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Poem: "Within the Wolf's Jaws" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Within the Wolf's Jaws"

This poem came out of the May 1, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from ellenmillion, rix_scaedu, and Dreamwidth user avia.  Further inspiration came from the Norse myth "The Binding of Fenrir" and the god Tyr.  This poem was microfunded in installments by DW user jb_slasher.  It belongs to the series The Asgard Eddas, and you can read more about that on my Serial Poetry page.



Within the Wolf's Jaws

When the Aesir left the planet Asgard
as their ancestors had left Earth,
they sailed between the stars with all bright hope,
searching for a new world to call their own.
Tall they were, and strong,
fair as a golden sun in a blue sky.

When their ship faltered in the black sea of space,
they bound up the Stjärndrakkar  as best they could
and limped to the nearest star system.
They rejoiced to find a planet
blue with water, green with life,
gowned in the white gauze of clouds.

Upon the planet they found vast shallow seas
and deep, wild oceans with just a sprinkle of islands
where people might live and flourish.
So the Aesir settled on the islands,
building houses and ships with what they found there.
Runestones they raised at the edges of their fields
to mark which land belonged to whom,
stones that would stand for their descendants to see
and remember those who had gone before.

They hunted in the marshes and the sea,
killing and eating whatever they could catch --
strange fish the color of copper,
and the little black creatures like seal pups
with huge eyes and domed heads and sweet flesh.
Because they could not live on meat alone,
and the islands were so very small,
the people began to drain the marshes
so that they could grow more crops.

Then the turning of the seasons
brought the news that they were not alone,
for aliens came out of the sea and walked upon the shore.
Fur they had, brown and blond and auburn,
shimmering in the warm bright sunlight.

Tyrssen the scholar was sent to them,
to see if they might speak, and if so to learn their words
and teach them the runes of the Aesir in return.

Tyrssen went willing,
and spent his days among the aliens,
using all his wits and
what wisdom the ancestors might lend him.
In time he uncovered the secrets of their speech
and exchanged his own in fair trade,
made friends with Darkamber of the Sea-People
and his sister Sunamber and brother Bloodamber.
Much was revealed about the world on which they lived.

Then the horror came forth --
that the little black pups were the children of the Sea-People
which the humans had been eating like the seals of old Earth.
Many of the Sea-People grew angry
while many of the humans felt sickened
by what had been done all in ignorance of the truth.
Freyvid, senior physician of the Stjärndrakkar,
walked into the waves and drowned himself for regret of it.

Bloodamber snarled and Sunamber grieved.
Folkvard the star captain railed at his scholar
and demanded answers that no one could give him.
Still Darkamber and Tyrssen would not be parted,
for their friendship was steadfast as that between Odin and Loki.
They stole away to quiet groves and spoke of what might be done.

The more they spoke, the worse matters became,
for they realized that the world held not enough islands
to support both the Sea-People and the Aesir,
for the one needed the space for breeding
and the other for dwelling and growing food.

There was no way to make more land,
other than very little bits of limited use.
They thought of using boats,
as everyone already did for fishing,
but neither the offspring of the Sea-People
nor the crops of the humans could be raised on boats.
With the Stjärndrakkar  in ruins,
the humans had no way to leave for another world.

Even when Darkamber and Tyrssen
tried to turn their attention to other topics,
they found themselves wandering back to somber themes.

"I am named for the color of my coat,"
Darkamber said one day, showing off
the deep orange-brown of it.
"In our culture, it symbolizes the soil
and the heavy ideas that it breeds,
slow and rich and bittersweet."

"Thoughts of gravity," said Tyrssen.
"Yes," said Darkamber.
"Then what does your name mean?"

"It means son of Tyr, or Tyr's chosen,"
the human explained.
"Tyr is a god from the old tales of my people.
Once a terrible wolf called Fenris ravaged the land,
and nothing could stop him.  The gods made
a magic fetter, no more than a ribbon, to bind the wolf;
but Fenris was cunning and would not allow them near."

"What a dilemma!" said Darkamber.
"Did they ever manage to capture the beast?"

"Oh yes," said Tyrssen, "and therein lies the meaning.
For Tyr offered to place his hand within the wolf's jaws
as surety that the gods would do Fenris no harm,
and the wolf allowed them to bind him so that
he might show off his prowess at escaping.
When Fenris could not break free, he bit off Tyr's hand.
So the name suggests one who would sacrifice his own safety,
even his honor, for the sake of saving others from a terrible fate.
Though I am not sure I could live up to the weight of the name."

"That rune on your wrist -- it is his mark?"
Darkamber asked.
Tyrssen touched the tattoo,
twisted lines forming an arrow.
"Yes, it is," he said.  Then he sighed.
"And once again we're speaking of fights and betrayals."

Tempers sharpened themselves like sword blades.
It was Folkvard who first threatened war,
desperate to ensure the survival of his family.
It was Bloodamber who answered,
bitter over the loss of too many children.
Soon both sides were mustering fleets,
fishing boats turned to the art of war.

Darkamber and Tyrssen clung to their scholarship,
hoping against hope to find a solution.
They pleaded, each with his own people,
but few listened to what they said.
"I would rather kill than die," said Folkvard.
Even the peaceweaver Bergdis agreed with that,
although she refused to attend any battle planning.
Sunamber rarely spoke to her brothers,
too full of sorrow at their endless quarrels.
"I have not the heart for it," she said as she turned away.

Bloodamber was determined to kill the invaders.
Folkvard was determined to carve out a place in this world.
Each moored his growing warfleet on a different island
and roused his people to ever greater frenzy.

"There are far more of us than of you,"
Darkamber said to Tyrssen.
"We are old and wise in the ways of war,"
Tyrssen replied in a weary voice.

"The weather looks poor for it,"
Darkamber pointed out.
"Yes, but I doubt they will wait much longer,"
Tyrssen said.

"I think that Bloodamber will launch tonight,"
said Darkamber.
"Folkvard means to sail tomorrow, weather or no,"
said Tyrssen, gazing at the sky.
"He thinks himself ahead of the game,
and knows little of Bloodamber's planning."
Darkamber nodded, a gesture borrowed from his friend.

"Will your tell your people of this danger?"
Tyrssen asked him.
"I will," Darkamber replied.
"Will you tell yours as well?"

"I will not," said Tyrssen.
"Rather I would die,
and my family with me,
and all our dreams with us,
than see your people wiped from this world;
for there are more humans on Asgard and on Earth,
but there are no more of you anywhere at all.
Let Bloodamber have his surprise, and hope of victory."

"So you will trust your hand to the wolf's jaws after all,"
Darkamber said, "as in the story of old that you told me."

"Yes, I will," said Tyrssen.
"It is what honor requires of me."
He rubbed at the mark on his left wrist,
blue arrow dark against shell-white skin.
"We are only men, but sometimes the old tales
walk again within our lives, and Fate calls us to answer."

When the storm came, it scoured the sand from the beach
and left bare stone in places, gaping at the sky.
It tore whole trees from the heart of the island
and flung them into the salty water.
It flattened many of the houses, wrecked the fields,
and killed some of the humans who remained behind.

When at last the sky paled to a clear yellow
and the sea toyed with the wreckage it had made,
Tyrssen uncurled himself from the sheltered steps
under the door of his half-flooded basement.
The meeting grove was gone,
nothing but stumps and empty holes in the earth
like a jaw rent of all its teeth.
So he went down to the beach,
where a little sand was left,
and there he found his friend waiting.

"We have grave news of the fleets,"
Darkamber said, his ears flat with grief.
"The storm overtook them,
and all those who fought, on both sides,
were torn asunder by wind and tide."

There were then only twelve
of the humans left breathing on the land.
Tyrssen stood lonesome on the beach
and looked at the sand where the boats had launched,
as unmarked now as if they had never been.
"Then the war is ended," he declared.
"Congratulations, my friend, on your victory."

"My sorrow swims with your losses, my friend,"
Darkamber said. "Will you seek to rebuild?"

Tyrssen shook his head.  "We will not,"
he replied.  "There are too few of us now.
I and mine will die in our time, and 
leave neither children nor settlement behind us.
I knew what it was that I did, before ever 
I placed my hand within the wolf's jaws.
It was only and always going to end with this."

"It is a sad thing, that you
and your kin and your dreams
all must die," Darkamber said.

But Tyrssen turned his gaze to the heaving sea
and murmured a verse that he had from his ancestors.
"Cattle die, kinsmen die.
I know a thing that does not die:
the deeds of a worthy man."


He turned to face his friend again, and explained,
"This is the immortality of my people,
that we should be remembered
for what we have done by those who come after."

"Then I will tell my offspring of your great sacrifice
that saved my people, honor above all honors.
Whatever you tell to me of your people and their tales,
I will pass on to mine, for time beyond time,"
Darkamber promised.  
"You will have the immortality of your deeds, Tyr's chosen;
and if my descendents should ever meet your distant kin
on the yonder waves of night's ocean, 
we will remember you to them."

Tyrssen turned his face back to the dark water
and said, "Then I am content."

* * *

Notes

1) Stjärndrakkar -- Stardragon

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10 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: December 4th, 2012 10:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
WOW. What a dilemma.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 6th, 2012 05:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

Alas, sometimes there are no good answers.
From: technoshaman Date: January 6th, 2013 06:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

It is good to know there is more story....
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 6th, 2013 08:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

So there is -- and even after the end of this poem, I know one more piece that happens a great deal later.
From: technoshaman Date: January 15th, 2013 04:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Oh, excellent.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 8th, 2013 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I can't remember if I've mentioned to you elsewhere how much I've been enjoying this. I think I've forgotten to do so.<<

That's always good to hear. I really appreciate the feedback.

>>That's one of my favorite quotes from the Hovamol, tho, and made me think that I should comment, whether I have before or not.<<

It's my favorite verse.
jenny_evergreen From: jenny_evergreen Date: January 14th, 2013 08:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is a really excellent story, in the end. That kind of heroism doesn't get the hailing it deserves. Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 14th, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

>>This is a really excellent story, in the end.<<

I'm happy to hear that.

>> That kind of heroism doesn't get the hailing it deserves. Thank you. <<

I agree, and it's a key reason why this tale has stuck in my mind for so long. I think I first came across it in high school at the latest, when I was exploring my main science fiction setting.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: January 15th, 2013 04:04 am (UTC) (Link)
א. Oh, how sad!
ב. More before, and something after. Ahhh.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 16th, 2013 05:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

It is a tragedy. It's the kind of story where the only thing to be done about it is to remember it.
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