Fafnir lives with his family in a fortress-like house deep in the forest. His father, descended from an archdemon, shares the secrets of the dark arts with Fafnir and his two brothers. Regnir, the eldest, is a deformed dwarf who lusts after gold and relies on his cunning to get it. Hungering only for food, Oter, the middle brother, can transform himself into a bird of prey. The shape-shifting Fafnir desires to be feared, and when Odin, king of the gods, sets a trap with a treasure that tempts every giant, ogre, and dwarf in his domain, Fafnir becomes a dragon. However, he is about to confront an even fiercer rival: a mortal named Siegfried.
This adventure-filled Norse myth is a powerful story of magic, curses, doom, and destruction featuring an unlikely hero whose perils are only just beginning.
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About the Author
Bernard Evslin (1922–1993) was a bestselling and award-winning author known for his works on Greek and other cultural mythologies. The New York Times called him “one of the most widely published authors of classical mythology in the world.” He was born in New Rochelle, New York, and attended Rutgers University. After several years working as a playwright, screenwriter, and documentary producer, he began publishing novels and short stories in the late 1960s. During his long career, Evslin published more than seventy books—over thirty of which were for young adults. His bestseller Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths has been translated into ten different languages and has sold more than ten million copies worldwide. He won the National Education Association Award in 1961, and in 1986 his book Hercules received the Washington Irving Children’s Book Choice Award. Evslin died in Kauai, Hawaii, at the age of seventy-seven.
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Monsters of Norse Mythology
By Bernard Evslin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 Bernard Evslin
All rights reserved.
The Ogres' Den
In a clearing in a deep, dark forest stood a house where no one came who didn't live there or wasn't dragged there. At first sight it looked like a sprawling white lodge made of shells, but on second look you could see that they were not shells but bones. The front door was an archway formed by the pelvis bone of a giant. Straight shin bones and arm bones were the wall struts. The heavy beams were made of thigh bones. The roof, which had to be strong enough to bear the weight of an entire winter's snowfall, was made of overlapping shoulder bones.
As for skulls, they were used for drinking cups, bowls, flowerpots, according to size—which ranged from giant to dwarf, with a lot of plain human skulls, adult and child.
Anyone unlucky enough to be looking at this bone house knew that it had to be the home of something dreadful, and that unless he left the neighborhood immediately he would find himself being boiled alive in a big iron pot, or else eaten raw.
Indeed, a gruesome clan did live there, the ogre Hreidmar and his three sons, Oter, Regnir, and Fafnir. Hreidmar's father had been an arch-demon, too ferocious even for the god-hating, man-devouring Giants of Jutenheim, who had driven him out of their land, banishing him forever. He had then married the ugliest daughter of the ugliest gnome of the tribe of Dismal Dwarfs—and this gnarled maiden, although horrible to look at, was also very magical. The grisly pair produced a son named Hreidmar, who began planning their murder when he was nine days old, and killed them as soon as he was big enough to use a knife.
Hreidmar grew with monstrous speed and raided Jutenheim, stealing himself a wife, who bore him three sons. Then, knowing that Hreidmar meant to kill her and take a fresh young wife, she fled the bone house and made her way back to Jutenheim, leaving her husband and three children.
But Hreidmar was resolved that his sons would not do to him as he had done to his own parents. He flogged them twice a day when they were good and all day long if they weren't. He twisted their ears, crimped their noses, and tormented them in other ways, hoping to fill them with such wholesome terror that they wouldn't dare think of attacking him.
After a time, however, he realized that he would have to change his methods because he could no longer hurt his sons. He had lost none of his monstrous vigor; he was as strong as ever and could slice the bough off a tree with one flick of his whip, but his sons had grown the scaly hide of true Ogres and his lash could no longer cut them. So he decided to try kindness, hoping he would know how, and that it wasn't too late.
Regnir, the eldest, said to him, "Glad you've come to your senses, Father. You're safe with us. We don't mean to harm you. We want you to teach us magic."
Whereupon Hreidmar taught them all he knew about the dark arts—shape changing, invisibility, harms and charms, dream reading, and how to brew ten poisons from one innocent-looking herb garden.
Curiously enough, Regnir, who resembled his Dismal Dwarf grandmother and was much the cleverest of his family, was the only one who could not learn to transform himself. He tried and tried but could never become a wolf, a fox, a bear, or any of the beautiful, lithe animal shapes the others wore so easily. He made himself adept at all the other kinds of magic, but decided to hide his skills. Being so much the smallest of his clan, he depended on stealth and cunning to keep things even. Indeed, he thought so fast and spoke so well that the others began to look on him as their leader.
And they needed fast thinking at this point, for they had begun to rob their neighbors full-time.
Working as a team, father and sons raided all the farms the country round and helped themselves to sleek herds of cattle before killing the owners. Their barnyard became a slaughter pen. They collected so many bones they decided to build another house and two more barns.
For all their teamwork, though, the brothers secretly hated each other, and all of them loathed their father—who, also secretly, feared and hated them. But that was the way of close-knit ogre families, and still is.
Now all three of the young ogres were savagely greedy, but with different greeds. Regnir lusted for gold, believing that with enough of it he could buy whatever else he might want. He loved the yellow metal, however, not only for what it could buy, but for itself. The chink of gold against gold was sweetest music to him, its rich gleam the most gorgeous sight in the whole world. He knew that his father, who had looted the entire countryside, was very wealthy, and Regnir intended to inherit this wealth as soon as he could, and to be the sole heir. For this to happen, three deaths had to happen first, but he was more than ready to arrange fatalities.
In Oter, the second son, burned the simplest hunger—for food. He was always famished, and the more he ate, the more he wanted. As soon as he learned to change shape, he became a hawk, for he had observed that birds eat all day long, and that the hawk was the most successful of all hunting birds. As a hawk, he prowled the sky, diving upon other birds, seizing them in his claws, stripping flesh from bone, and eating everything except beak and feathers.
Overflying a river one day, he spotted a bear scooping salmon out of the rushing water and devouring them from nose to tail. The delicious smell of the fish drifted up to him, and he was immediately gripped by a raging hunger for salmon. No bird could satisfy him now, no rabbit, lamb, or kid or anything that hawks hunted. What he wanted was salmon, and they were uncatchable by hawks. Hovering over the river, he observed that while a bear could catch many salmon by squatting at the side of a stream and scooping them out with his paw, there was another animal that could actually swim like a fish and could catch more salmon in an hour than a bear could in a day. It was a sleek, swift animal whose rolling muscles were clad in oiled fur. Its hind feet were webbed, its front paws as clever as hands.
In a flash, Oter changed himself into that beast, plunged into the river and ate so many salmon so fast that the entire tribe watched him in wonder, and took his name, calling themselves otters.
As for the third son, Fafnir, his keenest delight was in making others fear him. Being the youngest of the family, he had been the smallest for some years, and had been made to suffer for it. Every time one of the brothers was flogged by his father he would fling himself upon Fafnir, punching and kicking him until he slumped, senseless, to the ground. If both brothers were beaten by their father, they would both attack Fafnir. He soon learned to curl up like a hedgehog under attack. When he did this, his brothers would use him like a ball, kicking him from one to the other in the world's first soccer game. And when this punishment was finished, his father would beat him again for not standing up to his attackers.
But Fafnir absorbed what was dealt out to him and was toughened by it. He grew much faster than his brothers, and in a few years was the largest and strongest of the family. By this time, of course, his brothers considered it wiser not to bully him.
But the cruelty Fafnir had absorbed made him even more vicious than the rest of his clan, which was very difficult to be. And so the appetite that burned in him was to make others afraid. He snuffled up the odor of fear like the most delicious musk, drank tears like wine, and enjoyed nothing more than the sight of someone groveling and writhing underfoot as he leered down, promising his victim that, as a last favor, he would lengthen his life by killing him slowly.
He enjoyed killing in his own shape, but when facing a genuine Jutenheim giant or a magic-wielding dwarf, or some other who might not be impressed by his ogreish size, he chose a shape that would strike terror in anyone: an enormous weasel that could devour a bull, say, as easily as an ordinary weasel consumes a squirrel. Or he would become a gigantic scorpion with a sting as big as a plough, or change himself into a vampire bat with a wingspread greater than an eagle's—who could suck a villageful of people dry of blood in a single night.
This was Fafnir, youngest ogre, and most monstrous. But all the blood he drank, all the bones he crunched, all the delicious terror he kindled only made him want more and more and more. Somewhere, he sensed, there existed a creature even more terrible than an outsize weasel or scorpion or bat. He didn't know what it might be, but knew he had to become it. And for every day and night that passed before he could assume that final shape of horror, he would make others pay in pain and suffering.CHAPTER 2
Gods and Giants were cousins. They all sprang out of the wastes of chaos when fire and ice mixed explosively into crude blobs of something Wholly New. And out of these wondrous blobs had clotted the shapes of God and Giant. Now, Giant was the first shape and had sopped up certain crudities that made that tribe bigger and stronger and more brutal than the Gods—who had refined themselves out of the first blobs and made each other out of the finest essences of fire and ice.
Now, thousands of years later but still early in the world's morning, the Gods in their sky-pasture of Aesgard were an awesomely stunning tribe, fiercely beautiful as the changing seasons. Odin, their king, wore a beard that looked like spun snow. Freya's skin was snow-white overlaid with the blush of the northern rose; her eyes were blue as the core of flame. Indeed, all the Aesgir had blue eyes, except for Thor, Lord of Battle, whose eyes were smouldering coals. His hair and beard were fire-red. His grip on his war hammer like the clench of December that stills the wild northern seas. Balder the Good had eyes like the washed blue of sky after storm; his laughter was the pure sound of rivers in May slipping their fetters of ice. While the love goddess, Freya, walked in a fragrance that held the furious sweetness of rose and lilac and privet—who know how brief their summer is, how swiftly they must scent the air and fill the pouches of bees with nectar.
Intertwined with nature as they were, the Gods were weather-makers. When angry, Odin shook blizzards out of his snow-beard. Thor's war chariot rumbling across the sky was thunder. The sparks struck by his hammer against the helmet of a Giant was lightning. Frigga, Odin's jealous wife, when angry with her husband, which was often, spat tempests upon the earth.
But the worst weather of all was the boredom of Odin. Then his wild restlessness filled the sky and tormented the earth with wind-driven snow, hailstones as big as goose eggs, and weird winter lightning. At such times even the Gods trembled, for they were afraid that the storm of Odin's mood would kill all the people of earth, leaving no one to worship them. And Gods, unworshiped, lose their beauty and wither into monsters. As it happened, the thing that bored Odin most was fighting with his wife, even when he won. And they were quarreling now.
"I shall weep," hissed Frigga. "I shall howl. I shall wait until you're asleep and do painful things to you."
"You seem displeased, my dear," murmured Odin. "Any reason?"
"Any reason?" she screeched. "Don't you think I could see you in that river down there, sporting with those yellow-haired hussies?"
"They're all blonde in this part of the world, my queen. For dark-haired ones I'd have to go farther south."
"You're laughing at me!" she yowled, and sprang toward him, talons bared, trying to scratch his eyes out. He caught her wrists in one hand, swung her off her feet and set her on a bevel of the small star that was used to light the Royal Garden at Aesgard. She tried to clamber down but he slapped the star, making it spin on its axis. She clung desperately, crying:
"Let me down! Let me down!"
"No. You shall stay up there until you come to your senses."
"What were you doing in that river, you shameless lout?"
"As a matter of fact," said Odin, "I was preparing something splendid for you. I can't tell you what because it's meant to be a surprise."
"You'd better tell me," said Frigga. "I think what you're preparing is an enormous lie, but I'm listening."
"Well, you may have forgotten, but our thousandth anniversary is approaching. And to celebrate our glorious marriage I've had the Delving Dwarfs digging into the earth all year long, piling up a hoard of gold that is my gift to you. Now, so rich a trove will tempt all the thievish Giants and Ogres and Dismal Dwarfs in our domain. So I mean to hide the gold in a river cave and have appointed those three maidens you saw to guard it. When you spotted me I was testing how well they swim and dive and so forth, and instructing them in their duties."
"A magnificent lie, husband," said Frigga. "Even by your standards. One worthy of Loki himself."
"You don't believe me?"
"What kind of an idiot do you take me for? Why would anyone choose creatures like these to guard a treasure against Giants and Ogres and such?"
"Because," said Odin, "it has been ordained that no one can steal that gold unless he foreswears love forever. Now, you have seen those sisters. Would you not describe them as gorgeous?"
"Only if my taste were as coarse as yours."
"Let me assure you, wife, that no one, and I mean no male at all, finding himself among those wet beauties, could force himself to foreswear the pleasures of love, no matter how greedy he was for gold. Yes, Frigga, they will guard the golden hoard. No thief shall be able to get past them to steal my gift to you. And on our anniversary day you shall cast off your suspicions and admit that I'm the superbly generous and affectionate husband I've always claimed to be."
Frigga grunted and fell silent. And Odin was swept by a wild restlessness.
"Send for Loki!" he bellowed.
"Loki!" shrieked Frigga. "Didn't you promise you'd never invite that troublemaker back to Aesgard?"
"Consider the promise broken," said Odin. "And I'd strongly advise you not to question anything I choose to do or I may do something you'll like even less."
"Are you threatening me?"
"Yes. Now get out of my sight, and while you're there send someone for Loki. Understand?"
"More than you ever will," she muttered, but not loud enough for him to hear, and hurried away. As eldest wife she held permanent nagging rights, but no one ever dared provoke Odin's full wrath.
"My whole family hates Loki," said Odin to himself. "Indeed, they have reason; he's always trying to do someone a mischief. It's his nature, I suppose. Nevertheless, he's as witty as he is treacherous, and the only one who can think of things to divert me when I feel this way."
So Loki was sent a message, summoning him to Aesgard. As it happened, however, he had received an earlier invitation to visit the Norns—something that no one, except Odin himself, would think of ignoring.CHAPTER 3
The Fatal Web
The Norns dwelt above the northern rim of the great slope of sky that was Aesgard. Their home was a vast tent made of black sheepskin that loomed like a storm cloud over the fleecy turrets of the god-castles. Indeed, the very existence of these dread sisters known as Norns cast a shadow over every life being lived on earth, or above it, or beneath it.
They struck fear into everyone—except Odin, who feared nothing—and in him they excited hatred and disgust. He hated the Norns because they were the only creatures in the world who could sometimes stop him from doing what he wanted to do, and they disgusted him because they were so ugly. Lover of beauty as he was, especially female beauty, the merest glimpse of these hideous sisters could send him into spasms of loathing.
They were hags with hairy faces and popping eyes. Their bodies were round as chariot wheels and studded with arms and legs, three of each. Scuttling on these arms and legs they would glide up the walls and spin webs—each web as big as the mainsail of a Viking ship. When the webs were spun they would open their snag-toothed mouths and sing a magic rune, the first song ever sung: The Song of That-to-Be, Sung by All Three.
At the end of the song, Urd, the chief sister, would fling a handful of lentils into the air; each lentil became a fly. But these were not ordinary flies. Most of them wore human faces. Some of them, the larger ones, wore the faces of Giants, and Ogres, and Dismal Dwarfs—who were smaller than Giants or Ogres, but bigger than humans.
Excerpted from Monsters of Norse Mythology by Bernard Evslin. Copyright © 1989 Bernard Evslin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCHAPTER I The Ogres' Den,
CHAPTER II Odin's Gold,
CHAPTER III The Fatal Web,
CHAPTER IV The Trickster,
CHAPTER V Trapping Two Gods,
CHAPTER VI Ransom and Curse,
CHAPTER VII Death with Father,
CHAPTER VIII Asking the Ring,
CHAPTER IX Blue-blade,
CHAPTER X Gnome and Nymph,
CHAPTER XI Loki Looks Ahead,
CHAPTER XII Runes Are Magic Songs,
CHAPTER XIII Hero and Dragon,
About the Author,