The walk between the forest and the mountains was a long journey… A journey that would have been a terrible experience if it was not for Skrymir. The great lumbering giant was indispensable for this leg of their travels. For one, he carried all the packs, tying them to his belt. More importantly though, he blocked an incredible crosswind that came from the west… This wind was so strong that the humans could barely hold their ground while walking through the flat grasslands. Therefore, they, along with Loki and Thor, followed the legs of the giant and the gentle Jotunn kept his stride low so they could all be sheltered by his massive boot.
Letting the giant lead, came at a cost though… After several hours, their course had slowly shifted from north to more easterly. When they stopped in the shelter between boulders in the foothills of the mountains, it was Thor that first pointed this out, “It seems like we are heading east, giant.” His tone was grave, but he said this in a very respectful way.
“Oh, maybe… But we are safe now. The entryway into these mountains is around here…” The giant seemed a little more intent… sharp now. Maybe it was just in their imagination, but it struck them all as evident when this last statement was said.
“Njǫrd was likely responsible for that!” Loki interjected, speaking for the first time since they left the forest…
“Nord?” Skrymir questioned; again taking his more simple, friendly tone.
“No, Njǫrd, Freyja and Freyr’s father… If there is a wind like that, he is responsible.”
The giant seemed assuaged by that answer and casually nodded; he then leaned back into a rocky outcropping, resting… After a few moments, his eyes looked ready to close.
It was at this moment that something unexpected happened… Roskva spoke.
“Would he have a reason to be upset with us?” She said in a confident, soft voice.
Loki looked at her as though she were a ghost. This look was colored by his hatred of humanity, but it warmed as the young woman looked fearless… Even Loki respected that… Then something even more unexpected happened; he responded:
“Ha, yeah… Now that I think of it. He called me a pervert when I talked about his daughter’s cheating on her husband. I mean, I was just calling a fox, a fox. I wasn’t judging it… Or encouraging it. Pervert? Pffft… I am many things, but a pervert is the least of them. Right, brother?”
“Ahhh… you and your ‘brother.’ You can cut that out here. After all, to be honest, you’re more of a half-uncle, if anything. You were already an OLD man when I was born. Baldur and Hodur call you uncle. We, non-pure bloods, are supposed to all be the children of Odin, our Allfather. Correct? I only call you ‘brother’ in front of the Aesir to stop them from seeing you as an outsider. Consider it a favor! Make no mistake though… Although, I am not a ‘true son.’ I am actually Odin’s son. My mother may be from Midgard… But I am HIS own blood.”
Loki responded fiercely:
“His own blood!? Are you now? Pfft… you know nothing… You see, I was there when Odin left on his ‘little excursion’ to Midgard… It wasn’t like you think… And a ‘favor’ you say? Ha! You are only a simpleton for me to play with… I may only be ‘a son’ of Asgard, but your father and I have an agreement. We mixed our blood together long ago…in an oath. Your half-brothers recognize this… As you say, they see me as some crazy uncle. Since you do not, you call me your brother… as a favor?!”
“The only thing I call you is a fool, but I am more of a fool for having listened to most of that…whatever nonsense it was…I stopped listening after the ‘simpleton’ comment… Just hold your tongue for now, little snake. You can continue your blathering while I am asleep. Or talk more to the humans… if they want to listen. I know I don’t…”
After saying this, Thor hid in the shade behind the giant to sleep; Thjalfi, and Skrymir also went to sleep, Loki sat, smoldering with anger. His face was contorted. This was nothing unusual. However, it was clear to Roskva that he was genuinely hurt.
“Your blood oath, what was it?” It was difficult to comprehend the boldness of this question, especially from a human. But for some reason, Roskva felt a special kinship with Loki, and she asked the question without fear.
“Ahhh, shhh…. know your place, human.” Loki spoke sharply.
Roskva shook this off… She stood up to walk to the canteen and took a drink before speaking again. Her eyes rested on a tree where an eagle perched quietly:
“Thjalfi and I are very different… Yet, our blood is one. My father explains this as there are two spirits in all things: one is like an eagle, and one is like a raven. The eagle is poised, rational, but prone to arrogance. The raven is clever, sensitive, but drawn to chaos. They both ebb and flow in us all… but one always wins. The eagle sits on the treetop; the raven hides amongst the branches. This is just their nature.”
Loki held eye contact for a moment before looking away again. There was no disdain in his look though…
“That foul, little human father of yours is not an idiot, congratulations…” Loki gave her a slight look of supreme solemness. A moment later, the edge of his lip curved upward slightly while he thought to himself… “Ahh, sleep, human… Why do I speak to you?” Loki said this without any hatred and turned the other way. Roskva knew to ignore his words though. She simply went to sleep as well.
It’s hard to say how long their rest was, but they all slept, surprisingly. When they awoke, they looked around warily to see if everyone else was awake. When Thor looked to the extreme left of the ravine, he saw a metallic twinkle in the distance. He craned his neck and saw a massive structure. “A gate! We are here.”
“Ahh yes, it’s the gate of the Palace of the Utgard.” Skrymir said. “They will welcome you inside… I have enjoyed our time together, but I am not welcome in that castle.”
Skrymir grabbed the bags and put them on the ground between Loki and Thor.
As Thor grabbed his bag, he tried to open the giant’s knot. He strained, not visibly at first, but as more people looked at him, he became more forceful… Again, tendrils of lightning arched around his eyes as he became more and more frustrated. The giant began a gentle laugh…He couldn’t open it.
This was simply too much. Thor blacked out; he became possessed and slammed his hammer onto Skrymir’s foot — even harder than his initial swing at the giant’s head the day before. The giant made a sharp sound that cut this laughter short, “Yelp! Oh, that was a good one,” he said as he took off his boot. He turned it upside down before shaking it to empty it of its contents. “Must have got a thorn in there…”
Thor was flushed; his face was saturated… vibrant red. He simply walked toward the gate without saying a word while the giant untied the bags casually.
“I think this is our destination… Thank you, Skrymir.” Loki spoke earnestly.
“No problem… A pleasure to meet you all!” The giant bowed his head slightly before he turned and walked in the opposite direction.
The rest of the crew walked in the direction of Thor. When they caught up to him. He looked as though he had lost his identity. Thor was shaken — fearful. His thoughts were erratic, and he simply needed to keep doing something new… He would recover his confidence later.
He walked up the massive gate. The barring was wide enough that they could go through without so much as shrugging his shoulders. In fact, they could have likely fit two of them side-by-side through the gate bars. As they passed the gate, they walked towards the towering palace; its scale was simply awe-inspiring.
As they came nearer the castle, the doors creakily opened for them and two massive giants on either side guided them inside — it was filled with lively sounds. The group entered the doorway. Roskva and Thjafi were terrified. In all honesty, so was Thor. His usual confidence was definitely shaken, as much as he would never admit so…
A booming, deep voice came to silence the revelry, “Hello, little travelers; I almost did not see you there, ha-ha. I am the King of the Utgard. These women and men are my best, most-trusted courtiers… Oh my, is it? It is! …the God of Thunder, wow, what an honor for us, and who is that little one behind you… He is even smaller… Ha-ha. Oh my, is that our lost Jotunn?… I knew your mother, little one… Being raised by an Aesir has obviously made you puny… Loki, is it?”
“Yes, it is I. Make fun of my size if you will… Size doesn’t mean ability,” Loki said coyly.
“Is that true? Can we see your abilities, little Jotunn?” The king responded.
Loki spoke fearlessly, “Sure! None of ‘your best, most-trusted’ can eat more than me.”
“Haaahaha, are you kidding? Any of us could beat you!… Here! I’ll give you the smallest of us to compete against… Logi, come here!” A skinny, frail-looking Logi got up and walked up to Loki. He had wild eyes, but he looked self-assured. Loki sneered as he looked at him. Logi looked back in the same indiscriminate way that the God of Mischief looked at the human family two nights earlier.
Meanwhile, a huge trough of food was wheeled up to the two of them, and Logi went to stand at the far end. Loki smiled and looked at the remarkable spread of food… hundreds of pounds of meat sat on the table…
The king then declared: “Whichever one of you eats all the food on your side of the table first, wins. Does that work for you, Loki?”
Loki nodded, looking supremely confident and hungry.
Loki ate faster than he ever had before. There were ox legs, massive salmon, countless shrimp that were more-or-less inhaled by the God of Mischief. He was just doing this to impress them at this point. After all, there is no way anyone could keep up to this pace… When he finished the last of the shrimp. He looked up triumphantly and saw scrawny Logi, blankly staring back at him. When Loki looked at his side of the table, it simply wasn’t even there. Loki looked at Thor in confusion.
Thor spoke after a shallow exhale, “He ate it, you idiot. He ate the food AND the table. He has been done for a while… Quite a spectacle.”
Loki was completely rattled. “How!?”
“I will beat your fastest runner” Thjafi’s voice rang out. His voice shocked everyone. It seemed like the Jotunn didn’t even think that humans could speak…
Despite this, the king was kind, “Of course, little human. Let me find a competitor for you. Hugi, perhaps you can beat him?” Hugi, much like Logi, looked indifferent and unafraid and was almost as small as the human. “Perhaps we should go outside for this one… What distance would you like to race? You two race to that tree line. If that is your best distance, Hugi will race you there… Are you ready?”
“Yes, I am ready,” Thjafi said as he confidently walked next to Hugi. The young man had beaten everyone in the kingdom by many lengths. He thought that his victory would gain the Gods and Jotunn’s respect — once he won. Maybe he would regain some of his self-worth after what he had done to his sister as well…
This time, one of the court’s high-ranking officials called the start, “Ready… Go!”
At the start, Hugi raced ahead of Thjafi. Thjafi looked up after his initial drive to see Hugi leaving a line of dust in front of him. Hugi even doubled back to meet him before he could finish. Thjalfi was stunned.
“He cheated! There is no way,” Thjalfi said.
“Now, now, be careful, little human. Let’s not say something you may regret. He won fairly. If you insist though, we can do it again…” The king calmly responded.
As they lined up, Thjafi gritted his teeth in extra intensity.
“Ready, go!” the Jutunn said again.
Again, Thjalfi ran as fast as he could. This time he was slightly closer, but he sensed that Hugo actually slowed down for him.
“One more time! The timing of the ‘go’ was faster… I wasn’t ready.”
The king again nodded, and Hugo and Thjalfi lined up again.
This time Thjalfi ran faster than he thought possible. He reached a new speed and didn’t even look at his competitor. Still, he fell short. This time though, only by the length of an arrow…
Thjalfi gave up — completely exhausted.
“Neither of those two properly represent Odin’s house. I’ll outdrink any of you!” Thor said (who was no stranger to drinking). He wanted to show these Jotunn that they could at least win at something.
“Fine. Here is one of our drinking horns. It usually takes us three drinks to finish one. Try!” The king said as he handed him a huge animal horn.
Thor took one drink… It was such a large gulp that he almost passed out from a lack of oxygen. But when Thor looked at the height of the liquor, it had only slightly moved! He took another drink, and this time pushed himself even more. He chugged and chugged. This time, he moved the level of beer a little more significantly, but still, the horn was three-quarters full. With the last sip, he drank as much as he could, but it was simply too much… He ended by coughing and spitting until he regained his breath.
“Look, it’s ok, Thor. Maybe just try to lift my cat.” The king said. Thor looked incredulously at him. He walked over and tried to pick up the cat… He lifted with all of his might but still could not completely lift the cat. He dropped it in exhaustion. The cat hissed and then settled back down to the ground…
“Nonsense! I’ll fight someone.” Thor was desperate to spare his pride now.
“Ha-ha. Uhhhh, okay. I really don’t think that you would be a challenge… maybe Elli I guess. She is my attendant. Elli, please come…”
When Elli entered, she showed herself to be an elderly lady. She was frail and had trouble walking over to Thor.
Thor scoffed at the King.
Apprehensively, he grabbed Elli’s arm. They wrestled, but she was remarkably strong. Thor started trying harder and harder… until he gave everything he had in effort. But, Elli eventually grabbed his arm and pinned Thor to the ground.
The king spoke graciously, “I think that you have all had enough. Please just enjoy the evening with us. We will drink, and in the morning, I can set you all on your way.” He gave a hearty smile to them all.
They all sat together and humbly observed the lively joy of the party for the rest of the evening…
The next morning, they all awoke and followed the king outside of the gate.
“Can I speak to you candidly before you leave?” The king changed his tone slightly to seem more genuine.
Thor nodded and looked moderately interested.
“Poor Thor. I admit; I have been playing tricks on all of you… Loki, my, and your kindred, competed against Logi. Maybe you thought little of the name, but as the name suggests, Logi means ‘fire,’ and he is… literally. There is no being that can compete with the all-consuming nature of fire. The God of Mischief simply stood no chance… And Thjalfi, you little speed-demon. You were racing against Hugi. Hugi is thought, and the speed of thought is simply too fast for any racer. You raced admirably… I mean that… As for my dear Thor. The other side of that horn was connected to the ocean. Your drinking actually caused the tides to come in and out… And in that same ocean, my ‘cat’ was Jormungandr the ‘World Serpent.’ You actually almost had it out of the water… Incredible! I couldn’t believe it! Elli, my servant, IS ‘age.’ No one can escape her or overpower her, but you held off her effects for a very long time, all considering… Also, I am Skrymir and, wow, your first swing under the tree was just parried to my right. It left a massive crater in the ground. And, it would have surely killed me if it hit. When you swung at my foot, I moved just in time. Now, there is a valley in the place that you struck. Oh, and the knot that I put into the top of your bag, was actually wrought iron disguised with my magic… so. The only thing that wasn’t magic or a trick, was me… I am a king, and my name is Utgard-Loki …and you will never see me again. I will make sure of it, little eaglet!”
With that, the king was gone. The gate was gone… Everything was gone. They stood in an empty field. Thor feinted hammer swings in the place Utgard-Loki was…pretending anger… but in truth, he was happy. The lies of the king had him do remarkable things… Things that he probably thought were impossible. He was VERY strong… and a powerful drinker!
Thor only spoke one word after his empty swings, “eaglet?”
Loki ignored the question completely, “Ha, fun! I like him…” He then looked directly at Roskva, before he turned to Thor who gave him a very slight but warm smile.
Thor asked imploringly this time, “eaglet?”
“My Lord, it means young eagle.” Roskva gave a humble response.
“I know. Why though?” Thor looked genuinely perplexed.
Thor grabbed his bag as he spoke: “You’re both free… We will walk you back if you’d like. Your father still has my goats… Thank you for your help.” This last part was said with a tinge of genuineness and both Roskva and Thjalfi would vibrantly remember that statement until their dying days… Thor spoke to them as equals.
With that, the party began to walk back to Midgard… To the farm where their journey began.