(Art and story copyright 2005 Timothy Truman. All Rights Reserved.)
Acknowledgement: Very special thanks to John Ostrander and Chet Williamson, true warrior skalds of Midgard, who contributed much to this project. -TT
(Synopsis: In the days when the universe is formed, two immortal races are born: the Aesir and the Frost Giants. Bor, First Chieftain of the Aesir, is murdered by Ymir, the Frost Giant king. Swearing vengeance Bor's son, Odin, leads his tribe against the monsters. After decades of bloody war, the Giants are finally defeated. Odin and his younger brother, Honir, kill Ymir.
Ymir's death causes a great Magic to be unleashed, and new worlds appear. One of these worlds is Asgard, where Odin and his tribe establish their home. The Giants are exiled to the forbidden, icy wastes of Jotunheim.
For a time there is peace. However, one day Odin hears rumors that Frost Giants have dared to cross the borders of the Middle Ground that divides the two ancient enemies. Fearing an invasion, the KIng of Asgard decides to investigate. Together, he and his younger brother Honir descend Bifrost-- the Rainbow Bridge to Midgard.)
Bifrost plunged downward through the skies, a glimmering, multi-colored band of light. It arced past the upper branches of Ygsdrissil-- the World Tree that linked Asgard with the rest of creation; through sunlight and clouds, past soaring eagles and chattering geese, over mountains, treetops, and fjords until at last touching the green meadows of Midgard. The Middle Ground. Earth.
Stepping off the bridge, Odin and Honir stood on a rocky outcrop overlooking a vast, green valley. It was spring in Midgard and all around them new life was in bloom. Deer played in the field. Birds flew overhead, singing songs to one another as they carried food to their young. Flowers blossomed on the hillside. Bordering the meadow, forests of tall trees reached anxiously towards the sun.
"I'd almost forgotten how beautiful this place is." Honir's voice was almost a whisper. He closed his eyes and breathed in the sweet air.
His older brother nodded in agreement, but was silent. Midgard had come into being because Odin had killed Ymir. The giant's blood had flowed into the roots of the World Tree, unleashing the powers of a great Magic. Entire worlds had formed, growing from Ymir's very flesh and bones.
Odin looked at the spear in his hands. Its shaft was weathered and worn, its ancient blade scarred from countless battles with the lord of the Frost Giants and his kin. With this weapon Odin had killed Ymir and avenged the death of their father, Bor.
Its name was Herfiligr. " Bitterness."
Grimly, Odin shouldered the spear and lumbered down the sloping meadow towards the forest below. "Come, brother, we have work to do. The trail should be in that valley."
Honir grunted. He had his eyes on a magnificent stag that was grazing at the other end of the field. "Bah! Can't we do some hunting before we go?"
Odin didn't answer. He was already moving down the hill. Thinking of boiled venison haunch, the younger Aesir trotted down the slope to catch up with his brother.
Together the two warriors entered the woods. Heading northwards, they moved cautiously between the dark shadows of the trees. Honir took the lead, examining the ground and sniffing at the leaves and branches.
Suddenly the younger brother stopped. "I smell blood," he whispered. He quickened his pace, motioning for the king to follow.
Before long they came to a clearing and found signs of a great slaughter. The leaves and grass were splashed with drying blood. Here and there the brothers spied shards of shattered bone. Little else remained of whatever creature had been killed.
Honir crouched low to the ground, his long nose sniffing at the grass, his keen eyes instantly reading every bent reed and broken twig. He was the Aesir's best hunter, and Odin was glad to see that the long period of peace had not dulled his talents.
Suddenly Honir hissed and picked up a splinter of bone, examining it for a little as he turned it over in his hand. "A doe and her fawn," he said, offering it to his brother. "The bone was broken by strong teeth. The marrow has been sucked clean."
Odin turned the fragment in his hands. It was fang-marked and white, stripped of every shred of flesh. Banished as they were to the icy wastes of Jotunheim, Ymir's kin had learned to waste nothing that could be eaten.
Odin cast the bone aside. "The scouts were right. Giants were here. Can you pick up their trail?"
Honir nodded and began moving across the field, pushing aside the grass and brush and looking at the ground.
"There were only two Giants," he said, pointing at some massive footprints. "A male and a female…" Honir paused, looking uncertain. "...and..."
Odin readied his spear. "What is it?"
"Something else was with them," Honir said, glancing warily into the forest. "Strange. It left very little sign. I can feel it more than see its trail. What it was, I'm not sure, but it is there."
"We'll find out soon enough," said Odin. Weapons raised, the Aesir plunged northward into the woods, following the Giants' trail.
The brothers traveled for miles. The forest turned into a plain and the ground became barren and rocky. With every step they took the wind blew colder. Snow began to fall-- gently at first, but soon in great, stormy sheets. Whipped by the wind, the blizzard sliced at the warriors' eyes and bit their noses like angry bees.
Occasionally they could see shapes through the white wind-- twisted figures, cowering in the distance, watching the Aesir with bright eyes and then darting away, obscured by the blowing snow.
"Ice Goblins," growled Odin. "Waiting for us to fall."
Honir felt the fur on his neck bristle. Goblins were foul creatures-- the spawn of maggots that had once grown in dead Ymir's rotting flesh.
Tightening their grip on their weapons, the brothers hurried their step, heading ever northward, knee-deep in the drifting snow.
Finally the storm relented. Through the receding white mists the brothers could see icy mountains, rising like broken, crystal blades into the gray sky.
Odin knew those peaks. "Ymir's Knucklebones," he hissed, shouldering his spear.
They had reached the edges of Jotunheim-- stronghold of the Frost Giants.
Finding a narrow pass, the brothers entered the land of their ancient enemies.
* * * *
In Jotunheim, the winds moaned through the canyons like the haunted howls of the dead. Slowly the brothers picked their way across the jagged, slippery slopes and ledges, traveling deeper into the heart of the mountains.
After a time the winds ceased blowing and their sound was replaced by an unnerving, lonely quiet.
"I'm hungry," mumbled Honir, pulling his cowl tighter around his face. "Why didn't we eat while we were in Midgard?"
Odin fished through his pack and handed Honir a loaf of flat lefse bread. "Come on," he said, pulling his brother along the frozen mountainside.
It was a long climb. Just as they neared the crest, they heard a scream. The brothers sank to the snow, listening.
Silence. Then a hateful roar echoed from the other side of the hill. Then came another scream and the sound of fighting…
Crouching, Odin and Honir made their way to the top of the ridge and hid behind a snow bank. Gripping their weapons close too their chests, they peered over the edge.
On the icy floor of the valley below, two Frost Giants were arguing-- a male and a female, bearing the tattooed markings of the Fire Clan. The massive brutes were pounding and kicking at each other as they circled what looked like a tiny campfire. The pitiful flame seemed too small to provide them with any real warmth.
"Why did you eat all the meat, Farbauti?" The female shrieked, swiping at the male with claw-like fingernails. "You gobbled it down and left us only marrow and scraps! The child is hungry!"
" 'Child?' " barked the male. "That thing is no child of Farbauti's!" He one of his huge, crooked talons he pointed at the tiny fire. "Bah! It is not even a Frost Giant! Farbauti thinks it is a demon!"
His words drove the female to new heights of fury. Uttering a high pitched wail, she lunged at her mate, and with a swipe of her nails opened a jagged gash across the side of his neck. Farbauti roared, grabbing at the wound, and swatted the woman to the ground.
Towering over his fallen mate, the Giant wiped his hand across his neck and looked at the blood that streaked his palm. Smiling wickedly, he reached to the ground and grabbed the handle of a huge, stone-tipped ax.
"Don't worry, woman. The little demon won't be hungry long. Farbauti will see to that!"
The female shrieked again and began crawling through the snow. Skittering to the nearby fire she beckoned with her thin arms, as though seeking to encircle the little flame to shield it from her mate's anger.
As the Aesir watched wide-eyed, the flickering light uttered a nervous squeal and darted into the protection of the woman's arms!
The little light was a living thing!
Honir grabbed the king's sleeve and gasped aloud, barely able to contain his excitement. Quickly, Odin clamped a gloved hand over his brother's mouth and signaled for him to be quiet.
Arching her back, the Giantess cowered over the dancing light, trying to cover it with her body.
The Giant circled the female, kicking at her and bellowing for her to get out of the way. He continued pounding and ranting until great drops of sweat froze on his brow. The Giantess refused to move.
Finally, the brute exploded with rage. Raising the stone ax over his head, he vented an ear-splitting scream. Then, with one quick motion, he brought the ax arcing down. The blade split the female's head and she sprawled lifelessly into the snow.
For a second Farbauti stared blankly at the body of his mate. Then, chuckling with soulless amusement, he lifted her by her tattered tunic and cast her aside like a broken doll.
The murderer glared down at the tiny, flickering light that the female had given her life to protect. The blaze seemed to tremble, its radiance dimmed.
Farbauti snorted and pointed at the dead Giantess. "Look what you made Farbauti do!"
His red eyes clouded with hatred, the Giant raised his ax. "Demon! You've caused Farbauti nothing but trouble since you came into this world! It's time Farbauti snuffed you out!"
The brute's ax descended with such swiftness that Odin was sure he would smash the flame, but at the last minute the strange little creature flared with a sudden brightness and transformed into a small white bird! Flapping its wings, it darted into the air. Farbauti's ax sank to its haft in the empty ice.
The strange little bird sped across the frozen valley-- directly towards the snow covered slope where Odin and Honir were hiding!
Farbauti roared in frustration. Wrenching his ax from the ice, he lumbered across the ice in pursuit his quarry.
The white bird ascended along the curve of the ridge. As it rounded the top of the slope, it pulsed brightly and once again transformed itself into a ball of flame! Stunned, Odin and Honir watched as the shining creature fled past them and disappeared into the rocks.
Farbauti would soon be upon them, the brothers realized. Weapons poised, they leapt to their feet and spun around to face the oncoming Giant. As soon as they turned, the brute's head crested the ridge.
For a second, Farbauti stared in disbelief at the two warriors. Finally he shook his stone ax and roared.
"Stinking little Aesir! Slayers of Grandfather Ymir and his kin! What are you doing in the world of the Frost Giants?"
If the murderer expected an answer, he didn't receive it. Spear raised high, Odin launched himself over the edge of the slope. With a desperate swing of his ax, Farbauti turned aside Odin's spear thrust but could not stop the king's descent. Odin hit the Giant hard, driving both feet into Farbauti's massive chest. The force sent the brute plummeting backward through the air to the valley floor.
Odin recoiled off the Giant's chest and slammed into the snow-covered hillside. Unable to gain a foothold, the king began rolling like snowball a down the long, steep slope!
Seeing his enemy tumbling towards him, the Frost Giant scuffled to his feet, stone ax ready, ready to crush Odin as soon as the king was within reach.
Suddenly a boulder of jagged ice careened through the air and struck Farbauti on the snout. Wincing in pain, the distracted Giant looked up-- just in time to dodge a second frozen missile that Honir had lobbed at him!
Honir's distraction gave Odin the precious time he needed to right himself and gain control of his descent. Sledding to a halt at the foot of the slope, he hit the ground running. War cry on his lips, he raised his spear and charged his gigantic foe.
With a swiftness and skill that belied his size, the Giant slashed downwards with his ax. Odin sidestepped, barely managing to dodge the hissing flint blade. As Farbauti prepared to swing again, Odin thrust with his spear and felt Herfiligr's keen blade rip through the Giant's thigh. Howling in pain, the brute bent low, clenching at the bloody wound.
Odin heard a familiar war cry. Looking up, he saw his brother vault from the crest of the ridge, war ax in hand. Falling through the air like a rock, Honir landed with surprising grace squarely in the center of the Giant's massive back.
Straddling Farbauti like a rider on a horse, the young Aesir chopped downwards with the ax, tearing through the ice colored flesh between the monster's shoulder blades.
Sterkyr's blade sank deeply, but the blow was not enough to stop the Frost Giant. Farbauti screamed and bolted upright, catapulting the Aesir into the air. As Odin watched helplessly, Honir's round body crashed into the ice.
"Honir!" Odin shouted, fearing that the fall had broken his brother's spine. To his relief, Honir groaned and lurched to his knees, ax still in hand.
Farbauti was between two enemies now: Odin on one side, Honir on the other. As the beast glanced back to see where Honir had fallen, Odin raked his spear across the Giant's flank. Snarling, Farbauti whirled around, swinging his ax. Odin lunged to one side as the flint blade tore into the ice where he'd stood.
Odin could see that his brother was standing now, weapon poised, looking for a chance to join the fray. Weaving in front of the Frost Giant, Odin thrust outwards with his spear, jabbing the blade at Farbauti's gnarled face. The beast backed away, eyes locked on Herfiligr's dangerous edge as Farbauti tried to calculate the Aesir's next move.
Honir saw his opening. Heedless of his aching bones and bruised flesh, Odin's brother charged the Frost Giant from behind. Dodging between the giant's knees, Honir swung his ax sideways at the beast's legs, striking with all his strength. Black blood sprayed across the ice as Sterkyr's blade sheared through flesh and bone.
The wound was severe. Farbauti staggered, trying to keep his footing, but his half-severed leg bone could not support his massive weight. Honir and Odin heard the bone snap like raw timber. The monster fell sideways, plunging downward with such force that the ice shattered and caved-in beneath his bulk.
Farbauti uttered a sick groan and tried to free himself from the jagged hole in the ice that pinned him in. Odin leaped towards his trapped enemy. Dodging a wild blow from the stone ax that would have split him in two, the king plunged Herfiligr's point into the Giant's exposed chest.
The beast's back arched with pain. Odin pushed the spear deeper, seeking the monster's dark heart, wrenching the weapon with such force that its weathered shaft snapped off in his hands!
With a final, convulsive shiver the Frost Giant died, his last breath rising from his lips and freezing in Jotunheim's icy air.
Straddling the dead Giant's chest, Odin looked at the shattered spear shaft in his hands. Herfiligr -- his old companion-- was lost.
"Well, Honir, it looks as though I'll have to find another spear," the king said.
"Odin! Look!" came his younger brother's voice. Odin whirled around.
Honir stood near the base of the slope. He was not alone. A few feet away from him the little orb of flame hovered silently over the ice.
"It came back," Honir said quietly. His eyes were wide, fixed on the light. He seemed totally bewitched by it.
Honir knelt beside the flame, staring at its soft, pulsating radiance. "What a beautiful thing it is" the younger bear breathed. "I've never seen the like."
The round Aesir inched closer, moving slowly so he wouldn't scare the creature away. "Did you belong to these Frost Giants?" Honir asked. Then he grinned. "It doesn't matter. You're Honir's prize now." Moving swiftly, the Aesir reached out to snatch his newly won treasure.
Suddenly, Honir yelped and pulled back his paw, grimacing in pain. "It bit me!" he scowled, sucking on his burnt fingers.
The light pulsed red and hissed. "I am no one's treasure and no one's toy!" It said. "I will belong to no one except myself-- ever!"
Approaching carefully, Odin cast aside his broken spear. "Well said," he murmured, looking down at the flame. Within its bright depths, Odin could see the shadows of two dark eyes. "What's your name, little fellow?"
"To know a thing's name is to have power over it, " the being answered defiantly. "Why should I give you such power over me?"
Before Odin could reply, the creature darted to Farbauti's body. For an instant it hovered at the edges of the cracked ice where the Giant lay, as if making sure the brute was truly dead. Then it glowed brightly and hopped onto the Frost Giant's chest.
"I have learned to be very careful! This world is harsh! I was born of cruelty, when Farbauti slapped my mother's head and I fell out of her ear!"
The little being bounced across the Giant's cold face, seeming to dance a happy little jig.
"Farbauti never liked me! He always wanted me dead!" hissed the voice from the flame. "Well, look who's dead now! Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead!"
As Odin and Honir walked closer, the flame flickered nervously and jumped away. "You would kill me, too, if you could catch me! Look how the fat one glares at me! He would slay me in a moment if he could!"
"He's right about that, at least," growled Honir, still nursing his scorched paw. "Let's get away from here."
Odin squatted on his haunches and fixed his eyes upon the little being.
"Farbauti was a bad creature-- even for a Giant. We're not like him."
The being's eyes wandered towards the pitiful form of the dead female.
"My mother, Laufey, was the only thing who was ever kind to me," said the light in a hushed voice. "Now she is dead, and I am alone."
The Lord of Asgard was quiet for a minute, then gazed intently into the orphaned flame. His voice was clear and solemn: "Poor little creature. I am Odin, the Lord of the Aesir, and I make this pledge to you: I will never harm you or allow harm to come to you. This is my oath. Do you believe me?"
Like a child trying to read a difficult book, the little light looked deeply into Odin's eyes.
"Yes," it said at last, its voice a confident whisper.
"Then tell me your name."
Again, their eyes met-- one pair bright and glistening, the other as dark and unfathomable as the night.
Almost imperceptibly, Odin saw the glowing creature move closer to him. He could feel the warmth of its glow touch his face. Then it spoke.
"My name is Loki."
Odin smiled and stood up, adjusting his pack and tightening the clasp of his cloak. "Well, little Loki, my brother and I are finished here and we are about to return home. Would you care to come along?"
Immediately Honir nudged close to his brother, growling into his ear. "No, Odin! Leave him here where he belongs. I have a feeling about him!"
"As do I," Odin answered. There was steel in his voice. "For good or ill, he's coming with us."
Honir blustered and paced away, gesturing at Loki. "Look at him! What will we do with him in Asgard? And where will he live? In a lamp, perhaps? Hah!"
Rubbing his chin, Odin looked down at the fire being.
"You became a bird before, Loki. Can you take other forms as well?"
Loki glowed softly. Then he backed away and the Aesir heard a whispered chant.
For an instant the strange being sparked and flickered. The ice beneath him melted, forming fingers of fine mist that curled and writhed about him, blurring his glowing form. Suddenly, Loki flared so brilliantly that the Aesir had to close their eyes.
When they looked again, Loki had changed into a weasel.
"This is my favorite," he said, looking quite pleased.
Odin took a warm, woolen sleeping blanket and some lefse bread from his pack.
"Let's go home," he said, pulling the blanket tight around Loki's shoulders while the little fellow gobbled hungrily on the bread.
Honir opened his mouth to say something. A stern glance from his brother made him think better of it.
Together, the three headed south to the pass that led back to Midgard and the Rainbow Bridge.
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