Love and loyalty are powerful ties, but even the strongest fetters can be broken.
Odin has established absolute dominion over the Nine Worlds, but he knows that one day a Jötun named Loki will destroy everything he has created. To avert a bloody war, he adopts the peculiar child and forges a bond of kinship with him. However, when a powerful seeress foretells the coming of Ragnarök, Odin and Frigg begin to redirect the course of their foster son’s life. As the future’s shadow grows longer, their measures grow more desperate.
Embittered by Odin’s manipulations, Loki becomes ever more sly and secretive; when he discovers that his own brothers have betrayed him at Odin’s command, he spirals into madness. Soon, Loki and Odin are circling one another, and the fate of the worlds depends on two men who will sacrifice everything to get what they want.
Excerpt: Loki’s Contract
Late in the night, the festivities were interrupted when Odin’s wolves began to snap and howl. The sounds of merrymaking died down as everyone’s attention was drawn to the doorway where two sour-looking dwarves announced that they were searching for Loki.
All eyes turned to Odin’s youngest, whose pale eyes grew wide. He looked as though he might try to flee until Thor wrapped his brawny arm around his shoulders.
Odin invited the dwarves to explain their business with his son. Brokk and Eitri took a few steps into the room, their eyes fixed on Loki, who squirmed uncomfortably in Thor’s grasp.
“You have seen the treasures Gullinborsti, Mjöllnir, and Draupnir, have you not?” demanded Eitri. The Aesir admitted they had.
“And are they not every bit as fine as Skídbladnir, Gungnir, and the golden hair?” Brokk asked. The Aesir agreed they were.
“Then we have fairly won the wager we made with Loki Laufeyjarson. We have come to claim our payment,” said Brokk forcefully, drawing his seax.
The Aesir burst into cacophonous rancour and Thor gripped his brother tight, prepared to protect him or punish him, whichever was warranted. Frigg screeched and grabbed Odin’s arm, her eyes filling with hot tears.
Odin lifted his wife’s hand to his lips and then stepped between the dwarves and Loki. “And what wager have you made with my son?” he asked politely, his voice edged with danger.
“We wagered that if we made treasures as fine as those of the sons of Ivaldi that we would take Loki’s head,” Eitri said. “You have agreed that our creations are equal to theirs. We will take our prize now.”
The Aesir erupted into mad shouts. Odin’s one blue eye shot Loki a fiery glare.
Thor gripped his brother so tight that he nearly broke the boy’s collarbone. “You idiot!” he hissed into Loki’s ear, shaking him. “Did you not think they would demand payment?”
A horrified silence fell over the room. All eyes were on Loki, who gulped air into his rigid body as he tried to think his way out of the death he had tricked himself into. His mind burned and his pulse thudded in his ears as the two dwarves approached. Outside intervention would create ill will between the Aesir and the dwarves, and no one—not even Odin—was prepared to do that.
Loki began to panic.
The dwarves approached with cold, emotionless intent, their finely crafted blades in hand until they were only a few steps from where Loki stood restrained by Thor’s arm.
“Wait!” Loki yowled shrilly, throwing his hands out in front of himself. The dwarves scowled at one another as they gripped their blades tightly, expecting another trick. Loki stammered on as his voice cracked with fear.
“I said…I said you could have my head. But I never said you could touch my neck! And you can’t take my head without harming my neck.”
Brokk and Eitri seethed, their ugly faces contorted in rage. They spun around to bare their teeth at Odin, furious at the indignities inflicted upon them after they had bargained in good faith. “Grey Wanderer, your son has deceived us—we demand justice!” Eitri screamed, raising his seax and shaking it furiously.
Odin looked at the raging dwarves thoughtfully and nodded tensely, acknowledging their concerns. “Indeed, your creations are as magnificent as any I have seen. You most certainly deserve payment,” the wise old man spoke softly, ambling over to his youngest son with a warm smile on his lips and cold murder in his eye. He gestured for Thor to release his brother and then, with deceptive ease and grace, grabbed Loki hard by his neck at the base of his skull, making him flinch. Odin smiled bitterly at Loki, who, unable to turn his head, glanced apprehensively at his formidable father from the corner of his eye.
“My son is still but a boy,” he spat, though Loki was fast approaching adulthood, “and he has little understanding of contracts. This was but a poorly tendered contract, my friends—surely you can propose more acceptable compensation that my dear son will very gladly pay.”
Odin’s lips split open in a terrifying grin, which he directed toward Loki. He squeezed Loki’s neck hard enough to make him grimace and breathed hotly in his ear.
“No tricks here, boy. We rely on the dwarves and their skills, so we cannot afford to squander their goodwill. If you ever do this again, I will cut off your head and present it to them myself.”
Loki swallowed hard.
Their rage muted by the opportunity to resolve their grievance, the dwarves spoke quietly to one another while the Aesir whispered and stared. After a few unsettling minutes, the dwarves turned back to Odin, and Eitri spoke calmly. “We would like to stitch closed the lips of Loki Laufeyjarson so that he may learn to think before he speaks.”
Odin’s booming, mirthful laughter filled the great hall. “A most wise and just price, my friends! This shall be done.”