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If All the World and Love Were Young

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Winter is always ancient, and summer is ever-young. This is a truth well-known to men, and to the gods, too. In the distant past, when the earth still had seasons and was unspoiled by Man, the god of winter was a strange, dark, quicksilver being, both melancholy and predatory, who was said to eat the souls of any that strayed onto his icy lands. Far to the north and to the south he ruled, absolute as an abyss, solitary as a minaret, glitter-sharp and mad. None understood him. All feared him.

All, of course, but the god of summer.

The god of summer, as all agreed, was foolish and young. Brash, given to outbursts that laid burning waste to a season’s crops or flooded the narrow valleys with monsoon rain - and kind, given to sudden flowerings and gifts of corn and wheat, and ribbons of birdsong that arced across the sky. Despite his tempers and his moods, he was beloved of the people, for he was honest and sweet-natured despite his foolishness, and though his arrogance caused the other gods no end of trouble, his beauty charmed all that he offended.

Thor, they called him - and he was, to all accounts, perfect. Perfect in face and perfect in form, his body composed of the vast slopes of summer hills, pale and lazy and sun-warmed, a tiger’s musculature and a panther’s grace. His countenance was a cathedral, all arches and grand, soaring sweeps, and his eyes were frost-blue windows unto the sky, eternal and yet somehow innocent. His lips, however, were anything but innocent - flushed and curved and obscenely soft. His hair was a conglomeration of sunbeams, near-blinding and akin to a crown of light, and his arms had the strength to wield the great hammer that he smelted and flattened the sun with, each dawn, so that it shone round and flawless above the earth. For he was a craftsman as much as he was a god, and a warrior as much as a lover, and a child as much as a… well, a child.

Thus, perfect and perfectly vulnerable as he was, and possessed of every unreasoning impulse and stupid, passionate urge, it was only natural that Thor should develop an unnatural absorption with the winter-realms, with their strangenesses and stark, untrammeled heights, their thin, treacherous crevices and white, lumbering beasts. To he, who was of plentifulness and wealth and joyous abundance, the very essence of winter seemed alien, and beautiful, more desirous and thrilling than anything any pilgrim or poet could offer him.

And so he wandered, often, into the jagged maw of the far north, or the empty depths of the far south. Against all counsel, he went there, again and again, despite the danger to his soul from the god of winter, who all knew was mad and sad and starved, and would surely not leave a soul so brimming with warmth undevoured.

But Thor cared not. He wanted to meet this winter god, that all seemed to speak of but none had ever seen, except for the most elderly of the gods, and even they spoke his name with fear. (Lust. Shame.)

Loki, they called him - and he was, to all accounts, evil. Evil in face and evil in form, with a face so sleek and symmetrical that it was an abomination of a thing, a mask of seduction and knife-like, deadly beauty, different altogether from Thor’s lavish loveliness. Loki’s body was rumored to be as sparse and supple as a winter tree, so smooth that men lost themselves in it, that they ventured into it and forgot to return. It was a poisonous body, intoxicating and paralyzing, a serpent-fang that spread fiery consumption beneath the flesh, so that its victims thought they writhed in flames, when in fact their outer forms were freezing to death, crumbling away into the very dust.

Loki had dark eyes that roiled red, like blood, and a tongue as tricky as a turn upon the ice.

None of these things should have tempted Thor, nor should they have driven him to distraction - but they did, oh, they did, and Thor trespassed upon the winter-lands again and again, in hopes that their lord would finally meet him, would finally show Thor his face of legend, would let Thor touch the winter that lay within him, that encrusted jewel of bleak, fractured cold that so filled the earth with ice and snow.

Thor was summer, heat, movement; he was drawn inexorably to coldness, silence and stillness, with a hunger in him to melt or change or fill them, or perhaps fill himself with them, immolate himself as the setting sun immolated itself, douse himself as the prayer-candles of pilgrims doused themselves, complete himself as the runes of the temples completed themselves, balanced and curlicued and sung into wavering music by the priests.

Thor wanted that. All of that. And perhaps it was daft of him to want a being that he had never met other than in its manifestations, but he did not mind being foolish; he was used to it.

When, at last, Loki showed himself, it was all Thor had hoped for, and more - oh, that face, that crystalline face, and those eyes, final as a damnation, and that voice, a sibilant susurration from the deep.

“You trespass, and you shall be eaten, young god.”

Thor shivered, for the god of winter had claws, tapering nails on his fingers that were surely meant for rending. And yet - and yet, they were enchanting, too, like the talons of the ice-hawks Thor had caught glimpses of, in the windswept northern skies. “You have not eaten me, not for all the visits I have paid you, Loki.”

“Do you wish for me to eat you, child?” Loki’s words were soft, as the whisper of a snow-leopard’s paws were soft, and Thor loved them, insensibly, and wanted only for them to find him. To hunt him. To pin him by the throat.

“Yes,” he answered, and Loki’s eyes widened.

“Then you are a fool, as they say,” Loki murmured. “Leave now, child, before there is nothing left of you but bone and light and fragments of sun.”

“Take me as your lover, and you will see how deep the sun goes. Beyond skin; beyond fragments. You want that heat, don’t you? Isn’t that why you eat souls?”

“And you are impudent, too. Tell me, little one - ”

“I am not little.”

“No, I daresay not,” and Loki’s mouth sneered distractingly. “Tell me, O mighty Thor - why would you seek my company? Rabid dogs know better than to seek my company. I’m quite mad. Ask anyone.”

“You don’t seem mad to me.”

“No?” Loki mused, and his red eyes lightened, suddenly, into a barely-tinged pallor that resembled the distant bloodiness of an early morn. “Then perhaps you are mad, too.”

Make me mad. Join me in madness. I care not, only - ”

“Hush,” sighed Loki dismissively. “What you need is not a winter-love, enduring and hard and implacable. You are a summer-child, of bright and passing things. Get thee hence, then, back to your orchards of golden apples. Leave the barren ice-wastes to me.”

“I may be a summer-child,” Thor scowled, “but I am of the thunder and the storm, not merely of the sweetened harvests.” And then he reached up and pulled Loki’s face down to his, and indeed, his mouth was wet and sea-wild. Not a child’s mouth, at all.

Except…

Well, Loki had worked many a millennia for this, many a silver-wrought century, working tendrils of ice into the minds of those in the mellow lands, encouraging rumors of him that might bring young, errant gods to his doorstep, in search of adventure, in search of love. (Love. So many chased after it, and so mindlessly, as children chased after kites.)

Loki had plotted for a long, long time. And he was not about to have his meal before it was primed; before the young god had yet to come into his power; before Loki could slice open that fair chest and dig out that beating, steaming heart with his bare hands; before he could feast on it, feast like the deprivation he was, that he had always been.

He was not about to lose to a moment’s temptation.

And so he warned Thor, as a far kinder god would have done, and spoke words of patience and just rewards and longed-for unions, and kissed the summer god again, and again, easing him further with each kiss, and allowing his own sallow cheeks to blush with corresponding want, so that the young god looked upon him with wonder.

“Return,” said Loki, “the next winter, and the next. Return, until you are full-grown, until it would not be a depravity for me to have you, for you to have me.”

“I,” said Thor, and seemed struck dumb, his mouth still glistening, ice-crystals forming in his boyish beard. “I. You will let me. Have you?” And his hands wandered under the parting of Loki’s robes, slipping along impossibly exquisite skin, and he quivered, as a struck harp does, or a young horse straining against the bit.

“I will,” said Loki gently, and closed his eyes for a parting kiss - a fraction of the warmth he would one day have, one day devour, from these very lips, until they were blue and still.

Thor rode away, back to his summer lands, and Loki raised his fingers to his mouth, letting his talons cut his lips.

He tasted his own ashen blood, brackish and black, poison to all but himself.

Thor’s blood would be far more generous. A meal years in the preparation.

They were wrong, those who called Loki mad, though they weren’t, when they called him hungry. It was that fallacy that would cost them their most precious god, their darling boy, their golden prince of all things good and right.

None would expect Loki to cherish and destroy, to love and hate, to revere and ravage, to wait and feast. None expected such patience from a mad god; none expected such forbearance.

None, of course, other than Loki himself.

He looked into his scrying-glass, formed of a frozen mountain-lake, and followed Thor’s return - to his sun-hot valleys and his coral-ringed beaches, and his thousands upon thousands of devotees.

Only a little longer, Loki thought. Only a little, and then, all those realms - all that heat - all that devotion - would be his. All his.

He sang to himself, in the winter-wind, and smiled a sickle’s smile.

 


fin.