The Teens Can Write Too! blog chain seems to be getting more difficult – this month, they want a retelling of our favourite myth, legend or fairytale.
Well, I’m a total mythology nerd, so you’d think that would be quite easy, but my problem is I have too many favourites. I’ll admit that one of my all-time favourite stories is the tale of Blodeuwedd, the flower-wife of Llew. It’s a Welsh story, if you haven’t guessed, and formed the basis of Alan Garner’s book “The Owl Service” (which scared the living daylights out of me when I was seven). However, as I already started on a steampunk retelling of that tale quite a long time back, and it’s way too long for this post, I have to do something else.
I know too many Celtic myths to choose. So I’m going to head over to Norse mythology, looking at a particular story that many of you will probably have heard. It’s from the poetic edda (chapter 42, incidentally), so it’s not one of the absolute oldest stories. It’s about how a rather unusual horse came to be.
It’s entirely a first draft and I’m ill with a fever, so sorry if it doesn’t make sense! :D
NB: I have chosen to use the spelling ‘Loke’ to differentiate from Marvel’s Loki. This is also my reasoning behind using Othin, which is the spelling used by my edition of the poetic edda to refer to Odin.
A Long Way Back
It’s a long way back to Asgard and the road isn’t easy. The colt I’m leading doesn’t like to travel so slowly, but there is no way I am going to ride on him. Not with the pain I am in, the agony that threatens to overwhelm me whenever I try to sit down. Besides, the idea seems highly … inappropriate.
We didn’t come this far, originally, but after Svaðilfari left and I realised what had happened, I couldn’t bear the thought of the gods finding me. So I ran, through the trees and the mountains and across the land, until I was so large that I could run no further, and then I stopped and I waited for what I knew was coming.
But I have started from the end of my story. I am Loke. They call me the Trickster and the god of mischief and lies – they forget that at times I have been referred to as the god of the hearth or of the fireside. I am there to make a house a home. Oh, but no one remembers that.
“Loke!” they say. “Get us out of trouble! It’s all your fault, anyway.”
My fault? Quite often I have been trying to do the Aesir a favour, and yet they never see that. The giant’s blood that runs through me thanks to my mother makes me untrustworthy. Hated.
Asgard is not a secure place, and some time ago the gods decided that we needed to build a wall to protect us from attacks by the giants and other enemies. However, it is a large land and such a wall would take a very long time to build. While we were discussing the logistics, a man came up to us. He was a builder.
“I’ll build your wall,” he said to Othin, recognising the god with the most authority instantly and making a beeline for him. “I’ll build the whole thing in three seasons.”
“Well, I want something in return.” He was a big fellow, this man, and I had the impression that the others would not lightly refuse his demands. “Freyja, for a start.”
I glanced across at the goddess, who looked absolutely furious. I didn’t blame her. I actually quite liked Freyja – she was occasionally nice to me, though for her sake I’d suffered a few indignities. The idea of her marrying this huge builder wasn’t exactly appealing.
“That’s a big request,” said Othin, glancing at me with his one good eye. Come and sort this out, Loke, he was saying. I didn’t move. “Is there anything else you want?”
“The sun and the moon.”
Admittedly, the gods have a pretty sketchy idea of astronomy, and it would seem this bloke’s was worse, but it was clear to me that he was being ridiculous now. Nevertheless, at Othin’s prompting I stepped forward. “Done,” I said, and Freyja looked at me, totally outraged. “But we have conditions.”
“You’ve got one season, not three. If it’s not finished, you don’t get any of the payment you’ve asked for. And you can’t have any help.”
“What about my stallion? Can he help?”
I imagined that a pack horse or something would be more useful than a stallion, but I agreed to that, and the others looked dubious but agreed because, well, they haven’t got a brain between them. Hence why I do the negotiating. The builder shook my hand (nearly breaking it), and went off to get started.
“Loke, are you mad? We can’t possible give him Freyja.” Othin seemed furious. Didn’t he realise I had done him a favour?
“Oh, so the sun and the moon don’t matter to you?” I grinned. None of them like it when I grin, so I do it as often as possible. “It’s impossible for him to finish the wall in one season. It’s winter, for goodness’ sake. But he’ll do his best, and when spring comes he’ll at least have laid the foundations and we’ll have got free labour. Magic.”
It’s not magic, but the idea of business is just as strange to the gods as spells are to the people of Midgard, so I watched Othin nod slowly. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Loke.”
The wall progressed at high speed. The horse seemed to be doing most of the work. One morning I went down to the builder and asked him about it. “What’s it called?” I said.
He seemed surprised to be addressed. He really was massive, I realised. Taller than me, and I’ve got genes from my giantess mother, Laufey. “Svaðilfari,” he said.
“Good name for a horse,” I commented. Personally, I would have chosen something simpler like, I don’t know, Arthur.
Winter flew by and as the snows began to melt it was clear that the wall was almost finished. Othin called me to his throne room. “Loke,” he said. “You convinced us to agree to this. Now you get us out of this mess.”
They call me the Trickster or the god of mischief and lies, and there’s a reason for that. I trick people. One of the ways I do it is by changing my shape to hide myself. It’s easier than a disguise because it doesn’t disappear when you don’t have clothes on, and that seems to happen to me far too often.
I turned myself into a beautiful mare. Looking back (and wincing), this probably wasn’t the smartest of ideas. Svaðilfari saw me, got a wee bit excited, broke his harness and ran off into the forest with me. By that time I realised I would have to go through with the thing in order to keep the stallion out of the way for the whole night so that the builder couldn’t finish the last gateway, and come morning I was still in my horse-shape and feeling very sorry for myself.
The Aesir don’t have anyone to pray to, or I would have been on my (four) knees begging that Thor didn’t find out about this. My childhood friend would be like to tease me. Mercilessly.
I watched from the edges of the woods as the collective godly body of Asgard went out to inform the builder that he’d failed. “It’s only the gate – I finished the wall for you!”
“You didn’t finish the whole thing. Our agreement still stands.”
The builder was understandably a bit annoyed and growled in rage at Othin. As he did so, his disguise flickered and we realised why he was so huge. He was a Frost Giant. Great, they were going to like that.
Thor had returned by this point from gallivanting off somewhere. He only needs to see a Frost Giant for him to smash its face in with Mjollner, the wonderful hammer of pain (he got annoyed at me once, and I regretted it). So the builder guy is dead in an instant, Svaðilfari has scarpered, the gods have almost got a wall, and I…
I was pregnant.
You know the rest, I guess. I ran and ran and ran and then eventually, still in my horse-shape, I gave birth to a horse which, joy of joys, had eight legs. You thought human childbirth was painful? Try being a horse. Trying being a horse whose baby has twice the normal number of legs and is kicking with all of them.
And now I am walking back, leading the eight-legged colt and feeling very sorry for myself. I’m sure there were better ways of distracting Svaðilfari but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of them. I wonder what that says about me.
It’s a long way back to Asgard.
When I arrive, Frigga’s the only one there to greet me, but she quickly runs back inside and calls for Othin.
“Loke!” he says. “Where have you been?”
“This horse…” I gesture vaguely at my son. My son. “Erm…”
“It’s quite wonderful. Eight legs? It must travel quickly.”
“Yes, it’s fast. And it can go to the land of the dead and back, too.” You may wonder how I know that. The answer is that I tried to kill myself*, when the thing was first born, and it came and got me. Family loyalty, I guess, but it was pretty annoying.
Loke, you’re thinking, you can’t kill yourself. There’s no reason to. Oh yeah? You try changing your species and gender and ending up pregnant after a one-night stand with a Frost Giant’s stallion. Seriously.
“What’s its name?” Othin asks. I don’t like the way he’s eyeing it up. It seems kind of perverted. The kid isn’t exactly very old.
“I call him Sleipnir. He’s slippy, you see.”
“Like his owner, then,” says the Alfather.
His mother, you mean. “Hey, why don’t you have him? You’ll look after him, I know. I’ll… I’ll just check on him every now and again. Make sure he’s okay.”
Othin seems pleased and he accepts the gift. Frigga, his wife, seems to notice that this is troubling me. When the Alfather is gone, she turns to me. “Loke, there’s more to Sleipnir than you’re telling us, isn’t there?”
I take a deep breath. Frigga is fair. I can talk to her. Nevertheless, to admit it out loud seems foolish. “I am his mother,” I say, squaring my shoulders.
A guffaw from a few feet away informs me that Thor has heard me.
Perhaps I should ask Sleipnir to take me to Hel, and this time leave me there.
*This isn’t in the original myth, but I always wondered how Loke knew that Sleipnir could do that, and this seemed a reasonable explanation. Please do not cite it as mythology-fact, however :)
I have also posted this on Protagonize – http://www.protagonize.com/story/a-long-way-back
Want to follow our blog chain? Here are the participating parties, day by day
August 4 – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com – Musings From Neville’s Navel
August 5 – http://crazyredpen.blogspot.com/ – Crazy Red Pen
August 6 – http://lilyjenness.blogspot.com – Lily’s Notes in the Margins
August 7 – http://oliviasopinions.wordpress.com/ – Olivia’s Opinions
August 8 – http://snippetsandslicesandscenes.blogspot.ca/ – Snippets, Slices, and Scenes
August 9 – http://markobrienwrites.blogspot.com – Mark O’Brien Writes
August 10 – http://onelifeglory.blogspot.ca/ – One Life Glory
August 11 – http://www.astoryofadreamer.blogspot.com/ – A Story of a Dreamer
August 12 – http://weirdalocity.wordpress.com/ – Life, Among Other Things
August 13 – http://maybeteenauthor.blogspot.com – Blog of a (Maybe) Teen Author
August 14 – http://theteenagewriter.wordpress.com/ – The Teenage Writer
August 15 – http://scribblingbeyondthemargins.wordpress.com – Scribbling Beyond the Margins
August 16 – http://otherrandomthings.wordpress.com – Dragons, Unicorns, and Other Random Things
August 17 – http://kirstenwrites.wordpress.com/ – Kirsten Writes!
August 18 – http://laughablog.wordpress.com –The Zebra Clan
August 19 – http://miriamjoywrites.wordpress.com – Miriam Joy Writes
August 20– http://allegradavis.wordpress.com – All I Need Is A Keyboard
August 21 – http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com–The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer
August 22 – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com – Teens Can Write Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)