I’d never been particularly pious, but praying to Loki before the ceremony had seemed to help. Or at least, it had eased my anxiety even if the god of lies had had nothing to do with the ceremony’s outcome. I didn’t like the idea of adopting the trickster as my patron god, but if ever I needed a trick or two, it was now. The words of a remembered prayer tumbled from my lips. Everything inside me felt too frozen to make up my own plea.
Blue light shimmered against the back wall of my cave. It was pale and strangely electric and reminded me of watching lightning strike the sea from fifteen arm-lengths below. I swam to my crevice’s mouth. Peering out into the gray water, I squinted at the source of the strange glow. The light became so intense I had to look away. It radiated from a little ball I could hardly see. All of a sudden, it blinked and dimmed. A green and yellow sea turtle glided toward me. The electric blue light glowed from his eye sockets, and he stared right at me. A shiver ran up my back, and my blood cooled.
Above me, the patter of hail echoed through the ocean, followed by the crack of thunder. I wondered if I should scream for help. Was stress making me imagine things? Sea turtles couldn’t survive here, could they? With their cold blood, they needed the summer currents to survive. I shook my head to clear the image, blinked, but the turtle still swam toward me. If I screamed and there was no turtle, the king would think I was losing my mind, and I’d have less chance of defending myself against the things Havamal could say. Plus, I didn’t want to wake Mama. I took a deep breath. My heart felt raw and exposed, blistered and stinging, like a wound cleansed with ocean salt. I wasn’t ready to talk to her.
The turtle drifted peacefully toward me, like a moving lullaby propelled by the tide. The creature’s bright eyes dimmed further, and it cocked its head, winking at me as it coasted through a school of silver fish. Then it began to paddle rapidly; its thick flippers pumped faster and faster until its whole body became a green blur. Overhead, the hail and thunder intensified—almost as if Thor himself surfed across the waves. A bolt of lightning struck the sea and a fiery purple and yellow aurora of fiery diffused over the waves.
When I looked up toward the lights, the turtle slammed into me, knocking me back into the cave. Before I could scream, a hand covered my mouth: a hand that was pink, warm, and strangely dry.
The creature spun me around to face them. Their turtle shell had transformed into a billowing cloak of sparkling greens and golds. Caribou antlers covered with strips of fur stuck out on either side of a silver helmet; each antler was tall enough to scrape the ceiling of my little cave. Blue, electric light emanated from their very skin. A sea snake the color of dying coral wound about their waist. Their form was slim and elegant, androgynous. High cheekbones and pursed midnight-blue lips set off hooded, bright eyes, deep-set in their chiseled face.
I wanted desperately to swim away from them, to hide behind my kelp curtain, but they gripped my shoulders so hard I could feel bruises forming under my scales.
“Do you know who I am?” they demanded, raising a turquoise eyebrow.
The blue light shining from them made my scales glow as if I lay under the sun. A bubble of dry air formed in the ice cave and expanded until it filled the space. A warm feeling crept up from the tip of my tail, even while my stomach sank in fear. The horns reminded me of images from our legends that had been carved into the ice sculptures decorating our central hall. The statues in the hall had frozen their stories into our collective memories.
I swallowed. I was seeing the same face I’d seen every day since I was a child, engraved above me in the dining hall.
“You’re Loki,” I whispered. Why would the trickster god choose to help me? This was only the second time in my life I’d prayed to them. From everything I’d heard about Loki, my situation should have amused them. Maybe they were here to taunt me, to mock me for praying to them concerning a ceremony I didn’t care about and wasting whatever favor my birth season entitled me to.
They nodded, but their eyes never left my face.
“Are you here to mock me?” I asked, my voice trembling. It wasn’t a polite thing to ask a god, but after what I’d been through today, I didn’t have energy left for courtesy.
Laughing, Loki shook their great horned head. Their cackle was high and cruel, but then their eyes softened into something that seemed like affection. That look of care on their pale face was even more terrifying. They rested their warm hand on my back. I imagined their nails filled with poisonous venom and pulled away to avoid getting their toxin on my scales.
But Loki only smiled. “I’ve been watching you for a while, Ersel. It’s not normal for your kind to interact so closely with the human world. You’re curious and intelligent and you don’t follow orders like a sheep. I value all those things.”
I didn’t know what a sheep was, but I nodded at the compliment nonetheless. Their fingers played with the edges of their blue eyebrow. “I want to make a deal with you.”
My scales stood up on my back. Whenever the storytellers talked about Loki, they cautioned against making deals with the god. I cursed myself for carelessness, for letting Havamal follow me. If I hadn’t been such an idiot, maybe I wouldn’t have to decide between angering the god standing in front of me or doing what all our legends warned against: making a deal with the being who invented the lie.