The Last Noble Heathen

By Joel Youngblood

The Ignoble Noble Child

N-2webow in those far distant and better days when a man who worked was properly of a low station and those that spent their days in idle wastrelness quarrelling and killing were considered noble and when silver fish would leap from the deep pools to the boat just for the pleasure of conversation there lived a man named Ingvar. To this world of dragons, mermaids and mermen (and one sea-serpent named Sisyphus) pompous troubadours and heathen kings, Ingvar was the perfect perfidious youth—without ambition, save to be ambitionless and to wander the greater world taking that which wasn’t his. There was a certain nobility to this in those times.

By all accounts he was a precocious boy and it is said that his father was a king. But this was certainly false. However he had for a friend a certain King Olaf’s son, Onund, who was just as appreciatively un-appreciable as Ingvar and who lived his life with imitable laissez-faire. How the two boys became friends is unknown and anyways besides the point, but it is certain that they set themselves to their ancient profession as freebooters and trouble-stirrers with a laudable aplomb. Their first business as friends was to strengthen Onund’s father’s kingdom, for it was quite weak and a strong kingdom was certainly against the norm. Once they had unified it and strengthened it they could set about unmaking it one piece at a time.

Now, there was a little island which was inhabited in those days by a people called the Semigallings and they made their meager living by combing the beaches for shells of silver and by snaring mermaids in their nets and making them sing until such time as they ceased to be beautiful and had to be cast back to the sea. To this place of proletariat peace came Ingvar and Onund and Ingvar found the chief of their island and said to him this:

‘Good chief, I have heard that you do not pay tribute to our fair king Olaf for your village is poor. But this is a time of great peace and unity, for Olaf has made peace with the other thirteen kings and the thirty seven chiefs and the forty-four headmen and it is agreed that our country should be the most noble and our education should be the best and our songs the finest and no river should be uncrossed nor any bridge without a unionized troll for tax collection: thus it is your duty also to pay the king.’

And the chief scratched his beard and pulled from it little clams. ‘We cannot pay the kings tax, we are too poor.’

‘Then make your mermaids sing also on Sundays and also on Wednesdays and raise the prices on your little shells of silver and then you can pay the kings tax. Do these things and we will come back in one month to collect the tax. And if you do not have it, we shall kill you all to a man, for dead subjects are far more profitable than live ones to Olaf and Onund and myself.’

It perhaps goes without saying that the extra hours dried the mermaids out faster and that the market could not afford the increased price of shells of silver, for no one really liked these or had any purpose for them anyway, and so the little island of the Semigallings was quickly bankrupt and broken and filled with hungry and angry and quite hairy Vikings. This would seem to be Ingvar’s whole purpose so that when he came back with men and ships the Semigallings were ready for him and they all met on the beach offer battle. And Ingvar and his friend Onund and some other vicious louts killed them all mostly to a man and then strung up their three chiefs and accounted it a well spent summer holiday.

Olaf was very happy and proud with these boys and he lavished much too much praise and gold on them and he asked Ingvar what it was he would most like and anything he should name he would give to the boy. So Ingvar immediately replied that he should like most of all to be king. ‘Oh no, I couldn’t do that,’ said the King, so Ingvar said some things too rude to translate, but which in point work out to: ‘Then you insult me, great and accounted generous king, and there is no wealth in all this world that would tempt me except to sit your throne and make my own judgments and see you play with the dogs and the children in the graveyard.’

 

Ingvar’s Father, the Sagaless

Now at this time happened a thing which would begin to work some great changes over the young man Ingvar. Firstly he no longer had Onund as a friend, for no man in those days could be friends with another who demanded his father’s throne and then insinuated that he should play amongst children. But that was all well, for the gods of those days couldn’t really be bothered with the troubles of little kings and their sons so they didn’t have the bother-with-all to curse Ingvar, and he was in his own way a good pagan who wore the proper pendants and knew a fair few curses of his own. But the loss of Onund was nothing to the loss of Ingvar’s father, of whom it may be stated poignantly, almost nothing is known.

When this thing happened Ingvar was out playing with the frost-giants whose toes were the size of a horse and who those with much and more free time and bravado used to go and tickle so that they would laugh and raise up their feet and then you would leap up and cling along for the ride while tickling all the time until you were quite high in the air and you held on whilst it thrashed and kicked and you just kept tickling. Ingvar’s father (known only now as ‘Ingvar’s father, the Sagaless’) was doing what men did best those days, which was ride around in boats and kill Christians. He was injured when a friend asked him to mind his spear and he promptly forgot so that when their boat pitched, Ingvar’s Father, the Sagaless was pitched upon the spear and he was badly pierced. So they brought him back to shore accompanied by the sea-serpent Sisyphus to issue his final words. He called to his son who came only in time.

‘Son,’ he said, chewing his beard, ‘you have had a misspent youth and I cannot begrudge you a thing so noble for I had one as well. But look to me: I have a big bone-cage and it holds my heart-hoard well, but that hoard is emptying fast and soon all that is left of me will be a puddle on the beach and you are my only legacy. Your father did nothing of account and now people will know him only as the Sagaless and that is only if you do something very saga-worthy so that some Christian will record these my final words to be put down on their parchments and fed to their mice. So son, I charge you to please go and do something very great so that I should at least be known as Ingvar’s father—the Sagaless.’

So Ingvar said to his father: ‘Father, I will not let your sagalessness be forgotten, nor shall any man in the wide world forget that you had no saga. It seems to me that the only noble thing to do is go and slay a dragon’ (at this Sisyphus slipped back to sea) ‘and a giant and to lay a foreign queen and fight for some foreign king and to find the end of the world and there amass much booty and lead many men to their untimely deaths. This will then become the greatest saga ever told.’ These sentiments were heartfelt but pointless for Ingvar’s father died before he uttered his first word.

But it was as Ingvar said, for in those days a man had two ways to achieve great fame: to go looting and pillaging and raping and killing and become, because of these merits, a great king, or to abandon paganry wholly and become a bishop. Ingvar had no wish to abandon his paganry and so he began to rally to himself all those youths who were noble and idle and full of wastrelness and querulousness and with them, and borrowing from them, they raised a fleet of thirty ships with which to pillage and plunder and generally be good pagans all around the known world.

When Ingvar had raised the greater bulk of these ships and was sitting by the beach hunting for mermaids and picking up shells of silver, King Olaf and his son Onund came to Ingvar and the king had with him a small shovel such as children play with making sand-dragons and sea-castles, and when Ingvar saw him Olaf immediately dropped to the sand and began to dig and make sea-dragons. Onund approached Ingvar and knelt to him and pleaded with him thus:

‘Good friend Ingvar, by all accounts greatest pagan of past or present, we beseech you to abandon your quest and rule over us all as our king. See—here is my father Olaf, playing in the sand like a child, and soon other children will come and play with him and dogs too and I also shall play if that is your wish and you may rule as you will and kill all the priests you want and gather all the mermaids and shells of silver you could ever want and have all the ships of the world not just these thirty.’

But Ingvar was unmoved. ‘No, no, rise Onund. I am over it. I have no desire to be a king anymore. It is boring. I want to be the legendary hero of saga so my name will be known through the ages as Ingvar the dragon slayer, Ingvar the giant-feller, and Ingvar the bedder of many queens.’

‘Then tell me friend Ingvar—where will you go? How shall you begin?’

‘I will sail to the edge of the world.’

‘But you will fall off.’

‘Then I shall sail to the northernmost point of the world.’

‘But you will freeze to death.’

‘Then I shall to sail to the furthest east and conquer the kingdoms of the Berbers and the Saracens.’

‘But you shall burn up, for only the Saracens and the men of Prester John’s kingdom can withstand the great heat of those deserts.’

‘Then I shall sail south, to the realm of the Amazonians and subdue them and tame their queen and take her as wife.’

‘But you shall die if you try this Ingvar: for the air in the south is poisonous to those not of the Amazonian kingdom.’

Ingvar began to become frustrated and flustered and he kicked his mermaid and stroked his shell of silver. ‘Well then I shall sail for Heliopolis for that is where all great men in sagas go.’

‘That, friend, is a proper way to begin a saga.’

‘Well that is what I am going to do. And I shall find a river wider and faster than any, the lengths of which no man has explored, and I shall follow it to a great mountain where I shall find a dragon guarding a pool of gold filled with the treasure and tribute of all the nations of earth and I shall kill him and take all for myself. That is my true aim, and always has been.’

‘Then friend Ingvar, may the gods be with you.’

Now having made the King play in the sand and having gathered his ships and kissed the shell of silver, there was but one thing for Ingvar to do and this was to go to the local cathedral and leave a quantity of gold with the Christian bishop. In those days only Christians wrote down things and any wise pagan who wanted to have himself immortalized in a saga had better first make sure the bishop thought he was a good Catholic.

 

Of Kings, Giants, Dragons, and Endless Rivers

So Ingvar set sail from Sweden or Geatland or Gotterdammerung or wherever with his thirty ships and the gulls swam on invisible currents with them and these swift-sounding comrades gave voice to the wind, and the ships’ sails were full and their backs were strong for the sea. Ingvar would not see his homeland fall behind him for he was noble and proud and this was his time for saga and only the sea-serpent Sisyphus saw the emotion on the young man’s face, for Ingvar had never before left his homeland and was not yet even a man of twenty winters.

For many nights and days these mariners skirted distant shores and savage coastlines and came to many various places until finally landing at the kingdom of King Jarzizaliza, and the king took immediately to Ingvar and asked that he stay and be as a son to him and Ingvar for his part liked this king also and in his secret heart he was already cold and weary of the sea and desired only to get on with the fighting and looting and saga making. Even so, he stayed with King Jarzizaliza for three years and they say that he learned many things and new languages and could properly distinguish between his ‘Hic Haec and Hoc’ (that is Here, Here, and Here) and became a man in full winter.

This Jarzizaliza had his kingdom at the mouth of a very great river that was wide and full of crystals which sparkled under moonlight when the evening bird had sung its song and the merman danced and sunk beneath the rocky chasms. And this river took Ingvar’s eye and he looked upon it every day and by night he slept with one eye upon it and it beckoned him the whole of his tenure with this king. So one morning when Ingvar’s men complained that they had neither looted nor plundered nor raped nor killed enough to be immortalized in savage saga Ingvar went to the king and asked him wither this river went and the king shrugged his shoulders and could provide Ingvar with no good answer. So in the morning when the mists were still from Avalon and the kingdom slept and the good king dreamed only of what conquests he and Ingvar would make, the thirty ships slipped away and never again were seen in living thought in Jarzizaliza’s kingdom.

They followed this river for many moons until they could see that around them the land was changing, and this they knew for the animals and the people were different and strange. After a time they found themselves sailing in total darkness for first the cliffs closed abut them and they had to light candles in their ships to see at all and then when the cliffs had receded the trees grew so large and close that all was dark again, except now there were candles of green lit upon the distant shore that flickered like the faces of the dead. These things greatly frightened Ingvar’s men so he set a prohibition upon them that no man should leave the ships at night and if any did so they would have either a foot or a hand cut off.

At last the candles were blown out and replaced with clean and happy air and stars and shore breezes blown from distant waves that were calm and beautiful on their fair faces. But here their danger was in fact truly beginning, and if the little fairies that are now called the ardorvolus were their worst peril then their expedition would have been pleasant and unworthy of saga. However, one night after they had escaped the darkness, they were moored near the shore and as night fell and the cool shapes of cimmeria came all about them it was seen that in the distance there was, upon a hill, a house of stone with gold light in the windows and a pleasing smoke upon its rafters and Ingvar’s men became most curious so that he had to remind them of his prohibition and he set his most loyal man Ketil to keep watch so that none violated this.

Ketil was perhaps Ingvar’s most loyal pirate but he was also the dimmest and the most prone to be affected by the boredom of his stupidity. So as his night vigil went on he became greatly affected and decided to climb the chains and step into the reeds and run barefoot through the grasses under the stars to amuse himself chasing the ardorvolus. However this too soon became boring and so he looked to that stone house on the hill and he was drawn towards it until he stood outside the golden windows and saw that they were monstrously huge and inside burned a fire of horrible ferocity, and still, knowing this, his idiot curiosity got the better of him and he slipped through one of these windows. Inside the room was empty and earthen save for a silver cauldron (or kettle) which hung over the fire and Ketil decided he quite liked this kettle and decided to take it though it was far too heavy for him so instead he took the handle and broke a piece and planned to hide it under his pillow on Ingvar’s ship.

Of course this was a giant’s house, and giants are much like dragons in that they are territorial and greedy though they are far dumber and less malevolent, much like Ketil himself. But the giant knew immediately that something had been taken from him and pursued Ketil in a sore rage. Luckily Ketil was a swift runner and he ran like the fire of hell was at his back. Even so, the giant took one step for every twenty of Ketil’s and would have caught him if Ketil had not had the sense to drop the kettle handle and push quickly through the ardorvolus and climb the chain back to his ship where he dropped to Ingvar’s feet to beg for mercy.

It may have been proper for Ingvar to cut off Ketil’s head immediately, or at least the offending hand and foot, and be done with the affair. But Ingvar was in the business for a saga and at the first mention of the word ‘giant’ he thought of his poor father and his brittle bones laid somewhere in hard cold dirt and his blood upon the beach, and his eyes were alight with glory and he ordered his men to prepare for battle for he had giant-slaying on the mind and he quite forgot about poor stupid frightened Ketil and they remained the best of friends until the end.

This then was Ingvar’s plan: to charge the giant with all his men with their bows and spears and swords and axes and shoot stab and hack it until it was dead. It was a very poor plan. After they tried this and many men died, Ingvar and the survivors returned to their ships and waited until the time when the sun rose and they saw the giant was very tired and so he went back to his house to rest. Ingvar conceived a new plan. With his strongest men they went quietly into the giant’s home where he slept soundly and they saw a single pillar of wood as big around as twenty men supporting his roof and they set upon it with their axes, all while the giant slept soundly dreaming of large women. When this pillar had been weakened as much as possible Ingvar took his spear, with which he was accounted passing fair, and threw it into the giant’s eye, which angered the poor creature and all in a rage he awoke shaking and screaming and making a general ruckus charging in the direction of the shot colliding with his own beam and bringing the house of stone and gold windows down around him so that only his foot stuck out from the ruin.

Ingvar and his men attacked this foot with great ferocity and fear for they figured the brute still alive; but when they had the foot off they realized he was dead and Ingvar’s men took the foot back to their ships and rolled it in preserving salts to act as a grim trophy to their leaders’ great might. But Ingvar was a good pagan, and becoming in fact a noble one, and he made all his men go and burn the body and house of the great giant and Ingvar himself led a chorus of praise for their fine enemy and then he wept over the body, for this giant was neither very smart nor clever and it was only because of the curiosity of Ketil that in the end it had to die, and were Ingvar a Christian he would have commended its soul to god, but as he was not he asked only that when the end came the giant be allowed to fight by their gods side in the great twilight battle where only heroes would die.

And so with heavy heart did Ingvar sail from the home of the giant and he thought that it was sad that they didn’t know the poor beast’s name and could erect no stone over his grave, and with the winds came the ashes and in the end they saw his fire still burning and it made the evening redness both behind and before them. Ingvar’s hope was only that some good could come of the giant’s death and he looked upon the horrid form of the foot upon the prow and like a noble man he shed another tear for it. It was at this moment that the foolish Ingvar passed from the memory of mortals and the last noble heathen was born to serve his short and glorious tenure.

***

With Ingvar was another man called Valdimar, and he was like Ketil in that he was a fool, and he was like Ingvar in that he was proud and strong, but he was unlike them both because he was a person without noble soul but only vainglory that festered in his heart-hoard. When they had sailed on for many more days and through many regions and seen that the colors changed and the people and the animals they knew for certain that they were far from home and each heart broke in its own little way. But Ingvar would not turn around for his father was dead and sagaless and all that was noble was the endless river and the hope that he was upon it. So it came to pass that one night when their ships were put to rest that Valdimar was given the watch, and when the world was whole dark he saw in the distance a thing that shone like a silver moon standing on distant earth. And Valdimar was greatly curious and desired above all else to be most praised of Ingvar’s men and to have the greatest place in his saga.

So when all the others were asleep and their trust given over complete to Valdimar he slipped down the chains and through the grasses and reeds and he went past the ardorvolus and on and on till he came to a hill which seemed to be made of gold, and there atop the hill was the silver moon. So Valdimar began to climb this hill and saw it was not gold but rather sleeping serpents with golden bellies raised to the stars and Valdimar was scared, but he was also greedy and foolish. When he reached the moon of silver he saw hanging in its center a golden ring and this he reached out for with his spear and took, whereupon immediately the silver moon uncoiled and it was the dragon Jakulus. This Jakulus was nothing like the modern jaculus, the little stabbing snake of Madagascar, but rather the legendary Jakulus, a true god of the dragons all great and terrible, and when he woke and discovered his favorite ring was gone he rose in terrible fury with fire and horror flying from his serpent’s mouth.

This serpent’s great wrath and the wild yells of Valdimar awakened Ingvar and his men and they all rose to see the great winding trail of flame that Jakulus left in his wake as he raged and murdered all across the countryside in his mad hunt for Valdimar and his ring. Valdimar ran like the coward straight back to Ingvar’s ship and climbed the chain and threw himself to his knees crying ‘Mercy!’ Ingvar looked upon him with disgust. ‘Kill the serpent or die trying: that alone will redeem you.’ Now each could plainly see what sort of man Valdimar was, for he ran every which way in his terror and the serpent ate him up and burned him and the cursed ring both to char in his gullet.

Now Ingvar saw clearly that he had awakened this evil upon the poor people of this strange land and that to him it would fall to still it. Fortunately, Ingvar also saw immediately the thing to do: he had his men take the rancid token of the slain giant and raise it to the ship’s highest mast and then lit a fire upon all the shores and these things drew the ravaging serpent like a dragonfly. He landed on the mast and began to lick the salted foot and eat it in all his greediness, for though he had back his ring a hunger was awakened that could not be slaked by anything of the mortal world and only the immortal abyss could now fill it.

Ingvar called again for his sharpest spear and when he had it his men fled in mortal terror of that horror and Ingvar stood alone with the beast on his ship in the ring of fire whilst it gorged and gorged until at last it had eaten up the giants foot whole and taken to notice Ingvar. But when it made to fly, its putrid little wings were not enough to lift its sated bulk and it floundered and flapped, exposing its soft belly which Ingvar marked and threw true with spear, so that it penetrated the silver softness and caused a small puncture which then began to rip and tear spilling all of the serpent’s insides into the river and dragging the beast flaming into its depths where it smoldered and reeked for days.

Some of Ingvar’s men came and suggested that they should pull the body of Valdimar from the belly of the beast but Ingvar would hear it not. ‘He has paid a heavy price for his treachery,’ said Ingvar, ‘so let him rot with the beast in the abyss. And if our gods are true and our teachers true and the Christians false, then Othin will lift him and his scaly comrade from those depths at the twilight times and both can repay such debts as they still have.’

 

King Wolf and the Kingdom at the Edge of the World

Through the spring and summer and into fall they sailed until again the land changed and no longer were there coastlines or mountains or any discernible feature of the hands of gods, only open water-road like ocean, and the swift-winged gulls joined them again and flew with them and men called to them for news and they all said that the kingdom at the end of the world was approaching. And so it was, for one day the coast swiftly returned and with it high mountains and magnificent buildings and towns and finally, upon a mighty rock, a great citadel of white marble upon which crowds of men and white birds stood with poise. Ingvar and his men marveled at the beauty of the walls and birds and the women who wore white and washed in the waters of the endless river.

Alone one woman stood out as brightest and whitest and fairest and she walked out into the waters and Ingvar climbed down to her and she was beautiful and golden haired and he was taken with her and she with him and they smiled and she said: ‘I am called Silky and I am queen of this land.’

And he said: ‘I am called Ingvar and am ruler of nothing but have come to find the endless river and the source of things with no source. We journey till the end of the world.’

‘Then take heart,’ said she, ‘for you are nearly there. But my husband and King will wish to meet first with you—for you look strong and noble and we are in need of strength for King Wolf is under attack by his wicked brother and the eight evil kings whom he has gathered under him.’

‘Lead me lady and I will follow.’ Ingvar’s men heard this and were sad because they heard ‘Lady I love you’ and feared that he would never return to them.

The queen took Ingvar through winding streets where clouds and birds slept on rooftops and where women in white laughed and danced barefoot and stern men hid smiles under their beards and the children saw all colors as one. They climbed up and up until they stood on the height of a great mountain and here King Wolf held his court in the citadel of white marble where light shone through seven windows overlooking the seven rivers, and in the room seven chairs seated his seven counselors. There was the king, and he was an old man of good heart and sound body and he welcomed Ingvar and they talked well into the night when the sun had away and the candles burned and the gulls roosted. All this time the queen knelt and attended their needs and the King saw clearly that she loved Ingvar, and in his own way he loved him as well, and he hoped that Ingvar would help him to win back his kingdom and that he himself should fall fighting his brother and leave to Ingvar the only things he truly loved.

So King Wolf explained to Ingvar his predicament and told him how with the help of Ingvar and his warriors they could make right and then the light of his high-hall would continue to shine unto the ends of the earth. And Ingvar for his part was taken with the king and stayed with him through all the winter and could watch from the high hall the white snow drift down the river endlessly, as did his heart also. So he came to spend all his days with the King and love him in his way, but at night he would spend all his time with the queen whom he also loved, and she became pregnant by Ingvar and the people knew this secret and spoke it and said that the king cared more for Ingvar than for them and that soon his brother would come and slaughter them and turn all their walls of white to red.

At last the king put an ultimatum to Ingvar to help him fight his brother and alluded that Ingvar could be made king. But there was shame in Ingvar for he loved this king like his father and he thought of his father—sagaless, cold and dead, far from these crystal shores; and he thought of his shame in betraying the king by loving his queen and how one day he would have to pay in blood for his duplicity; and he thought of his men who grew weak and tired and sick with the daily drunkenness and fornication. But most of all he thought of the vague and exciting possibility of adventure and knew that endlessly it called his heart and he knew that never again would he be happy in any one place and that as long as there was a horizon, it was his to chase and hope that one day that horizon would be endless and he could sail into the sunset forever without the hope of dawn. And so he told the king that he must go to the edge of the world.

The king begged him to not go, saying: ‘Ingvar, you are young, not of twenty-four winters yet, and you know not of these things. Once too I was young and thought to chase the endless river and I hoped to find the day without dawn. That is how I came to this place and founded my kingdom. And here I found the thing I sought, for my name is endless and the sun will never rise upon a day where it is not spoken, or read, or remembered by the daughters and sons and grandchildren of my kingdom. Do not go in search of the endlessness of the world, it is empty and hollow and promiseless and can bring you no pleasure.’ But Ingvar would hear no argument and so the king asked only this: ‘When you are returning, and your disappointment is great and you wish to do no mortal deeds anymore, promise me that you will stop here and help me defeat my wicked brother.’ This Ingvar promised.

So one clear morning they sailed away and his men wondered at the captain’s heart of stone to leave behind a father and a child and the promise of a kingdom, but though they grumbled publicly, in private their hearts were glad for here was a man noble to an ideal even to a fault and he was their captain and they were his noble thanes who would chase eternity in the greatest saga ever to be told.

Thus it was that after many days they came to the end of the world and there a great waterfall crashed and fell and a rainbow of purest color rose from it and lofted to a castle on a distant hill. Ingvar had the boats pulled to shore and he went to this castle which was a place of death and ruin and from its tallest tower he looked out into the endless and formless expanse of eternity and he was unfulfilled for it was everything and nothing that he had dreamed. And so he ordered his men back to their boats and he stayed all that night in this castle alone looking over the deep and he felt only the nothingness.

At night when the fog was black and the world was void and empty the Christian Devil arose from those deeps and he came and sat beside Ingvar and this made Ingvar worried for the perfidy of the Christian Devil was far deeper than any of his own religion’s devils. The Devil spoke to Ingvar: ‘I have heard tell that you are wise and will make a fair king, so listen to my words. There was once a king who sailed the wide world in search of a horizon without end and he came to this place and accounted himself lucky for he believed to have found the place where the sun did not set. So he established this hall and had for himself two sons and a daughter. When the king grew old and the bones of his body brittle and he died, he left his kingdom to be distributed evenly between his two sons. To his daughter he left nothing other than that which you see there—but a courtyard of the keep. But there she kept flowers and hyacinths and sweet lilac and would play with the candle-flies in the summer with her fair children. Now the elder son had all this side of the river till the mountains cold, and the younger had the opposing shore all the way to those mountains cold. But the younger saw his brother’s as the better and he made war upon the elder and when much death had been done, both sides were in ruins and all their retainers were dead and no one offered these kings wise fair words. So both in their despair took their own lives. This left only the daughter and her humble kingdom of the garden where she and her offspring lived out their days in happiness and respite, until the dragon came and ate all their bones.’

Ingvar considered the Devils words. ‘You are preaching the end of my faith, Devil, and the rise of the Christian humility. What you are saying is that heathendom shall extinguish its own flame and from the little places shall arise the new world.’

The Devil looked to the dark. ‘You are not so wise as you are accounted. Let me tell you another. There lived a king before the coming of men and he was considered the wisest and fairest of rulers and under his rule he abolished might so that there could be only right. He drew to him the best retainers in the whole world to his island kingdom and ruled with absolute love. And this greatest king had the fairest queen and the mightiest thane. But in time the king grew too loving and lost his strength and his finest thane took to his queen and had child with her and this child grew up to challenge for the throne and in the civil war the king slew this child and this child slew the king and all of his men died fighting each other until his kingdom was ruined and sank into the sea, somewhere beyond the west where the sun never sets.’

‘You are speaking of my own perfidy in betraying Wolf, and that it is my child who will bring the twilight of my gods.’

‘No Ingvar. The first means that no matter how noble or foolish your ideal, in the end you shall die and your bones even will not survive you. The second, that even idealism will die in the end and sink below the mortal sea. You do not see that your gods are weaker than my devils. You should convert to Christendom and become a king greater than any ever told, for in the end it will be only our stories told.’

‘Why should the Devil wish to make of me a convert?’

‘It is simple arithmetic: without converts, there is no god. Without god there is no devil.’

Such did the Devil and Ingvar converse all through the night, and to Ingvar’s crew only horrid sounds such as the screeching of the banshee and the she-wolf reached them and they were afraid and cowered in their ships until morning came and brought silence and felicity. However, when the light crested the mountains and filled the earth with dew and they crawled from their hiding places, Ingvar came to them like an idol of gold and his hair blew like summer wheat and he smiled and said to them: ‘We must go, for this is a land of endless autumn and defeat and the land of endless sunset is ever onwards.’

 

The Death of Ingvar

And so Ingvar and his brave retainers sailed back up the marble river until they came to Wolf’s kingdom of stone and when they reached these shores the white gulls cried and the women shed tears and flocked to them for they said the king was about to join battle with his brother and the eight kings and that their kingdom and its high hall were destined to fall without their aid. Ingvar made hasty preparations and ordered that every sword be sharpened and ever spear straightened and also had iron spikes prepared which his men arrayed before them on the field of battle so that their enemies and their horses should be impaled upon them and then they joined the battle and slew many enemies and fed the black raven well.

When the better part of the slaughter was accomplished, Ingvar restrained his men and told them to take what plunder they would from the dead but leave the rest of the battle to the living for he wished that King Wolf be seen as the victor. So his men stripped their enemies’ corpses of gold and dignity and loaded their ships so that they sat heavy in the water like the hippopotamus after dinner. Ingvar’s men rejoiced for this they thought was the end of their journey, for they had been to the edge of the world and fought giants and dragons and won great battles and filled their cups till they overflowed. But Ingvar shook his head and said no, for the endless horizon was somewhere beyond and in that other direction the river had no known end and to that end they must attend.

While his loyal men cleared the dead, Ingvar stood upon the field and watched as King Wolf slew the last of the disloyal kings, delivering death to each in kind and at last laid low his brother with his shining sword; and he looked and saw upon the high-seat the queen who was white and bright and heavy with his child. So he turned his back to them and came to rejoin his brothers when the king, still in wild battle spirit, turned to join Ingvar and fell instead upon Ingvar’s ingenious traps which hurt and killed many of his men so that they feared treachery thinking Ingvar wished to seize this kingdom that would have been willingly given. King Wolf fell upon Ingvar and they did fight and do great hurts to each other so that the king died and Ingvar had to flee to his ships. When they had disengaged from battle, Ingvar had men enough to crew only five of his ships.

As they flew from the carnage Ingvar looked back and wished he could raise the pyre and stone for this best of kings but his hurts were grievous, and they were chased by the king’s men whom they had saved from one evil. And then all Ingvar’s ships sank save his own, for they had been overloaded with gold and plunder and the dead and their heavy memories so that at last the red sun set on the battle and they sailed away from Ingvar’s shameful child and disgraced queen as only a loyal few. They came to the place where the land and the animals change and the place where they could see only shore-lit candles and then where there was only darkness, and they went past Jarzizaliza’s kingdom. On and on ever they went for Ingvar was gripped with fever and he knew that he and the king had betrayed themselves and wrought their ends.

So for many ages they sailed on, Ingvar and his few brave men, and every day the sunsets grew longer and the air colder and Ingvar became excited because though he was not yet in his twenty-fifth year he saw that his death was near at hand and that his quest to find the endless river and the endless sunset was nearing an end; so the swift gulls again came and cried that the terminus was approaching and that all their labors were nearing the culmination. Finally Ingvar awoke and he beheld clearly a far off land where the sun runs ever quicker and the grass is emerald and the beaches white and the oceans blue and the dark fog rolls back from you and you know then many things and none, and he knew that it was time for him to die.

He called to him Ketil, for he was ever the most loyal, and he bade him bring him his spear which had felled the giant and the dragon and the evil kings and the good king, and he gripped it tight to him with his weak hands and he said to Ketil: ‘My time is come and I see the land of my forefathers where the sun neither sets nor rises and we only run ever after. I will hurtle this spear with all my last youthful might into those far fields and you shall bury me where it lands.’ But Ingvar was weak and when he threw his spear it merely clattered off the prow and splashed into the white waves. But Ketil was more loyal than wise and he flung his dead master along with his treasure into the waters after it.

Thus was the fellowship and adventure of Ingvar’s ended until such time as his gods call him forth from the feverless night, and Ingvar’s men saw after they had disposed of their dead lord that they had come not to a land of endless sunsets and azure seas but only to the cold North Sea from which their journey had begun. And each went their separate ways to die as they saw fit for themselves, poor of body yet rich of spirit. It is said that some went and had more great adventures, but of those we know nothing, for none save Ketil ever returned to his home shores, and of those other noble mariners no man can for certain say.

But when Ketil returned to his home he went down to the beach where Ingvar had picked shells of silver and mermaid kisses and he raised a stone to Ingvar for though his master’s body was adrift in the endless river he feared that Ingvar should be forgotten in mortal mind. And there were many in the land who had lost sons and husbands and friends on Ingvar’s mad and glorious quest and they raised stones also for those loved ones and to this day they stand; and far away in the kingdom at the edge of the world Silky gave birth to Ingvar’s son and named him Svein Ingvarsson and he grew quickly to be strong and swift like his father, and he wished also to do great things so that his father would not be Ingvar the sagaless but Ingvar the Far-Traveler and he went sailing and raiding and some say he did many deeds greater even than those of his father. But Svein was a Christian and thus his deeds are of no interest to us for he lived and died by the words of God and the Devil and his deeds were consecrated before Christ. And so it was that with Ingvar did die all that beauty and glory and nobility of the ancient north: for Ingvar was like the sea-serpent Sisyphus, the last of his kind, and it was his and his alone to carry all their great hope and great sadness beyond the mortal pale. When at last both were dead, then dimmed the fires of heaven.

When Svein died an old man and king, his final act was to consecrate a church in the name of his father in the hopes that perhaps he be given respite from purgatory and one day be allowed to be a thrall in the kingdom of God. But Ingvar had found his own kingdom there where the sun has never set nor has it ever risen and where the fish still leaps with the child and the gulls bring news and he needed not an immortal effigy or stone reliquary, only the simple words which loyal Ketil carved upon now lost stone:

 

Ever into the east—eternally Ingvar led

The ravenous raven—rightly we fed

That endless river—his eternal bed

Ketil carves this—caring for his friends

Where world ends—where strength ends

And days grow dark—like departing season

There lies Ingvar—last noble heathen

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Joel Youngblood is a freelance writer from a very small town in New Jersey.  He has spent far too much time in far too many colleges studying far too many things, but has never been able to commit to any particular degree.  When not reading or writing he plays guitar in the band “Hawthorne’s Neighbor.”


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