“Dwarfs!” shrieked Loki.
“Dwarfs! They can make anything. They could make golden hair for Sif, hair that would bond with her scalp and grow normally, perfect golden hair. They could do it. I swear they could.”
“Then,” said Thor, “you had better go and talk to them.” And he dropped Loki from high above his head onto the floor.
Loki clambered to his feet and hurried away before Thor could break any more bones.
He put on his shoes that let him travel through the sky, and he went to Svartalfheim, where the dwarfs have their workshops. The most ingenious craftsmen of them all, he decided, were the three dwarfs known as the sons of Ivaldi.
Loki went to their underground forge. “Hello, sons of Ivaldi. I have asked around, and people here tell me that Brokk and Eitri, his brother, are the greatest dwarf craftsmen there are or have ever been,” said Loki.
“No,” said one of the sons of Ivaldi. “It’s us. We are the greatest craftsmen there are.”
“I am assured that Brokk and Eitri can make treasures as good as those you can.”
“Lies!” said the tallest of the sons of Ivaldi. “I wouldn’t trust those fumble-fingered incompetents to shoe a horse.”
The smallest and the wisest of the sons of Ivaldi simply shrugged. “Whatever they make, we could do better.”
“I hear that they’ve challenged you,” said Loki. “Three treasures. The gods of the Aesir will judge who made the best treasure. Oh, and by the way, one of the treasures you make needs to be hair. Ever-growing perfect golden hair.”
“We can do that,” said one of the sons of Ivaldi. Even Loki could barely tell them apart.
Loki went across the mountain to see the dwarf called Brokk, at the workshop he shared with his brother, Eitri. “Ivaldi’s sons are making three treasures as gifts for the gods of Asgard,” said Loki. “The gods are going to judge the treasures. Ivaldi’s sons want me to tell you that they are certain you and your brother Eitri can’t make anything as good as they can. They called you ‘fumble-fingered incompetents.’”
Brokk was no fool. “This smells extremely fishy to me, Loki,” he said. “Are you sure this isn’t your doing? Stirring up trouble between Eitri and me and Ivaldi’s boys seems like the sort of thing you’d do.”
Loki looked as guileless as he could, which was amazingly guileless. “Nothing to do with me,” he said innocently. “I just thought you ought to know.”
“And you have no personal stake in this?” asked Brokk.
Brokk nodded and looked up at Loki. Brokk’s brother, Eitri, was the great craftsman, but Brokk was the smarter of the two, and the more determined. “Well, then we’ll be happy to take on the sons of Ivaldi in a test of skill, to be judged by the gods. Because I have no doubt that Eitri can forge better and craftier things than Ivaldi’s lot. But let’s make this personal, Loki. Eh?”
“What do you have in mind?” asked Loki.
“Your head,” said Brokk. “If we win this contest, we get your head, Loki. There’s lots of things going on in that head of yours, and I have no doubt that Eitri could make a wonderful device out of it. A thinking machine, perhaps. Or an inkwell.”
Loki kept smiling, but he scowled on the inside. The day had started out so well. Still, he simply had to ensure that Eitri and Brokk lost the contest; the gods would still get six wonderful things from the dwarfs, and Sif would get her golden hair. He could do that. He was Loki.
“Of course,” he said. “My head. No problem.”
Across the mountain, the sons of Ivaldi were making their treasures. Loki was not worried about them. But he needed to make sure that Brokk and Eitri did not, could not possibly, win.
Brokk and Eitri entered the forge. It was dark in there, lit by the orange glow of burning charcoal. Eitri took a pigskin from a shelf and placed it into the forge. “I’ve been keeping this pigskin for something like this,” he said.
Brokk just nodded.
“Right,” said Eitri. “You work the bellows, Brokk. Just keep pumping them. I need this hot, and I need it consistently hot, otherwise it won’t work. Pump. Pump.”
Brokk began to pump the bellows, sending a stream of oxygen-rich air into the heart of the forge, heating everything up. He had done it many times before. Eitri watched until he was satisfied that it would all be to his liking.
Eitri left to work on his creation outside the forge. As he opened the door to go out, a large black insect flew in. It was not a horsefly and it was not a deerfly; it was bigger than either. It flew in and circled the room in a malicious way.
Brokk could hear the sound of Eitri’s hammers outside the forge, and the sounds of filing and twisting, of shaping and banging.
The large black fly—it was the biggest, blackest fly you have ever seen—landed on the back of Brokk’s hand.
Both of Brokk’s hands were on the bellows. He did not stop pumping to swat at the fly. The fly bit Brokk, hard, on the back of the hand.
Brokk kept pumping.
The door opened, and Eitri came in and carefully pulled the work from the forge. It appeared to be a huge boar, with bristles of gleaming gold.
“Good work,” said Eitri. “A fraction of a degree warmer or cooler and the whole thing would have been a waste of our time.”
“Good work you too,” said Brokk.
The black fly, up on the corner of the ceiling, seethed with resentment and irritation.
Eitri took a block of gold and placed it on the forge. “Right,” he said. “This next one will impress them. When I call, start pumping the bellows, and whatever happens do not slow down, or speed up, or stop. There’s fiddly work involved.”