In the divining bowl, Hel saw a man, not a man, a god. She didn't know his name or who he was, but he had the bearing and inner light of a god—nothing like her Balder. This was a significant change. There was a god walking the world, and there hadn't been for a long time. Where had he come from? How had he awoken?
Through the bowl, she could also see that he was with the humans. He was the reason the humans were venturing south, building their towns in fertile soils where the sun shone warmly. He was the reason the draugurs were gone.
More importantly, why had he been awoken? Searching, she could see no other gods walking the world. Asgard was still a charred and barren wasteland. The Bifrost was still destroyed and all else was quiet.
The larger question was what to do. One single god was having a substantial impact on the world, but not necessarily a bad one. He alone couldn't ride on Helheim, but that didn't mean he was a threat.
The god had taken a human lover and he was happy with her. Through the bowl, she saw them kiss and he had built her a hall, surrounded by a human town. The god and the humans were together. That was unusual. Balder was the god who had been closest to the humans, but this man was building his hall in their midst. It only proved that her vision was correct and he was alone.
For a moment, she wondered what to do with him. A god returning to the world was a big change and she wasn't sure she wanted it. This change would have waves that filtered through the whole of the world, and it already had. But the humans were replenishing and it was because of this man.
Still, there was an urge in her to kill him, to preserve the world exactly as it was. For a long time, she had been the only goddess of power in this world. This world had been hers, even if she hadn't done much with it. She had liked it that way, but now a new god was born—or restored. A fission of discomfort ran through her. Change was change, and it brought either good or bad.
Leaving the divining bowl, she returned to the main hall where Balder sat at the table. Ganglati served him, as ever not in any hurry at all. Balder was used to showing patience when it came to serve.
"What did you see?" he asked, turning his blue eyes to her. His hair was like spun gold and his skin still having the sun-kissed tone he'd had the day he had been murdered. Unlike humans, he was never drained of blood and lived like he had used to. The shoes kept him confined to Helheim, but he didn't need it. He wouldn't leave her.
"A god walks in Midgard."
Balder's eyebrows rose. "Who?"
"I don't know," she said.
"What does he look like?"
Hel described him, but to Hel's relief, Balder didn't seem able to identify him. "He is making his place with the humans." Slowly he nodded.
In a way, Balder seemed pleased. Knowing there was a god walking Midgard made him more at ease now that they had identified the threat they had perceived. Unfortunately, she was not as relieved. She didn't like this development. Balder would never agree to him being eliminated. It wasn't in his character. He was giving and accepting, and always expected the best outcome. The world simply didn't work that way—which was why he had ended up in Helheim in the first place. In a sense, she was glad, because of his murder by his brother Hoder, he was now here with her instead of dead along with all the others—except this god that now roams Midgard.
Garm barked and Hel froze. Someone was approaching her gate. The dog would not bark otherwise.
"We have a visitor," Balder said with pleasure. "It had been a very long time since we've had a visitor."
It had to be this god. There was no one else, unless one of the Norns would come to her gate, but they never left the Well or Urd. And it certainly wasn't Ratatosk, the squirrel that annoyed Nighogg so much. But someone was at the door.
"Go let them in," Hel ordered Ganglati. This god had come to present himself, it seemed. "We are to receive visitors."
Moving from the table, she sat down on her throne and as expected, Balder sat in the chair next to her. They waited in tense anticipation, while Hel wondered how she would kill this god if she needed to. Balder, ever the optimist, expected nothing of the kind. He perceived threats, but never expected them.
After a while, mostly due to Ganglati's laziness and incompetence, the god appeared. Blond hair in waves flowing past his shoulders. Not the sheer gold of Balder, but a handsome man. Thick and strong. He stopped and bowed.
He wore armor of leather and at his side sat a hammer Hel knew well enough. So did Balder.
"You have my brother's hammer, stranger," Balder said.
"Yes, brother, I have our brother Thor's hammer."
There was silence for a while. Hel's insides cringed. This was not some remote god, this was a son of Odin.
"Who are you?" Balder asked.
"My name is Vali. Odin is my brother."
"I do not know you."
She sensed both tension and curiosity in Balder.
"I was born to avenge your death."
Silence stretched for a while before Balder spoke. "Hoder. Did you avenge me? Did you kill your own brother?"
"Yes, it was my destiny."
Balder would not approve of this. Retribution was not in him, but Hel felt it justified. Retribution she understood well. It was critical and necessary.
"Now I have come to restore you, my brother," the man said.
Hel's insides clenched. "No!" she roared. "He belongs to me."
The man, Vali, turned his attention to her and bowed.
"I have come to ensure you keep to your word, Goddess Hel, and release my brother. Your word says that if nothing objects, he will be restored. There is nothing to object."
"That is not what I said."
"I apologize, Goddess. Your exact words were that if everything wished for him to be restored, he would be."
"That was a long time ago."
"But your word still stands, and there is no one who now doesn't want Balder to be restored."
"I do not wish to be restored," Balder said.
With this, Hel smiled. Balder didn't wish to be without her. Vali obviously hadn't anticipated that.
Vali walked closer. "That be as it may. Once restored, you have the ability to do as you wish. But we do have things to do?"
"Such as?" Hel challenged.
"To rebuild the world."
"The world is doing fine without us, brother."
"No, it was not. Midgard was overrun with creatures sucking the blood of any humans they could find. They hid in the snow. It was the reason they raised me, to help them against these creatures."
"What creatures?" Balder asked.
"Someone raised draugurs. Did you know of this, my love?" Balder asked, turning to her.
With deep annoyance, Hel searched for an explanation, but didn't find any. She hadn't told him and he wouldn't like that. "I knew. I didn't want to worry you for there was nothing you could do. There was nothing I could do. I did not have a weapon such as Draupnir."
"Then the humans are lucky they raised you," Balder said. "Quite feat to destroy the draugur overrunning Midgard. It will be remembered by the poets, I'm sure."
"Yes, the poets are remembering," Vali said with a smile. "And they will remember your return as well."
"I do not wish to leave," Balder said with such firmness it pleased her.
"There is your answer, Vali, son of Odin," she said to the intruder.
The man turned his attention to her. "But that is not your word. Balder must be restored. If he wishes to return, then he may do so. But first we must honor our dead."
That would get Balder. He believed in such things. "I do not wish to leave you, my love," Balder said. "But I have duties to my father."
"You would leave me alone?" she asked, feeling rejection biting into her. After all this time, how could he consider leaving her.
"Once it is done, you will return to me."
"No, I cannot be without you."
Balder was wavering, so she continued. "Vali is here to do any honoring required."
"But come see what I have built. Come meet my wife."
"You have taken a wife?"
"A human. Lily."
"I will wilt if you leave me, my love," Hel said. If it wasn't for the hammer, she could smite this man, but the hammer made him stronger. This man was intent in his mission, that much was certain. And he had her at her word. It meant something, even to her. Her word had always been law, and it would cease to be if she broke it herself. Balder had to be restored, but he would come back. He would come to her. It was only hours he could manage to be without her. It was the need of centuries.
"I will honor my father and I will return."
It did hurt her that he would even consider it, but she also knew that his sense of duty was strong, stronger than anything he wanted. If she denied him this, the opportunity to honor his father, he would resent her. It would creep in. Resentment crept in and built over centuries and it took work to cleanse him of them.