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Larks Who Only Dream

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...Outside the sky waits,
Beckoning, beckoning,
Just beyond the bars.
How can you remain
Staring at the rain,
Maddened by the stars?
How is it you sing
Anything?

Ringdove and robinet,
Is it for wages,
Singing to be sold?
Have you decided it's
Safer in cages,
Singing when you're told?
My cage has many rooms,
Damask and dark;
Nothing there sings,
Not even my lark.
Larks never will, you know,
When they're captive
Teach me to be more adaptive.

Green Finch and Linnet Bird

-Stephen Sondheim

 

* * *

 

Carina hated slave fairs, having been sold at one herself.

It was true that the quality and general ambience differed from event to event. And this one was doubtless a much finer affair than the humble block off which she had been auctioned: in place of a ramshackle makeshift dais was a broad pedestal made of polished hardwood, overhung by a tent of rich fabric. Had she been displayed in such a manner, she would surely have fetched a higher price…

But there was no use in looking back. She was here now, in a vastly improved position compared to the one fate had left her in. Once a nameless drudge, now the leading Acquisition Agent to the man known to most only as The Collector.

She was also here because of a rumour. Insider information about a slave of particular beauty, alabaster-skinned and ink-haired, with eyes that lit like firegems in the dark.

The first shipment arrived; the sparse audience quickly thickened in response. But their enthusiasm quickly plateaued. Only a few slaves were worth looking at, and even fewer whose skills were of much practical use. A disappointment, considering the outward appearance that had advertised what it was failing to deliver. The heat was growing. Carina fanned herself impatiently and answered her master’s impatient holo-message with two words: Not yet.

By the time the next round of auctioning began, the sun was at its peak and the crowd around Carina was shifting impatiently. Her ears perked up at the sound of a tussle. It took a few seconds to register that the sounds were coming from the slave wagon. There was the furious tugging of chains, metallic clanking interwoven with the shouts of slavers barely restraining themselves from bruising the merchandise.

When he finally emerged, Carina knew she had been right to wait.

The silken spill of ink-dark hair was captivating against his fair shoulders and fairer face, whose beauty was only slightly marred by the standard issue steel gag for slaves who were prone to misbehaving (and biting). His lines were taut, his limbs slender and perfectly formed. And when he glared at the gawking crowd, his eyes were full of green fire.

This second batch of merchandise was led in by a different auctioneer than the last, and carried himself like a man who took pride in his curation. Tall and greying with a glacial gaze, he began his spiel without fanfare, enunciating each word like a scholar.

“Slave 206 hails from the fallen kingdom of Asgardur, home to some of the most skilled magic-workers and spellcasters you have ever witnessed. You see before you one of the best the realm has to offer. In fact, these cuffs” – he tapped the silvery wood encircling the slave’s wrists – “are specially made of elvenwood to keep him from breaking free. But freed of them, he can weave all manner of spells as well as very fine illusions. And his looks do not hurt either.”

The Asgardian growled. Unruffled, the auctioneer continued: “He is somewhat spirited, no doubt; but those who enjoy breaking in and training a servant will gain much pleasure from him. Come up and inspect him if you wish!”

Despite the keen hum surrounding her, most of the prospective buyers chose to hang back, discouraged by the clearly hostile Asgardian. Carina was one of a mere five who stepped up. It was not often you were allowed to check the quality of your purchase until after currency changed hands.

“Feel the smoothness of his skin; marble-hard yet pliant beneath. The softness and dark hue of his hair. Qualities most rare in the land he hails from, which makes him a great prize indeed. An asset to any household of rank, to any family of repute!”

The slave did not take well to having the fingers of an oily-looking merchant comb through his lustrous locks, but the magic-dampening cuffs kept him restrained. “And what are his skills?” the merchant enquired.

The auctioneer smiled and replied, loud enough for the crowd to hear: “Advanced spellcasting, kept under control by means of runes.” He indicated the tattooed sigils running down the slave’s bared back. “But what gives him true value is his training in the art of pleasure.”

The audience’s hum of interest grew. The auctioneer clapped twice loudly to ensure all attention was on him and the merchandise. “Attention, fine folk! You may say that skilled pleasure slaves are no rare thing (although you’d be wrong, as experienced traders will know); but what truly makes him magnificent is this…” He gestured to his assistants, who held the Asgardian in place and parted his short kilt to reveal a striking pair of genitalia. One male – finely shaped, with a slight curve – and one female, hidden until the cock was lifted to reveal the secret folds beneath.

“Marvellous,” the merchant muttered, one hand already stroking his credits transfer device.

Carina tapped her holo messenger. “Found him.” She captured a visual and sent it over.

The keenness in her master’s voice was palpable. “How much is he worth?”

“At least forty thousand.”

“He is beautiful.”

“The visual does not do him justice. He is just as you described.”

Her master all but sighed with lust. “A lost prince…a crown jewel.” His next words were sharper. “Do not let him go.”

Tears of outrage were building in the slave’s fiery eyes as his legs were forcefully parted and his nether regions displayed before the ever-growing crowd. It only made him lovelier.

The bidding began at ten thousand credits. It crept steadily to twelve, fifteen, thirty.

“Forty!” called a large bejewelled woman.

“Forty-five!”

“Fifty!” That was the oily-voiced merchant.

“Fifty-four!” said Carina.

“Give up, young lady. Sixty!”

Carina spoke into her holo. “Should I go above sixty-five?”

There was barely a moment’s pause. “Do it.”

“Seventy!” she hollered. To the merchant, she added, “Take a nap, old man.” He scowled.

Over the few seconds of silence, the auctioneer called: “Seventy thousand credits for the Asgardian sorcerer and pleasure-slave. Any other bidders?”

Her remaining rival seemed to be doing battle with himself as he choked out: “Seventy-one!”

“Seventy-two.” Carina’s voice was cool, but it cut him down like a reed. He fumed and slinked away.

The auctioneer smiled beatifically like a saint bestowing gifts. “Seventy-two thousand credits to this lady of taste!” He gestured to the slavers to prepare the Asgardian for transport. They slid a needle into his neck to deliver a sedating dose, waiting till the fire left his eyes and he swayed dizzily before removing the chains and gag.

She transferred the amount and gave the head slaver the address of delivery. “Make sure he arrives in excellent condition.”

“Of course, my lady.”

The slave’s eyelids fluttered prettily as he sank to his knees, the very picture of subservience. She bent down to meet his lovely visage. “What is your name?”

He would have defied her with silence, but the drug melted away his resistance. “Loki. Son of Odin.”

More words were forming on his tongue, but he fell unconscious before he could utter them, collapsing into the arms of the slaver who picked him up as if he weighed nothing. Carina felt a strange weight in her chest. She ignored it and turned her head, and walked away until the sounds of the slave auction faded from her ears.

 

~

 

He had been a prince, and the highest-ranking sorcerer in the kingdom. Feared by many, beloved by a few. One of those few was Thor Odinson: his brother-lover, the king in waiting and most glorious of Asgardur’s warriors . As different in appearance as the sun was to the moon, Thor was broad of shoulder and golden-haired; a lion of a man whose booming voice was music to Loki’s ears. Only Thor the Thunderer, it was said, could tame the royal sorcerer. Only when Thor’s arms were around him, buried to the hilt inside him, was his magic rendered useless as spells died on his tongue, killed by the haze of bliss and surrender.

They had grown up side by side in a world where their every need was met, growing ever closer as two blossoming flowers whose stems were intertwined. They needed nothing from any other, for in each other’s arms and lips they found pleasure that none could match.

The time would come eventually when Thor was made to choose a mate not of his own blood, to sire the future royal progeny of Asgardur. In rebellion he marched off to war instead. The crown prince turned warlord left his brother only a letter of lovelorn apology and a lock of his hair before leading the charge against the invading forces of Nidavellir, whose dwarven race was rising up against the oppression of Asgardian rule.

He never returned from the battle. But the battle came to the golden gates of the high castle, slaying the watch and the guards, storming every chamber worth pillaging. Loki was one of the few left standing. Surrounded by fallen sorcerers, he fought with every ounce of wile and wit and force until he was all but drained. By the time the last spark left his fingertips, he had slain a small army’s worth of dwarves. But it would not save him from the wrath of the ones who remained.

“Surrender, sorcerer,” said General Eitri, pressing a spear to his throat.

Loki thought of Thor lying somewhere far away, soaked in his own blood, and nearly wept even as he hardened his gaze. “Kill me.”

He stepped forward to drive himself into the spear’s edge, but someone pulled him back while another bound his wrists with enchanted chains. At their enervating effect he crumpled to the floor.

“You’re much more valuable alive, little concubine.”

“I am no concubine.”

“Are you not the pleasure servant of the mighty Thor, king in waiting?”

One of the dwarves spat on him. “He’s less than that. Merely a whore-prince who spreads his legs for his own brother.”

“Ahh, a brother fucker. We’ll show him what we with those in Nidavellir…”

He could barely rise to his feet, let alone fight, in his drained state while bound by their chains. So instead he stared with empty eyes at the ceiling as they pushed apart his thighs and took him by force, one by one, bruising and splitting him apart and defiling him vengefully. They had not been bad men by nature, but long years of war had made them cruel. They took special delight in the dual sex of his anatomy.

“Is it any wonder the elder Odinson was eager to taste this rare flower? Surely he should be forgiven for partaking of such a lovely cunt.”

“An abomination. But a fascinating one. Move aside, Brokk, it is my turn now…”

When the hurt and humiliation became too much to bear, he struggled to hold back tears. He did not cry out no matter how brutally they abused him – though they took care not to damage his face or break any bones, save one in the little finger of his left hand. He gasped when the finger was pulled back with a loud snap, and teared and shivered with pain, but still he kept his silence.

“Looks like he’s gone mute. Just as well. A mouthy slave is good for no one.”

With those words he realised where the dice of his fate would fall. Sold into servitude, likely at Knowhere’s infamous slave markets; a prince no longer. He remembered being thrown over a dwarf’s shoulder before a wave of blackness washed over him, and he allowed it to claim him, wishing all the time for death.

 

~

 

When he awoke, his eyes fell upon steel and glass walls. The woman who had bought him was talking to someone. Her voice was sweet, but laced with threats.

“Lord Tivan will be upset at the delay in the new chamber. I’ll have to tell him his new acquisition must be housed in this shoddy cage for two more weeks. Or perhaps you should be the one to break the news…”

A cowering voice replied. “My lady, please.”

“Please what?”

“The custom fittings…they take time – ”

“Excuses, excuses. Do you know what happened to the last person to displease Lord TIvan?”

“No.”

“Precisely. No one knows.” The sweetness disappeared.

“One week. One is all I need. You will have a completed chamber by then.”

“See to it.”

Their footsteps faded as his consciousness fully returned. Loki’s mouth felt dry. He would have killed for a glass of water. Slowly, he moved his limbs before rising to his knees. He breathed deeply, pressing his palms against the glass, and felt tingling traces of his magic return. It told him that the glass was thick but ordinary. Once his strength returned, he would find the weakest corners and work from there.

For now, it would pay to become familiar with his surroundings. He was in a cavernous room full of containments similar to the one caging him, vessels of varying sizes. Some distance away, something large and larval caught his eye with its pulsating glow. In the cage across his was what looked like a figure trapped in ice. To his left, a bird of some kind: a pheasant-like creature beating its long tail listlessly against the glass.

He felt rather sorry for it. “How long have you been here?”

The creature seemed to hear him, for it turned its head and studied him briefly before sinking back into lethargy. He remembered his mother’s gift for talking to animals: how she seemed to instinctively understand them, and they her. Then he remembered that his mother lay dead among Asgardur’s fallen and his heart seized up in sadness. Finally, after all that had happened, he allowed tears to stream down his face. He should be lying by her side, or by Thor’s side, dying together as they had vowed in secret.

The sobs escaped despite his attempts to hold them back. After a moment he no longer bothered and let them spill from deep inside. Ugly, guttural sounds that slowly softened into quiet weeping.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been crying when he heard a sharp, cynical voice say “You should stop before you dehydrate yourself.”

In a flash he leapt to his feet, defensive of his vulnerable state. “Oh, don’t get your underwear in a tangle,” the voice continued. “Nothing wrong with a bit of crying. I cried too when I found out the menu options here don’t include macaroni and cheese. Actually, all the options are shit. But I eat ‘em. To keep up my strength and good looks.”

Loki’s roving eyes came to rest on a small mammal – a rodent of some kind. One who wore clothes. He wiped his face. “I’ve always wanted to speak to animals, but I wasn’t expecting this.”

The creature grinned, baring a row of small sharp teeth. “No one does.” He held out five grubby fingers. “I’m Rocket. Pretend we’re shaking hands.”

“We don’t shake hands where I come from,” said Loki. “Unless it’s on a battlefield. A declaration of peace between two warring parties.” He didn’t know why he was volunteering such information, but it was comforting to talk to someone who wasn’t trying to kill, fuck or enslave him.

“Well, we should shake anyway. In case we ever battle. Even though I’d kick your ass.”

“With those little feet?” Loki sniffed. “Which you wouldn’t even have anymore, if I had my full powers back.”

Rocket’s ears perked. “What powers?”

“I’m a sorcerer. But my abilities are held in check by…these.” He turned around so Rocket could see the row of small tattoos down his back. “I cannot attack you or any living being with my magic.” He felt a fresh surge of bitterness at how much his body had been violated. The memory of being held down as a hot needle seared the marks into his skin still burned him from the inside. “Perhaps they can be removed. I don’t know.”

“Oh. Well…can you at least break some glass?”

Loki tested the edges of the cage where angled steel bars held the panes in place. His magic was still weak, but stronger than when he first woke. “I can feel the edges – and tiny spots where the flaws are. The tiniest cracks.” The realisation that he was not completely helpless gave him strength. “I think I can break us out.”

“Great! Now play dead. He’s coming.”

“What?”

Then he heard them too. The footsteps echoing down the corridor, past the empty cages, were both leisurely and deliberate. It was the stride of someone with more power than was reasonable for any one being.

The man who came to a stop in front of him was snowy-haired and richly dressed, with a greatly affected air that suggested he might casually order someone’s death for not being sufficiently entertaining. His eyes were artfully lined for a theatrical effect.

“Ahh…at last, he arrives. The sorcerer-prince of Asgardur.” The brows above the carefully painted eyes arched in delight. “My Acquisition Agent is finally earning her title.”

Loki was not yet sure how he should behave around this man whom he assumed was the Lord Tivan mentioned earlier, so he kept his face carefully blank and his demeanour cautiously subservient.

“Well, my prince? Do you speak, or were you rendered mute? I hope not; that would be a great disappointment.”

“I assure you I am not mute.” Loki met his eyes in a manner he hoped was not insolent. “How should I address you?”

The man smiled. “I have several names. You may simply address me as ‘sir’, or ‘my lord’ if it pleases you. Both of these please me enough.” His gaze swept over every inch of Loki’s all too bare body. “Yes…very pleasing.”

Loki hoped it was not too audacious a request as he said: “Perhaps you could give me some actual clothing, sir. And a drink of water…please.”

“Oh, but of course! I will make sure everything in my power is done to make your stay a comfortable one.” He made a moue of disdain as he ran a fussy finger over the edge of a steel bar. “This containment is ridiculous. Not at all worthy of royalty. And you do require some, ahh, custom fittings.” He clapped commandingly. Almost perfectly on cue, two manservants appeared from around the corner. One of them, Loki was relieved to see, bore a clear jug full of water along with some food.

“Please, have your fill. Be assured you’ll not go hungry while in my care.”

The door of the cage was unlocked, the tray placed before him. Loki gulped down some water, but was more cautious when it came to the perfectly crusted honeyed bread – which smelt freshly baked and looked absolutely delicious.

The man who must be Lord Tivan chuckled. “It’s not poisoned. Or in fact, tampered with in any way.” He snapped his fingers at one of the servants, who promptly tore off a chunk of bread and chewed on it with relish.

Loki knew he could not deny his hunger and thirst much longer. He finished the bread, ate the juicy pear that accompanied it, and drank until he felt his belly swell. All the while Lord Tivan watched him with something akin to satisfaction, even arousal. He wondered if he would have to get used to this with every mealtime.

Once the tray was cleared, another servant stepped forward. Alarm filled Loki’s every nerve as he saw what the man was carrying.

“I need no restrains,” he heard himself pleading. “I promise to behave – always – ”

“I have no doubt that you will,” said Lord Tivan benignly as one servant bound his wrists behind his back, while the other fastened his ankles to a heavy metal bar that kept his legs spread. “Unfortunately, I simply cannot risk my any inappropriate – or rather, unsupervised – fraternizing.”

A collar was fastened around his neck, and at its cold touch he felt his limbs suddenly weaken, his senses dulled save for the nausea accosting him. Please, no. Not this again. A panic attack made the room start to spin. Were they going to do to him what the dwarf invaders had? “You wouldn’t – you can’t damage me – not after what I cost you…”

“Silly little prince,” came Tivan’s admonishment. “No damage will befall you. I simply wish to fully appreciate what I acquired.”

He gestured with an upward flick of his wrist, and one of the servants lifted the metal bar so that Loki’s legs were lifted and his kilt flung back, putting him on full display. Tivan made a soft purring sound. “I have been waiting for this.”

Despite all he had been through, Loki’s face still burned when he felt the gloved fingers spread the folds of his female sex and penetrate him. Tears blurred his vision at the memory of rape. He barely bit back a whimper.

“Very nice,” Tivan murmured. “Very nice indeed.” He continued inspecting the shapely genitalia at leisure, stroking the cock till it began, against the will of its owner, to harden. “One can imagine what you look like when you’re, shall we say, properly stimulated.” His eyes gleamed as he rose. “We will have to do something about that.”

Loki’s heart quickened in fear at the unnamed ominous prospect. His chest heaved and his cheeks and neck continued burning as Tivan and the servants left, locking the cage behind them.

The nausea returned in full force. Loki’s upper body jerked forward as he retched, just managing to keep his food down. Twice more he heaved and swallowed the bile building up in his mouth. Cold sweat pricked his skin as his head slowly cleared and he was left with a terrible, overwhelming weakness.

He slumped against the glass, kicked feebly at the bar that kept his legs forcibly parted. Misery filled his every nerve and blackened his very core.

“Hey,” came Rocket’s voice at last. “You uh, alright in there?”

Loki did not know how to respond. Instead he turned away, pressed his forehead to the cool glass and waited on the next roll of fate’s dice, if ever it came.

 

~

 

Despite the abundance of rumours and bardic songs regarding the Heroic Fall of The Thunderer, Thor Odinson was not dead.

He had been captured with three arrows in him and two leg wounds, none of which stopped him from beheading one of his captors and disembowelling the rest. His army destroyed, the survivors scattered to the winds, the warlord prince found himself bereft of all purpose save one. To return home in defeat into the arms of his loved ones, and to hold his dear brother close once more.

Then the news arrived from Asgardur: the high castle had been breached, the last of the royals slain. Folded inside the letter was the small dagger he had given to Loki as a coming-of-age gift. The same one that never left Loki’s belt, the handle encrusted with gems the colour of his brother’s eyes, and stained with specks of blood.

He roared at the sky until it seemed a storm would split the clouds open as told by the legends of his might. He wept for the lover whom he had not so much as said farewell to, and would surely now haunt his dreams as a wraith.

Defeated, with nothing to his name, he wandered the lands as a mercenary and took a strange savage joy in belonging to no nation. In the strange cold comfort of killing for the weight of silvers in his purse (for he took no credits and used nothing that could be traced back to his face or presence). He took on the appearance of a wild man, wore a false name, and disavowed all connection with Asgardur and his lost kin. Even when the tables were turned and he was ambushed and defeated by his quarry one starless night, becoming another body to be auctioned off into servitude, he kept the identity of an insignificant sword for hire.

His actual sword was stripped from him, of course. A slave could not own anything of value save what was given him. As his master’s prizefighter, he was as good as his performance in the ring. His worth lay in how long and how inventively he outlasted an opponent – by any means necessary. There was no glory in the lawless blood-soaked pits where the highest stakes met the highest profits for those with the most skilled fighters.

He had nothing to his new name but blood and brutality. And the slim dagger, disguised as a humble eating knife, he kept on his person at all times. The one that never left his belt.

 

~

 

“Two years. Perhaps more.”

“And during that time, you were…trained…as a pleasure slave?”

Loki picked listlessly at the slice of fish on his dinner tray, which Rocket insisted was the best item on the ‘menu’ so far. “I’ve had no training in such arts. It was a lie told to increase my value. To ensure the cursed dual nature of my body titillated with the possibilities of what a skilled pleasure slave is capable of when equipped with such…gifts.”

“From what I heard, dwarves seldom keep anyone alive long enough to trade. They’re more of a take-no-prisoners type.”

“Yes. Well. I suppose death was too good for the sorcerer who had brutally slain their comrades, the way Asgardur has slain countless before in the name of imperial might.” The disorientation of the collar’s effect was wearing off, and his head was clear again for the first time in days. He was surprised to no longer feel the old rush of anger at his past violation. “They took their revenge on me, as one would expect them to.”

“By selling you to the nearest Knowhere slaver?”

“After using me as a fuck toy. Yes.”

“Aaaah.” Rocket was seldom lost for words, but the silence that ensued suggested he was struggling to formulate an appropriate reply to this new piece of information.

“You’ll have to let yourself out, I’m afraid,” Loki said flatly. “I’m of no use to you now.”

“What, because of one pissy collar?” The raccoon sneered. “Listen, buddy. I’ve been collared, chained, shot at, actually shot, almost died, and – ”

“ – and thrown in a glass cage?”

“And never let any of it keep me down. I shoulda died ten years ago. And instead I’m here, being an asshole.”

“I won’t disagree with that.”

“You’re damn right.” Rocket bared his teeth again, this time in a grin. “So unless that collar has made you stupid, I suggest you get off your butt and be an asshole with me. What d’ya say?”

Despite the constant dull misery haunting him, Loki had to crack a smile. The critter did make a point. For most of his life he had been far too reliant on his prodigious talents without exercising his other baser, more physical strengths. Yet he had all his limbs, and he had his wits.

He ran his hands along the cuffs that kept his ankles locked to the bar. His senses were dulled, but it did not take any special skill to find the small keyholes. Were they penetrable? There was only one way to find out.

When the next meal arrived, he dared to hide the fork away the moment his warden’s gaze strayed. It was fortunate that he did not need use of it to lift the slices of bread smeared with cheese and some unidentified vegetable.

“What are you up to?” asked Rocket when they were left alone and he began pulling at the prongs of the fork.

“Seeing if I can pick a lock,” said Loki.

A hiss of glee. “Ha!” Rocket pulled something from the depth of his overalls. It was a similarly bent fork. “Beat ya to it. Been working at a weak spot in my cage for a month now.”

“Congratulations,” Loki replied dryly. He prodded at one of the keyholes with the tip of his makeshift pick. “If I can free myself from this cursed pole, I can use it to smash the glass. That is, I can try.” He frowned. “My brother would’ve – ”

A pang shot through his heart, and he dropped the fork. Ridiculous, how he still ached for Thor. No. Don’t think of his name. Don’t…he’s gone, you can’t bring him back…

“You alright? You’re shaking all funny.”

Loki dragged a shuddering breath into his lungs and steadied his hand as he dug the bent prong into the lock hole. “I’ll be alright once we’re far away from this place.”