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The Crown Prince and the Beast

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It started with a wedding.

Most fairy tales end with a wedding, don't they? It's only natural, after all, to end on a happy note, and weddings are generally regarded as a happy occasion. But not this wedding. Not this tale. Avert your eyes, those of you looking for a sweet and gentle story. You will not find what you seek here. Unless you relish pain and hardship, do yourself a kindness. Find another way to amuse yourself.

Now where were we?

Oh, yes.

At a wedding—that of Prince Thor Odinson, second child of the King of Asgard, to the Crown Prince of Jotunheim, Loki the Small.

Come with me and I'll tell you the strange, sad story of this union.

On that day, Loki stood just without the Great Hall of Asgard, an imposing spot with its massive doors of hammered gold glinting in the fierce brightness of a yellow sun. Despite the light slanting through the narrow windows, Loki shivered. He'd been dressed in a very brief costume consisting of a leather loincloth, a fur stole, and not much else, and the draft in the vestibule chilled him to his very bones. His jet black hair hung in his face where it usually would be combed back neatly. At his wrists and ankles clinked thin golden bangles, and at his throat sat another band of finely wrought gold. These trinkets were not of his choosing; they had been clapped on him by Aesir guards the moment he'd been apprehended on Jotunheim. The gold bands were no mere ornaments, Loki soon discovered. They robbed him of his magical prowess, leaving him defenseless against the Asgardians who would soon force him to wed their Prince.

For this wedding was not the product of love, no. It was something else entirely. Again, I say go away from this tale if the prospect of heartbreak and horror upsets your sensibilities—as well it should.

Are you still with me?

Fine. We continue.

The marriage of the Princes had been brokered by the Allfather and Laufey, the leader of the Jotun, who are called Frost Giants by the Asgardians. (Loki the Small was small only by the measure of his people, who most often stood at ten or twelve feet as opposed to Loki's six, hence the nickname he could never shake.) The two Kings had long been at war with each other, but after an unusually bloody battle where both lost over half their respective armies, they agreed that the time had come to end the conflict. After a dreary, protracted period of negotiation, it was decided that the two Princes, both of whom were disappointments to their fathers, should be wed, thus ushering in a tentative peace between the two worlds.

No one had asked for Loki's opinion on the matter, and indeed the shape of the negotiations was hidden from him until the fatal moment when he was met by the enemy and taken captive. He could still hear his own screams for help ringing through the cavernous halls of his palace; he could still see the icy mask of Laufey's face as he watched his firstborn being dragged away.

"Don't whimper so," his father had said over his shouts. "At least now you will be of some use. Be glad you are serving Jotunheim, Loki, and cease your struggles."

Even knowing he was abandoned and alone, even knowing that it was useless, Loki had fought, earning himself a bloodied mouth for his troubles when an Asgardian warrior bludgeoned him with the butt of his spear to keep him quiet. It was in this scuffle that his hair was mussed, his magics sapped from him by the strange gold bands, and his clothing ripped from his body. He'd reeled, unable to comprehend the swiftness with which his princely life had been stripped from him like so many silks and furs, until at last a many-hued light enveloped him and his captors, and he was borne by the Bifrost to a land he'd only read about in stories: Asgard, a place peopled by vicious creatures who lived and died by their bloodlust.

Now awaiting his fate as an unwilling bridegroom, Loki could see his reflection in the Great Hall's golden door. The blood had been wiped away from the corner of his mouth but a purple bruise now marred his cobalt skin. His eyes, usually a pleasant crimson shade that he'd always thought his best feature, were pink from his tears. The few bits of clothing that he'd been forced into by a pair of silent servants just minutes before hung crookedly on his slim hips and shaking shoulders. He looked as miserable as he felt in his heart.

And yet, beneath the pain simmered a terrible anger—a rage at his father, who had traded him like one would a parcel of land; at his country, which had snatched from him the throne that was to be his destiny; at Asgard, a kingdom of stunted, cruel brutes; at Odin their King, his lifelong enemy; and finally at the Odinson, the beast that was to be his husband.

In his private thoughts, Loki vowed revenge on every last one. He had been branded a weakling all his life but now, cast out of his home and stranded among his enemies, he would prove just how powerful he could be.

If he could only slip free of the thrice-damned cuffs and collar!

He tugged at one of the slim bracelets encircling his wrist but it was as hopeless as the first dozen times he'd tried to escape its snare. A guard stationed at the door noticed his struggles and laughed cruelly at the sight. No attempt was made to stop him from the desperate enterprise.

"It's time," another guard drawled, squinting at the sun. His spear angled in Loki's direction, an idle reminder that he could be run through at any moment.

Loki added the guards to his mental list of recipients of his vengeance.  

The sun-burnished doors were flung open by some unseen hand and Loki found himself at the mouth of a hall lined with a thousand Asgardians, standing ready as the sharpest of fangs. They watched him with their strange white eyes and tittered behind their cupped fingers, which were dripping in rings and precious stones. Far in the distance stood a great altar draped in a blood-spattered cloth and bearing the carcass of some horned animal that Loki did not recognize. Its tongue lolled from its dead mouth, its eyes a glassy black.

Loki recoiled, wondering if perhaps the promised marriage was a ruse, and he was to join the creature on its deathbed as another sacrifice to some lusty war-god.

The tip of a spear prodded him in his back. "Move," a guard grunted.

Loki moved.

His cold, bare feet carried him across the flagstones of the Great Hall towards the felled animal. The crowd flanked him on either side, preventing any thought of escape. He could smell the tang of blood in the air, could hear the whispers of the Aesir as he walked. But in spite of everything that had befallen him, Loki was still a Prince of Jotunheim, and he carried himself with his head held high. If these savages were to murder him, so be it. He would not be cowed by such displays.

As he neared the altar, Loki noticed one of the Aesir standing apart from the crowd. He was tall—by Asgard's standards, at least, standing a few inches taller than Loki. His ugly golden hair was worn in knots according to his people's custom. He was dressed in armor as were most of the people in attendance, but his raiment included a cloak of red draped about his shoulders. On his chest and torso were inlaid many circles of silver, medals, perhaps, denoting the number of lives he'd taken on the battlefield. His face was covered in coarse hair all along his cheeks and chin—a practice Loki could neither understand nor approve.

So this was the beast of Asgard, the Odinson, the warrior-prince who would be his husband.

Loki suppressed his shudder. He was determined not to show any fear in the face of this ordeal. His regal bearing would not crumble under this strain; he swore it to his favored Gods. He tipped his chin upward as he took his place at the Odinson's side. He did not deign to glance at him even when the weight of the other Prince's gaze settled heavy upon his body. Oh, how Loki wanted to cover himself! The humiliation of standing half-naked before these brutes could not be borne. And yet, Loki had no choice but to bear it.

The Allfather himself appeared behind the altar with its gruesome offering, hands outstretched. He wore a crown of intricate gold set with a hundred glittering stones as well as an eyepatch of the same. Loki swallowed his distaste at the ostentatious show of wealth; though Laufey had many failings, he at least never draped himself in such gaudy baubles.

"We have all prayed for this day," said the Allfather.

Loki seethed. He certainly hadn't.

"Prayed," continued the King, "for an end to the war with Jotunheim. No longer will our sons' deaths, however glorious, take place on that distant, icy shore. Today the Prince of Asgard, Thor Odinson, God of Thunder—" Here he leveled a strange look at his son, which Loki noted with interest though he knew not what it could mean. "—will take as his consort the one called Loki the Small, Crown Prince of the Jotun, firstborn of Laufey. May this handfasting bind them together as the new peace accord binds our kingdoms."

Odin then produced from his cloak a thick silver cord and stepped around the carcass-laden altar. Loki watched, silent and seething, as the King approached. He had heard of this tradition among the Aesir and knew it was only a symbolic gesture, yet he hated the thought of being bound to his new husband, however temporarily.

"Take your intended's hand," Odin ordered his son, quiet enough that only the two of them heard, firm enough that they couldn't pretend to have missed it.

Loki stared straight ahead as he felt his hand grabbed up in the chapped, square paw of Thor Odinson. He forced his fingers to be perfectly limp in that horrible grasp, not a tremor to betray him. Odin wrapped their hands and wrists, tying the cord into a solid knot atop their joined fingers.

"It is done," the King announced, and Loki's heart broke to hear the crowd of Asgardians roar their approval at his capture.

Do not weep, he told himself. They only think they've bested you. Bide your time. Slip the knife into their ribs when they least expect it.

The Aesir Prince turned to face the assembly, dragging Loki in a half-circle as he moved. Loki nearly stumbled, but the Odinson used their clasped hands to right him. It was only then that their gazes met, an instinctual glance that couldn't be helped. The brute's eyes contained points of blue within them, an unsettling color that reminded Loki of ice during a false spring.

"Find your feet, Jotun," said the Odinson under his breath. "And do it with haste."

"I will not answer to anything but Crown Prince from you," Loki hissed in return. Heat flooded his cheeks as he bit his tongue; he wanted nothing more than to berate the Odinson for yanking him about in the first place, but he knew it would do him no good. He was alone in a sea of tormentors. Any one of them might tear out his throat at even the slightest provocation.

The beast did not answer him, only grunted and tugged him along through the crowd of well-wishers. Servants poured from doorways with trays of food and drink. No tables for this feast, then. Loki watched in disgust as the Aesir nobles, such as they were, ate their legs of mutton and swine ribs with their bare hands, tearing at the flesh with their teeth and letting the bones fall where they may. His new husband refused all offers of food but did grab a tankard from a passing tray, drinking the sickly sweet-smelling brew in huge gulps before dashing the tankard upon the flagstones, where it broke into a hundred shards.

Loki only just avoided stepping on the shards with his bare feet, dancing out of the way and upsetting the Odinson's balance as he did so. The brute yanked him back to his side as they continued to walk.

"You'd do well to stay close, Crown Prince," he said into Loki's ear.

Loki's nose wrinkled at the scent of drink on the Odinson's breath. He could see no reason not to keep his distance as far as their bound hands would allow him. Loki was about to tell the ruffian as much when their progress was arrested, their path blocked by a tall, dark figure.

He recognized her only from the stories that had been brought back from the battlefields of Jotunheim. This was the Death Goddess, Odin's firstborn, the one called Hela. She had led Asgard in that bloody battle that half-destroyed both armies, and from the look of her, she wasn't losing any sleep over it if her bright eyes were anything to go by.

Rumor had it that she'd murdered some of her own troops when they dared question her siege tactics. They said even her own men called her mad, and that her powers were such that no one dared stand against her madness. Loki froze as he regarded her there in the Hall. She wore light armor of green and black, her inky hair hanging in lank knots about her face, her mouth a cruel slash of a grin. Loki knew the sight well; it was the look of a rabid animal about to attack.

"What a happy day for our kingdom, brother," she said. "At last you are married, and all is well."

"So it is by the Gods' blessing," said Loki's horrible new husband. A foolish grin plastered itself across his furred face. He took up another tankard from a servant and quaffed it in four massive swallows.

Loki prepared to dodge, but this time the brute placed the empty vessel on a passing tray instead of dashing it upon the floor. Small favors, Loki thought with a scowl.

Hela continued, "It's only a shame that Mother isn't here to see you. How she would have loved to attend her only son's wedding." Her eyes at last slid to Loki, and Loki wished they hadn't. He felt flayed open by that stare, a piece of meat destined for her dinner plate. She clicked her tongue. "Though perhaps it's for the best that Mother did not live to see you wedded to this."

How dare this unwashed Aesir speak of him like something bound for the ash can! If only one of his hands were free from the gold cuffs! As it was he could only stare at her with all the hatred in his heart, wishing her dead with just his eyes. She seemed to find this amusing, and laughed.

Her brother joined her in her mirth, his laughter booming throughout the hall. The Odinson then turned, forcing Loki into his shadow and blocking his sister from view. "If you'll pardon me, dear Hela," he said, "I should take my leave."

"Of course," said Odin, appearing suddenly through the crowd with a number of sycophants, all gazing at him as if he hung the suns in the sky. "You must be eager, after all, to give me a grandchild. Laufey swore to me it was possible, and I see no reason to delay the attempt."

The Allfather's retinue gave another cheer, raising their cups to the painted ceiling. Loki watched in dawning horror, then whipped his head around to stare at the Odinson's stupid, grinning face. Was he really expected to lie with this filthy brute? To bear his offspring? He felt a terrified numbness creep into his limbs. Perhaps he had been naive not to think of this before, but there had been so little time since his capture to understand the full ramifications of his forced marriage. He was to be treated as livestock, meant for breeding Aesir pups.

His hands trembled without his consent.

Remarkably, the Odinson clasped his hand where they were bound together and stopped his shaking in at least that limb. Loki looked at him, wondering at this gesture, but could find no clue as to its meaning in that blank, rugged face.

A member of the King's retinue spoke up, her words blurred in her drunkenness. "Is it true, then, Allfather? Do the Jotun men possess the parts of a lady as well? I thought it was merely a story."

"No, no, it's quite true, my dear," Odin assured her. "The Jotun are not men or women as we often are, but possess a quality rare among the Nine Realms. The majority of them are equipped to both sire and bear children."

"How strange!" cried the courtier, though Loki did not see what was so strange about it. "This I must see." The ninny actually reached for the hem of his loincloth as if to expose him to her curious gaze.

Loki slapped her hand away, his eyes mere slits. The foul creature was lucky he did not have his magics at his disposal. She would have been nothing but a stain upon the flagstones for such an affront. But she only gasped horridly at Loki's reaction, as if he was the one at fault.

"I'm afraid," drawled the Odinson, "that the view you seek of my new consort is to be mine alone. And I've never been adept at sharing." He reeled Loki closer to his side.

Loki glared at him, glad to be further from the stranger's touch but unhappy to be so near this brute who thought he owned him.

"My son's impatience to uncover his prize reveals itself," Odin laughed, and his retinue joined in. The uncomfortable moment was forgotten by all save Loki, whose discomfort only grew.

The Odinson pulled Loki even closer until they were flush against each other. "If my father would excuse my hasty exit? I mean to put all my effort into getting my consort with child tonight. Several efforts, in fact."

"Ah, for once Thor wishes to fulfill his duty like a proper son," Hela mused, sipping at her tankard and staring over its rim. "I suppose as long as the task involves sticking his cock in something—"

Odin interrupted Hela's rude comment with a toast, raising his glass high and shouting above the heads of the assembled. "May the Norns see fit to give me a grandchild by winter! Skol!"

Amid the repeating cries of the crowd, Hela leaned in to whisper to her brother, close enough for Loki to also hear. "Let's just hope the Jotun can whelp a litter with your coloring, Thor."

"I bid you good evening, sister," was his only reply as he shouldered past, dragging Loki along behind him.

Loki could taste bile rising in his throat at the thought of being pinned under this savage Prince, a prisoner in his bed. Terror threatened to freeze his mind, but he fought through it. There had to be a way to defend himself from such brutality. In his desperation, Loki espied the hilt of a short knife hanging from the belt of one of the courtiers in the crowd. The fool that wore it was already drunk, red-faced and stumbling.

Loki had always possessed some skill at sleight of hand, and he used it now, plucking the little weapon from the Asgardian as he passed and holding it upright in his free hand, hidden beneath his forearm.

He feared the Odinson would take note—Loki was nearly naked and had no place to hide the thing—but luck was at last on his side. The brute barely glanced at him as they left the Great Hall and lumbered down the empty stone halls of the palace, the noise of the feast fading behind them. Loki took the opportunity to size up his opponent. They were of a height, but the Odinson was broader, composed of the thick muscle that his people revered so highly. However, he had drunk an awful lot in a short span of time, and Loki thought he detected a slight waver in his gait. Perhaps he could take the brute off guard and slice his throat open while he fumbled with the laces of his breeches.

But then what? Loki despaired at the sight of the solid stone walls closing them in on either side. The palace was more a fortress than anything, and what with the royal wedding, the guards were sure to be double or triple their usual number. Loki had no map of the place, no idea how he might escape into the city or the wilderness beyond. And even if he did get that far he would need clothing, money, a cowl to disguise his Jotun face, at least until he could find a smith to strike to the bands from his—

"Oof!" He practically bounced off the Odinson's broad back as he made an abrupt stop before an oaken door. Loki lifted his bound hand along with his captor's to rub at his sore nose. Now his thoughts were scattered, damn it all.

The Aesir, meanwhile, gave him only a glance over his shoulder before producing a key and unlocking the door.

"Your quarters, Crown Prince," he said in a rough, mocking voice, leading Loki inside by the hand.

The door slammed behind him. Loki resisted the urge to jump at the sound, so loud in the echoing room. His eyes roved along the walls of his new prison. It wasn't as spacious as his old rooms back home—no, not home, not any longer, he reminded himself—and it was cold, colder than any Jotun dwelling. There was an open slit of a window that looked out over a flowering courtyard, and a large bed raised in the Asgardian style above the floor like a stage. There were rugs of bearskin on the flagstones and lamps containing flickering tallow candles scattered about. And there was a fireplace, though it was filled with nothing but ashes.   

The Odinson turned their joined arms roughly and began picking at the knot that held them fast. Loki hid his stolen weapon behind his back. It was a silly little knife, clearly meant for ceremony, but Loki prayed its blade was sharp enough to do the deed. Those eerie blue eyes darted to his face, which Loki immediately schooled into what he hoped was a blank mask.

The Odinson questioned him with the same expression. "You do not fear me?"

"I have faced far worse than you," Loki lied. In fact, he had faced very little, all told. His life heretofore had been one of comfort, insulated as he was from the horrors of war due to his smallness and his rank. Though he had often begged his sire for the chance to prove his magical abilities on the battlefield, these requests had always been denied. Loki had never fought anything more dangerous than one of his carefully vetted sparring partners in the palace, but this callous ogre didn't need to know that.

If the Odinson suspected this to be bravado on Loki's part, he did not mention it. He only untied them and let the cord fall to the floor, shaking out his hand where it must have gone numb. He then turned his back on Loki and started toward a small table by the window, atop which sat a measure of wine in a glass pitcher as well as some goblets.

"Will you drink?" he asked.

"With you?" Loki snorted. "I don't think so." He readied his knife, taking it in his left hand (the one he favored) and creeping behind the Odinson.

"Fair." The Prince of Asgard poured himself a brimming cup of wine. "You may do as you like, of course, but I intend to get quite drunk tonight."

Oh, the thought of being taken by this awful creature! While deep in his cups, at that! No doubt the better to vent his animalistic desires. Loki pictured the Odinson slavering over his prone body, and he could bear it no longer. He struck out with his stolen knife—

And was shocked to see the Odinson turn as nimbly as a goat. His hand clamped around Loki's fine-boned wrist, arresting the knife's tip inches from his throat.

"I'll amend that," drawled the beast. "You may do as you like—so long as you leave my neck intact."  

"Savage!" Loki hissed in his bearded face. He tried desperately to drive the knife that scant inch or two forward but the Odinson had him in an unbreakable grip. "Release me!"

The Odinson's lips lifted in the smallest, cruelest smile. "Drop it," he said.

Loki stubbornly clutched the knife all the tighter.

"Drop. It," the beast repeated as if speaking to a child. He crushed Loki's wrist more and more until Loki felt the small bones grind together.

Loki tried to withstand it, but after a moment he let loose a little cry of pain and dropped the knife. It fell only a short distance before the Odinson caught it in his free hand. Only then did his hold on Loki relax.

"I'll need to keep this, you understand," he said, releasing Loki's wrist and tucking the knife in his own belt.

Loki whimpered as he cradled his arm against his bare chest. Bruises were already blooming where the golden bangle had dug into his skin. Tears sprang to his eyes but he refused to let them fall.

The brute gave a heavy sigh, gesturing to Loki's arm. "If you had done as I asked…."

"I won't submit to you," Loki said, daring to look up into those piercing, ice-bound eyes. "Never. I will fight to the last." His voice wavered only slightly. "Better to die than be an Aesir's plaything."

"You little blue fool! You—" The Odinson bit off his words and dropped his voice to a harsh whisper. "I have no intention of bedding you. Get that through your head." He turned back to his wineglass and downed the lot of it in one go.

Loki watched this, perplexed. "But you— Odin spoke of children—"

"It matters not what my father said. I have merely appeared to agree with this absurd peace accord." He turned back to the table with its wine and readied his glass once more. "It suits me for the moment to let my father and sister think I am preoccupied with my new consort. It gives me time to enact my plan."

"Plan?" Loki forgot his bruised wrist for the moment. "You have a plan? What is it?"

"At the moment? To get very drunk, as I've said." Thor turned to lean back against the table, lifting his glass to his lips. "You're certain you won't join me? We have many hours to fill. I cannot leave these quarters too swiftly. They will think I have not enjoyed my consort as thoroughly as I said I would."

Loki felt his cheeks heat. No doubt they were turning quite magenta. "Forget your enjoyment! Why would you deceive your fellow Asgardians in this?"

The Odinson wiped at his lips with the back of his hand. "A long story. It would go better with drink."

"I am not sharing a drink with you," Loki said. "Just tell me what I wish to know."

"All right. Let's see." He toyed with the wineglass, seeming to think on his next words. "The Allfather has been poisoned against me by my sister," said the Odinson, pouring out more wine. "For many years I was the favorite, but no longer. My sister Hela saw to that. She is jealous and mad with power, not fit to rule. She has orchestrated this latest thorn in my side." He gulped at his refilled glass and grimaced as it went down. "Father yearns for a grandchild, something my sister has no interest in providing, and so now that is my sole task." He stared into the depths of his glass. "I am nothing but the second child, safely squared away in a political match and kept far from the battlefield or the decisions of the realm."

Loki's eyes widened. "So you did not want this marriage either?"

Thor wiped his wine-wet mouth with the back of his arm and belched. "Gods, no. I am as unwilling as you. I merely had the good sense not to show it."

Loki's mind worked its machinations as he digested this news. Strange as it might be, the foul Odinson was possibly his only ally in the world at the moment. Perhaps he might even—

"Free me," he said, grabbing hold of the Odinson's arm before he could reach for the wine a third time. "Show me the way out of this castle and let me go. Then you will be rid of me."

The brute scoffed, shaking off Loki's hand and pouring the last dregs of wine. "Not possible," he said. "I need my sister to think everything is going according to her own plan. This way, she will not suspect it when I strike."

"What do you mean, strike?" Loki asked.

The Prince leveled a look at him. "You will forgive me if I do not trust a captive Jotun with all my secrets." He looked deep into his cup and murmured, "I cannot let you leave, not yet. And even if I could, where would you go? Jotunheim would not have you."

Loki looked down, blinking rapidly. The brute was right. Even his own people, his own blood, had abandoned him here among wolves. He swayed on his feet, groping for the edge of the wide bed and sitting heavily upon its edge. His hands lay useless in his barely covered lap, the gold bands glinting on his wrists.

He would not let his tears fall. What good would they do?

"You may need me as a prop for your own purposes," he said in a low, hard voice, "but I will still fight my captivity at every step. I can't just submit to these circumstances." His eyes darted to the Odinson's inscrutable face. "I don't expect you to understand."

"But I do, Crown Prince," came the even lower answer. "You may not believe me when I say it, but I would not wish this fate on anyone, even you, my sworn enemy."

Loki looked him up and down. "You're right," he said. "I don't believe you." Everyone knew that Asgardians were ruled by their bloodlust and sick appetites. That this drunken oaf claimed to feel anything else was laughable.

The Odinson's lips lifted again in a near-smile. "Your tongue is your most honed weapon, I see. I did not imagine you would be so quick-witted."

Loki looked away and did not reply. Compliments from that corner meant nothing. Acknowledging one would only encourage the brute to make more clumsy attempts at chatter. He shivered at the thought—and because of the chill of the room.

The Odinson looked down at him as he finished his wine, a frown twisting his wet mouth. "Why do you shiver?" he asked.

"It's freezing in here," Loki said, "and I am wearing next to nothing." He rubbed at his arms to try and instill some warmth in them, but it was no use. His teeth chattered. He caught the Odinson's stare and snapped, "What? Why are you looking at me like that?"

"A Jotun should relish the cold," he said. "Is your home not covered in snow and ice nearly all the year?"

"Isn't most of your world covered in water?" Loki returned. "Shouldn't you live below the surface and breathe through gills? Honestly, Odinson, of all the fatheaded—"

"But your raiment!" the brute protested. "It is your custom, is it not, to wear so little? Surely you should be used to the cold dressed like that." Thor gestured to Loki's naked chest, nipples tight as buds in the chill air.

Loki tugged at his ragged fur stole, trying to cover himself with its short length. "These aren't my clothes! I was shoved into them before the wedding!"

"But it's the dress of your people."

"This poor approximation of battle dress?" Loki's temper reached its limit. "Battle dress is only for warriors going to the front lines! Only to intimidate our frail enemies who've never lived through a true winter! Normally we wear tunics and breeches just as you do, you ridiculous lump of excrement!"

The Odinson's mouth hung open, and Loki held his breath. It occurred that perhaps no one had ever dared insult the Prince of Asgard so thoroughly to his face. Despite their tentative truce, Loki wondered if the scoundrel would break his neck for the barb.

But the beastly Prince merely drained the last of his drink and sighed. "I...owe you an apology," he said in a tone that sounded like the words pained him to say.

"Only one?" Loki muttered.

The Odinson continued as if he hadn't heard. "It was I who ordered the servants to prepare your quarters in this manner, to leave the grate empty and to prop open the window to catch a cool breeze. And I was the one who chose your wedding clothes. I thought this would provide you with some small comfort—that is, something familiar." He looked away at the window, his thick throat working as he swallowed. "I didn't realize how mistaken I was."

Loki knew not what to say. Finally he found his tongue and managed, "You wished to comfort me, Odinson?"

"Thor," said the Prince, still not meeting his eyes. "Call me Thor if it pleases you."

"It doesn't," Loki said flatly. "Nothing does, especially thoughtless gestures." He smoothed out the little loincloth over his lap and resolutely looked out the window instead of Thor's face.

"Of course not, Crown Prince." Thor peered into the bottom of his glass as if seeking some last drop of wine. Then, apparently deciding there was none to be found, he put the glass aside and crouched down in front of the grate to build a fire.

Loki watched his captor—or perhaps fellow prisoner—coax the kindling into flame. With a start, he realized he'd need to learn that skill now that he had no magic. One of the first spells he'd ever mastered was that of fire-calling; the handling of flints was beyond him.

"There," Thor said once the logs were crackling nicely. He stood and wiped his hands on his breeches. "It should warm up in a moment. Take this, please." He unwound the strange red cloak from his shoulders and held it out in his hand.

Loki wrinkled his nose at the dingy thing. "Oh, really. That's not necessary." To accept it would be a even more intimate than sharing a drink.

"You would rather sit there shivering?" Thor snorted and tossed the thing on the foot of the bed beside Loki. "It's your decision, I suppose," he said, rolling his huge shoulders.

Loki did consider ignoring the cloak, but his discomfort won out at last, and he picked it up and wrapped it about his shaking shoulders. The cloak carried the strong odor of Asgardian skin, something acrid and earthy. It wasn't an altogether pleasant smell but at the same time, Loki could not help sniffing it out in an attempt to identify all its strange parts. And the thing was quite warm.

"I will have my man bring you new clothes on the morrow. Ones that are not so scant." Thor hovered at the edge of the bed. "For now, this is the least I can—" He stopped and tipped his head to the side, then cupped Loki's cheek in his rough palm.

Loki balked, tossing his head free of the touch. "If you would please!" he gasped. "Keep your hands to yourself."

"But there's—" The scent of wine-heavy breath washed over Loki. He gestured to the corner of his own mouth. "Did someone strike you there?"

Loki lifted his fingertips and brushed the bruise that still ached on his face. He'd nearly forgotten. "Your guards," he said, "when I resisted capture."

"They should not have done that," Thor rumbled. "Their orders were to treat you well."

"How well could I have been treated while being ripped from my homeland?" Loki sniffed and turned away. He would not let this knave see how pink his eyes had become with unshed tears.

Thor seemed to have nothing to say to that, so he took himself away from the bed and stalked over to the fireplace, where he sat upon a bearskin and stared into the flames. What right did he have to look so defeated? Loki decided the Odinson was the most horrible creature he'd ever met in his admittedly cloistered life. He was a drunk, and he smelled, and his ugliness extended to both body and spirit.

Loki spared him a glance and said, "What will you do for the rest of the night now that you've guzzled all the wine?"

"You underestimate me, Crown Prince," Thor murmured and took from his belt a small metal flask. He uncapped the thing and drank deeply.

Loki rolled his eyes. An absolute animal.

The liquor in the flask must have been the burning kind, for Thor swallowed with a loud groan of pain. He turned his shaggy head and stared up at Loki where he perched on the bed. His eyes dragged from the tips of his toes to his raven locks. Loki withstood his gaze for only a few moments before snapping.

"Why do you keep staring at me?"

"No reason," the Odinson said, drinking more as he spoke. "It's only taking some getting used to. The sight of a Jotun in my own home…."

Yes, it was strange, two mortal enemies sitting quietly in a bedroom. Loki thought on this, his hands itching to be free. "I could shapeshift into another form, of course, one that would be more pleasing to your low tastes. You'd need only release me from these bonds." He jangled the gold bands that encircled his wrists. It was a long shot; despite his stunted intelligence, Thor probably knew better than to unleash Loki's power.

Thor gave him a rueful smile before he sipped again at his flask. "My sister fashioned those bindings, unfortunately, and the only key is with her. They are wards against your magic, are they not? Hela must think you a powerful warlock indeed." He looked doubtful as he sized up Loki. "But she is mad and often sees threats where none exist."

"In this, at least, your sister is right. I'm more dangerous then you realize, Odinson," Loki said with self-righteous heat.

"Really?" Thor squinted at him as if trying to picture it. "I've never heard tell of Jotun magic before. If it's truly a threat, why does it not feature in tales from the battlefield?"

Loki tucked his feet up under the red cloak, arranging the hem of it to cover him fully. "Most Jotun have some little magical ability, but then again, most Jotun tower above you. They do not rely on it when they have their strength. I cultivated my powers to make up for my smallness, and I assure you, they are formidable."

"Ah. Like when a blind man's ears become sharper for the loss of his sight," Thor said with a nod. He then stopped and shook his head. "Talking to a Jotun about magic. Not how I thought my wedding night would go," he said, half to himself, half to the mouth of his flask as he drank.

Loki gave a bitter little laugh. His people did not wed each other as Asgardians did, but he could imagine the sorts of things one might look forward to on such a night: a lover's happy embrace, a warm bed, the hope for children….

He looked over the bed with its snowy white bedclothes and frowned, drawing the red cloak more tightly around his shoulders.

"Odinson—" he began.

"Thor, if you would."

"I won't," he said automatically. Then, "Do you think your father and my sire discussed our union in very much detail?"

Thor glanced over his shoulder at Loki, his eyes points of blue light. "They must have at least discussed whether you might be able to carry my child. Why?"

Loki chewed his lip. It was intolerable to contemplate telling this brute such a private thing, but what was one more humiliation in the long line of them?

"We must leave some blood upon the sheets," Loki finally said. He stared resolutely at his hands in his lap. "Otherwise your chamber servants may report that you did not know me tonight as you boasted you would."

Thor laughed, a thunderous sound. "But that would only be needed if your maidenhead were still intact," he said. Silence followed. Loki did not look up. "Have you really never lain with anyone in that fashion, Crown Prince?" Thor asked in disbelief.

"Oh, use whatever's left in your empty head!" Loki exploded, his gaze whipping up at last. "Of course I haven't, not in any fashion."

"But why not?" Thor asked.

Loki's nostrils flared with emotion. He didn't want to explain himself to this brute, but he had to.

"I'm half the size I should be; who would have me in the first place?" He rubbed at his arms again. The room was still so cold.

Thor gaped stupidly, his mouth hanging open. "But your rank— Surely there were suitors?"

Loki flushed. Curse the Odinson and his words that found their mark in Loki's tender heart. "Where I'm from, rank is not enough to overcome such a defect. There were some that desired me in some perverse quest for novelty," he said, eyes downcast. "Of course I did not agree to lay with them." He turned his face away, eyes burning. He recalled the old fears of being split apart by cocks too large for him, or mocked for his own small prick, or worse, treated as some exotic toy instead of a living, breathing thing. "So yes, I still have my—what did you call it?—maidenhead, and Laufey surely knows it. And if he knows, so might Odin."    

"I see," Thor said with a slowness. "I'm sorry. I did not think."

Loki could not resist tossing out a barb. "I wonder if you ever will."

A few more beats of silence passed, during which Loki swallowed down his anger and his shame. Then, with a heavy sigh, Thor levered himself to his feet with a small wobble and reached for his belt, taking the stolen knife in his hand.

Loki's eyes widened. Perhaps he had more to fear from this savage Prince in his cups than he thought.

"Do you bleed red?" Thor asked, thumbing the edge of the blade to test its sharpness.

"What?" Loki said, a strangled sound. His eyes darted to the window. Too small; he'd never fit.

"Your blood. Does it flow red as mine does?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well, then." Thor slashed the knife against his own palm, opening a wound several inches long. "Let us leave a stain upon the sheets as you said." He laughed at Loki's horrified look. "I barely feel it. The drink dulls the pain."

Loki assisted Thor in pulling back the top layers of bedclothes until they found the last sheet. Thor pressed his bloody palm to the soft white linen, leaving a blot of red behind.

"Smear it a bit," Loki said even as he dipped his own fingers in the blood to do so. "It will look more natural that way."

They worked together until the blood took on a satisfying appearance. Loki had nothing to compare it to, of course, but to his untrained eyes it appeared convincing, a series of bloody smudges that would mark the path of his supposed deflowering. Thor surveyed the stain while he staunched the bleeding in his hand with a bit of linen cut from one of the sheets.

"If anyone asks, how shall I say I had you?"

"I don't have the faintest idea, obviously." Loki arched a brow at him. "Who would ask such a vulgar question of a Prince anyway?"

"You don't know Asgard," Thor said, smirking and shaking his head.

Loki crossed his arms over his naked chest, cocooned once more in the red cloak. "And I don't wish to." He moved to sit at the edge of the stuffed mattress, as far from Thor and the bloodstain as he could.

Thor regarded him in silence for a moment before moving back to his spot before the fireplace. He found his flask among the furs and resumed his drinking. "You judge my country and its people after being here for only a few hours. You do not know it as I do."

"I know enough," Loki seethed. He lay down on his side, curled into a ball. He wrapped the red cloak tightly about himself and stared at the stone wall. "Drink yourself into a stupor, Odinson. I need my rest."

"Then goodnight to you, Crown Prince." Loki could not tell if the voice was mocking or attempting kindness. It sounded stuffy, whatever it meant.

Oh, who cared what the lump thought of him? Loki shut his eyes and soon fell into an exhausted, heartbroken sleep.