Distortions In Time
[Bitter Desolation, Incandescent Harmony]
In The Beginning
[The skies are empty on Jotunheim...]
Silence reigns here with an iron grip. It pervades the frosty land, the icy wastelands of the inimitable race so known as the Frost Giants. There is nothing here, they say, but ice and snow and eternal night. And silence.
[... so wrong...]
[... there is life even here...]
You can see life struggle onward under the hard light of the stars – and hear it in the voices of the win. The wind has arrived on this side of the Realm, the most populated area, holding the cities of Utgard, Griotunagardar and Gastropnir. Flying unhindered from the Kaldrfjall mountains in the far east, it has travelled a long way to reach the Eybjarg, the Chasms of Forever, extending from the west. Griotunagardar, situated on the edge of the eternally frozen dark ice of the lake known as Gnottvatn, hunkers down under the wind's roar, stalwart against the initial blasts – and then, the gales of snow move onward to encroach on the westward city, Gastropnir, which huddles beneath the protection of the Grarfjall mountains. Here, snow falls aplenty, but softly, muffling the quiet activity of the small trading centre.
[... and beyond...]
And beyond – beyond lies Utgard in the utter east, close on the edges of the world, the Eybjarg. It is a dark citadel standing as a sentinel at the chasm's edge.
Here, too, is silence.
It is the deep calm before the storm.
A long time ago, it was said the skies had been filled with exotic flying things – creatures who had long since died or fled, their names lost to time itself. On the land, there had been wide forests of jarnvithr, fields of tungblom and plains of the harsh blakkrgras – now long depleted thanks to the vagaries of war. And there had been other creatures, great and small, now threatened extinction, endangered by what threatens the entire universe - war.
For the land is at war, and has been so, for too long of a time.
As fortune smiled on the Jotunn, their grip of ice expanded outward and spread to other realms. A powerful King in his own right, King Laufey, used the power of the Realm itself – the Casket of Ancient Winters indiscriminately. Carrying it with him, he stood tall and proud, a striking figure among his own people, at the front of his legions – feet spread apart as he gazed over the empty land of Midgard. It was cool here, but not cold enough. The Casket felt right between his hands – felt powerful – strong and untameable as a wild stallion left too long to its own devices. It's chaotic swirls of power burst from his hand and covered the greenery in darkness and ice.
That had been the height of the Jotunn empire, such as it was, and could not remain so in the eyes of the other Realms whose duty it was to protect the old alliances. Thus, fortune turned its back on the tall, hard-bitten ice folk.
Asgard joined battle with Odin in the lead bearing Gungnir and stern expression. Within a day, the war was renewed between the Aesir and the Jotunn, and since then, it carried on with battle after battle.
It was an epic struggle and many mortals, Jotunn and Aesir joined the halls of Helheim, Niflheim and Valhalla. Laufey himself was fatigued, though not wounded – and Odin was more than equal to the task.
War raged on for years and decades and centuries... For what seemed like eons, the battle swelled, lingered, smouldered – only to renew again like a fire that could not be put out.
[... and the land of Jotunheim fell silent...]
Yet even then, life was not lost and hope was not entirely smothered, for the cycles and seasons of Time wait for no one and each Realm's heart beats deep and strong. During one summer campaign (for the Asgardians), Odin was forced to leave the front lines of battle in order to support his wife during the time of childbirth – the time of something for which he had waited so long – the birth of a son. Signs, portents of Dooms and prophecies had pointed to the coming of a male heir, the like of which Asgard had never seen – and would never see again. And Odin, who had long since learned to pay attention to the words of his far-seeing wife, took the joyful news to heart.
When he held the squalling, hairless child in his hands and glimpsed the future power behind its sky-blue eyes, Odin knew then that here was indeed the future King of Asgard. Bells rang forth and the Aesir rejoiced – and the Jotunn grumbled.
It was a few years later, by the flow of Asgard's calender, that the long-term effects of war appeared to have reached even Laufey-King. During a squirmish which had moved forward into the Aesir camp, Laufey stumbled.
"A slight dizziness," he protested as the Royal Healers and Sages forced him to lay back onto the ice bed spread out for him. "It has already passed – a mere light-headedness, nothing more. No doubt something in the food I had eaten or –"
He tried to rise again, pulling at the leathers which had been laid aside from his strong, blue thighs.
"Lie back, my King" Farbauti said roughly in a voice which brooked no disagreement or disobedience. His red eyes glared down at his Royal King and Husband – the one he had called friend and lover and husband and wife for so many centuries. "Considering that you have felt unusually fatigued lately, I fear it is something far better, and yet, far worse."
Red eyes met over the Jotnar sovereign and fora moment there was nothing but shuffling feet, whispering cloth, guttering flame and an indistinct mumble as a sage outside the tent cast runes upon his well-stretched drum skin's hide, stretched across a square rock between his feet. Stones clattered and bones rattled.
"Not a child," Laufey gasped then, laying back and glaring up at the plain ceiling far above him. "We were so careful."
"We have needed a Sathr Erfingi for too long a time," his lover replied quietly. "Someone to carry on the Casket and the War if you were to return to the snows of your grandfather." A pause. The humming chant outside had ended. Then, the King's Consort added, "Maybe the spirits of the For-Eldra and the Heimrsal decided."
Farbauti warily eyed the ancient weapon – the Kero Fornvetr, or to the Asgardians, The Casket of Ancient Winters – which had not left Laufey's side since the beginning of the Lengi Ofrithr. Even now, it sat by the bed in a place of honour. And whispered.
"Maybe it decided it was time."
"Old tales of witless giants," snorted Laufey, as the healers finished their careful ministrations and examinations and congregated a little way away, in the far corner of the large healing room Laufey had been brought into. "Foolishness."
"Foolish... I would not say that so quickly," Farbauti shook his head slowly, "but not something to be ignored entirely. If it – if she – if..."
"Farbauti," Laufey sighed. "Enough of these tales and superstitious nonsense. This is no time for stories and witless tales. Neither is it a time for children, heir or no."
"Odin All-Father –"
"Odin All-Father birthed his get on his woman – an easy enough matter. And it is not as if the Royal Family has no Princes – Farbauti, mine, you have done your duty –"
"'Twas not duty –"
"Perhaps not," agreed Laufey with a chuckle. "A gift, then. Two handsome children any father would be proud of."
"But Helblindi and Byleister are not True Heirs – and neither are they of age to be considered for rule either. Laufey-King –"
"My mind is set."
"But, Laufey-King, think – can you not sense it – this time, it could be different –"
"If I am with child, it will be removed."
"No – Laufey, my love – please –"
"Well, let us see what they say," Laufey waved a hand dismissively, sitting up and pulling on his battle leathers and carved bone gear. Farbauti's eyes wandered over his King and Husband's chest, cataloguing the fast-healing scars and mild bruising.
"My Lord," the head healer approached slowly, bowed and also tipped his head in recognition of Farbauti. "Your esteemed Highness. Great news. His Highness bears for us an heir. The runes have spoken – and Kaldro speaks: a King for our people, the like of which we have never seen –"
"Remove it," Laufey cut the healer off.
"Laufey, love –" whispered Farbauti, placing one hand on his King's.
"This is a time of war. A time when anything could affect us," Laufey replied evenly, his voice rougher than usual with exhaustion. "A weak King will not lead this kingdom to victory."
"A hollow victory if there is no future," Farbauti replied bitterly.
"There will be other children," Laufey reminded his Consort, trying to lighten his beloved's dour mien. Farbauti looked stricken nonetheless.
Pause. Then, a sigh.
"But we can, perhaps, afford to wait a while. Just a little longer."
And so it was said Laufey suffered a mild stomach ailment and the matter was not spoken of again.
The spirits of the realms, the Heimrsal as named by the Jotun, speak many tongues if you would listen. Within the babbling brooks, the cry of the hawk and the eagle, the music of the spheres... and on Jotunheim, the powerful wind which crosses the plains. It is a harsh melody, a song which few can decipher or even begin to understand.
[... can you hear it?]
[... it is even here... in the silence...]