The Winning of Gerd
The Norse god Frey was the son of Njord of the Vanir and the brother of Freya. Like Njord and Freya, he was beautiful and well-beloved, and men sacrificed to him at marriages. But the story of Frey’s own courtship was dark and strange.
Once Frey went secretly and sat on Odin’s high seat, Hlithskjalf, and looked out over the nine worlds. Many marvels and many monstrous things were laid before his eyes, and when he turned his gaze toward anything it appeared close and clear because of the magic of Odin's throne.
The fairest and most dangerous thing Frey saw was on a mountain far to the north. There a high house stood amidst a fertile country, and by the door of the house stood a radiantly beautiful woman. She raised her arms, and it seemed to Frey that light broke from her hands and illuminated all the worlds. And he knew who she was: Gerd, daughter of the giant Gymir, an enemy to the gods. He was sure that he could not have her, and that he could not bear to live without her.
He came down from the high place sad and sick at heart. He stopped eating, sleeping, and speaking, and his father Njord grieved and worried over him. Finally Frey told his servant Skirnir of his love and his despair.
Skirnir thought Frey’s case was not so desperate after all. He asked for Frey’s horse that feared neither fire nor darkness and Frey’s sword that fought with its own skill, however weary or unapt its wielder might be, and he swore to win Gerd for Skirnir, or to die trying.
The horse carried Skirnir safely through the fire that encircled Gyimir’s hall. Gymir himself was away, and Gerd invited Skirnir in and offered him drink: enemy or no, she wasn’t going to break the laws of hospitality.
Skirnir told Gerd that Frey loved her. He didn’t try to persuade her to fall in love with Frey. Instead he offered her eleven apples of gold if she’d agree to become Frey’s lover. Gerd wasn’t impressed. Then Skirnir offered the ring Draupnir, which had been Odin’s and was burned in Balder’s pyre, and which gave birth to eight more rings like itself every ninth night. (The stories don’t tell how the ring came to be in Skirnir’s possession.) Gerd made it clear that she had gold enough already.
Skirnir drew Frey’s blade and threatened to behead Gerd if she didn’t agree to come with him. Gerd said that she wasn’t going to be cowed by him, and that Gymir would avenge his daughter if Skirnir carried out his threat. Skirnir said he didn’t fear Gymir, but he apparently reflected that Frey would hardly reward him for killing the woman Frey so ardently desired.
Skirnir left the great house and walked into the forest. When he returned he bore a magic wand, and he struck Gerd with it and laid a powerful curse on her. He said that unless she agreed to come to Frey, longing and madness and lust would overcome her so that she would refuse all food, wander far from her father’s house and sit alone on the cold hill above Hel, longing to enter into that bitter place but never being admitted. Perhaps his curse held an echo of the bitter despair that Frey suffered in his longing for Gerd.
This threat daunted Gerd’s spirit, and she promised to keep a tryst with Frey after nine nights in the forest of Bari. Skirnir departed and rode back to Frey. Frey didn’t thank him; instead he complained about how long he would have to wait before he could enjoy Gerd.
The tales do not tell what joy or sorrow Frey or Gerd had of that forced tryst. But they do say that Skirnir kept Frey’s sword forever, and that therefore Frey was doomed to go weaponless to his death in the last great battle of Ragnarok.
This is the tale of Frey’s courtship as the Poetic Edda Skirnismal tells it. The Prose Edda tells of Gerd’s beauty and Frey’s lovesickness, and of how Frey gave up his sword because of his desire, but it omits the threats, leaving the tale as a short but sweet romance.