In a faraway land where the sun shone brightly every day, and the twinkling stars sang in the night, the King and Queen of Asgard held their newest born, just a year old this day. With hair as dark as the night, skin as pale as moonlight, the King and Queen could not have asked for a better addition to their family. Thor, whose hair was as bright as the sun and skin that had been kissed by it, tugged on his mother’s robe, pleading with his sky bright eyes to see his baby brother. When she lowered to the height of the curious two-year-old, Loki’s small chubby fingers immediately held on tightly to Thor’s thumb as he gurgled with glee. The three of them laughed and held each other for a long time, for this was their life, and their life was perfect.
Until the Night Thief struck.
“Shhh little one… Shhh,” Laufey whispered, pressing his lips to the flailing child’s forehead. In an instant, a periwinkle blue swept across the boy’s skin until he was covered, and Laufey fled, covered by the night.
The Queen sobbed uncontrollably as she stared into the empty crib. Her baby – her precious, precious baby, was gone. Vanished in the night without a whisper.
How? How could this have happened? I’m a terrible mother. I should have stopped them.
“Frigga, there is nothing we could have done,” the King whispered in her ear, his expression grim. He could not bring himself to smile, even if it was to comfort his distraught wife. The enchantments that Frigga had cast over the room were powerful, it should have been impossible for anyone to get through, and the fact someone did made them both very, very nervous. It was hard to rival Frigga in magic. He looked at the guards outside the room, thinking “what good does it do us now? My son is gone. I should have posted you out there sooner. ”
“M-m-my ba-baby, m-my,” Frigga sobbed uncontrollably, her howls of despair filling the empty room. The missing sound of Loki’s soft gurgling was too overwhelming. Odin held Frigga close as their hearts broke over and over again.
Tiny Thor poked his head in the room to see his parents weeping, but quickly looked away. He had never seen his parents like this before, but he felt that something bad had happened, and he shouldn’t be there.
Oh well, he can play with Loki tomorrow, right?
It wasn’t easy for Thor to understand. He hadn’t seen his little brother the whole day. And why momma and poppa cry so much?
Odin and Frigga looked down below at the gathering crowds. The bustling and jostling of bodies crowded the courtyard, all looking confused and anxious, and most were smiling, thankful to be under the rule and protection of such kind and thoughtful people. Indeed, the King and Queen were well-known for their generosity and kindness, happy to indulge in conversation or everyday chores alongside the civilians. They were adored. Every announcement was always for the good of the people, and never did they have anything negative to say.
As the bell sounded for their attention, the noise below stopped as the loyal people of Asgard looked upward. With tears still streaking Frigga’s face, and Odin’s face as wrinkled with exhaustion as it’s ever been, the subjects knew something was wrong - very wrong.
As they made their announcement, gasps of horror rippled through the air. Someone had dared to strike out against the glorious Odin Allfather and his magnificent wife Frigga? There were tears shed, heads shaken in disbelief, and the cries of sworn revenge matched the vows made to bring their treasured prince back. Odin had to restrain his wife so she wouldn’t get her hopes up just yet. These were just regular men on a hunt, after all. Frigga’s face seemed to age ten years in the past ten minutes. They shared their sorrow together, and it was such a heart-wrenching ordeal that it seemed like they were breaking. How hearts could break so much and still beat was a mystery, a blessing, and a curse.
The crowd finally scattered, feeling perverse for seeing such a hauntingly distressful sight.
The palace broke into chaos that night; the normally quiet streets were now loud with the people of their kingdom out searching, night after night. Their lanterns filled the air, making the city aglow, as if beckoning for the prince to come home.
The years passed by, yet still, this never made it any easier for the King and Queen, or the people. But, the searches began to wane; they went from nightly searches to bi-nightly, from bi-nightly to weekly, from weekly to monthly, and finally, they had stopped. Their grief could only handle so much, and as much as they had loved the newborn child, it had been years since the boy had disappeared. Thor seemed to sense this as he grew older, and at fifteen he was still unsure of the details, but knew enough to determine this was his destiny. He was going to make sure nobody forgot his little brother, and one day, he was going to bring him home. He just knew.
And the hope Thor spurred was powerful. Each year, on the night of the prince’s kidnapping, and the blessed child’s name day, all the people gathered below the palace balcony, lanterns in hand. They refused to give up, and to prove that very point, they propelled hundreds upon hundreds of green lanterns with fire that burned gold, and the prince’s name upon them in black, calling for him to return.
Loki was stroking the jet-black feathers upon his pet raven’s back when he heard Laufey’s voice booming up the spiral stairs, “Helblindi? Helblindi! Let down your hair!”
“Coming!” Loki responds, motioning for Ikol to fly as he hurried his way to their only window while trying not to trip on his hair. It left itself behind him like a carpet of black silk. His brilliant red eyes widened in horror at the sight of Laufey clutching his side, heavy droplets of blood making soft thump, thump noises as they slipped between his dark blue fingers to drop to the snow-blanketed ground below. “Papa!” Loki cried. Sure, he had seen his father roughed up every now and then in his past thirteen years, but Loki never got used to the sight of blood, or how thick it was pouring from his father’s proud, strong body.
He threw his hair out the window, and feeling two tugs on the other end, heaved with all his might. His father was strong, yes, but he raised Loki to be even stronger. Working up a sweat from his vigorous attempts to haul his father to safety, he swallowed the air greedily when Laufey at last tumbled through the window.
“Come, I need you now. Remember what I taught you,” Laufey’s shaking breath urged, his blue lips pursed in agony.
“I’ll try,” Loki replied, shaken unsure of himself, worrying about making the situation worse. Still, he reached behind him to gather all his hair in his lap, the familiar weight doing a large part in calming his nerves down. He threaded his hair around his delicate fingers, stroking quietly, gathering the raw energy that seeped from their roots. He spoke as clearly and as confidently as possible during his incantation, just as Laufey had instructed him many times before. When he felt his palms tingle with the concentration of magic, he lifted them to his father’s side and brushed against the grave wounds, ignoring Laufey’s hisses of pain as the skin was pulled together and seamed to look unscathed.
Regaining his breath, Laufey patted Loki gently on the head, and cupped his face to stroke the baby soft skin of his cheek.
“I could not ever be more proud than I am now. Helblindi, my son, you will grow strong,” Laufey said as he straightened himself out to lie down and rest in his bedroom.
“Thank you, father,” Loki whispered. Though he did not wish to see his father harmed, he took the opportunity to clamber back to his own bedroom and wiggle out the window, pulling himself up on top of the roof. Naturally, his friend joined him. He dropped a brass chain beside him. Loki fingered the chain curiously before fashioning it on his wrist.
“Pretty,” he finally declared. Ikol crowed once. “Yes, I know you have the best taste. Thank you.” He smiled, thinking about all the small trinkets Ikol had brought him over the years, sitting like treasure in a box beneath his bed.
“Look! There they are!” Loki whispered excitedly to Ikol who was now resting on his shoulders, eyes glued to the sky where countless glowing lights floated lazily in the sky. Ikol had three eyes, all of which turned to follow Loki’s gaze for a moment. “Maybe I can ask my father if I could see them up close… Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
Ikol gently pecked at his ear. Loki chuckles slightly, “I know, I know. It’s only once a year… but who knows? Papa’s gotta let me leave the tower some point, right? I’ll just keep asking him.”
Ikol squawks while his three lids blinked rapidly in a way that sounds like a very suspicious laugh, but Loki ignores that to return to gazing at the wonderful lanterns floating through the sky, like stars of a long-lost constellation, far away from its home.
Five years passed, yet by the look upon Frigga’s face you would have thought twenty. Her cheeks were sunken, and large dark bags had appeared beneath her eyes. She paled, no longer radiantly beautiful as she once was, and she was weakened to the point where she no longer strolled through the streets of her kingdom. The people were worried for their queen, and they shared her pain. The city was sagging from the distress and hollowness the stolen baby left behind – a void that couldn’t be filled.
Thor had grown much over the years, following in his the footsteps of his parents. He was an eager young boy, declaring at age seven he would be the most powerful king to rule one day, which made Odin chuckle.
“You have much to learn, my son,” Odin had said.
But Thor wasn’t one to be discouraged. Starting at a young age, he made his way through the streets and land they owned, greeted the people and spoke with them, delighting them with his innocence and charm.
“Good morning, little Thor!” Greta called one morning from her bakery’s doorsteps.
“Morning, Greta! Lovely day, isn’t it?”
She chuckled, “Yes! Wonderful weather. And how are you, my little prince?”
“M’tired and a bit hungry, but I’m well. How is your brother?”
“William!” she called over her shoulder. “Someone’s here to see you!”
William poked his shaggy head out the store window, his face brightening upon seeing Thor. “Good morning, my prince! Are you hungry?”
Thor beamed and nodded shyly. Smiling in return, William handed him a golden custard tart, it’s edges browned to perfection. Thor’s absolute favourite treat.
“Thank you!” Thor responded, accepting the kind gift (which he received all too often from them).
The pair smiled warmly before embracing each other for a kiss. Thor had asked Odin about it when they got home that evening.
“It is not uncommon. Sibling relations are the closest bonds, it is as though they can feel each other, pain and joy, in their own hearts. It makes perfect sense to spend the rest of one’s life with someone they are so close to.”
They didn’t speak much further because Odin was visibly upset, which left Thor to wonder why he never felt such things.
And so, his father guided his lessons, teaching him about things about life, like marriage and love, teaching him wrong from right, and the duties he would have to perform when the time came for him to step up. Now, at twenty years old, Thor knew the time would be soon. He took of his mother, doting on her and checking on her, but she was deteriorating quickly. She never neglected Thor in her time of mourning, but now that he was beyond a grown man, she let her fight had weaken.
There was no way that Thor would watch his mother slip away to skin and bones, it hurt him to see her like this. He knew what he had to do.
He would search for the little brother he had never known. He set upon gathering supplies for the trip.
Loki bounced excitedly on his bed of green and gold sheets. Tomorrow would be the day of his eighteenth name day, and he knew exactly what he wanted. Pulling on a deep green tunic and black slacks, he drew in deep breathes to calm his nerves and excitement and recited his prepared speech to Ikol over and over again, making sure he got the wording exactly right.
When his father called him for lunch that day, he could barely contain himself.
“What is it, child? You bounce as if there were a squirrel in your pants,” Laufey quipped.
They shared a laugh before Loki finally summoned his courage. “Father… tomorrow I am turning eighteen and I would really love to ask for something a little… special.”
“Well it better not be that nonsense about leaving the tower,” Laufey chuckled, ignoring Loki’s squirming. “Because you know we’ve been over that a few times too many.”
“Yes, of course, father,” Loki uttered, still caught between pressing the issue further and giving up.
“Go on, what is it that you want?” Laufey nudged.
“Well, because I know you don’t want me to leave the tower, I was hoping maybe I could get some new supplies?” Loki said smoothly, almost startling himself with his ability to recover and spin a lie so easily.
Laufey cocked an eyebrow, forming deep blue waves in his skin. “Supplies? Child, you have painted every inch of your room! What supplies do you wish for?”
“I really enjoy painting, but you are right father, I have nowhere else to paint. But I love reading as well, and I’ve read every book I own at least ten times each. I’ve practiced my spells to perfection, I swear, and I just want to do… more. Is there any way to gather more spell books, perhaps a little more difficult?”
Laufey sighed, but did give in. After all, his child had given him everything he asked, obeyed his every command, and above all, loved him with so much innocence that Laufey could not bear it. What he didn’t know was that the majority of Loki’s books already contained complicated and difficult spells.
“The nearest place for me to come upon such rare relics is a three day journey. It will take some preparation for the trip, and I’d hate to leave you alone on your big day…” There was no missing the distinctive pout upon Loki’s fair blue skin. “… But if you want them so badly, I will leave first thing tomorrow morning after gathering supplies this afternoon.”
Loki squealed with excitement, “Oh, thank you papa!” He flung himself into the larger man’s arms, accepting the warm embrace in return.
When Laufey had gone off to fetch his provisions, Loki broke into frenzy.
“I need to see those lanterns! I have to! I’ve been waiting my whole life for this!” Loki wailed. When Ikol crowed at him again, it only agitated Loki further. “I know, I’m a terrible son but… but. But whatever my father doesn’t know won’t hurt him, right?”
Ikol cocked his head to one side. Loki moaned. “Some help you are,” he muttered.
After pacing and plotting, convincing himself and then unconvincing himself, Laufey called for him from the ground.
“Helblindi! Helblindi! Let down your hair!”
Loki peered down at his father, smiling and waving at him, a basket in his arm that seemed full of foods. He threw his hair out the window, waiting for Laufey to take hold. Normally, Laufey would climb up himself if he wasn’t injured, but the basket in his hands seemed too full. As he felt two gentle tugs, he started to pull. As he saw his father come into view and swing his legs over the windowsill, he noticed that Laufey was indeed ready for his trip.
“First thing tomorrow, I promise,” Laufey said noticing the anxious look on Loki’s face. “Now let me cook your favourite tonight since I won’t be here tomorrow.”
Loki’s smile was absolutely dazzling.
“Sweetie, please,” Frigga tried, though her voice was too soft to be convicting.
“I have to. Please, mother. I promise you I’ll return home safe,” Thor told her, voice firm and strong. “You understand, don’t you, father?”
Odin exhaled deeply. Truly, he did understand, and at some point all males needed to partake in a quest, to find prizes or treasure, but more importantly to find themselves. It was well known that Thor had never seen anything beyond the castle walls, and that any king-to-be should have more knowledge of the world outside of them.
Reluctantly, he agreed with Thor on this one, fear of losing another son gripping him like handcuffs. “But you will a squad of our best guards with you. And you will go by horse and carriage, leaving tomorrow afternoon.”
“A whole squad?! Father, we could trample half the land on our horses alone if I took a whole squad, and I will not be in a carriage! I will go alone, on horseback. I respect our guards, but they will only slow me down, and I must leave, right this instant!”
And so they had a compromise. Four guards were assigned to him, and they would leave first thing in the morning.
The sun rose particularly bright that morning, which Loki took as a good sign. He stationed himself by the window and in a mighty hurl, tossed his full length of hair out the window, watching it spiral and dance on its way down, where it pooled on the white ground several stories beneath them.
“Take care, Papa,” Loki said upon tradition.
“And you, my son,” Laufey responded as usual. He placed his lips upon the soft blue skin of Loki’s forehead as he always did before he left, adjusted the leather straps of his supply sack on his shoulders, and grabbed hold of Loki’s hair, curling his legs around before sliding gracefully to the ground. As he gave two tugs to signal Loki to retrieve his hair, he set off in the soft snow, his large footprints the only mark upon them.
Loki sighed, watching his father’s tall, dark figure stalk off towards the large cliffs, where he knew there was a small opening, hidden by the thick woven vines that draped from a low branch. Laufey had set up these precautions himself.
“For your protection, my son," he always said. “You don’t understand how many people come to try and steal you away, to take you and use you for your magic to harm innocent people… There are many, and you must be very, very careful. Remember how often I come back injured trying to protect you from the savages, Helblindi. Savages. All of them.”
Thor and his soldiers had found themselves a tad lost just an hour into their mission. And when they thought things would go smoothly after much debate about which way was another, they were proven quite wrong.
“Stop right there, fellas,” a dark voice snarled. “Oh my, what do we have here?”
Six other burglars crept up, appearing from behind the trees of the dense forest, Alfheim, which Thor and his guards had been travelling. Two of them had dark stallions, thick with muscle, and long wooden bows. The odds were certainly against them, and Thor would not like to see them harmed. He remembered his father instructing him to stay clear from the forest, as it had been rumoured that it concealed many dangers. Well, Odin certainly had a way of being right about things which probably do to his advisor, Heimdall.
"Run!” he commanded, as he spurred his horse on. The galloping of other horses filled his ears, so he trusted his companions had followed. “Split up!”
“But my prince –”
“Now! That’s an order!” Thor boomed, his voice carried by the wind as he whipped through the forest, his mare whinnying in protest.
The guards didn’t dare defy a direct order, so they each went their separate ways, hoping that five trails would throw off the two burglars on horseback. When it finally dawned on Thor that there were no noises besides his own horse’s trot, he slowed her down and eased his grasp on the reins. Not a moment after he did so did an arrow hit the horse’s backside, causing her to rear up, flinging Thor off her seat before galloping at full speed, away from her attacker. Thor cursed but ran for cover. He could hear arrows whizzing past his head as he lunged and ducked over and under the branches and stumps. Losing his footing on some slippery moss, he tumbled down a slope, grunting in pain. As he finally stopped rolling at the bottom of the hill, he noticed some lush, green vines, and he dove in. Exhaling deeply to calm his heart rate, he noticed that he had in fact landed himself in a small tunnel. Curiously, he gazed at the other end, not willing to go back out to face those wretched jungle burglars. What he saw at the other end astounded him. A tall tower of ice stood in the centre of this ice wonderland, ice sculptures and icicles crowding the enormous space. There didn’t seem to be a door, and there were no windows save for one, at the very top. There was a fresh sheet of snow, with only set of footprints heading out, suggesting nobody was home yet.
Cautiously, he stepped forth.
Growing bored quickly with perfecting his already perfect magic, he beckoned for Ikol, whistling to signify that his father wasn’t around (Laufey never approved of the strange creature, forbidding Loki to keep it). Nonetheless, Ikol brought him magnificent treasures from beyond the walls of his bedroom in the tower, and Loki refused to let go of the connection to the outside world.
When the bird’s fluttering wings came to stop as he perched on the windowsill, he asked his beloved pet and asked him to follow his father. The journey was treacherous, and seeing him wounded all the time did not ease Loki’s mind. Dropping something to the floor, it took off again, leaving Loki to shout his thanks to the wind in Ikol’s trail. Loki reached for torn fabric on the floor and gasped at the realization of what it was. To anyone it would have been deemed a useless piece of trash, but Loki had never treasured anything so dearly.
He felt the green material of the torn, old lantern between his fingers, baffled by how rough it felt in contrast to how smooth it looked. It was matted with grime and dirt having been lying outside for a whole year now, and its colour was faded, but Loki could see the gold embroidery upon the green and black stitching with the letters “ki”. He wondered what it was supposed to spell and where Ikol had found this when he heard a soft crunching outside. Had his father forgotten something?
As he always did, he tossed his hair out the window, his head following shortly after, but it wasn’t his father. In fact, as he glanced around, he noticed there wasn’t a sign of anyone there. Out of fear and curiosity, he continued to scan the area around his precious home.
Thor stopped behind a rock the moment he saw a figure come to the window. Daring to peak over his hiding place, he glanced at the head poking out the window and gasped inwardly.
The sun shone off his rich blue skin, making it seem as if he sparkled. The wide ruby eyes were scanning the area, a little afraid and shy. His lips were thin, but full, and a little darker blue than the surrounding flesh. But what really got Thor’s eye was the waterfall of onyx hair that cascaded from the man’s head, fluttering in the wind. He stared and stared at the marvellous wonder in the window, feel perverse for stepping into his territory.
Could there be a more angelic sight?
Having completely forgotten about his quest to find his brother, he stepped around the boulder to inch closer to the wondrous beauty before him.
At the sound of his footsteps, the boy glanced in his direction, widened his oh so beautiful eyes and ducked back inside, his long locks whipping about like an untamed flame as he pulled them back. And even though Thor tried to run to it, desperately wanting to comb his hands through it, he arrived at the bottom of the tower just a moment too late.
Feeling a whisper of it dance across his outstretched fingertips, shuddering at how soft and silky it was.
“Wait! I don’t mean to harm you!” Thor bellowed.
He waited patiently as he heard some scuffing.
“Who are you?” Came his voice, heavenly as Thor had ever heard.
“My name is Thor! I… I was chased by some men before I came across the tunnel that led me here.”
He thought about what he had just said. It was truthful, but where was here, exactly? It was always too cold in the kingdom for snow, and even as he stood in this magical land, he only felt the slightest bit chilly despite his light layers.
Loki peered over the windowsill, and looked down upon Thor’s smiling figure. The strange man held up a tentative hand and waved slightly. Loki furrowed his eyebrows at him and retreated. He certainly did not seem scary, and Loki was sure he could take him on should he pose to be a threat anyway, his magic was so strong.
But his gut twisted at the thought of what his father used to tell him before he went to bed each night. He went to look at again, and Thor was still smiling at him, hands in front to show he wasn’t armed. Well, he didn’t look like a savage. He looked strange with his tan skin and blue eyes that made the skies look dull.
“Where are you from?” he shouted down to the man who named himself Thor.
Thor, seeing no reason to lie, shouted back, “I come from the palace of Asgard.” He pointed in (what he thought to be) the general direction of home.
Loki relaxed almost immediately, seeing that he was pointing in the direction where the glowing lanterns had floated from.
“You know of the lanterns?” he called, waving the wrecked fabric Ikol had brought him earlier.
“Of course! It was my idea!” Thor shouted excitedly.
Loki smiled widely, which seemed infectious as Thor’s grin widened as well.
This is my chance, Loki thought. Standing beneath him was the origin of the lanterns, he could finally satisfy his hunger for knowledge about the lanterns. Without thinking twice, he launched his hair out the window, waiting for Thor to climb.
“Won’t I hurt you?” Thor called, hesitantly grabbing the thick bundle of hair.
“Don’t be silly!” Loki quipped as he watched Thor hesitantly test his weight. Gingerly, he placed one boot upon the ice wall, which was not as fragile as it looked, and then another. One foot at a time, he made the hazardous, vertical trek while fighting to calm his nerves. As he neared his goal, it took all the strength in him to remember to hold on. He came face to face with the boy in the window, who looked quite young. His face had not a blemish upon it, flawless as can be, and the wide oh so crimson eyes were luminous with elation.
Seeing the mysterious man frozen in front of him would have been amusing in most cases, but Loki was an impatient one. Grabbing the leather straps of the man’s armour, he yanked the man forward, depositing him in a clumsy pile.
Thor first noticed that as slender as the boy was, he was bloody strong. The second thing he noticed was that the house was warmer than it was outside, and wasn’t entirely snow and ice like the external walls suggested. It was covered in art, colourful and soft paintings covered the walls, but Thor was attracted to the largest mural. It was darker than the rest, night sky scenery with hundreds of detailed green and golden figures floating in the sky. Instead of stars, this artist captured the lanterns instead. He recognized the long tread of hair also painted, with the painting’s eyes watching above, and Thor thought for a moment how lovely it would be to watch the man intently gazing at the lanterns.
“Can you tell me about them?” he asks, not able to contain it any longer, seeing Thor eyeing his latest painting. Remembering his manners, he added, with a blush, “Please.”
Thor’s smile dropped slightly, “They were made for my brother. He was taken a long time ago, and he’s missing.” He couldn’t bring himself to speak Loki’s name, as if it were a secret that he held dearly.
Loki’s face also mirrored Thor’s despair. It was a saddening tale, and not at all what he imagined. The lanterns were so… so beautiful that it never even crossed his mind they would be for such a cause.
“I’m deeply sorry. I hope you find him very soon.”
Thor forced a pained smile, “Thank you. May I ask your name and what you call this place?”
“I call this place my home, obviously.” He couldn’t resist the small quip. “Of Jotunheim, if you were wondering its proper name. And I am Helblindi.”
It sounded wrong, an odd twang of words twisted and gnarly. Upon looking at his face, one would think his name would be something short and sweet, with the ability to roll off the tongue and leave you breathless. Thor shook his head, he was reading too much into the man he just met.
The beautiful, angelic, absolutely breath- Stop, Thor. he scolded himself.
“Helblindi… That’s very unique. So um, I noticed some footsteps…” he started, attempting to make conversation.
“Oh yes, my father left me this morning to help me get some –” he stopped, remembering his father’s words.“You don’t understand how many people come to try and steal you away, to take you and use you for your magic to harm innocent people… Savages… “- new paint.”
Thor chuckled, completely missing Loki’s hesitation. “New paint you say?” He looked around the walls, clearly suggesting that Loki had run out of space for new paint.
“And new canvases,” Loki added.
“I see. You’re a wonderful painter. I really like how you drew the lanterns in that scene.”
“Thank you,” Loki blushed. “I always dreamed of seeing them up close,” he also admitted.
“You’ve never seen them up close?” Thor said, clearly in shock.
“I… I haven’t seen much outside this tower, actually…” Loki said, blushing more.
Thor stared at him bug-eyed. “What have you seen?”
Loki blinked then tore his gaze away from the older man to stare at the floor.
“You’ve never left this castle, have you?” Thor asked quizzically.
Loki gave a small shake of his head.
“Why? Why would anyone keep you locked up in here?”
Loki felt rather defensively about his father, but was scared that Thor would hurt him if he mentioned him. Instead, he used his newfound talent for lying. “My hair is the only way in and out of the castle, of course.” There was of course a secret passage into the castle, but neither Loki nor Laufey had use for it the day Loki’s hair had been long enough to reach the ground.
Thor nodded, “Right, right. Forgive me.”
Loki waved his hand lazily, “No matter.”
After a moment of silence, Loki stated, “Today’s the day. For the lanterns.”
It was neither a question nor a conversation starter, just something that had been on Loki’s mind, but Thor gave a sad smile again. “Yes. Today is my brother’s name day, and the day he was taken from us, quite the irony, isn’t it?”
Loki froze at the statement, not wanting to share with Thor that he shared the same day with his brother. The pain was surely enough for him, Loki thought. The silence shifted in again before Thor spoke up, “If only there was another way to get in and out, I would take you to see the lanterns tonight. They’re quite nice.”
Loki sat, stunned. His eyes glimmered with hope. “Really?”
Thor seemed confused. “Well, yes, of course. It’s just… how would you get back up?”
Loki swallowed before telling yet another lie, “I’m a good climber.”
“Then why haven’t you left yet?”
“I never needed to.” Less of a lie, but still a lie.
“Well, what do you say? Would you like to see them?”
“Yes.” Loki replied, his voice barely a whisper.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU SPLIT UP?” Odin’s voice boomed. “HAVE YOU ALL GONE MAD?”
The four guards trembled with fear before the Allfather, heads bowed.
Odin paced in front of them, hand covering his face and thoughts swirling in his mind.
Frigga is going to kill me he thought as he dismissed the guards, ordering them to stay quiet about the affair and to head out at dawn to search for the prince.
Let’s not tell her… yet. he decided, reciting every prayer he could think of for Thor’s return.
Sliding down Loki’s hair had been more than fun, and Thor waited for Loki to use a pulley system to lower himself down. He laughed hysterically when Loki dangled a few inches off the ground, body curled up defensively before slowly stretching a toe down to graze the snow and retracting it quickly as he blinked in surprise.
As Thor wiped away his tears of amusement, he caught Loki in his arms, one hand on his back, covered with a black cloak, and one under his knees, clad with black slacks. Then, he slowly dipped to one knee, resting Loki upon his thigh like a makeshift chair. Cautiously, Loki placed his feet on the snow, wriggling his toes against the sensation.
“Tingly,” he announced before hopping off Thor’s leg and racing around the field, his hair flying behind him.
Thor laughed until his cramps seized him, bringing him to the ground. The utter childish behaviour displayed by the man was quite the sight.
When Loki came back to where Thor was clutching his sides, he was eager to start their journey.
“Come on! Let’s go already!” he tugged at Thor’s sleeve. He reminded him of a pesky sibling that he never got the chance to grow up with. Guiltily, he realized he should have been looking for that missing sibling instead of guiding a strange blue boy around, but he rationalized that maybe he would come across a clue of some sort along the way. Yeah. That was possible, right?
As they exited the tunnel through the vines, Loki gasped in awe. Everything was so different, so… green and brown. The jungle was thick and smelled of exotic plants. He heard chirps and crows and bushes bustling and realized that there was life out here. When Laufey and Ikol didn’t keep him company, there were no sounds save for Loki’s own breathing. This was almost overwhelming as he took a step backwards.
“Are you alright?” Thor asked, voice full of concern. “We could head back, if you’d like.”
Loki shook his head. The last thing he needed was for this man to think he was some sort of weakling, or coward. And, he was determined to see these lanterns. Thor led the way, and Loki followed quietly behind, taking in all the different sounds and smells of the unfamiliar world.
Laufey was at the edge of the water now, the forest behind him. Suddenly, a horse flew past him, whinnying in pain, frantic in its bucking. Laufey noticed the arrow, and quickly calmed the horse down whispering in a foreign tongue, drawing forth his minor magic abilities. When the horse yielded, Laufey withdrew the arrow from the mare, which sagged in relief. It was only then that Laufey had noticed the banner around the horse’s neck. The red and gold garbs of a royal horse – a horse without its rider!
Laufey’s eyes flew open as he quickly turned around and sprinted back the way he came.
Thor and Loki had made good distance, keeping their distance from each other in a comfortable and respectable way. Loki was left to wonder if they would make it on time – it was growing darker though the sun was still present. Thor was left to wonder about what it might feel like to run his hands along the edges of Loki’s facial features, slight raises in his skin where markings were curved as if mapping his body. It was silly for Thor to think such things, he knew, but the other man’s skin was so tempting to him. He longed for a touch that didn’t seem appropriate. He had just met Helblindi, after all.
“Let us rest for a bit,” Thor suggested as they cleared the denser part of the forest. Their leisurely pace should have them reaching the edge of the forest in time for the lanterns even with a quick break. He quickly started a campfire, and Loki sat a little distance away.
“Are you not cold?” Thor asked. The weather had cooled significantly, and Thor was only keeping warm from the constant moving they had been doing in their travel.
Loki shook his head politely, “I am much more used to the colder climates.”
Thor chuckled, “Right, of course. How silly of me to forget.”
“No matter,” Loki said again. They closed their eyes for a moment in comfortable silence.
Upon seeing the snow marked with footprints too small to be his, he raced to his home and paused under the window, though knowing it was probably useless.
“Helblindi! HELBLINDI!” Laufey shouted. When no response came, he panicked and cursed. No, no, no!
He raced to the other side of the tower, shoving the unruly bushes out of the way to reveal a small opening. He pushed himself inside, which led to the bottom of their grand circular staircase, and bounded up on all fours, leaping the stairs nearly six at a time.
When he reached the top, he was completely out of breath and still frantic. “Helblindi?” he called.
Again, silence with exception of his heavy breathing.
He paced Loki’s room before his eyes finally fell on a discarded piece of fabric. A sickening feeling rose in his stomach when he examined it closer. I’m going to wring that bird’s neck and have it for dinner he thought angrily as he made his way back down stairs, summoning what little magic he knew to trace his son. Taking off with dizzying speed, Laufey tore through the snow, the vines, and the jungle to once again steal the little prince.
As Loki and Thor resumed their way to the palace, they began talking lightly while keeping their respective distance. They discussed their childhood, and favourite memories. They exchanged little secrets and fears. By the time they stepped out of the forest to find themselves on the grey-bricked road to the castle, their throats were dry from talking, and they found themselves quite fond of each other.
Loki’s eyes were wide with amazement, never had he heard the air so filled with and joy or seen a castle so bright.
He excited ran for the brick bridge, leaving Thor chasing after him, gathering his hair so neither may trip on it. The delicate air of Loki’s laughter made Thor’s heart forget to beat.
As they came by the entrance, the guards took note of Thor, wearily glancing at his little blue guest.
“Hello! This is my friend Helblindi!” Thor shouted to them above.
Well, the guards couldn’t question that. They shrugged at each other, opened the gates, and Thor saw a smile upon Loki’s face that outshone the very sun. It was around dinner time, Thor’s stomach told him, and they had a few hours before the lanterns would be released.
“So, Helblindi. Have you ever had a custard tart?”
Merrily, Loki followed Thor as he led the way to Greta and William, blissfully unaware of the looming blood-red eyes of Laufey, watching them closely from the high branches of Alfheim.
The night sky started to blanket over the scintillating city, and Loki was almost sad to see the day coming to an end if not for his overwhelming excitement to see the lanterns. Being shown the palace was a wonderful experience, and everyone was delighted to meet him, even though his hair was exceptionally long and his skin was exceptionally…. Well, blue. Nobody seemed to mind his oddity and he repaid their consideration with kind smiles.
Thor had introduced him to a kind shopkeeper, Greta, and her brother William, who was also her lover. They were treated to especially sweet custard tarts, and Loki marvelled in how the filling was so soft and the crust was so flaky, yet crunchy. He made a remark on how he would love if the snow he ate were as good as the treat, to which everyone laughed.
Next, Thor introduced him to the town armoury, and practice ring ran by his good friend Volstagg. He was a burly man, and let Loki look around the shop even though Loki was terrified. He had never been around many sharp objects save for the kitchen knives he used to help cook. Still, he appreciated the fine detailing, and considered it quite an art.
Volstagg had chuckled, “That is the good work of my husband.” He then introduced them to a shorter, thinner man with an immaculate moustache and combed back hair. Fandral had started as an apprentice, but they now ran the place together and everyone adored them, often coming down to spar. The owners had made quite a name for themselves, as well as their adopted daughter Sif. About Loki's age, she too had dark, lush hair and blushed when introduced. This caused both her fathers to raise an eyebrow at their fierce-warrior-who-didn't-blush.
Loki didn’t seem to notice, nor did Loki think any of the relations was strange, even before Thor explained it was quite common.
Last but not least, Thor had brought them to the palace stables. It was segregated from the rest of the polished castle, due to the amount of space the horses took, especially Sleipnir, their most prized horse. He had eight legs, with a coat as dusky as charcoal and a beautiful black mane not unlike Loki’s hair. Thor thought Loki would appreciate this horse the most. Since he was bigger and faster than the others, Thor usually rode Sleipnir while on his own, and Sleipnir whinnied as if to say “where did you go without me?”
Thor laughed softly, “You know the others wouldn’t be able to keep up with you, my friend.” The horse nickered in response. “But how about we show Helblindi the lake? He says he’s never seen the lanterns before.”
Sleipnir snorted. “Yes, I know! I couldn’t believe it either!” Thor laughed.
Turning his attention to Loki now, “I hope you know my horse is making fun of you.”
Loki huffed and spluttered, “Well… Well it’s not my fault!” He was hot in the cheeks, and prayed that it wasn’t noticeable on the strange hue of his skin. It was less about never seeing the lanterns and more about how he let himself stare at Thor interacting with his horse. The man was a giant in frame, but he was so soft and gentle, his smile and laugh were pleasantly warm and hearty. Moreover, he and Sleipnir had a wonderful bond, and it made him sorely miss Ikol. He wondered is his raven would be alright, and if he had encountered any dangers. Still, if he followed Laufey on his journey, neither of them would be back for at least two days.
“Come on then!” Thor invited Loki.
As Loki stepped forward (nervously, having never been on a horse), Sleipnir surprisingly dipped down, resting on his hind four knees.
Thor even gave a surprised look. “Odd. He hasn’t done this for anyone since I was too short to get up on my own. I think he likes you!” His smile was positively radiant.
Loki patted Sleipnir gently, whispering a “thank you” as he got on, wrapping his arms around Thor’s midsection and holding on a little too tightly, pressing his face to the smooth leather on Thor’s back.
Thor didn’t mind at all, and was quite grateful that Loki wasn’t able to see the blush that crept up his neck to stain his golden cheeks. What a sight that would have been. And so they sped off, Loki’s hair flying like a banner.
Before long, Thor felt Loki’s grip relax and his weight shifted so that it was no longer upon Thor’s back (which was a bit of a shame, really.)
Instead, Loki leaned backwards a bit, letting the wind ripple through his hair and he had never felt so free. He was squealing with delight knowing his voice was being drown out by the rushing wind, and he knew that this was the best birthday he would ever have.
When they reached the docks, Thor had instructed Loki to tie Sleipnir to a post as he retrieved his small paddleboat. Humming contently, he was brushing the knots out of Sleipnir’s mane from their whirlwind ride with the horse leaning into his every touch or nudging his face with his soft, wet nostrils with every soft sigh. Loki decided that he liked Sleipnir just as much as Sleipnir liked him.
“You’re the first one he’s ever warmed up to so quickly,” Thor stated, jolting Loki back to reality. He tugged a small boat along the water as he walked slowly on the edge of the dock.
“What about you?” Loki asked.
Thor raised his shirt up a tiny bit, exposing his hard, cut body. Loki swallowed before paying attention to the small hoof-shaped scar just underneath his ribcage. Thor chuckled softly at the face Loki made.
“He’s got a mean kick,” Thor chortled.
Sleipnir whinnied, which sounded like a laugh, and both men joined in.
“Shall we?” Thor gestured. Loki timidly stepped onto the boat, holding onto both the deck and the boat for balance. First a horse, now a boat, Loki was going to faint from all the anxiety of these new things he had never heard about.
“We’ll be back soon, okay?” Thor whispered into Sleipnir’s nose. He grabbed a sack from a giant tin box at the bottom of the boat which Loki hadn’t notice until now and laid it at Sleipnir’s feet. Untying the knot, golden apples tumbled out, causing Sleipnir to neigh in joy. Thor grabbed two, leaving the rest for the horse and slipped into the boat. He tossed them at Loki, who caught them gracefully, and Thor began to row them out in the clam, navy sea under the dim twinkling of the night stars.
When Laufey was denied entrance into the castle, he became furious. He demanded to be let in, that his son was in there, and that he would storm the entire palace should he be denied entrance.
So the guards denied him.
Stalking off in a puff, he settled on a plan B. He circled the edge of the Alfheim forest, gathering materials. If he wasn’t allowed to stroll on in, then he would go back to the basics.
After all, he had done this before.
When Thor stopped, signalling he thought he had gone far enough, he beckoned Loki to try the apples. Loki had never seen the strange fruit before, as most of what he ate at home consisted of leaves and other greens, or snow. Truthfully, he wasn’t even quite sure how to eat it.
Thor took a monstrous bite of the apple, and chewed with every delicious sounding bite. He smile at Loki before smacking his lips and took another bite. Loki noticed that Thor didn’t eat the core in the middle. Following suit, he took a much smaller bite, and was pleasantly shocked at the sweetness of the fruit. Licking his lips to gather the runaway juices, he hummed his approval.
Thor was mesmerized by how majestic and poised Loki was, even in such a mundane task as eating an apple. When he saw Loki’s core drop from his hand haphazardly and his eyes wide, Thor followed Loki’s stare.
The first lanterns had been released. They were the largest and most brilliant, since Frigga enchanted the golden threads to sparkle.
Loki’s mouth formed an “O” as they drifted lazily from the castle and right over their heads. Thor had pinpointed where the wind would bring them, placing them underneath the stream of lanterns that were coming.
“Those are the lanterns of my parents. They lead the ceremony every year.”
“I’m sorry that your family suffers so.”
“We haven’t lost hope.”
At that, they both smiled a rather sad, but peaceful smile. As the mass of lanterns drifted up from the castle’s proximity, Thor reached into the tin box again. He retrieved two lanterns of his own. He fumbled around for what Loki assumed to be a way to light them, but Thor cursed.
“Of course I would forget.” Thor muttered.
Loki made a decision in that moment. Deep inside, he still took Laufey’s caution to heart, but this whole time it really didn’t seem that Thor was what his father described of the outsiders. He wasn’t a savage, and Thor even introduced him as his friend.
“Thor?” he asked timidly, his voice as soft as satin.
“If I showed you something… a secret, would you promise… Would you tell anyone?” his voice pleading and confused.
“Of course not. No, I’d keep your secret.”
Loki gathered his beautiful hair into his lap, and slid his slender fingers through it, muttering an incantation. His hands tingled with that familiar rush of magic and as he untangled himself from his hair, a small orb of fire appeared in each palm. He eyed Thor cautiously.
“Wow! That’s brilliant! My mother would love you!” Thor said enthusiastically, and Loki let the breath he didn’t know he was holding go.
Thor thrust the lanterns forward so the fire could catch onto candles within them, waiting for Loki to extinguish his palms before handing him one.
“Me?” Loki asked bewildered.
“Of course. You know, as strange as it may seem… I have a feeling that you’re going to be the one who helps bring my brother back.”
The words made Loki’s heart beat faster.
“I would like to.”
He took this time to really look at the lanterns he had been dreaming about. The material was the same as the shred of lantern Ikol had given him, but what really captured his eye was the script. Loki.
That’s what the “ki” on the lantern had been. Loki.
Why did this seem so familiar? Loki.
Was it a coincidence that he named his pet raven Ikol? This exact name spelled backwards? Loki.
Loki focused on the task at hand, but he couldn’t help but noticed how his name didn’t sound right anymore.
With a small nod, they released their lanterns and watched as they joined the others in the sky.
Thor looked away first, he’d seen this too many times already. They were quite a sight, yes. But they also reminded him that it was another year that his brother hadn’t returned, and another year his parents would weep. He glanced at Loki and tried to memorize this moment forever; the way his hair was still curled in his lap, the way his chest rose steadily with his deeps breathes as he gasped in awe and wonder, the long exposure of ocean neck as he craned to see more of the lanterns, and the way the lanterns’ light danced upon his pretty face, shining in his ruby eyes.
Thor didn’t even think before reaching out and bringing his lips to Loki’s, hand gently along his neck, thumb swishing back and forth across the delicate jawline. Loki felt a wave of warmth wash over him, spreading throughout him like a fever. It was soft and gently, just a tiny bit hungry and full of passion. Neither seemed like they wanted to pull back, and so they stayed, filling each other’s lips, gliding across one another until they ran out of air.
When Thor pulled back and opened his eyes, he almost jumped. Because before him sat a man as pale as moonlight, looking like another villager from Asgard.
Loki looked away, into his lap, the blush evident across his smooth cheeks – which Thor could make out now, because it was no longer hidden by the blue!
“You’re… You’re…” Thor stammered.
"I'm sorry?” he offered, still not looking up.
"No! no, it's..." Thor merely pointed at the water around them, words escaping him entirely, hoping Loki would catch his motioning out of his peripheral vision.
Confused, Loki peered over the edge and nearly tipped the boat as he flung himself back with a loudest gasp Thor had ever heard.
“What… What happened to me?” he asked, completely frightened and bewildered. When he finally gathered the courage to look up again, Thor exhaled as if the air had been punched out of him.
There was no mistaking those bright, bright green eyes that shone like emeralds matched with that raven hair.
“Loki?” he whispered, and Loki froze. His heart seemed to be lifting in his chest, and there was a strange warmth in him, compelling him towards Thor, towards his… brother? How could this be? How did he have no memories of Asgard, or of Thor? It was always Laufey. Always.
Before he could respond, Ikol flew between the two, squawking in fury.
“Ikol?!” Loki wondered.
“Who’s –” Thor managed before he was struck in the chest with a trident. A trident of ice. He fell backwards, landing on his back with a grunt as Loki whipped around to see Laufey making his way toward them on a raft of tree trunks.
“Father?!” Loki cried out of instinct. But his mind was reeling with the events of the past five minutes before rage took over. “Or can I even call you that?”
“It’s a trick! It’s all a trick! He poisoned you with his foul touch!” Laufey shouted.
“Loki… Loki get down.” Thor tried, still clutching his wound in agony, the trident burning him instead of melting. Obviously bewitched.
The strange feeling was coursing through his body, the strange mix of wonder and realization, of pain and joy, sorrow and elation, of confusion and understanding, and even though none of it made sense to him, he knew one thing for certain.
He loved Thor. From the moment he saw the man standing in the snow hollering up to him, he loved him like he would love no one else. And that man was bleeding from his chest, from a wound caused by someone who he had lived with for 18 years yet really knew nothing about.
He made a choice. Summoning his magic, he lifted his hands in the air and cast spell upon spell – one to shield them, one to knock Laufey away, one to conceal them, and one to propel them back to the docks as soon as possible. He wasn’t taking any chances, but Laufey was having none of it. One by one, his spells were picked apart, or countered.
“You dare defy your father? The one who protected you at all costs? Oh trust me, little one, father knows best!” and with the last taunt, he threw a giant spear of ice at their boat.
What his father didn’t account for was that Loki had been the ideal son after all, putting so much practice in his studies. He melted the enchanted ice while still pulling them to shore, Laufey on their tail.
“Ikol! Ikol!” he cried, not knowing what else to do. “We need help! Thor… Thor is…” he couldn’t say much else but summoned a note. As Laufey launched, and Loki deflected, a ball of fire towards Ikol, he decided to duplicate the note into hundreds. “Fly, Ikol! Fly!”
The bird took off, a bag of paper notes between its talons and soared over the city, effectively making it rain with paper. Laufey and Loki carried on, matching each other blow for blow. It was exhausting to the both of them, and Loki could especially feel the drain, dividing his magic up so.
He looked back to check on Thor who was sweating and mumbling in delirium. Loki had tried to stop the bleeding and he couldn’t tell if it was effective since he had lost so much blood.
A weight him in square in the chest, making him stumble unsteadily. There was nothing fatherly about the feral snarl of Laufey’s teeth and the hatred in his fire-like eyes. Loki felt a cold sweep through him, as if the blood in his veins were freezing and looked down to see his skin was back to its cobalt blue.
“This was all you! This was a lie!” Loki shouted, exasperated.
Without even giving Laufey a chance to open his bloody mouth, Loki launched a storm of attacks, aiming to sink Laufey’s raft as he saw the docks come into view over his shoulder. There was a long trail of light upon it, but Loki didn’t have time to see what it was.
As he was about to deal Laufey another flurry of blows, he heard arrows whizz overhead and Laufey conjuring a shield around his raft. Which Loki promptly tore apart. Cursing, he tried to retreat, but Loki wouldn’t allow that. He wanted answers. He lassoed his so-called father invisibly, dragging him in with their paddleboat. Behind him villagers cried in anger and the next few minutes went by in a blur.
There was hollering and demands for justice. Loki noticed Laufey struggling against the crowds of people, bonding him in every which way they could. He looked like a mummy by the end of it.
There was squawking. Loki noticed Ikol, resting on Volstagg’s shoulder, as Volstagg looked on worriedly, frantically rushing about Loki to see if he was injured.
And then there was sobbing. A man and woman held each other and stroked Thor tenderly as the villagers parted for them.
“I can help,” Loki breathed in shallow gulps of air, exhausted from his battle.
Without a word, everyone was ushered back to the courtyard.
After Frigga tried to remove the trident, only to get grunts of pain in response from Thor, she summoned all her magic and every spell known for healing, but nothing could help. She even interrogated Laufey, who was bound and shackled to post, but when he didn't so much as bat an eyelash, she taught him a little respect. Needless to say, everyone skirted away from the offender, and made sure to never ever anger the Queen. Ever.
Loki racked his brains for a spell Frigga might’ve missed but came up depressingly empty. When neither of them could find a way to save their dear Thor, Loki curled his hair around the trident in a desperate last chance. He prayed that this would work, rolled up his sleeves, and he softly sang a spell in a language nobody understood. It was soft and fluid like honey, and Loki began to sob at the end when he didn’t feel it working. Hunched over him and brought his forehead over Thor’s wound, not caring if he was smearing blood all over his face, letting his tears fall as he whispered the last line of the song.
The entire village stood still, not knowing how the palace would fair after their lovely King and Queen had lost both sons.
But not a moment after did the wound give off a faint gold light and the trident turned to mist, floating away into the night sky. And when Loki began to pull away, Thor’s strong hand caught his slender, exposed wrist.
A collective gasp from the audience came in perfect time for the strange, yet comforting heat to sweep through him again. He looked down, and sure enough, his skin was back to porcelain.
“Loki,” Thor breathed, finally conscious again.
“Loki?!” Frigga cried, startling Loki enough to stare her in the eyes, and it was as if a spark went off in his brain. Mother?
“My baby! My baby!” she wailed through her tears that were shamelessly streaking her face as ran towards them and embraced Loki tightly while smiling at Thor over her shoulder. Odin soon followed, helping Thor up through his grimace and pulled them all in. Loki had never experienced this sensation before, the flipping of his stomach and fluttering of his heart. He let his tears go as he breathed in the scent of his mother’s chamomile fragrance, all of a sudden remembering. Remembering the nights he cried until he was buried in a field of chamomiles and soft hushing and cooing.
“Mother,” he whispered in her ear, sending a chill through his spine. Her shoulders heaved uncontrollably, and as they reminisced together, he turned to Odin, “Father.” Finally, he stared into the endless sky of Thor’s eyes and said with a smile, “My brother… My love.”
“My love,” Thor responded, pulling them all tighter together.
It was too much for any of them as they dropped to their knees, the exhaustion of a seventeen year hunt coming to end. For this moment.
The crowd stayed silent until then, but erupted into cheers. For the first time in a very, very long time, everyone in the village was smiling, and never had there been a night as bright as this, with or without lanterns.