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HELHEIM

from Types Of Children's Literature - Myths And Legends





When at last the ship Ringhorn had floated out so far to sea that
it looked like a dull red lamp on the horizon, Frigga turned round
and said, "Does any one of you, my children, wish to perform a
noble action and win my love forever?"

"I do," cried Hermod, before any one else had time to open his
lips.

"Go then, Hermod," answered Frigga, "saddle Sleipnir with all
speed and ride down to Helheim; there seek out Hela, the stern
mistress of the dead, and entreat her to send our beloved back to us
once more."

Hermod was gone in the twinkling of an eye, not in at the mouth
of the earth and through the steep cavern down which Odin went
to the dead Vala's grave; he chose another way, though not a better
one; for, go to Helheim how you will, the best is but a downward
road, and so Hermod found it--downward, slanting, slippery, dark,
and very cold. At last he came to the Giallar Bru--that sounding
river which flows between the living and the dead, and the bridge
over which is paved with stones of glittering gold. Hermod was
surprised to see gold in such a place; but as he rode over the bridge,
and looked down carefully at the stones, he saw that they were only
tears which had been shed round the beds of the dying--only tears,
and yet they made the way seem brighter. But when Hermod
reached the other end of the bridge, he found the courageous woman
who, for ages and ages, had been sitting there to watch the dead go
by, and she stopped him, saying:

"What a noise you make! Who are you? Yesterday five troops
of dead men went over the Giallar Bridge and did not shake it
so much as you have done. Besides," she added, looking more
closely at Hermod, "you are not a dead man at all. Your lips are
neither cold not blue. Why, then, do you ride on the way to
Helheim?"

"I seek Baldur," answered Hermod. "Tell me, have you seen
him pass?"

"Baldur," she said, "has ridden over the bridge; but there below,
towards the north, lies the way to the Abodes of Death."

So Hermod went on the way until he came to the barred gates
of Helheim itself. There he alighted, tightened his saddle-girths,
remounted, clapped both spurs to his horse, and cleared the gate by
one tremendous leap. Then Hermod found himself in a place where
no living man had ever been before--the City of the Dead. Perhaps
you think there is a great silence there, but you are mistaken.
Hermod thought he had never in his life heard so much noise; for
the echoes of all words were speaking together--words, some newly
uttered and some ages old; but the dead men did not hear who flitted
up and down the dark streets, for their ears had been stunned
and become cold long since. Hermod rode on through the city until
he came to the palace of Hela, which stood in the midst. Precipice
was its threshold, the entrance hall, Wide Storm, and yet Hermod
was not too much afraid to seek the innermost rooms; so he went
on to the banqueting hall, where Hela sat at the head of her table
and served her newest guests. Baldur, alas! sat at her right hand,
and on her left his pale young wife. When Hela saw Hermod coming
up the hall she smiled grimly, but beckoned to him at the same
time to sit down, and told him that he might sup that night with
her. It was a strange supper for a living man to sit down to.
Hunger was the table; Starvation, Hela's knife; Delay, her man;
Slowness, her maid; and Burning Thirst, her wine. After supper
Hela led the way to the sleeping apartments. "You see," she said,
turning to Hermod, "I am very anxious about the comfort of my
guests. Here are beds of unrest provided for all, hung with curtains
of weariness, and look how all the walls are furnished with
despair."

So saying she strode away, leaving Hermod and Baldur together.
The whole night they sat on those unquiet couches and talked.
Hermod could speak of nothing but the past, and as he looked
anxiously round the room his eyes became dim with tears. But
Baldur seemed to see a light far off, and he spoke of what was to
come.

The next morning Hermod went to Hela, and entreated her to let
Baldur return to Asgard. He even offered to take his place in Helhelm
if she pleased; but Hela only laughed at this and said: "You talk a
great deal about Baldur, and boast how much every one loves him; I
will prove now if what you have told me be true. Let everything on
earth, living or dead, weep for Baldur, and he shall go home again;
but if one thing only refuse to weep, then let Helheim hold its own;
he shall not go."

"Every one will weep willingly," said Hermod, as he mounted
Sleipnir and rode towards the entrance of the city. Baldur went
with him as far as the gate and began to send messages to all his
friends in Asgard, but Hermod would not listen to many of them.

"You will so soon come back to us," he said, "there is no use
in sending messages."

So Hermod darted homewards, and Baldur watched him through
the bars of Helheim's gateway as he flew along.

"Not soon, not soon," said the dead Asa; but still he saw the light
far off, and thought of what was to come.





Next: WEEPING

Previous: BALDUR DEAD



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