HE dwelling-place of the Northern gods, or sir, was called Asgard; there they had many shining palaces, the chief of which was called Valhalla. With branches stretching over the earth, and the crown reaching up to the heavens, stood the mighty ash Yggdrasil. It was in great danger of destruction, for harmful worms gnawed at its three roots, four deer ran up and down its branches, biting off the buds and leaves, while on its summit browsed another deer. On the topmost branch sat an eagle, between whose eyes perched a hawk; a mischievous squirrel scampered up and down, breeding dispute between the eagle and the most dangerous of the worms. Daily the three fates watered the tree from Urd’s well, so that the hour of destruction might be delayed.
Chief of the gods was Odin, or Woden as he was called. He ever brooded over the fate of gods and men, and pondered how he might avert the destruction of the world that he foresaw, and for this reason he even gave one eye for a draught from Mimir’s wisdom-giving well that lay by one of the roots of Yggdrasil. He often went among men to learn what they were doing, and to right the wrong. Sometimes he went as a splendid warrior; sometimes as an old man, with a broad- brimmed hat pulled low over his brow and a blue cloak flung round him. He possessed a wonderful spear, and a horse with eight legs, called Sleipnir, that was unequalled for speed, and could ride on the air. In Asgard two ravens sat on his shoulders, whispering all they had seen on their daily flight, while two wolves lay at his feet. He was attended by a number of warrior maidens called Valkyrie, who rode to battle fully armed, and carried to Valhalla those whom Odin selected for death. Only those who died by the sword went there, and many a warrior, dying of sickness or old age, threw himself on his sword that he might not lose his chance of Valhalla. Here they spent a happy life, fighting all day and feasting at night on the flesh of a boar that daily came to life again, and drinking mead.
Next to Odin came his mighty son, Thor the Thunderer, dreaded by the giants, the enemies of gods and men. He was terrible to behold when he stood before them, grasping with his iron glove his hammer, Miœlnir, and girded with a belt that doubled his strength. When he was angry he would draw his brows over his flaming eyes and blow into his fiery red beard. When he drove forth in his chariot, drawn by two goats, the earth shook to its foundations, the rocks burst asunder, the abysses howled, and sparks flew from the stones. His wife was the golden-haired Sif.
The best-beloved of the gods was Balder, the beautiful, the god of light and of springtime. Nothing evil could approach his dwelling, where he lived with Nanna, his wife. Other gods were Freyr, the sun god, who owned a sword that could fight by itself; Hoenir; Bragi the wise; Loki, the evil doer; Hœder, the blind winter god. Then there was Heimdall, the warder of the bridge Bifrœst, called by men the rainbow, connecting heaven and earth, or Asgard and Midgard, as men named them. He had a horn with which to summon the gods if the giants tried to cross the bridge; he was so sharp of sight that he could see over a distance of a hundred miles by day and by night, so keen of ear that he could hear the grass grow in the fields and the wool on the sheep’s back, and he needed less sleep than a bird.
Chief among the goddesses were Odin’s wife, Frigg; Freyr’s beautiful sister Freya, who drove abroad in a chariot drawn by cats, and wore a necklace of exceeding beauty; and Iduna, Bragi’s wife, who guarded the apples of youth, without which the gods would grow old and haggard.
Odin, Loki, and Hoenir went forth together to see how it fared in the world. They came to a river, and went along its banks till they reached a waterfall, where an otter sat, with blinking eyes, devouring a salmon he had caught. Loki hurled a stone at him; it struck him on the head and killed him. Proud was Loki of his skill as they lifted up otter and salmon. Soon they reached a great farm owned by Hreidmar, a mighty man, learned in magic. They besought him that he would take them in for the night.
“Food we have enough,” said they, and showed him their booty.
When Hreidmar saw the otter, anger and grief filled his heart, for it was his son. He summoned his sons Regin and Fafnir to take vengeance on the murderers.
There entered two great men, and they fell upon the gods and bound them. “We will redeem our lives,” said Odin, when he saw their strength availed not. “We will pay what ye will for the murdered man.”
The giants, after much debate, consented, and solemn oaths were sworn that the gods would keep their word, for there was little faith between the gods and giants.
“Take off the skin of the otter,” said Hreidmar. “If you would redeem your lives you must fill it full of red gold, and you must cover the fur so that not one hair is without gold. Then shall there be peace between us.”
Odin took Loki aside and bade him go to the dwarf called Andvari, while he and Hoenir remained as hostages. Loki went his way and came to where the dwarf swam in the water in the shape of a pike. He caught him in his hand, and demanded his gold. Now the dwarf loved the red gold as though it had been his life, and his heart was heavy within him. But there was no help, for he was in Loki’s power. They went into the cave, and Andvari fetched forth the great stores of gold. Loki noticed that the dwarf was concealing a tiny golden ring. “Give up the ring,” cried he. “I bade thee give me all.”
Then the dwarf fell on his knees. “Take not the ring,” he implored. “Thou hast taken my treasure; leave me the ring.”
“Thou shalt not retain one piece of gold,” returned Loki coldly. “Why wouldst thou keep the ring?”
“Because,” said Andvari, “with it I can renew my wealth.”
“Now have I cause enough to take it from thee,“ said Loki. “Nothing shalt thou keep.”
“Take it,” cried Andvari. “But I will attach a curse to it. Who- ever owns this ring, he shall lose his life because of it.”
“Be it so,” said Loki. “I am content to abide thereby.” He went back to Hreidmar’s house, and gave Odin the gold and the ring. Odin kept the ring because he deemed it beautiful, and gave the remaining gold to Hreidmar, who filled the otter skin, pressing the gold tightly together till the skin stood upright. Then Odin covered the outside with gold.
Hreidmar examined it very closely. “Lo,” said he, “there is one hair uncovered. If you do not cover that, our agreement is broken and ye cannot be set free.” Then Odin drew forth the ring and placed it on the empty hair.
“Now,” said he, “the agreement is fulfilled and we have redeemed our lives.” Therewith he took his spear, but as they prepared to depart, Loki stopped on the threshold. “Because of thy greed,” said he to Hreidmar, “the curse shall stay with the ring. Whosoever owneth the ring shall lose his life because of it.” And herewith the gods departed.
While Hreidmar stood contemplating the treasure, Regin and Fafnir, his sons, came to him and demanded their share of the fine.
“Not so,” cried Hreidmar. “The gold is mine, and ye shall have none of it.”
The brothers took counsel together how they could obtain possession of the gold, and they resolved to kill their father. So they fell upon him unawares and slew him, and the curse of the ring began to work. Now, the two brothers fell to quarrelling, for when Regin claimed his share of the treasure Fafnir denied him, saying:
“It is a likely thing that I should share with thee the wealth for which I slew my father. Hence with thee, brother, if thou wouldst not share his fate.”
Regin was more cunning than Fafnir, but he was not so strong; so he took his sword and fled, planning vengeance. Fafnir went forth to a wild heath. Here he dug a deep pit and laid in it his gold and other treasures, and assuming the shape of a terrible dragon he placed himself on the top of it; only once in the day did he creep away to drink water.
Regin went away and became a smith at the court of King Hialprek, where Sigurd (or Siegfried as he is called in some tales), a king’s son, was dwelling, and he trained Sigurd to deeds of strength, because through him he hoped to avenge his wrongs. When Sigurd was strong and tall, Regin made him a sword called Gram; it was so sharp that when he held it in a running stream he cut in twain a flock of wool that the current bore against the blade, and that he cleft Regin’s anvil with it. Then Regin told the brave lad of the terrible dragon on the heath, and Sigurd, yearning to show his strength, determined to kill him. He dug a pit in the dragon’s path and hid therein.Fafnir left his lair to go to the water, and as he crawled over the
“Sigurd pierced him with his sword, and he died” (p. 118).
“Foolish is Sigurd,” said one, “to sit there and roast the dragon’s heart for Regin. Better would it be for him if he ate the food himself.”
“Yea,” returned the other. “And better would it be for Sigurd if he arose and slew Regin, who is plotting his death.”
Then Sigurd ate the heart, and now he could understand the language of birds and beasts; and he dealt Regin a mighty blow and slew him. So the ring had already wrought three deaths. Sigurd now owned the treasure, which was known as the Nibelungen hoard, and the curse still clung to the ring, so that in after days it brought about his death and the death of many a brave hero.
Loki, the mischief-maker, cut off the beautiful golden locks of Sif, the wife of Thor, the Thunderer. Great was her sorrow when she awoke, and terrible was the wrath of Thor. He pulled his shaggy brows over his blazing eyes, and blowing into his fiery beard swore that Loki should pay for the insult with his life. But Loki humbled himself and pleaded for mercy, saying that “ere many hours had passed Sif should own golden tresses that none could distinguish from her own.” So Thor spared him, and Loki summoned his dwarfs and bade them make him the hair, a spear, and a ship, all three of which were possessed of remarkable qualities. And when Loki saw how successful his dwarfs had been he went to a dwarf called Brock, whose brother, Sindri, was distinguished for his rare skill, and exhibited his treasures.
“I will wager my head,” said he, “that thy brother Sindri cannot produce three treasures to equal mine.”
Brock straightway sought out Sindri and told him of the wager. Sindri built up his fire, and taking the skin of a pig he laid it on his forge and bade Brock blow the bellows without ceasing, lest the work be spoilt; and with that he went away. So Brock blew the bellows. Presently a fly settled on his hand and stung him sharply, but the dwarf took no notice. The fly was none other than Loki, who wished to spoil the work and win his wager; but his artifice was vain, and in a little while Sindri returned and took from the forge a boar with shining bristles of gold.
He next placed gold on the forge, and bade his brother cease not from blowing lest the work be spoiled. Scarce had he left, when the vicious fly returned and attacked the hapless dwarf, stinging his neck sharply, but though the pain was great, he bravely stuck to his work, and the baffled god withdrew as Sindri returned. Now Sindri drew from the fire a ring of gold, and he gazed on it well pleased. Next he placed on the forge the piece of iron he had brought with him.
“Now, brother,” said he as he went away, “let nothing tempt thee to desist from thy labours, lest our work be unavailing and the wager lost.”
Then Brock set to work, but once again the buzzing fly came in at the window and renewed his attack. This time he stung the defenceless dwarf between the eyes so venomously that the blood dripped down, and the dwarf was constrained to cease from work for one second and wipe the blood from his eyes. Sindri rushed in, crying out that all was lost; and hastening to the forge he drew forth a hammer. It was perfect in all things save only the handle, and that was too short because of that moment’s pause.
Brock and Loki started forth laden with their treasures, and came to Asgard, where the gods assembled to view what they had brought. In the centre of the hall, in the judgment seats, sat Odin, Thor, and Freyr. First Loki advanced and gave Thor the golden hair. Thor placed it on the head of Sif and it grew as though it had been her own, and none could tell the difference. To Odin he gave the spear, Gungnir, that never missed its mark. To Freyr he gave the ship. The name thereof was Skidbladnir, and it was so made that the owner could take it to pieces and put it in his pocket. And when its sails were hoist, the wind was always with it.
Well pleased were the gods with these gifts, and curious to see if the dwarf’s came near them in merit. Brock advanced with his treasures.
“The ring is for thee, Odin,” said he. ‘Its name is Draupnir, and every ninth night eight other rings drop from it, equally costly. Take thou the hammer, Thor. Miœlnir is its name, and wondrous its strength, for howsoever hard thou strikest it cannot be broken; when thou hast hurled it at thy foe it will ever return to thee, and it can become so small that thou canst hide it in thy pouch. For thee, Freyr, Sindri sends the boar Gullinbursti. It can run on the clouds and through water, by day or by night, swifter than horse can run, and the darkest night, the densest wood, will be lighted up by its gleaming bristles of gold.”
Then the gods pondered awhile, but in the end they declared that the hammer was the best of all the gifts. And in this they judged wisely, for many a time Micelnir saved Asgard from the giants. So Brock had won his wager; but Loki was by no means minded to lose his head, and offered to redeem it with much treasure. But Brock would not consent.
“You must catch me first, if you would have my head,” laughed Loki, and vanished, for his shoes carried him through air and water. But Thor pursued him and brought him back, an unwilling captive. Now Brock seized his knife, but Loki declared that it was his head only that belonged to Brock; the neck he might not touch.
Then said Brock: “Think not to ’scape me thus. If thy head is mine I will sew up thy evil mouth as a mark.” “But his knife could make no holes in the lips for the thread to pass through, for Loki brought it about that it would not cut.
“If but my brother’s awl were here,” he sighed, and, lo, the awl was in his hand. So he sewed up Loki’s mouth, and the gods laughed mightily. But it was not long before Loki had freed himself from his bonds.
IV.—THE LOSING OF THE HAMMER.
Thor awoke one morning and stretched out his arm to feel for his hammer. But it was not there, and the strong god rose in wrath, and sought for it, but in vain. Then he went to Loki, who was cunning and sharp of wit, and whose aid the gods sought when trouble came to them.
“Rise up, Loki,” cried Thor, ‘and give me thine aid, for my hammer is stolen, and I know not where it is.”
“I will find it,” said Loki, “if it be anywhere. Come, let us go to Freya, that she may lend me her feather dress.”They went to Freya, and Loki asked her for her feather dress, which
“Once again the buzzing fly came in at the window” (p, 119).
Then Loki donned the feather dress, and flew through the air, and his feathers rustled in the wind as he. took his way. He never hesitated, but directed his flight straight to the land of the giants, for well he knew that they alone would have ventured on so daring a theft. Before him rose a great castle, and in front of it sat Thrym, the mighty giant, contented and smiling as he decked his dogs with collars of gold and combed the beautiful manes of his horses.
“Ha, Loki, how fares it with the gods, and what brings you hither to Giant Land?” cried Thrym when he beheld the god.
“Ill fares it with the gods,” returned Loki gloomily, “while you keep hidden the hammer of Thor.”
“Yes,” laughed Thrym, “I have hidden the hammer. Deep it lies in the bosom of the earth, eight miles below its surface, where only I can find it. And never again will Thor grasp his treasure till Freya comes hither to be my bride.”
Away flew Loki, his feather dress rustling as he took his flight to Asgard. He told Thor what he had heard, and the two gods sought out Freya and bade her put on bridal array and be Thrym’s bride.
Then the wrath of the goddess awoke.
“Think ye I am mad?” she cried with flashing eyes. “What should I do in Giant Land as the giant’s bride? Not at such a price canst thou redeem thy hammer, Thor.”
Sorrowfully the two gods went from her.
Thor’s loss could no longer be concealed, and he summoned the other gods to take counsel. They gazed at each other in sore dismay, but none knew what to advise.
“There is but one thing to be done,” at last spake Heimdall the wise. “Thor must deck himself in bridal array, and round his neck must he place Freya’s gleaming necklace, and he must go to Thrym as his bride.”
“Never will I thus humble myself,” cried Thor in fury. “The gods would scorn me, and call me a woman if I should puf on woman’s robes.”
“Speak not thus, Thor,” cried Loki. “There is no other way. Right soon will the giants dwell in Asgard if you do not fetch the hammer home.”
The other gods urged him also, and unwillingly Thor submitted and decked himself in bridal robes. Round his neck he placed Freya’s gleaming necklace; from his girdle hung keys, and over his face a long veil, so that none could see that he was a god. Loki dressed himself as his maid, and he was pleasant to look upon as they set forth on Thor’s chariot. The earth shook, sparks flew from the rocks, as the goats hastened upon their way. Thrym had prepared all things for his wedding feast, and sent abroad his invitations.
“Of cattle and wealth I have abundance,” said he. “All that was wanting to me was Freya as my wife, and now she is coming hither.”
Thor and Loki reached their destination, and entered the hall where the guests awaited them, and all marvelled at the tall and stately bride. Then Thrym advanced to greet her, as was fitting, and led her to her place at the banquet. But if the guests had wondered at the stature of the bride, they were no less amazed at her appetite. Thor alone devoured an entire ox, eight salmon, and all the sweetmeats that were prepared for the women.
Thrym watched in amazement. “Full many a bride have I seen,” said he, “but never in my life saw I one eat so greedily.”
Loki, the quick-witted, made answer with his guileful tongue. “For eight long nights Freya has touched no food, so great was her longing to reach Giant Land.”
Then Thrym was well pleased; but again his astonishment could not be concealed when his bride alone emptied three hogsheads of mead. “Many a bride have I seen,” said he, “but never saw I bride who drank like mine.”
But Loki, the ready-witted, again made answer. “For eight nights no drop has passed Freya’s lips, so great was her longing for Giant Land.”
Then the giant turned to lift his bride’s veil and press a kiss on the fair brow. But in dismay he sprang back the whole length of the hall. “Terrible,” he cried, “is Freya’s flaming eye; her glance went through me like burning fire.”
“‘Tis small wonder,” returned Loki quickly. “For eight long nights Freya has not closed her eyes, so great was her longing for Giant Land.”
Then Thrym was satisfied, and now his sister drew near to the bride. “If you would win my love and affection,” said she, “you must pay for them with rings of red gold.”
But now the banquet was over, and Thrym called to his men to bring thither the hammer.
The hammer was brought and the heart of Thor waxed glad and laughed within him for joy when he saw his treasure. He grasped its handle and swung it over Thrym, and with one blow he felled him to the earth. And his sister received blows in place of the rings of red gold she craved. Then Thor made an end of all the giants assembled there, and he and Loki went back with Micelnir to make glad the hearts of the gods. And thus was dismay averted from Asgard.
Odin, sitting on his high seat, discovered that Loki had three children as evil as himself, and he ordered them to be brought before him. One was named Hel, she was hideous to behold, half black, half flesh- coloured. Odin cast her down to Niflheim, which lay by one of the roots of Yggdrasil, and gavesher power over all who died of sickness or old age. Lofty railings protected her vast domains. Her hall was called Misery, her keys Hunger, Greed was her knife, Lazy her man, and Slow her maid. Her threshold was named Ruin, her bed Trouble, and her curtain Threatening Misfortune.
The second of Loki’s children was the horrible Midgard snake. Odin cast it in the sea, where it grew till it lay curled round the earth with its tail in its mouth.
The third was the Fenris wolf, and the gods deemed him harmless, and let him dwell among them, although Tyr, the god of the sword, alone had courage to feed him. But he grew mightily in strength and size, and the gods were troubled, and took counsel together how they might bind him. They made a strong fetter and brought it him.
“Let us bind thee with this that thou mayest try its strength,” said they.
The wolf looked, and seeing it was but weak he let them bind him. Then he stretched himself and lo, the fetter broke. So they made another chain, stronger than the first. “Come,” they said, “and let us try thee with this. Great will be thy fame if thou canst break so strong a bond.”
He looked at it doubtfully, for he saw it was stronger than the first, but his strength had increased, and he was willing to run a little risk for the sake of so much honour. He submitted to be bound, then he shook himself and the chain broke in many pieces.
Sore dismayed were the gods, and they sent to the dwarfs for aid, and the dwarfs gave them a strong bond made of many curious things. It was slight to look upon, like a ribbon of silk, and the wolf shook his head. “There is magic in it; I will not try it,” he said.
“Why,” said the gods, as they vainly tried to tear it, “true it is stronger than the others, but what is that to thee, who art so strong?”
“Methinks,” returned the Fenris wolf, “I shall get little honour by rending so feeble a band. Yet if it be wrought by cunning and deceit, ye shall not put it on me.”
The gods mocked him, saying, “Thou hast broken heavy fetters of iron: canst thou not tear a little silken ribbon? If thou canst not, small cause have we gods to fear thee, and we will unbind thee again.”
“Nay,” said the wolf, “it is not so. If I am bound so that I cannot unloose myself, ye will but mock me, and it will be too late for me to seek your aid. I will not try this fetter, unless one of you will put his hand into my mouth as a pledge that all is fair.”
The gods looked one upon the other, and none liked to run the risk. At last Tyr put his hand into the wolf’s mouth. The gods bound their foe. He rose and stretched himself and, lo, the silken ribbon hardened. He strove to rend it, but in vain; it only grew harder and harder. Helpless and furious he bit off Tyr′s hand. When the gods saw that his efforts were unavailing they laughed loud and long. Only Tyr did not laugh, for he had lost his hand. They took the Fenris wolf and bound him with strong chains to a great rock. He opened his mouth to snap at them, and they placed in it a sword, point up- wards, and there he lay howling till the Day of Doom.
Thor, the Thunderer, the mighty god, arose and seized his hammer. “I will go forth and seek the giants,” said he, “that I may slay them, lest they come to Asgard and do us dire harm.” Then he set forth in his chariot, drawn by two goats, and with him fared Loki, the mischief-maker. The chariot thundered on its way over hill and dale, and sparks flew from the hoofs of the goats, and the earth shook as they tore on their way.
“It grows dark,” said Thor; “let us seek shelter for the night in yon peasant’s hut.”
The peasant welcomed them, but his heart was grieved, for he had but scanty fare to set before them.
“I will bring flesh to the meal,” said Thor, and raising his hammer he struck his goats full on the forehead that they fell down and were dead. “Prepare them for the fire,” said he, “and lay their skins beside the hearth. But look to it that ye break no bone, or it will go ill with you.”
So they sat down and feasted royally. Then Loki, the mischief-maker, with his guileful tongue, whispered to Thialfi, the peasant’s son: “Break thou that bone, for within it lies hid the marrow, the best part of the meat.”
So Thialfi did as Loki told him, and Thor knew it not. When the meal was ended, the bones were placed on the skin, and all lay down and slumbered. But at dawn Thor arose and swung Miœlnir, his hammer, over skin and bones, and, lo, the goats lived and rose up. But one of them was lame, for Thialfi had broken the leg-bone.
Then terrible was the wrath of Thor, and they who beheld it shook with fear. He pulled down his mighty brows over his blazing eyes, and blew into his fiery beard, and all fell on their knees in terror, and dared not meet his gaze. “Is it thus ye repay me the kindness I have shown?” cried he in tones of thunder. “Death shall be your lot, you shameless peasant, for the wrong you have done me!”
Then the sorrowful household pleaded for mercy, and offered all they had in expiation of the deed. The heart of Thor melted with pity at their fear; perchance he knew whose counsel caused the mischief, so he unbent his brows and spoke:
“Be it so. I will grant you your life, but there must be atonement, and, therefore, henceforth Thialfi shall be my servant and follow me in my journeyings, and my goats will I leave here, for of what service is a lame goat to me?”
The peasant blessed him for his mercy, and gave him his son, and Thialfi went forth with Loki and Thor as their servant, and he carried the food as it was meet he should.
So they set out in quest of the Land of the Giants. They crossed the great sea, and wandered on till they reached a mighty forest, the trees whereof grew high and hid the sun, while the undergrowth was dense. All day had they walked, and yet they found no outlet. And at night Loki discovered a hut for them to sleep in, a spacious build- ing with an entrance hall almost as large as the chief apartment. But towards midnight the earth shook, the hut trembled, and terrible sounds disturbed their slumbers.
“This house is dangerous,” cried Thor; “I will rest in the open air Then Thialfi discovered an outhouse, and he and Loki took refuge there, for they were sore afraid. But Thor knew no fear, so the live-long night he kept watch with his hammer at the door.
All night the terrible sounds continued. When the darkness grew a little less, because beyond the trees the sun was rising, Thor arose and went forth to see if he might find what manner of thing had disturbed them. He had gone but a few paces when he discovered a man of mighty stature lying on the ground. Thor was no dwarf, he towered above all men, yet by this Giant’s side he felt himself but small. He stood and gazed, and as he gazed the Giant snored. “Ha,’ said the god, as he girded on his belt that doubled his strength; “that was the sound that troubled us. What manner of man is this whose snores are like to earthquakes?”
As he spoke, the Giant awoke, rose up to his full height, and it is said that, for the only time in his life, the heart of the Thunderer failed him, and he could not strike.
“What is thy name, friend?” he asked.
“I am called Skrymir,” answered the Giant; “but I have no need to ask thee who thou art. Thy red beard and thy hammer betray thee for the mighty god Thor. But where have I laid my glove? Ah, yonder it lies.” Then Thor, to his shame, discovered that the hut where he and his comrades had spent the night was naught but the Giant’s glove, and the thumb thereof they had taken for an outhouse! But he held his peace, and when they had broken their fast Skrymir spoke.
“Let us go forth together,” said he. “A journey seems shorter in good company. We will put our provisions in one bundle. It will be but a little matter for me to carry them.” So he put all together, and they journeyed through the forest all that day; and when it was night they rested beneath a tall oak.
“Eat your supper,” said Skrymir, throwing down the bundle; “I have no desire for food.” So saying, he laid himself beneath an oak, and in another minute the forest shook with his snores.
The others prepared to sup, but in vain did they strive to open the bundle. They could neither break nor undo the rope that bound it. Then anger filled Thor, and he crept softly to where Skrymir lay. He raised his hammer high above his head, and dealt the Giant a mighty blow, and had it been an ordinary man who lay there, he would have needed no second stroke. Skrymir awoke, and drew his hand across his forehead. “Did a leaf fall-on my face?” he asked. “Have you supped, Thor? Are you going to sleep?”
“We are preparing for rest,” said Thor sullenly. He went away, and with his companions lay down under a distant tree, but sleep came not nigh them. When it was midnight, Thor arose, and stole to the side of the sleeping giant. He raised his hammer with a mighty swing, and brought it full on the brow of his foe, so that the weapon sank right in!
Skrymir opened his eyes and shook his head.
“Did an acorn fall from the tree?” said he. “What ails thee, Thor, that thou standest beside me, and sleepest not?”
“I woke from a dream,” returned Thor, great wonder in his heart that any should live after such a blow. “The night is yet young; let us sleep again.”
So he laid him down again, but not to sleep; amazement and anger filled his heart as he listened to the earth-shaking snores of Skrymir. When the grey dawn was breaking in the sky, Thor arose for the third time, and girded his belt tighter, and placing one foot before the other, he raised his hammer and struck the Giant on the temple, and all his strength was in the blow. Skrymir yawned and stretched himself. “A twig fell on my face from the tree,” said he, rubbing his cheek. “But ’tis time we went on our way.” Never a word said Thor, but great was his amazement; and his companions gazed in silent fear on the man on whom the heavy strokes of the strongest of the gods fell so lightly. “Ye are not far now from Utgard,” went on the Giant. “I heard you say, one to the other, that I was no small man. But this I tell you. In Utgard are men beside whom I am but as a dwarf! Let no boastful speech pass your lips, for none there will brook proud words. I would advise you to turn your steps elsewhere; but if that may not be, then take your way to the east, and you will reach the place you seek. For me, my path lies northward to yonder mountains.”
“He raised his hammer with a mighty swing” (p. 128).
Skrymir departed, and the gods travelled to the east; and at the hour of noon there loomed upon their sight a mighty castle, that seemed to reach to the blue vault of heaven; it was built of strong stones, and was, in truth, fit for the Giants’ home. All round it was a wall, and the gate was fast shut. Thor’s efforts were unavailing to open it, so they slipped through the bars, feeling much ashamed. They crossed the courtyard, and entered into a hall so vast that it was a journey to go from end to end! In the hall were set tables and benches, and on the benches sat men of lofty stature; at the head of the table sat the King, and on the table was spread a feast. When they drew near, the King glanced at them.
“Ye are welcome in the hall of Utgardloki,” quoth he. “By thy red beard and thy hammer, thou shouldst be Thor, friend. But I can scarce think that Thor is so small in stature, or is thy strength greater than thy body would make us think?”
“Try me,” said Thor wrathfully. ”I am stronger than thou lookest for.”
“So be it,” said Utgardloki. ”For none may stay here who can- not excel in some way. What can ye do?”
Then Loki cried out, “Try me at the feast, O King. Truly your men may be stronger than I, but I think there is none can beat me in speed at a meal.”
So the men brought in a great trough of meat at the King’s command, and it was no small load. Loki and Logi, one of the Giants, sat down, one at each end, and ate, and in a little space they met in the middle of the trough. Loki had devoured the meat, but Logi had also consumed the bones and the wooden trough, and was proclaimed the victor. Then Utgardloki asked Thialfi in what art he excelled.
“In good sooth,” said Thialfi, “I am accounted a swift runner.”
“That is truly an excellent art,” rejoined the King; “but swift indeed must your running be if you would bear away the prize here.”
So they went forth to the racecourse, and a young man, Hugi, was summoned to run with Thialfi. Three times were they to run to the goal. The first time Hugi reached it in time to turn back and meet Thialfi. So they ran for the second time, and when Thialfi was yet a bow shot from the goal, Hugi arrived and turned again to meet him, Then they started for the third time, and this time Hugi reached the goal when Thialfi was in the middle of the course.
“Enough of this sport,” cried Utgardloki, “for it is plain Thialfi cannot compete with my people. Tell me, Thor, in what art dost thou excel that we may see and wonder at thy marvellous strength.”
“Try me at the wine-cup,” cried Thor. “I know there is none can beat me there!”
So they went back to the hall, and the King called for a horn. “We esteem him a good drinker who empties it at a draught,” said he. “Some do it in two, but there are none here such weaklings that they cannot do it in three.”
The horn was long, but it did not seem very large to Thor, who was thirsty. He raised it to his lips and took a long draught, till he was out of breath. Then he looked at the horn. He found he had made but little difference in its contents.
“Twas well drunk,” said the King, “but yet ’tis not much. Never had I believed it if any had told me that Thor could drink no better than that.”
Again Thor set the horn to his lips, and pulled and pulled at its contents till the breath left him, but when he looked therein it seemed to him he had drunk less than before, though now it could be carried without spilling its contents.
“Ha, Thor,” cried Utgardloki, “methinks thou must take a longer pull if thou wouldst empty the cup at the third draught.” Then Thor waxed exceeding wrathful. He put forth all his strength, and when he put down the cup at the third draught the contents were greatly diminished, but it was not empty and he would drink no more.
“Tis plain,” said the mocking host, “thy strength is less than we thought.” But Thor made answer thus:
“Truly, if I were at home and the gods deemed me a poor drinker after that draught, I should think it strange. Try me at something else. What other trial of strength can you propose?”
A large grey cat ran across the hall, and Utgardloki told Thor that his young men in sport often tried to lift her. Thor followed her. He pulled and tugged with all his strength, but he could only raise one foot a very little from the ground! Ill-pleased was he when Utgardloki smiled at his vain efforts, and he cried out for one of the young men to wrestle with him. But Utgardloki said “It would be child’s play for these to wrestle with thee. But summon hither Elli, my nurse, and let Thor wrestle with her if he will. She has overthrown men who seemed not weaker than he.”
An aged woman came at his call, and she and Thor wrestled long, but he could not move her, and at last she forced him on one knee, and the King said it was enough, and that it was time for rest. So they laid them down in the hall, and when day came Thor and his companions arose and prepared to depart hastily, but the King bade them stay and break their fast. When they had eaten well, he went with them to the gates and asked of Thor if his journey had contented him, but Thor said: “I cannot say my sojourn here redounds greatly to my honour. Ill-pleased am I that you should think me such a weakling.”
“Now will I reveal the truth to you,” said Utgardloki, “for you are departing, and never while I live shall you enter these walls again. And, verily, had I known how great was your strength you had never set foot within them, for a little more, and you had brought terrible misfortunes upon us. Listen! All you have seen was illusion! I was Skrymir, and I fastened the bundle with iron bands, hence you could not open it. Had your blows fallen on me when I lay stretched beneath the oak, I had been slain, but, unseen by you, I held a mountain betwixt myself and your hammer, and on it you cleft three deep valleys, one at each blow. Loki ate well, but Logi was the wild-fire, and burnt up the meat and the trough. Swift is the running of Thialfi, but Hugi was my thought, and who can outspeed a thought? Now, as for your drinking! Never, in good sooth, did I think it was in anyone’s power to drink as you drank. The end of the horn was in the ocean, and when you go thither you will see how great a difference you have made. Men call it the ebb. The cat was the Midgard snake, and we trembled when you lifted its foot, for you lifted it almost to the sky. Elli was Old Age, and many a mighty man has she overthrown. And now farewell. It will be better if you come this way no more.”
Then Thor raised his weapon in his anger, but ere the blow fell Utgardloki had vanished. The great castle disappeared, and far and wide was nothing to be seen but beautiful green fields. And Thor and his companions went their way, pondering silently over all that they had seen.
Thor pondered deeply how he could avenge himself on the giants for the deceptions practised on him in Utgard, and so recover his honour. He assumed the form of a youth, and went forth to visit one of the frost giants named Hymir, who gave him shelter for the night. When it was dawn, the giant arose, and prepared to go forth and catch fish in the sea. Thor offered to accompany him, but the giant shook his head.
“Little help should I have from thee,” he said; “thou art too small and young to be aught but a hindrance to me. Long shall I be away, and thou would’st find it bitter cold.”
“Be not afraid,” returned Thor. “It remains to be seen which of us will first desire to return. What bait shall we take?”
Hymir told him to choose his own bait, whereupon he went to the giants’ herds, slew the biggest ox, and tore off his head. Then he joined Hymir in the boat and rowed, so that the latter wondered at his strength. At length, the giant said they had reached his usual fishing ground, but Thor desired to go further out to sea. After a time Hymir ceased rowing.
“It is not safe to go further,” said he, “lest we chance upon the Midgard snake.”
Thor said they must not stop yet, and rowed with all his might, while Hymir sat in sullen silence. At last Thor stopped rowing, and baited a mighty line with the ox’s head, for it was no small fish that he meant to catch that day.
The Midgard snake lay at the bottom of the ocean. When the tempting bait dangled before it, it raised its head, and snapped at it, and the hook caught in the snake’s mouth. Then it grew mad with rage and terror, and pulled and tugged at the line, so that Thor was flung to the bottom of the boat. Now his wrath awoke, and with his wrath his strength grew. His feet went through the boat, and he stood on the sea bottom. The snake struggled and fought, lashing the water, so that the sea grew wild and tumultuous, the waves dashed high, and great was the turmoil, but Thor never let go, and slowly, slowly, he raised the monster out of the water. Its horrible eyes were fixed on him ; it breathed forth venom against him, but little cared the mighty god, as he stood there straining every muscle.
With pale face and sinking heart the giant watched the deadly struggle; he saw how the boat filled with water, and his courage failed him, so that he grew faint with terror.
Thor heeded him not, but, raising his hammer, prepared to slay the enemy of the gods, but Hymir rushed forward and cut through the line. The earth groaned and shuddered, the rocks burst asunder, the abyss howled, as swiftly the great snake sank through the waters to its lair at the bottom of the sea, and there it lay till its hour had come, and with it the hour of Thor, the strong god.
Terrible was the wrath of Thor; few there were who cared to face him when his anger came upon him. The giant sat and said no word. Then Thor struck him a blow, so that he fell into the water, while he himself waded to the shore. Hymir managed to save himself, but ere long he and all his kin perished at the hands of the slayer of giants.
Foreboding filled the minds of the gods, and their hearts were heavy within them, for evil signs were abroad, and they knew not what they portended. Iduna, the guardian of the apples of youth, sank down from the great ash Yggdrasil to the gloomy dwelling of Hel, the goddess of the underworld. Loki, Heimdall, and Bragi went forth to question her, but she only wept and made no answer, so Loki and Heimdall left Bragi, her husband, by her side, and returned to Asgard, and the gods pondered deeply.
Evil dreams disturbed the slumbers of Balder the Beloved. The gods feared that danger threatened him, and they resolved to do all that they could to avert it betimes. Frigg, his mother, took an oath from all things living or dead, from bird and beast, from stock and stone, from plant and tree, from fire and water, that no harm should come to Balder. And when she had done this, the gods felt safe, and it became a sport among them that Balder stood in their midst, and they hurled their weapons at him, for they deemed that nought could hurt him.
Loki, ever envious and eager for mischief, was displeased that Balder, whom he especially disliked because others loved him, should be safe from injury. He took on himself the guise of an old woman, and sought out Frigg.
“Hymir rushed forward and cut through the line” (p. 134).
“Welcome, Mother,” said Frigg. “Canst thou tell me what the gods are doing?”
“Ay, truly, that can I,” returned the old woman. “They are shooting at Balder, but even though they hit him, their missiles do him no harm.”
“I can well believe it,” answered Frigg. “For I have taken an oath from all things living or dead that they will do no harm to beautiful Balder.”
“Have all things sworn?” asked the old woman, trying to conceal her eagerness.
“All things but one,” replied Frigg. “To the east of Valhalla there grows a little plant called the mistletoe; of that I asked no oath, for it seemed to me too young.”
Loki had learned what he wanted to know. He went away, ressumed his own shape, and sought for the mistletoe. Then he returned to the gods, who were still continuing their sport. Hœder the blind stood apart.
“Why do you not join the game?” asked Loki.
“I have no weapon,” answered Hœder, “and I am blind, so how can I tell where Balder stands, that I may aim at him?”
“Here is a weapon,” returned Loki. “Come with me, and I will tell you where Balder stands, so that you cannot fail to hit him.”
He put the mistletoe into Hœder′s hand, and told him in which direction to hurl it. The missile flew through the air and pierced Balder, and he fell dead.
The gods stood round, amazed and stunned, and for a while there was silence in the vast hall. Then there broke forth a wailing and a lamentation beyond the power of words to tell, as the mighty gods wept for the most beloved of all their brethren, and none could speak for grief. But the sorrow of Odin was deepest, for long ago he had given his eye to know the future, and he saw that the signs were fulfilled, and that the end was nigh.
At length Frigg asked the gods which of them would ride to Hel and plead for the return of Balder. Hermodhr the swift, Odin′s son, made ready to go: he saddled Sleipnir, his father′s horse, and rode off at full speed on his perilous journey.
The gods took Balder′s body, and brought it to his ship; but when they would have launched the ship, lo! it would not move. They sent for a woman of the race of giants, called Hyrrockin. She came,
“There broke forth a wailing and a lamentation” (p. 136).
riding upon a wolf, and for bridle she had a snake. She sprang from her steed, and four strong men were summoned to hold him; but they could only master him when they had thrown him on the ground. One push from Hyrrockin sufficed to move the ship, but so great was the violence she used that fire flew from the rollers on which it rested, and the very earth shook. Thor′s anger blazed forth, and he would have slain her, but the other gods pleaded for her, and he let her live.
Then Balder′s body was laid on the ship, and when Nanna his wife beheld this, her heart broke with grief, and she died. They laid her by her husband′s side, and they brought all his treasures, and led forth his horse, and placed them on the ship. Last of all came Odin, and he laid the ring Draupnir beside his son, and whispered words in his ear that none might hear; and it was never known what he had said. Then the ship was set on fire, and Thor advanced to swing his hammer over it and consecrate it. The dwarf Lit ran between his feet, and Thor flung him into the fire. Now the flames rose up fiercely, and the gods watched in silence as the burning ship drifted away, bearing from their midst the best beloved of all their host.
For nine long days and nights Hermodhr rode without pause through dark, gloomy valleys, till he reached the River Giœll, which flows past the gate of Helheim. The river was spanned by a bridge, which was paved with gleaming gold. Over this rode the god, and at the other end stood a warder.
“What is thy name?” asked she, “and whence dost thou come? But yesterday five troops of dead men rode across yon bridge, and it did not thunder more loudly beneath their steps than beneath thine, a solitary rider. Thy colour is not the colour of the dead. Since thou art living, why ridest thou to Hel?”
“I ride to Hel to seek for Balder,” answered Hermodhr. “Have you seen him ride this way?”
“Yes,” answered she. “He has passed this way. Northward lies thy road if thou wouldst seek him.”
The messenger rode on till he reached the gates of Hel, but there was no way for him to enter, because he was yet alive. So he tightened his girth and set spurs to his horse, and Sleipnir cleared the gate without touching it. Hermodhr dismounted and entered the hall, and there he beheld Balder sitting by Hel, in the place of honour. He waited till morning, and then he asked Hel to allow Balder to return with him. “For,” said he, “men and gods are desolate without him, and the whole world is wrapped in grief at his death.”
“Is Balder, truly, so beloved?” asked Hel. “If that be so, give me proof thereof. If all things on earth, living or dead, weep for him, then shall he return. But if there is any one thing that will not weep, then must he abide with me.”
Hermodhr′s mission was at an end, and he prepared to depart. Balder took leave of him, and sent the ring Draupnir to his father Odin, as a token, and Nanna sent gifts to Frigg. Hermodhr rode back to Asgard, and told the gods all that he had seen and heard. Messengers went forth through all the world, and bade all things weep for Balder, that he might return to gladden the hearts of gods and men. Then all things wept. The gods wept, and men, the birds in the air, the beasts in wood and field, the fish in river and brook, the plants and the trees, the very stones shed tears for Balder. But in a cave sat a giantess, whose name was Thœck, and when the messengers came to her and bade her weep, she shook her head. “With dry eyes will I weep for Balder,” she answered, in scorn. “Little good had I from him, living or dead. Let Hel keep her own.”
And she would not weep. So, though all other things had wept, their tears were unavailing because of the hardness of heart of Thœck, and Balder could return no more to Asgard to gladden the hearts of the gods. But there were many who said that the giantess was none other than Loki, who was ever the cause of evil. It is not known for certain; but, if it were so, terrible was the vengeance that the gods wrought upon him, as we shall hear. As for Hœder, though he had, all unwittingly, brought such bitter woe to gods and men, he could not escape from punishment. He was slain by Odin′s son, Vali, when the latter was but one night old.
“Hold a cup to catch the venomous drops”, (p. 142).
The gods silently bore Loki, who had resumed his own shape, to a cave, where they laid him on three upright stones, and bound him fast tothem. Over his head they fastened a huge and terrible snake. From its mouth dropped a deadly poison, and when the venom touched Loki’s face, the strong god writhed in agony. So they went away and left him; but his faithful wife, Sigyn, remained by his side, and held a cup to catch the venomous drops and save her husband pain. When the cup was full, she had to go forth and empty it. Then the poison fell on Loki’s face, and he shook so that the whole world trembled, and men said this caused the earthquake.
So it was decreed that Loki should lie there to the Day of Doom, when his fetters would be riven asunder, and he would perish with all other things, good and evil.
There was a time when there was no evil, when the gods played with their golden disks, when none did wrong. And this was the golden age. But the love of gold awoke among gods and men, and guilt was born, oaths were broken, and strife and murder came into the world. So it came about that the gods must perish with the world they had created.
Evil portents were to precede the Day of Doom, signs that all could read. When Iduna fell from the sunny heights, when Balder was slain, the gods felt that the dread time would not be long in coming. But there were other signs to be looked for as the day drew nearer. First there would be three long years of terrible war, when all bonds should be loosened, when faith, and law, and order should perish, when father should turn against son and brother against brother, and all evil things should rule the world. After this there would be three years of icy, freezing winter, without spring or summer. A bitter frost would check all growth, the trees would not bud, the flowers would not blossom, the corn would not grow. The snow would fall and fall, and cover all the earth with its white cloak; fierce winds would rage from pole to pole; the pale sun grow sad and give no warmth. When this comes to pass, men may know that the end draws nigh. When the time is accomplished, the sun and the moon will be overtaken by the hungry wolves that ever chased them through the sky, and they will be devoured. The stars will fall from heaven, and terrible darkness will encompass the world. The earth will shake in terror, the trees be uprooted, the mountains will fall, all bonds and fetters will be broken, and Loki and his evil brood will regain their freedom. The Midgard snake will feel its strength, and will swim to the shore, causing the sea to flood the land. Nagelfar, the ship that has been slowly growing through long ages, will be finished, and come sailing from the east, bearing the giants to their last fight. Over the sea come sailing Muspel’s sons, the children of fire, led by Surtur, and steered by Loki. When they land and ride across the bridge Bifrœst, Heimdall, the warder, will blow a piercing blast on his horn to summon all the gods and the dead warriors to the combat. The Fenris wolf, Loki’s son, will rush on its way with gaping mouth, its upper jaw touching the sky, its lower the earth.
With Loki come Hel and her followers.
Then the gods will ride forth for their last fight. Foremost is Odin on Sleipnir, with his helmet of gold, his gleaming armour, and Gungnir his spear. Yggdrasil shakes, and the heavens tremble. Towards him rushes the Fenris wolf, and terrible is the struggle. But it is decreed that the gods shall suffer for their deeds, and Odin will perish. Not unavenged, however, for Widar, his son, shall grasp the wolf by his jaws, and tear them asunder, so that he dies.
Still more dreadful will be the fight between Thor and the Midgard snake. Thor will kill the hideous monster, but little shall his strength avail him. Not nine paces will he move away ere he falls dead, killed by the poisonous breath of his foe. Loki and Heimdall meet in mortal combat, and fall by each other’s hands. So the battle rages, and one after the other the gods fall, and their enemies perish even in their victory. Then will Surtur fling fire over the world, the sea will rise up and dash over it, impenetrable darkness will reign, and there will be silence.
But not for ever will the darkness and the desolation endure. From the waves will arise a new world, a beautiful world with fields of emerald green where the corn will grow, though no man will sow it. A new sun, a new moon will be born, and Balder and Hœder will return and many others, and they will build a palace brighter than the sun. They will find again the golden disks lost in the past, and peace and happiness will reign.
So sang the ancient bards; but we, living so long after, read another meaning in the story. There was a twilight of the gods, but it was not brought about by fire and sword. The foe who conquered them was He whom later singers called the ‘White Christ,’ before whose teaching the false faiths perished and the world grew young again.
E. S. Buchheim.