The smell of burning coals reached Loki’s nostrils.
“If . . . ,” he said. “If I manage to work out what happened to Idunn, and if I were somehow to bring her and her apples back to Asgard safely, could we forget all about the torture and death?”
“It is your only chance at life,” said Odin, in a voice so old and cracked that Loki could not tell whether it was the voice of an old man or an old woman. “Bring Idunn back to Asgard. And the apples of immortality.”
Loki nodded. “Unfasten these chains,” he told them. “I’ll do it. I’ll need Freya’s falcon-feather cloak, though.”
“My cloak?” asked Freya.
“I’m afraid so.”
Freya walked stiffly away and returned with a cloak covered with falcon feathers. Loki’s chains were unfastened, and he reached for the cloak.
“Don’t think you can just fly off and never return,” said Thor, and he stroked his white beard meaningfully. “I may be old now,” he said, “but if you do not return, ancient as I am, I will hunt you down, wherever you hide, and I and my hammer will be your death. For I am still Thor! And I am still strong!”
“You are still extremely irritating,” said Loki. “Save your breath, and you can use your strength in making a pile of wood shavings beyond the walls of Asgard. An enormous pile of wood shavings. You will need to cut down many trees and chip them into thin shavings. I’ll need a long high pile, along the wall, so you should start now.”
Then Loki wrapped the falcon cloak tightly about himself and, in falcon form, flapped his wings and rose, faster even than an eagle, and was gone, flying north, toward the lands of the frost giants.
Loki flew in the shape of a falcon without pause until, deep in the lands of the frost giants, he reached the fortress of the giant Thiazi, and he perched on the high roof, observing all that went on beneath.
He watched Thiazi, in giant form, lumber out of his keep and walk across the shingle to a rowing boat bigger than the largest whale. Thiazi hauled the boat down the strand into the cold waters of the northern ocean and rowed with huge strokes out into the sea. Soon he was lost to sight.
Then Loki flew as a falcon about the keep, peering into each window as he went. In the farthest room, through a barred window, he saw Idunn, sitting and weeping, and he perched on the bars.
“Cease your weeping!” he said. “It is I, Loki, here to rescue you!”
Idunn glared at him with red-rimmed eyes. “It is you who are the source of my troubles,” she said.
“Well, perhaps. But that was so long ago. That was yesterday’s Loki. Today’s Loki is here to save you and to take you home.”
“How?” she asked.
“Do you have the apples with you?”
“I am a goddess of the Aesir,” she told him. “Where I am, the apples also are.” She showed him the box of apples.
“That makes things simple,” said Loki. “Close your eyes.”
She closed her eyes, and he transformed her into a hazelnut in its shell, with the green husk still clinging to it. Loki closed his talons on the nut, hopped up to and between the bars of the window, and began the journey home.
Thiazi had a poor day’s fishing. No fish were biting for him. He decided that the best use of his time would be to return to his keep and pay court to Idunn. He would tease her by telling her just how, with her and her apples gone, all the gods were frail and withered—drooling, palsied, quivering hulks, slow of thought and crippled in mind and body. He rowed home to his keep and went at a run to Idunn’s room.
It was empty.
Thiazi saw a falcon’s feather on the ground, and he knew in that moment where Idunn was and who had taken her.
He leapt into the sky in the form of an eagle even huger and mightier than any he had been before, and he began to beat his wings and flew, faster and ever-faster, toward Asgard.
The world moved beneath him. The wind blew about him. He went even faster, so fast that the air itself boomed with the sound of his passing.
Thiazi flew onward. He left the land of the giants and entered the land of the gods. When he spotted a falcon ahead of him, Thiazi let out a scream of rage and increased his speed.
The gods of Asgard heard the screech and the boom of the wings, and they went to the high walls to see what was happening. They saw the little falcon coming toward them, the enormous eagle so close behind it. The falcon was so close . . .
“Now?” asked Thor.
“Now,” said Freya.
Thor set fire to the wood shavings. There was a moment before they caught—a moment just long enough for the falcon to fly over them and to settle inside the castle, and then, with a whoomph, they burst into flame. It was like an eruption, a gout of fire higher than the walls of Asgard itself: terrifying, and unimaginably hot.
Thiazi in eagle form could not stop himself, could not slow his flight, could not change direction. He flew into the flames. The giant’s feathers caught fire, the tips of his wings burned, and, a featherless eagle, he fell from the air and crashed into the ground with a bang and a thud that shook the fortress of the gods.
Burned, dazed, stunned, the naked eagle was no match even for elderly gods. Before he could transform himself back into giant shape he was already wounded, and as he changed from bird into giant, a blow of Thor’s hammer parted Thiazi from his life.
Idunn was glad to be reunited with her husband. The gods ate of the apples of immortality and regained their youth. Loki hoped that the matter was now done with.
It wasn’t. Thiazi’s daughter, Skadi, put on her armor, picked up her weapons, and came to Asgard to avenge her father.