Isretha's Children

File under "Birthright Lawspeaker"

This seems to be the primary religious source for the existence of the concept of the sayman lawspeaker – whose alternative epithets are "Isretha's Line", "Isolde's Line" or, simply "The Line".

Extract taken from Chapter 10 ("The Loki Libel Trial") from "Sex, Lies and Scandal: Famous Trials of the 20th Century" Edited by I Hamilton, published Compton Henshaw, London 1995.

Peter Robson
Lawspeaker Advisor

Were Policy Advisor

Loki & Isretha

The passage below originally appeared in "Tales of Northern Light" by E. S. Nighttraveller, published Labrys Press, York 1974. It is reproduced below in full on the left hand side of the page. The amendments requested by Loki following his successful court action are reproduced in the text on the right hand side. This unorthodox arrangement, effectively permitting me to reproduce libellous allegations, was sanctioned by Loki himself. I make no comment whatsoever on the motivation for this; I have no desire to find myself in court someday.

original version:   Tiw, who held honour so highly that he gave up his hand to fulfil an oath, was also sought for advice in legal matters because of his fairness. One day an Ettin called Wulfric turned up with his daughter Isretha and, as soon as he saw the girl, Tiw fell in love with her. But so did Loki. Loki tried to dissuade Tiw by telling him the girl was a shapeshifter who took the form of a wolf each night. She denied this and Tiw married her.
Loki's preferred text:   Tiw, who held honour so highly that he gave up his hand to fulfil an oath, was also sought for advice in legal matters because of his fairness. One day an Ettin called Wulfric turned up with his daughter Isretha. As soon as they entered Osgarth Loki fell in love with her. But so did Tiw. Loki realised at once the nature of both the girl and her father and tried to inform Tiw, but Tiw did not wish to hear and told Loki not to speak against the girl he wished to marry. Isretha decided to marry Tiw, even though Loki tried to dissuade her, telling her that Tiw did not wish to know her true nature. Isretha told Loki it did not matter and she felt sure she could ignore that side of herself.
original version:   But Isretha was indeed a shapeshifter and before she married had spent every night out hunting in the woods with her brothers and sisters. Isretha resolved never to run in the woods again, now she had married, and, for a month, she spent every night in bed lying awake while her husband slept. Gradually, she grew more and more tired and Tiw grew worried about her, but she could not tell him what was wrong.
Loki's preferred text:   But Isretha was indeed a shapeshifter and before she married had spent every night out hunting in the woods with her brothers and sisters. Isretha resolved never to run in the woods again, now she had married, and, for a month, she spent every night in bed lying awake while her husband slept. Gradually, she grew more and more tired and Tiw grew worried about her, but she could not tell him what was wrong for fear of losing him.
original version:   One night, at the first night of the full moon, Isretha heard a wolf howl in the woods. She could bear it no longer and, slipping out of bed, she ran into the woods in wolf shape and found another wolf there. They ran and played happily together all night and, as dawn rose, Isretha returned home and slipped between the sheets into her husband's newly awakened embrace. This happened each night until, on the third night, close to dawn, Isretha's friend caught his foot in a trap. Isretha was frantic to help but he told her to return home as normal, and he would find the means to free himself.
Loki's preferred text:   Each night, once the moon rose, while Tiw lay asleep beside her, Isretha heard a wolf howl in the woods. It was Loki calling to her. Finally, after a month she could bear it no longer and, slipping out of bed, she ran into the woods under the light of the full moon to join him. They ran and played happily together all night and, as dawn rose, Isretha returned home and slipped between the sheets into her husband's newly awakened embrace. This happened each night until, on the third night, close to dawn, Isretha caught her foot in a silver trap. She was frantic that Tiw would discover her secret, but Loki helped her out of the trap and carried her back to her home, where he helped her dress her ankle and then he left her to climb into bed as usual.
original version:   The next day the gods were summoned by Odin's son, Balder. While hunting alone in the woods close to daybreak he had seen two wolves sporting, but one had sprung one of his silver traps and the other eventually abandoned him and went home. He had followed and found it was none other than his daughter in law, Isretha. He had returned to the trap to capture the other wolf but found it empty. However, it would be easy to spot the culprit as he would have a badly injured foot. At that moment Loki turned up, with a large dressing about his ankle.
Loki's preferred text:   The next day the gods were summoned by Odin's son, Balder. While hunting alone in the woods close to daybreak he had seen two wolves sporting, but one had sprung one of his silver traps and the other rescued it by changing shape into none other than Loki. Loki had released the trapped wolf and carried her back to the home of Tiw, not emerging until some time after.
original version:   Isretha promptly owned up to being a wolf and pleaded on Loki's behalf. Tiw still loved her and would not break his marriage oath and she would remain his bride. But she and her kin were marked by her lie so that silver was ever after a bane to them, to remind them of the trap she sprang. And though her children might take their wolf shape at any time, each full moon they were forced to take it, whether they wished to or not, so that people could see them for what they were.
Loki's preferred text:   Isretha began to weep and explained her nature and that she had, indeed, been caught in the trap. She pleaded that Loki had helped her and that he had been her husband of the night, just as Tiw was her husband of the day. But that, if she had to choose, she would retain her human shape and Tiw. Tiw refused to break his marriage oath and so she would remain his bride, despite his anger. But she and her kin were marked by her lie so that silver was ever after a bane to them, to remind them of the trap she sprang. And though her children might take their wolf shape at any time, each full moon they were forced to take it, whether they wished to or not, so that people could see them for what they were.
original version:   However, Tiw did not forgive Loki and set an arrow to his bow ready to shoot the son of Laufey, but Loki swore he would find a better weapon for Tiw and one suited to his skills.
Loki's preferred text:   However, Tiw did not forgive Loki and set an arrow to his bow ready to shoot the son of Laufey, but Loki offered compensation for Tiw's pride by offering to find Tiw a weapon more suited to his skills.
original version:   Loki rode to the hall of Wulfric and asked hospitality, but word had travelled faster than the skywalker and Wulfric was waiting for him, bearing a mighty double headed axe. It was dwarf work and would divide a man from his shadow, or his soul from his spirit, so that he might not live on in his burial mound, nor in any god's hall nor Hel's realm afterwards. But it was made of silver, which was a bane to Wulfric's race. Loki said that, if Wulfric waited until his daughter bore a child, Loki would return. If Wulfric still sought revenge, he might take Loki's head; but if not, he would give Loki the axe. Wulfric agreed, though unwillingly. Having made an agreement, Loki stayed the night in his hall and met another of his daughters, Anbertha. And so Loki passed the winter and the spring, in the hall of Wulfric.
Loki's preferred text:   Loki rode to the hall of Wulfric and asked hospitality, but word had travelled faster than the skywalker and Wulfric was waiting for him, bearing a mighty double headed axe. It was dwarf work and would divide a man from his shadow, or his soul from his spirit, so that he might not live on in his burial mound, nor in any god's hall nor Hel's realm afterwards. But it was made of silver, which was a bane to Wulfric's race. Loki explained what had passed between Wulfric's daughter and himself and Wulfric laid aside his wrath and welcomed Loki into his hall to spend the night. Loki explained what had happened with Tiw and asked if Wulfric would let him have the axe to give to Tiw as a gift. Wulfric willingly gave Loki the axe for this purpose. Loki would have parted company then and there had not Wulfric introduced him to another of his daughters, Anbertha, who took to the son of Laufrey and he to her, and so Loki tarried for many months to pass the time with Anbertha, at her request. And so passed the snows of the winter, and the spring flowers, but when the summer pastures grew green Loki remembered Tiw's wrath and took the axe and returned to Osgarth, as he had promised.
original version:   When the summer came Isretha gave birth to a daughter. Before the child was born the Norns came to her and told her she must destroy the afterbirth, or else sorrow would come into the world. They said that the child and her line would be lawspeakers for her people forever. Isretha lay in labour for three days and three nights at full moon. It was not until she took the shape of a wolf that she bore her child, and, in her relief and the joy she and Tiw had to see the beauty of the child, they forgot the words of the Norns. When they recalled their words, the afterbirth could not be found, but the shadow of the new child was as dark as the winter skies and the child began to sicken.
Loki's preferred text:   When the cattle moved to summer pastures Isretha gave birth to a daughter. Before the child was born the Norns came to her and told her she must destroy the afterbirth, or else sorrow would come into the world. They said that the child and her line would be lawspeakers for her people forever. Isretha lay in labour for three days and three nights at full moon. It was not until she took the shape of a wolf that she bore her child, and, in her relief and the joy she and Tiw had to see the beauty of the child, they forgot the words of the Norns. When they recalled their words, the afterbirth could not be found, but the shadow of the new child was as dark as the winter skies and the child began to sicken.
original version:   Then Isretha took her child to the hall of her father, intending to ask for help. As soon as he saw the child Wulfric seized his axe and cleaved the shadow from the child. But he could not bring herself to use the axe upon the shadow and so it stood by itself and ran from his hall out into the world. And there it lives on, attaching itself to those who welcome it, and drawing its life from their anger and bitterness. And the children of Isretha forever seek to destroy the children of the shadow.
Loki's preferred text:   Loki arrived and gave Wulfric's axe to Tiw, explaining the nature of the gift. He asked to see the child, which was the siring of both himself and Tiw. At first Tiw was loathe, despite the gift of the axe, but he relented and showed the child to Loki. And while he did this he took the axe of Wulfric and cleaved the afterbirth from the shadow of the child, and Loki took the child in his arms and sprinkled water upon her and named her Isolde. But this action distracted Tiw, so he did not cleave the shadow in two as he had intended, and it stood by itself and ran from Tiw's hall out into the world. And there it lives on, attaching itself to those who welcome it, and drawing its life from their anger and bitterness. And the children of Isretha forever seek to destroy the children of the shadow.
original version:   Wulfric gave his axe to Loki, and sought no revenge. And Loki gave the axe to Tiw. From then, Tiw used the axe when he would pass sentence upon someone who had broken his oath, or done other dishonourable deeds. And the line of Isretha could touch the silver axe head when they spoke as lawspeakers, though not at other times.
Loki's preferred text:   From then, Tiw used the axe when he would pass sentence upon someone who had broken his oath, or done other dishonourable deeds. And the line of Isretha could touch the silver axe head when they spoke as lawspeakers, though not at other times.

© Alexa Duir 2006. All Rights Reserved.