Gateway to the Classics: The Heroes of Asgard by A. & E. Keary
The Heroes of Asgard by  A. & E. Keary

Loki—The Iron Wood—A Boundless Waste

The cats champed their bright bits, and skimmed alike over earth and air with swift, clinging steps, eager and noiseless. The chariot rolled on, and Freyja was carried away up and down into every part of the world, weeping golden tears wherever she went; they fell down from her pale cheeks, and rippled away behind her in little sunshiny rivers, that carried beauty and weeping to every land. She came to the greatest city in the world, and drove down its wide streets.

"But none of the houses here are good enough for Odur," said Freyja to herself; "I will not ask for him at such doors as these."

So she went straight on to the palace of the king.

"Is Odur in this palace?" she asked of the gate-keeper. "Is Odur, the Immortal, living with the king?"

But the gate-keeper shook his head, and assured her that his master had never even heard of such a person.

"Then Freyja turned away, and knocked at many other stately doors, asking for Odur; but no one in all that great city so much as knew her husband's name.

Then Freyja went into the long, narrow lanes and shabby streets, where the poor people lived, but there it was all the same; every one said only, "No—not here," and stared at her.

In the night-time Freyja went quite away from the city, and the lanes, and the cottages, far off to the side of a lake, where she lay down and looked over into the water.

By-and-bye the moon came and looked there too, and the Queen of Night saw a calm face in the water, serene and high; but the Queen of Beauty saw a troubled face, frail and fair.

Brisingamen was reflected in the water too, and its rare colours flashed from the little waves. Freyja was pleased at the sight of her favourite ornament, and smiled even in the midst of her tears; but as for the moon, instead of Brisingamen, the deep sky and the stars were around her.

At last Freyja slept by the side of the lake, and then a dark shape crept up the bank on which she was lying, sat down beside her, and took her fair head between its hands. It was Loki, and he began to whisper into Freyja's ear as she slept.

"You were quite right, Freyja," he said, "to go out and try to get something for yourself in Svartheim, instead of staying at home with your husband. It was very wise of you to care more for your dress and your beauty than for Odur. You went down into Svartheim, and found Brisingamen. Then the Immortal went away; but is not Brisingamen better then he? Why do you cry, Freyja? Why do you start so?"

Freyja turned, moaning, and tried to lift her head from between his hands; but she could not, and it seemed in her dream as if a terrible nightmare brooded over her.

"Brisingamen is dragging me down," she cried in her sleep, and laid her little hand upon the clasp without knowing what she was doing.

Then a great laugh burst forth in Svartheim, and came shuddering up through the vaulted caverns until it shook the ground upon which she lay. Loki started up, and was gone before Freyja had time to open her eyes.

It was morning, and the young Vana prepared to set out on her journey.

"Brisingamen is fair," she said, as she bade farewell to her image in the lake. "Brisingamen is fair; but I find it heavy sometimes."

After this, Freyja went to many cities, and towns, and villages, asking everywhere for Odur; but there was not one in all the world who could tell her where he was gone, and at last her chariot rolled eastward and northward to the very borders of Jötunheim. There Freyja stopped; for before her lay Jarnvid, the Iron Wood, which was one road from earth to the abode of the giants, and whose tall trees, black and hard, were trying to pull down the sky with their iron claws. In the entrance sat an Iron Witch, with her back to the forest and her face towards the Vana. Jarnvid was full of the sons and daughters of this Iron Witch; they were wolves, and bears, and foxes, and many-headed ravenous birds.

"Eastward," croaked a raven as Freyja drew near—

"Eastward in the Iron Wood

The old one sitteth;"

and there she did sit, talking in quarrelsome tones to her wolf-sons and vulture-daughters, who answered from the wood behind her, howling, screeching, and screaming all at the same time. There was a horrible din, and Freyja began to fear that her low voice would never be heard. She was obliged to get out of her chariot, and walk close up to the old witch, so that she might whisper in her ear.

"Can you tell me, old mother," she said, "where Odur is? Have you seen him pass this way?"

"I don't understand one word of what you are saying," answered the iron woman; "and if I did, I have no time to waste in answering foolish questions."

Now, the witch's words struck like daggers into Freyja's heart, and she was not strong enough to pull them out again; so she stood there a long time, not knowing what she should do.

"You had better go," said the crone to her at last; "there's no use in standing there crying." For this was the grandmother of strong-minded women, and she hated tears.

Then Freyja got into her chariot again, and went westward a long way to the wide, boundless land where impenetrable forests were growing, and undying nature reigned in silence. She knew that the silent Vidar was living there; for, not finding any pleasure in the gay society of Asgard, he had obtained permission from Father Odin to retire to this place. "He is one of the Æsir, and perhaps he  will be able to help me," said the sad-hearted young Vana, as her chariot rolled on through empty moor-lands and forests, always in twilight. Her ear heard no sound, her eye saw no living shape; but still she went on with a trembling hope till she came to the spot

"Begrown with branches

And high grass,

Which was Vidar's dwelling."

Vidar was sitting there firm as an oak, and as silent as night. Long grass grew up through his long hair, and the branches of trees crossed each other over his eyes; his ears were covered with moss, and dewdrops glistened upon his beard.

"It is almost impossible to get to him," sighed Freyja, "through all these wet leaves, and I am afraid his moss-covered ears are very deaf." But she threw herself down on the ground before him, and said, "Tell me, Vidar, does Odur hide among thick trees? or is he wandering over the broad west lands?"

Vidar did not answer her—only a pale gleam shot over his face, as if reflected from that of Freyja, like sunshine breaking through a wood.

"He does not hear me," said Freyja to herself, and she crushed nearer to him through the branches. "Only tell me, Vidar," she said, "is Odur here?" But Vidar said nothing, for he had no voice.

Then Freyja hid her face in her lap, and wept bitterly for a long time. "An Asa," she said, at last, looking up, "is no better to one than an Iron Witch when one is really in trouble;" and then she gathered her disordered dress about her, threw back her long bright hair, and, springing into her chariot, once again went wearily on her way.

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