Aesir: The primary "pantheon" or group of Norse gods (led by Odin) - live in Asgard
Vanir: The secondary "pantheon" or group of Norse gods (led by Frey)
The two groups warred against each other early in time, but after that lived peacefully.
Frey, chief of the Vanir, longed to have sight of his sister who had been from Asgard for so long. (You must know that this happened during the time when Freya was wandering through the world, seeking her husband, the lost Odur.) Now there was in Asgard a place from which one could overlook the world and have a glimpse of all who wandered there. That place was Hlidskjalf, Odin's lofty Watch-Tower.
High up into the blue of the air that Tower went. Frey came to it and he knew that Odin All-Father was not upon Hlidskjalf. Only the two wolves, Geri and Freki, that crouched beside Odin's seat at the banquet, were there, and they stood in the way of Frey's entrance to the Tower. But Frey spoke to Geri and Freki in the language of the Gods, and Odin's wolves had to let him pass.
But, as he went up the steps within the Tower, Frey, chief of the Vanir, knew that he was doing a fateful thing. For none of the High Gods, not even Thor, the Defender of Asgard, nor Baldur, the Best-Beloved of the Gods, had ever climbed to the top of that Tower and seated themselves upon the All-Father's seat. "But if I could see my sister once I should be contented," said Frey to himself, and no harm can come to me if I look out on the world."
He came to the top of Hlidskjalf. He seated himself on Odin's lofty seat. He looked out on the world. He saw Midgard, the World of Men, with its houses and towns, its farms and people. Beyond Midgard he saw Jötunheim, the Realm of the Giants, terrible with its dark mountains and its masses of snow and ice. He saw Freya as she went upon her wanderings, and he marked that her face was turned toward Asgard and that her steps were leading toward the City of the Gods. "I have contented myself by looking from Hlidskjalf," said Frey to himself, "and no harm has come to me."
But even as he spoke his gaze was drawn to a dwelling that stood in the middle of the ice and snow of Jötunheim. Long he gazed upon that dwelling without knowing why he looked that way. Then the door of the house was opened and a Giant maiden stood within the doorway. Frey gazed and gazed on her. So great was the beauty of her face that it was like starlight in that dark land. She looked from the doorway of the house, and then turned and went within, shutting the door.
Frey sat on Odin's high seat for long. Then he went down the steps of the Tower and passed by the two wolves, Geri and Freki, that looked threateningly upon him. He went through Asgard, but he found no one to please him in the City of the Gods. That night sleep did not come to him, for his thoughts were fixed upon the loveliness of the Giant maid he had looked upon. And when morning came he was filled with loneliness because he thought himself so far from her. He went to Hlidskjalf again, thinking to climb the Tower and have sight of her once more. But now the two wolves, Geri and Freki, bared their teeth at him and would not let him pass, although he spoke to them again in the language of the Gods.
He went and spoke to wise Njörd, his father. "She whom you have seen, my son," said Njörd, "is Gerda, the daughter of the Giant Gymer. You must give up thinking of her. Your love for her would be an ill thing for you."
"Why should it be an ill thing for me?" Frey asked.
"Because you would have to give that which you prize most for the sake of coming to her."
"That which I prize most," said Frey, "is my magic sword."
"You will have to give your magic sword," said his father, the wise Njörd.
"I will give it," said Frey, loosening his magic sword from his belt.
"Wait, my son," said Njörd. "If thou givest thy sword, what weapon wilt thou have on the day of Ragnarök, when the Giants will make war upon the Gods?"
Frey did not speak, but he thought the day of Ragnarök was far off. "I cannot live without Gerda," he said, as he turned away.
There was one in Asgard who was called Skirnir. He was a venturesome being who never cared what he said or did. To no one else but Skirnir could Frey bring himself to tell of the trouble that had fallen on him -- the trouble that was the punishment for his placing himself on the seat of the All-Father.
Skirnir laughed when he heard Frey's tale. "Thou, a Van, in love with a maid of Jötunheim! This is fun indeed! Will ye make a marriage of it?"
"Would that I might even speak to her or send a message of love to her," said Frey. "But I may not leave my watch over the Elves."
"And if I should take a message to Gerda," said Skirnir the Venturesome, "what would my reward be?"
"My boat Skidbladnir or my boar Golden Bristle," said Frey.
"No, no," said Skirnir. "I want something to go by my side. I want something to use in my hand. Give me the magic sword you own."
Frey thought upon what his father said, that he would be left weaponless on the day of Ragnarök, when the Giants would make war upon the Gods and when Asgard would be endangered. He thought upon this, and drew back from Skirnir, and for a while he remained in thought. And all the time thick-set Skirnir was laughing at him out of his wide mouth and his blue eyes. Then Frey said to himself, "The day of Ragnarök is far off, and I cannot live without Gerda."
He drew the magic sword from his belt and he placed it in Skirnir's hand. "I give you my sword, Skirnir," he said. "Take my message to Gerda, Gymer's daughter. Show her this gold and these precious jewels, and say I love her, and that I claim her love."
"I shall bring the maid to you," said Skirnir the Venturesome.
"But how wilt thou get to Jötunheim?" said Frey, suddenly remembering how dark the Giants' land was and how terrible were the approaches to it.
"Oh, with a good horse and a good sword one can get anywhere," said Skirnir. "My horse is a mighty horse, and you have given me your sword of magic. Tomorrow I shall make the journey."
Skirnir rode across Bifröst, the Rainbow Bridge, laughing out of his wide mouth and his blue eyes at Heimdall, the Warder of the Bridge to Asgard. His mighty horse trod the earth of Midgard, and swam the river that divides Midgard, the World of Men, from Jötunheim, the Realm of the Giants. He rode on heedlessly and recklessly, as he did all things. Then out of the iron forests came the monstrous wolves of Jötunheim, to tear and devour him and his mighty horse. It was well for Skirnir that he had in his belt Frey's magic sword. Its edge slew and its gleam frighted the monstrous beasts. On and on Skirnir rode on his mighty horse. Then he came to a wall of fire. No other horse but his mighty horse could go through it. Skirnir rode through the fire and came to the dale in which was Gymer's dwelling.
And now he was before the house that Frey had seen Gerda enter on the day when he had climbed Hlidskjalf, Odin's Watch-Tower. The mighty hounds that guarded Gymer's dwelling came and bayed around him. But the gleam of the magic sword kept them away. Skirnir backed his horse to the door, and made his horse's hooves strike against it.
Gymer was in the feast hall drinking with his Giant friends, and he did not hear the baying of the hounds nor the clatter that Skirnir made before the door. But Gerda sat spinning with her maidens in the hall. "Who comes to Gymer's door?" she said.
"A warrior upon a mighty horse," said one of the maidens.
"Even though he be an enemy and one who slew my brother, yet shall we open the door to him and give him a cup of Gymer's mead," said Gerda.
One of the maidens opened the door and Skirnir entered Gymer's dwelling. He knew Gerda amongst her maidens. He went to her and showed her the rich gold and the precious jewels that he had brought from Frey. "These are for you, fairest Gerda," he said, "if you will give your love to Frey, the Chief of the Vanir."
"Show your gold and jewels to other maidens," said Gerda. "Gold and jewels will never bring me to give my love."
Then Skirnir the Venturesome, the heedless of his words, drew the magic sword from his belt and held it above her. "Give your love to Frey, who has given me this sword," he said, "or meet your death by the edge of it."
Gerda, Gymer's daughter, only laughed at the reckless Skirnir. "Make the daughters of men fearful by the sharpness of Frey's sword," she said, ''but do not try to frighten a Giant's daughter with it."
Then Skirnir the Reckless, the heedless of his words, made the magic sword flash before her eyes, while he cried out in a terrible voice, saying a spell over her:
Gerda, I will curse thee;
Yes, with this magic
Blade I shall touch thee;
Such is its power
That, like a thistle,
Withered 'twill leave thee,
Like a thistle the wind
Strips from the roof.
Hearing these terrible words and the strange hissings of the magic sword, Gerda threw herself on the ground, crying out for pity. But Skirnir stood above her, and the magic sword flashed and hissed over her. Skirnir sang:
More ugly I'll leave thee
Than maid ever was;
Thou wilt be mocked at
By men and by Giants;
A Dwarf only will wed thee;
Now on this instant
With this blade I shall touch thee,
And leave thee bespelled.
She lifted herself on her knees and cried out to Skirnir to spare her from the spell of the magic sword.
"Only if thou wilt give thy love to Frey," said Skirnir.
"I will give my love to him," said Gerda. "Now put up thy magic sword and drink a cup of mead and depart from Gymer's dwelling."
"I will not drink a cup of your mead nor shall I depart from Gymer's dwelling until you yourself say that you will meet and speak with Frey."
"I will meet and speak with him," said Gerda.
"When will you meet and speak with him?" asked Skirnir.
"In the wood of Barri nine nights from this. Let him come and meet me there."
Then Skirnir put up his magic sword and drank the cup of mead that Gerda gave him. He rode from Gymer's house, laughing aloud at having won Gerda for Frey, and so making the magic sword his own for ever.
Skirnir the Venturesome, the heedless of his Words, riding across Bifröst on his mighty horse, found Frey standing waiting for him beside Heimdall, the Warder of the Bridge to Asgard.
"What news dost thou bring me?" cried Frey. "Speak, Skirnir, before thou dost dismount from thine horse."
"In nine nights from this thou mayst meet Gerda in Barri Wood," said Skirnir. He looked at him, laughing out of his wide mouth and his blue eyes. But Frey turned away, saying to himself:
Long is one day;
Long, long two.
Can I live through
Nine long days?
Long indeed were these days for Frey. But the ninth day came, and in the evening Frey went to Barri Wood. And there he met Gerda, the Giant maid. She was as fair as when he had seen her before the door of Gymer's house. And when she saw Frey, so tall and noble looking, the Giant's daughter was glad that Skirnir the Venturesome had made her promise to come to Barri Wood. They gave each other rings of gold. It was settled that the Giant maid should come as a bride to Asgard.
Gerda came, but another Giant maid came also. This is how that came to be:
All the Dwellers in Asgard were standing before the great gate, waiting to welcome the bride of Frey. There appeared a Giant maid who was not Gerda; all in armor was she.
"I am Skadi," she said, "the daughter of Thiassi. My father met his death at the hands of the Dwellers in Asgard. I claim a recompense."
"What recompense would you have, maiden?" asked Odin, smiling to see a Giant maid standing so boldly in Asgard.
"A husband from amongst you, even as Gerda. And I myself must be let choose him."
All laughed aloud at the words of Skadi. Then said Odin, laughing, "We will let you choose a husband from amongst us, but you must choose him by his feet."
"I will choose him whatever way you will," said Skadi, fixing her eyes on Baldur, the most beautiful of all the Dwellers in Asgard.
They put a bandage round her eyes, and the Æsir and the Vanir seat in a half circle around, As she went by she stooped over each and laid hands upon their feet. At last she came to one whose feet were so finely formed that she felt sure it was Baldur. She stood up and said:
"This is the one that Skadi chooses for her husband."
Then the Æsir and the Vanir laughed more and more. They took the bandage off her eyes and she saw, not Baldur the Beautiful, but Njörd, the father of Frey. But as Skadi looked more and more on Njörd she became more and more contented with her choice; for Njörd was strong, and he was noble looking.
These two, Njörd and Skadi, went first to live in Njörd's palace by the sea; but the coming of the sea mew would waken Skadi too early in the morning, and she drew her husband to the mountaintop where she was more at home. He would not live long away from the sound of the sea. Back and forward, between the mountain and the sea, Skadi and Njörd went. But Gerda stayed in Asgard with Frey, her husband, and the Æsir and the Vanir came to love greatly Gerda, the Giant maid.