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An earlier version of this article was published in Fensala Mead Hall the 15th September 2023.
The full moon that would signal the start of our annual höstfest1 was a few days away, and I had brought all the children along to help decorate the Mead Hall. It was late in the evening when we first heard it. The kitchens were bustling and we were all singing and talking over one another, but we stopped in our tracks as the sound of heavy steps reverberated through the hall. Only two types of creatures make that kind of noise, giants and old troll, and neither are known to come bearing gifts.
No one moved or made as much as a sound when the lurking danger outside stopped and pushed our doors open. I couldn’t help the small laugh that escaped at the sight of the odd-looking god whose hamr2 I would know whatever shape it took. He was dark, handsome and well dressed, looking as wild and dangerous as the kinsmen of our cellarkeep, but there was no mistaking his fine features or cheeky smile. Or so I thought, but to my surprise, there was no sign of recognition from the children or anyone else in the horrified crowd.
The stranger took in the hall as if he had come looking for someone and said he had words for our Latra. He’s one of the Sons, the Jotun wolf shifters from the Iron Woods, and widely known as the do-not-engage prairie wolf who holds the keys to our barrels and brews. But Latra is not only the keeper of ancient recipes – travellers come from far away to see his tricks and listen to his tales. His bizarre choice of hamr aside, he is as loud and cunning as an overgrown fox and a neverending source of amusement. But of course, my ever-curious father had caught wind of this new-to-him addition to the team.
Happy to be returning home after one of his long travels with Thor, he saw a chance to feast and confound the new pup. There’s a lot that can be said about my father, but he was never one to pass an opportunity for mischief and I have no doubt that he was counting on winning the secret recipes for himself. But there was a reason V had picked Latra for this difficult position: You cannot outfox the fox. In his eagerness, father had grossly underestimated the youngun’s nature and keen sense for deceit.
Latra soon emerged from the cellars and their entire exchange was non-verbal. While the children looked on in apprehension, I listened as Father said he had come to challenge him to a Game of Wits and saw the eyes of my friend twinkle with mirth. Sure enough, he had recognised the trick and was very much looking forward to the match. And so they sat, side by side, at one of the long tables. Latra called for a deck of cards, a bag of runes, refreshments for the traveller and mead for all. Then they played.
Each turn was a test. Each glance told a tale. Each move made their audience, now a single body enthralled by the spectacle, hold a collective breath in anticipation and fear of the fight that must surely follow such a battle of minds. What they could not see was that the two giants were enjoying every step of their peculiar dance. As Mani moved along his trail, the mead maidens kept topping up the horns, and the kitchen wenches brought out trays laden with the finest meats, fruits and loaves of bread fresh from the ovens.
It was morning by the time the last card was drawn and the final rune cast. Father and Latra sat eyeing each other up, both with broad, wolfish grins on their faces. The circle of confused onlookers were released from the dream that had held them still and silent and now they were left wondering who had won.
The answer came when Latra, bold as brass, leaned in and whispered, “Jag tror minsann den där pälsen är på tok för stor för dig, Loke. (“I dare say that fur is way too large for you, Loke.) If you disguise yourself as something that fits your wits better next time I might let you win.”
“Well, you may have bested me this time, Latra, but the game is never over.” My father laughed and changed his hamr back to its true form again.
It was good to see him. He was tall and slender with sharp features, bright eyes and long, dark hair flowing over his shoulders. The tale of this homecoming soon became a legend, told and retold over the millennia. Each version that filtered back to us was more embellished than the last, and Latra never tired of telling travellers that he fancied himself the reason behind some of the more inventive hamrs my father would assume later in life.
I claimed this space, the Myth & Mirth section, to set some records straight and share some of my favourite memories with you. May this first tale of mine serve as a lesson that not all you read and hear is as it seems, especially not in ancient accounts of gods, giants and vettir.
If you want to hear more stories, or if you have questions you would like to ask, come see me in the Mead Hall.
- höstfest aka höstblot = an autumn/fall fest celebrated around the autumn equinox
- hamr = skin, also hamrammr = skin changer or shapeshifter
Edda is the central character in the stories about Ulfrheim, the mysterious Ninth Realm of Norse cosmology.
Linnea Lucifer is the Captain of an imaginary pirate ship, a weaver of stories, and a certified pain in the arse.
Named after a delicate little flower that grows in mossy, Swedish pine forests, and a fiery fallen angel, she takes great pleasure in everything that tickles the senses and adds a sprinkle of magic and spice to our world.
When Linnea’s not busy commanding the Resilience, or lost in one of her daydreams, she pens fantasy steeped in Norse myth and Scandi folklore as Saga Linnea Söderberg, or Sweet’n’Spicy spoonie smut as Linn Rhinehart together with her Sir Bear.