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The Price Paid

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When it was over, they gave the horse to Freya as weregild. Compensation for how she had been embarrassed by the machinations of the Aesir.

If Loki had been around, he might have been irritated to hear of this generosity - after all, the most part of the embarrassment had been his, and as for claim to the horse? His, also - but he wasn't around. He was nowhere to be found, and even Odin seemed perturbed at the implications of that. Nobody was quite sure what trick he'd used to stop the Jotun labourer from completing his work, but there were enough rumours flying around that the Allfather forbore to comment. He announced simply that he was pleased that Loki's trickery had saved Asgard the shame of being beholden to a Jotun, and spared them the price the labourer had asked. Freya, Sol and Mani - who had each been saved from vassalage - stood and stiffly added their thanks to the absent trickster, and that was all the discussion Odin would allow.

If Frigga's lips were set in a harsh line and Thor looked angrily into his cup for the whole celebration, it wasn't mentioned. And everyone worked to ignore the last words spoken by Odin to his son - Either the Jotun forfeits his price or you forfeit your life! It was surely no more than the trickster deserved, and if he chose not to show his face now then he must have his reasons.

"He looked so scared, though," muttered Volstagg the Valiant well into the evening when mead was loosening tongues. "I've never seen him look scared of anyone but his father. Surely Odin did not truly mean--" He was shushed into submission.

Far later in the evening, after more mead had flowed, Dagr was heard to remark, "That was a workhorse, though, and well trained he was. A creature like that doesn't just run into the woods for no reason." Dagr was the keeper of Skinfaxi and Hrimfaxi who pulled the chariot of Sol. He knew of horses. "I can think of only one thing that would entice him away like that and have him return so docile in the morning - a mare. In heat."

And Skadi asked, "Is Loki not a shapeshifter?"

There were appalled sounds, and Skadi hastily took back her thoughtless malice. But the damage was done and the rumours spread, and Frigga left the hall early without asking her husband's leave.

---

When it was over, they gave the horse to Freya as weregild. Loki might have taken exception to the idea that Freya deserved weregild more than he did, but he was more likely to take umbrage to the assumption that it was over.

It was raining on Midgard. It was always raining somewhere on Midgard - it's a wide realm - but Loki wished he might have found somewhere he could be dry. No, think again. Somewhere she could be dry. Her hooves were dripping as she walked. She was too big, too heavy, too scoured and vulnerable. And she was all alone.

Midgard was the only remotely safe place Loki had found to be vulnerable and alone.

She had too many feet to contend with, and the memory of hot breath on her neck and terrible weight on her back. She shook out her mane with a sigh and made her way into the Midgardian night.

---

"Hello Freya." She couldn't really say what had brought her to her own stables in the middle of the night, but arriving to find the lost Odinson draped over the back of her least favourite horse gave her a good idea. She folded her arms.

"Loki." Inadvertently, her neck craned to look over the barrier of the stall. "Are you wearing trousers?"

"Yes," Loki lied. His tone didn't invite further inquisition. "You know, most people would have mentioned the colt first."

Freya blinked to notice the second horse in the stall, a foal that was excitedly nudging at Svadilfari's flank. It danced in place and beat its front two -- its front four hooves. It had eight legs. Eight. Loki reached out lazy fingers to its mane and murmured, "Shh, my darling." Freya groaned. Incomprehensible trouserless tricksters in her stable was the exact kind of thing she didn't enjoy dealing with.

"What are you doing here, Odinson, and why did you bring a monstrous horse?"

"You're welcome, by the way. For the Frost Giant incident."

"That was almost a year ago. I stood in front of Asgard and pretended to be grateful then. If you wanted more than that you should have asked for it at the time. Will you get out of my home?"

Loki heaved a disappointed sigh and Svadilfari shifted on his feet. He was being very careful with his burden, even for such a conscientious horse. It only figured that he would mope uselessly for a full year and then fail to drop Freya's unwanted guests when he had the chance. "If that's the way it is, then gladly," Loki said mournfully. "I only came to pick up my horse."

Freya narrowed her eyes. "Svadilfari is my horse."

Lounging comfortably on the back of the beast, Loki looked smaller than he was. He rested his chin on his hands and kicked his feet absently behind him. "Do you think? There must have been some mistake." One hand drifted down to pat Svadilfari's neck, and the horse gave a pleased snort. "Perhaps we should wager for him?"

The bolt of antipathy that shot through Freya to the bone probably didn't show on her face, she thought. "I think not." She swallowed a couple of times to get the no, no, no out of her mouth before she said it. One did not wager with Loki, and one did not let him know just how the prospect horrified either. She nodded at the foal that was still butting at Svadilfari's side with its little monstrous head. "I'll take the spider-legged colt in exchange for him."

"You will not." Loki didn't even look at her, absorbed in untangling the strands of Svadilfari's mane. And his tone was light and unconcerned. And Freya still understood that she had said something so fundamentally wrong that it may have killed her.

She was not afraid of Loki. Not Loki the comically weak second son of the warrior king. Not the trickster who came and went from Asgard as though there was no guard on the rainbow bridge and who knew the secrets of sorcerers and witches. She drew a breath, and another.

She gave a shrug, as dispassionate as she could. "Very well. I only considered it as an equitable exchange. If it means so much to you, Trickster, take the blasted horse."

Loki glanced up from under his lashes, and grinned. "There'll be no exchange, Fair-tear. Svadilfari is mine. I had him of the Jotun by the oldest price I know." In a graceful movement he raised himself to sit astride the horse's back. Freya almost averted her eyes, but Loki's long tunic hid everything she didn't want to see. Svadilfari raised his head at the redistribution of weight, and again his great bulk made Loki seem small. Loki leaned forward to brush his knuckles along Svadilfari's jowl, then squeezed with his thighs and Svadilfari walked forward. Freya had to get out of the way or be walked over.

The foal was still in the stall, nosing at the straw on the ground. Loki called back, "Sleipnir!" and it immediately lifted its head. "Come along, lovely. Time to go home."

Freya watched Loki and his horses ride away, back for the halls of Asgard, and counted herself lucky that she would not be there when he arrived.