In the Place-That-Is-Not-In-Time, that place to which those capable of walking across skies and through borderlands can go, that place those who know how to walk with one foot in two realms can reach, that place where all things have already happened and where the world has not yet begun… in that place there sat two people. Beings. Gods, or perhaps not. Strangers, or perhaps not. They sat together as those who happen to meet in the wilds do, a fire built in a pit before them, a few fat fowl roasting on spits above it.
One of the beings was an old man, his face brown as bark, a soft white deerskin on his shoulders, his black hair beaded and braided. He had his hand to his chin, and a foolish, easy smile pulled his lips wide across his face as he told a tale.
The other was younger, with eyes quick and sharp and restless. His hair was wild and upswept, like a wind. His mouth was scarred with tiny white scars. He wore garments of a green the same color as the irises of his eyes. He kept a stick in his hand to tend the fire. And he listened, brow raised.
The old man, whose name was Wakdjunkaga, smiled more broadly as he got to a particularly juicy part of the tale. “And so I sent it across the river to where the chief’s daughter was bathing, so that it could seek out its goal between her legs.”
“On its own?” asked his companion.
“Yes, it was so. I could do that, when it was so long that I carried it in a box on my back.”
The other, who was called Loki, gave him a look of disbelief.
“That was before I learned the proper method of carrying it,” Wakdjunkaga shrugged. “And before Chipmunk bit away the excess size so that it is now the way a man’s member should be. Did the same not happen to you?”
Loki blinked a few times into the fire, as if trying to remember something that might prove distressing. After a moment, he answered. “No, I think I can in all honesty say it did not.”
“So it has always been the same size as it is now?”
It was Loki’s turn to smirk. “Well, I wouldn’t say that, exactly.”
Wakdjunkaga looked at him, frowning in perplexity, but then dismissed the problem. “It was around that time that I got myself married to the chief’s son and bore him children. Is that a thing that you have done?”
“What sort of children did you have?”
Wakdjunkaga rubbed his chin. “Three boys. Three fine boys.”
Wakdjunkaga shrugged and nodded. “The last one cried too much and wanted impossible things, though. And it was because of the search for those things that I was found out as not a woman.”
Loki, just at that moment, was busying himself with turning the meat on the spits and jostling the logs of the fire so as to make it burn hotter, and the red of the flames shone on his face and reflected in his eyes. But Wakdjunkaga could also see that he simply did not want to answer the question.
“You have not said. Is that a thing that you have done also, making yourself into a woman and bearing children?”
The fire crackled.
“No fine sons. Only monsters,” Loki answered at last. “The first time, I made myself into a mare and distracted a workman’s horse for long enough. The others…” He gave the fire a vicious jab with his stick once more, though it did not need it and indeed was already burning quite high. “I bore the monsters that will slay the greatest of the gods, at the end of it all. They are all very strong. They are all feared.”
And Wakdjunkaga, who had always been a well-intentioned fellow, said nothing in reply.
“One has been chained with unbreakable fetters. Another was thrown into the sea. The third rules over the dead lands, and gathers an army for me while the ship is built that will assail the halls of Asgard when the end comes.”
Wakdjunkaga could not tell whether his companion was distressed by this or if he was merely bragging. However, it didn’t truly seem to matter, for it was just then that Loki revealed that he carried in his pack a bottle of honey wine also and that he had decided he found the company congenial enough to share it.
Some time later, the two trickster beings sat before the fire, staring up at stars that now seemed to wobble and sway. Loki had kicked the empty bottle off into the underbrush, where it would surely end up down some badger’s hole and causing problems for someone in the world, and the white scars on his mouth pulled out of shape as he laughed.
Wakdjunkaga, likewise, was wheezing with humor, telling perhaps one of his favorite stories about himself. The liquor, sweet and tasty and irresistible, had gone to his head, out of practice with it as he was.
“And so when I had wrung their necks, the few I caught before the little one opened his eye and screamed his alarm, I seared away their feathers in the fire and I left them there to roast, but it was tiring work, tricking so many birds, so I laid myself down to rest for a while. But I could not leave the food unguarded, so I told my anus—”
“You did what?” Loki sputtered out, his sparkling eyes going wide.
Wakdjunkaga glared at him briefly. “I told my anus to keep watch for me, to wake me if any foxes came around or if the meat started to burn. But would you not guess it, the traitorous part did not! Foxes ate the well-roasted duck, and the ones they didn’t find were burnt to cinders before I woke, and my anus had nothing to say for itself! So I began to punish it, taking a stick like this…” Wakdjunkaga plucked from the edge of a the fire a long, thin branch, one end lit into a bright coal, and brandished it purposefully in the air with a jabbing motion.
Loki was by this time laughing too hard to breathe, too hard to keep his balance even sitting down, and he slipped backward off the log on which he sat, landing with a crash and shouting laughter at the treetops until his ribs ached with it. “You took a stick… a burning stick from the fire… and stuck it up your own ass? A burning stick from the…”
Wakdjunkaga let him get it out of his system, waiting patiently for the convulsions to subside before he continued.
“Yes, I regretted it quickly. But it is after all for such things that they named me Wakdjunkaga, the foolish one. And I did not like the idea of being betrayed by my own body parts. There are some things one ought to be able to rely upon.”
Loki had fallen silent, but he remained where he was, his knees draped over the log, his back on the ground, staring up at the dark sky. “You talk like this all happened a long time ago.”
The other trickster craned his neck to look back at him. “It was. Eventually I remembered why I was sent to Earth, and when I had done everything I was to do, I went up to the world beneath the world of Earthmaker, and I am there still.”
(Neither of them bothered to point out that he was in fact here, because the Place-That-Is-Not-In-Time is not truly a place either but instead a thought, at least for beings such as they.)
Loki said nothing, but only continued to stare up at the stars.
Out of the silence, he began to speak. “Once I was traveling with my Aesir blood-brother and one of his other companions, and we wished to eat ox meat, so we set one of the beasts cooking over a fire. It was my turn that day to prepare the food, so I tended it carefully, and I watched the color of the meat, waiting for it to turn from pink to brown. But no matter how high I built the fire, the meat stayed cool and bloody. Then an eagle above promised to show me the way to cook it if only I promised to give it half my share.”
Loki at this point allowed Wakdjunkaga to pull him back upright by the arm. With only a little kicking and flailing, the two got themselves arranged again in the firelight.
“Now,” Loki continued, beginning to sound lighthearted again as he delved into the tale, “I am known for my appetite, and this would be a hardship indeed, but I could not disappoint my companions, so I agreed…”
Wakdjunkaga interrupted him here, one finger raised in the air. “The eagle ate the whole thing. Of course it ate the whole thing, and you began to shout at it,” he said, grinning, white-toothed, in the mirth of one who guesses how a tale must go.
Loki inclined his head generously. “And threw a stick at it, and somehow became entangled and was dragged off into the sky, there to be kept prisoner by the giant that was the eagle’s true form until I agreed to his demands…”
Loki told the full tale, the complete tale, from the apples and the maddened, weakening gods to the giantess, the panic-stricken goat tied to Loki in quite a tender place, his own shrieks and her laughter as he stumbled across her knees at last. He left out nothing—at least nothing that would have added to the humor of it—and he glanced over at Wakdjunkaga now and then to make sure that his companion was taking in the full effect of the tale.
When he was done, Wakdjunkaga was wiping the tears from his eyes and chuckling. “I like that story,” he said. “They must call you the foolish one for it as well.”
Loki shrugged. “Not that I remember, though I’ve been called so many things it might have been in there somewhere.”
Just then, though, Wakdjunkaga’s belly gave a rumble, and Loki’s did likewise a moment later, and as one they leaned forward to check the meat still sizzling on the spits above the fire.
And because this was in the place to which only tricksters are easily able to go, they found the birds cooked perfectly, deliciously, with crackling skins dripping with grease and tender meat that seemed to melt on the tongue. They ate in silence, without further speaking, savoring the rare moment in which all was well, in which all wants were sated (at least for a time) and all troubles were a long way off.
Wakdjunkaga was still licking the last of the grease from his fingers, though, when Loki began to squirm a little, anxiously. And even he… the effects of the honey wine were fading, and the fire was cooling, and he felt a sudden desire to return home.
Loki had packed up his few things into his bag and gotten to his feet before Wakdjunkaga asked the question that occurred to him.
“What is it that you return to?” he said, still sitting by the dying embers of the fire.
Loki turned his face to stare up at the sky, with its wavering, swirling stars of No-Time.
“A cave, I think,” Loki said. “And pain. I think that is where I am.”
Wakdjunkaga nodded, then, and bade the other trickster farewell, and watched as he disappeared into a thought, or behind a shadow, or into the space that divides dream from waking, and then he sighed and picked himself up and got ready to return that way himself.
“Farewell, Foolish One,” he said to the air.
And behind him as he left, there was the laughter of foxes, the calling of eagles, the crackling of the nearly dead fire, and then nothing at all but the wind in the trees.