TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The Lost Sword of Victory
The Wrath of Skade--The Demand for Vengeance--Challenge to the Gods--Loke's Cunning Device--Thjasse--Volund a Star--Hero--Skade chooses a Husband--Marriage with Njord--The Vision of Gerd--Frey's Love--Madness--Skirner's Mission--Visit to Gymer's Castle--Gerd's Disdain--Bridal Gifts scorned--Threats of Torture--Horrors of Nifel--hel--Frey accepted--The Price of Gerd--Gymer receives the Sword of Victory--How Surtur will be avenged.
WHEN Skade, the proud and powerful daughter of Thjasse-Volund, came to know that her father had been slain by the gods, she put on her armour of chain mail and her shining helmet, and she seized her great spear and poisoned arrows to avenge his death. Then, hastening to Asgard, she stood without, challenging a god to combat. Bold was she and beautiful, and serenely fearless in her wrath.
The gods took counsel together, and deemed that her cause was just. Thus it came that they spoke words of peace unto her, and, indeed, they desired not to slay one so fair. But she scorned their entreaties, and, raising her spear, demanded the life of him who had slain her father.
Then went cunning Loke without and set to dancing before her, while a goat danced with him, whereat she was amused. He danced long, and, when he had ceased, he bowed before her and besought her for his bride, the while the goat did bleat mournfully. Skade was moved to laughter, and her wrath passed away.
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From the design by Sir E. Burne-Jones
Photograph by Frederich Hollyer
Nat rode forth, and shadows fell upon the heavens and the stars came forth. Then was Skade besought to enter Asgard. To her came Odin, and, pointing to the sky, he said:
"Behold! thy father's eyes are made bright stars, 1 which shall ever look down upon thee. . . . Amidst the gods thou mayest now dwell, and one thou canst choose to be thy husband. But, when this thou shalt do, thine eyes must be blindfolded, so that his feet only may be beheld by thee."
On the assembled gods she gazed with wonder and delight. Her eyes fell on Balder the Beautiful, and him she loved. In her heart she vowed he would be her choice.
When her eyes were veiled, she beheld a foot that was beautiful, and she deemed it was Balder's. Her arms went out, and, crying: "Thee I wed," she snatched aside the veil, and lo! it was Njord who stood before her.
Stately and fair was Njord, the summer sea-god, who stilled the tempests of Ęger and the blast of Gymer, the storm-giant of the bitter east. But the heart of Skade took no delight in Njord.
Yet was the Vana-god her choice, and with him was she wed in pomp and state in Asgard. Together they departed to Noatun, where Skade wearied of the sea and the cries of birds on the cliffs, which bereft her of sleep. Deep was her sorrow that she dwelt no longer in the forest of Thrym-heim, and she yearned for the thundering waterfall, the high mountains, and the wide plains where she was wont to follow the chase. And the love she bore to Balder was ever gnawing her heart.
Then sought Frey a bride, and with love of her he was possessed to madness.
One day he ascended the golden throne of Odin and looked over the worlds, seeing all things, and that was the day of his sorrow. Wondering, he gazed east and west, and to the south he gazed. Then northward towards the land of giants he turned his eyes, and there shone before him a light of great radiance that filled with beauty the heavens and the air and the sea. A maiden, fairer than ever he beheld before, had opened the door of her dwelling. Divinely tall was she, and her arms gleamed like silver. For a moment he saw her, his heart leaping with love, and then she vanished, whereat his soul was stricken with deep sadness. So was he punished for sitting in Odin's throne.
Homeward went Frey, nor speak would he, nor would he eat, or drink, so great was his love for the giant-maid, whose name was Gerd, the daughter of Gymer. Much did the gods marvel because of his silence and his deep sighs. But none could find reason for the madness of Frey. To him came his father Njord, and Skade also, and as they found him so they left him, in melancholy and possessed with secret sorrow. Then spake Njord to Svipdag, who, in Asgard, was named Skirner, "the shining one", and entreated him to discover what caused his son to suffer, and to find a remedy whereby he would be restored to gladness.
As reluctant was Skirner to go unto Frey as he was when Sith besought him to rescue Freyja from the giant Beli. Yet when he found Frey sitting alone in silence, and stricken with keen longing for her whom he loved, he spoke to him boldly and with confidence.
"Together", he said, "we have had adventures in other days, and faithful should we now be one to another. Nor should there be any secret between us. Speak, O Frey, and tell me why you grieve alone and refuse to eat and to drink."
Frey answered him: "How can I disclose, fond friend, the secret of my sorrow. Bright shines the sun-goddess over heaven, but cheerless to me are her rays."
But Skirner pressed him to confide his sorrow, and Frey told of his love for beautiful Gerd, the giant-maid. But his love, he said, was foredoomed to sorrow, for neither god nor elf would permit that they should dwell together.
Then went Skirner to the gods and revealed the secret of Frey's silence and despair. Well they knew that if Gerd were not taken to him the god of sunshine would pine and die, so to Skirner they made known their will that he should haste to Gymer's abode and win his fair daughter for Frey.
Then was Frey less sad, and he gave Skirner the Sword of Victory to be his defence, and from Odin he received Sleipner to ride through fire and over the heavens. The bridal gifts he bore when he set forth were the magic ring Draupner and eleven apples of immortal youth from Idun's precious casket. A magic rod which subdues took he also with him.
Over raging sea and bleak mountains rode Skirner, over chasms and the mountain caves of fierce giants, until he came to Gymer's Castle, which was protected by a moat of fire. Fierce bloodhounds guarded the entrance gate.
On a mound sat a shepherd alone, and him Skirner addressed, beseeching how he could lull the fearsome hounds that kept constant watch, so that he might reach the giant-maid.
"Whence come ye?" asked the shepherd; "for surely you are doomed to die. You may ride by night or by day, but never can you win nigh to Gerd."
Skirner had no fear. "Our fates," he said, "are spun when we are born. Our doom we can never escape."
Now was the voice of Skirner heard by Gerd, who was within, and she besought her maid-servant to discover who it was that spoke so boldly before the castle.
Then Skirner spurred his horse, which rode over the hounds and the fiery moat, and the castle was shaken to the foundations when the door was reached.
The maid-servant told Gerd that a warrior stood without and demanded to be admitted to her.
"Then haste, cried Gerd, and take him within, and mix for him the sweet and ancient mead, for I fear that he who murdered Bell, my brother, is come at length."
Skirner entered and stood before the giant-maid whom Frey loved so well, and she spake to him and said: "Who art thou-an elf, or the son of an Asa-god, or one of the wise Vans? Daring, indeed, art thou, to come alone unto this our strong abode."
"Neither elf, nor god, nor Van am I," Skirner made answer. "I am a messenger from the god Frey, who loves thee. From him I bring the ring Draupner as a gift, for he seeks thee for his bride."
Then was Gerd's heart filled with disdain, and the bridal gift she refused to take. "While life remains in me," she said, "Frey I shall not wed."
Skirner next made offer of the golden ring Draupner, but that she disdained also.
"Of thy ring I have no need," she told him, "because my sire hath great treasure of jewels and of gold."
When she spake thus the heart of Skirner was filled with anger, and he drew forth the shining Sword of Victory.
"Behold this blade!" he cried; "with it I can slay thee if Frey is rejected."
Proudly did Gerd arise. "By force nor threat," said she, "will I ever be led. My strong sire Gymer is armed and ready to punish thee for thy boldness."
Then Skirner said wrathfully: "With this blade I shall slay thy sire, the old giant Gymer, if he should dare to oppose me. And thee I can conquer with this magic wand, which shall subdue thy heart. If I must needs do so, no happiness will ever again come nigh thee. For thee it will remove to the regions of Nifel-hel, where nor god nor man can ever behold thee in beauty again."
Silent and pale sat Gerd as Skirner told her of the fate which would be hers if she continued to refuse to become the bride of Frey.
The place in Nifel-hel to which she must go, he said, was a region of torture where dwell the spirits of the giants who were ground in the World-mill. Power to love she would not have, nor tenderness or sympathy. Alone she must live, or else as the fruitless bride of a monstrous three-headed giant. Gladness and enjoyment would be banished from her heart. Staring eyes would ever watch her coldly and with more hatred than do the Frost-giants regard Heimdal, the sentinel of Bif-rost, or do the Trolls the wolf-dogs of Odin. Nor would the demons ever leave her at peace. Evil witches would bow her to the rocks. Morn, who gives "agony of soul", would fill her being. There in the place of torment prepared for her dwell the demons of sickness, who would increase her sorrow. Never would she be free from the torture of Tope (madness) and Ope (hysteria), and no rest would she know by night or by day. For food she would have loathsome meat, and venom for drink. Each morning would she crawl painfully to the mountain top and behold Hela in glory and in beauty, and ever would she seek in vain to reach its glittering plains of bliss and delight.
"Such, O Gerd, must be thy fate," cried Skirner, "if Frey by thee is disdained."
Then prepared he to strike her with the magic rod which subdues; but Gerd besought him to hear her.
"Fulfil not thy threat," she pleaded, "and drink of this sweet and ancient mead. Never dreamed I that I should love a god of the Vans."
But Skirner would not be appeased until she gave to him a message to Frey. Whereat she promised that after the space of nine nights she would consent to become the bride of the Vana-god if the Sword of Victory were given to her sire.
Pleasant were her words to Skirner, and hastening without he leapt upon his horse and returned with all speed to Asgard. There did Frey await him with impatience, but the lovelorn Vana-god was filled with sadness when he came to know that he must needs wait the space of nine nights ere he would be by Gerd received.
"Long is one night without her," he cried; "longer are two nights--how can I endure to wait for nine? Longer has this half night of waiting seemed to me than a month of greatest bliss."
Slowly for Frey passed the days and nights that followed. Then at the appointed time he went to Gerd, who became his bride.
Unto Gymer he gave for his daughter the Sword of Victory, which had been forged to bring disaster upon the gods. And in this manner was Asgard deprived of the fruit of the triumph which Freyja had brought thither when Svipdag's wrath was turned aside and his love for her caused peace to be made between gods and elves.
Long had the giants sought to possess the Sword of Victory, and especially the wife of Gymer, Gulveig-Hoder, the dreaded Hag of Iarnvid, who had still her dwelling in Asgard, where she ever strove to work evil.
For with the Sword of Victory will Surtur be armed when he issues forth to avenge the wrong done to Gunlad by Odin.
Thus did Loke taunt Frey. "Treasure gave you to Gymer with which to buy his daughter, and the Sword of Victory also. Lo! when the sons of Surtur come over Ironwood, in sore distress you shall indeed be, for then you shall know not, O unhappy one, with what weapon to fight."
1 The Ivalde family is associated with star worship. Ivalde is Vate, or Wate, of "Watling Street", the old English name of the Milky Way. Thjasse is connected with Sirius, and Orvandel with Orion. "Watling Street" was also applied to one of the Roman military roads extending from near Dover by London to North Wales.