Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
-Arthur C Clarke
As Frigga had foreseen, her death came swiftly on the point of a blade.
She had known it would end like this, alone against the Dark Elf and his abomination, while her family fought elsewhere. Odin led his forces against the invasion, while Thor fought bravely as Frigga knew he would. Loki was safely out of harm's way in the dungeons, and Frigga found she could not be sad that her stolen son was not involved in this fight.
It was for Odin's sake that she had said not a word; for her son's sake that she hid young Jane Foster from Malekith's wrath. And it was for the people of Asgard that Frigga bit down on her fear in the face of her inevitable death. For millennia untold, they had laid down their lives in protection of the nine realms. In the end, Frigga could do no different in following the well-worn path to Valhalla.
She felt the creature's blade force its way though her ribs, biting thorough her heart. The pain blossomed into a world of white as gravity took her down. She heard a bellow of rage, Thor's rage, but the white flickered and faded and there was nothing but dark.
Then there was nothing at all.
She had no form, no being, she only was.
Then, came the pain, the writhing, the unbearable being, and she lashed out, she fought, she raged. A sudden gasp and she breathed, air painful and cold in her lungs. With breath came sound; voices that were not her own.
Touch. She opened her eyes to a blinding white, agonizing in her head. Hands, covering her eyes and touching her face. Words in unfamiliar tones; a soft voice, a low bass, and below it all a hiss, hiss, drawing around her with a heavy pressure over her legs, over her stomach, holding her to earth.
Hands, holding something to her mouth. She opened her lips and water slid into her mouth, cold and clear and life-giving. She drank as hands covered her eyes, held her to the earth. When the water was gone, she lay still and heaviness covered her, holding her together.
The light faded and the darkness took her again, into its warm embrace.
The soft hiss followed her into the dark.
She lay still for a long time, heavy warmth covering her. At first, she thought she was in a cave, then as her eyes adjusted to the faint light, her body to the sensations, she realized that a sheet covered her face. Reaching out, she pushed the cloth away and sat up.
She was in a small room, with furniture in colours and designs she had never before seen. Light came from a curtained window on the far wall, muted and soft. The room smelled of dried herbs and cloth.
She did not know this place.
Frigga pushed the blankets back and slid her legs off the side of the bed. Carefully, she stood.
The world hawed to the side and she stumbled, but her body adjusted itself in the soft quiet of the room. Her feet were bare and she wore a long white shift, of some soft material that stretched under her fingertips. Everything was strange and raw, different and familiar at the same time.
On the far wall hung a mirror. Frigga took one step, then another, and when she did not come to grief on her unfamiliar feet, walked to the mirror.
She recognized the woman reflected at her, and yet everything was different. The woman had her face, her hands, long hair sliding over her shoulder in a messy plait. But how could this be her, when she had died on Asgard?
Frigga looked at her hands. There was no blood, no dirt there. Had she not been sent to Valhalla? This was not Asgard; if she had not died, she would be on Asgard, but if she was dead and yet had not gone on to the afterlife in Valhalla…
Frigga stared at the mirror, reaching out to the wall to steady herself. If she were dead and this was not Valhalla, what was to become of her? Would she ever see her loved ones again, when they crossed into the afterlife?
If she were truly dead and this was not Valhalla, was she never to see Baldr again?
In the mirror, the woman's face crumpled as Frigga could not stop from crying out in rage and grief. She took a step back and stumbled, her unfamiliar body collapsing under the weight of it all. The floor was smooth as Frigga pressed her forehead to the wooden planks and curled her legs against her stomach.
For so many years, since the death of her Baldr, her youngest son, her baby, Frigga had held onto the knowledge that one day she would see him in the afterlife. On some days, that knowledge was the only thing that had kept her breathing.
A distant click, and footsteps approached Frigga. Hands folded around her arms and pulled Frigga up. "Come on, it's okay," said a somehow-familiar soft voice. "You're okay."
Frigga did not know the word okay, but she knew the woman's meaning, and she let the woman help her up and across the floor to the bed. Frigga sat and covered her face with her hands, trying to swallow her grief and her rage.
A blanket settled over Frigga's shoulders. "I didn't think you'd wake so soon," said the soft voice.
Frigga bit her lip so hard she tasted blood. If this was to be her fate, an afterlife separated from everything she loved, so be it. She was Frigga of Asgard, nothing could change that.
Frigga took a breath and lowered her hands. A cloth was held mid-air, and Frigga took it from the woman's hand. She used it to wipe her face, the cloth's cool wetness bracing against her skin.
The woman walked across the room to the door, her back to Frigga. "I suppose you are thirsty," the woman said.
Frigga's scope of awareness widened beyond her own pain to the other woman in the room. The woman was tall, dressed in trousers and a grey tunic, a fashion Frigga did not know. Her long black hair, streaked with strands of silver-grey, spilled loose over her shoulders. Frigga watched as the woman picked up a mug from the small table by the door, and turned around.
Frigga's breath caught in her unfamiliar throat. Her first thought was Loki, but no, for Frigga was familiar with all of Loki's female guises, every form he had used over the centuries to cause his mischief, and this was not her son.
This woman had Loki's dark hair and ice-green eyes, his high cheekbones and expressive mouth. But it was not only her similarities to Loki that shocked Frigga; it was the wariness in the woman's eyes that pulled ancient memories to the fore, and Frigga thought she might be sick.
"Hela," Frigga whispered.
The woman's mouth twisted up into a humourless smile. "I did not think you would remember me," she said as she returned to the bed. She held the mug out to Frigga. "Grandmother."
The word was said without malice, without emotion of any kind. Frigga reached carefully for the mug. "Of course I remember you, Hela."
The woman straightened her shoulders. "I don't go by that name any longer," she said as she moved around the room, picking up the blankets on the floor. "That is a child's name."
Frigga sipped at the liquid in the mug; warm and slightly sweet, an infusion of herbs in hot water. "It is the name of a child of Asgard," she said.
The woman dropped her armful of blankets on the bed. "Then it's doubly wrong, isn't it?"
Frigga took another sip of tea. The warmth slowly seeped through her body, centering her in this place. "What do you now call yourself?"
The woman sat on the edge of the bed, a distance away from Frigga. "Out there? Helen. But my brothers call me Hel."
Hel. A shiver ran down Frigga's back. She had known her son's daughter was named after the land of the dead on the frozen world of Niflheim, but to hear her say in her soft voice, made Frigga remember The Prophecy, the first one she had ever made as a child, the one that had chased after Frigga for her entire life.
Hel, keeper of the dead.
Frigga wrapped her hands around the mug and swallowed her reaction. "Your brothers, they are well?" Frigga asked.
Hela… no, Hel, sighed. "You mean after being banished from Asgard as children for the sins of our mother?" she asked, glancing at the band around her wrist. "They're great." She stood. "Look, I have to be at work in half an hour. Will you be okay alone for a little while?"
Frigga lowered the mug to her lap. "I believe so," she said. Everything was moving so fast; only a few minutes had passed since she had woken in this strange place, and so much had happened.
Her son's daughter, banished as a child from the halls of Asgard, had found her in this place, and had kept Frigga safe while she slept.
Hel walked across the room to the door. "Someone should be here in a few minutes, if you need anything."
Her hand was on the door handle when Frigga spoke. "Where is this place?"
Hel glanced over her shoulder. "What do you mean?"
"This place, here," Frigga tried to speak clearly. "What is it? Is this the afterlife?"
Hel raised her eyebrow. "This isn't the afterlife," she said as she pulled open the door. "This is Brooklyn."
And then Hel was gone through the door. Frigga heard footsteps, moving farther away. She stood and walked carefully to the window, pushing aside the curtain to look outside.
Sunlight lay thick upon this world of 'Brooklyn'. A road ran straight outside, with many buildings sitting close together on the other side of the grey strip. The buildings were short, showing no more than three rows of windows among their red bricks. Small boxy vehicles of many colours sat along the road.
This place was more alien than any world Frigga had seen in many years, and the strangeness of it all stabbed at her damaged heart.
A distant door slammed, and Hel walked across the bricks below. Her long hair streamed out behind her in the wind as she pulled her short jacket close, hunching her shoulders.
Frigga let the curtain fall into place. She made herself breathe evenly as she walked back to the bed. Whatever realm in which she had awoken, she was not without connection. Loki's daughter was here, as were her brothers.
Frigga pulled the blanket around her shoulders, huddling into its warmth. With Hel gone, the building around her was quiet. Taking a deep breath, Frigga closed her eyes and reached out with her magic to the world around her.
For a heart-stopping moment, nothing happened. Frigga choked on the air in her lungs; her magic was as much a part of her as breathing and if it had been taken from her in death, what was she to do?
Frigga pushed herself off the bed and sat on the floor. She placed her hands flat and felt the wood solid beneath her, and then deeper; the old stone and brick that held the building together, the wood running over the floors and in the walls. But there was more in this strange new place; small metal wires ran through every part of the building and out into the street, carrying sparks of power. Eyes open, Frigga let out a breath and pushed out along the wires, feeling the sparks of power stream through her like water down a riverbed; flowing, powerful, inexorable.
The power moved over the wires out of the building, into the street and beyond. In her mind, Frigga could see where the power gathered together in a cascade of sparks and potential, then streamed out again in all directions.
This was new, this magic she felt in the tips of her fingers. Curious in spite of herself, Frigga gathered the power into herself, feeling it spark along her bones, through her chest, electrifying the air in her lungs. Then she turned that power around and pushed out gently.
The overhead lights flickered and pulsed, then glowed steadily once more.
Frigga let out a slow breath. She didn't know if she was alive, but she certainly didn't feel dead. Magic, while sluggish, still flowed in her veins. The new magic of this world was strange but comprehensible. It had been a long time since Frigga had encountered such new magic.
It was almost enough to distract her from the impossibility of her being.
Slowly, Frigga stood. She was steadier now on her feet; she could feel the wood of the floor under her feet, the stones and bricks of the building around her, the sparking of the power flowing along tiny metal wires.
Frigga walked to the door and twisted the knob. The door opened silently, and Frigga stepped out into a dim hallway. Here, the colours changed; browns and tans overlying the white walls. Frigga ran her hand over one of the walls; not stone, but plaster and paint.
The hallway led to stairs. Frigga walked down twelve stairs, then stopped on the landing. The house around her was not as silent as she had first thought. On the floor below, somewhere, was movement.
Hel had said that someone would soon be arriving; was this that person?
If it was a person.
On silent feet, Frigga descended the remaining twelve steps. The room into which she stepped was large and warm, with fabric-covered couches and chairs scattered around a low wood table. Weapons of all sorts were mounted on the walls, between tapestries and portraits. There was no movement in this room, but Frigga sensed life behind the large door in the far wall.
She did not know what may lie on the other side of that door, but she was Frigga of Asgard, and she would not run.
Quietly, Frigga removed a knife from one of the sheaths on the wall and walked to the door. Steeling herself, she pushed the door open.
In the room on the other side of the door stood a man, his back to Frigga. He was tall and lanky, rather like Loki in his build. For a moment, he did not appear to notice Frigga; then his head went up and he whipped around, holding two white containers in his hands.
If Hel had resembled her father, this young man was nearly the spitting image of Frigga's stolen son.
Then he smiled, and the paternal resemblance softened into what Frigga remembered of his mother, Angrboða's wide eyes and strong chin; his mother's bones.
"You're awake," the young man said. He put the containers down on the counter behind him. "Hel wasn't sure when you were going to come back to us."
Frigga let the door swing shut behind her. "How long has it been?" she asked. The knife hilt was cold in her hand, and under her feet she could feel the wood of the floor, the stones and brisk of the building around her, the sparking of the power flowing along tiny metal wires.
"You've been asleep for most of the day," the young man said. He leaned against the counter with a languid grace, his eyes flicking down to the knife in Frigga's hand.
"That s not what I meant." Frigga move to where she could rest her hand against the back of a tall chair. "Before that."
"When you died?" the young man said bluntly. His voice held a soft lisp, nearly indiscernible. "I don't know." He turned back to the brown bag on the counter. "Hel might but she's not really much for talking about this stuff."
Frigga watched the young man pull another white container from the brown bag. His hair was short to her eyes, black hair curling at the nape of his neck. Loki had not worn his hair that short in a long time, since before he was grown.
Before his children were born.
"Are you Hel's brother?" Frigga asked.
The young man looked up with a slight frown, and that resemblance to Loki returned. "Didn't she tell you what was going on?" he asked. "She was here when you woke up, right?"
"She was." Frigga carefully laid her knife on the countertop. It was still within reach. "She said that she had to go to work."
The young man rolled his eyes. "Because the world stops turning if Detective Radolf takes a sick day," he muttered. "In that case, allow me to introduce myself." He gave a short bow. "I am Jormungandr."
Frigga kept her breathing even, did not let so much as a tremor show. Jormungandr, Loki's youngest son, had been just a baby when his mother was banished from Asgard with her offspring.
Jormungandr had been the reason Angrboða was banished, and it had been Frigga's actions that led to that banishment.
But that had been over seven hundred years before. Frigga made herself look at the man before her, Loki's son. Her grandson. "It's been a very long time since I have seen you," she said, letting a small smile cross her lips.
Jormungandr smiled widely in return. A little too widely. "Hel said that you were around when I was a baby, before everything happened," he said. "So you know about…" He waved his hand.
"About your nature as a child?" Frigga supplied. A wisp of memory drifted past, of the first time, the only time, Frigga had held her youngest grandson. How the baby had looked up at her in his blankets, his eyes sharp and attentive for one so young.
How the baby in her arms had without warning turned into a writhing black serpent.
Frigga had dropped the blanket to the floor and screamed so loudly that the guards came running; how little Hela ran into the room and picked up the serpent and cradled him in her arms, putting her tiny fragile body between the serpent and the sharp weapons of the guards.
How Angrboða entered the room then, ignoring her children and staring at Frigga with dangerous eyes.
Frigga shook off the memory. Many centuries had passed since that day, much blood spilled over the years. "Yes, I do," she said. "Do you still…"
Jormungandr raised his eyebrow. "Turn into a giant snake?" he suggested. "Yes." He stepped away from the counter. "I wasn't sure what you'd feel like eating after coming back from the dead, but I was in Chinatown so I picked up some congee and some hot and sour soup. I think we also have a can of chicken soup around here somewhere, if you want."
Frigga was unconcerned about the food; it was the custom to eat the food of one's host, no matter the size of the host's hall or the strength of his armoury. Loki's son was the more pressing matter. "If you are here, as is your sister, is also your brother?"
"Yeah, he's around," Jormungandr said vaguely. His shoulders tensed as he spoke, a detail Frigga filed away for later. "He's working on a job that needs to get done before it rains later this week."
Without conscious thought, Frigga reached out to feel the air, the growing heaviness of the water in the air, the faint thickening that spoke of rain over the city. The air in this place felt different than Asgard – thinner, lighter, with an edge of metal and toxins. "Your brother will need to work fast," was all she said.
"He's one of those guys who gets his frustrations out by lifting heavy objects," Jormungandr said. He retrieved two bowls from a cupboard, and spoons from a drawer. "Which soup do you want?"
Frigga made herself stand straight, even as her body grew weary. She would not admit weakness over such a small thing as death. "I will try both," she said.
Jormungandr poured soup into the bowls and carried them over to the wood table in the corner of the room. "How about tea?" he asked, arranging the bowls on the table with relentless hands. "I'll make tea. Or do you want water?"
Frigga let him pull out one of the large chairs for her. The chair's ungainly appearance belied its comfort; the wood was worn smooth by hands and age. "I will have tea," she said. She picked up the small metal spoon and examined it carefully. The handle was intricately carved to look like a piece of wood, with the bowl of the spoon seeming to grow from the handle. It was a skilled piece of metalwork, and it felt old in her hand.
She dipped the spoon into the first bowl and lifted it to her lips. Salty, with the taste of cooked grains and herbs. The combination was strange to her palate, but not unpleasant.
Next, she dipped the spoon into the other bowl. The flavour of this soup was sour and carried a slight heat from spices. Frigga's stomach twisted at the spices, and she put the spoon down.
"That might not be the best thing to eat after coming back from the dead," Jormungandr said as he put a small glass by her hand. "Maybe save that for a few days in. We can go for dim sum next weekend or something."
Frigga returned to the first bowl. "What happens now?" she asked between sips from the spoon. Her mind didn't want to eat, but her empty stomach cried out for food.
Jormungandr sank into a chair across the table. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Bringing you back, that's permanent. You're not going to fade into mist in a few days or anything."
Frigga went still, as her mind took in what Jormungandr's words meant. "You have done this before?" she asked, lowering the spoon. "Brought one back from death?"
Jormungandr shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "A few times," he said after a minute. "Well, Hel did. Me and Fenrir are just along for the ride."
Frigga put the spoon down with a clatter. A few times, he said. A few times, had Hel brought someone back from the dead.
Frigga thought of all the death she had seen in her long life, of the loved ones lost to war and to accident. Her brothers, all dead in the wars of long ago; her childhood friends cut down in the war with Jotunheim, the war that had given Frigga her stolen son.
Of Baldr, her youngest son, still a toddling child when an accident born of Frigga's own carelessness snatched him away into the arms of death.
The impossibility of it all, the unfairness, stole the breath from her. She put her head into her hands and tried to press back the gibbering madness at the insanity of this; that she be the one yanked back from death's grasp, separated forever from her loved ones, her son.
Distantly, Frigga was aware of movement in the room, of a faint burbling, and she could feel the tiny sparks in the wires in the walls coalesce in a point of heat. Outside the walls of the building, she could feel the growing heaviness in the air, the faint thickening that spoke of rain over the city.
She might not be really alive, but she was far from dead.
The burbling turned off with a snap, then the faint clink of earthenware on stone, followed by the sound of pouring water. Footsteps soft on the ground, and Frigga lifted her head from her hands as Jormungandr placed a steaming cup on the table before her. "Here," he said quietly, his hand resting momentarily on Frigga's shoulder before he returned to his seat.
Frigga wrapped her hands around the mug, the warmth seeping into her hands. She breathed in the steam and tried to gather her chaotic thoughts into words.
Finally, she looked at Jormungandr. "Why me?" she asked. "So many of my people must have died in the Dark Elves' attack on Asgard. Why did you choose to bring me back?"
Jormungandr leaned back in his chair, bringing one knee up to his chest. He ran his tongue over his lower lip, eyes fixed on the table. After a long moment of stillness, he spoke. "It doesn't work like that. Hel doesn't really have a choice in who she brings over."
"How can she not have a choice?"
Jormungandr's left shoulder twitched up in a shrug. "She says, it's like there's a tear in the universe." He brought his hands up and placed them together, then slid his fingers apart. "And she sees the empty space left behind, and she just stitches it back together." He twined his fingers together.
Frigga set the mug down on the table. "It cannot be that easy," she protested. Bringing a soul back from the dead was necromancy, the darkest and most difficult of magics in any realm. What Jormungandr spoke of sounded as easy as the magic Frigga used to start a fire across the room.
Jormungandr met her gaze steadily. "It's not easy," he said quietly. "It nearly kills Hel, every single time."
"So why do it?" Frigga asked. "Why risk her life for someone she hasn't seen in centuries?"
Jormungandr shook his head. "I have no idea, all right?" He stood and went over to the counter, poured water into another mug, and dropped a small white sachet into the water. "But she did, and you're here now."
"Will she be well?" Frigga asked. "When we spoke earlier, she did not seem happy to see me."
Jormungandr slumped into his chair. "She's in the middle of a case that's messing with her head," he said. "A woman disappeared last month and half the squad is convinced her boyfriend did her in and hid the body, but Hel's not sure."
Frigga tried to decipher the thread of the conversation. "Is this what your sister does?" she asked. "Find missing people?"
"Sort of," Jormungandr said. "Mostly she works homicide, but the murder rates are down so low since the Chitauri attack last year that her squad has been helping out other areas."
"The Chitauri?" Frigga echoed. She pushed herself up straight in her chair. "Are we on Midgard?"
Jormungandr frowned at her. "You could call it that." He tapped the edge of his mug. "Didn't Hel tell you that before she left?"
"She told me we were in Brooklyn."
Jormungandr looked at the ceiling and shook his head. "Saints preserve us," he muttered. "Hold on."
He stood and went through the large swinging door. Frigga sipped at her tea and waited, trying to sort her chaotic thoughts. Angrboða and her children had been banished centuries before to Niflheim, but it was not inconceivable that Angrboða had skipped between the realms; she and Loki had been causing that sort of trouble since they were children.
But why Midgard?
Jormungandr swept back into the room, a large book under one arm and a folded paper in the other hand. Frigga moved her mug as he opened the book on the table and shuffled the pages. "Here is Midgard." He swept his hand over a large map, displaying lands and oceans on shiny paper. "And we are here." He pointed at a spot in the centre-left to the map.
Frigga leaned in to look at the space he indicated. "We are near the ocean?"
"Damn close." Jormungandr flipped a few pages more. "This is New York," he said, indicating the new map. "We are here," and he pointed at the bottom of the page. "The Chitauri attack was up in Manhattan, at Stark Tower." He moved his finger up the page. "They've mostly cleaned up the mess now, but the political bullshit continues."
Frigga traced the flat lines on the map. She had not realized she was so close to the place Loki had led the Chitauri to attack. "I should like to see this place," she told Jormungandr.
He raised his eyebrow, an echo of Hel's expression earlier that day. "Anything you want," he said. "But let's give it a few days until this round of alien conspiracies dies down."
He dropped his folded paper onto the centre of the map, and opened it to reveal a picture of one of the Dark Elves' ships embedded in the ground. The picture was blurry and from a distance, but there was no mistaking the shape that Frigga had seen from the distance on Asgard, moments before Malekith had ordered her death.
An icy shiver ran through Frigga. "What has happened?" she demanded, turning to Jormungandr. "Was there an invasion?"
"Nothing like that," Jormungandr said. His eyes were wide and unblinking. "It's all over the news; this ship appeared out of nowhere and embedded itself in the middle of a Greenwich courtyard, a bunch of aliens fell out, then Thor appeared and twenty minutes later everything was fine. The ship disappeared and everything."
Frigga pressed her hand to her mouth. The Dark Elves had attacked Midgard during the Convergence, that was the only answer. As the universe had not fallen to darkness, something had stopped them; could Thor alone have done so?
"What of Thor?" Frigga asked, reaching out to touch the picture of the Dark Elf vessel. "Was there word of him? Did he survive?"
"As far as we know," Jormungandr said. He slid into the chair beside Frigga. "The BBC interviewed a bunch of people on the site, and they said that after the alien ship disappeared, Thor stood up and walked off. So that's good?"
Frigga let out a breath. Her son lived. He had been victorious against an unbeatable enemy, and he lived. "Yes," she said. "That is good."
Thor, alive; Loki likely still in his lonely prison but alive. Her two sons, on such different branches of the tree of life, but alive.
Frigga folded her hands on her lap, to stop the shaking of her hands. Her sons, alive; Odin still on the throne of Asgard. They would have survived her death.
"Can I go back?" she asked after a long silence. "To Asgard, to my life."
Jormungandr ran his hand through his hair. His eyes changed shape slightly, his irises taking on a slightly yellow sheen. "That's not an easy thing to answer—"
"Try," Frigga interrupted, lacing the word with a slight push to obey.
"You died, all right?" Jormungandr said. He adjusted the book on the table, his fingers moving in agitation. "This wasn't one of those things where Hel found you on the battle field and fixed you. You died, and Hel had to drag you back from whatever nothing there is on the other side. That's all there is to it; you can't just go back to your life—"
Frigga raised her head and looked straight at Jormungandr. "You have not given me a true reason," she said.
Jormungandr let out a small breath, his tongue flicking to the corner of his mouth; only it was not a normal tongue, but the forked barb of a serpent. Frigga went still, but Jormungandr didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary as he stood and took three long steps to the counter. He twisted a metal lever, and water streamed from a shiny metal tap.
For a few minutes, Frigga had been able to push her grandson's nature to the back of her mind, but here it was, the shift of his eye, the change of the shape of his tongue. The marks of the serpent.
Jormungandr put his hands into the stream of water and held them there for a few minutes. After a while, he turned off the water, and wiping his hands on a piece of cloth hanging on a hook. His skin was as white as Loki's, a paleness that hid his true nature. Only with Loki, it had been hiding his true frost giant form, not the serpent standing before Frigga in the shape of a man.
"I can't give you a reason," Jormungandr said, tossing the cloth onto the counter. "Talk to Hel about this, this is her crazy world. But if you really want to get back to Asgard or whatever, there's a problem that has nothing to do with your corporeal state."
"And what might that be?" Frigga asked, willing herself to be calm. The fact that her grandson might turn into a serpent at any moment was not the strangest thing that had happened in the last few hours. She would not fixate on that.
Jormungandr crossed his arms over his chest. "Hemidall doesn't see people like you," he said. "Not anyone Hel's brought back over. I guess the dead aren't part of the landscape for the all-seeing eye."
"None?" Frigga asked sharply. "How does Hemidall not see? He sees everything under his eye's path."
Jormungandr shrugged. "Not us," he said, and the way he met her gaze was very direct. It had been a long time since anyone had cast such a look at the Queen of Asgard. It was very nearly a challenge. "Not the people Hel brings back. We're ghosts in this world."
"But you are not ghosts," Frigga objected. "I touched Hel, I felt her hands upon mine. No ghost could be so real."
Jormungandr shook his head. "I don't know," he said, and his voice had dropped lower. "Fenrir doesn't talk about it and Hel really doesn't talk about it, but I think it had something to do with our mother."
He nearly spat the last word, coating the sound with such vitriol that Frigga went still. She had known Angrboða was dangerous; mad even, that was why she had been banished from Asgard. But what has she done to her children to have her own son speak of her as if she was anathema?
Other than to twine his being with that of a serpent, Frigga reminded herself.
"I don't remember what happened after we were banished," Jormungandr was saying. "My first memories are of England, on this world. By then, Hel was a young woman and fully capable of keeping her brothers safe from all dangers, be they Midgardian or from the other worlds." A smile ghosted over Jormungandr's lips. "It is for the best, Hel has always said, that we are hidden from the sight of the gods. All the gods ever do is to make things worse."
"That is not true," Frigga said, taking in her grandson's words. "The warriors of Asgard strive to protect the nine realms, to keep the peace between worlds."
Jormungandr pushed away from the counter and began to collect the plates on the table. "Every time the gods appear on Earth, things go badly." He gathered up the spoons in a clatter of metal. "Maybe not for them, but for the rest of us, we get to pick up the pieces after the everything has been ripped apart."
Frigga thought of Thor's description of the disaster wrought on Midgard by the Chitauri at Loki's conniving; of the quickly glimpsed destruction brought to Asgard by the Dark Elves, minutes before her own death, and said nothing.
Jormungandr dropped the tableware into the metal sink. "It doesn't matter," he said, voice subdued. "We're here, and so are you, so that's what we have to deal with now."
"And how will you?" Frigga asked. "Deal with me?"
Jormungandr pushed a short black curl off his forehead as he glanced over his shoulder at Frigga. "We'll have to get you some clothes, to start with. Everyone here is too tall for you to borrow anything."
Frigga stared at Jormungandr. "You wish me to stay?"
Jormungandr stilled. "Why would you leave?" he asked in what sounded like honest confusion. "Hel brought you back; we'll take care of you."
Slowly, Frigga stood. The floor was cold under her feet, and she could feel the stone and brisk of the building around her, the sparking of the power flowing along tiny metal wires. "In spite of all that was done to you?"
Jormungandr shrugged. "Hel said you were the only one who spoke up for us when Odin was banishing Angrboða."
Through the haze of centuries, Frigga remembered that fateful day in the Great Hall. Odin had summoned the entire court to bear witness to Angrboða's crimes.
Angrboða had stood in the centre of the hall, paying the children at her feet no attention. Hel held the baby in her arms while little Fenrir, barely toddling, clutched at his sister's skirt with pudgy hands.
"It was no use," Frigga said. She could no longer remember what words she had used to ask for fostership of Loki's children; the words had not mattered. Only one person in all of Asgard could have taken the children from Angrboða in her banishment, and Loki had stood at Odin's side in silence. "There was nothing under our law that I could do."
Jormungandr smiled, a soft smile that held nothing of his parents in the lines of his face. "You spoke for us when no one would. That meant something to Hel." He crossed the room and put his hand on Frigga's wrist; his fingers warm as any man's. "That's why she heard you, when you died."
"Is that why I am here?"
Jormungandr squeezed Frigga's wrist gently. "We pay our debts," was all he said.
End part one.
Chapter inspiration brought to me (and you) by ElJayJay, who's well-timed comment last week brought me back to this story. Enjoy!
Acquiring Midgardian clothing was more complicated than Frigga expected.
On Asgard, as queen, she had maidservants who would fetch any fabric she desired, crafted into any fashion at Frigga's whim. Frigga could sew, of course; it was a skill taught to all Asgardian children, but it had been many years since she had made her own clothing.
Frigga was prepared to put her rusty skills to use, on whatever fabric that Jormungandr and his siblings had on hand.
However, that was not to be the case.
Jormungandr handed her a dress of a fabric so faded that Frigga would have told her servants to burn it, saying vaguely that it had come from one of Hel's hippie phases and said he would get her something else later. Frigga shook out the garment, wondering when a woman as slender as Hel had gained weight enough to fit into the wide dress.
"How soon can we acquire new clothing?" Frigga asked, tossing the dress onto the bed in the small neat room where she had awoken. Jormungandr, leaning against the doorjamb, grinned sharp and wide.
"If you feel like leaving the house, we can go now," he said, a slight hint of challenge in his voice. "I know a few places, second-hand stuff to tide you over until you figure out what styles you're interested in."
Frigga wondered if this grandson of hers thought she would object to clothing worn by others. "Do these places sell fabrics?" she asked guilelessly.
"No, humans in New York aren't much into sewing their own clothes if they can avoid it." Jormungandr pushed off the wall. Walking into the room, he picked up the faded garment from the bed and tossed it onto the dresser, then began to straighten the bed sheets. "They've finally discovered that machines can weave and sew clothes on the cheap, so they mass-produce piles of cra—of inferior materials," he corrected himself, plumping the pillows before placing them at the head of the bed. "It all wears out in a few years and they keep buying more."
"That is interesting," Frigga said mildly. That would explain the garments on young Jane Foster when she had arrived on Asgard. Her coat was of thick enough material, but the skirt the girl had changed out of was of such thin cotton and the stitching so awkward that Frigga wondered if the girl had borrowed the garments. "Then show me these garment sellers. I wish to see their wares."
Jormungandr gave the bedclothes one final swipe before straightening up. He pursed his lips, an expression so unlike Loki. "If that's what you want," he said after a moment's pause. "But you just came back from the dead, so if you get tired or something, tell me and I'll bring you back home."
Frigga inclined her head. "I will do so," she said.
"I'll go grab something you can wear that doesn't belong at a costume party," Jormungandr said, rubbing his eyes. "I'm too tall and Hel's too narrow. How do you feel about pants? Trousers, I mean."
"I have worn many things in my time."
Jormungandr cast his eyes to the ceiling, his brow creased in thought. It was another hint of his father, and a sudden shiver ran down Frigga's spine. Nerves, she told herself sternly, and held herself still. "Most of my brother's stuff runs to the flannel set," he said. "Okay, wait here."
The man ducked out of the room, leaving Frigga to pace in silence. Her legs ached with restlessness, as if she had been bedridden for a long time. Or even dead, Frigga reminded herself. She had not dwelt on her resurrection; there was time for that later, once she was clothed and fed and in possession of herself again. Perhaps a walk and some more food would help her. She wondered if there was any more of the congee Jormungandr had brought, and if not, what other foods this place might have.
Thor, upon his return from banishment to Midgard, had spoken highly of the beverage coffee, as well as the wonderful foods from the small town in New Mexico. He had been most enthusiastic about the green chiles. Frigga made an absent note to ask Jormungandr about such a food.
A light step in the hall and Jormungandr was back, a pile of clothing flung over his arm. "Okay," he began, dropping the clothing onto the bed. "I have an idea."
Frigga held back a sigh. This should be interesting.
Jormungandr helped Frigga out of the house. She stood on the doorstep and waited while he locked the door behind them with a small metal key. The day was still sunny and the chill wind whipped past them, carrying with it a stale metallic scent. Everything was bright and full of colour and Frigga was stuck with a pang as deep as pain, in missing her home on Asgard.
Not that it mattered.
"The car's this way," Jormungandr said, pocketing the key and offering his arm to Frigga. "Fenrir has the truck."
"What is the difference?" Frigga asked, placing her hand on Jormungandr's forearm and allowing herself to be escorted down the wide steps toward the street.
"A car is small," Jormungandr said, pointing as a small metal box with glass windows zipped by on small black wheels. "A truck is bigger, usually with a box on the back. A wagon on wheels." The man smiled faintly. "I remember when we came to America the first time. There were pretty much no roads to speak of for a wagon or carriage to pass through, so everything had to go by horse. No one uses horses anymore." He stopped beside a dark vehicle. "Here we are."
Frigga waited as Jormungandr unlocked the vehicle's door and opened it for her. Stepping inside the car and seating herself at the same time was an interesting experience, one that Frigga did not particularly enjoy, but she managed the contortion. Once she was tucked inside, Jormungandr closed the door and went around to the other side of the vehicle. He folded himself into the seat, getting his legs under the round wheel without incident, and slamming the door.
"Okay," he said, slipping a small key into a gap behind the wheel. "It should heat up pretty soon."
He turned the key and a loud roaring sound came from the part of the vehicle in front of them. Frigga, who had seen all types of vehicle propulsion over many years and many worlds, winced at the volume of the engine. That was one benefit to horses, she thought as she ran her hand over the borrowed skirt, covering the long black leggings that were not quite enough to ward off the day's chill. The heavy jacket, which Jormungandr had handed her from a hook on the hall wall, was enough to keep her from shivering.
"Here we go," Jormungandr said, and using the wheel and pedals at his feet to control the vehicle, took them out into the traffic.
There seemed to be a lot of stopping and starting, for lights on poles and for red signs and for people crossing the street apparently at random. Jormungandr navigated the vehicle easily, however, and Frigga decided that whatever customs these Midgardians used when moving among their vehicles, she would do well to learn it and quickly, if she were to walk on these streets.
And walk on these streets she must, Frigga thought grimly as she watched the world move by outside the car's window. Hel had left the house on foot that morning, and by the appearance of the streets, more people traveled by foot than in vehicles. She commented as much to Jormungandr.
"In this part of town," he said, keeping his eyes on the road. "New York and the boroughs have a comprehensive subway system. Underground trains," he added. "That's how Hel gets to work; she's in Manhattan at the Fifth Precinct."
"What does she do?" Frigga asked, watching as a small elderly woman pushed a child's pram across the street. The chubby infant, bundled up in puffy blue swaddling, looked around it with bright curious eyes.
"Police," Jormungandr said. "The, um, constabulary."
Frigga was familiar with the concept, although on Asgard and many of the realms the purview of keeping the law was held with soldiers.
"Chinatown and Little Italy aren't as big as they used to be," Jormungandr went on. "Gentrification. But Hel speaks Mandarin and Cantonese and her Italian is passable. So they moved her to the Fifth when she was promoted to detective." He slowed the vehicle for a turn. "The murder rate's down so she's mostly running after robbery and larceny at this point, along with missing persons."
"Is that why you lock the house door?"
Jormungandr shrugged. "It's New York," he said, stopping the car at the side of the road. "You lock your doors and hope no one breaks the window." He turned the key again and the car went still. "The house is warded with magic, but humans don't use magic so we just pretend we're like everyone else."
"What magic?" Frigga said, instantly curious. She had not felt any hints of protection magic inside the house, nor when she had stepped across the threshold.
"Some kind of blood charm." Jormungandr removed the keys from the car before opening his door and stepping out. He quickly rounded the front of the vehicle to open the door for Frigga. "Magic is Hel's strength. She fiddles with it when she's anxious." Jormungandr held out his hand to help Frigga from the vehicle. "I'm not sure I should have mentioned that."
Frigga placed her hand on her grandson's wrist. "Even as a very young child, your sister was adept at magic. She learned that from her father."
"Not only from him." Jormungandr shuddered. "Come along, let's do this."
He guided Frigga down the walk in front of glass-fronted merchant shops. One storefront had uncomfortable-looking furniture in the window; another held jewellery behind solid white bars. On the corner, where one street met another, a large green and white sign held a stylized drawing of a mer-woman; Frigga wondered if it held an apothecary, with the urgency with which people entered its doors.
Frigga watched the people passing them with interest. On Asgard, everyone knew their queen, and there was nowhere she could go unwatched without wearing a glamour to hide her identity. Now, she was dead to Asgard, and on Midgard she was anonymous, unimportant.
That knowledge churned in her belly, settling into an ache. She missed her sons, missed her husband, missed her people. She had lived for nearly two thousand Midgardian years, and in that time she had known so many, lost so many. But the life of a queen of Asgard was a lonely one, and not even her death could keep Frigga from moving on.
Knowing her sons lived, that her people had survived the attack of the Dark Elves, gave Frigga strength.
Jormungandr turned them in at a shop front where several headless mannequins adorned the window. "We'll get whatever you want," Jormungandr said in an undertone as he let the door closed after them. "That should give us a few days and you won't have to put up with Fenrir's lumberjack chic."
Making a note to follow up on what a lumberjack was and how one dressed, Frigga scanned the room in curiosity. Rows upon rows of clothing hanging from metal bars, with people moving around and children running underfoot. "Now what?"
Jormungandr drew back to cast a measuring eye along the length of Frigga's limbs. "Let's start you at medium," he suggested. He guided Frigga to the centre of the store and began pulling items of clothing off the rack at random, holding them up before putting some back. Frigga touched the various garments and wondered at the textures. Some felt light and some heavy and some felt almost oily.
"What fabric is this?" Frigga asked, holding the sleeve of the loathsome shirt out to Jormungandr.
He reached for it, flipped it over his palm, then let it drop. "Rayon. You don't like it?"
"No." Frigga wiped her hand on the skirt and moved on.
A movement at the end of the row caught her attention. Two small children were wrestling over a doll. "He's Thor!" one of the children exclaimed.
"That's not Thor, that's Barbie!" the other child contradicted.
The first child wrenched the doll free. "Barbie can be Thor," she said triumphantly. "I will make him a cape!"
The children saw Frigga and closed their mouths in shyness. Leaving Jormungandr to his task, Frigga knelt beside the children and held out her hand for the doll. The little girl handed it over sadly. The doll was plastic, pink and naked with long tangled hair. "For this to be Thor," Frigga said, "He will need a cape."
She flicked her fingers, and a scrap of red fabric that was hanging out of the rags bin by the store's entrance appeared in her hand. The little girl squealed as Frigga draped the fabric around the doll's shoulders.
"And he needs a braid in his hair." With a thought, Frigga smoothed out the tangles in the doll's hair. The second child, a boy Frigga thought, held the doll by the feet while Frigga braided the strands of plastic into a reasonable approximation of Thor's braids.
"He needs his hammer," the little boy said solemnly. "When he stopped the aliens, he had a hammer."
The little girl jumped up and ran across the store, returning with an odd wooden mallet with dull spikes on one end. It was nearly the length of the doll, but Frigga just nodded. "Well done."
"When Thor isn't bashing aliens, what does he do?" the little girl asked Frigga.
"He smashes things," said the little boy, sticking his finger up his nose.
"That's the Hulk," said another child, joining the group. "Thor has lightning."
"My daddy said that Thor's an alien," said the first girl. All three children turned to look at Frigga, as if waiting for her to acknowledge this as fact.
Frigga handed the doll to the girl. "Thor is a prince of Asgard," she said.
"What's Asgard?" asked the child with the finger up his nose.
"Asgard is one of the nine realms." Frigga wondered what these children knew of their galaxy.
"Why?" This was from a new arrival, this child barely toddling. It clung to the little boy and was quickly shushed.
"That is the way things have always been," Frigga said. She sketched a map of the universe in the air, gathering dust motes in the air into patterns. "There is Asgard, and Midgard, and Jotunheim, home of the Frost Giants." From whence her stolen son had come to her.
"Frost giants," the little girl breathed. Her eyes were as wide as saucers. "Are they big and scary?"
"They are big," Frigga admitted. "But they are not too giant."
"What are the others?" demanded the little boy. "You said nine."
"Of course." Frigga permitted herself a small smile at these little ones. Earth children were such a curious lot. "Vanaheim is the home of the Vanir, friends of the Asgardian people." She made a circle in the swirling dust, then spiralled down. "Svartalfheim is the Dark World." Frigga felt a stab of anger at Malekith, at his wanton destruction of Asgard, at his knife slicing through her heart. But these human children were staring up at her, and she pushed the fury away for another time. "Nidavellir is home to the dwarves," she went on.
The children giggled. "Are they like in Lord of the Rings?" asked the second girl.
Not knowing the reference, Frigga simply said, "The dwarves are very skilled. They crafted many of the magical weapons on Asgard."
The first girl held up her hands, six fingers raised. "What are the others?" she asked as the toddling child tried to grab the glittering dust motes.
"Three more realms," Frigga said, gently catching the baby's hands. He was the age that her son Baldr had been when he had fallen to his death. Frigga shook the human baby's hand and was rewarded with a toothy grin. It had been so long since she had held an infant; no Asgardian mother would dream of asking their Queen to mind their children. "Muspelheim, Alfheim and Niflheim."
Muspelheim, the land of fire, Niflheim a land of ice and death. Loki's children had been banished to Niflheim with their mother and somehow ended up on Midgard. Frigga's attention strayed to where Jormungandr was still sorting through clothing. His lower lip stuck out in concentration, and again Frigga could see his mother in him. She wondered where Angrboða was, why the children spoke of their mother with such vitriol.
Frigga remembered Angrboða as a child, sombre and serious and watching, always watching. Angrboða and Loki had played together until Thor became jealous of someone else taking up his brother's attention, then Loki abandoned Angrboða until Thor grew tired of their games and he would go back to Angrboða side. Odin taught Thor the warrior ways, Frigga taught Loki magic, but eventually Angrboða would find her way back into Loki's path and they would run wild in the Asgardian night streets, on feet too fast to be caught.
There had been times when, instead of Thor pulling Loki away from Angrboða, the girl had drawn in Frigga's other son to the goings-on between her and Loki, especially after Hela was born. Frigga had worried but had not interfered, reasoning that Thor would eventually go back to his warrior ways and drag Loki along with him.
Then Thor had gone off to fight Frost Giants and months later Fenrir was born, a quiet chubby baby, and Frigga had breathed a sigh of relief.
Something tugged at her sleeve. Frigga looked down into the eyes of the little girl. "Do girls fight on Asgard?" she asked with all seriousness.
"Of course they do," Frigga replied, because Asgardian women had always fought, even if the men sometimes forgot that fact. "The Lady Sif is one of Asgard's most esteemed warriors." Seeing the excitement on the girl's face, Frigga added, not untruthfully, "She has saved Thor's life on several occasions."
The girl clasped her hands together in glee, dropping the Thor-doll, which was quickly snatched by another child.
An adult throat cleared. Frigga and the children looked up to see Jormungandr, holding out a handful of outfits. "Which one of these looks best?" he asked the children in all seriousness.
Four tiny fingers pointed at a long dark orange garment. Jormungandr dropped the other, a shapeless beige thing, onto the rack before holding out his hand to help Frigga rise. "Remember," Frigga said to the children, taking the offered hand to rise. "The most important thing is to protect those who cannot protect themselves."
"Like Thor," said the little boy.
"And Lady Sif!" added the little girl.
"Why?" asked the baby.
Frigga took her leave of the children, following Jormungandr to the front of the store. He deposited his armfuls of clothing on the counter and looked around. "This should last a while," he said, indicating the clothing. "We've got some sewing stuff to fit them. I spent thirty years as a tailor in Morocco once," he added.
"What do you do now?" Frigga asked, running a hand over a long black skirt. She wondered who had last worn this garment, and why she had given it up.
"Art, mostly," Jormungandr said absently. "I've got a studio back at the house."
An artisan and a tailor, Frigga thought, and wondered what Loki would think of his son conducting himself in such trades.
A woman in a blue smock hurried up to the counter and began to argue with Jormungandr over the clothing. From Jormungandr's attitude, the argument must be a Midgardian form of barter. Frigga stood and waited for the barter to be complete; after a few minutes the woman harrumphed, pressed buttons on a plastic contraption, and Jormungandr handed over a few folded green notes. He was handed back silver coins. The woman began to fold the clothing and put it into bags and soon they were out the door back into the street.
"One thing to say about the encroaching gentrification of Brooklyn," Jormungandr said as he stowed the bags in the car's back seat. "The thrift stores get more upscale."
"Are such stores common?" Frigga asked as she got into the car, this time unaided.
"Depends on the area," Jormungandr said, getting into the driver's seat and starting the engine. "Back when we were in England the last time, they had streets upon streets of open-air markets selling second-hand wares. And only some of it stolen, too." He flashed Frigga his sharp open smile.
"You will need to tell me more of these places you have been," Frigga instructed, settling back into the padded seat.
"Then stories you shall have," Jormungandr said, and drove the vehicle out into the road.
Jormungandr's tales carried them all the way back to the house, while he made preparations for the evening meal (which consisted of taking a plucked and dressed bird out of the cold box and putting it in the oven), and as he guided Frigga down to the house's lower level to launder the clothes.
He was a good storyteller, quick to point out the humour in situations or to explain those things with which Frigga would not be familiar, but as the day drew on, Frigga became aware that there was something missing from his stories. Not an oversight, or a subject he avoided, but when Jormungandr spoke of his sister Hel and his brother Fenrir, there was a gap left, almost as if there should have been another name spoken there.
Frigga kept her observation to herself.
The laundry machines were primitive by Frigga's standards but understandable. Jormungandr washed the clothes that he could, set aside others 'for the dry-cleaners', all while regaling Frigga with a story about the last great Victorian ball. It took Frigga a moment to decipher that 'Victorian' referred to a time period, not a location, but she settled back to listen.
With the laundry safely under way, Jormungandr led Frigga back into the open space at the bottom of the stairs. "I said I'd show you my studio," he said, for the first time that day appearing nervous. "If you would like."
Jormungandr took a deep breath. "Here it is." He opened the door, but all Frigga saw was darkness. Jormungandr took Frigga's hand in his, fingers cool against her palm and drew her into the darkness. Passing through the doorway sent a shiver of magic over Frigga's skin. The darkness held for a moment before opening up into a wide airy room, illuminated by windows set high in the walls. Large paintings covered the far wall, vibrant splashes of colour in the bright sunshine.
"The room is warded," Jormungandr said, letting Frigga's hand drop and crossing over to the workbench. "In case anyone makes it past the house's other wards, they can't get in here."
"And what do you keep in here that requires such protection?" Frigga wondered, surreptitiously casting tendrils of magic around the room. The air in this room felt cleaner, fresher, than the air out in the street.
"Odds and ends," Jormungandr said vaguely. Frigga let the comment pass. "So these are mine," Jormungandr went on, moving over to the wall. "I have a major gallery show next July so I'm trying something new."
He hovered almost anxiously as Frigga stood back to examine the paintings. She had no understanding of Midgardian art, but she had seen the sculptures decorating the halls of Alfheim and Vanaheim, and had spent her long life soaking in the artistic aesthetic of Asgard.
Jormungandr's paintings were like nothing she had before seen. The colours shimmered in the still sunlight, stylized portraits of serpent creatures and wolves and skeletons. Two of the paintings looked complete, one with a serpent coiled around a rock, the other a skeleton embedded in a tree with the bark overgrowing the bony limbs. A third had the details of the wolf, with fur so detailed Frigga wondered if it would feel soft to her touch.
The other two canvases on the wall held only line sketches, one of a serpent draped over a robed woman, the other a snarling wolf stretched out beside a man's corpse. Even though the lines were only faint dark marks on the white canvas, Frigga could imagine the drip, drip of blood from the wolf's teeth.
"I like these," Frigga said. Jormungandr visibly relaxed. "The woman in that one, is that your sister?"
"Yes," Jormungandr said, taking off his scarf and dropping it over a large metal sculpture by the bench. "I was going to paint her in a white shift but she said she'd tie me into a knot. I think it's better with the robe on, draws attention to her face."
As Jormungandr poked around on the bench for something, Frigga moved deeper into the room. Stack of smaller paintings lay by the walls, in between bookcases that held a variety of books and manuscripts. Curious, Frigga ran her fingers in the air over the book's covers; tiny sparks over her fingertips told her that there was strong magic guarding these volumes.
"Are all these paintings yours?" Frigga asked, moving away from the bookcase before Jormungandr could notice her interest in the books.
"Yes." Jormungandr surfaced, triumphantly holding a long pair of scissors in one hand. "Hel has no time for art. Fenrir prefers to express his creativity by moving heavy things around and—" Jormungandr visibly pulled himself back on whatever he had been about to say. "And so this is all mine," he amended.
Frigga stopped to look at a large framed painting of a rocky landscape. On first inspection, the only indication of life was a scrubby bush clinging to a stone outcropping. Looking closer, Frigga saw a small snake peeking out from a crack in a boulder. "Do you always put a snake in your paintings?" she asked.
"There's a saying on earth," Jormungandr said, moving over to join Frigga. "Paint what you know." He smiled again, showing his white teeth. "Snakes make most humans uncomfortable." He stepped across to a canvas turned against the wall. "This is one that I can't sell."
He picked the large canvas up easily and carried it over to the middle of the room. Carefully, he set the painting down in a pool of sunlight and Frigga had to stifle a gasp.
The painting was alive.
Dark green serpent coils moved across the painting's surface, slithering and sliding underneath the painting's glossy finish. As Frigga watched, the serpent's head emerged from the writhing coils, blinking one yellow-green eye directly at Frigga before slithering back into the mass.
"Humans can't see the snake," Jormungandr said, stepping back to stand beside Frigga. "Their eyes can only see a limited range of colours. They just see a black canvas. Still, the few times I showed this to anyone, they got the shakes, so they can probably sense something from the painting."
"Are all humans afraid of serpents?"
"No." Jormungandr picked the painting back up and carried it to its resting place. "Just the smart ones."
As Jormungandr set the serpent painting in its place, Frigga ran her hand over a bowl, thin strands of metal woven delicately to form the surprisingly strong shape. She wondered at the craftsmanship; even on Asgard, such a piece would have been the work of a master. Frigga had no idea how something like this could have been made on Earth; perhaps the children had acquired it somewhere between Niflheim and Midgard.
"Are you hungry?" Jormungandr asked, pulling Frigga's attention away from the bowl. "Dinner won't be ready until eight but if you're hungry I can make you a sandwich."
And only days before, Frigga had had the entire palace kitchens to serve her any whim. Frigga patted Jormungandr's hand. "Perhaps some more tea," she said. Truthfully, the thought of food turned in her stomach.
"Tea." Jormungandr held out his arm for Frigga to take. "Tea I can make."
On the way up the stairs and in the kitchen, he regaled Frigga with a story of tea in a land called Sri Lanka, and a visit by Hel and Jormungandr to that land over a century before. Again, there was a space left in Jormungandr's story, but Jormungandr moved so smoothly over it that the moment passed before Frigga could ask.
Jormungandr served tea in the room with the tapestries hanging on the walls. The air was warm and smelled of spices and metal, and the sun shining gently through the windows as Frigga sipped drank the hot, slightly bitter liquid.
On the face of things, one might assume that Jormungandr had spoken too freely that day to someone who was essentially a stranger. He had been loquacious with his stories of his siblings, but the more Frigga thought over the last hours, she began to wonder about her first impression. True, Jormungandr had spoken easily, but he had not said anything that Frigga could not have discerned on her own. She knew how old the children were, and it was obvious they were on Midgard. Also, Frigga had seen little Hela's proficiency with magic before the children were banished from Asgard, and in bringing Frigga back from the land of the dead, being highly skilled in at least some magic had to be assumed.
Even Jormungandr's serpent nature, which Frigga had seen a touch of that morning in the kitchen, was not unknown to her. Jormungandr and Fenrir may have been too young to remember when Angrboða was banished, but Hel had been old enough to remember what precipitated that banishment.
Unnatural magics, Odin had decreed, a perversion of the fabric of the universe. If it had been any other sorcerer who had enchanted an Asgardian child, Odin would have ordered them killed, but Angrboða was the mother of Loki's children. Instead of death, banishment had been Odin's judgement.
Frigga settled back against the soft cushions of her chair. Over the years, she had often wondered why Angrboða had not defended herself before the court on the day of her banishment. So much would have been different had Angrboða made a plea; if not banishment, then imprisonment. Had Loki spoken up for the children, had they been taken from Angrboða before she was banished…
Frigga shook her head. There was no changing the past. Angrboða had not spoken on the morning of her banishment. Loki had not demanded custody of his children. And now those children were on Midgard, one a protector of the peace, another an artisan. The third child, Fenrir, would return before the evening meal, and Frigga would meet her other grandson for the first time in centuries.
With a quick smile, Jormungandr left the room. Frigga waved her fingers experimentally to levitate the teapot over to pour more of the hot beverage into her cup. Other than the sparks of magic running through the walls of the house, her magic was responding easily in this place. The physical being of the universe was much the same across the nine realms, Frigga had found in the travels of her youth. True, in some realms, magic came easier; in Muspelheim, for instance, fire magic flowed from her fingertips with barely a thought.
Frigga wondered if the sparking flow in the walls was what would come easiest to her here in Brooklyn. Returning the teapot to the table, Frigga concentrated on the sparks of power all around her. She could feel the flow through the walls, into the lamp in the corner, the lights overhead, and then beyond, out into the street and into other buildings. From the flow of the sparks, Frigga could make out the shapes of buildings, the streets, radiating out in a grid around them.
Everything was connected.
Lifting her hand, Frigga pressed her thumb and finger together, then pulled them apart. A bright spark snapped into the air and was gone.
Jormungandr poked his head around the kitchen door. "Everything all right?" he asked, eyebrow raised.
"Yes," Frigga said, rubbing her hand against her skirt. "Why?"
"Power surge," Jormungandr said, looking around the room. "I thought Fenrir fixed that wiring last month." He went back into the kitchen.
Frigga settled back in her chair and wondered what other new magics this world might hold for her.
The afternoon wore down to night and Frigga stayed in her chair, sipping her tea. Jormungandr went into the basement with the word he would be in his studio and to get him if she needed anything.
The windows darkened with the setting of the sun, and Frigga did not move. With the burst of activity behind her now, she was left to think about what she had become, in this new world.
She was under no illusion that she could ever return to Asgard. She had died, and whatever necromancy Hel had used to pull her back from the land of the dead would not be welcome in Odin's halls.
So if it was to be exile in her resurrection, Midgard would have to do. It was a primitive land, its inhabitants short-lived and fragile. But Frigga was not alone in this world; her grandchildren were here, and Jormungandr at least seemed predisposed to aid her. Perhaps she would stay, for a while, until she determined which path to take.
The only thing that made her heart ache was the knowledge that she would never see her sons again. She could never again visit Loki in his lonesome prison. And what if Thor returned to Midgard? Could she seek him out? Would he understand what had happened to her, or would he recoil in disgust, flee from her, call her a ghost?
She did not feel like a ghost. She felt alive, more alive than she had in years. The chair was warm, the tea cold in the mug. Even sensation was heightened, every breath drew deeper.
She did not understand why, and wasn't sure she wanted to.
Outside, a muffled thump against the door, then the door swung open and a man stepped into the house. His face was in shadow in the dimness of the entryway and for one breath-stealing moment, Frigga thought that Thor had found her.
Then the man turned his face to the light, but the impression of Thor did not fade.
The man put down his handfuls on the bench and shed his coat. He was tall, strong and brawny like Thor and when he came deeper into the room, all the pieces from a thousand years finally fell into place, and Frigga felt faint.
There was Angrboða's watchfulness in this man's eyes, but everything else about him came from Thor.
What had Angrboða done?
"I'm Fenrir," said the man. His voice was quiet, higher in pitch than Thor's deep bass, but the sound filled the room.
Of course. Well, regardless of who his father was, this man was still Frigga's grandson. She stood, legs aching with inactivity. "I am Frigga," she said, and was rewarded by a small smile on Fenrir's bearded face. "Your brother is in his studio."
"He's got a lot of work for his big show next year," said Fenrir. He shucked off an outer shirt of some red and green-striped material before sitting on the bench to unlace his boots. "Are you well?"
Frigga started to say the politic answer, then stopped. How was she? She had been pulled back from the dead by her banished grandchildren, and was in the process of figuring out who among them had been sired by which of her sons. "It has been a long day," was all Frigga said.
Fenrir sat up to kick off his boots. "Is dinner on?"
"I believe so." Frigga leaned against the wall, her head three inches from a very large and very old battleaxe.
"Good." Fenrir stood up. Even in his stocking feet he was a huge man, wider across the shoulders than his brother. Jormungandr might be taller, but Fenrir seemed bigger. "I'm hungry."
A rush of feet behind them and Jormungandr appeared. "You're home early," he said, collapsing on the nearest available chair. "Did you get the foundation finished?"
"Yes." Fenrir picked up the items he had carried into the house; a metal box with a handle and a long round flask. "It was a good job."
"Fenrir's crew are working on a new apartment complex over in Elmhurst," Jormungandr explained to Frigga, jumping up to follow Fenrir into the kitchen. "Perfect time of year, too."
"We work fast, we can get it done before the snows arrive." Fenrir put his belongings on the counter.
"You say that every year."
"I'm right every year." Fenrir took a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water from the tap, then drank it down in one long gulp. "We have to go for a walk."
Jormungandr let out a groan. "Why?"
"Mr. Herbert was the street." Fenrir ran a hand through his shaggy brown hair. "Said it was a shame keeping a big dog inside all the time."
Jormungandr made a face. "You couldn't just change into something small, like a shitzu?" he said as he went to the rear door in the kitchen, returning with what looked like a long leash.
Frigga was missing something, that much she knew. She had seen no hint of a pet in this house. What was going on?
"We can just go to the park and back," Fenrir said. "Put on your coat."
"What is happening?" Frigga asked tentatively.
The brothers turned to look at her. "I'm taking the dog for a walk," Jormungandr said, as if Frigga would understand this. "Back in time for dinner. Do you want to join us?"
Fenrir, however, was watching Frigga with dawning understanding on his face. "You don't know," he said.
"Don't know what?" Jormungandr asked.
"She might know what Mother did to you, but she doesn't know about me," Fenrir said.
An icy knot was forming in Frigga's stomach. What else had Angrboða done to these children?
Without any more words, Fenrir crouched down, hands before him, but before he could reach the ground he changed, no longer a man but a wolf.
A wolf stood in Fenrir's place, looking up at Frigga with Fenrir's calm, understanding eyes.
"Wait, how did you not know?" Jormungandr demanded. He moved defensively in front of the wolf, tensed for a fight, but the wolf pushed its head under Jormungandr's hand, comforting the man.
It took Frigga a moment to respond. "After Fenrir was born, Angrboða began to keep the children… keep you, from the court. It was a busy time." A memory came back, something that had seemed inconsequential at the time. "I visited once after Fenrir was born. Hela was playing with a wolf pup. I thought…."
"Thought that Mother had been so kind as to get Hel a pet?" Jormungandr shook his head. An angry light shone in his green eyes. "You're not entirely wrong."
The wolf growled, taking Jormungandr's hand in its teeth.
"I know!" Jormungandr said to the wolf, and the creature released his hand. "Look, are we going to get this little charade on the road?"
Frigga sat in a chair by the table, suddenly feeling very old and very stupid. How had she been so blind all those years ago? If she had kept a closer eye on Angrboða and the children, if she had paid more attention to Loki and what he was doing… Perhaps things would have been very different for them all.
The wolf padded silently across the floor to Frigga's side. It rested its chin on her knee and looked steadily at her with Fenrir's blue-green eyes. "It's him in there," Jormungandr said, subdued. "The same mind, everything, just a different body."
"Is it the same with you?" Frigga asked, reaching out to touch the wolf's head. His fur was soft and real; this was no mere illusion.
"Yes. Although I'm slightly less cuddly."
"Can you speak?" Frigga asked the wolf. He made a tiny yip.
"No, but he can be loud if he wants." Jormungandr shook the leash. "Come on, walkies before dinner."
Removing itself from under Frigga's hand, the wolf trotted over to Jormungandr, where the man slipped the leash around the creature's neck. "May I join you?" Frigga asked. Her momentary lapse had faded and she was once again ready to deal with anything this new world threw at her.
"Sure." Jormungandr followed the wolf back to the living room, where the wolf sat waiting by the door. "If anyone asks, the dog's name is Russell."
Frigga donned her borrowed coat and shoes, then followed Jormungandr and the wolf down the stairs into the street.
Jormungandr held the leash loosely as the wolf trotted along, ears alert and tail wagging slowly. Frigga, who had only ever seen Asgardian wolves up in the mountains, was interested in how Fenrir differed from them in this form. He was smaller than an Asgardian wolf, and his colouring more grey than red.
Frigga knew magic and she could, if pressed, transmute a person into another creature, but none of her magic could have made such a quick or painless transformation. She could not have thought Angrboða had the magic or understanding to lay such a curse on her own children; the woman had been very young to have children by Asgardian standards and from what Frigga remembered, her magic had not been anywhere near Loki's level, even then.
And Frigga's son had still much to learn about magic, when his children were born.
At Frigga's side, Jormungandr made a noise. "Nosey neighbour alert," he muttered, pulling back on Fenrir's leash. "Let me do the talking."
"Hello!" exclaimed a wizened old man, pausing in his slow procession down the street to peer up at Jormungandr and Frigga. "Mr. Radolf, finally taking that mutt of yours for a walk, I see."
"Hello, Mr. Herbert," Jormungandr said. "Russell, heel."
The wolf circled back to sit at Frigga's side, pressing his head against her hip. She automatically patted his head, conscious that this was indeed her grandson sitting at her side.
However, that was secondary; Jormungandr's attitude was tense, telling Frigga that this was not a friendly or desired encounter. Something about this man was setting Jormungandr on edge.
The old man transferred his scrutiny to Frigga. "Are you a friend of the family?" he asked without preamble.
"This is our aunt," Jormungandr interjected. "Aunt… Frieda."
"Bill Herbert," said the old man, tipping the brim of his hat at Frigga. "I've lived on this street for over forty years and we've never had anyone quite as interesting as your nephew here." He blinked at Frigga. "Are you staying long?"
"I expect so," said Frigga before Jormungandr could jump in. She smiled at Mr. Herbert, her court smile. It meant nothing but conveyed her attention. "It was nice to meet you."
Jormungandr took the hint and shook Fenrir's leash. The wolf stood up and dragged Jormungandr down the street at a trot. Frigga nodded at the old man and walked after her grandsons at a slower pace.
If she interpreted Fenrir's earlier words correctly, they were keeping up a façade that they kept a pet in the house. Frigga could understand why; Midgardians were a very young people, their technology barely better than water-powered mills and wooden wheels. A man with a wolf form would only shock and scare them.
Frigga watched as Fenrir stopped to sniff something, then move on, towing Jormungandr after him. He seemed quite at ease in his wolf form, and Frigga wondered if Jormungandr was the same with with his serpent form. Unbidden, a shiver ran over Frigga's skin at the memory of the serpent painting in the basement. She wondered how she would react at seeing Jormungandr in his other form.
At the corner ahead, Fenrir and Jormungandr both stopped and looked back to Frigga. "Do you need to go back?" Jormungandr asked, concerned. "Are you ill?"
"No," Frigga said truthfully. She put her hand on Jormungandr's arm. "I am just thinking."
"Dangerous, that," said Jormungandr, but his eyebrow was raised in a slightly sardonic expression. "Thinking."
"In this, you are not wrong." Frigga looked around. "What is your destination?"
"The park," Jormungandr said as he walked along with Frigga, slowly now. "Fenrir gets in a good run and then we go home to eat. Hel's working the late shift so she won't get home until after midnight. But Fenrir has to be back on the road tomorrow before sun-up. Construction starts early in this city."
"Perhaps you explain more about what is that you do," Frigga suggested as they crossed a street, noting the colour of the lights and the movement of vehicles, for the next time she was out in the city.
Jormungandr's story took them to the green space, where Fenrir trotted along at their side, yipping occasionally as wolfish comment at Jormungandr's words. The siblings had been in New York, as this city was called, for fifteen years. Before that, Jormungandr and Hel had lived in a place called Hong Kong, while Fenrir spent time in a land called Canada.
"We could say you're from Canada too," Jormungandr said as an aside. "Lovely people, Canadians. A bit odd but then long winters can do that."
Hel worked as a police officer and Fenrir ran a small company that built houses and small buildings, and Jormungandr was an artist.
"But all that means is I do all the shopping and cooking for these ungrateful louts." This got Jormungandr a growl from the wolf.
"Have you always been an artist?"
"For the most part. Humans don't expect too much from artists."
Fenrir let out a bark of agreement.
"Watch it, fur ball," Jormungandr shot back. "My brother here is the practical one. He can usually find work lifting heavy things."
"And your sister?"
Jormungandr was silent for a long moment. Finally, as the breeze blew dried leaves off the trees, he said, "She listens for secrets. We…" He broke off, looking up at the sky. "Safety among these humans depends on knowing more than they do, and knowing when it is time to move on."
Fenrir bounded back over to Jormungandr and let out a mournful wail before butting his furred head against Jormungandr's stomach.
"Yeah." Jormungandr rubbed Fenrir's head and patted his furry sides. "Come on, let's go home. You need a shower."
They retraced their steps out of the park and down the crowded streets, Fenrir close at Frigga's side. Luckily, Mr. Herbert was not around to waylay them on their return to the house.
Once inside, Jormungandr locked the door with an air of finality before unsnapping the leash from Fenrir's neck. Once the leash was off, the wolf rose into the body of a man. Fenrir stood, clothed as he had been before, his shoulders slumped in weariness.
"Seriously," Jormungandr said, slapping Fenrir on the back. "Shower. I'll get dinner on the table."
Fenrir smiled tiredly at his brother, then at Frigga, and trundled himself up the stairs to the second level.
Frigga followed Jormungandr into the kitchen and sat at the table to watch as the man deftly chopped and sliced, sliding vegetables into various pans and pots on the stove. It was peaceful, sitting in this silence, watching Loki's son move with such quiet assurance.
She could not stop thinking about what Jormungandr had said about Hel. Listening for secrets was something Loki had always excelled in, although Loki's secret-gathering was more for mischief-making and political gain at court, rather than safety. As her son, Loki had been safe… until he turned on Odin and Thor for his own twisted reasons.
Frigga sighed. In spite of all he had done, she still loved Loki; how could she not? She was his mother. But she was under no illusions about him. The attack on Midgard had been the last straw for Odin, and Loki had been imprisoned.
Odin had said forever, but knowing Thor as she did, once Odin died and the throne passed to Thor, Frigga suspected that Thor would once again revisit Loki in the hopes that his brother had changed in prison.
She missed them both, and she hoped that her sons had not mourned her death too deeply.
Overhead, the sound of rushing water filtered down through the ceiling. Jormungandr chopped industriously at a handful of green leafy vegetables, as a puff of steam emerged from a pot on the stove.
Frigga wondered at these brothers, sons of her sons. Did Fenrir know about his father? Had Angrboða told him? Had she told the children anything?
Moreover, what had become of her? The children had made no reference to her except in passing. Frigga wondered if that empty space in Jormungandr's stories had been about Angrboða, but she quickly dismissed that idea. Those stories had been of siblings, and the missing space had had none of the antagonism with which Jormungandr had spoken of his mother.
Could Angrboða have been with child when she was banished? Frigga did not know. But if so, why had Jormungandr not spoken of another child? What reason could there be for him to censor his stories to remove another person from mention entirely?
What was he hiding?
To be continued
Frigga sat in darkness in the large room, staring out the window. She did not know what she was waiting for, but with everything that had happened in the long day since she had been pulled back from death's grasp, she felt as if something, something important, was coming.
Dinner had been a subdued affair, especially given Frigga's experiences with these men's fathers. Jormungandr had done the bulk of the talking, answering Frigga's questions about Midgard, about customs and culture and politics. Fenrir spoke sparingly, mostly to expand on points that Frigga was trying to grasp fully. After the third time he did so, Frigga revised her opinion of this changeling grandson of hers. He saw and heard much, but held his own counsel.
Very, Frigga thought with faint amusement, like a wolf.
After dinner, Jormungandr cleaned up while Fenrir went upstairs to bed, with a word about having an early start the next day. Frigga excused herself to the main room, where she had thought to poke through the books, but instead she sat in a chair, waiting, while the night outside deepened.
Again, Frigga was struck with the question about what she was to do in this new world. For over a thousand years, she had ruled Asgard at Odin's side, protecting the realm while he fought to keep the peace across the worlds. But it was more than that; Odin could never have ruled as he did without her magic to support him.
The sparkling lands of Asgard seemed remote from this small building in Brooklyn. The house held a different sort of silence than the halls of Odin's palace. There, sounds were dulled by ancient stone and metal; here, the cloth and leather in the room pulled apart any noise before it could reach Frigga's ears.
But what sound could there be, with Jormungandr in the basement below and Fenrir asleep upstairs?
The thought of Fenrir pulled Frigga to her feet to pace soundlessly around the room. She walked to the deep windowsill and seated herself on the thick cushions. Out of habit, she cast an illusion charm on the window so no eyes could see her through the glass.
Settling down, Frigga stared out onto the quiet street. Now that she had had some time to reflect upon the impossibility of her resurrection, she wondered if she had come back wrong. She had been killed in the middle of the Dark Elves' assault on Asgard, had died protecting young Jane Foster from the Dark Elf Malekith; then to wake and not rush to fling herself back into battle?
Perhaps it was an effect of being dead. When she had seen that blurry photograph of Thor after defeating the Dark Elves (for what else could peace mean on Midgard following the Convergence?), all it had brought Frigga was satisfaction.
And then to meet her grandchildren; it was a gift that Frigga never imagined she would receive. Hel and Jormungandr, Loki's children… and Fenrir. Frigga did not know if Angrboða had tricked Thor or if he had slept with his brother's woman willingly; Frigga loved her sons but held no illusions about them. But it did not immediately matter. Fenrir was here, and so obviously of Thor's blood.
She wondered if Fenrir knew. Hel and Jormungandr looked so alike, these children of Loki and Angrboða, but Fenrir… did he suspect that he did not share the same paternity as his siblings? Frigga would need to tread carefully in such matters.
A dark vehicle stopped in the street outside and Hel stepped out of the passenger side. She exchanged a few words with the driver, closed the car door, and made her way up to the house. The car drove away as the front door opened to allow Hel entry to the house. Hel closed the door behind her firmly, and let out a long sigh.
Not wanting to startle the woman, Frigga sent a soft breeze through the room to alert Hel to her presence. Hel turned her head toward the window seat. "What are you using?" she asked in her soft voice. "To keep from being seen in the street?"
"A small glamour," Frigga replied. "To dissuade all but the most curious."
"Is it a secret?"
"No. I taught such magic to your father long before you were born." Frigga paused to see if the mention of Loki would garner a response from Hel, but the woman just stared. "I could show it to you."
Hel's grey-green eyes shone a little brighter in the gloom. "I would like that," said Hel as she placed her hands flat on the wooden door, and pushed.
Magic radiated out from the door, skittering over the walls and windows. A protection charm, Frigga thought as she breathed in air suddenly scented with spice. Or else an arming spell. Either way, nothing else could enter the house that night.
"You've met Fenrir?" Hel asked as she walked into the room without removing her boots or jacket.
"And?" There was a definite challenge in Hel's voice.
Frigga wondered what test Hel was setting for her. "He told myself and his brother about his day," Frigga replied evenly. "We went for a walk in the small park before we ate the evening meal."
Hel's eyebrow rose sharply. "And?" she said again.
"There is no 'and'," Frigga said, standing. "Let us do away with this verbal dance, my dear. I am old and lost what patience I had with such conversation years ago." She walked the few paces to where Hel stood and held out her hands, palms up. It was the traditional peace gesture, known across many realms, showing one's opponent hands free of weapons.
(Of course, this was how Frigga was most dangerous; hands open and ready to cast a blast of magic in any direction, but Hel could not know that. In any event, that was not Frigga's intention.)
Hel eyed Frigga doubtfully, but after a moment she placed her right hand on Frigga's open palm. Her touch was cool and sparked with magic. "My family," Hel said, speaking carefully. "Is the most important thing in the universe to me. I will not see them harmed. By anyone."
"They will not be hurt by my hand," Frigga said formally. She placed her free hand on Hel's wrist. "I do not know what you think of me, Hel, and I do not know if my word means anything to you. But I give to you my promise that I will not hurt you or your brothers, or let you come to any harm if I can prevent it."
It was a risk, Frigga knew, staking her honor on protecting these unlikely grandchildren of hers. But in light of her recent death and resurrection, she needed to make new alliances in the world and this was the best place to start.
From what Frigga had seen that day, both Jormungandr and Fenrir looked to be considerate men, conscious of honor and obligations and serious about their work. She had known too many men and women across the realms about whom far less could be said.
Now, Hel was the only unknown element.
The woman in question slowly stepped back, pulling her hand from Frigga's grasp. "I want to show you something," Hel said. "Will you come with me?"
Frigga inclined her head in assent. Hel led Frigga up the stairs and across the second story's hallway. They passed a door open onto a dark room, where the faint shape of a wolf lay outlined on the rug. Beyond that was the door to the room where Frigga had awoken that morning. Across the hall were two closed and unmarked doors.
Going to the staircase that led up to the next level, Hel paused to let Frigga catch up. "You may need to hold my hand," Hel said. "Protective magic."
"Jormungandr showed me his studio," Frigga said, taking the offered hand.
Hel's lips curled up in a strange smile. "This is stronger," she said, and pulled Frigga up the stairs.
Even holding Hel's hand, walking through the invisible wall of power was nearly impossible. Magic clung to Frigga like hot pitch, pulling back on her, wanting her to stop moving, wanted her to get out. The house itself wanted to get Frigga off those stairs, and only Hel's supporting arm around Frigga's waist got her up the stairs and through the top door.
Stepping through that door was rather like plunging headlong into an icy river. Frigga gasped for air, stumbling over her feet at the release of the magic's hold. She had not expected such power here, with no hint of it in the air and she had not thought to defend herself, had not dreamed of an attack in this place.
What was wrong with her?
Forcing herself to stand straight, Frigga blinked until she could see the room clearly. There was no one here but Hel and that woman was backing away from Frigga, eyes wide and hands outstretched. Frigga tensed, as hands outstretched was how she and Loki were most dangerous, but Hel did not attack.
"Who are you?" Hel demanded, her voice cracking through the air like a whip. "Who?"
Frigga tried to take a step forward, but her left knee gave out beneath her and she staggered. "I am Frigga, formerly of Asgard," she said, forcing herself to remain upright until she could make it to a chair by the wall. She had been queen for millennia, and she would not be reduced to crawling across some Midgardian floor at her granddaughter's feet. Frigga caught the chair's back and used it to support herself as she faced Hel. "I am the same woman I was this morning before you left."
Hel didn't move. "This room is under blood protection," she said, hands balling into fists. "Frigga was our grandmother, our father's mother, and she would not have been caught so on those stairs!"
Frigga sank onto the chair, gripping its sides as her equilibrium slowly returned to her. "Loki is my son," she said, never taking her eyes off Hel. "But he is not of my blood."
Hel shook her head. "No, he has to be," she said. "He has to be!"
"Why?" Frigga was surprised at the urgency in Hel's tone. Surely, not for love of a father who had abandoned his children nearly a millennium before.
"He was in line for the throne!" Hel exclaimed. "Odin would never let that happen if Loki wasn't his son!"
There was movement in the corner of Frigga's eye and she looked away from Hel to see a wolf padding across the room. Only this was not the wolf she had seen in the park; this was a true Asgardian wolf, tall and massive with sharp teeth bared, as Fenrir put himself between his sister and Frigga.
Frigga let out the breath she had been holding. She would not have told Hel the truth about Loki in this way, if ever. But Loki was imprisoned and Frigga had died, and nothing would ever be the same again.
"We took Loki in after the last great war on Jotunheim," Frigga said, looking between the woman and the wolf. "He had been abandoned, just a baby. We took him in and he was our son."
"Why would the ruler of Asgard adopt an abandoned child?" Hel demanded, stroking Fenrir's shoulders. The wolf sat back on his haunches and relaxed; Frigga was just happy those sharp teeth were no longer bared in her direction.
"I do not know what Odin's motives were," Frigga said honestly. "But he brought Loki to Asgard and gave him to me, and from that day Loki has been my son."
Another flicker of movement by the door as a long black serpent slid into the room. The creature, black-scaled and silent, moved across the floor to where Hel and Fenrir stood. For a moment, Frigga could only stare at Jormungandr as the serpent curled around Hel's feet and went still, forked tongue flicking out to taste the air. He was larger than Frigga had thought it possible for a serpent to be; so long that even with his head at Hel's feet his tail was still out the room and down the stairs. And not just long; the serpent's body was as thick around as Hel's waist. Jormungandr's serpent head was big, with wide yellow eyes staring unblinkingly. As Frigga looked at him, Jormungandr lifted his head and opened his mouth wide, showing off sharp, glistening fangs and forked tounge.
"Jorge," Hel said sharply, and the serpent closed his mouth and put his head on the ground, somehow managing to look smug.
Frigga looked at her grandsons in their true forms. They were dangerous, deadly creatures, yet Frigga was no more afraid of them than she had been of them as men.
Hel, however, Frigga had yet to decide upon.
"Who would have abandoned an Asgard baby in the middle of a war with the frost giants?" Hel asked.
Frigga took a breath. There was no get away from it now. "Loki was not born Asgardian," she said. "He was born to Laufey, ruler of Jotunheim."
Hel stared, while Fenrir cocked his head to the side. Jormungandr licked the air. "Wait, our father was a frost giant?" Hel demanded. "Did Mother know?"
"I do not believe so," Frigga said. She slowly uncurled her hands from their grip on the chair seat. "Loki himself did not know until very recently."
"For fuck's sake," Hel muttered under her breath. "How does that even make any sense?"
Frigga held her tongue. Many times, she had thought to tell Loki of his origins, but had never figured out the right way to approach the subject. Now it was too late for her stolen son. But what would this revelation mean for the children?
Fenrir yawned, shook himself, then stood to nudge Hel over to a cold fireplace in the wall. The woman went with the wolf, sitting down on the hearthrug and letting the wolf flop down at her side. Jormungandr uncurled himself from his knot on the floor and slithered after his siblings, going so far as to slide over and around them both until his head was resting on Hel's thigh. Hel stared into the dark fireplace as she leaned on Fenrir's shoulder. "You can come over here," she said after a few minutes. "They don't bite."
"I was not afraid that they would," Frigga replied. Slowly, in case she lost her balance again, she rose to her feet and moved carefully over to the fireplace. There was a couch off to the side, and Frigga sat there instead of getting too near the children. "I would not have told you of your father in this way."
"Doesn't matter," Hel said, rubbing her eyes. "Nothing changes, not really."
Fenrir gave a soft woof and closed his eyes.
"It doesn't," Hel repeated. "We're still us. We're still here. We survived everything else and compared to that, this is nothing."
Jormungandr moved his head so one glittering eye was directed at Frigga. She returned the serpent's gaze. "What have you survived?" Frigga asked gently.
Hel was still for another minute, then she roused herself to look around at Frigga. "Mother, mostly," she said, voice flat, and with a motion at the fireplace, the waiting logs burst into flame.
It was a simple bit of magic; with ready fuel, the fire spell only needed a quick spark and an agitation of the air to start a blaze. Frigga had shown such a spell to Loki when the boy was very young. Loki had likely taught his daughter this spell when she was a young child. "What did Angrboða do to you?" Frigga asked quietly.
Hel put her hand under Jormungandr's head, scratching at his scales. Opaque lids closed over Jormungandr's yellow eyes. "For starters, this," Hel said. Fenrir's ears twitched. "Then, after we were banished…" Hel's voice trailed off.
Jormungandr slid his coils around, moving his head forward to wrap around Hel's arm. Fenrir didn't open his eyes, but he curled his tail around his sister's back.
"After we got to Earth, things were hard," Hel said. It was not what she had started to say, and Frigga wondered again how the children had come to Earth after their banishment to Niflheim. "Jormungandr was barely walking and Fenrir was too small to hunt on his own for anything bigger than rabbits. Surviving was hard."
"Your mother was not with you?"
"No." A pained smile curled on Hel's face. "We haven't seen her since before we came to Earth."
Fenrir let out a low rumbling growl as Hel ran her hand over his thick fur.
"Is she dead?" Frigga asked.
"I hope so. I don't know." Hel stared into the fire. "But if I ever see her again, I'm going to kill her if it's the last thing I do."
Fenrir growled again, a comforting sound as his sister buried her face in his side, as Jormungandr slid up to Hel's shoulder and laid his flat black head on her shoulder. There was ancient pain in the room, and Frigga felt sick to her stomach.
She did not understand how Heimdall, with his far-reaching sight, hadn't seen that the children were alone. At the very least, Frigga could have gone to Midgard to help them, or tried to convince Odin to let her bring them home.
If all this had happened when Jormungandr was just starting to walk, then Fenrir could have been no older than five years, and Hel not even nine years. How could they have survived alone on Earth at its most primitive? From what Frigga remembered of the primitive Midgardians, they would not have been likely to take in three abandoned children.
What had Angrboða done?
As the fire crackled merrily in the grate, Hel drew herself up, laying Jormungandr's head onto Fenrir's furry side. "But here's the thing," she said, pushing her hair over her shoulder. "What we have here? This family? This is worth everything."
"I understand," Frigga said, and she did. In spite of all that Loki had done, she did not regret raising him as her son, as Thor's brother.
"Good." Hel looked at Frigga for a long time. Frigga held herself still under the scrutiny. She wondered what Hel was thinking. "Have you thought about what you're going to do next?"
"I have not had much time to reconcile myself to not being dead," Frigga said with only the slightest hint of irony in her words. "If the body that was once mine has already been consigned to the stars… I do not believe I can ever return to Asgard."
The words were heavy in her mouth, but there was no place for the dead on Asgard.
"You can stay here," Hel said immediately. "With us."
As Frigga hesitated, Jormungandr slid off his siblings and slithered slowly across the floor to the couch. Carefully, he nudged her foot with his head, then flicked his tongue out across her toes.
"Jorge, stop it," Hel said.
Jormungandr paid his sister no mind, only slid around more to wrap himself around Frigga's ankle, and rest his head on her foot. He was warmer than Frigga had expected a serpent to be, his scales smooth against her skin.
Frigga was oddly reassured by Jormungandr's gesture. "I do not know what an old woman can offer to you, but I will do what I can to repay what you have offered to me," she said.
"You don't need to repay anything," Hel said. "We've got a safe place here, or as safe as anyplace in the city can be. You can stay as long as you need, as long as you want."
"But why?" Frigga asked. "You do not know me as more than the mother of your father, from so long ago. And I have just told you that your father is not of my blood."
"You don't get it," Hel said, obviously frustrated. "I brought you back, that means I--" She broke off, rubbed her eyes. At Frigga's feet, Jormungandr's body rippled, a gently squeeze around her ankle. "I did this to you. That means I have to make sure that you're okay, that you're taken care of. I have to."
"My dear, you do not need to worry about me," Frigga said. She reached down to lay a hand on Jormungandr's head. "I can find my way."
"It's not that!" Hel's exclamation was quiet, but the sleeping Fenrir's ears twitched anyway. "I have to keep you safe, it's part of it."
Frigga drew in breath and let it out again, the soft scent of wood smoke reassuring in its familiarity. Part of it, Hel had said, and earlier that day, Jormungandr had said that there were others whom Hel had brought back from beyond death's veil. "If I do leave, what will happen?" Frigga asked. "Will I fall into death?"
"It's not that." Hel rummaged in her coat pocket and pulled out a small paper box with rumpled foil poking from beneath the fold. She opened the box, withdrew a small white object the size and shape of Frigga's little finger, and stuck it between her lips. "You can go anywhere you like," Hel said, speaking around the white tube as she went back to searching her pockets. "Do anything you want. Take up skydiving or bungee jumping for all that it matters."
She pulled a small metallic object from another pocket and flicked at it; a small flame jumped merrily from the tip. Hel held the flame to the end of the small tube and inhaled, before letting the small flame go out. The object's end glowed for a moment, then dimmed as Hel took it from her lips and exhaled a cloud of smoke.
Like smoking a pipe without the pipe, Frigga thought idly, and made a note to ask Jormungandr for the Midgardian names of the object when he was no longer in serpent form.
Hel took another lungful of smoke, then blew it out. The smoke curled up into the room, the thin tendrils of heat bleeding off into the cold air. "I didn't want to be able to do this," Hel said, staring up at the dark ceiling. "I didn't want to know about the dead. It's not like I can control it or anything."
"Your brother said that you see a tear in the universe, and you pull it back together again," Frigga said.
Hel jerked around to glare at Jormungandr, who ducked his head behind Frigga's leg. "Is that what he said?" Hel said, anger bleeding off her in waves.
"He also said that it nearly killed you," Frigga said, some weight of long-cold prophecy causing her to hold back the rest of Jormungandr's words, every time.
Slowly, Hel slumped back against Fenrir's side. "Jorge has a big mouth," Hel muttered, inhaling more smoke.
Jormungandr poked his head out to look at his sister, his tongue flicking over Frigga's toes. It tickled. "I believe he wanted me to understand the gravity of the situation."
Hel let out a near-silent laugh. "If anyone's going to understand how grave the situation is," she said, voice turned up in twist, "It'd be you." With a flick of her hand, Hel tossed the burning cylinder into the fire.
"What do you mean?"
Hel rested her head on Fenrir's shoulder. "I don't remember a lot about our Mother, but I do remember she was scared of how powerful you were."
"Me?" Frigga said, surprised. "Why? I did her no harm." Even, Frigga thought, when perhaps I should have.
"I don't know." Hel curled her legs up to her chest. "She said you saw too much, knew too much." In the firelight, Hel's eyes glittered. "But she was mad, who knows what she meant?"
"Was she?" Frigga asked. "Mad?"
Hel closed her eyes. "She turned my baby brothers into monsters," Hel said quietly. "And me…" Hel's voice broke off as the woman turned her face against Fenrir's furred shoulder.
Jormungandr slid up to rest his head on Frigga's knee, the weight of his serpent's ribs squeezing her leg in what could only be described as a warning. Frigga held her words back; would not ask what terrors Angrboða had visited on her daughter.
Instead she settled back on the couch, Jormungandr's head a solid weight on her knee. The room was warm and dark, and it had been a long day of wakefulness since Frigga had opened her eyes on her new chance at life. Her sons were safe; Thor after his battle with the Dark Elves, and Loki in his solitary prison. The Nine Realms were safe after the Convergence.
Even Frigga's long-lost grandchildren were safe, here in their home on Midgard. A home with four well-worn chairs around the table, Frigga thought sleepily as she rested her head against the cushions. In a house with too many closed doors and empty spaces talked around. There was someone missing from this house, and Frigga did not know why her grandchildren held their tongues.
But she would find out. Tomorrow was another day, and if she woke in this world, if this was not some tormented vision of the dead…. Well, Frigga would have the time to set about unlocking the siblings' secrets.
Some distant sound pulled Frigga awake and she opened her eyes, heat pounding in her chest. For a moment, her mind swam with the unknown as she looked around the dim, crowded room. At the sight of Hel asleep in front of the cold fire grate, remembrance slotted back into place.
The revelations about Loki, about Angrboða. About the children.
Frigga's own resurrection.
With a groan, Frigga sat up. Her joints creaked as she sat up; an old woman here in this place.
The room was quiet, with only faint sounds coming in the far window with the early hint of sunlight. Jormungandr, still in serpent form, lay curled into a ball at Hel's feet. Fenrir was nowhere to be seen.
A noise, this time from inside the house, caught Frigga's attention. It was coming from the floors below. Quietly, so as not to waken the sleepers, Frigga crossed the room to the door and stood hesitatingly at the top of the stairs.
Now that she knew of the magic on the stairs, she could reach out and sense the edges of the protection barrier. From what she had felt the night before, the magic pulled instead of held. Hoping she did not become trapped, Frigga put her weight on the step.
The magic took her, swept her down the stairs and washed her up onto the floor below. She stumbled at the magic's release, but held her balance. There was no malevolence in the magic's grip, and that interested Frigga most of all. Most protection magic was built on fear, but this barrier was simple fact; that she very simply had no right to cross the barrier.
Frigga wondered where Hel had learned such magic.
The sounds from below came again. Frigga shook off her curiosity and went in search of the sound's source.
Fenrir was in the kitchen, dressed for the day and moving things around with efficiency. He looked up as Frigga entered the room. "Good morning," he said as he lifted a side of meat onto a hot pan. The sizzle of meat rose in the air.
"Greetings of the day to you as well." Frigga went to the sink and turned the tap with the blue on the handle, mindful of Jormungandr's words from the day before. "Do you wake early, or do your siblings sleep late?"
"Both." Using long metal tongs, Fenrir flipped the meat over to sear the other side. "I have a long drive and work starts early. Hel's not working today."
"I see." Frigga took down a glass container from a cupboard and filled it with cold water, before turning off the tap. The water tasted faintly of metal and the mineral softness she always associated with cave water. She put the glass down.
Fenrir smiled at her actions. "Try the water in the fridge," he said as he hefted the meat out of the pan and into a large pot on the counter.
Obligingly, Frigga went to the fridge and opened the door. The containers inside meant nothing to her. Was water in one of the bright cans? In one of the glass boxes?
A hand on her shoulder moved Frigga out of the way. "It's in the jug," Fenrir said, reaching into the fridge to retrieve the object in question. "The city changed the pipes at the end of the block last year and the water tastes weird now. Jormungandr needs the filtered stuff."
Fenrir filled another glass for Frigga from the jug, then returned to his food preparation. Frigga went over to the table and sat in one of the four worn chairs, sipping at the cold water. The hint of minerals was gone, along with some of the metal, but Frigga could still taste copper on her tongue.
Frigga set the glass on the table. "What are you making?" she asked, to fill the quiet stillness in the air.
"Pot roast," Fenrir replied. He began chopping vegetables. "It's my turn to make dinner."
"I see." Frigga sat quietly to watch Fenrir move around the kitchen. In the cold light of the morning, the man appeared tired, faint circles under his eyes and an invisible weight on his shoulders. In Asgardian years, he was still a young man. He would be nearly eight hundred Midgardian years old now, almost the same age Frigga had been when her grandchildren were banished from Asgard forever.
Fenrir set down his knife to lift the wooden board on which he had been chopping vegetables, and dumped them into the pot. "Do you care about herbs?" Fenrir asked.
"I do not know your herbs." Fenrir slipped out of her chair to join Fenrir at the counter. "Will you tell me?"
Fenrir opened yet another cupboard and pulled down a series of small glass jars. Thyme, he showed her, and parsley and dill and oregano and chives. The first two, he opened to sprinkle dried green flakes over the meat in the pot. Frigga opened the oregano and breathed in the woody scent of the dried herbs. It was not unpleasant, and she wondered what it would taste like fresh.
"My wife used to sell dried herbs," Fenrir said unexpectedly. Frigga put the bottle down to stare at him. "When we lived in Portland. Hel brought Zibah a bunch of herb and spice seeds from India as a wedding present."
"Your wife," Frigga repeated faintly. She had known the children were old, but had never considered that any of them might have married, or even had children of their own. She had seen no hint of anyone other than Angrboða's children in this place; where (or when) had Fenrir been married?
"Yeah." Fenrir poured a carafe of liquid over the meat. "Zibah loved them, said it was the best present she ever got." He put a lid on the pot and turned a button on the front of the machine. "That was a long time ago."
There was distance in his voice; worse, loss. Frigga ran her tongue over her lower lip and had to force herself to ask, "Is she still alive?"
"No." The word fell into the room like a stone. "She married me nearly a hundred and forty years ago. In the spring." Fenrir suddenly shook himself, like a wolf shedding water. "Do you want to see a picture?"
"If you will show it to me," Frigga said in reply.
Without another word, Fenrir led Frigga into the large room at the front of the house. The day outside was growing brighter, illuminating the room with a thin grey light. Fenrir walked over to one old tapestry and pulled it down with a flick of the wrist, the heavy fabric falling away to reveal a large painting.
In the centre of the portrait sat Fenrir, holding the hand of a small pretty woman seated at his side. The woman held a lace-covered infant in her other arm while around them, in various stages of growth, stood seven young people, most of whom were the spitting image of Fenrir.
"This is your family," Frigga breathed, looking over the young faces. The painting was of the hyper-realistic style of those in the basement, with lines and colors so real that they might move off the canvas at any moment.
"Yes." Fenrir's voice was heavy. "That's Hephzibah, my wife, with the baby. Sarah was our last, so this was in… 1890. About a hundred and twenty four years ago. Jormungandr came out to Portland on his way back from India and painted this. Old man Arthurs had a camera, down at the lawyers on Main Street, but this was better."
There were so many faces in the portrait, Frigga hardly knew where to start. The Fenrir in this picture looked happier, if a bit wilder. The tiny woman at his side was pretty, verging on beautiful, even for a human. She appeared older than Fenrir at her side, but if all these children were hers… She would have to be growing old, given the human life span.
The children ranged in height and ages, the oldest a boy nearly his father's height, although more of his mother's beauty in his features. Two teenage girls were seated at their mother's feet, the older with blonde hair, the younger with dark curls. Two boys, younger than the girls, stood at their mother's shoulders, the younger one with his hand curled around his mother's neck.
Two more children stood at Fenrir's shoulders, looking so alike that Frigga suspected them twins. It might have been a trick of the painting, but the one at Fenrir's left looked out of the portrait with eyes the pale grey of a wolf.
With the infant in the woman's arms, that made for eight children in all. Frigga, who had born only two children in her long life, wondered how in the nine realms this tiny woman had done it.
"What happened to them?" Frigga asked after a long silence.
Fenrir shook himself, a quick little shiver along his limbs. "Nothing happened to them. They all lived, got old, had children of their own. Not Mildred; she joined the convent when she was twenty," Fenrir went on, pointing at the blonde girl on the ground. "Reece died in the war, he was thirty-one." Fenrir's tracing finger moved to indicate the chubby-cheeked boy with his hand curled around his mother's neck. "The rest lived long lives, longer than most humans." Fenrir touched the painting, his fingers resting on the infant in the woman's arms. "Sarah died ten years ago. Humans don't often live past a century, and she was one hundred and fourteen."
The mix of fatherly pride and devastated loss in Fenrir's voice made Frigga reach out, put her hand on his arm. For a long moment, he kept staring at the painting, then let his hand drop.
"I knew, going in, that it would happen," he said heavily. "They'd get old and I wouldn't. And other than Reece, they all lived long lives, but…"
"But it is never easy, to lose a child," Frigga finished softly. The memory of Baldr's death, centuries old, tore afresh at her heart.
Fenrir let out a breath. "I kept an eye on their children, and their children's children," he went on, taking Frigga's hand and guiding her back into the kitchen. "They don't know about me, about us. They're mostly human, anyway."
"Were they… normal?" Frigga asked, curious as to what the offspring of an Asgardian and a Midgardian might be like. Her own son Thor had been in the process of making such a choice for himself, with his Jane Foster.
"I guess." Fenrir released Frigga's hand to reach for the large metal flask from the day before. "None of them turned into animals or anything."
"What about the child with the pale eyes?"
"Inez." Fenrir unscrewed the flask's lid before reaching for the coffee pot. "She was… different. She was born at the same time as Isabelle, but Isabelle was very like her mother, even if they looked alike. Inez was very much like my sister."
Frigga wondered exactly what that meant, but Fenrir was now standing with his back to her, his shoulders set, and Frigga had seen that stance in Thor often enough to know that this line of conversation was over. Very well. Frigga had spent centuries waiting out this man's father, and grandfather. She was in no hurry.
Fenrir finished pouring coffee into his flask, then set everything back to rights before reaching for the open metal box on the table. This already held a red fruit and several paper-wrapped packages. Into the box, Fenrir placed a can that held something Jormungandr called 'iced tea', but Frigga had tasted only sugar in the liquid the night before. With that, Fenrir closed the box and snapped down the latches. He picked up the box and flask and turned to go, but hesitated in the door.
Frigga leaned against the table and waited.
After the stretch of a few moments, Fenrir turned around again. His jaw was set, a shadow of memory not from Thor, but from Odin. "My brother said you walked over the basement wards without a problem," Fenrir said bluntly. "But last night, you were caught by the upstairs wards."
"This is so," Frigga said, her heart fluttering at the time-memory-echo from something she remembered having foreseen, long before, and only now understood. Such was prophecy, never comprehended before before it was too late.
"Hel's blood is on those stairs," Fenrir went on. "The blood on the basement floor is mine."
Shards of future-memory, slotting into place.
"Hel and Jormungandr are not your blood kin, but I am," Fenrir pressed on. He put the box and flask on the counter, and suddenly his hands were free. "You know."
"I suspect," Frigga said, careful to keep herself still. "But it was only here, when I saw you yesterday in the hall."
Fenrir stared, an animal stillness about him that Frigga had never before seen, his eyes wide and waiting.
"You are very much the image of my son, Thor," Frigga said, the admission spilling into the room like pebbles into a still pond.
For a moment, Fenrir did not move. Then, he clenched his hands into fists as he took a deep breath. "Thor," he repeated.
"It is what I suspect, yes," Frigga said, still not moving. "I have no other knowledge of what happened."
Frigga put both hands on the counter and bent over, his head going down as he stared at the floor. "Did he know?" Fenrir straightened up. "Thor? Or Fath— Loki?"
"I do not believe so," Fenrir said. She eased herself off the table. "If Thor had known you were his son, he would not have stood by and let you be taken as part of Angrboða's banishment."
"Why not?" Fenrir demanded, pushing himself up. "Loki let us all be taken. Why would Thor have been any different?"
Frigga gathered her thoughts before she spoke. "Loki's choice let Angrboða keep her children," Frigga said quietly. "I do not believe that would have been a consideration for Thor."
"Would he have taken us all?" Fenrir asked, but the flare of anger was starting to spill out of his voice. "Or just me?"
"Given Angrboða's crimes, only a father's demand would have pulled you from banishment," Frigga said. "Thor could only have kept you."
She did not say that she doubted it would have occurred to Thor, still so young, barely more than a child himself, to speak up for Fenrir's siblings had the situation been different.
Fenrir let out a huff, a wolf-like breath of air. "Then it's good that he didn't know," Fenrir said firmly. "What we've been through, all of us, we're a family." He gave a decisive nod. "I told Zibah, at the end, I wouldn't trade one day with her for a lifetime without. Same here."
As Frigga tried to put together the words to ask what the children had been through in their banishment, what Angrboða had done to them, Fenrir glanced at the timepiece on his wrist.
"I'm late." He went to gather up his belongings once more. "We have a lot to do on the job site before the weather changes."
"Does it matter?" Fenrir interrupted, pausing in the doorway. "That I'm not Loki's son."
Frigga paused to give the question the consideration it deserved. True, as Thor's son, Fenrir was Frigga's blood kin. But after all this time, this distance, did it make any difference to the man Fenrir was now?"
"No," Frigga said with finality. "It does not."
With that, Fenrir stepped through the doorway, heading for the front hall. "This family has its own way of making blood ties," he said as the door swung shut behind him.
Alone in the kitchen, Frigga stared at the table with its four well-worn chairs, and wondered why Fenrir's words left her with ice in her stomach.
to be continued
So a note about Fenrir's grandchildren - this isn't going to be a thing where we find out that Steve Rogers (or any other of the Avengers) is like a long-lost great-grandchild or anything like that. Just wanted to be clear (mostly because I have been known to sneak in lost family to past fics).