Not much is worse than trolls. - An anonymous poet around 1200 CE (in Lindow 2014, 13)
And how are trolls? They are "hard to pin down . . . except perhaps by what they are not: human, normal, helpful." (Lindow 2014, 12)
Thor is a troll-fighter - more precisely, a jötunn-fighter. In Norse mythology, a jötunn (plural jötnar) is a type of entity that is also told of as a troll and by other names too. Jötnar are not necessarily notably large or alarmingly grotesque. Besides, some deities are described as jötnar, and other deities, such as Odin, are told of as descendants of the jötnar. Norse myth traces the origin of the jötnar to the proto-being Ymir. In later Scandinavian folklore, the ambiguity surrounding the entities gives rise to many negative troll portrayals.
Some of these Norse tales are taken from Thomas Bulfinch's Age of Fable: Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes. from 1913, and some are from Abbie Farwell Brown's In the Days of Giants from 1902. Both are in the public domain. As for names, "Words" in the bottom left of the screen opens a Norse glossary. Other Norse tales, with many notes surrounding them, are in Peter A. Munch's Norse Mythology [Link]. The texts below have been edited for this edition.
The Beginning of Many Things
Some old stories tell about how things began. There is considerable imagery in some of those stories. And because many old tales changed in being told from one generation to another, there may be very different accounts around on how the world began. So some stories come in more than one version. It is the same with many ancient Greek tales too.
This book is made of the stories that once were told in Scandinavia and Norden. You will find tales of old giants, dwarfs, and other beings said to live in the countryside mainly - there were not any big towns around in Scandinavia at the time of the Vikings either. Brave Thor seems to have been the most popular of the Norse gods back then.
Heat and cold
The old stories of the Norsemen tell that at first there were two worlds, one of burning heat and one of icy cold. The cold world was in the north, and from it flowed a river of dangerous and poisonous water. The other world in the south was on fire with bright flame, a place of horrible heat.
These two worlds of heat and cold were all that once existed - and then they began a fierce combat. Heat and cold met and strove to destroy each other. As a result, chilly water drops became alive; and turned into a huge frost-giant. He was the ancestor of all the giants who came afterwards. It was a bad and cruel race.
At that time there was no earth nor sea nor heaven, nothing but an icy abyss without bottom, from where Ymir the frost-bite giant had sprung. And there he lived, nourished by the milk of a cow which the heat had formed.
A remarkable cow feeding on next to nothing
The cow had nothing for her food but snow and ice. One day she was licking an icy stone, which tasted salty to her, when Ymir noticed that the more the cow licked it, the plainer became the outline of the shape. And when evening came Ymir saw a head of hair thrusting itself through the icy rock. Next day the cow went on with her meal, and at night-time a man's head appeared above the rock. On the third day the cow licked away the ice till a man stepped forth, He was tall and powerful and handsome. This was someone who was good; and though he came from ice his heart was warm. He was the ancestor of the kind gods. Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve were his grandsons, and as soon as they were born they became enemies of the race of giants.
After a few giant years there was a great battle, for Odin and his brothers wished to keep only good living. They attacked the giant Ymir, first of all his race, and after hard fighting slew him. Ymir was so huge that when he died, a mighty river of blood flowed from the wounds which Odin had given him; it was a stream so large that it flooded all space. Now the frost-giants, his children and grandchildren, were drowned in it, except one who escaped with his wife in a chest. And but for the saving of these two, that would have been the end of the race of giants.
Heaven and earth takes shape
Odin and his brothers now had work to do. Painfully they dragged the great bulk of Ymir into a bottomless space of ice, and from it they built the earth, the sea, and the heavens. Nothing of his body went to waste. His blood made the great ocean, the rivers, lakes, and springs. His bones became mountains. His teeth and broken bones made sand and pebbles. From his skull they fashioned the arching heaven, which they set up over the earth and sea. His brain became the heavy clouds. His hair sprouted into trees, grass, plants, and flowers. And last of all, the gods set his bristling eyebrows as a high fence around the earth, to keep the giants away from the race of men whom they had planned to create for this pleasant globe.
So the earth was made, they say. And next the gods brought light for the heavens. They caught the sparks and cinders blown from the world of heat, and set them here and there, above and below, as sun and moon and stars. To each they gave its name and told what its duties were to be, and how it must perform them, day after day, and year after year, and century after century, till the ending of all things; so that the children of men might reckon time without mistake.
Sôl and Mâni, who drove the bright chariots of the sun and moon across the sky, were a fair sister and brother whose father named them Sun and Moon because they were so beautiful. So Odin gave them each a pair of swift, bright horses to drive, and set them in the sky forever. Once on a time, – but that was many, many years later, – Mâni, the Man in the Moon, stole two children from the earth. Hiuki and Bil were going to a well to draw a pail of water. The little boy and girl carried a pole and a bucket across their shoulders, and looked so pretty that Mâni thrust down a long arm and snatched them up to his moon. And there they are to this day, as you can see on any moonlight night, – two little black shadows on the moon's bright face, the boy and the girl, with the bucket between them.
Dark Horse and Bright Horse (Night and Day)
The gods also made Day and Night. Day was fair, bright, and beautiful, for he was of the warm-hearted race of gods. But Night was dark and gloomy, because she was one of the cold giant-folk. Day and Night had each a chariot drawn by a swift horse, and each in turn drove about the world in a twenty-four hours' journey. Night rode first behind her dark horse, Hrîmfaxi, who scattered dew from his bit on the sleeping earth. After her came Day with his beautiful horse, Glad, whose shining mane shot rays of light through the sky.
All these wonders the kind gods wrought that they might make a pleasant world for men to call their home. And now the gods, or Æsir as they were called, must choose a place for their own dwelling, for there were many of them, a (vain)glorious family.
Where the giants lived
Outside of everything, beyond the great ocean which surrounded the world, was Jotunheim, the cold country where the giants lived.
Home of mankind
From Asgard to Midgard, the home of men [and the old eyebrow region], stretched a wonderful rainbow bridge, a bridge of many hues or colors. Up and down that bridge the gods could travel to the earth, and thus keep close to the doings of men.
The green earth was made for men. The gods therefore decided to build their city above men in the heavens, where they could watch the doings of their favorites and protect them from the wicked giants. Asgard was to be their city. It was protected by the eminent Thor with his thunderbolt hammer, he was also the foremost protector of the gods.
Ash and Elm and Adam and Eve
The goodness-loving gods wanted to have a race of creatures whom they could love and protect and bless with all kinds of pleasures. So Odin, with his brothers Hønir and Loke, crossed the rainbow bridge and came down to the earth. They were walking along the seashore when they found two trees, an ash and an elm. These would do as well as anything for their purpose. Odin took the two trees and warmly breathed on them; and they became a man and a woman. Hønir then gently touched their foreheads, and they became wise. Lastly Loke softly stroked their faces; their skin grew pink with ruddy color, and they received the gifts of speech, hearing, and sight.
Ask and Embla were the name of the couple, and the ash and the elm became the father and mother of the whole human race living on Midgard, under the eyes of the gods who had made them.
Beneath, a glittering nether-world
Then, from the remnants of Ymir's body the gods made the race of little dwarfs, they were wise and skillful, but more like the giants in nature than the good gods: The dwarfs were often wicked, and they loved the dark and the cold better than light and warmth. They lived deep down below the ground in caves and rocky dens, and it was their business to dig the precious metals and glittering gems that were hidden in the rocks, and to make wonderful things from the treasures of the under-world.
Pouf! pouf! went their little bellows. Tink-tank! went their little hammers on their little anvils all day and all night. Sometimes they were friendly to the giants, and sometimes they did kindly deeds for the gods. Much later they came to detest people who eagerly sought for the gold and the jewels which the dwarfs kept hidden in the ground. [Retold]
Thor and Other Norse Gods
Thor (Old Norse: Þorr, Þunarr; Old English: Þunor, Þur; Old Saxon: Þunær; Frisian: Tonger, Old Dutch: Donar; Old High German: Donar; is the red-haired and bearded god of thunder in old Norse and Germanic mythology. By wielding thunder he is similar to Zeus of the ancient Greeks and Indra in ancient Indo-Arian mythology. There are correspondences. Many writers (Saxo, Adam of Bremen, Snorre Sturlason, Ælfric of Eynsham) identified Thor with Jupiter (Roman for Zeus). Both are associated with the oak tree and roles as protectors too, for example.
Thor, as Donar, was very popular among the Germanic people, is mentioned in a Saxon vow from the 700s or 800s. In the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, Thor, the thunderer, is the son of Odin and the giantess Jörd (Jord, the Earth). He is described as the strongest of gods and men. In very many places Thor was the favourite god, and not Odin. Many surviving depictions of Thor and his exploits have survived.
The name "Thor", derived from the deity, is the first element in many names, both personal names, for example the British Dustin, Torcall, Torquhil, and Torquil - and Scottish surnames like McCorquodale and Thorburn.
Among the Norse, Thor was associated with manful fertility, he may be said to remain a symbol of the manful strength of concentrated effort. His battle chariot was drawn by two goats, and his hammer Mjollner caused the lightning that flashed across the sky. Thor was a faithful defender of other gods. His wife, Sif, had hair of gold.
Thor owned three very precious things.
The first was a hammer, which both the frost-giants and the mountain giants knew to their cost when they saw it hurled against them in the air, for it had split many a skull of their fathers and kindred. When thrown, it returned to his hand of its own accord.
There is archeological evidence of boomerangs in Northern Europe several thousands of years ago [cf. Wad, 1985].
The second rare thing he owned was called the belt of strength. When he girded it about him his god-might was doubled.
The third, also very precious, was his iron gloves, which he put on whenever he would use his mallet efficiently.
From Thor's name is derived our word Thursday.
Frey was one of the most celebrated of the gods. He presided over rain and sunshine and all the fruits of the earth. His sister Freya was the most propitious of the goddesses. She loved music, spring, and flowers, and was particularly fond of the elves (fairies). She was very fond of love ditties, and all lovers would do well to invoke her. Friday stems from her name.
Brage was the god of poetry, and his song recorded the deeds of warriors. His wife, Idun, kept in a box the apples that the gods - when they feel old age nearing - had only to taste of to become young again.
Heimdal was the watchman of the gods, and was therefore placed on the borders of heaven to prevent the giants from forcing their way over the bridge Bifrost [the rainbow]. He needed less sleep than a bird, and saw by night as well as by day a hundred miles around him. So acute was his ear that no sound escaped him, for he could even hear the grass grow and the wool on a sheep's back.
And in the north countries, spring, sunshine, and warmth are as near and dear as friends, and good times are those where people bask in pleasant warmth. And how did springtime come about each year? It was the doing of beautiful Balder, the fair and sincere darling god who could make springtime with his smile.
Thor Goes Fishing
Once on a time the gods went to take dinner with old Aegir, the king of the ocean. Down under the green waves they went to the coral palace where Aegir lived with his wife, Queen Ran, and his daughters, the Waves. But Aegir was not expecting so large a party to dinner, and he had not mead enough for them all to drink. "I must brew some more mead," he said to himself. But when he came to look for a kettle in which to make the brew, there was none in all the sea large enough for the purpose. At first Aegir did not know what to do; but at last he decided to consult the gods themselves, for he knew how wise and powerful his guests were, and he hoped that they might help him to a kettle.
Now when he told the gods his trouble they were much interested, for they were hungry and thirsty, and longed for some of Aegir's good mead. "Where can we find a kettle?" they said to one another. "Who has a kettle huge enough to hold mead for all the gods?"
Then Tyr the brave turned to Thor with a grand idea. "My father, the giant Hymir, has such a kettle," he said. "I have seen it often in his great palace near Elivâgar, the river of ice. This famous kettle is a mile deep, and surely that is large enough to brew all the mead we may need."
"Surely, surely it is large enough," laughed Aegir. "But how are we to get the kettle, my distinguished guests? Who will go to Giantland to fetch the kettle a mile deep?"
"That will I," said brave Thor. "I will go to Hymir's dwelling and bring thence the little kettle, if Tyr will go with me to show me the way." So Thor and Tyr set out together for the land of snow and ice, where the giant Hymir lived. They traveled long and they traveled fast, and finally they came to the huge house which had once been Tyr's home, before he went to live with the good folk in Asgard.
Well Tyr knew the way to enter, and it was not long before they found themselves in the hall of Hymir's dwelling, peering about for some sign of the kettle which they had come so far to seek; and sure enough, presently they discovered eight huge kettles hanging in a row from one of the beams in the ceiling. While the two were wondering which kettle might be the one they sought, there came in Tyr's grandmother, – and a terrible grandmother she was. No wonder that Tyr had run away from home when he was very little; for this dreadful creature was a giantess with nine hundred heads, each more ugly than the others, and her temper was as bad as were her looks. She began to roar and bellow; and no one knows what this evil old person would have done to her grandson and his friend had not there come into the hall at this moment another woman, fair and sweet, and glittering with golden ornaments. This was Tyr's good mother, who loved him dearly, and who had mourned his absence during long years.
With a cry of joy she threw herself on her son's neck, bidding him welcome forty times over. She welcomed Thor also when she found out who he was; but she sent away the wicked old grandmother, that she might not hear, for Thor's name was not dear to the race of giants, to so many of whom he had brought dole and death.
"Why have you come, dear son, after so many years?" she cried. "I know that some great undertaking calls you and this noble fellow to your father's hall. Danger and death wait here for such as you and he; and only some quest with glory for its reward could have brought you to such risks. Tell me your secret, Tyr, and I will not betray it."
Then they told her how that they had come to carry away the giant kettle; and Tyr's mother promised that she would help them all she could. But she warned them that it would be dangerous indeed, for that Hymir had been in a terrible temper for many days, and that the very sight of a stranger made him wild with rage. Hastily she gave them meat and drink, for they were nearly famished after their long journey; and then she looked around to see where she should hide them against Hymir's return, who was now away at the hunt.
"Aha!" she cried. "The very thing! You shall bide in the great kettle itself; and if you escape Hymir's terrible eye, it may hap that you will find a way to make off with your hiding-place, which is what you want." So the kind creature helped them to climb into the great kettle where it hung from one of the rafters in a row with seven others; but this one was the biggest and the strongest of them all.
Hardly had they snuggled down out of sight when Tyr's mother began to tremble. "Hist!" she cried. "I hear him coming. Keep as still as ever you can, Tyr and Thor!" The floor also began to tremble, and the eight kettles to clatter against one another, as Hymir's giant footsteps approached the house. Outside they could hear the icebergs shaking with a sound like thunder; indeed, the whole earth quivered as if with fear when the terrible giant Hymir strode home from the hunt. He came into the hall puffing and blowing, and at once the air of the room grew chilly; for his beard was hung with icicles and his face was frosted hard, while his breath was a winter wind, – a freezing blast.
"Ho! wife," he growled, "what news, what news? For I see by the footprints in the snow outside that you have had visitors today."
Then indeed the poor woman trembled; but she tried not to look frightened as she answered, "Yes, you have a guest, Hymir! – a guest whom you have long wished to see. Your son Tyr has returned to visit his father's hall."
"Humph!" growled Hymir, with a terrible frown. "Whom has he brought here with him, the rascal? There are prints of two persons' feet in the snow. Come, wife, tell me all; for I shall soon find out the truth, whether or no."
"He has brought a friend of his, – a dear friend, Hymir!" faltered the mother. "Surely, our son's friends are welcome when he brings them to this our home, after so long an absence."
But Hymir howled with rage at the word "friend." "Where are they hidden?" he cried. "Friend, indeed! It is one of those bloody fellows from Asgard, I know, – one of those giant-killers whom my good mother taught me to hate with all my might. Let me get at him! Tell me instantly where he is hidden, or I will pull down the hall about your ears!"
Now when the wicked old giant spoke like this, his wife knew that he must be obeyed. Still she tried to put off the fateful moment of the discovery. "They are standing over there behind that pillar," she said. Instantly Hymir glared at the pillar towards which she pointed, and at his frosty glance – snick-snack! – the marble pillar cracked in two, and down crashed the great roof-beam which held the eight kettles. Smash! went the kettles; and there they lay shivered into little pieces at Hymir's feet, – all except one, the largest of them all, and that was the kettle in which Thor and Tyr lay hidden, scarcely daring to breathe, so that the giant should not guess where they were. Tyr's mother screamed when she saw the big kettle fall with the others: but when she found that this one, alone of them all, lay on its side unbroken, because it was so tough and strong, she held her breath to see what would happen next.
And what happened was this: out stepped Thor and Tyr, and making low bows to Hymir, they stood side by side, smiling and looking as unconcerned as if they really enjoyed all this hubbub; and I dare say that they did indeed, being Tyr the bold and Thor the thunderer, who had been in Giantland many times ere this.
Hymir gave scarcely a glance at his son, but he eyed Thor with a frown of hatred and suspicion, for he knew that this was one of Father Odin's brave family, though he could not tell which one. However, he thought best to be civil, now that Thor was actually before him. So with gruff politeness he invited the two guests to supper.
Now Thor was a valiant fellow at the table as well as in war, as you remember; and at sight of the good things on the board his eyes sparkled. Three roast oxen there were on the giant's table, and Thor fell to with a will and finished two of them himself! You should have seen the giant stare.
"Truly, friend, you have a goodly appetite," he said. "You have eaten all the meat that I have in my larder; and if you dine with us tomorrow, I must insist that you catch your own dinner of fish. I can't undertake to provide food for such an appetite!"
Now this was not hospitable of Hymir, but Thor did not mind. "I like well to fish, good Hymir," he laughed; "and when you fare forth with your boat in the morning, I will go with you and see what I can find for my dinner at the bottom of the sea."
When the morning came, the giant made ready for the fishing, and Thor rose early to go with him.
"Ho, Hymir," exclaimed Thor, "have you bait enough for us both?"
Hymir answered gruffly, "You must dig your own bait when you go fishing with me. I have no time to waste on you, sirrah."
Then Thor looked about to see what he could use for bait; and presently he spied a herd of Hymir's oxen feeding in the meadow. "Aha! just the thing!" he cried; and seizing the hugest ox of all, he trotted down to the shore with it under his arm, as easily as you would carry a handful of clams for bait. When Hymir saw this, he was very angry. He pushed the boat off from shore and began to row away as fast as he could, so that Thor might not have a chance to come aboard. But Thor made one long step and planted himself snugly in the stern of the boat.
"No, no, brother Hymir," he said, laughing. "You invited me to go fishing, and a-fishing I will go; for I have my bait, and my hope is high that great luck I shall see this day." So he took an oar and rowed mightily in the stern, while Hymir the giant rowed mightily at the prow; and no one ever saw boat skip over the water so fast as this one did on the day when these two big fellows went fishing together.
Far and fast they rowed, till they came to a spot where Hymir cried, "Hold! Let us anchor here and fish; this is the place where I have best fortune."
"And what sort of little fish do you catch here, Hymir?" asked Thor.
"Whales!" answered the giant proudly. "I fish for nothing smaller than whales."
"Pooh!" cried Thor. "Who would fish for such small fry! Whales, indeed; let us row out further, where we can find something really worth catching," and he began to pull even faster than before.
"Stop! stop!" roared the giant. "You do not know what you are doing. These are the haunts of the dreadful Midgard serpent, and it is not safe to fish in these waters."
"Oho! The Midgard serpent!" said Thor, delighted. "That is the very fish I am after. Let us drop in our lines here."
Thor baited his great hook with the whole head of the ox which he had brought, and cast his line, big round as a man's arm, over the side of the boat. Hymir also cast his line, for he did not wish Thor to think him a coward; but his hand trembled as he waited for a bite, and he glanced down into the blue depths with eyes rounded as big as dinner-plates through fear of the horrible creature who lived down below those waves.
"Look! You have a bite!" cried Thor, so suddenly that Hymir started and nearly tumbled out of the boat. Hand over hand he pulled in his line, and lo! he had caught two whales – two great flopping whales – on his one hook! That was a catch indeed.
Hymir smiled proudly, forgetting his fear as he said, "How is that, my friend? Let us see you beat this catch in your morning's fishing."
Lo, just at that moment Thor also had a bite – such a bite! The boat rocked to and fro, and seemed ready to capsize every minute. Then the waves began to roll high and to be lashed into foam for yards and yards about the boat, as if some huge creature were struggling hard below the water.
"I have him!" shouted Thor; "I have the old serpent, the brother of the Fenris wolf! Pull, pull, monster! But you shall not escape me now!"
Sure enough, the Midgard serpent had Thor's hook fixed in his jaw, and struggle as he might, there was no freeing himself from the line; for the harder he pulled the stronger grew Thor. In his gods-might Thor waxed so huge and so forceful that his legs went straight through the bottom of the boat and his feet stood on the bottom of the sea. With firm bottom as a brace for his strength, Thor pulled and pulled, and at last up came the head of the Midgard serpent, up to the side of the boat, where it thrust out of the water mountain high, dreadful to behold; his monstrous red eyes were rolling fiercely, his nostrils spouted fire, and from his terrible sharp teeth dripped poison, that sizzled as it fell into the sea. Angrily they glared at each other, Thor and the serpent, while the water streamed into the boat, and the giant turned pale with fear at the danger threatening him on all sides.
Thor seized his hammer, preparing to smite the creature's head; but even as he swung Mjolner high for the fatal blow, Hymir cut the fish-line with his knife, and down into the depths of ocean sank the Midgard serpent amid a whirlpool of eddies. But the hammer had sped from Thor's iron fingers. It crushed the serpent's head as he sank downward to his lair on the sandy bottom; it crushed, but did not kill him, thanks to the giant's treachery. Terrible was the disturbance it caused beneath the waves. It burst the rocks and made the caverns of the ocean shiver into bits. It wrecked the coral groves, and tore loose the draperies of sea-weed. The fishes scurried about in every direction, and the sea-monsters wildly sought new places to hide themselves when they found their homes destroyed. The sea itself was stirred to its lowest depths, and the waves ran trembling into one another's arms. The earth, too, shrank and shivered. Hymir, cowering low in the boat, was glad of one thing, which was that the terrible Midgard serpent had vanished out of sight. And that was the last that was ever seen of him, though he still lived, wounded and sore from the shock of Thor's hammer.
Now it was time to return home. Silently and sulkily the giant swam back to land; Thor, bearing the boat on his shoulders, filled with water and weighted as it was with the great whales which Hymir had caught, waded ashore, and brought his burden to the giant's hall. Here Hymir met him crossly enough, for he was ashamed of the whole morning's work, in which Thor had appeared so much more of a hero than he. Indeed, he was tired of even pretending hospitality towards this unwelcome guest, and was resolved to be rid of him; but first he would put Thor to shame.
"You are a strong fellow," he said, "good at the oar and at the fishing; most wondrously good at the hammer, by which I know that you are Thor. But there is one thing which you can't do, I warrant, – you can't break this little cup of mine, hard though you may try."
"That I shall see for myself," answered Thor; and he took the cup in his hand. Now this was a magic cup, and there was but one way of breaking it, but one thing hard enough to shatter its mightiness. Thor threw it with all his force against a stone of the flooring; but instead of breaking the cup, the stone itself was cracked into splinters. Then Thor grew angry, for the giant and all his servants were laughing as if this were the greatest joke ever played.
"Ho, ho! Try again, Thor!" cried Hymir, nearly bursting with delight; for he thought that now he should prove how much mightier he was than the visitor from Asgard. Thor clutched the cup more firmly and hurled it against one of the iron pillars of the hall; but like a rubber ball the magic cup merely bounded back straight into Hymir's hand. At this second failure the giants were full of merriment and danced about, making all manner of fun at the expense of Thor. You can fancy how well Thor the mighty enjoyed this! His brow grew black, and the glance of his eye was terrible. He knew there was some magic in the trick, but he knew not how to meet it. Just then he felt the soft touch of a woman's hand on his arm, and the voice of Tyr's mother whispered in his ear:
"Cast the cup against Hymir's own forehead, which is the hardest substance in the world." No one except Thor heard the woman say these words, for all the giant folk were doubled up with mirth over their famous joke. But Thor dropped on one knee, and seizing the cup fiercely, whirled it about his head, then dashed it with all his might straight at Hymir's forehead. Smash! Crash! What had happened? Thor looked eagerly to see. There stood the giant, looking surprised and a little dazed; but his forehead showed not even a scratch, while the strong cup was shivered into little pieces.
"Well done!" exclaimed Hymir hastily, when he had recovered a little from his surprise. But he was mortified at Thor's success, and set about to think up a new task to try his strength. "That was very well," he remarked patronizingly; "now you must perform a harder task. Let us see you carry the mead kettle out of the hall. Do that, my fine fellow, and I shall say you are strong indeed."
The mead kettle! The very thing Thor had come to get! He glanced at Tyr; he shot a look at Tyr's mother; and both of them caught the sparkle, which was very like a wink. To himself Thor muttered, "I must not fail in this! I must not, will not fail!"
"First let me try," cried Tyr; for he wanted to give Thor time for a resting-spell. Twice Tyr the mighty strained at the great kettle, but he could not so much as stir one leg of it from the floor where it rested. He tugged and heaved in vain, growing red in the face, till his mother begged him to give over, for it was quite useless.
Then Thor stepped forth on the floor. He grasped the rim of the kettle, and stamped his feet through the stone of the flooring as he braced himself to lift. One, two, three! Thor straightened himself, and up swung the giant kettle to his head, while the iron handle clattered about his feet. It was a mighty burden, and Thor staggered as he started for the door; but Tyr was close beside him, and they had covered long leagues of ground on their way home before the astonished giants had recovered sufficiently to follow them. When Thor and Tyr looked back, however, they saw a vast crowd of horrible giants, some of them with a hundred heads, swarming out of the caverns in Hymir's land, howling and prowling on their track.
"You must stop them, Thor, or they will never let us get away with their precious kettle, – they take such long strides!" cried Tyr. So Thor set down the kettle, and from his pocket drew out Mjolner, his wondrous hammer. Terribly it flashed in the air as he swung it over his head; then forth it flew towards Jotunheim; and before it returned to Thor's hand it had crushed all the heads of those many-headed giants, Hymir's ugly mother and Hymir himself among them. The only one who escaped was the good and beautiful mother of Tyr. And you may be sure she lived happily ever after in the palace which Hymir and his wicked old mother had formerly made so wretched a home for her.
Now Tyr and Thor had the giant kettle which they had gone so far and had met so many dangers to obtain. They took it to Aegir's sea-palace, where the banquet was still going on, and where the gods were still waiting patiently for their mead; for time does not go so fast below the quiet waves as on shore. Now that King Aegir had the great kettle, he could brew all the mead they needed. So every one thanked Tyr and congratulated Thor on the success of their adventure.
"I was sure that Thor would bring the kettle," said fair Sif, smiling on her brave husband.
"What Thor sets out to do, that he always accomplishes," said Father Odin gravely. And that was praise enough, you could say.
Thor's Visit to Jotunheim, the Giant's Country
First versionOne day Thor, with his servant Tjalve, and accompanied by Loke, set out on a journey to the giant's country. Tjalve was of all men the swiftest of foot. He bore Thor's wallet, containing their provisions. When night came on they found themselves in an immense forest, and searched on all sides for a place where they might pass the night, and at last came to a very large hall, with an entrance that took the whole breadth of one end of the building. Here they lay down to sleep, but towards midnight were alarmed by an earthquake which shook the whole edifice. Thor, rising up, called on his companions to seek with him a place of safety. On the right they found an adjoining chamber, into which the others entered, but Thor remained at the doorway with his mallet in his hand, prepared to defend himself, whatever might happen. A terrible groaning was heard during the night, and at dawn of day Thor went out and found lying near him a huge giant, who slept and snored in the way that had alarmed them so. It is said that for once Thor was afraid to use his mallet, and as the giant soon waked up, Thor contented himself with simply asking his name.
"My name is Skrymir," said the giant, "but I need not ask your name, for I know that you are the god Thor. But what has become of my glove?" Thor then perceived that what they had taken overnight for a hall was the giant's glove, and the chamber where his two companions had sought refuge was the thumb. Skrymir then proposed that they should travel in company, and Thor consenting, they sat down to eat their breakfast, and when they had done, Skrymir packed all the provisions into one wallet, threw it over his shoulder, and strode on before them, taking such tremendous strides that they were hard put to it to keep up with him. So they travelled the whole day, and at dusk Skrymir chose a place for them to pass the night in under a large oak tree. Skrymir then told them he would lie down to sleep. "But take the wallet," he added, "and prepare your supper."
Skrymir soon fell asleep and began to snore strongly; but when Thor tried to open the wallet, he found the giant had tied it up so tight he could not untie a single knot. At last Thor became wroth, and grasping his mallet with both hands he struck a furious blow on the giant's head. Skrymir, awakening, merely asked whether a leaf had not fallen on his head, and whether they had supped and were ready to go to sleep. Thor answered that they were just going to sleep, and so saying went and laid himself down under another tree. But sleep came not that night to Thor, and when Skrymir snored again so loud that the forest reŽchoed with the noise, he arose, and grasping his mallet launched it with such force at the giant's skull that it made a deep dint in it. Skrymir, awakening, cried out, "What's the matter? Are there any birds perched on this tree? I felt some moss from the branches fall on my head. How fares it with you, Thor?" But Thor went away hastily, saying that he had just then awoke, and that as it was only midnight, there was still time for sleep. He, however, resolved that if he had an opportunity of striking a third blow, it should settle all matters between them. A little before daybreak he perceived that Skrymir was again fast asleep, and again grasping his mallet, he dashed it with such violence that it forced its way into the giant's skull up to the handle. But Skrymir sat up, and stroking his cheek said, "An acorn fell on my head. What! Are you awake, Thor? Methinks it is time for us to get up and dress ourselves; but you have not now a long way before you to the city called Utgard. I have heard you whispering to one another that I am not a man of small dimensions; but if you come to Utgard you will see there many men much taller than I. Wherefore, I advise you, when you come there, not to make too much of yourselves, for the followers of Utgard-Loke will not brook the boasting of such little fellows as you are. You must take the road that leads eastward, mine lies northward, so we must part here."
Hereupon he threw his wallet over his shoulders and turned away from them into the forest, and Thor had no wish to stop him or to ask for any more of his company.
Thor and his companions proceeded on their way, and towards noon descried a city standing in the middle of a plain. It was so lofty that they were obliged to bend their necks quite back on their shoulders in order to see to the top of it. On arriving they entered the city, and seeing a large palace before them with the door wide open, they went in, and found a number of men of prodigious stature, sitting on benches in the hall. Going further, they came before the king, Utgard-Loke, whom they saluted with great respect. The king, regarding them with a scornful smile, said, "If I do not mistake me, that stripling over there must be the god Thor." Then addressing himself to Thor, he said, "Perhaps you may be more than you appear to be. What are the feats that you and your fellows deem yourselves skilled in, for no one is permitted to remain here who does not, in some feat or other, excel all other men?"
"The feat that I know," said Loke, "is to eat quicker than anyone else, and in this I am ready to give a proof against anyone here who may choose to compete with me."
"That will indeed be a feat," said Utgard-Loke, "if you perform what you promise, and it shall be tried forthwith."
He then ordered one of his men who was sitting at the farther end of the bench, and whose name was Logi, to come forward and try his skill with Loke. A trough filled with meat having been set on the hall floor, Loke placed himself at one end, and Logi at the other, and each of them began to eat as fast as he could, till they met in the middle of the trough. But it was found that Loke had only eaten the flesh, while his adversary had devoured both flesh and bone, and the trough to boot. All the company therefore adjudged that Loke was vanquished.
Utgard-Loke then asked what feat the young man who accompanied Thor could perform. Tjalve answered that he would run a race with anyone who might be matched against him. The king observed that skill in running was something to boast of, but if the youth would win the match he must display great agility. He then arose and went with all who were present to a plain where there was good ground for running on, and calling a young man named Hugi, bade him run a match with Tjalve. In the first course Hugi so much outstripped his competitor that he turned back and met him not far from the starting place. Then they ran a second and a third time, but Tjalve met with no better success.
Utgard-Loke then asked Thor in what feats he would choose to give proofs of that prowess for which he was so famous. Thor answered that he would try a drinking-match with anyone. Utgard-Loke bade his cup-bearer bring the large horn which his followers were obliged to empty when they had trespassed in any way against the law of the feast. The cupbearer having presented it to Thor, Utgard-Loke said, "Whoever is a good drinker will empty that horn at a single draught, though most men make two of it, but the most puny drinker can do it in three."
Thor looked at the horn, which seemed of no extraordinary size though somewhat long; however, as he was very thirsty, he set it to his lips, and without drawing breath, pulled as long and as deeply as he could, that he might not be obliged to make a second draught of it; but when he set the horn down and looked in, he could scarcely perceive that the liquor was diminished.
After taking breath, Thor went to it again with all his might, but when he took the horn from his mouth, it seemed to him that he had drunk rather less than before, although the horn could now be carried without spilling.
"How now, Thor?" said Utgard-Loke; "you must not spare yourself if you mean to drain the horn."
Next Thor had to wrestle with an old woman. The more Thor tightened his hold on the crone the firmer she stood. At length after a very violent struggle Thor began to lose his footing, and was finally brought down on one knee. Utgard-Loke then told them to desist, adding that Thor had now no occasion to ask anyone else in the hall to wrestle with him, and it was also getting late; so he showed Thor and his companions to their seats, and they passed the night there in good cheer.
The next morning, at break of day, Thor and his companions dressed themselves and prepared for their departure. Utgard-Loke ordered a table to be set for them, on which there was no lack of victuals or drink. After the repast Utgard-Loke led them to the gate of the city, and on parting asked Thor how he thought his journey had turned out, and whether he had met with any men stronger than himself. Thor told him that he could not deny but that he had brought great shame on himself. "And what grieves me most," he added, "is that you will call me a person of little worth."
"Nay," said Utgard-Loke, "it behoves me to tell you the truth, now you are out of the city, which so long as I live and have my way you shall never enter again. And, by my troth, had I known beforehand that you had so much strength in you, and would have brought me so near to a great mishap, I would not have suffered you to enter this time.
Know then that I have all along deceived you by my illusions; first in the forest, where I tied up the wallet with iron wire so that you could not untie it. After this you gave me three blows with your mallet; the first, though the least, would have ended my days had it fallen on me, but I slipped aside and your blows fell on the mountain, where you will find three glens, one of them remarkably deep. These are the dints made by your mallet. I have made use of similar illusions in the contests you have had with my followers.
In the first, Loke, like hunger itself, devoured all that was set before him, but Logi was in reality nothing else than Fire, and therefore consumed not only the meat, but the trough which held it.
Hugi, with whom Tjalve contended in running, was Thought, and it was impossible for Tjalve to keep pace with that.
When you in your turn attempted to empty the horn, you performed, by my troth, a deed so marvellous that had I not seen it myself I should never have believed it. For one end of that horn reached the sea, which you wast not aware of, but when you come to the shore you will perceive how much the sea has sunk by your draughts.
You performed a feat no less wonderful by lifting up the cat, and to tell you the truth, when we saw that one of his paws was off the floor, we were all of us terror-stricken, for what you took for a cat was in reality the Midgard serpent that encompasses the earth, and he was so stretched by you that he was barely long enough to enclose it between his head and tail.
Your wrestling with Elli was also a most astonishing feat, for there was never yet a man, nor ever will be, whom Old Age, for such in fact was Elli, will not sooner or later lay low.
But now, as we are going to part, let me tell you that it will be better for both of us if you never come near me again, for should you do so, I shall again defend myself by other illusions, so that you will only lose your labour and get no fame from the contest with me."
On hearing these words Thor in a rage laid hold of his mallet and would have
launched it at him, but Utgard-Loke had disappeared, and when Thor would have
returned to the city to destroy it, he found nothing around him but a verdant plain.
Second VersionIt was a long time since Thor had slain any giants, and he was growing restless for an adventure. "Come, Loke," he said one day, "let us fare forth to Giantland and see what news there is among the Big Folk."
Loke laughed, saying, "Let us go, Thor. I know I am safe with you;" which was a piece of flattery that happened to be true.
So they mounted the goat chariot as they had done so many times before and rumbled away out of Asgard. All day they rode; and when evening came they stopped at a little house on the edge of a forest, where lived a poor peasant with his wife, his son, and daughter.
"May we rest here for the night, friend?" asked Thor; and noting their poverty, he added, "We bring our own supper, and ask but a bed to sleep in." So the peasant was glad to have them stay. Then Thor, who knew what he was about, killed and cooked his two goats, and invited the family of peasants to sup with him and Loke; but when the meal was ended, he bade them carefully save all the bones and throw them into the goatskins which he had laid beside the hearth. Then Thor and Loke lay down to sleep.
In the morning, very early, before the rest were awake, Thor rose, and taking his hammer, Mjolner, went into the kitchen, where were the remains of his faithful goats. Now the magic hammer was skillful, not only to slay, but to restore, when Thor's hand wielded it. He touched with it the two heaps of skin and bones, and lo! up sprang the goats, alive and well, and as good as new. No, not quite as good as new. What was this? Thor roared with anger, for one of the goats was lame in one of his legs, and limped sorely. "Someone has meddled with the bones!" he cried. "Who has touched the bones that I bade be kept so carefully?"
Tjalve, the peasant's son, had broken one of the thigh-bones in order to get at the sweet marrow, and this Thor soon discovered by the lad's guilty face; then Thor was angry indeed. His knuckles grew white as he clenched the handle of Mjolner, ready to hurl it and destroy the whole unlucky house and family; but the peasant and the other three fell on their knees, trembling with fear, and begged him to spare them. They offered him all that they owned, – they offered even to become his slaves, – if he would but spare their wretched lives.
They looked so miserable that Thor was sorry for them, and resolved at last to punish them only by taking away Tjalve, the son, and Röskva, the daughter, tfrom now on to be his servants. And this was not so bad a bargain for Thor, for Tjalve was the swiftest of foot of any man in the whole world.
So he left the goats behind, and fared forth with his three attendants straight towards the east and Jotunheim. Tjalve carried Thor's wallet with their scanty store of food. They crossed the sea and came at last to a great forest, through which they tramped all day, till once more it was night; and now they must find a place in which all could sleep safely till morning. They wandered about here and there, looking for some sign of a dwelling, and at last they came to a big, queer-shaped house. Very queer indeed it was; for the door at one end was as broad as the house itself! They entered, and lay down to sleep; but at midnight Thor was wakened by a terrible noise. The ground shook under them like an earthquake, and the house trembled as if it would fall to pieces. Thor arose and called to his companions that there was danger about, and that they must be on guard. Groping in the dark, they found a long, narrow chamber on the right, where Loke and the two peasants hid trembling, while Thor guarded the doorway, hammer in hand. All night long the terrible noises continued, and Thor's attendants were frightened almost to death; but early in the morning Thor stole forth to find out what it all meant. And lo! close at hand in the forest lay an enormous giant, sound asleep and snoring loudly. Then Thor understood from where all their night's terror had proceeded, for the giant was so huge that his snoring shook even the trees of the forest, and made the mountains tremble. So much the better! Here at last was a giant for Thor to tackle. He buckled his belt of power more tightly to increase his strength, and laid hold of Mjolner to hurl it at the giant's forehead; but just at that moment the giant waked, rose slowly to his feet, and stood staring mildly at Thor. He did not seem a fierce giant, so Thor did not kill him at once. "Who are you?" asked Thor sturdily.
"I am the giant Skrymir, little fellow," answered the stranger, "and well I know who you are, Thor of Asgard. But what have you been doing with my glove?"
Then the giant stooped and picked up – what do you think? – the queer house in which Thor and his three companions had spent the night! Loke and the two others had run out of their chamber in affright when they felt it lifted; and their chamber was the thumb of the giant's glove. That was a giant indeed, and Thor felt sure that they must be well on their way to Giantland.
When Skrymir learned where they were going, he asked if he might not wend with them, and Thor said that he was willing. Now Skrymir untied his wallet and sat down under a tree to eat his breakfast, while Thor and his party chose another place, not far away, for their picnic. When all had finished, the giant said, "Let us put our provisions together in one bag, my friends, and I will carry it for you." This seemed fair enough, for Thor had so little food left that he was not afraid to risk losing it; so he agreed, and Skrymir tied all the provisions in his bag and strode on before them with enormous strides, so fast that even Tjalve could scarcely keep up with him.
The day passed, and late in the evening Skrymir halted under a great oak-tree, say- ing, "Let us rest here. I must have a nap, and you must have your dinner. Here is the wallet, – open it and help yourselves." Then he lay down on the moss, and was soon snoring lustily.
Thor tried to open the wallet, in vain; he could not loosen a single knot of the huge thongs that fastened it. He strained and tugged, growing angrier and redder after every useless attempt. This was too much; the giant was making him appear absurd before his servants. He seized his hammer, and bracing his feet with all his might, struck Skrymir a blow on his head. Skrymir stirred lazily, yawned, opened one eye, and asked whether a leaf had fallen on his forehead, and whether his companions had dined yet. Thor bit his lip with vexation, but he answered that they were ready for bed; so he and his three followers retired to rest under another oak.
But Thor did not sleep that night. He lay thinking how he had been put to shame, and how Loke had snickered at the sight of Thor's vain struggles with the giant's wallet, and he resolved that it should not hap- pen again. At about midnight, once more he heard the giant's snore resounding like thunder through the forest. Thor arose, clenching Mjolner tight, and stole over to the tree where Skrymir slept; then with all his might he hurled the hammer and struck the giant on the crown of his head, so hard that the hammer sank deep into his skull. At this the giant awoke with a start, exclaiming, "What is that? Did an acorn fall on my head? What are you doing there, Thor?"
Thor stepped back quickly, answering that he had waked up, but that it was only midnight, so they might all sleep some hours longer. "If I can only give him one more blow before morning," he thought, "he will never see daylight again." So he lay watching till Skrymir had fallen asleep once more, which was near daybreak; then Thor arose as before, and going very softly to the giant's side, smote him on the temple so sore that the hammer sank into his skull up to the very handle. "Surely, he is killed now," thought Thor.
But Skrymir only raised himself on his elbow, stroked his chin, and said, "There are birds above me in the tree. Methinks that just now a feather fell on my head. What, Thor! are you awake? I am afraid you slept but poorly this night. Come, now, it is high time to rise and make ready for the day. You are not far from our giant city, – Utgard we call it. Aha! I have heard you whispering together. You think that I am big ; but you will see fellows taller still when you come to Utgard. And now I have a piece of advice to give you. Do not pride yourselves overmuch on your importance. The followers of Utgard's king think little of such manikins as you, and will not bear any nonsense, I assure you. Be advised; return homeward before it is too late. If you will go on, however, your way lies there to the eastward. Yonder is my path, over the mountains to the north."
So saying, Skrymir hoisted his wallet on his shoulders, and turning back on the path that led into the forest, left them staring after him and hoping that they might never see his big bulk again.
Thor and his companions journeyed on till noon, when they saw in the distance a great city, on a lofty plain. As they came nearer, they found the buildings so high that the travelers had to bend back their necks in order to see the tops. "This must be Utgard, the giant city," said Thor. And Utgard indeed it was. At the entrance was a great barred gate, locked so that no one might enter. It was useless to try to force a passage in; even Thor's great strength could not move it on its hinges. But it was a giant gate, and the bars were made to keep out other giants, with no thought of folk so small as these who now were bent on finding entrance by one way or another. It was not dignified, and noble Thor disliked the idea. Yet it was their only way; so one by one they squeezed and wriggled between the bars, till they stood in a row inside. In front of them was a wonderful great hall with the door wide open. Thor and the three entered, and found themselves in the midst of a company of giants, the very hugest of their kind. At the end of the hall sat the king on an enormous throne. Thor, who had been in giant companies ere now, went straight up to the throne and greeted the king with civil words. But the giant merely glanced at him with a disagreeable smile, and said:
"It is wearying to ask travelers about their journey. Such little fellows as you four can scarcely have had any adventures worth mentioning. Stay, now! Do I guess aright? Is this manikin Thor of Asgard, or no? Ah, no! I have heard of Thor's might. You can't really be he, unless you are taller than you seem, and stronger too. Let us see what feats you and your companions can perform to amuse us. No one is allowed here who can't excel others in some way or another. What can you do best?"
At this word, Loke, who had entered last, spoke up readily: "There is one thing that I can do, – I can eat faster than any man." For Loke was famished with hunger, and thought he saw a way to win a good meal.
Then the king answered, "Truly, that is a noble accomplishment of yours, if you can prove your words true. Let us make the test." So he called forth from among his men Logi, – whose name means "fire," – and bade him match his powers with the stranger.
Now a trough full of meat was set on the floor, with Loke at one end of it and the giant Logi at the other. Each began to gobble the meat as fast as he could, and it was not a pretty sight to see them. Midway in the trough they met, and at first it would seem as if neither had beaten the other. Loke had indeed done wondrous well in eating the meat from the bones so fast; but Logi, the giant, had in the same time eaten not only meat but bones also, and had swallowed his half of the trough into the bargain. Loke was vanquished at his own game, and retired looking much ashamed and disgusted.
The king then pointed at Tjalve, and asked what that young man could best do. Tjalve answered that of all men he was the swiftest runner, and that he was not afraid to race with anyone whom the king might select.
"That is a goodly craft," said the king, smiling; "but you must be a swift runner indeed if you can win a race from my Hugi. Let us go to the racing-ground."
They followed him out to the plain where Hugi, whose name means "thought," was ready to race with young Tjalve. In the first run Hugi came in so far ahead that when he reached the goal he turned about and went back to meet Tjalve. "You must do better than that, Tjalve, if you hope to win," said the king, laughing, "though I must allow that no one ever before came here who could run so fast as you."
They ran a second race; and this time when Hugi reached the goal there was a long bow-shot between him and Tjalve.
"You are truly a good runner," exclaimed the king. "I doubt not that no man can race like you; but you can't win from my giant lad, I think. The last time shall show." Then they ran for the third time, and Tjalve put forth all his strength, speeding like the wind; but all his skill was in vain. Hardly had he reached the middle of the course when he heard the shouts of the giants announcing that Hugi had won the goal. Tjalve, too, was beaten at his own game, and he withdrew, as Loke had done, shamefaced and sulky.
There remained now only Thor to redeem the honor of his party, for Röskva the maiden was useless here. Thor had watched the result of these trials with surprise and anger, though he knew it was no fault of Loke or of Tjalve that they had been worsted by the giants. And Thor was resolved to better even his own former great deeds. The king called to Thor, and asked him what he thought he could best do to prove himself as mighty as the stories told of him. Thor answered that he would undertake to drink more mead than anyone of the king's men. At this proposal the king laughed aloud, as if it were a giant joke. He summoned his cup-bearer to fetch his horn of punishment, out of which the giants were wont to drink in turn. And when they returned to the hall, the great vessel was brought to the king.
"When anyone empties this horn at one draught, we call him a famous drinker," said the king. "Some of my men empty it in two trials; but no one is so poor a manikin that he can't empty it in three. Take the horn, Thor, and see what you can do with it."
Now Thor was very thirsty, so he seized the horn eagerly. It did not seem to him so very large, for he had drunk from other mighty vessels ere now. But indeed, it was deep. He raised it to his lips and took a long pull, saying to himself, "There! I have emptied it already, I know." Yet when he set the horn down to see how well he had done, he found that he seemed scarcely to have drained a drop; the horn was brimming as before. The king chuckled.
"Well, you have drunk but little," he said. "I would never have believed that famous Thor would lower the horn so soon. But doubtless you will finish all at a second draught."
Instead of answering, Thor raised the horn once more to his lips, resolved to do better than before. But for some reason the tip of the horn seemed hard to raise, and when he set the vessel down again his heart sank, for he feared that he had drunk even less than at his first trial. Yet he had really done better, for now it was easy to carry the horn with- out spilling. The king smiled grimly. "How now, Thor!" he cried. "You have left too much for your third trial. I fear you will never be able to empty the little horn in three draughts, as the least of my men can do. Ho, ho! You will not be thought so great a hero here as the folk deem you in Asgard, if you can't play some other game more skillfully than you do this one."
At this speech Thor grew very angry. He raised the horn to his mouth and drank lustily, as long as he was able. But when he looked into the horn, he found that some drops still remained. He had not been able to empty it in three draughts. Angrily he flung down the horn, and said that he would have no more of it.
"Ah, Master Thor," taunted the king, "it is now plain that you are not so mighty as we thought you. Are you inclined to try some other feats? For indeed, you are easily beaten at this one."
"I will try whatever you like," said Thor; "but your horn is a wondrous one, and among the gods such a draught as mine would be called far from little. Come, now, – what game do you next propose, King?"
The king thought a moment, then answered carelessly, "There is a little game with which my youngsters amuse themselves, though it is so simple as to be almost childish. It is merely the exercise of lifting my cat from the ground. I should never have dared suggest such a feat as this to you, Thor of Asgard, had I not seen that great tasks are beyond your skill. It may be that you will find this hard enough." So he spoke, smiling slyly, and at that moment there came stalking into the hall a monstrous gray cat, with eyes of yellow fire.
"Ho! Is this the creature I am to lift?" queried Thor. And when they said that it was, he seized the cat around its gray, huge body and tugged with all his might to lift it from the floor. Then the wretched cat, lengthening and lengthening, arched its back like the span of a bridge; and though Thor tugged and heaved his best, he could manage to lift but one of its huge feet off the floor. The other three remained as firmly planted as iron pillars.
"Oho, oho!" laughed the king, delighted at this sight. "It is just as I thought it would be. Poor little Thor! My cat is too big for him."
"Little I may seem in this land of monsters," cried Thor wrathfully, "but now let him who dares come here and try a hug with me."
"Nay, little Thor," said the king, seeking to make him yet more angry, "there is not one of my men who would wrestle with you. Why, they would call it child's play, my little fellow. But, for the joke of it, call in my old foster-mother, Elli. She has wrestled with and worsted many a man who seemed no weaker than you, Thor. She shall try a fall with you."
Now in came the old crone, Elli, whose very name meant "age." She was wrinkled and gray, and her back was bent nearly double with the weight of the years which she carried, but she chuckled when she saw Thor standing with bared arm in the middle of the floor. "Come and be thrown, dearie," she cried in her cracked voice, grinning horribly.
"I will not wrestle with a woman!" exclaimed Thor, eyeing her with pity and disgust, for she was an ugly creature to behold. But the old woman taunted him to his face and the giants clapped their hands, howling that he was "afraid." So there was no way but that Thor must grapple with the hag.
The game began. Thor rushed at the old woman and gripped her tightly in his iron arms, thinking that as soon as she screamed with the pain of his mighty hug, be would give over. But the crone seemed not to mind it at all. Indeed, the more he crushed her old ribs together the firmer and stronger she stood. Now in her turn the witch attempted to trip up Thor's heels, and it was wonderful to see her power and agility. Thor soon began to totter, great Thor, in the hands of a poor old woman! He struggled hard, he braced himself, he turned and twisted. It was no use; the old woman's arms were as strong as knotted oak. In a few moments Thor sank on one knee, and that was a sign that he was beaten. The king signaled for them to stop. "You need wrestle no more, Thor," he said, with a curl to his lip, "we see what sort of fellow you are. I thought that old Elli would have no difficulty in bringing to his knees him who could not lift my cat. But come, now, night is almost here. We will think no more of contests. You and your companions shall sup with us as welcome guests and bide here till the morrow."
Now as soon as the king had pleased himself in proving how small and weak were these strangers who had come to the giant city, he became very gracious and kind. But you can fancy whether or no Thor and the others had a good appetite for the banquet where all the giants ate so merrily. You can fancy whether or no they were happy when they went to bed after the day of defeats, and you can guess what sweet dreams they had.
The next morning at daybreak the four guests arose and made ready to steal back to Asgard without attracting any more attention. For this adventure alone of all those in which Thor had taken part had been a disgraceful failure. Silently and with bowed heads they were slipping away from the hall when the king himself came to them and begged them to stay.
"You shall not leave Utgard without breakfast," he said kindly, "nor would I have you depart feeling unfriendly to me."
Then he ordered a goodly breakfast for the travelers, with store of choicest dainties for them to eat and drink. When the four had broken fast, he escorted them to the city gate where they were to say farewell. But at the last moment he turned to Thor with a sly, strange smile and asked:
"Tell me now truly, brother Thor; what think you of your visit to the giant city? Do you feel as mighty a fellow as you did before you entered our gates, or are you satisfied that there are folk even sturdier than yourself?"
At this question Thor flushed scarlet, and the lightning flashed angrily in his eye. Briefly enough he answered that he must confess to small pride in his last adventure, for that his visit to the king had been full of shame to the hero of Asgard. "My name will become a joke among your people," quoth he. "You will call me Thor the puny little fellow, which vexes me more than anything; for I have not been wont to blush at my name."
Then the king looked at him frankly, pleased with the humble manner of Thor's speech. "Nay," he said slowly, "hang not your head so shamedly, brave Thor. You have not done so ill as you think. Listen, I have somewhat to tell you, now that you are outside Utgard, – which, if I live, you shall never enter again. Indeed, you should not have entered at all had I guessed what noble strength was really yours, – strength which very nearly brought me and my whole city to destruction."
To these words Thor and his companions listened with open-mouthed astonishment. What could the king mean, they wondered? The giant went on: –
"By magic alone were you beaten, Thor. Of magic alone were my triumphs, – not real, but seeming to be so. Do you remember the giant Skrymir whom you found sleeping and snoring in the forest? That was I. I learned your errand and resolved to lower your pride. When you vainly strove to untie my wallet, you did not know that I had fastened it with invisible iron wire, in order that you might be baffled by the knots. Thrice you struck me with your hammer, – ah! what mighty blows were those! The least one would have killed me, had it fallen on my head as you deemed it did. In my hall is a rock with three square hollows in it, one of them deeper than the others. These are the dents of your wondrous hammer, my Thor. For, while you thought I slept, I slipped the rock under the hammer-strokes, and into this hard crust Mjolner bit. Ha, ha! It was a pretty jest."
Now Thor's brow was growing black at this tale of the giant's trickery, but at the same time he held up his head and seemed less ashamed of his weakness, knowing now that it had been no weakness, but lack of guile. He listened frowningly for the rest of the tale. The king went on: –
"When you came to my city, still it was magic that worsted your party at every turn. Loke was certainly the hungriest fellow I ever saw, and his deeds at the trencher were marvellous to behold. But the Logi who ate with him was Fire, and easily enough fire can consume your meat, bones, and wood itself. Tjalve, my boy, you are a runner swift as the wind. Never before saw I such a race as yours. But the Hugi who ran with you was Thought, my thought. And who can keep pace with the speed of winged thought? Next, Thor, it was your turn to show your might. Bravely indeed you strove. My heart is sick with envy of your strength and skill. But they availed you naught against my magic. When you drank from the long horn, thinking you had done so ill, in truth you had performed a miracle, – never thought I to behold the like. You guessed not that the end of the horn was out in the ocean, which no one might drain dry. Yet, mighty one, the draughts you swallowed have lowered the tide on the shore. From now on at certain times the sea will ebb; and this is by great Thor's drinking. The cat also which you almost lifted, – it was no cat, but the great Midgard serpent himself who encircles the whole world. He had barely length enough for his head and tail to touch in a circle about the sea. But you raised him so high that he almost touched heaven. How terrified we were when we saw you heave one of his mighty feet from the ground! For who could tell what horror might happen had you raised him bodily. Ah, and your wrestling with old Elli! That was the most marvellous act of all. You had nearly overthrown Age itself; yet there has never lived one, nor will such ever be found, whom Elli, old age, will not cast to earth at last. So you were beaten, Thor, but by a mere trick. Ha, ha! How angry you looked, – I shall never forget! But now we must part, and I think you see that it will be best for both of us that we should not meet again. As I have done once, so can I always protect my city by magic spells. Yes, should you come again to visit us, even better prepared than now, yet you could never do us serious harm. Yet the wear and tear on the nerves of both of us is something not lightly forgotten."
He ceased, smiling pleasantly, but with a threatening look in his eye. Thor's wrath had been slowly rising during this tedious, grim speech, and he could control it no longer.
"Cheat and trickster!" he cried, "your wiles shall avail you nothing now that I know your true self. You have put me to shame, now my hammer shall shame you beyond all reckoning!" and he raised Mjolner to smite the giant deathfully. But at that moment the king faded before his very eyes. And when he turned to look for the giant city that he might destroy it, – as he had so many giant dwellings, – there was in the place where it had been but a broad, fair plain, with no sign of any palace, wall, or gate. Utgard had vanished. The king had kept one trick of magic for the last.
Then Thor and his three companions wended their way back to Asgard. But they were slower than usual about answering questions concerning their last adventure, their wondrous visit to the giant city. Truth to tell, magic or no magic, Thor and Loke had showed but a poor figure that day. For the first time in all their meeting with Thor the giants had not come off any the worse for the encounter. Perhaps it was a lesson that he sorely needed. I am afraid that he was rather inclined to think well of himself. But then, he had reason, had he not?
In the days that are past a wonderful race of horses pastured in the meadows of heaven, steeds more beautiful and swifter than any which the world knows to-day. There was Hrimfaxi, the black, sleek horse who drew the chariot of Night across the sky and scattered the dew from his foaming bit. There was Glad, behind whose flying heels sped the swift chariot of Day. His mane was yellow with gold, and from it beamed light which made the whole world bright. Then there were the two shining horses of the sun, Arvakur the watchful, and Alsvith the rapid; and the nine fierce battle-chargers of the nine Valkyries, who bore the bodies of fallen heroes from the field of fight to the blessedness of Valhalla. Each of the gods had his own glorious steed, with such pretty names as Gold-mane and Silver-top, Light-foot and Precious-stone; these galloped with their masters over clouds and through the blue air, blowing flame from their nostrils and glinting sparks from their fiery eyes. The gods would have been poor indeed without their faithful mounts, and few would be the stories to tell in which these noble creatures do not bear at least a part.
But best of all the horses of heaven was Sleipnir, the eight-legged steed of Father Odin, who because he was so well supplied with sturdy feet could gallop faster over land and sea than any horse which ever lived. Sleipnir was snow-white and beautiful to see, and Odin was very fond and proud of him, you may be sure. He loved to ride forth on his good horse's back to meet whatever adventure might be on the way, and sometimes they had wild times together.
One day Odin galloped off from Asgard on Sleipnir straight towards Jotunheim and Giantland, for it was long since All-Father had been to the cold country, and he wished to see how its mountains and ice-rivers looked. Now as he galloped along a wild road, he met a huge giant standing beside his giant steed.
"Who goes there?" cried the giant gruffly, blocking the way so that Odin could not pass. "You with the golden helmet, who are you, who ride so famously through air and water? For I have been watching you from this mountain-top. Truly, that is a fine horse which you ride on."
"There is no finer horse in all the world," boasted Odin. "Have you not heard of Sleipnir, the pride of Asgard? I will match him against any of your big, clumsy giant horses."
"Ho!" roared the giant angrily, "an excellent horse he is, your little Sleipnir. But I warrant he is no match for my Gullfaxi here. Come, let us try a race; and at its end I shall pay you for your insult to our horses of Jotunheim."
So saying, the giant, whose ugly name was Hrungnir, sprang on his horse and spurred straight at Odin in the narrow way. Odin turned and galloped back towards Asgard with all his might; for not only must he prove his horse's speed, but he must save himself and Sleipnir from the anger of the giant, who was one of the fiercest and wickedest of all his fierce and wicked race.
How the eight slender legs of Sleipnir twinkled through the blue sky! How his nostrils quivered and shot forth fire and smoke! Like a flash of lightning he darted across the sky, and the giant horse rumbled and thumped along close behind like the thunder following the flash.
"Hi, hi!" yelled the giant. "After them, Gullfaxi! And when we have overtaken the two, we will crush their bones between us!"
"Speed, speed, my Sleipnir!" shouted Odin. "Speed, good horse, or you will never again feed in the dewy pastures of Asgard with the other horses. Speed, speed, and bring us safe within the gates!"
Well Sleipnir understood what his master said, and well he knew the way. Already the rainbow bridge was in sight, with Heimdal the watchman prepared to let them in. His sharp eyes had spied them afar, and had recognized the flash of Sleipnir's white body and of Odin's golden helmet. Gallop and thud! The twelve hoofs were on the bridge, the giant horse close behind the other. At last Hrungnir knew where he was, and into what danger he was rushing. He pulled at the reins and tried to stop his great beast. But Gullfaxi was tearing along at too terrible a speed. He could not stop. Heimdal threw open the gates of Asgard, and in galloped Sleipnir with his precious burden, safe. Close on them bolted in Gullfaxi, bearing his giant master, puffing and purple in the face from hard riding and anger. Cling-clang! Heimdal had shut and barred the gates, and there was the giant prisoned in the castle of his enemies.
Now the gods were courteous folk, unlike the giants, and they were not anxious to take advantage of a single enemy thus thrown into their power. They invited him to enter Valhalla with them, to rest and sup before the long journey of his return. Thor was not present, so they filled for the giant the great cups which Thor was wont to drain, for they were nearest to the giant size. But you remember that Thor was famous for his power to drink deep. Hrungnir's head was not so steady; Thor's draught was too much for him. He soon lost his wits, of which he had but few; and a witless giant is a most dreadful creature. He raged like a madman, and threatened to pick up Valhalla like a toy house and carry it home with him to Jotunheim. He said he would pull Asgard to pieces and slay all the gods except Freia the fair and Sif, the golden-haired wife of Thor, whom he would carry off like little dolls for his toy house.
The gods knew not what to do, for Thor and his hammer were not there to protect them, and Asgard seemed in danger with this enemy within its very walls. Hrungnir called for more and more mead, which Freia alone dared to bring and set before him. And the more he drank the fiercer he became. At last the gods could bear no longer his insults and his violence. Besides, they feared that there would be no more mead left for their banquets if this unwelcome visitor should keep Freia pouring out for him Thor's mighty goblets. They bade Heimdal blow his horn and summon Thor; and this Heimdal did in a trice.
Now rumbling and thundering in his chariot of goats came Thor. He dashed into the hall, hammer in hand, and stared in amazement at the unwieldy guest whom he found there.
"A giant feasting in Asgard hall!" he roared. "This is a sight which I never saw before. Who gave the insolent fellow leave to sit in my place? And why does fair Freia wait on him as if he were some noble guest at a feast of the high gods? I will slay him at once!" and he raised the hammer to keep his word.
Thor's coming had sobered the giant somewhat, for he knew that this was no enemy to be trifled with. He looked at Thor sulkily and said: "I am Odin's guest. He invited me to this banquet, and therefore I am under his protection."
"You shall be sorry that you accepted the invitation," cried Thor, balancing his hammer and looking very fierce; for Sif had sobbed in his ear how the giant had threatened to carry her away.
Hrungnir now rose to his feet and faced Thor boldly, for the sound of Thor's gruff voice had restored his scattered wits. "I am here alone and without weapons," he said. "You would do ill to slay me now. It would be little like the noble Thor, of whom we hear tales, to do such a thing. The world will count you braver if you let me go and meet me later in single combat, when we shall both be fairly armed."
Thor dropped the hammer to his side. "Your words are true," he said, for he was a just and honorable fellow.
"I was foolish to leave my shield and stone club at home," went on the giant. "If I had my arms with me, we would fight at this moment. But I name you a coward if you slay me now, an unarmed enemy."
"Your words are just," saidThor again. "I have never before been challenged by any foe. I will meet you, Hrungnir, at your Stone City, midway between heaven and earth. And there we will fight a duel to see which of us is the better fellow."
Hrungnir departed for Stone City in Jotunheim; and great was the excitement of the other giants when they heard of the duel which one of their number was to fight with Thor, the deadliest enemy of their race.
"We must be sure that Hrungnir wins the victory!" they cried. "It will never do to have Asgard victorious in the first duel that we have fought with her champion. We will make a second hero to aid Hrungnir."
All the giants set to work with a will. They brought great buckets of moist clay, and heaping them up into a huge mound, moulded the mass with their giant hands as a sculptor does his image, till they had made a man of clay, an immense dummy, nine miles high and three miles wide. "Now we must make him live; we must put a heart into him!" they cried. But they could find no heart big enough till they thought of taking that of a mare, and that fitted nicely. A mare's heart is the most cowardly one that beats.
Hrungnir's heart was a three-cornered piece of hard stone. His head also was of stone, and likewise the great shield which he held before him when he stood outside of Stone City waiting for Thor to come to the duel. Over his shoulder he carried his club, and that also was of stone, the kind from which whetstones are made, hard and terrible. By his side stood the huge clay man, Möckuralfi, and they were a dreadful sight to see, these two vast bodies whom Thor must encounter.
But at the very first sight of Thor, who came thundering to the place with swift Tjalve his servant, the timid mare's heart in the man of clay throbbed with fear; he trembled so that his knees knocked together, and his nine miles of height rocked unsteadily.
Tjalve ran up to Hrungnir and began to mock him, saying, "You are careless, giant. I fear you do not know what a mighty enemy has come to fight you. You hold your shield in front of you; but that will serve you nothing. Thor has seen this. He has only to go down into the earth and he can attack you conveniently from beneath your very feet."
At this terrifying news Hrungnir hastened to throw his shield on the ground and to stand on it, so that he might be safe from Thor's under-stroke. He grasped his heavy club with both hands and waited. He had not long to wait. There came a blinding flash of lightning and a peal of crashing thunder. Thor had cast his hammer. Hrungnir raised his club with both hands and hurled it against the hammer which he saw flying towards him. The two mighty weapons met in the air with an ear-splitting shock. Hard as was the stone of the giant's club, it was like glass against the power of Mjolner. The club was dashed into pieces; some fragments fell on the earth; and these, they say, are the rocks from which whetstones are made to this day. They are so hard that men use them to sharpen knives and axes and scythes. One splinter of the hard stone struck Thor himself in the forehead, with so fierce a blow that he fell forward on the ground, and Tjalve feared that he was killed. But Mjolner, not even stopped in its course by meeting the giant's club, sped straight to Hrungnir and crushed his stony skull, so that he fell forward over Thor, and his foot lay on the fallen hero's neck. And that was the end of the giant whose head and heart were of stone.
Meanwhile Tjalve the swift had fought with the man of clay, and had found little trouble in toppling him to earth. For the mare's cowardly heart in his great body gave him little strength to meet Thor's faithful servant; and the trembling limbs of Møckuralfi soon yielded to Tjalve's hearty blows. He fell like an unsteady tower of blocks, and his brittle bulk shivered into a thousand fragments.
Tjalve ran to his master and tried to raise him. The giant's great foot still rested on his neck, and all Tjalve's strength could not move it away. Swift as the wind he ran for the other gods, and when they heard that great Thor, their champion, had fallen and seemed like one dead, they came rushing to the spot in horror and confusion. Together they all attempted to raise Hrungnir's foot from Thor's neck that they might see whether their hero lived or no. But all their efforts were in vain. The foot was not to be lifted by gods-might.
At this moment a second hero appeared on the scene. It was Magne, the son of Thor himself; Magne, who was but three days old, yet already in his babyhood he was almost as big as a giant and had nearly the strength of his father. This wonderful youngster came running to the place where his father lay surrounded by a group of sad-faced and despairing gods. When Magne saw what the matter was, he seized Hrungnir's enormous foot in both his hands, heaved his broad young shoulders, and in a moment Thor's neck was free of the weight which was crushing it.
Best of all, it proved that Thor was not dead, only stunned by the blow of the giant's club and by his fall. He stirred, sat up painfully, and looked around him at the group of eager friends. "Who lifted the weight from my neck?" he asked.
"It was I, father," answered Magne modestly. Thor clasped him in his arms and hugged him tight, beaming with pride and gratitude.
"Truly, you are a fine child!" he cried; "one to make glad your father's heart. Now as a reward for your first great deed you shall have a gift from me. The swift horse of Hrungnir shall be yours, – that same Gullfaxi who was the beginning of all this trouble. You shall ride Gullfaxi; only a giant steed is strong enough to bear the weight of such an infant prodigy as you, my Magne."
Now this word, did not wholly please Father Odin, for he thought that a horse so excellent ought to belong to him. He took Thor aside and argued that but for him there would have been no duel, no horse to win. Thor answered simply:
"True, Father Odin, you began this trouble. But I have fought your battle, destroyed your enemy, and suffered great pain for you. Surely, I have won the horse fairly and may give it to whom I choose. My son, who has saved me, deserves a horse as good as any. Yet, as you have proved, even Gullfaxi is scarce a match for your Sleipnir. Verily, Father Odin, you should be content with the best." Odin said no more.
Now Thor went home to his cloud-palace in Thrudvang. And there he was healed of all his hurts except that which the splinter of stone had made in his forehead. For the stone was imbedded so fast that it could not be taken out, and Thor suffered sorely therefor. Sif, his yellow-haired wife, was in despair, knowing not what to do. At last she bethought her of the wise woman, Groa, who had skill in all manner of herbs and witch-charms. Sif sent for Groa, who lived all alone and sad because her husband Örvandil had disappeared, she knew not where. Groa came to Thor and, standing beside his bed while he slept, sang strange songs and gently waved her hands over him. At once the stone in his forehead began to loosen, and Thor opened his eyes.
"The stone is loosening, the stone is coming out!" he cried. "How can I reward you, gentle dame? Prithee, what is your name?"
"My name is Groa," answered the woman, weeping, "wife of Ørvandil who is lost."
"Now, then, I can reward you, kind Groa!" cried Thor, "for I can bring you tidings of your husband. I met him in the cold country, in Jotunheim, the Land of Giants, which you know I sometimes visit for a bit of good hunting. It was by Elivâgar's icy river that I met Örvandil, and there was no way for him to cross. So I put him in an iron basket and myself bore him over the flood. Br-r-r! But that is a cold land! His feet stuck out through the meshes of the basket, and when we reached the other side one of his toes was frozen stiff. So I broke it off and tossed it up into the sky that it might become a star. To prove that what I relate is true, Groa, there is the new star shining over us at this very moment. Look! From this day it shall be known to men as Örvandil's Toe. Do not you weep any longer. After all, the loss of a toe is a little thing; and I promise that your husband shall soon return to you, safe and sound, but for that small token of his wanderings in the land where visitors are not welcome."
At these joyful tidings poor Groa was so overcome that she fainted. And that put an end to the charm which she was weaving to loosen the stone from Thor's forehead. The stone was not yet wholly free, and from now on it was in vain to try to remove it; Thor must always wear the splinter in his forehead. Groa could never forgive herself for the carelessness which had thus made her skill vain to help one to whom she had reason to be so grateful.
Now because of the bit of whetstone in Thor's forehead, folk of olden times were very careful how they used a whetstone; and especially they knew that they must not throw or drop one on the floor. For when they did so, the splinter in Thor's forehead was jarred, and the good god suffered great pain.
The Dwarf's Gifts
Red Loke had a wicked heart, and loved no one. He envied Father Odin his wisdom and his throne above the world. He envied Balder his beauty, and Tyr his courage, and Thor his strength. He envied all the good gods who were happy; but he would not take the trouble to be good himself. So he was always unhappy, spiteful, and sour. And if anything went wrong in Asgard, the kingdom of the gods, one was almost sure to find Loke at the bottom of the trouble.
Now Thor, the strongest of all the gods, was very proud of his wife's beautiful hair, which fell in golden waves to her feet, and covered her like a veil. He loved it better than anything, except Sif herself.
One day, while Thor was away from home, Loke stole into Thrudheim, the realm of clouds, and cut off all Sif's golden hair, till her head was as round and fuzzy as a yellow dandelion. Fancy how angry Thor was when he came rattling home that night in his thunder-chariot and found Sif so ugly to look at! He stamped up and down till the five hundred and forty floors of his cloud palace shook like an earthquake, and lightning flashed from his blue eyes. The people down in the world below cried: "Dear, dear! What a terrible thunderstorm! Thor must be very angry about something. Loke has been up to mischief, it is likely."
At last Thor calmed himself a little. "Sif, my love," he said, "you shall be beautiful again. Red Loke shall make you so, since his was the unmaking. The villain shall pay for this!"
Then, without more ado, off set Thor to find red Loke. He went in his thunder-chariot, drawn by two goats, and the clouds rumbled and the lightning flashed wherever he went; for Thor was the mighty god of thunder. At last he came on the sly rascal, who was trying to hide. Big Thor seized him by the throat.
"You scoundrel!" he cried, "I will break every bone in your body if you do not put back Sif's beautiful hair on her head."
"Ow – ow! You hurt me!" howled Loke. "Take off your big hand, Thor. What is done, is done. I can't put back Sif's hair. You know that very well."
"Then you must get her another head of hair," growled Thor. "That you can do. You must find for her hair of real gold, and it must grow on her head as if it were her own. Do this, or you shall die."
"Where shall I get this famous hair?" whined Loke, though he knew well enough.
"Get it of the black elves," said Thor; "they are cunning jewelers, and they are your friends. Go, Loke, and go quickly, for I long to see Sif as beautiful as ever."
Then Loke of the burning beard slunk away to the hills where, far under ground, the dwarfs have their furnaces and their work-shops. Among great heaps of gold and silver and shining jewels, which they have dug up out of the earth, the little crooked men in brown blink and chatter and scold one another; for they are ugly fellows – the dwarfs. Tink-tank! tink-tank! go their little hammers all day long and all night long, while they make wonderful things such as no man has ever seen, though you shall hear about them.
They had no trouble to make a head of hair for Sif. It was for them a simple matter, indeed. The dwarfs work fast for such a customer as Loke, and in a little while the golden wires were beaten out, and drawn out, made smooth and soft and curly, and braided into a thick golden braid. But when Loke came away, he carried with him also two other treasures which the clever dwarfs had made. One was a golden spear, and the other was a ship.
Now these do not sound so very wonderful. But wait till you hear! The spear, which was named Gungnir, was bewitched, so that it made no difference if the person who held it was clumsy and careless. For it had this amazing quality, that no matter how badly it was aimed, or how unskillfully it was thrown, it was sure to go straight to the mark – which is a very obliging and convenient thing in one's weapon, as you will readily see.
And Skidbladnir – this was the harsh name of the ship – was even more wonderful. It could be taken to pieces and folded up so small that it would go into one's pocket. But when it was unfolded and put together, it would hold all the gods of Asgard for a sea-journey. Besides all this, when the sails were set, the ship was sure always to have a fair wind, which would make it skim along like a great bird, which was the best part of the charm, as any sailor will tell you.
Now Loke felt very proud of these three treasures, and left the hill cave stretching his neck and strutting like a great red turkey cock. Outside the gate, however, he met Brock, the black dwarf, who was the brother of Sindri, the best workman in all the underworld.
"Hello! what have you there?" asked Brock of the big head, pointing at the bundles which Loke was carrying.
"The three finest gifts in the world," boasted Loke, hugging his treasures tight.
"Pooh!" said Brock, "I don't believe it. Did my brother Sindri make them?"
"No," answered Loke; "they were made by the black elves, the sons of Ivaldi. And they are the most precious gifts that ever were seen."
"Pooh!" again puffed Brock, wagging his long beard crossly. "Nonsense! Whatever they be, my brother Sindri can make three other gifts more precious; that I know."
"Can he, though?" laughed Loke. "I will give him my head if he can."
"Done!" shouted the dwarf. "Let me see your famous gifts." So Loke showed him the three wonders: the gold hair for Sif, the spear, and the ship. But again the dwarf said: "Pooh! These are nothing. I will show you what the master-smith can do, and you shall lose your bragging red head, my Loke."
Now Loke began to be a little uneasy. He followed Brock back to the smithy in the mountain, where they found Sindri at his forge. Oh, yes! He could beat the poor gifts of which Loke was so proud. But he would not tell what his own three gifts were to be.
First Sindri took a pig's skin and laid it on the fire. Then he went away for a little time; but he set Brock at the bellows and bade him blow – blow – blow the fire till Sindri should return. Now when Sindri was gone, Loke also stole away; for, as usual, he was up to mischief. He had the power of changing his shape and of becoming any creature he chose, which was often very convenient. Thus he turned himself into a huge biting fly. Then he flew back into the smithy where Brock was blow – blow – blowing. Loke buzzed about the dwarf's head, and finally lighted on his hand and stung him, hoping to make him let go the bellows. But no! Brock only cried out, "Oh-ee!" and kept on blowing for dear life. Now soon back came Sindri to the forge and took the pigskin from the fire. Wonder of wonders! It had turned into a hog with golden bristles; a live hog that shone like the sun. Brock was not satisfied, however.
"Well! I don't think much of that," he grumbled.
"Wait a little," said Sindri mysteriously. "Wait and see." Then he went on to make the second gift.
This time he put a lump of gold into the fire. And when he went away, as before, he bade Brock stand at the bellows to blow – blow – blow without stopping. Again, as before, in buzzed Loke the gadfly as soon as the master-smith had gone out. This time he settled on Brock's swarthy neck, and stung him so sorely that the blood came and the dwarf roared till the mountain trembled. Still Brock did not let go the handle of the bellows, but blew and howled – blew and howled with pain till Sindri returned. And this time the dwarf took from the fire a fine gold ring, round as roundness.
"Um! I don't think so much of that," said Brock, again disappointed, for he had expected some wonderful jewel. But Sindri wagged his head wisely.
"Wait a little," he said. "We shall see what we shall see." He heaved a great lump of iron into the fire to make the third gift. But this time when he went away, leaving Brock at the bellows, he charged him to blow – blow – blow without a minute's rest, or everything would be spoiled. For this was to be the best gift of all.
Brock planted himself wide-legged at the forge and blew – blew – blew. But for the third time Loke, winged as a fly, came buzzing into the smithy. This time he fastened viciously below Brock's bushy eyebrow, and stung him so cruelly that the blood trickled down, a red river, into his eyes and the poor dwarf was blinded. With a howl Brock raised his hand to wipe away the blood, and of course in that minute the bellows stood still. Then Loke buzzed away with a sound that seemed like a mocking laugh. At the same moment in rushed Sindri, panting with fright, for he had heard that sound and guessed what it meant.
"What have you done?" he cried. "You have let the bellows rest! You have spoiled everything!"
"Only a little moment, but one little moment," pleaded Brock, in a panic. "It has done no harm, has it?"
Sindri leaned anxiously over the fire, and out of the flames he drew the third gift – an enormous hammer.
"Oh!" said Brock, much disappointed, "only an old iron hammer! I don't think anything of that. Look how short the handle is, too."
"That is your fault, brother," returned the smith crossly. "If you had not let the bellows stand still, the handle would have been long enough. Yet as it is – we shall see, we shall see. I think it will at least win for you red Loke's head. Take the three gifts, brother, such as they are, and bear them to Asgard. Let all the gods be judges between you and Loke, which gifts are best, his or yours. But stay – I may as well tell you the secrets of your three treasures, or you will not know how to make them work. Your toy that is not wound up is of no use at all." Which is very true, as we all know. Then he bent over and whispered in Brock's ear. And what he said pleased Brock so much that he jumped straight up into the air and capered like one of Thor's goats.
"What a clever brother you are, to be sure!" he cried.
At that moment Loke, who had ceased to be a gadfly, came in grinning, with his three gifts. "Well, are you ready?" he asked. Then he caught sight of the three gifts which Brock was putting into his sack.
"Ho! A pig, a ring, and a stub-handled hammer!" he shouted. "Is that all you have? Fine gifts, indeed! I was really growing uneasy, but now I see that my head is safe. Let us start for Asgard at once, where I promise you that I with my three treasures shall be thrice more welcome than you with your stupid pig, your ugly ring, and your half-made hammer."
So together they climbed to Asgard, and there they found the gods sitting in the great judgment hall on Ida Plain. There was Father Odin on his high throne, with his two ravens at his head and his two wolves at his feet. There was Queen Frigg by his side; and about them were Balder the beautiful, Frey and Freia, the fair brother and sister; the mighty Thor, with Sif his crop-haired wife, and all the rest of the great gods who lived in the upper world above the homes of men.
"Brother gods," said Loke, bowing politely, for he was a smooth rascal, "we have come each with three gifts, the dwarf and I; and you shall judge which be the most worthy of praise. But if I lose, – I, your brother, – I lose my head to this crooked little dwarf." So he spoke, hoping to put the gods on his side from the first. For his head was a very handsomeone, and the dwarf was indeed an ill-looking fellow. The gods, however, nodded gravely, and bade the two show what their gifts might be.
Then Loke stepped forward to the foot of Odin's throne. And first he pulled from his great wallet the spear Gungnir, which could not miss aim. This he gave to Odin, the all-wise. And Odin was vastly pleased, as you may imagine, to find himself tfrom now on an unequaled marksman. So he smiled on Loke kindly and said: "Well done, brother."
Next Loke took out the promised hair for Sif, which he handed Thor with a grimace. Now when the golden locks were set on her head, they grew there like real hair, long and soft and curling – but still real gold. So that Sif was more beautiful than ever before, and more precious, too. You can fancy how pleased Thor was with Loke's gift. He kissed lovely Sif before all the gods and goddesses, and vowed that he forgave Loke for the mischief which he had done in the first place, since he had so nobly made reparation.
Then Loke took out the third gift, all folded up like a paper boat; and it was the ship Skidbladnir, – I am sorry they did not give it a prettier name. This he presented to Frey the peaceful. And you can guess whether or not Frey's blue eyes laughed with pleasure at such a gift.
Now when Loke stepped back, all the gods clapped their hands and vowed that he had done wondrous well.
"You will have to show us fine things, you dwarf," saidFather Odin, "to better the gifts of red Loke. Come, what have you in the sack you bear on your shoulders?"
Then the crooked little Brock hobbled forward, bent almost double under the great load which he carried. "I have what I have," he said.
First, out he pulled the ring Draupnir, round as roundness and shining of gold. This the dwarf gave to Odin, and though it seemed but little, yet it was much. For every ninth night out of this ring, he said, would drop eight other rings of gold, as large and as fair. Then Odin clapped his hands and cried: "Oh, wondrous gift! I like it even better than the magic spear which Loke gave." And all the other gods agreed with him.
Then out of the sack came grunting Goldbristle, the hog, all of gold. Brock gave him to Frey, to match the magic ship of Loke. This Goldbristle was so marvellously forged that he could run more swiftly than any horse, on air or water. Moreover, he was a living lantern. For on the darkest night he bristled with light like a million-pointed star, so that one riding on his back would light the air and the sea like a firefly, wherever he went. This idea pleased Frey mightily, for he was the merriest of the gods, and he laughed aloud.
" 'Tis a wondrous fine gift," he said. "I like old Goldbristle even better than the compressible boat. For on this lusty steed I can ride about the world when I am tending the crops and the cattle of men and scattering the rain on them. Master dwarf, I give my vote to you." And all the other gods agreed with him.
Then out of the sack Brock drew the third gift. It was the short-handled hammer named Mjolner. And this was the gift which Sindri had made for Thor, the mightiest of the gods; and it was the best gift of all. For with it Thor could burst the hardest metal and shatter the thickest mountain, and nothing could withstand its power. But it never could hurt Thor himself; and no matter how far or how hard it was thrown, it would always fly back into Thor's own hand. Last of all, whenever he so wished, the great hammer would become so small that he could put it in his pocket, quite out of sight. But Brock was sorry that the handle was so short – all owing to his fault, because he had let the bellows rest for that one moment.
When Thor had this gift in his hand, he jumped up with a shout of joy. "It is a wondrous fine gift," he cried, "with short handle or with long. And I prize it even more than I prize the golden hair of Sif which Loke gave. For with it I shall fight our enemies, the frost-giants and the mischievous trolls and the other monsters – Loke's friends. And all the gods will be glad of my gift when they see what deeds I shall do with it. Now, if I may have my say, I judge that the three gifts made by Sindri the dwarf are the most precious that may be. So Brock has gained the prize of Loke's red head, – a sorry recompense indeed for gifts so masterly." Then Thor sat down. And all the other gods shouted that he had spoken well, and that they agreed with him.
So Loke was like to lose his head. He offered to pay instead a huge price, if Brock would let him go. But Brock refused. "The red head of Loke for my gift," he insisted, and the gods nodded that it must be so, since he had earned his wish.
But when Loke saw that the count was all against him, his eyes grew crafty. "Well, take me, then – if you can!" he shouted. And off he shot like an arrow from a bow. For Loke had on magic shoes, with which he could run over sea or land or sky; and the dwarf could never catch him in the world. Then Brock was furious. He stood stamping and chattering, tearing his long beard with rage.
"I am cheated!" he cried. "I have won – but I have lost." Then he turned to Thor, who was playing with his hammer, bursting a mountain or two and splitting a tree here and there. "Mighty Thor," begged the dwarf, "catch me the fellow who has broken his word. I have given you the best gift, – your wonderful hammer. Catch me, then, the boasting red head which I have fairly bought."
Then Thor stopped his game and set out in pursuit of Loke, for he was ever on the side of fairness. No one, however fleet, can escape when Thor follows, for his is the swiftness of a lightning flash. So he soon brought Loke back to Ida Plain, and gave him up a prisoner to the dwarf.
"I have you now, boaster," said Brock fiercely, "and I will cut off your red head in the twinkling of an eye." But just as he was about to do as he said, Loke had another sly idea.
"Hold, sirrah dwarf," he said. "It is true that you have won my head, but not the neck, not an inch of the neck." And all the gods agreed that this was so. Then Brock was puzzled indeed, for how could he cut off Loke's head without an inch of the neck, too? But this he must not do, or he knew the just gods would punish him with death. So he was forced to be content with stopping Loke's boasting in another way. He would sew up the bragging lips.
He brought a stout, strong thread and an awl to bore the holes. And in a twinkling he had stitched up the lips of the sly one, firm and fast. So for a time, at least, he put an end to Loke's boasting and his taunts and his lies.
Thor's hammer was afterwards to be of magnificent service to him and a gruesome bane to the enemies of the gods.
Lindow, John. 2014. Trolls: An Unnatural History. London: Reaktion Books.
Wad, Jesper. Boomerang: lav dem selv. Odense: Stavnsager/Joker, 1985.
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