King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 23, 24, 25, 26

“A third, the wings of Völund. For Tolman, and the fliers.” Shef looked round with his one eye, gauging support, trying to bend the uncertain to his will. So far they were with him. Völund-priests, priests of Forseti, they would be new but welcome. Way-priests always liked new trades, whether flying or lens-grinding or calculation. Now for the hard one.

“I say we need a fourth. For the likes of Steffi, who burned his hands to bring us light. We need men to wear a fire-sign. For Loki.”

Thorvin was on his feet immediately, hammer sliding from belt to hand, and there were looks of horror on the faces of Skaldfinn and Hagbarth, and Farman too.

“No man can take that sign! We let his fire burn, to remind us of what we face. We do not worship it, or him. Even if all that you said is true, about men creating gods, why should we create a god like him? The trickster, the father of monsters. The bane of Balder.”

“Why should we? We already have.” Shef looked round the room to see his words sink in. “If Hund is right, and he exists, then we made him. Made him out of fear and hatred. Made him kill the good and beautiful because we are jealous of it. Chained him so we did not need to blame ourselves. Drove him mad.

“He is loose now. I fear him more than you do. But what I am saying is this. Freedom for Loki as well as for Thor. For the bad as well as the good. If he attacks us, we will destroy him. But fire can be for us as well as against us.”

Thorvin looked round as if expecting thunder and a lightning-bolt from the cloudless sky. “Freedom for Loki as well as for Thor!” he repeated. “But he is the father of the monster-brood, you have seen them. You have met them.” His eye rested uncertainly on Svandis, as if unsure how far he could continue. Thorvin was convinced, Shef knew, that Ivar the Boneless, Svandis’s father, had been a creature of Loki with a non-human shape in the other world of the gods. If it came to that, Shef believed it too. But then Loki was bound and crazed with pain.

“Freedom is not the same as lawlessness,” he said. “If a follower of Loki were to come and say that his worship forced him to sacrifice slaves at his barrow, or to cut women to pieces for his pleasure, we would tell him the penalty for morth-deeds is death. Under Wayman-law that is already true. It is what makes us different from the pagans. Now I do not know what made Loki kill Balder, what made men imagine a Loki and a Balder and imagine the one killing the other. But I do know that if we are to cure the maim of the world and bring back Balder, then we must believe in something other than eternal enmity.”

Farman stirred in his seat, and spoke in his quiet voice. He was an unimpressive man: the first time Shef had seen him, it had been in a Völund-vision, and there Shef had been the lame but mighty smith of the gods, Farman no more than a mouse-shape peeping up from the wainscoting. Shef still saw and heard him sometimes as a mouse, squeaking and peeping. Yet he was greatly respected. His visions, all agreed, were true ones. He and Vigleik were the far-seers of the Way.

“Tell us the story of the weeping for Balder,” he said, his eyes on Thorvin.

Thorvin looked uncertain, suspicious, sure that in some way his narrative would be challenged. Yet by the conventions of the Way he could not refuse to speak. “You know,” he began, “that after the death of Balder through the machinations of Loki Laufeyjarson, Othin built a pyre for his son and laid him on it. But before the fire was lit Othin sent his servant Hermoth, greatest hero of the Einheriar, into Hel to ask if there was any way by which Balder could be released. And Hermoth rode down over the Giallar bridge, and came to the gates of Hel, and leapt his horse over them.”

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