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Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas by  Hamilton Wright Mabie


 

 

CHAPTER VII

ODIN IN GEIRROD'S PALACE

[84]

I
T was as lovely a morning as ever dawned when Geirrod and Agnar, sons of old King Hraudung, pushed their boat out from the rocky shore for a day's fishing. The sky overhead was as blue as Odin's wonderful mantle; and the sea beneath them as blue as the sky. They could see the mountain tops far off behind them and every rock along the beach for miles and miles away. It was happiness just to be out of doors in such weather, and as the rowers bent to their work there was such strength and joy in them that the boat skimmed over the water like a living thing. When [85] they were fairly out where the wind blew freshly and the waves danced merrily, they let their lines into the sea and began to lay wagers on the luck. Geirrod, who was selfish and pushing, generally got the best of things, and was very certain that he would carry home more fish than Agnar. But before they had talked much about it they were too busy to talk at all. Such luck befell them as they had never had before. No sooner did the line touch the water than it was travelling off in the mouth of some hungry fish who was quickly landed in the bottom of the boat. All the morning the boys were so busy that they did not once look at the sky, and when the sun began to sink a little toward the west they took no thought of the dark clouds scudding along overhead nor of the rising wind whistling over the [86] white caps. And while they let down and drew up their lines the sky grew darker and darker, until not a spot of blue was to be seen anywhere, and the wind rose higher and higher, driving the sea in spray before it.

When at last the storm broke on Geirrod and Agnar it was too late to reach the shore. The waves ran so high that the boat was almost swamped in the trough of the sea, and the next minute the angry waters had snatched both oars out of the hands of the rowers and flung them far off to leeward. There was nothing to do but to sit still and be carried on by wave and wind. The boys were good Norsemen, and though they were drenched to the skin, and blinded by spray, they were cool and brave. The roar of the sea and the tempest was sweeter music in their ears than [87] the melody of harp-strings in their father's palace. Holding on as best they could they watched the rushing clouds until darkness fell on the sea and they were alone with the tempest. They could not speak to each other, for the uproar of the wind and the waves drowned all other sounds; they could do nothing; they could only wait; and as they waited the night wore on. Suddenly there came a sound they both knew, and which made even their bold hearts beat a little faster,—the sound of the breakers. They strained their eyes, peering anxiously into the darkness, but not a thing could they see. They were driven on faster and faster, until a mighty wave lifted the boat a moment in mid-air and then flung it broken and shattered on to the rocks.

How Geirrod and Agnar got ashore [88] they could never tell. They remembered nothing but an awful crash, a blinding rush of waters, and then, coming slowly back to life they found themselves bruised and bleeding on the shore of an island far off the coast they had sailed from. When morning broke at last, clear and cold, as if the earth had been made over instead of torn to pieces in the night, they made their way slowly and painfully back from the shore. They had gone but a little way when they were overjoyed to see a thin column of smoke rising into the clear air, and a moment after they were at the door of a little farm-house. The farmer was very poor, for the island was small and rocky, but he had a striking form, and a face more noble than any the boys had ever seen at their father's court.

[89] "We have been wrecked upon this island," said Geirrod, who was always the first to speak. "Can you give us food?"

The farmer looked at them thoughtfully, as if he saw a great deal in their faces that was interesting.

"Certainly we can," said he, in a deep, musical voice. "No man ever went hungry from Grimner's door. Here, wife," turning back to the open door, "set what you have before these young sailors."

Geirrod and Agnar had sat at kings' tables all their lives, but they had never eaten at such a feast as the farmer's good wife spread for them on the plain table. Like her husband, she was very large of form and beautiful of feature, and she looked as if she might be the mother of half of the world, as indeed she [90] was, and of the other half too. Breakfast over, the boys told the story of their parentage, their fishing, the storm and the wreck, the farmer glancing at his wife, from time to time, as if it greatly pleased him.

"Boys," said he when the story was told, "the season changed with the storm which brought you here. Winter has set in, and you must stay under our roof until spring. The house is not very large, but it will keep us all, I trust."

The good wife nodded approval, and the boys themselves were not sorry to stay, so great a fancy had they already taken to the pair. What a winter that was! The days were so short that they could hardly be called days at all. The cold was bitter, the winds roared about the [91] little island, and the sea rushed upon it as if it meant to sweep the little piece of earth out of sight forever; but the boys cared for none of these things. Agnar spent all his time with the farmer's wife, and learned to love her as if she were his mother; but Geirrod never left Grimner's side for an hour if he could help it. Never was there such a farmer before. He seemed to know everything, and he was willing to tell the boy all he knew himself. He told him stories of the strong and valiant Norsemen who had made perilous voyages and performed mighty deeds of valour; he described the wonders of the heavens and the secrets of the sea and the mysteries of earth; he even once or twice spoke of the gods themselves, and of Asgard, where they dwelt a glorious com- [92] pany of strong spirits; and when he spoke of these things his eyes flashed and his form grew so large that he seemed to Geirrod no longer the island farmer, but a god in human guise. He spoke of courage too, and of honour, truthfulness and hospitality, until the boy's selfish heart grew generous for a little while, and he wanted to do some noble thing himself.

In such talks as these, and with short wanderings about the storm-beaten shores of the island, the winter passed quickly away, and before the boys were ready to go the sky had grown soft and the water calm again. Grimner built a new boat for them, and one morning, when all was ready, they pushed out, with many farewells, from the home that had sheltered them so many [93] months, and rowed swiftly homeward. Grimner's last earnest word to Geirrod was, "Be true and noble." But Geirrod was too selfish to carry away the great thoughts which the farmer had given him; the burning words, the stories of great deeds he had listened to had made him ambitious to be strong, but not to be good. No sooner were the boys afloat than evil thoughts took possession of him and held him until the boat touched shore on the mainland, and then they mastered him entirely, so that he sprang out on to the land and gave the boat a mighty lurch back into the sea, shouting to Agnar, "Go away and may the evil spirits seize you!"

Then, without looking back, he hastened to the palace, where he was at once greeted as King, for his [94] father was dead. Agnar, after many adventures, landed in a far-off part of the country, and ended by marrying a giantess.

Years passed away, and Geirrod had almost forgotten the evil he had done his brother; but the Fates never let the sins of men go unpunished. It happened one day that as Odin, the father of the gods and of men, and his wife Frigg were sitting upon their throne overlooking the whole earth, they spoke of the boys who had been with them on the island; for the farmer Grimner and his wife were none other than the greatest of the gods.

"Look at Agnar," said Odin, "whom you brought up, wasting his time with a giantess, while my foster son Geirrod rules his kingdom right royally."

[95] Now although Frigg was a goddess, she had some weaknesses like the rest of us, and she was annoyed that her teaching had done so little for Agnar, and that Odin should notice it too, so she answered, "It's all very well to talk about Geirrod's reigning right royally, but he is no true King, for he puts his guests to torture."

Odin was indignant that such a charge should be brought against his favourite, and after much dispute the two laid a wager, and Odin said he would visit Geirrod in disguise and settle the matter himself.


[Illustration]

No one gave him a thought of pity save little Agnar

Now Geirrod was not really inhospitable, but Frigg sent word to him to keep a sharp look-out for a dangerous wizard who was coming his way; and so it happened that one morning when a very old man, [96] in a long robe of grey fur, stopped at the door and asked shelter, the King had him brought into the great council chamber, and began to question him. He asked him who he was, from what country he came, and what was the end of his journey, but not a word would the old man answer. Whereupon Geirrod, getting very angry and not a little frightened, had two fires built on the stone floor, and bound the stranger between them. Eight days the old man sat there in the awful heat, silent and motionless No one gave him a thought of pity or a word of comfort save little Agnar, Geirrod's son, who brought him a cooling drink, and told him how cruel he thought his father was. On the last day the fires had crept so near that the fur coat began to burn, [97] and then suddenly the old man found his voice, and what a voice it was! It filled the council chamber like the tones of some great organ, so sweet and deep and wonderful it was. Bound between the blazing flames that joined their fiery tongues above his head and beat fiercely against the vaulted roof, the old man broke into such a song as had never been heard on earth before. He sang the birth of gods, the glories of Asgard, the secrets of fate, such things as only Odin himself could know; and as the song deepened in its tone, and the awful secrets of the other world were revealed, Geirrod's throne trembled beneath him, for in the tortured stranger he saw now the mighty Odin himself. He started up to break the bonds and scatter the flaming brands, dropped his sword, caught it by a [98] swift thrust, slipped suddenly, fell on the glittering blade, and rolled dead at Odin's feet. His sin was punished. Odin vanished, and little Agnar was King.


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