The Viking and the Princess
Once upon a time in the mighty raging Northland there was a brave and wild viking who, despite his great successes in exploration and conquest, never had a compass. He had many mighty men who followed him to battle, and many beautiful women who desired to follow him to his tent, but the viking was restless.
The viking had been born as his mother died. She had named him Akedah which is not a Norse name, but his father had allowed it to remain, because he loved her. Akedah’s father had brought his mother home during his own grand adventure. Some scandal-tongued folks asserted that the dark haired woman had been involved in her own intrepid exploits when she met the burly old man. They said she had not even been “carried off” in proper viking fashion, but was actually steering the boat as it came into the fjord while the old viking fished off the bow. She was certainly a queer woman who caused no end of gossip with her nonchalant dissidence toward the Norse deity and according to all the worldly wise women of the community, her failure to set up a hearth shine to Freyja was undoubtedly the cause of her unfortunate demise in childbirth. Akedah traded places with his mother in his father’s life, and he had been quite happy with the arrangement, even if his father was slightly less so.
Akedah’s adventure began in the spring. After the earth balances night and day in equinox, the spiraling planet begins to nod its head toward the sun, and a warm veil falls across the forehead of the northern hemisphere. During this season, black soil billows up through the frost, and glacier sides slide into the sea. As the sun rises ever higher into the brightening sky, the hearts of restless men also rise up to meet the call for adventure, and the gods lead men on great quests. Whether this is to elevate the ideals of valor,or for their own entertainment, we mortals have never quite come to consensus, but we can be quite sure that the valiant viking would not escape their eyes wandering to and fro across the earth for long.
That winter rushed away from the Northland like a tide recedes from shore, leaving spring revealed like low tide ocean treasures. In the rising warm air, a raven, a shadow in birdish form, gripped the hilt of the Akedah’s broadsword and flew away into the still frozen mountains.
The viking pursued the bird windward into the frosted highland fog. The bird soared high, but each time it landed for rest, Akedah was not far behind.
Finally, after trailing in the bird’s shadow for a frozen fortnight, the viking laid hold of its fuliginous feathers, and it was in a flash of glinting light transformed into the scandalous visage of the icy Snow Queen. The Snow Queen, that same pallid practitioner of wizardry who is the mother of the Arctic wolves, smiled, or rather, drew back her purple lips to reveal her filed fangs. Her frosty face flushed purple under Akedah’s grip as she lunged gracefully to retain her hold on the broadsword. The viking was unrelenting even as the witches’ flesh grew hoarfrost and his blood retreated from his extremities. Thus they struggled, straight-forward strength against slippery guile, until the alpenglow of the rising sun settled onto the distant mountain horizon. Then the Snow Queen hissed, “You must release me now Viking. You have won the favor of the gods of Asgard,” And as she spoke, the rising sun mounted on the morning sky and a rainbow fell from the heavens the Illuminating the Snow Queen. In these times, when the world was young and wild, the rainbow was known as the Bifrost Bow, the door into Asgard, the domain of the viking gods.
“The gods have given you three gifts,” she sniffed with only a slightly perceptible air of covetousness furrowed into her frown. There materialized at the Snow Queen’s fur booted feet an ordinary leather bundle.
The first item was a bag of oranges from Idunn who tended the apple trees in Asgaurd. These exquisite fruits were the secret of the gods’ eternal youth. Even the gods of Asgaurd must swim within the current of time, and Idunn’s shining apples enabled the gods to swim backward against its icy flow. However, the apples had to remain fresh, eaten directly from the goddess’ hand. Once the apple was unguarded by Idunn’s fingers and exposed to open time it became like flesh without blood. The juice is drawn out into the dry space leaving nothing but dust for the wind to drive away. Akedah could not immediately understand what the significance of the citrus might be, but if they were from Idunn, these ordinary oranges must be comparable to her apples in some way.
The second bundle contained silver arrows rolled in linen, like artist paintbrushes. “These are Thor’s arrows,” the Snow Queen explained, “Thor’s hammer, as you know, is dwarvencraft. It is enchanted to boomerang back to his hand following every throw.” She paused, “You may not be aware that that silver’s particular magic is similar to the magical way that iron absorbs the magnetic power of a lodestone. Common silver struck against Thor’s hammer seventy times seven times also retains this power, but to a smaller degree and for a shorter period of time.
The final item looked like a bedroll. It was packed in manger straw. The viking’s people possessed a few scrolls from raids on monasteries in the southlands, but they had little practical use for such oddities, keeping them merely as token trophies. “This is a Scroll of Poetry from Odin, himself.”
The most eminent of the Asgardian gods was Odin, the father. In his quest to provide aid and comfort to mortals, he had sacrificed greatly to obtain and share his gifts of wisdom and runes. At the root of the World Tree, he had traded his left eye for Wisdom. On the top of the World Tree, he hung his body, pierced by his own sword, for nine days to master the understanding of Runecraft, those mystical etchings which make a bridge of writing between men’s minds.
Odin pilfered the Mead of Poetry from the giants. Originally an intoxicant belonging to the dwarves, the Mead of Poetry had been extorted from them by the giant, Suttung. He had no practical use for poetry himself, but hoarded it under his mountain like an old dragon, because he knew it was quite valuable in Asgaurd. Odin, taking on a fleshy form, seduced the giant’s sister, and drank the whole lot of it down to it dredges over the course of a three night rendezvous. This is the way Odin became the ultimate master of elite runecraft.
To the Northmen, poetry was spiritually valuable for inspirational purpose. It was defined by the Norse as the magic of weaving runes together into an invisible fire that emanates heat and light, but does not consume. It is, therefore, compared to mead, which is, after all, just alcoholic honey, which, also as you know, instigates its own sort of burning inspired behavior.
In some ways these Northmen were not unlike the ancient samurai of Japan, who believed that the beauty of calligraphic haiku was the perfect balance of the beauty of ferocious swordplay. A balanced warrior understands the balance of beauty and violence as well as he understands the balance between life and death. A warrior knows that a life well lived is lived in the understanding that every moment is balanced on the precipice of death. Whether that moment comes to the warrior in peacetime or wartime is beside the point. All of time is equally precarious and percious. All of his actions take on meaning, and therefore beauty, because each action could be the last. Good poetry, like good life, excludes all superfluous verbiage. It was considered the echo that would live on after the warrior was gone, as good as an infant son in the arms of a virtuous wife.
Odin’s scroll, wrought on a parchment of lamb’s flesh, was beautifully inscribed with these magical characters. The runes were written in gold, and glinted like sunlight on icicles. The Viking carefully rolled and replaced the parchment in the bundle.
“These gifts will serve you to the success of your quest.” The Snow Queen was miffed at being out bested by a smelly hairy man in deerskin in front of the court of Asgaurd, and was ready to busy herself with some other distracting mischief, yet the grouchy beasty man persisted in his squabbling. Did he not know their was no point in existence for a questless man. Everyone knew a man without a mission was walking dead. Why would he not be satisfied with the gifts and leave her to her more pressing business of random villainies?
“I have no quest Snow Queen.” The Viking announced with authority that was more bluster than gusto.
“Rightly you say you have no quest for you have no compass. Therefore, your quest is to find the compass of your fathers. You soul will continue to spin until you find it, for where there is no direction, the heart casts off restraint. The compass has been floating on the sea for 3 generations and the gods have ordained the time of the compass’ to return. You will find it on an island in the mediterranean called Atlantis. It is in the possession of a princess.”
“A woman!” Akedah spat. “You underestimate viking blood, Snow Queen. I would have thought you asked me to undertake a difficult task.” Now in his defense, we must remember that the viking woman had been availing themselves to the Viking to no avail since he had come of age. It was not that the Viking did not like women, he just did not like less than difficult tasks. Akedah was not an extremely reflective man, but he was moral. He never would have whittled his thoughts down to the point; however, the point was that he believed that nothing easy is worthwhile, and therefore something as important as marriage should be extremely difficult, or else it would be rendered meaningless due to its ease.
The Snow Queen’s bewitching features remained as motionless as an eggshell, “You will find the princess on the Mediterranean island metropolis of Atlantis.” The frosty Queen had no use for men in the normal way, and despised women who did. She much prefered to watch them freeze to death; indeed, collecting frozen man-carcasses was the main diversion to her lifestyle of rapscallious skulking and proliferating the population of arctic wolves .
Just as lepidopterists enjoy mounting their stiff butterfly specimens on styrofoam, the Snow Queen savored her collection of frozen souls. She had become quite a connoisseur of various psyches over the millennia, delighting mostly in ones that were anchored at either end of the morality spectrum: either extremely righteous or extremely wicked. It seemed these days the whole world was awash with lukewarm souls going about their mediocre business. It had been a long time since the Snow Queen had been able to add anything of real value to her collection.
The stolen broadsword was the faulty lure with which she had attempted to add the viking’s soul to her menagerie. He had slipped through her hand like a bird from a fowler’s net, and now the gods had given him a quest. “Ah well,” she sighed to herself. “That is the ordination of the universe: anyone who excels at a small task will be required to follow it up with even greater deeds.“
Leaving his warriors to their farms, Akedah sailed with land portside and the stationary star, Polaris, at his back until he passed through the choppy Straights of Gibraltar, the pillars placed by Hercules to hold up the sky. Akedah stiffened his jaw against the thought of Hercules’ father, the henpecked god Zeus, and all his frivolous pantheon of playboy demigods. This was the gateway to barbarous backsliding Civilization, a self-righteous settlement of people who thought that just because they bathed every day they were clean. He could stomach Rome. He could understand a culture of military nobility, even if it was weakened with opulent squalor, but Greece could go to hell. For all its laziness and unnatural passions, it was no better than Carthage who sacrificed its infants in a fiery pyre to the abominable Molech. Of course, a man of action would not think that Greece would be redeemed for its philosophers. “All philosophers are Sophists,” the Viking thought, “except maybe Aristotle.” And with these, his own very self-righteous thoughts, he absentmindedly cast a piece of his bread upon the water.
Here, closer to the equator, during the equinox, the sun reached its zenith near the sky’s meridian, and the heat boring down from that height altered the cheerfully chopping waves into a smacking angry antagonist, that left an embalming residue of crusting salt against every surface it touched. Akedah knew he must soon leave the protection of predictable water with its clear sight of the navigable astronomical horizon, to replenish his supplies on solid ground. If the ocean was dangerous, at least it was foreseeably so; in a civilized city, anything could happen. The celestial bodies moved with mathematical precision presenting with clarity the order of the mind of God, yet on land, amongst drifting lost souls, one could never know where one truly stood. I am not sure if Akedah would have thought it all out like this, but he did know for sure that he deeply prefered the bold expansive company of Neptune to the uncanny conversation of the market bizarre.
Just as the sun was setting, and the viking was steeling himself for an unwelcome transition to land, a glowing paper lantern skimmed the surf against his longboat. It glanced the prow, glinted off the port bow, and disappeared into the wake spray. The Akedah sat transfixed gazing at it for a quiet moment. When he finally turned round, he could see several pinpoints of light wafting from a queer locus amid the waves. The current was picking up in an unnatural contrary action against the wind, running tangentially to its previous course. The viking had enough imagination to understand that this was a whirlpool without ever having seen one, but by now the current was clipping along at an irresistible pace, and despite his best efforts to jibe, he was being dragged sideways down into that spinning hole that was, with violent force, puffing out gaily colored lanterns to waft like summer seeds in the ocean zephyrs. The shipboards groaned as they flexed with the unnatural momentum. Akedah, in his ship, spiraled out of control down into the depth of the whirling darkness. The force of the water would have undoubtedly surpassed the tensile strength of the oak keel, but with a boom, that sounded as if he had out-sailed sound itself, it was suddenly over.
The ocean bounced cheerfully under his boat. The sun was higher in the sky, and the happy lights still floated festively all about. The wild-eyed wind blown man ferociously bracing himself like a cornered wolf against the mast cut a contrasting figure to the surrounding serenity.
“Hullo there, Stranger!” called the common fisherman. “Welcome to Atlantis. Though I daresay you have stumbled upon us during our most dire festivities.”
Akedah leaned heavily over the side of the ship, displaying a bodily reaction to the ocean that he had never before experienced.
“Woah there. Take it easy pal.” The fisherman had a deep laugh that was not entirely unkind. If yous goin a party yous a better head on shore towards the hospitality district.” He playfully raised his brows when he drolled out the word ‘hospitality’ making it sound as though it rhymed with ‘commonality.’ The fisherman was a small jaunty man, and compared to the viking’s austere brawn, he came across as quite a jovial fellow. Whether it was mariner camaraderie, or just his happiness to see anyone maintaining the rhythm of breath, Akedah was not sure, but he immediately took to liking him, despite his obvious character flaw of being civilized.
“If the occasion is as dire as you say, Fisherman, why should it be marked with festivities?”
“Hoi Polloi is the name, my friend. Does goodness always beget good. What child conceived in pleasure is not born without pain?”
“So a royal child has been born?”
“The first born daughter of the king, Princess Moiety, has reached menarche one moon ago. She will be given in marriage tonight.”
Weddings. The more meaningful the event, the more people shrouded it in meaningless ritual. Official Norse marriages were arranged over months of contractual dramatic intrigue between families that culminated in an awkward three day festival. The festival climaxed in the actual consummation. Even then, the marriage was not considered legal until it was confirmed under torchlight by two independent observers. Akedah thought this was ridiculous. At what point does a celebration dissipate into depravity. Probably when the mead flings back the veil, and reveals what is truly underneath. Maybe the gods had ordained the rituals to restrain the reality. Maybe the ritual was the only pure thing that protected the holy consummation. The viking had been in enough battles to understand that when man is stripped of manners there is often nothing left but corrupted impulse. Perhaps the gods were indeed wise to protect mortals with manners and ritual afterall.
Their boats seesawed on the sunny waves. Atlantis loomed large on the horizon, and Akedah could hear its revelry in the distance.
Hoi Polloi seemed to have forgotten the viking for the moment. He stood, looking hard into the clear water. A lively rippled disturbance in the surface was circuitously meandering slowly closer to the fisherman’s boat. Mr. Polloi’s balanced stance on the center thwart reminded Akedah of his father’s pet falcon poised on barn crossbeam. Suddenly, he twisted his body sidelong and flung his weighted net out wide into the waters. A moment passed and he jerked the center string up tight against his body hauling in three thrashing seabass.
“Hahaha!” He exclaimed, “One for you. Two for me!” and he threw the fish so hard at the Viking that if he had not spent so much of his free time playing knattleikr, the fish would have been the lucky one.
“Atlantis is full of wealth.” Hoi Polloi began. “The best trade goods, the thinnest porcelain. We have silks, wines, cocoa, all the pleasures of the world can be found here. Travelers come from all over the realm to enjoy the splendors of Atlantis.” He tightened his cheek sardonically, and stared out at some unfixed point on the horizon. “The only drawback is that this ever encroaching ocean threatens to swallow us up if we do not sacrifice royal blood to mingle with the race of giants. The next in line to claim a bride from Atlantis is the Ocean Giant Ipalovek the Terrible. The princess will be sent out to sea tomorrow at sunset.” At this he casually tossed one of his fish back into the sea. “Maybe it would be better. Maybe Atlantis could use a little more salt, eh?”
As the sun set for the second time in the viking’s day, the fisherman turned his boat to port, and Akedah resolved to intercept the princess’ on her grim appointment. His mind was filled with the different ways Princess Moiety might display her gratitude. He wondered if she would have this compass with her, or if she would have to return to the island to retrieve it for him. Surely, she would be happy to give it to him in exchange for saving her life. A crowd was gathering on shore, and Akedah could see a small craft drifting jerkily out into the deep.
Further out in the ocean, an oily smear burbled up out of the blue depth. The viking could see the Giant Ipalovek. His impossibly large eyes glowed like funeral pyres, he snotted seawater in a spray of filth from his greenish troll nose, and his breaching propulsed a strong circular wave toward Akedah’s boat, which would have swamped it, if it had not fortunately been oriented nearly perpendicular to the oncoming wave.
Despite her father’s breaking heart, Queen Malirupt of Atlantis had chosen her first born daughter for this evil exchange. Malirupt had narrowly avoided becoming a sacrifice herself. Her sister had died in her place. She had willingly laid down her life for her evil sister, hoping to hold back the rising waters with the force of her great love. It had done so for a time, but now her niece was adrift in another barely buoyant boat made of tightly woven chrysanthemum flowers. This Princess, did not share her aunt’s valiant ideals of sacrificial love for she was her mother’s daughter, which is to say her scant good deeds were driven either by guilt or self-promotion, which is, of course, the opposite of being motivated by love.
Nevertheless, being duty bound under the law, she had stealed herself to this fate, and was determined that no one would ever see her cry. She was also determined to ingest the pound of belladonna berries she had pocketed before this farce of a wedding, which was merely a pretense for being ingested herself. Maybe if she ate enough of them it would poison that nasty giant too. At the very least, it might dilate his pupils and give him sun-migraines for a week.
Moiety could see him now, Ipalovek the Terrible. He grinned foolishly. The moonlight reflected maniacally in his obscene gaze. She refused eye contact. The bruteish demon. Who knew if he actually controlled the sea so that it did not rise over Atlantis. The Princess did not believe it for a minute. She doubted he could explain the difference between his mouth and his butt. It certainly smelled that way. His hungry drool was sliming lustily down his beard. Moiety wretched. She pulled the belladonna from her pocket and was about to swallow the whole pile of berries before she saw the viking.
Akedah was balanced heroically on the bow of his long ship aiming Thor’s silver arrows from a bow that was almost as tall as himself. Instead of relief, the Princess was angry that someone had the audacity to rain on her pity party. This was to be her moment of glory, when all the world remembered her. ‘The poor tragic thing, she died so young,’ they would say. They were going to write songs about her. Not this rude pseudo-heroic usurper. This was her story not his story.
Unlike the viking, The Princess Moiety was a self-reflective person, which is to say, she thought a lot about herself. But instead of weighing her own character against a holier standard, she mostly just liked to think about how slick she was compared to other people. You and I know that this had much to do with her education and healthy diet, but the princess was convinced she was more magnificent than the masses because of her own prowess. The truth was that many less fortunate teens in Atlanta were comparably more productive than the Princess when you factored in their lack of access to resources. Moiety chose to be lazy, and no one pointed this out to her. It would have been more productive to put lipstick on a pig, because the pig would look nicer than the princess when you finished explaining.
Meanwhile, the giant was howling at the viking like a modernday miffed motorist who had been cut off in traffic, “Dog! I will grind your bones into meal to bake in my bread. I will drain your blood to nurse my sharks! I will pickle your toes to eat with jam and bread.”
If the giant had been six foot tall like the viking, this would have been a ridiculous claim for he was quite out of shape for a giant. But, since he was 60 feet tall, this was a disconcerting proposition. However, the boastful giant did not realize the wonderful irony of this statement. Akedah was like a dog coming at him with a little bow. Anyone who has seen a chihuahua defending it’s family’s territory against the dread mailman, knows that dogs do not perform risk-benefit analysis based on size gradients. Dogs merely evaluate action based on what is right and wrong as far as dogs understand the concept. They do not think, “Hmm, that’s a big guy in a dark uniform, he looks imposing and official. I better not mess with him. He could squash me with his boot or give me a ticket.” That is egocentric human reasoning which we would expect from someone like Moiety not Akedah or chihuahuas.
So, yes, the viking was being like a dog. He was not over-philosophizing the situation like a coward.
The Viking flung out the cloth containing Thor’s arrows, and choosing one of the beautiful silver arrows fitted it to his ash longbow. He drew back on the sinew with his thumb, and for one small moment all the rest of the world faded into oblivion. Even his racing heartbeat slowed to a peaceful canter as he lined the arrow toward the flat brow between the giant’s eyes.
“Thwaaaaang,” resonated the bowstring.
The shot was true and hit its mark directly, drawing a viscous trickle of green blood, but before it could devastate a path through the giant’s frontal bone, it returned to its place in Akedah’s quiver, just as Thor’s hammer always returned to Thor’s hand.
“Bwa-HaHaHa-Ah-HoHo,” The giant thundered his enjoyment at his foe’s misfortune. He rejoiced at anyone else’s bad luck but this was particularly delicious, “Your gods have tricked you into going to your death, viking dog! Where is your mighty Thor now?”
To all appearances the gods had deserted the viking in his need. In his frustration, Akedah fired that same arrow at the moon. “Take it back!” he growled. The arrow hit the moon and sent up a spray of shining moon dust with the impact.
Perhaps, in some cases, the viking’s instincts were smarter than his brain, and perhaps this actionable lack of philosophy is what we could attribute his good fortune to in most cases. Perhaps, his willingness to take the next step, any next step, protected him from the overwhelming stagnancy that overtakes more mediocre men like moss overtakes a stationary stone. Peers had often accused him of brash and unsafe action, but no one ever accused Akedah of lackluster procrastination – which is -in case you were not aware- the greater evil.
The arrow returned to Akedah’s hand fully drenched moon poison. This poison is released from the moon every 28 days when it is in full bloom, that is to say, when it is a bright perfect globe like a white-seeded dandelion.
When the world was young, people knew about moon poison, how it drifts its dusty seeds out into the solar system on lunar flares. Today, after landing on the moon and scientifically evaluating its surface finding mostly igneous rocks, modern man has disposed of any new speculation concerning moon makeup, however; if the astronauts had taken up residence and observed the moon first hand through its cycle they might have reported otherwise. It is important to remember that all things magical or miraculous, are made of the same atoms and elements as the rest of the universe. Water can be turned miraculously to wine but first it has to flow through the vine. There is nothing strange about that.
Again without prelude of forethought, Akedah fired the loaded arrow at the guffawing giant. This time when it hit its mark the moon poison dissipated into Ipalovek’s blood stream.
In his youth, Ipalovek the Terrible had grown fat munching on eskimos and picking his teeth with narwhal tusks. He fancied himself a snowbird, relocating in his middle age to the sunny mediterranean. He would still visit his mother up north, and she would chat with him about what she wanted him to get her for her birthday, or nag at him for never being able to maintain a marriage. Sometimes she would put the two together, “Oh my little Snuggymumps!” She would announce as though the thought had just occurred to her. “Did you know my birthday is this spring? Maybe you keep your next wife without taking a bite out of her. Then maybe you could visit me with sweet little baby grandstinkies on my birthday.” Ipalovek thought that maybe he would like to have some little stinkers to carry on the terrible heritage of the Ipalovek namesake, but self-restraint is not something any child learns when they are catered to by doting mothers. This is especially true in the case of children who weigh 2,000 pounds. So Ipalovek’s well-meaning mother had spoiled her son and in the process spoiled any chance at hearing the thumpity-thwap of little grandstinky footsteps in her home.
Ipalovek was really intending to actually entertain the thought of perhaps not taking a bite out of this wife. He was going to try to save this one for his mother. Well, maybe only a one small bite. It was just that whenever he tried to only take one small bite he always wound up eating the whole wife. He did not think this was any fault of his, it was just that it was a shame to let the rest of the wife go to waste with profuse blood loss. If they would just stop bleeding, he not have to finish them.
All these thoughts evaporated from Ipalovek’s conscious as the poison crashed it way into his brain like an explosion of light. He felt las the full spectrum of the rainbow was glowing over his head and emanating all the way to his sacrum. Open mindedness nestled in like a deer tick. A thought of vengeance against the viking for robbing him of his entitlement entered his mind. He did not evaluate the thought as being good or bad but simply let it exist in his conscious alongside his inner self. Then a thought of hunger, and then a thought of his armpit itching traveled through his consciousness. Ipalovek let each of these thoughts pass through his mind without latching on to them, and as he ceased to attach meaning to his thoughts, he slipped deeper and deeper into a trancelike state at the bottom of which he found an all encompassing empty ignorant bliss.
The viking and the princess were not aware of the details of Ipalovek’s stroke of mindfulness. They only saw his jaundiced eyes roll back into slightly smiling skull as he slipped calmly below the rolling blue waves.
“Come on, jump into my boat!” Akedah was completely aware that the moon poison had a short half life and would soon clear itself from the giant’s bloodstream, even quicker given the amount of seawater he was most likely swallowing.
“I most certainly will not do any such thing,” Moiety retorted, disdainfully emphasizing each word. Besides the fact that the viking had spoiled her pity party, the haughty princess was suspicious of anyone military (or masculine) looking as being an arrogant imperialist. At the very least they were sure to be a prudish zealot who would insist on telling her what to do. She had always fancied the company of slight, unimposing men, attributing it to her artistic tastes. The real reason she liked feminine looking men was because she was so heavily ensconced in narcissism, she could not imagine being attracted to anything that looked very different from herself. And oh boy. this broad chested beaded abomination fit the bill of everything Moiety did not like. He probably hunted deer too.
She crossed her arms and flopped herself violently down into a seated position in the bottom of her flowery craft. Moiety thought she came across as dignified and smartly decisive with her cool refusal. Akedah thought she looked like a wet cat.