THE CLIMAX OF THE FIMBUL – WINTER . THE MIGRATION OF TRIBES FROM THE NORTH . SKJÖLD BORGAR AND HALFDAN
Excerpts from" Our Fathers' Godsaga", by Viktor Rydberg , translated by William P Reeves
After Baldur's death, there was no power in Asgard that could check the whirlwinds, blizzards, and hailstorms sent by Völund from Jötunheim. The distinctions between summer and winter disappeared altogether, and it seemed as if winter would reign every month of the year. The land closest to the southern shore of the Elivogar, where Egil's fortress stood, became covered with glaciers and sheets of ice, which the rays of the summer sun did not melt. The elves that lived there and had been Völund's assistants and Egil's and Thjalfi'scomrades migrated, proceeding south toward the Swedes. The giants then set out across the Elivogar in boats, such as the one Hymirowned, and settled on the abandoned meadows. There they made their homes beneath the roofs of glacier-covered mountains. Here, where Midgard's herds had died of hunger, their black oxen and gold-horned cattle grazed well, because, like Audhumla, they licked nourishment from the rime-frost and scratched up nourishing mosses from drifts that covered the valley-paths.
On the great island in the North Sea, whose southernmost tip was Aurvangaland, now dwelt many tribes, descended from Ask and Embla, all speaking the same language and following the same customs. South of the Swedes and by the Jara-plains that stretched along Aurvangaland's southern coast lived the Goths, Danes, Herules, Gepider, Vinili (Longobards), Angles, Saxons, Tyrings, Vandals and other tribes. Until then they had all lived in harmony, regarding themselves as what they were: branches of one and the same family tree. As long as they had been spread out over the North, the land had been good, beautiful, and plentiful.
But with the fimbul-winter came need, first for the Swedes who lived farther north than the others. Frey and Freyja no longer promoted fruitfulness and fertility. The dises of vegetation no longer provided the fields and meadows with Yggdrasil's fructifying honeydew. Herds decreased, while bear and wolf packs grew, and worst of all, the wolves, in need of food, closed their jaws on the folk.
Then the elves and the Swedish chiefs gathered by Svarin's mound to confer. All the Swedish folk took part in their deliberation, and so resolved to leave the land of their forefathers and go south. If they could not win better fields through peaceful agreements, they would take them by the sword. Thus they often entered into battle, when the Swedes pushed down against the Goths, and they against the Danes, and they against the Herules, and the other tribes. The push from the North to the South became greater every year, because every year the fimbul-winter and the unmelting ice fields consumed a greater portion of the inhabitable country.
At this time, Skjöld-Borgar still lived in Aurvangaland, reigning as its chief and judge. He was the son of the Vana-god (Heimdall), who as a child had come to the land bringing holy fire, beneficial runes, a sheaf of grain, as well as tools and weapons. Skjöld-Borgar had now grown old. After long and commendable service, he had gained much experience. He recalled from his childhood and youth the happy times of the Golden Age, free from vice, strife, crime, and need. His adult years had witnessed humanity's Copper Age, and the moral decline of the race. In his later days, he experienced the onset of the fimbul-winter and the beginning of the Iron Age, of which he had heard a prophecy at his son's birth.
This son,named Halfdan, was now a youth; Skjöld-Borgar's wife, Halfdan's mother, was named Drott.
Of Halfdan's birth, it is said that the night he came into the world a terrible storm raged. "Holy waters fell from heaven's mountains (the storm clouds)" that slung jagged lightning with a powerful rumble. It was Thor, the thunder god, who overshadowed the house and made his divine presence known. It is commonly said that Thor shared the right of fatherhood to the newborn with Skjöld-Borgar in the same manner that Heimdall, in the homes he had visited in ancient times, shared the right of fatherhood to the sons who saw day there with the man of each house. Therefore Halfdan was regarded as Thor's son, as well as that of Skjöld-Borgar.
Night still lay over Skjöld-Borgar's estate when the three dises of fate, Urd and her sisters, came and looked upon the newborn noble babe and sensed in its character what Drott already sensed, that it not only had a mortal father, but a divine one as well. And they declared that he would become the finest of his family, the foremost among chiefs, and the first among the Nordic folk to bear the name King. They wound strong threads of fate for him; they spun the thread of his fate's web of gold and fastened its ends in the east and the west "beneath the halls of the moon" (in the atmosphere). In the east and the west, Halfdan would spread his power without difficulty. But to the North, Urd cast a single thread. She knew that from the North would come powers, worthy of fear, in the beginning irresistible, before which Halfdan must retreat; but Urd prayed to the unknown power, whose representative she was, that the thread she cast to the North might hold forever. Thereafter, the Norns departed. But Skjöld-Borgar went out into the thunder-filled night, plucked a wondrous flower from the meadow and placed it in the child's hand as a scepter.
The following day two ravens sat in the tree that shaded Skjöld-Borgar's roof. Through "wind-eyes" (openings in the roof for smoke), they peered into the hall and saw the newborn. Prophetic as ravens are, it appeared to them as if the boy already stood equipped for war. "Look," said one raven to the other, "he is only a day old, this god-child, and yet I see him clad in mail. The age of peace is over; now our time has come. We and the wolves have long hungered. Look how sharp the boy's eyes are! Indeed, our time has come. We shall thrive."
From his father Heimdall, Skjöld-Borgar had learned the language of the birds. Drott knew it as well. They understood what the raven said, and it filled them with anxiety and alarm for the coming generations. They interpreted it to mean that, with this child, an age of strife had entered the world.
Skjöld-Borgar had a relative by the name of Hagal, who was also his closest friend. He sent Halfdan to him to be raised. Hagal had a son, Hamal, the same age as Halfdan. Halfdan and Hamal played as boys together, grew into young men together, and swore eternal friendship to each other. They were the handsomest men in Midgard, but if dressed as valkyries, they would look like valkyries. In appearance, they were so alike that it was difficult to say which one was Halfdanand which was Hamal. But they differed in that Halfdan was eloquent, and Hamal taciturn, Halfdan quick to make a decision and carry it out, Hamal more thoughtful and considerate, but also brave when carrying out resolutions. Halfdan had great mental gifts. In the holy runes that had been taught by Heimdall, he became more knowledgeable than his father, and he became the greatest skald of ancient times, the finest in Midgard. He was generous and loved to strew gold about. When he had become the strongest hero among his contemporaries, it should come as no surprise that he was admired more than most and was celebrated in song from generation to generation. He, in whom genius and beauty, strength and generosity were united, seemed perfect to many. Skjöld-Borgar, Halfdan's father, nevertheless in some respects was better than his son, for the father loved peace and strove more than any other to secure the bonds of harmony. Halfdan, however, loved war and adventure; he was the right man for the age to come. Peace was banished from Midgard forever. The ages called "the storm-age and the wolf-age, the axe-age and the knife-axe" had begun, and they are to continue until Ragnarök.
Halfdan handled all types of weapons with skill. But his weapon of choice was the club. During the age of peace, the sword was unknown. The first sword had been forged in Völund's smithy, and now swords began to come into use. Halfdan also possessed one. However, the sword was suspected and shunned by most warriors ever since Völund had turned into an enemy of the gods and become one of the worst inhabitants of Jötunheim. For this reason, men believed that a curse lay upon it.
When Egil fled to the Wolfdales with his brothers, he had left his wife Groa and bade her go to her father Sigtrygg, who was a chief among the elves and a friend of Ivaldi's sons. Sigtrygg had a fortress in greater Svithjod near Svarin's mound and not far from Sweden's border. Groa was expecting a son; otherwise, she would have followed her husband to the frost-cold land where he made his home in exile.
When the Sons of Ivaldi had ceased watching the Elivogar, many giants had crossed over into the northernmost parts of Midgard and settled there. Thor went to drive off or slay these dangerous newcomers, and Halfdan accompanied his Asgardian father on the trip. Once as Halfdan and his companion Hamal rode through a forest, they met a troop of beautiful women, likewise on horses. It was Groa and the maids who attended her. They had intended to go to a forest lake and bathe. Halfdan was so taken with the beauty of this dis of vegetation that he requested her to follow him to Aurvangalandand remain with him there. Groa thought that Halfdan was the most handsome of the Ynglings, but she had plighted her troth to another, thus she said no. So he forced her to follow him. Thor approved of this, since Egil had become an enemy of the gods, and moreover since it was beneficial to Midgard that one of the dises of vegetation remain there. But Sigtrygg, Groa's father, did not approve, and it came down to a battle between him and Halfdan, which ended when Halfdan killed Sigtrygg with a club on whose shaft he had affixed a gold-ball. The father of the dis of vegetation could not be felled by any weapon except one that resembled the sun. Halfdan carried Groato Skjöld-Borgar's estate, where she bore a son that was not Halfdan'sbut Egil's. The son was called Od-Svipdag. One year later, to Halfdan, she bore a son, who was given the name Gudhorm. However, Groa always felt like a stranger in Halfdan's home. She was tortured by the thought that she was married to the man who had killed her father and her heart yearned for Egil. For this reason, Halfdan sent her away after some years had passed and, with her young son Od-Svipdag, she went back to greater Svithjod, where she awaited Egil’s return. Freezing nights, snowstorms, and hail-squalls came, but not Egil. The dis of vegetation wasted away from yearning and died. On her deathbed, she said to her son, Od-Svipdag, that if he needed her help, he should go to her grave and call on her. Her body was laid to rest in a tomb built upon a flat rock with walls, roof and door, all made of heavy stone.
Thor and Halfdan made many excursions against the giants who had taken the land in northern Midgard. Many giants and warring giantesses met their deaths, but as a whole, this mattered little, since others took their place. As good as Thor's iron hammer was, with it he could not hinder the ever-advancing sheets of ice that covered the mountain-plains. Even in the summertime, the valleys were covered in snow.
And now when the great folk-migrations happened, after the Swedes had begun to push southward, Halfdan had something to do other than follow Thor on excursions against the giants. The first wave of folk that flowed from the North had set another in motion, and the second a third, and so on, so that wave after wave surged against Aurvangaland, the cradle of the human race, where Skjöld-Borgarhad lived for so long and happily had been the people's law-giver and judge. Now, on the border of Aurvangaland, mighty battles were fought in which Halfdan and Hamal performed many feats. But the old Skjöld-Borgar saw that resistance was futile in the long run, as long as the powers of the fimbul-winter raged behind the more northerly tribes and compelled them to push onward. They had to do this, of course, or die of starvation. And since all these tribes were related and traced their pedigree from Aurvangaland, Skjöld-Borgardid not want to see them destroy one another in this brotherly-feud. Thus, he decided to proceed south with his people as well. So it happened, and many tribes united under him to win land on the other side of the North Sea and settle there. Ships were built to carry them over the sea. Halfdan commanded all these tribes; their chiefs raised him on their shoulders and elected him king. Nothing was able to withstand them. Beneath them, south of the sea, they placed the extensive land, where sailable rivers sought paths between deep, lush forests and rich pasture lands. They won, and divided among themselves, a kingdom, which in the west had the mighty Rhine river as its border, and in the south a wooded highland, which lay in the shade of the highest mountain in Midgard, but in the east stretched far into an unending tableland with many rivers that make their way down to a southern sea (the Black Sea). Thus was fulfilled the Norns’ prophecy that Halfdan would have a kingdom, extending in the west and east, as far in these directions as they had stretched the golden threads in the warp of his weave; but to the North there extended only a single thread, and if it did not hold, the cradle of the human race and the holy graves of the forefathers would forever remain in the power of the forces of frost and the enemies of the gods.