Frigga's Major Headache: Or The Day The Boys Drove Her Nuts
Not a single soul had heard Frigga, apparently unable to conceive children of her own, complain when Odin had brought home the golden-haired boy he'd sired from Gaea, the earth goddess. "Thor," he'd proudly proclaimed with a look of abject pride accompanied by a timeless male chest-thump meant to impress upon others the primal dominance brought on by fatherhood. His demeanor had been more sentimental when he'd returned home from Jotunheim carrying a tiny bundle of cloth in which was nestled a dark-haired baby. "Loki," he'd whispered in that tone reserved for profound moments, periods in their married life when he thought they should feel overwhelmingly blessed. Then a miracle had happened: After centuries of being unable to conceive and nearing the end of Odin's period of fertility, Frigga had given birth to a third boy. "Balder," Odin had proclaimed while raising the boy to the sky, dappled golden light filtering through a canopy of leaves on their garden balcony to catch on a single tear on his cheek.
Her boys; the trio of princes held equal places of love and adoration in her heart regardless of who had given birth to them. The eldest was ever dominant, much like his father, and quite happy to lead his younger siblings into mischief. The middle boy, son of a fallen enemy and no less cherished in her heart than his brothers, was usually the mastermind of whatever mischief Thor was leading them into, a devious little smile in place whenever he caught her glance, and heaven help her, but she so willingly spent countless hours showing him everything she knew about the strains of magic. The youngest boy was so remarkably beautiful it almost hurt to look upon his perfect face; quiet, brave enough to toddle after Thor and Loki even when he knew they were making trouble, and the most studious out of her sons. His tutors lavished him with praise, constantly using him as an example in their attempts to motivate the hyper Thor and the stubborn Loki.
A fist pressed against her bosom as though attempting to contain all the joy of motherhood currently overwhelming her, Frigga than swiped her fingers across the small image monitor clutched in her hand. A fresh picture was displayed, lips quirking in a smile: Thor had been caught in the act of wailing and pummeling his little fists against a bench while Loki conjured miniature soldiers on horseback in an attempt to distract his older brother from his tantrum. Their father stood in the background cradling Balder, who had been in swaddling clothes at the time, Odin's expression one of abject pride in the sons gathered around him. She had the most remarkable and beautiful family ever imagined even if wrangling them had caused silver threads to streak the burnished copper of her feminine pride and joy.
"Mother, Thor won't stop poking me!" Loki shouted indignantly when the larger blonde boy chased him onto the balcony.
"I'm not poking you, Brother; Musilnir is!" exclaimed Thor, and just as soon as he thought she was paying more attention to Loki, he jabbed his little brother in the side again with the blunted tip of his wooden sword, so carefully named with all the pride a growing lad took in receiving his first training weapon. Naturally, she'd known putting a weapon in his hand was asking for trouble, but no one had listened to her.
"Thor, would you please ask Musilnir to stop poking Loki?" A smile on her face, Frigga opened her arms to the smaller boy, delighted when he bounded across the distance separating them to fling himself into her embrace.
"Loki," cried Thor in that whining tone of voice that said he was disappointed and betrayed at being abandoned in favor of their mother's comfort. "We haven't defeated the nefarious and evil frost giants yet!"
"Excellent word usage, Son, but frost giants are not inherently nefarious nor evil simply because they are frost giants," she patiently instructed. A tiny seed buried in the depths of her soul was terrified of the moment when Loki would find out about his real parentage: She did not want him believing he was nefarious and evil simply because he'd grown up listening to Thor repeat common misconceptions bandied about regarding their enemies.
"Why aren't the frost giants evil, Mother? Father doesn't have both eyes anymore because their king wouldn't agree to a ceasefire," Loki commented, his dark, soulful eyes staring up at her with such love and trust it nearly rendered her a puddle on the bench.
Her arms closed around the boy, lifting him easily to perch on her lap, at which point, she tucked a tendril of black hair behind his ear. "You must understand, my sons, that no one is bound to the footsteps their parents left behind. We are all free to make our own destinies. Laufey decided to use his strength to the detriment of Midgard because he craved power and destruction. Laufey's children aren't shackled by their blood relationship to repeat his mistakes."
"When I'm king," Thor began with all the righteous self-confidence of a nine year old, "Musilnir will smite Laufey's children until he has no legacy left, and I will present their heads to Father in vengeance for the eye he sacrificed." His bold statement concluded with several swings of his wooden sword, kinetic energy cutting through the air in soft whooshing sounds.
Fingers pinched the bridge of her nose momentarily before she commented, "There is no glory in making war on people who have done you no hurt, Thor. If Laufey has children, we mustn't assume they stand with their father's choices." Was there any nine year old in the nine realms who listened to their mother's patient tutelage when glory and honor on the battlefield seemed so much worthier a cause?
"No, when I'm king, I will barter a lasting ceasefire with Jotunheim just the way Father and Mother have taught us." Loki's glance lifted in search of praise for having chosen words he anticipated would please her.
A hand cupped her middle son's head and pressed him deeper into her bosom for a moment of affection. There was never a time when Loki was willfully disobedient, the seven year old always weighing his words carefully to gain the desired reaction. Frigga counted down in her head-Three…Two…One…
"You're a baby!" Thor wailed. "Real men gain renown with the point of their sword instead of their slick, silver tongues. Mama, tell Loki to stop being a baby!"
As predicted, Thor immediately sought to regain her attention in the fastest way he thought would receive the desired result; picking on his brother in this case. And Frigga, always trying to stay one foot in front of her children, responded by ignoring his outburst in an attempt to guide him to a more reasonable method of seeking attention. She smoothed Loki's hair, pressed a kiss to his forehead, and finally lifted her glance to her eldest when Thor huffed in a manner that said he'd moved on to stubbornly holding his breath, which he anticipated would result in her worrying about his health.
"You're stupid, Thor," Loki chimed in after a reasonable amount of time had passed, time in which he must have figured he'd achieved the victory. "If you'd just ask Mother for a hug, she'd hug you, but you'd rather act like a bilgestipe."
"Don't call your brother stupid, Loki," she immediately scolded.
Her eldest sucked in another hard breath, cheeks puffing out and lips pursing in a decided pout while fists settled against his hips. Eyes bluer than the most startlingly vibrant sky clouded with frustration, jaw locking and angling as he canted his head to the left in an expression so purely stubborn there was no questioning where he'd learned the behavior; from his mother.
Seeing an opportunity, Loki slid from her lap, trotted over to Thor, and poked his brother's distended cheeks, causing an out-rush of air accompanied by a rat-a-tat of burring lips. "Mother, will you give Thor a hug?"
"No, because then I would be rewarding you with attention. If Thor wants to gain a moment of my attention, he can do so properly."
Finally, the stubbornness of her eldest melted away until he was gazing at her with wobbly eyes and a shuddering bottom lip. "Mama, can I have a hug?"
"Of course, my sweet." Frigga opened her arms to the boy, who flung himself with such enthusiasm, she was very nearly knocked off the back of the bench. Her laughter was lilting as she closed her arms around him. "My brave Thor. One day, you'll be one of the most powerful men in the nine realms, and it's important you learn to dispense power and justice with grace, nobility, and compassion."
"That's boring," he whined, emphasizing and extending the vowel to show his displeasure at receiving further lectures. Rather, the boy snuggled in closer, cheek pressing up against and nuzzling her bosom until he'd wormed himself into the crook of her arm.
Obviously, her eldest had reached the end of his tether. Thor's attention span had been used up. Attempts at further instruction would be pointless, as anything she had to say would merely enter one ear and immediately exit the other. She'd learned quickly the capacity each of her sons possessed for listening attentively, Thor's being the shortest when he would rather spend his time chasing imaginary monsters and saving his young playmates from pretend villains bent on destruction and domination.
Hurried footsteps could be heard on marble flooring before Iound, Frigga's personal maid and a dear companion, appeared through the archway leading into the royal family's private sitting room. The woman's breath was ragged, attesting to the long dash required to reach Frigga's side and assuring the queen of Asgard of the urgency of Iound's mission. An arm curled tightly around Thor before she lurched to her feet. The sudden staccato of her heart was proof of her immediate fear that Odin's delayed return from Svartalfheim had deadlier origins than had been reported.
"Your Majesty, young Balder somehow managed to awaken Durindel and is in danger!" Iound shouted, the woman's fear palpable.
Only long centuries of poise prevented her from immediately descending into a state of panic just as soon as her brain registered that "Balder" and "danger" had been used in the same sentence. "Slow down, Iound. Take a breath and tell me clearly and concisely what has happened. Where's Balder? Iound, where is my son?"
Iound's hand fluttered and settled on her stomach, a deep, shuddering breath working out of her lungs while she sought calm enough to relay the necessary information. Finally, she said with a much greater degree of control, "Balder wandered from his classmates while their tutor lectured on objects in the treasure vault. The young prince discovered Durindel and somehow managed to scramble onto the statue's back, waking Durindel from his long sleep. The beast immediately panicked at his surroundings and took flight from the treasure vault with Balder still aboard. They were last spotted launching from a balcony and taking to the skies."
"My son is clinging to the Pegasus' back while it romps through the skies over Asgard?" A hand flew to her mouth to muffle a terrified gasp.
Imagined events played out in her mind's eye. The ever-curious Balder, enraptured by the large statue of a winged horse, wandering from his classmates while the tutor's attention was diverted in showing the curious students all the wonders housed in the treasure vault-home to relics far less dangerous than those permanently housed in the weapons vault-only for Balder to clamor aboard in some pretend game. Durindel, who had been a gift to the royal household from the light elves of Alfheim, had no doubt woken in a panic at being in strange surroundings just as soon as Balder settled himself, and the beast had no doubt spooked before anyone could calm him. A desperate sound ravaged her throat when she pictured her son clutching frantically to Durindel's black mane while the beast soared hundreds of feet in the air.
"Mama?" Thor cut in, clear worry in his tone at seeing his mother in such a state.
"Stay with them," she instructed whilst uncurling Loki's fingers from the material of her dress. "Keep them safe, and if my husband returns from Svartalfheim before Balder is safe, tell him what's happened."
"Mama, we can help," insisted Thor, little hand clutching the handle of his wooden blade.
"Stay with Iound," she instructed in a stern tone that should have transmitted how much she needed Thor and Loki to behave while her attention was diverted to Balder.
"Mama," he began again only for Iound to crouch between the boys and wrap an arm around each little waist.
Frigga spun on her heel, dashing from the balcony in a surreal state somewhere between full-fledged terror and precision calm that would allow her to continue functioning despite the danger her youngest was in. People of Asgard were hardy folk. Most adults were likely to survive a fall of several hundred feet even if weeks would be required to recover, but Balder was a child, a small and helpless child who could so easily be flung from Durindel. He could fall wrong and snap his neck. He could land on something pointed and impale himself through the heart. For as hardy as they were compared to the folk of Midgard, they could still be killed, and a child was far more vulnerable to death than any adult.
A terrible wail escaped Balder. This had all started out as great fun, an adventure the likes of which only the oh-so-grown-up Thor could conjure, but he was ready to get down now. He buried his tear-streaked face in the beast's mane when they banked sharply to wheel around a large, floating tower and sweep down alongside one of the many waterfalls. Water plunged more than a hundred feet to the vast ocean beneath the city, and all he could do was cling as tightly as possible to his fistfuls of hair.
If he were as big as his big brother, he would have been strong enough to make the flying horse skim the Rainbow Bridge, and then surely he would have been brave enough to jump off. Thor could have done it. Thor could have landed safely mere feet from where Heimdall could scoop him up to be lavished with attention. Were he as smart as Loki, he would have conjured a spell allowing him to speak Horseian and asked the horse nicely to land on the Rainbow Bridge where Heimdall would have hailed him the smartest person in the whole of Asgard. But Balder was neither big nor intelligent enough to speak horse, so all he could do was wail for his mother.
"Mama!" he cried desperately as they streaked past the Rainbow Bridge again where he caught sight of a crowd gathering below. One hand released the fistful of mane it was clutching to reach toward the people as though he could catch them even from so high up, but the little prince lost his balance and nearly went plummeting over the side when the horse whipped around to streak toward the bifrost and the very edge of Asgard.
Nothing had ever frightened him so much as peering into the deep blackness and being so terribly certain the horse wouldn't stop. Surely they would fly out into the midst of space never to be seen or heard from again, but his mount kicked its heels and whipped around again to speed back toward the bifrost, wind biting sharply into his cheeks when the horse put on even more speed to dive back toward the water. A terrified sob escaped, but he forced himself to keep his eyes open while they streaked below the Rainbow Bridge to come up on the other side.
Being a very small boy, Heimdall had always struck him as being stupendously tall, so when Balder caught sight of the man in golden armor, he thought for a moment how small Heimdall really looked from so far up. All the people gathering beneath him looked like ants, tiny ants who couldn't possibly help him when they didn't have wings themselves. That was when he made out the figure of his mother racing down the bridge with a coil of silver rope in her hands, pretty lights flickering brighter wherever her feet stepped.
"Mama, help!" he shrieked, once again reaching desperately toward the bridge as though someone could snatch hold of his hand and pull him to safety.
Frigga was on the verge of vomiting. As bad as she had envisioned the situation while racing through the palace, seeing it up close and in person was worse. Her tiny son stretched out his fingers in abject and heartrending supplication, and that one moment nearly cost him his life. Breath gasped into her lungs, lodging there for long moments, when releasing Durindel's mane disrupted his balance. He was poised so precariously she swore he would fall. The only things preventing him from plummeting to the ocean's surface were a fistful of mane and his little heel hooking over the mount's backbone. She was going to throw up, and when Odin returned from Svartalfheim, she was going to scream at him for not putting that cursed statue somewhere safer than the treasure vault.
Heimdall, her husband's most loyal subject, met her halfway, clear concern etching the seamless lines of a face that hadn't aged in half a millennium. There was simply no possibility she would trust her son's rescue to anyone but her own hands no matter how highly she thought of the gatekeeper. Uncoiling the rope-it had been specifically enchanted by the light elves for the sole purpose of capturing Durindel-Frigga poised at the edge of the Rainbow Bridge. One chance, that was all she was going to get. If Durindel suspected he was in danger of being wrangled back to the ground, he would bolt, and it would likely take Odin years to find him again. Her son was depending on her not to fail him.
Flicks of her wrist arched the rope around her head in an ever-expanding circle to gain enough momentum. Around and around it whooshed, cutting the air with all the strength her Asgardian frame could muster, and when the Pegasus dipped once again beneath the bridge, she released. The loop in the rope arched toward Durindel, and there was one terrible, gut-wrenching moment when it seemed to hang in the air slowly enough the beast's escape was all but a certainty. Her eyes were dry, body so attuned to saving her son she couldn't process the danger, and then the loop was dropping around Durindel's head with an accompanying cheer from the people who'd gathered to witness the horror.
She snapped her wrist to draw the rope tight, mentally praising the light elves when the confines of the rope caused the Pegasus to become immediately pliable. He didn't buck or kick, thrash or heave, merely winged his way in her direction until the beast's hooves clattered against the bridge when Durindel finally came to a soft landing. Balder's sobs tore at her heart. Taking a sword to the gut wouldn't have hurt worse than hearing her son so desperately afraid.
Frigga tossed the rope to Heimdall before darting forward to snatch her son from the beast's back and press him against her bosom. She clenched her arms around him, buried her face in his golden hair, and finally allowed the worst of the terror to overwhelm her. Nothing could possibly come close to the strength-sapping hysteria of seeing one of her precious sons in such mortal danger. Balder seemed to feel the same, as his little arms had locked tightly around her neck, body shuddering with the strength of his sobbing.
The crowd slowly dispersed, several citizens of Asgard pausing to offer their concern over Balder's ordeal along with praise at her quick-thinking, after witnessing the young prince's rescue, leaving the queen of Asgard, Heimdall, and her child remaining on the Rainbow Bridge. Her heart hadn't slowed its erratic thundering, nor had her limbs recovered enough strength she was capable of making the trek back to the palace. Quaking knees weren't conducive to walking let alone gliding with any sense of grace or dignity, so it was best she remain right where she was for the time being.
"Wrangling such a spirited beast is praiseworthy, Your Majesty," Heimdall intoned, his voice rich like the scent of wood smoke and deep as the boundless mysteries of space. Iound liked to joke that if Frigga hadn't married Odin Borrson, she would have married the gatekeeper for the simple pleasure of listening to him speak.
"Would you do me the great service, Heimdall, of informing my husband he may sleep in the barracks with the soldiers tonight when he returns?" Naturally, she wasn't really angry with her husband but needed someone to blame for Balder's ordeal. Odin seemed convenient enough for the time being if for no other reason than because he hadn't been there to intervene on their son's behalf.
A smooth-as-silk chuckle escaped the gatekeeper, whose large hand settled against the back of her shoulder. "Will Her Majesty be changing her mind as soon as the All-Father returns from his dealings in Svartalfheim?"
"As long as he returns alive and with all his limbs intact, I would forgive him anything," she responded whilst attempting to ignore the worry in the pit of her belly. Svartalfheim, home of the dark elves, was not a place to tread lightly.
"Shall I call escort for you?"
"No thank you, Heimdall. I believe the walk would do me good and give my body a chance to settle before returning to my other sons." The gatekeeper received as pleasant a smile as she could possibly muster before turning from him to head back in the direction of the palace on knees still refusing to support her weight without shaking.