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Heathen Stories and New Myths ~
The One That Got Away
While Ran was the goddess most feared for fishing for men, it was Thor who was
most feared as fisherman.
With a bronze hook forged by the secretive dwarves in their dark hills, no fish
or whale that bit it could ever let go,
and the line they forged was nigh as strong as the fetters of Fenris, that no
thing swimming could ever escape.
Before men and giants, before gods and elves would Thor boast his every triumph.
With his hook in one hand,
and his mead horn the other, he raised his voice to shout his victory over a
mighty whale that sought to flee his grasp.
Thor boasted thus:
"No thing that swims lake or ocean can best me, no thing that swims escape me,
no beast take bait of mine,
save that I catch it!"
Hymir, jotun kin to Angrboda, had blood feud with the Aesir, and saw a way to use
Thor’s boast to humble him,
and win the fearsome hammer Mjollner from him. Hymir thought to trap Thor with a
boast, and force a wager on him.
"Mighty are you indeed, bold Thor, but I know a deep swimmer you could not hope
to best, that your mighty hook
and boasting strength not equal. What would you wager that I can guide you to
such prey as even mighty Thor must yield to?"
Thor had bested every shark, fish, and whale in the seas, had matched his
strength with jotun and etin, and never once been bested.
His blood fired with the challenge, the mighty fisherman boasted thus:
"By Othinn, my father, I will wager the most feared life taker of all the oceans
that any prey you can guide me to I can take,
as long as you hold the tiller of
the ship while I fish!"
Hymir laughed and called it done, for by the magics taught him by his dread
mother, he had scryed the deadliest
of all things
free on Midgard, the one thing that even Thor could not hope to overwhelm before the
end of days.
With this trick would he win from Thor the bane of jotnar, the hammer Mjollner.
As Thor approached Hymir’s giant longship, the jotun laughed at the cod tossed
over Thor’s shoulder.
"Such puny bait will not work today, you will need something bigger, little
Thor!", laughed the giant.
Thor was not amused, andswiftly struck with his hammer, knocking the head off
one of the jotun’s grazing cattle.
Easily the size of a grown man, the head was casually picked up by Thor and
tossed onto the waiting ship.
"Then I will give him beef!"
Thor looked upon the giant’s ship, it had twelve oars and a square sail set
on a mast he could just span with his own broad arms.
She was high prowed, with
thick strong strakes like the ribs of a sleeping dragon. Thor was well pleased
with the ship,
took two oars and rowed clear of the headlands where
the sail alone could carry them.
Baiting his magic hook with the ox skull, he gently spoke to the hook.
some trick afoot, my beauty!", Thor whispered . "But you and I have fished for shark
through the storm tossed seas and never lost. We will not lose to any
jotnar trick today."
Thor cast the oxhead two bowshots ahead of the ship, and took up his reel. Hymir
stood at the steering oar
with a broad smile upon his face, for he knew what
waited in the fjord was no shark, no whale, nor even a dragon,
the Midgard Serpent.
With a scream, the line began to sing off Thor’s reel, and he laughed with the
joy of it. Hymir laughed as well, for he knew
that the prey on Thor’s hook was
destined to be Thor’s wyrd, that Thor and Jörmungandr were destined to kill each
at Ragnarok, and that Thor would have to give up. Thor would have to lose
the bet, and give up the greatest life taker
in all the oceans. For Hymir meant to
As Thor fought the line, it bent his rod like a spring sapling, and Thor’s heavy
brows rose in awe.
He had held a Sperm Whale a full ship length long with that
rod unbent; what manner of beast had he caught this time?
Fighting backwards, he wrapped
his belt around the mast, and set his mighty thews to haul forth his prize from
The sail snapped and slapped as the ship turned into the wind, the heavy prow
cut the waves like a sword through a stalk of wheat,
and Hymir laughed at the
steering oar to see the ship dragged behind the catch like a kitten that has
caught at a goodwife’s ball of yarn. Thor sweated and heaved, working the heavy
reel, all the while thanking the dwarves that had made it unbreakable .
hour of driving farther from shore, the waves were now breaking over the prow
like berserks through a shieldwall,
and the great ship was groaning as it bent
At last the beast´s head broke the surface, the dread serpent’s head with jaws
wide enough to swallow a whole ox,
and venom dripping fangs, sword-long each.
"Jörmungandr!", cursed Thor.
With a lunge the serpent struck at the mighty giant-bane, but with his iron
gauntlet the Thunderer smashed him aside.
Again the world-spanning serpent
drove for the deeps to escape Thor, and the battle neither would survive.
"Yes, Jörmungandr! Now you must give up, now you must yield to me the greatest
slayer in all the oceans!", shouted Hymir.
No mighty thinker was Thor, but no oathbreaker either. He could not yield to
Hymir, but how was he to land Jörmungandr and live?
No man or god could shy from
their wyrd, and the Raven Lord´s son was not one to try. With a shrug he noted
the line playing out fast,
and with a will set to reel the fleeing serpent back.
Win or lose, live or die, no thing that swam escaped once it had taken Thor’s hook!
The seas were whipped with whitecaps, and the ship groaned and flexed through
the waves, as a stout shield before axe and spear.
The ship was awash in water,
and the great strakes of the ship flexed and moaned like a woman in childbirth.
As the great waves would break upon, mighty Thor he would shout "Ha!"
serpent would turn to strike, Thor would smite him again, shouting "Ho!"
while Hymir shouted for Thor to surrender, the mighty ship began to break apart
under the pounding,
but the red bearded serpent-bane just fought on and laughed.
At last the great mast snapped above Thor’s head, and the ship began to founder
with water washing the steersman’s knees.
His courage broken, the clever jotun
cried to Thor: "Cut the line, cut the line, or we will all die!"
Thor looked at him with surprise. "Lose the wager? Never! I am Thor, and by no
jotnar, serpent, or god named oathbreaker!"
Hymir broke completely seeing the serpent turn to strike at Thor again, the
serpent’s head carrying the dragon prow off in splinters
when Sif’s mighty
husband struck him. The ship would shatter in the hungry seas long before Thor
would yield an inch.
Hymir would die before Thor would yield, and Jörmungandr
would not yield either!
His courage washed away by the storm tossed seas, his
will broken by Thor’s laughter, the mighty giant surrendered at last.
"I release you from the wager, I give up! Cut the line, mighty Thor, and I will
tell the Nine Worlds that you would not have yielded first!", Hymir shouted.
With a grin, Thor cut the dwarven line. Chuckling sadly as he watched Jörmungandr
dive desperately for the deeps,
Thor began to laugh as he bailed the sinking
"How can I not praise your generosity, good Hymir?", laughed Thor.
"How am I generous?", asked the shaken and confused jotun.
"So generous that you would not only yield the wager to me, but the stakes to
your cousin Jörmungandr. Once I cut the line,
it was the serpent who took your
prize away; the fish hook forged for me by the dwarves, the most feared life
taker in all the oceans."
As the serpent drove for the oceans depths, and Thor began to row for the shore,
clever Hymir wept that not only
bested his courage, but outwitted him. Rather than humbling Thor and winning Mjollner, he had nearly died for a fish-hook!
John T Mainer, April 30 2005
This work by John T Mainer is licensed
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License.
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