Heroes of the Olden Times: The Story of Siegfried
"I am blind," answered Hoder. AI can neither leap, nor run, or throw the lance."
"But you can shoot arrows from your bow," said Loki.
"Alas!" said Hoder, Athat I can do only as some one shall direct my aim, for I can see no target."
"Do you hear that laughter?" asked Loki. "Thor has hurled the straight trunk of a pine tree at your brother; and, rather than touch such a glorious mark, it has turned aside, and been shivered to pieces upon the rocks over there. It is thus that the Asa-folk, and all things living and lifeless, honor Balder. Hoder is the only one who hangs his head, and fears to do his part. Come, now, let me fit this little arrow in your bow, and then, as I point it, do you shout. When you hear the gods laugh, you will know that your arrow has shown honor to the hero by refusing to hit him."
And Hoder, thinking no harm, did as Loki wished. And the deadly arrow sped from the bow, and pierced the heart of shining Balder, and he sank lifeless upon the ground. Then the Asa-folk who saw it were struck speechless with sorrow and dismay; and, had it not been that the Ida plains where they then stood were sacred to peace, they would have seized upon Loki, and put him to death.
Forthwith the world was draped in mourning for Balder the Good; the birds stopped singing, and flew with drooping wings to the far Southland, the beasts sought to hide themselves in their lairs and in the holes of the ground; the trees shivered and sighed until their leaves fell withered to the earth; the flowers closed their eyes, and died; the rivers stopped flowing, and dark and threatening billows veiled the sea; even the sun shrouded her face, and withdrew silently towards the south.
When Balder's good mother heard the sad news, she left her golden spindle in Fensal Hall, and with her maidens hastened to the Ida plains, where the body of her son still lay. And all the Asa-folk - save guilty Loki, who had fled for his life - stood about them in dumb amazement. But Odin was the most sorrowful of all; for he knew, that, with Balder, the world had lost its most gladsome life.
They lifted the body, and carried it down to the sea, where the great ship "Ringhorn," which was Balder's own, lay ready to be launched. And a noble company followed, and stood upon the beach, and bewailed the untimely death of the hero. First came Odin, with his grief-stricken queen, and then his troop of hand-maidens, the Valkyrien, followed by his ravens. Then came Thor in his goat-drawn car, and Heimdal on his horse Goldtop; then Frey, in his wagon, behind the boar Gullingbruste of the golden bristles; then Freyja, in her chariot drawn by cats, came weeping tears of gold; lastly, poor blind Hoder, overcome with grief, was carried thither on the back of one of the Frost-giants. And Old Aegir, the Ocean-king, raised his dripping head above the water, and gazed with dewy eyes upon the scene; and the waves, as if affrighted, left off their playing, and were still.
High on the deck they built the funeral pile; and they placed the body upon it, and covered it with costly garments, and with woods of the finest scent; and the noble horse which had been Balder's they slew, and placed beside him, that he might not have to walk to the halls of Death. And Odin took from his arm the ring Draupner, the earth's enricher, and laid it on the pile.
When all things were in readiness to set fire to the pile, the gods tried to launch the ship; but it was so heavy that they could not move it. So they sent in hast to Jotunheim for the stout giantess Hyrroken; and she came with the speed of the whirlwind, and riding on a wolf, which she guided with a bride of writhing snakes.
"What will you have me do?" she asked.
"We would have you launch the great ship Ringhorn," answered Odin.
"That I will do!" roared the grim giantess. And, giving the vessel a single push, she sent it sliding with speed into the deep waters of the bay. Then she gave the word to her grisly steed, and she flew onwards and away, no one knew whither.
The Ringhorn floated nobly upon the water, - a worthy bier for the body which it bore. The fire was set to the funeral pile, and the red flames shot upwards to the sky; but their light was but a flickering beam when matched with the sun-bright beauty of Balder, whose body they consumed.
Then the sorrowing folk turned away, and went back to their homes; a cheerless gloom rested heavily where light gladness had ruled before. And, when they reached the high halls of Asgard, the Asa-queen spoke, and said, -
"Who now, for the love of Balder and his stricken mother, will undertake an errand? Who will go down into the Valley of Death, and seek for Balder, and ransom him, and bring him back to Asgard and the mid-world?"
Then Hermod the Nimble, the brother of Balder, answered, "I will go. I will find him, and, with Hela's leave, will bring him back."
And he mounted Sleipner, the eight-footed steed, and galloped swiftly away. Nine days and nine nights he rode through strange valleys and mountain gorges, where the sun's light had never been, and through gloomy darkness and fearful silence, until he came to the black river, and the glittering, golden bridge which crosses it. Over the bridge his strong horse carried him, although it shook and swayed and threatened to throw him into the raging, inky flood below. On the other side a maiden keeps the gate, and Hermod stopped to pay the toll.
"What is thy name?" she asked.
"My name is Hermod, and I am called the Nimble," he answered.
"What is thy father's name?"
"His name is Odin. Mayhap you have heard of him."
"Why ridest thou with such thunderous speed? Five kingdoms of dead men passed over this bridge yesterday, and it shook not with their weight as it did with thee and thy strange steed. Thou art not of the pale multitude that are wont to pass this gate. What is thy errand? and why ridest thou to the domains of the dead?"
"I go to find my brother Balder," answered Hermod. "It is but a short time since he unwillingly came down into these shades."
"Three days ago," said the maiden, "Balder passed this way. So bright was his presence, even here, that the whole valley was lighted up as it had never before been lighted. The black river glittered like a gem; the frowning mountains smiled for once; and Hela herself, the queen of these regions, slunk far away into her most distant halls. But Balder went on his way, and even now he sups in the dark castle over yonder."
Then Hermod rode forward till he came to the castle walls. These were built of black marble; and the iron gate was barred and bolted, and none who went in had ever yet come out. Hermod called loudly to the porter to open the gate and let him in; but no one seemed to hear or heed him, for the words of the living are unknown in that place. Then he drew the saddle-girths more tightly around the horse Sleipner, and urged him forward. High up, the great horse leaped; and he sprang clear over the gates, and landed at the open door of the great hall. Leaving his steed, Hermod went boldly in; and there he found his brother Balder seated at the festal board, and honored as the most worthy of all the guests. With Balder, Hermod staid until the night had passed; and many were the pleasant words they spoke. When morning came, Hermod went into the presence of Hela, and said, -
"O mighty queen! I come to ask a boon of thee. Balder the Good, whom both gods and men loved, has been sent to dwell with thee here in thy darksome house; and all the world weeps for him, and has donned the garb of mourning, and cannot be consoled until his bright light shall shine upon them again. And the gods have sent me, his brother, to ask thee to let Balder ride back with me to Asgard, to his noble, sorrowing mother, the Asa-queen; for then will hope live again in the hearts of men, and happiness will return to the earth."
The Death-queen was silent for a moment; and then she said in a sad voice, "Hardly can I believe that any being is so greatly loved by things living and lifeless; for surely Balder is not more the friend of earth than I am, and yet men love me not. But go thou back to Asgard; and, if every thing shall weep for Balder, then I will send him to you. But, if any thing shall refuse to weep, then I will keep him in my halls."
So Hermod made ready to return home; and Balder gave him the ring Draupner to carry to his father as a keepsake. Then the nimble messenger mounted his horse, and rode swiftly back over the dark river, and through the frowning valleys, until he at last reached Odin's halls.
When the Asa-folk learned upon what terms they might have Balder again with them, they sent heralds all over the world to beseech every thing to mourn for him. And men and beasts, and creeping things, and birds and fishes, and trees and stones, and air and water, - all things, living and lifeless, joined in weeping for the lost Balder.
But, as the heralds were on their way back to Asgard, they met a giantess named Thok, and they asked her to join in the universal grief. And she answered, "What good thing did Balder ever do for Thok? What gladness did he ever bring her? If she should weep for him, it would be with dry tears. Let Hela keep him in her halls."
"And yet the day shall come,"
added the story-teller, "when the words of eh weird woman to Odin
shall prove true; and Balder shall come again to rule over a new-born
world in which there shall be no wrong-doing and no more death."