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The Little Frost Troll

Chapter Text

Thor nearly laughed when he checked his trap the next morning.

By conventional standards, the creature was positively tiny, much smaller than Thor and even the average Midgardian. He was definitely a frost troll—the blue-skinned species of jötunn that dwelled in the cold, snowy realms of Niflheim and Jötunheim. His horns were only just beginning to curve, a sign that he was yet a juvenile. He was gangly and terribly thin, his tail a long, bony appendage sprouting from his bottom. His ribs were visible through his skin and he had a crazed, hungry sort of ferociousness about him. He wore only a ragged breechcloth, but this was not unusual because frost trolls were unaffected by the cold. Like the rest of his kind, he wore no shoes; his feet were bare and surprisingly dainty, not thick and scaly as they should have been, nor were there claws on his toes and fingers. He did not possess the heavy, sturdy build typical of jötnar, though he bore their distinctive markings. Faint lines ran all over his naked blue torso and limbs, circles and bevels that Thor suddenly found to be quite intricate, even pretty. This petit specimen lacked the heavy, muscular features and large fangs that were common among his people, and his skin looked to be very soft and smooth. He had lovely hands—a bit bloodied and dirtied from his struggle—and was not completely hairless. An oily, leaf-littered tangle of black locks hung around his face, and he also had eyebrows. Thor wondered if he might be the product of an unfortunate union between a human woman and a frost troll. If so, this creature would be the first of his kind.

The little jötunn sat on the frosty ground with his ankle caught in a snare made of indestructible golden rope, and on the other end of the rope was Mjölnir, Thor’s mighty hammer. He was stabbing vigorously at his tether with a sharp rock when Thor made his presence known, and he immediately dropped his tool and recoiled, baring his teeth.

Thor squatted on his haunches and stared at his quarry. When he spoke, his tone was calm and level. “So you are the fearsome fiend that has been terrorizing the people of Túnsberg.”

The troll drew back farther, creating furrows in the damp earth with his hands and heels. The fear in his eyes was unmistakable, much more pronounced than his scorn. Thor felt inexplicably sorry for him, so thin and small and frightened. Did the villagers honestly believe this half-starved little mongrel was responsible for tearing a full-grown man to pieces and eating an entire herd of goats? Impossible. Their fears were clearly feeding their imaginations, which was by no means a rare occurrence. Thor had seen it time and time again; something unusual would happen in Midgard, the mortals’ panicked prayers would paint pictures of monsters and giants and blood-soaked paths of destruction, and Thor would descend from Asgard only to discover it was nothing more than a mangy, belligerent wolverine or a howling mad drunkard who liked to run naked through the woods. Occasionally the threats were real, but most of the time it was merely a case of mass hysteria. It was both amusing and tiring sometimes, but Thor had sworn an oath to protect the Midgardians from otherworldly enemies, even imagined ones.

“Can you speak?” he asked.

“Well enough,” said the troll coldly. “Who are you?”

A surprised smile came to Thor’s mouth. What a fair voice! So clear and smooth and pleasing to the ear. Surely this was no common jötunn he was dealing with.

“I am Thor, son of Odin.”

At that, the troll’s blood-red eyes widened. “I have heard of Odinson. You are a troll killer. Lightning-maker, they call you. Thunder-bringer, the terror of all jötnar!”

He turned and began scrabbling vainly through the dirt and slush, grunting in his panic, pulling so hard on his tether that it bent his foot at a gruesome angle.

Thor reached out and grasped the troll’s ankle. His hand encompassed it easily. “Stop that,” he scolded. “You will hurt yourself.”

When the troll turned, tears were gleaming in his eyes. Thor’s heart flew to him, and he knew then that there would be no killing this day.

“What does it matter?” he sobbed. “You mean to destroy me anyway! Well, go on then, kill me! I’ve suffered in this wretched realm long enough. Put me out of my misery, for mercy’s sake!”

“What is your name?”

The troll sniffed and became quiet. “I beg your pardon?”

“Your name. Surely you have a name, don’t you?”

He looked down at Thor’s huge hand on his ankle, then up at his face. “My name is Loki.”

Thor smiled. “Loki. That’s a good name. I like it.”

Loki’s face crumpled and he began to struggle with renewed energy. Thor was quite certain he was going to pull his leg from its socket if he didn’t do something, so he shuffled forward on his knees and gently took him by the waist—his hands nearly fit all the way around, such a tiny thing!—and pulled him out of the dirt and snow. Thor could feel the lean, rabbity muscles working beneath Loki’s warm skin as he squealed and kicked and wriggled.

“No, stop, please!” he wept. “Don’t ravish me, I beg you, just slit my throat and have done with it!”

Thor was quietly horrified. He picked Loki up and sat him squarely onto a fallen tree, then took his hands off of him. Loki went silent, studying his new seat and upright, elevated position, staring eye-to-eye with his captor.

“I am neither raper nor robber,” said Thor firmly. “I want only to ask you a few questions, then I shall determine what must be done with you.”

Loki crossed his arms over his hollow belly and hunched down, scowling to disguise his terror. “Alright. Ask away.”

“How came you to Midgard, Loki?”

“I was banished here.”

“By whom?”

“By my father.”

Thor frowned thoughtfully. “Your father must be a very powerful troll if he thinks he can cast his people out to become the problems of other realms. Who is he? What is his name?”

Loki lowered his head and stared at the ground between his small, bare feet, his hands fidgeting in his lap. “His name is Fárbauti.”

Thor’s face went slack. “Fárbauti! King of the frost trolls, ruler of Jötunheim—he is your father?”

“Yes,” said Loki. His voice was meek, his shoulders slumped in shame.

“Then that would make you a prince!”

“I am no prince.” Loki lifted his face, his eyes bright with suffering. “Both my brothers are, but I have been shunned since the day I was born. The only reason my father didn’t throw me to the wolves when I was a baby was because he hoped I would eventually grow to be a full-sized jötunn.”

Thor suddenly found his heart aching for this poor, unlucky little waif.

“Only you never grew,” he finished softly. “You stayed small, and when he realized you would get no bigger, he cast you out. Is that true?”

Loki nodded his head miserably.

Thor stared at him. Of all the realms Fárbauti could have banished his son to, he had sent him to the one protected by the greatest troll-foe who ever lived, the Æsir son of Odin Allfather, who struck terror into the hearts of all jötnar with his thunder and his hammer, who rained lightning upon their armies and slaughtered them by the drove. Looking at this tiny, pathetic, starving creature in front of him, Thor wondered if he would ever be able to raise his hammer against a troll again.

He moved forward to kneel before Loki and loosened the enchanted rope from around his ankle, gently massaging away the indentations left by its cruel grip. He raised his head and saw that Loki was staring at him with an expression of awe on his thin, sad face.

“I am freeing you on one condition,” said Thor as he held Loki’s small foot in his hand and continued to rub the marks from his flesh. “That you return to Asgard with me and allow me to take care of you.”

Loki jerked his foot from Thor’s gentle grasp. “You mean to make me your pet, is that it?”

“I mean to take care of you,” Thor repeated. “Feed you, heal you, give you shelter and a place to call home.”

“I hate Asgard.”

“Have you ever been there?”

“No.” Loki swished his tail petulantly back and forth. “But I hear it’s terrible. A realm of sunshine and warmth, long days and short nights, not enough snow or ice.”

“The palace has many rooms that are cool and dark,” Thor insisted, “and the forests of Asgard are deep and green. You will love it there.”

Loki gave him a doubtful scowl.

Thor tried for a more appetizing angle. “There are streams teeming with fish. Forests filled with wild boar, stags, rabbits, small game, all the fresh blood you can drink. Mushrooms and berries, trees bursting with fruit. There are things to eat during every season in Asgard, unlike here. Won’t you at least stay for a little while and recover your strength? I will not force you to remain against your will. You will not be my prisoner. If you decide you would like to live in another realm, then I shall deliver you there myself when the time comes.”

Loki narrowed his eyes. “Are you trying to tempt me?”

“I am, absolutely.”

“Well, you’ve succeeded.” Loki stretched his thin blue arms out to Thor, his eyes wide and hungry. “Take me.”

A huge, handsome smile split Thor’s face and he reached out and picked Loki up. He felt so light and frail, like a skinny child in desperate need of care—something which, Thor supposed, wasn’t too far from the truth. Loki wrapped his arms around Thor’s neck and clung to his broad chest. He was so small that Thor was able to support him with one arm and rise to his feet, then call Mjölnir to his free hand. Loki jerked a little at the metallic toll that was often the last thing his people heard, and cringed when the weapon smacked into Thor’s palm.

Thor felt Loki trembling with fear and his heart grew even sorer. He tucked his hammer into his belt and coiled the golden rope about its handle, then drew his other arm around Loki’s slight frame, gently laying his hand upon his shivering, bony back.

“Don’t fear, Loki,” he murmured, hugging the little frost troll as he carried him from the wintry Norwegian forest. “I give you my word, no harm shall befall you so long as I live.”

Chapter Text

Loki was quite docile in Thor’s arms at first; then the Bifröst descended and swallowed them into its dazzling, multicolored vortex, and he began to struggle.

“No, no, it’s lightning! I can’t go! I’ll die! Please, don’t make me go!”

Thor held Loki about the waist, wincing as he was kicked and slapped and trounced by the troll’s flailing limbs.

“Peace, Loki! It’s only—ow—a bit of bright light, it won’t—mmf—harm you!”

But Loki continued to fight and fret, so Thor took up the edge of his long red cape and drew it around Loki like a blanket, covering him in protective darkness. The effect was immediate. Loki went still and clung to Thor like he was a tree, his skinny blue arms and legs clamped around Thor’s torso. He moaned miserably. Thor cradled him like a frightened babe as the Bifröst sped them to their destination.

In a matter of moments, Thor was stepping through the dazzling portal and into the huge spherical chamber that was the domain of Asgard’s solitary gatekeeper, Heimdall the All-Seeing. The watchguard lifted an eyebrow as Thor attempted to walk past with a wave of his hand and a nervous grin on his lips.

“Hello, Heimdall! It’s good to see you again, thank you for bringing me home, I hope all was well while I was gone, it’s quite muddy in Midgard this time of year so I think I shall just—”

“You bring back an unexpected guest,” said Heimdall flatly, for his golden gaze rarely missed anything. “I believe you were sent to dispatch a troll. Were you successful?”

Thor broke out in a sweat. He was a terrible liar and Heimdall knew it. In fact, he knew Heimdall had probably seen all that had transpired on Midgard, so lying was completely pointless. Nevertheless, Thor had sworn to Loki that no harm would befall him, and he was willing to do everything he could to keep that promise, even if it meant stretching the truth a little.

So he smiled cheerfully and said, “False alarm. Another case of mistaken identity, I’m afraid. Nothing more than a poor little elfling who needs some care.” He patted the shivering lump he carried.

Heimdall’s eyebrow went up another notch. “That elf has horns.”

“Yes, indeed, it’s a queer thing. Horny elves, whatever shall be next?”

“Horny elves with troll tails, I imagine.”

Thor’s affable front abruptly crumbled and he looked down at Loki’s long blue tail, dangling out from under his cape. He reached out and carefully tucked it away, then gave Heimdall a sheepish look.

Heimdall lifted his eyes to the unseen sky above and sighed heavily. “You may pass. I do not think one little jötunn will cause much trouble. But if your father finds out . . .”

“I know. I will tell him myself, Heimdall, I swear.”

Heimdall appraised the trembling bundle hidden beneath Thor’s cape. “What are you planning to do with him, if I may ask?”

“Well, he already has a name, so I suppose the next thing to do is give him some food and make him comfortable.”

“You are planning to keep him?”

“Just for a little while.” Thor began to rock absently from side to side, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he patted Loki’s cloaked form. It was a strangely paternal sight. “Until he can look after himself, then I shall release him. Right now he is not fit to survive on his own, surely you saw that for yourself. If he’s sent back to Midgard, he will starve or be devoured by a pack of wolves. I could not in good conscience abandon him to such a fate. He has . . . his life has been difficult enough.”

Heimdall almost smiled at Thor’s melancholy expression. “You have a kind and merciful heart, my prince. I will gladly break this petty ordinance if it means keeping it in one piece.”

Thor beamed, and his face was as radiant as the sun.

“Go. Take care of your little ward. I will tell no one.”

“Thank you, Heimdall!” Thor exclaimed, and hurried from the chamber with Loki smuggled safely beneath his cape.

“Who was that man?” Loki asked as they made their way to the palace. It was taking a little longer on foot, for though Thor would have preferred to fly, as was his custom, Loki had shrieked the moment they left the ground and he had been forced to make a rather clumsy landing. At least he hadn’t fallen face-first upon the bridge and crushed Loki beneath him. That would have been a horrible start to this supposedly lifesaving endeavor.

“That was Heimdall, the great porter of Asgard.”

“Is he a god?”

Thor smiled down at the wide-eyed blue face peering out from under his cape. “He is one of the Æsir, like me. We are called gods by some, but we are not so mighty as the Midgardians believe us to be.”

“He seemed very nice.”

“He is a good man and a great friend. I have known him my whole life. He has taught me much.”

Loki relaxed a little. He had stopped shaking only a few minutes ago, and now he was beginning to get curious about his surroundings. He poked his head out from under his cover and stared at everything around him with wonder, a growing look of delight on his face.

“It’s not as bright as I thought it would be,” he said.

“That’s because it is eventide,” said Thor. “Rather fortunate, I think. I was afraid the sunlight might harm you.”

Loki clicked his tongue and swished his tail. “We don’t turn to stone, you know. That’s just a myth.”

“Good. I would hate for you to be petrified.”

“Oh, I am petrified, just in the figurative sense.”

Thor chuckled, marveling at Loki’s wit and words. He hadn’t thought trolls were capable of being so smart and well-spoken. . . not that Thor had ever sat down and had a conversation with them over a flagon of ale. His interactions with jötnar were usually more straightforward: a demand for unconditional surrender, the threat of action if (or when) that demand was refused, and then the violent, often fatal application of that action. That was his job, after all. Destroy the villains, neutralize the threat.

He never imagined those villains to look like the creature—no, the person—he now carried in his arms.

Trolls are not people, Odin’s voice echoed in Thor’s mind. They are animals, beasts, savages. An ugly, festering canker upon the fair branches of Yggdrasil. They spurn our offers of civilization and return our mercy with malcontent. They are incapable of rational thought. Everywhere they go they bring chaos, violence, and destruction. They are a blight upon all creation and I will be thankful for the day when the last troll-nest is burnt from existence.

Thor clutched Loki a little more tightly. He had never seen a troll-nest before. He wondered if they were like bird- or mouse-nests, lined with sticks and branches and bits of gathered fluff, if the troll mothers watched over their babies while the fathers went out to seek food, if the parents joined together at night—no, during the day, more likely—to cuddle up with their sleeping offspring.

Thor imagined a giant that looked a lot like his father threatening this happy, peaceful scene, shaking the troll nest from its figmental branches and casting the squirming, blind little troll babies onto the ground, hardening his heart to their frightened mewing as he raises his boot over them to—

“Are you crying?”

Loki’s voice snapped Thor from his horrible vision. He gave his head a shake and realized that, yes, there were tears in his eyes. He forced a smile onto his face and gazed down at Loki tenderly.

“It’s alright. Something came over me, that’s all.”

Loki’s eyebrows angled upward in an expression of pity. “I didn’t think Æsir could cry. I was always told that they have no hearts.”

“We have hearts,” Thor sniffed. “And I believe mine just cracked.”

Loki stared up at Thor with large, glimmering eyes and said no more.

Presently they came to the palace and Thor took a meandering, clandestine route to reach his chambers. He sat Loki on the edge of his bed and assured him he would be back as quickly as possible.

Loki didn’t move from his spot. He was afraid he might touch something hazardous and be struck by a bolt of lightning or blinded by a flash of light, so he folded his arms and legs close to his body and waited for Thor to return. And he did, roughly ten minutes later, balancing a tray in one hand as he locked his bedroom doors behind him.

“I am not sure what trolls eat,” he confessed, setting the tray down beside Loki, “but I’ve never known anyone to turn down a hot bowl of bone broth.”

Loki looked up at Thor meekly. “It’s hot.”

“Of course, it’s suppos—” And then Thor realized his error. He grimaced and clapped a hand to his forehead. “I am such a fool. Forgive me, I didn’t think—”

“It’s alright, really,” Loki insisted, raising his hand as if he wanted to ease Thor’s embarrassment. “What’s that in the cup?”

“It’s milk,” said Thor miserably. “Warm milk, because I’m a fool.”

“I’ll take warm over hot any day,” said Loki, and picked up the vessel with both hands. He raised it to his lips and took a long drink. “It’s good,” he said brightly, licking his lips. “I like it. Thank you.”

Thor perked up a little. “It’s not too hot?”

“It’s a little warmer than what I’m used to, but it’s fine. Really.”

While Loki sipped the milk, Thor picked up the bowl of soup and stirred it, blowing on it until it no longer steamed.

“Here,” he said, trading the bowl for Loki’s empty cup. “It should be cool enough now. Just eat slowly. It wouldn’t do to make yourself sick.”

Loki picked up the spoon and studied it blankly. “What’s this?”

“It’s a spoon. You eat with it.”

He gripped the utensil in his blue fist and looked at Thor questioningly. Thor responded with a nod and a smile.

“That’s a good start. But holding it with your fingers is easier. Here, let me show you . . .”

He gently eased the spoon from Loki’s grip and dipped it into the bowl. He blew on it—just in case it was still too warm—and offered it to Loki. Still appearing a bit uncertain, Loki opened his mouth and Thor carefully gave him the spoon.

“Put your lips around—yes, like that. Good. Alright, I think you can—”

Loki swallowed and immediately opened his mouth again, waiting.

Thor chucked. “Oh, no, I’m a terrible nurse. Here, you take it.”

Loki shut his mouth and looked a little disappointed, but he accepted the spoon without complaint and went about drawing up mouthfuls of the nourishing broth as Thor had shown him.

“There, you see? You’re doing fine.”

“I’d rather drink from the bowl.”

“Oh. Well, if that’s how trolls prefer to eat their soup, be my guest.”

“No, this is probably better,” said Loki, blowing on another spoonful. “I don’t want to be sick. It’s very good, of course, but I’d prefer to only taste it once.”

Thor laughed, and Loki actually grinned in response. It was enough to make Thor’s heart glow like a warm, happy ember. What an amazing being he was, this cunning little troll prince. How could his father have rejected him so cruelly, simply for being smaller than the others? Did he not see the other qualities Loki possessed? That he had an indefatigable sense of humor, that he was grateful and smart and playful and lovely—

Lovely? Yes. Yes, lovely. Lovely and utterly worthy of love, from the tips of his curving horns to his clawless blue toes. Thor had never been more sure of anything in his life, and he had barely known Loki for an hour.

That was it. He was instantly determined to do right by this little jötunn. He was going to spoil him rotten. He was going to feed him the most delectable, exquisite foods in all Nine Realms, cloak him in the richest silks, adorn him with precious metals and jewels—silver and sapphire would complement him perfectly—no, wait! Gold and rubies, to bring out the red in his eyes!—and bathe him in the finest oils and fragrances that Asgard ever—

Oh, right. A bath. Loki was certainly going to need one. He still had leaves and dirt in his hair, and that tattered leather breechcloth simply had to go.

Thor rose to his feet. “I’m going to draw a bath for you while you finish your meal. No need to hurry, it will take some time to fill the tub. How cool would you like the water to be?”

Loki lifted his head from his bowl and stared up at Thor. He swallowed loudly.

“What’s a bath?”

Chapter Text

Loki crept cautiously into the bathroom, his bare feet padding across the stone floor and his head swiveling to and fro, as if there might be danger lurking in every corner. Like all the rooms in the palace, this one was extravagant to the point of vulgarity, embellished with gold and silver and ancient symbols and designs that were unique to the realm of Asgard. Those same designs would have looked just as artful carved in oak by a woodsman’s humble hand, but there seemed to be no trace of the natural world in this cold hall of metal and glass. Loki didn’t like it. It was splendid, but it didn’t feel like a place he could ever call home.

When his eyes fell upon the tub, however, terror shot through him like lightning and he turned to flee. He crashed into Thor, who had been following closely behind.

“Steady, Loki,” said Thor with a kind smile. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“It’s a pot,” said Loki. His eyes were huge as he glared accusingly up at Thor. “That’s where you cook your food, isn’t it? It all makes sense to me now. You’re going to boil me in that, aren’t you? Troll soup—I bet it’s a delicacy here!”

Thor tried not to laugh, he really did, but it was a vain effort. “You could not be more wrong,” he chuckled. “That is a tub of water. It’s where you wash yourself.”

Loki blinked. “Water? Are you mad? Don’t you know how dangerous it is? It’s full of spirits and beasts; nøkken and snakes and things that will grab you from below and pull you down—”

“You will not be drowned, I swear. There is nothing in that water but a little fragrance and oil.”

Loki did not look convinced. Thor turned him around and gently guided him toward the tub.

“I am going to be right here, so there is no need to worry. If anything threatens you, I will deal with it.”

“What if I get dragged under?”

“I will jump in after you.”

“You can swim?”

“Of course.” Thor quirked an eyebrow. “Do trolls not know how?”

“We’re not overly fond of water,” said Loki, leaning over to peer into the tub. He could see the bottom, which made him feel a little better. He dared to reach out, tentatively dipping his finger in. The water was neither hot nor icy, but felt the same as the air around him. Perhaps this might not be so bad. It certainly smelled nice.

“So how does one take a bath, exactly?”

“Well, you, er. You just take your clothes off and . . . climb in.” Thor could feel his face warming—which was ridiculous. He was a grown man and a seasoned warrior, and nudity was of little matter to the Æsir. Some of their bravest fighters were known to forsake the protection of armor and march into battle clad in nothing but the skins of mighty animals. Sometimes just their own skins. Thor had seen the sexes of all the peoples of the Nine Realms, including trolls. Why then did he find himself blushing like a lad who had yet to receive his first kiss?

“You scrub yourself with a little soap, rinse off, get out.” He shrugged. “There really isn’t more to it than that.”

For a few moments Loki meditated on Thor’s words, gazing into the tub. Then he stiffened his lips determinedly, hooked his thumbs into his breechcloth, and slid it down his thighs.

Thor averted his eyes. No surprises there. Nothing he hadn’t already seen many times before. Loki was just like any other jötunn, only . . . on a much smaller scale.

While Thor awkwardly contemplated the patterns on the ceiling, Loki dragged himself over the edge of the tub and toppled in headfirst, creating a huge splash. Water cascaded onto the floor and he surfaced with a panicked sputter. Thor dropped to his knees and grasped Loki under his arms, holding him up as he coughed and choked.

“It went up my nose,” Loki whimpered, cupping his hands over his nostrils. “It’s in my head now. It burns!”

“It will fade, don’t worry. Just catch your breath, I’ve got you.”

Loki sniffed and stared crossly at Thor. His black hair was plastered to his head, streaming in tangled tendrils over his face and horns. He was the saddest, most bedraggled thing Thor had ever seen.

“I hope this gets better soon,” said Loki, “because so far I hate it.”

“It will,” Thor insisted, lowering Loki back into the water and carefully combing the wet strands from his eyes. “Here, come closer and I’ll wash your hair for you. It will feel good, I promise.”

The look on Loki’s face said that he didn’t quite believe it, but he drew close to the side of the tub, clinging tightly to its rim while Thor removed his armor and peeled off his damp tunic and undershirt. He noticed the way Loki bit his lower lip and how his cerulean-blue cheeks darkened to indigo.

Surely trolls were not shy about nakedness, were they? The fire trolls that inhabited Muspelheim wore very little indeed—mere pieces of metal and a type of gritty, non-flammable fabric—and the wood trolls who lived in the temperate regions of the Nine preferred to dress themselves in moss and ivy, if they dressed in anything at all. Bare skin was far more common among trolls than perhaps any other race. Still, it did not assuage Thor’s doubts. Loki was very different from the rest of the jötnar; perhaps he possessed different sensibilities when it came to nudity.

“Do I offend you?” he asked quietly, and Loki turned to look at him with wide eyes. “I can cover myself if you’re—”

“No!” His voice squeaked and the color of his face changed again. “I mean, no, it’s alright. You’re just”—he suddenly became interested in his hands—“very large and handsome. Like one of our champions.”

Thor was both stunned and amused. “Trolls would consider me handsome?”

“Well, I can’t speak for all of us,” said Loki in a small voice. “You are rather pink and hairy, but I think you’re quite . . . er, y-you said something about a hair-washing, right?”

“Oh. Yes, of course. Just a moment, let me get the bottle . . .”

A few minutes later, Loki sat in the chest-deep water with a drowsy, contented smile on his lips as Thor massaged a combination of liquid soap and sweet-smelling oils into his scalp. Suds dripped down the side of the tub and onto the floor, and Thor’s trousers began to get soaked from kneeling in the puddles that were already there.

“You have gentle hands,” Loki murmured, looking up at Thor appreciatively.

Thor put on a strained smile and continued to untangle the knots from Loki’s silky black hair. His hands had never touched a troll with any purpose other than to destroy. Punching, pounding, pummeling, snapping fangs and bone, wringing necks, breaking jaws, drawing blood. Gentle? No. He did not have gentle hands. Surely Loki was aware of that, even if he had never seen Thor in battle.

You are a troll killer. Lightning-maker, they call you. Thunder-bringer, the terror of all jötnar!

“You have beautiful hair,” Thor blurted, desperate to get away from his own thoughts. “I’ve never seen a troll with hair like this before. Are there many others like you?”

“None that I know of.” Loki sighed. “In truth, it’s a disgrace. My head was kept shaven for most of my life, but it grew back faster and thicker each time. Our healers and magicians tried everything—spells, balms, medicines—but nothing seemed to work. Finally my father gave up and I was locked away in the deepest cavern of our kingdom, where no one could see what an ugly child he had spawned.” Loki hung his head. “That’s what my name means, you know. I would have gotten a new one had I grown to be handsome. But I never did, and so I remain loki, the ugly shame.”

Thor was so taken aback that for several moments he couldn’t speak. When he finally found his voice again, his words were inflamed and passionate: “That’s horrible! That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard! Being locked away and treated as if you were defective; how could your father have been so cruel? You are neither ugly nor shameful!”

“Oh, but I am,” Loki insisted bitterly. “All the things we jötnar consider worthy of admiration I have none of. Tall horns, thick tails. Heavy bones and big fangs, especially if they’re on the bottom. A troll whose teeth protrude over his upper lip is considered extremely fetching. And long, pointed ears are a blessing; the farther they stick out, the better. Big noses are also very attractive, but I’ve been cursed with these awful, elfin characteristics. There is no greater insult for a troll than to be called an elf. I don’t even have claws.” He studied his small blue fingernails with a look of dismay. “I can’t blame my father for banishing me. I am hideous.”

“You are not,” said Thor vehemently. “Your father is wrong, Loki. You are perfect just the way you are, and I’m going to help you realize that if it’s the last thing I do.”

Loki gave him a sad smile, as if he didn’t quite believe his words but appreciated his kindness.

“Fárbauti is a fool,” Thor muttered, carefully rinsing the soap from Loki’s hair. “If I ever meet him, I will have a few things to say about how he treated his son.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” said Loki. “I am no longer his son. He disowned me. My brothers pleaded with him—Blindi and Bý were always very nice to me and I wish I had been allowed to spend more time with them—but I suppose it’s for the best that I never see them again. I would hate for them to be ridiculed for associating with me.”

For a long while there were no more words between them. Thor finished rinsing Loki’s hair and took up a sponge, lathering it with soap. He gently scrubbed all of Loki’s parts that he could reach: his horns, his face, his ears—small and elfin and very cute—and his neck and shoulders. Loki’s eyes were beginning to glaze sleepily as Thor scooped up water and rinsed the suds away, and the smile had returned to his lips. It faded, however, when Thor passed the foamy sponge to him.

“Erm, here, I shall let you finish cleaning yourself. You know how it’s done now, so—”

“Oh, no, please! This feels so nice,” Loki protested, and stood up with a splash. Rivulets streamed down his glistening blue skin and joined the rest of the water at his knees.

Thor hoped his face wasn’t as red as it felt.

“Please continue,” said Loki, holding out the sponge with large, eager eyes. “No one has ever touched me so tenderly. For the first time in my life, I truly feel like a prince.”

Thor’s heart was suddenly galloping in his chest. The overwhelming innocence and trust in Loki’s voice was enough to make him cry, and he knew then that he could never refuse anything this little frost troll asked of him. He accepted the sponge back with a relenting smile and gently began to scrub the rest of Loki’s body.

Loki gave a joyful wiggle and made himself accessible to the tender ministrations.

Thor washed him as dutifully and directly as possible, reminding himself that this was only a chore, a humble task that he would have performed for one of his wounded comrades or an ill friend who could not care for himself. It was an act of kindness and mercy, not a prelude to romance. He wasn’t even sure how trolls romanced one another, or if they even believed in love. Surely they had to; some form of it, at least, otherwise Loki would not be here.

Loki squeaked and tittered when Thor dipped a soapy finger into his shallow blue navel. “Ah! That tickles!”

“Sorry,” said Thor with an apologetic look. “I didn’t want to miss anything.”

Loki held his bottom lip between his teeth turned around, his expression demure and delighted as Thor washed his back. He gave a violent shudder, though, when Thor picked up his tail and ran the sponge all the way from its root to the flat, spade-shaped point at the end.

Alarmed by the unexpected reaction, Thor instantly let go and asked, “Are you alright? Did I hurt you?”

“N-no,” Loki stammered, peering over his shoulder at him. “It just, em. Felt very nice, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh.” A second later, Thor’s eyes widened and his face heated up a few more degrees. “Oh. I’m. Pardon me, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that was a—”

“It’s alright. You couldn’t have known.” Loki smiled reassuringly, his tail sloshing back and forth in the bathwater. “Please do continue. I’ve never felt so spoiled. It’s marvelous.”

With a helpless grin, Thor picked up where he left off. There were no further incidents or awkward mishandlings, though Loki had giggled uncontrollably when he stood on one leg to allow Thor to wash his toes. The soapy slither of Thor’s fingers elicited a shriek of laughter from him at one point, and he slipped on the bottom of the tub. Thor caught him around the waist before he could fall, and Loki’s arms shot out to wrap around his neck.

They stared at one another for a few startled seconds, nose to nose and eye to eye, then a look of amazement came to Loki’s face.

“Oh,” he breathed. “I can feel your heartbeat. It’s so strong and . . . is it always that fast?”

“No,” said Thor, his voice cracking. He could think of nothing else to say. Loki’s body was smooth and cool against him, sinewy and small, sharp with bone. He could smell his wet skin and his hair, and the slick, fragrant soap that was responsible for them clinging to each other as they were now.

“How ironic,” Loki murmured. “Here I am, a troll in the arms of the Lightning-maker, and I’ve never felt so safe in my life.”

He closed his eyes and leaned forward, gently rubbing his horns against Thor’s forehead. A moment later he seemed to realize what he was doing and pulled back quickly, his cheeks flushed a deep shade of cobalt.

“I’m so sorry. I, I don’t know what came over me. I must be losing my mind. We barely know each other and here I am . . . fawning.” He turned his head in shame.

“It’s alright, Loki.” Thor gave him a patient smile. “We have much to learn about each other’s ways. There will be plenty of time for us to become more familiar. Come, let’s get you rinsed and dried. My parents will be retiring to bed soon and I’d like for them to meet you.”

Trolls might have been incapable of turning to stone, but that’s exactly what Loki felt like in Thor’s arms just then. He pulled back fearfully, his breath quickening.

“I am to meet the Allfather?” he piped.

“Don’t worry. He is probably in his nightclothes by now. He looks much less intimidating without Gungnir, I assure you.”

Loki didn’t look assured. In fact, he looked terrified.

Thor reached down and pulled the drain plug, and the ominous sucking sound from deep in the tub sent Loki, still covered in suds, leaping into his arms with a sharp cry.

“What is that!” he yelped, attempted to climb his way onto Thor’s shoulders. “What’s happening! Why is that thing drinking the water! You didn’t tell me there was a monster at the bottom all this time! I could have been eaten!”

“It’s only a drain, Loki! Calm down.” Thor carefully pried Loki’s arms from around his face and laughed. His hair was spattered with soapy foam. “I suppose I ought to rinse off, too. I’ve had half a bath already.”

“Well, watch out for that thing,” Loki declared, stabbing his finger toward the whirlpool of water disappearing into the drain. “Because if you get sucked into it, I will not be jumping in after you!”

Chapter Text

After rinsing Loki under a stream of fresh, cool water—which both delighted and calmed him from his earlier fright with the drain—Thor wrapped him in a huge, fluffy towel and left him to dry on the bathmat while he went into the bedroom.

“I should be able to find something for you to wear,” he said, sliding open a closet door and stepping inside. “I still have clothes from when I was a boy, if my little brothers did not steal them long ago. They should fit you.” There came the sound of rummaging and rifling from deep within the closet.

“You have brothers, too?” asked Loki, shaking the water from his ears.

“Four of them,” came Thor’s muffled voice. “Two older ones and two younger ones, two sets of twins, and I am the poor, solitary fool trapped between them. I suppose you’ll meet them all at some point. They—where in the Nine is that box? It should have been right—ah, there it is.” More shuffling noises.

Loki quirked his brow. “Do the Æsir always have such small litters?”

Thor’s laughter exploded from the closet and he poked his head around the doorframe. “Litters? No, we don’t have litters. Twins are not very common, and trios are even rarer. I’ve heard of no greater numbers being birthed in Asgard. Our women usually have only one child at a time.”

“And it’s not a shame?”

“Er, no. Not at all.” Thor paused and stepped out of the closet, his amusement fading. “Is it shameful for trolls to have so few children at once?”

“Terribly.” Loki huddled deeper into his towel, as if it might shield him from a painful memory. “My brothers, Helblindi and Býleist, and I were the only survivors of a litter of eight. Our mother died bearing us.”

Thor was quietly stunned. He opened his mouth to say something—anything, at least an acknowledgement of Loki’s pain and an expression of sympathy for him—but his tongue could find no words.

“That’s not even the worst part,” Loki continued bitterly. “Father blamed me for his death, insisted I was the one who killed him. I was the last one born, after all; never mind the seven babies who came before me. No, it was the ugly runt who stole his strength and his will to live.” He sighed. “I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore. I am no longer part of the family.”

Thor frowned as he entered the bathroom. “Forgive me, I must be misunderstanding, but when you spoke of your mother, you kept saying ‘his’. Don’t you mean ‘her’?”

“Oh—no, actually, I mean hin, in the language of the jötnar. I use your male terms when I speak the common tongue because they sound very similar, but we trolls are all one sex.” Loki held up one small blue finger.

Thor stared. “You mean there are no troll-women?”

“Well, there are no troll-men, if that’s what you’re asking. There are simply trolls.”

“Oh.” Thor’s face went blank. “Well. That’s kind of . . . Actually, that makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. It explains why I’ve never seen what I thought to be a female troll.” He looked down at the clothes that were draped over his arm. “Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a jötunn in anything but armored skirts and vests. I’m not sure if any of these clothes will suit you.”

“That’s alright. I’m no ordinary frost troll, so perhaps I’ll find something.” Loki smiled gently.

Thor returned the smile and passed the garments to him. “Well, if you haven’t found anything you like by the time I’m finished in here, I will help you look for something else.”

Loki hugged the clothes to his chest. “Thank you . . . em.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but either couldn’t find the words or was too bashful to speak them. He tucked his bottom lip into his mouth and turned. Thor smiled as Loki trotted out the door, the tip of his blue tail poking out from beneath the edge of his towel.

Now alone in the bathroom, Thor shucked off the rest of his clothes—boots, trousers and underthings, all heaped together on the floor—and made his way to the large stone stall in the corner. As he turned on the shower, he recalled how much more comfortable Loki had been getting rinsed off in here instead of the bathtub, even though he hadn’t been too keen on the large drain in the center of the floor. Instead of watching him tiptoe nervously around the grate for twenty minutes, Thor had scooped Loki into his arms and simply held him beneath the spray. He didn’t even care that the water was cold or that the rest of his clothes had gotten soaked. Seeing Loki hold his pleased, pretty face beneath the sparkling cascade had been worth it.

In fact, that was all Thor wanted. To see Loki happy, healthy, and healed, sleek and strong, his horns and hair shining, imbued with confidence and laughter. It was such a beautiful image that Thor instantly resolved to make it a reality. The opportunity had fallen into his lap—well, into his trap, actually—and by Odin’s beard, he would see it done.

Thor’s excitement ebbed a little at the thought of his father.

He hoped Loki would be allowed to stay here. Odin was tough and steely, but he did have a heart beneath his seemingly stoic exterior. Once he heard the sad account of Loki’s life, Thor was certain he would be moved to mercy.

Well, there was the small matter of Odin despising trolls and everything to do with them, but he hadn’t met Loki yet. If any troll could change his mind, Loki would be the one. He was the perfect ambassador: polite and well-spoken, charming and humorous, attentive, cute . . . very cute. From his pointy ears to little blue-nailed toes—and his tail, even if it wasn’t thick and heavy like a normal troll’s—every part of him was lovely and adorable.

Thor suddenly found himself wondering just how old Loki was. His horns were too short to be an adult’s, but maybe that was a result of his stunted development. He certainly spoke as if he were an adult, but he could simply be precocious for his age. Thor would ask him at the soonest opportunity. He didn’t wish to insult Loki or say anything inappropriate to him. He was likely still growing (though apparently not fast enough for his impatient father) and perhaps someday he might even be the same size as Thor. That would—

Oh. That. Stars above, he would be stunning, an absolute beauty. Tall, curving horns and long legs, his hair grown out and falling to his waist in a soft black curtain, his arms strong and muscular, the most handsome jötunn to ever set foot in Asgard . . .

Thor came back to reality with a jolt. Damn, he didn’t have time to be daydreaming like this. The hour was growing late and his parents would not be up for much longer. He quickly began to rinse off.

Meanwhile in the bedroom, Loki had laid the armful of clothes out on the broad, soft-looking piece of furniture that sat against one wall. He had guessed it was Thor’s nest, though it looked like no nest he had ever seen before. It was too flat and wide, not rounded enough, and it had too few pillows. It was merely a surface, like a table or a floor. It wasn’t cozy or intimate at all. Who could ever sleep lying stiff and straight like that, stretched out and vulnerable? Loki supposed one might be able to curl up if they wanted to, but it would be very uncomfortable on something so firm and shapeless. Did the Æsir actually make their babies on these awful things? Mercy, perhaps that’s why they had so few children. Who could enjoy making love on that?

A hot blush crept across Loki’s cheeks as his imagination suddenly conjured up several images of his gloriously naked benefactor propagating his species on his weird, flattened nest. A soft squeak escaped Loki’s lips and he shook his head to clear his mind.

He mustn’t get distracted. He was about to meet the Allfather, the most powerful being in all Nine Realms, and picturing that being’s attractive, athletic son engaged in procreative activities, however alluring, was simply unacceptable at this time. He had to stay focused.

Banishing the thought, Loki pursed his lips and studied the various garments lying before him. The only thing that really appealed to him was a dark blue tunic, short of length and sleeve, trimmed with silver. It was lightweight and conservative enough to suit his hosts, and the skirt meant that he wouldn’t have to worry about making a hole in the back of—what did they call them again? Oh, right—a trowsors so that his tail could be free. He would just have to be mindful of swinging it so that he didn’t accidentally lift the skirt and give all of Asgard a glimpse of his bottom. The Æsir didn’t seem very proud of their hind-ends, or at least they weren’t as willing to show them off. Pity. The buttocks were a fine asset, lovely to look at as well as useful.

Loki shrugged off his towel, picked up the tunic, and pulled it over his head. It was obviously tailored with a better-fed person in mind, but Loki was very pleased with how it felt, even though it was a little more clothing than what he was accustomed to wearing. The length was perfect, falling to mid-thigh, and he was idly wondering if Thor might have a belt he could borrow when the god himself appeared from the bathroom, a towel tied around his waist and his long, wet hair clinging to his muscular shoulders. Loki caught a glimpse of him and froze, his mouth falling open.

Odinson might not have the wide girth so revered by the jötnar, but by Jötunheim’s holy mountains, what a magnificent troll he would have made!

Loki was still completely mesmerized when Thor turned his head and met his eyes. He didn’t seem to realize he was being ogled; all he saw was a handsome little frost troll dressed in what had been his favorite boyhood tunic, and the color of its fabric perfectly complemented his cerulean complexion.

“You look wonderful,” he declared, then cringed at his eager tone.

Loki blurted, “So do y—” before his hand flew to cover his mouth. He blushed fiercely.

Silence fell.

“I, um, believe there is a belt that goes with that,” said Thor, breaking away from their awkward standoff to duck into the closet. “I will find it for you!” There was a clatter as something fell from one of the closet’s shelves.

“Erm, thank you,” Loki stammered. He put a hand over his eyes and bowed his head.

He had succeeded in embarrassing his host—again—as well as himself. What in the worlds had gotten into him? Barely two hours ago he had been wondering if he was going to eat today, and now he was falling horn over heel for a thundergod. Even in his banishment he was still managing to bring shame to his people. If his father could see him now, he would probably wish he had executed him instead of banishing him.

Loki continued to despair, and a short while later Thor emerged from the closet, haphazardly dressed—his trousers were twisted and his shirt was riding up on one side—and carrying a small leather belt in his hand. He approached shyly and held it out to Loki.

“Here, this is the one.”

“Thank you,” said Loki quietly, accepting the belt. The leather was soft and supple, and he fastened it around his waist with a few clever motions. After giving the tunic one final adjustment, he brushed the skirt and lifted his eyes to Thor expectantly. “How do I look?”

Thor gazed at him with a tender smile on his lips. “Like a prince,” he said, and bowed deeply at the waist, his damp golden hair spilling over his shoulders.

It was more than Loki could bear; his tail curled around his left leg and he hid his face in his hands. “Oh, please,” he whimpered, his cheeks burning against the palms of his hands. “Please, I. I am no prince. I’m—”

“Nonsense. You are the son of a king. We are both princes, you and I, which means we are equals.”

“No, you are a god. I am a troll. An ugly runt of a—” Loki lost the end of his sentence when he felt Thor’s large, gentle hands clasp his wrists and pull them away from his face. He was staring at Loki with nothing but adoration in his kind blue eyes.

“You are a prince,” he repeated firmly, “and that is how I shall introduce you to my father. Prince Loki, late of Jötunheim, unjustly exiled and seeking asylum in our fair realm. The Allfather could not deny such a moving petition.”

When Thor slid his hands into Loki’s, Loki didn’t even cower. He stared dreamily at Thor’s face, his tail going lax around his leg.

“Do you really think so?” he murmured hopefully.

“I do.” Thor smiled and clasped Loki’s small blue hands. “But it’s getting late. Come, we don’t want to miss him.”

Chapter Text

Thor and Loki walked side by side down the broad, low-lit corridors of the palace, heading for the royal hall where Odin’s chambers lay. Loki stuck close to Thor’s side, taking in everything around him with a sense of wonder and curiosity, his bare feet patting quietly on the polished floor.

Presently they came to a pair of huge, heavy doors. Like nearly everything else in the palace, they were golden and bore elaborate patterns that intertwined with one another like an endless skein of ivy. A raven was carved onto each door and a sliver of warm light spilled from beneath them, an indication that the room’s occupants were still awake.

Thor turned to Loki and smiled gently. “Don’t worry. No harm shall come to you, I promise.” He lifted his hand and rapped lightly on the doors. “Mother, Father,” he said loudly, “I know it is late but I wanted—”

“Come in, Thor,” called a pleasant voice from within, and the door opened on its own with an emerald-green shimmer.

Magic! thought Loki, his eyes sparkling with interest. A very different sort of magic, much more delicate than the kind used by trolls, but sorcery nonetheless. He gulped down his excitement as Thor ushered him inside.

The royal bedchambers were spectacularly luxurious, decorated in gold and silver and draped with intricate tapestries featuring Asgard and its many natural splendors—mountains, forests, streams, fields, all filled with magnificent birds and beasts, and bearing the figures of famous or notable Æsir. To the right was a comfortable sitting-room and more chambers beyond; to the left was an archway that gave onto a wide balcony, and offered a magnificent view of the city below. Stars and moons and nebulae glowed in the night sky above.

In the center of the room, against the far wall, was another of those unusually flat Asgardian nests, though this one was broader and fluffier than Thor’s. The left side was empty but on the right reclined a beautiful woman, propped up by many pillows and comfortably settled for the night. She held a book in her hands and her reddish-gold hair draped down one shoulder in a thick braid.

This was Frigga, Queen of Asgard, the Allmother, and her radiance was as warm and benevolent as her appearance.

She looked up and smiled at her son in greeting, then her eyes settled on the stranger standing beside him. Her eyes widened and the book slipped from her numb hands.

“Mother,” said Thor levelly, “please don’t panic. I can explain ev—”

Gracious!” she exclaimed, throwing back the covers and springing barefoot from the bed. She hurried toward her son and his guest, holding up the long skirt of her nightgown so she wouldn’t stumble. “What in the Nine! Thor, who is this precious little person?”

Thor was stunned. His jaw wagged mutely as he struggled for words.

After snapping out of his own state of shock, Loki began to bow in the troll fashion—bending the left knee with tail straight out—then he remembered where he was. He quickly corrected himself and bowed at the waist, like Thor had done to him earlier.

“Your majesty,” he said, trying to keep his voice from squeaking. “I am Loki of Jötunheim.”

Frigga walked right up to Loki and took his small face in her hands, staring at him with a look of maternal concern.

“Loki of Jötunheim! My stars, you are a frost troll, aren’t you? What a handsome young thing you are! Are you hungry, darling? Have you eaten? Thor, have you fed him yet? He looks famished.”

“I, uh,” Thor stammered, “yes, Mother, I. He was. Yes.”

Frigga smiled lovingly and patted Loki’s blushing blue cheeks. “Is this your first time in Asgard, Loki? Did you—oh, no, don’t tell me you are an orphan. You poor dear! Do you need a place to stay? Is that why you’re here?”

Loki’s eyes glazed over as he stared at this lovely woman with her soft hands and kind eyes and wonderful, flowery scent. Was everything he had been told about the Æsir a lie? It must be. Every person he had met so far had been generous and patient and—

“Frigga?” came a man’s voice from out on the balcony. “Is that Thor I hear?”

Three heads turned toward the sound. Frigga straightened up, her smile fading as she took her place on Loki’s other side, framing him protectively between herself and her son. Loki’s tail clamped itself anxiously around his leg. Thor took a steady breath and held his head high, waiting.

The Allfather stepped into the room. His silver-white hair spilled loosely onto his shoulders and his beard was thick and well-groomed. His right eye was hidden behind a golden patch, his face stern and his posture regal. Though he was not as tall as Loki had expected, and his midsection had begun to grow soft and thick with age, his mien was one of immense power and wisdom. It didn’t matter that he was not clad in armor or holding his great staff Gungnir, for even in a brocaded dressing gown and slippers, Odin commanded an air of respect.

When he saw that there was a small audience gathered in the room, he stopped short. His eye flitted over each face before finally settling on Loki’s. He blinked.

“Shit,” he muttered under his breath, then heaved a tired sigh. “Thor, what is that thing and why is it in my house?”

Loki’s heart sank to the pit of his stomach. He heard the Allmother click her tongue disapprovingly.

“Father, this Prince Loki of Jötunheim,” said Thor resolutely. “Fárbauti’s son. He has been wrongly exiled and is seeking asylum in Asgard. Will you hear his request?”

Odin’s forehead wrinkled as he lifted his eyebrows. “This isn’t the troll I sent you to destroy, is it? Great gods, lad, why in the world would you bring it back here? Are you planning to have it stuffed and mounted? Skinned and cooked, perhaps? It wouldn’t make more than a mouthful, by the looks of it.”

Loki let out a tiny squeak and Frigga put a soothing hand on his shoulder. She glared at her husband.

The resentment on Thor’s face was plain to see, but his voice was unnaturally calm when he spoke. “Please stop calling him ‘it’, Father. Loki is not a rock or a twig, he is a living being. He is a frost troll.”

“Indeed?” Odin narrowed his eye skeptically at Loki. “Are you sure about that? He looks more like an elf than a troll. Perhaps he’s some sort of mutation, a crossbreed of a troll and a human.”

“You can ask him yourself,” said Thor. “Unless you think speaking to a troll would be beneath you.”

Odin smiled patiently. “Ah, yes. Because I am too mean and proud to converse with a scrawny little jötunn. No, Thor, I am simply afraid of wasting my breath on a creature incapable of understanding civilized speech. But since you appear to be quite taken by him, I shall humor you.”

He leaned forward and spoke to Loki clearly: “Shkíllur thú mikk, little one? Guturr thú toladh al-gengaan tunga, edha ertu hálfvitti?” 1 The words rolled thick and harsh from his tongue.

Loki’s cheeks burned with shame and he shrank against Thor’s side.

“What did you say to him?” Thor demanded, his whole body tensing. “Did you threaten him?”

“I merely asked if he spoke the common language,” said Odin, straightening himself again. “My trollspeak is a little rusty, and quite frankly I hate to use it. It is an ugly language for an ugly people.” He paused and glanced down at Loki. “Present company excluded, of course. Are you sure you’re not part elf?”

Loki gulped and said in a small voice, “T-to my knowledge, your majesty, I am not.”

If Odin was surprised by Loki’s pleasant tenor, his face did not show it. “I see. Then you must be considered an insult to your race, yes? An ugly pariah, cast out for your defects and abandoned by the savages you call your kin. Is that right?”

Loki bowed his head, tears burning in his eyes. “It is, your majesty.”

Both Thor and Frigga were taken aback.

“Father, how could-!”

“Odin, really!”

Odin held up both of his hands and waved them placatingly. “Calm down, calm down. It is a legitimate question. I am only trying to determine the reasons for his exile.”

“He has been exiled because Fárbauti is cruel and impatient,” said Thor fiercely. “Loki has been ridiculed and mistreated all his life for something he cannot help, and his father sent him to Midgard to die. He is in desperate need of sanctuary. He needs care and recovery and a safe place to live.”

Odin opened his arms wide in an exasperated gesture. “What does this realm look like to you, Thor? An infirmary? A harbor for every refugee who comes running to us with a deformity and a convenient story? Oh, don’t look so shocked, lad. Trolls may be stupid as a whole, but they’re capable of being clever on occasion. Some of the most cunning liars and tricksters in history have been trolls.”

He glowered at Loki, who huddled between Thor and Frigga.

“Their deception is legendary, especially among the frost species. How do you think they came to be the rulers of Jötunheim? Through divine birthright? No, they cheated the realm’s original inhabitants out of home and hill, enslaved them, ate them, and ultimately wiped them from existence. Now Jötunheim is a planet of trolls, its resources wasted or gone fallow from centuries of neglect, and its mountains are overrun with a conniving lot of inbred monstrosities like the one I’m looking at.”

Odin bent down to address Loki once more, his lips pulled into a grim smile.

Er thadh rett, little one? Excuse me: Loki prinsenn. Hm. Ljóki, the ugly one. Is that your real name or did you come up with it when you were charming my foolish son?” 2

Loki couldn’t take anymore; he turned and buried his face into Thor’s shirt, clinging tightly to his side as he trembled with fear and humiliation.

Frigga scowled at her husband. “Now you’re just being cruel.”

“Unbearably,” Thor added, putting an arm around Loki’s shoulders and holding him close. “I brought Loki to you so he could ask for your blessing, so he could live here safely and legally, in compliance with your ordinance, Father. He has been perfectly civil and respectful to you, yet you have done nothing but insult and berate him. Is there not one ounce of mercy in your heart for him, for any person who would come to you in need?”

After a few moments, Odin sighed, his vigor fading. He suddenly looked very old and tired.

“Thor, my son, I am only speaking the truth, a virtue which, sadly, is lost on the jötnar. But they can hardly be blamed for this deficiency; they are born with it. Lying, cheating, betraying—it is in their nature. It is how they survive. Just as ravens and crows prey upon the less intelligent beasts, so do trolls attempt to seduce us with their wiles.”

Loki clenched his small hands and pressed his face even harder into Thor’s side, hugging him tightly. One of his horns was digging into Thor’s ribs, but Thor was too upset to even register the discomfort.

“So what if it is,” said Thor crossly. “I don’t care. Loki has done harm to no one and he will do no harm by staying here. He needs help and I mean to give it to him, and if you try to stop me, Father, I will—”

“Calm yourself, Thor,” said Odin, “before you say something that cannot be unsaid.”

Thor shut his mouth, pinching his lips together tightly.

Odin sighed heavily and turned, shuffling toward the bed. He sat down on the edge with a small huff and turned to look at his family, who regarded him with hurt, harried faces. He tilted his head to one side and vaguely nodded his assent.

“I will permit Loki to stay in Asgard, but I will not abide his presence in the palace. He must go live in the forest. That is the natural order of things. People live in cities, animals in the wild.”

He held up his hand when Thor and Frigga readied themselves for an argument.

“And before you say anything, let me remind you that a thousand years ago I would not have hesitated to kill this unwanted visitor on the spot. But I have grown soft in my old age and developed a tolerance for the intolerable. A troll in Asgard is something the younger Odin would never have borne.”

He stared at Loki, cowering against his son, and smiled despite himself.

“He is rather small, though, isn’t he? I don’t suppose he’ll be much trouble. Like a flea on the back of a dog. It does the dog no good—it drinks the dog’s blood and grows fat and spoiled, and the dog must endure a little itching every now and then—but as long as there is only one flea, there is little harm.”

Odin’s gaze moved deliberately to Thor. “However, if I find another flea has made its way in this realm, I will exterminate them both . . . and any little eggs that they may be hiding. I will not have Asgard infested with trolls. Do you understand me?”

Thor hated it, but he gritted his teeth and nodded. “I understand.”

“Good.” Odin paused, looking at his dejected family. He sighed again. “He can stay the night—just this once. He leaves first thing in the morning.”

Frigga stepped close to Thor and laid her gentle hand on Loki’s head. “Can’t he at least stay for breakfast? The poor thing should have a good meal before he’s sent away.”

Odin physically recoiled. “What? No. No, I won’t have a troll slurping porridge and sucking down eggs as I try to enjoy my morning tea. That is simply out of the question.”

He saw the deadly glint in Frigga’s eyes and his frown wilted slightly.

“Alright. Fine. He can stay for breakfast, but he will not eat at the table and he is to leave immediately after.” He stared hard at Thor. “Have I made myself clear?”

Thor clenched his fists and opened his mouth to speak, but he was stopped by his mother’s hand on his shoulder. Frigga leaned toward his ear and said in a voice barely above a whisper, “Not now, darling. You take care of Loki. I will talk to your father.”

The tension left Thor’s face and was replaced by a defeated, depressed look. He gave his mother a sad smile and turned back to his father. “Very well. Father, Mother. I apologize for ruining your evening. Loki and I bid you both goodnight.”

Odin raised his hand in farewell and released a sigh that sounded like a weary groan.

Frigga kissed her son’s cheek and gave Loki’s head a tender pat. Thor put his arm around Loki and guided him toward the door. The Allmother gave them a soft, reassuring smile as they stepped into the corridor, and shut the door behind them.

When they were halfway down the hall, Loki stopped and raised his face to Thor. His cheeks were wet and flushed, his red eyes even redder from his tears.

“Oh, Thor,” he said wretchedly, using his host’s name for the first time, “I haven’t lied to you! Please believe me, I would never lie! I know my people are known for being false, but I swear to you, I’ve told you nothing but the truth. Th-there’s no way I can prove it, but please, you must believe me. I would never . . . !”

He buried his face into Thor’s middle and began to sob. “Please, my lord, have mercy. Don’t abandon me. I have nothing left. You are all that I . . .” The rest of his sentence ended in a choked-off whine.

With his heart as sore as a fresh bruise, Thor ducked down and gathered Loki into his arms, lifting him up and hugging him close. Loki wrapped his arms around Thor’s shoulders and his legs around Thor’s waist. He sniffed wetly and nuzzled the side of Thor’s face gratefully.

“I am not your lord,” Thor murmured. “I am your friend, and I will not have you thrown into the forest to live like an animal. I’m going to take care of you, Loki. I swore that I would let no harm befall you as long as I live, and I am a man of my word.”

Loki clutched Thor even harder, tears leaking from his tightly-shut eyes. He could find no words to describe the gratitude that filled his heart. All he knew was that falling into Thor Odinson’s trap was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Thor reached up and gently stroked his fingers through Loki’s dark hair, and carried the sad little troll back to his room.

Chapter Text

When they arrived back at Thor’s room, a strong wind had begun to blow outside the palace and lightning was flashing in the sky. The growl of thunder followed every flare and flicker, heralding a heavy rain.

It was no coincidence. Thor hadn’t been this upset in years.

Of course, he thought to himself, it was nothing compared to what Loki had just endured.

Safely inside the room now, Thor leaned over his bed and allowed Loki to crawl from his arms. Loki immediately grabbed one of the nearby pillows and clutched it to his chest, curling up with his tail tucked around his feet. He jolted as a peal of thunder ripped through the sky above, and Thor had to take a moment to shut his eyes and try to calm himself. He could not comfort Loki if the worst fear of every troll was cracking and booming right above their heads.

While Loki hugged the pillow and sniffed away the last of his tears, Thor disappeared into the bathroom. There came the sound of splashing water, and a few moments later he returned with a cool, wet cloth in his hands. He climbed onto the bed to sit beside Loki and laid his hand on his thin, narrow shoulder.

“Here,” he said softly, “lift your face.”

Loki did—his cheeks were cobalt and his eyes were like two huge rubies at the bottom of a clear stream—and Thor carefully blotted the salty tear stains from his overheated face. Loki sighed in relief and looked up at Thor pitifully.

“It seems I’m destined to be a disappointment to fathers,” he said, “even the ones who didn’t raise me.”

“Don’t say that,” Thor insisted, pressing the cloth to Loki’s forehead and dabbing it down the side of his throat. “It is not your fault.”

“But it is. I am either too much a troll or not troll enough. Why can’t I have been one or the other? Why did I have to be like this? Why does no one like me?”

Thor ceased his ministrations and touched Loki’s cheek with his damp fingers. “It isn’t you, Loki. It is everyone else. You may be different, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Sometimes it’s good to be set apart from everyone else. The world would be very dull if we were all the same, don’t you think?” He offered up a conciliatory smile.

The corners of Loki’s mouth twitched upward. “I suppose so. But it would have been nice to be accepted by both your parents. Your mother is so kind and gentle. I see where you get it from.”

Thor’s smile faded and he lowered his head. “I have much of my father in me as well,” he said. “I am a warrior. I lead armies to victory. I fight, I kill.”

“But you also protect,” Loki insisted, setting the pillow aside and folding his legs beneath himself. “You rescue people, like you did me. You are fair and merciful.”

“You have not known me long, Loki. I’m afraid I shall one day disappoint you.”

“Perhaps not. We’ll just have to see.” He gave Thor a hopeful smile.

Thor was astounded. Even after the disastrous meeting with Odin, Loki offered cheer and consolation to someone who needed it least. If there was any doubt in Thor’s heart that Loki was not as sweet and pure as an innocent child, it was dispelled at this very moment.

Thor reached down and clasped both of Loki’s hands in his own. “You are so amazing,” he murmured. “I’ve never met anyone like you.”

“Nor I you,” said Loki, leaning forward.

This close to one another, Thor could see the sharpness of Loki’s eye-teeth. They weren’t as large as they should have been, but were small and dainty and white. Thor looked down at the hands he was holding.

“You have beautiful hands. It was one of the first things I noticed about you.”

“Thank you,” said Loki softly. “But they are not the hands of a troll. They are small and weak and I have no claws.”

“You may not have claws, but your nails are strong and your fingers are long and shapely. I’ll bet you are an expert at plaiting.”

Loki frowned. “Platting? What’s that?”

“It’s a form of braiding. You know, like . . . well, like this.” Thor pulled one of his long, golden-brown braids from the back of his head and leaned close to show it to Loki. “You see those strands? They are woven together. It’s called a plait. It is a style worn by many people across many different realms.”

Loki reached out and stroked Thor’s braid with his fingertip, staring at it intently. “So that is what these things are. Platts. I’ve seen them before and always wondered . . .” He lifted his face and found himself nose-to-nose with Thor. “Can you do this to my hair, too?”

“When it’s a little longer, yes. If you want.” Thor’s eyes softened as he gazed at Loki. “I think you would look very nice with them.”

A faint smile came to Loki’s lips. His eyelashes fluttered as he let out a breath. “Perhaps I should give up trying to be a jötunn and just become one of you. Your father might like me better if I were to cut off my horns and tail and just—”

“No!” said Thor fiercely, and there came a startlingly loud crack of thunder just overhead.

Loki cried out and threw his arms around Thor, clinging to him. Thor hugged him, grimacing at his outburst.

“I’m sorry,” he said as Loki shivered in his embrace. “That was my fault. The thunder, it’s . . . I cannot help it.”

Loki pulled back and stared at Thor in amazement. “You are doing this?”

Thor nodded guiltily.

“Then it isn’t really your hammer that brings the thunder? It’s . . .”

“It is me. My hammer channels my power, but it is not the source of it.”

Fear crept into Loki’s eyes. “Are you angry?”

“I suppose I am, a little,” Thor admitted. “But not at you, Loki. It was the thought of you mutilating yourself to suit my father, to suit anyone else. It’s . . . simply horrifying. Promise me you won’t do anything like that. Ever.” He cradled the back of Loki’s neck and stroked his cheek with his thumb.

“I promise,” Loki whispered.

Thor’s eyes drifted down to Loki’s mouth, his gaze lingering on Loki’s lips before returning to his eyes one more. Loki was breathing a little faster, his eyes gleaming and full of emotion.

Thor forced a smile onto his face. “Will you be comfortable in my bed tonight?”

“Oh, yes,” whispered Loki, then he paused. “Wait, what’s a bed?”

“It’s what we’re sitting on right now.”

Loki looked down at the mattress as if he just realized it was there. “Oh, is that what you call your nests? Bed? Or beds, should I say?”

“Yes, bed for one, beds for many,” said Thor. “Though I must admit, ‘nest’ sounds much cozier.”

“Hm, nests are much cozier,” said Loki forlornly, stroking the covers, “at least where I come from.”

Thor sat back on his legs, a look of determination on his face “How can I build one?”


“A troll-nest,” said Thor. “I want to make one for you. Tell me how.”

“Oh, no, please, that won’t be necessary. I’ve been making do without one for months, you don’t have to—”

“I want to, Loki. Please. After what happened with Father, I . . . I want to make you as comfortable as possible.”

Loki bit his lower lip and, after a few moments of staring at Thor’s earnest, heartfelt expression, he glanced around the room. “Well . . . we can start by adding a few more pillows . . .”

The rain stopped sometime overnight and the morning dawned fresh and damp. Weak rays of sunlight peeked through the gauzy curtains in Thor’s bedroom, stretching across the floor. The bed was left in shadows, and it was much changed from its usual state. A volcano of pillows, blankets, towels, and even clean laundry was heaped in the middle of the mattress. It wasn’t the ideal troll nest, Loki had said, but it was wonderful compared to his arrangements on Midgard, sleeping in hollow logs and between the roots of trees.

In the center of this strange pile of linens lay Thor and Loki, Thor curled up on his side with one foot sticking through the wall of cloth, and Loki propped upright between two pillows, knees and arms tucked to his chest, one hand holding on to his tail for security.

Thor was the first to wake, taking in a deep breath and stretching his limbs with a quiet groan. A few inches away, Loki’s eyes fluttered open and he yawned, his little blue tongue curling.

Thor smiled at him sleepily. “Good morning, Loki.”

Loki returned his smile and gave a shy wriggle. “Good morning, Thor.”

“Did you sleep well?”

“Hmm, better than I have in a long time.” He unfolded himself and stretched, his tail going straight as an arrow before relaxing again. “Though I am rather hungry now.”

“I’d be worried if you weren’t. It will take more than soup to put the flesh back on your bones.” Thor sat up and popped a few joints, flexed his arms, rolled his head back and forth. “I’ll go and get something for us. Do trolls eat breakfast in bed? Or in nest?”

“Not usually. Only if we’re ill or have babies to keep.”

The image of the troll-bird nest came back to Thor’s mind, and suddenly he pictured Loki cuddled up around a litter of tiny blue baby trolls. It was . . . strangely appealing. He wondered if Loki would find a mate who didn’t mind his less-than-jötunn characteristics, if he would ever have babies of his own someday, either siring them or bearing them. He wondered if Loki’s little body would be even able to handle the strain of pregnancy or if—and this was horrifying to consider—he would end up like his poor mother, overloaded with a huge litter that would claim his life and the lives of over half his offspring. The image of Loki with a half-dozen mewling babies didn’t seem so appealing anymore.

Thor snapped himself out of his reverie and stood from the bed. “Alright, I, er, you just stay here and rest,” he said, “I’ll be back shortly with some food. Is there anything in particular you would like?”

“At this point,” said Loki honestly, “I will eat anything that doesn’t eat me first.”

“So . . . two of everything?”

Loki waved his tail happily. “Please.”

Thor’s heart was still soaring through the clouds as he neared the large patio in the east gardens, the place where his family typically took their morning meal. Birds were singing and the air was fragrant with flowers, fresh from the rainfall. Odin, looking rather unrested and rumpled, was sipping his tea at the table while Frigga sat across from him, paging through a different book than the one she’d been reading last night. This one looked much older, its edges soft and worn and its pages yellow with age.

Not far off, a pair of ravens—Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn—stood on a high, gilded platform planted at the patio’s edge, one that was built especially for them. They gobbled down their usual breakfast: bits of boiled egg, raw meat, nuts, and fruit. Ever sharp-eyed and watchful, they lifted their heads when Thor’s shadowy movements from within the palace caught their attention.

“Here comes the son,” said Huginn, and his subsequent chuckle sounded more like a croak.

“No,” rasped Munnin, bobbing her head merrily, “here comes the thunder!”

The two ravens cackled at their meteorological humor and Odin muttered something under his breath that sounded like a prayer for the preservation of his sanity.

Frigga looked up and smiled when Thor emerged onto the sun-drenched patio.

“Good morning, darling,” she said pleasantly. “How is Loki? I hope he was able to get some rest. It was rather stormy last night.” She flicked her eyebrows and tilted her head toward Odin. “Metaphorically and literally.”

Thor gave his mother an affectionate grin. “He is doing quite well. Hungry, naturally. I shall take some food back for him”—he gave his father a sidelong glance—“since he is not allowed to dine with us.”

“That’s a lovely idea, Thor. Be sure to bring him lots of protein.” Frigga lifted the book she held. The title read Know Thine Enemy: A Guide to Trolls, Thurs and Risi. “The propaganda in this thing is awful, but there appears to be some good information regarding diet and biology in the later chapters.”

“Mind the nuts, Thor.”

Frigga and Thor slowly turned to look at Odin, who was glowering blankly at the shrubbery over the rim of his teacup.

“That book focuses more on wood trolls,” he murmured. “They are the only species of jötnar that can eat nuts. Frost trolls cannot. If you give them to Loki, he will be sickened. Remind him of this before you take him into the forest. He’s probably never seen a nut in his life. His ignorance could kill him.”

Thor narrowed his eyes. On one hand he was disappointed that Odin had not changed his mind about allowing Loki to stay in the palace; on the other hand, however, he was astonished by the sudden concern for Loki’s well-being.

“That’s oddly considerate of you, Father,” he said.

“I don’t wish him ill, lad. I merely wish him gone. As soon as possible.”

Frigga sent Thor an expression that seemed to say I tried my best, darling before she closed the book and laid it in her lap. “Aren’t you forgetting something else, dear?”

“Something . . . oh. Yes, that. Hrmph.” Odin set down his teacup with a sigh. “Your mother has persuaded me to allow Loki to visit the city once a month. He is not to come into the palace, though. He is to remain outside. I know he is an exile of his race, but he is still a troll and I don’t want him skulking under the same roof where I conduct the affairs of this realm. Understood?”

“Yes, Father,” said Thor quietly.

“Good.” Odin made an awkward pause. “The cooks have set out a great deal of dried fish and venison. I suggest you avail yourself of it. Avoid the bread. Trolls have a low tolerance for wheat.”

Thor and Frigga shared an impressed look with one another.

“Thank you,” said Thor, almost smiling. “I will keep that in mind. I assume I shall see you again before we leave?”

“Your mother will see you off. I have more important matters to attend to this morning.”

Frigga rolled her eyes and picked up her own teacup. “Thor, darling, stop by the west garden before you leave. I have something I’d like to give Loki.”

“Of course. Thank you, Mother.” Thor gave her a respectful nod and turned to make his way to the kitchens. Odin’s quiet voice stopped him:

“And Thor.”

He turned. “Sir?”

Odin was hunched down in his seat grumpily. “They, ehm. They love honey. Just a measure of it will turn the foulest, meanest jötunn into a gentle kitten. You won’t find that in the book, but I assure you it’s quite true.”

This time when Thor glanced at Frigga, she looked both shocked and amused.

Well,” she declared, patting the Guide to Trolls, “perhaps it’s time to revise and update this archaic, ignorant book with some new material, yes? And what a stroke of luck, we happen to have an actual jötunn to advise us!”

Odin gave her a dubious, one-eyed glare. “Don’t get any grand ideas, Frigga.”

“It’s a little late for that, dear.”

Odin sighed. “That’s was I was afraid of . . . Thor, what the devil are you smiling about? Run along to the kitchens now, hurry. Before that troll thinks you’ve abandoned him and starts eating the furniture.”

With a broad grin on his face, Thor gave his mother a wink and disappeared into the palace.

Chapter Text

Thor stepped into his bedroom with a loaded tray in his hands. Loki was nowhere to be seen. “Hello?” he called to the seemingly empty room. “Loki?”

In the blink of an eye, Loki popped up from the center of the bed-nest like a rabbit from its hole. His eyes were gleaming. “I’m here.”

Thor lifted the tray. “Would his highness care for some breakfast?”

Loki answered by scrambling from the mound of pillows and blankets and planting himself on the mattress, legs folded beneath himself and tail flicking back and forth eagerly. Thor couldn’t help but be amused at his enthusiasm. He strode over and set the tray on the bed, then sat down across from Loki.

Loki stared down at the bounty with a look of utter rapture and reached out to grab a fistful of dried fish. He paused suddenly, remembering his manners, and lifted his face to Thor, his fingers curling with embarrassment.

“Oh, go ahead, please,” said Thor with an encouraging wave of his hand. “All this is yours. I helped myself on the way back.”

With a delighted shiver, Loki dove into his first Asgardian breakfast.

It was divine. He tried to control his zeal, but it had been so long since he’d had a decent meal that even things he normally didn’t care for—like raw tomatoes and cheese—tasted delicious. He demolished a cold leg of turkey, a bunch of grapes, a goblet of sweetened milk, and a small ham steak in a matter of minutes. He further surprised Thor by biting into the ring of bone that was left behind, crunching and grinding it between his teeth as easily as if it were a piece of candy.

Thor watched, truly impressed. He had been bitten by trolls before, though always through several protective layers—mercifully. The strength of jötunn jaws was legendary, and their bites had not only crushed the metal of Thor’s armor, but left terrible bruises in his flesh that took days to fade, even with special poultices.

As fearsome as this strength was, Thor was glad that Loki had inherited it, not only for the sake of his few and precious jötunn characteristics, but because it meant that at least he had some way of defending himself. He would need it when he went to live in the forest.

The happiness that Thor had been feeling was abruptly snuffed out like a flame from a candle.

Loki noticed the melancholy look come across his host’s face and he swallowed down the last of the four pickled eggs he’d been devouring.

“Is something the matter?” he asked gently.

Thor shook his head and sighed. “Father is still adamant about sending you to the wood. I had hoped he might change his mind. I don’t know how I shall look after you if I cannot be near you.”

A sullen silence fell between them for a few moments.

“Can you not come live with me?” asked Loki softly.

“If it were up to me, I would not hesitate,” Thor answered. “But I am the protector of this realm and many others, and I am bound by my duties. If the king calls me, I must be prepared to answer him at once.”

Loki wilted, his tail thumping lifelessly onto the mattress and his whole posture drooping with sadness.

“I’m so sorry, Loki. I feel as if I’ve already broken my promise to you.”

For a moment Loki sat still, his head bowed and his lips silent. Then he pushed the tray aside and crawled over to sit in front of Thor.

“When my father banished me to Midgard,” he said, “I had never even seen a forest. Pictures of them, yes, but never in real life. I was so frightened.”

He picked up his tail and began to fiddle with it, stroking the tip as if to soothe himself. Thor watched him, his heart aching.

“I don’t know how long I was there. Several months at least. Long enough to see the leaves fall from the trees and the first snowfall of winter. The days are so short there.” Loki smiled a little. “You can imagine what a shock it must have been for me, a naïve little troll who had spent his whole life inside his father’s mountain. I would have perished if you hadn’t saved me, but . . . I did manage to last all that time without you. I shall be able to do it again, I think, especially under your care.”

He reached out and laid his small blue hand on top of Thor’s large tan one.

“I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. Living in the forest, it isn’t so bad. It certainly can’t be as bad as what I came from. At least I shall have you watching over me, and if this realm is as fair and fruitful as you’ve said it is, then I should be fine.”

Thor stared into Loki’s hopeful, happy eyes and the heavy feeling in his chest began to disappear. He picked up Loki’s hand and raised it to his lips, pressing a kiss onto the faint blue markings there.

Loki went stiff. “Wh-what is that? What are you doing? Are you . . . t-tasting me?”

Seeing the suspicion in Loki’s eyes, Thor smiled gently and petted his hand. Apparently the fear of being eaten was still very real to him. He began to wonder if the tales about cannibalism among trolls were true.

“No, Loki, it was a kiss,” he said. “It’s a gesture of affection. Nothing sinister, I assure you.” He paused before asking, “Do your people not show their affection this way?”

“No, it’s. Erm, it’s just that our jaws are fearsome weapons,” said Loki, blushing a little, “and our teeth—well, everyone’s but mine—are too large and sharp for making a, a kiss, as you call it. A troll showing affection with his mouth would be odd and dangerous.” He ducked his head bashfully. “But yours is very nice. Your lips are soft, and the little hairs on your face tickle, too.”

Thor smiled.

The indigo color on Loki’s face darkened. “I would . . . I’d like to get used to kiss.”

Now it was Thor’s turn to blush. He swallowed dryly and licked his lips. “Well, uh. Perhaps in time . . . if you want.” The question he had been meaning to ask finally found the opportunity to be addressed. “If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you, Loki?”

Loki sucked his bottom lip into his mouth as a guilty expression came over his face. In a voice barely above a whisper he said, “Twelve.”

Thor paled. “Wha—twelve?”

“I know, it’s shameful. Twelve times I’ve witnessed the journey of Blárdrek across the northern skies of Jötunheim, yet I look as if I’d only seen half that,” said Loki mournfully. “I ought to be three times as large as this, with a magnificent set of horns and great big teeth, but . . .” He sighed and shook his head.

Thor frowned. “Blárdrek? You mean the comet, the one with the long blue tail?”

Loki nodded.

Thor was familiar with this stellar phenomenon. The Blue Dragon, known as Blárdrek or Blådrag, if he recalled correctly, passed through the star system shared by Niflheim and Jötunheim once every thirty-three years; which (Thor quickly did the calculations in his head) would mean that Loki was nearly 400 years old—396, to be exact, making him precisely a hundred years younger than Thor himself.

The relief that flooded through Thor at this moment was indescribable. His shoulders slumped and he heaved a huge breath.

“Is everything alright?” asked Loki worriedly.

“Yes. Yes, it’s. Everything is fine. No problem.” Thor smiled wanly. “We are almost the same age, you and I. Sometimes I forget that the people of the Nine each have their own way of reckoning age.”

“So I’ve heard. The Midgardians use single years, don’t they? Is that because they are so short-lived?”

“I’m not sure if it’s because their lifespans are so brief or if it’s just the easiest way for them to remember. In any case, it seems to work for them. Of all the Nine, they age the most rapidly.”

“Hm.” Loki nodded thoughtfully. “We jötnar use the stars to measure our ages. Is that not also how the Æsir do it?”

“It is, though we use different celestial bodies. On Asgard I am nearly twenty-two star cycles old, so you would be”—he scrunched up his face—“a little over sixteen, I think? You do look a bit younger, though. That is why I wanted to ask you outright. I would not want to be, um . . . untoward.”

Loki smiled shyly. “That’s very decent of you. I assure you I’m an adult in the eyes of my people. My father would not have banished me if there had been any hope of me growing into a normal troll. But after eleven, much of our growing is done.”

Thor gave Loki’s hand a squeeze. “Perhaps you will grow here in Asgard. You never know.”


They gazed at one another for a few quiet, contented moments, then Thor reluctantly released Loki’s hand and stood from the bed.

“I have some things to gather,” he said, though he didn’t sound too eager about it. “Supplies, tools, clothing, anything you may need to see you through your first few days in the wood. I swear I will do all I can to make you as comfortable as possible, Loki.”

“I know you will.” Loki smiled sweetly and his tail coiled up into a tight spiral. “Thank you, Thor. As long as I am in your hands, I have no reason to fear anything.”

By the halls of Valhalla, Thor felt like his heart was glowing with the strength of a hundred suns. If he were to open up his chest, he had no doubt the light would blind every living thing within a mile radius. Never before had he felt such a deep-seated longing to make things right, to care for and nurture and protect, to love and to lavish another with all the good things he could provide. The fact that it was a frost troll who had had awoken these feelings in him didn’t even matter at all.

He smiled at Loki’s innocent face. “Then I shall return shortly. I, uh, I did bring you some honey, though I think you might have missed it.”

Loki’s wide-eyed expression told Thor that he had; he looked down at the mostly-empty tray beside him. “Honey? There is honey here?”

“Yes, in a little pot. I thought I saw it just a moment ago.”

Loki swept his hand over the remains of his breakfast, revealing a small jar that had been hidden beneath a napkin. He clutched it to his chest and looked up at Thor as if he were the patron saint of all trolls.

“I don’t understand,” he said breathlessly. “I didn’t think anyone outside our race knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That honey is more precious to trolls than gold and gems! It’s practically sacred. We use it for healing and all sorts of rituals: mating ceremonies, royal feasts, courtships, tokens of allegiance, everything! H-how in the worlds did you know?”

“I heard a rumor.” Thor grinned helplessly and shrugged. “Go on, enjoy it. There is plenty more where that came from.”

“You . . . you mean it?”

“Of course. Asgard is full of honey. There is no need to be stingy. Eat as much as you like.”

With shining eyes and a weak, giddy smile, Loki opened the jar and dipped his finger inside, coating it with golden, gooey goodness. When he stuck his finger into his mouth, there was no mistaking the resulting look on his face for anything but complete ecstasy.

“Oh. Ohhh my,” he groaned, his eyelids fluttering. “It’s so. I haven’t had honey in . . . oh, it’s incredible. Thank you, Thor!”

Thor’s eyebrows lifted up until they were somewhere around his hairline. He cleared his throat and averted his eyes, his cheeks coloring slightly.

“You’re very welcome. I shall, uh . . . leave you to enjoy it, then.”

While Loki swooned and salivated over this unexpected treat, Thor stepped into the closet and changed into his day clothes and boots, then slipped from the room to begin his palace-wide scavenger hunt.

He went to the armory first, grabbing two knapsacks from the supply room, then he visited each wing of the palace, going room by room and gathering provisions for their journey into the forest. He filled one of the sacks with basic necessities, such as dried meats and fruit, rope, knives, blankets, twine, a few small plates and bowls, and anything else he could think of. The other sack he filled with clothes and personal items: a hairbrush, some soap and oils, a little sewing kit—another thing for which Loki might have a talent, given his fingers were so slim and agile—and a few towels and cloths.

When he returned to his room over half an hour later, he found Loki draped over the edge of the bed in a happy stupor, his tail waving back and forth like a thin blue vine, his eyes glazed and dreamy.

“Thorrr, you’re back!” he sang, rolling over and pointing one of his tiny feet into the air. “That’s wonderful! You’re such a wonderful man. I’ve never met a wonderful man before. Or a man at all. Aren’t I lucky? The first man I meet and he’s wonnnderful!”

He hugged himself and giggled and rolled around on the bed.

Thor gawked at the transformation. All traces of the timid little troll he had rescued from Midgard were gone. Odin had been right; honey indeed rendered jötnar into docile, kittenish creatures. The knowledge of such a condition—some might even call it a weakness—could be used to terrible effect by their enemies, Thor thought. He wondered if his father had ever used honey as a weapon against his lifelong foes. He hoped not. It didn’t seem like a fair way to fight. If their reactions were anything like Loki’s, a honey-drunk troll would be totally helpless.

Thor set the satchels on the floor and walked over to the bed, gently moving Loki away from the edge so that he wouldn’t topple over. Loki was as limp as a cloth doll, arms and legs flopping, head lolling lazily. He was definitely relaxed—emotionally as well as physically. A less fretful version of himself. Thor hoped the effects wouldn’t last long. The morning was growing late and it would soon be time for them to leave.

“You liked the honey, I take it,” he said, and was surprised when Loki boldly climbed into his lap and hugged his neck.

“Every drop!” Loki chirped. “I’ve never had that much in my entire life. It was so good and sweet. Just like youuu . . .”

Thor felt his body temperature rise a few degrees. “Er, do you think you will be ready to leave in a little while?” he asked, placing his hands on Loki’s narrow waist to keep him from falling over. He seemed a little clumsy and uncoordinated. “Can you even walk in this state, or shall I carry you?”

“Oh, no. I’m fine. I’m wonderful,” Loki insisted, his words coming slow and slightly slurred. “And you’re wonderful, too. Everything is going to be wonderfully fine, I just know it.” He squeezed Thor and nuzzled the side of his head with his horns. “I can’t wait to see my new home. Can we leave now? I want to feel earth beneath my feet again. Soft, cool earth . . .”

Thor patted Loki’s back. “Yes, we can leave now, if you like. Everything is ready.”

Heyrahhh! Vidh adh farra!

“But first let me give you a cloak to wear. It’s bright out this morning and I don’t want you to get burned.”

“You’re so wonderful, Thor. You think of everything.”

“I try to.” Thor flashed Loki a smile. “Mother has something to give you, by the way. I’m not sure what it is, but she—”

“A present?”

“It could be. She told us to meet her in the west gardens before we set out.”

“Excellent! Let’s go!” Loki scrambled from Thor’s lap, accidentally jostling some of Thor’s more sensitive parts.

Thor grimaced and grunted, cupping himself. Gods, did that troll have some bony knees!

“Come on, hurry, we don’t want to keep her waiting,” Loki urged, grabbing Thor’s arm and trying to pull him to his feet. He was hilariously ineffectual. Like watching an over-excited rabbit trying to move a boulder.

Thor eventually recovered from his mauling and rose from the bed with a soft groan.

“Alright, alright, just let me find you a cloak and then we—” He laughed when Loki threw a towel around his shoulders and waved his tail. “No, I don’t think that will do. You need a proper cloak, something that will keep the sun off of you.” He touched the side of Loki’s head affecionately. “I don’t want my little snowflake to melt.”

Loki smiled in response and, ironically, the only thing in danger of truly melting was Thor’s heart.