“And the moon,” said Bragi. “Such a pity you do not have your horse with you. He could have carried all the rocks you need.”
And the gods laughed.
The builder let go of the stone-boat then. He faced the gods. “You cheated!” he said, and his face was scarlet with exertion and with anger.
“We have not cheated,” said Odin. “No more than you have cheated. Do you think we would have let you build our wall if we had known you were a giant?”
The builder picked up a rock one-handed and smashed it against another, breaking the granite block into two. He turned to the gods, half of the rock in each hand, and now he was twenty, thirty, fifty feet tall. His face twisted; he no longer looked like the stranger who had arrived in Asgard a season before, placid and even-tempered. Now his face looked like the granite face of a cliff, twisted and sculpted by anger and hatred.
“I am a mountain giant,” he said. “And you gods are nothing but cheats and vile oath-breakers. If I still had my horse, I would be finishing your wall now. I would be taking the lovely Freya and the sun and the moon for my wages. And I would be leaving you here in the darkness and the cold, without even beauty to cheer you.”
“No oath was broken,” said Odin. “But no oath can protect you from us now.”
The mountain giant roared with anger and ran toward the gods, a huge lump of granite in each hand as a club.
The gods stood aside, and only now the giant saw who was standing behind them. A huge god, red-bearded and muscular, wearing iron gauntlets and holding an iron hammer, which he swung, once. He let go of the hammer when it was pointing at the giant.
There was a flash of lightning from the clear skies, followed by the dull boom of thunder as the hammer left Thor’s hand.
The mountain giant saw the hammer getting rapidly bigger as it came hurtling toward him, and then he saw nothing else, not ever again.
The gods finished building the wall themselves, although it took them many more weeks to cut and haul the last ten blocks from the quarries high in the mountains and drag them all the way back to Asgard and place them in position at the top of the gateway. They were not as well shaped or as well fitted as the blocks the master builder had shaped and placed himself.
There were those of the gods who felt that they should have let the giant get even closer to finishing the wall before Thor killed him. Thor said that he appreciated the gods having some fun ready for him, when he got home from the east.
Strangely, for it was most unlike him, Loki was not around to be praised for his part in luring away the horse Svadilfari. Nobody knew where he was, although there were those who spoke of a magnificent chestnut mare seen on the meadows beneath Asgard. Loki stayed away for the best part of a year, and when he showed up again, he was accompanied by a gray foal.
It was a beautiful foal, although it had eight legs instead of the usual four, and it followed Loki wherever he went, and nuzzled him, and treated Loki as if he were its mother. Which, of course, was the case.
The foal grew into a horse called Sleipnir, a huge gray stallion, the fastest and the strongest horse that ever there had been or ever there would be, a horse that could outrun the wind.
Loki presented Sleipnir to Odin as a gift, the best horse among gods and men.
Many people would admire Odin’s horse, but only a brave man would ever mention its parentage in Loki’s presence, and nobody ever dared to allude to it twice. Loki would go out of his way to make your life unpleasant if he heard you talking about how he lured Svadlifari away from its master and how he rescued the gods from his own bad idea. Loki nursed his resentments.
And that is the story of how the gods got their wall.
THE CHILDREN OF LOKI
Loki was handsome, and he knew it. People wanted to like him, they wanted to believe him, but he was undependable and self-centered at best, mischievous or evil at worst. He married a woman named Sigyn, who had been happy and beautiful when Loki courted and married her but now always looked like she was expecting bad news. She bore him a son, Narfi, and shortly afterward another son, Vali.
Sometimes Loki would vanish for long periods and not return, and then Sigyn would look like she was expecting the very worst news of all, but always Loki would come back to her, looking shifty and guilty and also as if he were very proud of himself indeed.
Three times he went away, three times he—eventually—
The third time Loki returned to Asgard, Odin called Loki to him.
“I have dreamed a dream,” said the wise old one-eyed god. “You have children.”
“I have a son, Narfi. A good boy, although I must confess that he does not always listen to his father, and another son, Vali, obedient and restrained.”
“Not them. You have three other children, Loki. You have been sneaking off to spend your days and your nights in the land of the frost giants with Angrboda the giantess. And she has borne you three children. I have seen them in the eye of my mind as I sleep, and my visions tell me that they will be the greatest foes of the gods in the time that is to come.”
Loki said nothing. He tried to look ashamed and succeeded simply in looking pleased with himself.
Odin called the gods to him, with Tyr and Thor at their head, and he told them that they would be journeying far into Jotunheim, to Giantland, to bring Loki’s children to Asgard.
The gods traveled into the land of the giants, battling many dangers, until they reached Angrboda’s keep. She was not expecting them, and she had left her children playing together in her great hall. The gods were shocked when they saw what Loki and Angrboda’s children were, but that did not deter them. They seized the children, and they bound them, and they carried the oldest between them, tied to the stripped trunk of a pine tree, and they muzzled the second child with a muzzle made from knotted willow, and they put a rope around its neck as a leash, while the third child walked beside them, gloomy and disturbing.