Freyja decides, very soon after her arrival in Asgard, that she will not marry.
(She says this because she is a woman in a world that is not hers, and she has learned to build walls around the truth. But the truth is this: she decides that she will not marry again. The Aesir do not recognize what she has with Freyr. She agrees – silently, secretly – with Loki in this: the Aesir have far too many taboos.)
She has offers, of course; how could she not? Freyja is accounted the most desirable of all the Asynjur (but she is Vanir), and she has never believed in false modesty.
(She sees little difference, though, between the offers of Aesir, Jotuns, or Dwarfs.)
But she refuses them all. Sometimes she refuses with her skill in spell-singing, sometimes her battle fury, sometimes with Loki’s clever use of the bridal veil Freyja herself will never wear. And, sometimes, with a well-placed tear for her lost husband Od.
(Dear, lost Od, beloved Od who was so lost he never found his way into existence.)
She refuses their offers of marriage, but that does not mean she refuses them, or their gifts.
Odin comes by night, cloaked, his blue hood drawn low over his face, and he brings her gold. Later, he’ll say that he was learning magic of her, which is true enough, though not fully so. (And she holds some practices secret even from him. Freyja is a hostage in a foreign land, but a warrior and a strategist still.) He won’t speak of anything else they may have done, but he is a fool if he thinks Frigg doesn’t know.
Bragi comes at dusk with fine words and splendid song. She finds the music beautiful, and his earnestness amusing, with perhaps a certain appeal of its own.
Heimdall comes often, with a seemingly endless selection of necklaces, none of which will ever match the glory of the dwarfs that shines always at her throat. He speaks of marriage often as well. She never turns him away, but she will never say yes, either.
She’s known Tyr both before he lost his hand, and after. Only once each time, and both times he brings a ring. Freyja laughs about it, because he changes very little. He never did know what to do with his hands.
Balder brings flowers, not terribly meaningful as gifts, but from him she is willing to forgive. He is better than Tyr, though his shame is a strange thing. She prods it, sometimes, picks at him, waits for exactly the right moment to say, “Oh, you are so different from my husband!” She delights in his flush, his little strangled moans half of pleasure and half of disgust. Later, the fairest of all the Aesir will slink back through the shadows to his own hall, but she knows he will be back.
Loki comes in broad daylight, whistling in his complete disregard for boundaries, invisible or otherwise. He doesn’t bring her anything. He just stands at her door and laughs, and Freyja lets him in, because she’s always appreciated audacity.
She looks him up and down and gives him a coy smile, the kind the Aesir seem to love best (a smile to hide your heart, her mother once said). She says, “Haven’t you brought me anything?”
Loki’s mouth is just as coy, and there’s laughter in his eyes. “Oh no,” he says. “I haven’t come to make gifts, but to take them. I’ve come to borrow your falcon skin.”
Freyja’s brows draw up, and she looks at him again, but this time not with her eyes. In the other sight, Loki flickers like flame, now one form, now another, but never still. He is a winged thing already. He certainly doesn’t need to wear her falcon skin.
She says, “What use is it to you, Loki Shape-Changer?”
His smile sharpens at the edges, but his tone remains even and pleasant. It’s the kind of dangerous she’s always liked, and all the more dangerous for it. “I am going on a long journey,” he says breezily. His hands illustrate the point, flitting away from his body and sweeping skyward like untethered birds. “Across mountains and rivers and a great many walls.” He cocks his head at her, a half-curious, half-mischievous look, like a magpie with a glint of sun caught in its beak. His smile shifts into something kind and genuine; Freyja suspects this is the most dangerous of all.
“I am going to Jotunheim,” says Loki, “and it is just possible I may stop by Vanaheim on my way.”
Freyja schools her face carefully. There’s something in Loki’s voice, a modulated but unacknowledged tenderness, that reminds her sharply of her mother. She can’t let him see. It’s so urgent that she lets slide the relatively minor facts that Jotunheim is not a long journey from Asgard at all, and that Vanaheim lies in quite the opposite direction.
Well, almost lets them slide. “Vanaheim does not lie on the way to Jotunheim,” she says, more sharply than she’d intended. Loki’s eyes go gentler still, and she bristles.
But he’s unconcerned, all laughter and airy, artless motions of his hands. “It lies on my way,” he says. He leans close, as though imparting a great secret. “I might even be convinced to take a message. We exiles must have a regard for one another, after all.”
Freyja sucks in a breath, and draws back, then curses herself for being too obvious. “You are not an exile, Loki Odin’s brother,” she says, and there’s more venom there than she might have expected.
Again that tilt of his head, and this time she thinks: like a fox, or perhaps a wolf that is only curious and not yet hungry.
“Blood brother,” says Loki with an easy smile. “And surely Vanadis who is numbered among the Asynjur can understand how much that means. And how little.”
Freyja considers her options. They call him Laufeyjarson (Laufey who was once of the Vanir herself, Laufey who wedded a Jotun and died, they say, in childbed, but none of her kin know for certain). She wonders where his loyalties lie. She wonders where her own lie.
Loki says, “Don’t you have any message for your mother? It has been a very long time, I believe.”
She considers slapping him, and she very nearly does, except that when she looks at him it’s with the other sight again, and suddenly she can’t be sure whether he’s talking about her or himself.
She says, “What assurance do you offer that you will even visit Vanaheim, to say nothing of my mother?”
Loki grins. “None at all,” he says, sounding quite pleased with himself. “I leave it entirely to you to decide to trust me. It has to be that way, of course, because it’s you who’ll have to live with the decision.”
His words sound reasonable, if aggravating, but there’s something off about them, and she can’t quite say what. Still, she is Freyja and she has weapons of her own.
“Very well,” she says regally. “You may have the use of the falcon skin.” Loki beams, entirely too innocent, and she adds quickly, “But know this, Odin’s brother. If you do not return in three days with my falcon skin and a token that you have spoken with my mother, you will never again be welcome in this hall.”
Loki laughs at her. “Blood brother,” he insists, mischief and something else dancing in his eyes. Freyja wonders at him. There is no distinction among the Aesir: a blood brother is a brother. And yet. (Freyja of the Vanir is called the most beautiful of the Asynjur. There is no distinction among the Aesir there, either.)
She looks at him again with the other sight, and she thinks: I am going to regret this. And then she thinks: He called me Vanadis. She goes to get the falcon skin.
The message she writes is short, because no message in the nine worlds could contain everything she wants to say, and she could never trust Loki to speak for her. So she settles for only the most important thing.
Loki winks at her as he takes the skin from her hands, lightning-quick. He quirks his mouth and doesn’t quite laugh, and he says, “Three days, and a token.” Then he takes the message and throws the feather skin carelessly about his shoulders. And then Loki is a falcon, and then the falcon is gone.
Freyja blinks. She can still feel the feathers against her calloused fingers. She considers Loki’s laughing eyes and the sly quirk of his mouth, and hopes he wasn’t lying. It would be a shame to have to ban him from her hall.
She steps to the window and sees, far off against the sun, the black shape of a hawk. She realizes that she still does not know why Loki should have borrowed her falcon skin when he has no need of it. He never answered the question, and somehow she’d forgotten it even needed to be answered. There is little she can do now. He will come back, or he won’t.
She turns from the window and there is her hall spread out before her, high and magnificent and filled everywhere with gleaming gold. Tonight, perhaps, Odin will come, or Heimdall, and she will have yet more gold for her shining hall.
Freyja thinks of Loki, flying about with her wings, drifting on air and going to all the places she will never again go, will never again be permitted to go, unless the fires come and the world is changed. She touches the dwarf-made gems at her throat. “Mother,” she says to the silence of her hall, “I miss you.”