Read THE DOOM OF THE MISCHIEF-MAKER. of Hero Tales, free online book, by James Baldwin, on ReadCentral.com.

You have heard of the feast that old Aegir once made for the Asa-folk in his gold-lit dwelling in the deep sea, and how the feast was hindered, through the loss of his great brewing kettle, until Thor had obtained a still larger vessel from Hymer the giant. It is very likely that the thief who stole King Aegir’s kettle was none other than Loki the Mischief-maker; but, if this was so, he was not long unpunished for his meanness.

There was great joy in the Ocean-king’s hall, when at last the banquet was ready, and the foaming mead began to pass itself around to the guests. But Thor, who had done so much to help matters along, could not stay to the merry-making: for he had heard that the Storm-giants were marshalling their forces for a raid upon some unguarded corner of the mid-world; and so, grasping his hammer, he bade his kind host good-by, and leaped into his iron car.

“Business always before pleasure!” he cried, as he hastened away at a wonderful rate through the air.

In old Aegir’s hall glad music resounded on every side; and the gleeful Waves danced merrily as the Asa-folk sat around the festal board, and partook of the Ocean-king’s good fare. Aegir’s two thralls, the faithful Funfeng and the trusty Elder, waited upon the guests and carefully supplied their wants. Never in all the world had two more thoughtful servants been seen; and every one spoke in praise of their quickness, and their skill, and their ready obedience.

Then Loki, unable to keep his hands from mischief, waxed very angry, because every one seemed happy and free from trouble, and no one noticed or cared for him. So, while good Funfeng was serving him to meat, he struck the faithful thrall with a carving-knife, and killed him. Then arose a great uproar in the Ocean-king’s feast hall. The Asa-folk rose up from the table, and drove the Mischief-maker out from among them; and in their wrath they chased him across the waters, and forced him to hide in the thick greenwood. After this they went back to Aegir’s hall, and sat down again to the feast. But they had scarcely begun to eat, when Loki came quietly out of his hiding place, and stole slyly around to Aegir’s kitchen, where he found Elder, the other thrall, grieving sadly because of his brother’s death.

“I hear a great chattering and clattering over there in the feast hall,” said Loki. “The greedy, silly Asa-folk seem to be very busy indeed, both with their teeth and their tongues. Tell me, now, good Elder, what they talk about while they sit over their meat.”

“They talk of noble deeds,” answered Elder. “They speak of gallant heroes, and brave men, and fair women, and strong hearts, and willing hands, and gentle manners, and kind friends. And for all these they have words of praise and songs of beauty; but none of them speak well of Loki, the thief and the vile traitor.”

“Ah!” said Loki wrathfully, twisting himself into a dozen different shapes, “no one could ask so great a kindness from such folk. I must go into the feast hall, and take a look at this fine company, and listen to their noisy merry-making. I have a fine scolding laid up for those good fellows; and, unless they are careful with their tongues, they will find many hard words mixed with their mead.”

Then he went boldly into the great hall, and stood up before the wonder-stricken guests at the table. When the Asa-folk saw who it was that had darkened the doorway, and was now in their midst, a painful silence fell upon them, and all their merriment was at an end. And Loki stretched himself up to his full height, and said to them:

“Hungry and thirsty came I to Aegir’s gold-lit hall. Long and rough was the road I trod, and wearisome was the way. Will no one bid me welcome? Will none give me a seat at the feast? Will none offer me a drink of the precious mead? Why are you all so dumb? Why so sulky and stiff-necked, when your best friend stands before you? Give me a seat among you,-yes, one of the high seats,-or else drive me from your hall! In either case, the world will never forget me. I am Loki.”

Then one among the Asa-folk spoke up, and said, “Let him sit with us. He is mad; and when he slew Funfeng, he was not in his right mind. He is not answerable for his rash act.”

But Bragi the Wise, who sat on the innermost seat, arose, and said, “Nay, we will not give him a seat among us. Nevermore shall he feast or sup with us, or share our good-fellowship. Thieves and murderers we know, and we will shun them.”

This speech enraged Loki all the more; and he spared not vile words, but heaped abuse without stint upon all the folk before him. By main force he seized hold of the silent Vidar, who had come from the forest solitudes to be present at the feast, and dragged him away from the table, and seated himself in his place. Then, as he quaffed the foaming mead, he flung out taunts and jeers and hard words to all who sat around, but chiefly to Bragi the Wise and Sif, the beautiful wife of Thor.

Suddenly a great tumult was heard outside. The mountains shook and trembled; the bottom of the sea seemed moved; and the waves, affrighted and angry, rushed hither and thither in confusion. All the guests looked up in eager expectation, and some of them fled in alarm from the hall. Then the mighty Thor strode in at the door, and up to the table, swinging his hammer, and casting wrathful glances at the Mischief-maker. Loki trembled; he dropped his goblet, and sank down upon his knees before the terrible Asa.

“I yield me!” he cried. “Spare my life, I pray you, and I will be your thrall forever!”

“I want no such thrall,” answered Thor. “And I spare your life on one condition only,-that you go at once from hence, and nevermore presume to come into the company of Asa-folk.”

“I promise all that you ask,” said Loki, trembling more than ever. “Let me go.”

Thor stepped aside; and the frightened culprit fled from the hall, and was soon out of sight. The feast was broken up. The Asas bade Aegir a kind farewell, and favoring winds wafted them swiftly home to Asgard.

Loki fled to the dark mountain gorges of Mist Land, and sought for a while to hide himself from the sight of both gods and men. In a deep ravine by the side of a roaring torrent, he built himself a house of iron and stone, and placed a door on each of its four sides, so that he could see whatever passed around him. There, for many winters, he lived in lonely solitude, planning with himself how he might baffle his enemies and regain his old place in Asgard. Now and then he slipped slyly away from his hiding-place, and wrought much mischief for a time among the abodes of men. But when Thor heard of his evil-doings, and sought to catch him, and punish him for his evil deeds, he was nowhere to be found. At last the Asa-folk determined, that, if he could ever be captured, the safety of the world required that he should be bound hand and foot, and kept forever in prison.

Loki often amused himself in his mountain home by taking upon him his favorite form of a salmon and lying listlessly beneath the waters of the great Fanander Cataract, which fell from the shelving rocks a thousand feet above him. One day while thus lying, he bethought himself of former days, when he walked the glad young earth in company with great Odin. And among other things he remembered how he had once borrowed the magic net of Ran, the Ocean-queen, and had caught with it the dwarf Andvari, disguised, as he himself now was, in the form of a slippery salmon.

“I will make me such a net!” he cried. “I will make it strong and good; and I, too, will fish for men.”

So he took again his proper shape, and went back to his cheerless home in the ravine. There he gathered flax and wool and long hemp, and spun yarn and strong cords, and wove them into meshes, after the pattern of Queen Ran’s magic net; for men had not, at that time, learned how to make or use nets for fishing. And the first fisherman who caught fish in that way is said to have taken-Loki’s net as a model.

Odin sat, on the morrow, in his high hall at Asgard, and looked out over all the world, even to the uttermost corners. With his sharp eye he saw what men-folk were everywhere doing. When his gaze rested upon the dark line which marked the mountain land of the Mist Country, he started up in quick surprise, and cried out:

“Who is that who sits by the Fanander Falls, and ties strong cords together?”

But none of those who stood around could tell, for their eyes were not strong enough and clear enough to see so far.

“Bring Heimdal!” then cried Odin.

Now, Heimdal the White dwells among the blue mountains where the rainbow spans the space betwixt heaven and earth. He is the son of Odin, golden-toothed, pure-faced, and clean-hearted; and he ever keeps watch and ward over the mid-world and the homes of frail men-folk, lest the giants shall break in, and destroy and slay. He rides upon a shining steed named Goldtop; and he holds in his hand a horn with which, in the last twilight, he shall summon the world to battle with the sons of Loki. This watchful guardian of the mid-world is as wakeful as the birds. And his hearing is so keen, that no sound on earth escapes him,-not even that of the rippling waves upon the seashore, nor of the quiet sprouting of the grass in the meadows, nor even of the growth of the soft wool on the backs of the sheep. His eyesight, too, is wondrous clear and sharp; for he can see by night as well as by day, and the smallest thing, although a hundred leagues away, cannot be hidden from him.

To Heimdal, then, the heralds hastened, bearing the words which Odin had spoken, and the watchful warder of the mid-world came at once to the call of the All-Father.

“Turn your eyes to the sombre mountains that guard the shadowy Mist Land from the sea,” said Odin. “Now look far down into the rocky gorge in which the Fanander Cataract pours, and tell me what you see.”

Heimdal did as he was bidden.

“I see a shape,” said he, “sitting by the torrent’s side. It is Loki’s shape, and he seems strangely busy with strong strings and cords.”

“Call all our folk together!” commanded Odin. “The wily Mischief-maker plots our hurt. He must be driven from his hiding place, and put where he can do no further harm.”

Great stir was there then in Asgard. Every one hastened to answer Odin’s call, and to join in the quest for the Mischief-maker. Thor came on foot, with his hammer tightly grasped in his hands, and lightning flashing from beneath his red brows. Tyr, the one-handed, came with his sword. Then followed Bragi the Wise, with his harp and his sage counsels; then Hermod the Nimble, with his quick wit and ready hands; and lastly, a great company of elves and wood-sprites and trolls. Then a whirlwind caught them up in its swirling arms, and carried them through the air, over the hilltops and the countryside, and the meadows and the mountains, and set them down in the gorge of the Fanander Force.

But Loki was not caught napping. His wakeful ears had heard the tumult in the air, and he guessed who it was that was coming. He threw the net, which he had just finished, into the fire, and jumped quickly into the swift torrent, where, changing himself into a salmon, he lay hidden beneath the foaming water.

When the eager Asa-folk reached Loki’s dwelling, they found that he whom they sought had fled; and although they searched high and low, among the rocks and the caves and the snowy crags, they could see no signs of the cunning fugitive. Then they went back to his house again to consult what next to do. And, while standing by the hearth, Kwaser, a sharp-sighted elf, whose eyes were quicker than the sunbeam, saw the white ashes of the burned net lying undisturbed in the still hot embers, the woven meshes unbroken and whole.

“See what the cunning fellow has been making!” cried the elf. “It must have been a trap for catching fish.”

“Or rather for catching men,” said Bragi; “for it is strangely like the Sea-queen’s net.”

“In that case,” said Hermod the Nimble, “he has made a trap for himself; for, no doubt, he has changed himself, as is his wont, to a slippery salmon, and lies at this moment hidden beneath the Fanander torrent. Here are plenty of cords of flax and hemp and wool, with which he intended to make other nets. Let us take them, and weave one like the pattern which lies there in the embers; and then, if I mistake not, we shall catch the too cunning fellow.”

All saw the wisdom of these words, and all set quickly to work. In a short time they had made a net strong and large, and full of fine meshes, like the model among the coals. Then they threw it into the roaring stream, Thor holding to one end, and all the other folk pulling it the other. With great toil, they dragged it forward, against the current, even to the foot of the waterfall. But the cunning Loki crept close down between two sharp stones, and lay there quietly while the net passed harmlessly over him.

“Let us try again!” cried Thor. “I am sure that something besides dead rocks lies at the bottom of the stream.”

So they hung heavy weights to the net, and began to drag it again, this time going down stream. Loki looked out from his hiding place, and saw that he would not be able to escape now by lying between the rocks, and that his only chance for safety was either to leap over the net, and hide himself behind the rushing cataract itself, or to swim with the current out to the sea. But the way to the sea was long, and there were many shallow places; and Loki had doubts as to how old Aegir would receive him in his kingdom. He feared greatly to undertake so dangerous and uncertain a course. So, turning upon his foes, and calling up all his strength, he made a tremendous leap high into the air and clean over the net. But Thor was too quick for him. As he fell toward the water, the Thunderer quickly threw out his hand, and caught the slippery salmon, holding him firmly by the tail.

When Loki found that he was surely caught, and could not by any means escape, he took again his proper shape. Fiercely did he struggle with mighty Thor, and bitter were the curses which he poured down upon his enemies. But he could not get free. Into the deep, dark cavern, beneath the smoking mountain, where daylight never comes, nor the warmth of the sun, nor the sound of Nature’s music, the fallen Mischief-maker was carried. The Asas bound him firmly to the sharp rocks, with his face turned upwards toward the dripping roof; for they said that nevermore, until the last dread twilight, should he be free to vex the world with his wickedness. Skade, the giant daughter of Old Winter, took a hideous snake, and hung it up above Loki, so that its venom would drop into his upturned face. But Sigyn, the loving wife of the suffering wretch, left her home in the pleasant halls of Asgard, and came to his horrible prison house to soothe and comfort him; and evermore she holds a basin above his head, and catches in it the poisonous drops as they fall. When the basin is filled, and she turns to empty it in the tar-black river that flows through that home of horrors, the terrible venom falls upon his unprotected face, and Loki writhes and shrieks in fearful agony, until the earth around him shakes and trembles, and the mountains spit forth fire, and fumes of sulphur smoke.

And there the Mischief-maker, the spirit of evil, shall lie in torment until the last great day and the dread twilight of all mid-world things.