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THE WOLF FENRIS WAS CHAINED
By Julia Goddard
IN the times when Odin and Thor ruled in Asgard there were giants and monsters of all sorts, and some of the evil gods had monsters for children.
So it was with Loki, who had married Signe, the daughter of one of the Jötuns, or giants. Two of his children were Jormungand, the great serpent, and the wolf Fenris; the third was a daughter, named Hela, who, though she was not a monster, was nevertheless very terrible to look upon. They were all born in Jötunheim where they lived for some time before the Asi heard anything about them.
When at length the tidings that they lived reached the ears of Odin, he felt very uneasy, as did the Asi generally, for they called to mind certain old prophecies, which said that these monsters should arise, and in due time bring great evils upon gods and men. Nay, it was even said that the wolf Fenris should devour Odin himself. Well, therefore, might Odin wish that something should at once be done to curb the growing power of Loki's offspring. At the same time he feared to offend Loki, who was his foster-brother. He had never forgotten the days of their childhood, and would never hold a feast unless Loki were present.
However, he called together a council of the Asi, and at length it was agreed that the three children should be brought from Jötunheim to some place where they might be more within his power.
If Odin could have slain them at once, he would doubtless have been well pleased to do so; but this was not in his power. He was only able to command them, and they were bound to obey him as the greatest of the gods.
So the summons went forth, and on a given day Loki, with Hela, Fenris, and Jormungand, arrived at the palace, where Odin awaited them, seated upon his throne and surrounded by the Asi in their glittering array.
Loki certainly was not dazzled by the splendor of the gods; he was used to such displays among them. Neither did it seem in any way to move his offspring, who drew near to the steps of the throne without looking either to the right or to the left.
Hela was a little in front. Her face was grim and fierce; half her body was black, half flesh-color. So terrible was she to look at, that a shudder ran through the whole assembly as they gazed upon her awful form.
"It is clear that she belongs not to us," said one of the Asi.
And Hela at the words half drew the knife out of her belt, as though she would strike at the speaker.
But Odin said, "Nay, over the Asi thou shalt have no power. In Midgard, where men dwell, shalt thou be feared, and thy rule shall be over those of human race. Sorrowfully shall they own thee as a sovereign, from whose commands there is no appeal. Over them shalt thou be queen, and the greatest of kings shall stand in awe of thee. Go forth, and from the kingdom I will give thee send forth thy decrees to the children of men."
Then Odin gave Hela a dreary kingdom in Niflheim, the world of mist that is older than heaven and earth; and there she had charge over nine worlds, and had a spacious palace with many halls, but all of them were dark and gloomy.
"The dish that thou shalt eat of shall be hunger," continued Odin; "thy bed shall be the bed of sickness, and its hangings splendid woe. Only the dead shall people thy kingdom, and the light of day shall be shut out from it forever."
And Hela, having heard her sentence, turned away with a stony countenance. It mattered little to her where. she reigned, so long as she could smite and slay.
Then Jormungand drew near. The slimy monster wound and twisted his huge body towards the throne, and a dull lustre shimmered round his heavy scales. The gods shrank back, for malice flashed from his cruel eyes, and the sound of his hissing was fearful to hear.
But Odin bade him be silent, and the great serpent lowered his head and crouched at the king's feet.
And lo, the palace walls suddenly opened, and over the fair gardens of Asgard came a deep, low murmur, and then a mist appeared in the distance, which, as the Asi gazed, shaped itself into the likeness of a troubled sea. Louder yet grew the murmur, until it changed into a deep roar, and the gods all wondered what was coming to pass, for it seemed as though the great ocean that surrounds all lands were rushing onward and would overwhelm the palace. The waves reared their crests higher and higher, and nearer and nearer rolled the waters.
"It is a miracle!" exclaimed the Asi.
But Odin rose and seized the huge serpent and flung him into the advancing tide.
One heavy plunge, one blinding sheet of mist that hid the sunlight and the bright blue sky, one hideous cry, and then a sudden hush, — and as the white mist cleared away, behold the waters had vanished, and naught was to be seen but the fair land of Asgard.
The ocean had seized its prey, and in its depths the serpent was to grow and grow until at length he should stretch all round the world, and lie there harmless, with his tail in his mouth, until the day of Ragnaröck should dawn.
Then only Fenris was left to receive the sentence of Odin.
The palace walls had dosed again, and the king of heaven bid the giant-wolf draw near.
Never had the Asi seen so huge a beast of the kind; he was, moreover, sleek and well shaped, but his look was full of craft and cunning, and he came stealthily along as though he would beg a milder fate than had befallen his brother Jormungand.
The gods pressed forward to gain a better view of the well-formed animal, and praised his shining coat and lithe limbs. What would be his doom? And they waited anxiously to hear what Odin would say.
"What say you to our looking after Fenris ourselves?" asked the king.
Then several of the gods stepped forward, and stroked his sleek sides, and patted his comely head, and the wolf seemed so tame that Odin thought that now at least there was nothing to be feared from him. And in the end it was agreed that Fenris should be brought up among the Asi.
So Fenris was lodged in Asgard; and whilst he was quite young all went on well, though sometimes he showed signs of such fierceness that none but Tyr, who was a son of Odin, and one of the boldest and most stout-hearted among the gods, dared to feed him.
As he grew older his strength increased so greatly that the gods began to fear that in the end he might prove too much for them. They also called to mind the sayings concerning the evil that he was to bring upon them, and they pondered whether they should not bind him fast before he became any stronger.
Now Fenris, although he knew not what the gods were thinking of, began to fear something when he saw that they never came to him singly, but always many together, and were, moreover, well armed, and more than once brought chains with them, as if they would use them if they might be able to do so. He resolved, therefore, to keep watch.
"If they want to bind me," said he to himself, "they must find stronger chains than any that have been forged in Asgard." Still he pretended not to see what they were doing.
"I wonder if you are as strong as I am," said Thor to the wolf. "See, I can break this chain asunder easily. If you were bound with it, could you do the same?"
"Try me," answered Fenris, who saw at a glance that the chain was not too strong for him. And he allowed it to be wound round and round his body, and fastened to a great iron staple that ran many feet into the earth. Then he shook himself three times, and the third time the fetters fell to the ground, and he was free.
"I can break a stronger chain than that," said Fenris.
And the gods went away, and made another chain, heavier and thicker than the last, and called it Dromi.
Then again they came to Fenris, and asked him if he were willing to try his strength once more.
Fenris eyed the chain narrowly, but feeling that he had strength enough to break it, suffered himself again to be bound; and, as before, he broke the chain in pieces, and the splinters flew far and near. And the gods were filled with dismay, for Fenris was already beyond their power to bind. What were they to do?
Bragi, the eloquent god, stepped forward, and in a long speech, in which he taught them that iron and base metal could not overcome such strength as that of Fenris, he told them that from more subtle elements a magic cord might be woven that would resist the wolf's most vigorous efforts.
"But where may we get such a cord?" asked Tyr. "We have forged to the best of our power, and are unable to make a chain that can hold the monster."
"The gods are not blacksmiths," returned Bragi; "send to those who are. The dwarfs of Black-Elfland understand the secrets of the craft better than we do."
Now the region of Black-Elfland, where the dwarfs and dark elves dwell, is deep below the earth. There they work in metals, and are skillful in all smith's work.
So Ull, the god who runs swiftly on snowshoes, was sent to see what the dwarfs could do. And when the dwarfs had heard his story, they told him that they could make a cord so strong that not even the Asi themselves could break it, and yet to outward seeming so slender that Fenris would not be afraid of trying it. It was to be wrought of six things, the sound of a cat's footsteps, the roots of a mountain, and a fish's breath being amongst them.
And the dwarfs set to work, and twined and twisted the materials so deftly, that none could see the joining, or guess of what woof they were woven. And when the cord was finished, they gave it to Ull, who quickly departed with it for Asgard.
The gods were a little disappointed when they saw so slender a bond, which looked as if it might be easily snapped; but when they had tried their utmost strength upon it, they found that even Thor could do no more than strain it slightly. And in very good spirits, they went to Fenris, and took him with them to the island of Syngvi, in the lake Amsvartnir.
There they feasted, and made merry, and at last began to try feats of strength. One after another broke mighty bars of iron, and rent huge chains in pieces, or hurled stones of prodigious weight.
Fenris followed their example. One crunch of his jaws shivered the strongest iron, and a stroke of his paw sundered the heaviest chains. And when the gods thought he must be somewhat tired, they showed him the rope.
"It is so late in the day," said Bragi, "that we will give you no hard task. We have kept the most slender cord until the last. You shall have the first try at it."
Certainly the cord was very fragile to look at; but Fenris was wary, he suspected treachery, and at first refused to be bound with it. But the gods laughed at his fears and said that he was becoming a coward.
"No coward am I," replied Fenris, "but I fear that ye are playing me false. Let Tyr put his hand into my mouth as a pledge of your good faith, then will I submit to be bound."
So Tyr put his hand into Fenris's mouth, and the gods wound the rope Gleipner round and round the wolf's body, and fastened his legs in such a manner that if the rope were as strong as the dwarfs had promised, there would be no doubt of his being their prisoner.
Fenris lay quite still whilst the rope was being tied, for he had Tyr in his power, and he trusted to that in case there should be any treachery.
Tyr, finding that Fenris was fast bound, attempted gently to withdraw his hand; but the wolf kept a firm hold, nor did he loose it even in the midst of his struggles to break the rope.
The Asi gave a shout. "Long live the dwarfs of the Black Elfland! Their work is to be trusted."
And again Fenris strove with all his might to free himself from his bonds, but in vain, and he lay on the ground panting and well-nigh exhausted with his efforts. Tyr's hand was still between his teeth, and he glared savagely as much as to say, "We are captives together."
Then Tyr began to try what force might do, and with the hand that was free he sought to open the wolf's jaws so as to free the other. He had half succeeded when Fenris, in fear lest he might lose it, made a sudden snap and bit it off, and Tyr stood clear of the wolf, but with only one hand.
Fenris was captive now.
And the Asi raised a shout of joy.
Tyr, however, was silent, sorrowing over his loss, and yet, perhaps, he felt that it was well to get rid of the monster even at such a cost.
Then the Asi bound Fenris to a huge rock, and to fasten him the better they drove a sword through his jaws and pinned him fast.
He howled dreadfully, and foam issued from his nostrils. And there he must lie until the day of Ragnaröck, when he, as well as Jormungand, shall once more be free. Then terrible things shall come to pass. But the gods hope that that day is far off, for when it comes they must die.
Three winters without a summer shall go before it, and on the plains of Vigrid, a hundred miles square, a fearful battle shall be fought in which all shall perish.
The gods, the giants, the living, and the dead shall all be present at it. The heroes who are dwelling in Odin's halls shall issue forth when they hear the gold-combed cock. The dead who inhabit Hela's dreary dwellings shall come forth when the red cock crows in hell. Jormungand the serpent and Fenris will be unloosed, and Odin and Thor meet their death as it had been foretold.
The gods care not to think of Ragnaröck. Though it must come, they put all thoughts of it away; and perchance they look beyond to the new earth that is promised them, when the world in which they now dwell shall have been destroyed, and to the time when the gods shall wake up after their death-sleep and live forever in joy and gladness.