Saturday, 31 March 2012

King Gorm had resolved to find a mysterious country...

A story recorded by Saxo Grammaticus- Saxo the Learned.
Late 12th - Early 13th Century A.D.

Re-told here for the enjoyment of anyone who loves tales of visiting the Underworld.

King Gorm had resolved to find a mysterious country; he had heard many reports whilst in the North describing the incredible treasures held there.

A man known as Geruthus, who knew the traditions of this distant land told King Gorm that he should forget it! the land was full of dangers and well-nigh inaccessible. To reach the land it was necessary to sail across the ocean surrounding the earth, leave sun and stars behind, and make a journey through a region of chaos before reaching the land which has no night and no day.

King Gorm listened well. He loaded three ships and took Thorkillus as his guide, many sailors willingly entered the adventure. They sailed past Halogaland, and came to Bjarmaland and anchored near its coast. 

Bjarmia is always cold; summer never visits, its fields are covered in snow through through its deep wild forests flow rapid foaming rivers, and the woods are full of wild beasts, unlike anything seen elsewhere. Many of the inhabitants of Bjarmia are monsters who mimic the speech of men to lure them to their doom. So it was decided that it would be safer is only one man spoke and it was decided that Thorkillus should do all the talking alone for all his companions.

Thorkillus had chosen to anchor the ship at the closest point to reach the land Geruthus had spoken of. The men set out across the snow. As the sun was sinking the travellers saw a man who seemed to be too big coming to meet them. The man called out as he approached and to their joy he greeted them all by name. Thorkillus recognised him as Guthmundus, the brother of Geruthus, a friendly person and the most faithful protector in peril. Thorkillus explained to Guthmundus why only he, Thorkillus was talking. He said that his companions didn't want to be seen as fools by trying to speak in a language they barely understood. Guthmundus invited them all to be his guests and led them by paths down along a river. 

Then they came to a place where a golden bridge was built across the river.

Everyone wanted to continue across the bridge and visit the land on the other side, but Guthmundus warned them that this river was the border between the human and superhuman and mysterious, and that the ground on the other side was by a sacred order proclaimed unlawful for the feet of mortals.

The men accepted this and they continued to follow Guthmundus until they reached his castle. There a feast was spread before them, at which twelve of his sons, all of noble appearance, and as many daughters, most fair of face, waited upon them.

Thorkillus warned the men as they sat down, to eat and drink nothing offered to them. All the men  heeded the advice of Thorkillus and kept their distance from their strange table-companions and servants, and instead of tasting any of the food and drink, they ate and drank the provisions they had taken with them from home. 

Thorkillus knew that any man who accepted the courtesies offered would lose all memory of the past and remain for ever among these non-human and dismal beings. Guthmundus then offered King Gorm a daughter in marriage, fortunatly King Gorm was prudent enough to decline the honour; but four of his men could not resist the temptation, and had to pay the penalty with the loss of their memory and with enfeebled minds.

Then Guthmnundus mentioned to the king that he had a villa, and invited Gorm to accompany him and taste of the delicious fruits that grew there. Thorkillus, quickly made up an excuse for the king. Guthmundus, though displeased with the reserve of the guests, still continued to show them friendliness, and when they expressed their desire to see where Geruthus had lived, he accompanied them all to the river and showed them a place to cross, promising to wait there until they returned.

The land which they now entered was the home of terrors. They had not gone very far before they discovered before them a city, which seemed to be built of dark mists. Human heads were raised on stakes which surrounded the walls of the city. Wild dogs, snarling and barking in the dull light, kept watch outside of the gates. 

The gates were located high up in the city walls, there were ladders balanced precariously against the walls, the men grimly set to and climbed.

Through the gates they found a city teeming with a crowd of beings horrible to look at and to hear. Filth and rottenness and a terrible stench were everywhere. The men continued silently on their journey until they saw a kind of mountain with a gate. When they had reached the entrance to the mountain the travellers were overpowered by its awful aspect, but Thorkillus inspired them with his courage. At the same time he warned them most strictly not to touch any of the treasures that they might see. 

At the entrance as they pushed the door open to enter the mountain crowds of zombies acted as doorkeepers and were very noisy. The men entered the mountain. It was worse than the city. All that sight and soul can conceive of as terrible and loathsome was gathered within. The door-frames were covered with the soot of centuries, the walls were draped with filth, the roofs were composed of sharp stings, the floors were made of serpents encased in excrement. 

On iron benches, surrounded by a hurdle-work of lead, there lay giant bodies which looked like lifeless corpses inflated like balloons. Higher up in a rocky niche sat the aged Geruthus, with his body pierced and nailed to the rock, and there lay also three women with their backs broken. Thorkillus explained that it was this Geruthus whom the god Thor had pierced with a red-hot iron; the women had also received their punishment from the same god.

The men carried on past these terrible things. Then they came to a place where they saw large vessels all containing mead, there were very many of them. Each vessel was plated with seven sheets of gold, and above them hung objects of silver, round as to form, from which shot numerous braids down into the mead vessels. Near by was found a gold-plated tooth of some strange animal, and near it, again, there lay an immense horn decorated with pictures and flashing with precious stones, and also an arm-ring of great size. 

Despite the warnings, three of Gorm’s men laid greedy hands on these works of art. Slowly and inexorably the arm-ring changed into a venomous snake; the horn began to form into a dragon. The men who had picked up the arm-ring and horn were killed before the other men could stop it. The tooth slowly transformed into a sword, which pierced the heart of the man who had taken it. 

The others who saw this happen became terrified, certain that the same fate would befall them. But their anxiety seemed unfounded, and when they looked about them again they found the entrance to another treasury, which contained weapons, among which was kept a royal cloak, together with a splendid hat and belt, the finest work of art. Thorkillus himself could not govern his greed when he saw these robes. He took hold of the cloak, and thus gave the signal to the others to steal the weapons. 

But then the building shook in its foundations; the voices of shrieking women were heard, who asked if these robbers were longer to be tolerated. All around them bodies who had appeared to be dead, stood up and began to close in on the men.

Everyone would have died in that foul city if King Gorm had not brought  two excellent archers with him. These brave men covered the others as they made their retreat. But of the original company of almost three hundred men only twenty made it out and as far as the river, where Guthmundus, true to his promise, was waiting for them, and carried them in a boat back to his castle. Here he proposed to them that they should remain, but as he could not persuade them, he gave them presents and let them return to their ships in safety the same way as they had come.

The Carta Marina: