The Story So far: Loki (currently going under the name Lodurr) runs into two old traveling companions and takes them to where there should be shelter and good food: the Hall of Hreithmar. Unfortunately for Loki, he’s also bearing the pelt of an unusually large otter he just caught and skinned…
The Hall of Hreithmar rose from the bog mists like the bones of an old beast. The outer covering was willow-bark, pale as moonlit. On it were etched mad designs, a warning or an invitation Lodurr couldn’t tell. But here it was, where Uri had claimed.
The three walked to the great door and it was there that Lodurr hesitated. He had been guest in the halls of Mimir, in the stronghold of the dwarves, in the courts of Alfheim. But something here set him on edge. A feeling of fate curling around him.
Who would choose for their hall a place like this?
Hoenir was the one to break the spell of dread, going up to the door, poised to knock on it. It was… disconcerting when the doors opened of their own accord. The three moved in, looking for the invisible hands that had allowed them entrance. They were not to be seen. However, there were figures inside. Six of them. And they were moving.
Lodurr stepped forward to greet them but stopped. The figures weren’t alfr. Or aesir or vandr or jotunn or like anything else Lodurr had ever seen.
They appeared to be made of straw.
The essence of the description did not do them justice. Imagine if straw had risen up one day and decided to appear like an aes. Two legs, two arms, face. The straw appearing as if muscled, as if a flayed creation stood before them. And the face… while the limbs and torso remained consistent, the appearance kept folding in on itself, as if the creature could not truly remember its own face from moment to moment. They were dressed in the manner of householders, of those who tended to hearth and garden. They approached, stiffly at first but getting more smoother with the moment, until they finally appeared to flow across the floor rather than walk.
Then, they offered to take cloak and boots. They offered hot water to sooth hands and feet. But never did they make a sound, other than the odd swoosh of grasses on the floor. When their tasks were complete, they motioned for the guests to follow. And as they did, much to Hoenir’s dismay, the doors to the outside closed.
Lodurr was used to the great halls being meeting places, but this was very different. Strawmen and alf householders alike were busy preparing and brewing a number of manner of things. Some foul, some fair; the combination was near indescribable. They did all of it in silence. At the sight of the guests, the youngest left what she was doing and disappeared to the back of the halls.
The Masters of the Hall were being summoned.
Two dwuergar, broad-shouldered and squat as their work demanded came striding forward. One bore his hammer with a powerful left arm. “Who interrupts the Work?” He practically spit out the question.
Lodurr raised a hand. “One who is kin to Uri and known to Alvaldi. Who walks the roads and brings a light to shadowed places. One who seeks the wit and wisdom of Reginn the Wise.”
“His name is Lodurr.” Hoenir quipped. He slammed a fist to his chest. “Hoenir.” He pointed at his brother. “Oske.”
The second dwarf put his hand across his brother’s chest. “That’s the one who killed the shadow-walker.”
“That one?” The first dwarf pointed to Lodurr. The second dwarf pointed to Oske. The first dwarf snorted. “No monsters here. Best you return to the road.”
The second dwarf sighed. “Forgive my brother Fafnir. He’s loathe to share anything. His time. A meal. The expected hospitality for strangers.” He patted his chest. “I’m Reginn. You’re looking for my wisdom? I know many things but may not have the answers you need.”
“I have to ask.”
“Well, then, be seated and be welcome.”
Fafnir smacked his brother on the shoulder, marking his annoyance. Reginn hit him right back. Fafnir stalked back to his work. Reginn pulled off the leather apron he’d been wearing and handed it to a strawman. He noted Lodurr watching the strawman walk away with the apron.
Family came to serve hot, richly spiced drinks and small cooked fishcakes.
“How do you do that?”
“The strawmen? They are family. Þræta þær æ. Þjá þær æ. þær þræll æ.”
Lodurr cocks his head to the side. “Deny them forever. Enslave them forever. They are ‘thralls’ forever.”
Hoenir tried to keep his face neutral. “Strange sentiment for ‘family’.”
Reginn shrugged. “It is more exact to say Denied them forever. In service they are bound forever. They run for us forever.”
“Who are ‘they’?” Oske asked.
“I have heard tales of the ones who fought the world-giant, laid its corpse out among the unformed reaches.”
“And I would believe that those would have knowledge of what happens to the spirit after the flesh is gone.”
Oske looked uncomfortable.
Lodurr frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Reginn settled back in his seat. “The spirit persists. Lingers like mist, much of the time, with no body to hold it. It has no other place to go.”
Lodurr nodded. “But it can retake its form, for a short while, if certain charms are used, or on moonless nights, where there is nothing to distract it. But… oh…”
Reginn raised an eyebrow.
“You found a way to bring it back into a body.”
“Ymir’s flesh, still alive and vibrant and perfect for embodying one of her many descendants.”
Hoenir was the first to respond. “That’s obscene.”
Oske’s voice was almost low enough to be a whisper. “Others have done worse.”
Lodurr shoke his head. “But the two things aren’t the same. You can’t move a thing into another of dissimilar substance. Change the gender, yes. Cosmetic changes, certainly. But this?”
Reginn leaned forward. “It is the gift of the alfr to know of all shapes, if they have the patience. It’s the gift of the mothers of all alfr, the moidyn varrey.
Lodurr considered what was said and then froze. “You have done this before?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, both of my brothers and I know the way of it.”
Oske was still as the time before the storm. “Where is your father? Where is the master of the hall?”
An anguished wail came from the door of the hall and all turned. Hreithmar, large as a tree, strong as the mountain, lord and master of all the surrounding lands, was carrying the fur coat Oske had been wearing.
Reginn went into shock when he saw the coat. “Otr.” He said.
“I didn’t know…” Lodurr whimpered.
Hreithmar pulled his blade and marched straight at them. “Who killed my son?!”