There was a time, Frigga knows, when her cousin would have died before she ever made the oath she know does. Before she ever kneeled before the Aesir, ever pledged herself to Odin.
For all that Asgard feels her home throughout, in times like these, she cannot help but remember that it is not.
“Idunn Njordsdottir,” Odin says, sitting on the golden throne, looking over the court of Asgard, and at Idunn, kneeling at his feet. “Do you pledge yourself to the Valkyries, defenders of Asgard?”
She stands behind him, her hands on Thor’s shoulders. The boy is too small to stay with them throughout the whole court, but he wanted to be here for this, and she can hardly blame him. Idunn is family, has helped to raise them both, and Thor is star-eyed at the Valkyrja, and watching the ceremony fills him with a joy she cannot quite understand.
Idunn looks up, at the throne, and her eyes match Odin’s, and match Frigga’s close behind him. They are steeled and resolute, and just a shade defiant. It is a look she misses, seeing on her cousin’s face. It is a look she always sees, no matter how artfully she hides it.
“I pledge myself to Asgard, and to the Valkyrja,” she says. She does not pledge herself to Odin, as is custom, but Odin has not asked her to, and so the slip is easy, for the Valkyrie do only what Odin ask. It has been so long since last this ceremony was held, they shall not notice, and those who do, they would have found another argument regardless.
“Then rise, Idunn, swordmaiden of the Asgardians, goddess of the undying horde.” Odin says, standing. “May the wind be ever swift beneath your winds.”
“And may my blade shine in Asgard’s light,” Idunn replies. He places the headdress upon her, helmet with wings aloft to the sides, mirroring the wings to the Allfather’s crest, short the horns.
“Rise, Valkyrie,” Odin says, and so Idunn rises, and turns to face the court of Asgard, which applauds loudly at her. Thor watches, eyes gleaming, and as Idunn leaves, and the court turns to their next duty, she takes her son to the side. It was hard enough to keep him still, and she can feel him bursting with energy, ready to launch in to a burst of encouragement and awe.
She lets him run to Idunn, when they are in the wings, and the sound of Odin’s voice is nothing but a booming echo, muffled by the palace walls. “That was incredible!” Her son announces, running to latch around Idunn’s side. “You received the helmet and everything!”
“Aye, my Prince,” Idunn says, and adds a mock bow for Thor’s delight. “I am now a fully honored member of the Valkyrja.”
“Why do you call them by that name?” Thor asks, tilting his head. “Valk-Valkeerya?”
Idunn pauses, and looks Frigga in the eye, uncertain what to say.
“It’s an older name for them,” she says, holding him close. “Like Aesir and Asgardian.”
Thor nods, a proper scholar in his right, and turns back to Idunn, extolling his own childish version of the myths and legends of the Valkyries, and for her own part, Idunn laughs along, miming out the action alongside him, sword in hand. They take their meandering way back to the royal quarters, the sound of laughter blocking the booming sound that still echoes, even this far out.
“I want to join the Valkyeerya when I’m older,” Thor says, resolute. “And I’ll fight by your side.”
“I don’t think a Prince may be a Valkyrie,” Idunn says, smoothly, “But I would not doubt that you would be the first.”
“And even the Valkyries need sleep,” Frigga pushes. “Do you want a story?”
“Will you tell me a story, Aunt Idunn?” Thor asks, pleadingly. “I want a new Valkyrie story, mother and father only know a few.”
“Aye, my Prince,” Idunn says, and picks him up to a squeal of delight. “But you must give your word to me, Princeling of Asgard to warrior of the Valkyries, that you will sleep, once the story is done.”
She catches his agreement, as Idunn carries him off in to his chambers, and gets but a moment’s rest, before she herself hurries to where Loki sleeps, to check on him.
As she expected, he is not asleep, but curled up beneath the lamplight, book in hand. He looks up as she enters, and does not bother to hide what he has done. Whereas Thor is a boy of action, Loki ever relies on a quick turn of phrase to get himself out of any trouble.
“I thought you said you were to tired, for court,” she prods, sitting down beside him. He sets the book down.
“I was, and so I set to sleep,” he lies, “but I awoke, and sought to wait for you to return.” He says it so sweetly, and it is clear he has been reading far more than she has caught him. I
“And how I love to see you every night,” she says, and kisses his head gently. “You could have come to court with us. We only stayed for Idunn’s ceremony.”
“I-” Loki starts. “They look at me, mother. I do not like it.”
That gives her pause.She holds him close, and struggles to find the words. “They do not look at you, my darling,” she tells him, gently. “They look at me.”
“They do not look kindly,” Loki adds.
“I know,” she says. “They look at me.”
That surprises him. “You are the Queen of Asgard,” he says, and looks up at her, his eyes so wide and pleading. “They should not look at you that way.”
“Minds are the one thing that can never be controlled,” Frigga murmurs. “I pay them no heed, and nor should you. It is but a look, and nothing more.”
“It is disrespect.”
“The only disrespect which ever crosses my mind is action,” she says. “It matters not, what they may think, all that matters is what they do. And there, I am never disrespected.”
Loki does not look satisfied with this answer, not completely, but he at least settled past asking questions. “Do you want a story, before you go to sleep?” she asks.
He rolls his eyes. “I am not Thor,” he tells her.
“You used to,” she reminds him, and gets a blank stare in return. “I shall leave you to your reading, then, but I want to see the lantern out, before the stroke of eight, do you understand?”
“Yes, mother,” Loki replies. She wonders if he will listen, this time, to more than just the letter of her laws.
Idunn waits for her, in the main chamber, and she holds the helm in hand, staring at the wings. Thor, it seems, was exhausted or obedient enough not to push her in to a second story. Frigga sits down, beside her cousin, and places a hand on top of hers.
“Do you still want this?” she asks.
“I do,” Idunn says, “more than anything. A sword in hand, again, a troop behind me, I never thought I would be allowed such an honor again. But-”
“He is a better man,” Frigga says.
“He is,” Idunn adds. “And Asgard a better place. But still, I feel traitor. To all I once held dear.”
“I know,” Frigga says. And she doesn’t, because she never did raise arms against them, never did meet Odin on the battlefield, but she still knows as well as any, the uneasiness that the peace she has worked out leaves with all of them. “The peace accords draw closer.”
“There can be no peace without Skadi.”
“He knows,” she says.
“So much of this grudge, he has given up,” Idunn says. “But that is oldest of them, and it is a bitterness that rests as deep as Yggdrasil's roots. Even your soft touch can not fix that wound, Frigga,”
“And yet, ever shall I try,” she says, perhaps in vain, perhaps not.
Idunn sits there, for a few moments, and sets the helm aside. “I hear young Heimdall comes to join our court in exile,” she says.
“Eistla’s son,” Frigga connects. “The boy gifted with the sight. When does he come?”
“He sets out, with some other lads, three days hence,” Idunn says. “It shall be nice. I have not seen any of my nieces and nephews in quite a while.”
“So busy have you been with your cousin’s children,” Frigga adds. “I fear that he shall have far worse culture shock than either of us did,” she says. “Son of nine mothers, grandson of the sea. Asgard shall be very strange indeed.”
“At least,” Idunn points out, “you have changed it from the dead place it was when we first arrived. I hope the sight will be a quick teacher for him. I knew him only as a babe, but he was ever the considerate one.”
“Do not try and sway me on this, Kolga has kept in touch with me, and I know that he bears a rebellious streak as long as the Bifrost itself.”
“But what a considerate rebellion he does yield.” Idunn cannot help herself, but she bursts into laughter.
“It will be nice, to see him again,” Frigga says. “I cannot tell, if I hope that he shall be happy here, or if he shall find it unfitting of him and return home.”
“He will stay,” Idunn says, certain. “The others, they may turn, but he will stay. I can see it in his eyes. His story aligns with yours, and in Asgard it shall play itself out.”
“So ominous,” Frigga says. “And you claim you do not have the sight yourself.”
“I am wise, but not that wise, dear cousin.” Idunn holds her close, then stands, grabbing the helm. “It is always nice to sit with you, but court is ending, and I fear there is a feast in my honor, on the steps of Valhalla.”
“I fear that there are too many jokes I once would make but now find disgraceful,” Frigga says.
“Then, we shall have to share them in a secret place, when we have no places to be,” Idunn replies, merrily. “Go send your wayward son to a proper sleep, and get some rest yourself. I hear being Queen is a tiring job.”
“I will wait up for Odin,” Frigga says. “Enjoy your feast, cousin.”
Idunn thinks of a clever response, but says it not. Instead, she says only, “Good night,” before she leaves, and Frigga is left alone again, in chambers far too large to ever feel quite her home.
She goes to Loki. The lantern light is dead, but she cannot help but wonder, if by candle, or moonlight, or spell he has continued to read. And if he is still awake, perhaps not a story, but a song. It has been a long time, since last she sang a lullaby.
Her husband bears the weight of the realms upon his shoulders, and she can see it in the muscles, in his head, in his eyes. To the world outside, he is steel-faced and iron-hearted, but here, where they are alone, the facade drops, the helm is removed. He looks tired, more than anything, looks tired even when he wakes. For her part, she is always tired, but it is not quite the same, for at least when morning comes, she can feel rested.
"Do they sleep?" Odin asks.
"They do," Frigga says, "I could wake them for you, if you wish to bid them night."
"No, let them rest." He sits down upon the bed, removes the helm. "Negotiations are to be set, tomorrow. All I can foresee is failure, everything I have worked for come crashing down, Asgard returned to war."
"It will not happen," Frigga says in comfort. "These are but the opening negotiations."
"Perhaps not these, but somewhere down the line." He sighs. "I fear that I was built for war, not peace."
"We are not built for anything, we merely shape ourselves to our alignment," she replies. "And ever can we be reshaped, if given strength of will."
"Perhaps," Odin says. "Or perhaps you were built for mastery, and all skills are yours to choose, where I am stuck and no strength of will can ever change me from this trap."
"But you still try," Frigga says, "which makes you of nobler stead than I."
"There are none nobler than you," he replies.
"The negotiations will not fail," she tells him. "Jotunheim knows that it needs the peace far more than you. It shall persist."
"Skadi will be there."
"She is war-chief, and near half the clans give her their backing. You knew she would be there from the start."
"In truth, I did not think - I hoped - she would not last," Odin says.
"Then perhaps you should have asked me, for I could well have told you that she will outlast even Laufey."
"Then I ask." She looks to him, too sincere for their back and forth of words. "If she and I are to meet at table, to negotiate these terms, it shall end poorly. She is stubborn and cruel," he trails off.
"Stubborn I will grant you," Frigga says. "You both bear a wound that you refuse to let heal. I know not the origin, but I know the potency, and what remains. To meet Skadi at negotiations is to doom them."
"You said yourself, that she must come," Odin points out. "There is only one solution, then."
"Failure is far from a solution," Frigga tells him.
"In our talks tomorrow, I intend to let them set the meeting-hall for these talks on Jotunheim."
"You will not go to Jotunheim," she says. "You cannot leave your court behind, nor can you bring them there. They may ask, but they know it is impossible - they seek neutral ground. Laufey will suggest a rocky crag of no interest, Skadi will suggest Alfheim, and there it shall be settled."
"The meeting-hall will be Jotunheim," he says. "For I do not intend to go."
"A proxy," Frigga reasons. "There are few that can be trusted, with a task of this import, but it would ease the tensions. Harder still, to find one they would accept - Laufey will challenge it, undoubted."
"Then I ask," Odin says. She sits there, for a few moments, before the realization fully settles in. "You know the conflict, truly, and you are wiser than all my court together. You will seek fair negotiations, and you shall seek them well in mind and well in tongue. Skadi trusts you, at least far more than she does me, and if Laufey can be convinced, the rest shall fall in place."
"There is no other choice," Frigga says, the thoughts coalescing in her mind. "Thor and Loki?"
"I and all of Asgard shall watch over them," Odin says. "I have been told I ought spend more time with them."
"And who else goes?" Frigga asks.
"Whoever you ask," he tells her. "Your choice is far wiser in this case than mine could ever be."
"Idunn," she says.
"I did think," Odin says. "Unless you fear that bringing Skadi's own daughter too large a risk in Laufey's eyes."
"For protection, not for the dealings, she is a Valkyrie, after all," Frigga says. "At least, that may be said. These things are built as often in the side-halls as in the main." She pauses. "It truly means this much to you, this peace?"
"Not worth your life," he tells her quickly. "But yes, it is worth more than ever I could think."
"I shall take your wisest advisors from you."
"Find one among them that is wise, and he shall be yours."
She laughs, pulling herself back in to the present, her thoughts drifting too far ahead. The sell is harder, to the Aesir, but then, the Aesir care hardly for the truce, and perhaps would be quite pleased, knowing that Odin is not too distracted by the whole affair as to leave himself.
"Frigga," Odin matches her eyes, a sudden sincerity, and holds her close. "I mean it truly, that this peace is not worth your life. I would send you with all the armies of Asgard, if I thought that you would take them."
"I know," she tells him. "I have outlasted greater foes, and I shall not go alone. Your worries all shall be in vain."
"As are the ones you hold, towards the boys," he replies. "I am their father. I can raise my children."
"For their sake," Frigga says, "I hope this journey shall be quick."
"So cruel, my love."
"It is lucky we live in a palace of metal, else I would fear that on my return I would come to a home burned to the ground." He laughs at that, although she knows there is more honesty there than joke. "I think it should be good for you, a time with both of them. A break from the harsher rigors of the throne would do you good."
Odin hums. "What good is a vacation from the throne, without you?"
"A far safer joke than the suggestion that the vacation shall be from me as well," she replies. "The hour grows late, you should retire."
"We should retire," he says.
"A few more things to finish, first," she says. "You should sleep. Tomorrow shall be long."
"Good night," Odin says, and heads down halls towards their chambers.
"Good night," she replies, admittedly half-heartedly. Her mind, for all she seeks to tie it down, is back up in to the future.
Thor and Loki go running through the gardens beneath her balcony. She is not certain what game it is they play, or if they know themselves, but it is clear that they enjoy it, and it is good to see them playing together.
It is, she thinks, both a blessing and a shame, that there are no other children in the palace their age. Neither she nor Odin have any siblings who live, and the nobles in the palace are either young and looking for a marriage, or old, with children already grown. It is good, for it grows the bond between them stronger than otherwise, but it seems sad, so used to she to her own childhood, one amongst a flock of cousins.
If it is for better or for worse, that only the fates must decide.
Idunn is a guaranteed presence with her in Jotunheim. Her cousin is a fierce warrior, and the sight of a Valkyrie is one of fear. And for all that Skadi knows her, it is Idunn who was her daughter, and so no other recourse can be made.
The rest of the party requires more thoughtful consideration. Advisors must be brought, lest she be seen too powerful by Asgard, but not too many, lest she be seen too weak by Jotunheim. And most of them, are fools, either too engrained with minds of war, or too inexperienced to understand how the chain of reactions might occur.
Odin will not like it, if she brings no guard but Idunn, and so that must be set out. But guards who can be trusted to not act recklessly and doom the whole proceedings, and not a backdrop of Vanir, for Jotunheim must know it is Asgard coming to these deals, even if she is the face. A handful then, of Idunn's choice, who will take her lead and caution. She does not know the warriors, but she trusts her cousin's judgement of them.
And the advisors…
She must bring with her Asgardian advisors, old ones, to ensure both Asgard and Jotunheim know that it is Odin’s court which stands behind her. She will watch these opening steps, and pick from those who do not vehemently oppose her choice as proxy or the very concept of negotiations with Jotunheim. There, at least, she might find a handful of wise words, and better yet, people who she can at least say in truth whose advice was considered instead of ignored out of hand.
“Mother?” Comes a voice to her side, and she turns to see Loki standing there. She wonders how long he has been sitting here, watching her in absent thought.
“My lovely child, how good of you to join me,” she says, and shifts to let him clamber up beside her.
“I would seek to learn magic,” Loki says. “The ability to change my shape.”
“This is a daunting lesson,” Frigga notes, “and I certainly can’t teach it to you with time for you to use it in whatever game you and your brother currently have afoot.”
Loki rolls his eyes at that. “It is not for any game of hide and seek, I truly want to learn.”
“There are two kinds of shape-changing,” Frigga says, shifting to be facing Loki fully instead of gazing out across the gardens. “There is an illusion, which hides what you are and presents you as something else, and there is true shape-changing, where you shift yourself into another version of yourself.”
“Another version of yourself?” Loki questions. “But there is only one version of any person.”
“Right now, perhaps,” Frigga says. “But there will always be other versions. I am myself, now, but so was I myself in the past, and is that not a different version?” As she speaks, she shifts, and is in the form of who she was back when Vanaheim was still her home. “Or, there are versions of who I am yet to be,” and she is an older woman, her hair tinged gray, face beginning to wrinkle, elegant and refined.”
“True shape-changing, then, limits you to who you shall end up being, or who you used to be?”
“No, there are no such limits as long as you are yourself,” Frigga corrects. “In many ways, it is a magic that lets you reason with the universe, and let you become yourself. I am queen, golden, born of the wild, I am cunning, my mind is the hunter, am I not a lioness?” As she speaks, she is a lion, curled up upon the seat. “I am the wind, I am a raven, I am a multitude of forms, and all are me.” She cycles through these things, until finally, she is back where she began. “Does that make sense?”
“You trick the universe,” Loki says, “Into making yourself in to something that you are like.”
“In to something that you are,” Frigga corrects. “I am very like my cousin, Idunn, but never shall I be her.”
“But you aren’t a lion, or a raven, or the wind,” Loki reasons. “You are an Asgardian. You can’t be an animal.”
“Can I not be?” Frigga asks. “My body as born was not, but I my soul contains an infinity of things not so bound. The reasoning is not to lie, but to tell an innermost truth.”
“I think I understand,” Loki says.
“But this is all theoreticals, for the moment. You should start with illusion magic, which is far simpler and more versatile. While shape changing has the advantage of being immune to true sight, communing on the universe at that level is -” She looks down, and sees a small black cat with bright green eyes, sitting at the edge of her dress. Her voice trails off.
He’s a natural. She hadn’t even needed to teach him the meditation techniques usually required, to attune yourself. She isn’t truly surprised; Loki has always been a smooth talker, so his ability to convince the universe to move to his will is not, in the end, that shocking. But still.
“Mother?” Loki asks, and he looks up at her with human eyes once more. “Is something wrong?”
The poor boy has far more empathy than is good for him. “That was impressive, Loki,” she says, and tustles his hair. “I don’t think I need to teach you anything at all.”
“I want to learn illusions too,” Loki says. “I would think turning into something I’m not would be far more useful.”
“You’d be surprised,” she replies.
“My lady?” A handmaid asks, peeking her head in. “The opening delegations have arrived.”
She nods, and rises. “But those lessons, my son, are for another time. I have business to attend to. You should go play with your brother,” she suggests, gently.
“Thor doesn’t want to play,” Loki complains. “He’s watching the Valkyries training.”
She can’t help but laugh at that. Her son is true, when he speaks of wanting to join the Valkyries. She knows it will break his heart, to learn they don’t accept men in to their ranks. “I suppose I have some books, on the subject of illusion magic, then, if you would like to read ahead? Be warned, they can be rather dense.”
Loki’s eyes go wide with wonder, and she sets down two or three of the tomes from her personal library for him to pour through. She’s hardly placed them onto the table before he snatches them up, reading over the words with rapt attention.
She kisses his head, and makes her way down the halls, towards the great hall. After all, there is a war to be prevented.