| 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 |
N the days that are past a wonderful race of horses
pastured in the meadows of heaven, steeds more beautiful
and more swift than any which the world knows to-day.
There was Hrîmfaxi, the black, sleek horse who drew the
chariot of Night across the sky and scattered the dew from
his foaming bit. There was Glad, behind whose flying heels
sped the swift chariot of Day. His mane was yellow with
gold, and from it beamed light which made the whole world
bright. Then there were the two shining horses of the sun,
Arvakur the watchful, and Alsvith the rapid; and the nine
fierce battle-chargers of the nine Valkyries, who bore the
bodies of fallen heroes from the field of fight to the
blessedness of Valhalla. Each of the gods had his own
glorious steed, with such pretty names as Gold-mane and
Silver-top, Light-foot and Precious-stone; these galloped
with their masters over clouds and through the blue air,
blowing flame from their nostrils and glinting sparks from
their fiery eyes. The Æsir would have been poor
indeed without their
 faithful mounts, and few would be the
stories to tell in which these noble creatures do not bear at
least a part.
But best of all the horses of heaven was Sleipnir, the eight-legged steed of Father Odin, who because he was so well
supplied with sturdy feet could gallop faster over land and
sea than any horse which ever lived. Sleipnir was snow-white and beautiful to see, and Odin was very fond and
proud of him, you may be sure. He loved to ride forth upon
his good horse's back to meet whatever adventure might be
upon the way, and sometimes they had wild times together.
One day Odin galloped off from Asgard upon Sleipnir
straight towards Jotunheim and the Land of Giants, for it
was long since All-Father had been to the cold country, and
he wished to see how its mountains and ice-rivers looked.
Now as he galloped along a wild road, he met a huge giant
standing beside his giant steed.
"Who goes there?" cried the giant gruffly, blocking the way
so that Odin could not pass. "You with the golden helmet,
who are you, who ride so famously through air and
For I have been watching you from this mountain-top.
Truly, that is a fine horse which you bestride."
"There is no finer horse in all the world," boasted Odin.
"Have you not heard of Sleipnir, the pride of Asgard? I will
match him against any of your big, clumsy giant horses."
"Ho!" roared the giant angrily, "an excellent horse he is,
your little Sleipnir. But I warrant he is no match for my
Gullfaxi here. Come, let us try a race; and at its end
I shall pay you for your insult to our horses of Jotunheim."
So saying, the giant, whose ugly name was Hrungnir, sprang
upon his horse and spurred straight at Odin in the narrow
way. Odin turned and galloped back towards Asgard with
all his might; for not only must he prove his horse's speed,
but he must save himself and Sleipnir from the anger of the
giant, who was one of the fiercest and wickedest of all his
fierce and wicked race.
How the eight slender legs of Sleipnir twinkled through the
blue sky! How his nostrils quivered and shot forth fire and
smoke! Like a flash of lightning he darted
 across the sky,
and the giant horse rumbled and thumped along close behind
like the thunder following the flash.
"Hi, hi!" yelled the giant. "After them, Gullfaxi! And when
we have overtaken the two, we will crush their bones
"Speed, speed, my Sleipnir!" shouted Odin. "Speed, good
horse, or you will never again feed in the dewy pastures of
Asgard with the other horses. Speed, speed, and bring us
safe within the gates!"
Well Sleipnir understood what his master said, and well he
knew the way. Already the rainbow bridge was in sight,
with Heimdal the watchman prepared to let them in. His
sharp eyes had spied them afar, and had recognized the
flash of Sleipnir's white body and of Odin's golden helmet.
Gallop and thud! The twelve hoofs were upon the bridge,
the giant horse close behind the other. At last Hrungnir
knew where he was, and into what danger he was rushing.
He pulled at the reins and tried to stop his great beast. But
Gullfaxi was tearing along at too terrible a speed. He could
not stop. Heimdal threw open the gates of Asgard, and in
 Sleipnir with his precious burden, safe. Close upon
them bolted in Gullfaxi, bearing his giant master, puffing
and purple in the face from hard riding and anger.
Cling-clang! Heimdal had shut and barred the gates, and there was
the giant prisoned in the castle of his enemies.
Now the Æsir were courteous folk, unlike the giants,
and they were not anxious to take advantage of a single
enemy thus thrown into their power. They invited him to
enter Valhalla with them, to rest and sup before the long
journey of his return. Thor was not present, so they filled
for the giant the great cups which Thor was wont to drain,
for they were nearest to the giant size. But you remember
that Thor was famous for his power to drink deep.
Hrungnir's head was not so steady; Thor's draught was too
much for him. He soon lost his wits, of which he had but
few; and a witless giant is a most dreadful creature. He
raged like a madman, and threatened to pick up Valhalla like
a toy house and carry it home with him to Jotunheim. He
said he would pull Asgard to pieces and slay all the gods
except Freia the fair and Sif, the golden-haired wife of Thor,
whom he would carry off like little dolls for his toy house.
The Æsir knew not what to do, for Thor and his
hammer were not there to protect them, and Asgard seemed
in danger with this enemy within its very walls. Hrungnir
called for more and more mead, which Freia alone dared to
bring and set before him. And the more he drank the fiercer
he became. At last the Æsir could bear no longer his
insults and his violence. Besides, they feared that there
would be no more mead left for their banquets if this
unwelcome visitor should keep Freia pouring out for him
Thor's mighty goblets. They bade Heimdal blow his horn
and summon Thor; and this Heimdal did in a trice.
Now rumbling and thundering in his chariot of goats came
Thor. He dashed into the hall, hammer in hand, and stared
in amazement at the unwieldy guest whom he found there.
"A giant feasting in Asgard hall!" he roared. "This is a sight
which I never saw before. Who gave the insolent fellow
 to sit in my place? And why does fair Freia wait upon
him as if he were some noble guest at a feast of the high
gods? I will slay him at once!" and he raised the hammer to
keep his word.
Thor's coming had sobered the giant somewhat, for he knew
that this was no enemy to be trifled with. He looked at
Thor sulkily and said: "I am Odin's guest. He invited me to
this banquet, and therefore I am under his protection."
"You shall be sorry that you accepted the invitation," cried
Thor, balancing his hammer and looking very fierce; for Sif
had sobbed in his ear how the giant had threatened to carry
Hrungnir now rose to his feet and faced Thor boldly, for the
sound of Thor's gruff voice had restored his scattered wits.
"I am here alone and without weapons," he said. "You
would do ill to slay me now. It would be little like the noble
Thor, of whom we hear tales, to do such a thing. The world
will count you braver if you let me go and meet me later in
single combat, when we shall both be fairly armed."
 Thor dropped the hammer to his side. "Your words are
true," he said, for he was a just and honorable fellow.
"I was foolish to leave my shield and stone club at home,"
went on the giant. "If I had my arms with me, we would
fight at this moment. But I name you a coward if you slay
me now, an unarmed enemy."
"Your words are just," quoth Thor again. "I have never
before been challenged by any foe. I will meet you,
Hrungnir, at your Stone City, midway between heaven and
earth. And there we will fight a duel to see which of us is
the better fellow."
Hrungnir departed for Stone City in Jotunheim; and great
was the excitement of the other giants when they heard of
the duel which one of their number was to fight with Thor,
the deadliest enemy of their race.
"We must be sure that Hrungnir wins the victory!" they
cried. "It will never do to have Asgard victorious in the first
duel that we have fought with her champion. We will make
a second hero to aid Hrungnir."
All the giants set to work with a will.
 They brought great
buckets of moist clay, and heaping them up into a huge
mound, moulded the mass with their giant hands as a
sculptor does his image, until they had made a man of clay,
an immense dummy, nine miles high and three miles wide.
"Now we must make him live; we must put a heart into
him!" they cried. But they could find no heart big enough
until they thought of taking that of a mare, and that fitted
nicely. A mare's heart is the most cowardly one that beats.
Hrungnir's heart was a three-cornered piece of hard stone.
His head also was of stone, and likewise the great shield
which he held before him when he stood outside of Stone
City waiting for Thor to come to the duel. Over his
shoulder he carried his club, and that also was of stone, the
kind from which whetstones are made, hard and terrible. By
his side stood the huge clay man, Möckuralfi, and
they were a dreadful sight to see, these two vast bodies
whom Thor must encounter.
But at the very first sight of Thor, who came thundering to
the place with swift
 Thialfi his servant, the timid mare's
heart in the man of clay throbbed with fear; he trembled so
that his knees knocked together, and his nine miles of height
Thialfi ran up to Hrungnir and began to mock him, saying,
"You are careless, giant. I fear you do not know what a
mighty enemy has come to fight you. You hold your shield
in front of you; but that will serve you nothing. Thor has
seen this. He has only to go down into the earth and he can
attack you conveniently from beneath your very feet."
At this terrifying news Hrungnir hastened to throw his
shield upon the ground and to stand upon it, so that he
might be safe from Thor's under-stroke. He grasped his
heavy club with both hands and waited. He had not long to
wait. There came a blinding flash of lightning and a peal of
crashing thunder. Thor had cast his hammer into space.
Hrungnir raised his club with both hands and hurled it
against the hammer which he saw flying towards him. The
two mighty weapons met in the air with an
ear-  splitting shock. Hard as was the stone of the giant's club, it was like
glass against the power of Miölnir. The club was
dashed into pieces; some fragments fell upon the earth; and
these, they say, are the rocks from which whetstones are
made unto this day. They are so hard that men use them to
sharpen knives and axes and scythes. One splinter of the
hard stone struck Thor himself in the forehead, with so
fierce a blow that he fell forward upon the ground, and
Thialfi feared that he was killed. But Miölnir, not
even stopped in its course by meeting the giant's club, sped
straight to Hrungnir and crushed his stony skull, so that he
fell forward over Thor, and his foot lay on the fallen hero's
neck. And that was the end of the giant whose head and
heart were of stone.
Meanwhile Thialfi the swift had fought with the man of
clay, and had found little trouble in toppling him to earth.
For the mare's cowardly heart in his great body gave him
little strength to meet Thor's faithful servant; and the
trembling limbs of Möckuralfi soon yielded to
Thialfi's hearty blows. He fell like an unsteady tower of
 his brittle bulk shivered into a thousand
Thialfi ran to his master and tried to raise him. The giant's
great foot still rested upon his neck, and all Thialfi's
strength could not move it away. Swift as the wind he ran
for the other Æsir, and when they heard that great
Thor, their champion, had fallen and seemed like one dead,
they came rushing to the spot in horror and confusion.
Together they all attempted to raise Hrungnir's foot from
Thor's neck that they might see whether their hero lived or
no. But all their efforts were in vain. The foot was not to be
lifted by Æsir-might.
At this moment a second hero appeared upon the scene. It
was Magni, the son of Thor himself; Magni, who was but
three days old, yet already in his babyhood he was almost
as big as a giant and had nearly the strength of his father.
This wonderful youngster came running to the place where
his father lay surrounded by a group of sad-faced and
despairing gods. When Magni saw what the matter was, he
seized Hrungnir's enormous foot in both his hands, heaved
 his broad young shoulders, and in a moment Thor's neck
was free of the weight which was crushing it.
Best of all, it proved that Thor was not dead, only stunned
by the blow of the giant's club and by his fall. He stirred,
sat up painfully, and looked around him at the group of
eager friends. "Who lifted the weight from my neck?" he
"It was I, father," answered Magni modestly. Thor clasped
him in his arms and hugged him tight, beaming with pride
"Truly, you are a fine child!" he cried; "one to make glad your
father's heart. Now as a reward for your first great deed you
shall have a gift from me. The swift horse of Hrungnir shall
be yours,—that same Gullfaxi who was the beginning of all
this trouble. You shall ride Gullfaxi; only a giant steed is
strong enough to bear the weight of such an infant prodigy
as you, my Magni."
Now this word, did not wholly please Father Odin, for he
thought that a horse so excellent ought to belong to him. He
 Thor aside and argued that but for him there would
have been no duel, no horse to win.
Thor answered simply,—
"True, Father Odin, you began this trouble. But I have
fought your battle, destroyed your enemy, and suffered
great pain for you. Surely, I have won the horse fairly and
may give it to whom I choose. My son, who has saved me,
deserves a horse as good as any. Yet, as you have proved,
even Gullfaxi is scarce a match for your Sleipnir. Verily,
Father Odin, you should be content with the best." Odin
said no more.
Now Thor went home to his cloud-palace in Thrudvang.
And there he was healed of all his hurts except that which
the splinter of stone had made in his forehead. For the stone
was imbedded so fast that it could not be taken out, and
Thor suffered sorely therefor. Sif, his yellow-haired wife,
was in despair, knowing not what to do. At last she
bethought her of the wise woman, Groa, who had skill in all
manner of herbs and witch-charms. Sif sent for Groa, who
lived all alone and sad because her husband Örvandil
had disappeared, she knew not whither. Groa
 came to Thor and, standing beside his bed while he slept,
songs and gently waved her hands over him. Immediately
the stone in his forehead began to loosen, and Thor opened
"The stone is loosening, the stone is coming out!" he cried.
"How can I reward you, gentle dame? Prithee, what is your
"My name is Groa," answered the woman, weeping, "wife
of Örvandil who is lost."
"Now, then, I can reward you, kind Groa!" cried Thor, "for
I can bring you tidings of your husband. I met him in the
cold country, in Jotunheim, the Land of Giants, which you
know I sometimes visit for a bit of good hunting. It was by
Elivâgar's icy river that I met Örvandil, and
there was no way for him to cross. So I put him in an iron
basket and myself bore him over the flood. Br-r-r! But that
is a cold land! His feet stuck out through the meshes of the
basket, and when we reached the other side one of his toes
was frozen stiff. So I broke it off and tossed it up into the
sky that it might become a star. To prove that what I relate
is true, Groa, there is the new star shining over us
 at this very moment. Look! From this day it shall be known to
men as Örvandil's Toe. Do not you weep any longer.
After all, the loss of a toe is a little thing; and I promise that
your husband shall soon return to you, safe and sound, but
for that small token of his wanderings in the land where
visitors are not welcome."
At these joyful tidings poor Groa was so overcome that she
fainted. And that put an end to the charm which she was
weaving to loosen the stone from Thor's forehead. The
stone was not yet wholly free, and thenceforth it was in
vain to attempt its removal; Thor must always wear the
splinter in his forehead. Groa could never forgive herself for
the carelessness which had thus made her skill vain to help
one to whom she had reason to be so grateful.
Now because of the bit of whetstone in Thor's forehead,
folk of olden times were very careful how they used a
whetstone; and especially they knew that they must not
throw or drop one on the floor. For when they did so, the
splinter in Thor's forehead was jarred, and the good Asa
suffered great pain.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics