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Rulers Make Bad Lovers

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“Useless," Odin spat.

Loki did not look up from where he sat cross-legged on the floor. He was used to the King's tirades. The man wanted always more and Loki had already given him everything he could. Odin was king over Asgard and its Empire. He had wanted to conquer lands and people. Loki had assured that he did.

"What concerns you now, my king?" he asked.

"My heirs," came the reply.

"Oh, those," Loki said quietly. "You know I will not give you those."

"Then tell me who has the powers you do, boy. Tell me who will give me strong sons."

Loki glanced up. He did not hide his disgust, lips twisting at the thought of anyone lying beneath the bulk of the old man. Odin had been handsome once, but he was scarred and turning grey now. He had devoted himself too long to warfare, but now as he aged his thoughts turned to his line of succession.

 

Loki  took his rune stones from the pouch at his belt and cast them on the floor before him, waiting for them to come to rest before he looked at them.

"Lady Frigga will give you sons. Marry her," he said.

 

Odin snorted.

"She is a healer. What power can that give me?"

 

Loki looked back at the stones.

"If you wish only for strength, lay with the giantess Grid. Her sons will be strong."

 

Odin was quiet for a long moment before he shook his head.

"Brute strength alone is not all I require."

"Lay with Jord then,”” Loki snapped, growing irritable now. “She is mistress of the earth. The children born of her will have power such as you crave."

 

Odin reached out suddenly, snatching hold of Loki’s hair and dragging his head back, forcing Loki to look up at him.

"What of you, little witch? A child of yours would be the most powerful," he said, and his one good eye gleamed with lust as he looked along the length of Loki’s body.

"A child of mine would be a monster,” Loki hissed, his nails biting into the skin of Odin’s hand as he struggled against the man, forcing himself free. He fled to the other side of the room, glaring angrily at Odin. “If you want a child of mine then cut out your heart and I will eat it. I will not be amenable to any other way.”  

 

Odin glared back at him, but Loki stood firm. For a long moment neither of them moved.

 

Loki hated Odin, hated him deep in his heart, but he knew he could not hurt the man. The binding had seen to that. They were together until Odin died and that day could not come soon enough for Loki’s liking.

 

He would never given Odin what the man desired most, not if he had a choice in the matter, but he feared that Odin would take that choice from him. If he ordered Loki then Loki could not refuse.

 

“Very well,” Odin said finally, turning his gaze away from Loki and Loki felt relief flood through him. “I shall take Frigga as my queen and lay with Jord and Gird. Whichever of my sons is worthy of Asgard, I will crown King.”

 

“Of course,” Loki said.

 

He should have guessed that Odin would not settle for only one of the choices presented to him. He had always been greedy.


**

 

Queen Frigga bore three sons - Balder, Hod, and Hermod.

 

Loki held each of the children and saw nothing exceptional in any of them, although he did not say so. Odin was pleased with them and his Queen. Loki was certain they would have been happy enough together, but Odin had not been content to let his line rest with just Frigga.

 

True to his word he has sought out both the giantess and the mistress of the earth and begot both with child.

 

Gird birthed one child - another boy - Vidar.

 

Loki visited the child and his mother. He held the boy who was as heavy as a grindstone already and saw that he would grow to be a giant. He foresaw nothing of the child’s character, the sort of man he would grow to be, but it was too soon for such things to be known.

 

Lastly Loki went to Jord. She too had given birth to a boy, this one named Thor.

 

She let Loki in to her home under duress and watched him with wary eyes as he picked Thor up from his cot.

 

“He is my son, witch. He is Thor Jordson. Odin will not have him.”

 

“I do not want to take him from you, Jord,” Loki said. “You are his mother. I want only to look at him, to judge if he will one day be our King.”

 

The boy was pink cheeked and golden curled, with chubby legs and arms and bright blue eyes. There was not a sign of Odin in him and Loki thought him all the better for it.

 

Loki held the child in his arms, studying him intently, but he could see only the flickers of what Thor might become. There was power in the little body, something beyond the control of mortal men, but Loki could not tell yet what form that power would take.

 

Unexpectedly, the baby smiled at him.

 

None of Odin’s other sons had ever smiled at Loki. They had cried and screamed when he held them, well aware that he was not human, or else they had lain quiet in his arms, staring at him with fear as he examined them.

 

Thor reached out a pudgy hand. He grabbed a handful of Loki’s long dark hair and tugged, gurgling happily as he did.

 

“I cannot tell you if he will be the future king,” Loki said, looking at Jord witheringly. “But I can tell you that he is a simpleton. He does not even have the sense to fear me.”

 

Jord laughed.

 

“What are you to fear? You would not harm him. He can tell that,” she said.

 

Loki smiled. He did not believe her, but it would be nice to think that Thor of all Odin’s children sensed already the bond they would share. Thor was only half-mortal. Perhaps he did have a knowledge none of the others possessed.

 

“You will be my favourite then,” he said to Thor, delighting in how the baby’s smile grew wide.

 

**

 

From then on Loki split his time between the three families and his duties to his King. He made certain that he visited each year with Vidar and Thor, and that he saw Frigga’s three sons when he was at court.

 

Thor was still Loki’s favourite of all the children. He alone had no clue as to his royal blood.

 

Jord was under no illusions when she fell pregnant with him. She knew that one day Odin would call upon Thor, that one day Thor would be measured against all of his brothers to find the most worthy of the crown, but until that time came he was a simple boy, living a simple life on his mother’s farm.

 

She kept him from the backstabbing and warmongering of his father’s court.

 

Only Loki was ever allowed to visit and Loki knew when to hold his tongue.

 

For Thor it was always summertime. The flowers always bloomed, the birds always sang. There were always sweet apples and pears growing in the fruit trees, always milk from the goats and wheat in their fields. His mother was the earth and she gave her riches back to him.

 

**

 

“Do you know my father?” Thor asked.

 

He was seven years old.

 

Thor and Loki lay in the long grass on the hill behind Jord’s farmstead. Loki had arrived that afternoon on his yearly pilgrimage to the farm. There had been a great meal in his honor, a deer had been caught and roasted on a spit. Loki had brought fine things - wine, cured and potted fish and strange seeds for Jord to plant in her garden. He had told Thor of his adventures until Thor had wanted adventures of his own and then Loki had followed him into the long grass, had chased him until they collapsed exhausted.

 

The sun had finally set, but it was still pleasantly warm. The stars in the night sky dimmed, dulled by the haze of summer as all things were.

 

Loki felt contented. He could not think of a great many places he would like to be more than Jord’s farmstead in high summer with Thor at his side.

 

“Yes,” he said. “I know your father.”

 

Thor paused for a long moment before he voiced his next question.

 

“Are you my father?” he asked, his voice quieter now.

 

Loki laughed. “No.”

 

He could see why Thor might think such a thing.  Loki came each year to visit and his visits were always spent with Thor. It was natural that the child would wonder why Loki had such an interest in him. Jord did not want Thor to know that he was Odin’s son. She wanted him to grow up, untainted by the man and his court. Loki respected her wishes for the moment. There was no great rush to tell Thor of his true parentage. That was a bridge that could be crossed in time.

 

Thor nodded, satisfied. “I didn’t think you were. You didn’t seem the sort.”

 

Oh , Loki thought, I must be very obvious if even a child can tell.

 

He said nothing in response to Thor. Instead, he looked up at the dimly lit stars.

 

“What are you to me?” Thor asked, interrupting the silence again.

 

“Nothing,” Loki answered carelessly.

 

For the moment he was nothing to Thor. If Thor became the King, if he was Odin’s heir, then Loki would be any and all things Thor wished for, but that was not now.

 

Thor thumped the ground beside him with a clenched fist.

 

“That isn’t true! I know it isn’t true. You aren’t nothing. You are special to me, Loki. I know it!”

 

Loki turned over onto his side so he could look at Thor. The boy’s face was red, his lower lip stuck out and trembling. His whole body radiated tension, clenched in on itself. Loki had never thought Thor would take his words so deeply to heart. Overhead a flash of lightning split the sky. Loki had seen no clouds. It had been completely clear above them, yet he heard the thunder and saw the lightning.

 

This then was Thor’s power. It was the power Loki had sensed in him when Thor was only a few weeks old.

 

How strange that Thor, son of the earth, should have power over the skies.

 

“You will know what I am to you when you are older,” Loki said quietly, reaching out one hand to stroke through Thor’s curls.

 

That touch and Loki’s soft words seemed to be enough for Thor.

 

He unclenched his fists and relaxed, his body no longer a tightly wound coil of energy.  The sky cleared, leaving only the stars behind.

 

“And I will know who my father is then?”

 

Loki nodded. “When it is time, yes.”

 

Thor mulled this answer over before flopping down into the grass next to Loki. He said nothing else, just lay there beside him and gazed up at the stars.

 

Loki found the sound of his breathing intensely comforting. He closed his eyes, peaceful under the stars and slept with Thor at his side.

 

**

 

Thor was twelve and had just had a growth spurt. His chubby legs had lengthened, his shoulders had widened and he had lost his baby fat. He was wiry and long-limbed, filled with the nervous energy of youth.

 

When Loki visited, Thor found to his pride that he now stood head-height to Loki’s shoulder. Another growth spurt or two and he would be the taller of them.

 

He trailed after Loki, abandoning his chores to spend hours by the fireside hearing of Loki’s adventures - his stories of Asgard, his fights with great giants and mortal men, the magic he had worked since their last meeting. He showed Thor simple tricks, made flowers appear from thin air and produced coins from behind Thor’s ear. Those coins vanished when Thor tried to touch them, but the flowers stayed. They bloomed for the length of Loki’s visit.

 

There was no one else on the farm who took such an interest in Thor. The labourers indulged him as the son of their mistress, played with him when they had free time and saved him the choicest apples and pears from the orchard, but they did not come to the farm simply to see him as Loki did. They did not spend hours exploring the woods around the farm, talking of everything and nothing. They did not play pranks and steal food from the larder and hide in the hayloft when Jord discovered their mischief. They did not laugh so musically at the chaos caused.

 

There was no one else in Thor’s whole world who was as dear to him as Loki was. Loki was his true friend, his co-conspirator. Thor looked forward to his visits and he dreaded the day when Loki would leave again.

 

Thor found himself jealous of anyone who would try to gain Loki’s attention for themselves. He knew that Loki was beautiful. Loki was beautiful in the way a thunderstorm was beautiful, naturally and terrifyingly. Loki’s beauty didn’t mean anything to Thor, not compared to Loki’s other gifts, but it meant something to other people.

 

Thor first noticed it with one of the milk maids. She brought her chair up to the fire to sit with them on an evening after supper. No-one else had ever done that. She moved her chair closer to Loki’s as he told his stories, her eyes fixed on him. Loki was aware, amused even by the attention. Thor saw his eyes flicker to the maid more than once, saw the smile on his face grow wider.

 

Thor hated it.

 

When Jord came to usher Thor to bed as the night grew long, Loki stood too.

 

“Will you not stay and tell more stories? You tell the most wonderful stories.” the maid asked. She put out a hand, reaching to touch Loki’s wrist, to hold him in place but he pulled away from her.

 

“I am glad my stories amused you, but I tell them for Thor,” he said.

 

The maid blushed, her gaze falling to the floor and Thor felt something shameful blooming in his chest. He was joyus, delighted that Loki had rebuffed the request. It was a horrible thing to feel and yet Thor couldn’t stop himself.

 

He and Loki went up the stairs to bed together, parting at Thor’s door, and Thor slept soundly that night, reassured that Loki’s attention was all his own.

 

From that night on though he was more aware of the effect Loki had on others. The glances he attracted, the opportunities others found to touch him - a hand on his shoulder or his arm, a brush against him that could be dismissed if questioned. Loki seemed happy enough with all of it so Thor tried not to hate it.

 

Some were not so subtle.

 

Thor had been play hide and seek with Loki. It was supposed to be Loki’s turn to seek, but any number of minutes had passed and Loki had not found him. Thor sighed. It would not be the first time that Loki had misunderstood the rules of the game. Thor almost hated hunting for him. Loki turned himself into frogs and rocks and birds to hide, which Thor had informed him often was cheating. It did not surprise him that Loki had forgotten to look for him.

 

Perhaps Thor was getting too old for these games.

 

He moved from his hiding place and set out for the barn where he had last been with Loki. He stuck his hands in his pockets, considering the other games they might play.

 

Thor rounded the corner and stopped. For a moment, he forgot to breath.

 

Loki was there where Thor had left him, leaning up against the side of the barn, but he was no longer alone. One of the farmhands was with him,

 

The man had one hand pressed to the wood right by Loki’s head and he was leaning into him, far more imposing than Loki who looked very small indeed to Thor in that moment.

 

Loki wasn’t frightened though. He was smiling, his head tipped back slightly and Thor felt an icy chill run through him as he realised this man was the reason Loki hadn’t come to look for him.

 

Loki was not interested in fair maids, but in the burley men who toiled in the fields.

 

It didn’t shock Thor. He did not care if men loved men, or women loved women. It was natural and Thor thought no less of Loki for his preference. He only cared that Loki had abandoned him for this flirtation.

 

Even as Thor watched, the farmhand reached out his free hand to stroke over Loki’s cheek. His hands were rough from work and Thor gritted his teeth, thinking of how soft Loki’s skin was and how the touch must hurt him.

 

“You are so beautiful. I want to have you right here,” the man rumbled, his voice low but Thor still heard him. He was listening.

 

Loki laughed melodious and silken. He pressed a hand to the man’s chest, his fingers stroking softly.

 

Thor hated this. He hated to see someone else pawing at Loki, hated to see Loki enjoying it, but most of all he hated how he could not look away. He wanted to see everything. He wanted to imagine he was the one touching Loki, that Loki looked so invitingly at him. It was confusing and terrifying.

 

Loki was his friend and yet Thor wanted him.

 

He had never wanted anyone else before. He had rolled his eyes at the romantic parts of Loki’s stories, rushed him onto the battles. He had traded kisses with the daughter of one of the milkmaids, and while he had enjoyed it, he’d felt nothing like the yearning he felt now.

 

Thor had not realised until this moment that his growing awareness of other people’s interest in Loki had been down to his growing awareness of Loki. Thor was on the cusp, moving between child and adult. He was growing out of childish games and pursuits. He was growing up and the love he felt for Loki was changing, maturing.

 

He wanted to steal kisses from Loki as they laughed together, wanted to hold hands with him in front of the fire. He wanted things from Loki that he didn’t fully understand yet, but he wanted them all the same.

 

Loki would never be interested in a gangly youth like Thor though. Loki was something ethereal, a creature of shadows and magic. He could have anyone he set his mind on and they would want him too. It was in his nature to be desired.

 

The farmhand moved his head to press a kiss to Loki’s pretty mouth and at the last moment Loki turned away, his musical laughter filling the air.

 

“Minx,” the man said. “You’ve spent too much time with that boy. You’ve forgotten what to do with a man.”

 

Loki shook in the man’s arms, his laughter quieter now and Thor felt as if he had been stabbed in the heart.

 

“Don’t you get bored, running around after that brat?” the man asked.

 

Thor bit his lip, forcing himself to stay silent. He needed to know what Loki would say. He needed to know if Loki would toss his head and smile and laugh as he’d done before. He needed to know if Loki believed he was a brat, if Loki was bored of him. From the corner of his eye Thor saw dark clouds starting to form on the horizon.

 

Loki narrowed his eyes. He shoved the man away with such force that he sent him sprawling onto the ground.  Loki no longer looked delicate. He looked dangerous.

 

“I get bored of foolish men who want to bed me,” he said. He smoothed his hands over his front, brushing away the man’s touches as if they were nothing more than dirt. “I have allowed myself to be waylaid for too long, Thor is hiding and I am supposed to be seeking.”

 

The dark foreboding clouds that had begun to form on the horizon parted, letting the sunlight through.

 

“Witch,” the man spat.

 

Loki laughed again.

 

In the blink of an eye he vanished.

 

Thor did not stay. He knew Loki would have changed into some other form and would be searching for him now. He didn’t want Loki to know he had been spying. He was certain Loki wouldn’t have wanted this moment to be overheard.

 

Thor ran and ran until his legs were sore and he was forced to stop. His heart ached with joy.

 

Loki cared for him more than any other. Thor knew that now.

 

**

 

“Loki is here!”

 

Thor’s delighted whoop alerted Jord to the witch’s’ arrival. She had known it would be soon. Even in the eternal summertime of her home, she knew when the months passed. She felt it.

 

“Good,” she called back to her son. “Throw rocks at him until he goes away.”

 

“Ma!”

 

She laughed at Thor’s shock. He was thirteen now. He was no longer a child, but growing into a man. He helped with the harvest, he went out on the hunt. He was old enough to know that his mother and Loki were not friends. They shared one thing in common and that was Thor.

 

Jord resented each visit from Loki. Every time he came, it was a reminder of Thor’s destiny. With each year that passed she knew she was another year closer to losing Thor.

 

Once he found out he was a Prince, once he learned to control his powers, why would he ever want to stay?

 

She left Thor to greet their guest and instead poured them cups of the blackberry wine. Loki would be thirsty after the long ride.

 

He had given her the seeds for the blackberry bush. It was fitting that he taste the produce of that gift.

 

Jord took one of the cups and stepped out into the courtyard, looking around for Thor and Loki.

 

They were standing by the stable and Jord was grateful that her footsteps had been soft. They had not heard her, completely engrossed in their own conversation.

 

Jord knew her son well. She had seen his excitement at Loki’s arrival turn from something innocent to something heated. He had developed an attachment to Loki that was no longer platonic.

 

It was easy to see why he would feel such an infatuation.  Loki was very lovely to look at with his pale skin and raven’s black hair, his rosebud mouth and emerald green eyes. Jord did not think he was a great beauty, but he was haunting. Once seen, it was difficult to forget him. He was always impeccably turned out, dressed in black and never with a scuff on his boots or a tear in his clothes. He held himself as if he was a King, not a slave.

 

Loki’s loveliness hid a cruel heart. Loki was a force of nature, ageless and inhuman, bound to a warrior-king to do his bidding. Jord did not think he knew how to love and she doubted he was inclined to learn.

 

Jord stood in the courtyard, listening to them, watching them, wondering if Loki was even aware of the effect he had on her son.


"I picked these for you," Thor said, thrusting his hand forward.

Inside his clasped fingers was a bunch of wildflowers. They were beautiful things; blue, violet and white in color. He must have found them growing in the hedgerow when he was in the fields for the wheat harvest.

"Thank you," Loki said quietly.

 

He took them from the youth and held them close to his chest.

 

A pleasant silence bloomed between them, each smiling at the other, and it was more than Jord could stand.

 

Bad enough that one day Odin would steal her boy from her. She did not need him taken away by the witch.

"Loki does not need your clumsy attempts at wooing, Thor Jordson!" she called, startling them apart.

 

Thor jumped as if he’d be scolded. He turned and ran, heading for the wheat fields and Jord knew they would not see him again until the evening. He would work with the men to bring in the harvest, his face bright red and then he would slink in the house for supper.

 

Loki watched him go, his amusement clear on his face.

 

“Must you treat him so, Jord?” he asked. “There is no harm in it.”

 

She cast a curious eye over Loki, but she saw no blush in his cheeks. He was still smiling, his eyes alight, but  there was no heat there. He enjoyed being admired and that was all.

 

It soothed her. Nothing would happen if Loki did not will it and he was content to accept Thor’s gifts and his calf-love. He did not want more.

 

“Wine for you,” she said, offering the cup to him.

 

“Wine and flowers? I am being spoiled,” Loki said, grinning.

 

He took the cup from her and sipped. She watched him still, now waiting for some sign that he enjoyed it, but Loki showed nothing. He drained the cup dry and still she did not know if he had liked it or if he drank because he was thirsty and that was all she had offered.

 

“Come inside,” she said.

 

They walked in silence.

 

Inside the house she offered him a chair by the fireside, his usual seat. He sat and she moved to sit opposite him.

 

For a very long time neither of them said a word.

 

“Odin is devising a trial for his sons, a test to prove their worth,” Loki said finally.

 

Jord felt her heart flutter.

 

“A test?” she asked. She tried to keep the hope from her voice, but she could not hide it from Loki.

 

He shook his head.

 

“Thor is a fool, but this test is a test of bravery, valour and strength. Thor has all such qualities. There is no reason he would fail in this..”

 

Jord knew she should be offended on Thor’s behalf, but she had held no illusions regarding her son’s talents. He would never be a great scholar or strategist, nor did she want him to be. She loved him for what he was, a happy, kind-hearted boy who saw goodness wherever he went.

 

They would eat his honest, good heart whole in the King’s court.

 

Loki looked at her shrewdly. “You think as I do then. You think Thor is the one who will be worthy.”

 

Jord sat up straight, her back ridgid, hands clasped to  her knees.

 

“No,” she lied. “He is reckless, foolish. He is too emotional. His heart rules his head.”

 

“Oh yes, he is all those things,” Loki agreed. “And a terrible liar, just as you are.”

 

Jord swallowed.

 

She had felt it long before now. She had known, had heard the earth sing for Thor as she dug her garden. The land called for Thor to be King of it. The land wanted him as ruler.

 

The prospect had become inevitable to her.

 

“I must go away for a long time. I do not know exactly how long. Odin has things he needs for his trial and I am the only one who can arrange them,” Loki said, looking away from her, staring instead at the fire.

 

“You are his vassal,” she said.

 

“You think me weak for being bound,” he said, eyes flickering back to her. “Well I think you weak for bearing him a child. I would not let him touch me, not even with my bonds. You have no such claim on you and yet you allowed it.”

 

Jord sighed. Her choice was not an easy one to understand.

 

She had no love for Odin. His soldiers marched over the land, burnt and salted the earth were they could not take it by force, ensuring it would never flower for another if they could not control it. She hated him for that, but she was old and her memory was long. He was mortal and he would die, the land would recover. What she had taken from him was far greater. She had made Thor with the seed Odin had given her and he would do incredible things.

 

“I gained Thor,” she said. “You are alone, Loki. You have nothing and no-one of your own. You serve a bloodline and you are useful but you are not loved. I am loved.”

 

Loki snarled and threw his cup at her. She caught it gracefully.

 

“You are leaving?” she prompted, as if his outburst had never happened.

 

“I may be gone years,” Loki said, sinking back into the chair.

 

He looked tired suddenly, his face lined and much older. It was the strain, she thought, of the work he undertook for Odin.

 

No wonder Loki wanted Thor to be King. He would never have to lift a finger then. Thor would never dream of asking his beloved Loki to fly to the ends of the earth on impossible quests. Loki would have a comfortable life if Thor was crowned and Thor might have a life as long as theirs. He might live forever and keep Loki always in that comfort he so desired.

 

“You worry about how Thor will take your absence?” Jord guessed.

 

Loki nodded.

 

Jord did not know why he would not just admit the thing, but he was a strange creature.

 

“I will tell Thor you are adventuring. He will understand. He wants so much to go on your adventures.”

 

The fire crackled and leapt.

 

Since Thor could talk he had talked of Loki, of the things Loki had told him; the places he had been and the people he had known. Thor had desired to be at Loki’s side on his quests.

 

Jord knew that each time Thor went out to hunt, he went with plans of strengthening his skills as a tracker, sneaking through the wood without making a sound. When he held his scythe to cut down the stalks of wheat he imagined cutting down his enemies. He trained for adventures he would never have.

 

“Do you tell him I work for the King?” Loki asked.

 

“Never,” she said.

 

They sat in silence together, Jord holding the cup and Loki the bunch of wild flowers, until the sun began to set and the hall grew cold. Jord rekindled the fire and arranged for dinner. Thor appeared, as sullen as she had known he would be, but  Loki remained at the fireside. He ate hardly anything and his eyes lingered on Thor.

 

He left in the middle of the night and Jord found herself consoling Thor through his first heartbreak.

 

**

 

“When do you think he will return?” Thor asked.

 

He had climbed one of the orchard trees and was eating the fruit, his hands and mouth sticky with juice.

 

Jord stood below the tree, basket on her hip, waiting for Thor to shake the tree and loose the pears. She frowned at Thor’s question. She did not need him to tell her it was Loki he spoke of. Jord knew well enough who had her son’s heart.

 

“I cannot say, Thor,” she said, reaching out to touch the tree trunk. “It could be years. He didn’t know.”

 

Overhead, clouds began to form. Jord looked up at them uneasily.

 

They needed the rain. It brought new life and rejuvenated the land. They could not survive on sunlight alone. The earth craved water, but these clouds now were not of her doing. She had not let the rain in.

 

“How could he leave and not say anything?”

 

The first rain drop landed on Jord’s forehead.

 

“He didn’t know how to tell you,” she said, her fingers trembling.

 

She felt the raw power in the air. It would be impossible not to feel it and it all came from Thor. His emotions were getting the better of him. He was still so young, so unaware of what he could do. Did he even know that this rain was his doing?

 

“Thor,” she said, reaching her hand out to him, but he wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were fixed on the horizon. He threw his pear with such force that it sailed across the length of the orchard.

 

The clouds burst overhead, the rain falling heavy and undaunted.

 

It continued that way for three nights and three days until the ground was sodden and Thor’s tears had run dry.

 

**

 

Loki did not return for seven years.

 

Thor fell in love again, tumbling with pretty girls and pretty boys. He fell out of love just as quickly, his attachments always passing fancies and yet none seemed to begrudge him for his fickle nature. He was magnetic, making friends with all he met. He was still kind, his heart honest. Jord never worried, for she knew he son would not keep secrets from her.

 

Thor grew tall and broad, his hair lengthened and he grew a beard, his skin was kissed by the sun and for all he grew, there was still a gentleness in him. He was the first to offer sympathy or to console a crying child, the first to offer help to their workers and neighbours. Thor embraced his life on the farm, his childhood fantasies of adventures forgotten. He worked hard in the fields and the orchards, hearded the goats and turned his hand to any and all tasks asked of him. He was a fine man, coming on his twentieth year.

 

He no longer expected the sound of horses hooves to herald Loki’s arrival. He had stopped looking for the witch sometime after his fifteenth year.

 

Jord could not imagine what had kept Loki from their homestead for seven years, but she knew he would have returned if he could. She knew he had taken Thor’s flowers with him when he left. She had not found them in his empty room the morning after.

 

**

 

Loki came at sunset on an otherwise peaceful day.

 

He rode into the courtyard of the farm on the back of a great black horse. He was thinner than he had been, paler too if such things were possible.

 

Jord came running from the farmhouse.

 

“Loki?”

 

“It is time,” he said. “You must tell Thor. Odin is ill. He will not last the winter.”

 

Jord felt a shiver run through her. There was no winter in her corner of the earth, but outside the seasons remained.

 

“It is too soon,” she said.

 

“You have had twenty years with him, Jord. Let him be a man now. Let him meet his destiny.”

 

Jord’s footsteps felt heavy as she went to fetch Thor. She did not want to make this trip. It was what she had dreaded since Thor had been born. From the first time she had held him in her arms, she had known she would lose him. Loki was right, twenty years was more time than she might have had, but Jord never wanted the eternal summer to end.

 

She found Thor in the goat pen. He was feeding the littlest goat, letting it eat from his hand. She watched him for a heartbeats length, trying to save this image of him in her mind.

 

“Thor,” Jord said, her throat growing tight. She didn’t have the words so she motioned for him and he followed her obediently, stepping out of the pen.

 

She took him back to the courtyard.

 

Loki had dismounted his horse and was waiting for them.

 

His eyes widened as they swept over Thor, taking in the changes that had occured since they last saw each other. Loki had left a boy behind and come back to find a man.

 

Thor had become handsome in their time apart.


“Loki!” Thor cried.

 

He ran past his mother to catch Loki in his arms, lifting him up as if he weighed nothing. Thor spun him in his arms, laughing joyously, and all Loki could do was hold on to him.

 

“You have been gone so long. I thought I would never see you again,” Thor said, setting Loki back down on his feet finally.

 

“I did not plan to be away for so long,” Loki said, his cheeks pink. “You have grown.”

 

“I missed you,” Thor said, as if that were not plain to everyone.

 

“I missed you too,” Loki said quietly. He reached out his hand, stroking over Thor’s cheek, feeling the roughness of his beard. “You didn’t have this when I last saw you.”

 

“You’ve not changed,” said Thor. His eyes were soft as he gazed at Loki.

 

Watching them, Jord realised why she had loved the last seven year of her son's life so much. There had been no Loki. He had not been there to steal Thor’s attention. With Loki in his life, Jord felt she faded into the background. She would always be Thor’s mother, always be precious to him, but she would not be the centre of his world as Loki was.

 

She thought of Thor’s other loves, his rolls in the hay and his summer flings. His infatuations did not last.

 

She would tell Loki of Thor’s lovers when she was alone with him. Loki would not want to be one of a string of conquests. He was too proud and she would play on that pride, would remind him that Thor was half-mortal with all the failings of a mortal man.

 

“Thor, there is so much I have to tell you, that your mother has to tell you. It is time. Your father...” Loki began, but Thor held up a hand, quieting him.

 

“I do not care who he is. I have all I need. I have my mother and I have you, returned safe to me, and I have the land. This is all I want, Loki.”

 

Loki cast a desperate glance in Jord’s direction.

 

She sighed. This could not be a story that Loki told alone.

 

“Thor, this cannot be a secret any longer”, she said.

 

“Why not?” Thor asked. “I have lived all my life without a father. Why do I need one now?”

 

“Thor, it is important. The fate of our Kingdom and its Empire are involved,” Loki said.

 

Thor laughed. It was a great, booming laugh that shook the shutters on the windows. It was not unlike the rumble of thunder.

 

“You make it sound as if my father is the King!”

 

Silence settled over the courtyard. Thor looked quickly between Loki and Jord, looking for some other explanation, but both their faces betrayed the truth of his words.

 

“My father is the King?” Thor asked in disbelief.

 

“Yes,” Loki said, answering for Jord who found she could not speak. “You are Thor Odinson. You are the son of the King.”

 

“No,” Thor shook his head. “No, I am Thor Jordson. That is all I have ever needed to be and all I will ever need to be.”

 

“Please, Thor,” Loki caught hold of Thor’s hand, holding it tightly. “Your father is dying. There is a test, a test of worth for his sons. The one who prevails will be crowned King when Odin dies. You must go.”

 

Thor pulled his hand free from Loki’s grasp. His eyes were wild, full of fear.

 

“I do not want to be King,” he said.

 

Jord licked her lips. She found her voice. It was soft, hardly more than a whisper, but she caught Thor’s attention.

 

“You must go, Thor. On this one thing, Loki and I both agree. You must go.”

 

He would go. Jord knew that already. She would work on him. Loki would persuade with his flattery and sweet words. Thor would sense the adventure offered to him, the only real adventure he would ever have. He would leave the eternal summer and see new things, meet new people.

 

He would best Odin’s trial and be crowned King.

 

It was his destiny and she could not prevent it any longer.