Chapter 7 – LOVE NEVER DIES

Hela lay unattended in her bed as many spirits surrounded her in helpless grief.

She was much beloved among her subjects not because she was beautiful or because she brought them fame or fortune, but because they could see the measure of her heart and soul as clearly as she could see theirs. The residents of Niflheim appreciated her care and comfort and it grieved them that they were unable to provide either for her.

No one was able to monitor her well-being until Hades arrived, leaving his wife Persephone in charge back home. Taking Hela's throne, he promptly ascertained the lay of the land in Niflheim and commenced dispatching the souls that had stacked up in her absence. Hades didn't mind; his followers had long since passed into extinction and few folks these days believed in the archaic Greek gods. He rather enjoyed being busy once again in the same trade he drove over a thousand years ago.

Other than washing his Norse counterpart's face and hands and making sure she was still breathing, there was little Hades could do for her until Loki and – mirabile dictu! – his wife Sigyn arrived.

"How is she?" Hela's anxious father inquired.

"Much as she was when I arrived," the Greek death god replied. "I hope our Sister is restored to health soon. There are so few of us left on this earth, and I can't help but feel sad about that. It is unfortunate indeed that you people aren't immortal."

"Many thanks to you, old friend," Loki replied.

Hades turned once again toward Loki and Sigyn as he made his way down the hallway. "I really hope it works out for your girl," he said. "All of us fear Lord Death. He is a most stern taskmaster." He looked about almost furtively, as if he expected Death to appear and impale him with his scythe, and then left Elvidnir.

"Give me a minute to speak to the spirits," Loki said to Sigyn. Hela had granted him this gift during one of his prior visits in case it should ever become necessary.

He stood still while the spiritual remains of many people – some mere wisps, others glints of sparkling light, and some of insubstantial human shape – surrounded him and poured out their sorrows in their soft and otherwordly whisperings.

Loki and Sigyn both entered the queen's chamber and saw that Hela was beginning to stir.

Sigyn stopped to pick up Dyggvi's robe, which still lay on the floor next to the bed and sat down, hoping that her strange stepdaughter would return to her body.

"Wake up, sweet one," Loki whispered in Hela's ear. "I am here. Wake up!"

Hela opened her eyes and immediately squinted as the dim light of the room hit them. Confused and frightened by the sudden pull back into her body, she began to cry.

"Ssssh, it's all right," her father soothed.

She tried to speak to him but was too exhausted. She felt Loki smoothing her forehead. Her eyes searched the room for Dyggvi but she did not see him.

"He is gone, my darling," her father said. "Your Dyggvi. His spirit remains in Niflheim and mixes with all the others to whom you granted eternal contentment. I'm afraid, however, he has quite lost his memories of you and himself when he was your husband, just as his memories of his earthly realm and family were obviated when he crossed the River Gjoll."

Hela, still in speechless shock, trembled and wept as her father held her in his arms.

It took several days of Sigyn's loving care before Hela could even get out of bed.

Sigyn had bathed her and washed her hair and fed her the best she could, but her stepdaughter's heart was not into getting well or feeling better. Still disoriented – a common symptom that follows when one's soul has been ripped out of one's body – Hela had acquired a tremor and her left side ached worse than it ever had. Death had certainly done her no favors by paralyzing her fragile frame for weeks.

"Don't worry, dear," Sigyn crooned. "You will get better. I will see to it."

Hela was grateful to meet her father's wife and appreciated her care and devotion, but remained overwhelmed by the degree of recovery she had in front of her.

She had told her father that she would seek out Dyggvi's spirit as soon as her health permitted, but he had discouraged it, telling her gravely that it would be no use as she was only the queen of the realm to him now.

Hela finally summoned the courage to have her father acquire a mirror from Midgard so she could see for herself the toll Death's ordeal had taken on her. When she looked into it, she was immediately struck by the solemn and resigned expression her face had acquired.

Sad eyes, sad face, sad heart. It all stood to reason.

Sighing, she put the mirror into a basket where Dyggvi's worldly goods had been placed after their room had been cleaned out.

Loki came and went as Hela slowly recommenced her duties. This left the two women time to catch up and share what was in their hearts.

One day, Sigyn unburdened hers to her stepdaughter."Your father told me this morning that he does not want any children," she sighed, despondent. "He has many. I haven't even had one. It hardly seems fair."

"What brought that on?" Hela asked.

"I don't know. He murmured something about cheating death but I have no idea what he meant by it. Sometimes, your father utterly baffles me." The poor woman sighed. "Well, you have lived your life without little ones of your own; how do you cope?"

Hela sighed. "It wasn't my doing. I am not well enough to have children, I suppose. Lord Death told me my insides were twisted. No doubt of that," she sighed again, looking down at her spare and aching frame. "However, my post here ensures that I mother many souls, and all the time. Especially the children. They need me, and I love being around them." Hela looked up. "You can do the same – mother others, that is. At least until Father changes his mind. I'll do whatever I can."

"He's so – stubborn, although I do love him so," Sigyn replied.

"Ah yes," Hela replied, "but I can tell you from long experience that loving the trickster may be hazardous to your health and sanity."

Stubborn in spite of herself, Hela roamed the width and breadth of her enormous realm looking for the spirit of Dyggvi.

She found him one day after many months of searching, wafting about a group of trees by a serene lake. Hela had used her own memories of her Jotun childhood to create this area; its air even held the tang of birch bark. Needles crunched under her feet as she hobbled toward the soul of the man she had loved for so long.

When she reached him, he merely paid obeisance to her as the queen of Niflheim and thanked her for creating the forest, which was his favorite.

Her heart broken, Hela nodded in return and turned to begin her long journey back to Elvidnir.

Long after Loki and Sigyn had left Niflheim, Hela wandered Dyggvi's old realm on Midgard, looking for something that would remind her of the good times that were surely gone forever.

She visited the castle of Dyggvi's descendant, King Ingjald, but left quickly because she sensed a great evil about him. Too bad, she thought; Dyggvi would have been disappointed.

Continuing her mournful wanderings through Sweden to Västergötland, Hela finally saw something that would at last provide a fitting tribute to her husband. After she returned to Helheim, she called together the masons, carpenters and stonecarvers in the realm and they built her a great burial mound and a stone circle similar to the ones venerated by Dyggvi's ancestors.

All of Dyggvi's possessions were buried in the tumulus. Before the mound and circle a boulder of lemon yellow stone was placed, and upon it the carvers wrote:

IN MEMORY OF

KING DYGGVI DOMARSSON

BELOVED OF HELA LOKISDOTTIR

OF THE HOUSE OF LOKI LAUFEYARSON

LOVE NEVER DIES

Around it Hela planted a forest of birches and had a lake dug that resembled the one at which she last saw him. For many years she went outside and waited for Dyggvi to come back, but he never did.

THE END