The Hand of Loki
When we ventured out--said the thane of the bearded tentacle people--when first we ventured out among the stars and the waters, we met your people. And there was fighting, as there will be among strong people. And there was feasting and rejoicing.
I understand, said Erlan One-Knot. For that is our way, and your way also.
We did not yet know your gods, said the thane. We had our own gods, and they did not know your gods either. And they did not know Loki.
Ah, said Erlan One-Knot. This was in those days, then. When Loki was yet free.
This was before even Balder had died, said the thane. And they looked at each other in fit silence for the days of so very long ago. Then Erland One-Knot took a deep draught of his ale for those gone-by days, and the thane drank also.
But when we had grown accustomed to fighting and feasting together, our gods met your gods. First Tyr, whom we honor. Then Thor, whom we love. Then Skade, whom we do not understand. In your lands, three is the number of magic. For the people of the deep seas and starry skies it is four. And the fourth of your gods we met was Loki.
We learned from him the lie, said the thane of the bearded tentacle people, and though the word lie could not hiss if it had been on Erlan's tongue, it hissed in his mind from the thane's mind. No people have ever belonged to Loki, not truly. But we are his people now. For the lie is a great gift, and before we had it, we were like children, but now we are like gods.
Not quite like gods, said Erlan One-Knot.
The thane's laughter in his mind was like the banging of a pot with a spoon, many pots, many spoons. Not quite. No. But those whom Loki has not touched--lies and deceit and blackguardly behavior of all kinds will display on their countenance. Like so.
The thane paused and focused, and threads of green spread through his smooth, moist countenance, into the ends of every tentacle of his beard. It showed distinctly through the pale blue that characterized his people.
Erlan One-Knot was awakened to understanding. There was no point to deceit, he said. You were all honorable by necessity.
Some of us still are, said the thane. Those whom Loki has not touched. And there lies the source of our great civil war. For those who could deceive learned to do so, swiftly and eagerly. And those who cannot found us to be without honor, and wanted us removed from their worlds.
But Loki has found you, said Erlan One-Knot. He could travel to find you again. Even if the untouched ones slaughtered you all like salmon, he would reach out his hand to one of their kind and change them into you. He is the master of chaos. This sort of unrest brings him joy. He would breach his bonds and escape the serpent's venom if that was what was required. He would transform himself into a kraken, a dolphin, a seal, to swim to your shores.
He would harden himself to vacuum, the thane agreed. But the untouched ones cannot understand him. They believe that he would not follow where he was shown to be unwelcome.
They do not understand dishonor where they find it.
Indeed not. And they both drank deeply in silence, aware of their own failings as mortals under the sky, grateful for them.
And so I come to you, Erlan One-Knot, said the thane. You have many sworn brothers. Will you bring them to fight in our cause? Since before the death of Baldr, they have been trying to kill all our descendants, to remove the finger of Loki upon our worlds. And we, in return, kill them in great numbers, not only as the salmon but as the salmon's roe. And yet more of us remain, and more of them. Something must change the balance. Something they cannot mistake for a lie but must see as provable truth no matter who tells them.
Something like an ally.
Erlan One-Knot thought a long time. You are asking me to bring my sworn brothers into battle to defend lies and deceit?
I am. Will you fight truly in such a cause and never defect? Your honor for the sake of dishonor itself? We will pay you richly in our knowledge. Your warriors will never suffer on our world.
More of the ale disappeared, and yet more. And the thane drank deeply also.
Brother, I will, said Erlan One-Knot at the last.
And each fervently hoped and tried to believe the other.