Chapter One

It was always bright in the shadow of Aeternia. Odin gazed into the gentle rays that shone like a sun from the Realm of Life. Asgard benefited from its proximity to the Creator’s realm — it was clean, the people who dwelled there were virtually immortal, food was plentiful, and the only conflicts that happened were minor. The All-Father found the peace of Asgard restful and welcome after the long period of battle out in the physical realms — Midgard, Nidavellir, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, Vanaheim, and Muspelheim. In the millennia since the Spark, the All Souls War had raged through the physical plane. Countless planets had been destroyed, whole star systems wiped out — even galaxies had been darkened far too early by the Jotuns and the Asgardians. But now, Odin could see the end of the war approaching. He was not blessed with the gift of foresight as his wife had been — he could see only the present as it happened. But, over the long ages of his life, the All-Father had learned how to read the present and make educated guesses about what would happen soon.

“Odin?” Vidar called out softly, hoping his uncle was not busy or preoccupied even though the leader of Asgard had given orders that he wanted to hear this news as soon as it happened. “Odin, Frigga sent me for you.”

“How is she?” Odin asked. Frigga had sent him from the birthing room which she had warded against his Sight.

“She’s resting now. Your child has been born.”

Odin’s eyes widened with excitement. The grey irises sparkled with anticipation. “Finally!” he exulted. “Take me to them?”

“This way, uncle,” Vidar replied, relieved. Odin followed his nephew off the balcony near the top of Valaskialf. As the two walked through the brightly-lit corridors, they bowed their heads in acknowledgement to the other Asgardians they passed. Freya and her twin brother Frey flanked the door to the birthing chamber while Vili and Vali paced restlessly just outside the door. The two boys, Vidar’s sons, were bored with the waiting. Only a few decades old, they weren’t yet ready to go to battle but they were too old to willingly stay under their parents’ watchful eyes. When the midwife opened the door, the lusty cries of a healthy infant pierced the thick silence in the hallway.
“All-Father?” the nurse asked with a smile on her face. “You may enter,” she gestured, holding the door open so that the king of Asgard could pass through. Odin hurried into the room. Frigga laid on the bed. Her golden hair was darkened with sweat and clung to her forehead. Dark circles marred the skin under her wine-colored eyes but a satisfied smile brightened her entire face. Happiness seemed to permeate every inch of her body and soul, making her glow like the light from Aeterina itself.

“Odin,” she said, her low-pitched voice raspy from where she had been screaming. The baby had begun to quiet and now sucked avidly at Frigga’s breast, making small grunting and smacking noises as he nursed. “You have a son.”

“He’s beautiful,” Odin whispered.

“All you can see is the back of his head from there,” Frigga grinned.

“Yes, but it’s a very beautiful head,” he replied with a grin of his own. Moving carefully, the king of Asgard sat down next to his wife. Their son glanced up at him as the bed jostled slightly. Fixing the All-Father with a cold blue stare that carried a hint of challenge to it, the child continued to nurse. He kept one eye on the All-Father the whole time as if uncertain what to make of this new person sitting next to his mother. His face was pink and rosy, his head crowned with thick golden curls. Odin could tell that his son would carry a warrior’s muscular build as he grew to manhood. His tiny infant fists were loosely curled and pressed into the flesh of his mother’s chest. When he finished his first meal, Frigga lifted him to her shoulder and began patting his back until he unleashed an impressive belch. Odin laughed in startlement, causing the infant to turn and fix another turquoise glare on the king of Asgard.

“Here, my lord and king,” Frigga said formally but still wearing a pleased smile, “will you take up your son?” She held the baby out to her husband who chuckled again, this time at the look of out-raged consternation on the youngest Asgardian’s face. Odin reached out and took his son into his arms, cradling the baby against his chest. The child began to cry in earnest, now, not at all certain about being taken away from his mother. Odin closed his own eyes and placed a gentle hand over the baby’s face, his thumb and forefinger resting softly on his son’s temples as he began to divine what his son’s calling would be. Would this child be a leader, a king, a warrior like Odin and so many of the other Asgardians? Did he have the quiet wisdom and implacably neutral judgement that would name him one of the justicars? Would he be given to joviality, creativity, and song to become a bard? Fiercely, Odin hoped that the child he held in his arms would take after him and be worthy of mounting Hlidskialf but the king forced his own selfish desires aside and let the universe and the Creator reveal to him the path his son would take.

Lightning flashed in Odin’s vision and thunder rang in his ears. He saw the boy in his arms grown to manhood, wielding a battle hammer as yet unforged. Millions flocked to his banners, knowing that they could trust him with their lives and he would never betray them. Honor, skill, and an absolute passion for battle were his most noticeable traits but beneath them lay a gentle humor, a love of life. In time, he would hold sons of his own and train them in the ways of war. Hlidskialf appeared but hazy, as if it were uncertain that the lad would ever reign as Odin did. Golden light rent only by white lightning seemed to surround him and Odin knew then that his son would never be a justicar or judge. He was destined to be a good man, a kind one, but not a wise or neutral ruler. Still, Odin was not disappointed. His son had many fine qualities. The Creator had not stinted him there.

“Odin?” Frigga asked cautiously. She was not able to participate in this kind of foresight — a power granted only to the king of Asgard. “What will you name your son?”

“I name him Thor,” Odin said, pitching his voice so that it would carry throughout every corner of Asgard. Hurriedly, one of the attendants brought the All-Father a pitcher of water which he poured carefully over his son’s head. Thor sputtered and looked angry but did not cry. “To him is granted the power of storms and battle. And I name him my heir.”

~*~*~*~

Odin stood on the Frost Giant’s home realm of Jotunheim. The shadow of Nifelheim, the realm of Death and eternal cold, passed over the barren waste. Jotunheim was the exact opposite of Asgard, dark where it was light, cold where it was warm, filled with rage and anger where it held nothing but peace. Not for the first time, the king of Asgard wondered how the Jotuns could bear their existence. They had been called into being at the same time as the Asgardians and served Death. They hated all life and living spirits. Their master sought to send the universe back into a chaotic shadow while the Creator worked to bring it to life. Equals and opposites, neither Death nor the Creator could win the war themselves so they created proxies to fight on their behalf. But now, the All Souls War was ended. The Jotuns had been forced back from the physical realms and isolated on their home realm. The Asgardian armies encircled them there, destroying most of their dread number and leaving the fearsome creatures a pale shadow of what they had once been. Odin prayed that Death would accept this defeat and not try to wash out over the universe.

The king of Asgard drew his fur-lined cloak more tightly around his body. Jotunheim was bitter cold even to one such as him. He wondered how Frigga and Thor were faring. Once the battle had ended and the king of the Jotuns, Farbauti, had been forced to surrender, word had gone out to Asgard. Frigga refused to remain behind once the danger was passed. Only the fact that their son was less than a full turning in age had kept her from trying to take up her role as Odin’s shield maid. Almost, he had thought to order her to remain in Asgard but something warned him against such a course. He wished he could see the future the way his wife did. Here and now, he could barely make out the present.
“Odin, they are ready,” Vidar reported. “My lord, your eye…” Odin waved his hand, brushing away his nephew’s worry. “It will be well, in time. It was only an eye.” He tried not to wince at the pain the memory brought. Laufey, Queen of the Jotuns, had gouged his right eye out of the socket. Blood still trickled down his face, staining his beard. He’d only had time to wrap a hasty bandage over the wound. Once Frigga saw it, she would descend on him like a tornado, eager to pack the wound with healing herbs, fill him with teas against infection, and have the healers look over him.

“Lead the way, Vidar,” Odin said calmly. “It is time.”

Across the field of battle was a tent. It barely held against the cold, harsh winds that swept unforgiving fingers across the surface of Jotunheim. The flaps of the tent were raised so that neither side could sneak their warriors up close in a bid to disrupt the proceedings. As he got closer to the tent, Odin could see two new figures standing together but away from the forces of Asgard and Jotunheim. Both were dressed in grey robes with clows pulled over their faces. One, however, seemed to glow slightly while the other emanated a dark shadow. Entering the confines of the tent, Odin noticed that no one else seemed to see these two beings. Odin pretended not to notice them either as he took a seat across the table from Farbauti.

“King of Jotun, Farbauti, your people have lost the war they’ve long waged against the universe,” Odin began bluntly and with none of the diplomatic graces that the bards expected from him. “Were I to give the order, all of your people would be dead within an hour. Your race would be nothing more than a memory. A dark legend we would tell our children for amusement.”

“Mind your tongue, Asgardian,” Laufey hissed from behind her husband, “else I’ll remove it just as I took your eye.”

“I mean no insult,” Odin replied calmly. “I state only the facts. You are beaten. What will you offer me for your lives and the lives of your people?”

“Death will sweep across the universe,” Farbauti said, his icy voice strong and calm. He seemed to be assured that he was almost merely stating facts. “Even if you and your Creator succeed in this perversity of calling forth life in the physical plane, Death will have his day with them. In time, the universe will fall dark and cold and my people will sweep across it until there is nothing left. Not even you, Asgardian. You will be the tale we pass on, then.”

“So you offer me no reason to let you live?” Odin asked, quirking an eyebrow and pursing his lips. “Very well then. As you wish to go on serving Death, I will grant you your wish and send you and every Jotun to his realm.”

A flash filled the tent and Odin felt himself being torn away. He could hear other voices calling out to him. Darkness and light filled his single-eyed vision and he clenched his jaw tightly as he felt himself spinning wildly until, after several more long minutes, he came to a stop. Opening his eye, Odin could see that he was standing before an altar of wonder and horror. The two figures from the tent stood on either side of it with their arms crossed over their chests. Only one other was present — Farbauti. The Jotun was no longer calm.

“What is the meaning of this, Asgardian?” he growled angrily. “Have you lost your courage along with your eye? What do you mean dragging me here with your wife’s foul witch craft instead of facing me on the field of battle?”

“Hush, Farbauti,” the shadowy figure said. Its voice was a funeral bell tolling out over an empty, desolate field. “The Asgardian did not bring you here. I did.”

“Master?” Farbauti said, throwing himself to the ground before the altar in prostration. “Forgive me, Master. I did not mean to speak without your bidding.”

“Grovel not at my feet, Jotun,” Death whispered. “Stand aright and hear this offer for it will be given only once.”

“Step forward, Odin,” the other figure said, speaking with a voice that carried the sound of clean water dancing over smooth stones. “This offer is for you as well.” Odin gaped in awe at the figure. He’d never thought to see or speak with the Creator directly until he was called to Aeternia himself. Before he could prostrate himself, a flash appeared over the altar. His attention was drawn to it and he could sense that Farbauti was just as absorbed by what was being revealed. “The All Souls War has ended,” the Creator continued. “Life will flourish across the universe.”

“But all life will ultimately end in Death,” Death said grimly.

“The Jotuns and the Asgardians will fight each other no longer.”

“The mortal spirits will be given their chance to live and then wither.”

“We grant them our gifts of life and creation.”

“And of death and destruction.”

“It is now for you to each grant gifts to the mortal races yet to be born,” the Creator and Death said together, their voices blending in a manner that was both soothing and disturbing. “Three prime races shall spring into being, their destinies bound up with the destiny of the universe itself. Though there will be others, it is these three who are the root. You may each grant one blessing and one curse to each race. After that, you will be done here.” Over the altar, three forms appeared. One was stunted in size while the other two were tall and somewhat willowy. “Choose.”

Farbauti moved first, standing in front of Odin. “To this race,” he said, pointing to the shortest race, “I give the gift of strength and curse them with greed. They will use their strength in search of treasure only to exhaust both.”

“Then to them I grant the gift of working with metals of all manner and the curse of warmongering,” Odin countered. Farbauti glared at the Asgardian but said nothing.

“I give this race the gift of magic to bind the will of any whom they wish,” the Jotun muttered as he pointed to the tallest and fairest figure over the altar. “And they will be cursed with short-sightedness, creating enemies all around!”

“I give them the gift of long-life so that they may learn wisdom and patience,” Odin countered, “and I curse them with frivolity and indecisiveness.”

Farbauti growled angrily as he pointed at the final race. “To them I give the gift of dreaming of things unknown and impossible and I curse them with a shortened lifespan so that they will despair of ever realizing their dreams!” The Jotun turned to face Odin looking triumphant.

“Then I give them the curse of wanderlust that they will roam ever in search of newer and better things. And I gift them with the blessing of cleverness that they will never run against their boundaries but always seek to surmount them.” Farbauti raised a hand, preparing to smite Odin but another flash from the altar knocked them both to the ground.

“The gifts and the curses are accepted,” the two figures said together. “The mortals will be born.” Another flash washed over the Jotun and the Asgardian and they blinked to find themselves back at the tent. Once again, the twin voices spoke but now all could hear them. “The All Souls War is ended. The Jotuns and the Asgardians will withdraw to their home planes and interfere no more in the physical realm until the mortals are able to decide for themselves whether to serve Death or the Creator.”

The realm of the Frost Giants grew silent as Farbauti stared at Odin who returned his gaze. “Go now, Asgardian,” the king of the Jotuns growled angrily, “and never again let me see your wretched face!”

~*~*~*~

Frigga roamed the rubble-strewn city of the Jotuns. Her mind was clouded with a vision she could not decipher. Something compelled her to walk among these icy ruins even though Thor had whined and wailed fretfully at being exposed to the frigid conditions. At length, she had left her son with her attendants while she sought out whatever it was that niggled at the back of her mind. The temple… she thought to herself, feeling drawn towards the frightful horror dedicated to Death. Across the way, she could see Odin walking into the tent where the king of the Jotuns sat waiting for him. Moving with a celerity she did not know she still possessed, Frigga all but ran into the temple. What she saw there nearly stopped her heart.

A child, a baby Jotun, lay screaming weakly on the altar. Thick, blue blood stained the child, the altar, and the ceremonial dagger that was driven into his chest. How the child still lived, Frigga did not know. Acting quickly, she rushed to the altar and used her magic to dismiss the dagger while creating shields inside the wounds to keep them from bleeding further and killing the baby. The child’s dusky blue skin was pale and waxen — Frigga knew he did not have much left to sustain him. She also knew she had to save this child. The universe itself hinged on the baby living. If he died now, Death would gain in power and the All Souls War would break out once more but this time, the Jotuns would win. Wrapping the child up in her scarf and placing him against her breast, Frigga prayed that it was not too late. When she felt the child take hold and begin nursing, tears of relief and thanksgiving trickled down her cheeks. Wrapping herself and the baby against the cold, she rushed back to the area the Asgardian healers had made their own.

“My lady?” one of the healers said in shock when Frigga, blue blood staining her clothing and hands and a blue smear marring her cheek, entered the confines of their tent. “Are you well? Were you attacked?”

“I’m fine,” Frigga said, her voice shaking. “Please, this child… they were going to sacrifice him to Death. We must save him!”

“But he is a Jotun!” one of the other healers protested. “He is one of our enemy’s get!”

“He’s a baby!” Frigga shouted angrily. “Or are you frightened of one little Jotun babe?”

The healers eyed each other uneasily but nodded. Frigga slowly and carefully unwrapped the child so they could tend to his wounds. His blue skin was beginning to lighten, taking on a rosy-golden color. The markings that were present on all Jotuns vanished. Only his eyes — the darkest blue imaginable — remained the same. The boy gazed at Frigga in awe, his pale lips quirking in a smile as he giggled and cooed at her. The cold did not seem to bother him any longer and Frigga let him grasp one of her fingers while the healers worked their magic over him.

“What will you tell the All-Father, my Queen?” the first healer asked formally as he began wrapping bandages around the baby’s chest.

“I will tell Odin that he has another son,” Frigga said calmly. “Loki,” she breathed as she lifted the child back into her arms once the healers were finished. Loki began nursing again and Frigga stroked his jet-black hair gently. “And he will be my heir.”

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