The door shut softly behind the servant, and Odin closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the head of the bed, propped up on pillows. His breath came heavy and slow.
“Come close, my son,” Odin said quietly, eyes still closed.
Loki remained in the shadows, uncertain whether Odin was awake, dreaming, or delirious.
“My body is under siege, but my mind is clear,” Odin said, as if in answer to Loki’s thoughts.
Loki still remained silent in the shadows, however.
Odin continued, “Why do you allow vengeance, deceit, and malice to fester in your heart?” He paused and breathed heavily for a moment before going on, “I do not expect you to understand this now, but listen well: everything I have done to you I have done for your good. I fear that, in truth, I have been too lenient with you. Blame it on a father’s affection. But if I was harsh, it is only because I have seen such greatness in you.”
Loki moved out of the shadows then, and strode softly to Odin’s bedside. There was fire, as well as water, in his eyes as he said, “Is that why you reject me – a father’s affection?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “You certainly have a strange concept of love!” His voice shook with emotion, and his fist clenched at his side.
Odin looked steadily at his son and after a pause said, “I have loved you more deeply than you will ever know!” A tear escaped from the corner of the great king’s eye. “Both steel and diamonds are made by fire.”
Loki said nothing and they simply looked long at each other.
After what might have been an eternity, the king spoke again, “Loki, I have an errand that I need you to undertake for me. I do not know how much longer I have here.”
The king then reached over and lifted a little clay pot from the table beside the bed. It fit snug in his palm and was of a rich dark brown color with intricate carved designs.
“I need you to take this to a holywoman named Iris who has dwelt for many years in the mountains of Jotenheim. Take this ring with you as well,” he said, removing from his hand a gold ring with a brilliant emerald jewel. “That will be proof enough for her that I have sent you. When you find her, give this to her, and she will mix it with another anointing oil. Then bring the mixture back to me. Make haste, for I have avoided death far too long.” His eyes wandered absently for a moment.
Then he handed the clay pot to Loki, who took it and examined the strange designs on the sides. Looking up at Odin, he asked, “why me?”
Odin smiled, looked at Loki and seemed to consider for a moment before answering, “Because you are best suited to be able to withstand the frigid cold of the Jotenheim Mountains.”
Loki smirked, and nodded in resignation.
“Take the narrow way to the left through the falls,” Odin said, “it will put you on the side of the mountain where she dwells.”
Loki looked at Odin for a moment, but he had so many questions that he did not ask any of them. Instead, he simply turned and departed to do as Odin had instructed.
Since it was the very dark hours of the night, he did not encounter anyone along the way, and peacefully skimmed the silvery water beyond the city in a little skiff, out to the sleepy hills, where he sailed directly through a shimmering waterfall and into the tunnel hidden behind it. He took the narrow tunnel to the left, as instructed, and after only a few moments, the air became frosty. A few more minutes of skillful maneuvering and the little skiff skidded out across a thick blanket of new-fallen snow. It looked blue under the light of the Jotenheim moon, sparkling out in all directions and down the mountainside. He stepped out of the skiff into the snow and looked about. On his right the mountain rose like a sleeping beast, and on his left, it descended toward a valley hidden in shadow. A narrow path lay before him winding up the side of the mountain. Snow drifts crossed it in places and it looked very abandoned. But Loki was certain that he was meant to take that path. Collecting his gear, he began his trek up the mountain.
It was exceedingly cold; however, he had dressed warmly and although his skin turned Joten blue, the cold neither hindered him nor even particularly bothered him. The wind and snow drifts slowed his journey, however.
After climbing for many hours, and the moon was now in the opposite end of the sky, he began to see indications of inhabitants. Runes carved into the rock face, boulders stacked as markers, and abandoned accoutrements of travel. Just as the moon was setting beyond the mountains, and he could feel the first hint of dawn approaching, he rounded a corner in the path and came abruptly to a cave entrance. There were steps leading up to it, and it was carved elaborately, with a great wooden door. The steps being swept of snow, he was certain that there were inhabitants.
“Hail to this house!” Loki called out at the silent door.
He waited for some moments, standing on the wind-swept path, listening to the whistling of the wind rushing over the barren rocks. All seemed cold and empty and blue.
Presently, there was a creaking sound at the door, and it opened slowly. A blue face appeared, and an old man’s voice spoke saying, “Who goes there?”
“I come in peace!” Loki called out to him.
The man stared at him in the dark for a moment.
“I come seeking Iris, the holywoman,” Loki continued.
The man nodded and motioned for him to come.
“Indeed, you have found the right place!” the withered blue man said as he opened the door for Loki. “But what brings ye to this barren rock at this hour of the night?”
“I wish to speak to Iris on a matter of urgency,” Loki replied.
“Patience! I will get her presently,” the man replied, motioning for him to take a seat at a stone ring in the center of the room. It was a large room sparsely furnished and dark.
As the man turned toward the inner part of the cave, a woman’s voice was heard to say, “No need, Oto. I am here.”
With that, a Joten woman in a dark cloak approached. She waved her hand and a blue flame suddenly burst forth in the center of the stone ring.
As her bare feet shuffled across the floor toward Loki, she suddenly stopped and exclaimed, “Well, bless my soul! I do believe it is Loki of Asgard!”
Loki froze and watched her carefully, unsure whether this was a good greeting or ill.
The two Jotens exchanged a look quickly between them, and then Iris stepped closer to Loki. She peered into his face and a smile spread across her withered face revealing perfect teeth. She reached out and touched him, seeming to marvel for a moment.
Rousing herself out of some sort of reverie, she said, “And what brings you to my door, young man?”
“Odin,” Loki replied. “He told me to give this to you and that you would know what to do with it.” He handed her the clay pot.
“Indeed!” she said with another smile, taking the little vessel. She then sat down opposite him at the ring and stared at him askance. “What else did he tell you?”
“He said to hurry because he fears that he shall not be with us much longer,” Loki said.
She nodded, but her mind seemed to wander to other things that she did not speak as she peered at his face.
“Do you know who I am?”
Loki shook his head.
“Do you know how I came to be here?”
Again, Loki shook his head.
She seemed to consider for a moment. “Very well,” she said rising and going to a cupboard built into the side of the wall. Opening it, she began to peer at a collection of vials and jars, looking for something. As she looked, she began to tell a tale.