The Apples of Youth

    Bright Idunna, maid Immortal
    Standing at Valhalla's portal,
    In her casket has rich store
    Of rare apples, gilded o'er;
    Those rare apples, not of earth
    To ageing Asas gave new birth.

    Sweetest of all the Asa folk was Idunn, the fair young goddess of Springtime and Youth, and dearly loved was she by other Asas, both for herself and for her magic apples. Fast locked in a golden basket were her apples, ripe and sweet and rosy. And each day, at dawn, Idunn came to the table where the gods sat and feasted together, and gave those who wished a taste of the fruit.

    And it came to pass that everyone who ate the magic fruit grew fresh and young again, however old and weary he had been before. For even the gods of Asgard grew old and weary sometimes; and then nothing would make them young again but the Apples of Youth. So Idunn treasured the fruit with the greatest care, and never let it out of her charge for a moment. And however many she took out of her basket wherewith to feed the gods, there always remained just the same number as before.

    It was only to be expected, of course, that the fame of this magic fruit should spread, and as nobody liked to grow old, many of the giants, as well as the little dwarf people, used to come to the gates of Asgard and beg that Idunn would give them a taste of the apples. But this, though they offered her the richest gifts they could think of, she never would do.

    Now one day it so fell out that Odinn grew weary of watching his heroes feast and fight in Valhalla and was determined to go forth and seek an adventure elsewhere. So he called for his brother Hoenir, the clear-eyed Asa who first gave hope to the heart of man, and Loki, the mischievous fellow who yet by reason of his fun was no bad traveling companion, and bade them accompany him on a journey.

    Speeding over the Rainbow Bridge, they came down to the world below and presently found themselves in a desolate region of mountain and moorland, through which they wandered for a long, long time, without coming across any kind of human habitation.
    At length, grown weary and very hungry, they began to look about for food, and presently saw to their great joy a herd of oxen feeding upon the mountainside. It took no long time to kill a fine bull and to kindle an immense fire; after which the Asas hung up the animal to roast and sat down to wait till it was done.

    But though the fire flamed bravely over the logs, it made no difference whatever to the meat, which remained raw and cold. Heaping on fresh fuel, the three Asas put the carcass still nearer the flame and waited hungrily. All in vain; the meat remained uneatable.

    Looking at each other in dismay, the Asas exclaimed: "There is some magic spell at work here." And at that very moment they heard the loud croak of a bird in the tree above them.

    Hastily searching the branches, the Asas soon found an immense eagle perched there and looking down upon them with an evil expression. "Ho!" cried Odinn, "is it you who has bewitched our food?" The eagle nodded and croaked maliciously again. "Then come at once and remove the spell," cried the famished Hoenir.

    "If I do so, will you give me as much as I want to eat?" asked the eagle. At this Odinn hesitated, for he feared a trick, but Loki's mouth was watering and he called out: "Yes, yes, anything you like if you will only let the meat be cooked." Then the great bird swooped down and began to fan the flame with his huge wings, and behold! in a very few minutes the gravy began to run, a delicious smell of roast beef filled the air, and there was the meat done to a turn.

    Just as the three Asas were putting out hungry hands to seize their portions, however, the eagle, which had been hovering overhead, swooped down and seized more than three-quarters of the animal, leaving barely enough for one of the famished gods. This was too much for Loki. With a great roar of rage like that of an angry lion, he seized a great stake that stood near and struck with all his might at the greedy bird.

    The eagle shook himself after the blow, but instead of dropping his booty he rose slowly into the air. And then, to Loki's dismay, he found that one end of the pole had stuck fast to the body of the bird, the other to his own hands. Try as he would he could not let go, and so found himself being dragged along over stones and bushes and briers, while his arms were almost torn out of their sockets. In vain he begged and implored the eagle to let him go; it took no notice of him whatever, but flew on and on just a little way above the earth, until at length Loki, feeling he could endure no longer, promised him anything he asked if he would only release him.

    Then the eagle spoke, telling him that he would set him free on one condition only, and that was that he should manage by some trick to tempt Idunn out of Asgard, in order that he could obtain possession of her and of the magic fruit. He told Loki, moreover, that he was the Storm Giant Thiassi in disguise, and bade him beware of the consequences if he broke his solemn promise to one of giant race. By this time Loki was ready to promise anything to save his life, and so at length he found himself free.

    Bruised and torn he made his way back to Odinn and Hoenir, by whom he was closely questioned concerning his adventures. But Loki never hesitated to depart from the truth, and, knowing that it would not do to tell what he had promised, he answered glibly that the eagle had captured him by mistake for someone else, and that when he found out it was Red Loki himself, he had set him free, with many expressions of sorrow for his error.

    So the three Asas returned to Asgard, and from that moment Loki did not cease to plot and plan the means by which he could entice Idunn outside the gates. And indeed this was no easy matter, for the Apples of Youth were so precious to the gods that Idunn was well guarded by night and day. Sometimes, however, even the Asas were off their guard, and that was the opportunity for Loki . . .

    apples by Vikmouse

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