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

Ragnarok, or The Twilight of the Gods

Since the day that Baldur died no one had walked in the bright halls of Broadblink—no one had even stepped through the expanded gates. Instead of undimmed brightness, a soft, luminous mist now hung over the palace of the dead Asa, and the Asyniur whispered to one another that it was haunted by wild dreams.

"I have seen them," Freyja used to say; "I have seen them float in at sunset through the palace windows and the open doors; every evening I can trace their slight forms through the rosy mist; and I know that those dreams are wild and strange from the shuddering that I feel when I look at them, or if ever they glance at me."

So the Asyniur never went into Broadblink, and though the Æsir did not think much about the dreams, they never went there either.

But one day it happened that Odin stood in the opening of the palace gates at sunset. The evening was clear and calm, and he stood watching the western sky until its crimson faded into soft blue grey; then the colours of the flowers began to mix one with another—only the tall white and yellow blossoms stood out alone—the distance became more dim. It was twilight, and there was silence over the earth whilst the night and the evening drew near to one another. Then a young dream came floating through the gates into Broadblink. Her sisters were already there; but she had only just been born, and, as she passed Odin, she touched him with a light hand, and drew him along with her into the palace. She led him into the same hall in which Baldur had dreamed, and there Odin saw the night sky above him, and the broad branches of Yggdrasil swaying in the breeze. The Norns stood under the great ash; the golden threads had dropped from their fingers; and Urd and Verdandi stood one on each side of Skuld, who was still veiled. For a long time the three stood motionless, but at length Urd and Verdandi raised each a cold hand, and lifted the veil slowly from Skuld's face. Odin looked breathlessly within the veil, and the eyes of Skuld dilated as he looked, grew larger and larger, melted into one another, and, at last, expanded into boundless space.

In the midst of space lay the world, with its long shores, and vast oceans, ice mountains, and green plains; Æsirland in the midst, with Manheim all round it; then the wide sea, and, far off, the frost-bound shores of Jötunheim. Sometimes there was night and sometimes day; summer and winter gave place to one another; and Odin watched the seasons as they changed, rejoiced in the sunshine, and looked calmly over the night.

But at last, during one sunrise, a wolf came out of Jarnvid, and began to howl at the sun. The sun did not seem to heed him, but walked majestically up the sky to her mid-day point; then the wolf began to run after her, and chased her down the sky again to the low west. There the sun opened her bright eye wide, and turned round at bay; but the wolf came close up to her, and opened his mouth, and swallowed her up. The earth shuddered, and the moon rose. Another wolf was waiting for the moon with wide jaws open, and, while yet pale and young, he, too, was devoured. The earth shuddered again; it was covered with cold and darkness, while frost and snow came driving from the four corners of heaven. Winter and night, winter and night, there was now nothing but winter.

A dauntless eagle sat upon the height of the Giantess' Rock, and began to strike his harp. Then a light red cock crowed over the Bird Wood. A gold-combed cock crowed over Asgard, and over Helheim a cock of sooty red. From a long way underground Garm began to howl, and at last Fenrir broke loose from his rock-prison, and ran forth over the whole earth. Then brother contended with brother, and war had no bounds. A hard age was that.

"An axe age,

A sword age,

Shields oft cleft in twain;

A storm age,

A wolf age,

Ere the earth met its doom."

Confusion rioted in the darkness. At length Heimdall ran up Bifröst, and blew his Giallar horn, whose sound went out into all worlds, and Yggdrasil, the might ash, was shaken from its root to its summit. After this Odin saw himself ride forth from Asgard to consult Mimer at the Well of Wisdom. Whilst he was there Jörmungand turned mightily in his place, and began to plough the ocean, which caused it to swell over every shore, so that the world was covered with water to the base of its high hills. Then the ship Naglfar was seen coming over the sea with its prow from the east, and the giant Hrym was the steersman.

All Jötunheim resounded, and the dwarfs stood moaning before their stony doors. Then heaven was cleft in twain, and a flood of light streamed down upon the dark earth. The sons of Muspell, the sons of fire, rode through the breach, and at the head of them rode the swarth Surt, their leader, before and behind whom fire raged, and whose sword outshone the sun. He led his flaming bands from heaven to earth over Bifröst, and the tremulous bridge broke in pieces beneath their tread. Then the earth shuddered again; even giantesses stumbled; and men trod the way to Helheim in such crowds that Garm was sated with their blood, broke loose, and came up to earth to look upon the living. Confusion rioted, and Odin saw himself, at the head of all the Æsir, ride over the tops of the mountains to Vigrid, the high, wide battle-field, where the giants were already assembled, headed by Fenrir, Garm, Jörmungand, and Loki. Surtur was there, too, commanding the sons of fire, whom he had drawn up in several shining bands on a distant part of the plain.

Then the great battle began in earnest. First, Odin went forth against Fenrir, who came on, opening his enormous mouth; the lower jaw reached to the earth, the upper one to heaven, and would have reached further had there been space to admit of it. Odin and Fenrir fought for a little while only, and then Fenrir swallowed the Æsir's Father; but Vidar stepped forward, and, putting his foot on Fenrir's lower jaw, with his hand he seized the other, and rent the wolf in twain. In the meantime Tyr and Garm had been fighting until they had killed each other. Heimdall slew Loki, and Loki slew Heimdall. Frey, Beli's radiant slayer, met Surtur in battle, and was killed by him. Many terrible blows were exchanged ere Frey fell; but the Fire King's sword outshone the sun, and where was the sword of Frey? Thor went forth against Jörmungand; the strong Thunderer raised his arm—he feared no evil—he flung Miölnir at the monster serpent's head. Jörmungand leaped up a great height in the air, and fell down to the earth again without life; but a stream of venom poured forth from his nostrils as he died. Thor fell back nine paces from the strength of his own blow; he bowed his head to the earth, and was choked in the poisonous flood; so the monster serpent was killed by the strong Thunderer's hand; but in death Jörmungand slew his slayer.

Then all mankind forsook the earth, and the earth itself sank down slowly into the ocean. Water swelled over the mountains, rivers gurgled through thick trees, deep currents swept down the valleys—nothing was to be seen on the earth but a wide flood. The stars fell from the sky, and flew about hither and thither. At last, smoky clouds drifted upward from the infinite deep, encircling the earth and the water; fire burst forth from the midst of them, red flames wrapped the world, roared through the branches of Yggdrasil, and played against heaven itself. The flood swelled, the fire raged; there was now nothing but flood and fire.

"Then," said Odin, in his dream, "I see the end of all things. The end is like the beginning, and it will now be for ever as if nothing had ever been."

But, as he spoke, the fire ceased suddenly; the clouds rolled away; a new and brighter sun looked out of heaven; and he saw arise a second time the earth from ocean. It rose slowly as it had sunk. First, the waters fell back from the tops of new hills that rose up fresh and verdant; raindrops like pearls dripped from the freshly budding trees, and fell into the sea with a sweet sound; waterfalls splashed glittering from the high rocks; eagles flew over the mountain streams; earth arose spring-like; unsown fields bore fruit; there was no evil, and all nature smiled. Then from Memory's Forest came forth a new race of men, who spread over the whole earth, and who fed on the dew of the dawn. There was also a new city on Asgard's Hill—a city of gems; and Odin saw a new hall standing in it, fairer than the sun, and roofed with gold. Above all, the wide blue expanded, and into that fair city came Modi and Magni, Thor's two sons, holding Miölnir between them. Vali and Vidar came, and the deathless Hœnir; Baldur came up from the deep, leading his blind brother Hödur peacefully by the hand; there was no longer any strife between them. Two brothers' sons inhabited the spacious Wind-Home.

Then Odin watched how the Æsir sat on the green plain, and talked of many things. "Garm is dead," said Höd to Baldur, "and so are Loki, and Jörmungand, and Fenrir, and world rejoices; but did our dead brothers rejoice who fell in slaying them?"

"They did, Höd," answered Baldur; "they gave their lives willingly for the life of the world;" and, as he listened, Odin felt that this was true; for, when he looked upon that beautiful and happy age, it gave him no pain to think that he must die before it came—that, though for many, it was not for him.

By-and-bye Hœnir came up to Höd and Baldur with something glittering in his hand—something that he had found in the grass; and as he approached he said, "Behold the golden tablets, my brothers, which in the beginning of time were given to the Æsirs's Father, and were lost in the Old World."

Then they all looked eagerly at the tablets, and, as they bent over them, their faces became even brighter than before.

"There is no longer any evil thing," said Odin; "not an evil sight, nor an evil sound."

But as he spoke dusky wings rose out of Niflheim, and the dark-spotted serpent, Nidhögg, came flying from the abyss, bearing dead carcases on his wings—cold death, undying.

Then the joy of Odin was drowned in the tears that brimmed his heart, and it was as if the eternal gnawer had entered into his soul. "Is there, then, no victory over sin?" he cried. "Is there no death to Death?" and with the cry he woke. His dream had faded from him. He stood in the palace gates alone with night, and the night was dying. Long since the rosy clasp of evening had dropped from her; she had turned through darkness eastward, and looked earnestly towards dawn. It was twilight again, for the night and the morning drew near to one another. A star stood in the east—the morning star—and a coming brightness smote the heavens. Out of the light a still voice came advancing, swelling, widening, until it filled all space. "Look forth," it said, "upon the groaning earth, with all its cold, and pain, and cruelty, and death. Heroes and giants fight and kill each other; now giants fall, and heroes triumph; now heroes fall, and giants rise; they can but combat, and the earth is full of pain. Look forth, and fear not; but when the worn-out faiths of nations shall totter like old men, turn eastward, and behold the light that lighteth every man; for there is nothing dark it doth not lighen; there is nothing hard it cannot melt; there is nothing lost it will not save."