Page 23 of Norse Mythology

“If I cannot do the work of your nine men,” said Bolverkr, “then you need not pay me. But if I do . . .”


“Even in distant parts we have heard tales about your brother Suttung’s extraordinary mead. They say it bestows the gift of poetry on anyone who drinks it.”

“This is true. Suttung was never a poet when we were young. I was the poet in the family. But since he has returned with the dwarfs’ mead, he has become a poet and a dreamer.”

“If I work for you, and plant and build and harvest for you, and do the work of your dead servants, I would like to taste your brother Suttung’s mead.”

“But . . .” Baugi’s forehead creased. “But that is not mine to give. It is Suttung’s.”

“A pity,” said Bolverkr. “Then I wish you luck in getting the harvest in this year.”

“Wait! It is not mine, true. But if you can do what you say, I will go with you to see my brother Suttung. And I will do all I can to help you taste his mead.”

“Then,” said Bolverkr, “we have a deal.”

Never was there a harder worker than Bolverkr. He worked the land harder than twenty men, let alone nine. Single-handed he looked after the animals. Single-handed he harvested the crops. He worked the land, and the land repaid him a thousandfold.

“Bolverkr,” said Baugi as the first mists of winter rolled down the mountain, “you are misnamed. For you have worked nothing but good.”

“Have I done the work of nine men?”

“You have, and nine again.”

“Then will you help me to get a taste of Suttung’s mead?”

“I shall!”

The next morning they rose early and walked and walked and walked, and by evening they had left Baugi’s land and reached Suttung’s, on the edge of the mountains. By nightfall they reached Suttung’s huge hall.

“Greetings, brother Suttung,” said Baugi. “This is Bolverkr, my servant for the summer and my friend.” And he told Suttung of his agreement with Bolverkr. “So you see,” he concluded, “I must ask you to give him a taste of the mead of poetry.”

Suttung’s eyes were like chips of ice. “No,” he said flatly.

“No?” said Baugi.

“No, I will not give away a single drop of that mead. Not one drop. I have it safe in its vats, in Bodn and Son and the kettle Odrerir. Those vats are deep inside the mountain of Hnitbjorg, which opens only to my command. My daughter, Gunnlod, guards it. This servant of yours cannot taste it. You cannot taste it.”

“But,” said Baugi, “it was blood compensation for our parents’ deaths. Don’t I deserve the smallest measure of it, to show Bolverkr here that I am an honorable giant?”

“No,” said Suttung. “You don’t.”

They left his hall.

Baugi was disconsolate. He walked with his shoulders hunched high and his mouth drooping down. Every few paces, Baugi would apologize to Bolverkr. “I did not think my brother would be so unreasonable,” he would say.

“He is indeed unreasonable,” said Bolverkr, who was Odin in disguise. “But you and I could play a little trick or two on him, so that he would not be so high and mighty in future. So that next time he will listen to his brother.”

“We could do that,” said the giant Baugi, and he stood straighter, and the corners of his mouth tightened into something that almost resembled a smile. “What are we going to do?”

“First,” said Bolverkr, “we will climb Hnitbjorg, the beating mountain.”

They climbed Hnitbjorg together, the giant going first, and Bolverkr, doll-sized in comparison, never falling behind. They clambered up the paths that the mountain sheep and goats made, and then they scrambled up rocks until they were high in the mountain. The first snows of winter had fallen on the ice that had not melted from the winter before. They heard the wind as it whistled about the mountain. They heard the cries of birds far below them. And there was something else they could hear.

It was a noise like a human voice. It seemed to be coming from the rocks of the mountain, but it was always distant, as if it were coming from inside the mountain itself.

“What noise is that?” asked Bolverkr.

Baugi frowned. “It sounds like my niece Gunnlod, singing.”

“Then we will stop here.”

From his leather pouch Bolverkr produced the auger called Rati. “Here,” he said. “You are a giant, and big and strong. Why don’t you use this auger to drill into the side of the mountain?”

Baugi took the auger. He pushed it against the mountainside and began to twist. The tip of the auger drilled into the mountainside like a screw into soft cork. Baugi turned it and turned it, again and again.

“Done it,” said Baugi. He pulled out the auger.

Bolverkr leaned over the hole made by the drill and blew into it. Chips and the dust of rocks blew back at him. “I have just learned two things,” said Bolverkr.

“What two things are these?” asked Baugi.

“That we are not yet through the mountain,” said Bolverkr. “You must keep drilling.”

“That is only one thing,” said Baugi. But Bolverkr said nothing more on that high mountainside, where the icy winds clawed and clutched at them. Baugi pushed the drill Rati back into its hole and began to turn it once more.

It was getting dark when Baugi pulled the auger from the hole again. “It broke through into the inside of the mountain,” he said.

Bolverkr said nothing, but he blew gently into the hole, and this time he saw the chips of rock blow inward.