HOW FREY WON GERDA BUT LOST HIS MAGIC SWORD
Frey, the chief of the Vanir, longed to see his sister who had been gone from Asgard for so long. (You must know that this happened during the time when Freya was wandering through the world, seeking her husband, the lost Odur.) In Asgard there was a place from which one could overlook the world and have a glimpse of everyone who wandered there. That place was Hlidskjalf, Odin’s lofty Watch-Tower.
That Tower went high up into the blue sky. When Frey reached it he knew that Odin was not on Hlidskjalf. Only the two wolves, Geri and Freki, that crouched beside Odin’s seat at the banquet, were there, and they stood in the way of Frey’s entrance to the Tower. But Frey spoke to Geri and Freki in the language of the Gods, and Odin’s wolves had to let him pass.
But, as he went up the steps inside the Tower, Frey, chief of the Vanir, knew that he was doing a fateful thing for none of the High Gods, not even Thor, the Defender of Asgard, nor Baldur, the Best-Beloved of the Gods, had ever climbed to the top of that Tower and sat on Odin’s seat. “But if I could see my sister once I should be contented,” said Frey to himself, “and no harm can come to me if I look out on the world.”
He came to the top of Hlidskjalf. He seated himself on Odin’s lofty seat. He looked out on the world. He saw Midgard, the World of Men, with its houses and towns, its farms and people. Beyond Midgard he saw Jötunheim, the Realm of the Giants, terrible with its dark mountains and its masses of snow and ice. He saw Freya as she went on her wanderings, and he marked that her face was turned toward Asgard and that her steps were leading toward the City of the Gods. “I have contented myself by looking from Hlidskjalf,” said Frey to himself, “and no harm has come to me.”
But even as he spoke his gaze was drawn to a home that stood in the middle of the ice and snow of Jötunheim. He gazed at that house for a long time without knowing why he looked that way. Then the door of the house opened and a Giant maiden stood in the doorway. Frey gazed at her. So great was the beauty of her face that it was like starlight in that dark land. She looked out from the doorway of the house, and then turned and went inside, shutting the door.
Frey sat on Odin’s high seat for a long time. Then he went down the steps of the Tower and passed by the two wolves, Geri and Freki, that looked threateningly at him. That night he could not sleep for his thoughts were fixed on the loveliness of the Giant maid he had seen. When morning came he was filled with loneliness because he thought himself so far from her. He went to Hlidskjalf again, to climb the Tower and see her once more. But now the two wolves, Geri and Freki, bared their teeth at him and would not let him pass, although he spoke to them again in the language of the Gods.
He went and spoke to wise Niörd, his father. “She,” said Niörd, “is Gerda, the daughter of the Giant Gymer. You must stop thinking about her. Your love for her would be a bad thing for you.”
“Why should it be a bad thing for me?” Frey asked.
“Because you would have to give up that which you prize most for the sake of being with her.”
“That which I prize most,” said Frey, “is my magic sword.”
“You will have to give your magic sword,” said his father, the wise Niörd.
“I will give it up,” said Frey, loosening his magic sword from his belt.
“Think carefully, my son,” said Niörd. “If you give up your sword, what weapon will you have on the day of Ragnarök, when the Giants will make war on the Gods?”
Frey did not speak, but he thought the day of Ragnarök was far off. “I cannot live without Gerda,” he said, as he turned away.
There was someone in Asgard called Skirnir. He was a bold person who never cared what he said or did. Frey couldn’t tell anyone else but Skirnir of the trouble that was the punishment for his placing himself on the seat of the Odin.
Skirnir laughed when he heard Frey’s tale. “You, in love with a maid of Jötunheim! This is fun indeed! Will you marry her?”
“I wish I could speak to her or send a message of love to her,” said Frey. “But I cannot leave my watch over the Elves.”
“And if I should take a message to Gerda,” said Skirnir the bold, “what would my reward be?”
“My boat Skidbladnir or my boar Golden Bristle,” said Frey.
“No, no,” said Skirnir. “I want something to carry. I want something to use in my hand. Give me the magic sword you own.”
Frey thought about what his father said, that he would be left weaponless on the day of Ragnarök, when the Giants would make war upon the Gods and when Asgard would be endangered. He thought about this, and drew back from Skirnir, and for a while he remained in thought. All the time Skirnir was laughing at him out of his wide mouth and his blue eyes. Then Frey said to himself, “The day of Ragnarök is far off, and I cannot live without Gerda.”
He drew the magic sword from his belt and he placed it in Skirnir’s hand. “I give you my sword, Skirnir,” he said. “Take my message to Gerda, Gymer’s daughter. Show her this gold and these precious jewels, and say I love her, and that I claim her love.”
“I shall bring the maid to you,” said Skirnir.
“But how will you get to Jötunheim?” said Frey, suddenly remembering how dark the Giants’ land was and how terrible the way to it was.
“Oh, with a good horse and a good sword one can get anywhere,” said Skirnir. “My horse is a mighty horse, and you have given me your sword of magic. Tomorrow I shall make the journey.”
Skirnir rode across Bifröst, the Rainbow Bridge, laughing out of his wide mouth and his blue eyes at Heimdall, the Warder of the Bridge to Asgard. His mighty horse trod the earth of Midgard, and swam the river that divides Midgard, the World of Men, from Jötunheim, the Realm of the Giants. He rode on heedlessly and recklessly, just as he did all things. Then out of the iron forests came the monstrous wolves of Jötunheim, to tear and devour him and his mighty horse. It was good that Skirnir had Frey’s magic sword in his belt. Its edge killed and its gleam frightened the monstrous beasts. Skirnir rode on,on his mighty horse. Then he came to a wall of fire. No other horse but his mighty horse could go through it. Skirnir rode through the fire and came to the dale where Gymer lived.
Then he was in front of the house that Frey had seen Gerda enter on the day when he had climbed Hlidskjalf, Odin’s Watch-Tower. The mighty hounds that guarded Gymer’s home came and bayed around him. But the gleam of the magic sword kept them away. Skirnir backed his horse to the door, and made his horse’s hooves strike against it.
Gymer was in the feast hall drinking with his Giant friends, and he did not hear the baying of the hounds nor the clatter that Skirnir made at the door. But Gerda sat spinning with her maidens in the hall. “Who comes to Gymer’s door?” she said.
“A warrior on a mighty horse,” said one of the maidens.
“Even though he is an enemy and killed my brother, we shall open the door to him and give him a cup of Gymer’s mead,” said Gerda.
One of the maidens opened the door and Skirnir entered Gymer’s home. He recognised Gerda amongst her maidens. He went to her and showed her the rich gold and the precious jewels that he had brought from Frey. “These are for you, fairest Gerda,” he said, “if you will give your love to Frey, the Chief of the Vanir.”
“Show your gold and jewels to other maidens,” said Gerda. “Gold and jewels will never make me give my love.”
Then Skirnir, drew the magic sword from his belt and held it above her. “Give your love to Frey, who has given me this sword,” he said, “or meet your death by it.”
Gerda, Gymer’s daughter, only laughed at the reckless Skirnir, “Make the daughters of men fearful by the sharpness of Frey’s sword,” she said, “but do not try to frighten a Giant’s daughter with it.”
Then Skirnir the Reckless, made the magic sword flash before her eyes, while he cried out in a terrible voice, saying a spell over her:
Gerda, I will curse you. Yes, with this magic blade I shall touch you. Such is its power that you will wither. It will leave you like a dried leaf.
Hearing these terrible words and the strange hissings of the magic sword, Gerda threw herself on the ground, crying out for pity. But Skirnir stood above her, and the magic sword flashed and hissed over her. Skirnir sang, I will leave you uglier than any maid ever was. You will be mocked by men and by Giants .Only a Dwarf will marry you.
She lifted herself on her knees and cried out to Skirnir to spare her from the spell of the magic sword.
“Only if you give your love to Frey,” said Skirnir.
“I will give my love to him,” said Gerda. “Now put away your magic sword and drink a cup of mead and then leave.”
“I will not drink a cup of your mead nor shall I leave until you yourself say that you will meet and speak with Frey.”
“I will meet and speak with him,” said Gerda.
“When will you meet and speak with him?” asked Skirnir.
“In the wood of Barri nine nights from tonight. Let him come and meet me there.”
Then Skirnir put away his magic sword and drank the cup of mead that Gerda gave him. He rode from Gymer’s house, laughing aloud at having won Gerda for Frey, and so making the magic sword his own forever.
Skirnir, riding across Bifröst on his mighty horse, found Frey standing waiting for him beside Heimdall, the Warder of the Bridge to Asgard.
“What news do you bring me?” cried Frey. “Speak, Skirnir, before you dismount from your horse.”
“In nine nights from now you may meet Gerda in Barri Wood,” said Skirnir. He looked at him, laughing out of his wide mouth and his blue eyes. But Frey turned away, saying to himself:
One day is long. Can I live through nine long days?
Those days were long indeed for Frey. But the ninth day came, and in the evening Frey went to Barri Wood and there he met Gerda, the Giant maid. She was as fair as when he had seen her at the door of Gymer’s house. When she saw Frey, so tall and noble looking, the Giant’s daughter was glad that Skirnir had made her promise to come to Barri Wood. They gave each other rings of gold. It was settled that the Giant maid should come as a bride to Asgard.
Gerda came, but another Giant maid also came. Everyone in Asgard was standing before the great gate, waiting to welcome the bride of Frey when a Giant maid in armor appeared there.
“I am Skadi,” she said, “the daughter of Thiassi. My father met his death at the hands of those in Asgard. I claim compensation.”
“What compensation do you want, maiden?” asked Odin, smiling to see a Giant maid standing so boldly in Asgard.
“A husband from amongst you. And I myself must be allowed to choose him.”
All laughed aloud at the words of Skadi. Then Odin said, laughing, “We will let you choose a husband from amongst us, but you must choose him by his feet.”
“I will choose him whatever way you like,” said Skadi fixing her eyes on Baldur, the most beautiful of all the Dwellers in Asgard.
They put a bandage round her eyes, and the Æsir and the Vanir sat around in a half circle. As she went by she stooped over each and touched their feet. At last she came to one whose feet were so finely formed that she felt sure it was Baldur. She stood up and said,”This is the one that Skadi chooses for her husband.”
Then the Æsir and the Vanir laughed more and more. They took the bandage off her eyes and she saw, not Baldur the Beautiful, but Niörd, the father of Frey. But as Skadi looked more and more at Niörd she became more and more contented with her choice for Niörd was strong, and noble looking.
These two, Niörd and Skadi, went first to live in Niörd’s palace by the sea but the crashing of the waves would waken Skadi too early in the morning, and so she took her husband to the mountaintop where she was more at home. He could not live long away from the sound of the sea. Back and forward, between the mountain and the sea, Skadi and Niörd went. But Gerda stayed in Asgard with Frey, her husband, and the Æsir and the Vanir came to love Gerda, the Giant maid.