The Goddess of Nothing At All by Cat Rector
Genre: Dark Fantasy
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Title: The Goddess of Nothing At All
Author: Cat Rector
Genre: Dark Fantasy
“Odin has many names; Hangi, Grimnir, and Allfather among them. He created the realms and those that dwell in them. He has many children, who are each powerful gods in their own right, and all of them are sons.”
—Asgard Historical Records, Volume 1
They say it’s courageous to persist in the face of overwhelming odds, but whoever said that obviously wasn’t dealing with Odin.
A cloud of dust kicked into the air as I swung down off my horse and landed on the stone with a thud. I straightened my skirts, the gold-embroidered navy blue discoloured with blood and dirt. There was a tear in one of the sleeves, the low collar drooping to one side. Remnants of a mission gone awry.
Odin was off his horse a moment later, stomping towards Valaskjálf. If I let him, he would disappear into the corridors of his great hall, into one of his many rooms, and I’d never fi nd him. It was one of his tactics to avoid my questions, that much I knew by experience.
“Father.” I tried to appear calm as I strode beside him, attempting to keep up with his long gait. I knew the answer like I’d known it every other day, but I asked anyways. “So? What do you think?”
Odin huffed, taking the fi rst of several stone steps up into the double doors that opened into Valaskjálf. Th e hall was decadent, like Odin himself, made of grey and white stone, and trimmed in gold like he would never run out of it.
I cleared my throat. “All things considered, I think it went well.”
“If things had gone well, we’d have come home with treaties, not bloody clothes.”
I hiked up my skirts to keep from tripping; he was picking up speed. “There was never going to be a treaty, and you knew it the whole time. It was just another grab for power from idiots who think they can defeat gods. Their choices have nothing to do with my competence.”
I gave him a moment, and when it was clear he wasn’t going to respond, I tried again. “I think I did well. None of your men were killed, I healed every wound before the ride home, and my shields provided more than ample cover—”
“You were sloppy.” Odin rounded a corner.
If I weren’t accustomed to that kind of insult from him, the words might have stung. “I was not. I did everything right. What more can I do to please you?”
Odin ground to a halt, turning to glare at me with that single piercing eye. His salt-andpepper beard was wilder than usual. He folded his arms across his broad chest, the armour glinting silver and rust-red where today’s blood had dried. A splatter had even made it up to the leather patch that covered his missing eye. “Sigyn, stop interrogating me every time I bring you anywhere. You think you’re ready for a title, but you’re not.”
I flexed the fingers of both my hands, breathing as deeply as I could manage. “And why not? I’ve worked harder than anyone else had to. All Thor did was break one Jotun skull, and you gave him everything he ever wanted. The Trickster has a title, and he’s exiled. So please, tell me why I don’t deserve one.”
“Because you’re not ready. Be patient.” He started to walk away.
I moved in front of him. “Last week you told me to be more assertive. Last month you wanted more dedication to my studies, and the month before that, you said I was spending too much time in my books. You don’t really have a reason, do you?”
Odin stepped toward me. I’d been alive for nearly eighty years, but he was still wagging his finger like he was scolding a child. “You don’t have a title because I haven’t given it to you, and you won’t have one until I see fit. You’re impatient, demanding, and too sure of yourself. If I hear another word about this, I swear by the Nornir, I’ll have you fed to a troll.”
He whipped past me and stormed away.
It was all I could do to keep my feet planted. My whole body itched to run after him, to berate and beat him until he gave me what I wanted. The frustration built under my skin until it burst from me in an exasperated scream. My voice echoed off the cavernous walls, decades of frustration boiling over. But he didn’t turn around.
It didn’t matter. This wasn’t the end of anything.
I turned around and headed back out of Valaskjálf. Odin’s halls were the centre of the city of Asgard, and there were so many other places I could be. Anywhere else.
Looking up, my eyes fell on Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The branches spanned out over most of the stone and wood city, so tall and all-encompassing that the clouds played among the leaves. Every time the breeze caught the tree, it shimmered jewel tones, pinks and purples and blues. And, as usual, that’s where I went.
I followed my feet into the busy streets, past horses and carriages, travellers and locals. I pushed my way through the market, where the stalls were selling all manner of wares to Elves and Humans and Jotun of all shapes and sizes. Each familiar tavern and tannery passed in a blur as I wove through the streets, and by the time I’d reached the outer edge of the city, my rage had started to fade.
The bluster left me the way it always did, and the slow certainty crept back under my skin. The overwhelming knowledge that Odin had all the power. That he was not one to be swayed once he’d made up his mind. And I was at his mercy.
What play could I make if he held all the dice?
As I passed the last homes on the edge of the city, the view ahead became a wall of leafy woods, each of them rustling in the breeze. To the left was a well-worn path that led into the forest, and I stepped onto it, grateful for the familiar scent of soil and greenery, the scurry of critters, and the trill of birds. A balm for my heart.
The path let out into a clearing a few minutes later, and everything was as it should have been. In the middle of the grass sprang an enormous tree trunk, so wide that it took a full minute to walk around it. Yggdrasil rustled above me, tossing in the wind and letting sunshine dance on the grass.
Tucked up against the treeline of the forest was Idunn’s tiny wood cabin, nearly obscured by the flowers she’d planted around it. The flourishing garden, full of fruit and vegetables, was larger than the cabin itself.
Laughter rose up from the direction of Yggdrasil. Wooden scaffolding was pressed against the side of the trunk, a series of platforms and ladders all for the purpose of plucking golden apples. The voices were coming from up there.
I trekked across the grass, skirting around the four deer who lived at the base of the tree, each of which refused to budge an inch. The first step I took onto the ladder shook the scaffolding, and the voices quieted. A head peeked over the side, alarmed, but the moment her eyes caught mine, Idunn’s face lit up.
“Sigyn! You’re home! Come up, and tell us about your trip.” Her sky-blue eyes danced with excitement and her single thick, blonde braid dangled in the air, laced with white flowers. She held her hand out to hoist me up.
Idunn settled onto her knees, careful to avoid the blanket laid out with food. The platform was tight with the three bodies and the lavish spread crammed onto it, so I sat with my legs close to me.
“I see you two have been keeping busy without me.” I scooped up a handful of nuts and berries from their picnic.
Freya was next to me, sitting cross-legged in a casual violet dress. Normally, she was a woman of two sides: extravagant jewelled gowns or shimmering plates of armour. She pushed her flowing auburn hair back behind her ear, and my breath caught. A motion so simple shouldn’t be so alluring, but she wasn’t called the most beautiful woman in all the realms for nothing.
“The world doesn’t stop just because you leave.” There was bite in Freya’s playful tone, and it reminded me immediately that beauty isn’t everything. “Who else was going to eat all this cheese?” She reached out, the broad muscles in her arms flexing and relaxing under the sheer fabric of her sleeve.
Idunn looked me over, taking in the blood and dirt on my dress. “I take it things didn’t go well?” Her lips knotted up in a frown, a look that was out of place on a woman who was made of softness.
“Let me guess,” said Freya. “It was a trap.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s always a trap, isn’t it? I don’t want to say that all trolls are mindless, but there seems to be a pattern.”
“And you missed us so terribly that you couldn’t even wash the musk from your body before you visited?” Freya smiled crookedly as she filled her cup with Elven wine and passed it to me.
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“Pour a bucket of water over my head if you think it’ll help.” I took a hearty drink, wondering for the hundredth time what Idunn saw in Freya. But they were both staring, so I answered the silent question. “He turned me down.”
Idunn put her hand on my knee. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have encouraged you to ask again.” She sighed. “It’s just…I thought with all the training you’ve done and the end of this newest apprenticeship…” Her gaze fell from mine. The sadness on her face brought tears to my eyes.
I squeezed her hand. “As if any of this could be your fault. If it weren’t for you, I’d have given up decades ago.”
Freya snorted. “I don’t see how he can keep denying you. No one else had this hard of a time.”
I made a face, not sure if I should take that as comradery or an insult. “Maybe he’s run out of titles and can’t admit it. Even if the youngest gets the scraps, you’d think he’d make me Goddess of Sheep Herding or something.” I drained the wine from my cup and held it out for a refill, which Freya obliged.
Idunn started to shuffle her bottom toward me, and I held out a hand to stop her. She meant well with her kind words and cuddles, but I couldn’t stand the pity. I wanted to go back to my hall, get very drunk, and cry where no one could see me. So, I swung my legs over the edge of the platform, making an attempt to leave. “I’m going home. No sense in ruining your sunny afternoon with all my clouds.”
“Nonsense, I love complaining about Odin. It’s almost a hobby at this point.” Freya took back my cup and gave me a sincere smile. “Things will work out. He’s a crotchety old man, but he has to give in sometime, right?”
I nodded, tears blurring my eyes. I blinked them back and fumbled my feet onto the rungs of the ladder. “I’ll see you later.” I kept my eyes on my descent as they said their farewells.
By the time I was on solid ground, the tears were streaking over my cheeks, and I was trying to hold back that annoying inhale of breath that would give my crying away. I strode across the grass, wiping them away and wishing it wasn’t such a long walk back to the centre of the city. It wouldn’t help my case if Odin found out his only daughter had been caught weeping in the market.
I was nearly at the path when Idunn called out behind me. Her always-bare feet clapped against the grass as she ran. Damn. I tried to compose myself and turned to face her. Her white dress billowed out behind her, making her look ethereal as she passed through a patch of sunlight. There was a golden apple in her hand.
“You didn’t need to bring that.” I gestured to the apple, trying to seem happy. “You gave me one last week. I know I look horrible today, but I don’t age that quickly.”
She stopped in front of me and held it out. “It’s not for you. I…I have an idea. I’ve thought about this a lot, but I know there’s a price to pay for offering it, so I waited. I thought that Odin would come to his senses a long time ago, but he hasn’t. So…I know someone who might be able to help you.”
I sighed. “I’ve tried everyone and everything. You have no idea the lengths I’ve gone to for this title. Who could possibly be left?”
Idunn’s fingers tapped on the apple. She hesitated. “You know how each month I take a walk to the woods on the border of Asgard and Jotunheim?”
My eyes darted open. “You can’t be serious!”
Idunn hushed me. “Not so loud. If Freya finds out what I’m telling you, she’ll lock you in the dungeons before you have a chance to think it over.” She held out the apple and waited for me to take it. When I did, she wrapped her hands around mine. “He is many things, Sigyn, but he’s not as bad as they say.”
“Then why do they call him Trickster and Silvertongue as if they’re afraid to say his name out loud? Half of the city thinks those woods are cursed because of him. He stole, lied, cheated—”
“You weren’t here in those days, but I was. If there was something to be afraid of, do you think I’d go out there alone?” She stared into my eyes, all compassion and urgency. “Think of the stories you’ve been told. Power like that could change things for you. He’s complicated, and doing this could land you in trouble, but he knows how to use seidr in ways that most of us never will. It could be just what you need.”
I looked away, my eyes searching the clearing as if the answers lay between the blades of grass. The Trickster had been exiled before I’d been born. People said he could walk on air, shapeshift, control the elements. Freya swore up and down that he had once broken into her chamber and stolen the necklace from around her neck while she slept. He’d been gone from the city for nearly a hundred years, and the tales had only grown with time.
Idunn pulled me out of my thoughts. “Give him the apple and tell him I sent you. If you enter the forest near the boulder at its edge, then follow the river, you’ll find his cabin. But please, wait until morning. The woods are thick with wolves, and I don’t want you getting caught off guard.”
I took a deep breath, my mind working over the details. Aligning myself with the Trickster behind Odin’s back was a bad idea. But when was the last time anything had sounded this promising? How many more decades could I spend studying botany and war history with no end in sight? I was calculating the distance to the woods when Idunn shuffled her feet and turned to leave.
I grabbed her hand. “Thank you. I have no idea what’s going to come of it, but I’ll find out tomorrow.”
She smiled, a look so warm and contagious that it spread to my lips as well. “Be safe, Sigyn. And say hello for me.” She gave my hand a squeeze, then pranced her way back to Yggdrasil.
I turned and walked down the path as fast as I could without breaking into a run. My heart was thumping in my chest, my mind racing in every direction. Another chance. I wasn’t proud of the lie, but I’d run out of patience years ago. A couple of wolves were hardly going to stop me. I was going tonight.
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