The Story So Far: Exiled from all the lands he once called home, Loki spends some time investigating the lands of Gladsheim, home to Asgard and its hall of heroes, Valhalla. He’s in search of a secret almost as old as the world itself.
On the wind-swept plains of Gladsheim, the sun-bright Valhalla stands. And from there, the fiercest warriors lodge, at the invitation of the Allfather.
That’s what Lodurr had heard. From the whispers of the jotunn, to the appreciating Vanir, from the loose lips of the alfr who helped build it, to the boasts of the aes. There was a halting stop, a hesitant breath, that came between describing the beauty of that forbidden land and the purpose for its existence.
Technically Asgard was in Gladsheim, as Utgard was in Jotunnheim, but just as often the gods would speak of Asgard as a thing apart, as if even the lands outside the walls of their gard was as safe as the space behind them. A convenient lie, but one that spoke to the perception of their own power. After all, the Allfather had deemed it so, and hadn’t he been the one to slay Ymir and bring the world into existence.
The way to Gladsheim required that Lodurr had to pass through the lands where the rainbow lights lit up night sky and that required getting past Heimdall, who was getting quite good at keeping an eye out for intruders. So, instead of confronting him head-on, Lodurr sicced Gefjun on him and that was enough distraction for him to pass.
The night around Valhalla was quiet. The ground had been churned as if people had been fighting there. But fighting who? The hall itself was filled to the brim with the sound of merriment and Lodurr remembered the din Odin claimed came from Hrothgar’s hall. He wondered if the old man was trying to recreate that feeling for himself.
The hall itself held enough shadows for one who could hold other forms to be comfortable in, and, truth be told, it didn’t seem anyone was watching too hard. There was a High Seat, unoccupied, though a full cup of mead was set before it, as if the master of the High Seat could come at any moment. And there were enough drunkards at the table, boozing and eating as if their lives depended on it, to fill the hall with ample joy.
But it wasn’t those that called to Lodurr’s attention.
It was the others.
Men who should be dead or were dying or were dead. Tended to one named Hropt, an obvious master at stitching people back together. At least, that’s what Lodurr thought, at first. Only by listening in did he get a sense of the day.
By day they fought, giving it their all against each other. In the afternoon, Hropt selected which ones fallen on the field to be brought back inside. And the shield-maidens would bring them. Those who hadn’t fallen, of course, made it back on their own. Then they partied until they passed out. The living ones that is.
The others though…
Death takes the spirit from the person, draws it back into the world. The jotunn called it the killing cold. And the mists of Nifelheim were full of those spirits, being the lowest and coldest of the realms. This, though, Lodurr caught the sense of it.
The Vanir used the dead as alarms, to rouse them when their home was invaded. The Alfr used them as duty-servants, for those who wished that honor, or as a blessing for newborns—the ancestor passing their strengths into the child.
Of course, there were humans, with generations of spirits pressed into them. One day, their vigor would wane, but that was a long time coming.
A ruler could field an army of kinsman to protect them from all manner of harm. But that same ruler would be at a loss when those kinsman died. Unless… they didn’t. Unless spirit could be lashed back into bodies to wait until the next conflict, the large conflict, the final conflict that Odin already feared. And the reason for the daily battles? To answer the simple question: how much of a man can be cut away for him still to remain a man.
Lodurr began to get a sense of why so many people feared the Lord of the aes. Here was one who would bend the very disir to his will, as a backup plan to save his people from a threat that hadn’t even been born.
As he watched, as he pieced it together and felt that thrill of horror again, something swayed against the roof. Something looked at him. Lodurr looked back.
There was a body suspended from the ceiling.
Larger than the assembled, Lodurr recognized it as dead. But with its spirit trapped inside it. And he realized Odin’s great crime and Hoenir’s sadness and their disgust and the fear. When he saw the face of the dead thing above and recognized the antlers sprouting from its head.
Odin hadn’t simply killed his uncle.
He’d brought him back from the dead and mounted him as a trophy in his private drinking hall.
The crisp edge of summer brought joy to the halls of Asgard as their lord finally returned, exhausted, from his travels. His hair grayed to white and his body frailer than he’d been, they refused to let his walk to the High Seat and carried him instead, shouting their praises.
The feast they held was epic.
It lasted long enough that even Heimdall took the time to get drunk.
And on the last day, where the last kegs were being poured and the last fatted animals put to the spit, a young herder came in to the hall at all due speed.
“My lord, one waits outside. He claims the right of kinship to you, by right of blood. He claims you made an oath, should he ever visit, that he would always have a place in the hall by your side to drink and make merry.”
Odin perked up at the mention of it and he glances at where Hoenir should have stood. Hoping to share a smile. Hoping to remember the time of Oske and Hoenir and Lodurr. He stood and pressed his staff to the ground.
“Should that be whose footsteps I hear approaching, he is welcome in this hall. Our blood have mixed and we are like family. No ale will be poured for me, no more, unless one is also poured for him.”
And the doors were opened, and that smile was the one Odin hoped to see. The young traveller was older, a bit wiser, but no less the one with which he had created humans.
“Come,” he motioned for the weary one to join him. “Come sit and let’s eat and talk of younger times.” The traveler ascended to the high table. “And tell this beautiful fools who you are.”
The traveler turned and smiled, but this expression gave Odin a strange shiver. “Hail to you, hosts of Asgard, far and famed are your stories. And the grandeur of your halls have no equal. I am humbled by your presence.”
The crowd cheered for him. He bowed and made certain to keep Odin’s steady gaze.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance and for you to make your acquaintance of me. The lost one is coming home. And you will know me by my name.”
In all the times they had traveled, Odin had never shown the recognition he did now. Recognition of this person’s heritage.
“I am Loki Laufeyson.”