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The Lindworm Prince

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     When Thor was but a tiny lad, his father, Odin, a prosperous freeholder with many swine, came home from the king's capital with terrible news. Queen Laufey was desperate to produce an heir so King Farbauti would not put her aside for barrenness. She had sought the advice of a fairy to conceive, and conceive she did- bearing twins, even! However, because of fairy magic gone astray, the eldest son was born a lindworm, while the youngest was a beautiful, healthy human boy. Some of the royal councillors tried to convince the queen that the unlucky eldest son should be put out into the wild to live his life as a true lindworm would, but the queen refused, saying that no one would separate her from her child. Other darker rumors claimed that the king was making her keep the child as a punishment for consorting with fairies. But regardless of the real reason, Prince Loki grew up in an old, unused part of the palace where few people went. His silks and tempers were legendary, and only his mother and a handful of devoted servants dared to brave his room and his wrath. Little did they know that one day, someone would come that would change Prince Loki's life forever...

     Each year in the fall, Odin sent a tithe of his swine to the king as required by law. As Thor grew older, he begged to accompany his father on the yearly trip. For many years, his wish was denied, but his fourteenth birthday saw him riding bravely at his father's side on his sturdy mountain pony, the piglets and hogs they brought with them grunting and squealing in the straw-filled cart driven by two of Odin's doughty servants. 

     As they entered the city, Thor marvelled at his first sight of the walls of the king's city. His father's freehold was a long low building with a thatched roof and strong timbers; here, the cut stone walls soared high in the air above Thor's head. Armored men vigilantly watched over the battlements clad in gleaming armor, and Thor was immediately taken by the idea of being one of those guards some day. 

     As they led the wagon into the royal stables, a harried servant met the wagon at the gate. "Greetings, Master Odin. If it's not too much trouble, could you bring one of the larger piglets and come with me? The prince is... hungry."

     Odin paled slightly, but bowed his head and dismounted. As he went to chose the best of the piglets to offer the prince, Thor whispered, "May I come along, Father?" Before Odin could reprimand him for his brashness, the servant stepped closer, looking him over.

     "What is your name, brave one?" the servant asked, smiling at his boldness.

     Thor straightened up proudly in his saddle. "I am Thor, son of Odin. I wish to help bring my father's gift to Prince Loki," he announced, puffing his thin chest out.

     The servant inclined his head politely. "I am Eirik, son of Einar, chief attendant to Prince Loki. Very well, Thor, son of Odin, you may accompany us to the prince's chambers-on one condition. Whatever you see there, you must not show fear, do you understand? The prince hates it and often strikes out if he can scent that you are afraid. It can be dangerous." 

     Nodding in agreement, Thor dismounted and took the heavy piglet from his father. It thrashed and squealed angrily, bound feet vainly attempting to kick out and find freedom, but Thor was a strong farm lad, despite his small size, and he held the struggling piglet tightly to his chest as they entered the palace. 

     They followed Eirik along a dimly lit corridor that seemed almost unused after the initial bustle they had observed when they first entered the palace. At the end of the hall was a plain wooden door, banded with iron. Taller than the guard's head, the door was made of thick oak planks that looked like it could withstand a battering ram; unlike the other doors in the palace, however, there were no carvings or decorations, making it appear out of place amid the gilded opulence of the rest of the palace. 

      Thor glanced up at his father's face and saw a bead of sweat running down his cheek. He's afraid, Thor realized incredulously. How horrible can it be? Thor was secretly delighted to finally see the so-called cursed prince, for he loved snakes and often picked them up on his father's land to admire their beautiful colors and scale patterns. He was positively bursting with questions, but common sense and civility, coupled with the threat of Odin's belt, kept the questions trapped behind his teeth so as not to embarrass his father or get himself kicked out of the palace. 

     As they neared the door, Eirik looked gravely at Thor and motioned for him to come closer. "Do you wish for your father to come with you?" Thor shook his head, and the servant continued. "Before you proceed into the room, announce your name and gift to the prince. Then, put the piglet down on the star sigil on the floor. Once the offering is in place, back away slowly towards the door, and do not turn your back on the room. If the prince is displeased for any reason, he may strike out and injure you."

     "Is he poisonous?" queried Thor, genuinely curious about the prince's abilities.

     "No, but he's large enough now that he can break bones if he strikes hard enough," replied the prince's servant. "And for mercy's sake, don't let him wrap around you. He injured a kitchen girl badly last month doing that."

     "Well, if he's as hungry as you say, I'd better get this piglet in to him so he can eat," Thor said briskly, holding the piglet tight to his chest. He couldn't wait to see Prince Loki with his own eyes.

*********

     The guard's eyes flickered over Thor's slight form as he walked up to the door with the wriggling piglet in his arms. "Are ye sure about what yer doing, laddie? The prince is no' one tae be trifled with. If he be hungry enow, he might eat ye as well as yer wee pig."

     Thor looked up at the guard with a calm, resolute face. His bright blue eyes took in the warrior's massive girth and wild red hair and beard, realizing quickly that his brawn was here specifically here to keep the cursed prince in check, should some unforeseen calamity occur.
"I am honored to present my father's gift to Prince Loki. If you please, open the door that I may proceed."

     The huge man chuckled warmly. "Yer a brave lad. Not many men dare tae look Himself in th' eyes, when the hunger be on him. I'm Volstagg. What d' they call ye, lad?"

     "I am Thor, son of Odin. It's a pleasure to meet you, Volstagg." 

     Suddenly, a loud thump rattled the door on its hinges, and Volstagg shook his head wearily. "Best I gae ahead and let ye in before he gets in a rare dither." He turned the ornate key in the massive iron lock and heaved the heavy door open just wide enough for Thor to slip through with the wiggling piglet in his arms.

     As the door boomed shut behind him, Thor's first impressions of Loki's chambers were of darkness and heat. A large fire roared on a hearth nearly large enough to roast an ox, and the narrow windows were swathed in heavy drapery, creating deep pockets of shadow in the corners of the room. A half-glimpsed pool of water steamed gently at the back of the room, surrounded by large potted plants and hissing braziers. A high earthen hill covered a large section of the floor, making Thor wonder if the prince had made a den in it, but try as he might, Thor couldn't see any sign of the prince nearby. Remembering Eirik's instructions, Thor spoke clearly. "My name is Thor, son of Odin, and I bring you tribute from my family." Looking down, he saw an inlaid pattern on the floor near the center of the room that looked like a starburst. He walked out, laid the piglet down, and began backing towards the door. A slight rustling to his left was all the warning he got before a long emerald and ebony snout appeared out of the shadows, weaving from side to side on a long scaly neck, dainty head crowned by small golden horns. Thor was startled, but instinct told him not to flinch; instead, he made a small bow in the creature's direction. "Greetings, Prince Loki. I am Thor, son of Odin. I hope you're feeling well today." The lindworm cocked his head as if he were listening intently to Thor's words. He cautiously scooted forward, tongue tasting the air, as Thor watched excitedly. He decided that he would try talking to the prince as if he were another boy like himself.

     "I hope you like the piglet I brought you. He's one of our best, nice and fat. If you ate cooked meat, I wager he'd roast up nicely, but I suppose he'll taste fine to you the way he is." Thor looked at the lindworm's narrow snout, mentally comparing it to the snakes he was familiar with on his father's land. "Hmmm, I imagine you probably have to squeeze your food first before you eat it. I don't know if I'm supposed to stay in here now, but it won't bother me if you go ahead and eat. Your servant, Eirik didn't really say what I should do if you popped up before I left, but you seem very nice, Your Highness, and your scales are lovely. I've never seen a pattern quite like yours before."

     As Thor was speaking, the prince kept inching closer until he was only an arm's length away from his visitor. Thor slowly extended his hand towards the lindworm, who sniffed it cautiously before carefully sliding his head under Thor's fingers. Thor gasped in delight at the feel of the warm smooth scales against his skin. He gently rubbed the lindworm's brow ridges and scratched under his jaw, smiling happily at the prince's acceptance of his touches. 

     Behind them, the door to Loki's chamber groaned open and the lindworm swiftly darted back into the shadows. Thor turned around, hiding his disappointment at being interrupted while making friends with the prince.

     Eirik's concerned voice echoed through the prince's chamber. "Thor, are you alright?" 

     Thor turned to face the worried servant hovering in the doorway. "Yes, Eirik, I'm fine."

     The older man smiled, relieved that Thor was unhurt. "Your father and I were concerned when you didn't come back out right away."

     "I'm sorry to have worried you. The prince and I were just getting acquainted. He seems quite nice," Thor replied politely. 

     Eirik's eyebrows shot up. "Well, maybe you should stay here at the palace and be his companion. He usually drives everyone away with his misbehavior." 

     Thor knew that wasn't possible, but he was flattered that Eirik thought he would be a good friend to the prince. "Thank you, Eirik. Sadly, I really can't stay, though I'd dearly love to spend more time with Prince Loki. My father is not a young man, as you know, and he is preparing me to take over our holding one day. I do hope I'll be able to bring the tithe to His Highness next year."

     Eirik smiled warmly. "I'm sure Prince Loki would enjoy spending time with you again. You and your father are welcome to dine in the great hall this evening. Perhaps you could even visit the prince in the morning before you leave."

     Thor bowed his head gravely. "We'd be honored to accept your hospitality, Eirik. And it would be my pleasure to come say farewell to Prince Loki tomorrow."

******

     Although Odin was an early riser, Thor was awake well before his father, keyed up at the thought of getting to see Prince Loki again. He dressed as quietly as he could, not wanting to anger Odin and lose the chance to say goodbye to his new friend. Before he left, he wrote his father a short note explaining that Eirik had invited him back to speak with the prince again. Leaving the note on the table in plain sight, Thor slipped silently from the room and made his way back to the prince's hallway. Apparently Eirik was also an early riser, because Thor had only been waiting a for few minutes before the servant arrived. 

     "Good morning, Thor. Does your father know you're here?"

     Thor shrugged and smiled innocently. "I left him a note, but as long as I don't dawdle, it shouldn't be an issue."

     Eirik hid his own smile behind his hand. "Very well then, let's go in and give your regards to the prince. Volstagg, if you would please?"

     The burly guard opened the door for the two of them, and Eirik motioned for Thor to precede him. Looking around, Thor didn't see Loki, so he decided to go ahead and start speaking in the hopes that the prince would make an appearance. "Greetings again, Prince Loki. My father and I must depart for home, but I wanted to come tell you goodbye. I hope I'll see you next year at harvest time."

      Eirik was shocked when Loki slid out of the shadows and tucked his snout under Thor's arm like an overgrown puppy. Thor laughed and rubbed the lindworm's neck, scratching the place under his jaw that he had liked so much yesterday. After a few minutes, Thor patted him regretfully. 

     "I have to go now, Your Highness. If I'm late, my father may forbid me from coming with him next year." 

     The lindworm pulled his head out from under Thor's arm and butted him playfully in the chest. Then he raced off into the shadows at the back of the room, slithering back with something in his mouth. Thor put out his hand, and Loki dropped a smooth green stone into his palm.

     "Thank you Prince Loki, " Thor said gravely. He opened the pouch on his belt and put the stone inside. As he pulled his fingers out, they touched sleek wood, and he took out a little carving he had made of his favorite snake all coiled up. Smiling, he held it out to Loki, who took it delicately with his teeth. Thor bowed, saying, "Goodbye Your Highness. Until next year." The lindworm bobbed his head in return, then retreated back into the shadows. Slowly, Thor turned and followed Eirik out of the prince's chamber. Looking back, he smiled and raised a hand in farewell to the glittering green and gold eyes he saw peeking out from under the greenery by the pool.

Chapter Text

     "So, what did you think of Prince Loki?"  Odin asked his son curiously as they started on their way back home. 

     Thor grinned excitedly.  "I've never seen anything like him.  He looks fierce, but he seemed to like me, though. He let me touch his skin, and he felt just like a regular snake.  His scale patterns are..."

   "Hmmm," mused Odin, breaking into his son's enthusiastic description.  "He doesn't seem to be too fond of me, though. There were several years I thought he might try to bite me if it weren't for his servant."

     "Maybe he liked that I'm young like him," replied Thor thoughtfully. "And I don't think he gets a lot of visitors, either. I think he's lonely, Father, and no one's taken the time to teach him proper manners.  It's not like you just know everything about how to act, even if you're born a prince.  Perhaps I can show him how to behave better if I see him again."  Thor paused for breath, then forged ahead. "I'd like to give him the tithe again next year, if you don't mind."

     Odin looked at him sharply. "We'll see," was all his father said as they eased their horses into a gentle canter.  Thor rode absentmindedly at his father's side, thinking about the lonely lindworm prince and how he could befriend him.

 

*****************************

 

     "So, what did you think of young Thor, Your Highness?"  Eirik asked the lindworm after he was done devouring the piglet Thor had brought to his chamber.

    The prince swishes his tail idly on the floor.  "He ssseemsss nice. He talksss to me like I wasss hisss friend, not a monssster.  I hope to ssse him next year at the tithing. Perhapsss I ssshall teach him how to ssspeak with me."

     Eirik stared at him sternly until the lindworm dropped his gaze, ashamed at his boldness.  Then, the old servant relented and smiled at the prince. "I think his father wouldn't mind giving him the task again, to be honest, Your Highness. He's a little wary of you, after all.  You have tried to bite him more than once, in case you've forgotten. "

     Loki shrugged, unconcerned about Odin's poor opinion of him. "I ssshould like it if Thor and I became friendsss, Eirik.  He hasss kind handsss like yoursss and Mother'sss."

     "We'll see," said Eirik gently as he helped Loki scratch a particularly itchy patch of skin on his back.  The prince closed his eyes in contentment, imagining his next meeting with Thor. 

Chapter Text

     The journey to Utgard had started out bad and ended up even worse. The late autumn weather had wreaked havoc on the roads leading to the king's city, one of the best pigs they were bringing to the tithing somehow managed to break a leg and needed to be put down, and tempers were generally short all around. The only person who was remotely cheerful was Thor, and he had the good sense to keep his happiness to himself. 

     He couldn't wait to see Prince Loki again! Odin had promised he could take in the tribute pig again, and Thor had made a special gift of his own to give to the prince as well. His mother agreed that the carving of the lindworm wrapped around a plump piglet was very well done, and Thor had painted it to match Loki's scale pattern as best he could. To help keep it safe, his mother had given him an embroidered handkerchief to wrap it in so it would make it through the journey unscathed. Thor liked the handkerchief very much because it depicted brightly colored snakes chasing each other's tails, and he hoped Loki would like it too. He wrapped the bundle inside of his clothes to cushion it as much as possible from accidental damage and kept his bag strapped to his back, fidgeting with the straps to help control his rising excitement as they drew nearer to Utgard.

     Eirik was there when their wagon pulled up in the stable yard. He greeted Odin courteously, then turned to Thor. "It's good to see you again, Thor. Prince Loki was hoping you would come to see him again this year."

     "Father said I may take the pig in again this year. Which one do you think is best for him?" Thor asked as he dismounted. 

     Eirik came to the wagon and looked over their tithe, selecting a plump young pig. "Here, this one will do nicely." One of Odin's men quickly tied its legs and handed it down to Thor. 

     Leaving the servants to sort out the rest of the pigs, Thor and Odin accompanied Eirik down the hall to the prince's chamber. Thor was so busy daydreaming about what he would say to Loki that he didn't pay much attention to the pig wriggling in his arms until its tusk dug into his cheek and ripped it open. Thor shrieked and dropped the pig, which was already spattered with drops of his blood. Odin swore and grabbed the pig, while Eirik looked at Thor's injury.

     "I'm no healer, but that will definitely need stitches. Thor, it would be best for you to wait out here and let your father and I deliver the pig. You're welcome to come back and see the prince after the healers have taken care of you."  Eirik patted his back fondly before he ushered Odin into the prince's chamber.

     Though his father would say he was too old for such tears, Thor wanted to cry as his father followed Eirik with the pig in his arms. His chance to see the prince had been ruined! Volstagg, the burly guard he remembered from last time, poured some cold water on his handkerchief and handed it to Thor.

     "There laddie, that will help tae stop th' bleeding." the guard said sympathetically.

     Thor mumbled his thanks and pressed the cloth to his wound, the cold numbing the pain slightly. 

     Suddenly an angry roar came from inside. Volstagg whirled and grabbed his axe. "Stay here, laddie!" he shouted as he threw open the massive door.

     Thor had no intention of obeying- his father was in there! But...why is Loki so angry, he wondered as he darted inside after Volstagg. We brought him a very nice pig this year, even better than last year's. I wonder if Father upset him somehow

     The scene that met his eyes was truly bizarre. Prince Loki was hissing angrily and advancing in his father, who was clutching the blood-spattered pig to his chest like a shield. Eirik was yelling at Loki and waving his hands uselessly, while Volstagg was hanging back uncertainly, not wanting to raise steel against his prince. 

     Useless as tits on a boar hog, Thor snarled to himself in disgust, dropping his heavy pack on the floor. He dashed in between his father and the prince, just before Loki tried to strike. Though Loki was quick, Thor moved just a little bit faster and grabbed the prince's snout before he was able to bite Odin. He held the lindworm's jaws closed and gave his snout a little shake. 

     "What are you doing, Loki? That's my father! If he did something to offend you, I'm very sorry. Please... please... don't hurt him! He means you no harm."

     Though he was still making angry hissing noises, all the fight seemed to go out of Loki when Thor grabbed his snout. Hesitantly, his delicate arms came up and patted clumsily at Thor's arms and chest, as if he were trying to reassure himself that Thor was truly there. 

     Erick spoke up. "I'm very sorry, Thor. Prince Loki saw and smelled your blood on the pig; since you weren't in the room, he assumed that your father had hurt you somehow."

     Thor groaned. "No, Loki, it wasn't my father that hurt me. The pig I was bringing to you cut me with his tusk because I wasn't paying close attention to what he was doing. I'm fine, really I am." He turned to Eirik, who was making sure that Odin wasn't injured. "Why don't you take my father to the healers and make sure he's all right? I'll straighten this out with the prince myself."

     "I'm not sure that's wise," Eirik began, glancing over at the lindworm, his snout still trapped in Thor's hands. A sharp glance passed between the prince and his servant, and Eirik's shoulders slumped. "Very well, Thor. I'll send a healer to you once your father has been seen to." He gathered the pig from Odin's shaking arms and set it on the floor before ushering the older man out of the prince's chamber.

     Volstagg looked dubiously at Thor. "Are ye sure this is wise, lad? No' that I doubt ye, but when Himself is riled up, people get hurt."

    "I'll be all right, Volstagg. You can go back to your post," Thor said confidently.

     As the guard reluctantly left, shaking his head dolefully, Thor turned his attention back to the prince. "Now, are you going to behave yourself?" he asked sternly, loosening his grip just a fraction. Loki nodded meekly, his horns glinting in the firelight. Thor released his hold, and Loki slithered backwards out of arm's reach, head bowed in embarrassment. 

     Thor quickly relented, dropping to his knees on the cold stone. "It's all right, Your Highness, I know that smelling my blood must have been upsetting for you, but my father would never hurt me. He's getting older and shouldn't be upset like that. Shall I tell him you're sorry?"

     Loki slunk forward and plopped his head in Thor's lap, and the boy sighed and scratched around the base of the lindworm's horns. 

     "I wish you could talk to me, Prince Loki," Thor sighed, stroking Loki's gleaming scales. Then we could understand each other better and be great friends, right?"

     The lindworm raised his head and stared into Thor's eyes for a long moment, slitted pupils wide in the dim light. Slowly, he moved his snout towards Thor's injured cheek, which was still sluggishly dripping blood onto Thor's tunic. His forked tongue flicked out and touched the wound gently, tasting the warm blood oozing from the torn flesh. Thor sat transfixed as Loki then dropped his bloodied snout into his clawed hand and bit at the palm, causing blood to well up between the small scales. The prince extended his wounded hand to Thor, who stared at it, aghast.

     "Why did you do that, Loki?" asked Thor huskily. "Is it because of what happened with my father? You don't need to hurt yourself to apologize to me."

     Loki shook his head and raised his uninjured hand up to tap Thor's lips and throat, then his bleeding hand.

     Thor's brow furrowed, then cleared. "Are you saying you want me to share blood with you? Like an oath? Of safety?"

     Frustrated, Loki tapped his lips and throat again, and offered his hand once more.

     Although he couldn't understand what Loki was trying to tell him, Thor could tell that the prince had a reason for asking him to taste his blood. Hoping fervently that Loki's blood wasn't actually poisonous, Thor bent his head and licked tentatively at Loki's palm. His blood tingled on Thor's tongue, thick and coppery, tinged with something else that Thor couldn't identify. Above his head, he heard Loki hiss, and a shudder wracked the lindworm's body. Thor tried to raise his head to see what was happening, but Loki's uninjured hand stroked his hair, the gentle touch encouraging him to keep his head where it was, cupped in Loki's palm so he could lap up more of his blood. 

     When Thor finally lifted his head, his eyes were drawn to Loki's face hovering just above him. "Are you all right, Prince Loki?" he asked reflexively, not expecting an answer from the lindworm; thus, he was totally shocked to hear a hissing voice reply to him in his head.

     "Yesss, Thor, I'm fine."

     "What... how... this can't be!" exclaimed Thor, shaking his head in disbelief. 

     "It'sss not a trick, Thor. I can ssspeak to thossse who ssshare blood with me," said the voice in his head.

     "Share blood?" Thor repeated stupidly, still not able to wrap his head around Loki's revelation. 

     "Yesss. It can be sssshared through birth, like my parentsss and brother, or if I tassste sssomeone'sss blood and they tassste mine."

     "Who else can hear you?"

     "Besssidesss my family? Just Eir of the healersss, my ssservant Eirik... and now you."

     "I'm honored, Your Highness." 

     "Ssshall we be good friendsss now?" Loki asked shyly. 

     "Of course," Thor replied, patting Loki's coils.

     They both started as the massive oak door groaned open, admitting Eirik and a young woman dressed in a white robe and carrying a healer's satchel.

     "Your Highness, I've brought a healer to look at Thor's wound," announced Eirik, beckoning to the injured boy.

     Thor stood shakily, and walked over to the healer. He attempted to bow to her but almost fell over, not realizing how the lindworm's blood magic had drained him. Eirik stared intensely at him as the healer examined his injury, turning his face this way and that. 

     "I can stitch your wound easily, but you'll need to take this draught to numb the pain " she commanded, handing him a small silver cup.

     Thor drank it down quickly, grimacing at the bitter taste. It worked rapidly on him in his weakened state, causing the healer to swear profusely as Thor swayed and nearly passed out at her feet. Loki's sturdy coils caught him neatly and laid him out gently on the floor. 

     "I'm sorry," Thor mumbled as the healer knelt beside him on the floor with her bag of instruments. 

     "It's strange how weak you are. You haven't lost that much blood," she mused.

     Thor thought fast. "I didn't eat breakfast before I came to see the prince. I guess that's why."

     "Perhaps. Now, you'll feel a bit of pressure when I start stitching you up, but you shouldn't feel any pain. Let me know right away if you do. But first, let me clean you up a bit," she said, pouring water from a flask onto a clean cloth and wiping at the drying blood on Thor's cheek. Thor patiently submitted to her ministrations, hoping she'd finish up soon and let him take a nap.

     The healer worked quickly, placing four sutures in his cheek and coating them with a strong smelling ointment. "Did the pr... I mean, how did you come to be injured, young man?" the healer asked, wiping her hands with a clean cloth. 

     "The pig I was... bringing in... to the prince... caught me with his tusk..." Thor struggled to get the words out, eyelids fluttering as sleep pressed against him relentlessly. Prince Loki shifted his coils, cradling his friend gently and keeping him up off of the cold stone floor. Thor sighed and let sleep claim him, trusting Loki to keep him safe.

     The healer looked at Eirik, brows raised in a silent question, but the servant shrugged, saying, "As always, the prince will do as he wills." He offered his hand to help her up from the floor, which she accepted gratefully. As he escorted the healer out, Eirik paused for a moment to look back at the lanky boy and the lindworm curled up together on the floor. A smile brightened his face for a moment, then he composed himself to go seek out Odin and let him know that Thor was doing well and resting comfortably. 

******

     Several hours later, Thor awoke to find Loki still coiled around him, unblinking eyes gazing dreamily at the fireplace. When he felt Thor stir, he swung his head around, taking care not to poke him with his horns.

     "Ssssleep well?" the prince asked softly, nudging him with his snout.

     Thor stretched, wincing as the stitches in his cheek pulled. "Fairly well, actually. I wasn't too heavy for you, was I?"

     The prince chuckled.  "No, I sssurvived. You're ssso niccce and warm, I've decccided I sssshan't give you back. You must ssstay here and sssnuggle me alwaysss." 

     "Ha ha, Your Highness. I wasn't snuggling, I was just sleeping, thanks to you and the healer. Oh, I have something for you, by the way," Thor said, grinning as he crawled over to his pack. Rummaging through it, he found the package he had wrapped so carefully in his mother's handkerchief. He hesitated and glanced over at Loki. "I hope I didn't break it when I dropped my pack earlier." He scooted back over to Loki's side and handed him the bundle. 

     Loki unwrapped it clumsily, his claws catching on the soft fabric. As he opened up the last fold, he hissed softly in amazement. " Thisss is lovely, Thor! It looksss jussst like my sssscalesss." He glanced at Thor slyly. "Doesss the pig represssent you, perhapsss?"

     Thor's cheeks reddened. "No, of course not! It just shows my family's traditional gift to yours, silly."

     The lindworm gave an amused snort. "I wasss jussst teasssing, Thor. It isss a lovely gift. I ssshall treasure it." His expressive brow ridges wrinkled. "Forgive me, I ssshould give you sssomething in return, yesss?"

     Thor smiled kindly, stroking Loki's long neck. "But you already have, Your Highness. I mean, I can understand you now, and we can talk about whatever you wish when I come to visit you."

     Loki leaned into the caresses, almost purring with satisfaction. "Oh yesss, ssscratch right there!  I ssshall enjoy talking with you, Thor. I wisssh I could sssee you more than once a year."

     "As do I," Thor agreed heartily. "Perhaps when my brother is a bit older, you can ask my father if I might come stay here for a bit." He laughed, thinking of his naive reactions on his first visit to Utgard. "Maybe I could train to be a palace guardsman. I'm fairly good with an axe already."

     "Hmmmm, I ssshall have Volssstagg outssside my door, and you inssside. I ssshall be the sssafessst prince ever," Loki declared, dropping his head back into Thor's lap for more scratching and petting.   They sat that way for a long time, talking of many things until Eirik came to summon Thor for dinner.

Chapter Text

     Eirik bowed to the queen.  "Good afternoon, Your Majesty. Do you have a moment to talk?"

     "Of course," she smiled, setting aside her papers.  "What is it, old friend? Has Prince Loki been troublesome today?"

     "No, Your Majesty. In fact, I think he's made a friend of his own."

     Her eyebrows raised in disbelief.  "Truly? How did this come about? Sit, Eirik, and tell me all about this person."  

     Eirik sat and poured them each a glass of wine. "Well," he started.  "His name is Thor…"

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     Loki looked up as the door to his chamber opened. "Mother!" he exclaimed happily, slithering over to her.  

     The queen smiled and embraced her son, nuzzling his snout when he presented it to her.  "So, Eirik tells me you have made a new friend."

     The lindworm drew back, worried that he had done something wrong in befriending Thor. "Yesss, Mother.  I hope it pleasssesss you."

     "Of course, my son.  I was just surprised to hear it. You've never liked any of the nobles' sons, after all.  I was just curious about what makes Thor so different from them."

     Loki considered her question seriously.  "He ssspeaksss to me asss if I were a perssson and not a dumb beassst.  He admired my sssscalesss, and he likes sssnakesss! He'sss not ssscared of me at all.  Sssee, he even carved thisss for me," he said proudly, showing the queen the gift Thor had given him.

     The queen looked at the carving, noticing how carefully Thor had painted Loki's scales.  "He sees you clearly," she said, smiling at her son. Although she knew Loki would never be king, she never regretted keeping her eldest son nearby, even when others had pushed her to abandon him.  

    Loki twitched his tail nervously across the floor.  "I… ssshared blood with him ssso we could ssspeak together. I'm sssorry I didn't asssk your permisssion firssst. Pleassse don't be upssset."

     "Eirik suspected that you had done so when he came to me.  I'm not angry, but I hope Thor understands that it is something that should remain…" she paused, looking for the right word.

     "Sssecret?" asked Loki.

     "Let's just say… private."  Frigga smiled at her son. "I shall instruct Volstagg and the servants that they are not to interrupt you when Thor is visiting. How does that sound?"

     "I ssshould like that, yesss.  Thank you, Mother," the lindworm said softly, pressing his head against her chest to feel her heartbeat.

********************

      Frigga narrowed her eyes when she saw Thor's injured cheek.

     "It wasn't the prince, Mother, it was the pig," said Thor defensively. 

     She looked at the wound carefully with a healer's eye.  "Hmmm, it should heal cleanly without much of a scar," she said.  "Now, why don't you tell me about Prince Loki? I'd love to hear your perspective on him, Thor.  Your father has already told me his thoughts about the prince."

     Flustered, Thor took a few minutes to reply. "I think he's very lonely and that's why he acts badly sometimes. He really only sees a few servants, and maybe the healers, and there's a guard on his door in case of, uh, emergencies," he finished haltingly, remembering that the lindworm had actually tried to bite his father over the misunderstanding about his injury. "Maybe if I go and see him each year, I can show him how to behave.  You know, be a good example and all that."

     His mother's lips twitched as she tried to hold back her laughter. "Just as long as your example doesn't involve catching frogs!" 

     Thor blushed at the memory, remembering how long it took to corral the wily frogs that he had brought into the house to show his little brother. "I promise, Mother.  I really want to be Prince Loki's friend."

     Frigga ruffled his golden hair.  "You have a good heart, Thor. I think Prince Loki will be glad to have a friend like you."

 

    

Chapter Text

     As Thor headed off with Eirik to deliver the tithe to Prince Loki, Odin handed Rolf a purse that clinked comfortably.       

     "Are you sure you want us to do this now? Utgard can get rough at night during Harvest Tithe, especially the taverns."   

     "Absolutely, Rolf.  Thor should be looking for maidens to chase, not still wandering around in the hills looking at flowers and snakes and listening to his mother tell stories about fairies.  Take him out, buy him a few drinks first, then take him to a decent brothel. Get him an older woman that can teach him what he's been missing, not some silly young girl who still has stars in her eyes about love."

     Rolf shrugged cynically and tied the purse to his belt, covering it with his tunic.  "Well, regardless of whether we end up fighting or fucking, I'm sure it will be a memorable birthday for young Thor this year," he laughed crudely as he swaggered away to tell the other men of the evening's plans.       

     Odin sighed, brooding over his son's current inability to find a maiden to woo and wed.  He hoped his son's disinterest in the fairer sex would wane after tonight's experiences, and the boy would make him a grandfather soon.  Though he'd said nothing to Thor or Frigga, he knew something wasn't right in his lungs. He'd been checked by numerous healers both at home and in Utgard, but none could give him a clear diagnosis of his illness.  This meant that he needed to begin delegating more tasks both to Thor and the hired men so he could keep from over exerting himself. Call me old-fashioned, but all I want is to see my son comfortably settled with a good woman before I die, thought Odin morosely. 

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     Thor and his father's men were more than a little drunk by the time they made it to The Scarlet Lily.  

     "Another tavern?" slurred Thor, barely able to stand up straight and walk without support.

     "Even better than a tavern, boy.  Get on in there," growled Rolf giving him a push through the door that almost knocked him arse over elbow into the room.

     Regaining his balance, Thor stared dumbfounded at the hedonistic scene unfolding before his eyes.  Perhaps a score of women in all stages of undress posed and preened in the main room. Thor tried to avert his eyes from the bare breasts of one woman only to be confronted by the pale naked thighs of another.  He felt sick to his stomach from the heat of bodies and the smells of perfume and sex.  

     "Why are we here?" he asked Rolf plaintively, hoping he wouldn't vomit in front of all of the strange women.

     "Cos you're a man now, Thor.  It's time you enjoyed yourself in between a woman's legs," Rolf said heartily, scanning the room for a likely candidate for his master's son.

     Thor was appalled at the situation he found himself in.  He was no stranger to pleasuring himself in private, but he was truly repulsed by the decadent atmosphere of the brothel.  Lust, envy, and greed ruled here instead of love and respect, and it turned Thor's stomach. Underneath the sensual facade of many of the women, he could sense their desperation and fear, coupled with a feeling of powerlessness that Thor knew all too well. He licked his lips nervously, knowing that he dared not reveal his deepest secret here, especially in front of his father's men.

     A light touch on his arm made Thor jump.  He turned to see a petite red haired woman in a sheer gown standing by his side, looking up at him with big green eyes. 

     "Good evening, young master," she said softly.  "May I interest you in a drink?"

     "Ummmm… I think I'd better not, or I won't be able to walk back to my bed," admitted Thor, keeping his eyes trained on her face.

     She smiled up at him, eyes crinkling with mirth.  "There are plenty of beds to rest in here for a handsome lad like yourself."

     Thor blushed hotly, but before he could answer her, Rolf strolled over and slapped him on the back. 

     "Is she your choice then, Thor?  Nice tits there, lass," he brayed, ogling her hard pink nipples that were clearly visible through the gauzy fabric.  "I'll go pay the house for your time with her. Go on, get going, Thor. We still have to walk back to the palace when you're done fucking her."

     Stunned by Rolf's crassness, Thor let the woman lead him up the stairs to a small room nearly filled by a bed.  She motioned for him to sit, and he did so, nervously plucking at the linens.  

     "First time?" she asked gently, stroking his arm.  Thor nodded mutely, and she smiled. "I thought so.  That's why I came over to you, you know. I like making a young man's first time special."

    "I don't like women that way," Thor blurted out, feeling too tired and sick to pretend any more. 

     "Oh," she said, momentarily taken aback. "Well, there isn't that much difference between my mouth and a man's, I'd wager.  Why don't you lie back and close your eyes? I don't mind if you think about someone else. Lots of men do, you know."

     Thor did as she asked, not resisting as she took off his boots and carefully tugged down his trousers and underdrawers before taking his cock in her practiced hand.  He closed his eyes as she stroked him firmly, trying to imagine someone, anyone touching him so intimately. He gasped as she took him expertly into her mouth, teasing him with her tongue as she sucked.  Oh yes, that new man my father took on last week.  He has such soft looking lips under his mustache. Maybe his mouth would feel as good as this if I asked him to… ohhhh… I wonder if he would… ohhhh…   Thor groaned as his climax peaked and the woman swallowed his seed, licking her lips like a cat cleaning its whiskers.

     "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" she asked, a trace of smugness in her voice.

    "I… uhhhh… thank you, mistress," he said shakily, propping himself up on his elbows.  He looked down into her emerald eyes, and for a moment, they reminded him very much of Loki's.  He shook his head drunkenly, very confused that he would be thinking about the prince at a time like this.

     She laid a soft hand on his thigh.  "I won't tell," she promised, patting his leg gently.  "Whoever your lover is in the future will be a very lucky man."  She ran her finger over his spent cock with a lascivious grin. "I wish you all the best, young man."

     Thor smiled back crookedly.  "I thank you for your understanding, mistress.  I'd best get back to my father's men now." He struggled back into his pants and stood up.  She knelt and helped him back into his boots. As she stood up, he gave her a small peck on the cheek.

     "Good night," she said softly as she opened the door. "Safe travels to you."

     "Thank you, mistress," replied Thor as he left to rejoin Rolf and the others, groaning internally at the thought of the long, chilly walk back to the palace.

 

Chapter Text

     Thor wandered down the darkened hall towards Loki's chamber, humming softly. Volstagg looked up in surprise, noting Thor's mussed hair and clothing. As Thor drew closer, the guard could smell the alcohol fumes radiating from the young man's breath and clothes.

     "Thor, what are ye doing back here, lad? 'Tis a wee bit late tae be visitin' with Himself, ye ken," said Volstagg with a disapproving frown.

     Thor pulled himself together and offered the guard a wobbly bow. "Today is my birthday, friend Volstagg, and my father's men took me out in your fair city to celebrate. Since I couldn't take Prince Loki out with me, I brought the prince back a little treat so he can join in the festivities," Thor declared grandly, waving a battered turkey leg in front of Volstagg's nose.

     Volstagg relented with a chuckle. "All right lad, but dinnae stay too late. Yer bound tae leave early tomorrow, if I know yer Da."

     Thor bowed extravagantly to the guard, nearly falling over on his face. He righted himself with a few choice curses, then sailed on in to Loki's room.

     "Thor! You're back!" the lindworm exclaimed happily, slithering out from his favorite hiding place by the pool. As he neared his friend, Loki sniffed hard, gagging at the unfamiliar smell of alcohol. "Godssss, Thor, you sssmell hideousss," he groaned, waving his scaly arms around in a futile attempt to dispel the stench.

     "Sorry, Loki, my father's men wanted to take me out to celebrate my birthday. It is customary to do so, you know. 'Specially this one," he hiccuped.

     "I had no idea Thor! Why didn't you tell me this morning? I would have done something. What do you usually do for birthdays? I've never really celebrated mine," the prince confessed.

     "Hmmmm... well usually, my mother makes a special meal and a cake, we... wait, you've never celebrated your birthday?" Thor was appalled on Loki's behalf.  Even though his family wasn't particularly wealthy, his parents had always made Thor and his brother feel special on their birthdays.

     "No, I'm something of a dissssappointment to my fath...uh, family, remember?" sighed Loki. "But Hilda makesss me ssspecial meat piesss and Eirik ussssually visssitsss with me, and my mother alwaysss comesss. It'sss not ssso bad," he said defensively, noticing Thor's horrified look.

     "Gods, Loki, I wish I were here for your birthday. We'd have so much fun! Next year, I'll bring some... " Thor babbled.

     "Don't be sssilly, Thor," the prince interrupted, bumping his friend with his snout. "You jussst being here isss alwaysss gift enough," 

     Thor threw his arms around Loki in a rough hug and planted a wet kiss on his snout. "That's sweet of you to say, Loki. Here, I brought you something. " He waved the turkey leg under the prince's nose.

     Loki sniffed the meat appreciatively before he grasped it with his teeth, being careful not to graze Thor with his sharp teeth. He made short work of the treat, gnawing on the bone a bit before tossing it into the fireplace.

     "Ssso, what isss ssso ssspecial about thisss particular birthday, Thor?" asked the prince, eyes bright with curiosity.

     Thor ducked his head in drunken embarrassment. "Well, since I'm sixteen now, I'm considered of age to be a man. Old enough to be wed and all that nonsense."

     Loki felt a pang of distress in his belly. He didn't want Thor to wed someone! What if his spouse told Thor he couldn't visit the palace anymore? His tail twitched anxiously, imagining a life without Thor's visits.

     "I mean, my father's men thought it was high time I... you know... had a woman," Thor confessed, cheeks pink. "So after we had some drinks, they took me to a brothel and..."

     "What's a brothel?" Loki interrupted. He'd never heard that word before.

     "Ummmm, it's a place where men can go and pay to...uh...," Thor rubbed the back of his neck, not sure how much Loki knew about sex.

     "To do what? Just say it, Thor. Surely it can't be that bad."

     "To...uh...mate," muttered Thor, making a vulgar gesture with his hands.

     "Ohh," said Loki. Mating. He'd seen a laundry girl and one of the guards doing that from his window one day. She had bent over a low wall with her skirt pulled up around her waist, exposing her bare buttocks to the guardsman. He had pulled something out of his trousers and stood behind her, pumping his hips. He hadn't seen how it all ended because Eirik had come up behind him to see what he was looking at. Once he saw what was going on outside, Eirik had shut the drapes, telling him that princes had more important things to do than spy on people fornicating.

     "I.... didn't really want to go," Thor sighed. "I'm just not really interested in women like that. But you can't tell anyone that, Loki. I'd be in so much trouble. Promise me!" he cried passionately, grabbing Loki's clawed hands tightly.

     Loki winced at the pressure on his delicate bones, but he didn't pull away. "I promissse, Thor. I won't tell a sssoul. Ssso, if you're not interessssted in women for mating, who would you ssseek to mate with then?" he asked shyly.

     Thor released his hands and plopped down on the floor.  Loki followed suit, winding himself loosely around his friend like a nest. "Hmmm... well, there is someone. A new man that my father just hired.  He's a bit older than me, but he doesn't treat me like I'm a foolish boy... uhh, he's just really kind and has a wonderful smile. I think maybe he might like me, but I'm afraid to say something. If I'm wrong about him and he goes to my father about it, that would be bad. Very, very bad."

     Loki was crushed at Thor's revelation. Of course, a young man as sweet and handsome as Thor would easily be able to find a lover, but... It still hurt to hear that Thor had set his heart on someone that wasn't Loki, would never be Loki... The prince sighed heavily, feeling the weight of his own secret like a stone inside of his chest.

     "What's wrong, Loki?" Thor asked, stroking his brow ridges.  The prince leaned into his touch, wishing he would never stop that tender caress that brought him so much comfort.

     "Did I tell you that my mother sssent her advisssorsss to ssstudy lindwormsss recently? Apparently I am the only one who can ssspeak to humansss. All the ressst are like beassstsss. I think ssshe had hoped that there wasss another like me but..." he shrugged sadly. "I sssuppossse I ssshall never mate at all."

     "I'm sorry, Loki. I wish there was something I could do," said Thor, giving the prince another boozy hug.

     There isss, but you don't sssee it... "It isssn't your fault, Thor. It isss jussst the way of thingsss.  Here," he said, rearranging his coils to make Thor more comfortable. "Why don't you rest here for a bit before you go back to your room?"

     "Thank you Loki, you take such good care of me.  You're a wonderful friend," mumbled Thor.  He wrapped his arms around the prince and closed his eyes, succumbing at last to fatigue and alcohol. Loki lay there miserably, feeling more alone than he ever had in his life.

Chapter Text

     They had been dancing around one another for weeks now- a lingering touch here, a smoldering glance there- until Thor was just about ready to jump out of his skin with desire.  As luck would have it, Odin sent Fandral out with Thor early in the morning to round up some of the pigs for the harvest tithing. They set out from the house together, enjoying the bright colors of the crisp fall day.  As soon as they entered the forest, Fandral grabbed Thor's arm, tugging him deeper into the shadows of the trees.

     "Come on Thor, I want to show you something," teased Fandral, his hand cool on Thor's sun-warmed skin.

    "It had better be good, Fandral.  We're supposed to be finding pigs for the tithing, you know " Thor grumbled good-naturedly, letting himself be drawn away from the house and further into the forest. 

   "Oh, I think you'll like it," drawled Fandral as he pulled Thor into the shadow of a massive pine tree and kissed him.

      That lady at the brothel was wrong.  There's a world of difference between her mouth and a man's mouth , Thor thought dazedly as Fandral's tongue plundered his mouth.  He whimpered into the kiss as Fandral's hands slid down to his arse, pressing their groins together so Thor could feel how hard he was.  The other man grinned shamelessly back, and Thor realized that Fandral could feel his erection too.

     They broke apart, breathing heavily, and Fandral chuckled. "I'm glad to see I wasn't wrong about you. That would have been embarrassing."

     Thor's bright smile rivaled the sun.  "I've been hoping that you were interested.  I didn't want to put you in an awkward position, though."

     "Oh, you can put me in whatever position you like," murmured Fandral, moving in to capture another kiss.  His hands stroked Thor's cheeks, slightly roughened by his short blonde beard. "Turn around," he breathed softly into Thor's ear, his warm breath making Thor shiver.  

      Thor did as he was told, and Fandral drew him close, rubbing his cock against Thor's arse. His hands slid under Thor's tunic, exploring his chest and belly, teasing at Thor's nipples until he moaned, grinding back into Fandral's crotch. 

     "Here, let me touch you," Fandral said softly, one hand dropping down to caress Thor's aching cock through his trousers.  His hands were making Thor mad with desire, making him hope that Fandral would pull down his trousers and take him right there. Thor's shaking fingers crept up and started undoing his laces so Fandral would be able to reach in and touch his bare skin.

     "Please," Thor begged shamelessly, grabbing Fandral's hand and pushing it under the loosened fabric, groaning as his fingers brushed Thor's cock.  Fandral took the hint and wrapped his fingers around it, stroking him slowly and making Thor writhe back against him.

     "Do you want to come right now, Thor?" Fandral growled, rutting against Thor's arse.

     "Oh yes," Thor moaned.  "Yes please, Fandral. I want you to make me come."  The other man's hand sped up, stroking him harder and faster until his orgasm wracked him.  His seed spurted over Fandral's fingers, spattering on the fallen leaves under their feet.

      "Here," said Fandral, holding his hand to Thor's lips. Thor hesitated for a moment, then poked his tongue out and tentatively licked at the come on Fandral's hand.  It's not wonderful, but it could taste worse, I guess , mused Thor.  Fandral took his hand away, licking the rest off of his fingers with a sly grin. 

     A filthy idea bloomed in Thor's head, and he turned and pushed Fandral back against the pine tree.  Dropping to his knees, Thor wrestled with the laces on Fandral's trousers until he was able to free the other man's cock.  He closed his eyes and put Fandral's cock in his mouth, trying to remember how the woman at the brothel had done it. He moved slowly at first, getting used to the way it stretched his lips and made it harder to breathe. As he felt more confident, he started to move faster, using his tongue against the head as he sucked. Fandral tangled his fingers in Thor's hair, not forcing anything, just holding on gently as he enjoyed the sight of Thor on his knees in front of him.

     "Look at me, Thor," Fandral commanded, and Thor obeyed, looking up at him through his thick black lashes.  "Oh Gods," he groaned. "Get ready, Thor, I'm about to come." Thor choked a little at the first spurt of Fandral's seed on his tongue, but kept sucking until the other man touched his cheeks gently and said "Enough, Thor.  Gods, that was amazing!" Blushing fiercely, Thor got up and dusted his knees off, finally taking the time to relace his trousers. Fandral attended to his own laces and straightened his tunic, then turned to Thor. "Will you meet me later?" he asked softly, stroking Thor's bearded cheek with his thumb.  

     Thor nodded, not trusting his voice.  His throat was a bit sore from sucking Fandral's cock, but he was already looking forward to trying it again, along with several other things that he thought might be enjoyable.  "We could meet up in the hayloft," Thor offered. "It's warm up there, and private, too."

      "All right, we'll meet there in the afternoon, just before dinner," agreed Fandral.  "Can you bring some oil? It will make things a lot easier, you know."

     "I'll do my best," said Thor. "Now, ummm, let's check down by the river for the pigs.  They like it down there because there's lots of acorns for them to eat."

     Fandral threw his arm around Thor's shoulders, and they walked down the hill together towards the river. 

 

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     "Where is Thor?" grumbled Odin. "I need his help separating the boars and sows."

     Balder piped up,"I saw him go into the barn a little while ago. Maybe he's still in there."

     "I'll tan his hide for wasting my time.  We have to have everything ready to leave for Utgard in two days," Odin groused. "Balder, you go check the house. If you find him, tell him I said to go to the pens.  I'll check the barn myself."

     Inside the barn, it was dim and quiet.  Odin walked down the main aisle looking in the stalls, fuming at his eldest son's absence. As he neared the ladder to the hayloft, he began to hear rustling sounds accompanied by a faint rhythmic squeaking of boards.  His sharp ears picked out his son's voice quietly moaning in pleasure. At first, Odin smiled broadly, thinking that his son had finally found a woman that pleased him; however, he stopped in mid stride as he heard, not the woman's voice he expected, but the deep tones of another man.  He shook his head in disbelief. Thor was not in the hayloft with a man . That was not possible, not acceptable .  He would put an end to whatever this was right here and now. Steeling his resolve, Odin started up the ladder, freezing in place as Thor cried out, the other voice joining his in a passionate crescendo. Odin gritted his teeth and finished climbing the ladder, trying to prepare himself for what he might find.

     The scene that met his eyes was worse than he expected. Not only was Thor fornicating with another man, he'd let himself be taken like a fancy little whore.  Odin was beside himself with rage, storming up the last few rungs of the ladder.  His boots hit the hayloft floor loudly, and the two young men who were still wrapped in an intimate embrace pulled away from each other in shock.  Odin looked like the very image of an avenging god, chest puffed out wrathfully.  

     "GET OUT!!" he thundered at Fandral, who grabbed his clothing and practically flew down the ladder. Thor sat frozen in shock, terrified of what his father might do now that they were alone. He'd sometimes switched Thor as a young boy for minor misdeeds, but his father's ominous tone had every nerve in Thor's body paralyzed with fear.

     "On your hands and knees, boy, since you seem to like it so much," snarled his father. Thor complied numbly, his heart pounding so hard he thought he might faint.  Odin took off his belt and doubled it, snapping the worn leather between his hands. Thor closed his eyes as his father swung.

     By the time Odin was done with his punishment, almost every inch of Thor's back and buttocks was etched in agony, as if his skin had been doused with pitch and set aflame.  Tears ran silently down his cheeks, but he choked back his sobs so as not to further inflame Odin's anger at his supposed unmanliness.

     Odin pulled him up to his knees by his hair, grimacing at his tear-stained cheeks.  "Get yourself under control, boy, and put your damned clothes on. Then, you come straight to the house, and don't you even dare try to talk to that… that....  And if you so much as breathe a word of this to your mother, I swear I'll turn you out of this house and make Balder my heir." Thor cringed away from the disgust and contempt in Odin's eyes.  "Do it now, boy!" Odin barked before retreating back down the ladder as if his eldest son carried a deadly plague that might contaminate him.

     Thor moved slowly, trying not to injure himself further. He managed to pull on his underdrawers and trousers with shaking hands, wincing as the rough fabric rubbed on his welted skin.  He stared dully at his tunic, not sure if he could even move his arms high enough to put it back on.

    A sound at the ladder sent him scrambling backwards in terror.  His younger brother's head appeared, solemn eyes taking in Thor's injuries. "Father's awful mad at you, Thor.  I've never seen him like that before, and it was really scary. Are you okay?" he asked as he finished climbing up into the hayloft. 

     Thor hung his head, wishing Balder hadn't seen him like this.  "Actually, I could use your help getting my tunic back on."

     Balder came over, shaking his head.  "You're bleeding, Thor. I'd better tell Mother so she can…"

     "No!" Thor blurted out. "You can't tell her anything about this, Balder!  It will only make things worse."

   "I… But… If that's really what you want, Thor, then I won't tell. But, Mother isn't stupid, though," Balder warned.  He picked up Thor's tunic. "She'll know right away that you're hurt."

     Thor sighed wearily.  "I know, Balder. Just help me get dressed, and I'll figure the rest out later."  

 

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     A few agonizing minutes later, Thor made his way painfully down the ladder and began walking towards the house.  He glanced around surreptitiously, trying to spot Fandral, but the other man was nowhere to be seen. His father stepped out of the door, and Thor cringed back away from him.  "You will be at my side from now on until we leave for Utgard. I'd leave you behind since you love seeing the damned prince so much, but I can't trust that you won't disgrace yourself further while I'm gone. Now go inside"

     Thor bowed his head mutely in acceptance, pathetically grateful that he wouldn't be denied the chance to see Loki this year.  He went inside and made it to his room without being seen by his mother. He could feel tears pricking at his eyes again as he lay down gingerly on his bed, and he succumbed once more to despair, crying himself to sleep.  

     Balder woke him a little while later for dinner, and Thor groaned.  His appetite was nearly nonexistent at the moment, and he couldn't bear the thought of being under his father's scrutiny at the table.  He knew, however, if he didn't make an appearance, Frigga would come looking for him, so he dragged himself out of bed and washed his face.  Every muscle in his body screamed in protest as he walked down the narrow hallway to the kitchen. His father and brother were already seated, and Frigga was bringing the food over to the table when he entered.  Thor slumped into his seat, and his mother handed him some bread. Thor ate mechanically, trying to move as little as possible; meanwhile, Balder chattered at Odin's side, casting concerned looks in Thor's direction whenever their mother wasn't looking. 

     "Thor, are you all right?  You've barely eaten anything," said Frigga, laying a concerned hand on Thor's shoulder.  He gasped and instinctively twisted away from her, trying to lessen the pain flaring up under his skin.  "What's wrong, Thor? Are you hurt?"

     He could feel Odin's gaze burning into him from across the table as he turned painfully to answer his mother.  "It's nothing, mother. I'm fine."

     Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Thor, my son, I know you're lying to me.  What happened to you?"

     Odin slapped the table hard, making Thor flinch.  "He's my son, and I will discipline him as I see fit, woman!"

     "Is that so?  She walked slowly around the table towards her husband, head cocked like a bird of prey.  As she came within arm's reach of Odin, she suddenly grabbed his hair and pulled his head back, baring his throat to the knife she snatched from the table.  "Well, for three bloody days and nights. I labored to bring him into this world. So I dare say he's my son too, and I'll heal him as I see fit.  Thor, go to my still room.  I'll be there in a moment."

     Thor knew better than to cross Frigga when she was angry, so he tried to stand up and failed miserably.  Balder hopped up and gave him a hand so he could finally get to his feet. Thor shuffled out the door, wondering what warrior spirit had possessed his usually placid mother to raise a knife to his father.  Balder followed in case Thor needed help on the way.

     "Now you listen to me," she snapped once Thor and Balder had left the room.  "What in the name of the Gods possessed you to do that to Thor?"

     "I'll not have my son and heir fornicating with..with.." Odin spluttered, face flushed with anger. 

     "With what, you fool?  Is he tupping the pigs?  The chickens? Little children?" she snapped.

     "With a man , damn it!" he growled.

     Frigga jerked his hair hard in annoyance.  "What of it, Odin? It's hardly the end of the world.  If Thor ends up not having children- which could happen even if he did marry a woman-  then Balder will carry on the farm for us instead. It's nothing to beat him bloody for, you ass.  I swear Odin, if you drive Thor away, Balder and I will leave with him- don't think I won't! Many nobles would be honored to have a trained herbalist like me serving their house."  She shoved his head away and tossed the knife contemptuously on the table, stalking away without a backwards glance and leaving Odin staring stupidly at her back.

 

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     When Frigga entered her still room, Thor was sitting carefully on a stool with Balder hovering protectively nearby. She smiled at her younger son, stroking his blonde curls with a gentle hand.  "Thank you for looking after Thor, my dear. Why don't you go on to your room? I'll take care of everything here."

     "Yes, Mama," said Balder, kissing her cheek before he left.  She looked after him fondly for a moment before turning her attention to her eldest son.

     "All right, Thor, I know this will hurt, but I need you to take your tunic off. I'm sure I'll need to clean things up before I can put anything on to numb it."

     Thor sighed and tried to do as she asked, but in the end, Frigga had to help pull the tunic up and over his head.  She shook her head as she stared at the welts and bruises covering Thor's back. The skin had split in several spots from Odin's blows, still bleeding sluggishly in a few places.  Frigga opened a bottle and picked up a clean cloth.

     "This is going to sting," she warned as she poured the tincture on her cloth.  Thor hissed as she carefully wiped his injuries so they wouldn't become infected. Once she was satisfied, she set the cloth aside and picked up a jar of ointment. "Now this will both numb the pain and help the bruises heal faster.  I'll be sure to pack some for you to take on the trip to Utgard."

     Thor hung his head as she smoothed the ointment onto his back.  "I'm sorry, Mama," he whispered.

     "For what?  Following your heart?"  She laughed shortly. "Truly, there's no way I could fault you for doing that, Thor.  Many of the other herbalists I trained with couldn't understand why I chose to come here and marry your father and raise pigs, but I did it anyway.  I knew that I was meant to be here, and your father blessed me with two good sons.  I've always known that your path through this world would not be an easy one, my dear, and I refuse to allow your father to make it harder with his willful ignorance."

     Thor stared at her.  "You knew ?  But how? I mean, I never..."

      Frigga smiled mysteriously. "I was raised by witches, boy.  I see with more than eyes. It was that blonde boy, wasn't it?  The tall one with the mustache?"

      Thor blushed guiltily under Frigga's knowing gaze.  "I knew Father wouldn't approve, but I had no idea he'd be this angry about it," he mumbled

     "You leave your father to me, Thor.  I'll get his foolishness sorted out. Now, how does your back feel?"

     Thor tried moving his arms.  The pain was still there, but it was bearable now.  "Much better, Mother. Thank you."

     "You're welcome, my dear," she said, patting his cheek.  "I think you should try to get some rest now. I want you to heal as much as possible before you leave for Utgard.  If I were you, I'd leave your tunic off while you sleep so it won't keep sticking to your wounds. Now, off you go, Thor, and good night."

 

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    Thor dropped into an exhausted sleep, only to be awoken a few hours later by Balder pounding on his bedroom door. "Wake up, Thor!  Brigands are trying to take the pigs for the tithe! Father needs you!"

     Struggling up out of his bed, Thor managed to throw on a tunic over the trousers he had fallen asleep in. He yanked his sword out of its scabbard and ran for the front door.  He threw the door open and sprinted barefoot across the yard, following the sounds of fighting. As he ran around the side of the barn, he was nearly hit in the head by a thin, desperate looking man wielding a cudgel. Thor ducked in time, but was hit in the side by another brigand.  He grunted and swung wildly with his sword, slashing the man's arm and making him drop his weapon. While he was distracted, the first man swung at him and connected with his ribs again. Thor roared and dropped his sword to grapple with the brigand, wrestling him to the ground and disarming him.  The man struggled furiously and Thor punched him, managing to knock him unconscious. The red rage of battle surged through his veins, and he couldn't feel the pain in his ribs or in his back as he helped round up and disarm the rest of the would-be thieves. 

     As Thor's adrenaline wore off, he staggered from the intense pain in his back and ribs. In a flash, Balder was there by his side  helping him remain on his feet. "Let's go to Mother and have her look at you again," his brother suggested, putting his arm carefully around Thor's waist.

     When they got to the still room, they found Frigga already there, her hand pressed tightly against her side and her face whiter than winter snow. She composed herself quickly when she saw her sons, moving to help support Thor until he got to the stool.  She shook her head in dismay when she pulled off his tunic again and saw the marks of the cudgels already patterning Thor's ribs. He groaned as she smoothed on more of the numbing ointment she had used earlier, coating both his ribs and back with the cooling balm.

     Frigga wiped her hands on a towel and turned to her youngest son.  "Balder, would you please go get some fresh water from the well for your brother?  I need him to take some medicine before he goes back to bed."

     "Of course, Mother.  I'll be right back." He scampered out the door, pleased to be helping his mother heal his brother.

     Thor watched and waited until Balder had left before turning back to Frigga.   "Are you well, Mother?" he asked, as her hand strayed back to her side. She smiled at him, a sad gentle smile that made Thor feel like an abyss had just opened under his feet.

     "I'm well enough for the moment, my dear son," she said, cupping his face in her hands.  "We are all born to die, Thor; some of us will just go sooner than others. And believe you me, even when I'm gone, I'll still look out for you. I give you my word, Thor."

     Thor's eyes burned fiercely at the thought of losing Frigga's gentle guidance.  "Mama," he whispered brokenly, clutching at her dress. She stroked his golden hair as he wept, her own tears held back sternly by the need to comfort her child.

     "Now listen to me, Thor.  Your friendship with the prince… it will be of great importance to you in the future.  I can't see exactly what will occur, but it's important that you and Prince Loki stay connected.  Promise me you won't neglect him as you get older. He's had enough dark and lonely days as it is. You'll light the way for him, won't you, my little sunbeam?"

      Thor smiled faintly at his old nickname.  "Yes, Mama, I'll do my best to help the prince."

     Frigga kissed his forehead tenderly. "I know you will, my son.  Now, here's Balder with your water. Take this, it will help with the pain and make you sleep soundly."

     Thor swallowed the pills, then yawned hugely.  "Good night, Mother. I love you."

     "I love you too, my sons," Frigga said, holding her arms wide.  Thor and Balder embraced their mother warmly before heading off to their beds.

 

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     Two days later, Thor and Odin set off for Utgard, a heavy wall of silence looming between them.

Chapter Text

     Hearing bootheels ringing on the flagstones, Volstagg looked down the hall. Didnae realize 'twas already time for Thor tae come again. He's sae grown up, I'd scarcely hae recognized him, thought the burly guard. The tall young man coming towards him was now thickly muscled instead of being the lean, lanky boy who used to visit the prince each year. A soft blond beard now lightly covered cheeks that still showed signs of baby fat; only the twinkling blue eyes remained unchanged. As usual, he carried a wiggling fat pig on one hip as a gift to the prince, but the other hip now bore a sword in a worn scabbard.

       "Where's yer Da, Thor? Surely ye didnae come all this way yerself?" queried the guard.

     "No, Volstagg, he's just very tired. I sent him off to rest before dinner. How is the prince?"  Thor asked.

     "Himself will be glad t' see ye, I ken. Good thing he'll recognize yer scent, though. Yer no' the wee lad that first came here, are ye?"

     Thor let out an embarrassed chuckle, stroking his beard self-consciously. "Not really, I guess. I've been doing some weapons training over the last year or so. Brigands have been thick as fleas up on the hills this season."

     Volstagg grunted in approval. "Just ye be careful, mind? We all caught merry Hel the last time ye got injured."

       Thor groaned "Oh Gods, don't remind me! That was an absolute disaster, though it did all come right in the end."

     The burly guard laughed and slapped him on the back as he passed through the door into Loki's shadowy domain.

     The lindworm came barreling out of the shadows almost before the door was completely closed. He drew up short and gazed intently at Thor, his forked tongue flickering out and tasting the air.

     "Thor, it isss you! You look ssso different! Thank goodnessss you sssmell the sssame!"

     Thor smiled awkwardly and set the pig down on the floor. "What makes me so different this time, Loki?"

      The prince slithered around him, taking note of all his changes. "Firssst of all, you're ssso tall now. And hmmmm, ssso... lumpy, too." He looked at Thor's face, gently brushing his beard with the back of his clawed hand. "You're sssoft now, but not sssmooth anymore."

     Thor's cheeks pinkened at Loki's comments. "Yes, well, my little brother is quite jealous of my beard, thank you very much! And just what do you mean by lumpy, Your Highness??"

     Loki prodded at Thor's muscular upper arm. "Ssssee...lumpy."

     Thor chuckled ruefully. "Those are muscles, Loki, not lumps. I've done a lot of weapons training lately. Plus I've been taking on a lot more duties around the farm that my father can't handle anymore."

     "Hmph, my musssclesss are nice and sssmooth," teased Loki smugly, wrapping his coils around Thor's legs and giving them a gentle squeeze. "And why have you ssstarted weapons training? Isss working with pigsss ssso dangerousss?"

     "No, not really." Thor shook his head.  "We've been having trouble with brigands for a while now; since I'm the oldest, I thought I should know what to do. A few of my father's men had been in the army when they were younger, so they're teaching me what they know."

     "Hire sssoldiersss, that'sss what you ssshould do," the prince scolded, wagging a clawed finger in Thor's face.

       "Well, that takes extra coin, which we don't always have for that sort of thing," said Thor defensively. "I do well enough at it, Loki. I helped capture three of them just before we left to come here."

     "I wisssh you didn't have to fight anyone, Thor. I'm ssscared you might get hurt," Loki sighed.

     "Very few of them are actually good fighters, though. Most are just hungry and desperate," Thor pointed out.

     "Desssperate men can be very dangerousss, though," Loki replied seriously.

     "I know, Loki, but I'll do whatever's necessary for my family's safety. Besides, I thought someday I was going to be one of your guards, right?" joked Thor, pretending to wave a sword at him.

      Loki playfully butted Thor in the stomach, wringing a pained grunt from his friend. Loki was immediately contrite. "What'sss wrong, Thor? Are you injured? Ssshall I sssend for the healersss?"

     "Just a bit bruised is all. The men we fought didn't have swords, but being hit by cudgels doesn't feel very good, either," Thor admitted.

     "Ssshow me, Thor," said Loki, concerned for his friend's well-being.

       Thor unbuckled his sword belt and set it down so he could raise his tunic a few inches, and Loki hissed in sympathy. Thor's stomach and ribs were patterned with dark bruises. The prince gently flicked his tongue over the sore flesh, hissing at the damage. Carefully poking an undamaged spot, he peeked up wickedly at Thor. "Lumpy here asss well, I sssee."

     Flustered, Thor quickly pulled his tunic back down over his stomach. "Don't fuss, Loki. I'll heal up soon enough."

     As Thor turned away to pick up his sword belt, Loki noticed a slowly spreading stain stain on the back of his tunic. "What isss that on your back, Thor? Sssomething doesssn't sssmell right here. Are you injured on your back asss well?"

      Thor stiffened and bowed his head. "I'd rather not talk about it, Loki," he mumbled.

     "I'll sssend Volssstagg for a healer," said Loki, concerned about his friend's apparent injury.

       "NO!" Thor shouted, startling Loki. "No, no healers."

     "But, you're bleeding. You ssshould get help."  Loki couldn't understand why Thor was being so difficult about his injury.

        "It's nothing. Just a punishment for making poor choices, Loki. Don't worry, it's almost healed anyway," he muttered.

     "Who did thissss?" Loki snarled, enraged that someone would hurt his friend. "I'll find them and..."

     "My father did it, Loki," Thor said flatly. "As I said, it's a punishment for making poor choices. It's nothing for you to worry about"     "Ssshow me. Asss your Prince, I command it," snapped Loki.

     Thor sighed, knowing that Loki wouldn't relent until he knew the truth. He painfully removed his tunic, wincing as it stuck to his back in several places.

       Loki gasped as he looked at his friend's back. Bruises crisscrossed Thor's tanned skin, too regular in shape to have come from a cudgel. The skin was even broken in a few places, dark scabs marring the smooth skin. The worst was Thor's shoulder where Volstagg's thoughtless slap had torn open the scab, allowing the wound to bleed freely again.

       "Why would your father do thisss to you? Sssurely whatever happened wasss an accident, right?" Loki was dumbfounded.

       "No, I knew what I was doing, and I chose to do it. I just hoped that we wouldn't get caught, but as you see..." Thor shrugged.

     Loki's tail lashed the ground in confusion and distress. His parents and the servants had never struck him, even when his behavior was appalling. The closest he had ever come to a physical punishment was when he tried to attack Odin and Thor had grabbed his snout to stop him. He gently put his clawed hand on Thor's forearm, shocked at how cold and clammy his skin felt.

       "Pleassse Thor, tell me what happened. I hate to sssee you like thisss." He tugged carefully on Thor's arm, hoping to get him over by the fireplace to warm him up.

     Thor slowly went along with him and sank down on a cushion in front of the roaring fire, bloodstained tunic lying forgotten in his lap. Loki came and curled up next to him, sliding his snout under his friend's arm.  Thor rubbed his hand on the prince's smooth scales to help collect his thoughts before he spoke.

       "Do you remember last year when I was drunk, and I told you about a boy that I liked? Well, it turns out he liked me too. One thing led to another and..." Thor broke off, trying to get his emotions under control. "We ended up in the hayloft together trying to figure out how it all worked. I guess my father must have heard us when he came in for something. Oh Gods, he was so angry, Loki! He yelled at Fandral to get out and told me he was going to beat my foolishness out of me once and for all."

     Loki squirmed uncomfortably, not sure how to react to Thor's confession. On one hand, he was wildly jealous of this stranger who seemingly held Thor's heart as well as his body in his scaleless, clawless hands. But, on the other hand, he also didn't want to upset Thor any further. He wanted to wrap his coils around his friend and shelter him from anything and anyone who tried to hurt him, including his father.

       "Listen to me, Thor. If your father hurtsss you again... or if you wisssh to leave home for any reassson, come ssstraight to me. Asss Prince, I ssshould have attendantsss like my brother doesss. I have never asssked for any, but there isss alwaysss a place here for you, my friend. No one will missstreat you, or I ssshall make them very, very sssorry," Loki said seriously.

       Thor smiled shakily, tears welling up in his eyes. "That's very kind of you, Loki, but I can't leave Balder and my mother right now. My brother is too young to take over running the farm yet, and Mama… she isn't well.  Don't worry, Loki. Everything will be all right," he choked as the tears finally spilled over, soaking into his beard.

     Loki swiftly adjusted his coils so he could put his arms around his friend. "I'm ssseriousss, Thor. Ssstay with me. You'll be sssafe here."

     Thor scrubbed at his face, trying to wipe away the tears.  "But I'm afraid that Fandral won't be safe at home anymore, and I don't want to leave him to face my father alone. It was all my fault that we got caught. If I hadn't convinced him to go to the hayloft with me, he'd..."

       "Sssssshhhh," crooned Loki. "You are not to blame for your father'sss cruelty. But I underssstand that you want to protect sssomeone who isss ssspecial to you." He paused, gathering his courage to make the most difficult offer of his life. "If you feel he isss in danger, there isss room for both of you here."

     "Thank you, Loki.  I'll keep that in mind," Thor whispered, hiding his face in Loki's coils. 

     After a few minutes, a shift in Thor's breathing told Loki that his friend had fallen asleep. He settled his coils more comfortably and dozed off, lulled by the heat of Thor's body and the fire.   His last conscious thought was that maybe, just maybe, Thor would decide to stay with him-maybe not today, but soon....

Chapter Text

     Thor watched helplessly as the long winter took its toll on Frigga.  Instead of working in her still room or helping with the day-to-day chores, she spent much of each day wrapped up snugly in a blanket in front of the fire.  Thor and Balder spent their free time cosseting her, bringing her small treats and listening to her tell stories of magical beings both bright and dark. At times such as these, Odin either brooded in the corner or kept himself busy with the pigs and the hired men.  During his absences, the brothers learned more about herbalists and how they were trained in more than just herb lore. They found it hard to believe that their kind, gentle mother had been taught to fight skillfully with a knife, but the reason she gave unfortunately made too much sense.  "We were expected to go out and gather what we needed by ourselves, and there were many men who thought a lone woman would be easy prey. In fact, when I first met your father, I was busy threatening to slit his best friend's throat..." 

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     One bleak night, Thor was summoned out of his bed to fight against brigands again. He took no hurt himself this time, but Odin lost several men in the battle.  Most of the men he barely knew, but Thor could only stare in mute horror as Fandral's limp body was laid with their other casualties inside the barn. He could feel his father's eyes on him as he carefully covered each of his father's men with a blanket to await burial in the morning.      

     Odin gripped his shoulder fiercely, keeping him from leaving with the others. "You will keep vigil by our men tonight, Thor," he said harshly, leaving his son behind in the frigid stable with their dead.  

     Thor didn't know if he should curse his father or thank him for unknowingly providing him with a chance to say goodbye to his lover in private.  He went to Fandral's body and gently turned back the blanket, revealing his pale, cold face. "I'm sorry for not taking you away from here, Fandral, but I couldn't leave Mama.  She's getting worse, and I don't know how much longer she'll have before…." Thor broke down then, weeping on his dead lover's chest. After a few minutes, he sat up and wiped his face, shivering with cold.  He kissed Fandral's cheek and pulled the blanket back up over his face. Well, Father, I guess you got your way, didn't you? Thor thought sourly.   You won't have to worry about me sullying the family name again, at least not with him .   Looking around, Thor spotted a spare blanket crumpled on the ground that he wrapped around himself to ward off the worst of the cold as he waited for the dawn. 

 

     Although the solstice had already passed, Thor felt sure that this had to be the longest night of the year.

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     Frigga rallied a bit in spring.  To her children, the warmth returning to the earth seemed to bring strength back to her body as well.  One or both of the boys would accompany her out to search for fresh herbs for the still room. Thor often went with her, leaving Balder to work with Odin, learning how to manage both animals and men.  His excuse was that he was bigger and stronger than his brother in case Frigga grew ill and needed to be carried back to the house; but in truth, Thor was hoarding every moment that he could with his mother, dreading the day when she would leave him forever. 

      As they rambled, they spoke of many things, and Frigga was especially interested in hearing about Loki. When Thor finally told her about Loki's offer to shelter him and Fandral, she sighed. "It was kind of the prince to offer you both sanctuary. If only…" She bit her lip, knowing that Thor still mourned the loss of his lover and hesitating to bring her son more pain with her words.  "I know it's selfish of me to say so, but I'm glad you're here with me right now." Thor said nothing, but hugged his mother close until she swatted him on the shoulder, reminding him they still had several herbs to find before dinner.

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     As the summer faded into early autumn, so did Frigga's strength.  Her slender frame grew dangerously thin, and both Thor and Balder tried to tempt her waning appetite with fresh, sweet berries and apples from the orchard. Though they tried their best,  Frigga's strength continued to dwindle. One day, she stumbled and Thor caught her before she could fall. By chance, his hand pressed against her side, and he could feel a large mass of something pushing against her skin.  He stared down at her with shocked eyes, taking in her exhausted pallor and emaciated body.  

     "Oh, Mama. No.  No. Why?" Thor whispered, eyes bright with tears.

     "I told you once before, my son.  Every one of us is born to die," she said, putting her hands on Thor's cheeks as if he were still a small boy and kissing his forehead.  "Don't worry, I'm not in any pain, sweetheart. Trust me, Thor."

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     About a month before the tithe was due in Utgard, Thor awoke in the middle of the night, overwhelmed with the urge to check on his mother.  Since the main room was the warmest, a small bed had been made up for her next to the fire. As Thor approached quietly, she turned her head to look at him, a small smile tugging at her lips.

     "You heard my call," she said softly as Thor took her fragile hand in his.  He kissed her fingers reverently, not trusting himself to speak. "Thor, my firstborn, my little sunbeam, I have a gift for you."  She pulled out a small glass bottle from under her pillow and handed it to Thor. He took it carefully, gazing curiously at the runes carved into both the glass and the silver stopper.  This vial was like nothing he had ever seen in his mother's still room, and he raised his eyebrows at her in a silent question. 

     "There will come a time in the future when you feel like you desperately need my counsel. If you drink the contents of this vial, I will come to you in a dream and give you such aid as I can.  Use it wisely, Thor, for my spirit can only only make the journey back to the world of the living once before I must move on to the next realm."

     "But what about Balder, Mother? Will there be no such comfort for him?" asked Thor, not wanting his brother to be left out.

     She touched his cheek with cold fingers, making him shiver with dread.  "Balder will be alright, Thor. Though you look much alike, your natures are very different.  I know I call you my little sunbeam, but you've always been more of a little storm cloud, and you've definitely had a lot to rain about these past few months. There will be sunshine again for you one day, my dear, but there are a few more storms you must pass through first."  She grimaced and shifted her position slightly. "Will you wake Balder and your father now? There are things that I would say to them before I go."

     Thor went and gathered the rest of his family and they each took a turn talking with Frigga as the night wore on.  Slowly, the darkness began to give way to the pale glimmer of morning, and Frigga roused, her eyes wide and bright.  

     "Carry me outside to the hilltop, Thor.  I want my spirit to rise with the dawn," she commanded, gripping his hand tightly. 

     What could he do but obey her?  Thor lifted his mother easily in his arms and carried her out the door and up the hill overlooking their house.  Balder laid out a blanket and Thor eased down onto it, cradling Frigga against his broad chest. Odin sunk down beside them, eyes as dark and empty as a new grave, while Balder sat at his mother's feet, lips trembling and eyes threatening to spill over and drown them all in a river of sorrow.  Thor could feel her shallow breaths and the rapid beating of her heart like a little bird he had once caught in his hands as a boy. He had held that tiny spark of life in his hands just for a moment before setting it free to soar back into the sky, and he knew he had to do the same for Frigga.  Taking a deep breath, he whispered in her ear, "It's okay, Mama. Go with the wind and the sunshine….I love you." He felt the slight pressure of her fingers on his arm before they fell away.  At her feet, Balder curled over and sobbed, giving in to his grief. Odin sat mute beside Thor, tears cutting through the weathered grooves in his cheeks like rain wearing away an ancient stone.  

     Thor laid her body down on the soft blanket she had woven with her own hands, and they sat in silence together for some time.  As the sun rose higher, one of Odin's men came quietly up the hill, head bared in respect for Frigga's passing. He carried a shovel in his hands, prepared to do one last service for his mistress, but Thor stood and took the shovel from him gently. "Thank you, but Balder and I will take care of this," he said, voice thick with sadness.  The brothers took turns digging under her favorite tree until they had prepared her final resting place. Balder went to gather the men, and Thor helped Odin stand up. He was shocked at his father's passivity, moving dazedly in response to Thor's words like a broken puppet whose strings had been cut. He's in shock , Thor realized.  Hopefully he'll snap out of it soon.  There's so much still to be done before the tithing .

     The men and their families left their homes slowly assembled on the hillside. The carpenter and his apprentices came bearing a coffin carved with beautiful curling vines and flowers on the lid and sides.  Thor stooped and lifted Frigga once more. Balder came and kissed her cheek one last time before going to stand by the coffin. Thor looked around and saw Odin standing numbly where he had left him earlier. Thor carried Frigga over to him.

   "Father... Father ," Thor begged.  "It's time to tell Mama goodbye."

     Odin turned his dreadful empty gaze on Thor for a moment, twin wells of endless sorrow.  Then his eyes cleared briefly and he clutched both his son and his wife fiercely to his chest.  As he released them and stepped back, Odin's eyes glazed back over with grief, leaving Thor to place his mother in the coffin by himself.  Balder helped him put the lid on, and several of Odin's most trusted men lifted the coffin and lowered it into the grave. Seeing that Odin was unable to assist with her eulogy, Thor spoke to them of his mother's kindness and generosity, her skill as a healer, her deep love for her children and her husband. Once he finished, the mourners each put a handful of dirt in the grave before walking silently down the hill.  Thor sighed and began filling in the rest of the hole. As he added the last shovelfuls of dirt, Balder came over with a small bag. He dropped to his knees beside the grave and began poking holes in the dirt with his finger. Thor raised his eyebrows, and Balder shrugged, smiling weakly.

     "Mother gave these to me last night," he said, holding out a handful of bulbs.  "She told me if I planted them now, they would bloom for us in the spring."

     Thor set the shovel aside.  "Can I help?" he asked softly.  

     Balder dropped some of the bulbs into Thor's outstretched palm.  "Just poke a hole as deep as you can, drop one in, and cover it with dirt.  Nature should take care of the rest."

     They worked in silence, burying the bulbs in the raw earth.  When there were no more bulbs to plant, the brothers stood up and brushed their hands off on their trousers.  

     Balder looked over at Odin and shook his head mournfully. "I'll see if I can get him back down to the house if you'll go check on the pigs."

     Thor nodded in agreement and headed down the hill towards the barn, shovel in hand; meanwhile, bit by bit, Balder coaxed their father to follow him back down to the house.

*********************  

     Over the next few weeks, Balder and Thor worked together, running the farm during the day, and taking care of Odin at night.  At first, he was resistant to their efforts, shutting them out both mentally and physically, preferring to wallow in his own misery over Frigga's death. Thor started making mistakes on purpose- nothing dangerous to the livestock or other humans- trying to see if he could goad Odin into reacting.  Even another beating would be better than this, this... nothingness, Thor thought morosely.

     The breakthrough came totally by accident the day Thor tried to do the laundry.  Frigga had explained the concept, but Thor had never done it on his own. He filled the huge cauldrons hung over the fire and let the water start heating while he gathered the clothing that needed to be washed.  "One for washing, one for rinsing," he muttered as he started tossing clothing into the steaming water, thankfully remembering Frigga's admonition to separate their colorful tunics and trousers from their white bed linens and undergarments.  He added the soap and started stirring everything with a long pole, humming one of his mother's favorite songs as he worked. When he judged they had been stirred long enough, he scooped them up with the pole and transferred them to the cauldron of rinse water.  So far, so good , he thought cheerfully as he put the second batch of laundry in the washing cauldron.  

     Balder had come out of the house with Odin trailing behind him like a lost puppy.  Thor beckoned him over to help with wringing out and hanging up the clean laundry. As they worked, Odin frowned.

     "That's woman's work," he said sourly, his voice raspy with disuse. 

      "Perhaps," Thor conceded, wringing out his tunic and pinning it to the clothesline.  "But at the moment, I'd be happy to have trousers that can't stand up on their own because they're so dirty. Maybe after the tithing, we can find a woman to do some of these things.  Especially the cooking," he laughed, looking at Balder, who had been doing a lot of the indoor chores since Frigga's death.

    "Hey!" his brother protested, lobbing a pair of wet trousers at Thor's head.  "I didn't hear you complaining before!"

     "Of course not," Thor countered, flinging the wet cloth back at his brother.  "Because I didn't want you to poison me on purpose !"

     They bickered back and forth good-naturedly as they pinned the laundry to the drying lines.  Odin stood there for a few minutes, scowling at them, and then he wandered off towards the pen full of pigs that had been selected for the tithe.

     Suddenly, Odin's bellowing voice shattered their easy joking banter.

     "GET THEM!!! GET THOSE DAMNED PIGS!!!"

     Two blonde heads whipped around in time to see the best of their father's pigs streaking out of the pen with their father in hot pursuit.  They sprinted after the pigs, trying to drive them back towards the pen, flapping pieces of wet laundry at them. Most of the pigs turned back, but a pair of wily boars darted to the side, causing Thor to curse and give chase.  The biggest boar turned unexpectedly and charged at Thor, who tried to dodge out of the way but got entangled in the clothesline. As he pulled and tugged, trying to get free, the thin rope snapped, dropping the wet laundry on the pigs.  The smaller of the pigs ended up with Balder's underdrawers stuck over his head, blocking its vision, while the larger boar's legs got tangled in Thor's old trousers that he usually wore for dirty jobs. The boys were quick to pounce and capture the renegade pigs, and they carried them back to the pen where Odin was waiting by the gate.  Thor put the larger pig down inside the pen and sent it to join its fellows with a swat on the rump. As Balder brought the smaller pig up to the gate, Thor laughed and plucked Balder's underdrawers off of its head, waving them around like a flag. Balder rolled his eyes at his big brother's antics and put the pig back with the others.

     "I can't believe you're friends with a prince when you act like such an idiot," Balder grumbled, snatching the dirty wet cloth away from his brother.

     "Well, you know how much I like snakes!  You'd take one look at him and pass out, you silly goose," Thor sniped back.

     They were both startled when Odin spoke. "I'm sorry Thor, but you won't be going to Utgard this year. I need you to stay home with Balder and run the farm while I'm gone."

     "But Father, I only get to see Prince Loki once a year," Thor whined.  "Couldn't I go in your place with the men? I know the way and what to do once we get there."

     "No, Thor. I need to…"  He glanced up the hill towards Frigga's grave.  "Clear my head, I suppose. Otherwise, I might as well slit my wrists and join her now."

     Thor and Balder both stared at their father, horrified at the thought of losing their only remaining parent. 

     Odin scowled at their expressions. "I'm not dead yet, though.  Am I, my sons?"

     Thor grimaced.  "For a while there, we weren't sure," he admitted.  "We were afraid you'd stay… lost."

     "Well, I'm not," he snapped.  "So you'll stay here and help your brother while I deliver the tithe.  You can write the prince a letter and I'll give it to his servant when I get to the stable yard."

     "Will you tell him I'm sorry I couldn't be there?  He doesn't get many visitors, so I feel bad that I won't see him this year.  And tell me if he looks well," Thor pleaded.

     Odin shook his head in exasperation.  "I don't understand why you spend so much time cultivating a friendship with a creature who will never become king."

     "It's true, he'll never be king, but he has his mother's ear.  That could be useful at some point," Thor pointed out, feeling sickened at using this particular argument to sway his father's opinion of Loki. 

     "Hmmm," was Odin's only reply.. "Go finish the laundry. I'll need to pack soon."

     Thor and Balder stared at their father's back as he walked away towards the barn.  Balder shrugged and tossed Thor his underdrawers. "Come on, let's go. We've got to rewash everything that ended up on the ground."  Thor groaned and followed his brother back to the mess that awaited them by the washing kettles. 

*****************

     Thor watched Odin and his men ride away with a heavy heart, hoping that his father would keep his word to deliver the letter he had written to Loki.

Chapter Text

     As soon as Eirik saw Odin's pale, careworn face, he knew something was wrong. He looked over the wagon train and immediately noticed that Thor wasn't there. Oh dear, Prince Loki is going to be so disappointed. I hope he won't cause a scene. Eirik put on a serene face and approached the wagon. "Greetings, Master Odin. I trust your journey went well."

     "It would have been better if Thor were with   me, but I needed him to stay behind. My wife..." Odin's face twisted with grief, and Eirik put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "My dearest Frigga went just this past month... a terrible illness took her from me. Thor stayed behind to help Balder with the farm, but he sent a letter for Prince Loki. Would you take it to him? I don't think he'd want me to read it to him. He's never cared for me much, especially after the time Thor got hurt by the pig." 

     He held out a travel-stained piece of folded paper to the lindworm's attendant, and Eirik took the missive from Odin's shaking fingers. "Do you want me to deal with the prince's tithe as well? You look as if you could use some rest."

     "No, I promised Thor I would see him in person," sighed Odin wearily. "I'll rest afterwards."

     Once Eirik had selected the pig to be brought in for the prince, Odin's servant bound its legs and handed it to his master. Odin tucked the pig under his arm and followed Eirik into the palace. The familiar figure of Volstagg waited at the end of the hallway, guarding both the prince and the inhabitants of the palace from harm.

     "Greetings, Master Odin, did ye nae bring th' lad this time?"

     "No, I needed him to stay at the farm to help his brother. If it's all the same to you, I'd like to go on in and get this over with."

     Eirik took the lead as they entered Loki's chamber, hoping to shield Odin if the prince grew angry over Thor's absence. Though they heard the faint rustling of Loki's scales, they saw no trace of him as Thor's father placed the pig in position and spoke the usual words. Straightening up, Odin sighed sadly. "I failed my wife, and now I've failed my son. He wanted me to bring word of how Prince Loki fared, but it looks like I'll have naught to tell him." The old man stood as tall as he could and addressed the room. "Prince Loki, my son, Thor, is very sorry he could not visit with you this year. Your man Eirik has a letter from his own hand, if you'd care to hear his words." 

     As Odin backed towards the door, the prince hissed softly from the shadows. Odin looked questioningly at Eirik, who shook his head sadly. 

     "I don't think he'll be coming out, Master Odin. Just tell your son that the prince is well and hopes to see him next year."

     Odin nodded his head in agreement and left the prince's chamber. Eirik waited patiently, and the lindworm slowly dragged himself out from the shadows, unhappiness apparent in every line of his body. Eirik held out the folded paper that Odin had given him.

     "Thor wrote you a letter, Your Highness. Would you like me to read it to you?"

     "No, Eirik, it hurtsss too much. If I can't sssee him in the flessssh, I don't think I can ssstand hearing hisss wordsss on paper."

     Eirik's face fell. "Thor didn't forget about you at all, my prince. His father told me he's just lost his wife, Thor's mother, and his other son is simply too young to manage the farm on his own. I'm sure he'll be here next year to spend time with you when he brings the tithe.

     Emerald eyes narrowed dangerously. "Eirik, he issss my only friend outssside of the palace. You don't underssstand at all." The lindworm slapped his tail on the ground in annoyance. "Jussst go. Leave me alone. I don't wisssh to be disssturbed tonight."

     "And if Odin asks to see you before he leaves?" his servant asked gently. 

      "I can't, Eirik, I jussst can't. Pleassse... I wisssh to be alone now," the lindworm hissed miserably.

     "All right, Your Highness.  I'll leave Thor's letter here in case you change your mind," said Eirik, laying the folded paper on the small table near the door. 

     As Eirik left, Loki slowly slithered to his den, head hanging dejectedly. As he squeezed inside, he reached for a bundle wrapped in a brightly embroidered handkerchief and stuffed into a crevice. He shook the cloth and let the small wooden carvings fall into his clawed hands. Heaving a mighty sigh, Loki clutched them to his chest and eventually fell into a fitful sleep.

*******************

     When he awoke, his mind turned immediately to Thor's letter.  Although he lacked the ability to speak freely without magical intervention, Loki was able to read fairly well, although writing was very difficult for him.  He made his way over to the table and retrieved the piece of paper, carrying it over to the fireplace and unfolding it carefully with his claws. Its folds smelled like Thor, and Loki nuzzled the paper gently, wishing his friend was there to hug him and scratch his scales. 

     Thor's handwriting was much like the man himself: big, bold, and easy to read.  Once he was in a comfortable position by the fire. Loki smoothed the paper flat and began to read.

Dear Prince Loki, 

     If you're reading this letter, then you already know that I wasn't able to come to Harvest Tithe this year.  I'm sorry I'm not able to be there with you, but many bad things have happened here lately, the worst of which involves my mother.  I had told you last year that she hadn't been well, and she just passed away this past month. I miss her so much, Loki. It hurts so bad when I want to talk to her about things and she isn't there anymore.  I just feel so lost without her.  

     We also had another band of brigands try to raid us again.  I wasn't injured, but we lost several men, including my friend, Fandral.         

     Gods, I'm so lonely now, Loki. I wish I were there with you sitting in front of the fire.  I know you would hug me and help me feel better about everything. I miss you, Loki. Maybe you could write back to me.

Your friend,

                                                         Thor

 

     Loki nibbled on a claw. He really wasn't very good at writing because his hands were not made quite the same as human hands; however,  Thor had asked him to write, so he would do his best. He went and rang the bell that would summon Eirik to his chamber, then slithered around anxiously until his servant arrived.

     "Yes, Prince Loki?" Eirik inquired curiously. The lindworm rarely ever rang for his servants, so naturally Eirik wondered what was going on.

     "Eirik, I have a requessst.  I need sssome paper, my pen, and sssome ink.  Could you pleassse bring me thessse thingsss quickly?

     "Certainly, my prince. Is that all you need?"  Eirik glanced at the table by the door, and, as he suspected, Thor's letter was no longer sitting there.  He kept his face impassive and refrained from commenting on the missing missive.

     "I think ssso," Loki replied uncertainly.  "If not, I ssshall let you know."

     "I'll be right back with your supplies, Prince Loki," promised Eirik with a pleased glint in his eyes.

    As he waited for Eirik, Loki thought about Thor's letter. My poor friend.  I ssshould like to hug you asss well.  Ssso much sssadnesss on your ssshoulders…"

     The click of the door latch opening brought him back to the task at hand, namely writing Thor a reply.  Eirik was carrying an ink-stained satchel in his hands, and Loki took it carefully from him with his teeth.  He carried it over to his favorite spot by the fireplace and set it gently on the floor, careful not to break or spill the bottle of ink. Using his claws, he extracted several sheets of paper, a wide mouthed jar of ink, and a pen that Eirik had crafted specially for him that was easier for him to use with his clawed fingers.  He gently shook the bag because at the very bottom of the satchel were several flat stones that Loki used for holding down his paper so he could support himself with one arm as he wrote. The stones clattered out onto the floor, and he scooped them up one by one in his jaws and set them on the corners of the paper. He laid out the rest of his supplies neatly, then stared blankly at the paper and nibbled on the end of his tail.

     What ssshould I sssay, Loki pondered, clicking his claws absently against the stone floor. Nothing too persssonal, asss I don't trussst Odin.  He isss too sssneaky, and I don't wisssh for Thor to have any more troublesss if hisss father readsss it.   He picked up the bottle of ink, marvelling again at the stopper Eirik had created that allowed him to open the bottle with his claws instead of needing a human to do it for him.  He deftly popped the stopper out and set the bottle on the floor by the paper, dipping his pen carefully in the ink so he could begin.

Dear Thor, 

     I am ssso sssorry to hear of your mother'sss passsing.  Although I don't sssee her much becaussse of her dutiesss, I would be ssso devassstated if anything happened to my mother.  I wisssh you were here ssso we might talk face to face about your sssorrows. Asss I told you before, there isss alwaysss room for you at my ssside by the fireplace.  I hope to sssee you next year.

Your friend, 

                                                        Prince Loki 

     The prince looked at his writing with a critical eye.  The letters were not round and neatly formed like Thor's; instead, they sprawled inelegantly across the paper, shaky and childish looking next to Thor's careful script.  It'sss the thought that countsss , Loki told himself sternly, not allowing himself to agonize over his poor penmanship.  He left the letter on the floor so the ink could dry and went to wash off his claws in the pool.

     Eirik cleared his throat politely. "Would you like me to give this to Odin to take to Thor?"

     The lindworm nodded gratefully. "Yesss, pleassse, Eirik.  That'sss a good idea."

     His servant picked up the paper and folded it neatly.  "I shall deliver it immediately, Your Highness."

     The prince nodded his head in acknowledgment, and Eirik left swiftly to deliver his letter to Odin.  Once his servant had left, Loki clumsily folded Thor's letter back up and took it to his den where it joined his treasured carvings wrapped in the brightly embroidered handkerchief. 

Chapter Text

     Thor and Balder were sitting by the fire, utterly exhausted from the day's chores, when their father finally came home from Utgard.  He walked over to Thor and shoved a folded piece of paper in his face.

     "Here, boy," Odin sneered.  "The prince 'wrote' you a letter." Thor tried to take it, but his father held fast to it, a nasty glint in his eye.

      "How was Prince Loki?" Thor asked, hoping to distract his father so he could get the letter away from him without tearing it.

     "How should I know?  He wouldn't show himself to me," Odin slurred. "He hid in the shadows like a coward.  I'm sure he didn't even write that mess himself."

    Balder stared at his father with hard eyes. "Have you been drinking?  Because you're being a total ass right now, Father. Give Thor his letter and leave him in peace."  

     Odin attempted to slap Balder, but his son grabbed his arm and pushed it away.  He stood up and stared his father in the eye. Though not as big and broad as Thor, Balder was still larger and heavier than Odin, making him a poor target for a drunk old man to fight with.  "Go sleep it off. I'm in no mood to hear you start in on Thor. Just go."

     Odin cringed away from Balder, losing his grip on Thor's letter along with his dignity as he vomited on the floor.  Balder swore and jumped back, the disgusting mess narrowly missing his boots.

     Thor sighed and stood up too.  "Take Father to his room, then you can go on to bed.  I'll clean this up." He watched his brother lead Odin down the hall before unfolding his letter from Loki.  

     Unlike his father, Thor knew that Loki was able to read and write, and he doubted that the prince would have wanted anyone to write a personal letter for him, not even Eirik.  As he opened the final fold, he smiled tenderly at the tipsy lettering, recognizing Loki's handwriting immediately and appreciating the effort it took for the prince to write to him in his own hand. Tears pricked at his eyes as he read Loki's condolences for the loss of his mother and Fandral, but were quickly replaced by a wistful smile at Loki's reminder that Thor was welcome to leave home and stay with him as long as he desired. Oh if only I could leave right now, Loki.  I'm so tired of being alone in my heart. I still love my father, but he will never accept me for who I am.  Balder is a good little brother who will grow up to be a fine man, but he'll find a pretty girl soon, marry her, and have children who will inherit the farm someday.  I don't mind that, truly I don't, but I'm so very empty right now. From the first day we met, you accepted me as your friend just the way I am, and I accepted you as well. I don't know how much longer Father will be around, but when he's gone, I'll leave the farm to Balder and come stay by your side.

     He carefully refolded the letter and put it in his tunic.  It took a few minutes to clean up the mess his father had made on the floor before banking the fire for the night and heading to his room.  As he undressed, he took Loki's letter out of his tunic and hid it under the creaky floorboard right next to his bed along with the glass vial his mother had given him before her death and the green stone from his very first meeting with Loki. He slid into bed, the sheets chilly against his bare skin.  Eventually, they warmed up, and he drifted off to sleep, dreaming that Loki's coils were wrapped around him as they sat in front of the fire in the prince's chamber.

**************************

     As fall gave way to winter, Loki's letter became a talisman of sorts for Thor.  Whenever he felt upset, he'd retreat to his room and take the paper out and hold it to his chest.  He didn't even need to unfold it to know that someone out there cared about him, cared about how he felt, and wanted him to be by their side.  The texture of the paper in his hands soothed him and armored him against his father's rudeness and the bitter ache of his mother's death. Just picturing how Loki must have looked while writing to him made him smile when nothing else could.  Without the sense of hope that Loki's letter had given him, it would have been all too easy for him to have given up during those dark days of winter.

********************

     Spring arrived gently for a change, soft breezes swirling around the house and teasing through the fresh young leaves that had seemingly budded out overnight.  One warm day, Thor climbed the hill to visit Frigga's grave. As he reached the summit, he smiled wistfully when he saw the tender shoots of new grass that had sprouted up to cover the bare earth, blending into the lush green carpet that covered the rest of the top of the hill.  Looking closer, he realized that the bulbs he and Balder had planted were also poking up through the dirt, stretching upwards towards the sun. In just a few short months, they would bloom in a riot of color to honor Frigga's bright spirit. Thor sighed and sat down, leaning his back against the trunk of the old oak and stretching out his feet.

     "I miss you so much, Mother," he said softly, closing his eyes against the bright sun peeping through the leaves. The wind ruffled his hair, and it reminded him painfully of Frigga's gentle touch, making tears gather under his eyelids.  He tipped his head back and tried breathing deeply to banish them, but in the end, he let them slide down his cheeks and soak into his beard. When his tears finally ran dry, he sat there for a few minutes and let the sun and wind dry his face.

     As he opened his eyes, he saw a golden yellow finch hopping around and pecking at insects in the new grass.  It was one of Frigga's favorite birds, and Thor held his breath as it fluttered up and landed on the toe of his boot.  It warbled a pretty little song for him before it took wing, golden feathers flashing in the sun. Thor stared after it, stunned, feeling as if the little bird had been a messenger of hope from his mother.  He shook his head in amazement as he got up and dusted off his pants, his spirits lighter than they had been in months. He turned to go, but a flash of yellow in the grass caught his eye. He bent over to investigate and found a soft golden feather that must have fallen from the bird.  It was almost the same color as Frigga's hair, and Thor ran his finger down it reverently. When he went back into the house, he put the feather into his hiding place with his other precious treasures.

*************

      Early summer sent Thor out into the hills with his mother's beautiful carrying sack, seeking out the herbs he remembered her using in many of her medicines.  They had recently ran out of the salve that Frigga made for minor injuries, and Thor felt like he could probably make it on his own, since he had often helped his mother in her still room when he was younger.  Comfrey, plantain, burdock,yarrow, he chanted, scouring the meadow, hills, and forest.  Mullein, calendula, coneflower...

      Once he had found the herbs he needed, he enlisted Haakon's help to get beeswax and honey from the hives the old man had tended in the meadow for many years.  Haakon's abilities with the bees were legendary, and he was able to get Thor what he needed without a single sting. He promised the old man he would return with some salve for him once it was finished.

      Odin raised an eyebrow when he saw the brightly embroidered sack Thor was carrying, but thankfully said nothing as his son went past him on the way to Frigga's still room. Thor paused at the locked door for a moment, feeling somewhat like an intruder sneaking into his mother's domain; however, the feeling passed quickly because he knew his mother would be pleased to see him carrying on her work.  A quick check of a tiny hidden pocket on the carrying sack revealed the key, and Thor put it in the lock and turned it slowly. The lock clicked and the door swung open, allowing a faint fragrance of herbs and flowers to perfume the hall as he stepped inside, feeling his mother's presence wrap around him like a comforting blanket. It was dark inside, so he pushed open the curtain to let in some daylight, grimacing at the fine layer of dust that lay on the counters and table.  He found a mostly clean rag and went to the sink, working the old pump handle until water finally flowed from the tap. He wiped all the dust away with the wet rag, then opened the sack and laid out the herbs he had collected on the table. He set the beeswax and jar of fresh honey on the counter and picked up his mother's book of recipes, rubbing the tooled leather cover gently with his fingertips. Flipping through to her recipe for healing salve, he realized that the herbs would need to be dried first, so he gathered them together in small bunches and hung them from the rafters just as Frigga used to do.  He checked the ingredients again and the only thing he was missing was oil, so he went to the kitchen to see what they might have in storage.  

      Balder was washing the lunch dishes when Thor wandered in, and he grinned when his brother asked if there was any oil he could use. "Just what are you up to, brother?" he joked, waggling his eyebrows. 

      Thor's face turned beet red.  "It's not what you're thinking, Balder!  I'm trying to make Mother's healing salve for the next time you burn yourself cooking."

      "Don't remind me," Balder grimaced, looking at the angry red mark on his arm.  "When do you think you'll have it done?"

      "Not sure.  The herbs have to dry first, so maybe a week or more.  I've never made it from scratch before." Thor shrugged. "Guess you'll just have to be careful until then."

      Balder snapped his towel at Thor, who laughed and dodged out of the way.  "Here, take this before I change my mind," grumbled Balder, holding out an earthenware jug.  "Be sure to bring me some of it when you're done!"

      Thor took the jug and ruffled his little brother's hair.  "Of course I will." He took the oil back to the still room and left it with the other ingredients on the counter.  Even though he wasn't working with any truly dangerous herbs, Thor still locked the door and put the key back in its hiding place in Frigga's bag for the time being.  Maybe I should find a more permanent place to put the key.  Wouldn't want anyone to get hurt accidentally, Thor mused.

     The next morning when he went out, he glanced up the hill, noticing that some of the bulbs he and Balder had planted in the fall seemed to be in bloom.  He sprinted up to the summit and gawked in amazement. Along with some yellow, orange, purple, and pink flowers, there were several dark maroon lilies with gold spots that reminded him of a flowering bush he had seen in Loki's chambers. Thor stood there for a moment, overwhelmed by the beautiful earthbound rainbow.  I know! I'll dry some of these and take them as a gift for Loki, since I know how much he likes plants.  I don't think Mother would mind if she were still here, since she always asked me about him after our trips.

      He took his time choosing the biggest, brightest flowers to give to Loki on his upcoming trip to Utgard.  

Chapter Text

     Thor strode down the familiar corridor, his traveling pack on his back and the fat young hog trotting briskly at his side, unaware of what fate awaited him on the other side of the great wooden door. Volstagg was there guarding the door as usual, but instead of greeting Thor jovially, he shook his head dismally at the youth. "Himself has been in rare form since ye missed yer meeting last year."

     Thor grimaced. "I wanted to come, Volstagg, but when Mother passed away, Father needed me to take care of things on the farm while he brought in the tithes. Honestly, I think he just needed to get away. Too many memories." He took a deep breath to calm his own emotions. "So tell me, what's been going on with Prince Loki?"

     Volstagg sighed. "He's been a right brat, truly. Terrorizing th' servants mostly til there's few that want tae risk his anger these days."

     Thor acted like he was thinking deeply for a moment, then chuckled "In other words, he's acting just like a spoiled seventeen year old boy."

     "Nae," said Volstagg, shaking his head dourly. "I think there's something more tae it than tha'."

     Thinking about his own recent embarrassing bodily experiences, a sneaking suspicion about the cause of at least some of Loki's behavior crept into Thor's mind. "Volstagg, is it possible that he may be thinking about... well... mating?"

     Volstagg groaned. "Oh gods, lad, I cannae say for certain, but ... D'ye think...?"

     "I don't know for certain either, but seventeen wasn't that long ago for me. I seem to remember some very...vexing feelings happening right around then. He likely has no idea what's happening to him or what to do about it."

     "And do ye ken what he should 'do about it', then?" Volstagg countered. "He's no' made the same as ye, lad. What ye're thinking of may no' be possible for him."

     "I have no idea what Prince Loki may or may not be able to 'do', but at least if he knows what's happening to him, it might make things easier for everyone, perhaps." Thor shrugged. "It's worth a try, right? Now, I suppose I'd best go in, apologize, and see if I'm forgiven." 

     Volstagg clapped him on the shoulder."Guid luck, laddie. I'll be here if ye hae need o' me." He opened the heavy oaken door, and Thor went in, dragging the suddenly uncooperative pig with him.

     Thor wasn't sure if Loki was actually upset with him or not, so he decided to announce himself just as he had the first time he had met the prince, hoping the good memories of their earlier meetings would help Loki get past his hurt feelings and welcome him back. "Greetings, Prince Loki. I am Thor, son of Odin, and I bring you tribute from my family." For a long moment, there was only silence, and Thor started to worry that the prince was truly angry with him. Finally, he heard the telltale rustle of scales that heralded Loki's approach. Unfortunately, the pig heard it too, and it began fighting the rope in earnest, trying to get away from the hungry predator. Thor tried to hold on, but near the door, Loki's floor was slick stone, and the frantic pig pulled him off balance and took off running.

     This year's pig was a dirty fighter, biting, kicking, and squealing porcine defiance at Thor and Loki. Thor cursed himself for not binding its feet when he had the chance, but the full grown pig was much too large for him to carry in easily. The hog darted to the side, and Thor swore as he slipped in a pile of freshly dropped pig dung, missing the chance to grab the angry swine. "Here Loki, let me distract him so you can get a grip on him." He pulled off his cloak and waved it at the pig. The animal paused for a moment, trying to decide which thing was the bigger threat- the loud human or the flapping fabric.

     Loki took advantage of the pig's indecision to swiftly wrap his tail around its middle. Once he knew his grip was secure, Loki jerked his tail up in the air, then slammed it against the ground, breaking the pig's neck cleanly.

     Thor stared, amazed at Loki's raw strength. He'd never actually seen the prince kill one of the pigs before, and simply assumed that he always squeezed them to death like most snakes would. Loki caught him gawking and immediately released the pig's body and fled into the greenery planted in the earthen hill. Stunned, Thor gazed after him for a moment, then dropped his pack and slowly started walking towards Loki's hiding place.

     "Pleassse don't come near me, Thor!" wailed Loki, curling himself into as small of a ball as he could.

     "Loki, I'm not afraid of you. You did the right thing. That pig could have easily hurt us both if you hadn't stopped him. Come on out," coaxed Thor, patting Loki's trembling coils. "You need to eat, and I need to get these boots off and clean them. My father won't let me back on the wagon tomorrow smelling like pig shit."

     Loki sighed forlornly, curling up even tighter. "I wisssh you weren't leaving sssoo sssoon," he said in a small voice. It'sss sssoo lonely here without you."

     Thor hung his head, wishing there was something he could say to make Loki feel better about his imminent departure. He settled for stroking Loki's scales until he finally uncoiled, putting his snout on Thor's shoulder for comfort. Thor put his arms around the prince, feeling his shaking slowly subside. Much to Thor's surprise, Loki wrapped his own arms around Thor's body and hugged him back, twining his coils loosely around Thor's legs and body. They both leaned into the embrace, neither one wanting to be the first to let go. Finally, Thor loosened his hold and Loki reluctantly did the same. As they slowly separated, Loki looked sharply at Thor. 

     "What's wrong, Thor?" asked Loki. "Why are you ssssad?"

     "Forgive my tears." mumbled Thor, wiping his face. "I wish I could stay here longer, but my father needs me. My mother died a month before the tithing last year, and he's still lost sometimes without her. That's why I wasn't here last fall. I had to take care of things on the farm because he wasn't in his right mind for a while. He's doing better now, though, and my brother is finally old enough to help supervise the workers while Father and I came here. I didn't want to miss seeing you this year too.  I can't believe how much you've grown since I saw you last. And look at your scales! The colors are so much deeper than before and there's blue in there too. When did the gold show up?" Thor knew he was babbling, but he just didn't want to think about all the sadness that he had experienced over the past year. Loki's letter was practically the only thing that had kept him sane.

     Loki pressed his snout against Thor's chest, feeling Thor's rapid heartbeat through his scales. "I undersssstand. I love my mother too, and I'd misssss her terribly if ssshe were gone." He raised his head and gazed into Thor's eyes. "I missss you terribly when you're gone," he whispered, unable to hold his secret in any longer. 

     Thor was shocked that he had never realized that Loki had developed romantic feelings for him over the years, and perhaps a little surprised to find that somehow he shared them too.  He had always known that he felt a deep emotional attachment to the prince; however, given the differences in their social standing, Thor had never actively tried to imagine a different kind of relationship with Loki other than the friendship they already shared. And to be honest, he really wasn't sure how any kind of dalliance between them would physically be possible, so he had never allowed such filthy, wicked thoughts to take root, not even in the deepest, darkest corners of his heart.  A traitorous part of his mind whispered seductively that he did find Loki beautiful in his own wild way, that he did like touching Loki and being touched by him in return, that he might enjoy it if they were to…  He shivered, thinking of how his father would react if he somehow became the lindworm's lover.  It was bad enough being caught with a human man as a lover, but Loki… Odin spoke and acted as if the prince were little more than a dumb beast.  Gods, his father's anger if he caught them in the act would be a dreadful thing to face...  

     With an effort, Thor pushed his dark thoughts away so he could focus on his time with Loki without hurting the prince's feelings. "I missed you too, Loki.  Your letter meant a lot to me. It made me feel like someone cared about me," he admitted, gently scratching around Loki's horns and making him hiss contentedly.  Thor bit his lip, helplessly imagining that soft sound being made under more intimate circumstances. The very thought of it made his cock twitch in his trousers, and he felt like he was standing at the edge of a dangerous cliff.  Jump or be pushed? he thought hysterically, not wanting to alarm the prince by shoving his head onto the floor.

     "Oh wait, I brought you something!" he exclaimed, quickly pulling his thoughts back to safer ground.  "Let me get my pack." Distracted by the promise of a gift, the prince raised his head eagerly, and Thor hopped up and grabbed his pack, undoing the straps as he walked back.  He pulled out a flat wooden box carved with snakes and flowers and held it out to Loki as he sat back down next to him on the floor..      

     The prince ran a clawed fingertip over the lid, exploring the delicate textures.  "Did you carve thisss for me, Thor? It'sss lovely."

     Thor smiled at the praise, glad that Loki liked his gift so far. "Careful when you open it.  What's inside is a little fragile."

     The lindworm gingerly opened the lid and gasped.  "Thessse are ssso beautiful, Thor! Where did you find them?"

     "Balder said that our mother gave the bulbs to him before she died.  We planted them on her grave last fall, and they just bloomed for the first time this summer.  The maroon ones reminded me of a flower I saw in here before, so I thought you might like them.  They should last a long time since they're dried."

     "Thessse are the loveliesst flowers I've ever been given, Thor. Thank you," Loki beamed, laying his head in Thor's lap for more scratches.  Thor sighed and gave in to the sensual torture of sliding his hands over Loki's beautiful scales, wondering how they might find a way to express their feelings more intimately, if that was what Loki desired. 

**********

     After he had finished his visit with the prince, Thor entered their borrowed chamber, mulling over the revelation of Loki's feelings for him and the realization of his own.  He was alarmed to discover his father was still lying in his bed, his breathing harsh and labored.

     "Father? Are you well?" Thor asked, worried for his father's health.  He had struggled with his breathing throughout their journey, and Thor had hoped he would improve once they reached the palace.  Odin tried to answer but was struck with a terrible coughing fit. "I'm going to ask for a healer," said Thor, heading for the door.  As luck would have it, a servant was passing by as the door swung open and heard Odin's coughing. She immediately asked if they needed aid, and when Thor agreed, ran swiftly to find them a healer.

     The next few hours were a blur. Several healers came in and out with various ointments and potions for the patient. Each new arrival grated on Thor's nerves. He knew they were only trying to help, but the frantic activity made him jumpy. Finally, Odin lay unbothered in his bed, his breath still rattling in his chest.  The last healer listened to his heart and lungs, shaking her head. Odin growled an incomprehensible string of words, and the healer shook her head sternly.

     "You'll be going nowhere for the next few days, Master Odin. If you leave here today, you'll likely be dead before you reach home. I have some medicine that I'll give you right now for your lungs. It will help you sleep as well."  Odin grumbled, but took the medicine the healer offered. Within a few minutes, his breathing had eased and he drifted off into sleep.

     "Will he recover?" Thor asked the healer, worry etched on the sharp planes of his face.

     Eir, the senior healer, shrugged. "It's difficult to say.  He'll never be cured, if that's what you're asking. In fact, I'm surprised he's lasted this long, to be honest.  I'll let Eirik know that you and your men will be staying put for several days, at least. Tomorrow we'll move him to the healer's hall.  You may visit as often as you like, but you needn't stay there all the time. My colleagues and I will take good care of him. "

     Torn between concern for his father and glee that he would have more time to spend with Loki, Thor bowed respectfully to the healer as she left the room.

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(MONSTERFUCKING ALERT- STOP HERE IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ THAT!)

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     The next morning, Volstagg smiled when he saw Thor coming down the hall. "Thought ye'd be gone already, lad."

     "No, my father fell ill, so we'll be staying here for a few more days," Thor replied.  "I thought I'd visit Loki again since my father is in the healer's hall."

     "I ken Himself will be glad for th' extra company."

     "I'm just glad I can make it up to him for missing last year's tithe offering." He laughed, shaking his head at the absurdity of the notion. "Believe it or not, Volstagg, I enjoy spending time with Prince Loki. He's very special to me."

     Volstagg raised a curious eyebrow at Thor's choice of words, but shrugged and opened the door to the prince's chamber. As Thor started to walk through, Volstagg cleared his throat. "It's no' my place tae say it but.... I hope ye won't gae breakin' Himself's heart, lad... or yer own." Thor glanced back over his shoulder and nodded briefly in acknowledgment, flashing the older man a bittersweet smile before the door shut behind him.

     When he entered, he didn't see Loki right away, but as his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he saw the prince huddled under a tall stand of grass growing on the earthen hill, dragonish arms clutching his middle. Thor walked over and sat down next to him.

     "Thor, my ssssstomach feelsssss... funny," complained Loki, bumping Thor's chest with his snout.

     Thor pushed his head away affectionately. "Here, let me rub it and see if it helps. You ate that pig awfully fast yesterday. Maybe you just have indigestion." Thor had Loki prop himself up on his bank of soft dirt, his belly exposed. "Tell me how this feels," he said, rubbing circles on the broad, smooth scutes with the heel of his hand. 

     "A little lower," hissed Loki. "And pusssh harder."

     Thor did as Loki asked, pressing more firmly into his scutes this time. As his hand moved a bit lower, Loki suddenly jerked, his slitted pupils widening in shock.

     Thor stopped rubbing immediately. "Did I hurt you, Loki?"

     "No, it didn't...hurt. I don't know how to exsssplain how it felt. It wasss very...ssstrange.  Not bad, though. "

     "Shall I try it again?" queried Thor, his big hand settling lightly on Loki's belly.

     "I sssssuppossse," replied Loki, settling back against the earthen wall.

     Thor began rubbing the prince's belly again. This time, he felt it more clearly- a slit on Loki's belly that had previously been hidden. He traced it gently with his finger, and Loki shifted restlessly, his forked tongue darting in and out. Thor began to feel arousal stirring treacherously within him again as Loki hissed softly, squirming a little under his hand.

     "That feelssss.... good, Thor," murmured Loki. "But pleassse, rub my ssstomach again." 

     Thor felt movement under Loki's skin as he pressed down into the ebony and gold scales, and from the opening he just had discovered slowly emerged two smooth, glistening cocks. Now, Thor was not totally surprised at what had revealed itself; once, as a boy, he had accidentally squeezed a snake a little too hard and had seen its twinned penises pop out, covered in wicked looking spikes and hooks. He was actually more astonished at how much Loki's hidden organs looked like human cocks- respectably sized, very erect human cocks. Thor felt an immediate tightening in his groin at the sight of them, wondering if they felt and tasted like a human cock as well.  He tried to ignore the sudden pang of desire he felt, telling himself not to take advantage of Loki's innocence. 

     Loki, however, was totally shocked and dismayed. "By the godssss, what are those thingsss? Are thossse sssupposssed to come out of me?" The end of his tail was lashing furiously around him, which Thor had learned was a sign that Loki was very upset. 

     Thor patted Loki's arm gently, trying to reassure him. "Relax, Loki, those are just your cocks. That's what you would use to sire children if you had a mate."

     "Oh ssssurely not, Thor! How ridiculousss! I mean... do you have sssuch thingssss?" Loki asked curiously.

     "Well yes, Loki, but humans only have one cock, not two," mumbled Thor, his cheeks burning.

     "What?? I don't believe you! Sssshow me, Thor," demanded Loki, nudging his head against Thor's chest again.

     Thor blushed harder, imagining Volstagg or Eirik walking in unexpectedly and seeing him showing his cock to the prince. He'd likely be thrown out of the palace for such a thing- or thrown in the dungeon! He cast a panicked glance around the room and realized that the door had a latch on the inside that was probably never used since Loki rarely bothered to use his hands to grasp things. He went over and carefully tried the mechanism, finding that it still moved easily and quietly. He silently slid the bolt in place, then came back to Loki's side.

    "Come on Thor, ssshow me yoursss. I want to ssssssee," whined Loki, rubbing his snout over Thor's groin and between his legs, making him gasp and bite his lip as his cock swelled at the prince's rough caresses.

     "Alright Loki," he sighed, unbuckling his belt and pushing his trousers down. After he stepped out of his trousers and boots, he pulled his tunic off, standing before Loki in just his linen underdrawers. Thanks to Loki's nuzzling, his cock was already hard and straining against the fabric, a wet spot forming where the tip touched the thin cloth.

     "Mmmmm, what isss that delicious sssssmell?" hissed Loki, his nostrils quivering as he snuffled at Thor's body. He lowered his head to Thor's groin, tongue darting out to taste the dampened fabric. Thor gasped, closing his eyes for a moment as Loki's tongue brushed at his cock curiously, the strong muscle rubbing and teasing him through the soft linen. The lindworm reared back up to look Thor in the eye, tentatively stroking Thor's cheek with his scaly fingers, black claws raking carefully through his thick golden beard. "Sssshow me, Thor... pleasssse," moaned Loki, his voice thick with need.

     Thor knew he was crossing a dangerous boundary here, but he realized that he didn't really care what people thought anymore.  With steady hands, he untied the drawstring that held his underdrawers up around his waist and let them slide to the floor. "See Loki," he said softly. "My cock is much like yours." He slid his hand slowly down his belly and wrapped it around his cock, giving it a gentle squeeze. 

     Loki flared his nostrils, taking in the strong scent of Thor's arousal. Though he might only have a single cock, that one cock was most impressive, both longer and thicker than either of Loki's cocks. As he watched his friend slowly stroke himself, a generous drop of a pearly liquid appeared like magic at the tip of Thor's cock. Loki dropped his snout and lightly licked at the mysterious fluid. It reminded him of the day he had tasted Thor's blood, though this was saltier yet somehow sweeter than his blood, and Loki wanted to have more. Above his head, he could hear Thor breathing roughly as his darting tongue continued to tease the head of his friend's cock, hoping more of the tasty liquid might come out.

     "Wait... Loki ... Wait," panted Thor. "This wasn't supposed to be for my pleasure. I wanted you to learn how to please yourself."

     Loki shot Thor a puzzled look. "But I like how you tasssste. It pleassesss me" he wheedled. "Will there be more?"

     Thor groaned, his cock throbbing at the thought of Loki lapping up his seed. "Soon, Loki," he promised. "But first, I want to touch you. Can I do that?"

     "Yessssss," said the prince. "What sssshould I do?"

     "Here, lay back down... or would you rather be in your pool?"

     "Hmmmm, the pool ssssoundsss lovely. Let'sss go." Loki slithered awkwardly towards the water, trying not to let his exposed penises scrape against the floor. He heaved a sigh of relief as he pulled his body over the edge and into the warm water. "Ooohhhh, that'sss sssooo good, Thor! Come on, get in!"

     The large pool was deeper than Thor expected, the heated water coming nearly to his waist. As he waded towards the prince, Loki snickered, pointing a claw at Thor. Looking down, he saw what had amused the prince- just the head of his cock was jutting out above the surface, gently bobbing in the swirling water. Thor laughed too and settled down on a submerged stone seat next to Loki. The prince had positioned himself so his cocks were just out of the water, laying against his scutes. Thor looked at Loki for permission; when the prince nodded shyly, Thor gently wrapped his hand around one of Loki's cocks. A tremor ran through Loki's body, sending ripples through the pool.

     "How does that feel, Loki? Do you like it?" Thor asked, giving his cock a few light strokes.

     "That'sss sssooo good, Thor," Loki whimpered. "Ssssqueeze it tighter pleasssse." Thor complied, and Loki growled, startling them both.

     Recovering quickly from the surprise, Thor chuckled. "I didn't know lindworms could make a sound like that!"

     Loki grinned back at him, sharp teeth glinting. "Apparently, they do- or at leassst I do! Don't worry, I very much liked what you were doing."

     As Thor resumed stroking Loki's cock, he casually asked, "Do you want to try touching your other cock too?"

     Loki tilted his head, mulling it over for a moment. Slowly, he slid his hand down his belly, scales rustling softly as he went lower and lower. When he finally reached his cock, he ran one clawed finger carefully across the head, marvelling at the feel of his slick spreading over the sensitive skin. He looked at his glistening fingertip for a moment, then brought it up to his mouth so he could taste it. Thor watched the prince lick at his finger with his forked tongue, his blue eyes darkening with desire. 

     "Would you like to tasssste it, too?" Loki asked hesitantly, reaching down to gather more slick on his finger. Thor nodded and opened his mouth eagerly for Loki's finger, wrapping his warm lips around it as he sucked it clean. Bubbles frothed around them as Loki's tail lashed around under the water, growls rumbling in his throat. Thor let his finger slip slowly from between his lips, and Loki whimpered. 

     "If you want, I can use my mouth on your cock instead of my hand," Thor offered quietly, not daring to look Loki in the face. He felt Loki's clawed hand under his chin, raising his blushing face up until their eyes met. Loki's slitted pupils were wide with hunger, making his emerald eyes appear almost black.

     "I think I ssssshould like to try that. Your mouth felt exssscellent jussst now."

     Thor scooted down until his face was level with Loki's cock. He licked gently at the head, enjoying the taste of Loki's slick before he wrapped his mouth around the head and sucked gently. A wave of water sloshed over the side of the pool as Loki's tail slapped the surface hard. Taking that as a sign of enjoyment, Thor took Loki's cock deeper into his mouth, running his tongue along it as he bobbed his head. Dimly he heard Loki growling and cursing, but he didn't stop moving forward until he could feel Loki's scales brushing the tip of his nose. A light touch on his head startled him until he realized that Loki was gently touching his hair, running his claws through the golden strands. Thor hummed contentedly, the tender caresses making him feel almost drowsy with pleasure. A snarl on his hair unexpectedly caught on Loki's claws and the prince jerked his hand hard, trying to free himself. Thor groaned and shuddered, the accidental sharp pull on his hair going straight to his groin. Loki tried to apologize, but Thor pulled off of his cock and shushed him with a finger against the end of his snout.

     "It's okay, Loki. It felt good when you pulled my hair. You can do it again, if you like." He slipped back down and took Loki's cock back into his mouth, sucking it hard and fast, loving how it felt to have Loki's body trembling underneath him. The prince's hand drifted back to his head and his long golden hair was now twined around Loki's fingers. Thor could feel the tips of the lindworm's claws against his scalp and neck, making him shiver at the thought of them raking his back as he rode first one of Loki's cocks, then the other. He glanced over to the side where he was pleased to see Loki's other hand tugging hard at his second cock. Thor matched the speed of his mouth to the pace of the prince's hand, making Loki undulate wildly beneath him. Without warning, the lindworm growled loudly and the cock in Thor's mouth began to pulse, spurting Loki's seed onto his tongue. Thor sucked harder, milking every drop from it until Loki pulled at his hair weakly. Looking up and meeting Loki's dazed eyes, Thor slowly let the prince's cock slip from between his reddened lips, brazenly licking away the last traces of come from the corners of his mouth. 

     "Godsss," Loki hissed, his coils twitching. The hand not tangled in Thor's hair was still restlessly moving on his other cock, but it remained stubbornly hard and unsatisfied. 

     "Let me touch you, Loki," begged Thor, stroking the prince's iridescent scales. "I want to make you come again."

     "What do you mean, 'come'? What issss that?" Loki huffed, his body still shuddering from his first orgasm.

     "It's when your seed comes out of your cock" Thor replied, planting a quick kiss on the swollen head peeking out of Loki's fist, making the prince growl again.

     "But it already did," Loki pointed out.

     "On the one side, yes, but here you're still hard, so I think I can make you come again. Will you let me try?" asked Thor, rubbing his thumb over the head of Loki's cock and making him moan lustfully.

     "Oh yessss, Thor! Yesss! Make me come again!" the prince cried out passionately, twining his tail around Thor's body. 

     Wasting no time, Thor wrapped his hand around Loki's erection and started stroking him, slowly at first, then picking up speed until Loki's body convulsed, his tail tightening around Thor's waist and thighs and his cock pumping come onto his belly. When he was finished coming, he released his coils and slumped against the side of the pool. As Loki lay there limply, basking in the afterglow of his pleasure, Thor used his fingers and tongue to clean the come from the prince's belly, rinsing him off with warm water at the end to make sure no embarrassing residue was left behind on his scales as his cocks retreated back inside of Loki's body.

     With Loki satisfied at last, Thor took his own aching cock in hand, stroking it ruthlessly until he came hard, his other hand cupping the head and catching his seed with his fingers. Gasping, he held his shaking hand out to Loki, who greedily licked up the come dripping from his fingers.

     "That wasss amazing, Thor," Loki panted. "I had no idea thissss would feel ssssooo..." He gestured helplessly, struggling to put his feelings into words.

     Thor smiled and snuggled up close to Loki's side, throwing a muscular arm over his belly and giving him a firm squeeze. "I'm glad you enjoyed yourself, Loki. I was hoping I could make you feel good."

     Embarrassed, Loki ducked his head. "I didn't enjoy myself jussst becaussse I came, Thor. I enjoyed it mossstly becaussse it was with you," the prince confessed shyly.

     Touched by his innocent honesty, Thor's arm tightened around Loki's middle again, and he rested his head against the prince's scaly chest. Loki hesitantly wrapped his arms around Thor's broad shoulders, stroking his tanned skin with his clawed fingers. Thor sighed contentedly and planted a kiss over Loki's heart. 

     "When will I sssee you again, Thor? Mussst I wait another year?" asked Loki plaintively 

     "Mmmm, I think my father may need to stay at least another day, maybe two. I should be able to visit you again tomorrow for sure. I'll ask the healers and see what they say about Father's health," Thor replied. 

     "I wisssh you could ssstay forever," the prince sighed, slipping his coils around Thor's legs again until he had him snugly cocooned. "Maybe I'll keep you jusssst like thissss and not let you go." 

     Thor stroked his scales with a wistful smile. "You know, I wish you could come back with me to my father's lands. Our house isn't a palace, but it's comfortable and warm. We even have a hot spring to soak in. You could meet my little brother Balder, and I'd take you out into the hills and..."

     "Isss your brother like you?" Loki interrupted curiously. 

     "We look a bit alike, and we're both usually easy to get along with. He tends to do well with the animals we raise, but he doesn't love snakes- he's deathly afraid of them, in fact," Thor admitted. 

     "Sssso you don't think he'd like me?" Loki pouted.

     "When he was younger, he was bitten by a mountain viper and nearly died, so I don't know how he'd react to you. I'd like to think he'd try to get to know you for my sake."

     "And your father?"

     Thor laughed bitterly. "I'm already a filthy pervert in his eyes, but maybe he'd like that I was fucking a prince instead of a pigherd. He's not been happy with me since he caught me in the hayloft with Fandral."

     "Who isss that?" A hint of jealousy burned in Loki's throat. 

     Thor sighed heavily. "The boy I thought I loved when I was younger. Remember a few years ago when you saw that my father had beaten me with his belt? We had just finished making love when he caught us. Anyway... I think I told you in my letter that Fandral was killed by brigands over the winter trying to defend our damned pigs. Gods, I wanted to kill them all for what they did to him that day. That's why I still keep up with my weapons training."

     Loki's flare of jealousy died quickly. "I'm sssorry, Thor. It mussst have hurt very much to lossse him."

     "Yes, it did. Have you ever lost someone close to you, Loki?"

     "Yesss, I lossse him every year," whispered Loki, voice breaking with sorrow.

     "Oh, Loki," Thor breathed, caressing his head with a trembling hand. Loki whimpered and leaned into the touch, tightening his coils gently around Thor in a tender embrace.  "My father is not well these days, you know. When he goes to join my mother, I will leave the farm to Balder and come to you." He smiled mischievously at the lindworm. "I believe you offered me a job as a guardsman."

     Loki looked at him, hope shining brightly in his green eyes.  "Asss I sssaid before, you ssshall guard my chambers from the inssside, and I ssshall alwaysss feel sssafe if I'm in your armsss."

Chapter Text

     Thor awoke from his sleep, the half forgotten threads of a dream spinning off into the rough fabric of wakefulness. He shifted slightly under the linens, groggily realizing that his cock was hard as it often was in the morning. Memories of touching Loki the previous day had him reaching down to take himself in hand, groaning as he spread his slickness over the head and shaft of his cock. He worked his hand slowly at first, thinking of how Loki had moaned, the prince writhing under him as he had sucked one of his cocks. Thor bit his lip, a soft gasp escaping as he remembered the taste of Loki's come on his tongue. He sucked at two of his fingers, making them as wet as he could, and spread his knees wide. Slowly Thor teased at his tight opening. He hadn't touched himself this way in a long time, and the feel of his finger sliding inside was almost enough to make him come right then and there. He waited for the urgency to subside, breathing slowly until he was ready to continue. After one finger felt comfortable, he pressed the second one in as well, eventually relaxing into the stretch. Stroking his cock languidly, Thor sought out the secret spot inside of him that made his pleasure more intense. He felt the warm rounded bump and rubbed it firmly, groaning and wishing Loki was here to tease him with his clever tongue. Thoughts of the prince made his cock throb and Thor began stroking himself faster, his fingers thrusting in harder until he orgasmed, striping his quivering stomach with streaks of come. He lay there for a moment, breathing hard. 

     When he finally felt like moving, Thor swung his legs out of bed, wincing at the feel of the cold stone floor under his feet. He padded to the small garderobe to relieve himself, shaking his head in disbelief at how much come was clinging to his skin. Afterwards, he quickly washed up in the basin and dumped the dirty water down the garderobe shaft as well. He dried his skin briskly and dug into his travel pack for clean clothing.

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     Once dressed, he ate breakfast with the guards, not wanting to press his luck by eating in the Great Hall, just in case someone had mentioned to the King or Queen that their eldest son had been entertaining a visitor for several hours. His next stop was the healer's wing to see how his father was doing. Odin's one eye lit up when he saw Thor, but his hands were still shaky as he reached up to embrace his son.

     "How are you, Father?" Thor asked, perching gingerly on the side of his bed.

     "The healers say I can go home tomorrow, or maybe the next day, " Odin rasped, croaking like an old raven. Thor poured him a glass of water from the pitcher sitting on a small table next to the bed. Odin drank half and cleared his throat. "Aaaah, you take good care of me, my son." He sipped at the rest of the water as if it were a glass of fine wine. "Can you make the arrangements for the wagon and our men? I'll want to leave as soon as the healers say I can. I know Balder is capable of running things now, but I'm sure your brother will be glad to have us back nonetheless." 

     Thor's heart sank, but he nodded dutifully. "Yes, Father. I'll see to it right away." He kissed Odin's wrinkled cheek and left, emotions swirling painfully in his chest. The healer he remembered from the day before was coming down the hall, and Thor beckoned to her. "Eir, I was hoping to see you. When do you think my father will be well enough to leave?"

     Eir looked sternly at him. "Definitely not tomorrow, perhaps the day after - if I think he's ready."

     Thor chuckled ruefully. "So he was lying, the stubborn old goat. I didn't think he looked ready, but he just doesn't want to listen, does he? I hope he heeds your advice better than he does mine."

     The healer's face softened a bit. "I thought you'd be trying to urge him to go home sooner than he should," she admitted wryly.

     "No, no, I'm sure my brother has everything under control. The only thing my father needs to do right now is get well. It serves no one if we get twenty miles down the road and he falls ill again with no healer in sight," Thor said truthfully, though his main reason for wanting to stay longer was housed in a totally different wing of the palace than his ailing father. 

     Eir looked at the tall young man with compassion in her eyes.  "Thor, you need to understand something. Your father…" She looked down at the floor for a moment, then looked up into his eyes.  "Your father will likely not make it to another tithing season. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but I thought you should be prepared. I can give you medicines to help make him more comfortable, but there is no cure for his illness."

     Thor stared at her blankly.  He knew he should feel sad at the imminent loss of his father so soon after his mother's death, but honestly, he just felt numb.  He loved his father, but at times, he hated and feared him just as much. And when Odin was gone, he could finally spend as much time as he wanted to with Loki…

     "Thor?  Thor?? Are you okay?"  Eir was looking at him, concerned about his reaction to her news.

     He focused on the healer, giving her a wan smile.  "I'm sorry, I was just thinking about how to break the news to my brother.  It's only been a year since our mother passed away, you know."

     She patted his arm gently.  "I understand, Thor. Try to take it easy and get some rest.  Your father and brother will need your strength in the days to come."

********************************

     After checking in on his father, Thor decided to go visit Loki and spend as much time there as he could manage. He wanted to be a bit more prepared this time in case Loki felt like trying anything more... unusual, so he found his way down to the kitchen and flashed his brightest smile at the elderly woman he found kneading dough by herself at the counter. 

     "What can I do for you, young man?" she asked cheerfully, still pummeling the dough as she looked him over keenly.

     "Good morning, my name is Thor. My father and I brought Prince Loki a pig yesterday as part of our yearly tribute, and I noticed some of his skin was looking quite dry. I was wondering if I could get some oil to put on his scales; otherwise, his skin might crack and get infected."

     "Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed. "I can't leave the dough right now, but look in the third cabinet there. There should be some jugs of oil in there. Take whatever you think you'll need."

     Thor quickly found the stoneware jugs filled with oil. They were larger than he expected, and he uncorked one to make sure there were no herbs or spices inside that could cause them problems in any intimate locations. "One should be enough I think. It wasn't a very large dry patch, but better safe than sorry, right?"

     "Oh absolutely, dearie." She paused for a moment to catch her breath. "It's kind of you to help look after him, the poor thing. It's not his fault what happened to him. No good ever comes from asking fairies for help, if you ask me." She covered the dough with a cloth so it could rise before baking. Dusting her hands off, she smiled up at Thor. "Would you like a bit of a snack to take with you?'

     Thor nodded politely and was quickly rewarded with several meat pies. Some were wrapped in a plain white cloth, and some in a checkered cloth, and he looked at her for an explanation. 

     "The white cloth holds ones for the prince, and the others are for you. I don't know if he should eat anything spiced, so his are just plain meat. Yours are my usual recipe. Prince Loki's brother likes them a great deal." She reached down and grabbed a basket from under the counter. "Why don't you put everything in here?"

     "Thank you so much," Thor gushed, putting the jug of oil in on the bottom and covering it with the meat pies. You've been so helpful to me."

     The old woman patted his arm fondly. "Just tell the prince that Hilda sends her greetings."

     "I will. Thank you again." Thor smiled and Hilda pinched his cheek. He swept her a formal bow, and she laughed heartily before shooing him out of the kitchen. 

**************************** 

     Loki slithered out of the shadows and into his arms as soon as the door boomed shut. "Come with me, I wisssh to ssshow you sssomething "

     Thor let Loki pull him along to the steaming pool. Loki flopped down beside the water's edge and Thor followed suit. 

     "Sssoo, lassst night, my ssstomach was feeling ssstrange again, and I dissscovered that if I put my hand inssside the opening where my cocksss are, it feelsss very good, and they come out without squeezsssing," Loki said proudly, excited to share his discovery with Thor.

      "That's good...wait... what? You put your hand inside? Your whole hand?" Thor shook his head in disbelief. The prince's words were enough to cause his cock to start stirring in his trousers at the mere thought of Loki touching himself that way; however, the next words from the prince coupled with his actions fanned the sparks of desire straight into an inferno.

     "Here, I'll ssshow you," Loki's slender arm moved into position and he wrapped his fingers around his thumb, making sure his claws were tucked in. Thor watched hungrily as Loki deftly slid his fist and part of his forearm into the hidden slit that Thor had discovered yesterday. Loki shivered as he slowly worked his fist deeper. "If I twissst my hand like thisss, I like how it feelsss," Loki panted, pulling his hand back a little and rocking his forearm gently from side to side as he pushed it back in. "It feelsss like I'm touching both of my cocksss when I do thissss."

     Mesmerized, Thor stared intently at Loki's belly, biting his lip until a burst of copper flooded his mouth. The lindworm turned to him, scenting his blood in the air, and Thor's body quivered as Loki's tongue flicked against his lower lip, teasing droplets of blood from the split flesh. 

     "Do you remember the day the nasssty little pig hurt you?" Loki asked dreamily, bloodied tongue lolling from his jaws. "I ssswore that day that your blood was the sssweetessst thing I would ever tassste. I never would have guesssed you would prove me wrong sssomeday." The lindworm nudged him with his snout, and Thor blushed, remembering how Loki had eagerly licked his seed from his fingers just yesterday. "Tell me, Thor," the prince continued, gazing at him with a predator's eyes. "Do you ssssuppossse your cock would fit inssside me there? I ssshould like to find out perhapsss, if you're willing."

     Loki's request swiftly brought Thor's more than half-hard cock to full aching erection inside his trousers. He had actually been fantasizing about that very thing as he had watched Loki's belly bulge slightly as his fist and forearm moved inside of him, wondering how it would look if his cock were in there instead. Thor was ravenous with lust at the thought of penetrating Loki and filling him up with his seed; yet a shred of sanity and self-control sent him to the basket he had brought from the kitchen first.

     "What are you doing, Thor, having a sssnack firssst? Ssssoundsss like a good idea. Hilda'ssss piesss are the bessst," giggled Loki, snatching a pie from the plain white cloth and eating it in two bites.

     "No, I brought something that should make this safer and more comfortable for us both." Thor grunted as he quickly stripped out of his clothes and grabbed the oil. He paused a moment, grabbed one of his own meat pies, and gobbled it down almost as quickly as Loki had. 

       "Ahhhh, you're sssssoo thoughtful, Thor," Loki purred, licking at the crumbs around his mouth and in his beard. "Doesss poor Hilda know what you're usssing that oil for?"

     "I suspect she might actually approve... if she knew. Which she doesn't, by the way!" Thor babbled, flustered by Loki's teasing. He climbed atop the lindworm, poured some oil onto his hand, and traced Loki's slit with slick fingers, slipping them gently inside to see if what the prince had asked would even be possible. Thor was not a small man, but it seemed like the opening would be able to accommodate his girth without tearing any of Loki's scales, which made Thor sigh with relief. He slicked up his cock with the oil, feeling Loki squirming between his thighs as he straddled him. He looked over his shoulder at the prince. "If it hurts, or you don't like it, tell me and I'll stop right away," Thor promised.

     "I trusssst you, Thor," replied the lindworm. "Go on now, I want to sssee how you feel inssside me."

     Thor took a deep breath and eased the head of his cock into the slit on Loki's belly. It was snug, but not painful, so he pressed in a bit further. Loki's body briefly tensed, then relaxed, and Thor looked behind him to make sure the prince was still okay.

     "I'm jusssst fine, Thor, don't worry. Keep doing exssssactly what you're doing, and I'll jussst lay here and enjoy the view," Loki chuckled, patting Thor's muscular backside.

     Thor's cheeks flamed, realizing that Loki had a rather intimate view of his arse since he had to face the opposite direction and sit astride him to put his cock inside of the prince. Pushing down his embarrassment, Thor focused on his cock, watching as it slowly slid further into the mysterious space that held Loki's cocks. 

     As he suspected, the further in he went, the bigger the bulge grew under Loki's scales from being filled by Thor's cock. The sight fascinated him, and he put one hand on top of the bulge to see what it felt like when he moved. He began thrusting faster, Loki's full lower belly shifting deliciously under his hand as he moved in and out. On either side of him, it felt like the prince's twin cocks were stirring to wakefulness, tightening the passageway and adding glorious friction to Thor's cock.

     "Oh gods, I'm going to come," groaned Thor. "Inside or out?"

     "What do you mean?"

     "Just as we are right now or on your belly," Thor gasped, caressing the scales stretched tight over his cock.

     "Inssside, Thor," growled Loki "I want you to fill me up with your sssseed." Almost before Loki finished speaking, Thor's orgasm overwhelmed him, and he shook as he came hard, his seed spurting hotly inside the prince and leaking out around Thor's cock. As Thor slid carefully out of Loki's secret opening, the lindworm's cocks began to emerge, already dripping with Thor's come.

     "That wassss very interesssting," hummed Loki, idly running a clawed finger through the sticky mess on his belly and swirling it around on his scales. "What ssshall we do now?"

     "Well, I have an idea, but you'll have to be patient with me. I haven't done it in a while, and it takes a little preparation first," Thor explained, reaching for the jug of oil. He laid his cloak on the ground and settled down on top of it, grabbing his discarded clothes to use as a pillow. He poured more oil on his fingers and spread his legs just as he had earlier in his own bed.

     "Will you let me sssee?" the prince whispered, eyes glistening with desire.

     "Oh yes," rasped Thor, sliding his slick hand between his legs. Loki's eyes were glued on Thor's glistening fingers, staring mesmerized as they teased at his hole. Since he had already stretched himself earlier that morning, Thor took two fingers easily and was quickly ready to add a third, moaning softly as he did. Confused, but aroused, Loki stroked his cocks tentatively, not sure what Thor was going to ask him to do next.

     Once he felt like he was ready,  Thor slowly slipped his fingers out of his slick, stretched hole and crawled up on top of Loki. He found it a bit awkward to try to straddle Loki  because the prince's second cock was in the way now. The best he could do was one leg hanging down along Loki's side and the other folded under him between the lindworm's two cocks, almost like a court lady riding sidesaddle. He almost lost his balance, only to feel Loki's tail underneath him holding him up.

      "Asss prince, I ssshould alwaysss sssupport my loyal sssubjectsss asss they ssseek to ssserve the Crown in their endeavorsss, yesss?" Loki joked, waggling his brow ridges at Thor who laughed heartily and patted the muscular coil beneath him. 

     "It's excellent support indeed, Your Highness. Your loyal subject thanks you from the bottom of his heart."

     Held up by Loki's strong, supple tail, Thor reached down and grasped the nearest of Loki's cocks, coating it with oil from Hilda's jug. The prince squirmed at the feeling of Thor's slick fingers on his sensitive flesh. 

     "Hold still Loki, it will make this a lot easier if you're not wriggling all over the place," Thor grumbled, almost slipping off of the prince's oily scales. 

     Loki laughed breathlessly, still squirming. "Exssscussse me, I'm jussst very exssscited. It'sss my first time for thissss, you know."

     Thor stroked Loki's cock a few times to make sure he was ready, then pressed the head against his loosened opening. Even with Thor's preparations, it was still a tight fit, and Loki growled as Thor slowly pressed himself down on the prince's cock.

     "Are you sssure you're not part sssnake, Thor?" the lindworm teased.

     "What do you mean, Loki?" Thor gasped as he finally took in the last of the prince's cock, feeling warm scaly skin underneath him.

     "You're sssqueezing me sssoo tight inssside of you. It'sss like you want to devour me," the prince hissed slyly, sliding his clawed hands up Thor's thighs.

     Thor grinned cheekily. "Oh, I haven't even begun to really squeeze you yet," he laughed as he clenched his muscles tightly around Loki's cock. The prince shuddered at the sensation, claws digging lightly into Thor's thighs. 

     Thor began to move his hips, slowly finding his balance atop Loki's muscular body. The lindworm hissed at the pleasurable friction, trying to stay still so he wouldn't knock Thor off balance. Once Thor was able move more confidently, he began to tease Loki, rocking and swiveling his hips as he searched for the right angle to please them both.  Once he found it, he began rolling his hips in earnest, making Loki hiss in pleasure.

     "Thor, I think I'm clossse," Loki growled, undulating his body under Thor's arse and driving his cock in deeper. Thor responded by raising his hips up and slamming them back down, making them both moan. 

     "Yesss, do that again, pleassse," Loki whimpered, and Thor was happy to oblige, feeling the prince's cock stiffen inside of him. In a matter of moments, he was coming hard inside of Thor, who waited until he couldn't feel any more spurts of Loki's seed before easing himself off of the prince's cock

     Loki looked at him, slitted pupils wide with pleasure.  "What ssshall we do now, Thor? I..." 

     Before Loki could finish his thought, Thor grinned wickedly and reversed his seat atop the lindworm, leaning forward to take Loki's second cock in his mouth. Loki growled as Thor took his cock deep, flicking at the head with his warm tongue. As Thor sucked, he arched his back, giving Loki a good look at how the prince's come was dripping from his hole. Loki curved his neck so his tongue could lap at the streaks of come on the insides of Thor's thighs; once finished, his tongue teased its way higher and investigated the loosened pucker, licking away the come until only clean skin remained. Thor shivered at the delicious feel of the prince's tongue pressing slowly into his arse almost as if it were a very long agile cock.

     "That feelsss good?"  Loki asked curiously, probing him deeper, the forked end of the prince's tongue wiggling inside him.

     "Oh gods yes. Please don't stop what you're doing there," Thor begged, feeling his own cock starting to harden again.  

     Loki obliged him for several minutes, enjoying how his lover writhed against his scales. But as his desire grew hotter, he boldly asked, "Thor, would you sssit assstride me again? I want to be inssside you, come inssside you."

     Thor let the prince's cock slide out his mouth, planting a kiss on the sensitive tip. Looking down, he found the jug of oil again and slicked up Loki's erection, then scooted forward until he was in position. Loki positively snarled as Thor teasingly rubbed the head against his hole, cock sliding in much more easily this time as he pressed down. The lindworm's tail curled around to support him again as he started to move.

     With Thor facing towards his tail this time, Loki was able to truly enjoy the sight of his cock sliding in and out of Thor's hole, slick and glistening with oil.  His clawed hands reached out tentatively to grip Thor's hips and hold him in place as the lindworm slowly began to undulate beneath him. Thor gasped as the prince's cock speared him deep again and again, the lindworm's claws digging into his hips and leaving scratches on his pale skin.     

     "Oohhhh yessss," Loki hissed as he felt his second orgasm approaching.  His coils tightened momentarily as his seed spurted into Thor for the second time.  Thor cursed and held on tight until Loki was finally still beneath him.

     Once the prince had finished, Thor pulled off his spent cock and turned around to face Loki, his own cock achingly hard again. As he worked it with his hand, Loki could feel his thighs trembling with his impending climax.

     "Do you want to taste me again, Loki?" 

     "Oh yesss, Thor, pleassse," the lindworm whimpered, forked tongue flickering from his jaws.  "What do you wisssh me to do?"

      "Why dont you put your chin here in my hand?" he said, holding his free hand out to Loki.  The lindworm bent his neck in a sinuous curve and delicately placed his lower jaw on top of Thor's outstretched hand.  "Now open your mouth," he panted, shaking with desire. Loki obeyed quickly, and Thor brought his cock close to the prince's open mouth, watching out for his sharp teeth

     "Oh, Loki," he groaned as he reached his peak, come spattering across Loki's tongue.  The lindworm swallowed greedily, relishing the salty taste of Thor's seed.

     Thor was the first to move, wincing as he swung his leg over Loki's stomach.  He grabbed his underdrawers and tried to clean them both up, but some of the sticky mess had already begun to dry on Loki's scales.

     "Go on, get in the pool.  I'll help scrub you off," promised Thor, feeding him the last of Hilda's plain meat pies and taking a spiced one for himself.  The water barely rippled as Loki slipped in, ducking his head under in case any of Thor's seed still clung to his jaws. Thor limped over to the steps and slowly made his way into the hot water, wincing as it reached his newly tender areas.

     Loki looked at him with concern.  "Isss everything all right, Thor? Are you hurt?"

     Thor reached over and rubbed his snout reassuringly.  "I'm fine, Loki. Just a bit sore is all. Thankfully we won't be leaving tomorrow, so I won't have to do any riding first thing in the morning."

     Loki sighed.  "Will you be able to ssspend sssome time with me before you leave?  I will missss you even more now that we've…" He gestured at Thor's body.

     Thor smiled and laid his cheek against Loki's jaw, stroking his scales with a gentle hand.  "Of course I'll come see you tomorrow, Loki. I may not have much time because we usually go to the market to pick up things we don't make or grow ourselves, but I promise I won't leave you without saying goodbye."

     Loki curled his neck so his head rested on Thor's chest.  He could feel his lover's strong heartbeat through his smooth, warm skin.  "Promissse me that sssomeday, you'll ssstay with me. It'sss the only thing that will make thisss bearable," Loki said dejectedly.

     Thor slipped his arm around Loki's neck.  "Eir says my father isn't going to live much longer because of his illness.  When he's gone, I'll come for you. I promised you this before, don't you remember?"

      "Oh Thor, I'm sssorry.  I didn't realize he wasss ssso ill," Loki replied, wrapping his coils around Thor in a comforting embrace.

     "She said he probably won't last another year.  I'll have to come and lay claim to his lands since my brother is so young, but I know he can handle the responsibility. He's very smart and capable, and I'd like you to meet him someday.  Maybe we could take a trip to the farm together. Would you like that?"

     "I've never ssspent time away from the palace before. It would be interesssting to sssee sssomewhere new, I sssuppose," mused Loki.

     "Well, then, we'll keep that in mind for when the time comes.  Here, let me finish cleaning you up, and then we can sit by the fire together.  How does that sound?" asked Thor, hands moving gently on Loki's scales under the water.

     Loki hissed in contentment, his tail swishing idly and making streams of bubbles around Thor's legs.  "That sssoundsss lovely, Thor." He put his snout underwater and blew bubbles too, making Thor laugh and splash water at him. Chuckling, Loki heaved himself up out of the pool and slithered over to the fireplace to dry.

     Thor sighed and regretfully left the hot pool, grabbing his clothes as he went.  He sank down next to Loki and let the heat from the fire wash over his bare skin.  The prince stared into the flames dreamily, the end of his tail gently stroking Thor's legs, and Thor leaned back, using Loki's larger coils to support him.

     "I wisssh I could go with you when you leave," said Loki sadly, nudging Thor's hip with his nose.

     Thor ran his hand down Loki's scales, marveling at how small and delicate they were on his face, like a miniature mosaic of emerald and ebony.  "I would take you with me now if I could, but you know that's not possible yet. I swear to you, Loki, that I will return to you as soon as I am able.  I'll swear it in blood, if you like."

     "That'sss not necessssary, Thor. I trussst you to keep your word," hissed Loki softly.

     Thor leaned over and kissed his forehead.  "If nothing changes with my father's health, I'll certainly see you at the tithing next year.  You could always send me another letter."

     Loki groaned dramatically.  "Pleassse Thor, no more lettersss.  My hand wasss sssore for daysss after that.  Besssidessss, I doubt you'd want me to expressss certain thingsss on paper, would you?"

     Thor blushed, imagining his father's horrified reaction to a salacious letter from the prince.  "Fine, no new letters. I'll keep rereading the one I have, I guess." He stretched, muscles rippling under his fire-kissed skin.  "I suppose I should dress and go figure out what we need to purchase before we leave. I don't know, maybe my father already has a list already made for me.  The sooner I know what we need, the quicker I can buy everything and have time left to spend with you." He pulled on his tunic, then gave a disgusted look at his sticky underdrawers. He pulled his trousers over his bare skin instead and laced them up quickly.

     Loki nosed at the pile of linen laying on the ground.  "It sssmellsss jussst like you. Can I keep them pleassse?"

     Thor scratched the back of his head, slightly embarrassed by Loki's request.  "I suppose so, but for the love of the Gods, keep them somewhere safe! I'd rather not have Eirik or Volstagg asking me about them- or anyone else, for that matter."

     "I'll put them deep inssside my den.  No one goesss in there but me. Then I can sssmell you when I sssleep," Loki said shyly.

     "All right then, they're yours," Thor said, clambering to his feet.  "I'll find out what I need to do tomorrow morning, and then once I'm finished at the market, I'll come visit you again.  Fair enough?"

     Loki raised his head up so Thor could kiss his nose in farewell.  "Fair enough. I hope I'll sssee you sssoon, Thor."

     "Tomorrow, Loki," promised Thor, giving him one last kiss before leaving.  

     After Thor was gone, Loki curled back up by the fire, wishing that Thor was still here with him, wrapped up comfortably in his coils.  He laid his head protectively over Thor's gift, breathing in their mingled scents on the soft fabric. Tomorrow , he thought sleepily. I ssshall ssssee my love again tomorrow.   He closed his eyes and gave himself over to sleep. 




Chapter Text

     When all was said and done, Thor hated shopping in Utgard- the crowds, the noise, and the haggling were all so overwhelming to a man used to the relative quiet of life on a farm.  But, there were things the farm and its workers needed that they couldn't produce for themselves, so Thor did his best to purchase what was on his father's list.  Bolts of soft linen, thread for lace making, fine needles for embroidery, small panes of glass, and more filled the scrubbed down wagon that had carried their pigs to the tithing.. As the last item was checked off and stowed away, Thor breathed a sigh of relief.  He'd managed to get everything on the list and even had a bit of money left over, which he knew would please his father.  

     "If you don't mind, I'll head back to my cousin's now.  I'll see you lads in the morning," said Rolf. Thor waved him on, relieved that he didn't have to spend more time in the older man's presence; in fact, he found himself hoping that Rolf would decide to stay in Utgard with his cousin permanently.      

     Looking up at the sky, Thor was shocked at how long the shopping had taken.  Even if he could somehow arrive at the palace instantaneously, he wasn't going to have much time to spend with Loki unless he skipped dinner.  He sighed and checked the load one last time to make sure nothing would work its way loose and get damaged. Satisfied that everything was secured properly,  Thor and Sven hopped back up on the wagon and headed back towards the palace as quickly as they could manage on the crowded streets. 

      Back at the palace, Thor left Sven to manage the wagon while he darted off to see Loki.  Volstagg hailed him as he came down the hall.

    "Thor! Himself was worried that ye had forgotten tae come back tae say farewell."

     "Oh no, Volstagg!  The damned shopping took longer than I thought.  I'd hoped to get back to see Loki before dinner, but I'd rather miss a meal than miss a chance to tell him goodbye."

     "Just hae Himself ring fer a servant and they'll bring ye sommat to eat," Volstagg chuckled.

    Thor shrugged nonchalantly.  "Perhaps. I'll see how long Loki wants to talk."  

     As he entered the room, he heard Loki splashing in the pool. Thor grinned widely, mentally saying goodbye to eating dinner.  He waited until the door closed behind him so he could bolt the door for privacy, then sauntered over to the pool. Loki stopped splashing and stared up at him with wide green eyes.

     "Thor!  I wasss ssso worried you wouldn't come tonight.  I'm ssso glad you're here," Loki exclaimed, wiggling his body happily.

     "Shall I come in with you?" Thor asked, already loosening his belt. 

     "Of courssse!" hissed Loki, beckoning him in with a wave of his tail.

     Thor shucked off his clothes and boots and put them in a safe place so they wouldn't get wet, then slid into the pool with Loki.  Immediately, the lindworm was on him, wrapping him up in coils of ebony and emerald. After a gentle squeeze, Loki released him and patted the stone seat next to him.

     "How wasss the ssshopping?" the prince asked as Thor leaned into his side

     "Ugh, so dreadful.  I hate having to haggle for everything, but if I don't, the shopkeepers try to take advantage," growled Thor.

     "That doesssn't sssound enjoyable at all," Loki observed, gently running his claws through Thor's hair. 

     "And the worst part is, it wasted so much time that I could have spent with you," Thor grumbled, sliding his hands over Loki's scales. As the prince hissed softly in pleasure, Thor's stomach growled loudly, startling them both.

     "Sssurely you ate sssomething while you were out," chided Loki, butting Thor's stomach with his snout.

    "I was too busy at first, and then when I realized how late it was, I came straight here.  I didn't want to break my promise to you. Don't worry, missing a meal won't hurt me," insisted Thor, hands drifting down to tease at the lip of Loki's slit.

    The prince moaned at his touch, the tip of his tail sliding between Thor's legs to tease at his cock.  Thor shivered at the feeling of Loki's smooth scales gliding against his sensitive skin, and he pressed in on Loki's belly just below his slit.  The prince's cocks responded quickly to his touch, emerging hard and ready from their hidden sheath. Thor took the nearest one in his hand and slowly stroked it, making Loki's coils tremble in anticipation.  

     "Won't you be too sssore if we mate again ssso sssoon?" Loki asked worriedly.

     Thor shrugged.  "Maybe, but I want to have this one last time with you before I go home"

     "What ssshall we do then?" mused Loki, curious as always.

     Thor looked around the edge of the pool.  He spotted the jug of oil frim the day before lying nearby and hoisted himself up high enough to reach over and grab it.  Behind him, he heard Loki give an interested hiss, and he looked back over his shoulder to see Loki ogling the curves of his arse.  The prince arrowed through the water and stood up behind him, corralling him against the side of the pool.  

      "Can I have you like thissss?" Loki asked, stroking his claws along the line of Thor's spine, careful not to leave any scratches. 

      Thor gasped and arched his back into the caress, his cock hardening quickly at the thought of Loki taking him and claiming him.  "Yes," he said breathlessly. "Just give me a minute." He sat on the edge of the pool and poured oil on his fingers, spreading his thighs wide before Loki's hungry gaze.  The lindworm growled softly as he watched Thor open himself up with his fingers, forked tongue lapping hungrily at his lover's cock while he waited.  

     Once he was ready, Thor slid back into the pool and turned his back to Loki, offering himself to the prince.  

     "Here," Loki hissed.  "Move over and ssstand on the ssseat.  I think it will be eassssier that way."  He took Thor by the waist and lifted him bodily into place on the stone seat they had just been sitting on. Thor was stunned at the strength in Loki's delicate looking arms, not expecting the prince to have been able to lift him, even underwater.

    "Now," Loki growled in his ear.  "Ssshall we?" He quickly slicked up both of his cocks and pressed close, an almost ominous wall of scale and muscle.  Thor reached back and gripped the nearest cock, guiding it into him slowly. They both groaned as Loki sank in deep, pulling Thor's hips back flush against him. He eased back, admiring the sight of Thor stretched around him.

     "Yesss… I like thisss way very much, Thor.  Doesss it pleassse you?" Loki panted, nuzzling at Thor's hair.

     Thor pushed back, sheathing the prince inside him once more.  "Oh gods, yes, Loki. Please…"

     Loki gripped Thor's hip with one clawed hand and the lip of the pool with the other, bracing his coils against the opposite edge of the pool. He had much better leverage in this position than when he was lying on his back, and he took full advantage of it, thrusting fiercely into Thor until he was sobbing with pleasure 

     "Oh Loki, that's so good," Thor whimpered,  giving control over to the prince and letting him take whatever he wanted.  He was going to be so, so sorry on the long ride home tomorrow, but for now, he was going to enjoy every sensation that Loki could wring from him.  He shuddered as he felt Loki come hard inside of him, the lindworm trembling from snout to tail with the force of his orgasm. 

    The prince relaxed his grip on Thor,  breathing heavily as if he had just run a race.  "Ssshall I have you again, or do you wisssh for sssomething elssse?" 

     "Whatever pleases you, my love," Thor gasped, legs shaking from Loki's passionate lovemaking. 

     Loki turned him around gently and lifted his chin with a clawed finger. "What did you call me jussst now, Thor?  Am I truly your love?"

     Tears leaked unbidden from Thor's eyes. "Yes, Loki, I meant it.  I love you, and I want to be with you always."

     Loki's forked tongue flicked out and licked his tears away.  "Sssoon love, you ssshall be all mine. Here, let me pleasssure you a bit before I have you again."  The lindworm lifted Thor up to the edge of the pool and gently pressed him down on his back against the stone, nudging his lover's thighs apart with his snout.  Thor bit his fist savagely to keep from crying out as Loki's agile tongue began licking and teasing at his hole, flicking the sensitive skin until Thor begged him for more.  Loki responded by slipping his tongue inside and licking until Thor gave a startled cry and came untouched on his belly and chest.  Loki gave a delighted hiss and lapped at Thor's skin, cleaning off the pearly streaks of come while Thor giggled weakly at the tickling sensation.  

     When Loki was finally satisfied, he shifted his position until his other cock was pressing against Thor's loosened entrance.  "Ssshall we try it like thisss, Thor? I ssshould like to sssee your face thisss time when we mate."

     Thor smiled and opened his legs wider, attempting to wrap them around Loki's thick  body. He looked boldly into the prince's eyes saying, "Do it, my prince, my love. Take me ."

     The lindworm gave a feral growl at those words and thrust hard into Thor's body, making him yelp in surprise. His clawed hands gripped Thor's hips tightly as he fucked him roughly, water sloshing over the edge of the pool.  Held in place like a rag doll, Thor groaned desperately as the head of Loki's cock rubbed him repeatedly in just the right spot, making his own spent cock rise back up to eager attention. Thor's hand slid down to stroke himself as Loki continued to pound into him, making him feel almost small and delicate compared to the lindworm's raw animal strength, and before he knew it, he was on the brink of orgasm again.  

     Apparently Loki was as well, because Thor could feel the telltale trembling in his coils that usually preceded the lindworm's climax. He gripped Loki tightly with his heels, pulling him in as deeply as he could.  "Come for me, Loki. Fill me up with your seed," he begged. The lindworm shuddered and tensed as his orgasm overtook him, his cock pulsing hotly inside of Thor. Feeling the sensation of Loki's climax inside of him was enough to send Thor over the edge too, his body shaking uncontrollably with the force of his release.

      They both lay there panting for a minute, Loki resting on his elbows to keep from squashing Thor and idly licking at Thor's sticky chest every so often. Eventually, Thor groaned and started to sit up, muscles all over his body protesting his movements. Loki hoisted him up again and pulled him gently into the pool so the hot water could finish cleansing his skin.  Thor winced at the soreness between his legs, knowing that he was going to have a very unpleasant ride ahead of him in the morning, but not regretting it in the slightest. He just hoped he could hide the scratches on his hips from his father and his men on their journey home until they were healed.

     "Are you all right, Thor?" Loki asked nervously, looking at the angry red scrapes littering Thor's skin. "I ssshould have been lessss…"

     Thor put his hand over Loki's snout, giving it a fond shake.  "I'm fine, Loki. I'm not sorry for anything we've done, and you shouldn't be either.  You've given me very good memories to keep me going until the next time I see you." He laid his forehead against Loki's affectionately, scratching all the spots he knew were Loki's favorites, especially around his horns, and the prince wiggled happily, enjoying the extra attention.  

     Thor's toes and fingers were thoroughly wrinkled by the time they were done snuggling in the pool, which Loki found quite amusing once Thor assured him it was only temporary. Over at the fireplace, Thor pulled his clothes on slowly, not wanting their time together to end so soon.  Loki sat coiled in an unhappy heap until Thor was dressed, then he flowed over and wrapped himself around Thor, whimpering in distress.  

     "Oh Loki," sighed Thor.  "I don't want to leave you, really I don't, but I don't dare be late to leave in the morning.  My father would be very suspicious."

     "I know that you mussst go now, but it hurtsss, Thor," Loki said sadly, his head drooping.

    Thor covered his snout with soft kisses.  "It hurts me too, beloved. I'll come back to you as soon as I can, and we'll be together then.  I promise I won't abandon you, Loki."

     The lindworm reluctantly unwound his coils, and Thor stood up dejectedly, still feeling the ache in his arse and thighs but hiding it from Loki as best he could.  He walked towards the door with Loki trailing disconsolately after him. Before he slid back the bolt, he opened his arms and Loki practically flew into them, snuffling his scent one last time before he fled to his den, the sound of his desolate whimpers ringing in Thor's head. 

     "Goodbye, my love," he called after him, struggling not to cry.  He stood there for a few minutes until he felt more composed, then unbolted the door and strode outside, giving Volstagg a falsely hearty farewell as he walked away with his heart breaking.

Chapter Text

     Thor let out a sigh of relief as they finally turned the horses onto the beaten dirt road that led to the farm.  Odin's health had remained fairly stable on the way home from Utgard, but the healer's words kept bubbling up in his mind.  I'll need to tell Balder so he isn't caught unaware when Father… He shook his head, distraught.  And then there's Loki.  I promised him I'd come stay at the palace when Father died, but Balder is still so young.  I hate to burden him with all of this responsibility. I wonder if he'd mind if I brought Loki home to the farm for a while?  Would Loki even want to come here? He smiled faintly, trying to picture Loki helping him with the farm chores.   

     As they dismounted, Odin began to cough hard, and this time, he wasn't fast enough to hide the flecks of blood on his handkerchief from Thor. Their eyes met, and for a long moment, neither one of them said a word.  One of the draft horses broke the ominous silence with a shrill whinny, demanding to be unharnessed from the wagon so he could have some oats. Thor dropped his eyes, not sure what he should say or do, fearing his father might lash out if he offered help or sympathy; instead, Odin put his hand on Thor's shoulder briefly to steady himself.

     "Can you see to the men and horses, son?  I think I need to go lay down." Thor nodded mutely, and Odin walked slowly towards the house, the chill wind plucking at his cloak like hands reaching up from a grave.  

     Thor turned back towards the men who had accompanied them to Utgard.  All of them were looking at him sorrowfully, knowing that Odin was very ill; however, only Thor truly  knew how little time his father had left, according to the healers. He cleared his throat and started issuing orders to get the wagons back in their proper places and the horses rubbed down and fed.  He took his own mount into his stall and brushed him out, using the repetitive brush strokes to calm his mind. His horse butted his chest with his long nose, reminding Thor of Loki's favorite affectionate gesture and making him smile faintly. Once he had finished with the brush and comb, he filled the feed trough with oats and hay and made sure there was plenty of clean water for his horse to drink before he left the barn.

     The same chill wind was still skirling around the yard, lifting leaves in great eddies and tugging at Thor's hair and beard.  He glanced up the hill at Frigga's grave, deciding to visit her quickly before it got too dark. As he reached the summit, the hilltop looked barren and forlorn, all the beautiful flowers slumbering now under the cold earth and damp leaves.  He knelt down beside his mother's grave, his heart like a lump of lead in his chest.

     "Well, Mother, I guess Father will be reunited with you before too long.  Though he and I have had our differences recently, I honestly wish it weren't true.  Balder is still so young, too young to run the farm long term, really, but I've also made a promise to Loki that I need to keep.  He's had so little of love and kindness in his life that I don't want to let him down." He got slowly to his feet and brushed off the dirt and leaves clinging to his trousers.  " We'll have to see what fortune brings us, I guess. I miss you, Mama." He walked slowly down the hill, past and future sorrows laying heavily on his shoulders.

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     Odin's health declined steadily over the winter, the shorter days leading to even shorter tempers between the three of them.  Thor did his best, dosing him with Eir's tonics, but, as the healer had warned, they didn't cure his illness, only dulled his pain for a short while. He even dared to experiment with a few recipes from Frigga's books, but they were equally ineffective against whatever was consuming Odin from within.  Thor had already broken the news to Balder, trying to gently prepare him for the inevitable, but as Odin's condition worsened, Balder became sullen and withdrawn, no longer interacting with their men or even the animals that he loved. Thor understood his pain; after all, he'd suffered the same way when Frigga was dying.  He tried his best to keep his brother's spirits up, but his efforts were met mostly with indifference or, occasionally, anger. 

     One day, Thor was working with a small group of men rigging up an emergency shelter for some of the pigs to temporarily replace one that had partially collapsed under the weight of the recent snowfall.  Somehow, the topic turned to Balder's increasing isolation, and they spared no time telling Thor exactly what they thought his brother needed.

     "He needs to find himself a sweet young maid who'll open up her legs for him," suggested Einar, wagging his finger at Thor. 

     "Or her mouth," added Sven with a lewd chuckle. 

     Thor just looked at the men flatly, and their vulgar comments withered under the weight of his stare."I'll deal with my brother's behavior as I see fit.  Your job right now is to fix this shelter for the pigs so they won't die from the cold tonight. Isn't that right?"

     Embarrassed, the men bent to their work, leaving Thor to ponder if perhaps a wife might be just the thing to bring Balder a bit of happiness in these unhappy times.

*************************

     Midwinter's Day dawned bright and clear, the weak winter sunlight making the day seem warmer and more cheerful than usual.  Thor had set up a comfortable seat for Odin near the bonfire and the men were heartened to see him there, nodding his head and making small talk. Thor stood by his chair in case Odin needed him, while Balder grudgingly mingled with the men and their families.  As the day wore on, Thor noticed that his brother was spending quite a bit of time with one family in particular. Craning his neck, he was just able to catch a glimpse of who his brother was talking to- a pretty girl with masses of curly golden hair.

     "Father," Thor said quietly.  "Who is Balder talking to? I don't think I know her."

     Odin peered in the direction Thor was pointing, trying to spot the mystery maiden.  "Ah, that's Nanna Nepsdottir. Her family moved into the area just before the tithing.  Her older brother is a skilled carpenter, and her mother knows quite a bit about beekeeping.  She's been working at the hives with old Haakon, and Nanna makes excellent candles out of the beeswax her mother brings home."

     "Hmmmm," Thor mused as he glanced at her again, trying to decide if she would be a good match for Balder.

     Odin immediately mistook Thor's interest in the young woman.  "She'd make you a good wife, son. Good hips, pretty face..."

      Thor laughed bitterly.  "No. No she wouldn't. Nothing's changed, Father.  You've known full well where my interests lie ever since that day in the barn. Stop deluding yourself."

     "You know you can't be my heir unless you intend to marry and have children," Odin growled.

     "I'm sorry, but that's not going to happen, Father.  The farm can go to Balder and I'll go to Utgard. Prince Loki has requested that I join his retinue and serve as a guard.  It's an honorable duty, and it suits me better than chaining myself to a woman I could never truly love."

     "So you'd chain yourself to a monster then?" his father said with a sneer.

     "Why not? Plenty of women do," Thor snapped back.

     Odin slumped back in his chair, stunned at Thor's harsh words.  "Son, I…"

     Thor cut him off. "Let's not do this now, Father.  We don't need the men to see us at odds at Midwinter, or they'll think it's a bad omen.  I'll bring you something to eat and drink, then I'll go visit with the men to see how they're faring so far this winter."

    After Thor had made the rounds, he was leaning against a wall with a tankard of mead and brooding when a frightened looking older woman approached him, wringing her hands.

     "Forgive me for disturbing you, Master.  My daughter has gone missing and I was hoping you might help me find her," the woman stammered, too shy to meet his eyes.

     "What is your daughter's name, Mistress, and where did you see her last?"

      "Her name is Nanna. She was talking to your brother a little while ago, and now she's gone."  

     Groaning internally, Thor smiled at the woman, hoping to put her at ease. "I'll look around for her, Mistress."  He set down his tankard 

     "Thank you," she whispered.  "Her father is very upset that she's gone missing among all these strange men.  He fears for her safety and her..." She gestured at her groin, and Thor blushed when he realized she was talking about her daughter's virginity. 

     "I understand," he told her seriously. "If any of my father's men have abused her in any way, rest assured, we will take swift action.  Here, I'll take you to sit with my father while I locate her."

     Leaving the nervous woman behind with Odin, Thor began scouring the area for the missing girl and his brother.  Since the weather was quite chilly, he decided not to visit some of the popular outdoor trysting spots, figuring they would likely want to be somewhere warmer.  The barn was cold, dark, and empty, so he decided to check the main house next. When he walked in the front door, there were candles burning on the table that weren't there earlier, and Thor raised an eyebrow at his brother's daring.  I hope he hasn't already deflowered her , he thought grimly. Although Father might not care if it gets him the grandchild he wants so badly, I think her parents would be very unhappy with Balder.   

     As he walked quietly down the hall, he could hear the murmur of voices coming from Balder's bedroom.  The door was slightly ajar, and candlelight flickered feebly through the crack, making shadows dance on the walls and ceiling.  Thor paused outside his brother's room, trying to figure out what was going on inside before he made his presence known. It sounded like one of them was upset, maybe even crying, and the other person was trying to soothe them.  Thor rubbed at his temples, feeling a headache start to pound behind his tired blue eyes. This kind of problem was usually not what he was good at solving; he was better at fixing things that needed a simple application of brute force. He had promised Nanna's mother his help, however, and he felt obligated to talk to Balder as well about the developing situation.  Taking a deep breath, Thor gently pushed the door open. 

     Nanna was sitting against the headboard fully clothed, with Balder's head in her lap, stroking his shoulders as he wept.  Her own wet eyes met Thor's, and he saw love and concern there for his brother coupled with trepidation. A young unmarried woman, especially a virgin, would face great shame and ostracism if she were found in bed with a man; even though she and Balder were both completely dressed, Nanna realized that Thor could easily ruin her reputation with a few choice words. She opened her mouth to speak, but Thor stopped her by putting his finger to his lips.  He walked over quietly and sat down on the bed, the edge of the mattress sinking deep under his heavier weight. Balder raised his head and recoiled at the sight of his brother. 

     "I swear we haven't done anything, Thor! I was just so upset about Father , I …" Balder babbled frantically, pushing himself up out of Nanna's lap.

     "Peace, brother," Thor said soothingly, patting Balder's shoulder. "I can see that the two of you haven't been up to any mischief, but Nanna's mother is looking for her.  I think it best that you take her back to her parents for the time being. Or maybe I should, given how you look right now." He pulled out his handkerchief and passed it to his brother, who accepted it gratefully and wiped his face.  

     "Thor, can I ask you something?" 

     "Of course, Balder. What is it?"

     "Since Father doesn't have much time left, do you think he would allow Nanna and me to get married soon?  I know we're young, but she's the woman I want to spend my life with, I know it." He looked at Thor with beseeching eyes.

     Thor grinned and tousled Balder's hair, making his brother growl and slap his hand away.  "Father would be delighted if the two of you got married; I'd imagine it's Nanna's parents that you'll need to convince."

     Nanna rolled her eyes. "My mother would absolutely swoon if someone came and took me off her hands.  My father would be a bit more cautious because of my dowry, but I don't think he'd really object, to be honest."

     Thor laughed outright at her show of spirit.  Balder would be a lucky man if her parents agreed to allow them to wed, and Thor would do his best to make sure that happened.  He stood up and offered his hand to Nanna. "I'll escort you back to your parents, then go talk to my father about marriage. Balder, you'd best wash your face before you come back out."  They both rolled their eyes at his parental tone, and he shook his head. "Gods, you two lunatics deserve each other. Come on, let's go before her parents come looking."  

     Nanna took his hand gratefully, blowing Balder a kiss as they left the room.  As they walked down the hall, she looked up at him with a serious expression. "Tell me, do you think your father will truly allow us to marry, or were you just trying to protect my reputation- and your brother?"

     Thor sensed her nervousness and uncertainty.  "My father wants grandchildren and he knows I'm not likely to provide them.  I imagine he'll accept you readily, knowing that you already have a useful trade, much like our mother did.  I'm sure that his consent won't be an issue; in fact, I'll talk to him as soon as I see you back to your parents. "

     Nanna smiled up at him.  "Thank you, Thor. You're very kind, truly.  I don't know why you don't think you couldn't find a good woman to marry and bear your children."

     Thor bit his lip, not sure how much he should reveal about his preferences to this near stranger, charming though she was.  "Let's just say it's unlikely and leave it at that."

     "Ohhh," she said, eyes widening as she finally grasped his meaning.

     Thor looked at her sharply. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't share that around though."

     "Oh no, of course not," she promised earnestly, patting his arm.  "Er, does Balder know?"

     "Yes, and my father as well," admitted Thor.  "Though he keeps holding out hope that I'll somehow change my mind."

     "Well, you're as the Gods made you, so I'm not likely to make a fuss about it.  I hope you find someone who makes you happy someday," she said kindly.

     Thor smiled bashfully and ducked his head, but not before Nanna noticed.

     "Thor Odinson!  What is that blush for? Do you have a beau somewhere?  Who is he?" she pressed teasingly. 

     "I…  can't talk about it right now.  My father would be furious," Thor mumbled, staring at the floor.

     "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have pried like that.  It's really none of my business," Nanna apologized.  "I hope I haven't offended you."

     "No worries, little sister.  Someday, I'll tell you all about him," Thor replied with a saucy wink.

     Nanna shook her head sadly.  "Too bad you won't be able to marry him, whoever he is."

     "That's all right.  I'll just bask in the glory of your marriage to my brother," Thor snickered, earning him a swift elbow in the ribs.  "Ow! You'll be a perfect match for Balder with an elbow like that!"

     "It's only to be expected, Thor. I do have an elder brother of my own," she replied with wicked merriment dancing in her eyes.

     Thor laughed outright at that, and Nanna joined in as well.  He offered her his arm and she took it gladly as they went in search of her parents.  

     To no one's surprise, when Balder asked Nanna's parents for her hand in marriage that night, they agreed wholeheartedly.  Odin gave the young couple his blessing, and the date was set for two months hence in hopes that Odin would still be there to see it.

****************************************

     After Midwinter, Odin's health grew steadily worse, and Thor and Balder were exhausted trying to keep up with the farm chores and Odin's needs, not to mention planning Balder's wedding.  Fortunately, Nanna was a very practical young woman and kept things very simple, but it was still one more thing to worry about for the two overburdened brothers. Finally, the fateful day arrived, and Thor found himself tending to one extremely agitated bridegroom.  Balder had scrubbed up and soaked in the hot spring, trying to calm his nerves, while Thor, Nanna, and her mother decorated the house. It was too early for real flowers, but Thor had discovered that he could carve Nanna's candles into sweet-smelling flower like designs, and their combined handiwork made it seem like spring in the main room of the house.  Some of the village women had swept and scrubbed until every surface in the room gleamed, while others had labored in the kitchen making the wedding feast. Everything was ready at last- except for Balder. He was beside himself with nerves, and Thor practically had to dress him like a child. Balder sat next to him on the bed silently plucking at the sleeves of his best shirt, before he turned to Thor with a desperate look in his eyes.

     "Thor…" he bleated, voice cracking. "I don't… I don't know what to do.  Tonight, you know… I've never...well...done that with a girl!  What if she laughs at me?"

     Thor shifted uncomfortably, not really sure what to say to his little brother. His own sexual experiences were unusual , to say the least, so he didn't know how helpful his advice would be.  However, he wanted to reassure Balder, so he cleared his throat and said the first thing he could think of.

     "Well, I don't think she's been out practicing behind your back, brother, so chances are, she's as nervous as you about the whole thing. Just take it slowly and ask her if she likes what you're doing. I think Nanna will let you know how she feels, and you can go from there. I don't think she's the sort to laugh at you, though.  You've chosen a very good woman to be your wife, and I think Mother would be very happy for you if she were here."

     Balder blinked his watery blue eyes and smiled weakly at Thor.  "Thank you, brother. I… Ow!!" he hollered as Thor punched him in the shoulder.

     "It's time, brother!  Let's go make you a married man," laughed Thor, dragging Balder off of the bed and towards the door.  Balder growled and punched him back in the ribs. By the time they reached the end of the hall, they were both grinning, Balder's nervousness pushed back by Thor's antics. He whistled as he saw the decorations for the first time.

     "This is really beautiful, Thor!  Did you carve the candles like that?  You could sell a wagon load of those at the market." Balder said enthusiastically.

    "Umm, yes it is, yes I did, and yes we could.  Nanna and I already discussed that possibility when I first figured out how to carve her candles without breaking them.  I might even try taking some to Utgard next time I go. Now hush, here comes your bride."

     Nanna entered the room, her golden hair braided around her head like a crown, and Balder gasped when he recognized the beautifully embroidered dress she was wearing.  "Thor… isn't that Mother's wedding dress? I remember seeing it a long time ago in her trunk of special things."

     "Yes, Father and I decided to gift it to her for your wedding.  She looks very lovely in it. I think Mother would approve, don't you?"

     "Thank you, brother," Balder whispered, tears glistening in his eyes.  "This means so much to me."

     Thor gave him a big hug and just barely resisted the urge to ruffle his brother's carefully combed hair.  "Go on now, he said, giving Balder a gentle push. "Your bride is waiting for you."

    Balder crossed the room and took Nanna's hands in his, both of their faces glowing with joy as the local priest spoke the simple formula that united them in marriage.  As the priest finished speaking, Nanna blushed as Balder kissed her gently for the first time as her husband, making the older guests sigh and reminisce fondly about young love.  Thor smiled at them from the sidelines, happy for his brother, of course, but wishing he could share something similar with Loki someday. His heart twinged sadly, however, knowing that it would be next to impossible for them to ever wed, even though Loki was a prince for whom, theoretically, almost anything should be possible. 

     Odin beamed fondly on the young couple as they came over and knelt in front of his chair for his blessing.  "May your lives be long, full of love, and blessed with many children," he intoned in a shaky voice, his gnarled hands resting on their heads.

     "Thank you, Father," whispered Balder, tears glistening in his eyes. 

     Thor joined them, clapping his brother on the back as the couple stood up.  "I agree wholeheartedly with Father. I can't wait to be an uncle soon."  

     Nanna and Balder both blushed, and Odin chuckled.  "All in good time, Thor. All in good time. The night is still young, though, friends.  Let the wedding feast begin, and then after that, dancing!"

     The guests cheered and went outside to where tables had been set up inside of a tent heated by numerous braziers.  The bridal couple took the seats of honor at the head table with their families, and the villagers and workers filled the rest of the seats.  There was much food, ale, and wine served, and everyone had a delightful evening. Thor did his best to be hearty and enjoy himself, but he soon found himself craving peace and quiet.  He walked out into the chilly night and climbed the hill to Frigga's gravesite. He wrapped his cloak around himself and sat down, leaning against the trunk of the leafless oak tree and staring up at the stars.  "Well, Mother, your baby boy is now a man grown and wedded, while I can't even…" He dropped his head to his knees, trying to contain his emotions. "Oh Mama," he sighed. "I wish there was a way for Loki and me to be married someday.  I don't know if you'd approve of what we've been doing together, but I love him so much. I can't stand not being able to be with him every day. It's just not fair, Mama," he whispered, silver tears sliding down his cheeks.

     Footsteps crunched in the frosted grass, and Thor wiped his cheeks hastily.  Balder sat down next to him, breath steaming in the cold air. They both sat in silence for several minutes, gazing up at the stars.  Finally, Balder broke the silence.

     "I thought you might have come up here.  It's so quiet and peaceful."

     "I'm fine, brother.  You should be down there with Nanna, don't you think?"  Thor countered.

     Balder chuckled. "Thor, she sent me, you oaf.  She was worried about you being alone right now."

     "What? Why?  Nothing's wrong, Balder," Thor insisted, wishing his little brother would let him be before he broke down entirely. 

     "And that's why you're out here in the cold, crying and talking to Mother?" Balder said knowingly. 

     "I wasn't… I just… It's nothing you can help me with anyway, so I'm not going to burden you with my problems, especially on your wedding night."

     Balder frowned, thinking he knew at least part of the problem.  "Thor, is it about you wanting men instead of women? I know all about that, remember?  I saw how Father treated you that day in the stable, and I didn't understand why at first because I was too young.  But, brother, I love you dearly, and it doesn't matter to me or to Nanna if you love a man, a woman, or a two-headed goat.  When Father passes, bring him here, Thor, and he'll be welcome."

     "It's not that simple, brother.  Gods, I wish it was," he groaned, imagining the horrified look on his brother's face when he discovered Thor's lover was the lindworm prince.  

     "Bring.  Him. Here.  Just do it, Thor,"  Balder repeated, putting his arm around his brother's shoulders and pulling him into a tight embrace, and Thor broke down, sobbing in Balder's arms.  His brother held him until his weeping abated, patting his back soothingly.

     "Feel better?" Balder asked gently when Thor finally pulled away to wipe his face dry on his cloak.

     "Yes, but… do you mind if I don't go back to the feast?  I'm just not up to it right now."

     "I understand, Thor. I'll tell Father you got sick from drinking so he won't bother you about it"

     "Thank you, Balder.  Give Nanna my best wishes."

     "Of course.  Someday maybe we can give you and your… would you both be husbands? Anyway, you know what I mean, right? Best wishes for you and the one you love."

     "I'm sure Loki would…" Thor trailed off, horrified that he had let his secret slip in front of Balder. 

     "Wait… Loki?  Prince Loki?  The one who's a giant snake Loki?  Thor, are you serious?"  Balder was staring at him, but it was difficult to read his expression in the dark.

     "Well, actually, yes, I am.  Serious, that is. It's hard to explain, Balder, but I do love him.  He's not a dumb beast like Father says. He's very kind, funny, intelligent, and loving, even though he's basically been alone for most of his life, except for his mother and a few servants. He and I have been good friends for a long time until it became… something else."  Thor sighed, hoping he could make his brother understand his feelings for Loki. "I wasn't expecting to fall in love with him, but I did, and I'm not sorry. I understand if you and Nanna wouldn't be comfortable having him live here, so I'll probably stay with him in Utgard."

     "Wait, slow down, Thor!  I never said Loki wasn't welcome here; in fact, I'd really like to meet him.  He always sounded so interesting when you talked about him with Mother. It's surprising, to be sure, but if you love him, you love him.  You're my brother and I won't turn against you," promised Balder.

    "But what will the men think?  We can't run the farm alone if they all decide to leave because they think I'm a filthy degenerate," muttered Thor.

     Balder stood up and dusted off his pants.   "Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  In the meantime, don't worry about it. When the time comes, Nanna and I will stand by you, brother."

     "Thank you," Thor whispered, trying hard not to cry again.

     Balder laid his hand gently on Thor's shoulder in sympathy before heading back down to his wedding party.  Thor waited a few more minutes before trudging down the hill and sneaking past the wedding tent, slipping through the back door of their house to avoid his father.  He made it to his room unchallenged and threw himself on the bed fully dressed, too drained to bother taking anything off except his boots. He lay there for several minutes staring at the ceiling, imagining what getting married to Loki would look like.  Who would come if we could get married ? Thor mused. Eirik and Volstagg, certainly.  Hilda, possibly. Queen Laufey, most likely.  The King and Loki's brother, I sincerely doubt it.  Balder and Nanna, of course, if they could leave the farm.  It wouldn't be a big ceremony, but it would be the best day of my life.  The air in his room was quickly getting chilly, so Thor burrowed under his blankets and furs still dressed, wishing he was in Loki's chamber snuggled up in front of the roaring fireplace with the prince.  I wonder if Balder would mind if Loki and I took Father's room, since it has a fireplace. Otherwise he might get sick from the cold.  Hmmm, maybe we'd only spend spring and summer here and go back to Utgard at the tithing and stay through the winter.   Thor fell asleep, dreaming that, somehow, he and Loki were married and were able to go to bed every night wrapped in each other's arms.