A Novel by Clarise Samuels

And so my personal saga was about to begin. Sigurd was about to arrive.

Chapter 3: How Sigurd Slew Fafnir

Fafnir guards the gold hoard in this illustration by Arthur RackhamBut not right away. Sigurd was being unavoidably detained. I was lying on the top of Mount Hindarfiall, rumored to be somewhere in Frankland, but in fact was in the area later to be known as Sweden. As I lay there, a tortuous circle of flames angrily reached for the sky at hellish temperatures. The walls of a small golden castle had magically appeared, and within its circular rotunda, I lay on a bier as if I were dead and lying in state. The thunder and lightning, which had accompanied my arrival, were rolling away in the distance. The setting sun hung wanly in the metallic blue sky like a thin sheet of orange paper pasted against the pale background. It was quiet. It was eerie.

What was I doing here? My thoughts wandered in my state of what was quickly becoming semiconsciousness. Earth was a dangerous planet. Humans lived in fear, and their very fears created the dangers they dreaded so much, resulting in chaos and disruptive forces. A primitive place, this planet Earth. Women were denigrated, reduced to mere consorts. Men feared the power of a woman, a fear harking back to a primordial era when women reigned as goddesses on Earth before they were usurped by men. And I was the most powerful woman of them all.

I was a true goddess.

But how did I know that? Odin’s thorn of sleep apparently had a faulty mechanism. It was not working properly. I remembered everything from my previous life as a goddess. Odin had said to expect partial amnesia, but instead, I could recall every detail of the heavens and my former persona as the head of the Valkyries. This realization was a small comfort. There was a chance I would be leading a double life—part human living in the physical reality and part goddess psychically attuned to life in Valhalla. Maybe Odin had second thoughts at the last possible moment and decided to restore my memory. In any case, I knew who I really was. I had to consider myself to be fortunate. But on this planet, having your divine memory intact could be both a bonus and a burden.

Sigurd was slightly delayed in his arrival at Mount Hindarfiall because a previous commitment had diverted him. His mission to rescue me was only one of three divinely decreed missions Sigurd had to execute within the short stretch of a few months. Before Sigurd could even consider the prospect of rescuing me, he had first to avenge the death of his famous father, King Sigmund, and thereafter slay a repulsive, wormlike beast named Fafnir. Only then would Sigurd proceed to Mount Hindarfiall. These orders were from Odin, passed along to Sigurd via the High Priestess of the Faeroe Islands, whom Sigurd visited annually. Sigurd was the greatest knight who would ever live in his day and age, but at this stage in his life, in his late thirties, he still had not known his greatest moments.

Indeed, there were a number of battles where Sigurd had shown a spark of the genius and the courage he would later be known for, and everyone presumed Sigurd was the greatest knight who had ever lived if only because he had inherited this mantle from his saintly father, the great and beloved King Sigmund. But Sigurd was a bit complacent, and at this point in his life, his mother had not yet even given Sigurd his father’s sword, known as Gram. The magical sword had become part of King Sigmund’s legend when he was still a youth, for Sigmund was the only one who was able to pull the sword out of the oak tree, having been planted there by Odin himself.

Sigurd, the son of a legend, the son in whom so much hope was invested, had always to await his assignments from Odin, which he received through the High Priestess, and such assignments were few and far between. Yet Sigurd now stood before the priestess in amazement, for he had been given three significant missions in one day.

The High Priestess had emerged from the depths of her cave, standing on a high platform with bonfires lit on tall, marble columns to provide some light in the gloom. In the shadows of the cave stood detailed and bejeweled sculptures of Odin and the other gods and goddesses. The sibyl had long, straight black hair, dark skin, and an intensely wild look in her eyes. Sigurd sometimes wondered what potions this prophetess of Odin took to enter into her mystical trances. Nevertheless, the High Priestess rarely misguided him, so he listened to her attentively as he watched her long gown clinging to her voluptuous curves.

“You have three missions, Sigurd,” the High Priestess told him.

“Three?” Sigurd repeated. “How strange. More than one mission is rather exceptional.”

“You must avenge the death of your father, the good King Sigmund, by attacking the castle of his murderer, King Lygni of the Hunding race,” she announced. “After you are finished with Lygni, you must then proceed to the cave known as Glittering Heath where you will slay Fafnir, the beast. He is a murderous creature who will attack anyone who comes near the treasure he guards. And after you have slain Fafnir and the treasure is secured, you must proceed to Mount Hindarfiall, where a sleeping goddess awaits you, having been newly evicted from the heavens. You are the only one who can revive her.”

“Say what?” Sigurd exclaimed as he stared up at the High Priestess, who had finished her proclamation and was now distracted by her makeup, which she was dabbing at in a large mirror. “I beg you, tell me you jest! I might die in battle with Lygni, and if I survive, Fafnir will crush me like a worthless insect. I will never live to see Mount Hindarfiall.”

“These orders are directly from Odin,” the oracle announced while picking up a white powder from a shelf and sniffing something Sigurd suspected was some kind of drug. “Odin will protect you.”

“In the name of all the heavens,” Sigurd exhorted the High Priestess, “I am not prepared for such dangerous undertakings. My mother, the Queen Hjordis, has not yet even seen fit to give me my father’s sword.”

“The time has come for you to inherit the sword,” said the prophetess. “You must insist your mother give it to you. Your father paid a high price the day he pulled the sword out of the oak tree in the home of Volsung, your grandfather. The conflict and the sibling rivalry produced by the gift of the sword destroyed Sigmund’s entire family. It is your destiny to inherit the sacred weapon, and the time has come.”

Sigurd was crestfallen at these words. This was not the crusade the son of Sigmund had planned to undertake during this particularly felicitous interval in his life. Sigurd was engaged to be married to a most desirable princess named Gudrun. Deeply in love, Sigurd’s disposition was presently a cheery one; the lovelorn swain had intended to enjoy an imminent visit to the palace of his future in-laws, where he would presumably spend some time stealing kisses from the lovely waif with whom he was about to be wed. Risking his life at such an inopportune time did not appeal to Sigurd in the least.

A battle with King Lygni, the man who had murdered his father, Sigmund, was enough in itself to inspire dread in Sigurd’s heart. But the idea of facing Fafnir, the gargantuan worm that had brutally slaughtered many a renowned knight who had sought to liberate the treasure from Fafnir’s lair, truly unnerved Sigurd and caused him unspeakable misgivings. And if the reluctant man-at-arms survived both these trials, Sigurd had to concern himself with a sleeping goddess on a mountaintop. Who then knew what obstacles lay in store for him there?

“It is said no knight can approach Fafnir without being viciously torn apart by those beastly jaws. Is that true?” Sigurd entreated the High Priestess, his alarm growing. The High Priestess of Faeroe sighed with resignation and for a rare moment, there was a doleful expression of profound sorrow in her eyes, and she replied in a melancholy tone.

“Yes, it is true,” the seer confessed. “Fafnir was once devastatingly handsome. He was destined to be a fearless and mighty warrior. One of three brothers fathered by Hreidmar, King of the Dwarfs, Fafnir was the one to be most envied. Fafnir had two talented brothers, Otter, who could change form from human to animal at will, and the magnificent Regin, who was a brilliant metalsmith, linguist, and scholar, as well as shipbuilder and architect.”

“Yes, I know of Regin’s plight,” Sigurd commented promptly. “He later left his homeland and arrived at court in Denmark, where my mother rules with her second husband, King Alf. My mother employed Regin as my tutor. Regin has been with me since childhood, and he has often spoken with great bitterness and consternation about his brother, Fafnir, and the fabulous loot the beast safeguards with such murderous intent. I never dared to ask Regin the question I will now ask you. For the sake of Odin, how did Fafnir’s shocking transformation from beautiful warrior to grisly monster come about?” Sigurd queried the High Priestess in earnest.

“Ach, it is a dreadful story, one whose retelling I do not relish.” The seer moaned softly and passed her hand in front of her eyes in pure anguish. The oracle took a deep breath to steel her nerves in order to relate the tale. “Hreidmar, King of the Dwarfs, was a wealthy monarch, unfortunately known for being greedy and miserly. But Hreidmar’s already prodigious fortune was destined to increase a hundredfold because of a terrible tragedy—a woeful mishap, entirely Odin’s fault.”

“Odin’s fault?” Sigurd parroted in disbelief. “How is that possible?” The High Priestess stared fixedly into the distance and answered Sigurd in a monotone devoid of all emotion.

“Odin had impulsively decided to descend to Earth one day with two other gods, Loki and Hoenir. On the way to pay a visit to Hreidmar’s abode, Loki, a bit of a dullard, saw Hreidmar’s son Otter lying about in the form of a seal, as was Otter’s wont. Loki decided Otter looked like some delectable form of meat. Having lagged behind Odin, who was not paying much attention to his two companions, Loki proceeded to slay Otter and carry the dead mammal around his neck as he followed Odin back to Hreidmar’s home. Odin was completely unaware of the contemptible act. When Loki arrived, Hreidmar saw his slain son, Otter, casually tossed over the shoulders of Odin’s dimwitted companion.”

“Valhalla be damned!” Sigurd exclaimed. “What a horrific shock for a father!”

“Indeed,” the High Priestess continued. “Hreidmar fainted. Odin decided to compensate Hreidmar for his loss by giving the bereaved father a fabulous treasure, which Odin had to procure on very short notice. It was a treasure trove kept by a dwarf named Andvari, who lived in the area. The treasure included the legendary Helmet of Dread, which allows the wearer to assume the identity of another, and the magical ring, Andvaranaut. Odin sent Loki to retrieve the treasure as compensation for the grieving Hreidmar. Loki took it all.”

Sigurd listened with rapt attentiveness, as parts of the story were familiar to him. Everyone in the kingdom knew the legend of Andvaranaut, the ring that attracted gold and valuables from every corner of the globe. Andvari did not take kindly to having this ring taken from him. The dwarf had hexed it with the words, “A curse on that ring and all who come to possess it!” The cursed ring would, unfortunately, be the cause of much grief in the future.

“The ring was cursed,” Sigurd remarked tersely as he recalled the details of the legend.

“Indeed, it was,” the High Priestess agreed. “The ring lost its power to attract wealth, and the curse caused Hreidmar to undergo a change in his character. After acquiring the treasure, Hreidmar became increasingly bitter. The King of the Dwarfs hoarded his jewels, but the jewels could not console him, and Hreidmar was drowning in self-pity over the death of his son. And with Otter gone, Regin and Fafnir, the remaining sons, began to covet their father’s newly acquired riches. Regin, the more reasonable son, controlled his own selfish instincts. But Fafnir wanted his share of the goods forthwith, for he was too impatient to wait for the gems and precious objects to become his rightful inheritance. And so Fafnir did the unthinkable. The son murdered the father in his own bed, while the father slept.”

“In the name of Odin and all the gods and goddesses of Asgard!” Sigurd cried out in his distress. “How could any son commit such a deed?”

“The lust for wealth plagues humankind and can manifest itself in perverse and unpredictable forms,” the oracle said, a note of defeat marking her utterance.

“Did Fafnir suffer any remorse for the disgraceful wrongdoing?” Sigurd wanted to know.

“Alas, no,” the High Priestess continued. “Fafnir gathered up the entire chest of valuables and made off with it to a secluded cave called Glittering Heath, where he took up residence. Here the dastardly criminal thought he would live out his life enjoying the loot he had obtained with his father’s blood. But Odin had loved Hreidmar, and the All-Father was devastated when he saw Fafnir carry out his hateful act. Odin turned Fafnir into a slimy, oozing reptile with the head of a dragon and the body of a worm. In this monstrous state, the once handsome and princely young man now attacks and devours anyone who approaches his lair. Fafnir’s only animal instinct is to protect the treasure, which can no longer serve him now that he has metamorphosed into such an unsightly and hellish creature.”

“I know the rest of the saga,” Sigurd observed quietly. “That is how Regin, in his suffering over his family’s woes, found his way to the court of my mother, Queen Hjordis, and my stepfather, King Alf.”

“Yes, to be sure,” the High Priestess concurred, “your mother became Regin’s patroness, and Regin has served you well since earliest childhood as both tutor and friend, as has your stepfather, King Alf. You never knew your true father, King Sigmund, for you were still in the womb on the day King Lygni slew him. Your mother hid in the bushes on the day of the unpropitious battle, knowing full well Lygni had always lusted for her, and she was sickened at the thought of being claimed a prize to the man who would murder Sigmund. But Odin intervened on your mother’s behalf the day Sigmund was slain. King Alf, the Viking, had just docked his ship at a nearby harbor, and becoming aware of a dreadful duel between two kings, he investigated and found your desperate mother weeping in the bushes. Alf carried your mother back to his vessel and back to Denmark. Your mother, Queen Hjordis, married Alf out of gratitude.”

“I know,” Sigurd responded softly. His mother had recounted the woeful tale of Sigmund’s death many times. And Regin, too, would spend many long hours telling his young charge the story of the injustice Regin had suffered at the hands of his ill-fated brother, Fafnir. Knowing Sigurd would someday inherit Gram, Sigmund’s sacred sword, Regin hoped the young boy he tutored would grow up to confront Fafnir with his diabolical past. And now at last the day had arrived in the torchlit caverns of the High Priestess of the Faeroe Islands. Sigurd’s protests about the onerous tasks assigned to him fell by the wayside, for a sense of destiny had won the day. The son of Sigmund fell to his knees, and he humbly accepted his mission. “I will do everything the gods have asked of me. I will avenge my father’s death, I will slay Fafnir and recover the treasure for the kingdom, and I will rescue the fallen goddess from Mount Hindarfiall.”

“The gods have spoken!” the High Priestess pronounced, flinging her head back wildly as she turned on her heel to exit her majestic podium.

Sigurd, at times still a rather weak and wavering warrior, was most disheartened at the thought of having to slay Fafnir, the bloodthirsty beast. Sigurd would need Regin to accompany him, since Regin, as Fafnir’s true brother, understood Fafnir’s history and nature better than any other mortal. And more important, the time had come for Sigurd to approach his mother, Queen Hjordis, and ask her for his rightful inheritance from his true father, King Sigmund. The time had come for Sigurd to inherit the sword.

The sword was now broken into pieces, having thus been damaged by Odin himself on the day Sigmund died. It was Sigmund’s destiny to die on the battlefield at the hands of King Lygni, and Odin had descended on the day of the event with one purpose in mind—to destroy the consecrated sword, which would have ensured Sigmund’s victory. Without the protective powers of the divine weapon, Sigmund’s fate was sealed. Yet Odin resented Lygni just the same. The All-Father knew justice had to prevail, and Sigmund’s death would someday have to be avenged. And now it was time for Sigurd to confront his mother with her reluctance to relinquish the sword. Hjordis had always dreaded this moment, for she knew Sigurd would be obliged to risk his life to avenge the death of his father, King Sigmund. Back in Denmark, Sigurd demanded an audience with the queen.

“Mother,” Sigurd pleaded, “the time has come. You must give me Gram, the sword Odin gave father that portentous day in my grandfather’s house, the day Odin planted the sword in the trunk of the oak tree, and my father was the only one present who was able to remove it with ease.”

Hjordis complied with a heavy heart as she unlocked Gram’s hiding place in a secret cupboard, presenting the broken fragments to her son with tears streaming down her face. Regin, the metalsmith, whose mastery was inspired by the gods, worked on the sword all night using every ounce of his skill and talent to weld the broken pieces back into one unit. Having done so, the next morning Regin presented Sigurd with the legendary weapon. The sword sprang to life in Sigurd’s hands, for Gram clearly recognized its new master.

The sword was invincible. It could not be broken by human hands.

Thus, Regin and Sigurd set sail for one of the exploits that would make Sigurd known far and wide and to all posterity. Sigurd went to Lygni’s kingdom and appeared at dawn outside the castle walls. Mustering up his courage and all the oratory eloquence Regin had taught his illustrious pupil, Sigurd called out for all to hear, “Let he who dared to slay the great King Sigmund, father to Sigurd and husband to Hjordis, show his face and announce to all what he did that woeful day so many years ago was right and just, and I shall challenge him to do battle with me, and thereby avenge the death of the wisest and most beloved king in all the Northern lands. I dare you to defend your deed! I dare you to defend the death of Sigmund!” Sigurd uttered his request in his deepest and most heartfelt voice. The white-haired King Lygni accepted the challenge and promptly rode out on his war horse to meet Sigurd. After a harrowing and exhausting clash between the two warriors, Sigurd triumphed and slew Lygni.

And there was still much peril ahead.

Regin and Sigurd continued on their way high into the mountains to Glittering Heath, the home of the ghastly and repulsive Fafnir. This was the most dreaded assignment of all. The truth was Sigurd would cringe at the sight of Fafnir, and the son of Sigmund feared he would be vanquished in a matter of minutes. But Sigurd had faith in the magical sword that had been bequeathed to him and trusted he would plunge Gram into Fafnir’s jugular. The blood that would spurt would be almost enough to fill up a lake, Sigurd did not doubt it for a moment. The most pressing objective was to redeem the treasure from Fafnir’s lair. It would be enough to feed the Nibelungs, the kingdom of his fiancée, Gudrun, for generations to come.

Sigurd was not conventionally handsome. The son of Sigmund had a thick, curly head of dark red tresses, and he had a thick, short beard. The nose was long and patrician, with a sensuous mouth disclosing a beautiful smile. Sigurd had a sculpted face with a strong, square chin and high cheekbones. His reddish eyebrows shaded merry blue eyes, the bluest of blue eyes anywhere to be seen. Sigurd was a little on the short side for a man of such power and strength, and he was built square and stocky. In his late thirties, Sigurd was already starting to sport gray hairs and laugh lines. But there was the healthy look of the Viking about him—a Scandinavian hero with short legs, a largish nose, a slightly protruding belly, and a suggestion of stooped shoulders.

Sigurd was a warrior who dedicated himself to his kinsmen and his liege lord. He disdained the concerns of the rich and the privileged, and he dutifully defended the weak and the poor. Sigurd had performed in minor battles many times. The son of the great King Sigmund was not always so graceful about it. There was clumsiness about him. Sigurd made mistakes. He was fearless in battle, but in between such feats, he was prone to anxiety. At times Sigurd panicked at the mere thought of combat. Sweat poured profusely down his face when this reluctant knight saw the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Yet, at the last possible moment, Odin always came to the rescue and gave Sigurd the courage he needed to persevere. Awkward though he might be, Sigurd was still Odin’s favorite. At these moments when Sigurd was infused with divine grace, usually at the eleventh hour, he would be filled with a force that came from he knew not where. This mysterious energy charged his entire body and flowed through his blood vessels like a raging current. At such times Sigurd snapped his visor into place, and he felt the strength of the gods pouring into every muscle and every limb. Lifting his face up to the heavens, clenching his teeth, and holding his sword high in the air, the undaunted defender of the gods would emit the shrieking war cry for which he was so famed. Not many people had ever hearkened to that cry. And for those who did, it was often the last sound they ever heard before being whisked away to Valhalla.

Such was the cry of rage and triumph Fafnir heard just before Sigurd charged at him with King Sigmund’s sword. I will not embellish the story—Sigurd did not achieve the required level of courage and daring too swiftly. When Sigurd caught his first glimpse of Fafnir, he trembled with terror. “Let me control the fear raging like a demon in my blood,” he prayed to Odin.

Sigurd himself never knew how he actually subdued his shameful insecurity and paralysis. This chevalier did not know from whence the hero’s daring and determination came or how it overwhelmed him so suddenly and pervasively. One moment Sigurd was shaking like the most disgraceful coward, who was ready to break ranks and dive into the brush until the battle was over, and the next moment he rose to immeasurable heights of valor. Sigurd could not perform in this fashion too often; he could not know for sure if the strength would be given to him at the crucial moment. Thus, Sigurd could only pray to Odin. The son of Sigmund could only throw himself down on his knees and beg for the gods to deliver him at the difficult hour. Nevertheless, Sigurd had to demonstrate to the gods the courage he had inherited from his father; he had first to stare into the eyeballs of fate and sneer in the face of its capricious whims to prove his sincere intentions to the gods.

And then Sigurd had to joust with death as though he thought his opponent a fool.

Where did Fafnir get his strength? And to what purpose did this repulsive beast ceaselessly guard the fortune that could bring him no pleasure? A gory death by the jaws of the malevolent Fafnir was no way for a hero to die. It revolted Sigurd to expose himself to this detestable monster. But the son of Sigmund could procrastinate no longer. Sigurd had stealthily approached the den of the creature. The fire-breathing worm snarled like a lion, and there was venom frothing out of the sides of his enormous mouth. Sigurd had sneaked down to Fafnir’s watering hole and had hidden behind a large boulder, while he observed his prey and tried to determine what to do next.

The ghastly sight of Fafnir defied the imagination. Such an apparition as this far exceeds the limitations of the human mind, thought Sigurd. Fafnir had horns, huge ragged teeth capable of tearing the strongest man from limb to limb, and scaly skin, which seemed to be covered with a thick green slime. Fafnir’s huge eyes bulged out of his head, and they were the color of dark blood. Even a casual twitch of his long tail knocked major branch systems off trees.

Sigurd was not feeling like his legendary old self. He was shaking from head to toe. “Damn,” Sigurd whispered. This time the gods had gone too far. Sigurd could not face the embodiment of such all-encompassing evil. Odin had assigned this perilous task to the wrong man. Sigurd put his shaking hand on his trusted sword as he tried in vain to recall the ritualistic prayers he knew by heart. Ach, in the name of all the gods and goddesses of Asgard, I am terrified, he thought. Suddenly, a breeze rustled the branches, and it sounded like the wind was speaking.

You will prevail, the trees seemed to say, it must be done.

“Why have I been chosen for this task?” Sigurd asked the trees. “I want to live my life in peace.”

It must be done, was the only answer the trees could give him.

Sigurd exhaled deeply, and he secretly cursed Odin. I don’t see you down here facing this eternally damned beast, the renowned champion thought in accusation to the Chief of the Gods. But as the trees swayed in the wind and appeared to laugh, there from the other side of Fafnir’s water pond, something caught Sigurd’s eye. A dark figure in hat and cloak waved to him. The figure quickly disappeared. And the trees spoke again—don’t be so sure, the trees swayed back and forth, how would you know?

Sigurd now felt the unknowable strength streaming through his body, the unmistakable sign of assistance from above. Sigurd lowered his visor, and he touched his sword for reassurance. He was breathing heavily, and the sweat was pouring down the sides of his face. “Then it will be done!” Sigurd yelled out in a loud and clear voice.

And Fafnir, who had been lapping up gallons of water at the water hole, looked up in surprise.

Precisely then Sigurd emitted his bloodcurdling war cry, and he raised his sword high over his head. Fafnir, caught off guard, froze. The next moment Sigurd was upon the loathsome animal, and the sword was plunged into the neck of the beast. Fafnir barely had time to react. The hideous giant knew it was useless. The cursed son of Hreidmar was dying of his wound. “Who are you?” Fafnir gasped in his death throes.

“I am Sigurd.”

“And who was your father? From whence do you come with such strength that could smite me?” Fafnir asked in a dying voice.

“I am fatherless. My father is dead,” Sigurd explained tersely.

“Who was he?” Fafnir asked again.

“He was Sigmund. And all my strength comes from the gods,” was Sigurd’s reply.

“Why did you do this to me? Who put you up to it? Did you not know there is no human alive who would even wish to gaze upon my dreadful countenance? Ah, but the son of Sigmund would have no fear, for Sigmund was great and mighty.” Fafnir’s eyes rolled about in his head.

“You have hoarded the treasure for too long,” Sigurd replied. “It was never yours to begin with. You killed your own father and acquired it unjustly. And you guard over it to no purpose. You merely want to count your gold and admire your jewels. This treasure belongs to the kingdom. You have slaughtered many an honorable warrior. Now it is your turn to die. Did you think you could go on like that forever? Justice will be done.”

And Fafnir growled in resentment, but the death rattle was in his throat. The beast closed his large, scaly eyelids, and he succumbed to the bloody wound in his neck. Sigurd reclaimed the riches from the back of the cavernous lair. Priceless jewels, golden coins that had claimed the life of many a pirate—the huge wooden chest was filled to overflowing. Sigurd recovered the Helmet of Dread and the legendary ring that attracted all riches, Andvaranaut.

Soon after came an unexpected twist in the plot, a twist that nearly undid Sigurd. His trusted counselor, Regin, who had accompanied Sigurd on this mission, inexplicably let his treacherous side overtake him. Regin was, after all, related to Fafnir by blood, and some of the family insanity lay dormant in the last son of Hreidmar. The sight of the wealth that had once been Regin’s rightful legacy incited a rapacity that brought out the treason in him. “You murdered my brother,” Regin told Sigurd in tones remarkable for their severity.

“What? What concern is that to you?” Sigurd asked him in bewilderment. “The heart of your brother has long been dead. Only oozing slime remained. Since my earliest childhood, you have been praying to the gods I would one day achieve knighthood and come galloping to Glittering Heath to slay Fafnir and recover the treasure. What objection could you possibly have now?”

“Nevertheless, I am suddenly overwhelmed with memories, which are the source of much grief. You murdered my brother. I demand restitution,” Regin replied.

“And exactly what kind of restitution were you thinking of?” Sigurd inquired.

Regin demanded Sigurd atone for the deed by performing a gruesome task—he bade Sigurd to cut out Fafnir’s heart and roast it over the campfire. Sigurd did not argue with Regin any further, for technically Sigurd had murdered Regin’s brother, and according to the Norse code of honor, Regin had a right to demand compensation. Even though Regin had wished for the murderous deed to come to pass, and Odin had commanded it, Sigurd did as Regin asked while Regin slept. It was a repulsive act for Sigurd to rip open the guts of the dead monster and retrieve the heart with his own hands. Sigurd was disgusted as he went about his work. Later, as Sigurd turned the heart of Fafnir slowly on the spit over the campfire, he touched it to see if it was thoroughly cooked and thereby burned his finger. Immediately sticking the burnt finger in his mouth, Sigurd inadvertently ingested some of Fafnir’s blood, and he unexpectedly acquired the power to understand the language of the birds.

The birds were shrieking hysterically.

“You must not allow yourself to go to sleep,” the birds babbled to the son of Sigmund in great consternation. “Regin will awaken and murder you in your sleep in order to lay claim to the treasure. Your trusted tutor from your earliest childhood will never allow the jewels to be taken back to your fiancée’s kingdom. Regin wants only to assert his ancient claim of ownership, and he will strangle you in your sleep, if necessary.”

“What should I do?” Sigurd asked in dismay. Regin had been his beloved mentor all his life. Sigurd was stunned by this shattering news.

“You have Odin’s permission to murder Regin, and to eat part of Fafnir’s heart and acquire even more strength from it,” was the answer Sigurd received from the birds. But Sigurd could not harm the guiding light and beloved guardian of his childhood, and he spent two hours praying fervently to Odin for help. Odin, in sympathy for Sigurd’s condition as a human, held an emergency meeting of his council at Asgard, and he chose to intervene. Thor’s lightning struck a thick branch from a tree that hit Regin’s head, splitting it open; thus, Regin died while napping. In a later era, legend would have it Sigurd had answered the call of the birds and murdered Regin while he slept, but Sigurd was not capable of harming the companion of his youth, and the legend was untrue. Indeed, Sigurd wept pathetically over the body of Regin.

“My friend, my comrade,” the son of Sigmund sobbed uncontrollably.

Sigurd ate part of Fafnir’s heart to acquire even greater supernatural strength, and he stored the rest of Fafnir’s heart away for a future time. Sigurd, now alone on his journey, loaded the gems and the magical helmet into numerous bags, which his horse, Grani, had to carry on his back. Grani had no problem with the heavy load. The horse, like the steeds of the Valkyries, was of a divine race descended from Odin’s magnificent eight-legged creature, Sleipnir.

Now Sigurd was so spent he was on the verge of a nervous collapse. He had slain King Lygni, his father’s murderer, the man Sigurd had vowed to kill with his bare hands since boyhood. And Sigurd had slaughtered the deadliest and most revolting beast of them all, Fafnir, and in the process had lost Regin, his mentor and best friend, who had been prepared to murder Sigurd for the sake of a few precious gems. “For the love of the gods,” Sigurd muttered, “now I have to go rescue a fallen goddess. The gods and their demands will be the death of me.”

But Sigurd’s highest vision of himself was at last beginning to be manifest. Sigurd shook off the weariness from his travails and his depression over the death of Regin. He jumped on Grani’s back, kicked the horse’s sides to signal to Grani that the last part of the journey had begun, and proclaimed in a loud and commanding voice filled with the assurance of a master, “Take me to Mount Hindarfiall!”

It was time for Sigurd’s destiny to become even more complicated.


Chapter 4: The Rescue

I needed Sigurd at my side—he had to escort me to Iceland, the home Odin had established for me in my earthly identity as the Princess Brynhild. I was to arrive at Isenstein, the Icelandic castle of the wise and venerable King Budli, now eighty years of age, who would act as my earthly father. As a goddess who had materialized on earth in human form, I did not want to attract too much attention or rouse suspicions about my origins. I was to assume the role of the long-lost daughter of King Budli, the alias Odin had chosen for me. Conscientious All-Father that he was, Odin had arranged for all the details before I arrived.

I would take up residence in Budli’s castle, a modest affair comprising thirty-five rooms with various apartments sectioned off as royal suites—nothing compared to the glory of Asgard with its empyrean hues, cosmic spaces, and monumental structures. Asgard was made of brilliant gemstones, which combined with illumination from incandescent suns and moons to produce an ambiance that took one’s breath away. But on Earth, the massive, gloomy fortresses occupied by royals were deemed opulent and counted for being symbols of supreme status. I cared nothing for status, for I could discern the true nature of material objects.

There was no time for further reflection on the primitive dwellings of earthlings. I was still awaiting my rescue, still confined by a human body that had to be roused by the ministrations of one celebrated individual. The high flames encircling the mountaintop, devised by Odin as a form of protection, had suddenly been reduced to almost nothingness. Although I could not open my eyes, and I was presumably unconscious, I was now aware of everything going on around me. Sigurd had arrived. There could be no mistaking the receding fire, an important sign, for Odin had decreed the fire would recede for Sigurd alone. As if on cue, I heard the neighing of a horse not wanting to get too close to the residual flames. I also heard the gruff cursing of a knight errant, who was probably now at the limits of human endurance, and who would have preferred to go straight home to his fiancée rather than taking a significant detour to awaken a goddess from her entranced sleep.

This last leg of the journey was almost too much for Sigurd to bear. After killing King Lygni, slaying Fafnir, and witnessing the traumatic death of Regin, there was still one item left on Sigurd’s mythological agenda. A fallen goddess was sleeping on top of Mount Hindarfiall, and someone had to set her free from her mountaintop prison. The deadly flames surrounding the goddess in question could turn a knight into a living torch in a few seconds. Only Sigurd would be allowed to approach since he was the prince of knights. Only Sigurd had the strength, the purpose, and the divine inspiration endowed by Odin. This son of Sigmund was a sensitive and beautiful man, and he would gaze upon my sleeping countenance with love and tender longing. Only this chosen champion was capable of displaying toward me the one human trait even the gods in their unceasing composure and aloofness could not achieve, and that was passion.

The gods and goddesses of Asgard both pitied and envied humans for this unfortunate, yet sublime, state of mind. Passion uplifted mere mortals to their most noble and stunning moments, and it also defeated them in the most daunting and humiliating way. Passion was everything for humans. Without it, there was no world, there was no love; there was just brute force, survival instincts, and sensual pleasures. Yet the passionate inclinations often led humans astray, much to Odin’s chagrin and the consternation of all the gods and goddesses of Asgard. And this is what Sigurd would bring to me—the most magnificent passion harbored by the most illustrious knight in the world.

But this was not to be a sleeping beauty fairy tale. This prince was already engaged to a petite blond with long-lashed eyes and an ivory complexion, whose name was Gudrun. Sigurd fervently wished he could be on his way home to his fiancée, a conquering hero, with his treasure in tow. The last task, which was to liberate me from my plight, was not necessarily important to Sigurd, but it was important to the gods. Amid blazing torches and magnificent statues, the wild-eyed High Priestess had instructed the son of Sigmund in impervious tones to awaken the goddess on the top of Mount Hindarfiall. Sigurd was the only human who could accomplish this feat, and he had no choice but to go.

Sigurd was still cursing. His divinely descended horse, Grani, was not happy about having to leap over the now greatly diminished circle of fire. Grani was kicking his front legs up in the air in fear and agitation, as Sigurd coaxed the reluctant stallion to make the dramatic vault and enter the scorched grounds left by the torrid flames. Having defeated the flames, Sigurd advanced to approach the minuscule castle, which had mysteriously erected itself around me. The small structure consisted mostly of a circular hall on the top of the mountain with a couple of turrets rising out of the rooftop. A red banner fluttered from one of the turrets. A shield with my insignia hung on the front door of this small and stately enclosure. Sigurd stood and stared at the scene in silent contemplation. Illustrious knight that he was destined to be, he was not sure of the best angle for access. Sigurd was ever so slightly mystified.

And, indeed, Sigurd had to wonder. Why had Odin chosen him?

Odin had decreed this task to be Sigurd’s mission, but unfortunately, Odin’s mandates were often attended by complicated difficulties. After all, Sigurd knew well the story of how Sigmund, his father, had suffered after receiving the highest honor and the most significant mandate from Odin, the responsibility conferred by the gift of the sword, a gift that would transform the young Sigmund into a mighty warrior. The All-Father had descended personally to bestow the gift upon Sigmund at a public event, the wedding of Sigmund’s sister, Signy, to Siggeir, King of the Goths. Odin announced his presence with his traditional costume, including the eye patch he always wore even though he had perfect vision (there was a legend that Odin had once lost an eye, and Odin liked to dramatize all legends). Odin merely crashed the wedding reception, walked right into the residence of Volsung, father of Sigmund and the future grandfather of Sigurd, and planted the divine sword in the oak tree, which grew in the middle of Volsung’s living room and went straight through the roof. Having done so, Odin declared, “Whosoever has the strength to remove this sword will forevermore be the victor in battle!” Sigmund, man who would later be king and father to Sigurd, pulled the sword out of the tree and became the rightful inheritor of this divine legacy, the sword that would one day be passed on to Sigurd.

But at a dreadful cost.

The young Sigmund had effortlessly pulled the sword from the tree trunk. The jealousy this caused in Siggeir, Sigmund’s newly wed brother-in-law, led to the murder of every one of Sigmund’s brothers and the murder of Sigmund’s father, Volsung. The entire family was taken prisoner by Siggeir, who bound his in-laws in the woods and let them be devoured, one by one, by famished wolves. Sigmund’s sister, Signy, strove to oppose her evil husband and save her family, but she was only able to release Sigmund, her twin, from his dire predicament.

I will never forget the day I observed this scenario from the screening room. Sigmund, having narrowly escaped his own death and still grieving over the gruesome manner in which his father and brothers had died, put his brother-in-law’s castle to torch and killed everyone in sight. I could only watch in horror as Sigmund tried to save his sister, Signy, who chose to remain in the burning castle to die at the side of her treacherous husband. I could not believe so much grief and chaos had been caused by the simple act of presenting the sword to Sigmund. “Could you not have devised a less calamitous scenario for handing over the sword?” I remember asking Odin, as we watched the ghastly drama unfold in his private theater in the clouds. (This, naturally, all happened before my eviction from Asgard.)

“Humans enjoy drama.” Odin’s tone of voice remained flat and unemotional. “History is drama. Otherwise, history is boring.”

“And this explanation is the best you can offer for having set into process this disaster, which caused so much grief, loss, and horror?” I asked him incredulously.

“The existing evil in the universe is unfortunately necessary, and when all is said and done, evil is not so terrible.” Odin shrugged again.

“Not so terrible?” I fairly screamed. “Murder, betrayal, revenge—what other horrors have you forgotten to include in this episode? There was no exploding volcano, but then again, Pompeii is out of your jurisdiction.”

“Nothing is out of my jurisdiction, my dear,” Odin responded wryly as he extended his magnificent toga-clad physique across a divan and lazily sipped a goblet of wine, the drink that eternally nourished him when he was not drinking mead. “It’s not my fault humans take existence so seriously.”

“Are they not to take existence so seriously?” I inquired.

“Now, look, you know as well as I do none of this is real. The experienced reality on Earth is an illusion.”

“Sire, your beloved human creatures think what they are experiencing is real,” I retorted.

“Yes, of course. But this is the challenge. Mortals have to fathom for themselves that the reality perceived by the five senses is not real. Once humans see the illusion for what it is, they can manipulate the illusion any way they choose and turn the cauldron of evil called Earth into the Garden of Eden it was intended to be.”

“But the disaster with Sigmund and his whole family—,” I said, getting back to the point, “handing off the exalted sword in Volsung’s home caused a dreadful tragedy resulting in the death of Sigmund’s father, all nine of Sigmund’s brothers, and Sigmund’s sister. Was such a cataclysmic fate for Sigmund’s family really necessary?”

“Yes, I confess, it was a fiasco. But, you know, this is such stuff as mythology is made of. Humans will be talking about the sword in the tree until the end of time.” Odin was losing interest in the discussion.

Whenever I asked too many questions, Odin got restless and impatient. As if I was the All-Father and not him, and I was supposed to know everything as well. Odin could be a bit of a narcissist at times. The All-Father was the supreme authority, so naturally he could be opinionated, difficult, and willful. But Odin was also conceited, and he was constantly primping those dark brown curls in the mirror. Odin was worse than a woman. But so beautiful—the most beautiful blue eyes in the universe and the most radiant smile—Odin with his long, elegant hands, arms, and legs. Every move he made was as graceful as the measured steps of a ballet dancer. Sometimes I thought Odin was so effeminate that he preferred men. But such suspicions were always banished after the Father of the Gods kept me up all night with his incessant demands, which I publicly protested but secretly relished.

And so, like the rest of the gods and goddesses, I accepted Odin’s bewildering explanation for the contradictions of life on Earth. I continued to carry out my duties, for war was constant and so was my service to Odin. And while I was working myself into a state of exhaustion as the Chief Valkyrie, Odin was holding court with his trusted advisers, who pontificated for hours, arguing about the fine line between human free will and divine intervention. And when Odin was not in conference, he was busy practicing the violin in his music room, since he was convinced goddesses were more easily seduced when he played for them. Odin had a golden voice, and he sang every day at Valhalla; he also danced like a dream. Such entertainment, however, was kept to a minimum, for Odin took his work seriously even though he toiled at a leisurely pace. More often than not, Odin was relaxing on a divan in the theater room, sipping wine, observing the earthly creatures he found so endearing, and presumably trying not to intervene. After all, humans had to resolve their earthly dilemmas on their own.

And naturally, there were always the constant nocturnal intrigues in the bedroom with Odin—whenever Odin felt like it. If I protested, as I sometimes did when I found it wearisome, Odin carried on something awful until I finally relented. Without exception, he exhausted me with his love-making, which went on until the first rays of dawn showed themselves. He was insatiable, and he demanded my complete attention through every minute of it and in every conceivable position. I loved Odin deeply, but the intimacy was oppressive because I always had to face the enmity of Odin’s wife afterwards. Frigg loathed me. Frigg would have liked nothing better than to see me humiliated and evicted from Asgard, a wish that eventually came to pass. For there came the day of that inauspicious battle when, at the last possible moment, I fell hopelessly in love with the youthful general who was due to return to Valhalla in a matter of minutes, and I decided to improvise. I changed the script. And as a result of my indiscretion, there I was lying in full armor on a slab of concrete in a tiny castle on a place called Mount Hindarfiall. Outside the castle entrance, Sigurd, to my horror, was knocking at the door.

Sigurd was knocking at the door. This was too ludicrous for words. I could not move, at least not until Sigurd woke me up. And there he was, my redeemer, pounding away at the door, becoming increasingly annoyed because no one was answering. He tried the door handle. It was not locked but it was stuck. I could not see Sigurd as he walked around the entire castle, at times pulling thoughtfully at his beard or scratching his head. At last, Sigurd remembered he was in possession of a powerful sword, the sword that had been the gift to Sigmund from Odin, the sword Sigurd had rightfully inherited after Regin had welded the broken shards back into one again.

Sigurd unsheathed the sword, and he slashed his way through the door with difficulty, constantly cursing under his breath. In the middle of the grand hall, I was laid out like a corpse. Over my filmy, white gown I was dressed in a full suit of armor, including a helmet. Hence, the operatic versions of later centuries where I am continually depicted, much to my chagrin, as a fat opera singer with two thick braids and a helmet with horns coming out of it. My mane of dark hair was pulled back underneath the helmet so that Sigurd at first thought I was a man. The son of Sigmund stepped through the castle entrance, having destroyed the door, and he looked around in a rather bewildered sort of way.

Was this what the Priestess had been mumbling about when she was intoxicated? Sigurd thought.

The High Priestess had told my knightly adventurer he would find a goddess sleeping on the mountaintop; the prophetess was apparently mistaken. Instead of finding an apotheosis of a woman, Sigurd found a man in full armor. It is a wonder Sigurd did not abandon the mission right there, as the task had suddenly become so dreary to him. As usual, the first thought Sigurd entertained was to assume the gods had made a mistake. Sigurd was always quick to believe the gods were incompetent; his faith wore thin very quickly when put to the test.

Sometimes I wondered if Sigurd really believed in Odin. Sigurd took all his orders from the High Priestess, who lived in isolated splendor on the Faeroe Islands. It was generally accepted that the oracle enjoyed a direct communication with the gods. Sigurd was respectful and obedient whenever he met the High Priestess at the temple, and he dutifully carried out every task assigned to him. Nevertheless, the son of Sigmund was quick to deny Odin’s existence every time a mission proved to be more difficult than he had anticipated and every time he thought he was on the verge of failure. For after all, Sigurd reasoned, what kind of All-Father would tolerate such problematic spectacles based on chaos, disaster, and evil? And not just a little of it. Evil seemed to predominate every place Sigurd looked. Evil was by far more the norm than the exception. Most of the population on Earth lived in abject poverty and had to work like slaves just to survive. The aristocracy, a small fraction of the entire population, lived like the royalty they presumed they were. Was such inequality just?

Obviously not. What kind of god would tolerate such injustice?

Yet Sigurd did not consider himself an atheist, because he instinctively knew there was a higher power present in the universe. Sigurd felt Odin’s presence on a very deep level, one which he could not articulate. There was an inner voice, a profound intuition, which helped the son of Sigmund in times of need. Odin was, Sigurd often said, the “dear thing” that guided him. Nevertheless, the favored hero of the gods had a multitude of questions. And whenever Sigurd asked for answers to his impenetrable questions, Odin remained silent. The silence vexed Sigurd. It was clear Odin was not going to assist his esteemed knight in resolving the apparent contradiction between Odin’s ability to eradicate evil and Odin’s obvious failure to do so. Sigurd was left to himself to grapple with what was a serious crisis of faith.

Odin existed, yet he tolerated evil. The planet was a miserable place to live.  As far as Sigurd was concerned, the existence of Odin and the existence of evil presented a logical incompatibility. Odin was good, and he was all-powerful. An all-powerful god would create a world without evil, or having inadvertently overlooked evil, would wipe out such evil from the face of the Earth. Odin had done neither. Therefore, Sigurd had good reason to believe Odin did not exist. Sigurd had already known much evil. Sigurd knew the story of Volsung, his grandfather, who died at the hands of a malevolent son-in-law; Sigurd sensed his mother’s eternal grief over the death of Sigmund, her husband and Sigurd’s father; and most recently, Sigurd had seen his lifelong mentor and teacher, Regin, turn against him and plan to murder his own beloved student out of a lust for wealth.

Sigurd had seen enough moral evil to last a lifetime. From my command post at Asgard, I too was often struck by the incongruity between the goodness of Odin and the evil on Earth. “What is the answer to this philosophical dilemma?” I often asked Odin out of curiosity.

“It’s very simple.” Odin would sound resigned because he had explained the dichotomy between good and evil so many times, and I was still perplexed. “I permit evil. I need it to maximize the presence of good. Without the contrast, good has no meaning for civilization. Humans have to experience evil to know good. The citizens of Earth have to choose to be good. I cannot impose it upon them. If it is too easy for humans to achieve the good, or too facile, too effortless, then the effect is negligible. Mortals have to struggle with good and evil.”

“Evil is the antithesis of godliness,” I pointed out to him. “You present a complex network of evil, yet you want humans to believe in the gods. Humans have a right to be confused.”

“Ah, but evil is godliness,” Odin contended. “Given its purpose, to contrast with the good, the most profane and evil object is the most holy. The farther away from me an object falls, the holier it becomes because the more material the object and the more wicked it is, the more different the object from the very stuff of which I am made. And such was the point, to create a material world fraught with contrasting evils, a world that is not of the same stuff as Asgard, a world that is the antithesis of everything I personify. Yet I am there; I am part of that world, and I exist in every cell. The quest of all human creatures is to find me within the world and within themselves. I am everywhere, yet I am hidden. The quest is sacred. Earth is the most sacred place. It is more sacred than Asgard.”

This explanation regarding the nature of evil confused even me, and I was a goddess, so indeed, poor Sigurd was truly confused. Sigurd concluded by believing in Odin, but for reasons that were rather mundane. Sigurd was no spiritual master. I rather think Sigurd, clever in his own bumbling way, had favored the wager recommended centuries later by Blaise Pascal, the father of decision theory. Sigurd’s wager, in anticipation of Pascal’s wager, reckoned there was probably a fifty-percent chance Odin existed. But believing in Odin’s existence made life far easier for Sigurd, that is to say, everything proceeded more smoothly. When Sigurd convinced himself Odin existed, he received constant assignments from Odin’s High Priestess, which kept the son of Sigmund professionally employed, not to mention wealthy, given his personal fortune now included the treasure chest from Fafnir’s lair, of which Sigurd’s take was ten percent. Odin’s favor shone on Sigurd continually. Sigurd had never surrendered a battle, was world famous (at least from a Scandinavian point of view), and would be mythologized and sung by the bards for generations to come.

On the other hand, not believing in Odin meant Sigurd did not have such exulted employment and would probably have ended up begging for work as a court juggler. Sigurd’s experience indicated that believing in Odin produced desirable results, while not believing caused fundamental problems, so it followed it was a safer bet to believe than not to believe. If, indeed, it turned out Odin did not exist, Sigurd would still have an illustrious career behind him, and he would be likely to retire a wealthy man. Yes, believing in Odin was by far the safer bet for a man who was as cautious and as prudent as Sigurd. He might not win, but he could not lose. Sigurd was ultraconservative, politic, and shrewdly calculating. He was quietly understated, always gave polite answers, and avoided confrontations, especially with women. Sigurd’s brand of faith suited his personality.

In the meantime, this proud warrior of wavering faith and dubious appeal had at last decided to approach what appeared to be a man lying in full armor on the bier. When he drew closer to me, Sigurd was still rubbing his beard in deep thought. This is a short man. Delicate bone structure. It must be a young boy, maybe eighteen years old.

Sigurd’s objective, he had been told, was to rescue a fallen goddess from the top of Mount Hindarfiall. The boy lying in front of him in a suit of armor did not seem to fit the description. But since there was no one else around bearing even a slight resemblance to a fallen goddess, this had to be the one he was to save. Sigurd proceeded gingerly to open the visor of my helmet. When my liberator saw my rosy, sensuous mouth and my creamy complexion, he began to take a renewed interest in the dilemma. With some difficulty, Sigurd removed the helmet, whereupon my thick head of curly, dark hair loosened itself and cascaded around my face and shoulders. Now Sigurd knew for sure I was not a man. And his mouth fell open, for Sigurd had no idea I was going to turn out to be so appealing to the human eye. Heaven only knows what my hesitant hero was expecting, given all goddesses were eternally youthful, and we were all, with the possible exception of Frigg, endowed with a beauty of such ideal dimensions that Plato would have been pleased to have his theory of forms so nicely corroborated.

Now positively enthusiastic about his sacred mission, Sigurd proceeded to use his trusted sword to rip off the rest of my armor, revealing a heavenly being in an airy, translucent white gown, which clung to the voluptuous curves of my well-rounded body. Far from being a delicate boy, I was indeed the classic vision of a sleeping beauty the Brothers Grimm would later portray in their folksy, romantic version of the tale.

But Sigurd was now at a loss as to what to do about me.

I was still unconscious. It occurred to my wandering knight that perhaps the best plan was to carry me off on his horse, somehow securing me into position, and with such a plan in mind, he slipped his arms underneath me in an attempt to pick me up. Sigurd’s strength in battle was celebrated in song and lore, but his exhaustion resulting from his travails had drained away some of his best energies. Sigurd could not lift me. Now for certain he did not know what to do.

My valiant savior once again thought about just leaving me there since it all seemed like too much trouble, and he had an irrepressible desire to abandon this pursuit. His fiancée was waiting for him, and Sigurd was moreover eager to deliver the treasure to his future father-in-law, Giuki, King of the Nibelungs. It would have been much easier to leave me for dead. But Sigurd had taken a solemn oath with the High Priestess as his witness. Indeed, my renowned rescuer was mesmerized by my delicate features and my alabaster skin, and gazing at me in an almost enraptured state (inspired by Odin, no doubt), Sigurd impulsively leaned over and planted a light kiss on my mouth. The kiss was mandatory in order to break the spell of my enchanted sleep. Finally, I was invigorated with the human energy required to move my limbs. I had gained control of the human body I now occupied. I could open my eyes at last.

When I saw Sigurd in the flesh, now imprisoned in my own flesh-and-blood body, I nearly gasped. Modest in stature and not overtly handsome, Sigurd’s visage and form were not exactly what I was expecting. This was the man I had to serve as my husband and master, according to what Odin had outlined before I was sent reeling to Earth, and I was not overly impressed. Sigurd was a little too short, with shoulders a little too hunched over, and a sagging abdomen, which was not flattering. On the cusp of turning thirty-nine, Sigurd’s hair was a reddish brown with a healthy mix of gray, and he sported a ragged beard. Intellectually, Sigurd had his moments of brilliance, but in between such illumined episodes, he could be rather dull company. He was a little too old for me, a detail Odin had conveniently overlooked, since he preferred not to be bested by a young, earthly swain, even though Odin was immortal and always looked like an athletic thirty.

Sigurd was not terribly witty or charming in conversation. Renowned for excellent performance in minor battles, Sigurd’s most illustrious feats were the ones he had just recently carried out—killing King Lygni in battle, slaying Fafnir, and now rescuing me—the son of Sigmund had just begun to aspire to new heights of glory and to establish his true reputation. The hero of such perfect lineage was leaning over me and staring at me with a love-struck expression on his face. Indeed, Sigurd sounded like he was panting. “Greetings, Sigurd,” I said smiling at him. “Please step back so I can get up. You are obstructing my path.”

Sigurd’s mouth fell open once again as he registered the shock, since it had never occurred to him I would awaken and actually speak. He had presumed I was in some kind of god-induced and perpetual coma. “The gods be damned!” Sigurd exclaimed in utter stupefaction, and he immediately jumped back to let me pass. I swung my sore legs out over the edge of the bier, and I stretched my arms. I had bruises induced by the fall from Asgard, and I ached all over.

“We had better leave immediately.” I smiled at him again.

“Why is it so urgent?” Sigurd inquired, content to stand there ogling my breasts, which I found to be particularly annoying.

“The castle is an illusion. Now that I’ve been revived, it will turn to dust. Shall we?” I asked as I took Sigurd’s arm and led him out the door.

Sigurd stared at me, still overwhelmed by some odd mixture of reverence, awe, and worshipful lust, but like the courtly knight he was, he slipped his arm through mine and stepped through the door. The castle crumbled to pieces behind us, and the magical molecules of the crumbled stone instantly vanished before our eyes. “The gods be damned,” Sigurd repeated as he looked on in astonishment.

“Please watch your language,” I chastised my armored protector. “The gods are not particularly pleased when they are damned, even if the damnation is merely a colloquial expression of no particular import.” Sigurd said nothing; he merely stared at me quizzically, his lucid blue eyes narrowed somewhat, his reddish eyebrows wrinkled as he contemplated my words and tried to grasp their significance. The apparent lack of comprehension along with his enthusiastic lust compelled me to take a deep breath, as I sighed with the undeniable realization of my plight.

It was evident that the sacred mission Odin had conferred upon me was going to be more difficult than even I could have predicted.