The main foyer of Bilskirnir smelled strongly of mead and roasted pig. Those who had arrived spoke and laughed loudly as they shared stories. Loki poked at his food but ate nothing. An emergency meeting of Asgard’s war council had been called and this time Thor saw fit to feed the lot of them. Loki had no appetite. Not with everything he had on his mind distracting him. As he sat waiting for the meeting to begin he stared far into nothingness and became lost in thought. A week had passed since the raid on Jotunheim.
‘I wonder if the Giants have sent their declaration,’ Loki thought, ‘That must be why we’re here. If not, Utgard-Loki is taking far too long to get started on his end of the bargain.’
Odin finally walked in holding a rather large piece of paper in his hand. It had scribbled writing written in coal all over it. The writing of giants. Loki smiled to himself when he saw this. Odin took his place at the head of the table. He was the last one they were waiting for. The whole council was there, and once again Fulla was standing at the edges. Loki looked over at her. She payed him no attention.
‘What secrets does Frigg think are being hidden from her,’ Loki wondered, ‘Why couldn’t she just speak with Odin herself?’
As Odin got settled in the room started to quiet down. He set the paper down on the table and looked at it for a moment.
“It appears as though Utgard-Loki has declared war on Asgard,” Odin said. Thor chuckled to himself. Some of the gods whispered to each other. Overall nobody seemed surprised. Loki looked around at the war council to see if he could gauge their reactions. Brunhilde glared at no one in particular and cracked her knuckles angrily. Thor chuckled to himself and sipped his drink with a great smile on his face. Odin stood up with a bit of a groan and cleared his throat. Loki was noticing a change in Odin. He watched as began to make a short speech. He payed little attention to the words, but instead listened to the sound of Odin’s voice. The way he moved. He tried to make a passionate speech but he spoke slower than usual. He often paused to cough and clear his throat. He was seen less often around the city than usual. Loki was starting to grow suspicious.
‘Is the old man getting sick’ Loki thought to himself, ‘Maybe that’s why he stayed behind when we attacked Utgard. Or is it just old age? I’ve never seen a god live long enough to become old and weak.’
Odin continued on and spouted the usual stuff about the impudence of Giants and their lack of respect for the glory of the gods. As the speech went on, Odin coughed less and spoke more clearly. Either his illness was mild or he was hiding it well.
‘No illness is going to take Odin down anyhow,’ Loki thought, ‘if anything, it sounds like a cold.’
Loki finally started paying more attention to what Odin was saying. He figured he should he should listen for at least some of the details if he was going to play along with this farce.
“So, of course, we must plan for the worst. We must bolster a defence. Brunhilde, you and the Valkyries will be in charge of planning Asgard’s defences for the inevitable attacks.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Brunhilde said with a smirk.
“You will be working with Loki on this,” Odin said.
Brunhilde’s smirk disappeared.
“What?” She asked. She shot a surprised look over at Loki. Loki raised one eyebrow quizzically and stared back at Brunhilde.
‘What?’ Loki thought.
“What?” Loki asked.
“I know you don’t see eye to eye on most matters, but I think it is for the best,” Odin said, “Brunhilde’s military expertise combined with your trickery and quick wits should make for adequate protection for the city.”
Loki was in shock. He didn’t know how to react. Judging from Brunhilde’s expression she didn’t either. Loki had to think quickly.
‘If I am expected to defend Asgard,’ he thought, ‘I can’t be gone when the Giants attack. The whole point of this war is to be a distraction. Unless I just set traps and then slip away. But is my magic strong enough to span whole worlds? I’ve never tried that before. If I wait until Brunhilde is distracted herself I’ll never make it to Nidavellir in time to return before the battle ends. Damn it all. What do I do? I need to come up with something.’
“Loki!” Odin yelled. Loki snapped back into the conversation. Odin had been talking and Loki was too busy panicking to hear what he was saying.
“Pardon, your majesty?” Loki asked.
Odin grunted angrily.
“I was asking if you could put your differences aside long enough help us win this war?”
“Of course, your majesty,” Loki said, bowing and putting on his best false smile.
‘I’ll have to find a way out of this, quickly,’ Loki thought. He looked over at Brunhilde. She was barely containing her rage as she tented her fingers and stared forward. She looked like she was about to burst. She tried her best to keep her cool as Odin continued speaking.
“Thor, Tyr, and myself will start making plans of attack immediately. Loki and Brunhilde, you should meet with Heimdall as soon as possible. Work with him on your defence plans.”
Brunhilde nodded, and stood. Looking over at Loki, she motioned toward the door. He nodded to her, reluctantly. Odin began speaking to his remaining generals as Loki and Brunhilde started walking toward the doors of the hall. Loki stared down at the floor while he walked. He began feeling anxious and distracted as he started revising his plan. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Brunhilde suddenly stop walking. Loki looked up and saw her get on one knee and bow. He looked ahead and saw a tall, thin woman with long, braided, blonde hair walking in the door. She wore a long, earthy green dress with gold patterns that shimmered as she walked.
“My queen,” Burnhilde said with her face nearly buried in the ground.
“Brunhilde,” Frigg said without stopping.
She smiled at Loki as she passed, and gave him a small wink.
“My queen,” Loki said, smiling back. He was unsure what was meant by the wink and the smile, but he would rather see this than a scowl. Brunhilde stood and watched with Loki as Frigg mad her way up to the table. Fulla finally left her spot at the wall and walked a few feet behind Frigg.
‘What is she doing in Bilskirnir,’ Loki thought, ‘The only women allowed in Bilskirnir are Brunhilde and Thor’s wife. And Thor’s concubines. And Thor’s servant girls. And Fulla I guess. Hm. Maybe women in Bilskirnir aren’t as rare as I thought.”
“What is she doing here?” Brunhilde asked.
“Just what I was thinking,” Loki said. “Unless they’re a warrior, a servant, or a prostitute, women in Bilskirnir are a rare sight.”
“When you put it that way, women in Thor’s hall are almost as common as empty barrels of mead,” Brunhilde said.
Loki laughed, and looked at Brunhilde. She was smiling until she turned slightly and saw Loki watching. Her smirk quickly disappeared and she looked forward. Frigg walked up to Odin and the council went quiet.
“Husband,” Frigg said, with a clear, stern voice that echoed through the hall.
“Wife,” Odin said, looking displeased.
“I must speak with you,” Frigg said.
‘This is a sight to behold,’ Loki thought. ‘A royal spat. We could sell tickets.’
“We should leave,” Brunhilde said.
“What?” Loki asked, “This is just about to get interesting!”
Brunhilde turned to Loki and stepped forward.
“This is none of our business,” Brunhilde whispered. “We should respect their privacy and continue with the orders Odin gave us.”
“I think she made it our business when she marched into this hall in front of everyone,” Loki said, grinning.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Brunhilde said. She grabbed Loki by the shoulder and pulled him out of the door. He winced with pain and conceded quickly. Brunhilde was far too strong for him to resist. She dragged him outside and they made their way to the city gates.
Heimdall was a tall, muscular man with a short, brown beard and shoulder length hair of the same colour. He war a suit of heavy armour and a helmet with long horns on top. He stood at the gates and stared off at the distance, his eyes glowing like stars. He had a long sword sheathed at his side, and his legendary horn Gjallahorn sat propped up against a tree nearby. He was a master of the magic of perception. He could see anything in the nine realms in he knew where to look. He was the greatest challenge to Loki’s plan and it took all of Loki’s willpower not to visibly scowl at Heimdall as they approached. Loki stayed back a bit, crossed his arms, and looked around. The gates of Asgard were unnecessarily huge and golden much like the rest of the city. The field leading off to the rainbow bridge was nice, though. Loki always preferred the nature that surrounded Asgard to the extravagance of the city itself.
“Greetings, Heimdall,” Brunhilde said, stopping beside him.
“Yes,” Heimdall replied. “Greetings Brunhilde and Loki. I heard you coming.”
Loki scoffed to himself and rolled his eyes. ‘Of course you did you arrogant twit,’ Loki thought.
“I heard that scoff,” Heimdall said, continuing to stare forward.
“My apologies,” Loki said. “It has been a stressful few days.”
‘Heard that scoff,’ Loki thought. ‘I was three feet away, of course you heard it’
“Of course,” Heimdall said, “This war with the giants has us all on edge.
‘This war,’ Loki thought, ‘he talks like it’s already begun. This fool lives for drama.’
“I am sure you were told of our assignment,” Brunhilde said.
“Yes,” Heimdall replied, “And, of course, I heard the discussions in Bilskirnir earlier. We had best get planning.”
‘If he mentions his senses one more time, I swear,’ Loki thought. He looked over at the tree where Gjallahorn was resting. It was almost as tall as Heimdall and had intricate runes engraved on the side. Loki wanted so badly to just grab it and run right then and there. Just to be done with it.
“I was thinking the Valkyries could join up with the city guard,” Brunhilde suggested, “Keep a constant watch from the skies. They can relay any sightings to me and I can report to you. “
“Do you really believe that is necessary?” Heimdall asked.
Loki stepped forward a bit to get a look at Brunhilde’s face. He had a feeling Heimdall’s arrogance would start getting to her no matter how strong her resolve. He was looking forward to seeing her reaction.
“Well, we need as many eyes as we can on the situation,” Brunhilde said. “If I put my best girls on it our chances of catching a Jotun attack early will increase exponentially.”
“Need I remind you,” Heimdall said, “I can see anywhere in the nine realms.”
“Yes,” Brunhilde said, “but if you miss something-“
“I doubt I’ll miss anything,” Heimdall interrupted, chuckling, “Maybe the Valkyries should just wait until they are needed.”
Brunhilde pursed her lips and Loki smiled to himself. He loved seeing others suffer through the arrogance of the Gods.
“I admire your confidence, Heimdall,” Brunilde said, somehow managing to maintain a calm demeanour, “but when defending our kingdom we must remain cautious and vigilant. An extra layer of defence will alwa-“
“Be realistic, Brunhilde,” Heimdall said, interrupting again, “I have been guarding these gates for hundreds of years and we haven’t lost a war yet. Do you really think a group of shield maidens are necess-“
“They are NOT shield maidens,” Brunhilde snapped.
‘Oh my,’ Loki thought, ‘this is getting good.’
Brunhilde clenched her fists tightly. She stepped in front of Heimdall and stared him directly in the eyes.
“They are warriors. Trained by the best generals in Asgard. They can hold their own in a battle as well as any of Odin’s council members and you know it.”
“You would do well not to interrupt me, mortal girl,” Heimdall said, still staring off into the distance, “I’ve been here guarding this city longer than you have existed.”
Loki’s smile disappeared.
‘Oh no,’ Loki said, ‘This isn’t good.’
“Mortal girl?” Brunhilde asked, her composure completely disappearing. “Is that how you see me? I fought and died in the name of the gods and earned my place in Asgard. Not Valhalla, but Asgard. I was chosen by Odin to defend this city from the giants. You would do well to respect me.”
“I would?” Heimdall laughed. “Come now you precocious girl.”
Brunhilde reached for her sword and she started to take an offensive stance. Loki put his hand out and immediately shot a magical blast of fire between Heimdall and Brunhilde’s feet. A grand shower of sparks flew up between them. They both recoiled as the light from the spell blinded them momentarily.
“Loki, you fool, what is wrong with you?” Heimdall asked staggering back.
“Oh for Bor’s sake,” Loki said sighing. Heimdall and Brunhilde found their balance and regained their vision. They looked at Loki.
“Heimdall,” Loki said, “Every God in Asgard, every Giant in Jotunehim, every Elf, Dwarf and Troll in the nine realms, every damned fruit fly buzzing over the garbage heaps in the alleyways of this city has heard the grand tales of Heimdall’s far reaching gaze.”
“Exactly!” Heimdall said proudly. Brunhilde gritted her teeth.
“But even more have heard the hushed rumours of the great Guardian of The Bifrost’s shortcomings.”
Heimdall stood silent and crossed his arms.
“Everyone knows the limits of your magic. You can see anything in the nine realms. Any one thing. And it is well known that you have to know where too look to see it. You can scan a few feet of Asgard’s walls at a time from your post, but if your gaze is facing west and the giants are coming from the east you wouldn’t know. The lives of innocent citizens should not be put at risk because you are too arrogant to admit your own limitations.”
“Arrogant?” Heimdall asked, offended, “It would serve you well to show me some respect.”
“Would it, really?” Loki asked. “You boast about the centuries you’ve stood at this post and how well you’ve served the kingdom. Need I remind you how long I’ve been here? There were three gods The Norns spoke to when they prophesied Ragnarok. Thor, Odin, and myself. There is one God that Thor brings along on every adventure he goes on, and that is me. There are three Gods, whether you are willing to admit that title or not, who Odin chose to plan the defences for this war. You, Brunhilde, and I. If you are going to delude yourself to the point where you try to force Brunhilde to twiddle her thumbs for this whole war, I will not blame her for putting her sword through your heart. So I think it would serve you well to show some respect for your colleague and her exceptionally well trained regimen of warriors who are going to watch your blind spots. Or would you like me to tell Odin that you have other ideas?”
Brunhilde’s composure had returned and she almost smiled at Loki. Heimdall stood in silence and turned his back to Loki. He returned to his post and stared out into the sky.
“Fine,” Heimdall said, “Tell your Valkyries to do as they wish. I expect regular reports from you. I won’t be taking any blame if they miss something.”
“Arrogant old fool,” Brunhilde said as she walked back toward the gates. She slowed as she passed Loki, and whispered, “Thank you.” Loki’s eyes widened with surprise.
‘She thanked me,’ he thought, ‘war really does bring out the strangest in people.’
Loki followed Brunhilde and shot another magical firework at Heimdall’s feet. He laughed as Heimdall almost fell over and began cursing. He got great joy being able to put an arrogant twit in his place.
Loki and Brunhilde found a spot to sit amongst the trees in a park. Brunhilde leaned against a tree with her arms crossed and had her usual stern look as she thought. Loki sat cross legged on the ground and ran his fingers through the grass. Neither of them talked much on the way to the park. Loki had nothing against Brunhilde. She just happened to be a fierce loyalist to Odin. This made her a problematic presence in Loki’s plans. She was also far smarter and more determined than most of the other Gods. Loki wished he could have her on his side. She could be a great ally but that could never happen. He had to find a way to be a part of this team of defenders without having to stay for the battles. On top of that he had to convince Brunhilde that whatever he came up with was a good idea.
‘Maybe I could convince her I’d just be in the way,’ Loki thought, ‘I can set traps. My magic is capable of that. I can prepare them and hide during the battle. Leave the fight to the actual warriors. She’s already suspicious enough though. Any excuses I make for not being there are likely only going to make things worse.’
Loki looked over at Brunhilde. Her armour was impeccably polished and she somehow managed to keep it free of dents or scratches despite having worn it almost constantly. Loki knew she was as dedicated as she was smart. He had to come up with something. Soon.
“I know you are up to something, Loki,” Brunhilde said, finally breaking the silence. She looked at Loki. Her face seemed less stern than it usually did. “I just do not know what it is yet.”
“Anything I tell you, or anyone else, will make them think I am up to something,” Loki said, running his fingers through his hair, “it’s just a part of my life.”
“You are the trickster,” Brunhilde said, “You scheme. You lie. You cut of Sif’s hair as a joke and convince dwarves to build the greatest weapons the gods could ask for without paying them a thing.”
“Interesting that those are the two that come to mind,” Loki said, “Everyone else seems to prefer the one where it all backfired and I wound up tying my balls to a goat.”
Brunhilde smiled and let out a small laugh. Loki smiled back at her.
“What troubles me most,” Brunhilde said, “Is that your tricks so rarely involve war. But for some reason, for the first time in your life you joined us in battle. You snuck off to Utgard-Loki’s tower while sleepy giants died.”
Loki’s smile disappeared. His heart sank and he looked down at the grass.
“What are you getting at?” He asked.
“It is not like you to risk the lives of others for a trick,” Burnhilde said, “you would rather humiliate yourself, tying your testicles to a goat, than let the gods fight with Skadi.”
“And yet the Norns say it will be me who kills Balder,” Loki said, “And I will lead the Forces of Chaos to war against Asgard.”
“So what is this, then?” Brunhilde asked. “Why were you sneaking around during your first raid? Why did giants declare war so shortly afterward? They have never declared war over one attack before. It is usually one or two spats and we do not hear of it for months.”
“If I were planning tricks involving a Jotun war, do you really think I would tell anyone?” Loki asked.
“Of course not,” Brunhilde sighed, “That is not how lies work.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Loki could hear how conflicted Brunhilde was. She wasn’t like so many of the other Gods. She didn’t label Loki the villain. She knew his history and saw something different.
“Whatever your lies are,” Brunhilde said, “Odin will not listen to me. If he does not discover them himself he will act like they do not exist. But if I discover that a single innocent life is lost in this war and it had anything to do with you I will see you punished.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less from you, Brunhilde,” Loki said.
“So do you have anything to add to our plan?” Brunhilde asked, “Heimdall obviously does not care as long as he believes he is the most important one in the kingdom.”
‘Here it goes,’ Loki thought, ‘Let’s see how convincing I can be.’
“I think the best way for me to contribute is to lay traps for the giant,” Loki said, “I can plant enchantments around the perimeter of the city. Hit them with some flames and explosions. It should be enough to deter them. At least long enough for your Valkyries and the city guard to react.”
“Good idea,” Brunhilde said. “And what about when the battle starts? What will you do with those who have made it past your traps?”
‘Think quick,’ Loki thought, ‘I need an answer. I need a lie. Come on…’
“I’ll be hiding in the shadows,” Loki said, “If I strike where they can not see me, I’ll have an advantage.”
‘If she buys this, I can set some extra traps and sneak off, unnoticed,’ Loki thought, ‘Hopefully.’
“That makes sense,” Brunhilde said, “It should all be simple enough. We have done all of this before after all.”
Loki sighed quietly to himself. Hopefully he could get away from the battles and do what he needed to do. He looked over at Brunhilde who was getting to her feet. She turned to him and put out her hand. He reached out and shook it.
“I will never fully trust you,” Brunhilde said, “but there seems to be some strange sort of good in you somewhere. I am going to speak with the Valkyries and start my own planning. Fight well, Loki.”
“You as well, Brunhilde,” Loki said. She released his hand and walked off into the city.
‘Very well,’ Loki though, ‘Time to plant some traps and plan a trip.’