Goddess Matters, by Judith Laura

 

 

 

 

 

Clarise Samuels

Clarise Samuels

Clarise Samuels is a Canadian author, originally from New Jersey, and she presently resides in Montreal with her husband and two children. She has a Rutgers PhD in German literature, and her book on the Holocaust poetry of Paul Celan, based on her doctoral dissertation, can be found in major university libraries. Her poetry collection, Fairy Tales for the Bourgeoisie, received praise from Books in Canada. She has published a slew of short stories, two of which have been anthologized. Loving Brynhild is her debut novel. When she is not writing, Clarise is an active patient advocate who enjoys doing art work, crocheting, and taking care of her family and her dog.
Clarise Samuels

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Loving Brynhild – Part 3

A Novel by Clarise Samuels

Chapter 5: On the Way to Iceland

Iceland from Space, 2004 (NASA) - or maybe from Asgard?

Now that I was awake and Sigurd was quickly becoming smitten with me, he was still not quite sure how to proceed.

I gently led Sigurd away from Mount Hindarfiall and the castle, which had been reduced to misty vapors and a foundation of blackened ruins. His horse, terrified by the bizarre events taking place at the summit, was nervously awaiting us on the path about halfway down the mountain. Sigurd took Grani’s harness, patted him on the head, and spoke to him soothingly. Somewhat mollified, the animal of divine lineage willingly followed his master on the path leading to the bottom of the mountain. “What now?” Sigurd asked, his face screwed up in a hard squint under the bright sunlight.

I gently led Sigurd away from Mount Hindarfiall and the castle, which had been reduced to misty vapors and a foundation of blackened ruins. His horse, terrified by the bizarre events taking place at the summit, was nervously awaiting us on the path about halfway down the mountain. Sigurd took Grani’s harness, patted him on the head, and spoke to him soothingly. Somewhat mollified, the animal of divine lineage willingly followed his master on the path leading to the bottom of the mountain. “What now?” Sigurd asked, his face screwed up in a hard squint under the bright sunlight.

“Now you take me back to my father’s castle in Iceland,” I replied while looking around at the unfamiliar terrain. We were not in the land of the Franks, where Hindarfiall was rumored to be, but somewhere in the west of Sweden. We first had to make our way back to Sigurd’s boat on the Norwegian coast.

“Iceland?” Sigurd repeated. His blue eyes narrowed with curiosity, and he said nothing more. He was at a loss for words.

Sigurd’s consternation was understandable. Iceland was for the most part unpopulated at this stage in history, except for the tiny, secluded kingdom where my earthly father, King Budli, ruled. Indeed, like the Nibelungs and their tiny kingdom in Norway, Budli’s domain and his court at the castle of Isenstein were of almost mythical origin. The history books would pass over it unnoticed and undocumented, as the Icelandic settlements were to have started another four hundred years after Budli’s time.

“Yes, I am, after all, the warrior-princess, Brynhild of Isenstein, which happens to be in Iceland. How long will it take us to journey there?” I inquired of my famous seafarer. The technical question forced him to stop staring at me in a blithely stupefied way.

“It will be a couple of days to return to the coast on horseback, and thereafter, about five days by boat, unless the winds are good and the weather is perfect, in which case, it will be about three days or less. My extremely seaworthy ship can travel at ten or fifteen knots in perfect weather.” Sigurd winced with pain as he said this, because he was reminded it was the nautical brilliance of Regin that had allowed the Danish King Alf to commission a ship hundreds of years ahead of its time.

“Perfect,” I replied. “And when we arrive at my father’s kingdom, you can spend some time visiting at the palace.”

“For the love of the gods! At this rate, I will never return home to Gudrun,” Sigurd protested.

"Do not fret about Gudrun—there will be plenty of time for her,” I said coldly, for Gudrun was, of course, my rival for Sigurd’s affections.

Gudrun was clearly never far from Sigurd’s mind. Was I jealous of Gudrun? It was rather difficult for me to be jealous of any human female. The women of Sigurd’s day and age obviously could not compete with me in any arena. I, who was Odin’s favorite, had rivals in heaven, but it should have been impossible for me to find a rival who might make me feel threatened on Earth. Even Frigg, goddess of the Northern housewife and herself wife to Odin, was not much of a rival. Frigg’s primitive habit of throwing jealous fits, her lack of godly serenity and composure, and the gluttonous habit of overeating, which she apparently picked up from one of her incarnations on Earth, did not exactly qualify her for being in true competition with me.

Gudrun, on the other hand, was another story. Prized for her blond hair and blue eyes, her petite figure, and her ivory skin, she was much sought after by the strongest and most illustrious warriors in the land. Sigurd’s beloved was no great intellectual, but she had a down-to-earth, folksy kind of wisdom, which needless to say, was not exactly something to which I aspired. I was a scholar, a philosopher, and a goddess. Gudrun hoped to have children, and she prided herself on being a good household administrator.

The daughter of King Giuki ran her father’s castle, and she gave daily orders to the kitchen crew, the cleaning crew, and the palace guards. Gudrun played the harp, painted a little, and sang with a pleasant but not exactly well-trained voice; she was amicable and made endless small talk. In short, she was everything a woman was supposed to be without straining herself too much. And Gudrun did not have an athletic bone in her body, whereas I had the strength and the skills of a warrior. Gudrun also had a tendency to be an emotional weakling. The future wife of Sigurd was edgy and easily upset by trivial matters, appallingly neurotic, but this she hid well from male suitors.

Gudrun played her male admirers beautifully; she played them like a harp.

Sigurd was completely besotted with Gudrun. The first time he met her, he was dumbfounded. He could not think of a thing to say, which humbled him, since he was supposed to be a hero, distinguished and celebrated, not to mention the son of Sigmund. As for Gudrun, the first time she met Sigurd’s dreadful warrior gaze with her own gentle, childlike eyes, she gasped and nearly fainted dead away. Although Sigurd was not as handsome as other suitors who had sought her out, the pure force of his will was enough to thrill her. But Gudrun thought she saw only hostile aversion in Sigurd’s eyes at the moment of their first encounter. Sigurd wanted to apologize forthwith, but he was bound by rigid social conventions. Instead, he watched helplessly as the flustered Gudrun muttered a few incomprehensible words, curtsied briefly, and made a quick and agitated exit.

After this initial meeting with Gudrun, as unsatisfactory as it was, Sigurd could think of nothing else. The image of Gudrun’s beautiful eyes was branded on his heart, but he sought his beloved in vain since she was very much protected and sheltered by her royal parents and chaperones. At last Sigurd chanced upon the daughter of Giuki again on a walk through the palace gardens. The two of them did not say much to each other at this second meeting either. Sigurd asked Gudrun for the time. Within the strict etiquette of courtship in this particular era, asking a woman for the time of day was possibly the only question a man could ask without leaving the realm of the proper and the decent.

Gudrun replied with a few soft words. The two infatuated associates parted. Yet this was the beginning of the romance. The pair reunited and danced at a castle ball a few nights later under the rigorous supervision of King Giuki and the Queen Grimhild, Gudrun’s royal bloodline. Sigurd’s gaze always hung on Gudrun like a dog following his mistress. He was not permitted to be alone with his inamorata, but Sigurd relished any chance he could have to catch even a glimpse of her. Finally, Gudrun’s chaperone permitted Sigurd to accompany the object of his affections to the royal wine cellar to pick up several jugs of wine for the dinner table. When they were completely alone and out of earshot, Sigurd could not contain himself.

“My darling Gudrun, you are the light of my life,” he professed as he enveloped her in his arms and kissed her deeply on the mouth. Though this was highly inappropriate behavior, Gudrun did not resist, a fact Sigurd noted with ecstasy.

Being alone with Gudrun for the short space of a few minutes had the son of Sigmund in ecstasy for weeks afterward. To enjoy Gudrun’s company even in a semiprivate setting—it was just a suggestion of intimacy, yet Sigurd was profoundly affected by the nearness of his beloved.

This was true passion. Sigurd had been struck with one of Thor’s lightning bolts, and it was only a few months before he was ready to declare his intentions. Sigurd put his proposal of marriage before his future father-in-law, King Giuki, as was the custom, and afterwards prayed fervently to Odin that he would be accepted. The engagement became official at last, and Sigurd was transported with joy to the highest of the seven heavens. Now, however, because of the assignments from the High Priestess, Sigurd was forced to separate from his adored fiancée, which caused him tremendous pain from the moment he opened his eyes in the morning until the moment he at last relinquished his thoughts late at night, when the unconsciousness of sleep was a welcome relief compared to his highly aroused sensibilities. Sigurd’s bond with Gudrun was of necessity simple and pure, based mostly on dreams and gazing into each other’s eyes.

Sigurd’s romance with Gudrun was straightforward and chaste compared to the complications, prevarications, and subterfuges that I had to endure with Odin. Yet, in spite of his innocence, Sigurd had started falling in love with me from the very first moment his eyes traveled the length of me, when he tore the armor away from my delicate skin. Sigurd’s fate was to love two women, and his innate honesty would somehow have to be reconciled with the difficulties that would be the result of all the lies.

Lying, as surprising as it may be, was a normal part of my interaction with Odin. Odin was fickle, and loving Odin meant giving him his complete freedom; it meant tolerating everything. Loving Odin meant knowing every facet of his truth and accepting it unquestioningly. But Odin did not want to hurt anyone with his emotional vacillations, so he created illusions of fidelity that were basically lies. I cherished the illusion of Odin’s faithfulness. The illusion sustained me. The treasured deception gave me my inspiration; whether Odin’s devotion was a lie or not was really of no consequence. At Asgard loving Odin meant acceptance of a basic contradiction—Odin was eternally faithful, yet Odin could never love just one woman.

These irreconcilable truths coexisted in Odin’s mind. Loving Odin meant experiencing both truths simultaneously. Even a goddess with infinite wisdom occasionally had a problem trying to resolve this paradox. And for humans it was even more difficult. Humans could find no resolution at all to the paradox presented by loving only one and still loving all. And the sensuous lust of the physical body made the paradox even more confounding. Humans had, as a result, devised an elaborate myriad of rules and laws governing marital obligations and sexual practices, yet the concept of fidelity continued to bewilder and elude Odin’s creatures of consciousness.

The inhabitants of Earth tried to own each other, and they were not ready to admit the unfeasibility of possessing another person. Unconditional love was, according to Odin, the equivalent of unconditional freedom, but humans thought love and freedom were mutually exclusive. Love was imposed upon each other as a mutual bond, a lifetime of restrictive practices, even though the bonds had been imposed voluntarily. On the wedding day, everlasting union was what a man and a woman wanted above all else. The enraptured couple entered into matrimony willingly, never anticipating the day when the bonds they had so desired would be the very bonds of which they longed to be free. No matter how many times humans fell out of love, they cherished the elusive ideal of being eternally bound in wedlock.

When humans invented the institution of marriage, Odin was mystified.

“My somewhat misguided mortals are trying to marry each other for eternity,” Odin would note with bitter irony, “but the only eternal relationship they have is with me.” In his perplexity, Odin, as always, tried to emulate humans in his attempt to understand them. A good example was the marriage Odin himself had entered into for all eternity.

His wife, Frigg, was insecure, jealous, and demanding. She was grasping and suspicious, continually asking questions of others to find out what Odin had been up to. The model for Frigg’s behavior was the typical Northern housewife, whom she championed with such sympathy that she had adopted the same point of view as her subjects. Like a frustrated, menopausal housewife, Frigg ate nervously and chose the worst foods, even by heavenly standards, and blew up to the size of a baby whale. The wife of Odin had an enormous bust and a huge derrière. Her dark, oddly red tresses hung in ringlets all the way down her back, and she applied dark red lipstick to her mouth and dramatic black lines to her eyes. She dressed in the finest gowns, and she was dripping with necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and other rings. And there I sat, pale without makeup, wearing a simple white dress of diaphanous veils. My long hair fell in casual waves in front of my eyes, tousled, almost unkempt, yet everyone thought I was the epitome of empyrean beauty.

Frigg hated me. She was green with envy.

Frigg hated me, even though she could not prove there was any impropriety between me and her husband. And Odin demanded from me a perfect demeanor. I could never let on that the All-Father and I were eternally engaged in an affair based mostly on carnal lust and pleasure. My behavior, designed to conceal my feelings, was a lie. I had to be a good actress. After all, he was Odin, the All-Father. He had to keep up appearances.

Odin was always nervous and awkward about having an affair with me, for he was timid and shy. Sometimes I had to suppress a giggle when he barged into my room, walked right up to me, and stared at my breasts with an expression of pure awe on his face. Suaveness and sophistication regarding amorous matters were not his forte. Odin was no playboy. He had much more in common with the naiveté and enthusiasm of an adolescent boy who gawked at women with hopeless longing. But there was something touching about catching the Father of Battle staring at me with his mouth agape, and such ingenuousness forced my heart to go out to him.

To be sure, divine entity or not, Odin was starved for a little bit of aesthetic pleasure. He loved to see a shapely but still slender figure. As a dutiful spouse, Odin carried out his marital obligations to Frigg at intermittent intervals. But because of the preponderant fat, this was not always an easy task to engineer logistically. Variety was not really an option when lying in bed with Frigg. Odin always turned his rotund mate over on her stomach, proceeding to climb on her back after propping Frigg up with pillows. He always said it was the easiest way to mount his wife. In this manner, the All-Father would perform his husbandly duties with his eyes closed while he tried to think about something else. But when Odin was with me, matters were quite different. When Odin was with me, he was passionate, tender, and romantic.

This, of course, only made Frigg resent me even more.

Sometimes I had to throw the Father of the Gods out of my bedchamber, for there were times that all I wanted was to obtain a good night’s sleep. There were days I really just wanted to end the affair, no matter how sexually infatuated I was with the most devastatingly handsome god in the universe. But how does anyone break up with Odin? Even a goddess could not break up with Odin. Not until the day I grew so cocky I disobeyed my orders on the battlefield, was I able to extricate myself from that celestial triangle, whether I intended to or not.

Frigg was constantly complaining about me to the other residents of Asgard. The First Wife harassed Odin day and night, often screaming in rage about his alleged infidelity. “You are engaged in intimate relations with Brynhild—admit it!” she would scream at Odin, who would simply walk out of the room and slam the door. It was not uncommon for Frigg to throw vases, pillows, statuettes and other small objects at Odin’s retreating back.

She could not prove anything, but as is always the case with such matters, everybody knew. In her frustration, Frigg would go on eating binges, devouring whole cakes lathered with whipped cream, or sit watching the jugglers while snacking on whole trays of chocolate truffles. Indeed, this was just aggravating the problem, not to mention making her feel worse than ever. Frigg blamed me for her unsightly bulges, her misery, and her frustration. Frigg blamed me for the unfortunate truth that her influential and omnipotent husband had a cosmic libido he could not control and did not even attempt to control. The wife of Odin wanted to dishonor me; she wanted to humiliate me in the same manner she felt she had been humiliated. Frigg knew Odin was lying to her, and I was the accomplice. Such lies did not suit me, but Odin demanded “discretion,” which was his way of working around the ugly fact that he was lying to his wife.

Lies were an uncomfortable subject with Odin, given the contradictions in his own personal life. Odin always maintained existence on Earth was based on truth-seeking. Living in a complete state of truth was tantamount to living in a complete state of bliss. Humans thought lying was easy, but they were always taken aback by the repercussions. Lying was deceptively easy. Merely speak the words and deny the truth. Talk is cheap. One can say anything one pleases. The mouth moves, the words are emitted, and the sound waves vibrate the inner ear of the Other. The liar and the one lied to—two people engaged in a simple transaction.

“But physical existence itself is a lie, nonetheless,” I once argued with Odin. “So is lying so terribly wrong, when you examine the process at the most basic level? Naturally, lying complicates matters in a rather unpleasant fashion, but there are degrees of lies and valid reasons for lies, and then there are mere delusions, which often give people hope, so these are not exactly lies. In the end, it seems humans must be allowed to lie. Why do we keep making them feel so guilty about it?”

“Why, indeed?” Odin lamented. “I would prefer humans did not lie. It is not always so reprehensible to lie under certain circumstances, and I have a code book about a thousand pages long in small print explaining such circumstances, but believe me, at this stage earthbound entities are not prepared for all the ramifications. There are multiple levels of nuance and profound philosophical implications. Humans are helpless in the face of such complex and contradictory instructions. They are not quite ready for what I would have to call ‘beneficial lying.’”

“So you decree all lying to be regrettable and to be avoided at all costs?” I asked.

“At this time, such a philosophy would be the most desirable point of view,” Odin responded decisively.

“You know, Sire, such is the message you are whispering in human ears, and humans are being driven to distraction with guilt and self-condemnation. The best people think they have committed wicked sins and reproach themselves severely for lying. Many fine individuals are overwhelmed with remorse in a thousand different ways,” I argued.

“You want me to declare a free-for-all on lying?” countered Odin. “I told you, not all lying is bad, but the countless restrictions and clauses are too much for humans to assimilate. How are you defining a ‘lie,’ by the way?”

I had to think about Odin’s question for a moment.

“I suppose a lie is a deliberate intention to mislead someone and have them believe something that is not valid or not true.”

“How does one mislead then?” Odin queried.

“By stating something verbally or in writing that is not valid or not true,” I answered.

“Very interesting,” Odin commented, “because more than half of all lies are nonverbal. Such lies are communicated with a nod of the head, a smile, or a knowing glance. The worst lies are committed in complete silence—the sin of omission. No one told a lie; they just never mentioned it.”

“Hmm,” I murmured thoughtfully. “I see what you mean...you can’t exactly accuse a person of lying because they seemed to indicate something with a knowing glance, can you?”

“Precisely. And if you accuse the guilty party of lying because the offender gave you a certain look at a certain moment, the said party will only vehemently deny it. It is virtually impossible to prove someone misled you by saying nothing. You were not lied to; you merely misunderstood,” Odin explained.

“Indeed. Such a dilemma is not easy to resolve,” I admitted. My eyebrows knitted together, and the corners of my mouth turned down in a frown.

“Now you see the cause of my dissatisfaction?” Odin looked downcast. “Mortals are constantly lying. My ban on lies is merely applied to the most overt form of lying, as you defined it. Even then, my capricious creatures are hard put to follow my instructions. And yes, you are right, some forms of lying are necessary because it would cause too much heartache to tell the truth. These are the minor lies—telling someone you liked their gift, when you really wanted just to throw it out, or telling someone they were fabulous in bed, when you were appalled at how boring it was, and so on. Many lies at the individual level are to protect people from getting hurt over both trivial and serious matters. And many people say they want to know the truth when, in fact, they want to be lied to.”

“What are you going to do about this theoretical muddle?” I inquired. My head was spinning with all the implications of what Odin had just told me.

“For now, I just issue a blanket statement, do not lie—this general mandate will have to do, for what it’s worth, since humans never listen to me anyway. The fact is, many lies are beneficial and promote self-esteem and harmonious relationships. Can you imagine always being completely frank and direct every minute of the day—telling people they look terrible, that the progress they’re making is pathetically slow, that they’re bullheaded, inconsiderate, and rude—where will this lead us, even if all of it is true? Many people become enraged if you do not endorse their self-deceptions. Much lying is merely a form of politeness,” Odin rationalized.

“But some of it is merely a matter of choosing your words correctly,” I mused. “You can tell someone they are beautiful, but today they look tired rather than terrible. Or you can say they have not yet reached the highest level of skill, but every day there are small improvements, rather than saying the progress is pathetically slow. This is telling the truth in a gentle way.”

“Ah, yes, the gentle truth,” Odin said softly and with mild exasperation. “But right now such nuance and subtlety are beyond my cherished souls-in-bodies. It is much easier just to put a ban on overt lying. Even though everyone is lying about the same issues, and if everyone knew everyone else was lying, the world would change overnight. For sure, there would be fewer romantic illusions about marriage. Marriage might be abolished if everyone stopped lying. And one must also take into account institutional lying, such as when governments lie, but that is another kettle of fish.”

“The truth is an absolute,” I told the All-Father. “And absolutes imply perfection. Humans do not deal with absolutes.”

“Exactly,” Odin agreed, “which is why they do not deal with me. I know mortals are flawed, and it is my fault they are flawed. But I wanted it that way so I could give my cherished creatures the challenge of overcoming the flaws and perhaps better understand myself as a result. But I am perfection, so how could I not have understood myself? There is the implication of flaw in the idea of a perfect being who does not understand his own perfection. Does perfection not imply a perfect understanding of everything as well, since perfection must be perfect in every conceivable way? Yes, there was a flaw, one divine flaw. In my loneliness, I sought to know myself, but I could not know myself without being contemplated by the Other. So my human creation has assuaged my lonely plight. My masterpiece, filled with ambiguities and contradictions, struggles to evolve. In my weakest moment, I discovered my finest hour—I created the universe. Cheers.”

And Odin drained still another goblet of the heavenly wine that simulated all foods, all flavors, and the most exquisite of culinary experiences.

As my thoughts dwelled on such discussions with Odin, I continued down the mountain path with Sigurd as he led Grani away from the scene of my dramatic rescue. Here on Earth, I was going to have to direct myself to my primary interest, Sigurd, who happened to be an unusually good example of human imperfection, and who, destined to be in love with two women at once, was going to have to habituate himself to telling a lot of lies.

Sigurd was anxious to go home to his fiancée, Gudrun. In Nibelungenland, where Gudrun’s father, King Giuki, reigned with his wife, Queen Grimhild, Gudrun was spending much of the day pining for Sigurd. With my telepathic inner eye, I could see Gudrun holed up in her rooms, sitting by the window of a favorite turret in the castle, where she was embroidering a large tapestry illustrating some of Sigurd’s military feats and those of his father, Sigmund. Like most cultivated women of her day and age, embroidery was a special area of expertise for Gudrun. I was also skilled at this art, but I preferred not to waste too much time with such feminine pursuits. But Gudrun was striving to be the ultimate portrait of sublime femininity, finding a hundred small ways to be true to Sigurd during his prolonged absence.

In the meantime, Sigurd and I had reached the foot of Mount Hindarfiall, where I observed him with interest knowing he was my intended. Having been banished from Asgard and made human again, Odin had decreed I would have to marry on Earth, a thought repugnant to me. As a small consolation prize, Odin had provided an addendum to the decree, advising the gods that the man who was so privileged would have to be the greatest warrior in the world, such as it was around the year 450 A.D. That man was undoubtedly Sigurd. Odin had guaranteed there could be no mistaking him since only Sigurd had the power to quell the flames surrounding me on the mountaintop.

I was admiring Sigurd’s thick head of copper red curls. Now a safe distance from the collapsed castle, with his faithful horse, Grani, somewhat soothed and under control, Sigurd in his turn took me in with a pair of keen and intelligent blue eyes. He continued to stare insistently at my breasts, and he looked positively anguished. My filmy white gown was an exact copy of what I wore all the time in Valhalla, but when translated from the realm of the ideal to the realm of the physical, the dress was slightly transparent. I had not noticed the earthly stuff was almost see-through, but Sigurd was thunderstruck by the translucent nudity. Sigurd’s naive state of lust reminded me of Odin. In a halfhearted attempt to disguise his unabashed state of desire, Sigurd had pretended to keep his eyes downcast, demurely staring at the ground as we were making our way down the mountain with Grani. But now I could not help but notice he was gawking at me with open lechery, apparently unable even to consider the prospect of closing his mouth. This irked me no end, and I confronted him.

“Enough!” I ordered. “You’re supposed to be engaged. Not to mention one does not expect such behavior from an honorable knight of good reputation, who has just rescued a damsel in distress. You’re supposed to be carrying out your divine duties as decreed by the High Priestess of the Islands of Faeroe and not indulging egotistical concerns because you perceive me to be helpless, which appeals to you in a rather unnatural way. Isn’t there some kind of knightly code of ethics being violated here? This is unseemly behavior. You are far too preoccupied with my breasts.”

Sigurd gasped, turned beet red, and finally tore his eyes away from me.

“I, uh, indeed, I apologize, my dear lady,” he offered in a lamely defensive way. “You’re not what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?” I demanded.

“I’m not sure. For a moment there, with the armor to confuse me, I was afraid you were going to turn out to be a man. It quickly became apparent you were a woman, after all, but I was expecting a goddess, presumably with superhuman strength,” Sigurd clarified, still apologetic. “At least, this is what the High Priestess over at the islands implied.”

“I am Brynhild, daughter of King Budli,” I said curtly, not wanting to delve too deeply into my true origins and determined to establish the human identity Odin had set up for me. “I’m a good athlete, but superhuman is a relative term. Compared to the average woman of this day and age, I suppose my strength is superhuman, if you want to exaggerate a little.”

“I see,” Sigurd replied, having now fully recovered his composure. “Are you a goddess?”

“I’m the daughter of King Budli of Iceland,” I repeated. “How I ended up on the mountaintop is a mystery for the gods to ponder. This is all you need to know for now.”

“Of course,” Sigurd replied. With downcast eyes, the son of Sigmund bowed before me, and he indicated his obsequiousness with the elaborate gesture of the hand ending in a flourish. He was now the perfect picture of courtly politeness. Removing his cloak, he gently wrapped the warm garment around my shoulders to protect me from the spring chill and to cover me up. When Sigurd put his mind to it, he could exhibit a gracious charm, an impeccable show of good manners and courtly consideration of which only a knight from antiquity was capable. His behavior at such times was perfect, and from a woman’s point of view, quite disarming.

We continued along on our walk. When Grani had completely recovered from his scare, Sigurd mounted him, pausing to help me climb on the animal’s back in order to sit behind my infatuated knight with my arms around his waist. Thus, with Fafnir’s treasure packed in side bags, we began the journey that would take me back to Iceland and reunite me with my earthly father, the kind and aged King Budli. During the land journey, we stopped at waterfalls to refresh ourselves.

Sigurd had packed away on Grani’s sturdy back enough provisions to last the trip. We nourished ourselves with smoked fish and dried fruit. We harvested wild berries and other fruits, when we could find them. We dined on edible flowers and mushrooms. Certain insects we were able to cook over an open fire and devour as if they were delicacies. And an even rarer treat, Sigurd would occasionally catch freshwater fish in a pond or a lake, where we would stop to bathe or relax. Sigurd had no lust for the hunt. The shadows and the blood of Glittering Heath, where both Fafnir and Regin lay dead, still left Sigurd sweating in terror during the night when he awoke from troubled dreams. We slept on thin, course mats, which had been tightly rolled up and faithfully transported by Sigurd’s tireless beast of burden, Grani.

Legend has it I imparted great wisdom to Sigurd during this journey. Knowing in his heart I really was a goddess, for indeed the High Priestess had told him so, and Sigurd had seen bizarre events with his own eyes on the mountaintop, Sigurd sought to avail himself of all the sagacity and good counsel he could. So he asked me to edify him with my pearls of knowledge. According to the myth, I sounded positively preachy. The story claims I told Sigurd to be kind to his friends but not to tolerate any disloyal words or treacherous acts. I supposedly told him to beware of the hidden evil in the most innocuous situations, such as a seemingly harmless flirtation in May or the alluring eyes of another man’s wife. I allegedly said, “For oft thereof doth great calamity befall the mightiest of men!”

I was also presumed to have told my chosen knight to be careful at public meetings in the marketplace, where angry men say the stupidest things without mindfully considering their words. My advice was to remain silent unless, of course, someone called my illustrious cavalier a dastard, in which case I advised that Sigurd speak up and protest in a mild-mannered fashion; he should then wait for a more opportune time on another day to slay the brute who made him look bad in public. I allegedly told Sigurd to be very careful when passing through areas known to be dangerous, and when traveling, never to spend the night sleeping too close to the highway, since this was only asking for trouble.

My favorite little story is that I supposedly told Sigurd not to be beguiled by fair women and not to obsess with a woman in a way that might rob him of sleep or peace of mind. “Indulge them not with kisses, hugs, or other sweet things and words of love,” I was to have said. (This was obviously untrue, and in any event, it was certainly not a piece of advice Sigurd ever heeded.) According to the myth, I warned Sigurd against fighting with drunkards, told him never to break a promise of marriage, and not to raise a child whose father or brother he had slain, no matter how young the child for “very often a wolf is hidden in the youngling.”

To this great and knowledgeable tirade, Sigurd was to have replied, “None can be found in heaven or on earth who is as wise and as sagacious as you, Brynhild; therefore, I must have thee at my side as my beloved and my wedded wife for all of time.”

All of this was pure nonsense. I never made such pompous pronouncements, but coincidentally, all these homilies happened to reflect the prevailing wisdom of the age. Morality imposed extensive restrictions, and most of the restrictions applied exclusively to women. But Sigurd did not want me to preach foolish words of dubious wisdom; he wanted desperately to demonstrate he was not a typical murderous cad who happened to have been born during the dark ages.

Thus, our talk turned to Greek philosophy. Sigurd was a bit of an odd man out in this respect, since the Greek tradition of philosophy and art was generally unknown to Scandinavia at this time. My knightly companion was particularly enamored of Plato’s cosmology and theory of ideas, which he wanted to discuss with me at length. This proved to be more trying than it should have been since Sigurd’s knowledge was often superficial and dilettantish. Because Sigurd was an acclaimed and fearful warrior, too many people pandered to this prominent knight, and they made him think he was exceptional in areas where he was not. But even when Sigurd was being mediocre, he was well above the average person of his civilization, such as it was.

Sigurd was keen on Plato’s ontology, and he insisted on arguing about it. He pointed to a raven in the sky, asking, “How do you know such a creature is a raven?”

“Because it looks like a raven?” I attempted halfheartedly.

“Yes, but it’s just a reflection of a raven. It’s a good imitation of the ideal raven that must reside somewhere in heaven. Somewhere in heaven is a perfect form of a raven, and the physical ravens in this world are only participating in the heavenly form, portraying at best a weak reflection of it.”

“Hmm. An interesting theory,” I muttered, thinking about Odin’s two pet ravens who always sat on either side of the throne, Hugin and Munin, which translates roughly as Thought and Memory. Thought and memory were the two most divine aspects of physical incarnation. It was through thought Odin spoke to all earthlings. The All-Father planted thoughts in the heads of humans, and as a result, they experienced the phenomenon of thought as something arising in their minds of its own accord. Most humans heard their thoughts as having the sound of their own voices, and true, some thoughts belonged to the individual, but others belonged to Odin.

Thought, however, was only one of the two divine ravens and only half of the divinity in every human. The other half was Memory. Memory was the most sacred gift Odin gave to humans. Humans experienced this gift mostly as poignant memories acquired within the context of one lifetime. Humans mistakenly thought their memories could only take them back to the day they were born, if even that, since no one could remember back that far. Odin meant for humans to cherish the memories accumulated within a lifetime.

But the challenge Odin gave physical beings was to try to remember what they had known before they were born since, as always, every soul received the gift, or perhaps the burden, of amnesia before re-entering physical reality. Unfortunately, this was the biggest pitfall from a purely human point of view. The average earthling did not even try to remember what had happened before birth. Humans were so sure the physical body embraced both the beginning and the end of a lifetime that they could not believe there was anything to remember outside the limitations of the present life.

Thus, mortals experienced only the vaguest and haziest recollections, a minute fraction of the soul’s wealth of knowledge and wisdom. And even when it came to the dimmest prenatal memories, humans were mistrustful. They questioned the source and the nature of such a priori knowledge, examining every aspect of the soul’s acquired knowledge and doubting the very linguistic structures devised to describe it. Thus, philosophy was born. And what a fine mess the philosophers made of it. Countless tomes were written with such arrogance and opaqueness that such texts were barely intelligible to the average human. Odin did not make out well with the philosophers. Unable to prove the existence of the All-Father with either logic or mathematical proofs, the philosophers often dismissed Odin out of hand. In this manner, atheism spread like wildfire.

Plato, among others, had suspected the truth, but the Platonic truth was perceived by posterity as being rather quaint and idiosyncratic. Plato knew the soul had beheld all the great truths of the universe before becoming incarnated, but the trauma of birth had caused some kind of amnesia to set in. This renowned philosopher observed that humans spent a lifetime pursuing the senseless task of remembering what they already knew. The search for knowledge was therefore merely the difficult process of retrieving one’s memory. Plato said all knowledge was recollection. He was right. And no one believed him even though countless scholars became experts on the interpretation of Plato. Not only did no one believe Plato, but very few individuals even tried to remember what they already knew.

“Do you believe the ideal raven resides in heaven?” Sigurd interrupted my reverie.

“Ah, yes, perhaps. I think you might have an interesting theory there,” I replied with a slightly patronizing tone.

“So what we are seeing is an imitation of beauty, just a fraction of the perfection the gods gaze upon in the heavens. The absolute form for the ideal raven must be a thousand times more beautiful than what we are looking at right now. The perfect raven must dazzle the eyes and delight the mind with its sublime form, color, and texture. That which we call an earthly raven is just a poor copy—fuzzy, vague, indistinct, but still worthy of awe, for even that which only imitates the divine is still participating in the perfection of divinity.”

“Yes, but let us not exaggerate,” I cautioned. “The raven you’ve sighted might be closer to the ideal than you think.” I did not want to tell him that although Odin’s two pet ravens were handsome enough, there was not a remarkable difference between them and what I was seeing on Earth.

“What do you call him?” Sigurd asked out of the blue.

“What do I call whom?” I returned.

“The All-Father,” Sigurd answered.

“What makes you think I have a pet name for him?” I replied, my voice becoming a little edgy.

“Do not misunderstand me, dear lady. You’re a goddess, and you must have a special rapport with the All-Father. So what do you call him? Odin, Wuoton, or Woden? Or is there another name I don’t know about?”

“I would call him Odin, but what makes you so sure I’m a goddess?” I inquired.

“Oh, please, my dear and exquisite Brynhild, you did not just wander up to the top of the mountain and lose yourself up there. I saw miracles that defied all rationality. From a great distance, I saw magnificent lightning bolts, which struck out of nowhere with no storm cloud in sight, then a ring of fire, which miraculously died away when I approached, and a castle, which simply materialized before crumbling to dust before my very eyes. Even the High Priestess told me Odin had evicted a goddess, and I was the only one who could bring her back to life. So don’t be so coy about it. Did you think you were going to keep it a secret?” Sigurd confronted me boldly.

“Indeed, no, not at all. But on the other hand, there is certainly no reason to shout it from the mountain peaks and attract a lot of unwanted attention, now, is there?” I retorted. “Besides, under normal circumstances, I shouldn’t even remember I’m a goddess. It’s not my fault—there was a malfunction.”

“A malfunction?” parroted Sigurd.

“Yes, a defect, a flaw, something was not working the way it was supposed to,” I stammered with an embarrassing inarticulateness.

“And what was that?” Sigurd asked with curiosity.

“Odin’s thorn of sleep,” I replied.

“Odin’s what?”

“His thorn of sleep,” I repeated. “The amnesia rays. When a soul reincarnates on Earth, Odin stings it with the thorn of sleep—in truth, it’s just the index finger of his right hand, and the newly born individual is hit with a lightning bolt obliterating all memories of previous existence in Asgard and any prior physical existence. Odin made an adjustment for me in order to induce only partial amnesia, but he somehow misestimated. I remember everything.”

“For the love of Thor. That sounds outlandish. How long does the amnesia last?” Sigurd wanted to know.

“For the course of one entire lifetime.” My reply was terse and matter-of-fact.

“What?” Sigurd exclaimed in disbelief. “What a shocking waste of all knowledge and experience, hard won in previous lifetimes, lessons learned at the point of death in some cases! This means you never quite remember who and what you were before the present lifetime.”

“Exactly. Alas, it’s more difficult to understand than that.” I sighed deeply because this lecture did not sit well with humans. “You can remember who and what you were in previous lifetimes, as well as recollecting some of the eternal wisdom at your disposal when you resided in Asgard and dwelt with the gods, but only with the greatest effort. You have to have the most sincere faith in a realm you can neither see, hear, feel, nor touch. You have to believe in a realm existing only in the murky mists of your unconscious mind. This realm makes its presence known to you in dreams, fleeting wisps of intuition, and wayward thoughts planted by Odin himself. But if you don’t struggle to recognize these hints, if you don’t recognize the voice of Odin, or if you recognize Odin’s voice but don’t listen, you will remain in your blessed state of forgetfulness until the day you die.”

“That sounds like a fate worse than death,” Sigurd commented soberly.

“Yes, but it’s good for a laugh or two when you are watching humans from Odin’s amphitheater in Asgard,” I noted wryly.

“Why? What exactly is the source of the merriment? Is it not pathetic, tragic, and a travesty of human life?” Sigurd was serious about his concern. I tried not to smile.

“Oh, you know, everybody stumbling around, bumping into each other, and not recognizing each other. After a while, it starts to look like a brothel patronized by drunkards,” I said dryly.

“And such scenarios amuse you?” Sigurd’s implicit disapproval was irritating me.

“Never mind,” I said, disregarding his reproachful air. “I think we’ve rested enough. Let’s saddle up Grani. My father, King Budli, awaits me.”

And Sigurd and I rode for several more hours before letting Grani rest and drink at a freshwater lake. Sigurd napped along the banks of the lake, and I lazily sat on a large rock, dipping my feet into the cool water. Tiny waves lapped around the sandy ledge, and I amused myself by skipping an occasional stone on the water and watching the concentric circles expand in perfect geometrical form. The concentric circles of the rippling water—the metaphor most often used by Odin to describe the effect all gods and humans have on others. Even the tiniest good deeds expand to reach countless others, most of whom we are completely unaware. The same was true of even the smallest evils. Odin never tired of the ripple analogy.

The lake mesmerized me, but I was not pleased with the rippling circles of water, which had reminded me once again of Odin’s presence and the former life I led in Asgard, and most particularly, my role at Valhalla. My old apartments in the residence of the gods, my duties as head Valkyrie, and the constant lovemaking and bickering with Odin—all of that was now at an end. I was stuck in the physical realm on Earth, one of the more primitive places in the universe, but the one Odin doted on and fretted about more so than any other.

Odin had punished me with this harsh sentence, but it was also an honor. These humans needed a tremendous amount of assistance; I was supposed to give them a celestial nudge to help redirect them from the current destructive path they pursued with such ardor and determination. Odin had faith in me. He also wanted to rid himself of me for about forty earth-years or so. Our liaison had become ever so complicated, and Frigg had grown so hysterical about it, even Odin could no longer maintain his godly serenity about this involvement. The All-Father seriously needed a break from the melodrama.

The thought of Odin subdued me. He was my mentor, my friend, my lover, my brother, and my priest. Odin was the center of the universe. I loved him, and through him I was eternally in the process of evolving into something even higher and more perfect than I had ever imagined. Under Odin’s watchful eye, I was constantly changing. Not just from year to year, but from day to day and hour to hour, to put it in terms of the physical world. My gaze roamed over the landscape and rested on Sigurd, who lay sleeping in his armor and his boots. In my earthly form, I was supposed to find Sigurd irresistible. And I did feel an attraction, one which made no sense to me. He had an odd charm about him.

Sigurd was not conventionally handsome. But there was something oddly appealing about him, especially when observing the son of Sigmund closely. There was an agility, a graceful step, which came to him naturally. Sigurd’s crooked smile was boyish and naive, and his bad posture was noticeable, but his mind was sharp, and his body was rugged. I felt the physical attraction I had been destined to feel, but unfortunately, there was the problem of my memory having been fully retained. I still had all my old feelings for Odin, and comparisons were inevitable. How could any mortal compare with Odin? But on the other hand, I was now embodied in my physical form, and Odin, unless he chose to descend, was of a completely different form not comprehensible when one inhabited a human body. Sigurd’s physical presence was gradually making inroads. I was feeling closer to him; I was developing a very human affection.

Sigurd’s eyelids fluttered, and he awoke. Remembering where he was, he immediately lifted his head in alarm and looked around for me. I waved and smiled from my vantage point on the rock, and he looked relieved. It was time to move on. We loaded up our provisions and mounted Grani once again. Thus, we continued as we headed for the coast, and finally, after two days we found Sigurd’s ship nicely hidden in a secluded cove. The crew Sigurd left behind had waited patiently for their captain to return. These hardy sailors were saddened at the news of Regin’s death, and all had to be consoled. They gazed with wonder at the large sacks nearly bursting with the precious objects Sigurd had retrieved from Fafnir’s lair. We unloaded the goods and boarded without further delay, and soon we struck sail and headed out to open sea for Iceland.

This comforted me marvelous much. At last, I was going home.

Chapter 6: Family Reunion

King Budli was a continual source of astonishment for me. At the age of eighty, this beloved patriarch had retained much of the handsomeness of his youth. His dark hair had long since turned white, but his gray eyes pierced another’s in an eaglelike fashion demonstrating their keen vivacity. As a warrior, the reigning monarch had enjoyed an illustrious history, and he had proved his valor in battle many times over. Odin had rooted for Budli countless times. It was one of Odin’s favorite scenarios—the handsome young warrior who was courageous, strong, and passionate.

Too many times, such beautiful young men met their heroic death on the bloodiest of battlefields. And, inevitably, there would follow the ocean of tears shed in their memories. The bards took up the baleful song time and again. This was the sentimental ballad of the fallen hero, a ballad cherished by Odin, who had a predilection for such romantic narrative. But on occasion Odin tired of the repetitive lament, and he would change the script regarding some individual chronicles to give such a woeful tale a different ending. Now the headstrong youth filled with spirit and skill at war, instead of meeting an early and tragic death, lives a long and fruitful life. This warrior ages, his hair turns gray, his children grow up and have children of their own, and he becomes gentle and kind with the passage of the decades. The murderous ferociousness of youth becomes but a low flicker in the enduring flame of a long life.

My earthly father, King Budli, had re-established a life for himself back in his kingdom. Budli’s warrior days had ended when he turned fifty-five; at first, he felt lost, restless, and at odds with himself. But slowly, over the passing years, the kind ruler found a mission to be conducted in peacetime. Budli looked after his kingdom, and he became the wisest and most just leader known to Scandinavian civilization. The white-haired king collected taxes not to fill his own coffers, but to provide food, clothing, and shelter to the sick, the aged, and the orphaned of his kingdom. Budli provided free education so that all citizens could learn to read and write. The king took popular votes on critical issues. The realm started to take on the resemblance of a democracy. Budli had been married and widowed twice, and he had fathered six children. All the royal offspring were married and successful.

“I have extinguished the aggressive fires of my soul,” Budli told his trusted counselors. “War no longer appeals to me. Now I only want peace and security for the subjects of my kingdom.”

The sons of King Budli were the noblest knights in the land, with the exception of one putative son—Atli of Hunaland, also known as Attila the Hun, who was disturbingly rumored to be related to Budli. How such a gentle king could have fathered a lunatic barbarian was a source of eternal agony for Budli, as he sought to understand the divine plan for this improbable occurrence. It was said Budli had fathered Atli accidentally, in his heyday, after a victorious battle when, overwhelmed with wine and the passion of song and dance, the king had bedded down with an exotic-looking Mongolian woman. The Asian hetaera allegedly gave birth back in her native land and raised her son to be wild and hedonistic, always quick to tell others the child was the true son of an Icelandic king.

“It is a constant bane of my existence to hear the rumors that I have fathered this monstrous invader,” Budli often lamented. And there I was, now purported to be the daughter of Budli, and perhaps half sister to the crazed and raging Atli.

But Budli did not know of my existence, and Odin had to alter Budli’s consciousness and memory to make the king aware of me. To prepare for my arrival, Odin had whispered a fictitious story to Budli one afternoon as the venerable king napped soundly in the garden. Odin told Budli in a dream how the king had once fallen in love with a beautiful young girl named Gwendyl, a maid whose meager living was to make artificial flowers out of silks and other fabrics. In the dream, walking down the garden path one day, Budli had stumbled across the lovely waif as she made her way home, and he was captivated by her at once.

Having just been widowed, the good king was deeply affected by the girl’s appeal, and he could not turn his back on Gwendyl’s youthful charms and virginal beauty. After speaking to her and sharing his walk with her, the dream continued, Budli took Gwendyl to a small guesthouse on the castle grounds where, acting upon impulse, the king surrendered to her innocent allure. The dream told Budli the brief affair was very intense and lasted but a few months. It broke the king’s heart to end this intimate association, but duty demanded Budli find a mature woman to reign at his side. He sent the young Gwendyl to Denmark, where she was given a free education backed by Budli’s funding and generosity, and she became a skilled and prosperous artist.

Unknown to the king, the dream narrative went on, the lovely damsel gave birth six months after she was banished from Budli’s presence. Vague rumors from a messenger passing through the region told of a beautiful child-princess, who had been fathered by a noble king and whose mother was an artist. Budli had always suspected, the dream told him, the story was about him and Gwendyl, and the child in question was his own. The princess had grown up to be a great beauty, a scholar, and an athlete with many talents. In time the mother of the child died, and the daughter ventured into the world, where she earned a living as a nurse who tended to wounded soldiers. Eventually Budli’s daughter decided to enter into the service of Odin as a teacher and nurse at a religious cloister. Having made her way to a secluded monastery located on a mountaintop, the daughter was found there by Sigurd, who knew her true parentage, having been told by the High Priestess of Faeroe, and the well-known knight had come to restore the princess to her true station in life. At the end of the king’s dream, the child, now a grown woman in her mid-thirties, was revealed to be Princess Brynhild, who was returning to Iceland to find her true father, King Budli.

Budli awoke from his nap believing Odin’s fictitious tale to be true. The dream became implanted in the king’s consciousness as if it had really happened. He arose and ran to the royal kitchen. “My long lost daughter will be arriving shortly!” he yelled to the mystified cooks. “We must begin preparing a great feast in her honor.”

The royal monarch was now waiting with trepidation for the arrival of a daughter he had never met, sincerely believing in a reality quite literally dreamed up by Odin. A mortal often could not tell the difference between physical reality and the dreamlike reality of the soul. How many times has the question been asked, “Did I dream that or did it really happen?” The ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu once dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke he realized he was Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly, but was it not possible that in his true waking state, he was a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu? This was called the transformation of things by the Chinese philosopher, and such transformations were, indeed, engineered by Odin.

After reaching the coast of Iceland and docking the ship, Sigurd and I disembarked. We could see Budli’s castle shimmering in the distance. Nestled in the Icelandic hills and seemingly lit up with the spectral rays of the crepuscular sky, the mythical realm of Budli almost reminded me of the beauty of Asgard, my heavenly home. But nothing on Earth could compare to Odin’s heavenly abode. The richest king lived in poverty when contrasted to the magnificence of Odin’s infinite labyrinth of halls and palaces gleaming in the celestial realm of the highest of all the heavens. Odin’s architectural structures glistened like rubies, emeralds, and crystals. The divine bluish-white light bathing every building and every room in Asgard was the most magnificent translucence I had ever seen.

The lights of Asgard were magic. Everything in Odin’s realm was pure magic.

And Earth had just a fraction of this magic, even though Odin had meant for Earth to be a paradise and to be the physical materialization of heaven. But the evil and the negativity emanating in such strong doses from every human being had almost succeeded in turning the planet into a hellish cauldron. Indeed, as Odin always lamented, it was as if his cherished creatures were trying to kill him. Yet the All-Father tried not to intervene; he would not intervene. Such was the strength of Odin’s conviction. Such was the tenacity of Odin’s promise to grant free will to every creature on Earth. Even if earthlings were trying to kill him, Odin would willingly die for them. Such was the true nature of divine love. Odin could never turn against his own masterpiece. The Father of the Gods would have rather destroyed himself.

Sigurd and I made our way up the winding path to the castle drawbridge, followed by our entourage. The sentinel had already announced the arrival of Sigurd’s ship to Budli. The majestic leader awaited us on the other side of the moat. I felt a surge of human pride at the sight of my earthly father in full royal regalia and mounted on his best Arabian horse. There I was, only a putative daughter at best, but the beloved, white-headed king of Noachian stature was welcoming me to his home, as if I were a favorite child whom he had cherished all his life. Budli was radiating genuine fondness and sentiment as he watched our horse cross the drawbridge, and when those intelligent gray eyes met mine, they glistened with tears. “Greetings, Brynhild,” Budli spoke, his voice cracking with emotion. “I have been expecting you. Welcome home.”

“Thank you, dear father," I replied softly as Sigurd and I dismounted.

My kind and dear father watched every move Sigurd made with fierce interest. Budli knew well who Sigurd was, and the idea of having Sigurd for a son-in-law appealed to him mightily. After the king dismounted, he embraced me, and with our arms entwined about each other’s waists, we wended our way through the courtyard while Sigurd followed behind us with Grani.

“I apologize, my dear daughter,” Budli began, “for it took too long for us to be reunited. I had heard only the faintest rumors of your existence, and I did not know for sure if such rumors could be heeded. But there came a mysterious communication from a messenger telling of an impoverished princess who was the daughter of Gwendyl, the artist, and fathered by a warrior-king, who knew her not. How could I then continue to deceive myself? I knew the rumors had to be true, and my daughter needed me. May Odin forgive me for my neglect and my ignorance.”

“Fear not, dear father, for Odin forgives you. Believe me when I tell you it was not your fault.”
It was a ruse, which had to be preserved. Odin demanded it.

The patriarchal king proceeded to give us a tour of his imposing palace, and I was shown to my rooms, a huge apartment with its own turret. Sigurd was given quarters in another wing of the castle. Sigurd was exhausted from his long journey, which had included the attack on Lygni’s castle, the deadly struggle with Fafnir, and the lonely trip to Mount Hindarfiall followed by our voyage to Iceland. Sigurd’s nerves were frayed, and he needed rest and repose. My rescuer agreed to stay with us for a while to recover his strength. After being shown to his room, Sigurd removed his armor, bathed, and collapsed on the soft bed with its clean, silky linen. In no time at all, the son of Sigmund had fallen into the arms of the gods and goddesses who protect those who sleep.

I retreated to my rooms, where my new lady-in-waiting poured a bath for me. My servant had collected the most fragrant herbs and blossoms from Budli’s gardens. These were placed in a large wicker basket on the table alongside my bed. The delicate aromas of the bouquet and the warm water doused with healing salts relaxed me, and I sank into a deep reverie that included thoughts of both Sigurd and Odin. A hint of a breeze rustled the white lace curtains hanging in front of the ornately sculptured windows. The spring air still had enough of a chill to be invigorating. I did not mind the briskness; it was good to air out the rooms. I longed for Odin, but I was already falling in love with Sigurd. The spiritual love and the earthly love—diametrically opposed, yet not necessarily in contradiction to each other. One did not exclude the other, but it was disturbing to synthesize the two of them into the psyche of one very complicated woman, who happened to be a goddess.

I, too, was wearied and spent from the long journey to reunite with my earthly father. After the relaxing bath, I lay down on the rich tapestry of the divan in my bedchamber. My eyelids began to close slowly as the heaviness of sleep forced itself upon me, and I was conscious of drifting in and out of my thoughts. And just at the moment when sleep overtakes, it happened. I became aware of a blue-white ball of light shimmering in my room. It was so luminous that it blocked out the sun, and the glorious day reigning outside the castle walls looked dark and ominous in comparison to the light streaming into my room.

I was too drained of my best energies to react. My limbs would not obey me; I could not move. With eyelids only half open, I saw him there, watching me with an expression of the most exquisite love. It was Odin, just as he had looked when I last saw him in Asgard. He was so gloriously splendid to the eye, with his dark tresses lying in ringlets on his shoulders and his translucent blue eyes filled with gentleness and understanding. I tried to smile back, but my mouth muscles were too exhausted to move. I could not keep my eyes open. In my heart I called out the All-Father’s name, just before I was catapulted into the depths of a sound sleep.

I was loath to relinquish this precious vision of Odin, but it was Odin himself who had forced the drowsiness upon my fatigued mind, despite my resistance. He knew I longed to commune with him, but he would not allow it. The All-Father was not ready to commune with me. I dreamed of Odin and Valhalla all night. Within the illogical framework of the dream, I saw myself wandering around in the labyrinth of hallways. I argued with Odin about nonsensical subjects using logic that was pure drivel. I spoke gibberish with strangers. I walked into familiar rooms where suddenly the ceiling rose to an infinite height, and I stood dwarfed in the midst of an unearthly space. I lost Odin in my dream and searched for him everywhere. He could not be found.

I pounded on Odin’s door, and he would not answer. You know why you’re there, Brynhild, the familiar tones berated me with the air of a stern father. Odin’s voice echoed strangely, and I could not tell from whence it came. I ran down elaborate mazes of corridors, which seemingly had no end. I turned in confusion to talk to strangers, who passed me by unseeingly. The strange entities were in a daze, sleepwalkers going about mundane business, which they thought was of the utmost importance. My quest for Odin was urgent, yet I could not be heard. The beings who populated my dream world babbled at each other, thinking they were making sense. These strangers stared straight ahead and moved from one insignificant spot to another. They never made any progress, and they never arrived at any true understanding. They were lost. My dream was, indeed, a nightmare.

When I awoke, shafts of flaxen sunshine were streaming through the open windows. The perfume of the spring lilacs wafted gently into the room. The birds resonated clear and sharp in the crispness of the morning air. My lady-in-waiting was bustling about, sweeping the planked wooden floor, beating the dust out of velvet cushions, and rearranging freshly cut blossoms.

“G’mornin,’ my lady.” She curtsied briefly but did not presume to converse with me. Just as well, for I was not fit for any kind of society, not even that of a servant. A glance in the mirror told the story of my difficult night—dark half-moons under my eyes and pronounced lines around my mouth. I looked as though I had not slept at all. I was not at peace with Odin’s decision to banish me to this unsophisticated wasteland, where he intended to leave me for the course of a human lifetime. I was still fighting with him. My rebellious nature was unaffected by my fall from favor.

I desperately wanted to argue with Odin.

But my desires were naught. No one could argue with Odin. In his infinite wisdom, Odin knew what was best for the cosmos, even at those moments when he stumbled. The All-Father would say, of course, he never stumbled but was simply imitating his favorite creatures. “Merely,” he would declare with a sniff, “to see what all the tomfoolery feels like. They make such a din over every minute obstacle—sometimes you have to wonder.”

Still, if anyone called upon Odin, he often could not resist. The Father of the Gods was a sentimental, old fool, even though very often the poor earthlings did not recognize a gift from the gods when it was sitting right under their noses, having very nearly been delivered by Odin himself. Upon a sincere request from humans embroiled in great difficulties, Odin often intervened in spite of himself, even if such divine intervention was not always immediate. I only had to think of how many times I stumbled upon Odin in his chambers with his hands clasped over his ears, trying to drown out the cries of despair coming from Earth. “Will you not do something?” I would ask.

“I have,” he would say, “but it takes a little while for my decree and the human experience to catch up with each other. There is always a small time lapse.”

Time was Odin’s greatest area of confusion. He created a linear sense of time for earthlings because only heavenly deities could bear the blurry timelessness of present, past, and future mixed up together. The human brain was not equipped for Odin’s experience of eternity. Even in Asgard, sometimes the gods and goddesses milled around the vast salons a little bit bewildered about the temporal state they were in. So when Odin intervened, which happened more often than he cared to admit, humans did not experience the intervention instantaneously. When humans did receive instant assistance from above, the chain of events would unfurl like lightning and straight away be pronounced a miracle. So to integrate Odin’s helping hand into the logical order of things, there had to be cause and effect, action and consequence. Everything would be set right again, whatever the crisis, but it always took a little time.

But I was trying not to think about Odin. I had been temporarily relieved of all my celestial responsibilities. I was no longer the head of the Valkyries, nor was I Odin’s lover. I had been exiled to this place, one of the most elemental and uncultivated spheres in Odin’s universe, where I was to exert my influence and hopefully change the course of a primitive history. I had to ease these human souls along in their spiritual evolution, which was a daunting task, to say the least. My dear father had organized a great feast to be held in the castle that evening in honor of my arrival. Budli was trying hard to make up the lost time to me. I felt sorry for the dear king, for indeed, the whole story of my relation to him was a fiction Odin had necessitated in order to find me a proper home in my human incarnation. I was living in regal splendor here on Earth, but compared to my chambers at Asgard, I was tolerating circumstances of a barren and miserable nature.

In the closets of my rooms in Budli’s palace, I retrieved exquisite gowns for every kind of royal event. My father had thought of everything. These magnificent dresses had been made by the finest tailors in the land. Not knowing my size was at first a bit of a problem, until the correct measurements were whispered in the ears of the dressmakers by Odin’s pet ravens, Hugin and Munin. The tailors fashioned everything to fit me perfectly, knowing not where the inspiration had come from.

I sighed as I laid these fabulous creations of silk and taffeta out on the bed before me. I was perfectly content to wear my simple white gown every day. The human preoccupation with protocol and dress was just another sign of how primitive existence was on this planet. Ironically, humans thought the more complicated the protocol and the more elaborate the dress, the more sophisticated such manners and customs were. It was really just the opposite. Hiding behind elaborate costumes to denote what role they were playing and acting out little ceremonial rites were merely ways to avoid being natural, honest, and unaffected. Truly enlightened beings wore the minimal amount of clothing needed to protect their sensitive skin. It almost overwhelmed me to realize just how little progress civilization had made on Earth over the millennia. To a certain extent, humans had actually lost some of the intuitive wisdom that had been theirs from the earliest days.

Nevertheless, I donned one of the plainer dresses I assumed was meant for daily activity, such as pleasant walks in the garden. I dismissed my lady-in-waiting for the day, for her state of servitude irritated me. There was no such thing as a servant in Asgard. I took to the garden paths and the fields beyond the castle walls. Sigurd was in another wing of the castle, and I did not know if he had arisen yet. The problem of Sigurd’s engagement to Gudrun was still very much on my mind. But I breathed in the fragrant waves of wildflowers in the field, and I took heart. Had not Odin appeared to me the previous night, just before I had fallen into the deepest, most refreshing sleep? Surely, the All-Father had been trying to tell me something with his electrifying presence. If Odin was with me, then truly there was nothing to worry about. I was reminded of Odin’s words concerning human worries, which replayed themselves in my head.

“When mortals worry, it is a form of idolatry,” he once confessed to me.

“How is that?” I wondered.

“Because it means no one believes I am present every moment or that I am involved in every event, every detail, which affects them in every way. Humans think they are the gods of the earth, the masters of the universe, and that they control everything. This produces an anxiety so severe, it can kill them.”

“I see,” I said thoughtfully, “although you have to admit, Sire, when you observe some of the earthly events going on, and considering you profess your involvement down to the most minute detail, surely you must be aware there is some cause for anxiety. Who would suspect that a loving god was behind it all?”

“My flawed creatures have to have faith,” Odin returned solemnly. “And they have to assist by willing the paradisiacal vision to materialize. This is the most contentious area of concern. Humans have to help me. They are not helping me.”

And it was not easy to refute that godly perception.

Clarise Samuels

Clarise Samuels

Clarise Samuels is a Canadian author, originally from New Jersey, and she presently resides in Montreal with her husband and two children. She has a Rutgers PhD in German literature, and her book on the Holocaust poetry of Paul Celan, based on her doctoral dissertation, can be found in major university libraries. Her poetry collection, Fairy Tales for the Bourgeoisie, received praise from Books in Canada. She has published a slew of short stories, two of which have been anthologized. Loving Brynhild is her debut novel. When she is not writing, Clarise is an active patient advocate who enjoys doing art work, crocheting, and taking care of her family and her dog.
Clarise Samuels

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