The Snake and the Kettle

One day the Aesir     all were gathered;
they talked of feasting     and framed their thoughts.
The feast should be full,     with food for all;
Aegir’s great hall     should host the throng.

The Aesir chose Thor,     Allfather’s son,
to fare to Aegir,     father of waves,
to tell the giant     the tale of the gods:
he must get ready     for many guests.

Thor fared out to sea,     seeking Aegir.
He hurried to Hlesey,     home of the giant;
Thor told him the news,     the tale of the gods.
The Lord of Nine Daughters     laughed when he heard.

Aegir spoke:

“I know you’ve fared far,     Flame Eye’s son,
but one small thing     I think is amiss:
I have nothing     that ale can fill.
You must bring me     some barrels or such.”

Again Thor hurried;     in haste he flew.
He knew he must     never waver.
He was keen to bear     his kinfolk’s trust;
a kettle was missed     and must be found.

Thor looked all over     Asgard’s halls;
both high and low     he laid his eyes.
He could not find,     full or empty,
a great big kettle     to catch the ale.

At every hall,     he had no luck.
The Aesir had     a host of kettles,
but none so big     as Balder’s Kin wanted;
the Aesir’s throats     were thirsty and deep.

Thor then halted     at the hall of Tyr,
most righteous As,     offspring of Hymir.
Tyr had wisdom     for wandering Thor;
he knew where to get     a great big kettle.

Tyr spoke:

“Off to the east,     past Elivagar,
lives my father,     lore-filled Hymir.
He has a kettle     that could be used.
It’s fit to be filled     full of sweet ale.”

Thor othered himself;    his age was nine.
As a boy he left     Bilskirnir.
Off Thor hurried,    in haste he flew,
without his wagon    or any thralls.

At dusk he came     to a comely hall,
the awesome home     of Hymir the giant.
He took Thor in,     like other guests;
he let him sleep     long through the night.

The moon sank     when morning came;
Hymir got ready     his rod and line.
Thor asked the giant,     who thought him a boy,
if he could go also,     out to sea.

Hymir spoke:

“When I am fishing,     I fare widely;
I do not yield     for young boys’ fears.
The water is deep     and warms for no one.
I fear you will freeze,     far out to sea.”

Thor became angry.     He ached to strike,
to crush the head     of Hymir the giant.
But Thor held back,     thanks to his will;
he saved his strength     for struggles to come.

Thor spoke:

“If we two go     like whales to sea,
miles from dry land,     it might be you,
hardest of giants,     who halts the trip.
Do you have bait,     to bring the fish?”

Hymir spoke:

“You ask too much,     you mewling boy.
At first you beg     to follow me out,
and then you think     I’ve thought of your needs?
My bait is here.     Have you your own?”

Thor left the house     of Hymir the giant;
he searched the land     for something to use.
He came upon     a pair of oxen;
he knew they belonged     to none but Hymir.

One lowed in fear,     full of dread;
it was held by Thor,     hard in his grasp.
Thor ripped off its head;     his hands dripped blood.
He went to the beach     to bide his time.

Hymir then came,     kitted out for sea.
Thor climbed aboard     and bent to rowing,
two oars in hand,     he heaved the waves.
Pull after pull,     they plowed the whale road.

Hymir spoke:

“Thanks to your rowing,     rugged as it is,
we have now found     the fishing ground.
I know full well     the ways of the sea;
I’ve fared here often     to fish this bank.”

Thor was uneasy;     his thoughts ran quick.
He bade Hymir     the boat to row further.
Hymir agreed,     and gripped the oars;
Thor rowed also,     out to the deeps.

Hymir spoke:

“We mustn’t row     a rest further.
A lad like you,     lacking in sense,
would never think     of nasty snakes;
Jormungand     gives no boons.”

Thor spoke:

“Your lack of wits     is worrisome;
foolish giant,     I fear nothing.
Whether you know     or not this truth,
I am yet Thor,     Odin’s brave son.

“I have no fear     of filthy snakes,
that roll the sea,     seafarer’s bane.
He may gird the earth     and all it holds,
but I will keep faring     out to sea.”

He dropped his oars     and drew out a pole:
a mighty hook     hung from its end.
He hooked it fast     to the head of the ox.
He sent it flying;     it sank below the waves.

The snake was quick,     he quibbled never.
He gave no thought     to games and tricks.
He ate the head     and the hook bit him;
Jormungand     growled in pain.

Thor’s hands were pulled,     hard to the floorboards.
He became angry;     his As-strength grew.
He strove with the snake,     straining with might.
The floorboards also     felt the strain.

Thor set his feet     and fought the worm;
he pulled him up,     over the side.
They were eye to eye,     evenly matched.
The snake was spitting,     spraying venom.

Then Hymir felt fear;     his face went white.
He hated the snake,     the son of Loki,
but also he feared     the foaming sea,
the great whale road,     wet and cold.

Thor raised his hammer     to hit the snake,
but Hymir rose higher,     heading him off.
He cut the line     that caught the snake.
It went with the worm;     the waves swallowed it.

Thor swung Mjolnir     with might at the snake;
he hoped it struck home     but had no luck.
The snake still grizzled,     girding the sea,
waiting to come back     and war again.

Thor was angry;     all was amiss.
He knew he had missed     the Midgard Serpent.
Hymir was scared;     he heaved the oars.
He rowed with haste;     his hall awaited.

Thor rowed also,     aching with strain.
Once they found land,     each was tired.
Hymir then played     host to his guest;
Thor was bidden     to break his fast.

Now that he was home,     with nothing to fear,
Hymir began     to grow in anger.
He hated Thor,     who thought him a fool;
the Son of Earth     at sea played tricks.

Hymir spoke:

“Odin’s brave son,     always the strongest;
you’ve met your match,     the Midgard Serpent.
Jormungand     was going to win:
I kept you alive     by cutting when I did.

“I can see that     you’re itching to fight,
to show us all     your As-strength.
I gift you now    a game to play:
smash this goblet     of glittering crystal.”

Thor spoke:

“Wise old Hymir,     wiliest of giants,
the game you set out     is one I will win.
What is a cup     to the Wolf Foe’s son?
You giants never     know your foemen.”

Hymir’s wife,     wearing much gold,
brought the goblet     to gleeful Thor.
He could not wait     to crush the goblet,
to show his strength,     strongest of gods.

Grasping the goblet,     the Grim One’s son,
he strode to a pole     that stood in the hall;
his strength was full     as he struck with might.
The pole was cleaved     but the crystal was whole.

Hymir’s wife,     wearing much gold,
turned her eyes to Thor,     earthy and bold.
She took the goblet     and gave it to Hymir,
warder of the hall,     wisest of giants.

The feast went on     far into the night.
The giants laughed,     lolling with mirth,
but Thor was brooding,     his blood was up.
He wanted this laughter     to be the last they’d know.

Again Hymir’s wife     went to Thor.
She whispered words     of welcome news.
To Odin’s son,    all was now clear:
Hymir’s head alone     could harm the goblet.

In her hands she held,     wise Hymir’s wife,
the crystal goblet     for the Grim One’s son.
Thor took the goblet     and threw himself forward;
he hurled the cup     at Hymir’s skull.

The cup struck home;     Hymir was felled.
He lay on the ground,     groaning in pain;
his followers thronged     forward to help him,
crowding around     their writhing lord.

Hymir spoke:

“I’ve lost my sight,     silent are the runes;
I can’t read them     from right nor left.
My art of brewing     is also gone;
if you can carry it,     my kettle is yours.”

Thor grabbed the kettle,     grunting with strain:
he could not lift     the kettle of Hymir.
The Son of Earth     was out of strength;
hardy as he was,     the weight was too much.

Then Modi’s father     framed a thought.
He heaved the kettle,     heavy though it was,
onto its side;     he saw that it rolled.
Thor pushed the kettle     through the hall.

Once he was outside     the awesome hall,
Thor called up     his As-strength.
He hoisted the kettle     high on his shoulders,
then he ran to the west,     away from the giants.

Thor then trekked,     trusting his strength,
to Asgard his home,     off to the west.
When he turned his head,     the Hanged One’s son;
he saw a host,     with Hymir in front.

Thor knew a fight     would follow soon.
He dropped the kettle     and drew Mjolnir.
The giants came on,     jumping at Thor:
he swung his hammer,     hewing them all.

Once he was free     of foemen and strife,
Thor hoisted again     Hymir’s kettle.
He headed west,     in haste he flew,
back to Asgard,     to Allfather’s kin.

[S.R. Hardy is a poet, fiction writer, and translator whose work has appeared in venues such as Mythic CircleEunoia ReviewEternal Haunted Summer, the Beorh Quarterly and anthologies such as The Shining CitiesBeyond the Pillars, and Northern Traditions. He is currently at work on a variety of poems, stories, and translations.]

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