Dear readers, tonight with me is a creature of myth, the last of a race of those who hunted us, and we hunted them in a war that could only lead to extinction.
We find him in a cave. At first, he wishes to kill us, for we are interlopers in his world and there is very little we could do to stop him. We are reminded of a wolf, old and battle-scarred but still hale and as deadly as its younger kin. Perhaps moreso. But, we have come prepared. We appeal to his vanity — and his vanity is immense — until he deigns to let us live . . . and to answer a few questions.
A fire crackles on the crude hearth; ventilation is poor, and the smoke hangs over us like a death-shroud. He sits on an ancient throne-like chair carved of wood and watches us with his head tilted, his right eye like an ember that burns with a light of its own; his left eye is the color of old bone. His saturnine face is sharp and lean, with a jutting chin, heavy cheekbones, and a craggy brow. A jagged scar bisects the bridge of his nose, crossing his left eye, and continuing up until it vanishes beneath gold-and-bone beaded braids of coarse black hair at his left temple. When he speaks, he does so in a patois drawn from Old Norse, Danish, and Anglo-Saxon. His vernacular is crude and vulgar, and he peppers his answers with curses, snatches of song, and guttural noises.
We have edited his answers to appeal to the modern ear . . .
Tell us a little about yourself. Who . . . wh-what are you?
You tell me, little Mjólkblóð [Translator’s note: “Milk-blood”; this was his name for us, collectively]! What did you expect to find when you came blundering into my cave, eh? What am I? Faugh! I am called many things, you wretch. I am Corpse-maker and Life-quencher! I am the Bringer of Night! I am the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent! The Danes of old named me skraelingr. To your kind, to you bastard English, I am orcnéas—
Wait . . . Orcnéas? You mean, you’re an orc?
If it strikes your fancy, Mjólkblóð. Call me what you will, but if you interrupt me again, by Ymir, I will tear your blasted tongue out by the roots! I have a score of names: skraelingr, orc, fomoraig to the Gaels of Èriu . . . but what of it? I am kaunar! I am the last! The last of my kind . . . the last son of Bálegyr left to plague Miðgarðr! I am Grimnir!
I drew my first squalling breath in the last days of the Butchering Month, forty-eight years before the strife and shield-breaking that was Mag Tuiredh [Translator’s note: Mag Tuiredh, a battle in ancient Ireland, has been tentatively dated to 69 AD; thus, Grimnir’s year of birth is approximately 21 AD]. Orkahaugr, in the Kjolen Mountains, was my home. You should have seen it, Mjólkblóð! Your houses of steel and glass? Faugh! You lot might as well live under two nīðing-poles and a twine-stretched sheet! I was raised in granite and limestone, our mines, smithies, armories, and dwelling halls hacked from the mountain’s innards by my sire’s hands – the same hands that once fashioned trinkets of gold and iron for the kings of Jötunheimr. Columns of living stone stretched higher than a titan, holding up the mountain itself; shafts cut through the rock let in cold air, and hundreds of lamps hung from the branches of great trees forged from iron and bronze. Trophies dripped from the walls: banners and flayed skins, the shields of fallen foes, the hauberks of heroes slain on the field, the skulls of Jötnar and the thighbones of trolls. [Grimnir’s eye blazes in the gloom; its intensity is quite unnerving, really] Aye, Orkahaugr was my home, the heart of the kaunar lands of Miðgarðr, but it has been as dead as your Nailed God for more than two thousand years, now.
You mention Jötunheimr, the Abode of Giants . . . is that where your folk are from? How did you come to be here, in our world?
Nár! My folk were wrought in the dark of Niðavellir, by the hand of the Tangled God, Father Loki, himself. Nine clans of dvergar [Trans. Note: Norse dwarfs] were invited to a feast. The Nine Fathers, they were called, my own among them:
“There is Bálegyr | the mightiest made
Of all the chieftains, | and Kjallandi next;
Lútr and Hrauðnir, | Njól and Dreki,
Naglfari and Gangr, | and fierce Mánavargr.”
As Loki looked on, servants doled out bloody cuts of meat from three great platters, and the Nine and their families gorged themselves. Was it raw hanks of goat’s meat they shoveled down their gullets? Was this flesh cut from the flanks of Ymir’s prized cow? Can you guess what it was, Mjólkblóð? No? It was the afterbirth of Angrboða, who had that very night borne Loki’s monstrous children: the mighty Fenrir, the serpent Jörmungandr, and silent Hel. All who partook of that feast, and their descendents, were forever changed. They became kaunar.
[He is silent for a long moment; when he speaks, again, his voice drips scorn.] Those wretched beardlings, our dvergar cousins, drove the Nine Fathers from Niðavellir. We sought refuge in Jötunheimr, under the Tangled God’s banner. It was he who set us the task of guarding the caves where he’d hidden his monstrous issue from the Allfather’s gaze. We tried, but when the lords of Ásgarðr came to take Loki’s children with Angrboða off to face the judgment of that raven-starver, Odin, we could not hold them off. Five of the Nine Fathers died under the blades of the Æsir. The rest — with only their wives and brats and what goods they could carry on their backs — made good their escape, following Bálegyr across the Ash-Road to this Miðgarðr. To your world, Mjólkblóð.
Continue reading “Grimnir (of A Gathering of Ravens, by Scott Oden)”