The fact thus emerges is that the child’s simple, innocent remark, ‘God is here! God is here” was treated by both Odin and Frigga as the words of an oracle. Their aching hearts wanted to believe what the child said and perhaps that is why they believed him. Quietly, Odin said, ‘I shall not go.’ Frigga said, ‘Yes. You must not go.’
‘If God wills me to die, so be it; but He is the one who will send for me’ Odin said. ‘God wants you to live: said Frigga ‘But I broke my priestly promise.’ ‘You broke the promise to Devil Loki. God will be pleased’, Frigga replied. ‘I broke the commandment of Thor.’ ‘Thor wanted to commit incest with his sister and to have his brother-in-law killed. His was not the commandment of God’,said Frigga. ‘Then what is God’s commandment?’ Odin asked. ‘To love.’ ‘But I love my people too. Do I desert them and stay here among their enemies with whom my people will fight?’ Who made them enemies?’ asked Frigga. ‘Did you not say, they were simple wanderers on God’s earth?’ ‘That they are.’ Then Loki made them enemies. Loki is the devil. You will side with the devil?’ ‘No, but I will not fight against my people’, Odin said. ‘No, that you shall not. God wills us to love, not to battle.’ Odin nodded but the instinct of the mother came uppermost in Frigga’s mind, and she said, ‘yet if someone seeks to harm my child, he must burn here, as he will burn later in hell.’
The Tungeri brothers returned to their hut. They knew nothing of the upheaval in the superstitious hearts of Odin and his wife – where one superstition had replaced another.
As it is, when Odin had suddenly arrived in their camp, they had thought that they understood something of his anguish. Obviously, out of the goodness of his heart, he had come to warn them to flee, as he feared that his tribe would attack them if they remained.
But there was no way they could rush out, until their boats were ready and that, they understood, would take time. They also realized that Odin obviously wanted to flee with them because his tribe would be angry with him for revealing their plan to the Aryans. And yet he seemed to be anguished, not about himself, but only about the son with the twisted foot. It seemed that he was pleading that the Aryans should look after him. The language barrier made it impossible for the Aryans to understand Odin’s terror about the child or the customs of his land.
One of Tungeri brothers had simply petted the child and lifted his finger to the sky to indicate that God above would look after the child.
Odin normally should have seen nothing extraordinary in that gesture – a mere assurance of God’s mercy and grace. But now Odin saw that gesture differently. He was certain that the Aryans were saying that his son had communion with the Gods.
Now as the Tungeri brothers returned to the hut, Odin’s heart was bursting to tell them that he too had understood at last. With rapture he pointed to his son and high up to the sky, seriously and repeatedly. The Tungeris nodded, happy that Odin was reassured of God’s protection for his son. They had no way of knowing what was passing through the minds of Odin and his wife and what brought on that look of faith, wonder and rapture. They simply nodded.
Odin’s gestures made it clear to the Aryans that he would remain aloof from their fight with his people. They understood and respected that.
The attack began. Initially, arrows flew. But in the thickly wooded forest, they were ineffective. A tree would halt an arrow before it hit the intended target. It would have to be a hand-to-hand fight.
The attackers had, as their chief weapons, burning torches and long lances with one pointed end hardened by fire. Many also carried wooden shields strengthened with animal skins. Their plan was simply to surround the Aryans and then launch a sharp attack on them from all directions, using the woods as cover.
Fearlessly, the attackers came. There was naught to fear, they were told. They would be facing a gang of robbers and thieves and not a fighting tribe. And even the rules of warfare were not to apply – the injured enemy must be slaughtered there itself; and only the ‘whole’ (uninjured) must be taken as prisoners for a sacrifice to the gods.
On an impulse, Odin left his hut where he was to remain sheltered with his family. He went towards the attackers. The Aryans wanted to stop him but they saw his resolute expression. Odin went on.
From a distance, the attackers did not recognize Odin. They laughed. Obviously, the robbers were sending someone to plead for mercy. Well, they would cut off his legs. But their leader said, ‘No, let him come and have his say. Then we will cut his tongue out and send him back.’
But then they saw that it was Odin. They gasped and then bowed.
‘Go back’ said Odin. ‘They are good people. Do not seek to harm them.’
‘But they are robbers, Lord Priest!’ the commander said.
‘No, they are God’s people’, Odin replied. ‘We are the ones who seek to rob them.’
‘Our orders come from the Tribe-Chief and Chief-Priest’, the commander pleaded.
‘My orders come from Him that is higher than them.’
‘From Thor?’ asked the startled commander.
‘No, higher than Thor.’
The commander wilted, ‘But what shall I say to honor Loki.’
‘Say to him that if he hears not the higher voice, he shall be smitten. And for his crime, all of us will be smitten. The hour of peril is nigh. The tribe shall crumble and be humbled into the pit of the nether world.’ ‘I dare not say that to him, Master’, the commander pleaded. ‘Good! Better it is not to consort with evil.’ Evil! He had just called the Chief-Priest, Evil!
The poet here tells us that Chief-Priest Loki may or may not have been evil, but he certainly was foolish to have sent out forces against the Aryans which were from the area nearest to the Black Forest, for that was the very area in which Priest Odin resided. And Odin’s renown in that area was unsurpassable. But then, how was Loki to know of Odin’s desertion and it was probably easier to muster up forces closest to the area in which the Aryans were.
The commander still continued his weak protest, ‘My Lord Priest, you still wear the Priest’s sacred ring!’
‘You are right, son’ Odin said, looking at the offending finger that wore the priestly ring blessed by the Chief-Priest. ‘Marks of evil do not leave us easily.’ He took out the ring, threw it on the ground, took a burning torch from a soldier, put its flame on the ring and said, ‘Bring your torches nearer, let this evil burn, so that your hearts are cleansed; and then you may hear God’s voice and not the voice of evil Loki.’ Hesitantly, as though against their will, some brought torches to burn the evil ring; and the thought came to them that they were scorching evil from their hearts.
Here, again, the poet intervenes to tell us that this was no playacting on Odin’s part – it was simply the case of one superstition taking the place of another. Somehow, says the poet, Odin’s superstition now found its echo in the hearts of others too- for he was their most respected priest- hermit, a healer, a miracle-worker, who spoke to them. And the poet said that a superstition could not disappear into nothingness. It had to be replaced by a higher superstition. For instance, if you believed that a monster had ten heads, no one could make you believe that it had only one head; but if someone respected came along to tell you that the monster had not ten but a hundred heads, you would be ready to accept it. Superstition grows; it cannot subside.
The commander and his men remained bewildered. They knew they would not attack. But what were they to do? How would they go back? With what face? What were they to say? Never before had a soldier ignored the call of his tribe. They had always been ready to lay down their lives, even when defeat and death were certain. The honor of the individual and the honor of the tribe called for such supreme sacrifice. But now this desertion! Was it not cowardice?
‘What are we to do, Lord Priest?’ they asked Odin in agony.
‘Do?’ Odin asked. ‘Do what your honor demands that you do. You must protect these Aryans.’
‘And forsake our own tribe!’
‘Only to save it. To help it to keep its covenant with God’
‘But our covenant with our tribe? Our tribe will forsake us’
‘Then there is a higher destiny for you. You shall belong to the tribe of the Aryan, the people of God.’
Thus failed this first attack, before it really started. Many stood wavering. Many more left, not knowing what to believe. But some remained, determined to prevent onslaughts on the Aryans, as their respected Priest Odin advised. With Odin, they moved into the forest to meet the Aryans.
The commander left with a few of them, uncertain in mind. But as he moved away, the effect of Odin’s words withered. ‘I am a fool to have allowed him to speak’, he said to himself. But he realized that it was impossible now to rally his men for an all-out attack; they were too much under the spell of Odin’s words. Dejected, the commander wondered. How will I explain to my superiors? But what is there to explain? It was Priest Odin who stopped us! And how am I expected to fly in the face of a direct command from a Priest? But surely, you knew the Priest was a deserter? No, I did not, until he spoke -and then it was too late. Really! Did he not say, the Chief-Priest was evil! Did he not arrogate to himself the right to speak on behalf of the gods above Thor? Did he not burn his priestly ring? Even then, you did not suspect that he was a deserter? Why you even bent your own fire-torch to burn the priestly ring blessed by the Chief-Priest! What would you have done to anyone else if he did that in the field of battle to prevent our men from attacking? Why, I would have cut anyone else down, but not a priest. Priests are inviolable. Yes, priests are inviolable, but not the Aryans. Why did you call off the attack? I did not call it off. My men deserted me. But not all; some were still with you!
These were the tortuous thoughts and self-doubts whirling in the commander’s mind. All he knew now was that somehow he had to save his face against the Aryans. But the men with him were very few. So many groups had formed, each with its own thoughts and fears. Some had gone with Odin. Others remained on the edge of the forest, lost in their own doubts; some had gone their own way, wondering, wavering.
The commander feared that it was his entire fault. He had failed in his resolve at the decisive moment, charmed by Odin’s words. Now, he regretted it deeply.
He led the men with him inside the forest simply to make a show of force – enough to satisfy his superiors that he did all this despite the desertions enticed by a renegade priest.
Through a gap in the trees, the commander saw the Aryan huts. Enough if we throw fire torches and burn them, he thought.
The commander deployed his men along the line and gave orders, ‘As soon as I shout my command, aim fire-torches at the huts and then we all run to the village’
His next-in-command pleaded, ‘Don’t do that. Order the men off’
The commander flared up, ‘Why didn’t you go with that priest then?’
‘No, my duty is to follow you. But there was goodness in his words and wisdom.’
‘And there is treachery in your words’, the commander shot back. ‘Now light your torch and throw:
‘That I shall not’ the next-in-command said.
All the frustration of the past hours in the commander’s soul exploded. He waved the burning torch in his deputy’s face as if to hit him with it. They grappled for it. Somehow, the torch struck the commander’s face. The commander roared in pain. That, thought his men, far along the line, was the command to hurl their torches. They threw them and ran.
At the village, the soldiers halted. ‘Where is the commander?’ they asked. And the next-in-command also asked, ‘Where is he?’
Meanwhile, the few local soldiers who had joined Odin reached the Aryans. Gratefully, the Tungeri brothers and other Aryans welcomed them. Frigga too came out of her hut.
But suddenly then, the fire-torches began to rain on their huts. Fire struck the hut which was reserved for Odin. The nurse, who was sleeping, woke up and carried out both children, shielding them with her body. She was on fire herself. Outside, she collapsed, falling over the children. The Aryans rushed to roll her on the ground to smother the flames.
The nurse was dead.
Frigga’s voice rose ‘Let him who ordered this burning burn on earth as he will bum in hell.’
She was cursing Loki. But it was the commander who was found later, burnt to a cinder. Nobody knew that it was his next-in-command that had hit him with the torch and run away – and the burning dry grass had done the rest.
All that everyone realized was that Frigga had a powerful curse.
If Odin and Frigga’s child had a birth defect, nobody would know about it, ever. It was the blazing fire in the hut that charred his foot. Part of his leg was also seared and singed by the fire. The child was in agony; and some feared for its life. The other child, who was known as the son of the nurse, was unhurt. In the presence of all the locals and Aryans, he was there and then, adopted by Odin and Frigga as their own son.
After that one of the Tungeri brothers was always by the bedside of Odin’s child, sometimes praying, but often applying herbal extracts and compresses to the child’s blistered foot and leg. This was the least, thought the Aryans that was due to the child of Odin who had come to warn and protect them. And Odin had even brought locals to assist them.
To Odin and Frigga’s anxious inquiries if their son would live, the Tungeri brothers simply pointed heavenwards to say, ‘God’s Will shall be done.’
But suddenly, after days of vigil, in the midst of his prayers, one of the Tungeri brothers saw a half smile forming on the lips of the child. In joy, he cried out, ‘Bal Deva, Bal Deva’ (power of god; will of god).
He did not even complete his prayers. Odin and Frigga had heard his shout. In terror, they thought their child was no more. But now they watched fascinated. The child opened its eyes and smiled.
The Aryans collected and echoed the cry, ‘Bal Deva ! Bal Deva!’
Every day of the child’s agony had built up the anguish in the hearts of the Aryans. They had felt the child’s wound personally, for they felt that his family had come to protect them and the child had suffered! Now that fearful tension was no more. The child would live. They were ecstatic and each of them felt as though their own child had been spared.
Odin, Frigga and the locals would repeat ‘Bal Deva’ without comprehending it. Later, they would find out that it meant the power and will of the gods. But again, they would not fully understand it – what they thought was ‘ that the child was saved by the will and power of god’ but possibly, Aryans meant more- that the child had, within himself, god’s will and power.’
That is how, the child with his German name Baldr, would come to be known as Bal Deva, and later epics, myths, stories and fables would be woven around this child who came to be known in the mythology of Germany and Europe as ‘God Bal Deva (Balder, Baldr), son of God Odin and Goddess Frigga, at whose feet bowed all, for with one foot he put all the dwarfs to flight and took on the sorrows of the Aryans whom his father and mother had vowed to protect.’
Many locals left the Aryans, a few never to return; but others left to bring back their belongings and even their families. They came back, not only with their own families but with others too. Odin’s words of brotherhood with the Aryans – people of God – were being repeated all over.
Already, Odin had left his mark on many during his two years as a hermit. And they came, in hope, in faith and to be healed.
Chief-Priest Loki was irritated beyond endurance. There was little that he understood. Nobody could give him a coherent account. All he understood was that Odin had broken the priestly vow and was sheltered in the Aryan camp. A priest turning traitor was unheard of and unimaginable!
And soldiers deserting! Never before had this happened! And it was all due to that odious Odin. And the commander dead and burnt mysteriously! And what did the Aryans suffer? A few burnt huts. Not a single Aryan had died!
Yet Loki was glad that Odin and Frigga had not died. Let Odin live in ignominy, he thought, when he finally unmasks him.
Loki was sorry to hear that the nurse had died. He would have loved to hear her, under torture of the rack, to confess and reveal how Odin and Frigga had conspired criminally with her to hide the birth-defect of the child.
Loki had under his thumb the woman who had sold the child to the nurse. But it would have been nice, he thought, to make the nurse confess too, of this continuing crime! But maybe some thralls (slaves) freed by Odin would know. Yes and then Odin could be unmasked by his own men to add that final blow to his humiliation.
Loki issued orders, ‘let all those who were Odin’s thralls be arrested and brought here’.
As to the Aryans’ survival, Loki was not worried. It was only one insignificant contingent of his tribe that had gone against them. Now, he would send a formidable force and make sure that none of them were from Odin’s area.
There was only one cloud on Loki’s horizon. Neither he nor the Tribe-Chief could order the death of Odin. Nobody could. A priest could not be harmed. But Odin had thrown his priestly ring and burnt it in the fire! Even so, the other priests were firmly of the view that once anointed, a priest’s person was sacred. How could other priests lose for themselves this privilege that separated them from all the rest! Well, let Odin live! In shame and humiliation, unmasked and scorned!
Frigga must die, decided Loki. Her son must die. Odin will hold no ring so he cannot participate in public prayers or sacrifice. Yes, let him live! – A living death it will be.
Loki was not the only one shocked by Odin’s conduct. There was consternation among all the priests, the Council of thirty-nine, and the Tribe-Chief. The Aryans had to be wiped out. They were the emissaries of the devil to so tempt a priest.
Loki demanded a large army, under his direct orders. So be it, said everyone.
But something happened to bring everything to a standstill. The Tribe-Chief died. Many agreed that he was old, ailing, and overdue for death. But there were some who said it was Frigga’s curse that did it.
The Council of thirty-nine met. This was no time to make waves, with one priest, a traitor; an alien Aryan gang of robbers at their doorstep; and desertions in their midst. Quickly, in keeping with tradition, the decision was taken to approve Chief-Priest Loki as the Tribe-Chief.
Ceremonies intervened. Those were more important to Loki than any attack against the Aryans. Retribution against Odin could wait. Strictly, it wasn’t even necessary, any more, as Loki had kept the unmasking of Odin in reserve, to use it only if anyone opposed him as Tribe-Chief. But even though this high honor and position was now his, he still had the burning desire to make Odin suffer.
Even the rounding up of the ex-thralls of Odin went slowly, as so many ceremonies intervened. And with this delay, the news among the thralls spread. Some were caught but others fled to the Aryan camp. Those that were caught would not admit, even under ‘harsh’ questioning, that they had seen Odin’s child with a birth-defect. Quite apart from their sense of loyalty to their ex-Master Odin, who had freed them with gifts ad respect, the fact is that the thralls knew nothing of the birth-defect of the child.
The thralls were paraded before the ‘mother’ from whom the nurse had bought the baby. Loki hoped that she would recognize the two men who were with the nurse when she came to buy the baby. She could not.
The thirty-nine days of ceremonies of the anointment of the Tribe Chief were over. A formidable army was being assembled to attack the Aryans. But from Odin’s area too, locals were trickling to the Aryan camp to be with their mentor. Loki was not bothered. Good; let all the traitors congregate at a single place to be annihilated with one stroke.
But before a victory of arms, Loki wanted a moral victory – to raise the righteous indignation of his tribe against the criminal conduct of Priest Odin. Frigga was his cousin; therefore Odin, a sort of brother-in-law; but he wanted to let the tribe know that he was of the incorruptible mould of Thor who had denounced his own brother-in-law for the good of the tribe.
To the shocked audience of Priests, Council and others, he announced the charge against Odin, of criminally hiding the birth-defect of his son. He could not say that he knew this all along, for to hide another’s crime was as bad as being a criminal yourself. No, he claimed, he had obtained the evidence only now.
The tribe-criers, with a drum-beat, went around everywhere to repeat Loki’s speech throughout the tribe; and every charge against Odin was catalogued. It was not surprising, that in Odin’s area, two of the tribe-criers were beaten with their drums tied to their backs, ‘So that you will always know that your god is in front of you and your backside behind you.’
After his masterly speech, Tribe-chief Loki ceremoniously ordered Odin’s effigy to be hanged. He was doing what the illustrious founder of the race had done. The priest was inviolable; but not his effigy. It was supposed to warn the priest of public scorn and suggest to him to do to himself what was done to his effigy.
But it all backfired, terribly. The illustrious founder of the race may have done that. But Loki was not the founder of the race. Nor was he regarded as illustrious, yet. The priests were hurt. True, many were angry with Odin, but they had all pleaded that he should not be harmed. Yet Loki was doing it from the backdoor- by hanging his effigy to suggest to Odin that he kill himself.
The Council of thirty-nine was annoyed. None of them really liked or admired Loki. They knew he was power-hungry. They knew his intrigue against his own pious uncle (Frigga’s father) to jockey himself into the position of Chief-Priest. Prior to that even, there was much that was not honest in his conduct as a priest. If only Odin had not taken the awesome step of deserting to an alien gang, he would have been considered for the position of Tribe-Chief. If only the exceptional disorder of many desertions had not occurred, they could have considered another priest. And now, Loki was making wild accusations and even hanging Odin’s effigy! Not that what Odin did was right, but they were upset about the division and dissention in the tribe! And besides what proof did Loki have?
But proof Loki had. Or did he? The nurse was no more. Odin’s former thralls were uncooperative. But he still had the ‘mother’ whose baby was taken by the nurse.
But he found that he no longer had the ‘mother’ of the baby, either.
The ex-thralls of Odin, paraded before the ‘mother’ of the baby, did not know what it was all about. Nor did they even know why they were being questioned so brutally under the orders of the Tribe-Chief himself. They, along with their newly acquired wives and children, were kept in custody and all were subjected to harsh treatment to make them confess. They simply saw a minor official brutalizing them and then parading them before a woman who was the wife of the Chief-Priest’s servant. So that meant that she was the one responsible, thought the thralls.
One ex-thrall escaped harsh questioning by blurting out that the nurse never went about her business with the thralls, but was always with her foster-brothers, cousins and uncles who resided in a distant settlement. The ‘mother’ and her husband went quickly with the thrall to that settlement, to see if she could identify anyone. But the husband and wife never returned. Nobody knows what happened to them. A poet says, ‘Maybe an accident, for pious was this ex-thrall and would never take a human life to benefit himself.’ But another poet says, ‘True, true, never would he take a human life, but they that followed Loki were reptiles, and not human… This “mother” and her husband hungered not for their child but simply wanted to serve Loki. What kind of a mother was she! And who spoke of a thrall’s benefit to himself, when he had a god (Odin) to serve!’
There were six in the Council of thirty-nine who felt personally affected. They distanced themselves from Odin’s association with the alien Aryans but they were perturbed by the Tribe-Chief s announcement, that ‘I shall not violate a priest’s person, but those that consorted with Odin, at any time, shall meet a cruel fate.’ Actually, Loki meant Frigga, her child, the child masquerading as her child, and the locals who were now in the Aryan camp. But his statement was far too sweeping. There were six who were known to have supported Odin as Tribe-Chief, prior to his desertion. Then there were two others, whose daughters were cured by Odin’s blessing while he was a hermit. ‘Are we the targets too?’- They asked themselves. The fact is that the inviolability of priests did not apply to the Council of thirty-nine.
But there were objective voices too in the Council. And openly, they demanded of Loki: ‘What proof do you have?’ ‘Proof!’ Loki sneered. He asked that the mother of the child, from whom the nurse bought the child, be brought before the Council.
But the mother could not be found. He was told that she went to a distant village a few days ago ‘under your orders’ and had not returned. ‘No problem: he said. ‘She will be back soon. And then you will know all.’
Thus Loki raised their expectations.
Meanwhile, he regaled them with the story of how Odin’s child was born with a birth defect. How Odin had hidden that fact and had pretended to be a hermit; meanwhile, his nurse had bought a baby, whose mother would come to tell the story; that the baby was shown to everyone while the defective baby was hidden; and finally, that Odin, finding that he was to be unmasked, had rushed off to hide with the gang of robbers and thieves who called themselves the Aryans. ‘Yes, you will have the proof. The mother of the baby bought by the nurse shall come to tell you the truth.’ They waited – some agog with excitement, others in sorrow.
The news reached almost everyone in the tribe. People came in droves to hear the testimony of the ‘mother.’ But days passed. The witness was nowhere to be found. Some said that she was dead; others said that she was in the Aryan camp. But many laughed-‘She never existed, except in the small brain of great Loki. Or if she existed, she spoke the truth. So Loki made her disappear.’
There were serious poems though that severely criticized Loki and one spoke crudely to say that Loki’s story originated from ‘maggots in the inside flesh of Loki’s brain.’ This was the first time that a Tribe-Chief was so dishonored by a poet. The previous practice had been either to sing the praise of the Tribe-Chief or say nothing at all.
Loki’s emergence, therefore, did bring about a new art in German poetry – Ridicule and criticism of the master of the tribe – unknown and unheard of before.
There was much that angered people. Loki’s reliance on ‘dead’ witnesses like the nurse, the ‘missing witnesses’ like the mother and her husband, may have been forgiven. But no one could forgive his crude and obviously false charge against a poor child, whose foot was burnt in a blazing fire and who was even now hovering between life and death. How dare he call this present injury a birth-defect! One may as well castigate a soldier who loses a leg in battle and call it a birth-defect! And then the malicious charge that Odin went into self-imposed exile to hide the child’s defect angered them. Here was a saintly, godly man who loved and blessed all – healed many.
And Frigga! How could Loki accuse Frigga! She, who shed tears whenever anyone was troubled, hurt or dead, she that came with grieving heart, weeping for others! She that brought gifts and aid to the needy! Did ever any other priest’s wife do that? No, the priests took; they never gave. And Frigga’s father! What a saintly soul he had been!
The blow to Loki’s prestige also came from people’s suspicions. If Loki could fabricate such crude and wild charges against Odin, Frigga and the child, could it be that somehow, Loki had also conspired to force Odin to join the alien tribe of the Aryans! What could he have done to achieve that? But then – Were there limits to Loki’s duplicity and subterfuge?
Or was it. .. Was it that these new people … were really and truly a tribe of God! Maybe that was why Odin was drawn to them.
But more was yet to come! Suddenly, the news spread like wild fire that Odin’s child lived … and had the power and will of God – Bal Deva. Who says so, they asked. Has the oracle of Thor spoken? No, it is the voice of gods above Thor! How do you stop superstition from galloping forward?
The trickle to the Aryan camp grew.
Then there were those whose babies were strangled because of birth defects. Tears came to them, anew, in memory of those they had lost. Whether they believed or disbelieved the story – that Odin’s child was born with a birth defect – no longer mattered. The fact was that Loki had charged him with that accusation. Odin’s effigy was hanged. Frigga, his wife, and Bal Deva, his child, were threatened with a sentence of death. Their hearts went out to Odin. And they cried, ‘He who fights against Odin aims his dagger at us”
Odin’s ex-thralls had fled to the Aryan camp for sanctuary. They were being hunted to give evidence against Odin’s child. They sought safety and were ready to be Odin’s thralls again. But by now Odin had learnt enough of the Aryans to understand that one could not be an Aryan and yet hold a slave. And he asked his ex-thralls, 1f you were ready to live with me as my thralls, will you not live with me as my brothers?’ And again, the news spread that the thralls lived there as the brothers of Priest Odin and all Aryans! Equality with a priest! With the Aryans! And they called these good people robbers and thieves! Who could then blame the thralls if they escaped to hide with the Aryans!
Even those that lost their thralls wondered-what kind of a new Tribe-Chief has we! All these disturbances and even the thralls vanishing. It had never happened before. What ill-wind had this Tribe Chief brought?
But it was the emergence of the new god, Bal Deva that stirred the poets.
And the poets sang of Priest Odin – the godly; of Frigga – the weeping goddess; and Bal Deva-who had the power of the gods that soar above Thor. The poets were certain that the people would accept their every word.
True, the people at times accepted much of what poets said, but they were bewildered too. One could hardly blame them. They did not live in the television age where the attention span over any news item lasted a few hours, if not minutes. For them, anything new had to be discussed, debated, re-discussed and re-debated, with everyone having expressed and reiterated his or her view. But when the news and songs came with such startling rapidity there was a breathless wonder.
Certainly, the people were bewildered. Loki was not. He had sense enough to realize that somehow his arrows against Odin had missed their mark. And nothing is so galling to a Tribe-Chief who meets with ridicule and criticism from the poets. He deeply regretted the loss of age-old values. Thor would promptly have roasted such criminal poets alive. Even those Tribe-Chiefs that followed Thor!
Could anyone even imagine such blasphemous utterances against the Tribe-Chief! The law was clear. He who offends against the dignity of the Tribe-Chief offends the entire tribe and it was the duty of everyone to report such criminals.
The time for reckoning would come – Loki was certain. Meanwhile, the Aryan camp had to be attacked. Once the Aryans were wiped out, the tribe, he thought, would kiss his hands. Their boats, their gold, even their women would belong to him. And he would keep nothing. He would give it all to the tribe. They would then wallow in the memory of their ingratitude, and repent.
Loki’s mind was made up. He gave his orders. A formidable force was ready to march against the Aryans.
The poets were wrong. In their overweening vanity they had thought that Loki would not be able to raise a great force. But, obviously, the poets had misunderstood the temperament of their own soldiers.
To the German soldier, orders were orders – and if the lawful authority gave those orders, all questions ceased.
In Loki’s words to the soldiers and commanders, there was a touch of piety. He said, ‘See that no harm comes to Priest Odin or his family. In my view, he is simply misguided and I long to hold him in my embrace. Show no mercy to the men among the Aryans but spare their women and their property. If any of our men are with the Aryans, deal with them gently; be assured, they are the prisoners of the Aryans. These Aryan robbers must be wiped out. For the rest, mercy is our mission.’
The army moved. The poets were aghast; the people, surprised; many were shocked. And some in the tribe accosted the commander and soldiers, There are our people too with the Aryans. You move against them!’
But the commander was clear, ‘No, we shall not harm our people. We go to destroy the robbers and thieves- the Aryans’. ‘But they are men of God!’ said many.
The commander laughed. Nervously, many soldiers joined in the laughter. Sometimes though, the commander said, ‘Everyone is a man of god – even thieves and robbers. We will kill them only to send them quickly to their god. Their god itself we will leave to Thor to destroy.’ ‘But their God is higher than Thor!’
‘Really! Who is he?’ asked the commander.
‘Bal Deva’ , said some.
‘Well he may be higher than Thor, but then here I stand; and my arrow can pierce a bird that flies higher:
‘You do not understand, Lord-commander. He is BaI Deva, the son of Lord-Priest Odin!’
‘Oh Odin’s son! Two years old!’ Said the commander. ‘And you expect Thor to fear a two-year-old! Thor! He that destroyed the devils of the nether world with one wave of his hand! He that conquered giants, dwarfs and the demons of chaos and brought order, so that all the gods came to touch his feet in humility, wonder, awe and reverence!’ But often the commander said not a word. His booming laughter or his contemptuous sneer said it all.
Yet, the soldiers felt there was something missing, something lost. Whenever in the past they had marched to do battle, there had been applause, waving, laughter, with men cheering, children waving and women blowing kisses. Why this sullenness now, wondered the soldiers, but in their hearts they too knew the answer.
Their most cheerless time came when they passed through the area near which Odin had resided as a hermit – and in a mournful tune, a poet sang ‘Our bravest go out to kill the best;
Gods to kill, Gods to waste; Oh make haste … make haste!
The commander stopped. He hit the poet. The people with the poet helped him up; but his eight-year-old daughter ran and asked a soldier on the march, ‘Why did you hit my father?’
The soldier stopped and the march of the soldiers behind him halted. ‘No, little one, I did not hit him. The commander hit him’
But the girl asked, ‘Why did you allow him to hit my father?’ The soldier smiled. ‘We don’t allow the commander. He is the one who orders us’
The commander tuned back, unhappy that the soldiers at the back had stopped. ‘You are a beast, a beast’, the girl shouted at him.
The commander was angry and raised his hand, as if to hit the girl. The soldier shielded the girl. ‘No commander, no’ said the soldier. ‘She is a child’
The commander glared. ‘I was not going to hit her. I was just trying to frighten her’.
‘It is not good to frighten children’, the soldier replied.
The commander glared at the soldier. The soldier did not lower his eyes. Perhaps, he had an eight-year-old girl himself. Or perhaps he understood the anguish of the girl. Or perhaps, he was no longer proud to be a part of the mission. Yet the commander knew that this was a soldier who loved discipline and respected authority. ‘Start marching!’ the commander barked.
He waited for the soldiers to reform their lines. The girl cried out to the passers-by, ‘The commander hit my father’ ‘Why?’ asked some.
‘Because this commander is a beast, a beast’, the girl shouted, unafraid.
Silently, the commander went to take his position in front.
They would hear the curse again, ‘Beast! Beast!’ as they passed. The commander shrugged his shoulders, unconcerned – let the dogs bark. But there was hurt in the hearts of the soldiers. Were they being driven to a heartless mission?
Never before had the soldiers seen any difference or distance between themselves and the people. Their hearts were always in unison. Why then this gulf, now? They marched, but no longer with pride.
The soldiers’ destination was the Black Forest which was not too far off. The commander decided, they would take rest near the forest. It was best to remain away from the inhospitable, cheerless ‘Odin’ area, where the villagers had neither grace, nor sense, nor manners.
In front of the Black Forest, Loki’s army rested. It was a mistake to give such a clear notice of their arrival to the Aryans. But the Aryans themselves were not keeping watch. They were far behind, deep in the forest. The frontline defense was taken over by the locals.
In fact Odin was surprised at first to see what the Aryans were doing. All boat-building activity had stopped. Every moment of their time was devoted to defensive works – digging trenches, building walls, felling trees. This, thought Odin, was not the way to fight.
In Odin’s tribes, the opposing armies faced each other openly with lances, daggers, swords and shields; charge, counter-charge, regroup, charge. True, many hid behind the cover of trees to aim their arrows, but there never was as much effort to conceal them as the Aryans were engaged in. It was only after a defeat that the soldiers made an effort to hide themselves in pits, under boulders and elsewhere, to avoid being caught for human sacrifice; but that came later and no one started with the idea of hiding and running.
But then, thought Odin, his own tribe was not fighting along its traditional lines. These Aryans were being treated as robbers. They were very few, while the resources of his tribe were inexhaustible. No wonder, then, that the Aryans were preparing their places of hiding. But could they really hide, he wondered.
Odin knew that his tribe would attack suddenly, without notice or warning. His scouts were already in position. But then the commander’s decision to march right up to the approaches of the Black Forest and rest his tired troops there made Odin’s task easier.
Odin’s army of locals was hidden behind the shelter of trees at the outer fringe of the forest. Their bows and arrows were ready. Their hearts were not – should they fight their own tribe?
Loki’s army moved towards the forest. Odin ordered his men to come out of cover; they massed behind him. The two armies gazed at each other across the distance – away from the range of arrows and lances. Odin ordered his men to stop where they were, out in the open, neither to move, nor to strike. What was in his mind! That Loki’s army be the first to strike?
Odin went forward alone, with slow steps, towards the opposing army. What did he hope for? Did he expect a ‘repeat’ of his last performance when the miserable little contingent simply evaporated, and even its commander died mysteriously! These were not the troops from his own area; these were disciplined soldiers, picked up from remote parts where Priest Odin’s name was heard, even respected, but not worshipped.
Odin was well within their arrow-range. He moved on. He was now even within the range of a lance-throw.
‘Stop!’ shouted the commander. ‘Or else you will die like the dog that you are.’ The commander had no intention of letting Odin come too near. He knew what had happened on the last occasion – that Odin had cast a seditious spell on the troops to make them desert their commander, who now lay burnt and dead. Odin stopped.
The commander shouted, ‘Tell the men of your tribe to throw down their arms and surrender. They will not be harmed. We are only after the Aryan robbers.’
‘They are not robbers,’ Odin replied. ‘Your men will have to kill us all – your own people, your very own – we, who are your flesh and blood – before you reach the Aryans. I beg you…. ‘
Odin did not finish. This was precisely the kind of talk that the commander wanted to avoid.
The commander threw his lance, straight and direct, at Odin. He was the most accomplished lance-thrower within the tribe and he aimed at Odin’s mouth, from which the words of sedition were flowing Odin fell.
The soldiers were shocked. To kill a priest! That too during parleys! When he was unarmed! Some could even recall Loki’s words at the last salute when the army departed, ‘No harm must come to Odin; he is simply misguided and I long to hold him in my embrace …. ‘ And yet their commander killed a priest- a priest, inviolable, innocent, unarmed, un-threatening! But the soldiers did not know what the commander had been quietly told by the Tribe-Chief.
A cry of anguish rose from defenders of the forest. No one ordered them. Yet, it seems that with one will they rushed-not at the opposing army but to the fallen Odin.
The commander’s arrows sped at them. Some fell. But still they rushed. Then came the arrows from the soldiers in a quick volley – as the soldiers thought that it was a rush at them. But it was not. The soldiers had seen men running towards them wildly and their instinct of self-preservation had taken over.
But the locals from the forest were all only rushing to reach Odin’s fallen body. No one thought of hitting the enemy or protecting the Aryans or themselves. All that was erased from their minds. They had but one thought – to reach Odin.
All of them had thrown away their shields, their bows and arrows.
Most of them had only their weapons strapped to their bodies, like daggers and short swords. But they came, now, not to fight but to mourn Odin. And many fell on the way – victims to the unthinking arrows of the soldiers.
They ignored the soldiers, ignored the arrows and simply stood around Odin, while a few of them lifted Odin’s body.
The Soldiers stopped their arrows. Now they knew – some even with a terrible pang in their hearts – which their commander had killed an innocent, unarmed Priest; and they had killed those of their own tribe, that came only to mourn their priest and pick up his fallen body.
They were German soldiers – proud of their honor, gallantry and courage. And a later poet would even sing, melodramatically, that in the dead bodies of the innocent that their arrows killed, they saw not the corpses of men, but the corpses of their own honor and gallantry.
Odin’s body was picked up by his men. Silently, mournfully, they started to move back towards the forest. None of them even looked at the soldiers.
But it was the commander who demanded attention. He had no intention of letting all these men go into the forest. He gestured to the four who carried Odin’s body to proceed to the forest. Yes, he thought, let Odin’s dead body be in the depths of the forest, lest it lead to a furor here. The rest, he ordered, must remain here. He wanted no fighters against himself-and now that these fools had rushed there, he wanted them to go nowhere else.
The four carrying Odin’s body proceeded to the forest. A few more followed them. The rest stood, uncertain, listless, as though all will had left them.
The commander shot his arrows at those who were following the four, carrying Odin. One fell. Then another. But the commander gave up. There were not more than ten in any case–why worry!
He turned to the many standing around like lost children, looking towards the few who were proceeding to the forest. He raised his hand and shouted, ‘if any of you tries to leave, he will die like a dog’
It was an ex-thrall of Odin. He saw the commander’s raised hand. Maybe he did not even hear what the commander said. He mumbled something – a prayer- a vow! A curse– a cry from the heart!
What did you say: asked the commander, ready to strike if the man had said something unpleasant and ready to reward, if he had sworn loyalty.
Again, the poet says, the thrall did not hear the words. His eyes were riveted on the commander’s hand that held another lance. All else had disappeared from his view. Yes, this was the hand that threw the lance at his master-mentor Odin. The thrall jumped at the commander. The lance went through the thrall’s shoulder; but the thrall’s dagger went pounding again and again into the commander.
The thrall, with a lance cutting right through his shoulder, still had the will to keep striking the commander. Both of them died–‘the thrall gallantly, the commander foolishly, for he came too near, believing he was facing men whose blood had run cold and who knew not where to turn after their master, Odin, had fallen.’
With his dying breath, the commander’s last words were, ‘Kill them, kill them … kill all. .. Kill …’
His soldiers did not hear those dying words. Only Odin’s men did. There would later even be a controversy as to whether it was the thrall who uttered those words or the commander. Most of Odin’s men ran towards the forest, fearing that the soldiers would shoot their arrows at them. But the soldiers did not. Some would criticize the soldiers later- ‘what cowards these, that intervened not, to save their commander.’ But the fact is they could not have saved the commander, whose supreme self-confidence in his invulnerability had made him go too near men he thought had lost their will and spirit. In any case, the tussle between the thrall and the commander took a split second, though poems about them would take hours, if not days to recite.
Yet later, some of the soldiers refuted the charge of cowardice and, quoting the poets, said that they had been led by a coward. And went on detailing the horrendous crimes of the commander, who had hit a poet, was ready to hit his eight-year old-daughter, and finally killed a priest ‘unarmed, godly, and residing with men of god.’
The fantasies and contradictions of poets aside, it was clear that most of Odin’s men rushed back to the forest. Still many stood by, fascinated by the struggle between the thrall and the commander. When that ended in the death of both, they still stood by, dazed.
The German army is never without a commander. Instantly, on his death, the commander’s deputy took over command. At his order, the soldiers now moved ominously towards the many men of Odin, standing by listlessly. Others, ceremoniously, picked up the fallen commander’s body.
But why did these men of Odin not run! Were they afraid that arrows and lances would fly after them if they ran? But others had run and they were unharmed. Nobody is able to explain.
The soldiers came face to face with the immobile force. They were wary, for they realized what had happened to the commander when he thought that these supine creatures had no will to fight.
‘Throw down your weapons’, the new commander ordered. But most of them had no arms. A few had daggers in their belts. They threw them on the ground.
‘Kill us, Brother’ said Hansa, an old man amongst them.
‘Why would I kill you?’ asked the new commander.
‘You killed our Odin, the best, the bravest, the noblest among us’ , Hansa lamented.
I did not kill him but perhaps he had to die’.
The old man’s eyes met the commander’s and he said, as though pronouncing a judgment, ‘You killed him’, and then he looked at the soldiers, and said, ‘you all killed him, each one of you’ ‘You would not speak so much if this lance went through your stupid mouth’, said the commander.
‘I would not then speak; but you will know, all the same, always, that you killed him, you all killed him.’ He straightened himself, ‘Come, and let your lance strike!’
But the new commander had no wish to strike the unarmed old man. Kindly, he said, ‘Brother, we come not to kill our brothers. I am sorry about Priest Odin’
The old man was pitiless, ‘Yet you killed him. All of you’
Even the soldiers’ eyes were downcast. They had a feeling now that they were all a party to the crime of their commander.
The new commander spoke, ‘Please understand; we have nothing against you. You are our people. We are after the robber Aryans there.’
‘We are all Aryans. There are no robbers here. It is Loki, the robber, who sends you to rob’
The commander’s hand gripped his lance. But he controlled himself. ‘Move over’ he ordered, ‘all of you and remain here. Do not try to go to the forest’.
‘Where will you go, Brother?’ The old man asked.
‘We will go to the forest and bring those Aryans out?’
‘Then you must kill us before you go. We shall not let you go’, said the old man.
The man was mad, the commander was convinced. ‘Move, old man, move,’ he said gently.
But the old man stood there. With the back of his hand, the commander hit the old man in an attempt to move him away. The old man fell. None of Odin’s men helped the old man to rise. But they all stood, resolutely, to block the commander.
‘Do you all really, truly want to die?’ the commander asked. He himself put out his hand to help the old man to rise, but the old man cried, ‘Do not, do not give me your hand, Brother. It is red with my master’s blood!’
The commander turned away, purple with rage. He looked at his soldiers. ‘Move them and hit any that oppose.’
His soldiers stood. Passive. None of them moved. None of them attempted to move.
Again the poet intervenes to tell us – they were the flowers of the tribe’s soldiery; they had never disobeyed the order of their commanders. They would leap to their death and destruction, kills and is killed, but would never question the command of a superior. Yet there they stood – their mind solely on a single question – had they killed Priest Odin?
The soldiers’ gaze went to the forest. Bodies were lying everywhere. Those were the men that they had hit when Odin fell. Cautiously, men were coming from out of the forest to pick up their bodies. Yes, thought the soldiers, we were responsible for their deaths.
Without orders, the soldiers moved sideways. Some moved back.
They could, easily and effortlessly, have broken through Odin’s men, unarmed and non-violent as they were.
The new commander was in a quandary – where do I go from here! The target, he knew, was the forest. There lay the enemy who was to be wiped out.
But he looked at his men, perhaps he looked into his own heart and he realized his army had lost its spirit. That spirit, he knew, as an intangible, mysterious force – the morale that moved men to give their last breath to achieve something without counting the cost to themselves – something which made men feel that they were doing something bigger and nobler than them. But now he felt drained and he knew that his men were drained.
He pointed to a spot at the back and quietly ordered, ‘We camp here.’
Many said later that it was a mistake. He should have rushed into the forest. As it is, all the locals in the forest who had joined the Aryan cause were demoralized and in dire distress over Odin’s condition. The commander would have had a walk-over. The Aryans themselves were shaken.
The Tungeris clustered around Odin’s prostrate body, tending to him. Fortunately, the commander’s lance had not smashed his face. Odin had turned his face when the lance crashed into him. It had cut deep into the side of his face. He had lost one eye irretrievably. But would he lose his life? It seemed so.
There was a wound in every Aryan’s heart. The first attack had burnt Odin’s son. His nurse had died. Now Odin lay at death’s door. By all counts, over sixty of them had been killed by soldiers outside the forest – all of them locals, all those who had followed Odin.
Yet the commander remained camped outside, when he could have walked in and crushed all resistance. They said he was his own enemy.
Spectators watched from a distant village. They could not tell that it was Odin who fell. When they saw the army camped, cautiously, curiously, they came. They went back with the heart-broken lament that Odin had fallen.
Four hours later, men, women and children came from the village -all heading towards the forest. But that was only the beginning. Hour by hour, others followed. They were all going there to pay their respects to Odin and be with those whom Odin sought to protect.
The commander and his soldiers saw these endless processions. They could have prevented them. They could have demanded that everyone turn back, there and then, peacefully, to their villages. But could they really have done that? Perhaps not, when they could not even stand the resoluteness of one, single, unarmed, old, frail man.
Dusk was falling. More and more villagers were still going into the forest, making a long detour, to avoid a collision with the army.
But the new commander did not have the heart to stop the flow. It was his own deputy that came to his help, ‘How many of our own people will we have to kill when we move into the forest? What glory will there be in that victory?’
‘Glory! There never will be glory, never any honor…. We lost that when Priest Odin was struck. Why we did that – I will never understand’, said the new commander