Chapter 1: Prelude
Odin studied the warriors on the field. The stone under his hands was worn from dozens of centuries of his family standing in this exact place to oversee the training. Being of Asgard was not for the faint of heart. One learned to occupy oneself, for age alone would not incur new experiences.
But age, in his case, haunted him. He was tired. He’d tried to hand off the throne to Thor, to give himself a precious few years of peace with his queen. But Thor had not been ready.
He tried now to pretend Frigga was merely in another room, not lost to him until he reached the Halls of Valhalla. Frigga would have known what to do with these fractious sons of theirs. Had he rebelled so fiercely against his own father? Odin could not remember.
Though Loki’s trust had been lost years ago, Thor’s wariness was unmistakable. His sons were not quite united against him, but he sensed they were not far from it. Had his boys became weak in his absence?
Perhaps only Thor had, for his besotted son had little to occupy him beyond his mortal wife and infant child. The powerful warrior was a pitiful creature with no more sense than a colt at the moment.
He berated himself. This time of transition needed strong fathers and sons. Frigga’s death and Thor’s treasonous acts--absconding with Jane against his explicit orders and freeing Loki from the prisons--had been more than Odin could bear in his weakened state. He’d been grasping for a solution when Loki appeared and offered him one.
His youngest son had been eager to take on the role of king, even in disguise. For all that Odin had been able to discretely investigate the boy had managed adequately enough—even if he had dismissed the Great Council in favor of having a handful of advisors. The war on Jotunheim had been fought and won. The Nine Realms still honored Asgard as the protectors.
But the time Loki had purchased for him had come at a price. None of this had gone according to his wishes.
And Thor was ready now. Though Thor’s betrayal had cut deep, it had proven that he was willing to do whatever was needed for the good of Asgard and the Nine Realms. But Odin had not expected Thor to leave Loki on the throne. And for what purpose? To pursue Jane Foster. The mortal had destroyed all of Odin’s plans for his son. Frigga was dead because of her. The creature attracted trouble wherever she went.
Odin knew he had not long for this world. His heart ached to be with his queen. But first, he would correct his mistakes.
Since his return, neither of the boys had done much for Asgard. Thor kept to his chambers. For that matter, Loki spent a great deal of time in his brother’s quarters too. The Asgardian citizens seemed to be at a loss for what to do with the younger son. With neither Odin nor Thor making apologies for the Loki’s reappearance, most of the Asgardians simply avoided him.
Odin crossed his arms, impatient for his sons to respond to his summons. The seed he’d planted after Laufey’s death had borne fruit.
Paired footsteps announced their arrival at last. Odin turned, noting the comfortable ease between them that had never existed in their youth. Not for the first time, he wondered what had passed to bring about such a thing. Loki, of course, had been less than forthcoming. Thor merely shrugged, advising his father to leave it be.
They walked with the same confidence, neither leading nor following. It occurred to Odin that Loki’s slavish bid for acceptance was gone. So was the mischievousness. Whatever this new personality was, Odin did not know. There was a stillness about Loki that bothered him more than the former ever had.
And what did Jane Foster have to do with this? Loki accorded Thor’s young wife with a respect Odin could not share. Odin had only to look upon Jane to see Frigga lying on the stone floor. Bitterness and grief flared. How in Valhalla had Thor managed to sire a child on such a creature? The Nine Realms would be destroyed by having such a weak thing take the throne. Odin could not allow Thor’s infatuation to bring down Asgard.
Neither of his sons accorded him much formality as they strolled to his side, but once they approached, Thor and Loki straightened. “All-Father,” they said in unison, according him proper salutes with fists to the heart. Odin was mollified and let out a soft chuckle. They’d done that since they were waist high or less.
“How fare my sons on this day?”
They exchanged glances. Thor spoke first. “It is good, Father.”
Loki lifted a shoulder. “Rather boring, if one must know.”
“You were never one for idleness, Loki. I think I did not keep you busy enough as a child, for you had far too much time on your hands for mischief. Perhaps you’ve had more to occupy your time in recent months.” Loki merely returned his look, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with his assessment.
Odin continued, “Loki, you know the Jotuns want you for their throne. It will not be easy, for that realm is poor and has been mismanaged through Laufey’s reign. It would be to your credit if you could bring about its renaissance.”
“If?” Loki admonished. “You drop a gauntlet hoping that I will pick up the challenge. I think you want me out of the way so you can put Thor on the throne of Asgard.”
“I’ve always wanted Thor on the throne. But I’d hoped you would be with him.”
Loki arched an eyebrow. “As what? An advisor?”
“As your mother did, leading the Great Council. A great many siblings have been powerful influences to the kings and queens of Asgard,” Odin remarked.
“But this is not, I think, for me,” said Loki, shaking his head.
“Then you wish to take the Jotun throne for yourself?”
Loki shrugged. “Until I find something better, it will serve.”
Thor chuckled. “I told you,” he said under his breath.
“Shut up, brother.” But a smile played around Loki’s lips.
Relieved, for Loki could have easily declined the throne on no more than a whim, Odin turned to his oldest. “Thor, when you were born, I created a weapon for you, one that you wield now with honor. I expect you will carry it as you rule Asgard.” Thor flexed his fingers, though Mjolnir wasn’t here.
Odin put his hand on Loki’s shoulder. Not a flicker of emotion crossed his son’s face. But Odin continued anyway, his heart breaking a little more at the loss of his youngest son’s affections. “I have been remiss in creating an equal symbol of power for you, Loki. Though you have carried other weapons in your quests, they have not belonged to you. Alas, I’ve not the strength to correct my error.”
He ordered, “I charge you, Thor, to create something worthy of the throne to which Loki will ascend. This will be his mark of his authority and he will pass it on to his children. It should be a symbol of Asgard in Jotunheim as a permanent reminder of Loki’s heritage.”
Thor scratched his beard. “I have not attempted something of this magnitude.”
“And I had not with Mjolnir. Nor have I done since,” Odin reminded Thor. “But you created the new Bifrost. It is much the same.”
Considering the directive, Thor nodded with a glance at his brother. “How much time do I have?”
Loki answered before Odin could. “Sooner, I think. I’m losing subjects daily.”
“Then I’d better go to it.” Thor flicked a glance at Odin. “Father?”
The impatient look said it all, as had Thor’s appeal to Loki. Odin had lost his oldest son’s regard. Perhaps he was a foolish old man now. “Create something magnificent, Thor.”
That arrogant smile flashed. “I already have, Father.” With that pointed reminder, Thor pivoted and left the balcony.
Loki gave Odin a polite nod. “Thank you, All-Father.” He followed his brother out, catching up long enough to sneer at his brother’s prowess.
Odin studied the pair as they traded insults all the way out of the grounds. He was glad for them, yet his heart ached.