There is a time between times. After the time of Ask and Embla, of course. They were the first man and the first woman. They were the Ash and the Elm trees that Odin, the All-Father, found washed on the shore in Midgaard, with his two brothers. They are the trees into which he breathed life, and from whom all of humanity came to populate the middle world, protected by the wall made from Ymur’s eyebrows, to keep out the giants and the monsters and all those creatures who dwell in the great void, Ginnungagap.
And this was the time before Ragnarok, the day of reckoning, when the gods will all die. And perhaps, everything will start anew.
This middle-time we call the Time of the Mists, the Time of Men. The glory of Midgaard, when we chosen of Odin rule. Although we rule a godless existence. Thor is perhaps off in Jotunheim or one of the other eight worlds, slaying giants or feasting or drinking. (Those are the three things he does, of course.) Odin is perhaps sitting in the boughs of the world tree, his two ravens whispering secrets in his ears of all that is happening throughout everywhere, everyplace and every time. Loki perhaps is brooding, or scheming, or stealing. (For those are the three things that he does.) The truth be told, we don’t really know. We just know that they are gone, and we are left to our own devices.
But despite the All-Father’s wisdom (or perhaps due to it?), the walls do not keep everything out. Not the light elves, or the dark. Not the gnomes or the nisser. And certainly not the trolls. So though we rule, we rule precariously. Ever are our competitors looking for an opportunity to enslave us, to steal our lands, our birthright. And the gods are not here to fight for us. So it is best to always heed the words of Rønne, the warrior of the Kompani of Light:
“You have to fight for your freedom and for peace. You have to fight for it every day, to keep it. It is like a glass boat – it is easy to break. It is easy to lose.”
Well, somewhere along the way, we forgot. As we are prone to do. Odin may have given us life, but he did not make us perfect. (And neither is he, of course.) One day, the dark elves, the dokkalfar, decided to attack.
The dokkalfar, who we sometimes call the dwarfs, are clever with machines, and with crafting. They forged Mjollnir, Thor’s mighty hammer. And also Gungnir, Odin’s spear that never misses its mark. Oaths sword on Gugnir cannot be broken. They also made golden hair for Sif, the beautiful wife of Thor, after Loki had conspired to cut off her real hair while she slept. Their accomplishments with metal and stone are unparalleled. They have always been bitter, forced to hide in the deep and dark places of the earth. Bitter that they were not the chosen of Odin. Not like us. With great jealousy they watched the kingdoms of humankind spread across the middle world, and they brooded, and they conspired, and finally, they acted.
Hivaldi, a particularly embittered grandson of Ivaldi (whose sons crafted Sif’s hair), had had enough. It was time for the dwarfs to get their due. So he raised an army. He convinced the other dwarfs that they are also Odin’s sons. That they had fallen so busy with keeping up the orders of the gods, they had forgotten to rule. So they needed to resurface, and take control of things.
They did this in wondrous and terrible machines. They crossed under the deep oceans, and flew through the sky. They crushed mountains and dammed the rivers. They constructed dark edifices, gray with granite and red with the blood of humans. They locked us up in pens and prisons, planning to drink our blood. Some of us escaped, in ships across the western seas. On skis into the mountains. In caves and huts hidden in the hills. Those who escaped sought the help of the light elves, the sons of Frey and his sister Freya, the Vanir who fought with our gods many years before, but who now lived with them in Idavoll, the Splendid Plain. But the light elves were fighting their own battles, ones they assured us were far more important. There was scant help to be had by anyone other than ourselves.
A man called Tyrstad and his wife, Bosa, decided to deceive the dwarfs. As they were led toward a great fire pit where the dwarfs planned to roast them, Tyrstad asked of his captors, “You’re planning to eat us?”
A grim and sour-faced dwarf begrudgingly grunted. Tyrstad looked at his wife, Bosa, and began to laugh. Bosa, fearing he had suffered a blow to the head, smiled, and laughed as well. (But while laughing she checked his head for signs of trauma, or bleeding.)
“Why are you laughing?” asked his captor.
“You’ll never get your fill of us.” Tyrstad winked at his wife. “We’re far too small.”
“You’ll need something more nourishing,” Bosa added.
“Like what?” the dwarf asked. He stopped in line and all the other dwarfs and prisoners bumped into each other at the hold up.
“You’re going to want the apples of Idunn,” Tyrstad said.
“And the mead of the gods,” Bosa said.
The eyes of the dwarfs shifted between them. “And what is Idunn?” they asked.
Bosa laughed. Tyrstad said, “Not what. Who! Idunn is the one who tends the orchards of the gods. She feeds them her golden apples,” he said.
“And her mead!” said Bosa.
“And the apples and the mead give the gods immortality. That’s what you want,” Tyrstad said, crossing his arms.
Ashes drifting up from their grim shoulders, the dwarfs furrowed their brows. “But the gods are gone,” said one.
“Oh, they gave them to us to watch after,” Tyrstad assured him.
“Where are these apples?” asked another.
“And the mead,” said one, licking his lips.
“Hidden under the Vidda, the great plateau,” said Tyrstad.
“Her trees are watered by the snowmelt coming down into the valley,” Bosa said.
“If you ate of those apples and drank of that mead, surely you’ll change from dwarfs into humans, like us,” Tyrstad said.
“And you’ll inherit the Midgaard, like us,” Bosa said.
They lumbered and they fidgeted. “Take us to the apples,” the biggest dwarf said.
“Send me ahead,” Tyrstad said, “And I will make sure they are ready.”
“No, send me,” said Bosa. “You know I am the better skier, and will get there faster.” Tyrstad frowned, but he knew she was right. And besides, the dwarfs were going to send her, anyway.
“But you must be careful,” Tyrstad said, just as he watched his wife about to ski over the embankment. She looked back at him. “Be careful of… you know,” he said.
“Know what?” his captor asked, tightening his grip on one arm.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Tyrstad said.
“Nothing that would bother the likes of you and your great machines,” Bosa said.
“Speak! Careful of what?” the dwarf shouted.
“Of the reindeer!” Tyrstad winced.
“Reindeer?” The dwarf squinted, and then bellowed out a laugh. All the dwarfs rolled their heads back and chortled, free and rough and loud. “Reindeer!” One of them wiped his eyes. “Reindeer!” Another clapped his hand to his thigh.
“Not just any reindeer,” Bosa said, hands on her ski poles. “These are the reindeer of Frey himself.”
“His flock,” said Tyrstad, nodding.
“His very own,” Bosa said.
“Protected,” said Tyrstad.
“You don’t want to upset Frey,” said Bosa.
The dwarfs sobered and sombered. “What is so special about these reindeer?” they asked.
“They can walk on two legs, like us,” said Tyrstad.
“And fire bows and arrows. They are the greatest hunters in all of Midgaard,” Bosa said.
“If you harm Frey’s herds, they will come for you,” Tyrstad said.
“Silent like the snow, swift as the waterfall, deadly as the glacier,” Bosa said.
The dwarfs winced. Then they waved her on. “Go on, make sure the apples are ready for us,” they said.
“And the mead!” shouted another.
“What is today?” Bosa shouted back.
The dwarfs looked at each other. Under the ground, in their caverns, where their faces were warmed by their hot hearths and not the light of the sun, they didn’t really know what she meant. The passing of seasons was a new concept.
“Midsummer,” Tyrstad said.
“Then it will be at least three months before the apples are ready,” Bosa said.
Grubby hands waved her away. “Then tell them we will come in three months.”
Bosa knew just where to go, and just who to see. Over the snowy hills and the frozen lakes (because it was not midsummer, of course, but midwinter) she raced. Up into the plateau, where the reindeer roam. Across the flat and windswept plains, under the gaze of Mount Gausta, the quartzite lump. Finally, she found the tiny hut. She took off her skis, shook her head, and pushed open the door. Inside sat the men of the Kompani of Light. Rønne, their leader, Skinnar the Young, Haug and Hauk the two brother hunters, and dozens more. How could they all fit into this tiny hunting lodge? Those are better questions for a different age.
After Bosa told them of her plan, the Kompani immediately set to work. There was much to do, so much to do.
“Don’t forget the antlers,” Bosa said.
“Of course not,” said Rønne.
(to be continued…)