“Tell us about the death of the gods,” a man asked a tall traveller as they sat together in a run-down tavern on Knowhere. The traveller had frequented the tavern a few nights this week, his dark cloak draped closely around his shoulder, and a hood up, hiding his newly shortened hair. Those who frequented the tavern did not know his name, merely calling him The Traveller, though they loved to hear him speak. His lips dripped stories like they were honey, and his voice was lulling and melodic as he weaved his tales. The Traveller’s lips quirked up a little, and he chuckled in a low voice.
The story of Ragnarok, you ask?
The man who asked the question nodded and the ears of others perked up. They moved in closer, turning their ears towards The Traveller. Who would not want to know more about the death of the gods? The Traveller stretched his neck from side to side. This would be a long tale, they knew it.
Ragnarok was a long time ago, but I suppose I can tell you the tale over a few more goblets of mead.
He leant forward and they all moved a little closer to him.
I shall tell you this tale, but for it to unfold properly I must start long before the end of times. Long, long before. Before Thor was even a speck in his mother’s womb. Long before Queen Frigga was on the throne with Odin. Yes, before all of that, there was another who would become Queen by Odin’s side. She who trained to become one of the Valkyior but whose spirit was more akin to a berserker. Bor saw this as she watered the fields of the battlefield with the blood of Asgard’s enemies, and cultivated death and destruction with as much passion as others cultivate a harvest. It was thus that Fjörgyn was to become known as the earth goddess in other realms.
Seeing all these qualities in Fjörgyn, King Bor, the Allfather, chose her to be wed to his heir, Odin. For that she might bring out the battle lust in him as she brought out other lusts in their chambers- she was a beautiful woman, after all. She had the black locks of those descendent from the Jotnar and the dark eyes of a woman who knew more than she would ever let on. She was exactly what the realm needed as it waged war with the fire giants. She would rouse the Einheljar and Valkyior alike with words of battle, spinning tales so glorious that none would wish to stay behind. Even she would not stay behind despite being far along in carrying a child.
It was thus that, surrounded by a small battalion of Valkyior in the eye of a flaming storm on Muspelheim, that she birthed a daughter: Hela Fjörgynsdottir. The child was as other children are, born pure and unblemished by hatred. Which is why her fall is even more tragic. Fjörgyn raised her as she sought fit. The child ought to be stronger and wilder and greater than all Aesir before her, and she would ensure it came to pass. Glories and praises were to be sung in Hela’s name. To be exalted above all others. Thus, Fjörgyn taught her the secrets of the earths. By the fireplace, a young Hela would sit upon the lap of her mother, her hair, being brushed back in slow, deliberate strokes, as she was regaled with the tales of mighty battles. Of battles against fire giants, ice giants, dwarves, and elves. Tales of Asgard’s might and victory over all. Carnage and passion would light up the child’s eyes and she would swear upon her soul that she too would be a conqueror and bring Asgard glory. Fjörgyn would only smile at that, her battle-hardened heart, warming with maternal affection.
Meanwhile, Odin saw all and said nothing. Ambition is a good trait in a child, he mused. How else would he now be the Allfather if he had not felled his elder brothers? It had bought his father’s favour as he showed him how far he was willing to go to rule Asgard. One who fells their own would have no qualm when it comes to striking down the enemies of the realm. And is that not what Asgard needed?
Indeed… The traveller mused, picking up his chalice only to find it empty already.
“Another goblet?” a bar wench asked, holding up a full chalice on her tray.
Yes, another would be fine indeed. Do not have qualms refilling when it empties. I have enough gold to cover my portio-
“Nonsense,” a nearby drunken man exclaimed, his cheeks ruddy with joy and alcohol. “I shall pay for the ale. You keep telling that story of yours.” The Traveller smiled, though it did not reach his eyes.
Thank you for your generosity.
The man grinned at him like only a fool was wont to do, but the Traveller knew to hold his tongue. He did not want another tale to tell ending with being cast out of this tavern.
Ah, yes. The tale.
The only thing greater than the child’s ambition was her curiosity. She studied warcraft eagerly with her mother, and her father taught her seidr since the tutors of the realm could not keep up with her quick study. She procured her tools through magic, duplicated them with precision and fought like a true Valkyior under her mother’s tutelage. Her father even taught her how to draw power from Asgard itself. The rocks, the mountains, the rivers themselves all housed immense powers, hidden from the eyes of the unworthy. And all were unworthy in their eyes.
She grew from a child to an adult, and as such, she followed her elders and played at war. It was naught but a game to her. A game she would win over and over again. She razed her foes like they were nothing but grass in her way. She reaped their souls with ease, becoming the right-hand of the Allfather. She was the pride of Asgard at last. The pride of Fjörgyn. The hope of Asgard’s expansion.
Everything was perfect for her, until, alas, her mother perished.
Fjörgyn fell, as it ought to be, in battle, returning to the earth from whence she came. The stories say that she did not cry out as the sword of a Vanir soldier plunged through her abdomen, but that she slew him with the last strength she possessed, shearing off his manhood with her reaper’s glaive. And when she crumbled at long last, slumping to her knees, she hissed a curse upon the Vanir that any peace the realm may find would end in tragedy. But alas, that may just be an old wives tale.
As Hela saw her mother fall, it is said that the berserker spirit took hold of her and that everyone who faced her perished unceremoniously under the weight of her fury. Nary a finger did she raise as her blades replicated, almost as of their own will, and rained down upon the Vanir and Aesir alike. They slaughtered all whose armour did not bear the sigil of the house of Odin.
I do not know if you are familiar with the landscapes of Vanaheim, but on that day the greens of spring drowned in a cloying red, washed with the lives of the Aesir and the Vanir. The river that runs through Vanaheim, to this day, holds a small tint of red when you stir the riverbed gently.
Suffice it to say, the Vanir surrendered and became the 6th realm under the steadfast protection of Asgard.
From that day forth, to those that were Asgard’s enemies Hela became a legend. A monster that struck terror in the hearts of her foes. She became the monster they told children about at night.
Without guidance or her mother to rely upon for solace, for Odin certainly did not know how to soothe an aching heart, Hela threw herself into further preparations. Further conquests. Only a single desire ruled her emptying heart. She would rule them all and she would be worshipped for the goddess she was. It was her birthright after all.
And yet… The traveller cocked his head as if he was listening to something intently. There came a day where it wasn’t.
Odin had drawn away after the loss of his wife, for many years he let Hela lead the armies of Asgard. She conquered two more realms and was beloved and feared by her people alike. Meanwhile, Odin remained in the shining citadel and sought to bolster the diplomatic ties for the sake of mutually beneficial arrangements, trying to ensure that there would be no further uprisings. It was during the visit of a diplomatic delegation that he was introduced to the one who would become the true light and hope of Asgard’s future. Untainted by a bloody past, but radiant and talented beyond expectation. She was a mistress of seidr, with skills beyond even Odin, as it was known that the threads of her loom could tell her tales that ought to be privy to none but the Norns, and yet there she was.
Her hair was akin to straw and her eyes the colour of a still pond, but with the depth of an endless well. She did not fight with heart like Fjörgyn but she could fight like all Vanir were trained to do. Odin first beheld her sitting with her sisters and servants around a fountain. She drew a handful of water and sprinkled it over the surrounding grass. All that it touched bloomed with flowers both beautiful and dangerous. She laughed- her laughter pealing like bells and it was joy distilled to its purest essence. She paid the Allfather no heed as he watched them, or so he thought. When he turned away, he found her standing but a few feet from him, watching and smiling at his obliviousness at watching a copy for so long.
They spoke and they loved each other and found balm in each other’s presence. And while little was known about the truths that lay hidden within the Allfather’s heart, the one thing that was true was his love for Frigga. They were married within a fortnight at the spring equinox. A truly new beginning for Asgard.
Much changed under the rule of Queen Frigga. The Allfather became softer, kinder, more willing to bargain and aid those under his protection. His bride was not a warrior-princess and did not seek the battlefield, and thus he did not seek it either. He wished to be with her in Asgard, where she bore him a son. Thor was his name. A boy so doted upon and beloved that he was to grow up spoilt, but this mattered little to them. Odin wished for peace. For time with his bride and for his son.
Hela, on the other hand, wished for something very different. She did not like this new stepmother who was barely a millennium older than her. She did not like this new brother, an unwanted addition to a family that had been sufficiently complete in her mind. And she most certainly did not like what the new feeder meant for her place in Asgard. By mere virtue of sex, of the contents of the child’s nappy, he was to be the next ruler of Asgard.
After everything she had done for Asgard, that chubby, useless, little bundle usurped her throne. Her realm. Her crown.
So she did the only thing that she could, and the one thing that she was certain would help her reclaim what was hers. She tried to do as Odin had done before her and tried to end the competition. She would have succeeded too were it not for the intervention of the new Queen’s magic. A barrier appeared about the young prince as Hela approached with only hatred and malice in her heart. A sound akin to a hundred cawing ravens filled the room and the Einheljar came rushing in, followed closely by both Odin and Frigga, the tunics of the latter were creased from lying in bed. They saw the black-hilted blade in her hand and knew the truth.
It is said that Odin exiled her on that day, but some say she ran away to preserve her life. The truth is of no matter, so I shall merely say this: Hela left Asgard. She stole the spear of the observatory’s gatekeeper upon arrival, after killing him of course, and disappeared onto another realm.
The only realm she knew would rather kill her than return her to Odin.
Few Aesir will admit this, but it was said that Jotunheim was a shining citadel much like Asgard. But where stones and metal shone in Asgard all was made of ice and glass in Jotunheim. When the sun shone upon Jotunheim it was said to be the most beautiful realm of them all, glittering in all directions, full of beauty and light. Water gave life, nourishment grew within the lakes, and the people were happy under the rule of Laufey. The young king was lean and tall, even among his kind, and his red eyes sparkled akin to mischief more often than the servants enjoyed. However, one thing brought pure rage to his being: Asgard. Laufey was no fool. He had seen the map of blood that Asgard had drawn, and he knew that Jotunheim would be next on the list. While Jotunheim thrived and grew, so did its army and its self-defence mechanisms. He ensured that Jotunheim would be ready when the day of invasion came, and he would not let his people suffer under the fecklessness of the Aesir. Odin especially.
Great was his surprise when the executioner of Asgard herself appeared on Jotunheim. Alone. The palace guards surrounded her without delay, hundreds appearing from every corner, but it did not bother her in the slightest. She walked with purpose, almost in a leisurely manner, as if no one but Laufey was there with her. They looked at each other, sizing the other up with both curiosity and interest. An acknowledgement of equals as it were. Her face split into a satisfied expression when she appeared at the foot of the dais. She opened her mouth and-
The traveller turned around, looking for the bar wench. He raised his hand, causing the growing audience to groan.
Could I have some more mead? He cast an irritated look over the listeners. Do not groan at me, I will tell you more of the tale, but I am parched from all the speaking. Would you rather I lose my voice and never complete the tale?
They shook their heads, almost in unison.
I thought as much.
A fresh goblet was poured for him, and he nodded in thanks.
Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Much is rumoured about what was said on that day, on what was promised to one another and what was done in the aftermath of the meeting. The guards had been sent away after the princess made a show of laying down her arms, and neither Hela not Laufey are alive to tell us the truth of what was said. All that is clear is that in the months that followed an alliance was brokered between the two sets of… let’s say monsters. Jotunheim prepared for war and Hela became Laufey’s closest advisor, for she knew the weaknesses of Asgard more than any other. But as her time on Jotunheim wore on, things changed further. Her purely black attire began to incorporate the greens of the House of Laufey, and soon they swore a blood oath. An oath which made them consorts in the law of Jotunheim. It is said that it was more than merely an alliance of necessity. I cannot say with certainty if it is true, but the texts I have found on Alfheim about their alliance suggests that more was at play than pure power. Their unholy union was, in fact, an oath of sufficient amiability to bear a child. A runt. Small for a giant’s offspring, but one with a claim to both the thrones of Jotunheim and Asgard-
“How’d they manage to consummate that? Can a giant and a-“ A dwarf interjected.
Stop for I will not answer such questions. It is beside the point and not too difficult to understand considering the Jotnar are shapeshif- He frowned. Had the mead dulled his wits already. No. That’s enough of that. I will stop this tale here if you continue interrupting with questio-
The dwarf looked at him, wide-eyed and apologetic.
Good. There is some sense in that thick skull of yours after all.
The Traveller took a deep breath.
As it were.
They launched a two-fold assault to draw the attention of the Allfather. It is likely that you have heard of both: the death of the Valkyries and the Jotun assault on Midgard- the place you call Terra.
Some shrugged and some shook their heads. Not a single one nodded. How strange.
Hmm. How unexpected… The Traveller mused, stroking his hairless chin.
Simply put, Jotunheim took to Midgard with the help of the casket of ancient winters, and Hela took to re-conquering Niflheim. They were at that point the easiest targets in the nine realms. Odin, as expected, split his forces in two. He led the assault against Jotunheim on Midgard, with the aid of his Einheljar, and the Valkyior flew towards Niflheim.
There is a tale that says that the Valkyior reap the souls of the worthy dead to join the Einheljar. It is a little tale spun on Midgard, romanticising them and their connection to the dead. The truth is, it is a retelling based on their own death. They were reaped. All of them. Furthermore, this is how Niflheim became known as the realm that houses Helheim.
Unfortunately, for the alliance, Laufey’s battalion was not as lucky as Hela’s one-woman army. When their numbers dwindled they retreated to Jotunheim and the Allfather pursued them further, vowing to take from them the source of their very power.
The Traveller paused, his lips curling up into a mirthless smile. A malicious and bitter smile.
Jotunheim crumbled that night and the casket was taken. The shining citadel burst from within as Odin’s forces used their brute strength to tear it apart. Even their holy sites were defiled with the blood of those charged with protecting them. Even those protecting a helpless little babe, with the markings of Jotun royalty on his skin. A wailing bundle of fear and worry.
A woman gasped.
Odin did then what he always did during his reign. He took what was not his.
The child shifted to a more Aesir form as he looked upon it, eyes turning green and harmless. Not feeling it in him to kill a babe after he’d slaughtered all his brethren, Odin tied it against the back of his armour hidden behind his cape. He carried it close, lest someone attacked. He put a spell upon it that it shan’t be woken till he so chooses.
“That’s crazy,” one person whispered under their breath, enthralled by the drama of it all.
For what happened next I can only speculate. An Einheljar must have come to him with news of the slaughter on Niflheim, for the fool, not waiting for his warriors to reassemble or follow him, called upon the new gatekeeper, Heimdall, and found himself travelling to his wayward daughter.
The Traveller laughed.
He was a fool to think he could talk to her. She did not want words, she wanted blood. Blood for her birthright, blood for her mother, blood for her lover and son.
She leapt and jabbed, and threw all the weapons she could muster against the Allfather, but he knew his daughter too well. Each attack fell flat, and there was nary a scratch on him. As her anger grew, so did her precision wane. This would have been a problem had Odin not equally grown more tired. She swept at him over and over, never catching his body. But at last, she caught his cape on the end of a flying dagger. It yanked him up ever so slightly, revealing the bundle upon his back.
‘A child. Could it be-?’ She asked herself. ‘Could it be that usurper- Would Odin really be reckless enough to bring his heir along for-‘
Her shocked expression froze.
The Traveller paused and watched the confused expressions of the entire tavern, revelling in their perplexion.
The Allfather, ever crafty used the last trick he had acquired in Jotunheim: The Casket of Ancient Winters. Using the last of his strength, he lay his hand upon her and drew a rune with his own blood on her chin. A rune that only few are strong enough to cast. Not even Queen Frigga would dare to cast something so strong but also reckless.
“What does it do?” a man piped up. The Traveller smiled knowingly.
It is both simple and stupid in equal measure. The Allfather, instead of stripping her powers, instead of exiling her somewhere he could watch carefully, instead of caging her in Asgard’s dungeons, decided it would be wisest to cast her into another dimension. A fool’s plan for such a spell shatters upon death. Such a spell would not quench her powers. Such a spell would leave her unchecked to grow more powerful.
“And the babe? What happened to it?” A man asked, his forehead etched with paternal concern.
The babe? The babe was fine. While Odin kept him for the sake of his own political machinations, the child was genuinely loved by the Queen- so much so, that when she found out the true mother of the child to be Hela, she did not tell Odin. Odin would be prejudiced enough against him for being Jotnar, it would only be worse if he knew he was Hela’s. She loved the boy as only a true mother could, and raised him as one of her own.
“Wait. Hela’s son is Thor’s brother?” A man gasped. “That’s so convoluted.”
The Traveller chuckled.
Yes, now you understand. The second prince of Asgard is indeed the son of Hela. He is indeed a rightful heir to both thrones, and if the Norns will it, he will have Asgard’s throne again… But for now, that is Thor’s burden to bear. Not mi- Not his.
Loki’s eyes darted around checking whether anyone had caught his slip, but everyone was too deep into their chalices to notice. He smiled contently and rose, to the ire of the listeners. They called to him to continue, to actually speak of Ragnarok, but he just shook his head.
Another time, when mead has not addled my mind I shall continue. But for now… good morrow.
He looked out at the rising sun, and sauntered over to the door. A smirked played on his lips as he turned to look upon the tavern one more time, and left.
They had received their story and he had received his more than fair fill of free mead.