THE LAY OF HRETHULF GLAMIRSBANE



THE LAY OF HRETHULF GLAMIRSBANE, by Cullen Groves

At the marriage feast of Glamir to the maiden Erna, in Glamir’s own hall of Hlodvangr, Hrethulf and his band of berserks drank the last of the mead and the feast-ale while the night was young, and the marriage yet unconsummated. Hrethulf and Glamir were shield-companions of old, and many a battle had Glamir won with the magic sword Durnsleif, so that he had become a great jarl, despite the three dooms laid in the blade. Now Hrethulf came before the high seat where Glamir sat beside his bride, and the berserk complained to him for the lack of drink:

HRETHULF:
What’s a wineless wedding But a woman homely?
Who wants her worthless kisses
When her eyes are lightless?
Wine makes bright the brimming
Brising stones, her face’s jewels;
Without wine, who wants her,
Cares to win troll-kisses?

So bring us mead-horns brimming,
Better gold there is none,
Go, great host, getting
Sweet gold, sweetly drunk down;
We came to your hall calling,
Came to see bright Erna,
To see her wedded, sitting
In the seat of honor

Bring the beer out, brother,
Bless us with the feast-ale,
Or the maiden’s marriage
May be less than joyful;
How can Glamir have none?
Has the goatherd drunk it,
Drained the hall to dregs as
Once he drank the whale-halls?

Strange I count your claiming
That you cannot quench me,
Thirsty am I, Thurs-mad
That you leave me hungry;
Erna, you have earned him,
An earl for your husband,
A great man who’s granting
To his guest-friends water

Can our host be happy,
Having not Suttung’s honey?
Men are the mead-drinkers,
Mete is it so: verses
Flow from the flower-dew’s
Ferment, skalds enchanting;
Water is a wolf’s drink,
Whets even beast’s thirstings

Shame on a hall that shares not
Joy–shall we abide here?
We hoped in this hall for
Happiness, but laughter
Is lacking where the lord gives
Little to return honor;
Methinks the marriage-bed
Cold-made by this omen

GLAMIR:
Loud the mouth  that’s lowing,
Like a cow that’s birthing,
Lokë complained less when he
Laid low to birth the stallion
Than Hrethulf’s loud raving,
Rattling his host’s halls
With evil words, a worm’s mouth
His, wide and death-breathing

When will you quit your whining
Like a whelp, quit yelping?
Gold I’ve given freely,
Rings I’ve gladly offered,
Shields and swords well-sharpened
Too, and shall you call me stinting?
Whet your anger elsewhere,
If you won’t stop griping!

HRETHULF:
So he speaks, insulting,
Sullies Hrethulf’s honor;
All gathered here, guest-friends
Of Glamir, heard him damning
In bad faith a brother,
His blood-bonded kinsman;
Would he throw us to winter?
His words are an oath-breaker’s!

GLAMIR:
I care not how you clamor,
Calling me a nithing;
The ale’s drunk already,
It’s all gone–so be it!
But weeping and wailing,
A woman complaining,
You make the mood darker,
The maiden’s joy robbing

I’ll hail you on a holm-shore,
Hel-road make less lonely,
Later would I let you
Meet the leaf this war-tree
Wields, a weapon shields broke
In war, the dwarf-sword Durnsleif;
Get hence from here, howling
Horror, you wolf, Hrethulf!

HRETHULF:
Clear to me now, a coward
Glamir’s clept; together
We in shield-walls shattered
Men, shorn lives from living,
But long ago laughter
For Longbeard’s gift died down;
Now friends he sends, faultless
To feast hungry wolf-packs

No friend here I’m finding,
But Fenrir, mighty-vitnir,
Nor hall of bold hersirs,
No hand braves the wolf’s maw;
No mead makes us merry,
We mull our ill feelings;
I’m bleak–I will drink black blood
If beer I’m not given!

Then Hrethulf gathered his berserks and went forth into the night, still clamoring as if Glamir had broken high laws of guest-friendship handed down by the All-Father. They took up their swords and spears, their shields and mail coats, where they stood by the door, and stepped out armed, into the night.

ERNA:
Lament not his missing,
But merry be, my Glamir;
Yours am I, yearning
Yet for night’s coming;
Freyja was not freer
With friendship to Dvalin
And his brothers for the Brising
In bed than I for your kisses

GLAMIR:
Give me your hand, golden
Goddess, daughter of beauty;
Feel my pulse in fingers
Friendly, white and slender;
Glad am I that Glamir
Is goaded no longer
In halls of Hlodvangr
By hot Hrethulf’s curses

HRETHULF:
Bar the door, bare sword-blades,
Toss brands on the thatching!
Who steps forth, kill, striking
Red strands ‘twixt head and body;
Glamir send, insulting
Beast, to seas by Helheim,
And let Surt’s red, laughing
Tongues lick up this dung-heap

GLAMIR:
Up warriors! The war-trees’
Boughs in winds are shaken,
Like the world-tree worried
By the worm at its roots;
To hand take hard iron,
And helm yourselves well,
To shatter the shield-wall
And share out death’s coldness

Go on with your axes
And open the doorway,
Let the cold of night’s cowl
Be cloaked on our shoulders;
The air with bows’ errants,
Black arrows, be crowded,
Be bold! Or in barrows
Your bones will soon molder

ERNA:
How bright are the byrnies
On breasts of fine hersirs,
In flames how they flicker
And flash, as if gilded;
Now stark Glamir stretches
His strong right hand over us,
He draws him out Durnsleif,
Doom-driven to crow-feasts

Many were the women and children guested there, and also bondsmen, for Glamir was a jarl of some renown; they huddled in the hall-center, while the flames parched the air. So the hersirs of Hlodvangr shrugged on their mail coats, and took up their swords and their broad linden shields. Then the housecarls hewed at the doors with two-handed axes, while flames licked the high walls and blackened the carvings of the gods in high heaven. Certain men there had great bows, and they shot black arrows through the gaps in the door, but their shafts went wild in the wide night. But the berserks out in the darkness had the All-Father’s spell on them, and their shield-wall held, until a burning roof beam fell and laid low glorious Glamir before Durnsleif could avail him. That was the second of the sword’s three spells of evil, as the skalds say.

HRETHULF:
How now, within, nithing?
Need water for drinking?
And will you the tears of women
Drink, weeping as they are?
I hear them cry, howling–
Maids, or hersirs weeping?
Now you will know nothing,
Nor the corse of Erna

Better match in marriage
Was maiden Freawara’s;
Hathobardings’ helmet,
Hersir-Ingeld, took her
From her Danish father–
Froda’s son the daughter
Of the Danes despoiled,
Doomed his wife’s father still

The bride is now burning,
Her bright beauty glaring;
The groom’s to Hel going,
Glamir, mouth like Lokë’s;
Their bed of coals brightly
Blazes, hot marriage night,
No disir’s doom spoken
Indeed–yet cold will they sleep

At last I’m warmed, longing
No longer the coals
Of mead in blood’s mere-deeps;
I’ve made a good fire,
Avenged me! Hlodvangr’s
Vanished in hot ashes;
I’ve drunk enough of death
Tonight–dawn comes; let’s rest

When the ashes of Glamir’s hall had cooled, only the magic sword Durnsleif remained in the ashes, a weapon forged of old by dwarf-skill. Hrethulf took up the cursed sword and carried it away, and wielded it for many years until the last of the three spells of evil laid its doom on him. But that is another lay.

_________________________________________________________

Cullen Groves lives in Moscow, Idaho, trying to hack it as a writer while still bumming around where he graduated from the University of Idaho. His poetry has appeared previously at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and he also has a piece forthcoming in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.


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