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Across The Divide

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Loki looked at the boy staring back at him in the mirror and grinned, no one would suspect it was him, he was entirely the opposite to himself, except for his eyes, but they could not be altered, his tutors and mother taught him that, so with a last glance over himself to ensure even his clothes looked like those of a commoner, he walked down the servants hall, knowing the most of his family's servants had the afternoon off to go to the market. He had heard of the country market all the time from servants and maids as they did their duties around the palace, it was a highlight of the month for them, and he wanted to see it for himself, so this was going to be the day that he would. It was utterly undignified for him, a prince, to even ask to go his father stated before when he asked for his consent. Technically the king had not forbidden him from going, so he decided to go see it.

Getting out of the palace was relatively easy, a large proportion of the maids and servants had families, most of whom lived in very close proximity to the palace, if not in the servants quarters on the grounds of the palace itself, allowing him to slip passed the guards with ease, and into the bustling streets of Asgard's great city.

It was louder than he thought it would be. On the very few occasions he had left the palace, it was in a carriage and usually in a royal possession, so the people were quietly watching them go by, but as his presence was not known to any, the people continued as was usual for them, leading to a far more interesting experience for Loki.

He watched as traders and customers bartered and traded goods, he paid attention to what was popular and its cost, noting that some people paid in coinage, others, in foods or other goods, he was fascinated to see even basic jewellery was a form of currency in many cases. He did not get far on his first excursion, such was his fascination with taking in everything, but he learned a considerable amount, and was disappointed when he heard the bell toll for everyone to prepare for dinner, he returned to the palace. He swore he would return, and he did, every time he could.

It was another country market, three years later that Loki first came to have an issue, a simple misunderstanding that led to him coming to the attention of some guards. He knew if they were to force him to reveal himself, his father would have him cleaning the army barracks toilets for a century for the risk he was putting himself in, but to his relief, before they came over, a girl, with hair almost similar to his disguise rushed over to him.

"There you are, Mother is looking for us." She grabbed his hand and pulled him with her. When he looked into her eyes, she had a look in them that seemed to plead for him to go along with what she was saying. "Did you get the apples?"

"I was about to." Loki made his accent sound more like hers. The court had a more proper manner to language, but his time in the markets and streets had taught him the average Aesir spoke with a more relaxed yet harsher manner. "But these guards…" He looked at the two men in front of him who were still eyeing him cautiously.

"Well come on, if she hears you don't have the apples she'll lash us both." She snapped, walking over to the stall that Loki had been next to and grabbing a few apples, taking out a very meagre and dirty bag and pulling out two bronze coins, Asgard's lowest denomination of coinage, Loki had realised. The stall keeper nodded and accepted the coins before grumbling about her brother loitering near his stall, the girl just smiled back. "I asked him to get them and wait for me, he seems to have forgotten the first part," She eyed Loki in a scolding manner. "Thank you so much." She smiled and grabbed his hand before pulling him off, out of the sight of the guards. She did not stop for several streets until she came to a small alleyway. "You really need to realise when is a good time not to steal things." She commented as she eyed him up and down. "And word of advice, dress less conspicuously, you stick out like a diseased limb."

"What are you on about, I look just like you," Loki stated indignantly, not liking the girl's comments on his disguise.

She just laughed in return for a moment. "No, you do not. You are too clean, your clothes are brand new, your accent is of the city, and from what I can hear, not the streets. Why is a high-born trying to steal apples?"

"I was not trying to steal them, I was looking at them."

"Sure." She stated in a manner that stated she did not believe a word.

"I never saw them before."

"You expect me to believe you have never seen an apple? Do you think me stupid?" she half demanded, angered that he was jesting so.

"I have seen apples, just not green ones."

"Really? You are serious, you have not seen green apples?"

"No."

What he was saying was so absurd, she felt it could only be the truth. She held out one to him. "Here, they can taste different to the red ones, so I hear. "

"You have never seen a red one?" Loki asked curiously, taking the offered fruit.

"Seen, yes, I am not blind; tasted is another thing, a single red apple is a silver. No one outside of high-borns is going to pay a silver for an apple, that would be madness."

Loki eyed the girl for a moment, "What is your name?"

"Ariella, how about you?" Loki stared at her. "Do high-born's not have names?"

"Of course I have a name," Loki scoffed. "And why do you keep calling me a 'high-born' I feel like I should be offended."

"You are high-born, though, are you not? Your parents have a proper home that they own, you receive a formal education?"

Loki stared at her in shock, "Everyone is supposed to get an education, we…"

"Really? You think an older poor farmer with only one son can afford to have his only worker spend hours a day in education?" She shook her head. "There is no formal education outside the city, and even at that, only the market owners and some tradesmen can afford such a luxury, and usually only for the favourite child within the city after they learn the basics." She explained.

"I never knew, we were always told…"

"What were you told?" She asked curiously.

"That everyone is educated, a basic level must be to a certain standard, that everyone has to be fed and a home to live in, fresh water and the ability to tend to their sick, and…why are you laughing?"

Ariella took a minute to stop, "Norn's but that sounds like Valhalla." She smiled sadly. "I fear I have to be the one to tell you, it is not that way. The sick can only hope they recover or die quickly, anything else is a drain on their already poor families, as I said, none from a lower background has the luxury of school, and with a half dozen apples costing two bronzes, food is not often filling," she explained.

"And homes?"

"No one in the poorer areas owns a home, you are lucky when you afford rent on a room," She shrugged, causing Loki to stare at her in appalled shock. "So, as I asked already, is there a name your parents gave you?"

"I...yes." she looked at him expectantly. "Fandral," It was the first name that came into his head, his brother's idiotic friend had made a comment about him the day before that had festered and as a result, it was the first name he recalled, he cursed it, but there was little could be done with it now, it was what he had said and he would have to stick with it.

"Fandral," She repeated. "Sounds high-born." she sniggered before extending her hand, "Well then, a pleasure to meet you, Fandral." he looked at her hand for a moment. "Have I done some form of faux pas?"

"Well, women don't shake hands?"

"Really, do they stand there like ornaments so?"

"No, they extend them with the back viewable," He took her hand and turned it slightly.

"Why, what happens then?" She asked, her curiosity blatant.

"The man takes it and raises it to his lips and kisses it," he explained, looking down at her hand. On it, he noticed old faded scars and dirt wedged into the small lines in her skin, as well as her broken short nails, so similar to that of the palace gardeners. "Though they are usually cleaner."

Ariella pulled back her hand sharply. "Easy knowing they do not know how to work then, us low-born have to clean and work to make ends meet." She growled, insulted.

"I meant no offence."

"Clearly," she stated, going to walk away. "Why did I even bother?"

"Thank you for helping me by the way. It was very good of you, you did not have to."

"That, I am aware of." she growled.

"Ariella, please, I am sorry, I just…I rarely get to talk with girls and when I do, they are so trained to remain almost silent that there is little point in talking to them, I apologise."

"Wait, 'Trained to remain almost silent', why are they silent?"

"There are those that believe women are to be seen and not heard."

"Are you serious?" it was her turn to stare in shock.

"Yes, husbands tend to want their wives to…that is not how it is around your parts, is it?"

Ariella shook her head. "Many women do not have husbands, and those who do have to work as hard as them, often while tending to the children too. There are women you know are not allowed speak, they are obvious, but overall, women speak." She explained. "How are you supposed to work on things if you cannot communicate with one another."

"Well, they talk in private."

"There is no such thing as private for so many, I mean, there are two families to a room in some of the tenements."

"The what?"

"Oh Norns, you are so innocent." she shook her head. "Some families cannot afford a room, they share a room with others."

"All of them, in one room, how big?" Loki asked.

Ariella simple pointed to a building next to them. "I was talking to a girl today that lives in one like this, three floors, four rooms a floor, two families, usually of four to six per room." She explained.

"There is no way there are four rooms, much less two families in them per floor." Loki scoffed.

"Yes, of course, what would I know?" She snarked back. "Not everyone is as well off as you Lord Fandral, so do not dismiss them."

Loki's head fell slightly, she was right, he had no idea of people's lives outside the palace. "Sorry, do you live around here too?"

"No, I live over there." She walked into a street and pointed to the trees in the distance. "About a nights walk into the forests."

"Walk?"

"Well yes, it's this thing you do to move around, you place one foot in front of the other and move." She joked.

"Do you not have a horse and cart?"

"My father does, but it is not a horse, it is a mule, and I do not sit on the cart, it is too heavy then."

"You cannot weigh too much."

"My father will be on it, the two of us will be too much," she explained sadly. Loki sensed she was trying not to discuss something, so he said no more. "Why are you in the market by yourself, should you not have someone with you?"

"I am old enough to be here."

"I was not referencing your age, you seem to be older than me, but any high-borns I see have a servant with them." She explained.

"I am not supposed to be here."

"Really?"

"No, my father does not think it appropriate."

"So, you don't know your way around?"

"I know a few places, but I do not always get to see everything."

"How long have you been sneaking out."

"Three years, give or take."

"You are sneaky enough when you are not trying to steal apples."

"I was not trying to steal any," Loki stated in exasperation.

"Sure not." She smiled. "I better let you get on with your journey, it was nice to…"

"Please stay." Ariella stared at him silently. "I never have much company and you seem nice."

"I am only nice when I like people." she smiled. "Where did you plan to go next?"

The pair walked around for the afternoon, Ariella showing Loki all the major parts of the fair, including the best part, the food area. It was bland by Loki's usual standards, but it seemed wholesome, something that Loki wanted to try. But he knew Ariella's bag was empty, and he had never had a single coin in his life since princes did not require such things, but then he recalled the buckle of his belt. He had stripped most of his finery off so to evade notice in the streets, but his buckle, made of the finest silver, was worth a small fortune. When he took it off, Ariella stared at it, telling him just how little his new acquaintance was use to in life. He handed it to a stall owner, who eyed it only for a moment before asking if he wanted to trade it all or chip off the payment. Loki chose to chip it, he turned to Ariella with a large bowl of broth in his hand and gave it to her. She looked at him confused when he had another one in his other hand.

"It's for you." He explained.

"You do not have to."

"That apple was nice, more bitter than I usually have, but nice, you gave that to me when it is clear you have little to give."

"There is a difference between an apple and a bowl of broth." She pointed out.

"Yes, the apple was worth more to you, thank you for giving it to me." Ariella did not argue, she simply looked at him, her gratitude in her eyes before looking at the broth in the bowl, she inhaled it deeply before lifting the spoon. Loki watched in fascination, never realising the meaning of something as simple as a broth, his usual lunch, to someone with so little. When she was eating hers, he turned to his. Neither saying anything again until they were done.

As the sky began to darken, Loki sighed. "I better get home."

"Will they have missed you?"

"No, they don't really notice me as much as my brother."

"I know that feeling," She nodded in understanding. "My brother was my parent's favourite."

"Where is he now?"

"Valhalla."

"I'm sorry." Loki lowered his head. "When..."

"A year ago."

"Sorry."

"It cannot be helped," Ariella shrugged sadly. "So, what direction do you need to head in?"

"Towards the..." Loki almost said palace but corrected himself. "The East quarter."

"I forgot for a moment, high-born," Ariella self-scolded. "I will come as far as I can with you, but I have to go to my father soon." She walked along beside him.

"Where will he be?"

"A tavern somewhere." She sighed.

Loki had nothing he could say back to that, when they came to the wall that divided the wealthier part of Asgard from the poorer, they stood up for a moment. "Do you come to the city often?"

"Every month for the market."

"Will you be here next month again?" Loki's hopes began to rise.

"Yes."

"Can I meet you again?"

Ariella took a moment to think. "Noon, the fountain in the centre of the market and dress less..."

"High-born?" Loki asked with a raised brow.

"Yes. If you are not there in ten minutes beyond that time, I am leaving."

"I promise I will be there."

"Good, I am putting trust in you Fandral, I do not do that often."

"I will ensure to be worthy of said trust." Loki's grin was not as big as he had wanted at knowing he was lying to her by saying his name was Fandral. "Goodbye Ariella."

"Goodbye Fandral." She turned and began to leave, her bag that held her five apples, some baking soda and cinnamon in her hand.

"Ariella." She turned to look at him. "I cannot wait to see you again."

"You must be very desperate to have company," she laughed as she turned and left.

Loki smiled as he walked back to the palace, his hands close to the top of his pants in case it started to fall, thinking of the shock Ariella would have when she found the buckle in her bag, knowing how much it would make life easier for her, for a short time if nothing else.

Chapter Text

For the month, Loki thought about what Ariella had told him. He spent more time paying attention to when peasant matters arose when he was in his father's council, learning about the realm, and he realised that nearly nothing was said of the issues of the lower classes. Everything was about their productivity, nothing of their wellbeing. He watched as the man in charge of such matters, Lord Ivan rambled on dressed in his finest silks and gold gleaming in the light as he spoke about how there had to be more done about getting them to be more productive. Loki watched as his father merely nodded and Thor seemed to be daydreaming, neither paying any heed to what was being said.

He went to the city a couple more times in the month, not on days of any particular importance and though she said she would not return until the following country market, he kept an eye out for Ariella, but she was not there. When the day finally came again for the market, Loki prepared for it well in advance, he feigned a small headache the night before and stated he was going to use the day of rest to read and recover in his rooms. Being as reclusive as he was, his parents and brother paid no heed to him. Usually Loki could be found indoors anyway, be it in some dark corner of an unused room practising magic he was not supposed to know yet, or in his rooms, or even in the indoor training arena, he was renowned for his love of the outdoors, unlike Thor, his mother, and others, though that the reason for their highly contrasting skin tones.

Rushing through the city, Loki barely paid any heed to his surrounds, though he did have the wherewithal to ensure he was in no way suspicion arousing. In the month since Ariella had scoffed at his overly clean and pristine clothes, he had made them more like those he had seen at the market; scuffed, an occasional rip or hole and with a few stains on the sleeves and pants. He still looked cleaner than most others, but he fit in far more. What irked him as the fact he had not bathed the day before or that morn or kept his hair as tidily, making him feel somewhat unpleasant, his mother would be appalled if she saw him, but it gave him an authentic appearance, he thought. When he got to the fountain in the city square, he looked around. The clock tower stated it was not yet noon, something that caused Loki considerable pride. He despised being late for things, one of the traits he had inherited from his father, though he rarely acknowledged such.

"Much better," He smiled and turned around to see Ariella behind him, smiling.

"Really?"

"Yes, I am impressed," She grinned before her face altered to one of seriousness. "Why did you do it?"

"Do what?"

"The belt buckle?"

"I wanted to help."

"I am not a pauper, I do not need your pity."

"I did not do it out of pity, I did it because I can because I have it to give. I have so many things I never use that are worth money, before, I used to discard them, but they are of use to you."

"Wait, you discard silver?" Ariella stared at him in disbelief.

"I never realised…" Loki felt ashamed for not realising sooner how little he realised something was worth. "What have you to get today?"

"Nothing." He frowned at her. "My father has not given me money to get anything."

"But do you need anything?"

"Those are two different questions." Ariella smiled. "Come on, we'll get in trouble for loitering here." she began to walk off.

"Do people often get in trouble for standing around, Court is effectively nothing but that."

"The differences a title makes. Us low-borns cannot be up to anything good when hanging around." she explained.

"Can I ask something?" Ariella looked at him. "Did you use the buckle?"

"At first, no, I had planned to give it back to you but then the rents went up. I pretended I found it and my parents used it to make sure we could keep our home for the rest of the year."

"A year?" Loki frowned. The scrapings needed for their broths the last time were nothing substantial, but they had been a small portion of the belt, a home, he thought, would be substantially more. "What sort of home is it?"

"It's small, tiny really, but we have a small plot next to it where we can grow some food, and there is room for a goat, so we have its milk," Ariella spoke fondly on her abode. "When Mikhail was alive, it was getting so cramped, I remember thinking it would be a lot easier without him there, but I always thought of him moving out, getting married, not…" she swallowed guiltily.

"How did he…?"

"He was working in a mine, they were forced to do longer shifts, it…well when people get tired, accidents happen more frequently. The mine was not properly secured, it collapsed, everyone was lost."

"How many?"

"Four hundred." Loki's eyes went wide. "So we were not alone in our loss."

"How long did it take to get him?" Arielle scoffed. "He's still down there?"

"The term 'financially unviable' was used a lot. What does that mean?" she asked, the hope in her face telling Loki she had no idea what it meant and that she truly was hoping he did.

He swallowed, "It…eh, it means that the cost of something is not worth the return," her head cocked slightly to the side. "They will not do it because they do not think it is worth their time or money," he explained. "I am so sorry."

Ariella seemed to take only a moment to think about what he said before sighing. "Such is life." Loki felt incredibly guilty at how easily she accepted the fact her brother was never going to be given a proper burial. "At least he was not alone."

"I do not know what to say," Loki was unsure he should even say that, but he felt he had to say something.

"Do you want to go anywhere in particular?" Ariella had chosen to not focus on the past.

"What is outside the city?"

"Well, the edge of the forests are only a mile or two from here if you want to see, I love it, it is so contrasting." She smiled.

"Please, I've never…" he blushed slightly.

"You've never seen the forests?" She asked in disbelief.

"I have not been allowed."

"How high born are you?" she asked curiously. "If I were to ask the right person, who would I be told you are the son of, Fandral?"

Loki swallowed at her using the false name he had given her. "Quite high." He admitted.

"Royal circle?"

"Yes."

"Wow." She took another moment to analyse things. "This way." Ariella guided them as they walked through streets and streets before the numbers of people began to thin and they finally could see the green that to Loki was only in the far distance for the most of his life, seemed to be beginning to grow to a great height above him. "What would you like to see?"

"What is there?" He asked excitedly.

Ariella showed him the routes to the different towns, including the one she lived near; Loki made note of that route before she brought him to the water's edge. He had seen the water that made one whole side of the city's outskirts from as far back as he could remember, and as he had used the Bifrost to go off realm with his parents, but he had never been to the water's edge, something that he had always wished to do and was somewhat giddy to finally get to do. When they got there, Ariella took off her shoes and placed her feet in the crystal clear water, sighing contently as she did. Loki watched for a moment before copying her when he placed his feet in, he realised that like her hands, her feet were marred in some form of what seemed to be permanent dirt, he also noticed cuts and sores that were akin to the blisters he had from ill fitted armour and clothes, looking at the shoes, he realised they were too small for her feet and aged, he could not imagine the pain she was in from simply walking, and knowing what she said of having to walk back to her home, he felt guilty for having her walk so far with him. "You seem to like this."

He looked up to see Ariella smiling kindly at him. "it is great, I never did this before, it is colder than it looks though."

"It is." she grinned before she looked at him curiously, "Why do you do this? Why do you leave your home and walk the streets?"

"I want to see what I am not taught, I want to see the whole realm, not what I am told is the realm."

"Maybe the realm will be better in the future if you are able to speak with King Thor about it."

"Do you think Thor will be king?" he asked. Ariella did not respond. "Honestly."

"I cannot say." she looked at him in a manner that caused Loki to become highly curious, but she said no more on it.

"Please, Ari, you can tell me, I will not tell anyone." He pleaded.

"I cannot, talking ill of them, it is forbidden."

"Who?"

"The Allfather, his sons."

"Really?"

"It is punishable with whippings." Loki's eyes went wide and his jaw dropped. "If you speak ill, what happens in court?"

"What do you call 'speaking ill' exactly?"

"Saying something they have made law is not a good idea, or that they do not care about us low-borns." she stated.

Loki could hardly process her words. "You are not allowed voice opinions?" She shook her head. "Court is nothing but people shouting them and most of them stupid, uneducated ones."

"Wow."

"I thought you were going to say something like if you want to overthrow Odin or not have a king there would be an issue."

It was Ariella's turn to stare, but hers was one of terror. "That is treason." She scolded, looking around to ensure no one saw them, to her relief, they were still alone.

"Well, yes, that is a no-no in court too, it comes with a trial and an adequate punishment."

"What's a trial?"

Loki laughed for a second before realising that genuinely, again Ariella had no idea what the words meant. "The process by which a person, accused of a crime is put forward, along with evidence to support the proof of that crime and they are found innocent or guilty and released or punished accordingly," Loki explained, trying to keep it simple for her.

"You use a lot of big words." she commented, "So the village constable does not get free reign in the city?"

"What?"

"In the villages, the constable does all of that, though not with a trial, I have not heard of such things before. Do they really let you go if the claims are false?"

"Of course, why would you punish an innocent person?"

"Because innocent is innocent," Loki stated firmly.

"The city sounds so much nicer," Ariella smiled sadly.

"Can I ask you something?"

"You just did," She smiled. "Sure."

"Have you eaten today?" the smile fell from her face. "Your stomach is grumbling."

"Food is getting more expensive," She explained. "My father has what little we have to get as much as he can."

"But they said they wanted to increase production," Loki frowned.

"What?"

"Nothing, something I remembered," He dismissed with a smile. "Where is there to eat around here?"

"Nowhere, it is not highly populated, people either live in the city or the forest, not in between."

"Can you walk to the city?"

"Yes, I already did it today, remember, I live that way." she laughed, pointing towards the woodlands.

"But your feet." He looked down, only to see that even though she had washed them, the dirt was still there, he wondered if it was dirt at all.

"I am used to it."

"That looks so painful."

"I shall live." She shrugged. "But, so long as you do not feel overly adverse to it, I may leave these off until I get to the city."

"Can you leave them off altogether?"

"No," She laughed. "You have to be properly clothed for the city."

"Oh," Loki had not realised. "Well, leave them off for now, why do you not get another pair?"

"If I cannot afford to eat, what makes you think I will buy shoes that only get used once a month? I got these two years ago, I cannot ask for more so soon."

Loki swallowed at the idea of a new pair of shoes every other year, he thought of the new boots he had gotten the day before, to add to the many other pairs he already owned. "I am sorry, I just…How is it all so different?" he snapped.

"Fandral?"

"You have nothing, you have not even eaten today, and I…" guilt grew in him. "It is not fair."

"It is not your doing." she stated kindly.

"I feel as though I am part of it."

"How so?"

"I…" he swallowed, he could not admit who he was. "I just do."

"Well you kept a roof over my head, so you are not. I am lucky, I still have a home." She smiled before walking on. "Come on high-born, you will not be home in time if you keep this pace going."

Loki said nothing but followed. Though they were reluctant, they made reasonable time back to the city and before long, Ariella brought him through the streets to another access point to the wealthier area of the city. "Will you be here again next month?" Ariella nodded, not able to speak as he chewed on the bread that had come with the broth Loki had insisted on buying. She had eaten her own bread before it, but Loki insisted on her taking his too, she was too hungry to decline. "Can I meet you again?"

Having swallowed all of the food, she nodded. "Sure, I…oh Norns."

A figure came into view and she watched as he approached, Loki turned to see a grizzly looking man coming towards them, seemingly somewhat drunk. "There you are."

"Father," Ariella swallowed.

"Where were you?"

"Walking around, I did not realise…"

"Who is this?" He demanded, looking at Loki.

"This is a boy I met, Fandral, we just went for a walk to stay out of trouble." She explained.

"Trouble is all that could come of such things." Her father commented, looking Loki up and down. "She is too young for that."

"Sir, I would never…"

"Sir?" Ariella's father stared at him, "What sort of man says 'sir'? What sort of airs and graces do you think you have to talk such a way?" Loki swallowed, unsure of what to do.

"Where is the cart?" Ariella asked, not wanting her father to focus on her friend, for fear he would raise suspicion as to who he was and expose him, meaning she would lose the only good company she knew.

"Where I bloody left it, so get going." He turned and walked away.

"Sorry," Ariella stated sadly. "Since my brother…he did not take it well."

"Here." Loki took her hand and put something in it. "It should help."

Arielle looked at the pouch, it contained some coins. "I cannot take this."

"Please Ari, you have to, take it." He insisted. "I left a note in there, it will be where we will meet nice month, okay?"

"I…"

"Ari…"

"I cannot read," she admitted. Loki stared at her. "I do not know how to." She explained.

"The forge, on the worksmith's street, same time." he insisted. "Go, before he gets angry and comes back."

"Bye Fandral."

"Goodbye Ari." he watched as she rushed off, saddened at her life, but more determined than ever to see what could be done.

Chapter Text

Ariella stood at the door of her home, she thought at most, the bag was going to contain a piece of silver or two, at most, and a few bronzes, but it was all silver, she looked at them all, there was at least ten, but to her shame, she could not count any higher. She only knew to ten by fluke from listening to people. How could she ever explain that to her father and mother how he ever came to possess them. She thought of how he had acted in front of Fandral, she was embarrassed, certain the young high-born would never want to see her again because of his behaviour.

"Where are you?" She turned around and closed the door, both of her parents glaring at her. "Get your head out of the clouds girl."

"Sorry, mother." She looked to the floor.

 

"What is this about you and some boy?"

"I met him in the market, we just were talking while waiting for our parents to be done." She explained though she had a smile on her face.

"What else did you do other than talking?"

"We went for a walk, talked about what sorts of things interest us, that sort of thing." She shrugged.

"If you dare even consider raising your skirt for him." Her mother threatened, fear in her eyes. "We cannot afford to keep you if anything happens."

"I would never…" Ariella's eyes widened and her face reddened.

"Every young girl says that, but none truly mean it." Her mother stated.

"He is better off than us, though he has graces he should not possess." her father commented.

"Meaning they would not want some little tramp with a brat to dampen his ideas of grandeur either so no going near him again." Her mother warned.

Ariella bit back the tears of hurt and nodded slightly before going to her 'bed' in the corner of the room. She knew she would have to be more careful the next time she met her friend, though thankfully, her father, in his state, had not realised that the mouse-brown haired boy with startling green eyes was actually some high-born in disguise. She smiled happily as she recalled their time talking at the water's edge and how he had altered her name to Ari, a sign that he was really her friend. Realising she was being spoken to, Ariella looked around at her parents, who both seemed horrified as they looked at her. "Sorry?"

"Oh Norn's, her expression," Her mother stated terrified. "Do you realise Ariella, your only hope of getting a man with a means to keep you is to be seen as anyway worthwhile, tramps with illegitimate children as young as you are will never be seen as a covetable partner." Her mother explained. "It is your only hope."

Ariella's face fell as she realised the desperation, not only in her mothers but in her father's too. They wanted her to do better, live better. But as the situation worsened for low paid commoners, she knew that no matter what, it would never get better. She liked Fandral, but she was not a fool, he would marry a girl from a good family, they would have well reared and educated children, while she would be lucky if she would ever get to put shoes on hers.

"I know mother, I want that."

"Then forget about city boys with graces and behave." Her mother's anger dissolved at the clear honesty in her daughter's face.

"Yes, mother."

*

Loki looked over the city, he had thought more of everything Ariella had and of what he had seen in his time with her almost daily since their last meeting. Asgard, the glorious shining light of the realms, was not made of gold, simply gold plating. People were starving, uneducated and being made homeless. His father, the supposed great and just Odin, King of Asgard, Allfather, Protector of the Realms, was allowing the people of his city live lives of misery. He thought of Ariella's brother, had he died in the collapse, had he held on hoping that help was coming, only to never receive that help. He knew it would have been difficult, but with the right tools and mages, it could have been done, they could have been recovered. Four hundred men, the number seemed almost unfathomable. Feeling angered, he stormed off, only to meet his brother two hallways later with his friends.

"Where are you going?" Thor asked curiously, noting Loki's mood and determination.

"To talk to father." He responded as he passed them.

That response caused Thor and his friends to cease walking and stare at him, Loki rarely sought time with Odin. "Whatever for?"

"A mine collapse."

"A what?"

Loki sighed. "A mine, a place that ores are extracted from below the surface, it tends to be ores of value, we have several of them here, I want to ask him about one that collapsed last year."

"I do not recall hearing anything about it." Thor mentally scanned the many days that he had been in the court with his father, not recalling such an event for that would surely have resounded in him had it occurred.

"Well, I would not expect you to recall such a thing you can hardly recall what you had for dinner last night." Loki growled. "I found out one happened last year, four hundred were killed."

Thor laughed. "Loki, do you honestly think that if such a tragic event had occurred, Father would have said nothing on it. He would have gone there, you and I would have had to go with him, we have not left the palace in two years."

"I am aware, this place does get boring after the first three hours," Loki growled. "But it happened, I want to know why he did not say anything of it."

Thor eyed his friends for a moment, they all seemed to think Loki somewhat mad. "I wish to go and watch the Einherjar train, but honestly, I want to see what father says to this." He admitted as he walked up to Loki. "I saw him and General Tyr talking not an hour ago, so he will be in his private meeting room now recovering."

Loki did not wish for his idiot brother's company, but he needed to know what was going on, so he ignored him, and indeed his friends and continued on his journey.

Odin stared at his younger son in silence for over a minute after Loki spoke. He looked to his older son, who seemed to only be there to gauge his reaction before he spoke to Loki. "Where did you hear this?"

"Some servant mentioned to another as they walked down the hallways that a sister of theirs was made a widow by it. I heard them speaking as I sat reading in an alcove." Loki knew Odin would ask such a question and had readied himself for it. He thought it a good cover, also his father had told him before to cease sitting in nooks for hours on end, it made it near impossible to find him if needed, that added to the believability of the story also.

"A year ago you say?"

"Yes, father."

"And what mine?"

"They never said, only that it was on the far side of the forests," Loki stated. "I thought you would know."

"I was never informed of such a thing." Odin seemed somewhat irked that his son may have been privy to such information before him. "Hogun, Volstagg," The two youths stepped forward, having followed Loki and Thor to the Allfather, "Get Lord Ivan, I have it on good authority that he is in the dining hall, have him come here at once."

"Yes, Allfather." they bowed in unison and rushed off.

"Young Fandral, I need you to go to the head of the Einherjar, you know where his barracks are?" The blonde nodded. "Tell him to get here, but only after he sends a message to the soldiers, the word is Finaer, understood?"

"Yes, Allfather." And with that, Fandral left.

"Father?" Thor asked worriedly. "You do not honestly think something this big was not reported, do you?"

"There is only one way to find out." Odin growled before looking to Loki, "If you are lying…"

"Honestly, father, I am not. I swear it on mother."

Odin nodded solemnly at that. Loki was renowned for being a trickster, but one mention of Frigga, and whatever he was saying needed to be believed, he did not reference her unless he had conviction in his words. "I truly hope you are wrong."

"Father?" Thor asked.

"To lose so many men," He shook his head. "I hope Loki heard wrong, because if he did, we have to try and explain how we were not there; if the people have suffered such a loss and we have not been seen to care, that can only lead to unrest and rightly so. It is our duty to be there for them, to help them, if this is true, we have failed them."

Thor nodded while Loki thought over his father's words. They had been failing these people for far longer than a year, he just needed to get his father to realise that without outing his secret time in the city, and Ariella, his friend. Loki thought about it for a moment. Ariella was his only friend that was actually his, not Thors. He smiled at the thought, as she was far nicer than any of Thor's friends, his friend, his Ari.

*

Lord Ivan stood in front of the Allfather, looking somewhat uneasy as Odin relayed what Loki had said to them. "So, is there any truth in this claim?" Odin demanded.

"There was a collapse, I was informed, but it was nothing major, only a few issues, apparently easily dealt with." The Lord stated, his gaze flickering to Loki for the slightest moment, irate that the youth had stuck his nose in where it was not wanted.

Loki glared back, he could tell the other man was lying, and he noticed his disdain that Loki had found out about it. "A few issues? I heard hundreds were lost, that they remain lost." He declared.

"WHAT!" Odin rose to his feet, causing everyone in the room to jump and cower. "What did you just say?" he stared at his younger son.

"The servant, he said his sister never as able to allow her husband funeral rites, that he is there still, in the collapse."

"What servant was this that spread such lies?" Lord Ivan demanded.

"A servant, there are hundreds here, I do not know him to see. But if we lost four hundred of our servants, we would know." He looked the Lord in the eye.

"Barbrin?"

"Allfather?" The head of the Einherjar stepped forward.

"Have Heimdall brought here this instant."

"Yes, Allfather."

"If any can tell us what has happened, the All-seeing Guardian can," was all Odin stated, but even he noticed the Lord look anxiously at him.

Loki swallowed hard, Heimdall could easily reveal everything to Odin, but as he thought of how terrible it would be to never see Ariella again, he also thought of how she and her family may get what they deserved. If they got that, his punishment, however bad his father would make it, would be worth it.

Heimdall was second only to Odin in commanding a room, Loki came to realise as the golden clad God stood in front of them. "You have called me from my post, Allfather. It has been a hundred and eighty years since you last have done so, what can I assist you with?"

"The lands beyond the forests to the East, what occurred there?"

"Of late, nothing my King." Odin glared at Loki. "However, last year, there was a terrible tragedy."

"A mine collapse?"

"Yes, all were lost. I counted four hundred and seventeen men, all went in, none ever came out. Their souls do not light the realms anymore, all have passed in their time down there." the guardian stated solemnly.

"Ivan?" The king looked to the Lord. "What have you to say?"

"I was told it was only a small collapse." He stated fearfully.

"May I suggest something, you Majesty." Odin looked at Heimdall and nodded. "Prince Loki was in the presence of those who spoke of this matter for some time, perhaps he heard more."

Odin looked at his son. "Well?"

"It wasn't all about the collapse, but they said the hours were too long, the men too tired, the scaffolds not secured correctly," Loki stated. "What's a scaffold?" he queried, playing innocent.

"A means of preventing a collapse, beams are used to hold the ground above's weight so it does not fall," Odin informed him. The princes did not need to know such things, so it was not in their studies, but Odin had always instilled in them that if they had a question, they need only ask, he would always answer them. He then turned to Ivan, "What has been occurring in these regions without our knowledge Ivan?"

"I have no idea Allfather."

"Heimdall, did Ivan investigate the region?"

"No, sire."

"Father," Odin looked to Thor. "Perhaps we should investigate."

"I think it wise." the king agreed, "Ready a royal convoy." he ordered.

"Yes, Allfather." Barbrin stated before leaving the room to do just that.

"Are we coming?" Loki asked.

"You are too young."

"But father…"

Heimdall looked at the younger prince, his head moving ever so slightly in a shaking motion. Loki frowned, but a moment later, he realised that tomorrow was the country market, to go to where they were saying the mine was would mean he would not make the market, so he said no more, instead wondering why the guardian was saying nothing of his friendship with Ari, and how he had reminded Loki of their meeting.

Chapter Text

Loki shifted from foot to foot as he stood next to a farrier's waiting for Ariella. He was terrified that she would not come, he was unsure why he felt it, but part of him felt there was a chance it would not happen.

It was ten minutes past the time they were supposed to meet and he became worried, telling himself that she had a long route to go, he was adamant to give her a little longer, hoping she would turn up.

When twenty minutes had passed, he felt his stomach sink and his excitement and joy dissipate. She was not coming, was it something he said, was it something he did, he began to feel his breath catch in his chest as he thought of it all. Heartbroken, he turned to walk away. He was a fool to ever leave the palace, to think that anyone would be his friend. Forcing his tears of hurt to remain at bay, he began to half walk, half run to the palace, not paying any heed to anything around him.

It was only when a guard grabbed his arm did Loki notice anything, he looked at him, knowing him to see from the palace, he gulped worriedly. "Sorry?" He was so engrossed in his misery, he had not heard what was being said.

"I said, that poor girl is trying to call you," The guard stated. "Your name is Fandral, is it?"

Immediately, Loki turned to look for Ariella, who was standing behind him, about twenty feet away. He had walked right passed her, but he could not be blamed for not noticing her. Ariella was never overly pristine, but as he looked at her, she looked like she had been dragged by galloping horse through a muddy field with bushes, her face was mud smeared, but clearly had been wiped clean as best she could, a graze on her cheek was dirty, but the dark red of dried blood was visible and much to his heartache, when she tried to walk to him, she had a very clear limp. He rushed over to her and let her lean against him. "What…?"

"There was a problem on the trail this morning." Was all she gave as an answer. "I am so sorry I am late. I came as fast I could."

Loki swallowed hard at that. "Please, do not apologise, I…Norn's." he felt himself filling with guilt for selfishly thinking of how she had hurt him by not coming, and of how angry he got at thinking she did not see herself as his friend. "I am just glad you are here. Come on, I will help you to a place to sit."

Ariella said nothing as her friend as good as carried her to a fountain when she realised where they were, she became fearful. "Not here."

"We have to clean you up."

"My father, he will be around here, I was told to stay away from you, if he sees us, I will get in so much trouble."

"Why were you told to stay away from me?"

"Apparently you will ruin me, I cannot be seen as desirable if…my parents do not trust youths."

"Well, I have heard some of the stories from around court, some youths are nothing short of idiotic animals," Loki admitted begrudgingly, thinking of his brother and his friends and their bragging. "But I would never do that to you, you are my greatest friend."

"You hardly know me."

Loki looked at her guiltily. "My only 'friends' at home are really my brothers, they are not particularly pleasant to be around."

"Do you not have any of your own friends?" Loki shook his head. "Well, I had one, her name was Sara."

"What happened?"

"She died, having a baby. She was a little older than me."

"It's not common for someone to die in childbirth these days," Loki commented. Ariella gave him a raised brow. "Oh."

"Another difference."

"So, you are not allowed near me?" Loki felt disheartened.

"They just want me to do better than they did."

He took out a handkerchief and dipped it in the water before starting to clean Ariella's face gently. "So, what happened?"

Ariella looked around carefully, seeing who was close by, their spot, though in an open area, was fairly deserted. "The royal procession." Loki's face paled at those words. "They seemed to be in a hurry, but they did not allow others pass. The cart got in in time, but as I was getting in, one of the horses of the main carriage struck me. Those animals are monstrous." She explained. "I should have been faster, it was my own fault."

Loki knew what horses she was talking about, the huge black stallions, there were six of them that pulled the carriage at once, and one was as cantankerous as the other. "Did they stop?"

Ariella looked at him in shock for a moment before laughing. "Stop? Why in the realms would the royal carriage stop? I am surprised they did not send a guard over to strike me again for risking an injury to their horse."

"Do you hate them?"

"No."

"But the way you spoke just now."

"I do not dislike them, but they do not care, they never do, and why should they? There are so many of us, if the Allfather was to care about ever last one of us, he would never sleep."

Loki looked at her sadly. "I think he does care, somewhat, just that perhaps he does not realise how vast the differences between our worlds are."

"Perhaps, it is nice to think that at least." Ariella smiled weakly at the thought.

"Would it not be wiser to just do as your parents say and avoid me?" Loki pried.

"Perhaps, but then, being an obedient and well-behaved daughter has led to me being all but ignored and lonely. You make me feel as though there is…I suppose mischief is the right word, to be had."

Loki felt his eyes dart side to side for a moment, his mother had said he was going to become known as the God of Mischief if he was not careful, so Ariella's words struck him somewhat. "I tend to bring trouble." He warned.

"I gathered that the moment I met you in the market that first day." Ariella smiled.

"Many would think you a fool for being around one such as me."

"Thank you for the warning," Ariella leant in against his shoulder, her tiredness blatant. "So, is that why one as nice as you does not have any friends in court Fandral, are you too great a trickster?"

"I suppose so. I am a lot like Prince Loki."

"The younger prince?"

"Yes," Loki looked at her. "What do you know of him?"

"Absolutely nothing, just that there is prince Thor, who will be king, and Prince Loki, the younger prince." She replied honestly.

"We are told his behaviour is renowned around the realm, that his pranking and behaviour is frowned upon by all the citizens as unprincely?"

Ariella shook her head, "No, I never heard anything of the sort. If he were to walk down the street now with no guards, I would not ever know, bar, of course, the finery, but I mean, everyone with rich coloured fabrics are wealthy, so I could not tell the difference between him or what you look like in your normal clothes."

"If you met Prince Loki, you would know. He exudes confidence."

"Really? And he likes tricks?" Loki nodded. "I am surprised you two are not closer," she added nonchalantly.

Feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the topics at hand, Loki thought for a moment. "You said your father might see us here, perhaps we should go somewhere else."

"That is a good idea," Ariella nodded, looking around again, "But my leg…"

"Is it broken?" he knelt down and took off her shoe, causing Ariella to hiss from where the sores were. "You need to get this looked at."

"Where?"

"There is a healers two streets from here, I saw it on my way."

"I could never…"

Loki knew what she was about say and took out a pendant of pure gold from under his tunic. "I think we do not need to worry about such things."

"No, I could not…Is that actual gold?" she could not help it, Ariella stared at the yellow metal.

"Yes, you have never even seen gold?"

"No, how would I? Fandral, I cannot let you…PUT ME DOWN!" Ariella as indignant as the young man picked her up, with surprising ease and carried her down the street to where he had seen the healers.

The healer that received them was somewhat unwilling to do anything to assist them at first, eyeing the pathetic state that Ariella was in, Loki was about to show the pendant when there was a knock on the door. The healer opened it before stepping aside and allowing another woman enter. Loki's stomach dropped as he realised who it was.

"Forgive me, Mya, but I came to see how things are here in the city. How do you fare?"

"Countess Eir, how good of you to grace us with your presence, I am well, and you?"

"Quite well, thank you. Her Majesty said to check if there was any requirement to…" it was then the other woman noticed the two youths, the female of which was in a bad state. "I was not aware that you had a patient with you. I apologise for the intrusion, young lady."

"It is fine Ma'am, we were just leaving." Ariella rose from the chair and hissed again as she leant on her sore leg.

"Leaving? Child, you have clearly yet to be seen," Eir rushed over to her. "Sit yourself on the bed there and let us take a look at you, Norn's you have had a terrible fall, what happened?"

"I was slow moving out of the way of a car…cart," Ariella winced slightly as the woman moved her foot. It worked in her favour though, because she did not wish to say the Royal carriage, clearly the woman knew the Allmother.

"It is not broken, but badly bruised, those shoes will have to stay off also, as if it swelling is not bad enough, you wish to squeeze it into them." She looked at the shoe in Ariella's hand, then to her feet. "Norn's if they are not three sizes too small, is this some silly new trend you all think is a good idea? Sweetheart, you cannot do that to your feet, they will be whatever size they are going to be and squashing them will not stop that, as if your little feet were something to worry about anyway, my own daughter is the one age with you and her big toe is bigger than your whole foot." Though Ariella knew that to be almost impossible, she smiled. "So you need to get some better shoes."

"Yes Ma'am." Ariella nodded, but her face, she felt, showed her embarrassment.

"This cheek is just a graze, but it is dirty, you need to have it cleaned, the last thing a beautiful young woman such as yourself needs is to get an infection and scar," That caused her to blush. It was then that Eir looked to the boy beside her, "You are her brother?"

"Yes, this is Marek, he carried me here," Ariella stated quickly.

Loki looked at her confused for only a moment before realising what Ariella was doing and played along, altering his voice as he did so. "Yes, I did not realise Ari was in the way if I had known." He did not look Eir in the eye, knowing that if he did, she may realise who he was.

Eir placed her hand on his shoulder kindly. "Do not fret, young man. Getting her seen to is what matters, and you did your duty there. You are lucky to have one another. Ari, is it?"

"Ariella."

"Ariella, that is the most beautiful name." The genuine smile on the woman's face startled Ariella, who reddened immediately in blush. "So is there anywhere else that hurts?"

"No Ma'am, just a few bumps and bruises." Ariella smiled.

"Well," The healer went to a cupboard and took out two small phials, "you are to take this for the pain," She handed Ariella the first phial, she did as she was told. "This for the swelling," Again, she did what she was ordered. She watched as the healer walked to another cupboard and took out one last thing, which, to Ariella seemed to be herbs. "And these you are to stew tonight and they will guarantee you a good night's sleep, tomorrow, you will be as right as rain again, giving your poor brother here heart issues as young men try to see if they can court you."

Even Loki went red at that idea, but neither said anything regarding, thanking the healer. "How much…?" He asked, worried that Eir would recognise the emblem on the amulet, one she had seen him wearing and had made comment on its good design.

Eir lifted her hand up, "The Allmother insists any that come for the markets that are in need are to be tended to, payment not required, she will ensure it is dealt with." Loki felt his chest swell in pride at his mother's actions. "If you are to get home, you will need a crutch young lady, your poor brother cannot be expected to carry you."

"Perfect." Loki smiled.

Ariella felt as though it was too much, but seeing as she wanted the swelling to lessen and that was the only manner in which it would, even with the medicines, she did as she was told. "Thank you Ma'am, and please, send my thanks to the Allmother."

"Of course, sweet Ariella, do not forget your herbs, they will be the final part of your arsenal in your recovery." She smiled kindly before opening the door for them to leave.

With the crutch and Loki's help, they left the room swiftly enough. "Marek?" Loki asked when they were a considerable distance from the healers.

"Well, she is a Countess, right?" Loki nodded, "So you know her some bit, or at least, she may know you. Fandral is so rare a name, I was concerned she would recognise it immediately."

"And of all the names, you chose Marek, why?"

"It was my brother's name." Loki frowned slightly. "The best lies, I heard, are most often somewhat true. I did not lie, you carried there, Marek is indeed my brother's name."

"You are diabolical." Loki smiled. "So, you need to rest."

"What do you suggest?"

"Our broth?"

"You are not going to pay in gold are you?"

"Of course not," Loki smiled. "We need to go to a broker first."

"A broker?" Ariella asked warily.

"Yes, I saw one a few streets over, come on." Cautiously, Ariella followed.

The man in the brokers stared at them in disgust. "Whatever you have stolen, I am not interested."

"I have gold," Loki stated.

"Listen, boy, if you think…" Loki placed the pendant in front of the man and he silenced. "Where did you get this?"

"It was belonging to Prince Thor, he gave it to me as a result of a boon I did for him."

"What boon could Prince Thor want off someone like you?" the man asked suspiciously.

"I am the son of his hand servant, my father was ill, and rather than having his studies and training altered by an inexperienced fool, I took my father's place, in doing so, I ensured he made it to his first games, you recall his late entry?"

"Something about a damaged shield." The man stated.

"False, it was the severe lack of armour commissioned, he had to steal gauntlets from the soldiers quarters." Loki corrected.

The man stayed silent for another second before grinning. "Very well, you know the truth," He stated. "So what do you want for that thing?"

"Shoes, clothes, whatever else this girl needs and the change in mostly silvers and bronzes."

"What?!"

"Please Ari, you heard the healer, you need to be able to walk."

"How will I explain…?"

"Say you traded the old ones, say that after them, these cost you nothing," Loki suggested, Ariella just looked at him with a slight look of proud disbelief on her face. "Half grounded in truth, right?"

"I am a bad influence on you," she smiled.

"I would have said the opposite." Loki shrugged.

The broker looked between the pair for a moment before getting back to the matter at hand, he did not care about anything other than getting the gold and giving them what he had to in return.

Ariella looked at the dark yet soft shoes she had gotten as they walked on, Loki smiling happily beside her as she seemed to radiate her delight. He had suggested she choose a darker colour because of the discoloration of the other shoes telling him they were subjected to excessive attempts at cleaning. "It will be time for you to leave soon. "

Loki felt elation at her sadness at the idea of them parting ways again. "Then we best get you fed."

"Why do you do this?"

"You need to eat, you are trying to recover from injury and you need to eat in general," he explained. "Ari, I meant what I said, you are my best friend."

Ariella smiled. "I like your nickname for me, I only wish I could do the same with Fandral."

Loki did not respond, wishing he could tell her the truth, instead they made their way to the stall they usually went to, the stall owner recognising them immediately and began pouring out the two bowls for them. They said nothing as they ate, simply enjoying the comfortable silence.

As the bell tolled, telling Loki he had to rush home, he threw the bag of silvers and bronzes at Ariella, "Easier than explaining away a gold pendant."

"You have to stop this Fandral, I cannot keep taking this from you."

"Please Ari, I don't need them, you do, I just want to make your life easier, to be like my mother."

"Why, is she like this too?"

Loki froze, his eyes darting side to side. "Yes, she is, she believes in looking after those with whatever you can, I want to be that way too, I was already, I just never realised. And you are my friend, I like to make sure you are alright."

Ariella leant up slightly and gave him a small peck on the cheek, "Thank you, Fandral. Same place next time?"

"Same place," Loki confirmed, his face blushing slightly. "Bye Ari."

"Bye." She watched him leave before hobbling back to where she knew her father would be with the cart.

On seeing her, cleaned, ointment on her face and with a crutch, her father glared at her. "What is all of this?"

"A man told me that there was a healer from the palace that was seeing people today for free, I thought, since I was a little hurt, that I should see if they would see me."

"And?"

Ariella looked at the crutch for a second, unsure if her father was being sarcastic or if he was in a state that meant he could not realise she quite clearly was tended to. "I got seen, nothing is broken."

"Good, I suppose you better go on the cart if…WHAT ARE THOSE?"

"I traded my second crutch and my old shoes and got these." She smiled, "They are a little big, so I should get some time out of them."

Grunting, her father said no more ad they left the city. Ariella looking forward to seeing her friend again, hardly able to wait the month until the market once more.

Chapter Text

Loki stood watching as his father all but castrated Lord Ivan for his handling of the mine collapse. It was everything Loki had said and far worse. The people of the area had noticed the royal presence and were shocked, yet pleased to see the Allfather had thought it worthy of his time. Odin, however, had to politically state that it was the first chance he had to come to deal with it and that though those inside had perished, he would ensure every man was given his rightful burial, on the crown's gold. That pleased the people, but enraged the king, not for the financial cost, but because it made the crown look lackadaisical and uncaring. The court treasurer almost seemed faint at the idea of paying for the mine, until Odin informed him that Lord Ivan and his officials would be paying a considerable portion of the cost, before adding that there were festivals held in Asgard for the wealthy that cost more than retrieving these men's bodies, so to cancel one of them was to have the same money spent, only this was far more worthy a cause. Frigga smiled approvingly beside her husband at that.

After the matter was dealt with, Loki actively went in search of his brother to speak with him, something he could not recall doing with nearly a hundred years. Thor, for his part, stood staring at his younger sibling when his hand servant opened the door to reveal Loki standing on the other side. "Loki?"

"Obviously, how many other siblings do you have?" Loki scoffed before he could stop himself.

Curious as to why Loki had come, Thor invited him in. "What is it you want?"

"Your trip."

"What of it?"

"What happened on it?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"Well, I was the one to inform Father of what happened."

"So why not ask him?"

Loki raised a brow, "In what realm do you think Father would tell me such things?"

Thor's face showed how he was forced to concede that as a truth. "Overall, nothing much on the way, saw the countryside, it looks quaint, plenty of hunting to be done when we are of age," he grinned before his face fell. "When we got there, Loki…" He shook his head. "It was just abandoned, you could see this huge crater where it had collapsed, they never even tried to move one stone to help them." Loki swallowed as Thor's voice went small. "Father was in a rage like I have never seen, but he had to remain calm, their families were there. He spoke to a few of them. They lost so much. Some lost only one family member, but there was one woman lost her brother, her nephew, her husband and three sons, all in one foul swoop." Thor's voice shook. "I have seen nothing like it before Loki, and I never wish to see it again."

"And we are helping them?"

"Father used Gungnir while we were there, he started the process and did not leave until the first cavern was fully excavated. He would not let me see what was brought up, but we were there for the first of the funerals."

"That is something."

"I am sorry I did not believe you that day Loki."

Loki frowned for a moment. "None would have thought it possible, but now we have started the process for them, that is only ever a good thing." Thor nodded in agreement as Loki went to leave the room again. "I forgot to ask, had the carriage any issue going to and from the mines?"

Thor looked at Loki as though he had asked him if a cat had given birth to a foal. "No." He elongated the word as he stared at his brother, "Why do you ask?"

"No reason," he replied before leaving the room. If Loki's concern was something of note to Thor, so too was his blatant annoyance after he had told him there was nothing wrong with the carriage. Putting it down to Loki attempting to hoax it and failing, Thor shook his head and decided to bathe before getting some rest after his long and tedious journey.

*

As the next market began, Loki waited until it was time for him to make his monthly disappearing act. He sat in his room under the guise of again feeling poorly and waited. When his hand servant informed him that his mother was asking for him, he felt his nerves soar from his stomach up his throat, his pulse throbbing in his head. He gave the nod for her to be welcomed in and inhaled deeply, readying himself for whatever she was about to say, knowing there was a high chance that she had caught him out and was forbidding him from leaving the palace. When she entered, he smiled nervously at her.

"How are you feeling?" She smiled as she walked over to him, placing her hand on his forehead.

"Better, but there is still slight aching in my head."

"It would leave if you would take some herbs."

"Except you stated before, that unless the pain is so great it causes issues with your seidr, to not go tampering with it."

Frigga smiled, "I did, you actually listen, though you act as though you do not."

"People say more if they think you are not listening," Loki shrugged.

"Such as the topic of the lost souls in that mine?" Loki looked to his mother. "You did a great thing bringing that to your father's attention."

Loki looked away, feeling guilty for lying to his mother. "It should not have been me to say it."

"No, it should have been dealt with a year ago," Frigga agreed, "But had you not told your father…" She walked over and cupped his face in her hands, noting how tall he was getting as he made his way through his adolescence, fast making his way to his adult years. "You are the reason these men will be given proper funerals, and I know that it can never be publically acknowledged as such, but you can always be safe in the knowledge that to your father and I, it will never be forgotten." She kissed his cheek. "I am so proud of you Loki."

"Anyone would have done it."

"No, do you not see, how many of power knew, and said nothing, you stood in front of your father in his chambers, you swore with conviction that it was true, and now look what you have achieved." She stated. "You are my son."

"No, I will never amount to as much as you."

"You do not see the power of your actions," Frigga shook her head as she looked lovingly at her son. "You do not see it, but to those people, you have done the work of the Norns." Loki shook his head slightly. "I wish I could speak more with you darling, but I need to meet with Eir."

Loki looked at her curiously "Oh, are you alright?"

Frigga smiled fondly at him again. "Of course, darling. I merely have to discuss a matter with her." she gave him a kiss on the forehead. "Rest some more, I will see you later."

"Thank you mother."

"Anytime, my wonderful boy." and with that, the Allmother turned and left her son's rooms.

Loki waited several minutes before moving, his hand servant had left a cold lunch for him as he did every day he would have the afternoon off. He ate it quickly and made his way quietly through the palace, leaving a clone asleep in his bed as he did so. Sneaking his way to the exit he usually used, he created his disguise and made his way through the smaller back streets of the city to the trade master's district once more. He waited by looking around and paying attention to what each tradesman was doing. He noted the rancid smell of urine and boiled animal carcass from the tanners, the hot steel smell mixed with sweat from the farriers, while the cooper had a more refined oak like odour from his stall, he jumped for a moment and went to hide when he recalled that he was in disguise on seeing Volstagg and Hogun walking through the streets, but they seemed utterly uninterested in their surrounds as they made their way somewhere, not paying any heed to the stalls or other people. After settling himself, Loki sensed the presence of someone close to him, turning around he saw Ariella behind him, a few feet away, looking at him as though he was an apparition. "Ari?"

She rushed forward and hugged him as though her very being depended on it. "Thank you."

"What?"

"I know it was you."

"What are you…?"

"The Allfather came, he came days after I told you, he is getting them out, Marek is deep down according to the records of who worked where, but they are over half way already, and it is because of you." She squeezed him tightly as she spoke. "How did you do it?"

"I just asked…"Loki paused, he recalled the story Odin had given the people of them not having time, but he decided to go against it. "I asked the Allfather, he had never heard such news so went to investigate."

"He was never told?" Ariella asked in shock.

"No, at first he thought me mad, but he investigated and saw the truth.

"You must have a high ranked father for him to have even spoken to you."

"I do," Loki answered honestly.

"How did you explain knowing it?"

"I said I heard a servant mention it." He shrugged.

"What happened to a lie based in truth?"

"Servants are low-born, are they not?"

"Yes, they are."

"So I was not lying, per se." Loki grinned. "I gave the Healer a gift from us by the way, I left it in her rooms when none were there." Ariella's eyes widened. "So too did I give the Allmother a gift."

"What?"

"The Countess, I bestowed something she will very much like, a herb she cannot get in abundance, I acquired a seed for, so she can grow her own, and for the Allmother, a box of her favourite treats," He smiled as he recalled the perplexed look on his mother's face after she found a box of macaroons in her study. Loki had gotten his servant, to put it there when he knew her maids and the Allmother would be out, saying nothing of why, and his servant not asking, as it was known Loki adored his mother.

"For helping me?"

"Of course, how is your leg actually? Your face has healed well."

"It is good, I have rested it well." she smiled, extending her foot and moving it around slightly, her dark coloured shoes on her feet. "They are so comfortable, I am always tempted to wear them but I am frightened that if I do, I will wear them out." She sighed.

"Then we will get you a new pair." Loki grinned.

"I made you something." Loki frowned as Ariella pulled something from around her neck and gave it to him. Loki studied it for a moment before looking at her for an explanation. "Do they not tell you high-borns of the old symbols?" Loki shook his head. Ariella rolled her eyes before talking again. "Before there was writing script, our ancestors used symbols, and this is one of friendship, undividable by time and distance." She explained.

Loki swallowed hard as he looked at the symbol, it was etched onto silver and tied with a string. "Thank you." He smiled. "How?"

"Bought the rope and used a silver coin you gave me. I got an old nail and hammered it with a rock."

"You did this?" Ariella nodded. "It is amazing." She blushed, Loki was going to say something else when he heard Ariella's stomach growling. "When did you last eat?"

"Two days ago." There was shame in her eyes.

"Come on, some food now." Loki insisted. When she did not move, he extended his arm to her, but Ariella pulled back.

Her startled and scared demeanour confused Loki, "Sorry, I wasn't thinking there, sure, let us go." She walked off before he could say anything.

Loki watched as she meekly continued her journey to their usual spot, noting something was different in her, she seemed to be lacking something she usually exuded. They were in sight of their location when something collided with Ariella sending her crashing to the ground painfully. Loki rushed to pick her up. "Who the Hel just walks around like they own the place like that?" He growled before looking up and staring open-mouthed at who was in front of him.

Volstagg stood, looking peeved that something delayed him from getting to the food. "Watch your tongue," He growled.

"Me, watch my tongue, how about you watch your rotunda middle and not blow girls out of your way as you attempt to fatten it further." Loki never had time for the red-haired friend of his brother.

"Do you know who I am?" Volstagg growled, pushing Loki with his larger frame.

"The court pie eater?" Loki grinned in return.

"I am Prince Thor's friend."

"But you are not Prince Thor, are you, so you are of little standing in this conversation."

Volstagg pushed him, "Listen low-born, if you speak to me like that again I will have your guts."

"Get bend you filthy boar," Loki growled in return, pulling Ariella to her feet. "Are you alright?"

"Fine," she stated shyly, leaning against him as she looked fearfully at Volstagg.

"What do you say?" Volstagg grinned smugly.

"I apologise, Sir, it was entirely my fault." She bowed as Loki looked on in disbelief.

"You have something of a brain in your head," Volstagg sneered, "You should show your friend here how to behave, now run along, you probably cannot afford anything here, go back to the country to breed like little rabbits."

without so much as looking at the food, Ariella grabbed Loki's hand and pulled him away. "Come on, Fandral."

"Wait, that filthy low-born has the same name as Fandral, Norns I cannot wait to tell him, he will be sickened." Volstagg laughed heartily as the pair left.

"What was that about?" Loki snarled when they got away. "Why did you apologise, he hit into you."

"Because that is how it is Fandral, I am low-born, so I have to apologise, if I did not, I could have gotten a lashing from an Einherjar for putting a hand on a high-born."

"Says who?"

"The magistrate, he said it is law."

"Ari, there is no law regarding accidentally being hit or hitting another being," Loki stated. "My father is heavily involved in law making, there is no problem if you bump into someone, and regardless, you did nothing wrong, he did."

"Well he was going to cause trouble, I have seen him before, he and his friends are bullies, thankfully the blonde one was not with them today." She sighed.

Loki said nothing more as he thought over Ariella's words and thought on a scheme to get back at his brother's friends, especially Vollstagg.

Chapter Text

Loki and Ariella met every market for years, their friendship becoming stronger at everyone, and as Loki's milestone of his eight-hundredth birthday approached, they only became closer.

"So, you will be an adult soon, what are your great plans?" Ariella smiled as they sat by the water's edge on a sunny day, her feet in the water.

"My mother is already starting to try and pawn off idiotic maidens to me."

"Poor Fandral, please say that they are at least pretty?" She laughed.

Loki rolled his eyes at her teasing. "Some are, but the prettier are, the more stupid they appear to be." Ariella laughed more at that. "What of you?"

Her laughing ceased. "Sadly, since Mother passed, my life is clean, cook, repeat." She shrugged.

Finally, the remains of Marek were found and he was given a proper funeral, but a week later, Ariella's mother passed, she had hidden an illness for a time, but with her son's light in the stars, she quickly joined him, as though she had just been holding on simply to ensure her son was found before she gave up her own fight. Since then, Ariella had become less and less of the girl she was. Loki looked at her, she was never a well-built girl, she was petite in every manner, but as time passed she became thinner and thinner, her bones starting to show more and more, her hair falling limp around her. That was when Loki started insisting on bringing her to the healers every market day and feeding her as best he could. He also gave her money and other items that could be bartered, but every time he saw her, she seemed to be worse than the time before.

"We better go get you fed." He went to take her hand in his and she pulled away quickly. He stood looking at her, some days she would actively seek his hand, others she would shy as though it was poisonous. "Sorry."

"It's not you," she shook her head shamefully.

"Ari?" She looked at him expectantly. "If I ask you something, will you be honest with me?"

"I always am."

It was true, he could detect lies in others, Loki had become proficient in all things of lies and deceit. "Why do you not always allow me to touch you?" Ariella said nothing, instead, she bit the inside of her cheeks and turned to walk away. "You said you would be honest."

"I said nothing, that is not lying."

"Ari," Loki rushed up to her, "Please." She looked at him sadly. "Is he hurting you?"

"He doesn't realise…"

Loki took her hand gently and pulled up the sleeve of her dress, there, on her arm, were bruises, some purple and fresh, others green, signifying they were a few days old. "Once is an accident Ari, after that, it is hurting you intentionally."

"He took Mother and finding Marek badly."

"That does not give him the right to hurt you. Has he…?" He looked at her fearfully.

Ariella frowned for a moment trying to understand what he was asking her before her eyes widened and she shook her head. "No, he never tried anything like that."

"Good." Loki nodded slightly.

"He is just so lost in grief."

Loki froze and stared at her blankly. "Grief? Ari, are you serious? Why are you defending him like this, he is hurting you."

"It is not your concern Fandral." she pulled her hand away from him. "It is all well and good for you to get sanctimonious with your good rearing and your high expectations in life, but he keeps a roof over my head, keeps me from the doss house, he is my father." Ariella snapped.

"He did nothing, I helped you keep that roof over your head, if it were not for me giving you that money and you being smart enough to use it to look after your family, you would be there, he drinks and drinks and beats you and you are defending him, you are like some sort of Stockholm victim." he stated exasperatedly.

Angered by Loki's words, Ariella stormed off. Loki remained where he was, upset and angry at how she had reacted when all he wanted was to make sure she was okay. It took several minutes for Loki to realise that Ariella was not returning, so he decided to go the direction she had gone. He did not see her the whole way back to the city, causing him to start to worry. He did not even know where to start to look for her in it, so he wandered around aimlessly for a time. Finally, he found her once more, but what he saw caused him to see red.

"So which little tavern do you work in beautiful?" Fandral asked his hand on Ariella's arm.

"None, Sir. I am not of the city."

"A little country girl, they are always more fun." The young blonde man grinned. "Come have a drink with me."

"I am sorry, but I have to say no, Sir, I am late meeting someone." Ariella gently tried to release herself from his grasp, but Fandral's grip did not falter.

"Do you now?"

"Yes, she does." Loki piped up as he walked over. "Let her go."

Fandral looked him up and down before scoffing. "Why would she have a poor city boy when she can have the son of a Lord for company?"

"Because the son of a Lord is a renowned scoundrel with a very small…shall we call it, estate." Loki smirked. Fandral's face fell immediately and his eyes widened as he tried to place the insubordinate commoner. "And said maiden is honourable and has self-respect so the last thing she is interested in is being the next in a line of highly disappointed women to experience you and your shortcomings."

"How dare you, you pathetic…"Fandral's anger rose, but Loki lifted his chin in a challenge and stepped toe to toe with the blonde warrior.

"Let me guess, 'little worm'? Tell me, does using your grandfather's term for you make you feel better in yourself? Does calling other's such a name make you feel like you are any closer to the burly man your father is because I very much doubt it." Fandral's nostrils flared at Loki's words, each one cutting like a knife. "Run along 'Little Fanny', I am sure your band of idiot friends will be waiting for you to regale your stories of how you conquered another maiden and fought off a rough toe-rag in doing so, all nodding and patting your back, but all knowing, that behind it all, you are all bark and no bite." Humiliated, Fandral stormed off. Loki turned to Ariella, "Are you alright?"

"Fine," She growled before turning to leave herself.

"You are welcome," Loki called after her.

"I did not say thank you."

"Are you still angry at me?" Loki asked sadly.

"You have no idea what you are talking about, go throwing wild accusations and expect me to forgive you, just like that?" Ariella snapped her fingers.

Loki smiled inwardly for a second; in their time together, Ariella had learned a lot of words she would never have been taught otherwise, he had also taught her to write her name and to read a bit, as well as count. He had slid it to his father to assess the countryside peasants education, and its shortcomings swiftly came to light. Frigga herself had spent the bones of a year ensuring every country town had a small school and that all children there were given the education to at least look after themselves. It was still imperfect, but so much better than what had been, sadly Ariella was too old, but she only saw the good in it for the younger generation. "You will not tell me, so how can I know Ari?" He challenged.

Ariella said nothing for a moment, forcing her to acknowledge that it was true, she never revealed anything to him of her time with her father since her mother passed. "He cries, he sobs, he…he grips me tightly as though he is holding onto life itself." She stated, her own tears coming to her eyes. Loki came over and put an arm around her gently, not saying anything. "He has no idea he does it, it is not intentional, but when he does it, he is better afterwards, he does not drink like he does when he holds it in."

"I am sorry."

"He is getting better, but…it is taking time," she stated. "I bruise easily, so what would just be a tight grip to someone else makes me look like he chooses to hurt me, but he does not. He says he is sorry for being weak, for not being the one to comfort me, but he misses them, does that sound like a man that is hurting his daughter?"

"No, that is a man lost in grief, glad to have you there." Loki smiled sadly, putting her hair behind her ear. "I am sorry for upsetting you."

"I am sorry for being rude to you, you are right, you have helped my family so much and you never ask for anything in return, you do it because you feel it is right, not because you want to feel as though you have power, I am so grateful and lucky to have you as a friend. I am so glad I saved you that day."

Loki chuckled. "As am I." he kissed her temple affectionately. "Come, let us get you something to eat."

Not arguing, since, in the years of their friendship, she realised there was little point in it, Ariella just nodded and followed him. "So, you know the blonde guy?"

"Yes, he is as bad an idiot as his friends."

"I think him worse, the others do not slap girls asses." Loki pursed his lips at that. "So, he is not as much of a peacock as he maintains he is?"

"I have it from many sources he is as gifted like a piglet's tail and is very much incapable of pleasing a woman," Loki explained to a now once more laughing Ariella as they walked towards the food stalls. In their years of their friendship, they had grown, as too did their knowledge of themselves and others, allowing them to discuss such matter in a funny manner together.

The pair spent some time more talking as they usually did, telling Loki that Ariella had forgiven him for his comments earlier in the day as they walked the streets a few more times before she would have to return to the countryside. "I got you something." Loki looked at her in shock. "Since you will be a man when I next see you." She grinned and extended her hand. Loki took the gift, which was in a small coarse bag and took it out. He stared in awe as he looked at what was in front of him. "It's only made of pewter, so it is not overly fancy."

"It's amazing, how…" Loki stared at the stag, so perfectly designed and carved in the metal."

"Remember that time we saw him by the water?" Ariella smiled, remembering the day that they saw the golden coloured creature come out for the safety of the forest for a drink near them. It saw them, staring at them for a few moments before he went to the water's edge to drink; neither uttering a sound because they did not want to disturb him.

"I do, it was a decade ago."

"I see him from time to time, the same broken prong on his antler on the same side, so I know it is him." she smiled.

"It is perfect Ari, you are so talented, you should sell these."

"I do it for fun, I would need to know how to read and write if I wanted to actually get anywhere with it." Loki looked at her in confusion, "I looked into it." She admitted. "But this, this is because he knows our secret, but he won't tell, just like we will never tell hunters about him."

"Never." Loki agreed.

"You better get back, since you said your mother wants to talk to you about your party."

"I wish you could be there," Loki stated sadly.

"It is not proper, and what reason would I have to be there?" Ariella laughed, but it was clear she too wished they could celebrate that day together. "Just keep me some cake."

"I will, I swear." Loki pulled her close, he wished he could tell her who he really was, but knew that it had gone on too long, that she could not forgive him for his lies if he revealed himself. "Same time, next time."

"Of course." Ariella smiled back, hugging him tightly. "Bye Fandral."

Loki filled with guilt as he held her close for another moment before they parted ways, him after leaving more silvers for her to look after herself and her father while he brought her gift.

Chapter Text

Loki watched as Thor and his idiot friends sat in a circle, clearly deep in thought. Knowing that there was a significant chance of irritating them, he decided to join them. "Norn's but are you all not the most cheerful group, who urinated in your mead?" he scoffed as he walked over to them.

"Not now, Loki, we are dealing with something," Thor growled.

"If it is which one of you is the greatest pain, that truly is a dilemma," Loki smirked. "What is so difficult for you all?"

"Fandral was accosted by some peasant who apparently knew too much of his personal life, we are trying to figure out is it a member of our staff." Loki stared at his brother with a raised brow and a look of disbelief on his face. "We have established he was not of anyone else's house so we are trying to see if he is of ours."

"And what details of great note did this so called upstart claim to know?" Loki looked at Fandral.

The blonde warrior became somewhat flustered, rubbing the back of his neck and not answering immediately. "He made comment on nicknames and comments that only those within close contact with my family would know."

"You do realise that you cannot possibly scour our staff, their spouses, kin and friends because to do so is quite literally tens of thousands of people. This palace employs two thousand full and part-time staff, of which there are, at last count, five-sixths that are wed, and over two-thirds have children, as well as the fact the average Aesir family size is three children, can you not compute the sheer numbers we are talking here?" he laughed at the sheer idiocy of their futile task. "Honestly, I do not know why you bother."

"Because to speak such a manner…" Fandral rose to his feet in indignation at Loki's blasé attitude.

Loki looked at the other man boredly, "Whatever they said much really have struck a nerve with you Fandral, it begs the question, what did you do to warrant such scathing words as to have you in this humour?" he cocked his head slightly as he acted curious.

"I merely noticed a young beautiful woman and asked her for a drink, hardly something of note," Fandral shrugged.

For a moment, a flicker of anger on his features caused Loki to have to inhale deeply. "And the miscreant came to rescue her from your clutches, I assume?"

"I did not harm her," Fandral stepped forward challengingly to Loki.

"I never stated you did, however, your implying it now makes me wonder if you did? So you go over to a girl, can you even assume she is of age? Did she seem willing, or was she trying to signal someone to help her?"

"What are you implying Loki," Thor growled. "Fandral may be forward, but he is hardly molesting."

"What scares me in all of this is not one of you seem to care as to why someone would act in such a manner to your dear friend, rather than that, you are obsessed with what seems to be a nobody calling him out on more than likely being an ignorant fool," Loki stated angrily. "Honestly, you all need to grow up because contrary to what your limited brain function dictates, being of higher status does not exempt you from basic social construct, you cannot simply assume every female with a pulse is interested in you, if she has a partner already, then surely, since you are hardly planning on bringing her home to that busybody of a mother of yours as your partner, you would leave the poor creature be."

Fandral's lip curled in anger and contempt as Loki referenced his mother, a woman who, as Loki had suggested, was someone overly involved in the affairs of others, often seen sitting among a gaggle of women like her, tittering about supposed social faux pas and rumours. "I should…"

"What, are you actually forgetting your place further Fandral, I am a prince, you the son of a lord, and you think yourself above me? Try something, I dare you, and let us see how you fare, I am no simple country girl or street boy, I can very much take you, and by Norn's do you know it. I am not the little boy you once helped lock into a hound house."

The others in the room swallowed guilty, thinking back to a time, centuries before, where it took four of them to get a kicking and fighting Loki into said kennel because he told his parents that Thor had snuck out with Hogun to skip studies, leaving the younger prince there so long, his knees had sores for days after. "Enough." Thor decided to step in. "Perhaps Loki is right, there are too many to think of, we can only keep an eye out for this boy. It is somewhat disturbing that someone would have that much knowledge on Fandral without him knowing who the peasant is. Now onto less irksome matters."

"Do not let me stop you, I have had my fill of you idiots for one day," Loki growled as he went to leave the room.

"I have always been curious, Loki?" He turned to look at Fandral again. "You wear that friendship ruin around your neck as though given to you by the Norn's themselves, yet I have never witnessed someone near you to even give it to you."

"And?" Loki asked boredly.

"Are you so pathetic as to have given it to yourself?" The blonde scoffed, the others joining in.

"No, I did not give it to myself, I have had it for over a century because I actually got it from someone who knows the true meaning of friendship is to enjoy the company of another, not tolerate them because they know that the day may come in battle that someone will have to fall, and it is handy to have a scapegoat." he threw his gaze over Fandral for a moment, who paled slightly at the idea of such a thing, "Now, if you are finished thinking you can get the better of me, I am going to be off, I have more important things to do, like nothing," Loki left the room determined that come his Name's Day celebrations, Thor and his despicable band of merry fools would suffer.

*

"What do you have to say for yourself?" Odin snarled as he looked at his younger son, who to his credit, had managed to make a convincing duplicate of himself that was not falling over laughing, which was more than what could be said for the true Loki, who was in need of holding onto a pillar to assist him in remaining on his feet.

"They deserved it, they have been doing nothing but trying to make my life a misery ever since I called Fandral out on being an absolute ignoramus and harassing young women."

"Loki, just because your brother and his friends act a certain way does not give you right to have them…"

"What is this of Fandral harassing women?" Frigga interrupted.

"He openly admitted to grabbing a young girl and not taking no for an answer when she did not want to be in his company," Loki explained.

Even Odin silenced at that for a moment. "Well, of course, that is unacceptable, but…"

"How in the realms can there be a 'but' in a sentence regarding one of our son's friends accosting young girls?" Frigga challenged, causing Odin to become startled.

"Well, I was about to say it does not give him right to do what he did, not condone the actions of Fandral, I blame his father, he has the same attitude."

"Really, I had not gathered," Frigga replied sarcastically before looking to her son. "You cannot use your seidr every time your brother and his friends annoy you Loki."

"I do not, for if I did, you would know of it, I would die of exhaustion from using it within a week."

"Loki," Odin warned.

"Look, if I am for my rooms for a moment, then so be it, cease delaying the inevitable and send me."

Odin shook his head, "Just leave." Loki looked at him sceptically, "Go." Not questioning him on the matter, Loki had the clone leave. "I do not know why I try to send him to his rooms," He sighed to his wife.

"It is hardly a deterrent when he effectively resides in them even when he is allowed elsewhere. He turned of age yesterday, and rather than join the other young men in a tavern, I found him in there reading reports on the improvements of the lower class' literacy programme."

"It was his idea after all." Odin shrugged. "Norns, I cannot say I can blame him for his actions, but he cannot seek revenge on Thor and the warrior's, they will have to work as a cohesive unit in the future."

"How can they work together, Loki is nothing like the others, he is very much his own spirit?"

"I am aware, that is half the issue," Odin growled. "I had best deal with the miner's dispute, they wish to have healers present at all times on the surface, yet that seems an unreasonable request to the owners, Norn's if it were not for the fact things had gotten so bad, I wish I never was informed of this mess."

With her husband gone, Frigga started at the heavy curtains at the back of the room for a moment. "A clone, honestly Loki?"

Loki came out from behind the curtains, "I had no choice, I was only going to anger him from laughing."

"You should not have done it."

"I was unaware that Fandral is allergic to Drakenback Oil, in my defence."

"It will take a week for the swelling to go down," Loki snorted again. "Loki," His mother chastised.

"I was not aware, though he deserves it."

"You do not hear your father or I disputing that, but it does not make it right. Now regarding your new found freedoms, have you decided if you are going on the hunt next week?"

"No," Frigga looked at him curiously. "I am not free that day."

"The country market is on, all your tutors are not coming."

"I know, but I am not free, I have to do something.

"Such as?"

Loki swallowed uncomfortably, "Just a potion I am working on, it will be done that day, I was not aware…"

"What is the potion for?" Frigga demanded.

"It is just a hunger potion."

"Hunger potion?"

"Yes, I want to see if I can encourage someone to put on weight that is not getting enough food to eat" he explained.

"I see," Frigga was sceptical.

*

Loki rushed through the streets excitedly in his disguise, he held the thick and magically kept safe piece of cake in his hands as he did so. Finally, he came to their spot and waited for Ariella to give her the confectionary and to regale her of everything that had happened in the month that had passed. She did not arrive.

Chapter Text

Loki rationalised to himself that something could have arisen, Ariella could have been ill, her father could have been ill, there could have been issues that required them elsewhere that day, anything. It was not as though she could write to him or send a message for him, so if she was in no way able to get there, it was not as though there was a manner to tell him so. That was all that got him through the month to the next market. When it came around, he rushed through the streets almost frantically to their usual spot, he waited again, and once more, she did not arrive. A weight sank in his stomach, heavier and heavier it got every time he thought of the commoner girl, which was incessantly. His mood darkened as he walked around the palace after the second trip to the market without her showing. He began to pay less heed to his studies, he pulled back from training, and his family realised something was amiss with him. Frigga tried at length to get it out of him what irked him so, and after a period, Thor too began. When nothing they did bore any results, even Odin got involved, but none could figure out what had upset Loki so.

The next market came, and again, Ariella did not meet him. For twelve months he waited, and for twelve months, there was no sign of the young girl that had made him feel so good in himself. Loki fell into a darkness like nothing his family had seen, he ceased caring at all about anything, he ceased training of all kinds, his studies and books, as well as that, his daggers lay, covered in dust as the darkness engulfed his very soul. He did not smile or laugh, and the idea of him playing a trick seemed like a distant memory.

*

"Loki?" Loki rolled his eyes as he heard his brother call him, "Come on, it will be dark soon and you know we are more of a risk then."

"I welcome whatever lurks in the dark if it means I am rid of you." He hissed in retort.

"You make such great company brother, it is always such a delight to know I am to spend time with you," Thor stated sarcastically in return, his friends laughed in response, all of them used to Loki's now permanent state of morose and hostility.

"Why was I even brought on this fool's errand?"

"Believe me, brother, I am asking the very same thing." It was Thor's turn to roll his eyes. "I am getting weary, as no doubt are the horses."

"We are about two miles from an inn, we can rest there for the night," Fandral stated as he pointed the route they were required to take. "They have a nice ale, warm beds and well, it is a good spot."

"Is there any hole or corner of the realm you have not harassed a woman?" Loki growled. "I feel as though I should get on bended knees and thank the Norn's for the gender I was assigned, for to be a woman near you is a terrifying prospect."

"Your wit knows no bounds Loki, it is a great wonder that you are always without the company of women."

"What self-respecting man would ever want the company of women who allow you seek theirs? I see it as a form of sieving technique, if they decline you, they are worthy."

"Enough, both of you," Thor ordered. "We are supposed to be here to try and ensure there is no issue, not add to any that may already be here. Just show us to the inn, Fandral."

The other blonde warrior did as requested and showed them to where they needed to go. Loki looked at the world around him, sour that he had to endure his brother and moronic friends. At the same time, he found himself thinking of where in the forests Ariella lived. They had passed the mine that she had told him had collapsed, a day before, with another day's travel done since then, he knew they were nowhere near her home, but had he passed it he wondered.

The inn was clearly a popular spot, the ground outside showing a lot of hoof prints from travellers. Thor looked at the building for a moment, it was a far cry from the plush palace, but as far as he was concerned, food and a bed were all he required, and Fandral said it had both. They walked in and were greeted by a warm hearth and a smell of food and ale. Those inside gave the royal party a small glance but said nothing, they were not interested in causing any form of din regarding the Aesir princes. Thor walked up to the bar and waited, but none came to serve him for a moment. Finally, a man descended the stairs and eyed them all carefully. "Sir, do you run this establishment?"

"Aye, I do. How can I help you?"

"I was wondering if my friends and I could stay tonight, I am aware it is short notice."

The man looked at him for a moment, "One room or more?"

"Gregor, how are you?" Fandral stepped forward.

The man looked at him for barely a second before he grinned widely. "Well, Lord Fandral, how are you boy?"

"Not at all bad now, my friends and I were passing through and were wondering if we could have lodgings."

"Of course, any friend of yours is always welcome here." The man clapped his shoulder before he frowned and looked at Thor "Is that…?"

"Indeed, Prince Thor," Fandral beamed, pointing to his friend. The innkeeper nodded before turning to the others, his focus coming to Loki, who was looking at him with a look of indifference on his face. "And Prince Loki." There was no denying the lack of enthusiasm in Fandral's tone at mentioning the second prince's name. "So we shall deposit our belongings and need a few bowls of your finest stew."

"Of course, I will have the…where is that useless wench. Ella, get over here. Ella!"

A group of men parted to reveal a dishevelled barmaid on the floor, scrubbing the wood vigorously, some looking down at the poor woman as though she was a cow to be bought at a mart. She rose to her feet and pushed her hair off of her face. "Sorry Sir, a chalice of wine was dropped."

"If it stains…" He threatened.

"No, sir, I got it all." She smiled, trying to defuse his anger. "What is needed of me?"

"Go and make five beds and then get five bowls of stew readied, we have the princes staying here tonight." The girl's eyes widened slightly at the mention of who was staying at the inn but she nodded and rushed off to do as she was ordered. "Useless wench really, but she is my niece through marriage and my wife thought it best to take her in after her father died." the innkeeper explained to Fandral.

"Very good of you," Fandral nodded.

"Yeah, well, pity the girl is useless, she spends half the day as though she is in the clouds." The innkeeper swatted his hand in dismissal. "She'll be about ten minutes."

"Ten minutes to set five rooms is better than 'useless'," Loki growled.

"She can work, but she is by no means outstanding at it," Gregor stated.

"Two conflicting comments on your behalf in simply ten seconds, a man should not know what to believe with you," Loki added before heading to the garderobe.

"Ignore my brother, he is a cantankerous man at most times," Thor dismissed. "And thank you for allowing us to stay."

"As I said, a friend of Lord Fandral is always welcome."

Loki washed his hands, shaking them aggressively before drying them with his seidr. The girl, whoever she was, did not deserve such ridicule if she was able to do her work. Though he was cold since Ariella's disappearance, he still believed in looking ensuring those of low birth were somewhat cared for, his lasting homage to his friendship with her. When he left the bathrooms, he noted the others were not to be found, so he assumed they had gone to their rooms, he went up the stairs, he found the one laid out for him and looked around. As expected, it was tidy, neat and the sheets on the bed pulled back, ready to be slept in. he grumbled to himself again of the clear capability the girl had to at least work fast. Organising himself, he heard a knock on the door before Thor entered.

"The food is ready."

"Good."

"Loki, I am aware of your lack of time for everyone, but civility would not kill you."

"Since I know this is not about Fandral, as that is how he and I have spoken to one another since the day we first met, I am going to assume you mean to refer to my manner to the innkeeper." Thor nodded. "He is speaking ill of someone that is doing their work."

"We know nothing of…"

"We know nothing of anything really," Loki stated. "Look me in the eye and say you know how to fold those sheets." He pointed to the bed, "Or how to tidy towels." Thor said nothing. "We cannot do these things, she can, and to ridicule and dismiss her is wrong. Without her to do it, you and I would not have the lives we have."

"Why do you care about these things Loki, you care for so little, why this?"

"Why do you not? You are to be their king and you do not care for them, for their livelihoods."

"Father has not…"

"Oh cease Thor, you are fooling no one, we both know who Father will choose." Loki snarled.

"Is that why you are so angered?"

"No, now I am going to eat, I am incredibly hungry." Loki finished the conversation by pushing past his brother and walking out the door to the stairs and back to the main inn to eat his food.

The bowls of food were waiting for them, along with fresh bread. One smell of it caused Loki's stomach to clench. He recognised it immediately as the broth from the market that he and Ariella used to eat. His hunger dissipated as he thought of the many days they had spent sitting by the fountain, talking at length about many mundane things in their lives, smiling and enjoying one another's company and he rose to leave again. "Loki?" Thor looked at him in concern.

"I am not hungry."

"But you just said…"

"I said I am not hungry," Loki repeated with clenched teeth.

"Sir, is everything alright?"

Loki turned to snap at the barmaid but froze, staring at her. Her hair was short, only coming to her chin, her face was almost gaunt, her cheekbones showing more than they should and her eyes seemed almost sunken, but it was her. "Ari?"

The girl frowned for a moment before looking at him again, there was a look of confusion on her face until she focused on his eyes, his green as rich grass irises. She gasped and stood back, falling over her own feet. The shoes she was wearing were the ones he had bought her on the last trip to the market where they had met, five years previous. "No…" She shook her head violently.

"What?" Thor looked between the pair, utterly confused but before he could say anymore, the girl rose to her feet and rushed to the nearest door. "Loki?"

Loki stood staring at where she had gone, not sure if he should follow or not.

Chapter Text

Loki continued to stare at the door for several moments, his heart pounding hard in his chest.

"Loki, how do you know that low-born?" Thor asked warily.

"What?"

"You know that girl, how do you know her?"

"I…" Loki's eyes caught Thor's for a moment, "I do not know her." He stated sadly.

"What is afoot Loki?" Thor's voice was more threatening that time.

"Wait," Loki refused to look at Fandral because he knew that if he did, the blonde warrior's face would be one of some level of recognition. "You…" Loki inhaled, knowing he was found out. "You are the one who told her and that servant about me." Loki's brow furrowed and finally, he looked at Fandral. "That is how she and that servant knew about…" He silenced for a moment, "You went and told them."

"I told no boy anything of you."

"Liar!"

"Actually, you will find I am truthful on that front." Loki decided his course of action and walked towards the door that Ariella had exited. He was no fool, he knew Thor and the others would tell his father, he knew that they would realise soon all he had done, but he did not care, he had to speak with Ariella, if just for a moment, if just to tell her, "ARI!" the lone figure of the girl he thought he closest friend was on the far side of the dirt road, sitting behind a tree, her apron showing bright against the dark was what gave her away. "Ari, please." she rose to her feet as he came closer and began to walk off. He reached her and put his hand on her arm.

"You liar!" she turned, her eyes filled with tears, her anger and betrayal blatant.

"No, Ari…"

"You are him, Prince Loki, are you not? You are the second son of the Allfather, a prince?"

Loki sighed, "Yes, that I…"

"Then you are a liar."

"I had to, I was not supposed to leave the palace, had I been found out…" She looked at him with a stare that told him she was not overly interested. "I swear to you Ariella, I lied about my name, but of everything else, I was completely honest."

"You are renowned as the God of Lies."

Loki stepped forward, pleading his case as he did so. "I know, and I know it is well earned, but you Ari, you are my truest friend, I would not lie to you." She scoffed. "I told you before, I am the second son, nothing but a shadow of my brother." Ariella bit her lips together, "Who is ever more second than the weedy second son of the king, I am small and pathetic in Thor's shadow, remember our talks of you and Marek, how I understood?"

"I asked you if I checked, who would you be the son of and if you were of the royal circle?"

"Well, I did not lie there, did I?" Loki pointed out.

Ariella's brow rose, before she gave a small laugh, causing Loki to grin. She shook her head, "No, no I guess you did not." She looked at him sadly. "Why did you never tell me?"

"I regretted not telling you, I did. At first, it was because I could not risk you telling anyone."

"You could have trusted me," She stated sadly.

"I know, but when I realised that, it was too late, I knew if I told you the truth, you would be hurt, because I left it so long."

Ariella swallowed and looked at him, studying his true features, "You must be a very accomplished wielder to have altered your appearance so much," She commended, Loki gave a faint smile in response. "I should thank you." He frowned. "You've changed things so much for us low-borns, children are actually getting a chance to get ahead, rather than getting caught in the same trap."

"I only used what power I have to try and make it better."

"Well you did, they are so much better off even already."

"Good," he nodded, "what about you, your father…?"

"He died, yes."

"I'm sorry." Ariella's eyes began to fill with fresh tears, not even thinking, Loki walked over and pulled her to him. "Ari?"

"I came in from tending the vegetables, he had gone to sleep, I thought nothing of it, I dozed off. During the night, I woke and it was cold; I realised he had never stoked the fire, so I huddled the blanket more. When the sun rose, I woke again…I saw him in his corner, his eyes open and his face blue, I realised in the sunlight that he…" she cried again, Loki held her tight.

"I am so sorry Ari."

"I got sent to my aunts then, I was too far from the city, I never got to say goodbye to you."

"I waited, for a year, every market day." Ariella looked at him in shock. "I was so worried, I thought you had been ill the first day, but after that…I did not want to give up."

"You…"

"Of course, I told you already, you are my greatest friend, I even had that cake you asked for." He ensured he looked her in the eye as he spoke those words.

Ariella looked at his features, they were so different from the ones she was used to, but his voice and his eyes were the exact same, giving familiarity to him. "I really missed you Fan…your… what am I to call you now?"

"Loki, no titles, no lies, I am just Loki."

"It's odd," she laughed slightly, "I cannot believe I was unknowingly friends with the prince." she laughed again. "It is like some odd children's story."

"I think there is something similar to it, yes." Loki smiled.

Then Ariella's face turned serious. "What of the others?"

"You mean my brother and his idiot friends?" she nodded. "What of them?"

"I know you call them such things as idiots, but there is no way they are idiotic enough to not have noticed that."

"Thor has been spying on us the entire time we have been speaking." Ariella's eyes widened and she looked around to see that it was true, only ten feet away, the tall, blonde, older prince was staring at the pair curiously. "He cannot hear anything we are saying." Loki assured her, "and he is terrible at lip-reading."

"Loki?" she winced as Thor came closer, he tone unsettling her. "What is this?"

Loki stood in front of Ariella, shielding her from his brother's gaze and allowing Thor to hear what he was saying. "I told you already, it is nothing of your concern."

"How do you know her?"

"That is nothing to do with you."

"What is afoot Loki?"

Ariella winced as though about to be struck at Thor's booming voice. Loki immediately turned and tried to soothe her. "What in the Norns are you doing shouting like that you moronic oaf?" He growled. "You are terrifying her."

Thor looked sheepishly at the small frail girl next to his brother, she truly looked as though one good gust of breeze would cause her to blow away. But that was what made what he was witnessing all the more incomprehensible. He could not phantom how Loki knew someone so clearly impoverished and clearly care for them as deeply as he was. "I apologise."

"What is the occasion?" Loki snarked in return.

"Not to you," Thor growled back. "To her. I am sorry I scared you, it was not my intention." His tone was softer as he spoke. Ariella stared at him in terror, not letting go of Loki. "Loki?"

"Go back inside," Loki ordered, "I will speak with you of it later, just let me speak with her now."

Thor thought to argue, but knowing that Loki would have to return to the inn to get his belongings, he nodded. He was patient when required.

 

The pair watched as he left. "He is terrifying."

"He is no more than a bully and a thug. He knew well you would be scared and that I would not fall for such things. He wanted to have you tell him everything since he knows I will only tell him what I chose."

"What are you going to tell him?"

"Only what we agree to tell him." Loki smiled kindly, his smile falling as he studied her more. "Ari, are you even eating, how are you even thinner now?" she swallowed and her eyes looked away. "Are they hurting you?"

"No, they are keeping me warm and clothed."

"But not fed?"

"No, they do."

"Just not as much as you need to be."

"It is not…"

"Norns do not lie to me Ari, I am the God of Lies and I have the sense of sight, you are like one that is suffering famine," he stated exasperatedly. "What happened your hair?"

"It is easier this way."

"You cannot even tie it back it is in your eyes."

"But it is cleaner."

Loki paused, his jaw clenched. "They are the ones that cut it?" She said nothing. "Ariella?"

"There were fleas in the stables a few weeks back."

"Why would stabl…you are sleeping in a stable?"

Ariella shrugged, "At least I have privacy for the first time ever."

"Yes, because a bunch of horses looking at you is just what every girl wants when she is changing," Loki replied sarcastically. "Right, this ends now."

"Loki?" He took her hand in his and walked towards the inn. "What, no, no you cannot, please, I will get in so much trouble, please." She begged, trying to pull her hand from his. Loki conceded and let go. "Please, I will be in so much trouble if you say anything."

"Ari, I am a prince, the less favoured one, admittedly, but I am still one, they cannot refuse an order from me."

"I know, but please, it is hard enough…" she begged.

Loki pursed his lips, it was true; she clearly had a very difficult life as it stood, he would leave in the morning and she would have to remain, his words could very easily make her life more difficult. "Okay, I will say nothing of it, but I am going to explain when we go in something, you just agree, alright?"

"What?"

"Why we are out here, I want none to blame you for it."

"Okay." She nodded.

Loki gave her a soothing smile. "I am here with you Ari, now I know where you are again, I am going to make sure you are alright." She gave a small attempt at a smile, Loki could see her scepticism at how that was possible in it. When they entered, most other patrons had left, but Thor and his friends, as well as the innkeeper, were all still there, all staring intently at the pair as they entered. Ariella kept her head bowed, not looking any in the face.

"Ella?" There was a hint of curiosity in her uncle's angered voice.

"Ariella was assisting me with something, I insisted she was to go outside for a moment, she did not wish to disobey her instructions, but considering…" Loki began.

Gregor waved his hand, "No, your highness, if it was under your order, she could not disobey. Thank you for explaining such." he turned to look at his niece. "You know what needs doing." Without even looking around, Ariella nodded and went about her work. "She was no issue, was she?"

"None what so ever."

"Good," with that, the innkeeper bowed slightly and left the warriors and princes to eat.

Loki said nothing and sat down, eating as soon as he did so. Smiling to himself at the taste of the broth he ate so often at the market with his friend. He had taken several mouthfuls of that and bread before he looked up again, glaring at the others for staring at him. "What is wrong with you lot?"

"How do you know her?" Fandral began.

"What are you doing befriending a low-born?" Volstagg asked, looking at him suspiciously.

"Why are you smiling?" Thor pointed out, on realising that, the others stared more concernedly at him.

"You are aware I have the ability to actually know others outside of you four useless sacks of cow manure," Loki stated, eating more of the food.

The others looked to Thor who shook his head slightly, telling them to not ask any further questions. All the time they ate, they said no more, and as soon as he was finished, he rose and went up the stairs again.

Loki sat on the bed he was going to sleep on that night and thought to himself. He could see the stables from where he was and knew that that was where Ariella would sleep. There were large shutterless windows, meaning she would be cold, he bit his hips together, come winter, especially with her almost emaciated condition, she would perish before the weather even got cold. He rose to his feet once more, unable to settle with her so close in such a state. He swore that first day he would do everything to help her, and by the Norns, he was not going to stop now. He went for the door only for it to open as he reached for the handle. He sighed and knew exactly who was on the other side. "What do you want, Thor?"

Thor walked in and closed the door behind him. "Tell me everything, now Loki."

"Give me one reason why I should tell you anything?"

"I will tell Father."

"You are going to tell him regardless, that is an irrelevant threat."

"I will not if you tell me."

"You really should not attempt to lie, Thor, you are horrendous at it."

"Loki…"

"Why do you care?"

"She is low-born, orphaned, in a condition I was not aware those outside of famine were capable of being in, how could you possibly know her?"

"Why does it matter?"

"Is she…?"

"No Thor, I have done nothing with her, she is barely of age."

"That has not stopped others before…wait, is she how you know everything about low-borns?"

"Stop saying that word, have you any idea how condescending it sounds?"

"What?"

"Low-borns, calling her, any of them, that. It is incredibly condescending. There are millions of them and only a few hundred of those of high birth, literally they outnumber us, thousands to one and you go insulting them all the time."

"Is she how you have been able to see what is happening around Asgard, the things we are not told?"

Loki sighed. "Her brother was in the mine collapse, she told me what happened." Thor nodded. "She never learned to read or write, her family lived in a one-roomed hut, the size of that garderobe." He pointed to his bathroom.

Thor inhaled deeply at that. "Let me guess, the time you stopped reading, doing your magic, smiling, she left."

"Her father died, I never knew what happened her and I never got to say goodbye."

"You care about her." Thor was shocked to realise.

"She is my greatest friend."

"How do you know she was not using you?"

"She never knew it was me."

"Loki, be reasonable, of course she knew it was you."

"No, she couldn't have." Thor scoffed. "As you do not have any idea of what was afoot, you cannot comment," Loki growled.

"Even if she did not know who you are," Thor laughed at the idea of such a thought, "She knew you were of higher birth."

"She never asked or expected anything of me."

"What did you give her?"

"Food, clothes, insisted she went to the healers."

Thor frowned, "Where did you meet her?"

"The country market."

"How?"

"It takes place in the city, Thor, it is literally a half mile walk to it, I walked out the door of the palace and into it."

"You could never have gotten passed the guards, they would have told…she did not recognise you at first." Thor realised. "You know how to disguise yourself, don't you?" Loki said nothing. "You were the boy that got above his station with Fandral."

"Technically, it is not possible for me to get above my station with him, I am above him."

"You...But you are not supposed to be able to…mother said…"

Loki scoffed, looked at his brother and concentrated. A moment later, Thor was looking at himself, a complete doppelganger standing in front of him. Though when he spoke, he had Loki's voice. "People underestimate me, brother."

"Loki…" with a basic hand movement, Loki changed himself back to himself. "You never said you could…"

"I tell you nothing I do not have to."

"What is her name?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Loki?"

"Thor."

"I can just ask her uncle."

Loki's lip twitched. "You can only be doing this to hurt her Thor."

"How so?" The older scoffed.

"She is the one who will suffer, her uncle will not be pleased with her getting too much attention. What will happen me? I will not be reprimanded for it, after all, what are they going to do, force me to leave my rooms?"

Thor shook his head for a moment, conceding it was true. "Then spare her the stress."

"You are a sick twisted cruel bully. There is nothing to be gained from this than to hurt her and me." Loki stood toe-to-toe with his brother. "I will make you suffer for this."

"You should not have messed with my friend, now it is time for me to mess with yours."

Loki's eyes widened. "That is what this is to you, a game?"

"Messing with us is a game to you."

Loki's nostrils flared, anger and anguish coursing through him. "I will get you for this." He swore.

Thor shrugged. "Everyone has a weakness Loki, I knew you would show one sooner or later." was all he said before he turned and left the room.

Terrified, Loki looked out of his room to the stables across the way, his eyes widened as he saw the innkeeper entering them. He listened intently. He could hear the mumbling voice of the man before the voice of a girl he knew to be Ariella speaking for a moment before the man left again, his breath rising in the air, telling the prince how cold it was getting. As soon as Gregor went inside, he used his magic to get from his room to just outside the stables, ensuring to end up outside so not to startle the horses within. Walking in, he looked around and hampered a guess than Ariella was in the loft, climbing the ladder, he was disheartened to see he was right, though startled to see what was in front of him.

Loki was aware that common courtesy was to inform another being of his presence, but there was something that stopped him. He had never seen a girl naked before, which in itself as something, but it being Ariella stirred him in a manner he could not explain to himself. "Ari?"

Startled to hear any and in her current state of undress, she grabbed her blanket. "What are you doing here?"

"I needed to check on you." Loki felt his heart break as he studied the blanket, which was nothing short of a light scrap. "I cannot leave you like this Ari."�

What?"�

Your quarters, they are not acceptable." He stated, he waved his hand and the small torn blanket became a warm feather duvet.

Ariella stared in disbelief, "How?"

With another wave of his hand, she was in a warm nightdress. Looking around, he gave another wave, the draughts that were blowing into the loft ceased. "That is a bit better." Ariella simply stared from one area of the loft to another, shocked beyond words at Loki's ability. "Did you eat today?"

Ariella indicated to a plate, the reason her uncle had come out, Loki assumed. It had some bread heels and clearly the dregs of the broth pot. "I love this food, it reminds of…"

"As soon as I smelt the food tonight, I could not stop thinking about it," Loki admitted, earning a large smile from Ariella. Looking to the food again, he shook his head and altered it to be fresh soft bread, not just the heel, adding butter to it and the bowl of broth filled to the top. He walked over to the plate and brought it to the 'bed' which was really a box with straw. Shaking his head, he waved his hand again, immediately, it was replaced by a soft bed, similar to the one he had in the palace, though smaller. "Get in, and eat as much as you want."

Ariella walked over and meekly put her hand out as though scared to touch the furnishing in front of her. "I…"

"Get in, I promise, it is more comfortable than it looks."

Doing as he instructed, Ariella lifted the heavy blankets and got into the bed. "It is so high up." When she lay down she sighed. "I am never leaving this." Loki chuckled. She sat up again, her hunger was more prevalent than anything else. "Is this even real?" Loki's eyes were filled with sadness. "Have I become ill and imagined this? Imagined finally seeing you again?"

"I hope not because then I fear we have both gone mad," Loki put her food on her lap. "Eat." Ariella did not need to be told twice, Loki had ensured the food was to a good temperature and that combined with her hunger, caused her to eat like a ravenous animal. He simply sat on the bed near her, watching her for a time before she turned and looked at him strangely. "What?"

"It is odd, I know you are the same person, but it is odd seeing a different face to the one I have been thinking about for so long."

"I can make me look like that again if you want?"

"No! Please, no!" Ariella half yelped back. "I want to see the real you, so I can remember you properly." Loki frowned, not sure what she was implying by those words. "Loki?" He looked at her expectantly. "Could you tell me about life in the palace?" having finished her food and eaten as much as her stomach could take, Ariella lay down and looked pleadingly at her friend. Loki lay down above the blankets, his head on the other pillow and began to tell her about the gardens, the great halls, the paintings, the statues, the balls, the food and the going-ons of the court as they lay there. After less than ten minutes, he watched as Ariella's eyes started to droop, she tried to force them to remain open, but she was failing miserably, warmth and a full stomach were sedatives she could not fight. "I am so glad I found you again Ari," Loki admitted as he watched her eyes begin to close.

"I missed you so much." she murmured back.

Loki's chest puffed with pride and excitement at her words. "Sleep well, Ari."

"Do not leave, not yet." She pleaded weakly, her hand coming to his sleeve, gripping it tightly.

Loki knew she could never hold him, he was trained to be strong, he had muscle where she had barely anything but skin and bone, but that grip was far stronger in many ways, it was her pleading manner that caused him to not be able to argue her, so he lay there, promising to himself he would leave as soon as she was in REM, but the contentment of being close to the one person who always trusted him, his true friend gave him the first night in years where he did not go to bed feeling lost and alone, and he too fell asleep quickly.

In the stable below, Thor sat on a straw bale, having heard the exchange between the pair perfectly. When there had not been a sound for fifteen minutes, he climbed the ladder and stared in disbelief at what he saw. Loki had his arms around the much smaller girl, while she seemed to be curling into his chest, what startled him more what the look of true happiness on Loki's face. He had planned to make Loki suffer for his endless comments, quips, tricks and sarcasm, but having realised just how deep the friendship and hardship the girl had suffered and thinking of everything Loki had done to help her and those like her, he was conflicted.

Chapter Text

Loki groaned as he started to wake, cursing himself for sleeping awkwardly. He then went to move his left shoulder only for it to feel as though it was trapped under something. Looking over, he frowned for a moment before he realised there was another being in the bed with him, in the darkness, it took a moment to remember what happened the night before, falling asleep slowly next to Ariella as she pleaded with him to stay.

"Loki?"

"I am here," he pulled her closer to him. "I am here, Ari."

"Is it a dream?"

"No, I am truly here, and you are not ill either." he smiled, pressing his lips to the top of her head. "I found you."

"I need to get up."

"It is the middle of the night, we have only been sleeping a few hours."

"I have to get the food ready for the morning." she explained as she sat up reluctantly.

"Ari, you need to sleep, you are like death."

"That is such a lovely thing to say," She scolded. "Does that get you all the Lord's daughters?"

"Norn's no," Loki scoffed, causing Ariella to cock her head slightly. "I am the most unliked of all the high-born men."

"Even less so than the blonde warrior?"

"Yes."

"I would be incredibly insulted if I were you, "Loki chuckled. "You are a prince and the nicest man I have ever met Loki."

"They do not know me as you do. I would never act with them as I do you."

"Why not?"

"Because I do not like them and do not want to be around them."

"But you will have to marry one, will you not?"

"More thank likely, we are not at war with any realm and thankfully all other royal women on other realms are all under a century old or wed already."

"Lucky you."

"I rather a Dark Elf to half of them," Loki scoffed again. "Do you really have to go now?"

"I have to start getting the food ready for the breakfast," Ariella explained.

"It is too early."

"It is the same time as every morning," Ariella looked at the clothes she was wearing. "Thank you for the bed, and the nightdress." She smiled feebly.

"You need them."

"You know I cannot keep them."

Loki rose from the bed. "What do you mean?"

"How can I possibly explain how I came to have them?"

"I gave them to you."

"Loki, my uncle, he has made it clear, I am to be wed as soon as I turn of age, he found a man to take me. I cannot be seen to be soiled, if you give me these, he will think I am being paid to…"

Loki looked at Ariella in horror, the idea of merely giving her basic living requirements as payment for her to lay with him sickened him. "But you will freeze."

"I will not, please Loki, I beg you, change it back."

Loki's eyes darted side to side for a moment, "I will make you a deal, the nightdress and a warm blanket as well as no draughts remain, the bed I will remove, for something smaller."

"But my uncle…"

"Will see a nothing new. I will say I altered the draught in the loft as a kindness because my horse was startled from the wind, but so long as you wear this," He took off a chain off his neck and placed it on her, "to everyone but you, it will be as it was, but to you, it will be as it truly is."

"I do not understand."

"Ari, no one will see your things only you, they will see everything as before, alright?"

"How?"

"I will make it so, do not take this amulet off," He pointed to the chain around her neck.

"But when they see it…"

Loki waved his hand and Ariella looked down in shock. "I saw this at a market the other day, it was three coppers, they surely would not think too much of that."

"No," Ariella conceded, but she felt it, still feeling the cold metal as opposed to the rope and wicker Loki made it appear as. "Thank you, Loki."

Loki pulled her close to him, "I promise Ari, I will be back to check on you soon."

"You do not have to…"

"Do you want me to?" Ariella's face could not hide her eagerness. "Then I shall."

She leant up to give him a small peck on the cheek, but as she was about to press her lips to it, Loki's head turned, causing her to kiss the side of his mouth instead. Realising her mistake, she blushed deeply and looked to the ground. "I better go, thank you Loki."

"Any time Ariella," he smiled back, though he too had a reddening on his cheeks and ears. She smiled for another moment before she turned to leave. Loki, though embarrassed by what happened noticed the cold bite in the air and the light material of Ariella's clothes, so with a small wrist movement, she paused for a moment and turned to look at him again. "In case you get cold." He explained, smiling as he thought of how the thermal clothing under her working attire would keep her warm. "I better get to my room."

"How will you…?"

Loki winked, "Do not fret, I am well able to pull another trick out of my bag."

Ariella frowned slightly, not understanding him, but a moment later, he waved his hand and was gone. "Now that is useful," She commented as she rushed down the stairs of the stables and rushed into the inn.

*

When Loki woke from his bed a few hours later, he stretched and groaned, he felt as though he got little or no sleep, since all he could do was think about Ariella and her life. At first, he wanted to scream, he wanted to yell and bellow, he had found her again and she was sickly, underfed and becoming frail. Rubbing his hands over his face, he sighed and forced himself out of the bed.

A moment later, Thor walked into the room, somewhat shocked to see Loki in front of him. "You are…"

"What do you want?" Loki half snarled.

"Breakfast is ready."

"Fine."

"What about your friend?"

"What about her?"

"What is…?"

Loki walked forward, changing into fresh clothes as he did so with his magic until he was toe to toe with Thor. "You will not reference her again. You will not do anything to harm or hurt her, physically or otherwise or so help me, Thor, I will have you suffer," he swore.

Thor stared at him, he had expected Loki to threaten him if he was honest, though he had not expected his eyes to be watery as he did so. "I…"

"Leave her alone Thor, do what you will to me, but leave her be, let her get on with her life."

"Loki…" Thor ceased for a moment. He was about to speak again when Fandral entered the room.

"We are leaving soon, we best eat first."

"Yes, of course." Thor turned and left the room, leaving Loki and Fandral alone for the fist time since the blonde warrior found out about everything.

"You thought you were so smart, getting one over on me," Fandral growled.

"I tend not to get overly proud of it, it happens with such regularity I would have to be in a constant state of elation were I to do so."

"The girl," Fandral took a step forward.

Loki took three until he was standing in front of the blonde haired warrior, "I will say this once Fandral, and we both know you are dim-witted, so put as much effort into listening as you can. If you do anything to impede her life in any manner, your little secret will be out."

"And what secret is this you are supposedly threatening me with, dare I ask?" Fandral grinned cockily.

"Your naughty little one, how many women have you left with a blonde haired bundle of joy now, three?" The warrior's face fell and paled. "Three little brats that could all shame your family, since every last one of them is lowborn, and not one a boy, your father would be angered, your grandfather, sickened and your poor mother, think how she would weep." He snarled. "And of course, you using your father's hard earned wealth to pay off their silence, what would your father say to that, so much money being wasted on filthy little half-bred brats."

"How…?"

"I have my means, I have remained silent until now, not even telling Thor, but if you do anything to effect Ariella, I will bring all three little…joys to the court and expose you as the filthy wench you really are."

Fandral stood still for a moment thinking. "I say nothing, you say nothing," he extended his hand.

Loki eyed it for a moment as though it was something disgusting before extending his own. "Agreed."

"How can I…?"

"I will put a binding on this, a magic one, the betrayer of the agreement will be made publically known in a most terrible fashion; I, myself will not be immune, with that, we can also not withhold anything regarding the matter from one another. If Ariella is at risk and you know, you will be forced tell me, you will not be physically capable of withholding it, and if I find out any of those brats and their mothers are to be exposed, I too am forced to tell you."

"I come here at least once a month, I can keep an eye on her," Fandral half pleaded.

"Well then, it seems we have an agreement," Loki half smiled.

"None would have thought one possible between you and I."

"Do not flatter yourself, I have had agreements with far worse than you," Loki growled. "And they have kept their end of the bargain. Now, breakfast." he left the room without waiting for Fandral, who required a few moments more to compose himself again before heading down, truly shaken by Loki's knowledge of his indiscretions.

Throughout the meal, there was an odd tenseness to the air to any who paid any heed to it, but none spoke of it. When it was time to leave, Loki left a clone of himself to wait boredly while the horses were being brought from their stalls to them. Using his magic to conceal himself, he looked around the inn for his friend, heartbroken to see her scrubbing the floor of the room he had been in the night before on her hands and knees, sweat on her brow and her hands red from the scorching temperature of the water in the bucket beside her. "Ari?"

She jumped and shrieked for a second before looking around, shocked to see no one in the room with her. "Loki?" Remembering she could not see him, he waved his hand and became visible once more, "Why would you do that to me?" She scolded, her voice a mere hiss as she swatted him.

Loki gave an apologetic smile. "I am sorry, I forgot you could not see me."

"You are a terror Loki Odinson."

"Am I forgiven?"

"Maybe."

Loki pulled her close to him. "I will be back soon Ari, I promise."

"You said."

"You do not believe me?"

"I am frightened to, I cannot bear to be hoping and to not see you again. Once was enough."

Loki pulled her back slightly so he could see into her eyes. "Ari, I promise I will return." He stared into her eyes to try and portray his honesty. "I promise."

Ariella cupped his face in her hands before kissing his cheek gently again. "I hope so."

Loki did not know what possessed him, but he recalled the feeling of Ariella's lips gently pressing his the night before and leant forward again, this time placing his lips fully to hers. when he pulled back, Ariella was staring at him in shock. "I have to go," he stated before leaving a silent Ariella in his wake.

Chapter Text

The whole journey back towards the palace, Loki thought of nothing but Ariella, he did not know what possessed him to kiss her, he had never thought that way of her or any woman before, he found them attractive, he found himself yearning to see them naked, but he never felt an urge to kiss them. However he had also never before physically seen a girl naked either, Ariella held the accolade of being the first now, she was not overly defined with her being so malnourished, but seeing her had stirred something in him he could not explain; his yearning for her company altered slightly. When he woke beside her, a feeling in his chest only grew and grew.

Beside him, Thor eyed his brother carefully, trying and failing to comprehend what exactly was occurring with his brother. What also caught his attention was Fandral's demeanour after he and Loki had spoken alone, he seemed somewhat shook and jittery, leading Thor to believe that he was not the only one to be issued a threat by Loki regarding the girl, Ariel, Arianna…what was her name again, he knew it started with Ari, after that, he could not say, but one thing was certain, whatever her name, she mattered more to his brother than anything else. Her brother had been in the mine collapse, he had met so many families in his time there, he genuinely could not recall her face. She was so thin and sickly, he was sure someone like that would have stuck out. It was late, the sky was darkening once more and they reached the edge of the forest that led through to the city. "Shall we get a place to stay or continue on?" He asked.

"I am not sure about the rest of you, but I very much want my bed," Volstagg stated.

"Agreed, we carry on." Hogun commented beside him.

"Loki? Fandral?"

"Yes, home is best," Fandral half spat the words out in a rush to answer.

Thor looked to his brother then who simply shrugged to show his indifference. "On we go so."

Loki nudged the horses sides with his stirrups and continued forward, not paying much heed to his surrounds. All he could think about was how to get back to Ariella as swiftly as possible and without rising suspicion.

After a night of riding, they finally arrived back to the edge of the city, dawn was breaking as they reached the water's edge where Loki and Ariella had went the time her shoes pained her so, he smiled at the memory before he fell solemn once more, had he known what was to befall her, he would have protected her. They walked their horses on and towards the palace, exhausted beyond words. The warrior's peeling off one by one as they made their ways to their own homes until finally, only the two princes remained.

"Loki?" The darker haired prince turned to face his brother. "About your friend…" Loki remained silent. "I shall say nothing."

"Why? You seemed so desperate to do so yesterday?" Loki demanded.

"You were right, she would be punished," Thor conceded. "She does not deserve that, she has suffered enough in losing her brother in the mines and her father not so long ago."

"She also lost her mother between both of those loses, straight after her brother was found." He did not know why, but Loki felt the need to share that with Thor. "She has suffered so greatly, and by how she is looking, I fear she suffers still."

"I spoke with the innkeeper and his wife," Loki looked at Thor, "I stated that father was in discussions regarding the laws dictating work conditions, I warned them any found not to be complying to such to be at risk of closure, that all staff much be adequately fed and warm."

"Father has said nothing of such things." Loki frowned.

Thor grinned, "I know."

Loki scowled. "Why Thor, why do this?"

"She is a subject, one of my future subjects, I have to think of her and others like her, they deserve warmth and food. I learnt much that time at the mines, seeing how little some had, I never realised..." Loki stared at Thor for another moment, but when his brother would not interact with him further, he was forced to dismount his horse and walk on. "Do you write her?"

"She can neither read nor write."

"But...the laws…"

"She was too old."

"Was she why you suggested such?"

"Yes."

"How long has this friendship been going on Loki?"

"Years."

"Loki?"

"Over a century." Thor's eyes widened. "She is the reason I know what great injustices there are in Asgard, and why I have tried to right them."

"I am curious as to why you were in anyway bothered?" Loki looked at him. "No offence brother, but you are not the most caring of individuals at the best of times, nor are you particularly charitable."

"It is no ones concern."

"You care for her?"

"She is my friend Thor, do you not care for yours?"

"I do, and I would do what I could for them," Thor acknowledged, though in his mind he admitted that sleeping in their bed as contently as Loki had with the girl was not something he would do, but he knew better than to say anything.

*

Loki looked at Fandral, who was trying to get his attention, giving the faintest nod, he walked out of the room, five minutes later, the other warrior followed. "Yes?"

"I was back at the inn," Loki froze at the other man's admission. "She was there, obviously. I gave her the bag you gave me, she seemed highly sceptical at first."

"Any woman that would meet you could not be accused of being of sound mind if they were not," Loki quipped.

"I had to tell her of our bargain."

"All of it?" Loki asked with a raised brow.

"No, obviously, but she was in no way believing of me until I explained I was sent to check on her upon your request, and told her those words you said, why would they matter?"

"Because they are part of something only she and I would know, obviously." Loki growled as he thought back to the day she and he had joked of the difference between red and green apples, that first afternoon. "How is she?"

"As scrawny as ever. Honestly, I always took you for one to wish for his partners to at least have shapeliness."

"She is not my partner, she is my friend, a foreign concept to you, I know, but males and females can be in one another's company with out some form of seedy intent. Speaking of seed…" Fandral 'shhh-ed' him, looking around in terror. "I have it on good authority that there is another coming forwards claiming you put a brat in her, but she is lying, it is the son of her sister's husband, so be ready for that."

Fandral stared at him for a moment, "How in the realms…?"

"I am the God of Lies you idiot, I can smell one a mile off. What else of Ariella?"

Fandral said nothing for a moment before shaking his head and continuing to speak. "Nothing, her uncle mentioned something of her being found a suitor when she is older and she said nothing to me of note, not trusting me I assume."

"Who could blame her, any interaction with you before now you wanted to add her to your list of floozies." Fandral gave Loki a scathing look, "you forget, she told me such things, and I have bore witness to your enthusiastic attempts to gain her attention." Fandral cocked his head. "Oh for Norn's sake, I was that boy, the one you thought a member of staff," Loki stated in exasperation.

Fandral's nostrils flared, for a moment it was clear he was going to begin a tirade but he controlled himself and inhaled deeply, thinking of what Loki had told him a few moments previous to help him with his own woes. "I go there again next weekend, my father has business there." He informed Loki. "Do you need anything else brought?"

Loki thought for a second, "No, simply some more coins in a bag, that is all."

"That pendant," Fandral pointed to the one around Loki's neck, the one Ariella had made him but he had cast aside when she had not returned to the markets after a year. "She gave you that, did she not?" Loki gave the faintest nod, "How did this come to pass?"

"That, is and shall remain, the concern of none but myself." Loki stated coldly before turning and leaving.

*

Still, Loki waited for a chance to return to the forests, envious, not that he would admit it aloud, of Fandral for once in his life, because he knew he had returned there once more, he would see Ariella once more. In foul humour he walked through the palace, turning a corner and almost colliding with his parents.

"There you are." His father seemed somewhat pleased to see him, concerning Loki somewhat. "I have a matter to discuss with you."

"I did nothing," Loki stated immediately.

Both his parents looked at him bemusedly. "I was about to say 'I am aware', but your first thoughts being to say that worries me that you have." his father growled.

"Dear," Frigga scolded, before looking at her younger son lovingly. "It is to do with your actions in recent times, informing us of what has been going on around the realm, your knowledge of subjects, to our shame, your father and I have not been able to learn."

Loki privately thought of just how many horrible and painful tortures he would force Thor to endure as a result of opening his filthy trap of a mouth. "I…"

"I have no idea how you have been so accurate in your information my boy, but as a reward for your great service to our realm, you are to be allowed sit on the council for such matters."

Loki found his father's words difficult to compute. "What?"

Odin chortled slightly. "You heard me."

"But…"

"What, do you not think yourself capable, you Loki?" Odin joked, knowing full well his younger son was convinced none other was as able as him for most tasks.

"What, no it is just…" Loki was unsure how to say he did nothing think his father would have such faith in him.

Odin seemed to sense the words his son seemed so unwilling to say and sighed, placing his hand on his shoulder. "I know you will thrive at this Loki, you have done so incredibly well thus far." Frigga stood beside him, nodding proudly.

"Thank you, father." Loki gave a small smile, thanking the Norns for what was his first proof, in his mind, that his father had some faith in him.

"Good, well you need to get yourself up to date on much of the paperwork and knowledge involved so I shall leave you to it," Odin stated before heading on his way again, "Now, as for that blasted trade agreement with Vanaheim Prince Viktor is getting so hot under the collar over." he growled as he left.

Frigga rolled her eyes for a moment at her husband's ramblings before looking to Loki." We are so proud of all your hard work darling, you have earned this."

"I was just trying to be like you," he admitted, earning a frown from his mother. "You help them, the poorer people, ensuring they get the care they need when they come to the city."

"How do you know this, even your father does not know such things?" She asked.

Loki gave a knowing smile and a shrug, "I know many things mother, some of which would shock you."

"That I would believe," Frigga smiled before her eyes changed to that of suspicion. "There is something different of late about you Loki, I noticed it since you returned from that hunt with Thor and the others." Loki shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, something his astute mother noticed. "Is there anything you wish to tell me?"

"No," Loki answered, far too quickly.

Frigga smiled before her eye caught glimpse of something, she extended her hand and pulled out the pendant from around Loki's neck. "I have not seen this before."

"It was a gift, from a friend." Loki pulled it back, glimpsing at it for a moment before putting it back into his tunic.

"A friend?"

"Yes."

"What is her name?" Loki's eyes widened. "Oh, come now, you think you are the only one who knows many things. I can see it in your face Loki, you care for her." Loki blushed, earning a surprised smile from his mother. "I shall have to meet this girl that has captured your heart."

"What?" Loki retorted.

"Oh, my sweet innocent boy I do believe you to be smitten and not even know it." Frigga half laughed before she walked away.

Blushing profusely, Loki scoffed and walked on. he had only made it two corridors before he realised there was a guard coming towards him, halting in front of him and extending his hand, which bore a folded piece of paper. Loki looked at it in utter confusing, recognising immediately Heimdall's stamp on it, taking it, he opened it and read it, his eyes wide in terror.

It bore only two lines; the first, that Fandral had called to the guardian across the realm to get him to tell Loki, Ariella was gravely ill. The second, a note from the guardian himself, who reminded Loki of his new position that permitted him to leave the palace to check on the commoners, at his own discretion.

Chapter Text

The manner in which Loki fled the palace had people wondering if there had been some form of fire or other disaster to befall the palace, such was his pace. He raced towards the stables, only for Thor, Hogun and Volstagg to notice him, Thor standing in his way. Without so much as a word, Loki flicked his hand, sending Thor careering into the other two with a loud thud. "LOKI!"

"Not now." Loki snapped, not even looking at them as he walked.

Thor righted himself and rushed after his brother, "What has you in such a mood?"

"I received urgent word, I have to leave immediately."

Thor paused as his brow furrowed in confusion. "From whom would you receive urgent word?"

"Did father not tell you, I am part of the work regarding the matters and concerns of the lower income people of the realm?"

Thor's face contorted more in bewilderment at Loki's words before he repeated them and his eyes widened. "Wait, you are heading the committee?"

"Heading?" Loki scoffed.

"Yes, heading, father said his most important matter this morning was appointing the new head of the committee."

"I doubt he meant me."

"Mother approved of his choice, said the candidate was the only one for it." Thor stated. "But how is that fair?"

"Fair?" Loki swung around. "This is not about fair you blundering baboon, this is about what is right, you neither know nor care for such matters, so why are you getting yourself in a tizzy over it?"

"I…"

"'I' has nothing to do with it, this is about what is right, not what we want. That is why you have nothing to do with it." He pointed out before turning and rushing on again.

"What is the urgent matter?"

"Never you mind."

"I want to help," Thor stated as he began walking briskly once more to catch up to his brother.

"You want to be involved for personal glory." Loki scoffed.

Thor rushed forward and grabbed Loki's shoulder, forcing him to swing around. "No, I wish to help." He stated, looking his brother in the eyes to show his sincerity. When he saw the panic in Loki's eyes, Thor realised. "It is her, isn't it?"

"Fandral is at the inn, she is ill, gravely ill." Loki's voice was small.

Thor took only a moment to think over his words. "It will take you too long to get there by horse."

"What choice do I have?"

"A ship."

"What?"

"Use one of the ships, if you are truly the head of the committee, then you are able to command use of one for an emergency. This is one, just not one they know of." He pointed out.

Loki froze and thought about it. "You know, you may actually have thought of something useful for once in your life."

Thor chuckled. "Praise, from you, Norns but I wish I had a manner of proving it to people." His face turned serious again. "Wait, why would Fandral communicate that to you?"

"Reasons." Loki explained as he made his way to where the guards kept said ships.

"Like what, you two loath each other."

"He felt it right."

"Loki, cease such talk, why did he tell you?" Thor began to follow him again, Volstagg and Hogun following behind.

"If you are to know how to run a realm, you need to know that on occasion, two parties, not particularly fond of one another will work together for a common good."

"How in the realms is Fandral in anyway connected to…whatever her name is?"

"That is, and shall always remain, none of your concern."

"I told you about the ships." Thor pointed out.

"And I told you that you were not entirely useless for once, we are even." Loki replied, leaving a very bemused Thor in his dust.

*

Loki would never admit it aloud but he was incredibly grateful to Thor for thinking of the ship. In a fraction of the time, a soldier landed it where instructed, not questioning Loki's orders, though clearly curious to them. But it was true, Thor had been right, Loki was head of all matters concerning the wants and needs of the average Aesir citizen, and as such, had been given the permission to call upon whatever resources would allow him to do so.

He as good as leapt from the ship and ran to the door of the inn upon his arrival, where Fandral met him. "Where is she?"

"Upstairs." Fandral moved out of his way allowing for Loki to rush up the stairs, three at a time, until he got to the top, there, in the doorway of one of the rooms closed over, but not entirely. His whole being seemed dragged to that room, he walked to the door inhaled deeply and pushed it open slightly. When he looked at the bed, he swallowed and forced his tears to remain at bay.

Ariella was almost grey in pallor and her skin pulled tight over her cheekbones, somehow she seemed even thinner, he had not thought it possible. Her breathing was shallow but harsh. He walked over to the bed and sat on the side. "Ari?"

"Loki?" Her voice cracked as she tried to look at him. "Am I…?"

"No, I am here." Loki stated sadly. "I came as quick as I could."

"I am so tired."

"I know Ari."

"I was scared I would not see you again."

"Do not say that." The tears began to fall from Loki's eyes. "I promised, remember?"

"I did not think I would…why are you friends with the pervert now?"

Loki laughed slightly, Ariella obviously could not see Fandral standing in the doorway. "We are not friends, we have an agreement in place, that is all."

"Loki…"

"Yes?"

"I am really scared."

Hearing Ariella speak like that tore at Loki's heart. "What of, what did the healer say to make you say that?"

"Do you still have it?" Loki frowned, "The stag?"

"I do," Loki confirmed.

"I remember that day, it plays over and over in my mind. He never feared us." Ariella rambled.

"Please stop talking like this Ari, I…I cannot lose you." He pleaded. "You are just a little sick, nothing else."

"I am just so tired." her eyes began to close again, her hand reaching out; immediately Loki took it in his, it was so small and frail.

"Have you seen a healer?" Loki demanded, but there was little point in asking, he knew the answer front her deflection. "Right." He growled. "Fandral, get the ship ready."

"What are you…?" Fandral realised half way through the sentence and turned and left.

Loki turned again to look at Ariella, scooping her up in his arms and using his magic to make more soft warm blankets surround her. She seemed to try and struggle for a moment. "Shh, Ari, it is okay, it is just me, I am going to bring you somewhere really quick, okay?"

"Loki?" her brow furrowed.

As Loki realised just how ill she was, he pressed his lips to her forehead. "Yes, it is me, I am going to look after you now." He promised. "We just need to go in a ship for a while, you will be fine, I'll be there too."

"Okay." She curled in against him and sighed.

Loki walked down the stairs cautiously, she weighed next to nothing to him, but she was so frail, he did not want to risk her getting hurt. Patron's watched curiously as Loki, the Prince of Asgard, brought what effectively looked like a corpse down the stairwell.

"What are you doing?" The woman he had been introduced to as Gregor's wife, Ariella's aunt, stood in front of him when he got to the bottom.

"Marcella, correct?" The woman nodded. "I am taking Ariella to the palace healer." Loki informed her.

"How do you know my niece?" She asked suspiciously. �

"I met your niece on an occasion before where she informed me of the mine collapse my father was never made aware of since then I have had a good relationship with her regarding discussing many issues of those in the countryside."

"Ella? Helping a prince?" her aunt scoffed. "She cannot spell her name, what help is she to anyone?"

"Yes she can, I taught her," Loki replied coldly, giving the woman a glare, she seemed to back away slightly. "I am the head of the governing body that deals with the matters of the average citizen, her input has been beyond valuable to the recent alteration to the lifestyles of those in the rural parts of Asgard, I have been made aware of her current state, so either give me an update on her condition or get me someone who can." The older woman was somewhat startled by his snappy manner. "Why has she not seen a healer?" What made his words more terrifying was the absolute deadly calm tone that they were spoken in.

"Well, the cost…"

"The cost? Life has a price to you?"

"She is not earning…"

"Not earning you any money? Because she is not working? She works from before dawn until midnight every single day and sleeps in a barn loft, meaning you do not have to employ anyone, so what, pray tell, is she costing you?"

"She is taking up a room." The woman argued.

Loki's eyes widened with fury. "She is ill, she is an Aesir, she should have been in one all along, she has saved you paying staff, ergo she has earned herself the cost of a healer, and even if she was just some street child, she deserves to see a healer, she deserves to be allowed to be given basic care." He snarled, "Get from my sight before I have this place shut down and you sent to prison for murder."

"Murder!?"

"You did not feed her correctly, she is emaciated, you cut off her hair like she was some animal and made her sleep in a stable loft, though I rarely see such acts taken upon them and you denied her healthcare, those are three highly damning points of evidence against you, do you not agree?"

"I never…"

"You never what? Thought she needed warmth and food, thought she needed someone to actually care for her, since technically she is still a minor." Loki's voice rose and rose the angrier he became. "What, you thought there was no harm in it, sure if she dies, one less mouth to feed. Your useless brother left nothing for you to keep, she is nothing but an inconvenience, is that it?" He snapped. "Get out of my sight and prepare to have my wrath on you when this is done for your uncaring manner." He warned, leaving a petrified woman in his wake, her husband, in his shock, stood to the side as Loki walked through the door of the inn carrying Ariella, Fandral holding the door.

Chapter Text

Loki could only focus on Ariella as the ship quickly flew over the Aesir countryside towards the city, and in turn, the palace, where there would be the best healers in Asgard to help his friend. For the entirety of the journey, he spoke of all manner of mundane and droll matters, just so Ariella would have his voice to comfort her, he spoke of the land below them, of the weather and even of the ship they were in. in her fitful sleep her breathing was shallow and fast, and every so often, she muttered something, it was only when he focused hard, did Loki realise that the word she was saying was his name. her grip, though weak and feeble, was concentrated solely on holding onto him tight, as though she was terrified he would vanish.. After a while, he looked up, sick of Fandral staring at them. "What?"

"You really do care for her?"

"She is my friend, of course I care for her, do you not care for yours? If Thor was ill, would you not help him?"

"I care for them all, obviously," Fandral argued, "But you, no one has ever warranted your concern in such a way, the only being bar yourself you have ever shown concern for is your mother."

"I also care for my father and brother," Loki informed him, his tone showing his annoyance before he looked down once more at the woman in his arms. "And Ari."

"I thought you were merely…"

"I am aware of what you determine to be the only comprehendible reason a man and woman would find themselves in the company of one another for any manner of time period." Loki scoffed. "And contrary to what you believe, friendship is actually possible without laying with them." Fandral's scepticism was blatant on his face. "Ariella is not a loose-morale floozy like your bed partners, nor am I as perverted or as willing to use my standing as you are to bed them. Speaking of which, did your little friend make herself known?"

"Yes, and you were right, she immediately fled when I told her that I knew of her scheme, thank you."

"We both upheld our ends of the bargain, to our mutual benefit I would have to say, and you had thought that it would be difficult for us to do so." Loki stated sarcastically. Fandral said nothing, though he continued to look at the difficult to process situation in front of him.

When the ship landed in the courtyard of the palace, Frigga watched curiously as her younger son, who she was certain despised his brother's friends, departed the contraption before Fandral, who then handed something to her son. For a moment, she was unsure what it was, but when Loki turned and realised she was nearby and froze, she noted then that it was an Aesir. Immediately, she rushed over, while noting that Loki appeared to be considering fleeing. "Darling?"

"Mother."

"What…?" She looked at the young woman in her son's arms, her eyes widening as she realised the sheer state of the girl. "How?"

"I will explain soon mother, I promise, but Ari needs to see a healer." Loki's voice almost broke, causing his mother to realise the severity of the situation.

"Of course, you get her to the healers, I will find Eir, I saw her heading to the herbal patch in the gardens." She instructed, turning and immediately rushing to exactly where she said the healer would be.

Fandral remained with Loki as he did what his mother suggested, something Loki noted, but said nothing on, considering his concerns lay elsewhere. On their way, they came across Thor and the others, it was then Loki barked at Fandral to remain, something Thor was shocked to see the other blonde warrior did, but rather than question that, he decided to question Fandral on what had occurred.

The other healers and their aids had barely readied a bed as Loki placed his friend on the soul forge before Eir and Frigga entered the room. "Where is she?" Eir demanded.

"Over here," Loki looked at her worriedly.

"Good boy," Eir smiled, seeing that Loki had had the sense to place her patient on the best place to aid her, but as soon as she saw Ariella, she gasped. "What happened her?"

"She is sick, she…" Loki's eyes filled with fresh tears as he recalled Ariella's words before she fell unconscious, she was dying, he knew it, but he could not being himself to say it.

"How did she get like this?" Eir demanded, her shock pushed aside as she forced herself to tend to her patient.

"They did not feed, cloth or care for her properly, she was never well tended to, but recently…"

Eir checked over Ariella, her touches as soft, as though frightened that she would bruise her. "She is on death's door." she stated solemnly.

"Can you…?"

"She is at death's door, but she has not passed through it yet," Eir commented. "Norn's is she a fighter to say she is still with us." She frowned. "I have seen this girl before." She noted, sieving through the thousands and thousands of young girls she had seen in her years as a healer. "What is her name?"

"Ariella," Loki informed her quickly.

Eir frowned as she looked at Ari for another moment, before looking at her foot. "She came to a clinic during one of the country markets," she recalled. "Injured, she hurt her leg, the poor girl was wearing shoes three sizes too small." She looked sadly at her. "I thought she was trying to keep her feet from growing too much, but she…" Eir stroked the butchered uneven hair from Ariella's face. "She is suffering through this life." Eir looked to Loki. "She had a brother."

"Deceased," Loki stated, it was true, Eir did not need to know it had happened before she had seen Ariella.

"Parents?"

"Also deceased."

"Any other relatives?" Eir asked almost desperately.

"An aunt and uncle."

"Have they been informed?" Loki gave a look that told the healer everything. "They allowed this?"

He nodded. "Her accommodations were a loft of a stables, cold and draughty, her bedlinens mere rags and her food was whatever scraps they saw fit to give her."

"They should be hung."

"It is not illegal." Loki snarled. "I checked, it is not legal."

"That cannot be," Frigga walked forward. "How can that be?"

"They gave her food, clothes and shelter, the fact they were below par does not matter, the laws are too vague, they can argue it," Loki explained.

Frigga put her hand on his arm, causing Loki to look at her. "You have the power to change that now, darling."

"What good is it if she is gone?" He dismissed, looking at Ariella as Eir checked over her, her face telling him her thoughts of Ariella's prospects, and they were not good.

Frigga watched her son's attention to the girl on the table, she then turned her attention to the girl. She knew from her time aiding in the country to organise the schools what the poorest of Asgard's people looked like, at that girl was an outright pauper. She wondered how Loki came to know her at all since Eir recognised her from the country market, and how he came to know so much of her, but it was not the time for such things. Frigga had insisted on learning of healing as a youth, it was how she came to know Eir, they had learned together, but when she became betrothed to Odin, it was unfitting of her new position to be a healer, yet she continued to learn, unofficially of course, alongside her friend; meaning she knew that the girl her son clearly cared deeply for, was in great peril, it is was quite possible that she would not make nightfall.

As the soul forge allowed Eir to complete her analysis, she turned to Loki. "I need you to leave for a few minutes, your highness…"

"No!" Loki started.

Eir raised her hand. "I will call you as soon as we are done, but I need to have Ariella stripped, cleaned and tended to, I cannot allow a man in the room as I do so, it is not fair to her to expose her in such a manner without her consent."

Loki's jaw clenched and he blushed slightly at the reasoning for Eir's request, "As soon as is possible, please." he turned to look at Ariella, who he noted was still wearing the pendant he had given her. He leant over and took it off, immediately it turned from the cheap wicker appearance back to its original expensive pendant. "I will just mind this, for now, Ari, I promise to give it back," he swore before touching her hand softly and turning for the door. He wanted more than anything to remain by her side, but knew the faster he left, the faster the healers could work on her and hopefully save her. Looking to his mother, he saw from her demeanour that she was going to stay, so he left to wait in the corridor alone.

When he had left, Eir looked to Frigga, her face showing the same confusion and bewilderment that was mirrored on the Allmother's. Frigga shook her head slightly. "I have no idea what is afoot here." she admitted.

Eir thought for a moment. "He called her 'Ari', did he not?"

Frigga nodded. "He did."

Eir began to try to piece it all together when she remembered Ariella's urgent need for care. "Get me warm water and soap, this girl cannot possibly heal if she is caked in dirt and her own sweat." she ordered to an aid before turning to another healer. "Get the cotton, we are going to have to cushion her hips and shoulders while she heals. Frigga…?"

"What do you need?" Frigga readied herself to assist.

"Honestly, I am scared to even touch her for fear I harm her, can you use your seidr to undress her?"

It took only a moment for Frigga to do so, but as soon as she did, she wished she had not, her throat tightened as she looked at the skeletal look of the girl's body. "Eir…how is she alive?"

Eir looked at her patient, "By the grace of the Norns and also I think by the grace of your son." Frigga stared at her. "When he took that pendant from her, those warmer clothes appeared. I believe he has been tending to her for some time, in secret."

"How long?"

"If I am honest, I think over a century." Frigga gave her a dismissive look. "Can I ask my friend, is there any truth to the rumour that Loki is as proficient as you with his seidr?"

"It dents my pride to admit he surpasses me."

"Do you recall when you were forced to give up your training?"

"I do, of course."

"And of how you continued it?" Frigga froze. "I think your son is very much your heir."

"You think…?"

"I would very much wager it. In fact, I think I have bore witness to him in such a manner. The way he called her Ari just now, her 'brother' called her Ari the day I met her."

Frigga said no more as the two women watched the aids gently clean Ariella's body before Frigga placed new, fresh, clean, warm clothes on her. It was then that Eir had special brews made, one to hydrate her, another to fill her stomach with an easy to digest meal. As she did so, Frigga thought over what her friend had said, recalling Loki's potion to assist the drinker to gain weight, looking at the girl in front of her, she would have wagered all she ever owned that she was to be the recipient of such.

After what felt like an age of pacing, the door opened once more, Loki's gaze immediately fell upon it, his eyes fearful as his mother stepped in front of him. "What…?"

"I need you to talk with you Loki, I need to understand."

"Ari…"

"Ariella is being given the care she so desperately needs, and I promise you, you can return to her in only a few moments, but first, we need to discuss this matter," Frigga stated. "You swore to me that you would tell me all, please my son, tell me."

Loki looked at her, unsure of what to say.

Chapter Text

Frigga said nothing as her son told her everything, from the day he first met Ariella in the country market as she assisted him get away from a stall-keeper who was accusing him of theft, of how he befriended the girl, how she was the reason he learnt of the mine collapse, how she thought him of all the great inequalities of Asgard, of how she was his greatest friends, how she cared about him, and him her, of her family, of how she ceased to go to the markets one day, of how he thought she was lost, but then found her again and of how was suffering, how she had no form of comfort, how she clearly could not fight the inevitable decline of her health any longer, of how he was about to lose her. What he did not say was his feelings on the matter, but that didn't matter, Frigga could see that as plainly as she could her younger son in front of her.

She had realised only a short period before that Loki's recent infatuation was with the girl in question, causing her heartache. There was such little chance of the girl making any form of recovery, she knew that her death would tear Loki apart and so few could understand.

"I need to be there." Loki rose to his feet.

"Darling, there is nothing anyone can do now, she has to be allowed recover," Frigga placed her hand on his arm to comfort him.

"What has Eir done?"

"She has put a force field around her, obviously, to keep her warm and kill off anything that could cause her harm in her immediate atmosphere, she is being given very small portions of an infant mix, her stomach is so tender that were she to be given any more, she would not be able to process it and it could very well kill her, she will be given that every other hour, it will build her back slowly and she is being treated for several ailments that have managed to finally weaken her to this state."

"Like what?"

"Pneumonia is the most concerning, her lungs are barely able to function and according to Eir's findings, her kidneys are very much unable to function as well as they should, oedema and other issues associated with malnutrition. She has some small wounds that have become infected and another issue, one of a female nature, ails her also."

"What is it?"

"It is…well, a female issue…"

"Mother, please just tell me, I have been taught of the differences between the genders, I am aware of women's bodies requirement to keep the womb clean," Loki stated, annoyed at his mother's assumption that something as basic as bodily functions was too much for him.

"It would appear no one taught her of how to tend to herself at such times, she has a terrible infection as a result," Frigga explained. Loki's nostrils flared as his anger continued to rise. "Loki, I know you are frightened and upset, but you need to do something," Loki looked at her. "You are the one that has to stop this, you need to stop it going further, I can only do so much getting them treatment if they come and look for it, but you my darling," She cupped his face in her hands. "Make it so none other suffers as she has."

Loki swallowed, "They broke no laws, I cannot make them pay unless she dies, I want to make them suffer, but to do so I lose her; if she survives, they are her guardians, she will only return there to suffer again."

"She is not yet of age?"

"Not for another year."

"She is so young," Frigga shook her head. "How can one suffer so greatly and yet still fight?"

"She cannot fight anymore."

"She is trying darling, she would not be still here if she was not."

"How long does Eir think she could…"

"Most of that is up to how long her body will take to recover, but Eir has sworn she will tend her day and night if she has to until she is better; it could take weeks."

"Okay." Loki nodded.

At that moment, Eir exited the healing rooms and was almost bowled over by Loki in his attempts to get to her. "She is stable but so weak, I know this is hard to hear, but her chances are not great," She explained, knowing he would be deeply upset to hear that. "I have placed the shield over her, similar to the ones you have seen before on the Allfather when he has his Odinsleep, but unlike with your father, until the infections have passed, no one, bar myself or my top two other healers, can place a hand inside the shield, is that clear?" Loki nodded. "You can visit her, but only for very short periods of time, minutes at most for now, if she pulls through and wakes, of course, that may alter."

"Thank you."

"You got to her just in time, my Prince, any longer, and she would have been beyond saving."

"But she still…"

"Yes, she is still very much at risk, there is no way to say she will pull through, hope and faith are all we have now, and I am not sure that alone will be enough, but it is all we have as she gets the medicines, foods and care she needs. That reminds me, she has a tube in her mouth, do not be alarmed, it is to allow her food to her stomach with her unconscious, it is not harming her, though when she wakes, she may gag a little and try to pull it out, do not worry about it, just call one of us if you are present at that time. We also have her in a state of sleep for at least a week, if she tries to wake, it may take more energy than she has to give it. In rest, she can recover as she requires. She looks like one that has not slept so soundly since she was an infant, if she even did then. There are cotton pads on any part of her body that is touching the bed, that is to prevent her getting bed sores, her skeleton is showing, and the bones with so little muscle over them means that there is very little to protect her between her and the sheets."

"Okay, may I please go in?"

"She has endured a lot today," Eir answered unsurely.

"I will not go against anything you said, I just want to see her for a moment, say a few words to her and leave again." Loki pleaded.

Eir eyed the youth up, not sure of what to do before looking to Frigga, who gave a small nod. "I have to continue what I was doing before, I need to make some new potions, Helga, my second in command is inside, she will be watching her like a hawk, you may go in, but only with the Allmother with you. Later, after a few hours rest, you may return again alone if you choose."

"Thank you, Eir." Loki smiled, turning to his mother, who to his relief was already to his side. "I will see you later."

"I very much think so." Eir smiled before heading on her way again.

"Come," Frigga encouraged her son.

When he entered, Loki made straight for Ariella's bed. It took everything in his power to not put his hand in and put it on hers, to comfort her. He looked around to see his mother was giving him some space, the closest thing she could do to emulate privacy at that time. "Ari, I…Norns look at you," He half sobbed before inhaling deeply again. "I will right this wrong, I will protect you and all the others. I just need to find the way to do so. Fight it, please, for me." he begged, again feeling an urge to put his hand in, to touch her. But he willed himself not to, to let her heal. He knew if he did, the eagle-eyed Helga, watching from beside his mother, would inform Eir and he would be banned from visiting. He took a step back, and inhaled deeply, anger on his features. "I am going to right this Ari, wait and see, when you wake up, you will see what happens when I am involved." with that, he left the room, not waiting for his mother.

Frigga watched him leave, she had not heard his words when he was closer the bed, but the last sentence, his sworn promise, that she heard, and she knew he meant it. Walking forward, she studied the girl that mattered so greatly to Loki. She would be beautiful, she thought, if her hair had not been butchered off and if she had not been allowed be starved. As Loki swore to right the injustices of the world, Frigga swore that the young girl, not yet even in adulthood, would no longer suffer simply because she was born in poverty, nor would any other girl. "You will be the one that will the great catalyst that changes everything, I only hope you are alive to see it happen little Ariella," she stated before she too left the room, her own new mission so clear in her mind.

*

Loki met some opposition to his plans from within those on the board for the commoners, something he was realistically aware would happen, but there were two substantial differences between Loki and those on the board, he was not blissfully unaware of the sufferings of the truly needy and he was the only one there with a true vested interest. He would not stop until Ariella and others like her were protected. He was not stupid, there would still be those who would suffer, but he would ensure they would be given protection, that their tormentors would rue the day Loki was ever even born for what he would do to them. Any manner they made others suffer, he would have them suffer ten fold.

It did not take long for those on the board to realise that Loki was not only more determined than any they had met before but more cunning. Some thought it wise to attempt to bully, cajole or otherwise control the young prince, whose age they thought meant he was weak or foolish, but they soon realised that not only could no one control him, he knew their plans as they thought them, and had ways to counteract any plans to stop his changes.

Odin grinned proudly from atop the throne as Ivan, a high-powered lord of the forest lands complained to the Allfather that his son was without reason or compromise with his demands. "Why do you think I put him there?" He laughed when Ivan half asked, half demanded the king deal with his wayward son. "None can get Loki off his chosen path, not Thor, not my wife, and most certainly not me. That is why he has been put to the task at hand, there cannot be compromise on this matter."

"He will bankrupt us with the policing costs alone."

"You own more land than any other in this realm, you charge four times the rate of a full day's pay for a one-roomed shack, you will not go bankrupt if you charge fairly, all you need do is stop visiting brothels and gambling, do that and what will you cost yourself? So cease your moaning, you cannot have everything while others have nothing."

The Lord made a grumbling that Odin was sure contained the words Nepotism and own wealth, to which Odin gave a bark of a laugh. "My wife has spent more than four times her considerable dowry on healing the sick poor this last decade, she is also funding the schools she insisted we build off the money made from the using of the palaces we possess and their farmlands to feed the poor around the realm's lands and has used said palace's as orphanages. I have paid more money to dressmakers on children I have not fathered than I ever have paid to cloth my sons in their finery in all of their lives and if I have to sit on a chair of wood instead of this golden throne, then by the Norns, if I can ensure every one of my citizens goes to bed warm and fed, I will."

"Laziness cannot go rewarded."

"I agree, which is why I am wondering why you are here in front of me and not doing something of use for once in your overprivileged life. The poor slave to get food, and what food they get I would not feed to a hound, so they cannot be accused of sloth, idle Lords, however, now that is a different story."

Seeing that not only was he getting nowhere with Odin, he was at risk of more focus by the royal family, Ivan bowed and left the room.

"You are almost as silent as our son." Odin stated to the seemingly empty room, "What ails you, my dear?"

"How did you know?"

"Of what?"

"My actions?" Frigga asked, walking out from behind a pillar.

"My dear, I go through each and every coin spent by the crown, myself." Odin chuckled. "You think me so blind that I did not realise you are sending money to healers all over Asgard, on specific dates each month, coinciding with the markets and the one day I cannot find Eir for love nor money."

"Have you been clothing the children?"

"I received a letter, the writing terrible, the spelling atrocious, from a little girl, not yet four hundred, from a small fishing village at the edge of the realm, thanking me, and you I might add, for letting her learn, that she cannot wait to finally own a book but that she needed to wait until after she got new socks. Socks, something so basic. I had Hildegard look into it, there were children turning up to the schools in a pillowcase, made to look like a dress." He shook his head. "I am the king of a realm so divided, so contrasting. How can my people see fit to look to me when I failed to look after them? Loki, I have found out, has been allowing himself only what he requires, Thor seems to not be so conscious of such things, but Loki…I have no idea what it is that has him so aware, but whatever it is, it can only be good."

Frigga thought for a moment before speaking again. "It is not a what." Odin looked at her. "It is a who." Odin's brow raised. "I need to introduce you to someone."