Once, when his wisdom was less great, Odin had lived in the world of men. Frigga, his Queen, was with him then; they had lived on a bleak island, and they were known as Grimner the Fisherman and his wife.
Always Odin and Frigga were watching over the sons of men, watching to know which ones they would foster and train so that they might have the strength and spirit to save the world from the power of the Giants. And while they were staying on the bleak island, Odin and Frigga saw the sons of King Hrauding, and both thought that in them the spirit of heroes could be fostered. Odin and Frigga made plans to bring the children to them, so that they might be under their care and training. One day the boys went fishing. A storm came and drove their boat on the rocks of the island where Odin and Frigga lived.
They brought them to their hut, Odin and Frigga, and they told them they would care for them and train them through the winter and that in the spring they would build a boat that would carry them back to their father’s country. “We shall see,” said Odin to Frigga that night, “we shall see which of the two can be formed into the noblest hero.”
He said that because Frigga favored one of the boys and he favored the other. Frigga thought well of the elder boy, Agnar, who had a gentle voice and quiet and kindly ways. But Odin thought more of the younger boy. Geirrod, his name was, and he was strong and passionate, with a high and a loud voice.
Odin took Geirrod into his charge, and he showed him how to fish and hunt. He made the boy even bolder than he was by making him leap from rock to rock, and by letting him climb the highest cliffs and jump across the widest chasms. He would bring him to the den of the bear and make him fight for his life with the spear he had made for him. Agnar went to the chase, too, and showed his skill and boldness. But Geirrod overcame him in nearly every trial. “What a hero Geirrod will be,” Odin would often say.
Agnar stayed often with Frigga. He would stay beside her while she spun, listening to the tales she told, and asking such questions as brought him more and more wisdom. And Agnar heard of Asgard and of the Dwellers in Asgard and of how they protected Midgard, the World of Men, from the Giants of Jötunheim. Agnar, though he did not speak out, said in his own mind that he would give all his life and all his strength and all his thought to helping the work of the Gods.
Spring came and Odin built a boat for Geirrod and Agnar. They could go back now to their own country. And before they set out Odin told Geirrod that one day he would come to visit him. “And do not be too proud to receive a Fisherman in your hall, Geirrod,” said Odin. “A King should give welcome to the poorest who comes to his hall.”
“I will be a hero, no doubt of that,” Geirrod answered. “And I would be a King, too, only Agnar Little-good was born before me.”
Agnar bade goodby to Frigga and to Odin, thanking them for the care they had taken of Geirrod and himself. He looked into Frigga’s eyes, and he told her that he would strive to learn how he might fight the battle for the Gods.
The two went into the boat and they rowed away. They came near to King Hrauding’s realm. They saw the castle overlooking the sea. Then Geirrod did a terrible thing. He turned the boat back toward the sea, and he cast the oars away. Then, for he was well fit to swim the roughest sea and climb the highest cliffs, he plunged into the water and struck out toward the shore. And Agnar, left without oars, went drifting out to sea.
Geirrod climbed the high cliffs and came to his father’s castle.
King Hrauding, who had given up both of his sons for lost, was rejoiced to see him. Geirrod told of Agnar that he had fallen out of the boat on their way back and that he had been drowned. King Hrauding, who had thought both of his sons were gone from him, was glad enough that one had come safe. He put Geirrod beside him on the throne, and when he died Geirrod was made King over the people.
And now Odin, having drunk from Mimir’s Well, went through the kingdoms of men, judging Kings and simple people according to the wisdom he had gained. He came at last to the kingdom that Geirrod ruled over. Odin thought that of all the Kings he had judged to be noble, Geirrod would assuredly be the noblest.
He went to the King’s house as a Wanderer, blind of one eye, wearing a cloak of dark blue and with a wanderer’s staff in his hands. As he drew near the King’s house men on dark horses came riding behind him. The first of the men did not turn his horse as he came near the Wanderer, but rode on, nearly trampling him to the ground.
As they came before the King’s house the men on the dark horses shouted for servants. Only one servant was in the stable. He came out and took the horse of the first man. Then the others called upon the Wanderer to tend their horses. He had to hold the stirrups for some of them to dismount.
Odin knew who the first man was. He was Geirrod the King. And he knew who the man who served in the stable was. He was Agnar, Geirrod’s brother. By the wisdom he had gained he knew that Agnar had come back to his father’s kingdom in the guise of a servant, and he knew that Geirrod did not know who this servant was.
They went into the stable together. Agnar took bread and broke it and gave some to the Wanderer. He gave him, too, straw to seat himself on. But in a while Odin said, “I would seat myself at the fire in the King’s hall and eat my supper of meat.”
“Nay, stay here,” Agnar said. “I will give you more bread and a wrap to cover yourself with. Do not go to the door of the King’s house, for the King is angry today and he might repulse you.”
“How?” said Odin. “A King turn away a Wanderer who comes to his door! It cannot be that he would do it!”
“Today he is angry,” Agnar said. Again he begged him not to go to the door of the King’s house. But Odin rose up from the straw on which he was seated and went to the door.
A porter, hunchbacked and with long arms, stood at the door. “I am a Wanderer, and I would have rest and food in the King’s hall,” Odin said.
“Not in this King’s hall,” said the hunchbacked porter. He would have barred the door to Odin, but the voice of the King called him away. Odin then strode into the hall and saw the King at table with his friends, all dark-bearded, and cruel-looking men. And when Odin looked on them he knew that the boy whom he had trained in nobility had become a King over robbers.
“Since you have come into the hall where we eat, sing to us, Wanderer,” shouted one of the dark men. “Aye, I will sing to you,” said Odin. Then he stood between two of the stone pillars in the hall and he sang a song reproaching the King for having fallen into an evil way of life, and denouncing all for following the cruel ways of robbers.
“Seize him,” said the King, when Odin’s song was finished. The dark men threw themselves upon Odin and put chains around him and bound him between the stone pillars of the hall. “He came into this hall for warmth, and warmth he shall have,” said Geirrod. He called upon his servants to heap up wood around him. They did this. Then the King, with his own hand, put a blazing torch to the wood and the fagots blazed up around the Wanderer.
The fagots burned round and round him. But the fire did not burn the flesh of Odin All-Father. The King and the King’s friends stood round, watching with delight the fires blaze round a living man. The fagots all burned away, and Odin was left standing there with his terrible gaze fixed upon the men who were so hard and cruel.
They went to sleep, leaving him chained to the pillars of the hall. Odin could have broken the chains and pulled down the pillars, but he wanted to see what else would happen in this King’s house. The servants were ordered not to bring food or drink to him, but at dawn, when there was no one near, Agnar came to him with a horn of ale and gave it to him to drink.
The next evening when the King came back from his robberies, and when he and his friends, sitting down at the tables, had eaten like wolves, he ordered the fagots to be placed around Odin. And again they stood around, watching in delight the fire playing around a living man. And as before Odin stood there, unhurt by the fire, and his steady and terrible gaze made the King hate him more and more. And all day he was kept in chains, and the servants were forbidden to bring him food or drink. None knew that a horn of ale was brought to him at dawn.
And night after night, for eight nights, this went on. Then, on the ninth night, when the fires around him had been lighted, Odin lifted up his voice and began to sing a song.
His song became louder and louder, and the King and the King’s friends and the servants of the thing’s house had to stand still and harken to it. Odin sang about Geirrod, the King; how the Gods had protected him, giving him strength and skill, and how instead of making a noble use of that strength and skill he had made himself like one of the wild beasts. Then he sang of how the vengeance of the Gods was about to fall on this ignoble King.
The flames died down and Geirrod and his friends saw before them, not a friendless Wanderer, but one who looked more kingly than any King of the earth. The chains fell down from his body and he advanced toward the evil company. Then Geirrod rushed upon him with his sword in hand to kill him. The sword struck him, but Odin remained unhurt.
Thy life runs out,
The Gods they are wroth with thee;
Draw near if thou canst;
Odin thou shalt see.
So Odin sang, and, in fear of his terrible gaze, Geirrod and his company shrank away. And as they shrank away they were changed into beasts, into the wolves that range the forests.
And Agnar came forward, and him Odin declared to be King. All the folk were glad when Agnar came to rule over them, for they had been oppressed by Geirrod in his cruel reign. And Agnar was not only kind, but he was strong and victorious in his rule.