Rewrite of my very first story, Brothers. Brothers was deleted because it had been revised and reposted too many times without ever being completed or, despite all those revisions, becoming what I wanted it to be. I finally decided to let it go and start again from scratch. For those of you who may have read Brothers (any version of it), you may find many earlier scenes or chapters familiar to you, especially this first one, which I was pleased enough with to keep it. Otherwise, this story is very new. That said, it probably won't be updated very often, because I don't want to rush myself through the process and ruin it with impatience again.
The One and Only Disclaimer: I own absolutely nothing.
One: Remember the Proverb
An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
– Proverbs 18:15
Odin had never seen a jötunn infant before that day. A few children, yes, but not an infant.
He was surprised by its size. It was even smaller than Thor had been– lighter, lacking in the good fat that he should have been born with, and with a cough rattling in its thin chest. The babe he now held in his arms had to be a newborn, and yet, it was alone and abandoned (perhaps for its size, but Odin would not presume to understand the workings of the jötnar). One of the Einherjar had slain an unarmed priest (or at least a jötunn who seemed to be a priest), and the deep, navy-purple frost giant blood had pooled around the corpse and spattered across the babe's swaddling cloth. Odin had strictly told the Einherjar to stay away from the temple unless absolutely necessary, but someone had obviously been in a bloodthirsty rage —they would be punished when he found out who it was. The priest had no weapon at his side, nor ice at his hands, and yet he lay face down against the stone, his chest and torso split open by an Aesir blade. Odin frowned, lips curling down. Such savagery was cruel and unnecessary. This was an army, not a band of mercenaries, and they would be soldiers, not butchers.
The babe cried, shuddering and rasping for breath. It was unfit, sickly. The priest's body was so close, and it made no sense to desert the child in such a frequented place as a temple, but Odin could not see the fierce giants ever being gentle with this frail child.
And then a sudden foolishness overcame him. It was just a silly notion that came to mind, but for a moment, he took it seriously. Perhaps, if he could disguise the child, he could take it back to Asgard, to Frigga. She had been wishing for another babe, but Thor's birth had been so difficult for her. This would be perfect, if the child lived. Odin was sure that it could be nursed back to health. It was not so far gone, yet.
Blood dripped from his empty eye socket –it felt so shockingly hollow and painful that his whole head ached for it– and landed on the babe's forehead. Odin tenderly wiped it away with his calloused thumb, humming softly. This babe felt in his arms as Thor had; the blue skin did not keep him from seeing that it was only an infant, just as vulnerable and innocent as Thor.
Yes. Yes, he would take it back to Asgard, and this small child would be his second heir. And maybe, just maybe, he could raise the child to one day return to Jotunheim and be their catalyst for peace. Raising two would not be harder than raising the one he already had. He would take the babe home and call it his and no one other than Frigga and Heimdall would ever know. Well, and perhaps the healer, Eir. If they had to falsify a pregnancy, Eir could be trusted to keep the matter confidential.
Just as he made the decision and began to turn, he stilled. Old words entered his mind, wisping along in a distant memory of his days as a prince when he was tutored by his own father. Bor had never been a fine teacher, not with words. He preferred to allow Odin to experience and learn things for himself. But a few gems of hard-earned wisdom had been passed along, brief and swift like the summer birds.
"All manner of men and beasts do know better than to take a jötunn child from its place, no matter how alone it might seem. This, my dear son, you would do well to remember, for there is only one thing more terrible in ire than the Deceiver, and that is jötnar bereft of their offspring."
There was more to it, of course, other words that Odin had long forgotten and would never be able to recall, but he did remember those simpler words of warning. Someone would come back for this child, a sire or a dam or an elder sibling, and they would mourn if they found a bloodstained swaddling cloth without the babe that it belonged to. Surely, they would think that the Aesir took it, or killed it. Odin could not have that weight upon his conscience, and he could not tear a child away from its parents.
He looked back down at the jötunn child, so frail and breakable in his hands, and, with no small measure of trepidation, kneeled down and nestled the babe against the priest's still-warm body, wrapping it in the folds of the ornate robes. The babe only wailed more fiercely at being set aside, and Odin winced as the sound pierced his heart. He was a king and he would not turn his gaze away, he was stronger than that– oh.
Odin could not say that he understood much about jötnar –he had never spent time with them beyond this most recent battlefield– and he knew nothing of their culture or of their physiology, but he had seen enough of them with his own eyes to know the meaning of the markings upon their skin. The markings on the babe's forehead were nearly identical to Laufey's. Not a perfect match, but nearly. Odin was intelligent enough to make the connection.
"Grow wise, young prince," Odin said softly, "so that we two might meet one day in peace."
He stroked a thumb against the markings on the babe's cheek. These were very different from Laufey's, more prominent and sharp, and Odin would assume that these were from the child's dam. Whoever she was. He had heard that Laufey had a queen, but he had never seen her nor heard tale of her presence on the battlefield. She was either lost or dead. Perhaps by his own hand, but he did not entertain that idea. He did not want to think of any child being motherless.
The babe's cries finally diminished into soft whimpers. Odin, by impulse, leaned forward and pressed a kiss against the infant prince's markings, just as he might have kissed his own son.
"Bless you, little one."
And then, with a pain in his heart for turning away, Odin left, but the child's feeble cries would not soon be leaving his mind.
Fárbauti was not queen because she was Laufey's wife. She was queen for her compassion and kindness, and for her strength. She was a woman who wielded power fiercely for the sake of those who were weaker than herself. Laufey had always said that that was why people loved her, but she knew what he really meant: This is why I love you.
But he had not spoken such words to her in what seemed like an eternity.
No measure of power, though, could quell the fear that twisted in her gut. She had left her newborn with Nál*, Laufey's brother, and she trusted Nál, but she could see the temple from the distance and how it crumbled. The Aesir had left, but the city still cracked and fell around them. Had the Casket been left in its proper place, or at least taken with the proper preparations, this would not be happening. Jötunn structures were strong. But the energy was gone. Their Relic had been stolen, and the first thing to lose power was the stone itself.
She ran. Her feet splashed in puddles of blood, staining her skin dark with off-purple. She leapt over twisted bodies, not looking at their faces; not wanting to know if she knew them. Later, she would know, and she would count the friends she had lost to this pointless war and mourn, but not now. Not now.
She needed to find her son. She needed to know that he was alive. Everything else would have to wait.
Nál would protect her son to his dying breath, and that was why Fárbauti had left the babe with him. But Nál was no warrior. He was an icon painter; his hands wielded brushes and etching tools, not swords. Once upon a time, he had been a fighter, training as a prince alongside Laufey, but he had not participated in any kind of training for centuries. He was a gentle soul who, whilst brave, could not stomach killing. He didn't even like to hunt. So, yes, he would lay down his life for her son, and he would fight until they killed him, but his fight might not be enough.
There was a reason that she had forbidden him from joining the soldiers, and if Laufey were of his right mind, he would not have allowed it either.
She flew up the temple stairway –too many steps, too many damned steps between her and her child– uncaring that her lungs burned with every breath, and that she felt like collapsing. The temple was, in comparison to the rest of the city, in decent form, but she would not let that fool her. There was blood on the stairs, the vibrant red of Asgardian blood and the dark periwinkle of jötunn blood, and a broken spear.
The temple had been invaded and people had died.
Not my son.
The Asgardians had wielded great power and had almost torn down the city, but the temple was almost whole. It had seen invasion, and death, but not much in the way of damage. The entrance had a deep crack in its forward façade, like a lightning bolt; Fárbauti considered it a small blessing that that was the only obvious damage.
A single body was splayed face down on the polished floor, surrounded by blood. Odd, that there was only one. Fárbauti stepped closer cautiously. The Asgardians had left, but an injured or dying jötunn warrior was its own danger. They were trained to fight, and if this one was still alive he could hurt her if she… but, no. There was too much blood. If he was still alive, it was a miracle. Or a curse. If he was alive, then he would not remain so for long. She could not save him.
She was just close enough to make out the exposed heritage marks that climbed up the back of his neck –an odd place for them; most giants didn't have markings on their necks– when she realized who she was looking at.
The air rushed out of Fárbauti's lungs so quickly that she had not the chance to scream, and her feet grew as heavy as stones against the floor. It was Nál, the last family that she had left other than her son, and he lay dead against the polished stone. The blood –there was so much blood; just how much did a giant carry?– was half-dry around him, steadily turning into cold, thick paste. The reek of it was terrible.
Fear coiled up like a snake, wrapping itself around Fárbauti's heart and squeezing tight.
She ran a few awkward paces and nearly slammed against Nál's body as she fell beside him. Her hands trembled as they pressed against his robes, searching beyond hope for some sign of life. Maybe not Nál's life (no, there was so much blood and the corpse had chilled and gone stiff; there was no hope left for him), but for the tiny, frail creature she had entrusted Nál to protect.
"Please. Please, please, please, no… not my boy… not my boy!"
She had lost Nál. She had lost her brother in the madness, and who knew how many friends in this battle alone. She could give up Laufey, if Jahim* asked it of her. His madness was consuming his brain like fire and he barely recognized her on most days. But not her boy. She had yet to even give him a name. She would not lose him, no. No. Not tonight.
Suddenly, there was a rasping cry, something that was so weak and quiet. She couldn't have heard it, shouldn't have– her ears were still ringing from a crack to her head and the noise of battle. But she did hear it.
Fárbauti moved over Nál's body. Her legs were shaking too much for her to stand, and her right foot was caught amount the ties of Nál's green robes, but she managed to clamber over his corpse. It was difficult, for he was big, even for a giant– nearly ten feet tall with broad shoulders that so contrasted from Laufey's leaner frame. Farbauti was Halfkind, and could not even boast six feet. One hand landed in the coagulated blood, and even as it gripped viscous and sticky against her skin, she could not pull back. This was all the balance that she had, even if it was against her good friend's carcass.
As soon as she saw the two gleams of red peeking out from the folds of fabric, Fárbauti nearly screamed. Or sobbed. It was all in relief. The tears came either way, and her shortness of breath would not allow any screaming to take place. She fished her son out from his hiding place and cradled the tiny babe to her body, opening her fur-lined coat to slip him inside. Instantly, the babe's mewling was silenced, and he clasped onto a breast to feed. That was good. At least he could eat. She had seen babes too distraught to feed, and they had nearly starved themselves in their distress.
Fárbauti let out a few breathless laughs, but it was not in humor. There was relief there, for her son, but it was mostly hysteria as the sensation of sick revulsion began to sink in when she realized that she was sitting against her closest friend's corpse. Her skin prickled as she slowly moved away, blood smearing dark and slick across the floor in her wake. She shuddered at the sight of it. Her father had been a healer and blood had never bothered her before today, not even her own blood, but this was Nál, and it was his lifeblood she was coating the stone with.
She looked away –never let it be said that Queen Fárbauti was of a weak constitution, but she looked away– and cradled her son inside her cloak. He wriggled under her hold but did not stop feeding. He was too hungry. Too tired. He had been lying here for quite a while, but a restless babe would not sleep unless exhaustion forced it to. Now, though, he would sleep. Safe in his dam's arms, he would find respite.
Tears still dripped down Fárbauti's cheeks. Her bottom lip quivered, and she trembled. This was half the reason why Laufey could never stand to see her cry. Or, at least, that was what he told her. That the way she shook was unnatural, and it always reminded him of the elder folk whose limbs could not stay steady and spines could not hold their heads upright. It looked wrong. But Fárbauti's thoughts did not –could not– remain on Laufey. She curled into herself, lying down on the floor without caring for the cold or the discomfort of the position or the fact that her shoulder and cheek immediately became sticky with smears of Nál's blood. She only wanted to hold her son, feel his heartbeat, convince herself that, out of all the people who had died today, her son lived.
"My boy… my boy…" Her fingers clenched against her own cloak, feeling the tiny child concealed within, feeling his warmth. They were the people of the ice, but warmth still meant life. "You should be… shall be…"
Her eyes strayed to Nál. She remembered something, a story that had faded into the depths of memory, from the days when she and Nál were childhood friends and Laufey had been a youth trying to impress her. Nál had told her something, just a silly little thing, trying to spark up conversation and stave off the boredom of being snowed in during Deep Winter.
"I shall have a son, Fárbauti, a brilliant son, and I know exactly what I shall name him."
*Nál is actually just Laufey's "spare" name in Norse mythology. Most Norse characters do have more than one name that they're referenced by (you could make a whole dictionary out of Odin's names), and this is Laufey's.
*Jahim, pronounced: YA-heem: jötunn name of God