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~ By Courtesy of Others ~


At The Gates Of Her Land
(Hel speaks.)

They say that I am cold,
and they are right, for I must be
that which is implacable, a wall
of grey ice that never melts and
the darkness of earth falling
over a silent mound of bones.
They say too that I have no heart,
but in that, they are not correct.

One half of me is bone, draped in
rotting flesh like pennants, and
one half of me is living flesh. As I,
in all my fabled monstrosity,
am both in one body, so my heart
beats, divided, alive and dead Ė
one half blackened, softening,
the other hard as adamantine
and colder than Niflheim itself.

It is that latter half that I,
waiting at the gates of my kingdom,
call upon as I see them coming
up the road, heralded by my guardians,
escorted by the banners of the dead:
he in his bright cloak of shining,
golden hair, eyes as blue-grey
as the ocean sky, walking upright
and supporting the one at his side.
The gate swings open to admit
the son of Odin and Frigga and
his faithful, loving wife.

They catch sight of me, a terrible
and strange sight in a landscape
which they were told, all their lives,
was a place of horror. They gasp
with the still breath of the dead, all
their fear vanishing, replaced by
only wonder. I have seen this
so many times now I have not even
come to expect it; it simply is
what the dead do, upon reaching
this their eternal home, lovelier
than most of them ever imagine.
My lady, he says, bowing, with
one hand, the one that does not
grasp that of his beloved, placed
gently over his heart. There I almost see
the green leaves, the white berries
and the blood, the work of my father,
the work of another more ruthless.
An image swims into my thoughts, that
of Loki, drawn and pale, listening
to the accusations, to the liesÖ
hindsight is always clearer when
there is reason to blame one person
for the mistakes, the blindness of all.
I shut Father out of my mindís eye and
extend my living hand to them.
Will they take it, or will they shudder,
turn away, pass me by with averted,
downcast, tear-dried eyes?

I wait patiently.
Baldur meets my gaze. He does not
shiver or look away. He is thoughtful,
seems about to speak, but then
that dazzling smile comes, like the sun
which only seldom breaks through
the gentle veil of cloud here in my land.
His face is gentle and sad. There is
nothing to say, nothing that both he and I
do not already know, unsaid words heavy
like ripening fruit in the air around us.
Nanna raises her smooth, fair head
for the first time. She smiles too,
tremulously. It surprises me,
but I slowly nod back to her.
Then they reach forth
to take my hand,
and it is done.

But next time Mordgudís horn sounds, I cannot
meet the newcomer with my heart of ice.
Garm comes, looking up at me, his eyes
momentarily dimmed, quizzical, wary.
I rise from my throne. The dead, bowing,
make way for me and I rest my skeletal hand
on Garmís dark, bristling flank.
Go to him, I command, and my servant
hurries forth, not rushing or snarling,
but attentively, passing through the gates
to meet the small figure in the distance.

He stops, startled, at the sight of the hound,
but then with the insight of the dead, sees
who and what Garm is, and I watch as a hand
tentatively reaches out to touch Garmís side
right where my hand lay before.
They come towards me. I tell
the watchers and the bearers to leave us,
not because I do not wish him to have honor,
but because I would have words with him,
my poor little half-brother, alone and unheard.

He approaches slowly. He has
his motherís gentle, rounded face, our fatherís
vibrant eyes tinged with grey instead of blue.
His hair is brown. He is pale and slender
and no more than fourteen winters old.
Nor will he ever age, I think, while
his tragic brother roams the worlds over
growing to manhood alone and exiled.
I feel my lips tighten, half stretching taut
over bone, and Narvi halts, afraid at the wave
of cold rage he senses coming from me.
But then he speaks, bravely.

Father told me about you, that I
shouldnít fear you when one day we met,
he says, tensing. I nod, letting the rage drain
into the earth of my realm. I miss him.
I miss Mother and Vali too, he adds.
I know, I say, thinking that our father
had hoped, with all his heart, that
this tender child of his child-bride
would meet me only when age had
had its chance to work its inexorable magic.

We are silent. Garm shifts, sitting down,
his eyes keen in the distance, but no one has
followed the boy here. No one would, I remember,
although his predecessor had mourners
in plenty. Before the anger can rise anew,
I say to Narvi, Do you understand what
has happened here? Do you know why?
The boyís face clouds, and he begins
to shake his head, but then slowly,
reluctantly, he nods. His fatherís son,
then, in ways no one in that walled land
probably ever thought to discern.
I feel myself growing remote again.

Take my hand, my brother, I say,
holding it out. He studies it, considering,
but at least he nods, and I see a trace, in
his mingled expression of resignation and sorrow
of the man he might have become one day.
And it is no use. The soft, blackened half
of my heart pulses with pain, shedding tears
of black blood, and ignoring his hand,
I kneel and take Narvi in my arms, holding him
with both bone and flesh. My eyes do not weep.
His tears dampen my gown at the shoulder.
I think of Father, imprisoned, raging,
following his other son into slow madness,
and further back in time, his choking as he
ejects my motherís heart from his breast
and summons all the dread magic he knows
to bring her again into the living world.
I think of what Father said to me when
he left my side last, when Mother and I
forced him to do what he knew must be done.

Daughter, you are quite as ruthless
as Odin himself, whatever your differences,
he said, ironically, sadly, before he went back
to that shining land, to his terrible duty,
to the sacrifice of his wife and children
which only I knew he would have to make.

Ruthless, yes, but not
without remorse, not unable to love,
no matter what they say of me,
no matter how true some of it is.
Narvi and I rise to our feet.
I take him into my realm, telling him
that now I will care for him, until the day
when all our kin return to us, and the
rotting, decaying half of my heart
fills with an endless ache, knowing
that if there is weregild that must be paid
to my father, I will pay it, over and over,
every time I see my half-brotherís face.

© Elizabeth Vongvisith

Twilight and Fire - Mysticism, devotion, and explorations of the heart.

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