~ * ~
Thor watches his Father return from the dizzying heights of Valhöll's soaring balconies; he chooses the one that flies above the high rune-doors leading into the throne room. Mother waits below, her fine white hands cradling his Father's sword, her sun-spun hair pooling round the beguiling curves of Odin's throne.
Frigga had wanted her son to be stood at her side, but Thor had wished to see the warriors, see the evidence of their triumph still plain upon the long, long lines of the thanes returning to Asgard, and to Valhöll.
Thor watches with his breath tangled betwixt the splay of his ribs; the lines of Thanes are not so long as he thought. There is no name for the creature that suddenly uncurls its length beneath Thor's skin, but it hurts, it claws. Odin All-Father will know – he always does.
Thor turns from the gleaming balustrade and runs on silent feet towards the shape of his mother, and the brightness of his father's sword.
When the rune-doors part and the river of Thanes flows into the throne-room, Thor stares up into his father's face; he has never seen his father bleed afore, but all of Asgard has taught him to find pride and honour in such a wound. He sees a god come back from War, victorious and shining.
Thor sees no shadows; Thor sees not his Father.
He does not hear his mother's sharp, sudden gasp of breath.
~ * ~
“All-Watcher,” Odin offers in greeting; he will not shift to catch Heimdall in his sight; he will not be ruled by this loss. “What stirs in Jotunheim? What of the child?”
Silence is a heavy, breathing creature under Heimdall's far-flung gaze. Not even Odin All-Father commands word from this Aesir.
“Quiet, still.” Heimdall murmurs, fingers spinning out a voiceless tune on the hilt of his great sword. “Jotunheim is waxing under shadows I cannot pierce.” He shakes his head, and Odin is struck by the light held in the reflection of his horns. “Two cycles of our first Sun and I will see nothing.”
“Gatekeeper, what nonsense is this?” Odin scoffs; the bandages round his eye are thick and muzzling; the wound itches, and the ghost of his full sight sticks in his craw like a barb.
“Do not bandy hidden meanings with me, All-Father.” Heimdall warns, brightly burning eyes tracking inexorably back towards the void, the dark, the stars. “I See. Even you.”
“Heimdall, are you truly telling me that you cannot See the Jotun child?” There is a crown upon Odin's head, and it is weighted like deprivation.
“No. I See around it, near it, behind it. Never the full thing, only the shape.” Heimdall finds humour bright upon his tongue, for it has been many a long age since any living creature so confounded him. “It is skald magick, and my Gaze is aught but a glancing blow upon ice.”
“Ice can be shattered,” Odin intones, and Gungir's thunderous voice rings out in the Bifröst's möbius chamber.
Heimdall does not flinch, nor does he turn his face. “Would the All-Father regret this shattering?” It is not a question; Heimdall has had no true use for questions since he received his Sight from Mother Eyrgiafa.
Odin has no answer for that. In place of answers he has Vetrljós; peace. But curiosity is what marks sentient creatures from the lesser orders; moreover, the species of curiosity that Odin worships is both a beast and a boon. He is never satisfied.
“Victory is victory, Masked-One. Joutnheim is sealed, and none may pass. I cannot undo the All-Father's command, not even for the All-Father himself.”
So newly back from heights of slaughter, from the red song of war, Odin must bite off the keen, clear thought of violence against Heimdall and banishes Gungir into the spaces between.
Heimdall chuckles – a strange, dangerous sound – like the bright rasping of a blade being drawn from its sheath. Above his high gold horns rises the Eagle-head nebula, its burnt orange light casting him in molten colours. Heimdall knows what he is, as does Odin.
“Victory is a strange beast, is it not?”
Heimdall does not answer. He does not think the Hanged One desires a reply.
“In King Laufey's House there is a garden,” Heimdall murmurs.
Odin finds his feet have grown deep roots.
“Jotunheim fell in ruins the hour in which you, Odin All-Father, took the Vetrljós from its temple mount. The garden remains, and the ice whole.” Let no one say that Heimdall abides by the laws and rules of Odin out of fear; he obeys because it pleases him to do so.
Even in defeat Laufey is the shadow that Odin cannot dispel, the sign he cannot parse. A thorn and a punishment and a reward. An unlooked for equal to Odin Ginnarr and Odin Spear-Breaker and Odin Viðurr.
When the tremors of Odin's stride have faded into poor echoes, Heimdall turns his Gaze on Jotunheim once more, eager and patient and abiding.
The Aesir will forget so much of themselves, and no poorly bought peace with Jotunheim will relieve them of their self won ignorance. Heimdall regrets this, but he does not care to change it. Heimdall will stand by and watch his people lock themselves away, for he has Seen, and Seen far.
Far, far on, and on.
Bifröst lulls him with her eternal song, filling the hollows neath Heimdall's carapace as nothing else in in this universe ever will.
He does not close his Eyes.
~ * ~
Odin abides in the crux of Asgard's celebrations and feels each clear note of laughter, each burning note of joy at their return, as if Mjölnir has struck him a mortal wound upon his brow. He raises a hand to his cheek and it comes away with the dull rust of dried blood caught in the valleys and lines of his fingertips. The eye is gone, but still it bleeds, and still his body mourns the loss. A careless, senseless loss. Nothing gained, not like the days strung upon the ash tree, nor the season spent in toil to steal from fair, silly Gunnlöð, nor the price he paid for Mimir's head.
Odin finds a sigh waiting under his tongue; Thor never asks any questions. A different son would see his father sat amongst the finery of his own grand court, with all the life of a thing carved from stone, and wonder what was the cause.
Thor does not wonder.
“Volstagg says that you have brought home the Jotun's greatest treasure,” Thor's face is bright and open, vitally uncomplicated. Odin should hold himself fortunate in this fact. “May I see it?”
He is weary of this hollow, glittering celebration, thus is his answer yes, where he would rather it be no. A glance is all that need speak of his intentions to his wife, and Odin Ginnarr creeps from the too bright hall with his too bright son clipping his heels like a wolf-pup.
The high vaulted halls of Asgard are near empty, and the sounds of their journey echo sharply; the doors to the treasury are bound by Odin's own words, but it is nothing a drop of his blood against the runes cannot undo.
Thor walks the length of Asgard's ancient treasury till he stands afore a translucent cube alive with Winter, in all its ungentle forms.
“Aye, the Jotun call it Vetrljós: winter-light.” Odin replies. “This here gave their planet life, power, strength.”
Thor laughs, reaching out his hands to grasp the Vetrljós and suddenly his father's fingers close upon his wrist like talons. He looks up into his father's face and sees a reprimand creasing the corner of his one remaining eye. Thor lets his hand fall away.
“So, you took away Jotunheim's life-force then?” It is a simple question, but it stabs at Odin nonetheless. Thor cannot see the other questions lurking neath the first, the hidden meanings. He cannot see how thin is the justice of Odin's act. The surface is enough.
“I took from Laufey the life-force of his Kingdom.”
“That is a great triumph indeed, father,” Thor replies, turning back to the cube, his mind painting vivid pictures of how strong and terrible his Father must have been, even as Laufey stole his eye and battle thundered round the God and the King. “You must be proud.”
From the narrowed corner of his vision, Mimir's head mocks Odin with all the strength of the long dead.
His father's hand rises to settle on his shoulders, warm and heavy, but...
“Not all treasures are those to be won in battle,” Odin murmurs, feeling the great weight of his ages pressing down upon him with a sudden violence. “Not all treasures are things we might keep.”
Thor does not understand the truer meaning of his Father's words till far too many a century has crept beneath his feet.