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Distortions In Time: Book 1

By scarecrowslady

Adventure / Fantasy

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.

[ 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 wind. 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 reaches of the 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 west, 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 [1], fields of tungblom [2] and plains of the harsh blakkrgras [3] – 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. Its 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, 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 Jotun sovereign and for a 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 [4] 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 [5] and the Heimrsal [6] 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 [7]. 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 what we believe may be a True 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 Jotunn, 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?]
[ is even the silence...]

Asgardians believed – many still believe – the Jotunn race are birthed out of the snow. This observation came after decades of sporadic contact with said race and even less frequent thought... Particularly concerning the obvious lack of women among the Jotunn traders they had haggled with, and then, during the Long War, the prisoners they had captured (and killed). However, a few learned Aesir academics – old mages and adept women healers – came to the conclusion that if they had dissected the Jotunn corpses at their disposal correctly, the Jotunn were neither male nor female in the conventional Asgardian sense of the word.

That was all they figured out about Jotunn biological reproduction. The rest of Asgardian accounts relied on rumours and old wive's tales – babes birthed into drifts of snow, incubating in the ice, the size of the giant babes and the staple of fish blood upon which they suckled.

They could not imagine the burden of carrying a child for a creature of neither gender – a heaviness in the body, the perpetual imbalance in motion and the drain on one's life force. Laufey-King, returning to the front lines, made light of it – with difficulty. Despite the fact he held unlimited power in his grasp, the King of Jotunheim continually struggled with physical exhaustion and magical depletion.

Not only was it a battle to harness the wild chaotic force of Jotunheim's spirit, but the babe was hungry for its power and drained magic from Laufey at alarming speeds. Nestled in his belly behind Laufey's long bone fauld [8], the babe was shielded from lance and sword – but lay ever closer to the Casket.

It drank deeply – and Laufey knew then that Kaldro may have spoken truer than he would like to admit. This child will be a being of great power, Laufey thought one evening, stretched out on a bed of ice and snow within his personal dome room. He laid a hand on his still flat belly. It is gifted, that much is obvious, since it already draws upon my own magickal reserves with such hunger. Yet, the child seems to grow so little. A small thing. Perhaps if I had more energy to give it and sustenance, it would be more ready for the harsh world...

And so Laufey's long pregnancy continued unhindered – and Farbauti gained hope.

[...then...silence fell...]

The Frost Giants lost their foothold in Midgard.

Fell back to Griotunagardar.

And Odin All-Father and Asgard followed hard, unrelentingly, unwilling to lose their advantage.

[...and the land descended into darkness...]

Fleeing Griotunagardar as it roared in the uncontrolled flames of nightmare (fire), Laufey, doubled over in pain and assisted by Farbauti and several of his medics, cursed Odin and Asgard and the entire Nine Realms – but not as darkly as he cursed himself and sentiment and the child within. When at last, the lagging vanguard of fleeing Jotunns arrived at the stronghold of Utgard a week later, Laufey then allowed himself to be escorted to his personal Healing Room and examined. He wanted it out of him before night fell.

"It is still small for its age –"
"Get it out," Laufey barked, between gritted teeth as Farbauti bound up a nasty shoulder wound. "I am wounded already thanks to that blasted Aesir bowman – and between the child and the exhaustion and the wounds, I cannot carry on so –"
"But to remove the little one –" Farbauti's voice cracked. "He is still too young – too small – even for an early birth, he will not survive –"
"The rate of growth is indeed worrying," one of the healers shook their heads. "It is, perhaps, deformed in some way..."
"Deformed in body," another one added, "and possibly in mind as well."

Farbauti could hear whispers and murmurs: a 'vaetki', a lesser kind.
"Even more reason to be rid of it," Laufey cursed. "It is nothing but a tiny parasite as it is – I would be rid of it – NOW!" He ended on a roar and Farbauti stepped back with a wince and nodded stiffly.

Without any further delay, the healers brought forward potions for Laufey-King and began to lay out well-cleaned knives of bone and steel, bought from the finest Vanir traders and the Dark Elves on Svartalfheim. Farbauti kept his eyes on Laufey's red ones instead and waited with him for sleep to come.

"We will prepare," he said and then added softly. "Perhaps," Farbauti hesitated then. "Perhaps he will survive – if he is anything like his father."
"It is nothing but a burden, Farbauti, forget it. Do not hold onto it so. Call it for what it is."
"He is alive and I can feel him moving – this is –"
"Necessary, if we wish to save Jotunheim," Laufey cut into Farbauti's protest. "And –"

Just then, a messenger entered the room, face dark with worry. At Laufey's peremptory wave, the Jotun approached and knelt before the King bringing the troubling news – Odin's men had only paused momentarily and were even now arming themselves for the long march to Utgard. Scouts had returned with news that Odin All-Father had given a speech to his men and promised to burn Utgard to the ground within the week. Even worse, more reinforcements had come through the Bifrost just outside the gates of Utgard - a larger force better equipped with provisions and tents. Although they did not seem to be doing more than entrenching themselves within the rock and the snow by the edge of the Eybjarg [9], they were a massive threat.

Damn the Gatekeeper to Helheim.

"Farbauti," Laufey grasped his Consort and dragged him closer urgently. "I need you – I need you to go for me with the rested troops and take a stand by Gastropnir. Delay them for at least a few days, that I may find some rest – and then, return to – return to me, beloved, on the high road. It is there I will join you and together, with our backs to the Eybjarg, we will face our strongest fears."
"Laufey –" Farbauti began, but Laufey closed his eyes.
"I am so... so... tired..."
"Sleep," Farbauti breathed gently, squeezed Laufey's hand and rose.

He did not look behind him.

The realms are full of wonders - science and magic intermingle in an eternal seamless dance, organic in ways that many may wonder at. With some, it comes as natural as breathing air – and the healers on Jotunheim were no different. Well-versed in their craft, they cut open the womb with a neat incision, removed the fetus and carefully laying heillgrjot [10] on the opened flesh, fusing the cuts together until there was only black lines were there had been blood and a small wound.

Laufey slept.

The entire procedure was completed in silence with potions administered and rough creams ground from heillgrjot and tunglblom applied to ease any lingering pain when the King awoke. Lifting the tiny creature from King's womb had been disturbingly easy. Ordinarily, by this time, the child would have been almost ready to live on its own even if birthed this unnaturally early. As it was, the medics could see from the size of the babe and the anatomy that it was, if not deformed, then at least bizarrely small. A runt. To the uneducated, superstitious, lower classes, an abomination. To the Jotunn upper classes, an embarrassment, a sign of physical, and therefore social, failure.

Under the clinical eye of the master medic, it stirred – little red eyes opening as it lay in the palm of the medic who held the child. It began to weakly bleat.

"Take it away and dispose of it," murmured the head healer with a shrug. "It will die soon enough."

With a nod, the master medic and another summoned mage disappeared with it and the King was covered again after a variety of medicants were set out for his consumption upon waking. Healers and sages bustled about, carrying out their equipment, and then, excepting one who stayed behind to watch the King as well as two guards, they left the King to rest in peace. For a day, the King slept – and when he rose, he did not ask for the child, merely returning to his rooms to bathe and then sleep for a short time. When he rose, Laufey was happy to discover that while his full strength had not returned, he was feeling better than he had had for some time now. Without pause and ignoring the words of his healers, Laufey strode to the armoury to don his battle gear, Casket in hand.

It was only half a day's journey from Utgard when he met Farbauti's fleeing company. After half an hours arguing, Laufey won and Farbauti was sent on to Utgard to take his two sons up through the north passes through the Myrkr Skogr. Myrkr Skogr was a shadowy forest perfect to flee within – upward and onward to the certain safety of Skalldi and Dagaheim. Odin's force, Laufey knew, would hit Utgard hard – and if he stopped Odin here, his children would never fear the Aesir again.

The Battle of Utgard was a long and gruesome affair lasting over four daily cycles and two snowstorms were weathered before the last Jotun was rounded up. Laufey, who had retreated to the heart of the city the better to wield the Casket from the Aldinn Stathr [11] of the Gothahus [12], ended up facing Odin-King himself in a glorious hand to hand combat. Perhaps it was his recent illness, perhaps it was the bone-deep exhaustion which had taken its toll, perhaps it was the fury of Odin and the need to end it at all cost... Laufey never knew, but as he twisted around, Odin's blast from Gungnir caught him and, burning into the flesh of his ribs, brought Laufey to his knees.

The Casket had been set on its pedestal – a small thing, yet so powerful – and so far from his grasp. It reminded him of what he had most recently lost. Laufey cursed and reached forward, unable to shield himself from Odin's blow. He found himself lying on his back, ignoring the jabbing pains deep within his belly and glared up at Odin's face which was bloody, worn and filled with regret.

For the first time, Laufey felt his age. Looking at Odin's remaining blue eye and white hair, the Jotun King had a feeling that Odin understood as well. Behind him one of the King's men stepped up and removed the Casket – and within hours, at the decree of Odin, the Casket was kept for the safety of the Nine Realms.

Never again would Jotunheim use its power so wastefully and ruinously.

Never would it know power again.

"I wish this had not come to pass," Odin admitted to Laufey one night, on the last day he planned to stay on Jotunheim. "Many have died for this war of which none can remember the origin. Now has come a time for peace – at whatever cost."

It was then, for the second time – and last time, that Laufey thought of the child who never was.

"Whatever the cost," he agreed slowly. "Whatever the cost."

[1] Ironwood
[2] White Blossoms
[3] Black Grass
[4] True Heir
[5] Ancestors
[6] Spirit or Soul of the Realm
[7] Long War
[8] A part of armor around the lower midsection
[9] Chasms of Forever
[10] Healing Stones
[11] Ancient Place
[12] Great Temple

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