Red Loki had been up to mischief again! Loki, who made quarrels and brought trouble wherever he went. He had a wicked heart, and he loved no one. He envied Father Odin his wisdom and his throne above the world. He envied Balder his beauty, and Tŷr his courage, and Thor his strength. He envied all the good Æsir who were happy; but he would not take the trouble to be good himself. So he was always unhappy, spiteful, and sour. And if anything went wrong in Asgard, the kingdom of the gods, one was almost sure to find Loki at the bottom of the trouble.
Now Thor, the strongest of all the gods, was very proud of his wife’s beautiful hair, which fell in golden waves to her feet, and covered her like a veil. He loved it better than anything, except Sif herself. One day, while Thor was away from home, Loki stole into Thrudheim, the realm of clouds, and cut off all Sif’s golden hair, till her head was as round and fuzzy as a yellow dandelion. Fancy how angry Thor was when he came rattling home that night in his thunder-chariot and found Sif so ugly to look at! He stamped up and down till the five hundred and forty floors of his cloud palace shook like an earthquake, and lightning flashed from his blue eyes. The people down in the world below cried: “Dear, dear! What a terrible thunderstorm! Thor must be very angry about something. Loki has been up to mischief, it is likely.” You see, they also knew Loki and his tricks.
At last Thor calmed himself a little. “Sif, my love,” he said, “you shall be beautiful again. Red Loki shall make you so, since his was the unmaking. The villain! He shall pay for this!”
Then, without more ado, off set Thor to find red Loki. He went in his thunder-chariot, drawn by two goats, and the clouds rumbled and the lightning flashed wherever he went; for Thor was the mighty god of thunder. At last he came upon the sly rascal, who was trying to hide. Big Thor seized him by the throat.
“You scoundrel!” he cried, “I will break every bone in your body if you do not put back Sif’s beautiful hair upon her head.”
“Ow—ow! You hurt me!” howled Loki. “Take off your big hand, Thor. What is done, is done. I cannot put back Sif’s hair. You know that very well.”
“Then you must get her another head of hair,” growled Thor. “That you can do. You must find for her hair of real gold, and it must grow upon her head as if it were her own. Do this, or you shall die.”
“Where shall I get this famous hair?” whined Loki, though he knew well enough.
“Get it of the black elves,” said Thor; “they are cunning jewelers, and they are your friends. Go, Loki, and go quickly, for I long to see Sif as beautiful as ever.”
Then Loki of the burning beard slunk away to the hills where, far under ground, the dwarfs have their furnaces and their workshops. Among great heaps of gold and silver and shining jewels, which they have dug up out of the earth, the little crooked men in brown blink and chatter and scold one another; for they are ugly fellows—the dwarfs. Tink-tank! tink-tank! go their little hammers all day long and all night long, while they make wonderful things such as no man has ever seen, though you shall hear about them.
They had no trouble to make a head of hair for Sif. It was for them a simple matter, indeed. The dwarfs work fast for such a customer as Loki, and in a little while the golden wires were beaten out, and drawn out, made smooth and soft and curly, and braided into a thick golden braid. But when Loki came away, he carried with him also two other treasures which the clever dwarfs had made. One was a golden spear, and the other was a ship.
Now these do not sound so very wonderful. But wait until you hear! The spear, which was named Gungnir, was bewitched, so that it made no difference if the person who held it was clumsy and careless. For it had this amazing quality, that no matter how badly it was aimed, or how unskillfully it was thrown, it was sure to go straight to the mark—which is a very obliging and convenient thing in one’s weapon, as you will readily see.
And Skidbladnir—this was the harsh name of the ship—was even more wonderful. It could be taken to pieces and folded up so small that it would go into one’s pocket. But when it was unfolded and put together, it would hold all the gods of Asgard for a sea-journey. Besides all this, when the sails were set, the ship was sure always to have a fair wind, which would make it skim along like a great bird, which was the best part of the charm, as any sailor will tell you.
Now Loki felt very proud of these three treasures, and left the hill cave stretching his neck and strutting like a great red turkey cock. Outside the gate, however, he met Brock, the black dwarf, who was the brother of Sindri, the best workman in all the underworld.
“Hello! what have you there?” asked Brock of the big head, pointing at the bundles which Loki was carrying.
“The three finest gifts in the world,” boasted Loki, hugging his treasures tight.
“Pooh!” said Brock, “I don’t believe it. Did my brother Sindri make them?”
“No,” answered Loki; “they were made by the black elves, the sons of Ivaldi. And they are the most precious gifts that ever were seen.”
“Pooh!” again puffed Brock, wagging his long beard crossly. “Nonsense! Whatever they be, my brother Sindri can make three other gifts more precious; that I know.”
“Can he, though?” laughed Loki. “I will give him my head if he can.”
“Done!” shouted the dwarf. “Let me see your famous gifts.” So Loki showed him the three wonders: the gold hair for Sif, the spear, and the ship. But again the dwarf said: “Pooh! These are nothing. I will show you what the master-smith can do, and you shall lose your bragging red head, my Loki.”
Now Loki began to be a little uneasy. He followed Brock back to the smithy in the mountain, where they found Sindri at his forge. Oh, yes! He could beat the poor gifts of which Loki was so proud. But he would not tell what his own three gifts were to be.
First Sindri took a pig’s skin and laid it on the fire. Then he went away for a little time; but he set Brock at the bellows and bade him blow—blow—blow the fire until Sindri should return. Now when Sindri was gone, Loki also stole away; for, as usual, he was up to mischief. He had the power of changing his shape and of becoming any creature he chose, which was often very convenient. Thus he turned himself into a huge biting fly. Then he flew back into the smithy where Brock was blow—blow—blowing. Loki buzzed about the dwarf’s head, and finally lighted on his hand and stung him, hoping to make him let go the bellows. But no! Brock only cried out, “Oh-ee!” and kept on blowing for dear life. Now soon back came Sindri to the forge and took the pigskin from the fire. Wonder of wonders! It had turned into a hog with golden bristles; a live hog that shone like the sun. Brock was not satisfied, however.
“Well! I don’t think much of that,” he grumbled.
“Wait a little,” said Sindri mysteriously. “Wait and see.” Then he went on to make the second gift.
This time he put a lump of gold into the fire. And when he went away, as before, he bade Brock stand at the bellows to blow—blow—blow without stopping. Again, as before, in buzzed Loki the gadfly as soon as the master-smith had gone out. This time he settled on Brock’s swarthy neck, and stung him so sorely that the blood came and the dwarf roared till the mountain trembled. Still Brock did not let go the handle of the bellows, but blew and howled—blew and howled with pain till Sindri returned. And this time the dwarf took from the fire a fine gold ring, round as roundness.
“Um! I don’t think so much of that,” said Brock, again disappointed, for he had expected some wonderful jewel. But Sindri wagged his head wisely.
“Wait a little,” he said. “We shall see what we shall see.” He heaved a great lump of iron into the fire to make the third gift. But this time when he went away, leaving Brock at the bellows, he charged him to blow—blow—blow without a minute’s rest, or everything would be spoiled. For this was to be the best gift of all.
Brock planted himself wide-legged at the forge and blew—blew—blew. But for the third time Loki, winged as a fly, came buzzing into the smithy. This time he fastened viciously below Brock’s bushy eyebrow, and stung him so cruelly that the blood trickled down, a red river, into his eyes and the poor dwarf was blinded. With a howl Brock raised his hand to wipe away the blood, and of course in that minute the bellows stood still. Then Loki buzzed away with a sound that seemed like a mocking laugh. At the same moment in rushed Sindri, panting with fright, for he had heard that sound and guessed what it meant.
“What have you done?” he cried. “You have let the bellows rest! You have spoiled everything!”
“Only a little moment, but one little moment,” pleaded Brock, in a panic. “It has done no harm, has it?”
Sindri leaned anxiously over the fire, and out of the flames he drew the third gift—an enormous hammer.
“Oh!” said Brock, much disappointed, “only an old iron hammer! I don’t think anything of that. Look how short the handle is, too.”
“That is your fault, brother,” returned the smith crossly. “If you had not let the bellows stand still, the handle would have been long enough. Yet as it is—we shall see, we shall see. I think it will at least win for you red Loki’s head. Take the three gifts, brother, such as they are, and bear them to Asgard. Let all the gods be judges between you and Loki, which gifts are best, his or yours. But stay—I may as well tell you the secrets of your three treasures, or you will not know how to make them work. Your toy that is not wound up is of no use at all.” Which is very true, as we all know. Then he bent over and whispered in Brock’s ear. And what he said pleased Brock so much that he jumped straight up into the air and capered like one of Thor’s goats.
“What a clever brother you are, to be sure!” he cried.
At that moment Loki, who had ceased to be a gadfly, came in grinning, with his three gifts. “Well, are you ready?” he asked. Then he caught sight of the three gifts which Brock was putting into his sack.
“Ho! A pig, a ring, and a stub-handled hammer!” he shouted. “Is that all you have? Fine gifts, indeed! I was really growing uneasy, but now I see that my head is safe. Let us start for Asgard immediately, where I promise you that I with my three treasures shall be thrice more welcome than you with your stupid pig, your ugly ring, and your half-made hammer.”
So together they climbed to Asgard, and there they found the Æsir sitting in the great judgment hall on Ida Plain. There was Father Odin on his high throne, with his two ravens at his head and his two wolves at his feet. There was Queen Frigg by his side; and about them were Balder the beautiful, Frey and Freia, the fair brother and sister; the mighty Thor, with Sif, his crop-haired wife, and all the rest of the great Æsir who lived in the upper world above the homes of men.
“Brother Æsir,” said Loki, bowing politely, for he was a smooth rascal, “we have come each with three gifts, the dwarf and I; and you shall judge which be the most worthy of praise. But if I lose,—I, your brother,—I lose my head to this crooked little dwarf.” So he spoke, hoping to put the Æsir on his side from the first. For his head was a very handsome one, and the dwarf was indeed an ill-looking fellow. The gods, however, nodded gravely, and bade the two show what their gifts might be.
Then Loki stepped forward to the foot of Odin’s throne. And first he pulled from his great wallet the spear Gungnir, which could not miss aim. This he gave to Odin, the all-wise. And Odin was vastly pleased, as you may imagine, to find himself thenceforth an unequaled marksman. So he smiled upon Loki kindly and said: “Well done, brother.”
Next Loki took out the promised hair for Sif, which he handed Thor with a grimace. Now when the golden locks were set upon her head, they grew there like real hair, long and soft and curling—but still real gold. So that Sif was more beautiful than ever before, and more precious, too. You can fancy how pleased Thor was with Loki’s gift. He kissed lovely Sif before all the gods and goddesses, and vowed that he forgave Loki for the mischief which he had done in the first place, since he had so nobly made reparation.
Then Loki took out the third gift, all folded up like a paper boat; and it was the ship Skidbladnir,—I am sorry they did not give it a prettier name. This he presented to Frey the peaceful. And you can guess whether or not Frey’s blue eyes laughed with pleasure at such a gift.
Now when Loki stepped back, all the Æsir clapped their hands and vowed that he had done wondrous well.
“You will have to show us fine things, you dwarf,” quoth Father Odin, “to better the gifts of red Loki. Come, what have you in the sack you bear upon your shoulders?”
Then the crooked little Brock hobbled forward, bent almost double under the great load which he carried. “I have what I have,” he said.
First, out he pulled the ring Draupnir, round as roundness and shining of gold. This the dwarf gave to Odin, and though it seemed but little, yet it was much. For every ninth night out of this ring, he said, would drop eight other rings of gold, as large and as fair. Then Odin clapped his hands and cried: “Oh, wondrous gift! I like it even better than the magic spear which Loki gave.” And all the other Æsir agreed with him.
Then out of the sack came grunting Goldbristle, the hog, all of gold. Brock gave him to Frey, to match the magic ship of Loki. This Goldbristle was so marvelously forged that he could run more swiftly than any horse, on air or water. Moreover, he was a living lantern. For on the darkest night he bristled with light like a million-pointed star, so that one riding on his back would light the air and the sea like a firefly, wherever he went. This idea pleased Frey mightily, for he was the merriest of the gods, and he laughed aloud.
“‘Tis a wondrous fine gift,” he said. “I like old Goldbristle even better than the compressible boat. For on this lusty steed I can ride about the world when I am tending the crops and the cattle of men and scattering the rain upon them. Master dwarf, I give my vote to you.” And all the other Æsir agreed with him.
Then out of the sack Brock drew the third gift. It was the short-handled hammer named Miölnir. And this was the gift which Sindri had made for Thor, the mightiest of the gods; and it was the best gift of all. For with it Thor could burst the hardest metal and shatter the thickest mountain, and nothing could withstand its power. But it never could hurt Thor himself; and no matter how far or how hard it was thrown, it would always fly back into Thor’s own hand. Last of all, whenever he so wished, the great hammer would become so small that he could put it in his pocket, quite out of sight. But Brock was sorry that the handle was so short—all owing to his fault, because he had let the bellows rest for that one moment.
When Thor had this gift in his hand, he jumped up with a shout of joy. “‘Tis a wondrous fine gift,” he cried, “with short handle or with long. And I prize it even more than I prize the golden hair of Sif which Loki gave. For with it I shall fight our enemies, the Frost Giants and the mischievous Trolls and the other monsters—Loki’s friends. And all the Æsir will be glad of my gift when they see what deeds I shall do therewith. Now, if I may have my say, I judge that the three gifts made by Sindri the dwarf are the most precious that may be. So Brock has gained the prize of Loki’s red head,—a sorry recompense indeed for gifts so masterly.” Then Thor sat down. And all the other Æsir shouted that he had spoken well, and that they agreed with him.
So Loki was like to lose his head. He offered to pay instead a huge price, if Brock would let him go. But Brock refused. “The red head of Loki for my gift,” he insisted, and the gods nodded that it must be so, since he had earned his wish.
But when Loki saw that the count was all against him, his eyes grew crafty. “Well, take me, then—if you can!” he shouted. And off he shot like an arrow from a bow. For Loki had on magic shoes, with which he could run over sea or land or sky; and the dwarf could never catch him in the world. Then Brock was furious. He stood stamping and chattering, tearing his long beard with rage.
“I am cheated!” he cried. “I have won—but I have lost.” Then he turned to Thor, who was playing with his hammer, bursting a mountain or two and splitting a tree here and there. “Mighty Thor,” begged the dwarf, “catch me the fellow who has broken his word. I have given you the best gift,—your wonderful hammer. Catch me, then, the boasting red head which I have fairly bought.”
Then Thor stopped his game and set out in pursuit of Loki, for he was ever on the side of fairness. No one, however fleet, can escape when Thor follows, for his is the swiftness of a lightning flash. So he soon brought Loki back to Ida Plain, and gave him up a prisoner to the dwarf.
“I have you now, boaster,” said Brock fiercely, “and I will cut off your red head in the twinkling of an eye.” But just as he was about to do as he said, Loki had another sly idea.
“Hold, sirrah dwarf,” he said. “It is true that you have won my head, but not the neck, not an inch of the neck.” And all the gods agreed that this was so. Then Brock was puzzled indeed, for how could he cut off Loki’s head without an inch of the neck, too? But this he must not do, or he knew the just Æsir would punish him with death. So he was forced to be content with stopping Loki’s boasting in another way. He would sew up the bragging lips.
He brought a stout, strong thread and an awl to bore the holes. And in a twinkling he had stitched up the lips of the sly one, firm and fast. So for a time, at least, he put an end to Loki’s boasting and his taunts and his lies.
It is a pity that those mischief-making lips were not fastened up forever; for that would have saved much of the trouble and sorrow which came after. But at last, after a long time, Loki got his lips free, and they made great sorrow in Asgard for the gods and on earth for men, as you shall hear.
Now this is the end of the tale which tells of the dwarf’s gifts, and especially of Thor’s hammer, which was afterwards to be of such service to him and such bane to the enemies of the Æsir. And that also you shall hear before all is done.