i: yggdrasill undreaming.
- Yggdrasill, we sing of you. We sing of you, Yggdrasill.
You, who bear all the worlds like fruit upon your branches: we sing of you. You, who hold all the universes as leaves like to and unlike each other: we sing of you. You, whose trunk rises endlessly through space and time, shadows and light, on into the vast nothingness which as yet waits for your foretold winter: we sing of you. You, whose roots draw from the well Mímisbrunnr, in which waters wisdom floats, and from the well Urðarbrunnr, where the three norns Urðr and Verðandi and Skuld weave their threads, and from the well Hvergelmir, where Níðhöggr the wyrm eats at your bark: we sing of you. You, who carry dreams and do not yourself dream: we sing of you.
Yggdrasill is mighty! From a seed in the days before thought Yggdrasill has grown; in the days after thought, Yggdrasill shall wither. Yggdrasill is without end, yet Yggdrasill must end. Yggdrasill cannot be brought down, yet Yggdrasill must fall. Yggdrasill knows no season out of spring, yet Yggdrasill must bow to winter. We are all of us bound to what comes at the end of days, when the world falls to fire and sleeps in ice. Even the mighty Yggdrasill, tree and gallows and steed, must fall. Out of Yggdrasill will rise Yggdrasill. Out of nothing will rise life. Circles beget circles. Ash to ash, seed to seed.
Yggdrasill, we sing to you. We sing to you, Yggdrasill.
You, who dwell alone, tree without trees: we sing to you. You, who begat yourself, Yggdrasill from Yggdrasill: we sing to you. You, who feed the serpents Góinn and Móinn and Grábakr and Grafvölluðr and Ófnir and Sváfnir and more innumerable and unnamed, Yggdrasill the suffering: we sing to you. You, who feed, too, the stags Dáinn and Dvalinn and Duneyrr and Duraþrór, Yggdrasill the giving: we sing to you. You, whom the three norns Urðr and Verðandi and Skuld tend to with the holy waters of the well Urðarbrunnr, Yggdrasill the renewed: we sing to you. You, who do not sleep, Yggdrasill undreaming: we sing to you.
Yggdrasill the watchful! From a seed in the days before thought Yggdrasill has grown and never known rest. Yggdrasill suffers for the biting of serpents which twine about Yggdrasill's roots and the feasting of stags which wander Yggdrasill's vast branches, and in its suffering Yggdrasill is without peace. Yggdrasill, to you we sing: Would you take your rest? Would you dream if you might? Undreaming Yggdrasill, of what would you dream if you would dream? Perhaps the stars like dew on your leaves or the worlds you bear. Perhaps Yggdrasill would dream of the fire which waits, which will see Yggdrasill burnt to ash and the holy wells made empty. Would Yggdrasill, alone, dream of deep forests and leaves so thick as to hide the sun?
O, Yggdrasill, hear our song. Hear our song, O, Yggdrasill.
Do you hear, Yggdrasill? Do you hear the Bifröst, how it screams, how it weeps? The bridge is broken, the way lost. Now Goðheimr, which bears Asgard, stands alone. Álfheimr stands alone. Svartálfaheimr stands alone. Vanaheimr stands alone. Manheimr stands alone. Jötunheimr stands alone. Múspellsheimr stands alone. Niflheimr stands alone. Helheimr stands alone.
In Múspellsheimr, they will soon wake. Soon Múspell's sons will wake. Soon their fires will wake. The Bifröst is lost. Loki World-killer falls. The end comes. Do you hear, Yggdrasill? Yggdrasill, do you hear?
Yggdrasill, we sing of you. Yggdrasill, we sing to you. We give our songs to Yggdrasill. We give our dreams. We give our tongues, our hearts, the water from our flesh.
Yggdrasill, we sing.
ii: odinson lost.
- From Asgard wondrous, he fell.
The Bifröst cried about him for its breaking, and a terrible screaming rose out of the farthest reaches of the universe. He could not hear it for the shouting in his head. Second son, unwanted son, stolen and unloved. A babe weeping in a temple and taken up by a king, claimed as his own and then forgotten, the superfluous shadow to Thor, beloved Thor, wanted Thor, Thor son of Odin and Loki tool of Odin.
"There's always a purpose to everything your father does," said Frigg, mother, not mother. Her hair as gold as Thor's. Frigg had brushed Loki's hair for him when he was young, drawing out the knots as she would tangles from her loom. Frigg, who had called him her little raven for the blackness of his hair.
What meaning Loki? What purpose granted him? Taken and made pale, made æsir, raised in the house of Odin as his son. Why? What meaning? What purpose? To be made a king of Jötunheim who would bow to Odin. Jötunheim, which Odin had broken. Jötunheim, which Odin had taught his sons to hate and fear. Jötunheim, realm of monsters, of frost and silence and death.
He would have destroyed it, Loki Odinson, seen it made hollow, seen it made dead, the monsters slain that Odin would know him not as the jötunn child he had found crying in an empty place and taken him as a relic to be used, but as his own, his son, beloved as Thor firstborn and sun-bright, Thor loved above all others. Killed them all and held their blood in his hands up to Odin Jötunn-slayer and asked him, "Am I not your son? Was this not my purpose?" as Jötunheim burned.
The Bifröst broke, shattered, felled by the hand of Thor that Jötunheim would live. The ways of Yggdrasill were known to Loki, the unseen paths and forgotten channels it held in its branches where the four heavenly stags roamed and ate the dying worlds. Mighty Yggdrasill he had walked as a child. Of Yggdrasill's secrets he had learned many. He closed his mind to the great tree. He closed his eyes. He closed his heart. He closed his ears and his mouth and his throat, and his silvertongue was still.
Out of the heavens, Loki fell.
iii: memory: loki.
- Afternoon had come. A strong breeze blew in through the opened windows and set his mother's drapes to rolling. Loki studied the shadows as they moved across the floor. He thought of stories for them, great adventures in which he featured prominently, and kicked his legs out to see his own shadow join the rest.
"Hold still," said Frigg, amused. She steadied him upon her lap. "Don't fly away just yet, little raven."
His mother's fingers touched his nape, urging him to cease his struggles. The silver comb drew through his wetted hair; its teeth pricked his skin. Loki hooked his ankles together and tried to be still.
"I'm not a raven," he said. "I'm a boy."
"Oh?" asked his mother. "What difference is there?"
He thought on this and said: "Ravens are birds."
The teeth snagged on a tangle. Loki gasped loudly and cringed back against Frigg, as if mortally wounded. Laughing, she set the comb aside and worked instead with her fingers. Her shoulder moved beneath his head.
"Ravens are birds," she said as she picked a curl free of the knot, "and boys aren't birds. Are you sure you're a boy?"
"I can't be a bird," he reasoned. He held his arms up for her to see. "I don't have wings."
"Perhaps you've hidden them."
He smiled at this. "I cut them off and put them under my bed."
"Yes," she said, "where no one will ever find them."
Loki leaned forward and turned to look up at her. His mother was smiling. Her eyes creased. Lightly she brushed a strand of hair from his brow. He was hot still from his bath, and his skin was damp even in his dry clothes. A bead of water, disturbed by Frigg's hand, traced his nose.
"One day," he told her, "I'll put them on again and fly away."
Frigg rounded her eyes. "Oh, but perhaps I'll find them. Then you'll have to stay and be my little raven forevermore."
He settled again. She carded her fingers through his hair, petting.
"Will you give me shiny things?" he asked her. "Pins and gems and pretty rocks."
"If I don't, you'll steal them from me," she said archly, "because you're a greedy little raven."
"Like Huginn and Muninn," said Loki, thinking of his father's ravens with their sleek feathers and their unblinking eyes. He'd taken Thor's lunch the other day and told him Huginn had flown off with it. Muninn had done as much to Loki once.
"Oh, but Huginn and Muninn must fly over the fields of war," said his mother, "but Frigg's raven must not. What should he do?"
"He'll bring her gold from a dragon's nest," said Loki. "And fists full of jewels, and a crown of diamonds, and a silver horn from a unicorn so she'll never be sick, and—"
His mother cut him off. Her arms wound about him; she held him to her breast. Loki struggled then gave, for his mother's love was great and her arms strong about his chest. She kissed his brow. Her lips were soft, her touch light. Love for his mother came easily to him.
"All I'll ask of my raven," she whispered, "is that he stay still when I brush his hair."
"Only if you give me a pin," said Loki.
His mother straightened. "Greedy Loki," she admonished, but when she had finished brushing his hair, she drew a hairpin from her basket and clipped it in his black curls.
iv: witness, three.
- At Yggdrasill's crown, the eagle stirred, and as it stirred, so, too, stirred the hawk Veðrfölnir which slept between the eagle's eyes.
"What?" asked Veðrfölnir, in ill humor. "What is it?"
"I see," said the eagle.
"As do I," snapped Veðrfölnir. "I have eyes. You have eyes. We all have eyes. Will you let me rest but half a day without disturbing me? Who is it who has to fly around all the worlds? Is it you? No. It's me. And what do I get from you? 'I see.'"
"Hush now," said the eagle.
Veðrfölnir ruffled her throat feathers. "Hush? Hush! You're the one who started talking, and don't you forget."
The eagle shook her head and Veðrfölnir rocked dangerously close to falling off and plummeting down into the thick clouds which ringed Yggdrasill. Veðrfölnir shrieked and would have dug her claws into the eagle's eyes—and serve her right, it would, going on about "I see," as if she were just a chick—had the eagle not then stilled.
"Look," said the eagle.
"I don't know what you want me to look at," said Veðrfölnir. "All I see are the stars, same as ever, very bright, lots of them—"
Then she stopped, for a small shadow passed over the stars and ringed about it were shards of ever-changing light, like pieces of a broken rainbow. Veðrfölnir's forefeathers stood on end.
"What in the fuck?" asked Veðrfölnir.
"Loki Laufeyson," said the eagle. "Loki Odinson. The Bifröst has broken. He falls with it."
"The fuck it has!" said Veðrfölnir. "The Bifröst can't be broken. The bridge is eternal."
"It has broken," said the eagle again. "Feel. Yggdrasill wakes."
Veðrfölnir craned her neck about to see. All about them the topmost branches of Yggdrasill shivered. Her great leaves trembled. A terrible feeling Veðrfölnir did not recognize swelled within her; in a moment she knew it as fear. Never before had Veðrfölnir known Yggdrasill to rouse.
"What does it mean?" she asked.
"I do not know," said the eagle, who knew all things.
An agitated chittering rose from the near branches, then out of the leaves leapt Ratatoskr the squirrel, grown enormous in his distress. His fur bushed out wildly. He scrambled up to the eagle's nest and said:
"What's got the old tree stirring? I nearly fell off."
"You did not," said the eagle placidly.
"Well, I might have," said Ratatoskr. Then he looked to the stars and to the shadow drawing ever nearer to Yggdrasill. "What in all her lovely roots is that?"
"Fuck if I know," said Veðrfölnir. "The eagle says it's Loki, son of Laufey, son of Odin. She also says the Bifröst has broken."
Ratatoskr did not laugh at this, as Veðrfölnir hoped he would. His fur, which had begun to settle, stood up again, and he turned his wide eyes on the eagle who said:
"It is true."
"Oh, shit," said Ratatoskr.
v: memory: loki.
- In the little thicket outside the palace there was a tree that had fallen, brought low by lightning years before. The beasts had hollowed it out, and the insects had done their work, and no one else knew of it but Loki, which was precisely how he wanted it.
It had taken absolute ages to get all the charms right. He'd had to look them all up and learn them and figure out how to cast them, and then he'd had to figure out how to cast them on something that had once lived but now was dead—charms for silence, stillness, sight and sound and smell, a charm to keep it dry, a charm to keep it cool, a charm to keep it from rotting away, a charm to keep the crawlies out, a charm to keep the bigger things out.
What it all amounted to was a great deal of effort for a hideaway he'd outgrow one day (he hoped; oh, how he wanted to be tall), but Loki liked to be thorough. If nothing else, at least it represented one place Sif couldn't find him. There were loads of places he could hide, of course, all sorts of clever places, but he hadn't quite got the knack of charming himself invisible yet, and Sif was so good at sniffing him out he thought perhaps he'd made a mistake when he called her "horse" instead of "hound." It was that long nose of hers.
Probably she was part-wolf. Sliding feet first into the dank, chilled hollow, Loki resolved to tell her so at the right moment. She'd hit him for it, but she'd have to catch him first. His tunic caught on a knot. Loki tugged it free and turned onto his belly. His shoulder scraped the top of the trunk. The noise of his breathing filled the hollow; it rebounded off the curves. Habit made him calm it.
Sif broke into the clearing then. She was quiet, oh, so very quiet, but Loki was quieter. He grinned and wriggled forward on his arms till his nose nearly peeked out of his shelter. He wanted to see her face when she knew she'd lost him.
She didn't breathe half so hard as he had. Her head was turned the other way, her chin raised: she looked to the branches above. The long fall of her hair intersected with her throat and tumbled in a tangle over her shoulder, which was bare and summer-dark and slicked with sweat. She'd chased him quite a ways before he'd managed to lead her back around to the woods.
Sif turned, searching. Her lips thinned. The skin beneath her nose glimmered, sweat-bright. Absently she ran her thumb across it. Loki's belly tightened. He softened his breath, slowed his heart.
Her feet were naked. She walked easily through the leaves, the grass, the twigs scattered here and there like traps beneath the green. Her ankles were bony knobs, but her calves where they showed under her rolled-up trousers were leanly muscled. Her thighs, too, a suggestion as she pivoted on her heel, and her trousers pulled taut across her hips, legs. Very, very dangerous.
Such a good thing he'd thought of the tree. Sif was far too clever to be chasing after Loki. Her shadow fell before the hollow; she neared. If he hadn't his tricks, she might even catch him. His shoulders ached. His palms itched. He rubbed his right hand over the wood, soothing, and his skin rasped lightly across it.
Sif dropped into a walking crouch before the hollow. Loki froze up. She couldn't possibly have heard. He'd laid another charm only the month before. She walked forward on her toes and bent to look into the emptied trunk, emptied but for Loki.
The clearing was a small one, and the trees that ringed it held their branches out across it. Shadows fell thickly, even with the summer sun high in the sky. Sif's eyes showed brown, and her pupils were huge, black, ink dropped in the center of each iris. She stared directly at him. How long her nose, he thought.
In a moment she would reach in and hook her fingers in his collar and drag him out. He would kick, claw at her, shout every curse he knew, and still he would be caught. His heart trembled ferociously. Already he could feel her fingers at his throat, her palms on his shoulders. He'd been hunted; he'd been found. The tightening in his belly made his head swim. Sif looked on him. He was caught.
Her mouth creased; Sif frowned. He could not think why; then she muttered, "Damn," and slapped her hand on the trunk. The sound reverberated as if the tree were truly hollow. She rose. Sif passed out of sight, then out of the clearing. She hunted him still.
His heartbeat was deafening; it stormed in his ears. She hadn't heard him. She hadn't seen him. And of course she hadn't. Was Loki not the most gifted pupil the master of sorcery had ever seen? He had said so to Father the week before, and Father had looked to Loki then asked of Thor. Thor had no head for magic.
Best to stay put, Loki thought. She would come back again. Sif was always thorough when she sought a thing. Tenacious. Another thing she'd in common with a hound. He put that one away, too.
His heart had calmed some, but it skipped oddly now and then in his chest. Loki folded his arms and rested his head in his elbow. He wished he hadn't worn sleeves. Sif had the right idea.
She had looked right at him. Looked at him, but hadn't seen him.
"Safe," he whispered. His voice fell flat, muffled by his spells. If Sif had pressed her ear to the trunk at that very moment, she would have heard nothing at all. That was what he wanted. His chest hurt. He didn't like to think of it.
Loki stayed there in the hollow in the thicket until the sun sank low and the afternoon cooled. Then he slithered out of the tree, and shaking the dirt from his trousers, he ran silently up to the palace. He ran alone. Only his shadow chased him, and that could never catch him.