"If there are any who have further business before this court, let them come forward."
Ceremonial words, seldom answered. They were spoken over the sounds of muffled whimpering, the second prince still kneeling on the floor, still held in place by his brother while smug-looking dwarfs stood over them both. Tyr was close enough to hear the sounds of the blood spattering on the stone, close enough to hear Thor whispering frantically into Loki's ear while Loki struggled to shake him off. Tyr was not far enough away to miss the sound of the first quiet, gleeful whispers of the courtiers behind him.
He clenched his fists and stepped forward. "I have further business before this court, All-Father."
The reaction rippled through the court, as Tyr had known it would. The king always conducted his business, asked if anyone else had anything that needed to be dealt with, then when no one answered, he concluded his court and descended from Hlidskjalf in ponderous dignity. No one ever answered, but the law required that the king ask his subjects before closing the day's session. So the court murmured, and Thor jerked his head around to see, and the queen stilled, her face pale. Tyr heard Loki's breath catch, no doubt in horror that he could not make a quicker escape from this little island of hell.
"General Tyr," said Odin. He covered his surprise well, Tyr thought, but then Odin always covered everything well. Including whatever love he might feel for the younger of his sons. "We will hear you."
The queen pressed her lips together; Tyr knew the lady well enough to guess that she was appalled Odin would simply allow her son to suffer, there on the floor in front of everyone, ignored by Odin but the focus of everyone else's silent mockery. For the boy's sake, Tyr wished there was a way to do this differently, but the theatrics would pay off in a moment. Loki might even appreciate them later.
"All-Father," said Tyr, "I have two articles I must bring to your attention; the first pertains to my duties as your weaponsmaster, and the second as general of your forces and defender of this our fair realm."
"Speak, then," said Odin, the picture of royal calm and dignity. Now Thor looked hurt, likely over the thought that anyone would dare to bring up such trivial matters while his brother bled onto the floor like a slaughtered goat. Well, he always had been a bit oblivious.
"It has come to my attention that there is a student in my charge who is being mistreated by his family," said Tyr. Odin's eye narrowed. "The boy is high-spirited, as all boys of his age are wont to be, yet his father attempts to crush his spirit and his mother does nothing to stop it." Tyr was not as polished a courtier as some, and could not help it when his eyes flicked over to catch the queen's for the barest instant. Naturally, Odin saw; behind his beard, he pressed his lips together in annoyance, while the queen's eyes widened in realization. "As is my right as weaponsmaster, I wish to remove the boy from the grasp of those who abuse him, and place him directly under my care and supervision until he comes of age."
Loki had stilled, and Tyr could hear him struggling to control his breathing. Hang on just a little longer, thought Tyr.
It was the queen who spoke next. Tyr wasn't sure what game she might be playing, but as All-Mother, family matters did fall under her rightful jurisdiction. "These are serious allegations, General Tyr. I recognize that you have ever been a loyal servant to the throne, and you have a reputation of being sober of character and not prone to rash judgments." Behind him, Tyr could hear murmurs of agreement; that would be gratifying if the murmurs did not come from the same people who were snickering at their injured prince only a moment ago. "All here know that you would not move to exercise your rights over the boy unless it were truly necessary. Nevertheless, I must ask: if it is the father who has mistreated your student, why do you also include the mother in your statement?"
Tyr shrugged. "It is as I have already said, All-Mother; while the father may have been the one to harm the boy directly, the mother still stood aside and did nothing to stop the abuse. In fact I have known her to merely stand and watch while it occurred, and to offer platitudes to her son afterward in what was probably meant to be reassurance that he was still cared for, despite his treatment."
The queen's breath caught, and she blinked rapidly for a moment before schooling her expression. "A wife's duty is to her husband," she said.
"And a mother's duty is to her children," returned Tyr. "It cannot be an easy thing for a woman's heart to endure, to be forced to choose between one and the other; yet if it truly comes down to it, such a choice is ultimately very simple. A woman's husband, after all, is a man grown, and able to defend himself, while her children are defenseless and depend upon others to protect them. If a man is so dishonorable as to deliberately harm his own children, then the woman who is caught between them has no other recourse but to stand against him and side with her children for their own protection. Any man of Asgard who would attack a defenseless foe, much less attack those who are defenseless and innocent and not foes at all, has proven himself unworthy of her and of Asgard, and she should not be held to her oaths to uphold her duties to him as a wife."
The queen was blinking rapidly again, but Tyr saw her nod once, decisively, and even stand a little taller at his response. So. She must understand what he aimed to do here, and knew that it would cause her pain, yet she also knew that it was the right thing to do.
Tyr only wished he had stood up for the boy sooner. Done more. Perhaps Frigga wished that as well.
"As my queen has said, these are serious allegations, General Tyr. Have you evidence of this abuse?" asked the king, and Tyr fought back a sneer. Odin forgot sometimes that he wasn't the only one capable of strategic maneuvering. The man might think he could make Tyr back down to save face, but Tyr's pride was not so fragile a thing, nor his position so unstable. Odin ought to know better, after the speech Tyr had just given, but he would no doubt decide that he was offended, once he learned he was wrong.
"I have," said Tyr, "but I would prefer to rescue my student now and discuss the crime afterward. If it is proven later that my claim is somehow in error, no harm will have been done to the boy by removing him mistakenly from his home. However, I am confident of my claim and would rather not leave the boy to suffer while tired elders discuss his case."
Loki, bless him, was listening intently. Tyr heard his breath catch at the veiled insult. Good. Loki might not yet dare hope that Tyr was talking about him, but he knew that Tyr wasn't standing here, prolonging court proceedings, simply to further his humiliation. Always thinking, that one. At worst, he might suspect that Tyr was using Loki's treatment as an example to aid another boy's cause. He would probably not object to that.
"And what is this boy's name?" asked Odin.
Oh, no you don't, thought Tyr. He folded his arms, and saw the exact moment when Odin began to realize his error. "The boy is one of my students and not yet fully of age, therefore it is improper to introduce his name into the rolls of the court."
Odin tried again. "And what sort of testimony has the boy brought you, of his supposed mistreatment?"
Tyr narrowed his eyes, where only the king and his family could see. "I will remind the court that it is not the boy who would be on trial, should the All-Father choose to pursue an investigation into his case. The issue here is not his honesty or lack thereof, but the malicious behavior on the part of his father. As to that, All-Father, my student has not needed to present me with any testimony, for, as I already said, I have gathered evidence on my own of the abuse he has suffered. Namely, I have witnessed the mistreatment myself, several times now." Tyr's voice dropped into a flat register that even after all these centuries could still scare the piss out of every last one of the soldiers he'd trained. "I trust my testimony will be sufficient."
"It will," said Odin. Tyr could hear both the threat and the warning in his voice, but he refused to be cowed by this man's temper or his title any longer.
"Good," he said. "I would also remind the court that whether you choose to investigate my student's case or not, as weaponsmaster it is my right to assume custody of any of my students, at any time, without such investigation, should I deem it necessary. An investigation is only required if the student's father disputes my claim." There. He'd done what he could to protect the boy and, though he did not deserve it, to protect the father as well. The whispers of the court nobles had finally ceased, upon hearing the tone of Tyr's voice, and now the hall was as silent as a tomb, as everyone waited to see what would happen next. The only question left was whether Odin would try one last time to back Tyr into a corner and dare him to say words that could not be unsaid.
"You will not divulge the name of your student, General Tyr, but the law demands that you reveal the name of the father." Well, then. Apparently, Odin would. "Who is this man whom you claim to be so completely without honor?"
Tyr swallowed a derisive laugh. "The father's name is Odin Borsson," he replied calmly, and the court erupted into shock and outrage. Tyr merely held Odin's gaze, arms still crossed. The old man should have learned by now that Tyr did not bluff.
Movement at the base of the dais caught his attention, and Tyr looked down to see Thor standing with a look of anger on his face. Meanwhile Loki, still on his knees, was wiping the back of his hand across his dripping chin, smearing blood against the pale skin. He too looked up at Tyr, warily, and Tyr refused to let himself react to the grisly sight of the boy's mouth, sealed shut with gleaming golden wire. Instead, he nodded solemnly, and hoped Loki could read the promise in his eyes.
"How dare you claim my father is a man without honor!" demanded Thor, and Tyr frowned at him the way he did in the arena, when the boy was being especially dense.
"Take another look at your brother, and ask me that again."
"Loki is not fully of age," said Tyr. "He is only barely old enough to legally enter into binding contracts, or place significant wagers. He is not, however, the head of his own household yet, and until he is, any risk to his life or limb outside the battlefield is meant to be taken up by the elders of his family on his behalf—either his father, or you, Thor, once you come of age yourself. Yet I notice neither of you even dreamed of doing so, and you, Thor, even held him still so that those filthy dwarfs could torment him." Brokkr and Eitri, still standing there, no longer looked so smug, but Tyr ignored their shouts of protest. "Meanwhile Odin allowed his own son to be humiliated publicly, mutilated, for a bit of sport."
"My father commanded—"
"I know what he commanded, boy, I was standing right here with all the rest of you." Tyr looked him up and down in disgust. "I suppose you thought that pinning his arms back and holding him steady was somehow better than taking up the awl and punching holes in his mouth with your own hands." Loki flinched, and Tyr regretted making his words so harsh. "What I said to the queen applies to you as well, prince." Tyr turned and pitched his voice to include the entire hall. "It includes all of you: if you have to choose between protecting a powerful man and protecting a defenseless child, even if they are both your family, the only honorable thing to do is protect the one who cannot protect himself. Loki is yet a boy; not for much longer, perhaps, and trained as a warrior, yes, but still a boy." He swept his gaze across the entire court before turning back to look Odin square in the eye. "And even if he were a man, I fail to see how this barbaric torture is meant to serve as any kind of justice."
Thor fell silent, scowling.
"He deserved it, for his lies," asserted one of the dwarfs in his gravelly voice. Tyr didn't care to see which of them it was.
"I'll deal with the two of you in a moment," Tyr promised, and watched with satisfaction as they drew closer to each other nervously. "In any case, Thor, I do not stand before this court to claim your father is completely without honor. I have no desire to unseat the All-Father from his golden throne." Much though he might deserve it. "I only declare that he has behaved in a way which endangers one of my students, and I therefore claim my right to remove that student from his keeping."
"Oh, nothing more than that?" Odin, naturally, couldn’t let the slight to his pride pass. "And I suppose you have a better way of curbing his lying tongue!"
Loki only barely managed to cover up a voiceless sob of breath, and in turn, Tyr only barely managed to bit back the surge of anger on his behalf. "We'll have to see, won't we?" he shrugged calmly, which only seemed to irritate Odin further.
"Very well, General. If you wish to take him, then take him and have done with it!"
For a man with such a reputation for wisdom, he did seem especially easy to manipulate today. "Hoenir," Tyr called.
Tyr's valet, a man older than Odin himself, stepped forward, then at Tyr's nod, moved to see to the boy. "Do you think you can stand, my prince?" he asked, quietly enough that only Tyr and the royal family could hear it. Well, and the dwarfs, too, given the way they began to smirk again.
Loki staggered to his feet, leaning heavily on Hoenir's arm. Thor looked stricken and made to take Loki's other arm, but the younger prince shook off the elder with a glare that mostly covered up his flinch. Tyr would be sure to take some time to explain Thor's stupidity to him in the ring tomorrow; for now, though, he stepped forward, drawing a dagger and making a shallow slice across the back of his own hand. "Loki," he said, sheathing his dagger, "it is my wish to offer you sanctuary and protection, from this day forward, to have you as my foster son until such time as you come of age or we mutually dissolve the compact between us. Will you consent to have me as your foster father, to shelter you and provide for you in all things, through peace and adversity, from this day forward?"
Loki glanced back and forth between Tyr's face and the cut on his hand, eyes wide. His breath was shaky and there were tears in his eyes, but he nodded for all to see.
Frigga closed her eyes for a second, but she still stood tall and proud before all the court.
"And will you also consent to be my foster son, losing neither title nor rank, yet choosing to dwell under my roof, to share my bounty and to accept my guidance, through peace and adversity from this day forward, until you come of age or until we mutually dissolve the compact between us?"
The tears dripped down Loki's cheeks and caught in the stitching at the corner of his mouth, before washing a track through the blood on his chin. He nodded again.
Tyr dipped his thumb into the cut on his hand, then smeared his blood across Loki's forehead. "Though we share no blood within our veins," he intoned, "let my blood upon your brow be a mark of the covenant between us."
The fostering ceremony was a simple one, and that was supposed to be the end of it, but Loki lifted a shaking hand and dragged a thumb through the gore on his face, and Tyr felt a rush of fierce, hot pride strike him. He lowered his head, just far enough for Loki to leave his own mark between Tyr's eyebrows… and damned if Tyr didn't feel the tingle of seidr, and catch a flash of light on Loki's forehead, as the compact sealed itself between them. From the ripple of gasps behind him, Tyr reckoned the rest of the court had seen it, too.
Well, well, well.
Tyr caught the boy's eye and glanced down at his own hands, flashing him one of the hand signals that he taught to all his hunters and scouts: Ready message, this one meant. Turning his back to the crowd, he said smoothly, "Thank you, All-Father; now, you might recall I had wished to bring two articles before the court today. The second pertains to the defense of this realm, but it concerns my foster son as well. You see, All-Father, a foreign envoy has seen fit to lay violent hands upon a prince of this realm. As you can see, my foster son is in need of immediate care…" He made three more signals in quick succession: Stay. Go. Response?
Stay, Loki signed back.
"…but I think it would be best if we dealt with this matter now, rather than disrupting this evening's feast with a hastily-convened Thing."
"I disagree," said Odin. Of course he did.
Tyr raised his eyebrows, but lowered his voice. "Interesting precedent you'll be setting, if you let this go," he muttered, and watched with satisfaction as Odin and the dwarves all glowered. Louder, he said, "You are wise, All-Father, and your decision suits me well; let us convene during the feast, then, and I shall use the time in between then and now to heal my foster son, and help him to gather his belongings for the relocation to my house."
Odin's nostrils flared, but he was outmaneuvered and he knew it. Should have thought about that before he tried to thwart a professional tactician.
Thor's eyes nearly popped out of his head; apparently it hadn't occurred to him that Loki wouldn't still be living in the palace after this. As if Tyr would permit the boy to stay here, trapped in a place where he'd only end up looking over his shoulder constantly in fear of Odin's wrath. No, Tyr had stood aside long enough while Odin tried to force his younger son to reshape himself to match the elder.
"I have only one final question before this court, All-Father, and then I shall trouble you no more until the Thing this evening. Hoenir?"
His valet anticipated his question, as always. "The thread is enchanted, my lord. No surprise, considering the source."
Tyr nodded, then turned toward the two dwarfs and narrowed his eyes. "So, my question: Which one of you will I get to slaughter like a squealing pig in order to break this enchantment, and which one will I allow to live?"