Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Teutonic Myth and Legend, by Donald A. Mackenzie, [1912], at

p. 246


Hamlet's Storm-mill

When Frode was King--What the Mill ground forth--The Giant Maids --Their Ceaseless Labour--Desire for Vengeance--Sea Rovers plunder the Kingdom--The Maelstrom--Tale of Two Brothers--A Deal with the Devil --Wonderful Quern Stones--The Covetous Brother--Flood of Broth--The House by the Sea--A Skipper's Bargain--Why the Sea is salt.

"AMLODE'S mealbin", 1 which the Prince of Denmark called the "Mill of Storms ", Was also named by skalds "Frode's Mill". 2

King Frode was a wise and just king, and there was peace when he reigned in Denmark. Harvests were abundant, so that there was no lack of food, and treasure was never concealed, because there were no robbers. Strangers who visited the kingdom were received with hospitality and allowed to depart in peace.

The king had two wonderful quern stones, which ground at Frode's will whatever he desired of them. When he wanted gold he named it. Then the stones were turned round and the shining grist was poured forth. Silver and gleaming gems were produced in like manner. The wondrous mill could also grind peace

p. 247

and goodwill, and thus it was that there was great prosperity when Frode reigned over the land.

Once upon a time the millstones gave forth naught, because there were no servants in the kingdom who had sufficient strength to turn the handle. In vain did Frode make search for strong workers, and at length he came to know that the King of Sweden had two slave women of great stature and strength. With a gift of gold Frode purchased them. Their names were Menja and Ferja; eight feet in height were they, and broader than the doughtiest war man; their muscles were as hard as iron.

They were set to grind the mill, and they cried: "What shall we grind?"

The king said: "Grind gold, so that I may have great wealth."

So they ground gold in plenty, and King Frode was soon the possessor of much treasure. Then they ground for him peace and plenty, and the harvests were rich, the streams flowed ever, and ships made prosperous voyages. By day and by night the giant maids ground, and they were weary, so they beseeched the king that they should have rest.

"Thou shalt pause no longer than the cuckoo is silent in the springtime," the king said.

"Rarely is the cuckoo silent in spring," they made answer; "permit that we may have longer rest."

"Thou mayest rest," the king said, "as long as the verse of a song is sung."

Frode obtained more and more wealth from the mill, but he was never satisfied. Then the maidens grew angry, and vowed vengeance upon him. One to another they said: "Are we not the daughters of mountain giants; are our kindred not greater than Frode's. We have beheld the quern in other days. In the home of

p. 248

giants we whirled it round, so that the earth trembled and thunder bellowed in the caves. 1 Frode hath not done wisely."

Thus did they complain, weary of grinding, and Fenja at length counselled that they should no longer grind good for him who gave them no rest and was never satisfied.

Then Menja sang a weird incantation, which brought a band of warriors over the sea to work disaster with fire and sword.

Fenja called upon Frode, warning him of approaching peril, but he slept and heard her not. The warriors came to the shore; they laid waste the land, they burned the town, and scattered before them the warriors of Frode. The king was wounded grievously, so that he died.

Thus came Mysinger, the sea rover, and plundered the land, which he robbed of its vast treasures. The ships were heavily loaded thereafter, and Mysinger took with him the wondrous mill and the giant maids who turned it.

Then the sea rover set the slaves to grind salt, because there was none in the ships. As he bade them, so did they do. When night fell they asked him if they had ground sufficient for his needs; but he was no wiser than Frode, and commanded them to cease not their labours. So Fenja and Menja ground on until the ship was so full of salt that it sank into the deep.

From that day the giant maids have continued to grind the mill, for there is no one to bid them to take rest. On the sea bottom are they ever turning the stones. At the spot where they work is the great Maelstrom, a name which signifies "the grinding stream".

p. 249

It is said that Fenja and Menja still work as Mysinger commanded them, and that is why the sea is salt. But there is another tale that minstrels were wont to tell regarding a wondrous mill which sank below the waves.

There were once two brothers, and one was rich while the other was poor. On a Christmas Eve the brother who was in need went unto the other and asked him in God's name for food, because that he had naught to eat.

The rich brother said: "A flitch of bacon shall I give thee if thou wilt do as I desire."

Readily did the starving man agree to his brother's terms. He took the flitch of bacon, and then he was told: "Hasten thou straight to hell with what I have given thee."

The poor brother must needs carry out the compact, so he set forth by a long and weary road. He travelled until darkness fell, and then he saw a light and went towards it. Soon he reached a dwelling. Standing outside it was an old man with a long grey beard, who hewed wood for his Christmas fire.

"Whither art thou going at this late hour?" asked the old man.

I am journeying to hell," the other made answer, but I know not the way."

"Thou hast no need to go any farther," the old man said, "because this dwelling is hell. When thou goest within thou shalt find not a few who will readily purchase the flitch of bacon from thee. But sell it not to any man unless thou art given the quern which is behind the door. When thou dost receive it, carry it without, and I shall show thee how to turn the handle. The quern can grind forth anything thou desirest."

p. 250

The poor man knocked at the door, and it was opened. . . . All the demons swarmed towards him, begging for the flitch, and one did outbid the other with desire to purchase it.

"I shall sell it," the man said, "for the old quern which is behind the door."

The devil at first refused to barter the quern, but soon he relented, and it was given to the man for the flitch of bacon.

When the grey-bearded woodcutter taught the poor brother how to use the quern, he set out with it towards his home.

He found his wife waiting for him, and she complained bitterly because that there was no food in the house, nor fuel to light a fire. When she ceased scolding him, the husband said:

"I had to travel a long way, first for one thing and then for another, but now we shall see what we shall see."

He put the quern on the table, and he bade it grind forth fuel and food and ale, and soon they had a warm fire and Christmas fare in plenty. The old dame was made happy indeed, and she said: "Where didst thou get this wonderful quern?"

"Ask me not," answered her husband; "here is the quern, and indeed it is an excellent one. The millstream never freezes. That is enough."

Then the man made the quern to grind much food and ale, and he gave a feast to all his friends. His rich brother came, and when he saw that the larder was full he grew angry because that he wished not his brother to have anything.

"On Christmas Eve," he said, "thou didst come to me to beg for a little food in God's name. From whence have you received all this wealth?"

p. 251

The brother who had been poor answered: "I obtained it from behind the door."

Nor would he say aught else at that time.

But ere the evening was spent the rich brother saw that the other had drunk deep, and he asked him again regarding the quern. So the man who had sold a flitch of bacon to the devil told him all. His brother pleaded for the quern, which he coveted greatly, and offered for purchase three hundred pieces of gold. The other said he would get it for that sum at the hay harvest.

Next day the man who had been poor set the quern to work, and he kept it grinding until he had enough food and drink to last him for the rest of his days. Then gave he the quern to his brother, but he told him not how to work it.

It was the beginning of the hay harvest, and the rich brother, who was a farmer, told his wife, when he carried the quern home, to go out to the field with the workers while he prepared the midday meal. Then he set the quern upon the kitchen table, and he bade it to grind forth herrings and broth in plenty.

The quern set to work, and the herrings and the broth were poured from it in abundance. First all the dishes in the house were filled, and then all the tubs, and still the food poured forth until the kitchen floor was covered over. In vain did the farmer seek to stop the supply. He seized the handle of the quern roughly, and twisted it this way and that, but without avail. The herrings were heaped high and the broth flooded the kitchen. In terror the man fled to the parlour, but the broth followed him, and he had to struggle towards the door, half-smothered in the food stream. to escape being drowned.

When the door was opened he ran down the road,

p. 252

and the flood of broth and herrings went after him, roaring like a mountain waterfall and spreading all over the farm.

The farmer's wife wondered greatly that she and the workers were not called home for dinner, and she said: "Although we have not yet been bidden, we may as well return. Perhaps the master finds it harder than he expected to cook our meal, and has much need of my help."

So the dame and the workers left the hayfield and went towards the farmhouse. Ere long they beheld a strange spectacle. Pell-mell the farmer came running towards them, escaping from a torrent of herrings and broth. As he came nigh he shouted: "I would that each of ye had a hundred throats. . . . Beware, lest you are drowned in the broth!"

He ran on and hastened to his brother, and besought of him to take back the quern. But this the man who got it from the devil refused to do, unless he were paid another three hundred pieces of gold.

"If it goes on grinding for another hour," the farmer declared, "the whole parish will be covered with herrings and broth."

So he gladly paid the money demanded by his brother, who thus got back the quern again, and a goodly sum of money as well.

Then did the man who gave the flitch to the devil set the stones grinding without delay. He got all he desired from them. Before long he had a fine farmhouse, which was larger and more commodious than his brother's, and he had so much gold produced by the mill that he covered his new dwelling with plates of gold. It stood upon the shore, and far out at sea it was beheld shining in beauty. Sailors cast anchor when they came nigh to

p. 253

that shore, so that they might land to see the golden house and the rich man who inhabited it. They were one after another shown the wonderful quern, and its fame was spread far and near.

One day a sea captain called at the golden house, and when he saw the quern he asked if it could grind salt. The man who purchased it from the devil said that it gave forth anything that was desired.

Now the captain was accustomed to go long voyages for salt, and he offered to buy the quern. At first the owner would not consent to sell it, but at length he agreed to do so if he received a thousand pieces of gold. The skipper paid that sum, and went off with the quern, but he was not instructed how to work it. He hastened on board his ship and sailed away. When he was far out at sea he thought he would set the quern a-working, so he commanded it to grind salt in plenty, and as speedily as could be.

The quern set to work. It ground salt in plenty, and ground very fast. Soon the hold was full, and the skipper, feeling satisfied, sought to stop the quern. But that he was unable to do. It ground and ground until the decks were covered over, and at length the immense load of salt weighed down the ship, so that it sank below the waves.

On the floor of ocean lies the quern, and by day and by night it grinds on as the skipper bade it to do. . . . That is why the sea is salt.


246:1 The following is an extract from a tenth-century Icelandic saga which makes reference to Hamlet: "'Tis said that far out, off yonder headland, the nine maids of the Island-mill stir amain the host-cruel skerry-quern--they who in ages past ground Amlode's (Hamlet's) meal".

246:2 Frode is the god Frey humanized. His crops were ground on the World-mill. According to an Eddic poem his servant Bygver divided food among men. This elf is of the mill-brownie type so familiar in folktales.

248:1 See chapter "The Winter War".

Next: Chapter XXIV. Land of the Not-dead and many Marvels