Featured image art “Queen of the realm” by hannah.digiart (@HDigiart)
The river waters, roaring, roaring east, wash away the legends bygone.
Success and defeat, and right and wrong, become empty at the turn of a head.
The green mountains still are, under so many crimson evening suns.
The white-haired angler and woodcutter are used to watching the autumn moon and spring wind.
On an isle in the river, they meet happily, over a pot of cloudy alcohol.
So many things past and present, enter the flow of mirthful conversation.*
There comes a hooded one, a rod within his hand,
Under the chariot sun, upon a reeded bank,
Whereby a river runs, east through a foreign land.
There sits upon a rock, waving a tattered fan,
Hair frazzled and frame gaunt, wearing a broken hat,
Chirping a cheery song, an old dishevelled man.
The old one hears the foot, the old one sees the hood.
Did not the great sage ask before: to have a friend from faraway come, is that not joy?’
‘It is good to see you, my friend.’
‘And I barely see you. Take off your hood – is it not hot under this arid heat?’
Grímir removes his hood, and under his long silver hair, a single eye smiles out.
‘Come, try this rice wine. It is phenomenal, I tell you.’ The old one offers him a gourd.
‘You speak my language too well, Jigong. For you, I bring this mead.’ The one-eyed one offers a horn.
They toast the sun and moon; they toast heaven and earth;
The mist which shrouds the gloomy underworld;
The darkness wherefrom sprang the universe.
‘Well then, what news, what news?’ the old one presses eagerly.
‘Much, much! Have I told you about that young Northwayian queen, and about her sister, how ice is hers to use?’
‘Ah, yes, I remember. The blessing of a spirit, yes? And she’s in the forest up north, to keep the lights in check?’
‘Indeed, that is the one.’
‘Are they well?’
‘So why do you bring them up?’
‘I have heard rumour that they went over to your land. Those I watch over have sailed far, but never yet that far!’
‘Ah, so that was them, holing up at the palace. But you know nobody in the palace ever invokes me. But also there was a ship from Sunrise that headed your way, yes?’
‘Quite so. They came, in fact, to our young queen.’
‘What a coincidence!’
‘Well, when you defeat the one of the largest countries in the world, people tend to look for you.’
‘Not that I would know. I’m a Buddhist, I don’t kill things.’
‘You eat meat, you crazy monk, you!’
‘Ah,’ the old drunk smiles mischievously, ‘I still don’t kill the meat. Much unlike you, O Fimbultyr.’
‘I know, I know. I jest!’
They speak of yet more things, great many things, of the sand, to the ocean, of the grass to the mountains.
‘Say, Jigong, why did you ask to meet here?’
‘I am told by those before me that the people who once lived here had no weapons and no warfare. It resonates with me.’
‘Ah…Those before me only knew of the ruins of that warless people. It is a shame they are lost now – even if I will say they had it coming.’
‘That is quite like you, Grímnir. How do you judge the signs?’
‘Poorly! There is nothing but chaos. Loki caused an island to sink into the sea but 3 decades ago, and now chaos reigns. There is war everywhere – Valhall and Folkvangr are stuffed.’
‘Don’t you know that spell?
That I know the eighth, which is for all good to grasp: wherever hatred grows among heroes’ sons, I may briskly better it.’
‘This is beyond that, Jigong. The World Serpent and the Chainbreaker are readying themselves. I feel it.’
‘And over on my side the phases are out of order. There is too much Metal everywhere, and thus there is also too much Water. Is not our young Northlight Guardian also gifted the aspect of Water into her mortal form?’
‘I suppose she is. The water nixies do not like her much, though the fire spirits, for some reason, quite enjoy her company.’
‘This disorder almost makes you want to just hop out of Earth and over to the moon and take a vacation, no?’
‘And perhaps ask Lady Moon for some of that elixir, haha! This beard of mine isn’t getting any darker.’
‘That old thing? Ha! Some renegade princess from the moon brought it down to earth as a farewell gift for Sunrise’s king, and he sacrificed it at Mount Fuji because she left him for the moon. It’s gone, my friend.’
‘When was this?’
‘Goodness, just a little before I was born… But of course, there was far less communication back then. I’m not surprised you didn’t know.’
‘Ach, so much for that, then.’
They sit among the reeds, and talk of many unknown things, of sky and earth and sea. And talk and drink, and drink and drink, until the chariot sinks, and the sky starts to bleed.
* A non-poetic translation of Immortal Looking Over The River: The Yangtze waters roaring roaring west (臨江仙・滾滾長江東逝水), by Yáng Shèn (楊慎, 1488–1559).