Running Up the World Tree : Gefjon’s Story part 4

Posted: July 26, 2013 in Deities & Wights, Gefjon, Handmaidens, Jotnar, Stories
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Part 4: The Mound of Memory

I went back to Jotunheim on foot across the snowy hills, once more in furs and brown buckskin dress for a final visit to my family – before attending the man they promised me to as baby-maker. On the way I chided myself in spite of success. I’d felt so good dancing for the crowd and seducing the king that I’d almost forgotten to claim a promise – until he asked – so caught up was I in enjoying the moment. Silly girl! You spent a year working hard for that goal, now is not the time to get distracted, I thought. This is just the beginning, and there is much yet to do before I can be a Goddess. As for Gylfi… not a bad lover. Not great, fair I suppose, but then I’m not settling down with him so it doesn’t matter. I do hope Odin doesn’t evict him when I give away the land he lives on. It certainly wouldn’t make me a very popular Goddess if I became known as a land thief. Hmm, ‘Goddess of land theft’, I smiled as I rolled the idea around in my head, kicking up snow as I went. Not the worst job a Goddess could have I guess, laying claim to territories for the Gods. ‘You! Out! Some lesser God wants your land so you’re out of luck.’  I laughed at my own wit, chuckling off and on for the rest of the day’s travels. That night I dreamed of mortals praising my name, dragging sharp tools in the ground, tracing boundaries around land given to their favorite Goddess. “No, not stolen,” I told myself softly in the morning, waking under my furs, “given. And that is my name, is it not?” The king had chosen to give me that land, though he knew not how much I could plough.

I frowned. My name was a source of surly thoughts when I thought of it too much, though probably the best of a bad lot among my sisters. Later that day I reached the rock covered mound where my eldest sister was buried. You couldn’t tell with all the snow atop, but I knew. It jutted out alone in the middle of one of my family’s tree lined fields. I stood there a long time, choked by regrets with feet growing cold as I sunk in the snow, before croaking out: “Maegja [1]… my sister. You were the first given away by our greedy parents to claim a bride-price. I think that’s all we ever were to them, cattle to raise and sell, brides given as bribes in negotiations. You were the brightest of us, the most cheerful and charming in your belief that everyone had goodness in them, guiding us all in dreaming our dreams.” I wiped a tear, trying to continue. “But you were wrong!” I shouted, “There is no good in them, save in their children.” Pathetically, I waited for her usual witty retort. It would be about us not seeing the good seed in the rotting fruit, or something equally hopeful, but my dead sister stayed silent under the snow. Against all hope I remained as the North wind made icicles of the watery tracks on my cheeks. “No, I suppose even you can’t find good things to say about our parents anymore, not after they drove you to take your own life.” Looking down, I blew into my hands to warm them, then let them drop to stare at my feet. “Mæg, I came to say… I’m doing it. I’m doing what we dreamed about. I made a deal with Odin – yes that Odin, the Asgardian – and I’m going to become a Goddess so I can finally be free to choose my life. I know you’re free now in Hela’s realm, forever a maiden unmarried… but Gods damn them all [2], there should have been another choice for you! Why did you have to leave us all?” I fell to my knees in sorrow. “May the mighty Norns curse those misers who sold you, and the man they traded you to in marriage.”

______________________________

I remembered that night in May she came to me, just before she went to meet her true love on Sorrow’s Cliff, Hryggðarfell. It was just before her forced wedding to the rich bastard,… and just before the lovers jumped to their death onto the river rocks below. She had held my hands but would not meet my gaze as she spoke: “I cannot marry for money, I don’t have it in me, sister, to live that way. So I will go with my love where none can ever bring us apart.” She gave me a leather pouch then, one I knew well. “Take my ankle bell bracelets, I won’t need them where I go. Make good use of them until the day we meet once more, and promise me you’ll do everything you can to make your dreams real. I love you Gefjon.”

We’d embraced as I wished her well, not truly understanding what she meant to do. “I love you Maegja more than you know. Be with your love far from here, where you can never be found and our father cannot compel you. Take my boots, you’ll need good boots to go a distance such that he will not.” She’d refused, but I insisted, and it was with sobs that she laced them on before going. I was sad but happy she’d finally learned to defy our parents. I tried hard not to smile the next day as my father impotently raged at my missing sister, but the joke was on me as well. Someone later found their broken bodies half-eaten on the rocks, and I howled my pain for three days of mourning at the river’s edge. I refused all food, even from the kind washer woman at the ford who each day offered me milk. “Offer that milk to my sister,” I’d said, “she needs it more than I,” and on my third refusal, she indeed poured it out upon the rocks.

When I returned home, I found Father standing by himself on the freshly turned soil of our fields, looking up. He never looked down and said only this: “A deal is a deal. You are already promised to Grimr, but another sister must take her place. That selfish cow thought only of herself! How dare she defy me and make me break my word?“ I could only gape in astonishment at his callous comment, a new height of heartlessness even for him. I blinked, realizing I could no longer stay, and went to my stone hut to collect a few possessions. From there I slowly made way to visit my sister Brúða’s [3] dwelling, as I knew she would not reveal my plans right away to the others. She was alone outside, grinding grains with her stone mortar in the fading light of day. Her tear reddened eyes matched mine as she looked up, sitting on a folded blanket and wearing only a string skirt. “I am going,” I said.

Stone hut

Stone hut

“As you should,” she nodded in understanding.

“Come with me,” I begged.

“I cannot. I don’t have your backbone or Maegja’s optimism. I am resigned to my fate. The rich bastard will father my children and there is nothing I can do.”

“Come with me, I will be strong for both of us,” I pleaded once more, getting to my knees on the other side of her mortar.

“I am not like you, Gefjon,” she said with a sad smile, letting go of the pestle. Her head tilted, better showing the beads braided in her hair. “I am not the plough that makes the groove, I am the seed raked over in furrows for protection from the elements. Out there, I would be washed away before I could sprout.”

I placed a hand on hers, and bit my lips not to cry. She was right of course, and I’d known it, but I had hoped Mæg’s death might have changed her as it changed me – no such luck. She got up and went inside to retrieve a small woven blanket wrapped package I knew well. “Take it,” she said, “you’ll have more use for it than I, you always have. I never needed it to invoke pity in others, and it was never I who took advantage of their sympathy. Take my waif belt and win what you can with it.”

Reluctantly I took it, and reached into my pouches for a parting gift of my own. I gave her my clay ocarina, the one I had used when my voice was too worn out to wail my dead sister by the river. “I know you will not voice your chagrin as you nurse your children at night, so use that instead and no one will know you are weeping for yourself and your losses. Let your little ones be lulled to sleep with it and remember me Brúða. May it give you some solace to know I am free.”

She glanced at it, comforted by the smooth heart shape filling her hand, “Go now Gefjon, before Father comes to ask where you are, for I cannot lie to him. Go, and do not tell me where you are going so that he cannot beat it out of me.”

I rose and turned away, glancing back only once to see her grinding the last of her grains to dust.

The snow covered grave mound cast long shadows upon me as I remembered leaving years ago. I dared not return any closer to my family. I had nothing to say to Father, and I didn’t want to risk strangling the rich bastard by visiting Brúða in her new home. This is where I said goodbye to my family for good:

“I have no family name. I am Gefjon, daughter of no one, and I will make my way on my own. Goodbye Brúða, goodbye Mægja. I may bring many men to bed but I swear I will never marry.”


[1] Mægjast in Icelandic means “to marry into somebody’s family.” The Irish song Step It Out Mary (by Sean McCarthy) came up on my playlist as I started writing this and felt very appropriate  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGBgrGtNmH4 is a nice version by Sarah Calderwood).

[2] Damn is from French and originally Latin damnare, which meant “to condemn the guilty, to blame and pass judgment on, to reject.”

[3] Brúða (anglicized to brutha or bruda) means “doll, puppet,” while brúður means “bride.”

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Comments
  1. sonyjalerulv says:

    That’s sad, having shitty parents like that. 😦 And her sisters story…. That certainly explain her oath to never marry.

    Like

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