Thrym tapped the maiden who was Loki on the shoulder. “Can I talk with you?” he said.
They got up and walked across the hall.
“Why are Freya’s eyes so . . . so terrifying?” asked Thrym. “It seemed as if there was a fire burning inside them. Those weren’t the eyes of a beautiful woman!”
“Of course not,” said the maiden who was Loki smoothly. “You wouldn’t expect them to be. She hasn’t slept for eight days and eight nights, mighty Thrym. She was so consumed by love for you that she dared not sleep, she was so mad to taste your love. She’s burning up inside for you! That’s what you’re seeing in those eyes. Burning passion.”
“Oh,” said Thrym. “I see.” He smiled, and licked his lips with a tongue bigger than a human pillow. “Well, then.”
They walked back to the table. Thrym’s sister had sat down in Loki’s seat, beside Thor, and was tapping her fingernails on Thor’s hand. “If you know what‘s good for you, you‘ll give me your rings,” she was saying. “All your pretty golden rings. You’ll be a stranger in this castle. You’ll need someone looking out for you, otherwise things are going to get pretty nasty, so far from home. You’ve got so many rings. Give me some as a bridal gift. So pretty they are, all red and gold—”
“Isn’t it time for the wedding?” asked Loki.
“It is!” said Thrym. He boomed at the top of his voice, “Bring in the hammer to sanctify the bride! I want to see Mjollnir placed on the beautiful Freya’s lap. Let Var, the goddess of pledges between men and women, bless and consecrate our love.”
It took four giants to carry Thor’s hammer. They brought it in from deep inside the hall. It glinted dully in the firelight. With difficulty, they placed it on Thor’s lap.
“Now,” said Thrym. “Now, let me hear your beautiful voice, my love, my dove, my sweetness. Tell me that you love me. Tell me that you will be my bride. Tell me that you pledge yourself to me as women have pledged themselves to men, and men to women, since the beginning of time. What do you say?”
Thor held the haft of his hammer with a hand that was covered with golden rings. He squeezed it reassuringly. It felt familiar and comfortable in his hand. He started laughing then, a deep, booming laugh.
“What I say,” said Thor, in a voice like thunder, “is that you should not have taken my hammer.”
He hit Thrym with his hammer, only once, but once was all it took. The ogre fell to the straw-covered floor, and did not rise again.
All the giants and ogres fell beneath Thor’s hammer: the guests at the wedding that was never to be. Even Thrym’s sister, who received a bridal gift she had not been expecting.
And when the hall was silent, Thor called “Loki?”
Loki climbed out from under the table, in his original shape, and surveyed the carnage. “Well,” he said, “you appear to have dealt with the problem.”
Thor was already taking off his women’s skirts, with relief. He stood there wearing nothing but a shirt in a room filled with dead giants.
“There, that wasn’t as bad as I had feared,” he said cheerfully. “I’ve got my hammer back. And I had a good dinner. Let’s go home.”
THE MEAD OF POETS
Do you wonder where poetry comes from? Where we get the songs we sing and the tales we tell? Do you ever ask yourself how it is that some people can dream great, wise, beautiful dreams and pass those dreams on as poetry to the world, to be sung and retold as long as the sun rises and sets, as long as the moon will wax and wane? Have you ever wondered why some people make beautiful songs and poems and tales, and some of us do not?
It is a long story, and it does no credit to anyone: there is murder in it, and trickery, lies and foolishness, seduction and pursuit. Listen.
It began not long after the dawn of time, in a war between the gods: the Aesir fought the Vanir. The Aesir were warlike gods of battle and conquest; the Vanir were softer, brother and sister gods and goddesses who made the soils fertile and the plants grow, but none the less powerful for that.
The gods of the Vanir and the Aesir were too well matched. Neither side could win the war. And more than that, as they fought they realized that each side needed the other: that there is no joy in a brave battle unless you have fine fields and farms to feed you in the feasting that follows.
They came together to negotiate a peace, and once the negotiations were concluded, they marked their truce by each of them, Aesir and Vanir alike, one by one spitting into a vat. As their spit mingled, so was their agreement made binding.
Then they had a feast. Food was eaten, mead was drunk, and they caroused and joked and talked and boasted and laughed as the fires became glowing coals, until the sun crept up above the horizon. Then, as the Aesir and the Vanir roused themselves to leave, to wrap themselves in furs and cloth and step out into the crisp snow and the morning mist, Odin said, “It would be a shame to leave our mingled spittle behind us.”
Frey and Freya, brother and sister, were leaders of the Vanir who would stay with the Aesir in Asgard from now on, under the terms of the truce. They nodded. “We could make something from it,” said Frey. “We should make a man,” said Freya, and she reached into the vat.
The spittle transformed and took shape as her fingers moved, and in moments it had taken on the appearance of a man and stood naked before them.
“You are Kvasir,” said Odin. “Do you know who I am?”
“You are Odin all-highest,” said Kvasir. “You are Grimnir and Third. You have other names, too many to list in this place, but I know them all, and I know the poems and the chants and the kennings that go with them.”