Disclaimer: The characters in this story are all property of Marvel Comics. I make no money whatsoever on this story.
A/N: Just a short story for those who, like me, feel that they've forgotten these two. And for those who know my other writings, a reminder that I will continue the other fics.
Young was the age when this tale was wrought
An age of great heroes of courage bold
To Hela and back against Valfader's wroth
To bring back a love from death's door's hold
It was difficult, sometimes. He could almost remember...there had been a – a face. There was a face. It didn't belong to anyone he could see here, but he knew it was important. There was a name.
He couldn't remember them.
They told him life was for the living. He was dead, they said. So he asked, what about love? They had turned silent, confused. And yet – and yet he didn't know why he had asked. There was...
...there was a face. And a name.
They were important. And he couldn't remember them.
"How's she been?"
Bill Cobb Senior glanced at his wife, then smiled softly at the blond man leaning against the wall. "Not good. Every morning she's at the headstone, then she spends the rest of her day up at their hall, staring through the door."
Don Blake nodded. "Asgardians love deeply, Bill. They don't really stop."
"Oh, I dunno. I think I could name some of us mortals who loved just as deep."
Susan sighed, stood up, and went inside, taking her knitting with her. Don followed her with his eyes, as did Bill, but they stayed on the porch.
"So do you think she'll ever move on?"
Don shrugged. "Not this century. Maybe. In time. If she meets someone who can touch her spirit like your son did."
They gave each other wry half-smiles at that. "Yeah, not-"
"...gonna happen, no. No. Not anytime soon. He was one in a billion."
"One in a trillion. He impressed people who have lived for thousands of years, Bill. That counts for a lot."
"I guess." He took off his glasses, polishing them with his shirt. "I'd rather he was alive."
"So does she."
There wasn't much to say to that. Bill nodded, Don nodded, and they were silent. Then Susan popped her head out the door, sighing. "Oh, come inside you two, and quit moping about."
Her Bill was dead. She could see him, standing there amongst warriors true and borne, looking so forlorn it wrenched her heart of hearts, and yet she could not call out. Could not touch his face. Could not feel his warmth against hers.
They said Loki had changed his ways in the aftermath. They said Odin himself lived once more. They said the war against the defilers was won, that some day they might return home.
But her Bill was dead.
An einherjar slammed his drink onto the table, yelling something at him. He smiled, and her breath caught at the smile, so much like that she had seen so rarely and had treasured each time. He spoke, and she ached, she yearned to hear what was said...
...but the dead could not speak to the living.
But she saw the warrior listen incredulously, and then laugh uproariously before standing up and embracing him as a friend. She smiled. He was good at making new friends. Each night she saw him make another, and another, and another. She envied them.
Someone draped a cloak about her shoulders. Not that she felt the cold, but it was a kind gesture. She plucked at the material, and looked up to the mortal avatar of the banished one. "You are not supposed to be here."
He smirked. "I'm not the banished one. And I could say the same to you."
She lost what little humor his first statement had brought. "It is the only place I could be."
Sighing, Donald Blake sat down beside her, handing her a piece of bread. She took it, nibbled at it. Sustenance was not truly required, but it was a kind gesture. Always a kind gesture.
"Do you think he remembers you?"
She shook her head. "All is washed clean in the hall of the einherjar. All begins anew each morn."
His eyes didn't leave her face. "Not what I asked. Do you think he remembers you?"
She looked down, then back up, afraid he was not there any longer, that she missed him leaving...but he was there, struggling mightily with a flagon of mead as large as his torso. She smiled. "I hope."
Donald Blake, mortal avatar of the banished lord of thunder, nodded. "Yeah. I guess you do."
Kelda stared at the doorway through which none living could enter. "None living..." She turned to Donald. "Have you a knife?"
He started to pull out a collapsible pocket knife of the kind so common among these mortals, good, sturdy steel blades made for peaceful work and hunting, not war and strife, but then hesitated, suspicion marring his face. "...what do you want it for?"
She smiled. "A gift. Worry not, my death would not gain him. Hela would take me for her own, and I would never see him again should I take mine life."
She took the offered knife and easily unfolded it. None living could pass through the door to the hall of einherjar. She held out a lock of silver-gold hair, and cut it neatly in a single slash. A strand was set aside and twined about it, tying it together. As strong as silk, a great wolf had once been leashed with a chain made of such hair and the breath of cats. She held the lock of hair, then threw it at the entrance.
Where a solid barrier kept her from ever reaching through, the lock of hair fell inside as if nothing was there.
She smiled at Donald. "Hair is not alive."
There was...a face. A name. He stared at the sickly sweet honey-made brew in his hands and wished he could put it down without being rude. Skjarolf had promised to teach him ax and shield, but he had already promised Hjolar to learn the spear. Maybe he could do both? Not much else to do around here except eat that damn roast pig and drink the sweet mead that made him long for a proper microbrew.
...only he couldn't for the life of him remember what a microbrew was. All he truly knew were the faces around him and the things they taught him of knife and sword and ax and spear and bow.
He sometimes wished he knew what he didn't remember. At least a glimpse. But the thought would go away as soon as it came. Memories wandered here.
A glitter caught his attention, and he set aside the flagon for a moment, ignoring the noise around him. There was something on the floor. He stared at it. It was...
...what was it?
There was...a name. And a face. And the face had...there was...
He crouched down, picked it up. It was like silk in his hands. No, like moonbeams against silk. There was...it felt...good. Warm. True. Someone called his name from across the hall and he looked up to find Skjarolf waving at him from over where the big target board was kept. He pocketed the item and hurried over.
"Troth is troth."
The boy with the ancient soul sighed. "Yes, troth is troth. Law is law. Blah blah blah. The laws were already broken."
His partner in conversation narrowed her eyes at him. "I will not break them further. No exchange will be made."
"That's not really your call, though, is it? He is not in your realm. His death brought him out of your domain. The rules are different for such as he."
She smiled. "Not that different."
Loki Lie-smith, Loki Fire-hair, Loki Giant's-son sat down on the rocky path leading to the throne of his daughter. "True. I'm just..."
"Father, what is thy purpose in this?"
He shrugged. "Must I always have an ulterior motive?"
The silence was telling. Finally he squirmed uncomfortably, looking away from her piercing gaze. "I wronged them. Both of them. The old me would have apologized without truth and moved on, but...he is not me. I cannot watch the suffering I wrought and simply let it be. I must either worsen it or lessen it. I already made it worse..."
His daughter raised a delicate eyebrow. "This from thee? He who makes demons read the fine print?"
"Oh yes, rub it in why don't you...I have a conscience now, it appears. It gnaws at me. I tried tearing it out, but found...that part of me wishes it there. Enjoys the punishment. It whispers, it wheedles, it moles away at my soul, and I have found little sleep that was not wrought with mares of cruel jest. The rules are there. But all rules have loopholes, and I will find it."
She sighed. "The first Valfader himself made the rules, as well thou know. They are not to be broken even by such as us."
He stared at the throne. "Broken, no...bent...circumvented...yeeeesss..."
She frowned. "Father?"
Standing, he brushed the dirt of Helheim off his britches and found a smile splitting his face. "The rules cannot be broken. But the rules have ways out. Old ways. Ancient ways. Ways so old none now remember them. And that is where I shall look."
She watched her father leave, young body, ancient soul, and settled back in her throne. His regular visits were one of the few conversations she had these days. She longed for the bright souls of Asgard to meet her, longed for the company of he whom she could never have, but seeing her father again, meeting him as an equal and not a rebellious child...it felt...
Hela settled back in her throne, and watched the legions of the dead in the realm she called home.
"What is this room?" Fandral adjusted his perfect locks of golden hair and raised the torch higher.
"An old archive. Here the first Valfaders kept their original law books, here were agreements and laws made and solidified." Loki glanced over his shoulder. "Get a little closer. None of this is flammable."
He obliged, if only because he didn't like the way some of the old statues were looking at him. When Loki had told him he wished to go into the ruins of the golden city to look up some ancient laws predating Odin Valfader, he had obliged because he suspected there might be adventure. This...was not adventure. It was...eerie.
"They won't get off the wall and attack, Fandral Fair. The statues guard in other ways."
He flinched, a little guilty. "Right. So...hast thou found what thou seeketh?"
"Seeks, Fandral. The word is seeks. Shorter and more to the point, don't you think?"
"...aye..." No, not really. Some of the other Asgardians were beginning to pepper their speech with more Midgardian mannerisms and sayings, but Fandral tried to keep it to a minimum. It was the appearance of things, after all.
"Ah-ha! No, this is about the keeping of fruit, damnation...here, perhaps? 'For the unlawful trieth in great enumeration to-' Oh, blast, this is on animal husbandry. Where did they keep the laws of the..."
Fandral looked about. The statues were glaring. As he let his eyes wander across the broken shelves and fallen pedestals and ancient cabinets with shattered glass, they fell upon... "What is that?"
"What?" There was clear irritation in the newly young god of mischief's voice.
"That, over there. It be not book or scroll..."
Loki frowned, looking at where Fandral indicated with a nod of his head. "...just some old stone tablets, from before...ah. I see. Of course. The luck of the fairest. I should have known bringing you would be fortuitous."
They made their way over to the cracked stone tablets, and the young god spent a few minutes puzzling the pieces together while Fandral watched.
"...right...if I make this out right, there are...there are rules for releasing the einherjar from service before Ragnarök. Several of them, in fact. Some are inapplicable, as they would only send his soul to Hela, where it would be forever doomed. Others have...potential. Yes. Potential. Oh, this should be fun..."
How long...how long had he been here? Did the question have meaning? He had asked once...no, more than once? How many times had he asked? Each time, the answer was the same. Forever and a day.
Loped about his wrist was the thing he had found at the door. It felt right. Now when he tried to see the face, recall the name, and felt anguish and pain grip his chest instead...he would raise his hand and look at his improvised bracelet, and somehow things felt as they should be.
They were having another ax-throwing competition. He had won the last four, just as he had won several of the wrestling matches and swordfights and spear-duels. Seven times he had been challenged to holmgang, and seven times he had won. When did he learn to fight like that? Why was everything so hazy before now? How long...how long had he been here?
Forever and a day.
Oh, great, they were singing again. Things always went strange when they sang.
"...so let me get this straight, they fight all day and kill each other as training, and at night they come back to life, eat and drink until they pass out, and the next morning they do it all over again? For all eternity until the end of the world?"
Don shrugged. "Pretty much."
Bill Cobb Sr frowned. "Doesn't really sound like a place Bill would like very much. He was a quiet guy, didn't like loud parties."
Susan set down a cup of tea for them both. He preferred coffee, but three coronary incidents and a stern talking to from a big city doctor had curtailed the caffeine and danishes. And the bacon. Lord, he missed the bacon. "He liked the outdoors a lot. Used to go hiking, even in winter."
Don nodded. "Yeah, sh...I've been told that even when they were in Latveria in high winter, he went out in nothing but the fur jacket Balder gave him and his regular clothes. Latveria gets Alaska-cold in the winter. High in the mountains, see."
Bill smiled. "That's my boy. Stubborn as a mule and half the sense."
The young doctor left the question hanging. Bill nodded. "She was here this morning, put some flowers on the headstone. She knows he's not buried there, but I think she does it for us, somehow. Susan got her to eat a little."
"That's good. I mean, she's Asgardian, they can go without food or water for a very long time, but even so. It helps ground her, I think."
"Yeah, I guess. Still, 'tain't healthy. She really ought to take better care of herself."
Don sipped his tea and smiled sadly. "I told you before, Asgardians love deeply. They do everything big."
Bill glared at the artificial sweetener, then dropped a tiny tablet in anyway. "Will she do something drastic?"
"No. If she did, she wouldn't get to see him again. The Norse afterlife is real strict on that part."
"Well thank the heavens for small favors, I suppose..."
The air was crisp around the meadhall of the einherjar. A lone figure sat by the doorway, peering in. Occasionally she would smile softly, even more often she would wince as some memory struck her hard.
She froze, then raised her rapidly narrowing eyes to the one responsible for her anguish. "Loki Lie-smith. Come to tear away mine heart again? I hear the third time is the charm in Midgard."
He grimaced at the accusation. "That was...that was Doom, not I. But I bear responsibility, I suppose. I have not come to trade barbs, though. I have a proposal."
The open hatred on her face turned to bitter amusement. "A proposal? What couldst thou possibly give me that I might possibly want?"
He told her by reciting the passage he had found.
Her face paled, then flushed, then paled again. Her eyes darted to and fro, as hope rose. It was almost painful to look at. After a while, she stood. "I accept. Who shalt accompany us?"
The boy who was no boy and yet was a boy shrugged. "Three is the number allowed. Fandral, for all his looks and luck, is not the one we will take. One of each, they say. And, there are...other stipulations..."
She stared at the ground. "I know whom. But I know not if he will come."
Loki pursed his lips. "Leave the convincing to me..."
"So, when will you be leaving Broxton again?"
Don chewed thoughtfully on the sugar-free oatmeal cookie. "Hm? Oh, tomorrow. Why?"
Bill reached in for another cookie for himself, then leaned back. "Well, if it gets late you can take the spare bedroom for the night. I'm sure Susan won't mind."
"That's...very generous of you, but I really got to be going soon. I have a few more places to visit today."
The awkward silence was interrupted by a knock on the door. Bill got up off his seat, grunting slightly at his knees complaining again. Susan came back from the kitchen, wiping the last remnants of water from a serving dish. "Who is it?"
"Well I guess I better get to open, don't I?"
She grinned. "Don't snip at me, Bill Cobb!"
He opened the door.
He blinked. "Um...hi. Susan? You better get over here. Don, you too.
Kelda stood there, but she wasn't in her usual flimsy robes, instead she had dressed from head to toe in sturdy chain and plate, including a hornless helmet that her white-blond hair spilled out from under. Next to her stood...
"Blake. Charmed, I'm sure. May we come in? There's something we need to talk about."
"...let me get this straight. You guys are going into Hell itself-"
"Helheim. Not quite the same, though the decor is similar. And no, not Helheim...already went, found what I needed."
"Whatever, to find some kind of loophole that will bring Bill back? To life?"
Loki smirked. He was a natural smirker. "Oh yes. Well, technically I already know the loopholes, but to enable them the journey is required. The ancient lawmakers were very big on long walks through hostile terrain. It weeds out the weak of will, I suppose."
Don was staring at him, frowning. "What's your angle?"
Loki clasped the palm of his hand to his chest, adopting a mock look of angst. "Oh! How bitter the sting of such disbelief and distrust! I may cry. My angle, as you wish it, is a balancing of the books. I...have other schemes, but none that harm any, other than possibly the pride of Allfather Odin himself by proxy."
The god of lies and mischief smirked. "Such a time since I last saw that face! Must have been yesterday."
Finally, the doctor sat down, shaking his head. "I'm not going. I can't. I don't trust you, Loki, as you have noticed. You're lying somewhere, but I can't say exactly where..."
The young yet old god leaned in conspiratorially. "That is quite all right, Blake. It is not your help I seek."
The two gods turned to the only other occupant of the room. "What sayeth you, Bill, son of Bill, father of Bill?"
The older man stared at them. "On one condition."
"Name it." The sudden hope in Kelda's voice was clear to see.
"...if it doesn't work...if...then you let him go. Move on with your life."
She stared at him for what seemed like an age, and then lowered her gaze. "Very...very well. I agree. If I am able."
He patted her knee, smiling. "That's all we can ask."
"I say thee nay! Ne'er has a greater warrior than Thor ever walked the Nine Realms!"
He shrugged. "I'm not saying that, I'm saying there are the occasional types as strong or stronger. The Hulk, for one."
Skjarolf hesitated. "Aye, he be...a mighty beast, indeed. But no greater warrior be he even so!"
"No, I guess you're right there. Still, even a guy like me can learn how to stab another, that's not the hard part. The hard part is knowing when not to stab."
The einherjar looked at the smaller man with slight confusion. "...not...to stab?"
"Sure. A man...warrior...needs to have a heart, too. Anyone can be a killer. Takes a lot more to help people than hurt them."
"You confuse me with your talk, lad! More mead!"
He sighed as the big einherjar warrior waddled off towards the table where some poor goat stood looking bored, being milked eternally for the mead it carried naturally.
...how did you get a goat to milk mead anyhow, genetic engineering? A tiny brewery in the teats?
Why wasn't he accepting all of this at face value? Why did he wear the bracelet, and...
...there was a name...
He sat back down, and buried his face in his hands. This wasn't...wasn't where he was supposed to be. There was someone he was supposed to...what?
The fight in the meadhall raged on, and as night fell yet again, the feast began anew.
A motley group set out on a misty morn, as true as they could be. There was Loki Lie-smith, father of beasts, child-like deceiver, renegade and rogue. There was Kelda Stormrider, daughter of storms, bringer of rains and watcher from above. And there was Bill, son of Bill, father of Bill, retired and elderly mortal.
Their path was crooked as such paths must be, for their aim was not among these lands. They sought out the Three who could tell, and the Guide to their lair.
"...so where are we going, exactly?"
Loki threw a smile over his shoulder. "Nornheim! To the home of a kindred soul of mine. She will help us find what we seek."
"Patience, Bill, son of Bill! Patience!"
He glanced over at the tall woman walking beside them. He couldn't really claim to knowing her. His son had known her, however briefly, and since Bill Junior had been an excellent judge of character he supposed she couldn't be so bad. Still, she struck him as...hollow. Morose. As if she was just hanging onto one last, feeble hope because it was all she had left.
But these guys were immortal, right? Or at least they didn't age like normal people. Also, tall. And strong. He'd seen this thin girl lift grown men over her head with no more effort than he picked up the morning paper. Possibly less.
How long could you stay in mourning if you had eternity and a day?
Loki grimaced at the flat denial of aid from the woman in shimmering robes, her crown a massive headpiece that would frighten the Pope. "You're quite sure?"
Karnilla frowned. "I do not have the powers I used to possess. When the defilers ravaged these lands, much of my resources were spent on concealing me and mine. Now they are being spent on rebuilding. While you Aesir gallivant about in Midgard, we who never left are hard at work taking back what was ours. So no, I will not help you."
He sighed. "Very well. Guess Baldur was wrong, then."
Her face fell slack, the only real betrayal of her emotional state a slight twitch in her cheeks and a sudden pallor to her features. "...B-Baldur?"
He smiled innocently. "He said you would see a good cause in this. But he is not always right..."
Her eyes narrowed. "...is this a lie?"
"Are you willing to risk it?"
The grin ate away at her resolve, until finally she snarled. "Very well. But if you lie, Loki Lie-smith-"
"Perish the thought!"
"If you lie...there will be no shelter in Nornheim for such as thee. Ever."
He shrugged. "I am oddly fine with that. Now. Is it a passage, or..."
She sighed. "Nothing so crude."
Rising from her seat, the godling and his two companions followed her into the next chamber, where magical artifacts and devices lay strewn about, ancient books of lore, even strange objects of Midgard origin. She imperiously swept aside a tapestry portraying some legend with a man covered in pitch and mud battling a great serpent for the hand of a woman, revealing what appeared to be a huge, ornately decorated bronze mirror.
"Oh, very nice...I thought there were only four of those left?"
Karnilla smirked. "Three. This is one of them."
Loki didn't reply, merely standing back to observe as she began to chant, weaving patterns in the air that left oddly glowing runes and trails that remained even though by rights light should not act in such a way. Finally the mirror shimmered, and the view turned from the chamber in which they stood to a dark hallway lined with great pillars.
Finally, she was finished, and the effort seemed to have taken something out of her because she staggered, taking a ragged breath. Bill, standing closest, heard a soft mutter from the raven-haired goddess. "The things I do for him..."
Loki grinned. "Right! Off we go!"
Bill looked at the strange hallway, noting that the pillars looked odd, gnarled, almost...alive. "To where?"
The trickster god grinned. "To where fates are made and ended."
Walking through the mirror felt like walking through a beam of evening sun in summer to the darkness of autumn. Bill shivered, and glanced at Kelda. She seemed...not as morose as she had been. Vaguely hopeful, yes. But mostly determined. Their guide, boyish glee falling away as they entered into whatever dark place this was, became less and less cocksure with each step they took, until finally he was grimacing with apparent ill ease.
To Bill, it was all too strange. The journey to Nornheim had been bizarre, a rainbow-colored trip through a strange, multi-hued void of stars and things no human had names for followed by a walk through blasted, dry lands and green fields where the animals were familiar but the local natives were...bigger. He'd stopped finally gawking when a nine foot creature with pointed ears and great tusks growing out of its jaws had snarled at him. Not so much for the scare as the fact that the big monstrous thing had worn an I (heart) NY t-shirt.
This place, though...it smelled like a cemetery. No...like fresh earth in spring...no, even more accurate, like a cemetery in spring. Life and death and everything in one single scent.
"Where are we?" It was Kelda who broke the silence.
"Beneath the roots of the world. Only two things reside here. One is...not something we should go near. It might notice us."
"And the other?"
He shrugged. "They might help. They might not. It all depends on if they follow the old laws. They might not, depending on their mood. But probably they will."
Bill refrained from commenting. He was way out of his league here.
The doors were immense. From where Bill stood, he couldn't see the top of them, they went so far up into the gloom high above them, even with the bright light from the small hovering globe Loki kept for illumination above his shoulder. Magic. Just one of many strange things since the Asgardians had come to Broxton.
"Well, I suppose we'd better knock, shouldn't we?" Loki raised a small fist to tap the sturdy oak door, but the left-hand side of the portal swung open with a creak before he could do so. He gave a humorless smirk. "Show-offs."
The interior was smaller than he'd expected, and even so it was enough to make Bill feel immeasurably small. A great cavernous room with three seats, by which stood three utterly mundane devices the likes of which he hadn't seen since he was a boy.
A spinning wheel. A great loom. And a short table with a gigantic pair of scissors.
And it wasn't until they stepped closer that he saw the three women seated in the three seats, or heard the whispering from the long glittering threads running from the spinning wheel to the loom, that he realized where he was, and who they were here to speak with.
"Ah, the three comes to us to beg and plead...but we get ahead of ourselves, do we not?" The voice came from the ancient crone seated by the table, holding the giant scissors and occasionally cutting off a single thread in the great weave that fell from the loom.
"Live in the now, I always say..." The woman by the loom smiled at them. It wasn't a very nice smile.
"Let them speak, sisters. I am curious to what possible scheme the little liar could possibly think could sway our hearts and minds." This from the young, beautiful woman by the spinning wheel.
The mistress of the loom smirked. "Ah yes. He does so enjoy his little plots and plans. Always and forever the schemer."
"Not always. But then, there will be moments..."
"Hush, sister. You know the troth."
Loki listened, his expression growing ever more bored with each exchange until finally he cleared his throat. "If I may?"
Verdandi nodded, indulging him.
"Right. A mortal soul was ripped away from his mortal form, and brought into the fold of the einherjar. This is not what anyone desired, and we are interested in perhaps bringing him back..?" He looked as if he was trying to convince them to bring him a cookie. Bill frowned, glancing at Kelda...who also seemed a bit uneasy.
The three Fates stared at him incredulously for a long moment, then burst into laughter. Finally Urd wiped a tear from her eye. "Oh, Loki. You always know how to amuse us. But why ever should we listen to your ridiculous request? Fate is fate. Troth is troth."
The god of lies smirked. "Yes. Troth is troth. But there are ways, and you know this."
"Do we now?" Skuld frowned, humorlessly. "And which of you is willing to die for this soul? No, wait, you did specify the einherjar...which means the rules of Helheim do not truly apply?"
Loki's smirk widened into a smile. "A riddle contest. A single riddle, posed by you. If we answer correctly, the one we seek is to be returned to life and given a full lifespan as befits him. If not, you may take any boon from us."
Verdandi leaned forward, her smile having turned into the kind you usually see coming from something moving quickly towards you in the high grass of a savannah. Before it leaps.
"You know, you've been talking differently."
Loki glanced at Bill. "Have I? Perhaps I have. I sometimes find the linguistic traditions of my kind...tiresome."
"So what does this mean? We answer right, they give us Bill back, we answer wrong, they..."
The god shrugged. "Most likely they'll tangle one of our fates into whatever twisted ruination they have planned for the Nine Realms. They love doing that. Oh, they think we don't notice when they appoint some fool mortal their champion of entropy, but really, they're about as subtle as your earthly freight trains. If we're lucky, they will merely take our lives."
"...if we're lucky!"
Loki grinned. "Oh yes. If we're unlucky, they will make you live in interesting times."
His grin turned self-deprecating. "I already do."
The godling turned to the Fates. "We are ready."
The riddle was simple, and impossible to answer. Not just because it made no sense.
Urd had simply leaned forward, smiled, and asked, "What did Odin Allfather whisper to his son on his funeral pyre?"
Kelda had frowned, Loki's grin turned brittle, and Bill was confused. The trickster blinked. "Ah...let us get back to you on that one.
They huddled up. Bill noticed the look of concern on Loki's face, and Kelda's heartbroken expression. "...they just screwed us royally, didn't they?"
Loki shrugged. "It's an impossible to answer riddle. Only Odin himself knows the answer, and he was the one who asked it, long ago. No-one has ever answered it correctly." He hesitated. "Kelda?"
She shook her head mutely.
He turned to Bill. "...Bill?"
Bill stared at them, then thought. Finally, he nodded. "I...I think I know. It's an answer, at least."
Loki grinned. "Great! Amazing!" Then he gave him a look that revealed his abject horrified terror. "Don't get it wrong."
Bill looked at his hands. Then up at the three Fates. Then to his two companions. "Uh...do I have to say it out loud? Or can I whisper it to you?"
Urd nodded, magnanimously. "Very well."
He went up the steps to the three thrones, then leaned in to Verdandi, and whispered five words.
The goddess paled. The smirk turned into a frowning sneer, until finally she sat back, obviously angry. "Damn. He guessed."
The other two snapped their heads around, shocked. "What? But he..."
"...is a mere mortal!"
She nodded, and oh how it galled them. "Yes. But he guessed rightly. The soul is theirs."
One goddess reached into the loom, finding a thin, faint, glittering silver thread that had already been cut. Contempt riddled her voice. "A fresh lifespan, as befits him."
Another held out a long thread of black, already severed. "To be returned to life. Troth is troth."
"Law...is law." A third spun the thread longer, until silver met black and the two conjoined as if they had never been severed. The black thread shimmered, then turned a bright gold.
The three Fates stared at the thread. "Oh. Well now. That's..."
Loki stared at the exchange, clearly confused. "What? Troth is troth, remember?"
One nodded. "Um, yes. We...sort of did not expect this. But the soul is yours."
Another took out a small stone, upon which a single rune as carved. "We do not give these lightly. You must bring this to the hall of the einherjar, and speak his name."
"...and whatever you are given is what you must accept."
The journey back had been uneventful, interrupted only by a blushing Karnilla pressing a sealed letter into Bill's hand and a shy request to bring it to Baldur.
Once home, standing in the ruins of Valhalla, Loki and Bill stood back, as Kelda held the stone out to the portal to the hall of the dead warriors. The trickster frowned. "You are quite sure? He will not be who you remember. His life will have been swept clean. He will not remember you."
She shrugged. "Even so, he will live, as he should. And..." She glanced at her lover's father. "...I have hope."
"Very well. Go on, then."
She held it up, and spoke. "Bill, son of Bills, noble of heart and soul."
There was...a pause. As if the heavens themselves were shocked at the audacity. Then the stone burst into white flame and vanished, and this was followed by another flash of light from the portal.
And Bill, son of Bills, was rather noisily rejected from the Norse afterlife and brought into life anew.
He did not go gentle into this good night. No, he landed, steaming and naked as the day he was born in the snow, screaming in agony before falling silent. But he was breathing. Alive. And...
Loki shrugged. "I should have expected this. You don't spend an eternity and a day in the halls of the einherjar without some of it rubbing off. He might be more Asgardian than human now."
Bill Sr frowned. "...they said they'd bring him back, him, not-"
"Relax, Bill. It is your son. His body is a bit sturdier now, is all." The trickster god looked at where the young goddess sat, trembling, touching her reborn lover's face as if afraid it would break off. "...he might need it."
Something was wrong. He sat, a cloak around his shoulders, in the snow, staring blankly into the air. The man she had loved was...empty. A living, breathing shell. Not even a hint of recognition flickered across features she knew so well, there was no reaction to her touch, no sign of anything of the man she had loved being present. An empty hole in her chest threatened to tear it to pieces, a pain far greater than when her heart was taken from he body. He was truly gone.
They were important. To him.
He blinked, then stared at the hazy figure in front of him. He looked down, and saw the only thing he had been allowed to bring with him from the halls of the dead. He thumbed it, then looked up again.
The girl in front of him stared at him, her face suddenly lighting up like the sun from behind the clouds, her mouth trembling.
Bill Junior looked down at the lock of hair tied around his wrist, then back up at the girl.
Young was the age when this tale was wrought
An age of great heroes of courage bold
To Hela and back against Valfader's wroth
To bring back a love from death's door's hold
As they walked towards the warmth of the town below, Loki was staring at the ground. Behind them, Kelda supported her love, raining little featherlight kisses on him in spite of his growing embarrassment and blush and whispering things in his ears that made him turn even redder. Bill Sr just smiled.
"...this is going to haunt me forever. What was it?"
Bill Sr looked at the godling. "What?"
The trickster was not looking happy. "The answer. What is the answer to the riddle? I have to know! It's been a puzzle for thousands of years, and it's...it annoys me that I know not the answer."
Bill Senior smiled sadly. "It's what every father thinks when he has to bury a child."
Loki frowned even deeper. "What? What, man!"
"It should have been me."