The Járnviðr stretched as far as the eye could see, growing thick and lush in the deep valleys of the Utgard Mountains, reaching as far as the Amsvartnir, the largest lake on Jotunheim. In the Járnviðr lived those of a druidic and shamanistic inclination, along with those who had been banished from Utgard by King Laufey. Among those who had offended the King was Angrboða, a fiery red haired Frost Giantess who had a proficiency for witchcraft and shapeshifting.
Angrboða lived by herself in a hut set deep into the Ironwood, her only companionship coming from the two giant wolves Hati and Sköll. They would often go hunting together, Angrboða adopting the form of a wolf to accompany them on the hunt, pursuing elk and boar and the occasion muskox.
During one of their hunts, Hati peeled off from the pack, heading in the direction of a forest clearing. Angrboða and Sköll followed closely, the witch shifting back into her Jötunn form when she saw a sight she hadn’t been expecting.
Flowers. Beautiful blue flowers. Deep green leaves. Thorny vines. All wrapped around what looked like a closed pink flower bud which was larger than the surrounding flowers. These flowers weren’t native to Jotunheim. From what she could tell, the flowers were native to Vanaheim.
The flower bud began to shake. Intrigued, Angrboða crept forward and cautiously started cutting the vines away with her hunting knife, the two wolves circling the vicinity, clearly suspicious and on edge. As the pink flower bud continued to shake, Angrboða reached out with one blue hand and touched it.
Instantly, the shaking stopped.
And then the petals began to peel away, slowly exposing the rather sticky form of a tiny little baby. She looked like a Vanir, though even Vanir babies weren’t so delicate and small as she appeared to be. A dusting of golden curls covered her head, and a pair of golden eyes slowly opened to stare at Angrboða curiously.
Angrboða managed to grab the baby before they could fall to the ground, holding the tiny creature in her large hands, completely in shock. She had never heard of the Vanir birthing their children from the soil, she had never heard anything to suggest flowers were involved in their childbirth. This tiny fragile little creature, however, seemed to be unique and special.
“You are a curious one,” Angrboða murmured, the sound of her voice causing the baby to squeak. The Frost Giantess felt her heart begin to melt when the baby, despite being a newborn, managed to smile up at her. “Hati, Sköll, continue with your hunting. I intend on taking the child to the Mothers. Perhaps they will know more about this… precious flower.”
The Mothers all fell in love with the tiny creature the moment they saw her sleepily yawning in Angrboða’s hand. Irma, one of the younger Mothers, who was heavily pregnant and prone to crying, took the child from the witch and proceeded to feed her from her breast.
“She is so delicate…” Irma cooed, her copper-coloured hair falling over the baby’s face. The little baby reached up and tugged on Irma’s hair, greedily guzzling the Jötunn’s milk.
“You say you found her in the Járnviðr?” Fárbauti, the mate of Laufey, asked Angrboða. Unlike Laufey, Fárbauti was very close friends with the exiled witch, often visiting her alongside her own young child, the runt Loptr.
“Hati found her,” Angrboða said, glancing towards the wolf in question, who was being petted by Helblindi and Býleistr, Fárbauti’s older sons. The mongrel was relishing in being lavished in so much attention, her tongue lolling out, her back leg twitching. “It was as if she grew from the earth itself. She was encased in the bud of a flower, and when I touched it, the petals fell and revealed this little one.”
Eistla, one of the older Mothers, who had her own litter of children gathered around her as they took turns having their hair washed in the hot springs, seemed to remember something. “Are you certain she is not a fae being? It sounds similar to the stories I have heard, of certain faeries and nymphs being birthed from the earth.”
“There were flowers native to Vanaheim. She has the aura of one from Vanaheim.” Angrboða smiled faintly when the baby belched, Irma doing a wonderful job of bringing up her wind. “Perhaps the Norns have blessed me with a child…”
“Perhaps…” Eistla said, exchanging a look with Fárbauti. “She will never be fully accepted, Angrboða.”
“I am aware, Eistla.” Angrboða disliked the presumption that she was ignorant of the situation. She knew all too well the wrath of the Jötnar.
“Mama, can I hold the baby?” came the tiny voice of Loptr, who looked almost as cute as the little baby. He had wild black hair and crimson eyes and the same shade of blue bumpy skin as his mother, but he was significantly shorter than he should have been for one his age. Despite being a runt, Fárbauti loved him with all her heart, as did all the other Mothers.
There were many runts on Jotunheim, but most were persecuted or used for sordid purposes. Hopefully, with the King’s own son being a runt, the attitude towards more diminutive members of Jötnar society would start to alter. The Mothers could only hope, for Loptr’s sake, that attitudes would change.
“Be gentle with her,” Fárbauti reminded her son, keeping a keen eye on him as he accepted the baby from Irma and awkwardly cradled her, sitting down on the ground so he wouldn’t fall over with her.
The baby’s golden eyes stared at Loptr, tiny hands flailing in the air, soft rosy lips smacking together as she fought the urge to fall asleep, entranced with her new friend.
“What’s her name?” Loptr asked Angrboða.
“She doesn’t have one yet, young prince.”
“Can I name her then, Aggyboo?” Loptr’s wide eyed imploring look got to Angrboða, so much so that she found herself nodding despite her misgivings. Loptr grinned in delight. “I like the name Sága. Her eyes look like they see a lot, and I think she’ll be really clever like me!”
“It’s a beautiful name,” Fárbauti said softly, pleased when Angrboða seemed to agree.
“Little Sága…” Angrboða took the baby from Loptr and cradled her close to her bosom. “I will protect you with my life, little one. This I promise.”
Sága smiled up at her sleepily before nodding off, full of milk and warm in the soft blankets the Mothers had provided. Angrboða knew it was not going to be easy, raising a child by herself in the Járnviðr, but she swore to herself that she would do everything in her power to ensure her tiny little child was happy and safe.
She would not fail her as she had failed her own children. She would not see another child die before her eyes. Not while there was still breath in her body.
Loptr, when he was old enough for Fárbauti to feel comfortable enough leaving him alone with Angrboða, would often stay in the witch’s hut learning seiðr and coming to terms with his own powers. He excelled at shapeshifting, he delighted in creating illusions, he was fascinated by conjuration and the art of manipulating people with words alone. He was a remarkably clever and somewhat devious little boy, and Angrboða adored and despised him in equal measures.
Little Sága was always inconsolable whenever Loptr returned to Utgard. She adored the older child, and he in turn adored her, often playing with her in the woods or helping her get dressed or bathing her in the nearby pond. Once she got old enough to walk by herself and talk in sporadic sentences, she began practicing seiðr alongside Loptr.
Her proficiency wasn’t illusions or shapeshifting, but rather, it was using nature to her advantage. No doubt it was due to the peculiar circumstances surrounding her birth that she held such passion for nature, and nature in turn seemed to adore her. Animals would approach her, even the shy owls that would hunt at night. She showed hints of druidic abilities, and Angrboða was incredibly proud of her.
Angrboða knew, however, that she couldn’t keep her little one protected from the outside world for too much longer. Sooner or later, she would have to accept the truth: she couldn’t fully protect her daughter.
But until then, she reveled in watching her and Loptr growing up together, growing stronger and more determined with each passing day.
Angrboða smirked at the look of bemusement on the prince’s face. “Go on, Loppy,” she teased, “Sága wants to play with you.”
He set down his book with a huff, but Angrboða knew he was just causing a scene for the sake of causing a scene. He was as dramatic as his Kingly father, perhaps even more so at times.
Angrboða followed him out of the hut, smiling in wicked delight when she saw Sága had set up an area so Loptr could sit and eat the lunch she had graciously prepared.
“Loppy, I make you food!” Sága rubbed her belly and licked her lips. “So yummy!”
Loptr respectfully disagreed.
“Er…” He picked up an earthworm and grimaced. “It looks delicious, Flower, but… I’m afraid I have an upset stomach.”
“Oh no!” Sága’s face fell. She rushed over to him and pressed her tiny hands onto his belly. Angrboða watched in fascination as a pinkish light began wrapping around Sága’s tiny hands, seeping into Loptr’s belly. The boy grunted in surprise, looking at Angrboða in stunned amazement.
“Better?” Sága asked him.
“Better…” He stepped back and nearly tumbled into Angrboða. “Aggyboo… my tummy was a little bit sore but it feels all better. She’s so powerful…”
“She is indeed.” Angrboða’s eyes followed Sága as the little (currently pink-skinned) girl started making mud castles, smearing dirt all over herself when she had to scratch an itch on her nose. Angrboða couldn’t stop the feeling of dread from setting in. If Laufey ever found out how powerful Sága was… The memories of her own children threatened to overwhelm her, but the witch pushed them back down. Now was not the time to mourn. Now was the time to decide what was the correct thing to do with Sága.
It was on the sled ride back to the outskirts of Utgard when Angrboða finally came to a realisation. She didn’t know how to train one with the art of bending nature to her will. She was not a druid, she was a witch and a shapeshifter, she was not proficient in teaching Sága how to grow vines or how to nourish the soil. For all she knew, her Sága could turn out to be a Fertility God!
She knew a druid. A very powerful druid.
They made a detour, heading deep into the heart of the valley, scaling the mountain paths until they reached the small village of Klaustur. It was there where they would find Jörð.
Jörð was a powerful Giantess who was said to have mothered the Allfather’s own golden haired son Thor. She was a powerful figure, dominating any gathering she was in, with golden blonde hair and the skin of an Æsir. No wonder the Allfather had been infatuated with her.
“Angrboða, it has been many moons since your last visit to Klaustur.” Jörð’s voice was like the moving earth, like a waterfall, powerful and deep and melodic and oddly soothing. “You have brought me the little flower child, I see. I sensed her birth all those years ago. The earth welcomes her to Klaustur, as do I.”
“Thank you, Mother Jörð.” Angrboða bowed her head in reverence, with both Loptr and Sága imitating her.
“And you are the trickster…” Jörð turned her focus onto Loptr, who shied under the intensity of her brown-eyed gaze.
“Yes, Mother Jörð.” He cleared his throat before saying, “You are very beautiful, if I may be so bold.”
Jörð chuckled affectionately. “He is clever with his tongue, that one. I shall have to watch out for him in the future.” Her focus shifted to Sága, who was bobbing up and down brimming with anxious energy. As soon as Jörð crouched down and offered the child her hand, Sága visibly relaxed.
“You are a very special little girl, Sága,” she said softly, her voice like soothing birdsong. “Would you like to know why you were born on Jotunheim?”
Sága nodded before remembering to use her words. “Yes please Mother Jörð…”
Jörð sat down and motioned for the two children to join her, bringing them onto her lap and holding them affectionately, while Angrboða observed carefully, noting the care the Giantess took with the two delicate children.
“Many years ago, there was a terrible conflict in a realm called Niflheim. The Allfather had sent his most powerful warriors to execute his own child, Hela. The Valkyries were powerful and strong but in order to lock Hela up forevermore in her prison, their lives had to be sacrificed.
“One of the Valkyrie was a young Æsir called Hildegunn. She had fallen in love with the Vanir God Bragi, whose family was descended from exiled Jötnar who had fled to Vanaheim during the reign of the cruel king Ymir. She was with child when she perished, but the Norns saw fit to rescue her innocent unborn baby. The tiny life form was planted in the Járnviðr, protected by a precious healing flower native to Vanaheim. And then, of course, you know the rest.”
The children were silent, taking it all in. Angrboða was stunned by the revelation that she had been right all along: the Norns had indeed blessed her with a child. With tears in her eyes, she knew what was about to happen would devastate her for many years to come, but she was doing it to keep her little one safe.
“Sága, you are going to live with Jörð and her people here in Klaustur so you can learn all about your special powers.” Angrboða’s heart sank at the look of betrayal on her little one’s face. “I will visit as often as I can-”
“No!” Sága burst into hysterical tears. “No, Mama! No!”
It took quite a while for the child to calm down. She was still sniffling as Angrboða and Loptr were saying their farewells, her tiny hand encapsulated in Jörð’s larger hand. She looked even more fragile and delicate than usual, and Angrboða wanted to scoop her up and take her home to the Járnviðr, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t do that to her little one.
“Bye, Flower…” Loptr said sadly, embracing his friend for what would undoubtedly be the last time for many years.
“Bye Loppy… miss you…”
Angrboða crouched down before her baby and kissed her brow and smoothed down her erratic curls. “You are forever in my heart, my flower child.”
“Mama…” Sága handed Angrboða the soft blanket she often used as a source of comfort. It had been the one the Mothers had gifted her all those years ago. Angrboða took it, her hands trembling. “Miss you, Mama…”
Angrboða could only hold her in her arms for as long as possible. She held her composure until she could no longer see her little one waving at her as the sled traversed down the mountain path. She kept the tears at bay until she saw Jörð carrying Sága away into the warmth of her home. And then, with Loptr weeping next to her, she let her emotions get the better of her, weeping for the loss of another child.
War had come to Jotunheim.
The Æsir were after the Casket of Ancient Winters, determined to cripple the realm and Laufey along with it. Laufey, they claimed, was getting too big for his boots. He was threatening Midgard, a realm the Æsir had sworn to protect. And so, in retaliation, the Allfather had sent his armies down to cause havoc and bloodshed.
Jörð kept Sága safe and secure in the intricate tunnel system carved out in the mountains, where her clan would go to seek shelter from the ravages of Jotunheim’s winter months. It proved to be their salvation, for when they emerged, Jotunheim had changed.
The runt son of Laufey and Fárbauti was gone.
A mother’s sorrow could be felt in the breeze, in the roots of trees, in the snow that fell thick and heavy over the ruins of Utgard. Angrboða stepped through the carnage, Hati and Sköll both scarred and battered from the battle that had raged on for weeks, months, years maybe. Time was hard to tell in such calamitous situations.
At least her little one was safe.
Angrboða found Fárbauti gathered at the Temple along with the other Mothers and Helblindi, weeping over the bloodied cloth that had once belonged to her son. The Temple was untouched, the only pinnacle left unbroken by the Æsir.
“He should have been safe here!” Fárbauti wept. “Why did Laufey let him go?”
“For the Casket, Fárbauti…” Eistla whispered. “For the continued survival of our people. Loptr will prevail. The Allmother will be kind to him-”
“But he is my son!”
Silence descended upon the Temple.
“Angrboða…” Fárbauti looked at the witch, crimson eyes brimming with tears. “Your little one. Is she safe?”
“Good. Bring her here.”
Angrboða stared at Fárbauti. “I will not bring her to Utgard, Fárbauti, she would be killed-”
“We can use her. We can use her to get Loptr back. Trade them. One Æsir child for my son.”
“Your plan is flawed.” Eistla pointed out, with the other Mothers murmuring their concurrences. “Why would the Allfather want a strange little baby who was born from the earth? The only way to get your son back is to give Asgard the Casket. But doing so would kill us all. Loptr’s sacrifice should not be in vain.”
“HE IS MY SON!”
“I have lost my children,” Angrboða interrupted, her words a mere whisper, but loud enough to silence a hysterical Fárbauti. All eyes turned to her, including those of Hati and Sköll. It was not often Angrboða would speak of her lost children.
“I wanted my children to stay by my side always, even when I knew it wasn’t safe for them to do so. I was blinded by my own selfish need to have them with me, because I foolishly believed I alone could keep them safe. But I was wrong. When I took Sága to Jörð, I did so knowing it would break my heart. But in doing so, I knew she would be safer, I knew she was where she needed to be.
“Loptr is a remarkably clever boy, but being clever is not a skill desired by many Jötnar. He will forever be known as Laufey’s runt, but perhaps on Asgard… perhaps on Asgard, he will find a home for himself. Perhaps he will learn how to wield his seiðr better. Perhaps he will flourish and prosper. We cannot sacrifice every living being on Jotunheim for one child, no matter how much we miss him. The Allmother will keep him safe. She is a mother herself, we can trust her.”
Fárbauti was silent for a while, kneeling with her head bowed as though deep in prayer.
“The thought of another raising my son as their own… I love my boy with all my heart. But…” She looked around at them all, focusing on Helblindi in particular, who looked sorrowful and miserable. “Loptr does not share my blood.”
Helblindi’s eyes widened.
“I know the true reason Odin took Loptr and not one of my other children. Loptr is Odin’s grandson.”
The Mothers looked at one another, bewildered and shocked by these new revelations.
“During Hela’s crusade across the Nine Realms, she made an alliance with Laufey. He impregnated her. She gave birth to Loptr. She didn’t want him. But the moment I saw him, I knew he would always be my son. In my heart of hearts, he has and always shall be my son.”
“Hela is Loptr’s mother?” Irma whispered, horrified. “Oh, Fárbauti, you should have drowned him! He would have brought nothing but pain and misery-”
“He already has!” Eistla interrupted harshly, eyes blazing brightly. “That is the true reason why the Allfather came here, is it not? To control Hela’s spawn!”
“Enough!” Angrboða shouted. Fárbauti was weeping and tearing at her hair, a complete and utter wreck before their eyes. The Mothers fell silent, but their eyes still burned with venom. “Do not sully the memory of Fárbauti’s son. Return to your children. I shall stay here.”
The Mothers needed little persuading, with Helblindi choosing to follow them, sparing her mother a parting glance before taking Irma by the hand and walking away.
“He will be safe…” Angrboða assured the grieving mother, holding Fárbauti in her arms. “He will live, this I promise. He will live. And soon, he will return home to you, his rightful mother.”
And all those miles away from his home, trapped in a room with a burly blond boy and a beautiful blonde woman with the kindest smile he’d ever seen, Loptr began to dream of living life as an Æsir.