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by beetle
Rated: 18+ · Novella · Mythology · #1669435
"I do not know how long I slept, but when I woke. . . ."
I do not know how long I slept, but when I woke, I was in front of the fire, a goblet of wine near my hand, a plate of sliced meat in front of my face.


I had drunk the wine and nearly finished the savory meat before wondering how I’d gotten in front of the fire, who’d supplied the meat and—where had that strange old person disappeared to?


I stood up and looked around the room. The door was closed, but I was not afraid. I went to it, meaning to go tell my friends what had happened, bring them here to see this room.


The door would not open.


Oh, I yanked and cursed and pulled and yelled, but the door remained firm. Finally, convinced I would not get out until my friends found me—and they would find me, for Yg Bolverk is very clever—I began to look closely my surroundings. The wooden floor was warm and solid under my bare feet—I didn’t even wonder how my feet got that way, I knew I’d get no answers any time soon—the bed demanded to be slept in, but I did not give into the urge. Instead, I examined the tapestries.


The first one I looked at showed a small figure, hanging from what looked like a tree; eight figures surrounded the bottom of the trunk. . . .


The one to the right of it showed a figure with arms made too huge for the body, hugging what seemed to be a yellow-eyed snake -


My disquiet was shrilling alarms at me, alarms I was finally paying heed to—perhaps too late.


The tapestry to the immediate left of the first I’d looked at showed nine figures on a gray background. In their center was a chair that glowed bright yellow.


I moved to the next tapestry: a figure reaching the top of a long stairway. . . .


In the next tapestry: the same glowing chair, with a figure standing in front of it, his back to the viewer . . . not that I needed to see this person's face to know whom it would be, to know who could be—who would be so presumptuous.


In the very next tapestry, Yg Bolverk sat in the yellow chair . . . though the maker of the tapestry had badly obscured his right eye.


There were other tapestries between that one and the very last, but I rushed to see the last—


The last one, to the left of the doorway, was a huge rendering of a snake's face, fangs bared. In its mouth, was a city with nine tall spires. It looked much as Fensalir looked from a distance. The snake's hungry, yellow eyes burned into mine and as I watched, it seemed as if the snake was about to shut its jaws on the city, destroy it.


Above the snake's mean, triangular head were two runes: the rune for my name and the rune for Ragnarok.


Shaking my head I went to the door, ready to pound it to slivers to escape this room. I yanked on the knob and the door swung open as if it had never been locked. A happy sob escaped me and I would have left that room forever, had I not glanced at the two tapestries before the last one:


On the first was the back of a figure in a grey robe, it's dark hair worn short, like my own. This figure was stepping out of a curving room that bore a strong resemblance to the one I was in. . . .


The second last showed the same figure walking across the Bifrost, only it wasn’t a person any longer. Not entirely. It’s face—again, bearing a striking resemblance to my own—was markedly grey and rough-looking with the suggestion of scales. The body seemed elongated while the limbs were still their original length and vestigial-looking. . . .


I lost consciousness, overwhelmed.


When I awoke, I was lying on the bed, feverish, parched, weak. I moaned, trying to get up, to close the door, but strong hands pushed me back into the bed.


“You must rest . . . you’ve had a shock and have been delirious for many days . . . rest awhile, yet.”


Somehow I mustered the strength to turn my head and found myself looking into the eyes of Yg Bolverk.


“Is the door closed?” I husked and Yg nodded solemnly. I swallowed, and could hear the dry, clicking noise my throat made. Yg held a goblet to my mouth and let me sip wine until I began to cough.


When the fit was over, Yg bathed my face with a cool, damp rag. He refused to meet my eyes for so long that I finally realized:


“You knew,” I caught his hand in my own, knowing I was too weak to hold it if Yg did not want me to. But he let me, and looked into my eyes. “You knew what would happen to me. You let me come here knowing I could never leave this place until the end of All.”


Yg sighed. “I knew. I knew when I woke up after you cut me down from the Ygdrasil—“ Yg sat on the bed gently, squeezing my hand. “The AllFather sits in the World Throne, then makes the journey to the Tower of Winds. He never leaves till the next AllFather comes to take his place in the Tower.”


“But you are the AllFather, now, are you not?” I demanded weakly, ignoring the burning in my eyes and my chest.


“I am . . . but I had no wish to stay in this Tower for the length of my reign. Someone had to stay here, though, once the World Throne was claimed, or the Fimbulwinter would be on our heels right now.”


“And that someone was me?” I croaked, closing my eyes. An abyss seemed to open behind them. One I could never escape unless I wanted to see All destroyed.


“I left the Great Hall first because I also had no wish to see who would climb the Tower in my stead,” Yg evaded. I laughed tiredly.  My heart was a dead coal, my dreams a pile of ash.  My life had been forfeit for all time.


“You knew it would be me, Yg Bolverk. Or Grimnir, AllFather—whatever you’ll be calling yourself, now.”


“The Ygdrasil has renamed me. I am Odyn, now,” Yg said softly, stroking my cheek. His touch made my skin crawl, though it wouldn’t forever.


“Odyn . . . Odyn AllFather.” I laughed again, still numb, still weak, still trapped. “You will rule the Nine Worlds while I stay shut in here, holding Ragnarok at bay.” I looked into his twilight eyes for reprieve or regret—for some sign that he felt my imprisonment as a blow.  I was disappointed, but not surprised to see nothing I could easily read.


“Yes,” the new AllFather said plainly, without his usual dissembling, for which I was grateful.


My eyes were blurred beyond use with tears, with rage, and I turned away.


When I was well, surely I could leave, Yg would find a way.  He surely would not leave me in here to go mad. . . .


But I knew I wouldn't and I knew he would, or the Fimbultwinter would be loosed.  There is no deal-making with Fate.  The day I left this place would be the day I unleashed Ragnarok on all of Creation.  The thing inside me would be loosed on the world. On all the Worlds.


This, so Yg Bolverk could finally have the power he'd always craved. "I hate you.”


“As well you should.” Yg-Odyn brushed a few strands of hair off my damp forehead and stood up.


“One day I won’t care that it brings on the Fimbulwinter, Yg." I opened my eyes to see him at the door, already turning the knob. "One day, when I’m old and mad, I’ll leave this room and come looking for you . . . and I’ll bring Ragnarok with me.  One day . . . I will leave this room. Do you believe me?”  I was mostly asleep when I said this—those first years I spent almost entirely asleep, prey to a strange, deluded madness, but I remember that moment very clearly. I’ve had ages since of nothing to do but remember.


“I believe you,” Yg sounded for the first time—and last time in my presence—uncertain. I smiled a little. It was all I could manage.


“Good . . . remember that for every moment of your reign . . . Odyn AllFather.”


I was gone before the door closed, and stayed that way for many years.


*



Thus began my interment in the Tower of Winds.


For ages, my life was that room, and madness and slumber.  Then the madness began to subside and Odyn’s visits increased.  There came, after a fashion, whole visits during which I remembered not only who I was, but who he was.  Sometimes I grew violent, but mostly I did not.  Even maddened, I knew there was no point.  I was the God, but I held power over nothing but everything.


More often than not, I simply cowered in my bed and wept, till he left.  It would be decades before I could stand to see him, and centuries before I grew desperate enough for touch to bear his, and enjoy it once more.


In the meantime, the Aeslir culture flourished. They ruled Midgaard and Niflheim as well as Asgaard and no hand or mind or heart was turned against them, no black feather fell at their door.  Children were born who had never known Midgaard, knew only of its green plains and darkling forests—of grim, fallen Fensalir—and passed the stories onto children who were as gods to a people they would, by and large, never meet. The Aeslir sprouted strange . . . talents and powers, living in proximity to the Laerad, the Wellspring of All Worlds.


In time, I came to look upon the bearer of this news as my lover, rather than my jailer, my murderer, my own remaining link to the Worlds I vouch-saved.  Things between us, I told myself, almost like the early days of the Fellowship of Nine.


The centuries and millennia rolled along steadily, like a placcid nightmare, until one night, the AllFather burst into my room at the top of the Tower, his face a thunderstorm of rage and despair.


“He’s gone too far this time. . . .“ Odyn was mumbling, pacing, clenching and unclenching his powerful fists. I put down my scroll and watched him silently until he calmed himself enough to notice me.


“What has Loki done this time?” And did you not know to be careful of him, Yg?


“He’s killed my son! Loki has murdered Baldr!” The AllFather looked close to tears. I’d never seen him thus.


“How? All things swore an oath to never do Baldr harm."  This was true.  Even I, in my Tower, swore to never harm this golden child, the light of the Aeslir people, called the White-As.


“Mistletoe,” Odyn grit the word out. “A plant. Barely more than a seed, too green and new to swear anything. Frigg thought no one would know, and the plant itself is harmless!  But Loki—“


Never had I heard a name spoken with such hate. And the hate only the God of Gods could summon.


“It but pricked Baldr’s skin and my son—“ Odyn hung his head.  “I come to you on behalf of myself and Frigg, as well as Baldr’s siblings—“ Odyn actually went down on one knee before me, taking my hand. “I’m begging you to intervene with Hel for Baldr’s life.”


Truly, that was the funniest and saddest thing I’d ever heard.


“Even were I able to leave these rooms without loosing Ragnarok—in all the ages of Creation that have passed since I’ve been penned here, my sister has visited me never.” I shrugged helplessly.  “What makes you think Hel will listen to me? What has she to do with any of this?”


“Please—just say you’ll try to convince her that Baldr’s life is worth more to the Nine Worlds than his death.”


I sighed, brushing his silvering black hair away from his face. The face I loved and hated. The face I know Baldr had inherited.


“This I will do for you. Not for Odyn AllFather, but for my companion Yg Bolverk.”


Odyn's fierce embrace made it difficult to breathe.


So, I wrote a missive to my sister, Hel, even after Odyn admitted to me he could not bring her to the Tower because he’d banished her from Asgaard, beneath the farthest reaches of Niflheim, to the Underworld. Banished her immediately after the Norns prophesied some vague mystery or other involving her and my brother Fenrir trying to kill him.


Fenrir, too, hadn’t visited me once, during my time in the Tower. He, too, had been kept out of the Fortress since the Aeslir arrived in Asgaard many centuries ago. Fenrir prowled Niflheim, howling out his rage and frustration . . . his loneliness. To the Asgaard-born, he was no longer a person, but the Fenris Wolf, a creature of myth and nightmare.


But to find out that Hel—sweet, shy Hel—had been kept away by the AllFather, forced to share a fate similar to mine and our brother's—


The missive I wrote came from my heart, however, looking as I did at Baldr through a proud father’s eyes. I believed if Hel was at all the woman I had known—she could not help but be moved.


Moved she was, and in her reply, she said:


Baldr must be unlike his father to be so worthy of your effort and mourning. I am not wholly without heart in this matter. Let Midgaard, and everything in it grieve for Baldr, that I may see the hole his absence has caused. Fill the wastes of Asgaard with grief and lament. Let All in these realms weep for him and I will set him free to roam those realms once more. . . .


Yg watched me read this silently, his face an anxious, miserable puzzle. When I read it aloud to him, a wordless cry of joy escaped him and he hugged me close to him, covering me in kisses and thanks.


Baldr, so well-known, so well-liked for his kind words and good deeds . . . he was, in these latter days, Loki’s opposite. Where the Aeslirlingas used to love and worship the prankster, they now loved and worshiped Baldr, and through him, the AllFather. Midgaard would weep for losing Baldr's light, perhaps more than Asgaard would.


Even I wept, I who had never seen him, and had seen no one but Yg-Odyn for long and long.


We wept. Everyone and thing in Creation wept for Baldr. Even the stones that littered dead Niflheim.


As one, the Aeslir people wept . . . except for a woman named Thokk. None of us knew who her people were and she vanished without a trace before the AllFather could exact his revenge. Hel, who has no love for the AllFather, was not sufficiently moved to free Baldr from the Underworld.


As my family is unjustly imprisoned: my siblings in your Tower and in the wastes of Niflheim and I in the depths of the Underworld, so will Baldr be penned here with me, in Misery and Woe, until Ragnarok rages and Fimbulwinter creeps across the Nine Worlds. This I swear.


*



Time passed and Odyn’s ponderous visits increased. Ever has he been thoughtful, one for plans and schemes, as I have said. I knew his mind must have been whirling and teeming with both, but even in my presence, he kept his own council. One day, Odyn came to my Tower-room, his silver hair wild, his craggy face gone pale from the cold of crossing the battlements. In his hands were broken chains. I should say, chains that had been torn asunder, as by some great beast. On his shoulder were Thought and Memory, his pet ravens. They glared at me from the shelter of their master’s thick, disheveled hair.


Odyn dropped the torn links at my feet, chest heaving as if he’d run up the stairs of the Tower. I dragged my gaze from them and back to Odyn’s face, then gasped . . . there was a bloody hole where his right eye had been.


“Yg!” I hadn’t called him by that name—to his face—in many centuries. “What’s happened to you—?” I was already tearing my sark for bandages.


Odyn was smiling at me; his bloody face looked maniacal.


“I’ve been to the Well of Mimir to drink . . . it cost me my eye, but how clearly I see, now. How obvious my purpose. . . .“ Odyn laughed delightedly, like a drunken child. It took me several tries, but I mastered my fear of him—for him—in this crazed and bloody state, and pulled him to my bed. He sat without objection and let me clean and bind his wound with what little I had. I told him he should have Frigg treat it. From the way he’d told me her powers were growing, there was even a chance, I said, that she could give him that eye back.


“No,” Odyn said firmly, his remaining eye holding my gaze. “The price of what I’ve learned was my eye. I will not compromise my honor on this thing.”


“Suit yourself, AllFather.” I spread my hands placatingly as he turned away to gaze into the hearth. After a few minutes, Odyn laughed again and caught my hands in his own.


“I adore you,” he said softly, reaching up to caress my face. I flushed, though we were millennia beyond being shy with each other. “I’ve loved you more and treated you worse than anyone I’ve ever known.”


“I won’t argue the point with you,” I said, hearing traces of bitterness in my voice. I’d thought I’d gotten past his betrayal, ridiculous as that sounds, but every once in awhile, the immensity of my loss is driven home with new and ever sharpening pain.


Odyn squeezed my hands, held them within his own. To be so lavish with his attention and sweetness, I had to wonder what he was up to.


“What would you think if I told you it might be possible to leave the Tower soon?”


“I’d think you’ve grown inordinately fond of torturing those already bent to your will, AllFather. A trait I might have associated with Loki, but never with you.”


“You can leave the Tower . . . not right now, of course, but soon. In a matter of ten years.” Odyn’s eye burned like the evening sky set afire. I could feel him willing my belief, yet I did not know why. Why would the AllFather want my belief so badly? I knew he had no desire bring about Ragnarok, and the death of All in his care.


If he said I could leave, then he was telling the truth, wasn’t he?


“But how?” I breathed, afraid this really was some cruel joke, or that this was Loki, come to me disguised as the AllFather. Come to wring from me the despair he’d never been able to before.


Odyn, if Odyn he was, shook his head slowly, his smile enough to stop my heart. No smile could fill me, exalt me, and leave me feeling bereft and empty as Odyn’s. This was Odyn.


“How . . . is being worked out. But I am certain, that with some planning, you could walk out of here in a short time and take your rightful place in Valhalla. With me.”


I opened my mouth to say yes, to weep with relief, to thank him for this gift beyond gifts. Then, like a dash of cold water, I was able to look away from that smile and remember who I was. Who we both were. “What makes you think that after all you’ve done to me—I would have anything more to do with you, were I free to leave this place?” I asked quietly, still on the verge of tears and once again amazed at the gall of this man.


The brightness of Odyn’s eye dimmed and he let go of my hands.


“Would you still see me walk out of here, knowing I would leave you forever?” Tears scalded my eyes and heated the suddenly cold skin of my face. “Knowing I would spend the rest of whatever days are left to me trying to forget you even exist, would you see me walk out of here still?”


Odyn looked into the fire, his mouth tight and bitter, the lines in his face more pronounced than I’d ever seen them. “I would. I would never stop you from getting as far away from me as the Nine Worlds allow. But I would hope. . . .“ Odyn’s eye drifted to mine and he took my hands again.


“I would hope,” he continued softly, “that you would reign in Valhalla with me.”


“What of Frigg?” I asked. Though we had never been friends, Frigg had always been kind to me.


“Frigg is not my wife,” Odyn reminded me with infuriating indifference.


“Such care you show for the mother of your favorite sons. I can only imagine how you’d treat me. . . .“


“I loved Frigg for a long time, but I’ve loved you for longer. And I never stopped. Even when I condemned you to this Tower, I loved you. Even when I loved Frigg, I still loved you, and more. I can no longer bear sacrificing you and doing without you.” Odyn’s smile was sad, small and bitter, his face haggard. He stood, pulling me up with him. “When the time comes, will you walk out of this Tower with me?”


“Yes,” I said. It was all I could say. All the dreams I’d been too wary to have, knowing they were hopeless, were about to come true. In ten short years, I’d be free and—


“Will you stay with me?” he asked, pulling me close.


“Yes.” I laid my head on his shoulder, putting my arms around him. I took a deep breath, filling my nose with his scent: a combination of leather and horse, wool and sweat.


“I love you,” I said, for the first time. I could feel Odyn’s sigh against my cheek.


“I love you,” he returned. "I have always loved you."


I wanted to ask him if he loved me more than Asgaard and Midgaard and the other Seven Worlds . . . I wanted to ask so badly the tip of my tongue thrashed against the prison of my teeth.


In the end I did not speak, only accepted the gift of his affection.


*



Later, I woke alone, as usual. The AllFather has several weakness. The most endearing and frustrating one is: he cannot bear to say goodbye.


When he leaves, he never wakes me, only leaves as silently as he may.


I lay in my bed, wondering if it had all been just a dream and a scheme. Odyn had some plan in the offing, no doubt of it. But my part in it seemed small and clear: it began and ended with me leaving the Tower.


But to what end? Odyn does nothing without the promise of some gain or desired outcome.


The question was, did I believe that I was his only gain, the promise of a life with me his only desired outcome?


Watching the flicker of firelight around me I came to the conclusion that no, I did not believe either of those things. Odyn was still Yg and I did not trust him. I never had, though I loved him, to the ruin of my own life. Whatever his plan was, I decided, I would walk out of the Tower with him. If Fimbulwinter greeted my first walk in Asgaard in ages. . . .

So be it.


I pulled on my robe and went to the window, looking out into the snow and wind. The storm has continually lessened over the years, only very sporadically resembling the perpetual maelstrom that had protected the Keep. Now, it was lighter and less vicious than the storms that had blown around ancient Fensalir in winter. I could see lights and figures down below: Odyn’s Einherjar, preparing for the final battle at Vigrid, as always.


Then, I wondered: if Ragnarok was no longer going to happen and Vigrid, the last battlefield, would never come to be, why then were Odyn’s Berserks and warriors holding their mock wars on the battlements, as they had every night for ages?


Perhaps, I thought, my prescient dis-ease returning to settle on me like a blanket. Odyn doesn’t want to tell them, yet. Perhaps this plan of his hinges on stealth and secrecy. It wouldn’t be the first time.


“And perhaps you care too much, think too much. Take his word and be content. For once,” I muttered, disgusted with and tired of myself. I turned away from the window and nearly cried out:


Sitting in the chair Odyn had sat in was Loki, his boyish, merry face was pale under his platinum hair, except for two hectic red spots on his cheeks. Strange . . . Loki never felt the cold. Or perhaps the wineskin in his lap was responsible for that flush in his round cheeks. . . .


“You do think too much, child; unfortunately not about the right things.” Loki sighed mischievously, his grey eyes taking in my room with a sharp and dismissive glance. I instinctively reached for my daggers, then realized I hadn’t had any weapon on my person or within my reach for three thousand years.


I had to settle for glaring at him—I’ve been told my glare is heart-freezing, but by Odyn, so I don’t know if that’s truly so—and stalking over to him as threateningly as I could.


“Get out.” I pointed at the door, which he had closed behind him; I couldn’t abide that door being open. It was hard enough resisting the pull of Outside even without that damned door hanging open like an invitation to destruction.


Then I remembered that was soon to be over.


“‘Get out’?" Loki sounded terribly amused. "Don’t you even wish to know why I’ve come to visit after all these centuries?”


“I don’t give a fimbuling damn why you’ve come. Leave my room and never come back,” I said, but as I said it I realized I welcomed even his intrusion. I hadn’t seen him in so long, yet I remembered Loki's ways as if I’d last seen him yesterday.


“You’re shivering, dear child. Sit, please . . . don’t stand for me.” His grin was as infuriating as Odyn’s shrugs, but I sat on the edge of my bed, for I was shaking and feeling unsteady. My room felt suddenly small and tight. I’d had no one in it but Odyn for so long. This felt wrong, somehow. . . .


Very suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. I could hear great gouts of air whistling into and out of my nose, yet I felt dizzy, as if I would faint.


“You’ve been penned in here alone for so long.” The sudden compassion in Loki's voice nearly undid me. I turned my face away.


“Why . . . are you . . . still here. . . ? Go. Now . . . or I shall tell Odyn,” I threatened, not entirely sure I would.


I could hear Loki stand and walk over to the bed. He sat next to me, pressing the skin of wine to me. “Guaranteed relaxation. Take a few sips only, though,” he warned, like a worried mother.


I took it, opened it, squeezing a healthy swallow into my mouth, then I nearly spit it out.


“Mead,” I said disdainfully. Loki laughed and took back his mead.


“Of course. The official drink of Valhalla. Just you try to find ale or wine or even milk around here, of late. What warrior wants milk in his moustache?”


I took a few more swallows. I was used to the stuff . . . it was all Odyn seemed to bring in those last decades, but I’d been hoping for wine. I’d have done anything for a sip of milk.


Loki's grin was charming, maddening. “While I have you in my power, I’ll tell you why I’m here.” The smug, murdering bastard took a mouthful of mead, winced and swallowed.


“You killed Baldr,” I panted, looking up at him. “Tell me why you did that and perhaps I’ll hear whatever else you have to say.”


Loki tilted his head curiously. “On the contrary: I did not kill Baldr. Odyn killed Baldr. I won’t deny I had my part in it. . . .“ he sighed, putting the mead on my lap. “Baldr was a good boy. I don’t know how he grew into such an noble man, with Yg as his father and the rest of the Aeslir for role models. He would’ve made an excellent AllFather when his time came. . . ." Loki glanced at me, then stood up. "Baldr was the best of us, and with him died our hope and our honor.”


He paced around the room, made an entire circuit before turning to face me again. His eyes were grim, measuring. “The Norns wouldn’t tell Odyn something he wanted to know very desperately -“


“What thing?” I interrupted. Loki shook his head no.


“I will not speak of it just yet. I will say that for Odyn to get what he wanted Baldr had to die. And die Baldr did—”


“Leave." Warmed by mead and anger I felt my strength returning. I was seconds away from picking him up and tossing him down the Tower stair. "I will not hear this abomination, Loki.”


“Do not judge Odyn too harshly on this count, or me: he is not the first father to sacrifice a child of his flesh and he won’t be the last. And if Odyn has his way, Baldr’s life will be restored in the end. Everyone left alive will live in peace and harmony under the AllFather’s benign rule. . . .” Loki slumped back into my chair and stared bitterly into the fire, as Odyn had done.


“Why should I believe a word of your lies, Trickster?”


“Because I saved Ran’s life all those years ago and I’m calling in my debt, here and now.” Loki’s voice was inflectionless, hard, all traces of light-heartedness gone. The intense hilarity was gone from his eyes, replaced by another kind of intensity, but one no less unsettling.


“I knew this would come back to haunt me . . . what is it that you want? My complicity in whatever wickedness you plan?”


“Never would I ask you to stain your honor for me. I am not Odyn, and do not ask such things of those I care for.”


Before I could ask what he meant by claiming to care for me, Loki went on quickly: “The only thing I would ask of you is a suspension of your disbelief. Not your trust, I won’t ask such a huge thing of you." Loki sketched me a sardonic half-bow, but his eyes were grave. "I would ask that you listen to me, and believe that whatever my other motives are, I would see the Nine Worlds flourish for as long as they will."


"Tell me first, then I'll decide what I believe for myself."


Loki sighed, giving his hair an absent-minded tug. "The thing Odyn wanted that was worth his son’s life was the answer to a question. He wanted to know how he could hold the World Throne forever, rule in peace and plenty.”


“That was Odyn’s big, ignoble act?” I tried to scoff, but it came out as a relieved sigh. “The one that should make me doubt him?”


“He it was, not Frigg, who let the mistletoe remain unsworn because of its youth. He it was who held the celebration where Baldr was felled. Everyone from Jotuns to Svartalfs were invited to toss boulders, weild swords, fire arrows or send poisonous snakes on Odyn’s son. But he was indeed invulnerable.


"Oh, all manner of cunning weapons and poisons were levelled at him and nothing could touch him . . . until Thor, whose turn was last, came up to his brother, grinning. Instead of hitting Baldr with his great hammer, he pricked Baldr's neck with a thorn. A mistletoe thorn . . . Baldr fell to the ground, dead before anyone knew what was happening.


"Never have I heard a cry of grief such as Thor’s, who meant his pricking only as a joke. Odyn was devastated. And thoughtful, as ever he is. Immediately, the Norns appeared to confer with him. Baldr’s body was not yet cold.”


Loki watched me, as if waiting for me to ask him something. I was too stunned to think of anything, other than, “What part did you have in this?”


“I was the one who suggested the 'joke' Thor was to play on Baldr. He asked me what would make Baldr laugh harder than he’s ever laughed before." Loki dropped his eyes and had the grace to look ashamed. "He wanted Baldr to laugh. Laugh he did, until the thorn went into his neck.”


“Well—why would you suggest such a thing?!” I demanded.


“Odyn, my oath-brother and best friend, asked me to help him kill his son and I did. It was destined to be so,” Loki said simply. His mouth was no longer merry, but bitter and pursed.


“Ah. You let Thor carry out your murder for you with only the noblest of motives?”


“Nobility has nothing to do with any of it, child. I did what I did because this is how it was supposed to happen." At last, Loki looked up at me; his eyes were hard and grey, like the stones of my Tower. "Baldr's time in this world was over and he was to die by three different hands: his father’s, his uncle’s, his brother’s. But even after Odyn had his precious answer, he refused to accept the death of his favorite son. He tried to slip out of his bargain with the Norns and convince Hel to release Baldr . . . but that could not be allowed to happen.”


“Why?” That had become my watchword, it seems.  Loki took a deep breath and let it come sighing back out.


“I loved Baldr. He was the truest, kindest person I have ever known, his soul the purest I’ve ever encountered. . . ." Loki smiled wearily and looked down at his hands. "People like that rarely live to a ripe old age. Baldr lasted longer than most, but he was fated to die. The Norns decreed it on the day of his birth. Every Volva that ever told his fortune told the same thing: Baldr must die. All things serve fate, whether they will or not. I serve willingly.”


Loki held out his hands, if he’d chop them both off if he could. In the firelight, they seemed to be the color of blood. “Fate does not question or falter. It makes things happen for its own ends. . . Odyn seeks to do the same, to be his own beginning and end. This will not be allowed to continue.”


His tone rang with cold finality, the voice of a Fate, hanging over a doomed newborn, and I shuddered, preferring the Loki who laughed up at my window to the one before me, now.


"Why should I believe you?" I asked softly, though I was beginning to believe him. If there's one thing, one great lesson my life has imparted me with, it's: Yg Bolverk is capable of anything.


"Odyn seeks to control the tools of destiny as if they were his own, including me, you, and your siblings. And when he is done with us, he will destroy us. You three were the only ones who could stop him.  But he's seen to that, mistake him not. . . ."


I sat forward, closer to him than I’ve ever been without either of us trying to murder the other. He had my ear and my belief. “What has Odyn done?”


Loki met my eyes and launched into his story without preamble:


“The Fenris Wolf has become so large and fierce that for some time, now, only Tyr has been brave enough to deal with him. Recently, the Aeslir decided to bind him, as killing is now forbidden in Asgaard. They made a chain of iron links called Laeding and Fenrir was bound by it.


“Of chain and Wolf, your brother was the stronger, and snapped the chain shortly.


“The Aeslir quickly made a new tether, from links larger than anchor chains. They called it Dromi. With this chain also, they bound Fenrir and again he broke free. Finally Odyn sent Freyir's outrider, Skirn, into the Nine Worlds. She was to find someone, anyone who could make a chain strong enough to bind Fenrir.


“Skirn's quest ended Svartalfheim, where she commissioned a rope. Gleipnir was it's name and it was made from the sound a cat makes when it moves, a woman's beard, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish and a bird’s spittle.


“Skirn returned to Asgaard with Gleipnir and presented it to Odyn. He and the other Seven that had Quested with us managed to trap and incapacitate your brother—Odyn wouldn’t tell me how. Fenrir was taken to the island of Lenvai in middle of Lake Amsvartin. He awoke while he was being tied, angry and more vicious than ever. Tyr gave up his right hand trying to hold him. The Aeslir then took a chain called Gelgi and tied it to Gleipnir, then tied Gelgi to a boulder, which they drove one mile into the earth. On top of this, they placed an even larger boulder.


“The Seven then skewered Fenrir's jaws with a sword. Since that awful day, the price Fenrir pays for howling out his rage and loneliness is untold pain.


“And thus it shall remain, until the Fimbulwinter.”


*

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