Page 38 of Norse Mythology

Soon enough the food was ready.

“You are guests here. Do not stand on ceremony. Take as much as you can eat from the pot,” said Hymir expansively. The strangers were small, after all—how much could they eat? After all, the oxen were enormous.

Thor said he didn’t mind if he did, and he proceeded to devour two of the oxen all by himself, one after the other, leaving nothing but clean-picked bones. Then he belched in a satisfied way.

“That’s a lot of food, Veor,” said Hymir. “It was meant to feed us for several days. I do not think I have ever seen even a giant eat two of my oxen at once before.”

“I was hungry,” said Thor. “And I got a little carried away. Look, tomorrow, why don’t we go out fishing? I hear you are quite a fisherman.”

Hymir prided himself on his skills at fishing. “I am an excellent fisherman,” he said. “We can catch tomorrow night’s dinner.”

“I too am a fine fisherman,” said Thor. He had never fished before, but how hard could it be?

“We’ll meet tomorrow at dawn, out on the dock,” said Hymir.

In their huge bedroom that night, Tyr said to Thor, “I hope you know what you are doing.”

“Of course I do,” said Thor. But he didn’t. He was just doing whatever he felt like doing. That was what Thor did best.

In the gray light before dawn, Thor met Hymir on the dock.

“I should warn you, little Veor,” said the giant, “that we will be going far out into the icy waters. I row farther out into the cold and stay out longer than a tiny thing like you can survive. Icicles will form on your beard and your hair, and you will turn blue with cold. Probably you will die.”

“Doesn’t worry me,” said Thor. “I like the cold. It’s bracing. What are we using for bait?”

“I already have my own bait,” said Hymir. “You must find your own. You could look in the field of the oxen for it. Nice big maggots in the ox dung, after all. Bring whatever you want from there.”

Thor looked at Hymir. He thought about hitting Hymir with his hammer, but then he would never get the cauldron, not without a fight. He walked back up the shore.

In the meadow was Hymir’s herd of beautiful oxen. There were giant patties of dung on the ground, with huge maggots writhing and burrowing in them, but Thor avoided all of them. Instead he walked over to the biggest, most majestic, fattest of the beasts, raised his fist, and thumped it between the eyes, killing it instantly.

Thor ripped off the beast’s head, placed it in his sack, and carried it down to the sea.

Hymir was in the boat. He had already cast off and was rowing out of the bay.

Thor jumped into the cold water and swam out, hauling his sack behind him. He grabbed the back of the boat with numb fingers, then hauled himself onboard, dripping with seawater, ice crusting his red beard.

“Ah,” said Thor. “That was fun. Nothing to wake you up on a cold morning like a good swim.”

Hymir said nothing. Thor took the other set of oars, and they began to row together. Soon enough the land was gone and they were alone on the waters of the northern sea. The ocean was gray, the waves were choppy and high, and the wind and the seagulls screamed.

Hymir stoppped rowing. “We will fish here,” he said.

“Here?” asked Thor. “We’ve hardly gone out into the sea at all.” And he picked up the oars and began singlehandedly to row them into deeper waters.

The boat flew across the waves.

“Stop!” boomed Hymir. “These waters are dangerous. This is where Jormungundr, the Midgard serpent, is to be found.”

Thor stopped rowing.

Hymir took two large fish from the bottom of the boat. He gutted them with his sharp, sharp bait knife, tossed the guts into the sea, then impaled the fish on the hooks of his line.

Hymir dropped his baited fishing line. He waited until the line jerked and twitched in his hand, and then he hauled up the line: two monstrous whales hung from it, the hugest whales that Thor had ever seen. Hymir grinned with pride.

“Not bad,” said Thor.

He pulled the head of the ox from his sack. When Hymir saw the dead eyes of his favorite ox, his face froze.

“I got bait,” said Thor helpfully. “From the ox field. Like you said.” Expressions of shock, of horror, and of anger chased each other across Hymir’s huge face, but he said nothing.

Thor took Hymir’s fishing line, rammed the ox’s head onto the hook, and threw the line and the head into the ocean. He felt it sink to the bottom.

He waited.

“Fishing,” he said to Hymir. “I suppose it must all be about learning patience. It’s a bit dull, isn’t it? I wonder what I’m going to catch for our dinner.”

And that was when the sea erupted. Jormungundr, the Midgard serpent, had bitten down on the huge ox head, and the hook had dug deep into the roof of its mouth. The serpent writhed in the water, trying to free itself.

Thor held on to the line.

“It’s going to drag us under!” boomed Hymir in horror. “Let go of the line!”

Thor shook his head. He strained against the fishing line, determined to hold on.

The thunder god slammed his feet through the bottom of the boat, and he used the sea bottom to brace himself, and he began to haul Jormungundr up on board.

The serpent spat gouts of black poison toward them. Thor ducked, and the poison missed him. He continued to pull.

“It’s the Midgard serpent, you fool!” shouted Hymir. “Let go of the line! We’ll both die!”

Thor said nothing, just hauled the line in, hand over hand, his eyes fixed on his enemy. “I will kill you,” he whispered to the serpent, beneath the roar of the waves and the howl of the wind and the thrashing and screaming of the beast. “Or you will kill me. This I swear.”