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By A. and E. Keary
REFLECTIONS IN THE WATER
OF all the groves and gardens round the city of Asgard — and they were many and beautiful — there was none so beautiful as the one where Iduna, the wife of Bragi, lived. It stood on the south side of the hill, not far from Gladsheim, and it was called "Always Young," because nothing that grew there could ever decay, or become the least bit older than it was on the day when Iduna entered it. The trees wore always a tender, light green color, as the hedges do in spring. The flowers were mostly half-opened, and every blade of grass bore always a trembling, glittering drop of early dew. Brisk little winds wandered about the grove, making the leaves dance from morning till night and swaying backwards and forwards the heads of the flowers.
"Blow away!" said the leaves to the wind, "for we shall never be tired."
"And you will never be old," said the winds in answer. And then the birds took up the chorus and sang, — "Never tired and never old."
Iduna, the mistress of the grove, was fit to live among young birds, and tender leaves, and spring flowers. She was so fair that when she bent over the river to entice her swans to come to her, even the stupid fish stood still in the water, afraid to destroy so beautiful an image by swimming over it; and when she held out her hand with bread for the swans to eat, you would not have known it from a water-lily, — it was so wonderfully white.
Iduna never left her grove even to pay a visit to her nearest neighbor, and yet she did not lead by any means a dull life; for, besides having the company of her husband, Bragi, — who must have been an entertaining person to live with, for he is said to have known a story which never came to an end, and yet which never grew wearisome, — all the heroes of Asgard made a point of coming to call upon her every day. It was natural enough that they should like to visit so beautiful a grove and so fair a lady; and yet, to confess the truth, it was not quite to see either the grove or Iduna that they came.
Iduna herself was well aware of this, and when her visitors had chatted a short time with her, she never failed to bring out from the innermost recess of her bower a certain golden casket, and to request, as a favor, that her guests would not think of going away till they had tasted her apples, which, she flattered herself, had a better flavor than any other fruit in the world.
It would have been quite unlike a hero of Asgard to have refused such courtesy; and, besides, Iduna was not as far wrong about her apples as hostesses generally are, when they boast of the good things on their tables.
There is no doubt her apples had a peculiar flavor; and if any one of the heroes happened to be a little tired, or a little out of spirits, or a little cross, when he came into the bower, it always followed that, as soon as he had eaten one apple, he found himself as fresh and vigorous and happy as he had ever been in his life.
So fond were the heroes of these apples, and so necessary did they think them to their daily comfort, that they never went on a journey without requesting Iduna to give them one or two, to fortify them against the fatigues of the way.
Iduna had no difficulty in complying with this request; she had no fear of her store ever failing, for as surely as she took an apple from her casket another fell in; but where it came from Iduna could never discover. She never saw it till it was close to the bottom of the casket; but she always heard the sweet tinkling sound it made when it touched the golden rim. It was as good as play to Iduna to stand by her casket, taking the apples out, and watching the fresh rosy ones come tumbling in, without knowing who threw them.
One spring morning Iduna was very busy taking apples out of her casket; for several of the heroes were taking advantage of the fine weather to journey out into the world. Bragi was going from home for a time; perhaps he was tired of telling his story only to Iduna, and perhaps she was beginning to know it by heart; and Odin, Loki, and Hoenir had agreed to take a little tour in the direction of Jötunheim, just to see if any entertaining adventure would befall them. When they had all received their apples and taken a tender farewell of Iduna, the grove — green and fair as it was — looked, perhaps, a little solitary.
Iduna stood by her fountain, watching the bright water as it danced up into the air and quivered, and turned, and fell back, making a hundred little flashing circles in the river; and then she grew tired, for once, of the light and the noise, and wandered down to a still place, where the river was shaded by low bushes on each side, and reflected clearly the blue sky overhead.
Iduna sat down and looked into the deep water. Besides her own fair face there were little wandering white clouds to be seen reflected there. She counted them as they sailed past. At length a strange form was reflected up to her from the water — large, dark, lowering wings, pointed claws, a head with fierce eyes — looking at her.
Iduna started and raised her head. It was above as well as below; the same wings — the same eyes — the same head — looking down from the blue sky, as well as up from the water. Such a sight had never been seen near Asgard before; and, while Iduna looked, the thing waved its wings, and went up, up, up, till it lessened to a dark spot in the clouds and on the river.
It was no longer terrible to look at; but, as it shook its wings a number of little black feathers fell from them, and flew down towards the grove. As they neared the trees, they no longer looked like feathers — each had two independent wings and a head of its own; they were, in fact, a swarm of Nervous Apprehensions, — troublesome little insects enough, and well known elsewhere, but which now, for the first time, found their way into the grove.
Iduna ran away from them; she shook them off; she fought quite bravely against them; but they are by no means easy to get rid of; and when, at last, one crept within the folds of her dress, and twisted itself down to her heart, a new, strange feeling thrilled there — a feeling never yet known to any dweller in Asgard. Iduna did not know what to make of it.
THE WINGED GIANT
In the mean time Odin, Loki, and Hoenir proceeded on their journey. They were not bound on any particular quest. They strayed hither and thither, that Odin might see that things were going on well in the world, and his subjects comporting themselves in a becoming manner. Every now and then they halted while Odin inspected the thatching of a barn, or stood at the smithy to see how the smith wielded his hammer, or in a furrow to observe if the ploughman guided his ploughshare evenly through the soil. "Well done," he said if the workman was working with all his might; and he turned away, leaving something behind him, a straw in the barn, a piece of old iron at the forge-door, a grain in the furrow, — nothing to look at, but ever after the barn was always full, the forge-fire never went out, the field yielded bountifully.
Towards noon the Æsir reached a shady valley, and, feeling tired and hungry, Odin proposed to sit down under a tree, and while he rested and studied a book of runes which he had with him, he requested Loki and Hoenir to prepare some dinner.
"I will undertake the meat and the fire," said Hoenir; "you, Loki, will like nothing better than foraging about for what good things you can pick up."
"That is precisely what I mean to do," said Loki. "There is a farmhouse near here, from which I can perceive a savory smell. It will be strange, with my cunning, if I do not contrive to have the best of all the dishes under this tree before your fire is burnt up."
As Loki spoke he turned a stone in his hand, and immediately he assumed the shape of a large black cat. In this form he stole in at the kitchen window of a farmhouse, where a busy housewife was intent on taking pies and cakes from a deep oven, and ranging them on a dresser under the window. Loki watched his opportunity, and whenever the mistress's back was turned he whisked a cake or a pie out of the window.
"One, two, three. Why, there are fewer every time I bring a fresh one from the oven!" cried the bewildered housewife. "It's that thieving cat. I see the end of her tail on the window-sill." Out of the window leant the housewife to throw a stone at the cat, but she could see nothing but a thin cow trespassing in her garden; and when she ran out with a stick to drive away the cow, it, too, had vanished, and an old raven, with six young ones, was flying over the garden hedge.
The raven was Loki, the little ones were the pies; and when he reached the valley, and changed himself and them into their proper shapes, he had a hearty laugh at his own cleverness, and at the old woman's dismay.
"Well done, Loki, king of thieves," said a chorus of foxes, who peeped out of their holes to see the only one of the Æsir whose conduct they could appreciate; but Odin, when he heard of it, was very far from thinking it well done. He was extremely displeased with Loki for having disgraced himself by such mean tricks.
"It is true," he said, "that my subjects may well be glad to furnish me with all I require, but it should be done knowingly. Return to the farmhouse, and place these three black stones on the table from whence you stole the provisions."
Loki — unwilling as he was to do anything he believed likely to bring good to others — was obliged to obey. He made himself into the shape of a white owl, flew once more through the window, and dropped the stones out of his beak; they sank deep into the table, and looked like three black stains on the white deal board.
From that time the housewife led an easy life; there was no need for her to grind corn, or mix dough, or prepare meat. Let her enter her kitchen at what time of day she would, stores of provisions stood smoking hot on the table. She kept her own counsel about it, and enjoyed the reputation of being the most economical housekeeper in the whole country-side; but one thing disturbed her mind, and prevented her thoroughly enjoying the envy and wonder of the neighboring wives. All the rubbing, and brushing, and cleaning in the world would not remove the three black stains from her kitchen table, and as she had no cooking to do, she spent the greater part of her time in looking at them.
"If they were but gone," she said, a hundred times every day, "I should be content; but how is one to enjoy one's life when one cannot rub the stains off one's own table?"
Perhaps Loki foresaw how the good wife would use her gift; for he came back from the farmhouse in the best spirits. "We will now, with Father Odin's permission, sit down to dinner," he said; "for surely, brother Hoenir, while I have been making so many journeys to and fro, you have been doing something with that fire which I see blazing so fiercely, and with that old iron pot smoking over it."
"The meat will be ready by this time, no doubt," said Hoenir. "I killed a wild ox while you were away, and part of it has been now for some time stewing in the pot."
The Æsir now seated themselves near the fire, and Hoenir lifted up the lid of the pot. A thick steam rose up from it; but when he took out the meat it was as red and uncooked as when he first put it into the pot.
"Patience," said Hoenir; and Odin again took out his book of Runes. Another hour passed, and Hoenir again took off the lid, and looked at the meat; but it was in precisely the same state as before. This happened several times, and even the cunning Loki was puzzled; when, suddenly, a strange noise was heard coming from a tree near, and looking up, they saw an enormous human-headed eagle seated on one of the branches, and looking at them with two fierce eyes. While they looked it spoke.
"Give me my share of the feast," it said, "and the meat shall presently be done."
"Come down and take it — it lies before you," said Loki, while Odin looked on with thoughtful eyes; for he saw plainly that it was no mortal bird who had the boldness to claim a share in the Æsir's food.
Undaunted by Odin's majestic looks, the eagle flew down, and, seizing a large piece of meat, was going to fly away with it, when Loki, thinking he had now got the bird in his power, took up a stick that lay near, and struck a hard blow on the eagle's back. The stick made a ringing sound as it fell; but, when Loki tried to draw it back, he found that it stuck with extraordinary force to the eagle's back; neither could he withdraw his own hands from the other end.
Something like a laugh came from the creature's half human, half bird-like mouth; and then it spread its dark wings and rose up into the air, dragging Loki after.
"It is as I thought," said Odin, as he saw the eagle's enormous bulk brought out against the sky; "it is Thiassi, the strongest giant in Jötunheim, who has presumed to show himself in our presence. Loki has only received the reward of his treachery, and it would ill become us to interfere in his behalf; but, as the monster is near, it will be well for us to return to Asgard, lest any misfortune should befall the city in our absence."
While Odin spoke, the winged creature had risen up so high as to be invisible even to the eyes of the Æsir; and, during their return to Asgard, he did not again appear before them; but, as they approached the gates of the city, they were surprised to see Loki coming to meet them. He had a crest-fallen and bewildered look; and when they questioned him as to what had happened to him since they parted in such a strange way, he declared himself to be quite unable to give any further account of his adventures than that he had been carried rapidly through the air by the giant, and at last thrown down from a great height near the place where the Æsir met him.
Odin looked steadfastly at him as he spoke, but he forbore to question him further; for he knew well that there was no hope of hearing the truth from Loki, and he kept within his own mind the conviction he felt that some disastrous result must follow a meeting between two such evil-doers as Loki and the giant Thiassi.
That evening, when the Æsir were all feasting and telling stories to one another in the great hall of Valhalla, Loki stole out from Gladsheim, and went alone to visit Iduna in her grove. It was a still, bright evening. The leaves of the trees moved softly up and down, whispering sweet words to each other; the flowers, with half-shut eyes, nodded sleepily to their own reflections in the water, and Iduna sat by the fountain, with her head resting in one hand, thinking of pleasant things.
"It is all very well," thought Loki; "but I am not the happier because people can here live such pleasant lives. It does not do me any good, or cure the pain I have had so long in my heart."
Loki's long shadow — for the sun was setting — fell on the water as he approached, and made Iduna start. She remembered the sight that had disturbed her so much in the morning; but when she saw only Loki, she looked up and smiled kindly; for he had often accompanied the other Æsir in their visits to her grove.
"I am wearied with a long journey," said Loki abruptly, "and I would eat one of your apples to refresh me after my fatigue." The casket stood by Iduna's side, and she immediately put in her hand and gave Loki an apple. To her surprise, instead of thanking her warmly or beginning to eat it, he turned it round and round in his hand with a contemptuous air.
"It is true then," he said, after looking intently at the apple for some time, "your apples are but small and withered in comparison. I was unwilling to believe it at first, but now I can doubt no longer."
"Small and withered!" said Iduna, rising hastily. "Nay, Asa Odin himself, who has traversed the whole world, assures me that he has never seen any to be compared to them."
"That will never be said again," returned Loki; "for this very afternoon I have discovered a tree, in a grove not far from Asgard, on which grow apples so beautiful that no one who has seen them will. ever care again for yours."
"I do not wish to see or hear of them," said Iduna, trying to turn away with an indifferent air; but Loki followed her, and continued to speak more and more strongly of the beauty of this new fruit, hinting that Iduna would be sorry that she had refused to listen when she found all her guests deserting her for the new grove, and when even Bragi began to think lightly of her and of her gifts. At this Iduna sighed, and Loki came up close to her, and whispered in her ear,
"It is but a short way from Asgard, and the sun has not yet set. Come out with me, and, before any one else has seen the apples, you shall gather them, and put them in your casket, and no woman shall ever have it in her power to boast that she can feast the Æsir more sumptuously than Iduna."
Now Iduna had often been cautioned by her husband never to let anything tempt her to leave the grove, and she had always been so happy here that she thought there was no use in his telling her the same thing so often over; but now her mind was so full of the wonderfully beautiful fruit, and she felt such a burning wish to get it for herself, that she quite forgot her husband's commands.
"It is only a little way," she said to herself; "there can be no harm in going out just this once; "and, as Loki went on urging her, she took up her casket from the ground hastily, and begged him to show her the way to this other grove. Loki walked very quickly, and Iduna had not time to collect her thoughts before she found herself at the entrance of Always Young. At the gate she would gladly have stopped a minute to take breath; but Loki took hold of her hand, and forced her to pass through, though, at the very moment of passing, she half drew back; for it seemed to her as if all the trees in the grove suddenly called out in alarm, "Come back, come back, oh, come back, Iduna!" She half drew back her hand, but it was too late; the gate fell behind her, and she and Loki stood together without the grove.
The trees rose up between them and the setting sun, and cast a deep shadow on the place where they stood; a cold night air blew on Iduna's cheek, and made her shiver.
"Let us hasten on," she said to Loki; "let us hasten on, and soon come back again."
But Loki was not looking on, he was looking up. Iduna raised her eyes in the direction of his, and her heart died within her; for there, high up over her head, just as she had seen it in the morning, hung the lowering, dark wings — the sharp talons — the fierce head, looking at her. For one moment it stood still above her head, and then lower, lower, lower, the huge shadow fell; and, before Iduna found breath to speak, the dark wings were folded round her, and she was borne high up in the air, northwards, towards the gray mist that hangs over Jötunheim. Loki watched till she was out of sight, and then returned to Asgard. The presence of the giant was no wonder to him; for he had, in truth, purchased his own release by promising to deliver up Iduna and her casket into his power; but, as he returned alone through the grove, a foreboding fear pressed on his mind.
it should be true," he thought, "that Iduna's apples have
the wonderful power Odin attributes to them! if I among the rest
should suffer from the loss!" Occupied with these thoughts, he
When it was known that Iduna had disappeared from her grove, there were many sorrowful faces in Asgard, and anxious voices were heard inquiring for her. Loki walked about with as grave a face, and asked as many questions, as any one else; but he had a secret fear that became stronger every day, that now, at last, the consequence of his evil ways would find him out.
Days passed on, and the looks of care, instead of wearing away, deepened on the faces of the Æsir. They met, and looked at each other, and turned away sighing; each saw that some strange change was creeping over all the others, and none liked to be the first to speak of it. It came on very gradually — a little change every day, and no day ever passing without the change. The leaves of the trees in Iduna's grove deepened in color. They first became a sombre green, then a glowing red, and, at last a pale brown; and when the brisk winds came and blew them about, they moved every day more languidly.
"Let us alone," they said at length. "We are tired, tired, tired."
The winds, surprised, carried the new sound to Gladsheim, and whispered it all round the banquet-hall where the Æsir sat, and then they rushed back again, and blew all through the grove.
"We are tired," said the leaves again; "we are tired, we are old; we are going to die;" and at the word they broke from the trees one by one, and fluttered to the ground, glad to rest anywhere; and the winds, having nothing else to do, went back to Gladsheim with the last strange word they had learned.
The Æsir were all assembled in Valhalla; but there were no stories told, and no songs sung. No one spoke much but Loki, and he was that day in a talking humor. He moved from one to another, whispering an unwelcome word in every ear.
"Have you noticed your mother Frigga?" he said to Baldur. "Do you see how white her hair is growing, and what a number of deep lines are printed on her face?"
Then he turned to Frey. "Look at your sister Freyja and your friend Baldur," he said, "as they sit opposite to us. What a change has come over them lately! Who would think that that pale man and that faded woman were Baldur the beautiful and Freyja the fair?"
"You are tired — you are old — you arc going to die," moaned the winds, wandering all round the great halls, and coming in and out of the hundred doorways; and all the Æsir looked up at the sad sound. Then they saw, for the first time, that a new guest had seated herself that day at the table of the Æsir. There could be no question of her fitness on the score of royalty, for a crown rested on her brow, and in her hand she held a sceptre; but the fingers that grasped the sceptre were white and fleshless, and under the crown looked the threatening face of Hela, half corpse, half queen.
A great fear fell on all the Æsir as they looked, and only Odin found voice to speak to her. "Dreadful daughter of Loki!" he said, "by what warrant do you dare to leave the kingdom where I permit you to reign, and come to take your place among the Æsir, who are no mates for such as you?"
Then Hela raised her bony finger, and pointed, one by one, to the guests that sat round. "White hair," she said, "wrinkled faces, weary limbs, dull eyes — these are the warrants which have summoned me from the land of shadows to sit among the Æsir. I have come to claim you, by these signs, as my future guests, and to tell you that I am preparing a place for you in my kingdom."
At every word she spoke a gust of icy wind came from her mouth and froze the blood in the listeners' veins. If she had stayed a moment longer they would have stiffened into stone; but when she had spoken thus, she rose and left the hall, and the sighing winds went out with her.
Then, after a long silence, Bragi stood up and spoke. "Æsir," he said, "we are to blame. It is now many months since Iduna was carried away from us; we have mourned for her, but we have not yet avenged her loss. Since she left us a strange weariness and despair have come over us, and we sit looking on each other as if we had ceased to be warriors and Æsir. It is plain that, unless Iduna returns, we are lost. Let two of us journey to the Urda fount, which we have so long neglected to visit, and inquire of her from the Norns — for they know all things — and then, when we have learnt where she is, we will fight for her liberty, if need be, till we die; for that will be an end more fitting for us then to sit here and wither away under the breath of Hela."
At these words of Bragi, the Æsir felt a revival of their old strength and courage. Odin approved of Bragi's proposal, and decreed that he and Baldur should undertake the journey to the dwelling-place of the Norns. That very evening they set forth; for Hela's visit showed them that they had no time to lose.
It was a weary time to the dwellers in Asgard while they were absent. Two new citizens had taken up their abode in the city, Age and Pain. They walked the streets hand-in-hand, and there was no use in shutting the doors against them; for however closely the entrance was barred, the dwellers in the houses felt them as they fled.
THROUGH FLOOD AND FIRE
At length Baldur and Bragi returned with the answer of the Norns, couched in mystic words, which Odin alone could understand. It revealed Loki's treacherous conduct to the Æsir, and declared that Iduna could only be brought back by Loki, who must go in search of her, clothed in Freyja's garments of falcon feathers.
Loki was very unwilling to venture on such a search; but Thor threatened him with instant death if he refused to obey Odin's commands, or failed to bring back Iduna; and for his own safety he was obliged to allow Freyja to fasten the falcon wings to his shoulders, and to set off towards Thiassi's castle in Jötunheim, where he well knew that Iduna was imprisoned.
It was called a castle; but it was, in reality, a hollow in a dark rock; the sea broke against two sides of it; and, above, the sea-birds clamored day and night.
There the giant had taken Iduna on the night on which she had left her grove; and, fearing lest Odin should spy her from Air Throne, he had shut her up in a gloomy chamber, and strictly forbidden her ever to come out. It was hard to be shut up from the fresh air and sunshine; and yet, perhaps, it was safer for Iduna than if she had been allowed to wander about Jötunheim, and see the monstrous sights that would have met her there.
She saw nothing but Thiassi himself and his servants, whom he had commanded to attend upon her; and they, being curious to see a stranger from a distant land, came in and out many times every day.
They were fair, Iduna saw — fair and smiling; and at first it relieved her to see such pleasant faces round her, when she had expected something horrible.
"Pity me!" she used to say to them; "pity me! I have been torn away from my home and my husband, and I see no hope of ever getting back." And she looked earnestly at them; but their pleasant faces never changed, and there was always — however bitterly Iduna might be weeping — the same smile on their lips.
At length Iduna, looking more narrowly at them, saw, when they turned their backs to her, that they were hollow behind; they were, in truth, Ellewomen, who have no hearts, and can never pity any one.
After Iduna saw this she looked no more at their smiling faces, but turned away her head and wept silently. It is very sad to live among Ellewomen when one is in trouble.
Every day the giant came and thundered at Iduna's door. "Have you made up your mind yet," he used to say, "to give me the apples? Something dreadful will happen to you if you take much longer to think of it." Iduna trembled very much every day, but still she had strength to say, "No;" for she knew that the most dreadful thing would be for her to give to a wicked giant the gifts that had been entrusted to her for the use of the Æsir. The giant would have taken the apples by force if he could; but, whenever he put his hand into the casket, the fruit slipped from beneath his fingers, shriveled into the size of a pea, and hid itself in crevices of the casket where his great fingers could not come — only when Iduna's little white hand touched it, it swelled again to its own size, and this she would never do while the giant was with her. So the days passed on, and Iduna would have died of grief among the smiling Ellewomen if it had not been for the moaning sound of the sea and the wild cry of the birds; "for, however others may smile, these pity me," she used to say, and it was like music to her.
One morning when she knew that the giant had gone out, and when the Ellewomen had left her alone, she stood for a long time at her window by the sea, watching the mermaids floating up and down on the waves, and looking at heaven with their sad blue eyes. She knew that they were mourning because they had no souls, and she thought within herself that even in prison it was better to belong to the Æsir than to be a mermaid or an Ellewoman, were they ever so free or happy.
While she was still occupied with these thoughts she heard her name spoken, and a bird with large wings flew in at the window, and, smoothing its feathers, stood upright before her. It was Loki in Freyja's garment of feathers, and he made her understand in a moment that he had come to set her free, and that there was no time to lose. He told her to conceal her casket carefully in her bosom, and then he said a few words over her, and she found herself changed into a sparrow, with the casket fastened among the feathers of her breast.
Then Loki spread his wings once more, and flew out of the window, and Iduna followed him. The sea-wind blew cold and rough, and her little wings fluttered with fear; but she struck them bravely out into the air and flew like an arrow over the water.
"This way lies Asgard," cried Loki, and the word gave her strength. But they had not gone far when a sound was heard above the sea, and the wind, and the call of the sea-birds. Thiassi had put on his eagle plumage, and was flying after them. For five days and five nights the three flew over the water that divides Jötunheim from Asgard, and at the end of every day they were closer together, for the giant was gaining on the other two.
All the five days the dwellers in Asgard stood on the walls of the city, watching. On the sixth evening they saw a falcon and a sparrow, closely pursued by an eagle, flying towards Asgard.
"There will not be time," said Bragi, who had been calculating the speed at which they flew. "The eagle will reach them before they can get into the city."
But Odin desired a fire to be lighted upon the walls; and Thor and Tyr, with what strength remained to them, tore up the trees from the groves and gardens, and made a rampart of fire all round the city. The light of the fire showed Iduna her husband and her friends waiting for her. She made one last effort, and, rising high up in the air above the flames and smoke, she passed the walls, and dropped down safely at the foot of Odin's throne. The giant tried to follow; but, wearied with his long flight, he was unable to raise his enormous bulk sufficiently high in the air. The flames scorched his wings as he flew through them, and he fell among the flaming piles of wood, and was burnt to death.
How Iduna feasted the Æsir on her apples, how they grew young and beautiful again, and how spring and green leaves and music came back to the grove, I must leave you to imagine, for I have made my story long enough already; and if I say any more you will fancy that it is Bragi who has come among you, and that he has entered on his endless story.
Iduna has a connection with the underworld, carried away by a giant and kept captive in his frozen regions, the earth meanwhile becoming winterly, old; death threatening all things. Her story is curiously hinted at in the Elder Edda, where Iduna is represented as falling down from Yggdrasil's Ash into the nether world. Odin sends Heimdall and Bragi to bring her up again, and to ascertain from her if she has been able to discover anything about the destruction and duration of the world and heaven. Instead of answering she bursts into tears — the bright, tearful return of spring — or may this mean the impossibility of wringing from Nature answers to the questions and longings that fill the heart; even the tender year with its messages of hope and hints of immortality is unable to give the full assurance for which we yearn.
Iduna is supposed to typify the Spring, and her falling into captivity for a time to the giant Thiassi corresponds to the falling of the leaf in autumn. The union of Poetry with Spring seems very appropriate, and we must not forget to mention that Bragi's name calls to mind the old story of the Bragarfull. At feasts, in old times, it was the custom to drink four cups of mead: one to Odin for victory, one to Frey, and one to Niörd for a good year and peace, and the fourth to Bragi. This was called the "Cup of Vows," and the drinker vowed over it to perform some great deed worthy of the song of a skald.
In connection with the story of Iduna — being, indeed, almost a sequel to it — we find the myth of Skadi, which is as follows:
The giant Thiassi had a very tall daughter, called Skadi. When she found that her father never returned from his pursuit of Iduna, she put on her armor and set off to Asgard to avenge his death. The heroes, however, were not inclined to allow her the honor of a combat. They suggested to her that, perhaps, it would answer her purpose as well if, instead of fighting them, she were to content herself with marrying one of their number, and it appeared to Skadi that this might possibly be revenge enough. The Æsir, however, could not make up their minds who should be the victim. It was agreed, at last, that they should all stand in some place of concealment where only their feet could be seen, and that Skadi should walk before them, and, by. looking at the feet, choose her husband. Now, Skadi had privately made up her mind to marry Baldur; so, after looking carefully at all the feet, she stopped before a pair, which, from their beautiful shape, she thought could only belong to the handsome Sun-god. When, however, the figure belonging to the feet emerged from the hiding-place, it was discovered that she had chosen the bluff, gusty old Niörd instead of the beautiful young Baldur; and she was not particularly well pleased with her choice, though she was obliged to abide by it.
Skadi and Niörd were married they found, as persons do find who
marry each other for the shape of their feet, and other such wise
reasons, that it was not at all an easy thing to live happily
together. They could not even agree about the place where they should
live. Skadi was never happy out of Thrymheim, the home of noise in
misty Jötunheim, and Niörd could not forget pleasant Nöatun, and
the clear, sunny seas where he had dwelt in his youth. At last they
agreed that they would spend three days in Nöatun, and nine days in
Thrymheim; but one day, when Niörd was returning to Nöatun, he
could not help breaking out into the following song: —
"Of mountains I am weary,
Nine nights long and dreary,
All up the misty hill,
The wolf's long howl I heard.
Methought it sounded strangely —
Methought it sounded
To the song of the swan bird."
Skadi immediately answered:
"Never can I sleep
In my couch by the strand,
For the wild, restless waves
Rolling over the sand,
For the scream of the seagulls,
For the mew as he cries,
These sounds chase forever
Sweet sleep from mine eyes."
Then, putting on a pair of snow-skates, she set off more swiftly than the wind, and Niörd never saw more of her. Ever afterwards, with her bow in her hand, she spent her time in chasing wild animals over the snow, and she is the queen and patroness of all skaters.