Baldur by Annie and Eliza Keary
Upon a summer's afternoon it happened that Baldur the Bright
and Bold, beloved of men and Æsir, found himself alone in his
palace of Broadblink. Thor was walking low down among the
valleys, his brow heavy with summer heat; Frey and Gerda sported
on still waters in their cloud-leaf ship; Odin, for once, slept on the
top of Air Throne; a noonday stillness pervaded the whole earth;
and Baldur in Broadblink, the wide-glancing, most sunlit of palaces,
dreamed a dream.
The dream of Baldur was troubled. He knew not whence nor
why; but when he awoke he found that a new and weighty care was
within him. It was so heavy that Baldur could scarcely carry it,
and yet he pressed it closely to his heart and said, "Lie there, and
do not fall on any one but me." Then he rose up and walked out
from the splendor of his hall, that he might seek his own mother,
Frigga, and tell her what had happened to him. He found her in
her crystal saloon, calm and kind, waiting to listen, and ready to
sympathize; so he walked up to her, his hands pressed closely on
his heart, and lay down at her feet, sighing.
"What is the matter, dear Baldur?" asked Frigga, gently.
"I do not know, mother," answered he. "I do not know what
the matter is; but I have a shadow in my heart."
"Take it out, then, my son, and let me look at it," replied Frigga.
"But I fear, mother, that if I do it will cover the whole earth."
Then Frigga laid her hand upon the heart of her son that she
might feel the shadow's shape. Her brow became clouded as she
felt it; her parted lips grew pale, and she cried out, "Oh! Baldur,
my beloved son! the shadow is the shadow of death!"
Then said Baldur, "I will die bravely, my mother."
But Frigga answered, "You shall not die at all; for I will not
sleep tonight until everything on earth has sworn to me that it will
neither kill nor harm you."
So Frigga stood up, and called to her everything on earth that had
power to hurt or slay. First she called all metals to her; and heavy
iron-ore came lumbering up the hill into the crystal hall, brass and
gold, copper, silver, lead, and steel, and stood before the Queen,
who lifted her right hand high in the air, saying, "Swear to me
that you will not injure Baldur"; and they all swore, and went.
Then she called to her all stones; and huge granite came, with
crumbling sandstones and white lime, and the round, smooth stones
of the seashore, and Frigga raised her arm, saying, "Swear that
you will not injure Baldur"; and they swore, and went. Then
Frigga called to her the trees; and wide-spreading oak trees, with
tall ash and somber firs, came rushing up the hill, and Frigga raised
her hand, and said, "Swear that you will not hurt Baldur"; and
they said, "We swear," and went. After this Frigga called to her
the diseases, who came blown by poisonous winds on wings of pain,
and to the sound of moaning. Frigga said to them, "Swear"; and
they sighed, "We swear," then flew away. Then Frigga called to
her all beasts, birds, and venomous snakes, who came to her and
swore, and disappeared. After this she stretched out her hand to
Baldur, whilst a smile spread over her face, saying, "And now, my
son, you cannot die."
But just then Odin came in, and when he had heard from Frigga
the whole story, he looked even more mournful than she had done;
neither did the cloud pass from his face when he was told of the
oaths that had been taken.
"Why do you still look so grave, my lord?" demanded Frigga
at last. "Baldur cannot now die."
But Odin asked very gravely, "Is the shadow gone out of our
son's heart, or is it still there?"
"It cannot be there," said Frigga, turning away her head resolutely,
and folding her hands before her.
But Odin looked at Baldur, and saw how it was, the hands
pressed to the heavy heart, the beautiful brow grown dim. Then
immediately he rose, saddled Sleipnir, his eight-footed steed,
mounted him, and, turning to Frigga said, "I know of a dead Vala,
Frigga, who, when she was alive, could tell what was going to
happen; her grave lies on the east side of Helheim, and I am going
there to awake her, and ask whether any terrible grief is really
coming upon us."
So saying, Odin shook the bridle in his hand, and the Eight-footed,
with a bound, leaped forth, rushed like a whirlwind down the mountain
of Asgard, and then dashed into a narrow defile between rocks.
Sleipnir went on through the defile a long way, until he came
to a place where the earth opened her mouth. There Odin rode in
and down a broad, steep, slanting road which led him to the cavern
Gnipa, and the mouth of the cavern Gnipa yawned upon Niflheim.
Then thought Odin to himself, "My journey is already done."
But just as Sleipnir was about to leap through the jaws of the pit,
Garm, the voracious dog who was chained to the rock, sprang forward,
and tried to fasten himself upon Odin. Three times Odin
shook him off, and still Garm, as fierce as ever, went on with the
fight. At last Sleipnir leaped, and Odin thrust just at the same
moment; then horse and rider cleared the entrance, and turned
eastward towards the dead Vala's grave, dripping blood along the
road as they went; while the beaten Garm stood baying in the
When Odin came to the grave he got off his horse, and stood with
his face northward, looking through barred inclosures into the city
of Helheim itself. The servants of Hela were very busy there making
preparations for some new guest—hanging gilded couches with
curtains of anguish and splendid misery upon the walls. Then
Odin's heart died within him, and he began to repeat mournful runes
in a low tone to himself.
The dead Vala turned heavily in her grave at the sound of his voice,
and, as he went on, sat bolt upright. "What man is this," she asked,
"who dares disturb my sleep?"
Then Odin, for the first time in his life, said what was not true;
the shadow of Baldur dead fell upon his lips, and he made answer,
"My name is Vegtam, the son of Valtam."
"And what do you want from me?" asked the Vala.
"I want to know," replied Odin, "for whom Hela is making ready that
gilded couch in Helheim?"
"That is for Baldur the Beloved," answered the dead Vala.
"Now go away and let me sleep again, for my eyes are heavy."
But Odin said: "Only one word more. Is Baldur going to Helheim?"
"Yes, I've told you that he is," answered the Vala.
"Will he never come back to Asgard again?"
"If everything on earth should weep for him," answered she,
"he will go back; if not, he will remain in Helheim."
Then Odin covered his face with his hands and looked into
"Do go away," said the Vala, "I'm so sleepy; I cannot keep my
eyes open any longer."
But Odin raised his head and said again: "Only tell me this one
thing. Just now, as I looked into darkness, it seemed to me as if
I saw one on earth who would not weep for Baldur. Who was it?"
At this the Vala grew very angry and said: "How couldst thou
see in darkness? I know of only one who, by giving away his eye,
gained light. No Vegtam art thou, but Odin, chief of men."
At her angry words Odin became angry, too, and called out as
loudly as ever he could, "No Vala art thou, nor wise woman, but
rather the mother of three giants!"
"Go, go!" answered the Vala, falling back in her grave; "no
man shall waken me again until Loki have burst his chains and
Ragnarok be come." After this Odin mounted the Eight-footed
once more and rode thoughtfully towards home.
When Odin came back to Asgard, Hermod took the bridle from
his father's hand and told him that the rest of the Aesir were gone
to the Peacestead—a broad, green plain which lay just outside
the city. This was the playground of the Aesir, where they practiced
trials of skill one with another, and held tournaments and
sham fights. These last were always conducted in the gentlest and
most honorable manner; for the strongest law of the Peacestead was,
that no angry blow should be struck, or spiteful word spoken,
upon the sacred field; and for this reason some have thought it
might be well if children also had a Peacestead to play in.
Odin was too much tired by his journey from Helheim to go to
the Peacestead that afternoon; so he turned away and shut himself
up in his palace of Gladsheim. But when he was gone, Loki came
into the city by another way, and hearing from Hermod where the
Aesir were, set off to join them.
When he got to the Peacestead, Loki found that the Aesir were
standing round in a circle shooting at something, and he peeped
between the shoulders of two of them to find out what it was. To
his surprise he saw Baldur standing in the midst, erect and calm,
whilst his friends and brothers were aiming their weapons at him.
Some hewed at him with their swords,—others threw stones at him,
—some shot arrows pointed with steel, and Thor continually swung
Miolnir at his head. "Well," said Loki to himself, "if this is the
sport of Asgard, what must that of Jotunheim be? I wonder what
Father Odin and Mother Frigga would say if they were here?"
But as Loki still looked, he became even more surprised, for the
sport went on, and Baldur was not hurt. Arrows aimed at his very
heart glanced back again untinged with blood. The stones fell
down from his broad, bright brow, and left no bruises there.
Swords clave, but did not wound him; Miölnir struck him, and he
was not crushed. At this Loki grew perfectly furious with envy and
hatred. "And why is Baldur to be so honored," said he, "that even
steel and stone shall not hurt him?" Then Loki changed himself
into a little, dark, bent old woman, with a stick in his hand, and
hobbled away from the Peacestead to Frigga's cool saloon. At
the door he knocked with his stick.
"Come in!" said the kind voice of Frigga, and Loki lifted the
Now when Frigga saw, from the other end of the hall, a little,
bent, crippled old woman come hobbling up her crystal floor, she
got up with true queenliness and met her halfway, holding out her
hand and saying in the kindest manner, "Pray sit down, my poor
old friend; for it seems to me that you have come from a great
"That I have, indeed," answered Loki in a tremulous, squeaking
"And did you happen to see anything of the Æsir," asked Frigga,
"as you came?"
"Just now I passed by the Peacestead and saw them at play."
"What were they doing?"
"Shooting at Baldur."
Then Frigga bent over her work with a pleased smile on her
face. "And nothing hurt him?" she said.
"Nothing," answered Loki, looking keenly at her.
"No, nothing," murmured Frigga, still looking down and speaking
half musingly to herself; "for all things have sworn to me that
they will not."
"Sworn!" exclaimed Loki, eagerly; "what is that you say?
Has everything sworn then?"
"Everything," answered she, "excepting, indeed, the little shrub
mistletoe, which grows, you know, on the west side of Valhalla, and
to which I said nothing, because I thought it was too young to swear."
"Excellent!" thought Loki, and then he got up.
"You're not going yet, are you?" said Frigga, stretching out her
hand and looking up at last into the eyes of the old woman.
"I'm quite rested now, thank you," answered Loki in his squeaky
voice, and then he hobbled out at the door, which clapped after
him, and sent a cold gust into the room. Frigga shuddered, and
thought that a serpent was gliding down the back of her neck.
When Loki had left the presence of Frigga, he changed himself
back to his proper shape and went straight to the west side of
Valhalla, where the mistletoe grew. Then he opened his knife and
cut off a large branch, saying these words, "Too young for Frigga's
oaths, but not too weak for Loki's work." After which he set off
for the Peacestead once more, the mistletoe in his hand. When he
got there he found that the AEsir were still at their sport,
standing round, taking aim, and talking eagerly, and Baldur did
not seem tired.
But there was one who stood alone, leaning against a tree, and
who took no part in what was going on. This was Hodur, Baldur's
blind twin-brother; he stood with his head bent downwards, silent
whilst the others were speaking, doing nothing when they were most
eager; and Loki thought that there was a discontented expression
on his face, just as if he were saying to himself, "Nobody takes any
notice of me." So Loki went up to him and put his hand upon his
"And why are you standing here all alone, my brave friend?"
said he. "Why don't you throw something at Baldur? Hew at
him with a sword, or show him some attention of that sort."
"I haven't a sword," answered Hodur, with an impatient gesture;
"and you know as well as I do, Loki, that Father Odin does not
approve of my wearing warlike weapons, or joining in sham fights,
because I am blind."
"Oh! is that it?" said Loki. "Well, I only know I shouldn't
like to be left out of everything. However, I've got a twig of
mistletoe here which I'll lend you if you like; a harmless little
twig enough, but I shall be happy to guide your arm if you would
like to throw it, and Baldur might take it as a compliment from
"Let me feel it," said Hodur, stretching out his uncertain hands.
"This way, this way, my dear friend," said Loki, giving him the
twig. "Now, as hard as ever you can, to do him honor; throw!"
Hodur threw—Baldur fell, and the shadow of death covered
the whole earth.
One after another they turned and left the Peacestead, those
friends and brothers of the slain. One after another they turned
and went towards the city; crushed hearts, heavy footsteps, no word
amongst them, a shadow upon all. The shadow was in Asgard, too
—had walked through Frigga's hall and seated itself upon the
threshold of Gladsheim. Odin had just come out to look at it, and
Frigga stood by in mute despair as the Æsir came up.
"Loki did it! Loki did it!" they said at last in confused, hoarse
whispers, and they looked from one to another,—upon Odin, upon
Frigga, upon the shadow which they saw before them, and which
they felt within. "Loki did it! Loki, Loki!" they went on saying;
but it was no use repeating the name of Loki over and over
again when there was another name they were too sad to utter
which yet filled all their hearts—Baldur. Frigga said it first,
and then they all went to look at him lying down so peacefully on the
"Carry him to the funeral pyre!" said Odin, at length; and four
of the Æsir stooped down and lifted their dead brother.
With scarcely any sound they carried the body tenderly to the
seashore and laid it upon the deck of that majestic ship called
Ringhorn, which had been his. Then they stood round waiting to
see who would come to the funeral. Odin came, and on his shoulder?
sat his two ravens, whose croaking drew clouds down over the
Asa's face, for Thought and Memory sang one sad song that day.
Frigga came,—Frey, Gerda, Freyja, Thor, Hnir, Bragi, and
Iduna. Heimdall came sweeping over the tops of the mountains on
Golden Mane, his swift, bright steed. Ægir the Old groaned from
under the deep, and sent his daughters up to mourn around the
dead. Frost-giants and mountain-giants came crowding round the
rimy shores of Jotunheim to look across the sea upon the funeral
of an Asa. Nanna came, Baldur's fair young wife; but when she
saw the dead body of her husband, her own heart broke with grief,
and the Æsir laid her beside him on the stately ship. After this
Odin stepped forward and placed a ring on the breast of his son,
whispering something at the same time in his ear; but when he and
the rest of the Æsir tried to push Ringhorn into the sea before
setting fire to it, they found that their hearts were so heavy they
could lift nothing. So they beckoned to the giantess Hyrrokin to
come over from Jötunheim and help them. She, with a single
push, set the ship floating, and then, whilst Thor stood up holding
Miölnir high in the air, Odin lighted the funeral pile of Baldur and
So Ringhorn went out floating towards the deep, and the funeral
fire burnt on. Its broad red flame burst forth towards heaven; but
when the smoke would have gone upward too, the winds came
sobbing and carried it away.
When at last the ship Ringhorn had floated out so far to sea that
it looked like a dull red lamp on the horizon, Frigga turned round
and said, "Does any one of you, my children, wish to perform a
noble action and win my love forever?"
"I do," cried Hermod, before any one else had time to open his
"Go then, Hermod," answered Frigga, "saddle Sleipnir with all
speed and ride down to Helheim; there seek out Hela, the stern
mistress of the dead, and entreat her to send our beloved back to us
Hermod was gone in the twinkling of an eye, not in at the mouth
of the earth and through the steep cavern down which Odin went
to the dead Vala's grave; he chose another way, though not a better
one; for, go to Helheim how you will, the best is but a downward
road, and so Hermod found it—downward, slanting, slippery, dark,
and very cold. At last he came to the Giallar Bru—that sounding
river which flows between the living and the dead, and the bridge
over which is paved with stones of glittering gold. Hermod was
surprised to see gold in such a place; but as he rode over the bridge,
and looked down carefully at the stones, he saw that they were only
tears which had been shed round the beds of the dying—only tears,
and yet they made the way seem brighter. But when Hermod
reached the other end of the bridge, he found the courageous woman
who, for ages and ages, had been sitting there to watch the dead go
by, and she stopped him, saying:
"What a noise you make! Who are you? Yesterday five troops
of dead men went over the Giallar Bridge and did not shake it
so much as you have done. Besides," she added, looking more
closely at Hermod, "you are not a dead man at all. Your lips are
neither cold not blue. Why, then, do you ride on the way to
"I seek Baldur," answered Hermod. "Tell me, have you seen
"Baldur," she said, "has ridden over the bridge; but there below,
towards the north, lies the way to the Abodes of Death."
So Hermod went on the way until he came to the barred gates
of Helheim itself. There he alighted, tightened his saddle-girths,
remounted, clapped both spurs to his horse, and cleared the gate by
one tremendous leap. Then Hermod found himself in a place where
no living man had ever been before—the City of the Dead. Perhaps
you think there is a great silence there, but you are mistaken.
Hermod thought he had never in his life heard so much noise; for
the echoes of all words were speaking together—words, some newly
uttered and some ages old; but the dead men did not hear who flitted
up and down the dark streets, for their ears had been stunned
and become cold long since. Hermod rode on through the city until
he came to the palace of Hela, which stood in the midst. Precipice
was its threshold, the entrance hall, Wide Storm, and yet Hermod
was not too much afraid to seek the innermost rooms; so he went
on to the banqueting hall, where Hela sat at the head of her table
and served her newest guests. Baldur, alas! sat at her right hand,
and on her left his pale young wife. When Hela saw Hermod coming
up the hall she smiled grimly, but beckoned to him at the same
time to sit down, and told him that he might sup that night with
her. It was a strange supper for a living man to sit down to.
Hunger was the table; Starvation, Hela's knife; Delay, her man;
Slowness, her maid; and Burning Thirst, her wine. After supper
Hela led the way to the sleeping apartments. "You see," she said,
turning to Hermod, "I am very anxious about the comfort of my
guests. Here are beds of unrest provided for all, hung with curtains
of weariness, and look how all the walls are furnished with
So saying she strode away, leaving Hermod and Baldur together.
The whole night they sat on those unquiet couches and talked.
Hermod could speak of nothing but the past, and as he looked
anxiously round the room his eyes became dim with tears. But
Baldur seemed to see a light far off, and he spoke of what was to
The next morning Hermod went to Hela, and entreated her to let
Baldur return to Asgard. He even offered to take his place in Helhelm
if she pleased; but Hela only laughed at this and said: "You talk a
great deal about Baldur, and boast how much every one loves him; I
will prove now if what you have told me be true. Let everything on
earth, living or dead, weep for Baldur, and he shall go home again;
but if one thing only refuse to weep, then let Helheim hold its own;
he shall not go."
"Every one will weep willingly," said Hermod, as he mounted
Sleipnir and rode towards the entrance of the city. Baldur went
with him as far as the gate and began to send messages to all his
friends in Asgard, but Hermod would not listen to many of them.
"You will so soon come back to us," he said, "there is no use
in sending messages."
So Hermod darted homewards, and Baldur watched him through
the bars of Helheim's gateway as he flew along.
"Not soon, not soon," said the dead Asa; but still he saw the light
far off, and thought of what was to come.
"Well, Hermod, what did she say?" asked the AEsir from the
top of the hill as they saw him coming; "make haste and tell us
what she said." And Hermod came up.
"Oh! is that all?" they cried, as soon as he had delivered his
message. "Nothing can be more easy," and then they all hurried
off to tell Frigga. She was weeping already, and in five minutes
there was not a tearless eye in Asgard.
"But this is not enough," said Odin; "the whole earth must
know of our grief that it may weep with us."
Then the father of the AEsir called to him his messenger maidens
—the beautiful Valkyrior—and sent them out into all worlds with
these three words on their lips, "Baldur is dead!" But the words
were so dreadful that at first the messenger maidens could only
whisper them in low tones as they went along, "Baldur is dead!"
The dull, sad sounds flowed back on Asgard like a new river of
grief, and it seemed to the AEsir as if they now wept for the first
time-"Baldur is dead!"
"What is that the Valkyrior are saying?" asked the men and
women in all the country round, and when they heard rightly, men
left their labor and lay down to weep—women dropped the buckets
they were carrying to the well, and, leaning their faces over them,
filled them with tears. The children crowded upon the doorsteps,
or sat down at the corners of the streets, crying as if their own
mothers were dead.
The Valkyrior passed on. "Baldur is dead!" they said to the
empty fields; and straightway the grass and the wild field-flowers
"Baldur is dead!" said the messenger maidens to the rocks and
stones; and the very stones began to weep. "Baldur is dead!" the
Valkyrior cried; and even the old mammoth's bones, which had lain
for centuries under the hills, burst into tears, so that small rivers
gushed forth from every mountain's side. "Baldur is dead!" said
the messenger maidens as they swept over silent sands; and all the
shells wept pearls. "Baldur is dead!" they cried to the sea, and
to Jotunheim across the sea; and when the giants understood it,
even they wept, whilst the sea rained spray to heaven. After this
the Valkyrior stepped from one stone to another until they reached
a rock that stood alone in the middle of the sea; then, all together,
they bent forward over the edge of it, stooped down and peeped
over, that they might tell the monsters of the deep. "Baldur is
dead!" they said, and the sea monsters and the fish wept. Then the
messenger maidens looked at one another and said, "Surely our
work is done." So they twined their arms round one another's
waists, and set forth on the downward road to Helheim, there to
claim Baldur from among the dead.
After he had sent forth his messenger maidens, Odin had seated
himself on the top of Air Throne that he might see how the earth
received his message. At first he watched the Valkyrior as they
stepped forth north and south, and east and west; but soon the whole
earth's steaming tears rose up like a great cloud and hid everything
from him. Then he looked down through the cloud and said, "Are
you all weeping?" The Valkyrior heard the sound of his voice
as they went all together down the slippery road, and they turned
round, stretching out their arms towards Air Throne, their long hair
falling back, whilst, with choked voices and streaming eyes, they
answered, "The world weeps, Father Odin; the world and we."
After this they went on their way until they came to the end of
the cave Gnipa, where Garm was chained, and which yawned over
Niflheim. "The world weeps," they said one to another by way
of encouragement, for here the road was so dreadful; but just as
they were about to pass through the mouth of Gnipa they came
upon a haggard witch named Thaukt, who sat in the entrance with
her back to them, and her face toward the abyss. "Baldur is dead!
Weep, weep!" said the messenger maidens, as they tried to pass
her; but Thaukt made answer:
"What she doth hold,
Let Hela keep;
For naught care I,
Though the world weep,
O'er Baldur's bale.
Live he or die
With tearless eye,
Old Thaukt shall wail."
And with these words leaped into Niflheim with a yell of triumph.
"Surely that cry was the cry of Loki," said one of the maidens;
but another pointed towards the city of Helheim, and there they
saw the stern face of Hela looking over the wall.
"One has not wept," said the grim Queen, "and Helheim holds
its own." So saying she motioned the maidens away with her long,
Then the Valkyrior turned and fled up the steep way to the foot
of Odin's throne, like a pale snowdrift that flies before the storm.