And I haven’t given you any crunchy blog posts in a while, have a slightly odd story I wrote. Hope you enjoy!
But you, they say, were on Sams Isle,
And drummed for the wights with the Völvas,
Like a wizard (vitki) through the world you passed,
which I thought was an unmanly (ergi) thing to do.
He comes to a place where the roads meet; there in the dead of night, he raises his gaze to the gallows and sees its heavy corpse-fruit swaying in the breeze. The dark is full of strange cries and weird rustling noises; shrieks from creatures not seen abroad by the light of day fill the air; his skin crawls and he pulls the knife from his pocket, slicing open his thumb along the old scar.
It burns like fire for a moment, the edges of the flesh gaping wide and empty for a frozen instant and then the wetness pulses and drips; warmth swiftly stolen by the wind as he marks the design out on his forehead; a spindled wheel with forks and bars which forms the stave-sign – an ægishjálmr – the helm of awe.
Nine breaths later, he feels his face shifting upon the planes of his skull; something old and terrible emerging once again from his features as he steps up and hugs the legs of the hanged man tight to his body. The sharp stench of excrement rises from the dead man’s breeches, mixed with the faint odour of spent seed, sticky and cold now that the final spew is done and the head lolls upon a broken neck.
Ignoring the urge to retch, his bloody hand now seeks the prize; finds it flaccid and shrivelled and so anoints it; paints it scarlet there in the dark and soiled places of death, strokes it like a lover – crooning, croaking runes like a lullaby.
A groan escapes the dead man’s mouth – lips all spittle-flecked and slack around a swollen tongue in a bloated, blackened face. A groan like an old oak creaking in a storm, like the timbers of a ship as she strains against roaring waves and jagged rock; a groan of doom and horrified release.
The prize now hard as iron in his palm, all blood-slick and leaping as a wild horse beneath his fingers; he grips tight and feels sightless eyes upon his face as he works, the grave-gaze chill and inhuman.
“More.” A sepulchral pleading, a doom-laden entreaty. “Give me more…bitch.”
The last word is bitten off in a snarl, a savage jerk of the wrist wrenching at manhood’s root, sending the memory of pain down into the depths to reach this dead thing.
“Please, I beg you. I was not always as you see me, all full of foul wind and rot. Once I was mighty and beautiful, and all the women wished my seed within their furrow. They howled when I took them, she-wolves and hell-cats all.” A death-rattle of laughter then, “If they would not throw open their gates at fine words then I would break them with fist and fury, ’til I could wash myself in their tears.”
“But the dead shed no tears now, for we are far too cold and our souls are all crusted with sea-rime; the rivers are poison and so we may not bathe. Our stench follows us like a cloak, we who are barred even from the halls of Hel, cast out beyond her yard across the plains of misty darkness and writhing serpents. Have you no pity for us – you with your hand so warm and breath so sweet?”
“No pity for me, who was once a man amongst men, who fought and fucked and fed like any other? I who raised my voice in battle-song and sought victory harder than any, I who sired sons and daughters all over the kingdom. I who honoured the gods and gave them the finest things?”
And though the red hand does not cease its work upon the corpse’s prick, the reply comes like a song of steel voiced with the roar of thunder:
Cunning fills the corpse-voice then, like oil on water, or the whispering of doubt:
“You have the look of him, grim and severe – like a son to his father. I’ll be betting you’ve had your way with better furrows than the grave, just like him. Cut me down; let me stand and we’ll range across the worlds, living and dead, all full of fury. He’d like that, no?”
Silence is the only answer, broken by the wet slap of hand on flesh, moving with inexorable rhythmic purpose.
“Or maybe,” this last in a tone of echoing desperation. “Maybe I’ll tell a tale they sing, out in the wilds where the wind blows raw and the sky goes on forever; where the world is roofed with the skull of a giant?”
This is the tale they tell of the Old One, amongst the quiet ones and the shrivelled and amongst the shriekers too. This is the tale of how Jalk – the Gelding – came to the womenfolk and danced and sang, how he drummed and called; how the Allfather opened himself as mother opens herself to her child.
For this is one of many ways he learned the secrets of the volvas and the spaewives; how the wisdom taught by the lady of Fólkvangr in distant past set him to wax and grow in endless understanding; how that hidden god, every greedy for the Mysteries, learned women’s ways and wiles.
Thus did Waytamer come to that isle in the North, and first he walked in the guise of mortal flesh and did learn many things from the men of that place. Gifts of war-wisdom he gave in return, woke the thunder in the blood and fettered many a warrior there – freezing their hearts and setting the fury to rise so that they ran as wolf and bear.
A kingly few he marked, mixing blood with god-breath and words born in the cries of eagles and the croakings of the blackest birds – for is it not told by the skalds that there are lords arising from the very loins of the god himself?
Yet those are tales for another time, for the graves of Angatyr and his brothers did not yet lie upon the isle and the berserkers’ deeds were as yet unspoken. Still, even in those distant times the isle was known by all as a hallowed place, full of mighty wights and ancient powers.
So came Jalk across the sea and over land, to sit and spy out the places where men shiver and move hurriedly on. Long he waited in wind and cold, and many were the runes he carved; strange were the words he hurled from his lips into the air like spears. Many were the days he shook, and more still were those in which he was still as stone, until word came to him of a path that led to a secret place.
Along that path he walked, until he came to a high place in the wilderness, and there he waited for night to fall. So it was, as he was biding his time, that he began to see movement below, there in the dusk. Flame and torch sprang up, marking out an enclosure and the wind carried the sound of women’s voices to his ears. Carefully, silently, he moved closer, the encroaching night gathered about him like a cloak, to rest all hidden just beyond the reaches of the light.
Now let me tell you, sweet one, of that which Jalk saw with his eye on Sams’s Isle. Let me tell you of the gathering there; of the wise women that stood proud and unfettered by the fire with their hair unbound, all clothed in brightness – gleaming with amber and fine work – full of power and deep knowledge.
For you have heard and seen tales of seeresses, oh red hand. You have heard of their staff kept close by them and the songs that are sung to call the attention of the wights and sweetly slide free of flesh.
But I ask you, have you seen as Jalk saw? Have you see them pass the rod from hand to hand, raise it to their lips and kiss it, or heard them call their ancient mothers and unborn children to the rite to witness? Have you heard them call out to the earth, to the great and terrible women with the might and power of the greatest of giants?
All this he saw, that and more; unveiled he saw them, gentle one moment, fierce the next. Clothed and naked, young and old, all adored the secret centre. Coarse and refined, lust and chastity both; unleashed – unfettered and free.
There in the dark he watched as they opened themselves to the world, holy and unafraid as it poured into and through them – watched the awe-inspiring embrace of womankind as it enfolded all things without fear or judgement. There he saw them, laughing with troll-wives and giantesses; each volva as mighty as those who the very gods themselves took as wives!
For have you not heard the doom of the worlds, spear-stroker? How One-Eye went to the mound and called upon Her and she spoke of ancient days and those yet to come? She spoke of the giants who gave Her bread before the world was made, and of those mighty giant-maids come from Jotunheim before the gods made men and dwarves.
All these things Jalk knew, had heard from Her in days before men; all this he knew and he saw yet more there. Great wights came up from the earth to feast and put on form; to whisper words and discharge ancient obligations.
Fine were the shapes there in the light, well-wrought was even the oldest hag – years worn like jewels, sunken dugs and sagging flesh gleaming with sacred power. Things monstrous to menfolk walked there, wearing the faces of daughter, wife and mother. Great was the wailing and the air was thick with power all unchained.
Such was the way of things when silence fell and all eyes turned to where Jalk hid – golden gazes and lambent eyes piercing the dark. Fixed there as surely as if a spear had pierced him, so the watcher looked boldly back, meeting each in turn with brazen frankness, though his breath was held.
Many are the names and many the ways of the speargod; he brings death at a word and victory to those he chooses. Yet even he paused there, when all had the ancient blood awoken in their veins, each a terrible fury, as fierce an enemy as a horde of giants.
Until at last, a voice spoke from that great throng:
“No man can come here tonight. All know this, and yet you come. Did you think to feast on us with your eye, to steal our beauty and lock it away in the treasure-chest of memory, to stroke your spear on cold winter nights? Or perhaps you thought to rape, to rut, to plant your seed, to seize and take by force the one that caught your fancy?”
Now had it been I, my sweet guest, this would be true – for rutting was my greatest joy. But even I should have died there screaming, ripped asunder by vengeful hands and butchered like a beast. As it is, I hang here for the same reason. But I am not Jalk.
Nay, not he; for he shook his head and stepped forward, saying: “No, great Lady. My lust is for other things, great though it is. I am no man, for my name is Jalk.”
“Gelding is it?” the voice was arch as he moved slowly onward, until he was surrounded on all sides by witches. “Queer then, are you? If you prefer the company of men, you are in the wrong place entirely!”
Can you imagine, can you hear the laughter of witches all around you, unfettered by law or propriety? It echoed off the landscape like a storm, and many were the hands that reached to grab and test him, but Jalk smiled and inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“Bent and crooked; these both I have been called for many years, and surely will for many hence Lady – just as I have been called treacherous and fickle, and I am sure there are many here who have borne the same!”
At this the laughter ceased abruptly, a murderous silence rising up and enveloping the world. Yet still they held back, as the Lady emerged from the throng. Her hood was furred with catskin, face obscured, and about her waist gleamed amber that seemed to burn in the firelight. It drew the eye to her hips, highlighting her movements, fluid and elegant as they were.
In her arms she cradled the staff – thick as a man’s arm, carved and ridged and trailing bright streamers that shifted faintly in the breeze.
“Is that courage or foolishness I hear Gelding? We have little use for the latter and the former must be of the right kind. Perhaps we should test the truth of your name?”
“Neither courage nor foolishness, Lady. Merely the truth – just as my name.”
Hardly had the words left his mouth when hands began to rip and tear at his clothes. Sharp nails drew blood, voices shouted and laughed as he was roughly stripped to stand naked amidst them. Hungry eyes devoured his form on all sides – taking in the beasts and runes, the battle scars and ritual marks that told their tale upon his hide.
Naked stood he, member drooping and sac shrivelled as the Lady circled, prowling like a cat. Stock-still, waiting; thus he was as the staff struck him from all angles, testing his poise. Three times he was driven to his knees, rising each time to stand with resolute strength until she stood before him, eyes upon him within her hood.
“Are you afraid, Gelding? I have seen many a man unmanned by fear – brave warriors on the field of battle sometimes turn to craven cowards in the bedchamber. We have all seen it.”
“I would be wise to fear Lady. There are many of you and I am alone – I have seen the forbidden and the holy and know you may wish to end me for it. But I am not unmanned by fear, no.”
“Is your name a curse then?” she asked him coolly, slipping off a catskin glove and stretching out a hand to grasp him with firm fingers. “Has some wife wished you ill, some wizard struck your rod with black thunder?”
“No curse Lady, though given by men. No wizard’s spell has stolen my manhood, nor have I abandoned the ways of my grandfathers.”
“What then?” asked she who stroked him, as you stroke my cold cock. “Why do you not leap as a stallion at my touch? Why does the sight of womanhood all unveiled not fill you with desire?”
He smiled then, all crooked and bent, flesh soft in her palm. “I am full of desire Lady, full of hunger and fury – my blood is the blood of bright blue ice and shining moon. But I am old and have no need to spread my seed, an old wolf with many cubs and grey fur.”
“Are you spent then, Gelding?” she asked him mockingly, eyes gleaming from within her hood. “Is your day done, are you an empty thing?”
“As empty as the yawning void where rime met fire, in the days before the worlds my Lady, full of naught all up to the broad brim of my hat and empty eye!” he said with gusto, exultant and amused.
“What need have we then of you? We who have a staff where you bear none.”
“No need at all.” admitted Jalk. “Save that I come in openness and without fear.”
“Why should we feed an old grey wolf who is always hungry? Why should we place the fruits of our labour in your gaping maw, so you may gobble them up, glut-lusty with knowledge?”
“No reason at all, nor need, as I have said. Simply thus:
The eagle’s eye gleams brightest and his voice cries loudest when the wind is beneath his wings.
The horse is at his finest when he runs and and rears with smooth muscle and shining mane.
The serpent is at his wisest when he coils, ready to spring, all venom held in fang.”
“All these things have no master Gelding, and yet by your own name, you have been mastered. Your staff is crooked and cold when another’s would be aflame. What knowing have you of these things?”
“I know much Lady, but I would always and ever know more. Before the question is asked by the spaewives, I would no more. Before their tongues twitch and breath gather, I would know more. In that knowing, and by it, I taste the truth of your words, for all those things have I been. All have known no master, and yet you speak rightly!”
Bright was the eye of the Gelding as he spoke, glinting with sharp merriment. “I have been mastered by he who is High, Just as High, and Third. I have been bound and pierced by the spear of Volsi himself. Aye, Lady, Jalk I am, and made so by Ygg the Terrible One, ridden by his fury until I knew naught else and my flesh turned as if to water!”
Now at these words, shaft-cradler, the Lady gave a great cry and all assembled began to pound the earth as a great wind sprang up and set the flames to roar. In answer came the shriek of an eagle ripped from the throat of a shape than ran like a river and howled like the wind. There, in that place began a terrible thing, there on that dark night.
For there danced the Gelding, twitching and arcing like I when the noose tightened about my neck. Unmanly were his movements, all wild and unrestrained his Art – with spit-frothed lips and rolling eyes did he thunder across that plain as if a horde of maddened horses.
One moment he fell down dead as a corpse, the next he leaped up as a ghastly thing – face black and breath foul, food for the worms as all semblance of manhood left him. A womanly thing it was, or so men would say, as he shivered and shook like a newborn babe, begging a suck from the tit of the Earth itself. There, he sweated like a maiden, crying out in agonized joy as the song of the stars pierced him like spear. There he bled moon-blood like like a lass, spilling out upon the ground, seeping into the places below, filled up with spirit seed until he drowned in that fierce jism.
The took him them, the witches and the volvas and the spaewives and the giant maids. They raised him up as the roots of Yggdrasil clamped about him. Twining about his limbs, the roots of that great tree held him as he gripped that trunk, festooned with a noose of his own bowels, bound there by tendon and sinew as he held the staff – the vast column of the pizzle of that wooden horse the axis of his very existence.
They raised him up to the heights and lowered him to the depths, and in the darkness of the hood he was seidhmadhr – the seidr-man. Charms and spells he spun and wove and wove them well, though men say such weavings be women’s work. Bestla’s son was he – born betwixt the thighs of a giantess, and blood breeds true – this you know, my night-worker.
From shadows he struck his enemies, and with poisoned words and subtle spells he ended great men and tugged upon the threads of wyrd, touching the lives of those not yet dreamt into existence. His fingers ran over the loom of fate, learning the ways of the Norns and seeing the growth of many a fylgia as a child slumbered snug in its mother’s womb.
And when the night was done, when the wights had sunk and returned from whence they came; when the blue dawn hour came and his body ached and his skull felt empty; when his hide felt loose yet shrunken and the shadows rose out of the night, so Jalk remained once more no-man, with a belly full of boiling dreamstuff nourished in the darkness of his bowels, full of power and quiet might.
Upon that isle then, it is said that he learned those ways, and that ever more, upon some silent night beyond the walls of Asgard, a shivering flowing shape would shriek and sing until dawn in that godly place, with the body of the lord of that realm seeming to lie cold and dead upon its earth.
“Unmanly then, the lord of Valholl, or so they whisper.” groans the corpse, “Filthy work, filthy as the hand that is my whore. Filthy bitch come greedy for my seed, begging for it with your every breath, your every word. Your features flow like water, run like rivers of fire through my sodden soul.”
In the dark, the gallows creak with the rocking of a dead man’s hips, the rustling of the leaves and the rhythm of frozen breathing. Then, abruptly, a splash of silver gulped greedily down by a shadow.
The sob that echoes forth from the corpse is already fading; the ties of inhuman lust are fraying, the summoning diminishing and bond between bloated flesh and outlaw shade now thinning to nothingness. Upon a plain of bones and writhing serpents a once-man wakens from a half-remembered dream of life to trudge endlessly through the icy wastes of Nifel.
There at the crossroads, a figure pauses to feel the singing in its cold blood with gleaming silver sheen, and then tips a broadbrimmed hat to the dead and to the living before striding silently out into the night, the sorcerer from out of the blue…