Mighty Odin Allfather struck down in honourable combat Laufey the frost giant, the monster and warlord, and the peace and safety of the Nine Realms was assured.
Killer Odin tore down the unguarded walls of the jötunn temple and there cornered Laufey Guðrunarson, who though starved and battle-weary had the strength to tear an eye from the Bale-worker's head in exchange for the unrightful theft of Jötunheim’s heart and core.
Both stories were true, and neither. Both would be told in the years to come. At the moment, all Odin truly had was a casket that bit his fingers like the spear of midwinter and a hole gored across his face.
Gungnir weighed heavy in his hand, the jötunn blood upon its shaft frozen into blue ice. Odin knew that he limped as he descended the treacherous steps from the temple’s altar summit. Týr was a solid presence just behind him, waiting and ready to take up the casket instead if Odin desired to spare his hands the bone-biting chill. Odin had refused the offer.
“We return to Asgard,” he announced to the soldiers waiting in the lower hall. Weary, he sounded, grindstone-scraped— exactly like Laufey. “It is over.”
At first he thought the cry was a trick of his ears, still ringing with battle-crash. Then Odin saw Týr’s head turn to it and listened anew, and recognised the thin, high screaming that echoed eerily off the temple walls for what it was.
Two of the soldiers exchanged uneasy glances and Týr began to draw his sword.
“Hie,” Odin ordered, and to stay Týr’s blade he handed over the casket, already largely distracted by the continued cries. Cape snapping, he stalked down into the staircase that descended into the temple’s floor, leaving no uncertainty that he was not to be followed, though he had spoken not another word.
The stairs went on and down, folding back upon themselves sometimes and spiralling in other places. There were sections of hall that offered doors which Odin ignored, intent upon the miserable noise growing ever more near. Finally he pushed aside a hanging fur with Gungnir’s tip, entering cautiously the chamber beyond.
Dim blue light glowed from within the icy walls, from some jötunn seiðr he knew not. Certained that the small, bare chamber was empty of any jötunn guards, Odin lowered Gungnir, casting about for the source of the noise. The void of half the world made his skin crawl.
There— in the corner. A heap of squirming furs… and a tiny, flailing blue fist.
Scarce Odin breathed as he picked the child up, Gungnir planted in the floor. Even with but one eye, he saw the warlines upon the infant’s face, clear and unmistakable despite the child’s fragile size. The meaning of those hereditary marks was plain to Odin Borsson, whose very mother had been of the jötunn race. The babe in his hands was not merely the kin but the son of Laufey, and—
—and then from the frost-bitten thumb that brushed the babe’s round cheek, the colour bled and Æsir pink stole across the infant’s face, and Odin knew yet more.
Without hesitation he bundled the child to his chest plate, wrenching Gungnir from the ice and marching up from the depths of the temple in high haste. His mind worked furiously behind the glittering blue eye that cast soldiers left and right out of his path as Odin stormed through the broken citadel and to the horse that had been brought for him. Scarce had he mounted when he spurred the beast back for the warcamp, casting command unto Týr with a shout.
Laufey’s newborn son, cast upon the floor in the depths of the temple to die—
(Hidden away as well as could be managed in haste, with enemies breaking down the gates so unexpectedly that Laufey had not time to even leave the temple sanctum—)
—cast upon the floor to die, and with flesh that shifted colour at the touch of an Ás, as did no ordinary jötunn. Clutching the still-screaming child tight to him, Odin felt as though he had been robbed and not known it until that very moment.
The tents of the warcamp in the distance quickly grew larger, for they had been pitched upon the sheet rock of Jötunheim’s barren plains not thirty els from the Pinnar of Laufey's tjald, pressed as close as possible upon the heart of Jötunheim for the last push of battle. News of victory had preceded him. Within the guarded boundaries, the camp was full of energy that Odin had not felt since leaving Asgard. Everywhere the wounded were walking and the hale were celebrating, making uproarious, impromptu feasts of rations they had been complaining about not one day ago.
"I would know the name of the man who saved my neck!" roared one warrior, slapping a beardless youth on the back.
The lad's eyes shone with a mixture of battle-shock and delight and rattled disbelief in his grimy face. "Volstagg," said he.
"Volstagg who? What more?"
"None!" bellowed another man. "Volstagg the Valiant, then! Hail!"
Though many called out to Odin and he knew that they needed their king, he trotted the horse directly for his tent without stopping. Glaring about like a stooped eagle, he was careful to hold the infant’s swaddling furs tightly closed as he dismounted, lest a grasping blue hand give the babe away. He vanished into his tent afore he could be accosted.
In the candlelit dim of the tent, the baby lay sobbing on Odin’s pallet as he removed his armour, groaning and sore. The battered golden plates were no longer a second skin that could be borne lightly; on Jötunheim, the armour bit and pinched coldly. There was not even the taste of a good victory between his teeth to sweeten Odin’s aches and losses, losses of energy and eye and men.
Odin lifted back the flap of his tent and called out to the sky so that his warriors could hear. “Heimdall!” he called. “We are for Asgard. Open the Bifröst and begin returning men home as soon as they can break their tents.”
Suddenly tired, he withdrew once more and let the heavy fur drop back in place. It would still be hours before the last tent had been struck, and Odin’s foot was to be the last to leave Jötunheim. Frigga and the young son he had left— it seemed so long ago, now— were not yet within reach.
At the thought of sons, Odin turned back to the pallet, half dreading and half hungry for the sight there. What king would not hunger for possession of his enemy’s get?
...And what man not hunger for his son?
More roughly than he should have, Odin knuckled the infant’s cheek once more, needing to be sure. The deathly blue faded back almost instantly, teary eyes paling from hot jasper to the grey of sword steel. Odin sighed in frustration as the babe began to scream anew, jolted from the exhausted hiccupping it had fallen to.
Cautiously, Odin picked up the infant and brought it to his chest, thinking himself less likely to drop it that way. He had held Thor barely a handful of times, finding him an energetic and frightfully active infant, so much so that Odin had feared to drop Thor. He was no expert with children at all.
How long— how long ago had it been? For what time did jötnar bear their young before birth? Odin could not remember, but neither was he fool enough to think that meant he could pretend this babe was of some other Ás's issue.
Magic was a woman's work, but rarely in war did victory care whether it had been won by sword or seið. With seiðr Odin had once reshaped himself, earlier in the war, made himself greater in stature and girth to better face Laufey in single combat, only for the seiðr to serve him equally well when the fight had dissolved into a struggle of another kind. In thinking back, bitterly Odin saw himself and Laufey as far younger creatures, then, still sharp-edged and feverish and freshly savage, with enough fire between them to transmute their hate into rutting rather than to simply slink away from each other in the dull ersatz peace of mutual devastation.
But aye, savagely had they fought, and savagely fucked, and unbeknownst to Odin it had been the inception of a babe that he had never expected to result from such actions.
His single eye narrowed in thought and the bare socket throbbing in pain, Odin studied the tiny infant in his arms. It was still wailing, big piercing cries that belied the fragility of its body. The child had fought free of the swaddling again and now beat its fists furiously against the furs and Odin’s chest, howling, caught between begging Odin for care and demanding it with all the entitled brutality of a jötunn king’s get.
It. It. It was a he, a babe and a boy, and one day a man, if he lived that long. Odin wondered if Skuld or another Norn would show Frigga the baby’s thread, if he were to take the child back to her. It might tell him what was to be done with the infant which he had so rashly snatched from the temple, and which he now could not kill in cold blood. After all, what could possibly become of a frost giant among the Æsir, especially so near to the raw wound of a long war?
...if he were to take the child back to her.
No. Madness, surely. Better to have the babe raised as a soldier of another's house, perhaps that of a lord of the second or third table— but who would rear a jötunn child? No, better yet to make it no man's son, only a weapon... perhaps a bargaining chip in a few years, when Laufey had begun to feel the deprivation of a realm without its winterheart...
But Odin looked again upon the child, and with the new light of imagining. The infant's skin had gone back to corpse-blue and the warlines stood out on his miserable face. Odin did not imagine that he saw something familiar there, something of Bestla’s oxbowed warlines in amidst Laufey’s angular slashes. The child was an Odinson, a Laufeyson, the get of two kings.
Deep in thought, Odin absently placed a fingertip against the child’s screaming mouth. Next he knew, there was sharp pain, causing him to jerk it back with an oath. Blood beaded brightly from his finger, the pad of which was pierced deep. The babe had gone quiet, his mouth wet with blood. Astonished, Odin pushed back the infant’s lip, revealing the dagger-point of a tooth broken through the upper gum.
He laughed, savagely satisfied. “Hungry, are you? Is this what jötunn babies need?” It did not displease him, the idea of a child of Odin’s bloodline given suck on Odin’s blood. “My little wolf. See you here and eat, wolfson. You are too small.”
Odin placed his wounded finger back into the infant’s mouth, well away from the single sharp tooth. The infant set to suckling immediately, eyes shut in fierce concentration. His eyelashes were dark smudges against his wet pink cheeks.
A rustle at the tentflap was Odin’s only warning before Týr pushed it open, rudely intrusive but assured in his right to be so. His grizzled face showed surprise for seeing Odin unarmoured, because Týr, brutal and uncivil Týr, lived for every aspect of war and loved every moment in his armour, every pain and ache of it.
“Allfather, the Bifröst has returned all our wounded home. Do you wish to lead back the rest?”
“Nay. I will go last.”
Týr’s eyes were on the infant. “A baby? Midgardian?”
Odin was overconscious of the single point of contact he still held with his son, all that kept Laufey from showing on the babe’s skin. “Asgardian,” he said, very aware that this word was his intractable commitment to an endless series of lies that he would build a princehood of. “From whom the jötnar kidnapped him, I know not. But it is my decision that he is to be mine, as good as in blood.” He fixed Týr with a fierce look. “This is my son.”
Týr bowed deeply at the waist. “Of course,” he said, and absented himself once more.
Odin let out his breath again. “My son,” he repeated. And then he knew the infant’s name. “Loki,” Odin announced, bestowing upon his child the name of a jötunn who once had been Odin’s all-but-kin, his blood-brother. War and warring loyalties had forced them to opposite ends of Gungnir: Odin had been at the haft, while Loki of Útgarðr had found the end of his thread at its point.
And it had been then that war had ceased to be glorious and had become an ugly beast indeed.
Odin withdrew his digit from Loki’s mouth, calling the seiðr to his fingertips. With blood he drew slick and shining runes on Loki’s forehead, working magic not to cover up Laufey’s blood but to call his own to the surface and lock it there. Loki was fussing when Odin drew his hand away, already working his way back to a howl, but his skin remained pink and his tear-swimming eyes grey.
His son, conceived with seiðr and now cloaked in it. Had Odin passed the power on, and would Loki also one day be able to wield it as Odin did? Would he be a warrior, or was his stunted growth to remain a constant, leaving him dependent on the crutch of seiðr?
Odin gave Loki suck again, allowing him to tear wider the wound on Odin’s finger, and chuckled at the sharp pain.
“Aye, Loki Odinson,” he praised, and felt in his chest the first glister of a bright and shining sun that he hadn’t known since the dýr of war had locked its jaws around his heart. “That is the way, mín úlfr.”
Frigga was angry, that much Odin could see in her face as he advanced down the broad golden path to Hliðskjálf. Aye, there too was joy, and wide-eyed shock for the one eye he had left to lay on her, but unmistakable was the anger that he should not simply return but return with a babe in his arms. Worse yet, that his return was not in private but before all of Asgard, where her reaction must be in accordance with the proper welcome for a conquering hero no matter how angry she was.
"Wanderer," Frigga greeted in a low voice, once Odin had gained the dais she stood upon. The subtle reminder of his many dalliances, and the other children that had resulted therefrom, made him wince.
“My light and compass,” he returned in an equally low voice, head bent to her.
Frigga sighed just slightly and flicked her eyes to the babe in silent question. Grateful and deeply guilt-ridden (and how he was to tell her that Loki was the son of Laufey, Odin knew not), he nodded but a fraction.
Without another word, Frigga scooped up Loki from his arms and rocked the boy close to her breast, crying aloud with perfect emotion, “Hail the Allfather, who has returned with our heroes and my stolen child!”
The crowd flinched, then roared louder yet than ever. Immediately Frigga had made the story clear to them, and they believed the happy tears making streaks down her face (and oh, his wonderful lady). Of course they had not known Frigga was carrying a second heir, of course the royal family would not announce it while in the midst of a war. For the best, obviously— because even then the jötnar had managed to snatch the babe! But Odin had brought him back, and now Asgard had two princes, aye, and her king and warriors triumphant as well, and hail, hail, hail!
“Father!” shouted a brash voice, and next Odin knew his robes were being clutched by a broad, golden boy with strong hands and stronger lungs. “Father, you’re back! What is it, is it a gift? Is it for me?”
“Nay, Thor,” Odin laughed, reaching down to scoop up his elder son, who wriggled impatiently in his arms to see the bundle that Frigga held. “Loki is not for you. But we will need a gift, Frigga— he has cut his teeth already.”
Frigga’s eyebrows shot up, saying without words that the goddess of motherhood knew well that no infant cut its milkteeth at but a fortnight of age. Oh, there would be explanations.
“What gift? Can I be the gift, Father? Can I?”
Leaning far over Odin’s arm, Thor stretched out his hand to touch Loki’s cheek with chubby fingers. About to pull Thor away, for well he knew the rough strength of Thor’s body, Odin held still when he saw how gently slid Thor’s fingertips over Loki’s face.
Awake but well-fed and somehow calm amidst the roaring din of the hall, Loki blinked quietly up at Thor. They held each other’s gazes with utter seriousness, a solemn connection stretching between them as Frigga and Odin looked on, astonished. Then quite suddenly Loki gave an enormous yawn, his little mouth opening wide to show his tiny pink tongue and the single tooth gleaming in his soft gums.
“Aye,” Odin said gruffly, watching Thor happily stroke the soft tuft of dark hair on Loki’s head. “You can be the greatest gift he will ever get, Thor. You will be his brother.”