Thor said Summer was the open season and he announced his plan of making a journey east into Utgard and flexing himself against the giants. ‘However few they are,’ he said, ‘they are too many.’
In Utgard,’ said Loki, ‘you’ll need sharp wits.’
‘Sharp wits,’ repeated Thor seriously.
‘And yours are as blunt as your hammer,’ said Loki, winking at Thor. ‘Why not take me?’
Thor ignored the insult and accepted the offer. ‘Evil creature: good companion,’ he said.
Loki’s eyes gleamed, now brown, now green, now indigo. His scarred lips parted a little and twisted into a wolfish smile.
‘Tomorrow, then,’ said Thor.
Very early in the morning, before the sky turned blue and before a cock crowed, Thor had his goats brought in from Thrudvang and harnessed to his chariot. Thor and Loki took their seats and Thor grasped the reins of twined silver. The chariot rattled across the plains of Asgard, still soaked with dew, and Thor looked lovingly at the halls of the sleeping gods and goddesses- towering hulks, all of them silent and dreamlike in the ashen light.
They passed through the great gate and headed for Midgard, the home of men. All day the Charioteer and the Trickster rode and talked, at ease with each other and the world. And early in the evening they came to a lonely farm, the only building for miles around. It was low-slung and almost as green as the fields surrounding it; the turfed roof seemed to grow out of the ground.
‘A very poor place,’ said Loki
‘What they cannot provide I will,’ said Thor. He pulled up his goats and climbed out of the chariot.
The farmer and his wife and their children, Thialfi and Roskva, stepped out of their farmhouse and then started to tremble when they recognized their visitors.
‘What we want,’ said Loki, ‘is food and shelter for the night.’
‘We will gladly give you shelter,’ said the farmer.
‘And we can offer you the little food we have,’ said the wife. ‘Vegetables, potage; but there’s no meat.’
‘Not even a chicken?’ said Loki, looking around him.
The farmer slowly shook his head.
‘We’ll use my goats then,’ said Thor. Without ado he slaughtered both animals, and skinned them; then he cut them into joints and jammed them into the wife’s large cauldron.
The farmer and his wife, their long-legged son and fair daughter felt almost sick with hunger at the thought of such a feast; they kept looking at the meat to see whether it was cooked. Thor spread the skins of his two goats some way from the fire. ‘As you eat,’ he said, ‘throw the bones on to the skins.’
They all sat down together under the stars. ‘Mind what I said.’ Thor enjoined them. ‘Be careful with the hones and throw them all on to the skins.” Then they all began to eat.
The farmer’s son, Thialfi, had gone hungry for so long that he could loot bear the thought of wasting good marrow. While Thor was talking in his father, he grasped one thigh bone and quickly split it with his knife and sucked the rich juice from it. Than he tossed it on to the heap of bones covering the skins.
After they had eaten Thor and Loki and the farmer’s family were ready to sleep. And they all slept soundly after such a fine meal. Thor was the first up; just before daybreak he rose and dressed and went out of the farmhouse. Then he took his hammer, Mjollnir, raised it over the goatskins and hallowed them.
At once the goats stood up, fully fleshed and bleating. But as they began to move about, Thor noticed that one goat had a lame hind leg. He hurried back into the farmhouse. ‘Who?’ he shouted, and the walls of the farm trembled so much that they nearly collapsed.
The farmer and his wife were shocked out of their sleep and sat straight up in their bed. ‘Who disobeyed me?’ roared Thor, ‘I can see a thighbone has been broken.’
Thor’s eyebrows beetled and the farmer and his wife and Thialfi and Roskva cowered. His eyes burned like orange flames and the family thought their days in Midgard had come to an end. Then, when the Thunderer grasped his hammer, so that his knuckles turned white, the farmer’s wife and Roskva screamed in terror. ‘Mercy!’ pleaded Thialfi, screwing up his eyes. ‘Mercy! Mercy!’ And the farmer begged. ‘My land. my farm, everything I own. Take them. Take everything I own and spare our lives.’
If Thor was sometimes furiously angry, he was never angry for long. When he saw how the whole poor family were panic-stricken, the blood stopped racing round his body. ‘I’ll take Thialfi and Roskva to be my servants,’ he said roughly. ‘And that’s an end to the matter.’
Now Thor and Loki were ready to resume their journey. Thor gave the goats and the chariot into the farmer’s care. He said he would collect them on his way back, and told Thialfi and Roskva to come with them to Utgard.
For a long time they walked across gently falling land until at last they came to the girdle of water dividing the world of men from Jotunheim. They stared at the fretful grey water and the mountains beyond – squat tubs and barrels of unfriendly land suppressed by leaden sky. ‘They can wait until the morning.’ said Thor.
Then they busied themselves with putting most of the contents of their knapsack into their stomachs. And filled with the remains of the previous night’s meal, and a helping of porridge as well, they slept in the sand beside the rocking ocean.
Thor and Loki, Thialfi and Roskva did not have to walk far along the strand next morning before they found an old boat, beached and disused. They took it over and hauled it down to the water. The boat reared and kicked forward every time Thor pulled the oars and by midday they reached the shore of Utgard, a broad strip of land that lay between the water and the mountains.
The four travelers beached their boat and, as there was no sign of life along the coast, they headed inland. After a while they came to a forest that stretched so far in both directions that there seemed to be no way round it. So they made their way into it and began to pick their way through it. All afternoon they walked through the shadows, lightheaded with hunger and the sweet-smelling pine; the ground was springy underfoot.
By the time that the light began to fade, late in the evening, they had still seen no sign of life and knew that they would have to go without much food that day, for their own stocks were running low.
‘We must at least find somewhere to stay for the night,’ said Loki. I wouldn’t care to end up as carrion.’
‘Is Fenrir’s father so afraid of wolves?’ said Thor, and smiled to himself.
Restless and fleet of foot, Thialfi ran ahead again and again, scouting out the forest for Thor and Loki and his sister. Now he came back with the news that he had found a glade not far ahead, with a curious kind of hall standing in the middle of it. When they reached the glade, Thor and Loki walked round the hall. It puzzled them too. Although there seemed in he no door, the whole of one end of the hall was open; the opening was as high as the hall was high and as wide as it was wide. And the hall itself was enormous; any of the halls in Asgard, even Valhalla, could have fitted inside it.
‘This place will keep the rain off our backs,’ said Loki. ‘And here at least the damp will not seep into our bones.’ The gods and Thialfi and Roskva were no worn with traveling all day that, hungry though they were, they very quickly settled and fell asleep.
At midnight, however, all four of them were shocked out of their sleep. They heard a terrible growling. The noise grew louder, it grew so loud that the hall began to rock and sway. Thor and Loki and Thialfi and Roskva started to their feet and the ground shuddered under them.
‘An earthquake,’ shouted Thor.
Thialfi and Roskva stood wide-eyed; then they hugged one another. ‘Let’s get out,’ said Loki. ‘I don’t want to be flattened and stiff as a plank.’
At this moment, however, the ground stopped shaking. The earth-thunder ceased as abruptly as it had begun, and the night was as silent as it had been before.
‘Outside is no safer than inside,’ said Thor.
‘There must be somewhere better than this,’ replied Loki.
‘Let on at least get the hang of this place,”Thor said. “the known is always better than the unknown.’
So the four of them groped their way towards the far end of the hall. But the darkness seemed to grow thicker and more stifling with every step they took. They did, however, make one find: a smaller side-room led off to the right, about halfway down the vast main hall.
‘This is better,’ said Thor. ‘At least we can make a fight of it here if a man or monster shows its face. Earthquakes, however, are something else.’
So Loki and Thialfi and his sister Roskva felt their way into the pitch dark recess of the side-room, and Thor sat down in the doorway. He gripped the handle of his hammer and vowed to guard them against allcomers. Even now, the travelers did not enjoy unbroken sleep. They were woken several times by a muffled roaring, and lay awake for most the night in a state of dread.
As soon as it began to get light, Thor cautiously made his way out of the hall. At once he saw a man lying full length in the glade and he was by no means a dwarf. He was asleep, and in his sleep he suddenly snorted. Then he began to snore, and Thor understood the nature of the noise that he and his companions had heard during the night. He looked at the giant grimly and buckled on the belt given to him by the giantess Grid. He felt his strength grow, and surge like a spring tide within him.
At this moment the giant woke and, seeing Thor standing almost over him, sprang to his feet. He was as tall an the pine trees around them, and Thor was so taken aback at his height that he did not hurl Mjollnir at him but asked, astonished, ‘Who on earth are you?’
‘Skrymir: boomed the giant. ‘Big Bloke.’
‘No one is going to quarrel with that,’ muttered Thor.
‘I don’t have to ask who you are,’ said Skrymir, eyeing Loki, Thialfi and Roskva who had now crept out of their sleeping quarters. ‘I know you’re Thor. Have you moved my glove?’
Skrymir bent down and picked it up – the glove that Thor and the others had seen as a vast hall. Thor now saw that what they had taken for the main hall was the cavity for Skryrmir’s hand and four fingers, and that the side-room was the opening for his thumb.
‘What would you say to my company today?’ said Skrymir. ‘We’d welcome it,’ Thor said. ‘We’re on our way to Utgard: ‘Eat and drink with me first,’ said Skrymir.
Thor and his companions were far from unhappy about that, for their own knapsack was now almost empty. When they had eaten as much a they wanted, Skrymir said, ‘Let’s pool our provisions.’
‘Very well,’ said Thor.
So Skrymir simply dropped their knapsack into his own larger bag, tied it up and slung it over his back. Then he set off through the forest, taking huge strides, so that Thor, Loki and Roskva were soon left behind. Even Thialfi, as fleet of foot as any was in Midgard, was hard put to keep up with him. The travelers, however, could always tell which way to go by stopping to listen to the sound of Skrymir crashing through the forest ahead of them. In the evening, they caught up with the giant at the very edge of the forest. He was sitting under a luge oak.
‘There are no buildings here,’ he said, ‘but these oaks will give us shelter for the night. I’m tired after such a trek, and all I want to do is sleep.’
Thor looked pained and Loki ravenous; Thialfi and Roskva thought of their father’s farm and their mother’s cauldron. ‘A lack of meat seems little hardship now,’ said Roskva forlornly.
‘But you can take my bag,’ said Skrymir. ‘Prepare yourselves some supper.’ Then he lay down and rolled over and, within a minute, he was asleep. The oak tree shook at his snoring, and the birds perched in its branches took themselves off for a better place. Thor grasped the bag of provisions. ‘You can make the fire,’ he told the others, ‘and I’ll undo it.’
But that is just what he could not do. The straps keeping the travelers from their supper were as adamant as the rope Leading that bound the wolf Fenrir, and Thor was unable to work a single one loose. His companions each took a turn and the prospect of having any supper that evening slowly receded.
Thor grew more and more frustrated. His beard bristled at the thought that Skrymir had not meant them to be able to open the bag. Then he lost his patience altogether. He gripped Mjollnir with both hands and took a couple of steps forward so that he stood right over Skrymir. Then he brought the hammer down on the giant’s forehead.
Skrymir sat up. ‘What was that?’ he said. ‘Did a leaf fall on my head?’ He looked around him. ‘And you, have you had your supper and are you ready to sleep?’
‘As a matter of fact,’ said Thor hurriedly, ‘we were just about to turn in.’ The travelers slowly made their way to the shelter of a second massive oak tree standing near by. They lay down there but, now that Thor’s hammer had failed him for the first time since it was forged by Brokk and Eitri, they were all too anxious as well as too hungry to be able to sleep.
At midnight Skrymir was snoring again. The trees near by shuddered, and the ground shook under their bodies. Thor decided he had heard enough. Without a word he got up and quietly made his way over to Skrymir. Then he raised Mjollnir quickly and fiercely, and slammed it down on the middle of the giant’s crown. He could feel that the head of the hammer had sunk well into Skrymir’s brains.
Skrymir sat up. ‘Now what was that?’ he said. ‘Did an acorn fall on my head?’ He looked around him. ‘And you, Thor, what are you doing over here?’
‘Like you,’ Thor said hastily, ‘I’ve just woken up. But it’s the middle of the night. and we should both go back to sleep.’ As he talked. Thor backed away and lay down again beside his companions under the second oak. His brows beetled and he vowed to himself that when he got the chance to hit Skrymir again, the giant would see stars and plunge to the depth of Niflheim. He lay very still, waiting for Skrymir to go back to sleep.
Shortly before daybreak, Thor was sure his victim was fast asleep. His ears could scarcely withstand the racket of his snoring. Once more he got up, and quietly made his way over to Skrymir. He raised Mjollnir and, with all his immense might, crashed it into the grant’s upturned temple. He buried the whole hammer head in Skrymir’s brains; it sank in up to the handle.
Skrymir sat up and rubbed his cheek. ‘Are there any birds up there in that tree?’ he said. ‘Just as I was waking. I thought some droppings fell on to me.’ He looked around him. ‘And you, Thor, are you well and truly awake?’
Thor was dumbstruck.
‘It’s time your companions stirred themselves. Tell them to get up and dress. It’s not far from here to the stronghold of Utgard: Skrymir narrowed his eyes. ‘I’ve heard you whispering to each other that I’m no dwarf, but wait until you get to Utgard. You’ll see men there much bigger than I am.’
Whether he was aware of it or not, Thor was slowly shaking his head. Loki and Thialfi and Roskva stirred under their oak, and listened to the giant. ‘And let me give you a bit of advice,’ said Skrymir. ‘Keep your pride for your own kind; keep your mouths shut. Utgard-Loki’s men won’t stand for bragging from small fry like you.’
Thor seethed at such an insult, but there was nothing whatsoever he could do about it. He stood and listened.
‘Your other course of action.’ said Skrymir, ‘would be to head straight home and, in my view, that would be the right one. But if you insist on going on, walk east from here,’ Skrymir pointed out the way. ‘As for me, I have to head north for those distant mountains.’
Then Skryrmir picked up his bag of provisions, threw it over his back and, without a friendly word, without even a nod, he stumped away along the hem of the wood. Thor and his companions watched him go. ‘I don’t imagine we’ll miss him much,’ said Loki, ‘or long to see him again.’
The four travelers left the forest behind. All morning they walked until it was no more than a blur on the horizon. They pressed on over rising ground and, when the sun stood almost directly overhead, crossed a saddle-back with three strange square-shaped valleys, and climbed down into a plain where stood a massive stronghold. The walls were so high that they had to throw back their heads to see the top of the buildings beyond.
Thor and his companions were happy to be near their journey’s end. They hurried along a well-worn track that led up to the great gates fashioned from wrought iron. But they were locked and no one attended them. They peered through the bars and marveled at the size of the halls inside the stronghold.
“That bigger they are, the heavier they fall,’ said Thor, fingering Mjollnir. But then he remembered Skrymir again and felt uneasy. He rattled the gates but he was unable either to pry them open or to make himself heard.
‘Whenever was brawn as good as brain?’ said Loki. ‘I said you’d need sharp wits.’ Then he slipped between the bars and stood, grinning. inside Utgard. Slender Roskva and long-limbed Thialfi followed him at once, but Thor had a less easy time of it. In the end, however, he worked his way through: two of the iron bars gave way for him.
The travelers made for the huge hall before them. The door was open, and so they walked in. A large number of giants, male and female, old and young, most of them as vast as Skrymir had described, were lounging on the benches lodged against the walls. They stared at Thor and Loki and Thialfi and began to sneer; they ogled Roskva and began to leer. One giant sat alone in a chair at the end of the hall and judging hint to be Utgard-Loki himself, Thor arid his companions made their way up to him and courteously greeted him.
The giant king took not the least notice. That is to say, he did not look at them but through them. He made no move and he said nothing. Thor frowned and turned to Loki. Loki yawned.
‘Greetings!’ repeated Thor much more forcefully, even though the king of the giants was not deaf. ‘We have …’
‘News,’ boomed Utgard-Loki, rudely interrupting Thor. ‘travels slowly from other worlds. An event, or visit, overtakes word of it.’ He smiled a knowing smile. ‘Or am I mistaken in taking this whippersnapper to be Thor the Charioteer?’
Thor bridled but, surrounded by giants, he was unable to call the tune.
For the first time Utgard-Loki looked at Thor. ‘Well, maybe you’re stronger than you look,’ he said. ‘At what skill would you say you excel? And what can your companions do? We never allow anyone to stay with us unless he is master of some craft or pastime.’
Loki was standing a couple of steps behind the others. Seeing that Thor had no answer on the tip of his tongue, he took up the challenge. ‘I’ve a certain gift,’ he called out, ‘and I’m ready to prove it. There is no one in this hall who can eat faster than I.’
The giant king considered Loki. ‘If you’re right that will certainly be an accomplishment,’ he said. ‘We’ll put it to the test.’ Utgard-Loki looked along the benches and pointed at a giant sitting at the far end of the hall. ‘Logi,’ he shouted. ‘Come up here and pit yourself against Loki.’
Then the giant king’s servants carried a trencher into the hall and set it down before the throne. They heaped it with hunks of chopped meat, and it reminded Thor that rather too long had elapsed since they had last eaten. A chair was provided for Loki at one end of the trencher, and for Logi at the other, and at the word from the giant king, they both began to eat.
They gobbled and consumed and devoured. Each of them ate as fast as he could, edging his chair forward as he ate, and they met in the middle of the trencher. Loki had eaten every scrap of meat and left nothing but the bones. But Logi had not only eaten the meat; he had eaten the bones and the trencher as well.
‘I would say,’ proclaimed the giant king, ‘that Loki is the loser.’ An unpleasant shout front his followers indicated that this was what they thought too.
Loki narrowed his eyes and viewed Utgard-Loki with deep mistrust. ‘So what can this young lad do?’ asked the giant king.
‘I’ll run a race against anyone you care to name,’ said Thialfi. ‘That’s a singular skill,’ said Utgard-Loki, ‘and you must be a fine athlete if you think you can outstrip anyone here. We must put it at once to the test.’
Then the giant king and his followers and the four travelers made their way out of the hall to an open place where there was a level of grass that made a good running track.
‘Hugi!’ called the giant king.
One of the younger giants ambled up to Utgard-Loki.
‘You’re just the one to run against Thialfi. Go to your marks for the first race.’
Then, on a sign front the giant king, Thialfi and Hugi sprinted over the grass as fast as their legs could carry them. They scarcely seemed to touch the ground. And Hugi reached the end of the track no far ahead of Thialfi that he was able to turn round and welcome him.
‘Well, Thialfi: said she giant king, ‘if you mean to win this contest you’ll need to exert yourself. I must say, though, that I’ve never seen a man from Midgard with such a turn of speed.’
Then Thialfi and Hugi made their way back to the start again and, on a sign from the giant king, they sprinted over the grass as fan as their legs could carry them. They scarcely seemed to touch the ground. And by the time Hugi reached the end of the track, Thialfi was tailing him by the distance of a well-drawn crossbow shot.
‘Thialfi is certainly fast on his feet,’ said the giant king. ‘But I think that victory has slipped from his grasp now. The third race will settle things.’
Thialfi and Hugi made their way back to the start once more and, on a sign from the giant king, they sprinted over the grass as fast as their legs could carry them. They scarcely seemed to touch the ground. And this time Hugi ran twice as fast at Thialfi by the time he got to the end of the track, Thialfi had still not reached the half-way mark.
After this there was no argument. It was agreed that enough ground had been covered to settle the matter.
‘Now, Thor,’ said the giant king, ‘you’re well known for your boasting. I’ve heard that you brag endlessly about this and that and the other. Which of all your skills will you deign to show us?’
Thor ignored Utgard-Loki’s insults, as he had to. ‘I’ll drink,’ he said. ‘And I very much doubt whether anyone here can sink as much as l can.’
‘Very well,’ said the giant king.
Then the four travelers and all the giants made their way back into the cavernous hall, and Utgard-Loki asked his cup-bearer to fetch the sconce-horn used by all his followers. The cup-bearer put the brimming born into Thor’s hands.
‘We think a man who can drain this in one draught is a good drinker.’ said the giant king. ‘Some men take two draughts to empty it, but no one here is so feeble that he cannot finish it off in three.’
Thor had a look at the horn. He thought he had seen larger, although it seemed a bit on the long side. He was, moreover, very thirsty, for the giant king had not offered him or his companions so much as a drop since they first reached the hall. He raised the horn to his mouth, closed his eyes, and began to swill the liquid down in enormous gulps; and, as he drank, he felt sure that he would drain the whole horn in one draught. But Thor ran out of breath before the horn ran out of liquid. He raised his head, looked into the horn, and was startled to see that the level of the drink was little lower than before.
‘You drank plenty,’ boomed Utgard-Loki, ‘but nothing like enough.’ The Thunder God scowled at the sconce-horn.
‘If I’d been told that Thor could only drink that much, I’d never have believed it,’ said the giant king. ‘Still, I know you’ll empty it with your second draught.’
Thor said nothing. He simply raised the horn to his mouth again, and opened his throat and poured a tide of drink down it until he was gasping for breath. But he was still unable to tilt the horn back and drain it. Thor raised his head and peered into the horn. He thought that although there was now some space between the rim and the drink and it was possible to carry the horn without spilling liquid, he had made rather less headway with his second draught than with his first.
Utgard-Loki shook his head and sighed. His breath was like an unsavory warm wind swirling around Thor and Loki and Thialfi and Roskva. ‘What’s going on, Thor?’ he asked. ‘Haven’t you left rather too much for comfort? It seems to me that if you’re going to empty this horn, your third attempt will have to be your best.’
Thor glared at the sconce-horn and his red beard bristled.
‘I know you’re much admired in Asgard. But you won’t be admired by any of us here, you know, not unless you do better in some other contest than you’ve done in this one.’
Thor was fretful at his own shortcoming and wrathful at the giant king’s words. He raised the horn to his mouth, and opened his throat and drank and drank. He drank as much as he could stomach, and still he could not drain it. At last he raised his head and peered into the horn; and he saw that it was at least somewhat lower than before. Then Thor thrust the horn into the cup-bearer’s hands, and angrily shook his head at the laughing invitations from all around him to drink more and drink again.
‘It’s clear enough,’ remarked the giant king, ‘that your prowess is not all that we supposed. Still, do you want to try your hand at some other kind of contest? Your drinking doesn’t really do you much justice, does it?’
‘I can prove myself in countless ways,’ Thor said gruffly. ‘But let me say I’d be surprised if anyone in Asgard called such huge draughts trifling.’
Utgard-Loki smiled down at Thor and said nothing.
‘So what have you got in store for me now?’ said Thor.
The giant king shook his head and sighed. ‘Young giants here perform the feat of lifting my cat from the ground. I can’t pretend it’s very highly rated. Indeed, I’d never have dreamed of suggesting it to great Thor unless I’d seen with my own eyes that you’re not half as strong as I thought you were.’
As if it had been waiting on its master’s words, a grey cat under the giant king’s throne uncoiled and sprang on to the floor. It was no kitten.
Thor stumped forward, put one massive arm under the cat, and began to lift. As he lifted, the cat simply arched its back. Now Thor used both hands and with a mighty effort he heaved at the cat. But the animal only arched its back still more so that its body formed a steep rainbow over the god’s head: its four feet remained on the ground.
All the watching giants laughed at the way in which the cat, with its effortless movement, frustrated Thor’s muscular attempts on it. Now Thor stood under the cat, between its legs, and rocked forward on to his toes in an attempt to lift it. And when he stretched his hands and the cat’s belly as high above his head as he could, the cat was finally obliged to raise one paw. That was as much as Thor could manage.
‘Much as I thought,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘It’s rather a big cat. and Thor is a midget compared to the mighty men at this court.’
‘Call me what you like!’ shouted Thor. ‘But just let someone come and wrestle with me here. Now I’m really angry.’ The Thunder God glared at the giants around him. He was beside himself with his own failures and the giant king’s string of taunts and abuses.
Utgard-Loki looked along the benches and rubbed his bush of a beard. ‘I can’t say I see anyone here to wrestle with you,’ he said. ‘They’d all feel it was beneath them.’
Now Thor was wondering how he could bring Mjollnir into action. He fingered the hammer and grated his teeth. ‘Wait!’ said the giant king. ‘I’ve an idea. Go and find Elli, my old foster-mother. Thor can wrestle with her if he wants to.’
The giants chuckled.
‘She’s thrown men who have struck me as stronger than Thor,’ said Utgard-Loki.
After a little while, a horrible old crone hobbled into the hall and made her was towards the throne. The giant king got up to greet his foster-mother and asked her if she would consider coming to grips with Thor.
Elli agreed and threw away her stick. Then Thor fairly hurled himself at the old woman. But the moment he laid hands on her he knew she was far stranger than she seemed. Thor heaved and strained and grunted and the old woman stood firm and unshaken; the greater his pressure, the more easily she withstood it.
Now Elli won the upper hand and tried a hold or two. Suddenly she took Thor by surprise. She caught him in a lock and threw him off balance. Thor bared his teeth and clung to Elli desperately. He tried to take her down with him, but after a struggle, he was forced on to one knee.
‘That’s enough!’ cried Utgard-Loki. ‘Quite enough! You’ve shown us your strength as a wrestler, and there’s certainly no need for you to take on any more of my followers.’
After the eating and the running, the drinking and the wrestling, it was late in the evening. Utgard-Loki himself found places for Thor and Loki, Thialfi and Roskva on the crowded benches. And there they were brought as much food and drink as they wished and were made most welcome. Then the floor was padded with bedding and pillows. In that high hall, the four weary travelers and the concourse of giants lay down and fell asleep.
Thor and his companions were the first to wake. They dressed and made ready to leave Utgard. But then the giant king stirred. He picked his way over the trunk-like bodies of his sleeping followers and set up a table beside the travelers. Then he woke his servants and, in a little while, Thor and Loki and Thialfi and Roskva were regaled once more with food and drink.
Now there was no limit to the giant king’s courtesy. He made his way past the sleeping giants and out of the hall with his guests, and showed them through the massive gates of Utgard.
For a time they walked across the green plain in the early morning sunlight. The giant king was as genial as can be imagined, but after the previous night’s experiences Thor was still chastened and Loki was unusually silent. Thialfi and Roskva, on the other hand, were glad to be away and alive – their spirits rose and they chattered gaily.
‘Well,’ said Utgard-Loki, ‘this is where I must leave you.’
Thor looked up at him.
‘How do you feel things have turned out?’ asked the giant king. ‘Were they as you thought? And tell me, have you ever met anyone more powerful than I?’
Thor shook his head. ‘I can’t deny,’ he said, ‘that I’ve come off second best. You’ve put me to shame. What’s more, I know you’ll bandy it about that I’m nothing to reckon with, and I don’t like that.’
‘Listen, Thor!’ said the giant king. ‘I’m going to tell you the truth now that we’re outside the walls of Utgard – for as long as I live, and people listen to me, you’ll never see the inside of those walls again.’
Thor looked baffled. If I’d known how strong you are, you wouldn’t have got in at all,’ continued Utgard-Loki. ‘I can promise you that. Do you know you were very nearly the end of us all?’
Not a word escaped Loki. But he pressed his scarred lips together and began to smile secretly.
‘I’ve used spells to trick you,’ said the giant king. ‘It was I who met you in the forest, You remember that bag packed with provisions? I fastened it with wires and it’s no wonder you could find no way of undoing it. Then you hit me three times with your hammer. The first blow was the lightest, but if it had touched me, it would have been enough to kill me. That saddle-backed hill not so far from my strong-hold. and those three square-shaped valleys, one of them so deep-those were the dents you made with your hammer. I set that saddleback between you and me, but you never knew it.’
Thor listened to Utgard-Loki’s explanation. He listened with mixed feelings: wonder, relief, frustration, and slowly rising anger.
‘I used spells, too,’ said the giant king, ‘when you and your companions vied with my followers. Loki was ravenous and ate very, very fast, but the man called Logi was wildfire itself. He burned up the trencher as well as the meat. And when Thialfi ran against Hugi, he was running against my own thought. He couldn’t be expected to keep up with the speed of ‘thought.’
Loki grinned maliciously at Thor. Thor saw nothing to smile about.
‘And you,’ said the giant king, ‘when you drank from that horn you thought you were found wanting. But I tell you, I could scarcely believe my eyes. You didn’t realize the other end of the horn was in the sea. When you get back to the ocean, you’ll see just how much it has ebbed.’ The giant king mused for a while. ‘And that cat,’ he boomed, ‘that was a wonder! Everyone was appalled when you made it lift one paw off the ground. For of course it was not what it seemed to be: it was Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent that encircles the world and bites on its own tail. You reached up so high that it all but grazed its back on the sky.
‘And it was a marvel, Thor, that you withstood Elli for so long, and even then only fell on to one knee. Elli is old age. Even if his life is not cut short by the sword or illness or by some accident, no one can withstand old age in the end.
‘And now,’ said the giant king, ‘this is where our ways part. It will be better for us both if you donut visit me again. I have used magic, and I’ll use it again to protect Utgard so that you’ll never be able to harm me in any way.
Thor was seething. When he heard the giant king’s words, he gripped his hammer Mjollnir and raised it over his head. He summoned all his strength.
In vain, all in vain: Utgard-Loki had vanished.
Then Thor swung on his heel with the aim of smashing the walls of Utgard, the halls, the lounging giants. But there was no stronghold there – nothing but a sweeping, shimmering plain. No Utgard; no giant-king; except for the dents in the saddle-backed hill, it was all as if it had never been.
Thor turned to join his companions. The four of them slowly made their way back to the sea, and crossed it into Midgard. Thor retrieved his chariot and goats from the farmer and his wife. Then, with Loki, Thialfi and Roskva, he returned at last to Thrudvang, galloping over the green and gold fields of Asgard.