?

Log in

 
 
15 October 2014 @ 12:03 am
A Crocus in the Snow 3/?  


ASGARD



Frigga looked up curiously as Odin dismissed her attendants and warded the door against eavesdropping with an absent gesture, his attention clearly distant.

She frowned when he turned and she caught his expression. He was highly bothered by something, even distressed.

She set her hairbrush aside and rose. "Is something amiss, my lord?" She kept her tone more formal, not certain she actually cared whether he was troubled by something or not, when he had so little care for her trouble. He had restricted her from visiting Loki and though she had sent notes in her books, she had managed only once to project her image through the ward. It was not enough. It infuriated her that Odin had given up on Loki so easily, and that he punished her and hardened Loki's heart against them.

"Frigga," he said but his voice halted, strangely uncertain. His head was down, and he leaned heavily on Gungnir.

"Are you well?" She didn't go closer. As wife and queen she wondered whether he was ill, but the part of her that was a mother kept her distance. If he wanted her mercy, he could find some in himself first.

"No," he answered softly. "Frigga, I--" he stopped again and then declared, "I learned something. A secret kept from both of us. I would shield you from it, if I could, but you need to know."

She frowned at him. What could possibly be so terrible as make him look this way?

"Sif is with Loki. They rekindled their relationship of old." He shook his head.

She wanted to smile - it had always been adorable how they had thought it was a secret -- but then it had ended for no reason she had ever understood. But Odin had subtly disapproved of Sif and Loki, wishing she'd match with Thor instead, and she frowned at Odin, stating as neutral-voiced as she could, "I cannot agree that is a terrible secret. Nor do I require shielding from it."

Odin's eyebrows flared in surprise as if that were the last thing on his mind. "Sif? No, that is not the secret I meant. That was a favorable thing to discover." He hesitated again, glancing away to gather his words again to explain. "When I went to free her from the confines, Loki was defiant and angry as expected, but then, in the grip of upset and temper, he revealed a truth from when Fenrir still lived."

Her heart was suddenly uneasy. Fenrir's death had changed Loki. He had held his true heart and thoughts closely after that, resentment already curdling his spirit. Yet she knew of nothing from before Fenrir's death that could make Odin so troubled.

Odin continued, "For the first time, he held Gungnir and allowed me to see his memories and thoughts, and I found out… Tyr…" Odin's voice dropped away to nothing and had to start anew. "Loki was telling the truth, Frigga. Always. When Tyr broke his arm it was no accident. It was a test, a test which I failed, because I believed Tyr over Loki." He drew pained breath. "Somehow he knew of Loki's true ancestry. All that time while training… Tyr hurt him. Nothing that would not heal, but to… torment him."

She listened in growing horror. "He hurt Loki? Deliberately." Her voice would barely emerge from her throat. "So Fenrir was trying to protect him? As he said?"

Odin nodded once, face creased in pain, and shut his eye. "There is more and worse."

That was impossible. "Worse? Worse than knowing our friend betrayed our trust, and harmed our son in cruelty?"

He couldn't answer, throat working on words he couldn't speak at first. "You should sit," he advised.

Worried by what could possibly be worse -- though she hoped perhaps it was something Odin found worse, but was not -- she seated herself on her vanity bench and waited.

Odin inhaled a deep breath and continued. "Tyr harmed him in a way we have not seen here in Asgard in millennia," he said hoarsely, and could not look at her. "He not only struck Loki but forced him to -- to abase himself to Tyr. Intimately."

Her blood turned to ice as she understood the whole terrible truth, shock stealing her breath and her fingers went numb. "No. He -- Tyr -- he forced himself?" she asked in a whisper. "On a child? On my child?"

Odin nodded once, barely enough to be visible.

"Loki... But -- why didn't he say something? To me? I would've believed him -- I would have -- "

"He feared you would reject him."

"No! How could he--" she protested.

"He felt ashamed. After Fenrir was killed and Tyr could no longer threaten or force him, Loki tried to pretend none of it had never happened."

"No," she whispered in futile denial. "No, ancestors, this... I cannot breathe." Her heart felt leaden in her chest and refused to beat in her distress. "Oh my child." So much became clear then, as though a muddy distant image snapped to cruel focus. His buried rage and broken trust stemmed from monstruous abuse and parental neglect, adults who had taught him all too well that he didn't matter and that violence and manipulation were how things worked. No wonder he had never wanted anyone to have power over him again.

Odin put a hand on her shoulder, meaning comfort, but she squirmed out from under and rose to her feet. "Don't touch me," she hissed. "This is your fault. How dare you act surprised and horror-stricken by this when this would never have happened if you had cared from the start. This is not the only example where your contempt for Loki let others treat him poorly, only the worst. They all took their cue from you -- even Thor felt free to disrespect his brother. It is no wonder Tyr thought he could get away with evil, when the entire Realm has done nothing but treat Loki with derision."

"Not so!"

"Is it not? Tyr took advantage of your neglect and your contempt - that you would not believe your own son - and let Tyr treat Loki as his whore."

Odin flinched back from her harsh voice and she pursued him, shaking with fury kept so long behind her queeenly façade - for she had been just as neglectful, ignoring a problem she had known about. She had let Odin overawe her instinct, when she had known something was wrong with Loki. It had not been just a moody boy growing more sullen in the wake of his pet's death. A bright mischief had turned dark, happiness into the pretense of it. It was a façade built on the illusion of contentment, except when it cracked to reveal a growing dark rage simmering beneath, a buried pool of resentment against everyone who had let it happen.

"Frigga, I know!" Odin protested. "Do you believe I could share in his memories and feel his emotions and not know?"

"I don't know, could you?" she retorted. "But I will tell you what you will do - you will no longer bar me from visiting my son. And then I will have justice for him, if I have to duel Tyr myself."

She headed for the door, emotions a muddled wreck of sorrow and guilt and anger, halted by his voice. "He's gone."

She stopped and turned slowly. "Where?"

"In the joining, he revealed he had set a plan in motion with Malekith of Svartalfheim to attack us during the convergence. I let him go to undo this plan; Sif is with him on Svartalfheim."

Loki was not below. She gripped the edge of the archway with fingers that still felt cold. He was not in Asgard anymore. She couldn't go down below and embrace him as she wanted so desperately to do.

"He left a letter for you in here, scribed previously." Odin withdrew the book of poetry she had given Loki in his cell and he held it to her. "And he said to tell you he regrets his words to you, that they were not true."

I know that, child. I knew it when you said them, when they were so transparently born of hurt. But I did not know how deeply the hurt goes, or how little I deserve your forgiveness when I failed to protect you.

Her hand shook as she took the book, and she thumbed through it, looking for a letter to fall out. But then she saw it, not written on a separate sheet, but in the margins, his scrawling hand across most of the pages. There were some scratched out parts and a few pages removed, but enough for her to read.

"If you are reading this then I am gone. Perhaps away, perhaps dead, but I think it matters little. There is but one path left to me now, and that path has only one end. So I will write a farewell, even while I wonder why I bother, because even here I cannot confess all the shadows. But I will confess one: I wish you had despised me. I wish you had loathed the very sight of me near your real son, and you had told me you took me in only because the Allfather required it. That would have smothered the warmth quicker. I tried to let the void and other things put out that fire, but a flicker remains and I warm myself on it, even while I curse that it exists, drawing out the inevitable. Because when you are not here, the darkness closes in, and old memories prey on me. Hate breeds hate, and pain breeds pain, and in the end, that flame will go out and I will finally be rid of this lingering weakness. But do not mourn it. The fragile flower in the snow was always fated to be killed by frost. More than that was the foolish hope of a child, who didn't understand that he is a thing of winter, not of summer. This fate was written long ago."

She shut the book, unable to read more. She knew now what these words avoided saying, the tapestry he embroidered all around while leaving the image empty. "What did he do?" Frigga asked in a faint voice. "Tyr? What did he do?"

Odin shook his head once, resisting. "You do not wish to--"

"What did he do?" she interrupted fiercely. "How-- how far did he go? How long did this go on that our son was tormented under our eyes and we knew nothing?" she demanded in anguish, tears burning her eyes again.

"Frigga." He approached her and drew her against his broad chest, and this time she let him hold her. "There is little he did not do," he answered, his voice a rumble under her ear. "He was cruel and limited only by his need to keep Loki silent and not visibly harmed." His hand settled on her head, smoothing her hair in a soothing caress, gentle for all his usual severity. "But do not force yourself to hear the details. They are mine to share in penance for what I never did for him. You gave him comfort, let that be enough to know."

She closed her eyes and wished that helped. She shook her head once in denial, clutching the little book to her chest. "But what I imagine is so terrible…"

"There is nothing you can imagine as terrible as the truth," he murmured. "It will not give you ease."

Her heart caught in her chest at those words, and she bit her lip. "My poor darling," she whispered. If he could endure, so must she. Inhaling a deep breath, she found strength enough to pull away. She dabbed her eyes with the cuff of her gown and inhaled a deep breath, to center herself back to calm. "There must be justice, husband."

"There will be," he promised. His grip on Gungnir tightened and he looked into the distance. "It must be public, but I know Loki would prefer his name not be disclosed. So the truth will stay between us," Odin declared. "None other shall know."

Her head came up at that. "None? Thor should know."

"He will know his teacher is a monster, and why, but why should he know of Loki's shame? Loki has no wish for anyone to know, especially not Thor."

She wanted to agree, to shield Thor from this knowledge. To shield Loki from his brother's pity as well. To protect the entire palace from Thor's fury at Tyr, no doubt. To follow Loki's wishes. But none of that was a good enough reason.

"Sif knows. We know. How can we, in good conscience, keep the the truth from Thor that his own brother was Tyr's victim?" she asked, and Odin demonstrated his discomfort with the question when he stepped away, refusing to meet her eyes. "Thor needs to know. I know Loki wants this all forgotten again; I know that, because I was the one who taught him that is what we do." Her voice broke on that. She had coaxed him to pretend nothing had happened, to put the death of Fenrir behind him, never knowing she was telling him to hide the whole terrible truth. She had told her son to lie about what was most important; so of course he had decided that truth was malleable and unimportant, and of course, he had built a façade of what he'd thought everyone wanted.

"But we cannot," she added. She raised her face to Odin and asked, "Have we not seen what is wrought by secrecy? Has there not been tragedy enough sprouting from ignorance and deceit? We can't protect Thor from this truth, nor should we. He still holds an image in his heart of Asgard as a flawless place, strong and pure, but he cannot rule wisely if he believes Loki is the only one to ever mar it." She said the last with deliberate, biting precision, meaning to strike at Odin as well, for being the one who held that belief first.

"Frigga…"

"Am I supposed to pity you?" she returned sharply, her eyes burning with tears of both grief and fury. "If I must suffer my regrets for all I failed to do, then so will you. You thought our son such a monster -- always you assumed he would be a monster, and never sought the truth of his deeds or his anger. And never once suspected a greater monster put him on his knees to learn hate and shame."

When Odin jerked back at her words, as if she'd struck him with a sword, she knew her words were more factual description than she had meant. She had to put a hand to her chest, in a vain attempt to protect herself from the pain of the image of her boy kneeling on the cold tile of the practice room at Tyr's feet. Back then, Loki had been sapling thin, eyes big in his face that had begun to lose its childish fullness and take on hints of the sharp adult features he would attain, and a mop of black hair that would not be tamed no matter what she tried.

He had been no match for Tyr, full grown in the height of his maturity. A large and strong warrior of great renown, in times of peace Tyr had become a trainer of stature. And now she had to wonder whether he had become a trainer, not for the honor of training the next generation of warriors for Asgard, but because it allowed him to access and harm the children he was supposed to defend.

She was going to be sick.

Light-headed, she clutched at the door frame, as the room dipped in and out of focus. "Did he -- did he do this to others? Prey on other children in his care?" she asked in a whisper.

"I know not. Sif was spared, and Loki knew of no others. It may be that his knowledge and hate of the Jotunn caused it to be a singular occurrence, but…" he hesitated, barely able to spit out the words, "… I will know when I require him to hold Gungnir."

"Yes," she agreed. Letting the wall hold her up, she leaned against it and closed her eyes to settle her stomach and her seething emotions. Anguish for her son, rage at his teacher, guilt for her own blindness -- all of it warred within her heart. "If Loki is not here, you must not carry out sentence on Tyr without him. He must see it."

"Should we not spare him the whole sordid matter? He is distraught, remembering this," Odin said. "To finish it before he returns seems a kindness..."

She shook her head and straightened. "No, in this, he must see it and know it's ended. In fairness, husband, you forced him to watch Fenrir be put down, it is right that Loki see Tyr be put down as well."

Odin grimaced and his hand tightened on Gungnir's haft. "If he had only told us the truth…"

"He did," she reminded him. "He told us Tyr was hurting him. I remember he told me several times and then… he stopped. Because I didn't help him. I told him little hurts were to be expected in training. I told him that was what warriors did." She moved to her dressing table to look in the mirror, wishing she could alter it to speak to her younger self. Her voice softened, addressing more that phantom younger queen who had thought she knew how to raise her sons. Yet despite her good intentions, she had managed to fail one of them so utterly he had fallen to madness, evil, and death, because he no longer cared for anything or anyone, including himself. "I told my son it was expected that warriors would abuse and terrify those weaker than themselves."

"Frigga, no, do not torment yourself," Odin said. "Loki knew you were ignorant of what was truly happening."

She grabbed the edge of the table, skin of her fingers turning white with the strength of her grip. "Yet he didn't tell me. He did not trust in my heart," she whispered. "For all our closeness, even while we shared our magic, I sensed nothing of this. He held it away from me, as I kept the secret of his heritage from him."

She looked at her hands, remembering how she had comforted him. They had always been close. Had he sensed she was keeping something from him, and was that why he had distrusted her? "This is our doing. All of this. Without us, without our foolish secret-keeping, without our inability to truly listen to him, none of this would have happened."

"He made his own choices--"

She could not hear that, not now. She spun around to confront him again. "Do you remember?” she demanded furiously. "Do you remember how he was? He was clever and curious and he was gentle. He loved to laugh and learn; he brought me flowers. He cried when he stepped on a beetle in the garden. And we heard nothing, saw nothing, as our servant burned all that innocence to ashes."

The cleverness had remained, but the gentleness that had leavened it had faded, and his laughter had lost its joy, turning mocking and bitter.

"He made his own choices, yes," she agreed, after a moment. Her whole body was exhausted now, as the rage rushed out of her like a tide and left her with nothing but bare sand. Her knees felt weak and she let herself fall to the bench. "Based on the knowledge that strength is prized, compassion is weakness, and the truth is punished or ignored." Choices to try to kill his own brother, to try to destroy an entire race, war, and death. All terrible choices, and all tied to this one deep shadow in his heart. "Do you not understand? When he found out the truth of his heritage, he knew that Tyr had always known, that Tyr was right."

"He was never right," Odin corrected swiftly.

"You and I know that, but do you believe Loki capable of parsing that difference?" She gestured to the little book now sitting beside her hairbrush on the top of her vanity table. "He hopes for nothing, and expects only loneliness and death."

"I know." Odin shook his head in sorrowful agreement. "His ancestry and these memories have grown entangled into a bitter self-loathing," Odin confirmed softly. "I felt it in his thoughts-- he would carve his own flesh from his bones if he thought it would rid him of this taint he feels. Sif is helping, I think, but it is in his soul and not so easily healed. We may yet lose him."

She shut her eyes, willing herself not to cry again. Loki would need her to be strong, not to fall apart.

Odin seated himself on the bench beside her, Gungnir held in one hand while his other reached slowly toward her hands, where they were clasped in her lap. He gave her time to move her hands if she wished, and when she didn't, he laid his atop, his grip still strong even if his hands were now more aged than in her youth.

"But he is not lost now. When he could have chosen rage and darkness, he chose to make amends," he offered quietly. "And he knows I care for him, when before, he believed that I hated him." He shook his head again, sorrowful at the misunderstandings that had worsened over time. "I have my own amends to make with him. Even if he may never forgive me."

She couldn't reassure him that Loki would forgive him, but she leaned her head against his shoulder that she at least would. She could not keep her anger at him, when she knew she was at fault as well. It was no easier for him to bear this news. "Will he take this chance? Will he come home?" she whispered.

He didn't answer right away. "He carries so much anger within him, so much doubt and hurt…"

"But surely now that he and Sif are united again--"

"She will try. She insisted he take her with him, when he would have chosen to go alone. And Sif is formidable. But whether it is enough to sway him, I doubt he knows that himself."

She nodded her reluctant agreement. Loki was a clever tactician, but he and Thor were alike in that they both decided things emotionally. Loki was smart enough to rationalize his decisions, so they seemed reasoned to him, even if they had not been. Right now, in the grip of such violent emotions, she wouldn't blame him for deciding to stay away from a place that reminded him of so much pain.

Except she needed to embrace him, to touch his face and smooth his hair and reassure him that never, never would she reject him.

She straightened, "I'm going to contact him."

"Are you sure that is wise?" he asked. "If he is negotiating with Malekith…"

As if she cared about wisdom at this moment, when she had just learned that her son had suffered unspeakably. She managed to answer calmly, "He will tell me so. It will not take long, and I… I need to reach him. Send to Thor to join us, and we will tell him the truth."

She stood, animated by new strength. At the beginning of this adventure of his, he would know that she was waiting for him and that finding out the truth changed nothing of her love for him.

In her adjoining work room, she approached the fire pit. Svartalfheim, as a different Realm, was much farther than his prison cell, and if he was behind some shield of Malekith's, Loki might be impossible to reach altogether, but she would try.

At first, it was diffficult to calm herself enough to call any power at all. But she closed her eyes and breathed, centering herself with the ease of long practice. She held out both hands to the quiescent flames, and they rose up in a column of green and gold fire. Staring into the curtain of fire, she sent forth her will along the channels and threads, seeking that familiar presence. As Loki's first teacher in the arts, the connection was long-standing and, when he was not hiding it from her, not difficult to find.

She traveled along it, inching nearer, and mindful of Odin's warning that Loki might be distracted with Malekith or even a battle for his life, she reached out to that brightness ahead of her, glowing so brilliantly, and tapped it. 'Loki. My son.'

He was surprised. 'Mother?'

She had her own surprise when he didn't push her away, and instead pulled her nearer, tightening the connection. He was too far away for her to see anything but a wraith-like impression in the flames, but he seemed calm and determined.

'I needed to speak to you. To reassure you that you remain my son. Always. There is nothing you did or could do that will change that. There never was.'

He hesitated, considering uneasily what she knew. He didn't commit to the truth, hoping that Odin had not yet told her what he had learned. Instead he referred to their previous encounter and said, 'I should not have said you were not my mother. I spoke carelessly.'

In truth, he had spoken with a great deal of care, recognizing that if he denied Odin as his father, logically he had to deny her, too. He'd been cutting himself away from anyone with any claim on him. 'I understood why you said it. And I understand better now. The Allfather told me what you shared with him, Loki.'

He knew exactly what Odin had told her, and the reaction was instinctive-- he tried to slam the connection shut between them and shove her away. But doggedly she held it. 'No, love, stop. You cannot pretend or ignore it anymore.'

He froze, giving in with such abruptness it was alarming. And even though the connection was open, he pulled back from her and hovered on the edge as far as he could. Everything about what she sensed from him was suddenly colored with pale orange of shame and violet of fear, colors that felt like illness of the soul. He believed she would tell him he was vile and that he should never come back to Asgard, now that she knew.

She reached out for him trying to comfort him.

'My son, never. It breaks my heart to know how you were suffering all that time, and I knew nothing. I am so sorry, my darling, that I was not a better champion for you. And I wish you had told me, and that I had listened, and…' she had to pause and calm herself again, as the connection threatened to slip her grasp.

'But most of all, right now, I want to hold you tight and never ever let you go. Please, my son, when this is over, come home. Or, if you would rather go elsewhere, tell me and I will come to you. Wherever you are. Just please, please, I beg you, do not disappear. I could not bear that again, fearing your death and not knowing. I want to prove to you that none of this changes my heart, and I cannot do that if you vanish.'

He didn't respond for a moment, feeling the weight of his thoughts, but she sensed the fear fading, as he believed that she would not cast him away, even if the shame remained. He promised quietly, 'I will not disappear. If it is possible, I will see you again. I swear..' Then, he added, 'Mother.'

Her heart swelled at the word, spoken with deliberation to emphasize he would not make the same mistake.

His head snapped up, gaze fixing on something out of her awareness. 'I must go.'

With surprising skill, he not only shut the connection between them but in less than a heartbeat, he had dispersed the threads as well, leaving her staring blankly at the flames in her room on Asgard with not a trace of his presence left. He was gone.

She inhaled deeply and let the fire die back to embers. At least she had done what she could. He might still break his promise to see her again- Loki meant his promises when he gave them, but he thought little of breaking them later. But she felt better for making sure he knew that her love still held, and nothing his father had told her had changed that.




Part Four