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The Heroes of Asgard by  A. & E. Keary

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THE PEACESTEAD

[240] WHEN Odin came back to Asgard, Hermod took the bridle from his father's hand, and told him that the rest of the Æsir were gone to the Peacestead—a broad, green plain which lay just outside the city. Now this was, in fact, the playground of the Æsir, where they practised trials of skill one with another, and held tournaments and sham fights. These last were always conducted in the gentlest and most honourable manner; for the strongest law of the Peacestead was, that no angry blow should be struck, or spiteful word spoken, upon the sacred field; and for this reason some have thought it might be well if children also had a Peacestead to play in.

[241] Odin was too much tired by his journey from Helheim to go to the Peacestead that afternoon; so he turned away, and shut himself up in his palace of Gladsheim. But when he was gone, Loki came into the city by another way, and hearing from Hermod where the Æsir were, set off to join them.

When he got to the Peacestead, Loki found that the Æsir were standing round in a circle shooting at something, and he peeped between the shoulders of two of them to find out what it was. To his surprise he saw Baldur standing in the midst, erect and calm, whilst his friends and brothers were aiming their weapons at him. Some hewed at him with their swords—others threw stones at him—some shot arrows pointed with steel, and Thor continually swung Miölnir at his head. "Well," said Loki to himself, "if this is the sport of Asgard, what must that of Jötunheim be? I wonder what Father Odin and Mother Frigg would say if they were here?" But as Loki still looked, he became even more surprised, for the sport went on, and Baldur was [242] not hurt. Arrows aimed at his very heart glanced back again untinged with blood. The stones fell down from his broad bright brow, and left no bruises there. Swords clave, but did not wound him; Miölnir struck him, and he was not crushed. At this Loki grew perfectly furious with envy and hatred. "And why is Balder to be so honoured, "said he, "that even steel and stone shall not hurt him?" Then Loki changed himself into a little, dark, bent, old woman, with a stick in his hand, and hobbled away from the Peacestead to Frigga's cool saloon. At the door he knocked with his stick.

"Come in!" said the kind voice of Frigg, and Loki lifted the latch.

Now when Frigga saw, from the other end of the hall, a little, bent, crippled, old woman, come hobbling up her crystal floor, she got up with true queenliness and met her half way, holding out her hand, and saying in the kindest manner, "Pray sit down, my poor old friend; for it seems to me that you have come from a great way off."

[243] "That I have, indeed," answered Loki in a tremulous, squeaking voice.

"And did you happen to see anything of the Æsir," asked Frigg, "as you came?"

"Just now I passed by the Peacestead, and saw them at play."

"What were they doing?"

"Shooting at Baldur."

Then Frigg bent over her work with a pleased smile on her face. "And nothing hurt him?" she said.

"Nothing," answered Loki, looking keenly at her."

"No, nothing," murmured Frigg, still looking down and speaking half musingly to herself; "for all things have sworn to me that they will not."

"Sworn!" exclaimed Loki, eagerly; "what is that you say? Has everything sworn then?"

"Everything," answered she, "excepting, indeed, the little shrub mistletoe, which grows, you know, on the west side of Valhal, and to which I said nothing, because I thought it was too young to swear."

[244] "Excellent!" thought Loki; and then he got up.

"You're not going yet, are you?" said Frigg, stretching out her hand and looking up at last into the eyes of the old woman.

"I'm quite rested now, thank you," answered Loki in his squeaky voice, and then he hobbled out at the door, which clapped after him, and sent a cold gust into the room. Frigga shuddered, and thought that a serpent was gliding down the back of her neck.

When Loki had left the presence of Frigg, he changed himself back to his proper shape, and went straight to the west side of Valhal, where the mistletoe grew. Then he opened his knife, and cut off a large branch, saying these words, "Too young for Frigga's oaths, but not too weak for Loki's work." After which he set off for the Peacestead once more, the mistletoe in his hand. When he got there he found that the Æsir were still at their sport, standing round, taking aim, and talking eagerly, and Baldur did not seem tired.

But there was one who stood alone, leaning against [245] a tree, and who took no part in what was going on. This was Hödur, Baldur's blind twin-brother; he stood with his head bent downwards, silent, whilst the others were speaking, doing nothing when they were most eager; and Loki thought that there was a discontented expression on his face, just as if he were saying to himself, "Nobody takes any notice of me." So Loki went up to him, and put his hand upon his shoulder.

"And why are you standing here all alone, my brave friend?" said he. Why don't you  throw something at Baldur. Hew at him with a sword, or show him some attention of that sort."

"I haven't got a sword," answered Hödur, with an impatient gesture; "and you know as well as I do, Loki, that Father Odin does not approve of my wearing warlike weapons, or joining in sham fights, because I am blind."

"Oh! is that it?" said Loki. "Well, I only know I  shouldn't like to be left out of everything. However, I've got a twig of mistletoe here which I'll lend you if you like; a harmless little twig enough, but I shall be happy to guide your [246] arm if you would like to throw it, and Baldur might take it as a compliment from his twin-brother."

"Let me feel it," said Hödur, stretching out his uncertain hands.

"This way, this way, my dear friend," said Loki, giving him the twig. "Now, as hard as ever you can, to do him honour;  throw!"

Hödur threw—Baldur fell, and the shadow of death covered the whole earth.


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