WITHOUT LOKI by Dimitar Dakovski

Long ago, when the Nine Worlds were still young, there was enmity between the gods of Asgard and the giants of Jötunheim. The Æsir, led by wise Odin, sought to fortify their positions. For that matter, they hired a skilful smith, one of those same giants, in fact, to build a wall around the kingdom of the gods. The wall was built in just one winter and the giant received as payment the hand of the fair goddess Freyja in marriage. Thus were the Asgardians protected, but they won much more—the union between one of the most recognized artisans of the jötnar and the most beautiful of the goddesses ensured peace between the two peoples that still lasts to this day.

That is not to say, however, that there are no enemies of godkind on any of the Nine Worlds. In the fiery realm of Muspelheim, Surtr, the king of the fire giants, awaits, flaming sword in hand…

In the peaceful time following the fortification of Asgard, Odin became aware of a prophecy foretelling a great battle that would spell doom for gods and mortals alike—Ragnarök. In preparation for this terrible event, Odin commissioned the greatest dwarven smiths—the sons of Ivaldi—to create a weapon worthy of the king of the gods. Thus was forged the spear Gungnir, which never missed its mark. In an effort to outshine the sons of Ivaldi, two other dwarven masters of metalwork fashioned an even more formidable weapon called Mjölnir—a hammer with a massive head and a long handle that could return to its bearer’s hand when thrown. These dwarves, named Brokkr and Eitri, gifted the sledgehammer to the strongest of the Æsir—Thor, the god of thunder.

And so the gods lived in relative peace, as they live today, in unseen Asgard, undisturbed.

But someday in the future, exactly when only the Norns know, Surtr will rise from Muspelheim with his fiery minions and assemble all the creatures that have been shunned by the gods over the eons. And the first victim of his flaming sword will be the god of light, purity, and joy—Balder—whom everyone loves. As he lay still on the ground with a charred wound in his gut, the first snow of Fimbulwinter will fall—a cold period that will last for many years.

Then a great battle will take place—Surtr will engulf Asgard and Midgard, the realm of men, in a fiery inferno. But the gods will rise, with Odin, Thor, and Freyr attacking the jötnar at the same time. Surtr will then fall and perish in an explosion such as has never before been seen on any of the Worlds. And his death will thaw the frost of Fimbulwinter and the prophecy of Ragnarök will be null.

Though the evil will be vanquished, the Æsir will mourn the loss of Balder—the brightest among them. They will dispatch Hermod, the messenger of the gods, to the depths of the realm of the dead Niflheim. There he will ask its ruler, the jötunn Angrboða, to release fair Balder and let him breathe air once again. Angrboða, who has no children of her own, will have come to love Balder as a son and will be unwilling to release him. After Hermod pleads multiple times, she will agree on one condition—if every living thing cries for the return of the god of light, she would allow him to go back.

And so Hermod will visit every blade of grass, every tree, every bird, animal, man, woman, god, and jötunn, and all will weep for the beloved god. Angrboða, mollified, will release Balder and his light will again shine upon the healing Worlds.

Long after the last snowflake of Fimbulwinter has thawed and Ragnarök is just a memory, Odin will continue to rule Asgard in peace for all eternity. Some nights, as he watches the Nine Worlds from his throne Hlidskjalf, he will wonder if there were a way to make the everlasting lives of the gods more eventful. And sometimes, his trusted ravens will land on his shoulders and croak “LO-KI.”

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