“Perhaps . . .”
“Perhaps the smallest sip from the kettle Odrerir would give me the lyrical skills to conjure your beauty for generations still to come,” he suggested, his sobs ceasing.
“Yes, perhaps it would. But it would have to be the smallest of smallest sips . . .”
“Show me the kettle, and I will show you just how small a sip I can take.”
Gunnlod unlocked the door, and in moments she and Bolverkr were standing in front of the kettle and the two vats. The smell of the mead of poetry was heady on the air.
“Just the tiniest of sips,” she told him. “For three poems about me that will echo down through the ages.”
“Of course, my darling.” Bolverkr grinned in the darkness. If she had been looking at him then, she would have known something was wrong.
With his first drink he drank every drop of the kettle Odrerir.
With his second, he drained the vat called Bodn.
With his third, he emptied the vat called Son.
Gunnlod was no fool. She realized that she had been betrayed, and she attacked him. She was strong and fast, but Odin did not stay to fight. He ran from there. He pulled the door closed and locked her inside.
In the blink of an eye he became a huge eagle. Odin screeched as he flapped his wings, and the mountain doors opened, and he rose into the skies.
Gunnlod’s screams pierced the dawn.
In his hall, Suttung woke and ran outside. He looked up and saw the eagle and knew what must have happened. Suttung too transformed himself into eagle shape.
The two eagles flew so high that from the ground they were the tiniest of pinpricks in the sky. They flew so fast that their flight sounded like the roar of a hurricane.
In Asgard, Thor said, “It is time.”
He hauled the three huge wooden vats into the courtyard.
The gods of Asgard watched the eagles screaming through the sky toward them. It was a close thing. Suttung was fast, and close behind Odin, his beak almost touching Odin’s tailfeathers as they reached Asgard.
When Odin approached the hall, he began to spit: a fountain of mead spurted from his beak into the vats, one after another, like a father bird bringing food for his children.
Ever since then, we know that those people who can make magic with their words, who can make poems and sagas and weave tales, have tasted the mead of poetry. When we hear a fine poet, we say that they have tasted Odin’s gift.
There. That is the story of the mead of poetry and how it was given to the world. It is a story filled with dishonor and deceit, with murder and trickery. But it is not quite the whole story. There is one more thing to tell you. The delicate among you should stop your ears, or read no further.
Here is the last thing, and a shameful admission it is. When the all-father in eagle form had almost reached the vats, with Suttung immediately behind him, Odin blew some of the mead out of his behind, a splattery wet fart of foul-smelling mead right in Suttung’s face, blinding the giant and throwing him off Odin’s trail.
No one, then or now, wanted to drink the mead that came out of Odin’s ass. But whenever you hear bad poets declaiming their bad poetry, filled with foolish similes and ugly rhymes, you will know which of the meads they have tasted.
THOR’S JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF THE GIANTS
Thialfi and his sister, Roskva, lived with their father, Egil, and their mother on a farm at the edge of wild country. Beyond their farm were monsters and giants and wolves, and many times Thialfi walked into trouble and had to outrun it. He could run faster than anyone or anything. Living at the edge of the wild country meant that Thialfi and Roskva were used to miracles and strange things happening in their world.
Nothing as strange, however, as the day that two visitors from Asgard, Loki and Thor, arrived at their farm in a chariot pulled by two huge goats, whom Thor called Snarler and Grinder. The gods expected lodging for the night, and food. The gods were huge and powerful.
“We have no food for the likes of you,” said Roskva apologetically. “We have vegetables, but it’s been a hard winter, and we don’t even have any chickens left.”
Thor grunted. Then he took his knife and killed both his goats. He skinned their corpses. He put the goats in the huge stewpot that hung above the fire, while Roskva and her mother cut up their winter stores of vegetables and dropped them into the stewpot.
Loki took Thialfi aside. The boy was intimidated by Loki: his green eyes, his scarred lips, his smile. Loki said, “You know, the marrow of the bones of those goats is the finest thing a young man can eat. Such a shame that Thor always keeps it all for himself. If you want to grow up to be as strong as Thor, you should eat the goat bone-marrow.”
When the food was ready, Thor took a whole goat as his portion, leaving the meat of the other goat for the other five people.
He put the goatskins down on the ground, and as he ate, he threw the bones onto his goatskin. “Put your bones on the other goatskin,” he told them. “And don’t break or chew any of the bones. Just eat the meat.”
You think you can eat fast? You should have seen Loki devour his food. One moment it was in front of him, and the next it was gone and he was wiping his lips with the back of his hand.
The rest of them ate more slowly. But Thialfi could not forget what Loki had said to him, and when Thor left the table for a call of nature, Thialfi took his knife and split one of the goat’s leg bones and ate some of the marrow from it. He put the broken bone down on the goat skin and covered it with undamaged bones, so nobody would know.
They all slept in the great hall that night.
In the morning, Thor covered the bones with the goatskins. He took his hammer, Mjollnir, and held it up high. He said, “Snarler, be whole.” A flash of lightning: Snarler stretched itself, bleated, and began to graze. Thor said, “Grinder, be whole,” and Grinder did the same. And then it staggered and limped awkwardly over to Snarler, and it let out a high-pitched bleat as if it were in pain.