~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~
Alin and the Rainbow Bridge
In the time of the beginning, when the realms were first being formed, it was decided that a connection needed to be made between the land of Midgard and the land of Asgard. The Aesir could travel without the need of such bridges, but the various races of Vanir could not without direct help from the gods.
Odin first created a bridge of wood, but the heat of the sun soon set it ablaze. Next he made a bridge of stone, but he could not hide it from the giants and trolls of Utgard because they could see the shadow it cast across the lands. In his haste to prevent an invasion, Odin smashed the bridge to bits. To this day, small pebbles of that bridge still occasionally streak across the sky as they fall to Earth. And so he sat one day at the Well of Urd. And he thought. And he grumbled. And he was rather unpleasant.
Eventually, Freya also came down to the Well and noticed Odin's distemper. "What's wrong, now?" she sighed.
Now Odin was proud, but he was also frustrated, and so he explained his problem and what he was trying to accomplish. And Freya listened. And she thought. And she had an idea.
"I think I may have a way to do this, but what will you give me if it works?" and she smiled sweetly.
Odin glowered. "You may have any amount of gold you want if this works."
Freya smiled and shook her head. "No, such an idea cannot be bought in gold," she said.
"Then you wish a larger hall for your maidens?" Odin asked.
"My fair Sessrumnir is quite adequate for my purposes," she replied demurely.
"Then name your price, as I cannot be without this thing!" Odin began to become angry.
Freya paused a moment to gather herself and then spoke proudly. "For every two battle-slain that walks this bridge, one may enter Valhalla to serve you, but one must come to my hall and ever-after serve me." Odin was shocked at the price. Only then did he notice the intensity in Freya's eyes. He began to protest but stopped himself, resignedly. What could he do? "Half is better than none," he nodded begrudgingly, "If you can create a bridge that does not cast a shadow and bears the foot of all we allow, then you may have half of the warrior-dead."
Before he could change his mind, Freya turned into a bird and flew to Midgard. She flew from land to land and town to town until she found a woman who was known by all in the lands she lived as the best weaver of all. Freya flew into her window and alighted upon her loom before once more becoming her true form.
"What is your name, woman?" Freya intoned.
The woman's eyes widened in fear. "Alin," was all she could muster and she cast her gaze away, as she realized she was looking upon a god.
Freya gently took the woman's face into her hands and met her gaze once more. "I have a task for you, one that you cannot fail. I need you to weave a bridge into existence. You may use anything you need, but it must be able to carry the weight of a man's spirit, the footfall of the Aelf, and the bounty of the Dwarves. It must be able to be hidden, but can be called upon at any time by those allowed to cross. Can you weave me such a bridge?"
Alin considered the task before her, and was hesitant to accept such a commission. But at length, her pride swelled and she returned her focus to Freya's eyes and nodded. "Yes, my Queen, I can do this thing."
In a flash, the two were flying back to Asgard. Freya alighted in the tree Yggdrasil above Odin's head with Alin beside. "I have your answer," Freya said boldly, "but we need resources."
"What is it you need?" asked the One-eye. Freya looked to Alin expectantly.
"I need the clouds to be my weft," she began. Odin commanded them forth. Long wisps of clouds drew in in perfect alignment.
"I need the sky as a foundation of my warp, upon which all shall rest." Odin waved his hand and the sky was tangible to Alin, available for the taking, and she quickly laid the lines of blue.
"I shall need three hairs from your beard, mighty Odin, for strength and security of the top of the warp." Odin's eyes flared at the impertinence. Freya smiled delightedly. After a moment, the god thrust his hand into his beard and clenched his fist, slowly pulling away from his face. Between his mighty fingers were three flame-red hairs. He reluctantly placed them in Alin’s hand and she quickly laid the lines of red.
"Finally, to set the balance and fill the middle, I shall need the brilliant radiance of Heimdall's smile." And Odin paused. He looked at Freya, who also looked surprised. He turned back to the woman. “Why is it Heimdall’s smile you seek?”
“He is the creator of men,” Alin replied, “And therefore would be most comfortable in our realm. He can see a hundred miles around him, by night as well as by day. He can hear the grass grow. With his smile as the middle firmament, no creature may pass that he does not approve.”
Odin stared at this woman who dared decide the fate of gods. Alin began to feel the brilliance of his eye upon her but she refused to recant her request. Finally, Odin called Heimdall to him and cast his lot as the guardian of the bridge there ever after. As he was told of his assignment, Heimdall smiled, and his teeth of gold shone brilliantly, filling in the remaining middle of the bridge. As it filled, it arced high into the sky, held aloft by the strength of Odin above, the sky below and held firm by Heimdall’s pride in his post.
Because the bridge was made mostly of light and sky, there was no shadow. Odin blew his horn and began to call his warrior-slain to him, and the fallen walked upon the bridge in safety.
As they approached, Odin turned to Freya and said, “You have kept your promise, and I shall keep mine. Half of the warriors shall be yours.”
And he turned to Alin and said, “You have tread upon the realm of Asgard and therefore cannot go back to Midgard. But it is only just that all remember your name and what you have done. Let the measurement of all things woven bear your name ever after.”
And so it was that measurements of cloth were known as Alins. Through the years the word has changed, though, and you may simply know the term ell.
© J. Stockwell 2006