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The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi--I've got it. It's two angelicas and a little angelica stalk between them. But I wonder greatly at your wisdom and nimble use of words.”

Gestumblindi said, “I'm about out of riddles now, but everyone's greedy for life.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“I saw earth's
ground-dwellers go,
corpse sat on corpse.
The blind rode the blind
to the briny sea.
That steed was short of breath.
Heidrek King,
think on that.”

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi--I've got it. You found a dead horse on a glacier and a dead snake on the horse, and all that drifts down the river.” Then the king said, “But what kind of a man you are, that I don't know. Unless there's someone wiser involved...”

Gestumblindi answered, “I am just as you see me, but I'd gladly accept my life from you and be free of this effort?”

The king says, “You'll ask riddles till you dry up, or else finish me off.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“Who are those thanes
who ride to the thing,8
sixteen guys together.
Across the land
they send their men
to seek a home for themselves.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi--I've got it. That's Itrek, who is also called Odin, and the giant Andad, sitting playing tafl.”

“It's getting hard for me now,” says Gestumblindi, “and I don't know what comes next.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“What wives are they,
their weaponless lord
they smite down and slay.
All day long
the darker defend,
but the fairer ones go forward.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi--I've got it. It's a game of hnettafl. The red pieces defend the king and the white ones attack.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“Who is the lone one
that lurks in the hearth
and stems from stone.
No father or mother
has Eager-to-Shine,
there will he spend his life.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“That is fire hidden on a hearth. It comes from flint.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

“Who is that great one
who grasps the earth,
swallowing wood and water.
Bad weather he dreads,
wind, but no man,
and picks a fight with the sun.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi--I've got it. That's fog. He grasps the earth so that no one sees in front of themselves, and there is no sun. But he's off as soon as the wind gets up.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

“What beast is that
which butchers wealth,
is circled outside with iron.
It has eight horns
but never a head
and much hazard hangs upon it.
King Heidrek
guess my riddle.”

“That's the die in hnettafl, also called the hun, or cub. It's horns are its corners.”9

Then said Gestumblindi:

“What creature is that
which cradles men,
it bears a bloody back,
and shelters fighters,
from shaft and point,
gives life to some,
and lays its self
inside a soldier's grasp?
King Heidrek
guess my riddle.”

“It's a shield. That is often bloody in battles and defends well those men who know how to use it.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“What sisters at play
pass over countries
through a father's wish to know.
A white shield
in winter they bear
and a black one in the summer.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“They're ptarmigans. They are white in winter and black in summer.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“Who are the women
who wistful go
through a father's wish to know.
To many men
they have done harm,
that's how they make a living.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“They are Hler's wives, as we say: waves.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

“Who are those maids
who go many together
through a father's wish to know.
White hair have they,
the white-bonnet ladies,
but that's not to say they're women.”

“They are billows, as they're called.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“Which are the widows
who walk all together
through a father's wish to know.
They're seldom kind
to the sons of men,
and must wake in the wind.”

“That's Aegir's widows, a name for waves.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“Long ago
a nose-goose grew
eager for offspring,
she who gathered
house-timber together;
they defended her,
bite-swords of straw,
though drink's bellow-rock
lay over her.”


8. A Norse legal assembly, a meeting, but also poetically ‘battle’.
9. The Norse horn means both.

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