Letters from Midgard
He stood resolutely. "Then I will go by myself, and I will have a grand life as one of the best of men."
"How do you know that? Perhaps it will be grand. But what if your life turns out as most of our little boats have done here this afternoon?"
Thialfi didn't know what to say to this, and the boat building and sailing game was not so much fun after that. Sunna was going down, so they went quietly back to Bilskirnir for dinner.
After the meal was over, Thialfi announced his intentions and asked Thor's leave to go. The Thunderer and his wife looked at each other with that look parents give each other when they realize their young children are not so young anymore. This look is not quite happy and not quite sad, as they watch mortal time move on. It is that wistful look. You know the one.
Thor said, "What you ask, and what you wish for, is commendable. But remember that I will no longer be able to help you in the same way if things do not work out well. You will have to live by your own wits and strength, without the kind of magic we have here in Asgard. This is the life of men and women in Midgard. Is this what you want?"
Thialfi said that it was.
Sif stood and left the hall for a moment. Then she returned with a package, which she gave to Thialfi. "Thor and I knew this time would come, and we prepared for it long ago. Here are clothes, such as young men in Midgard wear. They are... different from what you have become accustomed to here. Put them on and see if you still wish your wish."
Thialfi went to change into the clothes. They were made of wool and leather, not so fine as what he had worn in the House of Thor. But Thialfi knew enough about Midgard to know that these were what he would need there. He told Sif they were good.
Thor said, "Be sure to keep the belt up around your waist, not down below your hips as some young fools do. Tomorrow, we leave for Midgard."
The next morning, Thialfi said good-bye to Roskva and to Sif. He boarded Thor's thunder wagon, and they roared away through the sky. After a while, the clouds parted, and Thialfi could see the Northern Ocean. There was a large island. On the island, near a fjord, was a plain. On the plain there was a hill. Thor landed near the base of the hill, and they disembarked.
Thor said, "On the other side of this hill, you will find a house. I know the family that lives there. They will take you in and treat you well. They can help you to become a man. But that is a hard task, one that you must mostly do yourself. Are you ready?"
"Yes," Thialfi said.
"Good. Then know this also: this hill in front of you is called Helgafell, a holy mountain. It is one of my favorite places. It is said of Helgafell that if a person fixes a wish in his mind and then walks over the hill without looking back, the wish will assuredly come true."
Thor hugged Thialfi, one of those almost-hurts-but-you-never-want-it-to-stop hugs that only the Son of Earth can give. Then he pointed again to the holy hill. Thialfi turned to face it. He remembered his wish, remembered why he had come, remembered what he had to do. He started walking up the hill. Not far away now, he heard Thor step into the chariot and give the signal to those cantankerous magical goats. Thunder erupted around them, and lightning flashed. I know you know what happens next, and it is hard to describe, so I will ask you to imagine it yourself.
Thialfi wanted to turn and wave to his good friend. Then he remembered: that would break the spell. His heart ached for the Great One he might never see again face-to-face. Just a little look, and a wave? But no, he had to be stronger than that. He kept on walking, and eventually the roaring receded.
Helgafell, at the northern root of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland, is not so large. And Thialfi, as we all know, is the fastest of runners. He could have crossed it in an instant. But he walked, remembering always to look forward and never back. Cresting the hill, he saw a house in the distance, just as Thor had said. His heart smiled.
But then Thialfi, who was so fixed on looking forward, stumbled over a stone. He found himself sprawled in the grass and the dirt. He started to get up, but stopped. What if the fall had caused him to look back, even unintentionally, for an instant? What if this stupid accident had unmade the magic? Then his wish was no longer assured. His heart shrank.
But wait: he didn't know that the magic was broken. And even if it was, it only meant that his wish to be one of the best of men was no longer assured.
"What would Thor do?" was the question that came now to his mind. But then another, even better question arose.
"What would a man do?"
Thialfi thought he knew the answer to that. He stood up and brushed himself off. He pointed his eyes forward, remembering to look down at least now and then, and strode on toward his goal.
Steven Thor Abell is a storyteller and the author of Days in Midgard: A Thousand Years On, a collection of original modern stories based on Heathen myths. As of 2013, he is also Steersman of the High Rede of The Troth.
Abell's column, "Letters from Midgard," is published on occasional Thursdays on the Pagan channel. Subscribe via email or RSS.