There was only the periodic singing of blade striking blade and sliding down sharpened edge as the two figures like feral creatures paced round the sparring ring, each waiting for the other to make some stupid, fatal mistake. None would be forthcoming, for they were born killers and nearly equals in power and technique. They might even have been brothers, or father and son, had not so vast a span of years separated them. Despite that and the complicated origins of the younger there were those who persisted in seeing a family resemblance between them. As far as the older one was aware – and there was very little he did not know thanks to Huginn and Muninn – that was an impossibility. Still, he did nothing to squash such rumors.

Óðr used the Gallow’s Fruit’s temporary reverie to score a nick on his forearm; Óðinn growled and with a fierce onslaught of blows drove his younger near-double back to the other side of the circle. “Are you sure we can’t just resolve this by talking?”

“Of course we could,” Óðinn grinned. “But this way is much more fun.” He then feinted and when Óðr went to block it kneed him, hard, between the legs, and though a God Óðr crumpled immediately to the ground. “That was cheating,” he said through sucking gasps of air. 

“There is no cheating in war; only winning.”

“Well, let me just say that embodied existence sucks.”

“It has its perks,” Óðinn offered a hand and helped him to his feet. “Speaking of which … my answer is still no.”

“That is disappointing, but hardly surprising.”

“This has nothing to do with the blessing.”

“Then what? You have no problem sending me out against your enemies in the Nine Realms, but visiting a witch in a hut is too much for me?”

“She is no ordinary witch. And there’s nothing ordinary about her hut – it travels about on a chicken leg.” Óðinn imitated its movement with his fingers.

“So she’s small?”

“Big chicken. From before the age of men, when Miðgarðr’s creatures were much different. That’s how old she is, and even older than that.”

“She … sounds familiar. How do you know her?”

Óðinn smiled until he settled on an answer, “There were far fewer Gods back then.”

“Then let me know when you actually have need of me,” Óðr snarled, sheathing his sword and stalking back to his room so he could brood over the absence of his beloved. How had his life come to this? It wasn’t as if she was on the other side of the world; she was in her palatial quarters here at Ásgarðr. But they might as well have been for all the time they got to spend alone together.

As if on cue Höðr, Hjalti, Freyr and Loki entered his room with noisy jocularity and refused to leave until he agreed to visit the frozen waterfalls of Niflheimr with them. Óðr knew an unwinnable war when he saw one, and so consented. The five made it as far as Kvasir’s Tavern before calling it quits.

Would that they had pressed on, for sitting in darkness in the back was Baldr, Bragi and Hermóðr, their moods blacker than their surroundings. They were none too pleased at the five’s arrival, Hjalti in particular.

But you know how the rest of that story goes, and the consequences it set in motion for the denizens of Ásgarðr, so we’ll jump further ahead.