Page 22 of Norse Mythology

Fjalar and Galar told people who passed their fortress the story of how ill-used they had been by Suttung. They told it in the market when next they went to trade. They told it when ravens were near.

In Asgard, at his high seat, Odin sat, and his ravens, Huginn and Muninn, whispered to him of the things they had seen and heard as they had wandered the world. Odin’s one eye flashed when he heard the tale of Suttung’s mead.

The people who heard the story called the mead of poetry “the ship of the dwarfs” since it had floated Fjalar and Galar off the rocks and taken them safely home; they called it Suttung’s mead; they called it the liquid of Odrerir or Bodn or Son.

Odin listened to his ravens’ words. He called for his cloak and his hat. He sent for the gods and told them to prepare three enormous wooden vats, the largest vats that they could build, and to have them waiting by the gates of Asgard. He told the gods he would be leaving them to walk the world, and might be some time.

“I will take two things with me,” said Odin. “I need a whetstone, to sharpen a blade with. The finest we have here. And I wish to have the auger, the drill, called Rati.” Rati means “drill,” and Rati was the finest drill the gods possessed. It could drill deeply, and drill through the hardest rock.

Odin tossed the whetstone into the air and caught it again and put it into his pouch beside the auger. Then he walked away.

“I wonder what he’s going to do,” said Thor.

“Kvasir would have known,” said Frigg. “He knew everything.”

“Kvasir is dead,” said Loki. “As for me, I do not care where the all-father is going, or why.”

“I am off to help build the wooden vats that the all-father requested,” said Thor.

Suttung had given the precious mead to his daughter, Gunnlod, to watch over inside the mountain called Hnitbjorg, in the heart of giant country. Odin did not go to the mountain. Instead he went directly to the farmland owned by Suttung’s brother, Baugi.

It was spring, and the fields were high with grasses to be cut for hay. Baugi had nine slaves, giants like himself, and they were cutting the grass for hay with huge scythes, each scythe the size of a small tree.

Odin watched them. When they stopped work, when the sun was at its highest, to eat their provisions, Odin sauntered over to them and said, “I have been watching you all work. Tell me, why does your master let you cut grass with such blunt scythes?”

“Our blades are not blunt,” said one of the workers.

“Why would you say that?” asked another. “Our blades are the sharpest.”

“Let me show you what a well-sharpened blade can do,” said Odin. He took the whetstone from his pouch and drew it along first one scythe blade, then another, until each blade glimmered in the sun. The giants stood around him awkwardly, watching him as he worked. “Now,” said Odin, “try them out.”

The giant slaves swept their scythes through the meadow grass and gasped and exclaimed with pleasure. The blades were so sharp they made cutting the grass effortless. The blades swept through the thickest stalks and met with no resistance.

“This is wonderful!” they told Odin. “Can we buy your whetstone?”

“Buy it?” said the all-father. “Absolutely not. Let us do something more fair and more fun. All of you, come here. Stand in a group, each man holding his scythe tightly. Stand closer.”

“We can stand no closer,” said one of the giant slaves. “For the scythes are very sharp.”

“You are wise,” said Odin. He held up the whetstone. “I tell you this. The one of you who catches it, he alone shall have it!” and so saying, he tossed the whetstone into the air.

Nine giants jumped at the whetstone as it descended, each reaching with his free hand, paying no attention to the scythe he held (each scythe with a blade sharpened by the all-father at his whetstone, whetted to a perfect sharpness).

They jumped and they reached and the blades glinted in the sun.

There was a spray and a spurt of crimson in the sunlight, and the bodies of the slaves crumpled and twitched and one by one fell to the freshly cut grass. Odin stepped over the bodies of the giants, retrieved the whetstone of the gods, and placed it back in his pouch.

Each of the nine slaves had died with his throat cut by his fellow’s blade.

Odin walked to the hall of Baugi, Suttung’s brother, and asked for lodging for the night. “I am called Bolverkr,” said Odin.

“Bolverkr,” said Baugi. “A dismal name. It means ‘worker of terrible things.’”

“Only to my enemies,” said the person who called himself Bolverkr. “My friends appreciate the things I do. I can do the work of nine men, and I will work tirelessly and without complaint.”

“Lodging for the night is yours,” said Baugi, sighing. “But you have come to me on a dark day. Yesterday I was a rich man, with many fields and with nine slaves to plant and to harvest, to labor and to build. Tonight I still own my fields and my animals, but all my servants are dead. They slew each other. I do not know why.”

“A dark day indeed,” said Bolverkr, who was Odin. “Can you not get other workmen?”

“Not this year,” sighed Baugi. “It is already spring. The good workers are already working for my brother Suttung, and few enough people come here in the way of things. You are the first traveler who has asked me for lodging and hospitality in many a year.”

“And lucky you are that I did. For I can do the work of nine men.”

“You are not a giant,” said Baugi. “You are a little shrimp of a thing. How could you do the work of one of my servants, let alone nine of them?”