Aegir's Feast





I.



Aegir was the ruler of the ocean, and his home was deep down below the

tossing waves, where the water is calm and still. There was his

beautiful palace, in the wonderful coral caves; its walls all hung with

bright-colored seaweeds, and the floor of white, sparkling coral sand.

Such wonderful sea-plants grew all about, and still more wonderful

creatures, some, which you could not tell from flowers, waving their

pretty fringes in the water; some sitting fastened to the rocks and

catching their food without moving, like the sponges; others darting

about and chasing each other.



"Deep in the wave is a coral grove,

Where the purple mullet and goldfish rove;

Where the sea-flower spreads its leaves of blue,

That never are wet with falling dew,

But in bright and changeful beauty shine

Far down in the green and glassy brine.

The floor is of sand, like the mountain drift,

And the pearl-shells spangle the flinty snow;

From coral rocks the sea-plants lift

Their boughs where the tides and billows flow.

The water is calm and still below,

For the winds and waves are absent there,

And the sands are bright as the stars that glow

In the motionless fields of upper air."

--PERCIVAL.



In that ocean home lived the lovely mermaids, who sometimes came up

above the waves to sit on the rocks and comb their long golden hair in

the sunshine. They had heads and bodies like beautiful maidens, with

fish-tails instead of feet.



One day the gods in Asgard gave a feast, and Aegir was invited. He could

not often leave home to visit Asgard, for he was always very busy with

the ocean winds and tides and storms; but calling his daughters, the

waves, he bade them keep the ocean quiet while he was away, and look

after the ships at sea.



Then Aegir went over Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, to Asgard, where they

had such a gay party and such feasting that he was sorry when the time

came to go home; but at last he said good-by to Father Odin and the rest

of the Aesir. He thanked them all for the pleasure they had given him,

saying, "If only I had a kettle that held enough mead for us all to

drink, I would invite you to visit me."



Thor, who was always glad to hear about eating and drinking, said, "I

know of a kettle a mile wide and a mile deep; I will fetch it for you!"



Then Aegir was pleased, and set a day for them all to come to his great

feast.



So Thor took with him his brother, the brave Tyr, who knew best how to

find the kettle; and together they started off in Thor's thunder

chariot, drawn by goats, on their way to Utgard, the home of the giants.



When they reached that land of ice and snow, they soon found the house

of Hymir, the giant who owned "Mile-deep," as the big kettle was called.

The gods were glad to find that the giant was not at home, and his wife,

who was more gentle than most of her people, asked them to come in and

rest, advising them to be ready to run when they should hear the giant

coming, and to hide behind a row of kettles which hung from a beam at

the back end of the hall. "For," said she, "my husband may be very angry

when he finds strangers here, and often the glance of his eye is so

fierce that it kills!"



At first the mighty Thor and brave Tyr were not willing to hide like

cowards; but at last they agreed to the plan, upon the good wife

promising to call them out as soon as she had told her husband about

them.



It was not long before they heard the heavy steps of Hymir, as he came

striding into his icy home; and very lucky it was for Thor and Tyr that

the giantess had told them to hide, for when the giant heard that two of

the Aesir from Asgard were in his home, so fierce a flash shot from his

eyes that it broke the beam from which the kettles hung, and they all

fell broken on the floor except Mile-deep.



After a while the giant grew quiet, and at last even began to be polite

to his guests. He had been unlucky at his fishing that day, so he had

to kill three of his oxen for supper. Thor being hungry, as usual, made

Hymir quite angry by eating two whole oxen, so that, when they rose from

the table the giant said, "If you keep on eating as much at every meal,

as you have to-night, Thor, you will have to find your own food."



"Very well," said Thor; "I will go fishing with you in the morning!"





II.



Next morning Thor set forth with the giant, and as they walked over the

fields toward the sea, Thor cut off the head of one of the finest oxen,

for bait. Of course you may know that Hymir was not pleased at this, but

Thor said he should need the very best kind of bait, for he was hoping

to catch the Midgard serpent, that dangerous monster who lived at the

bottom of the ocean, coiled around the world, with his tail in his

mouth.



When they came to the shore where the boat was ready, each one took an

oar, and they rowed out to deep water. Hymir was tired first, and called

to Thor to stop. "We are far enough out!" he cried "This is my usual

fishing-place, where I find the best whales. If we go farther the sea

will be rougher, and we may run into the Midgard serpent."



As this was just what Thor wanted, he rowed all the harder, and did not

stop until they were far out on the ocean; then he baited his hook with

the ox's head, and threw it overboard. Soon there came a fierce jerk on

the line; it grew heavier and heavier, but Thor pulled with all his

might. He tugged so hard that he broke through the bottom of the boat,

and had to stand on the slippery rocks beneath.



All this time the giant was looking on, wondering what was the matter,

but when he saw the horrid head of the Midgard serpent rising above the

waves, he was so frightened that he cut the line; and Thor, after trying

so hard to rid the world of that dangerous monster, saw him fall back

again under the water; even Miolnir, the magic hammer, which Thor hurled

at the creature, was too late to hit him. And so the two fishermen had

to turn back, and wade to the shore, carrying the broken boat and oars

with them.



The giant was proud to think he had been too quick for Thor, and after

they reached the house he said to the thunder-god, "Since you think you

are so strong, let us see you break this goblet; if you succeed, I will

give you the big kettle."



This was just what Thor wanted; so he tightened his belt of strength,

and threw the goblet with all his might against the wall; but instead of

breaking the goblet he broke the wall.



A second time he tried, but did no better. Then the giant's wife

whispered to Thor, "Throw it at his head!" And she sang in a low voice,

as she turned her spinning-wheel,--



"Hard the pillar, hard the stone,

Harder yet the giant's bone!

Stones shall break and pillars fall,

Hymir's forehead breaks them all!"



Yet again Thor threw the goblet, this time against the giant's head, and

it fell, broken in pieces.



Then Tyr tried to lift the Mile-deep kettle, for he was in a hurry to

leave this land of ice and snow; but he could not stir it from its

place, and Thor had to help him, before they could get it out of the

giant's house.



When Hymir saw the gods, whom he hated, carrying off his kettle, he

called all his giant friends, and they started out in chase of the Aesir;

but when Thor heard them coming he turned and saw their fierce, grinning

faces glaring down at him from every rocky peak and iceberg.



Then the mighty Thunderer raised Miolnir, the hammer, above his head,

and hurled it among the giants, who became stiff and cold, all turned

into giant rocks, that still stand by the shore.





III.



Aegir was very glad to get Mile-deep; so he set to work to make the

mead in it, to get ready for the great feast, at the time of the flax

harvest, when all the Aesir were coming from Asgard to visit him.



Before the day came, all light and joy had gone from the sacred city,

because the bright Baldur had been slain, and the homes of the gods were

dark and lonely without him. So they were all glad to visit Aegir, to

find cheer for their sadness.



There was Father Odin, with his golden helmet, and Queen Frigga,

wearing her crown of stars, golden-haired Sif, Freyja, with Brisingamen,

the wonderful necklace, and all the noble company of the Aesir, all

except mighty Thor, who had gone far away to the giant-land.



As they all sat in Aegir's beautiful ocean hall, drinking the sweet mead,

and talking together, Loki came in and stood before them; but, finding

he was not welcome, and no seat saved for him, he began saying ugly

things to make them all angry, and at last he grew angry himself, and

slew Aegir's servant because they praised him. The Aesir drove him out

from the hall, but once more he came in, and said such dreadful things

that at last Frigga said, "Oh, if my son Baldur were only here, he would

silence thy wicked tongue!"



Then Loki turned to Frigga, and told her that he himself was the very

one who had slain Baldur. He had no sooner spoken than a heavy peal of

thunder shook the hall, and angry Thor strode in, waving his magic

hammer. Seeing this, the coward Loki turned and fled, and Asgard was rid

of him forever.





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