Gateway to the Classics: Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas by Hamilton Wright Mabie
Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas by  Hamilton Wright Mabie

How Thor Fought the Giant Hrungner

Part 1 of 2

O NE bright summer morning, Thor, the God of Thunder, rode out of Asgard far eastward, fighting giants as he went and slaying them with his mighty hammer, Mjolner; but Odin, his beautiful blue mantle shining with stars and his helmet of gold glittering in the clear air, mounted his swift horse Sleipner, and went to Jotunheim, the home of the greatest giant of them all. As he swept along every one stopped to look, for such a horse and such a rider were rarely seen on earth. Sometimes the swift hoofs clattered along the rocky roads across the open country, sometimes they struck quick echoes out of the mountain sides in the deep dells, sometimes they rang along the very summits of the hills; and again, in an instant, horse and rider swept noiseless through the air like a strange phantom in the clear mid-day.

When Odin reached Jotunheim he came upon Hrungner, the strongest of the giants.

"Who are you, riding through air with golden helmet and flowing mantle?" asked the giant. "You have a splendid horse."

"None half so good in Jotunheim!" was Odin's answer.

Odin's boast made the giant angry. "None half so good?" he repeated. "I'll show you a better myself."

Whereupon he sprang on Goldfax and off they both went like a rushing wind. Neither gods nor men ever saw such a race before as these ran over earth and through air, Sleipner dashing with foaming flanks ahead and Goldfax close behind with flaming eye and mane outspread. So eager was the chase and so full of rage and desire the mind of Hrungner that before he knew it he was carried within the gates of Asgard, where the welcome of the gods, as they gathered round the foaming chargers, almost made him forget that he was among his enemies.

They led him into the great hall where the feasts were held, and after their usual manner set out the great tankards brimming with wine, and filled for him the hollow horns from which Thor often drank deep and long. As they were set before him the giant drained them one by one at a single draught; and after a time, as horn after horn of sparkling wine was poured down Hrungner's capacious throat, he forgot his peril, and after the manner of drunken men began to boast of his mighty deeds and of the terrible things he meant to do against the gods.

"Oho," he shouted, "I'll pick up this little Valhal in one hand and carry it off to Jotunheim; I'll pull this high-walled Asgard down stone after stone, and knock the heads of all these puny gods together until none are left save Freyja and Sif, and they shall boil my pot and keep my house for me." And so this drunken giant disturbed the peace of heaven, and the gods were sorry enough that he had ever ridden within their gates; but he was their guest, and the rites of hospitality must be respected even with a drunken braggart. So Freyja filled his horn again and again, until he roared out in a drunken fury, "I'll drink every drop of wine in Asgard before I leave."

This boast made the gods, already weary of his boasting, indignant, and they called on Thor to rid them of the braggart. The God of Thunder came striding into the hall swinging his mighty hammer, with anger on his brow and in his eye, to hear the gods insulted under the very roof of Asgard.

"Why does this stupid giant sit here in Asgard drinking our wine as if he were a god?" shouted Thor, glaring at Hrungner as if he would smite him on the spot; but Hrungner, full of drunken courage, glared back at Thor.

"I came here with Odin," he growled, "and the hospitality of the gods will suffer more than I if a hand is laid on me."

"You may rue that hospitality before you are out of Asgard," was the angry reply of Thor.

"Small honour to you if you slay me here unarmed and solitary; if you want to prove your boasted valour meet me face to face at Grjottungard. Foolish it was in me to leave my shield and flint-stone at home; had I those weapons I would challenge you to fight me here and now, but if you kill me unarmed I proclaim you a coward in the face of all Asgard."

"I will meet you, braggart, when and where you will," hotly retorted Thor, whom no giant had ever before challenged to a holmgang, or single combat. And Hrungner got himself safely out of Asgard and journeyed as fast as he could to Jotunheim to make ready for the fight.

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