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Told by the Northmen: - Stories from the Eddas and Sagas
by E. M. [Ethel Mary] Wilmot-Buxton
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TOLD BY THE NORTHMEN:

Stories from the Eddas and Sagas



E. M. WILMOT-BUXTON



George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London

1908

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Contents

Hakon's Lay ix

CHAPTER

I. How All Things Began 1

II. How All-Father Odin Became Wise 6

III. How the Queen of the Sky Gave Gifts to Men 14

IV. How a Giant Built a Fortress for the Asas 17

V. The Magic Mead 22

VI. How Loki Made a Wager with the Dwarfs 29

VII. The Apples of Youth 34

VIII. How the Fenris Wolf was Chained 41

IX. How the Pride of Thor was Brought Low 46

X. How Thor's Hammer was Lost and Found 56

XI. The Giant's Daughters 64

XII. The Story of Balder the Beautiful 69

XIII. How Hermod Made a Journey to the Underworld 78

XIV. How Loki was Punished at Last 83

XV. The Story of the Magic Sword 87

XVI. How Sigmund Fought His Last Battle 96

XVII. The Story of the Magic Gold 101

XVIII. How Sigurd Slew the Dragon 107

XIX. How Sigurd Won the Hand of Brunhild 114

XX. How the Curse of the Gold is Fulfilled 116

XXI. The Boyhood of Frithiof the Bold 123

XXII. Frithiof and Ingeborg 127

XXIII. Frithiof Braves the Storm 131

XXIV. Balder Forgives 134

XXV. How the End of All Things Came About 140

Pronouncing Index of Proper Names 145

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Hakon's Lay

By James Russell Lowell

"O Skald, sing now an olden song, Such as our fathers heard who led great lives; And, as the bravest on a shield is borne Along the waving host that shouts him king, So rode their thrones upon the thronging seas!"

Then the old man arose: white-haired he stood, White-bearded, and with eyes that looked afar From their still region of perpetual snow, Over the little smokes and stirs of men: His head was bowed with gathered flakes of years, As winter bends the sea-foreboding pine, But something triumphed in his brow and eye, Which whoso saw it, could not see and crouch: Loud rang the emptied beakers as he mused, Brooding his eyried thoughts; then, as an eagle Circles smooth-winged above the wind-vexed woods, So wheeled his soul into the air of song High o'er the stormy hall; and thus he sang:

"The fletcher for his arrow-shaft picks out Wood closest-grained, long-seasoned, straight as light; And, from a quiver full of such as these, The wary bow-man, matched against his peers, Long doubting, singles yet once more the best. Who is it that can make such shafts as Fate? What archer of his arrows is so choice, Or hits the white so surely? They are men, The chosen of her quiver; nor for her Will every reed suffice, or cross-grained stick At random from life's vulgar fagot plucked: Such answer household ends; but she will have Souls straight and clear, of toughest fibre, sound Down to the heart of heat; from these she strips All needless stuff, all sapwood; hardens them, From circumstance untoward feathers plucks Crumpled and cheap, and barbs with iron will: The hour that passes is her quiver-boy; When she draws bow, 'tis not across the wind, Nor 'gainst the sun, her haste-snatched arrow sings, For sun and wind have plighted faith to her: Ere men have heard the sinew twang, behold, In the butt's heart her trembling messenger!

"The song is old and simple that I sing: Good were the days of yore, when men were tried By ring of shields, as now by ring of gold; But, while the gods are left, and hearts of men, And the free ocean, still the days are good; Through the broad Earth roams Opportunity And knocks at every door of hut or hall, Until she finds the brave soul that she wants."

He ceased, and instantly the frothy tide Of interrupted wassail roared along.



TOLD BY THE NORTHMEN:

CHAPTER I

How All Things Began

This is the tale which the Northmen tell concerning the Beginning of Things.

Once upon a time, before ever this world was made, there was neither earth nor sea, nor air, nor light, but only a great yawning gulf, full of twilight, where these things should be.

To the north of this gulf lay the Home of Mist, a dark and dreary land, out of which flowed a river of water from a spring that never ran dry. As the water in its onward course met the bitter blasts of wind from the yawning gulf, it hardened into great blocks of ice, which rolled far down into the abyss with a thunderous roar and piled themselves one on another until they formed mountains of glistening ice.

South of this gulf lay the Home of Fire, a land of burning heat, guarded by a giant with a flaming sword which, as he flashed it to and fro before the entrance, sent forth showers of sparks. And these sparks fell upon the ice-blocks and partly melted them, so that they sent up clouds of steam; and these again were frozen into hoar-frost, which filled all the space that was left in the midst of the mountains of ice.

Then one day, when the gulf was full to the very top, this great mass of frosty rime, warmed by the flames from the Home of Fire and frozen by the cold airs from the Home of Mist, came to life and became the Giant Ymir, with a living, moving body and cruel heart of ice.

Now there was as yet no tree, nor grass, nor anything that would serve for food, in this gloomy abyss. But when the Giant Ymir began to grope around for something to satisfy his hunger, he heard a sound as of some animal chewing the cud; and there among the ice-hills he saw a gigantic cow, from whose udder flowed four great streams of milk, and with this his craving was easily stilled.

But the cow was hungry also, and began to lick the salt off the blocks of ice by which she was surrounded. And presently, as she went on licking with her strong, rough tongue, a head of hair pushed itself through the melting ice. Still the cow went on licking, until she had at last melted all the icy covering and there stood fully revealed the frame of a mighty man.

Ymir looked with eyes of hatred at this being, born of snow and ice, for somehow he knew that his heart was warm and kind, and that he and his sons would always be the enemies of the evil race of the Frost Giants.

So, indeed, it came to pass. For from the sons of Ymir came a race of giants whose pleasure was to work evil on the earth; and from the Sons of the Iceman sprang the race of the gods, chief of whom was Odin, Father of All Things that ever were made; and Odin and his brothers began at once to war against the wicked Frost Giants, and most of all against the cold-hearted Ymir, whom in the end they slew.

Now when, after a hard fight, the Giant Ymir was slain, such a river of blood flowed forth from his wounds that it drowned all the rest of the Frost Giants save one, who escaped in a boat, with only his wife on board, and sailed away to the edge of the world. And from him sprang all the new race of Frost Giants, who at every opportunity issued from their land of twilight and desolation to harm the gods in their abode of bliss.

Now when the giants had been thus driven out, All-Father Odin set to work with his brothers to make the earth, the sea, and the sky; and these they fashioned out of the great body of the Giant Ymir.

Out of his flesh they formed Midgard, the earth, which lay in the centre of the gulf; and all round it they planted his eyebrows to make a high fence which should defend it from the race of giants.

With his bones they made the lofty hills, with his teeth the cliffs, and his thick curly hair took root and became trees, bushes, and the green grass.

With his blood they made the ocean, and his great skull, poised aloft, became the arching sky. Just below this they scattered his brains, and made of them the heavy grey clouds that lie between earth and heaven.

The sky itself was held in place by four strong dwarfs, who support it on their broad shoulders as they stand east and west and south and north.

The next thing was to give light to the new-made world. So the gods caught sparks from the Home of Fire and set them in the sky for stars; and they took the living flame and made of it the sun and moon, which they placed in chariots of gold, and harnessed to them beautiful horses, with flowing manes of gold and silver. Before the horses of the sun, they placed a mighty shield to protect them from its hot rays; but the swift moon steeds needed no such protection from its gentle heat.

And now all was ready save that there was no one to drive the horses of the sun and moon. This task was given to Mani and Sol, the beautiful son and daughter of a giant; and these fair charioteers drive their fleet steeds along the paths marked out by the gods, and not only give light to the earth but mark out months and days for the sons of men.

Then All-Father Odin called forth Night, the gloomy daughter of the cold-hearted giant folk, and set her to drive the dark chariot drawn by the black horse, Frosty-Mane, from whose long wavy hair the drops of dew and hoar-frost fall upon the earth below. After her drove her radiant son, Day, with his white steed Shining-Mane, from whom the bright beams of daylight shine forth to gladden the hearts of men.

But the wicked giants were very angry when they saw all these good things; and they set in the sky two hungry wolves, that the fierce, grey creatures might for ever pursue the sun and moon, and devour them, and so bring all things to an end. Sometimes, indeed, or so say the men of the North, the grey wolves almost succeed in swallowing sun or moon; and then the earth children make such an uproar that the fierce beasts drop their prey in fear. And the sun and moon flee more rapidly than before, still pursued by the hungry monsters.

One day, so runs the tale, as Mani, the Man in the Moon, was hastening on his course, he gazed upon the earth and saw two beautiful little children, a boy and a girl, carrying between them a pail of water. They looked very tired and sleepy, and indeed they were, for a cruel giant made them fetch and carry water all night long, when they should have been in bed. So Mani put out a long, long arm and snatched up the children and set them in the moon, pail and all; and there you can see them on any moonlit night for yourself.

But that happened a long time after the beginning of things; for as yet there was no man or woman or child upon the earth.

And now that this pleasant Midgard was made, the gods determined to satisfy their desire for an abode where they might rest and enjoy themselves in their hours of ease.

They chose a suitable place far above the earth, on the other side of the great river which flowed from the Home of Mist where the giants dwelt, and here they made for their abode Asgard, wherein they dwelt in peace and happiness, and from whence they could look down upon the sons of men.

From Asgard to Midgard they built a beautiful bridge of many colours, to which men gave the name of Rainbow Bridge, and up and down which the gods could pass on their journeys to and from the earth.

Here in Asgard stood the mighty forge where the gods fashioned their weapons wherewith they fought the giants, and the tools wherewith they built their palaces of gold and silver.

Meantime, no human creature lived upon the earth, and the giants dared not cross its borders for fear of the gods. But one of them, clad in eagles' plumes, always sat at the north side of Midgard, and, whenever he raised his arms and let them fall again, an icy blast rushed forth from the Mist Home and nipped all the pleasant things of earth with its cruel breath. In due time the earth was no longer without life, for the ground brought forth thousands of tiny creatures, which crawled about and showed signs of great intelligence. And when the gods examined these little people closely, they found that they were of two kinds.

Some were ugly, misshapen, and cunning-faced, with great heads, small bodies, long arms and feet. These they called Trolls or Dwarfs or Gnomes, and sent them to live underground, threatening to turn them into stone should they appear in the daytime. And this is why the trolls spend all their time in the hidden parts of the earth, digging for gold and silver and precious stones, and hiding their spoil away in secret holes and corners. Sometimes they blow their tiny fires and set to work to make all kinds of wonderful things from this buried treasure; and that is what they are doing when, if one listens very hard on the mountains and hills of the Northland, a sound of tap-tap-tapping is heard far underneath the ground.

The other small earth creatures were very fair and light and slender, kindly of heart, and full of goodwill. These the gods called Fairies or Elves, and gave to them a charming place called Elfland in which to dwell. Elfland lies between Asgard and Midgard, and since all fairies have wings they can easily flit down to the earth to play with the butterflies, teach the young birds to sing, water the flowers, or dance in the moonlight round a fairy ring.

Last of all, the gods made a man and woman to dwell in fair Midgard; and this is the manner of their creation.

All-Father Odin was walking with his brothers in Midgard where, by the seashore, they found growing two trees, an ash and an elm. Odin took these trees and breathed on them, whereupon a wonderful transformation took place. Where the trees had stood, there were a living man and woman, but they were stupid, pale, and speechless, until Hoenir, the god of Light, touched their fore-heads and gave them sense and wisdom; and Loki, the Fire-god, smoothed their faces, giving them bright colour and warm blood, and the power to speak and see and hear. It only remained that they should be named, and they were called Ask and Embla, the names of the trees from which they had been formed. From these two people sprang all the race of men which lives upon this earth.

And now All-Father Odin completed his work by planting the Tree of Life.

This immense tree had its roots in Asgard and Midgard and the Mist Land; and it grew to such a marvellous height that the highest bough, the Bough of Peace, hung over the Hall of Odin on the heights of Asgard; and the other branches overshadowed both Midgard and the Mist Land. On the top of the Peace Bough was perched a mighty eagle, and ever a falcon sat between his eyes, and kept watch on all that happened in the world below, that he might tell to Odin what he saw.

Heidrun, the goat of Odin, who supplied the heavenly mead, browsed on the leaves of this wonderful tree, and from them fed also the four mighty stags from whose horns honey-dew dropped on to the earth beneath and supplied water for all the rivers of Midgard.

The leaves of the Tree of Life were ever green and fair, despite the dragon which, aided by countless serpents, gnawed perpetually at its roots, in order that they might kill the Tree of Life and thus bring about the destruction of the gods.

Up and down the branches of the tree scampered the squirrel, Ratatosk, a malicious little creature, whose one amusement it was to make mischief by repeating to the eagle the rude remarks of the dragon, and to the dragon those of the eagle, in the hope that one day he might see them in actual conflict.

Near the roots of the Tree of life is a sacred well of sweet water from which the three Weird Sisters, who know all that shall come to pass, sprinkle the tree and keep it fresh and green. And the water, as it trickles down from the leaves, falls as drops of honey on the earth, and the bees take it for their food.

Close to this sacred well is the Council Hall of the gods, to which every morning they rode, over the Rainbow Bridge, to hold converse together.

And this is the end of the tale of How All Things began.



CHAPTER II

How All-Father Odin Became Wise

These are the tales which the Northmen tell concerning the wisdom of All-Father Odin.

On the highest hill of Asgard, upon a great chair, sat All-Father Odin, watching from thence all that was happening on and above and under the earth.

The Father of Asas and of men had long grey locks and thick curling beard, and he wore a great blue coat flecked with grey like unto the sky when the fleecy clouds scud across it.

In his hand he carried a spear, so sacred that, if anyone swore an oath upon its point, that oath could never be broken.

On his head he wore, when sitting upon his watch-tower throne, a helmet shaped like an eagle; but when he wandered, as he loved to do, about the earth, he wore a large broad-brimmed hat drawn low over his forehead.

Perched on his broad shoulders sat two inky-black ravens, Hugin and Munin, whom every morning he sent to wing their flight about the world that they might see what was going on.

Every evening when they returned, they whispered all that they had seen and heard in his ears.

At Odin's feet crouched two great wolves, whom he fed from the meat set before him; for he himself cared not to eat flesh-food, and preferred rather to drink the sacred mead provided by the goat who fed upon the leaves of the Tree of Life.

Sometimes Odin left his watch-tower throne for the great Council Hall where the twelve Asas sat and took counsel together; but his favourite seat of all was in his own palace of Valhalla, or the Hall of the Chosen Slain. This palace stood in the midst of a wonderful grove of trees, whose leaves were all of red gold, rustling and shimmering in the breeze. Five and forty doors opened into it, each wide enough to allow eight hundred warriors to enter abreast, and over the chief entrance was a boar's head and a great eagle, whose keen gaze looked forth over all the world. The walls of the palace were built of spears of polished steel, so bright that they lighted the whole building; and the roof was made of golden shields.

"And wondrous gleamed Valhalla on the heights,— Her walls shone bright as rows of glittering spears; The roof resplendent like great golden shields; Hundreds of open gates and welcoming doors For myriad warriors from the fields of earth,— The chosen heroes of the future years, To be great Odin's mighty bodyguard Against the awful prophecies of doom."

From end to end of the great hall stood long tables and benches loaded with armour, ready prepared for the fortunate guests. And this was the manner of their selection. Whenever a great battle was about to be fought on the earth, Odin sent forth the nine Valkyrs, or Battle Maidens, his especial attendants, to watch the progress of the fight and to choose from the fallen warriors half of their number. These the Battle Maidens carried on their swift steeds over the Rainbow Bridge into the great hall of Valhalla, where they were welcomed by the sons of Odin and taken to the All-Father's throne to receive his greeting. But if one had shown himself especially heroic in the fight, Odin would descend from his throne and advance to the door to bid him welcome.

And now, seated at the long tables, loaded with great beakers of mead and dishes of boar flesh, the warriors feasted merrily, tended by the fair Battle Maidens.

"The blazing roof resounds The genial uproar of those shades who fall In desperate fight, or by some brave attempt."

When they had eaten all they could, the warriors would call for their weapons, ride out into the great courtyard, and there wage desperate fights, in the course of which many a man would be sorely wounded. But this mattered little, for at the sound of the dinner horn all wounds were healed.

"And all day long they there are hacked and hewn 'Mid dust, and groans, and limbs lopped off, and blood But all at night return to Odin's hall Woundless and fresh; such lot is theirs in heaven."

These warriors were Odin's special joy and delight, and he was never weary of watching them at feast or in the combat. Sometimes, indeed, when some battle on earth was impending, he would appear, riding upon his eight-footed grey horse, and with white shield on arm would fling his glittering spear into the ranks of the warriors as signal for the fight to begin, and would rush into the fray with his war-cry, "Odin has you all!"

Now, though all this shows very clearly that All-Father Odin was a warlike Asa and delighted in battles, there was another side to his character, for beyond all the other Asas he cared for wisdom.

Very early in the morn of time All-Father Odin discovered that beneath the roots of the Tree of Life, just where sky and ocean met, there was a marvellous spring of water, "the fountain of all wit and wisdom." Looking into its crystal depths, all that was going to happen in the future was revealed, and anyone drinking of it received the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and right judgment about all things. Now this spring was guarded by the Giant Mimir, who prided himself upon being wiser than any other giants or Asas could be, for he alone had the right to draw water from the well; and every morning, dipping his glittering horn therein, he drank a long draught, and with every draught he grew wiser, till he knew everything that was past and present and is to come.

When Odin became aware of the marvellous properties of the spring, he was eager to drink of it, "for," said he, "it is not fitting that a giant should know more than the Father of Asas and men."

So early one morn he entered a dark grove of trees, where, amidst great arching roots fantastically intertwined, bubbled the spring; and keeping watch beside it sat Giant Mimir, his long grey beard sweeping over his knees, and his great piercing eyes shining with fierce light as the new-comer approached.

"What do you want here?" he demanded, in a voice that sounded like the muttering of thunder before a storm.

"I want a drink of yon water from your glittering horn, good Mimir," said Odin.

But Giant Mimir sunk his great head upon his chest, and looking from under his shaggy eyebrows, growled again:

"Begone, I tell you. I give no man drink from my well."

Then Odin drew himself up to his full height, and in a voice that was more thunderous than that of the giant himself, cried:

"No man am I, O Mimir, but Odin, Father of Asas and men. Refuse not to me the gift of wisdom; for though I can see all things that happen in heaven and earth, I cannot see what lies beneath the deep, nor can I see what shall happen in the future. Give me, therefore, the draught of wisdom, and I will pay you whatsoever you demand."

But Mimir still refused. "We giants are of elder race than ye Asas be," he said, "and all the wisdom in the world is in our hands. If I give you to drink of this water you will become wise even as we are, and an enemy more dangerous than ever."

"Nevertheless," replied Odin firmly, "you must give me the water, and I will pay you whatsoever you may ask."

Then Mimir, feeling sure that such a payment would be refused, said, "I will give you the magic draught in return for one of your eyes."

But to his amazement, for the god was very proud of his keen vision, Odin at once plucked forth an eye and handed it to him, saying:

"No price is too high to pay for wisdom."

So Mimir was obliged to hand him the horn filled with precious water, and Odin drank a full draught, caring not at all that henceforth he was to have but one eye, for he knew that he had gained the precious gift of wisdom beyond any in the world save Mimir himself.

Meantime, Mimir dropped the eye of the Asa into the well, where it shines bright as the moon reflected in still waters; and he bade Odin depart, saying heavily, "This day is the beginning of trouble betwixt your race and mine."

Determined to put his new-found wisdom to the test, All-Father Odin now disguised himself as a wandering minstrel and went to visit the Most Learned of all the Giants save Mimir, who, of course, knew everything in the whole world. And the Most Learned Giant received him graciously, and consented readily to enter into a contest of wit, and it was agreed that the loser should forfeit his head.

The Most Learned Giant was the first to begin. He questioned Odin as to the size and colour of the horses which bore the chariots of Night and Day across the sky; he asked him the source of the river which separated the Land of the Giants from Asgard, and finally he demanded details about the last battle that was to be fought between Asas and giants in far-distant days.

All these questions were fully and promptly answered by Odin, and it was now his turn. He questioned his rival first as to the Beginning of All Things; then he asked what the heroes did in Valhalla, what was the work of the Weird Sisters, and who would carry on the work of the gods when they had passed away.

And all these were fully answered by the Most Learned Giant.

Then Odin bent down to the Giant's ear as he sat on his great seat, and said softly:

"Tell me, lastly, I pray you, what are the words that the All-Father will whisper to his son Balder as he lies dead upon his funeral pyre?"

At this the Most Learned Giant uprose, and looking hard into the sad and troubled face of his questioner, said:

"No one but Odin himself can answer that question, and no one but Odin would have asked it. For only he who has drunk of the water of wisdom would foresee the death in the far-off future of his dearest son. Kill me now, therefore, for thou hast triumphed."

Here the tale comes to an end; but we should like to think that Odin spared the life of the Most Learned Giant, and perhaps he would have done so the more readily because his heart was softened by the knowledge, born of his new-found wisdom, that Balder, his beautiful son, must die.

Another story is told in which Odin's great wisdom seemed for a time at fault.

We have noticed how fond was the All-Father of watching the affairs of mortal men. He was especially interested, at one time, in two handsome little princes, the sons of a certain king, who were usually to be found playing or wrestling or riding together on the seashore which bounded their father's kingdom.

Geirrod and Agnar were the names of these boys, and All-Father Odin and his wife Frigga grew so fond of them both that, disguising themselves as an old man and woman, they went to live upon a desert island which lay far out at sea, opposite the beach where the children played. Presently it came to pass, exactly as they hoped, that the boys went fishing, and Odin made a storm to arise, and the rough wind blew the little boat away from the land, and finally stranded it upon the island.

The boys, frightened, wet, and hungry, came timidly to the door of the hut where the old people dwelt and asked for shelter. They were received kindly by Odin and Frigga, who kept the boys all the long winter, making much of them and delighting in their childish fun and merriment. Geirrod was Odin's favourite. He taught him to fight, to swim, and to use the bow and spear. But Frigga loved best the gentle little Agnar, the elder boy, who would sit by her side and rest his head upon her knee, well contented, while she told him strange tales of beautiful Asgard, the home of the gods.

Spring came at length, and, when the sea was calm and still, Odin put the two boys aboard a boat and bade them sail back to their father. And Agnar grieved at leaving his kind old friends, but Geirrod did not even so much as look back to respond to their farewell.

The favourable breezes which Odin had called up soon urged the boat to land; but the moment it touched the shore Geirrod sprang out, and, pushing it back into the sea with all his might, bade his brother sail away to the Land of Giants and never return.

Odin, feeling sure that all was well with the boys, had resigned his care for their safety and had returned to Asgard, and thus the giants were able to play him a trick, which they did by causing the wind to veer round, whereby Agnar was carried away to the edge of the world.

Meantime, the hard-hearted Geirrod ran cheerfully into his father's palace, and announced that he had come back alone from a desert island upon which his boat had been stranded, his elder brother having been drowned in the sea.

His father was overjoyed to see him, for he had given up hope of setting eyes on either of his sons again. He made him his heir, and in due time, when some years had passed away, he died, and Geirrod became king in his stead.

Now All-Father Odin had so many things to attend to that, as we have seen, he thought no more of his boy friends for many years.

Then at length, when Geirrod had sat for some time on his fathers throne, Odin looked from his high seat in Asgard upon him, and seeing with pleasure how great a man he had become, his thoughts turned to Agnar. For a time he could see nothing of him, but at last he discerned that he had returned in disguise to his brother's palace and was living there, unknown to Geirrod, as a servant.

Then Odin turned to Frigga, who sat by his side on the high seat, and said tauntingly, "Did I not always say that Geirrod was by far the better and braver and stronger of those two boys? Behold, although he is the younger, he sits upon his father's throne, while Agnar brews ale for his table."

To this Frigga quietly replied: "It is better to be a poor servant than a hard-hearted king. For see how rich is Geirrod; yet he turns away the guest from the door, and ill-treats those who ask a kindness at his hands."

"I will never believe it," said Odin, who could be very obstinate when he liked; "and to prove you are wrong I will disguise myself again as a wanderer, and ask for food and shelter from the king."

So he took his blue-grey cloak and broad-brimmed hat, and, with a pilgrim's staff in his hand, set off adown the Rainbow Bridge. Meantime, Frigga, determined to show that she was right, and to prevent Geirrod from receiving Odin with favour by mere chance, sent a swift and secret messenger, warning the king to beware of a man in a blue-grey mantle and wide-brimmed hat, for that he, a pretended wanderer, was an enchanter who would put the king under a spell.

Scarcely had the messenger fulfilled his mission when Odin knocked at the great door of the palace and begged for food and shelter. He had not the slightest doubt that these would be granted him, for inhospitality to strangers was one of the greatest crimes a Northman could commit.

Judge then of his surprise when, instead of being offered a seat at the supper-table and a bed for the night, he was seized by the beard, and dragged roughly into the presence of Geirrod.

"Where do you come from, and what is your name, O miserable old man?" asked the angry king.

"My name is Grimnir," answered Odin, now well on his guard, "but where I come from I will not say, since that is my concern alone."

Then the king's wrath knew no bounds, and finding it impossible to make the old man speak, he ordered that he should be chained to a pillar between two fires, whose flames scorched him on either side without actually burning him.

For eight days and nights was Odin imprisoned thus, and during all that time the cruel Geirrod would give him neither food nor drink, and kept close watch to see that he obtained them from no one else.

But one night, when the watchmen were drowsy from the heat of the fire, a serving-man came stealthily over the floor, a horn of ale in his hand. Holding this to the parched lips of the prisoner, he gave him a long, cool drink; and then did Odin recognize the features of Agnar, brother of the king, who should have been king in his stead.

The next evening, as Geirrod sat at the head of the table gloating over the sufferings of his prisoner, Odin suddenly began to sing. Softly the notes began, but soon they grew louder and louder, till the great hall echoed and re-echoed the song of triumph. And at length he sang how Geirrod, who had so long enjoyed the favour of the gods, was now about to meet the just reward of his misdeeds:

"Thy life is now run out: Wroth with thee are the gods: Odin thou now shalt see: Draw near me if thou canst."

With these words the chain fell from off his hands, the flames shot up to the roof and died away, and Odin stood in the midst of the hall, no longer a poor and suffering wayfarer, but revealed in all the might and majesty of a god.

Directly he had understood the meaning of the song, Geirrod had risen to his feet with drawn sword, meaning to kill his prisoner, but so startled was he at the sudden change in his appearance that he stumbled back, and, losing his footing, he fell upon the sharp point of his own sword and miserably perished.

When his words had been thus fulfilled, Odin turned to Agnar, who, with the other servants, had rushed into the hall, and bade him take his rightful place upon his father's throne, and in return for his kind act in bringing the draught of ale he promised him prosperity and happiness so long as he should live.



CHAPTER III

How the Queen of the Sky Gave Gifts to Men

This is the tale which the Northmen tell of Frigga, Queen of the Asas.

By the side of All-Father Odin, upon his high seat in Asgard, sat Frigga, his wife, the Queen of the Asas. Sometimes she would be dressed in snow-white garments, bound at the waist by a golden girdle, from which hung a great bunch of golden keys. And the earth-dwellers, gazing into the sky, would admire the great white clouds as they floated across the blue, not perceiving that these clouds were really the folds of Frigga's flowing white robe, as it waved in the wind.

At other times she would wear dark grey or purple garments; and then the earth-dwellers made haste into their houses, for they said, "the sky is lowering to-day, and a storm is nigh at hand."

Frigga had a palace of her own called Fensalir, or the Hall of Mists, where she spent much of her time at her wheel, spinning golden thread, or weaving web after web of many-coloured clouds. All night long she sat at this golden wheel, and if you look at the sky on a starry night you may chance to see it set up where the men of the South show a constellation called the Girdle of Orion.

Husbands and wives who had dwelt lovingly together upon earth were invited by Frigga to her hall when they died, so that they might be for ever united within its hospitable walls.

"There in the glen Fensalir stands, the house Of Frigga, honoured mother of the gods, And shows its lighted windows, and the open doors."

Frigga was especially interested in all good housewives, and she herself set them an excellent example in Fensalir. When the snowflakes fell, the earth-dwellers knew it was Frigga shaking her great feather bed, and when it rained they said it was her washing day. It was she who first gave to them the gift of flax that the women upon earth might spin, and weave, and bleach their linen as white as the clouds of her own white robe.

And this is how it came about.

There once was a shepherd who lived among the mountains with his wife and children; and so very poor was he that he often found it hard to give his family enough to satisfy their hunger. But he did not grumble; he only worked the harder; and his wife, though she had scarcely any furniture, and never a chance of a new dress, kept the house so clean, and the old clothes so well mended, that, all unknown to herself, she rose high in the favour of the all-seeing Frigga.

Now one day, when the shepherd had driven his few poor sheep up the mountain to pasture, a fine reindeer sprang from the rocks above him and began to leap upward along the steep slope. The shepherd snatched up his crossbow and pursued the animal, thinking to himself: "Now we shall have a better meal than we have had for many a long day."

Up and up leaped the reindeer, always just out of reach and at length disappeared behind a great boulder just as the shepherd, breathless and weary, reached the spot. No sign of the reindeer was to be seen, but, on looking round, the shepherd saw that he was among the snowy heights of the mountains, and almost at the top of a great glacier.

Presently, as he pursued his vain search for the animal, he saw to his amazement an open door, leading apparently into the heart of the glacier. He was a fearless man, and so, without hesitation, he passed boldly through the doorway and found himself standing in a marvellous cavern, lit up by blazing torches which gleamed upon rich jewels hanging from the roof and walls. And in the midst stood a woman, most fair to behold, clad in snow-white robes and surrounded by a group of lovely maidens.

The shepherd's boldness gave way at this awesome sight, and he sank to his knees before the Asa, Frigga, for she it was. But Frigga bade him be of good cheer, and said: "Choose now whatsoever you will to carry away with you as a remembrance of this place."

The shepherd's eyes wandered over the glittering jewels on the walls and roof, but they came back to a little bunch of blue flowers which Frigga held in her hand. They alone looked homelike to him; the rest were hard and cold; so he asked timidly that he might be given the little nosegay.

Then Frigga smiled kindly upon him.

"Most wise has been your choice," said she. "Take with the flowers this measure of seed and sow it in your field, and you shall grow flowers of your own. They shall bring prosperity to you and yours."

So the shepherd took the flowers and the seed, and scarcely had he done so when a mighty peal of thunder, followed by the shock of an earthquake, rent the cavern, and when he had collected his senses he found himself once more upon the mountain side.

When he reached home and had told his tale, his wife scolded him roundly for not bringing home a jewel which would have made them rich for ever. But when she would have thrown the flowers away he prevented her. Next day he sowed the seed in his field, and was surprised to find how far it went.

Very soon after this the field was thick with tiny green shoots; and though his wife reproached him for wasting good ground upon useless flowers, he watched and waited in hope until the field was blue with the starry flax blooms.

Then one night, when the flowers had withered and the seed was ripe, Frigga, in the disguise of an old woman, visited the lowly hut and showed the shepherd and his astonished wife how to use the flax stalks; how to spin them into thread, and how to weave the thread into linen.

It was not long before all the dwellers in that part of the earth had heard of the wonderful material, and were hurrying to the shepherd's hut to buy the bleached linen or the seed from which it was obtained. And so the shepherd and his family were soon among the richest people in the land; and the promise of Frigga was amply fulfilled.



CHAPTER IV

How a Giant Built a Fortress for the Asas

This is the tale the Northmen tell of how a giant once built a fortress for the Asas.

Although their city of Asgard was beautiful beyond compare, the Asas who lived therein could not forget that the race of the giants kept unwearying watch to do them despite. Even All-Father Odin was troubled when he remembered Mimir's warning that the draught of wisdom would ever work strife between the races of Asas and giants. And so at length the Asas, meeting in their Council Chamber at the roots of the Tree of Life, resolved that something more should be done to guard themselves. Already, it is true, the watchman Heimdall kept ward over the Rainbow Bridge by night and day, blowing a soft note on his horn to announce the coming or going of the Asas, but prepared to give a terrible blast should any of the Frost Giants attempt to cross the bridge.

Heimdall, however, might be overpowered before aid could reach him, and so it was decided to build, just within Asgard, a great fortress, which should be so strong that the Asas could rest safely behind its walls, even if the Frost Giants should invade their city.

The next question was, Who should build this fortress?

None of the Asas knew of a likely architect, and while they were discussing where one should be found, the horn of Heimdall rang out in token of the approach of a stranger.

Out rushed the Asas, and there, in parley with Heimdall, stood a gigantic figure with powerful limbs, on which the muscles stood out like ropes of iron.

Heimdall was speaking sharply, for he did not altogether like the stranger's look. "For what purpose do you come?" he was inquiring.

"I am a Master Builder," replied the stranger. "I can build towers and forts more strongly than any other builder in all the world. Have you anything of the kind that wants doing here?"

The eyes of the Asas met as they heard these words, and Odin, stepping forward, said, "Can you build us a fortress so strong that not all the strength of the Frost Giants could avail against it?"

"Ay, that can I," replied the stranger. "Look at my strong arms and see the breadth of my chest. If you will set me to work you shall soon find my worth as a Master Builder."

"How long will the fortress take to build?" asked Odin.

"I will build it for you in three half years," replied the stranger.

"And what do you ask as wages?" said Odin, and the Master Builder answered promptly:

"You must give me the sun, the moon, and Freya for my wife."

At these words the Asas, who had been pressing forward to hear the conference, fell back with muttered disapproval. For Freya was the most beautiful maiden in Asgard, the joy and pride of the city, ever young and ever fair; and the sun and moon were the light and life of men in the world below. So they bade the Master Builder come again next day, and meantime retired to their Council Hall to consider the matter.

All-Father Odin was for sending the Builder promptly about his business when he returned for their decision, but his brother Loki counselled a different course.

Red Loki was a mischievous, sly fellow, full of wiles and deceit, and always quick to suggest a way out of a difficulty. On this occasion his plan was to allow the man to build the fortress, and to promise him the terms demanded, but subject to the condition that he fulfilled his task in a way that would be impossible for him fully to carry out.

His eloquence persuaded the Asas, and next day, when the Builder returned for their decision, Loki, as their spokesman, called to the mighty fellow as he crossed the bridge:

"Good man, we cannot wait for three half years for the completion of our fortress. But if you will undertake to do the work in the course of one winter, without any assistance, you shall have Freya, and the sun and moon to boot. If, however, on the first day of summer, one stone is missing from its place, the fortress will be ours without any payment whatever, since you will have broken your plighted word."

At this the Master Builder did not look well pleased. He pulled his great beard and eyed the speaker doubtfully, muttering that the time was too short for so great a task; but when Loki pretended to turn away, as though the matter were ended, he called after him:

"Well, have it so—the fortress shall be built in the time you set. But you must at least let me have the help of my good horse Svadilfare to carry stone."

When they heard this request the Asas demurred, saying: "He means to play us some trick."

But Loki persuaded them to make this trifling concession.

"For," said he, "of what use can a horse be in building a fortress? He will never be able to finish the place in time, and we shall get our fort for nothing. At least you can let him have his great clumsy horse for any use that he may be."

So the Asas agreed, and went their different ways, leaving the Master Builder to his work.

The winter months passed on, and while the Asas busied themselves with their various occupations and amusements, the Master Builder was toiling with might and main. But he could have done little in the time if he had not had the help of his wonderful horse Svadilfare, who not only dragged huge blocks of stone to the spot, but raised them into position with his strong forefeet. And this was done with such speed that, some days before the end of winter, the fortress was finished, with the exception of three blocks of stone which were to form one of the gateways.

Then the Asas suddenly realised what was about to happen. In less than three days more the fortress would be finished; it needed, in fact, but one night's work to make all complete. They remembered with horror the price they had undertaken to pay; the loss not only of Freya, fairest of maidens, but also of sun and moon, whose light was the joy of their life and the necessity of mankind.

"It is Red Loki," said they, "who has brought us to this sad pass." So they began to reproach him very bitterly, threatening even to kill him if he did not find some way to evade the loss which threatened them.

At length, being really frightened, Loki promised to do something—anything, that would prevent the Master Builder from finishing the work during the three days that yet remained of winter.

That same night good Svadilfare was painfully dragging a great block of stone along the path to the new-built fortress, when Red Loki, changed into the semblance of a pretty little grey mare, came running up, saying, as plainly as horses can speak:

"Down below there is a delightful green meadow. Do come with me, and take a holiday from this ever-lasting work."

Scarcely had he heard her neigh when the steed kicked off his harness, left the block of stone to roll down the steep hill, and rushed after the mare. Away ran Loki, away ran Svadilfare, and after them rushed the Master Builder, shouting and yelling in vain. The noise they made was terrific, for the gallop of the horses and the thud, thud, of the mighty Builder shook the walls of Asgard and made the earth-dwellers shrink in terror from what they imagined to be thunderstorms and earthquakes. But the Builder never found his horse, for Loki had lured him to a meadow hidden safely away within a secret grove.

When the Master Builder returned to the fortress the first day of summer had dawned, and lo! the winter was gone, and the gateway of the building was unfinished.

Before it stood the Asas, and All-Father Odin greeted the Builder with:

"See, fellow, here is the first day of summer and your task is not yet fulfilled. Begone, then, from Asgard, for we are free from our bond, and would have no further dealing with thee or thy evil brood."

Then the Builder perceived that Odin knew who he really was, and with a roar of rage he returned to his own form, and stood revealed as a mighty Frost Giant, almost as huge as the fortress he had built.

Shaking his great fist at the Asas, he shouted threateningly:

"Ye have tricked and fooled me enough. Not for nothing does a Frost Giant stand within the walls of Asgard. Were it not so strongly built I would now tear down this fortress that I have raised; but your own palaces are not giant-built, and see to it that they are not soon tumbling about your ears!"

And in good sooth he might have torn down the very halls of the Asas in his rage, had not Thor at that moment dashed up the Rainbow Bridge in his chariot drawn by goats. For all this while Thor, the strongest of the Asas, had been away on a long journey; and had this not been so, the giants would have had little cause to fear.

Springing from his chariot as the furious giant was about to pull the roof off Valhalla, Thor gave him so mighty a blow on the head with his huge hammer that his skull broke into little bits and his body fell down into the Land of Mists.

"Take that for your wages," roared Thor, as he swung his hammer on high, "and in this same manner will I repay all of the race of Frost Giants who seek to set foot in Asgard."

And so in this way was built for the Asas a fortress so strong that none of the giant folk could dare to raise hand against it. But always it lacked three stones in the gateway, for no one except a Frost Giant could lift such mighty blocks into place.



CHAPTER V

The Magic Mead

This is the tale the Northmen tell of how All-Father Odin brought the Magic Mead to Asgard.

There once lived among the earth-dwellers a certain man named Kvasir, who was very wise. He did not keep his wisdom to himself, as Mimir did, but went his way through all the world, answering questions and sharing his gift with those who cared for it. And wherever he went men were the better for his silver words, for Kvasir was a poet, the first who ever lived, and by his gift of poetry he made glad the hearts of gods and men.

Now when the dwarf people saw how Kvasir was loved and honoured, they grew jealous of him, and plotted to work him evil. So two of their number, called Fialar and Galar, met Kvasir one day and begged him to visit their cave under the earth and to take counsel with them concerning a very secret and important matter.

Glad, as was his wont, to help others, Kvasir agreed, whereupon the dwarfs conducted him into a dark and dismal place underground; and there, taking him unawares, they treacherously slew him, and poured his blood into three jars. This they mixed with honey, and thus made a Magic Mead, of such a nature that whoever drinks of it receives the gift of poesy, and his speech is silver and his heart is filled with wisdom.

It was not long before the gods in Asgard, missing the sweet sound of Kvasir's voice throughout the earth, began to make inquiries as to what had become of him.

The wicked dwarfs had spread the report that the wise man had choked by reason of his great wisdom. But All-Father Odin knew well that this absurd tale was not true, and was on the watch to see what mischief Fialar and Galar had been brewing.

Meantime, the dwarfs did not taste a drop of the Magic Mead, but hid it away in a secret place, while they went off in search of further adventures.

After awhile they found the Giant Gilling fast asleep by the seashore, and they began to pinch him till he was wide awake.

"Take us for a row on the sea, Gilling," they shouted, in their impudent little voices.

So the Giant Gilling, who was good-natured and stupid, got into a boat, and being very lazy, allowed the dwarfs to take the oars and row where they would.

Then Fialar and Galar rowed on to an unseen rock and upset the boat, so that the giant, who could not swim, was drowned; but they themselves perched astride on the keel, and the boat soon drifted ashore.

Hurrying to the giant's house they told his wife, with a fine pretence of sympathy, that her husband had fallen into the sea and was drowned. At this the poor giantess began to sob and groan until the walls shook with the noise. Then Fialar said to his brother:

"Tired am I of this bawling. I will now take her out, and as she passes through the doorway, drop a millstone on her head; and then there will be an end to them both."

Forthwith he asked if it would not comfort her to look upon the sea where her dear husband lay drowned; and she said it would. But as she passed through the doorway wicked Galar, who had scrambled up above the lintel, dropped a millstone on her head, and so she too fell an easy victim to the malice of the cruel brothers.

Now while the two dwarfs were jumping and skipping about in their wicked glee at the success of their evil plans, the Giant Suttung, son of Gilling, came home, and finding that his mother and father were both dead, he quickly guessed who were at the bottom of the mischief, and determined to put an end to the wretches.

Before they could evade his wrath, he grasped one of the dwarfs in each of his great hands, and, wading out into the ocean, he set them down upon a rock which he knew would be flooded at high tide, and there left them.

Then Fialar and Galar began to scream with terror, and to offer anything that Suttung chose to ask for, if only he would spare their lives.

Now Suttung had heard, as most people had done, of the Magic Mead, and he thought that this was a fine opportunity of getting it into his possession. So he bargained with the dwarfs, and they gladly promised to give him the whole brew if only he would save them from their perilous plight.

Suttung waited till they had had a good fright, and then, as the first wave washed over them, he waded to the rock and lifted them off. He took good care, however, not to give them their liberty until they had handed over the three jars of Magic Mead.

The moment he had got the precious jars into his possession Suttung hid them in a cave deep down in the centre of a mountain, and he set his daughter, Gunlod, the Giant-Maiden, to keep watch and ward, charging her to guard the cavern night and day, and to allow neither gods nor men to have so much as a sip of the marvellous liquid.

Meantime, All-Father Odin had sent forth his ravens, Hugin and Munin, to find out what had become of the wise Kvasir. For a while even they were puzzled by his complete disappearance, but presently they heard men talk of the Magic Mead that had been made from his blood, and so, little by little, they learned the truth, and flying back to Odin, they perched on his shoulders, and whispered it into his ears.

Now All-Father Odin was sorry for Kvasir, but he was still more vexed to think that this wonderful gift of poetry should be in the hands of his enemies, the giants. He began, therefore, to consider how he could get it from them, for though he had drained the draught of wisdom in speech and song, and nothing save a draught of the Magic Mead would bring him that gift.

So once more All-Father Odin disguised himself as an aged wanderer, pulled his grey hat well over his brows, threw his storm-hued cloak around him, and journeyed to the Land of Giants.

Searching about for the home of Suttung, Odin presently passed by a field where nine ugly serving-men were mowing hay. Now these were the servants of Baugi, the brother of Suttung, as Odin very well knew; so, after watching them for awhile, he called out:

"Hi, fellows! Your scythes are blunt. Would you like me to whet them for you?"

Glad of an excuse to stop work, the men shouted, "Yes."

Then Odin took a whetstone from his belt and whetted the scythes till they were sharp as razors.

The servants were much struck with the speed and skill with which this was done, and they all called out together to ask if the whetstone was for sale.

Odin replied that he was willing to sell it if he could get a fair price; upon which they all yelled at once that they would pay whatever he asked.

"Then let him have it who catches it," said Odin, and with that he threw the whetstone up in the air.

And then a tremendous struggle began. Each man fought with his neighbour for the stone and hacked at him with his keen scythe; and within a very few minutes all the nine serving-men lay dead on the field.

With a grim smile at the greed and quarrelsome behaviour which had brought them to this end, Odin passed on to the house of the Giant Baugi, and begged for supper and shelter for the night. The giant received him hospitably enough, and was about to sit down to table with him, when word was brought that his nine servants had killed each other and lay dead in the field.

Then Baugi began to complain and lament his bad luck, saying: "Here have I never had a better harvest, and yet there is not a man left to gather it in."

"Suppose you give me a trial," suggested Odin, "for though I look old I can do the work of nine men, and that you will soon find."

"What do you want for your wages?" asked Baugi doubtfully, for he guessed that the stranger was somebody out of the common.

"Nothing but a draught of the Magic Mead stored away by your brother Suttung," answered Odin calmly.

"'Tis no easy thing you ask of me, good fellow," replied Baugi, "nor is it mine to give. But if you will do my work I will go with you to my brother when all is done, and we will do our best to get the mead."

So Odin set to work all that summer-time, and never before had Baugi had such service done. Then, when the first breath of frost touched the autumn leaves, the toiler laid aside his tools and, going to his master, asked for his reward.

But Baugi shook his head doubtfully. "'Tis a harder matter than you think," said he. "Come with me, however, and I will do my best for you."

So they went together to the house of Suttung, and Baugi entered in and boldly asked his brother to give him a drink of the Magic Mead, wherewith to reward his servant.

At this Suttung flew into a great rage, and reproached Baugi for asking such a thing. "You have been fooled," he cried, "for this is none other than one of the gods, our deadly enemies, who, when he drinks the mead, will use his new-found wisdom in our despite. If you take my advice, you will do this enemy an ill turn while you have him in your power."

So Baugi went back to Odin, his heart torn between hatred of the god and fear as to what would happen if he did not keep his promise; but he only told gloomily that he had failed to get the mead.

Then Odin said, "If Suttung will not give the mead because of your promise, we must get it by some trick. And you will have to help me in this, because of your plighted word."

To this Baugi pretended to agree, but all the while he was trying to think of a plan whereby he could make an end of his troublesome servant.

They now made their way to the mountain where Gunlod kept watch over her treasured jars of mead. But her cave was hidden far away in the centre of the mountain, and none but Suttung knew how to find the entrance.

Baugi only pretended to join in the long and fruitless search, and at length, tired out, Odin took from his pocket an auger, wherewith holes are bored, and bade the giant use his great strength to drill a hole through the mountain to the cave.

Accordingly Baugi bored away and presently cried out, "See, there is your hole right into the cave!"

But Odin warily blew into the hole, and immediately chips of rock and dust flew back into his face, showing that the hole extended only a little way.

Then Odin knew, what before he had only guessed, that Baugi was trying to trick him; but he only looked at him grimly and said:

"Bore deeper, master, bore deeper."

And the giant was so frightened by the gleam in the iron-grey eye that he seized the auger, and this time made a hole which really pierced the mountain and penetrated to the hidden cave.

Directly Odin had made sure that Baugi had fulfilled his task, he changed himself into a snake and wriggled into the hole before Baugi had realised what had happened.

The next moment Baugi gave a stab at the snake with the sharp auger, hoping to cut him in two, but Odin was too quick for him, and he wriggled out of sight as the blow fell.

Odin crept a long way through the mountain until he came at length to a dark cave; and then he took again the form of the Father of Gods and Men.

Looking about him for awhile in the dimness of the cavern, he saw at length the beautiful Giant-Maiden, resting her head wearily on her hands and gazing at the great jars of mead which stood before her on a ledge as though she hated their very sight.

Coming softly to her side, Odin bent over her and gently kissed her forehead. Gunlod at this sprang up in terror, but when she saw Odin's kind face, her fears vanished and she smiled back at him.

"Whence come you?" asked the beautiful Giant-Maiden.

"I come from a long, long way off," replied the god, "and I am thirsty after my journey. May I taste the mead that stands in yon vessels?"

Gunlod shook her head till her long golden locks fell in confusion over her like a shower of laburnum blossom; but Odin set himself so winningly to coax her that, after she had held out for some long time, she told him at last that he might take one sip from each jar.

The words were hardly uttered ere Odin seized the first jar and in a moment had drained it dry. Then he snatched up the second and the third; and before Gunlod realised what had happened he had kissed her again, and, passing rapidly through the hole, had flown forth into the fresh air in the form of an eagle, and was bearing away the precious mead in his mouth to Asgard.

Meanwhile, Baugi had gone back to the Giant Suttung with the tale of how he had seen the mysterious serving-man change into a snake and wriggle through a hole in the mountain; and Suttung at once guessed that they had to deal with Odin himself. So he hurried to the hole and sat there to watch for the return of the snake.

But he had to wait so long that at length he grew drowsy, and in order to keep awake he was just pricking himself with the branch of a neighbouring thorn-bush, when birr! whizz! a great bird dashed out of the hole and made off into the upper air.

This awoke Suttung effectually. He knew he had missed a good chance of killing Odin, and that, in all probability, in the very act of carrying off the Magic Mead to Asgard; but he would not give up all hope, and next moment, in the form of another eagle, he was pursuing his enemy in eager flight.

Now Odin was heavy with the mead he had drunk, and his head was dizzy, so that he did not always fly along the straightest path. Little by little Suttung gained on him therefore, till it became very uncertain whether Odin could first reach the walls of Asgard.

The loud rush of fast-beating wings through the air attracted the attention of the gods, and they crowded to the walls of Asgard to watch the progress of the eagle, in whom they easily recognised Odin.

Some prepared great dishes in which to receive the Magic Mead from his mouth; others, seeing that he might be caught by his pursuer before he could reach the city, gathered a great pile of wood outside the walls, and heaped it with tow and tar and turpentine. To this they set fire, just as Odin flew over the battlements. And the flames shot up and burnt the wings of the pursuing eagle, so that Suttung tumbled to the earth and could fly no more.

Odin, exhausted and breathless, was meantime filling the dishes which the gods held ready for the Magic Mead, but so hurried was he that some of it was spilt; a few scattered drops fell on to the earth below.

Men rushed eagerly to catch the precious drops in their mouths; but none could get enough to be made wise with the true spirit of poesy. Some caught enough to become makers of rhymes and verses, but this is a different thing.

The Magic Mead was henceforth kept in Asgard under the charge of white-haired Bragi, the son of Odin, he who plays so beautifully upon the harp that it seems to sing of itself.

And once or twice in every hundred years or so, the gods allow some very favoured babe of mortal man to drink a full draught of the Magic Mead. Then, when the child grows up, he becomes a great poet, and people say he is "inspired."



CHAPTER VI

How Loki Made a Wager with the Dwarfs

This is the tale the Northmen tell of how Loki once made a Wager with the Dwarfs.

A most mischievous and tricky god was Loki, always on the look-out to play some wicked prank which was sure to bring trouble upon himself or others. It was, indeed, a wonder that the other Asas put up with him so long in Asgard; but then, you see, he was Odin's brother.

One day, when Loki was looking about him for diversions, he saw asleep in the sunlight Sif, the beautiful wife of Thor the Thunderer.

Now Sif was noted among all the dwellers in Asgard for her glorious hair, which hung down to her heels and was like a thick web of golden silk. When she stood up it covered her like a cloak, and when she lay down it was like a golden coverlet; and Thor, her husband, thought it was the most beautiful thing in all the habitation of the gods.

Now mischievous Loki saw her sleeping under the gleaming mass of golden web, and he took a pair of sharp scissors and cut it all off close to her head, so that she looked quite bald and ugly.

When Thor came home and saw what had happened, he was wild with fury, and guessing at once who had done the deed, he stamped off to find Red Loki, vowing that he would break every bone in his body.

Then Loki, when he heard the thunder of Thor's tramp and saw the lightning flash from his angry eyes, was terrified, and attempted to change himself into another shape; but before he could do so the wrathful god had gripped him by the throat and was shaking the life out of him.

"Let me go!" gasped Loki. "Let me go, and I will bring new hair for Sif ere the daylight's gone."

"Go, then," roared Thor, "but mind, if you break your word you will have not only to reckon with me, but with Odin and Frey as well."

Then, giving Loki a last shake, he sent him flying over the battlements and down the Rainbow Bridge like a falling star.

Now Loki was terrified at the result of his trick, and dread of the punishment that Odin might have in store for him, when he returned with the hair, began to assail him. So he determined to take back with him two presents, one for his mighty brother, and one for Frey, the god of the Golden Sunshine.

Leaping on to the earth, he quickly made his way through a hillside into the depths of the mountains, never stopping till he had reached the dark and gloomy district of Dwarfland.

For a time Loki could see nothing, though he heard on every side the tapping hammers and heaving bellows of the Little Men.

Presently, however, he distinguished a tiny furnace with its burning flame, and saw by its light a little squat figure, who pulled off his peaked cap and asked the visitor what he wanted.

"I want you to make me three gifts," said Loki; "one for Odin, and one for Frey, and the third must be golden hair that will grow upon Sif's head."

Now the dwarfs were anxious to keep on good terms with the gods, who could protect them against the giants; and so, when they heard Loki's request, they readily agreed to make the three things. Accordingly, they set to work upon a pile of golden nuggets, and spun from them a mass of the finest gold thread, so smooth and soft that it looked like the loveliest hair. This they gave to Loki, telling him that directly it touched the head of Sif it would become as a natural growth.

"Now give me something for Odin," said Loki, well pleased.

So the dwarfs set to work again, and presently fashioned the spear called Gungnir, which, however badly it might be aimed, was always sure to go straight to its mark.

Loki gratefully took the spear, and there now only remained the gift for Frey.

The dwarfs thought awhile, and then set to work upon a ship which, when pressed together, would fold up and go into one's pocket, but which, when allowed to expand, would hold all the gods in Asgard and their horses, would sail through air as well as on water, and would always get a favourable wind directly it hoisted canvas.

Loki was immensely pleased with these gifts, and went away, declaring loudly that his dwarf friends were the cleverest smiths in all the world.

Now it so fell out that his words were heard by another dwarf, named Brock, who came and stood in his way and looked with scorn at the ship and the spear and the golden web which he carried in his hands.

"A clumsy lot of things you have there!" he jeered. "Why, my brother Sindri could make gifts that are far more wonderful than those."

"My head against yours that he could not!" said Loki, getting angry.

"Done!" chuckled Brock with a leer, and forthwith they made their way to the underground cave where Sindri was at work in his forge.

Now Sindri was quite ready to take up the challenge, but only on condition that Brock would blow the bellows for him. Loki now began to feel uneasy, for he had hoped the dwarf would decline to compete when he heard what were the gifts he had to improve upon. But Sindri only wagged his long beard at them contemptuously, and Loki's head began to tremble for the result of his wager.

So he determined to try and hinder the work.

Meantime Sindri had thrown a pigskin into the furnace, and had gone outside to find a magic charm, saying as he went:

"Blow, brother, blow with all thy might till I return, and stay not thy hand for an instant."

Directly Loki heard this he changed himself into a great stinging fly, and lighting on Brock's hand, he stung him with all his might. But the dwarf never stopped blowing, though he stamped and roared with pain. Then Sindri returned, and going to the furnace drew from it a golden boar of great size, which had the power of flying through the sky and scattering light from his golden bristles as he flew. But Brock did not know all this, and looked somewhat scornfully at the gift, saying:

"I thought you could do better than this."

"Wait a bit," said Sindri, and with that he threw a lump of gold upon the fire and went out, charging his brother not to stop blowing for an instant.

Then in flew Loki again, still disguised as a gadfly, and lighted on Brock's neck and stung him so that the blood flowed. But though the dwarf yelled with pain he did not cease blowing.

When Sindri returned he pulled out of the fire a fine gold ring. And this ring was made in such a marvellous fashion that every ninth night nine other rings would drop from it, so that its owner would be the richest being in the world.

But Brock did not know all this, and only growled.

"Wait a bit," said Sindri again, and this time he threw a lump of iron on the fire, once more going out, and urging his brother, as he went, to be specially careful this time, or he would spoil all.

Then in flew Loki and lighted between Brock's eyelids, stinging them so that the blood poured down and blinded him. Raising his hand for a second the dwarf dashed away the blood, and just for that instant he ceased to blow. Presently Sindri was back again, saying gloomily that what lay in the furnace came nigh to being spoilt. Then he put in his hand and pulled out a great hammer; but the handle of the hammer was an inch too short.

Now this hammer was so powerful that no one, not even a Frost Giant, could resist its force, and it would smash a mountain as easily as it would an egg-shell. So Brock, when he knew all that was to be known, took the three gifts and hastened away to Asgard to pit them against those of Loki, who had just returned.

Enthroned in a circle sat the Asas, and in the midst, as judges of the gifts, sat Odin, Thor and Frey.

Loki of the red beard and cunning eye, bringing forward the magic spear, bowed low to Odin, saying: "Here, brother Odin, is a spear that will never miss its mark!"

Then he turned to Frey and handed him the magic ship, saying: "Here is a ship which will never lack a fair wind wherever you wish to go; and though you may fold it up and carry it in your pocket, it will hold all the gods of Asgard and their steeds besides."

But to Thor he gave the golden web of hair, and said nothing, for he feared him.

Then Brock stood forth and produced his treasures, saying: "Here, mighty Odin, is a ring that will produce nine other gold rings every ninth night."

Odin laughed with joy, and said: "Spears have I in abundance, but with this ring I shall never want for gold."

Next Brock opened the heavy bag with which his shoulders were burdened, and out of it fell the golden boar, which he laid before Frey, saying: "Here, good Frey, is a boar who will carry you through the air or over the sea. And wherever you go on his back the sky will be lighted up by his golden bristles."

Then Frey laughed with joy, saying: "Better sport is it to ride on a golden boar than in a ship."

Lastly Brock drew out the short-handled hammer named Mioelnir. And this he gave to Thor, saying: "Most powerful one, here is a hammer whose blows nothing can withstand, not even mountains or Frost Giants; and however far you throw it, this hammer will always return to your hand."

Then Thor jumped from his seat joyfully crying out: "Better than the golden hair of Sif is a weapon against which none of my enemies can stand. Brothers, let us decide this wager forthwith. And for me, I give my vote in favour of the gifts of Brock."

Then the gods and goddesses put their heads together and came to the conclusion that the hammer of Thor was worth all the gifts of Loki twice over; for with it they could be protected against the Frost Giants, who were always their secret dread. So they decided:

"Brock has won the wager. Let Loki lose his head."

Much dismayed, Red Loki offered to pay a huge ransom, but of this Brock would not hear.

Then Loki pretended to give in. "Come and take me then," he cried, but when the dwarf tried to seize him he was already far away, for he wore the shoes with which he could run through the air and over the sea.

And knowing that he could never catch him, Brock was beside himself with rage. Looking round him he saw that, though the others had dispersed, Thor was still playing with his new hammer, smashing a mountain here and a great tree there.

"Mighty Thor," cried the dwarf, "will you do something for me in return for my gift? Bring to me that fellow who has broken his word, that I may slay him forthwith."

With a nod of his great head Thor jumped into his goat chariot, and was soon thundering through the air after wicked Loki. Driving with the speed of lightning he quickly overtook the fugitive, whose plea for help, however, touched him so that he relented and bethought him of a way in which he might save his life.

Justice must be done, however, so he dragged the culprit back to Asgard and gave him over to Brock; but he warned the dwarf that although the head of Loki was rightfully his, he must not touch his neck.

Now Brock could not possibly cut off the one without touching the other, so he bethought him of another plan. He would at any rate sew up the bragging lips that had caused so much trouble and told so many lies since All Things began.

So he took a strong piece of string and bored holes with his auger, and firmly stitched up the lips of Red Loki, and broke off the thread at the end of the sewing.

For a time after this there was peace in Asgard, and this would have lasted for long had not Loki managed at length to cut the string, when he became as talkative as ever.

And this is the end of the tale of How Loki made a Wager with the Dwarfs.



CHAPTER VII

The Apples of Youth

This is the tale which the Northmen tell of how the Apples of Youth were once very nearly lost to Asgard.

Sweetest of all the Asa folk was Idun, the fair young goddess of Springtime and Youth, and dearly loved was she by the other Asas, both for herself and for her magic apples.

Fast locked in a golden casket were her apples, ripe and sweet and rosy. And each day, at dawn, Idun came to the table where the gods sat and feasted together, and gave those who wished a taste of the fruit.

And it came to pass that everyone who ate the magic fruit grew fresh and young again, however old and weary he had been before. For even the gods of Asgard grew old and weary sometimes; and then nothing would make them young again but the Apples of Youth.

So Idun treasured the fruit with the greatest care, and never let it out of her charge for a moment. And however many she took out of her casket wherewith to feed the gods, there always remained just the same number as before.

"Bright Iduna, maid immortal! Standing at Valhalla's portal, In her casket has rich store Of rare apples, gilded o'er; Those rare apples, not of earth, To ageing Asas gave new birth."

It was only to be expected, of course, that the fame of this magic fruit should spread, and as nobody liked to grow old, many of the giants, as well as the little dwarf people, used to come to the gates of Asgard and beg that Idun would give them a taste of her apples. But this, though they offered her the richest gifts they could think of, she never would do.

Now one day it so fell out that Odin grew weary of watching his heroes feast and fight in Valhalla, and determined to go forth and seek an adventure elsewhere.

So he called for his brother Hoenir, the clear-eyed Asa who first gave hope to the heart of man, and Loki, the mischievous fellow who yet by reason of his fun and gaiety was no bad travelling companion, and bade them accompany him on a journey.

Speeding over the Rainbow Bridge they came down to the world below, and presently found themselves in a desolate region of mountain and moorland, through which they wandered for a long, long time, without coming across any kind of human habitation.

At length, grown weary and very hungry, they began to look about for food, and presently saw, to their great joy, a herd of oxen feeding upon the mountain side. It took no long time to kill a fine bull and to kindle an immense fire; after which the Asas hung up the animal to roast and sat down to wait till it was done.

But though the fire flamed bravely over the logs, it made no difference whatever to the meat, which remained raw and cold.

Heaping on fresh fuel, the three Asas put the carcass still nearer the flame and waited hungrily. All in vain, the meat remained uneatable.

Looking at each other in dismay, the Asas exclaimed:

"There is some magic spell at work here."

And at that very moment they heard the loud croak of a bird in the tree above them.

Hastily searching the branches, the Asas soon found an immense eagle perched there and looking down upon them with an evil expression.

"Ho!" cried Odin, "is it you who has bewitched our food?"

The eagle nodded and croaked maliciously again.

"Then come at once and remove the spell," cried the famished Hoenir.

"If I do so, will you give me as much as I want to eat?" asked the eagle.

At this Odin hesitated, for he feared a trick, but Loki's mouth was watering, and he called out:

"Yes, yes, anything you like if you will only let the meat be cooked."

Then the great bird swooped down and began to fan the flame with his huge wings, and behold! in a very few minutes the gravy began to run, a delicious smell of roast beef filled the air, and there was the meat done to a turn.

Just as the three Asas were putting out hungry hands to seize their portions, however, the eagle, which had been hovering overhead, swooped down and seized more than three-quarters of the animal, leaving barely enough for one of the famished gods.

This was too much for Loki. With a roar of rage like that of an angry lion, he seized a great stake that stood near and struck with all his might at the greedy bird.

The eagle shook himself after the blow, but instead of dropping his booty he rose slowly into the air. And then, to Loki's dismay, he found that one end of the pole had stuck fast to the body of the bird, the other to his own hands.

Try as he would he could not let go, and so found himself being dragged along over stones and bushes and briers, while his arms were almost torn out of their sockets.

In vain he begged and implored the eagle to let him go; it took no notice of him whatever, but flew on and on, just a little way above the earth, until at length Loki, feeling that he could endure no longer, promised to give him anything he asked if he would only release him.

Then at last the eagle spoke, telling him that he would set him free on one condition only, and that was that he should manage, by some trick, to tempt Idun out of Asgard, in order that he could obtain possession of her and of the magic fruit. He told Loki, moreover, that he was the Storm Giant Thiassi in disguise, and bade him beware of the consequences if he broke his solemn promise to one of giant race.

By this time Loki was ready to promise anything to save his life, and so at length he found himself free.

Bruised and torn he made his way back to Odin and Hoenir, by whom he was closely questioned concerning his adventures.

But Loki never hesitated to depart from the truth, and, knowing that it would not do to tell what he had promised, he answered glibly that the eagle had captured him in mistake for someone else, and that when he found out it was Red Loki himself, he had set him free, with many expressions of sorrow for his error.

So the three Asas returned to Asgard, and from that moment Loki did not cease to plot and plan the means by which he could entice Idun outside the gates.

And indeed this was no easy matter, for the Apples of Youth were so precious to the gods that Idun was well guarded by night and day. Sometimes, however, even the Asas were off their guard, and that was the opportunity for Loki.

Strolling one day through the groves of Asgard, Loki found the beautiful maiden all alone in a sunny corner playing at ball with her golden fruit.

"Aha!" cried he, approaching gently so as not to startle her, "what a fair game thou playest here, maiden!"

But Idun only smiled at him happily and went on tossing her apples.

Then Loki pulled a long face, and came nearer, and said:

"Till this day, fair Idun, I had said that nowhere in the wide world grew apples like thine. But now have I found a tree whereon the fruit is of finer gold, and of greater size than these, and a taste of it needs not to be renewed again, but makes one young for evermore."

Then Idun stopped playing and her blue eyes grew dark and stormy, for she could not bear to think that her apples would no longer be the joy and delight of the Asas.

But then she remembered Loki's deceitful ways, and said: "I believe thee not. This is one of thy tricks, Red Loki."

"Ho, you think so, do you?" said the crafty one. "Then come and see them for yourself, and bring your own to compare with them."

"Are they near by?" said Idun, rising doubtfully to her feet, and still holding fast to the casket of fruit.

"Only just a little way off," replied Loki, and taking hold of her hand he drew her outside the thicket.

On and on they went, and when she asked where they were going he always replied that the grove where the apples grew was just a little farther than he had thought.

At length, without noticing that she had passed the boundaries, Idun stood outside the walls of Asgard on a dreary region of barren heath, and then she at last began to suspect mischief.

"Where am I?" she cried, "and where, O Loki, are the golden apples?"

But she only heard the jeering ha! ha! ha! of the Asa as he returned to Asgard, and that was soon lost in the whirr-r-r of wings as a mighty eagle, swooping down upon her, fixed his talons in her girdle and rose with her into the air.

And this, of course, was Thiassi, the Storm Giant, who had been on the watch for her all the time, and who now carried her off, casket and all, to the bleak and desolate abode over which he ruled. Well had it been said that Loki was at the bottom of all the misfortunes that ever befell in Asgard. And never until the End of All Things would he work so dire a mischief again.

Poor Idun grew pale and thin and sad in her captivity, but she would not purchase freedom with a taste of the Apples of Youth, although the Storm Giant coaxed and begged and threatened by turns.

For a time the Asas took little notice of her absence, for they thought she was amusing herself somewhere in the sunny groves of Asgard and had forgotten her daily visit. Then they began to feel old and weary, and at first scarcely knew what was wrong.

Glancing at each other they saw, with startled eyes, wrinkles and lines and grey hairs where these things were not wont to be. Their youth and beauty were disappearing, and then they suddenly awoke to the need of a thorough search for the missing Idun.

And, when she could nowhere be found, All-Father Odin, mindful of former tricks, sent for Red Loki and began very closely to question him. Others had seen Idun in his company on that eventful day when she had been carried away, and so, finding it impossible to keep the matter hidden, Loki confessed, with a mocking laugh, that he had betrayed her into the power of the Storm Giant.

Then all the Asas arose in hot wrath and threatened Loki with death or torture if he did not at once restore the beautiful Goddess of Youth with her magic fruit. And at length, being fairly frightened, he undertook to bring her back, if Freya would lend him her falcon plumes that he might disguise himself as a bird.

Thus equipped, Loki flew off to Giantland, and arrived, fortunately for him, just as Thiassi had gone out a-fishing.

High up at the window of a great stone castle fair Idun looked with tearful eyes upon the stormy sea, and, as she thought of the sunny groves of Asgard, suddenly the plumage of a great falcon almost brushed against her face. Drawing back in alarm, she saw the cunning red eyes of Loki looking at her from the bird's head.

"See how kind am I!" he jeered. "I am come to take thee back to Asgard."

Then Idun almost wept for joy, till she remembered that she was a prisoner, and so cried pitifully:

"I cannot win forth from this cold stone tower, O Loki, and even if I could, thou canst never carry me and my casket back to Asgard. And lo! I cannot outrun the wicked Storm Giant, and though the fruit be heavy, I will not leave it behind."

Then Loki soothed her, and by his magic arts he changed her into a nut, which he took up in one talon, while the casket he carried with the other, and so set off to fly back to Asgard.

Now Thiassi, the Storm Giant, was ill at ease that day, for he felt the pangs and pains of old age upon him as he went a-fishing. So he determined to return earlier than usual, in order to try once more to get the magic fruit from Idun.

Judge then of his dismay when he found his prisoner flown!

Hastily transforming himself into an eagle, Thiassi began to scour the regions of the air, looking everywhere for the maiden, and before long he noted the steady flight of a falcon towards the walls of Asgard.

Sweeping towards him through the air, the keen eyes of the eagle saw the gleam of a golden casket in his talons, and he knew that it was an Asa who had come to the rescue of Idun.

And now it seemed that Loki would be hard put to it to reach Asgard before he was overtaken; for the eagle swept through the air with his great wings much faster than the falcon could fly, and the Asas, who had assembled on the battlements of the city to watch the race, trembled for its issue.

Then some of them remembered how once before they had played a trick upon the pursuer in a similar conflict, and they collected pine shavings in great abundance and piled them on the walls, and stood ready to fire them when the moment came.

On, on flew Loki, hard beset; and close behind him came, with steady rush, the mighty eagle Thiassi. He was almost upon his prey as they neared the walls, but Loki made a last violent effort, which was successful, and he fell exhausted into the midst of the Asas.

At the same moment the pile of fuel was lighted, and Thiassi, blinded with smoke and singed with flame, dropped over the battlements, and thus fell an easy prey to his waiting enemies. In admiration of his good race, however, the Asas placed his eyes as stars in the heavens, and there they shine to this day.

So the Apples of Youth returned to Asgard, and all the Asas hastened to eat of them and became young and beautiful again. And fair Idun once more resumed her shape, and never again was tricked by wicked Loki, but played with her magic fruit in the golden groves of Asgard till the End of All Things.

And this is how the Apples of Youth were once very nearly lost to Asgard.



CHAPTER VIII

How the Fenris Wolf was Chained

This is the tale the Northmen tell of how the Fenris Wolf was chained.

Fair as were the meads of Asgard, we have seen that the Asa folk were fond of wandering far afield in other regions. Most restless of all was Red Loki, that cunning fellow who was always bringing trouble upon himself or upon his kindred. And because he loved evil, he would often betake himself to the gloomy halls of Giantland and mingle with the wicked folk of that region.

Now one day he met a hideous giantess named Angur-Boda. This creature had a heart of ice, and because he loved ugliness and evil she had a great attraction for him, and in the end he married her, and they lived together in a horrible cave in Giantland.

Three children were born to Loki and Angur-Boda in this dread abode, and they were even more terrible in appearance than their mother. The first was an immense wolf called Fenris, with a huge mouth filled with long white teeth, which he was constantly gnashing together.

The second was a wicked-looking serpent with a fiery-tongue lolling from its mouth.

The third was a hideous giantess, partly blue and partly flesh-colour, whose name was Hela.

No sooner were these three terrible children born than all the wise men of the earth began to foretell the misery they would bring upon the Asa folk.

In vain did Loki try to keep them hidden within the cave wherein their mother dwelt. They soon grew so immense in size that no dwelling would contain them, and all the world began to talk of their frightful appearance.

It was not long, of course, before All-Father Odin, from his high seat in Asgard, heard of the children of Loki. So he sent for some of the Asas, and said:

"Much evil will come upon us, O my children, from this giant brood, if we defend not ourselves against them. For their mother will teach them wickedness, and still more quickly will they learn the cunning wiles of their father. Fetch me them here, therefore, that I may deal with them forthwith."

So, after somewhat of a struggle, the Asas captured the three giant-children and brought them before Odin's judgment-seat.

Then Odin looked first at Hela, and when he saw her gloomy eyes, full of misery and despair, he was sorry, and dealt kindly with her, saying: "Thou art the bringer of Pain to man, and Asgard is no place for such as thou. But I will make thee ruler of the Mist Home, and there shalt thou rule over that unlighted world, the Region of the Dead."

Forthwith he sent her away over rough roads to the cold, dark region of the North called the Mist Home. And there did Hela rule over a grim crew, for all those who had done wickedness in the world above were imprisoned by her in those gloomy regions. To her came also all those who had died, not on the battlefield, but of old age or disease. And though these were treated kindly enough, theirs was a joyless life in comparison with that of the dead warriors who were feasting and fighting in the halls of Valhalla, under the kindly rule of All-Father Odin.

Having thus disposed of Hela, Odin next turned his attention to the serpent. And when he saw his evil tongue and cunning, wicked eyes, he said:

"Thou art he who bringest Sin into the world of men; therefore the ocean shall be thy home for ever."

Then he threw that horrid serpent into the deep sea which surrounds all lands, and there the creature grew so fast that when he stretched himself one day he encircled all the earth, and held his own tail fast in his mouth. And sometimes he grew angry to think that he, the son of a god, had thus been cast out; and at those times he would writhe with his huge body and lash his tail till the sea spouted up to the sky. And when that happened the men of the North said that a great tempest was raging. But it was only the Serpent-son of Loki writhing in his wrath.

Then Odin turned to the third child. And behold! the Fenris Wolf was so appalling to look upon that Odin feared to cast him forth, and he decided to endeavour to tame him by kindness so that he should not wish them ill.

But when he bade them carry food to the Fenris Wolf, not one of the Asas would do so, for they feared a snap from his great jaws. Only the brave Tyr had courage enough to feed him, and the wolf ate so much and so fast that the business took him all his time. Meantime, too, the Fenris grew so rapidly, and became so fierce, that the gods were compelled to take counsel and consider how they should get rid of him. They remembered that it would make their peaceful halls unholy if they were to slay him, and so they resolved instead to bind him fast, that he should be unable to do them harm.

So those of the Asa folk who were clever smiths set to work and made a very strong, thick chain; and when it was finished they carried it out to the yard where the wolf dwelt, and said to him, as though in jest:

"Here is a fine proof of thy boasted strength, O Fenris. Let us bind this about thee, that we may see if thou canst break it asunder."

Then the wolf gave a great grin with his wide jaws, and came and stood still that they might bind the chain about him; for he knew what he could do. And it came to pass that directly they had fastened the chain, and had slipped aside from him, the great beast gave himself a shake, and the chain fell about him in little bits.

At this the Asas were much annoyed, but they tried not to show it, and praised him for his strength.

Then they set to work again upon a chain much stronger than the last, and brought it to the Fenris Wolf, saying:

"Great will be thy renown, O Fenris, if thou canst break this chain as thou didst the last."

But the wolf looked at them askance, for the chain they brought was very much thicker than the one he had already broken. He reflected, however, that since that time he himself had grown stronger and bigger, and moreover, that one must risk something in order to win renown.

So he let them put the chain upon him, and when the Asas said that all was ready, he gave a good shake and stretched himself a few times, and again the fetters lay in fragments on the ground.

Then the gods began to fear that they would never hold the wolf in bonds; and it was All-Father Odin who persuaded them to make one more attempt.

So they sent a messenger to Dwarfland bidding him ask the Little Men to make a chain which nothing could possibly destroy.

Setting at once to work, the clever little smiths soon fashioned a slender silken rope, and gave it to the messenger, saying that no strength could break it, and that the more it was strained the stronger it would become.

It was made of the most mysterious things—the sound of a cat's footsteps, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of fishes, and other such strange materials, which only the dwarfs knew how to use.

With this chain the messenger hastened back over the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.

By this time the Fenris Wolf had grown too big for his yard, so he lived on a rocky island in the middle of the lake that lies in the midst of Asgard. And here the Asas now betook themselves with their chain, and began to play their part with wily words.

"See," they cried, "O Fenris! Here is a cord so soft and thin that none would think of it binding such strength as thine."

And they laughed great laughs, and handed it to one another, and tried its strength by pulling at it with all their might, but it did not break.

Then they came nearer and used more wiles, saying:

"We cannot break the cord, though 'tis stronger than it looks, but thou, O mighty one, will be able to snap it in a moment."

But the wolf tossed his head in scorn, and said:

"Small renown would there be to me, O Asa folk, if I were to break yon slender string. Save, therefore, your breath, and leave me now alone."

"Aha!" cried the Asas. "Thou fearest the might of the silken cord, thou false one, and that is why thou wilt not let us bind thee!"

"Not I," said the Fenris Wolf, growing rather suspicious, "but if it is made with craft and guile it shall never come near my feet."

"But," said the Asas, "thou wilt surely be able to break this silken cord with ease, since thou hast already broken the great iron fetters."

To this the wolf made no answer, pretending not to hear.

"Come!" said the Asas again, "why shouldst thou fear? For even if thou couldst not break the cord we would immediately let thee free again. To refuse is a coward's piece of work."

Then the wolf gnashed his teeth at them in anger, and said:

"Well I know you Asas! For if you bind me so fast that I cannot get loose you will skulk away, and it will be long before I get any help from you; and therefore am I loth to let this band be laid upon me."

But still the Asas continued to persuade him and to twit him with cowardice, until at length the Fenris Wolf said, with a sullen growl:

"Have it your own way then. But, as a pledge that this is done without deceit, let one of you lay his hand in my mouth while you are binding me, and afterwards while I try to break the bonds."

Then the Asa folk looked at one another in dismay, for they knew very well what this would mean.

And while they consulted together the wolf stood gnashing his teeth at them with a horrid grin.

At length Tyr the Brave hesitated no longer. Boldly he stalked up to the wolf and thrust his arm into his enormous mouth, bidding the Asas bind fast the beast. Scarce had they done so when the wolf began to strain and pull, but the more he did so the tighter and suffer the rope became.

The gods shouted and laughed with glee when they saw how all his efforts were in vain. But Tyr did not join in their mirth, for the wolf in his rage snapped his great teeth together and bit off his hand at the wrist.

Now when the Asas discovered that the animal was fast bound, they took the chain which was fixed to the rope and drew it through a huge rock, and fastened this rock deep down in the earth, so that it could never be moved. And this they fastened to another great rock which was driven still deeper into the ground.

When the Fenris Wolf found that he had been thus secured he opened his mouth terribly wide, and twisted himself right and left, and tried his best to bite the Asa folk. He uttered, moreover, such terrible howls that at length the gods could bear it no longer. So they took a sword and thrust it into his mouth, so that the hilt rested on his lower, and the point against his upper jaw. And there he was doomed to remain until the end of All Things shall come, when he

"Freed from the Chain Shall range the Earth."



CHAPTER IX

How the Pride of Thor was Brought low

This is the tale the Northmen tell of how the Pride of Thor was once brought low.

From the sunny heights of Asgard the Asa folk were wont to look upon the earth and to take pleasure in its welfare and in the happiness of its people. But all too often they saw with dismay that the Frost Giants from their cold Northern home of ice and snow sent forth cruel blasts which nipped the buds, withered the flowers of spring, and saddened the hearts of men. So, one day, that mighty Asa who is called Thor determined to go forth and teach these Giant folk how to behave themselves better. Calling for his chariot of brass, which was drawn by two mighty goats, from whose teeth and hoofs sparks continually flew, he was about to drive away, when Red Loki came running up and begged to be taken too.

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