I watch myself in the looking glass, hand moving in practiced rote. A hundred strokes through inky locks, as if ordering my glossy waves can transform me into a goddess deserving of adoration. My father disavows my obsession with skin cremes and face paints. He knows nothing of what it is like to live as half blushing maiden and half rotting corpse. Being the daughter of The Trickster is a bad pun.
Lining my lids with kohl, I trace dark wings that accentuate the fathomless divinity in my eyes, one a verdant green, the other a dead, smokey-grey. Should a mortal meet my gaze, my duality will flay spirit from flesh. Even immortals’ eyes slide from my face. It’s impolite to stare and the Nordic pantheon is nothing, if not proper. I wonder how the Christians would react to my twisted visage?
Smoothing on a crimson “all day” lip stain proves more difficult than the eye makeup. My upper lip oozes with putrid decay. The lower wrinkles, dry as ancient parchment, exposing snow white teeth and a wide expanse of jawbone. Above, cheeks glow pink with bright vitality.
I scowl at the mirror. Were that I was born male. My brother––Serpent and Wolf––feel no need to masquerade behind such warpaint.
A knock comes at the door.
“Mistress Hel?” The handmaiden stares at her feet. “Odin awaits.”
I nod, then snort in frustration, realizing she’s unwilling to dare even a glimpse of my reflection. “I come.”
The girl hesitates, feet shuffling. “Joyous Nameday, Mistress.” She slips away without another word.
My hundredth Nameday. I press trembling hands to my stomach. Tradition dictates that on this day, Odin, the great, one eyed Allfather, would grant a young immortal a boon. My own father has spent countless seasons whispering in the old man’s ear. Slyly bending him to The Trickster’s charlatan will, so that I might be granted my heart’s desire. To be whole and beautiful.
I slip into a silken gown and twirl in front of the mirror. Childish, perhaps, but the decadent cloth is a black so deep that it devours the light. I ignore the waxy sheen of my bare shoulders, for soon enough Odin’s gift will imbue a long awaited, rosy hue.
Giggling in anticipation, I make for the Great Hall. In the corridors, servants cower. They avert their eyes and twist their fingers into complicated sigils, warding against evil. I pretend not to notice.
The herald announces me: “All hail, the Lady Hel! Daughter of Loki, the Cunning, Shapeshifter of the Aesir, child of the giantess Angrboda!”
The court murmurs in greeting, but does not look at me. I excuse them, for when Odin grants my boon, they will be bedazzled. This is their final moment of rejection. I am charitable and will forgive them when I claim my beauty.
I glance around, eyes drawn to the margins of dark and light. Loki twines in an unnoticed corner, merged with the undulating shadows. He winks. I smile in return, a lopsided grin, stymied by rigor mortis. I offer him a silent prayer: thank you for this, father.
“Hel.” Odin’s voice sounds like thunder. I kneel, the velveteen night of my dress pooling in an infinite void as I await his benediction. “Joyous Nameday, child. Before this court, I deem to grant you your hundred year boon.”
Palms sweaty, I bite back a goofy grin. This is my moment.
The room falls silent, gods and demigods, nisse and huldra, await the Allfather’s decree.
Odin swells, magnanimous. “Hel. Creature of ultimate duality, neither alive nor dead, but a magnificent blending of the two. I bestow upon you a crown of Niflheim. Rule the underworld with pride. I name your kingdom, Hel, in your image. The spirits of the dead are in your keeping.”
For a sliver of eternity, I stare dumbfounded. The immortal court explodes in applause. It shatters my soul.
The desperate syncopation of my breath suffocates and I fight back a tidal wave of white hot rage. In the shadows, my father cackles. I seeth. Another of Loki’s depraved tricks.
Deep in my chest, my heart frosts over––fire turned to ice. If they desire a goddess of death, I will deliver.
My cruelty will be legendary.
I’ll await Ragnarok, when all will be rent asunder and Fate will deliver my ultimate retribution.