The Otter's Ransom


"This tale begins with my father, who was named Hreidmar, a great and wealthy man. One of his sons was named Fafnir, another Otr, and I was the third, the least accomplished and the least honored. I knew how to work iron as well as silver and gold, and from everything I could make something useful. My brother Otr had a different occupation and nature. He was a great fisherman and surpassed other men in this skill. He had the likeness of an otter during the day and was always in the river bringing up fish in his mouth. He brought his catch to his father and thus greatly helped him. He was in many ways like an otter. He came home late and ate alone with his eyes shut, because he could not stand seeing his food diminish. Fafnir was by far the largest and the fiercest of the sons, and he wanted to call everything his own.

"There was a dwarf named Andvari," said Regin. "He was always in the waterfall called Andvari's Fall. He was in the shape of a pike and caught food theere for himself, for there were many fish in the falls. My brother Otr used to go into the waterfall and bring up fish in his mouth, laying them one by one on the bank. Odin, Loki, and Hœnir were traveling and came to Andvari's Fall. Otr had caught a salmon and was eating it, half dozing on the riverbank. Loki took a stone and struck the otter to death. The Æsir considered themselves fortunate in their catch and skinned the otter.

"That evening they came to Hreidmar's and showed him the catch. Then we seized them, imposing as their fine and ransom that they must fill the skin with gold and cover the outside with red gold. They sent Loki to obtain the gold. He went to Ran and got her net. Next he went to Andvari's Fall and cast the net out for the pike, and it leapt into the net. Then Loki said,

Which is the fish
That runs throught the flood,
And knows not to guard himself from danger?
Your head,
Ransom it from Hel
And find me the fire of the well.
Andvari is my name
Odin was my father;
Many a falls have I fared over.
A wretched Norn
Destined in ancient days
That I should wade in water.

"Loki saw Andvari's gold. And when Andvari had handed over the gold he kept one ring back. But Loki took it from him. The dwarf went into the rock and said that the gold ring would be the death of whoever owned it, and the same applied to all the gold.

The Æsir delivered the riches to Hreidmar, stuffed the otter skin, and set it on its feet. They then had to pile up the gold next to it and cover the outside. And when that was done, Hreidmar came forward and saw one whisker and demanded that it be covered. Then Odin drew the ring, Andvaranaut, from his hand and covered the hair. Then Loki said,

With gold you are now paid
And as payment you have
Much for my head.
No ease
Is assigned to your son;
Death it is to you both.

"Afterward Fafnir killed his father," continued Regin, "and it was murder since he hid the body. I obtained none of the treasure. Fafnir became so ill-natured that he set out for the wilds and allowed no one to enjoy the treasure but himself. He has since become the most evil serpent and lies now upon this hoard. Afterward I traveled to the king and became his smith. And this is the story of how I lost the legacy of my father and compensation for my brother. Gold has since then been called Otter's Ransom and is spoken of as such."

Sigurd answered, "You have lost much, and your kinsmen have been vile."

translated by Jesse L. Byock