Odin, god of gods, was not content with being able to see everything that happened in the nine worlds. He was not content even with being able to understand all that he saw. His blood raced and he longed to test life’s winds and tides for himself. While Thor was away fighting trolls and troll women and their wolfchildren in Iron Wood, Odin bridled at his own lack of action. He became so restless that he donned his golden helmet and leaped on to Sleipnir hungry for some happening.
Sleipnir vaulted the torrent Thund beside Valhalla and then the old river that snaked through a canyon; he spring-heeled over the broad gleaming river and the river teeming with spears, and his eight hooves clattered as he galloped over scree. For hour after hour Odin rode towards Jotunheim across utterly dreary country, at first flat and tussocky and pocked with small deserted lakes, then flat and stony-a sea of slabs where nothing lived and nothing grew. At last, where the land began to swell and in some places to smoke, leavened by fires far below the earth crust, Odin came to the hall of Hrungnir, strongest of all the giants.
“Who are you?” demanded Hrungnir.
The Raider pulled his blue cloak close about him, tilted his wide-brimmed hat forward, and said nothing.
“I’ve been watching. I saw you coming, your gold helmet flashing under the sun. You seemed to be riding as much through the air as on the ground.” Hrungnir rubbed his enormous nose. “That’s an uncommonly fine horse you’ve got there.”
“Better than any in Jotunheim,” retorted Odin. “That’s for sure.”
“That’s what you think,” replied the giant.
“That’s what I know.” said Odin.
“What do you know of Jotunheim, little man?” said Hrungnir. his temper rising. “Don’t be so certain.”
“I’m certain enough to wager my head on it.”
“You fool!” bellowed Hrungnir. “Have you never heard of Gold Mane?”
“Who?” said Odin.
“My horse!” shouted Hrungnir “Gold Mane. Fast as your horse may be, Gold Mane will gallop him into the ground.”
“Gab!” spat Odin. “All gab!”
“Gold Mane!” boomed Hrungnir, and his voice bounced back off the mountain wall.
“My head, Hrungnir,” called Odin, spurring Sleipnir into a gallop. “Come and collect it!”
By the time Hrungnir had sprung on to Gold Mane, the Helmeted One was already on the other side of the smoking hill. The god and the giant raced across the flatlands and neither gained ground on the other; they raced into the uplands, and Hrungnir had no thought for anything but the chase; they crossed the nineteen rivers and before the thickheaded giant had taken mock of where he was, he found himself inside she walls of Asgard. Then at last he realized who his visitor had been.
Odin was waiting for Hrungnir beside Valgrind, the outer gate of Valhalla. “That’s an uncommonly fine horse you’ve got there,” he said.
Hrungnir glared at Odin, angry but unable to do anything about it.
“You must be thirsty after such exertion,” Odin said. “Let Gold Mane drink front this torrent Thund. And you, Hrungnir, come and drink in Valhalla.”
Odin led the way in under the roof of shields and spears, and his women Freki and Geri at once got up and loped towards him. Ranks of warriors filled the benches, feasting and drinking after the day’s slaughter, and when they saw the giant, they began to shout. It was an awesome noise, as if the sea itself were caught in the mighty hall and waves were breaking on a strand of stones.
The Father of Battle raised one hand and as the clamor began to die down he called out, “Hrungnir comes unarmed. He comes in peace. Let hint drink and leave in peace.”
“How can I drink,” said Hrungnir, “without a horn in my hands?” Then the Valkyries Axe Time and Raging brought out the two massive horns from which Thor was used to drink. Both were brimming with ale.
“Drink!” said Odin. “Test your thirst against our finest trenchermen.” All the company in Valhalla watched as Hrungnir tossed off one horn without taking a breath, and then did the same with the other – such a tide of ale that even Thor might have had trouble with it. It was not long before the giant began to feel the effects. “I will!” he shouted suddenly.
Odin looked at Hrungnir and his one eye glittered. “Surely not,” he murmured.
“I will.” the giant shouted again. He waved his arms and, thrusting his head forward, glared at Odin. “I’ll pick up this piffling hall and carry it home to Jotunheim.”
The warriors sitting at the benches roared with laughter. Hrungnir swung round face them. He meant to take steps towards them, but his balance was wrong and he reeled sideways. “I’m going to shink Ashgard in the shea,” he bellowed.
Odin folded his arms. His mask-like face hid his thoughts. After a while he asked rather casually, ‘Then what is to become of us?’ “You,” shouted Hrungnir. “I’m going to kill you, you gods and warriors. Shmash you!” The giant brought his fist down on a trestle table; its end leaped up and the table danced and fell flat on its face.
There was not so much noise in the hall then. Everyone was watching Hrungnir. “All except you two,” said the giant, pointing at Freyja and Sit, fairest of the goddesses. “I’ll take you back with me. Ivan find a use for you.”
Odin nodded and Freyja sidled forward. As she moved, all the jewel, she was wearing flashed and glimmered, and Hrungnir tried to curb the stars out of his eyes. “Drink again,” said Freyja. She poured a lot more ale into one of the horns.
“Is jat all the ale in thish hall?” demanded the giant. “I’ll drink every drop of ale in Ashgard.”
But although the giant drank more and more, he did not fall into a stupor as Freyja had planned; he simply assaulted the company with a stream of boasts. The gods and warriors soon became tired of them and Odin sent a messenger to find Thor in Iron Wood and ask him to return to Asgard at once.
It was not at all long before Thor burst into the hall, swinging his hammer. “What’s this?” he shouted. “What next?” No one had seen him more angry, even when Loki had cut off Sits hair. “What next when sly devils of giants can hope to drink in Valhalla?”
Hrungnir looked at Thor blearily, and hiccuped. “Who says you can drink here?” demanded Thor. “And why is Freyja waiting on you? Is this a feast in honor of the giants?”
The giant waved an arm in the direction of Odin. “His shafe conduct,” he burbled. “Ojin, he invited me in.”
“Easier to get in than out.” said Thor, tightening his hold on his hammer and raising it again. “If you kill me unarmed,” said the giant, “it won’t add much to your fame except for foul play.” Drunk as he was, he well understood he still had to escape from Valhalla unscathed and he knew, too, what would touch Thor most closely. “It would be a better tesht,” he began, “a much better tesht of your bravery.”
“What?” said Thor.
“If you dared fight me.”
“Dared,” repeated Thor between his teeth.
“I challenge you to meet me,” said Hrungnir. “On the borders of Jotunheim and Ashgard. We’ll fight at Grjotunagardar, the Stone Fence House.”
Thor looked at the giant and saw that he was in earnest.
“What a great fool I am to have left my hone and shield at home,” said Hrungnir. “If I had my weapons. we could sheltie the matter here and now. But if you mean to kill me unarmed, you’re a coward.”
No one had dared challenge Thor to a duel before and the Thunder God was eager to accept. “You can count on it,” he told the giant. “I do not break faith. Do not break faith with me.”
Then Hrungnir barged out of Valhalla without a backward look. He heaved himself on to Gold Mane’s back and galloped away to Jotunheim as fast as he could.
When the giants heard about Hrungnir’s journey to Valhalla and his forthcoming duel with Thor, they thought he had won great honor. “And,” they said, “you have won the first part of a famous victory.” But for all that the giants were uneasy and anxious. They knew that if Hrungnir lost the duel, and was killed, that would be a bad hour for Jotunheim. “If you do not win,” they said, “what can we expect? You’re the strongest of on all.”
At Grjotunagardar there was a river with a bed of clay.
“Let us dredge it,” said the giants. “Let us mould a man so vast that Thor will shake at the sight of him.” Then the giants worked night and day and piled up the clay and made a mountain of a man: he was nine leagues high, and measured three leagues across the chest from armpit to armpit.
“He may be so tall that the clouds gather round his head,” said the giants, “but he is nothing but clay. What are we going to do about his heart?”
The giants were quite unable to find a heart anything like large enough. In the end they killed a mare and put her heart into his body. Its pump was enough to give the clay life, but rather too unsteady to inspire much confidence. They called this clay giant Mist Calf, and told him to wait by Grjotunagarder.
On the appointed day Hrungnir headed for she Stone Fence House. And unlike Mist Calf, his heart gave others heart. It was made of unyielding stone, sharp-edged and three-cornered. Hrungnir’s head was made of stone, too, and so was the great shield he held in front of him as he waited for Thor. With his other hand, he grasped a huge hone; he shouldered it and was ready to hurl it. Hrungnir looked very nasty and very dangerous.
Then Thor, the Son of Earth, angrily sprang into his chariot and Thialfi leaped in beside him. It rocked beneath them. The Charioteer bawled and at once his two goats strained at their harnesses; the chariot rattled out of Thrudvang. The moan’s path quivered and echoed. Lightning flared and flashed and men on middle earth thought the world itself was about to catch fire. Then hail lashed the ground; it smashed frail stooks and flattened fields of grass and men quailed within their walls. Headlands were shaken by such storms that gullies and rifts and gashes and chasms opened underfoot, and rocks and boulders cascaded into the curdling sea.
They rolled into Jotunheim towards Grjotunagardar. Then Thialfi jumped out of the chariot and ran ahead of it until he could see Hrungnir and Mist Calf. They stood side by side, and Mist Calf’s heart thumped inside him.
“Thor can see you,” shouted Thialfi. “Can you hear me? Thor can see you with your shield raised before you.” Thialfi cupped his hands to his mouth. “Can you hear me, Hrungnir? Put it on the ground. Stand by your shield. Thor will come at you from below.”
Then Hrungnir laid his stone shield on the ground and stood on it; he grasped his hone with both hands. The moment he saw Hrungnir standing at the Stone Fence House, Thor brandished his hammer and hurled it at him. The giant was assaulted by blinding forked flashes and claps of thunder.
Hrungnir saw the hammer flying towards him, He drew back his hone and aimed it straight at Mjollnir. The hammer and the hone met in mid-air with a dazzling flash, followed by a crack that was heard through the nine worlds. The hone was smashed into hundreds of fragments.
The shrapnel flew in every direction. One piece flew to Midgard and splintered again as it crashed into the ground – and every bit is a whetstone quarry. Another piece whistled through the air and lodged in Thor’s head, The strongest of all the gods was badly wounded. He fell out of his chariot, and his blood streamed over the earth. But Thor’s hammer found its target. Despite the hone, Mjollnir still struck Hrungnir on his forehead and crushed his skull. The giant tottered and fell. One of his massive legs pinned Thor down by the neck.
When Mist Calf saw Thor, he was terrified; he sprang a leak and peed uncontrollably. Then Thialfi swung his axe and attacked Mist Calf, the giant with feet of clay. Thialfi hacked at his legs and Mist Calf did not have enough strength in his body to fight back. He lurched and toppled backwards, and his fall shook Jotunheim. Every giant heard him fall; they knew what had happened at the Stone Fence House.
“My head!” groveled Thor.
Thialfi inspected the piece of whetstone stuck in Thor’s head. “It’s in better shape than Hrungnir’s head,” said Thialfi. He seized the giant’s leg and tried to lift it and release Thor. But for Thialfi it was like trying to lift the trunk of a tree; he was unable to move it an inch.
“Get help,” said Thor.
Thialfi put his fleetness of foot to good use. It was not at all long before many of the gods hurried out of Asgard and came to Grjotunagardar, rejoicing at Thor’s great victory and anxious to release him. One by one the strongest of the gods tried to lift the giant’s leg but none of them – not even Odin himself – was able to do anything about it.
The last to reach Stone Fence House was Magni, the son of Thor and the giantess Jarnsaxa. He was three years old. When he saw how the gods were unable to release his father, he said, “Now let me try!” Magni stooped, grasped Hrungnir by the heel, and swung the giant’s foot away from his father’s neck.
All the gods cried out in wonder and Thor quickly got to his feet. “It’s a pity I didn’t come sooner,” said Magni. “If I had met this giant, I’d have struck him dead with my bare fist.”
“If you go on as you’ve begun,” said Thor warmly, clamping an iron-poved hand on to his son’s shoulder, “you’ll become quite strong.”
“My mother is Iron Cutlass,” Magni said. “And I am the son of Thunder.”
“What’s more,” said Thor, “I’m going to give you Gold Mane. Take Hrungnir’s horse as a reward.”
“No,” said Odin sharply, “you shouldn’t give such an uncommonly fine horse to the son of a giantess instead of to your own father.”
Thor took no notice. He clapped his hands to his banging head and rode back so Asgard, followed by the Aesir. Only Odin complained; the other gods gave thanks that good had prevailed over evil and that they seemed quite safe again, as safe as they had ever been.
When Thor got to Thrudvang, and walked into his own hall Bilskirnir, the whetstone was still stuck in his head. So he sent to Midgard for the sybil Groa, the wife of Aurvandil the Brave. The wise woman hurried up over Bifrost and all night she chanted magic words over Thor – charms and spells known only to her. As she sang, the hone began to work loose, and the hammering in Thor’s head began to fade. It seemed less like pain than the memory of pain.
Thor was so thankful that he wanted to make Groa happy. “I have a surprise for you,” he said.
“Nothing could surprise me,” said Groa.
“This will,” said Thor. “Not long ago I was in the north and I met your husband, Aurvandil the Brave.”
Groa stiffened. Then she began to shake her head sadly.
“You may think he’s dead,” said Thor, “but I brought him out of Jotunheirn. I waded across the streams of venom, Elivagar, carrying him in a basket strapped on to my back.”
“Stuff!” said Groa gruffly, not because she wanted to disbelieve Thor but because she did not dare to believe him.
“Do you need proof!” asked Thor.
“Yes,” said Groa.
“All night you’ve sung charms over my head,” said Thor, “and it is almost morning. Come with me.” The Thunder god led the way out of Bilskirnir into the silent courtyard. “Look!” said Thor, pointing into the sky. “Have you ever seen that star?”
Groa frowned and shook her head.
Thor smiled faintly. “One of Aurvandil’s toes stuck out of the basket, and froze. So I broke it off and hurled it into heaven. Now and always that star will be known as Aurvandil’s Toe.”
Groa’s heart was pounding; her eyes shone with tears of joy.
“Now are you satisfied?” said Thor. “And I’ll tell you one thing more. It won’t be long at all now before your husband gets home.”
Groa felt as if nothing else in the world had ever mattered; and she felt as if there were no way in which she could properly thank Thor.
“Only finish your charms and spells,” said Thor. “Then I too will be happy.”
Groa looked at Thor and gaped.
“The charms,” said Thor.
The svbil’s head and heart whirled and her blood raced round her body. She was so excited that she could not recall a single charm. ‘Think, woman!’ said Thor fretfully. Groa buried her face in her hands but it was no good. “Think, woman, think!” roared Thor. His eyes blazed and his red beard bristled. But Groa was able to think only of her husband Aurvandil’s homecoming, and of a shining star. Thor sent her packing with a bellow of fury. And that is why the whetstone remained in Thor’s head.