This story may be treated as inspired Pagan fiction, or as
unverified personal gnosis (UPG). It’s up to you.
For a thousand years I waited.
I waited for him, my husband, to be free at last.
A thousand years is a long time to figure things out. There’s a pool of water in this cave we call home, so at least we could drink. But there wasn’t much to eat… and I really don’t want to talk about how we got rid of our crap. He’s tied to a rock, so he can’t go outside to relieve himself. I took care of that.
I take care of everything.
For three hundred years, I stood there next to him, holding a bowl. A serpent was tied above him, out of my reach, and kept dripping venom on his face. So I caught it with this bowl of mine. I wish I could have caught his tears as well, but you have to prioritize in these kinds of situations. I caught the venom, saved him some pain.
I still shudder when I remember his howls of pain, whenever I went outside to empty the bowl. The very cave shook I think.
But serpents don’t last forever. I’m a goddess. At least I think I am. We live a long time. Longer than stupid snakes anyway, even enchanted ones. And how we laughed when it died! It was good to see him laugh. He still couldn’t make fire at that point. But I think he managed to make sparks by grinding his teeth, to celebrate. That’s what I told him anyway. I don’t remember if it’s true anymore. I just choose to believe it is. It made him feel better to have some of his fire back, and that’s all that mattered.
No, I was the one to make the fire that day, when we cooked the snake and ate it. It was old and chewy, but we relished every bite. I fed him, as always, and he smiled. I take care of things. That’s what I do.
He chewed on the flesh and the sinews, and asked for more. I gladly gave him more. Then he started on the bones. Those took a long time to grind down, but my beloved has good teeth, and it kept him busy for a good while, gave him something to do.
“So what will you do today,” I’d ask him.
“Chew the bones my love! Chew the bones!”
I’d smile and put the current object of his ire into his mouth to chew for the day. Then I’d kiss him and go hunting. He had some anger issues to work through. Hah! That’s almost funny.
Sometimes, he’d squint one eye while he chewed. I knew he was working out his anger about One Eye, his treacherous blood brother and king of the gods. That made me smile too.
When there’s not a lot to smile about, you have to grab whatever you can and get amusement out of that.
Oh, I remember when I was young, it was easy to make me smile then too. I guess it’s a talent of mine, to be easily amused. A very useful talent, when you have to spend a thousand years in a cave and try to stay sane. But I’m still sane. Aren’t I? I think I am. Then again, if I wasn’t, I suppose I couldn’t tell.
I make drawings in my mind. That’s how I pass the time. I imagine a block of wood, and then I paint some lines on it. I add some color. And then it starts coming to life, like it’s carved, but moving. Not much movement, it’s usually just a scene that plays over and over. But it’s nice, and it makes me smile. Smiling is so important. I like drawing sunny days in my mind, because there aren’t any here. I liked drawing sunny days when I was young too, when I had the wood to spare, and some pigments to paint with. Here, all I’ve had for most of our stay is charred wood from our fire. I’ve drawn a forest for us, on the cave walls, but it’s kind of gloomy. Loki likes it anyway, I do what I can to make him smile and relieve the boredom.
Sometimes, I remember a place, maybe with people, and it’s the same as it was, but in a frame. I can’t get into it, but I can move the frame a bit, and look around. It’s like a window. Sometimes it’s a frame to a place in the past. Sometimes it’s of the present, and I can see what’s happening in the world. But it’s a lot easier if I’ve actually seen the place before. Moving the frame to somewhere I’ve never been is a lot harder and hazier. But it still works. Most of the time anyway.
Let me show you how I do it, maybe you can learn to do it too. I close my eyes, and I imagine this cave in a frame, like I’m at an open window looking in on this place. But what I want to see now is the first time Angrboda came to us, when her people finally found us. So I put her in the frame beside us, and I see her moving, inspecting the bonds that hold my beloved. I can even hear her speak if I try:
“I cannot release you my husband,” she sighs. “These Aesir magics are as cunning as they are malicious”
Loki howls in anguish and asks: “But why??? Why can you not release me, First Wife? Can you not divine the method of release?”
I can see myself there along with his Jotun wife, wringing my hands in a mix of worry and hope. And I remember how it felt, waiting for her to reply.
“Oh, I can,” She says wearily, “I know exactly how you can be released. That’s the terrible part. Every binding magic has a loophole built into it, either by accident or by design. And this loophole was carefully designed to hold you forever. Or at least, until you grew so angry that you wanted the whole world destroyed.”
“So what’s the loophole,” he demands, “how can I be free?”
“You can free yourself at any time, my husband. These bonds are made from the guts of your son, you know that well. But what makes them indestructible is your love for your son. That’s what powers them. And they will remain, as long as your love for him remains.”
I hear myself say: “We tried everything to cut them, sharp stones, blades, caustic venom, I even tried to chew through them, but they always grew back. You mean those bonds are made out of his love??”
Angrboda nods sadly, and says no more.
My beloved chews on this and finally says: “You’re saying I have to stop loving my son to be free??”
She just nods again, and Loki lets out a scream of anguish, one I hadn’t heard since Odin murdered our children. It goes on, and on, and on, until finally, he just starts sobbing, and I… I rush over to cradle his… head against my chest. And he just keeps on crying for a long time.
Angrboda says to me, “I will return tomorrow,” and she leaves us to our pain.
I don’t want to see this anymore, so I open my eyes and make it go away. I want to remember a happier time. Oh, I know! I’ll paint the first time we got a food offering. All I have to do is close my eyes, and look out that window. I see it now, it’s a piece of bread, sitting on a rock near us. We don’t notice it at first, and we’re so skinny. By the gods of the Ironwood, I’d almost forgotten how skinny we were! Gods don’t usually die from hunger, but we can certainly get very very skinny and sickly if we can’t feed. And boy were we hungry! It was my Loki who saw it first. I think he actually smelled it before he saw it.
“Sig! Look! There! Either I’m going crazy, or there’s a piece of bread on that rock!” He likes to call me Sig, because it means “victory”.
I turn to look, and by all the unholy bonds, I see it too! I can’t believe it at first, but I slowly start approaching it, like Freya’s cat stalks a bird. A drop of venom drips on his face, and I wince as he screams. I missed that one, darnit! I look back, ashamed of myself, but he says through clenched teeth: “Never mind the poison, if it’s real food, grab it. We need it. Just, AAAAAAAAaaaaahhh!” I quickly grab the bread, and rush back to hold up the bowl with one hand, before another drop hits him.
And before you say anything, let me say this: Yes, I swear. I swear a lot these days. I didn’t use to when I was younger, I watched my language. But try spending a few hundred years of torment in a cave, and see if you don’t start swearing. It’s the one liberty I give myself to vent my anger. And believe me, I have plenty to be angry about. I may swear, but I don’t curse. Keep that in mind as I continue telling you what I see:
I’m holding the bowl and the bread, right up near my face, and I can smell it too now. By the Norns, it’s buttered, and it smells delicious!
My mouth starts watering, and I want that piece of bread, more than I’ve wanted anything in my life. I can almost taste it. I deserve that bread! I’m the one who’s been doing all the work around here, and I’m soooooo hungry! He’s just sitting there, waiting, I’m the one who needs food the most. I lean my head in towards the bread… inhaling the scent of it, licking my lips, when I hear him say: “So, is it real? Is it real food??”
I don’t say anything. I’m just thinking that to make sure it’s real food, I’d have to take a bite of it. I close my eyes and sigh. I’ve learned control, discipline, and even after all these years of performing my self-imposed austerities, I almost failed. I chide myself, and say: “Yes, it’s real food, as far as I can tell.”
He says nothing. He knows I need the food just as badly as he does. He just waits. He’s learned patience as well, my husband has. He knows I need to work through this for myself, and he trusts me. I haven’t let him down yet, and I’m not going to start now. He looks up at me, as best he can, and I can see a tear run down his cheek. Still he says nothing.
Still holding the cup, I bring the bread to his lips with my other hand. He nibbles at it, chewing it, making it last, savoring it. Yes, he’s learned so much control. I’m so proud of him, and I feel a tear run down my own cheek. Watching him eat is almost as good as eating it myself. Almost.
There’s a small spark in his eyes now, and his mind is churning: “Sig, you have to figure out where this bread came from, and whether there’ll be more.” He doesn’t add that he could do it himself, if he weren’t so bound. We both know that.
I close my eyes and say: “I’m making the frame now, for my window. I see… I see the rock. I see the bread. I look into the future, and I see more food appearing. I see that the flat rock becomes bowl shaped, over years of food appearing. It’s turning into an offering altar! Beloved, people are remembering us! And they are making offerings to us!” I can’t believe what I’m seeing or what I’m saying, shaking my head.
I hear a sound coming from him. At first I don’t realize what it is, but then it turns into a chuckle, and soon a great big laugh! It’s so good to see him laugh again!
He says: “Ah, you old goat, you didn’t think that they would remember us. You didn’t think that they’d care, even if they remembered us! You thought you could keep us trapped here till Ragnarok, and that when it finally came we’d be too weak to fight. But everyone likes a laugh, and you can’t erase the god of laughter! I’m in all the best stories, and if you removed my role from them, they’d be as boring as counting socks!” He just keeps on laughing, until it’s just a chuckle. I rest one hand on his shoulder, massaging it. It’s the best I can do for a hug while holding the bowl.
With some of his old charm returning, he asks: “So where do these offerings come from, my beloved lady of constancy? Who do I have to thank for these?”
I close my eyes once more, and make the window. This time it’s harder, because it’s not a memory, and it’s not a place I know. I have to draw it. So I draw a human. Surely the offering comes from one of them, or if not, one of the future ones will. I draw the human, putting a piece of bread on a… a plate, yes, it’s a plate. Their hair is long… and they’re saying Loki’s name. They’re saying my name too, I realize with some excitement! I let the colors start to fill in, and it gets clearer. There’s books in that room. And I can see a flame, a candle I think. But suddenly, I don’t care who it is, there will be time to figure that out later. I care about when this is.
But it’s hard to tell that from a drawing, or even a window. I move the window away, further and further, until I’m seeing outside. The houses are quite strange, but that’s not what I’m after. It’s night time, and so I tilt my window up, looking for the moon. Luckily, Mani is there, and I stare at his face. Time is written on his face, if you know how to look. I stare until I find the information I seek, and gasp in shock! My window shatters, and I’m back in the cave, shaking.
“What? What is it Sigyn? What did you find?”
I try to speak, but cannot. He adds: “I wish I could hold you in my arms and make it better. Please, picture me holding you, my love”. I see that in my window, as he describes, him holding me in his strong embrace, when we were still in Asgard. I take the strength I need, close my window and open my eyes.
“It’s in the far future, my husband.”
“How far, my love?”
“Many centuries, as humans reckon time. It will take centuries before we have followers again, my love. It’s fortunate that time flows differently for us than for them.”
“How many of them are there?” he asks.
I’m starting to feel tired, tired in the magic way, but I make another window. Truth be told, I want to know too. So I draw one person to start with, their back to me, facing a big wooden pole in the ground. I carve a face in the pole, and it starts to take on color. I pull back my window, and there are more poles, with more faces, and more people with their backs toward me.
“I can see… about a dozen of them. They are praying, and making offerings. This drawing is in the early times of people remembering you. I can see… oh… your mark is on a number of them! Some of these belong to you! By the unholy bonds, you have your own people in this time, devoted to you above all others! And what’s that mark… Oh! By the holy gods of the Ironwood! Some of them have MY mark on them! They’re mine! I can’t believe it!” I use my free hand to wipe a tear.
“Have they turned away from the Aesir? Tell me, I must know!”
“I’m looking! Give me a moment! There… oh. I see at least one has the mark of Odin, and she’s still making offering to you!”
I keep looking, and he is silent. Finally, he says quietly: “Is she making this offering out of honor for the pact?”
“No, she isn’t doing it because you’re blood brother to her lord, out of sacrificial obligation. She’s doing it out of her own love for you.”
“Close your mouth, love,” he says. “You’ll let the flies in.”
I close my mouth… how did he know I was gaping? Ah yes, he knows me so well.
“It seems,” he mutters, “that the future holds more wonders than the volva revealed.”
“Indeed it does,” I add needlessly.
“The next offering,” he declares, “you eat it. Whether it’s for me or for you, no matter what it is or how much there is, I want you to eat it. You need your strength too.”
I nod, feeling my love for him, and answer: “As you wish.”
It all came out in one sitting, with only a break for lunch. Aside from some rewording and adding a few details, it all just poured out as you see it now.
For three nights before I wrote it, I could feel the story forming in my mind, as I lay in bed after my usual evening prayer to Sigyn. It was all very vague, just a general notion of what it was about, until today. Today, it was like watching the story unfold, but only as fast as I could write it. I didn’t even know it was over, until the story suddenly stopped. Believe me, I’d love to know what happened next, or what is happening right now to the narrator.
When I went inside afterward to ask: “Sigyn, is this truly your story?” I got the feeling of a smile, then an answer: “Close enough”.
Written Moonday February 7th, 2011
Dedicated to my beloved Sigyn, Loki, and all those who hold the bowl for Her.
This is the second time I've felt inspired by Sigyn, though I believe the first time was more me than Her. You can read and listen to my song to Sigyn here, in my Songbook page. It's about Her time in the cave, prior to this story.
From the Prose Edda, here is the myth as it is known in Gylfaginning:
"Now Loki was captured without quarter and taken to a certain cave. Then they took three stone slabs and set them on edge and knocked a hole in each slab. Then Loki’s sons Vali and Narfi were fetched. They took the guts of Vali, but Narfi changed into a wolf and thus escaped. Then the Aesir took his guts and bound Loki with them across the three stones–one under his shoulders, one under his loins, the third under the backs of his knees–and these bonds turned to iron. Then Skadi got a poisonous snake and fixed it up over him so that the poison would drip from the snake into his face. But his wife Sigyn stands next to him holding a basin under the drops of poison. And when the basin is full she goes and pours away the poison, but in the meantime the poison drips into his face. Then he jerks away so hard that the whole earth shakes. That is what you call an earthquake." (Sturluson 1987: 52)
Mind you, this was written 200 years after the Pagan period. Here's the older account, from the Poetic Edda:
"And after that Loki hid in the waterfall of Franangr, disguised as a salmon. There the Aesir caught him. He was bound with the guts of his son Nari. But his son Narfi changed into a wolf. Skadi took a poisonous snake and fastened it over Loki’s face; poison dripped down from it. Sigyn, Loki’s wife, sat there and held a basin under the poison. But when the basin was full, she carried the poison out; and meanwhile the poison fell on Loki. Then he writhed so violently at this that all the earth shook from it; these are now called earthquakes." (Larrington 1999: 95-96)
This is all the lore says.
However, Loki has often been compared to both Hermes and Prometheus. In the context of this story, it's well worth looking up the myth of Prometheus, even if just in the wikipedia entry. You can also find a number of articles on the net comparing the two. I'm not saying they're the same being, just that they seem to have similar jobs and woes.
Prometheus does not seem to have a wife, as Loki does. But this Greek trickster-giant-firebringer does have a female counterpart, also somehow associated with hope: Pandora.