Mother of Gods

(This short-short story is © 2005, from my book Odhroerir: Nine Devotional Tales of Odin’s Journeys)

Bestla hummed gently as she reached down into the cradle that held her newborn triplets. Her shining cascade of snow-white hair—as white as the soft fur that lined the cradle— spilled down over her shoulders to tickle the pink faces of the tiny boys who gazed up at her, their blue eyes as sharp as the sky on a winter morning. Such clarity would have been shocking if they had been ordinary infants, but they were not. These were her three sons by Borr, her strong, handsome husband who was not like any other Jotun man she had ever known, and who many believed was not truly of their kind at all but the first of some new race. Her scrying had told her that from his seed would come three great ones, the three who she now bent over to snuggle and kiss, one by one. In return for her caresses, the middle child, with snow-white hair like her own, grabbed at her finger. The eldest, whose hair was a cross between the flame red of his father’s and her own mother’s white-gold, tried to grope for her breast, thinking it was time for a meal. The youngest, whose hair was all flame, grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked hard. But Bestla only laughed lightly and, turning away from the cradle for a moment, picked up the wooden bowl of water she had set on a nearby table, along with a fresh-cut birch twig.

Then she turned back to her boys, regarding her youngest first. “You have the fiery hair of your father, my child, and from the sparks in your eyes, no doubt his fiery temper as well. And yet I can see that you will also have a mischievous sense of humor. You will bring joy and laughter wherever you go; yours is the power of the fires of the hearth, yet those very flames can become the fires of destruction if allowed to rage out of control.” Lightly, she used the birch twig to sprinkle him with a few drops of water. The baby laughed. “You are Lodurr, for you will bring your warmth to all that you touch. And you are also Ve, for even by your mischief you will prove to be the salvation of your kin and their means of survival—when you are not also their undoing.”

She turned her attention to her middle child. “You are snow- white like me, my child, and I suspect you have also inherited my will, which is as strong and hard as ice. The powers of water are yours, to shape and to give form to all that you touch, and yet you must take care not to let those powers flow away from you—or worse, dissipate and turn to steam. You will always live in the shadow of your two brothers and your other kin, and yet your gifts are indispensable. You are like the ice of Nifelheim that met and interacted with the hot steam of Muspelheim in Ginnungagap at the beginning of all the worlds. You are the medium that allows creation itself to occur.” Gently, she sprinkled him with water. “You are Hoenir, for your role in shaping what will come, but you are also Villi, for your spirit is strong and will become the unseen backbone on which your brothers depend.”

Finally, she turned to her oldest child, who met her gaze with something alarmingly close to a challenge in his startling blue eyes. “You have eyes of flame, my child,” she spoke softly. “Blue flame that cuts like a sword. They mirror the brightness and wildness of your soul. The skies will be yours, and the winds, and all the powers of air and mind and consciousness. You will be the brightest of the bright and the highest of the high. But you will also never hesitate to descend to the darkest depths to accomplish your aims. I see a great wyrd for you, but also a terrible one. You will sacrifice yourself for wisdom again and again, and will be despised by many who have gained the most from your gifts. You will be lord of your brothers, and yet ever on the outskirts of your clan. The wild blood is strong in you, my son, the warg blood that will sing in your veins and make you long for the wild, cold places from which you sprang, here in Niflheim. You will dwell in all worlds while belonging to none and bestowing gifts on all. You will fight tirelessly for the preservation of those who have no love for you and who trust you little better than a common outlaw. And yet you will rise above them all.” With a wave of the twig, she sprinkled him. “You are Odin, the frenzied one, the ecstatic one. Your gifts are inspiration and madness alike, and many more will hate and distrust you than adore you for them. Yet you are also Will and Holiness, for you combine in yourself the gifts of your two brothers as well as your own. I love all of my sons, but of the three you are the greatest. And my heart tells me that you are also the one for whom I shall most often weep.”

But by now, all three boys were yawning and blinking, ready for sleep. With a smile, Bestla tucked their coverlet of white fur around them, as somewhere in the snow-capped mountains of Niflheim, a lone wolf began to howl

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