24. The venomous serpent | swiftly up
To the boat did Thor, | the bold one, pull;
With his hammer the loathly | hill of the hair
Of the brother of Fenrir | he smote from above.
25. The monsters roared, | and the rocks resounded,
And all the earth | so old was shaken;
. . . . . . . . . .
Then sank the fish | in the sea forthwith.
Poetic Edda, Hymiskvitha, V. 24 & 25
The ocean water spanned across world. Heaving waves pushed and pulled at the land of Midgard. Beneath the ocean, creating the waves, lay the monster Jormungandr.
The Midgard Serpent spread out wide on the floor of the ocean. The serpent’s body defied measurement. The whole of Midgard was encircled within his grasp. Jormungandr was a true child of Loki-the-Trickster. He moved the waves back and forth as ships passed overhead. Few sailors survived his challenge. The waves grew wider and taller as the serpent slinked back and forth under the sea.
Capsized boats were the serpent’s reward for his effort. The falling sailors and the fear on their faces were both entertainment and motive for the massive beast.
Jormungandr’s only regret was that despite having powerful jaws that could easily snap up the swimming sailors, his mouth needed to stay shut around his tail.
When Jormungandr was born, Loki’s father, Odin, King of the Gods, had thrown the serpent into the ocean. Jormungandr grew. His body stretched around the bottom of the ocean and kept going. After a while he encircled the entire realm of Midgard. Slowly, his head reached around to his tail. The flickering and wiggling end of his body came within reach of his mouth, and Jormungandr clamped down and locked closed.
The serpent had trapped himself until Ragnarok came, when he would open his mouth and attack his enemies. Until then, he contented himself with squiggling and shaking under the water, disturbing ships and making the waves crash against the land.
One day, he’d have his revenge on Odin and the Asgardians.Today was not that day.
Today was just a day for making waves and for squeezing the land of Midgard. Today was also a day for feeling an itch.
Somewhere along his middle where the floor of the ocean scratched his side, a fish had scraped against him. It was rare but happened every now and then. He was enormous, and the other creatures in the ocean wanted nothing to do with him. But sometimes, a younger fish or even a whale would mistake him for something else and bite. Sometimes, he would move and startle a swimming beast.
Today, he could tell that he had a large scrape across his side from a collision earlier that day. Usually, he could count on bottom feeders to clean his body and leave him healthy. But the sea was rough with bad weather above, and the waves that Jormungandr himself created had sent those fish into hiding. His scales itched, and he had no way to scratch them.
He squeezed his length along the floor of the ocean. The waves above increased with each squirm below.
The seas wailed with his actions, and ships were thrown about like toys. But Jormungandr continued to roll around on the ocean floor.
Hours passed, and the itch still bothered him. In fact, the scrape on his side felt bigger now, and Jormungandr thought he’d opened the wound more.
He stopped roiling. A body as large as his took a while to heal, and he needed something that could scratch him once and for all. The scales needed to be pried off the area around the scrape so that healthy scales could grow in.
He squeezed Midgard as he came up with an idea. The land shook from his embrace.
The island of Lyngvi stood in the middle of a lake. It was a barren wasteland of an island and was home to Jormungandr’s brother, Fenrir. Fenrir, the great wolf, was bound by a rope. The rope was so special and so strong that it had been named by the dwarves that crafted it. Gleipnir was forced from the sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, and the spittle of a bird. The impossible rope was as thin as a ribbon, but stronger than any chain ever forged. When Fenrir finally broke free of Gleipnir, Jormungandr would release his tail, and Ragnarok would begin.
The wolf was trapped on an island in a lake. But the serpent maneuvered some of his coils around until they worked up a river that fed into the Lake Amsvarmir, where Lyngvi Island sat.
His brother was bound by Gleipnir, but Jormungandr thought for sure the wolf could help. Their sister, the goddess Hel, did not live by water, so he could not seek her aid.
The wolf, Fenrir, was enormous and took up a large amount of the island of Lyngvi. He stood tied and bound by the slim and impossibly strong Gleipnir. Jormungandr pushed his coils up the river and to the island for Fenrir to see.
Jormungandr had been able to shift so that his scrape was evident as he waggled his coils above the water.
The wolf, trapped on Lyngvi, could do nothing. But the gods had not muzzled him when they wrapped Gleipnir around his body. Tyr, the one-handed god, had lived to regret that decision when Fenrir had taken the god’s hand. Fenrir could talk to his brother if Jormungandr could make the wolf understand his needs.
Jormungandr folded up a coil of his tremendous length and held it up high out of the water and waited for his brother to take notice. His itch, exposed to the air, felt worse than ever. It prickled, and his scales felt like a fire had been lit around the scrape.
It seemed like hours passed before the wolf spoke. Fenrir’s voice was raspy from eternal howling and snarling. The water brought words that sounded like gravel to Jormungandr’s ears. “You have been injured. Another score for us to settle with the Asgardians. It itches; I see this.”
Jormungandr wriggled the coil wildly at his brother’s understanding. Fenrir continued, “You want it scratched, and the skin sloughed off. Alas, I cannot reach your wound, nor move to scratch at it. This cursed rope is tighter than all of the iron in Asgard. Your scales are too hard for your soft sea bed to be much use. You need the sharp rocks that are found on mountains.”
The wolf stopped for a few moments, exhausted from the small speech. Jormungandr shook all over in his attempt to control the itch. The river he had used to snake up to the Island of Lyngvi overflowed with his movements, and Fenrir found his island awash for a moment.
“Calm down brother. The Himinborg mountain is nearby. Heimdall uses it as his fortress against his enemies. It is a ragged and stony edifice, well suited to both hiding and using to scrape at your side. A river runs by it. Go and care for your itch. But we will not forget the insult that the gods have brought us.”
Jormungandr wiggled in acknowledgement and slipped from the Lake Amsvartnir to the ocean once more. He lay on the floor of the sea and considered his brother’s words.
The Midgard Serpent was massive, he knew that his body reached around everything. But maneuvering to scratch against a mountain seemed exhausting and difficult.
He wriggled a bit and tried to feel around for the suckermouth fishes that would normally be attached to him. They were nowhere to be found, and his itch was growing. His massive body shed scales around the wound, and the injury made his whole being twitch and shake with the need to scratch. For a time, the sea rolled with the waves made as the serpent tried to soothe himself. Ships flipped onto their bellies while shores were buried under waves taller than mountains.
Exhausted, Jormungandr settled once again on the floor of the ocean and thought. He was alone amongst the creatures in the sea. Jormungandr was child of Loki and a Giantess, and was therefore unique. There were none like him to call upon for help. There was no one to scratch his back for him. He needed to consider how to find the mountain that Fenrir had suggested. The coils of his body sought out the Kerlaugers, the rivers that Thor used. They ran near the Bifrost and the Himinborg mountain. They would be his easiest route to relief.
Before long, he felt what he was looking for. The Kerlaugers’s only distinction was that Thor waded through them to Yggdrasil every day. This did little to the two rivers, but the god of Thunder left his traces around the waters. The lightning from his hammer, Mjolnir, was faint, but the air around the two rivers was always filled with static.
That static drifted over his scrape as he sought the right water. The crackling air twitched across his wound, and the sensation of his scales prickling with electricity drove Jormungandr insane for a moment. He threw his coils back and forth along the riverbanks, adding curves and changing the shape of the river where he smashed along the edges.
The serpent got his itch under control just enough to be able to continue toward the Himinborg mountain. Before long he could feel the river gliding up the land instead of straight. Using his coils to feel the way, Jormungandr slid the coils up the cliffs of the base of Himinborg.
The coils shimmied and slithered up the jagged passes of Himinborg for what seemed like an eternity. Rocks, shrubs, and scraggly trees were all challenges for his eyeless lengths to creep over. Several times he felt smaller creatures disturbed by his passage, some ran away, others attempted to attack his massive body with their small fangs and claws.
His open scrape pressed against the land over and over again, but each time he felt a sensation of small relief pass over him, the dirt and dust would settle, and the itch would grow once more.
Jormungandr was not built to weep, but he felt that this itch could bring him to tears. The dryness of the air provided its own itch separate from the scraped scales.
The serpent struggled to stretch further and further up the mountain, searching for rocks sharp enough to slough off the dead scales. He was a massive beast, but he began to feel stretched. His coils slowly pulled all of their excess length up that river, and it still seemed not enough.
His desperation was intense, and Jormungandr squeezed his eyes shut so that he could concentrate. A thudding began to shake the ground all around him. It was percussive and steady, and before too long, the Midgard Serpent realized that the thuds in the ground must be steps. Jormungandr’s entire body tensed. The only beasts that were large enough to cause thuds the strength of these were Jotuns and Trolls. The serpent was more than capable of taking care of himself, but his coils were stretched as far as they could go, and he was finding his way up the mountain by feel. He could not see or feel or hear or taste the coming creature, and so the great serpent did the only thing left to him.
Jormungandr pulled his coils back down the mountain.
He yanked the lengths of his body down the rocky cliffs. They scraped along the rocks and rubble, and he felt several shrubs and trees pull up from their roots as he passed over the cliffs. The beasts thuds were steady, fast, and shook the ground. Jormungandr thought through the possibilities of what he could be facing. The steps could be from a troll or giant with their strange, syncopated two-footed bodies. Trolls and giants sounded similar, and neither of them were something he wanted to meet up with outside of the water where his movements were more fluid and powerful. The pounding sound was heavy and growing closer. He pulled at his coils once more. The thuds of whatever the beast was continued, and the Midgard Serpent was certain his body was being chased.
Jormungandr heaved back once more with all his might, and his extended length tumbled into the river, landing in a heap.
Exhaustion nearly won, but a more distant thudding warned the serpent that his foe, whoever it was, had continued their chase.
Jormungandr pulled his coils back into the ocean with a quickness that left his muscles strained. He finally had all his body out of the rivers and settled into his regular setting, curled loosely around Midgard. The sounds from the mountain settled even as Jormungandr did. And he could hear no more stomping from whatever troll or giant had been coming towards him.
As he caught his breath, the serpent realized that his scraped scales had been scratched off his side by his flight down the mountain. The itch was gone. His body felt bruised and beaten by the tumble, but the itch had disappeared, and his scales prickled him no more. Jormungandr, the mighty Midgard Serpent, Son of Loki and Brother to Fenrir the Wolf, settled deep into the bottom of the ocean and fell asleep.
BIO: Susanne Thomas reads, writes, parents, and teaches from the wild and windy west in Wyoming. Besides her five kids and husband, she loves fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, poetry, children’s books, mythology, science, coffee, and puns. And socks. She really loves socks. That’s a lot of things to love, but luckily, there’s a lot of love in the world.