War of the Godsby Poul Anderson
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The story of the great King Hadding is one of the darkest and most violent to come down to us from the old North. Hadding was raised by giants far from his rightful throne, as his father, a Danish king, was slain shortly after Hadding's birth. But the time comes when Hadding feels he must reclaim his legitimate place in the land of the old North. He must endure ferocious battles, the charms of voluptuous Valkieries, and a War of the Gods to rival Armageddon.
A brilliantly accomplished yarn that smolders bravely without quite catching fire.
"An action-packed fantasy extravaganza."--Science Fiction Chronicle
"One of the field's greatest writers....War of the Gods is one of a number of Anderson's works that will stand the test of time."Orlando Sun-Sentinel
- St. Martin's Press
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- 5.76(w) x 8.58(h) x 1.16(d)
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War of the Gods
By Poul Anderson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1997 Trigonier Trust
All rights reserved.
The gods themselves fought the first war that ever was. Odin and his Aesir held Asgard, loftiest of the nine worlds in the Tree. Theirs was lordship over the sky, wind and weather, sun and moon, the stars and the Winter-way across heaven and the flames that dance cold in the north. The hunters among them roved the wildwoods with bow and spear, while others bred fleet horses and broad-browed kine. Their wives blessed their homes and brought forth strong children. Odin himself sought ever for knowledge, wandering widely, searching deeply.
West of Asgard lay Vanaheim, where dwelt the Vanir. They were gods of earth and sea, harvest and fishery, plow and ship, of love and birth but also of much that was dark and lawless. They knew not wedlock, but bedded whomever they liked. Their women were often witches. Yet these were a folk gifted and high-hearted, maybe more kindly than the stern Aesir.
Below the worlds of the gods lay the worlds of men, elves, dwarves, and jotuns. These last, sometimes called thursir, were the oldest of the races, being sprung from Ymir. Many were giants like him, if not so huge. Others were trolls or monsters. Still others were more humanlike, even comely. Not all stayed in Jotunheim, north beyond the sea that rings mankind's Midgard. Nor were they all uncouth or unfriendly. Some had been the mothers of gods. Some were wise, with a lore that went back to the beginning of time. Always, though, jotuns remembered how Odin and his brothers slew Ymir their forebear.
The gods raised their halls and halidoms. They played at draughts with pieces made of gold. At a well beneath that root of the Tree which is nearest Asgard sat the three great Norns, who cut the runes that say what every life shall come to. There each morning the Aesir foregathered to think on what works they would do. Peace made its home among them and beneath the roofs of men.
But, slowly, ill will bred. Men in Midgard were offering to whatever gods they saw fit. Most turned to the Vanir for the kind of welfare that that race could best bestow. The Aesir began to feel aggrieved.
Heimdall left Asgard and fared about on earth, naming himself Rig. Wherever he was an overnight guest, he begot a son. From them sprang the stocks of thrall, yeoman, and highborn. When Kon, youngest offspring of Jarl, was grown, Rig came back to teach him the skills whereby he made himself the first king. In this wise did Heimdall lure to the Aesir a following that outnumbered the worshippers of the Vanir.
Forth from Vanaheim went Gullveig. So blindingly fair was she to behold that she became known as Heid, the Shining One. But she was the worst of witches. Madness she sowed in the minds of men, and to evil women she gave delight. Wickedness awakened anger, which led to woe. Having brought bane on Midgard, she dared cross the rainbow bridge to Asgard.
Before she could wreak further harm, Odin bade the gods slay her. There in his hall they smote her with spears. She laughed at them. They burned her and she stepped from the ashes aglow like molten gold. Thrice did they thus fail of her death. Thereafter she left them, to seek Vanaheim again and tell what had befallen her.
Outraged, the Vanir moved on Asgard. From his high seat, which overlooks every world, Odin saw them coming, weapons aflash, footfalls and hoofbeats athunder. He led the Aesir out to meet them. When they drew nigh, he cast his spear over their host. So began the first war that ever was.
It reached earth, too. Men fought each other, as they do to this day. They called on the Aesir, and Odin granted victory to his chosen. But his own war he could not win. Helped by their black arts, the Vanir at first kept the field in most battles. They thrust up to the very walls of Asgard and broke them down.
The Aesir rallied and drove them back. To and fro the strife surged, year after year, laying both lands waste. Ill tended by its gods, earth suffered as grievously. Men hungered, struggled for scraps, and could seldom spare a beast to slaughter for the high ones. In their mountain fastnesses the giants muttered of Ymir and whetted their iron.
At weary length, Odin wished for keener sight, to see how the ruinous quarrel might be ended. In Jotunheim, under the second root of the Tree, flowed from a spring the waters of wisdom. There dwelt Mimir, its keeper since the beginning. Odin made the long and dangerous trek thither to ask a drink from it, Mimir answered that that could only be if he paid, and the price was an eye out of his head. This Odin gave. So did he become Mimir's oath-brother. The jotun fared back with him to Asgard and gave him many good redes.
One was that he seek out the lore of runes. Odin did, though now he must go beyond death itself.
When he returned, the insights he had won showed him ways to calm down his warriors and get word to his foes. The two holy tribes laid their arms aside and met. They spoke of how venom had come into the air, who bore the blame, and who should yield to whom. In the end they agreed to share offerings, wealth, and lordship.
To keep the pact, they exchanged hostages. The Aesir gave two to the Vanir. One was Hoenir, who with Odin and Lodur had made the first man and the first woman from ash wood and elmwood and breathed life into them. The other was Mimir. The Vanir thought well of tall, handsome Hoenir and took him into their highest councils.
Likewise did the Aesir welcome Njord, the Van who held sway over the sea, and his two grown children, Freyr and Freyja. They liked it not that he had had them by his sister Ingrun. Their own law forbade the mating of close kin. Still, Freyr was the foremost god of earth, the soil, and its riches. Freyja was the foremost goddess of love, begetting, and birth, the most beautiful being who ever walked in Asgard. She was also a mighty witch, who taught the Aesir the spellcraft of her folk. Odin shunned it, holding it to be unmanly and untrustworthy. However, it was well to have knowledge of its workings.
For a while, then, the gods were once more at peace. But men were now always making war, the giants were restless, and the dragon Nidhogg gnawed at the deepest roots of the Tree. The Aesir felt need to raise anew the walls around Asgard, stronger than before.
To them came a man who said he could do this in a year and a half. The wage he wanted was the sun, the moon, and Freyja for his wife. At first the gods would hear naught of it. But Loki urged them to bargain him down, making the time no more than half a year. He could never meet that. Whatever he did build, they would have for nothing.
In their war against the Vanir, the Aesir had learned about trickery. They overcame any qualms and heeded Loki. Nevertheless they were astonished when the man agreed, as long as he could use his stallion, Svadilfari. They swore oaths with him, promising him safety while he was in their midst. He set forthwith to work.
Dismayed, the gods saw how fast it went. The man split off stones that looked too big for anything to move, but Svadilfari easily dragged them off and shrugged them into place for his master. Day by day the wall rose, high and unbreakable. As the half year neared its end, only the gateway was left to mortar together.
The gods met in Odin's hall. Freyja took the lead in cursing Loki. They cried that if the mason got his earnings, Loki would pay with his life. The sly one told them to have no fear.
The next morning, as Svadilfari hauled yet another load toward Asgard, a mare trotted out of the woods. She whinnied, pranced, and raised her tail at him. Off he went after her. He heeded not his owner's shouts and ravings, but passed from sight among the trees.
And so the work was not fully done in time, and Odin told the mason he should have nothing. Rage overcame him. He burst out of the seeming he had laid on himself. A giant stood and roared at the half-finished gate. His threats and foul words became too much for Thor. The storm god smote him, and a crushed skull was the wage that he got.
Some months later Loki returned, leading a colt with eight legs. He had been the mare, and this was his offspring. He gave the colt to Odin. It grew up as Sleipnir, swift as the wind and tireless as death.
Thenceforward the jotuns reckoned the gods for oath-breakers, and few stayed friendly to them.
Meanwhile the Vanir had been looking askance at the hostages whom they kept. True, Hoenir gave sage judgments. Yet that was always after he had whispered together with Mimir. If Mimir was not there and some hard question was put to Hoenir, he said merely, "Others must decide this."
When they heard how Freyja had been set at risk, the anger that smoldered in the Vanir flared wild. They seized Mimir, cut off his head, and sent it back to Asgard.
There Njord and his children had already spoken so bitterly that swords barely stayed in sheaths. Now Loki egged on the sons of Odin until they heeded him and bound these three for vengeance.
A giant named Hymir dwelt by the sea. Raw and harsh, he nonetheless had some tie to the Aesir. Odin had fathered warlike Tyr on a goddess who later wed Hymir. At Loki's behest, the captives were brought to him for warding. When they were alone, Loki told Hymir he should give the Vanir shame because of what their folk had done. Ever was Loki a brewer of mischief.
Hymir swallowed the tale. He set Freyr and Freyja on a skerry in the cold midsea, among trolls, drows, and bewildering magics. Njord he kept fettered in his hall. When first the god came there, cast down helpless onto the floor, the daughters of Hymir mocked him and even pissed in his mouth.
Odin had had nothing to do with this. He was too taken up elsewhere to know of it. After the head of Mimir was in his hands, he bore it off and treated it with herbs so that it would never rot. Thereupon he cut runes and sang spells to awaken it. The eyes opened and the lips spoke. Dead, Mimir had learned what none among the living knew.
Odin left the head at the well beneath the Tree. There daily it slaked its thirst with the water of wisdom in which lay his eye Often afterward did he seek the head out and take counsel from it.
When he returned to Asgard and found what had become of the hostages, he was frightful in his wrath. Too much trouble was afoot already, without sundering the bonds between the gods. As grimly as on the battlefield he shouted his orders for the freeing of Njord, Freyr, and Freyja. That was not easy. The witchcraft clung to them and could only be lifted slowly, after terrible strivings. But at length they were hale again. The sons of Odin led them home to him, begged their forgiveness, and offered them a huge redress.
Freyr and Freyja were willing to take it, among other treasures a wonderful sword for him and a car drawn by cats for her. It pleased them to dwell in Asgard and work unhindered in Midgard. They acknowledged that their kin had also done wrong.
Njord, though, was in no soft mood after what he had suffered. He spurned the holding called Ship-haven that was offered him, along with everything else. He forswore the friendship he had plighted and readied himself to go back to Vanaheim.
Odin foresaw a new war among the gods that would bring doom on them all. He must try to fend it off. Calling upon his utmost powers, he reached forward in time—which is not the same for gods as it is for men—and brought that to pass which had never happened before and never would again.CHAPTER 2
Up into the hills that rise north of the Scanian lowlands came a small troop riding. At their head fared Braki Halldorsson, chieftain in Yvangar and thane of the Dane-king Gram. He was a burly, weather-beaten man, his beard gray below shaggy brows and blunt nose. A byrnie hung rustling and darkly gleaming from his shoulders. Behind him went a youth of fourteen winters, more lightly clad, the king's older son, Gudorm. Unhelmeted, his hair shone in the wood-land shadows like another spot of sunlight. Rearward of him rode a young thrall-woman who clutched a suckling babe to her breast. Her eyes were wide with fear.
A half score of men wound after them. Few had other armor than a helmet, a wooden shield hung at the horse's rump, maybe a leather coat with iron rings sewn on it. Most bore axes or spears, not swords. They were sons of yeomen, called by the chief of their neighborhood to follow him. Withal, they were tall and strong; their legs reached down around their shaggy little steeds almost to the ground. No robbers or roving Norsemen would have attacked this band.
Yet uneasiness was upon them. It grew with every step forward. None let himself seem daunted, but glances flickered to and fro. Often somebody ran tongue over lips or swallowed hard. The only sounds were from hoofs on earth and wind in boughs. When suddenly a raven croaked, men started and knuckles whitened over spearshafts.
They had reached wilderness. The path was hardly more than a game trail, writhing upward. Brush hemmed it in beneath trees, gray-barked beech, gnarly oak, gloom of fir, granite boulders strewn among them. Where for a short span the wood thinned out, sight swept across slopes, ridges, and dells murky with growth. Wind shrilled cold. It harried clouds over a wan sky, making the sunlight blink. It soughed through leaves going yellow with fall. Most wanderbirds had already flocked south; a hawk wheeled alone aloft.
The wood again crowded thick where a great branch stretched high above the path. Nailed to it, bleached by many years, the skull of a bear grinned downward. Braki drew rein, lifted a hand, twisted about in the saddle, and said through the wind noise, "I know this mark. We near the giant's house. Hold still when we get there and make no sudden moves. You're too few to withstand him. Let me talk." He clucked to his horse and trotted on.
His men set their teeth together and followed. Regardless of the words, Gudorm could not keep hand off sword hilt. The thrall wench whimpered. When the babe cried out, she bared a breast and held him tightly to the nipple as if it were she who drew warmth and strength from him.
The path bent past an outcrop of rock. Braki rounded it. His horse reared and neighed. There stood two hounds, wolflike but coal black, well nigh as big as it was. Their eyes smoldered, their fangs glistened. A man yelped. "Hold still, I told you!" Braki flung back. He fought his mount to a stand-still while the hounds bristled and growled. "Vagnhöfdi!" he shouted. "Call off your dogs! Braki is here. We have sworn peace, you and I."
Someone ahead winded a horn. The deep sound of it echoed from hillsides and shuddered in men's bones. The hounds lowered their ears, turned, and trotted back. Braki made his horse follow them. His men could do no less.
They came out on a hillcrest. Cleared, it overlooked the highland wilds from ridge to ridge. The house that stood there was roughly built of stone below and logs above, chinked with clay and moss, roofed with turf. But few kings owned a hall so huge. Smoke from a hole overhead blew off across the treetops like storm clouds. Through an open door passed glimmers of fire, with heat and rank smells.
The giant waited outside. Thrice the height of a big man he loomed, and more than broad enough to match. Unkempt black hair fell around a shelf of brow, craggy nose, and cave of a mouth. Beard spilled halfway down to a belt studded with spikes. His coat, breeks, and boots were of hide. A nine-foot club was in his grasp and a scramasax of matching size at his hip.
Thunder might have been speaking: "Hail, Braki. I bade you always to come by yourself, when come you must. Why have you brought this pack along? Am I to kill them for you?"
The thrall wailed. Men stiffened in their seats. Gudorm flushed angrily. Braki waved them to stay quiet.
Looking straight up at the thurs, the chieftain said, "It's not for my own sake I'm here this time, Vagnhöfdi. I needed guards along the way lest harm befall the sons of my king."
"What are they to me?"
"This. Their father is fallen in war. His foeman, the Norse King Svipdag, now holds Denmark and means to seek lordship in Svithjod and Geatland as well. Let him gain his wish, and he will rule on either side of you. Likewise will his son after him. Folk are breeding children who grow up land-hungry. Svipdag and his kindred have sworn no oaths with you."
"Hunh," rumbled the jotun. "This I knew not." After a bit: "Well, I will guest you overnight, at least, and we will talk."
Braki's followers loosened their grip on their weapons. Things were going as he had promised them.
Once this giant had murderously raided farms newly founded along the edge of the wilderness. When warriors from the whole shire drove him back, he sent blights on the crops and murrains on the livestock. But Braki's grandfather had also known somewhat of magic. He broke those spells. Then he sought out the giant by himself.
Excerpted from War of the Gods by Poul Anderson. Copyright © 1997 Trigonier Trust. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
The bestselling author of such classic novels as Brain Wave and The Boat of a Million Years, Poul Anderson won just about every award the science fiction and fantasy field has to offer. He has won multiple Hugos and Nebulas, the John W. Campbell Award, The Locus Poll Award, the Skylark Award, and the SFWA Grandmaster Award for Lifetime Achievement. His recent books include Harvest of Stars, The Stars are also On Fire, Operation Chaos, Operation Luna, Genesis, Mother of Kings, and Going for Infinity, a collection and retrospective of his life's work. Poul Anderson lived in Orinda, California where he passed away in 2001.
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I have to say, I enjoyed this yarn more than any book I've read since I read "The End of Sparta". It takes you away to those mystical places that most of us dreamed about as kids. It's not a kids book though, make no mistake. Lord I wish there were more like this. Thanks Mr. Anderson. All I can end with is, Read it!
"Starclab isnt in ranks"