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Death and the Fair One

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The day had been perfect, as much as any day of her childhood could be. The youngest of the offspring of the trickster Loki and the giantess Angrboda had spent her early years among the mountains her mother called home. Even after all these years she still remembered that day, remembered the feel of the warm sun on her pale skin, the cool breeze blowing her dark hair. But more than anything she remembered that day because it was the day the men of Odin came for them.

  Her eldest brother the great serpent Jormungandr was wrapped around her middle, he lightly squeezed her under his powerful muscles. Her snake brother stood taller than her even while standing. Jormugandr also made excuses to be near her, especially on their trips to the large river that ran through the mountain, he was deadly afraid of water and preferred to stay with her on the bank of fresh flowers. Fenrir, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of the water, he enjoyed paddling through its wild currents unfazed. Her wolfish brother broke the water, a gleaming fish thrashing in his jaws. He gulped it down in with a satisfied smile on his lips and jumped from the water, pools dripping from his thick dark fur. Fenrir though the middle child was the biggest, he dwarfed his siblings and stood to the shoulders of their giantess mother. He shook his massive body spraying water all over them, Jormungandr recoiled around her, squeezing her tight that bruises formed on her soft blue flesh. Like her monstrous brothers, Hel herself was not spared in the days after her birth, the right side of her body started to discolour to a greyish blue and cold to the touch. The other half of her body looked like that of a normal child but the corruption in her body cause even the alive side of her body to bruise easily. She pulled a wildflower free from the soil and caused it to rot in her hands, she could do if she willed it so.

   The large wolf placed his head in her lap, looking up at her with his dark blue eyes. She scratched his head at the spot in between his ears that she knew he liked, her brother’s eyes began to grow heavy. Their mother had left them by the river and went to gather some wild herbs as she had done a hundred times before. The siblings were perfectly content in her absence, after all, they knew they weren’t far beside apart from the four of them no other giants lived in the valley. Jormungandr was the first to feel that something was wrong, the tiny vibrations in the ground rattled along his skin. The snake raised his head in the direction of the hill, a moment later the soldiers appeared. Their gleaming armour blinded the children. Jormungandr wrapped his tail tighter around his sister’s leg, venom dripping from his fangs. Fenrir jumped in front of his siblings, his fur brisked making him look bigger than he was. His howl bounced among the valley, sending the message to their mother but Hel knew it would take too long. The men were bigger than the three of them, but not by much and their swords were long and sharp. Fenrir rumbled low and Jurmungandr coiled ready to strike, Hel now bare of her brothers reach her blue hand towards the grass and spread the rot towards the soldiers.

  “No need to fight young ones. We are hereby the request of the Allfather to invite you to Asgard.” The leader said though he did not lower his blade.

   “We must wait for our mother before we go anywhere,” Jormungandr hissed.

  “She knows we are here, she will follow.” The children shared a look. The leader’s fingers glowed a little, the snake strikes, his poisonous jaws just missing the leader’s arm as he was wrapped in chains that covered him from nose to tail. Their brother hit the ground with a thud, he still struggled again the thick chains but each move he made only caused those thick iron cords to tighten against him. Fenrir jumped at the small group of men, jaws wide and strings of drool swinging from long gleaming teeth. The leader sidestepped at the last moment, sending her brother into another, Fenrir immediately ripped his throat out before he could scream. He turned towards her, blood dripping down his chin as the bars of a cage appeared around him. Hel willed whatever power she had inside her to spread the rot towards the captors. It only spread out in a weak circle around her, turning the green grass to grey. Once the leader realized she didn’t pose him a threat he carefully came towards her, not stepped into the circle of death that surrounded her.

  “Come now,” he said, " there is no need for such commotion. In Odin’s halls, you will be treated well you have nothing to fear from us.” She didn’t trust him, she didn’t need to see the tense muscles of her captive brothers to know that. But what choice did she have? they had fought and they had lost.

  The journey over the rainbow bridge was short and painless, Hel had been loaded onto a cart pulled by a large grey goat. She sat as close as she could to Fenrir as the cool bars would allow, she snaked her fingers into his shaggy brown fear, standing up on a point in fear, while Jormungdr laid his head in her lap, only his green eyes visible through the chains that bound him straight and long. She looked for one last time at the valley, the long river, the green fields closer to grey and muddy tracks of giants long since gone. It faded from her like a candle being snuffed out. She had no idea if their mother was already waiting for them in Asgard? If not it was doubtful she would ever see her again, only those with Aesir blood could travel the rainbow bridge. Any other creature had to rely on being in the company of the Aesir to travel as they were now. She didn’t if she processed too much giantess blood to travel, may perhaps she would be trapped is Asgard forever.

  It was beautiful when they arrived, the realm of the Aesir was as beautiful as she imagined. Bright fields of wheat and flowers in every colour spread out to the horizon, they looked so inviting you could easily find yourself lost among their petals. Their path had become smoother as the goat was no longer pulling the cart through the mud, instead the roads of Asgard were straight and tiled with pebbles joined close together they looked like one large stone. A large wall cut through the greenery, a large sturdy thing made of many stones that brimmed with magic that any original Jotun would have trouble breaking. At first, there looked to be no gate of which to speak, just the same stone pattern encircling. As the cart got closer, however, a long wooden gate glimmered in the sunlight and invisible hands pulled them open. Once passed the wall Hel seen the most sight she had ever seen. The shining halls of Asgard. They glowed like gold in the sunlight, large straight towers that touched the blue sky. To her childish eyes, the many sprawling manors seemed to give off their own light like the sun itself. It burnt her eyes at first and she used her hand to block its rays from her eyes; one the same blue as her brothers, the other a blind white.

  Their captors did not give them much time to admire their new home and rushed them to Valhalla as quick as that old goat would carry them, which was surprisingly fast for the size of the thing. Hel hadn’t loosened her grip on either brother the whole journey and was determined not to now. The Aesir gave them no choice though, the leader pulled her free from her monstrous brothers, in the process she ripped a handful of fur from her wolf brother. He howled and the sky itself shuddered. She was marched into the throne room of the Allfather, everywhere around her gleamed like water and reflected her own monstrous face back to her, wet tears covered both cheeks, she roughly wiped them from her cheeks with her shelve. The assortment of gods stared at them as they entered, all beautiful faces that held a cruel edge. Hel scanned them all one by one, looking for that one face.

  The great Odin sat atop his golden throne, his twin ravens cawed at them, large black eyes gleamed at them as if they held a bit of their master’s soul. The Allfather’s face was lined like an old tree that swirled around the black hole of his missing eye. His hair and bread were long, covering his shoulder in a grey shawl. Despite looking like an old man, the power radiated off him. There at his side, Hel finally saw the face she was looking for; her father Loki.

  “Step forward children, there is nothing to fear,” Odin spoke, Hel looked to Loki but his face gave her nothing. The guards pulled through Fenrir in his cage while another carried the chained Jormungandr over his shoulders, the guard's face contoured in pain under the weight of her brother. The breath of all the gods struck in their throats as Hel’s dark hair moved to show the dead half of her face, cheekbones white behind a thin piece of blue skin. She could still see out of her dead white eye although they didn’t know that, she was able to watch their disgust faces in secret, see the looks they shared between them and her father.

  “Where is our mother?” Jormungandr hissed, poison dipped from his fangs.

  “She remains in Ironwood. I requested you here so I may look upon you myself.”

  “Now you have, send us back to her.” He said, but Odin wasn’t listening, his one eye looked at them all individually as if he could see every cell in their bodies.

  “Come now, where are your manners? We only want to show you our hospitality.” He banged his staff; the words were now an order not to be challenged. Despite her young age, Hel knew the simple life of her girlhood was over.