Monday, April 06, 2009

How Kings Came To Be

It baffled me how these rude tribes living in the bristling woodlands could come to have kings, if one could call those bear-skin clad barbarian chieftains "kings", and so as I sat around the fire with my host, I asked the old man about their kings, and how they came to be. This became an occasion for a great story, for these people seem to love nothing more than song and story, and so we whiled away the long evening. Standing up straight and proud, his one arm raised high, the old man began.

"Do you want to know how kings came to be amongst us? Kings are terrible and wonderful. They only come in bad times, and demand much of men, who would rather stay amongst their own kin and clan in the freedom of the forest. A king amongst us, a folk so free and wild? Such a man would have to be so free and wild himself, full of Gods-Spirit, whose generosity is a well-spring of great luck. We have a story that tells of how such men began to dwell over the tribes.

"We remember the first great king, who came amongst us in the times of trouble. The wolves and ravens had surrounded the world, and prepared for the great feast in the days of famine. Strife encircled us, and already the world had been seeded with terrible corruption which as yet grew as sprouts, yet which every day grew larger.

"Tribe fought against tribe to secure just some fertile land on which to grow some barley, or unfrozen pasture to feed their cows. Only a strong man, full of luck and power, could unite the tribes, and stop the in-fighting between the different clans.

"Halfdan the Great had come from the stock of Scyld, the first earl of the folk, and our great judge, who had kept the peace with law, and corralled up all those who had chosen to serve Gullveig, and made them serve the free-folk. For a time, the world was kept in order by Scyld's hand, but events were brewing in the world of the Gods that no one could have foreseen.

"For the Gods' helpers who clothed the earth in flowers, and fed the streams, who accompanied Thor in his train of goats and let loose the rains from the clouds, who awakened the green in the budding leaves in spring, and who guarded the river that bordered the unworld of the terrible giants from the realm of men, had been angered and insulted by the spirit of mischief who lingered amongst the Gods' citadel, and they scattered from their posts.

"Oh, then, terrible winters that never ended, as the blizzard-trolls moved amongst the realm of men. No longer merely throwing their ice-cold daggers across the watery realm in the few months of winter, they came across and into the land of people and began to dry up the springs, freeze the trees, and destroy the frost.

"But worse, the God of Harvests had fled. Some wondered if in anger at the evil of men, and the spark which brought joy between male and female, that bred babies and kine, that burst sunshine within the heart of vegetation, waned, and gloom greyed the hearts of men. His great spirits of the earth seemed to welcome the trolls in, and the great land of Midgard became cold and hungry.

"The frost descended southward, the horrible ur-cold that none could withstand, pushing tribe against desperate tribe, as all tried to flee the icy hand of Dain whose darts and armies kept pushing south, claiming more land for glaciers and barren tundra.

"To see brother fighting brother, just for a bite of bread to eat, was a terrible thing. Chaos seemed to unfold in the world as cousins and brothers fought over scraps to eat, and land to hold to dredge up what little the earth would yield, as if the Mother herself cried, weeping as her great daughter of Love was whisked from her hands by betraying hands in whom she had trusted. Indeed, love was little known amongst men in these times.

"In this time, when none knew unity, when families were scattered, and men's minds grew cold, the great son of Scyld was like a Thunderer amongst men. Taller than most, bigger than most, gifted with great strength that he wielded in his immense oaken club, he dared to roar into the tundra and across the glaciers to take on the giants themselves.

"You may wonder how this is so, for a man to take on monsters and spirits no eye can see, but Scyld's son was gifted in runes, more so even than his father before him, whom the Gods had taught as he peered into the great hearth-fire that brings all men wisdom. With his hands he could calm fires, heal wounds, soothe sorrow, and bring peace where there had been strife. He knew holy words that could make eyes see what is now invisible, and the tribes all united under his banner.

"He taught that brothers were not each other's enemy, but the elements themselves, and so he taught them, blessing their weapons with holy luck, to fight against the elements themselves, and men, armed with the fire that the God of the Hearth had given them, went with brazen torches up against the trolls, and managed to chase them back.

"Do you know he took a bride from amongst the Gods' fallen helpers, and took her back with him to men's lands to green out the glaciers with growth of leaves and fruit? His hall is remembered as the greatest hall of kings, and all about it, in the midst of unending winter, his yards were green and full of gardens.

"Refugees poured in, and King Halfdan never refused a one. All about the great garth the tents of the homeless camped amongst the gardens, and every man, woman, and child gave care with hoe and stick to the great fields of corn and cabbage they eked out of the still-cold, but not freezing, ground. All feasted within the great hall of warmth, its fires providing heat where none was to be had outside the garth, and every clan brought its banners to hang in the hall of the king who had gathered them all together. Huddled there, they regained strength and hope.

"His name shall be remembered amongst us as long as men shall live. None shall forget his generosity, his striking handsomeness, his spirit in the face of disappointment, disillusionment, and scattering, and his unending bravery which took him out by horseback from his warm halls out to scare off the incoming hoards of trolls in their train of ice-storms.

"There was no braver warrior, there was no man who with a look could turn despair into strength and hope as he did, there was no leader who could take tribes who may have cannibalized each other in the desperate scarcity of the time, and make them work together to regain land, food, and even sunshine.

"Kings have never been as great since then, yet always come, as he did, in times of trouble. They are therefore to be feared, for their coming means the advent of troubles which themselves threaten to turn tribe against tribe. Tribes would prefer to be left alone, in peace, but sometimes we have found, when danger threatens, the necessity of joining together again, as we once did against the elements, and only a king with strong luck and spirit can unite folk as strong-willed and independent as our tribes.

"Yet kings of latter days must ever be reminded of Halfdan's virtues, for too often love of gold overwhelms leaders who ought to hate gold as he did. Kings of latter days seldom worship so simply, and so sincerely, as he did, who seemed to commune with the very Thunderer himself as he called men into feast and communion.

"Kings now seem to seek power, more than they ought, when Halfdan sought only the good of his folk. His power came from great love, his warrior spirit from his loyalty to each clan who had come together under his banner, and he never forgot what that banner stood for. He claimed privileges, it is true, but only ones that sweetened the hard and often bitter responsibilities he had willingly embraced.

"There are good kings from time to time, but none so good as he. And yet for all that, the folk would still wish that kings had never come amongst us, for life was better in the simple days of golden ages, when men lived humbly amongst their clan ruled only by judges who arbitrated any quarrels which might arise, living in their own odal homelands, gathered for worship, and even brought war captives into their own families so to teach them over a generation or two how to be free men of the tribe. Yes, that kings had never come amongst us would mean the days of wolf and raven, the axe-age and sword-age had yet to come. And that would be much better. Much better indeed."

The old man got up and stirred the pot in the fire. "But we can't go backwards, can we? Wyrd tends on, unending, twisting and turning in ways we cannot know entire." Then he bent and whispered, watching to see that no one listened. "But I will tell you something, stranger. Wyrd tends on, unknown, except in flashes and glimpses, like sparks from this fire, to those who spy the second sight. Yet ... someday ... this axe-age and sword-age shall come to its pitch, and then be over. When the fires have cleared, a new age shall begin, an age of green and gold, an age where strife has finally burned itself out, and children shall dance in the meadows between villages without fear. When those days come, stranger, days we may never see, nor our great-great grandchildren, there will be no need for kings. Do you know why? For the Gods themselves will live amongst us then. And all this age, this long age of wolves and swords that seemed the forever of the earth, will be but the twinkling of a soon-forgotten nightmare. That gives me hope in this age of strife."

copyright 2009 by Siegfried Goodfellow, based entirely on careful and accurate synthesis of the old, documented lore


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