by Scott Rhoades
Loki was searching for mischief when he came to the hall of Gautrek, King of the Goths. Gautrek was known for his generosity of food and drink, and the king entertained his guest well with both until Loki felt very relaxed.
“Gautrek, old friend, it is so good to visit you. I am always fascinated by your company,” Loki said. He raised his cup toward the king, then back to his lips.
“I think it’s my food and drink that fascinate you, Loki.”
Loki laughed. “If anything is more praiseworthy than good ale, it is the man who provides his best to his guest. Such generosity should not go unrewarded.”
“Being able to serve Loki in my hall is reward enough.”
Loki drained another cup. “Nevertheless, I will reward your generosity. Name your reward. If it is in my power to give it, you shall have it. Now, if you please, fill my cup again.”
Gautrek’s hand trembled as he served the ale to his guest. “There is one thing I would like, perhaps.”
“It shall be yours.”
“It’s not for me, really, but for my wife that I ask.”
“Alfdis is a most excellent woman, worthy of the best of everything, as well as the best of men, King Gautrek the Goth.”
“Yes, and I have given her all I can. Alfdis cannot complain about her life. She lacks nothing but this one trifle. Here, Loki, have another drink.”
“Don’t mind if I do.” Loki swayed on his bench. “Loki has never failed to please a woman. What can I do for your wife?”
“I should not ask for such a thing, Loki, though I know it would bring her more happiness than any woman has ever had.”
“By Vallholl’s golden roof, whatever you ask shall be hers, or I will dress like a slave woman and serve her until the end of her days.”
“Alfdis is most beautiful when she is happiest, and she is happiest when she weaves. With all my money and power, I have not been able to buy for her a loom of sufficient quality to satisfy her. In all other things she is quite content.”
“Say no more. I shall visit the dwarfs and have a loom made for her such as no woman has ever seen.”
“There is no need to go to such trouble, Loki, my friend. There is already a loom that I think she would find suitable for her needs.”
“Speak, Gautrek, so I can fulfill my oath. And how about filling my cup one more time?”
Gautrek poured more ale. “She would be happy with nothing other than the Loom of Fate.”
Loki paled. “The loom the three wise Norns use to weave the fates of all who live? I cannot give you such a gift without destroying order in the nine worlds.”
“When has Loki not disrupted order when he’s had the chance?”
“But this goes too far, even for me.”
“Yes, you’re right. I should not have asked such a thing of you. Wait here, and I will fetch the slave woman’s clothes.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are my friend, Loki, my dearest of friends. I cannot bring shame upon your name by asking you not to fulfill the oath you made in my house while you sipped my ale.”
“And yet you would shame me by dressing me like a woman?”
“It would be less dishonorable than breaking your oath. Besides, it would not be the first time you have taken female shape.”
Loki was not too drunk to know that he, the trickster, had been tricked. “It’s true what they say Gautrek. Foolish is the man who holds onto the cup. The wise man drinks in moderation. But whether drunk or sober, Loki does not break his promise. I shall bring you the loom, though we will regret it sooner rather than later.” Loki staggered from Gautrek’s hall and returned to his home among the gods in Asgardur.
When the wolf Skoll chased the sun over the earth’s edge and the darkness set in, Loki opened the door of his hall and looked out. The eyes of Odinn’s ravens grew heavy, and then closed in sleep. Loki crept forth from his hall, darting from dark to darker. He dared not take any of the usual roads out of Asgardur. They were guarded and he could not afford to raise suspicion. Nothing good ever came to the gods when Loki sneaked away.
Like an insect he crept, hiding from light and sight, until he came to the great root of Yggdrasill that curled under Asgardur. He crawled down the root until he came to Urdr’s Well, in the hall where she lived with her sisters.
Loki stopped sneaking and approached the door. He held his head high and noble. The three sisters sat around their loom and worked each thread from its spindle.
“I greet you, weavers of life,” he said, striding merrily into the chamber.
Urdr turned to Loki, her wrinkled face sagging with the weight of the years that had passed since the worlds were made. “You might as well come in, Loki, though you were not invited.” Her voice was like wind through an ancient tree. “You do not often bring good with you when you visit.”
“And what brings you here tonight?” asked Verdandi, Urdr’s middle-aged sister. As Loki looked at her, she seemed to become always new, though never older or younger.
“A visit from Loki never bodes well for the future,” said Skuld, who was the youngest of the three. Although she looked like a young woman, her eyes were filled with more years than the mountains and the sea.
“I was just passing by and thought I would stop and see whether your loom is as beautiful as the stories say,” Loki said.
“The loom is of no use to you,” Verdandi said. “No matter how closely you look, you will not be able to read what is in store for you. Your past you can see, and you are here now, but nobody knows what my sister Skuld will weave for his future. Not even Loki can see his fate.”
“All lives lead to but one thing,” Loki said, “and my end has been foretold. It is only the loom I wish to see.”
“You may look,” said Urdr.
“Ah, it is better than the stories say, so beautiful, so finely wrought, and there has never been better thread. This must surely be the most perfect of—hmm.”
“What do you see?” asked Urdr. “I am ancient and my sight is dim.”
“No matter,” Loki said. “Just a minor imperfection in the wood of the loom. It’s nothing.”
“It’s nothing, indeed,” said Verdandi. “Our loom is without flaw.”
“You weave fate and make the deeds of men,” Loki said, “but you pay little attention to your old loom. Can you not see what I see? It is a slight chip, the tiniest of cracks, nothing to worry about.”
“From a small crack a great fissure can grow,” said Skuld, straining to see what Loki saw.
“Perhaps,” Loki said, “but it is most likely no cause for concern. What do I know? I am no expert on looms. I have not the knowledge and skill of my dwarf friend, Brokk, who could, no doubt, fix such a small problem within an hour.”
“Bring him here then, this friend of yours, and let him see for himself whether the loom needs tending to,” said Urdr.
“Oh Urdr, you are great and wise, but your age makes you forgetful,” Loki said. He moved his eyes closer to the loom and looked at it intently. “The dwarf could not come here. It would be certain death. Perhaps I can take the loom to him.”
“You cannot be trusted,” said Verdandi.
“We will not get the loom back from you,” said Skuld.
“I want only what’s best for the loom,” said Loki.
“You have always wanted only what is best for Loki,” said Urdr.
“I will not deny what you say about me, Urdr. But what good is the loom to me? I cannot weave. I will not keep your loom.”
“You say it is damaged,” said Verdandi, locking Loki’s glance with her green eyes, “yet we see no damage and there is no flaw in our work.”
“I said it myself. It is more likely than not that nothing is wrong and my eyes deceive me. But only Brokk can say for certain.”
The three sisters huddled together. After a few minutes, Urdr turned her gray eyes back to Loki. “You can have it checked and returned within the hour, you say?”
“Easily. Probably in much less time than that, if Brokk finds no damage.”
“I believe Brokk should have his look,” Urdr said. “After all, we have been weaving for a hundred generations of men. There is likely to be some wear to the loom in that time.”
“Yes,” said Verdandi, “but the loom must be returned swiftly. There will be no births or deaths while it is out of our hands, or at least none that are intended, though who can say whether the unintended will happen?”
“I can say,” said Skuld, “and I say births will happen that should not take place, and people who should die will not, and those who should not will. Therefore, if the loom is taken, it must be returned as quickly as possible.”
“Let Brokk examine our loom, but very quickly,” Verdandi said. “But first, we must get a promise from Loki.”
“I swear I will not keep your loom for myself,” said Loki.
“And as security,” Urdr said, “we shall have the life of your friend if the loom is not returned. Even Loki must have a friend.”
“A friend? Yes, I have one. Show me the thread of Thor, and if I fail to return, I shall cut the thread of my friend with my own hand, and cut short his life.”
Skuld pointed to a long strand of wool. “If you give the loom into any other hands but Brokk’s, this thread must be cut.”
“Very well,” Loki said. “If I do not return within the hour, I shall cut this thread and end Thor’s life.”
“Your friend’s life strand shall be cut short,” Skuld said.
“Go now,” Urdr said, “and return quickly.”
Loki took the loom and left the hall. Again he crept carefully so he would not be seen, until he came to the hall of Gautrek.
“You see, Gautrek, that I have kept my promise.”
“Look, Alfdis my dear, what I have gotten for you,” Gautrek said when Alfdis brightened the hall with her beauty. “This will keep you happy while I defend my kingdom from the army of giants who threaten its borders. As long as I live, you shall be able to weave in peace.”
“Go to your battles, my love, and know that your queen is happy at home with her treasure, weaving beautiful cloth for the king’s clothes.”
“There is but one thing I ask in return for this loom, dear Queen,” Loki said, letting go of the loom. “This thread right here pleases me greatly. I would like a piece of it to take to my wife, Sigyn.”
“That is not much to ask. You shall have it.” The queen cut the thread. King Gautrek cried out and fell to the floor, dead.
“I am lost!” the queen cried.
As Gautrek’s enemies, the giants, burst into the hall, Loki changed into a crow and flew away.