You goaded him into it.”
Odin found Frigga seated on the window seat of Loki's chambers, exactly where he expected, but hoped not to find her. Strong golden sunlight flooded into the room, exposing the emptiness of it. They had always been bare, these rooms. Trinkets and gifts given to Loki would disappear within days, leaving him once again surrounded only by the things he needed. It was as though he had long been learning to travel lightly, should he ever need to leave. Odin had the eyes to appreciate that now.
To the eyes of a mother, however, no doubt it looked cheerless, unwelcoming. No doubt she was blaming herself, and him, for everything about the boy, leaving no blame left over for her child.
“It was a tense moment,” he said. “I was in fear for them both. I...”
She rose, the sun at her back so she was a dark centre to a woman-shaped nimbus of light. “Do not tell me you did not think your words through, my Lord. God of poetry, patron of all those who tell fine lies for a living. With your children hanging from your hand, do not tell me you made a mistake. I know you better than that.”
He could deny it, but to what avail? It was true enough. There is a purpose to everything your father does, she had said, and whereas she had meant it as comfort, Loki had taken it – correctly – for a threat. Surtur's flames, but he was going to miss that quick mind now he had finally seen it.
He put his foot down carefully on the regret as though it were a snake. Strangled it. “Why would I do such a thing?”
“I know not,” she stepped out of the light, and he could see the tears and fury on her face. “Yet ever have you been cruel to him.” Her hand moved as if to shove him in the chest – he would have allowed it, yet it never happened – she turned aside instead and sank down on the bed, smoothing the already smooth coverlet. “I have seen him flinching at your words a thousand times, as though – were I not there – you would follow them with fists.”
And how much of that, I wonder, was he already playing for sympathy? A weapon, long in the forging, insidious in its use. Behind the mask of his concerned, fatherly face, Odin smiled, confirmed again in his decision.
“I think, perhaps,” Frigga said, studying her hands, “that though you said otherwise, you always remembered he was not yours. You sought to drive him away because you regretted your moment of weakness in bringing him home.”
He sat beside her and pulled her clenched fists into his hands. They did not loosen. “He was not yours either, so whence all these tears?”
She snatched her hands away, looked back to the window seat, and he knew she was picturing her younger son sitting there, a shadow in the sunshine, looking out with boundless curiosity at the doings of the city below. Did she know he was trying to understand, through observation and thought, what it meant to be Asgardian? That without knowing himself alien, he had yet felt it? A sad upbringing, yes, for any child, let alone this one of extraordinary gifts and sensitivity.
“Did you really think you could bring an abandoned child into the house of Frigga, Goddess of home, of family, and not have him become my own? I who have brought together the wanderers and the spurned of these nine worlds and united them in love. Of course he is mine. He will never cease to be mine, whether you desire him gone or not.”
And was it wise to bait the mother goddess on her own territory? Odin reached for her hands again, softening. “Then, because I love both you and him, I will tell you what was in my mind in that moment. For yes, I knew he was but a word away from letting go, and I gave him that word, deliberately.”
This time she let one hand lie between his, lifted the other to cover her mouth as though holding in an outcry. “Why?”
Now he could feel again that secret swell of exaltation, the realization that had crept over him while he lay in the sleep of kings. “Because my plans for him had been too small.
"When I found him, exposed and left to die, the runt of the litter – yet with the rightful blood of a king – I thought him ideal for my purposes. He would grow to be weak, recognising our superiority. I could set Thor upon my throne, and Loki upon the throne of Jotunheim. He would have been trained through out childhood to be grateful for our protection and guidance. An ideal subject-king to keep our two realms in peace, and to slowly allow Asgardian civilisation to influence and tame the Giants.”
It was grieving to have been proved so very wrong, yet it was thrilling too. So much came easy, too easy, when you were the king of the gods.
“For many years it seemed to me that the plan was working aright – for Loki was quiet, easily cowed, in awe of his brother and obedient--”
Frigga actually laughed, behind that restraining hand, and it pricked his pride that she had known otherwise before him. She might have spoken earlier.
“Then they reached the age when childhood must end, and I tested them.”
“Them?” Frigga asked, interested now, sitting forward and listening to the tale with eager ears. “I thought you were testing Thor, but...”
“Removing Thor from Asgard was also a test of Loki.” Joy again, as at receiving a lap full of coin in a dice game he expected to lose. “I told him what he was, and I removed myself also, so that he would have to deal with this appalling news with no one to turn to but himself.”
Frigga rose suddenly as though a weight had been removed from her back, walked slowly around the bare walls and empty shelves of the room, trailing her fingertips across their smoothness. “You thought he would bring Thor home – that he would be lost and frightened, and he would turn to his brother for guidance.”
That laugh again, and she looked at him pityingly, though he did not feel in need of pity. “I suppose I thought so too. I tried to comfort him with the thought. I have not understood him as well as I hoped either. He is so closed, so hard to reach or read.”
A floorboard squeaked beneath her foot. She prized it up and found a hollow place, suitable for hiding treasures, but there was nothing in it other than an end of sealing wax and an empty bag. Her son had thought of this too, cleared it out before he went, and Odin was sure that whatever secrets had been concealed there were now – like the casket of winters – kept somewhere on Loki's person, where they could not be found to betray him.
Pride, unexpected and fierce made him speak out. He wanted to share this great secret with someone, and who better than she?
“Truly Thor is the son of my body. One can see in every feature, in the strength of his hand and his warrior heart that my blood runs in his veins. But by some fortunate twist of fate, Loki is the son of my mind. Am I not called Grima, the masked one, hard to reach or read, cunning in all the ways of magic and trickery? Ah, in the wild days of my youth I was more like he is now than I was ever like the noble Thor. My father is avenged, for I have a son who is like me, and I understand, finally, how difficult he must have found it to bring me up.”
“You...” Frigga's bitter laughter had become a small and hopeful smile. “You do not despise Loki? You drove him away, yet you do not reject him?”
He shook his head, and allowed the smile he had been secretly nurturing since Loki let go to gleam for a moment on his lips. “Woman, I am so proud of them both I am fit to burst with it. Thor has fulfilled all my dreams for him, but Loki has exceeded them. This runty little frost giant brat I hoped to make a king, has instead turned himself into a god, and there is something wild and magnificent, new and terrifying in the world that I can call my son.”
A vivid memory of Loki's face, turned up to him, flashed once more into his mind, as it did betimes in dreams. Was he the only one to have seen relief, release, there amid the malice? At the last, by letting go, the boy had turned Thor's victory into defeat, stabbed him through the heart with another of the clever weapons he kept in that inventive mind of his. Thor still mourned. He doubted if Loki did.
At last, an enemy worth my steel. A thousand years of rusting, and now I must be sharp again.
“Yet, he will still never come home.”
“He will return. He will return with flame.”
Frigga bowed her head and covered up fresh tears with long, beringged fingers. “All I ever wanted for them both was to be happy. We could have given him that, instead. Now we know him better, we could have tried.”
A woman's desire, or a child's. Not the desire of a warrior or a god, for who would choose mere contentment over magnificence? “We could have given him happiness, yes. But what a waste.”