If you missed “Mage | Part 1,” click here.
Without further ado:
Mage | Part 2
An original Scandinavian Folktale
By Molly Michele Hopkins
Mage, Svanrunn, Hakon, and the white wolf carried on their windy way along the bottom of the riverbed until it ended abruptly at a great wall of sticks and mud, acting like a cork in a bottle. The animals helped Mage scramble out of the ditch, pushing on her big bottom with their noses.
They tracked the irrigations of water through a meadow of wild mountain avens, ruffling like lace in the summer breeze, to fields of wheat, rolling in waves across the gentle slopes. At last, they came to the farm dwellings where the man Elg sat beside his barn, sharpening a scythe.
Elg stood as they approached, agog at the unexpected woman and her hodge-podge entourage. He was a hulking man with many scars on his barrel-sized arms. Sweat dripped from the tattoos swirling on his bald head into his beard. He looked as though he could fell an oak with a single kick.
Clenching the lethal blade, Elg swore, “Odin’s eye, what do you want?”
Mage swallowed, “You seem as though you could do with a refreshing beverage!” And from her inner cloak, she whipped a wineskin and two gilt drinking horns. Taking her seat on a nearby stump, she set to work filling the horns with gooseberry wine.
The white wolf lay at Mage’s feet, Svanrunn stood at her elbow, and Hakon roosted on the sheep’s wooly back, all three glowering at Elg. Prickles tickled the man’s beefy neck, but Mage gave him a winning smile and drank first as a show of goodwill. Leery, Elg sat and took the proffered horn.
Over his shoulder, down in the valley, Mage spied the infamous lake, stretching far and wide, sparkling like silver glass and mused to herself, ‘How much suffering can come from a single selfish, thoughtless act.’
“I have a proposition for you,” Mage began aloud, “From Ægir, Lord of the Skaggarat. If you perform the three tasks he requires of you, he will grant you eternal wealth and power!”
Elg frowned skeptically, “What proof have you, that you are his messenger?”
Mage pondered this a moment then plucked a few bits of straw from Elg’s sweaty tunic. Clutching them in her fist, she closed her eyes and said:
“The Lord Ægir, keeper of the Skaggarat sea
Commands this straw into gold for thee.”
And behold! The straw stiffened into glistening sticks of purest gold. Or so it seemed. In truth, it was merely a trick of the eye. Mage could not perform alchemy, only highly advanced kloka mën—or women—could, and it was not uncommon for them to take the secret to their graves. Selfish skurks. However, Mage could create the illusion of gold, only temporarily of course. Elg moved to take the gold twigs from her, but she whisked them out of reach.
“Nah ah ah,” she waggled her finger. “Your tasks first, then all your wheat will be turned to gold!” Perhaps she was getting carried away. Åh ja!
“So be it!” Elg declared, “What does the mighty Ægir ask of me?” He rubbed his filthy hands together enthusiastically and blinked. It was only a regular, everyday sort of blink, but when he un-blinked, Elg found himself seated in his longhouse. Just like that.
Now, Mage could not successfully perform translocation either, but she could swipe a few minutes of someone’s memory, and that is what she had done to Elg after persuading him to invite her into his abode. But Elg didn’t know that. He gawped at his surroundings in wonderment, believing Mage to have transported them in an instant with only the power of her mind.
Elg clapped and laughed at the trick, greedy for the good fortune that was within his grasp, “You said wealth and power. What else shall be my prize?”
Mage flourished her hands, conjuring a cloud of mist in front of Elg’s nose. The mist gathered itself into the likeness of an armband, detailed with many runes and capped with two dragon’s heads.
“This band, forged by the great dwarves Brokkr and Eitri, grants its wearer incredible strength.”
Elg was unimpressed, “In case you haven’t noticed,” he flexed his burly arms to demonstrate, “I am already quite strong.”
Mage huffed at his arrogance, “Does your strength rival the frost giants, and ja, even mighty Thor?”
Elg’s ears perked, and he bowed in apology.
“To earn the honor of these prizes, the Lord Ægir requires you sacrifice a white wolf on his behalf. He has had a tiff with Sköll and Hati, the offspring of Fenrir, and wishes to insult them. The wolf waits without, ready to do battle, but you must defeat him weaponless.”
Elg’s jaw dropped, “White wolves are sacred. Even if I succeed, I shall be struck down by the gods for such an unthinkable transgression!”
Waving him off, Mage said, “Ægir will see to it that doesn’t happen.”
“Can he make such promises?”
“Probably. I mean—” Mage caught herself, and questioned him darkly, “Do you doubt his power?”
Elg scratched his beard, shaking his head slowly.
Mage pursed her lips and beckoned the mist which had drifted into a corner by a loom. With coaxing, the vapor flickered images of people and clusters of cottages.
“This is the village downriver, betwixt here and the sea. For your second task, you must pillage it in the name of Ægir.”
Elg clenched his jaw, muscles rippling, “Why?”
“What does it matter?” said Mage, “They have earned his wrath for some reason or other. They must pay, and you are to be his hammer of justice!”
Scratching his tattooed scalp, Elg asked gravely, “What is the third task?”
Mage hadn’t yet invented the third, so she decided to buy herself some time by upping the stakes. “In return for your third task, the reward is still greater,” she swelled, dramatically, “Accomplishing it shall secure you a place of high honor in Valhalla itself!”
Mage hoped that making such a brash claim wouldn’t land her in trouble with those further up the Yggdrasil.
“What is it? What must I do?” Elg practically drooled into his braided beard.
Mage wandered across the room, feigning enigmatisicm whilst scanning his home for inspiration. What should his third test of character be?
Out the slatted window, past where Svanrunn grazed with Hakon still on her back, Mage caught sight of a young maiden with dove-white hair skipping toward the longhouse.
Making a quick guess, Mage turned to Elg, assumed a prophetic stance, and announced, “Your daughter,” gesturing to the door an instant before the maid danced across the threshold. She cradled a kid goat in one arm and a basket of wild linden berries and lavender in the other.
“Oh!” The maiden said, pleasantly surprised to see an odd, plumpy woman in her home.
Elg shook his head in awe of Mage’s prediction and declared, “Iona, my girl!” He waved her over, smiling a big, crooked-toothed smile.
Iona lay the kid by the hearth and hugged Elg warmly, “Who is our guest, Father?”
“Er…” Elg hesitated, as Iona hung her basket on a hook and hurried to find something to serve their caller. It did not take long for her morning-glory eyes to spot the mysterious cloud hovering mid-air.
“Hov-hooov,” she whispered, “Is this magic, Father?”
Elg fidgeted, recalling the dark deeds Mage had asked of him, “Not now, my child. I have business with this woman. Go play by the water’s edge. I will summon you later.”
Iona pulled her attention away, reluctantly, and kissed her father’s cheek before departing. Elg’s eyes followed his only child as she frolicked out the door with a look of love in them as to melt any old Viking’s heart.
And that look gave Mage an epiphany.
“The third requirement,” she continued as if there had been no interruption, “is quite simple, no feat at all. The Lord Ægir desires an alliance with Viking Baron Ingvar, he is going places you know. To seal the deal, Lord Ægir desires your daughter be given in marriage to him.”
It was well known in those parts that Ingvar was a vile, ruthless tyrant, and that his latest wife had died under ‘mysterious circumstances’ soon after the two had squabbled. What Mage did not know was that Elg had once served under Ingvar, but had quit because he started to feel bad about all the looting.
Elg grimaced, as though pained. He bent over, rubbing his eyes, and stayed that way for some minutes. Finally, heaving a heavy breath, he sat up and replied, “I will not do it. I will not do any of it. You must tell Lord Ægir I decline his most generous offer.”
“He may take Iona anyway. Your daughter is most beautiful.”
The giant man catapulted to his feet, “He WILL NOT! I will not allow it!”
“He may kill you,” said Mage tersely.
“Not if I slay him first!”
“You would do that for your daughter?”
Elg gritted his yellow teeth, growling, “I would do anything for her.”
Mage leaned back in her chair and smiled.
In the corner, the cloud of mist swelled, snagging Elg’s attention. He was unable to ignore the coiling vapor, though his fists clenched into iron mallets of rage. The mist clarified, flashing of pictures. Mother’s cradled weeping children, wailing their own lamentations. Villagers clutching their stomachs in agony, many lay on their beds, waiting for death to take them.
“What ails these people?” asked Elg, distracted from his fury.
Mage did not reply. She flicked her wrist, and the picture metamorphosed, showing Elg’s lake, and Iona kneeling at its shore. Something moved in the water. Then three sets of rippling waves darted straight toward Iona.
Elg lurched, ready to fly to his daughter’s aid, but Mage hissed, “Patience.”
The ex-Viking wavered, every muscle taut, but wait he did, glowering into the mist like an angry bear. An arm’s breadth away from his sweet girl crested the heads of three beautiful women: one with tresses red, another blue, and the third half invisible, half a glistening white. Sorrow and weeping marred their once flawless faces, and all three reached for Iona to cry in her arms. The compassionate girl received them, stroking their long, wet hair and speaking to them consolingly.
“Who are they?” Elg asked exasperated. This really was too much for one day.
Mage answered gravely, “Those are the daughters of Ægir.”
“When you built your dam and trapped the river water, you unwittingly kidnapped his daughters.” Elg slumped, and Mage gestured to the cloud, still portraying the suffering people, “And stole this village’s water. In Ægir’s wrath against all mankind, he banished marine life from the region, leaving the citizens to starve.”
Dumbfounded, Elg muttered, “All because of me.”
Mage nodded, solemnly.
Elg quivered with feeling. Then without a moment’s warning, he burst like a volcano and tore from the longhouse. Grabbing his ax from the woodpile, he sprinted for the dam, his pounding feet shaking the earth. Mage toddled after him, Svanrunn, Hakon, and the white wolf taking up her shadow, and Iona, catching the commotion, followed last of all.
They caught up with Elg at the embankment, where he stood atop the dam, swinging his ax, smashing the structure to smithereens. Chips of bark and wood and mud flew wildly until the construction groaned like an arthritic giant.
With a great burst, the wall cracked, and water began spouting out. Elg lunged from the dike as the deluge surged free, crushing the remnants of the dam and sweeping it away like a bad memory. The enormous torrent poured and splashed into the empty tunnel, filling and flowing with untamed speed.
As the water gushed past the onlookers, the three Nyad’s surfaced, beaming and waving a joyful farewell. Mage bade Elg and Iona accompany her to the shore, to which they obliged. Along the way, Mage excused the white wolf and thanked him for his time, to which he howled amiably and padded away to his den.
Hollow-eyed villagers watched the three people, sheep, and duck parade past their settlement and out to the peak where the fjord met the sea, and many followed at a distance, to see what there was to see. Once at the lip of the ledge, Mage told Elg he must grovel, ‘there’s a good man.’ Elg protested, but in the end, he knelt and shouted repentance, his cry echoing across the inlet.
A great whirlwind arose from the sea below, and water surged into a geyser, charging upward to the sky. Riding on the jet was Ægir, gigantic and fierce, with water cascading from his silver beard. He scowled down at the mortals so vulnerably perched on the cliff’s precipice.
“My daughters have been returned to me. And the oppressor,” he glowered at Elg, “is shamed and contrite. You have kept your word mage-woman, and I shall keep mine.” With that, Ægir dove from atop the geyser into the fjord below.
And then a miracle occurred, the likes of which the villagers had never seen. Fish flew out of the Skagerrak onto the land, flipping and flopping like mad! Hundreds and hundreds of them covered the ground, their scales shining like polished stones of ruby, emerald, and sapphire.
That night the villagers held a great feast to which everyone was invited, even Svanrunn and Hakon; no one even tried to eat them as there was plenty of fish for all. The chieftain gave an ineloquent speech, thanking Mage and Elg, which aided in healing Elg’s pride. There followed much dancing, jesting, and storytelling until the night was o’r and dawn warmed the land.
In the time to come, Mage took Iona on as a pupil—as it turned out, she had an uncanny knack for spells and soon surpassed her teacher. Elg taught the villagers how to irrigate and farm, only taking what water was necessary. And Svanrunn… well, that is a story for another time. What’s important is, that until his last breath, Elg never forgot to consider how his actions affected others, and that pleased Mage very much.
When the sun rose, dripping with golden glory, and the revelry ended, the half-competent enchantress teetered home to her snuggly-warm, topsy-turvy hovel full of books, where, with Svanrunn and Hakon, she waited for the next adventure, living, more or less…
Happily Ever After
I hope you have enjoyed this folktale! Read and share while you can; it will only be available for a limited time, as I will have to take it down in order to enter it into competitions.
To watch a video on how “Mage” came into my noggin, check out my Instagram.
~May the sun ever shine on your path