Loki moved among the crowds, marveling as he always did at the sheer number of people packed into the Plain of Sharon. He’d grown up in an Angel Hold, the Eyrie, overlooking the bustling market town of Velora, so crowds were nothing new to him. Rather, it was the variety of people that never failed to amaze him: an obscenely wealthy Manadavvi landowner standing in line at a food tent next to Jordana hill farmers in their out-of-date festival best, Jansai gypsies heckling with Semorrah river merchants, Luminaux craftsmen trading secrets with their Veloran counterparts. He even saw a pack of Edori children, all black hair and tan skin, running wild though the crowd as they played at some elaborate chasing game. For once, all the peoples of Samaria mixed together, unmarked by the cultural barriers that ran deep in their country.
He was examining the wares of a Luminaux potter, her pieces spread out over brightly woven blanket, when a shadow fell over him and he could hear the telltale exclamations of delight and surprise. He didn’t get up from his crouch and turn, but he recognized the swoop of great wings cutting the air and the thud of a heavy body landing in the grass some feet behind him. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes as the mortals around him murmured “angelo!” “it’s him! It’s the archangel!” and “Look, it’s Thor!”
Moving with deliberate slowness, for what could annoy Thor more than someone not moving at his pace, Loki rose and turned to face his sainted brother: the newly minted Archangel. Like moths around a candle, mortals orbited him, eyes wide and jaws slack at the sight of their leader for the next twenty years mingling with the commoners. Even if he wasn’t Archangel, Thor was a sight to behold: tall, broad, and golden from his hair to his tanned feet, his enormous white wings surrounded him like his own personal pair of suns.
Loki, (equally tall but slim where Thor was broad, dark where Thor was blonde, pale where Thor was tanned, and very distinctly lacking a pair of wings) grimaced as he felt eyes shift to look at him. Everybody knew about Odin’s son Loki, the only one of his children to be born without wings. Loki, who wandered Samaria on foot like the mortal he was, rarely raising his voice in song, always in the shadow of his great brother even when they weren’t even on the same side of the country.
“Loki!” Thor exclaimed, barreling forward, heedless of the people having to jump out of the way in order to keep from touching his wings (an unforgivably rude act). “Fandral said he’d seen you with the Edori on the southern side but I almost didn’t believe him!” Loki stood still as Thor enveloped him in a bear hug “It is good to see you, little brother!”
“Hello, Thor.” Loki smiled. “I’m surprised you found me in this crowd.”
“You did not make it easy!” Thor laughed, slinging an arm around Loki’s shoulders and walking (dragging) him along, through the gaping crowd. “What on earth are you wearing? You look like a hill farmer.”
“What about you? You look like a hart all trussed up for dinner. Nice dress, excuse me, robe, by the way. How does it feel to be Archangel? Feel any different?”
“Not yet.” Said Thor, beaming “Though I probably will once the Gloria is over and I’m faced with all the problems in the world waiting for me on my doorstep.”
They stopped by a food stall for dried fruit (Thor flashed his sapphire wristlets in lieu of payment and Loki was suddenly uncomfortably aware of the way Thor glanced out of the corner of his eyes at Loki’s own wrists, bereft of the sapphire studded bracelets all residents of the Eyrie wore.)
They talked companionably for a while, eating their fruit, and Loki was reminded that he actually rather liked his older brother. It was their father that he couldn’t stand.
Their father who now stood directly in front of them, stormcloud-grey wings folded tightly behind him.
Loki scowled. He’d been so caught up talking to Thor that he hadn’t noticed that they’d made their way over to the section of the plain staked out by the Eyrie entourage. Stupid, stupid, how could he not have noticed the characteristic blue banners hanging from all the tents in this area? Thor moved almost imperceptibly towards Loki, boxing him in and making facing their father the only option unless he wanted a face full of feathers. Apparently while Loki was away Thor had actually mastered a bit of subterfuge.
“Loki.” Odin greeted, his one eye fixed on his mortal son.
“Father.” Loki said in return. If Loki had a sense of shame he’d keep his eyes on the ground and his voice lowered. But for Loki there was no shame in this; he knew where he wasn’t wanted and had no compunctions about simply leaving. Green eyes stared defiantly into blue.
“Loki!” Frigga, Odin’s wife and Thor’s mother, came dashing out of a nearby pavilion and threw her arms around Loki’s shoulders. “Oh Loki, I hadn’t known you were here!”
Loki held eye contact with Odin for a moment longer before he wrapped his arms around his stepmother, holding her close. Like Loki, Frigga was mortal and so embracing her needed no awkward maneuvering to prevent bumping and brushing sensitive wings. “Hello Mother, of course I’m here. I wouldn’t miss the Gloria.”
“We missed you this morning. You didn’t come to sing with us.” Frigga kissed Loki’s cheeks and took a hold of his hand, dragging him away from Odin’s sight, Thor trailing, puppyish, behind them like he hadn’t just been appointed ruler of the entire Realm.
“You know I’m not one for solos, Mother. I prefer to sing with the chorus.” Loki allowed Frigga to pull him into her pavilion and direct him to sit on a low-slung stool.
“Loki,” she admonished, sitting on her own stool. Thor himself threw himself on to the ground at Frigga’s feet, his massive wings spread out behind him like a cloak. “You have such a beautiful voice and you know we always need an extra tenor. “
“Am I not good enough?” Thor said with a mock pout.
“You’re a bass, dear, like your father and your brothers. I swear without a tenor we sound like a band of toads.” Frigga teased. She turned her eyes back to Loki “You know you’re always welcome with us Loki.”
Loki leaned forward and took Frigga’s hand. Frigga had been married to Odin for almost thirty years and was the mother of three of his four sons: Thor, Baldr, and Hermod; all angels. Loki was the product of Odin’s indiscretion with an Angel Seeker, one of the many women who lived in the towns around the three angel holds, hoping to catch the eye of an angel and bear him winged children. A successful Angel Seeker would be set up for life in any one of the holds, living a life of leisure as the honored and valued mother of a precious angel. But angel babies were not so easily conceived: Loki was proof of that. His mother had died giving birth to him and Odin took him back to the Eyrie despite his lack of wings. Only a few months younger than Thor, the eldest of the four brothers, the two were raised at Frigga’s feet, almost like twins. Frigga was the only mother Loki had ever known, and he could not love her more if he tried.
“I’m welcome with you, Mother.”
“Don’t start.” Frigga said quickly, her tone light but her eyes sharp. “None of that. Now, tell me where you’ve been traveling all this year.”
Odin may have been an angel and the leader of the host… hell, Thor may have been the Archangel, but Loki was still just Loki with nothing to tie him to the Eyrie; no children, no wife, no office. So he traveled. Sometimes he stayed in one town for weeks, plying his skills in tinkering and design, other times traveling with the Jansai gypsies or the nomadic Edori tribes. Anything was better than being trapped up high in the Eyrie with no way up or down but in an angel’s arms. When he was younger Loki had tried living in Velora but that proved far too close to Odin’s scrutinizing eye. So Loki traveled. On foot or on horseback. He didn’t need wings to get from place to place… unlike his brother or any other angel, who despised walking long distances and couldn’t ride because their wings tended to scare horses.