| 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 |
THE GIANT BUILDER
GES and ages ago, when the world was first made, the gods
decided to build a beautiful city high above the heavens, the
most glorious and wonderful city that ever was known.
Asgard was to be its name, and it was to stand on Ida Plain
under the shade of Yggdrasil, the great tree whose roots
were underneath the earth.
First of all they built a house with a silver roof, where there
were seats for all the twelve chiefs. In the midst, and high
above the rest, was the wonder-throne of Odin the All-Father,
whence he could see everything that happened in
the sky or on the earth or in the sea. Next they made a fair
house for Queen Frigg and her lovely daughters. Then they
built a smithy, with its great hammers, tongs, anvils, and
bellows, where the gods could work at their favorite trade,
the making of beautiful things out of gold; which they did
so well that folk name that time the Golden Age.
Afterwards, as they had more leisure, they built separate
houses for all the Æsir, each more beautiful than the
 of course they were continually growing
more skillful. They saved Father Odin's palace until the
last, for they meant this to be the largest and the most
splendid of all.
Gladsheim, the home of joy, was the name of Odin's house,
and it was built all of gold, set in the midst of a wood
whereof the trees had leaves of ruddy gold,—like an
autumn-gilded forest. For the safety of All-Father it was
surrounded by a roaring river and by a high picket fence;
and there was a great courtyard within.
The glory of Gladsheim was its wondrous hall, radiant with
gold, the most lovely room that time has ever seen. Valhalla,
the Hall of Heroes, was the name of it, and it was roofed
with the mighty shields of warriors. The ceiling was made
of interlacing spears, and there was a portal at the west end
before which hung a great gray wolf, while over him a fierce
eagle hovered. The hall was so huge that it had 540 gates,
through each of which 800 men could march abreast.
Indeed, there needed to be room, for this was the hall where
every morning Odin received all the brave warriors who had
 died in battle on the earth below; and there were many
heroes in those days.
This was the reward which the gods gave to courage. When
a hero had gloriously lost his life, the Valkyries, the nine
warrior daughters of Odin, brought his body up to Valhalla
on their white horses that gallop the clouds. There they
lived forever after in happiness, enjoying the things that
they had most loved upon earth. Every morning they armed
themselves and went out to fight with one another in the
great courtyard. It was a wondrous game, wondrously
played. No matter how often a hero was killed, he became
alive again in time to return perfectly well to Valhalla,
where he ate a delicious breakfast with the Æsir;
while the beautiful Valkyries who had first brought him
thither waited at table and poured the blessed mead, which
only the immortal taste. A happy life it was for the heroes,
and a happy life for all who dwelt in Asgard; for this was
before trouble had come among the gods, following the
mischief of Loki.
This is how the trouble began. From the beginning of time,
the giants had been
un-  friendly to the Æsir, because
the giants were older and huger and more wicked; besides,
they were jealous because the good Æsir were fast
gaining more wisdom and power than the giants had ever
known. It was the Æsir who set the fair brother and
sister, Sun and Moon, in the sky to give light to men; and it
was they also who made the jeweled stars out of sparks
from the place of fire. The giants hated the Æsir, and
tried all in their power to injure them and the men of the
earth below, whom the Æsir loved and cared for. The
gods had already built a wall around Midgard, the world of
men, to keep the giants out; built it of the bushy eyebrows
of Ymir, the oldest and hugest of giants. Between Asgard
and the giants flowed Ifing, the great river on which ice
never formed, and which the gods crossed on the rainbow
bridge. But this was not protection enough. Their beautiful
new city needed a fortress.
So the word went forth in Asgard,—"We must build us a
fortress against the giants; the hugest, strongest, finest
fortress that ever was built."
 Now one day, soon after they had announced this decision,
there came a mighty man stalking up the rainbow bridge
that led to Asgard city.
"Who goes there!" cried Heimdal the watchman, whose
eyes were so keen that he could see for a hundred miles
around, and whose ears were so sharp that he could hear the
grass growing in the meadow and the wool on the backs of
the sheep. "Who goes there! No one can enter Asgard if I
"I am a builder," said the stranger, who was a huge fellow
with sleeves rolled up to show the iron muscles of his arms.
"I am a builder of strong towers, and I have heard that the
folk of Asgard need one to help them raise a fair fortress in
Heimdal looked at the stranger narrowly, for there was that
about him which his sharp eyes did not like. But he made
no answer, only blew on his golden horn, which was so
loud that it sounded through all the world. At this signal all
the Æsir came running to the rainbow bridge, from
wherever they happened to be, to find out who was coming
 Asgard. For it was Heimdal's duty ever to warn them of
the approach of the unknown.
"This fellow says he is a builder," quoth Heimdal. "And he
would fain build us a fortress in the city."
"Ay, that I would," nodded the stranger. "Look at my iron
arm; look at my broad back; look at my shoulders. Am I not
the workman you need?"
"Truly, he is a mighty figure," vowed Odin, looking at him
approvingly. "How long will it take you alone to build our
fortress? We can allow but one stranger at a time within our
city, for safety's sake."
"In three half-years," replied the stranger, "I will undertake
to build for you a castle so strong that not even the giants,
should they swarm hither over Midgard,—not even they
could enter without your leave."
"Aha!" cried Father Odin, well pleased at this offer. "And
what reward do you ask, friend, for help so timely?"
The stranger hummed and hawed and pulled his long beard
while he thought. Then he spoke suddenly, as if the idea
had just come into his mind. "I will name my
 price, friends," he said; "a small price for so great a deed.
I ask you to give
me Freia for my wife, and those two sparkling jewels, the
Sun and Moon."
At this demand the gods looked grave; for Freia was their
dearest treasure. She was the most beautiful maid who ever
lived, the light and life of heaven, and if she should leave
Asgard, joy would go with her; while the Sun and Moon
were the light and life of the Æsir 's children, men,
who lived in the little world below. But Loki the sly
whispered that they would be safe enough if they made
another condition on their part, so hard that the builder
could not fulfill it. After thinking cautiously, he spoke for
"Mighty man," quoth he, "we are willing to agree to your
price—upon one condition. It is too long a time that you
ask; we cannot wait three half-years for our castle; that is
equal to three centuries when one is in a hurry. See that you
finish the fort without help in one winter, one short winter,
and you shall have fair Freia with the Sun and Moon. But
if, on the first day of summer, one stone is wanting to the
walls, or if any one has
 given you aid in the building, then
your reward is lost, and you shall depart without
payment." So spoke Loki, in the name of all the gods; but
the plan was his own.
At first the stranger shook his head and frowned, saying
that in so short a time no one unaided could complete the
undertaking. At last he made another offer. "Let me have
but my good horse to help me, and I will try," he urged.
"Let me bring the useful Svadilföri with me to the
task, and I will finish the work in one winter of short days,
or lose my reward. Surely, you will not deny me this little
help, from one four-footed friend."
Then again the Æsir consulted, and the wiser of them
were doubtful whether it were best to accept the stranger's
offer so strangely made. But again Loki urged them to
accept. "Surely, there is no harm," he said. "Even with his
old horse to help him, he cannot build the castle in the
promised time. We shall gain a fortress without trouble and
with never a price to pay."
Loki was so eager that, although the other Æsir did
not like this crafty way of making
 bargains, they finally
consented. Then in the presence of the heroes, with the
Valkyries and Mimer's head for witnesses, the stranger and
the Æsir gave solemn promise that the bargain should
On the first day of winter the strange builder began his
work, and wondrous was the way he set about it. His
strength seemed as the strength of a hundred men. As for
his horse Svadilföri, he did more work by half than
even the mighty builder. In the night he dragged the
enormous rocks that were to be used in building the castle,
rocks as big as mountains of the earth; while in the daytime
the stranger piled them into place with his iron arms. The
Æsir watched him with amazement; never was seen
such strength in Asgard. Neither Tŷr the stout nor
Thor the strong could match the power of the stranger. The
gods began to look at one another uneasily. Who was this
mighty one who had come among them, and what if after all
he should win his reward? Freia trembled in her palace, and
the Sun and Moon grew dim with fear.
Still the work went on, and the fort was
 piling higher and
higher, by day and by night. There were but three days left
before the end of winter, and already the building was so
tall and so strong that it was safe from the attacks of any
giant. The Æsir were delighted with their fine new
castle; but their pride was dimmed by the fear that it must
be paid for at all too costly a price. For only the gateway
remained to be completed, and unless the stranger should
fail to finish that in the next three days, they must give him
Freia with the Sun and Moon.
The Æsir held a meeting upon Ida Plain, a meeting
full of fear and anger. At last they realized what they had
done; they had made a bargain with one of the giants, their
enemies; and if he won the prize, it would mean sorrow and
darkness in heaven and upon earth. "How did we happen to
agree to so mad a bargain?" they asked one another. "Who
suggested the wicked plan which bids fair to cost us all that
we most cherish?" Then they remembered that it was Loki
who had made the plan; it was he who had insisted that it
be carried out and they blamed him for all the trouble.
 "It is your counsels, Loki, that have brought this danger
upon us," quoth Father Odin, frowning. "You chose the
way of guile, which is not our way. It now remains for you
to help us by guile, if you can. But if you cannot save for
us Freia and the Sun and Moon, you shall die. This is my
word." All the other Æsir agreed that this was just.
Thor alone was away hunting evil demons at the other end
of the world, so he did not know what was going on, and
what dangers were threatening Asgard.
Loki was much frightened at the word of All-Father. "It
was my fault," he cried, "but how was I to know that he
was a giant? He had disguised himself so that he seemed but
a strong man. And as for his horse,—it looks much like that
of other folk. If it were not for the horse, he could not finish
the work. Ha! I have a thought! The builder shall not finish
the gate; the giant shall not receive his payment. I will cheat
Now it was the last night of winter, and there remained but
a few stones to put in place on the top of the wondrous
 The giant was sure of his prize, and chuckled to
himself as he went out with his horse to drag the remaining
stones; for he did not know that the Æsir had
guessed at last who he was, and that Loki was plotting to
outwit him. Hardly had he gone to work when out of the
wood came running a pretty little mare, who neighed to
Svadilföri as if inviting the tired horse to leave his
work and come to the green fields for a holiday.
Svadilföri, you must remember, had been working
hard all winter, with never a sight of four-footed creature of
his kind, and he was very lonesome and tired of dragging
stones. Giving a snort of disobedience, off he ran after this
new friend towards the grassy meadows. Off went the giant
after him, howling with rage, and running for dear life, as he
saw not only his horse but his chance of success slipping
out of reach. It was a mad chase, and all Asgard thundered
with the noise of galloping hoofs and the giant's mighty
tread. The mare who raced ahead was Loki in disguise, and
he led Svadilföri far out of reach, to a hidden meadow
that he knew; so that the giant howled and panted
 up and
down all night long, without catching even a sight of his
Now when the morning came the gateway was still
unfinished, and night and winter had ended at the same
hour. The giant's time was over, and he had forfeited his
reward. The Æsir came flocking to the gateway, and
how they laughed and triumphed when they found three
stones wanting to complete the gate!
"You have failed, fellow," judged Father Odin sternly, "and
no price shall we pay for work that is still undone. You
have failed. Leave Asgard quickly; we have seen all we want
of you and of your race."
Then the giant knew that he was discovered, and he was
mad with rage. "It was a trick!" he bellowed, assuming his
own proper form, which was huge as a mountain, and
towered high beside the fortress that he had built. "It was a
wicked trick. You shall pay for this in one way or another. I
cannot tear down the castle which, ungrateful ones, I have
built you, stronger than the strength of any giant. But I will
 the rest of your shining city!" Indeed, he would
have done so in his mighty rage; but at this moment Thor,
whom Heimdal had called from the end of the earth by one
blast of the golden horn, came rushing to the rescue, drawn
in his chariot of goats. Thor jumped to the ground close
beside the giant, and before that huge fellow knew what had
happened, his head was rolling upon the ground at Father
Odin's feet; for with one blow Thor had put an end to the
giant's wickedness and had saved Asgard.
"This is the reward you deserve!" Thor cried. "Not Freia
nor the Sun and Moon, but the death that I have in store for
all the enemies of the Æsir."
In this extraordinary way the noble city of Asgard was
made safe and complete by the addition of a fortress which
no one, not even the giant who built it, could injure, it was
so wonder-strong. But always at the top of the gate were
lacking three great stones that no one was mighty enough to
lift. This was a reminder to the Æsir that now they
had the race of giants for their everlasting enemies.
 And though Loki's trick had saved them Freia, and for the
world the Sun and Moon, it was the beginning of trouble in
Asgard which lasted as long as Loki lived to make mischief
with his guile.
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