Tyr sighed. His company had ventured deep into the forests of Jotunheim. This was Ironwood, a dangerous place. It is said to be haunted by packs of large wolves that devour anything that comes on their path. These monster wolves were the children of a giantess, Angrboda, who was known to have a deep hatred for the Aesir. She was said to be a powerful sorceress, whose powers rivaled those of many a god.
He frowned. There was no sight of this witch or any of her wolf children so far. Normally, the Aesir would not have meddled with such affairs in Jotunheim. As long as these beings did not interfere in other realms, the gods simply did not care. Nevertheless, when Odin assembled a hunting party to join him in his quest to get rid of Angrboda’s children, he had joined the Allfather.
Some of the fiercest gods had joined Odin in his party. As Tyr was the god of war, he felt he could not be missing from the hunt. Since they had departed, Odin his spirit had seemed down. “What is on your mind, Allfather?”, Tyr had asked him. But Odin was not willing to share his thoughts just yet. He simply shook his head and kept on traveling with a look of determination in his one eye. This unnerved Tyr and when he looked around at his companions, he could see that he was not the only one that thought that way.
The prophecy of the Nornir
“What do you think is going on?”, he asked Freyr, who was riding next to him on his golden boar. The fertility god shifted uncomfortably in his saddle before he returned an answer. “Frigg told me that she thinks a prophecy is involved. Something long foretold by the Nornir”. Tyr shuddered. The Nornir were the weavers of fate and knew the fate of any being in the universe, including the fates of the gods. To alter their own fate, the Aesir had united with the Vanir to acquire the one ability that could give them influence over their destiny: magic.
“What is the prophecy about?”, he asked Freyr. The handsome god of fertility had been raised in Vanaheim, being the twin brother to Frigg himself. There was little information that those two would not tell each other. He could see that his question made the young god feel uneasy. “I do not know”, he confessed, “but it must be something important, as Odin was going mad with rage”. After that short exchange, they continued their journey in silence.
Somehow, Tyr wished Loki was with them to accompany them on their journey in Jotunheim. This was the first time that the trickster was not with them. As a giant, he usually understood the inhabitants of this realm better than any of the Aesir. Save for Odin maybe. At least the trickster was more fun to be around.
Wounds from the past
But Loki was no longer with them. He had fled the realm of the gods after his involvement in Baldr’s death. Tyr frowned, remembering the events of that horrible day. He had loved Baldr, just like anyone else. He had sworn never to harm him. He had drunk ale with him and danced with him. He had shed tears for him. And then he had buried him. The void that was left behind by Baldr had not been filled.
The group grew silent as they heard a faint howling coming from the forest. Odin halted. “Before we go any further, I must share something with you”, he said brusquely. He looked at his travel companions. “We are here because of an ancient prophecy that has been foretold by a völva”. Tyr and Freyr exchanged a brief look with one another before turning to their leader. “The creatures that we will come across are no ordinary beasts”, Odin spoke. “They are the offspring of a giantess called Angrboda, a giantess with great powers. They are special indeed, for..”. He paused, closing his one eye for a moment as a sign that he was still processing the burden of his load.
The legacy of the witch and the trickster
“They are also the children of Loki, my blood brother”, he said. His face had now grown grim. He looked older somehow, thought Tyr. Maybe even vulnerable. “I will never forget how Loki had betrayed me, he said. Even though I share a blood bond with him, I will not kill him myself. That fate is far too merciful for him. Let him rot in his cave”.
He sighed before continuing. “My son Vali has captured his son Narfi. Yet that was not his only offspring. The beings that we will see here are far more powerful than that little runt”.
He turned from the group. “We are here to get rid of his other children”. Tyr’s eyes widened. “Do you mean that we are here to avenge your children?”, he gasped. He would not forget that Odin had been robbed of two sons in the process. I had not just been Baldr that died that day, but Hödr as well. Poor blind bastard.
“I am not here to slay children”, he said. “But I will protect Asgard“. He then fixed his gaze on a point in the distance. “Through whatever means necessary. In any case, we have to stop them from uniting with their father. His punishment will be severe”. He then moved in the direction that the howling had come from.
A girl amid beasts
What they saw was a curious scene. In front of the cabin was a little girl, playing with a wolf and a serpent. As the gods came closer, they could hear the girl speak to the animals in a bossy tone: “you two will have to start pitching in if you keep growing. I cannot be the one that puts the food on the table all by myself if you keep eating like this”. Tyr frowned. He heard another voice now. “Don’t you worry sisss. We will hunt for food ourselvessss”. It took him a few moments to realize that it had been the snake who was talking now. He gave Freyr a look but could see that the fertility god was as surprised as him.
Odin marched towards the cabin decisively. When he drew closer, the girl turned around. Tyr held his breath now that he could see her clearly. Half of her body was… dead. There was no better word for it. From top to bottom, half of her face and body had withered to the point of decay. The other part of her body was that of an ordinary, even pretty, girl. “The Allfather has come for us, dear brothers”, she spoke in a tone that was mocking the Aesir. “What are you doing here in the realm of giants, old man?”. There was curiosity in the eye that was alive. The other eye was dead in its socket, unmoving, and staring into nothingness.
The children of chaos
Odin took stock of her. “I am here because I need to be”, he said. “After all, I need to make sure that my blood brother’s children end up where they should be”. He clenched his spear when he looked at the wolf and the serpent. “Could you introduce me to your brethren?”, he asked. The girl smiled. It was a smile without any emotion. “This here is Jörmungandr”, she gestured to the snake with a monotonous voice. The serpent hissed angrily, drops of venom dripping from his fangs. Curls of smoke rose up from the grass where the drops hit it.
“And this is Fenrir”, the girl pointed to the wolf cub. Tyr approached the cub to get a better look. Fenrir smiled at him happily, his tongue hanging from his mouth and filled with drool. He quickly ran circles around Tyr a few times, before he sat down next to him and let out a loud howl. Tyr scratched him behind his ears and the pup whimpered with pleasure.
“And my name is Hel”, the girl now said with a voice that was the definition of ice. “I have been taking care of my brothers since our mother left us”, she continued. And then she added: “I think she might be dead”. There was no emotion on her face when she spoke those words.
A promise to rule
Tyr eyed the children with mixed emotions. He was happy to hear that Angrboda was dead, although one could never tell for sure with a sorceress like that. On the other hand, he found the fate of these children to be a sad one. They had been abandoned, their hopes of being reunited with their parents destroyed with the death of their mother. And now, the Aesir had come.
Odin put a hand on Hel’s shoulder. “You are destined for great things, my child”, he said fatherly. “The way you have taken care of your brothers, I think you are fit to administer a realm of your own”. Odin smiled. “I think you would do well in Niflheim. You could be its ruler”. This piqued the girl’s interest. “Will I have subjects to rule over?”, she asked in the same icy voice she had used before. “A queen is no queen if she does not have subjects to rule over”, she said. Odin stared right into her eye. “You will have many subjects, my dear”, he spoke in earnest. “I promise you that those that do not join me in Valhalla will be bound for your realm”. She nodded in agreement. Odin closed his eye and cast a spell on her. She was gone in seconds.
A promise to grow
Tyr was amazed at Odin’s guile. After finding Loki’s children, the Allfather had isolated one of them from the others already. It was a sound strategy. Odin then focused his attention on the snake. “Jörmungandr”, he called the creature by its name. “It is clear to me that you are longing for freedom. Freedom to be who you are. Freedom to live. Freedom to grow”, he said, emphasizing that last word. The serpent looked at him attentively, its tongue flicking from and into its mouth.
“I think you and I can help each other out”, Odin continued. “I can give you all the freedom that you want. You will grow bigger and bigger until you can easily curl around Midgard itself”. The snake hissed with satisfaction. “When the time comes, I want you to do exactly that”, Odin said. “Show me your greatness by doing everything in your power to encircle Midgard”. Later, he would confide in Tyr that the snake would likely try everything in its power to do so, eventually trapping itself by biting its tail.
When Jörmungandr gave him his approval, Odin cast another spell. It did not take long before the snake had disappeared, teleported to the seas of Midgard.
A promise of companionship
Odin then turned to Tyr. “What about that one?”, he asked. He pointed at the wolf pup that was gently nibbling on Tyr’s shoe. The god of war grinned. “Don’t you worry about this one”, he said. “I’ll take care of him”. The wolf looked back at him, eagerly nodding his head.
Odin looked at him silently. There was a sadness in his one eye. Moments turned to minutes. Minutes could have lasted a lifetime. “Fine, but he is your responsibility”, he said.
And so they left Ironwood, the wolf pup Fenrir at the side of the gods.