Page 27 of Norse Mythology

“Very well,” shouted Thor.

They ate breakfast with the giant: he pulled whole cows and sheep from his provision bag and crunched them down; the three companions ate more sparingly. After the meal, Skrymir said, “Here. I’ll carry your provisions inside my bag. Less for you to carry, and we will all eat together when we camp tonight.” He put their food in his bag, did up the laces, and strode off toward the east.

Thor and Loki ran after the giant with the untiring pace of gods. Thialfi ran as fast as any man has ever run, but even he found it hard to keep up as the hours went by, and sometimes it seemed that the giant was just another mountain in the distance, his head lost in the clouds.

They caught up with Skrymir as evening fell. He had found a camp for them beneath a huge old oak tree and had made himself comfortable nearby, his head resting on a great boulder. “I’m not hungry,” he told them. “Don’t you worry about me. I’m going to get an early night. Your provisions are in my bag, up against the tree. Goodnight.”

He began to snore. As the familiar rumble-hum and whistle shook the trees, Thialfi climbed the giant’s provision bag. He called down to Thor and Loki, “I cannot undo the laces. They are too tough for me. They might as well be made out of iron.”

“I can bend iron,” said Thor, and he leapt to the top of the provision bag and began to tug on the laces.

“Well?” asked Loki.

Thor grunted and hauled, hauled and grunted. Then he shrugged. “I don’t think we’ll be having dinner tonight,” he said. “Not unless this damnable giant undoes the laces on his bag for us.”

He looked at the giant. He looked at Mjollnir, his hammer. Then he clambered down the bag, and he made his way onto the top of Skrymir’s sleeping head. He raised the hammer and slammed it down on Skrymir’s forehead.

Skrymir opened one eye sleepily. “I think a leaf just fell on my head and woke me up,” he said. “Have you all finished eating? Are you ready for bed? Don’t blame you if you are. Long day.” And he rolled over, closed his eyes, and began to snore once again.

Loki and Thialfi managed to fall asleep despite the noise, but Thor could not sleep. He was angry, he was hungry, and he did not trust this giant, out in the eastern wilderness. At midnight he was still hungry, and he had had enough of the snoring. He clambered up onto the giant’s head once more. He positioned himself between the giant’s eyebrows.

Thor spat into his hands. He adjusted his belt of strength. He raised Mjollnir over his head. And with all his might, he swung. He was certain that the hammer head sank into Skrymir’s forehead.

It was too dark to see the color of the giant’s eyes, but they opened. “Whoa,” the big fellow said. “Thor? Are you there? I think an acorn just fell off the tree onto my head. What time is it?”

“It’s midnight,” said Thor.

“Well, then, see you in the morning.” Giant snores shook the ground and made the tops of the trees tremble.

It was dawn but not yet day when Thor, hungrier, angrier, and still sleepless, resolved to strike one final blow that would silence the snoring forever. This time he aimed for the giant’s temple, and he hit Skrymir with all his strength. Never was there such a blow. Thor heard it echo from the mountaintops.

“You know,” said Skrymir, “I think a bit of bird’s nest just dropped on my head. Twigs. I don’t know.” He yawned and stretched. Then he got to his feet. “Well, I’m done sleeping. Time to be on our way. Are you three headed to Utgard? They will look after you well there. I guarantee you a mighty feast, horns of ale, and afterward wrestling and racing and contests of strength. They like their fun in Utgard. That’s due east—just head that way, where the sky is lightening. Me, I’ll be off to the north.” He gave them a gap-toothed grin, which would have seemed foolish and vacant if his eyes had not been so very blue and so very sharp.

Then he leaned over and put a hand beside his mouth, as if he did not wish to be overheard, an effect slightly lessened by his whisper, which was loud enough to deafen. “I couldn’t help overhearing you fellows back then, when you were saying how very big I was. And I suppose you thought you were complimenting me. But if ever you make it to the north, you’ll meet proper giants, the really big fellows. And you’ll find out what a shrimp I really am.”

Skrymir grinned again, and then he stomped off toward the north, and the ground rumbled beneath his feet.

III

They traveled east through Jotunheim, always traveling toward the sunrise, for some days.

At first they thought they were looking at a normal-sized fortress and that it was relatively close to them; they walked toward it, hurrying their pace, but it did not grow or change or seem closer. As the days passed they realized how big it was and just how far away.

“Is that Utgard?” asked Thialfi.

Loki seemed almost serious as he said, “It is. This is where my family came from.”

“Have you ever been here before?”

“I have not.”

They strode up to the fortress gate, seeing no one. They could hear what sounded like a party going on inside. The gate was higher than most cathedrals. It had metal bars covering it, of a size that would have kept any unwanted giants at a respectable distance.

Thor shouted, but no one responded to his calls.

“Shall we go in?” he asked Loki and Thialfi.

They ducked and climbed under the bars of the gate. The travelers walked through the courtyard and into the great hall. There were benches as high as treetops, with giants sitting on them. Thor strode in. Thialfi was terrified, but he walked beside Thor, and Loki walked behind them.

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