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David Chin | profile | all galleries >> My World of Links >> Myths That Every Child Should Know >> Chapter 11 - The Giant Builder tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Chapter 1 - The Three Golden Apples | Chapter 2 - The Pomegranate Seeds | Chapter 3 - The Chimaera | Chapter 4 - The Golden Touch | Chapter 5 - The Gorgon's Head | Chapter 6 - The Dragon's Teeth | Chapter 7 - The Miraculous Pitcher | Chapter 8 - The Paradise of Children | Chapter 9 - The Cyclops | Chapter 11 - The Giant Builder | Chapter 12 - How Odin Lost His Eye

Chapter 11 - The Giant Builder


Ages and ages ago, when the world was first made, the gods decided to
build a beautiful city high above the heavens, the most glorious and
wonderful city that ever was known. Asgard was to be its name, and it
was to stand on Ida Plain under the shade of Yggdrasil, the great tree
whose roots were underneath the earth.

First of all they built a house with a silver roof, where there were
seats for all the twelve chiefs. In the midst, and high above the rest,
was the wonder throne of Odin the All-Father, whence he could see
everything that happened in the sky or on the earth or in the sea. Next
they made a fair house for Queen Frigg and her lovely daughters. Then
they built a smithy, with its great hammers, tongs, anvils, and bellows,
where the gods could work at their favourite trade, the making of
beautiful things out of gold; which they did so well that folk name that
time the Golden Age. Afterward, as they had more leisure, they built
separate houses for all the AEsir, each more beautiful than the
preceding, for of course they were continually growing more skilful.
They saved Father Odin's palace until the last, for they meant this to
be the largest and the most splendid of all.

Gladsheim, the home of joy, was the name of Odin's house, and it was
built all of gold, set in the midst of a wood whereof the trees had
leaves of ruddy gold--like an autumn-gilded forest. For the safety of
All-Father it was surrounded by a roaring river and by a high picket
fence; and there was a great courtyard within.

The glory of Gladsheim was its wondrous hall, radiant with gold, the
most lovely room that time has ever seen. Valhalla, the Hall of Heroes,
was the name of it, and it was roofed with the mighty shields of
warriors. The ceiling was made of interlacing spears, and there was a
portal at the west end before which hung a great gray wolf, while over
him a fierce eagle hovered. The hall was so huge that it had 540 gates,
through each of which 800 men could march abreast. Indeed, there needed
to be room, for this was the hall where every morning Odin received all
the brave warriors who had died in battle on the earth below; and there
were many heroes in those days.

This was the reward which the gods gave to courage. When a hero had
gloriously lost his life, the Valkyries, the nine warrior daughters of
Odin, brought his body up to Valhalla on their white horses that gallop
the clouds. There they lived forever after in happiness, enjoying the
things that they had most loved upon earth. Every morning they armed
themselves and went out to fight with one another in the great
courtyard. It was a wondrous game, wondrously played. No matter how
often a hero was killed, he became alive again in time to return
perfectly well to Valhalla, where he ate a delicious breakfast with the
Jisir; while the beautiful Valkyries who had first brought him thither
waited at table and poured the blessed mead, which only the immortal
taste. A happy life it was for the heroes, and a happy life for all who
dwelt in Asgard; for this was before trouble had come among the gods,
following the mischief of Loki.

This is how the trouble began. From the beginning of time, the giants
had been unfriendly to the AEsir, because the giants were older and huger
and more wicked; besides, they were jealous because the good AEsir were
fast gaining more wisdom and power than the giants had ever known. It
was the AEsir who set the fair brother and sister, Sun and Moon, in the
sky to give light to men; and it was they also who made the jewelled
stars out of sparks from the place of fire. The giants hated the AEsir,
and tried all in their power to injure them and the men of the earth
below, whom the AEsir loved and cared for. The gods had already built a
wall around Midgard, the world of men, to keep the giants out; built it
of the bushy eyebrows of Ymir, the oldest and hugest of giants. Between
Asgard and the giants flowed Ifing, the great river on which ice never
formed, and which the gods crossed on the rainbow bridge. But this was
not protection enough. Their beautiful new city needed a fortress.

So the word went forth in Asgard: "We must build us a fortress against
the giants; the hugest, strongest, finest fortress that ever was built."

Now one day, soon after they had announced this decision, there came a
mighty man stalking up the rainbow bridge that led to Asgard city.

"Who goes there!" cried Heimdal the watchman, whose eyes were so keen
that he could see for a hundred miles around, and whose ears were so
sharp that he could hear the grass growing in the meadow and the wool on
the backs of the sheep. "Who goes there! No one can enter Asgard if I
say no."

"I am a builder," said the stranger, who was a huge fellow with sleeves
rolled up to show the iron muscles of his arms. "I am a builder of
strong towers, and I have heard that the folk of Asgard need one to help
them raise a fair fortress in their city."

Heimdal looked at the stranger narrowly, for there was that about him
which his sharp eyes did not like. But he made no answer, only blew on
his golden horn, which was so loud that it sounded through all the
world. At this signal all the AEsir came running to the rainbow bridge,
from wherever they happened to be, to find out who was coming to Asgard.
For it was Heimdal's duty ever to warn them of the approach of the

"This fellow says he is a builder," quoth Heimdal. "And he would fain
build us a fortress in the city."

"Ay, that I would," nodded the stranger, "Look at my iron arm; look at
my broad back; look at my shoulders. Am I not the workman you need?"

"Truly, he is a mighty figure," vowed Odin, looking at him approvingly.
"How long will it take you alone to build our fortress? We can allow but
one stranger at a time within our city, for safety's sake."

"In three half-years," replied the stranger, "I will undertake to build
for you a castle so strong that not even the giants, should they swarm
hither over Midgard--not even they could enter without your leave."

"Aha!" cried Father Odin, well pleased at this offer. "And what reward
do you ask, friend, for help so timely?"

The stranger hummed and hawed and pulled his long beard while he
thought. Then he spoke suddenly, as if the idea had just come into his
mind. "I will name my price, friends," he said; "a small price for so
great a deed. I ask you to give me Freia for my wife, and those two
sparkling jewels, the Sun and Moon."

At this demand the gods looked grave; for Freia was their dearest
treasure. She was the most beautiful maid who ever lived, the light and
life of heaven, and if she should leave Asgard, joy would go with her;
while the Sun and Moon were the light and life of the AEsir's children,
men, who lived in the little world below. But Loki the sly whispered
that they would be safe enough if they made another condition on their
part, so hard that the builder could not fulfil it. After thinking
cautiously, he spoke for them all.

"Mighty man," quoth he, "we are willing to agree to your price--upon one
condition. It is too long a time that you ask; we cannot wait three
half-years for our castle; that is equal to three centuries when one is
in a hurry. See that you finish the fort without help in one winter, one
short winter, and you shall have fair Freia with the Sun and Moon. But
if, on the first day of summer, one stone is wanting to the walls, or if
anyone has given you aid in the building, then your reward is lost, and
you shall depart without payment." So spoke Loki, in the name of all the
gods; but the plan was his own.

At first the stranger shook his head and frowned, saying that in so
short a time no one unaided could complete the undertaking. At last he
made another offer. "Let me have but my good horse to help me, and I
will try," he urged. "Let me bring the useful Svadilfoeri with me to the
task, and I will finish the work in one winter of short days, or lose my
reward. Surely, you will not deny me this little help, from one
four-footed friend."

Then again the AEsir consulted, and the wiser of them were doubtful
whether it were best to accept the stranger's offer so strangely made.
But again Loki urged them to accept. "Surely, there is no harm," he
said. "Even with his old horse to help him, he cannot build the castle
in the promised time. We shall gain a fortress without trouble and with
never a price to pay."

Loki was so eager that, although the other AEsir did not like this crafty
way of making bargains, they finally consented. Then in the presence of
the heroes, with the Valkyries and Mimer's head for witnesses, the
stranger and the AEsir gave solemn promise that the bargain should be

On the first day of winter the strange builder began his work, and
wondrous was the way he set about it. His strength seemed as the
strength of a hundred men. As for his horse Svadilfoeri, he did more work
by half than even the mighty builder. In the night he dragged the
enormous rocks that were to be used in building the castle, rocks as big
as mountains of the earth; while in the daytime the stranger piled them
into place with his iron arms. The AEsir watched him with amazement;
never was seen such strength in Asgard. Neither Tyr the stout nor
Thor the strong could match the power of the stranger. The gods began to
look at one another uneasily. Who was this mighty one who had come among
them, and what if after all he should win his reward? Freia trembled in
her palace, and the Sun and Moon grew dim with fear.

Still the work went on, and the fort was piling higher and higher, by
day and by night. There were but three days left before the end of
winter, and already the building was so tall and so strong that it was
safe from the attacks of any giant. The AEsir were delighted with their
fine new castle; but their pride was dimmed by the fear that it must be
paid for at all too costly a price. For only the gateway remained to be
completed, and unless the stranger should fail to finish that in the
next three days, they must give him Freia with the Sun and Moon.

The AEsir held a meeting upon Ida Plain, a meeting full of fear and
anger. At last they realised what they had done; they had made a bargain
with one of the giants, their enemies; and if he won the prize, it would
mean sorrow and darkness in heaven and upon earth. "How did we happen to
agree to so mad a bargain?" they asked one another. "Who suggested the
wicked plan which bids fair to cost us all that we most cherish?" Then
they remembered that it was Loki who had made the plan; it was he who
had insisted that it be carried out; and they blamed him for all the

"It is your counsels, Loki, that have brought this danger upon us,"
quoth Father Odin, frowning. "You chose the way of guile, which is not
our way. It now remains for you to help us by guile, if you can. But if
you cannot save for us Freia and the Sun and Moon, you shall die. This
is my word." All the other AEsir agreed that this was just. Thor alone
was away hunting evil demons at the other end of the world, so he did
not know what was going on, and what dangers were threatening Asgard.

Loki was much frightened at the word of All-Father. "It was my fault,"
he cried, "but how was I to know that he was a giant? He had disguised
himself so that he seemed but a strong man. And as for his horse--it
looks much like that of other folk. If it were not for the horse, he
could not finish the work. Ha! I have a thought! The builder shall not
finish the gate; the giant shall not receive his payment. I will cheat
the fellow."

Now it was the last night of winter, and there remained but a few stones
to put in place on the top of the wondrous gateway. The giant was sure
of his prize, and chuckled to himself as he went out with his horse to
drag the remaining stones; for he did not know that the AEsir had guessed
at last who he was, and that Loki was plotting to outwit him. Hardly had
he gone to work when out of the wood came running a pretty little mare,
who neighed to Svadilfoeri as if inviting the tired horse to leave his
work and come to the green fields for a holiday.

Svadilfoeri, you must remember, had been working hard all winter, with
never a sight of four-footed creature of his kind, and he was very
lonesome and tired of dragging stones. Giving a snort of disobedience,
off he ran after this new friend toward the grassy meadows. Off went the
giant after him, howling with rage, and running for dear life, as he saw
not only his horse but his chance of success slipping out of reach. It
was a mad chase, and all Asgard thundered with the noise of galloping
hoofs and the giant's mighty tread. The mare who raced ahead was Loki in
disguise, and he led Svadilfoeri far out of reach, to a hidden meadow
that he knew; so that the giant howled and panted up and down all night
long, without catching even a sight of his horse.

Now when the morning came the gateway was still unfinished, and night
and winter had ended at the same hour. The giant's time was over, and he
had forfeited his reward. The AEsir came flocking to the gateway, and
how they laughed and triumphed when they found three stones wanting to
complete the gate!

"You have failed, fellow," judged Father Odin sternly, "and no price
shall we pay for work that is still undone. You have failed. Leave
Asgard quickly; we have seen all we want of you and of your race."

Then the giant knew that he was discovered, and he was mad with rage.
"It was a trick!" he bellowed, assuming his own proper form, which was
huge as a mountain, and towered high beside the fortress that he had
built. "It was a wicked trick. You shall pay for this in one way or
another. I cannot tear down the castle which, ungrateful ones, I have
built you, stronger than the strength of any giant. But I will demolish
the rest of your shining city!" Indeed, he would have done so in his
mighty rage; but at this moment Thor, whom Heimdal had called from the
end of the earth by one blast of the golden horn, came rushing to the
rescue, drawn in his chariot of goats. Thor jumped to the ground close
beside the giant, and before that huge fellow knew what had happened,
his head was rolling upon the ground at Father Odin's feet; for with one
blow Thor had put an end to the giant's wickedness and had saved Asgard.

"This is the reward you deserve!" Thor cried. "Not Freia nor the Sun and
Moon, but the death that I have in store for all the enemies of the

In this extraordinary way the noble city of Asgard was made safe and
complete by the addition of a fortress which no one, not even the giant
who built it, could injure, it was so wonder-strong. But always at the
top of the gate were lacking three great stones that no one was mighty
enough to lift. This was a reminder to the AEsir that now they had the
race of giants for their everlasting enemies. And though Loki's trick
had saved them Freia, and for the world the Sun and Moon, it was the
beginning of trouble in Asgard which lasted as long as Loki lived to
make mischief with his guile.

builder - royalty-free image from

builder - royalty-free image from
builder - royalty-free image from