Balder's Avenger--Odin woos Rhind--Winter's Cold-hearted Queen--The Coming of Vale--At Valhal's Feast--The Sword-slain Warriors--Hodur is killed--Odin and the Riddle-Giant--The Unanswered Question--Æger's Feast--Loke reviles the Gods--His Confession and Flight--His Salmon Guise--Caught in his Net--The Evil One is bound--Skade's Revenge--Faithful Sigyn.
As the Vala had foretold, a son was born to Odin, who took vengeance upon Hodur because that he slew Balder. His mother was Rhind, Earth's Winter Queen, whom Odin wooed in the time of ice. Cold-hearted was she, although of great beauty, and long she withheld her love. Her sire was Billing, the Elf of Twilight, whose dwelling was in the west. Guardian was he of the forest of the Varns) whither fled the deities of sun and moon to find safety from the pursuing wolves of Ironwood. Strong-armed were the Varns, and when Sol sank into her golden bed, their chosen warriors, who guarded her, kept watch with burning brands. By day they slept, but when Sol again drave her chariot towards Billing's gate 1 they lit their torches, which flamed with red fire and gold.
When Odin went unto Billing he revealed his love for Rhind, but the stern maid spurned with scorn the Ruler of Asgard. Displeased with himself was Odin.
[paragraph continues] Nor, as the skald hath sung, is there "a worse disease to afflict a wise man". Among the reeds sat Odin all alone, awaiting Rhind, yet she would favour him not. Her heart was frozen and cold.
A second time Odin went towards Billing's dwelling. He bore with him a bracelet and rings of fine gold and radiant flower-gems, and these gifts of golden summer he offered to Rhind. But she refused them with bitterness, for her heart was indeed cold. Her lover she despised.
A third time did Odin seek to woo the stern daughter of Billing. He went unto her attired as a young warrior, his helmet on his head and his sword by his side. Stately was he as is a viking who plunders on summer seas. But the warriors of Varn stood nigh unto Rhind. Their torches were in their hands, and she slept. Sun-bright she lay upon her golden couch. . . . At morn when all the household slumbered a hungry wolf-dog guarded her. Odin she again rejected. Contumely she heaped upon him, nor could he hope to gain her love.
At length Odin went unto Rhind in Hag guise. Earth's Winter Queen languished in sickness, and he promised to cure her. Over her then Odin muttered spells, so that she was moved to tempest madness. Then was she bound with ice chains. Thereafter did Odin reveal himself to her. He took off the spell. He released her from ice bonds. Whereupon her heart melted towards him and she became his bride.
Meanwhile in Asgard the gods sought to be avenged on silent-footed Hodur for slaying Balder. But him they could not discover. All day he hid in a deep forest, and in nighttime only was he abroad. A magic shield he bore, and a magic sword, and none would dare go nigh to him when darkness fell. Ever did he move restlessly
and without sound through the forest, fearing that the avenger would come; ever did he seek to make escape, for of his fate he had full foreknowledge.
There came a day of brightness, and it was the May day of Vale's coming. In the night was he born in full strength, and towards Asgard he went speedily and entered therein. He had the face of a child and a warrior's body. Straight to Valhal strode Vale, and the watchman sought to hold him back, because his hands were unwashed and his hair uncombed. A strong bow he carried and three arrows.
Vale spurned the watchman and entered the warrior's hall. At feast sat Odin and the rest of the gods, and about them were the fearless heroes, the sword-slain warmen whom the valkyries had chosen.
Odin received Vale with pride, and to gods and heroes he announced: "Behold it is Vale, son of Rhind, who shall avenge the death of Balder."
The gods spake one to another and said: "How can this tender youth overcome night-haunting Hodur and escape his magic sword?"
Vale answered them saying: "But one night old am I, yet shall I avenge Balder, my brother."
Then sat Odin's new-born son at the feast. With the sword-slain warriors he shared the joys of Valhal, and ate of the boar Saehrimnir which was devoured daily and became whole again each night.
Odin sate in his high chair. But he partook not of the food, for he had no need of it. His portion he flung to his dogs Gere and Freke, and drank only of the mead which nourished him forever.
For drink the heroes had the mead milk of the goat Heidrun, which ate the leaves of Laerath, the tree which overshadows Valhal.
When the warriors had feasted with Vale in their midst, they issued forth in vast numbers from Valhal's doors, which numbered five hundred and forty. From each door eight hundred warriors came out, as they shall do at Ragnarok, to combat against the hordes of Surtur.
Thus daily do the warriors go forth as on the morn of Vale's coming. On a great field they fight battles, and one another they cut to pieces. On steeds they ride and the steeds fall. On foot they rush into battle to be slain. 1 Yet are they ever restored again.
Vale beheld the heroes in conflict. He saw them slay one another. He saw them rising to return unto Valhal.
When night fell, and Sol was laid on her golden couch in Billing's hall, Vale went forth to seek silent-footed Hodur. Through the wood of blackness he went, for he had knowledge of where the blind god was hidden. Then heard he a voice which cried:
"The avenger cometh, O slayer of Balder."
Hodur held high his magic shield. His sword he drew, and went in silence towards the sound of Vale's footsteps.
The bow of Vale was bent. He shot an arrow towards Hodur and it went past him. A second he cast and it struck the magic shield. The third arrow pierced the heart of Hodur and he fell dead.
Thus was the death of Balder avenged by Vale, son of Odin and Rhind, the young May-god with a child's face and the body of a strong warrior.
A pyre was built and the body of Hodur was burned
thereon. The gods rejoiced that he was dead, but Balder awaited him in Hela. Loke was yet unpunished; his day of doom was drawing nigh.
Ere that time came, Odin went forth from Asgard and journeyed unto Jotun-heim. There he sought the dwelling of the ancient giant, Vafthrudner, to hear from him the secrets of the past. He was the strongest of the giants and the most cunning. He was also a maker of riddles, and those who could answer them not he put to death. His head he wagered that none equalled him in wisdom.
Odin went towards the giant's dwelling in the guise of a mortal named Gangraad.
"Why comest thou hither?" Vafthrudner asked. His sword was in his hand.
Odin answered: "I come hither to know whether thou art so wise and all-remembering as men say."
The giant was wroth, and to Odin he said: "If thou art not wiser than I am, and if thy knowledge is less than mine, thy head shall speedily be struck from thy shoulders. If thou art proved the wiser, mine own head is forfeit."
First the giant asked Odin if he had knowledge of who drave the chariots of night and of day, and if he could name the world-dividing rivers. Odin answered him.
Then the giant asked where the last battle would be fought, and Odin gave ready response. "On Virgrid Plain," he said.
Much did the giant marvel. He besought Odin to sit by his side. When Odin was seated, he in turn put questions to Vafthrudner. He asked of the old giant how far back he remembered, and Vafthrudner said that he had beheld Ymer's son, Bergelmer, who escaped the
blood deluge, when he was laid on the World-mill to be ground.
Of the beginning of things Odin did ask him, and of the end. The giant made answer with great wisdom. There was naught of which he could not speak with full knowledge.
Then did Odin rise from his seat and say: "One last question shall I put thee, O Vafthrudner, and if thou canst not answer it, thy head is forfeit."
The giant was without fear. He listened, fully assured that he could make ready response.
But Odin spake and said: "Tell me if thou canst, O maker of riddles, what did Odin whisper into Balder's ear?"
Then was the giant stricken with great fear, because he perceived that the stranger was none other than Odin himself. With trembling voice he confessed that he was vanquished. So he who sought to slay the stranger was himself slain. By Odin was his head struck off.
By the gods was Odin called Jalk 1 when he slew the great giant.
But although Odin brought judgment upon the tyrant Vafthrudner, as he was wont to do unto all evildoers, it was long ere he meted out just punishment to him who had in secret devised the death of Balder. But his hour was very nigh. His place beside Fenrer awaited him.
Shunned was Loke in Asgard, and rarely he went thither; for Balder he mourned not nor shared the grief of the gods, by whom he was suspect.
The time came when Æger sent messengers to the high Celestial city to invite the dwellers there to the harvest-end feast of the autumnal equinox. Thither
they journeyed, robed in state, to drink of Æger's mead.
Now, while they sat round the board, Loke, who was not bidden to the feast, entered with stealthy steps. Funafeng, the guardian of the door, sought to hold him back.
"No seat awaits thee here," he said. "Thou hadst better haste to Ironwood and feast with Angerboda, mother of the Fenrer wolf."
Wroth was Loke with Æger's servant, and more wroth was he when he heard the gods praising Funafeng because of the words he had spoken. So he turned on the bold guardian of the door and slew him.
The gods rose in anger, and seized their weapons to be avenged, but Loke fled forth in the darkness and concealed himself in a deep forest at the sea bottom.
Then was the feast resumed. Mead flowed plenteously from Æger's vessels, for, like the horn of Utgard-Loki, they could never be emptied, and they were ever full.
Again Loke returned. Eldir guarded the door. The Evil One spake freely to him and said: "Of what do the gods speak as they drink their mead?"
"They speak of thee," Eldir answered, "and the evil deeds thou hast done."
"Then shall I enter," said Loke. "I shall revile them one after another until they are covered with shame."
Silent in their anger were the gods when they beheld Loke in their midst once again. But he demanded a seat at the board.
"Am I not an Asa-god?" he cried. "The golden mead I claim as my due."
Brage, god of music and song, spake fiercely and said:
[paragraph continues] "Thou shalt never again be an equal of the gods. For thy villainy art thou become an outcast. For thee is now prepared a drink of revenge."
To Odin did Loke make stern appeal, saying: "Promised we not each to the other in olden days, when our blood we mixed together, never to drink mead that was offered not unto both?"
When Loke spake thus, Odin consented that he should sit at the board, for indeed he had spoken truly. His claim was just according to ancient vows.
A goblet of mead did Loke receive, and he cried: "Hail to all who are here save Brage, who refused me hospitality."
When he drank from the goblet he taunted Brage with scorn, and the Song-god challenged him to combat; but Loke heeded him not. He heard him with silent scorn.
To Njord then turned Loke and flouted him because that he was but a hostage of the Vans.
Njord answered and said that he was father of Frey, who was hated by none, whereat the Evil One heaped abuse upon the harvest-god. But Tyr said that Njord's fair son was the best of all chiefs among the gods, and that his doings were ever benevolent, so that by mortals was he well loved.
Loke cried: "Silence, O Tyr. Thou hast but one hand since the Fenrer wolf seized thee."
Tyr answered: "Better to lose a hand than a good reputation, for that thou hast not, Loke."
Frey in wrath then said: "If thou art not silent, with thy wolf son shalt thou be bound."
Then did Loke taunt Frey because he had given to Gymer the Sword of Victory with which to buy Gerd.
Shame fell upon Frey and on all the gods whom
Click to enlarge
LOKE AT ÆGER'S FEAST
From the painting by Constantin Hansen
[paragraph continues] Loke reviled in that hour. Then Frigg spoke angrily to the Evil One and said:
"If I had here in Æger's hall a son like to Balder, who is dead, thou wouldst never go from hither, for in wrath thou wouldst be slain."
"Ha!" cried Loke, leaping to his feet; "is it thy will, O Frigg, that I should speak further? Now hear and know that I am the cause of Balder's death. To Hela was he sent by me, for to Hodur did I give the mistletoe arrow that struck thy son down."
The gods seized their weapons to attack their evil reviler, when suddenly thunder pealed in the hall, and Thor stood there in their midst.
Now Loke knew well that the gods sought not to defile the dwelling of Æger by shedding blood. So he went and stood before Thor, whom he addressed, saying: "Dost thou remember, O Asa-Thor, when thou didst hide with fear in the thumb space of Skrymer's glove?"
"Silence, thou evil one," roared Thor, "or else with my hammer shall I strike thy head off and end thy life!
Then did Loke answer humbly. "Silent indeed I shall be now, O Thor, for I know well thou shalt strike."
So saying he left the hall. But the gods rose to pursue him, so greatly angered were they because that he had caused Balder's death. But Loke assumed the guise of a salmon and escaped through the sea, and in vain they sought him. Never again could he enter Asgard.
The gods took counsel together and decreed that Loke should be bound because of the many evils he had done, and especially because he devised the death of Balder. They searched for him in Midgard and in Jotun-heim, but found him not, for a cunning retreat had Loke discovered. In a cliff he dwelt behind a great
waterfall. Four doors there were in his cavern, and they were ever kept open, so that he might make quick and sure escape. There he devised plots to overcome the Asa-gods.
But wearily passed the days of his solitude. One morning he took flax and yarn and fashioned a net with which to capture fish, and in the manner which he made it have fishermen ever since fashioned theirs. He took pride in his cunning work, but for what end he devised it no man knoweth.
Meanwhile the gods sought greatly after him. Then Odin mounted his golden throne and looked over the nine worlds, searching for the place in which Loke was hidden. He saw the cavern behind the waterfall. He perceived Loke sitting within. Then he called the gods and told them where the Evil One could be found.
Then set they forth and made cunning approach to the cavern. They divided to enter all the four doors.
Loke perceived them, but not until they were very nigh to him. Then he flung his net upon the fire, and in salmon guise leapt into the pool which was below the waterfall. There he concealed himself betwixt two stones.
When the gods entered the cavern they knew that the Evil-worker whom they sought was not far distant, for the fire still smouldered. Kvasir, son of Njord, who was keen-eyed as Heimdal, at once beheld on the white embers the ashes of the net which Loke had made. So the gods sat down and speedily they wove another of like kind. When it was finished they threw it into the stream, knowing that he whom they sought was there. But the net went over Loke.
Then did the gods take the net a second time, and weighted it with stones so that it could be dragged along
the stream's bed. Loke divined their purpose and leapt over the net into the waterfall.
But the gods espied him, and Thor went into midstream so that he might not escape. On either bank did the avengers drag the net towards the pool.
Loke perceived that there were but two means of escape left to him. One was to again leap over the net; the other was to swim out to the sea and brave the perils that are there. He chose to leap. But he escaped not, for Thor grasped him in his hand. In vain Loke sought to wriggle free, but Thor closed his strong fingers over his tail. That is why the salmon's tail has been narrow since that day.
When Loke found he could not escape, he assumed his wonted shape. Then did the gods do as Frey had threatened at Æger's feast. Him they bore unto the place where his son the wolf Fenrer was already bound on the geyser-sprayed island in the gulf of Black Grief.
Loke's two sons, Vali and Narvi, followed him, as did also gentle Sigyn, his wife, whom he had despised and wronged. Incantations were sung over Vali, and he became a fierce wolf. Upon his brother Narvi he sprang and tore him to pieces.
Then did the gods lay Loke on three sharp-edged rocks next to the Fenrer wolf. With the sinews of Narvi (the binder) they made chains which were like iron, and with these they bound the Evil One securely.
Skade came from her mountain home rejoicing because that he who had caused the death of her father, Thjasse, was at length overcome. She bore with her a poisonous snake, and bound it on the rock above Loke's head. From its jaws dropped burning venom, which tortured the Evil One with great agony.
Then took the avengers their departure, leaving Loke
in torment.... His faithful wife Sigyn remained behind. Over Loke's head she is ever holding a goblet to receive the dripping venom. So does she constantly guard her evil husband. But when the vessel is filled to the brim she must needs bring it down, so that it may be emptied. Then do venom drops fall upon Loke's face, burning him fiercely. . . . When that happens he struggles madly with his bonds, and the rocks shake and Midgard trembles to its foundations. . . . It is thus that earthquakes are caused.
On the island of the Gulf of Black Grief must Loke and the Fenrer wolf remain until Ragnarok. The wolf dog Garm shall bark aloud when they escape from their bonds.
165:1 According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the mythical Belinus, King of Britain, made in London a gate of marvellous workmanship "which the citizens do still in these! days call Billingsgate".
168:1 "They went forth to the war, but they always fell."--Macpherson's Ossian. The reference is to Scandinavian invaders. Matthew Arnold applied the quotation to the Celts.
170:1 Jack the Giant-killer.