Monday, July 24, 2017

Make the Villain a Hero Challenge: "What Fools These Immortals Be"-- by Abigail Leskey


What Fools These Immortals Be

     The door of my chamber slams into the wall as my brother bursts through it. “Father says I have to marry her!”
     Well. “I take it I’m going to be an uncle?” I ask dryly, setting a history of Vanir contact with the Midgardian region Asia down on the nearest table.
     Thor’s ears decide that they would look better if they matched his cape. “No! This isn’t a girl. It’s a woman whom he wants to build us a wall.” He gestures angrily at the wall of my room, as if he fears I know not what one is. “We have masons!”
     “What manner of wall?” I ask calmly, arising. This is no ordinary building contract.
     “I care not!” Thor shouts, very helpfully.
     “Right.” I walk past him, out into the corridor, down it past windows admitting golden light.
     A stranger emerges from the door to the throneroom, a woman as tall as I am with a white face, dressed all in coarse leather—the face and the leather being of the same quality.
     “The other prince,” she says, stepping into my way.
     “I cannot recall being introduced to you,” I say. “I believe you are some manner of…mason?”
     She laughs, pleasantly. “Magician.” And then her blood-shot eyes shift from me and she looks back at the throneroom and whistles—and a great black steed runs out, magic flowing after it like another tail, and she springs from the golden floor onto its back and they gallop straight down the corridor and leap out of a tall window, and I can see no more of them. 
     Thor’s disturbance is quite reasonable, I conclude as I remove a long black tail hair that adhered to me as they galloped past, and gaze down upon the hoofmarks in the floor.
     I hear softer footsteps, Mother’s, and look up to see her with the expression she has when she is not going to criticize Father but certainly could, were it not a contravention of a wife’s duty. I walk towards her and fall into step beside her, offering her my arm. “What manner of wall is this, Mother?”
     She puts her hand on my bracer, and we walk on, stepping where the horse galloped. “An ingenious one. It is a device that will store magic and permit it to form a globe of protection about the palace. Even should no magician be present.”
     It would block both earthbound and airborne enemies, and would free magicians for other work.  Certainly a desirable defence, and not one that anyone in Asgard knows how to manufacture. “I see. And what does this have to do with Thor honoring me with the most doleful wedding announcement I’ve ever heard?”
     Mother sighs. “She wishes to marry him, and will not so much as consider payment instead. Your father has concluded that our need for this wall is absolute, and intends to promise her Thor tomorrow.”
     “I wasn’t even asked,” Thor growls, stalking out of my chamber as we come to it. I hope he has not thrown any of my books. Or my bookcases. Granted, he’s never thrown the latter before, but he’s also never been forced into an engagement.  “She says it will only take her three days, one to make the device, two to fill it with magic—and then I’ll be married to her.”
     Mother goes to him and begins attempting to make him calmer, as he rants, and I vanish out of the nearest doorway.
     The lavender’s scented strong today, and the air’s rather warmer than pleases me; though most love such warmth to the extent that they remind me of turtles. I walk slowly but crisply down a gravelly path, just barely feeling the points of the rocks through the soles of my boots, thinking. One day to make it, three to fill it with magic. Mother or I could do the latter—I’ve been making protective magic like a golden net since I was a boy. So this woman’s services are only needed for one day.
     And for that, Thor must be bound to a lowborn haggish flirt as long as she lives? I clench my teeth, walking harder on the gravel. I quite understand his revulsion, since mine would be even greater were I to be the victim. There is no hope of persuading Father, not now that he has spoken publically.
     One day, two days—But why need she do all the crafting? I know what course to take. I smile a little, and kick at some gravel to obliterate the hoofprint on the path where she crossed it. 

     It’s not easy to find Father alone. He scowls at me when I succeed in encountering him as he is about to depart from the throneroom, and I quickly bow. “Father, may I offer a suggestion?”
     “If it’s brief.” He looks as if he’d rather not hear it at all.
     “Tell this woman we need the shield immediately, that she has only one day in which to work or she will forfeit her payment.”
     “That’s folly, she needs three days to construct it.” He walks past me, boots hitting the floor rhythmically.  
     “One day to construct it, Father!” I say hastily. “And then two days for the magic, which I could do as well as she.”  He turns about, and it’s all I can do not to smile exultantly. He’s listening. “She’ll finish the physical part of it, and that will be the sum of it.”
     Father nods crisply. “Thank you, Loki.”
     I stand silent against the wall, watching her work—both from curiosity, and from a desire to ensure that she is distracted enough to keep her from finishing early, if the need arises for such distraction.
     Her horse stands beside her, watching as intently as I am, as she stacks metal parts. And then—well, this wasn’t exactly how I thought she’d build it. One of her coarse hands presses its palm against the horse’s side, and the other rises in the air, swiping the form of the rune Othala in a strangely frigid gold. Her raised hand cups and then its fingers twist and point.
     Slowly, gracefully, bits of gold begin to assemble themselves, far faster than she could have done it by hand—though I can tell from her moistening face that this is harder than manual creation. Soon the room fills with the putrescence of frozen meat thawing and rotting. The leather she wears?
     It matters not. The device seems to me to be half completed, and she’s been creating it for only an hour. I quietly walk up to the horse and reach out my hand to stroke its face. It shrieks and leaps to the side, clashing its teeth together, and then throws its head forward so fast that it succeeds in gnashing on my wrist. I grit my teeth, glad that I’m wearing leather bracers, and glare into its red eyes.
     “Hei!” the woman shouts, and the horse whirls toward her, letting my wrist go. It walks slowly towards her, gentle and docile, and again she puts her palm on its flank and raises the loose pieces of gold from the floor. “Don’t touch my horse, Asgardian!”
     Her magic failed when her horse left her. “My apologies, sister,” I say smoothly. “I merely wished to make the acquaintance of what will soon be a resident of my home.”
     “Hmph.” She’s paler then ever, so pale that she’s looking bluish, but that doesn’t concern me. I slip out and away, and wait long enough for Father’s ravens to finish fighting over somebody’s golden brooch before I conjure up an illusion of a mare as golden as the brooch, with a mane and tail as black as Hugin and Munin.
    
     In the foothills of the mountains that brush the snowclouds, I feel my illusion break. I can’t see it, or the stallion that seeks it, but I follow on.
     When I enter the valley into which they went, breathing hard, the only horse I can see is a small black foal, curled up on the ground and looking up at me with gentle brown eyes. It rises and I draw my breath in, for eight long, fragile legs are all helping it gain the perpendicular.  It shakily ambles toward me, and if I were not engaged in looking about for the stallion I would certainly wish to pet its short-flocked little face.  
     Behind me a horse shrieks, and I turn and dart to the side just in time to avoid scalping at the teeth of the stallion—who is now a foot taller, red-eyed, and white, and…I see as it rears, silently killing the air with its hooves…a mare.
     Frigidity fills the air around it, and as I draw my dagger the monster crashes down at me, knocking me to the ground and standing with great hooves, covered in frost lace, on my coat. Down at me strikes its open mouth, cold mist clouding from it from behind teeth like opaque icicles, down toward my throat—I throw up my left hand, green light glaring from it, and as the monster tosses its head up to protect its eyes I slash through its throat with my dagger, rolling away as it leaps and tosses in the instants before it is airless and limp on the moss it’s freezing.
     I stand still, breathing hard, watching the foal as it totters toward the dead monster. What does that soft black coat hide?
     It noses at the icy neck of the mare, blinking as it smells the blood and as the creature does not move, and then trots snarledly over to me, shaking, as if it thinks I can help…as if its mother were not a monstrosity that I had killed. It looks up at me with great, sad brown eyes. Its mother.
     Faster than is cautious, I push it away, expecting the illusion hiding its red eyes to vanish if I touch it. But it doesn’t; the foal totters, and remains as soft and dark and pathetic as ever.
     Warily, I let it nibble on the fingers of the hand that isn’t bloody, thinking that Father would call me a fool for not killing it. But it’s no monster, in form or in desire.
     Thunder booms out from behind me, as far away as the palace is, and I turn to see lightning glinting from the spire. Thor.
      Uphill I run, seeing more lightning at the top, hearing more thunder as I run down again, seeing and hearing both as I race across the level ground, around the side of the palace—there, in the garden, in a white ring surrounded by warriors, a blue woman higher that the horse I just killed, so tall that when she holds Thor by his feet his blowing cape never brushes the ground. Her other great fist is shaking hard as Thor reaches desperately in its direction; she’s holding Mjolnir in it, I realize as I run closer, and the white ring about her is a great wall of sharp ice spears. Volstagg hacks at them, bellowing.
    I stop and draw a deep breath, drawing my dagger again. Thor’s face is red, his foot flopped at a broken angle. Her face, blue, marked, red eyes. Her other fist, shaking and shaking, about to fly open.
     To the center of the base of her palm, my dagger flies, piercing all its length. Her fingers jerk, and Mjolnir slips out between them, flying into Thor’s hand and a moment later from it again. Her head explodes in a storm of ice and lightning and night-sky blood, falling to the ice with Thor—and she follows, falling almost onto him, her shoulder breaking a gate into her icewall. I run forward and climb over her, finding him prostrate and rejoiced. “Brother! I broke the engagement!” He tries to stand up and walk, the result of which is that I have to catch him.
     “I think you mean you broke her head,” I say dryly, trying not to fall over as he leans heavily on my shoulder. “Precisely how one should treat one’s betrothed.”
      He laughs, catching Mjolnir (which makes him just that much heavier!) “She was a Jotun.”
     Fandral clambers over the giantess and takes half of Thor’s weight. “It’s lucky the wine was iced today. And that she put her whole head in the bowl of it!”
   Volstagg’s axe smashes through the wall, caving in just enough of it that I can see Father’s approaching white hair.


     I’ve collected my dagger from the dead Jotun’s wrist, and now I sit on a stone that pokes off a hill, sit looking at the columned triangle of the palace reflecting the light.
     Really, Father wasn’t quite thorough. He should have accused me of giving the giantess a love potion that made her want to wed Thor, and declared that I had taught her her illusory powers, just for tidiness sake.
     I hate remembering my soft words of apology, my humble bow, my penitent look that was false, my look of fear that was real as for a moment his fist rose—
     I was the hero. Not the fool, and most certainly not the villain.
     When I was younger I would have made an effort to explain this. One of the reasons I am yclept the god of Lies….
     I gasp as something wet bumps my cheek, and leap to my feet, dagger in hand. Big brown eyes look up at me, long lashes fluttering. The foal bumps its nose into my leg, for no apparent reason, leaving wetness on my leather trousers, and then blinks up at me again.
     “If you were a little more intelligent, you’d be out for revenge against me,” I tell it softly, taking a leaf out of its soft black mane.  “And if I were sensible, I wouldn’t let the foal of a Jotun monster live.”
     I kneel on one knee, and stroke the foal’s neck. “Why exactly do you have eight legs, young one? You slip as you go, and slipped past my wisdom, right?”
     He blinks and puts his chin on my shoulder, making a smile spread across my face.
          I suppose it would be embarrassing enough to have one’s intended hold one upside down in the air without having simply dangled there until the advent of one’s younger brother.
     I hear Mother’s quiet steps on the grass only a few moments before she says, “He’ll need some hand feeding.”
     I look up at her, smiling. “Perhaps a little more than most foals…four more legs to nourish.”
     The foal uses them and the other four to skid across the grass to her and rub against her shining blue gown. She laughs softly and pets its forehead. “Whatever his mother was, he certainly doesn’t take after her. His mother was the magician’s horse, was she not?”
      I rise. “Indeed.” And that is the end of that. Father would want the foal dead if he knew that, and so I will have found the foal in the hills, and Mother will never say that I said otherwise.
     The foal slips along beside us as we walk back toward the palace, the darkening light a stronger gold than at the height of the day. “I hope to finish the shield tonight,” I say, for it is needed, though a Jotun began its making.
       “A worthy goal, but Thor might make it difficult,” Mother says with a smile, gently pulling her wrap out of the foal’s mouth. “He’s searching the palace for you, as he wants to hold a victory feast.”
     “Shouldn’t he be having his ankle treated?”
     “It’s possible the two healers who are chasing him through the palace with melting ice in their hands think so.” Her face is excessively serious, and then we both start laughing.

Author’s Note

This is Marvel fanfiction; credit to Marvel for the realm and
characters, except the giantess. Credit to Norse mythology for some of
the story, and to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleipnir)

for the information that Sleipnir’s name means “the slipper.”

7 comments:

  1. I really liked this a lot :) It was a really good mix of the Marvel canon and real Norse mythology. I like your twist on the story about Sleipnir. And of course Thor's woes about impending matrimony, and Loki being the trickster that he is :P Really fun story!

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    1. Thank you very much! :) It was quite fun to figure out how to fit that myth into the MCU.

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  2. Excellent story! It was both funny and interesting, as you probably already know, and rather different from the original myth.

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    1. Thank you! :) I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

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  3. This was excellent! Loki, of course, was enjoyable, and so was Sleipnir. And, the cover work is great.

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    1. Thank you very much! I'm glad you liked those characters :)

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