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Loki hated the creature before it was even born. The way it gradually anchored his body as it swelled inside him so that he was trapped in larger and larger forms until at last he could only be a mare. The sharp hooves, too many of them, kicked at him from inside as if it hated him as well. Eir helped with the birth, sliding dispassionate hands inside him to unhook the legs as he shuddered and heaved. The foal tottered up on weak legs while he was still recovering to nip and tug for milk. Loki found himself letting it feed before kicking it away.

It trailed him around Asgard after that no matter what form he took, waiting for the next time he’d take mare’s form out of pity for its hunger. Thor tried teaching it to talk but it just snorted and nuzzled his hand.

‘It’s a horse,’ said Loki. ‘It’s not going to talk.’

‘I’ve seen Jotuns in stranger forms,’ said Thor.

‘It’s not a Jotun. Just deformed.’

Thor patted the creature’s muzzle soothingly. ‘Have you named him?’

‘No,’ said Loki. He walked away and felt a bitter satisfaction when the creature followed.

Four months later he saw the creature nibbling at grass and stopped taking mare’s form. It still followed him though, too stupid to realise he wasn’t going to feed it anymore.

‘Are you keeping him?’ asked Odin.

‘No. It just keeps following me.’

‘He’s going to be a fine horse one day.’

‘If you want it you’re welcome to it,’ said Loki, glaring at the foal. He could see what Odin meant though, the foal was still small and skinny but moved with an odd grace despite its eight legs.

‘If you meant that then I’ll gladly accept and owe you a favour for it,’ said Odin solemnly.

Loki looked at the foal and thought of what he could use the favour for. ‘Agreed.’ He led the creature to the stables and helped Odin shut it in.

‘Does it have a name?’ asked Odin.

Loki hesitated. ‘Sleipnir.’ It had been slippery enough to follow him just about everywhere so the name should suit it.

As he walked away he heard Sleipnir starting to cry for him.

Thor was horrified when he heard. ‘You gave him away? But he’s your son.’

‘He’s a horse. What else was I meant to do? Set him free so he can be owned by the first Jotun to recognise his worth?’

‘He could have had freedom here! Asgard is big enough.’

‘I am only allowed here so long as I prove my worth to Odin again and again. Why should Sleipnir gain his place more easily?’

Thor held out his hand as if he might pat Loki the way he had petted Sleipnir. Loki shoved it away and walked out. As soon as he was out of sight of Thor he broke into a run and then threw himself forward, turning into a hawk as he fell, turning falling into flying and leaving Asgard behind.