How the Mead of Poetry was Stolen

Photo by Jake Hinds on Unsplash

One evening, there was a knock on Suttung’s door. Suttung was eating his supper. ‘Go away!’ he yelled.

There was another knock.

Suttung growled. He took a swig of ale and got up.

‘This better be worth it,’ he said, picking up his axe. He fastened it to his belt and went to open his door.

‘What do you want?’

An old man in a long, hooded cloak stood in the doorway. ‘I have come to your farm looking for work.’

Suttung laughed. ‘And what makes you think I would want a one-eyed old man working for me? What would you even do?’

The old man smiled. ‘Perhaps, I could be a farmhand.’

Suttung squinted. ‘It is strange that you come looking for work on the day I find all of my farmhands dead.’

‘I can leave if you prefer.’

‘No.’ He didn’t trust this stranger, but he knew how long it would take to find new farmhands.

‘Fine. I will give you one week to prove your worth. If I’m satisfied once the week is over, you can stay.’

‘Thank you,’ the old man said.

‘We have already lost a day’s worth of work, so to catch up, you must work through the night.’

‘Will you at least give me a tour of your farm before I begin?’

Suttung sighed. ‘Very well.’ He stepped out of his house and slammed his door shut. ‘Follow me.’

Suttung led the old man around his farm.

‘Where will I sleep once I am finished with my work?’ the old man asked.

Suttung pointed to a large building with a turf roof. ‘You will sleep in the barn with the animals.’

There was a cave nearby the barn. Suttung noticed the old man looking at it. He clenched his fist. ‘You must never go into that cave. It leads to my vaults. The only people allowed to enter are me and my daughter, Gunnlod, who guards my treasures.’

‘Is that where you keep the Mead of Poetry?’ the old man asked.

Suttung was shocked. He stepped towards the old man. ‘How is it you know of the Mead of Poetry?’

‘I have heard rumours.’

Suttung unfastened his axe and held it to the old man’s throat. ‘And, what do these rumours say?’

The old man gulped. ‘That it grants wisdom to all who drink it.’

Suttung laughed. ‘That is true. I have drunk the Mead many times, and it has made me wise. I pity anybody who tries to outwit me. Do these rumours also mention how I came to possess the Mead? How I murdered its former masters? How I will not hesitate to murder again if someone was to try to steal it?’

The old man looked at the razor-sharp blade of the axe. ‘Let us hope it doesn’t come to that.’

Suttung lowered his weapon. ‘Yes. Let us hope not. Now, I think you should begin your work.’

The old man nodded and headed to the wheat fields.

Suttung watched him go. Then, he returned to his house and continued eating his supper. Every now and then, he glanced out of his window to check up on the old man. He was impressed by how hard his new farmhand worked. Suttung still didn’t trust him, however.

After the week was up, the old man came to Suttung. ‘Have I proven my worth to you? Can I stay at your farm?’ he asked.

Suttung thought for a moment. ‘You have proven yourself to be a fine worker. You have earned my respect. Yes, you may stay.

Now go back to the barn.’

‘Thank you,’ the old man said. He left Suttung’s house, but instead of heading to the barn, he went to the cave.

Before he entered, he noticed that the cave floor was flooded. It was like a mirror staring up at him. He knew that if he walked into the cave, the water would splash and alert Gunnlod, so the old man transformed into a snake. He slivered inside.

The cave tunnelled deep into the earth. He followed the narrow path downwards until it opened into a vast cavern. Gunnlod stood at the centre, holding a bow. She was tall, with brown hair and fierce brown eyes. Behind her was a heap of gold, and on top of that were the three drinking horns that contained the Mead of Poetry.

The snake circled the cavern, sticking to the shadows. He watched Gunnlod closely. Her gaze flittered around the cavern, not lingering on any one thing for too long. When it seemed like she was looking in the opposite direction, the snake quickly slivered toward the gold.

Gunnlod suddenly turned back.

The snake froze. He was perfectly still, hoping that she wouldn’t notice him.

Gunnlod’s nose twitched. She took an arrow from her quiver and readied her bow.

Just then, a droplet of water dripped from the cavern ceiling.

Gunnlod spun around.

The snake sprang forward and began to climb the treasure pile. As soon as he did, several of the gold coins dislodged.

Gunnlod swivelled back around and shot an arrow at the snake, missing it by inches.

The snake lunged at the Mead and transformed into a black eagle. He snatched the three drinking horns with its talons.

Gunnlod fired a second arrow toward the eagle.

He dodged.

She then threw down her bow and swiped at the eagle with her fists.

This time she clipped the eagle on his wing and sent him crashing into the cavern wall. He was able to regain his momentum, though, and soon continued his escape.

Gunnlod roared and unsheathed her sword. She chased the eagle, wildly slashing at him.

Because the path out of the cave was so narrow and the ceilings were so low, the eagle couldn’t seem to get away from Gunnlod. Several times she almost caught him with her sword.

Once he finally made it out of the cave, he flew high into the sky, so Gunnlod had no hope of reaching him. Suttung, however, had heard his daughter’s roars and had transformed into a grey eagle. He chased the black eagle.

The two birds soared through the sky. The black eagle weaved through mountain peaks to try and slow down the grey eagle, but Suttung was cunning and remained in close pursuit.

Finally, the black eagle flew straight upwards. He crossed the cloud boundary and went into the higher worlds. He flew straight to Asgard and then to Valhalla.

The two wolves who guarded the gates watched the black eagle come crashing to the ground. Neither of the wolves moved.

The black eagle lay sprawled on the floor. He was exhausted from flying. With his last ounce of strength, he returned to his true form.

‘Do not let that eagle enter Valhalla,’ Odin ordered.

The wolves sprang forward and snapped at the grey eagle so he couldn’t come any closer.

Odin crawled towards one of the tables made of breastplates. He used it to get up. Then, he staggered to his throne and dropped down onto it. The three drinking horns were still in his hands.