BEYOND THE GIRDLE of flint-grey water and the loveless lava flows, beyond the burning blue crevasses, lay Thrymheim, the storm-home of Skadi and her father Thiazi. It was a wonder that the hall withstood the charges of the wind and the batteries of hail.
Thiazi was not there; he had gone in pursuit of his prisoner Idun, the goddess who had escaped him. Skadi waited for them to return and, as the sun slipped over the horizon, the sky in the west seemed to catch fire and blazed.
The white night dallied and yielded; another dawdling day passed and still Thiazi and his captive did not come back. Then Skadi was alarmed and thought the gods must have ambushed him; even as she waited, she knew in her heart that she would never see her father again.
Skadi’s pale eyes gleamed. She grew cold with anger, then icy with fury. She swore vengeance on his murderers.
Skadi walked from chill room to chill room in Thrymheim. She donned a coat of mail and a helmet and chose the finest of her father’s weapons: a sword engraved with magic serpentine patterning, a spear with a shaft of ash, a circular shield covered with hide and inlaid with birds of prey — gleaming gold eyes and gaping red beaks. Then she set out for Asgard.
Now that Idun walked among them again and the giant Thiazi was dead, now that they had recovered the apples of youth, the Aesir were carefree once more. They were aware of the clement sun as if they had never felt it on their backs before; they listened to each note of each birdcall, and watched every grassblade growing. They felt at peace with themselves again, and at peace with each other.
When Heimdall saw Skadi nearing the walls of Asgard and raised the alarm, the gods had no wish to see more blood spilt, or to prolong the feud. Some of them gathered and met the giantess and asked her, ‘Will you take gold for your father’s death?’
‘What good would that be?’ asked Skadi. ‘Have you never heard of my father’s wealth? When his father Olvaldi died, he and his brothers Idi and Gang came into a gold hoard. They measured it out in mouthfuls, so as to share it fairly. And whatever belonged to my father now belongs to me. No, I will not take gold.’
‘What will you take?’ asked the gods.
‘A husband,’ said Skadi, and she looked long at Balder, fairest, most gentle and wise of the gods. ‘I’ll settle for a husband and a bellyful of laughter.’
Then the gods conferred and agreed that Skadi could choose a husband from amongst them as payment. They did, however, make one condition. ‘You must choose him by his feet,’ said Odin. ‘Until you’ve chosen, that is all you’ll be able to see of him.’
Skadi was not unwilling and Odin arranged for all the gods to gather in a courtyard so that the giantess could make her choice. Shielding her eyes from all but the gods’ feet, Skadi lost no time but at once chose the most shapely pair of feet, believing that they would naturally belong to Balder, the most handsome of the gods.
‘A good choice,’ said Odin.
Skadi quickly looked up and gazed into the friendly, knowing eyes not of Balder but of the lord of seafarers and sea harvests, the god Njord. His skin was weathered and he had the clear gaze of one who has spent long at sea; he even smelt of salt.
Skadi was startled. She stepped back, and her icy look killed Njord’s smile. ‘I thought …’ she began.
‘Think carefully,’ said Njord. ‘Remember the words you speak now are the beginning of a marriage.’
‘I’ve been tricked,’ said Skadi bitterly.
‘You might have chosen Loki,’ replied Njord unperturbed.
‘So you have your husband then,’ said Odin. ‘A fair reward for your
father’s death; many would say, indeed, the better of the bargain.’ ‘You’ve forgotten the laughter,’ said Skadi.
‘That’s easily put right,’ said Odin.
Skadi shook her head. ‘Since my father died, I’ve brimmed with anger or been drained by fatigue. I’ll never laugh again.’
‘Where’s the ‘Trickster?’ asked Odin.
Loki stepped forward rather less jauntily than usual. He wondered whether Skadi knew that he had not only helped her father to steal the apples, but helped the gods to recover them too, and so brought about her father’s death.
Can you make this lady laugh?’ said Odin. ‘If anyone can you can.’
‘Not I, sir …’ stammered the Sly God, as if he were some peasant standing before the High One. ‘Not before I’ve told you what happened, sir …’ Loki produced a long leather thong from behind his back. ‘It was like this. I was going to market and I wanted to take that goat there along with me.’ Loki winked at Skadi. ‘You know how goats are, don’t you, lady? They have ideas of their own.’
Loki stumbled across the courtyard where all the gods and Skadi were assembled, and tied one end of the thong to the goat’s beard. Both my hands were full, lady. I was carrying produce to the market. So I tied this goat to a tegument …’
‘A tegument?’ said Skadi.
‘Lady,’ said Loki, ‘my testicles!’ And he looped the thong behind his scrotum. The goat moved a little further off to nibble at new grass, and the thong linking them tightened.
‘Early in the morning it was, lady,’ said Loki. ‘Ah! Very early. The goatsuckers were still singing …’ The Trickster cupped his hands to his mouth, closed his eyes, and made a magical soft whirring sound. ‘Rrrr rrrrrrr rrrrrrr . owK!’ squawked Loki, as the goat suddenly yanked the thong.
`Owk!’ squawked the goat as Loki pulled back. It was a tug of war. And when the goat gave way, it gave way so completely, bounding towards Loki, that he fell backwards into Skadi’s arms.
And Skadi laughed; despite herself she laughed, and for a while she forgave Loki everything because of her laughter.
‘Playing the goat,’ said Loki, panting.
‘Enough,’ said Allfather. ‘I’ve a mind to please Skadi further.’ Then Odin took two liquid marbles from his gown and Skadi recognised her father’s eyes.
‘But look!’ cried Odin.
He hurled the balls into heaven. ‘Two stars,’ he said. ‘Your father will look down on you and on us all, for as long as the world lasts.’
Then Njord asked Skadi to go with him to his hall, the shipyard Noatun, but Skadi said she would only live with Njord in her old home, Thrvmheim. ‘Since neither of us is going to get his way entirely,’ said Njord, ‘we had better agree to take turns: nine nights in one place, then nine nights in the other.’
Then Njord and Skadi left the courtyard and the kingdom of Asgard, and made their way to Jotunheim. They climbed over rock and scree, and through sheets of snow too bright for the eye when the sun shone on them, a dreary uniform wasteland when clouds masked the sun. And the higher they climbed into a frozen world as still as death itself, the happier Skadi became. In Thrymheim, she gave herself to Njord. After nine nights, however, Njord admitted that he had no love for the icy mountains. `And,’ he said, ‘I think the howling of wolves sounds ugly compared to the hooping of swans.’
Then Njord and Skadi came back to Asgard and passed nine nights at Noatun, and Skadi’s dislike of the fertile, rocking sea was no less great than Njord’s dislike of the barren mountains. ‘I cannot even sleep here,’ she said. ‘There’s too much noise in the shipyard, and too much noise from the harbour — boats putting out, boats coming in, the unloading of fish. And the mewing gulls disturb me, flying in at dawn from deep water.’
It was not long then before Njord and Skadi decided that the gap between their taste was so great that, although they were married, they must live apart. Njord stayed at Noatun and Skadi returned to Thrymheim.
The giantess covered great distances on her skis; her quiver was always at her side and she hunted and shot wild animals. The ski goddess, that crouched dark shape sweeping across the desolate snowscapes, took injury and death wherever she went. She had been touched by the god of plenty; she had yielded a little, and then frozen again.