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None of Frigga’s children were carried by her.

This is a thing she does not like to dwell upon. They are all hers, in all their faults and glories, their privileges and pains. Triumphs and mistakes. They have all been fed and soothed and rocked to sleep in her arms. Sung to and told stories, and loved more fiercely than they could possibly know.

But for a supposed Goddess of Fertility… perhaps it is peculiar.

For a Goddess of Love? Not so much.

Hela was the first. Odin went to war against the dark elves, by his father’s side, and from the battlefields brought back a babe. Bundled in blankets, small and pale, with Odin’s blue eyes staring back at Frigga. And her first though was betrayal. Sinking dread and anger and anguish, as she looked at Odin, who could not meet her stare.

“The mother?” Frigga had asked, cutting right to the chase. She and Odin had been married, but had produced no issue, as yet. They had only lain together a few times, though, and children were always difficult to conceive among immortals.

Or, they were supposed to be.

“Gone,” Odin said, simply. Gone. Not dead, not exiled, not anything more. Just, gone.

Hela had cried.

Frigga had looked at the little babe, then, and something in her had softened. Not for Odin; he would face her displeasure for a long while hence. But an infant could hardly be faulted for her father’s transgressions. It was not for Hela to decide whether to be conceived or born, and as Frigga carefully reached out and took the bundle from her husband’s arms, she knew it was up to her to decide what kind of life this child would lead. Whether she would spend the rest of her days paying for someone else’s indiscretion, or not.

“I will not pretend she is mine,” Frigga had declared. “But I will not pretend she is not yours,either.”

So she had said, and Odin had nodded in acceptance. Hela was the firstborn child of the crown prince of Asgard.

But in time, Frigga’s words had ruefully come back upon her. Hela was a sweet babe. No lie – she was eager and full of smiles, always ready to learn, always reaching tiny, chubby hands out to be lifted and held and offered kisses. She rarely cried, though she could scream her head off when she was frustrated. Her dark hair all in disarray, face red and fists balling, until Frigga picked her up. Then she would always stop. She liked to be carried, did Hela. It soothed her.

Frigga never pretended that Hela was her daughter. Rather, it simply became the truth of its own accord.

And if sometimes, she looked at the little girl and saw a certain shape to her ears; detected a certain dark quality to her magic, Frigga did not see why it should matter. She forgave Odin, and he swore to her that it would never happen again. Their next child would come from the both of them – though, Hela put back such plans, as did wars and conflict. Bor’s death, and Odin’s ascension, and Frigga’s increased reluctance to let her husband back into her bed. Forgiven was not quite forgotten, after all, and their once-easy passions had turned awkward in the wake of Odin’s betrayal.

Hela was not raised a bastard, though. Frigga would not permit it. Her daughter became the crown princess, and most of the common folk did not even know that she wasn’t trueborn. And that was that. If Frigga herself refused to make an issue of it, then no other member of the court could gain much ground with their objections, either.

And for years and years, that was Hela’s life. Princess of Asgard. Student at her mother’s knee. Frigga taught her daughter magic. Taught her manners, and weaving, and how to defend herself, with knives and with words and with all the authority at her command. Hela grew tall and sharp-featured, lovely but austere. She frolicked with the giant wolf pup that Odin brought for her, and she watched the Valkyries at their training with wide, wonder-filled eyes.

“I want to fight like that,” Hela confessed, as they sat by Frigga’s fires, working away at a new tapestry for the halls. “Someday, I will be queen. Asgard’s ruler must be a warrior, or our enemies will think us weak.”

Frigga hummed. It was a fair thought, she could concede. Bor had built their realm through strength of arms, and Odin was expanding it through the same. The bifrost was a mighty invention, but one subject to limitations as well. It had not always prevented invasions. When Hela was still a girl, Frigga had repelled a group of assassins herself, before carrying her from the palace in a flurry of bloodied knives and crackling spells.

“You could not join the Valkyries and keep your title,” Frigga mused. “But they serve the crown. If you would like instruction, I am certain one of them would be pleased to be your tutor.”

Hela had considered the prospect, before nodding decisively.

“Yes. That would be a good idea,” she decided.

Sometimes, in long later years, Frigga would wonder if it was her fault. If she should have diverted Hela’s attention. Should have learned her own lessons sooner, so that she could better teach them to her daughter. Lessons in the folly of conquest, the hollowness of war, and the lies of warriors. But most days, she knows better. A mother’s words can only do so much against the pressing weight of a whole civilization. Asgard’s ways were its own, and as crown princess, Hela would have always wished to embody them.

She was good. She learned quickly. Her magic was powerful, and Odin did not share his father’s disdain for the womanly arts. He encouraged Hela to make use of all the skills available to her, and when she proved herself ready and eager enough, he took her to the battlefields alongside him. Hela, riding astride her great wolf; rending her way through armies until their enemies began to speak of her as the Goddess of Death.

Until even Asgard granted her the mantle. That was when Frigga began to fear, though. Not Hela – but what Odin’s campaigns were turning Hela into. It was no idle thing for the people of Asgard to grant titles. And Death was a terrible burden. A solemn and complicated purview, which seemed to promise that Hela would carry the weight of battlefields and funerals with her forever more.

“It makes me strong, Mother,” Hela assured her. Cold hands closing over her own. “Death makes me strong.”

“You are your own strength,” Frigga had countered. “The titles others give us pale in comparison to the weight of our own choices. Never let them decide who you are, Hela. That right is yours alone.”

She had wanted her daughter to understand that there was always a chance to turn back.

Hela had smiled, and nodded in understanding.

But Odin’s take on the situation… differed.

“The rulers of Asgard draw their strength not from themselves, and not from their titles, but from Asgard,” he asserted, venturing towards them. He stared at Hela as a soldier, these days. It made him look like Bor. Frigga understood the necessity of it, of presenting the right face in public. But she thought he took it too far. He was Hela’s only father – at least in private, he needed to be her father. Not her king, nor her General.

But Odin insisted. He knew the throne, and the burdens of expectation. He knew what Hela would face, in the far, far future, when neither of them would be there to guide her.

Frigga deferred to his wisdom.

The elves, it is said, always had a propensity for binding themselves to their realm. To the lands they called home. To her dying day, Frigga never knew what went on, when Odin led Hela down through caverns and pathways deep within Asgard. But when they returned, Hela was much stronger, and Frigga could feel the change. The way the land answered to her. The way it sang in symphony with her heartbeats.

It reminded her, for the first time in years and years, that Hela was not her blood.

And it made her look at her husband again with the sting of betrayal resting heavy in her chest.

“Did you plan this?” she asked him, when they were alone. “An elf-blooded heir, to bind to Asgard itself? To make a weapon of?”

Odin was silent.

Frigga reared back, and struck him as hard as she could. And that was hard. The mark bruised his cheek, and even with the proper form, fractured her wrist. Odin took it in his hand, and she was too furious to flinch.

“Do you really think so little of me?” he demanded.

“Do you really think me that great of a fool?” she countered. “When I forgave you, it was for the ill-conceived passions of a hot-blooded warrior. It was for a tryst. A mistake is one thing, but this was no mistake.”

“It was,” Odin insisted. “It was a mistake. But one… one which yielded advantages. I did not plan for Hela.”

He was lying.

Odin lied as easily as he breathed, and Frigga would not pretend that she caught all or even most of his falsehoods. But this one she spotted. This one she felt, down deep in the heart of her own nature. Goddess of Love. That was what the people called her, and loved she did. Wholly and foolishly and truly, and so she knew it was not a lie when Odin said that he loved her. And she knew that it was a lie, when he promised he had not meant to betray her.

It was too much.

“I am leaving,” she decided.

“No,” Odin said. But it was not the denial of a king. It was the plea of a husband – and that, Frigga could ignore at her own discretion. The sting of it was simply too much.

She had not meant to leave Hela. Her daughter was newly come into great power, that was true. But she was also a grown woman, of rank and influence, who held the devotion of many followers, and was more than old enough to own her freedoms. Even if she stood at the heart of Frigga’s conflict with Odin, still, she was not to blame for it. Had she been thinking more clearly, had she the wisdom of great foresight, or knowledge of the future… she would have stayed. Even as furious as she might have been with Odin. She would have stayed, to help her daughter understand her power, to see the real choices that lay before her.

Back then, Odin was not a great believer in choice.

But she left. She left Asgard for the home of their allies in Vanaheim. For quiet gardens and places filled with contemplations, where she ruminated on the past and the future, on love and loss, on herself, and Odin, and the network of realms that was spreading beneath their feet. War and chaos and conquest. Frigga was no great opponent to it, she could admit that. She found battlefields unpleasant, and would often smile to herself as the warriors celebrated their great victories of arms, and think that they were oversold as compared to the victories of diplomats. The victories of mages, and those who moved mainly in the circles of women.

But that was not condemnation.

When next she saw Hela, the six realms under Asgard’s rule had become nine. Many of which yielded only with great and lingering hostility. Jotunheim was the most dangerous among them, particularly given that Laufey could carry winter to any realm he visited, and in so doing ensure that the conditions of his battlefields always favoured the Frost Giants. Though Asgard had claimed his realm, the king-and-queen had yet to acknowledge their throne.

Hela’s crown was strewn with icicles, and her eyes looked pale and strange. And she did not embrace Frigga in greeting.

“Your highness,” she said.

“Daughter,” Frigga acknowledged. The words merited a strange look; a tightening of her lips, followed thereafter by a hollow smile.

“As you say,” Hela agreed. It did not escape Frigga’s notice that the words were carefully chosen. As if Frigga was making a claim – but Hela herself was no longer entirely conceding the point. It felt like missing a step in the dark, though she kept her composure. They had spent years apart before. Hela had never hesitated to call her ‘mother’, but relationships hit upsetting points, at times.

Frigga had gone to Odin.

There was much to discuss. Though in the end, they had spent the lion’s share of their time in silence.

“Why does Hela not embrace me?” she asked, at length.

“…You left,” Odin says. “What was she to think? Her mother leaving her at the irrefutable revelation of her elven heritage.”

Frigga felt stunned. And she was beginning to grow weary of the sensation.

“I always knew!” she snapped. “That was not what drove me off.”

“And I have told her so. But she does not believe it,” Odin replied, weary-sounding. He had slumped, then. Sinking into the chair at his back. All chairs seemed as thrones when Odin sat in them, but that day, he painted the picture of a king over-burdened by too many things. And despite her anger, Frigga felt sympathy. Sympathy, and remorse.

“I have been gone too long,” she mused.

“You had every right to go,” Odin conceded. “None could fault you for leaving and never coming back. I waited for you to send word of your intentions to divorce me. Truth be told, it would have been fair.”

Frigga sucked in a long breath through her nose, and let it out in a sigh.

“I considered it,” she admitted. “I married a cunning prince. More the fool I, to think I would never be cut by the sharpness of your plans.”

Odin ran a hand down his face.

“Such plans. Such grand designs. My father’s glory – my own. My daughter’s. Of late, I have begun to wonder what is really coming from it all. My dreams are blood and fire. There is no peace. I thought I would do better than Bor. I thought I would bring an end to this all, one day. Unity and then harmony. Not perpetual discord. It is why I…”

“Why you killed him?” Frigga surmised.

Odin looked at her, and gratifying, it was his turn to look stunned.

She shrugged at him in return.

“I knew,” she admitted. “I always knew what you had done. It seemed fitting. Bor was an unkind father, and an unfit king. I would not speak so of him in public, of course. And I saw no reason to make issue of the act. You enjoy having your secrets – and I prefer to know them quietly.” And she is beginning to think that a fair turnaround may be to keep him wondering, on what secrets she knows and does not know.

Odin laughed. Only once, and ruefully.

“I underestimated you,” he conceded.

“It is a bad habit,” she replied.

Silence came again. But when it passed, she sat beside her husband. And even ventured a hand towards his own. This, she thought, she would never forgive him. And in the days to come, she suspected there would be more things that would fall into that category. More machinations that would cut her. But she was better braced for it, now.

And truth be told?

She liked being queen.

Not the noblest of reasons to forgive him. But perhaps that was why they made such a fitting pair, in the end.

“Trying to achieve peace through bloodshed seems like trying to dry your hands in the rain,” she mused.

“Well, it is not so simple,” Odin replied, with another heavy breath. He glanced at her, and then looked across the room. “Factions create discord. One king, uniting all the realms – but then enforcing peace. Bringing everyone together, rather than destroying each other in ever-escalating conflicts… it seemed a better plan than my father’s. One strong ruler. One great kingdom.”

“And you meant to make an heir powerful enough to hold it,” Frigga concluded. An edge to her voice, again.

She wanted him to admit it. Out loud. What he had done, to her and to Hela in the course of his machinations.

“I love you both,” he said.

“I am the Goddess of Love. I know,” she reminded him, sharply. “That is not what I asked.”

“…Yes,” he relented. But even then, he could not pretend to disapprove of his own actions. Even then, there was a glimmer of it in his eyes. Ambition. The beauty of the plan he had laid out. Oh, and it was clever. A child of elven and aesir blood. Bound to Asgard, and strengthened by it. And as Asgard’s strength expanded, so would hers.

“Your plan seems to be going well,” she determined. Settled, somewhat, by the admission. It wrenched at Odin to admit his lies.

“It has reached its limit,” he refuted. “Even with Svartalfheim as little more than a graveyard, nine realms is nearly more than can be managed. Our people do not replace themselves fast enough, and our soldiers can only be in so many places at once. I have begun to permit Vanir into the ranks – controversial enough, even with Heimdall serving as a laudable ambassador, and loyal subject. But we can scarcely recruit frost giants or trolls or full-blooded elves. Imagine the likes of them being revered as Warriors of Asgard. I might as well sit Hela’s wolf on the bloody throne.”

And yet you certainly do not seem to mind fucking them, Frigga could not help but think.

She was much too well-mannered to say it, of course.

“So. Move to the next phase of your plan,” she determined.

Odin inclined his head in acknowledgement.

“Until your return, that had seemed as if it might be impossible,” he admitted. “What is required now is diplomacy. Treaties. Jotunheim will still be a matter for warriors – for Hela and myself. But if Nine Realms is more than we can hold through strength of arms, then we must find other means of establishing order. Diplomatic overtures. I must make some, of course, as King. But you… you are my better in that field.”

Despite herself, Frigga did find the flattery effective.

“And so my return is fortuitous,” she concluded.

He looked at her again.

“I ask that you serve on behalf of the realms, to create peace,” he said. “But I will not ask that anything between us be… hastily resolved.”

It was not an ideal resolution, perhaps.

But, it was a start.

Frigga took her leave of her husband, and sought out her daughter again. She found Hela in the armoury. Admiring a new weapon of hers, amidst the stark lights of the chamber. Her hair was down, and shorter than Frigga had last seen it.

“Weapons break in my hands now,” Hela said, as she approached.

Frigga chuckled, just a little.

“I imagine you present a worthy challenge for the smiths,” she noted.

“It is certainly honing their skills,” Hela conceded. Finally, she turned towards her, then. “Are you afraid of me, Mother?” she wondered. The name seemed to slip from Hela without conscious thought, if the way she swallowed afterwards was any indication.

Frigga smiled, and something in her unclenched. Just a little.

“I fear many things, Hela, but when it comes to you, my fears are for you. Not of you. A mother’s prerogative is to worry,” she declared, and moved closer. When Hela did not object, she reached over and tucked some of her hair back. “You cut it,” she noted.

“Actually, no,” Hela admitted. “It was burned on the battlefield. All I did was trim off the singed edges.”

“You could regrow it in an instant,” Frigga pointed out.

“Oh, Mother. That would be dishonourable,” her daughter replied. “A warrior who cannot defend their parts does not deserve to keep them.”

So the saying went. Frigga was pleased to find that her daughter’s character, though colder and more distant, had not changed that much.

“Well, if that is your choice. Perhaps you might let me braid it? There is plenty enough still, and I have missed sitting with you in peace.”

Hela’s expression wavered a moment. But then it grew more distant, again.

“Some other time, perhaps,” she decided. “I have a busy schedule. War waits for none, not even I. And there are many necks lined up for the execution block. A crown that cannot hold its territories does not deserve to keep them, either.”

Frigga hesitated.

“Execution block?” she asked.

Hela raised her eyebrows.

“Indeed. I am the King’s executioner, after all. A fitting rank and title for a Goddess of Death.”

That news did not suit her. Frigga frowned, and Hela took a step back.

“That is grim work,” she noted.

“It has its perks.”

“I would say that it is beneath your station,” she ventured, reluctant to sway from her point. “Did your father decide this?”

“We agreed upon it, at my suggestion,” Hela said. “Death can be a waste, at times, but the territories have been growing bolder. Better to cut off one head to make a point, than to have an open rebellion and hundreds of lives pointlessly lost instead. Death is a warrior’s calling, in the end. To imply that an executioner holds an ignoble position is to discredit the very foundations of Asgard.”

Frigga hesitated.

“The foundations of Asgard are death?” she asked, carefully.

Hela regarded her for a moment. And then she turned, and gestured towards the doorway that led to the crypts. To where the warriors of Asgard were indeed… buried in its foundations.

“Do you truly believe otherwise?” she replied. “Or do you just prefer not to look it in the eye?”

A fairer question than Frigga might have anticipated. And one which remained with her, long after the conversation had ended. It was a question that itched the back of her skull, that weighed her conscience, and constricted her heart, when Hela interrupted peace talks on Alfheim by charging on the elven high city. Fenrir tore a high priest limb from limb, but the act only served to rally the elves and end negotiations with the delivery of a sword. A declaration of war, and Alfheim’s intention to break free of Asgardian rule. Odin’s orders for Hela to stand down went ignored – and Frigga’s own voice seemed hollow, useless, as she endeavoured to fight a tide that seemed determined to sweep everything away.

A tide which rushed over Asgard, when Hela seized control of the palace.

She is not wrong, Frigga found herself thinking.

That was the strangest part.

Her daughter was wrong in many ways, but, this… this was the Asgard she had been raised to lead. This was how she had been trained and brought up. Odin’s daughter, Odin’sweapon. Frigga’s daughter. Frigga’s sweet girl. She was the Goddess of Death, and she was the crown princess of Asgard, and nothing else could make sense to her except that death was the key to ruling. That all she was doing was trying to preserve what she had been told was most important, in all the realms.

The throne, and her place on it. Her ability to hold it. Keep it. Deserve it.

“And so it comes full circle,” Odin mused. “As I killed my father, and supplanted him, now my heir seeks to do the same.”

Frigga wanted to close her eyes.

She fought to keep them open. Staring towards Asgard, as the last Valkyrie fell from the sky.

“Let me go to her,” she asked.

“No. She will kill you,” Odin said, with finality that assured her that he was convinced on that point.

“She is only doing what she believes she must. Someone has to show her that there is another path,” Frigga insisted. “I am not a weakling, Husband. I taught my daughter her tricks and spells. Let me go to her, or I will never forgive you. I swear it. If Hela falls I will neverforgive you.”

Odin looked at her a long moment.

“Then you will never forgive me,” he declared.

But in the end, he underestimated her again.

The trip to the palace itself was easier than it should have been. The risen dead do not see well even when their quarry is not invisible. Frigga moved like a shadow, and pulled her magic to her. It was a deep well. She had never tapped into the whole of it – there was something frightening about such a pool, with no bottom in sight. Only the stretching darkness, a yawning thing that put in her the fascination of wondering what it would be like, if she let go and fell completely into it.

Her better sense knew it would not lead to good things, though. Love could be as inevitable as death, and as maddening as chaos.

Still. It was there, at her fingertips, as surely as magic had ever been at her daughter’s.

Frigga had woven love into every tapestry they had ever made together. The threads would always lead her to her child. But, it made it more difficult than not to hide from her, too.

In the palace, her illusions failed her, as she came to the throne.

“Mother, dearest,” Hela greeted. Stained with the blood of the Valkyries she had once admired. And likely still did, at that – it was by Odin’s orders that they attack. It was by Hela’s nature that she fight, to keep her throne.

To deserve it.

“My daughter,” Frigga replied. “Do you feel betrayed?”

Hela hesitated. And when she looked towards her, there was a surprising openness to her expression. A hope, lurking in her eyes. Despite the hardness, despite the death and destruction, the brutality and the viciousness. There was confusion, too. A question, pressing at the girl Frigga had raised. Everything she was doing made perfect sense. It was all she had ever been taught to do.

“I am betrayed,” Hela replied. “Father has grown weak. He has no stomach for battle anymore. He should step down – I would have let him step down. If he no longer has the strength to do what it is needed then it is only right that I ascend to the place that has been promised me.”

“And then what?” Frigga asked. “You are not an empire in and of yourself, my sweet girl. Fear and death cannot hold every realm in the cosmos.”

“They have held nine so far,” Hela argued.

“And they are strained by it,” she countered. Then her voice softened. This was her daughter, this was her child. This was the girl who had stolen her heart, the first time she laughed. “Listen to me. I know the sting of betrayal. When your father first brought you to me, I felt it. But there is a reason for everything Odin does…”

“No!”

Hela’s lips thinned, and her jaw clenched.

“Hela,” Frigga attempted, but her daughter shook her head.

“No, do not dare defend him,” she insisted. “You weak-willed, foolish woman! Some queen you have made, letting that man disgrace you for so many years. What did you even marry him for, if not to see your own child sit upon the throne of Asgard? But instead you have spent centuries raising his bastard, raising his eldest when I am not even yours! Do you think I will listen to the counsel of so simpering and pathetic a woman as you?”

The words cut like the knives she had taught her daughter to wield.

“I am your mother,” Frigga insisted, voice cracking.

Hela’s eyes were bright and hard and her hand trembled around the hilt of her blade.

“Liar,” she whispered, just before she threw her weapon.

It struck a wall of magic, as Frigga’s hands gleamed, and she reached for the deepness of her own strength. She was only one chance. Her magic could stop Hela, could save her, where destruction would otherwise be inevitable. Her daughter was strong, but she had forgotten too many of her mother’s tricks. Lost in the tide of wars, in the simplicity of strength and the scale of terrible battles. Frigga wove illusions, and evaded attacks, and when at last her daughter began to counter her spells, she pulled up others. The palace shook, not from the strength of rattling blows exchanged, but from the wavering of reality as magic flooded the halls.

Frigga tried.

But Hela’s strength was bound into the firmament of the very ground they stood upon. Asgard was an anchor that no illusion could best for long, and no barrier held, no trap stuck, when the realm around them resisted it so well.

The fight ended as Hela’s blade at last struck true, and Frigga felt the cold star metal bite into her breast.

Another shock.

The spellwork melted from the walls around them. Hela stared at her with wide, blue eyes, and before she could slump to the floor, her daughter reached out and caught her.

“No,” she said, then. “No, no, wait, no – Mother, wait, no-“

The blade came out again, more painful than it had been going in. Hela’s hand burned as she pressed her magic to the wound, but the healing spell was weak; and the pressing weight of it all seemed to drag Frigga downwards, instead. Down deep waters even further past the well of her magic. The doors to the palace shook, and Hela’s face was pale.

One chance, to save her and Asgard as well. If Odin fought Hela, the only outcome would be one or the other’s destruction. Perhaps even both, given how tied their daughter was to the realm.

“You cannot die,” Hela was whispering. “You cannot die, no, listen to me, you cannot die, you have to stay here, stay here and help me, please…”

Help.

Help her daughter.

Frigga closed her eyes, and rather than reaching up, she reached in. She was bound to her daughter and her daughter was bound to Asgard, and Asgard was built on death. Death, beyond, the lingering space of the lost souls. Like a hollow between the roots of a great tree. She could not reach that place. But with the waters of magic, she could flood it. Lifting a doorway up to the surface, to where the air broke open and a portal stretched open.

Escape route.

The palace doors broke.

Frigga’s limbs felt like ice. Blood pooled around her, and the winter blue of her daughter’s eyes vanished from view.

She did not remember much else, before she woke in a healer’s chambers. Weak and uneasy. Her mind wavered between awareness, memories disjointed, melding with dreams and an urgent sense of panic, that had her rising too hurriedly from her sickbed. She felt wrong. Weak in too many ways, all at once, and she could not recollect why, but she knew she had to find her daughter. Her frightful urgency carried her through the halls until finally Odin had caught her, and bodily carried her back to her sickroom.

“Hela, where is Hela?!” Frigga demanded.

“Hush,” he soothed. “She is safe. I promise you, she is safe. We are all safe, now.”

“I want to see her!”

Odin took her face between his hands.

“I know,” he said. “I know, my wife. She is your daughter and you love her, and it is only right that you should see her and reassure yourself of her well-being. But you cannot go to where she is. I promise you, I swear it on the throne, no harm will come to her where she is now. You must trust me. And you must calm down – you have been gravely injured, and your magic… you have depleted yourself beyond what I would have considered survivable, Frigga. It is only by the grace of good fortune and timing that you are still alive.”

His words soothed her. She could feel some magic in them, drawing her towards calmness in turn. But where, ordinarily, she would shrug such things aside, instead she found herself simply drifting along with it. Her breaths evened out, and her heartbeat slowed. As Odin brushed her hair back from her face, she calmed.

It took days for her to recover enough to actually get an explanation out of him, however.

Hela had been banished. To a realm which she could not reach, a place sealed by Odin. It was, in his words, the only solution. Their daughter was exiled, but alive, untouchable to those who might seek vengeance against her, unable to continue her assault on Asgard’s people.

“What is it like, this realm she is in?” Frigga wondered. Thoughts spinning, tilting – listing oddly in her head. Hela was a grown woman. Hela was a little girl, who climbed into her mother’s bed whenever bad dreams assailed her. She needed soft lights and warm blankets, and her Fenrir, and she needed to be stopped, and… and…

“It is her realm,” Odin told her. “It is a place entirely of her own making, her own corner of Asgard.”

“Is she alone there?” Frigga pressed.

“No,” Odin said. “Others pass through. I do not know that all of them will be friendly, but none will ever be as powerful as she is there.”

In the end, his assurances were enough. They had to be enough – they were all that Frigga had. Even as her body recovered, and her thoughts became more stable, her magic refused to replenish itself. Where once there had been a well, instead there seemed to be only a great pit. At times she felt drained, even when there seemed to be no reason for it. It took years before she could cast even simple spells again, and always, they tired her. Always it felt as if she was wrestling bare fragments of her strength away from something else.

But whenever she thought too long on it, her mind would end up elsewhere. And she would forget, until she recollected and then forgot all over again. The sight of Hela, the mention of her name, would bring it back. And she would wonder, until she found herself running in circles again.

Even without being able to focus upon it, she knew who was responsible.

What did you do to me? she needed to demand of Odin. But her husband was on Midgard, fighting Laufey and Ymir, earning the esteem of the strange mortals which dwelt there. She sent letters, or perhaps she only imagined them. The responses which came back never seemed to answer the questions she had thought to ask, though she could rarely recollected what, in specific, she had written down. The palace was badly damaged, and so renovations were made.

Hela was unpopular, for obvious reasons. Her image was covered up. Domed ceilings painted over with fresh, blank canvas. Tapestries taken down, paintings moved into the depths of storage. Frigga did not forget her daughter. But after a time, it began to feel as though she did not quite remember her, either.

When Odin comes back, I will ask him, she told herself.

What she would ask him remained unclear. But perhaps that was something she would know when she saw him again.

But when she did see Odin again, it was as she answered his request that she meet him on Midgard. And when at last she arrived at the place of his choosing – a wide, sunlit field at the edge of an ocean – he was holding a bundle in his arms.

Hela, Frigga thought, irrationally. Before Odin could speak, she rushed forward and took the little babe from him. Blue eyes stared up at her, and for a moment, her heart broke in relief. For a moment, reality did not matter – she had her daughter again, she had a chance again.

But then her gaze landed on fair wisps of hair. Fair. Not dark. Her thoughts stuttered, and reality asserted itself again.

“What is this?” she asked.

Odin bowed his head. Reaching out, he rested one hand carefully atop the baby’s.

“His mother is a Midgardian deity. Gaia,” he asserted. “She is tied to the essence of this realm, but not in a way that would ever pass to her offspring. I promise you, this time, there was no planning on my part. The dalliance was… well. I do not intend to excuse it. To explain, perhaps. I was lonely and she had a similar countenance to you. A wild divinity. But no interest in parenting a single infant, when her instincts towards motherhood encompass the better part of an entire planet.”

Frigga stared. She did not know what she felt. Perhaps it was a horror too profound to describe; perhaps it was anger too deep to name. Perhaps it was despair, and maybe it was even coloured by a strange sort of hope. Whatever it was, it was too much to articulate. For one perilous moment, she nearly tossed the baby into the sea.

But then she looked at him again.

It still was not the baby’s fault.

“Does he have a name?” she asked.

Odin let out a breath, and retracted his gentle touch.

“I had not presumed to give him one,” he admitted. “In truth, I had thought of hiding him from you. But I know you, and I know you would think that worse. You may keep him, if you like. Or I shall find another place for him. A place where he will be cared for.”

Frigga closed her eyes, and held the baby. And in the rush of it all, she wept. She had thought – had truly thought, for one moment, that it was Hela. It is not; and yet, in a sense, it is. Another baby, brought to her by Odin’s betrayal. Another infant whose future will now depend upon her decision. To accept, or cast away.

It was not, in the end, a decision she required much time to make.

But she made it differently, this time.

“He is never to know that he was not carried by me,” she said. Looking at the sea, rather than either the infant or the man. “Do you understand, Odin? You bring me as many bastard babes as you like, but once you do they are mine. I will take him to Vanaheim, to my place of seclusion. And you will tell all the court that I am with child, and make it so that time will hold this infant in stasis for a year. Then I will emerge with my baby, and none will be permitted to question it.”

Odin was quiet, for a long moment.

And then he bowed his head again.

“You are kinder than I deserve,” he said.

“This is not a kindness I do for your sake,” she informed him. She could not even rightly say if it was a kindness at all. A fear, more like.

“I know,” he assured her. “And yet, it is still true.”

Odin placed the spell upon the babe. His deftness with magic was growing, where her own only seemed to be diminishing. It nagged at her thoughts, that disparity. But not in a way she could properly grasp, before other, more pressing matters asserted themselves over it.

She named her new son Thor.

In his cradle he slept for a year, while Frigga checked upon him frequently, and ensured the spell was holding well and causing him no harm. She rested, and felt as though she was wading through a long dream. In her actual dreams, at times, she envisioned fights. Battling Hela in the palace of Asgard. Battling an elf she did not know, in her daughter’s place. Protecting something. Someone.  Searching for someone, too. She dreamed of walking like a ghost through the lines of the palace holding cells. Inside, there was darkness. She dreamed of blue eyes looking down at her, and a voice calling for her. No, Mother, no, don’t leave me. Footsteps, running. Tiny arms reaching up to her, up and up from a darkened place. But no matter how she ran towards them, no matter how she reached, she could not draw her child back to her.

When she woke, she felt heavy. As if she had spent the long night crying. But her cheeks would always be dry.

And then the year passed, and Thor was woken from his stasis sleep.

Frigga brought her son back to Asgard, where they were met with jubilation. It was much different from Hela’s arrival, which had come with whispers and rumours and uncomfortably averted gazes. None doubted that Thor was Frigga’s son. Just look at his fair hair! His apple cheeks! Thor was loved, loudly and exuberantly, and with an edge of inexpressible relief.

A trueborn heir, people thought. Surely that will go better.

They said it without saying it. Mention of Hela was… it was not done.

And in fact, there were days when even Frigga struggled to focus on the memory of her child. But still, she lingered. A ghost that would not fade.

Part of Asgard. Always.

Thor had her eyes. Odin’s eyes.

Not two years after he had delivered Thor into her arms, Odin pressed another babe into her grasp. One with green eyes instead of blue – and oh, that would often strike Frigga. That the child born of ice should but the one without any of it in his stare.

“You lay with Laufey?” Frigga guessed. She was surprised; not that Odin would do it, but that the Jotun king would. Their people could sometimes be inexplicable, though. Strange and unyielding in one moment, and shifting away to something else in the next. Physically. Socially. Laufey was a king one week and a queen the next; though in Asgard, he was always referred to in the masculine form. Such was the preference of the Aesir.

“No,” Odin said.

Frigga looked at him, and let her skepticism show.

“This babe is half Aesir,” she noted. Nothing else would explain the strange confluence of abilities, the shifting of his – or hers? Perhaps ‘their’? – little form. But… green eyes did not run in Odin’s line. Nor were they ever heard of in frost giants. Frigga had some green in her line, but, that was neither here nor there at the moment. It was fortunate as a cover, but obviously, she had not been running around Jotunheim with Laufey.

“I do not know who sired him,” Odin said. She did not suppose he had much reason to lie about it. He had become more subdued, since Laufey took one of his eyes. “I found the babe in one of the giants’ temples. Slated for sacrifice, no doubt. I have never seen a child so young display magic so great.”

The babe fussed, and Frigga paused in their talk to soothe him. Thor was napping; he tired himself out playing with some of the larger gems and jewellery pieces in one of Frigga’s chests.

When the new little one had quieted, Frigga regarded him. An ache already growing behind her ribs.

“He is born of two worlds,” Odin said. “Of such things are peace treaties born. An heir of Laufey, raised in the house of Odin…”

Frigga looked at him, and he trailed off.

Her own eyes had their fair share of ice, when need be.

“And so your thinking was to bring him here, raise him in Asgard, and then… what? Send him back to rule Jotunheim one day, in deference to your throne?” she surmised. “For someone of a wise reputation, Husband, you are keen to repeat past mistakes.”

Odin’s brow twitched, as it did when a mark hit home.

“I would not have thought you one to consider her a mistake,” he said.

Hela. Say her name, Frigga thought. But for some reason, she did not think to voice her complaint out loud.

“She was not a mistake. No more than this little one is,” she said, instead. Looking back down at the babe. Unable to keep from smiling, when he blinked curiously back at her. “But if you wish to go through with this, you know my stipulations. He will be a second son. You will put him in stasis, and I will go and take Thor, and sequester myself again. And I will not permit you to deny him any rights or dues that would be afforded to any other second son.”

“People will wonder if you leave again. It is more uncommon for a new mother to vanish without attendants, with a young heir in her arms,” Odin countered.

“I am sure you will think of a grand explanation,” Frigga replied, serenely. “Or else, you will give Laufey back his heir, my dear Son of Bestla. I know the people of Jotunheim do not sacrifice their children.”

Odin did not seem so resistant as he might have been, had she truly upended his plans. But then, he had known her for as long as she had known him. And the guilt in him was a true thing, at times. Not true enough to stop him as often as she would like. But enough to give way to more than he might otherwise agree to.

At length, he inclined his head.

“I have taken the treasure of Jotunheim,” he asserted. “Without it, the realm will deteriorate. It will take centuries. But it will still decline. I do not aspire to repeat my father’s choice towards the dark elves. If Jotunheim is to survive, its treasure must one day be returned. This child could be the saviour of an entire realm. A king. A great diplomat and statesman, there to herald a new age for-”

“He is a baby, Husband,” Frigga interrupted. “And we shall let him be just that. Hm?”

Odin quieted, with a rare, wavering moment of embarrassment.

“…For now,” he agreed.

So Frigga took their new son, and Thor, and retreated again. It was not so tidy an effort as the first one, however. Several of Odin’s guard had been there when he first found Loki. They knew the ruse. And Heimdall, of course, knew all of it – but Frigga trusted his silence. Still, rumours spread, and with them disquiet followed. Thor was bright and energetic. Whatever influence a Midgardian immortal’s blood had upon him, it was very difficult to discern from a typical Aesir child. The first time he changed the weather, none but his mother even guessed it was his doing. Watching him cry in the midst of a great downpour, after being told to come inside from a game he did not wish to see end.

Controlling the elements was a rare thing, among Aesir. Not unheard of. But… very rare. Odin himself was the only one she had ever known to do it. And he owed that gift to his mother’s line.

But no one even hesitated to attribute Thor’s inclinations to his father’s blood.

Loki was different.

The dark-haired child, the rumoured bastard, who Frigga loved so dearly. So clever and eager to learn, with his streak of viciousness, contrasted with a honeyed tongue, and a desperate need to be loved. Frigga felt more protectiveness for him. Thor was safe anywhere in Asgard. But Loki was treated differently, and he knew it.

Frigga knew it, too.

She wanted to tell him. But the thought always came and then went with no action taken upon it. It is not you, she would think to him, when gazes would awkwardly skitter away from him. When the guards would look at him askance, and the older members of the council would tell him to be quiet, where they might indulge Thor’s own eager suggestions to them. It is not you, my son, they are not seeing you

No matter the reason, though, all of Asgard expected Loki to be trouble.

And her second son was an accommodating child. He did not like to disappoint anyone.

“Do not hurt your brother,” Frigga scolded, with a rare severity for her youngest, after the first time Loki stabbed Thor.

Loki’s expression fell towards contrition.

“It was an accident, I thought he was wearing his enchanted vest…” he said. But she could see the lie in his eyes, and the contrite expression failed as his lips twitched. Thor was alright, of course. Fully mended and enjoying several treats as a reward for good behaviour at the healer’s, and very clearly planning on asking Frigga for a pet snake in the future.

Her dreams filled with a serpent, and an ocean, and a golden-haired man fighting until the both of them were dead.

She was not planning on getting Thor a snake.

Reaching out, she took Loki’s chin, and tilted his head until his gaze met her own.

“If you are going to be a liar, my son, you are going to have to be a much better liar than that,” she told him.

His expression turned uncertain. Well – he was her son and he was Odin’s son, after all. Amazing enough that his siblings were as straight-forward as they had been. Sooner or later at least one child was bound to inherit their shared capacity to distort the truth. Loki had learned much, she suspected, simply from watching his father, with those keen eyes of his.

“Come with me,” she decided.

“Mother?” Thor chirped. Cookies finished, it seemed. “Can I have a –”

“No, sweetheart, you cannot have a snake,” she told him, and had to endure watching his bright face fall. “But I have heard that one of the healers’ cats has had kittens. Perhaps, if you finish your studies without getting into any more trouble this week, we might get you one of those instead.”

Thor’s face lit up. He was fond of most animals, really. Snakes, cats, rats, hounds, boars, foxes, deer… wolves…

She closed her eyes for a moment, before turning back to Loki. Who was watching her; as ever.

Taking his hand, Frigga led her son through the archway to her own personal study. It was a room which Thor tended to avoid. Not that he disliked reading by any stretch – he loved stories of all kinds – but he was not permitted to run in libraries, and that severely curtailed his inclination to linger in them. Loki preferred them, perhaps for that very reason. He watched curiously as Frigga gathered up the books she needed. A History of Asgard, and Battles of the Nine Realms, and Warriors of the Aesir.

Motioning at her youngest son to sit, Frigga set them up at the library’s little table. She brightened the lamp there with a snap of her fingers. And as always, Loki watched the magic with open fascination.

“History books?” he asked, uncertainly.

“Yes,” Frigga said. “Fiction is a lie which everyone knows is a lie, and agrees to pretend is true for a while. Magical tomes will often be filled with tricks or missing information. Or mistakes. But to see the true craftsmanship of liars, there are no better books than history books.”

Her son blinked at her.

“History’s a lie?” he asked, and sounded skeptical of the notion. “Which history?”

“Well, that is the question,” Frigga replied. “How do you know when someone is casting an illusion spell, if you do not see them cast it?”

Loki considered the question. Accustomed to her style of teaching.

“Sometimes they do not get all the details right,” he said. That was something Frigga was teaching him in his own magic. How to get the details right.

“Exactly, perfect,” Frigga commended. Loki smiled happily, and she moved the lightest of the three volumes towards him, first. “Lying is the same. You have to get all the details right. The trick with history, of course, is that you cannot lie about all of it. So there will be places where the details fail to align. If you can find me five lies in these books, then I will tell you how I figured out that you stabbed Thor entirely on purpose.”

Her son’s self-satisfaction wavered, as her own tone shifted. He finally had the grace to actually look abashed, then.

“It was not anywhere vital,” he said, instead. “…He fell for my trick.”

“Thor is easy to fool, because he loves you,” Frigga explained. Something in her chest twisted unexpectedly, at that. An old hurt. Old enough that she had not expected it to twinge again. And something else, something nagging at her. Pulling at her. But, when she tried to figure it out, she was left only with a hollow note of exhaustion.

Her magic never had really recovered from… from, that incident.

“Mother?” Loki prompted, brow furrowing.

Frigga smiled, and his own expression eased.

“Find me a few lies,” she reiterated. “You will have time to read, considering that you are not going to be allowed to cast any spells for the next two weeks.”

“What?! Mother, no,” Loki protested.

Yes,” she countered. “We have been over this, If you are going to misuse your magic, then you are not going to be allowed to do your tricks.”

Loki groaned and wheedled and did his best to look hopelessly wronged over the matter, but Frigga did not budge. She would tolerate a great many things from her children, but stabbings went too far even for her levels of indulgence. And eventually, her youngest gave up his hopeless crusade, and did indeed set about applying himself to the books she had found.

Books with gaps. Loki needed to know what she could not find the words for.

Perhaps he could discover it for himself.

None of Frigga’s children were carried by her.

Years upon years later, she thinks of that. As she hides a girl, a girl with a connection to something dangerous, with darkness inside her and power and so much cleverness. Sweet girl. Frigga’s magic has never recovered, but she still has it. Still knows how to deftly use what is there, to protect what she must. It has all gone wrong again, she thinks. Has beenthinking, even as her thoughts have grown scattered and strange and harder to express across the years.

There is always a reason.

Your father always has a reason.

But it is not always a good one.

She hears Thor’s shout, when she falls. She feels herself sinking. Down and down, falling through the empty well again. There is not enough of her left to hold on. Odin’s hands brush her face. She can feel him, feel sorrow.

It feels like a long exhalation, from a breath she never knew she was holding.

Oh.

She sees it, then. Sees herself, and her daughter, and Odin. The gateway she had opened, to a place between places. One of many. What she had, in her delirium, meant to be an escape route. She sees Odin fight. Sees him push Hela through the gateway, and seal it behind her. Binding it; his blood, and her…

Her magic.

Oh, you bastard.

She tries to pull him through. Drag him into death, too. Let the gate break. Hela, Hela…

Love is many tethers. As she slides away, she knows that she cannot take Odin with her. But oh, she tries. Oh, she calls. Her magic follows her at last. Spilling away; weakening the opening, and flooding through with her to the places beyond . Valhalla, at last.

What terrible parents they have made.