Page 24 of Norse Mythology

As he blew, he was aware that something was coming toward him from behind. Bolverkr transformed himself then: he turned himself into a snake, and the sharp auger plunged into the place where his head had been.

“The second thing I learned when you lied to me,” hissed the snake to Baugi, who stood, astonished, holding the auger like a weapon, “was that you would betray me.” And with a flick of its tail, the snake vanished into the hole in the mountainside.

Baugi struck again with the auger, but the snake was gone, and he flung the drill from him angrily and heard it clatter on the rocks below. He thought about going back to Suttung’s hall and once he was there telling his brother that he had helped bring a powerful magician up Hnitbjorg, had even helped him to get inside the mountain. He imagined Suttung’s reaction to this news.

And then, his shoulders slumping and his mouth drooping, Baugi climbed down the mountain and trudged off home, to his own hearth and his own hall. Whatever happened in the future to his brother or to his brother’s precious mead, why, it was nothing to do with him.

Bolverkr slid in snake shape through the hole in the mountain until the hole ended and he found himself in a huge cavern.

The cavern was lit by crystals, with a cold light. Odin transformed himself from snake shape into man shape once more, and not just a man but a huge man, giant-sized, and well formed. Then he walked forward, following the sound of song.

Gunnlod, the daughter of Suttung, stood in the cavern in front of a locked door, behind which were the vats called Son and Bodn and the kettle Odrerir. She held a sharp sword in her hands, and she sang to herself as she stood.

“Well met, brave maiden!” said Odin.

Gunnlod stared at him. “I do not know who you are,” she said. “Name yourself, stranger, and tell me why I should let you live. I am Gunnlod, guardian of this place.”

“I am Bolverkr,” said Odin, “and I deserve death, I know, for daring to come to this place. But stay your hand, and let me look upon you.”

Gunnlod said, “My father, Suttung, set me on guard here, to protect the mead of poetry.”

Bolverkr shrugged. “Why would I care for the mead of poetry? I came here only because I had heard of the beauty and the courage and the virtue of Gunnlod, Suttung’s daughter. I told myself, ‘If she just lets you look at her, it will be worth it. If, of course, she is as beautiful as they say in the tales.’ That was what I thought.”

Gunnlod stared at the handsome giant in front of her. “And was it worth it, Bolverkr-who-is-about-to-die?”

“More than worth it,” he told her. “For you are more beautiful than any tale I have ever heard or any song that any bard could compose. More beautiful than a mountain peak, more beautiful than a glacier, more beautiful than a field of fresh-fallen snow at dawn.”

Gunnlod looked down, and her cheeks reddened.

“Can I sit beside you?” asked Bolverkr.

Gunnlod nodded, saying nothing.

She had food there in the mountain, and drink, and they ate and they drank.

After they ate, they kissed gently in the darkness.

After their lovemaking, Bolverkr said sadly, “I wish I could taste one sip of the mead from the vat called Son. Then I could make a true song about your eyes, and all men would sing it when they wanted to sing of beauty.”

“One sip?” she asked.

“A sip so small nobody would ever know,” he said. “But I am in no hurry. You are more important than that. Let me show you how important to me you are.”

And he pulled her to him.

They made love in the darkness. When they had finished and were curled up together, naked skin touching skin, whispering endearments, then Bolverkr sighed mournfully.

“What is wrong?” asked Gunnlod.

“I wish I had the skill to sing of your lips, how soft they are, how much better they are than the lips of any other girl. I think that would be an excellent song.”

“That is indeed unfortunate,” agreed Gunnlod. “For my lips are very attractive. I often think they are my best feature.”

“Perhaps, but you have so many perfect features, picking the best is so difficult. But if I were to take the tiniest taste from the vat called Bodn, the poetry would enter my soul and I would be able to make a poem about your lips that would last until the sun is eaten by a wolf.”

“Only the tiniest sip, though,” she said. “Because Father would get quite irritable if he thought I was giving away his mead to every good-looking stranger who penetrated this mountain fastness.”

They walked the caverns, holding hands and occasionally brushing lips. Gunnlod showed Bolverkr the doors and the windows that she could open from inside the mountain, through which Suttung sent her food and drink, and Bolverkr appeared to pay no attention; he explained that he was not interested in anything that was not about Gunnlod, or her eyes or her lips or her fingers or her hair. Gunnlod laughed and told him that he did not mean any of his fine words and he obviously could not want to make love with her again.

He hushed her lips with his lips, and once again they made love.

When they were both perfectly satisfied, Bolverkr began to weep in the darkness.

“What’s wrong, my love?” asked Gunnlod.

“Kill me,” sobbed Bolverkr. “Kill me now! For I will never be able to make a poem about the perfection of your hair and your skin, of the sound of your voice, of the feel of your fingers. The beauty of Gunnlod is impossible to describe.”

“Well,” she said, “I suppose it can’t be easy to make such a poem. But I doubt it’s impossible.”