Heartcleft road 14 – Gna’s Story

Posted: July 2, 2015 in Aesir & Asynjur, Alfar & Duergar, Gna, Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Chapter 14 – The Black King’s Bride –

 

 

My wife shook herself and then stood straighter, still clinging to my waist as we watched the queen return to her throne.

“Before she can begin her mission to Guthugg,” Hela began as she sat, “we shall…”

I went pale. “Guthugg? Have you lost your mind? You can’t send her there! I won’t let you.” I enfolded my wife in my arms.

“She can do what we cannot,” Hela countered with a slight shrug.

“No. Just… no. Find someone else,” I said.

“Gna?” my lover asked. “Why are you shaking? And what’s Guthugg?”

I took a few deep breaths. “G-Guthugg,” I spat. “That’s the Christian Otherworld. That’s where she wants to send you.” I brandished a fist at the Hela.   “I won’t let you send her there to be enslaved or destroyed!”

“Gna,” the Queen spoke gently. “Even you must agree; something has to be done.”

I didn’t respond. I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to lose any more people to that realm. Especially not Grisella. Most of my human friends of long ago were probably trapped there without any memory of us, be it in Hell or in Heaven. Worse, they might be in Limbo – the place of eternal boredom. In time, you can get used to any torture, but the subtle torment of ennui… that never gets old. I shuddered.

“Now that I think of it, I do need a few more people for her team,” the Queen mused, crossing her arms and cupping her right elbow in her bony palm. “Grisella will be the former mortal, the crucial element. Ideally, I would also need an Alfar and a Fire Giant.”

I blanched, blood draining further from my face and pooling in my belly.

“Why, aren’t you Alfar on your mother’s side, Gna?” the queen continued. The tone was pleasant, but her lip curled up into a crooked grin. “And a Wind Giant on your father’s side? The kin of Muspellheim would be better, but in a pinch a Sky Etin would also do. Would you like to volunteer to protect her?”

My breath became shallow and short. Trapped! My mind screamed, escape while you can! I looked around to every exit as panic closed its claws around my gut. Dropping my arms, I staggered back from my lover. I wanted, needed to run far away from here.

“Well,” Hela shrugged, “I don’t have any other Alfar on hand, so I suppose I’ll have to send Grisella on her own.”

My feet felt like lead, becoming rooted to the ground, while the rest of my body struggled to fly away and leave them behind.

Grisella took a few steps and embraced me. For a moment I struggled to free myself from her arms, her dirty blonde hair against my cheek, but she held firm. No words; she just held me. This cuckoo’s cage was made of gold, soft skin and green lace. The door was open, but the bird would not escape. I let out a sigh.

“I can’t do this,” I whispered.

“Never asked you to,” my wife responded, her lips brushing my ear as she caressed my hair.

“But I can’t let you go alone,” I said. Wretched morals, I thought, why do you suppress my need to survive?

“Then you be having to make a choice,” she responded. “If I can be making a difference, I will. I thought I didn’t matter, and now I hear that I do.” She squeezed me harder. “Gna… you be a goddess with things to do. I won’t be asking you to risk all that. But me, I’ve got nothing. I’ll gladly take a short life of bravery as a Hel-maid over an eternity of drudgery.”

I let out a breath. “You put me to shame. Mortal courage never ceases to amaze me.”

She chuckled. “We be brave because we know almost nothing of the bigger game afoot. That, and often being placed where we have little left to lose.”

I took in her warmth, closing my eyes. Where fools rush in, I fly ahead. If I meet my doom, let it not be as a coward.

Grisella let me go, and I eyed the Queen.

“Fine. You win,” I conceded. “I’ll go with her to Guthugg, against my better judgment. But she’s in no condition to be facing such dangers as she is now. You’d better have some sword or magic helmet to help protect her.”

Pleased, Hela nodded. “I will do better than that. Grisella shall face the mysteries at midnight and find her power.”

I did a double-take. “She’s… ascending tonight? No week-long meditation or anything? No month of eating spiders to prepare? I thought you folks did everything slowly down here”

“No,” the Queen said with a slight smile of amusement. “We call it ‘empowerment’. Ascending is an Asgardian term.”

“So she’ll be dismembered and eaten by crows I suppose, or some other ghastly thing?”

“Nothing of the sort, that is a shaman’s initiation. We shall… go fishing,” the queen grinned. Hela’s grins were not particularly comforting.

My curiosity was aroused, how bad could a fishing trip be? “May I go with her?” I asked.

“You,” the Dark Lady accused with a bony finger, “are still hoping to report my secrets to Asgard, are you not?”

I looked away, biting my lip.

Hela shook her head slowly. “Gna, you have chosen to serve me, but it was with half a heart.” She crossed her arms, laying them on the black silk of her dress. “I have given you time. Time to adjust to your life here, to make friends as you choose and discover this is not the bad place you once thought. What loyalty do you offer, in exchange for my secrets, for a chance to do good rather than haunt my halls without purpose?”

It was Grisella who now supported me, taking my hand in hers, and I looked into her eyes. My wife, I thought, I have a wife here now. The longer I lingered in this realm, the deeper my attachment would grow. I was not solitary by nature, in spite of my wandering ways. Even now, Asgard was becoming hazy in my mind – like a past life.

My eyes stung. I didn’t want to let go of that life, those friends and colleagues. Yet they were slipping from my grasp as I rooted ever deeper in this place. I looked around to the dead feasting behind me, their gaze upon us. These were not bad people, not my enemies… until Ragnarok came and armies of the dead rose to overtake the Golden Realm above. Would I be forced to fight with them if it came to that, against my friends? Not that war was very likely anymore. We faced bigger problems.

“Gna,” my lover called softly. “Please stay with me.”

Her words pinched my heart, pulling its strings. I had to make a choice.

“I will,” I said, “I will keep your secrets… my… my queen.”

I felt a strong hand on my shoulder, and heard a man’s voice. “I’m glad to hear you say that, Gna.”

I spun around to face him, and my jaw dropped. With Hela’s quieting mist, I’d heard nothing of the blond man’s approach.

Before me stood none other than Balder, god of Peace, most beautiful among the Aesir. I’d still been fairly new to Frigga’s ranks when this son of Odin died, but there was no mistaking him. That well-known glow still hung about him, and the beard made him look older than the bare-cheeked lad he’d been. His vest resembled my gambeson, with diagonal silver stitching over black.

“My Lord!” I curtsied, almost out of reflex. We hadn’t heard from him in hundreds of years, and he allowed no visitors from Asgard. We thought it was out of shame, at being a prisoner of Odin’s enemy here.

He chuckled. “It’s nice to see you join us, Gna. You were always fun, reckless, getting into trouble. I never tired of your stories. I hope,” he said with the hint of a bow, “you’ll entertain us with the telling of new tales.” He gestured to all those at the tables. “The crowd and I would certainly be grateful.”

I nodded, trying to find my voice again.

Hand beside his mouth, he stage whispered: “Hela does love the violin, but as for me, I’m nearly bored to death of it.” Then he rolled his eyes. “I’d prefer a tale of your escapades any day.”

“I… I… it’s good to see you again Lord. We tried so many plans to help you escape… but none of them…”

He shook his head. “I am here by my own choice, Gna. I am not a prisoner, despite what my father thinks.”

Grisella’s turn of the head alerted me, and I glanced back to see Hela limping toward us.

With a smile, the Queen bowed her head. “My King, glad you could join us.” There was something very odd about that smile. Warmth? Affection? Wait… my King?

With a laugh, he took her hand and bent to kiss it, gazing up at her. Then he raised her hand high and let her spin, as if dancing. “My Queen,” he said warmly, “My beloved. I was delayed, as usual. You know how it is,” he shrugged.

“I do, you soft-hearted fool,” she said with uncharacteristic mirth.

My mouth hung open as I glanced from one to the other. They looked like love-birds, and my brain refused to process this.

“You are,” he told her, “as beautiful as ever. Maybe more.”

She blushed. She actually blushed, at least on her living side. And then he passionately kissed her.

I staggered, stunned, trying to latch onto some form of sanity. He found her beautiful? Him, the most gorgeous man in all the worlds?

“But… but… your wife Nanna?”

He turned to me, still holding the queen in his arms.

“Was reborn long ago, a short while after her death actually. Hela is my wife now.”

My legs gave out, and I would have sat on the floor if Grisella hadn’t caught me.

“Wouldn’t… wouldn’t we have known?” I asked weakly.

“Oh, you know her, Gna,” he answered with a smirk.

“I do?”

“From what I’ve heard, anyway.” He rubbed his blonde beard. “She married into the family. It happened after my death, and before. It’s complicated.”

“Who?” I breathed out. The silence inside the mist was deafening, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears.

“Can’t you guess?” he teased, while Hela nestled her head against him. “Let’s see… what was Nanna known for?”

“She…” I answered, “her… single-minded devotion to you.” I turned to my wife and explained: “Nanna killed herself after Balder was murdered, and was laid beside him on the funeral ship, to burn on the pyre and join him in the afterlife.”

He nodded. “She followed me to Hel, without caring what anyone else might think of her, to care for me as I was exiled into darkness. Remind you of anyone?”

“No,” I gasped. “It can’t be!”

He nodded. “I forgave him, but it wasn’t enough. I am a man of peace, and the most powerful way to weave frith between families is through marriage. She agreed to play this role, to return and care for him, to help him heal his wounds. I am,” he continued, “very proud of her. She is the strongest woman I know.”

I stared at Hela. “But… that would make her…”

The queen nodded. “I would not wish for a weak woman as mother, even as mother-in-law. Like me, she gives comforts to those trapped in darkness, and I too am very proud of her.”

“But how could Nanna’s soul be reborn before her own death?” I protested.

Balder patted my head affectionately. “You meddle with time, and still you quibble over such things?”

“That’s different. I just slow or stop it. I never travel through it.”

“There are ways,” he replied. “Rind, Unn, you know they have such control, and they are not alone in this. It is also easier to send back dead souls than living ones.”

“But that would rewrite the entire…”

“Long ago, I made provisions for this,” Hela interrupted. “The Norns and I crafted deals such that it would be possible for a soul to return without my knowing who they are.”

I just stared in shock.

“Three times,” she continued with a frown. “Three times has Ragnarok been averted in this way, that I am aware of, though even I do not know all the details. What I do is know this: whenever Loki was banished to the cave alone, the Nine Worlds burned to ashes.”

“We… died? We all died?”

“Even the underworld was torn asunder,” she agreed. “And the debris swallowed up by Ginnungagap. My father is more powerful than you know, Gna.” She paused, looking down, allowing her black hair to form a curtain over half her face. “Under all the humor,” she said softly, “he is… the Destroyer of Worlds.”

“This must remain a secret for now,” Balder said with brows creased. “He must not know, not while he is still trapped in the cave. And none in Asgard may know. It is not the time yet. Will you keep our secret, Gna?”

“Who be you all talking about?” Grisella asked, her gaze going back and forth between us.

“Sigyn,” I whispered, still pale. “Nanna was reborn as Sigyn.”

“Who’s Sigyn?”

“Sigyn,” I explained, “Is the wife of Loki.” My voice was flat, hailing from the top of my tower of intellect while seas of feeling raged below. “The trickster god is father to Hela, and currently trapped in a cave while Sigyn cares for him.” I swallowed. “Odin bound him to a rock, after turning one of Loki’s sons into a wolf. He drove the wolf to madness, to attack and kill his own brother. Then Odin used the dead son’s innards to make unbreakable bonds to hold Loki.” I paused. “To break them, he would have to forsake the love he has for his sons. And to do that, he would likely have to forsake all love.” I wrung my hands, trying to imagine Loki breaking free, after becoming entirely devoid of love. It was not a happy thought.

“That be… unthinkable! What atrocity is this?” Grisella cried.

“Then Skadhi” I continued grimly, “tied a poisonous snake over Loki’s head, to drip venom into his eyes for eternity.”

“What could justify such cruelty?” my wife exclaimed.

“Loki arranged for Balder’s death,” I grimaced. “King Odin did not take it well. Sigyn holds a bowl over her husband’s head, to catch the venom, but she has to go empty it every day while he writhes in pain. She’s been at it for centuries. We don’t like to talk about it, you understand.”

My wife spat in disgust. “I may have bloodied my hands with murder, but this torture… it be unspeakable. This Odin be a monster!”

With a sad expression, Balder nodded. “My father was overtaken with grief. But this cold war must end.”

Peace and Death, the underworld’s elite couple, eyed me carefully for a reaction.

I rubbed my temple. My head was hurting from all these revelations.

With his free hand he took mine, and I felt a calm spread through me: Balder’s famous power of peace.

I nodded. “The war must end. Frigga was never much a fan of it, as you know.”

“That is precisely why we’ve taken you into our confidence,” Hela said.

“Do you mind if I sit?” I said, pointing at the three legged stool. “This is a lot to take in.” They moved aside and I sat heavily upon it. Grisella followed to stand behind, massaging my shoulders.

“And what role would you have of me?” I said as I looked up.

Balder smiled. “I think you have enough to ponder for now. We can talk of this another day. Get your feet under you first.”

I shook my head to clear it. “I still cannot believe you are now king of the underworld, my Lord.”

He sighed. “Gna, I thought I could bring lasting peace to the world of the living. I consulted the wisest of the wise who dwell here, argued for my rebirth and rise to power.” He looked away, embarrassed. “They all agreed that there is only one way that my wish could be granted: absolute tyranny with no hope of escape. Only thus could all war be banished, and that is not something I am willing to have any part of. Lack of war is not the same as peace, and only the dead can truly claim that gift. My place is here.”

I nodded. It made sense, much as I hated to admit it. The Lord God of Guthugg and his son also promised peace, but they seemed far more interested in killing dissenters than anything else.

Hela poked her husband in the belly. “We also have to prepare for Grisella’s descent to the waters tonight.”

“Oh ho!” he brightened, looking over my head. “So the little bird has found her wings. Excellent! I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now. Congratulations Grisella. I know all too well my wife’s plans can seem interminably slow.”

“Timely,” the Queen countered curtly.

“You say timely, I say slowly, let’s not squabble over words.” And then he kissed her again.

I cleared my throat. It was a very disturbing sight. “So… am I invited to the festivities?”

“Of course!” the King answered brightly after breaking the kiss.

“Darling,” Hela said with a narrowed eye, “I’d thank you to let me handle this.”

“Apologies, my love,” he said, raising his hands in surrender with a smile.

I was sure that with time I’d get used to them acting lovey-dovey, but that time would not be tonight.

The Queen’s gaze bore into me for a good minute before she spoke again.

“I will allow it, mainly for your wife’s comfort. And you, Grisella,” her eye went up, “spend time in meditation, upon what you wish to become.”

“Wife?” Balder asked. “Who just got married without telling me?”

“Um,” I said, raising my hand, “That would be me. She and I got handfasted this afternoon.”

He stared, eyebrows raised.

“It was a spur of the moment thing,” I said. “A surprise to both of us, I assure you.”

“Well,” he grinned, “I look forward to hearing that tale first then.” He looked to his wife. “Maybe we can go on double dates by the lake and…”

The Queen’s withering glare stopped him dead in his tracks. “Or maybe not, it was just a thought.”

Hela dispelled her mist with a wave, allowing the sounds of people and violin to return. “Ganglati will come for you later,” she said.

“Ladies,” Balder commented, “I think that means you’re dismissed. I’ll see you all there.” Even without trying, his smile charmed me as it did everyone else.

I nodded and rose, giving my wife a peck on the lips before leading her back to our room.

“He be gorgeous,” she commented, dazzled by him as well.

“He is,” I sighed, “but I don’t think our Queen would take your sexual interest in stride.”

“I… I didn’t… that’s not…” she blushed.

I chuckled as we strode arm in arm, under the inquisitive stares of the crowd. They hadn’t heard a thing we said, all they knew is that we were likely important people.

Maybe, I thought, this is my story too after all.

===

 We sat on the edge of my bed, staring at the stone wall, deep in thought. Still, we held hands. I think we needed something solid to hold onto.

“Mil… Gna. How could Nanna… leave the one she loves most, and be with another?”

I let myself fall onto the bed, so I could stare at the tapestry above. “I don’t know if I can explain, I don’t fully understand it myself, but I’ll try.”

She reclined on her side next to me.

“There’s three parts to what most people call love,” I said. I rolled to my side and put a hand on her chest. “Devotion lives in the heart, need in the gut, and ownership in the hands. Balder doesn’t feel ownership of Nanna, which is why he can let her be with another man. Nanna doesn’t feel need for Baldr, which is why she can be away from him for so long. What both of them do feel is devotion, wanting the other one to be happy, without need or ownership of the other.”

“But, do they not… want to be together?”

“I suppose they do,” I agreed. “But peace and devotion matter more. Also, I need tea.”

“Tea? How be that related to…”

“For the wind spirits,” I explained. “I still only have the one. He’s probably found more friends by now. And maybe I can ask one to look for Hoof Tosser. Stay here, I’ll go ask Ganglati and…”

She caught my hand as I tried to rise and pulled me down onto my back. “You be supposed to comfort me, remember? Mmmm,” she continued, laying her head down with my breasts as her cushions. “Now I can think of what I want to be…”

I took a breath, let it out slowly. It could all wait till after her ceremony tonight. Something else was nagging at me. Was Balder lying about Sigyn being Nanna reborn? Why would he lie about that; what was there to gain?

I wasn’t sure what sort of meditation Grisella was doing, but it sounded a whole lot like snoring to me. Poor thing, it’d been a stressful day. A nap would do her good. I found my eyes fluttering. Maybe I could use one too…


 

 

Author’s Note: I am telling you a story. It’s just a story. If it works for you, run with it. If it doesn’t fit your views, feel free to regard it as merely a bard’s fancy. 🙂

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Comments
  1. Ly says:

    Wow!!!!! Talk about unexpected twists and developments!!!

    Was definitely not expecting that. Regardless of the eyebrows that may be raised here, you’re a wonderful storyteller and, as you know, I’m eagerly awaiting more *cough*.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      I don’t know if it’s true… it was just the logical thing for Balder to do. He initially only had a non-speaking part in a later chapter, but then he showed up when this section was being revised. Authors often speak of characters having a will of their own… I can only imagine that goes double when they’re gods.

      I like how he’s portrayed here. A nice guy who wants to do the right thing, a bit of a chump, and a hopeless idealist who has more cynical peoples looking out for him. 🙂

      He really doesn’t have much personality to speak of in the Eddas, he’s basically a chump and a victim. Here he has agency, he’s choosing his path to do as much good as he can, and making sacrifices for his ideals. Which doesn’t mean he can’t also have fun and lead a good life… um, unlife.

      Like

  2. Ho. Lee. SHIT. 😀 Wow!! “…double dates by the lake…” *dies* This was…I mean…the words fail me. Fail me! I MUST have more…

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      There will be more! Ha ha. Someone privately commented that Balder sounded like a bubbly teenage girl 😛
      I think his nature is to be hopeful, to find and bring joy where he can. Makes an interesting contrast with such a cynical hardass wife.

      He really wants to help, and so is late for everything because people keep asking for his time and he can’t say no. 😛

      Still, he’s grown up from the naive lad of the Eddas who got killed because he was too trusting in his powers. Now he takes human failings into account in trying to make things turn out right. He knows there is darkness, and hopes he can make a difference.

      Like

  3. Teka Lynn says:

    Interesting! Could be, could be….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Úlfdís says:

      Oh my! I like the twist there. To some extent, it rings true. We think so rarely of Nanna…in fact the only time I hear of Her is when my brother hails Baldur – afterwards, I always Hail Nanna. As always, I *love* your stories!

      Like

      • lofnbard says:

        Thank you! Yes, Nanna’s barely a ghost in the lore, like many of the goddesses. I don’t know if this is true, but it would add a whole ton of OMG she’s so badass for doing this. I’m generally not one for conflating goddesses into one, but there is precedent in the sagas for a valkyrie being reborn and then known under a different name. The thing about committing suicide to join your husband in death, just about the only thing we know about her, always struck me as kind of pathetic. A great part of my work here is giving these goddesses agency once again. Nanna made a choice, a hard one, and she continues to follow a hard path because it’s the right thing to do.

        Liked by 2 people

    • lofnbard says:

      It could. I’m surprised no one’s commented on Guthugg… Balder’s very distracting that way 😉

      Like

  4. sonyjalerulv says:

    Nanna and Sygin… brilliant. Ragnarok being avoided at least three times already and the conditions of Loki’s release.. very well thought. Like you said, don’t know if it’s true, but it is coherent and logical. Seeing Gna flaggerbasted was worth it too 😉 I read about Hela and Baldr as a couple elsewhere but can’t quite remember where. But in any case, I like it. HIs explanation make sense too. And he is definitively fun to read. That lake comment really made me laugh out loud.
    Now… What about Guthugg? Never saw that word before. Convenient to have a term encompassing all three of the Christian after life ‘realms’ but where do the term comes from? 🙂

    Like

  5. lofnbard says:

    *cracks knuckles* Finally, someone asked about Guthugg!
    I needed a word for the Christian otherworld as a whole. There isn’t one in that cosmology since it’s assumed to be the only one. We know better of course, and it stands to reason that spirits would need to refer to it.

    I consulted my handy Icelandic-English dictionary for God related words and found what I needed: guðhræddur, which means pious. It literally means “god-frightened” of “god-scared.” I’m sure we’ve all heard of the “good God-fearing folk.” Perfect! The other two words for pious — fróm/ur and trú·rækinn — mean “honest” and “Faith-driven.” Nice, but less specific to Christianity.

    Now I’m not one to insult other faiths, there are perfectly nice Christians whose religion drives them to do good things. Calling their otherworld the land of the “God-fearing” seemed appropriate and not the least derogatory.

    “Hræddur” is a mouthful for English speakers though, so I looked at alternate words for fear. Ugg/ur is a noun that means anxiety, fear, sense of foreboding. Ugg/a is the verb “to be afraid.” The root ‘ugg’ was perfect, and also very expressive for non-believers. Ugg! Thus, Guthugg is the the Christian otherworld, the world of the God-fearing. 🙂

    Like

  6. sonyjalerulv says:

    Brilliant. Thank you!

    Like

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