Loki and Heimdall

from Elizabeth Vongvisith

(Elizabeth writes: "Some of this tale was told to me by Loki, and some of this came from Bragi. His storytelling skills far surpass my own, naturally, but I've tried my best to do credit to them.")

It is well known that Loki once stole the necklace of Freyja at Odin's behest. However, few know remember that a second time, Brisingamen was stolen by the Father of Strife, as he was later named among the Aesir, or that from this theft would spring forth one of the bitterest feuds in all the Nine Worlds.

Heimdall, Watchman and guardian of the gates of Asgard, and Loki, the sly and cunning son of Laufey, had never been friends. For his part, Heimdall despised Loki as one of the hated Jotun-kind, and resented Loki's constant movement in and out of Asgard without leave or knowledge of its watchman. None save Odin himself were supposed to come and go in secret. Yet when Heimdall demanded that Loki be prevented from going abroad and returning whenever he chose, Odin bade him to pay no heed -- Loki would not bring the enemy etin-folk through some secret way into the gods' keep, nor would he betray them into the hands of the sons of Muspell. Whatever reasons Loki had were his own. Heimdall accepted the counsel of his father and lord, but his dislike of Loki did not abate.

Loki was well aware of Heimdall's distrust and hostility, and delighted in aggravating it. He also despised Heimdall for turning his back on his mother's blood, whereas Loki himself made no secret of his own origins. Impudently, he flaunted in Heimdall's face both his Jotun heritage and his ability to pass in and out of Asgard, just for the pleasure of making Heimdall (and others) angry. He also knew the son of the Nine Daughters had sworn to guard and defend the realm of the Aesir and all who resided therein, and that included himself. Furthermore, Loki was Odin's friend and blood-brother and out of respect for his father, Heimdall would lift no hand. So for a long, long time, the two were merely bickering rivals, who nonetheless stopped short of the drawing of swords or rattling of spears.

Loki again stole Brisingamen from Freyja's hall. It is not known exactly why, except perhaps that he knew Heimdall loved and honored the Vanadis above all the goddesses save Frigga, and he wished perhaps to dig the knife in a little deeper and jeer at the Watchman for his inability to keep Freyja's greatest treasure safe. Brisingamen was under lock and key in Freyja's bedroom when Freyja wore it not, and was further guarded by her folk. Also, Heimdall had made it his business to watch the doings of Loki very carefully while the latter dwelt in the gods' realm. However, Loki managed to accomplish his thievery anyway. None that were taken in by his schemes or blinded to his purpose would later admit to having let Loki get past them, but still, he managed to steal Freyja's golden necklace, and if you wish to know how Loki did it, you must ask the son of Laufey himself.

With the prize in hand, Loki fled Asgard, but he halted a little ways away from the wall surrounding the land, where Heimdall, scowling, could still see him. There he stood, taunting Heimdall and showing him the prize he had obtained, before changing himself into a falcon and fleeing, Brisingamen clutched in his claws. Immediately, Heimdall dropped his spear, changed himself into a second falcon, and pursued Loki, for it was also in his oath that he would guard the treasures of the gods from theft and mishandling, and by his action, Loki was now an outlaw in Heimdall's eyes.

The chase was long and difficult; it is not easy to catch Loki or to keep up with the swift Sky-traveler when he does not want to be found, but Heimdall never relented in his pursuit. He followed Loki wherever the other went. Day became night, night slowly rolled on toward day, which turned again into dark, and Heimdall still did not quit his chase, nor did Loki stop his flight. They passed far from Asgard, into and out of the worlds, where people looked up in astonishment at the two who flew so swiftly that no bowman could ready his arrow in time to fire even a warning shot as they passed overhead.

Finally, as the sun began to rise on the third day, Loki began to tire. He knew he could flee but little further and then Heimdall would win the necklace back when he, Loki, was too exhausted to continue. He descended toward a narrow, lonely strip of rocky beach, where great cliffs reared up nearby and the waves crashed against the rocks, or swept toward the pebbled sand in arc after arc of dark, cold water. There he resumed his man-shape and turned to face his pursuer. Heimdall landed near him, also assuming his man's form. They were weaponless, but neither of them cared. Here, they both knew, things would come to a head, far from the watching eyes of Odin and the rest of the Aesir.

"Give me back the golden necklace of Freyja, and I shall allow you to depart this place unharmed," shouted Heimdall, "though this is not for your own sake, but for the sake of my father, Asgard's lord, whose blood-brother you are unworthy to be!"

Loki's eyes flashed, but he smiled fiercely. "Allow? You may 'allow' me nothing, Watchman. I took this from under your very gaze, from the hall of the Vanadis, from within Asgard's mighty walls, and you could not stop me! It is mine by right. Go whimpering and mewling back to your post!" he shot back, smirking.

"Then I shall take it!" Heimdalll roared, and with that, he advanced on Loki, who, despite not sharing the other's size or strength, snarled like a wild cat and sprang to meet him.

The two of them fought viciously for many hours, wrestling and struggling with their bare hands. Loki changed himself into many beasts and birds, into a terrible frost-giant, into smoke and air, but always, Heimdall too shifted his form, though he was loath to, and kept calling for Loki to resume man's shape and fight in earnest. Finally, Loki resumed his own form, and Heimdall immediately pinned him to a rock. Darkness was falling. They had battled all the day, and though Loki had taken the worst of it and was injured, bloody and sore, he would not admit defeat. He knew that Heimdall would not kill him, lest he be named kin-slayer, but his heart now burned with a desire to overthrow Heimdall, who was equally determined to conquer Loki and win back Freyja's necklace.

"Give me Brisingamen," Heimdall said softly, "and I shall yet release you to go wherever you wish. But if you return to Asgard, I will do my best to keep you out."

Loki's eyes narrowed, then he spat in Heimdall's face. "I told you once before, no one 'lets' me do anything. I will go..." Loki burst into flames. Heimdall cried out and let go, and the flames darted across the beach, changing back into Loki's running form, his long legs carrying him swiftly to the dark, churning water, where he had before not dared to go, for fear of Heimdall's nine mothers, the daughters of Aegir and Ran.

"...whatever I wish!" Loki shouted, and changing himself into a seal, he made quickly for a isle of bare rock, little more than a sharp boulder sticking up out of the sea, some ways away.

Heimdall ran to the edge of the sea, then stopped, fists clenching. He gazed out at the nine women's heads, silently bobbing in the water far away, which had appeared almost as soon as he had alighted on the stony beach. His lips drew tight and his fair face turned darker and grimmer. He then turned his eyes to the seal, who had reached the rock and now heaved itself atop it, turning to watch Heimdall with glittering eyes that no real seal ever had. The nine wave-daughters did not move or speak. His heart burned with anger, and with hatred of Loki, at the thought of what the other had forced him to choose.

The seal barked once, and at that sound Heimdall gritted his teeth and strode into the water, taking seal's form and swimming straight toward the rock upon which Loki sat. The nine wave-daughters did nothing, but their heads turned to watch as Heimdall reached the stony outcropping and his seal's-shape clambered up to Loki.

They strove, biting and shoving at each other, until Loki dove off into the sea again. Heimdall followed him, swift and unerring as a dart. But Loki was nearing the end of his strength, and the wounds he had taken earlier were bleeding copiously into the dark sea. Still, for spite's sake, he would not give in. Finally, Heimdall chased Loki back toward the cliffs and managed to drive him forcefully up against the hard rocks. Loki's seal-shape vanished. His man's form floated, senseless, in the water. Heimdall returned to his own shape as well and dragged Loki back toward the beach. He found and took back Brisingamen from its hiding place among Loki's clothes, then he turned Flame-hair over and shook him until the other's eyes opened and fixed, vaguely but resentfully, upon Heimdall.

Heimdall opened his mouth to say something, but no words left his lips. They stared at each other for a few long moments. Heimdall felt his hands itch to wrap themselves around Loki's neck and finish him off, and the weight of nine pairs of eyes watching them, and for a moment he was filled with a wild rage. Then he snorted and cast Loki back down upon the sand. "Crawl home, if you can," he said in a low voice. Loki did not answer. Then he turned his back and walked away, ignoring the nine women in the water, changing into falcon-form as he strode. With a triumphant cry, he flew into the red-banded sky, wheeled once, and was gone toward Asgard with the dwarf-made gold glittering in the sunset. The nine daughters of Ran and Aegir turned to watch as he disappeared. Then they sank beneath the water and were gone.

Loki lay on the beach, trying to regain enough strength to go home, and it was not until long after dark that he managed to get up and return to Asgard. To his surprise, when he reached the gate, no one was there to stop him. He wondered what this meant, but was too weary and too wounded to care. He came again into Asgard, burning with shame, spite and resentment, and went straight to the hall he shared with Sigyn and their young sons.

But to his dismay, Sigyn was not there either. Loki adored his pretty, shy and childlike bride, and she was the only person in all of Asgard who trusted Loki completely. They shared a rare understanding. He knew she would never have left willingly, not when she was so anxiously awaiting his return. Loki wondered what had caused her to leave and felt alarmed, but he sank onto the doorstep of his house, too tired even to call for his sons, he knew nothing but blackness for a while.

In the meantime, Heimdall, upon his return to Asgard, had called for an assembly of the gods. Sigyn had been summoned despite her protests, and sat at the back of the hall in its shadows, worried and afraid, for Loki had not yet returned home. When Heimdall told his story, Sigyn's hands twisted together. Her heart grieved for her husband's defeat, and her worry for him increased.

After hearing of Loki's theft, the battle between Heimdall and Loki, and Brisingamen's re-taking, the gods spoke loudly and at length. Something should be done, many of them said. Loki had gone too far, if the Watchman himself had been forced to leave his post because of him. Lately Loki's pranks had begun to take on a more malicious character; rumors were spreading and people were muttering, yet no one could say for certain why Loki's attitude of friendship toward the other Aesir had begun to alter. Sigyn knew, but she did not offer her opinion, and she knew too that no one would listen to her anyway.

Some called for Loki's banishment from Asgard. Freyja called for Loki to be brought to her so she could beat him with her bare hands. Idunna stood up and somewhat angrily reminded them that Loki had once caused the theft of both her apples and her own person, and no one had afterwards called for banishment or beatings. Tyr said that Loki should be brought before them all and asked to give his side of things before any action was taken. Some called out their agreement with this, others shook their heads and muttered darkly at the idea of allowing Loki a fair chance. No one spoke out in Loki's defense, however.

"He has not returned to Asgard yet, if indeed he will at all. I left him lying on that beach, nearly dead," Heimdall said contemptuously. Tears sparkled in Sigyn's eyes, but she still did not speak. The gods continued to argue. Finally Heimdall turned, and his keen sight perceived Sigyn where she sat. "There sits one who may answer for Loki and tell us why he came to do this thing," he said. Everyone turned to follow his gaze.

Sigyn was deathly pale. She swallowed hard. "Tell us what you know, lady," Freyja said politely, though she was still full of anger against Loki.

Sigyn said, "I knew aught of this. My husband does as he chooses, and sometimes does not seek my counsel beforehand. He did not tell me he planned this deed." Something in Sigyn's voice made many of her listeners feel a stab of pity for her; many of them yet wondered why she had ever agreed to marry Loki at all. They believed Loki had seduced his hapless bride, whose youth and naivete had made her an easy prey to his charm. They felt that Sigyn had remained with Loki merely out of fidelity to her marriage-oath. That Sigyn loved Loki passionately, and that she understood him better than any of them save Odin, never occurred to the gods.

"I say that he has wronged you as well. For you sit here alone to answer for his infamy, while he slinks off to some dark place to lick his wounds." Heimdall came toward her and Sigyn rose to meet him. He looked down at her grimly, yet not without compassion. "Cast him off, Sigyn. A marriage-oath made to one such as he is no binding thing. You do not deserve to share in your husband's guilt, nor carry the shame of his crimes. Renounce him and be welcome among us, your kinsmen and friends."

At these words, the atmosphere in the room shifted. The other gods murmured assent. Sigyn looked into Heimdall's proud, stern face and felt the eyes of many others on her. She knew they were asking her to choose. She bowed her head and would not speak, but in her heart, there was a growing anger.

Tired himself, injured, angry, and to his later regret, Heimdall said loudly and impatiently, "Lady, you must know that Loki has not shown you faith or troth. He is a bad husband -- it is known that he keeps a concubine in the Iron Wood, with whom he has had monstrous children, and whom he still visits when he leaves Asgard. You have been true to him, but he himself has known the embrace of many a woman within these walls and without, even after he took you to wife." At these words, several people exchanged uncomfortable looks. Sigyn closed her eyes. Heimdall didn't notice. He went on, with a sharp gesture, "He has acted with no thought of you or your sons! He does not care about his own family, his kinsmen and friends, nor for anything save trouble and strife. His word is false and his oaths are lies. Leave him! He deserves no comfort or succor from any in Asgard!" His voice rang inside the hall where they were gathered, and his face became wild. Others wondered at Heimdall's attitude, but called out their agreement, encouraging Sigyn to renounce her husband. Odin alone sat in silence, watching the scene through narrowed eyes.

Sigyn raised her head. She saw Heimdall's face, and the desire for private revenge there. She saw all their faces, and the desire for Loki's downfall in them too. Her own lovely face became hard, and her voice, normally so soft, made the hall fall quiet in an instant. "I tell you no," she said firmly. "No. I will not renounce my husband, he who has shown me love and comfort, the father of my sons, the joy of my heart. Yes," she continued, louder now, and growing angrier as she saw the skepticism written on others' faces, "he is. Loki loves me dearly, and he has remained faithful to me in his own way, though none of you will believe it. I promised him I would be his loyal wife until the day of my death. When he hears what you have asked of me and what I have answered, he will know I am his loyal wife still. I would have thought better of you, my friends and kin, than that you would ask this of me. The shame is your own, not mine. I have nothing more to say."

Sigyn turned her back on them and walked out of the hall in pride and defiance, but by the time she had come to her own home, she was weeping openly, but she dried her tears as best she could, not wishing to alarm her children. At home, she found Loki lying weak and injured, with their young sons at his side. They had found their father unconscious and carried him to his bed, then had done their best to clean and bind his wounds, and they greeted their mother's arrival with relief, until they saw her face. Sigyn knelt beside the bed and took her husband's hand in her own. Loki opened his eyes and smiled weakly at her.

"Don't worry, beloved. It looks worse than it is," he said gently. Sigyn shook her head, unable to reply. Loki's sons had told him that their mother had been summoned to an assembly. His quick eyes searched Sigyn's face, and he frowned when he saw that she had been crying. "What did they say?" he asked sharply.

Sigyn told him all that had passed, and though Loki did not interrupt or take his eyes from her, a change came over him. The air around him grew heavy and hot, and began to crackle with sparks. Loki's expression darkened, then became terrible to behold. Sigyn faltered, and Narvi and Vali gazed at their father nervously, but with an effort, Loki regained his self-control and his face became smooth. He smiled at his sons, then took his wife's face in his hands and kissed her. "I'm glad to be home. Now, let me rest," was all he would say to them.

But Loki's heart had been kindled into a burning hatred for Heimdall -- not for his own pride, not because Heimdall had defeated him, but because of what he had tried to force from Sigyn, whom Loki loved more than anyone would believe. And though he would not know it for some time, Heimdall's hatred had likewise been awakened against him, because Loki had caused him to enter the domain of his mother and her sisters who had abandoned him, the sea which Heimdall hated more than anybody would believe. So was their mutual enmity begun, and so it was said by the seeress from whom Odin sought counsel that they would be the end of one another when Ragnarok came.