by Sauron Gorthaur
The cold north wind of Asgard tried to steal Sigyn's hair again. For the third time in the brief walk between her house and the Hall, she drew her fingers lightly across her face, catching the dark yellow strands that the wind had flung there, and attempted to toss them back over her shoulder. Her grey skirts whipped playfully around her legs.
There was an Autumn chill in the air, and already Sigyn could feel its nip on her nose and ears. Despite it, however, she remained standing on the stone steps before the huge double doors, their oaken surfaces covered with carvings of the first wars of the Allfather and his brothers against the Jotuns. Her hand rested on the left one, over a panel depicting the defeat of Ymir, but she did not open it.
Instead, she stared at her own pale hand and the golden ring encircling her third finger.
Who knew what the other Æsir were going to say.
It wasn't as if she herself knew what to say, either. She hadn't seen it coming. The shock of what had just happened still made her legs feel unsteady. Only half an hour ago, she'd been sitting comfortably in her house, putting the finishing touches on a kirtle she'd been sewing before leaving to head for the communal dinner served in Odin's hall. She hadn't heard anyone come in. All she'd felt was a sudden warmth in the air, as if someone had stoked up the hearth fire, and a distinct presence, like laughing eyes fixed on the back of her head…
Sigyn tore her eyes away from the golden band. Her friends would find out her news sooner or later, and she knew she was only postponing the inevitable. She took a deep breath and pushed open the doors.
Of course, it was Freyja who first noticed the ring. "Sigyn! By Buri, is that a ring on your hand?" the honey-blonde goddess said in a voice loud enough to alert the attention of everyone at the table. Her exquisite necklace tinkling, she leaned over and caught Sigyn's hand between her perfect, white fingers. "It is!" she exclaimed, although Sigyn thought this was obvious. "Oh my, I didn't know you were being courted, my dear."
I didn't either, Sigyn thought. She gave Freyja a small smile and pulled her hand away from the firm grip. "It was… fairly sudden," she answered.
"You don't say. At least you've got a man with love clearly on his mind; can't complain about that," Freyja laughed before leaning in conspiratorially and asking the next logical question. The one Sigyn was dreading. "So, who is it?"
Sigyn felt the heat rush into her face to replace the former chill from outside.
"Oh, don't tell me!" Freyja gushed a second later. "Is it that brother of mine? I don't know how many times I've told him that he needs to settle down and get himself a woman. I tell him that he's certainly got the looks and the charm, but he can be so picky. Do tell me that he's finally seen some sense and decided to get a move on with his life."
By this time, Freyja had attracted quite a crowd of goddesses who had gathered around to see Sigyn's ring. "Is it Tyr?" Sif asked enticingly, winding her brilliant golden hair through her fingers the way she always did and earning glares from Freyja whose legendary beauty was only surpassed by Sif's crowning glory. "I could see you two together. And I mean, who doesn't love a warrior? He's brave, strong, maybe a little rash, but I could see him making such a sudden proposal. Warriors tend to do that – just sweep you off your feet. It's so romantic."
"So, is it Frey?" Freyja asked, flicking a lock of Sif's hair off the table.
"It is Tyr, isn't it?" Sif smirked, flicking her hair back onto the table.
"It had better not be Bragi," said Idunn, who'd been making eyes at the god of Poetry for several months now.
Sigyn felt something snap. She set her cup on the table a little harder than she'd intended. "It's Loki," she said.
Silence fell over the table. In the background, she could hear the men enjoying their mead and fresh meat rather loudly and ignoring the women's gossip. For once, she appreciated the bellowing laughs, occasional belches, and rowdy boasting that made the dead silence at the women's table not so painfully evident. She fiddled with her cup, which she realized she'd never even filled with mead, and tried to ignore the stares she was getting.
After a moment, it was Freyja who first found her voice. "What did you say?" she said flatly, in the tone of one who has heard perfectly well and just doesn't believe what she heard. "I must have misunderstood–"
"Loki," Sigyn repeated louder this time, feeling a bubbling sensation from inside her chest and the heat still flaring in her cheeks. "It's Loki, all right." The gold ring seemed tight around her finger.
There were several nervous laughs throughout the gathered goddesses. Freyja joined in with an uneasy, high-pitched titter. She gave Sigyn's hand a playful tap. "Oh, Sigyn," she said, rolling her eyes a little overdramatically. "You got all our hopes up. Wearing that ring like that and then for it all to be a joke. You certainly fooled me." She let out her titter once again.
Something else stirred in Sigyn: a slight indignation churning in her stomach that started to overcome her embarrassment. "It's not a joke," she said as the goddess began turning away. "Loki gave me this ring just now. He asked me to marry him."
The goddesses all exchanged looks and shifted uncomfortably. "Well, of course, it was a joke from him then," Sif said. "Everyone knows you can't take anything he says seriously."
"That's right," Freyja jumped in. "For Buri's sake, Sigyn, just ignore him when he tries stuff like that. He wants the satisfaction of someone paying attention to him and falling for his little pranks. If people quit playing along with him and just ignored him, he'd get tired of it and maybe grow up."
"I don't know if there's enough luck in all nine worlds for that to happen," Sif said wistfully.
"Well, we can all keep dreaming," said Idunn.
Sigyn's cheeks were still burning, but she wasn't sure the heat was all embarrassment anymore. "He wasn't joking," she said hotly.
"Oh, Sigyn," said Freyja, impatience starting to put an edge on her nightingale voice, "what do you think he was doing then? The only other option would be that he was being serious, and we all know–"
"You all know what?" Sigyn demanded. "I suppose you think he's not capable of falling in love. Is that it?"
The goddesses all looked at each other, clearly surprised and puzzled over Sigyn's reaction. "Well, maybe he is capable," Sjofn put in, "but that's not the point. We all know what Loki's like-"
"But that's just it!" Sigyn glared around the circle of skeptical faces. "None of you know what Loki's like. There isn't a single one of you that has actually tried to get to know him."
"Well, his behavior isn't exactly conducive to getting to know him," Freyja said sharply, her fingers straying to her white throat and the glimmering necklace bound there. "There are other ways to get yourself noticed besides making yourself a nuisance every waking hour."
"Maybe if you weren't so easy to tease, he wouldn't do it so much," Sigyn shot back before she could stop herself.
Freyja made an angry huffing noise and glared down her nose at Sigyn. "And what?" the goddess of Desire said contemptuously. "Don't tell me that you are actually in love with Loki."
Sigyn opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Was she in love with Loki? Quite frankly, she didn't know. Of course, she saw him about often enough, she'd talked with him before, and been on the receiving end of a few of his jokes and pranks (though she had to admit that none of them had been as nearly as biting as those he directed at Freyja, Heimdall, and a few of the others with whom he notoriously didn't get along). He made her laugh. There was something about his boundless energy, his light, airy nature, that made her feel more alive herself. She would even go so far as to say that she enjoyed his company. But did she love him?
The other goddesses were still looking at her as if she had been playing with something dirty. "Well," Sif prompted impatiently, stroking her fingers through her golden locks, "have you answered your charming little lover yet?"
"No, I haven't," Sigyn managed to get out, although at the condescending tone of Sif's voice, her throat seemed to tighten and her tongue felt swollen.
There were several sighs from around the table. "Well, at least that's a relief," said Sjofn. "For a moment there, I was afraid you might actually have told him yes."
There were several dainty snorts from around the table. Freyja laughed. "Oh, Loki," she said, waving her fingers in a small, dismissive gesture and rolling her eyes. "See how he can get us all riled up and he isn't even in the room. I almost wish he could fall in love so that we could teach him a thing or two about being tormented and teased; I bet he wouldn't be so glib if a woman he loved let him know exactly how obnoxious his little jokes and pranks are. Maybe the message would actually sink in. It will do him a bit of good to get turned down. Maybe he'll see then that there are repercussions to being a complete twit."
All the goddesses jumped in surprise as Sigyn shoved her chair back from the table, scraping it loudly over the stone floor. She stood up, her mouth a thin, tight line and her eyes fierce. "I haven't answered him yet," she said in a stiff, controlled voice before turning her back on the astonished goddesses and marching out of the hall, her appetite completely gone.
Sigyn walked swiftly to the edge of Asgard, not looking back. Despite the cold wind nipping at her nose tip and ears, she still felt hot and angry inside at how the other goddesses had talked about Loki. Even if she did not love him, she couldn't bear listening to those cruel words. Even if Loki deserved those words, she still didn't want to listen to them being said aloud.
She sat down in one of her favorite spots, just outside the wall. There, she could see the shining road that ran down from Asgard's massive gates that slowly grew brighter, taking on all the colors of the rainbow until it arched off into empty space in the magnificent bridge of Bifröst. Where she was perched on a small, grassy slope, she could see it stretching down, down, down, swirling with clouds, until far below, it touched the ground of Midgard which spread out like a dark blanket dotted with darker forests and shimmering mountains like one of Odin's maps. Here, it was impossible not to feel the wonder of living and of the worlds. It was impossible not to feel on top of the worlds, when you were literally on top of the worlds.
Sigyn drew her knees up and put her arms around her grey skirts, settling her chin in the nook of her knees. Even with the beautiful view, she still felt dejected. After a couple minutes, she slipped her hand over her knee and stared at that golden ring. How strange that such a simple thing could cause such a huge dilemma. She had no idea how she was going to answer Loki. The very thought of seeing him again made her a little queasy. Right now, all she knew was that there seemed to be a huge hole in her chest and an unpleasant pressure behind her eyes threatening to turn into moisture. She sniffed and rubbed the back of her hand against her nose, staring at the rainbow bridge, but not really seeing the beauty of the view.
A light brush against her back jerked her out of her thoughts. She jolted, scared for a moment, for she had heard no sound and felt no presence. But as she whipped around, she heard a quiet mew and found a sleek cat with red-gold fur winding its way around her.
She smiled and blinked back her tears, then reached out and tickled the cat under its chin. It tilted its head to the side and rubbed its cheek against her fingers so hard that it almost pressed her hand into the grass, its eyes closed as it let out a pleased rumble of a purr.
Sigyn glanced around. It was not one of Freyja's cats, she knew that for sure, for they were all white-furred and rarely deigned to go outside and muddy their paws. Freyja kept them meticulously groomed as well, and this cat had a slightly scruffy look to it of which Freyja would have immediately disapproved. Odin didn't keep cats, of course, and was not overly fond of them – his attention was devoted to his ravens. But there were plenty of Æsir who kept pets: Frey's boar, Heimdall's hawk, Thor's two huge wolfhounds and his goats. Secretly, she'd always wanted a pet herself, to keep her company in her hall, and she had always been fond of cats, as long as they weren't like Freyja's.
This cat seemed friendly though. It draped itself about her, its long body and tail curling to fit into the curve of her waist as it rubbed its head against her side, purring invitingly. Sigyn smiled, glad of the company, and continued to scratch between its ears. She'd have to find out if it belonged to anyone, and maybe if not, she'd be able to take it back to her own hall and keep it. She found herself taking an instant liking to the gregarious, little feline.
She patted her lap. "Come on, kitty," she said, raising her voice a couple semitones in a soft invitation. The cat looked up at her sideways, pausing in its work of rubbing the top of its head against her elbow. It had large, green eyes that stared innocently into hers for a couple seconds. Then, with a happy, bird-like trill, it hopped into the soft pool of her woolen skirts that covered her lap. After several rotations to determine what would be the most comfortable position, it settled down, its soft body warm against her legs, its tail curling back and forth around her waist, and its paws neatly settled on one knee.
Sigyn continued to stroke the cat for several minutes in silence, feeling its body vibrate against hers with each purr as she drew her hands down its spine over and over in a soothing, repetitive pattern, able for the moment simply to enjoy her new-found friend and forget her worries. But with each movement of her left hand, she could not help but notice that gold ring situated there.
All her thoughts – about marriage, about what the goddesses had said, about Loki – had all been jumbled up in her mind minutes ago. She'd been so angry at how Freyja, Sif, and the others had acted that she hadn't been able to organize her thoughts and think through her concerns in any proper manner. But with the soothing action of petting the content, purring cat, Sigyn found herself able to confront her feelings and begin making sense of them.
"I don't know what to do," she said out loud. Talking to cats wasn't too strange, was it? Well, who cared if it was? There wasn't anyone around anyway, and somehow, it felt better expressing her thoughts aloud, even if her audience had no idea what she was saying.
"It's just so sudden," she told the cat. "I mean, I had no idea his thoughts were turning that way. I know he's hard to predict in any case, but I would have expected something, some show of affection, some indication…"
The cat rubbed its chin on her knee. Sigyn paused, her fingers between its ears, and it pressed up against her hand in a silent request for her to keep stroking. She did so, thoughtfully. "At least, I don't think I was expecting it. But- but he has been awfully friendly of late."
She paused again, considering this. Now that she thought of it, Loki had been friendly of late. He was always outgoing, of course, the life of any given meal or event, and with those with whom he got along, he could always guarantee a good time with plenty of jokes, stories, and witty repartee. However, recently, it seemed during feasts or events, he had often managed to end up somewhere near her, and by the end of the evening, he would have her deeply engaged in some conversation. He could talk about anything and make it interesting, and she enjoyed listening to him, amazed at the speed of his rushing mind and tongue and how neither ever seemed to stumble over the other. He teased her, of course, but she never sensed malice behind his words or actions, and if he ever pushed her towards being annoyed with him, he always made it up to her somehow: producing her favorite sweetmeat for them to share with a clever flick of his fingers or offering her a flirtatious complement that was just sincere enough for her to forget his mischief for the moment. She had assumed it was all just Loki being Loki, but she had received more than her fair share of his attention recently.
"Not that I would be a good judge of that anyway," she said, starting up the stroking again. "Romance isn't exactly my area of expertise."
The cat flicked its ears in reply to that.
"You don't think so?" Sigyn said, leaning down over the cat. "I probably wouldn't be able to tell if someone was interested in me." She paused, considering those words. "Well, obviously, I wasn't."
She sighed. "I'm no good at this romance stuff, kitty. I mean, I never really expected to be courted, let alone by Loki of all people. He's just so…" She struggled to find the right word that could describe the Trickster. She failed. "I can't imagine what he sees in me – I'm so plain and quiet and shy, especially next to Freyja and Sif, and he's…everything but."
The cat looked up at her, and she fancifully imagined that it was raising an eyebrow at her. She sighed. "I know, I know – I shouldn't be so hard on myself. He obviously does see something in me. Or he wouldn't have asked to marry me."
She shivered as a gust of wind blew up from the swirling clouds below the crest of Asgard. The sun chariot was beginning to dip down, casting glowing red-golden beams across the sky. She hugged the cat a little closer. It didn't protest, only yawned and adjusted itself.
"That is, if he really means it," she went on slowly. Freyja's words came floating back to her. "What if it is all just a big practical joke? I mean, that does sound like Loki."
She frowned. "No, just because he's the Trickster doesn't mean he doesn't have emotions like the rest of us. Why shouldn't he be able to fall in love just like anyone else? He certainly didn't seem like he was joking." His eyes had been sparkling as he slipped the ring onto her finger, but he hadn't had that mischievous, covert air about him that she'd noticed in the past whenever he was pulling the wool over someone's eyes. "I don't think he was joking," she repeated, solidifying this decision in her mind. "You don't think he'd joke about this to me, do you, kitty?"
Unsurprisingly, the cat made no answer.
Sigyn looked out towards the rainbow bridge. Below it, in the skeins of scarlet-streaked cloud, she could see three eagles circling slowly over the snow-capped mountain range that lay just north of the bridge on Midgard. "But if he wasn't joking and he really means it, I've got to come up with an answer for him," Sigyn said, and her stomach muscles tightened. She wondered if the cat could feel it, for it shifted and its tail twitched lightly against her belly. "And I really don't know what I'm going to tell him."
She turned the ring around gently with her thumb. Staring at it, the ghost of his touch returned, his long, warm fingers against her hand. She had not expected that sudden touch any more than his sudden visit. One moment, he was standing in her doorway, that flickering smile dancing on his lips, and then in the next moment, he had been beside her before she could even say his name, his fingers curling around her wrist.
"I've got a little trinket for you that I found just lying around," he'd said with that grin of his, where the left side of his mouth quirked up to form the smallest dimple in his angular face. "And I thought to myself: now wouldn't this look lovely on Sigyn."
He'd turned her hand over, palm down and slipped the gold ring onto her third finger, then feigned delighted surprise. "Well look, a perfect fit. Why, it could almost have been made for you, Sigyn." He'd looked up directly into her eyes, his own green eyes twinkling, and she'd known that it had been made for her. And it was only then that she realized what was happening.
Loki's hand had remained over hers. His hands were small for a man and delightfully soft. "I know springtime's the proper time for this sort of thing," he said with that constant edge of laughter that his voice always bore. "But I've never liked playing by the rules. I'd like you to be my wife, Sigyn."
Sigyn was ashamed to remember that she had merely gaped at him, a blush erupting in her cheeks that she was all too sure he had seen. The shyness that she always felt around him had magnified a hundredfold. He had not seemed at all surprised by her stunned silence however. He had laughed, though it hadn't been mocking or joking, and with one of his fluid, quick movements that she never saw coming, he'd leaned forward and planted his lips for a moment against one of her flaming cheeks.
The contact had lasted no longer than the life of a single flying spark, but as he withdrew his lips, she felt his breath against her ear. "I'll give you some time to think about it."
And without further ceremony, he had been gone.
The very memory of the encounter caused heat to return to Sigyn's cheeks, although now, alone and outside in the cold, it didn't feel so obtrusive. She'd never been courted before, never actually even been kissed (though she didn't let on about this to Freyja who was always looking to play match-maker). Of course, she had thought about marriage just like every woman did, but it had always seemed like something in the distant future, something she might get around to someday. But now, Loki had turned her world on its head. Leave it to Loki... she thought wryly.
But was this the right someday? And was Loki – Loki – the right man?
"I mean, he's certainly handsome," she said, thinking out loud. "He's smart. I'd never have to worry about a gap in the conversation," she said with dry smile. "I have a feeling I'd get more affection than I ever could have wanted. He's Odin's own brother. He's so passionate and full of life."
She paused, letting her train of thought explore what she knew of the Trickster, searching for more arguments to add to her list of pros. However, the accusations of the goddesses' began to creep around the edge of her thoughts. A frown displaced her previous smile.
"But he's also conniving, mischievous, sneaky, lying, cocky, and capable of being an absolute prat. Freyja and the others might not have said it very nicely, but it is true. Ouch."
She jerked her leg away as the cat kneaded her thigh with its claws. Gingerly, she lifted its paw and placed it over a fold of her skirt where the cloth would protect her skin. The cat gave her a bored look and yawned again, showing sharp little teeth and a long pink tongue, ignoring her admonishing glare.
She tried to capture her train of thought again. Yes, as much as she had wanted to deny Freyja's accusations, Loki did have a lot of negative points. Although, again, he'd never shown her any malice. And in fact, the little teasing pranks that he had played on her might very well be another sign of his affection. She'd seen similar coy playfulness between other couples in Asgard, ones who were not as obsessed with mischief as Loki was. In any case, it seemed wrong to judge their potential relationship based on his relationship with others. And quite frankly, there had been times when she'd wanted to steal that stupid necklace off Freyja's neck or take a pair of scissors to Sif's hair…
And try as she might, she could not shake off the memory of that soft touch of his lips against her cheek, still suffusing her skin with fire, or his light, clever-fingered hand resting over hers.
Nor could she explain how angry she'd felt at hearing the goddesses talk about Loki like that. That boiling, indignant anger like she'd wanted to hit them all, to stand between Loki and the cruel remarks they so casually flung at him. How frustrated she'd felt to hear them talk about him as if he had no feelings, as if he wasn't a living, breathing person just like them. Like her. To hear them say flat-out that Loki was not capable of love.
She could not shake off the thought that it had hurt to hear those words about Loki.
"I think I love him," she said quietly, almost as if she was afraid to say the words aloud, afraid of what they meant. But at the words, something bloomed in her heart, something that had always been there, but was just waiting for her to recognize its presence and give it the chance to unfold. Her cheeks felt hot, and she realized she was warm all over, despite the evening chill.
The cat shifted in her lap, its purrs vibrating through her. Simultaneously, she felt suddenly bold enough to go shouting her new-found information all over Asgard and so shy that she had no idea how she was going to look Loki in the eyes that next time she met him. She abruptly understood that shyness that always settled over her at the feasts when Loki talked to her, that turned her mute so that she could only listen in enraptured silence to his stories and anecdotes. "I'm in love with him," she repeated breathlessly, a silly grin crossing her face.
So what if Match-Maker Freyja and Golden-Haired Sif didn't approve. Loki had asked her to marry him, not them. She suddenly couldn't wait to see the looks on their faces when she told them how she was going to answer Loki's proposal.
For a moment, she hesitated again. Marriage. It just seemed so…sudden. And, well, Loki wasn't your average man either.
"Should I really tell him yes?" she asked no one in particular.
"Well, if you love him, it seems like an easy answer to me," said a voice from her lap suddenly.
Sigyn nearly fell over backwards in surprise. She stared down at the cat in her lap which was now licking one paw in feigned innocence. It refused to meet her gaze as she gaped at it. Feeling half-stupid and half-frightened, she asked slowly, "Did…you…just…talk?"
The cat yawned casually then looked up at her. Its green eyes suddenly sparkled, and she realized they were eyes she knew.
With a small yelp of shock, she shoved the cat off her lap, sending it sprawling on its side in the grass, and sprang to her feet, furiously brushing away the red-gold cat hairs that were now clinging all over her skirt. The cat gave her a look that was both indignant and intelligent, then rolled over on its stomach. A shiver seemed to run through it from nose to tail, and the air around it shimmered in a halo of magic. And then, quite abruptly, it was not a cat lying on the ground, but a young man wearing a green smock with the same shaggy, unkempt red-gold hair and overly innocent green eyes as the cat. His sharp chin was propped on his fists with his elbows stuck in the grass and he had his knees bent so that his bare feet stuck up into the air. He waggled these impudently and grinned at her.
Sigyn was still brushing at the cat hairs clinging to her and trying to remember if she'd let the cat touch her in any way that might not be so appropriate with a young man as it was with an animal. She returned his grin with a glare. "Loki! What do you think you're doing?" She snapped, but her blush overcame her as she began to remember all the things she'd been saying out loud to what she'd thought was a completely neutral audience.
"You were eavesdropping on me," she accused him, though it was not nearly as fierce or as forceful an accusation when her cheeks felt like they were about to burst into flames.
Loki kicked his legs up and down alternatingly, as if he were doing some odd swimming stroke. "It doesn't seem like eavesdropping when you were talking to me," he said casually, but the effect was ruined by the mischievous grin that was still tugging at his lips.
"I didn't know it was you!" Sigyn retorted.
Loki tilted his head back and his shaggy red-gold locks bounced against his neck. "And I suppose that means that none of what you were saying was true, hmmm?"
If possible, Sigyn's blush deepened. She hated feeling embarrassed, and she couldn't remember being this embarrassed ever before. "Maybe Freyja was right about you. You really are a complete twit."
Loki rolled easily up onto his feet and in three strides was standing beside her. She turned away, determined to be angry at him. But then she felt his touch on her arm – that soft, warm touch, almost effeminate, but crackling with the fiery energy that the young Jotun always radiated. "Sigyn," he said gently. She realized no one had ever said her name like that before, and simultaneously, she realized it was going to be very difficult to stay angry at him.
She attempted for the time being and turned away from him again.
But he was persistent. He came up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her back against his sleek, masculine frame. His breath tickled her ear and his voice was as pleasant and compelling as the cat's purr. "Sigyn," he whispered again, and she felt the movement of his lips at her ear like the flutter of a butterfly's wing. "You needed someone you could talk to. And you wouldn't have said all those things to me, would you?"
That was certainly true, and for a moment, the thought made her angry, but she quickly saw the clever wisdom of his words. No, she would not have spoken in such a way to him, nor to Freyja, nor Sif, nor any other god or goddess in Asgard. The silent, attentive cat had provided just what she needed to sort out her thoughts and come to her conclusion.
She turned around in his arms but couldn't quite meet his eyes. It didn't matter that the cat had really been the very man she'd been talking to it about; it didn't change the conclusion she had reached.
He raised an eyebrow. "So, Sigyn, do you have an answer for me?"
She could feel the ring on her finger, the metal warm and smooth against her skin. His heat shielded her from the Autumn chill blowing up from Midgard. Lifting a hand to his face, she slowly traced the line of his jaw until her fingers slid beneath his mane of hair. It was the color of the sunset, she thought.
She met his eyes. Yes indeed, she had an answer for Loki.