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Mimir By Moonlight

by Dale L. Gillis

Riding his steed Sleipnir, Odin held up his spear and went out the gate of his palace, Valhalla. At the bridge to other worlds, a ribbon lit by a full moon, he met the sentry Heimdall.

I’m not sure I want to talk to Heimdall right now, he thought, stroking his white flowing beard. Heimdall’s loyalty is as solid as the rock of Mount Asgard, but he knows too much. No avoiding it, though, not with Sleipnir’s eight hooves clomping the cobblestones.

“Venturing beyond the torchlit courtyard for a ride, eh, my lord Odin?” Heimdall’s dour face gave a sense of sturdiness.

“What is happening below, Heimdall?” Odin asked, feigning cheerfulness.

“Rather quiet. I hear mushrooms and toadstools popping up from the ground.”

“And the giants, are they up to anything?”

“They’re on the turrets of their ice castles, passed out from drinking. Where are you off to?”

“I pay Mimir a visit.” Odin spoke with as little emotion as possible.

“You seek the Father of Wisdom. Good. I would pay my respects occasionally, were I not rooted to this post. But you rarely travel without herald or escort, no valkryries, not even your wolves.”

“Every strategy has its time.”

“The Lord of War and victory would know. Take a horn of our finest wine to put Mimir in a good mood.”

“I’m afraid Mimir doesn’t fraternize, and he drinks only water from his well.”

“At least you have your spear, taken from the world tree. The straightest and best spear anywhere.”

Sleipnir raced down the bridge, only a few puffy clouds dotting the sky. One of the clouds covered the moon, giving the stars a chance to come out. I can hardly tell Heimdall why I travel alone, Odin reflected. I can’t bring Loki because I want Mimir to forget my treacherous companion. He won’t, of course. I go to Mimir asking a boon, a favor, a gift, more than a gift. Mimir may well say that I ask the impossible. I could offer him money, offer to toss coins or rings into his fountain. I can see him laughing now.

Soon Sleipnir approached the mud flats that fronted the womb of waters, the fabled well. Respectfully, Odin dismounted, leaving his spear on Sleipnir. A spear would hardly help in this battle.

Odin stepped carefully on the stones that were used for a crude path over the mud flat. The moon came out from behind the clouds, revealing a dwarf standing nearby.

“I saw a thin veil of aurora dropping down as you waved your spear.” The stout dwarf waved in greeting. “I thought you were coming.”

Odin nodded to the dwarf, a servant of Mimir, and continued to the spring.

Mimir stood in his fountain, a pool of water fed by a hidden spring, the original spring. He wore a simple white smock. Moonlight danced on the primordial pool. A few geese floated near the edge on the other side. Odin wondered what was under the surface. No doubt the water was as cool and refreshing as any to be found, but Mimir’s pool, covered by darkness, was opaque.

“A good night, is it not, Uncle Mimir. Frigg sends her regards.”

“Hello, Odin. I thought you would come. A good night for travel. Personally, I can discern the signs in the heavens more readily on a moonless, starlit night.”

To his surprise, Odin noticed several small boats floating near Mimir. Their bows were carved and painted so that the head of a fire-breathing dragon preceded the body of the craft. Odin had slain many such dragons. Square sails on the little boats captured the wind. “I haven’t seen your boats before.”

“You caught me playing with my toys, yes. When you’re as old as I am you can do things like that. I had them carved from a branch of the world tree. Their sails catch the breeze stirred up by the great bird in the north. You may think I’m playing, but one day there will be voyages of discovery. There will be battles at sea, a reminder that nothing comes without sacrifice.”

At least the boats seem to have left Mimir in a pleasant mood, thought Odin. “Mimir, you hold a special place in my heart, one of the few who has seen all that has happened since it began.” Odin stood on a couple of flat rocks. Flattery is the only strategy that might work. “In truth, Mimir you are the wellspring of wisdom.” He caught his breath. “Heimdall hears the mushrooms pop out of the ground. But where Heimdall sees every detail, you see... all.”

“Dark cloud on the horizon,” Mimir said.

Odin glanced at the cloud and grunted.

“That means your mood has darkened since you arrived.”

“My dear Mimir, while you spend eternity standing in your wondrous fountain, I have... responsibilities, as Lord of Asgard and King of the Gods. Disasters have happened in the past. I can’t let them happen again.”

Mimir said nothing, but the dark cloud had grown larger, and the reflecting moonlight dimmer.

“I know that I have no right to ask, but if you are of a mind to bestow gifts on one with such responsibilities, one thing I want above all.”

“What is that?”

“To serve my warriors and those that they defend, what is needed is the power of prediction. To drink from your well.”

“Your throne in Valhalla looks out over all the worlds, Odin. On top of that the ravens that land on your shoulders fly about, eavesdrop and overhear all that you need to know. They fly through the worlds of giants, dwarfs and elves.”

“True. I see and hear all I need to know in the present. But the future? I need that too.”

“Do you whittle?” Mimir made a small splash with his left hand.

I won’t be exasperated by this character. “Carve on a stick of wood? Sure, all the time.”

“It’s part of your future.” Mimir’s hands played in the water. “You want to know the future. You could tell me more about this disaster in the past that bothers you.”

Odin stared at the mud for a second. “Like the unpaid giant. We promised this ugly giant my first and favorite wife, Frigg, if he finished Valhalla in three months, three full moons. He wouldn’t take just gold or anything like that.”

“You were surprised.”

“Who would have dreamed that his giant horse, loaded with stone from the valleys, could vanish and appear in Valhalla? No time at all. Bloof, in a puff of smoke. The fee we were bound to pay was so out of bounds that my son Thor did away with the giant.”

“Tomorrow’s embarrassment worries you. Anything else upset you?”

“Tyr, the god of law, advised me against the deal with the giant. I should have listened. Making my son do a bad thing is like vomiting from indigestion. Upset? For the next thousand new moons I had to keep telling Frigg I wasn’t trying to get rid of her.”

Mimir gazed at Odin.

“Maybe it was the hand of Wyrd, the Norns.” Odin waved at the landscape and the approaching clouds.

“The Fates, huh? You know better than that. The Norns meddle, but every god or being must answer for what he does.”

“Yes, that’s right.” Discouraged, Odin looked down. “Perhaps I should not have come.” The sky was overcast now.

“It is good that you came. The question is, are you ready?”

Odin looked up at his interrogator in the dim light.

“You asked for the power of prediction. Is that all that matters? To know which way the dice will fall so that you will never lose at dice again? Or is there something more? What you need is wisdom. I wish you had asked for wisdom, but you didn’t.”

“All right. I ask for wisdom.”

“Think about the deal with the giant. Never try to trick someone else into getting left with nothing while you get a fine thing. It is unworthy of you.”

“It’s in the past, Mimir. You know that I can’t bring the giant back from the realm of Hella. What I need is wisdom to cope with the future.”

“So you’ve asked for wisdom, Odin. That’s no small matter, and you are the first to ask.”

Odin’s spirit lifted a little. “Does that mean that you will let me drink from your fountain, your well of wisdom?”

“Not so fast. In the calm, still waters of my well we do not rush into things. A peak achieved too easily is not remembered.” Mimir fell silent.

“What must be done to gain wisdom?”

“You must agonize over your misdeeds.”

“I have.”

“True, in a sense. In appearance you are an old man, although your kind need not age. You agonize, but not always about the right things.”

“What must be done to gain this wisdom?”

“Nothing worthwhile is to be had without cost. Yet you ask a great deal. You must give me something for my participation. Wisdom requires sacrifice.”

“The sacrifice of what?” Odin asked wearily.

“One of your eyes. A lost eye will make amends for your misdeeds and gain you wisdom.” With that the cloudy sky cut loose in a drenching downpour.

An agonizing doubt flooded over Odin. He had come to the sacred well to gain the power of prediction, which Mimir hadn’t specifically promised as part of wisdom. Should he believe that he really needed wisdom, not prophecy, on Mimir’s say-so? I am a warrior, a warrior king, he reminded himself, but some victories can be won only at great sacrifice.

No one knows how long Odin stood wrestling with himself. Mimir is patient. In the end, Odin tore out his right eye and tossed it into Mimir’s well. The Eye of Odin is there to this day.

“You have now left me something to remember your visit by. Congratulations, my brother in wisdom. You may drink.” Mimir smiled and pointed to the water. The rain had stopped and the sky cleared as the moon set.

Odin waded into the primordial fountain, boots still on, avoiding the spot where his departed eye had fallen.

“I have a vessel. I’ll get it for you. Your first drink of the Fountain of Wisdom is too important to take in cupped hands.”

One of the geese, which had been quiet until now, suddenly spread its wings. Its feet grazed the water as the gander flapped its wings furiously, demonstrating, heading straight for Odin. The gander squawked furiously as it flew in his face, its beak snapping at him.

Instinctively, he held up his hands in self-defense. After the battles he’d fought, this angry gander could hardly be more than a nuisance. Nevertheless, this was the first time he’d had to defend himself with only one eye. It would be harder to get a fix on his foe.

Odin grabbed one of the gander’s legs and spun around, throwing the bird on the shore.

He felt Mimir’s hand on his arm. “I’m sorry for the interruption. There’s always resistance whenever you set out to do anything worthwhile.”

Mimir handed him the clay vessel. He filled it and drank of the cool, still, satisfying water. As he drank he saw many things. He foresaw the day when the gods would whittle the first man and woman from a tree. He foresaw the deaths of many, including his own. He also saw hope, the eventual final triumph of right over everything else.

“With your left eye, in your head, you will see the present. With your sacrificial right eye, in my well, you will see all things, past and future, and the way of wisdom. You, Odin, have brought light to worlds hitherto in darkness, with no one who is wise. A reflection of your sacrificial eye has won a place in the heavens.”

Odin looked up and saw Sleipnir in the distance, with his spear, waiting for his master’s call. As Odin strode toward shore, the sun rose. Daylight sparkled in the cool water.

Did I tell you? This is the first dawn. None of the worlds had ever seen the sun or a sunrise before. Mud flat would become meadow and desert would become forest. On the first morning, Bifrost, the bridge between worlds, showed its colors as the first rainbow.

Frigg stood just past Bifrost’s end at the peak of Mount Asgard, near the entrance to Valhalla, marveling at the sight. Odin rode up to her, stopped Sleipnir and dismounted.

“You’ve changed.”

“I had to do it, Frigg. The cost of folly is too great.”

“After the price you’ve paid for wisdom, I would hang onto it. Dispense victory but hoard wisdom.”

They embraced and went inside.

Copyright © 2008 by Dale L. Gillis

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