Chapter 1: Frigga
Frigga knew because she was a midwife, and because by years of intimacy she knows her husband’s face in its every expression. She knew Loki for Odin’s child when Odin brought the baby home, before Odin had even bleached and smoothed the marks of a Jotun from its teary face. She knew, even before Loki, that Odin and Laufey often met, and that the hate of these two kings thrashed and bled between them in violence and sex. This never bothered her; it had nothing to do with her, and never would have, perhaps--were it not for Loki’s offspring.
Loki is no wolf, and never has been, and the child she bore was nothing like her. There were other hounds could have fathered it, most of Helish breeding—but Frigga is no fool, and she knew the tiny beast’s face as well as she did Loki’s. The grandchild she delivered was no blood of hers, but it was Odin’s. In every sense, it was Odin’s.
Frigga was gentle with Loki. The pregnancy was brief but agonizing, and though Loki suffered for how hard it went, she seemed to suffer most greatly because it went at all. Her child, Frigga has always been certain, could not possibly have asked for this. Not for the offspring, and not for the act that conceived it. Loki’s mischief has only rarely been more than that, and she was pale and defensive throughout her pregnancy. Frigga could not believe that anything Loki did had earned her this outcome, or the expression trapped on her face. When Loki’s child was born, she wept, and still would not tell Frigga who fathered the beast.
Frigga was gentle with Fenrir, too, until the wolf bit off Tyr’s hand. Loki’s tentative recovery was dashed and Frigga’s war-son was crippled, and Odin prepared to slay Fenrir like any dumb beast.
Then, Frigga spoke.
“No,” she said to Odin. “You have gotten the offspring you earned, forcing yourself on your own child. Let the beast be banished and chained, Odin Allfather, but you will not kill it. You have earned this child, with the acts of your hands; the ruin you have brought on one son is paid in blood by another. Live, let the wolf live, and suffer with its living.”
Odin’s rage was brief and startled; he had not known his wife knew these things, and he feared to think how else she might have chosen to use her power.
Balder had always been a lamb, and Frigga’s beloved; as long as he lived in Asgard, she thinks, she protected him better from Odin’s disdain than she has protected Loki from his violence. She is aware that Balder and Loki were peculiarly close. She was unsurprised, then, that Loki grieved and quieted when Balder left Asgard to be married to the Nornish princess. But Balder remained in Nornheim for longer and longer, with no visits to his family and little communication, and Loki did not, as far as Frigga knows, make any attempts to steal away and see him. Loki has always been clever at getting into any place he wishes, sight unseen, but there was no reason to hide a visit to his brother. She does not think he ever hid such a thing.
Loki, who had seemed better for a time after Fenrir was bound, was suddenly an absence once Balder left. He was ever at Thor’s heels, tagging along, but his bright speech was easily cut off, if it came at all. Frigga’s most cosseted child stayed silent in Norheim, and it began to sit uneasily with her—but she said nothing, and did nothing.
It is not the lie of his parentage that drives Loki mad, Frigga thinks later. It is the lie of his family.
Yet how can she rage? She has spoken only once for him, and she did not investigate, for fear, when Balder left and took the last of Loki’s spirit.
Frigga lied to Loki, when Thor was banished and Odin slept. He begged her then to tell him why his Jotun blood was kept a secret; but he is not a stupid child, he has never been stupid. He must have realized that any other son of the Jotuns’ sovereign would not have worn Odin’s form so lightly. Any other child, Odin would have left where it lay or raised as one of its own kind—not stifled its blood and fed it on lies.
Frigga knew, when he asked, that Loki asked why because she would understand the question. He did not wish to know why Odin called him son if it wasn’t true; he wished to know why Odin should be so ashamed at bedding Laufey that he could not be proud of their child.
Loki begged Frigga, over Odin’s supine body, and Frigga lied. She told him that Odin’s secrecy came of wisdom and love. She told him that all Odin’s plans must reveal themselves as good. She told him that he was Laufey’s son by blood and Odin’s by bond, that this was as true as birth, but all there was to serve. She lied and his pleas faltered, and the glitter of his eyes grew hard and fragile as glass. She believed, then, that she had lost her child in trying to snatch him back from despair.
For between them still sits a grieving truth: Odin lied so that Asgard would not know where he had spent his seed. Odin lied so that Loki would not learn that his mother makes him vermin.
Odin favors a contemplative mourning when Loki falls. He calls his son lost and then dead, and the solemnity of his grief is soon indistinguishable from the customary sternness of his manner. Frigga sees this, and veils her scorn.
Frigga does not mourn. Frigga does not believe Loki dead. He has fallen, but he has fallen out of Asgard. It means, Frigga thinks, that her child might be saved.
After Loki falls, Odin’s self-righteousness grows. He is fresh from his sleep, vital in his power and ever-aged enough to be secure in his wisdom. Frigga sits by his side and listens to him align the world with his infallibility. She is not without love for her husband; it is her nature to give care and loyalty both. She has seen Odin in his younger days, his Thor-like days of brutal overconfidence and glorious strength. She has seen him through them. She has caught and bound up his moments of weakness so that they are invisible to all peoples, his own and his enemies’. She has forgiven without doubting his battles and his battle-dead, his pride, his unflinching and benevolent tyranny. She has kissed him and held him when he has come home, knowing he has come from Laufey.
Frigga is a quiet queen, of the kind that shelters worlds beneath their limbs. Her quiet carries the shouting might of kings. But Frigga is by nature a mother, and she has seen what Odin deals his children. Mocked Balder is banished to marriage, too-proud Thor encouraged in his folly and shattered on its consequences, war-blooded Tyr cut of his axe-arm by his father’s monstrous wolf-son. And Loki, who falls—Loki, he has stolen, raped, shamed, and denied.
That is the greatest scar to mar the face of Odin. Frigga sees it clearly, animate and unapologetic. The Allfather has his hands in all things, his authority on all heads; his superiority is made clear in his sobriquet. But in this name, he has fallen short. In his children, he has spent his greatness, and he has called it failure.
After Loki falls, Frigga watches, but she does not forgive.
Chapter 2: Fandral
Fandral, who was the fairest of the Warriors Three in countenance, if not in discernment, excused himself from his companions as they each excused themselves, all with business, some more pressing and more secret than others. Fandral did not say where he was going; he took his leave from the Lady Sif’s table, and then he walked through Asgard’s gleaming city.
First he went to a tavern and sat down at a table of men, all of them drunk and boisterous and none of them warriors.
“Sirs,” said Fandral, “I have a riddle. What act is so terrible that the God of War himself shies from it? I will buy you a round of drinks if you give me the answer.”
The men happily described to him a dozen grisly acts, none of which satisfied Fandral’s riddle. He shook his head and had stood up to leave when the last of them to speak said, “Marriage!”
The whole table, Fandral included, laughed at this, and though it was not his answer, he paid for their drinks before he left.
Next Fandral went to the hall where the veterans drank. He offered them drinks before he sat, and said to them, “I have a riddle. What act is so terrible that the God of War himself shies from it?”
“Do not make light of the God of War in this house,” they warned him. Fandral reassured them he did not, and they gave the question their consideration.
“Lord Tyr would never shift his allegiance,” they told him. “He would not betray the trust of his warriors.”
Though Fandral believed wholeheartedly that Tyr would keep the faith of his men, just so he knew Tyr to have broken from the service of Odin. Though it was not the answer to his riddle, he now knew better the gravity of the deed that had swayed him. Fandral finished his drink and thanked the veterans for their company, and then he went on.
Next he went to the lodge where the young warriors-in-training drank after a long day of drills. The youngsters clamored to buy him drinks in all their dignity, to show that they were men and worldly enough to put up drinks for Fandral of the Warriors Three.
Fandral accepted several of their drinks, though fewer than he appeared to, and then he said, “Friends—let me ask you this riddle: what act is so terrible that the God of War himself shies from it?”
The youngsters were stunned at this question, and for many minutes they could not voice a single answer. At last, one said certainly, “Cowardice. Lord Tyr would never bow his head to an enemy, or withdraw without the order, or look away from the carnage of battle.”
This was an answer spurred by youth, but it was very likely a true one. So Fandral praised the young warrior as clever and correct, and bought drinks for all their dignities before he went on his way.
Fandral went then to the house where women drank when they had no use for men. Here he gathered hostile looks, as warriors and weavers and the mothers of children looked up from their tables and saw that he trespassed. Fandral bowed his apologies and buried his pride (remembering, above all, Sif, who could have slain him). He said, “I ask forgiveness, Ladies, for my intrusion, but I have a riddle none can answer. There is nowhere else to go, so I come to you.”
They scoffed at him for his condescension, but they were no less proud than the men in their halls, and no less curious.
“Go on then, foolish boy,” they said. “Ask us your question that you’ll leave all the sooner.”
“I desire to know,” he said, “What act is so terrible that the God of War himself shies from it?”
“None,” muttered one.
“Torture,” suggested another.
At once they all had answers, each piling on top of the next. Finally one voice, quiet but firm, cut across the others. A washer-woman, who had once traveled with Tyr’s army, said, “The greatest cause may be championed in honor, but it is still fought by proud and brutal men. How many soldiers have I seen taking bodies as their trophies, in whatever way answers their lusts?” The other women quieted to hear her, and many nodded.
“The war god makes Asgard’s share of corpses,” the washer-woman said. “He takes his lust on his generals and those others who will have him by choice. But violation he will not brook from anyone, on any being. The punishment for those who cross him in this is bitter indeed.”
“This is your answer?” Fandral asks.
“It is,” the washer-woman said, and the women in the house agreed with very few dissenters.
“Then I thank you,” Fandral returned with a bow.
“You ought to leave now,” the women said, so Fandral did. He walked slowly back to the house of Grim Hogun, where he often slept, and he pondered the washer-woman’s answer, and whether he would tell his companions what he now knew.
Chapter 3: Amora
“Don’t be stupid,” Amora tells him. “There’s no possible answer that can make me like you any less than I already do. If you haven’t managed Thor. Which you haven’t. What are you so cagey about? Come along, little bitch, tell me who’s fucked the least trustworthy creature in Asgard.”
“Don’t call me that,” Loki says.
“You birthed a dog,” Amora says with a shrug. “As I see it that makes you a bitch. Besides, who else but a dog would have you?”
“Balder likes me,” Loki snaps.
“Balder?” Amora asks unbelievingly. “Balder. Don’t tell me you’ve corrupted the precious infant prince? I won’t believe it. Balder wouldn’t touch his wife, if he had one. Or his husband.”
“He’ll touch me,” Loki returns, feeling foolish.
“I suppose there are worse taboos to break than ruining the innocent.”
“Well, I already know you want to fuck Thor, so the matter of family is past relevance,” she says reasonably. “I can’t be shocked about that. I can be shocked that anyone would ever want to fuck Balder.”
Loki stifles his truest response, that Balder is gentle, and says, “There are worse people.”
Amora eyes him greedily. “Oh?” she says. “Do you know by comparison?”
“Yes!” Loki shoots back. “Have you ever had a Frost Giant? They are worse than Balder. They’re vulgar.”
Amora laughs in Loki’s face. “If you’ve lain with one of those beasts—” Loki colors, and Amora crows. “More than one?”
“It was a distraction.” Loki frowns. “To make them forget I’d snuck into Laufey’s palace unseen. Not that it would be hard in that wretched place.”
“So you tell me, so I believe,” Amora says unconvincingly. “More to my point, I don’t believe they’d let you ‘have’ them at all. More like they’d have you. Bet you bought your way out of captivity letting them fuck whatever you could bare that day.”
“Why should it matter?” Loki snaps.
“To you? It shouldn’t. You like playing the docile bed partner, I can only imagine.” She gives him a thoughtful look. “In which case I can only imagine it was not entirely your idea, the Frost Giants, or you wouldn’t be so defensive about bedding them. You don’t normally hide your sleeping around.”
“I don’t want father to know I was in Jotunheim,” he retorts.
Amora laughs. “If you say so,” she says.
Loki glowers at her in a tiresome way until she says, casually, “No Jotun was father to the wolf, hmm? Nor Balder. He’s a baby himself, but he would have claimed his child. Was it a true wolf, like the stallion that got Sleipnir on you?”
“Yes,” Loki says harshly.
“It was not,” Amora says, not because she is shocked, but because she does not believe him for even an instant.
“It was,” Loki says. “I met it wandering the wastes of Svartalfheim and it would have killed me had I not taken its form.”
“Using my story of the Jotuns, I see,” Amora says. “You are in a panic.”
“Leave me be, Amora,” Loki hisses. “You’re nothing but a whore and a witch.”
“Little Loki,” Amora smirks. “You are too quick to reveal your own self-loathing. What is so terrible you would not tell me the truth? It’s not as though anyone will listen to me.”
Loki is very pale now, she notes with satisfaction.
“Stop asking,” he says. “I won’t tell you.”
“You really are afraid,” she says wonderingly. “Loki mischief-maker, what’s been done to you?”
“Stop!” he says viciously, and nearly kills her with a neat bit of magic that doesn’t look like anything she’s seen before.
“That was a bit close!” she snaps. Her hair is out of place and her face is red.
“You’re a bit close,” Loki hisses.
Amora has a brief think about the fear in his face—not embarrassment, which is frequently visible, especially around Thor’s friends, but fear—and about wolves. It dawns, at last.
She says, “Oh. Oh, I see.”
“What do you see?” Loki demands.
“It was your father,” she explains. Loki goes absolutely white. Amora rolls her eyes. “Who would I tell?” she asks. “Anyway, it makes no difference to me.” She sighs and stretches her arms. “If Thor won’t have you and he won’t have me, what do you say we just screw each other?”
Loki considers, the color creeping back into his cheeks. Amora is abstractly pleased at this—even more so when some of the hidden tension leaves him.
“All right,” he says. “Let’s do that.”