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Snowbound

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~~o~~
Thor
~~o~~

“Wait, hear me out. You are still young, like it or not, and hot-blooded.” Frigga smoothes Thor’s heavy leather cloak – his favorite, the one he wears hunting in all but the very warmest weather – across the breadth of his chest and up over his shoulders.

“You’ve been speaking for the better part of an hour,” he counters. “I’m sure I’ve heard plenty already.” It’s a struggle not to huff angrily and twist away; being the subject of such close parental scrutiny inevitably sets his teeth on edge, and to top it all off he’s not in the best of moods this morning.

“Alas,” his mother says, “while you might like to be done with this conversation, I’ve a little bit more to tell you. It’s important, too; you would be wise to take heed.” She studies his face, the corners of her mouth turning up just a little. He wrinkles his nose at her. “A good king knows everything he can about his neighbors,” she points out, “far more than the weakest parts of their armor or the way they wield their weapons. We have not always been at such odds with the people of Jotunheim.” She fusses with the high sides of his collar. “And,” she adds with one last firm tug, “Norns willing, a day will dawn when Aes and Jotnar alike no longer remember what it means to be at war. Where will you be then, at the dawn of a new age of cooperation and compromise, if the full extent of your diplomatic understanding begins and ends at how best to leave all of Jotunheim dead?”

Thor swallows down his irritation and leans in to kiss Frigga’s forehead. If nothing else he’s finally becoming much more adept at choosing his battles, at recognizing the times when it’s simply pointless to take on his mother. “I will do my best not to kill anything that speaks this time,” he concedes, gamely pushing past his own annoyance. “Unless, of course, the thing in question is trying to kill me first.” He straightens up and smiles down at her. “At which point,” he half-teases, “I will do whatever I must.”

Frigga rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “You are traveling to the frozen realm to study,” she reminds him. “To learn and grow, not to fight. Never, ever forget that, my son. I know you can do this. Go on now; make an old woman proud.”

“I’ll do my best.” Thor forces himself to grin. “And you are far from old.” He can’t expect anyone (least of all, his mother) to understand how he feels, and it doesn’t matter anyway. This is his father’s edict. There’s simply no getting out of going and no winning this particular argument. Norns know, he’s tried. His patience is wholly exhausted. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he tells Frigga – he can only stay calm for so long; it’s time to make a graceful exit, before he loses his hard-won composure and spouts something regrettable - “The hour grows late. I must return to my chambers and collect the last of my things.”

She gives his arms a last fond squeeze, her fingers pressing into the sleeves of his leather jerkin just above the elbows. “I have something for you. Here,” she instructs, earnestly, “promise me you will always carry this with you.” He frowns as his mother holds out a necklace, a tiny silver-colored amulet dangling from a length of braided leather cord.

Thor bows his head and lets her place the thing around his neck. She tucks it behind the ties securing his cloak and then into the front of his tunic, where it settles – briefly cold, and heavier than it looks to be – into the hollow at the top of his sternum. He clears his throat. “Will this keep me safe?” Her sudden, unexpected seriousness has chipped away at his confidence, leaving him tense and uncomfortable.

“No,” she says with a wry smile. “Only you can do that. But it will make your poor mother happy.”

~

As he crams the last few things into his pack, Thor has to remind himself – sternly, repeatedly - that he’s going to be exploring and not invading. While he does need sufficient arms to hunt – daggers for his boot sheaths, his good knife, and a staff, a solid one that readily does double duty as a walking stick – he knows his main focus should be on his own survival: warm, waterproof outer garments; a compact tent for shelter against Jotunheim’s icy gusts and windblown snow; a small pot for cooking and a larger one for boiling water. A leather pouch full of healing stones, and a parchment-wrapped supply of slices dried from Idunn’s finest apples. In amongst his other supplies he stuffs a few more rolled-up bits of clothing… a second winter tunic and set of leggings, in case the ones he’s wearing get wet or damaged. Last and by no means least, at the very top of his pack where they’ll be readily available, Thor tucks a pair of slitted goggles meant to shield his eyes from the glare.

Jotunheim gets very little sun, especially in comparison to Asgard. However when one does happen to encounter the rare cloudless day, he’s told, the unbroken expanse of reflective snow poses a real threat. One of the royal advisors and three soldiers have (separately) taken special pains to warn him: trivial as it might sound, sun-damaged eyes - snow blindness - invariably mean confusion, pain, and helplessness. In the Jotun wilderness, any one of these alone poses a dangerous problem. Taken collectively, they’re enough to threaten a man’s life. And it does make sense; to successfully navigate the realm’s dangers, he has to be able to see them.

The more time he spends considering what lies ahead, the less attractive his impending adventure becomes. After all, if he can’t wipe out a skirmish or enjoy the exotic pleasures another realm has to offer, he might as well save himself the effort and just stay home. There’s no point in saying as much to his mother, though; even he understands that such thinking - as sensible as it might otherwise seem – is unbecoming of a future king.

Consequently, once his rucksack is just short of overfull and his staff is strapped tightly into place, there isn’t any point in dawdling further. Thor allows himself a last quick look around his chambers. He makes a face at his own reflection in the large mirror alongside his wardrobe and then steps out into the corridor; it’s time to make his rounds and say his goodbyes. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Which doesn’t help; neither does pulling the heavy doors closed behind him.

His first stop is Odin’s private study. Given that the three of them – Thor and his parents - had taken their morning meal together earlier, he knows a brief visit will suffice. As he exchanges pointless pleasantries with his father Thor takes one last nakedly envious look around the tapestry-hung, high-ceilinged room - at the shelves heavy with books, the sideboard groaning with wine and dried fruits, cheeses, and mead, the smoking torches, and the enormous, crackling fire – and wonders how many frigid, miserable months will have passed before he once again terms himself genuinely warm.

That, or considers himself home.