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The Fruit of Barren Lands

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The village, they said, was dying.

Bereft of yet another birther, who died after bearing her hundredth child, the people now relied on the lone fertile omega who was of age. Whether he was born sickly or had become so after an unending strain on his slender young body, no one remembered anymore. He was beautiful, and bore beautiful babies. Yet not all of them lived. Only a scant few of them were omegas like him; and it would be years yet before they would even approach childbearing age.

A litany of alpha offspring drew disappointed sighs when their legs were parted to reveal, not the desired organs, but those that were destined to spill wasted seed without wombs to take it. As much as they were cherished, each one seemed to seal the fate of a people destined to die with each birth that did not yield the desired fruit.

When a dusty traveller crossed the path of this barren hamlet, seeking a resting place for the looming night, he found his arrival greeted with an air of desperation. They had not had new blood in a century.

This traveller was, in fact, more than he appeared to be. But his was a past left behind with little hope of retrieval. These days he sought only to sustain himself by whatever means left to him; he had been a blacksmith, a mercenary, a messenger. Right now, he was only a passer-by in search of a place to rest and water his horse and slake his own thirst, perhaps fill his belly with a hearty morsel or two.

Finally, realising he was no saviour bearing gifts, the villagers melted away in regret. Only Gerdr, the village head, felt obliged to greet him with some warmth and welcome him to the nearest place of respite. 

“Doubtless you will find our fare meagre,” said Gerdr as she sat with him at a shabby but tidy tavern. Her silvery hair was parted into long, thick braids framing a regal face that had seen better days. “Two-day-old bread and what meat our poor cows can spare. We are running low on strong young backs to till the fields and raise livestock.”

“I will take no more than what I need to sustain me, and compensate you well for it,” Thor replied.

“You would do better to compensate us with a fertile omega; we would reward you with bushels of our finest grain. Whatever is left of it.”

“If I knew one who was willing, I would.” He chewed on the hard rye, washing it down with watered-down mead. “I heard you are down to but one.”

“Aye, and he will not last much longer being our only.”

Thor’s curiosity grew ever stronger, for he had heard stories of this fabled vessel of life from which sprung forth tall, beautiful children. “May I pay him a visit?” 

Her eyes narrowed. “If you are seeking to take your pleasure with him, I would welcome it – save that he is already with child, and we cannot allow needless strain on his body.” 

“I promise: I wish only to look upon him. That is, if he permits it.”

She rose. “It is not his permission you must seek, but that of Thiassi, his guardian. I shall present you to him as assurance of goodwill. But be warned: any word of untoward acts, and I myself will have you punished.”

They walked some distance to where a domed dwelling ringed by a once-thriving garden was guarded by a hulking personage whose cloak of eagle feathers proclaimed him to be of some authority. Thor noticed that despite its modest plain walls, it was the finest and most meticulously tended abode as far as his eye could see. Clearly, he thought, the rare ability to bring forth life commanded a degree of privilege for its rarity here. 

Thiassi moved to his side, obviously intent on watching him through the entire visit. The thought discomfited him; he felt as if he were an under-aged boy being chaperoned through an awkward courtship. He therefore waited until Gerdr was some distance away before slipping the giant a handful of coin. “I would much prefer to be alone,” he murmured. Thiassi grunted, but accepted the silver that sealed their understanding.

He lifted the massive bar on the door and Thor slipped past, wondering if it was so locked at all times. Surely the inhabitant was not a prisoner? The surprisingly well-appointed domicile suggested otherwise. At glaring odds with its outside world, these interiors were decked in cushioned furnishings and jewel-hued drapes. Somewhere a small water fountain tinkled and bubbled merrily. He wandered past the small antechamber and opened his mouth to announce his presence, when it occurred to him that he had not asked for a name.

How stupid of him! And why had Gerdr never mentioned it? There was nothing for it but to admit his inconsideration. He stopped at the door to what looked like a bedroom or a private chamber where this omega of repute must lie. “I am Thor, a traveller paying respects,” he called. “I have been allowed the privilege of a visit, yet I’m fool enough to not know your name. Will you let me in so we can be acquainted?”

He strained his ear for a reply, but heard only a soft keening. A sigh, perhaps, of someone just awakened. “Pardon my rudeness. Have I disturbed your sleep?”

“Who are you?” said a surprisingly small, hoarse voice.

“My name is Thor,” he answered, entering the bedchamber. “May I have yours?”

The light from the door he had pushed open cast light onto the slender figure lying on its side on a bed too large for it, and Thor gasped at the clink of chains – the fetters securing both slender ankles to the bedposts.

“I am Loki,” came the answer, defensive. “And I am already with child.”

Loki shrank away from Thor when he approached. “I mean you no harm,” he insisted when he saw the fear that rose in the limpid green eyes. It seemed the lovely omega – for lovely indeed he was, with fine curving cheekbones and lips like petals and wavy ink-black hair that fell over shapely shoulders – did not believe him, moving as far as the chains would allow. Thor saw with growing dread another two chains snaking from the thin wrists (and they were indeed thinner than was healthy) to the heavy wooden posts above.

He kicked out at Thor before the latter could get too near before collapsing back onto the pillows, as if the effort had exhausted him. The light caught the curve of his belly; he looked to be at least five moons pregnant.

“I am with child,” he repeated with a sob as Thor leant over him. 

“I’m not here to try and plant one in you. Please, believe me.”

“You…you are not here to take your pleasure?” 

“Not unless you wish me to. I promise. I will not even touch you, if you so fear me. But you have no reason to.” The traveller’s heart grew heavy at the omega’s tears of relief, and the slightly waxen pallor he saw clearly now that he was close. Loki was ill. And yet he was in chains; and why?

Loki must have seen his eyes run over the fetters. “I will be the last of the fertile folk for at least the next twenty years, until my eldest omega-child comes of age,” he whispered. “For a good while, the council honoured me with a luxurious abode beyond what even the village chief has, and every creature comfort I could want. But when I finally refused to bear any more children, I was locked up in my own home. Countless alphas forced themselves upon me to make me take their seed and turn it into babes that I was not allowed to nurse, or even to name.” The shapely shoulders shook with sobs. Tentatively, Thor put his arms around Loki, hoping to provide some small comfort.

“I have never known the children I bore after I was imprisoned here,” he wept. “As nameless and faceless as their sires. Although it was worse – far worse – when those who impregnated me were neighbours, or friends, cousins. Strangers I could bear; even those who were rough and who hurt me. Of course, my body was precious enough that no real harm was allowed, and anyone who tried was thrown out and punished. Thiassi, the giant who stands guard outside – he watches it all. There is not a rape he has not witnessed.”

The bile of disgust embittered the back of Thor’s throat. And to think he had shook hands with the man and slipped him coins. His arms tightened protectively around Loki, who shrunk away from his hold.

“Loki, please. I’m not here to hurt you.” 

“Not now. You will, eventually. Everyone does.” Loki’s breathing was shallow; his eyelids drooped as his head fell back. 

“Not I,” Thor vowed. He clasped Loki’s slim fingers in his own large hands. “I will ask permission to tend to you. You are not well.” 

A joyless smile crossed those shapely lips, miraculously soft despite the suffering it had bit back for so long. “No need. Someone will see to me before long. I cannot be allowed to die. Even if I wished it.”

With that, Loki fell silent. His breathing evened out, and Thor left him to his slumber, gently pulling the silken quilted blanket around him. He struggled to calm his raging heart enough to plot a rescue. Come what may, he must remove Loki this place, before the endless births drained him to death. Before he had to suffer one more rape in the name of a greater good.

He would doom an entire village, and do it gladly.

  

*

 

Once, he had been a great warrior-prince, with an army at his command. Before the foolish haste of youth and the needless loss of lives that followed had deemed him unworthy. He had been cast out, and lost the mantle of future kinghood as well as the allegiances that came with it. 

But he had a few loyal allies left. Hogun, Volstagg and Fandral, three warriors who had fought by his side since they were old enough to wield playswords; and his once-betrothed, the fearsome shieldmaid Sif, who would have ruled by his side as queen and was proud as one still. 

They came when he summoned, agreeing, with varying degrees of reluctance, to hatch a plan of attack. Fandral alone was raring for such a noble pursuit from the get-go. But then, he had always been as reckless as he was an incurable rake.

They were only five. But each were mighty, and battle-honed. In the dead of night they crept into the village and slew those who stood in their way. Thiassi was a deadly fighter, but he was no match against them.  Hogun’s spiked club was buried in his head at the same time that his belly spilled its guts to Sif’s twin swords. As Thor broke into Loki’s abode, he narrowly missed a flaming arrow loosed by a furious Gerdr.

“Watch for the arrows!” he called. Just as he reached Loki, who had been awakened by the commotion outside, he felt a wave of heat engulf them. The house was on fire. Smoke began to infiltrate the windows as he broke the manacles and carried Loki away. Thick grey fumes  filled the place as flames licked at brocade cushions and costly tapestries. The doorway was blocked by Thiassi’s dead body; it took all three of the warriors to move it, while Sif fended off more attacking villagers.

Loki coughed weakly against his chest. “You are a fool,” he said with a crooked smile. Thor smiled back, and realised with a leap of his heart that he was in love. The world seemed to stand still for a moment.

Then Fandral’s whistle broke the air as Sif kicked him in the shin. “You can exchange marriage vows later! Now move!”

And move they did, riding hard with a trail of bodies and a burning house behind them. Doubtless Gerdr would have her vengeance. Thor could not let that worry him now, concerned though he was for his steadfast companions. He would find a way to deliver the chief of a ruined village his message. Let her bring demands for recompense to him alone. She would find that cruelty was not repaid in gold or roses. 

For now, bathed in the glow of triumph – “Just like old times,” sang the red-bearded Volstagg – they rode on until Loki’s increasingly wan, drawn face began to worry Thor, and stopped at an inn run by Eir, a former shieldmaid whom Fandral had been in love with for years.

“You again,” was her sharp greeting when she saw his beaming face.

“Aye, my love, but this time I bring a rescue troop. We are on our way from a noble mission, delivering a captive to safety.”

 “We seek your kind hospitality, Mistress Eir,” Thor added. “And your renowned healing skills, besides.”

Eir looked upon Loki, leaning heavily against Thor. “An omega. If I can smell him, so can my alpha patrons – of which there are quite a few. And at least one of them is on heat.”

Loki bit back an instinctive whimper at this knowledge. “Thor. Please. Let us stay somewhere else.”

“You cannot make it another mile, Loki. You need rest and nourishment at least.”

“I’ll put you two in the uppermost room, where it’s safest. Assuming you have the coin for it. And the rest of you can have the quarters flanking it.”

Fandral bowed deeply. “We thank you, most beautiful and gracious lady.” To this, she only snorted.

It was near dawn when they fell asleep, Volstagg’s snores so loud they could be heard from two rooms away. It was not the snoring that woke Loki, however, but a growing restless urge that bloomed in place of the feebleness that had been plaguing him. He found himself strong enough for a walk through the corridors. The cold felt good on his warm skin.

He turned to go back to bed – and was assaulted by a strong wave of musk. The stench of an alpha in heat. Too late, he recalled Eir’s words of caution. Before he could flee, he found himself pinned to the nearest wall by a tall, hulking beast of a man whose eyes gleamed with lust and whose breath made him faint with the weight of its want. Its hunger for his flesh, his sex, everything he had to give. 

“I’m not seeking to mate,” he stammered.

“ButI am.” Large bright teeth; a smile like a knife in the dark. “And you are the prettiest thing I ever laid eyes on.” The man leaned down to sniff at his neck before licking the curve of his clavicle. Loki groaned and recoiled, and kneed him in the gut. 

A growl of wrath was followed by steel fingers grabbing his arm, another hand clamped over his mouth hard enough to impair his breathing. He felt the curve of an insistent cock against his own, pushing and seeking the slit beneath. “Let’s not play games now,” said his assailant. “You weren’t wandering about for a bout of stargazing. You need a good, proper fuck. And I’m happy to oblige.” 

Loki shouted his denial, which was lost in muffled grunts against the filthy palm holding his mouth shut. He squeezed his eyes shut as his clothes were torn away and a rough hand explored the crevices of his body. It will be over soon, he told himself. He was not exactly new to this; if anything, he had years of experience to tide him through. Let him have his way. It’s always less painful without a fight –

A roar like thunder shook the very rafters. His attacker looked away to see Thor standing at the end of the corridor, eyes blazing, hair standing on end with protective rage. Loki pushed his knee right into the crotch before it and rolled away, crawling into a corner just before Thor’s fists did hasty work of making an unrecognisable mess of the man’s face. The ruckus drew several boarders to the scene, still half asleep or wide-eyed with curiosity. It wasn’t long before Eir stood before the bloody spectacle with her mouth set in a grim line.

“You’d better pray that man stays alive, Odinson, or I’m kicking you out,” she threatened. “I work hard to keep this place murder-free.” He winced at the use of his patronymic, sounding all too much like a mockery of his former status as royalty. He was descended from an illustrious line of war generals and kings. Would his father, Odin, have approved of his rash and violent chivalry – or shaken his head in disappointment again? 

“He was about to force himself on Loki, who is both ill and with child.” Thor turned to see the same words on the tip of his tongue being delivered by Hogun. The warrior’s face was stone, as usual, immovable even when Thor turned on him. 

“You saw all of it, and did nothing?”

“I was about to strangle him, actually, which would have made less noise than punching.”

The fallen alpha groaned and managed, with some struggle, to pick himself off the floor. His nose and jaw would likely never be in the same place again. “Clean yourself up,” Eir told him with disgust. “And then you can pack up and leave. I don’t tolerate rape any more than murder in my house.”

It seemed the drama was over when he disappeared around the corner after muttering impotent threats. But then a sharp cry drew everyone’s attention. Loki, gone even paler than usual, swayed and clutched his swollen belly. “Thor,” he gasped. “I…I’m going to…”

“It can’t be due yet??” exclaimed Volstagg.

“He’s going to lose it,” Sif beside him whispered.

And indeed, a trickle of blood was running down Loki’s thigh, visible where his tunic had been ripped by the lust-ridden alpha. The trickle became a river as he cried out again and collapsed in Thor’s arms. 

“Will you help him?” he pleaded with the innkeeper. 

Eir was no midwife, but she knew enough to staunch the alarming flow of blood leaving Loki’s body along with the tragically half-formed thing he finally pushed out of his womb after hours of struggling and sobbing. Thor tried to hide it from view, but not quickly enough; Loki laid eyes on the tiny limbs and head and wailed at the sight before mercifully passing out.

He did not wake for a long time. Thor emptied spoon after spoon of medicinal liquids down his throat according to Eir’s instructions, murmuring tender words that perhaps went largely unheard; although on occasion Loki would respond with delirious mumblings that peaked as his face and neck grew fever-hot. Once or twice he woke gasping like a fish on land, his skin like fire to the touch. Thor had to strip him down and cover him in rags soaked in cold water until his heated tossing calmed and he began instead to shiver. He begged for blankets and warmth. Thor, knowing it would only worsen the fever, grit his teeth against the pain of having to refuse Loki’s pleas.

It was another day before the heat subsided, only to be replaced with a disquieting, deathly stillness that compelled Thor – who refused to let anyone take over Loki’s care – to sleeplessly hover over him and make sure he was breathing.

On the third day of his convalescence he woke to emptiness and the news that his womb would never be filled again. To save him, both his unborn child and the ability to bear more had been sacrificed. He stared at the wooden beams of the ceiling and felt a wave of misery competing with the great numbness hollowing him out.

“Think of it as a new beginning,” Thor urged him. “Your life is your own now.”

“My life has been shaped to one purpose only,” he answered, his voice a dry husk. “Now it is lost forever.” 

“Then we shall find you a new one. For now, it is enough that you live, and the world is not deprived of your beauty.”

Thor kissed him then. It was a shock – he could not recall being kissed by any other than his own sire. With the last days of his childhood his memories of tenderness had all but died. A string of bodies using his were his strongest recollections, only a few of them truly pleasurable. He should be crying tears of joy at this reawakening of his senses. Instead, he felt oddly unworthy.

“Why do you love a broken thing?” 

Thor’s soft, generous lips turned downward in dismay at these words. “You are not a thing, Loki. Nor are you broken. And if you were, it would not make me love you less.”

“But…” 

“Shhh.” Thor cradled him and covered his forehead, his cheek, his lower lip with kisses so tender it made him ache. Misery and need and a mewling creature within starved of love made him cling to Thor like a limpet beaten again and again by ruthless waves, hanging on for life, refusing to drown. He wept for the child he had lost: a child he would have had the chance to nurse, to name, to raise as his own. A life valued for more than what lay between its legs. 

He wept for his own life, taken from him the moment he had come of age. Filled and emptied again and again like nothing more than a vessel, until finally he himself was as barren as the land he had left behind, the only remnants of his existence lying in ashes. 

When he could cry no more, Thor lay down beside him and wrapped him in a soothing embrace. He wondered what it would be like to have those hands touching him. Stroking him to pleasure. He could barely imagine it; he did not dare. For now, it was enough for both of them to leave their hopeless pasts behind and find tomorrow in each other’s arms.