The Wolf and the Whale
Skadi sat in her ice cave, high on the mountain top in Thrymheim. The walls were lined with ice crystals and snow jewels, and she was wearing her cape spun by the ice spiders. Her wolf Ruttisdir lay at her feet. Skadi felt a great weight sweep over her giantess body. Her breath froze as soon as she let out a long, sad sigh. The wolves were crying across the mountain ranges and from deep within the forests. They were howling their grief to Skadi as the news of her father’s death in Asgard reached her. Skadi herself let out a cry of great sorrow and anger. Thiazi had been killed by the gods, by the trickery of Loki, all because Idunn, the queen of the apple tree had been lost to them and they had begun to age.
At Skadi’s roar a hundred avalanches cascaded down the mountain sides, and her tears fell as hailstorms on the villages in the valleys below. Skadi would avenge her father's death. She was the great huntress, the giantess, the ice queen. She took her silver helmet carved with runes, and put on her silver chain mail. She slung her bow and arrow over her back and snapped on her skis, and set off at lightning speed to Asgard and the great hall where the gods were feasting at the return of Idunn and their youth. Her father lay on the great stone, cold and lifeless, at one end of the hall.
The gods fell silent as Skadi drew her giant breath and sent a cloud of freezing fog over their feasting fire. They knew they had gone too far, and felt somewhat contrite in the wake of this great, beautiful and terrifying ice giantess in her grief.
“Skadi,” they cried, “Please accept our sincere remorse at Thiazi’s death. As recompense and atonement, let us offer you one of us as a husband; you can choose, but only by his feet.”
Skadi felt it was time she had a husband. It could get lonely up on the mountain side with just the wolves for company, now that her father was gone. Her grief was acute and rushed upon her in a great wave.
“Gods, I will take up your offer, but on one condition, that you make me laugh and lift me out of this terrible mourning, for I feel sure I shall never smile again now that Thiazi is dead.”
So Loki, always one for a challenge, took it upon himself to make the giantess laugh. He seized a large billy goat from the far end of the hall, and tied a rope around its great horns. The other end of the rope he tied around his large, fat testicles. There, standing stark naked in front of all the gods, Loki invited Skadi to startle the goat, which turned to flee in terror. The sight of a mad goat pulling in fear and fury at the end of Loki’s swollen balls, which grew as red as beetroot in the ensuing tug of war, made Skadi’s sadness and anger melt into tears of laughter, especially when Loki fell into her lap as the rope finally snapped.
“Loki, I shall have your bollocks for breakfast,” she boomed, and with a great chuckle decided to choose a husband. All the gods lined up behind a screen, with just their bare feet peeping out from underneath. Skadi walked slowly along the rows of toes and stopped at the most beautiful pair in the centre of the line. These were the most elegant, fine feet she had even seen. Skin so soft and smooth, nails gleaming and polished. Not a callous, corn or bunion in sight. These were the feet she could kiss all night; surely they must belong to Baldr, the beautiful son of Odin, the god that all the Aesir and Vanir, the Valkyries and Shield Maidens yearned after. Skadi was already fifty, and having a youthful god for a husband would surely make her feel like a true goddess, instead of the overbearing giantess she felt she had become at times. Baldr would keep her warm in her ice caves as he worshipped her nightly.
However, as the screen fell away, it was not the face of the beautiful Baldr that gazed back at her, but the gnarled, weatherworn beard full of seaweed and starfish that belonged to Njord, the old god of the sea. Njord, who had already been married to his own sister, who’d born him two children, Freyr and Freyja. Njord, who was as old as the sea itself. Skadi could not quite disguise her disgust and disappointment, but when she gazed into his eyes she saw the deep blue ocean with sea horses galloping across the top of the waves, and thought that perhaps she could learn to love and live with this god that smelt of fish and saltwater. After all, she had only her wolves for company, and Ruttisdir would not mind sharing her ice cave with salmon.
Before the wedding ceremony, Odin made one last gesture of appeasement, and took the eyes from Thiazis head and cast them into the night sky, where they became stars so bright that Skadi would always know that her father was watching over her.
So the couple married and Njord travelled to Skadi’s realm, holding fast to her sleigh pulled by her wolves as they flew across the snow. Nine long nights he stayed with her, although as we all know in the realm of the Otherworld, nine nights lasted nine years. In that time they made love in her ice cave on soft furs, while the ice spiders spun silk stories and the wolves howled at the stars, and the ice cracked across the frozen mountain tops. Skadi taught Njord all she knew about snow, which was a great deal; how to track reindeer, and how to dance to her drum around the fire under the magical flickering of the Aurora Borealis.
In time however, despite all their lively efforts and passionate ardour, Njord realised he was not happy. He found this snow world too cold and unforgiving. The groaning of the ice as it moved down the glaciers boomed through the night so he could not sleep. He missed the sounds of the ocean crashing on the rocks, the cry of the sea ravens and albatross, the songs of the swans and the selkies, and the call of the blue whales as they swam down to the sea bed and back up again.
“Skadi my love, I have to confess I can no longer stay in your world; it's time for me to go back to my realm, and I ask that you accompany me there. I shall make you Queen of the Seven Seas, and all the mermen and mermaids will sigh at your great beauty. Freyja and Freyr will love you too, as I know you will make a good stepmother. Come to my sea palace, where under the full moon people cast gleaming nets to fish for the stars on the water.”
So Skadi agreed, seeing as she hadn’t yet lived by the sea, and had heard tales of the popular coastal resorts where golden youths played volleyball on the beaches and danced half naked through the night long for all eyes to behold. They sailed down to Noatun, to Njord’s great city by the sea. Skadi stayed at the palace for nine nights that were, as we all know, nine years.
However the worlds of the wolf and the whale are separate realms. Skadi soon felt out of place; she became bored with the merpeople and their endless parties, she tired of the sea horse races and the incessant laughter of gulls chattering on rooftops. She hated that she constantly smelt of fish.
Skadi found too that Freyr and Freyja had no need of a stepmother. They were their own gods now, and Freyja especially had much love and devotion from her growing army of lovers, who were in awe of her great skill and beauty. Freyja was a strong, independent goddess, and did not need life lessons from a beautiful but ageing giantess. Although there was some seidr which even Freyja did not know: the magic of snow and the secrets of the permafrost. Skadi was still queen of her realm and felt herself longing for the magic of her ice mountains and the call of her wolves. Ruttisdir would not swim with her in the sea, and would hide shivering in her beach hut, which Njord had given her as a wedding gift. As she sat stroking his fur which was lankey with salt spray, she missed the sparkle of the gems lining her ice cave while the ice spiders spun her soft silk cloaks.
One evening, under a full Hunter's moon, she climbed to the top of cliffs overlooking Noatun and shape shifted into a wolf. She howled the night through, to Orion, to the moon, to her father's eyes beaming down from the sky, and swore she heard in return the songs of the blue whales sing back to her from the deep sea depths. They heard her pain and longing, and sang to her the wisdom and the healing of the great ocean spirit. So Skadi knew what she had to do. She sat down with Njord and told him of her imminent voyage back to her lands. That they would have to accept they were both too long in the tooth, too set in their ways to adapt to each others worlds, and that it was not fair to either of them to be miserable for such long stretches of time.
They agreed to keep their separate lives and go about their own business, on one condition. Since, despite their differences, they had grown very fond of each other over nine nights meaning nine years in each realm. Skadi promised that once a year when the snows started to melt, she would make her way down to the coast, seated in her sleigh on top of an iceberg as it drifted down the fjord to the open sea. Where her cold, clear ice waters flowed into the salty ocean, there Njord would come to greet her and they would make love again for nine nights. Really, truthfully ...only nine nights.
So dear one, every year when the wolves howl out from the cliff tops and you can hear the blue whales sing in reply, you know that Skadi and Njord are calling to each other across their own special song lines from the mountains to the sea.