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I know these bones as being mine

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Frigga's belly is round with her child, her soon-to-be-born son, her beautiful shining hope and her gift to her realm, when the Allfather goes to war. Asgard's walls are only new-repaired and Njord's young daughter Freya wanders the halls as though they are strangers to her, but still Odin goes to war, for the sake of the mortals freezing under Laufey's cruel attentions. Frigga sees her husband off with a proud heart. When he is gone she spins, far into the night while the arm of the galaxy rises glittering over the palace. In the beginning Volla, best of handmaids, begs her queen to rest; but already Frigga was spinning so that she might weave clothes for her baby boy, and now she spins bandages for Odin's warriors, because in the end all cloth is the same. Volla sits at Frigga's feet, helping her spin, helping her weave, and the nights do not seem so long.

On the longest night of all Frigga goes into labor. She lies in her bower, Volla's fingers twined with her own for strength, and feels no fear. In the third hour she receives an unexpected visitor: Heimdall, looming in his armor, his gold too bright. "Watchman," Frigga says, "you have abandoned your post."

"I but obey your husband, my Queen," Heimdall replies. Frigga can feel his voice in her bones and the swell of her belly. "I have seen your labor begin; I have seen, too, Lord Odin resting on a bleak spit of land while his forces and Laufey's rally. Would you have him with you now?"

"Yes," Frigga says, and cannot thank him; she must grit her teeth against the next cresting pain, sure as the tide, sure as life.

Thunder begins in the east, crashing waves against the shore outside the palace. Volla fetches Frigga water and cools her face with cloths, and Frigga breathes deep with the roaring wind outside the walls, lightning flashing behind her eyelids. "My son will be strong," she tells Volla. "Storm-born children can withstand any challenge."

"Our son will be strong indeed," Odin says from the doorway. At another time Frigga would rise and go to him, but this is her moment, and it is right that her husband comes to her, kneeling by the bed. Odin looks older, weather-worn; he smells of blood and metal and of something colder, as though snow has settled into his skin. Frigga breathes it in with joy all the same and returns his kiss with delight at his homecoming.

In the ninth hour their son comes, spilling into the world already screaming a challenge. Frigga holds him first, as is her right; in a moment, weary as she is, she will take her tired hands and wash the blood from him. But these first precious seconds are hers, and so she holds him bloody still in her arms, her beautiful shining hope and her gift to her realm, her storm-born son.

"Thor," she says, her voice cracked with fatigue, her heart swelling with love. Beside her, Odin smiles.

*

Still the war goes on. Odin visits when he may, bringing with him the smell of snow and blood and armor, leaving behind nothing but words of pride for their son and resolution for Asgard's victory. Frigga spins and weaves, weaves and spins, while against her breast Thor grows hair gold as Frigga's and an infant grip that will some day rival his father's.

Thor learns to crawl and to be curious about the world outside Frigga's chambers. Frigga is forever chasing him, and as the days draw on she invents new ways to coax or trick her son into staying still long enough to feed and to sleep long enough that she too might rest. She loves him all the more for taking up her time and attention while Odin is yet away.

Then the Allfather comes home. He comes with his warriors, somewhat fewer in number, in sore need of Frigga's bandages and of Idunn's apples. He comes bloodstained and victorious, two of his men bearing between them that scourge of ice, that jewel of Laufey's realm, the Casket of Ancient Winters, and Frigga knows the war is done. She cries tears of joy for that, and no tears of sorrow, for though Odin has come home bent he is unbroken; there is a bloody socket where his eye used to be, but that is a small sacrifice for peace.

"Yet one thing more," Odin says, in the first moments they are alone. Frigga wants nothing more than to remove her husband's armor, to wash away the blood and dress his terrible wound and to kiss him again and again; but she holds Thor, squirming and inquisitive against her hip, and awaits Odin's words.

She has known him for years now, and never yet has Odin truly surprised her until this moment, when he reaches carefully into the folds of his cloak and draws forth a baby.

It is younger than Thor, though not newborn; it has the beginning fuzz of dark hair on the crown of its head, and looks in all ways like an ordinary Asgardian child, except that it is not. Frigga gazes down upon it, cradled so gently in Odin's hands, and for the first time in perhaps her entire life, she has no idea how to proceed.

"Yes," Odin says. "He is a Jotun child. I found him in the Temple, after our victory was assured. He was suffering, Frigga, abandoned and left to die."

Frigga finds her voice. "Who left him?" she asks, though she knows, though she knew when she married Odin she had made a union with a consummate schemer, his mind full of plans within plans. She cannot yet see the shape of this one; Odin looks so weary that the child might even represent nothing more than his atonement for bloodshed.

"The child is Laufey's," Odin says, because that admission at least is required of him.

Frigga does not ask how he knows. "What will you do with him?"

"Raise him," Odin says simply, and has the grace to meet her eyes. He is not asking. He has too much pride for that. But still he knows he needs her; in a word Frigga can dash every undiscovered hope her schemer of a husband might have. She gazes down at the baby, and Thor squirms yet more violently in her arms, demanding wordlessly to be released. In the end, that decides her.

Frigga sets Thor gently upon the ground. Of course once he is there he realizes that everything of interest is happening above him, and he latches onto Frigga's skirts, attempting to pull himself upright. But her hands are free now, so she holds them out, and receives Laufey's child into her arms. The baby is as warm as Thor, as alert, and not so prone to squirming. He reaches out in a gesture Frigga now finds unmistakable, and before she can think too much of it, she draws him to her breast.

"Now tell me," Frigga says, looking back at her husband. "What do you intend to do with him?"

"Make a permanent peace," Odin says, gazing down at the child. "We can unite our kingdoms one day. But that is all to come."

It is such a weight to place upon a child. But Frigga does not say this. Cradling the baby carefully, she goes to her chair, and when Thor crawls after her and tries to scramble onto her lap, she scoops him up and nestles him against her other side, the fair head and the dark one both pressed against her in the same search for comfort.

Across the room Odin is finally divesting himself of cloak and armor; but he pauses long enough to look over and say, "His name is Loki."

It is a strange word. Frigga would have picked another; this one sounds as though it belongs to Jotunheim, all echoes and edges. But it is not her place to say this either, and so she sits, nursing her own son and Laufey's, while across the room Odin divests himself of the marks of battle without her.

*

After the war there comes a time of celebration. In the evenings the greatest hall in the palace is laid out for feasting, and so of course Frigga must be there to hail Asgard's great warriors and to pour the first cup for Odin. While this is done Freya hangs at her elbow, anxious but learning, and Frigga is swift to deal a blow to any man who tries to grab for her, so that Freya may learn the uses of strength as well as courtesy. Far below the palace in the vault of Asgard's treasures the Casket of Ancient Winters has been laid to rest, and the most learned of the realm's old women keep vigil in the vault for a week, strengthening the spells powering the Destroyer under Odin's guidance. Secure in the knowledge of the Destroyer below and Heimdall at the gate, the younger warriors take to composing songs of their prowess in battle, and the whole of the palace rings with laughter.

Frigga enjoys this peacetime no less than any other, but she has more important tasks to consider than the pouring of victory mead. There is first the matter of announcing Loki to the court, but when she brings it up with Odin, he says, harsh as is his wont after the war, "He is not our ward, Frigga, he is our son," and she does not contest it. Instead she does what must be done; so she has Volla swear a binding oath of secrecy, and on the ninth night of feasting she announces that she has been with child for some time. She draws back into seclusion, and while all Asgard understands she is carrying her second-born son to term, Frigga falls to the task of raising Loki.

She consults what wisdom she may on the raising of a Jotun child. She sends for every book Asgard's library has to offer on the subject of frost giants, but the tomes she receives in return are less than helpful. The more she reads, the more the prospect of raising Loki worries her: what passes for information on the Jotun are fragments in tales of war and trickery and lewdness, speculative and condescending, telling little of value. Nowhere, of course, do the books speak of raising a giant's child, but they do not even speak of what the Jotun eat, how to tell when a Jotun is sick, what might happen to a giant taken far from its home. Frigga greatly dislikes this feeling of groping in the darkness because a pack of men who thought themselves scholars failed to notice they had brought no light.

That Loki belongs to a race which remains a mystery, though, turns within a fortnight into a problem of intellect, for Frigga has more immediate concerns. It becomes swiftly clear that Loki will be a difficult baby where Thor was easy. Thor awakens squalling with hunger, yes, but he sleeps through the night in his bed before the hearth; Loki sleeps only fitfully, fussing all the while, and becomes no louder even when he should be screaming for food. Frigga learns to nurse them together, but still Loki remains worryingly small. "How is it you came from giants, child?" Frigga murmurs to him, but Loki only clutches at her finger with a tiny fist and gazes up at her with wide green eyes.

She waits until the earliest time that she might conceivably birth her second child. Then Frigga tells Volla, "The children are in your charge today; I will be back by midnight." Volla bows her head and does not ask questions; she remains the best of handmaids, treating Loki and Thor with the same tender affection, not flinching from Loki, brave because her queen requires it. Frigga kisses Volla upon the forehead and swiftly goes.

At the stables Odin finds her. "Where are you going?" he asks her.

Frigga tightens the saddle-girths and meets her husband's eye. "For answers," she says. "Loki has not suffered so far for my ignorance, but I cannot leave his health and happiness to chance."

Odin is silent on this for so long that Frigga has time to finish checking her horse's tack and swing up into the saddle. Then, "Only ask for the answers you need to keep him safe," Odin says.

Frigga bows her head in agreement, but she frowns as she does so; she needs no reminder to be careful of her questions, and ever before this Odin has trusted in her cleverness. But he looks anxious, Frigga sees, and understands that in his own way the Allfather cares for Loki, cares for him desperately; and so she is comforted.

The road Frigga takes from the palace is a long and twisting one, through deepening woods into the heart of Asgard. At length Frigga arrives at a house, modest in that it is made of carved wood without gold to adorn it, long and low and unobtrusive where it sits below a great ash tree. Frigga leads her horse to the far side of the house, where she pickets her mount by the stream. On foot she takes the path back around, and so comes to the well beneath the ash tree, and to the three women awaiting her there.

"Sisters," Frigga greets them.

"Well met, Allmother," Verdandi says, coming to Frigga with her hands held out. Frigga grips the offered hands; they feel exactly as her own do.

"Your boys are growing well," Urd says. She does not come forth, but stays sitting on an exposed root, feeding wool into a drop spindle.

"I thank you, sister," Frigga murmurs. "That is why I've come."

"Were you not satisfied with the words we spoke over your son?" Urd asks. "One visit is allowed by tradition, Allmother; to ask for more would be greedy."

"It is not Thor I wish to discuss," Frigga says. They know. They all know; but these things must be done in their proper order.

"And do you think we failed to speak over Loki?" Urd demands. "We speak for every birth. It is not our fault you were not in attendance."

"Tell me then what was said," Frigga says. It is no great risk to command rather than to ask, and it is no great surprise when Urd laughs, the mocking cackle of a crone, while Verdandi smiles in gentle censure. Frigga smiles back, a rueful mirror, and asks, "How do I keep Loki in health and help him grow into a strong child?"

Verdandi's smile softens. "Raise him as you would an Asgardian child. He will take no harm from it. But for one thing, Allmother: place him not so near the fire."

Frigga blinks, but says only, "Thank you." It is a weight from her mind, and so she moves at once to her second pressing concern. "So far Loki's Asgardian glamour holds, but it may be difficult as he grows. How do I keep him from showing his Jotun skin before the time comes to tell him?"

"Your husband has seen to that," Urd says. She laughs again. "Oh yes, Odin Allfather has made sure that Loki shows only an Asgardian face. You need not fear he will show another."

"Thank you," Frigga says, but she says it frowning. The question is wasted, when she evidently could have asked Odin herself; cagey as he is, he would gladly have reassured her of this. Her other questions suddenly seem of this sort: all her fears over raising Loki turn in an instant from insurmountable problems within her own sphere to concerns she might share with her husband, wise in his own right. Frigga breathes easier.

And there is only one question left to ask, so she breaks the rules.

"What is the destiny you spoke over Loki?" Frigga asks.

The words said over a newborn child are meant to be spoken but once. As a courtesy -- and only a courtesy for sharing a realm, for Odin is not their master -- the sisters came to the palace after Thor's birth, and spoke his destiny in Frigga's hearing. Storm-born child, they said, able to withstand every challenge; he will have allies in this realm and others. When he breaks, and break he shall, he will heal from those wounds yet stronger of mind and body and soul; rejoice, for he shall live until his appointed end. Frigga thanked them, and was content. Yet here she is now, asking for a child not her own, asking the sisters to repeat words that should be spoken but once.

A third form stirs in the shadows of the tree. Then Skuld comes forth. She is uncertain to look at, but still Frigga looks, though Skuld's face is younger than Freya's, older than the tree above them, painful and lovely. "Rethink your question, Allmother," Skuld says. "This is not an answer you desire."

"I have an unlooked-for second son," Frigga says. "What I desire has nothing to do with it."

"Then listen well," Skuld says, "for a good answer deserves an answer in kind. Loki was left in the cold for a reason. His nature is change and his heart is ice; he will bring both laughter and grief. The harder he is held, the more quickly he will slip away. He carries doom in his wake, and he will live far beyond his appointed day, to the end of all things." Perhaps Skuld smiles. "Weep, queen, for this burden."

Frigga knows she must offer thanks in return; never to her knowledge have the sisters given an answer to so prohibited a question. But she cannot speak. The sisters wait patiently, and Frigga imagines that they must think she has been struck dumb by the darkness of the prophecy. This is not so.

What stops Frigga's words is her own reaction: she feels no sorrow, no horror, no anger nor regret; nothing, indeed, but a sweeping protectiveness, blazing through every part of her. She cannot shield Loki from any doom uttered by the Norns, but she can prepare him. And in this moment she discovers that she loves him, loves him fiercely, her tiny green-eyed alien child, who has so many complications before him.

"Thank you," Frigga whispers, and means it with all her heart. "Farewell, sisters."

"Farewell, Allmother," Verdandi says for the three, and gives Frigga a parting smile that looks like understanding.

*

In time Thor and then Loki are presented to the court. Both have grown into beautiful young children. They are quick to smile, and to laugh, and often of an evening Frigga sits weaving by the hearth while Thor toddles around Frigga's rooms and Loki crawls happily after.

Frigga has moved Loki's bed to a place near the window, away from the fire and near the cool night breezes off the sea. He sleeps soundly now, and Frigga understands that for all he stays Asgardian-sized and Asgardian-seeming, he is still Jotun.

"We must tell him," Frigga says one night. The children are in Volla's care, and Frigga has gone to her husband's bedchamber. She lies twined around him, and wonders whether Odin will think she waited, calculating how to raise this subject when she believes he might be more pliable. But Frigga does not calculate so; the thought comes to her only because she is always thinking of her sons.

Odin places a kiss upon her knuckles. "Tell Loki what he is, you mean? He is too young for that."

"He is young enough that he hasn't yet heard the terrible things our people say of the frost giants," Frigga counters.

"You would have it the other way?" Odin asks. "Tell him what he is, and allow him to hear his own race spoken of cruelly by the ignorant? No. When he's older he will understand. There's no need to tell him now when it will only make him feel different."

Frigga is not sure whether this way is better -- it will be painful no matter when Loki is told, of this she has no doubt -- but she understands why Odin wishes to defer that pain, and she is willing to wait.

Instead she does what she can for her children now. When they are old enough to sit still, Frigga tells them tales before bed. She tells them of the making of the world, and of how everything came to be from the first giant's blood and bones, for though Ymir is but a story, and the universe far older than its first teller, it is a good story to know. She tells them of the war between Asgard and Vanaheim, and of how when peace was made the two realms made an exchange, one of Asgard's wisest and his friend for one of Vanaheim's wisest and his two children; she tells them of the war between Asgard and Jotunheim, and how there is peace between them too; she tells them that neither Vanir nor Jotun are enemies now. Loki will sit for these stories long after Thor's attention drifts away, but that does not concern Frigga, for no two children are the same, and they are both learning what should be learned.

Day by day her boys grow. They learn to walk with certainty, and to speak; Thor's first word is yes, and Loki's Thor. Frigga teaches them to read, and finds herself looking forward to the day when they are old enough that Odin will take them off her hands to teach them the use of weapons; the combined energy of two young boys is much to handle, and Frigga thinks Odin will be better at teaching Thor patience, especially once he's been tired out. There is only so much energy Thor can expend in running through the corridors in the palace.

Thor's exuberance is even more difficult to curb in the winter, but soon comes the first snowfall when Frigga's boys are allowed out into the palace courtyards to play. Frigga wraps them well in furs, though Thor struggles because he does not like staying still, and Loki struggles because he likes to dress himself and, Frigga suspects, because the furs are too warm. Outside they soon forget their discomfort, and spend a long while chasing one another through the snow, shrieking with laughter and hurling snowballs.

Eventually Thor tires; but Loki looks up at Frigga, his eyes sparkling, and says, "Do I have to?" Frigga smiles and swoops down to kiss him, and though she takes Thor inside for a hot drink, she leaves Loki out in the snow sometime longer. It is the first time Loki has happily endured something long past Thor's limits, and Frigga's heart aches a little for him. She half-fears that Loki will return to her wearing a Jotun skin, but when she sends Volla to fetch him, Loki appears with cheeks flushed with cold, looking wholly Asgardian. Frigga wonders at the strength of Odin's glamour, but she chiefly feels relief that it holds.

Then Loki begins changing.

It is around the same time that Odin judges his boys are strong enough to lift practice weapons. Frigga has almost learned to stop watching Loki with anxious closeness, though she still does it from habit; but she has lost that first grip of fear that Loki might discover what he is before they can prepare him. On this particular day, Frigga is sitting outside under the great sweep of sky, enjoying the precious moment of quiet while her children are in Odin's care, when a small girl joins her on the balcony.

Frigga favors the child with a smile -- and then she stops and stares, because the child is unmistakably Loki. For a moment she thinks that he simply borrowed a dress from one of the little girls at court, but Loki's face is subtly different, softer, Loki's hair is longer, Loki looks quite clearly female.

"Loki!" Frigga says, and if she is surprised she at least keeps herself from admonishment. "Come here, darling, what's this clever thing you've done?"

The little girl who is Loki beams and dances up to Frigga. "It's a trick," Loki explains. "Isn't it funny?"

"I'm afraid not everyone will find it so," Frigga explains. "And that dress isn't yours, Loki; you should put it back where you found it."

"Yes, Mother," Loki says dutifully, and considers. "Could I make my own?"

"You wish to learn weaving?" Frigga hazards.

"No." Loki frowns, face shifting back to the contours Frigga recognizes. He looks suddenly uncomfortable, and much less pleased than he was a moment before. "I want to learn how to make things." He gestures, trying to express himself without the necessary words. "With my mind. Like I did this."

"Magic," Frigga says. "You want to learn magic. We can do so, if you wish."

*

Before they begin, Frigga goes back through what books the palace library has to offer on the subject of frost giants. This time, despite the condescending and sometimes-disgusted phrasing, she picks up on an important point she had previously missed: unlike Asgardians, Jotun do not present distinct sexes, but rather slide between forms for reasons passing any understanding by the books' authors. Frigga wonders whether Loki has any aptitude for magic, or whether he is merely becoming Jotun in ways Frigga cannot hope to control.

She buries this worry and sets Loki to tasks of simple magic: how to draw fire from air, how to make light, how to see far-off realms in pools of still water. Loki takes to the work at once. Frigga is unsurprised to see that Loki has the patience for it, but the speed with which he masters the basics is astonishing. Frigga reminds herself that she is considering the matter too narrowly; that, had she been thinking of Loki as a daughter, she would be teaching Loki these arts as a matter of course; that perhaps thinking of Loki as a daughter is, sometimes, correct. In the same breath Frigga finds she is giving Loki praise for his spells and then biting the inside of her cheek until she tastes blood to keep from saying But you must tell no one of this. Loki can tell who Loki likes. Loki can show the whole court, the whole of Asgard, the clever arts he is learning.

Frigga will not protect him from this, not when she spends so much of her life protecting Loki from himself.

"Look," Frigga overhears Loki saying one evening to Thor, while the two of them are sitting before the fire and Frigga watches them from her chair. Loki reaches out a hand, whispering, and a thread of fire floats up out of the hearth, coming to twine itself harmlessly about Loki's fingers.

Thor makes a noise of surprise; it is a moment before Frigga sees that a delighted smile is lighting his face. "How do you do that?"

"Magic," Loki tells him happily.

"Magic," Thor returns, with the absolute self-assurance of a young child who has heard this from someone in authority, "is for women."

Frigga's heart twists, but Loki only says, "Is it?" in an absent tone, staring at the light twining around his hand, firelight reflected in his eyes. He will learn to listen, Frigga knows this, but there is still time.

Winter turns to summer, and to winter again. Thor and Loki spend more time with Odin, learning history and combat and statecraft. Thor remains solid and sturdy as he begins to show signs of the young man he will become, quick to laugh, quick to argue. Loki meanwhile is finally growing too, shooting up like a sapling, broad shoulders and gangling limbs and a scowl that smoothes itself out if he sees someone watching.

More often, as time goes by, Frigga sees Thor only at mealtimes; and for a while she sees much of Loki, teaching him what magic she knows, but soon his skills grow beyond hers. Loki can switch himself out with reflections; Loki can make seemings of himself, solid to look at, capable of movement before they reveal themselves to be but shadows; Loki can transform into any animal he likes. Frigga taught him none of this, for though she can remain unseen if she wishes, and though she might weave a cloak of transformation, her magics are for the most part small, useful, quiet.

She catches Loki one day in his rooms -- her boys have their own rooms now, they are old enough for it, and Loki's are at all times a clutter of books, runes, pieces of magic and of weaponry -- and finally, finally, Frigga sees something that truly alarms her.

All she meant to do was bring Loki a book that she thought he might enjoy, but when she opens his door, a dozen Lokis turn to her, not quite in unison, and each and every one of them flickers for a moment like a dying star before but one Loki is standing before her. That is when Frigga knows that she has been worrying about unimportant matters all along, when something terribly important was happening. "Loki," she says.

Loki tilts his face up to hers. "Yes, Mother?"

"You must be careful, my darling." She sets her hand for a moment on his dark head, reassuringly solid. "Don't let the mask stay on too long, Loki, or it will become you."

He frowns, considering this. "But ... that is the trick," he says, finally. "I am all of these things, do you see?"

Yes, Frigga thinks; it is so. And Loki's look is turning from puzzled to pleading, so she nods, though she does not know yet if she can reassure him. If Loki is made up of the personas he inhabits, this is how his magics come so easy, when she would not dare for fear of losing her true self. Perhaps this only means that here is yet another way in which she must stop thinking of Loki as Asgardian. Loki shifts so easily between forms that, after all, her thought when she first began his lessons in magic must be true: there is something innate to Loki's magic, something that makes it easy for him to inhabit the liminal spaces.

She kisses the top of his head. "I only wish for you to be careful."

Loki looks at her with wide green eyes. "I always am," he says.

Frigga leaves it at that, for the time, but the incident concerns her. At first she thinks it must be that the moment in which Loki, copied many times over, shivered at the edge of existence; but looking back on it, it seems to her that Loki was in control of the spell. What bothers her now is the thought that came after. Loki shifts between forms, yes, and that must have something to do with the fact that he is a Jotun child; yet still, still, for all Loki's shapeshifting, the form he returns to is the one that is but a glamour cast by Odin.

This begins to sit ill with Frigga. It sits ill with her while she attends feasts on her husband's arm, and while she watches Thor and Loki in their first practice bouts with the other lords' children, and while she does her own quiet spellweaving to keep Asgard secure. She thinks of the strength that is in glamours, and the strength that is in Odin's magic (which is strong indeed, bound as it is to the land itself), and whether these combined are enough to fix her dear child into one form when it might, after all, be kinder to let him choose what forms he wishes.

"Could we not tell him?" she asks Odin, again.

"It is not yet time," Odin says. He will not meet her eyes, and for the first time in a very long while Frigga realizes that she does not know what to say to change his mind. Whatever Odin's reasons, they must be other than the ones he has given her, and she has no way to reach him.

She wakes in the dead of night, cold with sweat, her husband sleeping beside her, thinking: Odin must have other reasons.

Rising, she pulls on a light dress, and leaves her hair down. Barefoot she walks from the palace, and barefoot she goes down to the Bifrost, many-colored light glancing off her feet and the wind off the sea tugging at her gown.

As always Heimdall stands at his post. "Gatekeeper," Frigga says.

"My queen." Heimdall inclines his head.

She has known him for years, and what she knows is this: Heimdall is loyal to Odin, and loyal despite having seen everything Odin has ever done, so it is a loyalty as clearsighted and true as any Frigga might imagine. But she is his queen, and that means something also. "The night my husband brought Loki here," Frigga says, "what was the nature of his spell upon the child? What did Odin do to give Loki an Asgardian seeming?"

Heimdall is quiet for a long while, staring impassively at her with his golden eyes. Frigga waits. At length Heimdall says, "He touched the child."

"Touched --?" Frigga does not know what she was expecting, but it is not that.

"He took the child into his arms," Heimdall says, "and the blue melted from its skin like frost. Loki has looked as he does ever since."

The air rushes from Frigga's lungs; she feels cold and remote. But still she remembers the courtesies. "Heimdall," she says, "I thank you," and inclines her head to him before she turns to go.

The stars wheel overhead, turning toward dawn. Frigga makes her way slowly back up towards the palace, her thoughts very slow while she keeps herself from coming too suddenly upon the inevitable conclusion. But it is waiting for her: there is no glamour. Such a spell, even well-maintained, would have vanished long ago in the face of Loki's own magic. Still Loki remains Asgardian-seeming; none of the tricks Loki has learned shift him back to Jotun form. And Frigga can think of only one magic that strong. Odin Allfather has made sure that Loki shows only an Asgardian face. Odin touched the child and, with a touch, while bleeding his own blood and with little other magic to call upon so far into a war, turned Loki from one thing into another with a terrible permanency. Now that Frigga knows this she knows too, without the comfort of doubt, that blood calls to blood, and so Odin was capable of this work because Loki belonged to him already.

Frigga's husband is not a schemer but a liar, and Loki is his child.

*

"Is he yours?" Frigga asks.

Odin props himself upon his elbows and blinks at Frigga, already irritatingly alert for someone who was asleep but a moment before. Everything about Odin is cause for annoyance at this moment; Frigga does not regret waking him at dawn in the least.

"Loki," Frigga repeats. Her voice is trembling a very little, as only happens when she is truly angry. "Is he yours?"

At a direct question, at least, Odin is honest. He sits up. "Yes."

Frigga must fight a momentary urge to hurl a pillow at him. "And Laufey," she says. "Is he Laufey's child too?"

Now that he has been caught out, it seems, Odin is able to look at her again. "Yes."

Again Frigga feels as though she cannot take in air. "Why --" she says, but the questions fall over themselves in her head, tangling with rage. She remembers her patience with Odin, her faith in his schemes, the way he would sometimes smell like snow had been rubbed into his skin when he came home from battle. "Why."

"Would you have me say I planned it?" Odin asks. "Would you have me tell you any terrible reason?" He is speaking very quietly, and he looks ... as though he has been expecting this, for some time, and in all that time has found nothing to say. "I did something terrible, yes. From it we have Loki, whom we both love. I do not know what else I can say."

"Anything," Frigga snarls. "Explain."

"There is no excuse for what I did," Odin says. He is still so calm, Frigga sees; but she sees too that he means it. "But when could I have told you? There is no good time for such matters. And it is you whom I love; I had no wish to ruin you, nor this marriage, by telling you of it. I am sorry."

This, finally, brings Frigga up short. She has never heard Odin apologize for anything before.

"I am sorry," Odin repeats. "Tell me what I might do, and I will redress it."

Frigga clenches her teeth and slides down to sit on the foot of the bed. Were she a different sort of queen entirely, she might demand Laufey's death, or even Loki's. But she is tired of war, and at this moment she loves her son, who is innocent in all this, far more than she loves her husband. "There is nothing I want," she says, "but your honesty. Don't you dare keep your thoughts from me after today."

"Then I will not," Odin says. He may even believe that what he says is true. And that, Frigga knows, is as much victory as she is likely to have in this. She has never wanted anything like victory over Odin before, and the feeling is strange and bitter.

"So it is done," Frigga says, and rises, retiring to her own chambers to dress properly and to put up her hair. She resolves, then, to appear in public with her husband as she has always done; to do otherwise would be foolish.

But she does not let Odin touch her that night, nor the night after that, nor for a very long time thereafter.

*

There is no question, after that, of whether to tell Loki of his true parentage; Frigga does not think she could bring herself to explain. Instead she spends as much time with Loki as she can, hoping that if the truth does ever come to light, she will have so amply demonstrated her love for him that he cannot doubt it.

Nor does Loki seem to; as he grows older he becomes ever quieter and more thoughtful, but he still smiles easily, and he laughs both in his brother's presence and when recounting Thor's adventures to Frigga. Thor and Loki both are a delight to her. Her concern for Loki has not eclipsed her attentions to her other son, and Thor is growing into everything she expects him to be; though he may boast of his victories in the practice ring, and raise his voice above all others at the feasts, he is a prince and it is his right. He still curbs his voice in Frigga's presence, and kisses her cheek with the cheer of a boy who will never feel shame for showing love to his mother.

Still while Frigga delights in her children she does not allow it to dull those sharp edges she has come to feel in herself. She allows Odin back into her bed, to make what apology he may, but when winter comes rolling through Asgard there are days when she can hardly breathe for fury. She watches him now not with admiration but with a new consideration, because Odin may be a liar but he is a schemer still, and can turn every mistake into a calculation. Meanwhile Odin treats her gently, but with no more deference than usual, which is wise; more than anything Frigga would hate to be treated as wronged for something so petty as Odin's unfaithfulness to their marriage bed. That Odin and Laufey were intimate stings, yes, but it bewilders her too, for it makes such fools of them both, and it causes her to wonder at Odin's true purpose in that war; at Odin's true purpose in anything.

So it is that she notices at once when she overhears Loki, arm slung around Thor on their way to a summering picnic in Vanaheim, say, "When I am king --"

Thor laughs, a deep full-body laugh that still surprises Frigga, though she knows her boys are growing older. "You cannot be king without a beard, Loki."

"I hope yours devours your face," Loki returns; Thor swats Loki's hand away from the golden fuzz starting on his chin.

Frigga, behind them with an empty apple-picking basket in her arms, cannot for a moment feel the light sweet-smelling wind nor the warmth of the sun upon her skin. Thor and Loki both think, without question, that either of them might still be king.

It does not seem to poison them to one another; Loki shouts Thor's praises as loud as anyone else in the practice bouts, and Thor tells Loki to show off his illusions in company, looking terribly proud of his brother's cleverness. They are indeed inseparable, and when they reach that age where they sneak off in the night to taverns or to go on small adventures, believing their parents none the wiser for it, they do so with the same friends. Frigga makes no move to stop any of this, for she approves of Sif, who is bright and fierce and clever and might even make a good queen one day, and of Volstagg, who already has a young wife and will keep his companions from falling into too much trouble. In any case, Thor and Loki indulgence in the usual behavior of young men is the least of Frigga's worries.

She considers every angle by which Odin might think keeping Thor and Loki in competition for the throne would benefit the realm. Perhaps he believes that it will hone Thor into a better king than he would be otherwise, that if Loki is considering kingship he will make a better advisor for it. But even as Frigga thinks this, it tastes of excuses, and she has made such excuses for Odin that she feels sick with them.

"You need not tell Loki why," she says to Odin, standing some distance from him on a balcony that overlooks the sea. Gone are the days when they would debate their parenting while lying idly tangled together in bed; gone too are the days when Frigga believed it to be a debate in considered terms. Still she says, "You could simply proclaim Thor your heir; he is oldest, and it is expected."

"I will," Odin says. "In good time."

Frigga's nails dig for a moment into her palms, but she waits. She learned the value of patience long ago.

Thor has not.

At the start, Thor's rashness only turns up in flashes. He allows the adventures he takes far from home to become more obvious; he allows Loki to do his lying for him. Loki evidently has little time for Thor's foolishness, for he rolls his eyes while reciting their excuses, and occasionally allows a flicker of irritation to cross his face. Both of them do what they might to make Odin take note of their deeds, though Loki does it by downplaying what Thor has done, and Thor by being ever louder than was his wont before. Thor begins to pick fights. Thor suggests mock wars, and sees slights where there are none, or at least pretends to so he might have a good brawl. Frigga wonders whether Thor really believes this is kingship, or believes that as a prince he can do whatever he likes. She wonders whether Loki might be more suited to the throne, and when she thinks this she feels as though she is made of too many edges, all of them on the inside.

But Loki is evidently starting to feel this way as well: if he is still lying for Thor, it becomes far less transparent, and he retreats so far into himself, becomes so quiet and politic, that Frigga feels as though he is slipping away from her so that she might never recover him.

In the end it is this, not Thor's youthful folly, that decides her.

"If there is a good time," she tells Odin, "it must be now. Their competition has turned sour, you must see this." Odin watches her impassively, and though Frigga knows he is waiting for her to lose her temper, to appear the more reasonable for it, there is no one here but the two of them, and by now they both know what they are doing. "Shall I ask why?" Frigga demands. "You are only using Loki to some end I cannot see, and neither he nor Thor are doing the better for it."

"I have my reasons," Odin says evenly, as though he did not promise to tell Frigga his mind.

"And if they are good, I cannot see them!" Frigga snaps. "You've bound them too tightly to make any course a painless one now."

"I told you long ago," Odin says, and looks away, out to sea, "I wanted to unite our kingdoms, to make a permanent peace."

Frigga blinks.

Yes. Yes, on that night ages past when Odin returned from war with a Jotun child, he did say such a thing. Frigga had not thought to object then, not even when Odin declared the child his son rather than his ward, because she was too busy caring for Loki to consider what Odin might have meant. In a flash of horror Frigga sees it now: Odin has taught them both statecraft; Odin has taught them both to long for the throne; Odin has kept them with one another in all things, knowing each other's weaknesses and strengths as their own; Odin has caused them both to desire above all else his approval. They might do anything for it now. "And what," Frigga says, her voice shaking a little, "was your plan for this permanent peace? Would you return Loki to Jotunheim, having made him love you?" It is senseless; they have raised Loki Asgardian, and even if Odin meant to use him as a bargaining chip he would fare ill in some other realm. "You allowed Loki to believe he might be king!"

Odin does look at her then. "This was before I knew what Loki would mean to me."

"What --" Astonishment stops Frigga's voice. "He is your son! He has always meant that! And you meant, even for a moment --" Her voice stops again, more terrible plans unspooling before her. "You meant to pull his wish to impress you taut before you break him with the news of what he is and offer him hope of equal love if he will obey any plan you might have to use him. Odin. Tell me you did not."

Odin gazes at her, stricken, and Frigga sees with a shock that Odin has never before put it into words. "Once," he says. "But you are right; those plans no longer matter."

"You must declare Thor your heir," Frigga tells him. "Before this goes any further; before you injure Loki so much it cannot be mended. You must."

"Yes," Odin says. "As soon as it can be done."

*

The coronation does not take place at once; there are years between the time when Odin declares Thor the future king and the time when they enact it in ceremony. Even then, the years are not enough, and the coronation dawns on a bright summer morning some time before Thor is yet ready. There is nothing to be done about it, for Asgard approves of the announcement, and would like to see it enacted; for Frigga and Odin are trying to undo the damage they have done. The responsibility will be good for Thor.

She finds him pacing the halls outside the throne room while the murmur of the crowd swells inside. His hands are white-knuckled on his helmet, and Frigga sees that she was right to push Odin to this; for the first time in recent memory, Thor is taking a situation with the gravity it deserves.

"It's all right to be nervous," she tells Thor gently, going to him.

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Thor demands on a laugh. "I am not nervous."

Her dear, dear boy. He will be all right after all. "You may be able to fool the rest of Asgard --"

"Yes, but never you." Thor smiles at her. "I know."

"Thor." She touches Thor's chest, his ceremonial armor cool and smooth under her fingers. "Just remember that you have something even the great Allfather never had: me for a mother."

Thor's smile blooms wider for a moment before he remembers where he is, and what is about to happen. She allows him to go. When she sees him again, she knows, he will be at his loudest, his smile sun-bright, and she will have to give him some stern look to steady him; but she trusts, after all, that they have done well here. She has done what she may by Thor, and it is enough.

Before she enters the throne room, she finds Loki.

Her child still looks a little too small for his ceremonial clothes. Ill-fit to this skin, Frigga thinks; but when she kisses him in greeting it is only just as cool as it ever is, and Loki's smile is fleeting but genuine. "Are you ready?" Frigga asks him.

He tilts his chin up. "As I shall ever be. Thor knows I am pleased for him."

"Yes. But it is you I am proud of today," Frigga says. She does not know how to say more: that she loves him wholly; that she is afraid Thor might grow into his kingship, but after all kingship may be something more difficult to give up than to embrace; that the face Loki shows her has become so still and so settled she fears she no longer sees anything but what he wishes her to see. She wants to cup his face in her hands and to kiss his forehead as she did when he was young. But Loki gives her another brief flash of a smile, only half-believing her, and ducks away.

Weep, queen, Skuld whispers in her mind, for this burden.

They did not warn her of those things that are inevitable: that husbands lie, that children grow, that being queen of all Asgard in the end brings her sovereignty over nothing but her own heart. Frigga breathes deep and goes forth into the throne room, into the approving roar of the crowd, into that bright still day on which she will lose her children.