmanly Einar the Caresser? Why did Liv not resemble Orvar the least? And how come that she has watery red eyes, exactly like the effeminate Einar the Caresser?”
Now that all listened with tense attention to him, he saw with satisfaction that his words were having an effect on the assembled people and he could not help enjoying the sensation. Catching the attention of people was next to an end in itself and it was at moments like this that he understood why there were people who took it upon themselves to perform as jugglers and fiddlers.
”The answer to these questions is of course that Einar in spite of his effeminate disposition had lain with Orvar’s wife and the daughter who is the fruit of that unexpected, casual connection is Liv.”
At that Liv the Walkeress covered her mouth with her hand as if she tried to stifle her voice. She did not succeed. A drawn out and whining “oooohhh” left her lips.
“That was why the mother always was kind towards Einar,” Gardar continued, “and that kindness was taken over by the daughter, who has not known until now who her real father is. That was what Domalde revealed to Orvar in revenge, because Orvar and you other villagers did not permit that Frey be taken three turns around Domalde’s meager patch. I guess that Orvar was the one who more than anyone else went against Domalde’s wish.”
Now suspense was tense in the air. Everybody listened attentively. It was obvious that the young man with the red cape was an able troll-carl, who could find out whatever secrets that were concealed. Had he not already exposed much of what they knew but kept secret?
Gardar felt the power he exercised and it spurred him. “Soon after Orvar was told the truth, Einar was poisoned and Frey was stolen,” he said.
A muffled mumbling emerged from the crowd, an unmistaken sign that an aha-feeling had spread among them. And they turned their eyes at Orvar, who was standing motionless, but he opened his mouth and began to speak.
“Much of what you say is true, young man, but not all of it. Domalde and others have made you believe that I didn’t know that Liv was the daughter of Einar. I’ve always known that.
“The shame of not being Liv’s father was something that I could get over, though it was not easy to accept that my performance in bed was to no avail. I knew and my wife knew that I knew, but we both wanted to shelter Liv. You’ve now torn that shelter away. But I cannot blame you, since Liv herself asked you to find the truth.”
Orvar looked around and then he turned to Domalde.
“I’m getting older and things are perhaps not as important to me today as they were in the past. I guess that Domalde told me the secret in order to cause me to do Einar harm, but I didn’t do Einar any harm. If I ever would have done him harm, it would have been when my wife was involved with him. Since I did not do him any harm, someone else must have done it and stolen Frey. I don’t know who, but I suspect Domalde, though I’ve never before had reason to misjudge him.”
Orvar sounded exhausted after those words and Gardar realized that the taciturn man had delivered the longest speech of his life.
“After all that has happened, I can understand that you suspect Domalde,” Gardar said, ”but I don’t think that Domalde poisoned Einar. I’m sure that it was Dag who did that. Dag was accosted by Einar and knocked him down in self-defence. Before that happened, Dag had heard how his father revealed the secret to Orvar. Unsuccesfully, Dag tried to shoot Einar. Dag realized that he could poison Einar and throw the suspicion on Orvar.”
Gardar took out the half rootstock and showed to the crowd.
“Dag knew that the root of the water hemlock or cowbane is poisonous,” Gardar said, “but he didn’t know that it takes at least a whole root to kill a person. He just crushed half a root and poured into the whey porridge the milk-white sap that has a tendency to turn yellow. You can see some of that yellow sap which has dried on the wooden spoon Einar used.” Gardar held up the spoon so that they all could see it.
”Dag threw away the other half of the root — the one I showed to you — and it fell on a spot by Domalde’s patch, where one or two things recently took place. Follow me!”
Gardar walked towards Domalde’s patch and stopped by the small square with flattened soil.
They all followed him and now the curiosity among them was very big. Gardar put the spade in the soil and dug.
He dug two spits deep and all could now see the wooden piece that was buried. Gardar lifted the idol up in the air and he did it with something that looked like a flush of victory. It was a sitting form, which was half an ell tall, its legs crossed and its thing pointing upwards in a wild purpose.
“Here is your Frey!” he said. “Domalde did of course not know that his good-for-nothing son had caused Einar the Caresser to eat poison. But it was lucky for Domalde that Dag did that. Einar would otherwise most probably have heard when Domalde came and stole Frey.
“Now Einar was probably unconscious or definitely feeling sick, and he did not notice that some came to the vi. Einar was perhaps not even on near the idols when Domalde stole Frey. He could well have been lying vomiting somewhere in the woods.”
Now Bölverk the Baldheaded, who up to this point had listened without uttering a word, began to speak.
”How is it possible,” he said, ”that this Einar the Caresser, whom I haven’t seen here, is an unmanly sejder at the same that he has been able to put a woman in the family way?”
“I guess that the villagers know how that matter stands,” Gardar replied. “Einar the Caresser belongs to the kind of people who are neither male nor female, like you and me and most other people. His disposition goes both ways, which is more uncommon. And as all of us well know, Odin was now and then of that kind, especially when he was sejding.”
The big smile in the face of Domalde was no longer there. His gaze had become shifting and fierce. Now he pointed at Gardar with a battle-axe, a sharp-edged thing with a long handle, one that severs heads from bodies in a single heavy cut when its owner clutches the handle with both hands, swinging it in the air so that a swishing sound is heard. Gardar noticed the runes in the iron: futhark. The simplest of all incantations.
Domalde had begun lifting his heavy axe in order to create a strong swing that would shorten Gardar to a desirable height. But the people surrounding Domalde locked his arms. The axe fell with a heavy thud to the ground.
“Domalde committed his desecration not because he wanted to desecrate,” Gardar continued, ”but because he believed that the fertility power of Frey is so strong that he wanted to get Frey at all costs to fertilize his meager patch.
“When he was denied the privilege of getting Frey carried round his patch three times in order to get the crop he lacked, then he stole Frey and buried him in the soil, a method that probably could have an even greater fertility effect than if Frey had been carried round the patch. More or less down to the last rune, he buried the stiff-equipped god inside the body of mother earth.
“As you may well know, Odin was burned but Frey was buried and thereby he fertilized the fields. Domalde knew that and acted accordingly.”
And Gardar improvised a lay ad lib:
Merry Frey may measure
Mighty male thing of his own.
Sure of aim and hitting mark
Always making patches green.
Insulted and outraged.
Act of vengeance lingers.
Woe betide stern stealer
Stalked by riddle-solver.
Domalde shook with fury. Bölverk the Baldheaded took care of the unmasked thief and took him away from the assembled people. Dag followed them. Only Menglöd remained standing there, looking at Gardar with fear in her eyes.
“That’s all, folks,” Gardar said. “The only thing that remains is that you decide the fate of Domalde and Dag at the Thing.” He turned around and began walking away from the tun.
But all of a sudden Liv the Walkeress stood in his way. Her countenance was serious and she looked at him with wonder. “I knew you were renowned when you came,” she said, “but the display we’ve witnessed here shows that you’re a more remarkable man of knowledge than the flood of rumors has it. I ought to be angry at you, but I can’t be. In some way you’ve undone a curse or a bane, which always has been brooding over our village and I’ve not forgotten what I promised.”
She fished out a saga-likely coil-adorned golden brooch out of a gray bag of vadmall and gave it to Gardar.
Smiling, he accepted it. ”And what will happen between you and Orvar and Einar?” he asked.
“As before,” she said. ”I think that I’ve more esteem for my father Orvar after this. I hardly saw a man take a defeat with such wisdom and self-command.”
“I’m not so sure it was a defeat,” Gardar said.
“If you say so, yes. And I can’t change father in a twinkling. I’ve always considered him to be my father and so be it. As far as Einar is concerned, he is what he is. Not my father, even though he impregnated my mother. Now I can understand why she was kind to him.”
Before Gardar the Riddle-Solver resumed his wandering southwards, he saw Liv catching up with Orvar and they disappeared arm-in-arm into one of the longhouses.
Blood may well be thicker than water, he thought, but it has sooner or later been obvious that solidarity can be thicker than blood.
Gardar composed another poem:
Spear-Frey splits the udder,
Spilling skaldic mead-brew.
Word-ale foams from mouth-cave
Floating bardic kennings out.
Friendship sometimes freshens
Firmly strength of persons.
Kinship sometimes clearing
Common ground for people.
Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk