Dr. Robert K. Wheeler Jr.
All Rights Reserved
“Father, tell us about the Nine Realms,” Thor said.
A large brimmed hat adorned the head of Asgard’s king. His polished armor was cloaked as he leaned against the base of the old oak. A golden spear hovered vertically in the air near its master. Gungnir it was named. The lance could be cast at will by Odin, and it was said never to miss its mark. Long, dark hair blended into the beard of the large warrior. The light of the fire danced in his thoughtful eyes as he pondered his elder son’s query. A grin beset his handsome face before he replied.
“We have but tonight before your quest begins but I will tell you what I can. If you survive you will be men when you return to Asgard.”
The boys looked a bit worried but tried not to show fear before their father. The black gates which lead to the Tunnels of Terrors stood before them, perhaps a league beyond the hill where they had made their camp. The giant carvings of armored warriors with spears crossed towered high above the entry as a warning of the perils within. The passages were one of the few paths which led to the surface world of Midgard. A less perilous route could be made through the elven lands of Alfeim but Odin had long ago used this test as a trial for young warriors and as a means to slowly cleanse the tunnels and mountain valleys of the evils within.
“Of Asgard and Alfheim you already know, the land of our people and that of your mother’s, the elves. Your journey should take you far into Svartalheim, the land of the dwarves and eventually to Midgard where the mortals reside. There is also Vanaheim the wide jungles filled with monsters and beasts, tall and fierce. There it is, that Zeus built New Olympus after the old fell. Jotunheim, the lands where frost-giants dwell is a constant nemesis to Asgard. But to Muspelheim, ruled by fire giants, or Niflheim where Hades rules, have I not been. Your uncle, Freyer would be the better one to ask of Svartalfheimer, the home of the dark elves, or of the fate of the snow elves, who left Alfheim long ago.
“Fire giants? How tall are they,” Loki asked with an amazed look.
“Zeus, your uncle, told me that the fire giants came to Mount Olympus upon the surface world eons ago, when we still dwelt amongst the mortals. These were, at that time, named Titans, and from whence they came none knew. But, we now believe they are the spawn of frost giants who mated with dragons. How tall are they? As tall as their sires. Thirty feet they may reach in height, if their bloodline is undiluted with that of lesser creatures.”
“Wow, I would like to try bashing a fire giant one day,” Thor stated excitedly.
Odin chuckled, “Always looking for a fight you are. Well, let us hope that you will not meet one of these on your journey, for you are not to your full stature and might though strong you are for your age, even for one of the Earthbound.”
“Now back to your test. Normally a larger group of boys would be sent with their fathers, who would accompany them through the most dangerous portion of the journey before leaving the youth alone to continue on as a group. But you are the princes of the realm. A successful passage with but the two of you, will inspire the army to follow you in days to come and your mother and I hope that you might not only watch over one another, but that you may bond along the way,” Odin said.
Thor and Loki gave one another side long looks with squinty eyes as they crossed their arms.
“However, I will not send you on this quest defenseless or with the crude implements which you brought from the armories. Yes, they are fine weapons if used against a Jotun or other lesser creatures, but against those who wield the old powers or demon-kind they will not suffice. For enemies are abroad in these days who would seek to kill or capture you to get to me. Some are ancient, crafty, and strong. A few there are, who might challenge, even me. And I will not be there to watch over you beyond the opening of the gate on the morrow.”
“You will not start the journey with us Father,” Loki asked. His worry was not hidden from his face this time.
Alas, that I cannot journey with you further than the black gate which leads to Midgard. Other matters I must attend to, for my brothers summon me to council and at their bidding I cannot delay past the time appointed. It is not the usual season for the meeting of the Triumvirate, so the news must be dire.
Odin stood and reached out as if grasping for an unseen object with one hand. At first, naught was seen nor heard other than the shifting of dying embers in the fire. But from afar off, a whisking of the wind picked up and thunder rumbled in the distance. The cracking of branches of trees caused the boys to start and stand from where they had been seated. Thor grabbed a war hammer and Loki a finely crafted spear. They took up defensive stances to either side of their father. Suddenly, the fabled hammer of Asgard burst a nearby tree asunder and in the blink of an eye Mjolnir was in the grasp of Asgard’s King. Odin looked at the enchanted object and hefted it as if it had little weight.
The young princes lowered their weapons.
“Thor, behold your destiny.”
Odin set the hammer upon the ground between he and his heir.
Thor seemed a bit confused. He had his hand outstretched as if he had been expecting his father to place the weapon in his grasp. He paused, lowering his arm, and looked up inquiringly.
“See if you can lift its weight.”
Mjolnir was large in the head, but short in the shaft. Many legends and stories speculated why this was so, but if Odin knew why, he had kept the truth of the matter to himself. Due to the length of the handle it was wielded one handed like a larger than normal blacksmith’s tool, but their father had preferred his spear in battle during all the time of his son’s brief lives so, they had never seen it used before.
Thor studied the enchanted weapon for a moment before bending over and grasping it with his right hand. Expecting to lift it as easily as his father, he was surprised that it would not budge. Using both hands and squatting, he strained, yet still it would not move above the soft earth.
Odin looked somewhat concerned over this turn of events.
“Let me try father,” Loki said excitedly.
Before anyone could protest, he shoulder-bumped Thor aside and grabbed the stout handle with both hands, but as before, the hammer did not move.
“Tell me, Thor, has there been any misdeed in your life which you have failed to tell me about?”
The prince looked a bit flustered. His face began to turn a shade nearer that of the wavy hair atop his head. As of yet, he could not grow a full beard like his father’s, but he was proud not to appear baby-faced like his brother. “Well, I know I was not supposed to but…”
“I did lie to you once Father, but I wasn’t alone, for I was with Loki.”
“Thor, you numb-skull, why bring that up,” Loki asked angrily.
Odin glanced shrewdly at the interrupter and then back to his heir. Their father placed his fists upon his waist.
Standing half-a-head higher than Loki, Thor was still more than two hands shorter than his father. Odin looked down on them sternly. The boys were but fourteen years old. The dream quest was part of the passage of manhood on one’s fifteenth birthday, which was on the morrow for the youth. Though they were said to be twins, they were nothing alike in body nor mind, and Thor often wondered how they could be so different.
“Go on, tell me.”
“Father, we snuck out of the keep with a couple of maidens.”
“You did? And which young ladies would that be?”
“Sif and Sigyn,” Thor replied with a brief look of fond memories, before changing his expression to a more repentant mood when he saw his father’s look and then he bowed his head and his face took on a more sorrowful expression.”
“What did you do with these girls?”
“We took them to the vaults beneath the keep, and we showed them the treasury and the armory.”
“You did? And how many times have I told you that no one, other than the royal guards enter the vaults, save they be with me, or your mother,” Odin asked looking first to Thor then Loki.
“Every time you have taken us there Father,” the boys said in unison.
“That is right, every time we have visited I have emphasized the importance of protecting the enchanted weapons and armor there. How did you get past the guards?”
“Mother has taught me how to cast illusions Father. I have been practicing and I took on your appearance and I made Thor look like Heimdall and…”
“You impersonated me? Never do that again Loki, unless I asked you to do so in gravest need. Your skills have grown, and those gifts may aid you in the days to come, but within Asgard you could create confusion and might risk the safety of the realm by doing so. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand Father,” Loki replied.
Looking sternly at Thor, Odin asked, “Are you repentant of your lie?”
Thor nodded his head looking dejected. “I am sorry Father, please forgive me.”
Odin paused as if he were trying to read his mind before he replied, “I do, but do not let it happen again. Also, you must pray to my Father for forgiveness as well.”
“And you, Loki, do you repent as well,” Odin asked as he turned his fierce gaze to his other son.
Loki glared at Thor and crossed his arms across his chest, but when his father’s brow furrowed further, he capitulated and confessed, but he did not appear truly repentant as he clenched his jaw and looked away. An awkward moment of silence, laced with tension seemed to go on for an eternity before anyone spoke.
Odin shook his head looking at Loki and took a deep breath before the silence was broken.
“Why does he get Mjolnir,” Loki protested. His young face was scrunched up a bit weasley-like. Though he favored his father with his dark features, he shared neither his beauty nor strength. For Loki was a sorcerer’s apprentice being trained by his mother Freja, the Elven Queen. It was surmised that he rather inherited her peoples lithe build, though not her white skin nor hair. Nor did he appear as Thor, who was larger of stature and red-headed. Also, his brother had pointed ears, while he did not, although they were not as long as a full-blooded elf’s. Their parents had always brushed questions about this difference between them by saying that he was more like his father.
Odin’s frown turned to a smirk before he chuckled to himself almost as if expecting such an outburst from his younger child. “You shall not go into the wilds unarmed Loki, nor shall I have you cower in your brother’s shadow for protection. You shall bare Laevateinn.
Thor and Loki exchanged looks of wonder but also of confusion.
Reaching behind his back, Odin pulled forth a small dagger with a dark scabbard which reflected dully in the dim light of the fire. Drawing the blade from its sheath, Loki and Thor’s eyes grew wider, as the metal seemed to have a swirling blue luminescence within, giving it a transparent appearance like an icicle as it is passed in front of a light. The king passed both blade and sheath to his younger son.
“It is a bit small. Not much use against a sword or spear it would seem,” Loki stated.
“It has a greater power than you know and once mastered, it may challenge the strongest of foes, but each of you must discover the powers of these weapons for yourselves. Now, Thor, try again.”
The brawny youth reached down and steadied himself as if preparing to lift a great weight. He took a deep breath, but this time when he pulled at the handle, the hammer came up easily off the ground. The unexpected effort of jerking upward on an object that suddenly seemed to have little weight sent him tumbling backwards over a log. He cried out as he struck the ground.
Loki laughed at his brother’s misfortune.
Standing quickly, Thor glared at Loki for a moment, but his expression swiftly faded as he turned his attention to Mjolnir. He slowly turned it over in his hands, examining it closely. A broad smile crossed his face as he swung it through the air as if battling an unseen enemy. He finally stopped his musings and looked up at his father.
“Now sit and listen, for the dawn is not far off,” Odin said before returning to his spot against the tree.
Loki and Thor fondled their enchanted weapons for a moment after sitting, but they set them by their sides once their father began to speak and looked at him intently across the light of the fire.
“From now, until you return, you must refer to me as Wodan. A wandering wizard amongst mortals am I known, but as Odin I have not been named for many ages of men, and for now, I desire to keep my true identity and your own a secret. Whether you encounter dwarf, man, gnome or demon kind do not reveal that you are the sons of Odin, lest the adversary seek you out. However, if you encounter my brother, Sachiel, the King of the fairies of air, to him you may reveal your true heritage. Still, the sight of Mjolnir, will draw the attention of the dark powers, but few there be who would dare challenge its wielder if they know of its origin and history. I send you to Midgard to find the children of Azazyel. Bring me word of where they reside and how many there may be of his bloodline and as to whether they wield power. Also, discover if they are righteous or evil.”
“Who is Azazyel,” Thor asked.
“He is one of my brothers. After coming to the earth, he wed a mortal woman and taught the humans of the making of weapons and armor before the great flood. This was forbidden by our father, and so, he was buried alive, but he is immortal, so he suffers beneath sharp rocks, alone in the darkness. When the flood waters came, the earth was changed, and his tomb was lost. The prophecies say that only one of his children can find him, and it is hoped, that after all these long years, that he will be repentant. If so, he may join us in battle against the forces of evil. But the adversary seeks for him also, and if he finds him first, Azazyel, and the great power that he wields, may be turned against us.
“At the end of the wild lands beyond the gate your nearest allies will be the dwarves. The gnomes will be nearby, but those peoples do not know me, either by Odin, nor by Wodan, and so, you will need to try to befriend the little folk should the dwarves grant you passage beyond their realm. For it is only through the gnome kingdom that you might finally walk upon the snows of the lands on the surface world by the path which lies before you. Though there be other ways to Midgard that the Earthbound might take, this is the only road from Asgard.
“The gnomes and dwarves are at the crossroads between Svartalfheim and Midgard. Once they were kin, yet they have inherited different abilities from their angelic forefather who was named Safriel. For centuries they have battled over what has been named, the Gnome King’s Heart, although the dwarves would be angered were you to call it by that name, so simply refer to it as the Heart. This magical ruby once was placed atop the temple of the Holy Grail by King Arthur. It holds the power to find those who are lost, but it can only be wielded by one of angelic blood and great power of mind,” Odin concluded.
“That is an amazing tale Father, though I may needs hear it again one day to recall all the names and lore,” Thor stated.
They pondered over their father’s words for a time as the smoke drifted lazily off and above the trees. There were no stars to be seen. The orange light of the fire seemed to grow brighter, yet it was not simply the reflection of the embers and tiny tongues that danced within, but the sky itself took on an unnatural orange hue from the direction of the forests which lay to the south of the great gates.
Odin jumped up from where he had been seated. Gungnir, his spear, flashed with golden light as it sprung into the outstretched hand of its master.
“Run, to the gate, you must flee,” Odin bellowed to his sons.
Scrambling to their feet they grabbed their weapons and packs as they stared at the growing light. “What is it Father?”