It was lonely in the cave, damp with wet growth on the walls and a strange, eerie cold seeping from the walls and settling deep into the bones.
Certainly it was not a place a goddess the likes of Golden Idunn would step into, yet the goddess walks, bare feet treading unhesitatingly through the dank tunnel. Her basket of apples dangles on her arm, and though they were heavy, she carries them as if they were air.
The tunnel opens out, and she hears a voice, low and musical and soft, “You came.”
“Of course I came,” she says briskly, moving towards the two figures and the snake. “How is he?” She says this not out of philantropic concern because she does not feel any of the sort towards him, but because it was polite and Sigyn was her friend, at least.
“... Fine,” a voice croaks, hoarse and hurt with age-old pain.
“There, Laufeyjarson. This is what happens when you anger the gods,” she scolds, not at all mildly, as she set the basket down, mindful of the wet patches on the stone floor.
The bound god does not reply, but his wife does. “Idunn, please.”
“I don’t see how you put up with him, Sigyn. My friend, you’re much too patient. Too kind, too soft…”not at all suited to someone like Loki,she thought. But she did not say it out loud, because Sigyn had never and would never let that sort of talk go by without a stern word. And perhaps she was harder than anyone else but Loki had thought.
“You don’t see it, do you?” And Idunn of the Apples glances at her patient friend, startled at the raw emotion in her words and the bright-eyed look of anguish. The strength. “He’s all I have left.”
The words stick in her throat, difficult to say, but she wills herself to say them, “You’re a pretty one, Sigyn. Certainly the other Gods would be pleased to take you if you’d leave Loki. Heimdall, perhaps? No one knows what you see in him, why you married him in the first place. You’re the only reason anyone comes here, including me.”
Loki twitches almost unnoticeably, to Idunn’s satisfaction. For what it was worth, Loki did harbour at the very least affection for Sigyn. Perhaps he might have loved her, mayhap he loves her still. Idunn will not conclude, for Loki has always as fickle as the flames he lorded over and she would forgive him not for the death of Baldr nor for her own kidnapping.
The snake’s venom plopping into the stone bowl is the only sound in the oppressive silence as she waits for her friend to reply. It reminds Idunn of Skadi, who had put it there, and how not so long ago that woman was once the outsider how the times had changed with Loki’s fall.
“I will not leave my husband for anything,” the goddess finally responds levelly with a voice like frozen steel, stroking her husband’s hair with her free hand with a warmth at odds with her current presence. “I will not leave him to consort,” and she all but spat the word, “with those who killed my children. My children, Idunn. Those who made my Vali into a wolf to kill his brother. Those who let my Narfi be torn apart by his brother and be chains for his father. Who are the monsters, Idunn? My husband, or them?”
Idunn looks away. It must be painful indeed for Sigyn, who had never had a strong body for all her putting up with the Trickster. Some of the Vanir midwives present at birth had wondered if her body could take the birth of the twins. Loki’s wife certainly seemed to be as fragile as his own mother, but she was a stubborn one—had to have been, to bear with Loki.To that end, it was clear who she thought the monsters were. Even so… “You are aging, Sigyn.”
“So I am,” the once timid goddess agrees. “You do not feel this luxury, do you? To feel the passing of years, for each day to make its mark upon you.”
“A blessing,” Idunn says, whisper-soft but not without a shudder, her words echoing in the cavern in a way that showed how empty it was. “A blessing to watch the other mortals age their life away until they wither and die.”
“Yet you bring us apples,” Sigyn muses. “Every time we come close to greying.”
“Because you are my friend.”
“Not for my husband?”
“There are none left in the land of the gods who hold any love for Loki. If t’were possible to leave him alone abandoned here, without you, we would have done’t. If it were possible to feed only you the apples without giving him any, I would have.”
“Then it’s a mercy I was not born like you. A mercy that he is my husband and neither yours nor any of the other goddesses’.” The small stone bowl she held was full to the brim now, and she takes a deep steadying breath. “Loki, the bowl is full. Please bear with this for a moment.” She does not ask if he was ready, but Idunn supposes no one can every really be.
She turns away, head first so as to not see the acid strike his face, eyes full of grief that never really faded over the years. She empties the poison to the ground slowly, hearing a faint hiss as the acrid liquid burned a hole through stone before she hears the harsh cry of her husband, ‘Sigyn!’
“Hush,” she says softly, as he jerks against his bonds and thrashes.
Idunn cringes, but Sigyn’s hands do not tremble from the low keening wail that escaped her bound husband as she brings the bowl back in time to catch a threatening drop.
“Hush,” she repeats, soothingly. “It’s alright, Loki.”
“Sigyn,” Loki rasps. “Sigyn, Sigyn.”
Idunn shudder to see that it is her name that escapes his lips as he causes destruction elsewhere in the form of earthquakes from his convulsions, but Sigyn only whispers, “I’m here, Loki, it’s alright.”
“I am here, Loki.”
I am here still, she seems to say,
even if you do not see me. I will not leave you as you may think. As so many others think.
She is an idiot, Idunn thinks, but even as those almost turn into words, Sigyn turns an apologetic gaze to her friend and Idunn swallows what she might have said. “Could you please bring the apples closer, Idunn?”
Idunn wordlessly hands her one. The patient goddess kept the hand with the bowl still as she gently feeds the apple to her bound husband and watched the youth return to his features. Intently, she looks after him, softly encouraging the bound god who certainly did not deserve her kindness.
Only after he was finished did she bite.
“We are grateful, Idunn. Truly.”
The Goddess of Youth finds her voice. “I do not see why you would choose this.”Why you would choose this,because there are no others aside from patient Sigyn who would wait the rest of time for the so-called Sky Traveller.
“He was all I ever needed, Idunn, many years ago.” Sigyn smiles ruefully. “I had no other true family, as you know. When we had children, we were glad. Yet now he is all I have left—should I complain?”
“Other women had borne his children, and even he has borne others’.”
“Does that really matter, Idunn? T’was ages and ages ago.”
“Not quite so long,” she responds pointedly.
“Longer ago than you’ve bound him, which has been long enough.”
“Longer still will he be bound, Sigyn, and you know it.”
“Yet how long will it be until I die?” Loki stiffens, his broken face breaking all the more, and even Idunn pities him, the man whose only remaining hope was doomed to perish.
“No,” he whispers, a soft voice that is barely there. “No, no.” No you won’t die, he tries to swear, but all he can do is mouth the words and they are fragile and worthless and empty.
“Hush, Loki,” Sigyn sighs, and it seems to echo around the cave. “You know I will hold no part in Ragnarök.”
Loki grimaces, and it looks terrifying and horrible. Idunn looks into his eyes and it chills her.
Because the smouldering heat in his eyes, slow and dark and deep, tells her that if all the gods did to him did not lead themselves to the Ragnarök they so feared—because they caused this cycle of hatred, she knew, they would cause Ragnarök by their actions—Sigyn’s death; this small faithful wisp of a goddess who was more a simple woman than anything, would cause the destruction of all Nine Worlds.
And the worst part of it was that she could see that Sigyn’s face crumple because of it, because of everything. She knows it too. It’s a tragic thing. These two who were at odds with the rest of the world… are the same two who will eventually destroy it.
It is all Idunn could do to watch the patient goddess carefully brush sweat-dampened locks of hair off Loki’s face. She is horrified, yes, but there is an ever-present tenderness in Sigyn’s actions despite the anguish in her stormy eyes.
Idunn looks away.
Some things aren’t to be watched by outsiders. They are raw and too private to be sullied. The two in the cave are an example of those things. Here was a woman and a man, angry at the world for the same things, loving, she supposed, but bitter. The type of people who will not forgive, cannot forgive. It is heartbreaking in a way Idunn doesn’t think she should feel, and she leaves without looking back at the two.
They do not notice.
The longer this goes on, she thinks, the longer the rest of the world survives in some semblance of normalcy. But this price to pay was a steep one, perhaps even too steep and she is no longer sure Loki is the only one to be blamed for the ensuing chaos.