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With Open Hand

Chapter Text

Helblindi kept pace as Thrym strode towards the bifrost site, his long youthful limbs flashing in the snow flurries.

“Those monsters will kill you on sight!”

“They have codes of honour, just as we have. They are not so savage as you imagine.”

“Think you so?” Helblindi scowled. “I suppose they did not come to destroy our stronghold in revenge for the trespass of but three wayward Jotnar – three they had already slain!”

Thrym stopped in his tracks and spoke sternly to the princeling. “Young one, do you not think that I have considered all this? Have you ever known me to act rashly in anything?”

Helblindi lowered his gaze, anger giving way to uncertainty.

“Is he really my brother? The sorcerer?”

Thrym raised Helblindi’s chin with his fingertips. “You saw as well as I did what happened in the fray.”

Helblindi took a step back and then nodded. “Take me with you then.”

“So I make it back alive only for Laufey to strike me down for endangering his crown prince? Get you back to your dam’s hearth.”

Helblindi was just a speck in the distance when Thrym reached his destination. The wind and fresh snowfall had eroded the markings left by the bifrost, but a faint outline was still perceptible.

Thrym raised his face skywards and breathed in until his lungs were at capacity.

“GUARDIAN HEIMDALL, HEAR ME...”

*~*~*

Laufey’s eyes glinted as the cold light of the stars refracted off the ice pillars of the throne room deep within his stronghold.

“Firstborn, tell me this – where is Lord Thrym?”

“I don’t know,” Helblindi replied, head held high and chin square. “Why, is he not within his own keep?”

“My spies tell me he is not.” Laufey sat back, legs splayed and restless, spidery fingers tapping upon the armrests. After a moment’s contemplation, he added: “I regret nothing so much than that I gave that scheming traitor the raising of you.”

“Lord Thrym is no traitor to this realm!”

Laufey made a sound of amusement. “At least he was not able to teach you his trick of hiding his intentions. You bear the scars of a man, Helblindi, but the open face of a child.”

*~*~*

A small gathering had formed upon the edge of the bifrost comprised of Heimdall, Thor, Loki, Sif and the Warriors Three (the latter four had tagged along uninvited out of curiosity).

Behind Heimdall there stood an eight foot tall Jotun, who observed the argument in progress with a look of attentiveness.

“I say again, Thor, he poses no threat,” the guardian stated, leaning upon his broadsword. “Heimdall sees all, even into the hearts of men.”

“He does not appear to be armed,” Fandral chimed in.

Sif gave him a haughty look. “Fool – their very bodies are weapons! Have you not seen with your own eyes how they call forth spears of ice upon their arms?”

The sound of many hooves announced Odin’s arrival. The Allfather alighted from Slepnir’s back and strode forward to hail the interloper with a look of recognition.

“Hail Thrym of Thrymheim, commander of the eastern armies.”

When the frost giant finally spoke his voice was such a deep rumble that it made the Asgardians’ teeth rattle: “in the time of the Great War I had that title, Odin Spearbreaker. Now we are at peace.”

“Are we?” Odin asked, single eye glittering.

“For now.”

“And what is your business here Thrym – cementing harmony or fomenting war?”

“I am for peace, though your son looks as if he does not share my enthusiasm.”

Thor bristled, Mjolnir gripped tightly in his throwing hand. “Do not listen to him, father. Whatever that monster would say to you is a trick!”

“Silence, foolish boy!” Odin barked. Turning back to the Jotun, he continued in more measured tones: “speak on, Thrym. Do you bear a message from King Laufey?”

“Not from Laufey, it is a request of my own.” In just a few long strides Thrym was before Loki, bowing his head in seeming obeisance. “Prince Loki, I, Lord Thrym of Thrymheim, scion of the high kings of the Jotnar, have come to seek your hand.”

“My... hand?” Loki appeared baffled by the form of address.

“In marriage,” Thrym clarified.

“Ah. On whose behalf?”

“On my own.”

Loki’s mouth fell open in utter shock and the Warriors Three and Thor burst into raucous, disbelieving laughter.

“Why are they amused?” Thrym asked. “Have you other suitors?”

“No!” Loki blurted out, looking scandalized. The warriors behind him continued to guffaw.

“Then consider my proposal. You are a prince of two realms, Loki – who better than you to be a maintainer of our peace?”

Loki blinked, mouth working soundlessly, then took one large step backwards and disappeared.

“Forgive Loki’s rashness, Thrym of Thrymheim,” Odin urged. “There is much he still has to learn about his heritage.”

“What do you mean,” Thor intoned darkly, “his heritage?”

“Ah,” said Odin.

*~*~*

Head reeling with Odin’s revelations, Thor stalked through Asgard’s halls in search of Loki (luckily for him, finding Loki when Loki did not want to be found was something Thor had become adept at).

He did not let the locks on Loki’s chamber door deter him (Mjolnir made short work of them), nor did he fall for the magical ruse that made the room appear empty. He reached out upon the apparently unoccupied bed and grabbed hold of a booted ankle, making Loki yelp and kick out at him as he flickered back into a visible spectrum.

“Brother, we must talk.”

“I am not your brother! I have never been your brother!” Loki hissed, his expression somewhere between fury and utter despair.

“You are a fool if you think that. Can such a small matter as blood unmake bonds of kinship that have been forged for centuries?”

“I am the nightmare we hid beneath our blankets from as children, Thor. I am one of those things you railed at upon the bifrost, whom you declared to be savage and untrustworthy by nature. Were it not for Odin’s glamour my skin would be as his and my touch would freeze you.”

Thor sat down upon the edge of the bed, hands dangling between his knees and back bowed in seeming defeat. “How long have you borne this burden of knowledge alone, Loki?”

“Some weeks... since we went to Jotunheim. One of them touched me and I was not harmed. Father– Odin confessed my true origins when I confronted him.”

“But...” Thor’s pale blue eyes were wide and imploring, “why did you not tell me?”

Loki snorted. “Why do you think!”

The argument followed a predictable course after that – Loki was full of righteous anger and bitter, hurtful words. Thor was loving and contrite, and in the end Loki’s recriminations fizzled out and Thor was able to pull his forever-brother (only half resisting) into a crushing embrace.

“Yet...” Thor finally observed, furrowing his golden brows, “none of this really explains why a man wants to marry you.”

Loki’s cryptic reply was: “have you ever seen a frost giant woman?”

Thor blinked uncomprehendingly for several moments before deciding to put the riddle aside for the time being. Rising from the bed he gave Loki a hearty thump on the shoulder and smiled at him. “At any rate, you must hie to Asgard’s gateway once more. The Jotun stays to await an answer and says he will not move until he hears it from your own lips.”

*~*~*

Loki approached the chamber at the edge of the rainbow bridge to find Heimdall standing with his back to the road, leaning upon his sword with the faraway look in his golden eyes that meant he was scanning locations millions of miles away. Nearer to the archway stood the Jotun, as upright and alert as a sentry.

Loki crossed his arms over his chest as he addressed Thrym. “You have stood here a full day. Why?”

Thrym took a single step forward, forcing Loki to come the rest of the way in bridging the gap between them. “Patience is a quality that comes easily to those who know only changeless winter.”

“You would not come to the castle.”

“I would not suffer the indignity of an armed escort.”

Loki inclined his head to acknowledge the wisdom of this. “You have taken no rest or refreshment.”

“I am not of this realm, I seek no welcome from it – only from you, Prince Loki. Will you give consideration to my proposal?”

Loki made a sound of impatience. “I realise it is different in Jotunheim, but here men do not marry other men.”

Thrym regarded him with what looked suspiciously like pity. “We have a story about the Aesir. We say that millennia ago, in their pride and viciousness they angered a power greater and older than themselves. For this, the greater god punished them by cleaving them in twain, and now they must go about as unhappy, longing things, never knowing what it is that they lack. In our old tongue we called them The Divided Ones.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “The races do not think well of each other – I take your point. So?”

“Give me your hand.”

Loki blinked for a moment before realising that this time Thrym meant it literally and was offering his open palm. Warily, Loki placed his own on top of it.

“Does my touch burn with cold, as it would to an Asgardian?”

“You can see that it does not.”

Thrym brushed Loki’s fingerbacks with the pad of his thumb, calling up whorls of blue. “See how your true colour longs to be summoned forth from beneath this false covering.”

Loki snatched his hand away, flexing it until the blue receded. “No.”

“Will you forever deny your true body’s wants, Loki? You must long to be out of this oppressive sunshine.” Thrym’s red eyes held his gaze. “And you must yearn for another’s touch – will an Asgardian give it to you? Will they allow you to bear and raise your children, as you are now of age to do?”

“My... I am not a milch cow! You know nothing of me or my wants.”

This seemed to amuse Thrym. “Not yet, Prince Loki, but I hope you will allow me to know you better. Regardless of your final answer, come to Thrymheim as my guest.”

“And put myself at your mercy – why should I?”

Thrym considered this for a long moment before making his reply. “Because you need to prove to yourself that what you are is not monstrous, as you have been since raised to believe. And because your brother is anxious to meet you.”

“My brother?”

“Helblindi Laufeyjarson. I have been given the honour of his fostering.” Loki was surprised to discover that Jotun features could exhibit affection. “Do think on this invitation. A great many things will be clearer in Jotunheim.”

With a shallow bow which brought his head level with Loki’s serving as his farewell, Thrym turned and made his way towards Heimdall and the passage home.

*~*~*

“I wish you would listen to reason, Loki...” Thor bellowed over the roar of the snowstorm.

“And I wish you had not insisted on coming along,” Loki called back. “So, clearly, we cannot always have what we want.”

Within view of the bifrost site stood the imposing figure of a very tall Jotun, who leaned upon an ice-frosted pole from which fluttered a banner depicting a roaring bear.

“A guard?” Thor asked.

“An ensign, I should think.”

“Hail, Prince Loki,” the Jotun called in greeting.

“Are you in Lord Thrym’s service?”

“I am,” without elaborating further upon his role (which Loki felt must be that of guide), the Jotun turned and made off through the snow at a rapid pace.

“Talkative, aren’t they?” Thor muttered.

“Some people might find the silence soothing,” Loki commented. To their guide, he called: “is Thrymheim far hence?”

“No,” the Jotun replied. “Not more than thirty rôst.”

When Thor baulked at this Loki shrugged philosophically. “It must seem no great distance to those who are nine feet tall,” he said. Privately he wondered how the natives of this place could navigate in such a landscape, which must shift and change hourly.

*~*~*

“You are most welcome, Prince Loki.” Thrym met them at the entrance of his keep to conduct them within. “And you are welcome too, Odinson,” he added as an afterthought. Thor glared at their host resentfully, accustomed as he was to only the most effusive and obsequious of welcomes.

As he took in their weary and bedraggled state, Thrym asked: “wherefore have you walked all the way when one of you has the power of teleportation and the other of flight?”

“Your guide was on foot,” Loki answered.

“He would have told you the direction if you had but asked him.”

Thor’s glare intensified with the suspicion that Thrym was somewhat amused at his expense. Then he shivered miserably and out of pity Loki cast a discreet warming spell on him.

*~*~*

They were shown to a chamber to take some rest before dinner (Thrym’s servants did in fact try to direct them to separate rooms, but ever-suspicious Thor was having none of this). The suite was large and high-vaulted, but contained little in the way of comfort so far as Thor could see. There were sturdy chairs and a low pallet bed spread with furs. There was no fireplace, but there was a brazier – seemingly for the purpose of providing light rather than heat.

‘You would think they would have the courtesy to provide dry clothes to those who have spent the whole day tramping through frozen wastelands,” Thor groused as he tried to use the meagre heat source to dry his boots.

“Thor, they do not wear clothes,” Loki reasoned, lowering his own bare feet to the flagstones and wiggling his toes. Thor glared at him as if he had gone native.

Loki smiled with seeming concern. “My poor brother – I am sorry to say you shall no doubt be very uncomfortable here.”

Thor looked very petulant indeed at this. “You’re not sorry in the least, Loki.”

*~*~*

Thrymheim’s library was of grey, vaulted stone, but the shelves themselves (unlike most of the furniture Loki had seen so far) were wood – probably to stave off the cold and damp from the books and scrolls housed there.

As Loki entered, Thrym looked up from where he had been examining some papers spread out over a table and greeted him with: “ah, there you are, my prince.”

What is the difference between Thor Odinson and a frost giant? Loki’s mind readily quipped. Frost giants can read.

“Is everything to your liking in the room?” Thrym enquired.

“Everything but that my overly paranoid foster-brother has installed himself in it too.”

“I would ask a boon of your foster-sibling,” Thrym said, crossing to stand nearer to Loki (but not so near that he would appear to loom over his guest). “You would be the best person to communicate it.”

“Yes?”

“The hammer he carries...”

“Mjolnir.”

“Ask him if he will leave it upon the carved stone pedestal in the great hall.”

“Do you fear he will try to wield it against your household?”

Thrym shook his head. “No. It will serve a purpose that he need not know of. Tell him simply that my thanes have heard of its great fame and would like to gaze upon it. Thor need fear no treachery, as he well knows none may heft it but he.”

“What if he refuses?”

“I do not think that he will. Already I see that you are the one who has his ear.”

“Much good that usually does me...” Loki muttered.

“Ah, has he not accepted your heritage yet?”

Loki sighed, wondering if Thrym had hit upon the heart of the matter by accident or design. “In truth, he has... better than I myself, I fear.”

“I think I have found something that will aid you. Come,” Thrym gestured to a slanted reading desk. When Loki approached it he found that the surface was at chest-height to him and the tome resting upon it of such a size as to make it not easily maneuverable at such an angle.

Seeing his uncertainty, Thrym quickly provided a stool and held out one hand for Loki to ascend.

Loki opened the book and perused it, finding it to be partly in a runic script, partly in gothic and partly in a much more primitive looking letter form Loki found unfamiliar, but supposed must be native to Jotunheim.

“It is magic,” he said hesitantly, “but not such as I recognise.”

“Jotun magic uses very different principles to that you have mastered.”

“Are you a sorcerer?”

“No. This book belonged to my elder sibling – a mage of great skill.”

“What became of him?”

“He fell in the Great War.”

Loki glanced up from the pages to study Thrym’s expression, finding sadness there but no anger. “Odin robbed you of your family, and yet you can give hospitality to his son?”

“The war was brought about by the malice and ambition of one – and wily as Odin is, that one was not he.” After one of his substantial pauses, Thrym added: “this realm was never a rich one, nor an easy one to carve out a living in, but it had its treasures, and its dignity. Once.”

“You mean that you blame Laufey?”

“Do not speak his name in these halls, Loki – there are spies among my own thanes. Trust none but myself and Helblindi. And remember that the less Helblindi knows, the less he will have to conceal.”

Loki nodded to show his understanding and then glanced down, wanting to step back onto the floor but wondering how to do so without looking ungainly. Thrym offered his hand again.

“This is humiliating,” Loki huffed, hesitating to accept the offered assistance. “I feel like a dwarf.”

Thrym blinked at him. “Why should a shapeshifter care about his size? Become taller if you wish it, or scorn to alter yourself.”

Loki wondered at the giant’s apparent indifference. “You would not wish me to be of your own stature – my appearance pleases you as it is?”

Thrym’s eyes swept over his features. “You must know how fair you are.”

Loki flushed at the unfamiliar praise. “I am hardly what is considered so in Asgard.”

“You are the image of your sire Fárbauti, and he was the fairest of that age.”

Thrym was studying him now with that evaluating gaze that Loki recognised from his and Thor’s first conference with the frost giants – from the moment just before chaos broke lose. “You say you are not thought desirable in Asgard – have you ever been kissed?”

Loki swelled with indignation. “I am not a child, Lord Thrym.”

“No...” Thrym considered the issue further, “but you must have held yourself apart from them, knowing your difference. You will not have shown them your real form. You will not have taken or been taken – those are joys you have yet to know.”

Loki felt his whole lower half tingle and his loins give a single, powerful throb – it seemed that his body, at least, was keen to acknowledge that it understood Thrym’s meaning. Loki’s mouth opened, but (for possibly the first time in his life) no words came out.

Thrym offered his hand once more and Loki took it between both of his own, using it to draw the lord of Thrymheim closer. Thrym’s hand was large and hard – not rough or calloused, but speaking of a latent strength which had to be formidable. Loki imagined it caressing his bare skin and his body throbbed again.

They watched each other closely for a long moment. Thrym appeared to be curious about whether Loki would continue the overture, but when he did not Thrym simply lowered his head and kissed him.

Dazedly, Loki thought that it had never occurred to him that frost giants knew how to kiss. What had he foolishly believed – that they rutted in caves like animals?

One of Thrym’s hands settled at the small of Loki’s back, the other brushing through his hair. Loki leaned up against Thrym’s broad chest (the lift given to him by the stool made their heights almost comparable) and gripped the Jotun’s shoulders, opening his mouth to feel the other’s tongue flickering against his own. Thrym made a deep and resonant sound in his chest – a sound of pleasure that was somehow intimidating.

When the kiss broke Thrym took a step back as if to remove himself from further temptation.

“Go,” Thrym told him. “For it is almost dinner hour and the Odinson must be hungry as well as miserable.”

Loki nodded, feeling himself stupid with the heaviness of desire. “I will ask of him what you instructed.”

Thrym looked amused. “Then banish the blue from your lips before you do so, or he will not listen.”

This time Loki allowed Thrym to help him to the ground. He then went swiftly from his host, feeling the grain of the stone beneath his bare feet as he walked, and realising, belatedly, that ‘cold’ was a word he understood only because others had told him what it meant.

Chapter Text

Thor was very uncomfortable. Not just because the bench was stone and rather too high for his feet to touch the ground, but because to his right along the board was a line of frost giant vassals, while to his left his brother was flirting with their liege-lord.

Thor had never seen Loki flirt before – as far as Thor knew, Loki had never dallied with anyone. Once or twice before, he had seen Loki weave elaborate schemes to make proud, scornful maidens fall in love with him, but these seemed to be solely for the purpose of proving a point (that he could), and inevitably ended with said maiden’s public humiliation.

Still, Thor had spent a great deal of time around Fandral the Dashing, who considered himself an expert on the subject of seduction, and there was really no mistaking the signs – the smiles (not smirks), prolonged eye-contact and murmured confidences.

Loki was flirting.

Thor felt deeply aggrieved to think that no-one back in Asgard was likely to believe it, should he return to relate this wonder. He decided to take a leaf out of Volstagg’s book and turn his attention to dinner.

If he and Loki had been asked, as children, what they thought frost giants ate, they would likely have answered ‘babes boiled in broth’ or ‘battlefield carrion’ or whatever yet more grisly horror their imaginations could conjure up. In reality, the fare was surprisingly familiar: a great deal of roasted boar and other native wild game, as well as fish from the River Iving. Their bread was dark, earthy and unleavened. There were no vegetables to be found, except for a few hardy roots, and no fruits except those that were preserved (and presumably, imported). The liquor they drank was stronger than either ale or mead, but perfectly clear. It was served from a vessel of pure ice and yet it burned its way down Thor’s throat. When he asked his neighbour at board what it was called the Jotun (whose name, Thor had been courteous enough to discover, was Hrímgrímnir) grunted and said ‘lifewater’. Thor nodded in approval – the feeling was finally beginning to return to his toes.

He turned his head to observe that Loki was laughing, apparently with genuine amusement. Thor scowled and wondered, idly, how many millennia it would take for Loki to forgive him if he seized Mjolnir from the pillar on which it sat, killed their host and dragged his brother back to Asgard by the back of his high-collared tunic.

Thor took another sip of lifewater and rolled the potent liquor around his mouth. Maybe Loki was drunk, he thought, hopefully – that would, perhaps, excuse the flirting.

A high-pitched, unearthly sound suddenly rang through the hall and Thor looked wildly about him. The only other person who reacted was a thane seated on the far side of the table – this Jotun unbuckled a strap which crossed his chest diagonally and wrested from the basket on his back (which Thor had initially thought to be a quiver of arrows) of all unlikely things, an infant.

The babe was tightly swaddled, its anguished face a scrunch of dark indigo. The thane juggled it into the crook of his arm with a practiced movement and the babe instantly quietened. When Thor looked more closely he saw that the infant was not merely resting its head against the Jotun’s chest, but suckling.

Thor felt his eyes widen as the Jotun turned his (her?) attention back to the meal and the conversation of a next neighbour. Although it had not been obvious at first, the Jotun’s chest was more softly rounded than that of the others present. Thor began to wonder, recalling Loki’s riddle – ‘have you ever seen a frost giant woman?’. Could it be that male and female Jotnar were exactly alike in shape and stature – at least, to the untrained eye? Thor studied each diner for signs of hidden femininity, and eventually spotted a Jotun on his own side of the table whose naked belly was taut and rounded where it crested into sight.

“Hrímgrímnir,” he said, “pray tell me, who is that person four seats to your right?”

“Alvaldi.”

“Is Alvaldi... with child?”

“Aye, a second.” That Hrímgrímnir was fixing Thor with a suspicious look told the thunder god that it must be an odd question to ask.

“In my home,” Thor endeavoured to explain, “childbearing is kept private and infants are not brought to board.”

Hrímgrímnir narrowed his red eyes. “Wherefore – do you think it a thing of shame?”

“No... not exactly,” Thor shrugged. “It is a private matter... that is all I can say.”

“We have no greater pride than in our children,” Hrímgrímnir said fiercely. “A Jotun values offspring above all else.”

This sparked a debate among those in their immediate circle. The giant sitting opposite broke in to say that what he valued above all things was fucking, which provoked coarse laughter, soon curbed by Hrímgrímnir’s tart response: “aye, well may you think that, stripling, till experience teaches thee better.” The dissenter’s nearest companion poured oil onto troubled waters by proposing that 'the warrior’s art' was perhaps the thing to be chiefly valued. All present seemed to think that this, too, had some merit.

“And if,” the thoughtful giant who had spoken up in favour of battle skills continued, “we had to choose between renown in fighting and many offspring, which would it be?”

The assembly were divided upon this, some casting their vote for one and some for the other. Sagely Hrímgrímnir dissolved the matter by protesting that it was an impossible choice: “for what is the use in furthering a line undistinguished by valor, yet for what do we gather valor if not to increase our children’s worth?”

(The Jotnar agreed that this was well said.)

“Have you children of your own, Prince Thor?” the Jotun to Hrímgrímnir’s right asked.

Thor almost choked on a mouthful of lifewater. “No, I am not yet married.”

This made the Jotnar laugh fairly hard. “What has marriage to do with getting?” the young giant opposite demanded. The others bid him hold his tongue and gave Thor incredulous, pitying glances, as if they thought he was Asgard’s equivalent of the village simpleton.

Thor’s section of the table lapsed into quietness for a few minutes after that – it seemed to be a peculiarity of their culture that they did not find silence uncomfortable. They spoke when they had cause to and not otherwise.

The thunder god turned his mind once more to the problem of divining femininity among the giants. He looked at the Jotun who still nursed her infant, studying her body and face. If he could see her walk would he notice a roundness in her hips? Was her voice, perhaps, of a subtly higher pitch, or her lips fuller?

A savage kick to his ankle told Thor that Loki had noticed him staring and did not approve. Thor stifled a yelp and glanced resentfully at his brother, who rolled his large green eyes before turning his attention back to their host.

It was useless, Thor huffed to himself. The only thing in the whole hall that looked even vaguely like a woman was his long haired, finely-boned broth–

Oh.

Thor sat up straighter on the bench and set down the ice-hewn glass he had been drinking from with a soft thump.

Could it be?

Did this new inkling make things clearer, or more obscure? Why would Odin conceal Loki’s sex and have him raised as a ‘prince’ and not a ‘princess’ (especially when he knew of Frigga’s longing for a girl)? Was he aware that Loki’s Jotun body-type would make him (her?) appear masculine to Asgardian eyes?

Thor gazed at his brother (sister?) and tried to think if he had ever seen Loki naked, realizing in the end that he had not. Loki had sometimes gone shirtless during their spars, but he (she?) was ever one for privacy and always eschewed the communal baths.

Thor’s head reeled from more than the potent lifewater.

*~*~*

As dinner was cleared from the table and fresh flasks of drink brought, a servant approached their host (at least, Thor thought it was a servant – the leathern loincloths the Jotnar wore looked all alike to him, and not even those as high-born as Thrym wore any distinguishing adornments or jewels). The servant spoke into Thrym’s ear and immediately the host rose from his place, nodding significantly at Loki, and turned to bid his thanes to sit on while he and the two strangers attended to some negotiations within.

Thor followed Thrym and Loki to a smaller chamber where they found four youthful-looking Jotnar waiting for them. They were reclining upon furs spread on the floor and listening to a strange kind of music played by an older giant who sat cross-legged in the corner, his fingers busy upon an instrument which looked like a circular goat-skin drum centrally affixed with an outcropping of metal teeth. The sound it produced reminded Thor of the melodic trickle of a mountain stream, or the tinkling of falling icicles.

At the entrance of the lord and his Asgardian guests, the music stopped and the four Jotnar climbed to their feet. Two of them, Thor noted, were without the swirling raised lines which most of the other giants he had seen bore. He wondered if it was a strange variation of birth.

“Prince Helblindi Laufeyjarson,” Thrym began in a tone of cold formality, “your visit is unexpected but most welcome.”

“I see you are entertaining strangers,” said the youth Thrym had addressed as ‘Prince’.

“It is a small matter of transaction,” Thrym answered dismissively. “Come, let us sit. Although...” here passed what seemed like a significant glance, “I think your retinue would be more comfortable in the great hall.”

Helblindi nodded. “Yes, go, all of you – except for Leikn. I bid that he stays.”

“If you wish it,” Thrym replied with apparent indifference.

The giant who was apparently Leikn cast his eyes downwards and looked somewhat ashen at the prospect. “I ask no such favour, my prince. I will go with the others.”

Helblindi folded his arms across his chest and said “very well,” but the tightness in his voice made it a less perfect show of unconcern.

The prince’s three companions filed out, but the musician stayed where he was. His chin rested on his chest and his eyes were unfocussed, fingers tapping lightly upon the keys of his instrument, playing silent melodies as he awaited the invitation to begin again. The inside of the drumskin, Thor noted, was painted with the bear insignia, marking him as one of Thrym’s own household.

“A little young for you, isn’t he?” Thrym remarked when the door had closed against Helblindi’s retinue. “He has not even his markings.”

Helblindi’s face contorted with anger and mortification. “It is not his fault that Jotunheim is lately so much at peace as to make a worthwhile fray a rare thing.”

“Where learned you this hoary nostalgia, Helblindi – at Laufey’s court?”

Helblindi’s eyes flashed. “Do you truly think me so fickle in my allegiances, Thrym?”

“No, but I think you foolish to invite those of uncertain disposition and untried faith to partake of our secrets.”

The Jotun prince looked up towards Thor, and then at Loki, where his gaze lingered. “Do not make me quarrel with you before the guests.”

Thrym inclined his head. “You are in the right, Helblindi. We will speak of these matters later. Shall I make the introductions?”

“There is no need. They know my name and I theirs. You are Thor, son of Odin Spearbreaker. And you are Loki Laufeyjarson, my long-lost brother.”

“Brother?” Thor turned his head to see if Loki seemed surprised (he did not).

Helblindi approached Loki, peering closely at him in the torchlight. “It seems strange,” he said, his voice a quiet rumble, “to greet a sibling of the flesh with such formality.”

“Then do not stand on formality,” Loki replied, looking up into Helblindi’s face with mirroring curiosity.

Helblindi laughed and threw his long arms around Loki, squeezing him tightly to his bare chest.

It was interesting, Thor reflected, to see that from an external view – Loki’s chagrin was very entertaining. He came away with half his face blooming with his Jotun blue and, seemingly fascinated, Helblindi touched Loki’s still flesh-pale cheek and watched the darker colouration come up in smudges beneath his fingertips.

“You are one of us!” he cried in triumph. “It is as Thrym said!”

“Gently, Helblindi,” said Thrym, putting a restraining hand to the young giant’s shoulder. “You are larger than he, and your enthusiasm can be somewhat overpowering.”

Helblindi took a step back, still grinning and staring at Loki with fascination. “But he is so fair – he doesn’t look at all like our dam.”

“No, young one,” Thrym said, “like his sire. Exactly like.” He gestured to the pelts on the floor and said, “come, let us sit. Tryggðmål, sing the Lay of Fárbauti for us.”

“It is too sad a tale for such an occasion,” the musician demurred. “I will tell it to Prince Loki another day, if he asks.”

Thrym regarded his vassal with a look of wry amusement and glanced up at Thor. “Are the skalds of Asgard such insolent wretches?”

“The Odinson would prefer a tale of battle to one of love,” Tryggðmål returned smoothly. “Is that not so?”

For the sake of spreading harmony, Thor politely agreed that it was.

*~*~*

Thor was snoring softly, his limbs a heedless sprawl over half of the (very large) bed. He was naked beneath the pile of furs, ever unselfconscious when it came to his own body. Loki still wore his undershirt, and though he lay on top of a pelt rather than beneath it, he still felt restless and stifled.

After much tossing in indecision, Loki rose from the bed and crossed to the wall that separated the chamber from Thrym’s. He touched his hands to the frigid stones and closed his eyes, then stood back and made a rectangle in the air with his forefinger.

A passageway appeared, glowing faintly green in the darkness. Loki breathed deeply to steel himself and then stepped through.

Beyond, Thrym lay on his side on top of the coverings of his own pallet, gazing toward Loki with a intrigued look in his eyes.

“Shouldn’t you close the passage behind you?” he asked, sitting up upon the edge of the bed. He was fully naked, and Loki could not help but wonder at how this made him seem larger and more intimidating than ever – the length of his limbs, the span of his hands over his kneecaps. His loins were in shadow and Loki wanted to simply drop to the floor before him and give in to his eagerness to explore with his faintly trembling fingers. Was Thrym hard for him yet – was he wet?

Loki replied with passable composure: “it matters not.”

Thrym nodded and beckoned with one open hand.

Loki hesitated. He had never let anyone see him truly naked before – not since he was too small to wash and dress himself (Frigga alone had attended to that – distrusting the loose tongues of the maids with such a vital secret). Telling himself that such diffidence was unseemly in a full-grown prince, Loki crossed his arms over his stomach, grasping the tails of his shirt and pulling it up over his head before dropping the garment to the floor.

*~*~*

Thor woke and sat up, knowing that Loki was gone from the bed but hearing his voice, echoing distantly. He sat up, shivered and observed that there was a doorway where no doorway had been before. The soft green glow it emitted marked it as one of Loki’s own workings.

Thor attuned his ears to the sounds emanating from beyond the mysterious portal – at first the gasps he heard in Loki’s voice sounded like those of pain. Thor scrambled from the bed and was halfway towards the door when the true nature of the sound became plain to him. He stopped abruptly, heart pounding in his ears as he gathered the furs he wore more tightly around himself.

He should return to bed and ignore it, he told himself. He had no desire to watch Loki coupling with a frost giant – to watch Loki coupling with anyone. Yet... Loki had certainly left the pathway open on purpose (Loki did nothing without a purpose) and that nagging thought that had occupied him during dinner – was Loki a brother or a sister? – still plagued him.

A brief glance, he told himself. Just to resolve the biological facts.

He hardly dared to breathe as he moved into the shadow of the artificial doorway. The green light illuminated the room beyond in an eerie way, throwing up high, jagged shadows from the few items of furniture and causing the ice-glazed window to take on a phosphorescent glow.

The vast, low bed was centrally placed and on it lay two figures, one large and strange and the other much slighter and more familiar. Thrym was lying between Loki’s widespread thighs, his arms snaking beneath the smaller man’s crooked knees and his all-encompassing hands resting on the cradle of Loki’s hips.

Thor’s first urge was to cry out and lunge across the room to drag their massive host off his brother. There were dark smudges all down Loki’s arms and torso which at first he took for bruises, but then (as his lagging brain caught up) perceived to be flashes of Loki’s Jotun skin, called forth by Thrym’s caresses.

Loki, Thor realised, was unharmed and entirely willing. As if to prove this point, Loki arched his spine off the bed and moaned – a low, uneven sound that spoke of unfeigned pleasure.

Loki’s manhood (there was that) curved towards his belly – yet this was not what Thrym was touching. Thor narrowed his eyes to discern what lay below: not the expected complement of stones but the delicate folds of a woman’s sex. Thrym was easing his tongue into Loki’s opening in a languid, twisting motion, his red eyes narrowed. Loki trembled violently and tilted his hips – eager for more, it appeared.

Mouth dry and limbs leaden, Thor continued to stare at this forbidden sight for what seemed like an interminable amount of time, but was probably no more than bare seconds. The spell was broken when Loki suddenly turned his head and glared straight at him, red flashing into his eyes so briefly that Thor couldn’t be sure he had even seen it. Loki raised a hand and the portal instantly dissolved, propelling Thor back into their shared room to land on the cold stone floor with a thump.

*~*~*

Thrym sat up, pushing the back of his hand across his glistening mouth. Loki took a deep, shuddering breath and carded his fingers through his sweat-damp hair.

“You intended for him to see,” Thrym stated, his expression oddly blank and voice uninflected.

“Of course,” Loki replied. “Now at last he truly understands that I am not his brother.” Loki passed his fingertips over the blue handprint on his forearm. “Why I have never truly belonged in Asgard, as he does.”

Thrym fixed Loki with a sharp look. “I didn’t know that it was in your nature to be so callous.”

Loki’s expression took on a pettishness in response to this apparent disapprobation. “He needed to know and it was the only way.”

Thrym made a sound of bitter amusement. “I think, Loki, that there would have been words enough to describe your differences if you had but cared to speak them.” He reached down and picked up the abandoned linen shirt, pressing it into Loki’s hands. “Then, if I have served my purpose...”

Loki’s eyes flickered back and forth as he sensed his miscalculation. “You are angry.”

“I have no right to be angry,” Thrym replied cooly. “The fault was my own – I was a fool to believe you could feel ardor for a form you have been raised to think ugly and savage. I should have expected that you harbored an ulterior motive.”

“You are a fine one to speak of ulterior motives, Thrym of Thrymheim,” Loki hissed. “Did you think you could simply seduce me into falling into line with your well-laid plans, like some starry-eyed maiden? Poor Loki – so starved for affection by the Aesir dogs that his head will be turned by the first to pay him even the slightest attention!”

“You think...” Thrym’s eyes widened with sudden understanding. “No, Loki, you are mistaken. There is much I have yet to tell you about our proposed alliance, but I would have come to it, in time. This,” Thrym gestured to their nakedness, “this is another matter entirely. Or so I thought.”

Loki boggled at him. “You propose marriage to me, then flatter me for my appearance and invite me into your bed, yet I am supposed to think these phenomena are unrelated?”

“For our people, marriage is but a stated intention of mutual amity and assistance – to share land, vassals, titles and other resources. It does not follow that the partners are lovers.” Thrym watched Loki and thought more carefully about how it might appear to an Asgardian. “Ah, I see now why you were so shocked by my proposal. It was as if I had marched up to your Aesir family and demanded the right to fuck you.”

“Yes, it...” Loki laughed, covering his mouth. “It was something like that.”

“And yet,” Thrym observed with a shrewd look, “here you are. Did you like the idea?” He laid his huge hand on Loki’s thigh.

“I...” Loki felt desire rush into him again, so thick on his tongue that he couldn’t even form words.

Thrym’s smile was as a flash of an unsheathed blade or a sliver of new moon; the rumble of his voice seemed to vibrate upon Loki’s bare skin. “Did you want the ugly, savage frost giant to have his way with you?”

“I’ve never...” Loki protested as Thrym roughly pulled him closer. “I’ve never thought you ugly.”

“No?” Thrym enquired, stroking the length of Loki’s back. “What, then?”

“Knowing. Powerful.”

“And that attracts you?”

“More than I can say.” Loki put his hands to Thrym’s shoulders and his knees either side of Thrym’s hips, sinking down into his lap with a soft inhalation of breath.

“Show me then,” Thrym kissed the slender column of his neck, then his lips. “With more than just your sharp words.”

Loki shifted and felt the pressure of Thrym’s prick against his still-slick opening. He angled his hips to press down, but Thrym squeezed his waist, breaking their kiss to say, “don’t rush. I would not cause you more pain than is needed.”

Loki wanted to protest against such patronizing consideration, but Thrym kissed him again and leaned down to lower Loki onto his back upon the bed.

The combined shock of sensation when Thrym pushed two of his thick fingers into Loki’s cunt while his mouth enveloped the tip of his prick was enough to make Loki let out an odd yelping sound he had to stifle by chewing on his own knuckles. Thrym gave his rich, deep laugh around him, working ever-deeper with his fingers until Loki was so close he was actually drooling over his own hand.

Withdrawing for a moment, Thrym rolled him onto his side, fitting his body behind Loki’s and encouraging him to lean back against his greater bulk. A hand slid beneath Loki’s knee, tugging upwards, and in a smooth, unrelenting movement Thrym was pressing into him.

There was pain, to begin with – a sharp, bright pressure at being spread open around Thrym. Loki bit the inside of his own arm and screwed his eyes closed, shoving back with his hips in a show of what was either contrariness or determination until his muscles relented and he was able to find pleasure in the fullness and the steady slide of Thrym’s prick within him.

Thrym kissed the side of his mouth, breathing heavily against him as he closed his hand around Loki’s shaft, and in reciprocation Loki reached down to where they were joined and began to finger Thrym as they moved together. The angle was awkward, but the clenching and yielding of Thrym’s cunt and the hitching in his deep grunts made it clear the attention was appreciated. Towards the end, Thrym’s thrusts became fast and arrhythmic; he clutched Loki’s inner thigh tightly and bit his shoulder, shoving against him and groaning through climax.

Loki rolled onto his back a as Thrym pulled out. The trickle of seed seeping from him as he did so roused a fresh awareness of how sore and well-used he felt – for some reason it made Loki oddly proud. Yet before he’d had much time for reflection on this, Thrym was straddling him and guiding Loki’s prick inside himself, murmuring something low and fervent about the sensation. Loki could feel the same fluttering spasms he always felt deep within himself in the aftermath of a really powerful orgasm, and that light, teasing pressure alone was enough to make Loki buck upwards, giving himself over to his own completion.

Thrym bent and kissed him, pressing their foreheads together for a long moment before moving off him to stretch out by his side. Thrym did not perspire and there was none of the prickling heat Loki had always found so repellent in his Asgardian conquests, so for once Loki silently consented to letting himself be gathered close. He lay in the bracket of Thrym’s long arms, gently rocked by the expansions and contractions of the Jotun’s chest as he breathed. One of Thrym’s hands slid down to rest between Loki’s legs, cupping him and soothing the dull ache with frost-rimed fingertips.

“It was your first time?” he asked.

“It depends on what you mean by that,” Loki replied in a soft, exhausted voice, his sinews feeling like they had all been unknotted. “I have experienced sexual congress before. More than once I have shifted to be fully male and lain with Asgardian maids. Once, only, I changed my form to a woman’s and crept forth to Midgard, to lie with a mortal man.”

“And did any of these experiences satisfy you?”

Loki shook his head. “Shifting my form deadens bodily sensation. It’s like touching through a leather glove.” He paused. “Do you know what a glove is?”

Thrym gave a low throb of laughter. “Oh, I have read of such things in books, my prince.”

Loki pondered for a moment. “Do you have a word for it – the way we shared one another just now?”

“We call it union in both kinds. It is usually thought of as a gesture of equality and trust.”

Loki bit his tongue, wanting to say something cutting in response to that word ‘trust’ – but, of course, in Jotunheim he was not known for a liar or a trickster.

His eyes widened – now that he thought on it, the possibilities were dizzying.

“Sleep, Loki,” Thrym told him, feeling the sudden stiffness of his posture and stroking the length of Loki’s arm to soothe him back into drowsing. “There is much to be discussed tomorrow – with both your brothers.”

Chapter Text

Thor woke at dawn, shivering violently in the wintry, fishbowl light that penetrated the iceblock window.

The other side of the bed was empty, which he supposed he was grateful for, as in his current state of mind he had no idea what he was going to say to Loki. He still hadn’t decided whether he was, for the most part, angry at Loki for luring him into yet another pitfall trap, or whether he should be earnestly seeking his brother’s forgiveness for his own stupidity in never realising the true cause of Loki’s alienation.

He rose and dressed (the fastenings providing a considerable challenge to his frozen digits), deciding to go for a walk about the castle to at least stop the blood from freezing solid in his veins.

The Jotnar were already stirring. On his way down frigid, stony corridors Thor saw servants hurrying back and forth and somewhere in the distance he could hear the sound of shouts and cheers. Curious to know what was afoot so early in Thrymheim, he began to walk briskly in the direction of the din.

Halfway down the hall that branched from his own and Loki’s chamber, Thor almost collided with a Jotun emerging from one of the rooms. He skidded to a halt, boots slipping on the ice-slick floor and gauntlets outstretched to stop any of the exposed portions of his body from coming into contact with the giant’s skin.

Disaster avoided by inches, Thor rocked back onto his heels. The Jotun was facing the open doorway of the room he had just exited, talking to someone within while fastening the side of the leather garment he wore.

“You always say that – why not just admit that you’re angry when you are angry?”

The giant turned and finally seemed to notice Thor.

“Ah, good morrow, Odinson. How fares Loki this morning?”

This manner of address jolted Thor into realizing that the person before him was Prince Helblindi – a fact which the low light, the disparity in their heights and Thor’s own difficulty in telling the Jotnar apart had served to obscure.

“He is well... um, I think. I haven’t seen him yet.”

“Ah, he sleeps late – then he lay with Thrym last night. There!” (Helblindi addressed this to the person in the room beyond) “didn’t I tell you?”

The person in the room muttered something that was too fast and low-pitched for Thor to catch.

“Just because you don’t find him appealing doesn’t mean no-one else does,” Helblindi retorted. After a beat he said: “don’t glare at me so, I didn’t mean me! Ugh, he’s more kin to me than–” Helblindi looked around, suddenly suspicious, and lowered his voice. “Never mind.” In a more cheerful tone he enquired of Thor: “are you going to watch the bouts?”

“That is the source of the noise, then?”

“Thrym thought it would be more spirited to make a competition of their practice. Tarry a moment and I will personally escort you.” Helblindi smiled as if he thought he was bestowing a great honour upon Thor.

Thor returned the offer with a jerky bow.

To the unseen person in the chamber beyond, Helblindi said: “are you sure you will not come?” Whatever answer was returned must have been gestural, because Helblindi rolled his eyes and sighed, then stepped back into the room, letting the door swing open more widely. This afforded Thor a view of the interior, and of the Jotun prince settling his hands on a younger giant’s waist – Thor thought it was one of the unlined Jotnar who had been dismissed from their meeting the previous night.

“If you are truly not angry, then kiss me farewell,”

The younger giant gave a sulky look before complying, cupping the back of Helblindi’s neck, tilting his head to press their mouths together.

Thor blushed and looked away – he already knew much more about the sex lives of the frost giants than he cared to. Unfortunately for him, staring at the floor did nothing to block out the quiet sucking sounds or sighs of pleasure.

After what seemed like an inappropriate length of time, the giants pulled apart with a wet sound and a low, intimate chuckle from one of them. Stepping outside the room again, Helblindi said “very well!” in bright, ringing tones that reminded Thor, oddly, of Loki (could speech patterns be inherited?). “The arena is this way.”

Helblindi set off down the corridor at a fast lope, Thor (with his shorter stride) struggling to keep up without breaking into a run.

“I hope you do not think that Leikn has no lust for battle,” Helblindi glanced sideways at him. “Because he does. He is merely uncertain of his welcome here.”

“I thought nothing of the sort,” Thor assured him.

“Thrym doesn’t approve of him,” Helblindi continued. ‘Thrym does not approve of any of my lovers. He thinks me... frivolous.”

“I am sure that is not true,” Thor offered awkwardly. “He holds you in high esteem.”

“Do you like him?” Helblindi asked. Without waiting for an answer, he rushed out: “do you think he will persuade Loki to stay?”

“ I... I don’t know. Loki seems to enjoy his company, but Loki’s motives and feelings are often difficult to divine.”

Helblindi rubbed his chin. “If he lies with Thrym, I suppose that is something. Did Loki have many lovers in Asgard?”

“None... that I know of.”

Helblindi seemed surprised by this. “I suppose he could not bring himself to find your kind desirable,” he mused, looking down at Thor. “What is that thing upon your face?”

Thor swiped self-consciously at his chin before he realised exactly what Helblindi was referring to. “Oh, my beard! In my realm it is a symbol of manliness.” Thor flinched as it occurred to him that ‘manliness’ was a concept which probably made little sense to the ambiguously sexed Jotun before him. “Also, it helps keep my face warm.”

Helblindi frowned, as if recalling a word he had read in an obscure text somewhere, or a half-remembered lesson. “What does ‘warm’ feel like?”

Thor sighed, breath wreathing in the air. “I’m beginning to forget that myself.”

*~*~*

The training arena, when Loki disovered it, was a large stone coliseum structure arranged around a field of compacted ice, blackened and pinkened in spots by grit and blood spill, respectively. Loki stepped lightly among the cheering giants to stand by his host. All the assembly were looking on at the spectacle of Helblindi and Thor beating ten bells out of each other.

Thor was weilding an ice staff that one of the Jotnar must have gifted him with in lieu of Mjolnir, making it more of a fair and interesting fight.

Thrym addressed him without turning his head. “Good morning, Loki. I trust you slept well?”

Loki raised an eyebrow at him. “You know that as well as I.”

“No regrets then? Good.”

Loki let that hang in the air for a while before casting his eye around the packed arena and observing: “What a great number of soldiers you keep, Thrym. About a thousand, by my reckoning.”

“Near enough,” Thrym replied. “Is it not a lord’s duty to find occupation for the men of his lands? Or should I let them wander as masterless vagabonds?”

“Hm,” Loki winced as Helblindi’s ice-encrusted arm missed slamming into Thor’s head by inches, Thor recovering from his fall to flip himself nimbly upright. “This isn’t a fight to the death, is it?”

Thrym laughed heartily at this. “Nay, cannot you recognise a friendly match when you see one?”

“And does Helblindi know what might prove fatal to an Aesir?”

“Oh, I dare say Laufey has at least taught him that.”

“Reassuring,” Loki remarked. He felt a hand caressing his hair in a proprietary fashion and stared up at Thrym . “I had not thought you one for such public displays.”

“Not usually.” A roar went up as Thor stumbled on the ice, his eyes inexorably drawn to Loki, and Thrym’s hand (which now rested on Loki's elbow).

“Ah, you are trying to distract Thor. That is not very sporting.”

“I simply think,” said Thrym, leaning down to murmur it with needless intimacy against Loki’s ear, “that the men’s morale would be vastly improved by seeing the Odinson lose.”

Loki grinned. He could not deny that he was himself partial to the sight of Thor brought low.

And Thor did eventually lose. A blow from Helblindi’s spear arm shattered his ice pole, and weaponless upon a surface upon which he had little purchase it was only a matter of time before he was felled and pinned, giving him no choice but to yield (yet that he did so graciously was no little wonder). Full of the victor’s magnanimity, Helblindi gave him a hand up and proclaimed Thor an honourable opponent and true prince, then invited him to go hunting.

To this Thor readily agreed, his wide grin (Loki realised, with a sinking feeling) matching Helblindi’s precisely.

*~*~*

Excusing himself from the hunting party, Loki went to find his entertainment elsewhere, and found his steps naturally turning towards the library. The tome of magic which Thrym had drawn his attention to the previous day still lay open upon the desk, and Loki retrieved the stool to hop up and examine it more closely.

It was all of one hand, but bore traces of many different inks. It seemed to be a commonplace book where Thrym’s brother had recorded useful scraps of spells and magical lore as he found them. Some pieces of writing were shoved in edgewise or crammed into the ruled margins.

Loki worked his way through the portions he could read on the first few pages, then began to ponder the Jotunish script. “I wonder,” he muttered to himself, “if they have such a thing as a primer or a grammar.” He looked at the shelves and wondered how they were arranged. “From what does a Jotun child first learn his letters?”

“From a tutor, of course,” came a voice from the other side of the room.

Loki started and almost fell off the stool. The speaker tilted his head and peered around the large stack of books that had hidden him from view. It was Thrymheim’s skald.

“My apologies,” the skald said, looking very far from contrite. “I thought you were asking a question.”

“I was speaking to myself,” said Loki pointedly. “I thought there was no-one else here.”

“Is that an Aesir habit?” the skald tapped his bottom lip with ink-stained fingers. “They do seem to talk a great deal – I suppose there’s no reason they should stop simply because they find themselves alone.”

“Forgive me,” said Loki in a high, falsely-sweet tone as he jumped down from the stool with as much dignity as he could muster, “I’m not sure I recall your name, skald.”

“Tryggðmål.”

Loki gave a sharp bark of laughter, covering his mouth with his fingers. To Tryggðmål’s quizzical look he answered: “‘Truth speaking’... that is very amusing.” He paused for a moment before deciding that there was no harm in revealing some of his nature to such an insignificant personage. “In Asgard, one of my names is Liesmith.”

“Truths and falsehoods may be used for good or ill – intent is all,” Tryggðmål responded with a philosophical air. “And what is history but a skein of lies, woven to make a tapestry of truth?”

“You sound like my old tutor.”

“That has been one of my professions. I taught Lord Thrym his letters.”

“Did you indeed?” Loki tried to imagine the eight-foot Jotun general as a sullen child at a desk.

“Oh, yes. I would happily teach you too, if you truly desire to learn our High Tongue... which has so sadly fallen out of use. Woe to our ancestors,” he intoned histrionically, “that we so freely speak the words of our captors!” (This utterance seemed to please him so well that he bit his lip and scribbled it down.)

“What is that you labour at, skald?” Loki asked, wandering closer.

Tryggðmål sighed. “An opus I have long been writing. It is the history of Thrymheim itself.”

“Are you nearly finished?” Loki enquired.

“Who can say?” The skald glanced about him. “The house still stands, does it not?”

“Ah.” Loki was starting to suspect the skald to be somewhat eccentric. Either that or he had a very whimsical sense of humour – which seemed totally at odds with the general character of the Jotnar.

Tryggðmål was apparently much older than Thrym, yet he bore no markings, which made Loki suspect that such adornments were an affectation of the warrior caste alone. Having no love for gold or sumptuous attire as means of conferring rank, it made sense that the Jotnar would take to bearing signs of nobility upon their skin. These were signs of honour that could never be taken from them, except in being stripped form their very corpses.

“I’m adding recent events while they are fresh in my memory,” Tryggðmål explained, continuing his notation. “By the by, did you lie with Lord Thrym last night?”

“Did I what?” Loki squeaked.

“Lie with him,” Tryggðmål enunciated carefully.

Loki’s nostrils flared. “Is this to be a matter of public record?”

“Yes or no would suffice. Unless you’d also like to supply some adjectives.”

“How about ‘private’, wretch!”

“Hm,” unfazed by the insult, Tryggðmål tapped his chin. “I see the Asgardians are as prudish as everyone says. We have a fitting proverb, you know: ‘the pale Aesir wastes time in blushes not seen on Jotun skin’.”

“Interesting, because in Asgard it is said: ‘those who anger magicians are likely to get turned into swine, then slaughtered and roasted to a turn’.”

“That doesn’t really have the ring of a proverb,” Tryggðmål objected.

“Enough,” said Loki, straightening his tunic. “If you must speak, remember your office and tell me something of history. You promised me the tale of my sire.”

Tryggðmål sat back and raised his eyes towards the vaulted ceiling. “It is much better with accompaniment, but since you are so impatient I will simply recite.”

Loki seated himself on a convenient chair and made a twisting gesture with his hand to urge the skald to get on with it. Tryggðmål ducked his head, breathed deeply and then began:

“‘Neath northern hills // his nativity had
And his fame far-ranging // was fairly got
Nothing is known // of his nameless kin
But that they were humble // and hardly fared

They broke their backs // on black earth
To raise the roots // therein reside
All men misshapen // by much toil
Failing only Fárbauti // that fabled child

This babe as blue-pale // as beryl was
Grew he as lithe and lissom // as a lynx
Eyes as shining-scarlet // as spilling blood
And cause for curiosity // a crown of hair

Too fair for foraging // were Fárbauti’s hands
Too straight his spine // to earthwards stoop
But his bow of blessing // the barren sought
Holding his hands // on hollow wombs

Only one love // had our Fárbauti
A homely huntsman // from hillsides by
Of face ill-favoured // and frail in body
Yet fairness itself as fair // but him feted

That rashest runner // we Rumour call
Hit even the hearth // of the high one
Of this blithe beauty // loudly boasting
Laufey’s palm pushing // to pluck

Of that keen, careful age // was the king
That his brain brooded // on bearing
Naught him could crown // more completely
Than a goodly godlike // child to get

Two soldiers swart // he sent hence
To his keep to carry // that coveted prize
And so they did. // For dragged they Fárbauti
With harangues most horrible // from home

‘Your agéd dam will we defile,’ // declared they
‘Your sire’s barns scorch // yea, his spine snap!
Snatch out by the strings // your sweetheart’s eyes
And swap with sightless ice // if still you tarry.’

Fárbauti went his way // to waiting king
And bided at board // like battle spoil
And couched under canopy // like carvéd ice
So still and silent // to sovereign’s touch

Laufey in anger abounding // did ask why
He had yet to yield // the youth sighed
And so called the king // his keen soldiers
Tasking to tell // what tidings they knew

Threats sere and sickening // they spoke of
But the king in his choler // cleped it well –
‘To those windswept wastes // wend ye back
Perform in perfectness // all was promised.’

And so they did. // Laufey decried not one word,
But in his love’s loveless touch // he levity found.
And when Rumour next rounded // the ramparts high
Its bile and bitterness to Fárbauti // it brought

That same night sweetly // the thrall sent word
That in their close chamber // he company craved
Darkness in that den // Laufey descried
Fárbauti within waiting // so winning-soft

Fárbauti tenderly touched // and took him –
(Act most plainly pleasing // to proud Laufey)
Then the high one he hollered // ‘light, ho!’
That face divine and dear-bought // to dote on

From steward snatched he // the searing torch,
The flame he held high // and up-hung it.
‘Now Laufey, look on me,’ // Fárbauti laughed
‘Eyes feast their fill // for am I not fair?’

Gone were his long locks, // knife-lopped close
Lined that most famed face // with furrows bloody
And – terror to tell – // taken were his eyes –
In their sockets shone // the sparkling ice

Blind Fárbauti’s fingers // had fleetness yet
To seek the sharp dagger // its slippery haft
Its point in-plunging // his pregnant belly
To slay both self // and sweetheart’s get

As foe and lover lost // did Laufey him mourn,
Then his face timely turned // war toward
Yet one poison prank // to play had Fárbauti –
To bloat the king’s belly // with a bane

Churned he in childbed // long chiming hours
While battle lines built // ‘neath banners grim,
And then Laufey learned // that lost was all –
Realizing the runt // for his reckoning.”


Tryggðmål folded his hands together and smiled expectantly at Loki, clearly expecting praise for his smooth recitation.

“Well,” said Loki dryly, “do you expect me to be pleased I’ve gone down in history as a cursed runt?”

Tryggðmål tutted, as if Loki was missing the point of the whole thing. “It is naught but an old proverb of ours: ‘a stunted child is an ill-harbinger’. What true king could be frighted by such ignorant superstitions?”

Loki drummed his fingers on the table, getting more and more irate as he contemplated the story. “And why, pray tell, was Thrym so anxious to have me hear this? Is it vital that I know I was conceived and born in hate?”

“Far be it from me to put words into my lord’s mouth,” said Tryggðmål with an ironical smile, “but if I were to hazard a guess I’d say he meant you to know of the power you hold over Laufey – should you care to wield it.”

“Hm,” Loki considered this. “So, my being his bane may be a self-fulfilling prophecy?”

“Aren’t they all?” Tryggðmål sniffed, resuming his pen-scratching.

Loki tapped his bottom lip in thought. “And tell me this, skald: thinking me a curse, Laufey left me in the temple – why?”

“Doubtless to placate the gods by giving a first-born in offering.” As if Loki needed the clarification, Tryggðmål added: “it didn’t work.”

“So what does he imagine became of me?”

“The temple fell in the last of the skirmishes. He likely thinks you dead and buried beneath the ruins.”

Loki laughed, gesturing to his own face. “So to him I appear as an avenging shade?”

Tryggðmål raised his eyes and smiled broadly. “It would be dramatic, would it not?”

The rest of the afternoon passed in Loki deciphering what he could of Thrym’s brother’s writings as Tryggðmål hummed occasionally to himself and continued his faint scratchings and crossings out.

The relative tranquility was shattered by the entrance of Thor, who seemed himself to be turning a rather Jotunish shade of blue.

“Brother!” he cried, teeth chattering violently in his head. “You should have seen the great boar we felled! Enough to feed fifty men at least! The quantity of hair on the beast ‘twas unlike–”

“Thor, stand still and shut up so I can prevent you from expiring on the spot,” Loki scolded.

“Ah,” said Thor, smiling (though it came out as more of a grimace through his shivers). “I slipped into a crevasse. Helblindi says I have not my snow legs yet.”

“Likely he wished only to spare you the self-knowledge that you are a clumsy oaf,” Loki retorted, casting a warming spell powerful enough to penetrate to Thor’s extremities, which had to be in danger of being lost to frostbite.

Thor shook himself like a wet dog and beamed at Loki. “You should have come along. Your betrothed has great skill with ice spear and pikestaff.”

“He’s not my...” Loki flushed angrily. “Nothing has been agreed.”

Thor raised a golden eyebrow. “Well anyway...” he responded, brushing snow from his scarlet cloak and readjusting Mjolnir at his belt, “are you staying for the time being, or returning to Asgard now with me?”

“You’re leaving?” something heavy seemed to settle in Loki’s stomach. Much as he liked to complain about Thor’s presence, his brother was an anchor to the familiar. More, even – a foil that helped Loki to define his own sense of self.

“I have taken my leave of our host. Generous as Thrymheim’s hospitality is, this climate is not for such as I.” Thor thumped Loki’s arm companionably. “Your kind are lucky, brother, that you know not what it is to have stones to freeze off.”

Loki’s splutter of indignant laughter was cut into by Tryggðmål who suddenly rose from behind his desk to peer at Thor and remark: “what is he talking about? Of course we have stones.” He pressed a hand to the lower left portion of his abdomen. “They are within, on the opposite sides to our wombs.” To Loki he said, with an air of astonished disapproval, “your foster-sib is very ill-informed.”

Thor stared in astonishment at the skald, partly because he had been unaware of a third person’s presence, but mainly because he was unused to being spoken to so discourteously. Left to stew for long enough, this shock would no doubt transmute to anger, so Loki swiftly took the opportunity to suggest accompanying him beyond the gates to say farewell.

*~*~*

They walked from Thrymheim in silence, each wondering what to say on such an occasion. Eventually they reached a distance from the castle gates were it seemed to make no sense for Loki to go further, and turned to face one another.

At precisely the same moment, each rushed out: “I should apologise...”

They blinked at each other, and after a pause, Thor forged ahead with: “I should have known that there was a reason you always held yourself so aloof. When you shunned everyone’s company and hid yourself away, I was all too willing to shrug it off as merely your temperament. It was wrong of me. I should have made myself someone you could confide in.”

Loki shook his head. “I had not the courage to explain. It was cruel of me to force understanding on you as I did.”

“You know that it doesn’t... that it could never...” Thor struggled, words never his forte. “Aesir or Jotun, brother or sister – or something of both, it doesn’t matter – you are always Loki, familiar and strange, and unutterably dear to me.”

Loki waited until the stinging in his chest faded and he could speak again. “I am grateful for your acceptance, but I could hardly hope for all Asgard to do the same.”

Thor sighed and nodded in acknowledgement of a truth that pained him. “Then I hope you can be happy here. Do you like him? Thrym, I mean.”

Loki shrugged his narrow shoulders. “I don’t know.”

“You seem to enjoy his company.”

“He is clever...” Loki remarked, “and devious.”

Thor’s eyes twinkled. “Sounds like someone else I know.”

There was an awkward pause before Loki came out with: “you do know me – I am restless and constant in nothing. This realm... I will not stay here forever. That is not for me.”

“I do not doubt it, brother. Come and visit us whenever you please. Mother will want that.”

“Alright.” Loki stared at the ground and continued to do so until arms slid around his waist. He looked up into Thor’s face and the longing he saw there was startling. Loki raised one hand to Thor’s cheek, then carded his fingers through hair the colour of the wheat waving in Asgard’s sunlit fields; a hue which, familiar as it was, suddenly seemed rare and uncanny in such a barren landscape.

Thor kissed him. It was not chaste, yet nor was it explicitly sexual – Thor’s mouth was soft and yielding against his, his eyes closed, so as to hide whatever lingering emotion it was he didn’t want to show to Loki.

He pulled Loki in tighter, compressing his ribs and pushing their mouths together too hard to be pleasurable before letting him go and turning with a ripple of his cloak, which stood out against the snow like blood.

And it was them all over, Loki supposed – always burning too brightly in an emphatic anger that looked like love or a ferocious love that looked like anger.

He watched for a moment as Thor raised Mjolnir and took off into the sky with a jerk. Then Loki turned, feet leaden, and made his back towards Thrymheim, still some distance hence.

Halfway between the site of the farewell and the castle, Loki encountered Thrym, who had been standing so tall and still to appear as a solitary post or tree until Loki got close to him.

“He is gone then?” he said.

Loki nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Thrym moved to walk by his side, shortening his own strides to match Loki’s ponderous pace.

“Thor is green and headstrong,” Thrym pronounced, “but quick to learn. He will be a good king when he has made enough mistakes.” After a moment’s thoughtful reflection, he added: “wondrous to tell, I even think he and Helblindi like each other – thus, we have done more, you and I, for Aesir-Jotun relations in the last single day than has been accomplished since Odin’s treaty ended the war.”

“At any rate,” said Loki, “Allfather will be pleased that you put an end to Thor’s warmongering. Perhaps he will give you a prize.”

Thrym’s fingertips caressed the nape of his neck. “I already took the liberty of claiming one.”

“Hm,” Loki refused to rise to that bait.

“And how have you passed your afternoon?”

“In the library, conversing with Tryggðmål.”

“And did you find him insolent?”

“Very. He all but called Thor an idiot to his face.”

Thrym laughed and laid his arm across Loki’s shoulders. “Well, think on this – when he is your servant, you may thrash him as you please.”

Loki slid his green-eyed gaze sideways, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “So... apparently my sire was some kind of love god?”

“Tryggðmål told you that, did he? Well, I trust you are too wise to let it go to your head.”

“Actually, I was hoping for some worshipping later. But if you lack faith in my divinity I may be forced to seek disciples elsewhere. Oof–”

Loki kept underestimating how quickly the Jotnar could move, for all their size. Thrym had neatly hooked a bare foot around Loki’s ankle and sent him sprawling into a snow drift.

Loki started to shout angrily at him, magic crackling at his fingertips as Thrym grasped his wrists and pressed him back into the snow (which felt to Loki as comfortable as any lush, grassy bank in Asgard). Thrym’s tongue flickering against his jugular notch made Loki gasp and arch against the other’s chest.

At the light, teasing pressure of lips on his neck Loki moaned softly and then laughed, catching snowflakes on his tongue as they began to fall in fresh flurries from the sky. “Can we... right here? What if someone happens upon us?”

“I am lord of this place, and no-one may gainsay my pious devotions,” he began to work upon the fastenings of Loki’s tunic, kissing his chest as it was bared. “No matter how unorthodox they may seem.”

Loki lay back, sighing as he simply let Thrym’s large, powerful hands to push aside his clothing, lifting his hips to allow his breeches to be tugged down around his thighs.

He was half hard already, his cunt tingling as the sharp breeze caressed it. Thrym lowered his head, smiling intently at Loki for a moment (in a way that made Loki’s stomach knot and flip) before leaning in to lick him, very slowly and deliberately, parting the labia with the tip of his tongue.

Loki twisted and cried out, startled by the intensity of his own pleasure.

“Still so sensitive?” Thrym blew lightly on the area and then licked him again, faster this time, and continuing his tongue’s path up the underside of Loki’s shaft to suck on the tip.

Loki gasped and flexed his hand upon the back of Thrym’s neck, fingertips fluttering against the base of his skull. Then Thrym was straddling him, taut muscular thighs either side of Loki’s hips. He bent down to kiss Loki, making that low noise of pleasure which sounded almost like a growl as he worked to unfasten his single garment, throwing it aside. Loki felt his own prick twitch, arching up in longing toward’s Thrym’s folds. He could feel the wetness there and he wanted

More than one thing, perhaps. For Thrym to push down on him. Or roll over on his back and let Loki bury his face between those thickly-muscled thighs, to taste him as he had longed to do since the previous night (what would that be like? Loki wondered, fingers bunching in the snow. Would he taste faintly saline, as Loki did on Thrym’s lips?)

Of these options, Thrym seemed content to choose the first, angling his hips and gripping Loki’s prick at the base to firmly guide Loki into him, his cunt slick and welcoming.

Gazing upwards, Loki stil couldn’t get past how intimidating and exotic Thrym looked on top of him – the indigo corded flesh and eyes so startling red. They moaned in unison as Thrym moved, Loki’s hands coming up to grab the other man’s shoulders, fingernails biting.

“When I was young,” Thrym told him, breathing heavily, “I used – almost always – to take my lovers. The pleasure of sinking into another’s body seemed so simple and uncomplicated.” He rocked deeper onto Loki and gave a soft, fervent groan, squeezing himself once. “The older I get, the more I like this – feeling full and so...”

“–Vulnerable,” Loki said, almost a whisper.

Thrym cocked his head, concentrating on the sensation anew as he moved. “Yes, perhaps that is part of it.”

They moved faster then, Loki bucking into Thrym on the downstroke and giving loose, uncoordinated flexes of his hand around the base of Thrym’s shaft. This was somehow enough to get them both to climax more or less simultaneously, crying out into the blizzard now in progress around them.

In muzzy silence they cleaned themselves off with handfuls of snow and went about dressing. This took Loki longer, since he had more clothing to deal with, and also his hands were being uncooperative, fumbling uselessly on the fastenings of his trousers. He heard Thrym’s low, rich laughter at this.

“Don’t laugh at me,” he snapped, suddenly feeling exposed and unhappy. “I don’t like to be laughed at.”

Lips softly brushed his cheek. “I’m sorry. Loki, forgive me.”

“I’m not...” Loki breathed out unsteadily. The blizzard had narrowed their field of vision to each other and he felt the weight of Thrym’s scrutiny. “I’m not used to this. I’ve never been anyone’s lover... or friend, even. The only person I’ve ever been close to is Thor and I... I’m not very nice to him.”

Seeming to read his thoughts, Thrym said: “you are not an outsider here.”

Loki sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees, curling into himself. “I feel like one.”

Thrym’s gaze was warm and without pity. “With open hand I have offered you all that is mine, Loki. Now is your chance to claim a sense of belonging, if that is what you want.”

“And to be clear,” said Loki, giving him a sharp look, “‘claiming a sense of belonging’, as you put it, involves helping you and Helblindi to overthrow Laufey?”

“It is a pity,” Thrym replied with seeming lightness, “that the High Kings of the Jotnar do not wear crowns.” He reached over to brush Loki’s snow-flecked hair away from his forehead. “A circlet of gold would look so fine upon your shapely brow.”

Loki grasped Thrym’s hand, pulling it from his face. “You should know that I have no desire to rule – worldly power is tawdry and dull.” He paused for a moment, his eyes flashing their native red as he glanced up at the older giant. “Revenge, on the other hand, I find incredibly appealing.”

Thrym smiled. “Then we are in agreement.”

Chapter Text

Expecting to stay in Jotunheim no more than a few days, Loki had brought nothing with him on the visit. Now reluctant to return to Asgard to face a barrage of impertinent questions, he resolved to leave the collecting of his belongings to a much later date. Thrymheim had magical and historical texts enough to entertain him, but there remained the matter of clothing.

Although Loki had abandoned boots altogether (finding they gave him no purchase on the icy floors), he was not quite ready to adopt the leathern apron that served as the summation of Jotun clothing. When he mentioned the matter to Thrym, his host was quick to have him brought fresh garments to wear. Clean and in excellent condition though they were (and unmistakably Asgardian in form) these clothes were in the style of generations previous: linens so fine they felt like cobweb, a burgundy tunic baroquely embroidered in gold, and dark grey close-fitting breeches. When he questioned Thrym about their provenance, the Jotun only sighed and said “this realm was not always an exiled world. Not every house shared Laufey’s hate.”

Bathing, as it turned out, was problematic in Jotunheim, since large quantities of unfrozen water were hard to come by. There was less urgency in the matter than there would have been in Asgard – frost giants did not sweat, after all, but cleansing was still an eventual necessity.

Thus when a servant presented himself at the door to Thrym’s chambers one afternoon as Loki was indulging in some private reading and awaiting the lord’s return, enquiring if Loki wished to bathe, he readily agreed. A short while later a second servant appeared bearing some odd apparatus: a metal bowl which sat upon a handled chafing dish of coals. This he set upon the chamber’s long, low table. Calling up ice upon his arm, the servant flexed his wrist to crumble this into the dish, whereupon the ice hissed and promptly melted. From a pouch to the side of the garment he wore upon his hips he took two bottles, one of which contained something crystalline, the other an oil. These were set on the table next to the dish of water, as were the towel and cloth that the servant had borne in upon his shoulder.

With everything in readiness, he turned to Loki and clasped his hands together before him, looking awkward as Loki stared back, non-plussed.

“You... If you would...” he gestured at Loki. “Forgive me, but I have not the skill to work the fastenings of your strange garments.

“You wish me to undress?” Loki had expected to simply be left to his own devices. The giants, as a rule, were not at all tactile with people who were neither lovers nor close kin, but perhaps as an action performed in service this was exempt from the same rules that governed conduct between social equals.

The servant nodded, and Loki began to remove his clothing as he had been so timidly directed. The giant looked to be of around Helblindi’s age, full grown but retaining some of the gangly awkwardness of youth.

“What is your name?” Loki asked, trying to put the young giant at ease.

“Idi,” he replied with a duck of his head.

“I am Loki.”

“Yes, you are the Aesir pledged to marry Lord Thrym.”

Loki frowned, wondering why it was still generally thought he was an Asgardian born, but he didn’t see fit to argue the point. His glamour, after all, remained in place – and Thrym had demurred when Loki offered to dispel it, claiming that it would yet serve a purpose.

When Loki had stripped down to a loincloth, Idi directed him to sit upon a stool. Dipping a cloth in the water, Idi reached out towards Loki’s chest, then hesitated.

“Is the touch of my kind harmful to you?”

“I’m a sorcerer,” Loki told him. “You can do me no harm, Idi.”

Idi dampened the skin of Loki’s chest and back with plain water before rubbing in the crystalline compound - an abrasive that contained rock salt. This was then rinsed from him with the cloth and a layer of oil applied. Loki’s skin did feel clean and tingling, but there was something causing him unease. Not the touch of Idi’s hands, which was sure and professional, but something else. Something almost beyond the realm of any one sense, that made his nostrils prickle and the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

Idi’s eyes were very dark, Loki thought. His breathing seemed very fast and shallow.

Loki tipped his head back and closed his own eyes as Idi began on his face and neck.

“I don’t know what to do with this,” Loki felt a light tug upon his hair.

“Is there such a thing here as soap?” Loki asked.

Idi seemed to think about this for a moment. “Oh, yes! The thing we use on the cooking pots? It’s made of lye and animal fat.”

“Yes.”

“You would use that on your person?” Idi seemed to have reservations about this. “Well, very well then. I shall have it brought.”

As Idi moved to work on Loki’s feet and legs, Loki’s feeling of unease intensified. Except unease with the wrong word – it was more like agitation or restlessness. There was something – something in the air he had not words to encompass. He gazed down in curiosity at Idi, who, in a bold move, held his gaze. Loki breathed deeply and shivered.

Was it desire? Loki wondered. If so, why? Idi was a plain-looking youth with unevenly pigmented skin and a wide, flat mouth.

Idi’s oiled hands rested on Loki’s thighs now. “I should...” he stammered, “I should leave you to finish...” he seemed to hesitate. His gaze finally broke from Loki’s, voice dropping to a low murmur. “Is it true?”

“What?” Loki asked, held taut by the same bewitching thread.

“That Asgardians are only half what a Jotun is. That you are a divided race.” His voice sounded rougher, his eyes lingering on the fabric bunched over Loki’s lap. “Which kind are you?”

“I’m a shapeshifter,” Loki told him. “Which kind would you like me to be?”

Idi’s hands trembled violently where they gripped his thighs and Idi seemed on the point of answering when the door opened and Thrym entered. Closing the door behind him he took one look at Idi kneeling at Loki’s feet and straightened, brow darkening in outrage.

“By Mímir’s tortured head – what are you doing, child? I can smell you.”

Idi let out a cry of a alarm and fell back on his behind, hand clasped over his mouth while his eyes went round in panic.

“I didn’t think...” he mumbled from behind his fingers. “I didn’t think it would matter...”

“Would anyone like to enlighten me to what is going on?” Loki glanced wildly between them.

Thrym’s stern gaze remained on the young servant. “Are you trying to create uproar? You know better than to go about your work in such a condition.”

“I was afraid the steward would scold me for my absence,” said Idi unhappily, now staring at the floor and wringing his hands.

“Think you he has never suffered the same? Go on,” Thrym jerked his head towards the door. “Get you to your sweetheart if you know what’s good for you.”

“I don’t...” Idi looked, if it was possible, even more miserable. “I don’t have one.”

“Ah, child...” Thrym’s ire seemed to dissipate. “And is there no-one.... have you not a friend you would like to be?”

Idi nodded and rubbed his eyes.

“Well, now might be the best time to ask him.”

“I don’t wish to trick him,” Idi said, climbing to his feet. “I know... I am not lovely.”

Thrym’s tone was low and gentle. “If he is your friend, and cares for you, then there is always hope.”

“Thank-you my lord,” Idi whispered.

Thrym shook his head as if to banish some unwanted thought and gestured to the door again. “Go on, off with you.”

“Well, I had no idea you were so romantic, Thrym,” Loki smirked when the door had closed behind the unhappy youth.

“I don’t know how things are done in Asgard,” Thrym retorted, “but here it is considered in very poor taste to molest the help.”

“I would hardly–” Loki spluttered.

“It isn’t a matter for jest, Loki. We don’t consort with servants not because we consider it beneath us, but because they cannot freely say yes or no.”

“Thrym, I have no idea what just happened, so you will have to enlighten me. Has that youth some talent for sympathetic magic?”

Thrym blinked at him. “You don’t... oh, I suppose you might well not. The youth was in a fertile period, which as you have probably gathered, is readily apparent to anyone he finds himself in close quarters with.”

Loki frowned and blinked. “But I’m surely older than him and I’ve never...”

“Hmm, Asgard’s climate probably put paid to it. Our own realm has never been the same since the Cask of Ancient Winters was taken – there used to be a season for such things, but now everything is out of sorts.” Thrym sighed and added: “we were never a very fecund race – conditions here are too harsh for that – but now fewer children are born than ever.”

“Wait...” Loki quirked an eyebrow. “There was a season when everyone of childbearing age was perpetually aroused?”

“Oh, ask Tryggðmål to tell you of the sort of house my dam kept and the feast days. But make sure Helblindi isn’t there when you do – he needs no encouragement.”

Loki stroked his chin in thought. “I’m just amazed you ever got around to any imperialist expansion.”

Thrym laughed and crossed the floor to sink to his knees in Idi’s place. “Well, would you like me to finish what was started?”

Loki wondered, initially, if he meant bathing or fucking, and happily it turned out to be both, in that order. When every inch of his body had been cleansed and oiled, Thrym tumbled Loki down onto the bed and stroked the soft, scented expanses of his skin.

“That poor child,” he murmured, smiling slyly. “Touching you but not having you. In that state. I cannot begin to imagine his self control.”

“What is it like?” Loki asked eyes drooping almost closed with the languid pleasure of Thrym’s hands spreading over him. “Tell me what Idi feels.”

“Is that his name?” Thrym pulled Loki into a kiss and then murmured against his cheek. “He feels shivery and feverish. Restless, and knows not why. His pulse beats fast, heart fluttering in his chest like a moth. Everyone he looks upon is suddenly fair to him.” Thrym brushed his thumb over Loki’s cheekbone, sweeping an arc to his bottom lip. “Their features seem to invite his gaze and caress.”

He nuzzled Loki’s jawline and breathed in deeply. “He can smell desire on himself and he is mortified that others can too. His loins ache, cunt plump and wet and tingling. Clenching his thighs only makes it worse.” Thrym brushed the underside of one of Loki’s knees with a fingertip, making him gasp and reflexively jerk his legs further apart. “He is afraid that the very moment someone puts a hand there he will spill, juices running freely as from a ripe fruit.” Thrym cupped him and Loki moaned, loud and unashamed.

Thrym’s eyes glinted as he began to flex his middle finger, teasing along Loki’s slit. “He has touched himself this morning. He woke with the covers damp beneath him and his fingers already working deep inside him. And he’ll do it again just as soon as he can – thinking of you, Loki – that he was so close to and couldn’t have.”

“And tonight, if he is lucky, he will have found someone to ease him with a willing prick. If he is unlucky he will have to make do with his own tired hands. And If he is very unlucky he will find himself at the mercies of someone who likes to tease and watch him suffer–”

“Thrym!”

Thrym’s eyes sparkled. “Yes, my prince?”

“Something very unlucky will happen to you if you don’t get on with it.”

Thrym gave his deep, rumbling laugh and flipped Loki onto his front, tugging his hips to encourage Loki to raise himself on widespread knees. He licked and kissed Loki to a state beyond readiness and much closer to desperation, holding Loki’s thighs to stop him pushing back against his probing tongue. Finally, he moved to press his prick inside, fondling Loki’s tip between his thumb and forefingers to distract him with one sensitivity from another, leaving him pliant and loose to the intrusion.

Loki rutted back against him, panting harshly. It was all pleasure now and no discomfort. The stretch and stimulation did something to him that made the throbbing of his own prick seem of secondary importance, and the sound of Thrym’s grunts and heavy breathing set something to coil tighter in the pit of his stomach.

His climax took him almost by surprise, a sudden tightening in his lower half that had him shoving back against Thrym and shuddering in great waves.

Thrym eased out of him, knowing he would be too sensitive to continue, and gently lowered Loki down onto the bed, stroking the length of his torso and giving him a deep, lingering kiss.

“I want...” Loki said breathessly, pushing at his chest, “I want to taste you and... fuck you with my fingers. I want to know just how many it takes to get you to satisfaction.”

Thrym smiled at him, eyes hazy with pleasure as he lay back and obligingly spread his legs to show where his cunt lay dark, flushed and glistening beneath the base of his thick shaft. “And did you think you needed my express verbal permission to fulfill that fantasy?”

(The answer, it turned out, was four.)

*~*~*

“No,” said Tryggðmål. “It’s-” here he made a harsh, phlegmy sound. “Not-” here he made a sound that was, to Loki’s ears, identical.

“My throat was not designed to make such noises,” Loki protested.

“Shame on you that you utter these things!” Tryggðmål slapped a large hand down on the desk. “Were not your ancestors Jotnar born, and kings?”

Loki sighed hoarsely and tried again. His letter writing was, by this stage, perfect, but speech still troubled him – ironic, perhaps, considering his great linguistic dexterity in his first language. Privately he considered it a slow, ponderous tongue, the words as thick and dense as loam. Tryggðmål was forever scolding him about his misuse of pronouns. Raised as he was with the gendered nuances of Asgardian culture, Loki could never get it set in his mind that the Jotun equivalents to ‘he’ and ‘she’ were meant only for lower animals, and never persons.

In a bid to distract his tutor, he said: “Thrym told me to ask you about the grand orgies of the good old days.”

“Ah,” Tryggðmål smiled. “‘Where now are fecund feasts // of former ages? Where–”

“Don’t recite an epic, just tell me about it.”

Tryggðmål looked distinctly annoyed, but Loki was unrelenting. Once the skald got started in verse it was very difficult to shut him up.

“So. The generation previous to this is often considered the pinnacle of our civilization. It was an age of art, and music and learning. Yet it might be said that we grew too proud and luxurious. Our lord’s dam, Thrym the third–”

“Wait, Thrym’s dam was also named Thrym?”

“Yes, every child born in the line is.” Tryggðmål looked deeply disgusted by Loki’s ignorance. “Know you nothing about this venerable house?”

“Only what I am told, skald,” Loki retorted.

Tryggðmål drummed his fingers on the desk. “I must go back. My lord’s great grand-dam was the first Thrym. It was he who conquered these lands and built this house. A ferocious and powerful man, generous to friends, he gathered to him many thanes and lived in great prosperity. Yet he was also very proud and mistrustful by nature. Thus, he declared that none might inherit what was his but a child of the body named Thrym. This, he believed, would trick his enemies into believing him immortal. And so, there is always a Thrym of Thrymheim. For on the day where there is not, Thrym the First had all his servants swear – and swear to make their offspring ever promise the same – to tear this tower down, even to the foundation stones.”

“He sounds entirely mad,” Loki commented. “Wait, so Thrym’s brother was also called Thrym?”

“Yes. While their dam yet lived, we called them Young Thrym Elder and Young Thrym Younger.”

“I... see,” Loki ventured. “And what of these legendary feasts then?”

Tryggðmål grinned and leaned closer over the table. “Would you like to know why the current lord is sometimes called Thrym of Ten Sires? Fetch me my harp.”

Some time later, Loki stalked white-faced from the library to track down his host, who he found to be in the training arena watching the soldiers drill.

“Well, Loki,” he greeted, “have you had an instructive afternoon?”

“Did you know,” Loki said, “that Tryggðmål has written a lengthy poem about the night of your conception? And that in it he gives a verse each to all your putative sires, describing not only their names, provenance, and appearances, but also the carnal acts at which they were most proficient?”

“Oh, yes,” replied Thrym mildly. “I’ve had to listen to him publicly recite it on more than one occasion. It was a favourite of my dam’s.”

*~*~*

Preparations for the wedding drew on apace – its having no romantic implications seemingly did not diminish the ceremonial importance of the affair. The large hunting trips mounted to provide for the feast and the arrival of more guests kept Thrym occupied. Helblindi had returned to Laufey’s court with his retinue, giving Thrym dark, disquieted looks in parting and embracing Loki so tightly he felt his ribs creak.

Meanwhile, Loki found himself beset by an aged Jotun who served as the province’s law-keeper, who soon after his arrival in Thrymheim took to following Loki around, showing him maps and title deeds. For some reason he seemed to think that Loki – as a citizen of a strange realm beyond the elder giant’s own ken – would have no concept of property, inheritance or contractual obligation and, thus, took pains to lecture him on each of these subjects in anticipation of the nuptials. As the law-keeper was somewhat deaf (and of a generation that spoke Asgardian only as a stilted second language) Loki’s increasingly impatient assertions that he understood were completely ignored.

The evening before the wedding brought to Thrymheim two guests whose manner of arrival warranted no fanfare and indicated no great stature, but provoked great excitement from Thrym himself. The household was sitting at dinner in the main hall when the steward came and announced them to the host. Thrym promptly stood, excusing himself from Loki with only a shallow bow as he went to the door to meet the newcomers.

Loki watched with interest as Thrym greeted an adolescent Jotun. The youngster was girdled (as children among the Jotnar were not, going about naked until they neared puberty), but the plumpness of his face showed him to be still more child than youth. Thrym was smiling broadly and smoothing his hands over the youngster’s unlined shoulders and arms, as if trying to take the measure of his form. The smaller giant, for his part, looked awkward, casting his eyes mainly towards the floor and hunching as if he wanted to wriggle out from under Thrym’s touch. Behind him stood a giant of Thrym’s age and a little taller than he, who watched with hooded eyes as Thrym fussed with the boy.

“Hrímgrímnir,” Loki asked the worthy thane to his right, “who are those two at the door?”

“Amr of the outlands and his child, Leifi.”

“And what are they to Lord Thrym?”

“The first, his shieldmate and, it was said, great love. The second, that he sired.”

“Thrym told me he had no children.”

“None of his flesh, no. A child of the spirit we cannot count as our own.”

Thrym smiled at Amr next as the boy stepped away, and it seemed as if he would have clapped his old love in an embrace, but that Amr stepped back, offering only his arm for Thrym to take in a warrior’s grip.

Thrym accepted this and then gestured in invitation to the head of the table, but Amr shook his head and took his child by the shoulder to herd him towards the lower echelons.

Thrym was left looking crestfallen, and he made his way back to his seat only to sit sullen and quiet, eating nothing further. Loki contemplated asking some pointedly ignorant questions to see if he could goad Thrym into snapping at him, but found it more interesting to keep silence and see if and when Thrym would say something of the matter.

“I suppose you discovered who they are,” Thrym commented, sharply and without turning his head, so at first Loki wasn’t sure if the remark was even directed at him. When Loki nodded, Thrym continued: “do you know what he told me when I bid him sit with us? He said, ‘I would not have the child get ideas above his station’.”

Loki had never seen Thrym truly angry before. His whole body was rigid, sinews pulled tight under the strain of repressed emotion. Loki wondered if he should offer sympathetic words, but decided that there was every likelihood Thrym would see through such falsity.

“I was a fool to think he came to wish me well and to let me see how Leifi has grown. He comes only to scorn me, to grind my face in what is lost to me.” Thrym’s voice was faintly mournful, but his gaze was still flinty as he fixed it upon Amr.

“He greatly resembles you – Leifi, I mean.”

Thrym turned his head. “Do you think so? All I see when I look at him is Amr – he has his dam’s expressions and will be of his stature, I think.”

“He has your nose.”

Thrym smiled and shook his head. “Poor child.”

*~*~*

At the end of dinner Thrym once again rose to go chasing after his paramour and child, leaving Loki with a terse assurance he would be well entertained by the thanes and Tryggðmål, who was now seated near the top of the room providing music and tales of glories past.

Loki flushed with anger but smiled sweetly as if in compliance, then waited for Thrym to exit before turning himself invisible to follow. He left a shade in his place at the head of the table, enchanting his near neighbours to pay it no mind.

Loki stepped into the corridor just in time to see Thrym striding around a corner and out of sight. He followed as quickly and soundlessly as he could.

Thrym led him into a courtyard which seemed to be the Thrymheim’s equivalent of a garden. At least, it seemed to occupy the same space and function as a garden, though it sustained no plant life. Instead of trees and shrubs, standing stones cast dramatic shadows on the snow in the moonlight.

Thrym approached Leifi, who stood staring up at the stars, caressing the boy’s shoulder and squeezing the back of his neck in paternal affection.

“Get you to bed, Leifi. I will wake you betimes, and we will go walking together before the ceremony.”

“Yes, sire,” the child replied. Something about the bland obedience of this answer seemed to pain Thrym, who gazed at his offspring for a long moment before moving on in search of Amr.

Loki enchanted the powder beneath him to retain no impression of his feet before stepping onto the blanket of snow which was Thrymheim’s equivalent of a rolling lawn. Loki paused as he passed the boy, looking at Leifi’s upraised profile. He did have Thrym’s patrician nose, notched at the bridge, but he had Amr’s staunch, square jaw. His eyes seemed larger than those of either parent and he had a far-sighted, dreamy look about him that made Loki wonder if he was all there.

Leifi turned his head and seemed to look straight at Loki for a long moment, then, with a quick reflex that would have done Thor in his battle-lust proud, brought up frost upon his hand and sharply flicked his wrist to toss a shower of hail in Loki’s face.

“Argh!” Loki shook himself, dropping his glamour. “How did you know I was there?”

Leifi looked at him calmly. “You make a gap in the snowfall.”

Loki scowled. He would have to adjust his spells to compensate for the climate and it would be dull, tricky work.

“Are you going to eavesdrop on my parents?” the youth asked, gazing at Loki with mild interest.

“Mind your own business, child.”

“It is nothing worth listening to, only the same arguments they have had many times before.”

Loki hesitated, wondering if the brat would know anything of value. “What do they quarrel about?”

Leifi sighed in the melodramatic way of children thinking they are behaving exactly as an adult does. “My long-overdue fostering; who will pay for my markings, when the time comes; if I should enter the king’s army. Truth be told,” he sniffed, planting his hands on his hips, “I don’t think it really concerns me at all. They are both unhappy, that is all.”

Loki tilted his chin. “Why so?”

“Why, because they are parted.” Leifi seemed to contemplate Loki for a moment before a sharpness came into his expression, banishing the former foolish, dreamy look. “Oh, are you my sire’s lover? My dam had one at home recently, but I do not think they cared very deeply for each other. He is gone now.”

Loki crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the cocky adolescent. “And why did Thrym not marry your dam if they are so very dear to one another?”

“For he is a branch of the royal line, and we are barely noble.” Leifi now bore the same curious, birdlike expression that was often found on Tryggðmål’s face as he plumbed the depths of Loki’s ignorance. “Our home is but a small hall in the midst of the wastes, and few declare loyalty to it. Two so very unequal estates cannot be wed – don’t you know anything?”

Loki sighed as he realised he had asked entirely the wrong question – marriage was not a means to companionship for the Jotnar. “Then why not give up your bare living and reside here?”

“As dependants, almost thralls?” Leifi snorted in disbelief at the idea. “It is against a Jotun’s dignity to accept charity.” This last utterance was in such priggish tones that it had to be something the child been taught to recite.

Doubtless it is what proud Amr consoles himself with, Loki thought with a smile of malicious satisfaction. Without bidding Leifi farewell, Loki reasserted his invisibility and made off towards the two adults.

“You are rude as well as stupid,” Leifi pronounced, sparing Loki one backward glance as he moved off towards the doorway. Loki briefly thought about making a stone obelisk fall on the brat – but that would certainly distract Thrym and Amr and put an end to his snooping.

Loki made his way to where Thrym and Amr were in an urgent conference in a far corner of the not-garden. To compensate for the way his form displaced the snowfall he stood in the shadow of one of the obelisks, close enough to hear and observe.

Thrym was speaking in a strained, angry whisper, making sharp movements with his hand in emphasis. “The first cut was that I had to break with you, but the second was that you persisted in believing it was my choice – that knife remains in me still and you may twist it whensoever you please!”

“Poor little lordling!” Amr sneered, showing his teeth. “Was it not choice, then? Were you taken in chains to sit on yonder dais?”

Thrym passed a hand over his brow and made an appealing gesture to the other giant. “Though my selfish heart bid me forsake all and go to you, how could I have seen this house destroyed and all that dwell within turned out of doors? Would I have yet named myself a Jotun who cared not for his own kind?”

“Yes, yes, you are a humble, benevolent lord and care only for your dependants,” Amr retorted with apparent impatience. “And what do you think will happen if you and that runt of Laufey’s do not succeed? Hm? When you are slain as traitor and your head graces a pike by the palace gates, what will happen to all this?” he gestured expansively. “What do you think will happen to Leifi – or does Laufey’s malice have a limit, do you think? Perhaps, since you are only the child’s sire, he will have mercy–”

“Amr!” Thrym exclaimed, sighing and then lowering his voice once more. “Cannot you see? It is for Leifi that I do this. It is for Helblindi, and all of their generation. They should not have to suffer for our mistakes. They should not be subject to a tyrant’s rule and the beggarly terms of a peace that is no peace at all.”

Amr lowered his head, seeming to acknowledge the justice of this. Thrym let out an uneven sigh and moved to a nearby stone bench, dusting it of snow before seating himself placing his hands on his knees. Amr studied him in silence for a long moment before moving to join him.

Amr’s glance slid sideways, voice softening as he asked: “why should it be you who does all this, Thrym? You have comfort enough here, friends and followers enough. What makes you so determined to die a martyr?”

Thrym looked towards the lighted windows of the hall, a pensive expression settling on his brow. “I am beyond bearing age – I can leave nothing but my deeds.”

Amr reached out and touched his forearm, hesitant. “Do you trust him – this lost child of Laufey’s?”

“I barely know him. I trust that he has reason to hate our common enemy, and that is all.”

Amr’s hand remained on Thrym’s arm, fingertips moving in what was either a nervous twitch or a caress. Thrym glanced down and covered Amr’s hand with his own. When the taller giant spoke again it was in the low, naked tone of intimacy: “... I worry for you.”

“Worry for Leifi,” Thrym told him. “Take him from here before the feast tomorrow and hie you home. Pray that your hearth is remote enough to be beyond the king’s gaze.”

Amr gave an amused exhalation. “So there is a blessing in my ignominy, then?”

Thrym gave a faint smile, still looking toward the windows. “We may hope it is at least good for something.”

Amr gave a bark of laughter and shoved his shoulder. “You are a patronizing bastard, Thrym.”

*~*~*

After the quarrel between the two older giants had wound down, Loki withdrew to the castle again. He left them sitting together in a silence which spoke of familiarity and understanding. Something about this galled Loki far more deeply than if he had witnessed Thrym and Amr fucking or renewing vows of passion unending – perhaps because there was nothing about it he could truly mock.

Scorning to return to the great hall and finding the library unlit, Loki resolved to go to bed. He hesitated in the corridor, wondering whether to choose Thrym’s chamber or his own. His own, he decided, would look odd. Loki refused to act like a wronged maiden – if Thrym chose to bring Amr to bed with him, the situation would be his to explain, not Loki’s (and Loki could at least take some satisfaction in making it as awkward for Thrym as possible).

Thrym was alone when he returned. Loki lay on his side, facing the window, silent but not bothering to feign sleep. He heard the sound of Thrym removing his clothing, then felt the dipping of the bed as Thrym eased down beside him.

“You are still awake then? You must feel aggrieved at my neglect of you this evening–”

Loki gave him a resentful glance over his shoulder. “I am not a lapdog Thrym, that will sulk if it is not constantly petted and cooed at.”

Thrym shook his head and frowned, as if to say they were not on the same track. “I would have things be simple between us, Loki. I would have you understand my meaning.”

Loki rolled onto his back and sat up, furs pooling across his lap. “Oh that is easy enough – your paramour is here to guilt you, and so you would have me gracefully exit your bed?”

Thrym looked surprised by the accusation. “Do you think me so callow?”

“When you are with him...” Loki thought about what he wanted to say, realising there was no way to express the anger he had felt earlier without it seeming like mere coarse jealousy. He sighed in exasperation and simply said: “you have known him a long time.”

Thrym looked away for a moment. “We loved unwisely, as youth does when it thinks it discovers anew every sensation that has been known to our kind since the dawning of time. You are of the age we were then – undoubtedly you will do the same with the first that you feel true passion for.”

Loki felt himself growing white and trembling with rage as he hissed out: “don’t you dare patronize me!”

Thrym’s expression was one of earnestness. “No, Loki, that was not my intent – you are quick-witted and wise far beyond your years, but your heart is a blank slate and mine is not. Amr will always have a claim on me, and not just for Leifi’s sake. That is all I – I wanted you to understand.”

Loki turned himself back onto his side and lay down with his back to the older giant. “If you fear I am maudlin and sentimental, and will wrap myself up in fantasies that what we had was a high-flown romance, then you may rest easy, Thrym. Go to him if that is what you desire.”

“No, that was not... I am not explaining myself very well.” Thrym wrapped an arm around Loki and pulled him up against his chest, causing Loki to let out an indignant yelp. “Would it be tedious to you if I unburdened my thoughts?”

Loki’s eyes widened as he shook his head. The only person who had ever willingly shared confidences with Loki was, of course, Thor, who assumed that everything that concerned him must be naturally fascinating.

“Amr and I are not equals born, yet times of war unmake such nice distinctions. As one of my high command Amr was then greatly esteemed. We loved freely for a time, before peace, if it can be called that, rebuilt the divisions between our estates. I know... I am not blameless, for once, when I was only a second son, I made Amr a promise I could not keep.”

Thrym went quiet for a moment, reflecting perhaps, until Loki prompted him back to his tale. “How comes it that Leifi is much younger than the war?”

Thrym let out a long exhalation against Loki’s neck. “Some years ago Amr paid me a visit for the first time since we had parted. I thought he had come to make peace with me, to grant the forgiveness he had so long denied... but he did not.”

“He was... as Idi was the other day,“ Loki anticipated. “He wished you to father a child on him.”

“Yes. Perhaps I should have been honoured. Yet he turned his face from me even as we coupled and I... it is a wonder, is it not, to lie with one you have longed for and feel no joy? I refused, thereafter, to do it again – but it seems that once was enough. Amr returned to his home to bear the child and seldom have I seen him since. I have my memories, Loki, but that is all.”

“If what you were to one another was so profound, could not you reconcile?”

“‘The splintered ice may never be whole, however the pieces are gathered’.”

“You people have a trite proverb for everything,” Loki scoffed, settling down to rest.

Thrym stroked the length of his arm and kissed his cheek. “Sleep well, my prince, tomorrow is likely to be a day of high drama.”

Loki felt a smile tugging at his lips. He had long since decided against asking Thrym to unfold his plans – it was always more interesting to observe and anticipate.

After all, assistance did not always mean compliance.

Chapter Text

Loki woke to an empty bed – the giants seemed to be early risers, but a lifetime of keeping Asgardian hours made Loki slow to catch up. He was still lying beneath the furs, reading, when there came a knock upon the door.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Idi,” came the faint reply.

Loki smiled and shook his head. “Come in then.”

The young servant entered sheepishly, bearing a platter of breads and preserved fruits in one hand (presumably Loki’s breakfast), while beneath his opposite arm he carried a large rectangular box.

Closing the door behind him he placed the box at the foot of the bed and offered Loki the plate, which Loki set down by his side, watching Idi with some curiosity as the younger giant gave one of his strange, jerky bows which was like a flinch. It was incredibly odd, Loki thought, to have someone so much taller (and, undoubtedly, stronger) than he behaving as if he expected Loki to give him a physical reprimand.

“I understand if you wish another to attend you this morning. I can tell the steward–”

“Calm yourself, Idi,” Loki told him. “I understand now what occurred the other day. I am not angry.”

“I didn’t think it would affect you – being Asgardian born.”

“Well, now we know,” Loki gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “What is in the box, Idi?” he asked, as apparently the flustered young servant wasn’t going to volunteer this information.

“Ah, it is what Lord Thrym wishes you to wear to the ceremony. I am supposed to help you on with it, though it has so many layers and fastenings, in truth I do not know how we will manage,” he flashed Loki a deeply worried look.

“Well, if it’s Asgardian garb it should be simple enough,” Loki commented, biting into a piece of bread. “Take it out and show it to me.”

The first item Idi lifted from the box made Loki’s eyebrows arch towards his hairline.

“Are you sure that is what Thrym expects me to wear?” he asked, watching Idi holding the pale drapery of a finely-woven kirtle at arm’s length.

“Oh, yes. He gave the steward very precise instructions. Is there something wrong with it?”

“You asked me what kind of Asgardian I am,” Loki reminded him. “Well, that is what the other kind wears.”

“Oh,” Idi frowned thoughtfully. “Then do you think my lord made a mistake?”

“I very much doubt it,” Loki replied with a wry twist of his lips.

Together they puzzled out which way round and in what order each of the layers went, and then how to arrange the fabric and tie and pin it, until only a few pieces remained.

“I think it’s a veil,” Loki said, running the diaphanous silk through his fingers. “This length is to cover my hair and visage. The jeweled banding secures it all in place.”

“Then no-one may even look upon your face?” Idi seemed troubled by this. “Is it always thus with the other kind of Asgardian – are they so ugly that they must be kept a secret?”

Loki spluttered with laughter. “No! But the veil is sometimes worn for modesty. It is dangerous for an unwed maid to display her beauty abroad.”

“Why so?”

“I fear it would take too long to explain.”

They secured the veil in place and Loki swept the front part back to keep his face bared for the time being.

“Do I look ridiculous?” he asked, fearing he knew the answer to that all too well.

Idi stroked his chin and studied him appraisingly. “You look like a snow wraith.”

“Which is?”

“A terrible creature that lures people to their deaths on high peaks.”

“Hmm. I wonder if that was Thrym’s intent.”

Idi next applied the golden jewelry around Loki’s arms and neck as he was directed, stooping down with a comical look of deep concentration on his face.

“Did it go well with your friend the other day?” Loki asked him.

“Oh yes!” he enthused, face suddenly brightening. “We spent three full nights together. It seems like I can feel his touch upon my skin even now.”

“Indeed?” was all Loki could think of to say. Despite Thrym and Tryggðmål’s best efforts at dispensing with his Asgardian prudery, he still found it odd that the Jotnar should be so open and matter-of-fact about their intimate relationships – sex seemed to rival the weather as a topic for polite dinner table conversation.

“You are a sorcerer...” Idi ventured, stepping back as he finished the adornments.

“I am.”

“Then could you... if I could be so bold as to ask... unless it is impertinent–”

Loki bit back a smile. “Idi, ask.”

“Would you be able to detect if I am with child or not?”

“I suppose I could.” Loki blinked and stretched out his hands to place them on Idi’s abdomen. The young giant stood very straight, hardly daring to breathe as Loki tilted his head and concentrated, attuning his senses to the presence of a spark of separate life within.

After a moment he drew back and shook his head in a decisive no. “I’m sorry.”

Idi bit his lip, rubbing absently at his stomach with one hand. “Oh. Well I... there wasn’t much of a chance, I know. I just hoped–”

“You are very young. You will have many more opportunities.”

“Yes, I know that...” he gave Loki a wobbly smile. “My dam was in his later years when he bore me. He called me his late, best gift.”

“I’m sure you are very precious to him.”

“I was, while he lived.” The youth’s smile at reminiscing faded as he recollected where he was and with whom. “Oh forgive me, Loki! We must hasten to the outer chamber – it will be near time now.”

Loki found himself trotting down the corridors, trying not to trip over the hem of his gown or lose sight of Idi as the servant strode ahead wringing his hands and chastising himself for his tardiness in a a low, fervent mutter.

*~*~*

The ceremony was more of a transaction than a ritual – perhaps all weddings were, Loki thought drily, and the Jotnar were just more blunt about things.

The elder law keeper read from two separate ledgers as an assistant placed small counters of gilded metal upon a scale – symbols of Loki and Thrym’s separate worth. A small ripple of applause went up when the scales balanced.

The end of the ceremony was the setting of their signatures to a contract and the recitation of a formal pledge of amity, sealed with a clasp of their hands. Upon the conclusion of the business, Loki and Thrym led the procession out of the chamber and into the hall for feasting.

They had not progressed beyond the pouring of liquor for toasts before there was the sound of a horn without, and then many rapid footsteps and the clanging of the doors as they were unlatched. Into the hall marched a bevy of soldiers and at their centre Helblindi, by his side the rangy, older giant Loki recognised as Laufey.

“Hail, Lord Thrym,” Laufey proclaimed in a deep, rumbling tone. “I see it is a most solemn occasion you hold here.” He tilted his head to one side, shrewd, red eyes luminous in the shadows of the hall. “A wedding, no less? How comes it that I did not receive notice or invitation?”

Thrym rose from his place and bowed deeply. “Laufey-king, I did not dare to presume upon your time with such a trifling matter, nor to imagine that such poor fare and inferior company as is to be had here could offer an enticement to such as your royal self and son. My tongue cannot tell how gladdened I am that you are here. I beg of you to take my seat and raise a glass with us.”

Laufey let out a laugh, as if Thrym’s words pleased him greatly. “Ever you have a ready answer, Thrym Ten-Sires. Yet I fear the day will come when your words fail you.”

Thrym gave a complacent smile. “Then let us hope on that day that my actions do not.”

There was cacophony in the hall for a short time as the guests moved their places downwards to accommodate Laufey and his retinue. The king placed himself between Thrym and Loki, leaving Helblindi to occupy the seat to Loki’s right.

“So,” he began to the host, “you have procured yourself an Asgardian of the soft and delicate kind.” He eyed Loki’s jewelry speculatively. “A highborn one at that – how comes it that old one-eye has not brought legions to batter down your door to demand its – pardon me,“ (he addressed this to Loki) “her? That is correct? Yes, her release?”

Thrym sat back and gave a mysterious half-smile, as if to suggest he was well pleased with himself. “I entered into an agreement with the Odinson.”

Laufey nodded to show he knew all this and was merely doing Thrym the courtesy of asking. “You slipped into Asgard and stole the oaf’s hammer, I believe?”

“That was easy enough. The Odinson is proud and unwary and their guardian does not see all, as they claim.”

“And in return for the hammer, you attained the right to this little thing?” Laufey took in Loki’s veiled form with a lazy sweep of his eyes. “Well, how do you like Jotunheim?”

“It is vast, o king,” Loki answered with affected meekness. “And cold.”

Laufey smirked. “Yes, it is no place for the pink limbs of an Aesir. She will soon languish and die,” he told Thrym. “Think you not so?”

“Not at all,” Thrym waved his hand negligently in Loki’s direction. “This little one is a sorcerer of sorts. Not like to our best, of course, but sufficient to keep herself alive. Even my touch cannot harm her.”

“She is for touching, then?” Laufey smirked. “How do you like that, little sorcerer – is there comfort for you in a giant’s bed?”

“Oh, King Laufey,” said Loki in tones of maidenly mortification, “it is not our custom to lie with a spouse before the wedding night.”

“Well, if he splits you in two at least you have the magics to repair yourself.” Laufey swallowed a glassful of lifewater and thumped it down on the table, giving a hoarse cackle that was strongly reminiscent of one of Odin’s ravens. “And you may take heart in the thought that you are useful to him – since you are the kind with a womb, you may supply his lack.”

Helblindi, who sat on Loki’s right, had been all this while struggling to contain his anger and mortification at Laufey’s openly malicious conduct. At this last utterance he slapped his hand down upon the table and blurted out: “you go too far, dam!”

Laufey glanced over with seeming calmness and then reached above Loki’s head to strike the side of the crown prince’s face with the back of his hand. The smack resounded through the hall, causing the diners to glance up and just as quickly look away, their expressions clouded with disapprobation. It was a touch designed not to injure, but to shame.

“Ungrateful whelp,” Laufey spat. “You don’t like to be reminded that it was I that carried you and not he.” He curled his lip at Helblindi in an expression of disgust. “See, he has the temerity to look wounded by my reprimand. He feels it undeserved. I tell thee, Thrym, you are fortunate – he who has no child has never known the sting of its... ingratitude.”

Helblindi cast his eyes downwards. Loki could see that his hands were clenching hard on his knees under the table as he tried to contain his emotions.

“There, do you see?” Laufey gestured with an upturned hand. “He thinks I do not love him. I am a villain who cares not for kin nor kind, is that it, Helblindi?”

“I did not say so, royal dam,” he answered quietly.

“Hah! ‘I did not say so’,” Laufey mimicked in a higher tone. “I will not ask at whose knee you learned such double-talk.” Suddenly a bright, glittering look came into Laufey’s eyes as he folded his hands before him on the table. “Tell me this: who is your sire, my child?”

Helblindi looked away, a muscle in his jaw tensing. “I do not know.”

“No, you do not. It is a secret I have never told – but I will tell it now.” Laufey glanced left and right, pausing to make sure he had the attention of all those in the high seats. “Your sire was no-one, Helblindi. By that I do not mean that I contrived to beget with myself – some did say that of Býleistr, as he is so like to me...”

“You have another child, Laufey-king?” Loki enquired, wondering why Helblindi had not yet mentioned this sibling.

“Indeed. He is fostered at Utgard – he will learn no soft ways there.”

“You are truly blessed then,” Loki remarked, “to have three children.”

“Two,” Laufey corrected, confusion momentarily creasing his brow.

“Pardon my ignorance,” replied Loki sweetly. “You were saying of Prince Helblindi’s sire?”

“Yes, yes...” Laufey seemed to struggle for a moment to catch the thread of his thought. “As I said, he was no-one. A slave so base I do not think he had a name. Ill-favoured and broken-backed, with barely command of speech.”

Thrym’s face remained impassive, but Loki became aware that he was sitting straighter, his breathing tightly controlled. Helblindi passed a hand over his mouth and looked ashen. The nearest thanes failed to disguise their sharp inhalations of breath and widened eyes.

“Do I shock you?” asked Laufey, clearly enjoying himself immensely. He had a slow, deliberate way of speaking – as one who knew he could command his listeners’ attention for as long as he chose. “Býleistr was fathered by just such a one. You may wonder why a king, who must have the pick of lords willing to have a hand in the dynasty, should choose such a nobody. It is because I am a king. I scorn to mix my blood with that of the so-called nobility.” Laufey turned on the bench to regard his child. “Any grace, any wit, any prowess in arms, any fairness you have, Helblindi, was all got from me. Think on that the next time you begin to utter an ingratitude.”

No-one in the hall seemed to dare move or speak or even chew. Helblindi sat with his head lowered, gazing at nothing and after a long moment he murmured: “excuse me, I will rise. I feel a sudden distemper.”

“You will sit on, child,” Laufey told him.

Helblindi raised his chin and met Laufey’s stare. There was a hard, dangerous glint in the young giant’s eyes and so sure was Loki that a skirmish was about to break out that he felt magic crackle unbidden at his fingertips.

“I asked not dismissal of you,” said Helblindi, in a tightly-controlled voice, “but of Lord Thrym. This is his table and his celebration.”

Thrym inclined his head to Helblindi. “My prince may rise or stay as he sees fit.”

Without waiting for Laufey’s retort, Helblindi stood and stepped behind the bench, striding quickly down the hall without a backwards glance.

Laufey shot Thrym an angry, resentful look. “You ought not to have done that.”

Thrym poured Laufey another glassful of liquor. “Baiting caged creatures is poor sport indeed, my king.”

“Sport, call you it, to cure such an insolent princeling of his pride? His wings should have been clipped long ago, by him that had his raising.”

“If I have failed Helblindi in any way then, truly, I repent of it.” Thrym’s voice was quiet, and the sudden acquiescence seemed to wrong-foot Laufey, like a warrior’s feint.

Jotunheim’s king stared at his hands as he flexed them upon the table, beginning, after a moment, in a brighter tone: “pray tell, Thrym, what was it that caused you to hatch this plan with the captive Asgardian?” He gestured to Loki. “Is there some profit in it for you, or have you merely discovered a predilection for strange meats?”

Thrym shrugged. “Is it not enough that it irks our enemy that I have taken from them a most valued prize? If we cannot be the spear at the Aesir’s throats then we must settle for being the thorn in their heels.” Thrym gave a deferential tilt of his head. “At least, until such a time as we are given opportunity to reverse our fortunes. Such a time is surely coming, is it not my king? I have never heeded those that say your will remains as broken as your stronghold.”

If Laufey felt the sting of this last remark, he did not show it. He was now occupied in staring at Loki, narrowing his eyes as he tried to make out the features below the veil.

“My king wishes to gaze upon my spouse’s face?” Thrym enquired softly.

“Wherefore goes she veiled?”

“Because it is their custom to hide fairness from strange eyes. Yet, if you will it, she will certainly unmask, for you are her king now as much as mine.”

Laufey nodded and Loki obediently raised the veil. The king’s first reaction was interest, a casually appraising look, but then a shadow of recognition crept into his face. Loki thought it must be that Laufey recalled him from their brief but disastrous interview before the fray with Thor, Sif and the Warrior’s Three, but at this much closer range Laufey’s thoughts seemed to be elsewhere.

“Who are your parents, little sorcerer?” he asked, drawing back.

Loki replaced the covering and answered: “I have none. The one that fathered me predeceased me; the one that bore me disowned me.”

Laufey’s gaze flickered. “Would I have heard tell of them?”

“Yes,” Loki tried to keep the smile from his voice. “Their names are familiar to you, but I will not speak them. Forgive me king, but this is my wedding day, and my heart must keep some secrets, though soon my body will have none.”

Laufey quietened after that – his bolt apparently shot. The king gifted the rest of the high-sitters with a few familiar insults each (which they accepted with a gracious nod of the head), but he seemed unsettled, glancing about himself every so often as if he had seen something out of the corner of one eye. As he drank more he said less, his eyes losing their sharp focus as his gaze turned inward, to the realm of thought and memory.

When the feast ended, Laufey’s soldiers rose to escort him to his chambers. Loki wondered what kind of king needed a guard to watch his back within the homes of his own lords.

When Laufey and his attendants had gone, Thrym rose to bid the thanes goodnight and took Loki’s hand, bearing it formally aloft as he conducted them both from the hall.

When they were out of the public eye, Thrym pushed Loki to the wall, lifting him off his feet as he kissed Loki through the veil.

“Oh, am I to be ravished, then?” Loki asked, the very tips of his toes just skimming the flagstones. “For authenticity?”

Thrym placed him on the floor again. “I thought you would relish the chance to get out of that gown.”

“You do know what it is then?”

“Mm. I must say, Loki, you play the Asgardian maid very convincingly. I’m impressed.”

“By my acting skills? Well, I was raised in the royal court.”

When they reached the corridor at right-angles, Thrym paused and glanced off to the left.

“I must go to Helblindi and offer him some comfort. Yet I fear he will not see me,” he said, with a sigh, “not after such a display.”

Loki touched his arm. “Then I will go. Though I am closer in blood he still has more courtesy with me.”

*~*~*

Loki received no answer from Helblindi’s rooms, so he resorted to opening the door with magic and entering uninvited.

“Thrym is worried about you,” Loki told him, closing the door and pulling the veil back from his face. “As am I,” he added, not really knowing if this was true. Helblindi was still all but a stranger to him, and Loki had the uncomfortable feeling that any affection he felt for his brother of the flesh might simply be a transference of his feelings for Thor (who Helblindi seemed to resemble in character).

The younger giant was sitting on the edge of his pallet with his feet planted apart, forearms resting on his knees and hands dangling almost to the ground.

“How liked you our royal dam, then?” asked Helblindi tonelessly as he stared at the chamber floor. “One that for his own amusement insults his lords and couples with slaves.”

Loki crossed the room and eased down to seat himself by Helblindi on the edge of the bed. Casting his thoughtful gaze upon the ceiling, he ventured: “I think that once Laufey had a fine mind, but in his isolation it sprouted in strange directions, like an untended garden.” After a pause, he added: “he frightens me.”

Helblindi gave him a scrutinizing look. It was apparent he did not like Loki admitting to fear. “Why do you say that?”

Because he reminds me of myself, Loki thought. Because when I looked upon Laufey a great part of me stirred, saying: yes, Loki, you are that. Your mind, given time, will breed such poisons. Thus have you sniped and mortified at the feasts in Asgard – and they hated you for it.

More carefully, he answered: “because he is paranoid and malicious beyond reason, but he is not a fool. King Laufey is no doddering, milky-eyed tyrant we may topple simply by pushing him off his throne. He will know we are coming and he will prepare against it.”

Helblindi smiled and squeezed Loki’s shoulder, seeming to take his brother’s foreboding lightly. “Then fear not, brother – it has never been Thrym’s plan that we should have the element of surprise.” He gazed at Loki searchingly for a moment. “Do you like him – Thrym, I mean?”

Loki made a sound of impatience. “I don’t see how it’s relevant. Surely we have bigger things to think about.”

“But I want... I want you to stay. You should be king with Thrym as your king-consort.”

“Don’t you want to be king, Helblindi? You’ve been raised as the heir.”

“Aye, heir,” said Helblindi, as if the word left a sour taste in his mouth, “I know I resemble Laufey in feature – the people would justly hate me as his living image. You are new to them and have never been seen cringing in his shadow.”

That dark, dangerous look was back in Helblindi’s eyes, his frame trembling with repressed anger. Loki wondered what had passed between Laufey and Helblindi – was it antipathy, pure and simple, or was it, rather, love so soured as to look like hate? Or hate on one side and disappointed love on the other? Loki thought of Odin and felt his own muscles tense.

“You think too meanly of yourself, Helblindi,” he soothed, falling into the role of soft-voiced comforter as easily as he did with Thor. “No-one who heard you speak could think you like our dam. And you know the needs of the land much better than I do.”

Helblindi brightened. “I will be your advisor then, and leader of your armies.”

Loki felt surprised that Helblindi should relinquish his place so cheerfully – there, his character certainly diverged from Thor’s. After all, Loki had not spoiled Thor’s accession day because he craved the throne for himself, only because he found it so maddening that Thor thought it his right – because he was Thor Odinson, golden and smiling and born to eternal felicity and praise.

Not so sallow, scowling Loki, loved out of Thor’s magnanimity...

("Know your place, brother.”)

To his Jotun sibling, all Loki added was: “if we succeed.”

“If,” Helblindi agreed.

*~*~*

When Loki returned to the host’s chamber he found Thrym leaning over a large trestle table that had been imported into the room, examining a map.

“Well,” said Loki brightly, “that was a pleasant evening.”

“Mm,” Thrym smiled absently. “Laufey was in rare form.”

“Wasn’t it dangerous to withold your invitation?”

Thrym looked up. “But if I had invited him, he’d never have come. He is as contrary a wretch as ever lived.”

Loki almost flinched at the familiarity of the description. “Do you think he knows who I am?”

“He suspects. He thinks it impossible – a coincidence, or a cunning trick of an Aesir sorcerer who has heard Fárbauti closely described. Still, his heart will be full of misgivings.” Thrym straightened up and dusted his hands together. “It is well – we will let him stew a while.”

“Why not slay him now?” Loki asked with a tilt of his head. “He is fast within your own keep with but a small guard. I could do it. It would be an easy thing for me to slip in unseen and cut his hateful throat. Or, if you prefer, make his death reported as a wonder, that no mark may be perceived upon the corpse.”

Thrym seemed mildly shocked by the proposal. “Have you no rules of hospitality in Asgard? Would you have me be Thrym Guest-Slayer? Besides,” he added, darkly, “it is not to our purposes that he should die unknowing in a bed. That is too easy an end for him.”

“I see,” said Loki, coming forward and rising on his toes to scrutinize the map, then tracing the path between Thrymheim and the royal palace with a slender finger. “So when do we march?”

“Soon enough. On a day that is auspicious.” Thrym rested his chin on the crown of Loki’s head, arms bracketing the smaller giant’s shoulders as he carefully rolled up the map and pushed it to the wall.

Loki glanced back. “And until then?”

“Until then rest easy and enjoy my hospitality.” Thrym trailed soft kisses along Loki’s jaw.

“My lord is too generous,” Loki intoned.

Thrym’s large hands stroked down Loki’s back and encircled the narrowest point of his waist. “So many components to this fussy Aesir garment. How did you manage to get it on?”

“Oh, Idi helped me.”

“Did he?” Thrym’s voice was rich and amused. “I trust you managed not to mount him this time?”

“That’s not fair, Thrym,” Loki wriggled in Thrym’s grip to make a show of his displeasure. “I had no idea what was going on.”

“No?” Thrym breathed on his neck and squeezed the curve of Loki’s arse through the heavy fabric. “Poor innocent of Asgard, corrupted by our wicked ways.”

Loki laughed, helplessly, and had to bite the back of his hand to make himself stop. “Oh my lord!” he said in an affected, breathless tone. “Be gentle with me I pray you, and pity my maidenhead.”

“What exactly is that?” Thrym asked, apparently with genuine bafflement.

“Something the Jotnar evidently do not have, oh you shameless beasts!” Loki made another show of struggling against the grip Thrym had attained on his upper arms.

“Ah,” Thrym rumbled against his ear, “would you deny me those privileges belonging to husbands among your kind, then?”

“Oh, no my lord, but please do not cleave me in twain with your fearsome manhood!” Loki felt Thrym’s abdomen shudder against his back at this, but no sound of amusement escaped.

“Tell truth,” Thrym tugged Loki to face him and pressed with his hips so that the smaller Jotun was up against the table, the line of its edge pressing against Loki’s shoulder blades, “for I know you are not so meek as you pretend.” Thrym reached down and tilted Loki’s face with a finger beneath his pointed chin. “You hunger for a proper ravishing – your pink little Asgardian cunt quivers in anticipation.”

Loki had to repress another gasp of laugher as he forced his eyes wider. “Oh, you beastly giant!” He then let out a yelp as Thrym lifted him bodily onto the table and captured his parted lips in a deep, wet kiss.

“Well,” said Thrym, pulling back to stroke the embroidered neckline of the apron over-dress, “what my fingers lack in daintiness they make up for in strength.” With that, he took hold of the front of Loki’s clothes and ripped apart all three layers to bare the flushed chest below that moved with rapid breaths.

Thrym gave a low rumble of appreciation and ducked his head to lavish lingering kisses on Loki’s throat, then sucked Loki’s nipples in turn, closing his teeth over each just as he pulled away to deliver a sharp tug. Loki let his head loll back and moaned, the rush of sensation causing him to momentarily forget his role as ingénue.

Thrym was gathered up Loki’s skirts and pushed them to his hips, one large hand caressing the sensitive flesh of his inner thigh, the other grasping his prick through the bunched fabric. When Thrym started to stroke teasingly at his opening, Loki shuddered and thought to himself what it would be like – to have been raised a maiden in Asgard.

If the Asgardians had raised him a princess, would he have come to Thrymheim a virgin? If so, how then would he have received Thrym’s attentions? Would fear have won over desire, or would Thrym have soothed his skittishness, readied him with kisses and intimate, gentle touches, just like this?

The fantasy about this more inexperienced self that could have been, combined with Thrym’s rhythmic stroking, made Loki shudder and gasp, eyes falling closed.

“You like this,” Thrym observed. “This... playing a part, it excites you?

“I suppose it is the taboo... do you know what that is? Do the Jotnar even have taboos?”

“Mm,” said Thrym. “Fucking servants. Murdering guests.”

Loki laughed, feeling breathless and giddy as he reached down to unbuckle the catch of Thrym’s garment. “If those in Asgard knew... if they could see...”

“What?” As the garment fell away, Thrym pressed even closer to Loki, pushing his thighs apart with his hips and pulling his fingers out slowly and replacing them with the tip of his prick.

“Their prince letting a giant parade him around in a woman’s gown. Their prince spreading his legs so eagerly for a giant’s hard–” Loki tipped his head back and gasped as Thrym breached him – the first press shallow and teasing. “Oh, oh come on, don’t make me wait, I can’t–” Loki scrabbled at the other man’s shoulders, his cunt flexing around Thrym’s shaft and hips tilting as much as they could at such an awkward, precarious angle.

“What would they do, if they knew?” Thrym sounded genuinely intrigued; clearly Loki’s answer was the price of his pleasure.

“Shun me. Call me unmanly, monster, aberration.”

At this, Thrym frowned and touched Loki’s face. “Then why... how could such thoughts please you?”

“It is because I am here and not there. Here, this garment signifies nothing – it is merely layers of cloth. Here my desires – what I want you to do to me – they signify nothing either.”

“Oh, I would say that desires are never meaningless.” Thrym tore the fabric of the gown from chest to hem and pushed it back off Loki’s shoulders, leaving him naked except where the fabric bunched around his elbows. The movement caused Thrym to slip out of Loki completely, and Loki whined to show his displeasure.

“Loki,” Thrym kissed his lips, then the side of his mouth. “Loki, there is something I desire, if you are willing.”

“What?” Loki could barely think, his mind so clouded with the impatience of lust. He squeezed his damp thighs together and felt his prick jump against his belly as his cunt flexed and released like a fist.

“Let all of this go.” Thrym pulled the jeweled banding from Loki’s brow, tossing the bunched fabric negligently aside. “Drop the false covering and show me that you are not ashamed to be a Jotun.”

Of course I am not ashamed, Loki wanted to scoff. Then he thought back to his first meeting with Thrym on the bifrost, not so many days ago. He breathed deeply and marshaled enough concentration to diffuse the magic Odin had embedded in his skin. He felt his pupils contract sharply as his keen Jotun eyes adjusted to the dimness, and everything came into sharper focus.

Thrym touched his cheek with gentle fingers and something like pride. “My prince... my spouse.”

“Could you try to look a little less pleased with yourself?” Loki groused. “It’s infuriating.”

At this, Thrym did laugh. “Are you unhappy that I embroiled you in my plans?” He leaned in again, his tip pushing against Loki’s slick entrance with a pressure enough to be felt, but not quite penetrate. “Are you?”

“You know full well that I am not,” said Loki, with an admirable semblance of calm. “Now fuck me before I change my mind.”

The precariousness of being on the edge of the table, seemed, in Loki’s giddy mood, to heighten the pleasure of their coupling. As he clasped desperately to the older giant Loki kept catching glances of himself – his skin a slightly paler, even green-faceted blue against Thrym’s more dusky tone. He felt like a stranger in his own flesh, grounded only by the point where Thrym’s body breached his, that constant slippery elision.

Afterwards they retired to the bed, Loki pressing his fingers into Thrym to tease out the aftershocks of his orgasm. Loki himself was always too sensitive for this kind of attention in the immediate aftermath, but Thrym seemed to find it an enhancement of his pleasure, and would lie languidly blinking at Loki as the younger giant twisted and worked his slender hand. It was a strange source of pride to Loki that he was beginning to know what, precisely, Thrym liked (Thrym was such an unselfish lover that these confidences had to be teased from him largely by experimentation).

When he had had enough, Thrym reached down to cover Loki’s hand with his own, and Loki gently withdrew, laying his wet fingers on the taut muscles of Thrym’s abdomen. Their faces were very close, and Loki’s eyes were falling closed in a sleepy and complete satisfaction.

“I must go from here tomorrow,” Thrym told him. “There are alliances to try. You can accompany me if you wish it, but I think, perhaps, it would be best for you to stay here and preserve your mystery.”

“Mm,” Loki agreed, at least halfway to sleep. “Wake me before you go?”

“If I am able.”

Loki’s brow furrowed. “I am not a heavy sleeper.”

“Yes you are... and sometimes you snore.”

Loki opened one eye enough to look scandalized, still surprised by how well he could see in the dark. Thrym looked older to Loki’s Jotun eyes, the shadows and lines that haunted his high-boned, noble face more evident. With the pad of his thumb Loki traced the curved scar at Thrym’s temple, thinking about the contrast of savagery and beauty that was evident in the markings.

Loki wondered if it was simply the same idle interest he had set out with that kept him here. Was he merely wandering from one set of courtly intrigues to the next (and from one set of arbitrary restrictions to another?), or was there something about this place, this man, that held him?

Loki had been asked to put away the veil – but what was under it? Thrym seemed to suppose that it was something firm and true, waiting to be divined. All Loki saw was a swirling nebula of potential selves – a thousand personas to choose from, each as two-dimensional and hollow as the last.

He studied the flesh of his own inner arm, turning it in the dying light of the brazier to catch the viridescent flash embedded within the blue.

Loki felt darkly certain of one thing – that constancy was not in his nature.

Chapter Text

Loki woke early, finding his Jotun senses more attuned to the changes in light that announced the nearness of the weak dawn. He rolled over to face Thrym and pressed sleepy kisses to the corner of his mouth. Still, apparently, unconscious, Thrym did not stir and Loki shifted against him, feeling himself suffused with a sort of drowsy sensuality. He tried to recall if he had always felt this way, and simply repressed it, or was it something to do with the climate of his native land making him more in tune with his body?

Thrym was lying on his back with his face turned towards Loki and lips slightly parted. Thrym’s eyes darted below the still lids to show that he was still dreaming of whatever it was that occupied the depths of his mind – revenge and regret, perhaps – or desire and duty.

Loki was still in the habit of sleeping beneath a covering, but Thrym was not, and Loki propped himself up on his elbow to take in the sight of his nakedness – the breadth of his powerful shoulders, the rise and fall of his ribcage and the intricacy of the raised scarifications on his skin (everywhere but his groin, the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet). Helblindi and Laufey’s markings were harsh vertical lines, but Thrym’s were elegant spirals and loops, like writing. Loki began to trace the marks on Thrym’s belly with a forefinger, then leaned down to chase it with his tongue, tasting a faint hint of the spiced oil that the giants rubbed into their skin after washing.

Thrym still didn’t stir. We’ll see who’s a heavy sleeper, Loki thought, licking his lips and sliding down the bed.

It being morning, Thrym was as hard as Loki, formidable prick rising with a curve towards his belly. Jotnar bled as red as Asgardians, and there was a ruddy flush to its tip with made something coil tight in the pit of Loki’s stomach. He wanted to taste it, but first turned his attention to the folds beneath, parting them with his tongue and licking Thrym’s entrance in slow circles. Thrym finally stirred and raised his hips, fingers twitching on the furs as he let out a long sigh of pleasure.

As he felt fingertips brushing the hair at the nape of his neck, Loki gave one last deep wriggle of his tongue before withdrawing, resting his chin on Thrym’s thigh.

Thrym’s voice was even deeper than usual and burred by sleep. “Is it the custom in Asgard to assault lovers as they slumber?”

“‘Assault’? I’m sorry, I was under the impression you were enjoying it.”

“Very much. But I prefer to know the difference between dreams and reality.”

“Oh, am I in your dreams, Thrym?” Loki dipped his head and sucked the tip of Thrym’s prick, which was now glistening with seed.

Thrym gasped and then let out a husky laugh. “Perhaps it is a demon with your face, Loki.”

“And this demon you dream of – can it command you to do its wicked bidding?” Loki slid up the bed and teased Thrym with the promise of a kiss before pulling back.

“Because it greatly resembles you, it can.”

Loki relented and offered Thrym his lips with a soft pout, scratching his fingernails against the older giant’s chest as they kissed. Then Loki sat back and eyed him speculatively. “Will you get on your knees for me?”

Thrym returned his look with one that was brightly curious and just a touch amused. “Would that please you?”

“I think it might greatly assist me in pleasing you.”

Without further enquiry, Thrym rolled over onto his belly and raised himself on his knees. Loki moved to sit behind him, caressing the insides of Thrym’s thighs with light strokes of the backs of his fingers.

“Tell me about your markings,” said Loki, tracing one with the nail of his thumb. “What does the pattern mean?”

“It belongs to my line...” Thrym groaned softly as Loki began running the point of his tongue between his inner and outer labia, then smoothly lapping at him with the flat of it. “The spirals symbolize ah... wisdom and...” he hissed as Loki eased two fingers into him. “the diamonds... fortitude.”

Loki sat back on his haunches, trailing his wet fingertips down the back of Thrym’s leg, all the way to the sole of his foot. “Oh?”

Loki caught a flash of red as Thrym glanced at him over his twisting shoulder. “It isn’t meant to be a challenge.”

“No?” Loki smiled and rose to a kneeling position, stroking Thrym’s flanks in a long, soothing motion before shifting his hips and pushing into him.

Thrym made a low, murmuring sound of pleasure and rocked back against him.

“Mm, you do like that,” said Loki, starting to work in slow and deep. “You can take more though, can’t you?” he reached around to flex his hand around the base of Thrym’s prick. “You’re bigger than I am, and Amr is bigger than you – in more than stature, am I correct?”

Thrym hesitated before simply answering: “yes.”

“Do you miss it?” Loki pressed. “Do you miss his prick stretching you open?”

“– Loki, you’re not going to..?”

“Not going to what?”

“Shape-shift.”

“Into Amr? No. I’d rather you think about me when I’m the one fucking you.” Loki gave a sharp swivel of his hips in emphasis of this, then abruptly withdrew.

“What are you...”

“Shh,” Loki flexed his fingers and summoned a tapered column of ice in the palm of his hand, then slowly began to push it into Thrym in place of his prick. “Relax, you can take it.”

“Oh, Loki,” Thrym tilted his head back and took a shuddering breath, “Loki – I didn’t know you could–”

“Call forth ice? It’s so simple it’s not even really magic. It’s condensing water from the air onto our skin.” Loki sat back on his heels and admired the sight of Thrym’s labia stretched open around his handiwork. “You can turn over now.”

Thrym rolled to lie on his back again, squeezing his thighs together as he shifted down the bed and then letting them fall apart, touching himself out of curiosity until Loki batted his hand away. Loki touched his tongue to his upper lip as he began to work the ice in and out of Thrym’s body with a twisting flick of his wrist. Thrym’s breathing became raspy, hips moving in minute jerks that echoed Loki’s movements.

Loki wondered if others would find the sight of the Jotun general spread out before them like this as intoxicating as he did (was Thrym even considered attractive by Jotun standards?). There was something utterly unselfconscious about the way Thrym took pleasure that set him apart from Loki’s Asgardian and Midgardian conquests – perhaps it was a result of Thrym’s being raised unencumbered by the taboos attached to gender, or perhaps it was simply a function of age and wisdom.

Sacrificing this sight in favour of more stimulation, Loki dipped his head to suck Thrym, feeling the shaft twitching in his mouth. Thrym started to writhe, letting out low, rhythmic grunts as he pushed himself back against Loki’s working hand. Loki alternated the kinds of attentions he gave – fucking faster, slower, tilting the angle; sucking deep or teasingly – and in response, Thrym made a variety of strange noises Loki hadn’t heard before, coming with a trembling shout.

Loki eased the ice from Thrym’s body and let it re-evaporate back into the atmosphere, leaving his fingers slippery. He reached down to give his own prick some rough strokes before pushing back into Thrym’s cunt, which now felt loose and incredibly wet around him. Thrym clutched weakly at his back and murmured something in his mother tongue, too low and rapid for Loki to catch over the roar of blood in his ears – he reached climax with one last shove of his hips, the drawn-out, euphoric sensation leaving him panting and clinging to Thrym’s chest like an exhausted swimmer to a rock.

Thrym let out what seemed like a heartfelt sigh and stroked Loki’s hair with shaky fingers. “So...” he said hoarsely, “I take it Tryggðmål has been showing you his erotic woodcuts?”

Loki blinked and shifted to look up at him. “No.”

“Ah, then you’re simply... creative.” Thrym cupped Loki’s cheek with one hand and gave him a final, lingering kiss before shifting him to one side and regarding him with a look that seemed half wry and half affectionate.

“What?”

Thrym let out an amused exhalation and shook his head. “You can’t know what it means, to be my age and have the attentions of someone so young and fair.”

Loki had no immediate response to that except to roll his eyes.

“I know you think me sentimental – spare me the withering comment.” Thrym sat up and stretched.

Loki watched the play of muscles flexing across his back. “Must you go right this moment?”

“Laufey’s retinue will be stirring. I should go and bid him farewell, like the dutiful subject I am.”

“And then you will make your own journey?”

Thrym rubbed his hands over his face and nodded.

“Will Helblindi be going with Laufey?”

“I don’t see how he can avoid it.”

Loki thought of the ruined citadel that was Laufey’s court, and of the eerie stillness that seemed to lie upon the place, with its tumbled masonry and broken spires. He supposed that frost giants didn’t actually need roofs or walls, as they had nothing to fear from the elements, but still – such structures spoke of privacy; of civility; of mutual care.

Laufey was a king who had stopped caring about any of these things.

“What does Helblindi do there?”

“What is there to do but sit, and listen to Laufey’s snarls, and look for excuses to leave? Well, he has friends there, and I believe they contrive to go hunting and tracking a great deal.”

“For someone who must have suffered so much, he is remarkably cheerful and open.”

“Yes.” A look of dismay passed briefly over Thrym’s face, as if this was something he had told himself others could not see.

Loki cocked his head to one side and scrutinized Thrym. “His openness troubles you. Do you fear he will betray us by accident?”

“No. Yes. Yes, perhaps that is what I fear.” There was something in Thrym’s expression Loki had not been able to read clearly, but now he saw from the slump of the older giant’s shoulders that it was guilt. “It is my own fault.”

“Why?”

“I was not a proper fosterer to him. It should have been my task to accept the youth from his parent’s hands and teach him independent ways – how to conduct himself among strangers, to be strong and reserved, and to hide his heart from those who would harm him. These were lessons I could not fully teach him, simply because I was too close to him.”

“You were a parent to him, instead of a fosterer,” Loki surmised.

Thrym caught his eye and nodded. “You must understand, he came to me too young – far too young. Perhaps Laufey wanted rid of him. Perhaps he thought he would make Helblindi stronger in sending him away. Perhaps he was afraid to love him himself, I do not know.” Thrym’s gaze slipped out of focus as he cast his mind back and when he spoke again it was quiet and halting: “he was a child, Loki, yet they had girdled him as if he was a youth near his maturity.” He tilted his head back and let out a sigh, closing his eyes. “What could I do? I unlatched that garment he was not yet ready to wear, and then I picked him up and rested him on my hip. I let him cling to me, and I didn’t chide him for crying.”

Loki watched Thrym run his hand back over the back of his skull in a distracted gesture. “Perhaps it was wrong of me. Perhaps... If I had had a child of my own it would have been different.”

“I don’t think that can be true.”

“That it was wrong, or that I could have done differently?”

“Both.”

“It does mean something to hear you say that.” Thrym rose to his feet and went to fetch his clothing. As he buckled it on he told Loki: “Oh, don’t forget to attend your own fealty-swearing.”

Loki raised an eyebrow. “The fealty-swearing you’re only telling me about now?”

“Didn’t you listen to anything the law-keeper told you?”

Loki sighed. “Some of it. Alright, who am I pledging allegiance to?”

“No, Loki. They’re pledging allegiance to you,” Thrym smiled broadly and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Who is?”

“Everyone here. In their eyes you are fully invested with my authority and duties of care.”

“You never mentioned the ‘caring’ part before.”

“Didn’t I?” Thrym stroked the edges of Loki’s jaw with his thumbs, two fingertips circling the patches of sensitive skin behind his ears.

“You think you can charm me into anything, don’t you?”

“I like to think it’s mutual.” Thrym bent and kissed him, a lingering, soft press of his lips. “I will return as quickly as I can. Unless... well, unless I have miscalculated in my choice of allies. In which case... you will see the household well disposed of, won’t you?”

Loki drew his eyebrows together and looked up. “Be cautious.”

“Yes, my prince.” Thrym pulled him into an embrace, smoothing his large hands down Loki’s spine. “My future king.”

“Don’t think I‘m flattered,” Loki said into his chest. “Because I’ve seen what you have planned for the current one.”

*~*~*

“You’re not Idi,” Loki told the giant who brought him his breakfast.

This new appearance had very striking large and almond-shaped eyes that didn’t seem at all at home on his Jotun face – more like features belonging to a dark elf. Loki wondered about the mixing of blood between the races in generations past – it would certainly explain his own anomalous hair and stature.

“No,” said the servant, a minute twist of his lip suggesting the insolent retort he wanted to give.

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know.” The elvish Jotun gave a haughty jerk to his chin as if to pour scorn upon the idea that he should.

“I want to speak to him. Go and tell the steward.”

In due course, a knock came at the door and at Loki’s invitation to enter, Idi stepped inside. He had dark circles under his eyes and his skin had paled to an unhealthy greyish colour.

“Is... is there a problem?” he asked, “Something displeases you?”

“No, I–” Loki blinked at him. “Idi, are you ill?”

“No, I am in health.”

“You look terrible.”

“I’m sorry, my lord. I’m...” Idi managed before bursting into tears.

Loki wasn’t sure what to do with an emotionally unstable giant. “Perhaps you should sit down and take a minute to... compose yourself?” he suggested after an awkward moment of watching Idi pressing his hands to his face and sobbing.

Without moving his hands Idi nodded, then simply sank to the ground and pulled his knees to his chest.

Loki reached for the tome on the table near his bedside and began flipping through its pages, deciding it was best to pretend everything was normal until Idi returned to his senses.

Eventually, Idi recovered enough to make the belated observation: “you look like a Jotun!”

Loki closed the oversized book on his lap. “I am a Jotun. I was born here, but during the war I was taken away to Asgard and raised as one of their own.”

Idi looked up at him with swollen, glistening eyes. “Why? I thought the Aesir hated us.”

“Odin wished to use me as a bargaining chip.”

“But you managed to escape?”

“I suppose I did.” Loki set the book aside and gathered the furs around himself to move to sit nearer Idi on the foot of the bed. “So what in Hel’s name happened to you?”

“My friend...” Idi started, then let out another sob and clapped his hand over his mouth.

“Ah,” said Loki. “Did you have a disagreement?”

“Yes. No – It’s my fault, I misunderstood. I thought...” There was a look of naked pain in Idi’s eyes that made the matter all too clear.

“You thought he was in love with you.”

“Yes, but he isn’t,” Idi swallowed and took a steadying breath. “In fact, the truth is he despises me.”

“I’m sure that isn’t true.”

Idi shook his head fiercely. “It is true! I overheard him earlier, talking to one of the kitchen workers. The other mentioned my name and said he had heard we were lovers. I hung back to hear what he would say to that. He laughed scornfully and then... then he said, ‘oh, he was an eager fuck, but then, the ugly ones always are.’”

Loki raised an eyebrow. “And did you confront him?”

“No, of course not. How could I?”

“It’s what I would do if someone dared treat my affections as a joke.” Loki folded his arms over his chest. “Well, what will you do for revenge?”

Idi’s eyes went almost perfectly round. “Revenge?”

“Mm. I’ll help you, if you like.” Loki tapped his chin. “The first thing you have to do is find out what he treasures most. It doesn’t have to be a physical object – it could be something he prides himself on.”

“But... I don’t want to hurt him,” Idi insisted.

Loki sniffed to show his disapproval of Idi’s passivity. “Well, if you say so.”

Idi twisted his hands in his lap. “So... what did you want to talk to me about, my lord?”

“Ah,” Loki glanced sideways at him. “I want you to be my personal servant. Would that be agreeable to you?” In his imaginings Loki had thought Idi would be flattered by the request, but the possibility now occurred that he would be dismayed at being singled out.

“Of course – if is pleasing to you, my lord.” Idi gave him a searching look. “But why me?”

Loki gave a careless shrug. “I’ve taken a liking to you, and you know the workings of this household I’m apparently in charge of now.”

“But surely the steward could answer your questions better than I?”

“Everyone expects me to already know–” Loki broke off and looked away.

“I understand,” Idi said sympathetically. “When I first came here it seemed daunting. I didn’t want anyone to know I couldn’t find my way around, or where to find the things I was sent to fetch.”

“You weren’t born here then?”

“No, I came here when my dam died. He worked a patch of Lord Thrym’s land near the foot of the mountains, but we had no other kin and I was too small to tend it myself.”

“Ah,” said Loki, making a mental note not to enquire further into the parade of tragedies that was Idi’s life.

Idi twisted his hands again in what was apparently an anxious tic. “Is there something I can do for you now, my lord?”

“I would like to bathe,” Loki said. “Then I want to dress, if you can find me something clean, and then you can tell me about the fealty-swearing.”

“Yes, my lord,” Idi gave a brilliant smile, looking genuinely pleased to have tasks he could accomplish.

Loki supposed there was something to envy in his simplicity.

*~*~*

The swearing was as swift and without pomp as the marriage had been. Loki was seated on the dais of the great hall while the thanes approached (in order of the number of followers they claimed) and individually swore to place their resources and men at Loki’s disposal. After the thanes came the second in command of Thrym’s own band of soldiers (a much scarred, stocky Jotun whose height did not exceed Loki’s by more than a foot), who swore that he and all under him would fight and die at Loki’s word. After the military commander came the heads of the household staff, who swore to attend to Loki’s bodily needs and comforts, and allow no enemies in at the gates.

At the finish Loki rose and thanked them for their loyalty, as seemed appropriate, vowing in turn to act in their best interests (thinking that promise ambiguous enough). His formal duties attended to, Loki immediately sought the quiet contentment of the library. However, solitude proved too much to hope for, as he found there instead the familiar shape of Thrymheim’s skald.

“So,” Loki said, closing the heavy door behind him, “you alone do not pledge loyalty to me, Tryggðmål.”

Tryggðmål spared him a glance. “To a blow-in like you – why should I?”

“Well, I could probably have someone execute you for refusing.”

“Mm,” Tryggðmål acknowledged vaguely, returning to his task, which was scrutinizing two stacks of books and every few moments shifting a tome from one pile to another.

Loki was at first determined to pay the skald no more attention than he himself had received, but curiosity got the better of him. “What is it you do?”

Tryggðmål sighed. “I am wondering which to take.”

“Take where?”

“Somewhere that isn’t here, obviously. The wastes, if I can find a amenable cave.”

“So – insolence, disloyalty, and now, desertion?”

Tryggðmål gave Loki a look that suggested he was being particularly obtuse. “It is a precaution, that is all. If Thrymheim still stands after the battle, then I will return; if it does not, then my records will stand in its place.” Tryggðmål caressed the bindings of the right-hand stack of books with a long fore-finger. “If walls fail we must have words – for our history gives us light to see by while we build anew.”

“And when you die, what then?”

The skald stared at him with a faintly quizzical blankness.

“Who then will care for all the words?” Loki prompted. “Who will make sure the true stories are the ones told?”

Tryggðmål began to look genuinely irritated. “Why would you say such a thing? I wrote it all down!” In his agitation he began to pile the selected books into a capacious bag which looked to be of the same material as his garment. “Anyway, if you’re finished lecturing me on my duties, shouldn’t you be with the soldiers, winning their love before you lead them to a likely death?”

Pleased to have the better of the skald for once, Loki simply leaned against a desk and examined his fingernails. “I didn’t get where I am today by wasting my time on trying to get people to love me.”

“No?” Tryggðmål hefted his burden and went for the door, only for Loki to lock it with a flick of his hand. “Well?” he demanded, in the tone of one who finds his patience severely tried, “if you care not for others’ love, why are you so anxious to keep me here?”

“Tryggðmål, I will happily let you go if you tell me this – what is the cask of ancient winters, and how was it made?”

The skald sighed and lowered his bag. “As to its make up, all I can say is that it is a vessel of magical energy – no doubt you knew that much already. I heard it said that once all the Jotnar had governance over magic, which caused us no little strife and quarrel. Thus our fore-dams gathered to sacrifice their power in the making of this object, which then had a common sway over our bodies as the moon does the tides. Sometimes it was used to build – you have no doubt seen our once-glorious city of ice.”

“But was Laufey the first to use it as a weapon?”

“Oh, yes. It had long resided in the temple before he laid his sacrilegious hands upon it.” Tryggðmål narrowed his eyes. “What is in your mind, Laufeyjarson – are you going to fetch it back for use in the battle?”

Loki gave him an enigmatic smile. “Well, under the circumstances that would be a little tasteless, don’t you think?”

“Is that all, then?” Tryggðmål asked, a weariness coming into his voice.

“Yes,” Loki unlocked the door with a negligent gesture. “You may go.”

“Yet,” said Tryggðmål sharply, “I have somewhat more to say, if you will hear it.”

Loki sighed. “As long as it isn’t one of your tedious poems.”

Tryggðmål lowered his eyes to hold Loki’s gaze. “You have only one foot in Jotunheim, Loki. Remember that there are those of us who belong here body and soul, some who can be of no other realm, and we have placed all that we cherish in your hands.”

“I have been made well aware of my responsibilities.”

“Have you?” the skald shook his head. “You say you don’t care for love, but think on this – would you be as justly hated as is your dam?”

Loki’s eyes flashed. “Enough, skald. Go and peddle your platitudes elsewhere.”

Tryggðmål gave him a grave look in return and a very short bow, then made his way out.

When Loki approached the desk he had left Young Thrym Elder’s book upon and hopped upon the footstool to read it, he found his place had been moved from a section on the control of fire in battle to one on spells of restitution and healing.

“You are not subtle!” he shouted to the empty room, knocking over the pile of books Tryggðmål had elected to leave behind with a savage sweep of his arm.

(One fell open on the floor and revealed a series of woodcuts which were really very intricate indeed.)

Chapter Text

A restlessness overtook Loki in Thrym’s absence. He felt that he alone was sitting still while the household staff revolved around him in their preestablished orbits. To combat this sense of alienation, Loki cultivated a routine of his own: the early mornings he spent wringing information about Jotun culture from Idi; the afternoons in deciphering Young Thrym Elder’s book and working spells; the evenings in trying to cultivate some of his absent spouse’s dignity as head of the table at board.

When, one morning, the same almond-eyed youth who was resolutely not Idi presented Loki with his breakfast (and gave evasive answers on the subject of where his appointed valet was), Loki decided to bypass the stonewalling by investigating the servants’ own domain.

His journey took him to the previously unexplored space below the great hall. Steps, well-worn in the middle, led down into a darkness that would have been all-consuming to an Aesir’s eyes. When Loki reached the bottom he found himself in a spacious chamber with earthen walls - excavated, he realised, from the tundra itself. The ceiling was supported by great stone pillars carved with intricate patterns - diamonds and spirals, and among them bears - couching and rampant, closed-mouthed and roaring.

Although the room had a sepulchral aspect, there was precious little in the way of silence. The steward was engaged in a vehement quarrel with a portly elder giant who had gravy-stained cloth over one shoulder. In one hand this giant held a bowl with a long-handled spoon sticking out of it, while in the crook of his other arm he balanced a wriggling, shrieking baby.

“You think I have no tasks of my own?” the steward gestured towards a pile of open ledgers that lay atop of the long table that occupied much of the centre of the room. “You happily use up the provisions, but it is I who must keep the accounts!”

The other giant’s voice rose in pitch and volume to contend with the baby’s piercing cries. “Pen and ink will keep for a few hours, but what will the household do with no dinner? I have carcasses to roast, sauces to finish, and well you know I am short-handed! Now just do this one thing for me and feed the child!”

The steward sighed and came forward to receive the other’s burden, setting the bowl down on the table and quieting the child by jiggling him up and down on his knee as he regained his seat. The cook stomped back towards his own domain, calling for his helpers as he went.

From his position upon the bottom step (partially shaded by a pillar) Loki coughed discreetly, causing the steward to drop the spoon he held with a clatter.

“My lord Loki–”

Loki held up a staying hand as he walked closer. “Please, do not rise on my account. You are lord down here, and not I.”

The steward craned his neck to look all around him, as if by doing so he could discover what Loki was seeking in this part of the house.

“I can’t find Idi,” Loki explained. “He usually scampers along when I call - has something happened to him?”

The steward pursed his lips in disapproval, his brows drawing low and cheeks hollowing. Loki could see how he might present a terrifying aspect to the youths under his authority. “He’s in his room. In disgrace.”

“Disgrace?”

“He punched the boy that turns the spit in the mouth.”

“Idi... wait,” Loki eased himself into a seat across from the other giant, “are we talking about the same person?”

“Gangly sort of youth with unfortunate...” the steward passed a hand over his face. “Well, you know.”

“Yes.”

“Mmm.” the steward nodded. “The other boy lost a tooth in the broth.”

“Well, did Idi have cause?”

“What cause could there be that would excuse such a thing? After some debate we decided there was nothing to be done but throw the broth away. What Lord Thrym would think of such shameless waste I shudder to think!”

Loki very much doubted that Thrym would care much about one pot of soup in the face of gathering civil war, but the steward’s world necessarily pivoted around matters domestic.

“After all,” the steward continued, jigging the baby so violently that it hiccuped in alarm, “this is not Asgard, that easy golden realm – it is not as if nourishment drops from the trees into our laps!”

Their conversation was interrupted by the cook sticking his head around the door. “Somr! Are you gossiping, or feeding that poor, starving child?”

“The child is no more danger of starving than you are!” the steward turned back to Loki and dipped his head. “Please forgive him, my lord, he has no idea who you are.”

“Do not let me keep you from your duties.” Loki gestured to the baby. “He is the cook’s little one, I take it?”

“Alas, poor thing, he is no-one’s.” the steward stirred the bowl’s contents – a milky-looking gruel of some kind – to break up the ice crystals that had formed, before bringing the spoon to the baby’s burbling mouth. “His dam died in birthing him, and passersby who heard his cries brought him hither. However, as you can see, Suttungr broods over him as if he was his own. And that is why I now share a bed with a squalling infant, and haven’t been decently fucked in six months.”

“I.... see,” said Loki. “Suttungr is your lover, then?”

The steward rolled his eyes towards the door. “Oh, time out of mind. Some days I curse myself that I had not more imagination than to simply grab the nearest way.” He stirred the gruel vigorously again and fed the baby another mouthful. “Ah,” he relented with a sigh, “he has a good heart. We should not scorn contentment when we are lucky enough to find it.”

The steward’s head snapped around as a group of chattering youths came traipsing down the steps. Somr demanded to know what they were up to. Finding their answers unsatisfactory, he doled out extra tasks, sending them all scurrying off through different doors.

Watching this departure (which was considerably more rapid than their entrance), the steward shook his head and tutted. “Their foolish heads are full of this morning’s drama.” He then blinked at Loki, brow creasing with an uncharacteristic hesitancy. “Is there anything I can help you with, my lord, or something you lack?”

“No. I suppose...” Loki looked about him and back to the steward. “I suppose I just came to see what holds the house up.” As he made to rise from the table he found himself staring fixedly at the child as it gurgled and showed the red interior of its mouth for more of the milky slush.

“Would you like to hold him?” the steward offered. “He hardly ever vomits.”

*~*~*

Telling himself that it was entirely his own inclination (and nothing to do with the skald’s unsolicited advice), Loki decided to spend some time in observation of the troops as they went about their drilling and sparring.

Their commander’s name was Lodinn, and added to his (non-decorative) scars and small stature was the impediment of a limp. As he watched Lodinn shouting instructions and demonstrating attacking and defensive postures, Loki wondered what feats this giant must have accomplished that meant he was still able to inspire respect from his men.

When Lodinn noticed Loki’s presence he sent the batch of young, unlined soldiers off on a break and crossed to where Loki stood at the foot of the amphitheatre steps.

“My lord Loki,” he greeted, placing one hand on his chest and offering an awkward bow, as one unused to formalities.

“I have a question for you,” said Loki. “It is important that you answer it frankly.”

This prompted a sharp look from the commander. “I hope you do not think that I am in the habit of lying. Or that Lord Thrym – or his venerable dam, who was my good lord before – should be unwise in their appointments.”

“That was not my meaning, trusted Lodinn,” Loki soothed. “I meant that what we may ourselves think to be truth can, in some cases, be merely fervent hope. So tell me – do you think we can win?”

“Yes... so long as our lord is successful in his alliances, and he returns to us safely.” Lodinn blinked and seemed on the verge of saying something further, but then shook his head.

“Please do not censor your thoughts, commander.”

Lodinn’s expression became even more grave. “You said ‘can we’, and so I answered yes. If you had asked me, ‘will we’, my answer would be no.”

“And what will stop us from reaching our potential – in your opinion?”

“The men are uneasy.” The aged commander sighed and rubbed his eyes. “As I walk among them when they sit by their evening fires I hear them saying that no good ever came of treason.”

“There is a difference between taking arms against a rightful king and the overthrow of a bloody tyrant.”

“I agree with you. As do they, but for a niggling and superstitious doubt. Understand – they would rather open their own veins than be disloyal to Lord Thrym, but a king is a king, however well he has deserved his subjects’ hate.”

Loki watched the soldiers as they talked in small groups, darting wary looks across the arena at him. “They can win,” he summarised. “But you fear their reluctance will be their own undoing.”

“Yes. Why are you smiling?”

“Because it is nothing I can’t fix with words.”

“They don’t know you, my lord.”

“No,” said Loki. “But they will.”

*~*~*

On the following day Loki woke early to find the house already stirring. There were rapid footsteps in the corridors and the air was full of the shouts of relayed messages.

Someone hammered on his door: “My lord Loki – Lord Thrym’s party has returned!”

Loki threw on his clothes and followed the sound of commotion. The area just within the main gates had been turned into a field hospital: half a dozen badly wounded giants lay stretched out on the ground while their fellows packed snow into their gashes.

At first Loki couldn’t catch sight of Thrym, and he was on the verge of grabbing a passing thane to demand information when a knot of people dispersed, affording him a view of Thrym sitting on the ground with his head bowed. Loki rushed forward and then halted, uncertain for a moment how to address the man who was his lover in a private capacity and political ally in a public one. Alerted to his presence by Loki’s shadow falling over him, Thrym turned his head slightly, but didn’t look up.

Loki touched his shoulder. “How bad is it?”

“The alliances have held... to a point – I have a promise of two thousand more that are behind us only so far as it takes to gather their numbers.

“Then what befell you?”

“A band of Laufey’s most loyal ambushed us on our return, thirty rôst from here.”

“Did any of them escape?”

“Some. We could not give chase, not without leaving men behind to die. It makes little difference – their absence is as good as news to Laufey. He will be marching, and if we are not ready he will bring war to my own door.”

“And what of Helblindi?”

“I hope he and his friends have escaped from Laufey and made it over the mountains on the long way round to join us.”

Loki’s quick, tactical mind already processing the information, but he was also considering the odd angle at which Thrym was holding his head. He brought his fingertips to the older giant’s jaw and insistently turned his face towards him.

Thrym’s cheek was deeply scored in a diagonal line and his right eye was pink and glistening. As Loki looked closer he saw it was not an eye at all, but an empty socket which had been packed with ice.

“Who did this to you?”

“Who wielded the shard of ice? One who now lies dead. Who set him to it? Laufey. Blinding is his favourite punishment for those who defy him.”

“I can close the wounds, but I can’t create you a new eye.”

“Save your resources. You will need them.”

“And the men need a general who is not bleeding and in agony.” Loki raised his hands before Thrym could protest further, healing him with a few subtle gestures and muttered words.

“Well,” said Thrym, rising to his feet with a sigh. “Let’s to it then.”

*~*~*

Thrym gazed out over his soldiers as they marched from the gates to assemble before him in their ranks. In lines to the left stood Thrym’s loyal thanes, all with their smaller companies.

Lodinn limped forward and nodded gravely to his lord. “They are as ready as I can make them.”

“They have been trained by the best,” Thrym told him. “I cannot ask for a better company.”

“Do you mind if I say some words?” Loki asked.

Thrym awkwardly turned his head and gave him a look which seemed to contain a note of suspicion for only the briefest moment. “If you think that words can aid us, Loki, then by all means speak.”

With light steps, Loki raised himself upon a snow bank and enchanted his voice so it would carry to even those ears that were furthest. “Warriors of Thrymheim. You have probably heard tell of me. You will have heard that my name is Loki, and that I am of Asgard, and a sorcerer.” He gestured to his own face with a wave of one hand. “You may marvel at my appearance then, and wonder if I have Jotun blood, or if it is some glamour that makes me appear as one of you. I hope the time will come for fuller explanations.”

Loki looked out over the crowd, holding curious gazes with his own level one. “Because I am a stranger, raised among your old enemies, I do not ask you to trust me or to take my part. Allegiance has been given in your names to me, but here and now I give it back to you, in keeping for when I may deserve it.

“But because I am a stranger here, I see what is before me with fresh eyes, so let me tell you what I see. I came from a place of ease and plenty to one of hardship and want, yet I do not meet with bitterness or with envy in Thrymheim. Here I find only gratitude, fellowship, and care.”

After a short pause, Loki’s voice became sharper: “Yet, this is not the seat of the king. Jotunheim’s so-called king holds a broken keep, brooding his days away on failures best forgotten. He grinds beneath his heel all that is good in this land, and all that ever could be good. I will not be so presumptuous as to tell you what is and is not your duty or right, but only bring to mind this – for all that Laufey is old in deeds, he is not so very old in years, and nothing can flourish so long as he lives. Ask yourselves: how long will you bear it? Will you wish it on your kin and children to come?”

A low murmur started up among the ranks and Loki allowed it to build for a few moments before raising his voice to add a final statement: “In Asgard, we arm with tools of wood, iron and steel. We bear such luxurious garments and fine-wrought armors as you have seen me wear,” he gestured to his own clothes, which were those he had first arrived in. “A Jotun creates everything he needs from his own flesh. Now – let only your hearts be so naked as your bodies. Offer no false allegiance, because you do not fight for me; you do not even fight for Thrym, or this great edifice his line has built. Each fights for himself – for what is best for one is best for all.”

Asgardians would have cheered at such a rousing speech, but the assembled giants maintained their disciplined silence, staring at him with their grave faces and shrewd eyes. Loki began to wonder if he had misjudged the mood of the occasion, but then he saw the thane Hrímgrímnir give a minute nod his head, as if to convey approval.

As he turned back he caught Thrym’s face softening, just for a moment, in gratitude.

“Let’s go,” Thrym said. “We must draw Laufey as far as we can from the house.”

They had gone no more than ten rôst from the gates when the scouts sent back a cry: “a small band approaches!”

Thrym shaded his eyes with his hand and looked to the horizon. “What do you think?” he asked Loki, “is it Helblindi?”

The band came closer it became clear that it was not the young prince at their head, but an older, taller giant.

“Amr!” Thrym strode forward, hands outspread in amazement. “Why are you here?”

“To fight, with all those I can claim as loyal and fit to join the fray,” he indicated the men at his back. “I realise my offering can be only a drop in the ocean, but here it is, nonetheless.”

Thrym passed a hand over his brow. “Why could you not stay where you were safe?”

Amr looked affronted by the suggestion. “While others die to secure my comfort – what right have I to such a peace?”

“What will our child do for a dam if you should fall?”

“Leifi will fend for himself, as I have taught him,” Amr tilted his head to one side. “What happened to your eye?”

*~*~*

Halfway between Thrymheim and the royal city the scouts reported sight of Laufey’s force, and the rebel army halted to ready themselves to make their stand.

Beyond the crest of a snowbank the generals, Loki, Thrym and his thanes, had made an encampment in which to confer and receive reports. Meanwhile, the men at the front of Thrym’s force were busy building fortifications – great barriers of ice to withdraw behind or impede the advancing enemy, whose numbers the rolling whiteness of the landscape served to obscure.

Accompanying Thor and the Warriors Three abroad had gotten Loki into many ill-advised scrapes and skirmishes; hot words quickly leading into hot and bloody deeds. War, by comparison, was a glacially slow business, involving much gathering and ordering of men, message-dispatching, and long periods of seeming inaction.

“That band from the northeast,” Loki enquired as he watched a messenger coming up the hill. “Is it the last?”

“Yes...” Thrym rose to his feet and began to pace another anxious circuit around their encampment. “Yes, unless Helblindi–”

“King Laufey has Helblindi,” the breathless messenger broke in to tell him. “My lord Thrym – he has offered to spare the prince in exchange for you.”

Thrym stared wildly at him. “My life for Helblindi’s?”

“Don’t be a fool, Thrym,” Amr counseled, rising. “He does this to torture you. If the prince is still in Laufey’s power then he is likely already dead.”

“Would he kill his own child so rashly?”

“Do you doubt it?”

Loki raised his hand to command silence. “I’ll go,” he said.

“That was not the deal,” said the messenger, dubiously.

“I don’t intend to make deals with Laufey. Somehow I very much doubt he honours them.”

“What will you do then?” Amr enquired, looking incredulous. “Create some illusions to fright him?”

“It’s my real face that frightens Laufey, so I will show him that. And If my brother is alive I will return with him.”

“How?”

Loki unfocused his eyes and felt the air around himself shift as he sought the invisible, compressed path that would take him to the midst of Laufey’s camp. To onlookers, he knew, it looked as if he had passed behind a sliding mirror – a patch of blankness, a silvery, reflective nothing, came to be in his place, and then his footprints were empty.

*~*~*

Loki appeared in Laufey’s camp mid-stride, causing soldiers to fall back on one another to create a pattern like that of the wind flattening stalks of wheat. Loki called the ice to rise below him like the crest of a wave, elevating him above the heads of even the tallest giants. When a barrage of the flung icicles (the Jotun equivalent of arrows) rained upon him, he vaporized them with a burst of fire. At the sight of their opposite element, the frost giants nearest Loki cautiously moved back.

“I would have words with the one who calls himself king. Will Laufey come forward, or is he afraid to face one man?”

The ranks parted and Loki recognised the king’s loping stride before he could discern his features. Laufey halted some feet away and scrutinized Loki’s changed appearance. “Well little Asgardian, I see you’ve borrowed some courage to go with your new skin.”

“Before we meet on the field, I wonder if you would resolve something for me.”

“Ah, must I teach you what victory in combat is?” Laufey quipped. “Sadly for you, it is decided by strength of arm and not by readiness of tongue.”

“I would like to know if the king is subject to his own laws.”

Laufey cocked his head to one side. “Would you have me pay my own taxes?”

“Shall I begin again?” Loki gave a sigh of apparent impatience. “What is the most heinous crime among the Jotnar?”

The word came as a hiss from between Laufey’s clenched teeth: “Treason.”

“That is a trespass against one, not many. Let me ask your lords then – what is the worst crime you can imagine?”

The cluster of giants around the king darted wary glances at one another, but one standing at Laufey’s right hand held Loki’s gaze and swiftly replied: “infanticide. There is no greater crime than to slay the child of one’s own body.”

“That is what your statutes say. Now, is this a law that circumscribes the king, or not?”

Laufey gave a dismissive flick of his wrist. “You mean to say that I must not execute that traitor Helblindi? While he may be no more than an infant in intellect, he is of age to be held accountable for his own evil actions.”

Loki smirked – well, that answers one question: Helblindi is still alive. “I’m talking of your first child, Laufey. The one sired by Fárbauti, and birthed on the eve of the great war.”

“Ah, is that the reason for this ghostly apparition?” Laufey passed a hand before his own face and then pointed at Loki. “Well, that runt was stillborn – everyone knows that.”

“I’m sure they do,” Loki gave an amused exhalation. “Yet the truth is that you took that child – while it was still very much alive – and left it in the temple to die.”

Laufey’s expression hardened further. “I do not have to listen to the calumnies of a wretched little Asgardian.”

“And I do not have to bandy words with a liar and kin-slayer.”

“What is your name, whelp?” Laufey demanded. “I would so hate for one so bold as you to lie in an unmarked grave.”

Lokis smile grew wider. “Oh, I’m sorry – I thought you knew. I am Loki Laufeyjarson, first prince of Jotunheim.”

The warrior-caste giants had more composure than to gasp, but all eyes were now on Loki, wide and searching. Laufey gave a contemptuous curl of his lip and looked away. “Very well then, trickster, if that is the best you can come up with. Hence to your own rabble – see if your petty schemes can save you and your traitorous spouse.”

“If it’s all the same to you,” Loki replied, “I think I will visit my brother first.”

*~*~*

The path Loki laid to Helblindi brought him to a cell that was little more than a cave, the tunnel that was the only entrance and exit barred stoutly with iron. If Loki’s grasp on the location was correct he was directly below Laufey’s once-castle. Even his Jotun eyes struggled with this profound darkness, so he called up a small green glow in the palm of his hand and sent it drifting to the ceiling, which he found to be carved all over with small, stunted figures of men and animals. Clearly the cave had not always been a prison – once, perhaps, it had been a place where ancient Jotnar dwelled.

The only furniture of the room was an ice-hewn bench, and it was on this that Helblindi sat, his knees pulled to his chest and his head turned away to the wall.

On the floor was a crumpled figure whose stillness was even more profound than Helblindi’s. When Loki peered closer he saw that the blunt end of a huge thorn-shaped chunk of ice protruded from the flesh of the giant’s back. From the position of the corpse it was clear he must have been kneeling when he died.

“Brother,” Loki said softly. “Brother, I am here for you. I will take you to Thrym’s camp.”

Helblindi stirred and then unfolded with slow, mechanical movements of his long limbs.

“Do you see what he did to Leikn?” Helblindi said, voice very quiet and hoarse. “The others he had dragged away, but this was for my eyes.”

“Yes, I see what happened.” As Loki considered the corpse he found himself wondering if Laufey had delivered the killing stroke himself, or merely ordered it. He supposed it would be insensitive to ask.

“And first he had Leikn speak, to break every vow between us, and say he never...”

Loki thought Helblindi would begin to cry at this point in the tale, but instead every muscle of his face just fell slack. Then after a moment, Helblindi took a shuddering breath and looked up at Loki, eyes earnest in appeal. “He wasn’t a coward. They just didn’t give him a chance to... to earn any honour.”

“You will avenge that, Helblindi,” Loki told him, his voice soothing but firm. “Come here and take my hand.”

*~*~*

The stories of war Loki had heard all began at dawn, but the Jotnar seemed to be no respecters of this tradition – the weak light of Jotunheim’s day was failing, but everyone was gathered in tense readiness.

Thrym came up behind Loki where he stood on a rocky outcropping that overshadowed the valley and laid his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? All the pieces in their places. And this laden, quiet moment – it’s like listening to a singer take a big, deep breath before they begin.”

“I don’t think it’s beautiful,” Loki replied. “I think it’s interesting – putting everything in order before unleashing chaos.” He looked up and took note of the sparkling of Thrym’s single red eye. “Still, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself."

Thrym blinked at him, mouth turning down at the corners. “Now you’ve made me sound callous.”

“It’s understandable. You’ve bided your time, and now here you are on one last big adventure with all your old friends.”

“Loki – this isn’t a game to me. I stand to lose everything that I have, the least of which is my life.”

“I don’t like this morbid sentimentality, Thrym,” Loki told him, primly. “I’m not going to run your realm for you if you die.”

“Well,” Thrym replied. “I suppose I must do what I’m told – survive or else. Can I at least have a kiss, o my prince and spouse?”

Loki crossed his arms over his chest. “No – I won’t have you claim it as a condemned man, but as a victor.”

Thrym’s expression was half amused and half admiring. “You are very good at rallying speeches, aren’t you?”

Still gazing out across the soon-to-be battlefield, Loki tapped his chin with a long forefinger. “Who wins the war, Thrym – he that amasses the most corpses, or he that can best show that his cause was right?”

“Ah, a battle for hearts and minds, is that it?”

“Not in the way you’re thinking. They already love you well, Thrym, but you must offer them more than love – you must offer hope.”

“There!” Thrym exclaimed, staring towards the horizon and then back to Loki, “do you feel that? Do you see the powder shifting? Laufey’s forces are advancing.”

Loki took a few steps closer to the edge of the precipice, giving Thrym one smiling backwards glance.

Then he disappeared.

Chapter Text

“Need I remind you,” said Loki, “that you still owe me a wedding gift?”

“It’s not my fault you decided to elope to another realm,” said Thor, jigging his knee up and down in restless agitation as he sat on the edge of his own bed. “Are you really married to that... to Thrym? I mean, forever?” After a pause he looked up at Loki and said (in the sulky voice he used when he suspected Loki was about to mock him): “why didn’t you invite us?”

“It’s not how you think, Thor. It’s a political alliance.” When Thor continued to look petulant Loki brought his face closer and gave him one of their old conspiratorial smiles. “Come on brother, where is your sense of adventure? You used to love defying Odin.”

“This is different!”

“Because it’s not one of your own foolhardy, self-aggrandizing schemes?”

“Because I don’t think it is right!”

“Right?” Loki spat. “Right! The truth is, you are more afraid of father, more afraid of what your cronies would think, than you are willing to help your brother in his hour of need.” Loki took a deep breath, nostrils flaring. “I am your brother, aren’t I? Or is it the colour of my skin that gives you pause?”

“Loki,” Thor opined, looking truly wounded, “that is not fair.”

“Well?” Loki crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t mean to hurry you Thor, but I do have a war to get back to.”

*~*~*

Loki arrived back on the battlefield and headed towards the nearest ensign carrying a roaring bear flag, ducking between giants locked in combat. The first of the generals he encountered was Amr, yelling commands to a line of giants bearing ice-spears.

“Where is Thrym?” Loki shouted.

Amr glanced down, apparently startled by his sudden appearance. “Leading the vanguard.”

Loki heaved a sigh. “Of course he is.” As he narrowed his eyes against the twilight he could see the make out a great surging forward of men in an outlying regiment.

“Who is that to the West?” he shouted to make himself heard over Amr, who was bellowing: “forward and hold rank, hold!”

“Your brother.”

“He fights like a man possessed.”

Amr spared him an angry look as he shoved Loki aside. “Prince Loki – this is a battle for the full-grown ones. Don’t be a nuisance and step out of the way before you get yourself killed!”

*~*~*

Thrym couldn’t feel the shard in his shoulder, but he knew it was there, and he could feel the blood running down his chest. There was something seriously wrong with his ankle – a snapped tendon, perhaps, and it could no longer bear his weight.

He dropped to his knee, grimacing at the jolt to his battered frame, then turned his head to where Laufey’s lieutenant lay staring glassily at the sky, his breathing gurgling and laboured, and a pink foam on his lips. Herkir had been a youth under his command once – Thrym remembered how disconsolate he had looked upon the king’s defeat, sitting by the broken palace gates with his head in his hands.

Herkir’s dam and Thrym’s had been close friends and occasional lovers – for they were of that generation who seemed able to cultivate bonds that were elastic and yet enduring. Perhaps he and Herkir were spirit brothers, Thrym thought. He remembered that his dam would say that, dandling Thrym on his lap at the start of a feast – “look, Younger, it is one of your sires,” (it was a fond fiction of his that all ten had somehow had a hand in Thrym’s conception) “run and ask him what he has brought you.”

Herkir’s dam was good at sleight of hand and his favourite trick was to produce a piece of silver, or a segment of fruit crystallized in sweet sap, seemingly from the air or the space behind Thrym’s ear. Thrym had thought it was magic, and his elder brother – already girdled – would laugh at him for his childish credulity.

Thrym tried to rise again and grunted in pain, sinking back down. Herkir was loosing the fight for breath. What would they think, their long-gone parents, to know their children had willfully broken the bonds of kinship?

“Herkir,” Thrym gasped, unable to tell if the other giant heard him over the riot of battle just beyond the hollow in which they lay. “Forgive me. You were never my foe–”

With effort Herkir turned his head, wheezing out his last words: “silence, traitor.”

For want of something else to do, Thrym bowed his head and murmured a prayer for his departed perhaps-brother. It had never been clear to the Jotnar whether the wild, elemental forces they regarded as gods listened to the petitions of lesser beings.

He was roused from his devotions by the sound of footsteps creaking on the fresh snow and then a deep, amused voice: “well, isn’t this a pitiful sight?”

Thrym raised his eye to the king. “Your men dying for you while you refuse to lift a finger?”

“No,” Laufey stepped closer, a curved blade of ice materializing in his hand. “A once-great warrior spent in such a fruitless effort.” He turned the ice so the pointed tip was outermost, like a butcher’s hook. “I am going to slit you from your treacherous heart to your barren womb, Thrym.”

Thrym met his brightly malicious gaze without flinching. “Then I will leave it to your own child to put an end to your wretched life.”

Laufey gave a low snort of derision. “Helblindi will not kill his own dam – he is not of that mettle. He will be cowed before me, as he has always been, and because I am a loving parent I will forgive him. In time.”

“He wasn’t talking about Helblindi.”

There came a crackling burst of light and the king toppled, Loki striding into view with his green cloak rippling behind him. He paused by the prone figure, one hand still outstretched. “Shall I finish it?”

Thrym slumped onto the snow, panting with relief. “No. His death is something that more than we two need to witness.”

*~*~*

“Lean your weight on me, Thrym,” Amr told him, voice whispery and hoarse. “That martyred expression isn’t as winning as you think it is.”

The weary band of victors made their way towards Laufey’s ruined citadel. At the head of the company strode Helblindi, face blank and unsmiling even in triumph. To the rear were those captured alive – Laufey, borne along unconscious, and all who had preferred surrender to death.

“Should we pardon any?” Thrym asked, glancing back over his shoulder.

“Some of the lower orders, perhaps,” Amr replied. “None of the leaders.”

Thrym’s expression was dubious. “There are good men in that number. Lords of estates – and some without issue.”

Amr gave a huff of frustration. “Thrym, does the surgeon pare away only part of the canker? Does he leave that within the body that will cause it to fester anew?”

“I agree with Amr,” said Loki, prompting a startled look from the elder giant. “To a point. It’s just a question of how we go about... achieving this necessary unity.”

“I hardly think one of your rousing speeches will be enough to fix everything, Loki,” Amr’s spent voice still managed to convey scorn.

Loki threw him a supercilious look then returned his gaze to the horizon. The darkened sky was suddenly illuminated by the beam of the bifrost, its prismic colours reflecting onto the white canvas of Jotunheim’s snowy plains.

“Thor is late,” said Loki. “Still, perhaps that is for the best – I would not have him claim glory in the outcome today. Hurry, we will meet him at the palace.”

*~*~*

“Brother!” Thor’s hearty laugh rang out into the silent darkness. He strode forward flanked by Sif and the Warriors Three. Fandral and Hogun bore between them a large wooden chest, struggling slightly under its weight.

From his position at the foot of the steps to the throne Loki crossed his arms and gave Thor a glare, one eyebrow arched.

“That’s not what you’re supposed to say!” Volstagg hissed, nudging Thor in the ribs to prompt him, almost causing the god of thunder to topple over sideways.

Thor seemed to collect himself in the role into which he had been cast. “Princes Loki... Laufeyjarson and Helblindi Laufeyjarson, the House of Odin brings you a tribute.”

Loki could feel the bristling restlessness of the Jotun lords and thanes who stood behind him and he found himself missing Thrym’s stolid presence at his side. For a tense moment no-one seemed to know what to do or say. Thor and his friends had an urgently-murmured conference before Hogun and Fandral came forward to set down their burden at Loki’s feet. When they withdrew the Asgardian contingent sheepishly each bent a knee and bowed their heads towards Loki.

Loki turned to his Jotun brother and touched his arm, gesturing in invitation. Helblindi blinked rapidly and finally seemed to return to some awareness of the present, stepping forward with Loki. Together they unlatched the chest and lifted the lid to release a flood of blue, swirling light.

“Is it..?” Helblindi turned to Loki, wonderstruck. “I’ve never seen it with my own eyes.”

“Go on, Helblindi,” Loki prompted gently, “lift it. It is your birthright.”

The casket of ancient winters glowed brighter in Helblindi’s hands, and the almost imperceptible hum it made rose in pitch. As he raised it to the general view, the silence of the assembled giants was broken by a unanimous intake of breath.

*~*~*

Loki found Thrym sitting among the wounded. A healer was picking shards of ice from the general’s shoulder while Thrym stared straight ahead, bearing it stoically.

“Allow me,” Loki told the healer, dismissing him with a gesture.

“You must be tired, Loki.” said Thrym. “I am not so old that my body cannot repair itself, given a little time.”

“Amr’s right, you know – the martyred expression isn’t at all winning. Now sit still a moment.” Loki raised his hands, which buzzed and ached from all the spells he had cast to clear his path through the battlefield, and manipulated the air over Thrym’s wound with his fingertips. “There. Stretch out your foot.”

“Loki – it’s a sprain.”

“It’s torn ligaments, now be quiet.” Loki knelt down and placed his hands on Thrym’s swollen lower leg and rested them there for a moment. “The men are putting together all the food and drink they can find, so I suppose there will be a celebration, of sorts. Will you look after Thor and his friends?”

“Why, where will you be?”

“I’m going to see Laufey.”

“Why?”

Loki shrugged. “I suppose this is my last chance to know him. To understand him, if such a thing might be possible.”

Thrym sighed and then nodded in acceptance. “Still, it will be a strange thing for the new king to miss his own feast.”

“You will make my excuses.” Loki worked the healing magic and rose to his feet. “Make sure Amr sits next to you – don’t let him sulk at the bottom of the table.”

“Why not?” Thrym gave a stubborn jerk of his chin. “What’s it to me where he sits?”

Loki smirked. “I want to inform you of something, because it’s clear to me that you haven’t realised it yet: Amr is still in love with you.”

Thrym gave a short, bitter laugh. “Don’t be absurd.”

“What is absurd is that he left his child alone in the wilderness just to come and fight beneath your banner. I think the truth is that Amr runs to be at your side just as often as he can find an excuse.”

“He could have been at my side any time he wanted, all these years. He knows I would always welcome him.”

“He’s proud – even prouder than you. You chose duty over your love for him, and he doesn’t know how to forgive that.”

“I told you before – it is too late for reconciliation.” Thrym gave him a searching look. “Are you tired of me, Loki? Is that why you want to throw me into the path of another?”

“I’m not tired of you.”

“Come here then,” Thrym held out his hand and Loki placed his own into the broad palm. Thrym pulled Loki into his lap and kissed him.

When Loki raised his hand to trace the side of Thrym’s face, the elder giant turned it away.

“Have you succumbed to vanity now, as well as pride?”

Thrym’s mouth turned down at the corners. “I’m less and less of an attractive prospect to you, I realise.”

Loki outlined the ridge of Thrym’s brow and the swell of his cheekbone with the side of his thumb. “Just don’t cover it with a patch. You’ll remind me of Odin.”

*~*~*

Loki sent small specks of light down the corridor ahead of him, drifting like fireflies. He found Laufey in the same cell Helblindi had previously occupied. The king sat upon the bench with his hands bound behind his back, his feet manacled and secured to the floor with short lengths of chain. Some thoughtful giant had removed Leikn’s corpse to give him some privacy.

Without raising his head or giving any sign of having sensed Loki’s arrival, Laufey’s deep voice rumbled out: “come closer, Asgardian.”

Loki stepped to the bars. “I’m not an Asgardian.”

“Hm.” Laufey opened his eyes to regard him. “Which is the false covering I wonder - that skin, or the other?” Scrutinizing Loki more narrowly, he said: “turn your head and show me your ears.”

“Why?”

“Because Fárbauti always wore his hair down. There is no-one left alive who knows what they look like but me.”

“And if my ears don’t happen to resemble his?”

Laufey’s smile cut through the darkness. “He had some very distinctive dimples. But I won’t tell you where.”

Loki shuddered and pushed his hair back from his face. “Well?”

Laufey hesitated a moment, and then nodded. “You look like your sire.”

“So I’ve been told.”

Laufey’s lip curled in disgust. “Then Odin is a nasty, sneaking little thief.”

“Do you call it thievery, for him to pick up what you discard?”

“You weren’t discarded.”

Loki felt his lips drawing back from his teeth in a snarl. “You left me to die!”

Laufey lowered his head again, powerful shoulders rolling. “You were a sacrifice.”

“Forgive me if I fail to see the difference.”

“We do not leave the gods our trash.” Laufey’s eyes seemed to flare in the darkness. “A sacrifice needs must be something of value.”

“You expect me to believe that? I was a runt. A curse.”

“In the eyes of others, perhaps, but not in mine. You were my first born, and I could not know if I would live to bear another. You do not know what it cost me to lay you there, or to watch the temple fall. With Fárbauti, with you, went most of the part of me that could love.”

Loki gave a sharp exhalation of scornful amusement. “That is love, is it – to force yourself on another and enslave him to your will?”

“Is that what they told you?” Laufey raised his gaze to the carved ceiling. “Well, I suppose there is such a thing as poetic licence, but the truth is that Fárbauti was such a creature as no man’s understanding could compass. I hear they like to say that he was perfect – divine, even – which is far from true. For instance, he had one crooked tooth that he was ashamed of,” Laufey opened his mouth to touch his tongue to one of his top incisors “... and thus he refused to smile in public – an act of vanity which only added to his mystique.” After a beat he added, with a quirk of his lip: “and he had a stupid provincial accent – he couldn’t even pronounce my name properly. ‘Loaf-ey’, he would say.”

“And is it ‘poetic licence’ that you drove him to slay himself?”

“No,” Laufey replied, and then was silent for a long moment, his face seeming to disappear as he closed his eyes. “What did they call you, again – Odin and his rabble?”

“Loki.”

“Hm,” Laufey seemed to think this an uninspired choice. “Would you like to know your real name?”

“Loki is my name.”

“It is a tag poorly affixed by strangers. I bore you, held you bloody in my arms, and heard the wail of your first breath. I called you Loptr – the airy element – for I knew if you lived you would be one of great power – one to whom shapes and boundaries mean nothing.” With a significant glance he added: “magic is in our line, you see.”

“Then why not free yourself, o mighty king?” Loki sneered.

“It waxes and wanes with the generations. The only power I have is prophecy.’

“What prophet would start a war he knew was his own destruction?”

The whiteness of Laufey’s smile flashed in the darkness. “Is that a rhetorical question, Loptr, or would you like me to answer it?”

At the sound of footsteps in the tunnel behind him, Loki turned. Helblindi strode to the bars and without hesitating, spat in Laufey’s face.

“Ah, come to bid me farewell, my loving child?”

“Your death cannot come soon enough, monster.”

“‘Monster’? Really Helblindi, do you listen to yourself? Laufey ducked his head to rub away the saliva with his shoulder. “If your last words to me are going to be an insult you could at least make it an inventive one.”

Helblindi grabbed the bars and rattled them. “What age was I when you began to hate me? An infant? A child? It can’t have been older – I had barely mastered walking when you banished me from your sight.”

“Self-pity now? More and more pathetic, my child.”

“If we must have parting words, then that is what I wish to know.”

“I have never hated you. I have tried to make you strong, Helblindi, and that is the root of all I have done.”

“And killing–” Helblindi blurted out and then shook his head. “No. No. I’m sure you believe it. There are all manner of deranged things that you believe, you hateful–”

“Go on, you might as well say it again, Helblindi.”

“Monster.”

“There. Feel better? Now go on, back to your friends... what’s left of them. Back to that traitor you wish had bore you. Take my blessing with you – or my curse – whichever you prefer.”

With one last blazing look, Helblindi turned and made his way from the dungeon, footsteps slapping against stone in a furious rhythm.

“Well,” said Laufey meditatively. “I suppose that is a manner of farewell.”

Loki watched him for a moment, trying to detect regret – or a trace of any emotion – on Laufey’s face. “When did it go wrong between you two?”

“Ah, who can say?” Laufey seemed to cast his mind back. “He was a poor feeder as an infant – perhaps that means something. Býleistr suckled as happily as a little piglet and he – well, I am not yet as tarnished in his eyes as I am in Helblindi’s.” He met Loki’s curious gaze. “If I have not yet forfeited the right to a last request, I would like to see my youngest.”

“He is at Utgard, in the far North, is he not?”

“Distance is no object to you though, is it Loptr?”

Loki raised his chin in assent. “How will I recognise him?”

“Find a miserable-looking child who strongly resembles me, and that will be Býleistr.”

“And... abduct him?”

“He will happily go with you if you tell him I have sent for him. Loki is lying dead on yonder field so he won’t stop you.”

“Loki?”

“That is – was – the name of the lord of Utgard.” Laufey smiled contemptuously. “It seems that Odin has very little imagination.”

*~*~*

As soon as they materialised back in the dungeon, Býleistr let out a cry of anguish and ran to the bars. “Dam, why have they imprisoned you in such a place?”

“I hear it is because I am a tyrant.”

“What will they do to you?”

“My execution is at dawn.”

“No! No, I won’t let them!” Býleistr covered his mouth with his hand and burst into tears, shaking is head from side to side with his eyes tightly closed.

“Býleistr...” Loki heard the clanking of chains as Laufey rose awkwardly to is feet. “Lift your head and look at me.”

Býleistr took a series of shuddering breaths and lowered the hand he had clamped over his mouth, clenching it into a fist by his side. Tears still glistened on his face, but he managed to control the trembling of his bottom lip long enough to meet Laufey’s gaze.

“What are you, Býleistr?” Laufey prompted.

“I am a prince of Jotunheim.”

“Does a prince of Jotunheim weep?”

“No, dam.”

“No,” Laufey agreed. “Clear up your countenance. When I am gone you will live among my enemies, and you must never give them the satisfaction of knowing your grief. Do you understand?”

“But why do you have to die? Can’t you just give Helblindi the throne? You could go away, somewhere very far, and I’d go with you and–”

“Child, what nonsense you talk.”

In a smaller voice, Býleistr asked: “what will happen to me?”

“Helblindi will care for you.”

“No he won’t! He hates me and I hate him!”

“He is your brother, and he will do his duty by you. And so will Loptr,” Laufey indicated Loki with a sidewards glance.

Býleistr looked over his shoulder. “Him? Who is he?”

Laufey sat again with a huff of pain. “He’s your eldest brother, long thought to be lost.”

“Why is he so short?”

“He’s no shorter than you.”

“But I haven’t finished growing yet and he has!”

“He’s very cunning and powerful, Býleistr. He’s the one who will be your new king.”

Býleistr bit his lip and nodded, twisting his fingers together as he turned to address Loki. “Can I go on the other side of the bars? I want to stay with my dam until... for as long as I can.”

Loki nodded. “We will both stay with him.”

*~*~*

A few hours before dawn Býleistr fell asleep with his head in Laufey’s lap and his chubby, childish hand curled around the shape of his dam’s knee. Loki strongly suspected Laufey would not have allowed this had he not been bound and thus unable to shift him.

Laufey sighed, looking down at the softly-snoring prince. “I forget how young he is, yet.”

“Too young to wear that garment.”

“Perhaps,” Laufey conceded. “You will see him well cared for?”

“Ah, he is the child you are partial to, then?”

“They do say the last is the one to make you sentimental.” Laufey raised his eyes again. “We’re a very fertile line, by the way – you might want to watch out for that, now that you’re of age. Please don’t insult my memory by letting that traitor Thrym get one on you. Know that if you allow one of his blood to be king my shade will haunt you eternally.”

“What makes you think I’d lie with Thrym?”

“Do you think I am blind, or that I don’t know what desire looks like? He’s too old for you, you know – he should be ashamed.”

“Doubtless, if you had your way he’d have an icicle in his back – that seems to be your favoured method of dispatching your children’s unwanted suitors.”

Laufey snorted. “I suppose you don’t know that I had his dam? Then again, there are few that didn’t – in those days, if anyone went from Thrymheim unfed or unfucked, it was not their host’s fault.” Laufey gave a meditative sigh: “oh, it was a merry world while that generation lived – who never stirred out of doors except for sport and idle pleasures; who never fought except in small, neighbourly skirmishes,” his lip curled in disgust. “Well, I put an end to that.”

“You... lay with Thrym’s dam? Then...” a dull horror dawned over Loki’s features.

“Oh, no,” Laufey assured, “I’m certainly not old enough to be in the running for siring his brats. Although, one of our line might well have done for the first,” he gave Loki a significant glance. “Magic, you see...”

The king smiled to himself and then contemplated Býleistr’s lax profile again. “He looks exactly like me, doesn’t he? The same narrow face and eyes. Helblindi takes after his sire a little... the shape of his jaw, perhaps.” He closed his eyes. “I’ve been thinking about him these past few days – that nameless wretch who got my second born.”

“The slave – why?”

Laufey tilted his head back and regarded the motes of green light bobbing in the carved recesses of the ceiling. “For all that he was hideous, he was gentle. He wanted to kiss me – though of course I didn’t let him. When it was finished he called me his love. His love! The king and the slave, can you imagine?”

“I would really rather not.” Loki wrinkled his nose, but after a moment he felt curious enough to ask: “what happened to him?”

“I don’t know. I had him sent to the lowest servants and they probably made him their drudge. I suppose he is dead now.” Laufey shook his head. “I didn’t understand it then, but now it seems to me fitting that such a foul, crabbed creature was the only one to ever profess himself my lover – for he was outwardly what I am in. Perhaps he forgave my deformity.”

“What ‘deformity’?”

“There is something in me that is twisted, like a tree root. It grew that way and I have never been able to unkink it. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you Loptr?”

“No.”

“Liar. You have it too, don’t you? Helblindi doesn’t, nor does Býleistr, but you... you.” Laufey narrowed his eyes. “Yes, I can see it.”

Loki folded his arms over his chest. “I am not cursed – you cannot trick me into thinking I am.”

“It’s not a curse, exactly. At least... I’ve never thought of it as such,” Laufey watched him for a long moment and then began again with a seeming change of subject: “when I was quite a small child I noticed my that my fingernails had been allowed to grow unusually long. I reached up and I scratched my own cheek, and then I went to my dam and said, ‘look, look what Nál did.’ Nál was my flesh-brother, only one cycle younger than me. Naturally, since I was my dam’s favourite, he had my brother soundly beaten. Then Nál came to me, crying, and asked, ‘Laufey, why did you do that? What have I ever done to you?’ And I simply said, ‘do what, brother?’”

Loki felt a ringing in his ears. He had a hundred stories in store with variations on the same theme.

Laufey closed his eyes for a moment and rested his chin on his breastbone. “Poor, stupid creature – he was so trusting. He died for me you know, in the war.”

“Why did you do it?” Loki asked, unable to keep the eagerness of appeal out of his voice.

Laufey’s eyes flicked opened again, seeming to glow like embers. “That is the question, isn’t it? ‘Why?’ I’ve never known. Is it how we were made, a matter of sinews and skull shape? Or is like a laugh, a turn of phrase, or a sense of humour...? Sometimes I wonder if could I have changed it, if I tried harder.” Laufey let out a long, weary sigh. “Well, you will have to search for an answer on your own, Loptr. Unless, of course, you’d like to break these bonds and take me with you.”

Loki almost startled himself with the sharpness of his laugh. “You can’t seriously think I would.“

Laufey tilted his head. “Well, it’s in both our natures to be contrary.”

“At this particular moment I had much rather break your neck than your bonds.”

Laufey gave his discordant, raven laugh at this. “Ah, how I wish I could have had the raising of you, Loptr. Helblindi and Býleistr are poor sport – easily wounded and with no flair to their parries. You would have given as good as you got.”

“I’m not as much like you as you think.”

“Is that so? Think on this: how long can you hide it, this – what shall we call it – streak of perversity? And who is there who will stay loyal to you when it does inevitably show? Thrym? No. He doesn’t like monsters – he will turn on you as he did me. Helblindi is Thrym’s creature, so you may abandon hope there. I will not beg you, Loptr, or lie and say I’ll mend my ways – I have made peace with what I am. All I will say is that if you want understanding, it is here.”

“I have never sought anyone’s understanding.”

Laufey nodded, his expression one – oddly – of pride.

Chapter Text

Loki emerged from the long, dark corridor and out into the open space which had once formed the floor the ruined palace. Stumps of carved rock, remnants of what must have been pillars, protruded from the snow like broken teeth.

He swiftly crossed to where the remnants of their forces had made an encampment by the steps to the throne. “Where are the Asgardians?” he enquired of the groggy-looking thanes sitting around the charred remnants of the previous night’s fire.

“The Asgardians went back from whence they came,” one older giant replied. “We feasted them, but sleeping under our stars was not to their liking.” The circle of giants chuckled at this.

Loki nodded. “Well... perhaps it is best. Where are Thrym and my brother?”

“Yonder. The prince is building something with the casket. He’s been at it most of the night.”

Loki made his way to the larger group that surrounded what had previously been a collapsed mass of ice and stone. The rubble was now being moved away, passed in lines by countless pairs of muscle-corded arms.

At the centre of the space that had been cleared stood Helblindi, holding before his chest the Casket of Ancient Winters. He was casting its beam in a sweeping arc between the tops of two surviving pillars to make the beginnings of a new roof; building up layers of sparkling ice until it was a thick and stable.

Loki waited for him to pause in his construction before addressing him. “It is good to see that being used for its real purpose, brother.”

Helblindi turned and lowered the casket, his eyes showing a tired satisfaction. “All my life this place has been a ruin, but I’ve heard its former beauties described many times. I thought it was time to make a start at restoring it.”

Loki gazed about him in wonder. The place had an indefinable air of something lofty and sacred. “What is this place?”

“The temple, Loki.” He nodded towards the standing stone at its centre. “That was its foundation. The ancient Jotnar built around it.”

Loki looked closer and saw that the stone – an altar, he supposed – had a curiously flat top in the middle of which was a carved out square.

“That is the resting place of the casket, then?”

“Oh yes, watch!” As the second prince set the casket on its cradle the blue light it emitted cast hypnotic, swirling shapes upon the new roof structure and the floor, seeming to enliven all that it could reach with its dancing touch.

Loki came to stand by Helblindi’s side, letting himself be bathed in the light and finding it oddly soothing.

“It is said that none but those of royal line may lift the casket and live. I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s just a story to frighten those who might be tempted to put it to improper use.”

Loki smiled as he gazed at it. “We will make it true.” A twitch of his fingers and a few muttered words accomplished the task.

As the two brothers still stood rapt, a large hand descended onto Loki’s shoulder and Thrym’s familiar voice rumbled out: “it is time we dealt with Laufey, don’t you think?”

Loki nodded. “Have the guards bring him to the crossroads. I think that is the proper place to dispose of such a wretch.”

“You will execute him yourself?” the question held a note of surprise.

“That is best, I think. I have a method in mind.”

Thrym’s gaze was searching. “You had words last night – did he unsettle you?”

“It would take more than the complaints of a broken tyrant to unsettle me.” Loki sniffed. “I hear Thor and his companions have gone. Was he in good spirits?”

“Oh yes. Disappointed not to see as much of you as he had hoped, but pleased to renew his acquaintance with your brother and hear of the day’s acts of valor.”

“And did he speak of how he speak of how he escaped with the casket, or when I can reasonably expect the wrath of Odin to descend?”

“Your Allfather has succumbed to the Odinsleep.”

“Indeed?” Loki grinned triumphantly. “Well, at last the old man does something convenient.”

*~*~*

Laufey stood in his chains with a haughty, slightly bored expression on his harshly-lined face. His narrowed eyes scanned the assembled warriors, as if commanding them to shrink beneath the weight of his disapproval.

“King Laufey,” Loki began, voice carrying over the wind. “You stand here before your subjects indicted as one who has led his own land to ruin and remained heedless of the continued suffering of his people. Do you repent you of these heinous deeds?”

Laufey gave his discordant laugh. “Aye, that I had not the chance to grind you down to nothing – to scourge such a race of whining fools out of existence.”

Loki continued: “for your crimes against the realm we declare you unworthy of your title, and here resolve to take from you both your kingship and your life. Have you any more words to speak?”

“Have I words?” Laufey spat. “A plague on all who raised their hand against their anointed king, or who stood idly by and watched them do it.”

“You have done?” Loki enquired mildly, spreading his hands. When Laufey returned him a stubborn silence he took a step forward. “Then I have a curse for you.” From his tunic he took a small leather pouch. “A long time ago, a sorcerer died in your quarrel. I never met him, but I have had opportunity to know his mind through a book he left behind. He was a great champion of this land and its mysteries.” Loki opened the pouch and withdrew something, clenching it tightly in his hand. “I learned this of him – an elegant enchantment in two parts.”

Loki uncurled his fingers and stretched out his open hand, letting the wind carry a cloud of shimmering dust to Laufey. “May the ears deaf to cries be ever listening. May the eyes blind to danger be ever watching. May the hand raised in anger be ever ready in service.”

Afterwards, no-one could quite say whether the change had been slow, or only their taking notice of it so, but where Laufey stood was no king, but a rock shaped exactly him.

*~*~*

“I wish you hadn’t done that, Loki,” Helblindi reproved as they walked towards the area the prisoners were being kept. “What good is it having to stare at his detested face every time we enter the city?”

Loki laughed. “It will serve as a warning to our enemies.”

“‘Look what we do to our own kings, so what do you think we’ll do to you’?” Amr suggested with a raised brow.

Helblindi made a huffing sound, hunching his shoulders. “I think it’s eerie. You made him into his own tombstone.”

“Oh, I think it’s more than that,” said Thrym, the depth of his gaze telling Loki that he knew perfectly the meaning of the spell. “But I still can’t decide if what you did was cruel or merciful.”

“Practical,” Loki assured him. “Laufey would respect that.”

The prisoners of war sat in a forlorn circle, their ankles chained and a bevy of Thrym’s soldiers keeping watch.

“Hail, brave warriors,” Loki announced. “Laufey is no more. Those of you who would outlive him, simply swear your faith to my brother and I.”

The brow-beaten giants gave each other swift glances, their shoulders hunched in an attitude of resentment.

“No?” Loki folded his arms. “You are all prepared to sacrifice your own lives to honour the memory of a king whose last words were a curse on all his people?” He glanced around and found a face he recognised – that of the general who had stood at Laufey’s right hand when Loki taunted the king on the field. “You – what is your name?”

When the giant returned Loki a surly look, the guard standing nearest gave him a sharp kick in the ribs for his insolence.

“His name is Heidr Nálarson,” Thrym supplied. “I believe he is kin of yours, Loki.”

“Ah,” Loki approached the giant. “So, you desire to die for Laufey, just as your too-trusting dam did?”

Heidr spat at Loki’s feet. “Do not speak of my dam.”

“Well, do you?”

“I will not swear to serve a traitorous runt!”

The guard moved to strike Heidr again and Loki held up a hand to stay him.

“Where is your hall, Heidr?”

“Fifty rôst to the south-west.”

“Do you have offspring?”

Heidr hesitated for the briefest moment and then shook his head.

Loki gave a tut of impatience. “Do you not think I will discover the truth?”

Heidr sighed and closed his eyes. “I have one. He is yet an infant.”

“And at this moment, you would never lay eyes on him again rather than bend your knee to me?”

Heidr glanced left and right at his comrades and then nodded again.

“Then I cannot but think that you are not in your right mind,” Loki tapped his bottom lip in an attitude of consideration. “So, until you have bethought yourself better I send you back to him.” He raised his eyes to the guard. “Unshackle him.”

The guard gave a questioning glance but quickly bent to do as instructed.

“I don’t understand,” Heidr said, slowly rising on stiff, cramped limbs.

Loki raised his eyes to the broken spires of the royal city. “It is easy, I think, to throw your life away in this barren, cheerless place. Go back to your home and take your child in your arms. Be among the bustle of your household. Eat and drink of what your land yields. Lie down with your sweetheart and let his kisses tell you how gladdened he is by your return.”

Heidr narrowed his eyes. “And then?”

“And then when you have made your decision, come back again. I will take your loyalty if you tender it, or if you still prefer death I will give it to you.”

“What about the others – will you offer them the same?”

“I will.”

Heidr’s expression was half suspicion and half incredulity. “Why do you do this?”

Loki returned him a smile of implacable calmness. “Because there is nothing that so becomes a king as mercy.”

Heidr gave the faintest dip of his head in acknowledgement of the sentiment.

“Stand back and let him pass,” Loki told the guards. To the giant’s retreating back he called: “do not fail my coronation, Heidr. I will be expecting you, cousin.”

Loki then instructed Thrym’s soldiers to free the rest of the prisoners and then turned to go back the way he had come, urging his accompanying party to follow with a wave of his hand.

Helblindi caught up to him in a few long strides. “That was a grand gesture, brother, but a rash one.”

“I hardly think so.”

“What if they raise another army against us?”

Loki snorted. “They don’t have the resources, even if they wanted to – which they don’t.”

“Why wouldn’t they?”

“They are men of honour, are they not? Why else would they fight for Laufey – it could not be because they expected it to be the means to profit and plenty.” Loki laughed and passed his hand over his chin. “No. In private they may curse my name, but they will know they have been out-maneuvered.”

“What madness is this?” Amr exclaimed.

Thrym smiled broadly. “It is a kind of deep cunning. In speaking to the highest-born of them and sending Heidr off as he did, Loki allowed all of them to save face.”

Amr seemed unimpressed. “And you think they could not bring themselves to plot against him after such courteous treatment, is that it?”

“I think they have had their fill of war and privation and loss,” Thrym answered. “We all have.”

“We must make sure there is something for them to marvel at when they return,” Loki said, pausing with his hands on his hips and giving the city an appraising look.

Helblindi stopped at his side and settled a hand on Loki’s shoulder. “Aye brother. We will finish the temple first, and then we will begin on the palace. I know how they were – the retainers described them often.”

“Not so fast, young ones,” Thrym broke in. “We must repair homewards first. We will need food supplies to sustain us, and to seek out masons and craftsmen in the villages.”

Loki hummed thoughtfully. “I could do it with magic, of course, but I think Thrym is right – it ought to be a work of many hands.”

The four leaders agreed upon their present tasks before parting ways – Thrym and Amr would help with the covering over of the dead, and Helblindi would gather those belonging to his own and Thrym’s retinues and send the rest back to their own halls.

Loki was to return to Thrymheim immediately and order the household against the warriors’ return, but first he sought out Býleistr, finding the young prince standing forlorn before Laufey’s ossified form.

“There you are,” said Loki, holding out his hand. “Come, you and I will go to Thrymheim together. There will be food and comfort there, and a proper bed to sleep in.”

Býleistr turned his large, earnest eyes on Loki. “Did he suffer, Loptr?”

“No, child, I would not permit that.”

Býleistr reached out and touched Laufey’s shoulder, fingertips finding the raised lines of his markings. “Will he stay here?”

“Yes, always.”

“Why cannot he be buried?”

“Because he is our sentry now. He looks out towards the other realms and guards us from danger.”

“Then he is not really dead?”

“No, not really.”

“Are you a very great magician, Loptr?”

“I am called Loki by most people. And yes, I work magic.”

“Loki – Utgard Loki – he said it was coward’s work. Is that not so?”

“No, that is just what brutes tell themselves to feel better about their own ignorance.”

“Look,” Býleistr held out his tightly-clenched fist and when he opened it there was a tiny blue flame dancing upon his palm.

“Who taught you that?”

“No-one. My dam used to say that magic–”

“–is in our line,” Loki finished, grinning broadly. “Come – I will take you to Thrymheim. And as we travel, keep your eyes open.”

*~*~*

Exhausted by the anxieties of war and a whole night spent watching with Laufey, followed by having to give directions for the household affairs to accommodate the influx of giants who would soon follow him, Loki returned to Thrym’s chamber prepared to throw himself down to sleep without even bothering to undress.

As he lay down he rolled over to find a body occupying the side of the bed he himself usually slept on. It was Býleistr, who made an unconscious grumble of protest at being bumped into.

Loki sighed, realising that when he distractedly told Idi to put Býleistr in ‘his’ room they had been at cross-purposes. He turned over and settled himself on Thrym’s side instead, inhaling his scent on the furs. As he fell headlong into sleep, images flashed into his mind, swift and unconnected: the paleness of the tips of Thrym’s thick eyelashes as he leaned in for a kiss. Býleistr’s hand on Laufey’s kneecap. Thor’s cloak rippling in the drifting snow...

He woke to murmuring voices. He opened his eyes and saw the tray laden with foods for breakfast that was sitting on the table across from the end of the bed. Rubbing his face and yawning, Loki turned his head to take in the sight of Býleistr sitting cross-legged on the floor with Idi arranged likewise behind him. Their attention was focussed on the wall, where Býleistr was using his raised hands against the beam of light coming through the ice-block window to cast the figures of animals. His movements were occasionally corrected by Idi’s own hands, and serving as a prompt to the shadow puppetry were the words Idi was singing quietly, in a voice that was unexpectedly melodic. The song was in the old tongue of Jotunheim – apparently something that had long been in use as a mnemonic for children.

Idi had considerable patience with the game – he would repeat a phrase several times and slowly until Býleistr remembered the corresponding animal form. After a few repetitions of a particular phrase failed to jog the young prince’s memory, Idi broke off to alter Býleistr’s finger positions with his own hands to make the right shape. “There. That one is a fox, remember?”

“It’s difficult!” Býleistr protested defensively.

“Indeed it is,” Idi agreed, “and you’re very quick at learning it. I was just wondering why no-one thought to teach you any words of our old tongue, my prince.”

“My dam wouldn’t allow it. He says conquered people don’t deserve their own language.” Býleistr face crumpled as he realised his error of tense. “He said.”

Idi seemed to notice the change in posture before he even heard the sobs. He twined his long arms around Býleistr’s chest and rocked him to comfort him. “There now. I know, I know. I lost mine when I was just your age.”

“Please don’t tell anyone. I’m not supposed to cry.”

Loki sat up, the sound of the movement drawing the attention of the other two giants.

Clearly thinking he had overstepped the boundaries of propriety, Idi rose to his feet and bowed. “My lord... my king...”

“Calm yourself, Idi. Go to the steward and say I will be down to speak to him and the cook.”

“Yes, my lord king!”

Býleistr was still wiping angrily at his eyes as Idi left.

“Brother,” Loki said, “why don’t you bring the tray over here and we will have some breakfast together.”

“What may I have?” Býleistr asked when they were sitting together cross-legged on the bed.

“Whatever you like.”

“Anything?” Býleistr’s fingers hovered indecisively between some cold cuts of brawn and the dish of stewed and sweetened roots.

“Yes, of course.” Loki smiled and then raised an eyebrow at he watched Býleistr fall upon the meal with obvious hunger. “What did they give you at Utgard?”

Býleistr finished chewing his mouthful, looking self-conscious again. “What the lord and his thanes did not want for themselves. Usually it was the hard ends of the bread, the pickings of the roast carcass.”

“Here we do not feed princes with scraps.”

“Oh,” said Býleistr, eyes going round with possibility. “Can I stay, then?”

*~*~*

It was a long day of bustle and directions, sending out to neighbouring farms for supplies, readying rooms for the entertainment of guests.

Having installed Býleistr in one of the guest chambers this time, Loki retired to Thrym’s room as weary as he had been returning from war. He woke when a large, solid body joined his on the bed. He gave a contented sigh and rolled over to fit himself under Thrym’s arm, head on the smooth skin of his well-defined pectoral.

“There you are.”

“Mmm.”

Loki inhaled deeply, catching the very faint scent of blood – but more prominently something earthy and mineral. He dimly remembered watching the Jotun warriors rubbing themselves down with handfuls of gritty snow.

He brushed the edge of Thrym’s jaw with the tip of his nose and then leaned in closer to find his lips,

Catching the drift of Loki’s intentions, Thrym pushed gently at his chest to break the kiss. “Loki, I’m flattered you think so much of my stamina, but...”

“Yes,” Loki blinked. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Thrym lowered his head to nuzzle at Loki’s neck, hands spreading out over the length of his back. “Let me rest a while, and then... then I will be entirely at your service.”

Loki lay still and allowed Thrym to drift off into a much-deserved sleep, yet for the next few hours his own rest eluded him. He couldn’t seem to get comfortable – the furs felt scratchy against his skin and a tenseness gripped his muscles.

When Loki did manage to fall asleep it was fitful, his dreams garish and lucid.

He woke again near dawn and turned his head to find his spouse still slumbering. He reached over to touch his fingertips to Thrym’s cheek, feeling for the contrast between smooth skin and the raised, keloid surface of his decorative scars.

He thought of Thrym saying “I am less and less of an attractive prospect to you,” and felt a surge of something urgent and defiant. All he saw when he looked at Thrym was strength, dignity, and a harsh beauty that was of a piece with all of Jotunheim.

Thrym began to stir, blinking his way back into consciousness. He rubbed his remaining eye and then raised himself on an elbow to gaze down at Loki as the younger giant lay in sprawl on the pallet, wetting his lips and letting his thighs fall apart, voice caught in his throat and unable to express the want that spread through him in a sudden rush.

Thrym hummed in amusement. “You’re coming on.”

“What?” Loki drew his eyebrows together for a moment, twitching them as it occurred to him what Thrym meant. “What? No. No I’m not!”

Thrym rubbed Loki’s inner thigh and leaned down to catch his scent him in one long inhalation. “Oh, yes you are.”

Loki gave an anguished groan and rolled over onto his front, hips bucking involuntarily as he did so. “How long does it last?”

“It depends. Anything from a couple of days to a week.”

“A week!” Loki pulled his own hair to distract himself from the insistent throb of his loins.

“I’m sure you will find a way to bear the hardship.” Thrym gave another throaty chuckle.

“Don’t laugh at me!”

“Loki, don’t you think I know how it feels?” Thrym touched his shoulder. “It is your distress I don’t understand – most people think of it as a cause for joy.”

Loki turned his head to glare at Thrym. “What is there to rejoice about in being enslaved to your desires – like a brute animal?”

“It is humbling, I suppose. All must come to this – be they pauper or prince.” Thrym sighed reflectively, drumming his fingertips on the dip at the base of Loki’s spine and making him squirm. “Now will you roll over, or have me take you from behind, my king?”

*~*~*

Idi felt a tug on his garment hem and he turned to find Býleistr gazing at him with his wide, uncertain eyes.

“Prince Býleistr, what is the matter?”

“I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.” He gestured to the other end of the room, where a group of young giant lords were lying naked and entwined on the floor. “Every room I go into has people fucking in it.”

“Oh, we are all thrown into confusion!” Idi said, dishes clattering as he tried to fit as many as possible onto a tray. “No-one is left to serve but those before or past bearing age.”

“What about you?”

“I just had my time, so it seems I’ve been spared this round.”

“It must be the casket,” Býleistr said thoughtfully.

“Hmm?”

“The Casket of Ancient Winters. The Asgardians returned it to us – I think my brother made them, somehow.”

“Come, some of the elder thanes are in the garden with the household children. Why don’t we take them something nice to eat? They might like to play games with you.”

Býleistr looked dubious. “I’m girdled – that means I’m too old for games.”

“Well, perhaps you could just... help them. I’m sure they would like a prince to judge their disputes.”

“Do you think so?” Býleistr’s wan face brightened with hope.

“Of course.” Idi lifted the precariously stacked tray on the flat of his hand, balancing its edge on his shoulder. “Now, shall we go and pester the cook to see what sweet things he has hidden away?”

*~*~*

Thrym left Loki dozing after a particularly vigorous second round, venturing out and closing the door softly behind him. He padded quickly down the corridors until he came to the reception room off the great hall – the same in which Helblindi and Loki had made their first acquaintance.

Lying upon the furs laid out on the floor was a group of five (or possibly six) lordlings of Helblindi’s retinue, their amorous bodies forming an intricate knot. The scent they gave off almost made Thrym’s breath catch in his throat – immediately he was transported back to memories of his own youth: he thought of his child-self being shepherded out at the end of the feast as the adults turned to each other, touches and gazes lingering as they did at no other time of year; those first sweet kisses with Amr – not yet his lover, only one of many young warriors he had lain with in the season before the war began.

“Forgive the intrusion...” Thrym began. The giant nearest him (lying flat on his back while a companion sucked enthusiastically on his prick) reached out, long fingers curling around Thrym’s ankle. Then he opened his eyes and gave a languid smile.

Thrym laughed softly and shook his head. “Alas, I am not for you, young one,”

“Oh,” he said, voice almost a purr, “then who are you for?”

“I have a lover waiting for me back in my chamber. I just want to speak to Prince Helblindi – did he not return with you?”

The youth who had been assiduously pleasuring the first broke off to rest his chin on his companion’s tightly-muscled stomach. “The prince went to his own room–” he broke off, turning his head to gaze over his shoulder, lips parting in a gasp as the giant behind him pushed into him with spit-slick fingers.

“Alone?” Thrym prompted.

The youth stroking his foot answered in the affirmative and Thrym politely took his leave of them.

He knocked several times (and with increasing loudness) on Helblindi’s door but received no answer. Opening it slowly he called out to announce his presence, still half expecting to find Helblindi with company.

In the dim light of the room he could make out the figure of Jotunheim’s warrior prince huddled in a ball, clasping his knees to his chest.

“Please don’t come near me. Just... leave me alone.”

“It is only I, Helblindi. There is no danger in this, please, look at me.”

Helblindi slowly turned his head toward Thrym and gave him a baleful glare, then returned to his former position.

Thrym gave a deep sigh, seating himself on the edge of the bed. “Helblindi. I know that others pity my barrenness, but the truth is that it no longer troubles me.” He traced he shape of the young giant’s skull with his fingertips. “I hope you know that you are the child of my heart. Everything that you are, and everything that you do, is a source of pride to me.”

Helblindi made a choking sound and buried his face further into the mattress.

“Tell me what troubles you. Why pen yourself up in here alone – why not go down to your friends and rejoice as they do?”

“How could I? I lost Leikn – I caused it, for he died for the truly heinous crime of being dear to me!”

“The only one to blame for his death is Laufey.”

Helblindi’s head moved from side to side. “I should never have shown my affections so openly. It was foolish – you told me so. I don’t even know if–” he broke off and took a deep, shuddering breath.

“If what?”

“He gave me up so easily and I felt such... shame. Forgive me – I should not, he is dead–”

“Oh, my child. Do not cowards feel love, as well as the brave?” Thrym regarded Helblindi’s prone form. “Are you really going to stay here, suffering in your aimless lust?”

Helblindi favoured him with a glimpse of his wan face again. “We do not choose when to mourn.”

“No, I suppose that is true.” Thrym patted the back of Helblindi’s thigh and rose from the bed. “All I ask is that you do not torture yourself more than necessary. Your deeds have earned you joy.”

*~*~*

Thrym intercepted Idi on his way along the corridor. “You’d better let me take that to King Loki.”

“As you wish, my lord,” Idi offered him the tray. “I took the young prince to be watched by the thanes.”

Thrym nodded to express his approval. “I expect he grieves, poor child.”

“Will Býleistr stay here, my lord?”

“If that is what he wants.”

“It is not my place to say, but I think that he was very badly treated at Utgard.”

“Loki of Utgard was a senseless brute and there are none, I think, who will mourn him.”

“Not like our King Loki,” Idi said softly. “We are all so fortunate that he has come. This sudden season of fruitfulness is a good omen, is it not?”

“It is,” Thrym agreed.

“It would be even more auspicious to have a king with child upon the throne...” As the implications of what Idi had just uttered suddenly occurred to him he blurted out: “not that – I’m sure you’re doing your best on that score–”

“Idi,” Thrym interrupted pointedly, “are there not tasks for you to busy yourself with elsewhere?”

“Yes, my lord,” Idi almost tripped over his own feet in his attempt to bow and run away at the same time.

Thrym returned to his chambers to find the rumpled bed empty. He set the tray down only to turn back to the sound of the door slamming, and a disgruntled-looking Loki in rumpled clothes he immediately began casting off.

“It’s getting worse. I can barely piss now.”

“Alas, it does peak before it breaks – like a fever.” Thrym bit back his smirk. “You should eat something.”

“I don’t want to,” Loki sulked.

“Here,” Thrym held out a bowl to him, “drink this broth before it freezes. You will need to keep your strength up.”

Loki sipped, sulkily. “How is the rest of the house faring?”

“Most of them exactly as you do. It is like the high holidays of old,” Thrym smiled and shook his head. “Your friend Idi thinks it a good omen for the beginning of your reign.”

“Ah, that was what slipped my mind yesterday!” Loki’s eyes brightened. “I wanted to congratulate him on his revenge.”

Thrym seated himself by the table. “You’re not getting anywhere near him until you stop being even more irresistible than usual.”

“Is he taking care of Byleistr?”

“The prince is with the older thanes now.”

“Will you let him stay here?”

“If that is what you think is best.”

“I think he could do with some of the same care you once gave Helblindi.”

Loki drank more of the broth in a gulp, making a face of distaste. His eyes told him it was no more than meat juices simmered with roots and then strained – a plain and nourishing liquor. However, his nose and tongue found it overpowering, and it seemed to lie heavy on his stomach. “There,” he said, laying the bowl aside three-quarters drunk. “Is that enough?”

Thrym chuckled, approaching the bed and letting his garment drop to the floor. “You will find your appetite returning with a vengeance in a few day’s time.”

“I have an appetite now,” Loki told him, lying back and parting his thighs. His prick still had a mind of its own, curving towards his belly as if vying for attention; his labia were tingling and swollen. Thrym shifted up the bed and gently parted them with his fingers, prompting a hissed intake of breath.

“Are you sore?” Thrym asked, running his thumb around Loki’s entrance.

“No,” Loki assured him, “quite the opposite.”

“You will tell me, won’t you? I know of plenty of things we can do that don’t involve my prick in you.”

Loki lifted his hips and stifled a moan, just from the words and associated mental images. “Oh, yes, I saw the book with the woodcuts. Would you like to reenact it from cover to cover?”

Thrym kissed his neck and made a humming sound of consideration. “That would require more bodies than just our two.”

Loki clasped Thrym’s back to feel the feline shifting of all his muscles. “Invite Amr down from his ivory tower. He looks like he’s in need of a good fuck.”

“Don’t be cruel Loki,” Thrym tugged his nipple just a shade too hard. “I’ll pick you up and throw you to Helblindi’s friends.”

Loki made a sound of displeasure, wriggling against Thrym and enjoying the feeling of the larger man gathering him into his lap.

“This reminds me of the first night we spent together,” Thrym said. “You were against me just like this, quivering with desire and trepidation...”

“Lean back,” Loki told him, teeth sharp against Thrym’s jaw and hand firm around the base of his prick. “I’ll show you how far I’ve come.”

*~*~*

At the feeling of Loki’s fingertips caressing his thigh, Thrym gave an exhausted groan, eyelids fluttering open. “If you can get that up again you’re welcome to it, Loki.”

Loki gave him a wicked smile before applying himself to licking and sucking Thrym to attention, fingers sinking deep into his cunt, which was still slippery with Loki’s seed.

“Well,” Thrym said admiringly, “that is a wonder – I had not thought I had it in me. Come on, then.”

Loki rolled onto his back and pulled his knees to his chest, heels finding purchase on Thrym’s shoulders. When Thrym’s fingertips began to rub circles in the slick mess of his inner thighs he felt his own cunt throb with anticipation, sending a shooting pain up his spine.

Thrym’s lip twitched with amusement when he caught Loki’s wince. “Ah, the blood is still urging you on though the body longs to surrender. Well, what shall we do?”

“Do you ever...” Loki began, struggling for tact in the face of the urgency of his arousal. “Is it ever a thing done among our people...”

Thrym stopped and gave him a curious look. Loki blew a strand of hair out of his eyes in frustration and reached down to guide Thrym’s touch lower.

“Oh, you would have me take you that way?”

“Is it a taboo?”

“It is a little out of the common way, perhaps.... although I did once have a lover who enjoyed it above all else.”

“Amr?”

Thrym gave him a wry look. “He is not the only one I have ever had, Loki.” Thrym put an arm out of bed to grasp hold of his loincloth and covered himself with a reluctant sigh. “Let me get a servant to fetch some oil.”

“Will they know what it’s for?”

“Why should you care if they do?”

When Thrym returned he got down to stretching Loki open with his fingers while Loki rocked back against him, face buried in his arms to stifle his whimpering. He wasn’t sure why this felt so unsettlingly intimate, given all that they had already done together.

Thrym’s lips trailed up his spine to suck on the back of his neck and Loki shuddered and had to fight not to come as Thrym suddenly twisted his fingers and pushed in deeper.

“Thrym please...”

Thrym made that low, resonant sound of pleasure that Loki remembered from their first kiss, and although he couldn’t bring himself to look back he knew what he would see if he did – the desire plain on Thrym’s face as he took in the sight of Loki laid out before him in abject and helpless pleasure.

“Even after all...” Thrym exhaled as if steadying himself, pulling his dripping fingers out slowly. “I could come just looking at you.”

“Thrym,” Loki meant it to sound commanding, but it was nothing of the sort. “Get... I want.”

“Yes, you always have what you want, don’t you?”

Before Loki could protest at this remark Thrym poured more oil on his lower back and Loki gasped to feel it trickling between his buttocks. Then Thrym was grasping his thigh, pushing the thick head of his prick inside him and making both of them moan sharply.

When he was all the way in, Thrym paused and leaned down to catch the side of Loki’s mouth in a kiss, hands spreading down his shoulders soothingly. Loki felt an unexpected rush of tenderness at the action, and torn between lust and something more deep and terrifying, he reached back and cupped the side of Thrym’s face, murmuring words of encouragement.

“Is this...” Thrym began to thrust shallowly, “should I tell you it’s forbidden? Would that excite you?”

“No, no,” Loki let out a long shaky breath, tilting his hips up and back and bearing down to feel just how startlingly huge Thrym felt inside him. There was pressure and so much sensitivity, but no pain, and his own prick was bobbing against his stomach and twitching without even being touched. “It’s perfect,” he gathered his wits to affirm.

Thrym grunted in satisfaction, hands squeezing on the cradle of Loki’s hips. Then he began fucking him in such a smooth, relentless rhythm that it was all Loki could do to bury his face in his arms and voice his gratitude through hoarse shouts.

In the aftermath Loki couldn’t seem to stop talking, tracing the lines on Thrym’s face and babbling fond nonsense. Thrym held him firmly against his chest and soothed him towards sleep with fingertips rubbling circles on Loki’s scalp.

*~*~*

When Loki woke again he found that the fit had finally passed. His body ached in strange places and there was still an underlying buzz of restlessness, but he no longer felt utterly stupefied.

He left Thrym sleeping, pulling on his clothes and retiring to the adjoining room. As he passed into the corridor he sent a servant for Idi to bring him fresh clothes and the means to bathe. Apparently sensing his pensive mood, Idi was mercifully quiet, venturing only a few comments on Býleistr’s progress in making friends with the children of the thanes.

Seeking to avoid further contact with his fellow Jotnar once he was washed and dressed, Loki headed to the decorative courtyard he still thought of as Thrymheim’s garden. He seated himself on a bench and regarded the dark, snow-capped mountains in the distance, finally letting his shame overwhelm him.

It was like nothing so much as a hangover – the things he had said to Thrym while his blood thundered in his ears came back to Loki in fragments. Love, he had said – he had said it more than once.

After some considerable time had passed in this miserable contemplation, a shadow fell over him and he craned his neck to meet Thrym’s curious stare.

“How did you find me?”

“Oh, Idi broke under interrogation.”

Thrym seated himself on the other end of the bench, hands cupping his own knees. Glancing down, Loki could not help but compare the difference in the width of their thighs. After a pause, Thrym ventured: “you seem unhappy, my king. Did your blood come already? I know that can be... a disappointment.”

Loki shook his head, not meeting Thrym’s gaze.

“Ah,” said Thrym, a sound of understanding. “Loki, I would not have you feel there should be... awkwardness between us. I know how it is, believe me – we have a saying about it: ‘the love of the season is as lightning: all too bright and all too brief’.”

A muscle jumped in Loki’s jaw. “I am sick to death of wise sayings, Thrym.”

“I take the words you spoke in the passion they were meant – true and simple then, in the more considered light of day, no longer so.”

“Would it be so ridiculous if I...” Loki took a deep even breath, tamping down his rising sense of fury, “if I fell in love with you?”

“Have you?”

“No.” Loki hunched his shoulders, deflated by Thrym’s straightforwardness. “But given time, I think...” he glanced up. “And you?”

“I am old, Loki. My heart no longer takes leaps of faith–”

“No, then?” Loki countered, bluntly.

“That is not what I said.” Thrym reached over and took his hand, pressing it between both of his own. “All things are possible, in time.”

Loki looked away again. “Time is the thing we do not have.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I cannot stay in Jotunheim. Not forever.”

Thrym regarded him closely. “Yours is a restless spirit, I fear.” Loki wondered if he was simply imagining the note of reproach.

“And if I leave this realm, you would not go with me.”

It was not quite a question, but Thrym shook his head all the same. “I could not. My household falls with me, as you know.”

“What is there remaining for us, then?”

“An abiding friendship, I hope.”

Loki made a face at that and Thrym seemed startled by the show of contempt.

“I didn’t mean...” Loki qualified, “but ‘friendship’ such an insipid word.”

“It wasn’t always. At least, not for my dam’s generation. For them it held great honour and meaning.” More softly, Thrym continued: “until such a time as you decide to dissolve our alliance I remain your spouse as well as your subject. My house will always be a sanctuary to you; all that I can claim mine is at your disposal.”

Loki felt ashamed of his outburst – for sniping at Thrym with such adolescent scorn, as if he was back in Asgard, resentfully tagging along with Thor’s band. “I will always owe you more than you do me, Thrym.”

“I do not see how that can be.”

“Simply trust that it is,” Loki linked his fingers with Thrym’s. “I’m going to give you a gift before I go.”

Thrym’s eye sparkled in amusement. “I do enjoy it when you’re mysterious.”

“Oh yes,” Loki said, rising, “but there are many things to accomplish first.”

Chapter Text

Helblindi followed the servant’s directions to a mass of ice and tumbled masonry. On his first approach it seemed impossible that this heap could be still in use as a building, yet as he got closer he saw that smoke was rising from a crack in the roof and there was a gap – a tunnel that had been excavated to leave the space beneath the fallen structure in use.

The ancient Jotnar came from caves, Helblindi knew. The first of his ancestors walked out of the frozen earth high in the mountains and came to dwell in nooks and burrows. Perhaps this arrangement was not so very strange.

Helblindi pushed himself into the channel feet first, sliding blindly into the dark until he felt a horizontal surface which allowed him to crouch and then stand upright. His eyes quickly adjusted to the smoke and dimness – three thin giants in ragged garments were gathered around the fire. One was stirring a pot of thin and grey-looking broth. The other two seemed to be occupied in nothing at all, staring blankly from deep-set eyes.

“Loyal servants, forgive my intrusion,” Helblindi began. “I am searching for someone, if he yet lives. Many years ago a slave went to the king, and thereafter he was sent here. Do you know the one I speak of?”

The three giants glanced at each other and laughed. One turned his face to a pitch-dark corner. “Oi, prince-getter are you still alive?”

Helblindi approached what appeared to be merely a neglected heap of something to find that it was a Jotun. He seemed unaware of Helblindi’s approach, absorbed in a task which was to remove the tough outer skin of a knobbly root. As he did so he put a strand of peel into the side of his mouth and chewed with uncertain teeth.

Helblindi lowered himself onto one knee on the earthen floor, finally getting the giant to put down his work and glance at him with mild curiosity. “I am Prince Helblindi Laufeyjarson. I... I have reason to believe that you are my sire.”

“Oh,” the giant said, reaching out with gnarled fingers to touch Helblindi’s cheek. “Well, aren’t you lovely?”

Helblindi brought his sire blinking into the light. He expected the other giant to straighten up once he was out in the open, but his back remained hunched. He had grown that way, Helblindi realised – his body was like that of a tree planted in an inhospitable place. His gait was shuffling and the movement seemed to cause him pain. Helblindi hesitated, then held out his arm in offering – a warrior would have found the gesture insulting, but his putative sire merely smiled and closed his hand around Helblindi’s forearm.

They moved off together at a slow pace. Helblindi was too embarrassed to speak and the other giant seemed content to amble along at his slow, awkward pace, looking about himself as if what he laid eyes on was some new and foreign environment. Helblindi suppressed a shudder as it occurred to him it had probably been a very long time since his sire had gone more than a few steps from the hovel.

“I don’t want to be a trouble to you,” the elder giant said when they had gone a little way, breath coming in wheezes. “But I fear I must sit and rest for a spell. I was never very spry, you know, and now I am old, too.”

Helblindi assured him it was no trouble, and heaped a mound of snow together for them to sit down on.

“I don’t even know your name,” he ventured when they were settled.

The elder giant showed his few teeth in a smile. “I haven’t got one.”

“How could you go your whole life without a name?” Helblindi furrowed his brow. “What did your dam call you?”

“I never knew him. He left me when I was an infant. I suppose I shamed him, being so misformed.”

“Well... what do you call yourself?”

“I don’t call myself anything, other than ‘I’.”

“Then what should I...?”

“I like to hear you say ‘sire’,” Helblindi felt the hand on his arm squeezing weakly. “I thought on you often. When I heard the king had been delivered, it was the proudest day of my life.” After a meditative pause the old giant added: “‘Helblindi’s sire’. That could be my name. We often name children for their parents, so why not the other way?”

“I didn’t know about you,” Helblindi said, words coming out in a rush of anguish and shame. “Laufey didn’t tell me. If I had known I would never have left you in such a place.”

“It doesn’t matter,” the old giant assured him. “You had your dam to keep you, what need had you of me?”

Helblindi wanted to speak, but found that he could not. There was a knot of tightness in his throat, and he became hysterically afraid that he would begin to cry.

His sire squeezed his arm again and looked off towards the city gates. “The others told me that the king has been turned to stone by a wicked sorcerer. Is it true?”

“Partly. The sorcerer is your new king, my elder brother, Loki. Tomorrow is to be his coronation.”

“Is he wicked?”

“Not as far as I can tell. He is helping me to rebuild our city. Look–” Helblindi pointed towards the double spires of the newly-completed palace. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“My eyes are not what they were, Prince, but I think I can go a little further now.”

“Would you like to see the king – Laufey, I mean? Or what remains of him.”

The face of Helblindi’s sire lit up with delight. “I would like that very much.”

*~*~*

It took them a long time to get to the statue (as Helblindi had begun to think of it) of Laufey.

His sire gazed at it for a long time before reaching up to touch as high as he could on the king’s body, just to the stern line of his pectoral and the raised lines than now looked like carvings.

“He remembered you at the end,” Helblindi told the old giant. “Loki was with him, and he spoke of you.”

“Oh, I will always remember the time we spent together. He was kind to me. He gave me something to drink and let me lie on the soft bed with him. He didn’t have to do that.” He turned his head to gaze up at Helblindi. “You’re so tall and hale, it’s hard to believe I had a hand in making you at all. It must have made your dam very happy, to have such a thriving child.”

Helblindi shook his head. The painful lump was back in his throat.

“Why did your brother turn him thus to stone?” his sire asked.

“Because he was a tyrant.”

“Oh,” said the other giant – a soft note of surprise. “Was he?”

Helblindi supposed that from the point of view of a slave, good and bad kings were much alike.

*~*~*

Around what had been the bare and exposed steps to the throne was a newly-sculpted room. The walls were a perfect oval and the ice from the Casket of Ancient Winters had a quality of refracting light in opalescent hues of blue, green and pink. Standing in the interior of the chamber was like being enclosed in a vast and perfect oyster shell.

The room was now full to overflowing with murmuring Jotun lords. The mood was one of tense uncertainty. Those who had fought on the side of the princes were glaring resentfully at those they had recently considered enemies, wondering how such treachery could be countenanced. Those who had fought on Laufey’s side were understandably self-conscious and wary. Those who had absented themselves from the last battle entirely –pretending ignorance from their own keeps – were the wariest of all.

Matters were not helped by the fact that Loki was late to his own coronation. Helblindi stood with his stomach in an anxious knot, aware of the eyes of the room on him, searching for a sign that he knew what was about to occur.

Finally the creaking of the doors announced a new arrival and the crowd parted to allow the would-be king passage. As Loki marched into view Helblindi saw that he was dressed in the proper girdle of a Jotun, revealing a form proportional to his stature. Helblindi had always assumed Loki must favour Asgardian garb to disguise an embarrassing lack of musculature, but his brother was much of Laufey’s build – long-limbed and spare, with well-defined chest and arm muscles.

Behind Loki strode Thrym, and Helblindi felt his breath catch in his throat – for Thrym’s belly was rounded, unmistakably gravid.

Last of all came Býleistr, looking distinctly alarmed and uncomfortable to be part of such a public display. When the party reached the bottom of the throne Helblindi grasped his younger sibling’s arm and drew him to his own side. Býleistr shot him a resentful glance, apparently feeling himself to have been somehow humiliated by the protective gesture.

Loki mounted three steps to bring himself above the eyeline of the general assembly and turned to address them. A hush fell and Helblindi took stock of the differing expressions of the Jotun lords – contempt, anger, hope. Loki, he knew, was a good speaker, but Helblindi could not see how such fear and enmity could be turned to celebration. He squeezed Býleistr’s hand and, after a pause, felt him squeeze back.

Loki began to speak. His words were in the old tongue.

Helblindi tried to cast his mind back to the stern lessons of the skald of Thrymheim – he had been a dull student, always anxious to be back out with the soldiers. Slowly, he began to catch the sense of Loki’s speech – it was an old story, but one they all knew well.

Loki spoke of the universal race that had once been, and how some of those who dwelled on the common tundra had through their overbearing pride angered those elder gods that made them. He told how the creators cursed them by cleaving a part from each of the proud. How they had cast them to wander the inhospitable realms above, blinded by the sun and ever-pining for that half-remembered thing they had lost.

He ended the story in the fashion they all knew: the divided ones went to the creators and begged to be forgiven, but the gods’ doom was ‘the splintered ice can never be made whole’.

Loki paused, looking into their expectant faces. When he spoke again it was in the tongue they now spoke more readily.

“We tell this story about the Aesir, the Vanir, the Midgardians, do we not? But it is not their myth, it is ours, and in it we speak of ourselves. Today, we are the divided ones. So, shall we simply say, with the elder gods of our imaginations, that we can never be made whole? Will such bitter sayings suffice?” Loki folded his hands together, seeming to pause in thought. “I do not like proverbs. They are a lazy, borrowed wisdom. We accept them for truths because our ancestors mouthed them, not because we have tried and proved them ourselves.

“Look around you. This city was once broken, but now you see it made anew, for the Casket of Ancient Winters is ours once more. Now tell me, if you can, where the cracks are in this perfect hall, where are its seams? As this is, so may we be, and so may our realm. As these steps bear up the throne, so may we the land. Is this what you all desire?”

There was silence for an infinitely long moment, until Thrym said “aye” in his gruff, authoritative tone. Helblindi gave his affirmation, and Býleistr, more quietly, his. The lords nearest them took up the response and it spread through the room like ripples through wind-whipped snow.

Loki nodded, then turned to ascend the stairs. At the top he moved to face the assembly again. “I am Loki Laufeyjarson, first prince of Jotunheim. If anyone here present thinks he has more claim to this throne let him speak now.”

The moment’s pause that followed was excruciating – each Jotun knew that if any voice sounded it would be fresh kindling to the yet-uncooled coals of conflict. Loki let the silence hang, his eyes alight with something that made Helblindi feel strangely terrified – Loki was enjoying this moment, he realised, and the faintest of smiles that tugged at the corners of his lips was an expression he had often seen on their dam’s face.

Loki finally broke the tension by inclining his head. “Remember that you agreed it was so.” He stepped back and lowered himself onto the throne. “I do here take upon me all honours and duties of kingship, to protect Jotunheim against its foes and to administer justice to the people. All those who acknowledge me as rightful ruler may kneel.”

Those nearest the throne took their cue, and those further back complied with more swiftness this time.

Loki rose and gestured for them to do the same, descending the steps to be nearer his audience. He gave a bright, exhilarated smile. “Now, let those who deserve honours receive them. Step forth, Helblindi.” When Helblindi did so, Loki laid hands on his shoulders and looked into his eyes. “Brother of our flesh, be thou fully ourself in our absence, invested with our rank and terror.”

Helblindi bowed and stepped back and Thrym was beckoned to his place. “Thrym of Thrymheim, be thou our trusted spouse, ally and counsellor, guardian of Jotunheim’s third prince. Call thou on our powers when the realm has need.”

Thrym stepped to his former place and Loki called once more: “Amr of the Outlands!”

Amr looked about himself in shock, then awkwardly stepped forward from his position several rows back in the crowd. Loki held out his arms, having apparently reserved his broadest smile for this. “For services in the last struggle, take thou the house of Utgard.”

Amr seemed amazed; then, for a brief, flickering moment, seething. He bowed to Loki with gritted teeth.

Thrym looked deeply amused, leaning over to whisper. “Smile Amr, I believe it is an honour!”

*~*~*

In the palace’s newly-repaired great hall a feast was laid. Loki took his seat at the centre of the board, and to his right sat the two princes; to his left his spouse.

“You must sit higher, Amr,” Loki told the older giant as he tried to pass. “Come, take a seat next to Thrym.”

“My king,” Amr said, controlling his expression as he felt the curious eyes of the other lords upon him. “I asked for no such honours from you.”

“Honours are earned, not begged.”

“I have a house of my own,” Amr persisted, “and it was good enough for my ancestors.”

“I would not try to take it from you. Dispose of it how you will, Amr, but Utgard is also yours. A great house cannot lie empty or ungoverned, and I would have it in capable hands.”

Amr had no choice but to dip his head in gracious acknowledgement and take his offered seat at Thrym’s side.

Thrym reached for a piece of the bread Loki had just broken for those at the highest places. Amr took his proffered share and gave Thrym an appraising look. “I suppose I should acknowledge that congratulations are in order. You must be very glad.”

“That my plan worked insofar as Loki is on the throne and most of us aren’t dead?”

“Not just that – I mean the impending new arrival.”

“Ah,” Thrym glanced over at his spouse. “Surely Loki deserves congratulation for that, not I.”

“Oh, is that how it happened?” Amr said wryly, glancing at Thrym’s belly and prompting a puzzled look from the other giant. Loki caught Amr’s pointed stare and leaned forward to raise his glass to him, forcing Amr to return the gesture with another nod of obeisance.

“Don’t look so vexed,” Thrym counseled him, noting Amr’s gritted teeth. “You don’t want to be thought proud and ungrateful.”

“He’s mocking me.”

“By giving you a large estate? Oh, how will you bear the ignominy!”

“I don’t want his gifts,” Amr hissed.

“What about Leifi?”

“What about him?”

“Is it what he wants, do you think – to inherit an isolated living, when he could have great prosperity and influence?”

“Leifi respects his ancestors–”

“And the living should suffer to appease the pride of the dead, is that it?”

“Oh shut up, Thrym!” Amr sipped his drink sulkily and thereafter pointedly ignored him in favour of his left-hand neighbour.

*~*~*

When Thrym opened the door to the inner chamber of the king’s suite of rooms he found Loki sitting on the bed, rubbing the small of his own back with the heels of both hands.

“My spouse,” Thrym said, giving Loki a soft, private smile. “The day passed off just as you planned it would, I trust?”

“Obviously–” Loki gave a sudden yelp of pain and rubbed his stomach.

“The little one is giving you trouble?”

“He is not very little, that is the problem.”

“Can I be of assistance?” Thrym asked tentatively. They had not shared a bed since the season of the child’s conception, Loki having spent most of his time in the royal city, overseeing its restoration, while Thrym returned to govern his own hall and lands. Inevitably, a reserve had sprung up where none had been before.

Loki looked up at him, considering. “Can you make me feel less like a bloated abomination?”

Thrym laughed. “Come, you learned that word of the Aesir. Did not Helblindi tell you of the great-bellied statues that were once in our temple?”

Loki rolled his eyes.

“Still,” Thrym continued, “perhaps child-bearing is easier on those with stocky frames. Less so for those as slender and fine-boned as yourself, my king.” He came forward and knelt on the floor before the end of bed, offering his hands. After a moment of hesitation Loki rested his feet on the elder giant’s thighs, letting Thrym caress his swollen ankles.

Loki let out a great shuddering breath, leaning back and letting eyes fall closed as Thrym gently manipulated his joints.

“If you put your feet on my shoulders you’ll be more comfortable.”

When Loki complied with the suggestion he found the ache in his lower back finally eased. He gave a groan of gratitude and relief. Then his eyes flicked open as he felt Thrym’s fingers at the fastening of his garment.

“Well, that’s an interesting definition of ‘comfortable’,” he said.

“A king should have more entertainment on the night of his coronation than just a cordial after-dinner chat, don’t you think?” Thrym pulled back the swathe of leather covering Loki’s lap, leaving him naked on top of the unfurled garment. His fingers crept to the backs of Loki’s knees. “I have been told that those in your condition find their ardor actually increases, is it so with you?”

Loki was finding Thrym’s rhythmic stroking of his inner thighs quite distracting. “I have been... frustrated,” he acknowledged.

“Difficult to satisfy yourself, under the circumstances,” Thrym observed, head tilted to one side.

“Mmm.” Loki lifted his head to gaze at Thrym over the mound of his own belly. “You’ll have to confirm I still have a prick – I haven’t seen it in quite some time.”

Thrym laughed, a ticklish exhalation over Loki as he leaned in, taking Loki’s tip into his mouth and circling it slowly with his tongue. Loki grunted and twitched his hips, sinking deeper into Thrym’s throat without meaning to. Instead of pulling back, Thrym breathed in through his nose and pressed closer, thumb teasing the seam of Loki’s labia.

Loki gave an urgent whine, and in response Thrym released his prick with a sucking pop and ran the point of his tongue up the underside of Loki’s belly to his convex navel.

“What would you have, my king? Just my mouth and hands?”

Loki blinked and drew his eyebrows together, feeling the insistent tingle in his cunt which told him that for all the changes his body had undergone, it still recognised Thrym’s touch. “Well, I’ve been craving a fuck, but if you think it’s impractical...”

“It might be if you were my stature, but I think...” Thrym unlatched his garment, letting it fall behind him, and then leaned in to prop one knee on the bed. As Loki’s heels still rested on Thrym’s shoulders it made his legs spread wide and outwards – Loki could feel the stretch in his thigh muscles, but it was not uncomfortable. With effort, he raised his head to catch a glimpse of Thrym’s hand around the base of his own swollen prick, squeezing just a little as he pressed against Loki’s wet centre and waited for him to give. Loki’s head dropped to the mattress again, back muscles giving under the strain. He resigned himself to pure sensation over sight.

Thrym made a gratified rumble of pleasure as he pressed in. Loki’s mouth worked in a silent cry – there was something about the pressure and weight of his stomach bearing down on him that made the pleasure different, more sharply defined and almost unbearably intense. He could feel himself fluttering around Thrym’s prick-head, he could feel his pulse there.

“Does that pain you?” Thrym asked, his tone conveying warm concern.

Loki had to swallow his own saliva before he could reply. “No. It’s... no. Can you...?”

“Fast or slow?”

Loki’s eyes were closed but he could hear the smile. “Slow. Oh – slow and deep.”

Thrym gave that infuriating low, knowing chuckle of this. “As my king wishes.”

“You–” his retort was utterly lost when Thrym started to move, the well-judged flex of his hips making every thought in Loki’s head blink out of existence.

Climax made Loki whimper and jerk, loosing his footing on Thrym’s shoulders and almost sliding off the bed. Thrym murmured something soothing and steadied him, then eased down beside him to help him back to a supine position on the bed. Loki’s fingers were clumsy and incapable of purpose, but Thrym pushed them inside himself with a hand on Loki’s wrist and rocked against him until he found his own pleasure.

They reclined together in a companionable silence afterwards, near but not quite touching. The things unsaid, it seemed, were things they agreed on.

“So,” Thrym eventually began again, “a curious thing...”

Loki made an enquiring sound, still feeling somewhat dazed.

“Amr thinks I am pregnant. In fact, he seemed so convinced of it that though I am well beyond my fertile years, I thought it churlish to contradict him.”

“Perhaps he is mad,” Loki ventured, opening one eye. “I once knew a man in Asgard who, though quite rational on other subjects, was convinced that his wife was a bucket.”

“A bucket?”

“‘Come come now, leaking again?’ he would say when she cried, thinking his nonsense a cruelty–”

“Mmm,” said Thrym, giving Loki a penetrating look.

Loki sighed. “Very well. It is a glamour, a magical illusion.”

Thrym’s brow creased. “Why would you cloud Amr’s sight so?”

“Oh, not just his. Everyone’s.” Loki gazed at Thrym as if the elder giant was being disappointingly obtuse.

A sudden rush of understanding came over Thrym. “Oh, no, Loki. You have made it seem that the child is mine?”

“The child is yours.” Loki rubbed the underside of his distended stomach.

“But you would have it seem I am its dam. Why have you done this?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You require an heir, Thrym, otherwise your house will fall, and all who dwell within be made destitute.”

“But you may not simply give away your firstborn child – as if it is a bauble, a kingly favour that is yours to dispense.”

“Do not presume to tell me what is and is not permitted, Thrym,” Loki hissed, heaving himself up on an elbow. “May is for peasants who need bow and scrape and beg for permission. Neither question my motives. I am your king! It pleases me to do this. It is my will – that is reason enough.”

Thrym rolled to the edge of the bed and sat up, running his hands back over his skull in exasperation. “You made me your counsellor, Loki–”

“My counsellor, not my judge. Have you forgotten you offered me your obedience?”

“In love, friendship and respect I did so. Would you have my grudging servitude instead? Or did you so admire Laufey’s end that you now seek to model your reign on his?”

Loki’s nostrils flared. “Is this how you address a king –” he suddenly struggled to rise and let out a cry of pain, slumping back on the bed and clutching his abdomen.

“Loki, forgive me!” Thrym climbed over the bed, reaching for him. “Oh, have care of yourself!”

“It is nothing,” Loki panted through gritted teeth, his drawn-back lips losing their colour. “There, it is well. The child is restless, that is all.”

He sagged against Thrym and they remained like that for a long moment, the silence broken only by Loki’s ragged breathing.

“I cannot be shackled,” Loki said quietly, almost to himself. “I will not be.”

“Some ties are worth the loss of freedom.” Thrym’s hand covered Loki’s where it rested on the smaller giant’s belly.

Loki shook his head. “I have not your patience, Thrym.”

Was it foolish of me to refuse the office of your lover? Thrym wondered. Or was it the only wise thing to do? You do not make it easy for those who would have a claim on you. He sighed in resignation. “You are sure then – this is how it must be?”

“Yes. I am sure.”

“Who knows of this plan – just we two?”

Loki looked back at him. “And Idi. The spell will not hold up to touch and he bathes and dresses me.”

“Can Idi keep such a secret? He is not the most... stoic of giants.”

“Ah, he is sworn by the memory of his sainted dam. Also, I promised him that if he holds his tongue he can sire the next royal heir.” Loki’s lip quirked. “He almost expired on the spot – it was very funny.”

Thrym gave a disapproving frown. “I wish you wouldn’t say such deliberately provoking things, Loki – it is beyond scandalous.”

“Oh, I doubt anyone would much care. Have you seen Helblindi’s sire?”

“I do wish he wouldn’t drag that poor old thing about with him. His pity is one thing, but a prince should not make himself an object of gossip and ridicule.”

Loki returned him a dark look. “I think it is about time the Jotnar learned care of the wretched. Nothing seems to me more fitting than that Helblindi should teach them it.”

*~*~*

Thrym sat on a tuft of hard-packed snow, gazing into the flames of the small camp-fire he had made in a delved hollow. Below him the trees in the foothills whipped and creaked, while above him the wind darted into the mouths of gullies and caves, making them ocarinas to sound its agitated whistlings.

As the gust turned, another sound was carried to Thrym’s ears - a shout of agony. His heart leaped, but he commanded his limbs to be still. He was going to wait patiently, as he had been schooled.

The thick, windy dark was suddenly illuminated by a brilliant shaft of light, and soon after came the ominous rumble of thunder. Thrym could well guess what that signaled. He steeled himself further and kept his vigil.

*~*~*

Thor Odinson came hurtling towards the mountain, shaking loose a small avalanche as he dropped to his feet near where Thrym was waiting and holstering his hammer. He strode forth awkwardly in the deep powder, the wind catching hold of his cumbersome cloak in an attempt to stall his progress.

“Hail, Lord Thrym,” he panted in greeting, looking awkward and agitated. “Our guardian Heimdall said I would find Loki with you in the shadow of the eastern mountains. Where is my brother?”

Thrym sighed. “You cannot speak to him at this time, Prince Thor. You may sit, and wait, if you wish.”

“But it is a matter of urgency! Our – my father, has awakened and will soon learn of the loss that occurred in his absence. We must return the casket to Asgard and beg his pardon before–”

“I doubt King Loki would agree to that.”

“Then he must come back himself and explain–”

“I understand your urgency, but the king is currently unavailable for such a diplomatic mission.”

Thor’s visage darkened beneath his thick, golden brows. “How dare you speak to me of my own brother so coldly! Where is Loki? He will not have forgotten Asgard or his family there so easily as you imagine.”

“I never meant to wound your pride, Odinson. You must understand that Loki is sequestered above us in one of the sacred caverns of our ancestor Ymir. He is labouring to bring forth a child.”

“A...” Thor’s face went through several strange contortions. “Then why are you not with him? Is no-one with him?”

“A servant stands guard outside, to feed the fire that drives away wild beasts.”

“But he needs healers! Midwives! You cannot let him suffer alone like some disgraced country wench.”

“I assure you it is not a disgrace. Loki is both a warrior and a king, and it is our way that it must be so.”

“Then it is a foolish way! It is barbaric! I will go to him–”

Thrym rose to tower over him. “Do not.”

“Who will stop me – you?” Thor’s hand went to his hammer.

Thrym shook his head. “I may not raise a hand in anger against my spouse’s kin. I will counsel you – beg you not to do this. You think us barbaric – very well, but Loki has chosen to uphold our tradition. Do not disgrace him, for he will not thank you.”

“I know my brother, Thrym. He does not care for pointless formalities.” Thor turned his face away and strode past him, chest swelling with his own sense of righteousness.

Thrym seated himself again and sighed, then turned his head to watch the Aesir prince struggling up the rocky incline towards the beacon of a second fire. His gaze was suddenly arrested by a second flaring of the Bifrost. “Well, this will be an interesting nativity.”

*~*~*

Odin arrived on horseback – if that eight-legged creature that seemed to be composed of shadow and smoke was indeed a horse. The king of Asgard dismounted and favoured Thrym with a slight bow. Thrym rose again and returned it somewhat more deeply.

“Didn’t you have two eyes the last time we met, Thrym of Thrymheim?”

“Ah, yes. I lost it the same way you did yours.”

“Where are Loki and my son?”

“Above.”

Odin turned his care-lined face to the sky to take in the hulking shape of the mountain. “Ymir’s Peaks. Where the legend says the great titan lay down and turned to stone, and from the openings of his body there came forth the race of the Jotnar.” Odin turned and regarded Thrym with his one pale eye. “And the high-born return there to bear their children, do they not?"

Thrym inclined his head. “I did not know you were learned in our lore, Allfather.”

The old king sighed and turned away from the mountain, patting his steed’s neck and sending the creature trotting off towards the trees. He took a place near the fire and gestured for Thrym to sit.

“My mother was of your race. I never told the boys that. I wonder... if it would have made a difference.”

“What was his name, your dam?”

“Bestla. I believe my father loved her, in his way, but he was a proud, hard man and he was ashamed of her. She took to cloaking herself as Aesir, and stopped telling me stories of her homeland.”

“Then that is how you learned the spell to use on Loki.”

Odin gave him a long, hard look. “You think me a monster too, then?”

“On the contrary. You saved Loki when he was an infant our own king left to die. It was an act of compassion.”

“And of guilt. I often wonder if Laufey knew how much it cost me to lay waste to a land I had grown up with in story and song. A land that meant mother to me.” Odin grunted, a sound of bitter humour. “I imagine he would have been pleased.”

“I imagine so,” Thrym agreed. “Laufey was ever pleased by the perverse.”

“‘Was’? Is he not still alive?”

“Oh, no. Loki turned him to stone and took his throne.”

“Did he?” Odin’s gaze was sharp and curious. “Loki was always a... clever child, but he seemed to be waiting for something – for some perfect moment or opportunity. I suppose you gave it to him.”

“I like to think we help each other, Loki and I.”

“Are you the father of this child?”

“No,” Thrym said. “I am to be its dam.”

They sat together until the wind brought them the sound of high-pitched wails.

“It’s finished then,” Odin said. Thrym nodded and they both rose and began to climb the slope.

*~*~*

When they reached the next plateau they found the fire still burning before the mouth of the cave. The next sight was somewhat less expected: Thor was face-down in the snow, struggling, as a gangly Jotun sat on top of him, pinning the thunder god’s wrists with his knees.

“Idi, what are you doing?” Thrym exclaimed.

The young giant turned to show a bloody lip. “I had to, Lord Thrym – he said he was going in the cave! I told him not to, but he wouldn’t listen!”

Odin took in the scene and started to laugh, a deep resounding sound. “Son, he has no markings. He’s not even a warrior!”

“I know that!” Thor spat. “I could hardly use Mjolnir on a civilian!”

“There now Idi,” Thrym said gently. “You’ve served your master well. Let the prince up.”

Idi looked dubious at the instruction, but did as Thrym had told him.

Thor scrambled to his feet and dusted the snow off his clothes. He was all over frost burns, although his vambraces seemed to have protected him from the worst of the contact with Idi. Idi looked battered and shaken – Thor had used no weapon on him, but the Aesir prince’s own strength was formidable.

Odin’s three-pronged spear emitted a soft, golden light as he raised it to bathe the combatants in its healing glow.

“Can I see Loki now?” Thor asked sulkily.

“Let Thrym go to him,” Odin said. “This is a sacred place, Thor. We are trespassing even this far.”

Thrym dipped his head to express gratitude and passed behind the fire to enter the cave.

He found Loki lying half-raised on his elbows, his gaze fixed upon the child laid out by his side. Between his spread thighs was a slick of blood and the red, livery mess of the afterbirth, the grey-white cord looping under his knee to join the baby’s navel.

Thrym crouched down by his side. “Is everything well, Loki?”

Loki’s voice was hoarse and spent; Thrym had to lean close to catch the reply over the piercing cries of the infant, redoubled by the echoes.

“Yes. It was difficult. I couldn’t use my magic, but... I will soon be whole again.”

“I need not ask how the child fares, I could hear him from the foothills.”

The baby clenched and unclenched his tiny indigo hands, still yelling without tears at being propelled into this strange, comfortless world.

“Shall I bring him to you?” Thrym asked.

Loki sat up with some difficulty, his expression one of utter weariness. “No. He’s yours now, Thrym. Take him.”

Thrym moved to the baby and summoned up a splinter of ice to cut through the sinewy cord. First he crouched to pick up the bloody remains of the birthing and carried them to the fire – an offering to great Ymir for harboring a safe delivery – before returning to carefully gather the child into the crook of his arm. He gazed into the baby’s face and tried to divine familiar features. Did the little one resemble Loki more, or himself? He was too new and crumpled to tell.

A soft, green glow announced that Loki was healing himself. He heard a sigh of relief and then a grunt of effort as Loki climbed to his feet.

“It was strange,” he said musingly as he dressed. “In my delirium I thought I heard Thor’s voice.”

“Yes, he is outside, with your – with Odin.”

“What?” Loki’s head snapped around, spine straightening. “Why?”

Thrym blinked at him. “I suppose you must ask them that yourself.”

Loki muttered something darkly and exited the cave, leaving Thrym alone with the newborn. He pondered what to do for a moment, and then supposed it would be proper to introduce himself. “Welcome, little one. I’m going to be your dam, and take care of you.”

Abruptly, the baby stopped crying. He gazed up at Thrym for a long moment, then yawned in his face and started to shriek afresh. Thrym laughed softly: “oh, you take after Loki, I think.” He knotted the blanket the child had been laid on to make a sling, nestling the infant against his chest.

Only a few minutes had passed, but when he stepped from the cave he found that Loki’s familial reunion had already devolved into a resentful shouting match.

Thrym seated himself on a boulder next to his young servant, who was showing signs of increasing agitation. Idi twisted his hands together and flexed is toes on the stony ground. “Should I... should I take the little one, my lord? In case you have to help King Loki fight the Aesir?”

Thrym rubbed the newborn’s back through the heavy fabric. “I don’t think there will be any violence, Idi. It is a family matter.”

“Oh,” Idi looked doubtful as his gaze flicked from Loki to Odin to Thor. “Do all Aesir speak to their kin that way?”

“How long must I bear this disdain, Loki?” Odin was demanding, leaning heavily on his spear. “What did I do that was so unforgivable? I thought my actions were what was best for you.”

Loki’s exhaustion had somehow transmuted into rage. “What right did you have to raise me in such ignorance? Never understanding my difference, thinking I was cursed! A pale, pathetic shadow to your true son,” he spat as he enunciated his accusations.

“Loki–” Thor cried out as if stung. Odin silenced him with a raised hand.

“You were never meant to think that,” the old king shook his silver-streaked locks. “Never.”

Loki gave a bitter, slightly hysterical laugh, and Odin fixed him with a sharp look of reprimand. “And what of this child of yours, just born,” he gestured to where Thrym sat. “You will have him raised by another, so how is that deception better than mine?”

Loki clenched his fists. “He will know he is Jotun! He will know who gave him his two halves! Thrym is the child’s other parent, why should he not raise him?"

“I know more about it than you think,” Odin said. “A sire is not like a father – if he ever finds out the truth he will think himself hard done by.”

“I will explain it all to him as soon as he is old enough.” Loki raised his arms. “There!”

“And when he asks why you saw fit to forfeit his rights to the throne? He will think you believed he was not good enough. He will resent you as much as you now do me.”

"How dare you! My lie is nothing like your lie!” Loki shouted, glowering at Odin in a pure and terrifying fury. “I am Jotunheim’s rightful king and you have no authority here. Get out! I banish you! If you so much as set foot in my realm again I will consider it a declaration of war!” he swayed slightly and Thor caught him, earning himself an angry shove. Then Loki seemed to collapse in on himself, shoulders hunching as the powerful emotion that had sustained him ebbed away.

Odin leaned on his spear, looking almost as tired as when Thrym had last seen him at the foot of the Bifrost. “We do what we think is best for our children, Loki, but we are not always right. Accept that, forgive me, and perhaps... perhaps one day that little one over there will find it in his heart to forgive you.”

*~*~*

Epilogue

Amr gasped softly as he took the baby from Thrym’s arms and cradled it, his lined face illumined with delight. Amr was immensely tall and warlike, even by Jotun standards, and had always been sharp-tongued and unsentimental, yet he held the infant with a practiced, gentle movement, rocking him slowly and making a quiet cooing sound in counterpoint to the baby’s high-pitched snuffles of agitation.

What a strange race we are, indeed, Thrym thought, to be bringers of death and nourishers of life all in one body.

“Sometimes I wish Leifi was still this size,” Amr said, glancing up at Thrym. “I thought I might weep the day he was girdled. He was so happy and proud, but all I could think was that I could no longer scoop him up in my arms and solve all his troubles for him.” He chucked the baby under his chin. “There, little Thrym the Fifth. You are going to be a great lord, aren’t you? Yes you are!”

Thrym smiled, shaking his head at Amr’s fondness.

“I wanted this for you, I truly did,” Amr told him. “I hope you never thought me so vindictive that–” he stopped himself, shaking his head. “I never even thanked you for giving me Leifi.”

Thrym laughed. “It was little enough effort on my part, Amr.”

“I was selfish, Thrym. Coming to you as I did, and then... keeping Leifi from you. The truth is that I was afraid. I was afraid that if he knew you he would love you more than he did me.”

“That is absurd – you are his dam!”

Instead of replying, Amr turned his attention back to the baby. “He favours Loki, I think, but he’s a good size.”

“I would cherish him even if he were not.”

“Of course you would. I didn’t mean–” Amr shook his head. “Does he feed well? Does he let you sleep?”

“I don’t...” Thrym flushed. “Alvaldi nurses him. I have no milk.”

“Oh,” pity flashed into Amr’s expression, but he quickly banished it. “Well, Alvaldi is a worthy thane – little Thrym will suck the strength of battle well enough at his breast.”

“I know, it is only that...” Thrym shook his head. “I am the one everybody congratulates, but another provides for all the child’s needs.”

“It must be hard,” Amr acknowledged, “but it will pass. He will grow and be weaned. He will want comfort and guidance, and you will be the one to give all that.”

“I...” Thrym broke off, shook his head and tried again. “It will seem so ungrateful – but I had made peace with not having, with not hoping. It is not an empty protest, I truly had.” He sighed and raised his hands. “This all seems so unreal. I keep thinking that... I was never meant to be anyone’s dam.”

“Nonsense,” Amr retorted sharply. “You are everyone’s dam. Look at how this household prospers, the loyalty your care inspires. Think on Helblindi, on Býleistr – offspring of your deadly enemy, yet even they look upon you as their own parent.” Amr came close to gently lay the child into Thrym’s arms. “This little one will be easy. What could be simpler than to love him?”

Thrym nodded, feeling a rush of gratitude. Young Thrym made a face at him that resembled a smile but was probably a wince at something digestive. Thrym lifted the infant to his shoulder and rubbed his back, murmuring to him. He thought about his own dam, feeling grief rise in him afresh – Thrym’s earliest memories were of his dam’s arms around him, his comforting nonsense stories.

Amr smiled at him, open and affectionate for a moment before he looked away. “What did you make of Loki’s accession? Did you not tell him it’s considered poor form to declare yourself king?”

Thrym grinned. “Who was there to proclaim it for him? Our priests have all been dead for a generation.”

“And the speech?”

“What of it?”

“All that ‘yea, the splintered ice shall be made whole’...”

“He’s a skilled rhetorician.”

“But do you actually agree with that claptrap?”

“I don’t suppose it matters whether it’s true so long as it’s plausible.” He paused, reconsidering. “I think Loki is certainly right about one thing – if this realm is to survive, it is no good us resigning ourselves to fatalism and nursing old grudges.”

“Yes,” Amr conceded. He folded his arms over his chest and turned away towards the window, looking suddenly abashed.

“What is it, Amr?” Thrym asked.

Amr hunched his shoulders and remained still for a long moment, then seemed to come to a resolution. He turned, everything in him seeming tense and alert, as if he was about to embark on a battle rush. “I need you, Thrym,” he said.

Thrym opened his mouth and then closed it, unwilling to second-guess Amr in this strange mood.

“Utgard is half fallen into disrepair,” he elaborated. “Those who should be allied are scattered, more farmers than warriors, as well they might be considering the care given to them. I am a hypocrite, I know – I mocked your responsibilities, but then I never thought it would fall to me to order such a sizeable household...” he shrugged, looking supremely uncomfortable. “And I know I have been proud and held myself aloof these long years. This is no easy thing for me, so... please say you will come to my aid. I will be forever in your debt.”

Thrym felt his eyes widening in amazement. “There is no debt, Amr. You came to me in my hour of need, how should I deny you?”

“You are the best and noblest of giants, Thrym,” Amr’s wobbly smile spoke of intense relief. “But there is one more thing, while you are feeling so generous–” he held out his arms. “Give me that baby to cuddle again.”

*~*~*

Idi was helping Loki to dress in the same Asgardian garb he had been wearing when he first arrived in Jotunheim. He was also weeping quietly – Loki did his best to ignore it, but felt himself twitch when a fat tear drop landed on his cheek. Loki then attempted to distract himself from the immediacy of the situation by pondering what it was in their bodily fluids that prevented them from freezing solid.

Idi’s fingers shook as he fumbled with a buckle on Loki’s cloak. He made a strange wheezing sound and then let slip a gut-wrenching sob.

Loki sighed. “What is the matter, Idi?”

“Oh my lord,” Idi answered in tones of reproach, “should I not be sorely grieved that you are leaving us?”

Loki turned his head and stared at the young servant. “You are crying,” he stated flatly, incredulously, “because I am leaving.”

Idi sat down on the floor and wrapped his long arms around his knees, looking up at Loki imploringly. “Will you not need attendants where you are going?”

“Would you come with me, if I asked?” Loki asked, cocking his head in curiosity.

“Of course, my lord. I would go anywhere by your side.”

“Would you?” Loki’s eyes narrowed. “Would you would toil for me in the harsh sunlight? Resign yourself to dwelling in worlds where you are too big, too ugly, too strange to fit?”

Idi nodded. “I am too ugly and strange for this world, what difference would it make?”

Loki sighed and laid a hand on the top of the young servant’s head. “Why? Why would you do all this – just because I am king?”

Idi lowered his gaze, eyelashes clumped and wet. “Because you are the only person who thinks I am useful.”

Loki sighed, stroked Idi’s head thoughtfully for a moment, fingertips tracing the curve of his skull to the back of his neck. “Alright, come with me.”

Idi looked up again, caught between happiness and trepidation. “Where are we going, my lord?”

“The library.”

*~*~*

“Oh,” said Tryggðmål, turning from slotting a book back into place. “It’s you.”

“Your king,” Loki affirmed. “You would do well to remember that.”

“Indeed, I did hear that congratulations are in order.” The skald folded his hands together and gave Loki a level look. “Is there something I can assist you with?”

“It’s more how I can assist you.” Loki gestured to Idi, standing two paces behind him. “I’ve brought you an apprentice.”

“I don’t need one.”

“Come now,” Loki smiled, trailing his fingers over the spines of the books on a low shelf. “Thrymheim has been blessed with an heir. This house will not fall in your lifetime, Tryggðmål. Would you condemn the history you have so ably committed to song and memory to oblivion?”

Tryggðmål sighed and gave Idi a withering glance. “He’s not suitable.”

“Oh, why not?”

The skald beckoned Idi with a twitch of his fingers and picked up the nearest leaf of parchment on his desk and held it out, pointing to a sentence at random. “What does this say?”

Idi peered and then shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he glanced fearfully at Loki. “I’m sorry my lord.”

“There. The child cannot read, my king.”

Loki gave him a chilly smile. “I thought you were an experienced tutor.”

Thrymheim’s skald pressed his lips together in a firm line as he regarded Idi. “Can you play an instrument?” When Idi only shook his head, Tryggðmål raised his brows and gestured in exasperation at the sheepish youth. “Well, what am I to make of that?”

“Sing for him, Idi,” Loki prompted.

Idi shuffled his feet, hands squeezed together before him. “I only know the old-fashioned songs my dam taught me.”

Tryggðmål’s expression softened, almost imperceptibly. “That doesn’t matter, child. Let’s hear you.”

Idi shifted awkwardly for a moment gaze darting from side to side, then took a sharp breath and began – the melody as swooping and sudden as birdsong. It was in the old tongue, a ballad about pining for an indifferent beloved. Idi’s voice was far from polished, but it had a supple quality, able to leap to surprising heights and burr and twist around syllables.

Tryggðmål eased himself down onto a stool as he listened; Loki watched his face carefully. The skald’s habitual look of haughty world-weariness had been banished by the song, and in its place was something open and melancholic. Perhaps the ballad or its lyrics had resonances for him, or perhaps it was simply the sweetness of Idi’s phrasing that had affected him so profoundly.

Idi came to a halt after a few verses, the last quavering note seeming to hang in the air. “Is that enough? Should I go on?”

Tryggðmål folded his arms across his chest and let out a deep sigh, shaking his head. “That will do.”

Loki raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

Tryggðmål raised his chin from his breast to regard Idi. “I had a voice like yours, once,” he gave a smile that showed just a trace of bitterness. “Alas, now the vessel is cracked with age and use.”

“Does that mean... do you think I could..?” Idi glanced to Loki for confirmation.

Tryggðmål approached to scrutinize him at close range. “Stop hiding and let me look at you, child.” He tilted Idi’s chin back with the tips of his calloused fingers, regarding him thoughtfully. “Well. There are those that are beautiful, and those that make beauty, do you understand?”

“I think so.” Idi tried to recoil, but the skald gripped him still.

“What I will give you is the power to sculpt history and legend, not through actions – the battle-blows that last but a moment – but through art, which lasts forever.”

“Stop terrifying him with your pretensions, Tryggðmål,” Loki scolded.

Tryggðmål ignored Loki, releasing Idi in order to turn and fetch down his harp. “Now, let me hear you sing again. You are unsteady on the high-note of the refrain.”

*~*~*

Thrym accompanied Loki to the gates. “Where will you go, Asgard?”

Loki’s expression hardened as he suppressed a flare of anger. “Hardly.”

“You have not reconciled, then?” Thrym regarded Loki with a cautious look. “I do not fully understand what passed between yourself and the Allfather.”

“I do not forgive where I have been betrayed, that is all anyone needs to know. And heed.”

“You surprise me, Loki. To be so generous and merciful with one hand–”

“Do not make me angry with you, Thrym,” Loki snapped. In a softer, more measured tone he added: “I would have us always be allies.”

“So would I. Yet I reserve the right to speak openly with you – I will not be a flatterer.”

“You are not my parent, Thrym.”

“No, indeed. You have none of those left and yet somehow it is too many,” Thrym observed drily. “What shall I tell your brothers?”

“Tell Býleistr I will expect him to work on his magic, make our line proud,” Loki frowned, his expression oddly wistful. “Tell Helblindi... that I have faith in him to be a just and wise ruler.”

“Loki...” Thrym halted him with a hand on his shoulder. “I have not thanked you. You said you would give me a gift, but I could not have foreseen–” he gestured helplessly. “I could not have forseen something so precious as a child.”

“The child was not a gift. He is what you needed, more importantly what you deserved.” Loki’s expression was faraway, unreadable. “The gift was Amr.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He is of your estate and dignity now. There is no impediment, no reason for him to think himself a thrall to you.”

“Ah. I’m afraid it isn’t that simple.”

“Why not?”

“There is... the weight of regret. Of youth lost. Of anger and disappointment.”

Loki sighed, eyes traveling towards the Bifrost site, far over the horizon. “It is a gift, Thrym. Do with it what you will – put the possibility on a high shelf at the back of your mind and forget, for a time, or entirely.”

“Is that what you intend to do with your Aesir family... with Thor?”

Loki looked annoyed again, briefly, then shook his head as his lip twitched into a smile. “I will not miss your infuriating ability to always be right, Thrym.”

Thrym gazed at him for a long moment, cradling Loki’s jaw in his large hands, stroking down his neck to his shoulders. “I am not as wise as you think. When I went to Asgard I barely expected they would let me speak to you, let alone that I could entice you here, and that you would let me take you to bed. In my wildest, most impossible dreams I could not have hoped for all that followed.”

Loki raised his eyebrows. “You are a flatterer.”

“And you are a magician, Loki. A worker of wonders,” Thrym’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Come back to us in time. For now – farewell.”

*~*~*

Loki walked through the deep powder, the unfamiliar weight of his cape dragging him back. He changed from his Jotun form, slipping skins to his pale former aspect.

Midgard, he thought. Where he could be not just one self, but infinite varieties. Where he could prod, meddle and tinker, until he decided what broader strokes to use in these worlds of gods and titans.

He glanced back at the figure of Thrym standing tall and unmoving, a blot of colour against the bleak backdrop. Further behind him loomed the dark, imposing shape of Thrymheim, the house that would now endure. There was something calming about that thought, Loki reflected. He could make and remake himself – lose himself, even – and still have one fixed point to draw back to.

Jotunheim, he thought, striding onwards. Home of the giants.