The Lay of Grotti: Grottasǫngr

In Denmark back in Augustus Cæsar’s time, there was a great king named Fróthi. He was the most powerful king in all the Northern lands – so much so that peace was named after him wherever people spoke in the Scandinavian tongue (the languages only had slight dialectal variations at the time). In the time it lasted, no man would harm another and there were no thieves or robbers. A gold ring even sat untouched for a full three years by the high road over the Jalangr-Heath (now called Jællinge, located in Jutland).

King Fróthi  bought two bondmaids whilst in Sweden where he was attending a feast given by King Fjolnir (King Fjolnir is another one of Óthin’s names, and this may have been the god himself). The bondmaids were named Fenja and Menja (which may mean “Water-Maiden” and “Jewel-Maiden”), and they were both tall and strong on account of the fact that these were no ordinary human women. They were of the giants, born to brothers of etins and having prophetic gifts. Fróthi had gotten these bondmaids in the hope that they would be able to turn a certain pair of millstones in Denmark which were so large that no man could turn them.

It is interesting that these particular maids should end up turning these stones since these two were the ones who rolled them out of etins’ realm and hurled the rocks from the heights so that men could seize them. That was back when they were younger, before they went to Sweden and fought among men as valkyries. They became quite famous doing this and earned their way up through the ranks of men. After some time passed they had become bondmaids, were bought by Fróthi, and were forced to grind gold from the stones they had given to mankind.

(It brings to mind an old Swedish fairy tale about a young tomte who was told by one of his elders never to steal gold from the trolls because the trolls’ gold, jewels, etc. made whoever possessed them lazy, greedy, mean, and acquire other such traits reminiscent of people who give too much of their hearts and minds to etins. Perhaps the stones, having belonged to the etins before and having been stolen, had a similar effect to the gold and jewels stolen from trolls and made whoever possessed them become greedy and mean.)

These stones were special, not just in their immense size, but in that they had the power to grind out whatever anyone turning them bade them to grind. The quern/hand mill was named Grotti (= “Grinder”), and the man who had given the king the mill was called Hengikjopt (= “Hang-Chaps”, another one of Óthin’s names – he had disguised himself, given Fróthi this mill, and prepared the latter’s ruin by doing so). Since the stones could grind out anything, Fróthi had the maids led to the mill and told them to grind gold for him.

The maids ground him gold, peace, and happiness. Then he only allowed them to rest for as long as the cuckoo was silent ( in a long summer day these sing almost constantly in the high north) or for as long as it took to sing a lay. It is said that before they could finish chanting “The Lay of Grotti”, they had ground the fate for him that on that same night the sea king, Mýsing (= “Mouse-Gray”, in another tradition the sea king’s place is taken by a monster rising out of the sea), killed Fróthi and ended his peaceful reign, taking with him treasures, the mill, and Fenja and Menja.

Mýsing had the two bondmaids grind salt for him. At midnight they asked him if he had enough salt. He had them continue grinding and the ship sank shortly after. A whirlpool now exists in that spot. The waters still are turned through the eye of the millstone there and the sea remains salty to this day.

(There is another version (the lay, not the prose version) in which the mill falls to pieces when Fróthi’s good fortune comes to an end instead of having the more “fairy tale” sea salt ending. The lay is said to be the more authentic version, and the first stanza of it was used in Snorri’s Edda “after briefly explaining the skaldic kenning for gold, as “Fróthi’s Flour,” by a short summary of the legend”.)