Here it is, as promised! Part 1 of Mage. Enjoy and subscribe to my new email list to receive future posts to your inbox, along with codes for free eBooks.
An Original Scandinavian Folktale
By Molly Michele Hopkins
Once upon a time, there was a teensy-weensy fishing village off the coast of the Skagerrak Sea, whose inhabitants lived goodly lives. They kept the word of the lawspeaker, honored the gods of Asgard and Vanaheim, and did not give in to peer pressure to become Viking raiders. They fished in the daytime, danced in the Maytime, traded peaceably, and spun tales of valor by their hearths in the frigid midwinter, and were altogether contented with the fate the Norns had dealt them.
But one summer day, their fortune changed.
The river that had supplied them freshwater since the beginning of time inexplicably ceased to flow. Bewildered, the villagers could make neither head nor tail of the barren riverbed, as the rains had come as steadily that year as any before.
Despite their befuddlement, they hastened to dig wells, as well they ought, but having no experience at the craft, the structures collapsed or refused to yield so much as a trickle.
Fortunes fell further afoul as their source of sustenance and trade diminished as well. Each day the people went out to fish, and each day they returned less fortunate than the day before until there was not a fish to be found in the sea.
Children complained of empty bellies while their parents wasted away, clinging to life by the dew of the dawn.
Parched and perishing, the people prayed to the gods for relief from this wretched blight, but Odin the all-father did not grant them wisdom. Frigga, the goddess of the home, did not quench the children’s thirst. Balder, the god of peace, would not look their way. And Niord, the god of water and sea, appeared to rebuff their pleas.
Finally, the villagers begged their chieftain to seek aid from the crazy mage-woman living in the Twisted Wood.
The eternally middle-aged apothecary was slightly off her rocker but was said to dabble in divination and other magical arts—although it had not been rumored that she was particularly skilled at any of them.
For these reasons, the people’s petition did not appeal to the chieftain, but as he lacked in both brain and backbone—only having been elected because he understood the minds of fish—he obliged and ventured alone into the Twisted Wood to seek a mad-woman’s council.
After a short journey, the chieftain came upon the loopy lady’s longhouse buried deep in a grove and tap-tippety-tapped on her front door. A lilting voice bade him enter and he did so, finding that on the inside, the longhouse was long ways up and down instead of side to side as the exterior suggested. The high walls, lined with shelves, towered to the distant ceiling, stuffed with bundles of dried herbs and flowers, bowls of fungi, colorful powders, and peculiar bric-a-brac.
“Hallo!” Called the squat woman from behind her bubbling cauldron in the center of the room.
And the long-haired sheep in the corner commented, “Baa.”
It was not uncommon to keep one’s livestock in one’s house in those days, but they were usually kept penned off at the far end, not in the middle of things with a book propped in front of their noses, as this one did. The beast’s goggly eyes even appeared to be scanning the page as it chewed its cud.
“You’re right!” The woman answered the ewe, “We don’t get many visitors.” Scuttling around the fire, she plopped the chieftain down on a bench and asked pertly, “What can I do for you?”
But the uneasy chieftain still watched the sheep, not uttering a word.
The herbalist chuckled and said, “Oh, don’t mind Svanrunn; she does enjoy her poetic verse,” as though this settled things.
Shaking his puzzlement away like a dog does its fleas, the chieftain focused and began his rehearsed request, “Ahem. Oh, magnanimous lady—”
“You may call me Mage,” the stout woman interrupted, adding covertly, “I forgot my given name centuries ago.” She gave a wink and started to laugh again.
Svanrunn rolled her bulgy eyes.
The chieftain twitched and continued, beseeching Mage to help return the water to the river and the fish to the sea.
“Your words tickle a whispery memory in my cobwebby brain,” Mage tapped her noggin and scurried across the longhouse to a ladder going all the way up the wall to the faraway roof, where sunlight glowed through the thatch.
She climbed the ladder with surprising agility, stopping at a bowed shelf halfway to the top, piled with flattish rectangular objects.
“W-what are those things?” The chieftain trembled, wary of potential devilry.
“My dear man, they are books, the finest!” Mage sniffed proudly, pulling a whomping tome from a cattywampus stack, sending a puff of book dust sprinkling down onto the chieftain like star powder.
“Here it is!” Mage announced, “My tutor of old was a notorious kloka man, a seer of futures. I suspect he had Alfheim blood, for he spouted prophecies left, right, and center. It was quite irritating actually.” Mage made a face as she descended the steps, book in tow.
She was a bit touchy when it came to those more proficient at magic than herself, but her grimace quickly broke into a chortle, “Irritating right up until the day a draugr ate him.”
The chieftain startled in alarm, and Mage chided, “Oh, don’t look like that. It’s what he deserved for fiddling with necromancy. One mustn’t play with the dead, you know. They aren’t very sporting, and the smell is unbelievable!
“Anywho-which-whats-it,” Mage continued, “he prophesied one day—over a mug of my own concocting.” The chieftain shifted nervously, peering at Mage’s cauldron which wafted scents of silverweed, sage, and cinnamon.
“Oh, it wasn’t anything exciting, only mead. Though, a fine mulberry mead, quite delicious if I do say so.” Mage reached the bottom step, plunked the book onto a table, and began flipping through its crusty yellow pages, “I recorded all of his prophecies, the ones I heard anyway. Here we are!” Her finger smote the page, and she read as though delivering a grand oration:
When drier than toast the riverbed be,
Starving folk, not a fish in the sea,
Seek the Lord of the Sea in his lair,
And do what he asks; it’s your only prayer.
Desperate, the chieftain wrung his net-gnarled hands, “Will you go for us? And do whatever he asks? We will give you anything. A fine ram for your ewe perhaps?”
Svanrunn snorted; she didn’t need a ram.
“We’ll make you our Wisewoman!” the chieftain continued, falling on his knees, “Whatever you want, only bring back our water and fish!”
Well, Mage liked the sound of that. She had always wanted to be well-liked.
Lickety-split, she packed some potions, snatched her best cloak, and toddled out of her hovel, Svanrunn clip-clopping in her wake.
The two parted ways with the chieftain in the Twisted Wood, carrying on to the edge of a craggy cliff overlooking the Skagerrak sea. Mage and her ewe stood at the precipice, peering down into the raging water below. Giant waves swelled and crashed against the rocks, foaming in a torrential fury. Whirlpools span viciously, and a wicked wind-whipped ‘round, hateful and cruel.
Without batting a lash, Mage stepped right over the ledge, wearing a sly sort of simper, and Svannrunn ‘baa-ed’ her good luck. On the enchantress’s long plunge toward the violent sea, she pulled from her satchel a wee potion bottle, popped the cork, and swallowed it back, thinking how nice of a diversion this was from her daily routine. Herbs and books, and ja, even Svanrunn’s company, could get a trifle dull after a few centuries.
Mage waved her spell-casting hand confidently over the roiling water. But nothing happened—except its rapid approach. Mage huffed, still falling, and tried again, but the sea below did not respond to her summoning. A smidge worried, she waved both hands in a frazzled, flailing flurry. This time a single wave rose above the rest, and Mage gave a supercilious nod as she would a naughty child who had finally obeyed. The wave grew and lifted and climbed and reached until it caught her in the air and lowered her gently into the heart of the sea.
Beneath the water, Mage breathed easily, the cloud-breath potion taking good effect. Not that there was any reason to doubt it, of course. She used a calming spell to keep the waves from pummeling her to a pulp and kicked downward like a toad, her hair and clothes billowing behind.
Sinking down, down into the deep depths, Mage landed on the seafloor in a plume of sand and ruffled it about, sifting for a mollusk, the water swaying her in a sleepy sort of dance. Plucking a clam from the seabed, Mage whispered:
“I’ve a gift. Open up, please.”
The oyster opened its mouth, and Mage plunked a pearl inside and said, “I’d like to speak to Niord if he is not too busy.”
Ripples of waves emanated from the oyster, a signal speeding to the farthest reaches of Midgard. The silt beneath Mage’s feet began to quiver and quake, shiver and shake. Then a great whoosh of water smacked her, sending her toes over nose like a whirligig. Once she was the right way up again, Mage beheld a colossal sea giant.
“Erm,” said Mage, “I don’t mean to be rude, but you aren’t Niord.”
“NO!” The giant bellowed, “I am ÆGIR. Niord has dubbed me the lord of this region.”
“Ah, I see. Would you happen to know anything about the disappearance of the local fish population and the dry riverbed?”
Ægir roared and raged, forming and exploding vortexes of water with the pounding of his fists, “That MAN! That man has kidnapped them!”
“I think we ought to back up a bit,” Mage suggested politely. “Who has kidnapped whom?”
“My DAUGHTERS! My daughters of the waves and foam,” Ægir moaned, “He imprisoned them away from me, and I cannot reach them.”
“I beg your pardon, dear, who did?”
“The farmer man called Elg! He dammed the river and trapped them in his foul lake. He will pay! They will ALL PAY!!” Vengeance seethed from Ægir’s silvery pores, and he beat his breast in anger.
“There, there, let’s not get carried away.”
“What would you say,” Mage offered, “if I return your girls to you safer than if Meili, god of travel, delivered them himself; would you then return the fish to the innocent villagers?”
“NO! Elg must perish for his crimes!”
“Well…” Mage began impishly, “This Elg is no doubt a proud man, men often are you know. What if he were to prostrate himself in apology to you and the village? Such disgrace would no doubt haunt him to the end of his days. Surely, that is worse than even death?”
Mage nudged an overly chummy jellyfish away with her cowhide shoe, while Ægir considered her words. He was a wrathful, powerful, righteously indignant sea giant, but imaginative he was not, and being himself prideful, could not think of a more egregious sentence than an apology. Therefore, he acquiesced to Mage’s terms and launched her back to the sea’s surface like a shooting star. She burst out of the water in a spray, landing with a rolling bounce on a shore that was not where she had entered.
Mage gathered herself and flourished in what she imagined to be a graceful sweep of her arms but was more of a drunken flap. The magical movement repelled the water from her frizzy hair, heavy cloak, and woolen dress, only before it backfired, returning to splash her in the face.
“Åh ja,” sighed the bedraggled Mage, looking much like Svanrunn caught in a rainstorm.
Where had that sheep gotten to? Hands on hips, Mage looked around the belly of the barren fjord where she stood. The ewe would just have to catch up.
With a shrug and a hop, Mage popped off to locate this Elg fellow, following the dry riverbed inland. She toddled along the pebbly base, and when she passed the settlement, waved up at the cowering villagers, shrinking from her in fear.
Up the way, Mage began singing a huldraslaat, a song of the hillfolk, distant cousins of hers. Although you mightn’t have guessed it, she was a good singer, her voice coming out plummy and smooth as it wove the ethereal tune. The minor melody spun enchantment through the surrounding wood, ensnaring the notice of the wild animals therein. Before long, all manner of creatures gathered at the edges of the trees on both sides of the ravine, skittering and chittering along to her haunting refrain.
Svanrunn reappeared in answer to Mage’s call, peeping her head over the edge of the culvert, with Hakon, a speckled duck with a blue beak, riding upon her back.
“Baa,” she said.
“Come on, then.” Mage called to them, so Svanrunn, on knobbly, wobbly knees, tripped helter-skelter down the slope. Hakon flapped and quacked, trying to keep his cushy seat. Finally, he decided it was every animal for himself and took to the air, gliding the rest of the way down on burgundy wings. Joining Mage, they waddled and clopped, one on each side of her, as they nervously eyed the undomesticated beasts lurking at the forest’s edge. Fox and lynx, bear and wolverine, elk, deer, and beaver suspended their predatorial and survival instincts to listen to Mage’s song, mesmerized.
The tune took a howling, yowling turn, and all the animals shivered in their fur and feathers. Then a pure white wolf emerged from the brush. He was enormous, twice the average size, with clear eyes, a black shiny nose, and long pointed teeth.
Svanrunn’s gibbous eyes bulged wider, and Hakon choked on a quack.
“I require your aid, sir wolf,” Mage bowed so low her nose bobbed near the ground. “Would you mind accompanying us?”
The arctic wolf bent his noble head, yipped agreeably, and trotted into position beside Mage, sending Svanrunn and Hakon scuttling to the opposite side of the culvert.
Mage set a tromping pace, explaining to her animal posse, “I shall put Elg’s character to the test, and if he proves a good man, he will do right by Ægir and all the people’s misery will come to an end. But if he is not, Ægir can eat him for supper, and he can go to Helheim.”
To be continued…
*Return next week for the conclusion of our Viking tale and don’t forget to subscribe!
May the sun ever shine on your path