Of all the dastardly things Loki could have done, this was to become the beginning of his downfall.
The playground of the gods was situated on the green plain of Ida, and was called Idavold. Here the gods would play games when they were in sportive mood, and their favorite game was to throw their golden disks, which they could cast with great skill. They had returned to this pastime with added zest since the cloud which had oppressed their spirits had been dispersed by the precautions of Frigg. Finally bored with their old games, they sought out a new game to play. They had learned that Balder could not be harmed by any missile, and so they amused themselves by casting all manner of weapons, stones, etc., at him. They need not have feared because they were certain that no matter how cleverly they tried and how accurately they aimed, the objects having sworn not to injure him would either miss him or fall short. This new amusement proved to be so fascinating that soon all the gods gathered around Balder, greeting each new failure to hurt him with prolonged shouts of laughter.
These bursts of merriment excited the curiosity of Frigg, who sat spinning in Fensalir, and seeing an old woman pass by her dwelling, she asked her to tell her what the gods were doing to cause so much fun and laughter. Little did she know that the old woman was none other than Loki in disguise. He answered Frigg that the gods were throwing stones and other missiles, blunt and sharp at Balder who stood smiling and unharmed in their midst challenging them to touch him.
The goddess smiled and resumed her work, saying that it was quite natural that nothing should harm Balder. After all, there was not a thing that loved the light of Balder that would injure him. Loki was greatly vexed upon hearing this. He was jealous of Balder who like the sun, entirely outshone him and was generally loved by all. Loki on the other hand was feared and avoided as much as possible. He cleverly concealed his vexation, and inquired of Frigg whether she was quite sure that all objects had joined the league to protect Balder. Frigg proudly answered that she had received the solemn oath of all things except a harmless little parasite called mistletoe, which grew on the oak near Valhalla’s gate. Mistletoe was too small and weak to be feared so Frigg assured the “old woman” that this was no threat.
This information was all that Loki wanted so bidding adieu to Frigg he hobbled off. As soon as he was safely out of sight he resumed his true form and hastened to Valhalla. At the gate he found the oak and mistletoe as indicated by Frigg, then using his knowledge of the magic arts he imparted to the parasite a size and hardness quite unnatural to it. From the wooden stem Loki fashioned a sharpened spear and then he hastened back to Idavold where the gods were still playing and hurling missiles at Balder.
Balders twin Hodur stood alone leaning mournfully against a tree taking no part in the games. Carelessly Loki approached the blind god, and inquired the cause of his melancholy. Hodur answered that only his blindness deterred him from taking part in the new game so Loki put the mistletoe-shaft in his hand and led him into the midst of the circle. He indicated the direction of the target and Hodur threw his shaft boldly, but to his dismay instead of the loud laughter which he expected a shuddering cry of horror fell upon his ears. Balder the beautiful had fallen to the ground, pierced by the fatal mistletoe.
“So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round
Lay thickly strewn swords, axes, darts, and spears,
Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown
At Balder, whom no weapon pierced or clove;
But in his breast stood fixed the fatal bough
Of mistletoe, which Loki, the Accuser, gave
To Hoder, and unwitting Hoder threw—
’Gainst that alone had Balder’s life no charm.”
Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).
In dire anxiety the gods crowded around their beloved friend, but Balder lay lifeless before them. All their efforts to revive the fallen sun-god were to no avail. Inconsolable at their loss they turned angrily upon Hodur, whom they would have slain had they not been restrained by the law of the gods that no willful act of violence should desecrate their grounds of peace. The sound of their loud lamentation brought the goddesses in haste to the dreadful scene. When Frigg saw that her darling son was dead she implored the gods to go to Nifl-heim and enter Hel to release her victim, for the earth could not exist happily without him.
As the road was rough and painful in the extreme, none of the gods would volunteer at first to go. Frigg then promised that she and Odin would reward the messenger by loving him above all in the Æsir. Hermod then volunteered to complete the dangerous mission to return their beloved Baldir from Hel. To enable him to travel Odin lent him Sleipnir, and the noble steed who usually would not allow any but Odin upon his back, set off without a second thought upon the dark road.
Will Hermond succeed? Read the final part tomorrow…