Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas - H. W. Mabie

How Thor Fought the Giant Hrungner

One bright summer morning, Thor, the God of Thunder, rode out of Asgard far eastward, fighting giants as he went and slaying them with his mighty hammer, Mjolner; but Odin, his beautiful blue mantle shining with stars and his helmet of gold glittering in the clear air, mounted his swift horse Sleipner, and went to Jotunheim, the home of the greatest giant of them all. As he swept along every one stopped to look, for such a horse and such a rider were rarely seen on earth. Sometimes the swift hoofs clattered along the rocky roads across the open country, sometimes they struck quick echoes out of the mountain sides in the deep dells, sometimes they rang along the very summits of the hills; and again, in an instant, horse and rider swept noiseless through the air like a strange phantom in the clear mid-day.

When Odin reached Jotunheim he came upon Hrungner, the strongest of the giants.

"Who are you, riding through air with golden helmet and flowing mantle?" asked the giant. "You have a splendid horse."

"None half so good in Jotunheim!" was Odin's answer.

Odin's boast made the giant angry. "None half so good?" he repeated. "I'll show you a better myself."

Whereupon he sprang on Goldfax and off they both went like a rushing wind. Neither gods nor men ever saw such a race before as these ran over earth and through air, Sleipner dashing with foaming flanks ahead and Goldfax close behind with flaming eye and mane outspread. So eager was the chase and so full of rage and desire the mind of Hrungner that before he knew it he was carried within the gates of Asgard, where the welcome of the gods, as they gathered round the foaming chargers, almost made him forget that he was among his enemies.

They led him into the great hall where the feasts were held, and after their usual manner set out the great tankards brimming with wine, and filled for him the hollow horns from which Thor often drank deep and long. As they were set before him the giant drained them one by one at a single draught; and after a time, as horn after horn of sparkling wine was poured down Hrungner's capacious throat, he forgot his peril, and after the manner of drunken men began to boast of his mighty deeds and of the terrible things he meant to do against the gods.

"Oho," he shouted, "I'll pick up this little Valhal in one hand and carry it off to Jotunheim; I'll pull this high-walled Asgard down stone after stone, and knock the heads of all these puny gods together until none are left save Freyja and Sif, and they shall boil my pot and keep my house for me." And so this drunken giant disturbed the peace of heaven, and the gods were sorry enough that he had ever ridden within their gates; but he was their guest, and the rites of hospitality must be respected even with a drunken braggart. So Freyja filled his horn again and again, until he roared out in a drunken fury, "I'll drink every drop of wine in Asgard before I leave."

This boast made the gods, already weary of his boasting, indignant, and they called on Thor to rid them of the braggart. The God of Thunder came striding into the hall swinging his mighty hammer, with anger on his brow and in his eye, to hear the gods insulted under the very roof of Asgard.

"Why does this stupid giant sit here in Asgard drinking our wine as if he were a god?" shouted Thor, glaring at Hrungner as if he would smite him on the spot; but Hrungner, full of drunken courage, glared back at Thor.

"I came here with Odin," he growled, "and the hospitality of the gods will suffer more than I if a hand is laid on me."

"You may rue that hospitality before you are out of Asgard," was the angry reply of Thor.

Small honour to you if you slay me here unarmed and solitary; if you want to prove your boasted valour meet me face to face at Grjottungard. Foolish it was in me to leave my shield and flint-stone at home; had I those weapons I would challenge you to fight me here and now, but if you kill me unarmed I proclaim you a coward in the face of all Asgard."

"I will meet you, braggart, when and where you will," hotly retorted Thor, whom no giant had ever before challenged to a holmgang, or single combat. And Hrungner got himself safely out of Asgard and journeyed as fast as he could to Jotunheim to make ready for the fight.

When the news of these things spread there was nothing heard of among the giants but Hrungner's journey and the holmgang  he was to fight with Thor. Nobody thought or talked of anything else, for if Hrungner, the most powerful of them all, should be beaten, Thor would never cease to make war upon them. Long and earnest was the talk among the giants, for Thor's terrible hammer had often rung among the hills, and they dreaded the flash of it through the air and the crash of it as it fell smiting and crushing whatsoever opposed it. To give Hrungner courage they built an immense giant of clay at Grjottungard, but they could find no heart big enough for such a huge body, and so they were obliged at last to use a mare's heart, which fluttered and throbbed terribly when Thor came; for it is the heart and not the size of the body which makes one strong and great. The clay giant, when finished, was so vast that the shadow of him was like a cloud upon the landscape. When all was ready Hrungner stood beside the false giant ready for the fight, and a terrible foe he was, too; for his heart was as hard as rock, his head was of stone, and so was the great broad shield he held before him. And swung on his shoulder was the huge flint-stone which he meant to hurl at Thor.

Thor meanwhile was on his way to Grjottungard with his servant Thjalfe, and Thjalfe ran ahead, and when he saw Hrungner, called out, "You stand unguarded, giant; you hold your shield before you, and Thor has seen you, and will come violently upon you from beneath the earth."

Then Hrungner threw his shield on the ground and stood upon it, grasping the flint-stone in both hands.

In a moment the sky began to darken with rushing clouds, broad flashes of lightning blazed across the heavens, and deafening peals of thunder rolled crashing over the terror-stricken earth. Striding from cloud to cloud, swinging his terrible hammer in an awful uproar of lightning and storm, Thor came rushing on in all his godlike might. The heavens were on fire, the mountains shook on their foundations, and the earth rocked to and fro as the god of strength moved on to battle.

Poor Mokkerkalfe, the clay giant, was so frightened that the perspiration poured in streams from his great body, and his cowardly heart fluttered like an imprisoned bird. Then Thor, swinging the flashing hammer with all his might, hurled it at Hrungner, and on the very instant the giant flung the flint-stone. The two rushed like meteors and met with a tremendous crash in mid-air. The flint-stone broke in pieces, one falling to the ground and making a mountain where it lay, and the other striking Thor with such force that he fell full-length on the ground; but the terrible hammer struck Hrungner in the very centre of his forehead, crushed his head into small pieces, and threw him with his foot across Thor's neck. Thjalfe meanwhile had thrown himself on Mokkerkalfe, and the clay giant, like a great many other sharp giants, fell into pieces at the very first blow; and so Thor was victor of the holmgang.

But how was Thor to get up? The dead giant's foot lay across his neck, and, try as he might with all his strength, he could not lift it off. Then Thjalfe came and tried in vain to set Thor free; and when the gods heard of the trouble Thor was in they all came, and one by one tried to lift Hrungner's foot, and not one of them could do it; so although Thor had killed the giant it looked as if the giant had beaten him too. After a time Thor's little son Magne, or strength, came that way. He was only three days old, but he walked quickly up to his father, quietly lifted the immense foot and threw it on the ground as if it were the easiest thing in the world, saying as he did so, "It was a great mishap that I came so late, father; for I believe I could have slain this giant with my fist."

Thor rose up quickly and greeted his son as if he were prouder of him than of the slaying of the giant, and declared that he should have the giant's beautiful horse Goldfax for a reward; but Odin would not listen to it, and so Magne had to content himself with his father's praise and the glory of his wonderful deed.

Even now Thor's troubles were not ended, for the piece of flint-stone which struck his head so violently that it threw him to the ground remained imbedded in it, and made the strong god so much trouble that when he had reached Thrudvang, or thunder-world, he sent for the sorceress Groa, the wife of the wise Orvandel, that she might remove the unwieldy stone. Groa came with all her wisdom and began weaving magic spells about Thor, and singing strange incantations to the most weird and mysterious airs in the world, until the flint-stone became entirely loose. When he felt the stone gradually loosened, and knew that Groa could take it out in a moment, Thor was so glad that he tried to think how he might reward her in some way for the good service she had done him; and as even a god cannot give anything greater than happiness, he bethought himself of something which would make her very happy. So he began to speak of Orvandel, who had long been absent from her, and whom she greatly loved. He told her that he had entered Jotunheim from the north, wading the deep rivers, and had secreted Orvandel in a basket, and so borne him out of the giant's country, and that as they journeyed along in the bitter weather one of Orvandel's toes protruded from the basket and was frozen, and he, Thor, broke it off and threw it into the shining sky, where it had become the star called "Orvandel's Toe"; and then he added that Orvandel would shortly come to his home again.

When Groa heard this news of her husband she was filled with such joy that all her magical songs and wonderful incantations went straight out of her head and she could not get them back again, and the stone remains in Thor's head to this day. And this is the reason why no one must ever throw a flint-stone across the floor, because when this happens the stone in Thor's head moves, and the strong god is very uncomfortable.