A while back I mentioned that Víðarr had been on my mind, but didn’t really go into why beyond that I was pondering Snorri’s comparison of him to pious Aineías, how he serves as the Æsir’s winepourer, and that the sword he’ll use to avenge Óðinn at Ragnarök was stolen by Óðr from a dragon.
But there was more.
Remember how I mentioned in The Old Man of the Sea that I’ve been shown a couple different ways that Óðr may have become Njörðr’s son, and then proceeded to tease one of those threads out here, here and here?
Well, that was only one possibility.
In another Víðarr and Óðr are half-brothers, seed that Óðinn strategically sowed among the Jötunn and Ljósálfar lines.
Men remember the terrible war waged between the Æsir and Vanir, and how this ended with the exchange of hostages and the formation of the combined Tívar pantheon. Almost nothing has come down to us concerning the time when the Dökkálfar and Ljósálfar attempted to conquer Vanaheimr and were soundly defeated. Víðbláinn, the gleaming capital of Álfheimr became a vassal state of the Vanir. Though its Court remained intact and the King decided matters of internal importance they were ultimately answerable to Njörðr and later his son Freyr, when the realm was given him as a teething present. The situation proved advantageous to both parties leading to peace, prosperity and cultural enrichment. Indeed, there was so much blending of customs – not to mention miscegenation – that the two were practically indistinguishable by the time they met the Æsir in battle. (The Dökkálfar were granted more autonomy than their pale cousins but swore to share their technology and provide military support whenever the Vanir went to war.)
One way that the felicitous relationship between the Ljósálfar and Vanir was maintained was through the exchange of hostages, or as it is more politely referred to fosterage. Each King sent one of his children along with some nobles to be raised at the Court of his counterpart. This both strengthened the bonds between them and gave each leverage over the other so that they had a vested interest in keeping the peaceful equilibrium going.
And this is how Óðr came to live with the man who one day would be both his adopted father and father-in-law. His real father was a mystery to all, for he was not the son of Álfheimr’s King but rather one of the nobles who accompanied Merowech to Vanaheimr. Óðr’s mother was Alaís, cousin of the King and regarded by many as the loveliest Lady at a Court full of some of the loveliest creatures in all of the Nine Worlds. With as many suitors as Alaís had no one was especially surprised when she became pregnant, except perhaps Alaís herself.
You see, one evening the Ljósálfar were holding a masque with indescribably beautiful costumes, and feasting and dancing that lasted until sunrise. Though everyone was a spectacle Alaís’ eye kept being drawn to a handsome fellow in purple, gold and green motley, with boots to his knees, a rhomboid patch over one of his eyes and a tricornered rat-catcher’s hat. He carried a long, knobby walking stick which he seemed not to need for the grace of his movements. Alaís was not alone; most of the Court Ladies were drawn to the stranger as if he were a magnet and they cold iron, and many of the Lords too. Several times he caught her watching and gave a wolfish grin in return. When Alaís saw that the stranger was making his way towards her through the crowd she excused herself and retired to her chambers, fearing that she would be entirely under his power should he corner her, and fearing more that she might enjoy it too much.
Once asleep, Alaís dreamed that she was lying upon a barrow-mound and that a great ash tree grew overhead, in whose branches were perched a pair of night-black ravens. The roar of a bear made her entire naked body tremble but she did not remove herself. She heard the shambling brute approach and then his face entered her field of vision. It was as if two images were overlaid, each bleeding through and then dissolving back into the other. In one a magnificent brown bear towered over her and in the other was a man as savage as he was handsome, wearing a bearskin cloak and Rune-carved bones in his braids. “You found me,” Alaís said, “even here in this place.” He merely extended a hand, helping her to her feet, and then scooped her up in his arms as if she were weightless.
The next thing Alaís knew they were entering a cave and the stranger was setting her down on a bed of pelts. With her keen eldritch sight she watched the stranger undress in the darkness and then he was beside her and she was opening her legs to receive her bearish lover.
The rest of the dream she did not recall upon waking alone in her own bed the following morning (or so she claimed) though her belly was swollen with miraculous fruit, and by mid-day her labor had commenced. The son she bore was as clever and fearless as he was beautiful and charming, taking equally after each of his parents. As a youth he excelled at archery, hunting, poetry and the magic of the Álfar, and more he might have learned in Víðbláinn but when it came time to ceremonially exchange hostages once again he was at the top of the King’s list. The boy was strange and preferred his own company or the solitude of wild places; more, he was prone to sudden fits of uncontrollable rage and violence. The King wasn’t just trying to get Alaís’ child as far from his Court as possible, he genuinely believed that the war-loving Vanir might have something to teach him about controlling and harnessing this fury of his.
And the King was correct.
Óðr, as the boy was known outside of Álfheimr (though he had a different name in the tongue of the Ljósálfar) thrived at the Court of Njörðr who indeed knew the ways of the Svinfylking. Óðr mastered the battle-madness of the boar, and in time became one of Njörðr’s fiercest rani. He forged an unbreakable bond with Freyr and Freyja; indeed the three were rarely found apart, and also close friendships with Njörðr’s adopted daughter Sigyn, and Skírnir, Wanlan, Tryskí and Skyðis who also were being raised at the Vanic Court.
When it came time for Merowech and the other Ljósálfar nobles to return to Víðbláinn Óðr pleaded with his King to be permitted to remain with Njörðr and his family. The King graciously agreed, and not just because he could see that being parted from the golden-haired beauty Freyja would make the youth miserable and lovesick, but in Óðr’s absence the fair Alaís died. There had been little enough tying Óðr to Víðbláinn before; now there were only sad memories pregnant with his mother’s absence.
Njörðr was more than happy to adopt so strong and courageous a warrior into his family; not only was he gaining a son, but Vanaheimr was getting a loyal and fearless defender in Óðr.
After proving his worth through a series of adventures, quests and skirmishes with his cohort Freyr, Skírnir, Wanlan, Tryskí and Skyðis Óðr found the courage to ask Njörðr for his daughter’s hand in marriage. This was not considered necessary according to the customs of Vanaheimr but there were times when his Ljósálfar upbringing shown through, and this was one. Njörðr thought it absurd that they hadn’t been wedded much earlier, and so joyously gave his blessing to their union, becoming father a second time over to Óðr.
It was not long after he made his sister Freyja his wife that Óðr first met his biological father, Óðinn. And that was at the marriage of Sigyn and Loki. The next after that was when he rode with the Vanir and their allies to avenge Njörðr’s sister Gullveig, but these are tales for another time.
Likewise the Vanic name he was known by, for he only came to be called Óðr after the way he conducted himself when his people warred against the Æsir.
All of this was the design of Óðinn, and occurred as he willed it.
Óðinn was preparing and manipulating him to perform the role he will need to come Ragnarök as if he were pulling a puppet’s strings – and in so doing fulfilled a pledge he had made to his good friend Hermes.