Chapter One: A Message
Every year, on the last day of Summer, Odin held a tournament to commemorate the end of the great war.
Every year since they had become men, Thor and Loki faced each other in the finals.
Every year, after a brief period of parrying back and forth, Thor raised his hammer in victory.
Every year- except for this one.
The day began as usual. Allfather opened the games with a recitation of the deeds at the last battle of Jotunheim. The Giants, the Dwarves, the Dark Elves and the rest of Odin's subject realms presented tributes at the Great God's feet. Trumpets sounded, and the matches progressed. Things went more or less as expected. Hours passed. Finally, the two princes faced one another in a ring of sand.
Loki had fought his brother often enough to predict what he would do. Thor charged forward, and Loki dodged. Thor's great hammer, Mjolnir, swung sideways, and Loki ducked. Thor jabbed with his sword and Loki took two steps back. After long years of practice, the battle between brothers was like a choreographed dance. Against any other partner, Loki would need only to bide his time until exhaustion wore down his foe. With Thor, it was different. The simple act of evading the hammer and blade would tire Loki long before his brother weakened, and the few blows that Loki managed to land glanced harmlessly off of his brother's armor. Most years, Loki's tactics earned him nothing more than a long, slow defeat.
It was time that he tried something new.
Loki sidestepped a swing of Mjolnir and lifted his sword. As usual, Thor spun away. Swinging his arm in a wide circle, Thor built speed. His biceps flexed and bulged in the split-second of anticipation before his hammer collided with Loki's shield- but this time, something unexpected happened. There was no clash or clang. The hammer didn't stop. It continued forward, slicing through nothing more than empty air as the figure of Loki disintegrated into sparkling dust.
It happened too quickly for Thor to compensate. The momentum of the hammer continued forward, dragging him off balance. His feet tangled together and he toppled to the ground, losing his grip on the hammer as his hands moved instinctively to brace his fall.
A gasp went up from the crowd.
As soon as he landed, Thor lifted his hand, starting to call Mjolnir back to his grasp, but he was too late. Loki seized his opening. He rematerialized out of the shadows, lunged forward, and laid his steel across his brother's throat.
Thor's hands stilled. He looked up, his blue eyes wide with confusion and shock.
A bubble of pure happiness welled up in the center of Loki's chest when he realized that his plan had worked. The feeling began spreading outward, and the edges of his lips twitched with the urge to smile. He resisted the impulse. Thor's gloating had always been unseemly. Loki was determined to be more dignified.
Still, his green eyes were sparkling with triumph as he turned toward the king.
That was when Loki noticed something was wrong. It was the sound- or rather, the lack of sound- that he noted first. The crowded arena was blanketed in absolute silence. The spectators all seemed to be holding their breath. Glancing up at the stands, Loki could see that their faces wore the same expression as Thor. They were stunned.
"Father?" Loki said uncertainly. He dropped his sword and took a step toward the royal box. Odin's face bore not hint of the pride or approval that Loki sought.
Loki hadn't intended for the last word to be a question, but the euphoria of a moment earlier had evaporated. It was replaced by a chill of dread.
The Allfather's lips flattened into a grim line. Odin looked between his sons, and shook his head. "The use of magic is not permitted in the games."
The crowd came to life again at the words. An excited buzzing filled the stadium as the crowd enthusiastically concurred with their king.
"Forbidden!…Dirty trick!...cheated!" Snippets of conversations carried down to the arena floor.
Loki's cheeks flushed with anger.
"Forbidden?" he hissed up at his father. "When was that rule enacted?"
The regulations of the arena were few: never strike a disabled opponent, no blows to the head or groin, never land an intentionally mortal blow, and honor a surrender. The Asgardians were a hearty lot and, with those few exceptions, anything would go. Loki was certain that he would have remembered a rule against magic. Granted, the tactic was uncommon, but it wasn't his fault that the warriors were too stupid and talentless to employ sorcery! Besides, Thor's hammer was magic! The armor that they wore was charmed to deflect damage! Spells were nearly always employed in battle. If the fighters didn't want to practice against magic, how could they prepare to face the Frost Giants with their enchanted swords and axes of ice?
Loki opened his mouth to voice his protest, but Odin silenced him with an upraised hand.
"Return to the palace," he said sharply.
Loki flung his sword in the sand, and then spun on his heel to go. He stalked toward the exit, but hadn't managed to slip away before he heard Odin's voice behind him.
"The match is over," the King announced. "Prince Loki has committed a forfeit. I declare that the winner is Thor."
"Will you come down to the banquet?"
Loki tried to force a smile for his mother's sake, but firmly shook his head. The queen had not attended the games, but she rushed to Loki's chamber as soon as she was informed of the results.
Loki wanted to be alone, but Frigga had either missed or ignored his heavy hints to that effect. He could simply tell her to leave, but Loki couldn't bring himself to be blatant or cruel where his mother was concerned. He was certain that she meant well as she cooed and petted, trying to soothe away the humiliation and betrayal that Loki felt in the same way that she had once nursed his cuts and bruises as a child.
Though he was loathe to admit it, Loki needed the attention now. His wounded heart drank in Frigga's maternal coddling like raindrops on parched soil. She had never made Loki feel less worthy than Thor. She had never shamed him or shunned him or pushed him away. She had never forced him to win her favor. She did love him, though. He could feel the emotion in every reassuring hug and worried glance, and it shamed him that Frigga's affections were not enough. Perhaps she offered her regard too freely, and that had cheapened its worth, for he would trade all of her kisses and tears for a single glance of approval from Odin's eyes.
"I'm tired, mother," Loki said gently. "I don't think I can face a banquet tonight."
He felt a rush of relief when she didn't argue.
"Very well, dear one," the queen said. "You are looking a little pale- and so thin! I'll send a tray up with your supper."
Loki submitted to a fretful glance and a kiss on the cheek. Then, mercifully, Frigga left.
Loki waited until the queen's footsteps had faded. Then, he walked onto the balcony outside of his room.
Voices from the feast carried up from the banquet hall. Loki closed his eyes and imagined the drinking and carousing that had only just begun. He briefly regretted his choice to avoid the celebration. The guests hailed from all across the nine realms. Many of them made the journey to Odin's halls only rarely, so there were always new stories to hear and new magic to learn. Loki felt more confident in his decision, however, when he thought of the whispers that would go on behind his back. He doubted that anyone at the banquet was missing him.
Loki lifted his gaze to the horizon, staring out into the endless sky. It was the time of year when the heavens never dimmed past twilight, but he was still able to pick out a few bright stars. He focused on them and cast his mind backwards, reliving his words and actions, trying to sort out how the events of the tournament had gone so wildly awry. What had he done that was wrong or not enough?
A sharp rap on the door interrupted his brooding.
Dinner, Loki thought, recalling the tray that Frigga had promised.
Loki came back inside his apartment and walked to the table where he would take his meal. He was already seated when he realized that he was still alone.
"ENTER!" Loki said again, louder this time. Still, there was no response.
Annoyed, but hungry, he walked to the door and flung it open.
There was no one there.
Loki frowned and looked both ways in the corridor outside his room. The halls were empty. Perhaps he had imagined the knock?
He was about to return inside when he noticed a folded square of parchment sitting next to the threshold. He picked it up and brought it into his room.
At first, he thought that it might be a summons from Odin- but he quickly realized that the Allfather was not likely to send his order in writing, nor would he permit a servant to leave a message by the door. Loki examined the paper closely. The outside was unremarkable. There wasn't any writing or any seal. It was bound by a simple twist of burlap which Loki impatiently discarded. As he did so, a small velvet pouch slid into his hand.
Loki momentarily ignored the tiny parcel, directing his attention to the paper instead. The message was brief, but chilling:
"Magic is the lifeblood of the nine realms.
Thor will never be our king."
Loki's first impulse was to drop the paper.
The writing was treason. Thor was clearly the front-runner to assume Odin's throne. Thor will never be our King, the message said. Did that imply that some harm would befall him? Was there going to be a rebellion? Was the letter a warning or a threat? Could it be a trap? Thor's friends often remarked that they suspected Loki of plotting to take his brother's place. How far would they go in an attempt to ensnare him?
Loki's mind was racing. He stared at the message, trying to place the handwriting. When that failed he examined every corner of the page . He tried to work out some explanation of where it had come from and what it meant, but the object didn't offer any clues.
It was several moments before Loki remembered the pouch. He thrust his fingers inside- and then drew them back in pain. A bright red line of blood spread along the edge of his fingertip where it had been cut by whatever was inside.
Acting more cautiously, Loki turned the bag upside down and shook it's contents out onto the table. A jagged shard of glass fell out. At least, at first glance it looked like glass. Peering closer, Loki wasn't so sure. It was a crystalline object, no larger than a Loki's thumb and roughly the shape of a square. Two sides of the piece were faceted like a gem. The others were jagged and razor sharp. Clearly, it was a piece of something larger. The surface of the item was faintly iridescent, and it glowed as if lit from within.
Loki had absolutely no idea what it was.
He glanced from the paper to the crystal and then back again, struggling to make out what they might mean, and ultimately deciding that it might be better if he didn't find out. It was hard enough to remain in Odin's favor as things were. If the Allfather held even the slightest suspicion that Loki was involved in a plot against Thor, things would only get worse.
Loki crumpled the piece of paper and tossed it into his unlit hearth. He was about to do the same with the piece of glass as well, but something stopped him. The crystal felt strangely warm, and the glow was brighter. Loki stared in amazement. Then, as clearly as if someone was standing in the room, he heard a voice speak a name inside his head:
Loki's eyes widened. Where had the voice come from- and what did it mean? The goddess Freya was a familiar face at Court, but he could scarcely remember her daughters. He struggled to place their faces. It was years since they had been to the castle. They had all been children then.
Remembering himself as a child, Loki was finally able to summon a memory: the night that Sif had lost her famous golden hair.
Loki smiled as a piece of the puzzle finally fell into place.
He knew where he had seen a crystal like this before.
Sigyn moaned in frustration as her older sister dropped a corner of the net that they were hauling in and let it fall back into the sea.
"I don't want to get my dress wet!" Syn answered, utterly unconcerned by Sigyn's displeasure. Syn took a step backwards. "This is servants work at any rate!"
Sigyn started to point out that they didn't have servants to spare. Even if they had, their grandfather Njord had directed the girls to bring in the net themselves. In the end, however, Sigyn bit her tongue. She knew that Syn was still smarting from the fact that she hadn't been allowed to go to Odin's feast with their mother. Sigyn could understand her sister's disappointment. She would have liked to see the palace again as well, but unlike Syn, Sigyn had never harbored any hopes that their mother would let her attend.
Freya had seven daughters, and there was not nearly enough ready cash to send even one of them to the King's table in the style that their mother demanded (to be fair, the sale of a few of the jewels showered upon their mother by lovelorn suitors could keep them in fashion until Ragnarok, but that was a thought that never seemed to occur to Freya). Even if there had been, Freya was not inclined to share attention. While none of Freya's daughters could match their mother's beauty, the girls were kept so cloistered that eyes followed them with interest whenever they did appear in public. A sense of mystery lent them all a gloss that beauty alone could not bestow.
Feeling charitable, Sigyn decided to put Syn out of her misery. "Oh, go back to the house!" she sighed. "I'll manage somehow on my own!"
Syn didn't need any further convincing. She scurried away without another word. Sigyn smiled as she watched her sister scramble up the rocks toward home.
Noatun was still a regal mansion, although portions had fallen into disrepair. Once, the dwelling had boasted a thousand rooms and a great hall to rival Odin's own, but that was many years ago.
Sigyn and her kin were Vanir, rivals of the Aesir in the great war. After years of fighting, with neither side in a decisive lead, they sued for peace. The old ones agreed to an exchange of hostages and a pledge of brotherhood between their realms. In exchange for captives, the Aesir would accept the Vanir as equal citizens. That was the theory, at least.
For a time, there was peace and plenty. Sigyn's grandfather, Njord, was one of the original hostages. He was Lord of the watery realm of Vanaheim, and he brought with him all of the riches of the sea. That was when the house was built, perched proudly on an island in the Asgard ocean, teetering on the edge of land and sea and stars.
Prosperity didn't last.
Too late, the Vanir discovered that they had been tricked. The hostages that Odin offered in return for Njord were not princes as they had been proclaimed, but outcasts and criminals with no value on their lives. To spare their beloved king Njord, the Vanir were forced to bend to Odin's will. It wasn't long before Vanaheim fell into ruin. Those citizens who survived passed into Asgard, blending in with the population until there were few who remembered their home by the sea. The tributes from the old lands stopped coming, and the citizens of Asgard grew suspicious of those who still claimed their Vanir birth. They were wary of the strange ways that the old sea people kept and the powerful magic that they could wield.
Despite disfavor, the house of Njord would never disown its heritage so long as the old man lived. Syn and the other sisters sometimes grumbled at their grandfather's quaint customs and tired stories, but Sigyn secretly loved them, just as she loved grandfather and his oceans and his crumbling old house. She was Vanir to the core, and so Sigyn's let out a sigh of bliss as she stepped into the water and warm sand oozed between her toes.
The waves that lapped at Sigyn's feet were warm. It was a delightful contrast to the cool breeze that blew in from the stars. Sigyn was sorely tempted to go for a swim, but was too mindful of her duties to give in. Determined to bring the catch to land, she tucked her skirts above her knees and waded into the shallow water to fetch the edge of the net that Syn had dropped.
A float was tied to the corner of the woven ropes, and it bobbed just beyond Sigyn's reach. She stretched forward, balancing on one of her toes, straining until her fingertips just managed to brush against the weathered wood. The shifting seas kept it just beyond her reach. She had to take another step forward and reach again. Sigyn was paying so much attention to the net that she didn't notice the wave that began to crest. Her hand finally closed around the edge of the net just as the wall of water hit her square in the chest.
The force of the wave knocked Sigyn backwards, submerging her completely. It was several seconds before she reemerged from the water, sputtering, coughing and utterly drenched.
Perversely, during the tumult the edge of the net wrapped around Sigyn's foot. Muttering some very unladylike words, she yanked it free and dragged the nets to shore.
If only Syn could see me now, Sigyn thought miserably as she looked down at her ruined gown. The thin silk was plastered to her body like a second skin. The pale color was nearly translucent where it was soaked through, and the clasp at her shoulder was torn. Sigyn could only imagine what her grandfather would think if he saw her in this condition or- worse- the lecture that Freya would deliver when she discovered that Sigyn had ruined yet another gown.
To add insult to injury, any fish that might have been caught in the traps had managed to struggle free. Sigyn growled in frustration when she realized that her labors had all been for naught.
Sigyn was just wondering how the situation could possibly be made any worse when she heard a sound that sent her heart to her knees:
"Lady Sigyn? Is that you"
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The idea of Sigyn as Freya's daughter (and all of the sisters) comes from a Marvel Wiki. It is NOT supported by Nordic myths and I haven't read the comics myself, so don't try to impress your comic book friends OR your Nordic Studies professor with ideas gleaned from this story. I am always leery of posting a work-in-progress, but I DID force myself to outline the entire thing before I began. Hopefully that will keep me honest!
Finally- as you can tell from reading this, I am WOEFULLY in need of a beta. Interested parties, please apply!