The Nornir are never wrong

It was the marriage of Ítreksjóð and Ásadís and representatives from the diverse Realms had joined the inhabitants of Ásgarðr for the festivities. Unfettered joy was in all of them, and plenty of Kvasir’s finest mead too. Only Óðr stood off by himself in a corner of the Great Hall surreptitiously surveying the celebrants, and one of them in particular.

“You should ask her to dance,” Freyr chuckled, pressing a drinking horn into his adopted brother’s hands. “You know she would accept.”

“Has not Love wounded me enough? You would have me drive the thorn deeper into my breast?”

“Yes, if it’s the only remedy.” When Óðr did not drink, Freyr took the horn back. “Which it appears to be.”

“You know why I cannot.”

“I don’t. You’ve had eyes for her ever since you came to live with our family. I even backed off so that you’d have a chance. You’ll never find her like in any of the Nine Realms; trust me, I’ve tried. And she’s mad with love for you. You’re going to throw that all away because of some cryptic words by a couple of old spinsters?”

“The Nornir are never wrong.”

“Granted. But what makes you think they’ve told the whole of the story? No life is without change and suffering, even the lives of us Gods.”

Óðr looked down at his wolf fur-lined boots and then reached for the horn. Grinning widely, Freyr gave it back to him. “Whatever comes, she’s worth it. Besides, I’m tired of seeing you skulk about like some moon-eyed maid in Frigga’s Retinue. I want my brother back. And if that means you’ve got to remarry our sister – with or without Óðinn’s blessing – so be it.”

Contractual obligations

Óðinn sat upon his majestic throne, from which he surveys all Nine Worlds. The wolves Geri and Freki were lounging at his feet and on either shoulder were perched the rather large ravens Huginn and Muninn. Flanking him were Thor and Óðr, looking even more intimidating than usual.

A table had been brought into Ásgarðr’s throne-room. At one end sat Freyja in her falcon cloak, eyes narrowed and hand on the hilt of a long-knife. At the other end was a Jötunn prince and his retainers, his stony bulk barely fitting into the large chair. Also seated at the table were Frigg and Loki, about as happy to be there as Freyja was. Notably absent was her brother and father. 

“I told you she was feisty,” Óðinn chuckled and the Mountain Giant’s grin broadened to reveal large, jagged teeth and fetid breath. “I’ll have no trouble breaking and training her up properly.” Pikoloüs spread his immense hands and said, “Do we have a deal?“

There was a nearly imperceptible twitch under Óðinn’s good eye. That thing dared speak to one of the Goddesses of the realm, his mistress even, in such an impudent fashion, and in his very own Hall?

But too much was at stake, so he swallowed down his rage.

All in due time. 

Óðr had a harder time of it, but was loyal to his Chieftain and so remained statue still. 

“Just so we understand,” Loki interjected. “In addition to manpower when the War comes, you’re going to give us mining rights in the Neutral Zone so that we may fortify Ásgarðr and her defenders.”

“For her.”

“For her.”

Freyja gave Loki a withering glare, for he had brokered this deal. 

“And what say you, O Seabright?”

“Don’t you use my Vanic name here, under these circumstances.”

“Alright… Freyja. Do you consent to the deal?”

Even though she was aware it was a ruse, Frigga shook her head in disapproval. There had to be a better way than this, even if they with their combined divinity, wisdom and experience had not yet thought of it.

Freyja purposefully avoided glancing Óðr’s way as, voice trembling, she agreed. 

“The soldiers, the mining rights in the Neutral Zone and all the rest are yours,” Pikoloüs said, rising to his considerable feet and grabbing Freyja’s delicate hand in his. He yanked her to her feet and dragged her out of Óðinn’s Hall without anything further said. 

Óðinn grunted, “Dismissed,” and Óðr and Thor departed by separate corridors. Óðr was fuming the whole way back to his quarters where he laid out all of his weapons, deciding which would be most effective against this particular tribe of Jötnar. 

Alone in the Hall Frigga addressed her husband, “I hope that your plan succeeds.”

Óðinn gave a serpent’s grin, “It will … unless you know something you’re not telling me, my dear wife?”

Frigga wrapped her arms around her husband and kissed his rough cheek. “Would I do that, husband of mine?”

“Yes. So what is it?”

“Have you factored in the variable of Óðr?”

“He’s loyal.”

“He’s also in love.”

“The worst sort of madness. Still, he is immensely talented at killing and will not act impetuously. He is practically my right hand.”

“You should end the game, and give your blessing. You don’t need to hold that over his head to keep Óðr by your side. He considers you as much his father as Njörðr.”

“But perhaps I don’t want to give up access to Freyja just yet. She has certainly brightened things since coming to stay with us. Besides, what about her well-being? If they don’t return to Ásgarðr who knows where Óðr might carry her off to? Probably some cave in the middle of nowhere.”

“I don’t really care.” Frigga’s voice was cold as the ice at the beginning of things. 

“If everything is going to plan Óðr is about to disobey his orders and rush off in pursuit of the newlyweds. By the time he returns with the dripping head of Pikoloüs we should have our Dverger occupying the mines and released the Jötunn who can testify that the transaction went through. Everything legal and above board, just how you like it.”

“And you couldn’t have told this plan of yours to them? I’m certain they would have gone along with it.”

“They would have. But then they would not have forged so strong a love-bond, and that is unacceptable to me.”

“So, you big softy, you do want them together?”

“You know me better than that, Frigg.”

She rolled her eyes and poured herself another drink. 

“Their marriage serves my interests; at least they need to be together long enough to conceive their fourth child. And if it doesn’t work out, I have another mate in mind for him.”

“Aren’t you treading into my territory?” 

“Perhaps,” Óðinn laughed, and pulled her into a deep kiss. 

By the time Óðr reached the edge of the forest near the dwelling of Pikoloüs he had the shape of a creature that was half-man and half-wolf or -bear. (It was Máni’s night off and thus difficult to tell.) In each hand he bore a spear, and belted at his waist was a sword and dagger. He’d have brought more weapons, but figured that might be overkill.

Óðr was so focused on tracking his foe that he did not notice the fox racing through the brush a safe distance behind him. The fox is one of Loki’s favorite animals.

Preparation

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.

The Dragon Sword

Although we are told that Óðr undertook the quest to retrieve the sword for his liege, I suspect he truly did it for Víðarr and not Óðinn.

Óðr had come to reside in Ásgarðr along with the other hostages at the conclusion of the Æsir-Vanir war, and so had watched Víðarr mature from an awkward and ill-fitting teenager into a strong, clever and handsome prince of the realm. Óðr sympathized with the youth, for he felt the same growing up at the Vanic court, an adopted child of Njörðr.

It was worse for Víðarr however.

Although Óðr’s ancestry was shrouded in mist (or at least the half that was not Alfar) Víðarr’s was not – it was known by all that half of his kin were Jötnar, who were as often as not the enemies of the Æsir. Though he was the dearly loved son of the Allfather that did not stop the suspicious looks and whispered slurs he was forced to endure, and it took tremendous endurance to keep his wrath in check. All Jötnar are hot-blooded to begin with (Ice Giants included) but Víðarr was as much like his mother as his father, and Víðarr’s mother was named Gríðr, which means “frantic eagerness; greed;  vehemence, violence, impetuosity“ and she was all of those things, and much more. It’s why Víðarr had come to live at Ásgarðr rather than be reared by his mother, as was customary among the Jötnar.

And so Óðr befriended Víðarr and took him under his wing, teaching him exercises to control and redirect his rage and constructive ways to give vent to it, such as reveling with the Wild Hunt. He also instructed him in ceremonies, sacrifices and sacred lore since Víðarr showed some aptitude towards priestcraft in addition to the arts of war.

Otherwise Víðarr was sullen, brooding, introspective and preferred the company of the birds and beasts of the woodlands to that of his fellow Ásgardians. He would have made a perfect German Romantic poet, which perhaps explains why Óðr grew so fond of this son of Óðinn.

And why when Óðinn relayed what the Völva had communicated to him Óðr immediately went in search of the dragon and its immense hoard, which contained a sword forged by Vǫlundr himself. If Víðarr was to battle the savage Wolf at the world’s end, he would need the proper weaponry. Óðr did not wish to see him fall, or any of the Æsir or Vanir for that matter. Hopefully with this sword none of them would.

Little did Óðr know that he had been dispatched to find the means by which Óðinn will be avenged, though Óðinn knew it.

Let sleeping shamans lie

Óðr was not present at the famous feast in Aegir’s hall, which was probably for the best. Despite his reputation for joviality I suspect he would not have taken Loki’s barbed remarks concerning his beloved and her kin as well as Njörðr did.

Instead Óðinn’s champion was out on yet another quest, trying to prove his worth so that he could have the Allfather’s blessing upon his union with Freyja, whom he had loved for as long as he could remember. Without the blessing of the High One the Nornir had prophesied that their marriage would be filled with separation, madness, deceit and tears – so of course there was nothing so great nor so small that Óðinn might ask which Óðr would not volunteer to take on.

On this particular occasion Óðr found himself abroad with Hjalti, the son of one of the lesser Gods of Ásgarðr and in everyone’s estimation a general nuisance. Óðinn had mostly wanted him out of the way for the feast at Aegir’s, but he also wanted to check on the Svartálfar and if they were keeping to the treaty they had sworn. 

Óðinn’s concerns proved prescient. When the pair arrived on the outskirts of Niðavellir disguised as a vagabond skáld and his apprentice, they discovered that revolution was in the air. Indeed a huge army had gathered in the low fields and was preparing to march on Ásgarðr.

Óðr and Hjalti rushed from that place eager to bring word to Óðinn and the rest of the Æsir, until they came across an ancient burial mound. Óðr said that he was suddenly very sleepy, stripped off the red, black and white clothing he was wearing, and laid down upon the grassy hillock. Before Hjalti knew it Óðr was in a deep slumber and snoring.

Hjalti grew exceedingly anxious, for below them was arrayed the terrible fighting force of Svartálfaheimr. He was afraid of the army, and afraid of being found out and taken as a spy, and afraid that this nap of Óðr’s at such a dangerous time indicated insanity, and afraid that he would not wake up – but that whatever was in the mound might.

And then he beheld a wondrous thing – a giant bear made of stars descended from the sky and started mauling and savaging the assembled Svartálf army. Their weapons were nothing compared to its teeth and claws, each of which were like a saber wielded with unimaginable ferocity by dauntless Einherjar. Hjalti nearly pissed himself, never having witnessed devastation on so vast a scale before. 

Hjalti knew that Óðr would not want to miss out on such a sight; more, he would want to join the carnage if he weren’t napping. So Hjalti called out the name of Óðr multiple times and the God did not stir. Hjalti poked him repeatedly and Óðr did not budge. Finally at a loss for what to do Hjalti took out his dagger and rapped Óðr on the head with its hilt until his purple eyes opened.

“Look! The Sky Bear is eating them! Now is the time to join in and raise your blade in defense of Óðinn and the homeland!” Hjalti cried, but when Óðr turned his head all he saw was Svartálfar running this way, and Svartálfar running that way, and Svartálfar who would never run again. But nowhere were there any signs of a bear.

Óðr got down from the burial mound, put his clothes back on, brushed the grass from his hair and said to Hjalti. “You did ill to our King by rousing me so, for I could do more for him asleep than I ever could awake. What is done is done however, and cannot be undone – so let us return home while a warning can still mean something.”

The Spear of Destiny

The design of the spear came to Óðr in a dream, but the weapon was so intricate and potent that only a master craftsman could properly forge it.

First he visited Dvalinn who could not be roused from his nap; Sindri did not consider himself up to the task; Andvari politely declined since the weapon would be used to murder both Gods and Giants and he did not wish to incur the debt that would come of being its maker – instead he offered to craft him a jewel-encrusted rhyton or drinking-horn which never emptied, which Óðr gladly accepted. Finally he came to Brokkr who so rudely refused that it resulted in a bitter feud between them lasting nearly three thousand years, until Sigyn finally intervened, establishing friþ once more between the God and Dwarf.

One day while wandering near the sulfur springs of Thermopylai in the land of Greece Óðr encountered a creature with thick black fur, a bulbous nose, and prehensile tail. He was all trussed up and left hanging over a boiling pool, his fur singed and face terribly scalded.

Óðr carefully cut him down, freed him from his bonds and healed his wounds, whereupon the creature revealed that he was Adranos, King of the Kobaloi who were cousins to the Kekropes and Kabeiroi, and known in other lands as Kobolds or Goblins. He had been driven from his kingdom in Sicily by Hephaistos, and he and his people then wandered for a while, causing mischief and stealing what they needed until Herakles subdued them and sold them into slavery under Queen Omphale of Lydia. They eventually escaped and had been living in the underground caves around the Hot Gates until Adranos ran afoul of the hero Malis (after whom the Malians were named) who left him in the pitiable condition in which Óðr discovered him.

Adranos brought the God to meet his people beneath the earth, and a great feast was held, to which Óðr contributed his best wine. Afterwards Óðr explained his mission and Adranos and the Kobaloi pledged their allegiance to him, joining his Retinue or Furious Host. As a token of this pledge the wizard-smiths made for him the terrible weapon he had sought so long, the God-killing and Giant-destroying spear he will brandish at Ragnarök.

A deal is sealed

Another time Óðr was wandering through the Bosporus when he came across the idol of a deity he did not recognize. It was like a herm of wood, but the face had been covered in silver with a mustache of gold. Nevertheless Óðr took some bread from his traveler’s sack, carefully setting it before the idol with reverent words, and then poured out a large quantity of honey-wine from his magical drinking-horn that never emptied, crafted for him by the matchless Andvari. Óðr then sat down cross-legged before the idol and worshiped the unknown God in his heart, his mind and his soul.

A short time later the heavens grew dark and thick with clouds, wind whipped his hair and cloak about, sheets of rain fell and lightning like hastily sketched Runes lit up the sky. Then something shaped like a man stepped into the clearing; he was thickly muscled, with long hair and beard the color of flame and he carried a hammer that looked like a more primitive version of Thor’s.

“Greetings, Perun; it has been too long.”

“It has indeed been a long time since men have called me by that name instead of Saint Elias; longer still since they have given me proper worship.”

“I am only sometimes a man, but all that is divine deserves respect.”

At that Perun swung his hammer over his head and soon the two were engulfed in a cyclone. Then it was gone and Óðr found himself in royal chambers crafted entirely from oak.

“I have missed you, old friend.“ Perun said, pushing an overflowing tankard into the hands of his guest. “Are you here on the One-Eyed’s business or your own?”

Óðr drank deeply, for it had been a long journey. “I remember when we used to share our alcohol in bowls crafted from skulls of enemy tribesmen.”

“Times have changed.”

Óðr wiped foam from his beard and said, “And will continue to.”

“Do you still serve Óðinn?”

“Have you decisively defeated Veles?”

Both Gods answered “no” and smiled. Óðr added: “I remain on friendly terms with him, however.” Perun could tell much was being left unsaid. “With what’s coming, it is good to have allies in as many realms as possible.”

“Is that why you’ve come here?”

“No. I’ve already seen in a cannabis vision that you will fight beside me when the time comes.”

“But not him?”

“This is a war that will be fought on many fronts.”

“So why join you and not him?”

“Because I’ll be going after the one who harms Lada.”

“What do you say?” Perun’s eyes began to crackle and spark. “She had better be okay.”

“She is fine for now. That is not why I am here today.”

“Then why?” Perun finished off his tankard.

“Because you need one of these.” Óðr took one of three golden apples from his traveler’s sack and began juggling with it.

“What is it?” Perun demanded, and before he’d even gotten the words out Óðr tossed it to him across the room. Perun caught the golden apple in his large, calloused hands and immediately his eyes flickered open a couple times and then closed for good.

Óðr sipped his beverage and waited.

Finally Perun’s eyes opened and the God said, “I must have this.”

Óðr smiled. “What is it worth to you?”

“I would trade anything in my Kingdom for this treasure.”

“It is more than a treasure. I can teach you how to use it as a weapon.”

“With this I could finally defeat the dragon.”

“And many other dragons as well.”

“What do you want?” Perun asked, justifiably suspicious of his guest.

Óðr held up his tankard and said, “More brew.”

When foam was spilling over the sides Óðr added, “And for the apple, three boons.”