She. Mother. Murderess. Goddess. Queen.
I have long since lost count of the years and yet I shall never forget the first night I saw her. It had been a bitterly cold and long winter and we were reduced to eating salted fish and most of the steading sleeping together in the great hall for warmth. But we had mead in plenty and it flowed generously. We sang and told stories to keep our spirits up and to distract us from the harshness of our conditions and the fear of what might be if the thaws did not come soon. As the skald of my people they looked to me each night to keep back the dark just as they looked to the Thane to keep the great fires at both ends of the hall roaring. I was yet a young man then, not yet thirty summers though that number was closing in. Like most men my age in those times the conditions had harshened my features and privation kept me whipcord lean. I was yet unmarried and as a third son I had no ambition to take a wife. I had nothing to offer save my poetry...and that served to keep my bed warm when I wished it.
I loved her in fear and dread
Prayed to her inside my head
Fled from her in futility
Knelt before her in humility
Painted her in her glacial glory
Sang her praises in song and story
Offered her my soul that can never be... clean
Bathed with her in scarlet wine
Wrapped her in silk so pale
Whispered that I was hers forever
Knew that she would never be mine
For her I donned the blackened maille
My life my own again... never.
Then she blew in through the great double doors like a gale and the night followed after her. There were whispers of “giantess” and “unnatural” and yet longing followed in her wake. It rippled behind her like the silver gilt banner of her silken hair. Men and women alike fell under her spell as she sat at our hearth on the furs covered floor, disdaining chairs she sneeringly called “dainty” and drank our mead and demanded poetry as if it were her right. I watched, bemused, as our Thane fell all over himself to please her, quickly ordering me to entertain our guest. I don’t think any of us knew her name nor thought to ask. And so I spun for her tales of valor, of war and love and the love that is very like war. I recited our sagas and gave her our Thane’s proud lineage. She smiled on me and I counted it payment dearer than gold.
When she rose to leave in the deepest part of the night there was outcry, folk, myself among them, protesting that she would perish in the cold and dark. Her rich laugh greeted our fears and she promised we would see her again. Then she was gone.
She was true to her word though and returned to us often at the end of that unnaturally long winter. Her appearance was greeted with astonished delight each time and when she would leave again we would speculate upon her next appearance. So fixated were we that we almost seemed not to notice as no few of our own people went missing. We told ourselves they’d grown desperate and gone hunting or foraging only to be taken by that cruel winter. We surmised we’d find their frozen bodies with the spring thaws in the woods nearby. We were wrong.
Posted Mar 23, 19
· Last edited Mar 23, 19
Sing to me of better days
I was still young and foolish is those days. Seeing little beyond the next hunt, the next games, my next song, the next woman I would woo. In my meager defense, I did not pretend undying love. They knew what I offered was passion and excitement and little more. Undying love. It would take a dead woman to teach me that. That, and my own death.
Of times that never were
Let us the grim future now defer
And believe the warmth of the fire
Will prove the runes a liar
Let us pretend there is no death
And these shall not be our last breaths
Let us glory in the blaze
O mortal come and walk with me
Fear not to take my hand
For oh the things I’ll show to thee
Come and with me stand
For there are greater things to which thou may aspire
Accept my kiss and thou shalt no longer need the fire
How thoughtlessly I hurtled towards my own demise. How the pride of the young and a hot temper will rule them. Tis a wonder anyone survives past thirty I sometimes think now. Ah, yes, sometimes I now pretend to wisdom. But in my clearer moments I know better. For I am forever not yet thirty. Frozen in time. Frozen in so many ways. Wisdom is, I think, born of the years a body feels and shows. The natural slowing that forces one to calm, to think and reflect. But we damned? We are eternal children, like insects in amber, forever what we were in the moment we were caught. Forever needy. Forever greedy. Like children.
In that seemingly endless winter I think all of our people went a little mad. Indeed, I know it now. Trapped together in the great hall where we did our best to conserve our scant resources, the food and the dry firewood, I saw many things. Lovers quarreled, fights broke out between men and women. We sometimes killed each other as if we thought we could afford to spare a single soul as so many slowly went missing. Our Thane watched it all from his great chair nearest the fire. And said nothing. He merely watched all the little dramas play out one by one with his strangely distant and shadowed eyes.
The only bright spot in all of this was when She would grace our hall. Our Snow Maiden we called her. She who, for a few too brief hours, would lift the darkness and bathe us in the light of her presence… in the light of her strange ruby eyes. We longed for those moments. We offered her everything we still had to give. And while she drank the mead she refused the scant dried food and the furs. She said she required more tender flesh and the warmth of our welcome gave her all the warmth she could need. She was gracious as she held court among us, sitting with us on the floor, always furthermost from the fire, a child in her lap whose tangled hair she would pet as if it were a housecat, and she asked after each and every one of us, drew our stories and our secrets from us. And none of us felt ashamed to tell
her anything she might ask.
Inevitably, she would turn to me and simply command, “Sing for me.”
And I would. I sang her the old songs and then, more and more, songs composed in her honor. She would smile and my heart would swell and I never once felt the Thane’s eyes on me nor saw the way his expression would harden. Not until the night he shamed me before her, calling me soft, calling me a wastrel who brought no honor to my father, calling me a useless songbird.
She did not contradict him. No one did. He was the Thane. I, too, kept my silence. Until the next night she came when I sang them all a new song, a satire. I sang of a Thane who could neither hunt nor satisfy a woman nor read the runes of his people, of a drunkard who let his people starve and took the wives of his loyal men to his bed and clasped hands with them the next day and called them friend. At least some of it was true. I sang my own death warrant and was too stupid to know it.
Posted Mar 23, 19
· Last edited Mar 23, 19
Bleeding scarlet on the snow
Despite the assessment of the Thane, I was not a fragile poet dreaming by the fireplace. Well, at least not every day. I hunted like we all did, I fought, both in our own savage games and against those who would do our clan harm. I had killed. I had bled. I had put meat on the table. And so it was without hesitation that I joined those who went to hunt the first day the weather broke, the constant snowstorms subsiding even though it was already late in the afternoon. We saw our chance. We took it.
Strange beauty even in this
Regret only for the things I’ll never know
Like the taste of her cold kiss
Would she have covered me like rain?
Would I have given her real bliss?
Strange, how the snow can take a stain
I regret only the loss of her kiss
Colder than the snow, this cruel steel
How it cut and pierced my skin
To it there was no possible appeal
Cold goddess, deliver me of my sin
Let me not go into that dark abyss
Without knowing the taste of your kiss
Ranging far further afield than was our wont, privation and pride both spurred us forward, determined to return with both glory and game. The weather remained fair, the distant sun blinding on the snow, and eventually our determination, or possibly just our bravado, won out. We found mammoth and even though we knew we would have to make our way home in darkness by the time we had been able to dress one of the huge beasts we did not hesitate.
There are sagas of mammoth hunts far better than any tale of that hunt I could relate. Suffice to say there was danger, injuries, battle, and, eventually, triumph. Then there was the drudgery of carving the great beast up into pieces manageable enough to take back to the hall, each of us bearing a part of the life giving burden. We were still miles away from the great hall when darkness fell.
Nevertheless, we lit torches, sparing a couple of the younger lads of the weight of mammoth meat to be our lightbearers. Perhaps I was still stung over my mistreatment by the Thane and felt I needed to prove myself. So I took the burden one of the boys had carried and added it to my own. It took awhile before I began to consider my folly as I fell further back from the others. Though the snow had stopped falling and the winds gone still, the snow on the ground was still far deeper than we were used to and even with snowshoes the going was slow and rough. Moreso with a pack stuffed full of meat on my back weighing me down. And yet, fool that I was, I did not call out, did not ask to share out some of the burden I had so confidently taken on hours before. Instead I gritted my teeth and told myself that as long as I could see the flickering lights of the party ahead I would be fine. I did not worry about being a straggler. More fool I.
The voices of my comrades were a soft murmur in the distance that drowned the hum of arrows in the air as they struck me in near a dozen places, the one in my throat ensuring I could not call out as I fell to the snow.
I was strangely lucid as I died, shock dulling the pain as I watched my own blood seep into the snow. I remember thinking it was strangely beautiful. Everything felt distant. And I realized I was not terribly sorry it had come to this. What Nord wants to die an old man? The maidens would mourn me and the men would remember I had been their skald, the one who could tell them their own bloodlines back ten generations and who knew the names of their grandfathers when they themselves did not. But there was not one among them I loved so much that I regretted leaving them. I had no family of my own and few friends. The workings of a mind like mine seemed unfathomable to most of my own folk. Even among them all in the great hall with all their eyes upon me as I held them with story and song I was alien to them… and they to me. I cared for them. I did not understand them. I did not love them.
I was only sorry I would not see Her again. Sorry I had not found the courage to court her in time. I would have liked to kiss her.