Odin’s Gift

Loki’s strawberry blond hair winked in the winter sunlight, large fluffy snowflakes catching in the strands. He hunched his lanky frame behind the smooth silver bark of the tree grinning while he molded the snowball carefully. Today was his birthday and Odin had a surprise for him, but he had one for Odin too. The snowball had to be to exact proportions. He didn’t like it when they were lumpy or oblong. They had to be perfect. His hands numbed while he waited, weapon in hand, so he gently sat the snowball aside gathering the folds of his light cloak in his hands, pulling them tight to his body. He played with his breath, watching the white cloud mist in the afternoon sunlight.

He shivered. His blue cloak was a pleasure to look at, it reminded him of his best friend’s eyes, but wasn’t doing much to keep out the weather. His mother preferred warmer climates and had never quite figured out what winter clothing should be. She simply stayed by the fire. They were only here, far in the north, because his father insisted it was safer right now, though from what Loki had not been able to figure out. He smiled when he heard boots crunching in the newly fallen snow. He’d been waiting here for over an hour so there would be no footprints. He held his breath to keep from laughing out loud. As quietly as a fairy dancing on a frosted leaf he picked up his snow ball and tensed his muscles, waiting. Waiting.

When the familiar tall form of his friend passed his hideaway, lost in contemplation as was usual for him, he almost didn’t strike. The snowflakes stuck in Odin’s black hair, shiny strands blending in with the cloak he was wearing, his strong form cutting an unhurried path through the trees, and Loki was frozen, like the rivers, like the air. Then a small smirk tugged at his lips and he let fly the perfect, round ball with a snicker. His friend heard that giggle, but when he turned and ducked he took the missile directly in the face.

“Ha! Predictable old man!” Loki hooted out another laugh, dancing in place to keep warm now that surprise wasn’t necessary. Odin growled, wiping the melting snow from his face, but it was with fond exasperation and not true anger that he pounced on his younger friend. They wrestled for a few moments, Loki not truly trying to get away, until they tumbled together in a heap on the ground. A handful of snow found its way under Loki’s shirt and he yelped and giggled while he struck out with an elbow that caught Odin in the stomach. Gasping and laughing the taller teen flopped onto his back and together they watched the sunlight dance between the snowflakes.

“I got you.”

“Brat,” Odin laughed.

“But I did.”

“Yes.” Odin’s smile was wide and for a moment Loki was lost in it, lost flying in his sky eyes, lost in the happiness of being near his friend. Then he shivered, and his body reminded him that he was lying on the icy ground.  Odin frowned, and squinted at his friend.

“I thought you had changed your mind about going with me. I didn’t think it was like you to miss a chance to hear the poets. You can’t go with me like that,” he frowned tugging on Loki’s cloak. “Our journey will take several hours.”

“Like what?” Loki asked sitting up. He felt offended, but he wasn’t quite sure why. He pushed a lock of his hair behind his ear, hands shaking with the cold and something else. He didn’t like it when he disappointed Odin, but he wasn’t even sure what he’d done.

Odin sighed and stood. He knew that look. Loki was gearing up to be obstinate. “It wasn’t a reprimand. I am thinking of your wellbeing. Take this,” he said pulling off his cloak, tossing in onto Loki’s head. He laughed and pulled it off, hair sticking out like he’d been standing in a strong wind.

“No,” he said trying to hand it back, but Odin winked and stepped away, hands behind his back.

“Why?”

“It’s yours.”

“So are you. You are my friend.” Loki looked on with interest as Odin’s cheeks tinted redder than they had been with the cold as he turned on his heel to cut a path through the forest.

“Oh, well…Thank you.” Loki said, rushing to keep up, but he still didn’t put the cloak around his shoulders. Odin’s long legs ate up the distance and Loki had a moment of envy. He’d grown recently, but Odin was still taller. He was beginning to suspect he’d always be shorter. Watching Odin, Loki felt …warm, inside, deep in his gut, as he clutched the soft cloth close.

“I have another. We’ll go back to camp,” Odin said dismissively, but Loki stopped with a grunt, tugging on Odin’s black shirt, tangling his fingers tight into the material to stop him.

“No, if I do my Mother will make me stay.” Odin raised his eyebrows and Loki shrugged with a slow smile. It wasn’t the first time he’d run off when he wasn’t supposed to in order to spend an evening at Odin’s side.

“Here,” the taller youth said crowding into Loki’s space, pulling the cloak from his chilled fingers. He whirled the cloak around, placing it back onto his own shoulders while Loki looked on impressed by his friend’s grace. Odin held out a strong arm and when Loki hesitated, stepped into the smaller man draping a careful arm around his shoulders. “Walk next to me then. It’s big enough for two.”

Loki wasn’t sure what to do with himself as they started to walk. Warmth radiated between their moving bodies and Odin seemed to know where they were going, like he always seemed to-even when he did not-and Loki relaxed, wrapping his own arm around Odin’s waist, wiggling his fingers between his wide belt and the shirt so they could stay warm. Odin smelled of campfire and pipe smoke and pine. As they walked Odin’s black hair, long enough to brush Loki’s cheek, fluttered and tickled him until he laughed. With an exaggerated scowl Odin stopped to pull it out of the way tying it with a leather thong at his neck. Loki was more in the way than not, but he didn’t want to move away from Odin’s heat, so he stood there, pressed to his side.

“Thank you,” he said quietly while his friend readjusted his cloak around them. Odin nodded and smiled that small, mysterious smile he got sometimes, the one that made his face softer, and his eyes less serious.

“Hospitality is a kindness for all involved,” he replied gruffly as they walked through the forest onto a well-used path. He looked away from Loki, gazing into the distance. Loki leaned around Odin to look that direction too, but didn’t see anything interesting. He shrugged and leaned into the curl of his friend’s arm, trusting him to take them where they should be.

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The Cauldron

He lingers near the lady’s fire soot collecting on his white shirt while he attempts to raise the courage for this endeavor. She sleeps in her small wooden home not even ten feet away, and he’s terrified to wake her. She is sure and true with a slap or an arrow, so he knows better than to anger her, yet constantly finds himself on the wrong side of her wrath. He quite expects to wake some morning as a squirmy little bug the pretty witch can stomp. He shivers. His strawberry blond hair shines golden in the flickering flames while he struggles to lift the cauldron from the hook, but he’s half her height, and his arms are still filling in with the muscle of manhood even though he’d gone through a growth spurt this past summer. The cauldron is hung too high for him to easily pull it down. The chill autumn air bites through his shirt as he sweats and struggles to lift the half full black metal pot from its resting place.

“Hurry or we will be caught,” his best friend whispers. With his dark hair and clothes he blends into the darkness much better, and he’s safer crouched behind a nearby tree.

“Help me and we shall be done twice as fast,” he hisses back. There’s a small chuckle then a boy a few years older than he is emerges in his dark green tunic, a shadow to the first youth’s light, and together they heave. The cauldron clunks off the hook into the embers.

“Ouch!” the blond whimpers brushing the sparks from his bare feet. The other boy in his boots elbows him aside fondly and braces himself lifting the cauldron.

“Quiet,” the raven haired teen groans eyes darting to the round wooden hut nearby, but no incensed witch comes screaming out after them. He pulls their treasure away from the fire and together the two teens struggle to make a fast get away with the heavy pot dangling between them.

“This is a lot of trouble to see the future,” the shorter boy grumbles to his best friend.

“Knowledge is worth some pain,” the other boy says with a sly grin jerking his head to the side to try to get his long dark hair to fall out of his clear blue eyes.

“Better yours than mine. Next time you’re not rousing me from bed for your foolishness,” the younger one grumbles with a laugh as they finally figured they were far enough away from the witch’s home to drop the cauldron to the forest floor. They were in a clearing, tall trees reaching with naked fingers to the sky. The water inside the pot was pitch in the night save for the silver of the moon vibrating in the steaming water.

“How do we use it?” the smaller boy asks his friend cuddling up to his side for warmth. They huddle there with the frost forming on the grass for several moments contemplating the cauldron.

“I don’t know. She stares inside and sees her future,” he concedes with a smile and a shrug. The younger boy sinks an elbow into his stomach and he grunts holding his side. “You’re getting strong,” he laughs. The glare he gets sends him into another peel of laughter that he stifles with a hand over his mouth. “You’re full of courage, are you not? Look,” the older one demands wrapping his arm around the smaller boy, drawing him closer.

“You want to know. You look,” the younger boy demands, but he does as he’s asked with half a smile. He leans forward and inside the moon swirls in his vision. He sees nothing in the cauldron, however, as he stands there wrapped in the warmth of the friend he loves most, the only person he’d die for aside from his dear mother, the moon shivers and trembles. Not in the cauldron, but in his mind, scenes lost from time unfold. He gasps in horror at the secrets yet to be unfurling, but through it all there is love as well. The constant presence he’s come to count on. Looking away he burrows in closer to the taller boy, pushing his face tightly to his friend’s chest, shaking his head. He doesn’t want to know everything. He certainly does not, but it’s good to know they will always be together.

“This was a fool’s errand. You are right. You are always right,” the darker boy gasps out the words after several minutes, but his hunger for knowledge keeps his eyes fixed on the endless darkness inside the battered, old, soot dark pot. For all that he claimed not to be the brave one, he hadn’t closed his eyes. He hadn’t looked away.

“Idiotic brats. I know it was you. Bring it back now.” A young woman’s irate yell sounds from outside the tree line and both boys jump in their embrace. Sharing a look they’re jolted from the seriousness of the moment. The short blond snorts out half a laugh, mischief lighting his eyes. Together, holding hands, they race as fast as they can through the darkness away from the clearing to search for a safe warm place to hide in and sleep away the little bit left of the night.