FREYR HAD NO BUSINESS to be in Odin’s hall, Valaskjalf. And he had no right at all to sit in the high seat Hlidskjalf and look out over all the worlds. That was the right only of Odin and his wife Frigg.
Freyr narrowed his eyes and looked north into Jotunheim. What did he see? A large handsome hall belonging to the giant Gymir. And what did he see next? A woman coming out of this hall. Her name was Gerd — she was Gymir’s daughter. She seemed to be made of light, or clothed in sparkling light. When she raised her arms to close the hall doors, the dome of the sky and the sea surrounding the earth at once grew brighter. Because of her, all the worlds were hidden in a flash of brilliant icy light.
Freyr looked and longed. The more he looked, the more he was unable not to look. His eyes burned like fireballs; his only desire was to win Gerd. Freyr gazed at her until she had crossed a courtyard into her own hall. The worlds grew shadowy and the god lowered his eyes; then he left Hlidskjalf and crept out of the hall.
The God of the World paid for presuming to sit in Hlidskjalf. He ached with an endless sad longing. He spoke to no one and wanted no one to speak to him. He could not sleep. He did not want to cat. He did not want to drink. He could neither escape his fierce desire, nor see how to satisfy it.
Njord, Freyr’s father, became concerned about his son. He called for Freyr’s servant, shining Skirnir, and told him: ‘Go and ask my son what has upset him. Why is he so angry, or else so sad, that he will not even share his feelings and set them free?’
‘I will ask him that,’ said Skirnir, ‘but I won’t like the answer.’
Skirnir approached Freyr and said to him, ‘First of the Gods, why must you stay here in your hall, day in and day out, without food or drink or sleep? Why do you shun company?’
‘What good would it do?’ said Freyr. ‘No amount of talk can help, nothing can blunt this anguish. And what if the elf-beams do shine every day? My mind is full of gloom.’
‘There is no grief so great you cannot tell it to me,’ said Skirnir. ‘We were children together. We’ve always trusted one another.’
Then Freyr unlocked his word-hoard. He told Skirnir how he had seen Gerd from Hlidskjalf, and how she brightened the nine worlds with her radiance, and how he longed for her. ‘No man,’ he said, ‘has ever loved a woman as I love her. And no god would ever agree to our union.’
Skirnir listened and nodded.
‘Go!’ said Freyr. ‘Whether her father likes it or not, bring her to me here, and I’ll give you great rewards.
Skirnir smiled. ‘Give me the horse that follows its. nose through the dark, and will not bridle at magic, flickering flames. And give me the sword that will fight against giants of its own accord.’
Then Freyr handed over two of his greatest treasures. He lived to regret that : at Ragnarok, a sword to ward off the fire-demon Surt would have been handy.
Skirnir mounted and made off at once. As he galloped out of Freyr’s courtyard, his horse’s hooves struck fire from the paving stones. He came to the banks of the lying in the early evening. Skirnir was ferried across the river into Jotunheim, and then night fell. ‘Can you feel this darkness pressing against us?’ said Skirnir to the horse, and they galloped across lifeless flatland. ‘Now we must head for the fells, where the frost giants live. You and I share the same fate. We’ll either get home again quickly, or we’ll fall into the hands of some dreadful troll.’
Skirnir rode through the night, and during the night he and his mount galloped up a mountain pass and came to a curtain of fire. Freyr’s horse did not even break its pace and galloped straight through the searing magic flames. At daybreak Skirnir, the Shining One, came down into a saucer of land covered with sour grey grass. It was a loveless kind of place, surrounded by desolate hills that welled like breasts and were pocked by outcrops of rock. In the middle of this depression stood Gymir’s hall and, next to it, his daughter Gerd’s hall, guarded by a fence. A pair of hounds were chained to the gateposts, and they were not pleasant.
Skirnir looked around and saw a single herdsman sitting way up on the hillside. He turned away from the halls and rode up to him. ‘Nothing escapes your eye,’ Skirnir said, ‘sitting here on this hill. Tell me, how can I muzzle those hounds and enter Gerd’s hall?’
The herdsman looked at Skirnir and said stonily. ‘Are you doomed to die? Or are you dead already? There’s no way in which you can talk to Gymir’s daughter, this year or next year or ever.’
Skirnir could see that the herdsman did not mean to help him. He wheeled away without more ado and, as he galloped down the slope again, called out over his shoulder, ‘Fearlessness is better than a faint heart for any man who puts his nose out of doors. The length of my life and the day of my death were fated long ago.’
In her hall, fair Gerd heard the coming and going, barking and shouting, and asked her servant, ‘What is all that noise that echoes round these walls? The ground shakes; the hall itself shudders.’
‘A man outside the fence. He’s dismounting now. And now he has set his horse to graze.’
‘Welcome him, then,’ said Gerd coldly. ‘My heart says this visitor is my brother’s murderer. Nevertheless tell him a horn of mead awaits him in this hall.’
So Skirnir passed unharmed between the disappointed hounds and walked into the hail; it was colder in there than he would have wished.
Dressed entirely in white, Gerd came forward to welcome him. ‘Are you one of the elves? Or one of the gods? How were you able to pass through the flickering flames to these halls?’
‘I’m no elf,’ said Skirnir, ‘and I’m no god, though it’s true that I’ve come through the fire curtain.’ He looked at Gerd and dipped his hands into the pockets of his cloak. ‘These,’ he said, ‘these are eleven of the apples oc youth. They’re yours, Gerd. I’ll give them all to you if you’ll promise yourself to Freyr and call him your darling dear.’
‘Never,’ said Gerd icily. `No one is going to buy my love with golden apples and promises of youth. And however long we live, Freyr and I will never share one roof.’
Skirnir reached into the pocket of his cloak again. ‘I’ve brought you this arm-ring,’ he said. ‘It is Draupnir. Long ago Odin placed it on Balder’s pyre. Eight rings of its own weight drop from it on every ninth night.’
‘Be that as it may, I have no wish for it,’ said Gerd, and her voice chilled Skirnir to the marrow. ‘There’s wealth enough in Gymir’s hall.’
Skirnir continued to smile. ‘You see this honed and gleaming sword here in my hand? I’m going to hack off your head unless you do as I ask.’
‘Force will get Freyr nowhere,’ said Gerd. Her cold eyes glittered. ‘Neither Freyr nor anybody else. But if my father Gymir finds you here, I’m sure he’ll be glad to flex his muscles.’
Skirnir was undaunted. ‘Look again at this honed and gleaming sword. The old giant will fall to his knees before this blade; your father is doomed to die.’ Then Skirnir laid down Freyr’s sword and raised his own staff. Gerd gazed at it spellbound. ‘I will touch you, Gerd, with this magic staff. I will teach you and tame you. You must make your way to the place where you’ll never meet and never talk to any man again. You will sit on the eagle’s hill at the end of heaven and stare down at Hel’s gates. And although you must eat, all food will seem as vile to you as the sallow snake seems to men.
‘You’ll become a sight to make our blood run cold. The frost giant Hrimnir will gape at you. You’ll become better known than the watch¬man of the gods as you peer out, bleakly, from your windy penthouse.
‘Rage and longing, tears and torment will rack you. However you twist and turn, you’ll not escape your fate: a troubled heart, a double portion of misery.
‘Here in Jotunheim, spiteful spirits will pick at you and prick you every day, and every day you will crawl to the halls of frost giants—crawl for no purpose, and crawl without even hope.
‘While others are glad, you will grieve, your body will shake with sobs. You’ll live always amongst three-headed giants and never once sleep with a husband. May lust grip you! May despair sap you! Be like thistle tossed into the hayloft and trampled underfoot!
‘I went to the dark wood, the dripping forest, to find a magic branch. I found this staff. The greatest of the gods, Odin, is enraged with you. Freyr will lose no love for you. Gerd, worst of women, you have unleashed the wrath of all the gods.
‘Frost giants, listen! Rock giants, listen! Sons of Suttung, listen! And hear me, gods in Asgard! I forbid this woman to meet with any man. I forbid this woman joy of any man.
‘Hrimgrimnir, pale and unearthly in his shroud of frost, is the giant who will enjoy you in the gloom near Hel’s gates. Under the roots of Yggdrasil’, foul corpses will press on you horns full of piss. However great your thirst, that is the best drink there will be for you. That is my curse!
‘Gerd, I have inscribed a charm for you, sealed with three runes: longing and raving and lust. But what I have written, I can erase, if I have good reason.’
As she listened to Skirnir’s spells, Gerd began to tremble terribly. At length she raised her eyes, slowly, and gazed at her guest.
‘Skirnir,’ she said, ‘you are welcome here. Drink from this frost-cup filled with mead for you.’ Now her eyes no longer glittered like broken ice; they were filled with tears. ‘I never believed,’ she said, ‘that I should swear to love one of the Vanir.’
Skirnir lowered his staff and took the frost-cup. ‘Before I ride home, I must know everything. When will you meet the son of Njord?’
‘There is a forest, Barn, that we both know well. It is beautiful there, and peaceful. And there Gerd will give herself to the son of Njord nine nights hence.’
Then Skirnir bowed. He took his leave of Gerd and walked out of her chilly hall. He called his horse to him, remounted and rode swiftly back to Asgard before it was morning.
Sleepless, Freyr heard him coming. He stood outside his hall, im¬patient and anxious.
Skirnir smiled and, taking his time, dismounted.
‘Skirnir! Before you unsaddle, before you go a foot further, tell me! Were you successful? Have you brought ecstasy or anguish out of Jotunheim?’
The god and his servant stood in a shaft of soft orange light near the entrance to Freyr’s hall. Skirnir gathered his cloak around him and looked at Freyr. ‘There is a forest, Barn, that we both know well. It is beautiful there, and peaceful. And there Gerd will give herself to the son of Njord nine nights hence.’
‘One night is long,’ cried Freyr, ‘and two nights are longer. How can I bear three? How can I …’ He raised his arms and threw back his head and closed his eyes. ‘Often enough I’ve thought a whole month shorter than half one such night, charged with this desire.’