King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 27, 28, 29, 30

King and Emperor. Chapter 27, 28, 29, 30

Chapter Twenty-seven

From Hlithskjalf, the vantage-point of the gods, the Aesir deities looked down on earth. Far below they could see points of flame like spear-points on fire, could see the wolves and ravens gathering. Heimdall, who can hear the grass growing and the thoughts inside a man’s head, or a god’s, cocked his head and lifted an eyebrow towards his brother Rig. The thought inside the head of Othin was: “This is getting out of hand.” But All-Father would not speak his thought, and Heimdall kept silence.

“I wish I knew who broke his bonds,” said Othin finally.

Not even Heimdall knew that Rig had done so, for Rig could keep even his thoughts secret when he chose.

“All things weaken in time,” observed Rig.

It was not a tactful thought to express to one who admitted no limits to his power—though in truth those limits were clear enough. Rig tried the other half of the observation. “But seeds can grow in time as well.”

“What are you talking about?” snarled Othin. “Loki is loose, Heimdall is ready to blow his horn, the Last Battle of gods and men may begin at any moment, with weapons of fire and creatures in the air, and now our own followers are turning to Loki. Your follower is.”

“He has not changed his pendant yet,” said Rig. “I ask you, All-Father. Think back a few lifetimes. What were we then? Weak. The creatures of a few wood-runners and sea-thieves. Dwindling to being mere kobbolds or nixe. Now, we have grown strong. Not from the sacrifices at Uppsala, that terrified thousands for the belief of a score. From belief and devotion.”

“How is that helped by Loki loose? And men prepared to worship him?”

“Loki was not always bad.”

Othin turned on Rig a terrible eye. “He killed my son. He took the light out of the world and left it pale.”

Rig was not afraid, but the eye of Othin is hard to face. He turned his own eyes down, but spoke on. “He was a comrade once. If that had been recognized, he would not have felt the jealousy, the envy that made him use the mistletoe and betray Hod.”

“He said many ill things to us in our own hall,” said Heimdall. “Me he called ‘mudback,’ said I was the slave of the gods, never allowed to sleep.”

“You never do sleep,” replied Rig.

“This has to do with your own son,” said Othin. “Your own son and follower, whom you have made me spare once, twice. He is the one who has loosed Loki, is calling him back to the world. Though he does not seem to want what Loki wants. Say now, though, why I should spare him the third time.” He raised his spear Gungnir, pointed it down to the far blue Inner Sea.

“I do not ask for him to be spared,” said Rig.

All the gods, the dozen assembled, looked at their brother doubtfully.

“Take him if you wish. He will be an uneasy recruit for your Einheriar, Othin. Before Heithrun’s mead-vat has been emptied ten times the heroes will be smithying new weapons to fight each other from a distance, and the weakest will be the strongest. But take him if you will. I say only this: wait and see. It may be that if he has his way, gods that are strong will grow weak, gods that once were weak—as we were, a few lifetimes ago, as I was, almost forgotten—they may grow strong.”

It was true, Heimdall reflected, that barely a lifetime ago, less than a lifetime ago as men count, Rig had been a mere shadow on the fringe of the gods’ feasting, not important enough to be taunted by Loki or consulted by Othin. Now many wore his pendant, and his brothers made way for him. And how had that come about?

“Who do you think will grow weak?” asked Heimdall in the end.

“Those gods who cannot share power, or win the hearts of men without compulsion.”

“Do you mean me?” asked Othin threateningly.

“No, father. Say what Loki will about you, he cannot say some things with any truth. No-one has ever called you a jealous god.”

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Categories: Harrison, Harry