Gateway to the Classics: The Heroes of Asgard by A. & E. Keary
The Heroes of Asgard by  A. & E. Keary

Fairest Gerd

I told you that the house of Gymir, Gerda's father, stood in the middle of Jötunheim, so it will not be difficult for you to imagine what a toilsome and wondrous journey Skirnir had. He was a brave hero, and he rode a brave horse; but, when they came to the barrier of murky flame that surrounds Jötunheim, a shudder came over both.

"Dark it is without," said Skirnir to his horse, "and you and I must leap through flame, and go over hoar mountains among Giant Folk. The giants will take us both, or we shall return victorious together."

Then he patted his horse's neck, and touched him with his armed heel, and with one bound he cleared the barrier, and his hoofs rang on the frozen land.

Their first day's journey was through the land of the Frost Giants, whose prickly touch kills, and whose breath is sharper than swords. Then they passed through the dwellings of the horse-headed and vulture-headed giants,—Monsters terrible to see. Skirnir hid his face, and the horse flew along swifter than the wind.

On the evening of the third day they reached Gymir's house. Skirnir rode round it nine times; but though there were twenty doors, he could find no entrance; for fierce three-headed dogs guarded every door-way.

At length he saw a herdsman pass near, and he rode up and asked him how it was possible for a stranger to enter Gymir's house, or get a sight of his fair daughter Gerd.

"Are you doomed to death, or are you already a dead man," answered the herdsman, "that you talk of seeing Gymir's fair daughter, or entering a house from which no one ever returns?"

"My death is fixed for one day," said Skirnir, in answer, and his voice, the voice of an Asa, sounded loud and clear through the misty air of Jötunheim. It reached the ears of the fair Gerd as she sat in her chamber with her maidens.

"What is that noise of noises," she said, "that I hear? The earth shakes with it, and all Gymir's hills tremble."

Then one of the maidens got up, and peeped out of the window.

"I see a man," she said; "he has dismounted from his horse, and he is fearlessly letting it graze before the door."

"Go out and bring him in stealthily, then," said Gerda; "I must again hear him speak; for his voice is sweeter than the ringing of bells."

So the maiden rose, and opened the house-door softly, lest the grim giant, Gymir, who was drinking mead in the banquet-hall with seven other giants, should hear and come forth.

Skirnir heard the door open, and understanding the maiden's sign, he entered with stealthy steps, and followed her to Gerda's chamber. As soon as he entered the doorway the light from her face shone upon him, and he no longer wondered that Frey had given up his sword.

"Are you the son of and Asa, or an Alf, or of a wise Van?" asked Gerda; "and why have you come through flame and snow to visit our halls?"

Then Skirnir came forward and knelt at Gerda's feet, and gave his message, and spoke as he had promised to speak of Van Frey and of Alfheim.

Gerda listened; and it was pleasant enough to talk to her, looking into her bright face; but she did not seem to understand much of what he said.

He promised to give her eleven golden apples from Iduna's grove if she would go with him, and that she should have the magic ring of Draupnir from which every day a still fairer jewel fell. But he found there was no use in talking of beautiful things to one who had never in all her life seen anything beautiful.

Gerda smiled at him as a child smiles at a fairy tale.

At length he grew angry. "If you are so childish, maiden," he said, "that you can believe only what you have seen, and have no thought of Æsirland or the Æsir, then sorrow and utter darkness shall fall upon you; you shall live alone on the Eagle Mount turned towards Hel. Terrors shall beset you; weeping shall be your lot. Men and Æsir will hate you, and you shall be doomed to live for ever with the Frost Giant, Ryme, in whose cold arms you will wither away like a thistle on a house-top."

"Gently," said Gerd, turning away her bright head, and sighing. "How am I to blame? you make such a talk of your Æsir and your Æsir; but how can I know about it, when all my life long I have lived with giants?"

At these words, Skirnir rose as if he would have departed, but Gerda called him back.

"You must drink a cup of mead," she said, "in return for your sweet-sounding words."

Skirnir heard this gladly, for now he knew what he would do. He took the cup from her hand, drank off the mead, and, before he returned it, he contrived cleverly to pour in the water from his drinking-horn, on which Frey's image was painted; then he put the cup into Gerda's hand, and bade her look.

She smiled as she looked; and the longer she looked, the sweeter grew her smile; for she looked for the first time on a face that loved her, and many things became clear to her that she had never understood before. Skirnir's words were no longer like fairy tales. She could now believe in Æsirland, and in all beautiful things.

"Go back to your master," she said, at last, "and tell him that in nine days I will meet him in the warm wood Barri."

After hearing these joyful words, Skirnir made haste to take leave, for every moment that he lingered in the giant's house was a danger. One of Gerda's maidens conducted him to the door, and he mounted his horse again, and rode from Jötunheim with a glad heart.

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