Birth of Thunder

\”This is a tale to be told with mead in hand, friends at your back, and iron-black skies above, when the air tastes of metal and the wind is wetter than breath. This a true tale, to be tested in the telling, in the tongue and in the touch of terror as the lightning flashes, searing across the sky. In the heart, the throat, the hand, the hearth and in the home.

This is a tale to be told when mountains rumble in their slumber; gravel-voiced murmurings that make men glance nervously towards the peaks. This is a tale to be told to children when the wolves howl, and bears grunt; when old oaks groan and scream, their strange gnarled fingers scratching across the window-pane in the depths of the night.

This is a tale to be told when nightmares loom and when all is doom and deepest gloom. When all is lost, and there is no hope, and one is all alone, remember this tale and take strength from it as your forefathers did in days of old. For this is a tale of the beginning times; of the age when the first of mankind was young and newly born. This is a tale of the birth of a friend and companion, whose strong arm and deep thought have saved your kin from destruction on times without number. A friend whose touch hallows, protects and soothes despite his fierceness.

He whose laughter echoes around the halls when men raise their heads and roar with joy, when the smiles and glances of lovers gleam, shining across the room. He whose rage, strength and prodigious appetite sets lords of giants to nervousness in their own castles. This is a tale of friend to tricksters and lovers of god-women with golden hair.

But most of all, this is a tale of parents and children.

For his tale is told in the beginning-times, the children of the before-times. And as everyone knows, the beginning-times are the grandfathers and grandmothers of today, as we ourselves are the parents of tomorrow. So listen then, to the voice within your blood that sets the pulse to race, and follow the path way, way back, and a little off to one side.

Ymir was dead, to be sure – there at the beginning. His bones were the mountains, his brains the clouds, the dome of the sky his skull, his blood the oceans and rivers. Yet his children had survived and multiplied once more, swearing slow, inexorable and implacable vengeance against the shining gods. Still others of their kin were simply content to endure until there were no more gods, while yet more kept their own counsel and did as they would.

Great Tyr stood then, stern and strong, righteous and beautiful. His mighty thews, long laid down since the days of slaughter and chaos in the before-times – when the grim sons of Borr had murdered Ymir to birth a multitude of forms – kept the worlds aright and on course. They gleamed there, those nine worlds, brimming with life upon the branches of the World Tree. Aye, great Tyr stood then; Tyrwith-two-hands – for his great sacrifice was not yet needful. Fenrir was yet no gleam in the dark womb of the woman of the Ironwood, nor was Laufey\’s son named Father of the Wolf, so ancient were the tides in which we dwell.

And so as Tyr stood, so as the worlds gleamed, there came a day when a great black bird soared over all things. Cruel and fierce was its beak, for it had grown mighty feeding upon the corpse of Ymir, and though smaller than the eagle which sits atop the World Tree and brings the winds, there was an icy cunning in its eyes

Black as the dark in the depths of night were its feathers, though they gleamed in the rain like the Bifrost bridge, a hidden rainbow of the like only seen in deep and potent dream. Heavy were its wingbeats, the booming of unborn storms and the clash of arms. As it flew, it darkened the clouds, its shadow falling across the lands and setting trees to stir, whispering and rustling amidst themselves.

And within those trees sat Father Askr and Mother Embla, the first of mankind, and they clung to each other fiercely, for they felt the great black bird\’s icy eye upon them. From that first embrace, it is said, sprang the whole of mankind. Still others say that they shivered there, thrilled with awe by that which moved within their flesh at the awareness of the impending storm – the thrill of recognition.

For that great black bird, no raven nor an eagle, but something akin to neither and both, soared over the worlds and saw and listened to all things. It saw the shining homes of the Aesir, and flew on. It saw the fields and forests and wild places of the Vanir and the Alfar,  and flew on. It heard the slow drumbeats off to the east in Jotunheim, and flew on. It felt the hot winds blowing with searing heat from Muspelheim  and the icy breath of the north come from Nifelheim, and flew on. It heard the mutterings of giants, their slow avalanches of discontent, the crackling tension rising towards inevitable war.

And still, that bird flew on.

Yet where its shadow fell, where coolness kissed warm soil, Jord stirred from lazy sleep. Jord, whom those who speak Englisc and it\’s child call Eorðe or Earth – she who is by turns gentle and welcoming, and also harder than iron, colder than ice. Jord the jotun, to whom all owe a debt, looked up into the cool shadow and saw the bird above.

And listen, for Jord called up to Sunna, she who draws the sun across the sky, and asked: \”Who is it that fans my face and sets the heavy breezes from Muspel to swirl and shift so that I may breathe easy?\”

Sunna replied, \”Oh Jord, that great bird is none other than Hjarrandi – the Screamer – whose war-cry was first heard when Ymir fell to his doom.\”

Jord smiled to herself and said, \”Sunna, dear Sunna. Will you bring the sun out from these clouds that follow him, so that I may see his feathers gleam?\”

Sunna smiled also, and as is the way of things, the two spoke of the great bird in whispers: \”See how mighty his wingspan, how fine his head? How sharp his talons, how cruel his beak? See how he soars and dives! Surely there is no other like him in all the worlds!\”

So it came to pass that the god-women conceived a plan, and Sunna brought the sun to shine upon Jord\’s great beauty, and she did blossom most prettily, glowing with the summer shine which men find so irresistible when it envelops maidens. Fragrant was her hair and welcoming her smile, her limbs long and willowy, her curves those of the hills and dales.

And Screamer did look down and his eye was caught by such beauty that he dived straight down to her, to land with such awful speed beside the maid that she gave a start, and the earth trembled, as did her heart.

\”Greetings to you, dear heart.\”  Thus spoke Screamer, \”Your beauty has seized my breath and drawn me from on high. May I know your name before my tongue frezes and I am struck dumb by your loveliness?\”

Jord smiled then, wide and slow like the beauty of the dawn, \”My name is Jord, Master Screamer. And if you are enamoured of my beauty, then I am also beset by your fine form, for it is the greatest  I have yet seen, and your voice the finest I have heard. Truly, you come by your name honestly!\”

At this, the great bird cast an eye up towards the heavens and spied Sunna watching with great interest. \”Honest indeed,\” said he, beating his wings to draw stormclouds near, screening them from the watching goddess, \”Though if you would allow me, I should happily teach you to scream loud enough those in Jotunheim would think the war had come early – if you were  to take my meaning?\”

\”There are many forms of battle, sir.\” Jord found herself meeting his gaze, reaching out toward him. \”And not all are unpleasurable.\”

At this the bird gave a great cry of laughter. \”Indeed! Though it is said that I take pleasure in all forms of battle.\” His wingtip brushed her face and his voice was low and throaty. \”They are not wrong, nay,  not at all, Father of Victory am I!\”

At their touch, the sky darkened still further, so that sun and moon were hidden behind the clouds. Warm winds blew fiercely across the land as the tension rose. For nine nights they lay together, the earth trembling as she reached up slim fingers to caress her lover. Indeed, it is said that those with a sharp eye may  still spot the fingers of Jord reaching up to caress her beloved who dwells in the heavens, even today.

And on the ninth night, at the height of it, when neither could take any more and lashing rain and howling winds roared in the darkness, there came the sound that incites fear and joy. Amidst the shrieking gale there came a cry, the crime of one newborn. A cry of love for its mother and father, for all their children.

It is said that at the birth of the Thunderer, just for a single moment, the drumbeats of Jotunheim, and the searing crackle of Muspelheim were heard to pause. Merely for a moment. But sometimes, a moment is all you need  – for what is a lifetime, but a long, slow, moment?\”