It's hours later when Loki and Cam bring Bella, Elspeth, and Jake to Vanda Nossëo and make it known to whom it may concern that they're here, news is available about the newest Arda and its adjacent world-with-a-Bell-in-it, and someone needs to relay Elspeth the spell symbols because Golden can't let mind-affecting powers including osanwë through her shield unless she trusts whoever is using them. And Elspeth wants to know if the non-evil Maitimo who was so upset is okay now.
"Hello," says Sigyn. "I'm told we might find each other's experiences relatable."
(Loki shows herself out.)
"Nice to meet you."
"Did they tell you why they think that."
"Loki mentioned a, hm, seriously troubled relationship," he says. "I've had one or two of those myself, over the years."
"There was a civil war between, loosely, people who wanted my father as King and people who wanted his half-brother. My half-uncle's oldest son and I had been. Involved. Before everything went to hell. My father had his assassinated and then he killed both my parents, seized the throne, settled the war.
And kept me. I honestly wouldn't have anticipated it, I didn't know he cared anymore. But they woke me up with the news and had me dragged to his rooms. ...do your people have oaths, or are you like Men that way?"
"Asgardians are like Men that way," says Sigyn. "If oaths worked for us the way they do for you I think I'd kill myself preemptively. I've been as close as I'd ever like to get to that sort of thing."
"What good would killing yourself do, or is that another species difference?"
"Yeah. We die permanently."
"I actually don't think there was any point where I wanted to die. Thought I would, maybe, at the beginning - you can't imprison Elves. After a week we start losing our grip on reality and after a month we're dead. Not permanently. A couple weeks had gone by and I was barely lucid and wondering what the point had been, why not just kill me outright - and then he took me outside, somewhere where I was hardly in a state to run away but there weren't any walls, and I pulled my head back together, and he said that if I swore to tell him anything he'd want to know about my activities, and to come back to him at night, I could go where I pleased. So I did. Went to see my little sister and brothers, went to see my parents' graves. Talked to people. Tried to learn about our plans for the war - I was surprised, no one stopped me -
- once we got to Beleriand he drew the oaths more carefully. Everything I swore was time-limited, if I came back and chained myself to his wall it ended. You can use oaths to overwrite people, make them swear to take your goals and wants and passions as their own. He could have talked me into it. He was playing so casually with peoples' lives and if he'd sworn to stop-
- I don't think that's what he wanted anyway -
- we kept it up three hundred fifty years. I was very, very good at it. Admittedly I wouldn't have gotten much done if it hadn't occasionally amused him to let me have things, but I knew how to make sure it amused him to let me have things. Most things I wanted I got. And - I'd cared about him, once, I wanted him to be less of a monster, for his own sake as well as for the people around him. I nudged him into being a good King. He was happy. He likes games and here I was, obediently playing them, exactly how he wanted because it served my ends, too..."
"Yeah," murmurs Sigyn. "I had a very different setup, but - the thing where you learn how best to manipulate the person who has total control of your life, because that's the only avenue through which you might affect what happens to you..."
"I felt safe, once I understood him well enough. I felt like I was steering at a couple degrees' remove but I was steering a whole country - and he was obsessed with me, he adored me, I created that because it made me happier - and I understood him. I understood him so intimately. I told him all the time that I hated him, but it wasn't really true - it would have gotten in the way of understanding him, it was terrifying how much sense he made, how sympathetic it all seemed when I slipped deep enough into his head - he was running an endless horrible war against an Enemy who loved psychological warfare, he'd decided he couldn't run it while knowing that, in order to get to the battlefield, he'd burned forever one of the most important bridges in his life - he needed me to stay sane and the world needed him -
- I'm sure it was partially self-serving, but only partially. He's not a good person even very deep down but he knows how to be and knew he wasn't strong enough, and had vague aspirations to, after the war, figure it out..."
"Must have been nice, in a way," he says. "When I had my time as a prisoner it was less complicated. No wars or kingdoms in the balance. Just a woman who wanted me to be someone I wasn't. It would be lovely if I could tell you the secret to finding your own way afterward, but I think I came out of it with a different set of problems - I hadn't ever lived without her before, and I hadn't the first clue how it was supposed to work. Spent a few centuries wandering Asgard, disguised as a girl as often as not, decoding normal social interaction by brute force."
"I"m capable of other things. Just - specialized for Maitimo, specialized for saving the world from him and him from himself, and really, really good at it - he let me go. Someone made it a condition of their help winning the war. I left, and I thought 'do I want to curl up licking my wounds in exile somewhere' and it didn't really appeal - I cam back - I told him I'd probably never touch him again and he said rather brokenly that he just wanted me around. And then I compromised on the never touching him again because it wasn't as if it mattered to me, and it mattered so much to him, and I could achieve everything I'd always told myself I'd achieve with a chance to rein him in - it was the same game, but I wasn't powerless, it was so exhilarating -"
Sigyn smiles. "Yes, I can see how it would be."
"I figured I'd fix everything I could and then - maybe I'd walk away, maybe it'd turn out that he was one of the things I could fix, maybe I'd find something even better than ruling a country while he brought me extravagant presents and did not get rewarded for them and looked at me like I was the only thing he wanted in the world. Would have been hard to beat, though. Having it work out like that meant I didn't feel like I'd wasted the intervening centuries learning Maitimo. It didn't even feel like they'd damaged me. They'd been practice, and now I was very good, and got everything I wanted play after play after play - It was easily the happiest decade of my life.
And then everyone showed up, and was horrified, and decided that I just hadn't walked away because I lacked better options, and have been shuffling me around trying to find something that counts as a better option, and here I've been, doing that, but the rest of them all pity me and as far as the other Maitimos are concerned I am untouchable because mine broke me and they try but they don't have anything for me to do and I am certainly not valuable to them. I could try to - regress it all away - and figure out what three hundred sixty years ago I would have wanted, but that seems to - miss the point - what I want is for them not to have swept in with their extremely powerful magic at all, what I want is to be back home ruling the empire with its emperor desperately in love with me and me free to play another round with him, if I want, or tell him to go away if I want that -"
"Well," says Sigyn. "Is what you want within your reach? Could you go back and reclaim your emperor?"
"Yes? But maybe I shouldn't, since, you know, everything, and also the Maitimo who told me to come here wants mine executed and probably has a lot of sway, it might be that I need to calm him down before I go back so he doesn't overreact if I do, but I don't know how to calm him down, he notices if I'm doing anything that ought to work and then gets upset..."
"Upset meaning it doesn't work, or upset meaning it does work but he notices and corrects for it because he prefers not to be calmed, or...?"
"Mostly the latter. There are things that outright wouldn't work but I am sensible enough not to try..."
"He said up front that if I hit on him he'll be very angry. He'll be upset if I try to explain that I'm not very traumatized or that it wasn't that bad; he gets upset every time he gets a hint of what I'm used to but I can't keep that from him, he's still a Maitimo. He'd be most reassured if I was like 'thank goodness I'm out of that awful situation, I think I'll spend a few centuries wandering the galaxy discovering myself' but he'd know if I were lying - it's not fair, he still prizes loyalty and devotion and service from people in general as much as mine does, he just doesn't seem maneuverable into wanting it from me..."
"If you were one of me I could just say 'go reclaim your emperor, and if anyone questions your choices direct them to me and I'll straighten them out,' but you aren't and I don't know if all the same reasons hold true for you. And I haven't the first clue how to calm down a Maitimo."
"Usually you make it his problem and then make yourself conspicuously vulnerable to him and convey your absolute trust in his ability to solve it. But they're all really upset that they have a rapist alt and they really really don't want me to go back to him - what would be the reasons it'd be the right decision, if it were you -"