Heroes of Asgard - A. and E. Keary




Honour

Far away to the north of Asgard, surrounded by frowning mountains, the dark lake, Amsvartnir, lies, and, above the level of its troubled waters, burns Lyngvi, the island of sweet broom, flaming like a jewel on the dark brow of Hela. In this lonely isle, to which no ship but Skidbladnir could sail, the Æsir, with Fenrir in the midst, assembled to try the strength of the dwarfs' chain.

Fenrir prowled round his old master, Tyr, with a look of savage triumph in his cruel eyes, now licking the hand that had so long fed him, and now shaking his great head, and howling defiantly. The Æsir stood at the food of Giöll, the sounding rock, and passed Gleipnir, the chain, from one to another, talking about it, while Fenrir listened. "It was much stronger that it looked," they said; and Thor and Tyr vied with each other in their efforts to break it; while Bragi declared his belief that there was no one among Æsir or giants capable of performing so great a feat, "unless," he added, "it should be you, Fenrir."

This speech roused the pride of Fenrir; and, after looking long at the slender chain and the faces of the Æsir, he answered, "Loath am I to be bound by this chain; but, lest you should doubt my courage, I will consent that you should bind me, provided one of you put his hand into my mouth as a pledge that no deceit is intended."

There was a moment's silence among the Æsir when they heard this, and they looked at one another. Odin looked at Thor, and Thor looked at Bragi, and Frey fell behind, and put his hand to his side, where the all-conquering sword, which he alone could wield, no longer rested.

At length Tyr stepped forward valiantly, and put his strong right hand, which he had so often fed him, into the wolf's cruel jaws.

At this signal the other Æsir threw the chain round the monster's neck, bound him securely with one end, and fastened the other to the great rock Giöll. When he was bound Fenrir rose, and shook himself, as he had done before; but in vain he raised himself up, and bounded forward—the more he struggled the more firmly the slender chain bound him.

At this sight the Æsir set up a loud shout of joy; for they saw their enemy conquered, and the danger that threatened Asgard averted. Only Tyr was silent, for in the struggle he had lost his hand.

Then Thor thrust his sword into the mouth of Fenrir, and a foaming dark flood burst forth, roared down the rock and under the lake, and began its course through the country a turbid river. So it will roll on till Ragnarök be come.

The sails of Skidbladnir now spread themselves out to the wind; and the Æsir, seated in the magic ship, floated over the lake silently in the silent moonlight; while, from the top of Bifröst, over the Urda fount and the dwelling of the Norns, a song floated down. "Who," asked one voice, "of all the Æsir has won the highest honour?" and, singing, another voice made answer, "Tyr has won the highest honour; for, of all the Æsir, he has the most worthily employed his gift."

"Frey gave his sword for fairest Gerd."

"Odin bought for himself wisdom at the price of his right eye."

"Tyr, not for himself, but for others, has sacrificed his strong right hand."

The wolf Fenrir is annihilation; he was destined to swallow the chief of the gods at Ragnarök. We see him here as destruction chained until his time for mischief should come again—the destructive side of nature morally and physically is personified in him. Why the dwarfs should be able to make a chain strong enough to bind him, which the gods had failed to do, is a puzzle. May it mean that subtlety can compass ends which force has to relinquish, or possibly a better thing than subtlety, gentleness?

Tyr, who plays an important part in this myth, was the son of Odin and a giantess. His name means "Shining;" at one time he was probably a chief of gods. He is also a sort of war god, something like Thor, a finer hero, though, by a long way. Har says of him, "he is the most daring and intrepid of the gods, hence a man who surpasses all others in valour is called Tyr-strong." His having only one hand refers partly to his character of war god, and means that the victory can only be awarded to one side. "Thou never couldst settle a strife betwixt two," was said to his shame, and, we may add, to that of all war gods for ever.

Tyr gives his name to Tuesday, as Odin to Wednesday, Thor to Thursday, and Freyja or Frigga to Friday. Some suggest that Loki is the patron of Saturday. He—Loki—forms the subject of the next chapter.