HIS STORY WAS told long ago by our Northern forefathers who brought it with them in their dragon ships when they crossed the North Sea to settle in England. In those days men were apt to invent stories to account for things about them which seemed peculiar, and loving the sea as they did, it is not strange that they had remarked the peculiarity of the ocean water and had found a reason why it is so different from the water in the rivers and steams.
This is not the only story that has come down to tell us how people of old accounted for the sea being salt. There are many such stories, each different from the other, all showing that the same childlike spirit of inquiry was at work in different places, striving to find an answer to this riddle of nature.
There sprang from the sons of Odin a race of men who became mighty kings of the earth, and one of these, named Frode, ruled over the lands that are called Denmark.
Now about this time were found in Denmark two great millstones, so large that no one had the strength to turn them. So Frode sent for all the wise men of the land and bade them examine the stones and tell him of what use they were, since no one could grind with them.
And after the wise men had looked closely at them and read the magic letters which were cut upon their edge, they said that the millstones were precious indeed, since they would grind out of nothing anything that the miller might wish.
So King Frode sent messengers over the world to find for him two servants who would be strong enough to grind with the millstones, and after a long, long time his messengers found him two maid-servants, who were bigger and stronger than anyone in Denmark had ever seen. But no one guessed that these were really Giant-Maidens who bore a grudge against all of the race of Odin.
Directly the Giant-Maidens were brought before Frode, and before they had rested after their long journey, or satisfied their hunger, he bade them go to the mill, and grind for him gold and peace and happiness.
"They sang and swung
The swift mill stone,
And with loud voice
They made their moan.
'We grind for Frode
Wealth and gold
He shall behold.'"
Presently Frode came into the mill to see that the new servants were performing their task diligently. And as he watched them from the shadow by the door, the maidens stayed their grinding for a while to rest.
The greedy man could not bear to see even an instant's pause, and he came out of the shadow, and bade them, with harsh words, go on grinding, and cease not except for so long as the cuckoo was silent, or while he himself sang a song. Now it was early summer-time, and the cuckoo was calling all the day and most of the night.
So the Giant-Maidens waxed very wroth with King Frode, and as they resumed their labours they sang a song of the hardness of their lot in the household of this pitiless King.
They had been grinding out wealth and happiness and peace, but now they bade the magic stones to grind something very different.
Presently, as the great stones moved round and round, Frode, who still stood by, heard one chant in a low, sing-song voice,-
"I see a fire east of the town-the curlews awake and sound a note of warning. A host approaches in haste, to burn the dwelling of the king."
And the next took up her song,-
"No longer will Frode sit on his throne, and rule over rings of red gold and mighty millstones. Now must we grind with all our might-and, behold! red warriors come forth-and revenge, and bloodshed, and ruin."
Then Frode shook from head to foot in his terror, for he heard the tramp of a mighty host of warriors advancing from the sea. And as he looked for a way of escape, the braces of the millstones broke with the strong grinding, and fell in two. And the whole world shook and trembled with the mighty shock of that breaking.
But through the crash and din came the voices of the Giant-Maidens, loudly chanting,-
"We have turned the stone round;
Though weary the maidens,
See what they have ground!"
And that same night a mighty sea-king came up and slew Frode and plundered his city.
When he had sacked the city, the sea-king took on board his ship the two Giant-Maidens, and with them the broken millstones. And he bade them begin at once to grind salt, for of this he had very scanty store.
So they ground and ground; and in the middle of the night, being weary, they asked the sea-king if he had not got salt enough.
But the sea-king was hard of heart, like Frode, and he roughly bade them go on grinding. And the maidens did so, and worked to such effect that within a short time the millstones had ground out so much salt that the weight of it began to sink the ship. Down, down it sank, ship and giants and millstones, and in that spot, in the very middle of the ocean, arose a whirlpool, from whence the salt is carried north and south, east and west, throughout the waters of the earth.
And that is how the sea became salt.