The Marriage of Njord and Skadi

The giant Thiazi, whom Thor had killed after Thiazi had kidnapped Iduna and stolen the magic apples, had a daughter …

The giant Thiazi, whom Thor had killed after Thiazi had kidnapped Iduna and stolen the magic apples, had a daughter named Skadi. 

As giantesses go Skadi was surprisingly agreeable, both beautiful and a fierce warrior. Different from most other giantesses who were evil-tempered, spiteful, and cruel creatures desiring only to do harm to the gods. But Skadi was something else. Stronger than the hatred of her race for the Aesir, stronger even than her wish to avenge her father’s death, was her love for the Aesir god Balder. 

Skadi hunting in the mountains
Signed “H. L. M.”, via Wikimedia Commons

The beautiful Balder was the pride of all the gods. If she had not been a giantess, she might have hoped that he would love her also. But she knew that no one who lived in Asgard would ever think kindly of her race. The Jotuns had been enemies of the gods for millennia and had caused so much trouble to Balder and his brothers. 

Sadly Balder would later meet his end, not at the hand of a giant. Instead, Balder would die by the hand of one of his own brothers but that is another story.

Skadi travels to Asgard

After her father was killed by the Aesir, however, Skadi had a wise idea. Skadi put on her helm and armor and set out for Asgard. There she meant to ask a noble price to pay for the sorrow of Thiazi’s death.

Skadi travelling to Asgard.
Photo Credit: thebrmcloset

The gods, who had all grown young and boyish once again, were sitting in Valhalla merrily enjoying a banquet in honor of Idunna’s safe return. Suddenly they were interrupted when Skadi, clattering with steel, strode into their midst. 

Heimdall, the ever-vigilant watchman was so astonished at the sight he had let Skadi pass on the Bifrost bridge. The Aesir set down their cups hastily, and the laughter died upon their lips.  Though she looked handsome, Skadi was a terrible figure in her silver armor and with her spear as long as a ship’s mast in her giant hand.

The nine Valkyries, Odin’s maiden warriors, hurried away to put on their own helmets and shields. Being immensely proud they would not have this other maiden, ten times as huge, see them meekly waiting at the table. Not while they had battle-dresses as fine as hers to show the stranger.

Stating her case for Odin

At the head of the table Odin the Allfather watched intrigued by this warrior maiden. 

“Who are you, maiden, and what do you seek here?” he demanded of Skadi.

“I am Skadi, the daughter of Thiazi, whom your folk has slain,” she answered, “and I come here seeking compensation.” At these words, Loki, who had been at the killing of Thiazi, cowered and skulked low behind the table. Thor on the other hand, who had done the killing, straightened himself and clenched his fists tightly. He was not afraid of any giant, however fierce. The warrior maiden before him with her shield and spear only angered him.

“Well, Skadi,” said Odin gravely, “your father was a thief, and died for his sins. He stole fair Idunna and her magic apples, and for that crime he died, which was only just” Odin continued. “Yet because our righteous deed has left you an orphan, Skadi, we will grant you compensation, so we can live in peace. It is not fitting that the Aesir should quarrel with women. What is it you ask as solace for the death of Thiazi?”

Skadi standing in armor and with her spear looked like an orphan who was well able to take care of herself. Her next words proved just that. “I ask two things,” she said, without a moment’s hesitation. “First I ask that I am allowed to select my husband from among you”. Then next she said “And I ask that you shall make me laugh, for it has been many days since grief has let me enjoy a smile.”

At this strange request, the Aesir looked astonished, and some of them seemed rather startled. None of them really wanted a giantess, however handsome, for his wife. They put their heads together and consulted long whether or not they should allow Skadi her two wishes.

“I will agree to make her laugh,” grinned Loki; “but what if she should choose me for her husband! I am married to one giantess already.” Thor thought this over but said “No fear of that, Loki, “you were too near being the cause of her father’s death for her to love you. Nor do I think that she will choose me; so I am safe.” Loki chuckled at this and left to think up a way to make Skadi laugh.

Skadi chooses her groom

Finally, the gods agreed that Skadi should choose one of them for her husband. But as no one really wanted this dubious honor they decided she was to choose in a curious way. All the Aesir gods were to stand in a row behind the curtain which was drawn across the end of the hall. This way only their feet were seen by Skadi and by their feet alone Skadi was to select her husband.

Skadi choosing her husband.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now Skadi was very ready to agree to this, for she said to herself, “Surely, I shall know the feet of Balder, for they will be the most beautiful of all.” Amid nervous laughter at this new game, the Aesir ranged themselves in a row behind the purple curtain, with only their line of feet showing below the golden border. 

There were the Allfather Odin, Thor the Thunderer, and Balder his brother; there was old Njord the rich, with his fair son Frey; there were Tŷr the bold, Bragi the poet, blind Höd, and Vidar the silent; Vali and Ull the archers, Forseti the wise judge, and Heimdal the gold-toothed watchman. Loki alone, of all the Aesir, was not there. As such Loki was the only one who did not shiver as Skadi walked up and down the hall looking at the row of feet.

Up and down, back and forth, went Skadi, looking carefully. Among all those sandaled feet she thought there was one pair more white and fair and beautiful than the rest. “Surely, these are Balder’s feet!” she thought, while her heart thumped with eagerness under her silver armor.

“Oh, if I only get this right, dear Balder will be my husband!” She paused confidently before the handsomest pair of feet and pointed to them with her spear. With a loud voice she said, “I choose this pair of feet. Few blemishes are to be found in Balder the beautiful.” A shout of laughter arose behind the curtain as it was not young Balder whom Skadi had chosen. Instead it was old Njord the rich, king of the ocean wind, the father of the twins Frey and Freya.

Njord with the handsome feet

Skadi had chosen the handsome feet of old Njord, and so he must become her husband. Njord was not overly pleased but Skadi was heartbroken. Her face grew longer and sadder than before when he stepped up and took her hand. Sulkily he said, “Well, I am to be your husband, then, and all my riches stored in Noatûn, the home of ships, are to be yours. You would have chosen Balder, and I wish that this luck had been his! However, it cannot be helped now.”

Njord's desire of the sea
W.G. Collingwood, via Wikimedia Commons

“No,” answered Skadi then, frowning, “the agreement is not yet complete. No one of you has made me laugh. I am so sad now, that it will be quite the accomplishment to fill my heavy heart with laughter”. She said this with a sigh, looking at Balder, but Balder loved only Nanna in all the world. 

Just then, Loki came into the hall, riding on one of Thor’s goat steeds. Loki did indeed perform incredibly funny jokes with the old gray-bearded goat that soon not only Skadi but all the Aesir and Njord himself were holding their sides with laughter.

“Fairly won, fairly won!” cried Skadi in the end, wiping the tears from her eyes. “I am beaten. I shall not forget that it was Loki to whom I owe this last joke. Some day I shall get even with you, wily trickster!” And this threat she carried out in the end, on the day of Loki’s punishment.

The married life

Skadi was then married to old Njord, but both really were quite unwilling. After getting married they went to live among the mountains in Skadi’s home. Her mountain home, which had once been Thiazi’s palace, was in fact where he had shut Idunna in a prison cell. 

As you can imagine, Njord and Skadi did not live happily ever after. With such a strange union they were not destined for a prince and princess storybook ending. 

For Njord it was hard to get past that Skadi was a giantess; and not many could live happily with a giantess. Also, she did not love Njord, nor did he love Skadi, and neither forgot that Skadi’s choosing had been sorrowful to them both. But the last reason was the most important of all. This was because Skadi and Njord could not agree upon which place to call home. 

Njord did not like the mountain palace of Skadi’s people. In the high mountains where roaring winds rushed down upon the sea and its ships. The sea with its ships was his friend, and he wanted to dwell in Noatûn. There he had greater wealth than anyone else in the world and he could rule the fresh sea-wind and tame the wild ocean, granting the prayers of fishermen and the seafarers, who all loved his name.

Finally, they came to a compromise. They would split their time between their two homes, first in one place, then in the other. This way they would each be happy some of the time. For nine days they stayed in Thrymheim, and then they spent three days and nights in Noatûn. But even this arrangement could not bring peace.

Beginning of the end 

Skadi's longing for the mountains
W.G. Collingwood, via Wikimedia Commons

One day they had a terrible quarrel. It was just after they had come down from Skadi’s mountain home for their three days in Njord’s sea palace. He was so glad to be back that he cried “Ah, how I hate your mountains! How long the nine nights seemed with the wolves howling until dawn among the dark mountains of Jotunheim! What a difference compared to the songs of the swans who sail upon my dear, dear ocean!” 

Rather rudely Njord taunted his wife, but Skadi answered him with strong conviction and spirit.

“And I cannot sleep by your rolling sea waves, where the birds are ever calling as they come from the woods on the shore. Each morning the seagull’s scream wakes me at some unseemly hour. I will not stay here even for three nights! I will not stay!”

“And I will have no more of your windy mountaintops,” roared Njord, beside himself with rage. “Go, if you wish! Go back to Thrymheim! I will not follow you, be sure of that!”

So Skadi went back to her mountains alone and dwelt in the empty palace of Thiazi, her late father. She became a mighty huntress, swift both on the skis and skates which she strapped to her feet. Day after day she skimmed over the snow-crusted mountains, bow in hand, hunting the wild beasts which roamed there. 

“Ski goddess,” she was called, and never again did she come to Asgard halls. Quite alone in the cold country, she was a mighty warrior and hunter. Forever keeping in her heart the image of Balder the beautiful. Balder whom she loved, but she had lost forever by her unlucky choice.

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