Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Dragon That Ate the Sun

The Deep Wyrm, Source of all Dragons, and the Day it Ate the Sun



Happy Yule, my friends, and whatever holiday you celebrate.  I am a few days late, but I have a gift for you: a visit to a long hall in faraway Skardr, where an old skald shares a story with a hopeful warrior.

    A young boy sat by the long, low stone hearth, his arms wrapped around his long, scrawny legs as he watched the fire.  Thralls hurried back and forth under the peaked roof of the long hall, hanging holly and ivy from Long Winter's  posts and beams.  A skald toyed around with a lyre near the end of the hall, and its golden notes hung in the air like audible motes of light.
    Old Grinolf sat nearby, stretched out across one of the long benches and leaning against a post.  "Feed the fire, boy. These old bones get colder than they used to."
    "Is that permitted?"  The boy asked, looking up.  "I've never been allowed to touch the hearth fire before."
    "And you now care what you are allowed or not allowed to do?  That is not the young terror I remember.  How old are you now?  Eleven?"
    "Nine," the child said, his sea-blue eyes sparkling.  "You know that, Hrafn."
    "When you get as old as I do," the man replied.  "Time can be very confusing."
    The tow-headed boy peered at the older man.  Grinolf's face was tough and weathered like old leather.  A fringe of snow-white hair still clung to his head, and his long beard hung halfway down his chest, but his pale eyes were clear and bright.  "You don't look that old to me."  
    The man laughed.  "Put some more wood on the fire, young warrior, and spare me your flattery.  I have no need of it."  He glanced at the hearth.  "Use some of the larger pieces," he added.  "It has no need of kindling, and we want the fire to burn brightly all through Langenacht.  It will be cold tonight."  
    The boy nodded.  The howling of the wind outside could be heard even over the din of the hall.  He carefully took one of the split logs from the small stack and added it to the hearth, and then a second.
    "Good," the man said, shifting in his seat.  "I have not seen a storm this big on Langenacht for many, many years."  He laughs.  "The Storm King makes his presence known.  Perhaps he searches for his father's hall; or perhaps his the great poison burns through his veins tonight."
    Brandr looked up.  "Poison?"
    "The venom that drips from the deep-wyrm's fangs," Grinolf replied, stretching his callused hands towards the fire.  "Have you not heard the saga?"
    "I heard how Grimr, the dark wolf,  the Storm King's brother, tore off his hand," the boy said, watching the aged skald. "But I have heard nothing of his battle with the deep-wyrm."
    "Feh.  Young Hrafn there has been neglecting your education.  Some skald I trained, eh?"  The old man shook his head.  "But here, boy.  Sit and listen."
    "Back in the shadows of time, when the elves were still young upon the face of Månegard, the great serpent, Gavseppr, slithered free under the twin moons.  Its hunger could not be sated: aurochs, elk, giant, elf, all fell before it and passed between its jaws.  The more Gavseppr ate, the more it grew, until it had grown so great it could grip entire mountains in its irresistible coils, and in its hunger, it rose up and swallowed the sun."
    Grinolf paused for a moment, holding his mead-horn out to a passing thrall, who filled it from a heavy earthen jug.  The old man took a long draught from his horn, then wiped the droplets from his beard and mustache.  "The world was plunged into an age of darkness," he continued, eyes glinting, reflecting the hearth-fire's yellow-orange glow, "with no light except the moons and the stars.  The Hearth Father and his children searched desperately for it, spreading out to the four corners of Månegard in their search.  At long last, the weavers'  tapestry led the Storm King and The Herdsman to where it waited, coiled around Gav-Skardr, and the battle-din descended upon the peaks like a winter rain. The Herdsman's enchanted spear flashed back and forth like a thing alive; the Storm King's sword rose and fell with the fury of an autumn squall."
    "They cut the serpent seven times, and from the puddles of its blood the first brood of wyrms was born; more than once, Gavseppr's venomed fangs bit into the brothers, yet they would not relent.  Gav-Skardr shattered into many pieces, the ocean flooding into the earth-wounds and splitting the once-mighty island into many, but eventually, the Herdsman and the One-handed god struck it down. The Storm King cut the sun from the serpent's belly, and Gavseppr fled them from them, slinking back into the deep dark under the earth. The battle was won, the sun returned, and the serpent, now curse-named the deep wyrm dares not appear under the sun ever again, but its venom still burns through the storm king's blood to this day."
    "Is the deep wyrm still down there?" The boy asked, his eyes wide with excitement.
    "It is," the skald replied.  "That was far- is far- from the end of the deep wyrm's saga. There is the story of how the serpent died of its wounds, but as it began to consume the entire corpse-realm the dead king himself was forced to cast it out of his realm. I could tell you how the Hearth Father bargained with Hrafti  the Giant King to seal the deep wyrm in a tomb of stone, and for warriors to guard the way, and in so doing commissioned the birth of the dwarves.  Or even how the laughing god crept into that tomb to steal fire to end an endless winter." Old Grinolf shifted, yawned, and stretched.  "But that is enough for tonight, young Brandr.  The feast of Lagenacht is ready, and I want only the company of my mead-horn."
    "But..."
    "No buts."  The man shook his head.  "Go sit with your brother the prince and leave me to my thoughts."
    The boy did as he was told.  The fire in the hearth burned through the longest night, but when Brandr slept he dreamed the sound of endless scales scraping over stone.

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