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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Story Of Siegfried - Chapter V. In AEgir's Kingdom
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The Story Of Siegfried - Chapter V. In AEgir's Kingdom Post by :ashwiz Category :Long Stories Author :James Baldwin Date :February 2011 Read :3748

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The Story Of Siegfried - Chapter V. In AEgir's Kingdom

The vessel in which Siegfried sailed was soon far out at
sea; for the balmy south wind, and the songs of the birds,
and the music from Bragi's harp, all urged it cheerily on.
And Siegfried sat at the helm, and guided it in its course.
By and by they lost all sight of land, and the sailors wist
not where they were; but they knew that Bragi, the Wise,
would bring them safely into some haven whenever it should
so please him, and they felt no fear. And the fishes leaped
up out of the water as the white ship sped by on woven
wings; and the monsters of the deep paused, and listened to
the sweet music which floated down from above. After a time
the vessel began to meet great ice-mountains in the
sea,--mountains which the Reifriesen, and old Hoder, the
King of the winter months, had sent drifting down from the
frozen land of the north. But these melted at the sound of
Bragi's music and at the sight of Siegfried's radiant armor.
And the cold breath of the Frost-giants, which had driven
them in their course, turned, and became the ally of the
south wind.

At length they came in sight of a dark shore, which
stretched on either hand, north and south, as far as the eye
could reach; and as they drew nearer they saw a line of huge
mountains, rising, as it were, out of the water, and
stretching their gray heads far above the clouds. And the
overhanging cliffs seemed to look down, half in anger, half
in pity, upon the little white winged vessel which had dared
thus to sail through these unknown waters. But the surface
of the sea was smooth as glass; and the gentle breeze drove
the ship slowly forwards through the calm water, and along
the rock-bound coast, and within the dark shadows of the
mountain-peaks. Long ago the Frost-giants had piled great
heaps of snow upon these peaks, and built huge fortresses of
ice between, and sought, indeed, to clasp in their cold
embrace the whole of the Norwegian land. But the breezes of
the South-land that came with Bragi's ship now played among
the rocky steeps, and swept over the frozen slopes above,
and melted the snow and ice; and thousands of rivulets of
half-frozen water ran down the mountain-sides, and tumbled
into rocky gorges, or plunged into the sea. And the grass
began to grow on the sunny slopes, and the flowers peeped up
through the half-melted snow, and the music of spring was
heard on every side. Now and then the little vessel passed
by deep, dark inlets enclosed between high mountain-walls,
and reaching many leagues far into land. But the sailors
steered clear of these shadowy fjords; for they said that
Ran, the dread Ocean-queen, lived there, and spread her nets
in the deep green waters to entangle unwary seafaring men.
And the sound of Bragi's harp awakened all sleeping things;
and it was carried from rock to rock, and from
mountain-height to valley, and was borne on the breeze far
up the fjords, and all over the land.

One day, as they were sailing through these quiet waters,
beneath the overhanging cliffs, Bragi tuned his harp, and
sang a song of sea. And then he told Siegfried a story of
AEgir and his gold-lit hall.

Old AEgir was the Ocean-king. At most times he was rude and
rough, and his manners were uncouth and boisterous. But when
Balder, the Shining One, smiled kindly upon him from above,
or when Bragi played his harp by the seashore, or sailed his
ship on the waters, the heart of the bluff old king was
touched with a kindly feeling, and he tried hard to curb his
ungentle passions, and to cease his blustering ways. He was
one of the old race of giants; and men believe that he would
have been a very good and quiet giant, had it not been for
the evil ways of his wife, the crafty Queen Ran. For,
however kind at heart the king might be, his good intentions
were almost always thwarted by the queen. Ran could never be
trusted; and no one, unless it were Loki, the
Mischief-maker, could ever say any thing in her praise. She
was always lurking among hidden rocks, or in the deep sea,
or along the shores of silent fjords, and reaching out with
her long lean fingers, seeking to clutch in her greedy grasp
whatever prey might unwarily come near her. And many
richly-laden vessels, and many brave seamen and daring
warriors, had she dragged down to her blue-hung chamber in
old AEgir's hall.

And this is the story that Bragi told of

 

The Feast in AEgir's Hall.

 

It happened long ago, when the good folk at Gladsheim were
wont to visit the mid-world oftener than now. On a day in
early autumn Queen Ran, with her older daughters,--Raging
Sea, Breaker, Billow, Surge, and Surf,--went out to search
for plunder. But old AEgir staid at home, and with him his
younger daughters,--fair Purple-hair, gentle Diver, dancing
Ripple, and smiling Sky-clear. And as they played around
him, and kissed his old storm-beaten cheeks, the heart of
the king was softened into gentleness, and he began to think
kindly of the green earth which bordered his kingdom, and of
the brave men who lived there; but most of all did he think
of the great and good Asa-folk, who dwell in Asgard, and
overlook the affairs of the world. Then he called his
servants, Funfeng and Elder, and bade them prepare a feast
in his gold-lit hall. And he sent fleet messengers to invite
the Asa-folk to come and partake of the good cheer. And his
four young daughters played upon the beach, and smiled and
danced in the beaming sunlight. And the hearts of many
seafaring men were gladdened that day, as they spread their
sails to the wind; for they saw before them a pleasant
voyage, and the happy issue of many an undertaking.

Long before the day had begun to wane, the Asa-folk arrived
in a body at AEgir's hall; for they were glad to answer the
bidding of the Ocean-king. Odin came, riding Sleipner, his
eight-footed steed; Thor rode in his iron chariot drawn by
goats; Frey came with Gullinburste, his golden-bristled
boar. There, too, was the war-like Tyr, and blind Hoder, and
the silent Vidar, and the sage Forsete, and the hearkening
Heimdal, and Niord, the Ruler of the Winds, and Bragi, with
his harp; and lastly came many elves, the thralls of the
Asa-folk, and Loki, the cunning Mischief-maker. In his rude
but hearty way old AEgir welcomed them; and they went down
into his amber hall, and rested themselves upon the
sea-green couches that had been spread for them. And a
thousand fair mermaids stood around them, and breathed sweet
melodies through sea-shells of rainbow hue, while the gentle
white-veiled daughters of the Ocean-king danced to the
bewitching music.

Hours passed by, and the sun began to slope towards the
west, and the waiting guests grew hungry and ill at ease;
and then they began to wonder why the feast was so long in
getting ready. At last the host himself became impatient;
and he sent out in haste for his servants, Funfeng and
Elder. Trembling with fear, they came and stood before him.

"Master," said they, "we know that you are angry because the
feast is not yet made ready; but we beg that your anger may
not fall upon us. The truth is, that some thief has stolen
your brewing-kettle, and we have no ale for your guests."

Then old AEgir's brow grew dark, and his breath came quick
and fast; and, had not Niord held the winds tightly clutched
in his hand, there would have been a great uproar in the
hall. Even as it was, the mermaids fled away in great
fright, and the white-veiled Waves stopped dancing, and a
strange silence fell upon all the company.

"Some enemy has done this!" crier AEgir, as soon as he could
speak. "Some enemy has taken away my brewing-kettle; and,
unless we can find it, I fear our feast will be but a dry
one."

Then Thor said,--

"If any one knows where this kettle is, let him speak, and I
will bring it back; and I promise you you shall not wait
long for the feast."

But not one in all this company knew aught about the missing
kettle. At last Tyr stood up and said,--

"If we cannot find the same vessel that our host has lost,
mayhap we may find another as good. I know a dogwise giant
who lives east of the Rivers Elivagar, and who has a strong
kettle, fully a mile deep, and large enough to brew ale for
all the world."

"That is the very kettle we want!" cried Thor. "Think you
that we can get it?"

"If we are cunning enough, we may," answered Tyr. "But old
Hymer will never give it up willingly."

"Is it Hymer of whom you speak?" asked Thor. "Then I know
him well; and, willingly or not willingly he must let us
have his kettle. For what is a feast without the gladsome
ale?"

Then Thor and Tyr set out on their journey towards the land
of Elivagar; and they travelled many a league northwards,
across snowy mountains and barren plains, until they came to
the shores of the frozen sea. And there the sun rises and
sets but once a year, and even in summer the sea is full of
ice. On the lonely beach, stood Hymer's dwelling,--a dark
and gloomy abode. Tyr knocked at the door; and it was opened
by Hymer's wife, a strangely handsome woman, who bade them
come in. Inside the hall they saw Hymer's old mother,
sitting in the chimney-corner, and crooning over the
smouldering fire. She was a horribly ugly old giantess, with
nine hundred heads; but every head was blind and deaf and
toothless. Ah, me! what a wretched old age that must have
been!

"Is your husband at home?" asked Thor, speaking to the
pretty woman who had opened the door.

"He is not," was the answer. "He is catching fish in the
warm waters of the sheltered bay; or, mayhap, he is tending
his cows in the open sea, just around the headland."

For the great icebergs that float down from the frozen sea
are called old Hymer's cows.

"We have come a very long journey," said Tyr. "Will you not
give two tired strangers food and lodging until they shall
have rested themselves?"

The woman seemed in nowise loath to do this; and she set
before the two Asa-folk a plentiful meal of the best that
she had in the house. When they had eaten, she told them
that it would be far safer for them to hide themselves under
the great kettles in the hall; for, she said, her husband
would soon be home, and he might not be kind to them. So
Thor and Tyr hid themselves, and listened for Hymer's
coming. After a time, the great hall-door opened, and they
heard the heavy steps of the giant.

"Welcome home!" cried the woman, as Hymer shook the frost
from his hair and beard, and stamped the snow from his feet.
"I am so glad that you have come! for there are two
strangers in the hall, and they have asked for you. One of
them I know is Thor, the foe of the giants, and the friend
of man. The other is the one-armed god of war, the brave
Tyr. What can be their errand at Hymer's hall?"

"Where are they?" roared Hymer, stamping so furiously, that
even his deaf old mother seemed to hear, and lifted up her
heads.

"They are under the kettles, at the gable-end of the hall,"
answered the woman.

Hymer cast a wrathful glance towards the place. The post at
the end of the hall was shivered in pieces by his very look;
the beam that upheld the floor of the loft was broken, and
all the kettles tumbled down with a fearful crash. Thor and
Tyr crept out from among the rubbish, and stood before old
Hymer. The giant was not well pleased at the sight of such
guests come thus unbidden to his hall. But he knew that his
rude strength would count as nothing if matched with their
skill and weapons: hence he deemed it wise to treat the two
Asas as his friends, and to meet them with cunning and
strategy.

"Welcome to my hall!" he cried. "Fear no hurt from Hymer,
for he was never known to harm a guest."

And Thor and Tyr were given the warmest seats at the
fireside. And the giant ordered his thralls to kill the
fatted oxen, and to make ready a great feast in honor of his
guests. And, while the meal was being got ready, he sat by
Thor's side, and asked him many questions about what was
going on in the great South-land. And Thor answered him
pleasantly, meeting guile with guile. When the feast was in
readiness, all sat down at the table, which groaned beneath
its weight of meat and drink; for Hymer's thralls had killed
three fat oxen, and baked them whole for this meal, and they
had filled three huge bowls with ale from his great
brewing-kettle. Hymer ate and drank very fast, and wished to
make his guests fear him, because he could eat so much. But
Thor was not to be taken aback in this way; for he at once
ate two of the oxen, and quaffed a huge bowl of ale which
the giant had set aside for himself. The giant saw that he
was outdone, and he arose from the table, saying,--

"Not all my cows would serve to feed two guests so hungry as
these. We shall be obliged to live on fish now."

He strode out of the hall without another word, and began
getting his boat ready for a sail. But Thor followed him.

"It is a fine day for fishing," said Thor gayly. "How I
should like to go out with you!"

"Such little fellows as you would better stay at home,"
growled Hymer.

"But let me go with you," persisted Thor. "I can certainly
row the boat while you fish."

"I have no need of help from such a stunted pygmy," muttered
the giant. "You could not be of the least use to me: you
would only be in my way. Still, if you are bent on doing so,
you may go, and you shall take all the risks. If I go as far
as I do sometimes, and stay as long as I often do, you may
make up your mind never to see the dry land again; for you
will certainly catch your death of cold, and be food for the
fishes--if, indeed, they would deign to eat such a scrawny
scrap!"

These taunting words made Thor so angry, that he grasped his
hammer, and was sorely tempted to crush the giant's skull.
But he checked himself, and coolly said,--

"I pray you not to trouble yourself on my account I have set
my head on going with you, and go I will. Tell me where I
can find something that I can use for bait, and I will be
ready in a trice."

"I have no bait for you," roughly answered Hymer "You must
look for it yourself."

Half a dozen oxen, the very finest and fattest of Hymer's
herd, were grazing on the short grass which grew on the
sunnier slopes of the hillside; for not all of the giant's
cattle had yet taken to the water. When Thor saw these great
beasts, he ran quickly towards them, and seizing the largest
one, which Hymer called the Heaven-breaker, he twisted off
his head as easily as he would that of a small fowl, and ran
back with it to the boat. Hymer looked at him in anger and
amazement, but said nothing; and the two pushed the boat off
from the shore. The little vessel sped through the water
more swiftly than it had ever done before, for Thor plied
the oars.

In a moment the long, low beach was out of sight; and Hymer,
who had never travelled so fast, began to feel frightened.

"Stop!" he cried. "Here is the place to fish: I have often
caught great store of flat-fish here. Let us out with our
lines!"

"No, no!" answered Thor; and he kept on plying the oars. "We
are not yet far enough from shore. The best fish are still
many leagues out."

And the boat skimmed onwards through the waters, and the
white spray dashed over the prow; and Hymer, now very much
frightened, sat still, and looked at his strange
fellow-fisherman, but said not a word. On and on they went;
and the shore behind them first grew dim, and then sank out
of sight; and the high mountain-tops began to fade away in
the sky, and then were seen no more. And when at last the
fishermen were so far out at sea that nothing was in sight
but the rolling waters on every side, Thor stopped his
rowing.

"We have come too far!" cried the giant, trembling in every
limb. "The great Midgard snake lies hereabouts. Let us turn
back!"

"Not yet," answered Thor quietly. "We will fish here a
little while."

Without loss of time he took from his pocket a strong hook,
wonderfully made, to which he fastened a long line as strong
as ten ships' cables twisted together; then he carefully
baited the hook with the gory head of the Heaven-breaker ox,
and threw it into the water. As the giant had feared, they
were now right over the head of the great Midgard snake. The
huge beast looked upward with his sleepy eyes, and saw the
tempting bait falling slowly through the water; but he did
not see the boat, it was so far above him. Thinking of no
harm, he opened his leathern jaws, and greedily gulped the
morsel down; but the strong iron hook stuck fast in his
throat. Maddened by the pain, he began to lash his tail
against the floor of the sea; and he twisted and writhed
until the ocean was covered with foam, and the waves ran
mountain-high. But Thor pulled hard upon the line above, and
strove to lift the reptile's head out of the water; then the
snake darted with lightning speed away, pulling the boat
after him so swiftly, that, had not Thor held on to the
oar-locks, he would have been thrown into the sea. Quickly
he tightened his magic girdle of strength around him, and,
standing up in the boat, he pulled with all his might. The
snake would not be lifted. But the boat split in two; and
Thor slid into the water, and stood upon the bottom of the
sea. He seized the great snake in his hands, and raised his
head clean above the water. What a scene of frightful
turmoil was there then! The earth shook; the mountains
belched forth fire; the lightnings flashed; the caves
howled; and the sky grew black and red. Nobody knows what
the end would have been, had not Hymer reached over, and cut
the strong cord. The slippery snake glided out of Thor's
hands, and hid himself in the deep sea; and every thing
became quiet again.

Silently Thor and Hymer sat in the broken boat, and rowed
swiftly back towards land. Thor felt really ashamed of
himself, because he had gained nothing by his venture. And
the giant was not at all happy.

When they reached the frozen shore and Hymer's cheerless
castle again, they found Tyr there, anxiously waiting for
them. He felt that they were tarrying too long in this
dreary place; and he wished to be back among his fellows in
old AEgir's hall. Hymer felt very cross and ugly because his
boat had been broken; and, when they came into the hall, he
said to Thor,--

"You may think that you are very stout,--you who dared
attack the Midgard snake, and lifted him out of the sea. Yet
there are many little things that you cannot do. For
instance, here is the earthen goblet from which I drink my
ale. Great men, like myself, can crush such goblets between
their thumbs and fingers; but such puny fellows as you will
find that they cannot break it by any means."

"Let me try!" cried Thor.

He took the great goblet in his hands, and threw it with all
his strength against a stone post in the middle of the hall.
The post was shattered into a thousand pieces, but the
goblet was unharmed.

"Ha, ha!" laughed the giant. "Try again!"

Thor did so. This time he threw it against a huge granite
rock that stood like a mountain near the seashore. The rock
crumbled in pieces and fell, but the goblet was whole as
ever.

"What a very stout fellow you are!" cried Hymer in glee. "Go
home now, and tell the good Asa-folk that you cannot even
break a goblet!"

"Let me try once more," said Thor, amazed, but not
disheartened.

"Throw it against Hymer's forehead," whispered some one over
his shoulder. "It is harder than any rock."

Thor looked, and saw that it was the giant's handsome wife
who had given him this kind advice. He took the goblet, and
hurled it quickly, straight at old Hymer's head. The giant
had no time to dodge. The vessel struck him squarely between
the eyes, and was shattered into ten thousand little pieces.
But the giant's forehead was unhurt.

"That drink was rather hot!" cried Hymer, trying to joke at
his ill luck. "But it doesn't take a very great man to break
a goblet. There is one thing, however, that you cannot do.
Yonder is my great brewing-kettle, a mile deep. No man has
ever lifted it. Now, if you will carry it out of the hall,
where it sits, you may have it for your own."

"Agreed!" cried Thor. "It is a fair bargain; and, if I fail,
I will go home and never trouble you again."

Then he took hold of the edge of the great kettle, and
lifted it with all his might. The floor of Hymer's hall
broke under him, and the walls and roof came tumbling down;
but he turned the kettle over his head, and walked away with
it, the great rings of the vessel clattering at his heels.
Tyr went before him, and cleared the way; and Hymer gazed
after him in utter amazement. The two Asa-folk had fairly
won the brewing-kettle.

In due time they reached old AEgir's hall, where the guests
were still waiting for them. Some said that they had been
gone three days, but most agreed that it was only three
hours. Be that as it may, AEgir's thralls, Funfeng and
Elder, brewed great store of ale in the kettle which Thor
had brought; and, when the guests were seated at the table,
the foaming liquor passed itself around to each, and there
was much merriment and glad good cheer. And old AEgir was so
happy in the pleasant company of the Asa-folk, that men say
that he forgot to blow and bluster for a full six months
thereafter.(EN#14)

Such was the story which the wise harper told to Siegfried
as they sailed gayly along the Norwegian shore. And with
many other pleasant tales did they beguile the hours away.
And no one ever thought of danger, for the sky was blue and
cloudless. And, besides this, Bragi himself was on board;
and he could charm and control the rudest elements.

One day, however, the sea became unaccountably ruffled.
There was no wind; but yet the waves rose suddenly, and
threatened to overwhelm the little ship. Quickly the sailors
sprang to their oars, and tried by rowing to drive the
vessel away from the shore and into the quieter waters of
the open sea. But all their strength was of no avail: the
swift stream carried the little bark onward in its course,
as an autumn leaf is borne on the bosom of a mighty river.
Then the whole surface of the water seemed lashed into fury.
The waves formed hundreds of currents, each stronger than a
mountain torrent, and each seeming to follow a course of its
own. They clashed wildly against each other; they heaved,
and boiled, and hissed, and threw great clouds of spray high
into the air; they formed deep whirlpools, which twisted and
twirled, and broke into a thousand eddies, and then plunged
deep down into rocky caverns beneath, or laid bare the
bottom of the sea. The helpless ship was carried round and
round, swiftly and more swiftly still; and vain were the
efforts of the crew to steer her out of the seething caldron
of waters. Then the cheeks of the sailors grew white with
fear; and they dropped their oars, and clung to the masts
and ropes, and cried out,--

"Alas, we are lost! This is old AEgir's brewing-kettle!"

But Siegfried stood by the helm, and said,--

"If that be true, then we may sup with him in his gold-lit
hall."

And all this time Bragi slept in the hold, and no one dared
awaken him. Faster and faster the ship was carried round the
seething pool. The flying spray was frozen in the air; and
it filled the masts with snow, and pattered like heavy hail
upon the deck. The light of the sun seemed shut out, and
darkness closed around. A dismal chasm yawned deep before
them, and in the gray gloom the ship's crew saw many
wondrous things. Great sea-monsters swam among the rocks,
and seemed not to heed the uproar above them. Lovely
mermaids sat in their green-and-purple caves, and combed
their tresses of golden hair; and thoughtful mermen groped
among the seaweeds, searching hopefully for lost or hidden
treasures. Then Siegfried caught a glimpse of the mighty
AEgir, sitting in his banquet-room; and, as he quaffed his
foaming ale, he called aloud to his daughters to leave their
play, and come to their father in his gold-lit hall. And the
white-veiled Waves answered to their names, and came at his
call. First, Raging Sea entered the wide hall, and sat by
the Ocean-king's side; then Billow, then Surge, then Surf,
and Breakers; then came the Purple-haired, and the Diver;
but AEgir's two youngest daughters, Laughing Ripple and
Smiling Sky-clear, came not at their father's beck, but
lingered to play among the rocks and in the open sea.

So deeply engaged was Siegfried in watching this scene, that
he did not notice Bragi, who now came upon the deck with his
harp in his hand. And sweet music arose from among the
dashing waves, and was heard far down in the deep
sea-caverns, and even in AEgir's hall. And, when Siegfried
looked up again, the eddying whirlpools, and the threatening
waves, and the flying spray, were no more; but the ship was
gliding over the quiet waters of a deep blue sea, and the
sun was shining brightly in the clear sky above. Then an
east wind filled the sails; and, as Bragi's music rose
sweeter and higher, they glided swiftly away from the coast,
and soon the snow-capped mountain-peaks grew dim in the
distance, and then sank from sight.

Many days they sailed over an unknown sea, and towards an
unknown land; and none but Bragi knew what the end of their
voyage would be. And yet no one doubted or was afraid, for
the secrets of the earth and the sea were known to the sweet
singer. After a time, the water became as smooth as glass:
not a ripple moved upon its surface, and not the slightest
breath of air stirred among the idly-hanging sails. Then the
sailors went to their oars; but they seemed overcome with
languor and sleepiness, and only when Bragi played upon his
harp did they move their oars with their wonted strength and
quickness. And at last they came in sight of a long, low
coast, and a shelving beach up which the tide was slowly
creeping in drowsy silence. And not half a league from the
shore was a grand old castle, with a tall tower and many
turrets, and broad halls and high battlements; and in the
light of the setting sun every thing was as green as emerald
or as the fresh grass of early spring. And a pale flickering
light gleamed on the castle-walls, and the moat seemed
filled with a glowing fire.

The ship glided silently up to the sandy beach, and the
sailors moored it to the shore. But Siegfried heard no sound
upon the land, nor could he see any moving, living thing.
Silence brooded everywhere, and the castle and its inmates
seemed to be wrapped in slumber. The sentinels could be seen
upon the ramparts, standing like statues of stone, and
showing no signs of life; while above the barbacan gate the
watchman was at his post, motionless and asleep.

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