The Birth of Sleipnir and the Building of the Fortress
Author's note: This is based on the canon of Norse mythology (specifically the account of this story in the Gylfaginning section of the Prose Edda), but the characters are as they were interpreted in the movies Thor and The Avengers.
This is also posted on my tumblr.
"Loki, we are calling the counsel to discuss the building of our stronghold. Are you coming?"
Loki looked up from his book in surprise. He was sitting against a pillar holding up the eaves of Valhalla, facing the forest. It was one of the few places he was able to find some peace and quiet, as Valhalla was already loud with the gods and the souls of the dead. However, he had also chosen this spot because it was difficult to stumble upon accidentally, so the god who was addressing him must have come looking for him. "The stronghold?" Loki inquired.
The god raised an eyebrow. "You hardly think Valhalla is sufficient for all the Æsir and the dead as well, do you? With your brother hunting in the east, we have need of you on the counsel."
"Ah." Loki stood and brushed himself off. "I will come if you will allow me to place this in my quarters first." He held up the book. "Where are we meeting?"
"At the trunk of Yggdrasil, as always. The summons were given several hours ago, so the meeting is about to begin."
"Yes, how silly of me to ask," Loki said snidely. "Well, I shall have no trouble finding it, so you need not worry that I will be late. It is difficult to miss."
The god gave him a distrusting look, but merely nodded and left. Loki watched him go and then turned to Valhalla. Sharp green eyes examined its structure in a new light. The hall had been built wider than any other structure the gods had yet built, but it was many times longer than it was wide. The massive structure could hold ten thousand times its current occupants, Loki knew, and though he disliked the noise, it was far from crowded. That would change, of course, but the Æsir had plenty of time still before they would need to think of building a home for themselves. However, the hall had no walls or fortifications of any kind. Its roof might be made of gold shields, but they would do little to protect from a ground attack. It was built on flat land and surrounded by forests. Strategically, it was ill-positioned at best.
The god had said "stronghold." If the Æsir planned on fending off any kind of attack, that was exactly what they would need.
Despite Loki's promise, the meeting had already started by the time he arrived. A small hall had been built beside the trunk of Yggdrasil, the great ash tree that joined all the realms. Inside the hall was a long table ringed by enough chairs for all the Æsir, though Loki usually declined to join them when they were in counsel. This time, however, he was intrigued. It was quite a large decision. Thor would be annoyed that he had gone off to hammer trolls in the east at the wrong time and missed it.
Although, knowing Thor, maybe not.
"The smith promises us he can build us a fortress that would be strong enough to withstand mountain trolls and frost giants, and he promises it will take him only three seasons. However, he demands a high price."
"What is this price?" Odin asked from his place at the head of the table. Loki silently took a seat a few chairs down.
"He demands the hand of Freyja in marriage, and he wants to be given the sun and the moon."
A rumbling went around the table. The Vanir were equal in power with the Æsir but of a different temperament. Though they were not as proud as the Æsir, Freyja would still not be pleased to have her hand bargained for, especially without her knowledge. Convincing her to marry this strange smith would be hard enough, but to give him the sun and the moon would destroy the heavens and bring darkness. It was too great a price, but, the god explained, the smith could not be convinced to change his terms.
"Perhaps we do not need a fortress after all," one god pointed out. "It is hard for the mountain trolls and frost giants to reach us here, and there are many of us. If we decide we need a fortress, we can build it ourselves."
"But can we build one as strong as this smith claims he can? I would rather we take the precaution than let ourselves be wiped out."
"It is not a precaution, it is a necessity. We must keep ourselves safe."
"It may be that he will fail us anyway. Even all the Æsir in twice the time could not do what he claims."
"But if he can, could we not take advantage of his offer somehow? We do not have men to spare to build such a thing. It is certainly a tempting offer."
"I agree." The room went silent and heads turned to look at Loki. Loki met their eyes evenly but avoided looking anywhere near Odin. "Let him try to build this fortress with his demands in mind. If he will not change his terms, we should change ours. If he can not meet them, we do not have to deliver on our half of the bargain, but we will still gain the fruits of his labor."
There was a moment of silence. Loki tried not to hold his breath too conspicuously; it was a risky plan, but the best one that had been offered so far, and he knew it. However, sometimes the Æsir preferred to err on the side of caution, Odin especially.
"Our terms would still have to be good enough to let him think he had a chance," a god pointed out, and Loki let out a long breath.
"He will hardly care if he believes he will get what he wants," another countered. "Also, he cannot expect us to accept all his terms. One does not ask for Freyja's hand in marriage and the sun and the moon lightly."
"If we were to take this route," said Odin slowly, "He must attempt to prove that we can accept his claims without doubt. He expected three seasons. We shall give him only one."
Shall. Loki nearly smiled.
"And winter comes upon us," someone said, and noises of agreement were heard around the table.
"What if he enlists aid? He never said how many men he would have help him. Perhaps he could finish it in only a season with thrice the number."
"We must deny it to him." The words fell heavily in the room.
"All aid?" someone asked after a moment. "We must demand the difficult, not the truly impossible."
"How many men, then? Ten? A hundred? It is clear to any who have seen him that he is a giant. He is worth ten men himself. Even two giants is too many."
"We do not know his strength," Odin agreed, "But what if he will not accept our terms? We cannot show weakness in our bargaining. This must be our final offer."
"Loki, what say you?" a god asked, and all turned to look at Loki. "It was your suggestion, and now we are at an impasse."
Loki licked his lips. His mouth had suddenly gone dry. He glanced at the All-Father, but Odin was watching him calmly like the rest. Loki met the eyes of the god who had spoken. "If we will not allow him to ask the help of giants, we should at least grant him the use of his horse."
"His horse's name is Svadilfari," said a god. "It is a magnificent creature and larger than any I have seen, as any giant's horse should be, but it is only a horse."
"Then those are our terms," Odin said, and his voice rumbled through the hall. "We will meet with the smith and tell him so."
The counsel was adjourned. Loki smiled, a slight smile, but a proud one none the less. He might not be as great a warrior as Thor, but that did not mean that he was any less worthy of the approval of the counsel and their father.
Author's note: . . . And then everything went to hell. /spoilers (No, that's another one of Loki's kids.)