“You’re feeding the monster tonight?”
I jumped. As usual, Óðinn had managed to sneak up on me. Not that I’d been doing anything suspicious, just filling a bag with loaves of bread in the middle of Val-hall’s expansive kitchens, but still. My father always made me feel like I’d been caught in the middle of something humiliating.
“I am,” I replied.
Carefully, I settled a thick, dark round of rye on top of the pile of bread in the sack. Only once I’d knotted the top together did I turn to face Óðinn.
“We’re still bringing him mead?” Óðinn asked. His one pale blue eye glinted like flint in the torchlight.
“Yes. Of course.”
Óðinn grunted. That low rumble was the closest he ever came to approval.
“He’s quite a drinker,” Óðinn said. “You bring him a big barrel?”
I nodded. We’d started with the bread, after I’d reached out and established a relationship with the legendary monster wolf of the Ironwood forest. After a few years, Óðinn told me to start pushing the mead. It’s easier to control a man with mead than with bread, Óðinn insisted. I knew better than to disagree. Óðinn was, after all, an expert in controlling men.
So, once a month when the moon was full, I traveled alone to the Ironwood forest with a sack of bread and a big barrel of Val-hall’s mead. And, once a month, I collected the previous month’s barrel from Fenris.
It was always full. Perhaps Fenris had been a drinker in his previous life, before he ran away from his mother’s castle to live by himself among the trees of the Ironwood, but I’d never seen him drink more than one horn when we shared our meals, and that was frequently much less than what I drank when we got together. Before I returned to Asgard each month, I opened the tap on the big barrel and poured the golden mead of Val-hall into the swirling darkness of the Körmt river.
My father didn’t need to know everything.
“His wolf shape is getting bigger?” Óðinn pushed.
At this, an entirely inappropriate image of Fenris’s lean, muscular torso flashed through my mind. I shoved it away.
“Slowly,” I said, watching my father closely.
Óðinn has had a lifetime of guarding his emotions. Still, I thought I saw his lone eye widen slightly as I spoke. He still feared the monster of the Ironwood, then. I stifled a sigh. They all feared the monster wolf Fenris.
That’s how I’d ended up with this job, after all. It was my own damn fault. Many years ago, as we talked about the Fenris wolf from the safety of Val-hall, I laughed at my father and brothers’ fear. I wasn’t afraid, I told them all. In fact, I’d prove it.
That night I drank enough mead to drown a horse and marched into the Ironwood alone, calling the name of the legendary monster wolf of Jötunheimr. It wasn’t the stupidest thing I’d ever done in my long life, but it was probably in the top ten.
Looking back, I’m not sure what I’d expected to find when I staggered down the Bifröst and into the forest, drunk off my ass, waving my sword around and screaming at the top of my lungs. I spent almost an entire night stumbling beneath the trees, throwing rocks into the bushes, and screaming “Fenris! Show yourself, monster!”
Finally, when the mead’s warmth had started to wane and the growing realization of what an ass I’d made of myself had grown as inexorably as my hangover, something crashed in the woods behind me. I’d staggered into a warrior’s pose and pulled my sword from its scabbard. A moment later, a man had walked out of the trees, as naked as the day he was born, with both hands empty and upraised.
“Yes?” he’d said.
“Who the fuck are you?” I’d demanded.
An entire night wasted in the Ironwood with nothing to show for it, and the beginnings of yet another brutal hangover biting at my temples, had done nothing to sweeten my disposition.
The strange, naked man had run his fingers through a tangle of long, auburn hair as he’d grinned at me. “Well, you’ve been yelling my name all night. Was there something in particular you wanted, or do you just like screaming?”
I’d blinked as I tried to decide if he’d just insulted me. Yes, damn it, now that he stood in front of me in the thin, green-tinged light of the Ironwood’s canopy, I could see the man’s resemblance to Loki, Fenris’s sire. And it made sense that the monstrous Fenris wolf would have a man shape. He’d lived his entire childhood in Angrboða’s fortress, after all, and we’d never even heard rumors of any magical inclinations.
The naked man had rubbed the back of his neck as he tilted his head, examining me. An entirely inappropriate shiver of arousal had trickled down my spine, the first of many I’d try to supress around Fenris; Loki was damned handsome, after all, despite his oily personality. His son seemed to have inherited those incendiary good looks.
“You’re a little smaller than I expected,” I’d said.
The naked man had shrugged. If I’d offended him, he didn’t let it show.
“And I thought an envoy from my mother would be a bit more dignified,” he’d replied.
“Your mother?” I’d frowned, processing that one. “I’m not here for Angrboða.”
His eyes had widened. “Really? Then who are you here for?”
I’d laughed at that one. After hours of staggering drunkenly through the Ironwood, someone had finally asked me what the fuck I was doing.
“Trying to be a badass, I suppose,” I’d sighed. My sword had given a satisfying hiss as I sheathed it.
Our eyes had met just as dawn stretched its first golden fingers through the feathery branches of the Ironwood’s pines.
“Would you like something to eat?” he’d asked.
I’d wiped my hand across my mouth, which had begun to feel papery and thick. “Yeah. I would.”
A shadow had passed across his face, and he’d hesitated. “You’re truly not from Angrboða? If you are, I’ll give you a head start before running you out of the woods.”
I’d held my hands up in front of my chest, showing my open palms. “No, I’m not. I’m Týr Óðinnsen, of the Æsir.”
He’d whistled, and I’d felt absurdly flattered. “The Æsir don’t usually come to the Ironwood.”
“Yeah. I know. I’m…” I’d hesitated, but the truth of it had spilled out before I could stop myself. “I’m a fucking idiot.”
He’d laughed again, and I’d found myself smiling in response. The rest of the story had came so easily I might as well have been confiding in a friend.
“So, you got drunk and decided to hunt the Fenris wolf? Alone?” he’d finally asked, once I’d finished.
By this time he’d led me to a clearing next to a stream, where I’d washed and drank cold water to quench my headache while he’d built a fire and set a haunch of venison to roast.
“Pretty much,” I’d admitted.
“That does sound rather stupid.” He’d grinned as he’d twirled the venison spit above the fire. Grease dripped into the flames, crackling and hissing.
“They call me Týr the Brave,” I’d replied. “Not Týr the Clever.”
We’d both laughed again, and the scent of roasting meat filled the night. For a moment it was all so damned pleasant it had made my chest ache. For all the warriors in Asgard, at that moment it had occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed this much without being drunk.
“Well, you found me,” Fenris had said as he pulled the spit closer to examine the meat.
He’d sunk his teeth into the meat and pulled off a strip before handing the wooden spit to me.
“Yes, but I was looking for a monster,” I’d replied.
His eyes had flashed, and for a moment I’d worried I’d said the wrong thing.
“Watch,” he’d said.
He had stood and stepped away from the firelight. A helpless sort of panic had risen in my throat. Damn it all, I’d liked him. What in the Nine Realms had I done to fuck things up this time?
“Wait—” I’d said, but my words had evaporated as a swirl of golden sparks began to obscure his tall, muscular body.
Inside the sparks, something grew. Something dark. I’d dropped the spit of venison and staggered to my feet, my heart hammering wildly between my ribs. By the time my sword was free of its scabbard, the thing had grown to half the height of the trees.
“Holy fuck,” I’d muttered.
The beast’s head had swung down, and pale eyes the size of cannonballs narrowed as they found me. Dark lips curled back to reveal jagged white teeth the length of my broadsword.
It was horrific.
I’d laughed at the cowardice of the Æsir and Vanir, those brave warriors who were too scared to venture into the Ironwood, but I hadn’t laughed then, as the monster stared at me beneath the trees. The numbed, calm detachment of the battlefield had settled over me, and I’d realized that I may have been staring at my own death.
“This monster?” the thing had growled.
Its voice was like a dark echo of the handsome, naked man’s. I’d straightened my back and stood tall before the monster. If I was about to die, I’d wanted to die as Týr the Brave. The beast stretched its neck to the sky, and I’d pulled in a deep breath, steadying my sword arm.
But, instead of lunging toward me, the monster’s body had shivered with another flurry of golden light. Tiny, dancing sparks had filled the air, drifting upward to join the pale stars. I’d narrowed my eyes, trying to focus on the creature behind the glimmering lights, but the looming darkness above the trees had emptied.
“What did you think?”
I’d snapped my attention to the far side of the fire. The naked man stood there, wearing a smile that was almost apologetic as he tilted his head to one side.
“It’s gotten a lot bigger since Angrboða’s castle,” he’d said. “But was it… I don’t know. Did it look like you expected?”
I’d let the breath out of my lungs in a huff. “Oh, fuck! I thought you were going to kill me!”
He’d frowned, then glanced at my feet. “What? Because you dropped the meat in the fire?”
I had laughed. The whole fucking thing was just so absurd, I couldn’t stop myself. I’d laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks, and then I’d slapped Fenris on the back and told him his monster wolf was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen in my life. He’d told me they might need to stop calling me Týr the Brave then, and we’d both laughed together.
That night, after we’d roasted a second leg of venison but before I pulled myself together enough to use my meager magical talents to summon the Bifröst, I had asked if I could see him again. He’d said of course, that I’d always be welcome in the Ironwood. That one night was the foundation of my monthly visits. Not the bread I brought with me, or the mead of Val-hall. One night spent around a fire, laughing like old friends.
Yet another thing I saw no reason to share with my father.
“How big is he?” Óðinn asked suddenly, interrupting my thoughts.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Another image of Fenris’s handsome face, his long, auburn hair and high cheekbones, flickered across my consciousness, followed by the curve of his back, the way his hips—
I sank my teeth into my bottom lip and tried to force myself to concentrate. Fenris’s wolf form had grown larger and stronger, and my burgeoning attraction to Fenris’s wry sense of humor and brutal honesty only made it more difficult to ignore the way his lean, muscular body looked as he moved in the firelight before me.
“The wolf form is almost as tall as Val-hall’s roof,” I said. It was a bit of a stab in the dark, as I usually saw Fenris shift forms in the darkness of the Ironwood with no real frame of reference nearby.
Óðinn frowned and pressed his lips together in a tight, white line. Damn. Perhaps I should have said Fenris was smaller. I laced my fingers around the knot of the bread bag as I waited for Óðinn to say something. And waited. The silence between us pinched until it became almost painful.
“Well,” I finally said. “I’d better get going. We’re meeting at dusk.”
Óðinn’s pale eye snapped up to my face. “Týr,” he said, making my name sound like a curse. “Don’t get attached.”
My fist tightened around the laces of the bag.
“I’m not!” I snapped. “I don’t get attached. I’m a warrior, not a fucking poet.”
I pulled the bag of bread over my shoulders and marched out of the kitchen, giving my father a very wide berth. Oddly, Óðinn followed me as I went. His footsteps thudded behind me for several paces. I swallowed hard.
Val-hall’s mead was kept in the main feast hall. The barrels lined the wall; Óðinn made sure they were always full, and always in view. The mead cured hangovers and war injuries, both of which were common enough on Val-hall, but I knew their ready availability was about more than just their curative properties. Bread and mead are instruments of control, as my father had just said. And who would ever want to leave the plentiful mead of Val-hall?
I took a deep breath when I reached the last barrel and closed my eyes to focus on the strands of magic humming through Asgard. Magic doesn’t come easily to me. Unlike my brothers Baldr and Thor, I have to fucking work at it. But a full barrel of mead was far too heavy for me to lift by myself, and no one dared accompany me to the Ironwood, so I needed to use what magic I could muster to float the damn thing.
Unless. Shit. Óðinn had followed me all the way from the kitchens. Was he planning on following me into the Ironwood tonight? The feast hall suddenly felt cold. I lost my tenuous grip on Asgard’s magic and huffed in frustration before turning to face Óðinn.
“Yes?” I asked. “Is there something more?”
My father was still scowling as if he had some further reprimand in mind. His mouth moved behind his closed lips, almost as though he were chewing his words instead of spitting them out.
“You meet him in the woods?” Óðinn finally asked.
“Yes, of course,” I snapped. “And I’m supposed to be meeting him right now. So, unless you have any further comments—”
“Don’t scare him away,” Óðinn said.
I stopped, my mouth open, my mind scrambling to make sense of his words.
“Act like his friend,” Óðinn continued. “But don’t push him. I want the monster dependent on us. On you. I don’t want him bolting from the Ironwood.”
“Fine,” I said. “I won’t push him. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a monster to feed.”
Óðinn raised his hands in front of his chest and stepped back. It looked like surrender, but I knew my father better than that. The All-father of Asgard never surrendered. He just lulled you into a false sense of security.
Still. My heart rattled against my ribs, and my clothes felt clammy with sweat. That had been damn close. I closed my eyes again and willed myself to breathe slowly, to focus on the magic, to lift the damn barrel and get out of here.
Because I wasn’t meeting Fenris in the forest.
Enjoyed the first chapter?
You can read all of Tempting Fenris Wolf in the short story collection Legends & Lovers, which comes out on 12/18.
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