Hostess and the Horn

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Hostess and the Horn

Post by John T Mainer on Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:00 pm

On the Island of Bornholm in the seas East of the Dane-Mark, poised between avaricious Swede, wild German, and witch loving Finn was a new growing Dane colony. Founded by hardy Viking folk, this was a wild untamed island, whose new masters aimed to carve wealth from the sea trade as both traders where they were permitted, and raiders where they were denied. The blessings of the warm currents made the land fertile and productive beyond the harsh scarps of their homeland, so the steadings spread inland fast to support not only the colony, but the trade fleets of the Northern seas.
As in any wild land, the settlers found themselves contending with beasts their settled brethren had not faced in generations, as well as trolls, jottun and alfar that were not used to sharing the land with men. Too in a place as wild and untamed as this, among the first comers walked others whose names were called, to whom offerings were made, and invitations given. It is a tale of folk new to the land, of folk ancient beyond measure, and guests at the feast, that I tell you now.
Akirkeby was a new steading in the high hills. Timber from the woodlands, good graze for cattle, and well watered soil for farming made it well worth the taming, but it was an ancient land, with more to be feared than the wolves who came across the winter ice, or the occasional Auroch. Much of the manpower of the settlement was gone to Ronne to trade the timber already hewn and shipped, or with the cattle drive that brought both the steers from the last year, and the store of hides and furs from the long winter’s hunting and trapping. In the new-built hall, it was a time of feasting, as the meat of those cattle not fit for the drive must be butchered and preserved, a time of plenty to eat, sunny days, and less work than usual.
The lady of the hall was Ragnild, a great beauty in her day, whose features had been weathered and carved into great strength and presence by years of building a new community from the bare rock and tree. Her husband Bjorn (called the Hammerhand) was leading the cattle drive, as he hoped to make good trades, and lure away some skilled smiths to the growing settlement. Along with the many of Bjorn’s kinsmen and shipmates from his Viking days, she had her own growing brood of children to assist her, including Ragnar (called the Red Ragnar for his hair), Boli (called Squirrel for his endless climbing) and Gudrun ( who was far too serious a girl to be called other than Gudrun). Ragnild and Bjorn had done their best to hammer some sense into the children, but living in the wilds had left the boys at least with manners closer to her husband’s Viking crewmates than what she thought a Jarl’s sons should have. Gudrun, oddly enough, had the manners of a Queen, and even as the youngest of the three, was the only one to ever rein in her wild brothers.
It was to this half empty hall, ready to relax and feast, that three strangers came. The father was an old man, still straight and proud, but with a full white beard that flowed down from his deep blue hood to nearly his belt. His two sons were quite different, the first a great red bearded bear of a man whose steps thudded like a harness ox, and whose laugh bellowed like thunder. The second was whipcord lean, with a ready smile and ready jest, who never seemed to move fast, but would simply appear beside you without seeming to have moved at all. In a voice harsh and rough like an old sea-man or battle chief, the elder asked for hospitality for the night, as he and his kinsmen had walked far, and would not be back to their own steading before nightfall. Holding his great spear before him, the elder oathed for all three to harm none of or guesting at this hall, and keep well the peace. He further offered stories of their travels and news of their homeland.
With the seriousness of the very small, Gudrun lifted her own drinking horn, and dipping it in the mead barrel already opened for the evening meal, she walked carefully out to the guests:
“. No great thing needs | a man to give,
Oft little will purchase praise;
With half a loaf | and a half-filled cup
A friend full fast I made.”
The old man took the horn gravely from the little girl and drank before passing it to his kinsmen who also drank gravely.
“You will have to wait for the loaves” she confessed. “I burnded the last ones so they are hard like rocks.” But looking earnestly at each she assured them “Mama is making more, and she never burns anything”
The red-beard struggled manfully to swallow his laughter at the serious little girl, but his fox-faced kinsman offered lightly “You could always feed them to Jottun, they prize loaves hard as rocks”
Gudrun wasn’t sure he was joking.
At the feast the old man proved a very skald, entertaining all with news of the endless strife of the hundred courts of the north, of the thousand and two blood feuds, who was in exile, who had run off with whose wife or daughter, and who had found ways to settle feuds or end outlawry. The last tale of the night was a scary one. As the flames of the fire fell low, the old man’s voice grew hard like a whetstone on steel, sending shivers down even the spines of the men. He told of Bergelmir the old, a Jotnar who had fled the flood of Ymir’s blood to this very island. The great giant was one of the old Frost Jottun, a wild old giant, wise in magic, bitter and angry at the loss of so many of his kindred to the Aesir, and of so many of their lands to men. Full month ago, out of a cold fog on a white mooned night, Bergelmir and his two sons came out of the fog to a farmhouse that sat where they wanted to graze the wild Auroch that were their only beasts. Finding humans where his herds should be, and seeing the great horns of his herds mounted above the doors, he raged about the steading, killing man and beast with wild abandon. So old and mighty was he that the swords and spears of men were nothing to him, though sorely was one of his sons wounded by the farmer’s heavy spear.
Boli and Red Ragnar looked with wide eyes at the old story teller, but Gudrun frowned and asked if there was any other stories about Bergelmir the old. The old man smiled, and his cold grey eye flashed in the firelight. In a voice soft and clear he told another tale, of the death of Kvassir, the mead of poetry, and how Bergelmir once asked a wanderer for a sip from the mead of skaldship, and oathed that if he was given a single sip, he would never refuse a drink from any god, wight, alf, or human.
Boli and Ragnar loudly protested that the story was no help at all, because mead would not stop a jotnar, they needed their father, the Hammerhand to protect them. The red beard asked the boys if their father’s hammer-hand could kill Jotuns like Thor’s great hammer, the boys told him,
“Father says the best way to hit someone with your fist is with a big axe in it” They then concluded, “I guess Jottun need a really big axe”
Gudrun said thank you for the story, and she was sure the information would come in handy. When her brothers protested mead had never stopped anyone, Ragnild laughed and said that mead had felled more warriors than any sword, which all the guests laughed loudly and agreed.
Gudrun concluded with great dignity, that hospitality could end feuds an axe could only begin. The old man eyed her strangely. When all had bedded down for the night, the old man walked slowly to the high table where the girl’s horn was kept. By the banked fire light he carved the wee horn with runes and sigils, whispering and chanting quietly beneath the heroic snores of the red-beard. The next day when Gudrun saw her horn, she was greatly impressed by the runework and fine carvings on her horn, now even more decorated than her father’s great horn.
While the spring had been warm, the winter was slow to give up, and one morning the next week was ice cold. Fog had rolled in, thick as stew, and cold as Niflheim. The animals were quiet and nervous, and in the deep woods beyond the farm, a terrible crashing was heard. The cows began to low, and push towards the house, eager to put distance between themselves and the oncoming noise, even as the hounds began whimpering.
Calling the children and thralls back from the outbuildings, the old men and boys took up their weapons with knuckles stark white, and faces grim. Ragnild took up her husband’s second best sword and belted it on, sure that whatever made such a terrible noise from out of the white cold fog would require more than old men, maidens, and boys to turn back. Still, this was her farm, and her folk; she would not see them fall.
Out of the fog came a sight that chilled all watching to the bone. Great jottun strode from the fog, blue-white skin, as of the great glaciers, deep blue eyes set deep in a head two man lengths high, and beards white as any ice-bears. They bore crude spears shaped from tree trunks, like stone-tipped ship masts, and had axes belted at their waists that looked to weigh more than she did. Two strong and restless like young bulls pushed between the trees making a terrible crashing, while a third, far greater strode behind them, his every step crashing like thunder upon the protesting ground. Age hung on the jotnar elder like a cloak, his eyes were weathered like the mountains, and his skin was a map of scars of blade and claw, testament to centuries of hard living, long before men walked the northern lands. “Bergelmir” she whispered.
Remembering the words of her skald guest, she told her boys to run swift to the kitchens, and grab up the rock hard loaves their sister had overcooked. To the terrified thralls she turned, sending them swift for the mead keg, and smoke house. When her children and thralls had returned, she had Boli and Ragnar lift platters of rock-hard loaves, while Gudrun dipped her new carved horn in the mead barrel, filling it to its little rim.
Ragnild hid her fears beneath a the calm of a Jarl’s wife, striding forth to face the elder jotnar, she addressed him by presumed name.
“Hail Bergelmir the old, and your strong sons. Take this guest horn of sweet mead and be peace holy unto us, take these jotnar loaves and accept guest rights at Akirkeby!”
Ragnild hoped her ruse would cause the jotnar elder to bind himself and his sons to the laws of hospitality. According to the white bearded skald, Bergelmir was oath bound to accept any horn offered him, but he was not bound to accept guest rights.
The two young jotnar snarled in anger to see a mere human woman dare stand before them, let alone with children clearly unafraid, but a cuff from their ancient father who loomed over them as Ragnild above her own children kept them from doing more than snarl.
Bergelmir leaned down to take the great horn from the small Gudrun, it looking to hold no more than a single sip for so great a jotnar. He glared down at the proud chieftain’s wife and children and spoke in a voice low and harsh like the crash of ice-bergs cracking off glaciers in the bay.
“For no longer than it takes to finish this horn will I guest with thee, intruder on my land. I came to this island when Bur and his dread sons Odin, Hoenir and Lodur slew my father Ymir, and drowned half the world in his ice-blood. Never will I let the gods pet humans live upon the lands I claim as my own. When this horn is drained, I will cleanse your stink from my island.”
Boli, Ragnar, and Gudrun looked scared but held their place, the thralls trembled, but the spears of the old men and youths stayed rock steady as their lady chieftains unwavering courage held them all.
“With half a loaf, and half filled horn, full friend found” said Gudrun gravely as he handed the brimming horn to the looming giant. That caused snickering among the young jottun, but the jotnar elder eyed her with greater intensity.
“That I was told many ages ago by a stranger who I begged a sip of the mead of poetry from. For that sip I swore an oath that binds me still, here in the presence of my enemies. For that oath I gained the gift that keeps the memory of my drowned brothers, my slain sisters, and all my fallen kinsmen bright and fresh. I was tricked by your hanged god, bound by your oath lord, and beaten by your battle glad; but not again. When this horn is done, little one, so are you.”
Bergelmir threw back the horn with a mighty toss, and his great throat worked like a great smith bellows to swallow, once, twice…….thrice……again! Again! A cry went up from the young jottun as they realized they had been tricked, the horn that should have held but a single swallow had held more than a human keg!
Boli and Ragnar gravely offered the hard baked loaves to the angry jottun, who snatched them up and made to tear them like soft corn when their stone teeth caught at the heavy biscut and they found themselves chewing manfully, as if on proper jottun fare, and not weak man-food.
“Who among you finally learned how to bake jottun-bread and not that soft milk food for peasants, tooth-less birds and crones? “ laughed the youngest jotnar chewing happily. Boli pointed to his little sister who received the bows from the three jotnar with the regal calm of a queen, and the satisfaction of a cook who has seen her stone hard failures praised as the finest of cooking.
As Bergelmir passed the (clearly enchanted horn) to his sons, he looked at the fine rune carvings, the raven, wolf, and eight-legged horse carvings around its rim, he realized the author of his trap, and his anger at the mortals softened into amusement. Tricked by the trickster, trapped by an oath given to the crafty Odin himself, Bergelmir yielded himself to the laws of hospitality as one who remembered the early days when both war and peace could be found between the Aesir and jottun.
“My kinsmen and I accept your hospitality, let there be peace between the kindreds of Bergelmir and Akirkeby” At Bergelmir’s words, a great shout went up from all, and the thralls commenced to light the great fire, for clearly whole steers would be required for this feast.
Boli and Ragnar overcame their fear first, and were soon demanding the stories that Bergelmir hinted of his lost brothers, and the early days of the world. Bergelmir was touched by the younglings eagerness, and proudly recounted the deeds of his ancient line in the early days when gods, jottun, dragons, alfar, and great beasts long forgotten strode the wild new worlds. Late into the night the feast went, until dawn threatened all with its coming. Through the long feast, the stories and boasting, grew a respect between the young mortals and ancient jottun that would not end the feud between their kind, but it would end it between their clans.
When Bjorn Hammerhand returned to his steading, he was greeted to the strangest sight. His children and thralls were chatting and working happily, clearly cleaning up after some great feast. For some reason, two great Auroch were grazing placidly in the middle of the field, tethered to a great spear the size of a drakkar mast that was plunged head down into the field as if driven by the hand of the largest jottun that ever strode midgard. Beside the two tethered bulls was a hollow tree, clearly cleaved by some great axe in a single stroke, and dropped in the middle of the field where its hollow core clearly sloshed with the promise of honey enough for a dozen casks of mead, judging by the buzz of lazy bees surrounding it.
When Bjorn came at last to his wife and gestured mutely to the odd and seemingly impossible things in his field, his wife threw her arms around her husband and laughed.
“These are guest gifts from some new friends we had over for dinner. As their chieftain said when he left

To their homes men would bid | me hither and yon,
If at meal-time I needed no meat,
Or would hang two hams | in my true friend's house,
Where only one I had eaten.”
She smiled at her husband, and told him to ask the children to tell the tale. It was a good one.

John T Mainer

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Re: Hostess and the Horn

Post by John T Mainer on Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:13 pm

Sorry, the formatting was displayed when I entered it, but now it is not showing up. It really was nicely broken up into discrete paragraphs Shocked

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Re: Hostess and the Horn

Post by tmarie64 on Sun Feb 19, 2012 10:17 pm

That's one thing I kinda hate about this site. LOL The preview may or may not actually be what it's supposed to be. Thanks for sharing, though!

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Re: Hostess and the Horn

Post by sacrificialgoddess on Fri Feb 24, 2012 2:03 pm

I can't believe I missed this! Thank you, John, It's awesome!

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Re: Hostess and the Horn

Post by Beribee on Sun Feb 26, 2012 1:03 am

That was amazing, as usual, John! Thanks for sharing!

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Re: Hostess and the Horn

Post by MaineCaptain on Mon Feb 27, 2012 8:43 pm

Wonderful post John Smile

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