Copyright
James Baldwin.

Hero Tales online

. (page 6 of 9)
Online LibraryJames BaldwinHero Tales → online text (page 6 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


moonlit evenings the luckless armor of Amilias on the high hilltop. In
the dim, uncertain light, one easily fancies it to be the ivy-covered
ruins of some old castle of feudal times.

The master, Mimer, sheathed his sword, and walked slowly down the
hillside to the plain, where his friends welcomed him with cheers and
shouts of joy. But the Burgundians, baffled, and feeling vexed, turned
silently homeward, nor cast a single look back to the scene of their
disappointment and their ill-fated champion's defeat.

Siegfried went again with the master and his fellows to the smoky
smithy, to his roaring bellows and ringing anvil, and to his coarse
fare, and rude, hard bed, and to a life of labor. And while all men
praised Mimer and his knowing skill, and the fiery edge of the sunbeam
blade, no one knew that it was the boy Siegfried who had wrought that
piece of workmanship.


IDUN AND HER APPLES

THE STORY TOLD IN AEGIR'S HALL

Idun is Bragi's wife. Very handsome is she; but the beauty of her face
is by no means greater than the goodness of her heart. Right attentive
is she to every duty, and her words and thoughts are always worthy and
wise. A long time ago the good Asa-folk who dwell in heaven-towering
Asgard, knowing how trustworthy Idun was, gave into her keeping a
treasure which they would not have placed in the hands of any other
person. This treasure was a box of apples, and Idun kept the golden
key safely fastened to her girdle. You ask me why these folk should
prize a box of apples so highly? I will tell you.

Old age, you know, spares none, not even Odin and his Asa-folk. They
all grow old and gray; and, if there were no cure for age, they would
become feeble, and toothless and blind, deaf, tottering, and
weak-minded. The apples which Idun guarded so carefully were the
priceless boon of youth. Whenever the Asas felt old age coming on,
they went to her, and she gave them of her fruit; and, when they had
tasted, they grew young and strong and handsome again. Once, however,
they came near losing the apples, - or losing rather Idun and her golden
key, without which no one could ever open the box.

In those early days Odin delighted to come down now and then from his
high home above the clouds, and to wander, disguised, among the woods
and mountains, and by the seashore, and in wild desert places. For
nothing pleases him more than to commune with Nature as she is found in
the loneliness of vast solitudes, or in the boisterous uproar of the
elements. Once on a time he took with him his friends Hoenir and Loki;
and they rambled many days among the icy cliffs and along the barren
shores of the great frozen sea. In that country there was no game, and
no fish were found in the cold waters; and the three wanderers, as they
had brought no food with them, became very hungry. Late in the
afternoon of the seventh day, they reached some pasture lands belonging
to the giant Hymer, and saw a herd of the giants cattle browsing upon
the short grass which grew in the sheltered nooks among the hills.

"Ah!" cried Loki; "after fasting for a week we shall now have food in
abundance. Let us kill and eat."

So saying, he hurled a sharp stone at the fattest of Hymer's cows, and
killed her; and the three quickly dressed the choicest pieces of flesh
for their supper. Then Loki gathered twigs and dry grass, and kindled
a blazing fire; Hoenir filled the pot with water from melted ice; and
Odin threw into it the bits of tender meat. But, make the fire as hot
as they would, the water would not boil, and the flesh would not cook.

All night long the supperless three sat hungry around the fire; and,
every time they peeped into the kettle, the meat was as raw and
gustless as before. Morning came, but no breakfast. And all day long
Loki kept stirring the fire, and Odin and Hoenir waited hopefully but
impatiently. When the sun again went down, the flesh was still
uncooked, and their supper seemed no nearer ready than it was the night
before. As they were about yielding to despair, they heard a noise
overhead; and, looking up, they saw a huge gray eagle sitting on the
dead branch of an oak.

"Ha, ha!" cried the bird. "You are pretty fellows indeed! To sit
hungry by the fire a night and a day, rather than eat raw flesh,
becomes you well. Do but give me my share of it as it is, and I
warrant you the rest shall boil, and you shall have a fat supper."

"Agreed," answered Loki eagerly. "Come down and get your share."

The eagle waited for no second asking. Down he swooped right over the
blazing fire, and snatched not only the eagle's share, but also what
the Lybians call the lion's share; that is, he grasped in his strong
talons the kettle, with all the meat in it, and, flapping his huge
wings, slowly rose into the air, carrying his booty with him. The
three Asas were astonished. Loki was filled with anger. He seized a
long pole, upon the end of which a sharp hook was fixed, and struck at
the treacherous bird. The hook stuck fast in the eagle's back, and
Loki could not loose his hold of the other end of the pole. The great
bird soared high above the tree-tops, and over the hills, and carried
the astonished mischief-maker with him.

But it was no eagle. It was no bird that had thus outwitted the hungry
Asas: it was the giant Old Winter, clothed in his eagle plumage. Over
the lonely woods, and the snow-crowned mountains, and the frozen sea,
he flew, dragging the helpless Loki through tree-tops, and over jagged
rocks, scratching and bruising his body, and almost tearing his arms
from his shoulders. At last he alighted on the craggy top of an
iceberg, where the storm winds shrieked, and the air was filled with
driving snow. As soon as Loki could speak, he begged the cunning giant
to carry him back to his comrades, - -Odin and Hoenir.

"On one condition only will I carry you back," answered Old Winter.
"Swear to me that you will betray into my hands Dame Idun and her
golden key."

Loki asked no questions, but gladly gave the oath; and the giant flew
back with him across the sea, and dropped him, torn and bleeding and
lame, by the side of the fire, where Odin and Hoenir still lingered.
And the three made all haste to leave that cheerless place, and
returned to Odin's glad home in Asgard.

Some weeks after this, Loki, the Prince of Mischief-makers, went to
Bragi's house to see Idun. He found her busied with her household
cares, not thinking of a visit from anyone.

"I have come, good dame," said he, "to taste your apples again; for I
feel old age coming on apace."

Idun was astonished.

"You are not looking old," she answered. "There is not a single gray
hair upon your head, and not a wrinkle on your brow. If it were not
for that scar upon your cheek, and the arm which you carry in a sling,
you would look as stout and as well as I have ever seen you. Besides,
I remember that it was only a year ago when you last tasted of my
fruit. Is it possible that a single winter should make you old?"

"A single winter has made me very lame and feeble at least," said Loki.
"I have been scarcely able to walk about since my return from the
North. Another winter without a taste of your apples will be the death
of me."

Then the kind-hearted Idun, when she saw that Loki was really lame,
went to the box, and opened it with her golden key, and gave him one of
the precious apples to taste. He took the fruit in his hand, bit it,
and gave it back to the good dame. She put it in its place again,
closed the lid, and locked it with her usual care.

"Your apples are not so good as they used to be," said Loki, making a
very wry face. "Why don't you fill your box with fresh fruit?"

Idun was amazed. Her apples were supposed to be always fresh, - fresher
by far than any that grow nowadays. None of the Asas had ever before
complained about them; and she told Loki so.

"Very well," said he. "I see you do not believe me, and that you mean
to feed us on your sour, withered apples, when we might as well have
golden fruit. If you were not so bent on having your own way, I could
tell you where you might fill your box with the choicest of apples,
such as Odin loves. I saw them in the forest over yonder, hanging ripe
on the trees. But women will always have their own way; and you must
have yours, even though you do feed us on withered apples."

So saying, and without waiting to hear an answer, he limped out at the
door, and was soon gone from sight.

Idun thought long and anxiously upon the words which Loki had spoken;
and, the more she thought, the more she felt troubled. If her husband,
the wise Bragi, had been at home, what would she not have given? He
would have understood the mischief-maker's cunning. But he had gone on
a long journey to the South, singing in Nature's choir and painting
Nature's landscapes, and she would not see him again until the return
of spring. At length she opened the box, and looked at the fruit. The
apples were certainly fair and round: she could not see a wrinkle or a
blemish on any of them; their color was the same golden-red, - like the
sky at dawn of a summer's day; yet she thought there must be something
wrong about them. She took up one of the apples, and tasted it. She
fancied that it really was sour, and she hastily put it back, and
locked the box again.

"He said that he had seen better apples than these growing in the
woods," said she to herself. "I half believe that he told the truth,
although everybody knows that he is not always trustworthy. I think I
shall go to the forest and see for myself, at any rate."

So she donned her cloak and hood, and, with a basket on her arm, left
the house, and walked rapidly away, along the road which led to the
forest. It was much farther than she had thought, and the sun was
almost down when she reached the edge of the wood. But no apple trees
were there. Tall oaks stretched their bare arms up toward the sky, as
if praying for help. There were thorn trees and brambles everywhere;
but there was no fruit, neither were there any flowers, nor even green
leaves. The Frost-giants had been there.

Idun was about to turn her footsteps homeward, when she heard a wild
shriek in the tree-tops over her head; and, before she could look up,
she felt herself seized in the eagle talons of Old Winter. Struggle as
she would, she could not free herself. High up, over wood and stream,
the giant carried her; and then he flew swiftly away with her, toward
his home in the chill Northland; and, when morning came, poor Idun
found herself in an ice-walled castle in the cheerless country of the
giants. But she was glad to know that the precious box was safely
locked at home, and that the golden key was still at her girdle.

Time passed; and I fear that Idun would have been forgotten by all,
save her husband Bragi, had not the Asas begun to feel the need of her
apples. Day after day they came to Idun's house, hoping to find the
good dame and her golden key at home; and each day they went away some
hours older than when they had come. No one had seen the missing Idun
since the day when Loki had visited her, and none could guess what had
become of her. The heads of all the folk grew white with age; deep
furrows were ploughed in their faces; their eyes grew dim, and their
hearing failed; their hands trembled; their limbs became palsied; their
feet tottered; and all feared that Old Age would bring Death in his
train.

Then Bragi and Thor questioned Loki very sharply; and when he felt that
he, too, was growing old and feeble, he regretted the mischief he had
done, and told them how he had decoyed Idun into Old Winter's clutches.
The Asas were very angry; and Thor threatened to crush Loki with his
hammer, if he did not at once bring Idun safe home again.

So Loki borrowed the falcon plumage of Freyja, the queen of love, and
with it flew to the country of the giants. When he reached Old
Winter's castle, he found the good dame Idun shut up in the prison
tower and bound with fetters of ice; but the giant himself was on the
frozen sea, herding Old Hymer's cows, the cold icebergs. Loki quickly
broke the bonds that held Idun, and led her out of her prison house;
and then he shut her up in a magic nut-shell which he held between his
claws, and flew with the speed of the wind back toward the Southland
and the home of the Asas. But Old Winter coming home, and learning
what had been done, donned his eagle plumage and followed swiftly in
pursuit.

Bragi and Thor, anxiously gazing into the sky, saw Loki, in Freyja's
falcon plumage, speeding homeward, with the nut-shell in his talons,
and Old Winter, in his eagle plumage, dashing after in sharp pursuit.
Quickly they gathered chips and slender twigs, and placed them high
upon the castle wall; and, when Loki with his precious burden had flown
past, they touched fire to the dry heap, and the flames blazed up to
the sky, and caught Old Winter's plumage, as, close behind the falcon,
he blindly pressed. And his wings were scorched in the flames; and he
fell helpless to the ground, and was slain within the castle gates.
Loki slackened his speed; and, when he reached Bragi's house, he
dropped the nut-shell softly before the door. As it touched the
ground, it gently opened, and Idun, radiant with smiles, and clothed in
gay attire, stepped forth, and greeted her husband and his waiting
friends. The heavenly music of Bragi's long-silent harp welcomed her
home; and she took the golden key from her girdle, and unlocked the
box, and gave of her apples to the aged company; and, when they had
tasted, their youth was renewed.

It is thus with the seasons and their varied changes. The gifts of
Spring are youth and jollity, and renewed strength; and the music or
air and water and all things, living and lifeless, follow in her train.
The desolating Winter plots to steal her from the earth, and the
Summer-heat deserts and betrays her. Then the music of Nature is
hushed, and all creatures pine in sorrow for her absence, and the world
seems dying of white Old Age. But at length the Summer-heat repents,
and frees her from her prison house; the icy fetters with which Old
Winter bound her are melted in the beams of the returning sun, and the
earth is young again.


THE DOOM OF THE MISCHIEF-MAKER.

You have heard of the feast that old Aegir once made for the Asa-folk
in his gold-lit dwelling in the deep sea, and how the feast was
hindered, through the loss of his great brewing kettle, until Thor had
obtained a still larger vessel from Hymer the giant. It is very likely
that the thief who stole King Aegir's kettle was none other than Loki
the Mischief-maker; but, if this was so, he was not long unpunished for
his meanness.

There was great joy in the Ocean-king's hall, when at last the banquet
was ready, and the foaming mead began to pass itself around to the
guests. But Thor, who had done so much to help matters along, could
not stay to the merry-making: for he had heard that the Storm-giants
were marshalling their forces for a raid upon some unguarded corner of
the mid-world; and so, grasping his hammer, he bade his kind host
good-by, and leaped into his iron car.

"Business always before pleasure!" he cried, as he hastened away at a
wonderful rate through the air.

In old Aegir's hall glad music resounded on every side; and the gleeful
Waves danced merrily as the Asa-folk sat around the festal board, and
partook of the Ocean-king's good fare. Aegir's two thralls, the
faithful Funfeng and the trusty Elder, waited upon the guests and
carefully supplied their wants. Never in all the world had two more
thoughtful servants been seen; and every one spoke in praise of their
quickness, and their skill, and their ready obedience.

Then Loki, unable to keep his hands from mischief, waxed very angry,
because every one seemed happy and free from trouble, and no one
noticed or cared for him. So, while good Funfeng was serving him to
meat, he struck the faithful thrall with a carving-knife, and killed
him. Then arose a great uproar in the Ocean-king's feast hall. The
Asa-folk rose up from the table, and drove the Mischief-maker out from
among them; and in their wrath they chased him across the waters, and
forced him to hide in the thick greenwood. After this they went back
to Aegir's hall, and sat down again to the feast. But they had
scarcely begun to eat, when Loki came quietly out of his hiding place,
and stole slyly around to Aegir's kitchen, where he found Elder, the
other thrall, grieving sadly because of his brother's death.

"I hear a great chattering and clattering over there in the feast
hall," said Loki. "The greedy, silly Asa-folk seem to be very busy
indeed, both with their teeth and their tongues. Tell me, now, good
Elder, what they talk about while they sit over their meat."

"They talk of noble deeds," answered Elder. "They speak of gallant
heroes, and brave men, and fair women, and strong hearts, and willing
hands, and gentle manners, and kind friends. And for all these they
have words of praise and songs of beauty; but none of them speak well
of Loki, the thief and the vile traitor."

"Ah!" said Loki wrathfully, twisting himself into a dozen different
shapes, "no one could ask so great a kindness from such folk. I must
go into the feast hall, and take a look at this fine company, and
listen to their noisy merry-making. I have a fine scolding laid up for
those good fellows; and, unless they are careful with their tongues,
they will find many hard words mixed with their mead."

Then he went boldly into the great hall, and stood up before the
wonder-stricken guests at the table. When the Asa-folk saw who it was
that had darkened the doorway, and was now in their midst, a painful
silence fell upon them, and all their merriment was at an end. And
Loki stretched himself up to his full height, and said to them:

"Hungry and thirsty came I to Aegir's gold-lit hall. Long and rough
was the road I trod, and wearisome was the way. Will no one bid me
welcome? Will none give me a seat at the feast? Will none offer me a
drink of the precious mead? Why are you all so dumb? Why so sulky and
stiff-necked, when your best friend stands before you? Give me a seat
among you, - yes, one of the high seats, - or else drive me from your
hall! In either case, the world will never forget me. I am Loki."

Then one among the Asa-folk spoke up, and said, "Let him sit with us.
He is mad; and when he slew Funfeng, he was not in his right mind. He
is not answerable for his rash act."

But Bragi the Wise, who sat on the innermost seat, arose, and said,
"Nay, we will not give him a seat among us. Nevermore shall he feast
or sup with us, or share our good-fellowship. Thieves and murderers we
know, and we will shun them."

This speech enraged Loki all the more; and he spared not vile words,
but heaped abuse without stint upon all the folk before him. By main
force he seized hold of the silent Vidar, who had come from the forest
solitudes to be present at the feast, and dragged him away from the
table, and seated himself in his place. Then, as he quaffed the
foaming mead, he flung out taunts and jeers and hard words to all who
sat around, but chiefly to Bragi the Wise and Sif, the beautiful wife
of Thor.

Suddenly a great tumult was heard outside. The mountains shook and
trembled; the bottom of the sea seemed moved; and the waves, affrighted
and angry, rushed hither and thither in confusion. All the guests
looked up in eager expectation, and some of them fled in alarm from the
hall. Then the mighty Thor strode in at the door, and up to the table,
swinging his hammer, and casting wrathful glances at the
Mischief-maker. Loki trembled; he dropped his goblet, and sank down
upon his knees before the terrible Asa.

"I yield me!" he cried. "Spare my life, I pray you, and I will be your
thrall forever!"

"I want no such thrall," answered Thor. "And I spare your life on one
condition only, - that you go at once from hence, and nevermore presume
to come into the company of Asa-folk."

"I promise all that you ask," said Loki, trembling more than ever.
"Let me go."

Thor stepped aside; and the frightened culprit fled from the hall, and
was soon out of sight. The feast was broken up. The Asas bade Aegir a
kind farewell, and favoring winds wafted them swiftly home to Asgard.

Loki fled to the dark mountain gorges of Mist Land, and sought for a
while to hide himself from the sight of both gods and men. In a deep
ravine by the side of a roaring torrent, he built himself a house of
iron and stone, and placed a door on each of its four sides, so that he
could see whatever passed around him. There, for many winters, he
lived in lonely solitude, planning with himself how he might baffle his
enemies and regain his old place in Asgard. Now and then he slipped
slyly away from his hiding-place, and wrought much mischief for a time
among the abodes of men. But when Thor heard of his evil-doings, and
sought to catch him, and punish him for his evil deeds, he was nowhere
to be found. At last the Asa-folk determined, that, if he could ever
be captured, the safety of the world required that he should be bound
hand and foot, and kept forever in prison.

Loki often amused himself in his mountain home by taking upon him his
favorite form of a salmon and lying listlessly beneath the waters of
the great Fanander Cataract, which fell from the shelving rocks a
thousand feet above him. One day while thus lying, he bethought
himself of former days, when he walked the glad young earth in company
with great Odin. And among other things he remembered how he had once
borrowed the magic net of Ran, the Ocean-queen, and had caught with it
the dwarf Andvari, disguised, as he himself now was, in the form of a
slippery salmon.

"I will make me such a net!" he cried. "I will make it strong and
good; and I, too, will fish for men."

So he took again his proper shape, and went back to his cheerless home
in the ravine. There he gathered flax and wool and long hemp, and spun
yarn and strong cords, and wove them into meshes, after the pattern of
Queen Ran's magic net; for men had not, at that time, learned how to
make or use nets for fishing. And the first fisherman who caught fish
in that way is said to have taken-Loki's net as a model.

Odin sat, on the morrow, in his high hall at Asgard, and looked out
over all the world, even to the uttermost corners. With his sharp eye
he saw what men-folk were everywhere doing. When his gaze rested upon
the dark line which marked the mountain land of the Mist Country, he
started up in quick surprise, and cried out:

"Who is that who sits by the Fanander Falls, and ties strong cords
together?"

But none of those who stood around could tell, for their eyes were not
strong enough and clear enough to see so far.

"Bring Heimdal!" then cried Odin.

Now, Heimdal the White dwells among the blue mountains where the
rainbow spans the space betwixt heaven and earth. He is the son of
Odin, golden-toothed, pure-faced, and clean-hearted; and he ever keeps
watch and ward over the mid-world and the homes of frail men-folk, lest
the giants shall break in, and destroy and slay. He rides upon a
shining steed named Goldtop; and he holds in his hand a horn with
which, in the last twilight, he shall summon the world to battle with
the sons of Loki. This watchful guardian of the mid-world is as
wakeful as the birds. And his hearing is so keen, that no sound on
earth escapes him, - not even that of the rippling waves upon the
seashore, nor of the quiet sprouting of the grass in the meadows, nor
even of the growth of the soft wool on the backs of the sheep. His
eyesight, too, is wondrous clear and sharp; for he can see by night as
well as by day, and the smallest thing, although a hundred leagues
away, cannot be hidden from him.

To Heimdal, then, the heralds hastened, bearing the words which Odin
had spoken, and the watchful warder of the mid-world came at once to
the call of the All-Father.

"Turn your eyes to the sombre mountains that guard the shadowy Mist
Land from the sea," said Odin. "Now look far down into the rocky gorge
in which the Fanander Cataract pours, and tell me what you see."

Heimdal did as he was bidden.

"I see a shape," said he, "sitting by the torrent's side. It is Loki's
shape, and he seems strangely busy with strong strings and cords."

"Call all our folk together!" commanded Odin. "The wily Mischief-maker
plots our hurt. He must be driven from his hiding place, and put where


1 2 3 4 6 8 9

Online LibraryJames BaldwinHero Tales → online text (page 6 of 9)