When first she meets him, he is a small, cold thing. His skin is still blue in patches and his eyes flash red, but the moment she takes him in her arms, Frigga knows he belongs to her. He is the child of her heart. Thor, darling Thor who thinks everything can be solved with a bellow and punch, belongs to Odin. Loki, as she chooses to call him, looks at her with his green and then red and then green again eyes, and he owns every crevice of her heart.
She refuses a wet nurse, and it causes whispers to follow her and her new son everywhere. But Frigga weathers these whispers as she weathers all whispers: with grace and dignity. She holds Loki on her lap and feeds him goat's milk at the high table, ignoring the uncertain looks from her handmaidens and Asgard's court.
And Loki, in her arms, suckling eagerly, watches her with strange eyes. He does not seem able to make up his mind about the woman who holds him who is not his mother. Frigga does not mind. She loved him the minute she saw him, and she will continue to love him until all the world turns to dust.
It is when Loki begins to cut his teeth that Odin suggests the deception.
"He will be outcast if any know what he is," Odin says to Frigga as she lets Loki gnaw on one of her fingers. Odin watches the child with a dubious expression, as though he believes Loki will bite the finger off at any moment.
Frigga's expression is serene. "That would be lying," she said. "A child grown in a lie will know only lies." It is a warning for Odin, for Frigga is prescient.
"No one is to know what he is."
But everyone, one day, will. She sees this in the turning of her spinning wheel when she puts Loki to bed for an afternoon nap, and she sees the pain this will bring her beautiful boy.
"My love," Odin says, kneeling beside her chair. He places a hand on her knee and reaches for her wrist with the other, drawing her finger from Loki's mouth. The baby's face contorts with confusion, and he kicks, his little feet hitting Odin's arm. "He is our enemy, and I would not have him grow up an oddity and hated."
Odin means well, but Frigga knows how this will end. She knows, also, that this is unavoidable. So she acquiesces with a quiet murmur, and Odin leaves her with her child.
Loki fusses, kicking his feet and flailing his arms, and he does not still even when she offers her finger to him once more. He grabs at her with surprising strength, his fists pumping up and down uselessly, and he lets out a strangled wail.
She rocks him back and forth, cradling him against her chest, and she sings a soft lullaby. "The sky is dark and the hills are white as the storm-king speeds from the north tonight." Smoothing a lock of hair, dark as night, from his face, she smiles. It is a radiant smile, bright and full of love. "And this is the song the storm-king sings, as over the world his cloak he flings: 'Sleep, sleep, little one, sleep;' he rustles his wings and gruffly sings: 'Sleep, little one, sleep.'"
Thor is enamored with his new brother. At three years of age, he should be jealous of the attention Frigga gives to Loki, but she manages to split her affections between each boy to the satisfaction of each, and so Thor does not care.
But Thor is like a puppy: eager for any kind of love and content with whatever he receives. A quick hug is, for Thor, just as good as an hour spent listening to Frigga tell stories before bed.
In the gardens, he sits beside his mother on a sunny afternoon, curled under her arm as she strokes Loki's hair.
"He's very small," Thor observes.
Frigga inclines her head. "He will grow, just as you are growing."
Thor scoffs. "Not as big as me."
A small, secret smile crosses Frigga's lips. "That depends entirely on how one defines big," she returns, and she is met with the blank-faced stare of a child too young to comprehend her words. "Would you like to hold him?"
Immediately, Thor's face is bright like the sun, shining with excitement and barely contained joy. "Yes, Mother, yes!" he exclaims, holding out his arms.
"No, no," she scolds, using her free arm to straighten Thor against her side. "You must be gentle and be sure to hold him properly." With great care, she places Loki in Thor's arms, and the baby opens his big green eyes, yawning, and stares at his brother. "There," Frigga says, adjusting Thor's arms so Loki's head is supported.
Thor stares at Loki, for this is the first time he has been allowed to hold him, and sits very stiff and very still. "He's pretty," Thor whispers, and Frigga laughs softly, wrapping her arms around her sons so she can hold them both. Her fingers brush Loki's soft cheek, and she nods.
"Yes, he is."
Frigga cannot stomach Loki's tears, and when he comes running to her with his knees scraped and his eyes red and wet, she is immediately at his side. She envelopes him in her arms, holding him to her chest as he wails and chokes on his words in spite of his attempts to speak.
Odin looks at her severely from behind a missive. "You coddle him," her husband says.
Picking the boy up, for she is as strong as any Asgardian warrior, she gives Odin a severe look of disdain, tiling her head so she can look down on him. "I love him," she says, and her tone conveys her message clearly: she believes Odin does not.
The Allfather bristles and looks like he might reprimand her, but Frigga sweeps from the room with her baby in her arms, petting his hair and whispering soothing words into his ear. When they reach her private rooms, she cleans and bandages his wounds before settling with him on a couch and rocking him back and forth.
"S-Sif says I am slow and dull," Loki finally manages, his tears soaking through the light cotton of Frigga's dress. He pulls back to wipe his eyes with the backs of his hands, and the crestfallen expression on his face cuts Frigga's heart from her chest and lays it bare for the world to see.
Her handmaidens, who hover at the door to her sitting room, withdraw at her sharp look.
"Why does Sif say that?" Frigga asks, drawing Loki's cheek to her shoulder. She hugs him, and though her arms are loose, there is no mistaking that she wishes to hold him close and protect him from all the wrongs in the world.
"B-because I ca-ca-cannot hold a sword," Loki replies, shuddering with the force of his sobs.
"Oh, child." Frigga gives him an indulgent smile, and it so offends him that he forgets his tears to glare at her. "Not all of us can be warriors. Some of us must be tacticians, or artisans, or bards."
He scowls. "I do not want to be a bard. I want to fight alongside Thor."
Her heart shatters in her chest, because she knows. She knows he will have only a handful of centuries to fight beside his brother before he fights with his brother, and as much as she wants to tell him, she cannot. "I do not fight with a sword," is what she says instead.
Loki purses his lips and wrinkles his nose, a child thinking hard about concepts he does not fully understand. "You use a polearm." But he shakes his head. "I don't like spears."
And here is an opening, a place for Frigga to set the stage for the future. It is a shame, she thinks as she pulls away from Loki and goes to a shelf of books, that in helping him now, she only hurts him. It eats at her and, she thinks, it will destroy her, but she wants to see him happy if only for a few brief years.
"Here," she says as she settles beside him once more, a thick, dusty tome in hand.
He takes it from her and opens it. The smell of old, musty paper spills from the opened pages, and they creak when he turns them. "A Grimoire of Basic Spells," he reads, his voice slow and halting, his finger passing under each rune. He looks up at her with wide eyes. "But these are tricks!" he exclaims, and he looks betrayed.
Frigga, one arm looped around his shoulders, turns to the first page and begins to speak, her voice soft and even. "To be a sorcerer is a great and mighty calling. Sorcery bends the elements of the realms to one's will, and to call that mere trickery is a terrible offense." She points at the first spell. "Can you read this?" she asks.
Loki's brows draw together in concentration, and he slowly reads the words of the spell out loud. She whispers them in time with him, bolstering his confidence. When he reads the spell the fifth time, voice steady and sure, every candle in the room bursts into flame.
He practices well into the night, and he falls asleep at her side, on a spacious couch. Frigga draws him into her arms and holds him.
She watches him become a fine sorcerer, capable of magic beyond his years. At his fifth century, he makes a mockery of the mages who have studied years longer than he, and at his first millennia, he could, she thinks, unwind the very universe with spells spoken by his silver tongue. He is quick and clever, where Thor, ever Odin's child, is brash and thoughtless, and she loves Loki all the more for it.
The year he turns twelve hundred, there is no grand, month-long feast as there was three years prior for Thor. Odin, Frigga thinks, has overlooked Loki's birthday again, but Loki would have it no other way. He does not enjoy being the center of attention or being paraded before the court like Thor does. Odin thinks him a sneaky, shadowy creature, and has grown weary of Loki's penchant for tricks with his magic.
Frigga, who has arranged a small, intimate dinner in her quarters, delights in every bit of mischief Loki accomplishes.
She wonders, as she sets delicately made glass plates on the table, if she has contributed to the end of her son. She wonders if her love for his tricks and her encouraging him to learn magic has drawn him on the path to his end.
Loki appears like a wraith in her rooms as she pours them each a glass of wine. He would startle Odin or Thor by appearing in that manner, but Frigga is nonplussed. She lifts her face to him, a beatific smile brightening her countenance, and holds out her hand. "Loki," she says warmly.
He takes her hand and draws it to his face. "Mother," he returns, and the barest hint of a smile is on his face.
He does not smile as he once did. As a child, he smiled freely, openly, but over the years, he became more and more closed off. Now Frigga is the only one who sees his kinder emotions, for he is free with disdain and sneers. She reassures herself with thoughts that Loki gives her all his affection, but she knows each day that passes sees him smile less. And when he no longer smiles at all, she will lose him.
This birthday celebration, this quiet, intimate dinner, is her last attempt to reclaim the child he once was.
She is careful not to ask questions about his brother or his brother's friends, instead inquiring after his studies. Loki shows her the illusions he is learning, and he makes for her creatures of spectacular color, their form and substance like mist that shimmers in the light of early morning. A swan glides about her head, and a mouse scampers across the hem of her gown. He crafts a lion from light, its mane a raging fire that begets no heat, and it rubs against her arm with the faintest of pressures.
"I will learn to give them weight," Loki assures her, "so that one day, no one will be able to discern the difference between my illusions and reality."
"I should think you will need to make them less spectacular," Frigga replies, running her fingers through the wings of a nightingale. The touch distorts the illusion, makes the scintillating rainbow of colors bleed together and twist into nothingness.
He laughs, the sound quiet. It skitters through the air between them, and Frigga wishes, sometimes, that Loki's laughs came as full-bodied as Thor's. And yet she does not resent the difference, as Odin does. She sees the differences between her boys more clearly than does her husband, and she is pleased enough to hear Loki's laughter at all.
They drink more wine than they should, going through so many bottles that even their Asgardian tolerance for alcohol flags, wanes, and then disappears entirely. Even drunk beyond measure, Loki's laughs are quiet, a counterpoint to Frigga's, for she laughs as Thor does, with all her body and all her heart. At some point in their evening, they smear blueberry pie across each other's faces instead of eating it, and when Frigga finally remembers she has a gift for her boy, they can barely walk.
She stumbles to the table where the present waits, tripping over her own feet several times, but she makes it, and takes the present, and returns with it to her beloved son.
He opens the present with care and finds inside the wrapping an ancient grimoire. The pages are faded with age, and it makes their skin prickle with power. Loki is drunk enough to suggest they try a spell from the yellowed pages, and Frigga is drunk enough to agree.
They are asleep before they can finish the spell, leaving the magic to float in the charged air. Frigga wakes shortly before dawn to a terrible headache, and Loki is beside her on the floor, his head pillowed on his arm. Sometime during their sleep, her handmaidens cleared the table and gave them blankets, and Loki has wrapped one of the light sheets around his fist.
Frigga leans over him, her fingers gently caressing his brow that is drawn and tense even in sleep, and she sings softly. "On yonder mountain-side a vine clings at the foot of a mother pine; the tree bends over the trembling thing, and only the vine can hear her sing." She tucks the blankets around Loki's shoulder, warding off the cool morning air. "'Sleep, sleep, little one, sleep; what shall you fear when I am here?'" The words of the lullaby threaten to catch in her throat, and she feels like a liar. "'Sleep, little one, sleep.'"
They destroy each other a little more each day, and it is more than Frigga can bear. It breaks her heart, rends her soul, wrenches deep, bone-rattling sobs from her body. They are her sons and they seek only to destroy each other, never knowing that in doing so they destroy themselves.
When she is overcome by sadness, she goes to Odin and she shouts at him. "Look at what you've wrought!" she commands, gesturing toward the Bifrost, wherever it may be behind her. "Look at what a state your lies brought our children to!"
"And you did not see this?" Odin asks her, his mild tone a slap against her face. "You, who sees all things before they happen? Perhaps you finally see the price for your silence."
Frigga's rage is no small thing, and for the next year, Asgard exists under a shroud of perpetual mist. It clings to every inch of ground and not even the noon sun, bright in the sky above, can burn it away. Odin knows its source, but he ignores her. Instead of going to her, he asks his mages to use magic against the fog. He achieves perhaps an hour of clear streets twice before the mist returns, stronger than before, and blankets everything.
Asgard performs what it thinks is an elegant dance around its queen, but it does not allay her temper. She is cold and cruel as a winter morning and holds herself aloof, further away than the highest point of Jotunheim's mountains. Her words, which have always been few, are fewer still, and when she speaks it is with the sharpest edge of her tongue. She spares no one, and she does not care if she is thought childish.
She has held herself in check for nearly two thousand years. She will do so no more.
Heimdall summons her one morning, the only man in all Asgard who would still dare command its queen; even Odin balks at her now. She goes because Heimdall alone does not tiptoe around her.
And what she sees on the Bifrost stokes the fires of her anger. "Loki!" she cries, rushing past the guards who have come with her. She touches his bruised cheek, his bleeding lip. Her fingers hover over his broken arm. When her gaze lifts to Thor, who cradles his brother in his arms, her eyes are cold and hard. Thor is not as broken as Loki, and so he receives the worst of her anger. "Look what you have done," she says, and it is only later she hopes Thor will not hate her for those words.
Loki is taken to the healing rooms, and Frigga follows. The healers attempt to dismiss her, but she stares at them with disdain and says, with far too much calm, "You would dare to direct the queen of Asgard." It is not a question. It is a statement, and the chilly distance in her tone convinces them to leave her be.
She does not come between them and their work, but she oversees and watches, and if her critical eye causes them greater anxiety she does not care. Their hands remain steady. Their work does not suffer. They will carry the weight of her gaze and they will whisper of her displeasure to the whole of Asgard.
Hours later, the healers have done as much as they can, and Frigga settles at Loki's side. She strokes the hair from his face, her fingers feather light against his skin. Her heart beats out a painful, sorrowful rhythm against her ribs. She knows she has not failed him, but she cannot help but feel she has.
When Thor's shadow falls over her, she chooses not to acknowledge it.
"He would have killed thousands," Thor says when his presence becomes awkward and the silence so intolerable it makes breathing difficult.
"Every blow you place on him," Frigga replies, "is a blow against yourself."
Thor is quiet as he kneels beside her. He takes her hand, and only then does she turn to regard him. He, too, is her son, and she cannot hate him for what he has done. She understands, and the understanding makes it worse.
There are no good and gentle choices left to them, only right and difficult ones.
"I am sorry, Mother," he says, and she knows he speaks truly. Thor was never one for lies.
Loki's eyes flutter open before Frigga can respond, and she fights the urge to embrace him. His collarbone is broken in three places; the bones in his arm are crushed. She cannot stand the thought of bringing him more pain.
His lips move but he makes no sound. A wheeze passes his lips, and he winces with pain.
"Be still," Frigga murmurs to him, leaning close. She places her fingers on his cheeks, and she sees in his eyes all of his love. It is enough for her. "You need to sleep."
"Thor?" he manages, each pull of his breath accompanied by an awful whistling noise.
Thor takes Loki's hand. "I am here."
This satisfies him, and Loki's eyes close. He releases a long sigh, and Frigga sings an old lullaby, one that hasn't passed her lips in more than seven hundred years. "The king may sing in his bitter flight, the pine may croon to the vine tonight, but the little snowflake at my breast liketh the song I sing best."
She is not startled when Thor adds his voice to hers. She has long known Thor listened outside Loki's door to the lullabies she sang. "'Sleep, sleep, little one, sleep; weary thou art, anext my heart; sleep, little one, sleep.'"
Norse Lullaby, the lullaby Frigga sings, is a poem by Eugene Field.