It was no longer safe here. Though, if Loki were being honest with himself, it was never really safe to begin with. The circumstances of her birth had been terrible, an unintended consequence of a plan that had gone horribly awry. On the whole, Loki tried not to think of his experiences with Svaðilfari. It was not a time in his life he wished to revisit. By all accounts, the reminder he had been given of that horrible day should have been the target of his disdain, a disgusting and painful memento to be discarded by the wayside. And yet, he found that he cared for it. For her.
Odin had seemed disturbingly unbothered by Loki’s condition after the events of the accursed wall, though upon the arrival of Loki’s legacy, he suddenly seemed pleased with the outcome. His father had declared that, once mature, the foal would become his personal steed, and congratulated Loki on his contribution to Asgard’s grandeur. The king’s words had left the Silver Tongue uncharacteristically speechless and the decision of the newborn’s fate was thus made.
At first, Loki had simply wanted to kill it, the writhing grey thing tangled in its own overabundance of limbs. Like any other of its kind—or, its close approximation, given the creature’s unique qualities—the foal learned to stand rather quickly. Walking, though, seemed to take more time. All newborn horses took some time to get acquainted with their new limbs, and with twice as many legs to maneuver, it also seemed to take twice as long to adapt to them. Loki, exhausted, nauseated, and still in pain from the whole ordeal, had watched the mutant creature try to navigate its way through the world for some time before the poor thing began to nudge him for some form of nourishment and attention. It was weak, helpless, and entirely dependent upon him. Without Loki, it would undoubtedly die. And that acknowledgement left the trickster god troubled.
The foal, however unnatural, needed him. It never asked to exist, to be. Yet here it was, and it was unable to live without help from another. The thing hadn’t had a choice in its reliance upon Loki, just as Loki hadn’t had a choice in the creature’s creation. In that sense, they were alike. Both victims of a plan gone wrong, both alone in its wake. With a sigh, in the privacy of his room after the dismissal of the event’s onlookers, Loki relented and cared for the foal.
In the presence of others, Loki appeared to have no attachment to his child. He kept primarily to his quarters, often locking his doors and refusing visitors, only occasionally stepping outside and, even then, often only traveling between the stables and great hall during meals. Rumors abounded throughout the courts. Some said that Loki must still be recovering from his ordeal, deserved or not. Others insisted that he was occupied with his own redemption by caring for Odin’s newest mount, ensuring that it would grow into a mighty stallion deserving of the Allfather and a force to be reckoned with in battle. In reality, Loki simply spent time with and caring for his offspring while contemplating their unusual predicament.
It was after one evening of watching the foal take a special interest in his silken slippers that he realized that yes, he did care for the innocent thing. Loki watched as his offspring tossed his items in the air, creating some sort of game to entertain itself for the night. It looked at him now and again, as if asking if their mother wished to join them. Loki did not, but he did make a decision that night. He named the animal Sleipnir.
As the foal grew, the results of its parentage began to present itself. Loki had originally, and rightly, assumed that the animal’s strange appearance had been the result of a parent who was accustomed to alternate body forms. He had not, however, realized how far his influence over the creature’s nature had reached.
“By the Norns,” Loki has breathed quietly to himself one evening, looking upon the foal as it amused itself by rolling and happily chasing a ball that Loki had fetched from the training grounds earlier that day. “You can change.”
He realized that the little creature, which he had assumed to be male since its birth, suddenly was not. The little thing had tumbled over the ball, rolling over and shaking its head in confusion, and there was no doubt in Loki’s mind that the foal he had birthed was different. Changed.
Less than a week later, Loki returned from the dining hall to find the foal asleep in his bed. He paused at the sight of it, unable to understand what his eyes insisted to be true; the foal had only four legs. The god had immediately raced to the library and only returned to his chambers once he had gathered as many tomes as he could grasp about the nature, legacies, and theories of other shapeshifters and the abilities of their ilk. By the time he had returned, Sleipnir had eight legs once again.
The next month, The little foal’s eyes changed. Gold, purple, orange, and, finally, blue. Shortly after, Sleipnir’s mane began to change color as well, turning from a dark grey to a deep maroon before his eyes. Loki doubled his efforts in keeping the filly—for that was as she had remained since her initial transformation—hidden from prying eyes. He insisted that he alone needed to groom and train the young horse, nurture it with his seiður to ensure its worthiness to Odin. He failed to mention that the aura of vibrant energy emanating from the animal was completely generated by Sleipnir herself. His offspring, though far from being Æsir, held her own magic, and there was no doubt in Loki’s mind that she was a sentient creature capable of so much more than being an enslaved steed to a pompous king.
After an extensive and unfruitful search for any answers as to the extent of Sleipnir’s potential as a shapeshifter, the influence of her seiðr, or other yet hidden abilities, Loki turned his efforts elsewhere: hiding his child from his father. Odin expected a brainless beast, yet Loki could not bring himself to doom Sleipnir to such a fate. The foal had too much potential, too much intelligence for that. He had suffered for his plan and the disastrous results of the wall, and he would undoubtedly suffer for the loss of the greatest steed of Asgard, but any punishment the others would bestow upon him would be worth the pain, so long as Sleipnir was safe. Instead of magic and ancestry, he instead turned his research to investigating the other realms of the universe and all known worlds within them.
Despite her young age, the foal clearly possessed at least some control over her abilities, subtle as they may be, and Loki suspected that further talents would begin to show in the future. Odin could not know about them. No one could. The moment that Sleipnir’s magic was known beyond his chamber walls, Loki knew that there would be no escaping the poor filly’s fate. Odin would demand his steed play a larger strategic role in his battles, find a way to harness and manipulate her skills, seiðrfor, and what appeared to be bouts of minor precognition. No. Loki would search the realms for somewhere to hide her, somewhere no one could use her or her abilities against her will. He only hoped such a place existed.
He looked up from his reading when the young horse nudged his arm with its snout. Loki looked up to find Sleipnir, her short, fluffy brush of a tail waggling behind her as she looked up at him with large, expectant blue eyes. He reached out to brush his fingers through her mane, the hair growing in curlier now that she was a bit older. The dark maroon had begun to change again, this time slowly gaining more radiance to the point of comparability to a pastel red. Her coat, likewise, had begun to change that very day for the first time, though the difference was subtle. Loki still could not entirely tell if the change in hue was true, or if his eyes were playing tricks of their own and merely reflecting the new colors of her mane upon the rest of her body. Only time would tell.
“Yes, little one?” he asked quietly.
The foal whinnied. She kicked her many back legs and shook her head playfully, knocking Loki’s hand from her neck. Kicking again, she raced to the opposite side of the room, her small hoofbeats echoing off the chamber walls as she went. The foal picked up a book laid out on his lounge in her teeth and came prancing back to her mother with its pages flapping in the air beneath her chin. She nudged his arm again with the book, her intelligent eyes hopeful.
The god chuckled lightly to himself. He turned to fully face the little horse and gently freed the book from her grasp. It was one of the few volumes he had found in the library filled with simpler stories, candy for the mind, really, but candy that proved rather entertaining for children. At the time he had wondered if Sleipnir held the intelligence to understand language, much less the art of storytelling. Now he knew it with a certainty.
“Would you rather I read to you instead of just to myself?” he asked.
The filly vigorously nodded her head, mane bouncing up and down as she all but danced where she stood, the anticipation overtaking her.
“Very well, then,” Loki relented, getting up from his chair.
Sleipnir whinnied excitedly and ran toward the balcony, practically collapsing on the large nest of pillows and blankets she and Loki had accumulated there. She pulled her many legs under and around herself as she waited for her mother to catch up. Her tail continued to wiggle behind her.
“What shall we read today, my little Sleipnir?” he asked with a fond smile. “The Story of Sigurðr? What about Kisa the Cat?” He chuckled as the little horse threw her head back and neighed. “Kisa the Cat it is, then.”
Loki settled into the warmth of the soft pillows and luxurious blankets beside his child. Sleipnir rested her head in his lap and sighed contently, eyes drawn upward to watch as the god opened the book to the proper story and began to read it aloud. He leaned back against the wall of softness and, balancing the book in one hand, stroked Sleipnir’s coat gently with the other. The pair stayed there until dinner, content in one another’s loving company.