I. Prologue – How to Avoid a Fall
“Really, I have to go! I have no time to listen to your hilariously incredible stories.”, the woman chided, pulling at the waistband forcefully as she got dressed in a great hurry. She tossed her dark red hair over her shoulder and puffed out an impatient breath. The man in her bed folded his hands at his nape. He looked perfectly at ease there, smiling serenely without a care in the world.
“But you love my stories.”, he argued.
“Because you make them so real when you tell them. As if they actually happened. Which is of course impossible. And don’t try you lead me off to some wild goose-chase to the ginger-bread house, Gildran! Peter was right. You are nothing but a big tease.”, she accused him. His smile grew wider, and she cursed at herself inwardly for the rush of giddiness because he was so otherworldly handsome. Especially when he summoned that roguish glint to his mesmerizing eyes.
“It runs in the family. Come on, this story actually happened, I promise.”, he cajoled, pulling her back to the chaotic bed by the wrist. She gave an exasperated sigh. “Have I ever told you the one about the trickster and the dragon princess?”
“Alright that’s it –“, the woman protested, but he thwarted her escape quite easily.
“There once was a man who knew nothing but lies…”, he began, unfazed.
“Like you.”, she griped, only half-serious. To her astonishment, he grinned.
“What? I’m the most earnest soul alive! Now, will you stop squirming?”, he stilled her with a squeeze.
“Fine. One story. And be quick about it, I have to get the laundry later and do some serious studying –“
“Oh, I will be quick about it. You’ll be out of here in no time.” And his voice had such a distinct note of mischief in it, she knew without a doubt that she would not move from this place for the rest of the day.
On Asgard, many, many years before…
Yet another endless celebration in his brother’s honour, for the subjugation of some mighty beast or the besting of a warrior of legend. And as the many that preceded it, Loki pretended to enjoy himself. With all the magic tricks he had learned from his mother, the arcane books he’d studied, he couldn’t cast a spell on himself that made him genuinely happy for Thor. Or grant him the credit he probably deserved.
Long, richly filled tables lined the great hall, bursting with all sorts of delicacies. Guests were seated along them, enjoying themselves, partaking in the abundant festivities. Loki smiled politely at some random governor from the western riverlands, who had done little else all evening than ramble on about politics until the prince feared he would die of boredom.
Usually, he liked long discussions, for his prowess at conversation was one of the traits he held dear about himself. People often praised his eloquence, saying that he might one day talk a tiger out of its stripes. But today, the master of mischief and prince of Asgard wasn’t in the mood to talk. In fact, he wanted to flee the room and lose himself in one of his books. Just to escape this repeated show of his brother’s superiority. Always the same thing. Nothing exciting ever happened.
It was the beseeching look from his mother that made him endure the whole ordeal. Retaining a mildly bored expression, Loki let his gaze wander around the room. It passed over Thor and Sif, probably exchanging joking comments about battle skills. Fandral, of course with two maids sitting to either side, and him flashing his dazzling smile. The Allfather, looking stern but content with the events.
Not far away, at a table usually reserved for special guests, his gaze slid past a pair of eyes watching him curiously. He darted back to them. Yes, she was definitely looking at him. A willowy, elegant young woman in a flowing white dress. Loki didn’t usually look at women too closely, so he claimed no expertise about what men thought to be outstanding. Magic was something he knew very much about, and this one looked as close to magical as a woman could get.
He was momentarily stunned by her fey, vibrant beauty. Long, silvery hair fell around her shoulders in waves. The pale skin of her smooth, oval face and slender hands seemed aglow with the soft orange light from the festival lanterns. Grey eyes surveyed him, strangely ageless compared to her youthful face. She broke the taxing stare to lean over as someone next to her whispered into her ear. Her expression lit up with a smile.
Maybe he should look at women more often. There seemed to be some worthy of his attention… He shook his head slightly as if to dismiss the thought. But for some reason, he found that his eyes wouldn’t obey his command, and so all through the evening, he returned to steal fleeting glances at the silver woman, wondering why she had scrutinized him. If it was purely about appearance, Thor was a much more imposing figure to look at. Even though Loki donned his gold and green ceremonial clothes today, people would usually overlook him when his brother was around.
He turned to her direction again, yet she had disappeared. But he caught a glimpse of billowing ivory cloth slipping behind one of the pillars which marked the way to the great terrace. After a moment of hesitation, he decided that it would certainly do no harm to pursue the most interesting thing that had happened all night. And so he excused himself, following the mysterious guest.
When Loki stepped out onto the ornately fenced terrace with Asgard’s starry sky twinkling above, he froze. The woman was leaning over the balustrade in an impossible angle, swaying slightly as if she’d fall over the edge at any second. Her face alight with joy, curious and marvelling as she watched the people down in the gardens take their strolls between Frigga’s rosebushes.
“That’s dangerous.”, was all Loki could say, and he realized too late his horrible mistake. Startled and shocked, her hand slipped. If the situation hadn’t been so hazardous, he would have laughed at the strange way she fanned out her arms when she turned mid-fall, like a bird flapping its wings. Loki rushed forward and grabbed one flailing limb, his other arm wrapping around her narrow waist before she could plunge from the deadly height to the grounds below.
Touching her sent an electrifying jolt through him, as though he had been hit by Thor’s lightning strike. He became aware of several things at once in this single, brief moment: Some strange kind of magic he had never encountered before. Subtle, nearly unnoticeable, yet Loki could feel it surge inside her, probing the edges of her being, beseeching to be set free.
And then there was the pure softness of her skin. A whole different kind of thrill, but just as unfamiliar to him. Like brushing one’s fingers across the smoothest fabric ever woven. Warm, brimming with life. Suddenly he realized he was still holding her even though the danger had long passed, but she didn’t look offended at all, rather mystified. Steadying her on her feet again, he hastily let go of her. She blinked in surprise.
“Your Highness… Thank you.”, she spoke in a musical voice and curtsied somewhat awkwardly.
“What were you doing, my lady? We’re a hundred feet up. You could have broken your neck.”, he sounded too annoyed for his own taste. The young woman gazed at him with an oblivious expression, as if hearing for the first time that a hundred feet drop could be lethal.
“I was merely admiring the view, my prince.”, she defended herself innocently. Loki noted the sing-song cadence of her voice which created an odd little melody as she spoke. The words came out all stretched and rhythmic.
“It would be wise if you wouldn’t lean over the balustrade so far the next time. Maybe I should instruct you in the proper use of balustrades. If you allow me, of course.”, Loki kept his tone polite. She smiled at this and bowed down graciously. He had the distinct feeling that they had entered a game, a strange kind of dance.
“Please do. After saving my life, it would be most disrespectful of me to deny.” He stepped to the balustrade and put his hands on the cool stone, leaning forward a safe distance. She mimicked his moves, watching him closely with her unusual grey eyes.
“Am I mistaken in assuming this is your first visit to the palace?”, Loki threw her a quick sideways glance. Could there be any other explanation to why she’d be so fascinated by the gardens?
“No, you are correct, my prince.”, she answered. He turned from the spectacular view to face her.
“Would you tell me your name?” It was a courteous, formal request. After all, Loki considered himself a gentleman, however inapproachable he may have seemed to most people. The silver woman who thought she could fly smiled at him, radiant as the sun. Something both new and yet strangely familiar stirred inside him at the sight. Against his will, his lips quirked to answer her smile.
“My name is Ljosira. It means…”, but he finished the sentence before she did.
“… born of light.”