He fumbled around with his eyes closed. He groped about, reaching for the comfortable and familiar shaft of his hammer.
Thor opened his eyes. He sat up. He stood up. He walked around the room.
There was no hammer anywhere. His hammer was gone.
Thor’s hammer was called Mjollnir. It had been made for Thor by the dwarfs Brokk and Eitri. It was one of the treasures of the gods. If Thor hit anything with it, that thing would be destroyed. If he threw the hammer at something, the hammer would never miss its target, and would always fly back through the air and return to his hand. He could shrink the hammer down and hide it inside his shirt, and he could make it grow again. It was a perfect hammer in all things except one: it was slightly too short in the handle, which meant that Thor had to swing it one-handed.
The hammer kept the gods of Asgard safe from all the dangers that menaced them and the world. Frost giants and ogres, trolls and monsters of every kind, all were frightened of Thor’s hammer.
Thor loved his hammer. And his hammer simply was not there.
There were things Thor did when something went wrong. The first thing he did was ask himself if what had happened was Loki’s fault. Thor pondered. He did not believe that even Loki would have dared to steal his hammer. So he did the next thing he did when something went wrong, and he went to ask Loki for advice.
Loki was crafty. Loki would tell him what to do.
“Don’t tell anyone,” said Thor to Loki, “but the hammer of the gods has been stolen.”
“That,” said Loki, making a face, “is not good news. Let me see what I can find out.”
Loki went to Freya’s hall. Freya was the most beautiful of all the gods. Her golden hair tumbled about her shoulders, and it glinted in the morning light. Freya’s two cats prowled the room, eager to pull her chariot. Around her neck, as golden and shining as her hair, glittered the necklace of the Brisings, made for Freya by dwarfs far underground.
“I’d like to borrow your feathered cloak,” said Loki. “The one that lets you fly.”
“Absolutely not,” said Freya. “That cloak is the most valuable thing I possess. It’s more valuable than gold. I’m not having you wearing it and going around and making mischief.”
“Thor’s hammer has been stolen,” said Loki. “I need to find it.”
“I’ll get you the cloak,” said Freya.
Loki put on the feathered cloak and he took to the air, in falcon shape. He flew beyond Asgard. He flew deep into the land of the giants, looking for something unusual.
Beneath him, Loki saw a huge grave mound, and sitting on it, plaiting a dog collar, was the hugest, ugliest ogre of a giant he had ever seen. When the ogre saw Loki in falcon shape, he grinned a sharp-toothed grin and waved.
“What’s up with the Aesir, Loki? What’s the news from the elves? And why have you come alone into the land of the giants?”
Loki landed beside the ogre. “There’s nothing but bad news from Asgard, and nothing but bad news from the elves.”
“Really?” said the ogre, and he chuckled to himself, as if he were extremely pleased with something he had done and thought himself remarkably clever. Loki recognized that sort of chuckle. Sometimes he did it himself.
“Thor’s hammer is missing,” said Loki. “Would you know anything about that?”
The ogre scratched his armpit, and he chuckled once more. “I might,” he admitted. Then he said, “How’s Freya? Is she as beautiful as they say?”
“If you like that sort of thing,” said Loki.
“Oh, I do,” said the ogre. “I do.”
There was another uncomfortable silence. The ogre put the dog collar down on a pile of dog collars and began to plait another.
“I have Thor’s hammer,” the ogre told Loki. “I’ve hidden it so deep beneath the earth that nobody could ever find it, not even Odin. I am the only one who could bring it up again. And I will return it to Thor if you bring me what I want.”
“I can ransom the hammer,” said Loki. “I can bring you gold and amber, I can bring you treasures beyond counting—”
“Don’t want them,” said the ogre. “I want to marry Freya. Bring her here in eight days from now. I’ll return the hammer of the gods as a bride-gift on Freya’s wedding night.”
“Who are you?” asked Loki.
The ogre grinned and showed his crooked teeth. “Why, Loki son of Laufey, I am Thrym, lord of the ogres.”
“I have no doubt that we can come to an arrangement, great Thrym,” said Loki. He drew Freya’s feathered cloak around him, then stretched his arms and took to the skies.
Beneath Loki the world seemed very small: he looked down at the trees and the mountains, tiny as children’s playthings, and the problems of the gods seemed a small thing also.
Thor was waiting for him in the court of the gods, and before Loki had even landed he found himself seized by Thor’s huge hands. “Well? You know something. I can see it in your face. Tell me whatever you know, and tell it now. I don’t trust you, Loki, and I want to know what you know right this moment, before you’ve had a chance to plot and to plan.”
Loki, who plotted and planned as easily as other folk breathed in and out, smiled at Thor’s anger and innocence. “Your hammer has been stolen by Thrym, lord of all the ogres,” he said. “I have persuaded him to return it to you, but he demands a price.”
“Fair enough,” said Thor. “What’s the price?”