The sun shone obnoxiously bright from a cloudless sky, and Thor was sweating buckets. This was unusual for him, since he normally needed at least half an hour of hard sparring to start to sweat. But now he could feel it drip down his neck, irritating the mysterious rash that had appeared on his back and shoulders in the past week. It itched uncomfortably under his shirt, but he tried his best to ignore it.
“You look half-dead” Sif noted, sounding amused as she adjusted her shield. She wasn’t wrong, either.
“Says the woman who spent the morning hunched over the chamber pot.” He grumbled in reply, “how much did you drink last night, you light-weight?”
Sif rewarded him with a hard glare as she drew her sword. Some things you did not jest about, especially since she hadn’t had anything to drink the night before.
They did not speak any more as they sparred, apart from the usual jibes and taunts. Thor was having a reasonably good day after all, apart from the annoying rash and the exhaustion aching in his bones. Hela had slept through the night without waking either of her exhausted parents even once, for the very first time. Thor had not realised how much work was required from new parents, and even though Loki was wonderful with her Thor really felt that he would like a bit more time alone with his beautiful consort. Preferably in the bedroom.
“Have you considered finding a caretaker for the little one?” Sif asked, as if she had read his thoughts. Her sword seemed to fly through the air, striking Thor’s shield hard enough to make it rattle.
“Yes, but Loki is resistant.” That was putting it mildly; they’d almost had a row about it. Their first proper row since they married in Vanaheim.
“What does the healers say?” Sif asked as they paused to drink, offering him a wooden ladle full from the bucket holding water. “About the rash.”
“I have not been.”
“You really should, it’s clearly bothering you. And you never get sick.”
“You sound like Loki.” Thor filled the ladle again, letting the water pour over his sore back. It had started to ache, more than was normal when sparring. And it itched dreadfully.
“Maybe you should listen to him.”
Thor rolled his eyes, exasperated. “It is nothing, just a rash. It will pass.”
Sif didn’t look like she believed him, but did not argue.
“Very well” she said calmly, “it’s your skin.”
“Yes, it is” Thor said as he left the sword and instead drew Mjolnir. Sif’s face hardened as she raised her shield.
Frigga carefully put down her teacup, not sure what to say. She had never been at a loss for words before, not with Loki. But now, after the last few months, she didn’t know where she stood with him anymore. And the worst part was that it was wholly her own fault. Some things you can’t forget, even if you find it in you to forgive them. Some wounds simply ran too deep. And she should know; the birth of Hela had opened wounds in Frigga that she had thought healed over long ago. Wounds she had then punished her child for. A child she loved, and now he was a stranger.
“Have you thought any more of what I suggested?” She asked slowly, “about a caretaker?”
Loki looked up from the baby, his happy smile turning into a frown. He wasn’t sure how to tell her that he had in fact arranged for one to be sent to Asgard post haste.
“I have” he simply replied, looking back down at the baby. Hela was sucking on her fist, making little gurgling noises of contentment. She was so cute he wanted to look at her forever.
“I am sure one of my maids-” Frigga began, hesitant.
“Thank you” Loki interrupted, “I would appreciate that.” He wasn’t completely sure that he wanted one of his mother’s maids, but she was right in that he needed the help. Thor did his best, but he had his duties. And Loki had his, and somewhere in the midst of all that they were expected to care for a child that needed them at all hours of the day and night. Something had to give, and perhaps a nanny was just what they needed.
“I shall arrange for one to come to you as soon as possible” Frigga said, not wanting to say that she already had one in mind.
“Good” Loki said decisively, effectively ending the conversation.
“You should get that seen to” Loki echoed Sif later that day, referring to Thor’s back, as he bounced Hela in his arms. Thor ignored him, more interested in digging through the lunch basket the kitchen staff had put together for them.
They were in Frigga’s gardens, safely ensconced under a large, leafy tree. Loki, who was unwilling to put Hela down on the ground and had not thought to bring her ice basket, gave the infant a leaf to play with and watched with exasperation as she immediately put it in her mouth, drooling and giggling.
Thor, very pleased with the basket’s contents and immediately helping himself to most of it, finally looked up at his husband.
“Dearest, it is of little importance. Just a rash, it will go away.”
“And what about the back ache, and the sleeplessness, and the tiredness? Thor, you never get sick.”
“Precisely, and i am not sick. I am just… overworked.”
Loki clearly did not believe him.
“Overworked, he says” he muttered to Hela, who was chewing on the leaf with toothless gums, “overworked indeed.”
Thor distractedly scratched at his neck as he stretched out on the blanket the kitchen maid had put down before she left them to their own devices. It was itching something terribly, his shirt chafing against sensitive skin.
“Maybe you’ll feel better if you take of the shirt” Loki said, finally deciding it was safe to put Hela down for a bit. She did not protest, happy to keep chewing on the leaf.
Thor hesitated. He had not yet shown anyone just what his back currently looked like, and didn’t feel like showing Loki either.
“Thor. Brother. ” Loki insisted firmly when he saw the hesitation, “let me see. Perhaps my sejdr can help.”
Thor hesitated. It was rather ugly, and he wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of Loki seeing him at anything other than his finest. There had been a time when he did not care, but things were different now. They were married. Had a child of their own. He did not want to appear unattractive.
But this was Loki, his own darling Loki, who had seen him at his worst and married him anyway. He could not deny him the simple request of removing his shirt. So remove it he did.
“Oh Thor” Loki sighed as he saw the red skin spreading over Thor’s back and shoulder blades, it looked hot and inflamed and must itch horribly.
“It’s not that bad” Thor muttered, even as he rolled his shoulders in an attempt to alleviate the sullen ache in them, different from the usual ache he got from sparring.
Loki placed a cold hand in the middle of Thor’s back, immediately soothing and relieving the discomfort. Thor sighed in pleasure, leaning forward slightly so as to give better access. Loki called forth his sejdr, using his powers of ice to cool and numb the area until Thor felt no discomfort any longer apart from the chill.
Once he had finished, Thor pulled him close and kissed him in gratitude.
One kiss became two, became many, and soon Thor was lying on his back on the blanket, Loki sprawled on top of him, as they exchanged lazy kisses and gentle caresses. It felt good to touch each other again, since they had not lain together properly since their wedding night in Vanaheim nigh on a moon ago.
It was wonderful, Loki thought; he had missed Thor’s touch as much as he expected Thor had missed touching him. But he still protested when the thunderer started to undo his breeches.
“Not now” he panted, “Hela-”
“Is too small to understand. And we are alone. Come brother, let me please you.”
And, norns help him, Loki was powerless to say no.
Thor leaned back in the tub, letting the warmth of the water soothe muscles that simply would not stop aching no matter what he did. Perhaps he ought to go to the healers after all, let them check if there was something wrong. But that’d make Loki smug about being right, and some part of him was against that. Perhaps it was the big brother part.
He reached over his aching shoulder, trying to soothe the irritating itch that seemed to be a permanent fixture to his upper back, but couldn’t quite reach.he twisted his body in a strange angle, making the water slosh up over his shoulders and give some modicum of relief.
“That looks uncomfortable” said a voice from the bathroom door and he looked up to see Loki, dressed for the day already in a fine green robe that made Thor itch in a completely different way, wanting to strip of that robe to get to the acres and acres of pale smooth skin hiding underneath.
“It helps” Thor said, closing his eyes. It made him unable to see Loki frown, but he could hear it in the way his brother moved across the room. Then slender fingers were on his shoulders, working out a kink he didn’t know was there until then.
“Let me see” Loki said, his tone commanding. Thor sat up again, highly reluctant, but did as he was told.
“Oh, Thor” Loki sighed as he saw the deep red irritation. “Is it sore?” It sure looked sore.
“The itch is worse” Thor replied tiredly, “I can’t reach.”
“You need to get this looked at.” Loki’s voice was gentle, but there was an insistence there that sat ill with Thor.
“Do not be foolish, I am fine. ” a warrior didn’t go to the healing wings for something as simple as a rash.
Loki glared down at him, for a moment feeling the urge to hold Thor under the surface of the water until he relented and did as Loki wanted. In another life he might have, but now he had other options. Ones that were much more effective.
“Well” he said haughtily as he turned and left the bathroom, “consider yourself banned from my bed until I hear from Eir that she’s had a look at you.”
Thor sat up, the water sloshing out onto the floor in his shock. Surely Loki was jesting? That was just cruel!
“Loki!” He cried in protest, but one look from Loki stopped him cold.
“I mean it, Thor.” Then he was gone, blast him.
Thor sunk back into his bath, no longer enjoying it. The itch between his shoulder blades seemed to intensify as his mood soured.
A few hours later, a hard knock on the door woke Loki who had most definitely not been napping in his chair with Hela in his lap. No, he’d just been closing his eyes for a moment or two, really. So when the knock came, it startled him out of half-slumber so bad Hela nearly slipped from his lap. Having finally fallen into a highly reluctant sleep, she immediately woke up and started crying.
With his daughter on his arm, trying to silence her wails, Loki stumbled towards the door and opened it to a stranger.
She was small, even shorter than he was, and slender with long dark hair and dark eyes. He knew her from somewhere, but could not place her. She wore a simple blue dress and carried a small basket of flowers and herbs.
“Your majesty” she said, curtseying.
Loki looked at the woman in front of him with some puzzlement. He knew he should recognize her, but was unsure as of where. She wasn’t one of his mother’s maids, at least not one he knew. Then again, he had never bothered learning their names and could barely tell them apart.
“And you are?” He asked, looking at her expectantly.
“Sigyn, your majesty” she replied, “I am here to serve as nanny for the little princess.”
Loki nodded slowly, standing aside to let her in. Hela sobbed louder, and Loki bounced her distractedly even as he conjured up a piece of ice for her to suck on. It always seemed to help when she was cranky.
“I expect you have experience.”
“Yes, your majesty. I am the eldest of seven, and helped my mother raise my younger siblings.”
“And my mother sent you?”
There was a flicker of something in Sigyn’s eyes, but it was gone so quickly Loki imagined he had simply imagined it.
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Well, here is the little miracle” He said as he handed over the baby, who snuffled a bit in protest but seemed content to suck on her ice cube. “she is to be fed and changed and-”
“I will look after her, your majesty. Please, trust me.” Sigyn’s dark eyes were imploring, and Loki sighed.
“Alright, I will trust you.” He made as if to leave, but then remembered something, and turned back.
“She gets overheated easily, and when she does you want to put her in the ice basket, that’s the one over there” he pointed, “until she cools down.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
Loki nodded, pleased, then remembered something else.
“I know you from somewhere” he said, “where is that?”
Sigyn blushed, pleased with the recognition.
“I used to be your washerwoman, your majesty. Yours and prince Thor’s.”
Loki nodded, that would be why he recognised her without having been able to give her a name.
“Very well. I will be back later this afternoon.”
Then he hurriedly left, leaving Sigyn alone with Hela.
Sigyn watched him go, a small, strange smile on her lips.
“Take of your shirt” a small woman with grey hair and sharp eyes ordered Thor, who sat unhappily on an examination table in the healing wing. He had slunk of to the healing wing once he was done with his bath, not wanting to draw Loki’s ire. Now he was regretting it, but the look in the Eir’s eyes told him that he was going to suffer for wasting her time if he did not obey. He undid his shirt, pulling it over his head with a pained wince. His back muscles ached at the strain, as if he had spent hours sparring instead of sleeping in and then having a lazy bath.
“Lean forward” she said, walking around the table so she could have a look at his back. There was silence as Thor hunched over, resting his elbows on his thighs.
“Is this sore?” Eir finally asked and Thor nodded, realising a little belatedly that she probably couldn’t see it.
“Yes” he said.
“Hmm.” was the verdict. “How long have you had this rash, your majesty?” Thor thought about it, but couldn’t remember when it appeared.
“And has it been constant, or getting worse?”
Cool hands touched his back, and Thor flinched involuntarily. He didn't like anyone touching him apart from Loki, especially not his back. Eir ignored his reaction, stroking lightly over the angry red skin. She pushed down experimentally over the reddest part, right between his shoulder blades.
“Is this sore?” She asked, and Thor grunted in agreement.
“Most likely because sweat pools here. You need to keep the skin clean and moist. I will get you some cream, have your young husband help you apply it.”
“Why do I have it?” Thor asked, wanting to know that more than anything else.
“I can’t tell” Eir replied, sounding displeased. “My sejdr finds no fault. Likely you’ve just been sunburnt, and not allowed it to heal properly. Be careful and use the cream and it should heal nicely. And don’t scratch.”
“Not a hardship” Thor replied dryly, “I can’t reach.”
“That’s something, at least.”
“Tea?” Freyja offered with a smile, gesturing to the small table she had had placed just outside her hall Sessrumnir, by the little stream that ran by and babbled so sweetly. It was her favourite spot to spend the warm days, just relaxing and reading or sewing by the water.
On the table sat a fat little teapot, two mugs, and a plate of sweet spiced bread, accompanied by jars of jam and honey.
“As long as it is not a special blend” Loki replied as he took a seat, grinning back at her. He adjusted his blue robe and tried not to think about how it still strained a little over his stomach. Baby weight was not as easy to shift as they’d have you believe.
“It is, but not the blend you’re thinking of” she said as she poured, offering a mug of steaming tea that Loki accepted gracefully. His thick golden bracelet, a gift from King Eirikki of Vanaheim, gleamed in the sunlight.
They drank for a few moments in silence, before Freyja asked,
“How are you all? I haven’t seen you in a while.” Freyja had chosen to remain behind for a few weeks in Vanaheim to spend time with family, before returning to her duties in Asgard.
“Choose to stay behind in Vanaheim, and that’s what you get. We’re good, though. Thank you. I’ve just had a new nanny hired.”
Freyja looked up, letting the spoon fall back into the jam jar. It sploshed and sank down nearly completely in the thick red contents. Raspberry, her favourite.
“A nanny? Whose idea was that?”
“Mother’s, who else?” Loki rolled his eyes, helping himself to the sweet bread and honey.
“Well, a nanny might be nice.” Freyja offered carefully, picking up the spoon again.
“It is, actually. It frees up time to spend with Thor.” Loki made a disgruntled face. “Well, in theory.”
“In theory?” Freyja considered her slice of bread, then decided it needed honey in addition to the jam.
“Yes, it would if he didn’t spend his time either sparring or sleeping.” Loki made an unhappy face, biting viciously into his bread.
“That doesn’t sound like Thor” Freyja protested mildly, taking another spoonful of honey and stirring it into her tea. “The sleeping, I mean.”
“He’s been ill” Loki shrugged, sipping at his tea.
“Ill?” Freyja shook her head, “Thor never gets ill.”
“That’s what I said, but he is ill now. At least I managed to get him to go to the healers.”
“Impressive. What did you do, blackmail him?” She teased.
“I threatened to withhold sex.” Loki smirked.
Freyja laughed, bright and tinkling.
“That would work like a charm, I expect” she giggled, then gew serious. “What did the healers say?”
“Rest a lot and use a cream to help with the rash. And to stay out of the sun.”
“I take it he isn’t happy about it?”
“No, but at least he keeps his shirt on when sparring now.”
“They truly did not find anything wrong?”
“No.” Loki grew serious. “But I… I am worried. He has been so tired lately, even though he sleeps far longer than I each morning.”
Freyja bit her lip, considering.
“Do you want me to write to aunt Vigdis? Maybe a vanir healer knows more?”
Loki considered the offer, before nodding yes.
“Please do” he said, “I fear something is really wrong.”
While Freyja and Loki were having tea, Thor was where he spent most of his time away from his little family. The training grounds.
This day, he was sparring against Volstagg, who was one of the few warriors of Asgard that equalled Thor in strength. Some would even say that he surpassed the prince, but preferably not when said prince could hear it.
“Come on, is that all you’ve got?” Volstagg’s taunting was good natured, but he wasn’t to know that Thor had spent a sleepless night on his stomach, trying to lie as still as possible so as not to wake an exhausted Loki, before pretending to be asleep as his husband rose to care for their daughter. His shoulders and back seemed to be unable to decide if they were to itch or ache, and had settled somewhere in between. Wearing a shirt only made matters worse, and the cream he had been given by the healers did not seem to be working.
Thor roared with rage at the taunt, swinging his sword with uneven movements that were unlike him. But his blow struck true, hitting Volstagg’s shield with enough force to make the larger man stagger back.
“Ha, that’s better!” Volstagg laughed, charging for the prince again. Their swords met with a clang, Thor panting from exertion.
“What’s the matter?” Volstagg teased, “your young husband keeping you awake all night?” Thor snarled.
“Says the man who has to have two sharing him to be satisfied” he said, knowing it would make Volstagg angry enough to really give him a workout. They both knew he didn’t mean the taunt, but it was useful nonetheless.
It worked; Volstagg’s swings came fast and hard, forcing Thor to move swiftly to parry. They moved across the exercise field, fluid in their parries and blows like they had danced like this a thousand times before. To be fair, they had.
Then Volstagg’s next blow struck Thor’s shield with a force that could only be equalled by the thunderer himself, and something surprising happened. Thor staggered back, his legs suddenly going weak, and he fell to his knees.
Volstagg stared down at him in mute amazement for a few moments.
“I didn’t think I struck that hard” Volstagg finally managed, and Thor shook his head.
“You are strong, my friend.” Thor said, trying to play it off. His head was aching and he felt nauseous. He wondered if he would be able to get on his feet on his own.
Hogun and Fandral, who had been watching with great interest, walked over to the other two. Hogun leaned down and pulled Thor to his feet.
“You alright?” He asked, and Thor shook his head.
“I’m fine, just need a drink.”
“Are you sure?” Fandral protested, “If it had been true battle-”
Thor rolled his eyes, locking his knees in order to stay on his feet. He really wanted to rest a little, perhaps take a nap.
“I’m alright” he insisted, not wanting to appear weak in front of his friends.
Over his head, the warriors three exchanged worried looks.
Eir looked up at the small woman who stood on the other side of her desk, waiting expectantly.
“Oh, Sigyn. Good to see you, it’s been a while. How are you?”
“I am well, thank you.” Sigyn moved her head like a skittish bird, not looking straight at Eir but somewhere above her left shoulder. “I came here to pick up Prince Thor’s skin ointment?”
“He usually does that himself” Eir said, surprised.
“Yes, but he asked me this time. He wanted to spend time with his daughter.”
“Ah yes, you are nanny for the little princess now, or so I’ve heard.”
“Yes, I am.” Sigyn beamed with pride, and Eir felt pleased. Sigyn hadn’t had an easy time previous, but it was clear that the trust the princes had placed in her, letting her care for their precious child, was doing her a wealth of good.
“I’ll fetch the cream” Eir smiled as she stood up. “But first, tell me how you are holding up.”
“I am fine” Sigyn said defensively.
“Any more… spells?” Eir prodded carefully, but she shook her head vehemently.
“None. Really, I’m doing
I’m just taking care of little Hela.”
“And how is that going?”
“Great. She’s such a good baby.” Sigyn’s face softened, her eyes warm. “Such a good baby” she repeated, more to herself than Eir.
Eir felt pleased. Clearly, Sigyn was doing well, and taking good care of her little charge. Otherwise, she was sure, there’d be another nanny by now. She went to fetch the skin ointment.
As she went, she passed Sif, who was sitting on a examination table while another healer spoke to her in a low, calming voice. Eir noted, in a detached sort of way, that the shieldwoman was as white as a sheet.
Sigyn positively adored Hela. She was the sweetest little baby, always happy and smiling up at Sigyn whenever the woman leaned over her crib. Just now, as her fathers rested, Sigyn took the chance to play with the little one, dancing her about the room that was used as a nursery. It was almost as if she was holding her own daughter, but Aili had been gone for many years now. The only thing that momentarily stilled the ache inside Sigyn was holding Hela, and therefore she was immeasurably grateful that she was allowed to care for the baby. And Loki was so attentive! When he was in the room, all his attention was on her and the baby. It felt almost like they were a family, but of course they weren't.
Loki was married to Thor, and they seemed like a happy couple. Except Sigyn didn’t like the way Thor seemed to put Loki first, above everyone else including his child. A baby should be the most important thing in a parent’s life, if you asked her. But nobody asked, so she kept her opinions to herself, content to do what was asked of her.
As she danced, singing a sweet little children’s song to the cooing child she was holding, the door opened as if whoever it was knew they’d be welcome. Sigyn stopped dancing and turned around, looking in surprise at the Queen of Asgard herself, standing in the doorway with a hopeful expression.
“You- your majesty” Sigyn stammered, as if she had been caught doing something illicit. “I-”
Frigga ignored her, staring at the baby in Sigyn’s arms. Hela was fussing a little, not at all pleased that the rocking motion that she’d been enjoying had stopped.
“May I come in?” Frigga asked calmly, even as she stepped across the threshold. Sigyn hesitated. Loki had been very strict about who was allowed in to see the little one when he wasn’t there, and his mother hadn’t been amongst the people mentioned. But at the same time… this was the queen herself, and surely she must be allowed in, even if Loki hadn’t mentioned her.
“May I come in?” Frigga repeated, sensing that Sigyn was torn between what she saw as her duty and recognising a sovereign.
Finally, the woman nodded, but it was with an unhappy expression. Frigga ignored her, completely focused on her little granddaughter. Hela had calmed in Sigyn’s arms, content to chew on her long dark hair. The baby girl was absoluitely stunning, Frigga thought, with her hair a mix of pale yellow like Thor’s and black like Loki’s, and her skin a curious mix of pale and blue. Her little lips were a deep purple, which Frigga first worried about but then figured was normal for a jotun babe. It must be normal if Sigyn did not see fit to call for healers.
Hela noticed that she was being watched and stopped chewing in order to look up at Frigga with her deep green eyes. Frigga’s own blue stared back, questioning but hopeful. Eventually, Hela seemed to decide that she liked this stranger and shrieked a demand to be held. It was with great reluctance that Sigyn let go of her charge and placed her in her grandmother’s arms. Frigga felt her heart swell with joy as she held her granddaughter properly for the first time.
“Hello there” she murmured gently, running a finger down a soft blue cheek. Hela turned her head and started suckling on it, gurgling a little. The noise was enough to make Frigga feel like she wanted to cry, just for the joy of holding her.
She sank down into the chair that Loki used to sit in when he fed his baby, rocking the child slowly and crooning a song without words.
Sigyn watched carefully from the corner, ready to interfere at the smallest sign of distress from Hela.
Frigga, however, soon forgot her presence in her joy at finally holding her grandchild and seeing for herself the light in her eyes.
Hogun held Thor’s hair back for the second time that day as the prince leaned forward, throwing up what little remained in his stomach. It was mostly bile and mead, since Thor had refused lunch and stuck to drink, claiming that he wasn’t hungry. Now Hogun was starting to suspect that it had been a lie, and that his friend had been trying to stave of more nausea. It hadn’t helped, at all.
“Drink this” Sif said, sticking a flask under Thor’s nose, “it helps.”
He gave her a suspicious look.
“What is it?” He asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“A brew of raspberry leaves. Eir gave it to me. Trust me, it really does help when you feel sick.”
Thor accepted the flask and drank deeply, grimacing at the taste.
“Have you been to the healers yet?” Sif asked as he handed back the bottle and she put the stopper back.
“No, it’s just a stomach bug.” Thor replied, rolling his eyes. His stomach rolled, too, but kept reasonably calm.
Sif and Hogun looked at him dubiously, but neither protested. They knew how stubborn Thor was. The only one who could talk him into doing something he didn’t want to do was Loki.
“Alright” Thor said, making a face, “who’s next? Sif?”
“Are you sure you ought to spar?” Sif asked as she picked up her spear.
“Yes, I am sure. Come on, you’re not scared, are you?”
“Of you? Never.”
But she was starting to get scared for him.
In the gardens, Loki and Frigga were facing each other over a game of Mills, which Loki had been teaching his mother since his return from Vanaheim. Neither was a very good player, so the matches fell evenly in who was victorious. They did not meet to really play mills, after all, but to try to rebuild their relationship.
“Your turn” Loki said, moving a piece. He leaned back, studying the board. He thought of Thor again, felt the gnawing feeling of unease in his stomach. He pushed it away, not wanting to let on.
Frigga looked at her son.
“You seem to be more energized” she said, carefully. Loki brushed back his hair.
“Yes, Sigyn takes the nights now.” He said, “So both Thor and I can sleep.” And do other things, at least in theory. In truth, they were both still too exhausted to do anything but sleep.
“Sigyn” Frigga replied slowly. “Ah, the nanny.”
Loki looked at her oddly. Surely she had not already forgotten who she had sent to look after his daughter?
“Yes” he replied in the same slow tone.
Frigga moved her pieces.
“You are pleased with her, then.” She did not let on that she was disappointed that Loki had not taken one of her maids, but had chosen one on his own. He was fully in his right to make decisions concerning his daughter, and she was afraid to question him, afraid it might push him away.
They played for a bit in silence.
“I wanted to tell you I’m sorry” Frigga said eventually, when the silence became too heavy for her to bear. “For everything.”
Loki looked up sharply, his features hard. It took him some time before he responded.
“I don’t know if I can forget” he said, and Frigga tried not to flinch.
“Do you? Do you have any idea of how it hurt? I needed you. I was frightened. And you-” he stopped, not knowing how to go on. A hand briefly touched the cheek she had struck.
Frigga hung her head in shame.
“I cannot apologize enough, Loki. I can only tell you my reasons.”
Loki looked at her imploringly.
“And what were your reasons, mother?”
Frigga felt her heart beat a little faster at the word; hearing him call her mother again meant more than she knew to say.
So she drew a deep breath, and told him about Odin’s betrayal, all those years ago. As she spoke, she felt her eyes sting with tears just as they had then.
When she was finished, she was exhausted.
Loki cocked his head to the side.
“So Thor is truly my brother” he said more to himself than to her.
“In the way that you were sired by the same man. But you are first and foremost Jotun.” Her gaze fell on the thick brace he wore, the anchor to the glamour keeping him looking like she had always known him. Fair and pale with bright green eyes.
“And you would still see me married to your son.”
“Yes,” Frigga replied empathically, “I would. It would please me to no end. I know you have always loved each other.”
Loki was quiet, and Frigga waited with bated breath. Then he looked up at her with a look in his eyes she could not decipher.
“I won” he said, and it too her some time to realise that he meant the game.
“Must you go?” Loki asked unhappily.
“I will only be gone for the day” Thor soothed him, but Loki would not be soothed.
This had been a matter of discontent for a few days now, Thor’s hunting trip. Even though it would be short, only one day, and he’d be back the same eve, Loki was loath to see him go. They saw so little of each other as it was, and then it was usually the two of them together with Hela. he wanted to spend some time alone with Thor, and was one day really so much to ask?
“You will see, brother. You will spend the day resting and reading, and to-night I will be back with game. Sigyn will take care of the little one.”
Sigyn had proven herself to be a nornsent, patient like a deep well and always available to look after Hela. It was as if she never slept, really.
“Are you sure you are up to it?” Loki worried, hating how anxious he sounded. He had never been like this before, content to let Thor come and go as he pleased. But after Hela’s birth things had been different. Now he worried always, about everything. Especially Thor and Hela when they were out of his sight.
“Loki-” Thor sounded exasperated, and Loki pulled his arms up, tugged at his sleeves.
Thor’s heavy hands took his, holding them still.
“I am not ill, love. I have merely slept badly for the past few nights.”
That was an understatement; Thor had tossed and turned for many hours, keeping them both awake even though exhaustion crept through them. Loki badly wanted to sleep, uninterrupted by both his husband and his daughter. The rings under his eyes were bad enough that he had to use strong glamours to hide them.
“I still don’t want you to go.” He whispered more to himself than to Thor. What he wanted was to go back to bed and sleep close to Thor, just to hold him for a while. Perhaps to reaffirm their bond; they’d not lain together since Hela had been born, not truly. He needed to feel Thor inside him again.
“If you truly wish me to stay, I will stay.” Thor said, but he didn’t sound pleased and Loki felt ashamed of himself. He knew Thor had looked forward to this excursion.
“No, you should go.” He put on his bravest face. “I am going to sleep for a bit longer, then meet with Mother.”
Thor smiled at him, like the sun coming out behind the clouds.
“That’s the spirit” he teased gently. Then he took Loki’s face in his heavy hands, looking into his eyes.
“I love you” he said seriously, and Loki felt his heart race. He knew that of course, but to hear it-
“I know” he smiled, genuinely this time. “I love you too.”
They kissed, sweetly, but Loki couldn’t resist adding a bit of passion. Thor’s eyes were dark when he pulled back.
“Go” Loki said, grinning, “before I change my mind. Come back victorious, and you shall be rewarded.”
“I’ll hold you to that, dearest.”
Then Thor was gone, and Loki felt the smile slide from his lips.
“Come back” he whispered, “I fear something will happen today.”
Hela was rather cranky all afternoon, fussing incessantly in Sigyn’s arms until Loki had had enough, stopped trying to read, and went over to take his daughter from her.
“Hey, baby” he crooned, “what’s wrong?” Hela sniffled miserably, her little hands closing into fists as she sobbed.
“You’re scared too, huh,” Loki whispered to her, “you feel that something is wrong.”
“She is picking up on you being worried, sire” said Sigyn carefully, “she’s a very sensitive baby.”
“Yes, she is” Loki agreed, rocking Hela gently. She kept fussing, not interested in settling down. Her cries broke his heart.
Sigyn held out her arms for the baby, smiling warmly at Loki.
“I’ll look after her, my- sir. You get some rest. You look tired.”
Loki hesitated, looking down at his sniffling daughter. But he was so tired, his eyes ached. Just an hour, surely that wouldn’t harm anyone.
He handed his daughter over to Sigyn, who smiled at him widely. It made her solemn face soften, into something that was almost pretty if he had been interested. Except he wasn’t, so instead he thanked her and left the room.
Sigyn watched him go, rocking a protesting Hela gently. He truly was a beautiful man.
A few hours later, Loki was awakened from a well deserved nap by a harsh banging on his door. This was becoming an all too common occurrence, he thought grumpily as he crawled out of bed. He stumbled to open it and was met with a wild-eyed maid servant.
“Your majesty” she said, out of breath, “the hunting party has returned. Thor- his majesty- injured, your majesty! Oh, do come at once!”
Loki’s insides went ice cold and he sprinted past her, not caring that his robes were wrinkled or that his hair hung loose. Under normal circumstances he would not allow anyone but Thor to see him so dishevelled, but now all he could think about was his husband being hurt.
He stumbled into the great hall just as Eir, goddess of healing, entered from another direction. But he didn’t see her; all he saw was Thor, who was frighteningly pale and supported by Volstagg, who was almost as white as a corpse. For a man that was usually rather red, this was a horrible look.
“What happened!” He cried as he stormed towards them, anxiety making him brusque. Sif stepped in front of him, silently asking him to calm down.
“His horse bolted and threw him off” Hogun replied in a clipped tone, “it was grim.”
“It threw you?” Loki didn’t believe his ears. Thor was an excellent horseman, and had never before been thrown from a horse even if it bolted. But from the grim looks on the other’s faces, he knew it was true. Thor, his Thor, injured.
“Stop yelling” Thor groaned, “my head.” He took one step on his own, then promptly leaned forward and vomited on the floor.
He was unceremoniously pushed into a chair that Sif had fetched. She, Loki and the warriors three hovered anxiously as Eir pushed past them to have a look at the prince. She ignored all of them, examining the bruise covering most of the left side of Thor’s skull. Then she shone a small candle into his eyes.
“Concussion” she concluded, “Three days rest, in bed, and no mead.”
“What rot” Thor complained, “I feel fine!” He tried to stand up, but the hall spun so much he almost collapsed back into Volstagg’s waiting arms.
“What is going on here?” Called an anxious voice and Frigga came towards them, followed by an equally concerned Odin.
“Thor’s horse bolted” Hogun explained as Volstagg and Fandral helped the man in question stand, “He was thrown and his head struck a rock. It was mere luck he didn’t get worse injured.”
“He has a concussion, your majesties” Eir said soothingly, “but a few days bed rest and he will be fine.”
Odin looked like he wanted to say something, but Frigga shot him a warning glance and discreetly nodded in Loki’s direction. The younger prince was stark white, eyes huge and frightened. He looked like he was one piece of bad news away from crying.
So the king and queen said nothing as Volstagg and Fandral helped Thor back to his rooms, flanked by Loki who was tearing at his sleeves until it seemed as if they’d unravel.
Once they were gone, Odin turned to Hogun and Sif.
“What aren’t you telling us?” He demanded.
Sif and Hogun exchanged looks, a silent communication between them. Then Sif spoke up.
“Thor doesn’t know this but I looked at his saddle. It’s been tampered with.”
“Aye, one of the stirrups has been cut. Not all the way through, but enough to break if too much force is used. We suspect that when the horse bolted, he tried to stop it and-”
“And the stirrup broke, making him lose his balance?” Frigga finished. Sif nodded.
“Lucky for him he’s such a thick head” Hogun muttered, trying to cheer up the grim atmosphere. No one answered him.
Odin and Frigga exchanged looks. A minor illness was one thing, but this was sabotage.
Thor could have been killed.
“Come here you” Thor reached for Loki, who tried to slide away but wasn’t quick enough. He was pulled back into bed, where Thor’s prominent erection was not so easily hidden.
“You have a concussion” Loki protested, “you’re on bed rest.”
“I am in bed” Thor replied logically, his hands warm and strong on Loki’s body. “Come now brother, I have missed you.”
Loki came with some reluctance, but once ensconced under the blankets and held close to Thor’s warm chest any protests began to ebb away. Thor was so large, so firm, so warm, and he wanted to lie in his arms forever. The way the thunderer kissed him like he was something precious to be savoured helped.
They slid against each other slowly, lazily, hardness pressing against hardness, and Loki nigh-sobbed as Thor suckled at his nipples, heavy and swollen with milk as they were. It was obscenely hot to have Thor experiment with drinking from them like Hela did when hungry. It made his hunger intensify, and he ground his hips against Thor’s, moaning in tormented pleasure.
“Loki” Thor panted against his neck, sliding a strong hand between them to stroke them both as they pressed and ground together.
“Thor” Loki answered, his voice hoarse as pleasure coursed through him. It was too long since they had last done this.
But Thor’s hands and his cock and his mouth was soon not enough for Loki, who felt the lust that had been missing for so long return with a vengeance. He wanted Thor inside, wanted to be split open and made to take him in.
“Lie back” he whispered, pressing Thor down amongst the blankets, “let me-”
He sat up slowly, straddling Thor’s hips, guiding his hard cock into his own trembling quim, wet and eager like he hadn’t felt for so long. He gave a long, satisfied moan as Thor pushed inside, gloriously large and thick and fitting just so. Thor’s eyes were heavy-lidded with pleasure, staring up at Loki in desire and awe, even as he laid back and let Loki do the actual work.
They rocked together slowly, Loki needing the time to get used to the intrusion, the feeling of being nigh-on split open. Soon, however, he began to rock his hips faster, moaning continuously as Thor’s hip rolled against his, Thor’s heavy hand wrapping around his cock and stroking in tandem with his rocking hips.
Loki’s fingers scratched red welts down Thor’s chest as he moved faster, rising up and sinking down on him in a rhythm they both knew well, feeling Thor’s hard cock set every nerve ending alight with pleasure.
“Oh” Loki gasped as Thor twisted his hand just so, thumb swiping over the leaking head of his cock, even as his hips snapped up as Loki sank down, making the joining just that bit more intense.
“Thor” he moaned in appreciation, head falling back in pleasure as he rode faster.
“Loki” Thor gasped, arching up to kiss his suddenly ravenous mouth, pumping into him with quick hard strokes that had Loki cry out at ever downstroke.
They clung to each other in desperation, drinking the cries from the other’s lips as they rose higher towards ecstasy, bodies rolling together in a slow, languid rhythm.
When Thor reached his peak, he did so buried fully in Loki, who’s fingers dug into Thor’s back as he too found his pleasure.
Sigyn was humming as she entered the kitchens, neatly avoiding the kitchen staff bustling about the place with the experience of one that had done it many times before.
“Sorry” someone said as they nearly collided with her, hiding behind a large basket of freshly baked bread.
“No, my fault” Sigyn smiled, stepping aside. Nothing could spoil her good mood today.
She went over to where the kettles were kept, taking a small one from its shelf and going to fill it with water.
“Sigyn!” A voice called, and she turned around.
“Sorry, Gertrude. I’m just here to make some tea for Prince Thor. He’s got-”
“A concussion, yes we’ve heard.” The woman who had called was a greying, matronly woman wearing a dirty apron, her hair matted with sweat. But she gave of a motherly air that Sigyn, who had been orphaned while barely more than a child herself, had always loved.
“It’s alright dear, I was just surprised at seeing you here. You haven’t been by in some time. I heard you have a new station.”
Sigyn smiled again, nodding, and put the kettle on to boil.
“Yes” she confirmed, “I am rather busy looking after Hela.”
Getrude smiled at the happy girl, feeling a stone fall from her heart. Sigyn had been dear to her for years, since the days the girl came looking for work and was set to washing. She was a hard worker, but frail. And the loss of little Aili hadn’t helped.
The trauma of losing her daughter had sent Sigyn into a very, very dark place for a very long time, and there had been times where Gertrude had feared for her life, if not her sanity.
But now she seemed to be doing well, if the way she puttered about the tray and hummed was any indication.
“What sort of tea do you want?” Getrude asked as she spiced a stew and checked on a pie baking in one of the ovens.
“Oh, I have special tea.” Sigyn smiled, pulling a small pouch from her pocket. She withdrew some leaves Getrude didn’t recognize and put them in a small teapot.
“Got it from the healers?” Getrude asked.
“That’s right. Prince Thor has a concussion.”
“Yes, you said. Let me know if it helps, might be useful to have some of whatever it is on handy.”
“I will” Sigyn promised, still smiling that wide, beaming smile.
Fandral was making his rounds around the stables, or at least that was the official version. In reality, he was trying to figure out who could possibly have caused the damage to Thor’s saddle, leading to his accident. They had decided to keep the details of the accident from both princes, as there was nothing they could do anyways. Thor was bed bound for at least another day, and Loki would just panic.
He moved slowly, trying to think of how to start his investigations. He couldn’t imagine any of the grooms having had anything to do with it; they wouldn’t risk their livelihoods on attempting to harm their prince.
But someone had, and he had to acknowledge that. Someone wanted Thor harmed, and he couldn’t believe it had only been in jest. You didn’t damage a stirrup as a joke.
“Sir?” Asked a young voice and he looked up to see one of the grooms, a lad that was little more than a boy, stare at him with wide eyes. “Shall I saddle your horse?”
“No, thank you. But perhaps you can help me. Were you on duty the morning prince Thor had his accident?”
The boy shook his head.
“No, but I can fetch my friend. He saddled the horse.”
“Please do so immediately.”
When the boy returned, he was followed by a boy slightly older and taller, who seemed to think his boots were the most fascinating thing in existence the way he wouldn’t stop staring at them.
“Boy” Fandral said, not unkind, “is it true you saddled prince Thor’s horse?”
The boy nodded sullenly, but didn’t look up.
“Did you notice anything amiss with the saddle?”
The boy shook his head, still not speaking.
It was a s Fandral had suspected; most likely it had started as a small cut, that had been aggravated during the hunt and ended with the stirrup coming loose.
He mulled this over for several minutes, trying to figure out what to do next, when the boy looked up and Fandral found his eyes full of tears.
“I didn’t mean-” he began.
“It’s alright” Fandral said gently even though it wasn’t, “it wasn’t your fault.”
The boy clearly didn’t believe him, but Fandral could understand that. Until there was proof that someone else had done it, the boy was under suspicion and his life couldn’t be easy.
“I know you didn’t do it” the other boy, the one that Fandral had spoken to initially, said vehemently.
“Thank you” said his friend.
“I need you to think back to that morning” Fandral said, trying to divert attention back to the matter at hand. “Did you see anyone in the stables that didn’t belong there?”
The boy thought long and hard, then he shook his head.
“No… I don’t think so. There were people in the courtyard but-”
Fandral sighed. It wasn’t what he had wanted to hear, but he had to make the best of the situation.
“Alright” he said, “thank you both.”
And with that, he sent them on their way, leaving him alone to his thoughts. He couldn’t shake the suspicion that there was something there, something he was missing.
Sigyn could see Thor’s eyes drooping, so she took Hela from him and tucked her back into her basket. The child was sleeping, and didn’t stir. Thor gave her a tired smiled.
“Thank you for the tea” he said, and chose not to mention that it had tasted awful. If Eir had wanted him to drink it, then drink it he would. Or Loki would never let him hear the end of it.
“It was my pleasure, your majesty” Sigyn replied politely, bowing her head so he couldn’t see her face.
She tucked the blanket more securely around Hela and stood to leave.
“Where are you taking her?” Thor frowned as Sigyn turned towards the door.
“The stables, sire. We go every day. She likes the horses.”
Thor nodded slowly. He had been fascinated by horses when he was little, of course his daughter would be too.
Freyja frowned down at the piece of parchment, trying to figure out what to write. Loki had helped her list all the symptoms plaguing Thor, but she couldn’t just send off a list to Vigdis without giving a backstory. But it was a very hot day, and even though she had placed herself in the coolest part of her garden and armed herself with a large pitcher of water it was still unbearable. She felt too tired to think properly and really just wanted to go track down that nanny whatever her name was and spend some quality time making faces at little Hela.
The girl was as close as Freyja had to a niece, after all. Frey and Gerdr had no children, and Freyja had a long time ago come to terms with her own inability to have them. An infertile fertility goddess, someone somewhere was finding that hilarious she was sure.
Freyja didn’t. She would have liked to have a child of her own, a little boy with her eyes and a charming smile.
She firmly pushed thoughts of the boy who wouldn't be to the side and tried with the letter again. Dear aunt Vigdis… and then nothing. She had no idea what to write. She leaned back in her chair, sighing, and turned her face to the sky. That’s when she spotted a bird flying towards her, and when it came closer she recognized it as a vanir messenger bird, more specifically one of her uncle’s birds.
What a coincidence, a message from the king of Vanaheim just as she was struggling to write to his wife.
The bird, a sweet little sparrow that was a lot stronger than it looked, landed on her table and held its leg out to her with a demanding chirrup. Around its leg was a scroll tied firmly, and it took Freyja a few moments to undo the knot that held it fast.
Giving the bird some bread crumbs, she unrolled the message and immediately recognized her aunt’s handwriting.
Dear Freyja, the message began. I am writing to inform you that your uncle has had one of his dreams. We cannot interpret it, but thought you might. I thought it best to tell you to be wary of a woman with dark hair, she is dangerous and has ill intent towards someone you care for, who Eirikki couldn’t see. He is also most insistent on something about a helmet, does that make any sense to you? Other than that…
And then the letter went on for several paragraphs, detailing mundane things about life in Vanaheim and arrangements being made for the spring feast, and what Freyr was up to. Vigdis usually wrote lengthy letters, so Freyja scanned it distractedly as she thought of a reply. Something about the helmet was niggling at her, like she was supposed to make a connection but didn’t know what that was. The heat of the sun and the heavy scents from the flowers all around her did not help at all, only succeeding in making her drowsy.
Sighing deeply and wiping the sweat from her brow, Freyja picked up her quill and started writing a reply.
Dear aunt Vigdis, I am well, however I need your wisdom on a matter that’s starting to worry me a great deal. You see, Thor is suffering from what I suspect to be an illness...
Loki felt greatly relieved to be back in his quarters. The windows were wide open, letting in what little breeze there was this unusually hot day and it almost made him feel like he wasn’t being suffocated in his robes. He wasn’t supposed to be there at this time of day, in fact he was due in the library in less than half an hour, but he had wanted to check in on his husband.
“Thor?” He called as he undid the robe, deciding to forego it for the afternoon and be indecent in only shirt and trousers. “Thor, are you awake?”
Clearly this was not the case. Thor lay sprawled on their bed, fast asleep, his lips parted slightly as he breathed deeply. Loki stopped for a moment, admiring the view. Even with a bandage around his head and wearing a sweat-soaked nightshirt, he was the most beautiful man Loki had seen in his life.
Loki hung up his robe, then went over to the bed to have a better look at his sleeping spouse. Thor really was beautiful, flushed and warm and so innocent where he lay, unaware of the eyes on him, taking in every line of every limb and finding them breathtaking.
“Hey sexy” Loki murmured and leaned down to kiss him. Up close he could feel the warmth coming from Thor, but it was nothing unusual as the thunderer ran hot normally, and it was a very hot day. He kissed clammy lips lightly, not wanting to wake the sleeper who had spent most of the night tossing and turning again. Thor’s lips were slightly parted and from his mouth came a smell that was slightly bitter, like sour wine. Probably he’d had one of the herbal concoctions Eir swore by and made all her patients drink in spades. Poor Thor, Loki thought, he’d been drinking quite a few of those lately.
BUt that thought brought back the worry he had been able to ignore most of the day, and he stroked Thor’s cheek in order to calm himself. It was clammy, and Loki’s worry intensified. He tried to convince himself he was overreacting, but the feel of damp, hot skin under his hand made his anxiety rev up and he bit his lip. Perhaps Thor was running a fever? But that's ludicrous. It was a hot day, hot inside and out, of course Thor would sweat more than usual. Except something inside told him he was right to worry.
To calm himself, he laid down next with a book, intending to only read a few pages before he went of to perform his very uninteresting duties in meeting with… he had honestly forgotten the name, and did not care enough to find out.
“Loki” Thor murmured, not really waking up.
Loki opened the book, made himself comfortable, and began reading. Thor’s steady heartbeat soon soothed his worries away.
Sif’s worry could not be calmed with something as basic as listening to another’s heartbeat, or she would probably have done that immediately. Instead, she paced her rooms, anxiety making her feel like a caged animal waiting to be slaughtered.
In fact, she felt like a caged animal about to be slaughtered. Like her life had just ended. And it had only taken a few words from a nonchalant healer to upend her entire existence and turn her life upside down.
It couldn’t be possible. She didn’t want children, had never wanted them. Couldn’t see herself ever wanting them. She just wasn’t the motherly type. She was a warrior, a fighter, not someone who sat at home changing diapers.
And the father? Was she expected to marry him now? Sif didn’t know. But she knew she didn't want to. He had been one night of pleasure, and she had enjoyed it immensely, but marry him?
She’d have to move to Vanaheim, if she married Leif. Give up everything she had and everything she was for the child growing under her heart. Marry a man she didn't love.
She didn’t want to be a mother.
But it was too late to get rid of it, the healers had said.
Sif paced. Fretted. Cursed herself for her stupidity a thousand times over.
She did not want this baby.
Loki closed his book with a satisfied sigh, then realised with mild panic that it was definitely a lot later in the day than it should be. In other words, he had missed his very important meeting and Odin was going to have his head.
He turned to Thor, who was still fast asleep, and shook his shoulder. “Thor?” He asked, “wake up, you can at least kiss me goodbye before I got to face father.”
But Thor didn’t reply. In fact, he didn’t even stir.
“Thor?” Loki asked anxiously as he sat up, taking a closer look on his husband’s face.
Thor’s lips were slightly parted, dry and cracked, and his face was coated by a thin sheen of cold sweat. His breaths came quick and shallow.
“Thor!” Loki cried, shaking him roughly. The book slid from his lap to land on the floor, where it laid unnoticed.
No response. Not even a hint of a reaction.
“Thor!” Loki cried again, then scrambled from the bed screaming for help.
Thor’s hand was limp and clammy, as if the last of his strength was ebbing away. Frigga clutched it like a life line, straining not to start crying. Somehow she felt as if she did not have a right to cry, not after everything that had passed between them lately.
But this was her Thor, unresponsive and still as the healers desperately sought to find why he was so ill and to reverse the process before it was too late. Her Thor, who had never been ill one day in his life, now suddenly fighting for his life.
It had been three days since Loki found him unresponsive, and so far there had been no changes. Not even when little Hela was taken into the healing wing and laid on his chest had Thor stirred, even when she cried.
The worst part was that the healers seemed to be unable to find a fault, helplessly standing by and trying to control the fever that held Thor in a death grip, making his body shudder with the intensity before falling back into this unnatural stillness.
Frigga stroked the back of his hand, wanting to touch his face but afraid to do so. He looked so impossibly young where he lay, her little boy, so helpless and vulnerable.
He was wasting away in front of them, and no one could say what was wrong.
When the silence became unbearable, Frigga began to speak. She talked about how much she loved him, how proud she was of him, what a lovely daughter he had. How he had to be strong, and come back to them. She talked about childhood memories, about how she had seen him and Loki grow from brothers to friends to lovers and how proud she was of them both. Eventually, as the shadows grew long and she could no longer bear to look at the way Thor’s lashes stuck to his hollowed cheeks, she whispered about her regrets. Of how she wished she would have been a better mother to Loki, how she wish she would have held him in her arms instead of striking him that one time he truly needed her. How she feared she had, with one action, lost him forever.
She imagined he heard every word.
Freyja accepted the book from the librarian, thanking her distractedly. She hoped it was the right one, detailing plants and poisons in Asgard. Aunt Vigdis had written her about a new vision. This time, there had been a helmet painted blue and purple, and Thor had been wearing it as he lay on a funeral pyre as a weeping Loki set both himself and his husband aflame. Vigdis had been sure that the helmet was a symbol of some sort of poison, and was urging Freyja to hurry finding it. Freyja herself felt unsure, but she knew that aunt Vigdis was usually right in interpreting her husband’s visions. They’d been together for many centuries, after all, and so Vigdis had learned many of them.
Freyja put the book down on a table and pulled of a chair to read it. As she turned back to start looking through it, she noticed that it had fallen open as if by magic or by having its spine cracked, leading it to fall open on a specific page. Maybe it was a popular herb, she thought as she leaned forward, hoping it was the one she was looking for.
It wasn’t, and she sighed in disappointment. Bubbly flowers, described as bright pink, that didn’t look at all like they could be from King Eirikki’s vision. Useful to cause lust in men, apparently, and Freyja rolled her eyes. She had other tricks for causing such things. She closed the book, then opened it again on the first page. Slowly, she started turning pages.
A blue and purple helm, she thought. It has to be in here somewhere.
Sif adjusted her long cloak, making sure it covered her face as she made her way into the royal gardens. She wasn’t supposed to be there, the gardens belonged to Queen Frigga and some areas of it were closed off for anyone who did not have the queen’s explicit permission. It was one of those areas she was heading into now, needing to find a specific flower. And she did not have permission to be there.
The reason she was not allowed in this part of the garden was because the majority of the beautiful flowers that grew there were poisonous, some of them even lethal for Aesir who rarely had to worry about such things.
What she was looking for at this point in time was a lovely blue and purple flower, composed of multiple little bell-like flowers sitting in neat rows on the stem. They were tall, and reedy, and were supposed to smell sweetly. They were also known as the most poisonous flowers in the entire garden, capable of killing a grown man if he ingested just a small dose of their poison. Due to their shape, they had been given the name Odin’s helm , and if the dose of the poison was small enough it would be able to cause abortion. If it was too large, Sif would sign her death warrant eating them.
But she didn’t want this baby, she thought as she hurried across the neatly raked paths and past the majority of the flower patches, looking for the spot where Frigga grew Odin’s helm. Having a baby required you becoming a mother, and the mere idea was enough to terrify her. She couldn’t stand the idea of giving up her entire life for someone like she would have to if she bore it. No, no, she didn’t want to. Not yet, preferably not ever.
But she didn’t want to think about it. Would prefer to forget all about it and why she was in the gardens. So as she walked, she turned her thoughts to Thor. For three nightmarish days he had lain unconscious, as the healers struggled to find what had him so ill. It was terrifying, she thought, not knowing what it was that was truly wrong with the prince and being completely unable to help him in any way. Thor had always been the strongest of her friends, in spirit if not in actual body strength, where Volstagg had him beat every time.
She had been to see him the day before, and it had hurt her heart to see him look so small and helpless as the healers moved around him, pouring healing energy into his body and checking his vital signs. Loki had been there too, and it had hurt even more to see his wretched appearance, sleep deprived and exhausted and desperate as he pleaded with Thor to just wake up, damn you, wake up!
A patch of bright blue-purple flowers caught Sif’s eye, derailing her thoughts. She recognised the flowers from the drawing in the book she had consulted in the grand libraries, so it must be the Odin’s helm. To her surprise, she found several stalks bare and some broken off, as if someone else had picked the flowers and had been in a hurry to do so. But who would want to use it? It was dangerous, and with such a quantity missing… she picked a few of the flowers, looking at them where they lay in her hand. She wasn’t sure how big a dose she’d need, or what would constitute for a lethal one. They seemed so small, so innocent. Little bells, in a beautiful colour and with a sweet scent. And this, this was one of the most lethal poisons in Asgard? It made no sense.
She stuffed them into her pocket and hurried from the gardens, not wanting anyone see her.
Sigyn tucked the blanket around the little baby, smiling at the rosyness of her cheeks and pink lips. She had been listless all morning, but she knew that a walk in the gardens was just what they both needed.
She looked at Loki where he sat in his chair, staring blankly into thin air. He had been like this for days now; barely sleeping, not eating, only seeming to come to life when he sat by Thor’s bedside. He was meant to be resting now, but seemed unable to.
“I’ll take Ai- Hela out for her walk” she felt great relief that she caught herself in time, but Loki didn’t seem to have heard her speak at all.
She picked up the basket with the sleeping princess and left the room.
A trip to the gardens was just what they both needed.
Freyja’s eyes were aching and she had a headache coming on, but she was nearly at the end of the book when she at last found it. The image was not coloured, but the flowers looked like little helmets if she cocked her head and squinted, and the description listed it as a mix of blue and purple. They were also highly poisonous, and it was with rising frustration that Freyja read the symptoms. Vomiting, nausea, eventual unconsciousness and then death as the internal organs gave up. It didn’t seem right; there was nothing about a rash, or body pains, or any of the other symptoms that had been plaguing Thor these past few weeks. But then, maybe it was this flower anyway? Eirikki had been having the same vision repeatedly, according to Vigdis.
She decided to go find the flower to see it in reality before she took her concerns to the healers.
After all, she might be wrong.
Freyja went back to the librarian, who was reading a thick book and seemed completely uninterested in helping anyone.
“Where may I find this flower?” She asked, putting the book on the desk in front of the other woman, who looked up with an irritated scowl.
Freyja didn’t let it become her, instead waited patiently for a reply.
The librarian took the book, looking at the page.
“That’s poisonous” she said.
“I know” Freyja replied patiently, “where might I find it?”
There was silence, as the squat woman adjusted her ill-fitting glasses and looked most displeased at having to answer inane questions from a vanir goddess.
“Her majesty queen Frigga has a poison garden” she said finally. “Look there.”
“Thank you.” Freyja said, picking the book back up.
“You’re not allowed to take it out of the library” said the librarian sternly. Freyja shrugged.
“That won’t be a problem” she replied, then swiftly tore out the page she’d been looking at. Before the librarian had time to stop her, she was out the doors and on her way to Frigga’s gardens.
As Freyja approached the gardens, she was met by Sif who was hurrying out of them, a guilty look on her face.
“Oh sorry!” Freyja said, stepping aside so as not to be run down. Then she thought better of it and stepped in front of Sif again. It made the other woman slow down and then stop, even though she was clearly reluctant to do so.
“Sif, it is Sif isn’t it?” Freyja began, hurriedly, not wanting the other woman to run off.
Sif nodded, still seemingly in a hurry. Her hands flitted like uncertain birds.
“I’m not going to take up your time” Freyja said, “but do you know the direction of the queen’s poison garden?”
Sif’s eyes flickered in various directions but seemed unwilling to stay on Freyja. She shook her head quickly.
“I… I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She said, her hand momentarily hovering over the front pocket of her vest. Freyja frowned. Sif did not behave like someone who had no idea what she was talking about, but rather like someone with something to hide.
“I think you do.” Freyja said and then stuck the book page under Sif’s nose. “I’m looking for this flower.”
Sif instinctively grabbed the paper from Freyja like the pest it was, and as she looked at it she turned pale.
“Why are you looking for this?” She eventually stammered, looking like a cornered animal.
“I think it might have something to do with Thor’s illness” Freyja replied, deciding that honesty was the best approach.
Sif turned even whiter, looking like she had just seen a ghost.
“Thor’s illness? You think he’s being poisoned?”
“Well, I don’t know” Freyja said, “but uncle Eirikki has had horrible visions and-” at the other woman’s blank look, she explained; “my uncle, Eirikki of Vanaheim, has visions. He has had a few of Thor, and a blue and purple helm figures in them. These flowers look a bit like helms if you squint at them and they’re the right colour. Odd name though, monkshood.”
Sif nodded her head slowly, still frightfully pale.
“It has a more common name” she eventually managed. “We call it Odin’s helm.”
“Do you know where I can find it?” Freyja demanded again, clearly not having believed her the last time. Sif thought of the flowers in her pocket and really just wanted to get out of there, but if Freyja was right… perhaps the flowers, that were making Thor sick, were also the cure for his illness.
“This way” Sif said as she made up her mind. She turned and hurried back towards where she’d came, trusting Freyja to follow.
Freyja was more than a little suspicious when Sif led her straight to the flower, but did not have time to question her further before the other woman had fled. There was really no other way to describe the swift exit from the poison garden. Freyja watched her go, a frown marring her face, but there was little she could do to stop the exodus. Instead, she turned her attention back to the flower. It truly was beautiful, it was almost impossible to believe that it was one of the most powerful killers in Asgard. And yet, there it was. And she recognized it.
“Storm hat” she moaned in despair, “it’s storm hat. Please, please let me be wrong.”
Freyja’s hand shook as she broke a stem, holding it like one would a very angry poisonous snake.
“Please” she whispered as she turned to go to the healing chambers, clutching the flower. “Let me be wrong.”
The flower lay on the table in the healer’s wing, looking impossibly innocent.
“It makes sense” said a young blonde woman in a white robe.
Eir frowned and shook her head.
“But what of the rash? And the nausea? We know the symptoms of Odin’s helm and that doesn’t fit.”
“We know what happens when you ingest it” said another healer, an old man with grey beard and hair. “Perhaps the poison was administered in another way, through the skin most likely.”
“Who is going to tell the king and queen?” demanded the blond woman. “Not me!”
“Someone must tell them” Eir’s voice was solemn. “He doesn’t have long.”
In his bed, mere feet from where the healers held their council, Thor laid as if sleeping. His breathing came shallow and laboured.
The summons to appear in the Great Hall came at a most inopportune time, Loki thought. He was waiting for Sigyn to come back with Hela so he might feed her, and his chest was tight and swollen with milk. It was one of the few things he really abhorred - since Hela spent so much time with her nanny, feedings usually came when Loki was already in pain, making them very uncomfortable.
Therefore, he was in a sour mood when he arrived in the Great Hall, obeying his father’s command to appear as soon as possible.
There was an air in the hall that made him uncomfortable, as if something that he was not privy to had just happened, and he focused his attention on the woman in the healer’s robe. She was young, and blond, and in other circumstances he would have found her pretty.
“Any news of Thor?” he demanded of her, not bothering with casual greetings. The healer hung her head, unable to meet his eyes.
“We have identified the illness now, Sire” she said.
“Well? What is it?” Thank the norns, then Thor would soon be back with him and Hela, where he belonged.
An uncomfortable silence spread in the hall. Frigga turned her face away, unable to look at her son for one more minute. Loki looked around, a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Well?” He demanded, “when will he be cured?”
“The illness is a poison, sire” the healer said, clasping her hands in front of her as if trying to comfort herself.
“Odin’s helm.” She said quietly, but in the unnatural stillness of the hall he could hear her clearly. He recognized the name, it was one of mother’s most well-guarded plants.
“That is not an answer” Loki said, panic starting to creep into his voice, “when will he be cured?”
“He won’t” the healer finally said, “there is… there is nothing we can do.”
Loki didn’t understand it. Nothing? Thor… his Thor, and they could do nothing?
“You can’t let him die!” He cried accusingly, turning to Odin. “Father! Do something!”
“There is nothing we can do, my son. There is no cure that we know of.”
Frigga stood up, arms outstretched for him.
“Loki-” she began, but Loki wasn’t having it.
“No, no he’s going to be well. You just need to find a cure.”
“Child” Odin said gently, his eye wide and bright with grief, “there is no cure.”
“That you know of!” Loki cried wildly, “maybe- maybe the vanir-”
“It was a vanir who solved the mystery” said the healer, “the Lady Freyja. She knows no cure, either.”
“Then- but-” Loki was frantic, staring wild-eyed at his mother, pleading with her to do something, make the horrifying news not true.
“He mustn’t die” he begged, desperate. “Please, mother-”
Frigga hurried across the floor, wrapping her arms around him.
“Oh Loki-” she choked, hiding her tears in his hair.
Odin looked at them. Something in what had been said niggled at his mind. No cure that we know of , he thought. But maybe others know.
Laufey slowly folded the piece of parchment up again, wondering what he was going to say to Farbauti. The royal consort was not exactly fond of Aesir, especially not the one whom the missive was from. But this was an emergency, and he was not going to let Loki become a widower so young when there was something he could do. Besides, it would create some excellent goodwill for Jotunheim, which was a rather isolated realm where she lay on one of the most distant branches of Yggdrasil.
Farbauti had, for obvious reasons, no love lost for the youth in question. But Laufey wanted to go; Loki needed him, and he wasn’t going to let him down this time. Besides, it would give him an opportunity to see his son again, and his little granddaughter. And perhaps it was time to heal other wounds, as well. Old wounds, that had festered and rotted for centuries.
“What are you reading?” Farbauti rumbled as he came into the study, leaning over the chair where Laufey sat. His broad frame towered easily over Laufey, bringing a delightful mix of the warmth of closeness and the cold of his consort’s inner core.
“It’s a missive from Asgard” Laufey replied, not seeing any reason to avoid the conversation that was going to take place.
“And what do the Aesir want this time?” Farbauti didn’t sound displeased, but that didn't mean anything. The giant could be fickle like a freshly frozen spring. And messages from Asgard weren't exactly common.
“Thor is ill. Dying. They are asking if there is anything we could do to save him.”
“Why should we?” Farbauti sounded bored.
“Because Loki loves him. And Hela needs her father.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Yes. I know the poison, and I know of a way that may cure it.”
“I see” Farbauti said, thoughtful. “Will you be going?”
“I haven’t answered yet.” Laufey replied non-commitically, but he and Farbauti knew each other well after nearly a millennium of mating.
Farbauti’s strong hands stroked his shoulders, thumbs working the kinks in his neck, and Laufey sighed in pleasure. Then the grip intensified, hardened, and he shivered.
“It would be good for Helblindi.” Farbauti murmured, and Laufey blinked in confusion.
“I don’t follow.”
“To rule while we are away.”
Laufey turned his head, staring up at his consort in amazement. Would wonders never cease? Farbauti smiled and pulled him up into an embrace that quickly grew heated.
The letter from Odin fluttered to the floor, where it lay momentarily forgotten.
Sif looked at the small flowers she had picked, unsure what to do with them. She had been told that they could cause what she wanted, but she had no idea of the dosage and had no one to ask. And she did not want to end up like Thor, who lay dying in the healing wing. No, Sif wanted to live - to be free and joyful, like Thor was supposed to be. And now she was in a situation she did not know how to get herself out of. She needed help, she realised. But who was she to ask? The warriors three? They would not understand, nor prove particularly helpful.
It was a split second decision, but Sif turned and threw the flowers into the fireplace, watching with desperation as they immediately turned to ashes. Then she hid her face in her hands, as one would do when weeping.
But she did not cry.
It was mere hours after the news that Thor’s condition was incurable that Loki moved into the healing wing with little Hela, wanting to be as close as possible to the man he loved for however little time was left.
Not that Thor noticed, where he lay. He was somewhere between Hel and Valhalla, and only the norns knew where he would end up.
Loki was too numb to even weep, instead sitting quietly by his husband’s side, holding his hand.
“Don’t leave me” he whispered to a man who couldn’t hear him.
“He won’t, if I can do anything” a familiar voice spoke from just behind him, and Loki almost jumped out of his skin.
“Eadni!” He cried in relief when he realized who it was. “You scared me half to death!”
“Forgive me, child, but I came as soon as I could. I know a way to save Thor’s life.” Laufey stroked Loki’s cheek lovingly, secretly thrilled at getting to touch him. Loki looked up at him, dubious. He had been told that there was no saving Thor, had almost started to make peace with it. And now to be told that there was a way after all? He dared not believe it.
“How?” He demanded when Laufey did not seem forthcoming with the information.
“In Jotunheim it is said that the waters of Hvergelmir can cure any illness and heal all wounds. If you fetch the water, and give it to Thor, he will be healed. While you are on this quest, I will keep him alive here in As,gard.”
“How will you keep him alive, eadni?” Loki asked, still not believing what he was being told.
“I will freeze his heart, thus keeping him in a state between living and dead. There he will remain until such a time when he can be saved. But do not tarry for too long; an aesir heart is not as hardy as a jotun, and he will not last long.”
“Where is this… Hvergelmir? What is it?”
“It is a spring, in the deepest part of Niflheim.” Laufey explained. “But it is guarded by the dragon Nidhöggr, who will not allow just anyone access to the water. Therefore you must go yourself, and plead with him to part with it.”
Loki looked back at Thor, who lay so still and pale on the bed in front of him. To part with him, even for a few days, was unbearable. But if it would save his life… then surely it was his duty to go.
“I will go” he said eventually, his mind made up. “But Hela will remain here. I will not take her on such a dangerous journey. Must I go alone?”
“Surely you can bring one companion” Laufey agreed, “and I expect you have a nursemaid who will take care of the child. And your family, of course.”
Freyja did not need to hear the entire question before she agreed to come with to Niflheim, and thus it was, that less than an hour later Loki and Freyja were on their way across the Bifrost, wrapped securely in a thick jotun fur coats for the cold winds of Niflheim, hoping against hope to find a cure for the dying prince.
Once Loki and Freyja had been seen off, two kings, one queen, and one royal consort gathered in the healing wing, standing around Thor’s sick bed.
“Can you really cure him?” Frigga asked anxiously, wringing her hands.
“Not we” said Laufey, “but we can buy Loki time to get the cure.”
“Why must Loki go alone?” Odin demanded, not at all happy with the situation. Loki ought to stay home, by Thor’s and Hela’s sides, not gallivanting of on some quest that may or may not be fruitful.
“I have med Nidhöggr” Farbauti rumbled, “he is a fickle beast. He will not be swayed by anything but the sweetest of pleas, and is fond of making deals. It is best if Loki himself pleads for Thor’s life, and it is safest for him to travel alone. One lone traveller will be better hidden from the creatures on Niflheim than a group.”
Odin, who had been to Niflheim once in his youth, found himself loath to agree. BUt eventually he had to admit defeat, and that the jotun knew better this once.
“I am against it” he said to Frigga, who looked at him with pleading eyes. “But if Thor’s life depends on it…”
“He has already gone” said Frigga, “and since he goes via Bifrost it should not take him long to reach this… Nidhöggr. All we can do is wait.”
“Thor does not have the time to wait, wife.” Odin pointed out needlessly. Frigga’s eyes went bright with tears and she turned back to her son.
“Dearest Thor” she whispered, stroking his clammy cheek. Then she looked up pleadingly at the two Jotun on the other side of the bed.
“I will give you anything you ask if you help save him” she said, ignoring Odin’s affronted expression.
“Anything?” Laufey repeated, “that is a dangerous promise.”
“But I mean it” Frigga replied, “anything you ask.”
Laufey and Farbauti exchanged a pregnant look. It was as if they held an entire conversation in that sole moment.
“The cask of ancient winters” Farbauti said at last, when Frigga was beginning to regret her promise.
“What!” Odin protested, aghast. “That is not possible!”
“Your queen promised anything. We have named our price. The cask for your son.”
Laufey’s face was inscrutable. He simply waited.
Frigga felt as if she had been tricked, but a vow was a vow and she was a queen. If she was not good for her word, it would come back to haunt all of Asgard.
“If Thor is cured” she said softly, “you shall have it.”
“Then it is agreed.” Laufey nodded, then leaned over Thor.
“I shall freeze his heart” he explained as he placed a hand on the prince’s chest, “it will buy Loki enough time to find and convince Nidhöggr to give some of the waters of Hvergelmir to him.
“And if it doesn't work?” Odin wanted to know.
“Then Thor dies.” Laufey replied, his voice much calmer than he felt. “Which is the outcome your healers have predicted. This is his only chance.”
Frigga stepped away from the bed, unable to watch as Laufey did what he must. Instead, she walked over to the crib and lifted Hela up, taking the child into her arms and rocking her slowly. It made her feel slightly calmer, and comforted, as Hela looked up at her with Loki’s bright eyes.
As she stood there, Sif approached, a hesitant look on her face.
“My queen” she said quietly, “I seek your advice.”
Frigga turned to her, still holding Hela secure to her chest. “Of course, dear, tell me what ails you.”
It was dark when Loki and Freyja reached Niflheim, but neither could say if it was because it was night time or if the world simply was dark. The snow lay thick and white everywhere, and no matter where they looked that was all they saw.
“How will we know where to go?” Freyja asked, exasperated, already shivering in her thick coat.
“I don’t know” Loki admitted, feeling helpless. He thought of Thor, and Hela, and really just wanted to go home. But Thor would die if he did not find the cure, and he could not bear the thought of that happening.
“Look” Loki said, pointing, “someone goes there. Come!” He hurried towards the creature, a more apprehensive Freyja following in his tracks.
“Hello?” Loki called over the wind that had started to blow, whirling snow around them so it was hard to see anything at all. “Do you know where we can find Nidhöggr?”
The creature, for it was neither man nor animal, opened its mouth and showed it was full of sharp teeth, then gave a barking sound that could have been both threat and laughter.
“I like riddles” it said, “so I shall give you your answer in the form of one.”
Loki cocked his head to the side. He enjoyed riddles, and was good at guessing them.
“Go ahead” he replied, “ask your riddle.”
“If you change south east into north and north-east into west and all others similarly, walk in the direction that is now south-east.”
“I beg your pardon?” Freyja asked, completely bewildered, but Loki broke a branch and started drawing in the snow. “If south-east is north…” he muttered, and he kept muttering as he drew and drew again. Freyja and the stranger watched, Freyja worriedly and the stranger impassively. Finally, Loki turned to the stranger and asked,
“Which direction is east from here?”
The stranger gave that odd barking noise again, and Freyja felt almost confident it was a laugh.
“You have a good head on your shoulders” it said, “you’ll need that when facing Nidhöggr. He is more fond of riddles than I am. That way.”
He raised a long, bony arm and pointed in a direction that to Freyja seemed identical to all others, but Loki thanked the stranger and started walking. She had no choice but to follow him.
Something terrible was going on in Asgard, Sigyn could feel it. Loki had gone missing, and no one seemed to know where he had gone. It terrified her, and her fear influenced the baby who would not stop screaming.
“Hush now” Sigyn nigh-on begged as she rocked the cradle, “it will be alright, your father will come home soon, it will be alright, but you must stop crying now.”
Perhaps it was the unfamiliar surroundings that had the little one so upset, she thought feverishly. If she just brought Aili home, everything would be alright. Yes, she just had to bring AIli home.
She lifted the child from the ice crib and almost panicked at how cold she was. No wonder she was ill, and crying. She was practically freezing! Quickly gathering up the few belongings she needed, Sigyn left the room and snuck down one of the back stairs.
Nobody saw her leave, and by the time they noticed that she had vanished with the princess it would be too late.
Loki and Freyja walked for many hours, trembling with the cold and half-blind with the stark difference between the dark night and the white snow. The wind was howling in their ears and the snow was ruthlessly swirling around them, making each step treacherous and conversation impossible. They simply walked, keeping east as well as they could in the conditions. At least they hoped they were keeping east, for it was nearly impossible to tell.
“Do you think it is much further?” Freyja screamed over the wind, hoping Loki had heard her.
“I do not know” he called back, or at least that was what she imagined she heard. They fell back to silence once more, trudging through the whiteness with only one thought in mind. They had to reach Nidhöggr in time to save Thor.
Frigga was exhausted, but could not rest. She had sat with Thor for many hours, listening to the silence where his heartbeat ought to be. It was only the soft blue light of Jotun sejdr that kept her from thinking that he was truly dead, but not even that gave her any comfort. This was why she was heading towards the chambers her sons inhabitat. And they were still her sons, even though they now called each other husband instead of brother and had a sweet little babe of their own.
She knocked on the door, not sure if Sigyn was asleep or not, but wanting in all the same. There was no reply, and she knocked again, harder this time. Then she realised that she might wake the baby and instead tried the door handle. It was unlocked, and opened immediately to her questing hand. Silently, Frigga moved into the room and looked around. Everything seemed to be in order; there were the tapestries, the furniture, the ice crib Laufey had created for his granddaughter. But she did not see Sigyn, and grew worried. Had the nursemaid left little Hela alone? Surely not.
Frigga moved over to the crib to check on the child, but found none.
She stood for several moments, staring dumbly, unable to accept what she saw. But there it was.
An empty crib.
By the time light broke over the snow, Loki and Freyja were both so exhausted they could barely move. Each step took a little more energy than the last, and Loki’s legs had never been so heavy before. Snow had long since gotten into his boots, turning his feet to icicles and his toes numb. Freyja did not fare much better, her skirts wet and weighed down, parts of them frozen and stiff. She was pale with cold, eyes drooping, and trudged on as silent as Loki as they walked in this neverending landscape of white.
“Surely it is not much further” Freyja said quietly, her breath like white mist from her lips. Loki shook his head, praying she was right. He did not know how much longer he could walk.
They kept going, over hill after hill, until at last Loki saw something that made him stop in his tracks, just staring. Freyja, who was lost to her own weariness, walked into him and nigh on sent them both sprawling in the snow.
“What is it?” She asked, exhaustion in every syllable.
“Look” Loki replied, “a spring.”
“Do you think it is Hvergelmir?” Freyja asked hopefully.
“I do not know. But should there not be a dragon?”
They both looked around, feeling a bit more awake now that they might be close to their goal.
“Let us move closer” Loki suggested, “perhaps it is in cave or something.”
“I do not see a cave” Freyja protested, but followed him nonetheless.
They moved down the hill carefully, for it was steeper than the others they had traversed and the snow seemed to slip away under their feet. Eventually, though, they stood safely by the shore of the spring and looked around, hesitant. They could see no free water, only ice.
“Now what do we do?” Freyja asked. Loki did not answer her, instead he called as loudly as he could with his frozen lungs,
“Nidhöggr! Are you here?”
“Odin!” Frigga cried in desperation as she burst into the royal bedchamber. Odin, who had just gone to bed, sat up in alarm.
“Wife, what is the matter?” Frigga ignored the fact that her husband was in only his nightshirt as she dragged him from their bed.
“Hela!” she cried, wild with fear, “Hela is missing! Sigyn too! Oh, what if something has happened to them?”
“Calm, wife” Odin said, too tired to worry. “I shall send my birds to find them, and they will be safely home by morning. Surely they are not in any danger, Sigyn would never let anything happen to Hela. You worry too much.” But he was worried too, and as he took in Frigga’s desperate expression he felt a tendril of fear coil low in his stomach. What if something truly had happened to his granddaughter?
He moved over to his window and opened it, calling for Hugin and Munin to attend him. The two ravens came obediently, circling outside the window for several moments before settling on the windowsill.
Odin leaned out so he could speak to them in a low tone, asking them to fly all over Asgard and find Sigyn and little Hela, ensure they were safe and report their location back to him as soon as possible.
“If I am asleep, then caw until I wake” he ordered them, and it was with confirming caws the two birds spread their wings and took flight.
“There” Odin said, putting an arm around Frigga, “it will be alright.”
“I hope so” she whispered into his chest, “Oh, this is too much. Thor... and Loki… and now Hela. I know not who to worry for the most!”
“Thor is safe with Laufey, and Loki is with Freyja.” Odin replied, then he repeated, “Fear not, wife, all will be well.”
Frigga rested her head against his chest, trying her best to believe him.
Loki and Freyja heard the crunch of scales against snow long before they actually saw the dragon, and this was no surprise. Nidhöggr was completely white, from the tip of his snout to the end of his tail. His wings were larger than Farbauti, and an ethereal blue that reminded them of opals. The eyes that looked at them both impassively were red as blood.
“Strangers at my spring” he rumbled, raising his head to get a better look. “What do you want?”
“My husband lies dying” Loki replied, “only water from your spring can save him.”
Nidhöggr yawned, showing of several rows of very sharp teeth.
“That is no concern of mine” he said, bored, and made as to slither away towards his cave on the other side of the spring.
“Wait!” Freyja cried, “we have been told you are fond of riddles. Perhaps we can exchange a few?”
Nidhöggr seemed to mull this over, then he turned back to them.
“I will ask you a few riddles, and then we will see if I consider you both clever enough to consider your request.” He decided.
Loki almost felt like crying from relief. “Ask away” he said, hoping he would be able to answer.
“Very well. I shall ask you for what I want, and you will give it to me.”
“Agreed” Freyja said before Loki could protest.
“My first riddle.” Nidhöggr opened his jaws wide in a bored yawn, “Two brothers we are, great burdens we bear, all day we are bitterly pressed; yet this I will say - We are full all the day, and empty when we go to rest.”
Loki and Freyja looked at each other. Freyja looked confused, Loki resigned.
“I expect I shall be the one to give him what he wants” Loki said.
“I don’t even understand what he wants!” Freyja replied.
Loki sighed deeply, then bent down to untie his boots. He threw one after another to the dragon, trying not to let on how awful it felt to stand in the snow wearing only his wet socks.
Nidhöggr seemed pleased, or at least they both hoped so. He turned his massive head to Freyja and said,
“Of no use to one, yet absolute bliss to two. The small boy gets it for nothing. The young man has to lie for it. The old man has to buy it. The baby's right, the lover's privilege, the hypocrite's mask. To the young girl, faith; to the married woman, hope; to the old maid, charity.“
“No” Freyja said, “never.”
“You must” Loki said, “I gave him my boots.”
Freyja made an unhappy face, but then quickly darted forward and pressed a kiss to Nidhöggr’s snout.
“There” she said, “now can we have the water?”
“No.” Nidhöggr yawned again, clearly bored with the conversation. He curled up in front of them, obviously intending to fall asleep right there.
“Is there nothing you want?” Loki cried desperately, “nothing at all they could let me have some of the water? Please, Thor’s life depends on it!”
He stared helplessly at the thick ice covering the ice, then threw a bolt of magic on it. It fizzled and vanished, leaving the ice as smooth as before.
“Foolish child” the dragon sounded sleepy. “No magic works here. Well, apart from mine.”
“Then what do you want?” Freyja cried with equal desperation. “There must be something!”
Nidhöggr opened his wild red eyes again, looking at them both considering.
“There is one thing” he finally offered. “A five letter word. Take away the first letter and it is a place in Midgard. Take away the first two letters and it becomes the opposite of the five letter word.”
Loki and Freyja stared at each other in complete bewilderment. That made no sense whatsoever.
Or did it? Loki’s mind started working feverishly, even as he shivered and his feet felt as if they’re were about to fall off. He looked at Freyja, then the dragon, then Freyja again. He thought of the previous riddles. Nidhöggr had made Freyja kiss him. Could it be… could the answer really be.
“Woman” he breathed, white mist coming from his lips.
“I beg your pardon?” Freyja demanded.
“The answer is woman . He wants a woman.”
Freyja took a step back. “Oh no” she replied, “I am not staying here!”
“Freyja please” Loki begged, “Thor’s life depends on-”
“I am not staying here!” Freyja yelled, stomping her foot. “And you cannot make me!”
“I am a prince of Asgard-” Loki began hotly.
“And I am Vanir! I do not answer to you. Do not ask this of me Loki or I will never forgive you!”
He could see in her eyes that she meant it, too. What a choice to make! His husband’s life or his best friend’s freedom.
“It doesn’t have to be her” Nidhöggr said, yawning again. “Send me one of your aesir girls. One to keep me company. It gets lonely up here.”
“And I will get the water to bring back to Asgard?” Loki asked, seeking confirmation.
“Once I have the girl.” Nidhöggr agreed.
“Agreed” Loki said, not sure how he was to fulfill his part of the promise. But he had to.
Hugin and Munin returned shortly after dawn, to find their master already awake. To be honest, Odin had not slept for more than an hour or two, woken many times by his wife crying softly at his side or his own unhappy thoughts. The thought of Hela out there somewhere, possibly in danger, was enough to keep even the calmest of minds from resting.
So when the tap of a beak was heard by the window, followed by a hoarse caw, Odin stood from his bed and went to meet the two ravens.
“What news?” He demanded, and listened intently to what they had to tell him. His frown deepened as he listened.
“All the realm?” He demanded, but kept his voice low so as not to wake Frigga who had finally managed to fall asleep.
Hugin ruffled his feathers and Munin cocked her head to the side.
“I see” Odin murmured, more to himself than to them. He thought it over. Surely it was no coincidence that the nursemaid, what was her name again, had vanished at the same time as the child.
There was a nagging doubt in his mind that perhaps Sigyn had vanished voluntarily, but he refused to even consider it. No one in Asgard could surely be wicked enough to want to harm an infant, especially not their princess. No, there must be some other explanation. Perhaps whoever had abducted them both had some sort of sejdr that he was unable to see through without using his own. Yes, that must be the case.
Odin dressed quietly, but swiftly, and left his chambers accompanied by his ravens. If he was to use his sejdr to scry for Hela, he would do it best sitting on his throne.
The babe was smaller than he had anticipated, Angrboda thought as he looked at the sleeping infant. And so curiously colored! Half white and half blue, with a mix of white-blond and black hair. It must be true what they said, that prince Loki was born Jotun.
To be honest, that was a bigger surprise than hearing that he had lain with Sigyn at all. But here she was, the babe that was the result of the union.
“Do aesir age very slowly?” Angrboda asked when it became clear that Sigyn wasn’t willing to offer any information more than what she had said already.
“No” Sigyn said, looking up from her sewing, “why do you ask?”
“She is smaller than I expected her to be, that is all” Angrboda replied and did not add that he had expected a child both walking and talking.
“Are you insulting my daughter?” Sigyn asked, a dangerous look in her eyes that Angrboda recognized from his own acchi , the parent they shared.
“Of course not” Angrboda hurried to assure her, not wanting a fight to wake the little one. He had little experience with children, apart from the ones he helped get rid of when such a thing was needed. His magic was more attuned with the dark powers of the world, after all, than the light ones.
“Curious” he murmured to himself as he went to make them some tea, “I really thought her to be bigger.”
Loki and Freyja returned, frozen and exhausted, to complete upheaval.
“What in the blazes is going on?” was Freyja's very eloquent question once her teeth stopped chattering and her face wasn’t quite so blue anymore.
“Best go ask father” Loki replied, having fared much better in the cold than her even though his feet felt like they were about to fall off.
Together, they headed through the castle, past several very anxious, worried faces, into the throne room where Odin sat half-dressed on his throne with a look of deep concentration on his face.
“Let’s not interrupt him” Loki whispered to Freyja, “he’s using his sejdr and that always makes him cranky.”
She nodded in approval, and they stood in silence for several moments as they waited for Odin to finish whatever it was he was doing.
Eventually, the king came back to himself and saw his son and the vanir goddess look at him expectantly, both still shivering slightly even though they were wrapped in heavy cloaks. He also noted, to his distress, that Loki’s boots were missing.
“Children” he said, standing up and grimacing as his back spasmed. “Tell me you come with good news.”
“Yes and no” Freyja said as Loki said “it depends on how you look at it.”
“Please explain” Odin sighed, “I am not in the mood for games.”
“Nidhöggr will give us the water from his spring but he wants something in exchange first.” Loki said.
“And what does he want?” Odin rubbed his forehead, feeling a headache coming on.
“An aesir woman” Freyja grimaced.
“What?” Odin thundered.
“He demands a woman to come stay with him and keep him company” Loki looked unhappy. “We must find one, father, Thor’s life depends on it.”
“I cannot allow-” Odin began, but then thought of his son who lay as still and cold as an ice statue in the healing wing. “Very well. I will arrange things.”
“Thank you, father” Loki replied tiredly and turned to leave. “I’ll go to my rooms, I miss Hela.”
Freyja noticed how Odin tensed, as if reluctant to say something.
“Loki” the king said at last, when Loki was almost to the door. “There is something you must know.”
“Can’t it wait, father? I want to see my daughter.”
“It is about your daughter, son. She… she is missing.”
Loki spun around so fast he nearly wrung his own neck.
“What?” he cried, his voice full of panic.
“She has been missing since late last night” Odin admitted reluctantly. “Along with Sigyn.”
“What has happened to them?” Loki demanded, wild-eyed.
“We do not know. Frigga went to see Hela last night and found the room abandoned, no trace of either of them.”
Loki laughed hysterically.
“I go to solve one disaster and come home to another!” He cried. Then he turned to Freyja, who was the only ally he had at this horrifying moment. “My daughter is gone!” He screamed at her.
Freyja looked helplessly at him, not knowing what to say or do. Then she thought of something.
“Have you scryed other realms?” She asked, and Odin nodded tiredly.
“She is either in Vanaheim or Jotunheim, I cannot see either.”
“Not Vanaheim” Freyja said and empathically shook her head, “Uncle Eirikki sees everything that happens in Vanaheim and would have known the moment they arrived.”
“Then she is in Jotunheim” Odin muttered, more to himself, then turned back to Loki. The young prince was tugging at his sleeves hard enough for them to threaten to unravel.
“We will find her, Loki. Go sit with your husband.”
Loki didn’t listen, staring blankly at nothing as he tried to come to terms with what he had been told. Someone had abducted his child.
He didn’t hear Odin send a servant to fetch King Laufey, did not hear the jotun arrive, did not hear Laufey promise to cast his mind out through his realm to find the missing woman and child. All he heard was his own desperate, panicked thoughts that someone had his child, and he did not know who or how to get her back.
Eir approached the young prince slowly where he sat by Thor’s bedside, clutching his hand as if his life depended on it. When she came closer, she could see that he was weeping softly, tears slipping down his cheeks like small shards of ice.
“Is this how it ends?” She heard him whisper, “I thought our happiness would last forever and now it is ending.”
“My lord?” she asked carefully, “what is the matter?”
“My daughter and her nurse are missing” he replied, not looking up at her. “No one knows where they are to be found, but they are nowhere in Asgard.”
“Would this be Sigyn?” Eir asked, her heart sinking like a stone in water.
Loki finally looked up.
“Yes, who else?” He said, clearly irritated.
Eir closed her eyes briefly.
“I was afraid something might happen” she murmured.
“What do you mean?” Loki demanded, every inch a royal in his address.
“Sigyn is… she hasn’t been herself since Aili died” Eir said apologetically.
“Her daughter. She drowned. Sigyn saw it happen.” Loki’s heart clenched with grief for the unknown child, unable not to imagine the horror of his little Hela dead in the water.
Then Eir’s words slipped through his mind once more and he grasped at them with desperation.
“You think that Sigyn has my daughter” he said, horrified. Eir nodded, unable to look him in the eye.
“She isn’t herself” she said, “not since-”
“Who isn’t herself?” Frigga interrupted, having just come into the room. The moment Loki saw her, he flew into a rage, desperation and fear overcoming him.
“You! This is all your fault!”
Frigga startled as if he had struck her.
“I beg your pardon?”
“If only you had vetted Sigyn more thoroughly-”
“Me?” Frigga was indignant. “You were the one who chose her! It was your responsibility.”
“What? I did not choose her! She-”
“Both of you, be quiet.” Eir’s voice brokered no argument. “It doesn't matter who vetted the girl or who did not, the truth of the matter is that she has Hela and they are both missing.”
Frigga stared at her in horror.
“Sigyn… Sigyn has Hela?”
“Yes” Loki cried, “and she has taken her out of the realm!”
“Jotunheim” Eir said, “she has a half-sibling there.”
“Then we must find that sibling immediately” said Frigga, “do you know the name?”
“Yes. Angrboda. They were very close as children, but grew apart. Sigyn told me plenty of him.”
I'm so sorry you've had to wait for this! Writer's block is hell. Add a new job and well... sorry.
“Are we sure that this is the correct house?” Loki asked quietly, and Laufey nodded.
“I can sense them both inside. They seem to be alone at the moment, but perhaps it is best you go in by yourself anyway.”
Loki hesitated, looking at the little cottage where it lay nestled amongst large fir trees. It looked small, and robust, with thick wooden walls and one single fur-covered window next to the simple door.
He trudged slowly through the snow towards the door, not wanting to go inside or to face the monster within.
He opened the door reluctantly, afraid what he was going to face, and was completely surprised by the cozy scene within. A fire was burning, and Sigyn sat by it with Hela in her arms, singing her a lullaby and rocking gently. Hela was obviously asleep, not at all traumatised by the events that had taken place and had so thoroughly traumatised her eadni.
“Sigyn” Loki said, forcing himself to keep his voice level.
She looked up with a beaming smile.
“Loki!” she cried in absolute delight, “you’re home! I was so worried- when I heard you’d gone missing-”
Loki could see the madness shining in her eyes and knew he had to get the child away from her as soon as possible, but also saw the potential danger. A mad woman can do anything when threatened, and she sat much too close to the fire for his comfort. So instead, he reminded himself that he was the silver tongue, and slowly edged closer.
“I was worried too” he lied effortlessly. “But I had to go, surely you understand.”
Sigyn bounced Hela in her arms, her smile not quite so beaming.
“I don’t understand why you couldn't take your family along. We missed you so terribly, Aili and I.”
“I missed you too” he said, holding out his arms. “Can I hold her?”
But Sigyn jerked back, coming even closer to the fire.
“She is sleeping” she explained, making Loki nod his head in understanding even as a war raged inside.
They stood in silence for several moments, then Loki pulled up a chair, close enough that he could see his daughter. She was more pink than pale, signaling overheating and making him almost sick with worry.
“Do you remember how we met?” Sigyn asked after several moments of silence, her smile back in full force as she looked at him like he was the love of her life.
“At the summer fete.”
He didn’t, but there had been many women in the years he thought Thor did not love him the way he loved Thor.
“Of course. You were beautiful.” Sigyn giggled.
“In my working dress and mud in my hair?”
He still didn’t remember.
“I only kiss beautiful girls” he said, keeping his voice light and teasing.
“I felt beautiful when you held me” she said, then her face turned to a frown.
“But why would you not know me later? Why did you abandon me and Aili?”
“I did not want to” Loki assured her, “father demanded it. Said you were of too low status. But I never stopped longing for you both. Surely you can understand?”
Sigyn mulled it over, her features thoughtful. Then she looked up at him again.
“I do not understand” she said and his heart sank, “but I am sure you will make it up to me now that we can marry.”
“Sigyn… I am married.” Loki replied carefully, trying to reach her even though she was clearly too far gone.
“Not for long!” She cried, “I have taken care of everything.”
Loki’s heart seized, but he kept playing the part he had chosen for himself.
“It was you?” He said, impressed. “You are so clever. How did you manage?”
Sigyn beamed with pride.
“I put Odin’s helm in the washing water. It worked, didn’t it? Thor became sick. But then he didn’t die, and you were still bound to him, so I gave it to him in his tea, too.” Loki felt sick to his stomach. The woman holding his daughter less than a foot from the fire was the same woman who had almost killed Thor. Who might still kill Thor.
“And the… the stirrups on the horse?”
“Nobody cares for a woman with a baby coming to see the horses.”
Loki smiled at her even though he only wanted to push her into the flames.
“Oh Sigyn, my brave Sigyn. Thank you for setting me free.” He said, trying to sound as loving as possible.
Sigyn beamed at him in happiness.
They sat for a while, just looking at each other, Sigyn happy and Loki desperately trying to think of a way to get the baby away from her.
Then, Sigyn gave him what he wanted without thought.
“She is awake” she said, “would you like to hold her?”
“Yes” Loki agreed, “very much.”
Sigyn carefully placed Hela in Loki’s outstretched arms, and the moment his arms closed around her she opened her eyes, staring up at him pleadingly. I’m hot, those eyes seemed to say, and I feel sick and I want to go home. Where were you, eadni?
Loki looked up at Sigyn, feeling a mixture of sorrow and hatred for this woman who had nearly ruined his life and was still smiling like she had done something good.
“I’m sorry” he told her, just before he pulled his sejdr close around him and teleported out of the cottage, clasping Hela as if his life depended on it.
“What do we do with her?” Frigga stood in Asgard’s prison, looking into the cell at the woman huddled in the far corner, looking defeated and weeping softly, her head resting against her pulled up knees.
“I do not care” Loki said coldly, turning away. “Have her hanged, imprisoned for life, it doesn’t matter as long as I never have to set eyes on her again. We have more important things to worry about.”
Frigga nodded carefully.
“Nidhöggr.” she said. It wasn’t a question.
“How can we condemn one of ours to live with that… that creature?” Loki demanded, hating being a prince at the moment.
Frigga did not reply, just watched Sigyn weep.
“Perhaps…” she said slowly, stroking the sides of her dress in a gesture Loki recognised as deep thought. “Perhaps we can solve two problems in one move, like when we play Mills.”
“Mother, you are not making any sense” Loki protested, wanting nothing more than to go back to the healing wing to cuddle with Thor, even though he lay still and cold.
“You promised Nidhöggr an aesir woman.” Frigga reminded him, “and Sigyn must be punished for what she has done.”
“You are suggesting we give Sigyn to Nidhöggr.”
“It would solve both issues.”
Loki finally turned to look at SIgyn again. It would solve their problems. Sigyn would be in a place she would never leave, no danger to anyone anymore. And he would get the waters he needed to save Thor.
“I shall take her there myself” Loki said grimly, “and leave her there.”
The journey to Nidhöggr seemed to be faster the second time, but perhaps it was because Loki now knew the way and how far they must wander. He had chosen to only take one more companion, and much to his mother’s surprise that companion had turned out to be Sif.
“I need someone who can easily overpower Sigyn if needed, but that she will not see as a threat.”
“Loki, Sif is pregnant.” Frigga had protested. This had been news to him, but it did not change his mind.
Sif herself was happy to come along, sick with the sorrow and fear permeating Asgard and restless from being carefully watched by the healers.
“Are you sure this is the way?” She asked as they trekked through the snow, Loki first and her last with Sigyn between them.
“Yes” Loki replied for the fourth time. “I am sure.”
Sif fell silent, thinking instead of the desperation a woman could feel at losing a baby. And she had been planning to be rid of hers. She still didn’t want it, but could no longer imagine killing it. Perhaps there was someone out there who wanted a child. Someone who would be willing to take hers.
These thoughts, of an unknown someone loving the child she herself did not, kept Sif warm even though the winds of Niflheim roared around them. She held her spear in a loose hold, figuring Sigyn no threat to Loki or to her. The other woman had patted Sif’s stomach fondly and said, “I’m sure he and my Aili will be good friends” and then not spoken to her again. It made Sif feel sorry for the woman, clearly mad. But this was the decision of the queen, and it was to be done. Sigyn was to be left with Nidhöggr as penance for her crimes, and Thor would be saved with the waters of Hvergelmir.
Nidhöggr was lying on the ice of his spring, seeming to be napping peacefully when they at last arrived. However, when he noticed strangers, he sat up and showed his massive size in all its glory. Sif had never seen a dragon half as big, and she felt even more sorry for what they were about to do.
“Prince Loki” the dragon rumbled with a voice that nearly made Sif stagger with the force. “You have brought your end of the bargain?”
“Yes I have” Loki had to shout to be heard over the winds. “This is Sigyn” he gestured to the woman in question, who was ignoring them all in order to stare intently into the ice.
Nidhöggr lowered his head to examine her carefully.
“Lighter than what I am made of, more of me is hidden than is seen, I am the bane of the mariner, a tooth within the sea.” Sigyn said, looking up at the dragon without fear.
Nidhöggr gave a low, rumbling laugh.
“Mad as a hatter, this one. But why not, it could be entertaining at least. I will keep her.”
He slammed his clawed foot down in the ice hard enough to make them all jump, shards of ice ripping themselves free and flying around in the wind.
“Take two shards with you back to Asgard” Nidhöggr instructed, “and put one in Thor’s mouth, the other over his heart. They will melt, and the waters restore him.”
Loki, wild with relief, did so. Then he and Sif turned to leave.
“One more thing” Nidhöggr said, warningly. “Never set foot at my spring again, either of you, or I will eat you.”
Sif paled at that, but Loki did not seem perturbed. But then again, he had no reason to be; he had what he wanted, and was rid of a dangerous woman at the same time.
But Sif could not help to look back several times until the frozen spring was out of sight, trying to see Sigyn. The other woman never looked up from the ice.