THE MOTHER OF SLEIPNIR was also the father of three appalling children. Not content with his faithful wife Sigyn, Loki sometimes took off for Jotunheim; the long-legged god hurried east and spent days and nights on end with the giantess Angrboda.
Loki and Angrboda had three monstrous offspring. The eldest was the wolf Fenrir; the second was Jormungand, greatest of serpents; and the third was a daughter called Hel. Even in a crowd of a thousand women, Hel’s looks were quite likely to single her out : her face and neck and shoulders and breasts and arms and back, they were all pink; but from her hips down, every inch of Hers skin looked decayed and greenish-black. Her expression was always the same: gloomy and grim. When the gods heard that the Father of Lies had also fathered these children, they were filled with alarm. They discussed what to do about them at the Well of Urd and the three Norns gave them little encouragement.
‘Their mother is evil,’ said Urd.
‘But their father is worse,’ Verdandi said.
‘Expect nothing from them but the worst,’ said Skuld. ‘Expect them to harm you and endanger you. They will be in at the kill.’
And so the gods agreed that Loki’s children must be captured. At Odin’s behest, a group of gods crossed into Jotunheim by night ; they burst into Angrboda’s hall and gagged and bound her before she had even rubbed her eyes; then they kidnapped her children and carried them back to Asgard.
Odin was in no doubt as to what should be done with the serpent. He picked up Jormungand and hurled him into the ocean surrounding Midgard, the world of men. He hurtled through the air, smashed through the iron face of the water and sank to the sea bottom. There he lived and there he grew. Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent grew so thick and so long that he encircled the whole world and bit his own tail.
Odin was just as sure what to do about the serpent’s sister. He took one look at He and hurled her out of Asgard, too. He threw her into the mist arid darkness of Niflheim, the world beneath the worlds. And as she fell she heard Odin’s decree that she should look after the dead, all those in the nine worlds who died of illness or old age, the condition being that she should share out whatever food she had with whoever came to her.
Hel made herself at home: beyond the sheer rock, Drop to Destruc¬tion, she built huge walls around her estate. Her hall Eljudnir, home of the dead, lay within it, behind a massive pair of gates. Hers manservant and maidservant, Ganglati and Ganglot, moved about so slowly that it was not easy to tell whether they were moving at all; her plate was called Hunger, and her knife Famine. Her bed was Sick Bed, and the bed- hangings Glimmering Misfortune.
Odin thought it would be best if the gods themselves kept an eye on Fenrir. He seemed no different to any other wolf, and all the gods agreed that there would be no harm in letting him roam around the green and golden fields of Asgard. Even so, of all the gods only Tyr, son of Odin, was brave enough to face Fenrir alone, and give him great joints — flesh and gristle and bone — to keep him quiet.
The gods were not slow to change their minds about Fenrir when they saw him growing larger day by day. And when Urd, Skuld and Verdandi renewed their warnings, and said that the wolf would cause Odin’s death, their alarm became far greater. They agreed that since they could not kill the wolf there and then and stain the sanctuary of Asgard with his evil blood, they must catch and fetter him. Then the gods made a powerful chain of iron links and they called it Laeding. Several of them went up to Fenrir, showed him the chain, and asked: ‘Are you as strong as this?’
‘I’he wolf inspected Laeding. ‘It’s certainly strong, but I’m certainly stronger,’ was all he had to say as he let the gods wind the chain round his neck and body and legs, until there was only a small length left for them to hold on to.
‘Finished?’ snarled the wolf. He planted his massive paws well apart, filled his lungs with air, then flexed every muscle in his body. Laeding’s links at once sprang apart, and the gods sprang back alarmed.
The gods lost no time in making another chain. This was called Dromi, and it was twice as strong as Laeding. The links were larger than those of the largest anchor chain; no men could have even moved them. ‘If you can break this chain,’ the gods told Fetirir, ‘you will be known for your strength throughout the nine worlds.’
Fenrir looked at Dromi. He thought it looked immensely strong, but I hen he thought that he too had grown even stronger since hr had snapped Laeding. No one wins fame without taking a risk,’ was all he had to say as the gods wound the vast chain round his neck and body and legs.
‘Finished?’ snarled the wolf. He shook so that there was a terrible clinking and clanking and grating; he rolled over and arched his back and banged the chain against the ground; he tightened his muscles until they were as hard as the iron links of Dromi; he stood up again and dug his paws into the earth and strained and strained — and all at once, Drorni snapped. It shattered into hundreds of separate links; the shrapnel flew in every direction. After this, the gods were frightened; they thought they might fail to fetter Fenrir.
‘But if anyone can make a fetter that will not break,’ Odin said, ‘the dwarfs can.’ And he sent off bright Skirnir, Freyr’s messenger, to the world of the dark elves, Svartalfheim. Skirnir went down under Mid¬gard through gloomy, dank, twilit grottoes. There he found Nar and Nain and Niping and Dam n and Bifur and Bafur and Bombor and Norm and hundreds of others, each one as horrible as the next, and promised them gold and more gold if they could make a fetter for Fenrir. In the gloom the dwarfs’ eyes gleamed like glow-worms; they whispered and schemed and set to work. They made a fetter as smooth and supple as a silk ribbon, and they called it Gleipnir.
When he returned to Asgard, Skirnir was thanked by all the gods for going on this mission. ‘But what is it made of?’ asked Odin, fingering the fetter.
‘Six things,’ said Skirnir. ‘The sound a cat makes when it moves; a woman’s beard; the roots of a mountain; the sinews of a bear; the breath of a fish; and a bird’s spittle.’
The gods were both astonished and sceptical of Gleipnir’s power.
‘If you doubt it, as I doubted it,’ said Skirnir, ‘remember the cunning of the dwarfs. After all, have you ever thought why a cat makes no noise when it moves, and why a woman has no beard? You can never prove that a mountain has no roots, but many things that seem not to exist are simply in the dwarfs’ safekeeping.’
Then a large group of gods approached Fenrir for the third time. They invited him to go out with them to the island of Lyngvi in the middle of Lake Amsvartnir.
There the gods produced the silken ribbon Gleipnir. They showed it to Fenrir and challenged him to test his strength against it. ‘It’s a little stronger than it seems,’ said one.
‘It’s as well-woven as the words of a good poem,’ said another. ‘But you, Feririr, you’ll be able to break it.’
The wolf looked at Gleipnir. ‘This ribbon is so slender,’ he said, ‘that I’d win no fame for snapping it.’ He eyed Gleipnir again. ‘If, on the other hand, cunning and magic have gone into its making, then slender as it looks, you can keep it for yourselves. I’m not having it wound round my legs.’
‘Before this,’ said one god, ‘you’ve prised apart massive iron fetters. You’ll have no bother with this band.’
‘And if by any chance you’re unable to break it,’ said another, ‘we’ll set you free again, you can trust us.’
Fenrir showed his teeth and the gods did not like the look of them. ‘If you’re able to fetter me,’ he snarled, ‘it will be a long time before I can hope for any help from you.’ Fenrir prowled right round the group of gods. ‘I don’t want to be bound with that ribbon. But neither do I want to be accused of cowardice. So while the others bind me, let one of you put his hand in my mouth as a token of your good faith.’
Tyr looked one by one at all the gods in that company. All the gods there looked at each other and said nothing, wondering what to do. Then Tyr slowly lifted his right arm and put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth.
At once the other gods wound Gleipnir round and round the wolf’s neck and body and legs, until it was all used up. Fenrir began to struggle against it. He tried to kick and shrug and shake and jerk and roll; but the more he strained the tighter Gleipnir became. Then Fenrir snarled and clamped his teeth; Tyr, bravest of the gods, twisted and cried out, unable and able to bear such pain. The other gods laughed, they knew that Fenrir was bound at last. They all laughed except Tyr: he lost his hand.
The gods fixed the large chain called Gelgja to the end of the silken ribbon. They passed the end of this chain through the hole in a huge boulder called Gjoll, looped it back, and secured it to itself.
The gods drove Gjoll a mile down into the earth. Then they found the vast rock Thviti and dropped that on top of Gjoll to fasten it. Fenrir shook and wrestled. He grated his teeth and gulped and opened his blood-stained jaws immensely wide. Then one of the gods drew his sword. He drove the point hard into the roof of Fenrir’s mouth and rammed the hilt against his lower jaw. The wolf was gagged. Fenrir was gagged and Fenrir was bound. His howls were terrible, and slaver streamed from his jaws. It ran front the middle of the island into the lake of Amsvartnir and was called Von, the river of Expectation.
And just as the Midgard Serpent waits at the bottom of the ocean, coiled round the world; just as Hel waits in Niflheim, surrounded by corpses and swirling death-mist; so, gagged and bound on Lyngvi, Fenrir lies and waits for Ragnarok.