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WONDERFUL QUERN STONES
By Julia Goddard
ONCE upon a time there was a king of Denmark, or Gotland, as it was then called, whose name was Frothi. He was a great-grandson of the god Thor, and a very mighty king, and wherever the Danish language was spoken there was Frothi's name honored and respected.
Among his treasures were two quern stones; nothing much to look at, simply two common millstones in appearance, and no one who did not know what they could do would think of taking any notice of them. Nevertheless, these quern stones were of more worth than anything that King Frothi had, for they could produce anything that the grinder of the quern or hand-mill wished for. They would bring gold, silver, precious stones, anything and everything; and besides this they could grind love, joy, peace; therefore it is not too much to say that these stones were worth more than all the treasures of the king put together.
At least they would have been if he could have made use of them, but they were so heavy that few could be found to turn the quern, and just at the time of which I am speaking there was no one at all in the land of Gotland able to work away at the quern handle.
Now the more King Frothi pondered over his wonderful quern stones, the greater became his desire to use them, and he sought throughout the land from north to south, from east to west, if perchance he might find some one strong enough to help him in his need. But all to no purpose, and he was utterly in despair when, by good luck, he happened to go on a visit to Fiölnir, king of Sweden, and to hear of two slave-women of great size and strength. Surely, thought Frothi, these are just the women to grind at my quern Grotti (for so it was called), and he asked King Fiölnir to be allowed to see them.
So King Fiölnir ordered the slaves to be brought before Frothi, and when Frothi saw them his spirits rose, for certainly Menia and Fenia were strong-looking women. They were eight feet in height, and broader across the shoulders than any of Frothi's warriors, and the muscles of their arms stood out like cords. And they lifted heavy weights, threw heavy javelins, and did so many feats of strength that Frothi felt quite sure that they would be able to turn the quern handle.
"I will buy these slaves," said he, "and take them with me to Gotland."
Menia and Fenia stood with their arms folded and their proud heads bowed down, whilst Frothi counted out the gold to the seller. They were slaves; with money had they been bought, with money were they sold again. What cared Frothi who was their father, or how they had come into the land of Sweden?
And he took them home with him and bade them grind at the quern. Now he should be able to test the power of the wonderful stones.
"Grind, grind, Menia and Fenia, let me see whether ye have strength for the work."
So spake King Frothi, and the huge women lifted the heavy stones as though they had been pebbles. "What shall we grind?" asked the slaves.
"Gold, gold, peace and wealth for Frothi."
Gold! gold! the land was filled with riches. Treasure in the king's palace, treasure in the coffers of his subjects — gold! gold! There were no poor in the land, no beggars in the streets, no children crying for bread. All honor to the quern stones!
Peace! peace! no more war in the land; Frothi is at peace with every one. And more than that, there was peace in all countries where Frothi's name was known, even to the far south; and every one talked of Frothi's peace. Praise be to the quern stones!
Wealth! yes, everything went well. Not one of the counsels of King Frothi failed. There was not a green field that did not yield a rich crop; not a tree but bent beneath its weight of fruit; not a stream that ran dry; not a vessel that sailed from the harbors of Gotland that came not back, after a fair voyage, in safety to its haven. There was good luck everywhere.
"Grind on, grind on, Menia and Fenia! good fortune is mine," said King Frothi.
And the slaves ground on.
"When shall we rest, when may we rest, King Frothi? It is weary work toiling day and night."
"No longer than whilst the cuckoo is silent in the spring."
"Never ceasing is the cry of the cuckoo in the groves; may we not rest longer?"
"Not longer," answered King Frothi, "than whilst the verse of a song is sung."
"That is but little!" sighed Menia and Fenia, and they toiled on. Their arms were weary and their eyes heavy, they would fain have slept; but Frothi would not let them have any sleep. They were but slaves who must obey their master, so they toiled on, still grinding peace and wealth to Frothi: —
"To Frothi and his queen
Joy and peace
May plenty in the land
Frothi and his queen
From dangers keep;
May they on beds of down
No sword be drawn
In Gotland old,
By murderer bold.
No harm befall
The high or low —
To none be woe,
Good luck to all.
Good luck to all,
We grind, we grind.
No rest we find,
For rest we call."
Thus sang the two giant women; then they begged again, "Give us rest, O Frothi!"
But still Frothi answered, "Rest whilst the verse of a song is sung, or as long as the cuckoo is silent in the spring."
No longer would the king give them.
Yet Frothi was deemed a good king, but gold and good luck were hardening his heart.
Menia and Fenia went on grinding, and their wrath grew deeper and deeper, and thus at last they spoke.
First said Fenia, "Thou wert not wise, O Frothi. Thou didst buy us because like giants we towered above the other slaves, because we were strong and hardy and could lift heavy burdens."
And Menia took up the wail: "Are we not of the race of the mountain giants? Are not our kindred greater than thine, O Frothi? The quern had never left the gray fell but for the giants' daughters. Never, never should we have ground as we have done, had it not been that we remembered from what race we sprang."
Then answered Menia: "Nine long winters saw us training to feats of strength, nine long winters of wearisome labor. Deep down in the earth we toiled and toiled until we could move the high mountain from its foundations. We are weird women, O Frothi. We can see far into the future. Our eyes have looked upon the quern before. In the giants' house we whirled it until the earth shook, and hoarse thunder resounded through the caverns. Thou art not wise, O Frothi. O Frothi, thou art not wise!"
But Frothi heard them not; he was sleeping the sweet sleep that the quern stones had ground for him.
"Strong are we indeed," laughed Fenia sorrowfully, "strong to contend with the puny men, — we whose pastime in Sweden was to tame the fiercest bears, so that they ate from our hands; we who fought with mighty warriors and came off conquerors; we who helped one prince and put down another. Well we fought, and many were the wounds we received from sharp spears and flashing swords. Frothi knows not our power, or he would scarce have brought us to his palace to treat us thus. Here no one has compassion upon us. Cold are the skies above us, and the pitiless wind beats upon our breasts. Cold is the ground on which we stand, and the keen frost bites our feet. Ah, there are none to pity us. No one cares for the slaves. We grind forever an enemy's quern, and he gives us no rest. Grind, grind; I am weary of grinding; I must have rest."
"Nay," returned Menia, "talk not of rest until Frothi is content with what we bring him."
Then Fenia started: "If he gives us no rest, let us take it ourselves. Why should we any longer grind good for him who only gives us evil? We can grind what we please. Let us revenge ourselves."
Then Menia turned the handle quicker than ever, and in a wild voice she sang: —
"I see a ship come sailing
With warriors bold aboard,
There's many a one that in Danish blood
Would be glad to dip his sword.
Say, shall we grind them hither?
Say, shall they land to-night?
Say, shall they set the palace afire?
Say, shall they win the fight?"
Then called Fenia in a voice of thunder through the midnight air: "Frothi, Frothi, awake, awake! Wilt thou not listen to us? Have mercy and let us rest our weary limbs."
But all was still, and Frothi gave no answer to the cry.
"Nay," answered Menia, "he will not hearken. Little he cares for the worn-out slaves. Revenge, revenge!"
And Frothi slept, not dreaming of the evil that was coming upon him.
And again Fenia shouted: "Frothi, Frothi, awake! The beacon is blazing. Danger is nigh. Wilt thou not spare?"
But Frothi gave no answer, and the giant women toiled on.
"O Frothi, Frothi, we cannot bear our weariness." And still no answer came.
"Frothi, Frothi, danger is nigh thee. Well-manned ships are gliding over the sea. It is Mysingr who comes: his white sail flutters in the wind; his flag is unfurled. Frothi, Frothi, awake, awake! thou shalt be king no longer."
And as the giant women ground, the words they spake came to pass, — they were grinding revenge for themselves, and brought the enemy nearer and nearer.
"Ho! hearken to the herald! Frothi, Frothi, the town is on fire. The palaces will soon be ruined heaps. Grind, Menia, ever more swiftly, until we grind death to Frothi."
And Menia and Fenia ground and ground till 'Mysingr and his followers landed from the ships. They ground until they had reached the palace.
"To arms, to arms!" shouted the warders, but it was too late. The Gotlanders armed themselves; but who could stand against the army that the slave women were grinding against them?
Not long did the struggle last. Frothi and his Gotlanders fought bravely, but the sea-king and his allies were mightier, for the giantesses were in giant mood, and turned the handle faster and faster, until down fell the quern stones. Then sank Frothi pierced with wounds, and the fight was over. The army that Menia and Fenia had ground to help Mysingr vanished; and Mysingr and his men alone were left conquerors on the bloody field.
They loaded their ships with treasure, and Mysingr took with him Menia, Fenia, and the quern stones.
But, alas! Mysingr was no wiser than King Frothi had been.
Gold, however, was not his first thought; he had enough of that, but he wanted something else that just then was more to him than gold.
There was no salt on board the sea-king's vessels; so he said, "Grind salt."
And Menia and Fenia ground salt for Mysingr.
At midnight they asked if they had ground enough. And Mysingr bade them grind on.
And so they ground and ground until the ship was so heavy with salt that it sank, and the sea-king and all his men were drowned.
Where the quern stones went down there is to this day a great whirlpool, and the waters of the sea have been salt ever since.