Friday, February 11, 2011

The Tale of Asmund and his Fall

O have you heard the sailor's tale, which sad
Upon the ancient seas does speak a strange
And eerie fate of kings? Who in the storm
That rushed upon the road of whales did seek
To battle proud, a scion of the ancient
Kings, and sweetest son of Freya, brave
And handsome? Long had Dietrich fought the feud
Against good Freya's husband, now his son
He bid to battle on the seas, and so
Our melancholy tale. Give ear to what
A salty sailor, I, shall share with thee!

Engage in battle, now the ships go out
To meet the vowed time of fate, but Gods,
In sacred council seeing all the feud
Of Freya's husband's son, and Dietrich, bid
The bright and shining father stay out of
This too-prolonged feud, which futile flows,
As quarrels ought not, well beyond the pale
Of moderation ; or to call back son
From promised battle --- but his honor knows
The father well, such shame as running, ne'er
This fame-beseeking son, whom fates did say
His name upon the halls of time would write
Its burning etch in minds of men fore'er,
Would risk ; but leave his boy behind, the Gods'
Forbiddance notwithstanding, ne'er would he,
But entering not the fray would merely watch
Upon the decks of Gnodir, famous ship
Five thousand warriors holding, Asmund-held,
His son, a gift his father gave from Odin's
Treasures as a boon for risky errands
Many times adventured for the Gods;
And he would over-watch, ensure his son
Was safe, and safe-return ; and then would laugh
Upon the slaughtered corpse of Halfdan's son,
Who long ago refused his peace, now dared
To threaten Erich's son, when peace was all
The Gods did bid --- well, then, his fate was sealed!
But not at his hands, as the Gods forbade,
But yet his son's, whom he would ward on deck.
Slipped out from sun-reflected clouds of sky's
Most doughty warriors' stronghold.

Then set sail,
The father and the son, and all the brave
Assembled warriors, towards the bay assign'd.
Where Dietrich and his fearsome fleet did wait.
The air a moment still, as sails did sail
In coasting glide, aside the bows of foes,
Before the wake of battle, silent scan
The eyes of foes upon each other, sizing
Up the enemy, or lips in whispered
Prayer to favorite patrons, eerie all
The still, as bowstrings taut, the arrows pointed,
Hating eyes respect despite the foe.

Then metal ring, as thousand hilts did clash,
With leap, and whirr of feathered wands through air,
The music of the waters drowned by din
Of sword and roar and arrow-flying, cries
Of first-bled casualties, the fall ; then from
Atop the heightened deck of Gnodir Asmund
Spied the hated sight of far-famed Dietrich :
Leapt, with single bound, and raging wod,
As seasoned raiders scream into their shields,
And flew the air from deck to solid deck,
His sword a pointed, iron banner, held
Before him, to inspire courage. "No!"
King Erich screamed from Gnodir, "No, my son!"
He futile-screeched, not seeing this, but thought
From high atop the decks content to lead
The battle Asmund would remain, but now
Into the sharpened jaws of death did leap,
Just as that witch had long ago forewarned,
But now, the flood of melee, warrior-thick
Between them as a wall, he watched in horror,
Pushing, yet in vain ; upon the shield
Of doughty Dietrich Asmund pounded, brave,
But less than hundred-battle-trained as he,
The heir of Halfdan, victor of the West,
His blows were child's play to block, though struck
With courage admirable ; but then, with one,
And most enterrible-fated blow, he struck --
The far-famed Odin-favored king -- struck down
The handsome prize of Freya's womb, the boy,
And fell the all of Erich's hopes in life.

Like seas at low tide parting, waves of ranks
Of fighting soldiers, Erich, now beyond
His rage, does push through, bold, forgetting vows
To stand aside, and sword in hand, to slaughter
Offers up a dozen, then a dozen
More to senseless Gods, as he now sees
Them. Then a dozen more, as if with cuts
His hand could seam the bloody gashes slashed
Upon his fallen son, and even Dietrich,
Bold, but nonetheless a wise man, backed
Away to lead the battle further back.
And now the ravens' meat beside his feet,
His son agrasping, leapt with force on Gnodir,
Magic spells enchanting o'er his son
To heal his paling cheeks, but one by one,
The Galdurs failed ; O long had served him, now
Had failed when most in hour of need he had!
O curses! O blood-encurdled pleas for mercy,
Screeched in foreign tongues to Gods above!
Without avail! O horror!

Now did Dietrich
Seize his chance, and send his Vikings o'er
To scuttle Gnodir, hacking holes in hull
To waves bebring adown, adown to Hel!
And Erich, who the men were watching for
Their orders, sat oblivious, and howled ;
And then that greatest ship the world has seen
Careened into the gaping waves, its
A slow-diving beak of fish-seeking bird.

And then.
Oh then, that last and terr'ble breath of Asmund.
A quake upon the hills and valleys shakes
The dust, and in the sea, the raucous waves!
Those waves like grey, unrighteous beasts of prey
With teeth and fins, like monstrous sharks in swarm
Of frenzied blood, upon the wracking surface!
How the winds with mighty, billow'd biceps
Lifted up the weighty waves, then let
Them down with whoosh, and shock of stormy splash!
And mired with gore of bloodied limb, the sea,
The princes' battlefield, did weep with red
And unredeeming tears of bracken grey!
A tossed and turmoiled grave of fallen corpses.

Ah, Erich on the deck, forlorn and howling!
Bloodied boy within his crumpled arms.
His eyes compete with clouds to sting the salt
Of water'd wave, as fade the day of eyes
His son once looked out hours before, before...
Before that thief of Father's sons had struck,
Had struck two souls in one sole body, his,
Before his son's, without whom mortal flesh
Is but a hollow dungeon : down, O down
The deck approached the sinking waves as all
The glorious hull of Gnodir met in shameful
Wed the awful bride of Aegir : sunk,
With arms still wrapped around, his lungs a rasping
Curse-choir song-hall barking blackened oaths
At every God he knew, except for She ...

"Ah, She ... That queen O ne'ermore to be seen!
O crests like fins of sharks, not soon enough
Your rav'nous jaws engulf this hollow'd flesh,
Who now, too-willing, leaves goodbye to earth
And greets my woman's father's yard, the sea!
Ah sea most cruel and unforgiving, take
This wretch from sight of bloodied sun that o'er
The slip of Western disc now falls, and paled,
So wan of emptied veined blood, O ghost
So white and wraithlike in the sky, Ye moon,
Who once did have me fetch a cursed sword
Whose curse, now come to fruit, shall in my fruit
Now kill me full at last ; ah, waves, betake!
Betake me down into your teary kingdom,
All my tears in you now drowning, take
Me down, o down to Niflhel, I care not!
A father asks the wyrm to tear his corpse
When all the life his son did breathe he can't,
Though reckoned quite a warrior, save ; o down
For good I go, hard world, and ne'er return!"

And sailors say when storms are rarely wild
As that shark-infested storm so long
Ago, a ghostly pair of ships is seen,
In hail, as sea fights sky in pointed blows,
And on the vaprous decks the wraiths do war!
Do war, and shall in hailstorm ever after!
So do sailors say, and swear they've seen.
And some say when the sea is calm again,
A seal is seen out in the waters, playing.
Codgers yarn a mermaid tends him there,
The sweetest voice they never heard, upon
A promontory rock above the waves.
And so the old men pass their time in tales
About the fire, wishing they were seal,
and she were their enchanting mistress, ah!
Have you this tearful, poignant tale enough
Now sated? Pass the briny seaman's tale
Along to all who wish to hear its sorrow.


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