SOMEHOW THE SHAPE-CHANGER got into Sif’s locked bedroom. Smiling to himself, he pulled out a curved knife and moved to her bedside. Thor’s wife was breathing deeply, evenly, dead to worldly sorrows. Then Loki raised his knife. With quick deft strokes he lopped off Sif’s head of shining hair — her hair which as she moved rippled and gleamed and changed from gold to gold like swaying corn. Sif murmured but she did not wake; the hair left on her cropped head stuck up like stubble.
Loki scooped up the skeins. He dropped Sif’s sheen hair to the floor, a soft glowing mass. The Trickster looked at it and grinned; then he left Sif’s bedroom.
‘A joke,’ protested Loki, dangling a foot off the ground.
‘What kind of a joke?’ shouted Thor, not loosening his grip for one moment.
‘Only a joke,’ whined the Sky Traveller.
All morning Sif had sobbed and sobbed. She knew and Thor knew that only Loki would have shorn her hair. ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’ demanded Thor.
‘I’ll replace it,’ yelped Loki. ‘I’ll get help from the dwarfs. I promise to replace it.’
‘Or else,’ said Thor, and he dumped Loki on the ground.
Loki raised both hands and cautiously explored the top of his head.
‘Or else,’ Thor said, ‘I’ll smash every bone in your body.’
Loki straightened his clothes and smoothed his hair and then suddenly he winked at Thor. He hurried out of Asgard, over Bifrost, and down into the land of the dark elves. He picked his way through a chain of chilly potholes, and he skirted dark and shining pools, until he reached a great cave, the home of the sons of Ivaldi.
The sly god explained to the two dwarfs the reasons for his journey, without finding he need describe just how Sif had lost her hair. ‘Only you dwarfs are skilled enough smiths,’ he said, ‘and only the sons of Ivaldi could spin gold as fine as Sif’s hair and imbue it with such magic that it will grow on her head.’
‘What will we get out of this?’ was all that the sons of I valdi wanted to know.
‘The thanks of Sif and Thor and the friendship of the gods,’ said Loki. ‘That counts for a great deal. And, above that, I give you my oath that I’ll repay you in full measure when you have need of me.’
The dwarfs could see that although Loki offered nothing but promises, they were likely to get the better of the bargain, since the most they could lose was a little effort and a few ounces of gold. They piled wood on to the furnace in the corner of their cave, and while one dwarf worked the bellows, the other began to hammer and spin the gold. Loki watched and marvelled, and his eyes flickered red and green in the firelight.
The sons of Ivaldi made a long wave of fine golden strands and, as they worked, they murmured spells over them. The hair hung over Loki’s outstretched arm like a single shining sheet and yet a breath of air was enough to ruffle it.
‘To waste this blaze is to no one’s advantage,’ said one of the dwarfs.
‘We can please the gods at no further expense,’ said the other.
So the sons of Ivaldi set to work again and, before the furnace had begun to lose any of its heat, they fashioned a marvellous ship for Freyr called Skidbladnir and forged for Odin a spear called Gungnir, as strong as it was slender. Then the two dwarfs gave Loki the ship and the spear and explained their magic power. As usual Loki was at no loss for words — his mouth was full of air, thanks and compliments and promises to hurry back with news of what the gods thought of such gifts.
On his way back through the dismal underground caverns, Loki had an idea. He did not head straight for the welcoming light of Midgard, but turned down a long aisle studded with rock pillars and, carrying his three treasures, walked into the hall of Brokk and Eitri.
The dwarf brothers stood up to greet Loki. But when they saw the skein of hair and the ship and the spear, they ignored him entirely. Their hearts quickened and their fingertips tingled. Loki let them take the treasures out of his hands and turn them over and over, watching their scorn and envy grow.
‘Have you ever seen such work?’ exclaimed Loki. ‘Such perfect craftsmanship?’
‘Yes,’ said Brokk.
‘Whose?’ asked Loki.
‘My own,’ said Eitri bluntly.
‘Well then,’ said Loki slowly, as if the thought were just forming in his mind, ‘you think you could make treasures as fine as these?’ ‘Not as fine .. Brokk said.
‘Finer,’ said Eitri.
‘No,’ said Loki craftily. ‘Surely not. I’ll stake my head on it. Brokk, I’ll stake my head that your brother can’t forge treasures the like of these.’
Brokk and Eitri were very eager to take up this challenge. It occurred io them that if they were as good as their boast, not only would they be rid of the schemer Loki but the treasures made by the sons of Ivaldi would be theirs for the taking.
Leaving Loki with a horn full of mead and with orders only to wait, Eitri and Brokk stumped across their hall and through an arch into the rocky alcove that was their smithy. At once Brokk began to pile wood on to the furnace while Eitri hammered and rolled a length of gold wire and cut it into hundreds of short pieces. Then Eitri laid a pigskin on the roaring fire and said to Brokk, ‘Pump the bellows now. Whatever happens, keep pumping until I pull this treasure out of the forge.’
A little while after Eitri had walked out of the smithy, a fly alighted on Brokk’s leathery hand. It stung him. Brokk glanced down but did not pause; he kept pumping the bellows, and when Eitri returned he pulled Gullinbursti out of the forge, a boar with bristles of gold.
Now Eitri picked a great block of unflawed gold. He heated the metal until it was glowing and malleable. Then he hammered it into shape and put it back into the furnace. ‘Pump the bellows now,’ said Eitri. ‘Whatever happens, keep pumping until I pull this treasure out of the forge.’
A little while after Eitri had left the smithy, the same fly returned and settled on Brokk’s neck. It stung him twice as sharply as before. Brokk winced and flinched but he did not pause; he kept pumping the bellows, and when Eitri returned he took Draupnir out of the forge, an arm-ring of solid gold.
Now Eitri humped a great hunk of iron across the smithy and into the furnace. He heated it and hammered it. He struck at it and shaped it, he reshaped it, he tapped and tapped at it. His body ached, he streamed with sweat and, when he was ready, his head and heart were both banging with his own efforts. ‘Pump the bellows now,’ said Eitri. ‘It will all be wrecked if you stop pumping.’
Very soon after Eitri had walked wearily out of the smithy, and looked around for their visitor, the fly buzzed through the arch into the alcove. This time it settled between Brokk’s eyes, and at once it stung him on both eyelids. The dwarf was blinded with blood. He could not see what he was doing. For a moment he took a hand off the bellows, so that they caught their breath, to brush the fly off his forehead and the blood out of his eyes. Then the Shape Changer, Loki, for the fly was none other, returned to his waiting place and his horn of mead.
At this moment Eitri hurried back into the smithy. ‘What has happened?’ he shouted. He peered into the furnace. ‘So nearly,’ he said. He peered into the flames again and his glittering grey eyes did not even reflect them. `So very nearly spoiled.’ Then Eitri pulled from the forge an iron hammer, massive and finely forged, but rather short in the handle. He called it Mjollnir. Eitri and Brokk stared at it, they stared at each other, they slowly nodded.
‘Take this hammer and this ring and this boar,’ said Eitri. ‘Tell the gods the mysteries of these treasures. Go with Loki to Asgard and claim that schemer’s head.’
Brokk and Eitri walked out of the alcove and found the Sly One, the Shape Changer, waiting for them, smiling. He cast an eye over their three treasures. ‘Ready?’ he said.
Loki and Brokk made their way slowly across the shining fields of Asgard, laden with their treasures. Word of their coming ran ahead of them, and they were met in Gladsheim by all the gods, sitting in their high places. Loki at once told of his visit to the world of the dwarfs, and boasted that he had been able to exploit the dwarfs’ envy and greed to secure six gifts for the gods.
‘Talk while you can,’ said Brokk. ‘Soon you’ll have no tongue.’
It was agreed that Odin and Thor and Freyr should decide whether Eitri or the sons of Ivaldi were the finer smiths, and Loki began to display his treasures.
‘This spear,’ he said, ‘is for you, Odin. It is Gungnir. It differs from other spears in this way: it never misses its mark.’ The Father of Battle took the spear and raised it and looked around the hall. Nobody could withstand his terrible gaze. ‘You may want to use it,’ Loki said, ‘to stir up warfare in the world of men.’
Then Loki turned to Freyr. ‘This vessel is for you, Freyr. It is Skidbladnir. As you can see, it’s large enough to hold all of the gods, lolly armed. As soon as you hoist its sail, a breeze will spring up and fill it, and urge the boat forward. But when you have no need of it, you can take it apart.’ Loki swiftly dismasted and dismantled the boat until the pieces were together no larger than a piece of cloth. ‘You can fold it up like this,’ said Loki, ‘and put it in your purse!’
‘My third gift,’ said the schemer, ‘I owe to you, Sif.’ He showed the skein of flowing golden hair to the goddess. ‘As soon as you lift this to your head, it will take root and grow. You’ll be no less beautiful than you were before.’
Thor’s wife took the hair from Loki. She fingered it, she turned it over and over, then she slowly raised it to her head. There was a shout of joy in Gladsheim ; it was just as Loki said.
Now Brokk produced his gifts. ‘This gold arm-ring is for you, Odin,’ he said. ‘It is Draupnir. There is a little more to it than it seems. Eight rings of its own weight will drop from it on every ninth night.’
Then Brokk turned to Freyr. ‘This boar is for you. He is Gullinbursti. He can charge over earth, air and sea alike, and no horse can keep up with him. And no matter where he goes, running through the night or plunging into the gloom under all the worlds, he’ll always be surrounded by brilliant light. He carries it himself because his bristles shine in the dark.’
‘My third treasure,’ said Brokk, ‘is for you, Thor. This is the hammer Mjollnir. You can use it against anything, and use it with all your strength. Nothing can ever break it.’ The Storm God eagerly grasped the hammer and listened. ‘Even if you hurl it, you’ll never lose it. No matter how far you fling it, it will always return to your hand. And should you need to hide it, you can make it small enough to tuck inside your shirt.’ All the gods stared at Mjollnir, astounded, and knew what powerful magic must have gone into its making. ‘It has only one small flaw,’ added Brokk, ‘not that it matters. Its handle is rather short.’
Odin and Thor and Freyr wasted no time in giving their answer. All three were of one mind, that wondrous though all the treasures were, the hammer Mjollnir was the most valuable because it alone could guard the gods against the giants.
‘You, Brokk,’ said Odin, ‘have won the wager.’
‘Loki’s head,’ shrieked Brokk.
‘Wait!’ cried Loki. ‘What would you do with my head? I’ll give you its weight in gold instead.’
‘There’s no future in that,’ said Brokk. ‘And no future for you.’
The gods in Gladsheim laughed to see the Trickster cornered.
‘Well,’ said Loki slowly, ‘well . catch me then!’ He darted through the doors of the hall and made off as fast as he could. By the time Brokk had made a move to stop him, the Sky Traveller was already well on his way, wearing his shoes with which he could fly over land and water. The gods in Gladsheim laughed all the louder.
‘If you had any honour, you’d help me,’ shrieked the dwarf. ‘Thor, help me!’
Thor was in no mood to see Brokk humiliated. He leaped up from his high seat and stormed out of Gladsheim. The gods and Brokk waited, and after a while Thor returned, dragging Loki after him.
‘Not so fast!’ said Loki, raising a hand, as Brokk started towards him. ‘It’s true you have a claim on my head. But of course you can’t have any part of my neck.’
The gods grinned and nodded, and Brokk saw that Loki had got the better of him.
‘In that case,’ said Brokk, ‘since your head is mine, at least I’ll stop your sweet talk. I’ll sew your lips together.’
Loki shrugged his shoulders. ‘Nothing but fine words!’ he said.
Brokk unwound a thong from round his waist and tried to skewer Loki’s lips with his knife. That was no good. Sharp as the point was, the dwarf could not even draw a drop of blood.
‘I could certainly do with my brother’s awl,’ said Brokk. No sooner had he spoken than Eitri’s awl lay at his feet. Brokk picked it up, and it proved sharp enough to pierce Loki’s lips. The dwarf drew the leather thong through the holes and sewed up the Trickster’s mouth.
Loki ran out of Gladsheim. He ripped the thong out through the holes, and yelped at the pain of it. Then for some while the Schemer stood listening to the hum inside the hall — the hive of happiness. He began to dream of revenge, and slowly his lips curled into a twisted smile.