THE MAGIC APPLES
T is not very amusing to be a king. Father Odin often
grew tired of sitting all day long upon his golden
throne in Valhalla above the heavens. He wearied of
welcoming the new heroes whom the Valkyries brought
him from wars upon the earth, and of watching the old
heroes fight their daily deathless battles. He wearied
of his wise ravens, and the constant gossip which they
brought him from the four corners of the world; and he
longed to escape from every one who knew him to some
place where he could pass for a mere stranger, instead
of the great king of the Æsir, the mightiest
being in the whole universe, of whom every one was
Sometimes he longed so much that he could not bear it.
Then—he would run away. He disguised himself as a
tall old man, with white hair and a long, gray beard.
Around his shoulders he threw a huge blue cloak, that
covered him from top to toe, and over his face he
pulled a big slouch hat, to hide his eyes. For his
eyes Odin could not
 change—no magician has ever
learned how to do that. One was empty; he had given
the eye to the giant Mimer in exchange for wisdom.
Usually Odin loved to go upon these wanderings alone;
for an adventure is a double adventure when one meets
it single-handed. It was a fine game for Odin to see
how near he could come to danger without feeling the
grip of its teeth. But sometimes, when he wanted
company, he would whisper to his two brothers,
Hnir and red Loki. They three would creep out of
the palace by the back way; and, with a finger on the
lip to Heimdal, the watchman, would silently steal
over the rainbow bridge which led from Asgard into the
places of men and dwarfs and giants.
Wonderful adventures they had, these three, with Loki
to help make things happen. Loki was a sly,
mischievous fellow, full of his pranks and his capers,
not always kindly ones. But he was clever, as well as
malicious; and when he had pushed folk into trouble,
he could often help them out again, as safe as ever.
He could be the
jol-  liest of companions when he chose,
and Odin liked his merriment and his witty talk.
One day Loki did something which was no mere jest nor
easily forgiven, for it brought all Asgard into
danger. And after that Father Odin and his children
thought twice before inviting Loki to join them in any
journey or undertaking. This which I am about to tell
was the first really wicked deed of which Loki was
found guilty, though I am sure his red beard had
dabbled in secret wrongs before.
One night the three high gods, Odin, Hnir, and
Loki, stole away from Asgard in search of adventure.
Over mountains and deserts, great rivers and stony
places, they wandered until they grew very hungry. But
there was no food to be found—not even a berry or a
Oh, how footsore and tired they were! And oh, how
faint! The worst of it ever is that—as you must
often have noticed—the heavier one's feet grow, the
lighter and more hollow becomes one's stomach; which
seems a strange thing, when you think of it. If only
one's feet became as light as the rest
 of one feels,
folk could fairly fly with hunger. Alas! this is not
The three Æsir drooped and drooped, and seemed
on the point of starving, when they came to the edge
of a valley. Here, looking down, they saw a herd of
oxen feeding on the grass.
"Hola!" shouted Loki. "Behold our supper!" Going down
into the valley, they caught and killed one of the
oxen, and, building a great bonfire, hung up the meat
to roast. Then the three sat around the fire and
smacked their lips, waiting for the meat to cook. They
waited for a long time.
"Surely, it is done now," said Loki, at last; and he
took the meat from the fire. Strange to say, however,
it was raw as ere the fire was lighted. What could it
mean? Never before had meat required so long a time to
roast. They made the fire brighter and re-hung the
beef for a thorough basting, cooking it even longer
than they had done at first. When again they came to
carve the meat, they found it still uneatable. Then,
indeed, they looked at one another in surprise.
"What can this mean?" cried Loki, with round eyes.
 "There is some trick! " whispered Hnir, looking
around as if he expected to see a fairy or a witch
meddling with the food.
"We must find out what this mystery betokens," said
Odin thoughtfully. Just then there was a strange sound
in the oak-tree under which they had built their fire.
"What is that?" Loki shouted, springing to his feet.
They looked up into the tree, and far above in the
branches, near the top, they spied an enormous eagle,
who was staring down at them, and making a queer
sound, as if he were laughing.
"Ho-ho!" croaked the eagle. "I know why your meat will
not cook. It is all my doing, masters."
The three Æsir stared in surprise. Then Odin
said sternly: "Who are you, Master Eagle? And what do
you mean by those rude words?"
"Give me my share of the ox, and you shall see,"
rasped the eagle, in his harsh voice.
"Give me my share, and you will find that your meat
will cook as fast as you please."
Now the three on the ground were nearly famished. So,
although it seemed very strange
 to be arguing with an
eagle, they cried, as if in one voice: "Come down,
then, and take your share." They thought that, being a
mere bird, he would want but a small piece.
The eagle flapped down from the top of the tree. Dear
me! What a mighty bird he was! Eight feet across the
wings was the smallest measure, and his claws were as
long and strong as ice-hooks. He fanned the air like a
whirlwind as he flew down to perch beside the bonfire.
Then in his beak and claws he seized a leg and both
shoulders of the ox, and started to fly away.
"Hold, thief!" roared Loki angrily, when he saw how
much the eagle was taking. "That is not your share;
you are no lion, but you are taking the lion's share
of our feast. Begone, Scarecrow, and leave the meat as
you found it!" Thereat, seizing a pole, he struck at
the eagle with all his might.
Then a strange thing happened. As the great bird
flapped upward with his prey, giving a scream of
malicious laughter, the pole which Loki still held
stuck fast to the eagle's back, and Loki was unable to
let go of the other end.
 "Help, help!" he shouted to Odin and to Hnir, as
he felt himself lifted off his feet. But they could
not help him. "Help, help!" he screamed, as the eagle
flew with him, now high, now low, through brush and
bog and briar, over treetops and the peaks of
mountains. On and on they went, until Loki thought his
arm would be pulled out, like a weed torn up by the
roots. The eagle would not listen to his cries nor
pause in his flight, until Loki was almost dead with
pain and fatigue.
"Hark you, Loki," screamed the eagle, going a little
more slowly; "no one can help you except me. You are
bewitched, and you cannot pull away from this pole,
nor loose the pole from me, until I choose. But if you
will promise what I ask, you shall go free."
Then Loki groaned: "O eagle, only let me go, and tell
me who you really are, and I will promise whatever you
The eagle answered: "I am the giant Thiasse, the enemy
of the Æsir. But you ought to love me, Loki, for
you yourself married a giantess."
Loki moaned: "Oh, yes! I dearly love
 all my wife's
family, great Thiasse. Tell me what you want of me?"
"I want this," quoth Thiasse gruffly. "I am growing
old, and I want the apples which Idun keeps in her
golden casket, to make me young again. You must get
them for me."
Now these apples were the fruit of a magic tree, and
were more beautiful to look at and more delicious to
taste than any fruit that ever grew. The best thing
about them was that whoever tasted one, be he ever so
old, grew young and strong again. The apples belonged
to a beautiful lady named Idun, who kept them in a
golden casket. Every morning the Æsir came to
her to be refreshed and made over by a bite of her
precious fruit. That is why in Asgard no one ever
waxed old or ugly. Even Father Odin, Hnir, and
Loki, the three travelers who had seen the very
beginning of everything, when the world was made, were
still sturdy and young. And so long as Idun kept her
apples safe, the faces of the family who sat about the
table of Valhalla would be rosy and fair like the
faces of children.
"O friend giant!" cried Loki. "You know
 not what you
ask! The apples are the most precious treasure of
Asgard, and Idun keeps watch over them as if they were
dearer to her than life itself. I never could steal
them from her, Thiasse; for at her call all Asgard
would rush to the rescue, and trouble would buzz about
my ears like a hive of bees let loose."
"Then you must steal Idun herself, apples and all. For
the apples I must have, and you have promised, Loki,
to do my bidding."
Loki sniffed and thought, thought and sniffed again.
Already his mischievous heart was planning how he
might steal Idun away. He could hardly help laughing
to think how angry the Æsir would be when they
found their beauty-medicine gone forever. But he hoped
that, when he had done this trick for Thiasse, now and
then the giant would let him have a nibble of the
magic apples; so that Loki himself would remain young
long after the other Æsir were grown old and
feeble. This thought suited Loki's malicious nature
"I think I can manage it for you, Thiasse," he said
craftily. "In a week I promise to
 bring Idun and her
apples to you. But you must not forget the great risk
which I am running, nor that I am your relative by
marriage. I may have a favor to ask in return,
Then the eagle gently dropped Loki from his claws.
Falling on a soft bed of moss, Loki jumped up and ran
back to his traveling companions, who were glad and
surprised to see him again. They had feared that the
eagle was carrying him away to feed his young eaglets
in some far-off nest. Ah, you may be sure that Loki
did not tell them who the eagle really was, nor
confess the wicked promise which he had made about
Idun and her apples.
After that the three went back to Asgard, for they had
had adventure enough for one day.
The days flew by, and the time came when Loki must
fulfill his promise to Thiasse. So one morning he
strolled out into the meadow where Idun loved to roam
among the flowers. There he found her, sitting by a
tiny spring, and holding her precious casket of apples
on her lap. She was combing her long
 golden hair,
which fell from under a wreath of spring flowers, and
she was very beautiful. Her green robe was embroidered
with buds and blossoms of silk in many colors, and she
wore a golden girdle about her waist. She smiled as
Loki came, and tossed him a posy, saying: "Good-morrow, red Loki. Have you come for a bite of my
apples? I see a wrinkle over each of your eyes which I
can smooth away."
"Nay, fair lady," answered Loki politely, "I have just
nibbled of another apple, which I found this morning.
Verily, I think it is sweeter and more magical than
Idun was hurt and surprised.
"That cannot be, Loki," she cried. "There are no
apples anywhere like mine. Where found you this fine
fruit?" and she wrinkled up her little nose
"Oho! I will not tell any one the place," chuckled
Loki, "except that it is not far, in a little wood.
There is a gnarled old apple-tree, and on its branches
grow the most beautiful red-cheeked apples you ever
saw. But you could never find it."
"I should like to see these apples, Loki,
 if only to
prove how far less good they are than mine. Will you
bring me some ?"
"That I will not," said Loki teasingly. "Oh, no! I
have my own magic apples now, and folk will be coming
to me for help instead of to you."
Idun began to coax him, as he had guessed that she
would: "Please, please, Loki, show me the place!"
At first he would not, for he was a sly fellow, and
knew how to lead her on. At last, he pretended to
"Well, then, because I love you, Idun, better than all
the rest, I will show you the place, if you will come
with me. But it must be a secret—no one must ever
All girls like secrets.
"Yes—Yes!" cried Idun eagerly. "Let us steal away
now, while no one is looking."
This was just what Loki hoped for.
"Bring your own apples," he said, "that we may compare
them with mine. But I know mine are better."
"I know mine are the best in all the world," returned
Idun, pouting. "I will bring them, to show you the
 Off they started together, she with the golden casket
under her arm; and Loki chuckled wickedly as they
went. He led her for some distance, further than she
had ever strayed before, and at last she grew
"Where are you taking me, Loki?" she cried. "You said
it was not far. I see no little wood, no old apple-tree."
"It is just beyond, just a little step beyond," he
answered. So on they went. But that little step took
them beyond the boundary of Asgard—just a little
step beyond, into the space where the giants lurked
and waited for mischief.
Then there was a rustling of wings, and whirr-rr-rr!
Down came Thiasse in his eagle dress. Before Idun
suspected what was happening, he fastened his claws
into her girdle and flapped away with her, magic
apples and all, to his palace in Jotunheim, the Land
Loki stole back to Asgard, thinking that he was quite
safe, and that no one would discover his villainy. At
first Idun was not missed. But after a little the gods
 feel signs of age, and went for their usual
bite of her apples. Then they found that she had
disappeared, and a great terror fell upon them. Where
had she gone? Suppose she should not come back!
The hours and days went by, and still she did not
return. Their fright became almost a panic. Their hair
began to turn gray, and their limbs grew stiff and
gouty so that they hobbled down Asgard streets. Even
Freia, the loveliest, was afraid to look in her
mirror, and Balder the beautiful grew pale and
haggard. The happy land of Asgard was like a garden
over which a burning wind had blown,—all the flower-faces were faded and withered, and springtime was
turned into yellow fall.
If Idun and her apples were not quickly found, the
gods seemed likely to shrivel and blow away like
autumn leaves. They held a council to inquire into the
matter, endeavoring to learn who had seen Idun last,
and whither she had gone. It turned out that one
morning Heimdal had seen her strolling out of Asgard
with Loki, and no one had seen her since. Then the
 Loki was the last person who had been
with her—this must be one of Loki's tricks. They
were filled with anger. They seized and bound Loki and
brought him before the council. They threatened him
with torture and with death unless he should tell the
truth. And Loki was so frightened that finally he
confessed what he had done.
Then indeed there was horror in Asgard. Idun stolen
away by a wicked giant! Idun and her apples lost, and
Asgard growing older every minute! What was to be
done? Big Thor seized Loki and threw him up in the air
again and again, so that his heels touched first the
moon and then the sea; you can still see the marks
upon the moon's white face. "If you do not bring Idun
back from the land of your wicked wife, you shall have
worse than this!" he roared. "Go and bring her now."
"How can I do that?" asked Loki, trembling.
"That is for you to find," growled Thor. "Bring her
you must. Go!"
Loki thought for a moment. Then he said:—
 "I will bring her back if Freia will loan me her
falcon dress. The giant dresses as an eagle. I, too,
must guise me as a bird, or we cannot outwit him."
Then Freia hemmed and hawed. She did not wish to loan
her feather dress, for it was very precious. But all
the Æsir begged; and finally she consented.
It was a beautiful great dress of brown feathers and
gray, and in it Freia loved to skim like a falcon
among the clouds and stars. Loki put it on, and when
he had done so he looked exactly like a great brown
hawk. Only his bright black eyes remained the same,
glancing here and there, so that they lost sight of
With a whirr of his wings Loki flew off to the north,
across mountains and valleys and the great river
Ifing, which lay between Asgard and Giant Land. And at
last he came to the palace of Thiasse the giant.
It happened, fortunately, that Thiasse had gone
fishing in the sea, and Idun was left alone, weeping
and broken-hearted. Presently she heard a little tap
on her window, and, looking up, she saw a great brown
bird  perching on the ledge. He was so big that Idun
was frightened and gave a scream. But the bird nodded
pleasantly and croaked: "Don't be afraid, Idun. I am
a friend. I am Loki, come to set you free."
"Loki! Loki is no friend of mine. He brought me here,"
she sobbed. " I don't believe you came to save me."
"That is indeed why I am here," he replied, "and a
dangerous business it is, if Thiasse should come back
before we start for home."
"How will you get me out?" asked Idun doubtfully.
"The door is locked, and the window is barred."
"I will change you into a nut," said he, "and carry
you in my claws."
"What of the casket of apples?" queried Idun. "Can you
carry that also?"
Then Loki laughed long and loudly.
"What welcome to Asgard do you think I should receive
without the apples?" he cried. "Yes, we must take
Idun came to the window, and Loki, who was a skillful
magician, turned her into a nut and took her in one
claw, while in the other  he seized the casket of
apples. Then off he whirred out of the palace grounds
and away toward Asgard's safety.
In a little while Thiasse returned home, and when he
found Idun and her apples gone, there was a hubbub,
you may be sure! However, he lost little time by
smashing mountains and breaking trees in his giant
rage; that fit was soon over. He put on his eagle
plumage and started in pursuit of the falcon.
Now an eagle is bigger and stronger than any other
bird, and usually in a long race he can beat even the
swift hawk who has an hour's start. Presently Loki
heard behind him the shrill scream of a giant eagle,
and his heart turned sick. But he had crossed the
great river, and already was in sight of Asgard. The
aged Æsir were gathered on the rainbow bridge
watching eagerly for Loki's return; and when they
spied the falcon with the nut and the casket in his
talons, they knew who it was. A great cheer went up,
but it was hushed in a moment, for they saw the eagle
close after the falcon; and they guessed that this
must be the giant Thiasse, the stealer of Idun.
 Then there was a great shouting of commands, and a
rushing to and fro. All the gods, even Father Odin and
his two wise ravens, were busy gathering chips into
great heaps on the walls of Asgard. As soon as Loki,
with his precious burden, had fluttered weakly over
the wall, dropping to the ground beyond, the gods
lighted the heaps of chips which they had piled, and
soon there was a wall of fire, over which the eagle
must fly. He was going too fast to stop. The flames
roared and crackled, but Thiasse flew straight into
them, with a scream of fear and rage. His feathers
caught fire and burned, so that he could no longer
fly, but fell headlong to the ground inside the walls.
Then Thor, the thunder-lord, and Tŷr, the mighty
war-king, fell upon him and slew him, so that he could
never trouble the Æsir any more.
There was great rejoicing in Asgard that night, for
Loki changed Idun again to a fair lady; whereupon she
gave each of the eager gods a bite of her life-giving
fruit, so that they grew young and happy once more, as
if all these horrors had never happened.
Not one of them, however, forgot the evil
 part which
Loki had played in these doings. They hid the memory,
like a buried seed, deep in their hearts.
Thenceforward the word of Loki and the honor of his
name were poor coin in Asgard; which is no wonder.