The Saga of the Flight Homewards
by Bertil Falk
The matter was settled! Domalde wanted to avenge himself and had involved Bölverk the Baldheaded as his assistant.
Gardar doubted that anyone else in the village would be willing to stand by Domalde after what had happened, but things like that were not easy to know. Men of misfortune like Domalde sometimes had more friends than they ought to have.
To crown it all, huge, threatening clouds were gathering in the sky. They were carbon-black, blocking out the sun and betokening bad weather. Gardar had nothing to use for protection. If he did not find something suitable, he would be forced to seek shelter when Thor came driving and the storm broke.
He had almost finished his food. The only thing he still had was the bulrush roots. He now and then stopped and sucked marrow from the roots. It was not the best time of the year to eat them, but for want of better they would do. He had gathered many roots; the quantity outweighed the seasonally low sustenance of the individual roots. At the same time he picked rose hips everywhere he could find them.
Now and then, Gardar stopped by an anthill. He put his hand into the hill. When he pulled it out it was filled with ants. He licked them up. They were tasty. In this way he satisfied his hunger. When the storm broke, he felt fine. He found a shelter under a huge spruce fir where the rain did not reach. There was a very strong wind and Thor hammered mightily in sky.
Now Gardar took it easy, for it was hardly probable that the two pursuers had been searching for him during the storm. They had no doubt sought protection, themselves, and looked after Bölverk’s wound. After a while, he had made rose hip soup, which he drank with great relish.
When he finally relaxed, Gardar discerned a movement in the downpour. He realized that he had been mistaken about his enemies. For what he had glimpsed for a very short moment was a human being, who was just some twenty ells from him.
Was he surrounded? Were Domalde and Bölverk on each side of the tree where he had taken shelter? He did not brood upon the question. He got to his feet, grasped his axe in a firm grip and rushed out into the pouring rain.
The person he had seen walked away from the tree. And judging from the back, the man was neither Domalde nor Bölverk. To his astonishment, he realized it was Einar the Caresser who was walking away from him. Gardar braced himself and caught up with the old sejdman.
Einar turned about when he heard Gardar and he smiled a broad smile. “By Odin, it’s the young riddle-solver,” he exclaimed. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Why is that so?” Gardar wondered.
“Your life is in danger,” Einar the Caresser said.
Gardar laughed. “As if I didn’t know,” he said. “Come with me now.”
Gardar walked ahead of Einar to the protecting branches of the huge spruce tree. “Welcome to my resting place,” Gardar said. “I can only serve you warm rose hip drink.”
Einar the Caresser looked exhausted. Gardar’s trek was a long distance for the old man, even though he had shown unexpected gifts under his unmanliness.
“I want to thank you for what you’ve done,” Einar said. “I’m cleared of suspicion and I’m again accepted as a village member. Domalde is frozen out. His case will be tried at the Thing. Now he hates, and he hates like no one else. He’s out here to hunt you down and kill you. When I realized that, I decided to try to find you and warn you. Instead you were the one who found me. And now you know how things are.”
“I already knew,” Gardar said. “They’ve tried a couple of times to kill me, but I’ve inflicted great pain on them.”
“Are they many?”
“Domalde has involved Bölverk the Baldheaded.”
Gardar recalled that Einar the Caresser had been banished from the village when Bölverk emerged. “He’s a man I don’t know, only know of,” Gardar said. “He was for a short while the temporary ship’s master of a merchant knarr. I was a passenger on board. We were exposed to a surprise attack by Vikings and our ship was set on fire.”
“What are you going to do?” Einar asked.
“I’ll continue walking towards Scania,” Gardar said, “and keep in hiding from my pursuers.”
“And if they find you?”
“I’m actually more distressed about what will happen to you, Einar. You’ve taken a great risk by walking about alone in the forest like this. At your age, you ought to—”
“Shut up, you saucy brat,” Einar said and showed Gardar his hand without the little finger. “I know this forest on my four fingers.” “Are you armed?”
“Can’t you see my svidan?” Einar the Caresser showed the spear that was designed to easily penetrate a body and as easily be pulled out. “I would not be out on an errand like this without being prepared,” he said.
“I know Domalde and his son Dag,” Einar continued, “and what stuff they were made of. Had you not been in the right place at the time, the riddle would never have been solved. I didn’t know that Domalde had told Liv’s father that I — not he — am her father. I didn’t know that Dag had tried to poison me and shift the blame to Liv’s father. And I did not suspect that Domalde was the one who had stolen Frey.”
Gardar smiled. “Orvar Magnesson knew that you were Liv’s father,” he said.
Einar the Caresser looked at Gardar. There was great wonder in his face. “He knew?”
“Had always known,” Gardar corrected him.
“And never acted?”
“He did not, so it seems.”
“That’s the word,” Gardar said, “but now we’re not going to ponder on last year’s snowfall but devote ourselves to the difficulties of the present. The storm winds are abating. The torrential rain is passing into drizzle. The pursuers are somewhere nearby. I don’t know what to do with you.”
“You’ll not do anything with me. You’ve done more than enough. Now I’m the one who’ll do something for you. Together we’ll resist superior force.”
Gardar explained to Einar the Caresser that actually the superior force was not up to much. And he narrated how he had cut off Bölverk’s arm with Domalde’s axe.
Einar nodded. “Not bad,” he said, “but let’s not be reckless. “We don’t know what evil intentions they have. On the other hand they should fear us. Each of us is an able conjurer, I’m good at sejding and as far as you’re concerned you’re a giant when it comes to troll runes. Together we ought to be invincible.”
Gardar could not refrain from smiling at the old galderman so full of implicit faith. Gardar was not himself as certain of his own ability. He depended more on his knowledge, which the world around him mistook for sorcery. “We’ll see how it is about that,” he said. “I can’t prevent you from joining me, but I don’t think you have to, for the sake of my safety.”
“I’ll follow you until you’re in your own land,” Einar the Caresser hinted.
* * *
Together, the riddle-solver and the old sejdman moved southwards through the forest. They gave great attention to the surroundings and provided themselves with all imaginable food they found. When they pitched a camp that evening, Einar made improper advances. Abruptly, Gardar rejected him, stating: “Take care, Caresser. Remember how Dag treated you when you fumbled for his balls and remember that he actually had reason to kill you, even though killing meant more force than the necessity of the case demanded.”
Sulkily, Einar the Caresser draw himself back and a short while later he was asleep while Gardar, as agreed, kept watch during the first hours of the night. They were under the cover of an overhanging cliff. When the dawn drew near, Gardar woke his companion and fell asleep.
When he woke up it was day and he was alone, but a fire showed that Einar could not be far away. In fact he soon returned with a wooden vessel of water, which he hung for boiling above the fire.
“They’re nearby,” Einar the Caresser said. “I heard voices and spied on them. They seem to be more than two. They pitched a camp during the night about twenty hundred ells from here. I don’t think they know where we are. Had they known, they would’ve attacked us in the night.” He made a pensive pause and then he continued. “Nobody came upon us during my watch. Now they’re gone without discovering us.”
Gardar rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, combed his flaxen hair with a horn comb and went to the brook where he washed his face. He looked at his face in the limpid water of the brook. At the bottom of his transparent face, he saw water plants and trout, stones and clams.
He put his hand into the water so that his face went in waves and dissolved. He caught a clam and pried it open with a flat stone. There something white fluttered and he took out the pearl, as big as small elk droppings. Thoughtfully, he put it inside his tunic.
Then his face returned again. He did not like it. You must not be so young when you appear as a riddle-solver, a rune-engraver, a galderer and someone good at sejding. Perhaps, he should let sejding be. He simply did not possess the unmanliness needed for that kind of sorcery. It was not enough to know the songs and dance steps by heart. Sejd needed the right attitude, a quality that could come to a magician only from nature.
He knew it strongly when he saw Einar the Caresser. The whole gestalt of Einar radiated sejd. He could do corpse-galdering and bring dead people back to life. He could talk to stiff bodies that were hanging in the wind from the trees where they had been hanged and sacrificed. In spite of his skills, Gardar could not get corpses to their feet. He had tried to talk to the hanged ones at the gallows hill, and he had tried to open the grave mounds of his forefathers close to home. But he had totally failed, in spite of knowing the words, the song and the dance steps.
He regarded his young face with a certain distress, but then he pulled himself together. As time went by, that shortcoming would go away. Nobody could take away from him the ability to piece together incidents and occurrences and see a pattern, thus creating a true picture of a past course of events.
Strictly speaking, he was the only one who solved strange riddles that arose in life.There were many sejders, but riddle-solvers did not grow on trees or dung-field allotments. There was only one riddle-solver, the only one upon whom the unreliable Odin had bestowed this ability to discern reality. And that only one was he himself, Gardar, Varin’s son, upon whom Odin had for unknown reasons given this gift.
Enlivened by this thought, Gardar rose from the brook and returned to Einar the Caresser. “Let’s go on,” he said.
The Caresser nodded in agreement.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk