Giving a hand to a friend: how Fenrir was bound

*DA-RUM, DA-RUM, DA-RUM*. The smell of fear was heavy in the air. *DA-RUM, DA-RUM, DA-RUM*. A loud thumping echoed through the forests as giant paws landed on the moist earth over and over again. Fenrir grinned. He had grown strong over the past few years. *DA-RUM, DA-RUM, DA-RUM*. He felt his muscles tense as he closed in on the large cave bear, an animal that had no fear of any predators… until he met Fenrir. DA-RUM, DA-RUM, DA-RUM. He could almost taste the bear’s flesh now. “NOW”, he thought. He leaped forward and tackled the frightened animal.

The bear fell over and crashed into one of the nearby pine trees. Fenrir licked his lips and gave the animal some time to get back on all fours. “Hardly a challenge”, he thought to himself. The bear panted, now facing the giant wolf as he rose. It let out an intimidating roar, one that would have frightened any normal wolf. But Fenrir was no ordinary wolf, being the son of the god Loki and the giantess Angrboda. He slammed into the bear, closing his jaws around the animal’s neck. He crushed it in one instant with a loud crack.  

“There you are”, a solemn voice said.  Fenrir looked around to find Tyr leaning against a tree. The wolf bared his teeth in a red smile to greet him, a smile that was wet with bear blood. The god of war eyed the wolf with pride. He took pleasure in the enormous growth of Fenrir. After all, Tyr and he had been at each other’s sides more often than not. They were inseparable, companions that called each other brothers through the bond they shared. For certain, their bond was deeper than the one shared between Odin and his wolves.

As Fenrir continued gorging on the flesh of the bear, Tyr’s mind drifted. He had witnessed the growth of the wolf during their walks, hunting sessions, and wrestling matches. Each time, the wolf would have become stronger and bigger… and more difficult for Tyr to handle. And so the god of war wondered: “How powerful could Fenrir become one day?”

Tyr was certainly not the only one who had that thought. The size and power of the wolf were the subjects of much speculation amongst the inhabitants of Asgard. Odin himself would always grow moody when hearing such talk. Indeed, the Allfather seemed to be the one who had the gravest concerns regarding the wolf’s power. Tyr understood that concern. Odin had confided in him that the wolf would one day play a key role during Ragnarok, the end of days. “He might have grown too powerful already”, Tyr thought.

His thought was interrupted as a raven landed on his left shoulder. “There you are!”, the beast cawed in his ear. It was Munin, one of Odin’s ravens. The other one, Hugin, landed on his right shoulder. “The Allfather summons you both”, Hugin said. “Join us in Asgard tomorrow at noon”, the first whispered.

Fenrir bared his red teeth once more, clearly displeased with the presence of the ravens. “Why are we being summoned?”, he growled.  The ravens cackled with laughter as they flew off. “A challenge”, Munin cried as he flapped his wings. “A challenge of strength”, Hugin joined in. The birds kept cackling as they disappeared in the distance.

Fenrir had started panting enthusiastically as he heard about the challenge. He had always liked games. More explicitly, he had always loved opportunities to demonstrate his powers to the gods. “You heard that Tyr?”, he asked. “An opportunity to show off my prowess”. His eyes glistened with excitement. The god of war did not face him, but he nodded. “A great opportunity indeed”, he said softly. There was a bitterness in his voice, as he already knew what was coming next. 

Arriving in Asgard, they found that many of the Aesir had joined in the forest close to Valhalla. They had gathered in a circle, leaving a large open space in the middle. Fenrir smirked triumphantly as he saw the surprise in the gods’ eyes, realizing how large he had become. He then saw Odin, the leader of the Aesir. His face was filled with disgust as he looked at the wolf. He was clearly one of the few that were not impressed with him.

Fenrir gave him an evil smile, showing his giant fangs. “I have come to face your challenge, Allfather”, he barked. “We will bind you”, Odin declared. “And you shall break free of your bonds”. He fixed his eye on the wolf and grinned playfully as he added “that is… if you are strong enough”. Fenrir howled angrily in response to that. “HA, I will beat your test old man!”, he shouted. “and when I do, I will show everyone that I am the strongest one of all that have gathered here”.

Thor stepped forward, dragging a heavy metal chain forward. “It was a sturdy little thing”, Tyr thought. “but there is no way that it would be able to contain Fenrir”. Thor smirked. “I have used this chain often before when I wanted to bind a large bear or a giant elk”, he said. He started binding Fenrir with the chain, spending a few minutes making sure that the bindings were as tight as possible. “All set”, he mumbled.

With a loud clank, the chain snapped. “I barely had to flex my muscles for this”, Fenrir laughed. “What is this challenge of yours?”, he said with a defiant look in his eyes. His defiance had a clear target: Odin.

It was again Thor who came forward, this time dragging an even larger chain with him. It looked as if it was made from some radiating metal. “I have used this chain many times, wolf”, he said with a grin. “Many full-grown stone giants have tried to break loose from this chain”. He started chaining up the wolf again, taking some extra time to make sure that he was bound tight once more. Fenrir started wriggling, trying to ensure his freedom again. He turned and twisted, but the chain did not yield. Thor gave a slight nod to Odin, clearly pleased with himself.

CLANG! Fenrir had broken free from his bonds once more. “That was barely a challenge either”, the wolf smiled. “So do you have another test for me? Or are you ready to admit I am the strongest among you already?”. Thor frowned, clearly saddened that his toy was no longer in one piece. “Would you admit I am even stronger than you Thor?”, Fenrir asked playfully. “Perhaps ready to take the Allfather on for the title of the supreme ruler of the universe?”.

Tyr gulped. He knew it was almost over now. “There is yet another test”, Odin said with a stony face. He took a slim chain from his pocket, which looked less sturdy than the previous two challenges. “It might not be much of a challenge for you, but you have to beat it if you want to win”. He used the bravado of the wolf to his advantage. “Unless you are afraid to fail this final test?”, he asked.

He hoped Fenrir would take the bait. You see, Odin had asked the dwarfs to craft an unbreakable bond. To make the chain, the dwarfs had requested materials that were seemingly impossible to acquire. The only person who was able to gather those materials was Odin himself, given his wisdom. They needed the roots of a mountain, the breath of a fish, the spit of a bird, the sinews of a bear (which are really small by the way), and the sound of a cat’s footfall. And of course, they also needed the beard of a woman.

“This chain is called Gleipnir”, Odin said. “It is your final challenge if you really want to show you are the strongest being”. Fenrir may have been powerful, he was far from stupid. The chain looked suspicious to him, as he felt that it radiated with magic. “What trickery is this?”, he demanded. “It is merely another test of your strength”, Odin replied. “But if you think that you are too weak…”.

Fenrir now howled with anger, shaking all of Asgard in the process. “Nonsense”, he barked. “I smell foul play! Will you still release me if the bond proves to be… too strong?”, he asked the god.

“I give you my word that this is no trick”, said Odin calmly. A violent snort escaped Fenrir’s nostrils. “HA! You dare give me your word?”, he growled with clear anger in his voice. “You who banished my siblings? Every soul present knows the worth of your word”, he raged. Odin stood frozen and gave a silent nod, barely visible to the eye.

Tyr flinched. “That was the signal”, he thought. He swallowed his pride as he stepped forward. “I will vouch for Odin in this matter, my friend”, he spoke to the wolf. He placed his hand in Fenrir’s jaws as he continued: “Feel free to devour my hand if I break my promise to you”.

This calmed down the son of Loki, who started panting excitedly again. “That is all the assurance I need”, he grinned warmly. He then glared at Odin. “Do it”, he said decidedly.

So Odin started binding him with Gleipnir. And Fenrir took Tyr’s right hand in his gruesome jaws, ready to bite down hard if he felt the need to. When he was finally bound, he started twisting and turning again. He flexed his muscles and used all his force. He barked with anger as he tried to wriggle loose, scaring all who were present into the thought that he might break free once more.

“Enough”, he finally grumbled. His tail was down, a clear indication that he was through with this play. He fixed his gaze on Tyr now. “Release me from this trickery”, he grumbled. There was a silence. No one dared to make a move. Fenrir’s eyes now shot at Odin and back to Tyr. “Release me”, he repeated more urgently.

All Tyr could do was shake his head. It was as clear a signal as he could have presented. Fenrir now knew he had been played by Odin. He knew his friend had betrayed him. He yelped, but bit down hard and slammed his jaws shut. Tyr’s hand was severed at its limb within the flash of a second.

The god of war did not scream. As he walked away in silence, a tear escaped from his eye. He had fulfilled his oath towards Odin, yet he had lost a friend in doing so. He left the wolf, who was howling with anger, still struggling with his bonds. Odin nodded curtly at him. He knew that Fenrir had been dealt with… for now.

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