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The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise

“There a duck has built its nest in the middle of an ox's jawbone, and the skull rests above.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“Who is that great one
who gabbles much
and hoves to the hellward side;
defends men
but fights with earth,
if he's found a trusty friend?”

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi--I've got it. It's an anchor with a good rope. If its fluke is in the sea floor, then it protects.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“Who are those wives
who walk in the skerries
and take a trip along the firth?
Their bed is hard,
the white-bonnet women.
They can't play much in calm.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“Those are breakers, their bed is skerry and rocks. And they get a little slow in calm weather. But your delivery's gone right downhill and you're getting a little slow yourself. Maybe you'd like to endure the judgement of my wise men?”

Gestumblindi says, “I'm reluctant to face that, although I suspect it can't be far off.

“Four hang,
four sprang,
two point the way,
two to ward off dogs,
one dangles after,
always rather dirty.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“Good riddle, Gestumblindi--I've got it. It's a cow. That has four feet and four udders, two horns and two eyes, and the tail dangles after.”

Gestumblindi said:

“What inhabits high fells?
What falls in deep dales?
What lives without breath?
What is never silent?
King Heidrek,
Guess my riddle.”

“Good riddle Gestumblindi. A raven always lives on high fells, and dew always falls in a deep dale; fish live without breath, and a rushing waterfall is never silent.”

Gestumblindi said:

“What is that wonder
I saw outside
before the Doors of Day?
White they whirl,
strike stone,
and bury themselves black in the sand.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“Good riddle. Now they're getting easier. That's hail and rain, since hail strikes the street, and raindrops sink in sand and go into the earth.”

Gestumblindi said:

“A black boar I saw
in muck wallow,
and not a bristle grew on its back.
King Heidrek,
guess my riddle.”

“Good riddle. It's a dung-beetle. But how sad, when dung-beetles are the subject of great men's questions.”

Gestumblindi answers, “A rest is best, when you're in a fix, and many men play for more time.

“I sat on a sail,
I saw dead men
bear a blood-hole
into the bark of a tree.”

“There you sat on a wall and saw a hawk carry an eider-duck into crags.”10

Gestumblindi said:

“What is that wonder
which whines on high,
the arm-lathe howls,
they're hard, chief.
Heidrek King,
think on that.”

“Good riddle. It's an arrow,” says the king.

Gestumblindi said:

“What is that lamp
which lights up men,
but flame engulfs it,
and wargs grasp after it always.”

“Good riddle. It's the sun. She lights up every land and shines over all men, and Skalli and Hatti are called wargs. Those are wolves, one going before the sun, the other after.”

Gestumblindi said:

“A horse I saw stand,
it struck a mare,
it shook its tail,
beat rump under belly;
out it shall draw
and waggle a good while.
Heidrek King,
think on that.”

Then the king replied, “My men should answer this riddle.” They made many guesses, without much luck. Then, when he saw they weren't going to get it, the king said, “You call that horse 'linen-warp' and the reed of the loom is his mare, so he takes his entering hook to the shaft, and up and down the web shall shake.”

Then said Gestumblindi:

“In summer I saw them
in the sunset
(when I said goodbye
they were barely drunk),
jarls sipping
ale in silence,
but there howling
the horn just stood.”

“Piglets drank from a sow there, and she squealed at that. Good riddle, but I don't know what sort of man you are, to make so much of such a small matter.” And now the king secretly orders them to bolt the hall doors.

Then said Gestumblindi:

“What is that wonder
I saw outside
before the Doors of Day:
ten tongues it had,
twenty eyes,
forty feet,
forward marched the monster.
Heidrek King,
think on that.”

The king said then, “If you are the Gestumblindi I thought, then you are indeed wiser than I imagined. It's the sow you're talking about now out in the yard.”

Then the king had the sow slaughtered, and she had nine piglets inside as Gestumblindi had said. Now the king suspects who this man this must be.

Gestumblindi said:

“Maidens I saw
much like soil
they made their beds in the mountains;
sable and swarthy
in sunny weather,
but getting fairer
when they fetch themselves away.
King Heidrek,
Guess my riddle.”

“Good riddle. Those are the tail-feathers on a sea-eagle, which are dark in the spring when the chick is born, but get paler as it grows up and flies away.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

“Who are those two
who have ten feet,
three eyes
and one tail?
Heidrek King,
think on that.”

“That's Odin riding Sleipnir.”

Then Gestumblindi said:

“Then tell me this
one last thing if you can,
if you are
of all kings the wisest:
What did Odin say
In Baldr's ear
before he was raised on the pyre.”

King Heidrek says, “Only you know that, monster.”

And then Heidrek draws Tyrfing and slashes at him, and Odin changed into the form of a hawk and flew out through a window of the hall. But the king hacked after him and cut off his tail-feathers, and that's why, to this day, the hawk has a stubby tail. But the sword fell on a retainer, who died instantly.

Odin said, “For that, King Heidrek, because you lunged at me and wanted to kill me, the lowest thralls shall be your slayers.”

After that they part.


10. This riddle relies on cryptic wordplay. In the first line, segl means ‘sail’, but another Norse word for ‘sail’ veggr also means ‘wall’. Similarly, dauðir menn ‘dead men’ is a pun on valr ‘the slain’; but valr can also mean ‘hawk’. Interpretations of the last two lines are speculative. An editorial amendment, ‘blood-hole’ in line three, would suggest a play on æðr ‘vein, artery, eider-duck’—but there is no consensus about the last line, for which a variety of readings exist in the different manuscripts.

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