Wulfric and the Snow Elf, V. II


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II. The Hunt
(In which Ysgramor climbs the mountain and slays an ice wraith)

Hundred steep steps up High Hrothgar
Hundred steep steps to the Pole Star
Sneaking skeevers soon were spotted
From his hands death found the skeevers
From their hides he made a belt-pouch
Bone-gnawers suited only weavers
Flesh too foul for any cheek-pouch
Bones too weak to sew a surcoat
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Cast their bones up from the world-throat

Hundred steep steps up High Hrothgar
Hundred steep steps to the Pole Star
Starving wolves of silent winter
Sought to make a slow meal of him
From their flayed skulls he forged pauldrons
Strong bones tested and then flesh-trimmed
Flesh too foul for any stew-pot
From the skins he sewed a surcoat
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Cast their flesh up from the world-throat

Hundred steep steps up High Hrothgar
Hundred steep steps to the Pole Star
Bristled boars bellowed before him
He swift-swallowed every bellow
Tore the tusk-boars limb from limp-limb
From their fat he forged fine tallow
Swineflesh filled up to his bowls’ brim
Left he only grunting small shoats
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Cast their voices from the world-throat

Hundred steep steps up High Hrothgar
Hundred steep steps to the Pole Star
Slunk a sword-cat in the shadows
To these shadows once he shouted
Smacked the tall-teeth on the short nose
Fled so fast its fur did flee it
From the fur he forged a fetish
Least-beasts flee from bloody hunt-boast
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Scared the fur-tail from the world-throat

Hundred steep steps in fine raiment
Still below the starry summit
And he himself, wise Ysgramor
Took in hand the sturdy Ysgrit
Readied he the mighty missile
Smelled the wind and started hunting
Sought the glint of tell-tale crystal
Sought the signs of ice-wraith haunting
Saw no sky-tears day-break, night-bode
Nor from pale-pass to the hork-road

Legs slight sore from world-throat stepping
Wise Ysgramor turns nose northward
He in silence sought Shor’s blessing
Asked the north wind which way forward
And the north wind did give answer
Sixty stone-throws and he smelled one
Sixty more saw sky-blue amber
Glinting, glinting under cold sun
Here at last the home of ice-wraiths
Here in plain sight they lay hidden

Readied Ysgrit in his strong hands
Aimed and arched to ice-wraith’s absence
Shouted he the words that shatter
Pierced at once the ice-wraith’s sky-heart
Journey rough but brief of battle
Any man of worth could do this
Wise Ysgramor threw the Falmer’s
Foolish piss-fight in their faces
Stood alone atop the world-throat
Took he all its stars and secrets

Ysgramor:
“So say I from this day forward
Every man must test his courage
Fight and slay the dire ice-wraith
Or all men may call him coward
Lands and titles shall be taken
Names and deeds shall not be spoken
This, the fate of all who fail me
I, Ysgramor, word unbroken”

Out of snow-drifts rose the Stranger
Up from ice-claws, king of Falmer
Gave his word to king of Atmor
Falmer, Atmor, both shall live here
Dragon-hearted in the pastures
Fire-hearted under snow-stars
King of Falmer made this wager
Bound his people and their nature
Until love-hate cleaves the neighbors
Until birth of spark-thief half-mer
Translator’s Note: The meter in the original is significantly different in this section in the earliest versions, and it is mostly unrhymed. The reason for this is unknown, although this section contains grammatical elements which indicate it may have been written earlier than the rest of the epic.

The penultimate verse is obviously a later addition and the ultimate verse a very late addition, but I have left them in place as they are among the most beautiful. I wish I could do them justice.

It is not clear what an “ice wraith” is. Although some scholars believe it is a mere wispmother, no modern creatures match the descriptions here and elsewhere. It is also unclear what the signs (tell-tale crystal, blue amber, etc) might refer to.

Another mystery is why the poem refers to High Hrothgar, even though the monastery was not built until long after the return. Perhaps the monastery was named after an older name of the mountain.

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