The knife was black and carved with runes that were invisible to naked air, but the markings flared up when Loki stuck the blade into a brazier.
“It’s not some insipid doggerel, is it? Did you compose it yourself? Roses are red, jotunns are blue, this blade is pretty, and so are you?”
Thor laughed, too loudly for Loki’s liking. “Pretty are you? I had not noticed. Show me your jotunn face, then,” Thor drew him close and breathed into his neck. “I wish to see your true form.” His fingers fumbled with the layers of intricate jotunn court robes.
The strong smell of burning incense or some other potent herb was making his head spin, and Loki slipped out of his embrace and strolled down a long open hallway, illuminated by the light of Jotunheim’s three moons.
“This face is displeasing to you?” He was turning the knife over in his hands. “How fortunate, then, that you are paying court to my royal brother.”
Thor rushed after him and backed him into an alcove. “That is not what I meant, and you know it.”
“Do I now? Did you bring him a present, too?” Loki smiled sweetly, sliding an expert hand into Thor’s breeches. “Was it costlier than mine?
Thor’s knees buckled and hit stone, and the pain and pleasure made him go cross-eyed. Quickly changing places, he pulled Loki onto his lap, their tryst half-hidden by the shadows, and Loki didn’t falter once.
His eyes were wide and so green, his fingers stroking Thor into hardness so cool and slim, and that knife thin smile grew even wider as Thor rutted desperately into his hand.
“Ah… yes, like that, yes.”
He pulled Loki close to rub against - what was hidden under those layers, Thor had not yet seen. Was there a quivering cock and the warm folds of a plump cunt too? Would Loki be hard and wet at once when Thor lay him on his back and parted his thighs? The thought of that almost pushed him over the edge, so very close.
“Well, did you?” Loki’s hand stilled, and Thor’s hips jerked up.
“Don’t, don’t stop. Did I, ah, what?” he mouthed hotly into Loki’s neck, and he bit and suckled at it to urge him on.
The strokes were teasing, fingering a wet trail around the head, and resumed with firm emphasis. “Did you. Bring my brother. A present?”
“Hah - had to. Courting gift, by the blind Norns, yes, a knife, with rubies on the hilt, like that, yes –” He tensed and released with a shout, and there was Loki, covering Thor’s mouth with his, his likely forked tongue sliding, sucking, hissing against Thor’s, as if to pull the very breath from his heart.
Thor sank back into the alcove, limp and breathing heavily, and gazed light-headed at Loki, who brought his hand up to his swollen lips and slowly licked the sticky white from each finger, and by Ymir’s icy tits, Thor was not getting hard again.
But when he reached for Loki, Loki jumped off his knees, and quick as a snake, flicked the blade across Thor’s cheek. A drop of blood trickled down before Thor could feel the sting.
“Be sure to do that for my brother,” said an amused Loki, fastidiously smoothing his robes as he walked away. “Lest the gift of a knife cut deep into your love for each other.”
It was a formal courtship in all but name, and the jotunn court had worn Aesir glamour in honor of his arrival. All except one.
Black markings of doubtless powerful magic scrolled up his arms, entwined with deliberate patterns of cuts healed so they would stand up in cruel ridges. The first prince of Jotunheim Helblindi stood shoulders above Thor, and dressed for fighting in little more than a ceremonial loincloth, it was very clear that his skin was a cold, icy blue.
In a graceful arc, he backhanded the third Aesir warrior, who landed on his back. The fourth barely had time to swing his staff before he too hit the hard ice of the ring, and the prince threw his head back and roared in challenge.
“Magnificent brute, isn’t he?”
Thor hadn’t heard this one approach, so quietly did he sidle next him on the bench where Thor had been watching so-called friendly sparring. He slipped an arm through Thor’s, and leaned close. It was that slip of a jotunn magr. For such a mannered court, they were an overly demonstrative people.
“Smitten with your future bride?” His smile was crooked and his breath tickled Thor’s cheek. “That is the correct Aesir term, is it not? Bride?”
Thor looked sideways at this one, inky black hair, twisted with stones and feathers, falling over the pale skin of his glamour, and without thinking, Thor brushed a stray lock from his face.
“My eyes are full of love for the first son of Jotunheim.” Thor repeated the traditional words he had been taught as he followed the tilt of that mocking smile. “Though, I am not sure which of us will play the bride,” he confessed, “Your prince might take me for one.”
The magr’s eyes lit up in wicked delight.
“Is that why you sit here and watch with your mouth open as the warriors fight? To undress them with your eyes and imagine how they will please you in bed?”
Thor sputtered, caught between shock and laughter, and he grabbed the magr by the arm. Then, seeing the thin smile fluttering warily on that face, Thor broke into a leering grin of his own. “Is that what you do, little mage?”
The magr scoffed. “I need not imagine any such thing.”
His eyes were green, green as snakes hidden in the grass, like unripe apples of Idunn’s orchard in the spring, and Thor could feel the pale jotunn’s breath hitch as he held still like a trapped animal, feel the shiver that ran through him, and Thor was suddenly and quite undeniably aware that they were pressed up against each other, which only made Thor tighten his grip.
“But they are so much larger than you are,” Thor whispered, and the magr looked away.
“You learn to like it, after a fashion.” His gaze dropped to Thor’s hand. “You’re hurting me.”
Thor traced the line of his pale throat and watched him swallow. “I’m sorry.” But Thor didn’t let go. He wanted the jotunn to look at him again, but when he did, his eyes were blazing with the burn of poison.
“No, you’re not,” said the magr with a laugh. “But I could like this, too.” And he wriggled out of Thor’s grip as heavy footsteps approached, and a shadow fell upon them.
Thor paid no heed.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “I’ve seen you before, last night, at the banquet. You are the king’s son, Laufey’s son.”
The implications of this made his head spin. Adjustments could be made. One jotunn son was as good as another, though the droning white-beards would scold and sigh before they drew up their long-winded legal terms again. But this much was within the bounds of choice, and Thor would choose and gladly so. He could learn to like this, far better than he had ever hoped.
But the magr shook his head and rose, holding out his hands palms down in formal greeting to meet the warriors.
They were loud and cheerful after their fighting, and some of their glamour had slipped, leaving one halfway blue up to the elbow, and another blue down the length of his leg. The tallest of them had no glamour to shed, and with a lusty laugh, he caught the magr up in a sweaty embrace.
Drawing himself up to his full height, Helblindi, first son of Jotunheim, held his half-brother to his flank and grinned widely at his intended.
“I see you’ve met our Loki. Do not listen to his preposterous lies, prince of the Aesir.” He flapped his loincloth at Thor lewdly. “I am certainly not deformed in any way, nor am I unable to perform my conjugal duties, am I, you little wretch?”
And he leaned down to claim Loki, who, with a brief sidelong glance, and to the ribald cheers of the jotunn warriors, curled his hand at the back of Helblindi’s powerful neck, and opened his lips to the plunder.
That night, Thor sat at the high table and looked for Loki. As the honored guest, Thor was placed at the Laufey-king’s left hand, and hemmed in on the other side by Helblindi, who devoured his food with gusto and did not demand much in terms of conversation. He stopped once in a while to give Thor a good-natured slap on the back, or to recommend one dish over another, and Thor nodded and grinned until his face hurt.
Finally, Thor ventured to ask. “Is your… is your brother Loki not here?”
Helblindi gave a careless shrug. “Is he not? He should be somewhere about.”
But Thor’s question had caught the ear of the Laufey-king, who had been, up till now, somber and deep in his cups.
“Loki?” Laufey sat up with a jolt, and peered around the hall, searching. “Where is Loki? What are you doing slinking about in that dark corner, Loki-child? You’ll catch a draft. Come here, come here.”
And he gestured for a servant to fetch a stool. With a strained look on his pointed face, Farbauti-king inched his chair aside to make space between them. The jotunns perked up to watch the drama, as Loki, eyes downcast and his lips pursed, made his way up to the high table and perched at the edge of his seat next to the Laufey-king.
A low hiss of disapproval rose from scattered tables from the high lords of Jotunheim. Loki still wore his pale Aesir skin, while the glamour on the rest of the younger members of the court had faded sometime before supper.
Ignoring them, Laufey-king reached for the bowl of crystallized fruit and filled Loki’s plate with sweetmeats preserved perfect in their form and glittering in sugar as if they had been left out in an ice storm.
“Brought here all the way from Vanaheimr. I know how much you like sweet things.” said Laufey-king, looking fondly at Loki who had cast off his bout of primness and was licking the sugar off his fingers.
A heavy sceptr thudded on the table between Loki and the plate. “And what do you say to the king, Loki?”
Loki, his mouth full and sticky, gazed blandly back at Farbauti’s narrow-eyed glare, chewing deliberately slowly and said nothing.
Farbauti clucked his tongue, but averted his eyes in disgust. “Your manners are atrocious, half-breed get,” he spat.
The Laufey-king only laughed and put a doting hand on his son’s head.
Feeling the reproving glare of Ullr, his father’s emissary, Thor managed to tear his gaze away and back to Helblindi.
“So, he is your brother,” said Thor, feeling rather stupid. Helblindi, startled out of tearing his meat, certainly looked at Thor as if he were lacking in wits. Then he shrugged again, as if that did not matter, much.
“Loki and I share a dam, the Laufey-king,” explained Helblindi, and added more slowly. “Our dam. He who gave birth to us?”
“I thought Laufey was your father.”
“He was sire to my brother Bỳleistr. Farbauti-king is my sire, he who gave birth to Bỳleistr.”
“And Loki?” persisted Thor.
At that, Farbauti spoke up for all the hall to hear. “Yes, who is your sire, Loki? Pray tell us.”
Loki, his lips stained red from the candied fruit, tossed an insolent grimace over his shoulder at Farbauti.
“My sire is the whistle in the wind, the light of stars, the clash of waves from the stormy sea in deepest winter.” He resolutely did not meet the gaze of Laufey. “But there are those who say he is the delicate blade of grass, the great oak that still reaches for the sun in softer climes.”
“He is no one then,” mocked Farbauti. “You are Loki half-thing.”
“I am Loki, and I belong to no one.”
A pained sigh came from Laufey. “Loki-child, you are my son. Is that not enough?”
And Loki drew a sharp breath, but the cut was drawn.
“I belong to no one, I am free, and no mere name will hold claim to me,” he spat, and he stepped back and vanished into the shadows. A sudden gust of wind swept in and blew all the shutters open, and the heavy doors at the end of the great hall thudded to a close.
After a while, the jotunns went back to their feasting, unperturbed by the snow blowing in from the windows.
Thor was abashed, not knowing where to look. “I am sorry to be the cause. I did not wish to bring strife –”
“You get used to it. A pinch of drama helps with the digestion, I say." Helbindi waved him off. "Well, go on then. Drag the rascal back by his heels.”
Confused, Thor stared at the jotunn prince, just as a splendid haunch of snow piglet was set upon the table before them.
“Someone should go after him,” said Helblindi, taking up the carving knife. “And this being by far the best course of the day, that someone shall not be me. Besides,” he added, “You started it.”
Thor didn’t need telling twice – actually he did, but it had been a long and bewildering day, and this was a foreign land. Ignoring the indignant Ullr, and his pointed message to sit right down, boy, or prince or no prince, I’ll --, Thor mumbled his excuses and ran out of the feasting hall.
He found Loki at the end of an out-of-the-way corridor leading to a small walled courtyard. Even at the sound of Thor’s tread, he refused to turn, staring bleakly out at the soft feathers of snow falling on the carved ice.
“Did you enjoy the show?”
As Thor drew close, he thought he saw a track of dried tears on Loki’s cheek. “Mmm, the what?”
“The Farbauti and Loki show,” said Loki in a dead voice. “Assured to end with one or the other in tears, if not sharp stabby things. Tell me, did he cry?”
“I wasn’t looking at him.”
“Oh?” And Thor stepped closer into his space, and his eyes went wide. “Oh.”
His lips stayed that startled shape, stained red and open, and Thor swallowed hard, remembering this morning and the twist in his gut that had been roiling inside him all day.
“I heard you like sweets,” said Thor, and pulled out the candied plum he’d palmed from the table. Loki moved to take the sweetmeat and stopped himself.
“Your grace is too kind,” said Loki, veiled in the politeness he would not give Farbauti. “Sweetness is rare in these harsh climes.”
Dismayed, Thor held out the plum. He had reckoned on a brush of fingers, a calming hand, perhaps even to comfort the strange creature and stroke his hair as the Laufey-king had done. After clinging to Thor all morning, this sudden aloofness was maddening.
Then, dipping his head, Loki took a delicate bite out of the plum, straight out of Thor’s fingers, and Thor’s breath stuttered.
Loki paused, wary and poised to flee again.
Thor forced himself to get a grip – the sly hints at the sparring ring, the kiss, this snake of a magr gone limp and pliant in the arms of his brutish brother – and he raised the candied fruit to the level of his face.
Loki took another bite and another, his eyes not leaving Thor’s the whole time, not when he licked the sugar from Thor’s fingers, and took them in his warm wet mouth to suckle.
There was a pang of loss when his fingers met cold air, and Loki pulled back as if to gauge his reaction.
Quickly, Thor pulled another crystallized fruit, a cherry this time, from his pockets. Always have a backup, Tyr had taught him, but Thor wasn’t going to think about brawny, black-bearded Tyr now.
He put the jewel-like fruit between his teeth and grinned, Come hither.
With a stunned laugh, Loki’s arms were wrapped around his neck, his lips upon his, and his tongue, so stained with sugared fruit it was probably black, twining with Thor’s, sucking its very juices dry and hungering for more, and his body, oh, Thor had that too, pressed hard against his, rubbing against him with a hollow desperation, and Thor’s hands greedy for bare skin, bunched up layer after sodding layer until he finally found smooth thighs and the swell of –
A clearing of a gruff throat interrupted them, and with a sharp gasp Loki vanished, and Thor found himself grasping fading wisps of smoke, and looking blearily at the stony face of the first prince of Jotunnheim.
“So, prince of the Aesir,” asked Helblindi dryly, “Was my brother greatly cheered by your comfort?”
Next up, Jotunn canoodling because it is my kink.
Chapter 2: I have filled this void with things unreal
Jotunn canoodling turned into more. That's why the rating was adjusted. If not inclined, please skip ahead to all the talking about the sex.
Chapter title from "Roll away your stone" by Mumford and Sons.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Stretched out head to toe, Loki traced the pattern of a storm up Helblindi’s leg, his finger wandering idly inside his brother's thigh. He stroked the sensitive skin until the scars stood rigid and dark, and blew on them to see them blanch again.
Shivering, the jotunn prince let out an exhausted laugh.
“I am still sore from the last time you took me, brother. Here, let me satisfy you.”
Loki tried to squirm out of his grasp, but Helblindi easily pinned down the slighter jotunn, and palming the now softened prick gently aside, his fingers pried into the warm folds to tease and rub at that sensitive nub.
The breadth of one hand held Loki in place as he writhed, and Helblindi dipped his tongue to taste his juices. “You’re getting wet already. So eager for me.”
“No,” came the breathless gasp, and Helblindi raised himself on one elbow to admire him, and barely missed getting knocked in the forehead with a bony knee.
“That wasn’t very nice, brother,” Helblindi chided, playing with the clit and painting sticky wetness up and down his prick. “Not when you crave it so.”
He pressed his fingers inside deeper and felt the warmth tighten around him – such a strange creature his brother was, warm where he should be cool, pink inside where he should be grey – and his hand rubbed faster against the little nub.
“Say you want a good tongue-fucking from me. Say it.”
Holding back a keen, Loki hissed through gritted teeth. “You’re so… crude, for a prince. And that is not… your tongue.”
Helblindi slowed down and resumed his teasing, pausing to suck at his own dripping fingers and drag them over a twitching cock.
“What shall we talk about, then? What wonderful weather we’re having? The price of iron in Nidavellir?” He planted a kiss on the wet mound and his tongue lingered lovingly inside.
“How about… your Aesir prince?”
Helblindi drew back. “You’re thinking of him. Now?”
Loki closed his eyes, and smiling, brought his brother’s hand back between his legs and rolled his hips.
“Yes, and now so are you. Shall I wear his face when you fuck me with your tongue” he said nastily. “You can pretend it is your wedding night.”
“No,” said Helblindi. “But you wish to glamour his face on mine when I take you. Do not deny it. I have seen you with him.”
Helblindi pinned him down by the throat, and settling himself between Loki’s thighs, spread them wide. Loki struggled harder against him, and rubbed their cocks together frantically to hardness.
“No one lights my ardor as you do, brother,” sighed Helblindi.
“No, don’t, you’re too big –”
- he wrenched to pull free, but Helblindi shoved into that tight hot cunt, and Loki bit back a scream. His face seemed to break as Helblindi slowly eased his length inside him and started to move.
“Does it always hurt like the first time?” he asked.
“How can it not,” Loki said, “when you remain so… unskilled. Ah. Right there, yes.”
The first prince of Jotunheim rocked slowly above Loki, holding back from rutting on his brother as he would have a more robust lover. He leaned close to stroked a long curved horn as Loki arched off the pallet threatening to break his back under Helblindi’s weight.
“I will miss you when we are parted,” he panted into Loki’s ear, and Loki crossed his thin wrists behind his neck. “No one is as lovely as you.”
Breath shallow and gasping, his pupils blown green inside the deep of red, Loki murmured, “When you are wed?” He sighed and grinded up against his brother desperately. “Why should we be any different? Why must you put me aside?”
“Because I shall be wed, and this must end.”
Helblindi could feel the height of his climax building, and he tried to hold it back for as long as he could.
“He will have his lovers, you will take yours," Loki insisted. "Is that not the way of marriage?”
“So cynical, brother. I would not use you so. Do not make a play for the Aesir, Loki.”
“Why not? Because he is yours?” Loki gasped, his face twisted in a sneer, and Helblindi struck him with the back of his hand. Loki howled then, loud enough to carry through the walls, and came, violent and shuddering beneath him.
Helblindi leaned down and took his brother’s bruised lips to soothe his passion.
His own thrusts grew ragged and mindless as he pumped in that remorseless heat and rode out his pleasure, no longer gentle or careful, and he spilled inside with a bellow of triumph.
Helblindi was breathing hard and grinning stupidly when an angry foot on his chest pushed him off, and Loki hissed as the softening prick was dragged out of him too quickly.
“You idiot,” Loki snarled. “How many times have I told you –” A flash of magecraft, and Helblindi felt a pang knowing his seed was scoured out from inside his brother. But he knew how Loki felt about bastards.
Later, they lay curled together, drowsing in and out in the flickering lamplight. Languorous and spent, Helblindi brushed a sweaty lock from his brother’s forehead and watched him shift back to pale Aesir again, and reminded of the question that had been asked so petulantly, cradled him like a child.
“Do not play with fire, Loki,” he grumbled. “Because this one will burn out your heart.”
But Loki had already fallen asleep.
Ullr was deep in conversation with a Jotnar skald when Thor found him and pulled him away to explain. His father’s emissary gave him an exasperated sigh.
“You cannot choose the bastard, Thor. It will not do.”
“I am a king’s son, and he is a king’s son. What difference does it make?” asked Thor. “In Asgard, many a noble warrior was born outside the bounds of wedlock, and they proved themselves great lords. My own mother was not my father’s wife, yet I will be king, and not my brother Balder.”
“That is not the Jotnar way, Thor. You are to be joined to the future king of Jotunheim, and the bastard will never be king. Liked the looks on that one, did you?” Ullr gave him a sly wink. "I told you it would be this way. All the while before this journey, with your grumbling and bellyaching about having to wed, what was it you said? Some unholy union of Volstagg and Tyr, was it?” Ullr laughed, and his rheumy eyes clouded in memory. “When I was a young man, the fairest in all the Nine Realms was the jotunn, Gerth. Bountiful Freyr took him to wife. You heard the tale. What did you think he looked like, some sort of Ljós ice fairy with candy floss for hair? You should trust your elders, lad. We know what we’re about. You’re in for a right treat in the sack.”
He laughed lewdly and gave Thor a hearty slap on the back.
“It’s not like that, you dirty old man!”
“Oh, feel a special connection do you? A stirring in your soul?” snickered Ullr. “More likely in your loins, that’s what. It’ll pass. It’s the – what d’you young ones call it – all the phe-ro-mones clogging up the air in this gloomy old palace. Hit you like a mallet to the face, din’ it? For all their airs and graces, a jotunn’s good for two things only, and that’s fighting and fucking.”
“If that is all there is, then why are we here? Why am I paying suit?”
“You are courting Mistress Peace, Thor, that’s what you’re here for. You will rule the Nine Realms, Jotunheim’s king will be your equal by marriage, and that will keep your peace.”
“Then why can I not choose for myself? I will choose my jotunn, and raise him to my station –”
“Are you being thick on purpose to aggravate me? Or is your cock doing all your thinking for you now?” Ullr asked, in derision. “The Allfather will not give back the Casket for anything less than the future king of Jotunheim, and the jotunns want that Casket. Don’t ruin this with your sudden fancy, Thor. Take the little bitch for a good tumble in the hay, or whatever serves for hay around here, and fuck it out of your system. The Jotnar won’t mind. They’re a lusty lot. They understand a man’s needs.”
Thor hunched his shoulders and picked up his pace down the long hallway. He could hear Ullr huffing to catch up with him, and he paused out of courtesy, holding the reins to a rage that threatened to run loose.
“Your words are coarse, old man,” said Thor, willing his voice to stay calm. “And I choose not to hear the slight in them.”
“Don’t do anything stupid, Thor,” said Ullr, gone pale at the exertion. “I mean, don’t go making any rash promises. I’ll… I’ll go see what I can do.”
Loki was sitting on a low wall, watching two miniscule armies of ice fight each other to the death. Or in this case, to the chips.
He was so engrossed in the icy carnage that he didn’t hear Thor, not until Thor’s hand was on his shoulder, and startled, lost his seat and fell into the snowbank. Thor lunged, but his hand went through nothing.
An impish laugh came from behind him, and Loki emerged, clapping his hands.
“Are you made of air?” growled Thor.
“Maybe,” said Loki. “But this one was an exceptionally good illusion, was it not?”
“Was it an illusion last night as well?” And he saw the bruise purpling Loki’s cheek. “Who did this? I demand to know who raised a hand to you!”
Loki looked taken aback. “Do not concern yourself, Aesir prince.” And then he smiled brightly. “We are a passionate people, despite our surroundings. This – ” he fluttered his fingers at the bruise, and his skin was pale again. “ – is nothing, means nothing.”
He walked over to the wall and looked down. The armies had collapsed in place, the animating magic having left them. “You’ve all failed me. Begone.” And the tiny bodies crumbled into icy dust and blew away.
“You covered your bruise,” insisted Thor. “Was that an illusion on top of an illusion? Your Aesir skin is a glamour is it not?”
Loki shrugged off one shoulder. “Not exactly.” And he sighed, as Thor waited for an explanation. “You heard last night. I am not a full jotunn. I suspect there’s Vanir in my blood.”
“Or Aesir. This is not a very pleasant topic, prince. And I wish to have the most pleasant time in your company.”
“That is my wish as well –”
“After all, you are to wed my brother. We shall be the best of friends.”
“Friends,” repeated Thor dully. It must be the climate. He was not slow, nor did he mistake the meaning of that kiss last night. “And what do friends do in Jotunheim?”
“What a strange question! Whatever friends do in Asgard, prince. We talk, and we walk, and we play games, and we tell each other secrets.”
Loki laughed and twining his arm around Thor’s again, they set off in the direction of the ice gardens.
“Do not call me ‘prince,’ like that,” said Thor. “It sounds as if you’re calling a dog. Call me by my name. Call me, Thor.”
“You call your dogs princes?” Loki grinned. “How odd. No wonder you need teaching on what friends do. Well, friend Thor, what did you do this morning?”
Remembering the run of that particular conversation, Thor ducked his face in the collar of his cloak and said gruffly, “Talked to Ullr.”
“Tell me, was it about the arrangement with the Casket?” asked Loki innocently.
Loki’s eyes were lit up in unholy glee, and he leaned close to whisper his secrets.
“The arrangements they’re taking so long drawing up. When the Casket will return, what your people demand as a safeguard. How do you know we will not use it against you? My royal brother is to be king of Jotunheim. It is not as if he will set up housekeeping in your rooms in Asgard – charming as that picture may be. It is a truly vexing matter.”
“And what did you come up with?” Thor asked, humoring him. Thor would take what enjoyment he could. A pale light was shining through the spires of ice, refracting into smudges of rainbows on the untouched snow, and this strange mercurial creature was clinging to his arm, eager to amuse him, and this was all really rather pleasant.
“Oh, it is not I,” protested Loki. “It is what I have heard said. I am telling you now, so you will not be surprised later.” Loki’s breath tickled his ear. “We are to have it in spurts.”
“What is do you mean, spurts?”
“It’s what the law-writers have come up with,” explained Loki. “That once you are wed, the Casket will be brought here with a delegation to oversee its use, and each time you visit your royal spouse,” he waggled his eyebrows suggestively, “the Casket will be opened to restore us. You see, a spurt for a spurt,” he said, squeezing Thor’s arm for emphasis.
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!” cried Thor.
“But imagine,” said Loki, growing more enthused on the subject. “Each time a powerful wave rejuvenates our land, we will think upon your great prowess in the bedchamber – stop laughing! – and across the land, humble Jotnar will imagine the mighty streams of vigor shooting from your fruitful loins – no, I’m serious –”
“You cannot be serious!” scoffed Thor. “Those dry old badgers are not sitting around a negotiations table discussing the particulars of my private life!” But weren’t they? After all, wasn’t that what Ullr was doing now, in different ways?
“What is private when it comes to a king?” retorted Loki. “His body is a matter of state. The virile body whose issue are strength, fertility, and prosperity. I should know these things. I was educated properly in a royal court,” he said loftily, and flapped a hand at Thor. “You, on the other hand, you ran around in the dirt and killed things with sticks.” Thor only laughed at his impudence.
“In fact, your royal consummation is a very public affair, and should be made such," Loki said. "Wouldn’t that be the grandest of all spectacles? My royal brother laid out on the altar of the god-king, and you, in your golden Asgardian glory, ploughing into the fecund flesh of Jotunheim as the crowd goes wild with lust – we will need a much larger hall for that. A coliseum! I must go to the elders with my idea –”
“You’re joking,” gasped Thor, grabbing hold of Loki’s arm when he made as if to leave. “You’re making this up.”
Loki put his hand on his chest, and said with dead earnestness, “I would never lie. That reminds me. I must urge my royal brother not to conceive immediately, and hold out for at least half a dozen tries so we can properly restore the land – oh that is underhanded and sly, just like a jotunn, isn’t it? I shouldn’t have mentioned that. You will keep my little secret, won’t you, prince? Prince? Friend Thor, are you all right?”
Laughing, Thor had stumbled and braced himself against a pillar of ice, and Loki was peering into his face like a curious bird.
Out of breath and grinning, his back getting cold on the unforgiving ice, Thor looked up at him with something close to awe. Loki was not fair and delicate like a maid, nor did he have that rugged masculine beauty that marked young Balder or bold Theoric.
But he was steely and female in some lights, vulnerable and male in others, and this constant shifting between the two was mystifying. At the same time, Thor felt he caught a hint of what Ullr and those hoary elders meant when they rambled long and obtusely about the Jotnar. They were truly different.
“Yes,” said Thor. “Yes, I am. Jotunheim is not what I expected.”
“I hope we do not disappoint.”
Loki helped him up, and Thor did not let go of his hand. “Quite the opposite. But I would like to show you Asgard in return.”
“Do you mean that? May I visit Asgard?”
“I would take you there myself,” said Thor, and vaguely remembered Ullr telling him not to make any rash promises. But Loki’s face was open as it had been to him last night, and there could be no harm in such a little thing as this. But his heart had taken to its odd hesitant beat again, and the silence in which they were enveloped pained him with a delicious ache.
He was almost relieved when he heard another party approach. It was the younger jotunn prince, whose name Thor had forgotten.
“Bỳleistr,” said Loki with a sidelong nod, though the prince ignored him and made his greeting to Thor alone. He was barely taller than Loki, and had the brittle manner and raw edges of a youth newly thrust into maturity.
“How are you enjoying your visit, prince of the Aesir?” asked Bỳleistr. “I hope our ways are not too strange to you.”
“They are strange. But they are wondrous. Loki is an excellent tutor,” said Thor with a conspiratorial grin, and he saw Loki smother a smile.
“It is well, then,” said Bỳleistr. “In this new age of peace, we would be well advised to better understand each other, in all our differences. By the by, I have learned a new Asgardian word today. Perhaps you will help my understanding of its meaning?”
“I will be most happy to assist in any endeavor to bridge our two cultures.” said Thor, relishing the way Loki’s eyes were glittering with mirth.
“Excellent,” said Bỳleistr. “I believe the word is, how do you say it? Ah, yes, concubine.”
Thor’s guts dropped like a block of ice – it was the climate truly, and the food, and this accursed, stifling Jotnar court, and Ullr. Ullr, that meddling old busybody, who had gone and poked at Thor’s heart with his long feather quill, and dragged its tender secret places into the harsh light, to deck it in lurid colors and call it stipulation vii-a.
“It is an Asgardian term, yes,” Thor managed to say. “Where did you hear it?”
“Oh, one of the lords made mention of it. It is being touted about by the legal scholars, for treaty terms,” said Bỳleistr carelessly. “Tell me, Loki, do you know what it means? You are so fond of foreign things. Surely you must know.”
After a long pause, Loki said, “It is a marriage with no marriage.”
“Succinctly put. But how is that not a contradiction in terms? How can it exist?”
“I suppose there is the lover’s relationship,” Loki was forced to say.
“But a lover can freely choose. A lover can leave when there is no love,” said Bỳleistr, and Thor was starting to think that look of false innocence was a family trait. “This concubine is a lover who is not free, in a marriage that gives him no status, his issue no name, no inheritance, a bind which makes him dependent on the fickle whims of the one with power. Why, it is as if you are forcing a slave.”
“It is not like that in Asgard,” protested Thor, “It is a respected position bestowed on a low-born lover –” But he stopped himself. Loki had gone solemn and blank and would not look at him.
Bỳleistr went on with savage glee. “Why, it is as if you brought a whore into your household. How perverse. Would you allow such a base creature to sup with your mother?” And he smiled at Thor, showing his teeth. “Thank you, prince of the Aesir, for a fascinating lesson in our cultural differences. Loki,” he said sharply. “Farbauti-king, my dam, has bid me fetch you. He will have words. You know how he hates waiting.”
“You’re telling me this now?”
“I forgot. Off with you, then. You’ve dawdled long enough.”
Suppressing a snarl, Loki dropped a deep bow somewhere between Bỳleistr and Thor, the elaborate turn of his wrist a parcel of insolence, and left them without a second glance at Thor.
“He shares our brother’s bed,” said Bỳleistr, his smile slipping off his face now. “In case, you wanted a virgin.”
Thor turned to him in a rage, and remembered, he could not kill a prince of Jotunheim, not here, not now, and strangled the wrath in his own throat. But Bỳleistr met him with equal savagery.
“Don’t think you can come here and take whatever you please, prince of the Aesir,” snarled Bỳleistr, looking little more than the boy he actually was. “We will not lie back and let you crush our windpipes for your amusement.”
“I have no intention of doing that,” said Thor. “What you did just now –”
“What I did just now, was give you a friendly warning,” said Bỳleistr. “No one would be more glad to see the back of him than I, but I will slit his throat myself before you make a plaything of the blood of Laufey. Do we understand each other?”
At length, Thor decided that did not merit a civil response.
Thor's been so good. He really should get some nookie, yeah?
Chapter 3: Somewhere near the end of the world
Interludes of Romping: Thor gets himself some, and then some.
Warning: graphic violence to imaginary animals. Thor’s hammer doesn’t return to his hand yet, but we’ve got that planned for later.
Chapter title is from "Dinner at Eight" by Rufus Wainwright.
The rooms were in the high south tower of the palace of Jotunheim, and difficult to find, but Thor had picked up on the subtle trick of bribing jotunn servants. Farthest from the great hall and the rest of the royal quarters, the tower caught most of the light.
Halfway through, the floor of carved ice was replaced by brushed sandstone, cut from the quarries of Muspelheim and maintaining their core of heat. Odds and ends cluttered the space, a set of chairs upholstered in yellow Ljós silk, strings of small animal skulls, brightly colored feathers, spotted pelts and glossy scales, and jars and jars of dark glass that seemed to be swirling with nothing more than smoke. And books, tottering stacks of books, books lying painfully open-faced on the floor, books thrown across the room in contempt.
The air was moist and smelled faintly of damp soil and… green. A dozen clay pots lined a shelf just out of direct light, spilling over with lush broad leaves, a riot of decadence in this land of ice.
Unlike the chambers used by the Jotnar, a fireplace had been carved into the wall, and a small green fire was burning in the grate. A striped animal skin covered the hearth, and Loki was stretched bonelessly on his side, chortling to himself as he scrawled rude commentary in the margins of a scroll.
In the colder half, a small jotunn boy sat cross-legged on the ice, picking a skein of silk out of a tangle of hair. He looked up as Thor crossed the threshold, and stared at him goggle-eyed in fright. Loki glanced over his shoulder and smiled.
“Hello, prince. You seem to have a talent for finding me.” He waved a hand at the servant boy. “Hlaði, get out.”
“But, the Farbauti-king said I was to –”
“Leave, or I’ll turn you into a newt and step on you.”
A spark of green light went off behind the boy, and with a yelp, Hlaði scrambled out of the room.
“That was not very nice,” said Thor.
“Did you want an audience? Don’t fret. Likely he’s still here with his ear pressed to the door.” Loki pulled a blunted rapier out of the fire, and jumped to his feet. “Shall we stick this in the keyhole to find out?”
Thor made a grab for him and the rapier went clattering to the floor. Loki looked pointedly down at his wrist for Thor to release him, and smiled slowly.
“Such a soft heart, prince. You should make sounds as if you’re ravishing me. He might get a reward.”
And he leaned over and moaned obscenely in Thor’s ear. “mmmnn, you’re so big… please, yes, right there… ohhhhh… yes, Thor, yesss….”
Heat flared up Thor’s neck and his body was tingling, sensitive to how close they were and not touching.
Soon they heard footfalls fleeing down the flight of stairs.
Loki grinned, and patted Thor on the shoulder. “There, that should do it. You were lovely. We should do that again sometime. Come sit with me by the fire.”
Loki made a space for him on the pelt, and, flushed and against his better judgment, Thor sat down next to him and let Loki guide his hand over the stiff, glossy hairs that made up a fingerprint pattern of black and white stripes.
“It is from a beast in Midgard,” said Loki, “called a xee-pra. The Midgardians harness them for steeds. It is said that their young are born gold and they can sniff out a wench’s maidenhead.”
In case you wanted a virgin.
Thor tried to collect his thoughts, tried to temper the eddies of an undefined rage, smooth the frayed ends of senses that had been slowly stoked to a flame over the course of this visit.
Loki was looking at him oddly.
“Not that I am not pleased to see you, friend Thor, but was there something you wanted?”
“I wanted to say I am sorry for earlier,” said Thor. “I am sorry if our ways caused offense, and that your brother used them to wound you. Indeed, if I had known such sordid talk was batted about – ”
take the little bitch for a good tumble in the hay.
“You’re apologizing for Bỳleistr now? Why? Did you make him that way?” Loki gave a disinterested shrug. “Well, I suppose in a matter of speaking you did. Never you mind, friend Thor.”
“What do you mean I made him that way?” demanded Thor.
“What, Bỳleistr?” And Loki snickered rather cruelly. “He wants you so badly he stinks of it. It would be adorable if it weren’t so pathetic.” His smile was crooked and bitter. “You should surprise them all and choose young Bỳleistr to wed, prince. It will be funny. No, he will pine away long before that. Take pity and have your way with him. Be rough. He will pretend he does not like it.”
– kissing Thor like that, and pretending it had never happened –
He took Loki by the arm and pulled him flush against him, and a red haze crashed up like a wave and carried him over.
– and he wanted to be friends? –
“You do not mean that.”
“Don’t I?” Loki tried to pull free of his iron grip, and failing, gave a breathless laugh. “How does it feel, friend Thor, to have us panting after you like bitches in heat? Does it excite you to have such power over us?”
“Stop it,” said Thor, shaking him harshly by the shoulders. “Stop it with your filthy lies. You’ve teased me into a frenzy long enough with this maddening dance, and you ascribe motives to others you hide yourself. Do not deny it.”
“What is this? Have you been listening to the vile things they say about me, prince of the Aesir?”
“No more lies. No more games. I would know your heart.”
“Why, friend Thor, this is all very sudden,” sneered Loki. “We’ve only just met. I’ve yet to spread my legs for you.”
With a strangled growl, Thor pushed him down on the skin of the Midgardian beast, and Loki struggled beneath him. The familiar heat stirred deep inside Thor, as narrow hips tried to buck him off and he ground his own throbbing arousal into them.
The satisfaction was fleeting – it only made the ache worse – and Thor leaned down to claim that snarling mouth, bruising him with his lips, tongue forcing open those bared teeth. But Loki did not bite. When finally Loki relented and let him in, it felt like triumph, and he shared breath until he had none left.
They pulled apart, wide-eyed and startled as chaste youths, when he caught sight of Loki’s face, and he thought it would break – but fingers were hastily working to open Thor’s breeches, and Thor could not protest when a warm mouth engulfed him. He groaned and sunk his fingers into that wild tangled hair as Loki played him in a glide of lips and tongue.
“This is… not an answer…” gasped Thor. A gentle grip worked at the base, and a flickering tongue licked up Thor’s quivering length.
“It is the best kind.”
Tremors of that voice were wet and hot, and a finger teased at him shamefully underneath. Thor jumped at the touch, and his laugh came in hitched breaths.
“You are, ahhh… incorrigible.”
“Is that so?” Loki said, in between kittenish licks. “Usually I am told I am very good at this.”
Thor tightened his grip on Loki’s hair and pushed him down to take his cock deeper, to silence that wicked tongue.
“No more,” gasped Thor. “No others. No one will touch you but me. Swear it... swear it to me.”
But the only assent from Loki was the bobbing of his head, as he sucked harder and let him loose in turns, a sly finger worming its way in and fucking him lazily, tipping him closer and closer to the edge.
What might have been laughter hummed around him, and with a cry, Thor shoved into that mouth, soft and hot and demanding, and Loki milked him to the last drop, as if he meant to draw the very worldtree from his loins.
Spent and relaxed, Thor stretched, and Loki reached over him to settle a pair of cushions under his head.
“That is not how we proceed in Asgard.”
Thor could not bring himself to sound very disgruntled, not with the satisfied grin stretching his face till it hurt.
“You don’t suck cock in Asgard?” Loki asked.
“Yes, we do. I mean, no I don’t. That is, I have not, but others have pleasured me in this manner…. This is not what I meant!”
“You’ve not sucked a man’s cock before?”
“No, I am not ergi. I take. I am not taken.”
Loki looked at him curiously. “You do not wish to be taken?” he asked. “But you desire to put your cock inside me. To take me fully in every way.”
Thor felt himself stirring again, the unbidden images making his cock twitch again, but he swallowed hard and tried to explain.
“It is our way. No honor is besmirched when a man penetrates another and makes him submit. But he cannot allow such a thing to happen to himself, or he is unmanned. He would be less than a man.” When Loki drew back, Thor added, hurriedly, “No, no. I did not mean you. It is different with you –”
Loki turned his head away.
“It does not give offense, prince of the Aesir. I am not even truly jotunn. What does it matter?” As if reciting a child’s lesson, Loki said, “I am neither steadfast as winter, unspoiled as snow, nor am I clear as the honest ice. You would like my royal brother, prince.” A fond smile curled into his voice. “Helblindi is all these things and more. You are well suited to each other.”
He shares our brother’s bed.
Jealousy stung him like hot needles, and Thor held Loki close and murmured into his hair. “Perhaps it would not be so damaging if I returned a favor…”
“But you have no skills! Why should I let your clumsy mouth anywhere near my prick?” And laughing at the look on Thor’s face, he said magnanimously. “All right, all right, I grant you leave to practice on me. As often as needed until you are perfect. It shall be my wedding present to my brother.”
Pillowed on Thor’s arm, Loki watched, amused, as Thor scowled and fumbled with the tiny jet buttons that dotted his elaborate garments down to his bare ankles.
“They are an initiate’s robes from the order of Naströnd,” Loki told him. “Among other things they promote, I believe, frustration. You’ll never get them with open with one hand. They require five.”
Recalling the servant boy, an expression of horror crept over Thor’s face. “This is not some sort of dread punishment, is it, to enforce chastity?”
“What peculiar notions you have, Aesir.” Loki snickered. “Does that excite you? I only wear them because I like the way they look.”
“They make you look like a demonic priest.”
“Would it please you better if I said I don them for my orgies? To have as many hands upon my body as –”
“Enough of this talk,” grumbled Thor. “You will not speak of yourself in such a way. And you will have no others. Only me.”
But another thought came to him.
“What you said about your brother, Bỳleistr. That was an untruth, yes?” The very thought made him queasy.
Loki smothered his laughter in Thor’s chest. “Why, friend Thor, are you disappointed? Did you wish to complete your rounds upon the sons of Laufey? I’m sure that can still be arranged.”
“Do not mock me,” said Thor. “I would have you speak plainly.”
Loki raised himself on one elbow and looked incredulous.
“You mustn’t take what I say so seriously, Thor. Half of it is in jest. If I am not allowed to prattle on, I believe I shall burst.” And tracing the line of Thor’s thunderous brows, he sighed. “No, Thor. The only way Bỳleistr would have your heart is carved out and roasted over a spit. He is very boring. There, are you pleased?”
“Tremendously. Now, I would know how you feel about me.”
“Haven’t you heard, prince?” Loki said lightly. “I have no heart.”
“I would know your heart,” insisted Thor. “I would know what you want.”
“What I want.” Loki rested his chin on the crook of Thor’s shoulder, and hummed. “What I want… what I want….”
He laughed again, and Thor wished he could see his face.
“I want endless dirt under my feet and grass and… forests. Have you seen a forest, friend Thor? Do you know what ferns are? I want a parrot and a chimera and jam for breakfast every day. You smell so good to me, Thor, did you know that? Exotic. Like fresh earth and leaves, like thunder and cordite and rain. I love the way you smell.”
He breathed in the scent of Thor’s neck, his hair, and his forehead, and when Thor took his lips again, they opened with a sigh.
Tender fronds of green waved above him, and Thor imagined the elaborate greenhouses he would have built in Asgard, exotic flora and fauna from all corners of the Nine Realms he would have brought in, and then it occurred to him, again a moment too late.
“You have not given me an answer,” grumbled Thor sleepily.
Loki only yawned and shifted against him.
“Friend Thor, I believe I have.”
Ullr found him choosing his weapons for the hunt. Thor nodded absently at him, and weighed the balance of a spear, switching from right hand to left.
“This has gone on long enough, Thor,” Ullr said testily. “You will end this.”
Thor did not pretend he didn’t understand. He did not tell himself he was fucking it out of his system, either. Because Ullr had been wrong; you did not temper a fire by feeding it. His trysts with Loki were moments stolen out of madness.
It had been Loki’s particular wish that Thor pleasure him on the throne of the god-king.
Because they were not completely mad, and both Ullr and Kvasir would take turns skinning Thor alive if they were caught, Loki snuck them in at night and Thor barred the doors with Mjölnir.
Kneeling was less shameful than Thor could ever have imagined, even if it was before Jotunheim. What was shame to lifting the many layers of robes and parting those thighs, to finally putting his lips on that enigmatic jotunn quim?
What he had not expected was to feel abashed at not knowing what to do with a man’s prick.
But Thor took to it readily and sloppily, and Loki jeered at his lack of technique and sang Ifngr sea shanties under his breath to hold off from spilling. That they could be caught only seemed to excite him more, and when he came, it was to the sound of a rattling at the great doors. Afterwards, Loki leaned down from his seat on the throne, his legs trembling and draped around Thor’s shoulders, and licked the seed from Thor’s face like a cat to the cream.
Thor figured that exploit had reached even Ullr’s ears by now, and he wanted to get this over with.
“Did you find a solution?” he demanded. At times, offense was the best defense.
“The solution has always been the same,” Ullr fumed. “You will be joined with the prince of Jotunheim. That you’ve dallied so long with that dissolute creature –”
“Then you haven’t found a solution.”
Ullr put a gnarled hand on his arm. “Tongues are a-wagging, Thor. Even the jotunns are starting to grouse. It is one thing to take him to bed, but this…. I am an old man, lad, but I know a thing or two about entanglements. They’re messy –”
“I will have him or none at all,” said Thor. Loki would be waiting for him outside the gates. There had been a sighting of migrating slätrogur to the east, and Loki had wanted a fine white pelt and a pair of golden horns.
The old man sighed, and slumped on the bench, looking every day of his three millennia and then some, and Thor felt himself soften with pity. But if Ullr brought up talk of concubines and the like –
“That might have been possible at one time,” said Ullr, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hands. “Before so much was put on the table from both sides. The treaty, the Casket, everything, Thor. They are opening the grazing boundaries in the Údaìnsakr. This realm will have limited trade and travel with Alfheimr in the next decade, even Vanaheimr within the next half century.”
“I know.” Thor sat down next to him and played with the tip of an arrow. “I sat with you at the bargaining table only yesterday, remember?”
Ullr snorted. “So, paying attention, were you?” He shook his head. “If there was not so much else at stake, if you had met under different stars, yes, Thor, you might have taken the half-breed home to Asgard, perhaps even to wed. But that is not the case now. These marriages of state are difficult enough as it is. What am I saying? Marriage is difficult enough. I should know. I’ve had five wives, and they’ve all left me. I’m damned grateful for my Yssa, but at times I wonder if she lets me into her bed because she feels sorry for me. I’ve done nothing to deserve it.”
“You’re a good man,” said Thor with a smile. “A cranky, nosy nag of an old man, but a good one.”
“I wish it could be easier for you, lad. I wish that you could take a sweet Aesir lass for your own, and simply love her as a man should love his wife.”
“If you think that is a simple matter,” said Thor, “then it is no wonder that your wives have left you.”
And realizing he had unwittingly been unkind, he patted Ullr on the knee. “I did not mean to be cruel, old man. Forgive me.”
Thor threw a shaggy fur over his shoulder and stood up. The light would hit its zenith in a few hours and drop quickly after that.
“Thor?” Ullr seemed to be struggling with his words for once. “Do you have feelings for the lad? Do you… do you love him?”
Thor drew himself up proudly. He was a prince, and this much was his. “That is between my jotunn and myself, Ullr. You overstep your bounds.” Then, he sighed. “I want this, old man. He is clever and fair and he makes me laugh, and I will have this. So find a way.”
Ullr looked up through his cragly white brows, cracked his knuckles one by one. “I’m sorry, lad. If anything, know that I am sorry. For this whole accursed mess, I am sorry.”
“I am not,” said Thor.
He was almost out the door, when Ullr cleared his throat again.
“The jotunns are different from us, Thor,” he warned. “Don’t you go forgetting that. The bastard witchling may wear our skin, but he is not Aesir. I am not saying he is deliberately false to you. But how do you know he returns your affections? If he even understands what that is? He may not be capable of it, and it will not be his fault, any more than you can blame a lizard for bleeding green.”
The hunt had not gone wrong from the start.
Even in the light of late afternoon, they had caught the trail early on, and followed the pack up a steep trail. Half the does had fled with their young, but Loki had eyes only for the stag. Whatever legends there were about slätrog, this one was no delicate spindly beast, even with its spotless coat of white. The great double horns on the stag were curved and deadly, and twice already, they had slashed through Thor’s armor as if it were linen.
And then they were gone, scattering up the terrain as if to reverse a snowdrift. That had been hours ago.
Thor marched through the packed snow, his left arm bound in a makeshift dressing. He could barely feel the ache from the wound for the cold. His spear was broken, and Loki had lost his sword, pulling Thor up a narrow ledge.
Now, he had gone ahead to scope out the trail. Thor rested for a while on a boulder and looked before him, at the endless expanse of snow and ice, and more ice.
Presently, he could make out the faint outline of a familiar figure drawing closer.
“We have to go back,” Loki shouted. “The light will fade soon, and I smell a storm blowing in from the west.”
Thor got to his feet. “No,” he shouted back. “You wanted this beast, and you shall have it. The cold does not bother you, and I am barely winded.”
“I wouldn’t say it doesn’t bother me. Thor, please –”
But Thor had had enough of spears and arrows and this sneaky Jotnar way of trapping. He spun Mjölnir in his hand and felt her power rise like the force of a tornado, and he laughed at the trepidation on Loki’s face. It was good to be out here in the open air, far from the corrupt and twisted ways of the palace, relying only on the honesty of his strength and skill.
“I will hunt this beast down, and make a gift to you of its skin,” promised Thor. “And I will take you upon it all night long, and plant my child in your belly.”
He was putting Mjölnir through her motions when he heard Loki shout. He’d turned halfway when out of nowhere the beast came charging and knocked him down. Its eyes were crazed and murderous, and none of the legends had mentioned that it grazed on flesh.
With it came the wolves lured by the scent of blood, five of them. They sprang as one, as the slätrog leapt over Thor’s head, leading the wolves to another prey.
Thor got in a powerful swing, battering the largest wolf first before Mjölnir went flying, twenty feet away and sunk deep in the snow. As he scrambled for the hammer, he felt the shadow of a beast fall upon him, and he threw himself at it before it could take a chunk out of his arm.
When the third wolf was pulled off his back, Thor went tumbling in the snow to reach for Mjölnir, and he laughed, the thrill of the fight coursing through his veins along with his second wind.
“Loki, so good of you to join…”
The words died on his lips.
For almost a fortnight, Thor had kept company with the jotunns, and thought himself accustomed to the towering strength of their warriors, the brutal markings they inflicted on their own blue skin, their harsh beauty. But compared to this one, they were oiled and well-fed, civilized and reasonable.
The jotunn that rose before him was a creature of the wild, cuts and ridges standing out on skin that was the blue of ancient ice. Rough bone, iridescent as the shells of scarabs, latched onto the hard angles of his bare body like patches of life clinging to the brutal climes of Jotunheimr itself, and cruel twisted horns curved from his head. Power rolled off his limbs like a storm in winter.
This was the face of the horned-god, the unspeakable otherness of the god-king of Jotunheimr.
This was no time to gawp.
The wolves circled them in, and when they leapt it was for Thor, who came up swinging Mjölnir. He flung them off, only to have them regroup and attack again, each one knocking him down to score a hit. A lean, wiry one came flying at his head, and in that opening the others followed.
With a deafening roar, the wild jotunn sliced through them with a blade of ice formed from his own hand, and it went through the wolves like a scythe cutting through wheat. Blood sprayed across Thor’s face in an arc.
The jotunn picked up the largest wolf and twisted its neck with a sickening crunch of bone, and did the same to the smaller wiry one. Whimpering, the rest of pack fled.
Then the jotunn whirled around, his attention caught by the flicker of white on snow. Daggers of ice went flying to pierce the stag. The slätrog struggled bleeding into the snow, bellowing madly and rolling the whites of its eyes in fear as the jotunn stalked toward it, playful and lazily cruel, and it was in that movement that Thor recognized Loki.
Loki tore open the thrashing beast to pull out its heart and threw the mangled organ carelessly in the snow where it landed at Thor’s feet. Then slowly, he ripped the white pelt off in one piece, and with a flourish, spread it out on the snow. The crooked smile was the same.
“You wished to see my jotunn face, Odinson,” said Loki, and beneath the wild harmonics, Thor could hear his voice. “Here you have it. And I will have you.”
Still thrumming with battle, Thor threw himself at the jotunn, and they went wrestling for dominance on the still-warm skin.
Across the darkening sky, thunder crashed after lightning, and Thor brought it down upon them, laughing and alive with energy. After all, he was a god, and a son of the greatest of the gods.
But this was Jotunheim, and around them the ancient ice awakened. From its depths it reached out in wisps of icy tendrils to curl over his limbs, to hold him down and part his thighs, and with the power of winter Loki entered him.
Split open upon an impossible heat, Thor felt himself fall apart and put back together again and again, unmanned and made elemental.
He pushed back against the brutal thrusts, relishing the slide and burn, and they bit and clawed and coupled in a wild frenzy, surrounded by the bodies of ruined beasts, as the storm drew over their heads and the land rumbled.
In the pleasure mounting above pain, before his vision went white and electric, Thor imagined he saw golden horns.
Chapter 4: Of secrets and lies which are my treasure
We interrupt our smutty programming for arguments concerning cultural differences.
Warnings: 1) violence, offstage and on
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Thor wandered through the darkness ashamed and aching, yet contentment flowed like a deep underground stream. His skin itched and felt too small for him and turned to ashes under a hundred scorching glances, so he shuffled it off like snake and flexed his shoulders, feeling weightless and free. Desire had burned its way through him, and it felt as if a fever had reached its peak and had broken in the night.
When Thor awoke, he thought it was dawn. But the dull light was from the brass stove next to his bed, and he felt unbearably hot.
“Water –” he croaked.
A hunched over figure in the chair started, and for a second he thought it was Loki, and he was filled with an inexplicable dread. But it was only Ullr, huddled in his furs and blankets.
“Awake are you? Finally. I thought you’d sleep off the rest of the month,” said Ullr, but came over to hand Thor a cup. Ice had formed a crust at the brim, and Thor broke it with his thumb and gulped down the wonderful coolness.
“Why is it so warm in here?” he asked. “And where is Leif? Have you made a servant of yourself to shackle me, old man?”
Pulling his voluminous furs closer, Ullr scowled at him. His nose was red from cold, as it had been for the whole of this visit. “This godsforsaken place is freezing as it’s always been, Thor, and I’ll be glad to see the last of it. You will be leaving after breakfast.”
“What? Why? We are not finished here.” His throat was parched, and he gulped down the icy water straight from the pitcher. Fishing out the pieces of ice, he rubbed them against his temples.
“You’ve tarried long enough. This situation is not unsalvageable, not yet. But you must leave.” Ullr paced the room, clenching and unclenching his fists.
That was when Thor noticed: Ullr looked as if he had not changed his clothes for some time, or sat down to eat, or stopped to sleep except in fits and spurts in a chair. There was a smear of dried blood on his sleeve.
“How long have I been sleeping?” Thor asked, slowly.
Ullr looked at him, haggard. “Five days. Six on the morrow. Do you have any idea what you’ve put me through? When you were brought back like that –”
“What are you saying?”
Unbidden, memory came back in scraps: the hunt, the stag and the wolves, and the wild jotunn. How they had grappled in the snow. How he had allowed himself to be taken, how he had wanted it –
“Thanks be to blessed Yggdrasil, Leif was the only one. He cleaned you up, tended to your bruises and the… soiling.” Ullr’s face twisted in distaste.
“Brought back?” urged Thor. His head was pounding with blood. “Who brought me back? Did you see him?”
Ullr waved his hand. “Some brute of a jotunn. Does it matter? You were naked as a babe, wrapped up in filthy furs. Ripped right off the back of some animal it looked like, raw and the blood freezing over. And the state you were in! No one seeing you’d have any doubt as to how you’d been used.”
“You dare –!”
“I dare, Thor! I dare because I’m the one mopping up your messes!” Ullr shook his fist, and tottering back, sank into his chair. He looked frail and old, and his hand shook as he poured himself some wine. “None for you. You’ll be needing a clear head.”
Thor sat back on the bed and willed away the sick, clammy feeling on his skin.
“Will you call me ergi, old man?” said Thor, with a wan smile. He sighed when Ullr pounded the goblet on the table, sloshing wine over his fist.
“Don’t you be saying that word, Thor,” growled Ullr. “I’ll have no man throwing muck at Asgard. I’ve served your father’s throne long and well, and I’ll serve yours, even in my death.”
Thor shook his head. “I need not prove my worth against such cowardly slurs. I will not call you out to holmgang, Ullr. Let such talk be ended here.”
“And just what do you think I’ve been doing? Running after servants to see who to hush up, making up excuses, lies, barring entry to your rooms. No one else has seen you, none but myself and Leif. If the jotunns knew –”
“The jotunns don’t care about such things.”
“Don’t be a fool, Thor! Has going native made you soft in the head? It is one thing to satisfy a few sordid cravings in your own bedchamber, but out in the open? Where anyone could see you? How would you like to have it bruited about that you submitted to the Jotnar? How would that fly in Asgard? We are not at peace yet. Or have you forgotten that we are not amongst friends? Are you prepared to slay every single jotunn who scorned you to your face? Or will you turn the other cheek even then?”
“They would not – he would not betray me so….”
“No,” said Ullr sourly. “That is your honor speaking, not his. Who knows that they didn’t put him up to this to crow over you? The mighty Thor, the great prince of Asgard, brought low by a slip of a jotunn witch.”
“No,” said Thor, but he faltered.
“No?” scoffed Ullr. “Because the Jotnar are incapable of such womanish scheming? Because he is not the sort to boast? That is not what I’ve heard.”
Thor’s mouth went dry, and he struggled for words. “Did he… did he ask for me? You said I had slept for five days. Did he come to see me?”
Ullr didn’t answer, pouring himself some more wine, and drained the cup to its leas. When he finally put his cup down, he stared at Thor with a grim set to his mouth, and said, “No.”
That spurred Thor to anger.
“You turned him away, didn’t you?” he accused Ullr, ignoring the hollow blow to his chest. “He came to my door and you shooed him away as if he were a beggar!”
“No, Thor, I did not.”
In the dead of silence that descended, Thor could feel his heart dragged behind him like an anchor through sludge. With effort he got to his feet. “Then, I will go see him –”
“No! Have you no pride, man? No, not now.” Weary, Ullr shook his head. “It is in the middle of the night, Thor. We are not finished.”
They paused as the door to the chamber creaked open, and Ullr’s man servant Leif entered with scrolls of parchment in the crook of one arm and a fresh change of clothes draped over the other. His head was bowed, and he wouldn’t meet Thor’s eyes.
Thor nodded at him kindly.
“I hear I have you to thank for watching over me. Thank you, friend.” The man approached and knelt at the foot of the bed. “When we are in Asgard, you will be rewarded for your discretion.” Thor’s brows furrowed in consternation. “Why will you not speak?”
Ullr drummed his fingers on the table. “Show him, Leif.”
The man opened his mouth, and Thor saw where his tongue had been was now an empty blackened clot. He made a strangled sound at Thor and tried to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace.
“What is the meaning of this, Ullr?!” cried Thor.
“I could not have a thrall spreading malicious gossip about the prince of Asgard!” snarled Ullr. “He is not a freed man. You could not challenge him and defend your honor as if he were an equal.”
Angrily, Ullr gathered the scrolls from Leif and nodded at him to go. “He’s served me faithfully for fifty years, and this is how I repay him.” Ullr shook his head, tired and diminished, looking shrunken to half his size as he unfurled the parchment and handed Thor a pen.
“We all have our place on the world tree, Thor. We each have our roles. If you shake the branches too hard, don’t be surprised when you break a hapless twig. I’m here to make sure you don’t uproot us whole. You’re going home, Thor. You’ve been away long enough. Agree to the terms and go. Kvasir and I will finish here and follow. If you must see your bastard, see that he is silenced. Make sure he doesn’t tell tales. It is over.”
Farbauti-king and his retinue were at the other end of the courtyard, and it was too late to change direction for politeness sake, but Loki was beyond caring. He did not, however, count on Helblindi, who swooped down upon him.
“Brother, you are beautiful again!” He spun Loki around in a twirl, running his hands over the pattern of coils and spirals that adorned Loki’s shoulders and back. “I have missed your true face.”
“Let me down, you oaf.” Loki shoved him off and glared up at the larger jotunn.
The wildness had retreated but for an edge of savagery that clung to his hands, leaving him spare and smooth-limbed again. But he had coiled seið into his hunt, and in certain lights his horns gleamed with a golden sheen. Helblindi could not help touching them, and a hand reached down to fondle him through the ceremonial loincloth.
“Don’t touch me!” Loki slapped his brother’s hand away, and Helblindi seized his wrist in a painful grip and yanked him close.
“Are you solely for the Aesir’s use now?” Helblindi’s face darkened in anger. “Have you adopted their vicious halfthing ways? Does he own you? Does he keep you chained and kneeling, too? Do you like it?”
Loki snarled at him. “You put me aside first, brother. Don’t come crying to me that you’ve changed your mind. After the likes of you, how can he help but please me? I’ve had horses better than you.”
A hand went up to strike, and a spark of seið ignited the air between them.
Rage fled the prince’s face as quickly as it had come, melting into sorrow instead as he took Loki’s face firmly in his hand.
“Have you fallen for the Aesir, brother? He will take your heart and leave you for dead. I warned you. They are a cruel and greedy people.”
Laughter spilled onto the ice, and looking up at the sharp-eyed gaze of the Farbauti-king, they both flinched. It was never a good sign when Farbauti laughed.
“The Aesir cannot help themselves,” said Farbauti, dismissing his followers with a wave. “It is the nature of halfthings to be greedy because they are themselves empty. They shred to pieces all that is whole and perfect out of jealousy. How can they not, when they are split in two, male and female,” he sneered. “The one hates the other for being what he lacks in himself, and they defile the act of coupling and use it to punish.”
Helblindi bowed his head in deference.
“That is so, my sire. But the beasts of the field are split into male and female, and are they not part of the wonder that is creation?”
“Then it is only further proof that the Aesir are beasts grasping beyond their state of grace,” pronounced the Farbauti-king. “The Jotnar are the oldest of beings in creation and the wisest, and we live in harmony with the land.”
“Yes,” sneered Loki. “That’s why we’re huddled on this miserable piece of ice, cut off from the rest of the Nine Realms. Because we are so perfect. You’re absurd.”
Anger, too close to the surface, crackled, and the Farbauti-king seized Loki by the hair and dragged him quickly across the hall to the seclusion of a darkened chamber.
“Don’t think I didn’t notice what you did on the hills, you selfish runt. How dare you! And you,” he whirled around to shake off Helblindi, who had followed them, clinging to Farbauti’s sleeve. “Leave!”
“It was my fault, my sire,” Helblindi pleaded with him. “I goaded him first. Loki meant no disrespect.”
“You spineless idiot,” hissed Farbauti. “He binds you to his bed and withholds giving you a child, and still you defend him?”
“It is not that way,” Helblindi insisted. “I am not capable of bearing, and I would not ask for what I could not give in return.”
“That’s what he says. He’s fed you his lies for years. Get out of my sight, worm!”
Helblindi didn’t dare linger, and the door rattled behind his hasty departure, leaving Loki and Farbauti snarling at each other in the darkness.
“I’ve put up with your filthy half-breed presence sullying my table and my hall, corrupting my children, poisoning everything you touch, while you lap up the Laufey-king’s indulgence. This time you’ve gone too far. How dare you raise winter to feed your petty desires! Did the Odinson get you with child? I will not stand for this.”
Farbauti pushed Loki down to the floor, his clawed hand fumbling across Loki’s pelvis. “No, there is no child, good.”
In that brief lull, Loki kneed him in the gut and as he convulsed with a grunt, Loki formed a dagger and stabbed Farbauti’s hand to the floor where it sank deep. Farbauti screamed and backhanded him across the room, and Loki went rolling into a wall.
“Why such concern?” Loki scrambled to his feet. “You’ve schemed long enough for your son to bear a half-breed.”
“You, who are bound to the land, and you offer it up to Asgard!" screeched Farbauti. "Would you have Asgard put you on your back and take our throne from us, too? Helblindi is king!”
“How quickly you depose my royal dam. Does he know your heart is full of knives?”
In his rage, Farbauti struggled with the dagger, and it sliced further up his hand. “You will end this now before it goes too far,” he said, hissing and spitting in pain. “Break it off. Break off this affair, or I will break both your legs for you. We shall see if Asgard enjoys mounting a cripple.”
The pale morning light slanted in through the doorway, blinding them for a moment, during which pause the Laufey-king strode into the room. Helblindi looked glumly in from the threshold.
“Am I to have no peace in my own house?”
Laufey plucked the ice dagger out of Farbauti’s hand and clucked his tongue.
“Loki-child, such disrespect. Is this the obedience you show a parent who has brought you up, cared for you when you were small and helpless? And you, my love,” said Laufey, sending a lop-sided smile at Farbauti, who sucked in his breath through his teeth. “My love, surely you must know that to tell my child he cannot have a thing is to make him want it even more.”
With a heavy sigh, the Laufey-king lowered himself down on an elaborately carved bench and patted either side of his seat. “Come here, come here, sit beside me,” he said, and put his arms around them when gingerly they did.
“The two of you are so alike though you share no blood, cunning and fierce and so deadly. Is it a wonder that I should love you both?” He held Farbauti’s injured hand in his lap, palm up, and turned to his son. “Now, Loki-child, apologize.”
Loki swallowed hard, but bowed his head penitently over the king’s lap, and Laufey did not release the stern grip on his neck as he licked at Farbauti's wound until it was closed up completely.
“There, now we are all friends.”
Farbauti sputtered. “After what he did? You allow him to run wild with nary a check. He will be the ruin of us!”
“Yes, what I did.” Loki’s eyes were bleeding green poison into his jotunn red again. “You did not care how I played before. Something happened out there, and I felt Jotunheimr inside me. What was it?”
Laufey-king clapped his hands. “Helblindi, you are my son, not a door stop. Go and see to the Aesir. They are leaving today, and you will wish to give your farewells to your betrothed.”
Loki’s head jerked up at that, and Farbauti laughed at the startled look on his face.
“Why, did he not care to tell you, Loki? And after you waited so faithfully for him to whistle for you, like a… what is it the Aesir call their tame wolves? The ones that eat out of their hands and crawl on their bellies when they are kicked? Ah, yes, like a dog.”
Loki dropped his gaze and stared wide-eyed and unblinking at his hands. Shaking his head, Helblindi left them.
Idly, the Laufey-king pulled off his rings and put them on Loki’s fingers, where, too large, they hung over his knuckles.
“What is this, my child?” he asked with amusement. “Did you harbor some tender hope?
“No, of course not. I merely dislike not knowing.”
“Good. Because false hope will only make you weak. It is the soft underbelly where your enemies can slice you open.” The Laufey-king put his hand in Loki’s hair. “I could never give you to Asgard, Loki-child.”
“Why not?” Loki played with the rings, stacking them on one finger, then moving them to his other hand. “Why can I never leave Jotunheim?” And he smiled sweetly as he put them back on the king’s hand. “Who was my father? Was he an Aesir during the war? Did he force himself on you? Was it more horrible than bedding Farbauti?”
Farbauti jumped to his feet and stalked to the other side of the room, but Laufey only laughed and tugged at his son’s hair. “As if any Aesir could touch me against my will and live.”
“So my father lives.”
“Would you like to go to Asgard, Loki?” Laufey-king asked with a wolfish smile. “Then you shall. You may go with your brothers to Asgard, where Helblindi will be joined to his Aesir prince by the Allfather according to their custom, and you shall watch. Would that be worth a taste of freedom?”
Smiling took effort, and Loki’s voice wavered. “Is my father as cruel as you?”
“He is far worse, so do not seek him out, Loki-child. Come with me.”
In silence, they crossed the courtyard and walked through the hallways. Through the sudden stirring of activity, the servants hurriedly bowed out of their way. The morning meal was usually a casual affair, but this was to be the last occasion for the court to play host to their Asgardian guests.
The king paid them no heed, and Loki hastened to keep up with him.
The temple was empty but for the novices who swept the aisles, and they too fled at a sign from the Laufey-king. He walked over to the altar of the old gods and with his hand on Loki’s head, he guided his son down to his knees.
Loki looked up at him. “Farbauti said I was bound to the land.”
Laufey sighed and the light from the high round windows hit the angles of his face, only to make them sharper.
“Yes, and the land chooses the king. Helblindi will be king because you chose him, and through you, Jotunheim. Asgard cannot have Jotunheimr, my child. We cannot allow that. We have lost far too much, and not yet gained back our ground. That is why you will give up your Aesir.”
The king sat next to him, leaning against the altar, and he cupped his son’s chin in the palm of his hand. Loki scowled, unable to turn away, and the easy guise of petulance masked his hurt.
“I don’t see why. In the end I will have nothing. I cannot be king, I cannot leave Jotunheim, I cannot have Th….” He faltered on the name, as if he dared not expose it to the air.
From the altar, the Laufey-king drew forth blue wisps, his own magic twining with the ancient ice to bind his son.
“You are granted respite this once, to set foot in Asgard. I have said that you shall have a taste of freedom, and you shall. See all that you may enjoy if you are good and obedient. Let our plans come to pass, and then return to our grace.”
“Only to have it snatched away from my lips forever? Will I spend the rest of my years yearning for what I can’t have?” But his face had gone still at the mere possibility.
The tendrils of magic crept over the blue of his skin and the markings on his back flared gold before they turned smoldering black. Loki bit back a whine as the spirit of ice cut deep into his bones, and he lowered his forehead to the icy floor.
The Laufey-king smoothed his hand over his son’s back, and his eyelids fluttered as the power of Jotunheimr passed through to him.
“Once the Casket is returned to us,” said Laufey, “you will have more, I promise you that, child. Once the Casket restores us to our power, you will be free to roam, leave Jotunheim, see all the Nine Realms, all the things you’ve read about in those books you love so much. Trees, grass, sand dunes, fiery pits and jungles and strange, beautiful, growing things. Feel on your skin what ‘tropic’ truly means. You will have your heart’s desire: freedom, and with it, experience. Is that not a greater thing than playing at being one man’s strumpet?
“But if you break this bargain and endanger the throne of Jotunheim through your weakness, you will be confined forever to the ice and never leave again.”
Laufey rose to his feet and looked down at the crumpled heap before the altar. “Which is not such a bad thing, my child. I would find much comfort in keeping you close to me forever.”
And with that he left the temple.
Because no matter what his enemies said of him, the Laufey-king was not cruel at heart, and he did not particularly enjoy listening to the wretched, broken sounds coming from his son.
Chapter 5: You can't always get what you want
All the ya-yas that come with planning a big wedding.
Chapter title is from that song by the Rolling Stones. If you know it, you know how the rest of the refrain goes.
The Jotnar had made camp in a field outside the city, and from the palace, Thor could count their lights burning late into the night. In the morning, he would ride out with a welcoming party and escort them into Asgard, but for now he was relieved to wait.
In the weeks since he’d returned from Jotunheim, it had become increasingly difficult to escape the sight of elaborate preparations or to avoid congratulations without seeming churlish, with everyone from gentle Idunn to the stableboy sweeping the yard stopping to wish him joy. Asgard had always loved a good party, and the celebrations for the royal wedding would go on for nine days and nights beginning tomorrow.
This too was another exercise in patience, in control.
Ever since Jotunheim, Thor had woken up in the middle of the night clawing at his chest and burning with rage, feeling that nothing would soothe his pain but to beat Loki to a raw pulp. If Loki were here before him now, Thor would bash his skull in. The mighty Thor, left hollow and humiliated because a runt of a jotunn had dismissed him as unworthy of his concern.
“But, of course.” That morning, Loki had agreed only too smoothly. “It shall be as if it has never been, friend Thor. No, not friend. You are to be my brother now.” He’d leaned in to give Thor a dry peck at the corner of his mouth and gone on his way. Later, when members of the court came to bid Thor safe journey, he had the temerity to look bored. And just as easily, it was over.
With a howl of rage, Thor overturned a heavy oak bench, and a saddlebag he’d brought home from Jotunheim went flying against the wall. Its contents spilled across the floor. A scrap of rude verse Loki had written comparing his endowment to a great stallion’s, a small pot of honey in which he had dipped his fingers so Loki could suckle on them, a length of twisted cord that had bound Thor’s hands, a button he had torn off those infernal robes –
He threw them one by one into the fire, a grim satisfaction settling over him as they crackled and spat in the flames, when he remembered. The furs. Ullr had said he had been wrapped in that bloody fur. Thor went through his trunks twice, but it was not there.
The glamour for their entry into Asgard was subtle, not merely a donning of an Aesir illusion as they had before in Jotunheim. This time, the glamour fit closer to their spare jotuun bodies, their broad shoulders and slim hips. It retained their natural hue, which was important, but seið transmuted the coarseness of that hide to a smooth, breathable skin that seemed to invite touch.
It was not merely to appease Aesir sensibilities; the new skin kept the Asgardian heat comfortable on their jotunn bodies. Under this cover, their fierce warrior’s markings shimmered like pale blue flames. Loki had worked through the night adjusting each skin to each jotunn.
But it suited Helblindi best, tall and strong, looking every bit the leanly muscled warrior that Asgard admired, and beguilingly female when he turned at the waist.
Their faces Loki had left smooth, though from the sharp ridges of their skulls rose wisps of cold, eerie white and shot with blue suggesting tufts of hair. All except for Bỳleistr’s which came down his shoulder blades from a high ponytail. He’d insisted on it.
Bỳleistr was making his horse prance in circles. The Asgardian party had brought them their rides at dawn, and after an hour of practice, the jotunns found that riding the powerful horses of Odin was not so different from riding elgläg in Jotunheim, their mouths being more responsive to commands.
But Bỳleistr was more curious about exploring his skin.
“What are these, Loki? They bounce when I am riding, and they are quite soft.” Clutching his reins in one hand, he felt up his plump breasts with the other. “And they’re sensitive, too. It’s quite a pleasant sensation. No, not so hard, idiots! If you squeeze them till they burst, I’ll have you eat your own pricks.”
The other jotuuns had clustered around to touch his ample chest with innocent curiosity.
“They are called breasts,” said Loki, smothering a smirk. “Asgardian females use them to give nourishment to their newborn. Among other things.”
“What other things?” demanded Bỳleistr.
“Well, for one thing, exposing them could immobilize the male and reduce their intelligence somewhat,” said Loki, with a sidelong glance at Ullr, who had come with the Asgardian greeting party and looked as if he would die of apoplexy.
“So, they are used as weapons?” said Bỳleistr with a laugh. Like cats in a dairy, he and Loki were observing how both Ullr and Fandral’s faces were turning interesting shades of red and purple.
“The males claim they are quickened to lust, though these breasts serve no reproductive function,” explained Loki primly. “There is quite a large body of poetry written about them, and they are considered very beautiful. Asgardian customs of decency require they be covered in polite company. Possibly to prevent the males from becoming too stupid at the sight of them.”
“They are like your horns, then,” said Bỳleistr jealously. “And those you insist on flaunting whenever you please. Am I the only one with breasts?” He looked around at their group. “Good. Make them larger, Loki. I wish to be better armed.”
“As you wish.”
Loki pulled his horse next to Bỳleistr’s and smoothed his fingertips over his brother’s chest. Bỳleistr cupped them to overflowing in his hands and cried delightedly, “I love them! I’m never taking them off!”
Helblindi disguised a laugh into a cough. “If they make you happy, brother… though the notion is unsettling.” He turned to Loki. “You say the Asgardian females feed this flesh of their hearts to their newborn whelps? Wouldn’t that hurt?”
Loki shrugged. “I’ve only read about it, and poetry is elusive. Usually, it is not the babes who are doing the feasting.”
Helblindi shuddered and muttered, “cannibals,” under his breath.
“My young prince,” said Ullr. “This is an unseemly display. We must enter the city soon. Perhaps you would consider returning to your normal form?”
“No,” said Bỳleistr coldly. “If I am to look acceptable to Asgard, I don’t see why Asynjur breasts are unseemly.”
“But you are not female!” protested Ullr.
“I think they’re quite lovely,” said Fandral with a worshipful air, and Bỳleistr spared him a scathing look.
“No one asked you, Asgard,” he sneered, which only seemed to charm Fandral even more.
“Loki, stop this,” growled Thor. He had not spoken since they had arrived with gifts of horses from Odin and clothing from Frigga,
Loki turned to Thor, not meeting his eyes, and bowed his head in a mockery of meekness. “Your grace, I would abase myself on my knees to fulfill your every desire, but I am caught between my royal brother’s order and your own, and I am only a humble seiðmaðr. I would be obeying one master only to meet with disdain from the other.”
A snort of disbelief came from the jotunn high prince. “You are being insufferable, Loki.”
Helblindi snuck up on Bỳleistr to pull an Asgardian garment over his head, and tugged it down to cover him up. It had a silvery weave, gathered at one shoulder and the waist, and came down to mid-thigh to allow for free-movement. Then, he slapped the rump of his youngest brother’s horse to set him off. Scowling, Bỳleistr galloped on ahead.
Loki remained the only one who had kept his own jotunn skin, with his long twisted horns and his shaggy mane. This was not the feral visage Thor had seen in the hills, and he was beginning to think he had only imagined that wild jotunn. Fine and narrow, Loki’s jotunn face was not very different from his Aesir face.
But among the sleek gleaming bodies of the others, he looked like a slight forest creature that had wandered into their midst. He refused the Asgardian clothing, and the iridescent bone over his scars and ridges looked like mollusks clinging to salt rock.
Dodging out of Helblindi’s grasp, Loki kicked spurs to his horse to join Bỳleistr, and with a huge grin Fandral caught up with the two of them, their horses chasing one another’s tails in figure eights. Byleistr threw out his chest proudly and laughed, and it made Thor queasy to think that this surprisingly attractive young girl was the vicious jotunn prince he knew. In the morning light, Loki’s horns glinted gold, and on his shoulders rested the soft white coat of the slätrog. Thor heaved a sigh. Another piece fell silently into place.
“That little peacock,” said Helblindi, rolling his eyes. “He’s always been so vain about his looks. Look at him preening and parading about, the teasing minx. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Thor steadied his horse to canter alongside Helblindi’s massive charger as they rode into Asgard, his eyes not leaving Loki’s icy blue skin, and he tried to clamp down the heat that flared up inside as if it had never been squelched by hatred.
“In Asgard, they will make much of your lovely brother,” said Thor. “Or rather, your lovely sister, I should say.”
Helblindi regarded him balefully.
“I meant the other one.”
The jotunns made a striking display as they rode into Asgard, and in their glamour, did not look very terrible, only different enough to be exotic. But it was when Thor stood before the gathered crowd and awkwardly brought Helblindi’s hand to his lips that the ice broke. Helblindi bowed, and laughing, brought Thor’s fingers to his own lips and kissed them in exactly the same way.
It started a trend, spreading like a fire through the women, and Asgard went wild for the prince of Jotunheim.
With the upcoming royal wedding, and its promise of peace and prosperity, the golden city flung open its gates and embraced the strangers with the boisterous embrace of tolerance. Suddenly, everything Jotnar was in fashion, and the Aesir celebrated and painted themselves blue. Against this wave of exuberance, the old ways seemed musty and crumbling, and even the Allfather closed his wise eye, as if to condone this new permissiveness. It was, after all, according to his plan.
Through all this, stifling the growing unease that he had somehow been cheated, Thor dutifully entertained his betrothed. He sat at the high table and listened to Tyr and Viðar regale them with tales of their last hunt, Freyr with his wanderings in the wild woods of Vanaheimr and Alfheimr, and the court avidly watched the antics of Bỳleistr, that fierce jotunn princess, who, with her long coltish limbs and lovely chest and sharp tongue, was a favorite with everyone.
“She’s in love with me,” said Fandral, leaning over Thor’s shoulder.
Thor gave a snort, and bowed his head as Helblindi poured golden wine into his cup, and Thor poured for him in return. It was another new tradition. The jotunn prince was guffawing into hand, while the jotunn lord Thrym and Kvasir loudly disagreed on methods of fresh and salt water salmon fishing, and Volstagg insisted that he could stand in a stream and have the fish jump straight into his mouth.
Fandral tugged Thor to his feet, and they left the table to walk.
“You think all the women are in love with you,” said Thor. “I hate to break it to you, friend, but he seems more interested in Sif.” He raised his goblet in salute at the faces that turned to beam at him.
“You mustn’t limit yourself with that stodgy way of thinking, oh mighty Thor,” said Fandral. “A jotunn can be a lovely maid, too. And that chase is purely for my benefit. She knows how I would love to have both of them. Can you imagine? I would enter into her Valhalla with such delicious pleasure, and taste their sweet lips one after the other.”
“Don’t let Sif hear you talking like that or it won’t be Valhalla you’re seeing,” said Thor, laughing. “Imagine your grave marker: Here lies deluded Fandral, slain by his own loose tongue. It would be too sad. And watch out for that jotunn. The only thing sharper than his teeth will be the dagger sticking out of your back.”
“Thor, you wound me when you malign my lady love,” said Fandral, with a hand to his chest. “But it is good to hear you laugh again. You’ve sat at that table glowering for too long. You looked….”
“What? How did I look? Don’t say I look nervous. I am not nervous.”
“You looked … constipated,” said Fandral, and shrugged, “but, oh well, nervous would do the trick, too. It’s only –”
“— pre-wedding jitters,” they said together, and Thor took a swig from his goblet, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I know, I know, Volstagg’s told me a dozen times, if not three dozen, how he couldn’t eat for days before he was wed. If you can believe that.”
They swerved out of the way, as children dashed past them down the steps, giggling, to race to a corner of a secluded garden, where Loki sat, and they thrust a bunch of daisies in his hands. In awe, they stroked his rough blue skin, and he crouched down to let them touch his horns, and shrieking and giggling some more, the children ran off. He looked such an odd creature, more an object of curiosity than anything, and Thor knew that some in Asgard thought he was some primitive throwback the jotunns kept with them for good luck.
A nudge at his side brought him back.
“What are they really like, Thor?” asked Fandral. “Beneath all this shine and glamour they’ve put on. Do the jotunns eat their meat raw and mix their wine with blood? Do they kill their rivals to take their mates? Do they expose their babes to the elements, and raise only the survivors? And do they really have both sets of genitals?”
“How should I know that?” snapped Thor, and in the distance Loki looked up and waved his flowers, but it was at Balder, who had come to sit next to him.
“You stayed with them for some time,” said Fandral, unruffled, and he patted Thor on the shoulder. “Weren’t you the least bit curious?”
They made their way down the marble walk. Balder was speaking to Loki in that earnest, heartfelt way that he had.
“Now there’s an odd duck, don’t you think?” said Fandral, with a nod at the pair. “Quite the shy deer, that Loki. The Valkyrie and the Einherjar have made something of a pet of him, though. They fight to have him sit at their table and goad each other into telling more and more outrageous tales, just to see him blush. They’ve written some truly dreadful verses about it – is it azure or cerulean or sapphire? Aquamarine or lazuline?”
“What absolute rubbish,” said Thor. “He can blush?”
“I didn’t say they were very good poets.” Fandral shrugged. “Who knew there were so many flowery words for blue?”
Thor had not sought Loki out, had gone out of his way to avoid him, his eyes trying to skip over where Loki might be at the high table. He had certainly not expected him to be consorting with the warriors.
Fandral was rocking on his heels with amusement. “Why? Because it’s a challenge! He’s untouched, you know, pure. Trust me on this one, Thor. I can spot a virgin a mile away. It’s a special sense that I have. They’re taking bets on who can seduce him first. Hildr, the captain of the Valkyrie, swears she’ll be the one to make a man out of him, and she’ll claim his maidenhead, too. Last night, Sanngriðr almost cut off Theoric’s hand for daring to put it on the poor thing’s knee – ”
It was easier to laugh when Thor found the whole situation so hilariously bleak, and he laughed until his sides hurt and smashed his goblet on the ground. “Is that so? Fools, the whole pack of them, nothing but blind fools. I hope he eats them alive.”
Fandral frowned at the wine spilled on the stone and the broken goblet.
“Now that was rather harsh, don’t you think, Thor? We’re more open-minded than that. He is rather fetching, in an offbeat sort of way. Personally, I think he and Balder would make a sweet little couple. Maybe this is paving the way for another royal wedding, Thor. Wouldn’t that be something? Maybe we’ll all take wives from the jotunns from now on.”
Under the shade of a willow tree, Balder crowned a wreath of daisies around Loki’s horns.
A great white oak offered its shade over the well of Mimir. It was called the Gallow’s Tree after Odin, though it was probably not the actual oak where he had hanged for nine days and nights in order to attain higher wisdom. Two ravens sat in its pale boughs, and this night, there was an interloper as well. Odin had expected him sooner.
“Greetings, Allfather,” said Loki. “Or should I say, father?”
The Allfather inclined his head, beckoning him to come down from the tree, but Loki shook his head, and one of the ravens – it was Muninn – perched in his golden horns and cawed mournfully down at the Allfather.
“Did you wish to consult the well?” asked Odin.
“The price is rather high,” said Loki. “And I wish to keep my little eye for now. It’s rather useful to me. I was spying for a seiðmaðr, one powerful enough to draw the lifeforce of Jotunheim, with a strong enough stomach to go up against Laufey.”
“And did you find him?” Odin leaned against the well to look up at Loki, who was swinging his feet.
“You tell me,” said Loki. “There was no other seiðmaðr who marched with the Asgardian forces that last spring. None except you. They always forget, because you are the most powerful being in the nine realms that you are – how do you Aesir say it? – a womanish practitioner of the seið. But you were no woman when you took Laufey, were you?”
“Come down from the tree, Loki.”
Loki gave a pleased laugh. “You know my name.”
“Of course I do. I was the one who gave it to you.”
The kindly smile on the Allfather’s face only made him look more otherworldly, beyond life and death, and wise, a cosmic being belonging to the stars and not to be tied down by petty connections such as this.
Against that, Loki’s hatred was a small, futile thing that made no impact, and stupidly it brought the tears stinging to his eyes. He hated, and he felt his chest might burst with love at the sight of this old man whom he had dreamt of all his life. The great oak reaching for the sun.
“But why?” Loki asked. “You left me. You did not even stay to see me born.”
“Because Jotunheim needed it,” said Odin simply.
The tree shook, and Loki tumbled down onto the grass. A surprised raven took to the air, scolding him, and the Allfather knelt to a crouch. He brushed the dirt from Loki’s face, and Loki leaned into his gnarled hand, as if to seek a blessing from it.
“There are not too many trees in Jotunheim, I should think,” said Odin. “Next time, you will not fall.”
Loki hugged his knees and gazed at his father. “Laufey thinks he is the one who took from you.”
“We took the Casket,” said Odin. “It was war, and many ruthless things were necessary in order to win it. But I could not leave Jotunheim broken and bleeding. A light had to be left burning so the fire would not go out.”
He spoke quietly, explaining the matter at hand with academic deliberation. From the branch above his head, the other raven, Huginn, called out to his brother who was circling the tree, Thought calling to Memory.
“But what about me?” demanded Loki. “I grew up a bastard, without a father, a nothing and a heir to nothing, when I am the son of two great kings. The greatest of kings!”
“What about you?” Odin’s face was unreadable, and Loki desperately committed it to memory. The Allfather spoke, “It is not such a terrible thing to be free from the burden of rule. You, my son, are allowed to be free.”
“Free?” spat Loki. “You call this free?”
“You will be free.” Odin got to his feet. “And you grew up in a family who loved you. Be grateful for that.”
“Love?” said Loki with a bitter laugh. “What do you know about that?”
“Love is complicated,” said the Allfather. “You are not a child anymore, Loki. You should understand this. Learn how to choose. It is the first step to becoming truly free.”
“Did you ever love me?” cried Loki, not caring that he sounded like a child.
This time Odin did not pause, and Huggin and Muginn came to rest on his shoulders.
“You were necessary.”
Mjölnir crashed into the wall, a hair’s breadth away from where Thor had slammed Loki’s head,
“What is the meaning of this?” Thor demanded. “What disgraceful game are you playing at? And take that thing off, you look ridiculous.”
He snatched the garland of wilted daisies off Loki’s tangled hair and crushed them under his feet. Loki’s face was blank, swallowing hard where Thor’s thumb was pressed against his windpipe. Then he broke into his manic smile. Gone was the shy woodland creature; here was the devil.
“Pity,” Loki rasped. “And I thought they’d turn you on. You’re hurting me.”
“Good,” said Thor, but he relaxed his grip. The very hairs on his head were screaming with exhaustion.
It felt as if he had not rested in weeks, and this particular week had marched inexorably on, as Thor grinned through gritted teeth. In three days, he would be wed. Loki was wearing those furs, he had come to Thor, Leif had not survived the journey home, and Thor was bound seven ways to his word.
In that respite, Loki twisted out of his grip, and furious, Thor caught him and they fell together to the floor. Thor’s hand still held Loki down by the throat, and they stared at each other as Loki breathed in shallow gasps. Their gazes ran down to where Thor sat straddling Loki’s hips when, involuntarily, they bucked up.
The floodgates of tension broke, and Thor leaned down to take his lips, and Loki kissed him back hungrily. Thor had been starving for this, for that snarling tongue battling his, for the body fighting against him, and Thor pulled back only to leave wet open-mouthed kisses at Loki’s jaw, his temple, his chin, his hands running desperately over bare skin, and he tugged open his breeches when Loki went still –
“No –” He stopped Thor’s hand, and tried to push off his greater bulk. “No.”
“You cannot say you don’t want this,” Thor demanded. The evidence to the contrary was hard against him, and Loki squirmed to remove contact, which only made it worse.
“I don’t want this,” he hissed, and Thor pressed a hand against his arousal.
“No. We are better than this. We are to be brothers,” said Loki, and his voice broke at the word. “Get off me, you brute.”
Stunned, Thor let himself be pushed off, and watched as Loki sat up and turned his back to him like an offended cat. Next to him, Mjölnir offered Thor her silent solace.
“Why?” he croaked. “Why are you doing this?”
Loki seemed to be examining his toes. "And what is it that I am doing, your grace?”
“Thor. You used to call me Thor.”
That brought an empty laugh from Loki. “Yes,” he said. “But that was in another country. And besides, the wench is dead.”
“Sorry. It’s just something I read somewhere.” Loki relented and came to crouch down before him. With a sigh, he brushed his fingers over the hairs on Thor’s arm.
“Why do you play the sweet innocent with those fools?” asked Thor. “What lies are you spinning? And to treat me like this –”
“You are to be wed,” said Loki flatly. “How else should I treat you?”
“That did not stop you before.”
“You wished it never to have been,” said Loki, and his face went gentle at that. “You said so yourself.”
“That is neither what I meant that day, nor what I ever wished –”
“I know,” said Loki shortly, but he reached over to trace the grooves on Mjölnir instead, and Thor felt the ghost of fingertips on his own back. “What is it that bothers you so? That I do not openly pine for you? That I sit chastely with your friends and allow myself to be diverted by their company? Would you rather I slept through their ranks?”
Thor shook his head, too tired to be confused, too worn out even to want. His arousal was quickly abating, and suddenly, as it had in flashes over the past month, an image of the blackened root in Leif’s mutilated mouth rose before his eyes. Loki was looking at him with pity, and Thor, who would strike pity off the face of any other man, welcomed its softness.
“You think I lie to your noble warriors,” teased Loki. “You think I play them for fools and laugh at them behind their backs. You think me wicked.”
“No,” said Thor. “Yes.”
“And you think if I revealed my true ways, only you could ever be fond of me. Oh, Thor, how selfish.” Loki was smiling, he could tell.
“Presumptuous wretch,” said Thor. “Who said I was fond of you?”
Loki leaned back to rest against the wall, his curved horns scraping at the stone, and Thor kicked at his foot. But they grinned at each other companionably, as if they were enemies who had fought so long on opposing sides that they were almost comrades, old soldiers who realized it was not each other they were fighting, but the battle itself.
It was a relief, though it felt like the beginning of resignation.
“Perhaps I wish to mend my ways and change,” said Loki, “To wipe the slate clean and start again with a clean heart. Friend Thor – brother, let us go our separate ways. Must we tear at each other until we lie bleeding?”
“Lie bleeding? You?” scoffed Thor. “You’re lying to me again, aren’t you? Does any of this affect you at all?”
Mjölnir lay on her side, and Loki played with the grip, attempting to pull it toward him, and failing to move it a hair, grimaced. “Perhaps not. But you should know that the best lies are only different shades of the truth, brother.”
He got to his feet, and Thor thought of his friends, and the hope that was painting rosy clouds on Asgard’s horizon – if Ullr had not lied, they might not have this peace – and he held out his hand so Loki could help him up, and pulled him tottering into an embrace.
“Perhaps we had started out wrong,” said Loki. “Perhaps we were always meant to end up here, as friends, as brothers. Here, I wish to make a gift to you.” And he drew the knife Thor had given him in Jotunheim.
Thor snorted at the cheek of this. “You’re incorrigible. That was my gift to you.”
“Did I say it wasn’t?” Loki ran his fingers over the blade. “Do you even know what these runes mean?”
“Of course I know what they mean,” said Thor. “He who cuts his enemies cuts flesh, but he who wounds a friend binds his own soul to the blood he has shed.”
“Very good. So, you’re not a complete illiterate,” said Loki, and Thor gave him a cuff on the ear. “It’s the usual dwarvish nonsense. I hope you didn’t pay extra for that. Give me your hand.” And he made a shallow cut on Thor’s palm and did the same to his own and pressed them together.
“We are blood brothers,” said Thor, and Loki guided his hand to Mjölnir.
“Yes, yes, there is that,” said Loki impatiently. “Heft it up, put your cut to the handle.” Loki’s hand covered his, and pulling threads of seið from his own cut, he wound them around Thor’s hand so they tightened like wires and sank into his skin. “Now your blood is part of Mjölnir too.” Loki held Thor’s gaze as he spoke, “May she always find her way back to you when you reach for her. There, I wish you much joy, brother. Go on then, try her out.”
He dragged Thor down the corridor to put a fair distance between them and the hammer, and Thor reached out with his hand and Mjölnir came singing into his grasp. They ran back to where they were to do it again, and back and forth, until they were laughing and out of breath, Thor’s skin crackling with joy and lightning. Loki wrapped his arms around him from behind and murmured in his ear.
“So, which one shall I choose to deflower me, brother? Hildr or Theoric?”
Thor was learning how to relish the hurt that came with smiling, and he tossed Mjölnir in the air and caught her easily.
“Take them both, brother. One will not be enough to wear you out.”
Chapter 6: Lest our knowledge inspire devastation
Sex, violence, weird jokes, not all in that order.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The torches burned low on the eve of the wedding, and the great hall slowly emptied as old and new pairs, lulled by the wine and ambience, slipped away to gratify their private desires before the principle parties were allowed theirs on the morrow. Thor left early, waving away the offers of his friends to sit with him – for once Volstagg had looked only too eager to go home to his wife, and Fandral… well, Fandral should learn to live with disappointment.
It was Sif in particular that Thor wished to avoid. For days, she’d had an impatient gleam in her eye, as if she wouldn’t rest until she cornered him and made Thor fess up to what was bothering him. He was relieved when Hogun called her away to help him with Fandral, who was going to get himself killed chasing after his jotunn princess.
Thor hadn’t looked away when Loki strolled out of the great hall, followed shortly after, and none so subtly by Theoric with a loud cheer from the Einherjar. Loki was wearing his pale Aesir skin tonight, and the horns were balanced delicately from a thin band of gold on his forehead.
Now, Thor sat alone in his chambers, glancing through piles of reports and documents he did not have to look at tonight of all nights, lists of duty rosters, inventories, requests from various quarters, and sipped at his wine cut with water, wishing it was something stronger.
It was getting late when his eye caught on a small detail, and shaking his head, Thor left to wander the corridors.
Sleep was beyond his reach. In a lower courtyard, he passed two of the Einherjar drinking and playing dice, and he recognized them. He had read their names only a few hours ago, and suspicion reared its head again.
“Are you two not on duty tonight?” asked Thor, as they jumped to their feet and saluted. He motioned for them to be at ease. “Jorvik and Ulrig? Are you not on guard duty in the vaults until dawn breaks?”
The burlier of the two – Ulrig was his name – cleared his throat. “The captain dismissed us for the night.” The two guards exchanged knowing glances. “He wished to impress our jotunn guest with the splendors of Asgard.”
The other guard sniggered. “And he didn’t want any company around to hear –”
Thor didn’t stay to hear more, and with a curt nod he turned and made his way to Odin’s treasury. He could be wrong – he could be stumbling on a scene he didn’t ever want to see, overhear the familiar sounds of filthy pleasure pulled forth by another –
Still, he picked up his pace as he descended to the lower levels.
But below, the halls were quiet, echoing only his footsteps as he drew nearer, and he pushed open the heavy door to the vault. It was unlocked, and it closed behind him with a silent thud.
He had not gone ten paces when he tripped over a body.
Thor’s heart skipped a beat. It was Theoric. He knelt down and fumbled around to feel for a pulse, and Thor was relieved to find a beat at the jugular, albeit a weak one. His own heart beat so loud he thought it would jackhammer out of his chest, but the vault was silent as a tomb.
At the end of the walkway a knife clattered to the floor, and Thor’s head jerked up. The Casket of Ancient Winters cast its strange blue light, and on Loki’s face, it turned the planes and angles demonic. But it was still humming where it rested atop of the pedestal, and Loki brushed his hand over it fondly as if he were greeting an old family pet.
“What did you do to him?” demanded Thor, getting to his feet.
“Nothing much,” said Loki. “I wish I could claim that I wore him out, but your captain was encumbered by the amount of ale that he’d imbibed and… ” Loki wrinkled his nose in disgust. “… he slobbered.”
Loki smiled in that infuriatingly secretive way that he had, and Thor saw that his lips were swollen from kisses. Briefly, Thor did not mind so much that Theoric was passed out dead to the world.
“Was it poison? A sleeping draught?” asked Thor. “Will he recover?”
“Probably. In a few hours, next week, I’m not exactly sure.” Loki shrugged absently, picking up the knife again, and he sliced his open his palm and dabbed a finger in it to draw a scroll of blood on both cheeks and his forehead. “He might go prematurely bald. Or he might develop an incurable craving for raw sea-turtle. I love it when these things are left to chance, don’t you?”
Seið sparked around Loki, and Thor smelled sulfur and spices as sigils burned in the air and winked out. The power of the Casket was churning though it had not yet been opened, and Loki drew waves of blue from inside it and curled them around his body.
“Loki, what are you doing?”
“Only what is necessary,” said Loki. “I am bound to Jotunheim, did you know that, Thor? Did you know they made me an instrument to serve their grand purpose? An object they could use? I am Loki. I am no man’s pawn.”
Thor made quick strides across the walkway, and broke into a run as Loki, muttering under his breath and impatient with the buttons, started tearing at his collar as if he was suffocating.
“That useless oaf, Theoric. If he’d gotten beyond clumsy groping, I’d be well and naked by now.” Awkward with his bleeding hand, Loki ripped at the fabric of his robes and bared himself down to the waist.
Ribbons of seið leapt from his back and flared in flashes of blue flame, and Loki gripped the plinth for support as his knees buckled. Hastily he smeared a stripe of blood down his chest before he reached for the Casket, and opened it.
“Loki, stop!” Thor shouted, “What are you doing? Stop this, now!” But it was too late.
A flood of power burst from the Casket of Ancient Winters like a blizzard released into the vault, and Thor slipped and fell as the ice spread across the granite.
Loki was hissing through gritted teeth, then choking on his own screams as the Casket turned on him and its power tore out the fishhooks of spellwork sunken into his flesh. His Aesir skin was bleeding into blue, shifting quickly past his slighter body to become the wild jotunn again, only to be dismantled from the inside out. A wave from the Casket surged, and one of Loki’s long twisted horns shattered under the force of winter. He crashed to his knees howling in pain.
The markings on his back were ablaze in molten gold, and Loki clawed at his skin madly as it burned him alive. Raising his own ice dagger, he scored a tear down his chest where the blood had turned poisonous black, and proceeded to slowly rip the ruins of his jotunn flesh off his own body.
All the while, Thor could not reach him, and however much he shouted at Loki to close the Casket, Loki was beyond hearing him.
Unsettled by its own overwhelming force, the Casket had toppled of the platform and was spinning like a top, and the ice in that corner of the chamber continued to build. A small grotto had formed around Loki. Soon he would be encased within the ice as the Casket unleashed its power into the vault and expanded until it broke through the very walls.
There was no way Thor could approach with the Casket releasing its blinding force his way every few seconds.
Covering his eyes against the storm and the light, Thor threw Mjölnir. And singing, she cut through the rage of winter and knocked into the Casket, and sent it hurtling into a wedge in the ice before she returned to his hand.
Scrambling on the slippery new terrain, Thor edged up the ice to where the Casket shook, still pouring out its power. Not daring to touch it himself, he struck into its side with Mjölnir and closed it shut. Shuddering, the Casket’s terrible force retreated abruptly, leaving only its chilly echoes ringing in Thor’s ears.
Thor heaved a sigh of relief.
In repose, it looked nothing more than a decorative blue glass box. But then, appearances were so deceiving. With a rueful snort, he hauled up Loki’s prone form and dragged him from the grotto to where the buildup of ice had not reached.
Thor knelt down beside him. Loki smelled of blood and sulfur and smoke, but the skin on his bare torso was fresh as a newborn babe’s, devoid of all markings but a long thin scar that ran down the center of his chest. His forehead was damp, and beads of sweat smudged at the line of blood that had burned to ash. Thor rubbed at it with his thumb, and the circlet of horns slipped off Loki’s head and clattered on the stone.
Squinting through one eye, Loki grinned wanly.
“Hello, prince, you found me again.”
He was alive. Despite all this, he was alive, and Thor couldn’t help the rumble of laughter that brimmed up from sheer relief, though he could feel the storm of anger growing behind it.
“Was that really necessary, Loki?” he asked, as Loki winced and tugged at the ruin of his robes, wriggling out of them like a snake. Pale and naked, he smiled up at Thor.
“Was I too loud? Theoric will gain quite a reputation after this,” said Loki, and reached for the white furs.
“You poisoned him,” said Thor, as the euphoria settled and the details of what had happened came marching back to him like grim soldiers.
Loki made a dismissive noise. “Define poisoned.”
“You seduced him,” continued Thor relentlessly, “to break into Odin’s vault. You played him and the Einherjar for fools. They won’t like that.”
“I needed information. And I needed the Casket,” said Loki with an evasive shrug. “It was the only thing powerful enough to break Jotunheimr’s hold.”
“The Casket,” said Thor, “which Jotunheim would have gotten back after tomorrow. And what are you talking about? What hold?”
“Hmm, just something the Laufey-king was holding over my head,” said Loki, spreading the furs out on the ice, and he lay down and stretched his arms over his head. “This feels marvelous. I feel as if I’ve been reborn. Do you remember the last time we were like this?”
“I said I’d plant my child in you.” Thor shook his head. He could not be distracted. “No. You opened the Casket inside Asgard. You could have brought this vault down from inside. You could have killed yourself.”
“It could have been worse. I was willing to take the risk.” Loki turned away to get up, and Thor caught him, pinning him down on the furs.
“I am not,” said Thor. “Worse? How much worse? How could you take such a risk not knowing what it would do? And what was it you were doing back there?”
“Undoing a spell, what do you think I was doing?” snapped Loki. “Do you know the outcome of each battle before you descend into the fray? What do you think seiðwork looks like anyway? A spoonful of dragon’s blood, two pinches of dried toad and call me in the morning?”
Unexpectedly, the titillating rumors he’d heard as a boy came back to him, and when Loki demanded to know, Thor mumbled sheepishly, “To be honest, I thought it would involve more sex.”
Loki gaped at him, flabbergasted. Then he curled up into a ball and laughed and laughed until he was weak with mirth, tears streaming down his face. It wasn’t exactly humor. Loki had not been certain, Thor realized, that he would survive either. Playfully, Loki slung an arm around Thor to pull him down.
“Ah yes, all the sex. I’d completely forgotten about that part,” he said, the last of the laughter stoppered with a hiccough, and idly he traced the bulge in Thor’s breeches. “You shall have to fuck me now, good and hard to make it stick. Or else the nice magic won’t work.” His eyes glittered mischievously at Thor.
That slow-building rage flared up inside Thor, along with lust. Too often it was like that now, desire and wrath twining to urge each other on. Because of Loki.
“You said we were better than this. You said we would be brothers,” insisted Thor. “You lied to me, so virtuously, so prettily. You would make angels and philosophers weep with your sophistry.”
Arching his back wantonly, Loki grinned. “What is the use of an education if you haven’t the wit to apply it?”
“You almost convinced me that you were right,” scolded Thor. “And I believed you. Was any of it not a lie?”
Loki looked thoughtful at that. “Bits and pieces, flits and jibbets. All of it, none of it, who knows? Maybe you will untangle it yourself.”
“I will spend an eternity puzzling that out!”
“But that way you will never cease thinking of me,” said Loki with a bright smile. “And is this not worth it in the end? I am free now. Give us a kiss, brother.”
Thor snorted and moved to straddle him. “Oh, ho, so you can poison me the way you did Theoric? Very funny.”
“So punish me then, oh mighty Thor,” said Loki, rubbing up against him. “You’ve caught your miscreant. Have your way with him.”
“Punish you with my cock?”
In a crazy way, the idea was tempting. It must be the giddiness from having just avoided death that was making him light-headed. Thor could not be thinking this way. “You would pursue mischief as a pastime if I chose to chastise you in that manner.”
“And each time, I would be longing to be caught – ”
“ – so I can punish you again,” said Thor, and stopped himself short before he could kiss Loki.
Loki twisted lazily under him. “Aren’t you clever, Odinson. You do learn quickly. We have only this night. There can be no others, so make it last. Make me feel alive, brother.”
“Stop calling me that. It’s indecent.” Thor groaned, and turned Loki onto his stomach to stop his shameless writhing, to hide his poisonous lips in the furs, and Thor’s breath caught in his throat. This was not any better.
“Who else would I love as much as my own brother? Teach me why men make bastards, Thor.” Loki spread his thighs and looked over his shoulder. “Or shall I go to sweet Balder? I believe he would not refuse me.”
With a snarl, Thor settled between Loki’s legs and yanked his hips up.
“On your knees, harlot,” said Thor gruffly. “I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget.”
By Yggdrasil, he would be wed tomorrow, but tonight he would have this. Oh, he would regret it – he didn’t know how, but he would – but at this moment, Thor did not care.
He spread those cheeks with his thumbs, and couldn’t help leaning in to swipe a lick across that puckered hole. His cock jumped eagerly as Loki let out a sharp breath and trembled under him. Thor chuckled and worked his tongue to leave him wet and twitching, and pressed his fingers inside. Slowly and deliberately, he toyed at stretching him loose, pushing in to his knuckles to twist and curve to see Loki arch his back and claw at the furs.
“Ah… that is not,” gasped Loki, “where you put, a child, brother.”
“I have all night, and I shall have you in every way I want,” Thor promised him, “twice, and twice that again, brother,” and brushing the head of his cock at that flush opening, he shoved in.
It was tight, so maddeningly tight and hot and almost painful, and the high keening noise Loki made as Thor eased his way in, deeper until he was finally fully seated, made him sigh in wonder. Others had spoken in awe, but Thor had never felt so pleased with his endowment as he did now, as he marveled at how Loki’s body took him in, slowly and gasping, at how Thor’s girth stretched him out and bowed his head in submission.
Thor smoothed his hand over Loki’s spine, the spill of ink that was his hair, and regretted that he could not see Loki’s face when he was like this.
Then, Loki impatiently nudged back to remind him to move. “Will you fuck me already, or are you penning another sermon to my morals?” he sneered.
Thor paid him back for that by dragging out and slamming back in again, hard enough so Loki could feel it in his teeth.
After that, it was familiar ground. After all, it was not only Thor’s size that was celebrated. His stamina was legendary, and by all the gods, Loki would damn well appreciate it.
Thor pounded into him, keeping up a brutal pace, losing himself in the glorious feeling of movement, of that hot viselike grip pulling at his cock, of Loki pushing back to meet him, and for a while, there was nothing but the obscene slick noises of his cock sliding in and out, of flesh slapping against flesh, and the desperate grunts Loki made as Thor fucked him harder. Thor reached down to tease Loki’s straining cock and rub at his clit, using fingers to fuck his cunt in tandem. Through the soft inner walls, his fingers could feel the force of his own prick shoving deep inside, and Loki shuddered and tried to rub himself against the furs.
Thor had finally silenced his wicked tongue, reduced him to nothing but groaning, mewling, moaning sobs, and Thor wanted Loki begging now, begging for Thor’s cock, for his hands, his mouth, for Thor to touch him, finish him, fuck him till he couldn’t walk, till he wouldn’t dream of crawling into another’s bed.
In this, it was simple and clear. There could be no equivocation.
“You’re mine. I’ll teach you not to take, mindless risks, with what’s mine.” Thor shifted on his knees to drive into him at an angle that made Loki cry out hoarsely with each thrust. “You won’t steal, what’s mine,” said Thor between ragged breaths, arranging Loki’s limp body to suit his pleasure.
“Aesir animal. How long will… keep on… ah, let me… I can’t … brother, please….”
“I can do this, all night,” panted Thor, without a break his stride. “I’ll fuck you, until you learn, your place. Put you on your back, and mount you again, and again, and again, and swell your belly, with my, child, so you can’t, run.”
Thor must have done this, milked his cock inside Loki, must have finished in a delirium, panting and satisfied only to reach for Loki again – how many times? but he was a god, and he was better than his word – because he floated, happily, drowsily in a haze of desire and mindless rutting. At some point he rolled onto his back and pulled Loki up to impale his wet greedy cunt on Thor’s cock, and Loki rocked back and forth in a soothing motion, leaning in to suckle on Thor’s jaw, the pulse at his throat, and nibble, yes, even at his lips.
Some time after, Thor must have drifted off, deliciously and thoroughly tired out, when he thought he heard Loki’s voice, thought he heard him murmur, Odin, and irked, Thor swatted at the name as if to chase away the buzz of a mosquito.
“Ask your father,” said Loki, god of grossly inappropriate naked conversations. “When he took the Casket from Jotunheim, ask our father what he left behind, lover.”
Thor did not wake up bald. But the Casket was gone.
Asgard was in uproar, and both Jotunheim and Asgard loudly blamed each other, while Volstagg glumly ate the wedding cake. They wouldn’t be needing it now.
“And how is this our fault?!” roared Tyr. “It was your jotunn witch what stole that Casket – the Casket that would’ve gone back to you anyway! Dishonorable thieves! Your bastard broke into our vault! This is an act of war!”
“How is it thievery when the Casket was ours in the first place?” shouted Thrym. “And we. Don’t. Have it! You stole it again from us, Asgard!” The jotunn lord, grizzled veteran of many a grievous battle with the Aesir, whirled around and pointed an accusing finger at Odin. “This was your plan all along, wasn’t it, Allfather? Your plan to take the Casket away from us! Again! You planted your cuckoo son in our court! Don’t you deny it! I was there when you and Laufey made that imp!”
Everyone turned around to stare at Odin, who sighed. Huginn and Muninn nipped at his fingers for corn, as the meaning of that denunciation slowly and horrifically dawned on everyone, on all of Asgard. Laufey’s bastard son was Odin’s bastard.
Theoric was not bald either, but his left cheek had turned a strange shade of puce and he spoke with a lisp. “Thtat no-good lying thtlut! I’ll cut hith jothunn bathtarthth heart out –”
But before he could raise his sword and complete that vow, Bỳleistr leapt on him. “You dare take an oath against Laufey’s blood!”
Theoric was captain of the Einherjar, but Bỳleistr was jotunn, and in a blur they went wrestling for the sword and grappled, seeming to pluck hidden daggers out of thin air to swipe cuts at each other in a vicious fury. There was a scream from Bỳleistr, and landing on top, Theoric would have stabbed Bỳleistr through the heart –
– war might have broken out if he was killed. All gathered held their breaths –
But in the end, the only blood spilled was Fandral’s, when he jumped into the middle of that tussle and ended up taking both Theoric’s knife and Bỳleistr’s ice dagger, one under his ribs and one through the shoulder.
Someone shrieked – it was Volstagg – and Fandral slipped on his own blood and fell. Stunned, he lay on the polished marble of the great hall, and turned to Bỳleistr and gasped, “Fair princess, a kiss before I die.” And he fainted.
Somehow it was different when Fandral was stabbed instead of Bỳleistr, or even Theoric. The tension frittered away into a tizzy, and for a while, people ran flapping their hands calling for the healers, or in the meantime bandages to stop the bleeding, and huddled in groups looking useless and embarrassed.
Then, Fandral came to, and Sif laughed at him, poking him in the side while the healers patched him up, and told him he deserved it.
Still, Balder, Thor, and Helblindi each barely refrained from actually sitting on Theoric, Thrym, and Tyr, all of whom were bent on hunting down that thieving lying snake of a bastard to tear off all his fingers and toes and feeding them to him. After all, Loki was now their brother, and of royal blood, and they couldn’t let anyone, not even a lord, treat him like that.
“Let them,” snarled Bỳleistr, who was nursing his own non-flesh wound. His left breast had been damaged in the fight, and though there had been no blood because it was only a skin glamour, there was no easy way of repairing it when the architect of that particular spell had skedaddled.
Fandral edged closer to comfort him. “I hear the great Amazon warrior women deliberately cut off one breast to give them greater mobility in battle,” he said, making a show of his own newly bound-up wounds.
When Bỳleistr smiled, he took after Farbauti most. “Tell me, Asgard, as I am unfamiliar with your ways. What does gangrene poisoning mean?”
The great golden throne of Asgard was empty.
Thor sat on the steps to the dais, glumly contemplating what to do now, and Odin came to linger beside him, nibbling on a piece of cheese. He gazed somberly down at his son. “A pinch of chaos makes life so… lively, doesn’t it?”
Odin looked grimly amused at the outbreak of small arguments here and there, but also the patchy bursts of laughter across the hall, as the disappointed and not-so disappointed guests told newcomers whichever parts of the story they’d not heard, while the Valkyrie waltzed about with a self-satisfied air, thumbing their noses at the Einherjar.
Thor glowered up at his father. A burning shame was roiling in the pit of his stomach since the revelations.
And the worst of it was, Thor could not say ‘brother,’ or even think it, without recalling Loki calling him that, the word overlapping in his mind with all their heated moments and sending an unmistakable jolt of desire to his prick. Each and every time. Thor was very careful to call Balder by his name only, which wasn’t often as Balder had taken to pointedly avoiding him.
“This is all your fault, you awful old man,” grumbled Thor. “You and your damn scheming and puppeteering and secrecy. If you hadn’t –”
The Allfather had one eye, but two eyebrows, both of which he raised at Thor. “Yes, Thor, my fault,” agreed Odin, “and my unfortunate predilection for frost giants. I had hoped that urge would skip a generation.”
Thor buried his head in his hands. His inner eye burned at the image of his father rampantly having sex. “I suppose the wedding is off, then.”
From the banquet table, where he had been eating strawberries out of a fruit arrangement, Helblindi smothered another guffaw.
“And what are you chuckling about?” Thor raised his head, feeling seriously ill-used by fate. “This is no laughing matter. We are teetering on the brink of war.”
The jotunn prince tossed a whole peach into his mouth. “If we fell to weeping each time Loki pulled one of his pranks,” he said, mumbling around the pit, "Jotunheim would be flooded not frozen. You get used to it. He’s family. Besides, he’s half your responsibility now. Come on, Asgard.” Helblindi gave him a wry smile. “We shall be the ones to drag ‘our brother’ home.”
It was a little over a year before Thor tracked Loki down.
A little over a year on the road with only Helblindi for a companion, as they followed vague leads, rumors, utter misinformation, and stumbled on the occasional bit of luck.
They became friends of sorts, friends who silently shared meat and drink and healed each other’s cuts, and when there was no inn or ramshackle barn in which to find shelter, which was often the case in the vast wilderness of the Nine Realms, they slept under one blanket under the stars, with the ease of shield brothers who understood each other’s needs.
It was easier, with no knife of marriage dangling over their heads, and one night when a hand reached for him under the covers, Thor gave relief in return. Helblindi liked taking him in his mouth and to have Thor pleasure him in the same way, and with his lips wrapped around an impressive jotunn cock, Thor laughed as he remembered how Loki had promised he would train up Thor as a gift to his brother. His other brother.
Helblindi did not stop with his ministrations. You did not take Loki to bed if you shied or swelled depending on whether he mocked or praised your cock. For Thor, it almost felt as if that slip of a jotunn, his half-breed half-brother, was lying between them, a ghostly presence urging them both to satisfaction.
And this could be peace of sorts too, a truce won not from marriage, but friendship and patience. And, when Helblindi finally agreed to spread Thor’s cheeks and spear him, humility.
Then, they found Loki.
At the crossroads the path diverged, leading to two hills, one way triggering the compass drawn to the Casket of Ancient Winters, and Mjölnir tugging in the other direction, yearning for Loki. With a determined nod, Helblindi turned to Thor.
“This is where we part ways, prince of the Aesir. I am for the Casket,” said Helblindi, and he hesitated before speaking again. “In the past, I have found it difficult to make Loki come home before he is willing.” Then he grinned and gave Thor a sloppy kiss on the lips. “Perhaps he will be different with you.”
The hill was steep and strewn with sharp rocks, but that didn’t deter Thor. When he reached the top, he sighted an entrance to a cave, and cautiously making his way across a narrow ledge, he stumbled inside.
There was a flicker of movement in the corner of his eye.
In the far corner of the cave, Loki was pouring viscous smoke from a small earthen jar in a zigzag pattern. In the crook of one arm, bundled up in a green traveling cloak was a small squirming creature. A lock of gold curls spilled out of the cloak, and Thor saw the curve of twisted horns. The worst of his fears – and the secret hope he’d kept hidden this past year – leapt to the fore.
Then, Loki pulled out his knife – “Loki, no!” cried Thor. “You cannot murder your own child!” – and brought it down to slit its throat –
Mjölnir went flying first, knocking Loki to the ground. Thor scrambled to pull out the knife, when, like a thread going through the eye of a needle, he was yanked through a very thin space, and he found himself lying flat on his back where Loki had been, Mjölnir weighing down his chest.
Next to him, a long-haired goat lay bleeding on a circle of runes. Loki – the real one, not an illusion this time – came to stand over him.
His hair longer now, swept up to the crest of his skull like horse’s tail, and he was dressed in an odd suit of leather and dark metal that fit so closely to his form that it looked as if he’d been poured into it. Thor drank in the sight of him. He wanted to shake him, strangle him, beat him, tear off those infuriating straps and buckles.
“Hello, prince,” said Loki, and smiled fondly down at Thor. “Oh, Thor, are you disappointed in me again? I am sorry about that. But you seemed to have this unhealthy obsession with getting me with child, and I couldn’t pass up the chance –”
Outraged, Thor tried to push Mjölnir off and, to his growing consternation, found that he couldn’t. “What trickery is this?!”
“One of my better ideas,” said Loki. “The knife you gifted me, what was the exact phrase? Bind his own soul to the blood he has shed? We are blood brothers, too, as you’d said. It pulled you to where my simulacrum would be. What clever little dwarves.”
At the look on Thor’s face, Loki knelt down to reassure him. “Oh, don’t worry, it’s only temporary. It will fade when the smoke does. How I have missed you, brother.”
The word echoed inside his head, and with it came that hateful stirring of lust. Thor was suddenly aware that he had not bathed in weeks, not had a change of clothing for longer than that, and that his last meal was a stringy rabbit he’d shared with a starving jotunn.
“Come to punish me, have you?” Loki brushed his fingers across Thor’s cheek and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead, his lips, at the dip of his collarbone.
“I’ve come to bring you home,” rasped Thor. “But I can punish you first if you like. For all your crimes.”
“Mmm, what an enticing thought. I should make a list.”
Laughing, a hand reached down to palm him through his breeches, and Thor stifled a moan. “Get this off me first.”
“I can’t. Only you can lift Mjölnir, remember?”
And just as suddenly, Loki got to his feet and threw his cloak over his shoulders. Thick curls of smoke were rising upwards, and Loki scrawled runes in the air where the smoke curdled and became dense.
“Loki, wait. What are you doing?”
“Opening a portal between the realms.”
“That’s not possible. Loki, no!” shouted Thor. “It will kill you!” From where he was sprawled, Thor stared in dawning horror, and tried frantically to move the hammer. It wouldn’t budge.
Loki slid his hand into the smoke, which had turned so black it was pulling all the light from the cave into it, and pried open a breach in the air.
“I shall have to find out for myself, won’t I?”
And blowing a kiss at Thor, he stepped through the doorway between the stars and vanished.
(You already got this little joke, but) take the first letters from each word of the chapter title – Lest Our Knowledge Inspire Devastation – and you get…
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story! (17/08/2012)