“The Wolf’s Story”

by Caitlin Christiana Wintour (you may find documentation for this story here)

This is the tale of the descendants of the giantess Rindr, who was fair beyond mortal women but whose heart was the heart of the wolf.

1.    The Story of Randver

The Cold Land lies north of the Black Sea, and there are many strange creatures who dwell there. Giants and dwarves are among them and dragons, and some men also. Travelers come there too, men who have gone viking for glory and gold. One man was Kari of Saglaed who was a man of good family from the great farm of Saglaed. He married a giant named Rindr who lived in the house of Þrymheim in Jotunheim. Kari stayed long enough to get a son on Rindr and then left to go viking where he got much plunder. Kari did not return to his wife in Jotunheim but went back to his farm in Saglaed to live. When he had gone, Rindr gave birth to their son Randver. But even though the boy was hearty and stronger than men, he compared himself to the giants and thought he was weak. So his mother commanded that the heart of a wolf be heated on the fire and fed to Randver. And from them on he thought himself the equal and more even of the giants, but at sundown his mood grew dark.
When he grew to be a young man his mother bade him go viking for plunder and to make a name for himself among men. She made this prophecy over him:

Randver giants-son will go to the land of men
Where man and wolf will strive within him.
The wolf will win out,
cutting short the days of the man.
But those days will not be done
and the man’s song will sing again in a far place.

And then she gave him a golden pin of great value and sent him away to the land of men.

Randver went viking and got much plunder for he was strong and a fierce fighter. Men followed him into battle but knew to leave him alone at night when the wolf spirit contended with the spirit of the man. After some years Randver decided to travel to his father’s farm, where Saglaed-Kari recognized Rindr in him and acknowledged him as his son. But Kari had two more sons with his human wife, whose name was Helva. This wife was very jealous of Randver and feared for her sons’ inheritance. So she told Kari that Randver must not stay at Saglaed or he would kill his brothers when the wolf spirit was on him. Kari told Randver, “You are my eldest son but the son of a giantess cannot inherit this farm. You have much plunder of your own and should win your own farm.”

Randver answered, “I hear my stepmother’s voice in yours, so hear my mother’s in mine. I will honor you as my father as long as you live, but when you die I will claim Saglaed as my own. It will be better for all of us if you settle the farm on me now, for then I will provide for my brothers.” But this Kari would not do for he was ruled by Helva. So Randver took his men and left Saglaed, but not before he warned his brothers of what he had said.

Randver passed many seasons on his journeys but he often thought of Saglaed, and every season he would send a messenger to inquire if his father still lived. One day Kari died. Randver’s messenger was due soon, so Helva had Kari’s body propped up on the high seat. When the messenger arrived they showed him Kari sitting on the high seat, but the messenger was not allowed to approach. They told him that Kari was ill but would soon recover. When the messenger returned to Randver he reported that his father still lived. After this Kari’s body was burned and a mound made in a remote field so Randver’s men would not discover it. And Helva and her sons armed their men against the time that Randver would return to claim his father’s farm.

Meanwhile, on the strength of his rich plunder Randver got a wife from a good family. Her bride price was a good farm. Her name was Aser and she bore him a son whose name was Frodi. Aser urged Randver to enlarge their farm with his treasure, but he was determined to wait for Saglaed to be his. So as the seasons passed, Aser took their son Frodi from their small holding and returned to her father’s great house to wait until Randver had Saglaed. And so Randver grew impatient and decided to see his father for himself, and to claim his inheritance. Randver sailed for Saglaed with all his men. It was not his intention to kill his father but to force the farm’s inheritance.

Knowing they were coming, Helva consulted a völva  to see if Randver could be destroyed. The völva worked her enchantments and told Helva that Randver’s wolf spirit was his strength and his undoing. She worked more enchantments and made blood sacrifice and read the name of the wolf spirit, that was Rand-Ulf. She told the wife to greet Randver in the great hall and to say that Kari was ill but would greet his son after sundown. She was then to offer him and his men drink. Then as the sun set Helva would say the wolf spirit’s name and command Randver to leave.

Randver and his men came and his stepmother greeted him graciously and bid he and his men welcome. Her sons were nowhere to be seen, and when Randver asked where they were she told him they had gone viking for their own plunder, and would not be back to trouble his hall. She told Randver that Saglaed would be his, and that his father would tell him so himself when he came down for supper. So Randver and his men feasted and drank in the great hall until sundown. As the day darkened Randver became more surly and his disposition worse, until his speech became more growls than words. His men knew to leave him alone at this, and they gathered themselves to one side of the great hall and left Randver on the other.

Now Randver’s stepmother came to him and said, “I know your name.”

“And well should you, for you are my father’s wife.”

“A new name I give you and it is Rand-Ulf, for in you is the spirit of the wolf.”

And at the sound of his wolf name Rand-Ulf howled and shot up from the bench where he had been drinking alone, and he tore his clothes from his body. Rand-Ulf ran into the night and as he went his body changed and became shaggy and gray. On the ground lay his cloak but of the gold pin that had fastened it there was no sign.

Helva called for her sons and armed men and they fought Randver’s men. These men were battle tested men and strong, and even without their chief they killed Helva her sons, and her armed men. They ran upstairs to find Kari but he was nowhere to be found. The men stayed inside that night and at first light went out to search for their chief and for the body of his father. They discovered the grave mound in a far field and knew that Kari was dead. They heard a wolf howling all that day and they searched, but they never saw Randver again. They sent for Randver’s wife and son Frodi who came to claim Saglaed in Randver’s name.

The grey-king paces the lands of his desire.
White fang gleaming in the shadows
Voice howling after the fleeing of the sun.
No world of men or giant admits him now
For the hunter hunts alone.

2.    The Story of Frodi

Aser was reluctant to let her son Frodi come to Saglaed because kinblood was shed in its halls. So she sent for the Christian priest Hathler to sprinkle holy water and speak blessings in the great hall.  This he did, and the hall was not haunted by the souls of Helva or her sons. The same cannot be said for the hill-ring around Saglaed’s fertile fields, for a great wolf haunted mountain shadows. It was said that the wolf did no harm to Saglaed’s men or flocks, since only bandits and other wolves that drew too near the sheep were killed. But few men could bear to hear the wolfish howling for long and soon abandoned the ringing hills. So Frodi grew and thrived, but did not roam on the hills.

That same ancient völva who had  told Helva how to speak Randver’s name still dwelled near Saglaed, in a small house in a dusky grove. Men suspected her part in Randver’s disappearance but she made the blood sacrifices that ensured the harvest, and so they did not accuse her of it or harm her. But one day she had brought to her the head of one of a dead wolf, that had been slain near Saglaed flocks. She took the head and smeared it with concoctions and worked many enchantments over it, and it spoke to her.  She understood the song of the wolf as she understood the lay of the wind, and the wolf told her that Rand-Ulf now knew her name as she knew his. And at that she stopped up the wolf’s head and burned it and would not come out of her house.

Frodi grew up and Aser told him the story of his father Randver and how this farm was gotten. She told Frodi that the fair farm was his father’s by right as his own father’s first-born, and now was his. When Frodi found out that his father was born of a giant mother and that he had the spirit of the wolf, he swore to go viking like his father and to get much plunder for the farm.

Later he married Gudrun, who was fair with hair like golden treasure. He had a son named Hreidmar. Frodi was not as strong as his father but he was stronger than the measure of most men, and unlike his father he was wise. Many sought him for counsel and he had good report in the region. But all this time he had heard tales of an ancient völva who did not live far away, and who had cursed his father. The doors of her house had been shut for many a season but smoke rose from the chimney. No man knew how she ate or drank but they guessed it was through magical means. Some said that dwarves brought her food and drink in exchange for secret tales and spells, for even among them the völva was known to have power.

Frodi grew angry knowing that his father’s-bane still lived and his father was unburied and unavenged. So he brought many men with him and stormed the völva’s house. The windows had been filled with worked stone and the wood of the door was spelled to be like iron, but finally the men used a battering log to gain entry. The völva sat by the fire and she was so old that at first they thought she was a corpse. Frodi said to the ancient one, “Sing no songs over me or I will kill you.”
“No songs,” she replied. “The old songs are silent.”

“You do not work magic anymore?”

“Not for men. Not since the wolf came,” she said. “Son of Randver and of Rand-Ulf, you have your revenge.”

But he knew that she still worked magic for the dwarves who were the enemies of men, and he was angry. “Then tell me where he is so I find him.”

“I do not speak of any living.”

“Then tell me where his body lies so I might light the fires and raise the stones.”

But the völva would not and so Frodi killed her. There rose a wailing from outside and when Frodi peered out the broken door, he saw that dark dwarves had poured out from the rocks. Frodi and his men stood back to back to do battle. But without the völva the earth-children could not raise the dead to fight on their side, and so they fled. Frodi went after them and his men with him, and when they saw that when the dwarves approached a solid rock-face the rock opened to let them in. The men chased their quarry inside and the rock closed, and no one ever heard more of Frodi or those dwarves.

Frodi chieftain’s-son in revenge of your father
Your axe ran red with sorceress blood.
Gone are you into the rock-dark,
gone are you to the dwarves of the underworld.
You never saw again the light of day
The mountain is your standing stone.

3.    The Story of Hreidmar

Hreidmar grew up and  became the chief of Saglaed. He searched for his father but no trace was ever found. He heard the howling in the hills and knew that to be his grandsire. The great wolf never hurt men or women of his own blood but the howling chilled the heart.

Hreidmar was the first of Randver’s blood to be a scald. He spoke in rhyme when he wished it and his words wove spells of creation. Not like the völvas who spoke evil tidings into the world, but he spoke life  into the land for a good harvest. His men were pleased for in other lands it was the blood sacrifices that ensured the harvest. The king of this land could be sacrificed after some periods of drought, but Hreidmar’s farm was fertile because of his skald-craft. Hreidmar could also wield an axe for the giant blood ran true in him.

He sang stories and heard them sung for skalds were much welcome in his hall. From a skald he heard the story of Erling, the barrow-blade that was buried on an island a voyage away from Saglaed. Other men had attempted to find Erling and some men had, but they had never successfully carried it from the barrow. They say that a duagr  guarded it and defeated any man who came against it. Hriedmar heard these tales and thought that his skald-craft would be sufficient to defeat any barrow-dwellers who would keep him from the treasure sword.

He took his men and his ships and sailed to the island. He bid them wait with the ships because the duagr could drive men mad and Hreidmar wished to try the strength of his song against undead enchantments. Hreidmar carried his axe for any other enemies and if the barrow-dweller should wish to attack him. He  came close to the chief barrow where he knew Erling must lie. The barrow-dweller came out to him and said in a rust-cold voice, “Erling is denied you.”

But Hreidmar answered in song.

“Dweller in the shifting shadows, shall I fear you?
The blood-bathed blade belongs to men
And not  to the damned dead despairing of the light.
Erling I name it ere evening claimed it
Bright blade to sun bright living again.
Hel claims her hordelings, harm you can do none
No suffering to the singer, the sun-bringer.

At the words of the skald the cold revenant sunk through dank earth, leaving the blade Erling behind him. Hreidmar claimed it and returned to the acclaim of his men, bearing the treasure of Saglaed.

When the report of his skald-craft and his rich land went out, he married the daughter of a wealthy man. Vala was her name and she gave birth to a son named Jonakr. When Hreidmar died his wife burned him with much treasure except for Erling the sword. That was a treasure of the family. Hreidmar was a true singer and a man of honor and many wept over his grave mound, which ever after bloomed even when the all other land was dry and dead.

4.    The Story of Jonakr

Jonakr became the chief of Saglaed when Hreidmar left this life. Soon he became a Christian and had a church built close to the great hall. Jonakr did not go viking for the land was rich. But he was not a soft man, for the men of Sweden landed in Iceland and marauded, and he and his men helped his king in the battle.  The Swedish king was much for völvas and magicians. These were not true singers as Hreidmar had been, but were dark delving like the deep dwarves. And the völvas raised many an undead to fight on the side of the king of Sweden. But the king of Norway fielded strong troops of many men and among them Jonakr was a chief. He wielded the sword Erling and did many brave deeds. The army of this country was so brave that the Swedes could not overcome them, and the king of Sweden was killed and his enchanters taken. The invaders took the king’s body to honor him but the enchanters were left prisoner. These enchanters rode the wooden horse that same day for the evil they had done in battle.

In later years Jonakr was prone to wander the dark hills that ringed northern Saglaed round about. He had been warned as a boy not to go there for the sorrowful howling that filled the air. But Jonakr was determined to lay the spirit of his grandfather’s father. Yet after years of wanderings he was no closer to finding Randver’s remains than before, and he sat himself upon a rock and came near to despair. Just then a dark figure rose in front of him and Jonakr recognized an evil wight. He grasped Erling and prepared to do battle. But the wight raised a withered hand and spoke in the grating tones of an old woman. “Jonakr I name you, grandson to the man who killed me and great-grandson to the man that I killed. Listen to me now.”

Because the revenant knew his name, Jonakr decided to listen to what it had to say. “Speak then,” he said. “And be quick.”

“I know the remains that you seek. Randver called Rand-Ulf lies there and his sleep is broken. If you would find it then I alone know it.”

“And why would you give me aid?”

“No aid I give, but a bargain. Riddles I will tell you. If you answer them aright then I will tell you where Rand-Ulf’s remains lie. If you cannot answer them all aright, then you give Erling to me and never seek it after.”

So Jonakr considered, for he guessed that this was the very völva that his grandfather had killed. She had been a witch and a riddler in life and Erling was a very great prize. Yet the spirit of his grandfather’s father had ridden these hills for many years, and fain would Jonakr put it to rest. “I accept your bargain,” he said.

The revenant asked, “Who is the great one that glides over the earth, and swallows both waters and woods? He fears the wind but not the wights, and would do harm to the sun. Answer this riddle, Jonakr.”

“This is a good riddle but I have guessed it. It is the fog. The fog veils the sun but it disappears when the wind blows.”

The wight said on. “What marvel is it before Delling’s-door? Outside the white fliers bound on the flagstones, but the dim ones sink in the sand. Answer this riddle, Jonakr.”

“This is a good riddle but I have guessed it. You speak of hail and rain. The white hail beats on the flagstones, but the raindrops sink in the sand and go into the ground.”

The wight was not pleased. “What marvel is it before Delling’s-door that I saw without?  It lights for men and swallows up lights, and wolves seek to win it. Answer this riddle, Jonakr.”

Jonakr’s heart was gladdened for he knew another answer to the wicked wight’s riddles. “This is a good riddle but I have guessed it. The answer is the Sun. He lights the world of men but there are two wolves named Skalli and Hatti. One goes before the Sun and the other one goes after it.” And with this he was reminded of his ancestor’s wolfish change, and he became even more determined to free him.

But the wight was angry and determined that Jonakr would lose. “Guess just one more riddle, since you seem so wise. What did Odin whisper in Baldur’s ear before the god burned on the funeral pyre?”

From this ill riddle Jonakr knew that the wight had no intention of honoring its bargain. So he drew Erling and made to strike, but the wight drew back and avoided the blow. Jonakr pursued close behind so the wight had no time to sink into the earth, and at last the thing stumbled. “Mercy!” it cried ere Erling descended.

“Why should I grant mercy, you wicked dead?”

“I will tell you where the pelt and treasure lies.”

“I will not believe you.”

“I swear by Odin’s high seat.”

“Odin twists words, you cannot swear to truth in his name.”

“Then by the Christian God I swear.”

Jonakr pulled his sword back but kept it ready to hand. “Tell me,” he said. “And do not lie or your death will be more miserable than your life.”

The wight told him where he could find the pelt, and so he left the undead there and never saw it again. Where the wight had told him he would find the pelt, he did. It was an ancient pelt and larger than any wolf pelt he had ever seen. He saw gold glittering in the dusty fur. He remembered his family’s songs, how his grandfather’s father was said to have turned into a wolf, and to haunt the hills with his wolfish howling. So he brought back pelt and gold and had the Christian priest say prayers over them and sprinkle them with holy water. Then he had them burned in honor of his grandsire’s father. The gold did not melt for it was giantish gold, so Jonakr had a mound built and many family treasures placed in, and the golden pin with it. And ever since that time no spectral wolf has ever haunted the iron hills.

Randver child of Jotunheim
whose spirit did not rest
Leave these hills you have long haunted.
Ascend to Valhalla where your wolf spirit will leave you,
to join Fenris for the final days.

<h3>Performance History</h3>

  • Caid Festival of the Rose July 2009 (Queen Moira II)

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