In Jotunheim, the giant Suttung had a fine treasure locked away in his mountain store-house, guarded always by his daughter Gunnlod: the mead of poetry, a nectar of wisdom and poetic language mixed from honey and the blood of Kvasir. There has never been a mortal man as wise as him, nor will be before the end of days, for he was made from the commingled spit of the Aesir and the Vanir, to seal the pact of their truce. He had all the wisdom of the nine worlds at his disposal; and wasn't it a fine thing for the dwarves Fjalar and Galar that they had killed him and made the mead, until Suttung forced it from them!

But unlike the dwarves, Suttung could not keep quiet, and he boasted so loudly that the gods in Asgard heard what had become of poor Kvasir. The Allfather himself, grey and commanding, set out to retrieve what remained of him, disguised as an imposing man named Bolverk, who called himself the worker of evil.

He convinced Suttung's brother that he should take the place of those farm-hands of his who had so suddenly, so recently died; and he smiled grimly, remembering how he had sharpened their scythes, then tossed his whetstone into the air for one of them to catch; and how spinning round and round to try to catch it, they had cut one another apart. Such was the cleverness, the guile, and the cruelty of the God of the Gods; for wearing the face of Bolverk, did he not become a worker of evil? Such is the danger of wearing masks.

In return for his help, he insisted that the giant's brother, Baugi, ask Suttung for a sip - just one sip - of that fine mead of his. And when unsurprisingly he would not give it, he gave Baugi his awl, and said, "With this, bore a hole through the mountain that I might have a peak at it. I just want a glimpse... and don't you owe me, for doing nine mens' work in your fields?"

No sooner had the giant's strength punctured the rock than, quick as the wind through the gallows, Odin had become a snake and slithered inside, the deceived Baugi stabbing futilely after him with the awl. Within, he found Gunnlod, faithfully watching over the three urns; but he smiled at her, his one grey eye glittering handsomely, and whispered a charm, and she did not then regret his company.

She was surely not happy, though, when beguiling a drink from each urn from her, he downed them all in three successive gulps; and holding all of the mead within his mouth, he was suddenly an eagle, and raced back through the mountain tunnel towards Asgard. Suttung, seeing what had happen, soared after him, and it was a fine race! The gods watched from their ramparts as the two drew closer, less than the width of a feather between them, and filled the courtyard with empty jugs.

The Allfather spat out the sweet liquid, filling all the jugs and spilling some into the world besides, and Suttung turned from the hail of arrows that greeted him, returning to his mountain stronghold in Jotunheim with a shriek of anger. The scant drops that fell to Midgard the gods did not begrudge us, for it was not enough to matter; and this is the fare of poetasters and amateurs, those whose gifts can at most remind one of the divine. The true mead, undiluted and pure, Odin still gives to a few in every age, having had his fill already.

Myself, I would call it a dangerous gift - for being of the divine, it has more power than we are made to bear, and carries many obligations. Sometimes I question whether Kvasir's ghost does not exact a certain vengeance upon those his blood has marked, and whether Odin's cruelty doesn't run deeper than many might realize.


A Magnificent Apple Tree