The gods of Asgard would often quarrel with the giants of Jotunheim. Even though the gods were powerful, the might of the giants was not to be underestimated either. Indeed, in several stories, the gods would flee from the wrath of the giants. And often enough, these stories would start with either the gods crossing into Jotunheim to steal items from the giants or the giants crossing into Asgard to steal items from the gods. Usually, these stories would end with some giants getting killed. After much self-reflection, the Aesir understood the problem: they needed walls to keep out the giants.
A mysterious stranger
So when a mysterious stranger showed up in Asgard, claiming that he had a solution to their problems, they were intrigued. The stranger arrived on a magnificent black stallion, Svadilfari. Staring at his mount in admiration, Odin offered the man a seat at his table to share a cup of mead. As the drink kept flowing, he started to share his story. “I am a master mason”, he confided to Loki. “My specialty is building large fortifications”. The hall grew silent. “ And you, my friends”, he pointed at the gods with a freshly roasted rib of a boar, “are in need of some serious walls if you want to keep out those nasty giants of Jotunheim”. The gods stared at their guest with renewed interest, observing how the juice of the boar was trickling down along his chin. Would this man be the answer to their problems?
Loki took the mason out for a walk outside. The trickster god asked him if he would be able to build these walls in service to the Aesir. The mason smiled, knowing that his consultative selling method had worked out successfully. “I can, but my craftsmanship does come at a cost”, he said. “As my reward, I want your sun and moon. And I need a wife. Present me with Freyja, and I will build walls so splendid that you will never have to worry about any giants invading your home undetected ever again”.
A giant wager
Loki thought for a moment, considering the choice before him. “The gods did need those walls… Then again, they did need the sun and moon as well. And he was fairly sure that he would not be able to convince Freyja into marrying a random traveler”. He calculated the amount of work required for building such walls and grinned “let’s make a wager, you and I. If you are able to complete the walls within one season, you will get these prizes as trophies. Even more so, you will have our eternal gratitude as well”. The mason smiled again. “Then again”, started Loki, “if you fail to deliver before the deadline, you will not receive a single prize. Surely, since you are such a master mason, you will have no trouble accepting this wager?”. The mason nodded. “Sure”, he said. Loki grinned again, now deviously, and added “before we make this a binding agreement, you should know that you are not permitted to use the help of others to complete the task”. The stranger squinted his eyes, saying “I will need the help of my horse”. The trickster god glanced over at the beast and nodded. They were in agreement.
The end is neigh(ing)
And so the traveler started to build the wall. The other Aesir were none too amused when Loki told them about the bet he had made with the mason, as they thought he had jeopardized their lives without their consent. Least amused was Freyja, who now feared that she would have to have to marry (an outsider). But alas, the wager had been made. And soon, their greed took the upper hand. “You had better make sure that we do not lose the bet, or it is your dead body that we will hang from our walls first”, they said. “Here we go again”, thought Loki. He shook his head in faked astonishment. “How can it be that you still do not trust me, my dear brothers and sisters?”, he said softly. “Have I ever let you down? Have I ever betrayed you?”. The others chose not to answer those questions.
After a few weeks, the gods started to grow anxious. The mason proved to be a skilled artisan indeed, his boasts not exaggerating his skills in the slightest. The Aesir reminded Loki of their threat: losing the bet would result in him losing his life. Loki, now growing nervous himself, set out to observe the mason’s work process. Each morning, he would travel to the mountains to collect enormous stones. His stallion would then swiftly bring those stones to the construction site at a speed that was simply not natural. It seemed as if the weight of the rocks did not bother the horse at all. “That’s it”, Loki thought. “That horse is carrying out his tasks in a way that I had not accounted for. That is no ordinary horse”. He grimaced. “And that is no ordinary mason”.
Caught in a filly
Refusing to admit defeat (and lose his head in the process), Loki came up with a plan. The mason would not be able to complete his task before the deadline if he had no raw materials. If Loki were to remove Svadilfari from the equation, he would cut off the stone supply. As time was of the essence, he quickly transformed himself into a beautiful little mare. “This would be the perfect way to distract that stallion”, he thought to himself. He then gently galloped off into the meadows near Asgard.
Svadilfari tilted his head. His nostrils were filled with the scent of a mare in bloom. He tried to resist his urge to run off to see if he could discover the origins of that sweet smell. Focusing on the task at hand, he followed the mason to the mountains for a fresh load of rocks. His head grew heavy with lust as the scent grew stronger. He even heard the galloping of delicate hoofs now. The mason heard the sound as well and urged his companion to walk on. “I need us both to give it our all if we are going to finish that wall”, he grunted. Then Loki, still in mare-form, frolicked about. Now the hot-blooded stallion grew restless and bolted off into the fields.
Rock to rock, gravel to gravel
The mason cursed. He ran off into the mountains and desperately tried to carry the heavy stones to the wall. It was a futile attempt and he knew it. If Svadilfari would not turn up soon he would certainly lose the wager. Loki, who was getting the hang of galloping around as a happy mare, understood that he had to keep the stallion busy for a couple of days if he were to keep his life. So he ran off into the woods, continuously keeping Svadilfari close to him. That would be the last anyone would see of them for a long time.
The mason walked up to the gods and confronted them with the wager. “You tricked me”, he said. “You stole my companion in order to win this wager”. The gods were not impressed with his complaints. “If you are unable to keep your stallion in check, it sounds as if that is your problem”, Thor said. “You won’t find me blaming you if one of my goats runs of with a doe”. This is when the mason finally revealed his true form. He took on the shape of a fearsome rock giant. “I will take what was promised to me!”, he roared. He started moving towards Freyja. Yet before he was able to reach them, Thor crashed into him with a loud crack. One mighty swing of Mjölnir was sufficient to render the giant into gravel. The mason was no more.
The hangover: part 0
It was only after a full year that Loki finally showed up in Asgard again. This clearly had been long enough for the gods to forget about their gratitude towards him. They simply shrugged and asked him where he had kept himself. “Just hanging out in wild” he blushed. He was accompanied by a young eight-legged filly, who was nearly a month old. Odin snickered, as the Allfather understood what had happened. Loki had given birth to an impressive little creature called Sleipnir, who was almost as impressive as its father: the great stallion, Svadilfari.