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~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~


The Hunt

One winter, Ull was out in the forest, hunting a particularly elusive hart. Yew bow in hand, he skied slowly through the soft powder, tracking the deer. Suddenly, his ears picked up the sound of rustling bushes, an odd sound, considering all of the underbrush was bare of leaves. No, it was movement, so Ull followed as swiftly and silently as he could. Soon he could see a dark shape flitting over the hills ahead. He was unsure, but it must be the hart, what else could it be? 

He skied onward, but seemed to get no closer to the quick shape ahead of him. Finally, Ull drew in close enough for a good shot, and when the figure paused on a hilltop, he swiftly pulled his bow bent and smoothly released one perfectly fletched arrow. It flew straight and true, as he knew it would, but as he let it fly, the figure turned, and Ull saw it was the beautiful and strong giantess, Skadi. Ull gasped in horror at what he had done, but before he had finished breathing a fierce winter wind whipped up into a whiteout obliterating everything in his vision.

Now Ull feared even more, for Skadi was surely wounded, perhaps even dead, and he was powerless to help her. He shouted her name and struggled toward where he'd last seen her, but his skis were hampering his progress. Not only was it windy, but snow was now coming down in piles, small drifts forming over his skis and making it hard to move. He wasted precious moments to bend down and untie them, slinging both the skis and his bow over his shoulder. Ull surged through the snow with all his strength, but without his skis, he soon sank up to his waist. He tied his skis horizontally to his waist, so he would sink no further, and began to swim through the snow. He `swam' for hours, until finally, when his fierce strength was nearly exhausted, the storm stopped and he could only lean forward onto the snow and sleep.

When Ull awoke, the snow around him was melting, and a soft clatter could be heard, like rocks tumbling against each other. He carefully extracted his aching body from the remaining snow, strapped his skis back on, took out his bow, and pushed forward, skiing onward. As he went, the snow continued to melt, until finally he had to remove his skis again and merely walk. It was unseasonably warm, so he stowed his skis and winter gear beneath a large tree and walked on.

Soon, he came to a small clearing and saw an amazing sight: There, in the center, the huge taproot of Yggdrasil plunged down into the earth, surrounded by a tangle of corollary roots that had been intertwined into the semblance of a hall. At the base of the root welled a small spring, the Well of Urd. There, at the edge of the well, sat Urd herself, that wizened crone, folding cloth. Verdandi stood at the loom, the clacking sound was coming from her stone weights swinging into one another as she wove the cloth that Urd folded. Skuld sat leaning against Yggdrasil, spinning yarn, her foot reaching out from time to time to kick the drop spindle spinning again.

"You've done a bad thing, Ull," Urd said in her stony voice. He tensed at the edge of the clearing, expecting the worst.

"Skadi is not dead," Verdandi smiled to him. Ull immediately relaxed in relief.

"That is good to know," he smiled in return.

"That may well be," retorted Skuld, "But you haven't much time." A chill crept down Ull's spine at that. Skuld was the youngest and most beautiful, but also the most fearsome of the three. It was she who spun men's fates, straight into Verdandi's loom, so she might follow the pattern of their lives. When they were finished, Urd snipped them from the loom and folded them to be stored until Ragnarok.

"Skadi has fled to Thrymheim. It was she who called the storm," Urd stated gravely.

"She is there now," added Verdandi.

"You must go to her," Skuld commanded. "Only then can things be made right."

Ull did not say a word, but merely bowed and left the clearing quickly. He raced back to his gear, strapped his skis on again, and took off, flying over the hillsides and dodging trees at every turn. Before long, he came to the hall of Thrymheim, which seemed to grow straight out of the side of a mountain. Ull set out to climb the mountain, but before he could do so, an arrow flew out over the foothills and landed precisely at his feet. Carved on the shaft were the runes, "Go away." Ull shook his head; he had been taken to task by Urd and given a task by Skuld. He must continue onward.

No other arrows hindered his way as he climbed the crag, skis strapped to his back. Finally, he reached the gates of Thrymheim and pounded on the door. By this point, Night and Hrimfaxi were making their way across Ymir's skull, and wolves began to howl plaintively. He thought of Skoll and Hati Hrodvitnisson. Soon, Moon would be chased across the sky. Ull drew his sword at this point and pounded on the great door with the pommel. He raised his arm to pound again when the door suddenly swung open. There stood Skadi, bow drawn, a fiercely sharp arrow just level with Ull's nose.

"How dare you raise a sword against me!" she cried, pulling the bow back even further.

"It was accidental!" Ull hastily explained. "I thought you were a hart I'd been tracking!" Skadi's eyes narrowed, and Ull could see that she did not believe him. "I came to apologize for my ill-thought actions. I am glad you are not hurt."

Her eyes flashed furious, but she lowered the bow, and Ull could see a bloody bandage on her arm. "Who said I am not hurt?"

Ull's eyes widened in shock, "But Verdandi! She said…"

"What?" Skadi demanded. "What did she say?"

"Only that you were not dead," Ull replied, caught in his assumption.

Skadi grunted in disbelief, then walked away from the gate, but left the door open. Ull followed her into her great hall. A huge fire roared in the center of the hall and several small but fierce elkhounds lounged on the stone floor. Skadi went to the table, poured a horn of mead, and sat, gesturing for Ull to do likewise. He did, and she handed him the horn. "Drink," she bade. Surprised, Ull did as she commanded.

"I suspect that there is more to this incident than meets the eye," she said when he had drained the horn dry in a single draft. "I suspect the Trickster might have been involved."

"Loki?" Ull said grimly. "I must confess it does not surprise me." 

"Nor I," she replied, then paused. "I would consider foregoing recompense if you would do something for me."

Ull leaned forward, "And what is that?"

"Give Loki his due," Skadi grinned in reply. "Something appropriate,
of course."

Ull smiled, "I have just the thing in mind."

The next morning, Ull went on his way a happy man; Skadi had been a most accommodating hostess, and Loki was in for an unpleasant surprise. Out in the wood, a hart bounded, terrified for its life. Loki had been out for a little fun with some of the does of the wood, but found himself suddenly hunted and unable to shift back to his original form. So onward he bounded, deeper into the forest. The snow was deep, but soon grew thin, and in a flash, Loki had passed Urd's Well. A cackle of laughter followed him on his way.

Ull nodded to the Norns with a smile as he trotted leisurely after the hart, who was about to get his due. For Loki was headed directly for Thrymheim.

Soon, Loki cleared the last log and came into the foothills directly beneath Thrymheim. He stopped dead in his tracks, trembling all over. He knew now what was going on. He was being punished for his fun the other day. And sure enough, Skadi emerged from the mists, bow in hand, dogs in tow. Ull cleared the forests behind him. Loki was trapped, and he knew it. He bounded away, but Skadi loosed an arrow and grazed his right foreleg: retribution for her injury. Her elkhounds surrounded him, jumping and barking and nipping at his neck. The terror of a hart overtook Loki's sensibilities and he took off in fright. For good measure, Ull loosed one more arrow, landing firmly and safely in the hart's rump. Not a fatal wound, but a painful one.

The hounds chased Loki all the way back to Asgard, practically to Gimle, where he suddenly shifted back into his god-form, an arrow protruding from his posterior. The gods all had a good laugh, though Loki was far from amused. When told the story, even Odin deemed it fair, so there was nothing Loki could do to retaliate.

After that, Ull visited the forests surrounding Thrymheim more frequently, and by their well, the Norns chuckled, satisfied with the way things had turned out. Even the most unsightly ell of cloth can be made beautiful with just one simple change to the pattern.

© Sarah Wassberg

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