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The Theft of Fire

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Once fire belonged only to the Jotnar. In truth everything once belonged to the Jotnar but Odin had sacrificed himself for the runes and stolen the mead of poetry from Suttung. Both had been scattered throughout the worlds and Loki, who was still young enough back then to be impressed by his elder brother, thought perhaps it was his turn for great deeds. Besides he was fond of the mortal race, who were fragile beings prey to both cold weather and wild animals, and thought that perhaps they could use something more practical than poetry.

Unfortunately fire was found mostly in Muspellheim and, since the Jotnar who lived there were strong and often violent, likely to remain so. But one day rumours came to Asgard that the Jotun Thjazi had fire, that he used it against his enemies as well as in his household and had been seen flying with it tucked under his wings, leaving bright streaks in the sky as his wingbeats whipped up a storm. So Loki kissed Sigyn goodbye and set out for Thrymheim where Thjazi lived.

Loki walked to Thrymheim and went to the gates of the hall where the guard challenged him.

‘I am the son of a storm-giant come here to seek work with Thjazi,’ said Loki.

The guard shook his head. ‘Thjazi is served only by his kin. There is a great treasure here and we are wary of outsiders.’

So Loki went into the forest and slept there that night but the next morning he put on the form of an old woman and went once again to Thjazi’s gates.

‘I am a seid-kona taught once by Gullveig herself before the gods ran her through with spears. I have come here to serve Thjazi with my magic,’ said Loki.

The guard looked uncertain and left Loki by the gates while he went in to ask orders of Thjazi. When he came back out he said, ‘Thjazi has his own wise women and no need of one from outside his halls.’

So Loki slept again in the forest that night but the next morning he put on the form of a beautiful maiden and went again to Thjazi’s gates.

‘My mother died bearing me and now that my father sees I will grow no larger he feels I am not worthy of a place in his halls. I have come to beg a place of Thjazi and will serve him in any way he desires,’ said Loki and she lowered her eyes and blushed.

The guard went inside and he must have given a good report of Loki’s beauty for Thjazi himself came out to see the maiden.

‘You say you have come to serve me,’ said Thjazi.

Loki curtseyed to him and said, ‘Yes, my lord.’

‘You shall tend my cows, then. Do not wander into the halls if you value your life.’

So Loki lead the cows out to pasture every day and every night was let back through the gate into Thrymheim, which was carved deep into the side of the mountain. The cows, of which there were many, lived in a cavern split off from the hall itself and Loki lived with them.

It was not long before Thjazi came out to see his cattle as they grazed and to see the beauty who watched over them. Loki looked up at him through her eyelashes and flirted shyly until Thjazi caught her up and lay with her in the sunshine on the side of the mountain.

With such goings on between them Loki was soon with child. Thjazi was gentle with her then, delighted at the child within her, and when she complained of cold he brought her blankets and stones warmed at the fires within the hall. Yet despite this Loki complained of cold still and begged to warm herself at the fire she had never seen. When it came to the night Loki was to give birth Thjazi, fearing for his mistress and her child, let her at last into the halls and she gave birth in the light of the flames to a healthy baby girl. Thjazi named her at once, calling her Skadi, and placed her at Loki’s breast to suckle there.

For the next three nights Loki was weak and claimed to be cold still so she was allowed for that time to sleep in the hall itself. At any time she was left alone she poked through the fire, looking for its secret and finding only coal. On the fourth night she was banished again to the cow-byre with nothing gained.

Skadi was kept within the halls as Loki was not, given to a trusted wet-nurse to raise, and a few months later Loki was once again with child.

So it went on. Loki bore Thjazi seven children, all healthy girls. Skadi was the strongest of them, growing fast as some Jotun children do so that by her sixth year she was a young woman, and the boldest also. Thjazi found it impossible to keep her inside his halls when she would rather ski and hunt on the mountainside, but she could use a sword as well as she used a bow and had anyone been foolish enough to attack her it is doubtful they would have come off best.

By the time the seventh child was born Skadi was old enough to help deliver it. She was quiet and brusque, trying to hide her shyness around a mother she had never known, but her face lit up like sunshine on ice when she held her youngest sister in her arms.

The third night after the birth as Loki poked at the fire searching for its secret her poker found something soft among the coals. She flicked it out onto the hearth and at first thought she had been mistaken, for the black lump looked remarkably like a coal. It was a heart though, half-burnt and coated in cinders. At first Loki could not understand what it was doing there, why Thjazi would throw a person’s heart into his fire, but as she stared at it the fire in the hearth started to go out and she saw that whatever the secret of fire was the heart contained it.

Footsteps outside startled Loki and for a moment she wondered whether she should put the heart back before anyone saw. This was her last night in the hall, though, so she raised the heart to her lips and ate it in quick, savage bites, feeling heat pooling in her stomach as she did. Skadi walked into the room to find her mother asleep and the fire out.

When Thjazi found the fire out and the heart gone he was furious. Loki’s bedding was checked for it and the hall searched. Since she could not have left the hall during the night it was considered she could not have taken it. When asked about accomplices she cried and swore that she had neither helped nor seen anyone at all that night save Skadi. At last Loki was sent back to the cow-byre to attend to her duties. That morning she left with the cows as usual but evening came and she never returned.

Loki travelled as a man, knowing Thjazi was searching for a woman. It was several days journey to Asgard but for the first day he made good time and stopped that evening with time to hunt. He had left without a blanket and so curled up under his cloak that night to sleep.

That night he dreamt of a place of fire, halls supported by pillars of flame, where everything was bathed in red and there were no shadows. The people there were giants with burning eyes, not the giants Loki had been raised among, but even in his dream he was smaller than everyone around him. Even in his dream he was cast out to find his own way in the world. Loki woke fever hot and shivering with a dull ache in his belly.

The next day his belly was swollen and he couldn’t keep down the meat he tried to eat at midday. Stopping early he fell into a dazed sleep. That night he recognised Jotunheim in his dreams, but the person in the dream did not. He - no, she - was amazed at this cold, dull world. Afraid, she huddled in caves at night by fires she lit with her magic, travelling by day with no destination. By morning Loki felt as if he’d walked all night instead of sleeping and the fever was worse.

On the third day he entered the wild lands at the edge of Midgard. Exhausted and at least a little safer than he had been in Jotunheim Loki made camp before noon and tried to sleep. The fever made him so hot, though, that he shed first his cloak and then his shirt and breeches until he curled up to sleep naked on the forest floor. In his dreams the young woman was found in her cave by Thjazi, drawn to the glow of the flames which was strange to him although to her it was the only familiar thing left. They found each other strange but not displeasing and he asked her to come back with him to his hall.

Time passed as she stayed with Thjazi, lighting fires in his halls to please him. She did not need to eat and the notion of food amused her but she enjoyed his mead when it was offered. In the evenings she danced for him like the flames of her homeland but when he asked she refused to lie with him and, perhaps from respect for the power she wielded, Thjazi did not ask again.

In summer the air flickered over the hills as it does above a fire and her spirits lifted as the world seemed a little less strange to her. For the first time she thought of more than safety and saw that she could not be happy in the cold of the mountains. With one last look at the dancing air she went inside to thank Thjazi for his hospitality and tell him that she was leaving.

Thjazi begged her to stay and when that did not avail him he grew angry. Grabbing her by her wrists and her hair he declared that she would not leave to lend the power she carried to another. That power ran through her then and she made her hair burn where it touched him leaving welts across his hand and making him let go.

‘I will go,’ she said, tugging free of his hold on her wrists. Defiantly she stared at him, her eyes widening in shock as he reached for his spear. The stone point was like ice in her guts and she sank down.

Loki woke, gasping and in pain as his insides cramped, unable to recall which was the dream and which reality. Forcing himself to calm he recognised the cramps as labour pains and shifted his form to that of a woman. The pain changed then, becoming less agonising but more urgent, and Loki pulled herself up to squat on the ground, hands pressed against the trunk of a tree for balance. She had done this before, of course, but not alone and feverish in the middle of a forest. Still, with nothing else to be done, she gritted her teeth and endured.

The birth was hard and after it was done she rested her head against the tree, gasping with relief, only for the pains to start again. After the second birth she was half-delirious with pain and fever and so didn’t question the hands supporting her through the third, or holding her water skin to her lips before the fourth. By the ninth when arms enfolded her and a rough voice assured her it was over she could only lean into the source of comfort already fading back into sleep.

When Loki awoke the fever had broken and she was clean and dressed. Around her in a loose circle sat nine women, naked and hairy, hard and ageless as standing stones.

‘We are your daughters,’ said one of them.

Loki sat up and turned to face her.

‘We thank you for bringing us into this world,’ continued the woman. ‘This land suits us well and we shall make our home here. Later we shall have sons and daughters and their sons and daughters shall be many. This world shall be ours, for those who live here are weaker than the race of trolls we shall engender.’

Loki stared, dismayed. ‘You are fine daughters and strong indeed. But I helped create mortal men and women also. I gave them warmth and vigour as they lay on the beach still sleeping as trees do. They too are my children and I do not want them killed.’

‘It is too late for that. You have borne us to a world we can share only uneasily with them.’

‘Then I fear it shall go ill with you,’ said Loki sadly. ‘For the gods love mortals and shall never suffer them to be destroyed.’

‘That may be, but we are as we are,’ said the troll. ‘Will you give us your blessing, mother, before you leave us?’

So Loki blessed each troll-woman and kissed each of their craggy foreheads before leaving the clearing and walking once again towards Asgard.

Many of the Aesir were glad to see Loki return, but none more so than Sigyn who welcomed her husband home with such enthusiasm that it was a few days before he spent much time outside her chambers. On the third day, however, he went to Odin and suggested a hunting trip, saying he had something Odin would wish to see. This was because Loki was reluctant to make his first try at summoning fire among the buildings of Asgard.

They hunted as usual along the edges of Jotunheim, quite a way from Thjazi’s lands. Hoenir, who had accompanied them, brought down a wild ox so they counted the day successful and set up camp. Once the ox was butchered Loki confused the others by gathering wood and dry underbrush into a heap. He crouched down beside it and closed his eyes, trying to remember his dream and the feeling of pulling fire from inside him. At last he bent forwards and blew onto the tinder, opening his eyes to watch in delight as the flames licked up the wood he had gathered.

Hoenir was awestruck, staring speechless at the growing fire, but Odin smiled his quiet smile and said, ‘Well done, Loki.’

Loki grinned. ‘Bring the ox over and I’ll show you how Thjazi’s people eat their meat.’

Loki knew little about cooking, and Thjazi’s people had mostly boiled meat in kettles, but he was determined to show Odin and Hoenir what cooked meat was like. So between the three of them they managed a simple earth oven and set the ox to cook. But when Loki was sure it must be done and they broke the oven apart it was still raw. They mended the oven and left it to cook again but once again when they broke it open it was raw. By this time Odin and Hoenir would have been happy to give up on trying cooked meat if it meant they got to eat, but Loki insisted on giving it one more try.

This time, as they broke the oven open and once again found raw meat, Thjazi spoke from above them saying, ‘I see you cannot use what you have stolen, thief.’

Loki looked up and saw Thjazi in the form of an eagle, perched in the branches of a tree.

‘It was not yours,’ said Loki, bold with Odin and Hoenir by his side. ‘You killed its owner when she trusted you.’

‘It was in my possession when you took it,’ said Thjazi. ‘And in any case you cannot use it. Your fire is all light and no heat.’

Loki put his hand into the fire and, although it was warm, it did not burn.

‘I can tell you how to make true fire,’ said Thjazi. ‘But you must give me the means to make it also.’

‘I swear that if you tell me then you shall be able to make fire whenever you wish,’ said Loki.

Thjazi flew down from the tree and placed his hooked beak by Loki’s ear to whisper the secret. When it had been told, and Thjazi had taken his perch in the tree once again, Loki bent to the fire and blew on it. This time when he put his hand into it he could feel that it was hot enough to burn, but fire was in him now and it did not burn him.

Loki took a double handful of flames, lifting them carefully as he stood, and held them up so that his hands glowed red in the dusk. Then he turned, spinning on his toes, and flung the flames up to hang in the air as sparks. The sparks darted away, leaving glowing trails as they spread through all the nine worlds, falling into every tree and plant and even certain stones so that fire was within all those things and anyone who knew how could release it.

‘If you want fire rub two sticks together and you shall have it,’ said Loki and Thjazi glared.

This time the ox cooked but when the time came to portion it out Thjazi spoke again. ‘I know another secret that could benefit the gods. You are much loved by mortal kind and I know of a way their love can strengthen you.’

Odin looked up sharply. ‘You talk of sacrifice,’ he said.

‘Sacrifice you know of and use,’ said Thjazi. ‘But if they sacrifice by fire and use a ritual that I can tell you then you shall all be stronger for it.’

‘And what do you demand in return?’ asked Loki.

‘A portion of each sacrifice made by fire equal to the portion of this ox I shall take now,’ answered Thjazi.

The three Aesir conferred among themselves and the benefit of sacrifice was deemed too great to lose, so they agreed to Thjazi’s terms. As soon as he had told them the ritual Thjazi flew down and helped himself to both the hams of the ox and the shoulders. This angered Loki who grabbed one of the branches he had gathered to feed the fire and struck Thjazi’s body. Thjazi plunged and flew off, too fast for Odin or Hoenir to follow, with the branch stuck fast to him and Loki’s hands stuck fast to the branch.

Thjazi dragged Loki low over forests so that his body struck the trees and through ravines where his body struck the rocks. Loki was frightened for his life and begged Thjazi piteously to let him go. At last Thjazi said that Loki should never be loosed unless he brought Idunn out of Asgard and to a place where Thjazi could find her. Loki agreed that he would do this and was allowed to go back to his companions, much the worse for his experience.

At the time Thjazi had appointed Loki went to Idunn and said that he could show her some fruit she would think worth seeing. Then he smiled in a manner which made her blush and she was not reluctant to follow him out of Asgard. As soon as they reached the first clearing in Midgard Thjazi swooped down and carried her off.

With Idunn gone her apple tree withered and the gods withered also. There were no more golden apples, for the blossom died on the tree and what apples there were fell too soon and rotted. Without the apples to keep them young the gods grew old and feeble, they feared for Asgard, and still more for Midgard, now that they could no longer protect it. So they searched for Idunn and at last heard that she had been seen leaving Asgard with Loki.

Odin had Loki brought before him and demanded to know what he had done. Loki confessed his promise to Thjazi and begged for mercy, saying that he had been afraid Thjazi would kill him.

‘Since you caused this mischief you shall undo it,’ said Odin. ‘Or you will have more reason to fear me than you ever had to fear Thjazi.’

Loki shivered and said, ‘I will do it so long as Freyja lends me her falcon skin.’

‘You shall have it,’ said Freyja, and she gave him the skin which allowed its wearer to travel most swiftly between worlds. Loki threw it on and in an instant he was a falcon winging his way to Jotunheim.

With Freya’s falcon skin it took Loki only a day to reach Thrymheim, but the gates were closed fast and there was no gap in the mountainside where even a creature much smaller than a falcon might slip in. So Loki hovered high, high above the gates and when the cows were driven in that night he swooped in under the lintel so fast no one was sure they had seen anything at all. Swiftly he flew through the halls until he found the room where Idunn was kept and, turning her into a nut, he caught her up in his talons and reached the gates again just as the last cow was being driven through.

This time everyone saw him diving through a gap so small he nearly lost his tail feathers when the gate closed. Thjazi, who had been out on a fishing trip, was sent for at once. Before long he had returned and, taking his eagle form, he chased Loki as swiftly as Loki fled. Loki flew until he thought his heart would burst and at last saw the walls of Asgard before him.

When Odin saw the eagle chasing Loki he told everyone to take wood and shavings and heap them up before Asgard’s wall. Then he had them light torches and, when Loki had carried Idunn safely over the wall, they plunged them into the shavings so that a great fire blazed up. Thjazi had been flying too fast to stop himself and he perished in the flames.

Now Idunn returned to her tree and with her there it bloomed again and within a day bore apples. These were given to the gods, making them young and strong again, and there was great rejoicing in Asgard. But when Thjazi did not return home Skadi knew that he was dead so she put on armour and took up arms before heading to Asgard to avenge him.

When Skadi arrived at the gates of Asgard and declared her intentions the gods saw her first as an enemy and might have killed her then. But Loki spoke up, saying that she was his daughter as well as Thjazi’s and kin to them. Some of the gods laughed at Loki for having borne children but Skadi felt they were laughing at her and was humiliated to have been saved in such a manner.

Now Odin knew that she was kin to him he offered to make terms with her. The first term he offered was that Thjazi’s eyes, still bright with the fire which had destroyed him, should be thrown into the sky to become stars.

Skadi assented to this, so Odin took Thjazi’s eyes in his hands and threw them up into the sky where they shone brightly for everyone to see.

The second term was that since she was kin to Loki, and since her father had been offered a portion of each sacrifice, she should marry among them and become an Asynjur, receiving sacrifices in her own name. There was one condition though, she could choose her husband only by his foot.

Skadi agreed eagerly, hoping to wed Baldr whose beauty enchanted her. When the feet were shown she looked for the comeliest and pointed. ‘These must be Baldr’s, for all of him is fair.’

But the feet were Njord’s and, although he was a handsome man, he was older than her and far less beautiful than Baldr.

‘The third term,’ began Odin.

But Skadi interrupted. ‘The third term is that I shall have revenge against Loki even if I make peace with the rest of you. He is a deceiver and a thief. If you do not give him to me then despite everything it shall be war between your people and mine.’

Some of the Aesir were reluctant to hand Loki over now that he had undone the harm he had caused. Others felt he deserved it and, besides, they did not wish to be at war with their own kin. So it was agreed that Skadi’s claim was just but when they went to take hold of Loki he turned into a gull and flew out of their grasp.

Fearing what Skadi might do if the gods gave him to her, Loki went to live by a waterfall in a house with four doors. Whenever he saw anyone coming he would turn into a salmon and hide beneath the waterfall until they left.

It seemed to Loki that this was a good arrangement, for even if the gods guessed he was under the waterfall they would have no way of catching him. Only his quick mind turned it over again and again. What if there was some way he could be caught? Perhaps a mesh of string might be capable of catching a fish? So Loki gathered string and set about weaving it so that he could see for himself whether he needed to worry about such a thing.

A sturdy net was forming between Loki’s fingers when he heard footsteps coming. He threw the net into the fire he had been warming himself by and ran out to the waterfall, where he hid once again as a salmon. When the Aesir reached the house they found it empty, although the still burning fire showed that someone had been there not long ago. Skadi looked into the fire and, knowing more of fire than the others since she had been accustomed to it in her father’s halls, noticed the pattern of white ashes. When she showed it to Odin he understood what the purpose of the net had been.

The Aesir made a net to Loki’s pattern and dredged the river with it, but Loki swam down and hid between two stones. The net came so close to him he felt the rough fibers slip over his back but he was not caught. Then the Aesir weighted the net down with stones so that it pushed aside anything Loki might have hidden behind, but he jumped over it in a flash of silver and hid beneath the waterfall again.

Odin told Thor to wade in the centre of the river behind the net as they dragged it. Thor was reluctant since he was one of those who would have preferred not to punish Loki, Odin was his father and his king, though, so he went as he was bidden. This time as Loki ran before the net he feared he would be forced into the ocean itself, perilous for a small fish, even one which was truly a god. So, with a hard choice to make and no time to make it, he risked leaping over the net.

Thor lunged at the flash of sun on scales and his fist closed around Loki. As much as Loki wriggled and twisted he could not get free, Thor’s fist only slipped down to his tail and tightened so much that salmon have tapering tails to this day.

Thor carried Loki onto land and threw him into the centre of a circle of the Aesir with Odin’s ravens circling overhead to prevent his escape as a bird. Loki could not remain a fish on land and, with no escape for him in any form, he took the man’s shape he normally wore among the Aesir and pleaded with them for mercy. Skadi had already been promised her vengeance, though, and, when she told them where to take him, they obeyed.

Loki was taken to a cave under the earth and three stones were placed under his back, hips and head. Odin and Freya bound him there with enchanted iron and Skadi placed a snake over his head to drip venom into his eyes. Sigyn stayed with him and held a bowl above him to protect him from the venom. But when the bowl filled she had to empty it, and Loki writhed in pain furiously enough to cause earthquakes.

They continued there for a timeless time. The only thing that changed was the level of venom in the bowl, rising drop by drop as it fell from above them, and even that was not constant. Sometimes the snake would open its mouth and hiss, spraying a shower of droplets and stinging mist. At first Sigyn thought the Aesir must relent, then she thought perhaps she and Loki could simply endure, but at last she saw that this could not go on.

Sigyn left the cave and went outside, wincing as the ground shook beneath her with her husband’s agony. When she came back she brought three sturdy tree branches and she lashed them into a crude tripod with strips torn from her skirt. Loki’s eyes opened when she placed the tripod next to him and the bowl atop it, catching the venom the same way it had when she held it.

‘Are you leaving me,’ asked Loki softly.

‘For a time,’ said Sigyn. ‘I am going to find a way to free you.’

He smiled at her, a smile hard with pain. ‘Farewell, then.’

Sigyn bent to kiss his lips and then she left the cave and set out for the mountains.

In Svartalfheim the forges of the dwarves were bright with fire, everywhere they worked in its light and hammered metal glowing with its heat. Sigyn had been born in Asgard and seldom gone outside it. Svartalfheim was new to her and she knew of the dwarves only by hearsay, little of it good. Still she walked in boldly in her ragged dress.

‘What does one of the Asynjur come here for?’ asked a dwarf. ‘For jewellery? Gold and silver or rubies red as Jord’s blood?’

The dwarves gathered around, curious and openly staring at Sigyn’s body so that she felt hot under their gazes, but she gathered her courage and said, ‘I have come to tell you my husband’s story. It is due to him that you have fire to use in your forges and because of this he suffers. If you will listen I will tell you all of it and perhaps then you will help me.’

So Sigyn told her story and the dwarves listened. When she was done they agreed that they owed much to Loki.

‘Then teach me your magic,’ said Sigyn. ‘He is bound by iron. Teach me to bend it to my will as you do.’

The dwarves little liked to teach an outsider their skills, but they had accepted the debt and so they agreed. For three years Sigyn stayed with them, learning to work metal in the heat of a forge, to feel the stresses as she bent it as if it was an extension of herself, and to pour magic into it as dwarves do. By the end of her apprenticeship she could bend iron with a touch and a word.

When Sigyn returned to the cave under the earth the bowl was almost full and the snake looked at her with wicked eyes.

‘Can you free me?’ asked Loki.

Sigyn went over and laid a hand on Loki’s bonds under the tripod. The words she whispered would have bent any metal in Svartalfheim but this iron had been enchanted by Odin and Freyja and it would not yield to her.

‘Not yet,’ she said.

Sigyn emptied the bowl and placed it back on the tripod, kissed Loki goodbye and set out for the west.

In Vanaheim fire was in every hearth. The Vanir seethed potions over their fires and risted runes with hot metal, burning their shape into the runestaves. They were a beautiful people and wealthy but Sigyn held her head up, though she came among them in rags.

‘What does one of the Asynjur visit us for?’ asked a Vanir woman, not unkindly. ‘Did you bring news of Njord, of Frey and Freyja?’

‘No,’ said Sigyn. ‘They did well last I saw them but it is a long time now since I set foot in Asgard. I have come to tell you of my husband. It is due to him that you have fire to use in your magic and he suffers for it now.’

The Vanir listened as she spoke and agreed more easily than the dwarves had that she should learn their magic. For three years Sigyn studied with them, learning to make potions, carve runes and chant galdr. By the end of her apprenticeship she could unravel an enchantment as easily as a hank of wool.

When Sigyn returned to the cave under the earth the bowl was nearly full and the snake hissed at her.

‘Can you free me?’ asked Loki, his voice hoarse with disuse.

Sigyn went over and looked with new eyes at the iron bonds. Seeing it would take runes to undo the spell she told Loki she must move the tripod out of the way.

‘Try to stay still,’ she said. ‘I am sorry.’

‘You have nothing to apologise for,’ said Loki.

Sigyn moved the tripod and Loki clenched his teeth, holding himself rigid against the pain. The runes were painted in blood from a cut Sigyn made on her arm, and she felt the spell softening as she made them. But when it seemed she was nearly done the snake opened its mouth and spat, globs of venom and acid mist falling so that she screamed even as Loki jerked against his bonds. Afterwards the runes she had painted were eaten away by the venom.

‘Not yet, then,’ gasped Loki as she pulled the tripod back into place.

‘No,’ said Sigyn and she nearly cried because she still had to empty the bowl.

Once she had emptied the bowl Sigyn kissed Loki goodbye and set off once again for the west.

Alfheim was a bright place full of sunlight, a place of fields and trees heavy with fruit. Sigyn’s heart sank as she realised fire had not come among them and that they might not even have a use for it.

‘Why does one of the Asynjur visit us?’ asked an elf.

‘I came…’ began Sigyn at a loss. Then she stood up straight and spoke boldly. ‘I came to show you a wonder. If you let me gather wood I shall show you something remarkable.’

That evening, in Alfheim’s honeyed dusk, Sigyn sat and worked her fire stick while the elves watched, curious as to what she might show them. When finally a tiny flame bloomed beneath the stick Sigyn quickly bent down, blowing softly to encourage it. Fed carefully with tinder it grew strong and the pile of wood Sigyn had gathered was soon alight. The elves were delighted by its beauty and danced by its light until dawn.

When they stopped to rest one demanded of Sigyn, ‘What is this thing? Where did it come from?’

So Sigyn told them.

The elves said that although they had not used fire before they were glad to have it now. It was a wonder and a delight, swift and bright as they themselves were. So when Sigyn asked to learn their magic they agreed. For three years Sigyn studied with them, learning to charm the fish from the rivers, the birds from the air, and every crawling thing upon the earth. By the end of her apprenticeship her singing could soothe the wildest of beasts.

When Sigyn returned to the cave under the earth the bowl was almost overflowing. The snake turned its wicked eyes on her and opened its mouth but Sigyn looked straight back at it and sang her sweetest charm. The snake shut its mouth and slithered down from the roof of the cave to curl placidly at Sigyn’s feet.

Loki, watching with interest, asked with real hope in his voice, ‘Can you free me?’

Sigyn walked across the cave and moved the tripod, almost startled when no venom dripped from above. The runes she painted unravelled and unbound until the spell was broken and the iron only iron. Dwarven words and firm touches bent the iron, made it unwind itself from Loki, until it lay on the floor as harmless as the now sleeping snake.

Sigyn took Loki’s hand and pulled him to his feet. ‘Come with me,’ she said.

‘Where are we going?’ asked Loki.

‘To stand before the Aesir,’ said Sigyn.

Loki tried to pull away. ‘They will imprison me again,’ he said.

‘We cannot run from them, for they will find us,’ said Sigyn. ‘But people throughout the nine worlds are grateful to you for the gift of fire. We can stand up to them knowing we are not alone.’

Loki gave in, afraid but willing to trust Sigyn, and the two of them went to Asgard, where Heimdall was most surprised to see them at the gates. A Thing was gathered to discuss the matter and Sigyn spoke before it.

‘Skadi has had her revenge,’ said Sigyn. ‘You promised only that she should have it, not that Loki would never escape, and there is no honour in binding him again. I have been to Svartalfheim, to Vanaheim and to Alfheim, and in each place I was helped by those grateful for fire. Here in Asgard I see fires burning on the hearths and in the kitchens, have you no gratitude yourselves?’

The Aesir talked between themselves. Skadi still wished for further revenge and Odin seemed willing to take her side. Sif and Thor took Loki’s, saying he had surely suffered more than enough. To everyone’s surprise Freyja spoke up on Loki’s side, saying that Sigyn deserved to have her husband freed for her courage and determination. When Frigga agreed with Freyja it was clear the decision would not go Skadi’s way.

So it was that Loki and Sigyn were welcomed back among the Aesir, although it was a long time before either forgave them. Frigga named Sigyn Incantation-Fetter, for she had both fettered an enchantment and enchanted a fetter, and Sigyn became well known among the Aesir for her understanding of magic.

And from that day to this all who use fire should wish power to Sigyn, freedom to Loki and their blessing to us all.