Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 105

“Seventy ells and four extended

On the grass the vessel’s keel;

High above it, gilt and splendid,

Rose the figure-head ferocious

With its crest of steel.”

The Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

Setting her shoulder against its stern, with a supreme effort she sent it with a rush into the water. Such was the weight of the mass, however, and the rapidity with which it shot down into the sea, that the earth shook as if from an earthquake, and the rollers on which the ship glided caught fire from the friction. The unexpected shock almost caused the gods to lose their balance, and this so angered Thor that he raised his hammer and would have slain the giantess had he not been restrained by his companions. Easily appeased, as [208]usual—for Thor’s temper, although quickly roused, was evanescent—he now boarded the vessel once more to consecrate the funeral pyre with his sacred hammer. As he was performing this ceremony, the dwarf Lit provokingly stumbled into his way, whereupon Thor, who had not entirely recovered his equanimity, kicked him into the fire, which he had just kindled with a thorn, and the dwarf was burned to ashes with the bodies of the divine pair.

The great ship now drifted out to sea, and the flames from the pyre presented a magnificent spectacle, which assumed a greater glory with every passing moment, until, when the vessel neared the western horizon, it seemed as if sea and sky were on fire. Sadly the gods watched the glowing ship and its precious freight, until suddenly it plunged into the waves and disappeared; nor did they turn aside and return to Asgard until the last spark of light had vanished, and the world, in token of mourning for Balder the good, was enveloped in a mantle of darkness.

“Soon with a roaring rose the mighty fire,

And the pile crackled; and between the logs

Sharp quivering tongues of flame shot out, and leapt

Curling and darting, higher, until they lick’d

The summit of the pile, the dead, the mast,

And ate the shrivelling sails; but still the ship

Drove on, ablaze above her hull with fire.

And the gods stood upon the beach, and gazed;

And while they gazed, the sun went lurid down

Into the smoke-wrapt sea, and night came on.

Then the wind fell with night, and there was calm;

But through the dark they watch’d the burning ship

Still carried o’er the distant waters, on

Farther and farther, like an eye of fire.

So show’d in the far darkness, Balder’s pile;

But fainter, as the stars rose high, it flared;

The bodies were consumed, ash choked the pile.

And as, in a decaying winter fire, [209]

A charr’d log, falling, makes a shower of sparks—

So, with a shower of sparks, the pile fell in,

Reddening the sea around; and all was dark.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Hermod’s Quest

Sadly the gods entered Asgard, where no sounds of merriment or feasting greeted the ear, for all hearts were filled with anxious concern for the end of all things which was felt to be imminent. And truly the thought of the terrible Fimbul-winter, which was to herald their death, was one well calculated to disquiet the gods.

Frigga alone cherished hope, and she watched anxiously for the return of her messenger, Hermod the swift, who, meanwhile, had ridden over the tremulous bridge, and along the dark Hel-way, until, on the tenth night, he had crossed the rushing tide of the river Giöll. Here he was challenged by Mödgud, who inquired why the Giallar-bridge trembled more beneath his horse’s tread than when a whole army passed, and asked why he, a living rider, was attempting to penetrate into the dreaded realm of Hel.

“Who art thou on thy black and fiery horse,

Under whose hoofs the bridge o’er Giall’s stream

Rumbles and shakes? Tell me thy race and home.

But yestermorn five troops of dead pass’d by,

Bound on their way below to Hela’s realm,

Nor shook the bridge so much as thou alone.

And thou hast flesh and colour on thy cheeks,

Like men who live, and draw the vital air;

Nor look’st thou pale and wan, like man deceased,

Souls bound below, my daily passers here.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Hermod explained to Mödgud the reason of his coming, and, having ascertained that Balder and Nanna [210]had ridden over the bridge before him, he hastened on, until he came to the gate, which rose forbiddingly before him.

Hermod before Hela

Hermod before Hela

J. C. Dollman

Nothing daunted by this barrier, Hermod dismounted on the smooth ice, and tightening the girths of his saddle, remounted, and burying his spurs deep into Sleipnir’s sleek sides, he put him to a prodigious leap, which landed them safely on the other side of Hel-gate.

“Thence on he journey’d o’er the fields of ice