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

The Gift

The next morning, when the little elves awoke up with the dawn, and came thronging round their king to receive his commands, they were surprised to see that he had changed since they last saw him.

"He has grown up in the night," they whispered one to another sorrowfully.

And in truth he was no longer so fit a teacher and playfellow for the merry little people as he had been a few hours before.

It was to no purpose that the sweet winds blew, and the flowers opened, when Frey came forth from his chamber. A bright white light still danced before him, and nothing now seemed to him worth looking at. That evening when the sun had set, and work was over, there were no stories for the light elves.

"Be still," Frey said, when they pressed round. 'If you will be still and listen, there are stories enough to be heard better than mine."

I do not know whether the elves heard anything; but to Frey it seemed that flowers, and birds, and winds, and the whispering rivers, united that day in singing one song, which he never wearied of hearing.

"We are fair," they said; "but there is nothing in the whole world so fair as Gerda, the giant-maiden whom you saw last night in Jötunheim."

"Frey has dew-drops in his eyes," the little elves said to each other in whispers as they sat round looking up at him, and they felt very much surprised; for only to men and the Æsir is it permitted to be sorrowful and weep.

Soon, however, wiser people noticed the change that had come over the summer-king, and his good-natured father, Niörd, sent Skirnir one day into Alfheim to inquire into the cause of Frey's sorrow.

He found him walking alone in a shady place, and Frey was glad enough to tell his trouble to his wise friend.

When he had related the whole story, he said,—

"And now you will see that there is no use in asking me to be merry as I used to be; for how can I ever be happy in Alfheim, and enjoy the summer and sunshine, while my dear Gerd, whom I love, is living in a dark, cold land, among cruel giants?"

"If she be really as beautiful and beloved as you say," answered Skirnir, "she must be sadly out of place in Jötunheim. Why do not you ask her to be your wife, and live with you in Alfheim?"

"That would I only too gladly do," answered Frey; "but if I were to leave Alfheim only for a few hours, the cruel giant, Ryme, would rush in to take my place; all the labours of the year would be undone in a night, and the poor, toiling men, who are watching for the harvest, would wake some morning to find their corn-fields and orchards buried in snow."

"Well," said Skirnir, thoughtfully, "I am neither so strong nor so beautiful as you, Frey; but, if you will give me the sword that hangs by your side, I will undertake the journey to Jötunheim; and I will speak in such a way of you, and of Alfheim, to the lovely Gerd, that she will gladly leave her land and the house of her giant-father to come to you."

Now, Frey's sword was a gift, and he knew well enough that he ought not to part with it, or trust it in any hands but his own; and yet how could he expect Skirnir to risk all the dangers of Jötunheim for any less recompense than an enchanted sword? and what other hope had he of ever seeing his dear Gerda again?

He did not allow himself a moment to think of the choice he was making. He unbuckled his sword from his side and put it into Skirnir's hands; and then he turned rather pettishly away, and threw himself down on a mossy bank under a tree.

"You will be many days in travelling to Jötunheim," he said, "and all that time I shall be miserable."

Skirnir was too sensible to think this speech worth answering. He took a hasty farewell of Frey, and prepared to set off on his journey; but, before he left the hill, he chanced to see the reflection of Frey's face in a little pool of water that lay near. In spite of its sorrowful expression, it was as beautiful as the woods are in full summer, and a clever thought came into Skirnir's mind. He stooped down, without Frey's seeing him, and, with cunning touch, stole the picture out of the water; then he fastened it up carefully in his silver drinking-horn, and, hiding it in his mantle, he mounted his horse and rode towards Jötunheim, secure of succeeding in his mission, since he carried a matchless sword to conquer the giant, and a matchless picture to win the maiden.

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