The Story So Far: the child who is later destined to be Loki has been abandoned by his mother and elder brother and left to care for his younger brother, Ash. He’s been told to flee, as quickly as possible, because his family has been marked for execution by the people only known as the Vandr: the Enemy.
Birch had been told to leave. She was supposed to leave. And take her little brother to safety. But home is what she knew. So they staid.
The first sign that something was wrong was the smell of smoke. Then screams. They were burning the village. Birch had little time, but she grabbed what she could and the two fled. At least far enough so they weren’t in the house. Birch wanted to see what had been brought down upon them.
They were beautiful, the vandr. Beautiful in the way the cutting ice or the deep cold can be. It was a reckoning. Nal’s home was put to the torch before anyone checked inside. A troop of riders. Six male lovers and their beloved, smiling at the gore on them, the sweat. Hunters of people, and ecstatic at their trade. The one at the center of it all had cropped golden-hair and was blue-eyed, with an easy smile and blushed lips. Her beauty pulled at Birch is ways she previously hadn’t imagined, but the effect was muted by the bits of Birch’s people still on the woman. One of the warriors, briefly stroked her cheek, whispered beloved and she laughed.
Three more rode up, female like their leader. The lovers called to the three by name — Lofn, Hlín, Gná — and welcomed them. They embraced the group, each one, and then finally bowed to their leader. Birch thought she heard the name yord. She almost missed the scout creeping up on her. Her knife slashed back and cut the person behind her, who yelled in pain. Someone cried out Fulla! but Birch was already in flight, pulling her brother after her. There was no way they could outrun the horses. The only answer was the tight trees. The brambles. Make it difficult for the horses to pursue, until the river.
Time seemed to move different; there were points where she wasn’t even sure she still had hold of her brother. But the river was there and the horses were not. By the shouting, they were close. She took to the water like a salmon and wriggled under, dragging her brother with her, near drowning him as they let the current sweep over them. The horses had taken to the river. They had spears. Birch twisted and wriggled and pulled. The river was fast and they were approaching the point. The waterfall at the edge of the world. Reach it and you would fall to the shore, where Allmother’s blood pooled the deepest. In her embrace, they would be safe. Dead or alive, they would be safe.
She hit a rock, just at her shoulder and spun, in shock, at the pain of impact.
Not much longer now.
The hunters knew it too. Beloved was driving them on. Yord wanted their skins.
Not much longer.
The current frothed up like the spittle of the risi.
And over they went.
Birch woke up finding her good arm pulling herself to shore. The other arm seemed dead but somehow still had a grip on her brother. Wearily, she got out of the water and then, turned her brother on his side, slapped his side hard enough that the water inside expelled itself out of his mouth. And then he began to breathe again. To cry again.
They were no longer in the Utgard.
They had to go somewhere. Waiting here only allowed the hunters to catch up, if they decided to pursue. But Birch was at a loss as to where to go next. Perhaps…
There was no shame in asking for help.
Birch took a deep breath, centering herself. She couldn’t do seidr. She had the right–she felt sure about that–but not the knowledge of how to do so. But this still seemed right. A working of magic that was within her grasp. It was all about names. She made her decision and stabbed the earth, driving the hilt of Far-striker’s blade right into the ground. It was all about names, but it was also about getting attention. “I am kin to you, Allmother. I am a child of the house of Thorn, whose grandparents are Bor and Bestla. Nal and Farbauti are my parents.”
The shore seemed to shift around Birch, restless and irritated. Birch stood up. She wasn’t going to be ignored.
“I am part of you, Brimir. Our bodies are mixed. One blood. One flesh. The world is mine and yours. And you are the world. I am of the house of Thorn. My grandparents are Bor and Bestla. I am child to Needle and Far-striker. My brothers are Ash and Elm and their blood is yours.”
The wind picked up from the ocean, howling in a vague sense of distaste. Birch looked out at the gathering storm and faced it down, screaming. The wind grew in ferocity and speed and the sea spray spit in her face.
“I am the great-great grandchild of you, screamer! Great-grandchild of the wicked Thorn, founder of our House. Grandchild to Bor and Bestla. Child to the lightning and the tinder. Kin to the brawler and the one who faces the storm. You will listen to me.”
The storm roared one final time and rain lashed upon Birch, threatening to drown her once again. But she refused to back down, refused to turn her face from the storm. And just as suddenly, it stopped. The agitated sea moved under a night sky with a slight fluorescence. There was someone coming out of the green, glowing sea. “The House of Thorn calls and the House of Thorn answers.” Her hair was a reddish gold and her features were a bulging unpleasantness. Her nails appeared sharp as blades and she wore nothing but a strange tangle of ropes around her and a belt for her tools. Small skulls decorated the belt.
Birch didn’t let down her guard and had Far-striker’s blade out. “Who are you?”
The person smiled and it reminded Birch of her mother. “I am your aunt.”