Friday, 22 August 2014

Novel: The Wolves of Ragnarök, Tiwesdaeg - Second Cycle

Tiwesdaeg - Second Cycle

[This is a ‘stand-alone’ fragment from the unpublished novel, "The Wolves of Ragnarök". This fragment retells the ancient story about the failure of justice. It is one of the oldest stories I can reconstruct. This fragment deals with two wolves from Icelandic lore, Fenrir and Garn. Note that this ties to the lecture "On Certainty". This fragment is now in final form.]

Your eyes, wide open, ask me for a story. 

Clouds drift through our hills, like warm winter sheets hiding moist vales and tall gums.

You touch my nose and call for a story about me, told to you. A story told to you, where you can see your eyes and no one else’s reflected in mine. So, I told you this story about the coming of the wolf age. But your eyes dimmed as the night deepened, and fell asleep asmile. 

I tell you, “Garn, the wolf that watches, taught me this story. It is about Fenrir, the most powerful of the Norse wolves.” This story crackles with its own power. Each retelling changes the world, sometimes more, sometimes less. Simply retelling it draws unwelcome attention.

Yes, you are here too, trying to stay awake. You ask sleepily, “Which wolf are you?” and I shrug. 

This is a hard story; a lesson in failure. “A story of the frailty of purpose”, I say. You tell me you will stay awake deep into the night to hear the story. But I know you will not. While your eyes swim in mine as I start, others watch as yours dim. Others watch as your purpose fails and you finally fall asleep, while I tell you the story about how justice fails.

I start this story the old way.  “To us all a full life and a fair measure of prosperity, happiness, pleasure and joy until we are visited by the lord of death, the destroyer of delights and the one who parts companions.

Garn watches the nine worlds. High, three cold worlds are the province of gods and alfs. Lower, three warm worlds are the home of giants – one, Middle Earth, is also the home of men.  Lowest, three hot worlds are home to dark creatures and the dead. Garn is captive to the ruler of the lowest of the worlds, Nifheim. Hel is her name, daughter to a past companion of the gods, Loki.  She is half radiant beauty and half malignant decay.

From his cliff, he watches for the end of the life cycle, for the death of all things. His task is to meet each of dead, human or other, stumbling into Hel’s domain and to move them on, to the ranks of the army of the dead gathering around Hel. All those who die an ordinary death, away from glorious battle, come here.

Past his post is a confusion of footprints – leading from the graves of the dead.  All the footprints of dead humans start at graves in Middle Earth.

Follow the footprints of the wretched dead back from whence they started. In the barrows of the dead kings scattered in the steppes of Middle Earth are treasures beyond our understanding. Here are the instruments of war; there are the baubles they lived and died for. Here are the great named swords – created by sorcerers to bite or parry. There the bulwarks - some smashed, some untouched.

Look closer and patterns appear. Stitching in a leather helm – betraying the movement of a hand from so long ago. Shining rocks collected far from here – brought by trade or deluge. Though the voices are stilled, there are stories here. 

See the small statue, a male with one right hand missing, in this barrow. Another without a right hand in that grave. And those in others almost beyond counting, even in the paupers scrapings. The same deliberate pattern, repeated time after time.

The statutes look like a man, but they are actually a god. He is an old god, old almost beyond remembrance. Yet we still honor this god – Týr. We honor him with the name of the day Tuesday. 

Týr was known to the tribes of Middle Earth as the god of war and justice. Originally one of the more important gods, his primacy faded as the tribes fought their way into Europe. But not completely.

Tonight, we remember him as the god of justice. When war fades, justice become central to the notion of civil society. When justice fails, civilization descends back into war and strife. Týr is implacably opposed to chaos, the enemy of justice. And his greatest challenge is upon him.

The three children of Loki by Angrbode were fearful beyond imagining. We have already met Hel, who strives to control the three lower worlds and builds each day the army of the dead. The Midguard Serpent encircles the three middle worlds just out of reach of men and alf. Now, on the fields of the three upper worlds, the third child, Fenrir runs free and has grown large playing with the children of the gods.

The older gods fear Fenrir. He has taken his mother’s form as a wolf of the iron woods. In the god’s fear they agree that Fenrir cannot be allowed to reach maturity. He must not challenge them for rule of the last three upper worlds. 

The gods first turn to the dwarfs, who construct a chain of iron to bind the great wolf. The chain fails at the first test.

The dwarves labor to construct a replacement far stronger, which fails as well.

The gods turn to the dark alfs, who construct a different chain. Like sentiment, this chain binds tight, but is made from the most intangible items we can imagine: the sound of a cat’s step, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, bear’s sensibilities, fish’s breath and bird’s spittle.

Fenrir has suffered the gods testing his strength with chains twice. He has no need to prove himself a third time. So now the gods turn to Týr – the God of Justice. 

Týr, the champion of justice, is opposed to only one condition – chaos. Like the alf’s new chain, Týr weaves his lawspells in the most intangible way – with appeals to fairness, remembrances of peace, and foils designed to blunt the fiercest blood. The chaos of revenge slaughter is replaced by the golden threads of the law: juries, summons, applications and adjudication before courts of respected community members. 

As he approaches Fenrir, Týr sees instead his old foe, and feels the cold fear of approaching chaos. He pledges his word as the God of Justice, that if the chain binds, he will remove the chain. This is a pledge he must not break. He cannot break his word, without unleashing chaos – for how can the promise of a mere mortal be expected sacrosanct if the God of Justice holds such promises worthless.

Fenrir weighs the risks and as an added security takes Týr’s right hand into his mouth. 

While the chains of iron were easily broken, Fenrir cannot break the new chain. This should not come as a surprise. Our world is bound in chains of sentiment – we are all bound by the most intangible chains – and these chains bind us tight.

Fenrir turns to Týr. He concedes defeat. 

I turn to you, your eyes wide shut. Breathing softly asleep asmile. Here the story should end – the noose slipped and Fenrir, beaten and humbled, freed to take his chances in a changed world. 

This is the moment, the point at which everything is in balance. It is now that the gods could break that terrible path they tread towards their twilight. Here is the point justice could prevail. Fenrir has broken no law, and justice demands no penalty. Fenrir has just learnt that he is not invulnerable. 

He appeals to the God of Justice for his freedom. It is his right. That was the bargain.

Týr looks at Fenrir. 

The God of Justice weighs his options. He has broken Fenrir – no longer is he invulnerable. But Týr looks at Fenrir and sees chaos. So, instead of honoring his bargain with the wolf by releasing the bonds, he chooses to break his word and draw the chain tight. 

The loss of Týr’s hand is the least damage done here. While the threat of chaos in the form of a free Fenrir recedes, the intangible rules of justice start to unravel across the world, as bargains between gods and between humans are set to naught. And chaos is unleashed.

The seers whisper: “It is harsh in the world, whoredom is rife — an axe age, a sword age —shields are riven — a wind age, a wolf age— before the world goes headlong. No man will have mercy on another.”

“Do you still seek to know? And what?”

Across the steppes we find the discarded statues of the old god of justice, one hand missing. A reminder of how chaos follows the failure of justice.

Far from Asgard, Týr’s fate unravels.

The wolf Garm had pledged allegiance to the gods and accepted domestication. For this act of loyalty he was chained by Loki’s daughter Hel.

At the time of Ragnarök, it is fated that Garn hold his deal with the gods at no value. Instead he will join the giants in their fight against the gods and will leap at Týr’s throat. They will kill each other

The night falls silent. I feel your body move gently next to mine. I hear your gentle breath. But in my eyes now swim other fires. Those eyes stare at me from afar, wild and dangerous, unforgiving.

“Come back to us, to Middle Earth”, they call as the first rays of light touch your hair. A wolf howls to her pack in the cold wastes outside the hall as the wind suddenly whips through the trees outside, clearing the clouds. 

And as she lay sleeping, he is dragged back through the portal. To a different reality.

c. Peter Quinton
February, August 2014


Peter Quinton said...

Alex and Fran - Thanks for the feedback about the paras introducing Garm. I have reframed to make the context clearer :) I am not happy about the spit in narrative around Garm, this makes the piece unnecessarily complex. Will have a look at making it simpler - thanks again.

Peter Quinton said...

Fran - the Norse conception of female gods is complex. The literature from the period - supported by archaeological evidence and the formal legal code suggests that women occupied positions of power and were used to wielding it. Every woman, regardless of age, held within her three or four aspects - leader/householder/mother, wild lover, seer and child. The words I am using here do not do justice outside the Norse condition - but I am working on this one :) This belief structure is far removed from modern conceptions - particularly post-war families of our parents.