Day 9, Helheim "I am a speaker for the dead of my tribe."
Going from Niflheim to Helheim didn't take a lot of world-hopping; you just cross through the gates, and they do it for you. I walked the very last part of the road to Helheim - most seidr workers have to walk more of it, I think, but I just picked it up within sight of Mordgud's tower. She came out and hailed me. I went to show her my tattoo, but she just laughed and said, "We know who you are," in the kind of voice that ought to have ended with a "silly thing"! I'd brought my lunch with me, and we sat down on the side of the road and shared it. She's a tall, Amazon-like giantess.....don't know about all the pictures of her looking like a pretty little girl, the Mordgud I met was quite butch and dressed in shiny black armor that seemed to shift and change as I watched it, flowing about her body. She wore a voluminous black cloak and carried a spear, but she was quite friendly to me. She asked about my trip, nodded sagely, and then sent me on after lunch was finished.
The big dog ran up to me too, as I crossed the gate, but I was ready for him and I'd saved some meat. He sniffed me, and immediately went all friendly, which somehow I had expected. It seemed strange to come to a world, finally, where I didn't have to worry about the reception. I passed through the gate without fanfare and wandered into the Land of the Dead. It was autumn there, and the trees were a riot of color. There were orchards with a few withered apples still hanging on the trees. I passed the lake, and the Island where the dead come to talk to the living, and then the burial mounds. First a few big mounds, with many footsteps around them, and then more and more mounds, until I was walking in a sea of barrows as far as the eye could see. After about half an hour, the barrows ran out....and so did the footprints, and I was in uncharted territory, the parts of Helheim where Mama doesn't let non-employees wander about. I walked through the woods for about another half hour, just looking at the leaves beneath my feet. There is an incredibly peaceful feeling to Helheim; you could just walk around for hours feeling it.
But I had a bargain to conclude. I asked some of the dead souls that I passed where to find Baldur, and they pointed the way. After about thirty different directions, I finally came to a small clearing and called out his name. He came out of what looked like a ruined stone structure...not as if he lived there, but as if he had been wandering around in it, enjoying the peace, just as I was. His long golden hair rippled to his knees, echoing the golden of the birch leaves behind him, and he looked at me curiously.
I told him that his mother had asked me to send her news of him, and that I was to write a letter to her, and what would he have it say? He sighed, and there was a world of meaning in that sigh. He told me to send her his love, and tell her that he was doing well, and happy, and that his wife was well also, and that she should be strong.
"Anything else?" I asked, thinking that this was a bit brief.
"No," he said firmly. "Nothing else." Then he turned and went back into the woods. I wondered how many times she'd sent messengers. Going back the way I came, I managed to make a larger clearing line up with the field, and went to the firepit. I wrote Frigga her letter, bound it with the wool I'd spun, started a fire with the lit candle I'd saved from last night, and burned the letter. Julie had left roses by the firepit from her last ritual, and I burned them as well, and threw in all the notes that people had sent me. (I knew they'd be on the hard drive where Josh would have saved them.) "May your missive rise on the smoke of love," I called to the sky. "I have fulfilled my part of the bargain, Lady."
By this time, the Dead had clustered around, watching, murmuring. I took my guitar and sang for them, sang for hours and hours, until the sun went down and it got dark and cold. I knew what I was waiting for, but I didn't know how long it would take. I called out the names of the dead Jotnar that I had messages for, and passed on the messages. The young female etin whose lover was still haunted by her memory came forth, and I pleaded with her to help him let go. I had rather hoped that perhaps I would see Aelfwine, but I didn't.
Darkness fell, with clouds, so there was no moon. Just as my hands were getting numb from playing guitar in the cold, She came out. I knelt and laid the dried bouquet of ritual roses at her feet, and She touched my hair with Her skeletal hand. I don't know what I expected from our exchange, but it was brief - She told me that she was proud of me, that I had outperformed her expectations, but that meant that She would simply expect more of me. I asked Her to please be more lenient on my physical body; that I would not last as Her tool if She kept running me into the ground with Her demands. She told me that I should not pathwalk for at least a month, in order to recuperate, once I left her realm. Then She blessed me and went off into the darkness, and I was done.
Or almost done. I got my drum and cloak and crossed back into Midgard, and then I was ready to walk the labyrinth out and go back to my homeworld, but four figures came out of the dark before I could get any further. They came from four directions and surrounded me - a little shorter than my height, but stocky and bearded; clearly duergar. Smiling tolerantly, even. "We've been watching you," one said. "Do you know who we are?"
I threw back my head and sang out in a loud voice that old Wiccan thing that my first boyfriend, the fam-trad witch, taught me:
"Blessed be the guardians of the world,
Blessed be the guardians of the world,
Blessed be the East at dawn,
Blessed be the South in fire,
Blessed be the West waters,
Blessed be the North earth,
Homeland of our Lady and Lord.
Blessed be the guardians of the world,
For they stand on a barren plain,
Watching, watching all that goes round.
May life thrive, now and always,
Blessed be the guardians of the world."
Yes, it was an old Wiccan thing, but I wanted to communicate that this was the first I'd ever heard of them, in this context. They seemed pleased and amused by it. "Yes, some folk conceive of us with all sorts of forms," one said - Sudri, I think - "and we can certainly do that, if they want." As if to demonstrate, they all flickered through a rapid series of forms, animal and mythical, and then resolved again to just four dwarves. "But we're really just us."
"We just wanted to let you know that you can call on us," another one said.
"For what?" I asked, rather stupidly. I was very exhausted, and my brain was largely baked.
"Well, for one thing, we're pretty good with directions," Vestri said rather tartly, and the other ones all grinned. I apologized and thanked them, and they faded out into the night. Then I crossed wearily back into my home world and walked that last exhausting stretch to the house. Josh had put a candle in the window for me, I saw as I approached. As the door opened for me, I called out "Is there room for a traveler?"
And then I was home.
Helgrenze I walk, chained but my sight free.
I am a traveler on Man's Roads.
I am a skald before the Great Fire.
I have learned kingship on borrowed thrones.
I am a harbinger of the teind.
I am a keeper of the cycle of the year.
I am the lost child of the Iron Wood.
I am a carrier of the hammer's blessing.
I have shed tears for the chained beast.
I am a speaker for the Dead of my tribe.
I am the Dreamer whose dreams come true.
(There will probably be more to this poem, considering that it only goes halfway around my skirt. But this is enough for now - sort of my own personal Song of Amergin.)