Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 137

“And the three were the heart-wise Odin, the Father of the Slain,

And Loki, the World’s Begrudger, who maketh all labour vain,

And Hænir, the Utter-Blameless, who wrought the hope of man,

And his heart and inmost yearnings, when first the work began;—

The God that was aforetime, and hereafter yet shall be

When the new light yet undreamed of shall shine o’er earth and sea.”

As the gods came near to Hreidmar’s dwelling, Loki perceived an otter basking in the sun. This was none other than the dwarf king’s second son, Otter, who now succumbed to Loki’s usual love of destruction. Killing the unfortunate creature he flung its lifeless body over his shoulders, thinking it would furnish a good dish when meal time came.

Loki then hastened after his companions, and entering Hreidmar’s house with them, he flung his burden down upon the floor. The moment the dwarf king’s glance fell upon the seeming otter, he flew into a towering rage, and ere they could offer effective resistance the gods found themselves lying bound, and they heard Hreidmar declare that never should they recover their liberty until they could satisfy his thirst for gold by giving him of that precious substance enough to cover the skin of the otter inside and out.

“‘Now hearken the doom I shall speak! Ye stranger-folk shall be free

When ye give me the Flame of the Waters, the gathered Gold of the Sea,

That Andvari hideth rejoicing in the wan realm pale as the grave;

And the Master of Sleight shall fetch it, and the hand that never gave,[272]

And the heart that begrudgeth for ever, shall gather and give and rue.

—Lo, this is the doom of the wise, and no doom shall be spoken anew.’”

As the otter-skin developed the property of stretching itself to a fabulous size, no ordinary treasure could suffice to cover it, and the plight of the gods, therefore, was a very bad one. The case, however, became a little more hopeful when Hreidmar consented to liberate one of their number. The emissary selected was Loki, who lost no time in setting off to the waterfall where the dwarf Andvari dwelt, in order that he might secure the treasure there amassed.

“There is a desert of dread in the uttermost part of the world,

Where over a wall of mountains is a mighty water hurled,

Whose hidden head none knoweth, nor where it meeteth the sea;

And that force is the Force of Andvari, and an Elf of the Dark is he.

In the cloud and the desert he dwelleth amid that land alone;

And his work is the storing of treasure within his house of stone.”

In spite of diligent search, however, Loki could not find the dwarf, until, perceiving a salmon sporting in the foaming waters, it occurred to him that the dwarf might have assumed this shape. Borrowing Ran’s net he soon caught the fish, and learned, as he had suspected, that it was Andvari. Finding that there was nothing else for it, the dwarf now reluctantly brought forth his mighty treasure and surrendered it all, including the Helmet of Dread and a hauberk of gold, reserving only a ring which was gifted with miraculous powers, and which, like a magnet, attracted the precious ore. But the greedy Loki, catching sight of it, wrenched it from off the dwarf’s finger and departed laughing, while his victim hurled angry curses after him, declaring that the ring would ever prove its possessor’s bane and would cause the death of many. [273]

“That gold

Which the dwarf possessed

Shall to two brothers

Be cause of death,

And to eight princes,

Of dissension.

From my wealth no one

Shall good derive.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

On arriving at Hreidmar’s house, Loki found the mighty treasure none too great, for the skin became larger with every object placed upon it, and he was forced to throw in the ring Andvaranaut (Andvari’s loom), which he had intended to retain, in order to secure the release of himself and his companions. Andvari’s curse of the gold soon began to operate. Fafnir and Regin both coveted a share, while Hriedmar gloated over his treasure night and day, and would not part with an item of it. Fafnir the invincible, seeing at last that he could not otherwise gratify his lust, slew his father, and seized the whole of the treasure, then, when Regin came to claim a share he drove him scornfully away and bade him earn his own living.

Thus exiled, Regin took refuge among men, to whom he taught the arts of sowing and reaping. He showed them how to work metals, sail the seas, tame horses, yoke beasts of burden, build houses, spin, weave, and sew—in short, all the industries of civilised life, which had hitherto been unknown. Years elapsed, and Regin patiently bided his time, hoping that some day he would find a hero strong enough to avenge his wrongs upon Fafnir, whom years of gloating over his treasure had changed into a horrible dragon, the terror of Gnîtaheid (Glittering Heath), where he had taken up his abode. [274]

His story finished, Regin turned suddenly to the attentive Sigurd, saying he knew that the young man could slay the dragon if he wished, and inquiring whether he were ready to aid him to avenge his wrongs.

“And he spake: ‘Hast thou hearkened, Sigurd? Wilt thou help a man that is old