Page 13 of Norse Mythology

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Those on the right of the third child saw a beautiful young girl, while those on the left tried not to look at her, for they saw a dead girl, her skin and flesh rotted black, walking in their midst.

“Have you noticed something?” Thor asked Tyr on the third day of their journey back through the land of the frost giants. They had camped for the night in a small clearing, and Tyr was scratching the furry neck of Loki’s second child with his huge right hand.

“What?”

“They are not following us, the giants. Not even the creatures’ mother has come after us. It’s as if they want us to take Loki’s children out of Jotunheim.”

“That is foolish talk,” said Tyr, but as he said it, even though the fire was warm, he shivered.

Two more days of hard traveling and they were in Odin’s hall.

“These are the children of Loki,” said Tyr shortly.

The first of Loki’s children was tied to a pine tree and was now longer than the pine tree it was tied to. It was called Jormungundr, and it was a serpent. “It has grown many feet in the days we have carried it back,” said Tyr.

Thor said, “Careful. It can spit burning black venom. It spat its poison at me, but it missed. That’s why we tied its head to the tree like that.”

“It is a child,” said Odin. “It is still growing. We will send it where it can harm nobody.”

Odin took the serpent to the shore of the sea that lies beyond all lands, the sea that circles Midgard, and there on the shore he freed Jormungundr, and watched it slither and slip beneath the waves and swim away in loops and curls.

Odin watched it with his one eye until it was lost on the horizon, and he wondered if he had done the right thing. He did not know. He had done as his dreams had told him, but dreams know more than they reveal, even to the wisest of the gods.

The serpent would grow beneath the gray waters of the world ocean, grow until it encircled the earth. Folk would call Jormungundr the Midgard serpent.

Odin returned to the great hall, and he ordered Loki’s daughter to step forward.

He stared at the girl: on the right side of her face her cheek was pink and white, her eye was the green of Loki’s eyes, her lips were full and carmine; on the left side of her face the skin was blotched and striated, swollen in the bruises of death, her sightless eye rotted and pale, her lipless mouth wizened and stretched over skull-brown teeth.

“What do they call you, girl?” asked the all-father.

“They call me Hel,” she said, “if it pleases you, All-father.”

“You are a polite child,” said Odin. “I’ll give you that.”

Hel said nothing, only looked at him with her single green eye, sharp as an ice chip, and her pallid eye, dull and spoiled and dead, and he saw no fear in her.

“Are you alive?” he asked the girl. “Or are you a corpse?”

“I am only myself, Hel, daughter of Angrboda and of Loki,” she said. “And I like the dead best of all. They are simple things, and they talk to me with respect. The living look at me with revulsion.”

Odin contemplated the girl, and he remembered his dreams. Then Odin said, “This child will be the ruler of the deepest of the dark places, and ruler of the dead of all the nine worlds. She will be the queen of those poor souls who die in unworthy ways—of disease or of old age, of accidents or in childbirth. Warriors who die in battle will always come to us here in Valhalla. But the dead who die in other ways will be her folk, to attend her in her darkness.”

For the first time since she had been taken from her mother, the girl Hel smiled, with half a mouth.

Odin took Hel down to the lightless world, and he showed her the immense hall in which she would receive her subjects, and watched as she named her possessions. “I will call my bowl Hunger,” said Hel. She picked up a knife. “This is called Famine. And my bed is called Sickbed.”

That was two of Loki’s children with Angrboda dealt with, then. One in the ocean, one to the darkness beneath the earth. But what to do with the third?

When they had brought the third and smallest of Loki’s children back from the land of the giants, it had been puppy-sized, and Tyr had scratched its neck and its head and played with it, removing its willow muzzle first. It was a wolf cub, gray and black, with eyes the color of dark amber.

The wolf cub ate its meat raw, but it spoke as a man would speak, in the language of men and the gods, and it was proud. The little beast was called Fenrir.

It too was growing fast. One day it was the size of a wolf, the next the size of a cave bear, then the size of a great elk.

The gods were intimidated by it, all except Tyr. He still played with it and romped with it, and he alone fed the wolf its meat each day. And each day the beast ate more than the day before, and each day it grew and it became fiercer and stronger.

Odin watched the wolf-child grow with foreboding, for in his dreams the wolf had been there at the end of everything, and the last things Odin had seen in any of his dreams of the future were the topaz eyes and the sharp white teeth of Fenris Wolf.

The gods had a council and resolved at that council that they would bind Fenrir.

They crafted heavy chains and shackles in the forges of the gods, and they carried the shackles to Fenrir.

“Here!” said the gods, as if suggesting a new game. “You have grown so fast, Fenrir. It is time to test your strength. We have here the heaviest chains and shackles. Do you think you can break them?”

“I think I can,” said Fenris Wolf. “Bind me.”

The gods wrapped the huge chains around Fenrir and shackled his paws. He waited motionless while they did this. The gods smiled at each other as they chained the enormous wolf.

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