On one occasion some while after Balder’s death, when they could think about him quietly and talk about him calmly for all their foreboding, many of the gods went over to the island of Hlesey for a feast.
Aegir received them in his gleaming hall under the waves. And since Thor and Tyr had secured Hymir’s mighty cauldron for him, he had no choice but to keep his promise, brew a welter of ale and entertain his guests.
Thor himself was away on another foray into Jotunheim, but Odin and Frigg led the way; Thor’s wife, Sif, and Bragi and his wife Idun, accompanied them. So did Tyr who had left one hand in the mouth of the wolf Fenrir and to him the gods renewed their thanks for the part he had played in wresting the cauldron five miles deep from his father Hymir. Njord and his wife Skadi made the journey; so did Freyr and Freyja with Freyr’s two servants Byggvir and Beyla. Odin’s son Vidar, went with them. And Loki was there.
This was not all. Many other gods and a throng of elves gathered in the hall that was lit with great nuggets of shining gold. The guests sat down at the benches and Aegir’s two serving-men, Fimafeng the Swift Handler and Eldir the Man of Fire, moved amongst them. The cups filled themselves with ale, and the hall was filled with the peaceful hum of good talk.
When Loki heard one god after another praise the diligence of Aegir’s two servants, he began to bridle. The pleasure and good will in that place became too much for him; he seethed like boiling water. Then suddenly Loki leaped up; he lunged at Fimafeng with his knife and killed him.
There was uproar along the benches. The gods stood up, shook their shields and howled at Loki. They drove him out of the hall and he escaped into the darkness of the forest on the island of Hlesey. Aegir and his wife Ran, the gods and the elves resumed their places. They began to drink once more.
It was not long before Loki returned from the darkness to the feasting hall. He ambushed Aegir’s second servant outside the door. “Don’t move, Eldir,” he said. “Not one step further until you’ve told me this. What’s all that hubbub? When they’re not slopping their ale and slurping, what are the great gods talking about?”
“The great gods are comparing their weapons,” said Eldir, “and their prowess in battle. You won’t find a single god in there, not even an elf, with a good word to say for you.”
Loki’s mouth twisted into a hideous smile. “Never mind,” he said. “I’m going back in. I don’t mean to miss this feast. I’ll fill their hearts with hatred and grief, and mix venom with their ale.”
“They’ll rub your face in your own filth,” said Eldir.
“Have a care, Eldir, before you start to trade insults with me. What-ever you dredge up, I’ll repay you twice over.” Loki scornfully elbowed Eldir out of the way and stepped into the hall. When the feasters saw who had come in, they all stopped drinking and stopped talking.
Loki faced the barrier of silence. He sidled to the middle of the great hall, “Here’s the Sky Traveller and he’s rather thirsty,” he announced drily. “It’s a long journey to Aegir’s hall. Would one of the gods care to bring me a cup of shining ale?” Loki stood motionless; his head swivelled as he surveyed the gathering ranged all around him, “Why are you all so silent, you dismal gang of gods? Haven’t you one word between you? Either make room and give me a place at this feast, or else tell me I’m unwelcome.”
Bragi was never at a loss for words. He called out, “The gods will no longer make room and give you a place amongst them. You’re not the kind of company they want at a feast.”
Loki ignored Bragi altogether and addressed himself to the High One. “Remember, Odin, how — long ago — we mixed our blood in brotherhood. You swore then that you would only drink if a drink were brought to us both.”
“Move up, then, Vidar,” said Odin, turning to his son. “Make room for the wolf’s father at this feast. We don’t want any more of Loki’s trouble-making here in Aegir’s hall.”
Vidar got up, poured out a cup of ale and handed it to Loki. Then Loki looked around him and anyone who was close enough to him could see Ins spiteful expression. “Greetings, gods! Goddesses, greetings!” called Loki. “I greet all this holy gathering — all but one: Bragi slumped on the bench over there.”
Bragi shook his head. “If only you’ll keep your rancour to yourself and spare yourself the fury of the gods, I’ll give you a horse out of my own hoard; I’ll give you a sword and, what’s more, I’ll give you a ring.”
“Bragi the bragger!” said Loki. “You’ve never had a horse or a ring to your name, and you never will have. Of all the gods and elves in this hall, you’re the greatest coward. When arrows are loosed, you barely dare peep from behind your shield.”
“If I were outside,” said Bragi evenly, “and not sitting here in Aegir’s hall, I’d twist your head off your miserable body. That would be a fair price for your lies.”
“If only your actions matched up to your big mouth,” Loki retorted. “Look at Bragi sitting on the bench, as sweet and soft as any bride! If you feel so angry, why don’t you get up and fight? Heroes don’t waste words mapping things out.”
Then Idun turned to face her husband. “Bragi, I beg you, think of us and our children and all the gods. Leave Loki alone. Don’t exchange any more insults here in Aegir’s hall.”
“Enough, Idun!” shouted Loki. “I know no woman as wanton as you. What an appetite! You even wound your white arms about your brother’s murderer.”
Despite Loki’s withering abuse, Idun did not lose her composure. “I will not exchange insults with Loki here in Aegir’s hall. All this ale has made Bragi talkative, and I’ve told him to keep his temper.” Then the goddess Gefion added, “Why do these two gods bandy gibes and sneers? Everyone knows how Loki revels in foul mockery and hates the gods in Asgard.”
“Enough, Gefion,” shouted Loki. “I know a thing or two about you. I even know who seduced you &mdash that boy offered you a sparkling necklace and you, you straddled him.”
“Loki, you’re mad to incense Gefion,” Odin called out. “You’ve lost your senses. She can see all that is to come as clearly as I can.”
“Enough, Odin!” shouted Lola. “You never could be even-handed: you’ve often let the weaker man snatch victory in battle.”
“I may have let the weaker man snatch victory in battle,” Odin replied. “You lived under the earth for eight winters in the shape of a woman, a milkmaid. Yes, and you’ve borne babies and been milked by them — a woman through and through.”
“They say that on Samsey you once worked charms and spells like a witch,” replied Loki. “they say you moved amongst men in the shape of a witch — a woman through and through.”
Now Odin’s wife, Frigg, tried to restore peace. “You would both do better to keep these things to yourselves,” she said. “there’s nothing to be gained from raking up what’s best forgotten.”
“Enough, Frigg!” shouted Loki. “You’re Fjorgyn’s daughter and you were born a whore. You may be Odin’s wife but you’ve shared your bed with his brothers, Vili and Ve, into the bargain.”
“If I had a son,” said Frigg, “a son such as Balder sitting beside me in Aegir’s hall, you’d not get away without a fight.”
“Ah! Frigg,” said Loki scathingly, “I can see you’d like to know more about my skills. It was I who fixed things so that you’ll never again welcome Balder home.”
Freyja rounded on Loki, her eyes blazing. “Loki, you’re mad to boast about your terrible crime. There’s nothing Frigg does not know, even though she may remain silent.”
“Enough, Freyja!” shouted Loki. “I know you through and through and you’re not wholly spotless. You’ve slept with every single god and elf gathered in this hall.”
“Your mouth is full of lies,” said Freyja, “and you’re spelling out your own doom. You’ll leave here wishing you’d never bothered to come.”
“Enough, Freyja!” shouted Loki. “You’re a foul witch with a string of evil works to your name. The bright gods caught you in bed with your own brother, and then, Freyja, you farted.”
Njord raised his voice in defense of the goddesses and against Loki.
“A woman lies with her husband or lover or both. Does it really matter much in the end? It’s far worse to clap eyes on this womanish god who has borne babies.”
“Enough, Njord!” shouted Loki. “You were sent from the east and given to the gods as a hostage. Hymir’s daughters squatted over you and pissed straight into your mouth.”
“The journey was long,” said Njord, “but it was a great honor to be given to the gods as a hostage. And I fathered a son who is well loved and highest of those on high.”
“That’s too much, Njord,” said Loki. “I’ll cap your absurd boast and share your secret. You spawned your fair son on your own sister — so at least you knew what to expect!”
Then Tyr spoke up in support of Njord’s son. “Freyr,” he called out, “is the noblest of all the brave gods. He doesn’t trifle with virgins or seduce other men’s wives, and he frees bound men from their fetters.”
“Enough, Tyr!” shouted Loki. “You’ve never been much of a hand at bringing two parties to an understanding.” He smiled wickedly. “Need I remind you how you lost your right one when Fenrir snapped it off?”
“I lost a hand, but you lost Hrodvitnir, the Mighty Wolf; we were both hapless. And now, in his fetters, Fenrir must chafe and wait until the worlds’ end.”
“Enough. Tyr!” shouted Loki again. “Your good wife was lucky enough to be the mother of my son. And were you paid one penny, you poor fool, by way of recompense?”
“The wolf,” cried Freyr, “will lie in chains at the mouth of the river until the gods meet their doom. And unless you bite on your tongue, you lie-smith, you’ll soon be chained up too.”
“You’re the one who brought Gymir’s daughter with gold,” retorted You Loki, “and sold your sword into the bargain. You poor fool, when the sons of Muspell ride through Mirkwood, you’ll have to await them empty-handed.”
Freyr’s servant Byggviir was enraged at the way in which Loki had insulted his master. “If I were as nobly born as Freyr,” He said, “and sat in so high a seat, I’d grab this ghastly crow, and beat his bones into pulp.”
“Who’s that little creature,” asked Loki, “groveling and yapping and snapping? You’re always whispering in Freyr’s ear or quibbling by the quern.”
“I am Barley Byggvir,” said Freyr’s servant, “and I’m quick to get my way, as gods and men allow. To see Allfather’s sons all gathered to drink ale fills me with delight.”
“Enough, Byggvirl” shouted Loki. “You’ve never been able to give men their due portion of meat. And when heroes made ready to fight, no one could find you. You were hiding under the straw strewn on the floor.”
“You’re drunk, Loki,” called Heimdall. “Your jabs and gibes are insane. Loki, why not leave off now? No one in his cups cares about curbing his tongue.”
“Enough, Heirndall!” shouted Loki. “It was settled long ago that your life should be menial. You can never sleep or even sit down; day and night you stand awake, the watchman of the gods.”
“You’re as quick as they come, Loki,” said Skadi, “but you won’t be at large, twirling your tail, much longer. The gods will bind you to a boulder with gut ripped out of your ice-cold son.”
“Even if the gods bind me to a boulder with gut ripped out of my ice-cold son, I led the way when we killed and captured your father, the giant Thiazi,” jeered Loki,
“If you led the way when the gods captured and killed Thiazi,” Skadi said, “my hall and my temples will always echo with curses on your name.”
Loki’s mouth twisted and his eyes shone orange and green. “You spoke so much more sweetly to Laufey’s son when you invited him into your bed. That’s well worth a mention, since we’re both giving our weaknesses an airing.”
Thor’s wife, Sif, stood up. She left her place at the bench and stepped towards Loki. Gently she took the cup out of his clenched right fist and filled it again with ale. “Greetings, Loki!” she said in her sweet, clear voice. “Take this crystal cup brimming with fine ale. At least allow you find me, alone amongst us all, wholly guiltless.”
Loki took the cup, raised and drained it in one movement. “You”d certainly stand alone if you were as chaste with all men as you are with most. But I think I know one who inveigled you out of your husband’s ms, and set you on fire: his name was crafty Loki.”
Freyr’s second servant, Beyla, raised her voice in Aegir’s hall. “the mountains are quaking. That can mean only one thing: Thor is on his way here from Bilskirnir. He’ll silence the one in this hall who slanders and sneers at gods and men alike.”
“Enough, Beyla” shouted Loki. “You are Byggvir’s wife and you’re poisonous through and through. It’s a scandal that you mix with the gods at all — caked with your own excrement.”
Loki was so carried away by his flight of words that he did not see that Thor had walked into Aegir’s hall. The God of Thunder waited until Loki had had his say and then stepped forward and crashed his fist on to a trestle table so that the crystal cups leaped into the air. “Hold your tongue, you scum,” he roared, “or my hammer Mjollnir will shut your mouth! I’ll swipe your shoulder-stone off your neck and that will be the end of you.”
“Look everyone!” cried Loki, unabashed. “Here’s the Son of Earth! What a blustering bully you are, Thor. But you’ll be less fierce when you grapple with Fenrir and see him gulp down Odin, the Father of Victory.”
“Hold your tongue, you scum,” roared Thor, “or my hammer Mjollnir ill shut your mouth! I’ll pick you up and hurl you into the east and no one will have to set eyes on you again.”
“If I were you, Thor,” said Lola, “I wouldn’t say too much about your own journey east. You cowered in the thumb of a glove, you noble god! “You quite forgot your name was Thor.”
“Hold your tongue, you scum,” roared Thor, “or my hammer Mjollnir will shut your mouth! I’ll raise my right hand and what smashed Hrungnir will smash your bones too.”
“For all your threats with your hammer,” said Loki, “I fancy I have a long life before me. Do you remember the Giant Skrymir’s bag and how unyielding those straps were? You were unable to get at the provisions and felt quite faint with hunger.”
“Hold your tongue, you scum,” roared Thor, “Or my hammer Mjollnir will shut your mouth! What smashed Hrungnir will dispatch you to HeI, right down to the doors of the dead.” The god of thunder gripped Mjollnir menacingly.
Loki raised one hand and shook his head. “I’ve shown the gods sod sons of gods the sharp edge of my thoughts. But because of you and you alone, I think I’ll take my leave now. I know all about your strength.”
Loki paused and looked defiantly around him and then addressed self to his host. “You’ve brewed fine ale, Aegir, but you’ll never hold another feast such as this.” Loki’s voice was rising. “Flickering flames will gorge on this hall and gut it and destroy everything you own; your body will be flayed by fire.”
Loki turned and was gone and his terrible words still echoed round walls. For a long time the gods and goddesses and elves stared into their ale, shaken and grieving. In silence they sat, and in silence they rose and left Aegir’s hall.