| In the Days of Giants|
|by Abbie Farwell Brown|
|Strength and joy of life ever marked the doings of the old Norse gods and heroes. These qualities abound in these stories of Norse mythology retold in a simple direct fashion appealing to younger children. Tells among other things how Father Odin lost his eye, how Thor went fishing, of the death of Baldur, and of the other doings of the gods and goddesses of Asgard. Vigorous black and white illustrations complement the narrative. Ages 9-11 |
NCE upon a time there lived a man named Kvasir, who was
so wise that no one could ask him a question to which he
did not know the answer, and who was so eloquent that his
words dripped from his lips like notes of music from a lute.
For Kvasir was the first poet who ever lived, the first of
those wise makers of songs whom the Norse folk named
skalds. This Kvasir received his precious gifts wonderfully;
for he was made by the gods and the Vanir, those two
mighty races, to celebrate the peace which was evermore to
be between them.
Up and down the world Kvasir traveled, lending his
wisdom to the use of men, his brothers; and wherever he
went he brought smiles and joy and comfort, for with his
wisdom he found the cause of all men's troubles, and with
his songs he healed them. This is what the poets have been
doing in all the ages ever since. Folk declare that every skald
has a drop of Kvasir's blood in him. This is the tale which is
told to show
 how it happened that Kvasir's blessed skill
has never been lost to the world.
There were two wicked dwarfs named Fialar and Galar who
envied Kvasir his power over the hearts of men, and who
plotted to destroy him. So one day they invited him to
dine, and while he was there, they begged him to come aside
with them, for they had a very secret question to ask,
which only he could answer. Kvasir never refused to turn
his wisdom to another's help; so, nothing suspecting, he
went with them to hear their trouble.
Thereupon this sly pair of wicked dwarfs led him into a
lonely corner. Treacherously they slew Kvasir; and because
their cunning taught them that his blood must be precious,
they saved it in three huge kettles, and mixing it with
honey, made thereof a magic drink. Truly, a magic drink it
was; for whoever tasted of Kvasir's blood was straightway
filled with Kvasir's spirit, so that his heart taught wisdom
and his lips uttered the sweetest poesy. Thus the wicked
dwarfs became possessed of a wonderful treasure.
When the gods missed the silver voice
 of Kvasir echoing up
from the world below, they were alarmed, for Kvasir was
very dear to them. They inquired what had become of him,
and finally the wily dwarfs answered that the good poet
had been drowned in his own wisdom. But Father Odin,
who had tasted another wise draught, from Mimer's well,
knew that this was not the truth, and kept his watchful eye
upon the dark doings of Fialar and Galar.
Not long after this the dwarfs committed another wicked
deed. They invited the giant Gilling to row out to sea with
them, and when they were a long distance from shore, the
wicked fellows upset the boat and drowned the giant, who
could not swim. They rowed back to land, and told the
giant's wife how the "accident" had happened. Then there
were giant shrieks and howls enough to deafen all the world,
for the poor giantess was heartbroken, and her grief was a
giant grief. Her sobs annoyed the cruel-hearted dwarfs. So
Fialar, pretending to sympathize, offered to take her where
she could look upon the spot where her dear husband had
last been seen. As she passed through the
gate-  way, the other dwarf, to whom his brother had made a sign, let a
huge millstone fill upon her head. That was the ending of
her, poor thing, and of her sorrow, which had so disturbed
the little people, crooked in heart as in body.
But punishment was in store for them. Suttung, the huge
son of Gilling, learned the story of his parents' death, and
presently, in a dreadful rage, he came roaring to the home of
the dwarfs. He seized one of them in each big fist, and
wading far out to sea, set the wretched little fellows on a
rock which at high tide would be covered with water.
"Stay there," he cried, "and drown as my father drowned!"
The dwarfs screamed thereat for mercy so loudly that he
had to listen before he went away.
"Only let us off, Suttung," they begged, "and you shall have
the precious mead made from Kvasir's blood."
Now Suttung was very anxious to own this same mead, so
at last he agreed to the bargain. He carried them back to
land, and they gave him the kettles in which they had mixed
the magic fluid. Suttung took them
 away to his cave in the
mountains, and gave them in charge of his fair daughter
Gunnlöd. All day and all night she watched by the
precious kettles, to see that no one came to steal or taste of
the mead; for Suttung thought of it as his greatest treasure,
and no wonder.
Father Odin had seen all these deeds from his seat above the
heavens, and his eye had followed longingly the passage of
the wondrous mead, for Odin longed to have a draught of it.
Odin had wisdom, he had drained that draught from the
bottom of Mimer's mystic fountain; but he lacked the skill
of speech which comes of drinking Kvasir's blood. He
wanted the mead for himself and for his children in Asgard,
and it seemed a shame that this precious treasure should be
wasted upon the wicked giants who were their enemies. So
he resolved to try if it might not be won in some sly way.
One day he put on his favorite disguise as a wandering old
man, and set out for Giant-Land, where Suttung dwelt. By
and by he came to a field where nine workmen were cutting
hay. Now these were the servants
 of Baugi, the brother of
Suttung, and this Odin knew. He walked up to the men and
watched them working for a little while.
"Ho!" he exclaimed at last, "your scythes are dull. Shall I
whet them for you?" The men were glad enough to accept
his offer, so Odin took a whetstone from his pocket and
sharpened all the scythes most wonderfully. Then the men
wanted to buy the stone; each man would have it for his
own, and they fell to quarreling over it. To make matters
more exciting, Odin tossed the whetstone into their midst,
"Let him have it who catches it!" Then indeed there was
trouble! The men fought with one another for the stone,
slashing right and left with their sharp scythes until every
one was killed. Odin hastened away, and went up to the
house where Baugi lived. Presently home came Baugi,
complaining loudly and bitterly because his quarrelsome
servants had killed one another, so that there was not one
left to do his work.
"What am I going to do?" he cried. "Here it is mowing time,
and I have not a single man to help me in the field!"
 Then Odin spoke up. "I will help you," he said. "I am a
stout fellow, and I can do the work of nine men if I am paid
the price I ask."
"What is the price which you ask?" queried Baugi eagerly,
for he saw that this stranger was a mighty man, and he
thought that perhaps he could do as he boasted.
"I ask that you get for me a drink of Suttung's mead," Odin
Then Baugi eyed him sharply. "You are one of the gods," he
said, "or you would not know about the precious mead.
Therefore I know that you can do my work, the work of'
nine men. I cannot give you the mead. It is my brother's,
and he is very jealous of it, for he wishes it all himself. But
if you will work for me all the summer, when winter comes
I will go with you to Suttung's home and try what I can do
to get a draught for you."
So they made the bargain, and all summer Father Odin
worked in the fields of Baugi, doing the work of nine men.
When the winter came, he demanded his pay. So then they
set out for Suttung's home, which was a cave deep down in
the mountains, where it
 seems not hard to hide one's
treasures. First Baugi went to his brother and told him of
the agreement between him and the stranger, begging for a
gift of the magic mead wherewith to pay the stout laborer
who had done the work of nine. But Suttung refused to
spare even a taste of the precious liquor.
"This laborer of yours is one of the gods, our enemies," he
said. "Indeed, I will not give him of the precious mead.
What are you thinking of, brother!" Then he talked to Baugi
till the giant was ready to forget his promise to Odin, and to
desire only the death of the stranger who had come forward
to help him.
Baugi returned to Odin with the news that the mead was
not to be had with Suttung's consent. "Then we must get it
without his consent," declared Odin. "We must use our wits
to steal it from under his nose. You must help me, Baugi,
for you have promised."
Baugi agreed to this; but in his heart he meant to entrap
Odin to his death. Odin now took from his pocket an auger
such as one uses to bore holes. "Look, now," he
 said. "You
shall bore a hole into the roof of Suttung's cave, and when
the hole is large enough, I will crawl through and get the
"Very well," nodded Baugi, and he began to bore into the
mountain with all his might and main. At last he cried,
"There, it is done; the mountain is pierced through!" But
when Odin blew into the hole to see whether it did indeed
go through into the cave, the dust made by the auger flew
into his face. Thus he knew that Baugi was deceiving him,
and thenceforth he was on his guard, which was fortunate.
"Try again," said Odin sternly. "Bore a little deeper, friend
Baugi." So Baugi went at the work once more, and this time
when he said the hole was finished, Odin found that his
word was true, for the dust blew through the hole and
disappeared in the cave. Now Odin was ready to try the
plan which he had been forming.
Odin's wisdom taught him many tricks, and among them he
knew the secret of changing his form into that of any
creature he chose. He turned himself into a worm,  —a
long, slender, wiggly worm, just small enough to be able to enter
the hole that Baugi had pierced. In a moment he had thrust
his head into the opening, and was wriggling out of sight
before Baugi had even guessed what he meant to do. Baugi
jumped forward and made a stab at him with the pointed
auger, but it was too late. The worm's striped tail quivered
in out of sight, and Baugi's wicked attempt was spoiled.
When Odin had crept through the hole, he found himself in
a dark, damp cavern, where at first he could see nothing. He
changed himself back into his own noble form, and then he
began to hunt about for the kettles of magic mead. Presently
he came to a little chamber, carefully hidden in a secret
corner of this secret grotto,—a chamber locked and barred
and bolted on the inside, so that no one could enter by the
door. Suttung had never thought of such a thing as that a
stranger might enter by a hole in the roof!
At the back of this tiny room stood three kettles upon the
floor; and beside them, with her head resting on her elbow,
sat a beautiful
 maiden, sound asleep. It was Gunnlöd,
Suttung's daughter, the guardian of the mead. Odin stepped
up to her very softly, and bending over, kissed her gently
upon the forehead. Gunnlöd awoke with a start, and
at first she was horrified to find a stranger in the cave where
it seemed impossible that a stranger could enter. But when
she saw the beauty of Odin's face and the kind look of his
eye, she was no longer afraid, but glad that he had come.
For poor Gunnlöd often grew lonesome in this
gloomy cellar-home, where Suttung kept her prisoner day
and night to watch over the three kettles.
"Dear maiden," said Odin, "I have come a long, long
distance to see you. Will you not bid me stay a little
Gunnlöd looked at him kindly. "Who are you, and
whence do you come so far to see me?" she asked.
"I am Odin, from Asgard. The way is long and I am thirsty.
Shall I not taste the liquor which you have there?"
Gunnlöd hesitated. "My father bade me never let soul
taste of the mead," she said. "I am sorry for you, however,
 You look very tired and thirsty. You may have
one little sip." Then Odin kissed her and thanked her, and
tarried there with such pleasant words for the maiden that
before he was ready to go she granted him what he asked,—
three draughts, only three draughts of the mead.
Now Odin took up the first kettle to drink, and with one
draught he drained the whole. He did the same by the next,
and the next, till before she knew it, Gunnlöd found
herself guarding three empty kettles. Odin had gained what
he came for, and it was time for him to be gone before
Suttung should come to seek him in the cave. He kissed fair
Gunnlöd once again, with a sigh to think that he must
treat her so unfairly. Then he changed himself into an eagle,
and away he flew to carry the precious mead home to
Meanwhile Baugi had told the giant Suttung how Odin the
worm had pierced through into his treasure-cave; and when
Suttung, who was watching, saw the great eagle fly forth, he
guessed who this eagle must be. Suttung also put on an
eagle's plumage, and
 a wonderful chase began. Whirr, whirr!
The two enormous birds winged their way toward Asgard,
Suttung close upon the other's flight. Over the mountains
they flew, and the world was darkened as if by the passage
of heavy storm-clouds, while the trees, blown by the breeze
from their wings, swayed, and bent almost to the ground.
It was a close race; but Odin was the swifter of the two,
and at last he had the mead safe in Asgard, where the gods
were waiting with huge dishes to receive it from his mouth.
Suttung was so close upon him, however, that he jostled
Odin even as he was filling the last dish, and some of the
mead was spilled about in every direction over the world.
Men rushed from far and near to taste of these wasted
drops of Kvasir's blood, and many had just enough to make
them dizzy, but not enough to make them wise. These folk
are the poor poets, the makers of bad verses, whom one
finds to this day satisfied with their meagre, stolen portion,
scattered drops of the sacred draught.
The mead that Odin had captured he gave to the gods, a
wondrous gift; and they in
 turn cherished it as their most
precious treasure. It was given into the special charge of old
Bragi of the white beard, because his taste of the magic
mead had made him wise and eloquent above all others. He
was the sweetest singer of all the Æsir, and his speech
was poetry. Sometimes Bragi gave a draught of Kvasir's
blood to some favored mortal, and then he also became a
great poet. He did not do this often,—only once or twice in
the memory of an old man; for the precious mead must be
made to last a long, long time, until the world be ready to
drop to pieces, because this world without its poets would
be too dreadful a place to imagine.
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