Published: January 18, 2012
Thor scowled at the vast book of names that lay on the table before him. He was bored and the sunlight glinting through the thick glass of the window made him wish he was outside. At the other end of his mother's spacious house his six sisters were gathered around a loom, watching the patterns of Wyrd. His mother was concentrating on their studies so he stole away from the book and decided to play at his favourite game, hunting.
The iron spit made a perfect spear and he seized it and grasped its sooty shaft with both hands. Now the hunt was on, with silent tread he crept across the sun dappled kitchen. The upturned washtub made a tempting target and with a quick strong thrust he made his kill. The lathes of the washtub shattered at the blow and flying splinters caused the carefully balanced cooking pots and pottery basins on the shelves above to tumble down with a deafening din. 'Oops.' muttered Thor as pot shards rained around him.
The collar of his tunic was grabbed in a firm grip and the angry goddess hauled her son up onto the table where she seized him by the shoulders. 'What are you doing, why are you destroying my house?' she demanded, her eyes blazing.
'I am sorry,' Thor muttered, 'I was hunting.'
'Hunting.' Jord echoed sternly, she glanced down at the buckled spit iron lying on the floor, piecing together her son's imagined adventure. 'So, had enough of book learning have you, learnt it all have you?'
'I think so' the child replied nervously.
'So what is wormwood called among the elves?'
'How many chicks does the sea eagle lay?'
'Up to three.'
'What rune of the giants protects against madness?'
'Then you have studied hard and thoroughly' relented the goddess. 'Would you like me to foster you with a hunter while your sisters finish their training?'
'A hunter? I would like that very much.'
'Then make some bread and stew for our next meal and do it well, and I will take you to a hunter after we have rested.'
'I have broken the bread trough.'
'Then I will mend that one first, bring me the fragments.'
Thor pulled the thin shards of the wooden bowl from the wreckage and his mother matched the pieces together and sang over them, fusing the parts back together.
Thor was very attentive to his chores and Jord honoured her promise after the household rose from sleeping. She dressed in a leather gown and cloak that she wore when travelling among the folk of Middle Garth and told Thor to dress in a similar fashion. They set out far into the eastern hills.
Whilst crossing a level hilltop a glistening light in the wind blown grass caught Thor's eye and he stepped over and picked up a glinting object in his palm. It was the figure of a man with shield and sword worked in solid gold. More of the figures lay about his feet, half buried in the matted grass. 'What are these?' he asked.
Jord looked on the little figure. 'They were for a game; they belonged to your uncle.'
Thor hardly dared to breathe. Jord had never spoken of any other members of his family before and he wished that she would continue. He was not disappointed. 'This is where we lived before the dark mood came upon me. Dear Fjorgynn, the Lord of Nature, the Ship Lord of the Oceans and your own father Perun the lord of the sky, they were my lovers and there was much happiness here.'
She was silent and after a while Thor asked 'What happened to them?'
'I became wild, and to my eternal grief I drove them away. Your father is dead, my son, destroyed by his own wife.' Jord looked into her sons eyes and met his concerned gaze. 'I have taught you all that I know which is good and safe for you to know, in the hope that you will use your strengths better than I ever did. Remember this if nothing else, never act in anger, never let darkness overtake you.'
'I will remember' Thor promised, still startled by his mother's revelation.
'That is why you have six sisters wise in the ways of Wyrd: they will help you when the future seems uncertain. When you come into your strength you should be loved and not feared.'
Thor knelt down in the grass and gathered up the golden figures. 'I want to keep them, to remember what we have all lost.'
'That is fitting,' Jord agreed 'I will look after them for you.'
Jord kept walking to the east. She had not taught her children magic so Thor thought nothing of the long trek, but his stomach was beginning to growl with hunger when they finally reached their destination. 'Now remember,' Jord warned him as the hunter's home came into sight. 'Speak nothing of your knowledge of iron, cloth or glass, these folk are not yet ready for such distractions.'
They approached a longhouse of unworked logs, its walls and roof were plastered with mud which in places was thick with grass. Smoke rose from the highest point. Jord knocked on the shelter's wall with her staff, and they heard an exclamation of surprise from within before the leather door curtain was hauled aside. A man with a greying, short, black beard and long hair pulled back by a thong regarded them. Noting a mother and child he waved them within. Around the smokey central fire were two wide benches that clearly doubled as beds. The hunter's wife and son looked up at the visitors with interest.
'What brings you here?' the hunter asked.
'I came to trade' Jord replied. 'My son here needs to learn to hunt, and hunt well. He is strong and keen and will not be a great burden to you.'
'Trade you say?' The hunter looked eager, 'What do you offer?'
Jord held out a heavy leather bag which the hunter took and opened with curiousity, it was filled with salt.
'That is a good trade' the hunter nodded happily 'I will teach your son. How long will you leave him with me?'
'I will visit from time to time, and check how his skills are progressing.' Jord replied. 'If all goes well he can stay with you until he comes of age.'
The hunter nodded in agreement, eager to add another spear arm to his household. The hunter introduced himself as Vingnir, his wife as Hlora and his son as Meili.
Jord hugged Thor when she took her leave, 'Pay attention now and learn all you can.'
Vingnir was true to his word and taught the young Thor all he knew about casting spears, making weapons, tracking and butchering. He was greatly impressed by the child's strength and quickly realised that nothing was beyond Jord's son's abilities. His own son Meili was cast in a very different mould. Sensitive and afraid of blood the boy would never make a good hunter, but the two boys were soon good friends.
Before long Vingnir was happy to trust Thor to make hunting trips on his own and he was delighted to be entrusted with the task. The first time that Vingnir stayed at home he urged the two boys out together, hoping that some of Thor's natural talents would rub off on Meili.
Thor scrambled eagerly up the rocky hillside with Meili struggling to keep up behind him. His eyes swept the slopes for any sign of game and to his delight he spotted the white rump of a mountain goat moving above them. Remembering Vingnir's advice he took heed of the wind direction and kept low and moved slowly to avoid spooking the beast.
Patiently he edged into range, gripped the spear shaft, drew it back and let fly. It was a clean kill and the goat dropped without a sound, but the young goatlings who had been hidden by the gorse bleated in fear and panic.
Excited Thor ran forward, retrieved and cleaned the spear and he hauled the heavy goat onto his shoulders. He looked forward to returning to Vingnir's hut in triumph but Meili's face awash with tears stopped him in his tracks.
'What is wrong?' asked Thor in concern.
'The little ones!' Meili wailed, 'You are going to leave them to die.'
'They are too small to bother with' reasoned Thor, 'but nothing is wasted, a fox will hunt them, or an eagle perhaps.'
Meili howled louder. Thor could not think how to pacify his friend. He regarded the young goats as they stood near his feet, too young to be afraid of menfolk and bleating hopelessly up at their dead mother.
'I will see if the land spirits will look after them', Thor decided aloud, and strode off to a boulder that glowed in his vision with the elfsign. He rapped on its surface with the spear butt. The sobbing Meili and the constantly bleating goatlings followed behind.
In the elf realm a door opened and a land spirit stepped out, Thor saw her as a short woman with thick white hair tumbling from her head and the horns and hairy legs of a goat. Meili could see only the stone.
'I need a favour.' Thor explained to the land spirit 'Would you take care of these goatlings for me? If you do I will repay you in any way that is reasonable.'
'I would be happy to help you, Jord's Son, I am in need of your aid. The spring that rises above our home has been poisoned by a troll wife, maybe you can drive her away.'
'I will certainly try' Thor agreed. 'See, Meili, this kind elf will look after them for us.'
Meilli howled even louder at this 'You are making fun of me! There is nobody there!'
Thor sighed and turned again to the land spirit, 'Can you let him see you?'
'No' the elf replied, 'he is a mortal child and lacks the sight.' Though she smiled at Thor's increasingly despairing look and added 'Prick your finger, Jord's Son.'
Puzzled, Thor did as she asked with a thorn plucked from a gorse bush. The elf stepped forward and wiped the blood away on her finger and brushed it over Meili's lips. Then she crouched down and let the goatlings lick off the remainder. She coaxed the tiny creatures closer and they latched hungrily to her breasts.
Still concerned Thor turned to Meili who was now smiling. 'I am sorry I doubted you, Thor' he said happily. 'I can see that she will take good care of them.'
'And we need to repay her' said Thor. 'Come, Meilli, we have more hunting to do.' He raised a hand in thanks to the elf and with the mountain goat still draped about his shoulders he lead the way further up the mountain side.
A tiny stream trickled down from a cliff face above and it was this that they followed until the way was barred by stone. Now even Meili could see the elfsign, a glowing band revealing a door between the worlds. Thor shoved his spear shaft into a crack in the rock and heaved the door open. They stepped into a cave which smelt thick and rank. There was a heap of old hides in one corner and within it the troll wife stirred. 'Who disturbs me?' she growled.
Thor advanced on the creature, his spear held ready 'I am Thor, Jord's Son, I want to know why you have poisoned the spring that flows from your cave.'
'Why? Because my life is pain, and it pleases me if others share that pain.'
'Then you will die.' stated Thor.
'No' urged Meili, 'wait, look! Look at her leg.'
Thor looked and saw a huge splinter of wood imbedded in her calf, the flesh about it black and poisoned. The sick limb lay in the spring, no wonder the water was foul.
'See.' Said Meili, 'it's not her fault, she must be in terrible agony.'
Thor regarded the troll wife with distaste 'How were you injured?'
'What does it matter?' she growled. 'The gods fought, the earth shook and Perun's fire split the tree under which I sheltered, my mood has been dark ever since.'
'I want to help you' offered Meili, 'if you will allow'. He advanced on the creature and tried to pull the splinter free but it was stuck fast. Thor laid down the goat carcass and came forward to help and with an effort pulled the splinter out. With a brief shriek the troll wife fainted. The wound was foul and stank. 'Run home Meili' said Thor 'and bid your mother brew up a hide of sage tea as strong as she can make it, then bring it straight back here.'
Thor washed the wound again and again with spring water which rose above the troll wife's bed as pure as water can be. When Meili returned they washed it again in the sage. In truth the flesh was beyond any healing that herbs could provide, but encouraged by his friend, Thor willed the troll wife to be healed, and the strength in his will worked the cure. When he was done the wound was clean and closed and the healing began. They left the troll wife to sleep and the spring ran clear and sweet through the cave.
Not long after the hunt Jord came to visit her son. After greeting Vingnir and his family and sharing a cup of heather tea with them, she led Thor away from the house so that they could talk in private. 'What have you been doing that has sprung new threads on the web of Wyrd? You sisters tell me that you have gained a kinsman.'
'A kinsman?' Thor echoed, puzzled.
'Yes' pressed Jord. 'Has nothing strange happened recently?'
'Well I had a grand adventure the last time we went out' Thor replied with broad grin, and proceeded to describe his first solo hunt, his visit to the elf wife and the troll woman. He omitted the point of Jord's interest, not seeing it as important. Jord seized upon the gap in the story.
'So Meili can see the elf folk? How is this?'
'The elf woman told me to give him a drop of my blood.'
'Oh Thor!' she cried. 'You must be more careful, only give such a gift to folk who are as close as kin, for now Meilli is a brother to you.'
'He was already a brother to me' Thor answered, then paused, remembering the terrible warning that Jord had given him after he found the gaming counters in the grass. 'I think that as long as I can count Meili as a friend, I will never let the darkness cover me. His love is deep, even for those he does not know.'
'Maybe you are right.' Jord sighed, suddenly weary.
'Did my sisters see any harm in my actions?'
'No, so your instincts may be right.' Jord held her son close, ruffled his long red hair and made her way back across the hills.
Time passed and Thor and Meili both grew an inch in height. Thor now hunted alone for the household while Vingnir and Meili carved handles from antlers and horns for trading. Whilst tracking an antelope, Thor's path took him close to the goat woman's stone and he knocked upon it to ask how she fared. The elf bounded out with two almost fully grown billy goats beside her. 'Ah, Jord's Son!' she cried, 'your visit is well timed, your goats are eating grass and herbs now and you can care for them yourself.'
'My goats?' Thor replied, puzzled, as the beasts butted him in a friendly fashion. They were like no other goats he had seen, their hair shone a ghostly white, their hooves struck sparks from the stony ground and their eyes were filled with a deep intelligence. 'I hope you don't mind but I named them,' she added 'they are called Gaptooth and Cracktooth.'
Thor smiled at the goats' eager affection and stroked their silky hair. 'You have my thanks elfwife, you must let me know if I can be of any service to you.'
'Remember me.' was all she replied and stepped back through the stone door which sealed itself behind her.
A thousand hunts passed and young Thor matured until the first hairs of his beard grew upon his chin. The goats followed him everywhere and obeyed his commands. Jord returned as she had promised and thanked Vingnir for his efforts and gifted him a further bag of salt.
Jord drew her son aside and said 'You have come of age, it is time for you to leave this place.'
'And Meili also?'
'If that is what you wish.'
'Then let us speak to Vingnir.'
The shelter had been expanded since Thor first arrived. Four young men had joined the household to learn carving from Vingnir, with Thor to provide him with meat hide and horn he had become quite an artist. Vingnir was understandably sad to lose Thor's services, but his young apprentices assured him that they would help with the hunting. Vingnir and Hlora readily agreed that Meili should leave with Thor, as the two lads had become inseparable. Both young men hugged the old couple fondly and promised to visit when they could.
Jord led them back over the hills to her cottage. Thor was delighted to see the sisters that he had not seen since he had broken Jord's dough basin so long before. Six young woman admired their brother with appraising and approving eyes: Urd and Verdandi, Skuld and Saga, Frigga and Sybil. Jord laughed and knocked with her walking staff on the stone floor to break the mood. 'That's enough of that, I can see I am going to have to keep you apart awhile or the cottage will be overrun with younglings!'
Meili was staring at everything in awe: the glass windows, the gleaming brass dishes on the dresser and the wonderful soft clothes that the beautiful young women were wearing. Frigga noticed his interest and offered to teach him to weave which pleased him greatly.
The family were soon settled about the long table enjoying a rich meal to celebrate Thor's return and welcome his new brother. The goats relaxed on the sunny flagstones below the window and chewed at a generous heap of herbs. Jord asked Thor 'Why don't you make a cart for your goats to pull?'
'That is an idea' Thor agreed. 'What do you think Gaptooth? Cracktooth?' The two goats gave a deep contented baa-ah and returned to their feeding. Soon after Jord taught Thor and Meili how to make wheels hubbed and rimmed with iron and the two friends worked hard to complete a sturdy wagon, its corner posts richly carved and its side boards gleaming with sheets of polished bronze.
Once the work was complete Thor was eager to harness the goats, Jord halted him saying 'its not quite ready yet'. For an hour she sung charms over the wagon and then allowed her son his indulgence. Thor eagerly harnessed the goats and jumped up beside Meili.
His mother smiled and said 'If you will it they will carry you over heaven's vault.'
'I do will it' Thor laughed with delight. 'Hang on, Meili!' Jord's son shook the reins and the goats charged forward, their hooves striking sparks from the air as they surged up into the sky. The chariot's passing made a deafening rumble. 'It seems he has come back noisier than when he left' sighed Frigga.
'Of course!' laughed their mother 'My thunderous offspring is well named.'
This is the tale of Thor's fostering with Vingnir which is mentioned very briefly by Snorri Sturluson in his Edda. Meili's brother is a kenning for Thor found in Icelandic poetry but no other mention of Meili survives. His name translates into English as 'darling'. The goats Gaptooth and Cracktooth are well known from the Norse myths but their origin is not recorded.
Jord's name means 'Earth' and she is well documented as being Thor's mother, she may have been an ancient fertility goddess. She is also known as Fjorgyn.
The father of Frigga in the Norse myths is Fjorgynn leading many to speculate that Thor and Frigga are siblings. As Frigga is the goddess of fate it is logical that the three Norns would also be related to her. Saga resembles Frigga very closely so I have added her to Jord's family. Sybil, another apparent goddess of fate, comes from the prologue of Snorri's Edda.
Thor's shadowy father figure Perun has been borrowed from Slavic mythology.
The golden chess men come from the Ragnarok legend. In my version of the Edda's the war between the gods has already occurred, early in Mankind's prehistory.