Chapter One His name was Loki, and he was a god. He was known as the breaker of boundaries, the bringer of mischief. He had sharp eyes and an even sharper tongue, and not a single person, god or mortal, wanted to be on the wrong end of his razor-edged wit. He could steal a glance, steal a scene, and then steal away without being caught. Some said he was a god of fire, since he was the brightest of the Norse gods. Others claimed his name meant "spider," because he could spin a web of lies when he wanted to. He was the maker of the first net that had ever been created. But he had been snared. Loki, the trickster, had run out of tricks. He stood now on a strip of barren ground somewhere near the edge of Asgard, the home of the Norse gods. For the first time in all the ages, Loki actually felt small. The other Norse gods had always been bigger than he was, but that had never seemed to matter before, when he walked among them, joking with and mocking them. Now they seemed to tower over him, glaring down at him as he stood in the center of their circle. The most frightening of them all was Thor, the god of thunder and lightning, Loki's onetime friend. "Do you have anything to say for yourself, Loki?" Thor demanded, scowling down at Loki, his mouth hard beneath his thick blond beard. Loki looked at Thor's angry face and then let his gaze wander around the circle. Thor's wife, Sif, stood at her husband's side, her hair of spun gold, shining. Next, dressed all in white, was Heimdall, the guardian of the Norse gods. Heimdall, it was said, had ears so keen he could hear the grass grow, and eyes so sharp he could see for a hundred miles by night or day. Loki felt those eyes on him now and shuddered. Next to Heimdall stood Freya, goddess of love, wearing her magical cloak of birds' feathers and a beautiful necklace. Loki's eyes fell on a scowling god with a gray beard and a patch over one eye: Odin, father of the gods. Odin was the all-powerful ruler of their world, and he gave Loki such a dark, hateful look that Loki had to turn away. Hoping to find a friendlier face, Loki turned to his own family. His wife, Sigyn, stood nearby. She was loyal to him, but he could find no comfort in her appearance, for she could not help him here. Beside her stood their two sons, Vali and Narvi, handsome boys who looked far more heroic than their clever father. But, Loki told himself, they lacked his cleverness, his ability to defy the laws of the other gods. They followed rules instead of breaking them, and that disappointed him. Of course, it occurred to him that if he'd spent less time running around breaking rules himself, he might have been able to teach them better. Finally, he turned back to Thor. He felt a twinge of fear as he stared up at the mass of muscle. Physically, Thor could crush him like a bug. But when it came to brains, Thor was a dwarf and Loki was a giant. He felt the fear drain away as he said, "What, you speak for Odin the Allfather now, Thor? Or is Odin now father of nothing?" Thor's face turned red. "Odin is father of Balder!" "Whom you killed!" yelled another goddess, named Frigga. "Odin feels too much sorrow to speak!" Loki winced. Frigga was Odin's wife and the mother of Balder, the god they were accusing him of killing. Then, inwardly, Loki grinned. If you looked at it one way, he thought, he had murdered that sickly-sweet Balder. But Loki never looked at things in a way that made him guilty. Why bother? "I didn't kill your son, Frigga," he said out loud. "I just happened to be there when it happened." Frigga, though, wasn't nearly as afraid of the crafty little god. "You're a liar, Loki!" Thor stepped forward. "Loki, we all know your tricks. You are responsible for what happened." Loki shrugged. "You're allWhitman, John is the author of 'Hammer of the Gods' with ISBN 9780553130188 and ISBN 0553130188.