In Asgarth there were two places that meant strength and joy to the Aesir and the Wanes: one was the garden where grew the apples that Ithun gathered--the apples that gave youthfulness to those who ate
them, and the other was the Peace Stead, where, in a hall called Breithablik, Baldr the Well-beloved dwelt.
In the Peace Stead no crime had ever been committed, no blood had ever been shed, no falseness had ever been spoken. Contentment came into the minds of all in Asgarth when they thought upon this place. Baldr who dwelt there was beautiful. So beautiful was he that all white blossoms on the earth were called by his name. So happy was he that all the birds on the earth sang his name. So just and wise was he that the judgment he pronounced might never be altered.
But even into Baldr's stead foreboding came. He had a dream. He dreamt of Hel, the queen who is half living woman and half corpse. In his dream Hel had come into Asgarth, saying, "A lord of the Aesir I must have to dwell with me in my realm beneath the earth." A silence fell upon all when Baldr had told his dream. And Oithin and Frigg, the father and mother of Baldr, looked at each other with fear in their hearts.
Oithin went to his watch-tower. He waited there till Hugin and Munin, the ravens that flew through the worlds and came back to him with tidings of all that was happening, came to him. They flew back; lighting on each of his shoulders they told him that a bed was spread and a chair was left empty in Hel's habitation for some lordly comer.
And hearing this Oithin mounted Sleipnir, his eight-legged steed, and he rode down towards the abodes of the dead. For three days and three nights of silence he journeyed on. Once one of the hounds of Helheim broke loose and bayed upon Sleipnir's tracks. For a day and a night Garm, that hound, pursued them; Oithin smelled the blood that dripped from its monstrous jaws.
At last he came to where, wrapped in their shrouds, a field of the dead lay. He dismounted from Sleipnir; he called upon one to rise and speak with him. It was on a dead prophetess he called. And when he pronounced her name he uttered a rune that had the power to break the sleep of the dead.
There was a groaning in the middle of where the shrouded ones lay. Then Oithin cried out, "Arise, Volva, prophetess!" There was a stir in the middle of where the shrouded ones lay, and a head and shoulders were thrust up amongst the dead.
"Who calls upon Volva? The rains have drenched my flesh, and
the storms have shaken my bones for more seasons than the living know. No living voice has the right to call me from my sleep with the dead."
"It is Vegtam the Wanderer who calls. For whom is the bed prepared and the seat left empty in Hel's habitation?"
"For Baldr, Oithin's son, is the bed prepared, the mead brewed, and the seat left empty. Now let me go back to my sleep with the dead." "Wise woman, cease not! Who shall become the destroyer of Baldr? Who shall steal the life from Oithin's son? Answer, Volva, prophetess!"
"Hoth the Blind shall be the destroyer of Baldr. Unwillingly I speak; now let me be still." "Wise woman, cease not! Who shall bring vengeance on those who do the evil deed? Who shall bring to the flames the slayer of Baldr?"
"Vali, who is not yet born, shall bring vengeance on the doer of the evil deed. His hands he shall not wash, his hair he shall not comb, till he brings to the flames the slayer of Baldr. Unwillingly I spake, and now I would be still."
"Wise woman, cease not! I fain would know who are the maidens who shall weep for Baldr?" "Vegtam thou art not; Oithin thou art. Ride home, Oithin; know that no one shall seek me till Loki is loosed from his bonds, and until to the last battle the fighters shall come." Then there was silence in the field of the dead. Oithin turned Sleipnir, his steed; for four days, through the gloom and silence, he journeyed back to Asgarth.
Frigg had felt the fear that Oithin had felt. She looked towards Baldr, and the shade of Hel came between her and her son. But then she heard the birds sing in the Peace Stead, and she knew that there was no thing in all the world that would injure Baldr.
And to make sure she went to all the things that could hurt him, and from each of them she took an oath that it would not injure Baldr the Well-beloved. She took an oath from fire and from water, from iron and from all metals, from earth and stones and great trees, from birds and beasts and creeping things, from poisons and diseases. Very readily they all gave oath that they would work no injury to Baldr.
When Frigg came back and told what she had accomplished, the
gloom that had lain on Asgarth lifted. Baldr would be spared to them. Hel might have a place prepared in her dark habitation, but neither fire nor water, nor iron nor any other metal, nor earth nor stones nor great wood, nor birds nor beasts nor creeping things, nor poisons nor diseases, would help her to bring him down. "Hel has no arms to draw you to her," the Aesir and Wanes cried to Baldr.
Hope was renewed for them, and they made games to honour Baldr. They had him stand in the Peace Stead, and they brought against him all the things that had sworn to leave him hurtless. And neither the battle-axe flung at him, nor the stone out of the sling, nor the burning brand, nor the deluge of water, would injure the beloved of Asgarth. The Aesir and the Wanes laughed joyfully to see these things fall harmlessly from him while a throng came to join them in the games, Dwarfs and friendly Giants.
But Loki, who had been made outcast from Asgarth, came in with that throng. He watched the games from afar. He saw the missiles and the weapons being flung; he saw Baldr standing smiling and happy under the strokes of metal and stones and great wood. He wondered at the sight, but he knew that he might not ask the meaning of it from the ones who knew him.
He changed his shape into that of an old woman; he went amongst those who were making sport for Baldr. He spoke to Dwarfs and friendly Giants. "Go to Frigg and ask. Go to Frigg and ask," was all the answer Loki got from any of them.
Then to Frigg's hall Loki went. He told those in the hall that he was Groa, the old Enchantress who was drawing out of Thor's head the fragments of a grindstone that a Giant's throw had embedded in it. Frigg knew about Groa, and she praised the enchantress for what she had done.
"But will you not tell me, O queen, what is the meaning of the things I saw the Aesir and the Wanes doing?" Loki said. "I will tell you," said Frigg, looking kindly and happily on the pretended old woman. "They are hurling all manner of heavy and dangerous things at Baldr, my beloved son. And all Asgarth cheers to see that neither metal, nor stone, nor great wood will hurt him."
"But why will they not hurt him?" said the pretended old woman.
"Because I have drawn an oath from all dangerous and threatening things to leave Baldr hurtless," said Frigg.
"From all things, lady? Is there no thing in all the world that has not taken an oath to leave Baldr hurtless?"
"Well, indeed, there is one thing that has not taken the oath. But that thing is so small and weak that I passed it by without taking any thought of it."
"What can it be, lady?"
"The Mistletoe that is without root or strength. It grows on the eastern side of Valhall. I passed it by without drawing an oath from it."
"Surely you were not wrong to pass it by. What could the Mistletoe--the rootless Mistletoe--do against Baldr?"
Saying this the pretended enchantress hobbled off.
But not far did the pretender go hobbling. He changed his gait and hurried to the eastern side of Valhall. There a great oak-tree flourished; out of a branch of it a little bush of Mistletoe grew. Loki broke off a spray; with it in his hand he went to where the Aesir and the Wanes were still playing, giving honour to Baldr.
All were laughing as Loki drew near, for the Giants and the Dwarfs, the Wanes and the Heroes from Valhall, were all casting missiles. The Giants threw too far, and the Dwarfs could not throw far enough; others threw far and wide of the mark. In the midst of all that glee and gamesomeness it was strange to see one standing joyless. But one stood so, and he was of the Aesir--Hoth he was, Baldr's blind brother.
"Why do you not enter the game?" said Loki to him in his changed voice.
"I have no missile to throw at Baldr," said Hoth.
"Take this and throw it," said Loki. "It is a twig of the Mistletoe."
"I cannot see to throw it," said Hoth.
"I will guide your hand," said Loki. He put the twig of Mistletoe into Hoth's hand; he guided the hand for the throw. The twig flew towards Baldr. It struck him on the breast and it pierced him. Then Baldr fell down with a deep groan.
The Aesir and the Wanes, the Dwarfs and the friendly Giants, the Heroes out of Valhall, all stood in doubt and fear and amazement.
[paragraph continues] Loki slipped away. And blind Hoth, from whose hand the twig of Mistletoe had gone, stood quiet, not knowing that his throw had bereft Baldr of life.
Then a wailing sound arose around the Peace Stead. It was from the Aesir and the Wanes. Baldr was dead; they began to lament him. And while they were lamenting, Oithin came amongst them.
"Hel has won our Baldr from us," Oithin said to Frigg, as they both bent over the body of their beloved son.
"Nay, I will not say it," Frigg cried. When the Aesir and the Wanes had won their senses back, the mother of Baldr went amongst them. "Who amongst you would win my love and good-will?" she asked. "Whoever would, let him ride down to Hel's dark realm, and ask the queen to take ransom for Baldr. It may be that she will take it, and let Baldr come back to us. Who amongst you will go? Oithin's steed is ready for the journey."
Then forth stepped Hermodr the Bold, the brother of Baldr. He mounted Sleipnir, and turned the eight-legged steed towards Hel's dark realm.
For nine days and nine nights Hermodr rode on; his way was through rugged glens, one deeper and darker than the other. He came to the river that is called. Gjöll and to the bridge across it that is all glittering with gold. The pale maid who guards the bridge spoke to him,
"The hue of life is still on thee," said Modgudr, the pale maid, "why dost thou journey down to Hel's deathly realm?"
"I am Hermodr," he said, "and I go to see if Hel will take ransom for Baldr."
"Fearful is Hel's habitation for one to come to," said Modgudr, the pale maid. "All around is a steep wall that even thy steed may hardly leap. Its threshold is Precipice. The bed therein is Care. The table is Hunger. The hanging of the chamber is Burning Anguish."
"Nevertheless, I am appointed to ride to Hel," said Hermodr the Bold.
"Baldr had ridden over Gjöll's Bridge," said Modgudr. "Down and north lieth Hel-way."
Then Hermodr rode on till he came to Hel-gate; he dismounted from his steed and made the girths fast; he mounted again and pricked
[paragraph continues] Sleipnir with his spurs; the eight-legged steed leaped over the gate. Then Hermodr rode to the hall. Hel came out from her hall and spoke to Hermodr. And Hel said that if Baldr was so well beloved as was said she would take ransom for him and let him return to Asgarth. "If all things in the world, quick and dead, weep for him, then shall Baldr go back to the Aesir. But he shall remain with me if any gainsay it, if any will not weep."
Joyously then did Hermodr turn Sleipnir; joyously did he ride back through the rugged glens, each one less gloomy than the other. He reached the upper world; he saw that all things were still lamenting for Baldr. Joyously he rode onward. And all men whom he sought prayed that Baldr be kept from Hel's dark realm. And the earth, and the stones, and the trees, and the metals, all made the same prayer. But one day Hermodr came upon a crow that was sitting on a dead branch of a tree. The crow made no lament as he came near. She rose up, and flew away; Hermodr followed her to make sure that she lamented for Baldr.
He lost sight of her near a cave. And then before the cave he saw a hag with blackened teeth who raised no voice of lament. "If thou art the crow that came flying here, make lament for Baldr," Hermodr said.
"I, Thokk, will make no lament for Baldr," the bag said. "Let Hel keep what she holds."
"All things weep tears for Baldr," Hermodr said.
"Thokk will weep dry tears for him; I loved him not," she said.
Then Hermodr the Bold knew that he might not ride back to Hel's habitation. All things knew that there was one thing in the world that would not weep for Baldr. With head bowed over Sleipnir's mane, Hermodr rode back to Asgarth.
After that the Aesir and the Wanes knew that no ransom would be taken, and they knew that with Baldr the joy and content of Asgarth were gone indeed. They made ready his body for the burning. First they covered Baldr's body with a rich robe; each of the Aesir and the Wanes left beside it a most cherished possession. Then they all took leave of him, kissing him on the brow. But Nanna, his gentle wife, flung herself on his dead breast, and her heart broke, and she died of
grief. Then did the Aesir and the Wanes weep afresh. And they took the body of Nanna, and they placed it side by side with Baldr's body.
They took the body of Baldr and the body of Nanna and they brought them to the sea. Hringhorni was the name of Baldr's ship: it was the greatest of all ships; the Gods would have launched it and made Baldr's funeral pyre upon it, but the ship stirred not forward for all the effort that they made to move it. Then Hyrrokkinn, a Giantess, was sent for. She came mounted on a great wolf and having a viper for a bridle. Four Giants held fast the wolf when she alighted. Hyrrokkinn went to the ship; with a single push she sent it into the sea. The rollers struck out fire as the ship dashed over them, and all lands trembled.
Then were the bodies of Baldr and Nanna borne upon shipboard. Thor was there with his hammer Mjollnir; Freyr was there in his chariot that was drawn by the boar Gold-mane; Heimdallr was there on his horse called Gold-top; Freyja was there in her chariot that was drawn by cats; Oithin was there with his ravens upon his shoulders; Frigg and the rest of the Goddesses and Gods were there. There were also Giants and Dwarfs. Fire was kindled when the ship rode the water. And in the blaze of the fire one was seen bending over the body of Baldr and whispering into his ear. It was Oithin All-Father. He went off the ship and the fire rose into a mighty burning. Speechlessly the Aesir and the Wanes, the Giants and the Dwarfs, the Heroes out of Valhall, watched the burning. Tears streamed down their faces, and all things lamented, crying, "Baldr the Beautiful is dead, is dead."
And what was it that Oithin All-Father whispered to Baldr as he bent above him, the flames of the burning ship around them? He whispered of a Heaven above Asgarth that Surt's flames might not reach; he whispered of a life that would come to beauty again after the world of men and the world of the Gods had been searched through and through with fire.