PART I THE INHABITANTS OF ASGARD

 

FAR AWAY AND LONG AGO

Once there was another Sun and Moon, different from the ones we see now. Sol was the name of that Sun and Mani was the name of that Moon. But wolves always followed behind Sol and Mani. The wolves caught them at last and devoured Sol and Mani. Then the world was in darkness and cold.

The Gods lived in those times; Odin, Thor, Hödur ,Baldur, Tyr ,Heimdall, Vidar and Vali, as well as Loki, the doer of good and  evil. The beautiful Goddesses were also living then, Frigga, Freya, Nanna, Iduna, and Sif. But in the days when the Sun and Moon were destroyed the Gods were destroyed too—all the Gods except Baldur who had died before that time, Vidar and Vali, the sons of Odin, and Modi and Magni, the sons of Thor.

At that time, too, there were men and women in the world. But before the Sun and the Moon were devoured and before the Gods were destroyed, terrible things happened in the world. Snow fell on the four corners of the earth and kept on falling for four seasons. Winds came and blew everything away. The people of the world who had lived on in spite of the snow and the cold and the winds fought each other, brother killing brother, until all the people were destroyed.

Also there was another Earth at that time, an Earth green and beautiful. But the terrible winds that blew destroyed forests and hills and homes. Then fire came and burnt the Earth. There was darkness, for the Sun and the Moon had been devoured. The Gods had met with their doom. The time in which all these things happened was called Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods.

Then a new Sun and a new Moon appeared and went traveling through the heavens. They were more lovely than Sol and Mani, and no wolves chased them. The earth became green and beautiful again, and in a deep forest that the fire had not burnt a woman and a man woke up. They had been hidden there by Odin and left to sleep during Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods.

The woman’s name was Lif, and the man’s was Lifthrasir. They moved through the world, and their children and their children’s children   the new Earth. Of the Gods only Vidar and Vali, the sons of Odin, and Modi and Magni, the sons of Thor were left. On the new earth Vidar and Vali found tablets that the older Gods had written on and had left there for them, tablets telling everything that had happened before Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods.

The people who lived after Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods, were not troubled, as the people in the older days were troubled, by the terrible beings who had brought destruction upon the world and upon men and women, and who from the beginning had waged war upon the Gods.

THE BUILDING OF THE WALL

There had always been war between the Giants and the Gods—between the Giants who wanted to destroy the world and the race of men, and the Gods who wanted to protect the race of men and make the world more beautiful.

There are many stories about the Gods, but the first one that should be told is the one about the building of their City.

The Gods had made their way up to the top of a high mountain and there they decided to build a great City for themselves that the Giants could never destroy. They would call The City “Asgard,” which means the Place of the Gods. They decided to build it on a beautiful plain that was on the top of that high mountain and they wanted to raise round their City the highest and strongest wall that had ever been built.

One day when they were beginning to build their halls and their palaces a stranger appeared. Odin, the Father of the Gods, went and spoke to him. “What do you want on the Mountain of the Gods?” he asked the Stranger.

“I know what the Gods want,” the Stranger said. “They want to build a City here. I cannot build palaces, but I can build great walls that can never be destroyed. Let me build the wall round your City.”

“How long will it take you to build a wall that will go round our City?” said the Father of the Gods.

“A year,” said the Stranger.

Now Odin knew that if a great wall could be built around it, the Gods would not have to spend all their time defending their City, Asgard, from the Giants, and he knew that if Asgard were protected, he himself could go amongst men and teach them and help them. He thought that no payment the Stranger could ask would be too much for the building of that wall.

That day the Stranger came to the Council of the Gods, and swore that in a year he would have the great wall built. Then Odin promised that the Gods would give him what he asked in payment if the wall was finished to the last stone a year from that day.

The Stranger went away and came back on the next day. It was the first day of Summer when he started work. He brought no one to help him except a great horse.

The Gods thought that this horse would do no more than drag blocks of stone for the building of the wall. But the horse did more than this. He set the stones in their places and mortared them together. Day and night and by light and dark the horse worked, and soon a great wall was rising round the palaces that the Gods themselves were building.

“What reward will the Stranger ask for the work he is doing for us?” the Gods asked one another.

Odin went to the Stranger. “We marvel at the work you and your horse are doing for us,” he said. “No one can doubt that the great wall of Asgard will be finished by the first day of summer. What payment do you want? We will have it ready for you.”

The Stranger turned from the work he was doing, leaving the great horse to pile up the blocks of stone. “Father of the Gods,” he said, ” Odin, the reward I shall ask for my work is the Sun and the Moon, and Freya, who watches over the flowers and grasses, for my wife.”

When Odin heard this he was terribly angered, for the price the Stranger asked for his work was beyond all prices. He went to the other Gods who were building their shining palaces within the great wall and he told them what reward the Stranger had asked. The Gods said, “Without the Sun and the Moon the world will die.” And the Goddesses said, “Without Freya all will be gloom in Asgard.”

They would have preferred to let the wall remain unfinished rather than let the Stranger have the reward he claimed for building it. But someone spoke. He was Loki, a being who only half belonged to the Gods; his father was the Wind Giant. “Let the Stranger build the wall round Asgard,” Loki said, “and I will find a way to make him give up the hard bargain he has made with the Gods. Go to him and tell him that the wall must be finished by the first day of summer, and that if it is not finished to the last stone on that day the price he asks will not be given to him.”

The Gods went to the Stranger and they told him that if the last stone was not laid on the wall on the first day of the summer not Sol or Mani, the Sun and the Moon, nor Freya would be given to him. Now they knew that the Stranger was one of the Giants.

The Giant and his great horse piled up the wall more quickly than before. At night, while the Giant slept, the horse worked on and on, hauling up stones and laying them on the wall with his great feet. Day by day the wall around Asgard grew higher and higher.

But the Gods had no joy in seeing that great wall rising higher and higher around their palaces. The Giant and his horse would finish the work by the first day of summer, and then he would take the Sun and the Moon, Sol and Mani, and Freya away with him.

But Loki was not disturbed. He kept telling the Gods that he would find a way to prevent him from finishing his work, and thus he would make the Giant give up the terrible price he had made Odin promise him.

It was three days to Summer time. All the wall was finished except the gateway. A stone still had to be placed over the gateway. The Giant, before he went to sleep, told his horse to haul up a great block of stone so that they might put it above the gateway in the morning, and so finish the work two full days before Summer.

It happened to be a beautiful moonlit night. Svadilfare, the Giant’s great horse, was hauling the largest stone he ever hauled when he saw a little mare come galloping toward him. The great horse had never seen so pretty a little mare and he looked at her with surprise.

“Svadilfare, slave,” said the little mare to him and went trotting  past.

Svadilfare put down the stone he was hauling and called to the little mare. She came back to him. “Why do you call me ‘Svadilfare, slave’?” said the great horse.

“Because you have to work night and day for your master,” said the little mare. “He keeps you working, working, working, and never lets you enjoy yourself. You dare not leave that stone and come and play with me.”

“Who told you I dare not do it?” said Svadilfare.

“I know you daren’t do it,” said the little mare, and she kicked up her heels and ran across the moonlit meadow.

The truth was that Svadilfare was tired of working day and night. When he saw the little mare go galloping off he became suddenly discontented. He left the stone he was hauling on the ground. He looked round and he saw the little mare looking back at him. He galloped after her.

He did not catch up to the little mare. She went on swiftly ahead of him. She went on over the moonlit meadow turning and looking back now and again at the great Svadilfare, who came heavily after her. The mare went down the mountainside, and Svadilfare, who now rejoiced in his liberty and in the freshness of the wind and in the smell of the flowers, still followed her. At dawn they reached a cave and the little mare entered it and Svadilfare followed . Then Svadilfare caught up to the little mare and the two went wandering together, the little mare telling Svadilfare stories of the Dwarfs and the Elves.

They came to a grove and stayed together in it, the little mare playing so nicely with him that the great horse forgot all about the passing time. While they were in the grove the Giant was going up and down, searching for his great horse.

He had come to the wall in the morning, expecting to put the stone over the gateway and so finish his work. But the stone that was to be lifted up was not near him. He called for Svadilfare, but his great horse did not come. He went to search for him, and he searched all over the mountainside and he searched as far across the Earth as the land of the Giants. But he did not find Svadilfare.

The Gods saw the first day of summer come and the gateway of the wall stand unfinished. They said to each other that if it were not finished by the evening they did not need give Sol and Mani to the Giant, nor the maiden Freya to be his wife. The hours of the summer day went past and the Giant did not raise the stone over the gateway. In the evening he came to them.

“Your work is not finished,” Odin said. “You shall not be given Sol and Mani or the maiden Freya.”

He tried to destroy one of the palaces, but the Gods seized him and threw him outside the wall he had built. “Go, and trouble Asgard no more,” Odin commanded.

Then Loki returned to Asgard. He told the Gods how he had transformed himself into a little mare and had led away Svadilfare, the Giant’s great horse. The Gods sat in their golden palaces behind the great wall and rejoiced that their City was now secure and that no enemy could ever enter it or destroy it. But as Odin, the Father of the Gods, sat on his throne he was sad in his heart, sad that the Gods had got their wall built by a trick and that promises had been broken in Asgard.