TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The City of Enchantments
Loke flatters the Thunder-god--The Feast of Goats--Loke's Evil Design--Journey in Jotun-heim--Terror of the Night--The Great Giant Skrymer--How Thor was thwarted--The Three Blows with Mjolner--Utgard-Loke's Castle--The Giant's Challenge--Loke and Thjalfe are beaten--Thor and the Drinking Horn--The Great Cat--Thor wrestles with the Hag--He is put to Shame--Utgard--Loke's Revelation--The Ocean, the Midgard Serpent, and Old Age--Wrath of the Thunder-god.
THE Frost-giants were sending forth from Jotun-heim ice-cold blasts which blighted Midgard's fields and arrested all growth. Thor, the friend of man, was made Wroth thereat, and he caused his swift goats to be yoked to his sublime chariot, for he was resolved to punish the Jotuns for their presumption and evil workings. To him came Loke and made flattering address, praising the thunder-god for his valour and good intentions. Thor took Loke with him because he had knowledge of the northern wastes they must needs traverse.
All day they journeyed from Asgard, and at nightfall they came to the dwelling of Orvandel-Egil on the batiks of Elivagar, and fronting the mountains that fortalice icebound Jotun-heim. The fare which Orvandel set before them was meagre because of the plunder accomplished by the giants, so Thor slew his two goats, and when they were skinned he placed their flesh in a kettle.
The feast that was thus prepared was abundant, and Thor invited Orvandel and his family to eat with Loke and himself, requesting them to throw each flesh-stripped bone into the skins of the goats.
It was Loke's desire to stir up enmity between Thor and Orvandel, who were fast friends, because at the house of the skilful archer did the thunder-god ever rest on his journeyings to and from Jotun-heim. The Evil One made Orvandel's son, Thjalfe, the instrument of his designs. To him Loke whispered at the feast that the marrow of the bones was of exceeding sweetness, and he constrained upon the lad to break open the thigh bone of a goat's hind leg.
Next morning Thor arose and took his hammer, Mjolner, which he waved over the skins filled with loose bones. Then did the great animals spring to life again, but one limped because a hind leg was broken. Thor was moved to immense wrath, and with black brows, and with knuckles that grew white as he clutched the handle of his hammer, he turned upon Orvandel, who was stricken with much fear. The house shook because of Thor's anger. But the evil designs of Loke were put to naught, for Thor consented to take for ransom-servants, Orvandel's son, Thjalfe, the swift runner, and his beauteous daughter, Roskva, the vivacious, and his love for them made stronger the bond of friendship between the thunder-god and Orvandel.
Leaving his chariot and goats behind, Thor went on his journey with Loke and Thjalfe and Roskva. Soon they came to a great mountain forest, and through its immense depths they wandered until night came on. Fleet-footed Thjalfe carried Thor's meat sack, but it was wellnigh empty because it was difficult to hunt the deer in that confusing forest.
In the darkness they all sought a dwelling in which to rest, and ere long they found one, The door was exceedingly large, for it opened up the whole side of the house. Within there was a vast hall. Beyond were five long rooms like to mountain caves; but they entered them not. In the outer hall they prepared their couches and lay down to sleep.
In the middle of the night a great earthquake made the forest tremble, so that the house shook with much violence.
Then Thor arose and sought for his affrighted servants a place of greater safety. So they entered together the widest of the cave chambers in the vast house. Thor stood at the door on guard, with his great hammer in his hand, ready to strike down any fierce giant who would dare to enter. The others crept to the farthest end of the chamber, and, trembling greatly, again sought their couches.
Then was heard a rumbling and a roaring that continued long and then ceased awhile, but began again, It was a night of blackness and great terror.
At early dawn Thor went forth, for the clamour had not yet ended. He walked through the forest and found that a great giant lay sleeping on the ground. He snored as loudly as roars the outer sea, and his breath burst forth like wild gusts of tempest. Then did the Asa-gods realize from whence came the clamour which had filled the night with terror.
Around his waist Thor tightened his magic belt so that his great strength was increased, but as he grasped his hammer to strike, the mighty giant awoke, and rose hastily to his feet. High above Thor he towered, so that the thunder-god was filled with amaze at his great bulk and forgot to wield his hammer.
"What is thy name, O giant?" Thor asked.
"My name is Skrymer," was his answer, and he said: "Thine I need not ask, for I perceive thou art Asa-Thor."
Then the giant looked about him, and sneered: "But what hast thou done with my glove?"
Skrymer stretched forth his hand, and in the midst of the trees he found his glove and picked it up. Then with amazement did Thor perceive that it was the great dwelling in which, with his companions, he had found shelter for the night. The broad cave chamber into which they had crept was the thumb of the giant's glove.
Skrymer besought Thor to take him for his travelling companion through that vast country, and when the Asa-god gave his consent, the giant opened his meat sack and began to munch his morning feast. Thor and his companions did likewise in a place apart.
Now when they had finished their meals and were satisfied, Skrymer said they should put their food together. Thor was willing that such should be done, and the giant thrust all the provisions into his own meat sack, which he threw over his back.
All day long they travelled eastward with great speed, because of the rapid pace of the giant, and when darkness began to fall they rested under the branches of a vast and lofty oak tree. Skrymer said he was weary and must needs sleep, so he flung his meat sack to Thor, and bade him feast with his companions. But Thor found that the sack was bound so securely that he could not untie it. Each knot defied him; not one could he unloose; and struggle as he might, he was unable to slacken any portion of the cord.
Great wrath possessed the Asa-god because of the deceit which had been practised upon him; so, casting the sack from him, he sprang up and seized his hammer. He went swiftly towards the giant as he lay snoring heavily, and on his skull struck a mighty blow.
Skrymer awoke, and, rubbing his eyes, asked if a leaf had fallen down from the great oak. On Thor he gazed, and asked him if he had eaten his supper, and was ready for sleep.
Thor made answer gruffly that he was about to lie down, and went towards another tree. But there be found that it was not possible to get sleep, for Skrymer snored so loudly that the woods were shaken with tempest clamour.
Angrily rose the Asa-god, and hastening towards the giant he swung his great hammer and struck him flat on the forehead. So great was the blow that Mjolner sank down to the heft.
Skrymer awoke suddenly and growled: "What hath happened now to disturb my slumber? Did an acorn fall down from the branches? Is that thee, Thor, standing nigh me? How fares it with thee?"
"I have just awakened," was Thor's answer, as he turned, wondering greatly, and again lay down beneath his oak. But he sought not to sleep. He was resolved to be avenged on the giant for his deceit, and because his own rest was broken. As Thor lay there he was convinced that if he dealt but one more blow on the giant's skull he would kill him. So he remained watching and waiting until Skrymer would again fall to sleep. Ere dawn broke his opportunity came, for the giant's loud snoring once more made fearsome clamour in the forest.
Thor arose and tightened his strength-giving belt. His iron gloves he put upon his hands, and seized his mighty hammer. Then he went towards the giant and struck so great a blow that Mjolner was buried in one of his temples.
Skrymer sat up, rubbing his eyes. Then he stroked his chin in vacant wonder, and, seeing Thor beside him, said--"Do birds sit above me in the oak branches? Methinks that some moss from a bird's nest fell upon my forehead as I awoke. . . . So thou art also awake, O Thor. . . . The dawn has broken, and it is time to set forth upon your way, for a long journey lies before thee ere thou shalt reach the castle which is called Utgard (outer-ward). Whispers I have heard between thee and thy companions that ye regard me as one of no mean stature, but larger men shalt thou find when thou dost reach Utgard. . . . Wilt thou take from me good advice? When thou comest to Utgard, do not boast overmuch. The courtiers of Utgard-Loke, will not permit of boasting from such insignificant beings as are thou and thy companions. . . . If my advice is not pleasant to thee, O Thor, thou hadst better turn back; and, indeed, that is what thou shouldst do. . . . But if thou wouldst go farther, thy way lies eastward; mine is to the north, towards yonder high mountains. Fare thee well!"
When he had spoken thus, Skrymer flung his meat sack over his shoulder and vanished amidst the trees. Nor was it ever known whether or not Thor desired to meet with him again.
Thor and Loke went eastward upon their way, and with them went Thjalfe and Roskva. They journeyed until midday, when they came to a city in the midst of which was a great ice castle. So lofty were its towers that Thor and those with him had need to bend back their heads to survey it aright. They saw no one nigh to the castle, and its ponderous gate was shut and securely locked. In vain did Thor attempt to open it; but being anxious to gain admittance he crept between the bars. The others followed him. They then perceived that the palace door was wide open, and they entered together.
Round the hall many giants of immense stature were seated upon benches. No word was spoken nor greeting given, but Thor and his companions went past, and entering a wide room they stood before King Utgard-Loke in his high throne, and to him they made obeisance. A cold look gave the monarch, nor did he return their salutations. After a long pause he spake with a voice of keen scorn, saying:
"It would be wearisome to have tidings of your long journey. If I be not mistaken the greatest of the striplings who stand before me is the Asa-god Thor."
Upon Thor he gazed intently, and then addressing him, said: "It may be that thou art stronger than thou dost seem. What feats art thou able to perform? Thou must know that no one can remain here who cannot perform deeds which excel those of all other living beings."
Wroth was Thor and made no answer. But Loke spoke and said: "I know a great feat, and am ready to perform it. I can eat quicker than anyone else, and I am now an-hungered and ready to give proof of that against him who may be chosen to contend with me."
"If thou shalt do as thou sayest," Utgard-Loke said, "thou shalt perform a great feat indeed. Let us have trial of it without delay."
The king ordered Loge, one of his men, to come forward to compete with Asa-Loke.
A great trough of meat was prepared, and the two were seated-Loke at one end and Loge at the other.
Then they began to eat with great speed, nor did they falter until they met at the middle. To neither seemed the victory, until it was found that Loge had consumed the bones as well as the flesh, and the trough also, while Loke had eaten but the flesh. So the Asa-god was accounted beaten.
Utgard-Loke then addressed Thjalfe, and asked him what feat he was able to perform, and the young man answered that he was a swift runner. He offered to run a race with anyone whom the monarch would select.
"If thou dost win," Utgard-Loke said, "thou shalt indeed perform a wondrous feat. But come without, for thine opponent awaiteth thee."
The king left his throne, and together they all went to a fine racecourse that lay nigh to the castle walls.
A dwarf named Huge was called forth by Utgard-Loke. Thrice did he run with Thjalfe. At the first contest the dwarf ran so fast that he met the other as he turned back.
"Thou canst run well," the king said to Thjalfe, "but thou must needs be more nimble-legged if thou art to win this contest, for there is no swifter runner than Huge."
At the second trial Thjalfe went speedier, but he was a bowshot space behind the dwarf when that swift runner made pause.
"Indeed thou must needs have greater speed if thou wouldst win the race," said the king to Orvandel's son; "but another chance awaiteth thee. The third trial shall decide the contest."
Again the race was started; but if Thjalfe went swiftly there was more speed in the dwarf, for he reached the goal ere yet his opponent was halfway.
So was Thjalfe vanquished and put to shame.
Together they all returned to the hall, and the king, turning to Thor, asked him if he could perform any wonderful feats that day. The Asa-god made prompt answer and said: "I shall hold a drinking contest with anyone thou mayest select."
"First," said the king, "thy power must be tested."
To this condition Thor gave his ready consent.
Then came a cupbearer carrying an immense drinking horn, which he gave unto the Asa-god.
"He who trespasseth the laws of this place when at feast," the king said, "must needs drink from that horn. He who is a good drinker can empty it at a single draught. Some men, however, must make two attempts, but it is only the weakest who cannot exhaust it at the third trial."
Now Thor was tortured with exceeding great thirst after his long journey, and at first he deemed the horn not to be too large, although it had great length indeed. To his mouth he raised it, and drank deep, until his thirst was quenched; and he continued drinking until he was forced to cease and lower the horn. With great wonder he then perceived that the liquor seemed not to have diminished at all.
"Thou hast drunken well," the king said, "yet there is naught of which boast can be made. Had I been told that Thor would drink no more when in thirst I would not have believed it. But perhaps it is thy resolve to surpass thyself when thou shalt take the second draught."
Again did the Asa-god raise the horn with firm resolve to empty it. Ill-pleased was he with himself because he deemed he had drunk less than before. But that was not so, for when he had done his utmost the horn could be carried without spilling.
"Thou dost spare thyself indeed," the king exclaimed; "but if thou art resolved to empty the horn thou must pull with greater strength at thy third trial. If more skill at this feat is not shown by thee, methinks," the king added with scorn, "thou shalt be accounted a lesser man here than thou seemest to be among the gods in Asgard."
Angry was Thor because of the words which Utgard-Loke spake, and a third time he seized the horn and put forth all his power to empty it; but long and deep as he drank, be seemed not to exhaust it any.
He laid it down, and then he perceived that the liquor was slightly lower than before.
"No further trial shall I make," he said, as he thrust the horn back to the cupbearer.
"Ha! thou'rt of less strength than we deemed thee to be," exclaimed Utgard-Loke, smiling grimly at the thwarted Asa-god. "Yet, mayhap, thou wouldst try another feat to prove thy power, although I am assured that thou shalt have no better success."
But Thor was ready for any other trial. "I shall contend with whom thou wilt," he said. "Although I have failed with the horn, yet can I assure thee that the draughts which I have taken would not be counted meagre in Asgard."
"There is a trivial game which we play betimes," the king said, "but I would not have asked thee to perform it, because among us here it is only an exercise for children. Yet as thou art, it seems, not of so great power as we deemed heretofore, thou hadst better try it. The game is merely to lift my cat from the floor."
As he spake, a big grey cat leapt forward and sat before the throne. Thor at once went towards it, and grasped it firmly, placing his hands under its body. Then he attempted to lift the cat, but it bent its great back, and although he put forth all his strength Thor could lift but one paw from the floor.
Knowing well that he could not do better, he made no farther attempt.
"Thou hast failed, as I foresaw thou wouldst," the king said. "The cat is too large for Thor, who is weakly and small compared with the men of my race.
"Say what thou wilt," cried Thor, whose wrath was great because of the shame put upon him, "but I now challenge anyone here to wrestle with me whom ye call weakly and small."
Utgard-Loke looked calmly about him, and answered with chilling voice: "I see no one nigh me who would not deem it an unworthy thing to wrestle with Thor. . . . But let the old woman, my nurse, whose name is Elle, be called, and if Thor would perforce wrestle, let him try his strength against hers. Many a stronger man than he hath Elle thrown down."
Then came into the hall an aged woman, who was toothless and heavily wrinkled. Her back was bent, and she walked slowly. Utgard-Loke bade her wrestle with Thor.
There is little to tell. The firmer Thor clutched her the mightier she became; the stronger his grip, the more securely did she stand. The struggle was long and violent, and although Thor realized ere long that he could. not overcome the Hag, his endeavour was to prevent her from casting him down. Yet was he at length unable to keep his footing, and he was brought to his knee.
Then did Utgard-Loke bid the wrestlers to cease, and walking forward he placed himself between them. To Thor he said: "Thou canst not ask now to wrestle with anyone else in the hall, for the hour is late and darkness is falling."
Nor did he seem to be eager that Thor should have further trial of skill.
At dawn of next day Thor and his companions arose and prepared to take their departure from the castle. Food and drink in plenty were placed before them, and they made hearty feast. Then went they to take leave of the king, and Utgard-Loke walked with them until they were without the gate of the city. Ere they bade one another farewell, the king asked Thor if he was satisfied with his journey and the results thereof, and whether there were any others among the Asa-gods who were stronger than he.
"I cannot deny," Thor said, "that great shame has been put upon me. But what pains me most is that thou shouldst call me a man of little account."
"Be not mistaken," the king said, "for we hold thee in greater account than thou dost deem. Now must the truth be told, seeing thou art no longer in the city which, if my will shall prevail, thou must never enter again. This I swear: if I had known that thy strength was so mighty thou shouldst never have been allowed to come through the castle gate. Nigh, indeed, didst thou bring me unto a great disaster.
"Thou mayest now know," the king continued, "that I have all along deceived thee greatly with my illusions."
Thor stared with much amaze at Utgard-Loke, who spake thus:
"First, it was I whom thou didst meet with in the forest. My meat sack thou couldst not unloose because I had bound it securely with a rope of iron, and thou couldst not discover how the cunning knots were devised.
"Thrice thou didst strike me with thy great hammer.
From any of these blows of thine I would have received speedy death, but thee I deceived by creating an illusion and placing betwixt thee and me a great rocky mountain, which thou didst cleave with thy blows. On thy way back thou shalt see it, and the three broad valleys thou didst make, for thrice thou didst cut it asunder.
"In my palace I did also deceive thee with illusions. Asa-Loke, like hunger, devoured speedily all that was placed before him; but his opponent Loge, who is Fire, consumed not only the food, but the bones also, and the trough.
"Huge the dwarf, with whom Thjalfe ran, is Thought. Swift indeed must the runner be who is more speedy than Thought.
"Then came thine own feats, O mighty Thor. When thou didst attempt to drain the horn, thou didst perform a feat so wonderful, that if I had not beheld it with mine own eyes I should ne'er have believed it to be possible. For the horn was long, and one end reached out to the sea, which thou didst not perceive, and the sea filled it. When thou dost come to the shore thou shalt realize how much thou hast made the sea to shrink, for thy great draughts have caused what men shall henceforward call the ebb.
"No less marvellous was thy struggle with the great cat. Much fear possessed us when we saw thee lift but a single paw from the floor, because the cat was no other than the Midgard serpent, which encircles the earth. So high didst thou lift him that his head reached unto heaven.
"Great indeed was thy feat also when thou didst contend against the old woman, my nurse. No man ever before prevailed so wrestling, nor shall any man ever again do as thou hast done, for Elle is Old Age, and sooner or later she lays low all who await her coming.
Still was Thor silent, for he was filled with great wonder by reason of the things of which Utgard-Loke spake to him.
"Now, O Thor," the king said, "we are about to part. This must I say unto you. It were better that we two should never again meet; but if thou shouldst come against me any more I must needs defend myself with illusions as I have already done, so that thou shalt never seem to thyself to prevail."
When the king spake thus he vanished from before the eyes of Thor and his companions.
Then was the thunder-god moved to great wrath, because he had been deceived, and seizing his mighty hammer he turned towards the city again to wreak his vengeance upon Utgard-Loke and his people. But he found that city and castle had vanished, and he beheld nothing save a broad level plain.
So with his companions Thor then went gloomily on his way, and pondering over what had happened he resolved to combat with the Midgard serpent from Hymer's boat. And of this adventure the tale has been told, but of how Thor lost his great hammer and the strange adventure that ensued, the story follows.