Hermod had ridden hard to Eljudnir, in hopes that Baldur might be ransomed from death. Modgud had not hindered him, asking only his name and origin before permitting him passage; but now the iron gates rose high before him, imparting a profound foreboding that he could not shake. He should not be here; this place was for the dead.

He also knew that he could not turn back. Baldur, the purest of heart, the kindest of all the gods, was unjustly imprisoned within. Hermod spurred Sleipnir, the grey eight-legged horse of Odin who alone could bear his rider to Niflheim and back, who could gallop on water and outrace the wind; and with a swift leap, they were over the iron gate, surrounded on every side by the numberless dead.

He did not speak to them, so they could not speak to him, only crowd close with their decayed grimaces of hatred, of sorrow, of agony, of resignation. Distantly, he could see his brother Baldur, white-clad and solitary upon a high seat; and this is where he kept his gaze, until night fell and the city's grim ruler emerged from Sick Bed to entertain her visitor.

He told her of Loki's treachery, of the mistletoe that had been passed over when all things had given their word not to harm Baldur, of blind Hod who had been his instrument. He told her of the burial-at-sea, and of the weeping that had overtaken Asgard. He begged her to return what she had been given.

"It could be done," she said, "if he were so universally loved as that. But I have my doubts. Will all people, all things, all of the nine worlds weep for him who was lost? Do all regret this murder? If so, let it be proven. I will watch from behind Glimmering Misfortune, my bed-hangings, for their tears."

After Hermod's return, the Aesir's messengers searched every corner of the worlds, coaxing tears from fire, from stone, from illnesses, from death itself! But one giantess, one mean-mannered, cruel and ugly giantess, would not weep. "What use have I of Baldur? He's done me no kindness. May he stay among the dead 'til Ragnarok."

And so it was.


A Magnificent Apple Tree