Hear now the Grimskolderissaga, the story of Cuthric Grimskold, Cuthric the Clever, one of the mightiest heroes the Northmen have ever known:
One summer Herogar, first High Thane of the Northmen, left his hall of Hrottborg, and told his sons that he was going wandering into the wastes of the North to learn the will of Torvalt, father of the Northmen and greatest of the Gods of Men. Years passed, yet the Thane did not return. Herogar's dozen sons fell to feuding, arguing over who should rule the Northmen. Cuthric, tired of the strife in his father's hall, left Hrottborg and journeyed long through the wild Northern mountains, seeking his father.
After many months, Cuthric came to a deep valley crowned with forests of fir and pine. In the depths of that valley Cuthric found a great stone, standing like a pillar, shining white in the sun. On its face shone dozens of runes, winding around the stone like a great coiled serpent. Cuthric looked at the letters, and wondered at them, for even though he could read them not, he felt their power.
Then a shadow fell over Cuthric, and a voice rang out that shook the ground. "Who are you, little man, who walk uncalled for in my lands?" Cuthric looked, and saw three great joten, taller than the trees. The tallest of them bore a jagged scar upon his face, and was horrible to behold, yet Cuthric knew no fear. "Hail giant," he said, bowing low. "I am Cuthric, Herogar's son. I knew not whose lands these were, and I repent the error of my trespass. But tell me - what are these wondrous things that shine upon the stone? I must know the secret of their making."
The scarred giant laughed. "Those are runes, little man. Words that stay, words of power. On that stone is graven the secrets of your life, your death, and your destiny. Pity you are too puny to read them." And the giants pummeled Cuthric to the ground, and bore him senseless from that place.
Cuthric awoke in the great meadhall of the giants, high up on the snowy slopes of the mountains. The giants bound Cuthric with a chain of iron, and made him wait on them at table, as if the High Thane's son were no more than a low-born thrall. But Cuthric was cunning, and bore his shame in silence. He brought the giants casks of mead, and listened as the scarred giant told his sons the tale of the All-Father and the carving of the Weltwyrdangssaga. This was the Giant's tale:
"Long ago, when the world was freshly made and day was not yet born, after the All-Father had broken the might of the Beast Lords, he named all the things of the world, the Stones and Trees and Animals, to gain power and dominion over all of them. But his wisdom was not complete. So the All-Father wandered far into the frozen wastes of the North, and sought out Jordmangundir, the Serpent, the wisest of the Beast Lords.
At the base of a great Ash Tree the All-Father found the Serpent. Well did the foul snake remember the bite of the All-Father's spear, and cowed before him. "Teach me, cowed beast, the last secret of the Making and Unmaking," the All-Father demanded. "You will know it," hissed the Serpent, "but the learning will take you to the very edge of death, and no knowledge is without its price." The All-Father stood firm. "I am not afraid, Beast Lord," he said, his voice like thunder, "I will pay your price." And so the Serpent lashed out and bit the left hand of the All-Father.
The Serpent's venom raged through the All-Father like a fever, and he writhed on the ground and cried out in agony. For three days he raved in his madness. As he raved, signs of fire burned before his eyes, jagged lines that crept and crawled like snakes. When at last his vision cleared, the All-Father was alone. And the All-Father looked, and saw that in his madness he had clawed the signs of fire into the bark of the ash tree, where they shone red with the blood from his fingers. The All-Father looked, and read them, and saw how the names of things control them, and how the shaping of runes shapes the world in turn. And the All-Father laughed, for his dominion over the things of the world was complete. But he had forgotten the Serpent's price...
After a time, the All-Father shaped his first children, the joten that lesser men call giants, from the hard bones of the mountains. And the All-Father taught them the shapes of the Runes and set them to work, for he had conceived of a mighty design. On the Cliffs of Fate in the Uttermost North the All-Father and the joten carved out a great saga of runes, and they sang a mighty song as they carved. The saga they carved was the Weltwyrdangssaga, the Destiny of the World from its foundation unto its uttermost ending. The All-Father had seen the fate of every man, beast, and thing in the world in a great vision while he raved in his fever at the base of the Ash Tree, and the words of the saga told the future of the world.
The joten read the saga as they carved and sang, and they read of the future, and saw that their power would one day be broken by Men, the All-Father's favorite children. The prideful joten raged against their fate, and took up arms against their father. The joten fell on the All-Father with fists and mauls of stone, thundering in their anger, and the All-Father called down fire and lightning from the sky, smiting his rebellious children. The Earth shook. Knowing they were defeated, the giants turned their spite upon their father's greatest work. They smashed the Cliffs of Fate, and the fragments of the Weltwyrdangssaga were scattered over the face of the World.
And then the All-Father laughed, for the knowledge of the joten was incomplete. They had learned the Making, but had no inkling of the Unmaking. When the joten sundered the Cliffs of Fate, they released the power that the All-Father's redes had sealed inside them. Once freed, the power of the saga moved over the face of the world, and reshaped it. The sun rose for the first time, and the turn of seasons began. Thus, through their spite, the joten fulfilled the All-Father's design and set the wyrd of the world in motion."
To all this Cuthric listened, and brought the giant more mead. Finally the hero spake:
"Hail, mighty giant," the hero said, "I had not known the giants were masters of rune lore. I have seen signs like runes on the helms of the dverkur, the dwarves who trade iron goods for beef at my father's hall. Are not the dwarves te masters of the runes?"
And the elder giant was angered, and bellowed so loudly that the snow slid off the roof of the hall. "Dwarves!" he cried, "sooty, stunted little thieves! They know nothing of the All-Father's greatest gift! I know the names and redes of all the runes, six times six!"
Cuthric gave the giant more mead to calm him, and said " Surely you do not know all of the runes - it seems to me that only a dwarf could be clever enough to learn so many." The giant roared a second time and slammed his stony fist down on the table, and the hall shuddered. "Listen then, puny man, and learn the depths of your ignorance!" And the giant stood, and named all six and thirty runes, then sang the rede for each. Cuthric listened and marked them well, though he was cunning enough to make his face look fearful. He cowered before the giant, and brought him more mead. Finally, Cuthric spoke again.
"Mighty giant," said Cuthric the Clever, "Forgive my ignorance. You giants must employ the dwarves to carve the runes for you - for surely your hands are too large and clumsy for such fine work."
The giant's rage knew no bounds. He roared a third and final time, and his voice sent avalanches of snow sweeping into the valleys. "Clumsy? I am Ymur the Old, Lord of the Joten! I carved the Runes of Power on the Cliffs of Fate an age before your fathers were ever conceived!" And the giant took up his drinking horn, and carved all of the All-Father's runes upon it with his table knife. And as he carved, the giant named the runes and sang the redes under his breath. And when he was done, he flung his knife to the table and hurled the horn to Cuthric, who caught it in both hands. "How clumsy are these hands now, whelp? Is this not fine work?"
And Cuthric looked on the runes, and learned their shapes in the space of a heartbeat. Then the hero smiled. "Fine work indeed, oh giant. Perhaps too fine." And with a cat's speed Cuthric took the giant's knife from the table and smashed the drinking horn. And so the magic of all the runes, six times six, was released - and yet, since the same tool was used for the Making and Unmaking, the magic was ill formed, and swept the Hall like a storm. Thunder and fire smote the walls and tumbled down the high roof. And as the giants cried out in pain and fury, Cuthric fled the ruined hall into the snow-swept night. And Cuthric fled from the hall of the giants, from the rage of Ymur. And as he ran, he carved the Ur rune into the flesh of his right arm, and with the strength it brought him Cuthric broke his bonds of iron. The sundering of Ymur's hall killed the giant's two sons, but the old giant climbed free from the ruins, and turned all his wrath on Cuthric. The giant sang a song of power, and called down the wrath of Frykka the Frost Queen in the shape of a mighty hailstorm. The hail filled the valleys and battered down trees, but Cuthric ran on unharmed, protected from the cold by the Beorc rune.
Wolves came to Ymur's call, and chased Cuthric down from the high peaks. He fought them with the strength and vigor of ten men, and even though he slew his foes, the wolves managed to deal grievous wounds to the legs of the hero. As Ymur drew near, Cuthric cast the rune of Nyth, and his legs were healed. The hero eluded Ymur's clutches, and ran on. The giant then sang a song of madness which echoed across the mountains, driving bird and beast into frenzy. Cuthric heard the song but heeded it not: he had carved the Man rune onto a pine branch and unmade it, and the rune was proof against Ymur's song. Ymur finally wove on last mighty spell, calling lightning down from the heavens. The tongues of skyfire lashed the mountains and set the trees afire, but did not strike Cuthric - as he fled, he cast the Eolh rune, and both his carving and singing were true. Ymur turned then, and walked back to his ruined lands and broken hall. Cuthric had escaped with the help of the runes.
At long last, Cuthric came again to the runestone in the deep valley, and looked on it with new eyes that could read its mighty letters. The stone told of how Herogar the High Thane had fallen there in battle, and was buried beneath the stone, face down, head pointed south, in eternal shame. Ymur the giant had killed him, and his carvings on the stone had made Herogar's shame eternal. Cuthric raged, and wept, and finally he laughed, for he saw that the giant had told the truth: the course of Cuthric's life and fate was indeed graven on that stone -- for it was now his doom to bring death and vengeance to all joten. Cuthric returned to Hrottborg and there he taught the Northmen the secrets of rune making. He also united them under his rule, and began his long and bloody feud with Ymur and the giants. That vendetta would bring both glory and woe to the line of Cuthric, and earn him the name Grimskold, which means "evil fate"...
But that is another story.