Just a quick note for anybody who's new to my particular scheme for the 'Thor'-verse: I always envisioned Vanaheim as extremely Celtic. The Asiatic-slant they went with in 'The Dark World' is great, but I still like my idea. And if Midgard can support about a million different Cultures/sub-cultures, then I think Vanaheim will be okay if I insist on coloring its North-Western corner like pre-Medieval North-Western Europe. Or I hope so.
Vanaheim was warm and its people more peaceable than either the wars or peace negotiations had led him to believe.
But then, the Vanir had feared Odin Borson. Bolverk Vegtam was no threat to them. They welcomed the wandering warrior with open arms.
And Odin had felt – these past moons – more that he had a home than he ever had, in Asgard, for all that he spent most nights beneath the stars. For the first time, he felt peace.
Wandering through the moors and dells of the maundering hills and the little vales of trees that were so much a part of the life of the Northern Vanir, Odin breathed the clean air. If Asgard was a city, then Vanaheim was a wood. And, not for the first time, he felt that he loved the wood. He would spend all his life here.
As he came through the forest, he kept to the edge of a little creek where the going was easier.
Ahead of him, he heard laughter. A gentle voice, soft. A woman.
Bending low to the concealment of the brush, he followed the sounds.
He came upon the edge of a still pool that flowed deep from a bend in the creek he'd been following, and he saw them. Their gowns were cast up on the low-hanging bow of a tree on the opposite bank, and the fabric was what caught his eye first. But not what held it.
He dropped his eyes down the little embankment to see three girls, their skin white in the filtered glow from above the leaves. One slipped beneath the surface of the water. One hummed softly to herself, her face turned from him, her long, dark hair wet and sleek on the bare skin of her back. The third stood beside her, so low in the water that only the top of her shoulders emerged, murmuring so softly that the words did not make their way to Odin's ears.
Lowering himself cautiously, his knee hit upon a dry stick and he winced.
The dark girl's head turned. Catching sight of him with one pale hand on her mouth she shrieked and dropped lower in the water. The one beside her had reached out and caught her arm, face still and panicked as a deer who'd caught the scent of its hunter on the wind.
The girl beneath the water surfaced only just in time to hear her companion's scream. She stayed low, standing in the deepest part of the pool where the water just kissed the soft rise of her collar bone. She turned her face calmly up to view their attacker. The sunlight glinted on her hair and made it flash red.
Knowing himself caught, Odin made no attempt to hide himself.
"What do you here?" she demanded. Water trickled into her face.
"I am but a lone warrior," Odin answered her. "I seek lodging for the night."
"You seek lodging in an odd place" one slender brow rose on her pale forehead and her lips tipped to one side, "Well," she said, "You will not find it here. What name go you by, Wanderer?"
She was not afraid of him. Somehow between her surfacing and his realization of that, it was as though the others behind her had never existed.
He straightened to his full height, which, on the edge of the incline where he stood, raised his face far out of her line of vision, forcing her to lean back. "Bolverk Vegtam," he told her.
Craning her head back to see him she gripped her hands on her shoulders. The lilt of her mouth suggested that she knew what he was about. As if any of this could be naught else.
He smiled down at her.
"It's not a name I've heard," she said.
"I am a stranger in this area," he admitted. "And, in truth, quite lost in these woods."
"A likely tale," she smirked. Then, "Follow this creek," she said. "A little ways, and you will find a path. Follow it. At the edge of the wood you will come to my father's Dun."
"Follow this creek," he looked back and forth along the bend of the water. "Which way?"
Her eyes narrowed, and her hands did not move from their places. "I know the game you play," she said. "You are facing the way you came, yes?"
"I might be."
For the first time her annoyance flashed clearly and overpowered any amusement. "I know not what the women are like where you hail, Bolverk Vegtam. But in this my Dun, we are stronger than is regularly credited and I warn you I have overpowered many a man."
"I doubt it not," his lips tugged up on one side. "No offense was meant, Lady. I merely find myself…distracted."
"Go the direction you face. You will find you've arrived well before sunset."
"By whom shall I say I was sent?"
"By none," she answered. "If any should find you've spoken with us it would most assuredly mean your death."
He inclined his head, "You are merciful, Lady."
"My clemency knows bounds, Vegtam. I have spoken with you long enough."
Bowing his head, Odin drew back, out of sight within the trees. He skirted to the edge of the pond, listening for the lap of the water and the murmuring of their voices. As he had been taught by the greatest hunters of his realm, his feet did not make a sound.
He waited until he had reached the far side of the pool. Then he went back.
"You say it is your father's Dun?"
One of the two in attendance on her screamed and the other vanished beneath the water,
The one with whom he'd spoken did not move. She'd come to a more shallow place, no doubt thinking herself safe. She stood in water that pooled about her hips with her back to him. She did not startle as her fellows had. She stood very straight in the water with her face turned from him. With one hand she gathered her long, curling hair over her shoulder.
The other hand remained hidden by her side in the water.
His eyes traveled down the delicate curve of her spine, "Might I see you, there?"
Her head turned, a smile tugging at her mouth. "You might," she said. "Now go."
Satisfied, Odin smiled.
"And do not turn back again."
Thunk in the wood a hair's breadth from his head.
An elegantly curved, expertly thrown knife vibrated in the trunk of the tree immediately beside him.
Turning back he saw no sign the woman, but only ripples on the water where she'd been standing. Beyond his sight he heard the thin murmur of their voices.
The silver hilt glittered with water from the pool.
Giving a soft laugh, Odin worked the blade from the wood. Then he wrapped it in his cloak and made on, down the path toward her father's Dun.
For those of you who are not myth-nerds, 'Bolverk' and 'Vegtam' are both names that Odin takes on some of his notorious wanderings.
Also, this and the next few chapters are based HEAVILY on a rather obscure myth about a character called 'Billing's Daughter' and her…relationship…with a character who is assumed (from context within the poem it was originally extracted from) to be Odin.
Let me know what works/doesn't work for you. Like I said, this is my first real 'work in progress', so I might be able to actually use some guidance this time ;)