“What are you doing?” he asked. “Where are you taking me?”
Thor just shook his head and grunted, and did not reply. Loki asked the other gods, but none of them would tell him what was happening, and none of them would meet his eye.
The gods entered the mouth of a cave, and with Loki slung between them, they went down deep into the earth. Stalactites hung from the ceiling of the cave, and bats fluttered and flickered. They went down lower. Soon the way was too narrow to carry Loki, and now they let him walk between them. Thor walked immediately behind Loki, his hand on Loki’s shoulder.
They went down a long, long way.
In the deepest of the caves there were brands burning, and three people stood there, waiting for them. Loki recognized them before he saw their faces, and his heart sank. “No,” he said. “Do not hurt them. They did nothing wrong.”
Thor said, “They are your sons and your wife, Loki Lie-Smith.”
There were three huge flat stones in that cave. The Aesir set each stone on its side, and Thor took his hammer. He broke a hole through the middle of each stone.
“Please! Let our father go,” said Narfi, Loki’s son.
“He is our father,” said Vali, Loki’s other son. “You have sworn oaths that you will not kill him. He is a blood brother and an oath brother to Odin, highest of the gods.”
“We will not kill him,” said Kvasir. “Tell me, Vali, what is the worst thing that one brother could do to another?”
“For a brother to betray his brother,” said Vali, without hesitating. “For a brother to murder a brother, as Hod killed Balder. This is abominable.”
Kvasir said, “It is true that Loki is a blood brother to the gods, and we cannot kill him. But we are bound by no such oaths to you, his sons.”
Kvasir spoke words to Vali, words of change, words of power.
Vali’s human shape fell from him, and where Vali had stood was a wolf, foam flecking its muzzle. The intelligence of Vali was fading from its yellow eyes, to be replaced by hunger, by anger, by madness. It looked at the gods, at Sigyn, who had been its mother, and finally it saw Narfi. It growled low and long in the back of its throat, and its hackles rose.
Narfi took a step back, only a step, and then the wolf was on him.
Narfi was brave. He did not scream, not even when the wolf that had been his brother tore him apart, ripping open his throat and spilling his guts onto the rock floor. The wolf that had been Vali howled once, long and loudly, through blood-soaked jaws. Then it sprang high, over the heads of the gods, and it ran off into the cave-darkness and would not be seen in Asgard again, not until the end of everything.
The gods forced Loki onto the three great stones: they put one of the stones beneath his shoulders, one under his loins, and one beneath his knees. The gods took Narfi’s spilled entrails, and they pushed them through the holes they had made in the stones, binding Loki’s neck and shoulders tightly. They wound the entrails of his son around his loins and his hips, tied his knees and legs so tightly he could barely move. Then the gods transformed the intestines of Loki’s murdered son into fetters so tight and so hard that they might have been iron.
Sigyn, Loki’s wife, had watched as her husband was bound in the entrails of their son, and she said nothing. She wept silently to herself for the pain of her husband, for the death and the dishonor of their sons. She held a bowl, although she did not yet know why. Before the gods had brought her there, they had told her to go to her kitchen and bring the biggest bowl she had.
Skadi, giant daughter of dead Thiazi, wife of Njord of the beautiful feet, came into the cave then. She carried something huge in her hands, something that writhed and twisted. She bent over Loki and placed the thing she carried above him, winding it about the stalactites that hung from the ceiling of the cave, so that its head was just above Loki’s own.
It was a snake, cold of eye, its tongue flickering, its fangs dripping with poison. It hissed, and a drop of poison from its mouth dripped onto Loki’s face, making his eyes burn.
Loki screamed and contorted, writhing and twisting in pain. He tried to get out of the way, to move his head from beneath the poison. The bonds that had once been the entrails of his own son held him tightly.
One by one the gods left that place, with grimly satisfied looks on their faces. Soon only Kvasir was left. Sigyn looked at her bound husband and at the disemboweled corpse of her wolf-murdered son.
“What are you going to do to me?” she asked.
“Nothing,” said Kvasir. “You are not being punished. You may do whatever you wish.” And then even he left that place.
Another drop of the serpent’s venom dripped onto Loki’s face, and he screamed and threw himself about, writhing in his bonds. The earth itself shook at Loki’s threshing.
Sigyn took her bowl and went to her husband. She said nothing—what was there to say?—but she stood beside Loki’s head, with tears in her eyes, and caught each drop of poison as it fell from the snake’s fangs into her bowl.
This all happened long, long ago, in time out of mind, in the days when the gods still walked the earth. So long ago that the mountains of those days have worn away and the deepest lakes have become dry land.
Sigyn still waits beside Loki’s head as she did then, staring at his beautiful, twisted face.
The bowl she holds fills slowly, one drop at a time, but eventually the poison fills the bowl to the brim. It is then and only then that Sigyn turns away from Loki. She takes the bowl and pours the venom away, and while she is gone, the snake’s poison falls onto Loki’s face and into his eyes. He convulses then, jerks and judders, jolts and twists and writhes, so much that the whole earth shakes.