The following evening Loki crept to Sif's chamber and found Bilskirnir's new mistress in quiet contemplation, her spindle motionless in her hand, work lost to her thoughts. She glanced up at Loki's approach and smiled in welcome. 'Do you know all that will come to pass?' asked Loki.
'I know all that may happen; much depends on one's efforts to forge one's own destiny.'
'You know why I am here?' Loki asked again.
The goddess nodded, laying her spindle aside she unknotted her long fair hair and shook it loose about her shoulders. The shimmering hair caught the lamplight and shone almost as brightly as gold. 'Does the fox have courage to challenge the lion?' she asked mischeivously.
Loki starred helplessly at Sif's intoxicating beauty, then shook his head to clear his thoughts. He grabbed the shears from Sif's workbox and chopped off every strand of the goddess's shining locks. Loki stood in a deep carpet of shimmering hairs. He ran his fingers over the prickly tufts on the goddess's head, all that remained of Sif's wonderful ornament. She seemed so diminished in presence by the loss that tears came to his eyes. 'Forgive me,' he whispered.
Sif hugged him close 'Be brave,' she said, 'Or all will be for nought'.
Next morning when Sol urged her steeds up the vault of heaven, Arvak and Alsvinn reared as the nine worlds shook to Thor's angry cry. 'LOKI!' he roared.
The wretched trickster was dragged out of his bed and slammed against the wall; he desperately tried to avoid meeting the brimstone gaze of the furious thunder god. 'Which is your favourite arm?' growled Thor, 'Tell me, so I can rip it off!'
Loki shrieked in terror, but even Sigurd would have soiled his breeches in such a predicament. 'You sheared my bride like a nithing, you perverted bastard! Give me one good reason why I shouldn't castrate you here and now!'
'I'm sorry!' Loki gasped, feeling the baleful gaze burning through him, 'I'll put it right.'
'How?' demanded Thor coldly.
'I'll get the dark elves to make new hair for her,' Loki gabbled desperately. Loki prayed silently to every power a god can pray to. He asked himself the same question over and over. Why had he thought he would get away with this prank? This was it, he was going to die.
To Loki's great relief he felt himself being lowered to the floor. 'Do it,' was Thor's only reply as he turned his back on the trickster in disgust and stormed out of Loki's rooms. Loki winced as Thor slammed the door behind him, splintering the wood.
Eager to escape the stormy atmosphere in Bilskirnir, Loki pulled on his cloak of falcon feathers and flew off to the dwarves' halls. He made his way directly to the home of Dvalin Ivaldison. The dwarf knew Loki well and greeted him warmly. Dvalin noted that Loki did not seem his usual cheerful self, he asked how his friend fared. Loki's only response was to snatch a silver wine cup from the dresser and set it down loudly on Dvalin's well-scrubbed table. 'Fill it up,' he said.
Dvalin tugged his long white beard in puzzled amusement. He brought a wineskin to the table and filled the cup to the brim. 'That should sort you,' the dwarf said encouragingly, 'It's a potent brew.' Loki drained the wine and pushed the cup back to the dwarf who obligingly refilled it. After several more cups Loki put his head on his crossed arms and groaned.
'Feeling better?' asked the dwarf.
'No,' Loki muttered.
'So,' said Dvalin, labouring to start a conversation, 'Did you persuade Thor to commission a dwarven weapon?'
Loki flinched visiably, which surprised Dvalin. Then he raised his head and gave the dwarf a nervous grin, 'In a roundabout way,' he said.
'Thank gold for that, it's about time,' said the dwarf with feeling.
Loki warmed to the subject. 'Too true. Take that fight with the giant of Exmoor for example. He grabbed the fellow by the ankle, threw him over and hit him on the head with a rock.'
'A rock, indeed,' echoed the dwarf in a disgusted tone.
'Well, quite a large rock as a matter of fact, maybe 'tor' would be a better description.'
'Even so,' mused the dwarf, 'There are other considerations, presentation, efficiency, style. Rocks just don't cut it. Just because the mortals are still in the Stone Age doesn't mean we have to limit ourselves to such restrictive measures.'
'So what to you suggest?' asked Loki.
'Well,' considered Dvalin, 'I could knock something up, but you need a dwarf highly skilled in magic for the best results. Alfrigg and his brothers are the best of all smiths among the dark elves, but their work is very expensive.'
'How much?' asked Loki.
'Oh... the sun, the moon, Sif tucking them up in bed every night, that sort of thing.'
'Maybe not then...' Loki cringed, 'Is there anyone else?'
'Eitri would be ideal but he's a lazy good for nothing. He never puts effort into his work.'
'Maybe we could persuade him,' suggested Loki.
'Yes,' agreed Dvalin 'It is worth a try. Injure his pride, that works with most people, but I will leave that to you.'
'One other thing...' started Loki.
'Can you make hair out of gold? For a woman?'
'Easy.' replied the dwarf 'I can make it grow like the real thing too. A woman, eh? There are no women down here.' Dvalin traced the outline of a shapely woman in the air and sighed wistfully. 'Is she pretty?'
'Oh yes,' said Loki.
'One of your mistresses no doubt.'
'Oh, to be in love,' sighed the dwarf. 'Come. I'll go and fire up the forge.'
Dvalin put a great crucible of gold onto the forge while Loki worked the bellows to bring the fire to a rosy glow. The gold soon melted and the dwarf sung charms and spun a great quantity of fine gold wire. Within the hour the floor of the forge was heaped with golden threads. The dwarf wound the thread into a huge five foot skein and cut the threads at both ends. Still singing his husky dwarven chant Dvalin plunged the threads back into the furnace. When he withdrew them he showed the gold to Loki, every 'hair' was attached to a shimmering mesh of magic. 'Just lay this on the lady's head and it will grow like any other hair.' He quickly plaited the floating strands and put the hair safely to one side. 'Want anything else while the forge is hot?' Dvalin asked.
Loki, surprised by the dwarf's generosity, smiled and considered carefully. 'Make a gift for Frey,' he suggested...
Several hours later, Dvalin and Loki walked contentedly through the dark tunnels of the dwarven lands towards the surface. Loki was laden with treasures, the hair for Sif, a fabulous spear head for Odin and a miniature battle ship for Frey.
'Here we must part,' said Loki. 'The entrance to the caves approaches and it would not do for your pale skin to catch the sun's light. I thank the master smith of the dwarves for his labours, surely no better workmanship can be found in all the nine worlds.'
'My pleasure,' replied Dvalin. 'Remember to tell the gods to come to me for the very best smith craft.'
An angry cry issued from a nearby cavern and Eitri accosted the two friends, just as Loki planned, having deliberately praised Dvalin outside Eitri's abode. 'What obscenity do my ears hear, what humiliation to our noble craft? Dvalin is no master smith, shame on him that he should claim such.'
'Oh dear,' Loki apologised, 'I did not mean to offend you, but Dvalin has produced such wonderous treasures for the gods that I am convinced that no one could surpass them.'
'Mole dung!' cried Eitri, 'Let me see his puny efforts.' The disgruntled dwarf studied the three treasures which glinted even in the dim light of the cavern, a hint of magic sparkled around the fine gold. From the pause Loki knew the dwarf was impressed, but he did not admit it. 'Nah, I can produce far better work than these.'
'I will wager that you can't,' Loki retorted.
The dwarf met Loki's eyes and demanded rudely, 'Who are you anyway, brown nose?'
'Loki,' the god replied, 'The advisor and companion of Jord's son.'
The dwarf laughed, 'I have heard of you. You're the cross-dressing pervert who gives birth to horses.'
Loki smiled. 'Everyone has to have a hobby.' he said. 'So, will you accept my wager?'
'I will, sly one,' Eitri replied, 'And when I win I will claim your head.'
Loki was determined to see his plan through. A threat from a dwarf was nothing after his early morning experience, and he had fully recovered his usual cheerful manner. He left the treasures safely in Dvalin's keeping and went to keep watch over Eitri's progress. He turned himself into a fly and flew into Eitri's forge. The dwarf was preparing his equipment while his brother Brokk stoked up the fire and set to work at the bellows. Loki flew in front of Brokk and the dwarf cried 'What was that, what was that?'
'What?' asked Eitri.
'The tiny beast that flies through the air!' Brokk said, pointing.
Eitri scowled as he noticed the intruding insect. 'It's a fly, we don't get them down here, they don't like the smoke. It must be that interfering Loki, ignore him!'
While Eitri put gold in the fire and started work on an arm ring, Loki flew round and round the heads of the dwarves making them increasingly frustrated. He even stung Brokk on the neck making the dwarf yelp with pain, but the diligent fellow kept working the bellows. Eitri drew the ring out of the fire, it was covered in intricate writhing serpents and studded with jewels. Eitri sung charms over the ring and laid it carefully aside on his workbench.
Next, to Loki's surprise, Eitri took a pig skin and held it in the hot coals. Loki continued to pester the two dwarves and the increasingly infuriated Eitri struggled hard to win the wager so he could pay back Loki for his torment. Again Loki stung Brokk and the poor sweating dwarf yelped in pain. Eitri worked furiously with his hammers and crucibles crooning his dwarven smithing spells. Finally, the dwarf stepped back from the forge and out leapt a golden boar, perfect from its golden tusks to its bristles and curly tail.
Eitri was beginning to tire, and Loki heeded Dvalin's warning well, and pestered the dwarves even more than before. Eitri fought his fatigue and struggled to keep his concentration, determined to teach Loki a lesson. He placed a huge ingot of iron into the fire and started hammering away. He is not using his full magic, thought Loki, but I will soon solve that. On the forge a great war-hammer was taking shape; Loki waited until it was nearly complete and stung Brokk above the eyes. Brokk screamed and released the bellows handle, clutching his head with blood pouring down his eyes. The fire cooled and Eitri howled in rage. Denied his smithcraft Eitri poured his magic into the hammer. 'Just for that Loki, this hammer will be the strongest weapon in all the nine worlds, from now until the end of time!' Eitri cried. 'We will see you at Bilskirnir after sundown and we will see who is laughing then.'
At midnight the gods assembled in the great hall at Bilskirnir to judge the dwarves' work. Thor sat on the high seat, his cold gaze fixed on Loki, who grinned back somewhat nervously. Sif sat beside the Thunderer, her cropped hair hidden beneath a head scarf. Odin and Frey had arrived and waited expectantly to see what the dwarves had made.
Dvalin stepped forward first with Loki beside him. 'Dvalin Ivaldison brings a gift for the lady of this hall' Loki said proudly, as the dwarf produced the golden hair. Sif undid her headdress and stepped down from the dais and knelt before the dwarf so he could lay the gold over her head. The magical threads held fast and tumbled down around her shoulders in a waterfall of light.
Overjoyed Sif hugged Loki and shocked the dwarf by planting a warm kiss on his forehead. Thor smiled, greatly relieved that the slight on his bride had been so generously repaid.
Still blushing from the goddess's attentions, Dvalin produced the tiny battleship. 'This is my gift for Ing-Frey,' he said, holding it out for the Vanir Lord's inspection. Frey accepted the gift, and being wise in magic, needed no guidance as to the treasure's powers. He waved his hand to motion the holy folk from the centre of the hall and gently tossed the miniature ship into the cleared space. In an instant a magnificent longship graced the hall, its clinkered timbers richly painted and gilded, terminating in a fearsome falcon head. 'Just what I needed,' said Thor, 'An indoor boatyard!'
'Sorry, cousin!' replied Frey happily and returned the ship to its former size.
Next, Dvalin approched Odin and held out the spearhead. It was a fine piece of smithcraft and its pattern-welded edges rippled in the lamp light of the hall. 'This is my gift for you, battle father,' said Dvalin. 'Nothing will stop the strike of this blade.'
'A worthy weapon,' Odin replied with obvious pleasure.
Davlin retired to the benches as Eitri stepped forward to present his gifts. Eitri proudly approached Odin and held out the arm ring. 'This magic ring will produce nine of equal value every nine nights.' Odin accepted the treasure happily and thanked the dwarf.
Eitri turned and summonded the boar he had crafted. The gold bristled one ran into the gloomy midnight hall and chased the shadows away with its brillance. 'This boar is my gift for Frey. He can run like a horse over the vault of heaven and light your way before you.' The boar grunted an intelligent greeting and Frey was delighted.
Eitri approached Thor to present his final gift and handed the war hammer to Jord's son. The dwarf proudly listed its virtues: 'When thrown, this hammer will never miss its mark and will always return to your hand. It can never be broken. It can be made smaller so that you can keep it inside your shirt when you travel. I regret that it is not a little longer in the handle, but I was working under a servere handicap.' The dwarf glared at Loki. Thor was thrilled to have a weapon that would survive his own strength and restrained a strong urge to test it in the hall.
The gods gathered to decide the winner of the contest and a decision was swiftly made. Thor's invulnerable weapon would keep the giants at bay. Eitri was declared the better smith and the vengeful dwarf yelled in glee. He drew his knife and ran to Loki crying, 'And now, you knave, I will claim your head as we agreed!'
'What are planning to do why that fruitknife?' asked Loki with his hands crossed, feigning boredom.
'Cut off your head you interferring rascal,' squealed Eitri angrily.
'Oh, no you won't,' Loki retorted. 'You will be cutting my neck, to which you have no claim.'
Thwarted, Eitri halted his charge and considered Loki's words. Unable to challenge Loki's logic, he drew a leather thong and a bodkin from his pouch and proceeded to sew up the Twicksters lips. Loki suffered the indignity in silence, but ripped the cord away when the dwarf had finished. Eitri's urge to fling obscenities at the trickster was dashed by Sif's timely interruption. 'That is enough, you two,' she cautioned, and faced Eitri. 'It was Loki's interference that allowed you to win this contest, because of him you are the master smith and your name will be known in legends when Dvalin's is long forgotten.'
Eitri wanted to scream denial but something in the goddess's presence prevented him. Suddenly he saw with her eyes, far into the future when Thor would rule the heavens, a wise master of magic, his hammer, Eitri's hammer, the very symbol of his power. Eitri was overcome with pride at his accomplishment. He nodded his thanks to the Thunderer's bride and left the hall, drunk with satisfation.
Most of this tale is from Snorri's explantion of 'why gold is called Sif's hair'. The major changes are the inclusion of Thors marriage, and Loki and Sif's plotting to get Thor his hammer, Snorri's myth suggests the outcome was unintentional. Sif is called a seeress in Snorri's prologue to the Edda (so she would know what was going to happen!). She acts as a peaceweaver at Aegir's feast. Little more is know about her other than that she is the mother of Ull by an unknown father and one of Loki's lovers. Sif is correct the first dwarf's name is not recorded and I have used the most common Norse dwarf name 'Dvalin.'
(First published in Thunder, Spring 1999 - Issue No. 10)
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