Freya opened the windows to let fresh air into her musty home and scrunched up her face as a blast of dust hit her. She coughed violently, using her hand as a fan to blow it away.
"Are you alright?" She heard her brother ask.
Freya waved dismissively, "Yes, I'm fine. Please, have a seat at the table."
There was a bowl of fruits that she liked to keep around. She intended to serve it to her brother only to find out it had spoiled. Anger and shame swept over Freya. Can she do nothing right?
A hand touched her shoulder, startling her.
"No worries," Freyr said with a gentle smile and outstretched his hand and from outside sprouted a young tree. Its branches entered through the window and curled its way over to Freyr's hand and from its tip an apple grew, deep red and round. He plucked it from the branch and the tree shrunk into the earth just as fast as it grew. He took a bite and smiled at her, juices from the apple dripping into his beard.
Freya fought the urge to roll her eyes and instead let out a tight-lipped sigh.
"Thank you," she snipped and shoved the bowl into his arms. "And didn't I tell you to sit down? Go, sit down."
Freyr raised his hands and walked to the table, chuckling. "Alright, alright! I'm going, I'm going. Hundreds of years and you haven't changed one bit. Still as bossy as I remembered you."
"I am not bossy," she said defensively. She searched the cabinets and protruded a bottle of mead and two cups. "And you are just as juvenile as I remember you." She quipped back. She sat down across from him and poured their drinks. A pang of nostalgia hit her in the chest when Freyr laughed. It was warm and hearty and reminded her of a time before Odin and the war. A time when she felt safe and hopeful.
Those times were long gone now.
They drank from their cups and lapsed into silence, neither sibling willing to talk first.
"Is that Vanaheim?" Freyr asked, breaking the silence. He left his seat at the table and went to stand by the enchanted window. Freya followed and wrapped her arms around herself.
"It's just a window," she muttered softly. A deep longing filled her. It happens every time she sees those trees. When she was young, she had grown so attached to them that she could feel the breeze blow between the tallest of their branches and feel the earth breathe through their roots. They used to make her feel like she was a part of something bigger than herself. She has made friends with the trees here in Midgard but it wasn't the same.
Freya glanced at her brother and caught him already looking at her.
"Why are you here?" she asked and then shook her head. "No... no that is not important. How are you here? How did you get here? Odin- he blocked all access to and from Vanaheim."
Freyr grabbed her hand gently. "I don't think that's important right now, Freya. What is more important is your loss. I can still feel your pain. You carry so much guilt. Why? Why do you torture yourself this way?"
A wave of anger swept over Freya.
"Baldur is my burden to carry and only I alone!" she snapped, a fire blazing in her eyes.
"Baldur?" Freyr echoed, his brows furrowing in confusion. "Odin and Frigg's son?"
"He was my son," she grieved, her fingernails burrowing into her chest. "He was mine. Not his! Mine!" She squeezed her eyes shut, her lips pulled back from her gritting teeth. She breathed hard through her nose and then exhaled deeply, releasing her rage. "He was mine," she continued in a steadier voice. "He was my son and I lost him."
"I'm sorry, Freya. I didn't know," Freyr said softly. His face then hardened. "Odin will pay. I swear it on my sword and on my life. He will pay for what he has done to you and my nephew."
Freya shook her head. "It was nobody's fault but mine. I did this. I brought this upon myself."
"Don't say that. You have done nothing wrong." Freyr said incredulously, cradling his sister's head in his hands.
"You don't know that," she grimly replied. She sat down and gazed at her enchanted window. "You don't know what I have done."
"I don't believe that," he said resolutely, taking a seat next to her.
"Why?" Freya whispered, her eyes wide with disbelief.
Freyr took her hand and held it firmly. "Because you are my sister. You are strong and good and I know there is nothing in all the nine realms- not even Odin himself- that can ever change that."
"I-" Freya looked away, shame written all over her face. "I cursed him. I had a dream that my son was going to die a needless death and I couldn't- I couldn't let that happen. He was all I had. I couldn't lose him. So I cast a spell over him, one that I had read in mother's journal long ago when we would sneak into father's chest."
Freyr's eyes widen, "The one that-"
"Yes. That one."
Freya inhaled deeply, overcome with regret and anger at herself. "I made him immortal, not realizing there were consequences to my actions. So you see, it was all my fault. If I hadn't let my selfish desires control me- my fear, my son would still be alive. I don't care if he would have still hated me. As long as he was alive, it would have been worth it."
"Is that what you told yourself when you made him immortal, too?" Freyr asked.
Freya blinked in shock and slowly realized that yes, he was right. That was exactly what she had told to convince herself that the decision to strip her son from all touch was right. She was so dumbstruck by her epiphany that for a moment she could do nothing but stand there.
"We all make mistakes," Freyr's voice swam into her mind. "Some worse than others and I'm not going to lie Freya, using mother's ancient dark magic, especially that one, was wrong. It brings nothing but misery and then insanity."
An image of a behemoth of a giant with wild dark hair and pale dead eyes flashed through her mind. She knew it wasn't she who thought of their mother but in fact her brother. He was projecting his thoughts into her mind, something they have been able to do since they were babes.
Freya squeezed his hand, catching his attention. "She is gone, Brother. She can't hurt you anymore."
"I know... I know," he repeated, though his face had turned pale. He took a deep breath and exhaled. "Just... promise me you won't use anymore of her magic ever again."
"I promise," Freya said without skipping a beat.
"Good, good," he mumbled and then cleared his throat. "Back to what I was saying... We all have said and done things we will regret for the rest of our lives; believe me, I know. But you are not bad, Freya. Misguided, like all parents are, but not evil. Not like Odin and not like mother. You know that to be true."
Freya smiled bitterly, "You know I can't believe that." She was a monster and she will always be one for what she did to Baldur.
Freyr gave her a small tired smile, "Stubborn as always. You know, ever since we were kids we could never agree on anything."
"That's why we made the deal to agree to disagree," she finished with a fond smile as she recalled her childhood memory. "I'm sure if we hadn't, we would have killed each other a long time ago."
"No doubt," Freyr replied.
They both grinned and giggled like children. Freya once again was hit by a wave of nostalgia. She didn't know until now how much she had missed this. How much she had missed him.
She thought her departure to Asgard to be wedded to Odin was the last time she would ever see her brother. Freya still remembers with vivid clarity how hurt and angry he was the night before she left. He hated her. He didn't say it for he did not need to. Their bond, the one thing that kept them physically and spiritually connected, was severed. She had never felt so alone as she did that night. It was a feeling she would never forget.
Their giggling died down and she stared at her brother.
"Why are you here?"
Freyr sighed heavily, as if he had been waiting for this question the entire time and dreading it.
"I came because you are my sister and you were in agony."
"You called me a traitor."
To her credit, she did not cry but that word still felt like a stab to her heart.
Freyr's brows upturned, creating deep wrinkles to form on his forehead. He slid off the window seat and got down on one knee. He held her hand between his own and gazed up at her with tears in his eyes.
"Freya, I am... I am so sorry. I was a foolish young man who did not understand the sacrifice you were making for our people. I was so blinded by my own grief and anger that I wasn't there for you when you needed me the most."
"You had every right to be," she said but he shook his head.
"No, no I did not. If I had loved you as much as I claimed to have, then I would have understood and reacted differently."
"You made a mistake. That doesn't make you a horrible person," Freya said, prompting her brother to laugh at the irony.
"Yes but I hurt you. And that is something I can never forgive myself for."
"Freyr-" she began to say but he cut her off.
"I loved you, Freya. When you told me you were going to marry someone else, Odin no less, I was devastated. I thought we were going to win the war and I was going to spend the rest of my life with you. But things never go the way we hope it does, does it?" He smiled sadly. "I may have been your lover but I was your brother first and I should have stood by your side and supported you. What I did, abandoning you in your most dire of times, is inexcusable. I don't expect forgiveness. I just want you to know that I am sorry. I can't begin to imagine what you went through but I would do anything to make up for all the years I could have been there for you."
Freya cupped his cheek with her free hand and smiled down at him, "Brother, you have already been forgiven a long time ago. I could never hold any animosity towards you."
Freyr broke out into a smile that rivaled the sun. They hugged for a long time and unbeknownst to Freya, the garden outside where her flowers had been trampled bloomed back to its full glory and it spread throughout her sanctuary, making it look like it were the beginning of spring.
Freya was the first to break the hug. "Now," she said, wiping at her eyes. "Tell me, how in all the nine realms did you get here? And why didn't you come sooner?"
"Because I didn't know where you were!" he exclaimed. "When news came that the treaty of peace was dropped because my sister had 'broken' the marriage, I went to find you. I knew you would never have destroyed any peace for our people without a very severe reason, but when I talked to the goat-man-"
"Mimir?" Freya interjected.
"Yes, Mimir. That was his name. He told me you had fled and nobody knew where you went."
"Mimir was lying," she revealed. "But don't be angry with him. Odin must have forbade him from telling the truth and the truth is, I was here in Midgard. Odin had used my own magic against me and bound me here to this realm."
"You taught him our magic?"
"No," she said quickly. "Not the important ones but little things. I never thought he would learn to understand it. I was foolish and I underestimated what he was capable of. Not ever again, though."
Freyr sat back, his brows knitted together in a deep frown. "That is grave, indeed. The one thing we held over the Aesir and now their leader wields it... nothing good will come of this. But I still have hope."
"How?" Freya asked, puzzled.
Mischief twinkled in his eyes, "He may have learned one of our secrets but not all. You asked how I got here well, it wasn't easy. I couldn't have done it without my wife and her friends."
Freya blinked in shock, "Your wife? You've gotten married? Someone willingly married you?"
"Aye Sister, you wound me. I had my charms or rather, she did, over me."
"I must hear this," Freya said eagerly, scooting closer.
"No, it is not important. We have more urgent matters to discuss."
Freya gave him a stern look. "I am a war-goddess but I am also the god of love and I will hear how my boar-headed of a brother found his chosen one."
"By Ymir," Freyr muttered, rubbing his face. "You really haven't changed one bit. Fine, but I will only tell you the short version because my time here is limited and there a things you must know. I saw my future wife one day here in Midgard, in a meadow bathing in its pond."
"Pervert," Freya interjected.
"Hey! I was not spying on her. It wasn't my fault I stumbled upon her in the middle of the forest in such a precarious state. Anyways, I shielded my eyes but not before catching a glimpse of her face and Freya, it must have been some sort of magic or bewitchment because I knew I loved her the moment I saw her. She then, of course, picked me up and threw me away so far I flew over a mountain! But her strength only made me desire her more."
Freya frowned, "I don't think that was her intention..."
"So I sent Skírnir - you remember Skírnir? - to make my affections known to her. I would have gone myself but I had a feeling she wouldn't have been pleased to see me and you know how protective the giants are of their homeland. They would have never let a god, Vanir or Aesir, into Jotunheim. Well, except for Tyr but he was special."
Freya almost shot out of her seat. "Your wife is a giant?"
"Yes! Gerd is her name."
"Does Odin know?"
"No, we have hidden her true heritage from his sight for I'm sure if he did know, he would have sent his murdering son to kill her by now. I'm sure Thor would have tried to kill me too and play it off as an accident." He paused and they both reflected on the monstrous appetite that Thor had for violence and murder. Freya didn't want that psychopath to sully the mood so she taped Freyr's hand and gestured for him to continue. "Ah, right, where was I? Oh, so I sent Skírnir but it turned out that Skírnir was in love with me and he tried to kill Gerd! I was sadden by the news that my friend perished by Gerd's hands. Though I was grateful that Gerd was alive, I wished I could have talked to him or he to me. Maybe things would have been different and there would have been no need for this bloodshed."
Freya held his shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright Freya. It was a long time ago." He smiled tightly and continued. "By then Gerd must have thought I sent an assassin to kill her brother. Why she thought that, I still do not know but I knew I had to act quickly or I would have lost her forever. I knew if I went to Jotunheim I would have to do something big to convince them I wasn't a threat. So I gave up my sword, Sumarbrandr, to Gerd's father."
"But you loved that sword!"
"I know, I did but I loved Gerd more. Afterwards, I was tasked to fight Beli, another of Gerd's suitors, bare-handed to the death- ow!" Freyr winced when Freya hit him.
"How could you have done such a thing?" she exclaimed in anger. "You could have died!"
"But I didn't!"
"That's not the point. It was stupid and reckless and as the leader of the Vanir I thought you would have known better. I left our people in your care. What would they have done if you had died? You have always gotten into trouble but this time the consequences doesn't only affect you, it affects everyone. You can't just go off and do whatever you want. You have responsibilities to your people." She sighed, rubbing her temple when she felt a headache coming on. "I mean, imagine if you had been killed. Odin would have surely used that opportunity to go into war against the giants, claiming it was to bring his Vanir wife's brother 'justice'. It would be just another excuse for him and Thor."
"Aw, Freya," he mumbled, taking her hands and pecking her knuckles. "Don't be mad. I know what I had done was selfish and wrong. I understand that and I am no longer that kind of man anymore. I'm better now and you do not have to worry." He paused and looked at her until she nodded. "Do you still want to hear the end of the story?"
Freya pinched her lips, "Of course."
Her brother grinned, "Then after, I slayed Beli by using the antler of a hart and pierced it right through his giant heart. I thought it was over but there was still one more challenge- that being I had to wrestle Gerd herself."
"You won, then."
"No, I lost. She was a large woman. I stood no chance."
Freya frowned, "How did she become your wife if you lost?"
Her brother smiled and shrugged, "When I lost, I was on the ground exhausted and defeated, thinking I would be heartbroken forever but then she smiled down at me, picked me up and threw me over her shoulder and took me to her father and declared to him I was going to be her husband. We were wedded then in true jötunn fashion, though it took me a while to convince her to come back to Vanaheim to rule with me." Freyr gazed at the view of Vanaheim through her enchanted window. "Ever since then, she helped me see things more clearly. She helped me crawl out of the dark hole I was in and helped me become the leader the Vanir needed in your absence. I wouldn't be who I am today without her."
"I am glad you have found somebody like her then," Freya said, hiding the sadness from her voice. In comparison, her marriage was the complete opposite. She pushed those dark thoughts away and smiled. "And I am proud of you. I know it has not been easy. You never asked nor wanted to become the leader of the Vanir and all the responsibilities it comes with thrust upon you. But you did it, like I always knew you could. Father would have been proud."
Freyr blinked and swallowed down a lump in his throat. "Thank you, Freya. You don't know what it means to me to hear you say that. Although, there is one thing I must disagree with you on. I can never be the leader you were." Freya opened her mouth to disagree but he silenced her. "For once Freya, do not disagree with me. You know it to be true. You will always and forever be the true leader of the Vanir."
Freya balled her hands into fists, "They hate me. They do not want me, Brother. In their eyes, I am nothing more than a traitor."
"That hasn't stopped you before," Freyr urged. "When father died and we were the only line to the throne, they did not want us, remember? They detested us for being our mother's children. They thought we were as retched as she was but you proved them wrong and when we went to war with the Aesir, they followed you into battle. When you were captured, the Aesir tried to burn you three times but you came back from the ashes, reborn, glowing in a fiery halo! Now not only did your people follow you, they worshiped you. Trust me, Freya. They will do so again."
"I never wanted them to worship me," she admitted, suddenly feeling very tired. "I only wanted to protect them. That was all I ever wanted."
He gripped her hand, a seriousness in his eyes that Freya has never seen before. "Then you must do so again. They- we need you now more than ever."
Freya leaned in, her stomach twisting in knots. Something was wrong. "What happened?"
Freyr licked his lips nervously and stood up. He walked over to the table and grabbed the bottle of mead and threw his head back and drained it halfway. Alarmed, Freya followed him.
"What is it? Tell me," she demanded, anxiety gripping at her chest.
Freyr looked her in the eye and spoke four words only: "Ragnarök- It has begun."
Just speaking the name Ragnarök brought a chill down Freya's spine. She stared at her brother, hoping for him to smile and say he was joking but he remained serious, a grimness in his eyes. He was scared.
Freya took a step back and leaned against the table for support. She blindly grabbed for the bottle of mead and downed the rest and slammed it back on the table.
"That is not possible," she muttered, her eyes round as saucers. "Ragnarök isn't supposed to happen for another hundred years or so."
"Everyone thought so, too, but it is here now and very, very real."
"No," she said defiantly. "That cannot be."
"It is true. See it for yourself, Freya." He raised a hand. "Feel the air in Midgard. Speak with the earth and you will see."
Freya did as he said. She closed her eyes and felt herself leave her body.
Her brother was right.
The air, it held an unnatural cold crisp to it- not one belonging to any normal winter. She left the sky and flew down to earth, mixing in with the soil and water. There was nothing out of the ordinary but as she began to explore deeper, she felt something was off. Using the large roots of the trees, she zoomed from place to place, trying to find the source of it. The closer she got to whatever it is, the more the nature around her began to decay. She followed the decay to a clearing in the woods where a village had long since been burnt to the ground.
There, she followed the trail behind a hof where there laid a cemetery. The source of the decay was coming from there, in one of the graves. In no time she found which one. Freya dove into the ground and was confronted by a rotting casket that was covered in wriggling worms and maggots. She descended further and entered the casket.
A putrid stench filled her nostrils.
Inside laid the body of a deceased woman with long shriveled strands of dark hair. She was dressed in a simple white gown and adorned with all sorts of jewelry she must have treasured when she was alive.
The stench and the complete wrongness of the place got to Freya and she moved to return back to her body.
A hand cold as ice latched around her wrist with a vice-like grip.
The dead woman's eyes were wide open and staring at Freya with such an intensity it paralyzed the goddess. Her cracked pale lips widened into a ghastly smile, revealing rows of black teeth. Some kind of black ooze that looked like oil but much thicker and denser, erupted between the cracks of her teeth and streamed down her chin.
A bone-tingling voice echoed in her mind.
"ᛚᛁᛏᛏᛚᛖ ᚡᚨᚾᛁᚱ ᛈᚢᛈ. ᚲᛟᛗᛖ, ᛋᚢᚲᚲ ᛟᚾ ᛗᛃ ᛏᛁᛏ ᚨᚾᛞ ᛞᚱᛁᛜᚲ ᛗᛃ ᚱᛟᛏ."
Freya came back to her senses and began yanking at her wrist in a panic. She had to get out of there! Horrible laughter drowned out her own thoughts, growing louder and louder by the second.
Desperate, Freya did the only thing she could think of: She severed the bond she had with the earth of Midgard.
White hot pain blinded her of all her senses, the consequence of returning to her physical body quickly. What she did was dangerous but she knew if she didn't, something terrible would have happened to her. Something worse than death.
Freya's eyes shot open and immediately she grabbed her wrist, growling in pain. Her entire arm shook as red fingerprints appeared on the skin around her wrist and they burned.
Her brother was quick to react. Without asking, he knew where her ointment was and fetched it. He returned quickly and rubbed the luminescent concoction over her ice burn. Upon contact, the burning stopped and she let out a sigh of relief. She collapsed into a chair and took a moment to catch her breath. Her entire body was drenched in a cold sweat and she could not get the image of the woman's face out of her head.
"What was that?" she finally said.
"Not what. Who." Freyr took a seat, too, the tips of his lips turning downwards. "That was the giantess, Hel, goddess of the underworld."
"Odin's sister," Freya muttered. "But how? I thought she was banished to Helheim by the combined magic of Bergelmir, Odin, and father?"
The vanquishing of the evil goddess Hel happened long ago, way before Freya's birth. All that she knew of it came from reading ancient historical texts kept in her father's library and what she did know was very little. The texts states a great battle between Hel and the king of the giant's Bergelmir, Odin, and her father Njord. It was the first and only time a Jötnar, an Aesir, and a Vanir fought alongside each other.
"Hel still is in Helheim. The woman you saw is just a vessel. It is not her true form," her brother explained.
"Then we must burn the body!" Freya proclaimed, jumping to her feet.
"It won't matter," Freyr said, his hands balled into fists.
"Why not?" she asked, sinking back into her chair.
"Because if we burn one body, Hel will return in the next and then the next and the next. By then Fimbulwinter will have already overrun Midgard and she will be too strong to stop."
"Is there no way to defeat her?" she urged, hating the resignation in her brother's voice.
"No, not any that I know of."
Freya frowned and stared at the fingerprints around her wrist. "There must be a way. I have never felt such cold, such evil. We cannot allow Hel to win."
Her brother sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't know, Sister. I don't know what to do. I have been trying to find you for so long. I then began to believe you didn't want to be found. It wasn't until I felt your pain through our bond that I finally knew where you were. I didn't care if you didn't want to see me- my sister was in pain and she needed me. I begged Gerd and the rest of the giants I managed to sneak into Vanaheim during Thor's massacre to help me find a way to go to you. They helped me of course, gave me some kind of travel rune that can only be used twice."
"I came here because I need your guidance. I don't know what to do. Ever since the end of your marriage with Odin, things have been tense between the Vanir and the Aesir. No one wants war but it seems war is coming anyway. And with the arrival of Fimbulwinter; this war will be the last great war." Freyr grimaced, looking older than he was. "I don't want the annihilation of our people. That is why I thought siding with Hel against Odin would buy us some time."
"Never," Freya bellowed, her voice booming in the room. "Hel will only betray you. You've read the texts. She strives to kill all living things. She wants Ragnarök to happen. You cannot side with her, Brother. It will only spell doom upon the Vanir and everyone else."
Freyr closed his eyes and breathed in and out deeply. "Thank you, Sister," he said, opening his eyes. "I didn't know what to do and I thought that was the only way. I let fear and desperation almost drive me to make a foolish decision. This is why you should return as our leader. They need you. Not me."
"I don't know if I can," she admitted quietly. She touched her back. "I don't know if I can ever be that person again."
"He took them, didn't he," Freyr said. It was more of a statement than a question.
Freya didn't respond. Her brother already knew the answer.
"Fimbulwinter, Ragnarök, and now Hel? By Ymir... What have we done?" she whispered, sighing heavily.
"That's not all." Freyr said lowly, making his sister's head snap up. He scooted his chair closer to her. "The Valkyries, they have come to Fólkvang bearing bad news from Valhalla. Something terrible has befallen upon Odin's einherjar."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Freya snarked, feeling no sympathy for Odin's chosen warriors.
"Yes but this... this is something different. I don't completely understand it myself."
Freya sat up in her chair. "What happened?"
"I can show you better than I can ever tell you. Sigrun allowed me to create a copy of her memories so I can pass them on to you."
Freya was relieved to hear that her Valkyries have been freed. She heard what had become of her sisters and her hatred for Odin grew ever more. It was one thing to cast Freya out and take her wings but it was another to do what he has done to his loyal servants. They did not deserve it. If it weren't for Kratos... Freya frowned and stopped that line of thought.
She held out her hands. "Show me then," she said, pushing Kratos and his son out of her mind.
Her brother grabbed her outstretched hands and they both closed their eyes. Their breathing evened out and their heartbeats synced as one.
Freya felt herself slip from her mind and plunge into darkness.