The couple were young. Perhaps too young to be making the commitment they just had, but who was I to judge? Over 4,000 years of fidelity to my husband hadn’t made me any wiser.
At least this couple seemed happy.
The crisp Autumn day teased the breath from my mouth in delicate plumes as I watched the bride. She reached up, planting a chaste, mirthful kiss on her groom’s cheek. It looked the best of what my own marriage could have been. I pressed the shutter and the flash burned the image on the film permanently, filling me with the bitter-sweet satisfaction only my job could provide.
Photography. Of all the things humans have invented, photography is my favourite. Its simplicity and accuracy appeals to me like nothing else has in my lifetime; its ability to capture the most fleeting of moments, and preserve forever real and pure emotions.
There is a twisted vicarious pleasure in what I do.
Constance Evergreen, Wedding Photographer. Faithful photographs you’ll love as much as your spouse!
Admittedly, the tagline is a little garish for my taste, but it seems to work.
My husband finds my hobby amusing, but he is as supportive as he can be. He once offered to help me but, after he successfully encouraged the groom to sleep with his bride’s mother ten minutes before the ceremony, I declined further aid.
The new Mr and Mrs. Brown hold each other’s hands aloft for the final snap and I take it, dismissing them afterwards with a cheery promise of candid photos to follow. The crowd disperses and I see him standing still and alone. He leans disrespectfully on a worn headstone, his feet planted firmly on the grave dirt. I let the mortals disappear first before approaching him.
“I thought I told you to stay at home when I was working?”
“Don’t be angry, Sig. I come in peace, I promise,” Loki swears, holding his palms up in supplication. I raise an eyebrow; already the corners of his mouth are upturned in amusement, his wicked eyes twinkling – glittering – with familiar intent.
“Somehow, I find myself doubting th-” I begin but he performs his favourite trick: silencing me with a kiss. His silver tongue is in my mouth before I can protest and all my annoyed words slip my mind. We’re the poster-children for domestic deviance and no matter how many ways he sparks my ire, I can’t help but answer him when he calls. Finally, I push him away.
“I haven’t seen you in three weeks.”
“Did you miss me?”
“Perhaps less than I would have if you hadn’t left me a dead body to hide.”
“That was an accident.”
“That was our landlord. We’ve moved again, by the way. I hope you like East London.”
“Loki, why are you here?”
“Would you believe I missed you?”
I wouldn’t. I didn’t. My husband was many things, but he would never be the Prince Charming you mortals pin your hearts on.
I’ve known Feminists – the original radicals – who believed I was mistreated. I was, of course, but they told me this like it was something I didn’t already know. If they’d known about the murder and the trickery that happened before Loki and I even got married, they would have probably had me committed. In the 20s, my name was Enid North, and I remember Emmeline telling me to not define myself by the man in my life. Many others have echoed the sentiment over the years, some with pity in their eyes, some with righteous anger. I find the deepest irony in this: I do not define myself by Loki. Everyone else does.
“No. Why are you here?”
“I need to work,” Loki replied, his thin face alight with mischief. His green eyes flick towards the carpark where the new Mr and Mrs Brown are saying goodbye to guests who won’t make it to the reception. My jaw and fists clench alongside my heart as I understand.
“Loki, no. They just got married, leave them alone!”
“Sig, I don’t have a choice. The All-Father sent me.”
“The All-Father sent you to mess with two mortals’ love lives? Loki, your lies are getting worse.”
Loki’s smile soured. “I’m not lying. The woman’s important and she’s meant to be getting pregnant with someone else’s child.”
“And the All-Father sent you?” I asked doubtfully.
The All-Father. Of the twelve surviving Gods in our makeshift Pantheon, Loki and I were the only ones to call Zeus by our Odin’s name. Loki stubbornly refused to call the Greek anything else; I doubt my husband would ever truly accept Odin’s death when Ragnarok hadn’t caused it. I, of course, supported Loki in his quirk of grief, and Zeus never mentioned it.
The two had grown close since the Culling. In some ways, Zeus was the Father Loki had always lacked in Odin, and Zeus finally had a son Hera wouldn’t try to kill. It was a strange arrangement: Zeus’ lucidity was intermittent and Loki was never constant in his affection for the Greek. Despite this, when the two decided to work together, it was usually important.
“I saw him last week. I was meant to step in before they tied the knot but traffic was terrible.”
“It’s Sunday in Kent, Loki. There are no cars on the road.”
“Can you at least pretend to believe my lies? You’re the only one who can ever tell the difference.”
“What can I say? A wife knows these things,” I replied, flippantly, hiding my head from the dark scowl I knew would appear on his face. Loki hated the phrase; of every one of us that had ever been and ever would be, I alone knew who he truly was. I suspected it was the reason he would disappear for weeks, months and occasionally years: he liked to pretend he was still the mysterious young trickster. The ugly truth was that we were old now and we grew older every year since the Culling. Loki looked somewhere near 40 and I was approaching 35. I even had a few grey hairs scattered amidst the blonde now. I knew Loki dyed his hair to cover the traitorous silver but I pretended not to notice.
Loki’s gaze didn’t meet mine. I sighed, knowing what that meant too.
“I’m not going to ask you where you were. Just explain why you’re here before I get fired for not doing my job.”
“The bride – Sarah Van Alden?”
“She goes by Sarah Brown as of half an hour ago, but yes.”
“Apparently the All-Father has seen her in one of his daydreams-“
“-visions, Loki, they’re visions-“
“And Athene confirmed what he saw. She’s meant to mother a girl child who can reverse the Culling.”
I stared at him.
The Culling, as the survivors call it, happened at the stroke of midnight at the turn of the millennium. The Pagan Gods, from all over the world, had been waning for decades and most of the minor deities had disappeared completely by the mid-90s. Humans had created us immortal, but with the rise of other religions, we had all grown weak in the shadows of obscurity and disbelief.
Thor had sickened with the scientific discovery of electricity. Poseidon had been poisoned by the ongoing pollution of his realm. Apollo vanished when enough people believed Galileo’s crackpot theories. Of all the Gods that ever were, only twelve remained. We weren’t at full strength and, worse that that, we were something approaching mortal. Our rag-tag band of half-forgotten gods was a dismal ode to the glorious Pantheons we came from.
Some railed at their fate. I had accepted it long ago.
“The Culling can’t be reversed.”
Loki’s lips skinned over his teeth in a terrible smile.
“Oh, dearest wife of mine. As the Goddess of Fidelity, you should have a little more faith.”