This story’s original appearance was in the February, 2001 issue of Realms of Fantasy.
THE TRICKSTER’S WIFE
It was Thorsday, as near as Sigyn could tell. She had no calendar, but usually a rumbly, brooding sort of atmosphere filled the air of the cave on a Thorsday. She had come to be pretty good at seeing the differences in days, down in the cave where her husband, albeit greatly against his will, resided.
Hel came to visit on Thorsday. Sigyn looked forward to those visits though, frankly, she wasn’t all that fond of Loki’s bastard daughter. No one was, really, but it broke up the day. After so many days, Sigyn had come to appreciate that.
Hel peeked around a bend in the tunnel. “Hello, Sigyn.”
Hel looked tired. Being tired would probably make her irritable, not that any of Loki’s offspring had ever needed much excuse for that.
“Hello, Hel. Come to visit your father?”
Hel walked out into the chamber. Sigyn no longer winced at the girl’s black and blue complexion; one got used to that. Otherwise she was a tall, skinny thing, with just enough of the height of her giantess mother to make her too tall for the slimness she got from her father’s side of the family.
Slightly-built Loki had never been a particularly strong god, even in his prime. Thor could have snapped him like a twig. Sometimes Sigyn wondered why he hadn’t. The Vanir and Aesir alike knew Loki had given the thunder god enough provocation. Sigyn didn’t wonder long; she knew the reason–fate. Wyrd, destiny, all the words for the Way Things Had to Be. It wasn’t Thor’s destiny to kill Loki; Thor had other eels to fry. As did Loki, for that matter. Or so the Norns had said.
“Father looks better today,” Hel said.
“No, he doesn’t.”
Hel glanced up at the serpent on its tree, a tree that had no business being where it was, and yet was, because it needed to be, to hold the serpent that dripped venom onto Loki’s bound form. Or would have, if not for Sigyn’s intervention with her bowl. Sigyn glanced down at her husband. Loki’s eyes were open. His limbs were bound by iron chains formed from the entrails of his butchered son. Her son too, Sigyn remembered, though it was hard. She tried to remember his face. Failed.
“I can’t even remember his name,” she said aloud.
Hel looked confused. “Loki.”
Sigyn shook her head. “Someone else. A long time ago.”
Hel sat down on a stone fairly close but far enough away to avoid a splash, should there be one. “Has he spoken?”
Sigyn rather doubted that Loki could speak any more. One look into her father’s wild eyes should have told Hel that much. There had been little to Loki to begin with except mischief and well-concealed rage. Now the mischief was gone and rage was all that remained, and not well-concealed at all.
“I’m no child,” Hel said. “I am Queen of the Underworld and Lady of the Dead!”
Because no one else wants to be, Sigyn thought. Well, the Aesir had regretted that detail soon enough when Woden’s dear son Balder came under Hel’s control.
“You’re his child,” Sigyn said aloud, with as much diplomacy as she could muster. She didn’t want to anger Hel unnecessarily; she would miss their visits if she pushed the girl too far. Not that she’d meant insult; Sigyn just couldn’t help thinking of Hel as a child, despite her immortality. What the years didn’t touch the years didn’t teach. As for herself, well, she had other lesson masters to lean on.
“Not yours,” Hel said pointedly.
“For which I’m a bit sorry,” Sigyn admitted. “I would have loved to have a daughter.” Or any child still living, she thought but didn’t say. Even a monster like you.
Somewhat mollified, Hel leaned back on the stone a bit. “They’re talking about you, you know,” she said.
Sigyn steadied the bowl which was heavy and in danger of tipping. “Who is ‘they,’ if I might ask?”
Hel shrugged. “Everyone.”
“What are they saying?”
“No one talks to me,” Hel said, sullen. “I listen, though. Always. I hear your name but little else. The Aesir, the Vanir. They sound angry.”
Sigyn nodded, then turned her face up, pretending to study the serpent so Hel wouldn’t see her smile. “I think they might be.”
“For being a good wife to your father.”
Hel frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“I do. I think I have from the beginning,” Sigyn said.
Hel didn’t say anything or ask what Sigyn meant. Mysteries didn’t interest her, or much of anything below the surface of a matter. Sigyn considered that one of Hel’s few virtues.
Sigyn’s bowl was almost full, and, as she had thousands of times before, she got up to empty it. And, like a thousand times before, Loki twisted in rage and agony in his fetters as the poison, unimpeded, dripped onto his breast. The earth shook.
His strength grows along with his madness. I’ll have to be more careful.
Sigyn hurried, but not as much as she could have.
It wasn’t Thorsday and hadn’t been for some time. This day had a different feel to it. Wodensday. Someone was coming to visit, too. Thor didn’t come on Thorsday. Who might come on a Wodensday? Sigyn didn’t know. Yet so used to her surroundings she was that even a slight change, anywhere, that affected that sameness stood out like a blazing beacon. Something was different today. Someone would visit her. She knew it.
It was Woden. He appeared suddenly, as he was wont to do wherever he went, his floppy traveler’s hat pulled low over his face.
And on his own day. How oddly appropriate, Sigyn thought, and nothing else. She wasn’t even surprised, really. She just waited patiently with her filling bowl.
“Sigyn,” he said. There was a reflection on his face, a reddish cast as if he were illuminated by torches. Only there were no torches there, just the unchanging werelight of that deep place. Little else seemed god‑like about him. By appearances he might have been an itinerant tradesman.
“All-Father. Welcome. Forgive me for not rising.”
Woden glanced at Loki’s bound form. “Still suffering, I see.”
“As you wished.”
Woden shook his head. The phantom light was lost in the blackness where his right eye used to be. “I did not want this. I wanted my son back.” There was an unspeakable weariness on his face. Sigyn hadn’t seen him for a very long time but seemed to remember that he looked tired then, too.
“I speak to Hel of that now and again,” Sigyn said. “She just looks at me, and asks after her father. I don’t think she quite understands the connection.”
“I think she does, more or less,” Woden said.
“Then why doesn’t she just let Balder go?”
“Because she made a bargain. We did not fulfil the terms.”
“Because of Loki.”
Woden looked back at the tightly bound trickster god. “Yes. All because of him. The death, then the loss. All of it.”
“So you killed my sons to punish the father and the circle is completed, and here we are again. I had two of them, did I not? Sons? I seem to recall you turned one of them into a wolf to rend the other.”
Woden frowned. “That does not matter. It was done.”
Sigyn sighed. “Fate, again? It’s how we answer everything.”
Woden looked at her. “You could release the poison, Sigyn.”
“What sort of wife would I be then? How would I serve fate betraying my nature?”
“You refuse?” He didn’t sound angry, or disappointed. He just sounded tired.
“How can I do other than what I must do, as you did? Aren’t we are all bound to the rock, All-Father? In our own way?”
Woden didn’t answer. In another moment he was gone. Sigyn turned to empty the bowl, and again, for a time, the earth shook.
Sigyn watched the bowl, wondering who the visitor would be today. It wasn’t Wodensday or Thorsday or Freyasday. Not that the day dictated, but Sigyn still liked to look for connections. There was little else to do but hold the bowl and think. She had done this for a long time. Memory faded, but thought did not. It remembered the purpose, if very little of the reason, for all that Sigyn had done since that black day so long ago. It was enough.
Three visitors that day. Three hooded crones with faces mostly hidden by cowls blacker than night.
“Greetings, Loki’s wife,” they said as if there were only one voice among them.
“The sister Norns, greetings. This is an unexpected honor.”
“No it isn’t,” they said. They seemed perturbed. Almost…frantic, for all that they moved and spoke very slowly.
Sigyn was not perturbed or frantic, and moved even slower than they did. She had reason to be consistent and constant but seldom had reason to hurry. “Which? Honor or unexpected?”
“You knew we would come. We knew that you would know.”
Sigyn nodded. “If you say so, for isn’t it true that you know everything?”
“We know…what we must know.”
Sigyn couldn’t suppress a smile. “Fate rules the Fates? This is a strange world.”
They ignored that. “We are tired, Sigyn.”
Sigyn nodded. “As am I. So very tired. People come to visit me here in my loneliness, but they never offer to hold the bowl, even for a moment. I’d take it back, of course. No one but me is bound to hold it. Do they offer? No, they do not. Not even Hel, Loki’s own dear daughter.”
“You are angry,” they said.
Sigyn shrugged. “I suppose you could say that. For want of a better word, a more complete word, a word that comes even slightly near describing how I feel. I am, indeed, angry.”
“It is far past time,” they said. Then, “Please.”
“Please? Please what, good Norns?”
“Am I to guess then? Or perhaps you cannot say it? Woden could, but then Woden probably has the heart of it worked out now, as is his nature. He always was clever. You merely know what is and what will be. But when? That’s a separate matter. You can measure out a mortal life, but that doesn’t apply to me, does it? What will happen will happen, but you don’t know when any more than I do. Maybe less.” Sigyn watched her bowl, nearly full now. “Yes. Rather less, I believe.”
“It should have…ended.” They stressed the word, perhaps to make sure that Sigyn understood, but there was no question of that. Sigyn understood perfectly.
“Our wyrd decides all. I do what I am fated to do, and so no one may interfere, not even Woden. You knew that. Loki’s steadfast and loyal wife. But did anyone know I would be so good at it? So tireless? Did even the Norns know?”
Sigyn nodded in satisfaction. “Well, I knew. The moment the Aesir murdered my sons for their silly revenge and bound this damn fool to this rock for being the nithling he is, I knew. Now mankind has turned away from Asgaard and Valhalla and yet we remain. Midgaard Serpent and Fenris Wolf slumber in their dotage and yet we remain.”
“It should have ended!” The Norns’ united voice was a wail of despair.
Sigyn just nodded. “I know. We’re tired, aren’t we? Everyone wants Loki to thrash in agony just enough to break his bonds. To break this circle and begin another. To lead the Giants against Asgaard and bring Ragnarok. An end to this weariness, this sameness, this suffering. Destiny cannot be cheated–Ragnarok will happen. Yes, but when will the end come? You don’t know. I do. Shall I tell you?”
Silence. Then, “Please.”
“It ends when I say it ends,” Sigyn said, “And not one moment before.”
Silence again. After a few moments, the Norns left. Sigyn watched them shuffling slowly away for a bit, then checked her bowl. Close to spilling it was, and she always spilled a little, just a little, herself. She let the serpent do the rest, but not too much. Not enough. It was never enough.
Sigyn took the bowl away, and once more the earth shook. But only for a little while.
Sigyn hurried off to empty the bowl, and, despite the weight of the ages, her step was quick and her heart was light. Behind her Loki groaned, and Sigyn smiled.
©2001 by Richard Parks, All Rights Reserved