THE NIGHT WAS ALMOST OVER; the sky was green and grey in the east, and snowflakes were ghosting around Asgard. Loki and only Loki saw Freyja leave Sessrumnir. Her cats slept undisturbed by the hearth; her chariot lay unused; in the half-light she set off on foot towards Bifrost. Then the Sly One’s mind was riddled with curiosity; he wrapped his cloak around him and followed her.
The goddess seemed not to walk so much as drift over the ground. She glided through sleeping Asgard, her hips swaying as she made her way over the rainbow that trembled and danced around her.
The snow veils of Midgard beneath were dazzling in the rising sun. Dreaming of gold, lusting after gold, Freyja crossed a barren plain (and Loki hurried behind her). She picked her way across a twisting river, silenced by ice; she passed the base of a great glacier, chopped and bluish and dangerous; and at the end of the short hours of daylight she came to a group of huge rounded boulders, jostling under the shoulder of an overhanging cliff.
Freyja found the string-thin path that led in and down. Her eyes streamed from the cold and her tears fell as a small shower of gold in front of her. The path became a passage between rock and rock and she followed it until it led into a large dank cavern. There the goddess stood motionless; she could hear water dripping into rock pools and the movement of a small stream coursing over rock; she listened again and then she heard the sound of distant tapping, and her own heart began to beat faster, to hammer with longing.
The goddess sidled through the dismal cave. The sound of the tapping, insistent yet fitful, grew stronger and stronger. Freyja stopped, listened again, moved on; at last she stopped, eased her way down a narrow groin, and stepped into the sweltering smithy of the four dwarfs, Alfrigg and Dvalin, Berling and Grerr.
For a moment Freyja was dazzled by the brilliance of the furnace. She rubbed her eyes, and then she gasped as she saw the breathtaking work of the dwarfs — a necklace, a choker of gold incised with wondrous patterns, a marvel of fluid metal twisting and weaving and writhing.
She had never seen anything so beautiful nor so desired anything before.
The four dwarfs, meanwhile, stared at the goddess — she shimmered in the warm light of the forge. Where her cloak had fallen apart, the gold brooches and jewels on her dress gleamed and winked. They had never seen anyone so beautiful nor so desired anyone before.
Freyja smiled at Alfrigg and Dvalin and Berling and Grerr. ‘I will buy that necklace from you,’ she said.
The four dwarfs looked at each other. Three shook their heads and the fourth said, ‘It’s not for sale.’
‘I want it,’ said Freyja.
The dwarfs grimaced.
‘I want it. I’ll pay you with silver and gold — a fair price and more than a fair price,’ said Freyja, her voice rising. She moved closer to the bench where the necklace was lying. ‘I’ll bring you other rewards.’ ‘We have enough silver,’ said one dwarf.
‘And we have enough gold,’ said another.
Freyja gazed at the necklace. She felt a great longing for it, a painful hunger.
Alfrigg and Dvalin and Berling and Grerr huddled in one corner of the forge. They whispered and murmured and nodded.
‘What is your price?’ asked the goddess.
‘It belongs to us all,’ said one dwarf.
‘So what each has must be had by the others,’ said the second, leering. ‘There’s only one price,’ said the third, ‘that will satisfy us.’ The fourth dwarf looked at Freyja. ‘You,’ he said.
The goddess flushed, and her breasts began to rise and fall.
‘Only if you will lie one night with each of us will this necklace ever lie round your throat,’ said the dwarfs.
Freyja’s distaste for the dwarfs — their ugly faces, their pale noses, their misshapen bodies and their small greedy eyes — was great, but her desire for the necklace was greater. Four nights were but four nights; the glorious necklace would adorn her for all time. The walls of the forge were red and flickering; the dwarfs’ eyes were motionless.
‘As you wish,’ murmured Freyja shamelessly. ‘As you wish. I am in your hands.’
Four days passed; four nights passed. Freyja kept her part of the bargain. Then the dwarfs, too, kept their word. They presented the necklace to Freyja and jostled her and fastened it round her throat. The goddess hurried out of the cavern and across the bright plains of Midgard, and her shadow followed her. She crossed over Bifrost and returned in the darkness to Sessrumnir. And under her cloak, she wore the necklace of the Brisings.
The Sly One made straight for Odin’s hall. He found the Terrible One, the Father of Battle, sitting alone in Valaskjalf. His ravens perched on his shoulders and his two wolves lay beside him.
‘Well?’ said Odin.
‘I can read your face …’
‘Ah!’ interrupted Loki, his eyes gleaming wickedly, ‘but did you see hers?’
‘Whose?’ said Odin.
‘Did it escape you? Didn’t you see it all from Hlidskjalf?’ ‘What?’ insisted Odin.
‘Where were you, Odin, when the goddess you love, the goddess you lust after, slept with four dwarfs?’
‘Enough!’ shouted Odin.
Loki ignored him altogether and Odin was possessed with such jealousy that he found it impossible not to listen. With unfeigned delight at shaming Freyja and angering Odin at the same time, Loki launched into his story. He left out nothing and he saw no need to add anything.
‘Get that necklace for me,’ said Odin coldly, when Loki had at last brought Freyja home to Asgard.
Loki smiled and shook his head.
‘You do nothing that is not vile,’ cried Odin. ‘You set us all at one another’s throats. Now I set you at her throat: get that necklace.’
The Sly One sniffed. ‘You know as well as I — indeed surely far better than I — that there’s no way into that hall against her wishes.’ ‘Get that necklace,’ shouted Odin. His face was contorted; his one eye was burning. ‘Until you get it, let me never see your face.
Then Loki looked at the Terrible One. Odin’s face was a mask now, grim and sinister. The Sly One’s arrogance turned to cold fear; he recognized the danger.
Then Odin’s wolves got up, and so did Loki. He ran out of the hall, howling.
Later that same night, the Sly One walked across the shining snow- field to the hall Sessrumnir. Boldly he made his way up to the door. It was locked.
He drew his cloak more closely round him; he shivered as the night wind picked up snow and grazed his face with it. He felt the cold working its way into his body and into his blood.
Loki remembered Sif — her locked bedchamber, her shorn shining hair, his own lips pierced with an awl. He scowled and inspected the door again. The Shape Changer shook his head; he muttered the words, and turned himself into a fly.
Sessrumnir was so well built that he was still unable to find a way into the hall — a chink between wood and plaster, or plaster and turf. He buzzed around the keyhole, but that was no good; he examined the top and bottom of the door, and they were no good; he flew up to the eaves and they were no good; then he flitted to one gable end and there, at the top, right under the roof, he found an opening little larger than a needle’s eye. Loki, the Shape Changer, squirmed and wriggled his way through. He was at large and inside Sessrumnir. After making sure that Freyja’s daughters and serving maids were asleep, he flew to Freyja’s bedside but the sleeping goddess was wearing the necklace and its clasp lay under her neck; it was out of sight and out of reach.
So Loki changed shape again, this time becoming a flea. Then he amused himself crawling over Freyja’s breast, across the necklace, and up on to one cheek. There he sat down; he gathered his strength and stung her pale skin.
Freyja started. She moaned and turned on to her side and settled again. But now the clasp of the necklace was exposed just as the Shape Changer had intended.
As soon as he was certain that Freyja was sleeping soundly once more, Loki resumed his own form. He looked swiftly around and then with light fingers released the clasp and gently drew the necklace from Freyja’s throat. No thief in the nine worlds was as nimble and skilful as he. With no movement that was not necessary and without making a sound, he stole to the hall doors, slid back the bolts, turned the lock, and disappeared into the night.
Freyja did not wake until morning. And as soon as she opened her eyes she put her fingers to her throat … she felt the back of her neck …
The goddess looked around her; she leaped up and her face colored in anger. When she saw the doors of Sessrumnir were open and had not been forced, she knew that only Loki could have entered the hall, and knew that not even he would have risked such an undertaking and such a theft unless Odin himself had sanctioned it. What she did not know and could not fathom was how her secret — her greed and her guilt and her gain — had been discovered.
Freyja hurried to Valaskjalf and confronted Odin. ‘Where is that necklace?’ she demanded. ‘You’ve debased yourself if you’ve had any part in this.’
Odin scowled at Freyja. ‘Who are you,’ he said, ‘to speak of debasement? You’ve brought shame on yourself and shame on the gods. Out of nothing but sheer greed you sold your body to four foul dwarfs.’
‘Where is my necklace?’ repeated Freyja. She stormed at Odin; she took his rigid arm and pressed herself against him; she wept showers of gold.
‘You’ll never see it again,’ said the Terrible One, Father of Battle, ‘unless you agree to one condition. There is only one thing that will satisfy me.’
Freyja looked at Odin quickly. And whatever it was that passed through her mind, she bit her tongue.
‘You must stir up hatred. You must stir up war. Find two kings in Midgard and set them at each other’s throats; ensure that they meet only on the battlefield, each of them supported by twenty vassal kings.’ The Father of Battle looked grimly at the goddess. ‘And you must use such charms as give new life to corpses. As soon as each warrior is chopped down, bathed in blood, he must stand up unharmed and fight
Freyja stared at Odin.
‘Those are my conditions. Whether they wish it or not, let men rip one another to pieces.’
Freyja inclined her head. ‘Then give me my necklace,’ she said.