L OKE looked like a god and had many of the wonderful gifts which the gods possessed, but at heart he was one of those giants who were always trying to cross Bifrost, the shining rainbow-bridge, at the heavenly end of which Heimdal kept guard day and night, with eyes so keen that in the darkness as easily as in the light he could see a hundred miles distant, and with ears so sharp that he could hear the noiseless blossoming of the grass in the deepest valley, and the growing of the wool upon the backs of sheep browsing along the hill-tops. Loke had the mind of the gods, who were always working to bring order and beauty into the world, but he had the heart of the giants, who were striving to undo the good and cover the earth with howling storms and icy desolation. After he had been in Asgard for a time he wanted to get back to Jotunheim, where his true home was. There he married a terrible giantess, and three children were born to him, more repulsive than their mother,—Hel, the Midgard-serpent, and the Fenris-wolf. These monsters grew to be very strong and horrible to look upon before the gods thought of destroying them; but one day, as Odin looked over the worlds from his throne, a shadow fell upon his face, for he saw how powerful the children of Loke were becoming, and he knew they would work endless mischief and misery for gods and men; so he sent some of the gods to bring the monsters to Asgard. It was a strange sight when Loke's children were brought into heaven,—Hel's terrible face turning into stone every one who looked, unless he were a god; the Midgard-serpent coiling its immense length into great circles over which the glittering eyes wandered restlessly; and the Fenris-wolf growling with a deep, cruel voice. Odin looked sternly at Loke, the evil god who had brought such savage beings among men, and then with a dark brow he cast Hel down into the dusky kingdoms of the dead, and hurled the snake into the deep sea, where he grew until he coiled around the whole earth; but Fenrer, the wolf, was permitted to grow up in Asgard. He was so fierce that only Tyr, the sword-god, could feed him. He roamed about Asgard, his huge body daily growing stronger, and his hungry eyes flashing more and more fiercely.
After a time another shadow fell upon Odin's face, for Fenrer was fast becoming the most terrible enemy of the gods, and the oracles who could look into the future, said that at the last great battle he would destroy Odin himself. So Odin called all the gods together, and as they came into the great hall the wolf crouched at the door, with a look that made even their strong hearts shudder.
"Our most dangerous enemy is growing stronger every day under our roof and by our hands," said Odin, "and we shall cease to be gods if we are so blind as to nourish our own destroyer."
"Kill him!" muttered some one.
"No," said Odin; "although he is to devour me, no blood shall stain the sacred seats of the gods."
"Chain him!" said Thor.
That was a good plan, they all agreed, but how was it to be done?
"Leave that to me," answered Thor, full of courage, for he had done many wonderful things, and there was nothing of which he was afraid.
That night the fires in the great smithy blazed and roared so fiercely that the heavens far around were lighted with the glow, and in the dusky light the strong forms of the gods moved to and fro as they worked on the chain with which they meant to bind the Fenris-wolf. All night Thor's mighty strokes rang on the hard iron, and when the morning came the chain was done, and they called it Leding. Then the gods called Fenrer, spread out the chain, and asked him to show his wonderful strength by breaking it.
The wolf knew better than the gods how strong he had grown, and that the breaking of Leding would be a very small matter for him; so he permitted them to bind the great links around his shaggy body and about his feet, and to rivet the ends so fast that it seemed as if nothing on earth could ever break them apart again. When it was all done, and Thor's eyes were beginning to smile at his success, the wolf got quietly upon his feet, stretched himself as easily as if a web of silk were cast over him, snapped the massive chain in a dozen places, and walked off, leaving the gods to gather up the broken links.
"He has grown terribly strong," said Odin, looking at the great pieces of iron.
"Yes," answered sturdy Thor, "stronger than I thought; but I will forge another chain, which even he cannot break."
Again the red glow shone in the sky over Asgard, the fires flashed and blazed, and the great hammers rang far into the night, and the next day the mighty chain Drome, twice as strong as Leding, was finished.
"Come, Fenrer," said Thor, "you are already famous for your strength; if you can break this chain no will ever be able to deny your strength, and you will win great honour among gods and men."
The wolf growled as he looked at the great chain, for he knew that the gods feared him and wanted to make him harmless. He knew also that he could break the chain which they had forged with so much toil to bind him with, and so he let them fasten him as before. When all was done, the gods began to smile again, for they had made the strongest chain that ever was or could be made, and now surely the wolf was forever harmless.
But Fenrer knew better than they. He rose slowly, with the massive links bound closely about him, shook himself fiercely, stretched himself, and then with a mighty effort dashed himself on the ground; the earth shook, the chain burst, and its links flew through the air and buried themselves in the ground, so tremendous was the effort with which the wolf freed himself. A fierce joy gleamed in his eyes as he walked away with deep growls, leaving the gods to console themselves as best they might, for there were no more chains to be made.
Long and anxiously they talked together, but no one could think of anything which could hold Fenrer until Odin called to Skirner, Frey's swiftest messenger: "Go to Svartalfheim as fast as the flash of Thor's hammer, and the dwarfs shall make us an enchanted chain which even he cannot break."
Skirner was off almost before Odin had done speaking. Travelling over land and sea he soon came to the dark entrance of the under-world where the dwarfs lived, and in a very short time he was in the dusky home of the wonderful little workers in iron. They were rushing about with black faces and dirty hair when Skirner called them together and said, "You must make for the gods an enchanted chain so slight that Fenrer will be willing to be bound by it, and so strong that when he has allowed himself to be tied he cannot break loose again."
The dwarfs whispered together for a few moments, and then scattered in every direction; for they were going to make the most wonderful chain that was ever put together, and there were many things to be looked after before it could be done. Skirner sat in the darkness until the busy little workers had finished the band, and then he carried it quickly to Asgard, where all the gods were waiting anxiously for his coming and Fenrer was stealthily stealing from place to place through the city. Skirner spread the string out for the gods to look at, and they could hardly believe it was strong enough. It was very long, but so small and soft that it seemed no more than silken twine; it was made out of such things as the sound of a cat's footsteps, the roots of the mountains, the breath of a fish, and the sinews of a bear, and nothing could break it.
The gods were so happy in the hope of being relieved of their enemy that they could not thank Skirner enough. They all went to a rocky island in a lake called Amsvartner, taking the wolf with them. Thor showed the silken twine to Fenrer. "You have broken Leding and Drome," he said, "and now you will break this also, although it is somewhat stronger than one would think, to look at it."
Then he handed the magic cord from one god to another and each tried to break it, but no one succeeded.
"We cannot do it," they all said after it had been handed around the circle, "but Fenrer can."
The wolf looked at it suspiciously.
"It is such a slender thread," he answered, "that I shall get no credit if I break it, and if it is made with magic, slight as it looks I shall never get loose from it again."
The gods looked at one another and smiled.
"Oh, you will easily break so slim a band as that," they replied, "since you have already broken the heaviest chains in the world; and if you cannot break it we will loosen you again."
"If you bind me so fast that I am not able to get myself free, I shall get little help from you," said the wolf truthfully enough. "I am very unwilling to have this twine bound about me; but that you may not be able to call me cowardly, I will do it if some one of you will lay his hand in my mouth as a pledge that there is no deceit about this thing."
The gods looked at each other when they heard these words. Fenrer had spoken the truth, there was no denying that. He must be chained now, however, or they would all be destroyed; but who would lose a hand to save the rest? Thor's hands were needed to swing the hammer against the giants, and everybody could think of some very good reason why his hand should not be lost. There was an awful pause, and then Tyr, the god of honour and courage, who had never stood still when he ought to go forward, stretched out his right hand and laid it in the wolf's hungry mouth.
Then the gods bound the slender cord tightly around Fenrer, fold on fold, winding its whole length about him and tying the ends tightly together. It was so slight that it seemed as if it must break in fifty places as soon as the wolf began to stretch himself. So perhaps thought Fenrer himself; but the harder he strove to break loose, the closer the cord drew about him. He sprang from side to side, he threw himself on the ground, he stretched his mighty limbs with all his strength, but the twine only cut the deeper. Then a mighty rage filled the wolf because he had suffered himself to be deceived, his eyes flamed with fury, and the foam ran out of his mouth. The gods were so delighted when they found the wolf really fast at last that they began to laugh, all except brave Tyr, who lost his right hand.
They took the wonderful silken chain and drew it through the middle of a rock and sunk the rock so deep in the earth that nothing but an earthquake could stir it. Fenrer, wild with pain and rage, rushed from side to side so violently that the earth rocked beneath him, and opening his tremendous jaws sprang upon the gods; whereupon they thrust a sword into his cruel jaws so that the hilt stood on his lower jaw and the point pierced the roof of the mouth.
So the Fenris-wolf was bound and made fast to the rocky island, his jaws spread far apart, foaming and growling until the last great day.