Einn - One.
The sun shines brightly on Asgard today.
The blood in his veins is singing and so is the blood on his hands — crusted brown and drying from the length of the battle, and splattered bright scarlet red from thick fresh spills. Gungnir thrums heatedly in his grip, anticipating, his muscles tensed.
It's been a good battle, another city, another primitive nation conquered. And the deaths beneath his heels — stiff bodies with crunching bones and torn flesh — are what makes him feel the most alive.
There is the taste of smoke and salt on his tongue, and ash. It is the taste of a bloody victory; an empire stretching beyond the horizon.
Sweet glory of Asgard.
“Your Highness,” says a messenger, bowing low and kissing the Allfather’s feet down from their station. “News from the palace: your child, she is born.”
Odin licks his lips, dry and cracked from days — or weeks, because what is time, really, in the heat of the fight? — of battle. A bubble of something akin to excitement stirs in his belly, and he smiles with all the grace of a King and an Emperor and raises his voice to the heavens.
“Heimdall, open the Bifrost!”
He does his job well and obediently enough, the Gatekeeper. A relatively new piece in the collection, and Odin will make a loyalty out of him yet.
The air becomes singed and a concentrated flood of rainbow luminescence shoots down and through him. Bright and blinding and powerful, as all things Asgardian are. As all things that will belong to him are.
Heimdall’s golden eyes send him a look of warning, though it is not his place.
He rides through the citadel towards the palace, stallion making strong gallops on roads paved with gold, sweeps through the marble walls and pillars and the silver spun tapestries of the palace, in all his bloodied, battle-worn armoured glory.
It is silent in the palace, other than his steady footsteps. But Odin does not stop until he reaches the doors to his chambers.
Odin’s love lays in bed, and there is almost as much blood soaking the sheets as there is staining the fields of Álfheimr. She is still; sheets of silk and fine linen placed over her, only half covering, and a pale, clammy pallor to the skin.
Well, he truly did not expect her to be so weak, but it is no matter. She was just a woman, after all. Nothing so remarkable, other than that she has produced his heir.
She has, at least, done the job.
There are Healers flitting about, abuzz with irritating anxiousness, just hovering. One, shaky and pale (almost just as so as his dead lover,) braves herself and approaches. How bold.
“Your Highness, we are so deeply regretful of—”
“—Where is the babe?” he interrupts, holding out a hand. He should be hearing cries and wailings from strong newborn lungs, but there is still only silence. “Where is my child?” he asks, almost aggrieved.
Hopefully she has not been as weak as the loins she came from.
The small body is placed cold in his arms, swathed in cotton, and quiet. So obedient. And his heart warms.
“Why is she silent?” he asks one of the nursing healers, but he cannot look away from the babe. She is his daughter all right, with his strong features and his midnight hair, and within her she carries the blood of kings.
“She is not unwell, my King. Just a little quiet. Tired, perhaps,” the nursing healer reassures quickly. “But trust me when I say she is perfectly well, and we should be content.”
And he is, of course, content. She will be great.
She is the daughter of Odin Allfather, after all. Heir to the Empire of Asgard. A warrior to forge, and a goddess bourne to his glory and purpose.
Eyelids flutter open and cold blue eyes gaze up at him in wonder. A smile tugs on his lips. Definitely his heir.
There is still blood crusted into his fingernails and on his spear which hangs, strung on fraying scarlet-soaked leather, on his back. But the cotton wrapped around the babe is red as blood anyway, so it does not mind. Besides, he feels it even as he wipes his hand on his cape and brings his finger to stroke her cheek; the is a shadow about her.
No, not about her, but within her.
The shadow of death.
He spares a glance towards the bed where her birth-mother lays, a limp corpse, and then back towards his daughter, new princess of Asgard. Hours old and already there is blood staining her soul. And you can never start too young, he muses, heart swelling just a little as the little babe’s mouth latches on to suckles at his finger. A wild and wretched thing, as all newborns are, but obedience comes with time and she will learn to follow in the path he lays out to her.
Outside is warm but there is a cool breeze. Autumn. The leaves turning to reds and browns and the sun already low in the sky though it is barely evening. It is the season of harvest and the season of dying things. Out of the corner of his eye, Odin briefly acknowledges the servants coming in and lifting his past love out of the bed, fully covered in cloth now. A little bit of his heart goes out to her, admittedly, and he swallows down the lump in his throat. He must be strong, and anything else would be a weakness.
It has, after all, been a great and memorable day for all of Asgard. Another successful battle. Another victory. Another nation seized and conquered to build their empire. And Odin has a child, a daughter and he is a father. There will be songs sung and feasts to celebrate this which he will host, as his own father, Bör, did before for him and his brothers.
This child… she will be great. In her, he will ensure he lives on.
She is to be his legacy.
And he will carve an executioner out of her yet. A sharpened blade. His very own little executioner.
It is, after all, what children are for.
Odin’s fingers tighten their grip around the babe and she begins to cry.
Tveir - Two.
It's been been years — centuries — since he last had a child, and he hopes fervently that this will be the last one.
(And that it will not be like his last.)
The babe looks like Frigga — his stolen queen — and he thinks he might just love her a little for it. But they are not true lovers so much as a war prize; and what a great price for peace was the prize of yet another stolen life. They both have blue eyes, but these are warm and bright like the ocean reflecting the summer sky, not like the cold blue of his own. And Odin, though it is greying now, had black hair like coal, in his youth, and not the waves of spun gold like this little one.
So the babe looks like Frigga and he is glad for it. Hopefully, it is a good sign.
His bride smiles up at him from where she rests against the pillows alive and breathing and not yet touched by death) and offers the babe for him to hold, arms quivering just slightly from the exhaustion of labour.
The babe is precious, as all babes are. Weak and precious. Too precious. It feels as though he may break if Odin holds him too hard, or shatter if he speaks too loud. Babes are fragile, soft, tiny things; and Odin cannot afford to be careless.
And even as he holds up his son — his tiny, golden, soft, baby son — he feels his heart lifting along with it. Feathery and fluttering. Delicate and gentle yet overwhelmingly strong.
His breath chokes.
“What shall we name him?” she asks him carefully, still looking at her son.
And Odin pauses, briefly, and exhales his breath. He shakes his head. “You name him, my Queen,” he says instead.
Because he does not think he can bear to name this other child, his son, their son, lest he pick a name like Hela . And he doubts the rest of the Nine would be able to bear it as well. He cannot trust himself to choose and choose correctly, wisely.
Still, even as his breath chokes for the regrets to come, it still stands that Asgard needs a Crown Prince, an heir.
Frigga arches her brow at him amusedly, as if to say “What's in a name?”, and part of him wants to shake her and cry and remind her that she saw the work of his own executioner with her own eyes, saw the destruction to the cities and villages of her childhood, and another part of him knows she is right. It was not the name that he gave her that put his daughter away and banished her, trapped in her own despairing realm. It was his hand.
But still, Frigga shrugs and strokes the babe’s rosy cheeks with her fingers and whispers, “Thor. We shall call him Thor.”
She will be a good mother, Frigga now of Asgard and formerly of Vanaheim, just as she has been a loyal wife and a dutiful consort, in that he can be sure. And it's almost enough to assure him that this — this life — will be all right. Almost.
In his arms, Thor makes a little, high-pitched squealing noise, not quite a cry and not quite a laugh, but a little smile spreads across round pink cheeks, and instinctually Odin tightens his grip just a little before remembering he must be gentle with his son.
No, he decides then, gazing into the sleepy bright eyes of his son and grinning back unashamedly because his heart is so, so, so very full. Thor’s life will not merely be all right. Or fine. Or any other form of just passable. Thor… Thor will be happy, brave, strong. And good. Thor will be good.
Because he has already sealed away one child, his first, since he could not bear to truly destroy his creation, only hide it away. In his arrogance. Hubris. He will not do the same with this other.
This babe, he thinks, cooing softly, will be the Crown Prince of Asgard, and a prince to his people and he will not, must not, be another executioner.
Something in his chest wells up, like love or pride or both. And it takes Odin a few moments to recognise because it's been a while. But it's there. Like a hearth burning in his soul.
Frigga, his prize queen, catches his other hand on the bed and holds it gently, smiling.
There is pride and love and a whole host of other kind, light, strong and good feelings brimming within him. And all because of a babe.
One last chance then, Odin Allfather decides, gazing at his family, something tentative like hope blooming in his chest. One last chance.
It is, after all, what children are for.
Þ rír - Three.
Odin is tired. He has his wife and infant son (Thor, he last saw, could run and speak clumsy, noisy sentences and he hears he has just begun his lessons) waiting for him, back home in golden, great Asgard; and he is so, so, so very tired. He has been for a long time. His bones ache, and every icy breath he takes feels hollow. Each step becomes a duller sort of pain.
He has his Gungnir gripped heavy in his hands, arms raising and slashing the glinting blade through thick, frosty, blue-grey skin smoothly. Too smoothly.
It's a bleak place, Jotunheim, though, he knew it once as thriving, and he is about to make it worse.
The wind whines and howls like the wailing and moaning of Helheim, and crystal shards of ice tangle within it and bite at his face, whipping sharply around him. All the grey snow and ice seem to merge with the sky until all he can see is a cold, splintering fog.
He has the Casket in sight, the last of its guards down by his hand already.
They are going to win.
But Odin is tired, and it's because of this, he tells himself, that he hears a weak, stuttered cry of a babe piercing through the thick winds and the rest of the battle. It isn’t uncommon, after all, for a soldier to succumb to delusions from the exhaustion of battle.
Even the Great Allfather can fall from the most trivial of things.
But the cry comes again, like a terrible, wailing wind-chime, and this time he halts.
Odin holds his breath and listens in.
The Temple of Utgard is smaller than expected, much less grand than any of the temples back on Asgard and smaller than even the other Jotun temples. But, if he distances himself from it a little, there could be something quite beautiful about its close, quiet intimacy. Makes it hauntingly more sacred.
The cry comes again, fainter and weaker still, almost completely drowned out by the wind and the thudding in his own chest. It's stuttered and desperate and Odin cannot help but think, What is a babe’s cry doing, found in a temple during a war?
For someone so wise — for the Allfather is all-powerful, all-knowing — he is not thinking as he trails after the source, just following. Besides, he might reason, the Casket is in the same direction — near the heart of the temple — so it's not as though he is veering away from his task.
But he's not thinking that, not truly. These are just excuses he might say on the way back, with a babe in arm. Perhaps.
All he hears is the harsh wind of the Jotunheim winter and the dying cries of a struggling infant.
He almost trips over it, in all his wisdom. The doors of the Temple have been blown open and the first few layers of snow and ice have already begun to creep inside, so he almost trips over it. The babe is coated in frost already, though it is hard to tell against the blue, half covered in loose swathes of thin cloth to shield from the elements.
Wide red eyes blink up at him, bright against the snow but getting duller by each passing second.
A runt, Odin guesses, with a twisting heart. Abandoned. Too small for even a newborn in Asgardian standards, let alone Jotnar. It is a mercy to kill the runts early, he knows, lest they infect the populous and live a cruel life, for only a parent that hated their child would let it live on as a stain.
It's an ideology he's familiar with.
His gloves are of leather from drakons, too rough and sharp to hold a babe in, so he shrugs them off, ignoring the knowledge that Jotnar skin is supposed to burn.
The cloth wrapped around it is coarse and chaffes against his palms when he goes to pick it up. And beneath the thin layers — cold. Cold as stone against his chest, ice radiating even through his armour.
He holds the babe, for a moment, unthinking still. Just alone in a temple during a war, a king holding an abandoned babe.
Then the light shifts in the temple, flickers right, and Odin catches clearly the ridges marking its skin, raised lines of tale-tell tribal markings, and upon the forehead is the geometric lines and half circles of Laufey’s crown.
He almost drops the damned thing.
Laufey’s spawn, would-be heir, and a runt at that. A curse upon royal blood, however violet it may be. How could the Jotunheim possibly have a runt for a King!? It barely clings to life, and Winter is when the Jotnar are at their strongest. He feels almost sorry for it.
Weak and insufficient — and thus abandoned.
Still, the Temple of Utgard during a battle is a worthy enough place for the babe, so it has been allowed that much honour at least.
But there's not much honour in death at all for a babe, no matter how noble — Odin would know, he is a King and a conqueror, and a Father. He thinks of his son, Thor, bouncing bright boy that he is, beaming as though he is the stars themselves; and his daughter follows, with her wild laughter and wicked smiles and eyes that burn like the fires of Niflheim (though they are cold, sharp, icy blue, like this land), and he pushes the thought away just as quickly. But they are both alive (because a cage is better than death, surely ?) and the Allfather, in all of his great wisdom, cannot fathom how a parent can leave their own child out to die.
(And isn't that just a little ironic?)
Not in this moment, at least, because Laufey’s spawn reaches out, a tiny quivering hand, fragile and weak, towards the Allfather, cherry red eyes still wet with its infant tears; and Odin can't help but offer his finger for it to hold, without his drakon leather gloves or even the fraying thin cloth, even knowing that it's skin can still burn, runt or not.
It's still just a babe. And most babes are weak newly born, even if the Jotnar are too savage to comprehend it. It deserves at least this little kindness.
But it doesn't burn, the touch.
Even though it is his bare skin and its own skin as well. It doesn't burn, though it is still cold, like touching ice except the ice starts to melt upon the natural warmth of touch.
And under Odin's thumb, the stained fingers of Frost Giant blue cleanse themselves, into cleaner tones of pale pink and natural flesh; like an artist painting over dirt to make use of a sullied canvas.
The colour spills and spreads like ink, and it is not just the colour too; the rough, thick birthlines of inheritance that marred the body smoothen out to make way for pure, untarnished skin.
Once blood red eyes shift into emerald green, and the Crown of Utgard disappears.
The babe smiles up at Odin, and Odin cannot help but smile back at him, gentle and warm.
No longer Frost Giant but something more .
A true shapeshift.
What a fool Laufey is , Odin thinks, to throw this little one away . But the Jotnar are as dull-witted as they are cold, and what little wit they posses they do not use, so it is hardly surprising they cannot recognise gifts when the Norns grant them, however undeserving.
He can feel the seidr within the babe, like an untapped spring, flowing with bountiful power; and natural shapeshifters are rare in this universe.
The boy could pass for one of Álfheimr, at this rate, or perhaps Vanir…
Maybe even Aesir.
Because Odin is a father and it pains him just so to see the child abandoned. It makes his chest ache with an angry sort of despair. He is only a boy, after all! A babe! How can Odin, as the Allfather stand idly by and let something so precious as a child's life waste away to the bitter cold?
He cannot. Will not.
Besides, the sight of the child looking up at him, as he tucks them carefully under his cape along with the Casket, makes his heart swell a little, admittedly.
(And if Laufey cannot find use for her child, then Odin certainly can.)
Later, when he has returned to his wife and son, and places the babe into Frigga's arms, her eyes sparkling with the happiness of a mother, cradling the babe close and tight to her chest, something like love catches his breath at the perfection of the scene.
“Loki,” says Frigga, without hesitance. “His name is Loki and he is ours ,” she says.
And though he knows she means mine , Odin does not mind. The Allfather can afford to be generous, he supposes, as he gazes into bright green eyes and caresses smooth, pure, rosy Aesir cheeks.
“Yes,” says Odin, “Loki. My son.
(Because there are a thousand possibilities spinning through his mind, weaving tempting threads of fate to manipulate to his grand purpose. A seemingly infinite number of golden opportunities.)
(It is, after all, what children are for.)