Page 15 of Norse Mythology

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The great beast sniffed the air. “I scent treachery and trickery,” said the wolf, his amber eyes flashing in the moonlight. “And although I think your Gleipnir may only be a ribbon, I will not consent to be tied up by it.”

“You? You who broke the strongest, biggest chains there ever were? You are scared by this band?” said Thor.

“I am scared of nothing,” growled the wolf. “I think it is rather that you little creatures are scared of me.”

Odin scratched his bearded chin. “You are not stupid, Fenrir. There is no treachery here. But I understand your reluctance. It would take a brave warrior to consent to be tied up with bonds he could not break. I assure you, as the father of the gods, that if you cannot break a band like this—a veritable silken ribbon, as you say—then we gods will have no reason to be afraid of you, and we will set you free and let you go your own way.”

A long growl, from the wolf. “You lie, All-father. You lie in the way that some folk breathe. If you were to tie me up in bonds I could not escape from, then I do not believe you would free me. I think you would leave me here. I think you plan to abandon me and to betray me. I do not consent to have that ribbon placed on me.”

“Fine words, and brave words,” said Odin. “Words to cover your fear at being proved a coward, Fenris Wolf. You are afraid to be tied with this silken ribbon. No need for more explanations.”

The wolf’s tongue lolled from his mouth, and he laughed then, showing sharp teeth each the size of a man’s arm. “Rather than question my courage, I challenge you to prove there is no treachery planned. You can tie me up if one of you will place his hand in my mouth. I will gently close my teeth upon it, but I will not bite down. If there is no treachery afoot, I will open my mouth when I have escaped the ribbon, or when you have freed me, and his hand will be unharmed. There. I swear, if I have a hand in my mouth, you can tie me with your ribbon. So. Whose hand will it be?”

The gods looked at each other. Balder looked at Thor, Heimdall looked at Odin, Hoenir looked at Frey, but none of them made a move. Then Tyr, Odin’s son, sighed, and stepped forward and raised his right hand.

“I will put my hand in your mouth, Fenrir,” said Tyr.

Fenrir lay on his side, and Tyr put his right hand into Fenrir’s mouth, just as he had done when Fenrir was a puppy and they had played together. Fenrir closed his teeth gently until they held Tyr’s hand at the wrist without breaking the skin, and he closed his eyes.

The gods bound him with Gleipnir. A shimmering snail’s trail wrapped the enormous wolf, tying his legs, rendering him immobile.

“There,” said Odin. “Now, Fenris Wolf, break your bonds. Show us all how powerful you are.”

The wolf stretched and struggled; it pushed and strained every nerve and muscle to snap the ribbon that bound it. But with every struggle the task seemed harder and with every strain the glimmering ribbon became stronger.

At first the gods snickered. Then the gods chuckled. Finally, when they were certain that the beast had been immobilized and that they were in no danger, the gods laughed.

Only Tyr was silent. He did not laugh. He could feel the sharpness of Fenris Wolf’s teeth against his wrist, the wetness and warmth of Fenris Wolf’s tongue against his palm and his fingers.

Fenrir stopped struggling. He lay there unmoving. If the gods were going to free him, they would do it now.

But the gods only laughed the harder. Thor’s booming guffaws, each louder than a thunderclap, mingled with Odin’s dry laughter, with Balder’s bell-like laughter . . .

Fenrir looked at Tyr. Tyr looked at him bravely. Then Tyr closed his eyes and nodded. “Do it,” he whispered.

Fenrir bit down on Tyr’s wrist.

Tyr made no sound. He simply wrapped his left hand around the stump of his right and squeezed it as hard as he could, to slow the spurt of blood to an ooze.

Fenrir watched the gods take one end of Gleipnir and thread it through a stone as big as a mountain and fasten it under the ground. Then he watched as they took another rock and used it to hammer the stone deeper into the ground than the deepest ocean.

“Treacherous Odin!” called the wolf. “If you had not lied to me, I would have been a friend to the gods. But your fear has betrayed you. I will kill you, Father of the Gods. I will wait until the end of all things, and I will eat the sun and I will eat the moon. But I will take the most pleasure in killing you.”

The gods were careful not to get within reach of Fenrir’s jaws, but as they were driving the rock deeper, Fenrir twisted and snapped at them. The god nearest him, with presence of mind, thrust his sword into the roof of Fenris Wolf’s mouth. The hilt of the sword jammed in the wolf’s lower jaw, wedging the jaw open and preventing it from ever closing.

The wolf growled inarticulately, and saliva poured from its mouth, forming a river. If you did not know it was a wolf, you might have thought it a small mountain, with a river flowing from a cave mouth.

The gods left that place where the river of saliva flowed down into the dark lake, and they did not speak, but once they were far enough away they laughed some more, and clapped each other on the back, and smiled the huge smiles of those who believe they have done something very clever indeed.

Tyr did not smile and he did not laugh. He bound the stump of his wrist tightly with a cloth, and he walked beside the gods back to Asgard, and he kept his own counsel.

These, then, were the children of Loki.

FREYA’S UNUSUAL WEDDING

Thor, god of thunder, mightiest of all the Aesir, the strongest, the bravest, the most valiant in battle, was not entirely awake yet, but he had the feeling that something was wrong. He reached out a hand for his hammer, which he always kept within reach while he slept.

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