Chapter 19 - An Unexpected Guest
Loki sat in the middle of his bed, staring at his hands. They were clean now, but he could still remember the feeling of blood upon them. Laufey's blood. Swallowing, Loki curled his fingers into tight fists and closed his eyes. Then he rose to his feet and set off.
Heimdall was waiting for him at the Bifrost Observatory.
"Tell me Loki, how did you get the Jötnar into Asgard?"
Loki stood before him, unflinching as they glared at each other.
"Does that matter anymore?"
"I think it does. A warrior must have faith in his king, and how can he if that king is unworthy of trust?"
Loki smirked, "You think Odin never did anything underhanded? Never made decisions that would be considered dishonourable for the greater good?"
Heimdall was silent. Loki's smirk widened, "You know better than that Heimdall. Besides, it is not your place to question me. I think it's time you and I had a talk about your duties and your loyalties."
Heimdall lifted his chin, as Loki advanced on him, "I hear you've spoken with my wife."
Heimdall stiffened, "… I have spoken with Princess Sigyn."
Loki nodded, "You are from Vanaheim's coast, aren't you? Which would make you a Mjola Vanir, like King Njordr, with all the ideals and attitudes of that culture."
Heimdall nodded, "I was raised by nine women, sisters, on a small island off the coast of the Brenna river."
"Nine women?" Loki grinned, "Who'd have guessed. Völva, I'm sure."
Heimdall nodded again.
Loki folded his arms and looked Heimdall square in the eyes, "So what do you have to say about my marriage?"
"Do you really wish to have my opinion?" Heimdall asked. Loki tilted his head, then nodded,
"Oddly enough, yes."
Heimdall said nothing for a long time, then he said,
"What did you do to warrant her love?"
Loki frowned, "That was not an answer."
"Answer me and I shall give you mine," Heimdall said.
Loki clenched one hand into a fist. Heimdall had no business speaking to him this way, he was the king! Then he closed his eyes and forced himself to relax. While he may be burning with anger, and he may feel he was owed some measure of respect as the king, he knew that sometimes the only way to deal with someone's disrespect, was to show them they were wrong about you. So he opened his eyes and said,
"Allow me to tell you a story…"
Loki talked, for hours he talked, and probably revealed more to Heimdall in this one night than Heimdall had ever learned about him in all his life. Heimdall remained standing, but Loki sat on the edge of the Bifrost bridge, feet dangling over the running water. It was easier to not look at Heimdall as he talked. He was taking a huge risk by revealing so much, although he was not stupid enough to reveal everything, or even half of it, but he teased out enough of his history with Sigyn to give Heimdall something to grab onto.
When he fell silent, the sky was turning grey as the sun began to rise. Heimdall had not moved once in all the time he had talked, and Loki had not expected him to. It was surprisingly calming to talk about this to someone, anyone and he had perhaps let himself drift a little.
Heimdall stirred behind him and approached Loki from behind, who held still and silent as he waited. He heard the ring of steel as Heimdall lifted his sword and the edge pressed against Loki's neck. Loki sighed, thoughtfully planning every way he could get out of this.
"You have taken the Princess of Vanaheim to your bed, married her without the consent of the realm. By all rights you should be owed a painful death for your actions."
Loki lifted his head and stared up at the sky, as the moons started to fade with the light, his heartbeat steady and true. He already knew Heimdall's next words.
"Yet… I cannot ignore her words… or yours. You really do love her… and it is not a childish love."
Loki tilted his head back, away from the blade, to stare up at Heimdall without conveying a thing. Heimdall matched him expression for expression. Finally, Heimdall took the sword away from his neck, and stepped back.
"I will obey my princess, in that I shall tell no one of this, provided that we have an understanding that you will honour her and make her the Queen of Asgard as is her right."
Loki rose to his feet gracefully, "There is nothing I want more. But you know it will take time. For all Sigyn's jokes about telling Odin, for all my oaths of making a confession, we never could have just sprung it upon the court. It will take me time to achieve everything she deserves."
"More lies. Does it ever stop for you Loki?"
Loki grinned, "Only when the door of my bed chamber shuts… and she is there with me."
"I ask again, how can a warrior have faith in a king who is unworthy of trust?"
"Because he knows that the king wants only the best for his realm. And that is all I have ever wanted."
Heimdall did not speak and Loki stepped forward, "What do you think would have happened if Thor had become King of Asgard and Odin slipped away into sleep? It would have taken nothing but a slight to send him to war… he would have forced that stupid couple expecting their illegitimate child to marry, condemning all three to a life of misery. He and his best friends would have strutted through the palace as if they could do anything and get away with it –they would have been a disaster! Do you not see that?"
Heimdall considered it, then said, "It was not your place to decide such things."
"Well it is now," Loki said without flinching.
"Yes… it is now," Heimdall agreed. As usual, his expression gave nothing away as they stared at each other. Then Heimdall bowed slightly to him. "I have kept you long enough, my king."
Loki nodded, "Return to your post Heimdall, keep an eye on Thor for me."
Heimdall nodded, his gaze already glazing over as he reached out to the universe. They were not agreed to one another, but neither did Heimdall want his head any more. That was at least some improvement.
It had been two months since Loki had ascended to the throne and thankfully a sense of balance and stability had been reached. Loki had kept most of the procedures of the court the same, save he had tried to speed up certain areas, such as the letter sorting, and the dealing with petitioners, streamlining them and making them less awkward.
Most of Odin's personal servants had graciously accepted reassignment, with Loki promising them their old jobs as soon as Odin awoke. Thankfully, Loki had never had many problems with servants, since he generally knew their names and roles which none of the lendmenn could claim, or even his mother. Unless of course they made fun of him, like that idiot who had laughed at Thor's coronation, then he would not be kind.
As to the lendmenn, things had reached a plateau with them as well. They were learning they could not make Loki do anything he did not want to, but they had also seen that he could be reasoned with if they felt strongly enough about their position, so long as they did not try to force it. Loki did not react well to being snapped at, or bullied, the way Tyr had tried. Loki could argue, could debate quite happily with them all for hours if he had to. Gradually, they were learning to work together, although there was still plenty of friction going on under the surface. Old Ideals and traditions were clashing with Youth and Innovation, as Sverrir put it.
The families of Lady Sif, Fandral and Volstagg had come and knelt to him, swearing their loyalty and deriding their children's treason with formal, stuff words. Interestingly, Tyr had knelt with his brother as he and his wife condemned their daughter's actions. Loki had assured them he had faith in them, and allowed them to offer him wergild as an apology. To his delight, the wergild had been the best weapons of the three, something they would bitterly lament losing when they found out.
Hogun had no family in Asgard, no family at all as far as Loki knew, so there was no one to chase after. The shame and humiliation on Fandral and Sif's parents as they knelt before him was a heady experience, Fandral's father was a hirdmann, full of airs and graces he had passed on to his son, while Sif's parents, being related to Tyr had enjoyed a comfy position among the highest nobility. It was less fun when Volstagg's parents did it, they were old and frightened, little more than peasants. Loki had not the heart to play with them, so he had accepted their words and sent them away.
Loki was doing his best to keep a level head. It was much easier now that things had quieted down in regards to the frost giants, it meant he could pretend that was all someone else's problem and his only task was keeping Asgard running. It worked for the most part, until he went to bed. Then he found himself dreaming, reliving the last moments of Laufey's life. Sometimes things changed and Odin awoke in time to see Loki do it, and in some dreams he embraced Loki and said that yes, Loki was his son. Other times, Odin condemned him as a kingslayer and sent him hurtling over the edge of the Bifrost. Loki would wake in a cold sweat from these dreams and reach out for Sigyn, only to remember she was not there.
The only letter he had received in the two months from her had been a brief one.
You killed Laufey? What have you done? What were you thinking? Just you wait until I get my hands on you!
Loki expected her to show up every night, but she never did, and for once Loki was glad there was time and distance between them for a while, because Sigyn needed time to cool off before she saw him, or she would probably do some damage.
Another month went by without a word, and Loki was beginning to worry. On the first day of the third month, Loki was calling the court to order, when a guard entered and knelt before him.
"My king! I have word from Heimdall. Princess Sigyn has just arrived in Asgard and is requesting an audience with you."
Excited murmurings floated across the court while Loki sat up straighter in surprise. Usually he had a warning for Sigyn's public arrival, for his own sake as much as anything else.
"Of course, send her in. Abjörn."
Abjörn jumped forward, looking up expectantly at Loki.
"Have food and drink readied to welcome the Princess properly. And inform My Lady the King's Mother that the Princess is here."
"At once my king!" Abjörn scurried away, looking happy to have something to do, while the court whispered speculations amongst themselves. Loki beckoned to Sverrir, who rushed up the steps to bend his ear to Loki's mouth.
"Please tell me that this isn't a case that I haven't received a letter," Loki said to him. Sverrir shook his head,
"I don't believe so. Perhaps she is replying to the letters you sent to her parents, announcing your accession. After all, it would be customary for such a meeting with a new king. And considering we had to deal with Jötunheim and then the plague in Vanaheim, our allies may have decided to give us some space."
Loki nodded, agreeing that made perfect sense, although it did not explain why Sigyn had not told him she was coming.
Loki dealt with a few petitioners as they waited for Sigyn to travel across the Bifrost and into the palace. When a page ran in to say she was in the palace, everyone stood in their proper place, and Frigga arrived in time to sit in her throne. Loki shared a smile with his mother, trying not to look too excited, and he carefully touched his helmet to make sure it was sitting right. Sigyn was his wife, he wanted to impress her.
The doors swung open and Sigyn strode in. Soft gasps of delight fell from lips, and Loki's brain tripped over itself at the sight of her. Near him, Sverrir gulped audibly, which nearly made Loki laugh or glare at him, he was not sure which he wanted to do more.
Sigyn wore a dark blue garment, with panels of cloth covering strategic places, one covered her breasts and collar, tied at her neck, then travelled down to her hips, with a large piece missing in the middle, exposing her navel. Her sides and arms were bare, with the skirt of her dress barely reaching her knees at the front and descending to the floor into a train behind her. Her hair was caught up in an elaborate style of curls and braids, with blue flowers forming a wreath that set the cream coloured hair glowing. Her distaff and dagger were at her hip and her staff of seiðr and royalty was in her hand.
What held Loki's attention though, for he had seen Sigyn in such enticing garments before, were the designs painted on her exposed skin. Flowers and spots and spirals and swirls had been painted in detailed and intricate patterns on her stomach, her arms and her sides. The marks were almost black against her warm skin and Loki could feel the seiðr radiating off her as she strode towards him without looking away. He swallowed and tried not to sound as aroused as he was as he greeted her,
"Princess Sigyn of Vanaheim, you are most welcome to Asgard once more."
"King Loki, your welcome is gladly received," Sigyn declared and Loki's eyes lit up. That tone of voice was full of games, full of promises. She wanted him to act the king, to prove himself to her. Loki could do that.
Sigyn finally reached him and she bent the knee and bent her back in a Vanirian bow, her eyes fixed on Loki's, which was a sign of great respect in her realm. Loki smiled.
"What brings you to Asgard? I hope all is well in Vanaheim."
"All is wonderful in Vanaheim, King Loki. My parents, the king and queen of Vanaheim, have entrusted me with the power to swear their fealty to you, King Loki of Asgard." Sigyn drew her dagger and pointed the hilt at Loki. Loki grinned and nodded,
"By all means, it is most welcome."
Sigyn's voice was loud, steady and serious as she spoke, "As long as the plains of Vanaheim give food, as long as the mountains pierce the sky, as long as the oceans swell with the pull of our moons, as long as seiðr flows through the universe, binding everything together, in full knowledge of past and present, I, Sigyn Njordsdóttir, Crown Princess, Sacred Healer and High Priestess of the Vanirians do swear this oath of fealty, of kinship and loyalty to you, King Loki Odinson of Asgard on behalf of my realm."
Her amber eyes were glittering with enjoyment and Loki could not deny himself the same pleasure. They were like children finally permitted to be adults. He rose to his feet and stood above her, but never had he felt they were more equal. He summoned his sword, Laevateinn, from where it was kept in his chambers, and pointed the hilt at Sigyn.
"For as long as the cities of Asgard stand, as long as our mountains rise, as long as our winds blow, for as long as the waters run, and the clouds are above and beneath us, for as long as the might of Asgard's heart beats, and the warriors of Asgard stand strong, for as long as the binding seiðr that keeps Yggdrasil fed, in full knowledge of past and present, I, Loki Odinson, King of Asgard, do swear protection, kinship, and loyalty to you Sigyn Njordsdóttir, Crown Princess of Vanaheim on behalf of my realm."
Sigyn smirked with delight, "Let nothing put these oaths asunder, let no realm separate our bond. So sworn here in the presence of this court, and witnessed by the Norns."
"So sworn here," Loki agreed.
As one they banged their staffs to the ground, filling the hall with a deafening sound, and seiðr visible in the colours of the rainbow, of gold and silver and colours with no names, started to flow around them, sealing their oaths together into the tapestry of seiðr that permeated the universe. The seiðr flowed through Loki's system, and he closed his eyes at the sensation, inhaling deeply to let it seep into him. When he opened his eyes, Sigyn looked as satisfied as he felt. There was an awed hush over the court, they had never seen seiðr like that before. They thought Odin was the most powerful sorcerer in the Nine Realms, but Loki and Sigyn were beyond Odin, who saw seiðr as a tool, and not as a gift to revel in.
"A fitting beginning," Loki said, wanting to walk down the steps to stand with her, but he was unsure if he should. Sigyn must have sensed his hesitation because she smiled at him as she sheathed her dagger.
"To be followed by a lengthy tale one would hope. I also have an answer to your second letter."
Loki had to think for a moment, then he remembered the letter he had attached to the first one declaring his accession. He passed his sword to Sverrir to be returned to his chambers.
"I see. I would guess not the answer I had hoped for, seeing as your hands are empty."
Sigyn smirked as she stepped to the side, "You guess wrongly good king."
With a flick of her hand, a large bulk appeared next to her. Books piled on top of one another and bound together. Loki could not keep the glee from his face any more than he could stop breathing.
"You are very generous!" he declared stepping down to examine the large collection. "How many books are here?"
"A thousand?" Loki asked quietly, barely able to believe her. Sigyn nodded,
"You made the request for as many books as possible on the subjects you listed." Sigyn explained, picking up one book and holding it out to him, "I think you'll find this one particularly fascinating."
Loki took it and scanned the title. 'The Pre-History of the Nine Realms.' He glanced up and saw the gleam in Sigyn's eyes. It was clear she was still angry with him, but was covering it like she had been taught.
Loki looked around, as Kvasir stepped forward, "Kvasir, I sent word to Vanaheim and Alfheim, asking for more books on their own and the other Nine Realms. I found us woefully lacking when I went looking for knowledge on Jötunheim. I decided to request more information from our allies."
Kvasir was almost drooling as he looked at the books. "Oh… this is so generous Princess."
Sigyn smiled, "I am glad you think so Kvasir, my tutor assisted me."
"You are both very kind."
Frigga took this moment to descend from her own throne and embrace Sigyn. "Oh, it warms my heart to see you Sigyn."
Sigyn held Frigga's hands in hers, "As your presence does mine my queen, I am truly sorry for the tragedies that have befallen you."
"Thank you. But you should know I am not titled queen. My son has seen fit to give me a new title. I am now 'My Lady the King's Mother'."
Sigyn's eyes widened and she smiled, "What a lovely title," while her foot slipped back and she crushed Loki's toes under her heel. Loki stared at the book in his hands fixedly until she stepped off.
"There are books here I have never heard of!" Kvasir exclaimed.
"That's rather the point Kvasir," said Loki, "I wanted to make sure we have all the knowledge we could ever need at our fingertips."
"Well, you'll certainly keep the pages and attendants to the library busy for months." Kvasir bowed to Sigyn, "Thank you princess, sincerely."
"Yes," Loki agreed quietly, "Thank you."
"My pleasure," Sigyn said, smiling at him mildly. Frigga squeezed Sigyn's hands and said,
"You must tell me everything that has happened since we last saw you." She looked to Loki for permission and he nodded,
"Of course, let's go out to the gardens."
With a gesture for attendance, Loki offered Sigyn his right arm, since she was the guest she took precedence over his mother. Kvasir stepped forward and offered Frigga his arm. As they walked out, the men and women of the court followed, and Loki knew he would have to do a round of introductions to Sigyn, if only to reassure the people that no one was in disgrace with him. The mercurial world of court.
"My Lady the King's Mother? Really?" Sigyn asked in a soft undertone as they led the way through the palace. Loki smirked faintly,
"It seemed appropriate for the situation."
"And you knew it would annoy me," she sighed, digging her fingers into his inner elbow.
"Well… perhaps." Loki hid a full on grin.
"As if I was not already angry with you." Sigyn looked up at him, eyes burning with rage. Loki sighed and met her eyes.
"It's done. Nothing can undo it."
"Indeed. Pity for you when you regret this."
They reached the gardens and could say no more privately as they all gathered around the large fountain, which showed Asgard at the top, with water flowing from it down to the rest of the Nine Realms. Sigyn plucked a dead leaf from the water flowing around Vanaheim and tossed it away.
Formal introductions were made, first, Loki introduced her to his advisors, then Frigga brought the ladies of the court to her. Thanks to protocol, the ladies tended to follow Frigga around, in absence of a Queen Consort. Freyja rushed forward and kissed her princess on the palm, displaying a shocking amount of humility for the arrogant and vain woman.
"Oh my princess!" she gushed, "It fills me with such joy to be in your presence once again! And to see you so radiant in ceremonial garb and markings…"
Sigyn gave her 'princess' smile, a mix of benevolent, sweet and regal that she had practised for hours, and patted Freyja's hand. "Thank you Freyja, I am glad to see you so well."
Freyja beamed and returned to her brother, where they proceeded to openly admire Sigyn as she was introduced to the other ladies, Idunn, Eir, Gerd, Nanna, Sjofn, Vor and Ilmr, Sverrir's wife. Loki hid a smirk as he watched the interactions. Idunn, Bragi's wife, was sweet looking, but could be very jealous of anyone who came near her apples, which she spent nearly all her time caring for. Eir was the oldest woman there, she was the healer of Asgard and immediately queried if she could learn of Sigyn's work as Sacred Healer. Gerd was Freyr's wife and she was a quiet, demur woman who got an extra gentle greeting from Sigyn. Everyone knew about Freyr's ugly marriage.
Nanna was Delling's daughter, she was younger than Loki, pretty and skilled at embroidery and anything that required a delicate touch. Utterly boring to talk to for Loki, who needed someone who would banter with him, she was also prone to fits of emotion that Loki steadfastly refused to call hysteria, but had never figured out a better word for. Sjofn was one of Loki's favourite women at court, mostly because she reminded him of Queen Aetril, the Queen of the Ljósálfar. Vor was a stern, serious woman, married to Forseti, who gave Sigyn a dubious look over as she greeted her.
Sigyn knew every one of their names, and all the dirty gossip Loki had ever found about them and he could see her slotting new observations into her mind as she greeted them. Once introductions were done, servants brought drinks and they began to converse.
"I must say Princess, we did not anticipate your arrival," said Kvasir, "Not that it is unwelcome of course."
Sigyn shrugged, "I decided it would be best to visit Asgard's new king before something else came up in Vanaheim that would keep me busy for weeks. I do apologise for the suddenness of my arrival, but it would have wasted time to send word and wait for a reply. I have been exceedingly busy attending to my rites and rituals and could not wait another moment to come and see my old friend sitting on the throne."
"You obviously came straight from celebrations," Frigga said, tucking her hand into Loki's elbow as she stood next to him, "You are still bearing the markings of fertility."
Loki silently thanked his mother for breaking the ice about Sigyn's extraordinary look. Usually when she came to Asgard, she dressed more like an Asynjur, an Asgardian woman. But despite sharing blood and a deep history, Vanaheim and Asgard were very different cultures. That was probably exactly why she had come like this, to remind them all of Vanaheim's own culture.
"It really was a simple matter of comfort, and since I was coming on behalf of my realm in an official capacity, I thought I should dress appropriately."
Vor and Forseti were clearly thinking there was nothing appropriate about that dress. Loki had met Puritans more liberal than those two.
"I was also told to discover if the rumours were true regarding the Frost Giants." Sigyn added, sipping her wine.
"Depends on the rumours I suppose," Loki said with a smirk.
"It is said there was to be war, then there was to be no war, for Laufey was killed and his heir has made peace with you."
Loki had to give her credit, she was well informed.
"All of those rumours are true. Helblindi Laufeyson and I have made a tentative peace treaty."
"Even after you slew his father?"
"He was sensible enough to know no good would come of any attempt at war."
Sigyn stared at Loki over the rim of her cup as she sipped her mead. Her eyes were razor sharp and Loki knew he would have to figure out a way to make her understand he had done the best possible thing for everyone. He could do that, surely.
Sigyn lowered her cup and sneered at him when no one was looking.
Loki swallowed. This would be harder than he expected.
Yep, Loki's in trouble. And Sigyn's not going to let him off easy. Hope Heimdall didn't seem particularly OOC either.
Next time, Loki tries to make peace with Sigyn.