THE PUNISHMENT OF LOKI
FTER the death of Balder the world grew so dreary that no
one had any heart left for work or play. The Æsir sat
about moping and miserable. They were growing old,—there
was no doubt about that. There was no longer any gladness
in Valhalla, where the Valkyries waited on table and poured
the foaming mead. There was no longer any mirth on Ida
Plain, when every morning the bravest of earth-heroes
fought their battles over again. Odin no longer had any
pleasure in the daily news brought by his wise ravens,
Thought and Memory, nor did Freia enjoy her falcon dress.
Frey forgot to sail in his ship Skidbladnir, and even Thor
had almost wearied of his hammer, except as he hoped that
it would help him to catch Loki. For the one thought of all
of them now was to find and punish Loki.
Yet they waited; for Queen Frigg had sent a messenger to
Queen Hela to find if they might not even yet win Balder
back from the kingdom of death.
 Odin shook his head. "Queen Hela is Loki's daughter," he
said, "and she will not let Balder return." But Frigg was
hopeful; she had employed a trusty messenger, whose
silver tongue had won many hearts against their will.
It was Hermod, Balder's brother, who galloped down the
steep road to Hela's kingdom, on Sleipnir, the eight-legged
horse of Father Odin. For nine nights and nine days he rode,
through valleys dark and chill, until he came to the bridge
which is paved with gold. And here the maiden Modgard
told him that Balder had passed that way, and showed him
the path northward to Hela's city. So he rode, down and
down, until he came to the high wall which surrounded the
grim palace where Hela reigned. Hermod dismounted and
tightened the saddle-girths of gray Sleipnir, whose eight legs
were as frisky as ever, despite the long journey. And when
he had mounted once more, the wonderful horse leaped
with him over the wall, twenty feet at least!
Then Hermod rode straight into the palace of Hela, straight
up to the throne where
 she sat surrounded by gray shadows
and spirit people. She was a dreadful creature to see, was
this daughter of Loki,—half white like other folk, but half
black, which was not sunburn, for there was no sunshine in
this dark and dismal land. Yet she was not so bad as she
looked; for even Hela felt kindly towards Balder, whom her
father had slain, and was sorry that the world had lost so
dear a friend. So when Hermod begged of her to let his
brother return with him to Asgard, she said very gently,—
"Freely would I let him go, brave Hermod, if I might. But a
queen cannot always do as she likes, even in her own
kingdom. His life must be bought; the price must be paid in
tears. If everything upon earth will weep for Balder's death,
then may he return, bringing light and happiness to the
upper world. Should one creature fail to weep, Balder must
remain with me."
Then Hermod was glad, for he felt sure that this price was
easily paid. He thanked Hela, and made ready to depart
with the hopeful message. Before he went away he saw and
spoke with Balder himself, who sat with
 Nanna upon a
throne of honor, talking of the good times that used to be.
And Balder gave him the ring Draupnir to give back to
Father Odin, as a remembrance from his dear son; while
Nanna sent to mother Frigg her silver veil with other rich
presents. It was hard for Hermod to part with Balder once
again, and Balder also wept to see him go. But Hermod was
in duty bound to bear the message back to Asgard as
swiftly as might be.
Now when the Æsir heard from Hermod this news,
they sent messengers forth over the whole world to bid
every creature weep for Balder's death. Heimdal galloped
off upon Goldtop and Frey upon Goldbristle, his famous
hog; Thor rumbled away in his goat chariot, and Freia drove
her team of cats,—all spreading the message in one direction
and another. There really seemed little need for them to do
this, for already there was mourning in every land and
clime. Even the sky was weeping, and the flower eyes were
filled with dewy tears.
So it seemed likely that Balder would be ransomed after all,
and the Æsir began to
 hope more strongly. For they
had not found one creature who refused to weep. Even the
giants of Jotunheim were sorry to lose the gentle fellow
who had never done them any harm, and freely added their
giant tears to the salt rivers that were coursing over all the
world into the sea, making it still more salt.
It was not until the messengers had nearly reached home,
joyful in the surety that Balder was safe, that they found an
ugly old giantess named Thökt hidden in a black
cavern among the mountains.
"Weep, mother, weep for Balder!" they cried. "Balder the
beautiful is dead, but your tears will buy him back to life.
Weep, mother, weep!"
But the sulky old woman refused to weep.
"Balder is nothing to me," she said. "I care not whether he
lives or dies. Let him bide with Hela—he is out of mischief
there. I weep dry tears for Balder's death."
So all the work of the messengers was in vain, because of
this one obstinate old woman. So all the tears of the
sorrowing world were shed in vain. Because there were
lack-  ing two salty drops from the eyes of Thökt, they
could not buy back Balder from the prison of death.
When the messengers returned and told Odin their sad
news, he was wrathful.
"Do you not guess who the old woman was?" he cried. "It
was Loki—Loki himself, disguised as a giantess. He has
tricked us once more, and for a second time has slain Balder
for us; for it is now too late,—Balder can never return to us
after this. But it shall be the last of Loki's mischief. It is
now time that we put an end to his deeds of shame."
"Come, my brothers!" shouted Thor, flourishing his
hammer. "We have wept and mourned long enough. It is
now time to punish. Let us hasten back to Thökt's
cave, and seize Loki as quickly as may be."
So they hurried back into the mountains where they had left
the giantess who would not weep. But when they came to
the place, the cave was empty. Loki was too sharp a fellow
to sit still and wait for punishment to overtake him. He
knew very well that the Æsir would soon discover
who Thökt really
 was. And he had taken himself off
to a safer place, to escape the questions which a whole
world of not too gentle folk were anxious to ask him.
The one desire of the Æsir was now to seize and
punish Loki. So when they were unable to find him as
easily as they expected, they were wroth indeed. Why had
he left the cave? Whither had he gone? In what new disguise
even now was he lurking, perhaps close by?
The truth was that when Loki found himself at war with
the whole world which he had injured, he fled away into the
mountains, where he had built a strong castle of rocks. This
castle had four doors, one looking into the north, one to the
south, one to the east, and one to the west; so that Loki
could keep watch in all directions and see any enemy who
might approach. Besides this, he had for his protection the
many disguises which he knew so well how to don. Near
the castle was a river and a waterfall, and it was Loki's
favorite game to change himself into a spotted pink salmon
and splash about in the pool below the fall.
 "Ho, ho! Let them try to catch me here, if they can!" he
would chuckle to himself. And indeed, it seemed as if he
were safe enough.
One day Loki was sitting before the fire in his castle
twisting together threads of flax and yarn into
a great fish-net which was his own invention. For no one had ever
before thought of catching fish with a net. Loki was a clever
fellow; and with all his faults, for this one thing at least the
fishermen of to-day ought to be grateful to him. As Loki sat
busily knotting the meshes of the net, he happened to
glance out of the south door,—and there were the
Æsir coming in a body up the hill towards his castle.
Now this is what had happened: from his lookout throne in
Asgard, Odin's keen sight had spied Loki's retreat. This
throne, you remember, was in the house with a silver roof
which Odin had built in the very beginning of time; and
whenever he wanted to see what was going on in the
remotest corner of Asgard, or to spy into some secret place
beyond the sight of gods or men, he would mount this
magic throne, whence
 his eye could pierce thick mountains
and sound the deepest sea. So it was that the Æsir
had found out Loki's castle, well-hidden though it was
among the furthest mountains of the world. They had come
to catch him, and there was nothing left for him but to run.
Loki jumped up and threw his half-mended net into the fire,
for he did not want the Æsir to discover his invention;
then he ran down to the river and leaped in with a great
splash. When he was well under water, he changed himself
into a salmon, and flickered away to bask in his shady pool
and think how safe he was.
By this time the Æsir had entered his castle and were
poking among the ashes which they found smouldering on
"What is this?" asked Thor, holding up a piece of knotted
flax which was not quite burned. "The knave has been
making something with little cords."
"Let me see it," said Heimdal,
the wisest of the Æsir,—he who once upon a time
had suggested Thor's clever
disguise for winning back his hammer from the giant
Thrym. He took now the little scrap of
 fish-net and studied
it carefully, picking out all the knots and twists of it.
"It is a net," said Heimdal at last. "He has been making a
net, and—pfaugh!—it smells of fish. The fellow must have
used it to trap fish for his dinner, though I never before
heard of such a device."
"I saw a big splash in the river just as we came up," said
Thor the keen-eyed,—"a very big splash indeed. It seemed
too large for any fish."
"It was Loki," declared Heimdal. "He must have been here
but a moment since, for this fire has just gone out, and the
net is still smouldering. That shows he did not wish us to
find this new-fangled idea of his. Why was that? Let me
think. Aha! I have it. Loki has changed himself into a fish,
and did not wish us to discover the means of catching him."
"Oho!" cried the Æsir regretfully. "If only we had
"We can make one," said wise Heimdal. "I know how it is
done, for I have studied out this little sample. Let us make a
net to catch the slyest of all fish."
 "Let us make a net for Loki," echoed the Æsir. And
they all sat down cross-legged on the floor to have a lesson
in net-weaving from Heimdal. He found hemp cord in a
cupboard, and soon they had contrived a goodly net, big
enough to catch several Lokis, if they should have good
They dragged the net to the river and cast it in. Thor, being
the strongest, held one end of the net, and all the rest drew
the other end up and down the stream. They were clumsy
and awkward, for they had never used a net before, and did
not know how to make the best of it. But presently Thor
exclaimed, "Ha! I felt some live thing touch the meshes!"
"So did we!" cried the others. "It must be Loki!" And Loki
it was, sure enough; for the Æsir had happened upon
the very pool where the great salmon lay basking so
peacefully. But when he felt the net touch him, he darted
away and hid in a cleft between two rocks. So that,
although they dragged the net to and fro again and again,
they could not catch Loki in its meshes;
 for the net was so
light that it floated over his head.
"We must weight the net," said Heimdal wisely; "then
nothing can pass beneath it." So they tied heavy stones all
along the under edge, and again they cast the net, a little
below the waterfall. Now Loki had seized the chance to
swim further down the stream. But ugh! suddenly he tasted
salt water. He was being swept out to sea! That would
never do, for he could not live an hour in the sea. So he
swam back and leaped straight over the net up into the
waterfall, hoping that no one had noticed him. But Thor's
sharp eyes had spied the flash of pink and silver, and Thor
came running to the place.
"He is here!" he shouted. "Cast in the net above the fall! We
have him now!"
When Loki saw the net cast again, so that there was no
choice for him but to be swept back over the falls and out
to sea, or to leap the net once more still further up the river,
he hesitated. He saw Thor in the middle of the stream
wading towards him; but behind him was sure death. So
 he set his teeth and once more he leaped the net. There was
a huge splash, a scuffle, a scramble, and the water was
churned into froth all about Thor's feet. He was struggling
with the mighty fish. He caught him once, but the salmon
slipped through his fingers. He caught him again, and this
time Thor gripped hard. The salmon almost escaped, but
Thor's big fingers kept hold of the end of his tail, and he
flapped and flopped in vain. It was the grip of Thor's iron
glove; and that is why to this day the salmon has so
pointed a tail. The next time you see a salmon you must
notice this, and remember that he may be a great-great-great-grand-descendant of Loki.
So Loki was captured and changed back into his own shape,
sullen and fierce. But he had no word of sorrow for his evil
deeds; nor did he ask for mercy, for he knew that it would
be in vain. He kept silent while the Æsir led him all
the weary way back to Asgard.
Now the whole world was noisy with the triumph of his
capture. As the procession passed along it was joined by all
crea-  tures who had mourned for Balder,—all the
creatures who longed to see Loki punished. There were the
men of Midgard, the place of human folk, shouting, "Kill
him! kill him!" at the top of their lungs; there were armies
of little mountain dwarfs in their brown peaked caps, who
hobbled along, prodding Loki with their picks; there were
beasts growling and showing their teeth as if they longed to
tear Loki in pieces; there were birds who tried to peck his
eyes, insects who came in clouds to sting him, and serpents
that sprang up hissing at his feet to poison him with their
But to all these Thor said, "Do not kill the fellow. We are
keeping him for a worse punishment than you can give." So
the creatures merely followed and jostled Loki into Asgard,
shouting, screaming, howling, growling, barking, roaring,
spitting, squeaking, hissing, croaking, and buzzing,
according to their different ways of showing hatred and
The Æsir met on Ida Plain to decide what should be
done with Loki. There were Idun whom he had cheated, and
 hair he had cut off. There were Freia whose
falcon dress he had stolen and Thor whom he had tried to
kill. There were Höd whom he had made a murderer;
Frigg and Odin whose son he had slain. There was not one
of them whom Loki had not injured in some way; and
besides, there was the whole world into which he had
brought sorrow and darkness; for the sake of all these Loki
must be punished. But it was hard to think of any doom
heavy enough for him. At last, however, they agreed upon a
punishment which they thought suited to so wicked a
The long procession formed again and escorted Loki down,
down into a damp cavern underground. Here sunlight never
came, but the cave was full of ugly toads, snakes, and
insects that love the dark. These were Loki's evil thoughts,
who were to live with him henceforth and torment him
always. In this prison chamber side by side they placed
three sharp stones, not far apart, to make an uneasy bed.
And these were for Loki's three worst deeds, against Thor
and Höd and Balder. Upon these rocks they
bound Loki with stout thongs of leather. But as soon as the cords
were fastened they turned into iron bands, so that no one,
though he had the strength of a hundred giants, could loosen
them. For these were Loki's evil passions, and the more he
strained against them, the more they cut into him and
wounded him until he howled with pain.
Over his head Skadi, whose father he had helped to slay,
hung a venomous, wriggling serpent, from whose mouth
dropped poison into Loki's face, which burned and stung
him like fire. And this was the deceit which all his life Loki
had spoken to draw folk into trouble and danger. At last it
had turned about to torture him, as deceit always will do to
him who utters it. Yet from this one torment Loki had some
relief; for alone of all the world Sigyn, his wife, was faithful
and forgiving. She stood by the head of the painful bed
upon which the Red One was stretched, and held a bowl to
catch the poison which dropped from the serpent's jaws, so
that some of it did not reach Loki's face. But as often as the
bowl became full, Sigyn had to go out and empty it; and
then the bitter drops fell and burned till Loki made the
cavern ring with his cries.
So this was Loki's punishment, and bad enough it was,—but
not too bad for such a monster. Under the caverns he lies
there still, struggling to be it free. And when his great
strength shakes the hills so that the whole ground trembles,
men call it an earthquake. Sometimes they even see his
poisonous breath blowing from the top of a mountain-chimney,
and amid it the red flame of wickedness which
burns in Loki's heart. Then all cry, "The volcano, the
volcano!" and run away as fast as they can. For Loki,
poisoned though he is, is still dangerous and full of
mischief, and it is not good to venture near him in his
But there for his sins he must bide and suffer, suffer and
bide, until the end of all sorrow and suffering and sin shall
come, with Ragnarök, the ending of the world.