Harbard and Thor

Once upon a time when Thor had been away in the regions of the
east carrying on his warfare with the Giants, he came on his homeward
journey to a sound, on the other side of which stood the ferryman by his
boat. Thor called to him, and the ferryman called out in turn, asking who it
was that was waiting on the other shore. Thor answered: “If you will only
ferry me across, you shall have food from the basket on my back; I ate
herrings and oatcakes before starting on my journey and even now I am
not at all hungry.” The ferryman, who later disclosed that his name was
Harbard, retorted with taunts, ridiculing Thor as a barefooted vagrant
without breeches. “Bring your boat to this side,” said Thor; “and tell me who
owns it.” “The owner is Hildolf the Wise, of Radseysund,” answered
Harbard; “he has just given me express commands not to ferry vagabonds
and horse thieves across the water, but only honest folk that I myself know
well; so tell me your name if you want to cross the sound.” Thor told with
great pride who he was — “Odin’s son and Magni’s father” — and
threatened to make Harbard pay for his obstinacy if he did not bring the
boat over at once. “No, I will stay here and wait for you,” said Harbard; “and
you will meet no man more difficult to deal with than myself, now that
Rungnir is dead.” “You see fit to remind me of Rungnir and his head of
stone,” answered Thor; “and yet he sank to earth under my blows. What
were you doing while I did that work?” “I was a companion of
Fjolvar five full winters on the island of Algrœn; there we sped the time in
battle, cutting down warriors; we endured many hardships, but
nevertheless we gained the love of seven sisters. Did you ever do the like,
Thor?” “I slew Thjazi and tossed his eyes into the heavens,” retorted Thor;
“what do you say to that?” Harbard replied: “By artful practices I enticed the
Dark-Riders to leave their husbands. Lebard, it seems to me, was a Giant
hard to cope with; though he made me a gift of a magic wand, yet I played
him false so that his wits forsook him.” “An evil return for a good gift,” said
Thor. “One oak gains what is peeled from another; I each man looks to his
own interest — but what else have you done, Thor?” “I invaded the east
and there put to death Giantesses as they made their way to the
mountains; great would be the progeny of the Giants if all of them were
suffered to live, and small would be the number of men in Midgard. Is there
anything else you have done, Harbard?” “I was in Valland and took my part
in battle; I egged the heroes on but never reconciled one to another; to
Odin belong the earls that fall in battle, and to Thor the thralls.” “You would
mete out unequal justice among the Æsir if it lay in your power to do so.”
“Thor has much strength but little courage; fearful as a coward you
squeezed yourself into the glove, most unlike what Thor should be; you
dared not make the slightest noise, afraid as you were that the Giant might
hear you.” “Harbard, dastard that you are!

I would kill you if I could only reach across the sound.” “Why should you do
so? You have no reason whatever. Have you done anything else worth
mentioning?” “Once in the realms to the east, as I stood guard at the river
(Iving?), the sons of Svarang sought my life; they hurled stones at me, but
victory did not fall to their lot; they themselves had to sue for peace. What
have you done?” “I too was in the east, and there trifled with a fair maiden
who was not unwilling to pleasure me.” “I took the life of Berserk women on
the island of Læsey; they had left undone no evil deed, had bereft men of
their senses by means of witchcraft.” “Only a weakling, Thor, would take
the lives of women.” “She-wolves (werewolves) they were, not real women;
they smashed my boat as it lay leaned against the shore; they threatened
me with iron bands, and kneaded Thjalfi like dough. What were you doing
meanwhile?” “I was among the armed men marching hither with flying
standards to redden their spears in blood.” “Perhaps it was you, then, who
came and offered us most evil terms?” asked Thor. “I will offer you a
recompense of arm rings, as many as they shall deem right who may
choose to reconcile us to each other.” “Who has taught you such biting
words of scorn, the like of which I never have heard before?” “The ancient
men who dwell in the mounds at home.” “That is a fine name you give to
the barrows of the dead. Yet,” continued Thor, “your mocking will prove
dearly bought if I wade across the sound; no wolf shall howl more hideously
than you if I strike you but once with my hammer.

“Sif has a man visiting her, whom you may want to meet; prove your
strength there, where your duty demands it.” Thor said it was a shameless
lie; but Harbard only crowed over having delayed Thor on his homeward
journey, and Thor had to own the justice of his taunts. “I should never have
believed,” said Harbard, “that a boatman would be able to hinder Asa-Thor
in his travels.” “I will give you a piece of advice, then: row the boat across,
and let us bandy words no more.” “Leave the sound if you choose; I will not
ferry you over.” “Show me the way, at any rate,” begged Thor, “since you
will not help me cross the water.” “That is too small a favor to be denied,”
answered Harbard, “but it is a long way to go: first some paces to ‘Stock’
and then to ‘Stone’; then take the first turning to the left until you reach
Verland; there Fjorgyn will meet her son and show him the road to the land
of Odin.” “Can I finish the journey today?” “With toil and trouble you may
reach your journey’s end before the sun sinks, if I am not mistaken.” “Our
parleying might as well stop, since you do nothing but pick new quarrels;
but you will pay for your stubbornness if we ever chance to meet again.”
“Go where the Trolls may get you!” said Harbard by way of a last word.


Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 105-108.
Henry Adam Bellows: The Poetic Edda. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York, 1923, pp. 121 ff.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.

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