Tell me, Father, of trolls and wyverns,
of bearings fared to far unknowns,
of crawlers rank in dankest caverns,
gnashing teeth and bending bones.
What yarn could I, of tailor begotten,
of tailor bred, and tailor be,
spin beyond the trite and sodden?
Weave of crawlers, louts and beasts?
Idler’s wefts and bungler’s stitches
suit no faring sons of Odin.
Only dogs are born of bitches.
We are forge- and fire-begotten.
Dragons, serpent-shades and specters;
legend must your story be.
For naught of tailor’s darns and tapers
scars a man so markedly.
Wayward son, you crave adventure
braved upon the far unknown.
Remiss am I to hem your ardor,
for doubly now your will is sewn.
In truth, my tailor’s silks and flourish
are but veils upon my past.
I bear in gouge and striping garish
the memories of my hundred quests.
Marry, Dad! The tale darkens.
Banished be your flaccid tongue!
Sit you here; your son will hearken
sure as boy and night are young.
Temperance, lad. A moon’s discretion
fails before a flapping tongue.
Sacred be a night’s admissions,
sacrosanct the keep thereof.
Honored, father. Rock, protector.
I, your blood, am soon a man.
Tempered be my moment’s ardor.
Reverent I, before you, stand.
Hearken to the wind, my son.
Upon her breast our tale begins.
Man to her indifference thrown
aboard the ship, the Tempest Rain.
A dozen chiefs, a score of fighters,
bent before the oarhole’s creak,
beneath a sky bereft of color,
rowed forth our vessel, proud and sleek.
“Ho,” the cry, the drum-beat sped
our two and thirty farers on.
A gull bewailed her mounting dread,
a foretaste of the trials to come.
Anon the isle of Bjalla broke
the prominence of our dragon prow.
The Tempest’s hull of blackened oak
rode the troughs in taunting bows.
“Hiss!” her spume, her ramming keel
a falchion to the sundering waves,
as down her length, our brandished steel
shone to life our battle-craze.
“Archers: loose!” Thidrandi cried,
squinting from the Tempest’s helm,
while on the shore a Cyclops eye
leered betwixt the shivering elms.
The twang of bowstring cut the night,
shafts careened on howling wind.
Their taloned tines, like hunting kites’,
slashed his hide and sank within.
First blood drawn, the sea-wolves snarled,
their formless fangs of Aegir cloud,
whilst from the shore an elm was hurled,
a gorgon shade of root and bow.
Athwartships, aft, the elm did strike
and bear her ire upon the Tempest,
dashing men and splintering strake,
and killing Thorarin, our eldest.
Thidrandi fell, and Bjorn, and Hrolf;
some ten North Men had died astern.
Aloft the stare of Aegir’s wolves,
their souls to drink of Odin’s horn.
The Tempest Rain did lag and list,
her stern a pyre of riven planks.
The milling sea engulfed her grist.
She quaffed her poisoned brine and sank.
Salt to vein and blood to ire,
we swam and thrashed the mounting swells.
Ulfberht blades anoint in fire,
impart this day our tidings fell.
Yet ere we’d reached the island’s lee,
a rage engorged the Cyclops eye,
and Hell’s own host of tumbling trees
hailed like meteors from the sky.
Men were thrown, or crushed and drowned,
the dark sea boiled with froth and blood.
Yet every man who’d not gone down
did rush like fire to Bjalla’s wood.
The din of battle shook the bank,
steel agleam like silvered frost.
Irreverent blades in cyclops shank,
berserkers rapt in battle lust.
Yet as the rune betroths the valor,
so the valor marries death.
Seven more to range Valhalla,
seven fleeced of mortal breath.
A frantic fray, the death toll climbed
beneath the Cyclops elmwood club.
But a last hurrah did come to mind.
I laughed, then, at the folly thereof...
And, lurching free of a flattening blow,
delivered from his thunder-tree,
I leapt upon its bloodied bows
to ride aloft: a bird-to-be.
A toothsome ploy, ye beakless buzzard.
Old man: the freshening wind thou art.
And legend crave your hap and hazard.
Your larks be runes upon the stars.
Stand, my son. Accept my gift.
‘Tis time you bore the Ulfberht blade.
Heave the sun and steel aloft,
and drape the winds in faring shade.
In faith, dear blood and benefactor,
I swear my fealty unto the sea.
To rove the temporal realm hereafter,
to breast the wind and bound the lee.
Do tell, my kin, my wingless bird,
your plight upon that errant sky.
Were somber songs of valkyries heard,
were more brave men condemned to die?
No more, my son. By Freyja’s grace,
by Odin’s might and Aegir’s will,
I clove the eye from bulge to base.
And thus, the Cyclops bane was killed.
Cheers rang out. Survivors thronged.
The vanquished beast did seaward fall.
And Cyclops eye and rider plunged
headlong to bathe in Bjalla’s shoal.
* * *
Wet with wounds and drawing breaths,
I waded to the lapping shore.
I counted five who'd cheated death.
Then Aerik stood, to add one more.
Upon a hill we bent and toiled
to dig the earth and fashion graves.
Loosing rock and heaving spoil,
our axes clanged (we had no spades.)
Beyond our glade, a rustling sound
betrayed a hunched and watching figure
in silhouette, its features round
made plain the fairness of its gender.
"Step thee forth," Glum motioned hither,
his glance asquint, for night had come.
"Be you corporeal, shade, or other,
let the moon acquit or damn."
At length, the moon unwrapped her cloak
as thence, she stepped into the glade.
Brooch-bound hair and gossamer throat
bespoke a girl of temporal make.
She walked, a haunt of silken steps,
a starling queen to quietened glades.
Stroke of hair and swish of hip,
she wove the moon, unspun the shade.
"I am Onarr, son of Arinbjorn,"
I said, and, pointing, named our crew:
"Hrafn, Gorm, and Glum of Trongfjord,
Alfarin, Aerik, and Guda the Blue.
"Speak, young girl. Tell us your name
I'm lorn but for a woman's grace.
Her wine to woe, her mouth to frame
the fairness of a night in voice."
The woman neither balked nor frowned;
she neared to take my countenance in.
A chill clung to her silvered gown,
her clove-scent raked the freshening wind:
"I am Elfredda, heiress of herb,
baroness of essence and sage of elixir.
May the gods long drink of the woes you've endured.
Tell me, brave Onarr: what provokes your adventure?"
So I drew in a breath, for the night was yet young,
and I took in the silence she'd gathered like sheaves.
And it calmed me like clove-scent and essence and home,
and I spoke of our plight neath the shivering leaves:
"It comes through the mists and the estuarine fog,
through moonlight and torchlight and candles aglow.
It skulks at our thresholds, a silent she-plague.
Her name is Uncilla, the eater of shadow."
The very she? The stuff of old stories
long interweaved in the campfire's glow.
Uncilla the ashen and wretched and hoary,
Uncilla the worm mouth, the eater of shadow.
Long has she plagued and unsettled our folk,
long has she wizened the campfire's glow.
Bitter our chains to her ominous yoke.
Uncilla the death-bringer, the eater of shadow.
Woe to the stricken, the brutally woken.
Their shadows like worm feed: vellum and rag.
Staring in horror as their likeness is shaken,
ripped and devoured by the gluttonous hag.
Bungler's wefts and idler's stitches
suit no faring sons of Odin.
Come ye, crawlers, louts and witches!
We are forge and fire-begotten.
We whose boot on peril's shore
is kin to rune on hammered stone.
We of frost and fell and fjord
are bane to witch and wizened crone.
And who if not Onarr, son of Arinbjorn,
has slain this harridan curse and plague?
Who, my sire and blood and father?
Who did fell this lusting hag?
Know this, dear son of Odin forged:
there lives one man whose fortune be
by fame or fall to face the scourge.
By the gods, ’tis fated unto thee.
Stand in the breeze. And feel the heft,
the promise of the Ulfberht blade.
Heave the sun and steel aloft
and drape the winds in faring shade.
And know by Thor and Tyr and Odin,
know by fire and forge and blade
the ancient call of generations
that beckons thee to kill the shade.
So the dark one lives. Uncilla, she,
the fell wind begging doors to creak
and cold to moan through gulch and tree and
night to breathe her tidings bleak.
Uncilla! My lambent queen,
I long to know your famed embrace.
Come forth! And know the fire's sheen.
My sword unstitch your darkling lace.
Oh, for wet and burgeoned seed!
My darkling lace your word unstitch
and spring your hatchling pluck to deed,
oh, ne'er-begotten of tailor and bitch.
Lo! Old man! See what the haze has brought.
Marvel at the moon's ungilding rays.
Suckle like smoke her darkling draft,
breathe like sex her musk malaise.
Your trysting tongue and lapping taunts
do breach, boy, like blades, my pining core.
In dark do I sheathe thy gorged gallant,
my widowing womb thy man devour.
Son! Beware her bantering maw,
her doppelgänger smile of stunning youth.
'Tis guise to veil her mandible jaws,
her slackened skin and fetid mouth.
And you! Old man who slinks and hides
as a "tailor" in a nowhere town
to raise a boy in kept abode.
His man unstitch my darkling gown.
And lo, for sweet his toxic youth.
I long to tongue his adder's kiss.
To have him, shadow, scent and mouth,
and boil his virgin blood to mist.
Fast blades, my son. Debauch this queen.
Pin this up-skirt to the trees
to fare for all time on Ulfbehrt sheen,
and perish in the dawn's unraveling breeze.
Fool, Onarr, and gull thou art!
Immune is this queen to bauble and blade.
Thou hast given me thy son and I take his heart
to beat with mine in the land of shade.
To bed, black crone. For the hour is late,
and the old man tires and the mead goes stale.
Had you sense, fool woman, you'd have loitered in wait
till the old skald Onarr had finished his tale.
Forget not our sorceress, the damsel, the one
who'd aroused the night-taken, the moonstricken in me.
Now I'd taken her hand and she'd born me a son
and his name is Skari, a legend to be.
He is Elfredda's boy; only now does he know,
for I've held to the secret for sixteen years
so that boy into manhood could blossom and grow
and put to the sword all the north men's fears.
And sure as steel is but rust to the demon,
so is the demon a victim of ruse.
The old man and his son have a past-time in common:
a nightcap, a beer and a good subterfuge.
Remember the girl and her brooch-bound hair.
Imagine its shine as she loosens her brooch.
By the light of the moon and the scent of the air,
her tresses of gold did the midnight breach.
And this, my seductress! This magical hair
is a gift you can stitch with like sinew or thread
to fix a she-demon to the midnight air
while she busies herself wooing Skari to bed.
Who would have thought that a lock of this hair
of silk and of moon and of essence bewitching
could fasten a demon to the cool night air
with a wayfarer's needle and a tailor's stitching?
My robes! My lace! You dogged fiend.
I beg His Grace my seams unstitch.
Ply not this warped, unseemly end
upon this love-spent and god-abiding witch!
To bed, old hag. And thirst no more.
Or thirst, and drool your tongue to drought.
I am Onarr, son of Arinbjorn,
bane to crawlers, beasts and louts.
Come, brave Skari; the night is ours,
for there's naught in this world can unfasten the witch.
We go now, and we find this fair mother of yours.
No more do we idle in needle and stitch.
I am Skari, son of Onarr.
Legend may our story be.
I long to find your wife, my mother.
To breast the wind and brave the sea.
A-viking with us. To cove and cliff.
To meld our fates with oar and blade.
To heave the sun and steel aloft,
and drape the winds in faring shade.