Chapter 1: In Which Your Husband Is Your Husband
“I cannot help marrying him,” you say softly. “My father insists on it, and he would not change his mind even if I told him I’m married to you, my Loki. Because you’ve been gone for eight years now, and seven months….” You swallow hard, and reach out to caress the cheek of the wooden bust you’d carved of your husband. All those nights hidden away here or there, his magic lighting the space while you studied every beautiful, asymmetrical line of his face; and then when you were done carving for the night his soft kisses on your tired, nicked hands and his arms around you and his ardent devotion.
You blink away tears, and carefully hide the carving in the trunk at the foot of your bed, under iridescent gowns and golden crowns and the beautiful, unmelting ice roses that your suitor gave you. You pick those up, shivering a little, and tuck them into your hair. They summarize the two things you know about him: he’s the king of the Frost Giants, and a magician.
And you must go meet him now. You carefully wipe away your tears--Elvish princesses do not cry in public--and walk out of your room and down the spiral stairs, made of golden wood that branches and blooms and has to be pruned.
“You are almost late,” your father complains as you step onto the perfect moss of the floor.
“I’m sorry, Father.”
Fifteen steps across the moss, a step through the arched doors, and you are in the Wedding Hall, and there is your betrothed, twenty steps away.
You take a deep breath and slowly looks up from the floor and at him. Trim black leather boots, over the knee and laced with knots of leather and sudden buckles; a long leather loincloth, tooled with circles and angles and dragons that are both; navy-nailed hands at his sides. You’ve seen his hands before, you can’t help thinking. The long, fine bones….
Your eyes lift to his face, and your hand drops off your father’s arm. You know every line. You’ve carved every detail. His skin is blue, his eyes red, his face older, his hair grown into black curls. He’s alive, instead of dead; Jotun, instead of Asgardian; a king instead of a prince. Your lips part in silent shock, bewilderment making your heart thump and your pulse leap in your throat and temples.
He extends a hand to you with a slight, questioning smile, and for this moment you do not care that you are more confused than you have ever been. As quickly as one can with a flowing gown and royal dignity, you walk forward and put your hand in his, looking up at him with more bewilderment than you’ve ever felt, and more exaltation that bewilderment. His hand is cold, as cold as the day when the two of you had thrown snowballs at each other without gloves. You tighten your hand around his cold fingers, trying to believe that this in an unexplainable real day, rather than a dream, and his smile becomes fond.
Someone has been talking--ah. It’s your father, and he has already said a third of the marriage ceremony. A moment later Loki quietly vows to be faithful to you, in a voice that has accumulated tinges of accents from realms to which you have never been, and you repeat the promise to him. It’s a promise you’ve never broken and are glad to revow.
“A marriage has been made!” your father intones, and then raises his head abruptly to look behind you, where you hear fast, heavy footsteps. You and Loki both turn, hands parting.
A woman taller than all the men in the room lopes toward Loki, expression grave. Hoarfrost spreads around her blue feet whenever they slam into the floor. “My lord. Your brother the Lord Helblindi has been kidnapped.”
Loki nods, hands tensing. “I shall return immediately. Thank you.” He turns to your father and bends his head courteously. “My apologies--” he turns to you “--and my apologies to you. I shall return for you as soon as this crisis is remedied.”
He and the Jotun woman begin to stride away before you have managed to say anything. No. Once was enough. Once was more than enough. You lift your skirt up to your ankles and catch up to him, ignoring your father’s scolding exclamation of your name and the sudden sting in your mind of his casting a silent spell at you. He uses such spells when angry, to give you headaches or keep you from sleeping or muddle you.
“I’ll come with you now,” you say. Loki does not slow or stop--he is more hurried than you have ever seen him--but a smile flickers across his face and he takes your hand, and you hurry out of the hall with him.
Chapter 2: In Which the Weather and Your Brother-in-Law are Troubled
As you approach the doors that lead out of the palace, Loki pauses and quickly undoes the buckles of the broad leather straps that cross his chest and hold on his cape, billowing green cloth with a pale fur collar two feet wide. He turns toward you and your eyes fix on something that the straps had hidden, that most certainly was not there eight years ago: a murderously immense, ragged-edged scar, navy on his blue skin--the mark of a wound that must have killed him. But you know he died of falling into Ginnungagap….
You look up at him bewilderedly as he sets the cape on your shoulders, his cold hand brushing against your jaw as he adjusts the fur around your neck. He does not meet your eyes, but putting on the cape is so quick that you doubt he intends not to. “Stay as closely wrapped in it as you can,” he says, voice quiet, and turns to push open the double doors.
Usually there would be rowan trees and a mossy path; today there is a ice-blowing chaos of white light and snowflakes. It’s that sort of day. And it’s the sort of day on which you catch hold of your husband’s hand and walk into the portal without qualms, clutching his cape around you. You can barely see the messenger, though she is only a few feet in front of you; and you haven’t the faintest idea how you’re walking on light and snow.
Light. White. Flashing. Floating.
It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust. You are standing in a snowstorm, so dark that you wonder if it is night here in Jotunheim. It’s so cold that you start shaking when you’ve taken six steps. So much darkness and so many snowflakes.
Something like a dark, symmetrical mountain with spots of blue fire on it looms before you, and then suddenly turns out to have doors that open as the three of you come near them.
You enter a large hall, lit blue by braziers full of light colder than you’ve ever seen. It’s as cold as in the storm outside; your eyes are watering so much that everything looks blurry.
Loki says your name, and you look up at him, blinking. “Your room is warm, and is through that door--” he motions to one--”and up the stairs. I shall come when I can.”
You nod, and he releases your hand as two Jotnar men stride up to him, saying something about the Prince Helblindi having vanished and their reasons for suspecting kidnapping.
You are shaking from the cold so much that you fear slipping down the stairs, but you climb them, and open the first door you see. Warmth. You close the door behind you and sigh, relieved to have warm air all around you. You blink the water from your eyes and walk towards the fireplace, in which there are warm orange flames that are burning...nothing. They are giving off warmth, though, and you kneel in front of them and hold out your hands.
Water drips from your hair and from the fur collar of Loki’s cape as the snowflakes on them melt, wetting the green carpet on the floor. This room is certainly not like what you’ve seen of the rest of the palace; the walls are covered by golden hangings, the bed has what looks like half a dozen finely woven blankets on it, the large chest against the wall has golden cushions on it and is made of dark, carved wood like the frame of the bed.
And it’s weakly groaning. You stand up, heart pounding because that was very unexpected. A magic chest? Someone trapped in it? You take a deep breath and walk over to the chest, using both hands to lift the heavy lid.
A young Jotun man is curled up inside, eyes half-closed, breathing like someone who has been running on a hot day. For a moment you just stare at him, and then the realization that your room is too warm for a Jotun and the realization that this man looks like Loki both dawn in your mind.
You shove the trunk lid all the way up, so it catches and will stay open, and run out of the room and down the stairs and back into the blue-lit hall. “Loki?” You look around for him; he’s nowhere in sight, so you hurry to the nearest person, a woman walking towards the doors to outside. “I’ve found the king’s brother.”
“Alive?” she asks anxiously.
“Yes, but not well, he’s in a warm room.”
“In yours?” You turn to see Loki, and nod.
“In my trunk, I don’t know why.”
His brows rise, and he runs up the stairs. You follow him, and reach your room just as he is lifting Helblindi out of the trunk, easily despite Helblindi being a little taller than he is, and larger boned. You move out of the way as he carries him out of the room, and carefully sets him down on the floor. “Bring water,” Loki says, glancing up at the people who are beginning to come up the stairs. “And tell the search parties to return.” Four people leave. You stand quietly, out of the way and wrapped tightly in the cape.
Helblindi groans again and his red eyes open. “I was hiding from Father,” he whispers. “Because he keeps telling me--telling me to kill you….”
Loki sighs. “Laufey is dead,” he says quietly, adding with a wry smile, “and of all the rooms in the palace, did you have to hide in the warm one?”
“I know he’s dead,” Helblindi says, and closes his eyes again, lines appearing between his brows.
Someone holds out a horn of water to Loki. He thanks them and takes it. “Drink this,” he tells Helblindi. Helblindi sits up and drinks it, leaning back against the wall, and then holds the horn and nervously taps on it. Loki stands up. “Come, let’s try another spell,” he says, and Helblindi rises and walks down the hallway, not in a straight line.
Loki turns to you. “Thank you,” he says, too quietly for Helblindi to hear. “He is troubled, to put it moderately.” He opens the door of your room for you, and warmth flows out. “I will come as soon as I have calmed him.”
You nod. “I hope you can cure him,” you say quietly as you walk into the warm air.
Loki shakes his head. “This is the fifteenth spell I’ve tried.” He strides away, following Helblindi, and you close your door.
Since you presumably are a Loki fan, I thought you might like to know that there is a petition with almost 40,000 signatures "[t]o make sure Marvel Studios knows how popular Loki is and ensure that he comes back in the next film (spoilers for infinity war) that he is alive and back not only as a flashback, but returns fully alive": https://www.change.org/p/marvel-studios-loki-returning-in-avengers-4-alive
Chapter 3: In Which Your Husband has a Higher Personal Mortality Rate than Average
After an hour, you are warm enough that you move away from the fireplace. After three, and a meal of rather cold food that is very much like what Loki has said Asgardians eat--imported?--, you are tired and overwhelmed enough that you lie down on your bed, trying to understand all of this. How and why is Loki a Jotun king with a Jotun brother? How is he alive, with a scar that does not fit with how he died?
The door opens and you sit up, and smile as you see Loki. He’s alive and you’re with him. Everything is bizarre, but your two greatest wishes came true. “How is he?” you ask with genuine concern.
“Better,” Loki says. He closes the door and walks toward you, blue hands turning white. “What are you wondering most?” As he asks it his skin becomes the same pale marble that it used to be. The scar on his chest is red now, looking even more deadly.
You touch the bed beside you, resisting the urge to say “Everything,” and he sits down, looking at you with a brow raised in expectation. So much you want to know, need to know. You lift your hand and very softly touch the end of his scar. “Is this--is this from when you died?” You had been sure he had died, though not from a wound like this. It must have been excruciating.
“It’s from the second time,” Loki says casually.
Your eyes leap up to his face; it is calm, the left corner of his mouth quirked up, his eyes looking at your hand from under his dark lashes. “You died twice?!” Your hand falls into your lap.
“Three times, actually.” He sounds ludicrously matter-of-fact.
Oh. “When people turned to dust,” you guess. You will never forget that, the dissolution of half the people, half your fiends, half your servants; and then, after the dust had been wept on and buried, people reforming here and there, everyone reforming, very confused. You think of that breaking happening to Loki and shiver like you did before you knelt by the fire.
He shakes his head. “I escaped that by having been strangled a day in advance,” he says merrily.
“Strangled---” A lump rises in your throat at the very thought, and, too upset to worry about if it’s time to, you throw your arms around him and cling to him, looking up at him with puzzlement and distress. He stiffens for just an instant, surprised, and then his wry expression becomes apologetic and his arms wrap around you, as gentle and fitting as they always used to be. You bury your face against his shoulder, his long curls brushing across your forehead. “I’m bewildered,” you murmur.
He sighs, the tips of his fingers tracing your shoulder blades. “The first time, I was...captive.” You feel his muscles tense, enough to enter a fight, as he thinks of and says the word. “And after that, I could not give you a home; and I believed you would be more content a widow than a lonely wife of a slayer marked for death.”
You lift your head to look up at him. “I was not content,” you say softly, and for a moment you feel anger electrify in you. But his eyes are too sad and his mouth too awry for you to miss that he is sorry. “Are you--are you safe now?”
“I met the death for which I was marked, and I survived it.” His eyes fix on yours, and he searches for words. “Since the last time we met, I have annihilated one realm, vandalized another, and invaded a third. I have saved the people of the first, am saving the people of the second, and am at peace with the third.”
Silence. You look into his eyes, asking and green in his tired, pale face. He was spring, making you puns and illusions of flowers; now he is autumn, ruling winter.
“I wish I could have been with you,” you say softly. “To see you save your people, and---” How do you say that you wish you could have softened the undescribed desolation that caused him to obliterate and attack?
Loki shakes his head, making long black curls fall and hide the right side of his face. “I could not bear for you to know all my story, let alone have been present,” he says quietly, and then abruptly grins. “Does my new azure tint suit you?”
You blink as you reach up to smooth his hair back. Hair in his face always annoyed him. “It’s mystifying but alluring,” you say, making your tone bantering because his is. “And I quite like your new total abstinence policy regarding shirts.”
He laughs, lines appearing at the corners of his eyes. “It’s not tremendously mystifying: I’m adopted.”
“And were the crown prince of Jotunheim,” you deduce.
“Precisely,” he says, and is quiet, studying your face. You nestle a little closer to him, telling yourself that he’s truly alive and well; you are with him and can stay with him; he will protect you and care for you, and you can care for him, even if he hides from you the reasons he needs your care.
“You have not been content,” he says softly. “Have you been safe?”
Your eyes fall. No, not with your father sequestering you, not with two suitors you did not want, not with your father’s painful spells, not with seeing Loki falling away from you every night after the day you heard that he had died. Some days you screamed if you heard a sudden sound and cried when a rose lost a petal.
“Don’t leave me again.” You meant to say something reassuring, but that is what you hear yourself beseech him.
He draws in his breath as he always did when he was hurt or when he was anxious, and puts his finger under your chin to gently tip your head up. “This is my realm, and we will remain here together,” he promises.
You trust him, and so you smile more joyfully than you have in years; and he returns your smile and bends his head to kiss you.
Chapter 4: In Which There Are Temples
You awaken in a room that has become so dark and cold that you know the magical fire must have gone out, and hear the gasps of someone trying not to scream and in too much pain to speak. You sit up sharply, concerned and confused--where’s Loki, he was holding you when you fell asleep--
Your mind awakens and connects what you remember with what you are hearing and unable to see, and you reach out toward the gasps to find Loki, your heart pounding in your throat and chest. “Loki? Are you--are you all right?”
Your hand finds his sharply shaking chest. “Lo--”
So suddenly that you cannot even yelp, he sits up and hurls you back on the bed, his weight shoving his knee down on your leg, both your wrists somehow in one of his hands and slammed against the wall above your head, and then in the same instant green light so bright it blinds you in your eyes. You gasp, forgetting how to talk.
He says your name, quick and alarmed, and lets go of your wrists and frees your legs at the same moment. You blink and see him looking appalled, his tear-streaked face lit green and his hair wild. “I thought you were another, are you hurt?” he asks urgently.
“No,” you say, which isn’t quite true. But you don’t have the heart to say yes.
“I am sorry,” Loki says softly. He reaches out and scarcely touches your wrist, looking at it as if it were broken. “I shall sleep in my own chamber in future.”
You realize you are still collapsed back against the wall, and sit up, curling your legs under you. “I hope not,” you say with a smile. “It’s probably too cold for me.”
Loki does not smile. He looks away from you and presses two fingers against his temple, his other hand tensing into a half-fist that puts interrupting shadows in the green light.
You move closer to him, shivering a little. The room is cooling quickly, with the fire out, and becoming slightly less dark.. It must be early morning. “Do you have a headache, my love?”
“Not exactly.” His voice is emotionless, not fitting at all with the pain you heard in his dreaming gasps and that you see in his clenched jaw and fingers. What can you do, not knowing what is agonizing him, with his eyes turned from you and his voice so automatic?
His shoulder gives a tense twitch, and that, unexpected, breaks your overwhelmed moment of trance. You nestle close beside him, cheek against his upper arm, and run your fingertips down his back, from strong, tense shoulders down over scars younger than eight years old, and then up again, and rub in small circles.
After a while his shoulders relax a little, and he puts his arm around your waist and presses his lips to your forehead. “You’re cold,” he says softly.
“Not very,” you assure him, shivering.
He looks up at the fireplace, as if it had done something annoying, and a tiny bright dot appears in the air in it and spikes out into flames. “There is a place you should see,” he says unexpectedly. “Shall we go now?”
You tilt your head up to kiss his cheek. “Why not?”
Half an hour later, you are in the stables, clad abundantly in furs that you did not notice last night due to them being in the trunk under your brother-in-law, staring at one of the most terrifying animals you have ever seen.
It is taller than Loki, a greyer blue than the shade he has returned to, a cold dragon with red eyes and fangs and a humped up back topping broad arms like those of an extremely muscular man, with toes twice big as your hand and claws almost as large as the toes. It is a little smaller in back, build like a huge blue cat, with a tail like a lizard. Its cell has stone walls six feet thick, and a door that was locked by magic.
Now the door is open, and the creature slowly steps out, moving like an extremely heavy lizard that wants to be a cat. Loki pats its rounded nose, making it wag its tail enough to chip stone of of the walls.
“Her name is Thor,” Loki informs you with a grin. He puts a slender blue hand on the creature’s back and vaults up astride it. Curls fall into his face, and he brushes them back.
He taps the creature’s side and she kneels, very much like a being that was not actually meant to know how to do that. She’s only four feet high now, and Loki helps you climb onto her in front of him and puts an arm around your waist.
“And go,” he tells her, and she lurches up and begins leaping through the air. Your stomach leaps, your hair flys, the cold air roars past you, you tip forwards and sideways. You cannot see the scenery; you cannot understand how Loki is not falling off. The only way you are staying on is because he has his arm around you and you have a death grip on his hand.
And then she does not lift off from a leap. She slides, slowing, through the snow, and stops in front of a vast ring of stone columns with a top that alternately dips as low as twice the height of an Elvish man and steps up to so high you know not what to compare it to. It looks the stone crown of a giant larger than any that exist.
Loki lifts you down and gracefully dismounts, telling the creature, “Stay.”
She snorts, stomping a paw into the snow so hard that you hear ice crack under it.
“ Why is she named after your brother?” you ask, because it had to be asked. You put your gloved hand in his, and his blue fingers wrap around it protectively as he laughs.
He is looking at the stone circle, and there are lines between his brows. “Because he said I couldn’t tame one. So obviously, I tamed one and named it after him,” he says lightly. “And then it laid eggs. In the temple, coincidentally.” He nods toward the stone circle, and walks toward it. A gust of wind blows snow off the top as you near it, whiting your coat and making a heap at the base of the wall, which looks more and more gigantic the closer you are to it.
The archway in, twice as tall as you would need it to be, is not smooth; it is more like the undersides of two sets of stone stairs met. Inside the great circle, there is nothing but snow and two charcoal things near the opposite side, one of which has a point of blue light on top of it. Loki walks toward them, too silently. You look up at him with concern; he does not look at you, but he lightly presses your hand.
The blue light is streaming from inside a translucent, rectangular box on a stone stand, a box with curved-in corners and two handles on the small ends, made of something that looks like ice and like glass, edged with something that may be metal. At the foot of the stand is the second charcoal-colored object: a wide slice of stone without snow.
You shiver, pulling your fur hood farther over your face. The air is colder than any air that has ever whelmed you. “What are these?” you ask quietly.
Loki releases your hand and walks toward them. “My birthrights,” he says, his voice, restrained through it is, a warmer sound than fits with all this icy cold. He gestures toward the stone slab, fingers spreading. “The altar on which I was sacrificed for Jotunheim’s victory, from which I was stolen for Asgard’s.” As he announces it a baby appears on the slab, crying as if its heart was broken, tiny blue arms reaching for nothing but snowflakes; and then a shadow falls on it, and you gasp as you look up to see a short but fierce man in armor splattered with blue blood, with an impossibly large, red-bloody scoop out of his face where his right eye should be.
They dissipate into green light and into dark air, and Loki continues talking, as if he had not noticed them despite having conjured them. “And the the Casket of Ancient Winters, with which I half destroyed Jotunheim and with which I am wholly saving it.” He touches the two handles with his fingertips, looking down into the blue light which grows brighter and brighter until his red eyes look like they are purple. “I am the rightful king, the rightful heir; it would do nothing for this realm, did I not will it to.” His hands separate from the casket and he looks at you, mouth tilting into a wry, questioning smile. “The only reason I have not been assassinated yet.”
A flash of light flies toward Loki and before you can even open your mouth his hand stabs up through the air and snatches the light--a shard of ice two feet long sharp as a knitting needle--and he throws it. It becomes a flash of light again, and you see the Jotun on top of the wall a moment before he falls from it, spinning.
You scream, instinctively, as he crashes at Loki’s feet, blue blood rubbing from his temple. Loki bends and grips his arm, and demands, “Who commanded you?”
His eyes blink, and then he smiles at Loki and says loudly and clearly, “For the rightful prince,” and drapes limp in the snow.
Chapter 5: In Which Fear, Magic, Your Stomach, and Life Stir Within You
When someone had attempted to assassinate your father, the effects were multitudinous: shouting, stinging little magical punishments of his servants and his daughter for not panicking about him enough, twenty-two people imprisoned, nine people executed, a castle burned down, and the outlawing of nutmeg.
Loki does nothing, as far as you know, and though you would not have wanted him to act like your father did, you fear that he is not being careful enough.
You fear this through two quiet weeks, in which your belongings arrive from Alfheim, as does a new maid, Isa, a laconic but sweet, almost-elderly Frost Elf; in which you discover that you can endure the cold out of your room for long enough to attend banquets and to greet foreign ambassadors, but not long enough to do both in a row; in which you develop a routine of walking through every public room of the castle, into the courtyard, and then back again for exercise; in which you begin carving a new bust of Loki.
You fear it even more after you find Helblindi standing still in the courtyard, staring up at the snow falling from the sky, breaking an icicle into fragments. Despite your fear that he told the almost-assassin to kill Loki, you walk closer to him and ask gently, “What troubles you, Helblindi?”
His red eyes become round and alarmed. “I cannot tell you. My father was angry that the assassin did not kill him.”
You take a deep breath and try to think about more believable perils. “He was angry? Did he tell you about it before it happened?”
Helblindi nods, throwing the icicle a few dozen yards away. It flashes through the air like the shard the assassin threw at Loki. “And I could not find my brother to warn him.” He turns and walks away, as if you were done talking to him.
You stand where you are, thinking intently. You do not believe that Laufey’s ghost is in Jotunheim, so either the assassin, or someone else, told Helblindi what he meant to do--or Helblindi told the assassin to do it.
Snow is beginning to drift on your fur-covered shoulders and your hair, and dot your skirt. You walk slowly to your room and brood over this strange clue, hoping Loki returns from his visit to the realms’ stone quarries soon so you can tell him about it.
Midnight, and he still hasn’t come. You are tired from worrying and pacing, but you don’t want to fall asleep, so you sit on the floor in front of the fire, legs crossed, and try to keep your eyes open, staring at the magic flames and fidgeting a little. Where is he? Lost? Not likely. Hurt? Dead? You know you shouldn’t be panicking, but you are. You keep imagining scenarios in which Loki didn’t see the flying ice, or saw but didn’t catch it, but after one or two o’clock, even panic drowses.
The green carpet is fibrous under your face.
You cease to be conscious of it, and of the heat of the fire, and then are again, as Loki runs his fingers through your hair. Your eyes blink open, and you see him kneeling beside you, looking down at you with a rueful smile. “I really should have told you.”
“Told me what?” you say, sleepiness and worry cross-crossing, and then, before he can answer, your thoughts become clear again and you sit up suddenly. “I was talking to Helblindi and I think he know who attacked you. He said that Laufey told him, but that isn’t possible, so somebody else must have told him or he told them--” You realize you are spilling out words almost too fast for Loki to know what you are saying, and you force yourself to speak more quietly and calmly. “He says he wanted to warn you.”
Loki listened quietly, without any unease. “I know,” he says. The corner of his mouth quirks up. “I have had a spell cast upon him since before that attempt which relays all of his conversations to me.”
“Oh,” you say. You hadn’t even known that such a spell could be cast. You feel fuzz on your fingers and look down to see that you have been picking strands of green out of the carpet. You stop and flick it off your fingertips, and look up at him. “Then--did you know someone was going to try to kill you?”
Loki laughs. “Yes, dearest. I took you to visit a temple before we even should have been awake, specifically so I could be almost murdered.” He shakes his head and speaks more seriously, brow furrowing. “No, I did not know. Either Helblindi had no such conversation as he described to you, or one of the parties in the conversation used magic to keep it hidden from my spell--remarkably powerful magic, which indicates that Heblindi was not that party.”
“I don’t think he wants to hurt you, but I’m afraid he will,” you say quietly, and wincing at the thought, ask, “Are you certain you should not confine him, Loki? Not cruelly, of course, but he is dangerous to you, he can’t just be roaming around--”
“Because his mind torments him, I should lock him away? Because his words are mad, I should ensure that they are whimpered in a dungeon?” He is not shouting, but his voice is sharper than he has ever let it be when talking to you, and there is disappointment in his eyes that you do not quite understand. Quickly, he rises to his feet and walks away from you and the fire, every crisp step and snapping flutter of his cloak showing an annoyance that mystifies you.
“I didn’t say you should put him in a dungeon!” you protest, a lump rising in your throat. “I’m just afraid that he’ll hurt you, or kill you….” Oh. You’re plucking green strands up from the carpet again. You brush it off on your skirt and look up at Loki silently, waiting for him to say he understands, or at least to explain why his lips are pressed together and his hands attacking each other and why the room seems too small for his pacing.
“As long as he is free, any who desire to overthrow me are likely to communicate with him and thus reveal their plans to me.” His tone is cold and factual, but he looks at you and his expression becomes gentler. “And he is my brother, and I...remember incarceration.” He walks toward you and bends to help you to your feet, and when you have risen looks at you with compunction. “But I should not have spoken to you as I did.”
You nod, accepting the apology. “Please be careful, my love.”
Lopsidedly and beautifully, he smiles. “Yes, of course,” he assures, not seriously enough.
You sigh and wrap your arms around him and bury your face against his shoulder, and he kisses your temple, gently, before picking you up and carrying you to bed.
You wake before Loki does that morning, perhaps because of that unexpected nap, and smile at how he looks--face calm, lips parted, body relaxed; hair riotously curling and trailing off the edge of the bed in a way that mirrors the arm that is off the bed too and looks as if he is gesturing intensely at the green carpet. Too softly to wake him, you nestle close beside him and let your palm rest on his chest, feeling his gentle breaths and the hardness of his scar.
Loki sits upright so abruptly that you gasp. He hesitates, one brow rising, and asks, “A rather uncomfortable question, my love, but why you are suddenly full of dark magic?”
You blink. What?! “I’m not a magician.”
Loki stares at you as if you are a manuscript with excessively tiny print prophesying the apocalypse. “I know. Do you feel unwell?”
That is true.
It is not true one morning several weeks later, nor is it true the morning after that, or after that.
“Is it a curse?” you ask, the morning when smelling the almost scentless fire makes you feel as if your stomach wants to go for a morning walk without you.
Loki shakes his head, and suddenly smiles, eyes fixed on the fire. It turns yellow and then green. “Well, if it takes after me, it will cry from midnight to four in the morning every night until it’s two.”
Chapter 6: In Which There is Relative Peril
A short chapter, sorry--I'm about to go on a road trip!
You are speechless. A baby! You’ve daydreamed and night-dreamed about having one with your husband (though you feared it when your marriage was secret): a sweet baby, tiny and innocent and needing held--and yes, making a tremendous mess as often as possible and drooling on you. You are not unrealistic.
And now a baby is growing in you--very tiny, not ready to be held, but real, not a dream. An inarticulate, quiet sound that you prefer not to call a squeak comes from your mouth, overwhelmed excitement, and Loki puts his arms around you and kisses you, pulse speeding in his lips.
After the kiss ends, you rest against him, out of breath and smiling. He lightly touches your stomach, though it still looks like it did before you were carrying a child, at least through your gown, and then puts his palm flat against it and is quiet. You turn your head and kiss his collarbone. “I wonder how long it would have taken me to realize it,” you say with a quiet laugh, head tipped back to look up at him. “Though at least I didn’t mistake our baby for a curse!”
Loki’s brow creases, and there is a long silence before he says, “Embarrassing as that would be, I wish I had.” His arm tightens around you. “You have both dark magic and a child in you, my love.”
“Oh,” you say, your voice scarcely audible. “That….”
“They do not coexist well,” Loki understated, caressing your shoulder. His cool fingers slide down your arm. “But I will continue to study this magic--which has harmed neither of you, so far--and I will protect you from it and its caster.” His eyes and voice are serious and confident; equally serious, voice more confident than eyes. “Do you believe that, my heart?”
“Yes,” you say softly. You do. “I am frightened, but I trust you.”
He nods slightly, and swallows hard; and then he smiles at you as if he is certain this will have a happy ending, and you smile back at him and nestle into his arms, trying to think about the baby and not about the dark magic that you cannot feel or see.“We need to think of names,” you say after a few moments.
You feel Loki laugh. “I dare say we’ll manage that, with….nine, but two must have already passed--” He pauses his thinking aloud, and then realizes: “No, Jotun women are with child for a year--”
Your mouth quirks into a smile. “And Elf women for four months.”
Loki takes in a long breath. “Evidently our child will make a surprise entrance,” he says, and despite this being yet another frightening thing, you both laugh.
You keep wanting to laugh about his phrasing a few hours later, when you are sitting in a throne beside his as he hears petitions. But you keep a straight face, and have plans to hide your mouth with your vast fur wrap if you have to.
The Jotun who bows to Loki now is old, very old; he has no white beard or hair, of course, but his face is so wrinkled that it looks patternless, and his red eyes are deep in his head. He straightens up, gradually, so gradually that you think of three possible names for the baby before he is upright, and opens his toothless mouth. “Loki, son of Laufey, king of Jotunheim….”
Jotuns walk into the throneroom, four abreast. What are they doing? Loki leans forward, the hand that lies on his lap curving in a prepared, angular way.
“By usurpation!” shouts the old man, unexpectedly deafening. “Son of Laufey unlawfully!”
Loki stands and steps sideways, in front of you, and then events are a blur. The Jotuns coming in move faster and fill the room and are a mass that opens in the middle to show one standing alone: Helblindi. Eyes fixed above Loki’s head and spears of ice jutting from his tremoring hands.
You spring to your feet, which makes your stomach twist, as the old man’s hands fly up into the air and white-blue magic jags dazzlingly between them and snaps through the air. Loki flings green light at it as the Jotuns charge forward, and then--the loudest noise you have ever heard, a sound like thousands of cooks pouring water into thousands of pans of boiling oil, and light--not blended blue and green, but blue and green locked in combat, flashes across the room, dark and then light and then out and then glaring.
When the room is dim and still again, the Jotuns a few feet from Loki are immobile, blinking, unsure what to do.
Loki takes a step towards them. “I could kill a dozen of you in battle, easily,” he comments. “Twenty, if I were desperate.” There are fifty in the room; including the throneroom guards, who are standing shoulder-to shoulder with the attackers. “You will accept my terms for surrender.”
“What?” Helblindi blurts. He clears his throat, still not looking at Loki. “There are fifty --”
“I will surrender, and you will grant my wife safe passage to Alfheim.”
You draw in your breath, and open your mouth to protest. You’d rather be imprisoned with him than separated again! But there is a baby inside you, and you must protect it, so you close your mouth and simply step closer to him. He puts his arm around you and bends to kiss your cheek. “Bifrost,” he whispers, and stands upright, brows and mouth as straight and calm as his stance.
“I accept,” Helblindi says, and two crowds rush forward, separating you and Loki and then the crowds turn and you turn and all pour out of the throneroom and you can’t see Loki, and you stop and try to see him but you can’t see him and someone pulls you off your feet and drags you through the doors and throws you far into the snow.
When you stand up, the snow is up to your shoulders and trickling down the neck of your gown. You pull your snowy fur around you, wrapping up your stomach, and try to ignore the fact that you are crying, and try not to think about how possible it is that…. No. Loki said “Bifrost.”
He’s told you about it, and about how to summon it.
The sky drops snow in your eyes and you blink as you take a deep breath, hands shaking from cold and worry. “Heimdall!” You shout as loudly as you can. It sounds quiet, with so much space and snow around you. “Lower the Bifrost!”
Light, brighter than the dueling magic a few minutes ago, more white and yet more colorful than snow in sunlight, falls out of the sky and flies up again with you , a speeding so bright and so fast that you have scarcely put your hand on your stomach to guard the baby before the light shoves you at green grass and vanishes.
You are staring at a tall man with bristly hair and eyes that are different colors. His muscles are as massive as his glowing battleaxe; his armor is sleeveless. And he is smiling amiably at you.
“You aren’t Heimdall,” comes out of your mouth, and the smile vanishes.
“Heimdall is dead,” he states, and you notice the scars touching his brown eye. “Did you know him?”
“No. Where can I find Thor?”
Chapter 7: In Which Your Husband is Not Your Husband
“I’m your brother’s wife, there’s been a coup,” you spill out, and immediately he seems to grow broader-shouldered and his hand tightens around his axe’s handle.
You blink, taken aback. “Yes--you have no other brothers!”
Thor offers you his arm and raises the axe like a flagstaff. “Not yet.” Before you have time to ponder why a man whose parents, you have learned, are both dead would say that, the same roaring magnificence of light radiates around you both and fires off with you. You catch hold of Thor’s gigantic arm and close your eyes, stomach feeling as if it is flying faster than you are.
Your feet hit something soli. The light glowing through your eyelids fades, and cold air surrounds you. You open your eyes, releasing Thor’s arm, and see an utterly empty throneroom.
“Where is he?” Thor asks.
You shake your head, thinking quickly but without coming up with any noteworthy answer. “The dungeon?” you say hesitantly. Thor strides toward the doorway and you follow him, involuntarily shivering.
Green light flashes from the floor the moment Thor steps out of the throneroom. Runes are glowing there: TEMPLE.
“That’s Loki’s magic. A temple--do you know where it is?” Thor asks, lifting his axe.
“About half a mile north. It’s a circle, like a stone crown--” Your voice breaks off as the light sweeps you off the floor and encompasses you and vanishes, leaving you and Thor standing in the snow a few yards away from the temple. Voices faintly rumble from it.
“Stay here,” Thor orders you, and runs toward the archway, feet punching deep into the snow. You hurry after him, stumbling in the deep now--deeper today than when Loki brought you here. Is he safe? Alive?
The voices are clearer. The old man is speaking, high-pitched and loud, unnaturally loud. “He never wielded it! He deceived us, made illusions, but this realm is not renovated! The Casket is inert, awaiting the rightful king, Helblindi Laufeyson! Lift it up, son of Laufey! Prove your right to the--”
The vanishes through the archway and the old man’s voice breaks off.
Snow scratches at your legs and your feet are numb, but you move faster as you hear Thor shout and hear people yell and shriek. You stumble through the archway just in time to see, all in half a second, Thor’s axe flying towards Helblindi, who stands holding the Casket in both hands with Loki bound and gagged and kneeling on the altar and the old man whirling towards Thor with his upraised arms falling and a knife in his hand and crowds of people yelling and running towards Thor--
Helblindi, so fast that you cannot even see him do it, sets the Casket down on its pedestal and catches the axe by the handle. Everyone freezes and looks at him; all is silent and unmoving for an instant. Lime-green light ebbs off him, and Loki is standing with one hand on the Casket and the axe in his other hand, and a lopsided grin on his face.
The axe flies back to Thor as the illusion of Loki dissipates from the kneeling man on the altar. Helblindi kneels there, stiff and shaking and staring up at Loki, who sweeps up the Casket again.
Blinding blue light.
It shines out all around Loki, a bright quiet storm of which he is the eyes, and those running toward him stop as ice grows around them and blasts out behind them.
Silence. Loki stands surrounded by a half-circle of frozen Jotuns, face emotionless. He twists his hands and slices through the air in front of him, and the casket vanishes.
Loki makes his way through the maze of ice-enclosed enemies, reaching up to brush curls out of his eyes. There is a vast bruise on his cheek. You and Thor both remember how to move, and Thor strides forwards and puts his hand on Loki’s shoulder. “You didn’t leave any for me to fight!”
The corner of Loki’s mouth tilts up. “I needed an audience,” he says, in a tone that indicates that is obvious. He turns to you. “Are you unhurt, my love?”
“Yes,” you say, teeth chattering.
Loki frowns. “You need to return to--”
A sound like hundreds of vases shattering and a blaze of blue light almost as bright as the Casket.
You barely have time to turn, Thor barely has time to throw his arm up to protect his eyes, before both of you are immobilized. You cannot blink; you cannot even shiver, though the cold is greater and greater at every moment.
Loki stands between you, equally immobile, as the old man slowly walks toward the three of you, eyes and hands shining like the Casket itself.
““I am the Wise One who left you to die, a rightful sacrifice to the Ancient Winters” he says softly, eyes on Loki. He raises a shaking hand, blue and glowing brighter blue, and Loki falls on his face and skids through the snow, unnaturally--flips up in the air and crashed down on the altar on his back, arms spread. Helblindi falls off the edge of the altar. You strain to move, to move, to move--nothing. You cannot even gasp as the old map bends over Loki, a long, delicate ice dagger crystalizing from his palm.
Loki’s fingers twitch, just a flicker of green light around his hand.
“You were begotten and born to be sacrificed.” The Wise One lifts the knife exaggeratedly, back arched, hand above his head. “Your birthright is--”
“To die?” Loki asks pleasantly, and the Wise One starts, bewilderment filling his face, before Loki’s hand shoots up toward his chest and shoves an icicle into his heart. He arches backward and falls flat at the foot of the altar, and you can move again. You run so fast that you don’t remember running, throwing your arms around Loki as he steps off the altar. Tears fill your eyes
Loki puts his arms around you for a moment, as tightly as if he were trying to keep you from pulling away, and then lets go of you. “I must deal with them,” he says softly. His face is hard--if you did not love him, you would think it was cruel. “Take Thor where it is warm, and remain there. I will join you.”
You obey, or try to. Thor is standing unnaturally still where he was bound, though his hands are moving a little, gripping his axe handle so tightly that the knuckles are white, and then tighter. “Thor,” you say. You are shivering so much that it is difficult to enunciate. “Thor, we need to go inside. It’s too cold.”
“No,” Thor says flatly. Presumably to going inside. He can’t possibly think it isn’t too cold.
“Loki says we need to go.” Thor ignores you. He is watching Loki step up on the altar and gracefully lay one hand on the casket.
Loki splays the fingers of his other hand and the ice shatters off of every Jotun. They gasp for breath and some almost fall, and Loki stares at them, looking crueler than the cold. “The Ancient Winters obey me, and so shall you.” They look at him, heads turning and tipping up.“Kneel.”
One drops to his knees, and then another, and then they are all kneeling, looking up at him, and the Wise One’s blue blood in soaking into the snow….
You hug yourself, barely hearing the words of the curse Loki is casting on the kneeling Jotuns, a curse that will come upon them if they betray their oaths of allegiance again, and wonder if your baby can feel you shiver, if it is cold too.
The crowd begins to leave. Some walk past you on your right, others on your left, and soon only the four of you are in the temple: Loki, a little tireder than he was; Thor, standing like an immense statue; Helblindi, kneeling and slumped beside the altar, now and then looking up at Loki and then down at the snow again; and you.
Loki steps off the altar and bends to untie Helblindi’s gag. “Come,” he orders her, and Helblindi rises to his feet, hands bound behind his back, and trails Loki as the latter walks quickly toward you. Loki lifts you into his arms and pulls his cape forward and over you. You nestle against his chest, shivering. “You should have taken her inside,” he reproaches Thor.
Thor is silent, still staring at the altar.
“Thor?” Loki asks, and you feel him sigh. He takes a step nearer to Thor, and says softly, “Brother. Take us to the palace.”
Thor stabs his axe into the air and brings the Bifrost.
Chapter 8: In Which There is Aftermath and Foreshadowing
“Do you have this under control?” Thor asks. He has been in Jotunheim for less than three hours, but he is restless, taking long, loud steps around your room. The baby is equally restless, and you wish Thor would pace elsewhere--but there is no elsewhere. This is the only place warm enough for him to remain in long, or at least you presume that is why Loki directed him to stay there.
The baby kicks in your womb.
“I do,” Loki answers. He has just reentered the room, and you have not yet had time to ask what he has been doing. He tilts his head questioningly. “I take it you are eager to depart, brother.”
Thor shakes his head, moving his axe from his left hand to his right one. “No, but there’s trouble in New Asgard. Not enemies--an argument. The knitters have formed a guild and are saying they’ll stop making sweaters unless the shepherds lower the price of wool, and the shepherds are suing the rulers of Norway. Because of taxes.”
One of Loki’s brows rises. “The excellence of modern law,” he comments. “Well, don’t let me delay your...search for a lawyer?”
“I’ll stay if you want help,” Thor insists, and tosses the axe rather too hard onto the floor to demonstrate his sincerity. “Truly, brother.”
Loki looks startled and then smiles, almost as warmly as he smiles at you, and crosses the room to pick up the massive axe and hand it to Thor. “If I wished for help, I would wish for yours. But I must tend this realm with aid from no other ruler.” He puts his hand lightly on Thor’s shoulder. “Don’t trust the lawyer.”
Thor pulls him into a bear hug, which makes you smile--until the baby decides to kick aggressively. You suspect he or she is developing at a rate far more like that of an Elvish baby than that of a Jotun one….
You hear the door close firmly as Thor leaves, and look up to see a smile vanishing from Loki’s face. Carefully, in case moving makes the baby decide to kick that hard again, you rise from your seat on the edge of the bed and walk to him. “May I have a hug as well?” you ask it in a jesting tone, but you feel tears filling your eyes. You were so very terrified that the rebels would kill him.
He puts his arms close around you, and you cling to him, letting yourself softly cry from recent fear and present exhaustion. “All’s well now, my love,” he assures you, and kisses your forehead. “You and our child are wholly safe--I would have asked you to return to New Asgard with my brother, were that not so.”
You shake your head, taking a deep breath and forcing yourself to stop crying so you can talk. “That’s not--that’s not why I’m--” You take another breath and are silent, attempting to make the lump in your throat stop breaking your voice. Loki waits for you to finish your sentence, one of his hands rising to stroke your hair. “I thought they were going to kill you. I didn’t--didn’t see how you could escape,” you manage to say, and he hugs you closer. You rest your head on his shoulder.
“It’s said any skill can be learned by repetition,” he says quietly, smiling. He holds you for a moment longer, and then lets go, taking a step back. “I must return to the throneroom; my safety must be evident, if garbled news of this attempted coup spreads. Rest, my love.”
You nod, sitting down on the trunk rather suddenly because the baby is kicking again. “I don’t think our little one enjoyed the Bifrost.”
Loki laughs softly. “One can’t blame him.” He touches your round belly, and flinches, almost too briefly for you to notice. Before you can ask why, the baby kicks directly where his hand is, and he smiles so brightly that you cannot bear to ask why, a moment ago, he looked much as one might upon touching something that unforeseeably had static.
He does not return at dinnertime, or in the evening. You stay up an hour later than your usual bedtime, and then doze off on your bed, exhausted. When you wake, two or three hours after midnight, Loki is still not in bed, but you hear paper rustling. You sit up, rubbing your eyes. He is sitting crosslegged in front of the fire, reading unbound pages by its light. Just from his silhouette, very slightly slumping, hair wavier than he likes it to be, you can tell that he is tired. “Loki,” you say softly, and he looks up, setting the pages on the floor face-down. “Please come to bed. The sun will rise in a few hours.”
“Theoretically,” he says wryly, but he comes and sits on the bed beside you, putting the manuscript on the table. The blank backs of the manuscript pages are again upwards. “If we are not yet again overshadowed by this realm’s perennial clouds.” He takes your hand in his. “Did I wake you?”
“No; either I or the baby did. Why are you still awake?”
“In part because Helblindi refuses to speak to me, save for declaring that Laufey’s ghost forbids him to. The Wise One masterminded the plot, and the Jotnar who conspired with him believe he left behind some manner of trap for me. They know not what it is--I read their memories, and discovered that, indeed, he did not tell them--and he is dead. Helblindi knows.” He speaks quickly, frustrated.
“Have you read his memories?” you ask. It flits through your mind that that is not a question most women ask their husbands.
“I attempted to. The Wise One anticipated me, and cast a spell to prevent it. The most maddening detail of this impasse is that he is willing to tell me, but truly believes Laufey’s ghost prevents his confession! I do not wish to use force, since he is without malice and indubitably mad, but it seems force will be necessary.”
You wince, well aware what “force” is. Your father used “force” on prisoners frequently. “I’ll ask him,” you offer. “Perhaps ‘Laufey’s ghost’ has not forbidden him to speak to me.”
Loki hesitates, and then acquiesces. “As you wish. I’ll escort you to the dungeon tomorrow.”
Chapter 9: In Which Father-In-Laws are Extremely Troublesome, Part I
“This looks exactly as I expected,” Isa says concisely, as guards open the doors to the castle dungeon. She pulls her white fur shawl farther forward around her face; Jotunheim is safe for her, but too cold for her taste.
The dungeon does, indeed, look exactly as one would expect. The walls are ice, the floor is corrugated ice, and the ceiling is ice too cold to have icicles. One cell and one cell only is lit; the others seem to be empty.
“Only remain here briefly,” Loki reminds you. He is going to wait outside the dungeon, since it seems likely that Helblindi will believe he cannot speak to you if Loki is present.
“I’ll try.” You doubt this will be a brief conversation, but you must avoid frostbite. You take a step inside the dungeon, dismissing the fear that somehow the door will lock behind you.
“Loki?” You hear Helblindi, quietly and then louder. “Loki, are you there?”
You turn and look back at Loki, who pauses and then walks into the dungeon. Isa and you follow him.
Helblindi stands with both his palms against the clear ice that is the front side of his cell, looking almost childishly young despite being seven feet tall. “Loki.”
Loki looks up at him, one brow rising. “Yes?”
Helblindi swallows visibly. “The guards say you plan to torture me so I will tell you of the Wise One’s trap. Do...do you?” His red eyes are large and frightened.
“I have not told them so.” Loki’s expression and tone are both neutral. You look down at the floor, hoping your plan of asking Helblindi to confess to you will work.
“But you plan to.” Helblindi’s tone is hopeless. “Don’t you?”
And if your plan does not work, will you let this happen, or will you ask Loki to be merciful? You are almost certain that he would be merciful to Helblindi if you prayed him. But if he does not discover the trap, it may kill him….
If he discovers it by torture of a boy who cannot think clearly, it will make him like your father, and like his father. You look at him and still cannot tell what he is thinking. He blue lips are pressed tightly together.
All three of you, you, Helblindi, and Loki, speak at once.
“Please don’t, Loki.”
“If you have to--if you have to, do.”
“I do not.”
There is a long pause in which you and Helblindi both stare at Loki and he stares at Helblindi. Nobody had expected anybody to say what they had said.
“I do not, brother, despite your offer,” Loki reiterates, quite gently, and steps back, gesturing to you. “My wife wishes to ask you something.” He turns and strides away down the corridor and out of the dungeon, closing the door behind him.
Isa coughs again. You have been noticing that she does that whenever she thinks people are being odd. You take a step closer to the ice through which Helblindi looks. “Helblindi. Loki has told me about your dilemma.”
Helblindi’s hands become nervous fists. “He haunts me,” he says, or something similar; he said it under his breath.
“Has he ever told you you can’t tell me about this...trap?” you ask quickly.
“No. No, but you would tell my brother, and I am forbidden to tell him, he made me swear I would not tell him.” He looks down, blinking. “Jotnar do not break oaths.”
“You do not know that I will tell him,” you point out. “You only assume it.” You smile hopefully, a smile that grows when Helblindi looks up with a spark of mischief in his expression that makes him look most certainly like he is Loki’s brother.
“True,” he says, and takes a deep breath. “Yes.” He begins to talk so quickly that you can hardly understand what he is saying. “I do not know what the trap is, your father made it, the Wise One detected it, it is deadly, but it will not happen for months.” He turns suddenly, as if he heard something behind him. “That’s all I--all I know. Truly.” He backs against the ice, staring at the hind wall of the cell.
“Thank you, Helblindi,” you manage to say, full of both alarm that the trap is so obscure and pity of his fear of someone who is not there. Or, perhaps, who is. He covers his eyes with his hands, trembling so much you can see it. “Isa. Please fetch Loki,” you ask abruptly. You feel as if this scene is going to worsen. She hurries away. “Helblindi, nobody is there. I’m the only other person here. I’ve sent Isa for your brother.”
“I did not break the vow!” he cries out. “I did not. You said nothing of his wife!”
A silence, and he gasps and almost loses his balance, far too much as if someone had struck him. “You said nothing,” he protests.
“Helblindi,” you say hesitantly, and then you hear Loki and Isa’s steps.
Loki splays his fingers as he approaches the cell’s door, and the lock opens. He goes in at once, and does not close the door behind him. “Helblindi. Look at me.”
Helblindi folds his arms. His eyes are fixated on the hind wall. “I told her,” he whispers. “I told her all I know about it. I’m sorry, Loki.”
“I know.” Loki looks from the wall to Helblindi and back again, eyes narrowing. “Laufey,” he says abruptly, and though you do not think he sees him, he is grave. “Helblindi did not kill you. I did. If you have any grasp of justice, haunt me rather than him.”
Helblindi takes a step closer to Loki, and all four of you are motionless. Then Helblindi looks at Loki with wide, astonished eyes. “He is gone,” he states, and almost falls sideways.
Loki steadies him. “When did you last eat?” he asks, as calmly as if he had not just apparently performed an exorcism.
“Two days ago,” Helblindi answers, gesturing toward full bowls of food that are freezing over.
“You’ll accompany me to the kitchens,” Loki declares. “Incidentally, should anyone ask you, the Wise One used his magic to force you to join his insurrection. His spell ended, due to his death, and you then enthusiastically revealed every detail of the plot to me. In recognition of your innocence and aid, I then freed you.”
Helblindi follows Loki out of the cell door, a quivery smile on his face.
Chapter 10: In Which Father-In-Laws are Extremely Troublesome, Part II.
“Do you think the dark magic you keep feeling in me and whatever trap my father set are the same thing?” you ask urgently as soon as Helblindi is busy eating in his own room and Loki is accompanying you back to yours.
“Quite possibly,” Loki answers, opening the door. “I have spent hours reading works on Elvish and on Jotun magic, and have been unable to learn of any curse that is known to coincide with pregnancy. It must be a unique malediction, and your father would be capable of creating one.”
You enter the room and stand in front of the fire, shivering. Is the curse meant to harm Loki directly? Or will it harm your child? You doubt it is meant to harm you; your father would not want to undo his alliance with Jotunheim, nor would he expect Loki to care for you enough that your death would distress him. “Is there any way you can remove it?”
Loki closes the door and shakes his head. “I’ve tried, twenty-three times. But it is powerful magic, and I cannot hope to disintegrate it without knowing its aim.” He pauses and then opens his mouth again, but closes it silently, and crosses the room to you, lightly touching your growing belly. “It seems this pregnancy will be of less than Jotun length,” he understates. It has been four months, and you look as if the baby could come within a few weeks.
“Yes.” You look up at him, knowing that he wants to say something but does not want to say it. “The curse will come to pass when the baby is born, won’t it?” you ask quietly.
“If we do not remove it first.” The baby kicks, and you know he must have felt the movement, but he hardly smiles. “I see no other reason why a spell would begin with a pregnancy, were it not meant to end with it.” He pauses, thinking. “It will not harm you or our child, if your father crafted it,” he reasons. “He would want his descendant to rule Jotunheim, and he would not want me to ally with a rival realm by a second marriage.”
“You think he is trying to kill you.” Your voice sounds too high-pitched, or too low-pitched. You aren’t sure which. Then it occurs to you that it does not matter which it is.
The corner of Loki’s mouth twitches up. “In a fantastically convoluted manner, yes.”
“Can you undo it? You said you needed to know its aim, and now you do.”
“I would need to know its specific aim, rather than its general one.” He turns and begins to pace back and forth across the room, thoughtful rather than agitated. “I could possibly learn that by reading your memories. If you know or can conjecture when he cast a spell on you.”
“He cast them on me every week. More than every week,” you say bleakly. You run your hands through your hair, trying to think of a prominent time. Surely such a powerful spell would have been memorable. Surely. You walk towards the fire and stare into it, making yourself reason about your father’s actions. This spell would not have been cast before he knew that he was wedding you to Loki. That narrows it down to two or three weeks. But you are certain he cast many spells on you during those weeks. But--a spell so powerful that Loki cannot break it would have wearied your father. He would not have wanted to cast it unless he was certain it would be useful. So he would have waited until he was certain the marriage would take place--no, until he was certain that it had taken place!
You turn around, far faster than you should. Loki is watching you hopefully, arms folded. “He cast a spell when I was running to catch up with you, directly after our wedding.”
“A strategic time,” Loki replies, expression brightening. He touches the back of a chair. “It will not take long for me to see that moment as you saw it.”
You sit down, folding your hands tightly. Loki kneels and puts his fingertips on your temples. You are shaking, from fear of this curse killing him, but his hands are steady and he smiles at you. “This won’t hurt.”
All goes white, white as light….
He and the Jotun woman are beginning to stride away before you have managed to say anything. No. Once was enough. Once was more than enough. You lift your skirt up to your ankles and catch up to him, ignoring your father’s scolding exclamation of your name and the sudden sting in your mind of his casting a silent spell at you. He uses such spells when angry, to give you headaches or keep you from sleeping or muddle you.
“I’ll come with you now,” you say…
White light again, and then Loki is taking shaking hands away from your temples. Whatever he deduced from your memory was not salvific. “Do you know what spell he cast?” you ask, feeling as if you have forgotten how to breathe.
“Yes,” Loki answers, touching the back of your hand. You unclasp them, and he takes them in his. “We surmised well. When our child is born, I will die.”
You stare at him, unable to speak. As a theory it had been horrible, but as a fact--you do not know what to do or what to say. A lump is rising in your throat, but you want to be calm for him. “Can you undo the spell?” you whisper.
He looks into your eyes and states, “I cannot, nor can anyone else.” It sounds as if he is hoping you will believe him, and you frown, grasping for hope.
“My father cast it. Could we force him to undo it? Or--you’re a master of magic, I know you are a more powerful magician than he. Is it because it would hurt me to undo it that you cannot do it? I’ll endure it, my love, I--” Tears choke your voice, because he is still simply looking at you, with devotion and without optimism.
He bends his head and kisses your hands, and then looks into your eyes again. “He has made the spell so that if I or anyone else, including himself, undoes it, dark magic will kill you and our child.”
Chapter 11: In Which the Future is Planned, Despite its Efforts to Avoid This
You sit still beside Loki’s throne, furs covering every part of you except your face, and wish your face were concealed too. You are all too aware that to the hundreds of Jotuns looking up at the throne you must look small and frightened and as if you often cry. You do, ever since learning what the dark magic will do, though you try not to and though you try not to do it when Loki is with you. But probably--hopefully--they are listening to Loki and not looking at you. He is giving a history-drafting speech to them.
“I have learned that the King of Alfheim desires to rule this realm,” he says, quite calmly, and gives a soft laugh. “I assume that thought is as unwelcome to you as it is to me.”
“If he dare try it, each of his limbs will be encased in a separate iceberg, and his head impaled over this palace’s gate,” a Jotun in the crowd declares. It is not an angry shout; it is a conversational response. You force yourself not to shiver; while you would be relieved to hear your father was dead, since he is trying to murder your husband, dismemberment is a sickening idea.
“Precisely,” Loki says, undistressed by his subject’s macabre declaration. “And I am certain that any few of you could easily introduce him to that fate. But let us solemnize our resolve that he shall not reign--” He raises his hand to stop another Jotun from interrupting, “--so that, in the event of my death, no realm that respects law will aid Alfheim against us.”
“Your death, my lord?” a woman calls out. The man who tried to interrupt is silent. Possibly his question was “why?” and Loki’s continuation answered it.
Loki smiles charmingly at her. “It does occur rather...perennially,” he says, and continues. “Today I declare my will that should I die before my child reaches manhood or womanhood, my wife and my brother, Helblindi, shall jointly act as his or her regents until he or she is grown. You are all witnesses of this, and my brother--” Loki gestures to Helblindi, who is sitting on the other side of the throne and scratching neat runes into a rectangular piece of bone, “--is inscribing written records of it, which I shall have sent to every realm.”
Sending them to other realms is not easy; Jotunheim has no airships, and nobody save Loki who can travel through portals unaided. There are several nights on which he disappears for hours, spreading the news of his decree.
“Will this be enough to stop them from aiding him?” you wonder aloud, one evening when Loki has returned from Nidavellir with forge-burned charcoal on his boots and on the hem of his cloak.
“Possibly. Particularly since it is far more convenient not to attack Jotunheim, and far safer not to anger us.” Loki folds his cloak in thirds, and you take it and lay it on the back of a chair. “Were you awaiting my return?” He looks at you deprecatingly; you know you should have been asleep hours ago, and you feel ashamed. He has had no headaches and no fits of crying, as far as you know; you wish you were as brave as he is, but you doubt many people are so courageous, in the Nine Realms or out of them.
“No, I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. My head aches.” As it has been for most of the days since learning about the dark magic. You manage to smile at him, changing the topic of conversation. “I’m glad you’ve returned, darling.” A few pieces of ash have drifted into his hair, and you reach up and brush them away, your smile becoming more natural as you notice how he bows his head so you can reach them more easily.
“A forgiving declaration, since I’ve inadvertently imported the redolence of Nidavellir’s forges to our chamber,” he says wryly, frowning at his cloak as the warmth of the fire makes it release smokey scents.
You are no longer in the time when those scents would make you sick, so you shake your head. “You know I would be glad of your return even if it was from a fishmarket.”
Loki sits on the wooden chest, leaving room for you beside him. “Or a fishing village? New Asgard and Midgard are the only civilized realms in Yggdrasil to which I have not brought my declaration, and I intend to visit them tomorrow night. After ensuring that the new bridge over the glacier south of the palace is built to withstand fluctuations of weather.” He has been fitting project after project into his days, and you wish you were able to help him more.
You sit beside him, folding your legs under you because the floor is rather cold tonight despite the carpet and fire. “Or a fishing village, of course.” You slip your hand into his and rest your head against his shoulder. “Indeed, I’d like to come with you.”
Loki curves his fingers around yours. “I was about to ask you to do so. The healers of Asgard would comprehend Elvish ills better than those of this realm and possess more remedies.”
You know he is thinking of your headaches and sleeplessness, and you are almost certain that both are caused by the fear that your father’s curse will kill him. Unless the healer is an outlandishly skilled master of magic, he or she cannot treat the cause of your lack of health. But it would be wise to have a healer ascertain that you and your baby are well. “As you wish, my love,” you agree to his implied request.
You look forward to the next day as you fall asleep in his arms--the first day you have looked forward to in weeks. He has been so busy and your condition and race so unfit you to explore this realm singly that your days have been mostly composed of waiting for Loki to return and fretting about him. But tomorrow you will be with your husband, and you will see a warmer world.
A few hours after dawn, you follow Loki out of the palace, warmly clad and all but vibrating thanks to worry, excitement, and lack of sleep. The cave that hides the portal to Midgard is so close to the palace that you scarcely feel cold before you enter it. You follow Loki towards the back of it and around a corner, and there is the white light of a portal, without a doorway, without inscription. The light simply shines over the walls of the cave, and then becomes so bright that you are uncertain if there are cave walls outside it. Loki puts his arm securely around you and leads you into the portal.
White light and tempestuous wind submerge you, and then in a few instants the light and wind are shining and wuthering behind you, and you are in a Midgardian cave, eyes watering.
Your eyes adjust as you walk out of the cave. There is green grass under your feet and before you, and a village built down the hill from you. It is not as sculptural as an Elvish village, but the houses, under trees that are turning yellow and orange, have smoke coming from their chimneys and flowers and vegetables and shrubs growing near them. An entirely, wondrously unfrozen ocean waves beyond them, reflecting a sky that has had no snow clouds in months. You take a deep breath, realizing to your dismay that you already wish you and Loki could stay here.
“Thor will direct us to the healers,” Loki says, releasing you and starting down the hill. His tone is tenser than it usually is when speaking to you, and you realize that your expression must have revealed how glad you are to be away from his frozen realm. You are both uncomfortably quiet as you walk down toward New Asgard, until a large daisy plant makes you impulsively reach out to touch the white petals. You have not seen flowers in months, though you love them dearly.
“I should have asked you.” You look up from the daisies to see Loki watching you with his arms folded tightly and a mixture of remorse and pain in his eyes.
“Should have asked me what?” you ask quietly, joy in the flowers and warmth withering.
“If you wished to abide in Jotunheim. I was presumptuous to assume that you would acclimate to my realm.” His mouth twists into an unhappy smile, and he begins walking down the hill again. “Or than confinement to one chamber would please you better than it did me. I--” He breaks of his sentence, and then is about to continue it, but you catch up with him.
“You didn’t need to ask me,” you say, and he walks more slowly, looking at you. You decide to be entirely honest. “Even if I had known your realm has worse weather than I ever imagined a realm could have, and even if I’d known I would spend most of my time in the only warm room in the kingdom, I would have come with you.” You hold out your hand to him, and after another step he unfolds his arms and takes your hand in his. “You didn’t kidnap me,” you point out, smiling at him. “I ran after you.”
He does not look as reassured as you wish he did. “Unconscious of the qualities of the place to which I was leading you,” he counters, and suddenly you suspect that he has been fretting about this for months.
“If I had cared about that, I would have asked you,” you assure him. “I do miss sunlight and flowers, but I would rather live in eternal winter with you than in a garden without you.” You press a kiss to his knuckles, hoping desperately that he believes you; the thought of his pain if he thinks you regret abiding with him is unbearable.
When you look up you see that though his smile is still anxious, it is no longer guilty. He bends and softly kisses you, and then interlaces his fingers with yours as you both continue down the hill toward New Asgard.
“I do not ask that you raise our child in Jotunheim,” he notes quietly as you reach level ground. A road, covered in something that looks like dark, solid stone, runs past the hill you have just descended and towards New Asgard, and you and Loki walk beside it.
You hold his hand just a little tighter. “But I will try to.” I wish you were invincible, my love.
A sound you have never heard before commences behind you and then becomes louder, louder than almost any other sound you have ever heard, and you look back to see a large, bright red vehicle with four wheels careening down the road toward New Asgard, alternating between the right and the left side of it. You gasp and leap--or try to leap--away from the road, attempting to pull Loki with you. But he stands where he is beside the road and laughs as the vehicle stops, screeching. Music with many drums and a singer who is almost shouting blasts out of its pane-less windows.
Loki raises his voice above the music. “Shall I teach you how to drive that, brother?’
Source for information on the effects of stress in pregnancy: https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/stress-and-pregnancy.aspx
Chapter 12: In Which You are Out of Place
You may not know much about trucks, as this scarlet vehicle is termed, but by the time you reach the stone building in which the healers work, you are entirely certain that trucks are not meant to have two gods and an Elf in them. Thor is driving, and it was very clearly impossible for Loki to fit in the small seat in the middle of the truck, so you had to sit in it between your husband and your brother-in-law, rushing down the road listening to Thor talk more loudly than the stentorian singer in the music that was exuding from certain areas of the truck. It was far worse than traveling through a portal.
The healers’ building is dramatically quieter. There is a room for waiting, and nobody is in it except the three of you and an Asgardian woman standing behind a tall, long table that is attached to the floor. The doctor can see you immediately, it seems.
You look back to see if Loki is coming with you--on another planet, as you are, you do not like to go where you cannot see him--but Thor so visibly is wanting to talk to him, and you (though you are trying not to think about it) so dread the moment when Loki must learn the baby’s birth month, that you hear yourself say, “I’ll return soon, my love.” Surprise crosses Loki’s face, but he smiles at you reassuringly and remains seated.
As you follow the healer out of the room, you hear Thor asking him if this journey is only for your meeting with a healer, or if there are other reasons for it, and you wince. “Our obstetrician is Midgardian, my lady,” the healer tells you. She opens the door of a small room. “She’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
“I thank you,” you say as she leaves, and then stand very still in the middle of the strangest room you have ever been in. The walls are solid, pale pink. The ceiling has round holes in it, with shining lights in them. There is something that plausibly is an uncomfortable bed, and all manner of incomprehensible objects with black cords. On the wall is a clock that does not tick, with hands that spin as smoothly as ice slides across a wet floor, and an image of a woman in trousers and a shirt without sleeves holding a small baby with round little fists and a round little face.
“Hello, I--Oh my goodness.” You turn to see a merry-looking, charmingly freckled woman in a top covered in red and purple images of flowers staring at you, her eyes and mouth round with incredulous delight. “You’re an elf!”
“I am,” you confirm, uncertain why your Elvishness is so electrifying.
You continue to be uncertain. Marta Jonnson, as a white card on her shirt says her name is, gives you a paper that asks you for such unheard-of things as your “address” and your “phone number.” She takes the paper away when you have only answered one or two of the questions, stares at the runes you have written, and writes the rest of the answers after asking you the questions aloud. You do not understand half of the questions, and wish you had asked Loki to come with you. He has been in Midgard before.
Finally the confusing questions are over, and the examination takes place and then is finished. “When will the baby be born?” you ask. Your voice quavers. How long until my father’s curse assassinates my husband?
“Your due date is five months from now,” Marta answers readily, and then furrows her brow as she stares at your greatly rounded stomach.
“Elvish pregnancies are only four months long,” you say, and her eyes widen again. You quickly add, “But Jotun ones--my husband’s race--last for a twelvemonth.”
“Ooh, this is difficult. I’ve seen a few mixed-race pregnancies now, but only between Asgardians and humans, and we have the same gestational period….” Marta jots numbers onto a piece of paper, pursing her lips as she multiplies and divides. After a long moment she looks up. “Okay, so, from what I’m seeing of your baby’s development and a few other things, I’m estimating he or she will be born in two months. Give or take a week.”
You nod solemnly. Only two months...only two months.... “Thank you.” You try to smile at her.
“Was there anything else you wanted to ask me about?” she asks. .
“Yes,” you say, looking at a translucent canister of small purple sticks with fiber on their ends. “I’m afflicted with headaches.”
She considers this, twisting a silver ring on her left hand. “Are you stressed?”
You look back at her. “Stressed?” You’ve heard of wood being stressed and of a point in an argument being stressed, but this is not a familiar context for this word.
Marta tilts her head. “Anxious, tense, nervous?”
“Yes.” The long, thin paper on the bed crinkles as you alter how you are sitting on it. “Yes, incessantly.”
You fold your hands on your lap and listen, attentive but pessimistic, to her statement that stress is probably causing your maladies. It is almost indubitably true, but how could you not be nervous, knowing of the undefeatable curse? You realize that she is asking you why you are incessantly stressed. “Do you believe in curses?” you ask. The baby kicks, twice.
Marta’s ginger brows rise. “Before I came to work here, no. Now...I’ve treated three women who’s been cursed. And another one who put a curse on me.”
You nod. “I’m sorry you were cursed. Were you able to break it?”
Her eyes flicker away from you. “No. It wasn’t...it was instant. Thanks for asking.” There is an awkward, silent pause. “So a curse is what’s stressing you?”
You twist a fold of your woolen skirt. “My father wants to rule my husband’s kingdom, so he put a curse on me. When my baby is born, my husband--my husband will die.” You take a deep breath. “And if anyone breaks the curse, the baby and I will die instead. So he, my husband, is not willing to try to break it.” You’ve twisted the warm fabric so tightly that you have to untwist it to pull your finger out. “I wish…of course he isn’t willing--and the baby--but I would die for him--” You begin sobbing and cannot stop, your face buried in your hands.
Marta says your name, and then puts her warm hand on your shoulder and says it again. You swallow hard and look up to see her holding out a piece of white paper to you, so thin that it is translucent and drapey. You take it and stare at it, blinking away tears. “What ought I to do with this?” you quaver.
“It’s a tissue. Oh my goodness.” Marta presses her hand over her mouth. “I forgot you’re an Elf for a moment. It’s, uh, it’s a paper handkerchief.”
“Thank you.” The paper handkerchief works quite well for drying your face, though it becomes so saturated that Marta hands you another. You grip the wet paper tightly. “Please excuse me for this,” you apologize. The baby is wiggling.
Marta shakes her head. “I cried this morning because my cat put a freaking hairball in one of my favorite boots,” she divulges. “I’d definitely cry if….”
“Your father was making your child’s birth your husband’s doom.” It is a relief to summarize this tragedy aloud to someone whom it will not devastate.
Marta sighs and looks at the image of the mother holding her baby, and bites her lower lip. “So if you don’t give birth, your husband won’t die?” she asks.
“No, but the baby will be born, someday,” you say hesitantly, in much the same tone as you would have used had Marta said, “So if winter doesn’t come, snow won’t fall?”
“You can choose not to give birth,” Marta says, looking directly at you. She sits straighter on her round, spinning stool.
“How?” you ask, suspicion and hope tumbling in your mind.
Marta puts her hands palm-down on her lap, and pauses before doing her best to explain how they do so to you, a woman from another realm. “You can wait a few weeks or a month to decide if you want to have one,” she finishes.
You have stood up without realizing it. Your mouth is dry and you are having trouble thinking coherently. Bits of confusion and dismay and optimism and horror are all blizzarding around in your mind. Marta pats your shoulder. She says more, but you do not comprehend it. You stand staring at the mother and baby on the wall until you realize Marta is bidding you farewell, and then you say farewell and say that you will come back, and falter out of the pink room and towards the room for waiting.
Chapter 13: In Which There Are Even Higher Levels of Inter-Species Interaction than Usual
Neither Loki nor Thor is still in the waiting room. “My lady,” the Asgardian woman behind the long table says. You turn toward her. “Lord Loki wishes me to tell you that he and Lord Thor are in the herb garden behind this building.”
“Thank you.” You try to smile at her, but unless her consequently concerned frown is wildly out of proportion to how unhappy you look, it was not a convincing smile. “I’m somewhat out of breath,” you say, which is true. “May I sit here?”
“Of course, my lady. Shall I fetch you anything?”
“No, thank you.” You sit down and pick up the top book on the table. It has a picture of a woman with maroon fingernails on the front. Normally, you would have been interested in seeing and reading about how Midgardian women think and live and dress, but at the moment you do not have the heart to be curious. However, you do not want Thor to realize your appointment was unhappy; you do not want to try to explain Marta’s advice, let alone decide whether or not to take it, with anyone other than Loki present. You flip through the book, counting the number of red images on one page, attempting to read the next page backwards, and then skimming all of the strange photos and titles in the rest of the book. Calmer, though unhappy, you then stare quizzically at the picture of a green lizard on the back of the book, set the book down on the table, say “Thank you,” to the woman behind the long table, and walk out of the waiting room and the building.
“--undo it, if I have Stormbreaker poised to split his skull!” Thor is declaiming. You hurry around the building and see Thor and Loki standing facing each other between a pot of mint and a plot of thyme. Thor’s hand is on Loki’s shoulder, and Loki is shaking his head.
“As I’ve attempted to convey,” he says, as dryly as if they were arguing about something that had nothing to do with life and death, “ nobody can dissolve this spell without slaying my wife and child.”
“You’re going to let him kill you? Again?” Though you are five ample beds of herbs away from them, you can see his hand shaking and his face twisting with grief. You cough, but they do not hear you.
“It will be his first time,” Loki points out, giving Thor a wry smile. “He deserves his turn.”
“Loki!” Thor remonstrates, and Loki’s smile vanishes.
“I’m sorry, brother.” His voice is still unnaturally calm.
Abruptly, a vehicle horn blasts outside the garden’s waist-high stone wall, and all three of you turn your heads. A woman with long dark braids flings open her door, vaults over the wall, and strides towards Thor. “I’ve been searching the town for you. You’re an hour late,” she states.
“For what?” Thor asks. He looks up at the sun.
“Really? For your meeting with the king of Norway,” she says, brows rising, and Thor makes a rueful noise.
“Tell him I have a family emergency.“
“I’ll return tomorrow,” Loki interposes before the dark-haired woman can answer Thor.
She looks at Loki and grins. “Lackey. It’s not everyone who dies, comes back to life, and has somehow gotten married in the interim.”
Loki smiles icily at her. “It’s Loki.” He looks at Thor again, the frigid smile becoming a mild one. “Go meet the mortal king, brother. I’ll return tomorrow—you have my word.”
Unless the baby comes early, tomorrow, you think, and wish that had not occurred to you.
Thor nods, bows his head courteously to you, and leaps over the wall in Valkyrie’s wake. They drive away even faster than Thor drove here.
“I’m so sorry for all of this,” you say, your voice low enough that you wonder if the sound of Thor’s seeker’s vehicle has overridden your guiltless but guilty apology.
You look up at Loki as he walks toward you, and think it probable that he did not hear. He is looking at you expectantly. “Are you and our child well?”
“Yes,” you say. Your gaze falls to a patch of blooming chamomile. “The baby is entirely well, and I am too, though…” What was the word Marta used? “Stressed.”
Loki smiles ruefully. “Both as well as can be expected, then.” You expect him to ask when the baby will be born, but instead of asking that, he puts his finger under your chin and gently tilts your face up. His eyes are not suspicious; no, they are sure, sure that there is something you are suppressing. Should you tell him now that the baby will be born in only two months and that it is possible for it not to be born? No, not here in this low-walled garden where strangers might be watching you….
His thumb caresses your cheek, and you turn your head enough to softly kiss his palm. “I’ll tell you more when we’re home,” you promise, adding, “There are no emergencies.”
“How unusual,” he responds, wryly, and then suddenly smiles as if all were well. “Surely you’re hungry, my love? When I last visited New Asgard, a cook who worked in the palace kitchens for three centuries had just then opened a café--selling books of preposterous myths, but serving Asgardian fare.”
You are surely not hungry, but if Loki wishes to visit this café, you are willing to visit it. You muster up a smile. “Which dishes are best?”
“All that are not lutefisk or hákarl.” Loki offers you his arm. You take it and follow him out of the herb garden, through the gate. The last herb you smell is rue.
You eat in the small stone and oak café, The Gossiping Squirrel, and talk about New Asgard. If you were not feeling queasily anxious, you would enjoy eating sun-ripened food; but even though you cannot enjoy the food today, you appreciate that Loki decided to take the time to treat you to it.
The way out of the café is through a minuscule book shop. Loki stops short in front of a bookshelf to the right side of the door, and drops on one knee. He pulls an immense book out of it as if he had found a magical relic. “It includes the sonnets,” he notes, looking up at you with genuine excitement, and forthwith carries it to another tall table with a shopkeeper standing behind it, and buys it. You watch him with a faint smile. Shakespeare, presumably. He’s recited several of that Midgardian poet’s sonnets to you, mostly love poems and a few lamenting ones.
The baby wiggles, and you remember your dilemma. You close your eyes for a moment, and then turn and read every title on the nearest bookshelf until Loki has his book in a paper bag and is ready to take you back to Jotunheim.
You have prepared yourself to tell him of both the baby’s due date and Marta’s counsel by the time the Jotun palace towers over you, but Helblindi is waiting in front of the gate, frowning. “Brother, there’s someone who must speak to you.”
“Whom and where?” Loki asks, leading both of you through the gate as he asks it.
“One of the guards.” Helblindi’s voice drops to a whisper, and he bends so his mouth is not far above his brother’s ear. “He believes one of the other guards is a frost elf in disguise. I asked him to wait in the throne room.”
You draw in your breath. Who knows how many of the guards are frost elves? Why is your father so covetous of this frozen realm?
Loki’s brows rise. “Clever,” he remarks. “I’ll listen to him at once. Would you escort my wife to her chamber?”
“I’ll be honored, brother!” Helblindi says, and Loki smiles at him before turning to you.
“Try to rest, my love. I’ll join you later.”
He strides away toward the throneroom, and Helblindi offers you his arm, and then realizes that he is too tall for you to hold his arm comfortably and looks abashed. You smile reassuringly. “I can walk on my own, brother. But I’m grateful for your protection.” You walk a few steps with him (he walks unnaturally slowly so you do not have to speed) and then ask, “Have you remained free of your….haunting?”
“I have.” Helblindi opens a heavy door for you, and holds it. You walk through. “Is my brother expecting an evil fate?” he asks fearfully.
You flinch and turn around. “I think you should ask him.”
Helblindi nods. “I intend to.” He speaks very quietly, bending so you can hear him. “It’s...I found him staring at the temple, and I had to say his name four times--and then, before he apprehended I was Helblindi, he almost grabbed me by the throat.” He looks down and traces a crack in the ice floor with his boot’s toe. “Perhaps I should have kept that secret.”
You shake your head. “No, thank you for telling me. If I can help him, I will.”
“Is it finished?”
You are kneeling on the floor, your head tilted sideways as you try to make sure that the bust of Loki looks right from every perspective. Unfortunately, you have been discovering that it only looks right from the back. You have carved its hair perfectly, but its face does not quite look like the face you see when you turn and look up at your husband. “No. It doesn’t precisely look like you; can you see why?” It is an entirely sincere question; you spent the last hour trying to comprehend why the bust does not look like Loki, despite most certainly looking like him. You have been carving and polishing ever since you returned to your room, trying to lull your anxiety while you wait for Loki to finish dealing with the imposter guard.
Loki ponders the bust for a few moments, and then smiles wryly. He helps you up. “It would have precisely looked like me several years ago, had you carved it with shorter hair. I’m not entirely immortal, my love.”
You look at him and then at the bust, and see why they are mismatched. The lines at the corners of Loki’s eyes and under them and between his brows are barely visible by firelight, but they are present, and the bust will not look like him until you carve them. “I’ll need to finish it from life,” you decide. “But not tonight.” There are too many things to talk about, that you do not want to talk about, tonight. You fold your polishing cloth and set it beside the bust, asking while you fold it, “Was there only one Elf among the guards?”
“Five.” Loki wearily sits on the bed, brushing a lock of hair out of his face. “They were all Frost Elves, of course. I questioned them, and it seems their orders were to act as spies, and to assassinate me if the curse failed. Speaking of which, when will that be unleashed?” He asks that in the same tone in which he explained about the Elves, looking at you unblinkingly. “Or was the healer unable to ascertain that?”
It is entirely reasonable that he asks that instead of asking if the healer ascertained when your baby would be born, but the fact that your father has made it reasonable sickens you. “She said--she said the baby will be born two months from now.”
Loki looks down, ineffably still, and then lifts his gaze to you again and smiles. “Only two months...we must choose names.” Again he brushes the lock of hair out of his face.
Is he incessantly uncommunicatively brave? Or does he choose to be tearlessly gallant specifically for you, even though he has nobody more entitled to comfort him? You do not know. But before you let him change the subject, or try to comfort him, or even sit beside him, you decide to tell him what Marta suggested. You have to tell him, and you cannot put it off, because if he needs time to think about it, a month is not long.
“Marta--the healer--” Your voice sounds high and nervous. You do not know if you hope he will accept or reject Marta’s proposal. You do not know if you accept or reject it. You take a deep breath and clamp the fingers of one hand around the fingers or the other. “Marta says I could not give birth. And then the curse would not happen.”
Loki frowns, the lines between his eyes that you should have carved strengthening until you never could have failed to notice them, and slowly stands up. “Not give birth. Did she happen to explain how this could be brought to pass?”
You repeat what you can remember of Marta’s explanation. “It’s called--”
“Abortion. I’ve heard of it.” He turns and walks toward the fire, which is dimmer and yellower than it ought to be. “And it would terminate the curse.” Very quietly, very unhappily, he laughs. “Possibly Those Who Sit Above in Shadow thought Helblindi’s innocent disloyalty was not a harsh enough test.” He splays his fingers; the flames turn orange and flicker high. “You’ll tell her I prefer not to buy my life at the price of my child’s.”
His silhouette before the flames...his body amid the flames, two months from now..but no, not flames in Jotunheim…snow? “Are you sure?” you hear yourself ask.
Loki turns as quickly as he would in battle. “I will not be like my fathers!” he snarls, loud enough to echo, eyes feverishly bright.
You step back, bumping into and overturning the bust, your heart pounding. This is the first time Loki has shouted at you. “This wasn’t my idea.” Your voice is a half-whisper. “I did not know what to think of it. So I told you.”
His eyes soften, a little. “No. You were right to tell me. But you will tell the mortal I refuse to sacrifice our child--will you not?”
“Yes.” You turn and set the bust upright, making sure it is stable. Your mind and heart are not stable at all. Dread of his death; relief that he made this decision, not you; shame, because he was certain and you were not: all of them are whirling in you. The baby kicks, and you suppress a sob.
Loki’s footsteps are barely audible on the carpet. He hugs you from behind, his cheek against your hair and one of his hands protectively on your stomach. “I rarely stay dead,” he says, so softly and casually that you cannot tell whether it is a reassurance or an attempt to make you laugh.
What can you say to that? You caress the back of his hand, wondering what you would have chosen, had he told you to choose. Which of your fears is justified? That you should not have even mentioned Marta’s solution? Or that you should have urged him to take it? That you considered doing worse to your child than your father has done to you? Or that you have failed to protect your husband from your father and from himself?
“There’s a time to meditate on ethics and concluded choices, but it’s not midnight,” Loki observes. He softly kisses the side of your neck, making you smile. “I doubt either of us is sufficiently serene to sleep; shall I read to you?”
You agree immediately, pleased by the suggestion because you love listening to him and because you saw how joyous he was at finding the Works of Shakespeare , but choosing which play to read out of that takes longer. Sitting up in bed under many blankets, you look down at the table of contents. None of the titles are informative to an Elf. “Which one is best?” you ask.
“Save Titus Andronicus , which is only worth performing if one’s theatre floor requires a new coat of red paint, they are all glorious,” Loki says, which does not help much.
As you might have when you were a child, you close your eyes, move your finger around until you haven’t an inkling what play titles are under it, and then lower it until you feel paper. “Macbeth. Is that the hero’s name?”
The corner of Loki’s mouth quirks up. “Yes...and no. This play may be rather murderous of sleep.”
It can’t be worse than daily life. You nestle closer beside your husband and wait as he turns the pages, seeking the one on which the play begins.
“A desert place. Thunder and lightning. Enter three witches.” His tone changes, almost startlingly, becoming high and old. “When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
Macbeth quote source: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/macbeth/full.html
Chapter 15: In Which Shakespeare Is Of Vital Importance
You wake earlier than you wished to, and pull the blankets up to your chin. The room is chilly, through not frigid. Loki lies quietly beside you, asleep and calm--no, not calm. His face, turned toward you, is tense and his hand is clutching a fold of the sheet so tightly that his knuckles are white. Gently, you caress his back, and he moves subtly closer to you, the wrinkled fold of sheet sliding out of his hand. There are dark circles under his black lashes, and you again feel guilty despite your innocence.
It is too early to get up, and, also, moving around the room might wake Loki. It occurs to you that this is a good chance to review Macbeth. You did not keep track of many of the characters while Loki was reading the first two acts of it to you before you slept, and reviewing them will help you understand the rest of the play. You sit up in bed, reach for the book, and begin searching for Macbeth , careful to turn the pages quietly.
The play is grim but engrossing. You forget that you only meant to review the first two acts, and read Act Three, and Act Four, and begin Five. Invulnerable MacBeth, whom “no man that's born of woman shall e'er have power upon”--can the rightful king defeat him? Or MacDuff? You almost forget to breathe as MacDuff attacks Macbeth. And then you gasp, staring at the dialogue with wide eyes. In the midst of a battle between two Midgardians, in the midst of your unusual distraction from the curse, in bed only four hours after midnight, you have found a salvific loophole in your father’s curse. “I bear a charmed life, which must not yield, to one of woman born,” Macbeth reiterates, and MacDuff--MacDuff retorts that he “was from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd.” And kills MacBeth.
One of your attendant ladies once wed, and within a year bore twins. But they were upside down, and surgeons, rather than midwives, had delivered them. MacDuff clearly was delivered likewise. And that...if your father’s curse on you will strike when you give birth…
“I’ve never seen anyone quite so agitated over Shakespeare,” Loki says, smiling at you. He sits up, momentarily rubbing his temple. “Including Shakespeare.”
You want to fling yourself at him and hug him, but instead you start trying to explain your revelation. “MacBeth, I mean MacDuff, wasn’t born, so that defeated the prophecy, so that would defeat the curse, if our baby wasn’t born, but the same way he wasn’t born, like my waiting-lady’s twins.”
Loki raises an eyebrow. “What, exactly, did you just say?”
You take a deep breath and make yourself speak clearly and at your normal speed. “MacDuff, in the play MacBeth , was born by surgery.” Understanding flickers in Loki’s eyes. “So--magically--he wasn’t born of woman. I’m wondering, if our child is born by surgery, he won’t be born of me, magically, and it’s me the curse is on--”
Loki’s eyes are bright, his expression changing and changing again as he considers this. “The curse ought not to take effect,” he decides, almost more hesitantly than excitedly. “Is the procedure rare in Alfheim?”
“I’ve only heard of one lady who had it,” you confirm.
“Then he is unlikely to have cast a spell that provided for it.” Loki brushes hair out of his face, his other hand tapping on the blankets as if he is too energized by this idea to be physically calm. “It’s not practiced in Asgard, we have other treatments for all the difficulties it remedies, but it’s a common operation on Midgard. One of their kings was born by it, and they’ve named it for him…. Are you certain you are willing to undergo surgery?”
You nod, touching his tapping hand. “I’d much rather have surgery than be a widow.”
Loki hesitates for a moment, and then takes your hand in his and kisses it tenderly. “I’ll take you with me to New Asgard to discuss this with the healer, directly after I deal with those Elvish guards.” He rises and throws on his cape, and begins combing his hair far more hastily than he usually does.
“What will you do with them?” you ask.
Loki suddenly grins. “Send them back to Alfheim, with a letter stating that while I appreciate the addition to your dowry, these guards aren’t entirely suited to my realm’s climate.”
Sending them back does not take him long. Less than two hours after your theory began, you are in the waiting room of New Asgard’s healers again, and one of them is calling your name. Loki catches hold of your wrist as you rise. “If this surgery will significantly endanger you or our child, do not plan it,” he says, too quietly for the healer to hear. You give him your word that if it is dangerous you will not, and hope consumingly that it is not dangerous.
Marta, wearing a lavender tunic and with only a pen holding her bun, listens carefully to your plan. “I don’t know enough about magic to say if it will break the curse,” she says, “but if you want an elective c-section--we have the facilities for that, and it’s safe. It will take you a while to recover, of course.”
Your shoulders slump in relief. “I can bear that. When should I come here, for the surgery?”
“Hmm.” Marta thinks for a few moments, doodling leaves on her notepad. “Later--as close to the due date as possible. But since we really need to make sure you don’t deliver naturally, thanks to that curse...two weeks before the due date. We don’t have any c-sections scheduled that day, and the baby will be fine.”
“Thank you, with all my heart,” you say, rising as quickly as you can. “May I go tell my husband this is possible?”
Marta beams and nods. “I’ll take care of the scheduling. September first!”
“September first,” you repeat, and hurry out to the waiting room. If you were not roundly pregnant, you would run out to it.
Head tilted, Loki is watching an orange fish and a chartreuse one swim back and forth in a large glass casket full of water and plants. He looks like he is daydreaming, and he almost looks like a statue, but he does not look at all like someone who is waiting to hear whether or not he will die of a curse. And yet you know that he is desperately hoping you will tell him that he will not, that he will see his child, that he will be able to protect his realm.
He looks up sharply as he hears you walk in, and stands, folding his arms far more tightly than he usually does.
“It’s safe, it’s scheduled!” you tell him, and he closes his eyes, breathing a sigh of relief, and then smiles at you, with his eyes as well as with his mouth.
“The benefits of reading Shakespeare at four in the morning.” With that happily wry comment, he gives you his arm and leads you out of the building, almost too quickly.
“Where are we going?” you ask, laughing because you are happy and because speeding out of the waiting room and down the main road of New Asgard was not how you had expected he would react to learning he was not going to die.
“To tell Thor not to order my funeral ale,” Loki answers lightly, raising his free hand in a wave to two girls, about five and seven, and their furry dog who are staring at both of you from beside a bed of carrots.
Thor’s hall is around the next corner. There is a throne in the first room through the front doors, a large wooden throne on a stone platform every side of which is a staircase. The woman with the dark braids is sitting on the platform. She jumps off it, landing on her feet, when Loki and you walk towards the throne.
“Valkyrie,” Loki enunciates. “Where is Thor?”
“In his chamber, drinking mead. Because somebody told him his brother is going to die again.” She glares up at Loki as if she would like to make sure he dies again posthaste. “For New Asgard’s sake, if you’re here to tell him it was a false alarm, go tell him. Before he starts on the beer.”
Chapter 16: In Which are Brotherhood and Secrecy
A short chapter before a highly important one.
Warning: Contains alcohol abuse.
Thor has started on the beer when he opens the door of his chamber, answering Loki’s knock. “There you are, brother! I’ve been waiting for you.” His eyes are slightly glassy, and there is a fractured mead horn on the wooden floor, but his voice is clear.
Loki’s hands twist around each other. “Apparently.” There are deep lines between his brows, and he leans slightly away from Thor’s breath. “We bear good tidings; my wife has discovered a way to evade the curse.”
Thor’s eyes brighten, and he sets his beer down on a chest and walks out into the hallway. “That was quick! How?” He looks at you as he asks, so you briefly and simply summarize what you found in Macbeth , the theory it inspired, and Marta’s willingness for you to have the operation.
Thor listens silently, towering over you. When you stop talking he nods and looks at Loki. “Will this work?”
“Yes,” Loki says, no doubtfulness slowing the word. You know he is uncertain. He must have a reason for wishing Thor to be without doubt. You look down at the broken mead horn and intuit what his reason is.
Thor stands straighter, and throws his arm around Loki’s shoulders. “You should have waited a day, and not frightened me!”
Loki lets out a soft half-laugh. “Were I able to see the future, brother…. Keep this scrupulously secret. I wish my survival to surprise the Elvish king.”
Thor gives his word that he will keep the plan secret, as does Valkyrie when the three of you walk out to the throne room. A moustached man wearing a sweater that looks rather too warm for this weather and dragging another man by the arm walks in a moment after she gives it, and heads directly for Thor. “My lord! I caught this foul scoundrel stealing radishes!”
The corner of Loki’s mouth twitches. “I must inform Helblindi of the matter we were discussing,” he says aside to Thor. “Prove yourself just!”
“Loki--” Thor says. Loki is already leading you toward the door. He does wish to tell Helblindi that he will not die as soon as possible, you are sure; you suspect that he also has noticed that you are wavering on your feet, tired from emotion and hurrying and portaling and insomnia. But it still seems odd how quickly he is slipping away from his brother. “Loki!” Thor says louder, and Loki pauses and looks back over his shoulder.
“Come back and spend a day. If you can find one between crises.”
Loki’s smile is more questioning than pleased. “An entire day together might create a crisis to fill the gap, brother.”
Thor shakes his head, catching up. “No, you’ve changed. I’ve changed. And my new kingdom,” he waves his hand at the throneroom, “didn’t come with a little brother like yours did.”
Your hand is on Loki’s arm, and so you feel him tense, which surprises you. Thor words seemed kind; you would have expected your husband to be glad his brother wanted his company. “Aren’t you afraid we’ll merely go ‘round and round in circles’ again?” he says almost venomously. You sense that he is quoting something, but you do not know what. Valkyrie is shepherding the Asgardians toward the other side of the throne room; she looks as confused as you feel, though less concerned.
Thor blinks, and laughs. “That, that was years ago!”
“Two years.” Loki looks at Thor as if he is analyzing him, for a long enough moment that you find yourself wishing you were not a bystander in this conversation. “But I’ll assume you’ve changed, as you say,” he adds with a sudden, wry smile. “And I’ll come, once my four concurrent crises have dissipated.”
Thor beams a broad and happy smile, claps Loki on the shoulder, and lets him leave.
He and you walk silently along the road together, bees buzzing in the blooming thyme that edges it. You have many questions, but merely ask, “Four crises?” You can only think of three: the curse, your father’s other attempts to infiltrate Jotunheim, and the Jotun rebellion.
“Well, I’ve been dreaming of Laufey,” Loki says, almost casually. “Rather more than is desirable.”
You look up at him, startled. “Because you bade him haunt you?”
“It began the first time I slept after so bidding him, but I’m sure it’s unconnected.” Loki’s tone is dry; he clearly does not deem it unconnected. You slip your hand into his, and nod as he asks you not to tell Helblindi of his ghost-ridden dreams.
Chapter 17: In Which Your Baby is Impetuous
You finish retouching the bust three days before you are to go to New Asgard for your baby’s birth. It has taken so long primarily because Loki has rarely had time to sit still and let you model it on him. He has been training his army, strengthening the castle, receiving ambassadors, hearing petitions, judging cases, rejudging cases after appeals. He goes through his royal duties as if he is running out of time; wise, since there is a chance your theory is false. But you cannot be calm if you think about that chance.
“There! Does it look like you now?” You turn its face toward the bed where Loki is lying, rather dreamily watching you polish it.
Loki rises, and bends to look at it properly. He picks it up and looks at every side of it. “As if it were a mirror,” he decides, and smiles at you. “You’re quite skillful, my love. When the time comes to build a monument, you’ll be the first sculptor I ask to design it.”
You blush happily, and then flinch at a sudden, painful cramping. Loki quickly sets the bust down where it was standing and touches your arm. “Are you unwell?”
“No,” you answer, because the pain is diminishing. Perhaps elves are not meant to eat kelp and sea-dragon stew, which is what you supped on. You set the bust on an empty shelf and then hug its model because he is watching you with such undisguised love. He wraps his arms around you, holding you as you bury your face against his shoulder.
Only three days until the baby will be born. Only three days until you will know all too certainly whether or not your plan will circumvent your father’s curse. You wish more than you can say that you were certain it will. If it does not defeat the curse, then Loki will die two weeks earlier than otherwise. Anxiety and rage against your father throb through you.
“Try not to fret, my love,” Loki tells you. His fingers trace your tense shoulder-blades. “This is a comedy, not a tragedy, and the last act of a comedy is invariably happy.”
You nod, trying not to think about how entirely uncertain his statement is. “We still need to name the new player who will be entering the scene,” you say, managing to smile.
“If he’s a son,” Loki notes. If the baby is female, she has been named Frigga for the last fortnight.
“If he’s a son.”
A pleasant hour of name-discussing ensues, only slightly marred by your intermittent cramps. You fall asleep in the middle of debating the name “Narfi.”
Four hours later, three hours after midnight, you ascertain that you must reach New Asgard posthaste. “I’ll send Isa to help you prepare,” Loki says, and darts out of the room before you can ask why he is not simply leading you to the portal. You throw on a cloak, gasping as another contraction arrives. You never, never feared the baby would attempt to come before the surgery….
Images of the baby being born here, or in the portal, flick through your mind, now and then giving way to Loki collapsing, Loki as still as the bust you just finished...You drop your stockings three times as you try to put them on, and do not even consider brushing your hair. Your heart pounds from anxiety more than from pain.
You are trying to pull your shoes on when Isa trots in, her hair impossibly messy. “Let me help you, my lady.” Gratefully, you sit on the bed while she slips short boots onto your feet and laces them. It is hard to bend, feeling like this.
“Have you seen Loki?” you ask.
“Yes, my lady, that’s why I’m here.” You waver as you stand up, and she grips your arm to steady you.
“No, after that,” you say, and then realize that that does not even make sense. “I’m sorry, Isa. I don’t know what I’m saying.”
Isa chuckles, and pats your arm. Before she can say anything, the door swishes open and Loki hurries in, snow on his hair and blue arms. “Ready, my love?” His eyes are bright, but he does not look alarmed, despite his life being at risk. He looks--but then a contraction dawns and then you are hurrying through the palace with him, and you cannot remember what metaphor your mind was making.
The portal, finally, and a surprise standing in front of it. Thor--not the Asgardian one, Loki’s tame creature--blinks and scratches what probably is her ear with her enormous back claws. “Let’s hope the Asgardians aren’t peering out their windows,” Loki says wryly, lifting you onto her back. A chess game; that’s the metaphor. He looks as if he is playing chess, and is well aware that he might either lose or win. He vaults up behind you and holds you tightly as Thor-the-creature gambols straight into the portal.
She gallops faster through it than you thought she could, and you are glad Loki is holding onto you so tightly. Starry sky and dark hills are a blur before houses are a faster one. Lights appear in the blur, a man yells from a window, a woman screams from one, a child laughs. The wind roars past you as another pain cramps you, and you close your eyes.
Thor-the creature stops as if her claws had frozen to the ground. Loki lifts you and leaps off the creature, and halts just long enough to look back at her. “Go home, Thor.” She sniffs, spins (wrenching awry the healers’ fence with her tail), and hurtles away down New Asgard’s road. Most of the windows are golden now with lamps lit by curious Asgardians.
The next ten minutes are a blur. The two healers who are responsible for patients who visit this night spring to their feet and begin talking into devices. Doors slam and vehicles zoom outside and screech to halts and people, half in day attire and half in night attire, rush into the building and talk to each other. They talk to you too, but you don’t think of the fact that you are supposed to answer them.
A sense of chaos.
More pain than you have ever felt.
Fear lest the baby come before they are ready for surgery.
Ten minutes after you came, you are lying down, eyes closed tightly, clinging to Loki’s hand, vaguely aware that they are either going to numb you or render you unconscious. You don’t care which, as long as they do it soon enough. Your fingers tighten around Loki’s as you feel something that might be a needle but at which you most certainly are not going to look. “Stay,” you whisper, and though you do mean during your surgery, even more you mean after the birth. Stay alive.
“Of course, my dearest,” Loki says softly, the last thing you hear before becoming entirely unconscious.
Vehicles hurtling past. It is a sound you have never awoken to before, and you open your eyes, bewildered. Why does a checkerboard of warmthless, glowing squares cover the ceiling? Why does the room smell as if it is a stronghold against plants and breezes? Where--where is Loki, where are Loki and your baby ?
You turn your head and see them. Loki is sitting in a red-cushioned chair beside your bed, looking down at a very small baby swaddled in a blanket and cradled in his arms. Only its face shows, and one arm lifted, fragile fingers reaching up towards its father. Loki smiles, gazing at the baby as if nothing quite so sublime has ever existed in the Nine Realms or out of them. He touches the palm of its minuscule hand, and the baby curls its fingers around his, and sneezes. Its nose looks almost too small for a sneeze to come out of,
Amusement widens Loki’s smile, and he looks at you as he tends to do when something diverting has happened. His brows rise happily as he sees you awake, and he says your name. “The healers said you wouldn’t awaken for an hour, my love.”
“Maybe their potion works differently on elves?” But neither of you really cares why you woke a little early. The baby is born, and all three of you are alive, and it is like being travelers who watched an avalanche sliding toward them and then curving and spilling past them rather than over them.
Loki stands and carefully lays the baby on your chest. You set a hand on its warm, blanketed little back, and gaze into eyes that might be green in a few months. “Hello, little one,” you whisper, and almost laugh and almost cry when the response is a silent yawn. There is no tint of blue in your baby’s skin--though that very well could change, in a colder place than this room--but the pattern on your husband’s face when he is in his Jotun form is almost replicated, and the hair that wisps out of the edges of the blanket is black. A very dainty baby. You look up at Loki. “She?” you guess, almost certain.
He smiles, and sits on the edge of the wide bed. “She. She’s stronger than the healers expected.” A fold of her blanket is coming unwrapped, and he tucks it back in before caressing your cheek. “How do you fare, dearest?”
You try to think of how to phrase your answer, which takes many moments since you are distracted by your baby wiggling. You put your other hand on her back too, to make sure she doesn’t roll off your chest, even though she would simply land on the mattress if she did. “Rather as if I sat staring at sunlight on snow and then stood up extremely fast, but overjoyed.”
Loki laughs softly, and bends to kiss you.
Chapter 18: In Which There are Happy Endings
The malfunctioning portal from the highest peak near New Asgard to Alfheim jitters frenetically. Under a pale grey sky, Loki stands in the snow in front of it, hands palms up as if he is giving it a peaceful greeting, his back toward where you stand between Helblindi and Thor. Thor is holding Frigga, six months old and very fickle; he has only been holding her for two minutes before she stretches her little hands out towards Helblindi. “You don’t want to leave your uncle, do you?” Thor protests fondly, tickling the side of her neck.
“AaaAA!” Frigga answers, and wiggles decisively, stretching her arms out toward Helblindi as far as they can go.
“I’m also her uncle,” Helblindi notes, looking down at Thor with neither friendliness nor hatred. Thor almost shrugs, and lets him pick Frigga up. She giggles, puts most of her hand into her mouth, and then applies it (very slobbery) to Helblindi’s cheek, where it becomes blue.
Thor glances at where Loki is still, presumably, attempting to mend the portal. It is a work nobody else here has an inkling of how to accomplish. He looks back at Helblindi and adjusts his stance. “Is it cold enough for you here?”
“For the present,” Helblindi interrupts his own babbling at Frigga to say. His red eyes narrow as giggling Frigga holds her blue hands out to Thor, but he gives her back, as she wishes.
You wonder if she plans to be handed back and forth between her two uncles indefinitely. Fickle? Fair? Fond of shifting to and from blue? Her mercuriality
would amuse you, if they were not staring at each other with increasing jealousy. You hold out your gloved hands for her, and Thor lets you take her. “I’ll ask Loki how his efforts are prospering,” you say, and carry Frigga towards where Loki is still standing, facing the portal. As you walk through the clumping snow, you pass the two Jotun warriors and three Asgardian warriors who stand waiting, looking bored. The terms of this meeting were that every king could bring three warriors, and Loki brought Byleister as one of his three.
“Stay a few feet back, my love,” Loki warns you without turning around. You obey. “The portal’s been sending out small sparks.”
“Bababa!” Frigga comments, and you kiss the top of her head.
“Do you think my father is sabotaging it?” you ask quietly. He asked for this inter-realm meeting about a month after the celebrations that proclaimed to all Nine Realms that the Princess Frigga Lokisdottir had been born--and, indirectly, that her father was still alive--but perhaps he asked for it to waste Loki and Thor’s time, rather than to sign a treaty.
Loki shakes his head. “No, I would sense that. No use of this portal has been recorded in centuries; possibly some incompetant magician attempted to use it and warped it….” He folds his arms, and the portal lessens to flashes of light above the snow. “I cannot mend it from this side; we’ll wait another hour or two and give the Elves a chance to clarify it.” He turns and smiles at you. “Are you warm enough, dearest?”
You nod, returning his smile. “Yes. And Frigga has been making your brothers jealous of each other; she keeps changing her mind about which of them she wants to hold her.”
Loki laughs, eyebrows rising. “Don’t you dare start another war between Asgard and Jotunheim, daughter!” he warns her.
“AAAAAAAA!” Frigga yells. It sounds far too much like a war cry.
Loki takes her from you, still laughing. “I see I’ll need to teach you diplomacy, my dear. Before or after eating from a spoon?”
Frigga doesn’t answer. Instead she reaches up and grabs a lock of her father’s hair and pulls on it.
So suddenly that you start, the portal glows again, light as green as cats’ eyes and spring birch leaves and as white as snow. The Elves are coming. Your father is coming. Anxiety twists through you. “Are you sure the spell you cast to protect us hasn’t faded?” you whisper, hugging Frigga after Loki hands her back to you.
“Entirely sure, my dearest.”
Your father’s elegant boot protrudes from the portal and the rest of him follows it. You subtly move closer to Loki, and force yourself to look your father in the eyes. He has not changed since you ran away from him and he cursed you. Still sumptuous. Still wishing to punish you, still wanting your husband dead so he can use Jotunheim. But you have ended that scheme, and Loki will protect you and Frigga from any spells your father might pitch from his graceful, ringed hands. He looks away from you and at Loki, whom he studies from head to foot, presumably wondering how he broke his spell.
Formal introductions, formal greetings, Thor glaring at your father, and then Loki begins to read the treaty aloud that you are gathered here to sign, now and then brushing snowflakes off the vellum. “We the undersigned kings give our word that we do and forever will recognize the Lady Frigga Lokisdottir as heir to the throne of Jotunheim. We pledge to recognize the Lady Frigga Lokisdottir as heir to the throne of Asgard, should Thor, King of Asgard, die without issue; and as heir to the throne of Alfheim, should the King of Alfheim die without a son.” Loki pauses, and continues: “If we do aught to jeopardize her claim or to disturb the piece between two or all of our realms, may Those Who Sit Above in Shadow judge us, may the Norns spin our fates from tangled thread, and may Yggdrasil refuse to shade us.”
All are silent. Loki brushes thin snow from a flat-topped boulder and sets the vellum down on it. His fingers come together, and a long black quill slides out of green light and is between them. He writes the four runes of his name, and holds the quill out to you with a slight smile--at which precedence your father looks offended. You write your name under Loki’s, and hand the quill to Thor. Your father draws in his breath sharply. When Thor has signed the treaty and hands the quill to him, he signs his name so heavily that you wonder if he’s trying to engrave the stone through the vellum, and so illegibly that you are glad more than a dozen people are eyewitnesses of his signing. Helblindi, prince rather than king or queen, signs last, his runes small and square.
Loki rolls the vellum, and it vanishes in a flash of green light. “For transport,” he notes, since both Thor and your father look as if they deem that an unorthodox way to store a formal document. “It shall be added to the archives of Jotunheim upon our return.” Those archives comprise one shelf of stone tablets; but Loki has had another shelf built, and you have no doubt that more vellum and perhaps paper will join the small roll.
“I must return to my realm; I left several great matters in the lurch to sign this...treaty,” your father says. “I bid you farewell.” He raises his hand and turns, silk cape swirling, and strides toward the portal, the three Elves who accompanied him following him. Both Loki and Thor coldly return his farewell, but he does not look back at them. He is only a step away from the portal when his hand subtly moves, as if he were pitching an invisible ball behind him and up, toward you and Frigga.
One of his spells.
Sharply, you turn, so your back is to the spell and your body shields your baby; in the fear of seeing that familiar pain-flinging, you forget that Loki has shielded you. You remember a moment later, when you feel no pain, and turn back--and see your father fall ungracefully onto his back, blood jetting from his nose.
“I am well!” he cries, stumbling to his feet. You watch, shocked. Did Loki cast a spell on him? “Merely--” He gasps for air and is silent for a long moment, bent over, as blood drains from his nose onto the snow. Two Elves are steadying him. “Merely unsuited to the varieties of pollen borne by this realm’s winds.”
“Allergies,” Thor says informatively, not hiding his grin well.
“Do you require assistance?” Loki inquires, stepping around the blood puddle.
“No! No, I do not,” your father answers. He coughs as more blood drizzles from his nose, and then all but scuttles toward the portal and vanishes. The Elf who was not already at his side follows him.
Thor bursts into laughter, leaning on Stormbreaker. “Did you do that, Loki?”
The corner of Loki’s mouth rises. “I cast a spell to protect my wife.” He gives you a smile, which you return as you stand holding Frigga, who is falling asleep, and quietly contemplating the fact that the spell your father cast that almost killed your husband is the last spell he will ever cast on you. “One that reflected his spell and returned it to him, thrice as potent.” He walks over to you and lightly puts his hand on your arm, looking from your face to Frigga’s and back again. “You’re both unhurt, my love?”
“Because of you.”
He smiles at you, eyes fond. “I have a few matters to discuss with Thor, and then we’ll return to Jotunheim.”
You sit on the flat rock on which the treaty was signed, cradling Frigga, who is deeply, serenely asleep. Loki and Thor talk a few yards away. You could overhear them if you tried, but you do not try to. Instead, you hum to Frigga until Helblindi wanders toward you and smiles down at her.
“Are you content with her being the heir?” you ask gently and rather impulsively. “If I may ask.”
Helblindi’s smile widens. “I never wanted to be king, sister. I am content. And--I have not yet told my brother--I am planning to wed.”
Your eyes widen with surprise. “Whom?” You did not know he was wooing a maiden.
“Olga Vésdottir. She plays the harp.” His cheeks blush dark blue. “I’ve wished to wed her for months, but I could not, haunted by Laufey. But I have asked her and her father, yesterday, and they have given their consent.”
“I wish you joy!” You reach up and pat his gigantic blue arm with your gloved hand, smiling. “Will she come live in the palace? Perhaps we could become friends.”
“She will, if my brother is pleased by the idea. She wishes to meet you--she’s only seen you from a distance, and is curious what manner of beings Elves are.”
You laugh, quietly so you don’t wake Frigga up. “I’ll try to explain us...though we are assorted.”
Helblindi waits until the four of you have returned to Jotunheim before asking if he may speak with Loki. While they talk, you take Frigga to your room . She is still asleep, to Isa’s disappointment. Isa has been teaching Frigga how to play peek-a-boo, and was hoping to continue teaching her as soon as you returned from Midgard.
Loki spent several of the hours during which he normally carries out his kingly duties in Midgard, and now he is making up for it. By the time he comes Frigga has awakened, been fed, and been taught peek-a-boo, and has fallen asleep again. Isa has gone to her own room. You sit in front of the fire, legs crossed, watching the flames shapeshift and twiddling a wood shaving between your fingers. Though you are far calmer now than you were before Frigga’s delivery and Loki’s survival of it, you are anxious about Loki’s peace of mind. Is he as contented as he has seemed for the last four months, since you returned from recovering (and hiding) in New Asgard? Or is he haunted? You restlessly change which of your legs is on top of the other, pondering the possibility that Loki is still having nightmares.
The door opens, almost silently, and Loki slips in, moving as quietly as you guess he would were he tracking someone. He hangs up his snow-flecked cloak as you rise, and takes you in his arms and kisses you, his eyes calm and fond. Would he look so serene if he were still having ill dreams about the father he shattered? You return his kiss and hug him close, though he is snow-sprinkled and his leather and metal armor feels frigid through your woolen gown. “Have you eaten, my love?” you ask, as quietly as you can without whispering.
“I have.” He looks towards Frigga’s cradle, where she is sleeping and looking extremely small, and smiles. His gaze returns to you. “And I’ve learned that we are soon to gain a sister-in-law--as I believe Helblindi told you?”
“I’m glad. He’s very much in love with…” You hesitate, trying to remember her name.
“Olga Vésdottir,” Loki says, without uncertainty. “Yes.” He falls silent and caresses your cheek, tracing your smile lines. “You’re worried about me, dearest. Why?”
Wonderingly, you shake your head; he is stupendously perceptive. “You told me you have ill dreams,” you say quietly, “and you haven’t told me you’ve ceased to have them. Everyone is happy now, and...I was fretting that maybe you are the only one who is still strained.”
Loki smooths your hair, his eyes tender as he listens to you. “Don’t fear that, my love. I still dream of him, but rarely--too seldom to make my happiness with you and our daughter flicker, let alone extinguish it.” Softly, he kisses you again, and you hold each other close as snowflakes from tonight’s installment of Jotunheim’s serial blizzards melt from its king’s greaves and breastplate and soak into its queen’s gown.