THE HARROWED HALL



THE HARROWED HALL, by Cullen Groves

 

 

There was a shout at the doorway, then a shock of war-tumults,

And a thrall came in running, from the threshold of battle,

To the high-seat he hurried, and hove to in a word-wind,

‘With cold brands they come faring, and fires in their left hands,

                And old Hönir holds the door!’

 

Then Glamir leapt up, who had glutted ravens

And feasted grey wolves on the fields of battle,

Saying, ‘Hear the wolves howl? Let hard ash answer,

Let spear-shafts shatter their shields in wood-talk,

                Up hersirs, to Hönir’s side!’

 

In the clatter of mail-coats, in the clamor of war-shouts

Only bright-faced Erna, new bride of Glamir,

Like a stone in the salt-sea, sat still in the tumult,

And wept, ‘Glamir, wolf-friend, a warg feasted in your hall,

                So woe hangs over our wedding!’

 

Old Hönir held the door still, in his deathgrip kept it closed,

Until Hror and Guthleif, girt in their byrnies

Stepped up with their swords out, and swept back the foemen,

But they could not break free, beyond the oak doors,

                For the night was not theirs

 

From the berserks beyond came a bold man, crying,

‘Who holds the doorway? Who dares against us,

Standing with a brave heart, like the bridge-guard of heaven?’

So the berserk Hrethulf cried, and Hror answered, shouting

                ‘Hror is he, and here he stands!’

 

Then Hrethulf came on, against Hror and Guthleif,

So the two lay by Hönir, walked Hel-road side-by-side,

And like a black raven, raucous over corpses,

Hrethulf boasted his deed, ‘No byrnie of iron

                Can stand against my strength!

 

‘But until the ring-coat of the ring-giver is sundered,

I’ll not stray from my watch at the strand of the threshold,

For my mood is black at the bleakness of Glamir,

Who stinted old friends, nor was free with his gift-hand,

                Who gave little gold or mead!’

 

And glowering like a storm-head, came Glamir to his own door,

‘Your breath stinks of ale-fumes, your breme is like Nidhogg,

Who lies at the world’s roots, a worm lying in filth,

So get hence, Hrethulf, or be hied to the mist-realm!’

                And the sword Durnsleif he drew

 

But reflected in the sword-blade, he saw the face of Erna,

And he groaned, ‘Bright are the eyes of the bride of high doom,

                O! what a face shines on fey steel,

                What a face for a fey night!

 

‘I had hoped for many years, not one hollow night only

To sit in the high seat, to hail you beside me

                In the feasts by the fire-hearths,

                And in the feasts of Frigga

 

‘The seas of your sorrow, the salt on your high cheeks

I see through my sword-blade like swallowing rip-tides,

                How I would that our wedding

                Were the wedding we wished for!

 

‘I remember your laughter, in the lands of your father,

But the last I shall see is your sorrow reflected on cold steel,

                Beauty wasted in a worm’s breath,

                Youth wasted by a weird’s ill-death!’

 

Never have forty men fought with such courage,

As if a king’s great host in the hall had mustered,

But Hrethulf had ringed the place with ring-wearing outlaws,

And they fired the gables, they feasted Surt’s red tongues,

                While Glamir stood glamored by his sword

 

Then the walls started blazing, under worm’s-breath cracking,

While the floor-boards shouted, Shief and Hyrda to receive;

That pair got their death-wounds at the door, rushing out,

Swords flashing in their hands, but hewn by great Hrethulf,

                Their corpses cast back to the kiln

 

The air itself seemed afire, with ash in each lungful,

While the streaming of tears became steam on high cheeks;

And the beams up above, all burst, red and dancing,

Until the hall itself shook and shivered with Surt’s laughter

                Came apart, crashing, and crushed all within

 

What if Glamir had come striding, from spell-gloom to battle,

And swept all before him, with his sword in his hand?

They say that was the curse of old, cast on the forging

Of Durnsleif, the doom-sword, by the dwarf-slaves who made it;

                And only ash and Durnsleif remained after

__________________________________________

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. He has had poetry published in the July 2015 edition of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and both prose and poetry published by Heroic Fantasy Quarterly in several issues, as well as a poem forthcoming with Apex Magazine. He promises that not everything he produces is alliterative verse, though everything yet published is indeed poetic in some form.

 


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