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~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~

 

The One That Got Away
(from the Hymiskviða)

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,
and manfully 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.
"There is some trick afoot, my beauty!", Thor whispered . "But you and I have fished for shark and whale
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,
but Jörmungandr, 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 other
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 win Mjollner.

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 deep.

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 .
After an 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 and flexed.

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!"
As the serpent would turn to strike, Thor would smite him again, shouting "Ho!"
All the 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 ship.

"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 had Thor
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 under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License.

The Freyr's Press of the Heathen Freehold Society of BC:
Kindertales and Kindertales 2 by John T Mainer et al.
 

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