The doors to the mead hall burst open. Odin walked in, accompanied by Hrungnir.
The gods stopped what they were doing and looked up.
‘A giant?’ Freyr gasped.
‘What’s he doing here?’ Frigg muttered.
‘This is Hrungnir,’ Odin said. ‘I met him on my trip to Jotunheim, and we had a nice chat about horses. Then, I—’
Hrungnir interrupted Odin. ‘Can you believe this idiot thought his horse was faster than mine? I soon proved him wrong, though. There’s no horse alive faster than Gullfaxi.’
Odin rolled his eyes.
Hrungnir rubbed his hands together. ‘So, where’s this mead you promised me?’
‘This way.’ Odin led Hrungnir into the hall and pulled out a chair beside Thor. ‘Sit down here, and I will bring you some mead.’
Hrungnir sat down. ‘Better make it a big one. I’m feeling thirsty.’
‘Coming right up.’ Odin smirked at Thor and went to get some mead.
Hrungnir noticed that all the gods were staring at him. ‘What’s their problem?’ he said to Thor. Thor looked at Hrungnir and tried his best to smile. ‘Put it there,’ Hrungnir said, outstretching his hand.
Thor’s hand began to tremble. For as long as he could remember, his purpose had been to rid the nine worlds of giants. So, it took all his willpower not to reach for Mjolnir and kill Hrungnir then and there. He slowly lifted his arm to shake hands. Before the two hands met, however, Hrungnir pulled his hand back and howled with laughter. ‘Just a little joke we like to play on each other in Jotunheim.’
Hrungnir slapped him on the back. ‘Sorry, kiddo. I didn’t know you were so sensitive.’
Odin came back carrying two cups of mead.
‘Are they both for me?’ Hrungnir laughed.
Odin laughed and handed one of the cups to Hrungnir.
‘I wasn’t joking, you know. I want both of them.’
Odin sighed and gave Hrungnir the second cup. He sat opposite the giant. There were plenty of chairs to choose from because all of the gods had moved away. Thor was thinking about doing the same.
He got up to leave.
‘Where do you think you are going, Thor? Sit back down. I think you and Hrungnir will hit it off if you stay.’
‘Fine.’ Thor sat back down.
‘Hrungnir, you are a hunter, are you not? What animals do you hunt?’
Hrungnir had just glugged down both cups of mead. He belched and wiped his mouth with his hand. ‘Goats,’ Hrungnir said. ‘Stupid animals, if you ask me.’
This made Thor angry. Goats were his sacred animal. He growled and gritted his teeth.
‘Do you hunt anything bigger?’ Odin asked.
‘No, I tend to stick to goats. I don’t know what it is. I just hate them. Although, I bet I could hunt bigger things if I wanted to. I am, by far, the best fighter in all the nine worlds.’
‘Even better than the gods?’ Odin asked.
‘Of course I am. You lot up here are all pampered and mollycoddled. Not like us down in Jotunheim. We have to be hard to get by.’
‘Ah, I’ve never thought of it that way,’ Odin said.
Thor could not contain his anger any longer. Far off, thunder crackled. He slammed his fist on the table. ‘You are wrong! I demand a duel.’
Hrungnir shrugged. ‘Sure.’
‘We will duel on the Snowfields in Jotunheim,’ Thor told him. ‘It will be on the day of the next full moon.’
‘It’s your funeral,’ Hrungnir said. He looked at his cup and whistled at Odin. ‘Oi, fill me up.’
‘I think you’ve had quite enough,’ Odin said. He pointed to the door. ‘It is time for you to leave. Heimdall will allow you to cross the Bifrost.’
Hrungnir got up. ‘Fine, I know when I’m not wanted.’
The giant left Asgard and returned to Jotunheim to prepare for his duel. He made a thick stone shield and an enormous flint club.
On the day of the duel, Odin came to the Snowfields riding on Thor’s goat-pulled chariot.
Hrungnir stood holding his giant shield in one hand and his gigantic club in the other. When he saw Odin approach, he snorted with laughter. ‘I knew it! Thor’s too chicken to face me. He sends his father instead.’
‘No. Thor’s definitely coming. He’s just coming by a different route.’ The sky rumbled. ‘I think that should be him now.’
Hrungnir’s eyes widened.
Suddenly, the sky darkened.
Thunder gurgled above the clouds. Forks of lightning began to crash down around the giant. Hrungnir raised his shield, anticipating that Thor would strike from above.
While Hrungnir watched the skies, though, the ground started to shake. By the time Hrungnir noticed, it was too late. Thor leapt up and knocked Hrungnir’s shield out of his hands. He landed in front of the giant.
‘We will duel as warriors, not as cowards who hide behind their shields.’
‘Fine by me,’ Hrungnir said. He lunged forward and swung his club at Thor.
Thor struck Hrungnir’s club with Mjolnir.
When the two weapons collided, Hrungnir’s club exploded. Shards of flint flew everywhere.
Hrungnir dived to the ground and shielded himself the best he could. Thor, however, stood tall and puffed out his chest.
One of the shards hit Thor’s forehead. It pierced the flesh. Blood gushed down the side of Thor’s face.
‘Stand and face me!’ Thor said. ‘Or are you forfeiting this duel already?’
Hrungnir got up. ‘Why would I want to forfeit? I am winning. I have already made the mighty Thor bleed.’
Thor frowned at Hrungnir. In the heat of battle, he had not even realised he was wounded. He wiped his brow and looked at his hand. It was red with blood.
Thor looked up and grinned.
Hrungnir gulped. He picked up his shield to use as a battering ram and charged forward.
Thor rolled out of the way of Hrungnir. Then, he turned and threw his hammer straight at the giant.
It crashed against Hrungnir’s head.
The giant dropped to his knees and collapsed to the floor.
Mjolnir flew back to Thor, and the roar of thunder echoed through the nine worlds.
Odin looked at Hrungnir’s corpse. ‘I call dibs on his horse.’
‘Fine.’ Thor rubbed his head. Now that he wasn’t distracted by battle, he could feel his skull throbbing. Blood had streamed down his face and matted into his beard.
‘You should get that looked at,’ Odin said. ‘I know a good healer.’
Thor tried to pluck the shard of flint out of his forehead, but it was so deeply embedded into his skull that he couldn’t get a grip of it. ‘Maybe your right,’ he said. ‘But what should we do about Hrungnir’s corpse?’
‘We can’t just leave him here, can we?’
‘I’m not sure what else we can do. He’s a giant, and giants are the sworn enemy of the gods.’
Thor looked at Hrungnir’s corpse. ‘I suppose you’re right.’
They left the Snowfields and headed straight to Midgard.
The healer Odin spoke of lived in a small wooden hut in a forest of tall trees. She examined Thor and was able to extract parts of the flint shard.
‘I’m afraid some of the fragments of flint have gone so far into your skull that it is impossible for me to remove them.’
‘That’s fine. I can still feel it in my head, but the pain is much more bearable than before. For that, I thank you and ask if there is anything I could do for you?’
The healer shook her head. ‘There is nothing.’
‘There must be something.’
The healer hesitated. ‘I wish for nothing except for my husband to return to me. He went on an expedition to the ice cliffs and has not returned.’
‘I often go to the ice cliffs. Perhaps I have met your husband. What is his name?’
‘His name is Aurvandill,’ she said hopefully.
Thor’s face went white. ‘I’m afraid your husband is dead. He was half-frozen when I found him. I tried to carry him to safety, but I was not fast enough, and he died in my arms.’
The healer turned away. ‘Thank you for telling me this.’
Thor went to leave the hut, but before he got to the door, he stopped. He turned back. ‘Could you do me one last favour, please? Tonight, when the sky is at its darkest, can you look up to the stars?’
‘What is it I’m looking for?’
‘You’ll know it when you see it.’
Thor left the hut.
‘So, are we going back to Asgard?’ Odin asked.
‘I have one last thing to do first.’
The two gods went to where Aurvandill’s frozen corpse lay. Thor snapped off one of Aurvandill’s toes. He threw the toe with so much might that it stuck into the sky dome and became a new, shining star in the night sky.