Wildfire, Chapter 2 part 2.

By gentle persuasion, a bit of misdirection (and quite a lot of blackmail) Loki has persuaded Freyja to dismiss her loyal elvish maidservant, and agree to do a spot of matchmaking on Midgard:

~

 

Outside, the grove of hazels whispered at the washed blue sky and scattered the last drops of the early morning rainfall, flashing as they fell to the ground. Cloudshadow waited there with a small bundle of clothes. She had strapped on her belt her eating knife in a sheath of linen stitched with slivers of glass, and at her right, suspended from red loops, hung a pouch full of sharp elf-shot and a sling with a well worn handle.

"You have deprived my Lady of a faithful servant." she said.

"How would you like to go home?" said Loki.

Cloudshadow hefted her bundle from one hand to the other and, having done this, she looked up into the god’s beautiful eager face impassively.

"That’s where I am going," she said.

"Without dishonour?" Loki finished.

"There will be no dishonour for me," Cloudshadow said. "My people know you."

"Yes, they do," Loki admitted. "But Freyr does not. He will believe his sister, and your King will believe Freyr; you will be disgraced."

Cloudshadow bowed her head in silence. Minutes passed as Loki watched her without moving. Then, in a small voice she said "I want to go home without dishonour…I want to go home."

Loki lifted her head so that she could not avoid his gaze, "You will come with me then. I am going to Alfheim in one or two days. Before that you will go to Sigyn."

He watched the thought slide over the surface of her dark eyes. "If you go without me," he said, "I can force Freyr to disown you. I can make you an exile from your people; a wanderer with no king and no lord, no place in all the nine worlds."

"I won’t go without you."

"And you will keep your mouth shut when you are there."

"I will."

"Good." said Loki and he ruffled her hair, smiling. "Now go."

He watched her as she ran away from him down through the wide streets.  He made sure she was running where she had been told before he began to toil uphill through the trees, heading for the High-One’s watching eyrie, where it was forbidden to go.

Hlithskjalf was a rocky crag rising bleak and pale to scrape the highest branches of Yggdrasil the World-tree. Perhaps it was a practical joke of long years storms, or a tooth of Ymir the frost giant, from whose body the worlds had been formed.  At the foot of this huge pinnacle the hall named Valaskjalf sprawled. It had no windows, but a watching air was over it and a gloom of ancient darkness was solemn on its heavy walls of bronze.

From the side of the hall, narrow steps wound a spiral, cut crudely in the crumbling grey stone, up and up until the air grew thin and the nine worlds were spread out like moving maps in infinite and minute detail beneath. In the single carved and worn stone seat which was hollowed at its peak by repeated use and obliging weather there sat a bright and beady eyed hedgehog sniffing at the stone in incongruous surprise.

Odin frowned when he saw it there. There is a warrior’s spirit in that animal, he thought to himself. Only undaunted bravery could have taken it up there; the wind is strong and there is death at every turn of the stair. If only the gods had such a spirit, such Will, but we are deathless and having no whip and lash behind us we decline and accomplish nothing.

He turned away and, leaning on his staff like an old man, he began to make his way down the long slope towards the Paddocks of Power. Then he shook his head and, laughing into his grey beard at this sudden attack of sentiment, straightened his back and without looking behind him strode on with a strong gait.

A hawk flashed across the sun. Freyja landed on the crag with a screech and a clatter of wings. She cocked a hawk’s amber eye at the hedgehog, wondering whether or not to rip open its throat. It rolled itself into a spiny ball as she considered, but when she folded her wings and perched sedately upon one arm it poked out its long nose and said "Well?"

"Well what?" said the hawk, exhibiting a foul bad temper.

"Have you calmed down yet?"

"I’m debating," said Freyja, "Whether or not I ought to kill you and eat you. No-one would know if I did; no-one but me knows that you’re here." She flexed an iron-sharp claw experimentally and whet her beak on the stone.

"Cloudshadow knows," the hedgehog lied professionally. "And she will have told Sigyn by now. Besides, if you tried, I should just turn into a dragon and swallow you whole. You forget I am a shape-changer, not tied to one fylgja like you.  Now, look at this."

He pointed with his sharp nose to a minute dark blur in the green of the tiny island of forest that was the Angles’ new homeland. As she directed her yellow gaze to it it became distinct, and was a mortal hall. Its doors were open to the day.  Warriors sat there disconsolate with rusting swords and rebellious scowls, yawning at peace.

"The brown-haired one who tells tales of his bravery to his dog," said the hedgehog, snuffling with laughter.

"Very pretty," the hawk approved.  "It won’t take much to make a girl fall for him."

"He takes after his grandfather," said Loki and then he pointed out the girl.

"Well she’s a disappointment and no mistake," Freyja sniffed. "Oh, she’s no strain on the eyes, but what manners! A girl like that should be more demure."

Loki said nothing.

"Very well.  I’ll send them dreams tonight, but you’ll have to get them to meet before it will take properly.  I still wish you’d tell me why I’m doing this."  She eyed the prickly beast with a sharp eye, but he began to make his laborious way down the steps.

"You mean," he said, "you haven’t worked it out yet? After I gave you such a very obvious hint?"

"What hint?" said Freyja with her wings outstretched.

"Come now.  Not even you can be that stupid!"

With a sudden stoop the hawk dived for him, but her claws closed on nothing.  It was a long while before she realised that the white moth blown away by the wind had been, just a moment before, the slow-moving animal her taunting enemy.

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