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Ragnarok - Prose Retteling

By: K Crossley-Holland



Ragnarok - AN AXE-AGE, A SW0RD-AGE, shields will be gashed: there will be a wind-age and a wolf-age before the world is wrecked. First of all Midgard will be wrenched and racked by wars for three winters.

Fathers will slaughter sons; brothers will be drenched in one another's blood. Mothers will desert their menfolk and seduce their own sons; brothers will bed with sisters. Then Fimbulvetr, the winter of winters, will grip and throttle Midgard. Driving snow clouds will converge from north and south and east and west. There will be bitter frosts, biting winds; the shining sun will be helpless. Three such winters will follow each other with no summers between them. So the end will begin. Then the children of the old giantess in Iron Wood will have their say: the wolf Skoll will seize the sun between his jaws and swallow her -- he will spatter Asgard with gore; and his brother Hati will catch the moon and mangle him. The stars will vanish from the sky. The earth will start to shudder then. Great trees will sway and topple, mountains will shake and rock an come crashing down, and every bond and fetter will burst. Fenrir will run free.

Eggther, watchman of the giants, will sit on his grave mound and strum his harp, smiling grimly. Nothing escapes the red cock Fjalar; he will crow to the giants from bird-wood. At the same time the cock who wakes the warriors every day in Valhalla, golden combed Gullinkambi, will crow to the gods. A third cock, rust red, will raise the dead in Hel. The sea will rear up and waves will pummel the shore because Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, is twisting and writhing in fury, working his way on to dry land. And in those high seas Naglfar will break loose -- the ship made from dead men's nails. The bows and the waist and the stern and the hold will be packed with giants and Hrym will stand at the helm, heading towards the plain Vigrid. Loki too, free from his fetters, will take to the water; he will set sail towards Vigrid from the north and his deadweight will be all that ghastly crew in Hel. Then the brothers Fenrir and Jormungand will move forward side by side. Fenrir's slavering mouth will gape wide open, so wide that his lower jaw scrapes against the ground and his upper jaw presses against the sky; it would gape still wider if there were more room. Flames will dance in Fenrir's eyes and leap from his nostrils. With each breath, meanwhile, Jormungand will spew venom; all the earth and the sky will be splashed and stained with his poison.

The world will be in uproar, the air quaking with booms and blares and their echoes. Then the sons of Muspell will advance from the south and tear apart the sky itself as they, too, close in on Vigrid. Surt will lead them, his sword blazing like the sun itself. And as they cross Bifrost, the rainbow bridge will crack and break behind them. So all the giants and all the inmates of Hel, and Fenrir and Jormungand, and Surt and the blazing sons of Muspell will gather on Vigrid; they will all but fill that plain that stretches one hundred and twenty leagues in every direction. The gods, meanwhile, will not be idle. Heimdall will leave his hall, Himinbjorg, and raise the great horn Gjall to his mouth. He will sound such a blast that it will be heard throughout the nine worlds. All the gods will wake and at once meet in council. Then Odin will mount Sleipnir and gallop to Mimir's spring and take advice from Mimir there. Yggdrasill itself will moan, the ash that always was and waves over all that is. Its leaves will tremble, its limbs shiver and shake even as two humans take refuge deep within it. Everything in heaven and in earth and Hel will quiver.

Then all the Aesir and all the Einherjar in Valhalla will arm themselves. They will don their helmets and their coats of mail, and grasp their swords and spears and shields. Eight hundred fighting men will forge through each of that hall's five hundred and forty doors. That vast host will march towards Vigrid and Odin will ride at their head, wearing a golden helmet and a shining corslet, brandishing Gungnir. Odin will make straight for the wolf Fenrir; and Thor, right beside him, will be unable to help because Jormungand will at once attack him. Freyr will fight the fire giant Surt. And when Surt whirls his flaming blade, Freyr will rue the day that he gave his own good sword to his servant Skirnir. It will be a long struggle, though, before Freyr succumbs. The hound Garm from Gnipahellir will leap at the throat of one-handed Tyr and they will kill one another. The age-old enemies Loki and Heimdall will meet once more and each will be the cause of the other's death.

Thor, Son of Earth, and gaping Jormungand have met before too; they are well matched. At Vigrid the god will kill the serpent but he will only be able to stagger back nine steps before he falls dead himself, poisoned by the venom Jormungand spews over him. Odin and Fenrir were the first to engage and their fight will be fearsome. In the end, though, the wolf will seize Allfather between his jaws and swallow him. That will be the death of Odin. At once his son Vidar will stride forward and press one foot on Fenrir's bottom jaw -- and the shoe he will wear then has been a long time in the making; it consists of all the strips and bits of leather pared off the heels and toes of new shoes since time began, all the leftovers thrown away as gifts for the god. Then Vidar will take hold of Fenrir's other jaw and tear the wolf apart, so avenging his father.

Then Surt will fling fire in every direction. Asgard and Midgard and Jotunheim and Niflheim will become furnaces -- places of raging flame, swirling smoke, ashes, only ashes. The nine worlds will burn and the gods will die. The Einherjar will die, men and women and children in Midgard will die, elves and dwarfs will die, giants will die, monsters and creatures of the underworld will die, birds and animals will die. The sun will be dark and there will be no stars in the sky. The earth will sink into the sea. The earth will rise again out of the water, fair and green. The eagle will fly over cataracts, swoop into the thunder and catch fish under crags. Corn will ripen in fields that were never sown. Vidar and Vali will still be alive; they will survive the fire and the flood and make their way back to Idavoll, the shining plain where palaces once stood. Modi and Magni, sons of Thor, will join them there, and they will inherit their father's hammer, Mjollnir. And Balder and Hod will come back from the world of the dead; it will not be long before they, too, tread the new green grass on Idavoll. Honir will be there as well, and he will hold the wand and foretell what is to come.

The sons of Vili and Ve will make up the new number, the gods in heaven, home of the winds. They will sit down in the sunlight and begin to talk. Turn by turn, they will call up such memories, memories such as are known to them alone. They will talk over many things that happened in the past, and the evil of Jormungand and the wolf Fenrir. And then, amongst the waving grass, they will find golden chessboards, treasures owned once by the Aesir, and gaze at them in wonder. Many courts will rise once more, some good, some evil. The best place of all will be Gimli in heaven, a building fairer than the sun, roofed with gold. That is where the rulers will live, at peace with themselves and each other. Then there will be Brimir on Okolnir, where the ground is always warm underfoot; there will always be plenty of good drink there for those who have a taste for it. And there will be Sindri, a fine hall that stands in the dark mountains of Nidafjoll, made wholly of red gold. Good men will live in these places.

But there will be another hall on Nastrond, the shore of corpses. That place in the underworld will be as vile as it is vast; all its doors will face north. Its walls and roof will be made of wattled snakes, their heads facing inward, blowing so much poison that it runs in rivers through the hall. Oath breakers and murderers and philanderers will wade through those rivers. Nidhogg, too, will outlive the fire and the flood and under Yggdrasill he will suck blood from the bodies of the dead. The two humans who hid themselves deep within Yggdrasill -- some say Hoddmimir's Wood -- will be called Lif and Lifthrasir. Surt's fire will not scorch them; it will not even touch them, and their food will be the morning dew. Through the branches, through the leaves, they will see light come back, for before the sun is caught and eaten by the wolf Skoll, she will give birth to a daughter no less fair than herself, who will follow the same sky-path and light the world. Lif and Lifthrasir will have children. Their children will bear children. There will be life and new life, life everywhere on earth. That was the end; and this is the beginning.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, The Norse Myths, New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.


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