The gods had plenty of food but they had run out of mead and ale. They began to feast but the more they ate, the less they felt like eating, with no drink to wash the food down.
They sacrificed a small animal and dipped twigs into its blood. They shook them and the runes scored on them began to shine; they shook them again and divined that Aegir, god of the sea, could help them. So a group of gods and goddesses left Asgard and made for the island of Hilesey; and there they found Aegir and his wife Ran in their hall beneath the waves, lit only by gleaming gold.
The sea god was sitting at peace with the world and as blithe as a child. Thor, son of Odin, soon put an end to that. He looked Aegir in the eye and almost blinded him. ‘Brew some ale for the gods,’ he commanded. ‘Brew it at once and brew plenty of it!’
Thor’s abrupt tone angered Aegir. He lowered his eyes and considered how to repay him. ‘I’ve no cauldron that would hold enough,’ he said. ‘Bring me a cauldron. Thor, and I’ll brew ale for all the gods.’
The gods and goddesses looked at each other. None of them owned a cauldron that was large enough, nor did they have the least idea where They could get one. Then one-handed Tyr, always truthful, turned to the Thunder God and volunteered, ‘My father, the giant Hymir, lives away to the east, beyond the stormy waves of the Elivagar. I know he has a cauldron — a huge cauldron five miles deep.’
‘Do you think we could lay hands on it.’ asked Thor, ‘this water- whirler?’
‘We can,’ said Tyr, ‘but only if we’re cunning. Do not reveal who you are; call yourself Veur.’
So Thor and Tyr set off at high speed and that same day they reached Egil’s farm, where Thor left his high-horned goats, Tanngnost Tooth Grinder and Tanngrisni Gat Tooth. Then the gods headed east and crossed the Elivagar; they travelled almost to the end of the earth and sky above, and at last they came to Hymir’s hall. It stood on a mountain quite close to the sea.
The first person they came across was Tyr’s grandmother for whom Tyr had very little love. She was a monster with nine hundred heads.
Thor shook his head and marveled greatly.
But then Tyr’s mother walked into the hall. She had the most beautiful pale skin and wore a necklace and armbands of gold. She welcomed her son and Thor and brought them goblets of ale. ‘Giant blood runs in my veins,’ she said. ‘I know what’s what. Brave as you both may be, I think you’d better hide beneath one of the cauldrons. My husband has rather a brusque way of greeting his guests.’
As might he expected. Thor had little liking for this suggestion, but Tyr sided with his mother and asked Thor what he stood to lose by being a little cautious. And so they waited in safety until ugly Hymir came in late from hunting. As he walked into the hall, the icicles hanging from his frozen beard clinked and chinked.
Hymir’s wife got up to meet him. ‘Greetings, Hymir! You’ve got good reason to be happy. Your son is here in the hall — how long we’ve waited while he journeyed far and wide. And he has brought a companion with him, the foe of Hrod and friend to all men. He is called Veur.’ Hymir’s gentle wife tried to soften the heart of her husband. ‘Look at them sitting at the end of the hall under the gable, hiding behind one of those supports and hoping it will guard them.’
The giant glared balefully at the support and at once the gable’s crossbeam cracked. Then tight well tempered cauldrons toppled and fell from the shelf there: they crashed on to the hall floor and smashed into smithereens. Only one did not break, the one under which Thor and Tyr were sheltering.
The two gods crawled out from under the rim and Hymir faced them. ‘The old giant’s eyes glittered and he pierced them with his gaze. But when he saw Hrod’s sworn enemy step into the open, he felt uneasy himself and knew no good could come of his visit. All the same, he made due provision for his guests; he gave orders to his servants that no less than three oxen should be slaughtered and flayed and boiled.
At once his servants lopped off the heads of the cattle and carried them to the cauldron hanging over the fire. The meal was prepared. And before he went to sleep that night Sits husband, Thor, astonished Hymir by devouring two whole oxen.
Hymir, the friend of Hrungnir, said, ‘If the three of us want to eat again together, we’ll have to go out hunting.’
‘Let us go out rowing, then, and see what we can get,’ said Veur to the savage giant. ‘All I need from you is bait.’
‘Help yourself from the pasture where my herd is grazing, said Hymir. ‘I’ve no doubt, giant killer, that you’ll find a turd or two there easily enough.’
The god at once made his way out of Hymir’s hall into the steep pasture surrounding it. There he found a splendid black ox, Himinhrjot the Heaven Bellower. The giant killer grabbed its high horns and wrenched them apart until they snapped, and then he broke the beast’s neck. ‘What you ate was bad enough,’ said Hymir grimly. ‘But it seems to me that you’re even more of a nuisance left at large than sitting by my fire.’
Hymir and Thor left the others behind in the hall and went down to the sea. They launched the giant’s boat and, to begin with, Thor manned the oars. Then Hymir took over. The giant, kinsman of apes, rowed well out from the land and then shipped his oars so that he could start to fish.
‘Further!’ urged Thor. ‘Row further!’
‘I don’t want to row one stroke further,’ Hymir replied.
The fierce giant began to prepare his tackle. He fixed hooks to his line and cast it over the gunwale. Almost at once the line tightened and Hymir hauled up two whales, hissing and sighing and churning the water into a maelstrom.
Odin’s son, Veur, was sitting in the stern, and he prepared his gear with great care. The slaughterer of monsters and guardian of men baited his hook with the head of the ox Heaven Bellower. Then he cast his line into the dark water.
Under the waves the enemy of the gods, the serpent surrounding Midgard, let go of its own tail and gaped and took the bait.
Thor did not hesitate. Fist over fist, he quickly pulled in his line. Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, lashed the sea into a frenzy. The water fizzed and frothed but the Thunder God did not loosen his grip. He dragged the monster up under the keel and then began to haul it over the gunwale.
Then Thor raised his hammer and it sang a grisly song on the hairy head of that terrible serpent, brother of Fenrir.
The serpent roared and the mountains of Jotunheim heard and replied. Midgard shuddered. Jormungand tugged at the great barb piercing the roof of its mouth. It twisted and wrenched and, at last, with a tearing of flesh, it set itself free: the serpent sank once more to the bottom of the sea.
Shaken and appalled by what he had seen, Hymir had no heart for words and made heavy weather of the homeward journey. First he pulled strongly on one oar, then on the other, in the hope of picking up a following wind to carry them closer to land and into calmer water. When the keel finally scraped the shingle, and the boat lodged, Hymir said, ‘There’s enough work here for two pairs of hands. Will you drag the boat up beyond the tide mark and secure it? Or would you rather pull the whales back to my hall?’
Without even bothering to reply, the Charioteer stood up and stepped out of the boat. He grabbed the prow with his massive fists and began to raise it — the bilge water slopped and swilled back to the stern. Then the god began to drag the boat with the two whales, the oars and the great bailer still inside it; he hauled it across sand, on through a birch wood, and over a hill until he reached Hymir’s hall.
Tyr and his mother welcomed them there, and marveled at Thor’s feat in bringing the boat and the cargo up from the sea.
Even now, stubborn Hymir would not own that he had come off second best, and he resolved on another test of strength. ‘You’re a fair oarsman, certainly,’ he said, ‘but so are many others. I’d only call a man strong if he were able to smash this glass goblet.’
The Charioteer took the goblet from Hymir and promptly hurled it against one of the stone pillars supporting the gable. The hall was filled with bits and pieces of flying masonry. Then one of the giant’s servants hurried down to the end of the hall and picked up the goblet from a heap of rubble. It was unbroken and he brought it back to Hyrmir.
Hymir’s wife bent her head towards Thor. ‘Throw it at his head,’ she whispered. ‘He eats so much that it’s almost solid. However hard that glass is, his head must be harder.’
Then the Charioteer stood up again. He turned to face Hymir and, with all his divine strength, threw the goblet straight at the giant’s forehead. Hymir’s skull remained intact; but the wine goblet fractured! and fell to the floor in two pieces.
Hymir bent down and picked them up and put them on his knees and stared at them. ‘With the loss of this goblet,’ he said sadly, ‘I lose far more than a goblet.’ The giant shook his head as if suddenly all his strength had ebbed from him. ‘What’s mine is yours now. My last cauldron is yours,’ he said. ‘I can’t stop you from taking It. Even so, it will be a mighty task to cart it out of this hall. I’ll never be able to say again, “Brew for me cauldron, cauldron, brew me ale!”
Tyr did not need to be invited twice. He jumped up and took hold of the cauldron and began to pull, but he was unable to move it. Hymir looked at him and smiled sourly.
Then Tyr tried again. He filled hie lungs and pulled, but the cauldron only rocked and settled back into its original position. Now Thor seized the rim. The cauldron was so massive and Thor exerted so much pressure that his feet splintered the wooden planks and broke right through the hall floor. Then the god hoisted the vast cauldron on to his shoulder and strode out of the hall. Its handles yapped at his ankles.
Thor and Tyr had not gone far before Thor turned round, wanting to have a last look at Hymir’s hall. It was just as well that he did. The first thing he saw was Hymir and a whole throng of many-headed giants who had left their lairs in the east and were corning after them. Thor eased the massive cauldron from his shoulder and set it down on the ground. Then his hands were free to take a grip on Mjollnir. He stood his ground and swung his hammer; not a single monster, not one prowler of the wilderness, was able to withstand it.
Now Thor shouldered the cauldron again and the two gods hurried on. It was not long before they reached Egil’s farm, where Thor had left his chariot and goats though one — thanks to Loki — was lame and limped in its harness.
Thor returned home while the gods were meeting in solemn assembly at the Well of Urd, under the branches of Yggdrasil!. All the gods gazed at the cauldron. amazed; and they acclaimed Thor and his companion Tyr.
So Aegir was outwitted. Thor gave him the cauldron and took away his pride. And that winter and every winter the gods drank tides of whamming ale brewed for them in the sea god’s gleaming hall.