Hel was 8 years old and she had never seen light. At least she didn't think she had. Not in her memory. But she knew what it was, because of her brothers. Hel was the youngest of three. Her older brothers Fenrir and Jormungandr had seen light. And they had told her about it. Just as they had told her about the outside.
Hel had never seen outside. She dreamed of what outside might look like with it's light and sky and all the things her brothers had told her of.
When she was six she had asked her mum why she never went outside, like her brothers. And she was told it was terrible out there. Her brothers were strong and could stand it, but Hel was different and so she could not go outside.
She was a small child with long midnight black hair and deep rich, purple eyes. Her mothers eyes. Hel knew her mother loved her more than anything. And so when her mother told her she must stay inside she knew there must be a reason.
The only person Hel loved more than her mother was Loki. Her dear father. He lived far away in a place called Asgard. But when he visited his presence filled the hall of Angrboda with laughter. Loki spent a lot of him time outside with Hel's brothers, but he always found time to spare to sit with Hel in her pitch black chamber and tell her stories.
The stories Loki told were invariably about himself and whatever trouble he had been in most recently. His stories were full of strange places and interesting characters and they were the reason Hel treasured his visits. Because Loki's stories were the only thing that made Hel laugh and smile. Hel loved to laugh with her father it gave her a warm feeling that she always imagined was what light must feel like.
Loki loved to tell her stories. She was such an appreciative audience. Her brothers didn't have time for his stories and he couldn't tell any Aesir what he had been up to. At least not until after he had been caught for it. Most of all he loved to watch his quiet serious daughter fall about laughing loudly. It was the only thing she did loudly and her face would light up as she smiled.
It was when Hel was 8 that she turn to her father, on one of his long anticipated visits, and asked a question. “Father, do you think you could take me outside? Mother says it's not safe but with you by my side nothing could hurt me.” Loki looked into her hopeful eyes and frowned.
“Your mother told me you are afraid of the light? That you don't want to go outside.” He replied. Hel shook her head gently.
“I have never seen the light.” She said in her solemn tone.
A look of terrible anger flashed across her father's face. For a moment Hel thought she had said something wrong and she was about to apologise when her father's face softened again. “Of course you can go outside. My beloved Hel, I, Loki, promise to show you the outside.” He declared grandly. At that moment Angrboda opened the door to Hel's room and gave Loki a sharp look.
“A word. Now.” Loki gave her a dark look in return. He turned to Hel gave her a reassuring smile then left the room. Through the door Hel could clearly hear the argument that followed.
“She can't go outside, you know what the light does to her.” Said Angrboda and a furious voice. Hel had heard her mother angry many times and was unsurprised by her sharp tone.
But her father, as she knew him, was all ways full of laughter and joy. The harsh tone he used now was so unfamiliar to Hel. “How dare you lie to her. How dare you hide the truth from her. She deserves to know she deserves freedom. Just because she is different does not mean she should be shut away. It does not mean she shouldn't go outside.” He yelled furiously.
“Don't tell me how to raise my daughter Loki.” Came Angrboda's cold reply.
“She is my daughter too.” Countered Loki sharply.
Angrboda laughed a bitter laugh. “Don't give me that. You swan off to Asgard forever travelling with Odin. You have no time for this family only for your precious Aesir one. You can't visit a child once every few month and claim to have raised them. You can't be selfish with your daughter. All you want is for her to think you are a great father. You want her love but you care nothing for what this will mean for her. How long before you get bored of her and move on to your next toy?”
“How dare you. I would never get bored of my daughter. I love her.” Said Loki in a faintly hurt voice.
“You told me that once. It is a fact of you're nature, Loki. You don't love, not the way normal people love. You just get bored of people.” Replied Angrboda with quiet fury.
“You are wrong. I will always love her. And how can you call me selfish? You hide her away and lie to her because you are ashamed of her nature.” Answered Loki with renewed fury.
“It is not nature that makes her that way. She is cursed, I am trying to protect her from that. You don't have to deal with it. You can just leave like you always do. But I have to be there to pick up the pieces after you shatter her world.”
“I want to give her the world. You are trying to hide her from it. She deserves the world. She is not cursed she is exactly as she should be.” Said Loki firmly.
Then Hel heard the latch of her door as Loki opened it. Hel looked out from her pitch black room into the equally dark hall. She had perfect night vision and it had never occurred to her that light might be needed to see by.
She had seen the hall many times but only ever glimpsed through the door. But now Loki held the door open wide, his back to the fuming Angrboda. “It's ok.” Said Loki softly. “You can come out, you need to know the truth. Let me give you the world.”
Tentatively Hel took a step outside her room. She shivered slightly as she walked into the hall. Although she knew it well by sight to enter it felt like a step into the unknown. Loki saw her fear and reached out a hand to her. She smiled a soft smile as she took the warm hand of her father. He led her toward the main door of the hall.
“Hel don't go outside. Come back. You can't trust him.” Shouted Angrboda desperately. Hel frowned at her mother. She loved her father dearly and the idea of not trusting him had never crossed her mind. She turned back to the door and her warm cheerful father gather her an encouraging smile. “You can always trust me.” Loki told her gently.
“Countless people have made the mistake of trusting Loki, all have regretted it.” Angrboda called after them hopelessly. Loki open the door and light flooded the hall. Hel flinched as the light stung her eyes. For a moment she saw the world, she saw the sky and trees and birds and felt the wind on her face. Her heart soared. But the elation was brief.
The change began instantly. It did not hurt, but it felt horribly strange. Hel felt her body shrink, whole chunks of her skin simply faded away. Half her hair was gone from her head and as she stared at her hands Hel could see her bones become exposed in places. She could feel her whole body die. She could feel her organs rot in her body. Her heart stopped beating. She hadn't even realised she could feel it beat but now she felt it's terrible stillness in her shrunken chest.
Hel reeled in disgust and horror. She wrenched her hand from her fathers and ran for the darkness. She slammed the door of her room shut. And the moment the light left her skin she returned to her self. Hel pulled her blanket over her head and collapsed on to her bed. Her heart thumping furiously with the shock. She was so relieved to feel it beating once more she clutched her hand to her chest and wept.
She cringed slightly when she heard the door open. Her father sat beside her on the bed. She knew it was him by the familiar smell. Hel's father smelled to her like warmth and happiness. His presence had always been a comfort to her. But now knowing he was there just made her cry even harder. She felt she had let him down somehow.
Loki wrapped his arms around the blanket that covered his daughter. He held her tightly and said nothing as she cried into his chest. Eventually her crying quietened and Hel found her voice. “I am a monster, aren't I? I'm a freak.” Loki's embrace tightened protectively.
“No you are my daughter. You are Hel. And you are perfect.” He said with conviction. “Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. There is nothing wrong with being what you are. How can there be. You are who you are, if you were meant to be something else you would be something else.” Replied Loki, simply.
Hel stopped crying and pulled the blanket off her head and looked at her father uncertainly. “But you saw what I became, how can you still love me?” She whispered.
“I will always love you, my precious daughter. No matter what you do. You are beautiful, don't hide that from the world.” Said Loki in an unusually earnest tone.
“I can't go outside again.” She muttered sadly.
“Do you want to go outside?” Asked Loki. She nodded silently, tears beginning to fall from her eyes once again. “Then, my beloved daughter, you shall.”
“But I don't want to change again. It felt horrid.” Insisted Hel sorrowfully.
When she closed her eyes she could see imprinted in her mind the image of the sky and the trees and the grass and the bird and all the colour and beauty. She understood now why her brothers talked of nothing else. “I will go to the dwarfs and I will have them make for you a cloak of darkness. And you will be able to walk the world without changing.” Announced Loki.
“Really?” Asked Hel, her voice full of hope.
“Absolutely, if you promise me something.” Said Loki. Hel nodded instantly.
“Anything father.” She swore, her voice full of love and happiness.
“Promise me you will never be ashamed of who and what you are.” Hel grinned and hugged her father tight.
It was two weeks before Loki returned, having once again angered the dwarfs. They would get their own back soon. But Loki felt it worth it as he presented to cloak of solid darkness to the delighted Hel.
When she wore the cloak darkness fell across her face that no light could penetrate. And once again Hel walked with her father and saw the outside world.
Loki didn't always have time for his children and soon after the Aesir Vanir war began and Hel saw little of him. She sometimes thought she should love her mother more. For all her faults she was the one who was always there for her. The one who had truly raised her. But Hel never forgot that it was her father that gave her freedom. And it was her father that gave her the world.
When the war ended word reached the happy siblings that Odin had declared they should leave Jotunheim. They were unsure at first, but their father had agreed and they were told each would be given a wonderful new home. Jormungandr went to the sea where he could grow bigger and bigger until he encircled the world. Fenrir was given free reign of the woods of Asgard. And Hel was given a whole kingdom of darkness where she could walk without fear of changing.
The siblings were sad to leave their mother. But they knew their father had ensured they would be safe. Hel made for herself a whole kingdom. And there she allowed all soul shunned by the light to live. She ruled them well and was loved by all. And although Hel no longer needed it she kept the cloak and wore it always in Helheim, as a reminder of her beloved father.