A Wedding in Trollhavn
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Trollhavn Fjord curved between the cliffs of a deep, narrow gorge and opened out on a shallow, bowl-shaped valley. A humpbacked mountain rose above the northeast side of the valley, dipping steeply down on its west side before rising again to meet the cliffs that rose above the north side of the fjord. From the lowest part of the dip, flowing out of the higher mountains to the north, a small river sent its water spilling over falls and tumbling down steep rapids. Where the humpbacked mountain came down to the fjord the land rose up in a hill, like a promontory jutting south from the fjordside cliffs. The river descended along the east side of the hill, curving around the hill and spilling over one last fall, whence the rock-filled bed, running almost level, ran due west into the fjord.
A grove of apple trees grew on the north bank of that level stretch of the river, marking the southern boundary of a broad meadow that spread halfway up the hill to the forest that grew over the hill's top and up into the mountains. Along the north side of the meadow, near where the hill merged into the cliffs, the seven longhouses of Trollhavn and their barns and outbuildings were clustered. At the top of the meadow, a little below the verge of the forest, a wide boulder rose from the ground: its top had been chipped flat to make it into a platform whose front edge stood waist high above the ground. Behind the boulder a shrine, made, like the longhouses, of vertical wooden staves, had been built. Wooden shingles, silvered with age, covered the steep roof and carved dragons decorated the corners of the eaves. Another boulder, taller and narrower, set into the ground in front of the flat-topped one, had been sculpted into the image of a snarling demonic wolf rearing up with its jaws agape. Through the part of the stone representing the open space between the demon's jaws a hole wide enough to accept a man's fist had been drilled.
An old skald sat under the apple tree nearest the shrine and more than a dozen children sat around him in the cool shade and watched him wide-eyed, their mouths hanging open. Weaving a story as much with his hands as with his words, the skald went on:
"...and when Thrym saw that his bride-to-be ate all of the food and drank all of the mead, he asked Loki, 'How is it that fair Freyja, who has an appetite as dainty as a bird's, has eaten all of our food and drunk all of our mead?'
"And Loki said in his heart, 'Thrym must not know yet that the bride is actually Thor in disguise', so he said to Thrym in his sweetest voice, 'My good lord Thrym, your bride has been so eager to come to your side that she has taken no food and no drink for eight nights.'
"And Thrym said in his heart....."
Further down the meadow, closer to the fjord, several villagers with musical instruments played counterpoint to the children's delighted giggles while teenagers and young adults, with Freyja among them, danced. Freyja wore a white dress on which vine-and-berry patterns had been embroidered with glittery threads, blue and gold. With it, draped over her shoulders and laid across her breast, she wore a hand-wide collar of gold, sapphire, and diamond. It moved even when she didn't: like fire and water, it seemed to have no shape of its own.
Sapphire flows and swirls like water, the gold dances and writhes like a flame.
Look once, look twice, then look again; the pattern is never the same.
Forged by dwarves with magical skill, it's Freyja's greatest treasure,
the Brisinga-men, bought, so it's said, with nights of carnal pleasure.
On the opposite side of the meadow, in front of one of the longhouses, three long trestle tables stood piled high with food and drink. Cauldrons of mead and ale were surrounded by platters of boiled beef, boiled venison, and salmon. Bread was set out with butter, honey, and bowls of broth for dipping. Various kinds of cheese, made from the milk of goats and from the milk of cattle, were available. Pickled cabbage and leaves of boiled cabbage were set out next to bowls filled with small onions simmered in a creamy sauce. Bowls of apples and various kinds of berry were also set out.
Thor, with a horn of mead in one hand and a rolled up slab of meat in the other, sat at one end of the table nearest the shrine and talked with one of the villagers.
"...and I've noticed that after you cut the top off it, you leave the tree standing," Thor said.
"Yes," the man said, "we leave it standing for five to eight years, depending on the tree, the soil, and the weather."
Thor took a drink from the horn.
"Your technique seems to require an excessive amount of patience."
"It's entirely justified," the man said. With a sweep of his hand he gestured at the village. "Three of these houses were built by my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather and they are still original wood. Yet I have seen houses made of unaged wood, houses that could not be bequeathed to the builders' children because they were too rotten."
"That's very interesting," Thor said. "I wonder why aging wood makes it tougher like that?"
"My own belief," the man said, "is that wood is like cheese. Of course, it's harder than cheese, so it must be aged longer...."
At the other end of the tables the valkyries stood. While Brynhild held a small piece of smoked salmon, Borgny held her breath, squeezed her eyes shut, and took a small nibble from it, then almost immediately reached for the drinking horn that Kari held out to her. Caught up in their study, the valkyries were completely oblivious to three boys, about twelve years old, peering around the corner of the longhouse behind the table.
"They'll tell ya. Just go ask 'em," one boy whispered.
"Why should I ask 'em?" one of the other boys said quietly. "You're the one that wants t'be a big warrior."
"Yeah, g'wan, ask 'em yourself," the third boy added in a low whisper as he crouched wide-eyed behind the corner of the house. "They won't eatcha. Ya gotta be dead first," he added further, his words filled with confidence that his voice and demeanor lacked altogether.
With his friends' attention focused on the valkyries, the first boy swallowed hard and, attempting to effect a manly swagger on wobbly legs, walked over to Brynhild and tapped her arm.
"Is it true that Lord Odin is recruiting warriors for the Battle of Ragnarok?" he asked when he got her attention.
"Yes, it is," Brynhild said. "But many summers must pass yet before you can join the ranks in Valhall. You have much to learn and much to live."
Awed by Brynhild's attention, the boy seemed not to notice Borgny gently lifting his arm and tenderly squeezing his biceps.
"You'll also have to put a bit more meat on those bones," Borgny added.
"Borgny!" Brynhild said in exasperation.
"Well, he'll need to be strong," Borgny said defensively.
"Oh, I'll be strong," the boy said. "I'll be in the front of every battle and I'll kill many men. You'll be proud when you take me to Valhall."
"I'm sure we will," Kari said.
Tori kissed the palm of her hand, patted the boy on the head, and watched him swagger proudly back to where his friends waited.
"Cute little fella," Borgny said happily. "He's going to be a fine bellyful someday."
"Yes, that he shall," Brynhild said. "But, somehow--- Oh, elfpox! Why do I suddenly feel as though I'm full of worms?"
"It must be something you ate," Borgny suggested, pointing to the salmon still in Brynhild's hand.
They noticed then that the music had stopped and that a hush had fallen over the people gathered on the meadow. People who had been taking food from the tables were wandering toward the upper end of the meadow, eating as they walked.
Freyja was leading a young man by the hand, strolling among the people as though searching for someone. Soon she found a young woman who had a trio of keys dangling from her belt on a cord. She took the woman's hand and led the couple to the stone demon. The villagers made way for the three of them and watched in expectant silence.
Thor sat on the flat-topped boulder and showed annoyance as Freyja approached.
"Freyja, don't play pranks," he said. "Go find the true bride and groom."
"These are the true bride and groom," Freyja said. She brought the couple's hands together, stepped around the man, and thrust herself up into a high hop that landed her standing atop the boulder next to Thor.
"These children?" Thor said, looking up at Freyja in puzzlement. "No. This is Amund Eiriksen. Why, it was only last week that he swam in the fjord with a toy canoe. And this is Glyn Soerensdottir. Only yesterday she ran barefoot and chased butterflies. How can they be getting married today?"
"My Lord Thor," Glyn said, "what is only a day to a god is many years to a mortal. We who you knew as children are now a man and a woman. My beloved Amund hunted the venison and fished the salmon that bends our table."
Thor patted his belly and smiled.
"Yes? A manly task, indeed."
"Also My Lord Thor," Amund said, "it was my honey-sweet Glyn alone who made the dresses that she and her mother wear."
Thor stroked his beard as he leaned forward to examine Glyn's dress.
"A fine piece of work," he said. "Certainly the product of a woman's hands. But marriage! Do you know what path you follow? Do you know whither it shall lead you and what perils await you beside it?"
"Yes, we do," Amund and Glyn said.
"She will become old," Thor said to Amund, with a sly look.
"Oh, there's something else we can do well together," Amund said.
The villagers laughed.
"He will look at other women," Thor said, to Glyn.
"He can look but not touch," Glyn said.
The villagers laughed again.
Thor seemed desperate.
"Do your families know about this?" he asked. "Do they approve this plan of yours?"
A man standing behind Amund laid his right hand on Amund's left shoulder.
"I am Soeren Olafsen," the man said, "and one year ago from today I swore to bless Amund Eiriksen as my son."
The woman standing next to him put her left hand on Amund's right shoulder and spoke.
"I am Freydis Torvaldsdottir and on that same day I swore to love Amund Eiriksen as my son."
A man standing behind Glyn laid his right hand on Glyn's left shoulder and spoke.
"I am Eirik Amundsen and on that same day I swore to bless Glyn Soerensdottir as my daughter."
The woman standing next to him laid her left hand on Glyn's right shoulder and spoke.
"I am Thjodhild Snorrisdottir and on that same day I swore to love Glyn Soerensdottir as my daughter."
Thor threw up his hands.
"I give up," he said. "Can anyone think of one reason why Amund Eiriksen and Glyn Soerensdottir should not marry one another?"
Silence fell over the meadow, broken only by the rushing of the river and the cry of a distant eagle. Dropping all frivolous demeanor, Thor got to his feet to stand next to Freyja.
"Amund Eiriksen and Glyn Soerensdottir," he said, "are you prepared to swear the Oath of Odin for each other?"
"We are, Lord Thor and Lady Freyja," they said.
"We require the services of a skald," Thor announced, "one filled with abundant Edda, the sweet poetry that ferments into the strong mead of wisdom."
The old skald came forward and the congregation made way for him. As he approached the boulder, Thor reached down, took his hand, and gently lifted him onto the flat-topped rock.
The skald bowed to Thor.
"My Lord Thor. My Lady Freyja," he added, bowing to Freyja, "may my words please you as yours have blessed me." He turned to address the congregation. "I am Nils Arnesen," he said, "and I speak, by the Gods' gracious leave, a truth beyond matters of fact."
"Memory is a flower: it blooms bright, then fades and withers. You have in your hearts a memory and I would make it bloom anew so that when this man and this woman swear the Oath of Odin, their words shall touch your hearts and not only your ears.
"You all know that in Loki's veins Frost Giant blood mingles with Aesir blood. You also know that Loki once took to wife Angrboda, the daughter of a Frost Giant and that she bore him three children. The first of those was Fenrir, the demon wolf; the second of those was Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent; the third of those was Hel, she whose body is half white with life and half black with death. Loki, even Loki, was horrified by those monstrosities, but a father's love transcends even such horror. No fool he, Loki sent the three monsters to farthest Jotunheim to be raised by his wife's family. But Loki forgot, as we do not forget, that Odin sits on Hlidskjalf, high above Asgard: what little he does not see, the ravens Hugin and Munin see for him. Soon Loki's offspring were known to the gods.
"One-eyed Odin, the All-Father, looks once and sees thrice. His gaze upon any thing calls forth from that thing ghosts of past, present, and future to counsel him. Thus he was shown the Day of Doom, the Battle of Ragnarok. On that day, in that battle, Jormungand will kill Thor and be killed by him. On that day, in that battle, Fenrir will kill Tyr and Odin, himself, and be killed by Vidr. On that day, in that battle, the whole world will burn and slide hissing under the waters of the Ocean Sea. Odin set his heart on banishing the ghosts of such a future.
"Soon an expedition of the gods was sent to Jotunheim to bring Loki's children to Asgard. To the council chamber of the gods they were brought and there Loki stood up for them. 'What harm have my little ones done,' he asked, 'that they should be condemned? You seek to change your prophecy by destroying them. Could the prophecy not be changed as well by other means? Is there not some place where my little ones can live in peace?'"
A large dog trotted out of the congregation, past the shrine, and up into the forest. It went behind a large bush, where Odin, in his broad-brimmed hat and blue cloak, sat on a rock. The dog put its front paws on the rock and turned into Loki.
"Now we must listen to this tired tale again," Odin said sourly.
"Surely you don't believe that it gives me pleasure to rehear it," Loki said as he sat down on a moss-covered log.
"No," Odin said. "Right now all of my thoughts are whispering to me that I still do not know your purpose in asking me to hide in a bush and watch a wedding instead of going to it and joining the merriment."
"Oh, Freyja told me not to--" Loki started to say. "I mean.... No, I did not say that."
"My ears heard it," Odin said, "so you did in truth say it. How is Freyja involved in this waste of my time?"
"She's not," Loki protested. "I meant to say that I want you to see how she miscasts her Runes."
"But that is not what you said," Odin said. "Your heart's guard was asleep and a little piece of truth escaped. Now allow the rest to come free."
"I gave a vow I would not tell," Loki said.
"Since what day has a vow been more than a cobweb to you?"
"I know my reputation," Loki said, "I dislike it, and I'm trying to change it."
"Always trying," Odin said, "never succeeding."
"Not so long as you yourself demand that I break vows," Loki complained. "Sometimes I believe that you use me for my bad reputation and don't want to see it changed."
"No," Odin said. "I won't ask you to break your vow. I can guess why Freyja wants me to see her embarrassment. She believes that the people's disappointment will move me to offer advice and that I shall thus be seduced into teaching her the Runes before I am ready to do so. Yes? Well, it's time for me to teach her only that this puppet pulls his own strings." He paused and then mused, "But why would she want me to see her embarrassment secretly?"
"Ah, yes," Odin said. "If she invited me openly to watch her, then her ploy would be too obvious. By making you appear to expose her failure, she hopes to play a tune of regret upon my pity. But how is it now that she is extracting vows from you? How did she compel you into this game of hers?"
"I'm trying to change myself into a honorable man," Loki said.
"That's one shape you'll have a hard time taking on," Odin said.
"As my honor grows stronger my skill at deception grows weaker," Loki went on. "As a consequence she deduced who advised you in compelling her to accept the training of the valkyries."
"A difficult deduction, indeed," Odin said sarcastically.
"She demanded fair compensation for the burden that I caused to be put upon her," Loki said, ignoring Odin's comment. "I was reluctant to play this game, but the council of my thoughts decided that the best path for me to follow is the one on which I must practice my honor for her, even in this difficult circumstance."
"Yes," Odin said in a voice devoid of conviction. "Well, what is truly important is that she failed to deceive me." He turned his attention back to peering through the bush at the wedding.
Certain that Odin wasn't looking in his direction, Loki allowed a mischievous smile to take over his face.
Hands weaving enchantment on an invisible loom, the skald stood before an enraptured congregation. Even Thor and Freyja stared wide-eyed, their mouths open and eyebrows raised in astonishment.
"Then the gods made Dromi," the skald was saying, "the strongest chain that had ever been made. The links were as big as houses. All of the gods struggled together to put the chain around Fenrir. And in their hearts the gods said, 'This he shall not break.' And Fenrir shook and rattled the chain. Then he rose up and shrugged and the chain broke. So forcefully did the chain break that fragments flew in all directions, obliging the gods to duck for cover. Fragments flew into the sky and struck the moon, giving it the bruises that we see upon its face today. Awed, the gods remembered to cheer, as they had agreed to do if Fenrir broke the chain. And Fenrir said to the gods, 'This is no sport. Bring me a stronger chain!'
"So the gods counseled together and chose Thor, who knows a little something about breaking things, to ask his friends the dwarves to make a chain that could never be broken. Quickly Thor made his way to Svartalfheim and spoke to the dwarves who dwell there. He told the dwarves his need, explained to them the problem to be solved, and asked for their help.
"From deep within their storehouse of secrets the dwarves brought spells that had not been used since time began. Using those spells as tools, they fashioned a chain of six things: the sound of a cat walking, a woman's beard, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, and the spittle of a bird. They gave the chain the name "Gleipnir". It was as soft and as smooth as a ribbon of silk, as fine as Freyja's hair yet so strong that even Thor's hammer could not break it. This chain Gleipnir is what the dwarves gave Thor to take back to Asgard.
"One day the gods took Fenrir and Gleipnir with them on one of their outings to Lyngvi Island in Lake Amsvartnir. There the gods took turns trying to break Gleipnir, but none succeeded. So again they invited Fenrir to try his strength against that of the chain.
"When Fenrir saw Gleipnir, saw how fine and shimmery it was, he said in his heart, 'This is not a chain of metal. It may be made of impossibilities woven with spells that I cannot break. But I must not let the Gods see my fear.' So Fenrir said to the gods, 'What a fine, dainty piece of work this is! It would be a shame to break it, so put it on me and I will only pretend to struggle against it. But then you must take it off me and store it in a safe place.'
"To this demand Odin agreed, but Fenrir said also, 'I must be certain that you will take this lovely chain off me lest it be broken.' The gods did not know how to reply, but Tyr came forward and said, 'Hold my right hand in your mouth as hostage for the safety of this pretty chain.'
"The gods all trembled. The goddesses among them turned away and wept. Tyr put his right hand into the Demon Wolf's mouth and Odin laid Gleipnir across Fenrir's back. Gleipnir wrapped itself around Fenrir and bound itself upon itself. Fenrir heaved against it and strove to break it. So powerful were his struggles that all of Midgard, from the greatest depths of the Ocean Sea to the tops of the highest mountains, trembled and quaked, but Fenrir could not break the chain of spells.
"So Fenrir said to Odin, 'I have played the game, now take the chain off me.' And Odin said, 'I cannot. The chain no longer obeys me.' At that the evil Fenrir bit off brave Tyr's hand. Then he sought to bite Odin, but Odin quickly placed a sword into Fenrir's mouth, placed the point against his palate and the hilt under his tongue. Thus bound and gagged, Fenrir was placed in a cavern deep under Midgard, there to remain until the day of Ragnarok.
"Thus it is that whenever we take the Oath of Odin, the oath whose breaking can never be forgiven, we do so with one hand in the mouth of a demon. We do so to remind ourselves that even a god may not violate the oath with impunity."
He rested both his hands on top of the stone demon. After a pause to catch his breath, he bowed to the congregation, to Freyja, and to Thor. Then he stepped back from the front of the flat-topped rock as Thor stepped forward.
"Have the vows that you will swear today been given long and careful examination by the councils of your thoughts?" Thor asked Amund and Glyn.
"They have, Lord Thor," they replied, "and they have been judged worthy of the Oath of Odin."
"Proceed!" Thor said.
Amund put his right hand into the hole in the stone demon's mouth, pushed it all the way through.
"I am Amund Eiriksen," he said, "and I vow to be a husband to Glyn Soerensdottir for as long as we both shall live. My strength is hers, my heart is hers, my life is hers. In good times I will bring her joy; in bad times I will not abandon her. These words shall forever sit close to the hearth of my heart. Thus I swear by Odin's law." He removed his hand from the demon's mouth.
Glyn reached her right hand under the demon's jaw, put it into the demon's mouth, and pushed it all the way through.
"I am Glyn Soerensdottir," she said, "and I vow to be a wife to Amund Eiriksen for as long as we both shall live. My strength is his, my heart is his, my life is his. In good times I will bring him joy; in bad times I will not abandon him. These words shall forever sit close to the hearth of my heart. Thus I swear by Odin's law." She removed her hand from the demon's mouth and allowed Amund to take it.
"We have all witnessed the oath," Thor proclaimed. "Let no tongue ever deny that Amund Eiriksen and Glyn Soerensdottir are husband and wife!"
Amund and Glyn embraced each other and cheering villagers threw flower petals over them. The skald accepted a basket from a little girl and he, Thor, and Freyja threw petals from it over the bride and groom. When the rain of soft, sweet-smelling color abated, Amund and Glyn broke apart.
Thor saw Freyja dip her hand into her beltpouch and bring it back out, clenched in a fist.
"What have you got there in your hand, Freyja?" he asked loudly,
"A unicorn," Freyja said, holding her fist over her head.
"It seems to be a very small one," Thor said.
"It shall be big enough," Freyja said as she leaped off the rock, danced on her thrust in a low arc over the villagers, and landed in the meadow. Looking back at Thor and the other celebrants, she tossed the Rune in her hand back over her shoulder.
The Rune landed in the grass and exploded, with a resounding thump, into a large swirling cloud of green and brown mist that grew tall and drew in on itself to become a unicorn, one unlike any unicorn that the Norsefolk had ever dreamed of seeing. It stood three times as tall as a man, walking on two legs whose feet bore thick, curved talons as long as a man's forearm. Its long, thick tail, which balanced its body, bore an array of talons on its tip. The creature's skin was protected by green and brown plate-like scales and where there might have been arms two thick tentacles writhed, displaying bony hooks. The creature's head seemed to split in two when it opened its mouth to reveal rows of giant sharks' teeth. A thick bony horn, with a row of teeth on each side and one on top, protruded from the creature's forehead and jutted far out over its snout. Where eyes should have been were only wide, ribbed hollows with ear-like extensions.
Freyja heard a harsh, rhythmic chirping and turned to see the creature appearing to stare at her. She froze in place.
"No! This is not what I wanted!" she cried out.
At that same instant the valkyries ran to where a clutch of flint-tipped hunting spears leaned against a wall. Each valkyrie grabbed a spear and then made a gliding leap onto the meadow, putting herself between the creature and the villagers. The creature reached a tentacle toward Borgny and Tori jabbed her spear into it. Green blood spurted from the wound and then quickly congealed into a black ooze. The creature let out a honking squeal as it withdrew its tentacle. It lowered its head and swung from side to side, slashing at the valkyries with its serrated horn and compelling them to retreat.
A broad grin lit up Thor's face as he reached into the thick-leather pouch on his belt. He savored the tingle and crackle on his hand as he drew out the pouch's content and held it high. It had apparently begun its existence as a bar half as thick as a man's wrist and as long as his foot. Half its length had been pounded flat, to the width and thickness of an outstretched hand, and rolled up on itself like fingers clenched in a fist.
Of what magical substance it was made, we are never told.
Sometimes it looks like silver; sometimes it flashes gold.
This stubby little hammer shares Thor's widespread fame.
It is the thundering lightning bolt and Mjollnir is its name.
"Make a path!" Thor shouted. "Make a wide path!"
The creature halted its slashing attack on the valkyries and reared up to turn its attention to Thor. Villagers and valkyries retreated to the sides of the meadow, Brynhild having to grab Freyja's arm and pull her to the edge of the apple grove. Men who had gone running to their houses to get bows and arrows ran back to the meadow to watch what was coming.
"Spawn of Frost Giants!" Thor yelled at the creature. "You shall not deceive Freyja with impunity!" He took half a step back as he drew back his right arm.
The creature shifted its weight from one foot to the other. The harsh chirps that it was emitting at Thor came faster as it pawed the ground, gouging deep furrows in the soil. It lowered its head and it took a step forward.
Thor threw. The instant he opened his hand a blinding blue-white flash leaped from his hand to the creature with a bang that shook the ground; for several days afterward most of the villagers would see spots dancing before their eyes and hear a ringing in their ears. Where the creature had last stood a great orange flame capered and danced, throwing a plume of black smoke high into the air. A tentacle writhed weakly out of the flame, fell limp, and burned.
Thunder rumbled and boomed in the distance, a baby shrieked in terror, and several small children clung to their mothers' legs and cried. The rest of the villagers, blinking their dazzled eyes and wrinkling their noses in response to the strange, pungent odor in the air, turned to Thor in awe-struck silence and then, slowly at first and then in a rapidly rising swell of voices, raised a lusty cheer.
Thor raised his right arm as though to acknowledge the cheer. The air around his hand shimmered and glittered, then Mjollnir rematerialized in his grasp to be returned to its pouch.
Out on the meadow a gentle breeze coming up the fjord pushed the smoke toward the top of the hill behind Trollhavn. The flame began to dwindle, revealing bit by bit what would be a pile of scorched bones. Half a dozen of the village's bolder boys ventured cautiously toward the pile. Freyja stared at the pile in shock.
"Well, it did have one horn," Tori said.
Tears ran down Freyja's cheeks.
"It wasn't what I sought," she said, half sobbing. Noticing Amund, Glyn, and the other villagers approaching, she broke down and wept. "I feel terrible," she said to them between sobs. "I've spoiled your day of joy."
"No!" several people cried out. "You spoiled nothing," a man said. "It was wonderful," a woman added. A drinking horn was passed forward and given to Amund.
"Please, Lady Freyja," Amund said, offering Freyja the drinking horn. "Regain your good cheer. You have brought us nothing but delight. You showed us a wonder beyond our dreams. And how many mortals have been privileged to see the Lord of Thunder cast his hammer?"
"We share your regret that your gift was not what you intended," Glyn said, "but we are deeply consoled by the wonders that we have seen. Please share our consolation and know that we shall revere and cherish this day forever and teach it to our grandchildren."
"Your words are a kindness I don't deserve," Freyja said as she accepted the drinking horn. "You have made this a day of special sweetness for me too." She raised the horn in salute and took a deep draught from it.
"That was very entertaining," Loki said to Odin.
Odin pushed aside a leafy branch to peer through the bush from a different angle.
"You cannot surprise me with what is easy to guess," he said.
"I meant that Freyja was entertaining the people," Loki said a little defensively.
"She was endangering them," Odin said.
"Well, Thor was there," Loki said.
"And if he had not been,...?" Odin replied. "No. This is precisely the reason I tell her that she's not ready to cast Runes yet. She doesn't even have the good sense to practice her skill privately." He leaned forward to get up from his rock. "We've seen all that we need to see." He paused. "No. I hear a thought that tells me to see more." He sat back down. "She made three Runes. It will be useful to see whether she repeats her carelessness." Turning his attention back to the wedding, he missed seeing a look of dismay replace Loki's smile.
Sunset had come to Trollhavn and fires had been lit. Thor's giant goose, emptied of the gifts that Thor and Freyja had brought, waddled around the meadow, carrying small children in its open back. A large fire was being built on the spot where the creature was killed and the village musicians gathered near it to resume playing. The bones of the creature had been neatly piled up on the flat-topped rock in front of the stave shrine.
The skald and two of Trollhavn's elders conversed with Thor. They expressed the opinion that it was Jormungand, through his contact with the creatures of the sea and thence through Freyja's father Njord, Lord of the Ocean Sea, who had infiltrated the false Rune into Freyja's beltpouch. The actual target of the attack, such as it was, had clearly been Thor, Jormungand's nemesis. Thor admitted that the opinion impressed him as well-reasoned and plausible.
Freyja mingled with the villagers at the tables and nibbled at a rolled up slab of venison. She made her way slowly down the tables, sampling other foods as she went. When she reached the end of the tables, Kari approached her.
"You still have another Rune," Kari whispered after making sure that no villagers were within earshot. "Aren't you going to cast it?"
"No," Freyja whispered back, her eyes widening in horror. "The council of my thoughts examined how it might also go wrong and struck such fear into my heart that I have resolved to cast it in the most remote valley, where Thor can take all the time he might need to kill it." She handed the unfinished portion of venison to Kari and went to join the young adults preparing to dance around the great fire.
Watching Freyja go and astonishing herself with the thought of something that Thor could not kill instantly, Kari absent-mindedly took a bite from the venison and chewed it. A distraught look came over her face as she caught herself and looked at the meat in her hand. With her insides quivering, she went to find a dog and a full drinking horn.
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