TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
The Great Stone Giant
Odin in Jotunheim--Two Swift Steeds--Race to Asgard--The Boastful Giant--His Challenge to Thor--An Island Duel--The Clay Giant--A Lightning Conflict--Thor is wounded--His Son Magni rescues Him--Groa's Incantation--Story of Orvandel's Rescue--The Spell is broken--Odin as the Ferryman--How he taunted Thor--A Divine Comedy.
THOR was in the east battling against the Trolls when Odin went forth from Asgard towards the dwelling of Hrungner, the great Stone giant of Jotun-heim.
Hrungner watched him coming through the air in splendour and beauty, and he cried: "Who cometh towards me? On his head is a helmet of gleaming gold. He rides over ocean and high upon the air. Swift indeed is his mighty steed."
Ere the giant was silent the ruler of Asgard was nigh to him, and he spake proudly. "In all Jotun-heim," Odin said, "there is not a horse that is Sleipner's equal."
Then twitching the reins, he turned Sleipner back towards Asgard, and he rode swifter than the wind.
"Thy steed is fast indeed," the giant bellowed, but my nimble-footed Goldfax (gold mane) hath greater stride."
As he spake, Hrungner leapt upon his horse's back and set out in swift pursuit of the Asa-god. But although he urged Goldfax to hasten, he could not win nigh unto Odin. Yet would the giant pause not in his speedy flight, for his heart was afire with ambition to prevail over the rider of Sleipner. Swiftly indeed he rode, and ere he was aware he found himself entering the gates of Asgard over the gate-bridge which had been set down for Odin.
By the gods was he received with hospitality as he demanded. They took him to the great feasting hall, and there he drank ancient mead and sweet. The bowls from which Thor was wont to refresh himself were placed before him, and Freyja filled them. Each of the bowls the giant emptied in turn at a single draught. Indeed, so much did he drink that the mead surged in his veins and his eyes rolled with redness, for he was made drunk. Then was his tongue unloosened, and he gave forth loud boastings.
"Valhal," he cried, "shall be mine. . . . The warrior's hall must I carry away with me to Jotun-heim."
More mead did Freyja pour out to him, filling the bowls of Thor.
Then Hrungner boasted that he would bring utter ruin to Asgard, and cast down its wall and palaces.
"The gods," he cried, "and all that are within the city shall I slay save Freyja and Sif."
As Freyja filled the bowls he said: "Ha! all the mead in Asgard I must consume this day. None shall I leave for the gods."
Weary grew the gods of the braggart giant and his vain boastings, and Thor they named. . . . Immediately Thor was in their midst. Black were the brows of the thunder-god when he beheld Hrungner; white were his knuckles as he clutched his great hammer.
"Who hath permitted this Jotun," Thor roared, "to drink the mead of Asgard? Why doth Freyja pour it forth to him as if she were honouring a feast of gods?"
Evil was in Hrungner's eyes as he scowled at Thor, "By Odin's wish am I here," he sneered, "and under his protection I remain."
"When thou dost seek to go forth," Thor growled sullenly, "thou mayest regret the invitation."
"Unarmed have I come," Hrungner protested with sudden alarm, "and of little honour would it be to thee, O Asa-Thor, if thou didst slay me now. If thou wouldst fain put thy valour to proof, thee I dare to contend against me on the borders of my kingdom."
Thor cast at him defiant eyes, and the giant was troubled. "Alas!" he cried; "I have done foolishly to come hither, leaving my stone shield and my flint weapon in Jotun-heim. Were I armed, we might well fight. This shall I say unto thee, O Asa-Thor: I would brand thee as a coward if thou didst seek to slay me undefended. . . . I challenge thee to contend with me in an island duel."
Now never before had Thor been challenged thus. For the island duel (Holmgang) which Hrungner desired was fought by dealing blow for blow, and the Asa-god would have the right to strike first because he was challenged by the other. In the contest each would have a shieldbearer. His consent did Thor give to the giant's terms, and in silence they parted.
Through Jotun-heim the duel challenge was gravely debated by the giants, and keen was their desire that Thor should be worsted, because Hrungner was their strongest and greatest warrior, and they feared that if he fell the thunder-god would do them more injury than heretofore.
On an island on the borders of rocky Grjottungard, where Hrungner had his dwelling, the Jotuns made a giant of clay who was in height nine miles, and three in breadth between the shoulders. Him they called Mokker-kalfi (Mist-wader), and they gave him a mare's heart. He was shieldbearer to Thor's enemy.
Now Hrungner had a heart of stone; his head was of stone also. Broad and thick was his stone shield, and in his right hand he grasped his great flint weapon, which he swung over his shoulder. A terrible combatant was Hrungner.
To the island duel did Thor set forth. His shieldbearer was his faithful Thjalfe, son of Orvandel, who ran swiftly to the place of combat. To Hrungner he cried:
"Although thy shield is held in front, thou dost stand unprotected, for Thor cometh to attack thee from the earth beneath."
Then did Hrungner cause his shield to be cast down, Defiantly he stood upon it, while with both hands he grasped his great flint weapon.
In fear and trembling was Mokker-kalfi. His mare's heart quaked within him because Thor was coming, and sweat ran from his body in torrents.
Thunder broke forth and lightning flashed before Hrungner. Then he beheld rushing swiftly towards him the black-browed thunder-god, who swung his hammer to strike. Nor did Hrungner wait till he was nigh. He raised his great flint weapon and flung it with might against Mjolner, which Thor, divining his purpose, hurtled simultaneously. In mid-air the weapons met and flashed forking fire that rent the heavens and covered the ocean with flame. The flint was utterly shattered. On the ground fell a portion, and there to this day are the flint hills, and a great splinter pierced the forehead of the Asa-god, so that he was thrown down.
Meanwhile the sublime hammer smote Hrungner and crushed his skull, and he fell also. The giant's foot struck Thor and lay heavily upon his neck, so that he could not rise to his feet.
On the affrighted Mokker-kalfi had Thjalfe flung himself, and him he overcame right speedily. Then ran he to help Thor, but in vain he strove to lift Hrungner's foot from his neck. . . . He named the Asa-gods, and they hastened from Asgard to the place of combat. When they found that Thor was cast down, they put forth their strength to free him, but unable were they to lift the giant's foot.
Then came Thor's son, Magni, whose mother was Jarnsaxa, the iron-crusher of the World-mill. He was but three nights old, but had already exceeding great strength. The giant's foot he seized and flung it from his sire's neck, saying:
"Alas! I should have come sooner. Hrungner's head would I have broken with my fist!"
Thor leapt up, and his arms he threw about his son, embracing him with great love.
"To thee, O Magni," he said, "I shall give Goldfax, Hrungner's great steed."
But Odin was ill-pleased with Thor, and to him he said: "Thou hast done wrong to give unto a Hag's son the speedy horse of the giant. 'Twere better if thou hadst gifted it to thy sire."
In wrath he turned away with the gods of his clan, and went towards Asgard.
Now the day of the great island duel was long ere the time when the sons of Ivalde waged the winter war against the Asa-gods. As Thor returned towards Orvandel's dwelling, his resting place on the borders of Jotun-heim, where he was wont to leave his swift, strong goats and his sublime car, he met with Orvandel, who was in great peril, The elfin archer had gone forth to fight against the Frost-giants, but with ill success as it proved, for they pressed nigh to him and sought to take him captive.
Thor rescued his friend speedily, and placed him in the meat basket, which he carried on his shoulders, as he waded through deep Elivagar. Orvandel thrust a toe through a hole, and a spell was put upon it by the giants, so that it was frozen. Then did Thor snap it off and fling it high in the heavens, where it became a bright star, which unto this day is called "Orvandel's Toe". Thus it was that the elfin archer (Avo) became a star hero.
When he parted with Orvandel, Thor yoked his goats, and in his sublime car he hastened towards his dwelling in Thrud-Varg. In grievous pain was he because of the wound which Hrungner had given him. Deep in his forehead was the flint flake embedded. In vain did Sith seek to alleviate his sufferings.
Now gentle Groa, Orvandel's wife, was dwelling in Thor's stronghold, as was her wont when her husband went forth against the Frost-giants. She had the power to work magic spells. She who was the "elf of growth" could make rocks to move, and she had power to arrest the turbulent floods. It was Groa who restored to strength those whom the Frost-giants had wounded, and it was she who gave beauty again to the places which they laid waste.
Unto Thor she came to heal his wound, and take from his forehead the splintered flint which stuck fast there. Incantations she sang over him. First she charmed away the pain which afflicted the god. Then the stone quivered and grew loose.
The heart of Thor leapt within him when he perceived that Groa would give him healing, and he was consumed with desire to reward her, and to gladden her heart without delay. So ere she sang further, he spake and she was silenced,
Of Orvandel's peril Thor gave Groa tidings, and of how he had rescued the elf from the power of the Frost-giants who encompassed him about. With joy was Groa's heart filled, but the spell she wrought was broken, and the memory of the magic song passed away. Thus was she unable to take from Thor's forehead the splintered flint, and there it ever remained because of his impatience to give premature reward.
So there was ever after weakness in Thor. Nor must mortal fling across his dwelling a flint weapon, lest the stone in the Asa-god's forehead be shaken, for then he would have suffering, and be moved to wrath against an offender.
Great were the deeds of Thor, which brought security to gods and men, for by him were the giants driven back and their power suppressed. Unto him, therefore, was willing service at all times rendered.
But there fell a day when Odin went forth from Asgard and towards the east. He saw Thor coming out of Jotun-heim, and sought to mock him so that he might have mirth.
Elivagar ran deep, and Odin waited on the opposite shore in the guise of Greybeard, the ferryman. Thor called upon him, but Odin refused to cross, whereat there rose a dispute between them. The valour of Thor did Odin question, and his feats belittle. With scornful laughter, too, did he receive the angry threatenings of the thunder-god.
"Nimble is thy tongue," cried Thor, "but it would help thee little if I waded across to thee. Louder than the wolf thou wouldst howl if I struck at thee with Mjolner."
"Better wouldst thou be engaged," Odin answered, "if thou didst hasten home; because there is one there whom Sif loves better than thee."
Thor was wroth. "Well dost thou know," he cried, "that thy cruel words sting me. A coward art thou who speakest what is untrue."
Odin answered: "Truly I speak indeed. . . . Thou art tardy in returning. Why art thou lingering on thy way? 'Twere better if thou hadst set forth on thy journey at early morn."
"'Tis thou who delayest me, villain," Thor answered wrothfully.
Odin smiled. "Can one of so little account as I am", he said, "delay the journey of the great Asa-god Thor?"
"Cease thy bantering," cried Thor; "hasten hither with thy boat, and thou shalt have the friendship of the sire of Magni."
"Begone!" cried Odin. "I shall not cross thee."
Then said Thor, with pleading voice: "Show me the ford then, since thou wilt not come over."
Odin wagged his head. "That is easy to refuse," he said. "The way is long. Thou canst go a little way this direction, and a little way in that; then thou canst turn to thy left till thou dost reach No-man's-land. There wilt thou meet thy mother, who shall guide thee unto Odin's land."
"Can I go thither to-day?" Thor asked.
Odin answered: "By sunrise, if thou dost travel quickly, thou mayest get there."
"Mocker," exclaimed Thor, "our talk is ended! Thou hast denied me crossing this day, but by the holy waters of Leipter, I swear that I shall reward thee indeed when next we meet."
Odin smiled: "Begone!" he cried; "and may demons seize thee."
Then took Thor his departure in great wrath, nor did he ever discover again the ferryman Greybeard who had mocked him and put him to shame.