By Harry S AOR
Nothing could escape Odin’s eye when he sat in his High Seat of Hlidskjalf. He would cast himself onto its velvet upholstery, and let his mind move over all the worlds. One particular day, not so long ago in the memory of our people, he sat there and gazed over the multiverse. In Asgard He saw Thor leaving his halls for Jotunheim, he saw dwarves in their smithies in Svartalfheim, in Hel he saw a black host of mouldering bodies bemoaning and lamenting their fate. Nothing struck him as unusual, or different from the many other days he had watched: Jormungandr still lay coiled under the seas, and Fenrir still struggled against his bonds far below the surface of the earth. In Midgard however, he saw a tower being erected incredibly high and on its crest was a mighty golden wind vane. It swayed in the wind, glinted in the sun and seemed nearly to touch the blue dome above, while many men scurried too and fro below busying themselves with cranes and stonework. This intrigued Allfather, for he loved nothing more than watching the Sons of Heimdal use the skills given to them by Odin, Villi and Ve. The more he looked, the more he wondered and in Allfathers mind was arisen curiosity and the desire to find out what was going on. He left Valaskjalf in the guise of an old man, crossed the rainbow bridge and entered the world of men. Odin could see the tower high on the horizon though he knew he must be many miles away, such was its height. The journey was long and gently sloped through beautiful pine hills. The dead leaves below and the smell of the sap gave the woods some ethereal aspect as the god walked along his way. Not one person did he meet until he came at last to the village where the tower was being built. There were thralls dragging uncut stones about and grunting in difficulty. They stank of sweat and manure. There were some of Jarls kin gathered in a corner of the site with a map. These were drinking water while overseeing the thralls, and it was the Jarls who cut the stones into blocks. Odin came up to one of the Jarls and said:
“Hail! This tower grows high and graceful into the air, a beacon of direction for the Sons of Men. What design caused the massing of men at this place, to cut and stack rocks so skilfully?”
The Jarl looked at the old and shaggy wanderer and replied:
“We are building a tower to venerate the White Saviour who died for our sins. We are fashioning the stones God gave us with the skills he gave Adam and Eve to make a mighty church; a bearing for the righteous faring far, and a stronghold against sin. It is by command of the King. We have been building it in these lands for hundreds of years, and we are nearing completion. You must have come from far away if you hadn’t heard about it.”
“I am Vegtam the Wanderer. I please myself where e’er I go. Who is this White Saviour whom you venerate. Is he a Hero?”
“He died on the cross far in the East that we might get to heaven.”
“And what heaven is that then?”
Odin secretly smiled at his joke. It was plain that ignorance had come on the people, and this was no laughing matter. The jarls had given up on their old gods and old ways. The blood of their forefathers and all that they represented were being forgotten. The runes would be lost in time. That was an idea that chilled the Allfather and he wondered about his ravens. Why had they not been to this place and warned him that such ignorance and forgetfulness grew like weeds in the minds of men? Where were Thought and Memory now?
“And what of the heathen grove that once stood here? And what of the pagan folk?”
“It was torn down and smashed, burned and destroyed. The heathens and their demon-gods were severed at the neck, or singed in the fires of righteousness. We wrecked their statues in Christ’s’ name, and dispatched the heretics to the great judgement, and stained the sacred groves with their gross and sinful blood.”
Odin ignored the insult. From such a man, words meant little.
“What is your name Jarl?”
Odin smirked at the irony but inside he knew he looked on a severe and growing problem the folk would face.
“You have turned your back on your own people and angered the Gods. The Aesir will not favour you or your descendants”. He spoke calmly but his eye glinted with the bubbling fury Adam of Bremen spoke of.
“What will out” he thought and he retreated from the site, saddened by the sacrilege. He had found out the reason for the tower, and having sated his curiosity he ventured back to Asgard.
Thor was eager for action, having endured a long boring winter that had lacked the grisly music of hammer against Jotun-skull that he loved so well. As spring arrived he knew it was once again time to wield his hammer among the skies and hallow the ground for growing. It was also hunting season and he set off for Jotunheim keen for action and adventure. He put on his belt of strength and donned his gloves. Thrudheim would miss him while he was gone; Sif had no joy for the lonely nights. But all the Aesir and Vanir knew how imperative it was to fight against the enemy that would depose them, kill them, and blacken the sanctity of Asgard. Thor kissed his wife goodbye, and cradled Magni and Modi in his broad arms.
“Goodbye my darling and hail to the sons of Thunder.” Thor gripped his hammer and left the Realm of the Gods. He crossed the rivers that separate Asgard from Giant-home with relative ease. As he got deeper into Jotunheim the landscape grew much more rocky and bleak. No man could ever tame this land, and plants would never grow. The sky became blacker and darker until the passing of days and nights blurred. Thor had no idea how long he had been travelling when he came across his first Giant. It was a Mountain Giant, made of rock, asleep on the floor snoring quietly. Thor had battled many such before and knew how hard it was to crush their skulls. He crept up quietly to the sleeping giant and raised his hammer high. He was just about to bring it crashing down when the giant jumped and begged for his life.
“It would not become a member of the Aesir to kill me while sleeping and unarmed. Asa-Thor would not gain much reputation to behave like a midnight thief.”
“I would kill you just for insulting me. For that I will grind you into dust and let the winds keep you from any rest!” Thor once again raised his hammer to strike. “Heroes do not bandy with cretins.”
“I have heard of you Thor, “Hrungnirs’ Bane” they call you round here, though the Giants have names enough for all the Aesir. I am not scared of you. But listen to this first and take heed. There are Giants in these dark lands a hundred times stronger than Hrungnir, and a thousand times wilier than Utgard-Loki. The Jotuns in these parts make Utgard-Loki’s magic seem like mere sleight of hand. They will make you look like a ginger pipsqueak: a harmless ball of anger and lightning”
Thor listened and ignored the insults.
“To kill me would be easy and afford you no fame. I have no weapons no armour… Instead I have the strength of the mountains in me, and my resolve is like granite. Let us have a competition of power, the strongest as the victor. I’ll stake my head on it that you are not as strong as me.
“Very well” said Thor lowering his hammer. You may have the strength of mountains, but I am the son of all the Earth.”
The two went to an open space. There would have been fields if grass could grow in that forsaken land but alas! It was a large valley with high mountains on either side a thousand leagues from anywhere else. A black river of oil poured slowly through below. Its viscosity was sickening.
“The victor will be able to throw furthest. I trust this valley is big enough Thor?
“A fine place to defeat you”
“What will you throw?”
“My hammer. It always returns to my palm. You?”
“A javelin. Best of three”
The giant took up an enormous javelin, made of stone and sharper than a wolf’s tooth. Slender it was and well balanced. With a long run up, the giant let fly the rod with an ear splitting roar that echoed all around. The javelin sailed through the air for ages before finally burying its point over seventy miles away. The giant looked pleased at Thors’ worried expression but Thor knew in his heart that he could beat that.
Without even a few paces run up he hurled Mjollnir high into the sky. Its spinning was like the fury of a storm that raged in the air and it came by more than mere luck, to land in the same spot as the javelin, shattering it into a thousand pieces and denting the landscape unalterably. It then returned to his hand.
“A good throw, certainly, but I think I can better it still.”
The giant took his second throw. His second javelin sailed higher and faster than before and seemed to slip out of Jotunheim altogether! Thor watched as it settled nearly at the threshold of Asgard. Point downward the javelin landed and buried itself half a mile into the earth. Magma bubbled up and a volcano was born. The giant celebrated his own strength crudely. Thor realised then what a threat this giant posed.
With a medium run up Thor threw his hammer a second time knowing he had to beat the giant. Untamed strength of that magnitude and a hostility to the Gods could cause unprecedented damage to Asgard and Midgard and Thor could not allow that. The hammer left his grip at a speed unheard of. The noise of the storm shook the very boughs of Yggdrasil itself. The hammer flew crackling through the air like a spinning swastika and landed in the magma pool from the giants’ throw, splashing liquid rock all over Jotunheim. Heimdal saw the storm it caused from beyond the rainbow bridge and looked on in wonder.
“It seems Thor, that we are matched in strength equally. If I were to throw any further, I would pierce the roof of Valhalla and stab Allfather to his chair! But there is one thing I know of that is far out of my reach. I would call you victor if you could hit that Tower on the horizon with the golden crest. The one in Midgard.
Thor looked at the distance. Sure enough, the Tower had been built so huge that it could be seen as a tiny glinting dot on the horizon, higher than the mountains of Jotunheim. It was worlds away, but Thor had to beat the Giant.
“Very well, I’ll bring down the tower and have your head in no time” His words were bold but Thor felt a doubt that even he could throw that far.
With the strength of the Thorn and the Auroch Thor would hurl his hammer. Runes of strength he knew he would need. He gathered his powers and took a long run up. Then Thor, son of Mother Jorth let his hammer fly through the air with such fury unknown to man. He let out a bellow as he released his pent up aggression- the sound felled mountains.
In Midgard the Jarls were packing up their work tools. Ivar Thorsson had left the site, for that days work had been done and his home awaited him. As he ventured he saw a sight that made his nerve fail. In the air was the most magnificent and terrible gathering of clouds and winds he had seen. The sky grew dark and the setting sun was blotted out. Within seconds the pleasant afternoon sun and breeze turned electric and now heavy raindrops were falling. There was a vibration in the air that excited and scared him. As the clouds gathered and darkened, the storm picked up the pace. Lightning flashed all around and the noise was deafening. Families took cover beneath their tables and feared that the very earth would split apart. Cattle urinated in fear. Babies cried out in fright and even the boldest men quailed. Ivar Thorrson could only think about that one eyed stranger and his words, and thought this storm must have had something to do with Vegtam the Wanderer. He fell to his knees, debased himself, and prayed to a foreign deity to protect his kin from Thor the Giant Hunter and protector of Midgard. The irony of that moment was vaporised in the massive electrical discharge from the sky that struck at the tower and the surrounding houses causing grandmothers to die in surprise and fear: The most epic storm of all the ages of the Earth raged around them, striking at the tower and rattling it with wind and rain. Finally, well made though it was, the tower fell and its steeple came crashing to the ground torn utterly asunder. Thunder blotted out its ghastly sound and lightning struck again and again at it, lashing at it like whips of divine aggression.
The hammer had struck the tower with all of Thors’ force. When it returned to his hand after many hours flying in the air the Giant was dumbstruck. The Son of all the Earth looked menacingly at the giant, and knew what time it was.
“It is mete that I should die like this, for you Thor have won and will always be strongest. Alas that my bloodline should have such a fearsome foe and such sad a fate.”
Thor swung his hammer and ceased the giants’ woeful laments. All in a moment the Jotuns’ head was turned to sand and swept away in the wind. Thor was alone, victorious and carried on his way.
When Thor arrived back in Asgard, Odin summoned him to his halls and interrogated him about his endeavours. His cold hard eye glinted when he heard of the jotun’s oafish ugliness and defeat.
“I have never seen a jotun so skilled in throwing. For a while I feared a tie would be the best outcome, but it was his suggestion to crush a building somewhere in Midgard. But Odin, I am the protector of men and this wasn’t to my liking. Have I done wrong? No matter- I swung my hammer low, and crushed him to dust. He’ll never bother the gods again.”
“I think you have not done wrong my son. I think you have protected men in ways you cannot see. I look deep into time, which sadly your eyes cannot perceive.”
Odin smiled, dismissed him, and sat back muttering into his beard. Ironic laughter escaped him like a smirk. Who indeed was this precocious Jotun?
Back at the site of the tower, the next day the villagers packed up their things and moved out. They had angered the Gods of the Pagan North by daring to desecrate that bounteous territory. They would find no satisfaction anywhere within the borders of the Odal lands, for the Gods still walk amongst the folk there, watching and waiting for the Folk to remember them.
Plants grew among the ruins of that place and after a few summers most traces of the village were overgrown. After ages people gathered there again and found the well hewn rocks. They carved the Idols again and made circles of the Bones of Hymir. The land was hallowed and mead splashed in ritual to the eternal generosity of Mother Earth, and the songs of our forefathers echoed again in the deep parts of that forest.