When the worst of the agony has been leached away by the ungentle hands of time, Laufey raises his get to his chest; it makes no sounds, no howling, lusty shrieks; there is only the echo of his own pain, and the fine, sharp music of wind passing through the icicles soaring high above.
First there is shame, shame at what he has brought forth; anger at the wasted effort; a sour, black coloured humour at his presumption to think his own greatness allowed that he could take any such mate as he pleased and still make a worthy child to the mighty throne of Jotunheim.
The word tastes bitter on his tongue, alien in its shape.
He stares down at the silent, shivering creature in his arms and wishes to dash its brains upon the nearest gleaming mound of ice. The red violence of it would please and soothe his high reaching outrage. His first-born child, and it is a tiny, strange thing...a mockery of his own shape and form.
The infant has hair! Black as the deepest, coldest ocean that ensorcells the continent of Thrym. His sire had called it the Shadow of Fafnir, the dýr of the undertide that awaited all incautious Jotun who dared think the Sea was their domain. Laufey had not understood his sire afore now, for what was a shade under the burning brilliance of Vetrljós? He understands now, when he grasps a wet, thin strand of his own child's hair between his fingers; the infant is built of shadows, tricks of light and Jotun skin.
The infant is vænn...beautiful. No Jotun is that. Laufey knows what he is, knows the shape of his people as he knows his own; there is no beauty in the Jotun race. Winter is beauty enough, in all its ungentle forms.
But, here, in his hands, is that which all the other nine worlds prizes above all else: something fit to put an Aesir to shame.
It is then that Laufey truly understands what it is that he has borne into his palace, into the long and unbroken line of Jotunheim's Kings.
A tiny little godling all his own.
The first-born son of Thiazi, of Laufey, of Jotunheim.
~ * ~
Laufey watches his son with clear, unblinking eyes; his shadow falls like the talons of the blood eagle on any of his subjects who dare touch his tiny, dark-haired child. He watches Loki grow in beauty and intelligence with each blooming of the green-ringed moon that turned its scarred and pitted face to Jotunheim once in each solar year.
His son calls him father, sire, with such plain, naked joy; from Loki's little mouth, curved like the sweet sickle of a blade, the words stab at Laufey with a warmth he has ne'er felt.
Pride, contentedness...love. These words, mere abstractions that Laufey could pick up and discard with all the passion of a disinterested animal, become true shapes under the brittle curvature of his bones. First he fears these things, all that Loki stirs in him, and then he learns to embrace them with a wretched abandonment.
By the time Loki is able to pick his little body up from the shining floors of Harvetrtjald and walk some few steps on his own strength, Laufey takes to holding court with his tiny, bird like son cradled in his lap. Surprisingly enough, it is a fearsome sight to most Jotun, for what sort of creature could so bewitch a King into breaking with untold millennia's ancient practice? The weak, the small, the strange, were given to Fafnir, to the depths, so as not to offend those that were strong and true.
To celebrate his Prince's first birth day, Laufey has the first nine hundred Jotun warriors who dared cast aspersions upon the Prince's worth, shape, parentage thrown unto the very Ocean that they had wished Loki given unto.
From his father's lap, Loki watches with hooded, silent eyes, tiny fingers twined round the fat emeralds woven into his hair.
Laufey knows what is in those carmine eyes; magick. He has birthed a rune-wielder, a mage, a sorcerer – the first in ten thousand years.
As nine hundred unseeing, worthless Jotun sink into Fafnir's belly, Laufey pulls his son into the broad leeway of his chest and wraps the wolf's fur tighter round Loki's shivering frame. Loki makes a sound that might be laughter, and it rings in the high halls of his father's fathers like the munificent chiming of a hundred falling icicles.
It is a beautiful sound, Laufey thinks.
~ * ~
Laufey grows hungry.
The tides of battle shift on capricious winds, and afore the green-ringed moon rises again, War itself comes stalking to the gates of Jotunheim; with a maw red as a wolf's snout, Asgard turns its gaze on Jotunheim, as Jotunheim had turned its gaze on Midgard.
It drags on, on and on.
Laufey grows tired.
~ * ~
When Loki reaches four green-ringed moons of age, his magick burns through him like alien fire; Laufey returns from the battlefield with the blood of his enemies still steaming on his battered shoulders, and is brought low by the sight of his tiny first-born gripped by the ungentle hands of death. The bed swallows Loki, the furs hide his long-fingered, perfect little hands; sweat – sweat! – curls his fine black hair and dulls his bright blue skin into a bitter, frightening grey.
Laufey waits, with the silent, grieving shapes of his other sons flitting in and out of his vision, for Death to choose.
Six days does his child wander in the under-tide, on the seventh day Loki wakes and the whole of Jotunheim shakes with the deafening roar of a godling's newborn power.
Laufey returns to the war with Asgard, joyous, breathing fire and ice upon his enemies with magnificent abandon.
~ * ~
Five green-ringed moons sees Loki in a garden of his own making, guarded by the hulking shape of his younger brother Helblindi.
“Loki, what is that?” Helblindi's unscarred face is crumpled in curiosity.
“A fox,” Loki huffs, in irritation. “Have you still not read the book I lent you?”
“I looked at the pictures, brother.”
“Aye, and that is better than reading.”
“Yes!” Helblindi nods, as if in a great hurry to agree with his older brother. “Is is not?”
Loki finds his lips have curved up into a small, private smile all of their own accord. “Of course it is brother.”
The fox is too small, and its ears are not pointy enough, but he has ne'er seen one in the flesh, and nor shall he as long as father wages his war in Midgard. But Loki has a garden filled to bursting with things, creatures, shapes, that he has ne'er seen – and ice is such a forgiving medium into which he can pour his magicks. There is time enough to get it right, though he would like to see what shape is a real tree, a real flower, real stag. It disappoints him greatly that all his hard won colours crack and fall away like brittle sheaves of ice, leaving only the first shape and the memory of brown, violet, green, red, yellow. It is enough that his garden pleases his father beyond the pale; it is enough to be caught up in Laufey's strong arms and called sweet little mage, little wonder, even before threescore of his father's most wild and fearsome warriors.
Loki warms at the thought, and wears his pride like a crown.
~ * ~
The green-ringed moon rises for the seventh time, and it finds Loki racing through Harvetrtjald's corridors like a fox neath hawthorne brambles.
“Helblindi! Come on brother, you are too slow today!” Loki knows that he should not taunt his younger brother so, but Helblindi has not yet seen five green-ringed moon's, and Býleistr only three, and it galls at Loki to be so dwarfed by their shadows. Helblindi stands nearly as tall as father, but Býleistr casts a shadow broad enough to shame a mountain. He does not play with Loki in the halls of Harvetrtjald.
“Brother!” Helblindi's voice drifts on sharp winds, and Loki takes a moment to let the cold fingers of Jotunheim cut through his heavy furs. “Brother do not go too far, father will be angry with me if you are hurt.” Even at such a distance, the panic is bright on Helblindi's roughly hewn tongue.
Loki smiles; it is good to know that he can still out race and out think his taller, stronger siblings. It is good to know that father holds him dearer still.
The Treasure of Jotunheim, that is what father calls him; the jewel of the House of Laufey.
Loki plucks an emerald from his hair and dashes it to the floor, vanishing in a twist of jealous green vapour.
Helblindi will be searching for hours.
Despite the clever trick, Loki does not even manage to get closed the heavy doors to his chamber afore there is a terrible clamour in the halls of Harvetrtjald, and suddenly father is kicking in the doors, shattering the heavy panes of ice into a thousand gleaming shards.
Loki stares at the towering shape of his father, blind, ignorant terror blooming up within the cage of his ribs. He does not even see Helblindi standing just behind, in the lee of Laufey's shadow.
Blood, all over blood and the stink of War.
“Up my beloved son, and do not look back,” Laufey croaks, raising high his fine, long blade of an arm. “Asgard has broken into the Temple, and the hour is nigh.”
“What?” Loki finds only wild, fierce alarm burning through his mind, his bones. “I – I...Father? Father please! I can help!” A green fire leaps between his trembling hands, crackling with all the thunder of an ice plate falling into the sea.
Laufey can see aught but his tiny, perfect crown-prince falling under the sword of an Aesir, falling under the white-hot blow of Gungir itself, Odin standing above his son's body with a conqueror’s wide toothed smile.
“There is no time left for such a thing, and I would not permit it.”
Loki opens his mouth to protest, sharp little teeth gleaming in the queer green light still held between his tiny hands.
Laufey will hear none of it, not one word.
“Think you I wish to see my child slain, or worse, bound in chains and taken to Asgard, that den of pompous, self ignorant liars and flatterers, to be kept like some beast in a dungeon!” He is no fool, and in his heart he knows Loki is no more a child than he is a snake or a bird, or a Jotun. Loki is Loki – this is why Laufey would sooner bend his neck to Odin than live to witness his sweet little mage twisted by the Aesir and their petty, blinkered morality.
Better Death, better Cowardice and Flight, no matter how it chafes at him.
“Father, please hear me! Do you not trust in my powers?” Loki knows the words are not the right ones, that they have not struck true, as he hoped they would. But he knows nothing or war, or fear, or terror, or enslavement. All these things and more does he see in his father's red eyes: shadows and brief, terrible emotions that flash and disappear with a frightful transience.
“Thou art the crown-prince of Jotunheim, Loki. Should every last Jotun standing against these Aesir fall beneath the sword and you were to survive, then so too would Jotunheim survive.” Laufey watches this burden fall across his little son's shoulders with a resounding crack; it pains him that he cannot look away, that he wishes to look away. “I will not risk this House's greatest treasure for the slaking of my own pride.”
Loki bows his head, and gathers up his courage from the underside of his heart; the world around him feels new and strange, as if he has only just opened his eyes to its true face. He was more content with the lie.
“Helblindi!” There is no shame felt at using his second son as he plans, and it comforts him to feel the chill, familiar detachment a sire should feel for his offspring. “You will take your brother to Býleistr's pavilion.”
Helblindi makes a sound like the shriek of bird plummeting to its death. “But I am ready, can I not fight...”
“No,” Laufey roars, raising high his gleaning, sickle curved arm. “Take your brother, your Prince, to safety. He is in your care now, and if you fail I swear my last act in this life will be to cast you unto Fafnir in repayment.” No warmth, no softness; there is no yielding in Laufey now, in this final hour.
“Where are we to run?” Helblindi pleads, just as there is the awful howling of slaughter and bloodletting breaching through the titan doors of Harvetrtjald.
“To the mountains, to Thiazivarði.” Laufey cannot hear more than the red soaked song of battle, rising like a high black tide to sweep them all away. “Run!”
Loki scrambles away, as if to fly into the coming fray, but Helblindi is faster. Catching his elder brother in his long, heavy arms, Helblindi tears from the bedchamber, just as Loki's chiming, twisting stalactites of ice begin to crack and tumble from their moorings. His brother is howling, tearing at his arms; Loki's outrage streaks his silver tongue black, sick with sorrow and the poisonous grip of fear; Helblindi will give his life to ensure his beloved elder brother endures beyond this day. Loki will not even have to ask.
Laufey stands in the crux of his House, hearing the keening of ice and the shattering of nine fold millennia's toil of Jotunheim's Kings breaking round him like his own child's playthings, and knows well that if he should still drawn breath when the eldingstjarna rises he will ne'er forget the sight of his sons fleeing from the gleaming halls of their own ancient, ancestral tjald.
He should feel nothing, would that he could feel nothing. It does not occur to him to blame Loki, for always do the Norns demand a price to be paid in engendering greatness. Laufey is prepared to pay that price, no matter its ruin.
The Temple is calling to him, its sweet, labyrinthine song of death ringing in his cracked and bloodied chest.
Laufey cannot help but smile.
~ * ~
Jotunheim's winds have never loved Loki, and now they love him even less; Býleistr's four feet seem to fly over the frozen plains, and for all his bulk, Loki thinks his youngest brother's shadow a thing of beauty in such a place. Loki's world is truncated, reduced by the weight of the firs wrapped round his frame and the shrieking wind. It is very like looking through the eye of a bone awl; he can see only the bright, gleaming teeth of Thiazivarði scarring the distant horizon, and Helblindi's forearm still holding him bone-crushingly tight.
Forty els to go afore he and his brothers are standing at the roots of the thunder mountains; forty els further from his father, and his home, his birth-right. Loki will not give himself over to the ungentle monsters roaming in the confines of his mind. He will not imagine the exact shade of calciferous red his father's blood will paint the temple walls, nor what face his slayer will wear; to Loki, Odin is a shape in the dark, a horned nightmare with neat, white teeth.
Odin will part Laufey's breath from his body; Loki turns his face into the furs to hide his shame and tears. He fears he will never be warm again.
They do not reach Thiazivarði.
~ * ~
Aesir are utterly alien to Loki's eyes: small creatures with florid skin and fur upon their cheeks – to his wonder he can see that no two have the same colour eyes. Here is blue, green, brown, a strange colour, warm like the yellow sapphire his father plaits into his hair on Ancestor Ymir's cairn-day.
Aesir are vænn, as Loki is vænn.
Staring down at a forest of spears and little glinting arrows, the crown-prince of Jotunheim feels a stab of relief. Death chooses; Loki can abide by that. She keeps no favourites.
Helblindi snarls, grinding Loki's ribs into powder and spurs of bone; a sour frown cuts across Loki's cold face, the muscles pulling in sharp discomfort. They do not have time for this.
It is all too easy to slip one long, wickedly curved hairpin from the knot of his hair and prick his brother's dark blue skin hard enough to draw blood. Helblindi makes an outraged yelp, and then there is air in Loki's lungs and the snow covered plains are bleeding into the iron coloured sky and he is tumbling down, down and...
The blood is bright upon the unmarked snow, and every pair of fascinatingly colourful eyes are piled upon the tiny Jotun child wrapped in the brindles and fletching of a wolf.
A long shadow falls over the snow to touch upon Loki's own small casting; the Aesir is still as the black Ocean, an eagle who is sure of its talons.
Loki has seen this breed of smile before, knows it by the show of teeth and the heavy stink of violence caught just beneath the skin – he has seen Jotun five times the height and breadth of these aesir turn that smile upon him. From the hour the green-ringed moon turned its face to Jotunheim for the sixth time, he has always paid them back in kind, with a smile all his very own.
There is a struggle, hands like claws grasping at him; cries of outrage, of violence, triumph. A sword held high; its brilliance strikes Loki and he finds his eyes falling closed. It is a thing of beauty, this sudden, terrible gleaming. He is pleased to know he will die with this stolen brightness burning under his thin eyelids.
“Thane Brekkr, Aesir do not murder children!”
A voice like thunder, with violence enough to shake Yggdrasil bare.
The impossibly tiny Jotun child vanishes in a twist of jealous green vapour; the snow gives back aught but the poor shards of a fat emerald.
Odin All-Father turns his leonine gaze on the gathered warriors and the ruin made of the jewel cast into the snow, and their plans. He raises his head, the weight of skald magick twisting through his chest and putting ungentle shadows between his eyes.
In the stinging, biting snow there is a hulking shape with eyes like pools of spilt blood and teeth longer than Gungir's golden reach, retreating with such speed as to shame the north wind. The shape turns, and it is nothing but a moment, a tiny span of breath that sparks in Odin's sight like a conflagration.
Cradled in the joint of the monster's arms is a Jotun child; a tiny starling in the lee of a mountain.
But Jotunheim protects its own, and the shapes are lost.
~ * ~
The hight temple's floor is slick with his own blood; Laufey stares into the face of Odin Ginnarr, and cannot feel the press of Gungir at the sharp joint where his neck meets his shoulder. Laufey can smell his beloved son's magick on this vain old Aesir, this high-handed god of knowledge and trickery. This is enough. More than he had dared pray for.
“I would have peace.”
“Would you now?” Laufey laughs, though it is not at all laughter. It is something dark and deep and old, built of what resides in the spaces between he and Odin. “Peace is a strange thing for a warlord to covet.”
“Aye,” Odin bares his teeth, lungs burning with the cold, with the loss of so much blood. “But I would have it still.” His eye is gone, and half his world is dipped in maddening darkness.
“Is Odin Spear-Breaker asking King Laufey for terms?” It is shaped like a question, but it rings truer as an answer.
“Yes.” Gungir plants its gleaming head into the weakened ice of Jotunheim's high temple; Odin would fall, save for the spear, and the mettle of his pride.
Laufey bends his neck.
“I will take the Vetrljós. Jotunheim shall no more roam with all the powers of winter at its disposal. Ten turnings of this world's green-ringed moon shall you and your people remain cut off from the Nine Realms.”
There is a smile cracking apart Laufey's bloodied lips, his sharp teeth curved against his tongue in a silent howl of joy. Odin knows nothing, has seen nothing. Let the Hanged One take the Vetrljós, Jotunheim has a greater power to shelter under its high temple's vaulted bowers.
“As you will,” Laufey sighs.
Odin regards his defeated rival with a crowning sense of being deprived; this does not feel like a victory. Nothing more than a brief acceptance of what is now, and not what shall be. Laufey is a snake beneath his hands, Laufey is vapour and air and hard unyielding ice. The King of Jotunheim plays at surrender, but knows no true part of it.
“Tell me Laufey, what is it you have hidden from me?”
Laufey picks himself up from the slick temple floor, red eyes hooded and quiet.
“I saw it in the snow, near the roots of Thiazivarði.” Odin plucks the Vetrljós from its pedestal and bites off a howl of pain; colder than the heart of a dead star, this thing put fingers of the purest agony through his warm aesir flesh. He does not loosen his grip.
Laufey tips his head back, the long planes of his neck exposed and calling for an answer, and laughs. Near the death mask of his sire Fárbauti, Laufey plucks up his prize; curling his fingers round the sky-blue eye of Odin All-Father, Laufey leaves the god to his triumph, knowing it is as hollow and useful to him as his own eye socket, just as Vetrljós shall be in Valhöll.
~ * ~
Loki wakes to a world undone; the sky hangs by a slender thread, cracked and broken open like his ancient ancestor's skull. Everything is grey and dark, emptied. Býleistr slumbers on, the thunder of his breath echoing in the abandoned tjald he has managed to burrow into. Helblindi roams in nervous circles, the thin blade of his arm dragging mazes in the snow.
They have lost. Vetrljós is gone and Jotunheim is strung upon a tree for all the wolves to see. What beauty was in this place is now a dead thing lying at Loki's feet; Loki wishes to weep, but he's had enough of tears, of childish things.
Five hours from the rising of eldingstjarna sees Laufey stood before the tjald in which his sons have hidden themselves away; Loki lies curled in the crook of one of Býleistr's massive arms, dwarfed into a tiny figure fletched in a wolf's pelt. The emeralds woven into his hair gleam in the dying light, and Laufey vows to keep his son in gems and books and furs till he is forced to steal from Fafnir to replenish the golden hordes of Jotunheim's treasury.
“Child,” Laufey calls, an unlooked for pain chewing upon his heart with little, gleaming teeth.
He had thought all was lost.
Loki wakes and the sound of his laughter is beautiful.
~ * ~
Fárbauti's death mask stares down upon Loki with a ferocity not even eleven thousand years could dull. The temple is shattered, torn, broken; Loki cannot bear to look elsewhere but the unsmiling, untouched faces of his father's fathers. Even the dýr of the undertide must mourn this wretched sight.
“My son, my beloved Treasure, I have a gift for you,” Laufey speaks, plucking his tiny, grieving child from the rubble and the ruin. “It is not much, but I think it should please you.”
Loki wraps his little arms round his father's bruised neck, lays his cheek across the deep, angry black furrows marring his father's strong shoulders. “I would be glad of it, father.”
“Your hand then.”
Loki turns a palm upwards, and his father places in his grasp a single sky blue eye.
“For you. The All-Father will not miss it.”
The smile that graces Loki's face is wide, wide and red like the snout of a wolf. “Thank you. I shall keep it with me always.”
“A reminder?” Laufey questions, pleased with his son's response.
“A promise,” is Loki's simple, naked reply.
~ * ~
Three days later finds Loki in the mostly untouched forges of crafter Ulfr; Helblindi stalks at the mouth of door, and the crafter bows low enough to scrape his forehead against the polished stone floor.
“What service might I offer the Prince of Jotunheim?” Ulfr intones, russet coloured eyes fixed low and unblinking. He has not forgotten what price was paid to see this little wonder honoured, as was his right.
Loki holds up Odin All-Father's sky blue eye.
Ulfr barks out a rough, sharp burst of delight; turning up his wide, scarred palm, he waits.
“Something subtle,” Loki murmurs. “Something sharp.”
~ * ~
It does not take Ulfr more than five score risings of the eldingstjarna before he places a green silk bundle in the Prince's tiny hands.
Loki winds the torque round his neck, the cold touch of the silver chasing shocks down his frame. The dýr of the undertide coils and bites upon his collarbones, scales gleaming in the weak light of the star Loki has moored high above the shattered throne room of his father's fathers. In the dragon's fanged maw lies a single sky blue eye, guarded by the jealous claws of Fafnir himself.
Odin All-Father's eye, kept above the heart of Jotunheim's first-born son and Prince.
Loki touches blue fingers to the glassy orb, and is pleased.