Interlude: Reign of Chaos

When the General is away, the soldiers do not play, because chaos reigns.

a few months before the halfway point in chapter 6.

In which Loki is nearly three.

Day 6: The General's Return

Sigmarr is new to the armies of Asgard - it is a vast place with too many faces to name. But in the business of swords and shields, there are a few faces that one cannot forget, if they wish to remain as Asgardian soldiers serving the kingdom.

Haraldr Hjortrson is one of them.

He is a man of many titles - the kitchen staffs call him Master Hjortrson or Master Haraldr in fond tones, for reasons that Sigmarr cannot fathom, for the man is as genial as a five-fanged linnormr. The Court calls him Grand Advisor to his face, and then Shadow General to his back. There are some who swear that the man lives by his word, and that the Dvergar call him Silvertongue because of that very quality of his. The great Freyr has once been known to describe the man as a brother in everything but blood.

The graceful Queen of Asgard and the healers address him as Haraldr, smiles always present on their faces. The Allfather calls him by either his given name or his heritage, sometimes both at once, and hearsay states that once upon a time, Odin Allfather has addressed Haraldr Hjortrson as brother.

But now, as Sigmarr races through the hallways of the castle, part of his mind is trying to find the best terms of address to spare himself and maybe most of the battalion from the General's wrath.

They should all probably beg for forgiveness when Hjortrson returns.

There it is. A flash of white. Rúni inches closer, where Dáinn is looking out the window.

Day 6: Return to Asgard

Volstagg has been told repeatedly, so much that he knows the words to heart, that he has joined the illustrious ranks of the battalion under the command of the famed General.

It is true, that the man is great as they say. He does not put on airs; candid and forthcoming, rightfully earning all the respect that Volstagg and his fellow shield-brothers have to offer through shared hardships – Volstagg has never known of any superior officers who have plodded through mud and dirt and ash alongside their subordinates. He treats them well whenever he can, and gives them no reason to spare effort in their work.

Ultimately, it is that sense of selflessness that brings one half of an entire army battalion into stuttering fools and the other half into babbling idiots when Volstagg and a small number of fellow warriors – serving as Haraldr Hjortrson's personal security detail – return with the General.

It is not easy, to be a disappointment to the expectations of Haraldr Hjortrson.

Day 1: Muspelheim

Harry allows a furrow to come between his brow when the fire-demon envoy brings the request of King Surtr to Asgard. The shaky bilateral relations between the gold of Asgard and the other Realms is nothing new, but Muspelheim is the first of the Realms that has specifically requested Haraldr Hjortrson as an answering diplomat to follow the envoy on his return journey back to the home of Flame itself.

He adjourns to the adjoining rooms with the King and Queen and a select few guards, pondering his options all the while. The decision is to be quick – fire-demons are an excitable race if word is true, and have never been exceptional masters in controlling their flames – before something close to fiendfyre breaks out.

There is the option of refusal, but Harry cannot do so without offending the sovereign of a realm of fire demons. He is unable to leave Loki in the Queen's care, no matter how much she insists that it is no burden to her; she is due for a visit to Vanaheim with Lady Freya and the Lord Freyr in the next few days, and Thor is more than a handful at his age, even for Frigga and her handmaidens.

And yet he cannot bring Loki to the sheer firestorm that is Muspelheim; the general consensus is that children are meant to be taken care of by mother, nursemaids and the general female population, of which Harry himself is the sole exception.

To go or to refuse… it is a dilemma that has to be solved in a matter of minutes.

He steps forward only once, but that is enough to bring the immediate attention of the room to him. He keeps his tone deferential, "If I may be permitted to voice a suggestion."

"I am all ears, Skárison," is all his General says, and he cannot help but think that Hjortrson uses the strangest turns of phrase sometimes.

The intention stumbles out, and Skárison does not recall much of the original sentence that spills from his lips, only that his case is made through the fact that many of his fellow brothers in arms are not unfamiliar with taking care of young children, and that Loki is not shy of the soldiers under Hjortrson.

"Perhaps that is the solution to solve the problem, and more," is the response. But there is a twinkle in the man's eye, and Skárison feels the steady beat of his heart take a tumble.

The emotion is raw and alien - he knows of it, but he has never been allowed such had been a brief flare of pride from the recognition that Hjortrson affords him, but he tamps it down and forgets about it before they exit the privacy of the small chamber.

Only the minorities of eldjötun feel marginally comfortable in semi-solid forms, and Calor is not one of them. The air is sticky and damp to his transfigured skin, and the oddities that pass for aesthetic decorations are alien to his people – those are merely fuel to his flame-body, as most things that are not pure metal or rock are.

He briefly ponders, and then shudders at the sheer magnificence of Asgard, set aflame, a pleasant thought that is quickly disrupted by the Grand Advisor of Asgard descending the steps from behind the throne.

"Envoy Calor," Hjortrson addresses him, "I seek your understanding in that our departure to your home realm is to be delayed for three hours – there are matters that I shall have to attend to while my men prepare for their journey."

It is not an impossible request, so Calor agrees.

The arrangements go swimmingly well, and Harry cannot help but feel a mounting apprehension of sorts, even though his men have voiced their confidence in childcare (he is still a little sceptical), and Loki has tentatively understood that his father will have to be away for a few days. He consoles himself with the fact that Dáinn will be an able guardian if anything untoward happens.

The men that he is taking with him are the most inexperienced of the lot, and Harry knows that they have not yet ventured past the follow-all-orders stage, and will not have enough honed instincts to lash out at shadows with sharpened blades.

He shakes his head of the errant thoughts about all the things that could go wrong, and makes his way to the room that the envoy is currently waiting in – he is disadvantaged in the matters of the Muspelheim Courts, and it is time to use his unfair advantages to learn more from Calor.

The Grand Advisor is as the rumors say - like an unquenchable flame, firm and unyielding if he so wished. The Advisor has finished his business in a fraction of the requested time, and spends the rest of it playing gracious host to Calor as Asgardian soldiers scramble to get their preparations finished.

The drink is exquisite, living up to its name as 'Firewhisky', burning and soothing as it flows downward. He tells Hjortrson so, staring into eyes as green as flames born of copper. He basks under the eyes of the famed General, likening himself to a magnificent flame mesmerizing a feral animal.

The next two hours pass in a pleasant blur, until his flames burn up the alcohol that he has consumed. Calor pauses at the realization when his sobriety returns – has Haraldr Hjortrson always conversed with him with the nuances of the eldjötnar tongue? – but the thought is brushed away when the Advisor's men report that the travel preparations are complete.

Calor cannot wait to return to the land of his birth.

Volstagg hefts the satchel of supplies onto his shoulder and winces at the weight. It is a necessary burden, unless the General can conjure up food and drink from the molten wasteland that is Muspelheim.

There are five mouths to feed on this journey, and Volstagg hopes that they will not be spending more than a few days in the hospitality of a Realm that is barren of water and food. They have made good time in the preparations for the unexpected journey to the fiery Realm, and even have time to check their load twice over.

Volstagg volunteers himself to inform Hjortrson and Envoy Calor of their readiness to travel. The mouthwatering smell of Firewhisky lingers heavily in the room when he is permitted to enter, and Volstagg does not comment on the glassy-eyed state of envoy Calor as Hjortrson winks at him.

They set off with the blessings of the King and Queen of Asgard, and Volstagg spots young Loki somewhere in between armour and leather. They leave with the well wishes of the rest of the battalion, and curiously enough, those of the kitchen staffs. Calor leaps onto his impressive saurian mount, Hjortrson on the giant of a stag Dáinn, and the rest of them on regular Asgardian steeds.

The journey to the Asbrú is quick, and Calor moves into the observatory first while the rest of them dismount - the horses will not survive in the fire. Their General speaks then, "Place your bags here," and they comply, watching as he sweeps his hand over the pile of supplies, gesturing for them to pick the bags up after. His brother in arms overbalances while attempting to lift his satchel and Volstagg lifts his with trepidation and then wonderment when the bag weighs as much as it is when it is empty.

He checks them; the bags are still filled with their rations and equipment, and Hjortrson returns their questioning glances with a tilt of his head, "You are on a diplomatic mission as my subordinates, not pack mules."

He then sends the white stag down the Asbrú, but there is no time for Volstagg to ask further questions – Muspelheim awaits.

Calor steps through the shimmering veil, and so do the rest of them.

Day 1: Missing

Loki sighs into Lifa's shoulder, breathing in the scent of freshly baked pies - Iðunn's apples have been a plentiful harvest, Lifa tells him. He won't be permitted more than a slice, he knows, because too much of the apple will interfere with his growth.

Loki takes in another lungful of pastry-scented air, and frowns; there is no magic that tingles his tongue.

He misses his father already.

They follow the diplomatic party with their eyes until they vanish down the curvature of the road, and Rúni sighs a little in disappointment at not having the chance to go with the great General.

He turns around to look at his fellow brothers and their questing motions, only to feel his heart turn to stone and descend into the depths of his stomach when he hears the panic in someone's voice, "Where's young Loki?"

There has never been a poorer start to the day.

The first consensus that all of them had come to was to not call out Loki's name. Heads would roll if it was discovered that the son of the Shadow General was missing as soon as Haraldr Hjortrson had left.

Sigmarr sighs and continues his search - there would be a banner of shame upon them all if one battalion was unable to find a single child, son of a general or not.

Day 2: Hard Travel

The lizard-like mount squirms under him, and Volstagg sees its head turn to regard him with one beady eye. There is an eerie sort of intelligence in them, and Volstagg has already narrowly avoided its sneaky attempts of trying to knock him into something hot and fiery enough to melt even Ӕsir flesh to bone.

The General falls back a little, and smacks the nose of Volstagg's mount with a glare. The beast lowers its head, and Volstagg watches in disbelief as it actually submits to the General. The General moves forward once again, to engage the envoy in conversation. Only Calor and Hjortrson have total control of their mounts, it seems.

"Word has it that you are a formidable man, Grand Advisor," Calor starts the probing now, comfortable in his own skin of flame.

"Words and hearsay are easily embellished, Envoy Calor. I merely do what is necessary by the Realm Eternal," is all that Harry says to deflect the fire demon. He knows what Calor is doing, after having skimmed the envoy's mind.

"The Dvergar give their praise sparingly, and Muspelheim has heard of your reputation through them. We supply the fires of stars to them, and your name comes up often. They have gifted you with the name of Silvertongue, and neither you nor I can deny what that means."

Harry slams the urge to grimace - the sons of Ivaldi have taken their debt to him too far. It is a badge of honor when one is gifted with a nickname, but silver is an exceptionally treasured metal in the dwarven mines. And where his name is concerned, it means 'one who is upright in word and deed'.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the late Ivaldi has brought him more trouble than help.

Even by the agile saurian mounts, the journey is long, and Volstagg is wilting from the ever-present heat and smoke that closes on him from all sides. The ensorcelled waterskin that all of them have has been provided by the General, and Volstagg sips periodically from the endless supply of ice melt.

They are nearing the boundaries of King Surtr's palace, if Calor is to be believed. It is not easy to refute that statement - the streams of lava bursting out from soot-black rock are plentiful, and the heat grows even more stifling.

They crest the large hill, and Volstagg realises that this is indeed the ideal home for a eldjötun King - a mountain of a volcano spews thick black smoke into the sky.

Day 2: Fun Games

The soldiers seem to be playing a fun game, it seems. Thor watches as they mutter to themselves and search the strangest of places, and cannot decide if they are searching for a place to hide something unusual or searching for something that has been placed somewhere unusual.

"My prince!" someone calls out to Thor, and Thor turns to look at a red-faced soldier, "Do you know where young Haraldrson is?"

Oh. Hide-and-seek with Loki. It will be a difficult game, Thor thinks. Loki is nearly impossible to find, and only a few in Asgard know where to find Loki. His mother and her handmaidens, Lord Freyr, Lifa, just to name a few, but the soldier before him is not likely to know most of them in familiarity.

"The only people who always know where Loki is are Guðfaðirinn and Dáinn, and I can only ever find Loki when he is with them, " Thor says, and watches as the splotchy red turns pale.

Oh. Oh, the Norns. Rúni feels the blood drain from his face and his knees go weak - there is the possibility that Loki has stowed himself in the bulging satchels of his brothers in arms headed for the Palace of Flame.

Sigmarr feels too sick for a meal, but his shield brothers drag him down to the feasting halls nonetheless. Rúni pauses for a moment, because he cannot believe his eyes; Loki and Dáinn are at the main table, the sable-haired imp eating with relish while his cervine caretaker noses at a plate of greens.

Were the boy any other man's son, he would have strung Loki up for a lesson.

Tonight, two children sleep in the bed of her firstborn. Haraldr's son is tiny compared to her own, the former curled up into a ball while Thor takes up most of the large bed. Loki has unwittingly led the soldiers on a merry chase throughout the palace, and Frigga has seen the two children plot once Thor had told Loki that he wished to join in on the grand game of hide-and-seek that Loki had orchestrated.

Tomorrow, at day's end, Asgard's soldiers will have aged a century.

Day 3: Fire

Diplomacy is an arduous thing, and Volstagg is glad that he is not the main pillar of Asgard's diplomacy. The day is drawing to a close, though the walls of their accommodation is literally white hot. There is some kind of sorcery that holds the magma at bay, and Volstagg thinks that it is a quick and easy way to eradicate anyone unwanted - by just collapsing the walls of seiðr .

The room has been doubly warded by the General to prevent just that, and the cooling magic by Hjortrson works wonders for Volstagg's flesh, slow-cooked from the heat.

Day 3: Water

"Look, that blasted stag is there!" The whisper feels like a shout in Rúni's ear, and he flinches in response. True to the words of his shield-brother, Dáinn is indeed there, looking for all the world at home in the corridor made of stone despite the fact that the stag sticks out like a sore thumb beside the grand tapestries.

Where the stag is, there are bound to be two little mischief demons in the vicinity.

Dáinn enters one of the rooms, and the door slowly turns, nearly closing the gap. Rúni moves forward with his partner, trying to reach the room as silently as possible. With a prayer, he pushes the door open as steadily as possible, but the door catches on something - there is a sound above - and the next thing he knows, there is an icy cascade of water that falls from above.

Loki and Thor both turn to look at their uncle Freyr, lying on the floor shaking - breathless from keeping his laughter in.

Thor grins at the marvellous prank while Dáinn shakes off some of the droplets that have gotten on his coat, and Loki frowns at the waterlogged rug and equally drenched men.

Day 4: Plots

Freyr is grinning widely, and Freyja knows the reason why - her brother is set to win the wager along with a tiny handful of others in the palace-wide betting ring, that Loki will have the best-trained battalion in all of Asgard utterly defeated by the time Haraldr returns.

They have gathered in their sister's Hall, ready to depart for their home Realm, and yet Freyr is still whispering in young Loki's ear. Her brother turns to speak to Haraldr's familiar, and Freyja watches with amusement as the stag nods to a few words and then shakes his horns at the end of the sentence.

Loki watches as his uncle talks to Dáinn as if the stag is a soldier under his command, " Yesterday was perfect. Do not ruin this, Dáinn."

There is something soft brushing his hair, and Loki looks up to see his aunt. Her hair is the same colour as Thor's and Uncle Freyr's, but it shimmers like a living waterfall of gold, "Is that all that is on your mind, brother?"

Freyja turns to Loki, and makes sure to give the little one a tight hug. Long enough to tide the little one over till Haraldr returns, "Be brave, and be strong. Dáinn will be here for you, and your father will return soon, Loki."

Day 4: Plots

"King Surtr. Surely you understand that the Allfather has declared Midgard to be under his protection."

The fire demon merely looks upon Harry as if he is a mere child - the tiniest of ember demons, in eldjötun translation - and the magma around them roils when the King speaks, "Odin does not know of the consequences that he has set into motion. Midgard has always been a open Realm - and it would be a barren thing if not for Muspelheim,"

King Surtr is referring to his people's beliefs - there is a reason why Earth is called Midgard; the middle of Yggdrasil, where the World Tree branches out. And Midgard is merely an amalgamation of all of the Realms. With Muspelheim comes the molten core of the Earth. Jötunheim, the ice. Ice and fire produces water. Alfheim is an abundant land of trees. Niðavellir, the earth. Vanaheim with its plethora of animals. Asgard is the light, and Svartálfheim is the shadow. And with such abundance, there is a final realm - left nameless - of the nothingness.

"... and what I ask for is not impossible. Merely some tribute that I wish from Midgard, in return of the fertile lands that the fire and molten flame bring."

Day 5: Conclusion

Calor feels his King's fire flicker in annoyance.

The Asgardian still stands strong, despite the fire that surrounds him. Any other being from the other Realms would have succumbed to the heat, especially since the heat in the Throne Room is much higher than normal.

He cannot say that the negotiations are a success - Hjortrson has managed to keep his wits about him.

"You will have your tribute as promised, King Surtr."

Hjortrson will be escorted to the departure point, and Calor hopes to never see the Dark General of Asgard ever again.

Day 6: The General's Return

Oh Valhalla and all her Valkyries. Runi feels like falling to his knees in prayer to the Norns. He's found the General's son, but he is hanging from the stag's antlers precariously. So far the cervine familiar has not yet noticed his presence, but it is a matter of time.

He can't quite retrieve Loki without startling Dáinn and getting a kick in the face, and he risks startling Loki and resulting in the boy falling to his death.

His fellow soldiers round the corner, and Rúni feels his stomach disappear, "THERE IT IS! GRAB THAT STAG!"

Dáinn jerks, and Loki is startled out of his firm grip.

Rúni jumps.

Volstagg doesn't quite know what to say, having seen the seiðr woven with nothing more than the flick of the wrist. Haraldr Hjortrson looks down upon the unconscious soldier who has wrapped himself around a giggling Loki, and Volstagg wonders what is to become of the men tasked to take care of Loki.

Loki scales his father like a steep cliff, obviously unhurt with the net of seiðr and a soldier-cushion.

The Dark General chuckles heartily, but coupled with the way that the thick clouds suddenly obscure the sun, it sends waves of chill up Volstagg's spine.

"I think that some commendations are in order, hmm?"

Author's Notes:

This interlude ties up what I left hanging in the previous chapter - well, sort of, you can imagine what happens next - and somehow a little worldbuilding-slash-culture thing crept in. This interlude is incredibly late, because I marked it as 'posted' in my file archive when it clearly was not.

Silvertongue is mentioned in Proverbs 10:20 as a tongue that belongs to a just person (one who is upright in word and deed)

Inspiration for this little thing:

Regard your soldiers as your children,

and they will follow you into the deepest valleys;

look on them as your own beloved sons,

and they will stand by you even unto death.

Sun Tzu