Page 35 of Norse Mythology

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He owned the finest residence that was not Asgard. It was Alfheim, the home of the light elves, where he was always welcomed and acknowledged as overlord. There was nowhere like Alfheim, and yet it did not satisfy him.

Frey’s servant, Skirnir, was one of the light elves. He was the finest of servants, wise of counsel and fair of face.

Frey ordered Skirnir to harness Gullinbursti, and they set out for Asgard together.

When they reached Asgard, they walked toward Valhalla, the great hall of the slain. In Odin’s Valhalla live the Einherjar, “those who fight alone”—all the men who have died nobly in battle since the beginning of time. Their souls are taken from the battlefields by Valkyries, the warrior-women charged by Odin with the task of bringing the souls of the noble dead, battle-slain, to their ultimate reward.

“There must be a lot of them,” said Skirnir, who had not been there before.

“There are,” Frey told him. “But there are more to come. And still more will be needed when we fight the wolf.”

They heard the sound of battle as they approached the fields around Valhalla; they heard the clash of metal on metal, the thud of metal on flesh.

As they watched, they saw powerful warriors of all ages and places, well matched in battle, dressed in their war gear, each man fighting his hardest. Soon enough half the men were lying dead on the grass.

“Enough,” called a voice. “The battle is over for the day!”

At this, those who were still standing helped the dead men get up from the courtyard floor. Their wounds healed as Frey and Skirnir watched, and they clambered onto their horses. All the soldiers who had fought that day, whether they had won or lost, rode home to Valhalla, the hall of the noble dead.

Valhalla was an enormous hall. It had 540 doors, and each door allowed 800 warriors to walk abreast. It seated more people than the mind could hold.

In the hall, the warriors cheered as the feast began. They were eating boar meat, ladled out from an enormous cauldron. This was the meat of the boar Saerimnir: every night they would feast upon the boar’s meat, and each morning the monstrous beast would be alive again, ready to be slain later that day and to give its life and its flesh to feed the noble dead. No matter how many of them there were, there would always be enough meat.

Mead was brought for them to drink.

“So much mead for so many warriors,” said Skirnir. “Where does it come from?”

“It comes from a goat called Heidrun,” Frey told him. “She stands on top of Valhalla and eats the leaves of the tree called Lerad, which is what we call that branch of Yggdrasil, the world-tree. From her udders the finest mead flows. There will always be enough for every warrior.”

They walked to the high table, where Odin sat. He had a bowl of meat in front of him but did not taste it. He would stab a piece of meat with his knife from time to time and flick it onto the ground, to be eaten by one of his wolves, Geri and Freki.

Two ravens sat on Odin’s shoulders, and he would give the ravens scraps of meat as well, while they whispered to him of things that were happening far away.

“He isn’t eating,” whispered Skirnir.

“He does not need to,” said Frey. “He drinks. He only needs wine, nothing else. Come on. We are done here.”

“Why were we here?” asked Skirnir as they walked out of one of the 540 doors of Valhalla.

“Because I wanted to make certain that Odin was here in Valhalla with the warriors and not in his own hall at the Hlidskjalf, the observation point.”

They entered Odin’s hall. “Wait here,” said Frey.

Frey walked alone into Odin’s hall and clambered up onto the Hlidskjalf, the throne from which Odin could see everything that happened across the nine worlds.

Frey looked out across the worlds. He looked to the south, to the east, and to the west, and he did not see the thing he was looking for.

And then he looked to the north and saw the thing he was missing in his life.

Skirnir was waiting by the door when his master came from the hall. There was an expression on Frey’s face Skirnir had never seen before, and Skirnir was afraid.

They left that place without speaking.

II

Frey drove the chariot pulled by Gullinbursti back to his father’s hall. Frey spoke to nobody when they got there, neither his father, Njord, who is the master of all who sail the seas, nor his stepmother, Skadi, the lady of the mountains. He went to his room with a face as dark as midnight, and there he stayed.

On the third day, Njord sent for Skirnir.

“Frey has been here for three days and three nights,” Njord said. “He has not eaten, nor has he drunk anything.”

“This is true,” said Skirnir.

“What have we done to anger him so?” asked Njord. “My son, who was always so gentle and filled with kind, wise words, now says nothing, only looks at us with fury. What did we do to upset him so?”

“I do not know,” said Skirnir.

“Then,” said Njord, “you must go to him and ask him what is happening. Ask him why he is so angry he will not speak to any of us.”

“I would rather not,” said Skirnir. “But I cannot refuse you, lord. He is in such a strange, dark mood, I am afraid of what he will do if I ask him.”

“Ask him,” said Njord. “And do what you can for him. He is your master.”

Skirnir of the light elves went to where Frey stood looking out at the sea. Frey’s face was clouded and troubled, and Skirnir hesitated to approach him.

“Frey?” said Skirnir.

Frey said nothing.

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