THE DWARF’S HOARD, AND
THE CURSE THAT IT BROUGHT
Now old Ægir’s feast was over and all the Æsir and the Vanir prepared to return to Asgard. However two went another way, Odin, the Eldest of the Gods, and Loki the Mischievous.
Loki and Odin hid their godly powers and strength. They were going into the World of Men, and they would be merely men. Together they went through Midgard, mingling with men of all sorts, kings and farmers, outlaws and true men, warriors and householders, labourers and councilors, courteous men and men who were ill-mannered. One day they came to the bank of a mighty river and there they rested, listening to the beat of iron upon iron in a place nearby.
Presently, on a rock in the middle of the river, they saw an otter appear. The otter went into the water and came back to the rock with a catch of salmon. He devoured it there. Then Odin saw Loki do a senseless and evil thing. Taking up a great stone he threw it at the otter. The stone struck the beast on the skull and knocked him over dead.
“Loki, Loki, why have you done a thing so senseless and evil?” Odin said. Loki only laughed. He swam across the water and came back with the creature of the river. “Why did you take the life of the beast?” Odin said.
“The mischief in me made me do it,” said Loki. He drew out his knife and ripping the otter up he began to skin him. When the skin was off the beast he folded it up and stuck it in his belt. Then Odin and he left that place by the river.
They came to a house with two smithies beside it, and from the smithies came the sound of iron beating upon iron. They went inside the house and they asked if they could eat and rest themselves there.
An old man who was cooking fish over a fire pointed out a bench to them. “Rest there,” he said, “and when the fish is cooked I will give you something good to eat. My son is a fine fisherman and he brings me the best salmon.”
Odin and Loki sat on the bench and the old man went on with his cooking. “My name is Hreidmar,” he said, “and I have two sons who work in the smithies outside. I have a third son also. It is he who does the fishing for us. And who are you?”
Loki and Odin gave names to Hreidmar that were not the names by which they were known in Asgard or on Midgard. Hreidmar served fish to them and they ate. “What adventures have you met on your travels?” Hreidmar asked. “Few folk come this way to tell me of happenings.”
“I killed an otter with a stone,” Loki said with a laugh.
“You killed an otter!” Hreidmar cried. “Where did you kill it?”
“Where I killed him is of no importance to you, old man,” said Loki. “His skin is a good one, however. I have it in my belt.”
Hreidmar snatched the skin out of Loki’s belt. As soon as he held the skin before his eyes he shrieked out, “Fafnir, Regin, my sons, come here and bring the workers from your smithies. Come, come, come!”
“Why do you make such an outcry, old man?” said Odin.
“You have killed my son Otter,” shrieked the old man. “This in my hands is the skin of my son.”
As Hreidmar said this two young men carrying the forehammers of the smithies came in followed by the workers. “Strike these men dead with your forehammers, Fafnir, Regin,” their father cried. “Otter, who used to stay in the river, and whom I changed by enchantment into a river beast that he might fish for me, has been killed by these men.”
“Peace,” said Odin. “We have killed your son, it would seem, but it was unwittingly that we did the deed. We will give compensation for the death of your son.”
“What compensation will you give?” said Hreidmar, looking at Odin with eyes that were small and sharp.
Then Odin, the Eldest of the Gods, said something that was unworthy of his wisdom and his power. He might have said, “I will bring you a drink of Mimir’s well water as compensation for your son’s death.” But instead of thinking wisely, Odin All-Father thought of gold. “Set a price on the life of your son and we will pay that price in gold,” he said.
“Maybe you are great kings traveling through the world,” Hreidmar said. “If you are you will have to find gold that will cover every hair on the skin of him whom you have killed.”
Then Odin, his mind being fixed on the gold, thought of a certain treasure, a treasure that was guarded by a Dwarf. No other treasure in the nine worlds would be great enough to make the compensation that Hreidmar claimed. He thought about this treasure and he thought about how it could be taken and yet he was ashamed of his thought.
“, Loki, do you know of Andvari’s hoard?” he said.
“I know of it,” said Loki sharply, “and I know where it is hidden. Will you, Odin, let me fetch Andvari’s hoard?”
Odin spoke to Hreidmar. “I will stay with you as a hostage,” he said, “if you will let this one go to fetch a treasure that will cover the otter’s skin hair by hair.”
“Very well,” said old Hreidmar with his sharp and cunning eyes. “Go now,” he said to Loki. Then Loki left the house.
Andvari was a Dwarf who, in the early days, had obtained for himself the greatest treasure in the nine worlds. He changed himself into a pike so that he could guard this treasure and he swam in the water in front of the cave where the hoard was hidden.
Everyone in Asgard knew of the Dwarf and of the hoard he guarded. They all believed that this hoard was not to be meddled with and that some evil was joined to it. However Odin had given his word that it was to be taken from the Dwarf. Loki set out for Andvari’s cave rejoicingly. He came to the pool in front of the cave and he watched for Andvari. Soon he saw the pike swimming cautiously in front of the cave.
He would have to catch the pike and hold him till the treasure was given for ransom. As he watched ,the pike became aware of him. Suddenly he flung himself forward into the water and went speedily down the stream.
Loki could not catch that pike with his hands or with any hook and line. How, then, could he take him? Only with a net that was woven by magic. Then Loki thought of where he might get such a net.
Ran, the wife of old Ægir, the Giant King of the Sea, had a net that was woven by magic. In it she took all that was wrecked at sea. Loki thought of Ran’s net and he turned and went back to Ægir’s hall to ask for the Queen. But Ran was seldom in her husband’s house. She was now down by the rocks of the sea.
He found Ran, the cold Queen, standing in the flow of the sea, drawing out of the depths with the net that she held in her hands every piece of treasure that was washed that way. She had made a heap of the things she had drawn out of the sea, corals and amber, and bits of gold and silver, but still she was plying her net greedily.
“You know me, Ægir’s wife,” Loki said to her.
“I know you, Loki,” said Queen Ran.
“Lend me your net,” said Loki.
“That I will not do,” said Queen Ran.
“Lend me your net so that I may catch Andvari the Dwarf who boasts that he has a greater treasure than you will ever take out of the sea,” said Loki.
The cold Queen of the sea stopped plying her net. She looked at Loki steadily. Yes, if he were going to catch Andvari she would lend her net to him. She hated all the Dwarfs because this one and that one had told her they had greater treasures than she would ever have. But she especially hated Andvari, the Dwarf who had the greatest treasure in the nine worlds.
“There is nothing more to gather here,” she said, “and if you will swear to bring me back my net by tomorrow I shall lend it to you.”
“I swear by the sparks of Muspelheim that I will bring your net back to you by tomorrow, Queen of Ægir,” Loki cried. Then Ran put into his hands the Magic Net. Then he went back to where the Dwarf, was guarding his marvelous hoard.
The pool in which Andvari floated as a pike was dark but to him it was all golden with the light of his marvelous treasure. For the sake of this hoard he had given up his companionship with the Dwarfs and his delight in making and shaping the things of their workmanship. For the sake of his hoard he had taken on himself the dumbness and deafness of a fish.
Now as he swam about in front of the cave he was aware again of a shadow above him. He slipped toward the shadow of the bank. Then as he turned round he saw a net sweeping toward him. He sank down in the water. But the Magic Net had spread out and he sank into it.
Suddenly he was out of the water and was left gasping on the bank. He would have died had he not undone his transformation.
Soon he appeared as a Dwarf. “Andvari, you are caught.It is one of the Æsir who has taken you,” he heard his captor say.
“Loki,” he gasped.
“You are caught and you shall be held,” Loki said to him. “It is the will of the Æsir that you give up your hoard to me.”
“My hoard, my hoard!” the Dwarf shouted. ” I will never give up my hoard.”
“I will hold you till you give it to me,” said Loki.
“Unjust, unjust,” shouted Andvari. “It is only you, Loki, who is unjust. I will go to the throne of Odin and I will have Odin punish you for trying to rob me of my treasure.”
“Odin has sent me to fetch your hoard,” said Loki.
“Can it be that all the Æsir are unjust? Ah, yes. In the beginning of things they cheated the Giant who built the wall round their City. The Æsir are unjust.”
Loki had Andvari in his power and after the Dwarf had raged against him and defied him, he tormented him. At last, trembling with rage and with his face covered with tears, Andvari took Loki into his cavern, and, turning a rock aside, showed him the mass of gold and gems that was his hoard.
At once Loki began to gather into the Magic Net lumps and ingots and bracelets of gold with gems that were rubies and sapphires and emeralds. He saw Andvari snatch at something on the heap, but he made no sign of noticing. At last it was all gathered into the net, and Loki stood there ready to carry the Dwarf’s hoard away.
“There is one thing,” said Loki, “the ring that you, Andvari, snatched from the heap.”
“I snatched nothing,” said the Dwarf. But he shook with anger and his teeth gnashed together. “I snatched nothing from the heap.”
But Loki pulled up his arm and there fell to the ground the ring that Andvari had hidden under his armpit.
It was the most precious thing in the entire hoard. Had it been left with him Andvari would have thought that he still possessed a treasure, for this ring itself could make gold. It was made out of gold that was refined of all impurities and it was engraved with a rune of power.
Loki picked up this most precious ring and put it on his finger. Then the Dwarf screamed at him, turning his thumbs toward him in a curse.
“The ring with the rune of power upon it, may it weigh down your fortune,and load you with evil, You, Loki, and all who wish to possess the ring.
As Andvari uttered this curse Loki saw a figure rise up in the cave and move toward him. As this figure came near he knew who it was: Gulveig, a Giant woman who had once been in Asgard.
Far back in the early days, when the Gods had come to their holy hill and before Asgard was built, three women of the Giants had come amongst the Æsir. After the three had been with them for a time, the lives of the Æsir changed. Then they began to value and hoard the gold that they had played with. Then they thought of war. Odin hurled his spear amongst the messengers that came from the Vanir, and war came into the world.
The Three were driven out of Asgard. Peace was made with the Vanir. The Apples of Lasting Youth were grown in Asgard. The greed for gold was stopped. But the Æsir were never again as happy as they were before the women came to them from the Giants.
Gulveig was one of the Three who had affected the early happiness of the Gods. She was in the cave where Andvari had hoarded his treasure and with a smile on her face she was advancing toward Loki.
“So, Loki,” she said, “you see me again. Odin who sent you to this cave will see me again. Loki! I go to Odin to be your messenger and to tell him that you come with Andvari’s hoard.”
After having said this, and smiling into his face, Gulveig went out of the cave with swift and light steps. Loki drew the ends of the Magic Net together and gathering all the treasures in it he, too, went out.
Odin, the Eldest of the Gods, stood leaning on his spear and looking at the skin of the otter that was spread out before him. Someone came into the house swiftly. Odin saw that it was Gulveig who, once with her two companions, had troubled the happiness of the Gods. Odin raised his spear to throw it at her.
“Put your spear down, Odin,” she said. “I lived for a long time in the Dwarf’s cave. But your word released me, and the curse said over Andvari’s ring has sent me here. Put your spear down, and look at me, Eldest of the Gods.
“You threw me out of Asgard, but your word has brought me back to you. If you two, Odin and Loki, have bought yourselves free with gold and may enter Asgard, surely I, Gulveig, am free to enter Asgard also.”
Odin lowered his spear, sighing deeply. “Surely it is so, Gulveig,” he said. “I may not forbid you to enter Asgard. I wish I had thought of giving the man Kvasir’s Mead or Mimir’s well water rather than this gold as compensation.”
As they spoke Loki came into Hreidmar’s home. He laid on the floor the Magic Net. Old Hreidmar with his sharp eyes, and huge Fafnir, and lean and hungry-looking Regin came in to gaze on the gold and gems that shone through the net. They began to push each other away from gazing at the gold. Then Hreidmar cried out, “No one may be here but these two kings and I while we measure out the gold and gems and see whether the compensation is sufficient. Go outside, go outside, my sons.”
Then Fafnir and Regin were forced to go out of the house. They went out slowly, and Gulveig went with them, whispering to both.
With shaking hands old Hreidmar spread out the skin that once covered his son. He drew out the ears and the tail and the paws so that every single hair could be shown. For a long time he was on his hands and knees, his sharp eyes searching over every line of the skin. Still on his knees he said, “Begin now, kings, and cover with a gem or a piece of gold every hair on the skin that was my son’s.”
Odin stood leaning on his spear, watching the gold and gems being laid out. Loki took the gold,the ingots, and the lumps and the bracelets. He took the rubies, and the emeralds and the sapphires, and he began to place them over each hair. Soon the middle of the skin was all covered. Then he put the gems and the gold over the paws and the tail. Soon the otter-skin was so glittering that one would think it could light up the world. Still Loki went on finding a place where a gem or a piece of gold might be put.
At last he stood up. Every gem and every piece of goldhad been taken out of the net. Every hair on the otter’s skin had been covered with a gem or a piece of gold.
Still old Hreidmar on his hands and knees was peering over the skin, searching for a hair that was not covered. At last he lifted himself up on his knees. His mouth was open, but he was speechless. He touched Odin on the knees, and when Odin bent down he showed him a hair on the lip that was left uncovered.
“What do you mean?” Loki cried, turning on the crouching man.
“Your ransom is not paid yet.Look, here is still a hair uncovered. You may not go until every hair is covered with gold or a gem.”
“Peace, old man,” said Loki roughly. “All the Dwarf’s hoard has been given to you.”
“You may not go until every hair has been covered,” Hreidmar said again.
“There is no more gold or gems,” Loki answered.
“Then you may not go,” cried Hreidmar, springing up.
It was true. Odin and Loki couldnot leave that house until the compensatione they had agreed to was paid in full. Where would the Æsir go for gold?
Then Odin saw the gleam of gold on Loki’s finger.It was the ring he had forced from Andvari. “Your ring,” said Odin. “Put your ring over the hair on the otter’s skin.”
Loki took off the ring that was engraved with the rune of power, and he put it on the lip hair of the otter’s skin. Then Hreidmar clapped his hands and screamed aloud. Huge Fafnir and lean and hungry looking Regin came inside, and Gulveig came behind them. They stood around the skin of the son and the brother that was all glittering with gold and gems. But they looked at each other more than they looked at the glittering mass, and very deadly were the looks that Fafnir and Regin gave their father and each other.
All of the Æsir and the Vanir that had been at old Ægir’s feast—Frey and Freya, Frigga, Iduna, and Sif; Tyr with his sword and Thor in his chariot drawn by the goats went over Bifröst, the Rainbow Bridge,. Loki came behind them, and behind them all came Odin, the Father of the Gods. He went slowly with his head bent, for he knew that an unwelcome one was following—Gulveig, who once had been thrown out of Asgard and whose return now the Gods could not prevent.