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Stjarnavetr - Part II

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Stjarnavetr

The day was hot. There were no clouds in the sky and though the blanket of ancient stars above us presented a remarkably beautiful backdrop, the sunlight was harsh and the sultry breeze brought little relief from the heat.

I shaded my eyes as I studied the verdant landscape, thinking that Loki had chosen a good spot for us to come on his day off. It was preferable, at least, to having me sit in the queen’s chambers with the other women and stifle from the heat.

We had not been out into the countryside for a while now and I was eagerly looking forward to picnicking with Loki and taking a dip in the little natural spring we liked to frequent, especially in the hotter months. The spring itself was rather secluded, perhaps an hour and a half’s leisurely ride from the palace, and nestled serenely within a dense stand of trees, all crowned with abundant green leaves.

I could remember the first time Loki had ever brought me here, not long after we had begun lying together. He told me he had discovered it while exploring when young, but up until that point had never brought a woman here. He had been excited to show it to me, confident that I would love it, and he had not been wrong; I had been enchanted by the simple beauty of it all and thought it perfect.

It had reminded me of the land near to my childhood home in Vanaheim, for the air even tasted the same; fresh and earthy. I had explored when I was younger, too, often with the other village children, but at the time Loki had shown me the grove it had been so long since I had swam and especially with another.

I turned and glanced at Loki, who was kneeling on the ground and setting out the food he had brought. Our horses had wandered off a few minutes earlier to graze, leaving us entirely alone, and when he finished not a moment later, he looked up at me and smiled.

“Come, Stjarna.”

I left the edge of the tree line, walked over, and sat down across from him. I was grateful for the somewhat thick canopy of leaves above us, for they provided relief from the sunlight, allowing only a little of it through to cast bright, shivering patterns onto the soft ground.

Loki and I began serving ourselves.

I opened a basket, retrieved a loaf of soft bread from within, and unwrapped it. I tore off a piece and then handed the loaf to Loki, who proceeded to do the same.

“I saw Réttrmund in the training yard yesterday,” Loki commented before putting the bread into his mouth.

“You did?” I asked, perking up. “I have not seen him in weeks. How is he?”

Loki swallowed before answering. “He is well. He beat four other Einherjar while sparring.”

I smiled at that. “Did you speak to him?”

“Yes. He said he’s off a few days next week.”

“That is wonderful. I will see him when I visit Konavefr and Dreyma and the children.”

Réttrmund was doing so well. He had maintained his position in the Allfather’s guard these past centuries and brought much honor to our family. He had also married a girl, Dreyma, in the city years ago and she had since borne him two sons. They all lived with Konavefr, who had remained in the house the queen had given my father even after his death over two centuries ago, and I made an effort to visit them every single week.

Svinn, however, still disliked me. My youngest brother I knew thought it pathetic that I was mistress to the prince, and especially considering for how long. He did not know, or would not hear, how happy I was and how much better my life had been made from being with Loki. He only saw it as degrading and he did not care to speak to me. It hurt me, for he was my brother, but I did not see much of him since he ran his own tavern in the city and lived there with his family.

But even with Svinn’s depreciative view of Loki and I, we were happy still. Loki had been so good to me these past centuries and all was well. Despite the passage of time, our routine had stayed much the same. Though Loki and I no longer practiced seidr once a week, our lessons having ended a while ago, I was still at the palace under the queen. Nearly every other handmaiden had either been married or moved on. Maerrhár was no longer in the service of the queen, having left court with her husband to live in the city some time ago. Málvit, however, was still here (she had been wed a while now to her husband, Orn), as was the still unwed Gullhár.

“Oh,” Loki recalled. “Thor is also having a party.”

I glanced up. “Is he? When?”

“Well, not really a party. A gathering, really. It’s a couple of weeks from now. He would like for us to attend.”

I tilted my head and smiled knowingly at him. “Do you want to go?”

Loki shrugged and looked away, attempting to appear nonchalant. “Týr and the others will be there, but I would not mind it. The other women will be there, too.” By that he meant some of the other men’s mistresses, even though Thor was in between women and did not have a mistress at present.

“I would not mind to go,” I replied evenly. I did not object to being with the other women, since I knew eventually the men would form their own group and talk of fighting and such while the women resorted to their own gossip.

Loki’s eyes flickered to mine and he smiled. “Alright, then.”

Loki and I talked some more and I took my time in eating, but Loki, of course, ate much more quickly than I and a much larger amount. He finished before me and, as I knew he would, became restless when I continued to eat.

I pretended not to notice when he moved closer to me, leaned over, and pressed his nose into my shoulder. When I did not respond as he had hoped, Loki raised his head to nip playfully at my earlobe; but when that also failed to distract me from my meal, he draped an arm over my lap, began playing with the fabric of my dress on my opposite hip, and ran fluttering kisses up and down my neck.

“Loki,” I said, trying to sound angry. “I am still eating.”

“Will you hurry?” he pressed, a smile tugging playfully at the corner of his lips.

“I do not understand how you can eat so much and so quickly and not feel as if you’re about to vomit,” I countered, picking a slice of melon from the basket next to me.

He only smirked, though, and reached up. He plucked the slice of fruit from my hand and popped it deftly into his mouth. I glowered at him and picked up another slice, but once again, he quickly snatched it from me.

“Loki!” I protested.

“If you lie still, you may have it back,” he taunted with a mischievous grin.

I said unamusedly, “I would like it back now.”

Loki chuckled and quirked an eyebrow. “How serious you are, Stjarna.”

I stared at him, thinking he might devour it as he had the last one, but he raised the fruit until it was touching my parted lips. I opened my mouth, but just as I went to bite, he pulled it away again. Instead of pouting, though, I lunged and grabbed for his hands and he laughed loudly as I pushed at him and he fell backwards.

I quickly took the opportunity to crawl on top of him and straddle his waist. I attempted to pin his wrists down, but Loki was much stronger than me and before I realized what happened, he had lifted me up, rolled us over, and was lying heavily on top of me, the slice of melon still dangling mockingly from his fingers.

“You are impossible,” I muttered.

Loki smirked, but did not reply; instead, he lifted his hand and traced my bottom lip with the fruit and then let it drift down over my chin. He trailed it lower, along the column of my throat and across my collarbones, leaving a sticky trail of juice on my warm skin, already slightly damp with sweat from the heat of the day. My eyes were fixed on his pale green ones as they followed the leisurely movement of his hand.

He backtracked and the fruit was at my lips again and he allowed me to bite. Loki’s grin widened as I chewed—it seemed my prince was still hungry, but not for food. I swallowed, managing a little breath before he lowered his head and kissed my chest. He licked the trail of juice left by the melon, letting his tongue slide smoothly over my heated skin, across my collarbones, up the column of my throat, until his lips grazed mine.

He opened my mouth with his and I rose to return the kiss, my previous hunger and petulance forgotten. I could taste the delicious sweetness of the fruit on his tongue along with the slight tang of salt from my skin and I eagerly licked his lips as he broke the kiss and pulled away.

I grabbed the hem of Loki’s tunic and he paused to let me remove it. Thankfully he had not dressed too complexly today, considering the heat, and it was relatively easy to disrobe him. I lifted up so he could reach beneath me to get at the laces up my back and once my dress was loosened, I gratefully let him pull it and my shift off. Though I had worn a lighter dress today and even forgone my stockings, it was still a relief to have it off.

Loki settled back onto me after he had unlaced his pants and kicked them away. I wrapped my legs around his slim waist and held onto him as he guided himself into my body. I tilted my head back, a little smile on my face, as he pushed into me.

Loki began moving immediately, languidly rolling his hips. I let out a lilting moan into his mouth when he lowered his head to kiss me; my hands roamed over his back, feeling the strained muscles there, feeling his hard body so sinuous against my own, and our kisses, loud in the warm silence, became sloppy as we approached our end.

Even five centuries later, Loki never failed to bring me to this. His kisses still sent little rivulets of excitement through my body, straight to my toes. I loved his company, loved lying in his arms, and it seemed Loki could say the same for me. His favor for me had not waned these past centuries, which to some extent surprised me. Even though Loki had long ago admitted his love for me, I was not sure I had anticipated us lasting this long. I was not complaining or questioning it, though, for I could not have been happier.

My back arched and I squeezed my legs on him when I came. I clutched his body tightly to mine, my mind gone blank with pleasure, and Loki came shortly after, face buried in my neck and breaths coming shallowly against my flushed skin. When a few minutes later we both had recovered, Loki peppered tender kisses up and down the side of my neck.

I let out a small laugh, still relishing the lingering warmth in my body, and turned my head to kiss him. I could feel both the sweat and his seed sticky on our bodies. “Now we are filthy…”

Loki murmured, “How lucky it is, then, that we may swim.”

And so after we had collected ourselves, we rose and went to the spring. Before sitting near the edge, I gazed down into the water. I could almost see the bottom, the water was so clear. The spring was not extremely deep, perhaps only a few more feet deep than Loki was tall, but it suited our needs perfectly.

I sat down and let my legs dangle in the water. I did not wish to submerge myself all at once yet, but Loki apparently had no qualms; he plunged himself into the water, splashing me, and I cried out.

“Loki!” I chided, wiping the water from my face.

Loki surfaced and laughed loudly as he pushed his soaking hair back from his face. He swam over to me and I foolishly thought he might just float there next to me, but not surprisingly, before I could react, he grabbed my leg and dragged me unceremoniously into the water with him. The cold water enveloped me and I rose to the surface, gasping and sputtering.

I splashed and pushed at him. “I was not ready, you fool,” I snapped.

But Loki only snickered and I rolled my eyes, pushed away from him, and swam towards the other side of the pool. There was a trickling waterfall here, framed by slick, mossy rocks, and I thought it such a pretty scene.

When I turned around, Loki was gazing at me with a small smile on his lips.

“What?” I asked.

He chuckled as he swam towards me. “You look like some vengeful water spirit, Stjarna.”

I laughed at the absurdity of that. “A water spirit?”

“Yes, some nymph to lure unsuspecting men to their deaths…”

I smiled as he encircled me in his arms and pulled me close.

For the next half hour, Loki kept calling me his water nymph, which I thought amusing. We swam for a while longer, talking and laughing and teasing each other, before I finally pulled myself out of the water.

“Are you finished?” Loki inquired, floating on his back.

“I am,” I responded, bending over to wring the water from my hair.

I quickly found an area of soft grass where the warm sunlight penetrated the leaves above us and drenched the ground in dappled sunlight. I lay down, the sweet grass comfortable and springy beneath me, and glanced over and saw with pleasure Loki pulling himself out of the water; he came over to me, stretched, and lay back.

We lay there for a long time, allowing ourselves to dry, and spoke quietly to one another. It was after we had been silent for a long while, and I turned away from Loki and resting on my side with eyes closed, that I felt him touch me. I opened my eyes and turned my head to look. Loki was lying on his side facing towards me, head propped up. His fingers were resting lightly on my bare hip.

“Stjarna?”

“Hmm?”

“What kind of king do you think I would make?”

“What?”

“What kind of king do you think I would make?” he repeated, somewhat impatiently.

I was quiet for a long moment. I thought it odd that he should bring this up now. “Why do you ask?”

“I am curious.”

Loki had spoken to me of this before, more so as time passed. He had become increasingly concerned with the prospect of kingship these past years and often compared himself to Thor, though I knew not why he constantly tried to justify himself to me.

“Oh… well, certainly a very interesting one,” I finally answered, rolling over to face him and also propping my head up.

“What do you mean?”

“I know not,” I said with a small, reluctant smile. I had only lived under two kings in my lifetime and the first I did not like to remember. The second king, though, despite our past indifferences, seemed more fit a ruler than the first.

“I think I would like to be king,” Loki remarked.

Despite my disinclination, I laughed. “Only think? Loki, you talk of it all the time.”

“Yes,” he acceded with a smirk. “I would very much like to be king, then.”

“And what of your brother? Would Thor not also like to be king?”

Loki’s expression darkened. “Yes, but he is a fool.”

I almost would have rolled my eyes, but I did not. Since I was averse to hearing Loki yet again berate Thor, I said quickly, “What would happen to me, then?”

“What do you mean?” Loki inquired, tilting his head slightly.

“If you were to become king, what would happen to me? Surely there would be many women lusting after you…”

“I would see none but you, Stjarna,” Loki responded with a small laugh. “You would remain my mistress.”

“Nothing would change?” I ventured.

Admittedly, and unavoidably, I had also thought before of Loki becoming king, though I had kept my thoughts to myself. He was the prince, after all, despite being the secondborn, and there was always that possibility of his ascending to the throne. I had wondered and worried as to how our relationship might change, for Loki would no longer only be just the second son—he would be ruler of Asgard and Allfather—and as much as I disliked to think of it, I thought that I may not be as consequential in his life.

“No,” Loki answered. “Nothing would change.”

“How could it not, though?”

“Well, I would still gift you things,” he murmured, leaning forward to kiss me on the lips. “Much more magnificent things than I do now.”

“Loki, I would not need more gifts.”

“Oh, but I would give them to you, anyway,” he breathed. “Expensive jewelry and anything else you might desire.”

“I would just want you, though…”

“And you would have me, as well as a necklace worth more than half of one of the villages.”

I could not help to laugh at that and Loki smiled.

“You would be one of the most influential women in all of Asgard,” he continued.

My eyes widened when I realized his implication. “Oh, but I… I know nothing…”

“It does not matter,” Loki stated. “People would come to you, begging you to speak to me of their plights. You would be treated with the utmost respect, even by the foreign dignitaries. I would have you seated up at the high table with me every night.”

I shook my head. “Loki, you could not possibly do that. Those seats are reserved for people of much higher standing—”

“But would I not be king?” Loki interrupted, cocking an eyebrow. “Would my word not mean anything? You would sit next to me, Stjarna, above them all. It would not be the first time a king has done that, besides. I have read before where kings would cause scandal by treating their lovers better than their wives.”

My face fell. “But you do not have a wife.”

“No.”

“Would you take one?” I asked quietly, not looking at him as I lightly traced my fingertips over his chest. “If you became king?”

Now I glanced up and saw that Loki looked pensive. He replied, “I suppose it would be wise. Surely my advisors would encourage it to secure the throne with heirs immediately.”

I was quiet for a long moment, and then, “Would I still sit next to you at the high table if you were wed?”

Loki paused, sensing my reluctance. “I… I know not,” he answered truthfully. “Things would be different.”

I gave a little nod, but did not look at him. “Yes…”

Miraculously, neither of the Asgardian princes had wed these past centuries. There had been talk once of Thor marrying one of the daughters of the king of Alfheim, but negotiations had come to nothing. I had always worried about that, admittedly, though I never spoke of it to Loki. I dreaded the day when he would come and tell me that the Allfather had arranged for his marriage to a foreign princess or even an Asgardian nobleman’s daughter.

I had ruminated before on what would happen to me when Loki eventually married. I had no doubt that Loki loved me, but it was not as if he could simply refuse to marry if the king willed it. I suspected Loki would try to keep me, wife or no wife, but I was not sure I could bear it. Occasionally I would allow myself to imagine his marriage—my sitting there in the crowd when he slipped the ring onto her finger, lying alone in my bed on their wedding night, knowing he was with her, hearing the inevitable, agonizing news that she was with his child…

Loki saw my expression and said quickly, “But I am not married, Stjarna, and there are no plans for it anytime soon. We need not think of it.”

I nodded again, feeling only a little better. He smiled and kissed me on the lips.

“You would not merely be a handmaiden, Stjarna,” he continued, trying to cheer me. “You would be the king’s lover and there are certain… perks… that come along with that role.”

“But what of you? Would you be one of them?”

“What do you mean?”

“As king, you would be taken up with many more duties,” I explained warily. “When would I ever see you?”

“I would make time, Stjarna,” Loki assured. “And of course you would have me at night…”

Loki splayed his hand on my lower back and pulled me against him so our fronts were pressed against each other. He buried his face in my neck and whispered sultrily, “At night you would play my queen…”

When I laughed, Loki pulled back with a grin on his face.

“Your queen?” I asked.

“Have you never thought of being a queen before? Even when you were little? Never imagined yourself a princess?”

“I do not think so,” I replied candidly. “I have always been content.”

“Well, I have not,” he said, wrapping an arm around me and rolling onto his back, pulling me with him so I was lying on top of him.

I shifted so I was comfortable and gazed down at him, my still-damp hair falling around my face and around his head. “I know, but that is not good for you, Loki.”

“How is it not?”

“Things will not always turn out the way you want them to.”

“But I can try to make them. I would be a scandalous king, I think.”

I laughed quietly and played with a bit of his hair. “I can see it.”

Loki’s smile slowly fell then, and he asked seriously, “Stjarna?”

“Yes?”

“Do you think I would make a good king?”

“I do not know what makes a good king,” I stated, trying to remain neutral and remembering that I had not given him a satisfactory answer earlier when he had asked.

“Do not avoid the question,” he said with a small laugh. “What do you really think?”

“Loki, I know not… I suppose being wise and kind to your subjects. To protect the realm and maintain peace…”

“All of which I would set out to do, unlike Thor.”

I sighed. I knew Loki would begin criticizing his brother; I had heard it many times before.

“Thor is only concerned with war and glory, to do battle and prove himself a great warrior.”

“While you sit and read?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.

Loki looked serious, though. “While I would be concerned with keeping the realms peaceful, Thor would charge headlong into any skirmish simply to get his thrill and those idiot friends of his would encourage him as well.”

“But you are not perfect, either, Loki.”

His subsequent smile was shrewd. “Oh?”

I rolled my eyes and pointed out, “You lie.”

“But would that not be a most helpful trait?”

I furrowed my brows, unsure. “I know not. You are very cold, as well.”

Loki chuckled and moved his hands down my sides to come to rest on my hips. “You think I am cold?”

“Just a little…”

“Truly?”

“You treat everybody as if they are beneath you.”

“Oftentimes they are, though. I am the prince.”

“But you need not treat them like it,” I whispered, lightly stroking his temple with my thumb. “People do not like it.”

“They must realize their place, though. Not all can be equal, Stjarna, it is just the way things are.”

“Yes,” I agreed, tilting my head, “but you need not treat them so. Do not treat others as if they are beneath you, especially your own people. They will come to resent you. Perhaps everybody likes Thor because of that. He mingles with the common people often, you know. He acts like them and they like that. When was the last time you went down into the city and… mingled?”

“I know not,” Loki dismissed.

I was silent for a long moment and then asked softly, “What kind of king do you think you would make if you cannot even speak with your own people?”

Loki stared up at me, his eyes searching mine, before he professed, surprisingly, “You’re right, Stjarna.” And then, “Do I treat you as if you are beneath me?”

“No. You treat me very well, Loki.”

“Would you support me, then?”

“What do you mean?”

“If I were to become king, your loyalty would lie with me?”

I smiled, somewhat in confusion. “You make it sound as if there will be some sort of revolution.”

Loki smiled back, but the smile did not reach his eyes. “No, I am only asking.”

I tilted my head, then, and inquired softly, “Loki, why all this talk of becoming king?”

Loki traced lazy little patterns on my bare skin, but he did not immediately answer me. Finally he said, “Father is going to soon announce his successor.”

I stared at him, shocked. “Truly?”

“Yes. He says the time has come for him to step down and for one of us to take the throne and become Allfather.”

“Why did you not tell me before?” I asked, lifting up on my arms and sitting up on him. “When did he tell you?”

“A few days ago,” Loki admitted. “I was not sure when to tell you.”

Now I whispered it. “Will he choose you?”

“I know not,” Loki confessed, though I saw how his face fell. “I am clearly the better choice. Thor is an idiot, Father can see that…”

But Loki did not sound so sure of himself. He was incredibly intelligent, I knew, more so than Thor, but he was cunning and disingenuous as well. Being like that had certainly not earned him any additional respect from the other gods.

“Well,” I said, smiling. “One can always hope.”

But Loki did not share my attempted optimism. “He has always preferred Thor over me, Stjarna. You know this.”

I did not say anything, but I knew Loki was right.

“When will the Allfather announce his decision, then?”

“Oh, not for a while, but…” Loki trailed off and he began stroking my thighs in what I felt to be trepidation. “I know he will not choose me, but still I hope, stupidly…”

“No,” I said suddenly, leaning forward. Loki looked up at me. “You cannot know his thoughts, Loki. He may choose you.”

Loki shook his head. “I am not the firstborn. Thor is much more popular than me, anyway, you said it yourself just moments ago—”

“Loki, I did not mean—”

“Thor is still the obvious choice,” he retorted.

“But you cannot know,” I stressed. Though I suspected Loki was right as to who would be chosen as Asgard’s next ruler, I did not say it.

Loki nodded, but I could tell he was just doing that to make me stop talking. He murmured, “Father will announce it at a banquet in a month or so, but beforehand he shall tell us personally.”

I nodded, but knew not what else to say on the subject. I did not wish for our outing to end on such a somber note and so I lowered myself down and looked at him.

“I can imagine it,” I whispered.

Loki looked up at me. “Imagine what?”

I turned my head to place a light kiss to the side of his neck. “Loki, king of Asgard,” I whispered, and then kissed him again. “King Loki…”

I felt his fingers curl slightly on my hips as I kissed him.

“All would bow to you,” I murmured, moving to lie next to him, “including Thor and his idiot friends…”

Though I did not truly think Thor and his friends idiotic, I only wished to cheer Loki. I smiled against his skin when I heard him let out a short chuckle.

I rested my head on the front of his shoulder and began playing languidly with the smattering of hair on his chest. “Loki Allfather…”

Loki laughed again and lightly caressed my skin with his fingers. “I like the sound of that…”

My smile widened and I nestled against him.

Loki and I spent the rest of the day in the grove. We made love twice more, once on the grass and once in the water, and it was only when the day began to fade that we packed up and made our way back to the palace.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

After Loki admitted to me that the Allfather was soon to choose his successor, it became difficult for me to think of anything else. Because of this, I could only imagine Loki’s inner turmoil. We talked of it nearly every night afterwards, sitting in front of his fire or lying in bed. I would listen as Loki voiced his concerns and his hopes, things he would do differently from Odin Allfather and things he would do the same.

I listened without complaint, since I doubted the princes were supposed to reveal the Allfather’s impending decision. Loki had nobody else to talk to except for Thor and I knew he probably was averse to discussing it with his brother.

And so I was grateful when a couple of weeks later came Thor’s party. I hoped it would take Loki’s mind off of the throne, if only for a little while. He had been obsessing over it, though I suppose that was to some extent understandable.

Thor’s party was to take place immediately after dinner in his chambers. It would be an intimate little gathering and not many others would be there—only the prince’s closest friends. Thor had these informal parties every so often and they usually consisted of wine, banter, and heated, albeit friendly, discussions.

I arrived with one of the other handmaidens, Stórmenska, who was Týr’s mistress.

Loki was already there and he smiled when he saw me.

“Have I missed anything?” I inquired, walking up to him.

“Not really,” he replied dryly.

I laughed. “Well, have you gotten anything to drink yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Go sit down, then. I will get us something.”

Loki nodded and then turned away to be seated.

There was a table by the wall with flagons of wine and cups laid out for anybody to take. Thor never had servants at these casual gatherings of his, so I poured two cups myself and went towards the fire. Everybody was seated in front of the large fireplace in a half-circle, having pulled up some chairs and two of Thor’s couches.

Thor was lounging in a chair closest to the fire, obviously very at ease. Others included Týr and Stórmenska, Baldr and his new wife Nanna, the Lady Sif, and a few of Thor’s warrior friends.

I sat down next to Loki, who was seated on one of the couches, and handed him the wine. He took the cup and moved to drape his arm over the back of the couch behind me.

Currently they were speaking of Alfheim. There had a few days ago been an uprising near the capital and it had since been a favorite and much-debated topic of conversation, especially since the king of Alfheim, Gellir, had yet to resolve the issue.

“The rebellion should be crushed,” Týr said. “There is no place for revolution.”

Thor shook his head. “Obviously there are problems there that must be resolved. Else why would a people rise up against their king?”

“I agree,” Baldr chimed in. “King Gellir would do well to reason with the resistance. Crushing the rebellion may take care of it for a short while, but it will fester and inevitably come back stronger.”

“Týr is right,” Loki interjected. Týr glanced over at Loki, somewhat in surprise; he seemed shocked that the younger prince might take his side. “Gellir is their king and has been for centuries. His people are sworn to him.”

Lady Sif shook her head. “It does not matter how long he has been king. He is a poor king, all know this.”

“They say his half-brother leads the rebellion,” Fandral, one of Thor’s warrior friends, commented.

“Half-brother?”

“Yes, his father’s illegitimate son.”

Týr chuckled. “It matters not. His head will roll. Gellir will not stand for it.”

“Why are the people angry?” Nanna inquired curiously.

“Alfheim is rife with problems,” Thor explained. “Gellir’s court is corrupt and it does not help that there is famine, as well.”

“Speaking of famine,” Týr remarked suddenly, “Utgard fares no better.”

“Utgard?” Sif queried.

Next to me, I felt Loki subtly stiffen. I looked up at him, but he was staring silently at Týr.

“Yes, there is famine in Utgard. They have asked us for help.”

Volstagg, another of Thor’s warrior friends, scoffed. “Help?”

“Yes, can you believe it? King Skrýmir had the audacity to ask for assistance!”

“Why audacity?” Stórmenska questioned.

“Because relations between our two realms have been sour ever since they threatened us with war.” As he said it, Týr’s eyes slid over to Loki; his gaze was not kind. I wondered why he stared at Loki with such malice. It was no secret that the two did not like each other, but what had Loki to do with Utgard’s threats of war towards Asgard? It had all been so long ago…

Nevertheless, I knew of what Týr spoke, for Loki had told me of it.

Many centuries ago, both Loki and Thor had gone to Utgard with a party of Asgardians to observe a potential peace treaty with the rock giants. The rock giants, a race similar in appearance and stature to the Aesir, lived in Jötunheim. They did not inhabit the frozen part of that realm, where their fouler and baser cousins, the frost giants, dwelled, but instead occupied the part that was mountains and parched valleys. Utgard was their stronghold and it was here where the Asgardians had gone. The visit had ended in disaster, I remember Loki saying, and there had been threats of war soon afterwards, though the threats had eventually come to naught. The subsequent relationship between the Aesir and the rock giants was shaky at best; it could hardly be said that the two were allies.

“Will the Allfather assist?” Sif inquired.

Týr shrugged. “I know not.”

“Who cares?” Fandral said with a roll of his eyes.

“They are still a people, giants or no,” Baldr opposed.

“So? You know they’re in league with those damned frost giants,” Týr dismissed, once again glancing inauspiciously at Loki, who I noticed was slowly and methodically tapping his fingers on his still full cup.

“There has been no evidence of that,” Thor remarked.

“It matters not,” Týr replied sagely, looking away. “They’re a foul race and cannot be trusted.”

“I suppose that is true,” Thor laughed. He looked at Loki and grinned. “You’ve been silent, brother. What say you about the situation with the rock giants?”

Loki, who had been staring unflinchingly back at Týr, slowly dragged his gaze away from the one-handed god.

“Let them starve,” he responded blandly.

I did not say anything, but was taken aback at Loki’s coldness on the subject.

“They’re worthless creatures, all of them. Only good for a laugh,” Týr observed wryly, glancing at Thor. “You remember that well, don’t you?”

Thor guffawed. “They certainly knew how to celebrate.”

There was general laughter.

“Tell us again, Thor, how did it go?” Baldr asked, forgoing Thor’s official title. Those of the royal family were to always be addressed by their proper titles, but here in this familiar setting the formalities were dropped.

“How did what go?” Nanna questioned.

“The rock giants challenged Loki and I to a friendly competition when we were there,” Thor explained. “Obviously we could not refuse.”

Some of the others shot quick, inquisitive glimpses at Loki, but he remained silent as Thor continued on with the story.

Thor explained how he had been challenged first to a drinking contest. He described it with much zeal before admitting that he had lost. Next he told us about Loki’s challenge: an eating contest. Loki had performed well, Thor noted, but ultimately he also had lost to his more voracious opponent. Some of the others snickered, but Loki did not appear to care.

Afterwards, Thor recounted how he had refused defeat and demanded another match of some sort. Thus, he said, an old woman had been brought out and he had been forced to wrestle her. He had lost, though he had put up a good fight, and had been ashamed about it, but now could laugh about it all.

“Loki, what happened after?” Thor inquired. “Do you remember? I was too drunk…”

More laughter.

Everybody turned to look at Loki, who replied promptly, “I do not remember.”

“Oh, come now,” Baldr smirked.

“I said I do not remember,” Loki repeated coldly, effectively ending the conversation there.

I felt apprehension, for I knew Loki was lying. He had told me before of that night, even laughed with me about it, though in fairness I believe we had been somewhat drunk. Though it was difficult for me to remember, since that particular conversation had taken place centuries ago and just that once, even I could vaguely remember more than what Loki was letting on. I knew for a fact that if I remembered snippets of that night from what he had told me so long ago, Loki certainly did. So why now was he pretending as if he did not remember?

I leaned in a little closer to him and could practically feel his uneasiness.

“Are you alright, Loki?” I whispered.

“I am fine,” he responded in a clipped tone under his breath, lifting his cup to take a draught of wine.

“Are you sure?”

“I said I am fine,” he snapped quietly so only I could hear.

By now the conversation had shifted, but Loki did not relax, nor did he speak again. We sat there for perhaps another hour and the entire time I was racking my brain trying to remember what Loki had told me of Utgard. Perhaps I could remember why he was acting so oddly now.

And eventually, it came to me.

Angrboda.

Seemingly out of nowhere the name popped into my head and I could remember what Loki and I had been discussing. At that time, I had not yet become Loki’s mistress and he was constantly scheming to seduce me. We had been slightly drunk and he had asked me, rather imprudently, about the loss of my virginity. In my state I had told him and then in turn had asked him the same, and it was in Utgard, he had told me, centuries before I had come to Asgard, that he had lost his virginity to the giantess Angrboda.

Even now, now that I tried my hardest to remember, I recalled his discomfort, the solemnity that her name had brought. He had never told me exactly what happened, but I remembered he had told me never to speak of her again. I assumed his time with her had not been good since he was being so severe about it, even all this time later.

Eventually, Loki rose up off the couch. The conversation died nearly immediately, but Loki did not say anything other than, “Come, Stjarna.”

I rose to follow and took Loki’s offered arm. I inclined my head towards Thor as Loki pulled me away and politely thanked him for having us.

Loki was quiet the whole way to his chambers and neither of us spoke until we were back in his rooms. Once there, Loki shrugged his surcoat off and headed into his bedchamber. I followed him, only watching.

“Loki?”

“What?” he said, going towards his wardrobe. He flicked his wrist and the logs in his fireplace burst to life, illuminating the darkened room in a warm, comforting glow.

I hesitated. “What is wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong.”

I sighed. “Loki, you have not been yourself tonight. When the others began talking about Utgard…”

When Loki glanced at me, I fell silent.

“It is nothing,” he reiterated.

“It is just… you seemed uncomfortable.”

“Did I?”

“I do not mean to pry,” I said softly, “but—”

“Well, that is what you are doing,” he snapped suddenly, turning around. I stared at him, surprised at his reaction, as he went to his bath chamber and then nearly slammed the door shut behind him.

I looked down at my hands, thinking that perhaps it was best I did not speak to him of Utgard or her. Obviously it was a subject he did not wish to broach.

I undressed, slipped into bed, and waited for him. When Loki came out of his bath chamber and got into bed, I noticed with a pang that he did not kiss me or pull me into his arms as he usually did. He turned onto his side away from me, but I did not say anything and eventually fell into an uneasy asleep.

__

Despite telling myself that I should not bring Utgard up again, especially considering Loki’s less than amiable reaction, it continued to gnaw at me. I wanted to know why Loki had acted so strangely at merely the mention of Utgard, though I suspected it had something to do with the giantess Angrboda.

Although I knew Loki would not speak to me of Utgard or Angrboda, I was determined to find out as much as I could.

A few days passed and one morning I went to the training yard to visit Loki. The yard was particularly busy upon my arrival; the gritty air was filled with the sounds of ringing swords and sparring Einherjar. I instinctively searched for my younger brother, Réttrmund, but did not see him. Loki, however, came into view fairly quickly. He was standing in the pit, a sandy area of hard-packed earth where mock battles took place. It was apparent Loki was about to spar with some of the other warriors and I raised my hand in a silent greeting when I saw him. He grinned back at me, but justifiably did not come to speak with me.

I was glad he was about to fight, though, for it meant that I could speak to Thor, who was standing off to the side of the pit next to a weapon rack, without Loki’s potential interference. I made my way around, carefully weaving between the weapon racks and water barrels and passing warriors.

Thor greeted me with a large smile when I came to stand beside him.

I inclined my head towards him. “Your Highness.”

“Loki’s doing well this morning,” Thor enlightened as Loki began sparring with the Einherjar in the pit. “He’s already defeated four Einherjar.”

“I am sure he has,” I beamed, turning to watch Loki. Currently he was up against four Einherjar and armed with only a dagger. It might have seemed unfair, but Loki was exceptionally skilled with smaller weapons. I knew he preferred them as opposed to swords, which he thought overly large and unwieldy. Though his fighting technique did not reflect that of the other Asgardians, Loki was an excellent warrior. His movements were lithe and precise and I loved watching him, but today I did not plan to exclusively watch Loki.

I turned back to Thor. “Your Highness?”

“Yes?”

I glanced around, feeling a prickling of guilt in the back of my mind. I knew Loki would not like me talking to his brother of this, but I was incredibly curious and since I knew Loki would certainly not willingly speak to me of it, I felt I had no other choice.

“May I ask you something?”

“Of course, Lady.”

“It is about Loki.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No, I am simply curious. It is about… Utgard.”

Thor raised his eyebrows. “Utgard?”

I nodded. “Do you know anything about… Angrboda?”

“Oh.” Suddenly, Thor’s cheerful disposition melted away. “The giantess.”

I felt a foreboding, but continued. “Yes, the giantess. Loki has told me a little of her—”

“Has he?” Thor mused, obviously stunned.

“Yes. Why do you look surprised?”

Thor managed a laugh. “My lady, Loki has not even told me what happened with his giantess. But if he told you, I am sure you know I was drunk most of the night.”

“Yes. Did you happen to see her?” I asked carefully.

“Yes, I saw her.”

I could not help myself. “What did she look like?”

Thor squinted and shifted on his feet. “She wasn’t pretty, I remember. I think she had red hair. Loki didn’t like her, though.”

“He didn’t?”

“No. I remember he asked me why she kept looking at him and I told him she was interested in him.” Then, unexpectedly, Thor chuckled. “He hadn’t had much experience with women yet.”

“What happened after that?” I inquired, glancing over at Loki, who had just bested another of the Einherjar and now only had two to defeat.

Thor folded his arms over his chest. “I don’t really remember. I was drunk by then. I just know Loki disappeared after that and I didn’t see him until the next morning. Snjallr—”

“Who is that?”

“Snjallr? He was Father’s chief ambassador. Father banished him to Midgard after we returned from Jötunheim.”

“Loki told me of him,” I whispered, remembering his name. “So what happened?”

Thor glanced away, now almost appearing to be uncomfortable. “To be honest, Lady Stjarnavetr, Loki probably would not want me speaking of this with you.”

Suddenly, I realized I should not have asked. I felt the heat rise in my cheeks and I looked down at the ground. “Yes, you’re right. I am sorry, please forgive me.”

Thor nodded, but did not say anything else.

It was then when Loki defeated the last Einheri. He came over to us afterwards, smiling widely, breaths coming heavily, and skin glistening from his exertions.

Thor rolled his eyes. “Do not look so smug, brother. Your Vana’s seen it a thousand times.”

I laughed and lifted up on my toes so Loki could kiss my cheek. “And it is no less impressive each time.”

Thor shook his head and Loki said, somewhat breathlessly, “I saw you two talking. What was it about?”

I faltered, but Thor answered smoothly, “She was asking me about your fighting technique.”

Loki chuckled. “Was she? Does it interest you, Stjarna?”

I smirked and responded sardonically, “Yes, I am interested in taking up fighting.”

Loki cocked an eyebrow, appearing amused. “Perhaps you should become a shield maiden, then.”

I giggled at that; the thought of me wielding a sword seemed absurd and I said so.

Loki seemed in a good enough mood, so I did not bring up Utgard or Angrboda, though now I desperately wished to know more than what Thor had revealed.

Later I resolved to ask Loki, but would do it tonight when we were alone and he was hopefully still in a good mood.

__

That night after dinner, Loki and I lay on his bed. He was propped up against the pillows, legs crossed, reading a book for one of his tutors, and I lay next to him on my side.

I had tried earlier to talk myself out of speaking to Loki about this, but simply could not. Ever since Loki’s reaction that night at Thor’s little gathering, I could think of nothing but Utgard and the giantess Angrboda, for surely she was the reason for Loki’s agitation. I had tried to remember what little Loki had told me of her, so long ago, but all I could remember was that she had been the first one to take him to bed.

Surely Loki would understand my curiosity, even if he did not appreciate it. But I still found it difficult to bring up, despite my resolve today. Before I had a chance to ask, though, Loki shut his book with a resounding slap and I glanced up at him.

“This bores me,” he announced, setting the book on his bedside table.

I tilted my head. “What does not bore you?”

Loki grinned as he turned onto his side. “You.”

I rolled my eyes, but could not help my little smile.

“I’ve been thinking of you today,” he professed, wrapping an arm around me and pulling me close.

“Have you?”

“Yes. I’ve been imagining you as a shield maiden.”

I raised my eyebrows in amusement.

“I can see you on a battlefield,” he murmured, gently pressing his lips to my neck. I lifted my head and gripped the fabric on his upper arm as he lightly rubbed his nose on my skin. “You’re holding a sword and clad in gold armor. Your hair’s undone and you’re covered in blood.”

I laughed loudly, greatly amused by his little fantasy of me as a shield maiden. I pulled back to look at him, a smile tugging at the corner of my lips. “I am covered in blood?”

“Not yours, of course,” Loki smirked, trailing his hand lower until he hooked it behind my knee and pulled my leg over. Realizing what he wanted, I sat up and moved to straddle his waist.

“Have I slain many enemies?” I inquired curiously, reaching to play with the laces hanging loosely at the collar of his dark green tunic.

“All of them,” he whispered, pulling me down to kiss me. He pushed his tongue past my lips and I felt his fingers slipping beneath the hem of my nightgown, felt him going to lift it off me, and it was in that moment when I remembered I had been so bent on discussing Utgard with him.

“Wait,” I breathed against his lips, breaking the kiss and sitting up.

Loki slowly opened his eyes and gazed up at me, slightly breathless. “What?”

Now I hesitated, remembering his reaction at Thor’s party. Finally, I mumbled, “I wish to ask you something.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No,” I answered warily, feeling this uneasy churning in the pit of my stomach.

He raised his eyebrows and laughed. “What is it, Stjarna?”

“It is Utgard,” I blurted.

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted it. Loki’s smile slowly fell and I felt trepidation when I saw his jaw tighten, but he did not immediately say anything. He lifted my leg up, silently encouraging me to get off him, and I did so wordlessly. He sat up and turned away from me to sit on the edge of the bed and I knelt behind him.

“I only wished to know,” I said quickly, attempting to explain myself. “You have never told me and after Thor’s party—”

“I would rather not speak of it,” Loki responded flatly, not looking at me.

“I know, I am sorry,” I murmured, but then before I realized what I was saying, “I spoke to Thor about it, but—”

“You spoke to Thor?” Loki snapped, no longer so quiet. He turned to look at me and I swallowed, realizing that I should have kept my mouth shut.

“Yes,” I answered, my voice small. “But he did not—he would not tell me.”

Loki exhaled sharply and turned away. Now I felt this overwhelming guilt for having asked Thor about Utgard and though I knew it was best not to say anything, I felt the need to try to explain myself once again.

“It is just that you have never really spoken of it or her—”

At mention of Angrboda, Loki abruptly stood up and spun around to face me. “Did you not hear me the first time, Stjarna?” he warned. “Do not speak to me of Utgard and do not speak to me of her.”

I stared at him, shocked by his sudden change in demeanor.

When I did not reply, only continued gazing at him in a sort of shocked silence, he said darkly, “Do you understand me?”

I glanced down at my hands in my lap. “Yes, I am sorry…”

Loki exhaled again and raked his fingers through his hair. I chanced a peek and could tell he was angry now.

My voice wavered. “Loki, I did not mean to upset you. I only—”

“Do you want to know, then?” he interrupted, his tone scathing.

“W—what?” I stammered.

“You want to know about her?” he growled, glaring virulently at me. “She was a giantess there at Skrýmir’s court and she took me to her rooms and we fucked.”

I stared at him, lips parted in surprise. Loki put his hands on the bed and leaned forward until his face was only inches from mine. He tilted his head, eyes fixed on mine. “Do you want me to describe it for you, Stjarna, since you’re so damned curious? Do you want me to tell you what she tasted like? Do you want me to tell you what she felt like?”

An uncomfortable heat spread through my body at his words. I could no longer hold his gaze, which was cold and had darkened, and I looked down at my lap, not knowing in the least how to respond.

Loki slowly straightened up and as he turned on his heel, he said dismissively, “Do not speak to me again of Utgard.”

I managed to glance up and watched as he walked tersely out onto his balcony. I let out the breath I had been holding and felt tears prickle in my eyes. After a few minutes of sitting there motionless, I got under the covers and lay there in a miserable silence.

I hated it when Loki was upset and it made it a thousand times worse because his irritation was aimed at me. He usually took great care not to speak harshly or unkindly to me, so obviously I had greatly annoyed him.

I was dreadfully curious about Utgard, though. What could have happened to make him react like that, even all this time later? It had to have something to do with the giantess Angrboda. I wondered what she looked like, how she was? I might never know, though, for Loki seemed especially averse to discussing her. But why?

I lay there for a long time, waiting for Loki to come back inside, but he did not.

Eventually, I slipped out of bed, padded to the open doorway of his balcony, and peered out. Loki was standing by the stone railing, gazing out over the darkened landscape. I walked up behind him, my nightgown fluttering in the warm breeze, and wrapped my arms around his middle. I pressed my cheek against his back and closed my eyes.

“Loki, I am sorry,” I mumbled. “Please come to bed.”

Loki did not do anything at first, but after a moment he lightly touched my hands. He turned around in my arms and I looked up at him and was surprised at how morose—at how burdened—he appeared.

“Stjarna,” he murmured. “I should not have spoken to you like that.”

I gave a little nod and let my cheek rest against his chest, feeling relieved. “I forgive you.”

We stood there for a moment longer, holding each other, before I spoke again.

“Why have you never told me?” I whispered.

Loki did not say anything for a long time after that, and when he finally spoke, his voice was soft. “Because I do not wish to remember it.”

“Because of her?” I questioned, pulling back a little to gaze at him.

He pressed his lips together. “Yes.”

“Then do not.”

Loki, much to my surprise, let out a harsh laugh. “If only it were that easy.”

“What do you mean?” I breathed.

“I have tried to forget, but I cannot. She is always there, Stjarna,” Loki admitted. “Always in the back of my mind.”

“Why?” I inquired, feeling a foreboding.

He shook his head, appearing reluctant. “Do you not think of Valdrlund, still?”

I paused at mention of my old lover. “I… I try my hardest not to…”

“As do I,” Loki replied gently, “but sometimes I cannot help it and she is there, even all this time later.”

I touched his chest. “Loki, what happened?” When his expression immediately darkened, I said quickly, “I do not ask this to anger you.”

Loki shook his head.

“Do you not trust me, Loki?”

He looked at me oddly, but did not say anything.

“I would think that after everything we have been through…”

His gaze softened. “Stjarna, it is not you I do not trust. I… I would not speak of it.”

“Why not?”

He sighed. “Perhaps one day I will tell you, but not tonight.”

I gave a small nod and he kissed my forehead.

“Loki?”

“Yes?”

“What did she look like?”

Given Loki’s recent reactions, it probably was not the wisest time to ask such a question, but I was dreadfully anxious to know about this giantess of his. I thought he might deflect the question or even grow angry again, but he did not.

“She had red hair, like blood,” he answered faintly, and then I felt him slowly run his fingers through my hair. “Not soft like yours.”

He was gazing into my eyes, but it did not appear as if he was actually seeing me.

“She had black eyes… sharp teeth… she was strong…”

I glanced down, noticing how Loki’s voice became quieter, yet harder. After a moment he raised his hand and curled his fingers under my chin and lifted my face up.

“Not like you, Stjarna. You’re nothing like her.”

“Do you still think of her?” I ventured.

“Sometimes.”

I did not say anything. Loki’s words almost incited in me fear. It was obvious now that his time with the giantess Angrboda had not been pleasant. I regretted asking, even though now I seemingly had more questions than answers.

Finally, Loki said, “Come, let us retire.”

We returned to his bed, undressed, and slipped beneath the covers. Loki pulled me into his arms and I nestled against him. Though my mind was racing with all of these questions that might never be answered, and Loki surely plagued with these discomforting thoughts, neither of us spoke again and eventually we drifted off into sleep.

Chapter Text

Loki

That night after Thor’s party, I dreamed of Angrboda.

I had not dreamed of her in so long, I could not even remember the last time. The dreams—or rather, nightmares—had never been pleasant, and yet when I was younger, when I had been consumed with thoughts of her and I, I had craved them. Tonight’s, though, was unwelcome, and surely brought on by all this recent talk of Utgard.

It woke me up in the middle of the night. I opened my eyes; my heart was racing, my body covered in a cold sweat, and much to my disconcertment, I was hard. I let out a heavy breath and turned away from Stjarna, who was thankfully facing away from me and sleeping peacefully. I pressed my hips to the bed, trying to focus on something other than the hot, treacherous desire running through me—and not for the woman lying next to me.

Was this why I could not tell Stjarna about Angrboda? Because I still, even unconsciously, lusted for this red-haired witch with whom I had only spent one night nearly a millennia ago? It amazed me how even all this time later, the memories could still be so potent, still so raw and real. But Angrboda had stayed with me through the years, affected me in more ways than one and none of them good.

Though Stjarna and I had been lovers for over five hundred years, she did not know everything about me. There were things I had kept hidden from her, things I had always been too ashamed about to reveal to her. Angrboda, and the dark lusts she had instilled in me, were some of those things. To this day, Stjarna still did not know just how carnal, just how shamelessly visceral, I could be.

Once, centuries ago, she had seen a hint of it. I remembered it well, for I had always greatly regretted it. I had antagonized Stjarna—it had something to do with my forcing her to accompany me to Midgard—and she had struck me across the face. It was as if that single action, coupled with the anger I had been feeling, had somehow allowed that part of me I had so long ago repressed to come clawing its way out. I had frightened her, and much to my everlasting shame, grabbed her around the neck. Though I had apologized sincerely to her afterwards, I never told her why—had been unable to—and thankfully had kept myself in check ever since then.

Of course, there had been times since that incident when it had nearly come out. It almost always happened when I lay with Stjarna, and only during, when she was spread out beneath me, head rolled back, so trustingly exposing every inch of her to me. Even I was appalled afterwards at the thoughts I would have when we were joined; I would run my fingers over her soft body, ashamed for the things I had wanted to do to it. When she looked at me, accepted me so willingly into her, I could not help but to feel disgust for the things I would do to her if only I’d let myself go, all of these dark remnants from my time with that damned giantess lingering like sickness in the back of my mind.

I had never shown Stjarna that part of me for fear of her reaction. I had wondered before if she would still love me if I revealed it to her, that true nature of my soul. I had not lied to her when I told her I still thought of Angrboda, but that may have been an understatement. I certainly did not think of her as much as I used to, but still the memory of her would permeate my dreams, still I would occasionally allow myself to imagine her despite the nature of our brief time together.

Though it felt wrong, I slowly closed my eyes and hesitantly conjured up the dream. These ephemeral images of her flitted through my mind, these remembrances of that night come back to haunt me. It had been so long ago, but I could remember it vividly now, even hear her voice, low and dark and alluring in my ear, feel her fingers sliding smoothly across my skin, her nails digging ever deeper until I felt I could not take it. Angrboda, lurking there in the back of my mind always, waiting for any chance to surface, any chance to reemerge into my consciousness, to torment me and bring back that night.

I softly groaned. What would Stjarna do if I told her? What would she do if I admitted to her that I not only still thought of Angrboda, but sometimes fantasized about her? Though it was only occasionally, and not when Stjarna was necessarily in bed with me, I still imagined her, my fire-headed witch. What would Stjarna think of me if I told her of that night? How I had hated it, but reveled in it? Would she understand?

Gods, how it infuriated me that the very mention of Utgard could bring back that night so clearly, when Angrboda had lured me to her bed and shown me the pleasures that could be had, as well as the different pains. Even now I could recall with such clarity the pleasures we had shared, what pleasure I had taken in the pain—those unspeakable pains I had been too wary to play out on Stjarna, that I had only ever explored with other women in my youth when Utgard was still dreadfully fresh in my mind, the bite of Angrboda’s knife still hot on my skin, all of which had eventually faded to the recesses of my mind with time.

Stjarna had wanted me to tell her, but how could I? How could I possibly relate to her the painful ecstasy during, the humiliation afterwards when it was all done? How the vile memory of my beloved Angrboda had poisoned my mind for years afterwards?

No… I could not tell her, for it would bring up so many other unanswerable questions. I’d done such a good job these past centuries of concealing the true nature of my desires, this deranged carnality buried deep within me. I had tamped it down any time it threatened to show because I felt for Stjarna as I had never felt for another and I could not let her see this part of me and so it had remained, for the most part, successfully hidden all this time.

And yet, despite the loathing I felt for her, sometimes I would allow myself to wonder if Angrboda still thought of me as I did her, all this time later. Surely not. She had not seemed the type to dwell on such things, long nights like the one we had shared. But I suppose ultimately it did not matter and it was not as if I needed to know. I would never see her again; hopefully her foul bones had long been polluting some disremembered grave.

Stjarna did not bring Utgard or Angrboda up again and eventually, as it had been with the passage of time, my giantess mercifully faded into my subconscious again, only to reemerge at some later date I knew.

__

One day, perhaps a month after Thor’s private gathering, Father summoned me.

It was late morning and I was sitting in Master Elding’s chambers. He was pacing on the other side of the table, withered hands locked behind his back, long grey beard quivering as he shot question after question at me, all pertaining to the uprising that had taken place in Vanaheim about two thousand years ago that had ultimately put Aldregimildr, the long-dead father of Stjarna’s old lover and current king of Vanaheim, on the throne.

I had not much cared for this particular lesson, since it focused on the specific part of Vanaheim’s history that had spawned so much misery for my lover, but it was not as if I could tell Master Elding this.

“Who led the rebellion against King Feigr?” Master Elding snapped.

“Aldregimildr Aurvangarson,” I replied promptly.

“How many had he in his ranks?”

“Seven hundred.”

“And King Feigr?”

“Twelve hundred.”

“Where did their forces meet?”

“On the fields of Dreyrugr, two miles west of Myrrborg.”

“Casualties?”

“Less than a hundred of Aurvangarson’s men were killed, while nearly six hundred of King Feigr’s were slaughtered. Aldregimildr crowned himself king after the battle.”

“Length of reign?”

“One thousand five hundred and nineteen years.”

Now Master Elding glanced slyly at me. “Wed?”

I raised my eyebrows. Usually our lessons did not wander into the domestic side of history, but I knew he only did it to catch me off guard.

Nonetheless, I answered, “Akkerivif Gleidrsdóttir.”

“Offspring?”

I hesitated for only a moment and Master Elding clucked his tongue.

“Valdrlund.”

“And his current length of reign?”

“Five hundred and fifty-three years.”

“Wed?”

“Veleta Hundrsdóttir.”

“Offspring?”

“Járnvándr and Etjameida.”

Master Elding paused and then smiled briefly. “Very good. I admit, I would be more impressed, but half of that was merely current events. Do not look so smug.”

I bowed my head, grinning to myself. At times I could appreciate Master Elding’s apathetic observations. He did not talk to me like I was the prince, which I found refreshing.

“It was better than our last oral examination, which was pathetic, to say the least,” he remarked wryly.

My smile grew, though Master Elding could not discern its meaning. I’d been rather distracted on that particular morning, considering the night before. It was admittedly difficult to recall three dozen long-dead Vanir monarchs and the absurd lengths of their reigns when I could only think of my own Vana sprawled naked across my bed.

“Yes, I—”

Suddenly, there came a knocking on his door.

“Enter,” Master Elding called, going to pick his open book off the table.

The door swung open and there stood a young page. He bowed and announced, “Your Highness, the king has summoned you.”

I looked at Master Elding, who nodded. “The king awaits.”

I stood up, respectfully inclined my head to my history tutor, and left.

I followed the page to Father’s chambers, but did not bother to ask why I was summoned. It could only be one thing, I knew: Father had finally decided which one of his sons would take the throne after his abdication.

Suddenly I was incredibly nervous, an emotion I hardly ever felt. There was this odd mixture of excitement and dread churning in my stomach; excitement that within the next half hour I could be the crown prince, and dread that Thor could be.

Finally we reached Father’s chambers. I was silently admitted and the doors closed resoundingly behind me.

Father was standing in front of his massive fireplace, hands clasped contemplatively behind his back, gaze fixed on the dancing flames.

He looked up at me and I bowed to him, my insides tight with apprehension.

“Loki.”

“Father.”

I tried in vain to discern any hint as to what was to come, but Father maintained his visage of composure and I could not tell. I came forward, endeavoring to mask my own anxiety.

“I will not dither about,” he stated unwaveringly. “I have decided which one of you will take my place as king.”

So this was it. I suppose he had not called Thor here, but only me—he was telling us separately. But despite his attempted resolve, Father now paused and it was then, before he even opened his mouth to speak, that I knew.

My heart fell.

“I have chosen Thor.”

I cannot accurately describe what it was that I felt in that moment. I could not distinguish the anger from the disappointment, the rage from the devastation. I stared at him for a long, agonizing moment and his words hung heavy between us in the silence. My eyes slowly drifted down, but I kept my head up.

Despite knowing all along that Father would not choose me, now that it finally had happened, I could hardly fathom it. I had struggled to harden myself against the inevitable, but it was so much worse than I could have anticipated.

I swallowed hard.

“Thor,” I mused softly. “Have you already told him?”

“Yes,” he answered quietly, carefully. “He was here before you.”

I wanted to sneer. I could only imagine Thor’s good cheer and dreaded when next I should see him.

“I have already decided on the coronation and such—”

“Yes,” I murmured, cutting him off and letting my eyes flicker back up to meet his gaze. “What does Frigga say?”

He hesitated. “Your mother approves of my decision.”

I was stunned into silence. I could hardly believe it.

“Do not think I did not dwell on this. It was very difficult for me to choose…”

And he kept talking, kept filling the air with this frivolous drivel, but I did not hear any of it. It was difficult for him to choose? Now he was debasing me, insulting my intelligence. Did he truly think me so stupid as to believe that he had even for one second wavered in his decision to choose his beloved Thor over me? Gods, I could not believe it.

“Loki.”

My name drew me back.

Father almost looked repentant. “I know you are displeased with my decision, but Thor will make a good king.”

I could not help the scoff that escaped my lips. “As opposed to me? So I would make a bad king, then?”

“That is not what I said,” Father replied exasperatedly. “Do not twist my words.”

“You told me,” I said softly, hardly able to conceal the angry tremble in my voice, “I would be king.”

He shook his head. “I never told you that you would be king, Loki. Both you and Thor are perfectly suited to be kings, but…”

“He is more suited,” I finished darkly.

“Loki… truly, I am sorry.”

I gritted my teeth, not affected in the least bit by his ludicrous apology.

When I did not reply, he continued, “You should be happy for your brother.”

I had been doing an adequate job of suppressing my anger, but with those infuriating words, everything just came spilling out.

“Should I?” I nearly hissed, causing Father to blink in surprise. “Should I congratulate him? Should I fall to my knees before him and kiss his boots? Pledge my undying allegiance to him?”

Father’s expression hardened. “You must do it eventually.”

I bared my teeth and turned away from him. The very thought of kneeling before Thor and vowing to him my everlasting loyalty absolutely enraged me.

“This is my final decision, Loki. I will tolerate no petty fits from you.”

I did not turn around, I could not look at him. My body was trembling and I attempted unsuccessfully to swallow the fury rising like bile in my throat.

“I will announce my decision to the court next week. There will be a banquet in honor of the announcement—”

I snorted in derision and Father stopped talking. So there would be a banquet to honor Thor, as well? How fucking typical.

I did not speak again. I do not know what would have come out if I did, but thankfully Father deemed it an appropriate time to dismiss me. I could feel his gaze on my back as I left and I knew my reaction had disappointed him—though probably not surprised him—but I could have cared less.

Once out in the corridor, I clenched my fists so hard that my arms shook and my nails broke the skin of my palms. I tried to control my erratic breathing, tried to quash this sick, angry heat fulminating inside me, but I could not.

I did not return to Master Elding’s, but instead wandered the palace grounds. My mind was racing, my thoughts turned dark. I only wished to be left alone, but of fucking course, who should find me, as if he had been seeking me out, but the golden prince himself.

“Loki!”

I turned upon hearing my name, having just reached the end of a corridor.

Thor was coming towards me, beaming like an absolute fucking moron. It made me ill, but I smiled at him, always so talented at masking my emotions. Thor was so stupid, anyway, he could never tell.

“I’ve been looking for you,” he grinned, bounding up to me and briefly embracing me. I resisted the urge to shove him away and when he pulled back, he said excitedly, “Father’s told you, hasn’t he?”

“Yes,” I managed to answer without withering disdain. “Congratulations, brother.”

Too obtuse to discern my carefully and heavily veiled hostility, Thor’s smile widened. “I told Father to take it easy on you. I know how sensitive you are.”

I knew he only meant it in jest, but it cut me. I laughed, though; I would not let him see my anger, this crushing, humiliating disappointment. But Thor was riding high now—he would not see, would he? He was too damned thrilled for himself.

“Aren’t you happy for me, Loki?” he asked cheerfully.

“Yes,” I replied, somehow able to keep myself from choking on the word.

He put his hand on the side of my neck, something he always did to demonstrate his brotherly affection. “It is indeed a good day, brother.”

I did not respond—only smiled.

“I just wanted to see you,” he explained merrily. “I must go talk to Mother now. She will be very happy.”

At mention of Frigga, I felt a pang, but only watched as he pulled back and turned around to leave me. He walked away, a bounce in his step, and I thought I had not felt loathing like this in so long.

__

I did not speak much during dinner that night, nor did I eat.

Mother noticed. She knew the reason, obviously, but did not say anything, only looked slightly rueful. All I could think of when I looked at her was how she had backed Father; even she had chosen Thor over me.

Eventually I could not bear to look at her and I focused my attention on Thor and the others, his brainless friends. They were all talking, laughing, Thor the loudest of them all. I thought with disdain how happy he must be right now, basking in the warmth of this wonderful secret, and I languishing bitterly in the shadows. How he must be absolutely dying to tell them all, to clap me on the shoulder and joke with me as if everything was perfectly alright.

He would be king and I would be nothing. But that was how it had always been; Thor the firstborn, Thor the golden child, Thor the favorite. They all thought Thor wonderful, they thought him flawless and untouchable.

I felt the stirrings of rage once again and, though it nearly killed me to admit it, jealously. Thor was so loved by them all. They wanted him to be king. I was not oblivious, nor was I a fool; I saw them glance drolly at one another when I entered a room, saw them subtly roll their eyes when they did not think I could see. I had always told myself I did not care, told myself they were fools and beneath me, which was true enough, but it still bothered me. It seemed Stjarna and Mother were the only ones ever genuinely happy to see me—and Thor, the idiot.

In my rooms after dinner, I paced indignantly for a short while before finally collapsing into the chair before the fire in my bedchamber. I sat there and closed my eyes and thought of nothing but Thor as king. I tapped my fingers on the armrest, bounced my leg up and down to keep up with these racing, nauseating thoughts.

I envisioned his coronation, imagined how happy everybody would be for him, their cheering and their smiles and their congratulations, how proud Asgard would be of their most beloved, favorite prince, and then imagined how little they would care that I had been pushed to the wayside after everything that had been promised to me.

I thought of Father, could remember his words and promises to me throughout the years. Meant to be a king, he had always told me, but obviously he had lied. He had always known that I would never be king. I was only the secondborn. He had always favored Thor over me, all knew it.

And then there was Mother…

But I could not think of her. Her betrayal was almost too much to accept.

Thor was destined to be some illustrious king and I fated to remain in the shadows—his shadow—as I always had, only the second son, only the second in everything. The more I thought on it, the angrier I became. Angry at Thor, angry at Father, so angry at Mother and them all. How could they do this to me? To choose Thor over me? To discard me like this?

My dark thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door in my other room opening and closing.

Stjarna.

I heard her come into my bedchamber.

“Loki?”

I opened my eyes as she came around the chair. She stood there, head tilted slightly to the side as she studied me. She only gazed at me curiously, though. She did not know.

I dragged myself up out of the chair and stood before her. I lifted my hands, put them on either side of her head, and tilted her face up. Her eyes, lit up orange by the crackling fire, searched mine.

“You would not betray me, would you?” I whispered.

Stjarna furrowed her brows and put one hand over mine. “Betrayal? Loki, what are you talking about?”

But I did not answer her. I lowered my head and kissed her parted lips. I pushed my fingers up into her thick, golden hair, held her tightly to me as my lips moved against hers. There was this heat beginning in me and I wanted to satisfy it, wanted to burn this anger away, if only for the night.

I broke the kiss, slightly breathless, and moved to press my lips to her cheek, her jaw, her neck. I murmured her name into her skin and lowered my hands to tug at the laces on her back.

Stjarna wordlessly gave into my attentions. She sought my lips out and I felt her fingers searching out the laces and knots of my outfit. I pulled away, too impatient for her to finish, and began hastily undressing myself. I noticed with some trepidation that my fingers were shaking, but I could not tell if it was from this lingering anger or my eagerness to have Stjarna and momentarily forget the humiliating disappointment of today.

I did not want to think of any of it now, only to lose myself in Stjarna.

We were both undressed relatively quickly and lying on my bed. I hovered over Stjarna, kneeling between her spread legs, my body tight with impatience. I pressed myself against her, felt her skin so warm against mine, her body so welcoming, like always. I had one hand around the side of her neck and I ran my thumb over the front of her pale throat as I deeply and hungrily kissed her; she scraped her nails lightly across my back, stoking this fire in me even higher.

I pushed slowly into her and expulsed a heavy breath into her neck at the feeling. After a moment I lifted up on my arms and looked down at Stjarna, saw her glassy eyes gazing desirously up at me. I kissed her once more on the lips before rising up to kneel between her legs. She moaned when I grabbed her hips and pulled her onto me, lifting her bottom half up off the bed.

I watched Stjarna’s face, temporarily, mercifully, forgetting my lost throne, saw her eyes roll back, watched her lift her arms to grip the bedcovers above her head. She arched her back, emphasizing her breasts, and bit her soft bottom lip. I rolled my hips against her, dug my nails into the tender flesh of her thighs, closed my own eyes and lifted my head as I moved languorously inside her.

But my plan had not worked.

Even as I moved indolently in and out of her, even as these little whimpers and moans were falling from Stjarna’s swollen lips and this fire in me was burning ever hotter, today would not leave me be. Anger pervaded the lust, frustration the attempted repression.

I opened my eyes and looked down at Stjarna, breaths coming heavily. Her head was tilted limply to the side and she had a faint smile on her face and suddenly it incensed me. Though she obviously did not yet know of my misfortune, and something so insignificant should not have affected me, that little smile of hers sent me careening right back into that previous state of infuriation.

I let go of her hips and leaned forward, letting her bottom half fall back onto the bed. I pulled out of her and she looked up at me in this hazy confusion, but I turned her over and pushed her legs apart with my knees. I wrapped a fistful of her hair in my hand and pulled her backwards. She sat up, but I pulled her hair even tighter until her head was resting at an angle against the front of my shoulder, exposing her throat.

Stjarna’s breaths were coming faster and shorter now, which only served to incite me further. I lowered my head and kissed the side of her neck, grazed my bared teeth across the delicate skin. Just as I nipped at her earlobe, she turned her head to kiss me. Stjarna lifted her left arm and tangled her fingers in my hair and I grimaced when she tugged sharply. I broke the kiss, slightly breathless, and she smiled impishly at me.

Something inside me flared at that, something rising within me to challenge her attempted mischievousness. I let go of her hair, pushed her forward, and fell over her with a low growl. She was breathing even harder now and I could feel the dramatic rise and fall of her back with each heavy breath, see her fingers digging into the covers in anticipation of what I was about to do to her.

I reached between us and guided my cock to her entrance. I was already coated in the slickness of her desire and could not help the groan that fell from my lips when I slid so easily into her. I held myself up with one forearm, slipped my other arm beneath her, and splayed my hand on her abdomen to hold her steady as I moved in and out of her.

My face was right by hers and she turned her head to once again seek my lips out. I paused in my movements to deepen the kiss; our tongues moved together, she moaned into my mouth when I slightly bucked my hips. She bit my lip and I returned the favor and found it in myself to grin when she gasped and I tasted blood. I held her tight as I sucked on her bottom lip, ran my tongue across it and felt the broken skin.

I shifted my focus after a moment and reached up to brush Stjarna’s mane of hair out of the way, exposing her smooth back to me. I pressed my lips to the top of her spine, panted lustily into her flushed skin, and in my desire bared my teeth and bit her. It was not a playful bite; I bit her hard, that fleshy little spot to the side of her neck, and I heard her sharp intake of breath. Stjarna stiffened beneath me, but groaned in what I perceived to be pain-tinted pleasure, and I could taste her on my tongue, this tart, metallic flavor mixed with the luscious saltiness of her skin.

I bit her again, just as hard as before but a few inches to the right, and she slightly curled beneath me and whimpered my name. I smiled against her skin, taking such delight in the little sounds she kept making, in the way she kept subtly squirming beneath me.

This was as close as I ever got to that part of me I kept suppressed, when I broke Stjarna’s skin with my teeth or nails and marked her as my own, when I held her down, be it with my hands or seidr, and disallowed her movement, when I mixed the pleasure with pain. Such satisfaction I gleaned from this—had always.

I rose up and saw the red wounds left by my teeth, saw the blood beaded on her torn skin, and the fire in the pit of my stomach seemed to increase tenfold. I grabbed Stjarna’s hips again—not gently—and pulled her back onto me so she was half-kneeling in front of me. Her head fell down and her front half slumped forward when I ground my hips against her backside. Her breath hitched, which caused me to smile, and she moaned my name, so lustfully.

Gods, it drove me wild when she did that, when she said my name with such craving, with such blatant want. I closed my eyes, held her hips so tightly that surely I was hurting her and there would be bruises there in the morning, but in that moment I almost could not be bothered to care. I only felt this desire searing hot through my veins, burning me up from the inside, and this tight coiling in my lower half, ready to explode.

I began pounding into Stjarna, each hard thrust rending from her throat a desperate, whimpering gasp. I savored the sounds, the sensuous, feverish slapping of wet flesh over and over, loud in the silence of the room, and my own breaths coming in short, vehement gasps.

And then Stjarna cried out, almost as if she was in pain; she let out a long, trembling whine and buried her face in the bed, fingers gripping the crimson bedcovers so tightly that her hands shook and her knuckles turned white. I felt her coming hard around me, her insides attempting to pull me in deeper, urging me to finish.

I was almost there—I was burning all over, more than ready to succumb to this pleasure, and I increased the force of my rhythm, each thrust sending a jolt through my body, edging me ever closer to that precipice.

Stjarna cried out again. I heard her bite my name out, felt her coming again, but I could hardly acknowledge it now; I held onto her hips even more tightly so she could not move, for she had begun to writhe beneath me, buried myself to the hilt inside her, and came. I squeezed my eyes shut, body gone rigid, mouth wide open in a silent groan, and spilled myself deep inside her. I heard nothing, felt nothing but this red-hot ecstasy surging through my body, plunging me into this euphoric state of complete obliviousness.

And in that moment, as everything around me fell away and my mind went blank with pleasure, it was not Stjarna I envisioned, but Angrboda.

I saw her so vividly in my mind, as if the last time I had seen her had not been centuries ago. Her fiery red hair was wild and unkempt, her black eyes glittering, and she was grinning, baring those sharp teeth of hers, moaning my name, and far away I knew it was Stjarna saying my name, but I heard Angrboda’s voice. I groaned loudly, still frozen and allowing this anger and desire to pour out of me, and it was not Stjarna’s name my lips silently formed, but Angrboda’s.

I slowly moved in and out of Stjarna and was able to renew my release once more, until at last the waves faded too quickly to nothing. I opened my eyes and gave an involuntary shudder. I leaned forward, weakly supporting myself on my arms, and gingerly lowered myself onto Stjarna, whose insides I could still feel weakly contracting around me. Stjarna did not make a sound, only panted into the bed, and I panted into her tangled hair, my mind void of all save my giantess.

Before Stjarna had grown curious and inquired about Utgard those weeks ago, it had been a long time since I had thought of Angrboda, but ever since then, she had been invading my thoughts, my dreams, and now even when I lay with Stjarna.

I lifted up a little, pulled out of Stjarna, and fell limply onto the bed next to her. I did not bother to try to control my rapid breathing. I put my hand over my eyes, pushed my sweaty hair back from my face. Next to me, Stjarna lethargically turned her head to look at me.

Her face was flushed a beautiful rosy pink and there were little hairs sticking to her damp face. Her lips were swollen, the bottom one bloody, but she smiled weakly at me and let her head fall back down. She extended a somewhat shaky arm, twined her fingers with mine, and sighed contentedly.

As I stared into her eyes—such large, beautiful grey eyes she had—my cruel demoness gradually faded into the recesses of my mind.

“Did you have a bad day today?” Stjarna whispered with a small smile, her voice slightly hoarse. No doubt she was thinking back to my solemnity before I had pulled her into bed, not to mention how rough I had been with her.

I stared at her for a long moment before finally responding.

“Father called me to him.”

Stjarna’s little smile slowly fell. She immediately knew.

“Thor is to be king,” I said quietly.

Stjarna did not say anything for a long time, probably internally musing over which words to use that would not further dismay or anger me.

Finally, she breathed, “I am sorry, Loki.”

I did not reply, but tore my eyes away from her face and looked up at the ceiling. She gripped my fingers a little tighter, moved closer, and nestled against me. I languidly moved to wrap an arm around her as she lifted her face to lightly kiss me on the cheek.

“If it is any consolation, Loki,” she murmured, “I do think you would make a fine king.”

I did not answer. Her words did not console, for I would not be king, anyway.

None of it mattered. None of it had ever mattered.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

I was the first to wake. The warm light of morning was just beginning to spill into the room from the open doorway of Loki’s balcony, illuminating his bedchamber in a comforting glow.

I lay for a long time there in the silence, studying Loki’s sleeping form. He was turned towards me, but I could hardly see him for how his hair, still tangled from the night previous, draped itself messily across his face.

I grew solemn recalling Loki’s words to me the night before, concerning the Allfather’s decision. I could not even begin to imagine what he must be feeling. He had been building himself up to this for so long, and although I knew he had suspected he might not inherit the throne, it was obvious there was still a part of him that lusted for it, a part of him that had thought he might actually become king.

What would I say to him, for surely he would resent my pity? But I could not find the words and thought that for now I would let him sleep.

I quietly slipped out of the bed and winced when my feet hit the floor, for there was a faint, dull aching in my lower half. I went into Loki’s bath chamber to run a bath and while I waited for the tub to fill, I stood in front of his long mirror, set up against the wall. I turned this way and that, silently studying the remnants of Loki’s passion upon my body.

My eyes were immediately drawn to my hips, where I could discern Loki’s still-lingering handprints. I was not alarmed in the least bit, for this was not the first time Loki had marked me in such a way and certainly would not be the last. I turned around, pushed my hair out of the way, and examined the two bite marks he had left on the back of my shoulder. I ran my fingertips gingerly over the marks and could feel the dried blood crusted on my skin.

My entire body ached, but it was always like this when Loki was rough with me. I was not complaining, however; though I loved it when Loki was gentle and affectionate with me, there were times when I wanted him to take complete control, times when I could forget everything around me but him and the tremendous pleasure he brought me.

Last night would have been that, too, if not for the realization afterwards.

Feeling a little more somber now, I went to heal the bite marks, but a sound drew my eyes to the door. Loki stood there, probably having been awoken by my getting out of bed; he was leaning against the doorway and just as naked as me.

“Loki,” I whispered.

His gaze slowly traveled down my body, lingering momentarily on the evidence of his desire. After a long moment, he came into the room and stood behind me. He slipped his arms beneath mine and pulled me close.

“Do you hurt?” he murmured, lowering his head to softly kiss the side of my neck.

I stared at us in the mirror and the corner of my lips twitched upwards in amusement. I could still feel the prickling of his teeth on my skin, the indistinct aching in my lower half.

“Just a little,” I replied quietly.

Loki pulled back and gently pressed his lips to the back of my bare shoulder. I felt his warm breath on my skin, felt him lightly rub his nose against me before wordlessly lifting an arm and letting his long fingers drift over the bite marks. I let out a contented little sigh as his magic seeped into me and painlessly knitted my broken skin back together.

After he was satisfied, Loki ran both hands down my sides to the curves of my hips. He lightly pressed his fingertips into my skin, which was darkened and tender. Soon enough I once again felt the comforting warmth of his seidr, alleviating the soreness there and between my legs.

Loki turned me around, curled his fingers under my chin, and lifted my face. He extended his thumb and grazed it across my bottom lip; I wet it with my tongue immediately afterwards and within seconds felt the sting of his teeth from the night before fade.

I wrapped my arms around his middle and gazed up at him.

“Do you want to bathe?” I inquired with a small, enticing smile, hoping to cheer him. Though he had not yet mentioned the king’s decision, I knew he must be thinking of it even now. Perhaps if I could take his mind off of it, even if only for an hour…

“I will after we eat,” he answered impassively.

Somewhat disappointed, I gave a small nod and watched as he pulled away and disappeared back into his bedchamber. I went ahead and bathed and by the time I emerged from Loki’s bedchamber, dressed in fresh clothes and hair still damp, the servants were just putting out the last of the food.

Loki sat at the table in a pair of black pants and a green tunic unlaced at the collar. His hair was still disheveled, I noticed, which struck me as odd. I knew he was rather vain about his appearance and it was uncharacteristic of him not to care about appearing unseemly in front of others, even servants. I seated myself across from him and smiled, but he did not return the smile. He hardly seemed to notice, in fact, for he reached to grimly pour a cup of wine from a flagon.

I knew not what to say, and so we ate in silence for most of breakfast. I could practically hear Loki’s roiling thoughts and wished to discuss it, but suspected he probably would be more than averse to the idea. I did not want to make it worse for him, but knew he would brood on this and grow angrier and angrier until he eventually snapped.

Hesitantly I said his name.

He glanced up at me, fingers wrapped tightly around his cup. He did not say anything.

“When will the Allfather announce Thor’s ascension?” I ventured.

“Next week,” Loki responded after a long pause. “There will be a banquet to celebrate the announcement.”

I hated the gloomy tone of his voice, but did not say anything else, and we continued for a while longer to eat in this uncomfortable silence.

Loki was the next to speak, much to my surprise.

“Do you know what he told me, Stjarna?”

My eyes flickered up to meet his. He was staring almost vacantly away, but then looked at me.

“He told me I should be happy for Thor.”

I remained quiet for fear of saying the wrong thing.

“And afterwards… Thor found me. He laughed like it was all some sort of joke.”

I could discern the slight change in Loki’s voice, how now it took on an edge of bitterness.

“Loki,” I consoled. “I am sure Thor did not mean to be like that. You know how he is… he was probably just very happy…”

“Yes,” Loki answered sharply, and a little more darkly now. He did not sound convinced, but then I figured he probably wished to view it like that so he could more easily hold onto this discontent and animosity. He had always been dramatic like that.

I thought it best not to further provoke him and so we ate in silence for the rest of breakfast.

Loki’s schedule had him meeting with Master Elding this morning and so, as usual, after breakfast was finished and we were ready to leave, he walked me to the queen’s chambers since they were on the way to his history’s tutor’s rooms.

Before we parted, I lifted up on my toes to kiss him.

“Please have a good day, Loki,” I said cheerfully, hoping to at least get a smile out of him.

“And you as well,” he replied listlessly before turning to walk away, and I unhappily watched him until he turned the corner.

__

The thought of Thor having the throne ate at Loki.

Though he attempted afterwards to act as if everything was alright around everybody else, and though he may have done a convincing enough job of fooling them, I could tell he was not alright. In the days leading up to the king’s announcement, I could perceive his disappointment and subtle anger.

Every night that I would come to his chambers after dinner, he would wordlessly pull me into his bed and make love to me, though beneath it all I could sense some silent fervor. I knew he wished to forget, even if only fleetingly, and I allowed him this, wanting desperately to help him forget the best way I knew how.

But always afterwards when we lay there in silence, with the drowsy crackling of the fire threatening to lull me into sleep, Loki would stare contemplatively up at the ceiling or off to the side. I would press myself against him, too uncertain of what to say, not wishing to interrupt his thoughts, and twine my fingers with his and drift off.

Eventually time came for the banquet, and I am sure I dreaded it almost as much as Loki.

It was a grand affair. All of court knew that there was to be an announcement of some sort, but none knew exactly what it was. The thrill of not knowing seemed to have heightened everybody’s excitement, though, and the anticipation was palpable that night.

I was surprised that Thor had been able to keep quiet this long and I studied him that night almost as much as I did Loki, whose sullen silence, though not completely aberrant of him, certainly revealed more to me than his brother’s joviality.

Right before the feast began, the Allfather rose and a hush fell over the room.

I sought Loki out, who from here I could see staring coolly ahead.

“My friends,” the king stated, his voice echoing easily and impressively throughout the great hall. “I will keep this brief, for I know we are all eager to let the feast begin. I have been your king for millennia now, but the time has finally come for me to step down. I am pleased to announce that I have chosen a successor—”

At this, a wave of murmurs swept through the hall, but quickly died when the king continued, unperturbed. He smiled and motioned to Thor. “My son Thor shall ascend to the throne as your new king.”

Before the last word was even out of his mouth, the hall exploded into a storm of clapping and cheering. However, I had eyes only for my lover, whose stoic gaze was now focused on his brother. My heart fell when Thor stood up and raised his arms as if in victory and the cheering grew even more frenzied.

People began to stand, continued to cry their approval, and those at the high table also began to rise, and then much to my surprise, so did Loki. If I had not known him better, I almost would have been fooled by his abrupt good cheer and the congratulations he was currently heaping upon his brother.

After another minute or so, the Allfather held up his hand and the cheering quickly died away.

“Please,” he said. “Eat, drink, and be merry. This is a time to celebrate.”

There was another slight burst of applause before the feast got under way. I did not pay much attention to the animated conversation of the other handmaidens, nor did I indulge in the copious amounts of wine.

Once the feast was done and the tables cleared away and the dancing begun, I sat by the wall with Gullhár, for Loki did not come down to mingle. I would periodically glance up at him, but he was busy making small talk with some of the other gods who had elected not to dance. He did not appear in the least bit upset, but rather at ease, for I saw him smiling and laughing.

After the banquet was ended, the queen retired and the women dismissed, I made my way to Loki’s chambers. I was not at all prepared for what I found. Just as I wrapped my fingers around the handle and went to open the door, I heard a great crashing sound from within.

Immediately my heart began to pound and I felt this sick churning in the pit of my stomach. Bracing myself, I nervously opened the door and my heart dropped and my mouth fell open.

Loki’s chambers were torn apart.

I surveyed the ruin laid out before me. The chairs were overturned, books lying discarded, many of them torn and burned from what I could tell to be his seidr. Glass shards littered the floor and other objects lay smashed and broken.

There was another crashing sound from within his bedchamber and I flinched. I urged myself forward, weaving in between the various items strewn on the stone floor, hearing the glass crunch underfoot, and came to stand in the doorway of his bedchamber.

Suddenly, something—I could not tell what—flew through the air and practically exploded against the far wall, falling to the ground with a loud bang. I jumped at the sound and stared at Loki, mouth hanging open in horror. He was standing there, still donned in his ceremonial armor and helmet. He was breathing hard, body trembling, fists clenched so tightly at his sides that his arms were shaking.

“Loki,” I breathed.

He had not seen me yet and when I said his name, his head snapped towards me, but his expression remained the same in spite of the fearful look in my eyes.

“Loki, please stop,” I nearly whimpered.

His chest was still heaving with each shuddering breath, his face still twisted in rage, but then suddenly his eyebrows furrowed and he said desperately, “He’s going to be king, Stjarna.”

“I know,” I whispered.

“He’s going to be Allfather…”

I gave a tiny nod, feeling tears sting in my eyes. “Yes, Loki…”

Slowly he reached up to take his helmet off. I let out a small breath, hoping that this was finished, but then he gritted his teeth and spun around and threw it so forcefully that when it collided with his wardrobe, it cracked and nearly shattered the wood.

I stared at him, gaping, eyes wide and heart pounding in my chest, and then jumped again when he turned around and kicked one of the chairs in front of his fire—the other one was already overturned—and it slammed into the side of the fireplace with a loud splintering sound.

I hesitated, but when Loki only stood there, staring at the chair on the floor, I timorously entered the room and walked up to him. Once I stood before him, I gingerly reached up and put my hands on either side of his head, letting my thumbs brush against his temples.

I could feel him shaking and I swallowed hard as I allowed a small amount of seidr to flow into him. Much to my relief, Loki’s body immediately relaxed and he stopped quivering. His wrathful expression melted away and was replaced nearly immediately by this almost piteous visage of helplessness, an expression I could hardly ever remember seeing on him.

Loki gazed at me for a long moment; his eyes were shining and his lips parted, as if he wished to say something, but then he slowly closed his eyes and leaned forward and his arms slid around me. I embraced him back and felt him tangle his fingers in my hair. He buried his face in between my neck and shoulder and held me tightly to him.

This had happened before. Loki had a temper, but rarely did it manifest itself in such a way. Typically Thor was the one to go on rampages such as this, throwing and breaking things like some petulant child, while Loki generally was quite reserved and able to keep himself in check. Occasionally, though, as now, Loki would have an outburst to rival that of even his older brother.

After a moment, I carefully pulled away. I took Loki’s hand, led him to his bed, and gently pushed him back until he sat down. I went to climb into the bed with him, but before I could, he took me around the waist and pulled me to him so I was standing between his spread legs.

He pressed his cheek to me, whispered my name so softly I barely heard it, and held me there. I raised my hands to comfortingly stroke his hair and lowered my face to kiss the top of his head. I turned my face and rested my cheek against him, allowing him to hold me like this.

I stood there for a long while before finally reaching down to pat the side of his knee. Loki sat back, listlessly turned, and lifted his legs up onto the bed. I took his boots off and he watched me; I would have tried to take his armor and cape off, as well, but it was entirely too much trouble and I did not want to mess with all of that while he lay here like this.

After his boots were off, I quickly took my own shoes off before crawling onto the bed and sitting cross-legged next to him.

“Come,” I murmured, and Loki wordlessly turned again and put his head in my lap. I ran my hand over his hair and smoothed it back from his face. He closed his eyes as I tenderly brushed my thumbs over his cheeks before moving my fingers to rub small circles on his temples.

He had always liked it when I did this, though usually it was when he had a headache. Despite the fact that seidr could relieve such aches and pains relatively easily and quickly, Loki thoroughly enjoyed it when I touched him like this.

We sat there in silence for a long time before I finally found the courage to whisper, “Why?”

Loki opened his eyes and regarded me and I thought such large, mournful eyes he had. I felt a pang for how absolutely wretched he appeared.

“They kept talking about him, Stjarna… Thor. What a wonderful king he would be… the glory that he would bring to Asgard…”

I kept rubbing his temples, only listening.

“They cannot see that he will not make a good king.”

His eyes, nearly translucent in the firelight, drifted off to the side.

“Odin made a mistake,” he whispered, sounding defeated.

As soon as I noticed tears shining in his eyes, he closed them.

“Let us go to bed,” I breathed, moving my hand to caress his cheek.

Loki rolled over, but did not bother to undress or even slip beneath the covers. I shifted and lay down next to him. I kissed him on the lips, put my hand on the side of his head and sent a small amount of seidr into him again, and within a minute or so he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

I lay awake for the longest time, surrounded by the aftermath of his fit of rage, the fragmented evidence of his anger and his disappointment, and thought sadly that there was not much I could truly do to help him in this.

__

After that, Loki was sour.

He would not be comforted, not like that first night when he put his head in my lap. I treaded carefully around him, but it did not seem to work; every little triviality seemed to annoy him and he would often snap at me or the servants over the most insignificant things. I did not appreciate this, despite knowing the reason for his petulance, and we fought.

Though occasionally it would end with him pulling me into his bed, fingers tearing at my dress, more often than not it ended with me refusing to speak to him and us lying in bed in some angry silence.

Perhaps two weeks after the Allfather had announced Thor as Asgard’s next king, I entered Loki’s chambers after dinner one night and found him seated in front of his fire, legs spread wide, drumming his fingers methodically on the armrest. I had discovered him like this nearly every night since the announcement and when we did not fight or make love, I would simply go to bed and wait for him.

It was obvious he did not wish to speak, but I did not want for him to go to bed angry, nor did I want for us to fight. I sat down in the chair across from him and, gleaning from his somewhat virulent expression, wondered if something unsavory had happened today.

“Loki?”

“What?” he replied sharply, not bothering to tear his eyes away from the dancing flames.

“How was your day?”

His sigh almost sounded resentful. “What do you think?”

I pressed my lips together. “Did you speak to Thor?”

“Yes,” he answered disdainfully. “He was idiotic as always.”

“What did you talk about?” I chanced.

Loki scoffed and glanced at me. “He plans to throw a party in celebration of his inevitable ascension. He wants me to come. As if he needs another fucking celebration.”

“When is it?”

“In a few days,” he dismissed with a contemptuous wave of his hand.

“What about your mother?” I asked quietly.

Loki had told me that other than a few passive words exchanged during dinner, he had not actually spoken to his mother since finding out about her backing his father’s decision to give Thor the throne. He was very clearly angry at her, which saddened me.

He exhaled sharply and I got the distinct feeling I was annoying him. “I did not speak to her.”

I sighed. His being so querulous about it all certainly was not going to help matters, especially with him putting up a front for everybody.

Loki closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “I’ve got a tremendous fucking headache…”

I gazed at him dolefully. Perhaps I could rub his temples again.

“Do you want to lay your head in my lap?” I inquired with a small smile, thinking back to a couple of weeks ago when I had done the same and consoled him. “I can rub your temples.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I wish you would stop talking.”

My smile slowly fell. I stared at Loki for a long time before finally looking down at my hands in my lap. He did not often speak to me like that, so coldly or dismissively—only when he was truly upset as now—and although it hurt me, it also angered me.

I decided in that moment that if he was going to be like this, and ignore and demean my attempt to make him feel better, then I did not want to be here with him. Obviously he did not care if I was here or not, anyway.

I rose up out of the chair and without a parting word went past him, headed for the door. I would sleep in my own chambers tonight. Despite the fact that Loki and I had been lovers for so long, and despite the fact that I loved him desperately, there were still times when I slept in my own chambers, times when I was so furious and could not even stand to be in the same room with him.

Now was one of those times.

Before I had made it to his main room, though, Loki said, as if exasperated, “Where are you going?”

“My chambers,” I replied, attempting to mask the slight tremble in my voice. “I do not want to sleep with you tonight.”

I gazed at Loki for just a moment longer, hoping he might tell me not to go, or that he was sorry, but he did not. Feeling a slight pang, and a surge of irritation, I turned to leave.

Once in my own chambers, I undressed, changed into a nightgown, and put myself to bed.

I knew that Loki was angry and frustrated and—though he would not admit it—distraught, but that did not mean he could speak so discourteously to me.

Eventually, even if I did not know how long it might take, he would come to terms with his brother getting the crown and not him. It had only been a few weeks and everything was still fresh in his mind. It did not help, however, that he was reminded of it constantly throughout the day.

I had hoped that I might be able to take his mind off of the throne, but it seemed I could do nothing to help him forget, not even as I had done that first week, for constantly it gnawed at him and he would not be comforted.

I tried to sleep, but could not, and knew it was because Loki was not here with me. I sighed exasperatedly, for despite his having spoken so disgracefully to me, I could not even fall sleep without him beside me.

I did not know how long it was—it could have been one hour or three—and I had been lying awake all that time, attempting to coerce myself into sleep, when I heard the door to my chambers open and quietly shut.

I did not turn over, refusing to acknowledge him, and reminded myself why I was so angry at him.

I heard him undress before lifting the covers to get into bed with me. I remained silent—and stiffened slightly—when he touched me. I felt his fingers come to rest tentatively on my hip, but I reached down beneath the covers and resentfully pushed his hand away.

“Stjarna,” he murmured. “I am sorry for what I said.”

I did not reply, in part because I knew not what to say, and he continued, probably thinking I wished for him to do so.

“I should not have spoken to you like that,” he explained softly, sounding remorseful. “I am sorry I hurt you.”

I was quiet for a long time before slowly turning onto my back to look at him.

He offered me a half-smile, imploring me with his eyes. “Do you forgive me?”

At the sight of him looking so beseeching, I could not help it—I laughed. Loki grinned and wrapped his arm around my middle and pulled me close.

“Yes,” I whispered, feeling my anger gradually melt away. I put my hand on his cheek. “I forgive you, but… I do not like seeing you like that, Loki. I only want for you to feel better, but you will not let me and I don’t know what else to do…”

“Stjarna, you do not have to do anything,” Loki responded. “I will get over it.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I don’t believe that.”

Loki chuckled. “Do you not?”

“No.”

“It will pass, Stjarna. You know how I am.”

“Yes, I do, and you hold grudges,” I countered.

“Perhaps, but there is nothing I can do about it,” Loki said, effectively ending the conversation there.

I looked down, somewhat discouraged, but gave a little nod.

“Stjarna,” Loki whispered, and I glanced back up at him. He twined his fingers with mine between us and smiled at me. He kissed me on the lips once, and then twice, and I grinned to myself when he turned his head to plant a tender kiss on my jaw. His other hand I felt descending to my lower back and he pulled me even closer until I could feel his growing arousal pressing against me.

I closed my eyes and let out a little breath when Loki moved his leg between mine and gently pushed at me so I was lying on my back. I cupped his cheeks as he shifted to lie on top of me and lifted my head to press my lips to his. We kissed deeply, our tongues moving languidly against one another, and I moved my hands down to roam over his body, over his back and down his sides.

Loki turned his head, began kissing my neck, and simultaneously reached down to grab a fistful of my nightgown. I smiled as he fumbled with it beneath the covers, for it had twisted around my body when I turned over earlier, and failed to hold back a giggle when he groaned in frustration.

“Why do you wear this ridiculous thing?” he murmured hotly into my skin as I lifted my hips to allow him an easier time of pulling it up. Within moments he had it over my head and discarded; he fell back over me and leaned down to press his hard body against mine.

“Because I do sometimes still like to pretend modesty,” I answered, wrapping my legs around his slender waist when I felt him reach between us to guide himself to my entrance.

“You are my lover and yet you uphold this charade of modesty?” he breathed, coating himself in the wetness already beginning to pool between my thighs.

“One of us must do it and it certainly is not going to be you,” I smirked.

Loki smiled and then pushed into me, keeping his eyes trained on my face. My breath caught in my throat and I arched my back a little as he filled me. Once he was buried fully inside me, Loki lifted up on his arms, letting the covers slide down until they stopped at his waist, and gazed down at me.

I stared up at him, lips parted, breaths coming heavily now, and let my hands slide down to his hips. My eyes fluttered closed when he languorously rolled his hips against me and I softly moaned, forgetting in that moment why I had been so angry at him earlier.

He made love to me slowly, and when afterwards we were spent, and I lying sleepily in his arms, and all was warm and quiet and peaceful, I finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

To further celebrate the announcement of his becoming future king of Asgard, Thor threw a party. It would be a more personal gathering than the lavish banquet the Allfather had arranged a month earlier and promised to be even livelier. Unlike his informal parties, which were held in his chambers, Thor chose to have this one in a different, larger room.

There were already quite a few people there when I arrived. There was a large fire burning merrily in the center of the room with spacious couches all around. One side of the room opened up to a large balcony that overlooked the city and a table laid out with food and drink sat against the wall while two servants wandered around refilling cups with wine.

I quickly scanned the room upon entering, searching for Loki, but did not see him. I thought that odd, considering that it was apparent I had come a little late. I saw Thor closing a conversation with Týr and waited until they were finished.

“Your Highness?” I inquired.

“Stjarnavetr!” he exclaimed, beaming at me.

I returned his smile. “Is Loki here?”

Thor’s voice slightly fell. “Er, no. I thought he would come with you.”

I could not believe it. Loki had been the one to tell me about Thor’s party and though he had seemed less than enthusiastic about it, I had not actually expected him not to go—I had naturally assumed he would be here, since it was in honor of his brother and there would be drinking. Now that I thought about it, however, it was no wonder that Loki was not here toasting his brother and celebrating his good fortune.

I thanked Thor, excused myself, and turned around and left. I made my way to Loki’s chambers and found him lounging idly on his bed, legs crossed and a book in his lap.

“What are you doing?” I demanded, placing my hands on my hips.

He did not even bother to glance up. “Reading.”

“Why are you not at Thor’s party? He expected you.”

“He expects a lot of things from me,” Loki replied dryly, “but I am used to being a disappointment.”

I scoffed. “I cannot believe you, Loki.”

“What?” he laughed, eyeing me in amusement. “Are you truly surprised I did not go?”

I faltered and let my hands fall to my sides. “Well… I thought you would.”

He snorted in derision and turned his attention back to his book.

“So you will not go?”

“Why would I go?”

“You are his brother,” I said firmly, walking up to the bed.

“So?”

“He seemed upset that you did not show.”

“I am sure he’ll get over it.”

“Loki!” I snapped, causing him to glance up. Though I loved him, Loki’s chronic obduracy was grating. I knew he was upset about not getting the throne, but could not some part of him be at least a little happy for his brother? “What if it was you? Would you not want Thor there with you?”

Loki sat up to make some sort of snappy reply, but I interrupted him. “No, I forget. You are petty. You would have dangled it in front of his face had you gotten it.”

“But I did not get it,” Loki answered brusquely, “so it does not matter.”

“Why must you be like this?” I cried. “Why is it that you cannot be happy for anybody but yourself?”

Loki leered at me. “There are plenty of others to be happy for Thor.”

“But you are his brother,” I stressed, putting my hands on the edge of the bed. “The least you can do is congratulate him and not pout like a child!”

Loki expulsed a sharp breath and looked insolently away from me. It was obvious that I had made him angry, or at least greatly irritated him, but I did not back down.

“Fine,” he growled. “I will go, but only because I know you will keep pestering me.”

I glowered at him as he slapped the book shut and tossed it irately onto the bed. He got up, brushed past me, and I could feel the anger practically rolling off of him. I hated it when he was like this, but I was sick of him acting in such a way. At first it had been understandable, but now, to some degree, it was more annoying than anything.

I waited while Loki quickly threw his surcoat on. After we left, he did not speak the entire time and neither did I. I thought it a miracle that I had managed to coerce him, or at least aggravate, him into coming, and did not wish to further push my luck.

Loki immediately left my side once we arrived, but I did not take it to heart. I found some of the other women, which included Gullhár, Málvit, and Týr’s mistress Stórmenska. I watched Thor greet and embrace Loki, who was now acting so cordially that nobody would have known that he was boiling on the inside.

Thor was ecstatic that Loki had finally showed up, but I am sure he regretted it after everything fell apart.

Loki got very drunk very quickly, which I was not sure was a good thing or a bad thing. He was fairly unpredictable when he was inebriated; either he was amiable and prone to laughter, or impulsive and easily infuriated.

He sat with some of the other gods around the fire. Most of them were drunk as well, so Loki certainly could not be considered the odd one out. Every so often I glimpsed over, or would wander close by to see how he was doing. Much to my surprise, after a while Loki seemed to be having a good time. The wine had loosened him up a bit and, at least for the moment, managed to dissolve whatever was left of his petulance.

I was watching him as the others talked about Thor’s impending coronation. It started out with Málvit and Stórmenska discussing the new dresses the queen would surely have made for her women, and then drifted to the magnificence of the banquet afterwards. I did not add much to the conversation, for I was studying Loki, and eventually Gullhár turned towards me and smiled kindly.

“You’ve been quiet, Stjarnavetr.”

I tore my eyes away from Loki. “I am listening.”

She glanced at Loki, who was currently snickering at something Thor had said. When she looked back at me, she tilted her head.

“Stjarnavetr, I have been curious about something.”

“Yes?”

“The prince.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You’ve not talked much of him since the announcement. How is he?”

I hesitated. “He is… disappointed.”

Oh, but what an understatement that was. Gullhár quickly sensed my reluctance to speak further of Loki and the subject was mercifully dropped.

Perhaps another hour passed and Gullhár, Málvit, Stórmenska, and I found ourselves standing by one of the walls. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Loki, even drunker and louder than before, but he was laughing and so in my ignorance I did not worry.

It was then when one of the Einherjar by the doors announced, “His Majesty and the queen.”

Many in the room stood, turned, and bowed as the king entered with Queen Frigga on his arm. I was confused as to why they were here, since Thor did not typically invite his parents to these types of celebrations.

The queen quickly spotted us, whispered something to the king, let go of his arm, and came over. As she approached, I watched the king wander over to a group of gods that included his close friend and advisor, the Van Njord.

“Ladies,” the queen said, flashing us a warm smile.

“Your Majesty,” we chorused, giving her another bow.

“I insisted on bringing the king here to visit before we retired. It appears to be going well.”

“It is,” Gullhár replied, glancing over at Thor, who was guffawing loudly at something Sif had just said. “The prince is pleased.”

“Wonderful,” the queen grinned. She stayed with us and continued talking and after a while, Málvit inquired when Thor’s coronation would be held.

“The coronation is planned a few months’ time from now,” the queen answered.

“That is so soon,” Stórmenska mused aloud.

Queen Frigga nodded, but I could tell there was some slight uncertainty there. “My husband thinks him ready.”

I hoped that would be enough time for Loki to calm down and accept the situation. Though he had admitted to me that he would eventually get over it, I suspected it might take a while.

Suddenly, a burst of loud laughter drew our attention towards the center of the room where Thor, Loki, Týr, Frey and his twin sister Freyja, as well as some of the other gods, sat around the crackling fire.

Thor had his arm around Loki’s shoulders and was laughing heartily, but I saw that Loki did not seem so amused and I felt apprehension.

“Worry not, Týr,” Thor beamed. “My little brother shall make a fine advisor.”

Loki, appearing less than entertained, scowled. “Is that what I shall be?”

Thor, upon hearing Loki’s scathing tone, glanced over. “What?”

“Is that all I shall be? Your advisor?”

Thor laughed again, not realizing in his drunkenness that Loki was not joking around. “Does that displease you, brother? If it makes you feel better, I will even let you try to hold Mjölnir. I know it’s been a while—”

Loki scoffed and pushed Thor away. He stood up quickly and stumbled to the side.

“Oh, come now,” Týr chuckled, clearly enjoying Loki’s petulance. “His Highness is only joking.”

Loki grumbled something to himself as he staggered out of the group of people.

“Loki, come on,” Thor cajoled.

Týr rolled his eyes when Loki did not respond. “Eh, let the prince go wallow in his self-pity. It’s nothing new.”

I balked at Týr’s remark, and Loki stopped short. I am sure Týr normally would not have said such a disrespectful thing, especially in front of so many others, including the king and queen, but he was nearly drunk as Loki.

Loki slowly turned around. “What did you say?”

Týr, as if only suddenly realizing the imprudence of his words, paused. Though all knew he greatly disliked Loki, Loki was still the prince and his position demanded respect.

Loki sneered when Týr remained silent. “What? Can you not say it now?”

Týr rolled his eyes again and looked away, but wisely did not repeat himself. Loki, however, seemed bent now on finishing whatever it was that Týr had started.

Loki took a step forward, eyes narrowed. “For all your talk, you are a coward. If you’ve something to say to me, say it.”

Thor warily approached Loki. “Brother, I don’t think we ought to—”

“Very well, Your Highness,” Týr drawled, his voice dripping with contempt. He lumbered to his feet and swayed slightly. “You try to hide it, but all see it. The prince spurned! You cannot stand the fact that your brother got the throne. You think you would make some glorious king, but it is clear to all that you are unfit to rule—”

Týr stopped suddenly when Loki moved closer to him, so close they were nearly touching. They were almost the same height, but Loki was lean and sinewy—not like Týr who was stout and burly—and I felt fear for him. I twisted the front of my dress in my hands as they glared hatefully at one another.

“How dare you speak to me like that,” Loki growled, not bothering to mask the threat in his voice.

I held my breath, terrified. Loki seemed ready to attack Týr.

“Perhaps you ought to sit back down,” Loki said darkly.

Much to my dismay, Týr only laughed in Loki’s face. “Or what?”

“Stop it,” Thor warned, taking another step closer.

Týr sneered, but kept his eyes fixed on Loki. “Why should I? You think anybody truly respects you, Prince? You are naught but a spoiled brat and tolerated only for your father and brother. You dishonor their good names and it is only for their sake that anybody has put up with your infantile ways this long. All of Asgard would see a goat upon the throne before a weakling like you!”

My mouth dropped open, and even the queen standing beside me made a small sound of disbelief.

Loki stood there, frozen in this terrible silence, eyes boring into Týr’s. Finally, he bit out, “Pray tell, Týr, what is it that makes me weak?”

Týr snorted and I thought it a miracle that Loki had not wrapped his fingers around his thick neck yet. “You’re more woman than man! You cannot even fight without aid of that damned woman’s magic, and for so long you paraded yourself around like some wanton whore, even took men to your bed!”

I slowly closed my eyes. It was not necessarily a secret, but not widely spoken of, that Loki had occasionally taken men to his bed, though it had been long before I had come to Asgard. I thought for sure this the instant that Loki physically reacted to Týr’s virulence, but much to everybody’s incredulity, Loki only chuckled.

He glanced down at Týr’s right arm, which ended in a long-healed stump. “You speak of my manhood, Týr. Are you not supposed to be some feared warrior, and yet you lost your hand in a training accident?”

Týr bared his teeth in anger and lifted his arm. He pushed it against Loki’s chest, whose gaze immediately turned murderous.

“Training accident!” Týr hissed. “I will tell you exactly what happened, you wretched piece of—”

And then suddenly, as soon as the queen flinched and took a step forward, the Allfather’s voice cut through what had appeared to be an impassioned and vicious tirade.

“Sit down.”

Týr, as well as Loki, both turned their attention to the king. They glared at him for a long moment, taut and unmoving.

“Now, Týr.”

Týr at first looked to say something, but then took his arm off of Loki, slowly sat down, and was silent.

The Allfather cocked an eyebrow. “Perhaps it is best if you took this little spat of yours elsewhere, Loki.”

Thor quickly took over and put his hand on Loki’s shoulder. “Father is right, perhaps—”

Loki scoffed and shook Thor’s hand off. “I am fine where I am.”

“You would do well to obey your king,” a voice said, and I glanced over and saw that it was Njord.

“Who are you to command me?” Loki challenged, opening his arms and leaning forward slightly. “You are naught but the king’s pet.”

Njord’s wife, Skadi, who had been standing behind him, seemed to take more offense than her husband and stepped forward. “You overstep yourself, Prince.”

Loki smirked at her, almost knowingly, and dissolved into laughter. “I overstep myself, Skadi? I wonder, does Njord know when last you overstepped yourself?”

Skadi visibly blanched and I wrung my dress a little tighter, knowing what was coming, silently begging Loki to hold his tongue.

“Does he know you once invited me to your bed?” Loki tilted his head and put his finger on his chin, as if he was thinking. “What was it again, love? Just a ‘quick fuck’? Or was it a ‘little fuck’?”

Skadi chanced a worried glimpse at her husband, but his face was like stone.

Years ago, Loki had told me one night that Skadi had been speaking with him. It was no secret that her marriage to Njord was an unhappy one and she often looked to stray. She had attempted to seduce him, and though he had declined her, he thought it amusing that she might consider him for a lover.

Njord’s voice, loud over Loki’s sniggering, drew me back. “You’ve gone too far, Prince—”

“Enough of this!” Thor shouted, turning to face Loki. “You ought to leave.”

Loki leered at his brother. “What, do you side with them, as well? How typical of you, brother. Never an independent thought in that giant head of yours.”

“What?” Thor balked, clearly offended.

“You’re the favorite, don’t you see?” Loki uttered, sounding somewhat disgusted. “But no, you wouldn’t see. I forget sometimes how incredibly stupid you are.”

“Stop it!” Sif cried, jumping to her feet to defend Thor, who was gazing in shock at Loki. “He is the crown prince, you cannot—”

“Shut up, Sif,” Loki snapped, turning his burning gaze on her. “We all already know how pathetically you lust after him, you need not make it so plain.” When Sif stared open-mouthed at him, Loki chuckled. “What, you think nobody sees the way you drool over him? You follow him around like a bitch in heat, you’re not fooling anyone—”

“Be silent, Loki!” Thor shouted, clenching his fists.

Freyja was the next one to chime in. She was lounging on one of the couches, Frey sitting next to her with an arm draped behind her. She held a cup of wine in her hand and seemed slightly amused by all the drama.

“The little prince cannot hold his tongue,” she observed wryly. “He is incapable of silence.”

Loki turned to her to face her. “Is that so, Freyja?” He cocked his head and said thoughtfully, mockingly, “As I recall, you, too, were rather incapable of silence last I fucked you.”

“Enough of this!” Frey snapped, sitting up. So far Frey had remained quiet, only watching the heated exchange with a pleased little smirk, but now that his sister had been drawn into the folderol, or rather inserted herself, he rose to it.

Loki merely laughed. “Mind yourself, Frey. It is to the Asgardian prince you speak.”

“I care not if it is to Búri himself I speak, you shall not insult Freyja—”

“There is not a thing I could say to insult her enough,” Loki spat. “You do insult enough by fucking your own whore of a sister.”

I could not have been any more horrified.

Frey’s face twisted in anger and he jumped up. Half of the gods sitting around the fire flinched upwards when he reached for the dagger on his waist, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Einherjar standing by the doors move forward, their hands flying to the swords strapped to their belts, for Frey was about to attack a prince of Asgard. Despite the vitriol Loki had just poured forth, he was still of the royal family and his person was to be defended.

Before Frey could lay a hand on Loki, who was also going to attack him, the Allfather’s voice thundered out.

“ENOUGH!”

All turned to regard the king, who was glaring irately at Loki. “Loki, you will cease—”

“Do you defend her, then?” Loki demanded, turning away from Frey and taking a step towards the king.

“What?” the Allfather snapped.

“Do you defend her?” Loki challenged, swaying slightly on his feet and thrusting a finger in Freyja’s direction.

The king shook his head. “You will leave this instant—”

“She’s naught but an incestuous whore!” Loki cried, and all could hear the angry tremble in his voice. And then he chuckled. “Oh, but you know that well, Father.”

The ensuing silence was terrible to behold. The queen stiffened next to me and my heart dropped. Had Loki lost his mind?

“You will hold your tongue,” the king warned, his voice rippling with barely disguised threat.

“Or what?” Loki smirked, echoing Týr’s words from earlier.

The Allfather’s face was grim. “Get out.”

“What?” Loki retorted, feigning insult. “Am I not your son? Am I unwelcome here now? I only say what everybody is thinking.”

“You disgrace yourself,” the king said darkly.

“I disgrace myself?” Loki repeated, not realizing the hole he was digging deeper and deeper. “I am not the one who just a few weeks ago took one of my wives’ women to my bed—”

Thor abruptly grabbed Loki around the side of the neck. He pulled him close, but Loki did not struggle or shove him away. Thor leaned in close to his brother and whispered something, but none could hear his words.

Loki was breathing hard now, fists clenched at his sides. His eyes flickered up and at first it appeared as if he was staring at me, but I quickly realized he was gazing at his mother next to me.

After a long moment, Loki put his hand on Thor’s chest and pushed him back. He was quiet for a long while, staring at nothing, and the only sound to be heard was the snapping of the fire in the center of the room.

“Fuck you all,” Loki said, his voice low and eyes lingering on his father, before turning on his heel and storming out of the room.

All was dreadfully silent as we watched him go.

Thor sighed and turned to the king, most likely to apologize for his brother’s behavior, but the king held up his hand and silenced his eldest son. He turned and left without a word; all bowed to him as he passed, Loki’s previous words still lingering heavily in the air.

I glanced at the queen, terrified as to what I might see. Her expression was completely unreadable, though—seemingly made of stone. I was the one who had told Loki about one of the queen’s handmaidens having been taken to bed by the king just a few weeks ago. I had overheard her speaking with another woman and though I had disliked telling Loki, thought he ought to know. Now I cursed myself.

Against my better judgment, I nearly whimpered, “Your Majesty…”

She turned towards me and I bit my lip.

“I am… I am so sorry…” I murmured. I bowed my head, engulfed with shame.

Much to my surprise, the queen gently touched my arm. “Stjarnavetr, it is not your fault. I think we both knew something like this would happen eventually.”

I was astonished, but nodded; she was right, though it did not help to alleviate my mortification. The queen did not speak further, but followed her husband and left.

The room was still eerily silent. There was some half-hearted murmuring, but I figured that Thor’s party was essentially finished. I wished to apologize to Thor for Loki, but he was currently engaged in some heated whispering with Sif. I thought it best not to disturb him and so left and immediately headed for Loki’s chambers.

Despite his absolutely foul mood, I needed to see Loki. I wondered briefly if he would be angry with me for making him go, if he would blame me for what had transpired this night, and to some degree I felt his anger would not be completely unwarranted.

I was almost afraid to open the door. I feared Loki’s chambers might be destroyed again, but when I opened the door, I found everything neat and tidy, all still in order from when a small army of chambermaids had cleaned his rooms after his eruption a month earlier.

I went to his bedchamber door and peered inside, but Loki was not here. I paused to think. He probably was roaming around the palace or grounds, for I knew when he was angry like this he liked to walk or pace and be alone.

And so I waited for him. For hours I sat in the chair before his fire, fretting over his state. Eventually the fire began to sputter and die and my eyes grew heavy and I drifted off in the chair.

__

When I awoke, it was not the soft light of morning pouring into Loki’s chambers, but the bright light of day. I sat up in almost a slight panic, judging that it must be nearly noon or even a little past.

It was only then that I noticed I was lying on Loki’s bed. I turned my head and saw Loki lying next to me, still fully dressed. We were both on top of the covers and I realized that Loki must have come back early this morning, found me asleep in front of his fireplace, and carried me to bed.

I quickly scanned his person, saw nothing wrong with him, and then slipped out of the bed as quietly as possible. I went to fetch a servant to bring what I assumed would technically be a midday meal. Within the hour it had been brought and laid out, and after the servants had departed I went back into Loki’s bedchamber.

He had shifted in his sleep and now lay on his back, one arm hanging off the edge and the other thrown over his face. I gently sat on the edge of the bed next to him and lightly touched him.

“Loki?”

He roused and lifted up his arm to look at me, squinting against the bright light coming in.

“I have had food brought,” I explained quietly, “if you would have it.”

He did not reply and I withdrew my hand. I went to stand up, but Loki grabbed my wrist and I carefully sat back down.

“Stjarna,” he said roughly. “Tell me everything I said.”

“What?”

Loki pulled himself up into a sitting position with a groan. “I want you to tell me everything I said last night.”

I faltered, somewhat averse to recounting the many awful things that had been voiced. “Loki…”

“I need to know, I cannot remember it all.”

That was not a shock, considering how unbelievably drunk he had been.

“You said many things, Loki. You insulted Týr and Njord and Skadi and your brother and Sif. And your father… you called out his infidelities in front of the room… and the queen…”

“Fuck,” Loki breathed, slowly closing his eyes. He drew a leg up and pinched the bridge of his nose. “What else?”

“You called Freyja an incestuous whore. And Frey nearly attacked you.”

Loki let out a short, breathy laugh, but I did not see what was so funny. I took his hand in mine and turned it over. I stroked his palm with my thumb and traced the delicate blue veins in his slim wrist.

“I thought he was going to kill you,” I whispered.

“I would have liked to see him try,” Loki snorted. “He’d have his head cut off before he got two steps. Gods, I’d love to see his blood spill.”

“What?” I asked, aghast.

“I dislike him.”

“So you would have him die?”

“I only said I would not mind it if he was beheaded.”

“Do not say that,” I chided.

Loki did not answer, but simply stared at me. Finally, he looked away. “Well. I’ve certainly made a mess of things, haven’t I?”

I did not say anything.

“What happened after I left?” he inquired, glancing back at me.

“Nothing, Loki. It was much quieter.”

He chuckled, though it was half-hearted. “I bet it was.”

“Why did you say those things?” I asked quietly.

Loki took a deep breath. “I don’t know, Stjarna. I was drunk. Angry.”

I gazed forlornly at him. “But insulting your father…”

Loki closed his eyes and leaned back against the headboard. “I will pay for that.”

“What did Thor say to you?”

Loki slowly opened his eyes.

“When Thor grabbed you, he whispered something into your ear. What did he say?”

Loki gazed vacantly ahead, as if trying to remember, and then murmured, “He told me to think of what I had just said in front of our mother.”

So that was what had calmed him.

I glanced down at our hands, feeling sorrow.

“Come and eat,” I finally said, pulling away from him. “You will feel better.”

Loki followed me out of the bed and I led him by the hand into his main room. We sat down at his table, but neither of us spoke at all, and after we were finished and the food barely touched, Loki grimly stood up.

“What are you doing?” I inquired, wondering as to his plans for the day. I would be astounded if he decided to go out.

“I cannot let this rest,” he responded, pulling his tunic off and letting it drop to the floor. “I have to see Father.”

I followed him into his bath chamber and solemnly watched as he ran a bath. It was not a bad idea, I thought, for I could discern the lingering scent of wine on him. It would not do well for him to see his father reeking of alcohol.

Once Loki was bathed and dressed, he went to leave.

“You act as if you are going to your execution,” I observed.

“I might just be,” he replied somberly.

“What do you mean?”

“Odin may be my father, but he will not take me insulting him so lightly. Especially since I did it in front of so many others…”

“You are going to beg his forgiveness?”

“Yes, or it will be much worse for me.” He grimaced. “Beg is the word, too. Grovel, more likely.”

__

Loki

I left Stjarna in my rooms. She said she would not go to Mother’s chambers today, for she knew the other women would hound her about the events of last night, and she admitted she would be ashamed to see the queen after what had transpired. I understood her reasoning.

I went first to Gladsheim, where I knew Father would be this afternoon.

Though I despised apologizing for anything, it made it slightly worse that I could not entirely recall my words the night before. Stjarna said I had called out his infidelities in front of the room, and I could easily envision everything after that. Though I certainly might regret the consequences, I did not regret the actual words.

Despite this, he was king and vindictive and I had to fix this before he could try to punish me somehow.

I approached the doors, had an Einheri announce me, and entered the hall.

Father sat upon his throne at the end. Courtiers lingered along the wall and around the columns, talking to each other. I could feel their eyes fixed on me as I passed, could hear a hush spread through the room.

I approached the steps at the base of Father’s throne, dropped to one knee, and bowed my head. “I request permission to speak with Your Majesty… in private.”

I could feel Father’s stoic gaze on me, but I dared not look up yet, and then I heard the shuffle of feet as the courtiers began filing out of the hall. It was only when the great doors at the end of the hall were closed that Father said, “You may rise.”

I rose to my feet and gazed up at him.

He studied me coolly. “Did you come to beg my forgiveness, Loki?”

“I have,” I responded.

“And how did you expect this to go?”

I hesitated. “I… I know not.”

He was silent for a long moment. And then, “Thor will be king.”

I glanced up at him. “What?”

“Thor will be king, Loki. There is nothing you can do to prevent it. You may seethe all you want, and you may pout and throw tantrums and destroy your chambers and complain, but there is nothing to be done.”

My eyes slowly drifted down. I was not surprised it had gotten back to him that I had wrecked my chambers a few weeks earlier. I knew my chambermaid was an incorrigible gossip.

“I would suggest you get used to the idea.”

I felt a flicker of irritation, but continued staring at the floor. I was in no position to argue.

“Your words to me last night were… unacceptable. I am your father, Loki, but I am your king first. Do you understand that?”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps you ought to know that your mother begged me last night to refrain from punishing you.”

Now I felt a pang. Even after my words, even after I had essentially ignored her for these past weeks, Mother had fought for me. What a piece of work I was.

“She made all sorts of excuses up. You were drunk, which you were, and you made a fool of yourself. She said you were distraught over my decision and could not be held entirely responsible.” Now he laughed, and the sound annoyed me. “She said shouldn’t the shame you brought on yourself last night be punishment enough?”

I exhaled slowly, but did not reply—to reply seemed too dangerous. Though he did not often show it, Odin had quite the temper as well, though he kept it in check much better than Thor or even myself.

Now he paused. “You are jealous, I know, but you insulted me and your mother and your brother and half of those whose loyalty you should be seeking instead of alienating.”

I remained silent.

“But I did not expect you to come here. That is surprising to me.”

I allowed myself to look up at him and he stood up. He came down the steps, but stopped short a few steps above me.

“Tell me something, Loki.”

I waited.

“Do you truly think you would make a better king than him?”

“Yes,” I answered softly.

“Tell me why, and I shall give the crown to you.”

My lips parted in amazement. Some part of me did not believe him, but he was examining me with what almost appeared to be sincerity.

He nodded at me. “Convince me now that you would make more fit a king than your brother and I shall give it to you.”

I continued staring at him, but nothing came out.

He raised his eyebrows. “Well?”

“I…” but nothing else came. Oh, I could list a thousand reasons. I had always known them. If it had been Stjarna to ask, or anybody else, I could have fired them off so quickly, so confidently, without hesitation and without remorse, pointing out Thor’s faults: his stupidity, his recklessness, his inability to take anything seriously… but none of that came to me.

I only stared at Father, could feel my chance slipping away, but to my everlasting shame, the words did not come and I expulsed a heavy breath and slowly lowered my eyes.

He sighed. “You could have been a king, Loki, but you are selfish, and will always be selfish, and that is one thing a good king must not be.”

I suppose he thought his words were weighty or poignant, but they accomplished nothing but to infuriate me. But still I held my tongue and kept my eyes downcast and he did not speak for a long time.

Finally, “Get out.”

I rose to my feet, did not deign to look at him, and left without a word.

I could not accurately describe what it was that I felt fulminating inside of me. Rage? Disappointment? Helplessness? Perhaps some bilious combination of them all. Most of it was aimed at Father, but some of it at myself, as well.

I wondered if he would have truly given me the crown had I been able to convince him, but then I scoffed. I would not have been able to persuade him. No matter what I said, Thor would always still be his first choice. He had made that plainly clear in the way he had treated us through the years. I felt my resentment towards him grow and thought what a shame it was I had not told him to fuck himself again.

But there was one…

My anger had abated somewhat once I came to stand in front of her doors.

The Einherjar outside regarded me circumspectly.

“I would see the queen,” I stated.

“She has gone out with her women,” one of the Einheri explained. “She will return shortly.”

I felt a slight twinge of irritation, but nodded. “I will wait inside, then.”

I waited in Mother’s receiving chamber for perhaps another hour before she returned. I stood up when she entered, her women following close behind, and she paused when she saw me.

After a long moment, she turned her head and waved her hand. “You are all dismissed for the day.”

The women quickly bowed and turned to leave. The doors shut behind them and Mother turned back to me.

She smiled. “Hello, darling.”

Before the words were even out of her mouth, I felt a surge of overwhelming regret. “Mother, I…”

“It is past,” she dismissed, brushing by me. I turned as she passed, caught her hand, and she stopped to look up at me.

“I am sorry.”

“I know, Loki.”

But I knew I had hurt her and the thought of that greatly troubled me.

She regarded me for a long moment and then put her other hand on mine and held them. “Loki… I know you care for me, but you need not insert yourself so. This matter is… between your father and I. I fear you have only made things worse.”

“I saw him.”

She sighed. “What did you do?”

“I sought his forgiveness.”

“Did he give it?”

“He did not say, but he also did not punish me there.”

She nodded and turned away, headed to the fire.

“He offered me the crown.”

She paused and turned back around.

“He said if I could convince him I would make a better king than Thor, he would give me the throne.”

“Did you?” she whispered.

“No…”

She glanced down. “Loki… I know you are displeased with your father’s decision—”

“But you backed him,” I remarked, interrupting her. I took a step forward. “You chose Thor over me.”

She closed her eyes and sighed. “Yes.”

“Why?” I implored.

She shook her head, seemingly at a loss for words. “Loki…”

“Was there ever any doubt?” I begged, hating how desperate I sounded. “Was there ever any question as to who it would be? Truly?”

Her eyes flickered up to mine and her expression was almost pained, but she could not speak and her silence conveyed to me far more than words could have. All the breath left my body and I looked down at the floor. It was not frustration I felt, but this pathetic, infuriating sense of helplessness, this burning sense of betrayal.

“What have I been training for my entire life, then? What has the point been of it all?”

She shook her head, but I pressed the point, wanting to know why I had been promised so much when apparently all but me knew I would never receive it.

“Well?” I insisted.

“Loki, one day you will understand…”

I scoffed, not even pausing to consider her meaning.

“Loki,” she consoled. “Please believe that I have only ever wanted what is best for you. I have wanted nothing for you but happiness…”

I stared at her, almost forlornly. Despite her backing Father, despite her believing Thor would do better than me, I believed her. How could I not? She had always been there for me when I needed her.

“But what of him?” I asked, trying to keep my voice hard. “What of Odin?”

“He loves you, Loki. He wants what is best for you—”

“Is that not the throne?” I pressed. “Is it not kingship?”

“Loki… there is more to life than being king.”

“Not for me,” I said angrily.

“Do not let this define you—”

“How can I not?” I hissed. “My entire life I’ve been told…”

I raked a trembling hand through my hair, felt this anger rising within me, and was unable to even finish my sentence. I had not meant to grow angry in front of Mother, not when I had come to apologize, but I simply could not help it.

“Do you think Thor will have an easy time of it?” she demanded, but I saw with a pang the way her eyes shone with tears, heard the way her voice slightly trembled. “You cannot imagine the sacrifices one must make. It changes you, and not in a good way. It twists you, and it can break you. It is such a heavy burden, Loki, and one I would not wish upon either of my sons.”

Mother’s words sobered me and I remained still as she reached up to take my face in her hands. I leaned down and she kissed my forehead and I almost felt like a child again.

“Please never doubt that I love you,” she whispered.

I left her chambers shortly afterwards, feeling even worse than before, but it did not take me long to focus once again on my lost throne. Despite Mother’s attempted consolation, I realized that I would never be content with how things had turned out—it simply was not in my nature. I knew I would always be resentful of the fact that Thor had been so generously given what I saw as rightfully mine.

Why should I pretend as if I was not bothered by it? Obviously there had never been any question as to who should inherit the throne. Thor would be king and I would forever stand unwanted and unappreciated in his shadow, like I had done my entire life.

As long as I was there, though, aggrieved and cursing all that had been denied to me, surely there was something I could do to make it harder for him? It was the least I could do, I thought. I was sure I could find some way to fuck it up for Thor. I had always been so incredibly talented at that, after all.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

Amazingly enough, the king did not punish Loki. Loki told me all about their meeting, and how the Allfather had offered him the crown if he could convince him he would make a better king than Thor. Unfortunately, Loki said, he had not been able to sway his father—had not even been able to speak, which infuriated him—and had been dismissed in disgrace. Afterwards Loki had gone to see his mother to apologize. She had been kind to him, despite his indiscretions against her, and he told me she was most likely the reason the king had refrained from punishing him.

Loki changed after that; I thought the entire ordeal might have further embittered him, but it was quite the opposite. It was as if Loki’s anger simply evaporated overnight—no longer did I come to his chambers and find him sitting contemplatively in front of his fireplace, eyes hard and fingers drumming on the armrest. No longer did he roll his eyes or mutter curses under his breath when I happened to mention Thor or his upcoming coronation, and no longer did he go off on rants bemoaning his ill fortune.

I would have been grateful for his seeming change of heart, but the problem was that I knew Loki better than almost anyone. His sudden complacency aroused more suspicion than anything, and when I questioned him, he always brushed it off and changed the subject. Eventually I stopped asking, and though I remained somewhat dubious, I hoped that somehow Loki had finally accepted his situation.

The weeks passed, the realm prepared, and ultimately it came time for Thor’s coronation.

The morning of, it took me longer to prepare than Loki, which I thought amusing. The queen had recently had new gowns made for all of her handmaidens. They were long, flowy things of gold and red and rather complicated to put on. I had a corset of gold, as well as decorative gold vambraces, and gold ribbon to braid my hair with.

Once I had finally readied myself and finished with my hair, I sought Loki out, who I had not seen for the past half hour. I found him standing out on his balcony, leaning against the stone railing and staring out over the city. His dark green cape fluttered in the warm breeze and his golden helmet shone in the bright sunlight as I walked up behind him.

I could hear bells tolling far below us—even imagined I could hear faraway cheering—and felt a pang of remorse for Loki. Despite his recent lack of outward spite, I knew it must have been difficult for him to endure the merriment when all of it was in honor of his brother.

“Loki.”

He turned around at my voice.

“You look very beautiful, Stjarna,” he observed, reaching to take my hand. When I grinned and looked away, he chuckled. “Everything we’ve done and you still blush when I compliment you?”

When I glanced up in amusement, I noticed Loki’s gaze lingering on my dress.

“It would look better green,” he mumbled, pulling me to him. He turned me around so my back was against his front and wrapped his arms around my middle.

My smile grew, but I did not acknowledge his comment; I turned my head to let my cheek rest against his chest.

“Are you ready?” I inquired.

“I’m going to have to be, aren’t I?”

“Oh,” I laughed. “You’ve been plenty content these past weeks.”

“I suppose so.”

When I looked up at him and raised my eyebrows, he chuckled. “What?”

“It is just… it’s been odd,” I admitted.

“Odd?”

“Yes. You’ve been, for the most part, acting… happy.”

He laughed. “Is that bad?”

I hesitated. “It’s not you.”

“I thought you wanted me to get over it?” he replied, lowering his head to press a kiss to the top of my shoulder.

I did not mention how it had happened so suddenly.

When I remained silent, Loki sighed. “I am fine, Stjarna. I’ve thought about it and I should be happy for Thor.”

I glanced sideways at him. Though I wished for it to be the truth, for some reason I was disinclined to believe him and I said so.

Loki smirked. “I will admit that I believe I would make a better king, but what’s done is done. Thor shall be king.”

I gave a small nod and lowered my head. I lightly ran my fingers over his hands, which were clasped on my lower belly. I thought of his behavior these past weeks, after he had drunkenly exploded at Thor’s party. Even if it was strange, and I was not entirely convinced of his change of heart, I very much appreciated his trying not to be so angry, since he was one of the most—if not the most—acrimonious people I knew.

“I am proud of you, Loki,” I confessed, turning around in his arms and reaching up to put my hands on his shoulders.

“For what?” Loki asked, furrowing his brows.

“For doing this for Thor,” I answered.

Loki smiled, but the smile did not reach his eyes. For a moment it appeared as if he meant to say something, but when he remained silent, I lifted up on my toes to kiss him. I meant to pull away, but grinned when Loki tightened his hold on me and let his hands slide down to my hips. He took a step forward as he deepened the kiss, pushing me back, and my backside hit the stone railing.

“Loki,” I breathed against his lips, and lowering my hands to hold his. “We cannot.”

“Why not?” he murmured, turning his head to kiss my neck. I could feel his breaths coming a little more quickly against my skin and much to my consternation, I could feel that familiar ache beginning between my legs. “My brother will be king by noon, should I not be entitled to a good morning, as well?”

I laughed loudly at that and kissed Loki on the mouth when he raised his head. I pushed up against him and after a moment, let one of my hands descend down until my fingers moved under a bit of leather and I slipped my fingers into the top of his pants, pressing against his warm skin.

“Tonight,” I whispered with a smirk, giving his bottom lip a playful little bite. “Whatever you wish…”

Loki groaned into my mouth, and I could not tell if it was in lust or frustration. I almost suspected the latter, for there was a gigantic banquet planned for after the coronation and we would not see each other again like this until tonight, or perhaps even into the early morning. But then again, I figured Loki might not be able to wait that long and he would drag me into some dark corner or an empty corridor and take me up on my offer. It certainly would not be the first time he had been unable to wait until we were alone in his rooms.

I slipped out of Loki’s embrace and he smirked at me. I wiped a smudge from the gold plating on his front and adjusted a piece of his armor that honestly had looked fine to begin with.

“I love you,” I said, “and I want you to behave.”

Loki rolled his eyes, but returned the smile and reached to take my hand. “Very well, then. Let us go. Thor wanted to see me before it started, anyway.”

“Please be nice to him,” I beseeched as he led me back into his chambers.

Loki glanced at me and cocked an eyebrow as we walked. “What do you think I’m going to do, kill him?”

I cringed as Loki opened his door and pulled me out into the corridor. “Please try not to…”

Loki and I parted ways shortly after—he went to meet with Thor and I went to be with the other handmaidens, who were mostly already gathered for the ceremony.

Since the coronation would play host to so many more Asgardians than were at court, it would not be held in the great hall. Instead, it was in a part of the palace that opened up to the outside and could hold thousands if needed. There were balconies atop great columns reserved for the higher gods and those of the court, including the queen’s handmaidens, and plenty of space below for those of lower standing.

The palace had been decorated that day, as well; great red and gold banners hung from the ceiling and columns, waving majestically in the breeze. The fountains ran red with wine and the thousands of Asgardians that had turned up to witness the crowning of their new king raised their cups high, praising the yet present Prince Thor.

All of this I observed as I sat with the other handmaidens. Though we were higher up, the view was fantastic. Canopies of gold shaded us from the harsh sunlight and servants brought us sweet wine and other refreshments.

Though there was plenty to observe, I was relieved when the ceremony began perhaps an hour later.

The king was the first to arrive, dressed resplendently in armor and bearing his spear Gungnir. The people cheered as he approached the steps that led up to the throne that had been placed here for the coronation. He turned, seated himself, and watched the remaining procession.

Next came Queen Frigga and Loki, and then Thor’s friends, the Warriors Three and Lady Sif. They all took their places on the steps leading up to the throne and stood there, waiting.

Thor came shortly after, bearing his hammer Mjölnir, and the people exploded into almost thunderous cheering. He was laughing and smiling as he made his way towards the throne, obviously relishing the attention, and I glanced at Loki, who from here I could see coolly studying his brother.

When Thor cleared a gauntlet of Einherjar and finally made it to the base of the steps, he set his hammer upon the floor and fell to one knee. After a moment, the king rose to his feet and banged Gungnir once on the floor. The sound seemed to echo across the vast space and a reverent hush fell over the crowd.

The king began speaking, then, of Thor and his hammer and of his own attempt at keeping peace in the Nine Realms in his time as Allfather. It was a pretty speech, but eventually it came time for Thor to pledge himself.

“Do you swear to guard the Nine Realms?” the king asked.

“I swear,” came the answer.

“Do you swear to preserve the peace?”

“I swear.”

“Do you swear to cast aside all selfish ambition and to pledge yourself only to the good of the realm?”

At this, Thor grasped Mjölnir and raised it into the air. “I swear!”

“Then on this day,” the king stated, “I, Odin Allfather, proclaim you…”

But then came an abrupt silence, and after a long moment, a slight murmur could be heard among the people. I stared in confusion at the king, watched as he slowly looked off to the side.

Gullhár, who was seated next to me, leaned over and whispered, “What is going on?”

I did not reply, only shook my head.

Suddenly, the king lifted Gungnir into the air and brought it down with a loud bang. The sound reverberated through the air, and the murmur that had been building in the crowd was abruptly silenced.

The king regarded Thor, who was still kneeling on the ground.

“Thor,” he said, and then he turned his gaze towards his wife and Loki. “Frigga, Loki. Come.”

Immediately the queen and both brothers made their way towards the Allfather. All eyes were fixed on them, and though none could hear their words, all could see the severity of their expressions. Less than a minute later, the princes left together and the queen glanced worriedly at her husband as he took a step forward to address the crowd.

“The coronation is, for the time being, cancelled.”

As soon as he turned to follow his sons off the side of the dais, and the queen trailed behind, there came a great roar from the crowd. It was not necessarily an outburst of anger, but I think confusion more than anything. Eventually, though, they began to disperse.

Up in the balconies, the confusion was just as prevalent as below. Týr, Baldr, and Frey had all left, and many of the others were also leaving. The handmaidens tittered incessantly, wondering as to what could possibly interrupt such an important occasion like a coronation. Some of them left, as well, but Gullhár and I stayed put. After all, where would we go? It was not as if we knew what was going on.

It turned out to be a wise decision, for not even half an hour later, my brother Réttrmund found me. I happened to glance over and saw him lingering by one of the large doorways, donned in the golden armor of the Einherjar. He motioned to me when I spotted him and I quickly excused myself and went towards him.

“Réttrmund, what is going on?” I asked, touching his arm.

He led me away so we could not be heard. “I am glad I found you here. I wanted to tell you that they went to the Weapon’s Vault.”

“The Weapon’s Vault? Why did they go there?”

“Jötnar,” Réttrmund admitted gravely.

I stared at him in confusion. “Jötnar? What about them?”

“They’re here,” he answered.

“What?”

“The frost giants… a small handful of them found some way into Asgard. They killed two guards in the Vault.”

I looked down at my hands. No doubt Réttrmund had known them. I felt ill, thinking that it easily could have been my brother set to watch the Vault today. I could not even begin to imagine if it had been him killed.

“I am sorry…”

“They were avenged,” he uttered. “The frost giants, or the three we know of, were killed. The Allfather is having Heimdall talked to. Nobody knows how they entered the realm.”

“Thank you for telling me,” I whispered. “Is there still any danger?”

“No. We believe they were the only three, but it is best if you kept this to yourself for now,” he advised. “I only wished for you to know since Prince Loki went with them.”

I nodded. “Yes, of course. Thank you.”

“I must go now, sister,” he said, and I watched as he turned and disappeared through one of the open doorways.

I went back over to Gullhár, who inquired as to what Réttrmund had told me.

“They are still trying to figure out what is going on,” I responded. Though I felt bad for not telling my friend the entire truth, I told myself that technically I was not lying to her.

Soon enough, I decided to leave and headed to Loki’s chambers. I changed out of my coronation gown to make myself more comfortable and decided to wait, hoping that Loki came back to his rooms. Luckily, I did not have to wait long.

I had been sitting at his table in the main room, an open book lying before me. I had not really been paying attention to it—had only been pretending to read it while my mind raced with questions concerning the Jötnar—and quickly stood up when the door opened and Loki entered.

“Loki,” I said, and I went towards him and embraced him. “I saw Réttrmund. He told me what happened.”

“What did he say?”

I looked up at him. “He told me that a handful of Jötnar had somehow managed to get into Asgard.”

“Yes, it’s true.”

I shook my head. “How is that possible? How did they get here without Heimdall knowing?”

Loki hesitated. “I know not, but they were attempting to steal the Casket.”

Loki had told me about the Casket of Ancient Winters before. It was both a relic and weapon that belonged to the race of frost giants, but had been taken from them by the Allfather a millennia ago after a war between them and the Aesir.

“They did not capture it, did they?” I breathed. I had heard horrible things about the Casket and felt a slight pang of fear.

“No, but they were close,” Loki explained, and then his voice quietened. “The guards had been killed.”

“Yes, Réttrmund told me,” I whispered, feeling sorrow. “It could have been him killed…”

Loki stared at me for a long moment.

“Yes,” he finally said, and then he pulled away and headed towards his bedchamber.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to see Thor.”

“Did you not see him before?” I queried, following him. I stood in the doorway and watched as he began stripping out of his ceremonial armor.

“Yes, but after Father left us he stormed off. He was stupendously angry.”

“Why?”

Loki snorted in derision. “Thor wanted to turn around and march on Jötunheim.”

My lips parted in surprise. “You mean he wanted war?”

“Yes, but Father rightly put him in his place. He made him look like the idiot he is and Thor didn’t appreciate it.”

I did not say anything else and soon enough, Loki was changed out of his armor and ready to leave.

“When will you return?” I asked, following him to the door.

Loki paused, fingers on the handle, and glanced back at me.

“Soon,” he replied, but there was some hesitance in his voice. I looked at him oddly, and after a moment he came towards me, took my face in his hands, and kissed me on the mouth. When he pulled away and gazed down at me, I felt a pang of uneasiness.

“Loki?” I ventured, touching his wrist. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes. I won’t be long, Stjarna.”

I nodded, still feeling anxious, and watched him leave.

I remained in Loki’s chambers for a long time, but he did not come back. Normally I would not have worried—I would have gone to bed—but for some reason I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong and Loki’s behavior earlier certainly had not helped to alleviate my worry.

When it grew dark outside and Loki still had not come back, the gnawing discomfort in the pit of my stomach became too much and I felt I could not wait any longer. I left Loki’s chambers and inquired of the first servant I saw.

“Excuse me, would you happen to know where Prince Loki is?”

The servant, who was holding a stack of clothing, shifted uneasily on his feet. “Er, both the princes are gone, my Lady.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Gone? What do you mean?”

“Prince Thor, Prince Loki, Lady Sif, and the Warriors Three are gone from Asgard.”

My heart seemed to skip a beat. Where had they possibly gone? Just as I opened my mouth to further question the servant, I heard a shout.

“Stjarna!”

I glanced up and saw Réttrmund coming swiftly down the corridor, his golden cape fluttering out behind him, his armor shining in the torchlight.

The servant scurried away and before my younger brother could even reach me, I said in a panicked voice, “Is Loki gone?”

Réttrmund did not answer until he was upon me, but his voice betrayed the truth. “I came looking for you,” he explained softly. “I was not sure if you knew…”

“Knew what?” I demanded, feeling a stab of terror. “What is going on? Loki is not gone from Asgard, is he?”

Réttrmund hesitated, but finally admitted, “They’ve all gone to Jötunheim.”

My mouth fell open and it was as if my blood turned to ice in my veins. “Jötunheim?”

I almost did not believe it. Why would they have gone there?

“The king is readying himself to go fetch them, we’ve only just found out and I thought you—”

“What? How could nobody have known they left?” I demanded angrily. “How long have they been gone? Why—”

“Sister,” Réttrmund said, attempting unsuccessfully to console me. “I think we ought to—”

“Why did they go?” I cried again, for he had not answered me. I had to know, but he shook his head, thinking perhaps that I was becoming hysterical, and I certainly felt it. My entire body was cold and I felt ill—there was this sick churning in the pit of my stomach, this dread sitting heavy inside me.

“Come,” Réttrmund urged, still not answering me, but leading me the short distance back to Loki’s chambers. He walked me inside and made me sit in one of the chairs before the fireplace. “I will be near the stables, Stjarna. That is where they will go when they come back, alright? I will tell the prince when he returns—”

“But what if he does not return?” I despaired, trying to stand back up. “I cannot just sit here—”

“Yes, you can,” he rejoined firmly, making me sit back down. I stared up at him and his voice softened when he saw my eyes brimming with tears. “The prince is more than capable of defending himself, you know this. They all are. I promise you I will tell him you are waiting for him, but I want you to stay here.”

“Why?”

He only shook his head. “Please believe me that it is better if you remain here.”

I nodded and my lip trembled. He kissed my forehead and I whispered, “Please make him come back as soon as possible.”

He gave me a small smile. “I will try. Promise me you will stay here.”

“I will,” I promised miserably.

As soon as Réttrmund shut the door behind him, I was up on my feet. Within seconds I had crossed Loki’s chambers and was standing in front of his wall of books, my fingers flying over the spines. I quickly found the book I was looking for and began to frantically page through it, only stopping when I came to an illustration.

It was of a frost giant. I felt a surge of fear in studying the page and even began shaking. I paced with the open book in my hands, flipping through it and reading as much as I could. I had read about frost giants before, but up until this point it had not seemed terribly important to retain much of what I had read.

And even as I read of the Jötnar’s hostility, their cruelty and their power, another part of me was trying to think of what had possibly possessed them all to go to Jötunheim. Who had decided and why? Why had they all gone along with it?

I could not keep myself from imagining all that could go wrong and these horrifying scenarios were running through my mind. What if Loki was hurt, or worse, killed? I kept envisioning the king bringing them all back except for Loki, kept seeing his body lying limp and broken on some frozen rock.

I know not how much time passed, but I had several books laid open on Loki’s table, and I was seriously considering leaving his rooms to go down to the stables—to do something other than pace uselessly here and worry myself sick—when the door opened.

I spun around, heart hammering in my chest, praying it was not Réttrmund come to tell me the worst, that my lover had not come back home, but it was he who stepped through the door. I nearly ran to Loki, and I thought I might burst into happy tears or embrace him or kiss him, but I did none of that—I struck him. It was only on the arm, but I hit him hard, and Loki exclaimed.

“You idiot!” I shouted. “You absolute idiot!”

Loki took a step back, obviously shocked, and his back hit the open door.

“What is wrong with you?” I demanded ruefully, feeling tears stinging in my eyes. “Why are you so stupid?”

“Stjarna—”

As soon as he said my name and I heard his voice, the anger dissipated almost instantly. Loki stiffened when I took a step forward, threw my arms around him, and buried my face in his chest. I held him tightly, feeling such anger that he should scare me like this, such relief that he was alive.

When I began softly crying, Loki tentatively put his hand on the back of my head.

“Why did you go?” I nearly choked, tightening my arms around him.

“Stjarna?” he breathed, lowering his head, and another sob welled up in my throat.

“Why did you go to Jötunheim?” I managed to say. “I was so afraid…”

“You were?”

“You could have died,” I cried, my voice hitching.

Loki did not say anything for a long while, but finally whispered, “But I did not die.”

“But you could have,” I stressed tearfully, and he appeared remorseful. “I was so scared, Loki. Please, please do not ever do anything like that again…”

Loki’s face fell at the desperation in my shaky voice. My lips were trembling, my cheeks were wet, and I was trying my hardest not to burst into violent sobs, but I could barely hold it back. I looked down, felt a tear roll down my cheek, and then another, and I quickly wiped them away. It was only then when I noticed his torn sleeve, which exposed his entire forearm. I felt a surge of panic and took his arm and gently ran my fingers over his pale skin, searching for any wound.

“Are you hurt anywhere?” I mumbled, my voice still quivering.

“No,” he answered in a murmur, and he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close. I let go of his arm, held onto him, and he kissed the top of my head. “I am sorry, Stjarna.”

I did not respond. I feared if I opened my mouth I might burst into fresh tears. When Loki relaxed his embrace, I took his arm into my hands again.

“How did this happen?” I asked softly.

“I fought,” he replied, just as quietly, and my eyes flickered up to meet his.

“You fought?”

“Yes, and we would be dead if it was not for Father.”

I slowly closed my eyes. I did not even want to know. I leaned into him and breathed, “I am so glad you are alright…”

Loki was silent for a long time. And then, “Thor is banished.”

I pulled away from him, aghast. “What? What do you mean?”

“Father exiled him not even half an hour ago,” Loki replied, his voice devoid of all emotion. “He took Mjölnir from him and cast him out of Asgard.”

My mouth fell open. “Why? For how long?”

“Because he nearly incited a new war between Asgard and Jötunheim. I know not for how long…”

My eyes drifted down. I knew not what I could possibly say. The thought that Thor, who just this morning had been about to be crowned, was cast out of the realm in disgrace, was nearly unthinkable. Though Loki and Thor often butted heads, I knew Loki loved Thor and was not sure how I should comfort him for this.

Before I could speak, however, Loki said, “I must go.”

I looked up at him, almost in a panic. “What?”

“Fandral was badly hurt,” he explained. “I must go see him.”

I gave a small nod, but wondered why Loki was expressing worry for Fandral. Never before had he been concerned for the wellbeing of Thor’s friends. He had always called them idiots, or worse.

“What happened?”

“He was attacked by a Jötun, but I saved him. Volstagg was burned, as well. They’ve both been taken to Eir. I only came here to tell you I was alright. Réttrmund told me you were here…”

I nodded again and glanced down. “Will you come back as soon as you are done?”

“Yes, darling.” Loki lifted my face up, kissed me on the lips, and I embraced him. Though I felt sorrow for Thor’s banishment, and that the others had been hurt, my main selfish emotion was relief that Loki was alive and unhurt. All I wanted right now was for us to lie in his bed and for us to hold each other.

Soon after Loki left, I decided to lie down. I lay awake for the longest time, staring up at the ceiling, at the wall, and into the fireplace. But when Loki did not come, and my eyes grew too heavy, I finally fell asleep.

I awoke the next morning in an empty bed, and later learned that the king had fallen into one of his sleeps.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

Loki was not in the bed with me upon waking the next morning. I lay there for a long time, staring at the wall and wondering dejectedly where he could be, remembering how he had told me he would come to bed after checking on Thor’s friends. Figuring that something must have happened, I dragged myself out of bed, pulled on a robe, and went into Loki’s main room—and stopped short in the doorway.

Loki was seated at the table, still wearing the same clothes from last night. His head was bent over, fingers tangled in his mussed hair.

“Loki?” I breathed.

Loki flinched at my voice, as if I had startled him, and slowly raised his head to gaze at me. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, as if he had not slept the whole night, and he appeared absolutely exhausted. I went immediately to him, feeling apprehension, and placed my hand on his cheek.

“Loki, what is it?” I asked worriedly, going to put my arm around his shoulders. He did not respond, but inclined his head to rest against me. He closed his eyes as I lightly stroked his hair. “When did you get back?”

“Last night,” he answered in a murmur.

I sighed. He had been sitting here since last night? Why had he not come to bed?

“What is the matter?”

No answer.

“Is it Thor?” I ventured, feeling sorrow at the thought of Thor stranded somewhere on Midgard.

Loki shook his head and admitted, “It is Fa… Odin.”

“What happened?”

“He’s fallen into the Odinsleep.”

I hesitated. I did not see why Loki was so distraught, considering that the king’s regenerative sleeps were periodic and usually nothing to be concerned about.

“It is my fault,” Loki added in a whisper.

“What do you mean?”

But he only shook his head.

“I will stay with you today,” I said, attempting to console him. “You need to eat and then we can—”

“No,” Loki interrupted, pulling away from me. “I must go see Frigga. She stayed with him after I left.”

“Are you sure?” I asked worriedly as he pushed the chair back and stood up.

“Yes,” he snapped, and I bit my lip. Loki shakily ran his fingers through his hair and immediately went to leave. I flinched when he slammed the door behind him.

Feeling nervous, I quickly readied for the day and left. Since Queen Frigga was by her husband’s side and not likely to leave anytime soon if what Loki had said was true, her handmaidens were free to do as they wished and so I sought out Gullhár. I was anxious and wished to speak with somebody.

Once I found Gullhár, we walked through the palace and around the grounds and spoke of the Allfather and Thor and all that had happened within the last couple of days. Apparently there was concern over the Allfather, for his sleep had been unexpected and had never before happened in such an uncertain time, with the crown prince banished halfway across the universe.

“Do you know how long Prince Thor shall be gone?” Gullhár inquired as we turned onto a long, empty corridor.

“Loki said even he did not know.”

“Surely the king did not cast him out forever?”

“I know not, Loki will hardly speak to me of it,” I admitted reluctantly.

“Well, that is not unusual, is it?”

“No…” I trailed off. Though Loki and I had been lovers for so long, he was still very much a private person. It was not as if I did not know that, or respect it, but it was still difficult for me to believe that he would cut himself off from me like this when he was so obviously troubled. I almost felt helpless, but could seemingly do nothing about it.

“I tried to speak with him this morning,” I explained. “He said he had caused the king’s sleep, but refused to indulge more.”

“How was he?”

“He was acting strangely.”

“Surely it is because of his brother and father?” Gullhár speculated.

I shook my head, not knowing how to answer. For some odd and nagging reason, I was not quite sure that Thor’s banishment or his father’s sleep was entirely the cause for Loki’s abnormal behavior. I continued to mull it over and Gullhár and I walked for a while longer, and it was early afternoon when we were approached by a red-haired messenger in one of the palace courtyards.

We stopped and he bowed to us. “Lady Gullhár, Lady Stjarnavetr.”

Gullhár smiled kindly at him as he rose.

“I have a summons for the Lady Stjarnavetr,” he announced.

“Does the queen wish to see me?” I asked curiously.

“No, His Majesty King Loki wishes to see you in the throne room—”

“King Loki?” I sputtered, and even Gullhár made a sound of surprise.

“Yes,” the messenger replied, electing to ignore my reaction.

I stared at him and then glanced over at Gullhár, who appeared just as puzzled as me, and then back at the messenger. Suddenly, I realized.

“The Allfather is dead?” I cried.

The messenger balked. “No! The Allfather lives!”

“Then I do not understand,” I mumbled, beyond confused. “Why have we not yet heard?”

“It only happened this morning, my Lady,” he explained. “While the Allfather sleeps, the queen has bestowed to Prince Loki the throne. He is, for the time being, king of all Asgard.”

My mouth fell open and I stared at him foolishly.

“He wishes to see you,” the messenger repeated when I remained silent.

“Er, yes, of course… Gullhár, would you excuse me…”

I followed the messenger to the throne room, walking the entire time as if in a daze. I could not fathom it. Loki had spoken before of his becoming king and I had entertained the idea almost with an air of amusement, thinking it might never actually happen, but it had—Loki was king, he was king of Asgard…

Once we reached Gladsheim and the doors were opened, the messenger stopped before me.

“Your Majesty, Lady Stjarnavetr,” he declared.

He promptly turned and left, and I stood there staring dumbly at the throne at the end of the hall, where there sat Loki. He physically looked no different than usual—clad in his resplendent ceremonial armor and golden helmet—and he sat serenely and I daresay comfortably on the throne, and in one hand gripped Gungnir, the Allfather’s spear.

I began walking towards him and noticed that there were no courtiers here—only two guards near the throne and by the doors. When I finally came to the base of the steps leading up to the throne, I stopped and looked up. Loki wore a pleased little grin on his face, which I thought odd considering his brother was left shunned and forsaken halfway across the universe, his father lay unexpectedly in the Odinsleep, and his mother was worried sick.

When Loki rose to his feet, I lowered my head, unsure as to bow or not. I decided it was the best thing to do, considering he was technically king now, and slowly bowed. I heard him coming down the steps and did not rise even when I saw his boots in front of me.

“Stjarna,” he said, and I lifted my head. He was smiling. “You need not bow to me.”

I straightened up and saw that Loki had left Gungnir on the dais, next to the throne and standing alone by some magic.

“Loki,” I whispered timidly. Though it was Loki standing in front of me, my Loki that I knew so well, suddenly he seemed changed. “You are king?”

His smile widened. “Yes. Frigga made it official this morning. The throne is mine.”

“But only until your father awakens?” I asked quietly, for some reason hesitant to speak any louder.

Loki’s smile fell. “Yes, but that could be a while. Frigga knows not when he shall awaken, if he ever shall.”

I stared at him. Usually the king’s sleeps lasted anywhere from one day to a week, but never before had it been to where he might never again awaken.

“You seem terribly happy about it,” I ventured, feeling this dread in my stomach.

“And you do not,” Loki answered pointedly.

Taken aback, I replied, “Loki, this is not… normal.”

“So you are not happy for me?”

“That is not what I meant,” I countered. “It is just that your brother is on Midgard and—”

“Yes,” Loki interrupted, sounding annoyed. “I am well aware of his location.”

My lips parted in surprise, and finally I murmured, “I do not understand, Loki…”

He sounded exasperated. “What is it that you do not understand?”

“You seemed so upset earlier, and now it is as if nothing is wrong and—”

“Everything is fine, Stjarna.”

I shook my head. “What about your mother? Is she alright? I’ve not seen her…”

“She is fine,” Loki answered waspishly.

“Did you see her this morning?”

“Yes.”

“What did you talk about?”

“Odin,” Loki replied stiffly.

I glanced down. Obviously Loki did not wish to speak of it; he had only called me here to flaunt his new title. I figured there would be time later when he would not be so averse to discussing his parents or brother, and so would wait until then. For now, I would humor him. I could only imagine how this was already going to his head.

I glanced back up at him, took his hand in mine, and managed to smile.

“You certainly look the part, Loki,” I observed, knowing he would like to hear that.

Loki’s expression softened and he flashed me that cocky, half-smile of his. I was not lying, though—Loki seemed every part a king. Clad in his shining ceremonial armor, and with the throne and Gungnir standing proudly behind him, Loki’s commanding appearance certainly demanded respect.

I lifted my face so Loki could kiss me, and just as his hand descended down to my buttocks, a voice cut through the silence.

“Your Majesty?”

I quickly detached myself from Loki and turned around, feeling embarrassment. The messenger who had fetched me earlier was standing in the door at the end of the hall.

“Your Majesty, Týr requests an audience with you.”

“Tell him he can wait,” Loki snapped, obviously irritated at having been interrupted with me.

“No, no,” I said, turning to face Loki. “It is alright, I will go. Surely there is a more important matter to be heard.”

Loki scoffed and rolled his eyes. “From Týr? I doubt it.”

Before I could do anything, Loki reached out, took me around the waist, and pulled me close. He kissed my cheek and growled, “I would much rather you give me an audience…”

I stifled a laugh as he kissed me on the mouth, heartened that for the moment he seemed in a better mood. I managed to disentangle myself and take a step back.

“I will see you tonight, Loki,” I smirked, turning to leave before he could try anything else.

__

After dinner that night, I made my way to Loki’s chambers.

Dinner had been almost uncomfortable. Loki had been seated up at the high table in his father’s place and it had been an odd thing to see—him sitting there alone without his brother, father, or mother. I could not have known the talk at the high table, but certainly could recall the hushed and somewhat concerned gossiping at my own table.

Nothing derogatory had been said about Loki, for all knew that I was his lover, but that did not stop the other women from tittering in their usual fashion. Mostly they were shocked, and some were so bold as to admit that their husbands or fathers were disconcerted and displeased with Loki’s sudden ascension.

I was anxious to see Loki that night and when I finally arrived at his chambers, I was surprised to see two Einherjar standing outside his door. I faltered before them, but they allowed me to pass without even a word. I wondered if it was because Loki had told them to allow me in tonight, or if they knew who I was to Loki and assumed he would wish me to enter anyway.

I found Loki sitting before the fireplace in his main room, still donned in his ceremonial armor. His legs were spread wide, fingers contemplatively stroking his lips. I glanced over, saw his helmet sitting on the table, and then Gungnir standing beside it.

Slowly I walked up to the spear and tilted my head to study it. I had never before been so close to it and felt a little thrill.

“May I touch it?” I inquired.

Loki did not move, but only made a sound of approval.

I reached out and gently ran my hand over the metal, which was warm to the touch. I imagined I could feel the magic of it on my fingertips, perhaps my own magic reacting with it. Gungnir was a truly powerful weapon, a spear forged by the dwarves of Nidavellir and given to the Allfather as a gift millennia ago. Its aim was perfect, its power great, and its name eminent.

“It is so beautiful,” I quietly observed, but Loki did not respond. I turned around, walked up to his chair, and he looked up at me. I lightly touched his arm, feeling concern. “You are troubled, Loki.”

“I am thinking,” he replied absently.

I wondered if something had happened after I left him in the throne room earlier today, but then remembered how agitated he had been this morning. Something had happened yesterday—something I believed, for some reason, did not have to do with Thor’s exile or his father’s sleep—that had shaken him, but he would not tell me. It worried me because in all the time I had known him, hardly anything had unsettled Loki, and his constantly shifting moods made it no easier.

I moved around to his front, slowly dropped to my knees, and leaned forward between his legs. I folded my arms on his lap and gazed up at him.

“Would you tell me?” I asked softly.

Loki regarded me with those woeful green eyes, and his expression was hesitant—pained, almost. After a long moment, he shook his head. “It is to do with the realm, Stjarna. Nothing of importance.”

My heart fell. I did not believe him, but gave a small nod. If Loki did not wish to speak of it, I would not push him.

“So what did they say of me?” Loki inquired, and I glanced up at him.

“Who?”

“The women. Tonight. What did they say about me?”

I faltered. “They expressed surprise at your sudden ascension.”

Loki cocked an eyebrow. “Is that all?”

I nodded and Loki chuckled, but there was no humor in his laugh. “I suspect they would not have revealed their true thoughts while you sat there.”

“Why? What was it like at the high table?”

“It was quiet.”

I looked down, feeling sorry for Loki. Finally, I said, “Well, the queen thought you worthy enough, and she is one of the wisest women I know. It matters not what the others think.”

“Does it not?” Loki murmured, letting his eyes drift over to the fire.

I shook my head. “No.”

But Loki did not reply, and I did not like that look on him, and so resolved to do something to cheer him, if only for a little while. I put my hand on his abdomen and lightly ran my fingers over his gold armor.

“You have not asked me yet,” I stated.

“Asked you what?” he questioned, almost uninterestedly.

“How it feels to be lover to a king.”

At that, Loki’s eyes flickered to mine. The corner of his lips twitched.

“Then allow me to ask,” he replied softly, much to my delight playing along. “How does it feel, Stjarna, to be lover to a king?”

“I would not know,” I smirked, “for I have never made love to a king.”

Loki furrowed his brows at my response and I lowered my head and continued to languidly trace the curving outlines of his armor with my fingers, eventually letting them drift close to the spot between his legs.

“I have only ever made love to a prince, you see,” I whispered, and when I lifted my eyes, I saw that Loki was staring at me, lips curled up into that small, knowing smile. I placed both hands on the chair on either side of him and lifted up to kiss him on the mouth. “You were not yet a king when last I had you.”

I slowly turned my head and pressed against him. Loki spread his legs a little wider, put his hands on my upper arms, and lifted his head as I kissed his neck and below his jaw. When I pulled away, he was smiling, much to my relief, and had his fingers now twined absently in my hair.

“And how would you pleasure your king?” Loki inquired, and I could hear the barely disguised desire brimming in his voice.

I tilted my head, as if thinking. “What would my king have me do?”

Loki shifted slightly in the chair and I could feel his arousal against my stomach. His fingers slipped out of my hair and he ran his thumb over my cheek, and then my lips, and I opened my mouth and caught his thumb deftly between my teeth. I grabbed his wrist and held his gaze as I gently sucked on his thumb, swirling my tongue around the tip.

The change in him was immediate; I could practically see his eyes darken with lust. Loki suddenly drew his hand away, leaned forward in the chair, took my head in his hands, and kissed me openmouthed. I responded vehemently and thrust my tongue into his mouth.

One of Loki’s hands found its way to the laces at the top of my back beneath my hair, but before he could begin yanking at them, I broke the kiss and rose up off my knees. Loki went to stand up, but I stopped him and pushed him back.

“No,” I said breathlessly. “Stay.”

Loki watched me, lips parted and breaths coming heavily.

I took my shoes off first, and then lifted my arms behind me to begin unlacing my dress. Loki’s eyes drifted down to my breasts and then back up to my face, and I fought a grin. Once my dress was loose, I grabbed two fistfuls of it and lifted it and my shift up.

Loki followed the dress as it rose, gradually revealing my naked body to him. Once it was over my head, I let the dress and shift fall to the side and stood there in naught but my sheer stockings. Loki’s gaze unhurriedly roved over my bare body, first over my breasts and then down to the spot between my legs.

After a long moment, Loki reached out and took my hand. He pulled me towards him and sat up as I came to stand between his legs. He wrapped one arm around my waist and put his other hand on my back and leaned forward to kiss my skin. I combed my fingers through his hair and closed my eyes as he kissed me, first the space between my breasts and then over to take my nipple into his warm mouth.

I sighed and held Loki closer, squeezing my legs together when I discerned the wetness now pooling there. Though I absolutely loved the feel of Loki’s mouth on me, and his teeth scraping against my sensitive skin, I tightened my fingers in his hair and tugged his head back when he moved to switch breasts. I wanted to make this about him more than me, and so far he was complicating things.

As I lowered my head to kiss Loki, I lifted one leg and moved to straddle him. It was easy, for it was a wide, cushioned chair. I moved Loki’s hands to my hips and pushed my tongue past his teeth to explore his mouth. I softly rolled my hips against Loki’s still-clothed lower half, and he let out a groan into my mouth and his nails bit deliciously into my skin.

I guided Loki’s hands up my body until they covered my breasts and pressed my forehead against his as he cupped them. As he touched me, I broke the kiss and turned my head to begin kissing his neck. I could feel how hard he already was, could feel him hard against my aching center, and I smiled to myself as I licked and sucked at his skin.

Finally, I leaned back and Loki’s large hands strayed once again to my hips. I began taking his armor off, piece by piece, and took my time with it; occasionally Loki would lean forward to kiss me and I would let him, and I took great pleasure in the way he would subtly lift his hips or pull my bottom half tighter against him. Every time he did so, the throbbing between my legs would intensify, but I wished to please him before myself and so attempted to ignore the feeling.

Once Loki’s top half was fully divested of armor, and he sitting beneath me in only his leather pants and boots, I kissed him on the mouth and ran my fingers through his hair. I leaned against him, pressed my breasts against his chest, and slowly ran my tongue over his parted lips.

“Stjarna,” he breathed, and I moved to kiss his cheek.

“I know,” I whispered. I knew exactly what he wanted, knew exactly what to do to best please him.

I gently prized Loki’s fingers from my thighs and slid off of him and back onto the floor. I knelt between his spread legs and he straightened up in the chair to gaze down at me. My smile widened, seeing him spread out so, hair mussed and eyes glazed over with desire for me.

I looked down and began to unbuckle Loki’s boots. I slipped them off, set them to the side, and went to work on his pants. Once the laces were undone, I pulled them open and leaned down to kiss the pale skin it revealed. I indolently circled his navel with my tongue, feeling the muscles beneath his skin quiver and tighten, and then affectionately kissed down the little trail of dark hair that led into his pants.

When I hooked my hands into the sides of his pants and tugged at them, Loki wordlessly lifted up so I could take them off. I pulled them down over his slender hips, exposing his state of arousal, and tossed his pants to the side and took him in, laid out so invitingly for me. I leaned forward and kissed the inside of Loki’s leg, leaving a little winding path of kisses up to his inner thigh. I liked teasing just as much as he did, and I made sure not to accidentally touch or brush against him as I kissed his skin.

Loki rested one hand on the side of my head and gently tangled his fingers in my hair. By now he was clearly ready—and I daresay desperate for me to do something—but still I only kissed and touched him. I scraped my nails over his skin, causing it to dot in gooseflesh, and nipped and sucked at a spot on the front of his hip.

Finally—and only when Loki let out a harried breath—did I take mercy on him. I glanced up at him and smiled before lowering my head. I stuck my tongue out and slowly licked the tip of him, tasting the little bit of moisture that had collected there during my teasing. Loki’s body tensed beneath me, and his sharp intake of breath pleased me.

I wrapped my fingers around Loki, and he relaxed into the chair. I turned my head to kiss him and ran the flat of my tongue deliberately along the underside of him, letting the tip of it press firmly against that sensitive spot below his head. Loki growled something indiscernible and put his other hand on my head and curled his fingers even more tightly in my hair, urging me closer.

I opened my mouth and wrapped my lips around Loki’s tip, him in deeper and caressed him with my tongue inside. I began bobbing my head, reveling in his short gasps and groans and my name paired with the occasional obscenity. I watched him as I pleasured him, saw his head tilted back against the chair, saw his eyes closed and mouth hanging open. Gods, how I loved making Loki come undone like this, loved hearing these sounds pouring out of him and evincing his state of pleasure.

After a moment, I felt Loki lightly pushing on my head and I moved my hand away and relaxed, allowing him to guide me. He was tugging on my hair, urging me backwards, and then would pull me closer and him deeper into my mouth. I reached between his legs with my other hand and cupped him, began to softly knead and rub him in that way that made his body go taut.

Loki groaned loudly—more loudly than he had probably intended—because I was sure the two guards standing outside had heard him. But Loki was not the type to care one way or the other, because he groaned again when I pressed my fingers up against him. He twisted his fingers in my hair, and his grip was painfully tight now, and I winced when he lifted his hips, pushing even deeper into my mouth until he hit the back of my throat.

“Fuck, Stjarna…” he gasped, and I drew my head back, needing to breathe. Loki barely gave me time to get air, and within seconds was desperately pulling me back onto him. I took him back into my mouth, slick with my saliva, and began bobbing my head again, sucking hard. Loki cursed again, and I glanced up as I moved on him and gleaned such satisfaction from the expression on his face, that euphoric visage.

It was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the empty aching between my legs. I was beyond wet by now and I squeezed my thighs together, but it did little to help alleviate the want. It was then when I accidentally scraped my teeth against Loki, causing him to tense up and his breath to hitch.

Loki gasped my name, and just by his voice I could tell how close he was; I resumed sucking, continued touching him between his legs. I took my other hand and once again wrapped my fingers around the part of him not in my mouth and began moving them up and down. He opened his eyes and looked down at me, and not moments later he came.

He squeezed his eyes shut and threw his head back, mouth open and breaths having all but ceased. I stopped moving my hands and kept gently sucking until Loki had spent himself, keeping him in my mouth until I had swallowed everything he had given.

Once I was finished, and Loki panting and slumped in the chair, I slowly pulled my head back, letting the flat of my tongue smoothly caress him until he was out. Loki expulsed a tremendously heavy breath and eased his grip on my hair, releasing me. His eyes were still closed, mouth still hanging open, and he was breathing hard, attempting to catch his breath.

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand—a little of his seed had run down my chin—before leaning forward to kiss Loki’s stomach. I lightly rubbed my nose against his damp skin, could feel each shallow breath of his on my lips. Loki put his hands on my head again, which was sore from all of his pulling, and I winced. Loki only fondly stroked my hair though, as if he was petting me, and I looked up. He was gazing down at me, breaths coming slower, and his gaze was filled with such desire and tenderness and appreciation and I felt this warmth swelling in my chest.

“What else would my king have me do?” I whispered with a lascivious little grin.

Instead of answering, Loki sat up and slid out of the chair, right onto his knees in front of me. He leaned forward, took my face between his hands, kissed me on the forehead, and then my eyelids and nose and finally my lips before taking me around the waist and pushing me back. I held onto him as he lowered me down, until I lay supine on his thick fur rug, and the fire crackled only feet away. I eagerly opened my legs and Loki settled between them.

“It is my queen’s turn to be pleasured,” Loki murmured, lowering his head to kiss the side of my neck.

I let out a little laugh and turned my head so my lips brushed against him. “Am I your queen, Loki?”

He did not reply—only smiled—as he moved to kiss me on the mouth, and I lifted up to return the kiss. I knotted my fingers in his hair, delighting in the feel of his lean body lying on top of mine. While we kissed, Loki reached up to cup my breast. He ran his thumb over my hardened nipple, sending these rivulets of pleasure through my body and straight to the spot between my legs.

Loki kissed and touched me for a while, building in me this fervent want, and causing me to squirm beneath him in anticipation, before finally moving his hand down. He broke the kiss and lifted up as he ran his fingers down my front, over the gentle curve of my belly, until he reached the curls at the top of my legs. Loki languidly dragged his fingers through my folds, discerning the slickness there, and I gasped and squeezed my legs on his hand.

Loki watched me as he touched me, and I him. He teased me as I had done him before, caressing the inside of my thighs, only letting his fingers lightly brush over my aching sex to feel the evidence of my desire—just enough to tantalize and torment, but not enough to satisfy. Fairly soon I was lifting my hips into his touch, imploring him to do something more, and finally he acquiesced to my silent plea.

My breath caught in my throat when Loki slowly and easily slid his middle finger into me. I sighed and closed my eyes, bit my lip and tilted my head back as he leaned down to kiss the front of my throat. I put one hand on Loki’s arm and the other on the side of his head, and then moaned when he slipped his third finger into me and cupped me. He ground the heel of his hand against the swollen bud at the top of my sex quite deliberately, causing me to twist and gasp his name.

Fighting back a smirk, Loki began moving his fingers in and out of me, maintaining a deliciously languorous rhythm. I arched my back, curled my toes, and smiled to myself as he moved his fingers so wonderfully inside me. I began panting, for it was a slow, pleasurable build, and I could feel the beginnings of my release gradually coiling tighter and tighter in my lower half, edging me ever closer to that precipice.

I whimpered when Loki curled his fingers inside me, sending a bolt of pleasure through my body. My mouth fell open and Loki moved to kiss my parted lips, and I attempted to kiss him back, but did not do a very good job for how unfocused I was. All I could concentrate on was his fingers moving inside me, his body pressed so close, his lips and breath warm on my skin. He smiled against me, and I thought surely my litany of moans was like music to his ears.

Loki’s pace increased and I dug my nails into his skin and moved to grab a fistful of his lanky hair. I was gasping his name in between my moans and pants, feeling myself rising towards it, begging him not to stop, just a little more, just a little more…

“Come for me, Stjarna,” he murmured luridly into my ear, and as if by merely the sound of his voice, moments later the tight coiling in the pit of my stomach came undone.

I cried out, lifted up off the floor, and fell back down and arched my back, muscles rigid. I once again squeezed my legs on Loki’s hand, let my mouth fall open as these warm pulses reverberated throughout my entire body, setting my nerves alight and flooding my mind. Loki was kissing me, kissing my neck and under my jaw and my cheek and lips, but he never stopped moving his hand and I could feel my insides contracting blissfully around his fingers as I crested on these unremitting waves of pleasure.

Just as I began to float down from my high, Loki curled his fingers inside me, began moving them again, rubbing the heel of his hand against my nub, and seconds later I was coming again. I made a sound like a low whine and gripped Loki’s body tighter to mine, felt my legs trembling. It was too much and I cried his name out, needing him to stop but not really wanting it, and another round washed through me, filling every part of me, and I made a sound like a sob and arched even harder off the floor.

When I fell back onto the rug, breaths coming in rapid little pants, body slick with sweat, heart pounding in my chest, Loki lovingly kissed my parted lips. He let me come down slowly from my high, allowed the tremors in my lower half to fade, and I was still gasping for air, still clutching at him as he moved to settle on top of me, supporting himself on his forearms.

“Loki,” I breathed shakily.

“Yes, darling?” he murmured, brushing his lips against mine.

I smiled and kissed him, felt this happiness welling up inside me and spreading through me like a warm cloud. I held onto Loki for a long while, could feel his heartbeat so strong and steady against my own. When Loki lifted his head to look down at me, I put my hand on his cheek and stared into his eyes, which despite this past half hour, still betrayed to me some sense of distraction. I tenderly brushed my thumb over his lips, remembering earlier how perturbed he had seemed.

“Loki…” I whispered, wishing suddenly to ask, wanting to help alleviate whatever it was that was troubling him, for obviously I had yet failed to do so. “Something is wrong.”

Loki’s expression hardly changed, though I could sense he did not wish to discuss it.

“It is nothing, Stjarna.”

“Do not lie to me,” I said, and he seemed surprised at my words. I moved the hair back from his face and reassuringly stroked his temple. “I can tell it is not nothing. Will you not tell me?”

Loki observed me for a long moment, and his lips parted, and his brows furrowed slightly, and I knew he was internally debating with himself, and I hoped desperately that he would open up to me, but then to my disappointment I could practically hear him decide against it—he closed his mouth and turned his head and began to rise up to get off of me.

I almost frantically grabbed Loki’s arms and pulled him back down. I kissed him hard on the mouth and was sure he could feel the desperation in my kiss. I reached between our bodies and took him in my hand, feeling him half-aroused. He groaned into my mouth and I could feel the resistance in his body nearly immediately melt away. He pushed his hips forward and I began stroking him between us, occasionally squeezing my fingers and eliciting from him the intermittent sigh or groan. I slipped my tongue into Loki’s mouth as I touched him and he fervidly responded, and in that moment it seemed my words not even a minute before had been forgotten, or at least ignored.

Within a minute or so, Loki was ready. I guided him to my entrance and sighed hard when he easily slid into me. I kept my eyes trained on his, mouth falling open at the sensation of him filling me and all thoughts from before gone from my head. Though I loved it when Loki touched me—when he used his clever fingers to make me see stars—there was nothing more intimate or more pleasurable than this—when we were one, and could not be any closer.

Loki began rocking his hips against me, and I wrapped my legs around his slim waist and locked my ankles over his backside. I arched under him and raised my arms above my head, grabbing two fistfuls of the fur rug beneath me. I closed my eyes, losing myself in every sweet sensation, feeling his chest against my breasts, his taut abdomen against my belly, his breath warm and sporadic on my face.

He moved in me leisurely; the only sounds to be heard was the lethargic crackling of the fire, our heavy breaths and soft moans mingling in the warm air, and the quiet, sensual sliding of our bodies. His slow, deep rhythm was stoking the fire inside me to a deliciously unbearable high, and I was breathing his name so lovingly, so desperately.

But then Loki eventually stopped moving and I opened my eyes, wondering why he had stopped.

“Loki?” I breathed, moving to splay my hands on his back, which was slick with perspiration.

Instead of replying, Loki reached down, took me by the hip, and rolled us over. I caught myself with both hands on either side of him, knees digging into the rug beneath him. I stared down at him, breaths coming heavily, and tilted my head. Loki placed his hands on my hips and I put one of my hands on his chest.

After a moment, I grinned to myself and looked down. I lazily traced his collarbones, and then the planes of his chest. Down farther to explore the lines of his abdominal muscles, over his flat stomach, and I stopped where our bodies were joined; dark against light, hard against soft. My eyes flickered up to meet his, which were focused on mine and such a beautiful lucid green in the firelight.

Loki gently took my arm and pulled me down to him. He cupped my face in his hands, kissed me, and moved to thread his long fingers in my hair.

“Ride me, Stjarna,” he murmured against my lips, and then kissed me again.

Wordlessly, I sat up. Loki’s hands fell to my thighs, and I languidly circled my hips and smiled when Loki’s breath hitched. I leaned back, rested my hands on top of Loki’s upper legs, and lifted up before dropping back down. Loki groaned and closed his eyes as I began to ride him, pushing my hips up and forward, feeling this delicious friction inside, hearing our bodies coming together over and over in the silence. I savored Loki’s visage of ecstasy, loved each curse and breathy groan that escaped his lips, encouraging my movements.

After a while, desiring a change in position, I leaned forward, positioned my hands on either side of Loki, and began moving back and forth on top of him. My hair, hot on my back and damp with sweat, tumbled over my shoulders, and Loki opened his eyes and we held each other’s gaze as I moved on top of him. Nearly every time I moved, the bud at the top of my sex would brush against Loki’s skin and send a rivulet of pleasure through my body, which gradually inched me closer and closer to my end.

But instead of moving faster or harder, I slackened my pace. Loki dug his nails even deeper into my skin, but the pain only accentuated the heat building in my lower half. He began lifting his hips to meet me every time I came down on him, and started to pant, signaling that his end was likewise near.

Suddenly, Loki breathlessly said my name and sat up and wrapped one arm around my waist, pulling my front flush against him and momentarily halting my movements. I took it in stride and pressed a lusty, openmouthed kiss to his lips, hovering so precariously on the edge of euphoria. At my body’s urging I ground my hips against him, seeking any friction to push me over the brink. I wrapped one arm around the back of Loki’s neck and deepened the kiss, nearly bruising in its intensity.

I gasped his name, circled my hips again, and we came at the same time.

Loki groaned into my mouth and strengthened his grip on me. I stopped moving on top of him; the fingers of one hand were digging into his back, the others tangled in his hair. I closed my eyes, whimpered, and squeezed my legs tightly on either side of him as this pleasure surged through my body, engulfing and drowning all of my senses. I tried involuntarily to lift up on my knees, but Loki held me down as he spilled himself deep inside me.

When the waves had finally subsided, leaving behind only a thrumming warmth, I let my head fall to the side onto Loki’s shoulder. My breaths came heavily against Loki’s skin, and we held one another, panting hard into each other’s shoulders, teetering on the edge of this mutual and muddled lethargy. I lovingly kissed his skin, could taste the salt of his sweat upon my lips, and sighed heavily.

Loki shuddered and slowly fell backwards, bringing me with him. I lay on top of him while he languidly ran his fingers over my back, down and spine and up again. After a while, when we had collected ourselves, Loki rolled us onto our sides and slipped out of me. We put our arms beneath our heads and Loki draped his other arm over my middle and drew me to him.

I relaxed into Loki’s comforting embrace, feeling the soft fur beneath me and the heat from the fire warm on my flushed skin. I lightly splayed one hand on his chest and idly played with the sparse hair there. I loved his body against me like this, loved his heady male scent—his sweat and heat and skin. There was little else I preferred than being enfolded in his arms like this, feeling his heartbeat so powerful and constant against mine.

I once again considered asking Loki what had been troubling him earlier, but then quickly decided against it. I would not bring it up again and thought it best I let it go—at least for tonight. Besides, sleep was already creeping in and so I remained silent.

“Thank you,” Loki murmured after a while, going to curl a lock of my hair around his finger.

I did not reply, but only smiled and yawned.

And then, “Stjarna?”

I was already on the verge of sleep. “Hmm?”

“What do you know of the Jötnar?”

I creased my brows, but kept my eyes closed, and thought it odd that Loki should bring such a thing up now. “The giants?”

“Yes, the frost giants.”

I thought back to yesterday when Loki and the others had gone to Jötunheim, remembered all of my frantic pacing and worrying.

“I have read of them,” I said.

Loki was quiet for a long while. “What do you think of them?”

I recalled the things I had read of them, and then daunting tales I had heard regarding their cruelty and savagery. I believe I also felt further resentment towards their kind because I imagined I had almost lost Loki to them the day before.

“They are vicious brutes,” I answered, unable to keep an edge of bitterness out of my voice. “No better than animals.”

Loki did not reply—only tightened his arm around me.

“Why?” I whispered.

“No reason,” he murmured, so softly I could barely hear him. Thinking nothing of it, and lulled by the somnolent crackling of the fire, I eventually drifted off to sleep.

__

It must have been an hour or so later—perhaps not even that—when I felt Loki tenderly scoop me up into his arms off the floor. He carried me into his bedchamber and to the bed, where he had already thrown back the covers, and laid me down before making his way to the other side and slipping in next to me.

Loki pulled me into his arms and covered us both up after I sleepily took off my stockings, which I had been wearing the entire time, and discarded them over the side of the bed. I pressed my face against him as he absently ran his fingers up and down my bare back beneath the covers, and felt such overwhelming affection for him.

I lifted my head and smiled sleepily at him. “I love you, Loki.”

Loki offered me a small smile, but I was too drowsy to notice that the smile did not reach his eyes. I kissed him on the mouth before lowering my head back down and nestling closer against him.

In the coming year, my mind would often stray back to this night. I would find myself constantly recalling Loki’s words to me concerning the Jötnar, and then my own response, words that in this moment held no real meaning for me, and I would imagine what I could have said differently, or not said at all. But ultimately I do not think it would have mattered—not in the end.

I think I would have lived in that moment forever had I known what was to eventually come. I wish I had done so many things differently, wish I had been able to do or say more had I been aware, to somehow avoid the regret and heartache to come, but unfortunately one cannot unsay their words or undo their actions—and so I lay there in Loki’s arms, so unperceptive and so dreadfully unknowing.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

When I awoke in the morning, I could see from the incoming light that it was still fairly early. I yawned and stretched before turning over, expecting to see Loki still asleep, but much to my surprise found him already awake. He was lying on his back, one arm folded under his head, the other by his side, and he was gazing contemplatively up at the ceiling.

Loki glanced at me when I turned over and I smiled sleepily at him.

“Good morning, Your Majesty,” I teased, scooting closer to him and kissing his shoulder.

He did not respond, but only gave me an amused little half-smile.

“So what are the plans for today?” I inquired, wrapping my arms around the one lying by his side and twining our fingers together. My own plans were a given; since the queen would surely once again be spending the day by the Allfather’s side, I had nowhere to be.

“I must go check on Odin.”

“Will he have improved?” I whispered.

“It is unlikely,” Loki answered. “I would have been informed of any change.”

I gave a small nod. I felt terrible for Loki, as well as the queen. With Thor exiled to Midgard and the king lying in an uncertain sleep, it was difficult to imagine what they must be feeling.

I tenderly stroked Loki’s hand with my thumb. “I am sorry about Thor. And your father.”

“Yes,” he murmured in absent-minded consent.

I sighed, once again suspecting that this situation with his brother and father was not the only thing bothering Loki. I recalled his aversion to the subject the night before and thought that this morning, after all we had done and after he had had a little time to think on it, he might be a little more receptive to my wanting to help him.

“Loki, I am concerned,” I cautiously admitted, rising up on my elbow to look at him.

He gazed suspiciously at me, no doubt anticipating my next words.

“I know you do not wish to discuss it, but I think we ought to.” I put my hand on his chest and lightly ran my fingers over the smattering of hair there. “Ever since Thor’s coronation, you’ve been acting oddly.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Is that truly so odd, Stjarna, considering what has happened since?”

I shook my head, unable to effectively put into words why I felt there was more to it. “But I do not think that the case…”

“Do you not?” he scoffed, taking me by surprise. “And what do you think it is?”

“I know not, that is why I wish you would tell me—”

“I told you it is nothing,” he said coldly.

“Yes, you keep saying that, but I do not believe you,” I countered. “If it truly was nothing, you would not be acting so defensively about it.”

Loki growled something unintelligible and looked away.

“I do not like seeing you like this, Loki. If you would simply tell me—”

“Only it is none of your concern,” he snapped, cutting me off.

“Perhaps it is not,” I whispered, “but I am worried for you.”

He snorted in derision. “Are you?”

I faltered, hurt that he would ask such a question. “Yes, of course I am. Why would I not be?”

Loki rolled his eyes, and my mouth fell open in surprise when he pushed my hands away. He threw the covers off, got out of bed, and went to his bath chamber. I flinched when he nearly slammed the door behind him, feeling this heat rising in my cheeks. As I heard him running a bath, I thought now that it was obvious as ever that something was troubling him—something not related to Thor’s exile or his father’s sleep.

Unfortunately, I had no idea what it could possibly be. Loki rarely kept things from me, so I figured whatever it was must have been truly disconcerting for him. But could he not see that I only wished to help? Why would he not confide in me? Why did he keep pushing me away?

After a while, I slipped out of bed, pulled on a robe, and went to the door. I hesitated, but braced myself before stepping inside. Loki was soaking in his tub, elbows propped up on the sides and fingers dangling in the water. He glanced at me when I entered, but remained silent and did not tell me to get out, which I was grateful for.

“I am sorry, Loki,” I murmured. “I did not mean to upset you.”

Loki studied me for a long moment before tilting his head towards me and appearing repentant. He lifted his arm and held his hand out. I pulled up a little stool that sat near the tub, sat down to face Loki, and took his hand in mine and held it in my lap.

“I do not know what to do,” I explained sadly. “What am I supposed to think?”

Loki sighed and shook his head. “It is just that I have much on my mind. I do not wish to burden you.”

“It would not be a burden, Loki,” I said, attempting to console.

Loki stared at me, and for the briefest of moments it looked as if he might divulge—but ultimately he did not.

“Stjarna, I know you are concerned, but it truly is best if I do not say.”

I slowly looked down at our clasped hands.

“You understand?” he added, curling his fingers with mine.

I nodded, though in truth I did not understand. I would get no further with him on the subject, though, and after a long moment I raised my eyes to meet his.

“Would you like me to call for breakfast?” I asked quietly.

“If you wish.”

I released Loki’s hand and stood up. I left without a word, feeling dejected, and went to have breakfast brought.

__

Breakfast was a bleak affair.

Despite our little talk earlier, Loki seemed even more detached than before. He hardly ate and barely spoke to me, leaving me alone in my worry. I refrained from mentioning it, however, since I did not wish to incite yet another argument.

After we had been sitting in relative silence for nearly half an hour, Loki suddenly said my name.

I had been halfheartedly poking at my food and raised my head. “Yes?”

“When did you last see Konavefr?” he inquired, fingers tapping steadily on the tabletop.

I paused, thinking it odd that Loki should bring Konavefr up—especially now. “Er, it’s been a few weeks.”

“I think you ought to visit her again.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You do?”

“Yes. Perhaps stay a few nights.”

“When?”

Loki shrugged. “Today.”

My lips parted in surprise. Now Loki wished for me to visit my stepmother? I could not help but to suspect an ulterior motive. Usually he could not stand it when I was gone from his bed.

“You want me to leave today?”

“Yes, you haven’t seen her in a while.”

“But I do not want to leave you,” I confessed, also feeling somewhat hurt that he should want me gone with everything that had been happening. “I do not think you should be alone.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “That is ridiculous, Stjarna. I want you at Konavefr’s by tonight and I want you to stay there at least a few days.”

“Is this because of what I said earlier?” I asked, scrambling to defend myself. “I told you I was sorry—”

“This is not about that,” Loki dismissed, pushing his chair back to stand up.

Angered by his evasiveness, I also rose to my feet. “Then what is it about? There must be a reason—”

“It does not matter the reason!” Loki shouted, slamming his hand on the table. “You will do as I say! Do you understand?”

I stared openmouthed at him, shocked into silence at his outburst, but he only glared indignantly at me.

“Do you understand, Stjarna?” he reiterated in a growl.

I wanted to argue; I wanted to demand of him what was going on, but I turned my head and somehow managed to swallow my anger.

“Yes,” I bit out.

At my submission, Loki left the table and disappeared into his bedchamber, presumably to finish dressing for the day. I slowly fell back into my chair, beyond frustrated, and stared at the practically untouched food before me.

I was still sitting there and brooding when Loki reemerged perhaps half an hour later, clad now in his ceremonial armor. Feeling annoyed all over again, I refused to even look at him. I was not going to say goodbye, nor wish him a good day, but much to my chagrin he walked up to me and knelt next to the chair on one knee. When he placed his hand on my arm, I begrudgingly allowed myself to look at him.

“Stjarna, I know you are upset with me.”

I felt a flicker of regret, hearing the unhappiness in his voice, and turned in the chair to face him.

“Please tell me what is going on, Loki,” I implored.

He wavered, but to my disappointment did not disclose to me his troubles.

“You must trust me right now,” he said softly.

I looked down, dissatisfied with his answer.

“Do you trust me, Stjarna?”

“Yes,” I whispered, raising my head to look at him. “I do.”

“Then I need you to do this for me.”

“But why?”

He shook his head and gazed beseechingly at me. “Please, Stjarna.”

Prompted by the tone of his voice, I nodded again. Even if I did not know what was going on, even if I worried for him, I did trust Loki.

“Alright.”

He leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. “Thank you.”

I bit my lip as he rose to his feet and I followed. For some inexplicable reason, I suddenly felt this fear well up inside me. I took Loki’s hand and he stopped and turned to face me.

“Loki? Will… will I see you again today? Before I leave?”

“No,” he responded, and my heart fell. “I will be very busy.”

When I lowered my head, saddened, Loki curled his fingers under my chin and lifted my face. He kissed me gently on the lips and I lifted up on my toes to deepen the kiss.

“I will see you in a few days, alright?” he murmured after pulling away.

I nodded and watched despondently as he left.

__

Soon after Loki departed, I bathed and then began to gather my things. It did not take long, and I went to my own chambers afterwards to grab some items not in Loki’s chambers. I distractedly puttered around, thinking more of Loki than rushing down to Konavefr’s as he had intended.

I was not so sure that the reason for Loki not telling me anything rested entirely on the fact that he did not wish to burden me. He had burdened me plenty before, and I had practically invited him to burden me once again, but to no avail. Though I was only his lover, I was certain that I could have somehow made whatever it was that was upsetting him better. I had always prided myself on being able to comfort him, but he was most determined this time to keep me out.

I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I almost did not hear the knocking on my door. When I went to open it, I was surprised to see Réttrmund standing there, attired in the golden armor of the Einherjar.

“Réttrmund, what are you doing here?”

“Sister,” he acknowledged, inclining his head. “I would speak with you.”

“Is something wrong?” I asked, noticing his somewhat anxious expression.

“Perhaps,” he admitted. “May I?”

I nodded and opened the door wider so he could enter. I shut the door behind him and motioned for him to sit in front of my fireplace, which currently held no fire. He took his helmet off, set it on the table between us, and settled into one of the chairs.

“I am glad I found you,” Réttrmund professed. “I checked Loki’s chambers first, but the guards said you had come here.”

“What is it?”

“It is to do with Loki.”

I felt a pang of apprehension. “Has something happened?”

Réttrmund appeared reluctant. “Well, that is what I wished to ask you.”

“I do not understand…”

“I was wondering if you knew where Loki was yesterday.”

I shook my head in confusion. “What are you talking about? He’s been here.”

“No,” Réttrmund sighed. “He left the realm twice yesterday.”

My lips parted in surprise. “He did?”

“You did not know?” Réttrmund asked dubiously.

“No…”

“I thought you would have known, considering your position.”

“No, this is the first I am hearing of it,” I said, leaning forward. “Where did he go?”

“Nobody knows,” Réttrmund answered. “Heimdall apparently was forbidden from saying.”

“Forbidden? Why would Loki forbid Heimdall from saying?”

“He obviously did not wish for anybody to know where he had gone.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because he probably was doing something he should not have been doing,” Réttrmund replied grimly.

I gazed warily at my brother. “What are you saying?”

Réttrmund merely shook his head. “Are you sure you do not know anything? He did not mention his whereabouts or what he might have been doing?”

“Réttrmund, I did not know he had left Asgard,” I responded, for some reason feeling defensive of Loki. “After he and the others fought in Jötunheim, I would think he’d want to stay right here.”

Réttrmund glanced down, appearing skeptical.

“Where do you think he went, then?” I insisted, disliking that look on his face.

He paused before speaking, and then his voice dropped. “There is talk, but none would dare to actually accuse him.”

“Accuse him of what?”

“Some think he returned to Jötunheim.”

I laughed, incredulous. “Jötunheim? Why would he go back there?”

Réttrmund was serious, though. “The day of Thor’s coronation… Stjarna, those frost giants did not simply stumble into Asgard by accident.”

My smile fell and I felt a flare of discomfort, grasping his meaning.

“Réttrmund…”

“They were led here. Somebody helped them to enter Asgard and even Heimdall did not see it.”

I jumped to my feet, I could not sit here and listen to this. “No! That is absurd! Surely you are not accusing Loki of bringing the Jötnar here!”

“It is what I’ve heard, Stjarna, and it makes sense. The rumors came from higher up, that a master of magic could have—”

“No!” I cried in stunned disbelief. “I will not hear this, it is insane!”

“And what about it is so insane?” Réttrmund challenged, also rising up out of his chair.

“He is not the only sorcerer in Asgard, lest you forget,” I fumed. “You are just as capable of this as him, as am I!”

“No, Stjarna, we are not,” he replied bluntly, and I scoffed and turned petulantly away. “Did you not once tell me that Loki knew the locations of portals that led to other realms? Portals that Heimdall did not even know existed?”

I turned back around and said contemptuously, “Stop it! I cannot believe you are saying these—these things!”

“Sister, calm down,” he urged, but I was irate.

“Loki would not bring the frost giants here!” I seethed. “He would not do that! To what end?”

“This was not easy for me to consider,” Réttrmund conceded, attempting to placate me, “but once you think about it, it is quite plain. Loki could not stand Thor’s ascension—”

“Yes, he was upset, but he would never—”

“Stjarna, please listen to me. Think about it. Could he do that?”

“But… but he would not,” I stammered, too loath to admit that Loki was perfectly capable of devising something so odious. “He would not do it…”

Réttrmund shook his head and ran his hand over his mouth, obviously irritated by my stubbornness. His eyes drifted over to my bed, where I had my things ready for Konavefr’s.

“Where are you going?”

“I am going to stay with Konavefr,” I answered, still heated from before. “Loki wished for me to go.”

Réttrmund raised his eyebrows. “He did?”

I let out a short, harsh laugh. “What is it now, Réttrmund? Is there a plot there as well?”

“But that is odd, is it not? Why did he want you to go? You’ve told me he does not like it when you leave.”

“He did not say,” I snapped, still feeling protective of Loki despite my own suspicions earlier. But then, in the succeeding silence, I remembered how odd I had thought it that Loki wished me to leave for Konavefr’s so abruptly, and how strange it had been when he had asked me to please trust him in spite of my doubts. Even I had suspected an underlying motivation, so why now was I rejecting everything that came out of Réttrmund’s mouth?

I looked at Réttrmund and admitted quietly, “He wished me to leave today. As soon as possible.”

Réttrmund considered that for a long moment and then sighed. “I think it best if you do go to Mother’s.”

“Why?”

“I cannot explain it, Stjarna, but… I feel as if something is about to happen.”

“What do you mean?” I inquired, feeling a rivulet of unease go through me. “What could possibly happen?”

“I know not, but I think you should leave.”

“What? No, I cannot. I must go speak with Loki.”

For some reason I thought I would be satisfied if I went to Loki. He would tell me of course he had not done any of this, that all of these rumors—for that is all I could believe they were—were ludicrous, and all would be well.

“Stjarna, I do not think that the best thing to do right now,” Réttrmund warned.

“But I must,” I persisted. “I need to see him.”

“Are you mad?” he exclaimed. “Have you not heard anything I’ve said?”

“But I cannot believe any of that,” I rejoined, almost distraughtly. “I cannot believe Loki would do that. He may not always support Thor, and he may not always do the right thing, but he would never… he would never do something like that.”

“You are blinded by him, sister,” he reproached. “You would believe anything he told you.”

“That is not true!” I cried.

“Is it not?” he shot back. “I say these things and yet you refuse to believe?”

“Do you have proof that he has done any of this?”

Réttrmund paused for a moment, but then sighed. “Did you know that he had the opportunity to rescind Thor’s banishment and he refused?”

“What…?”

“Yesterday he was petitioned by the Warriors Three to undo Thor’s exile, and he refused. Did he tell you that?”

I slowly sat down, at a loss for words. Loki had refused to bring Thor back home? I knew Loki had always been somewhat jealous of Thor, no matter what he said, but it was difficult for me to actually believe that he would leave him alone in a foreign realm like that.

When I did not reply, Réttrmund said, “I think it best if you go to Mother’s now.”

I gave a small nod, still staring off. Réttrmund, appearing slightly guilty, picked up his helmet, kissed me on the cheek, and left.

I sat there for at least an hour, turning everything Réttrmund had said over and over, trying to find some way to refute it all, trying in vain to save Loki in my mind. But in attempting to think rationally on it all, I simply could not dismiss all my brother had said, and I knew I must see Loki immediately, despite Réttrmund’s words of warning.

It was in the middle of the day now and I did not know where Loki might be. I inquired of a passing Einheri and learned that Loki was taking his midday meal in his rooms. I quickly made my way there, dreading the certain upcoming confrontation.

I approached the two Einherjar standing outside Loki’s door and they allowed me to pass without a word.

Loki was in his bedchamber, bent over his table, and there were papers spread out before him. A small meal had been laid out for him, but looked virtually untouched. When I entered, he turned around and frowned.

“What are you still doing here?” he demanded, obviously displeased.

I walked towards him. “I must speak with you. Now.”

At the tone of my voice, Loki sighed in exasperation. “What is it, Stjarna?”

“Could you have brought him back?”

“What are you talking about?” he replied disinterestedly, turning back to the table.

“Thor!” I stated, more loudly now to get his attention. “Could you have brought him back from Midgard?”

At that, Loki once again slowly turned towards me. When he only stared at me, I felt a dreadful sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. Réttrmund had been telling the truth.

“How did you hear of that?” Loki asked, and his voice was strangely impassive.

I gave a little shake of my head, aghast with the awful realization. Was that what had been laying heavy on his mind this morning? Was this what he had not wished to burden me with? The fact that he had left his brother to rot on Midgard?

“It’s true, isn’t it? You just left him there…”

Loki placed one hand on the table and exhaled sharply. “Stjarna, there is a reason I could not bring him back.”

“What?” I exclaimed, taking a step forward. “What reason could there possibly be for leaving him there, Loki? He is your brother!”

“I will tell you what I told them,” he snapped, obviously incensed by my reaction. “My first order as king cannot be to simply undo the last order of—”

“Do not lie to me, Loki,” I said firmly, cutting him off. “I am not them. You left him there on purpose, did you not?”

Loki pressed his lips tightly together and regarded me coldly.

Disheartened, I suddenly remembered what Réttrmund had said about Loki leaving Asgard yesterday.

“Where did you go?”

“What?”

“Yesterday!” I cried. “You left Asgard twice, did you not? Where did you go?”

Loki appeared momentarily caught off guard by my accusation, which essentially confirmed my suspicions. So he had gone, and he had not told me.

“Who told you these things?” he demanded, but I shook my head.

“It does not matter,” I answered sharply, unable to discern the anger from the despair. “I want you to tell me, Loki. I need you to tell me where you went.”

And then, much to my shock, he callously replied, “It is none of your concern.”

“It is my concern!” I retorted, feeling my eyes stinging with tears. “They… they are talking about you, Loki!”

He took a step forward and growled, “Do you think I give a fuck what they are saying?”

“You should!” I shouted tearfully. “They are saying you let the Jötnar into Asgard! They are saying you consorted with them!”

“Let them talk,” Loki spat. “I care not.”

I shook my head. What was he doing? I could not for the life of me understand it.

I did not shout this time. If I did, I feared I might burst into tears—I was already on the verge and you could hear it in my voice. “You are giving them reason not to trust you, Loki, and you are giving me reason not to trust you.”

At that, the anger on his face seemed to melt away, but I only continued to stare distraughtly. Just this morning I had trusted him unwaveringly, but now, much to my shame, everything was crumbling and I felt this roiling doubt and Loki knew it and I could see it in his face.

“Did you let them in?” I asked softly, fearing the answer.

“Stjarna…”

And I knew, then.

“You did, didn’t you?” I nearly whimpered, and I took a faltering step back. “You let the Jötnar into Asgard…”

“Stjarna,” Loki pleaded, sounding so different from before. “You do not understand what is going on.”

I could not believe what I was hearing, could not accurately discern my most prominent emotion: horror, despair, this sickening sense of betrayal…

“How could you do this?” I bemoaned, my voice trembling.

“You do not understand,” he repeated, reaching out to touch me, but I recoiled from him.

“Tell me what I do not understand, then!” I yelled.

He paused, appearing hesitant.

“Is it because of Thor?” I inquired miserably. “Is that why you did it?”

“He would have made an unfit ruler, don’t you see?” Loki said, beseeching me with his eyes. “I had to do something, Stjarna—”

“Men were killed!” I cried, revolted by his absurd reasoning. “It could have been my brother killed!”

Loki shook his head, almost as if he had not heard me. “Such sacrifices are sometimes necessary.”

“Sacrifices?” I echoed in disgust. Those men killed had been necessary sacrifices? Only so Thor’s ascension might be held off for a little while longer?

“Can you not see, Stjarna? It is I who am meant to be king, not Thor!” Loki stated, a little too passionately. “Odin lied to me my entire life. He told me I was meant to be king and then he gave the throne to Thor!”

I could only stare disconsolately at him, thinking that not an hour before I had been bent on defending him and now all of it was reduced to nothing. But I could see I was not going to get anywhere with him on this subject. There was no need to listen anymore to this nonsense.

“Where did you go yesterday?” I demanded, for he had failed to answer me earlier.

“As I said before,” he reiterated through clenched teeth, “it is none of your concern.”

“Did you go to Jötunheim?” I pressed, ignoring his previous statement.

When he merely glared at me, my heart fell.

“Why, Loki?” I implored, shaking my head. “Why would you go back there?”

“There were things to be done,” he explained darkly, turning away from me. “Things to be decided.”

And suddenly I remembered Réttrmund’s suspicion that something was going to happen. The terrible realization hit me—Loki was orchestrating something and had been for days. Possibly for months.

I attempted to swallow my dread. “What are you talking about, Loki?”

“I am going to do something that should have been done a long time ago,” he finally admitted.

I stared at his back, horrified that he could have kept such things hidden from me. That he could have lied to me about something like this for so long, that he would risk everything to implement this farcical reality of his.

“What has happened to you?” I begged, fighting the sobs I could feel welling up in my throat.

He let out a brusque, humorless laugh, but otherwise did not respond or even turn around to look at me.

Something inside of me snapped at his dismissal, and I swallowed my tears and drew myself up.

“You—you will tell me now,” I said, my voice thick with tears, “or I will leave you, Loki.”

Loki turned around, and it was no longer fire I saw in his eyes, but a sort of panicked disbelief, and I paused, stunned at my own words. But I continued on, voice trembling, heart pounding.

“I will walk out of here and I will not come back.”

Loki continued to gaze incredulously at me, and then slowly his eyes drifted down and he swallowed hard.

“Stjarna…”

“Please,” I whispered, so softly even I barely heard it, entreating him to tell me so I did not walk out and leave him here.

And he was looking at me, and his expression was absolutely pitiful, so imploring, but he did not speak, and a sob caught in my throat. I turned around without a word and it took everything I had to force myself to move. The tears overflowed and they were rolling down my cheeks and I was silently pleading for Loki to stop me, for him to say my name or grab me so I did not leave, but he did not, and I clenched my fists and bit my lip to keep from crying.

But just as I made it to the door in his other room, and just as I pulled it open, Loki’s hand shot out from behind me and stopped it. I jumped, shocked by the sudden movement, and slowly turned around as he closed the door. I looked up at him, lips trembling, and he hovered over me, kept his arm outstretched and hand on the door next to my head.

Loki held my gaze for a long moment before finally looking down, and I saw his eyes shining. I forlornly studied him, wondering what he could possibly be doing, waiting for an explanation and not really expecting one, when my eyes were abruptly drawn to the blue creeping out of his collar, up over the pale skin of his neck. My mouth fell open as his skin progressively darkened, and my eyes followed the ridges rising up on his skin, decorating his face and neck in these curving lineal patterns.

My back hit the door when his eyes flickered back up to meet mine, and I was startled to see that they were no longer that familiar pale green, but an intense bloody red. My heart was beating so loudly in my chest that I almost did not hear him say my name, only saw his lips move, saw them form my name, and I noticed with horror that his teeth were now slightly sharp behind his lips—like a Jötun.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

“Stjarna…”

I hardly heard him say my name—my gaze was fixed on his mouth, on his teeth which were sharp behind his parted lips. My eyes slowly rose to meet his and my breath caught in my throat. There were tears brimming in his eyes, making it seem as if they were saturated in a thin film of blood.

“Stjarna,” he said again, but I could only stare frozenly at him.

There was certainly enough to gape at—the raised ridges that had out of nowhere appeared on his face and surely over his body, and the deep sapphire blue of his skin, which was in such frightening contrast to his usual paleness.

My blood was running cold, my throat closed up and my mouth dry. There was this bilious churning in the pit of my stomach, this fear and uncertainty coursing like fire through me. He looked like a Jötun, those I had seen in illustrations in books.

“I—I don’t understand,” I finally stammered, regaining use of my voice. Was it an illusion? Gods please let it be an illusion.

Loki carefully let his arm drop from where he had had it against the door, as if wary to startle me. He looked down and tentatively reached out to touch my hand, but as soon as I felt the icy hotness of his skin, and I saw those marks on the back of his hand—the same primal-looking pattern on his forehead—I instinctively jerked my hand away and withdrew.

Loki’s face subtly fell at my reaction and he watched me as I moved. When I came to stand a few feet away from him, hands clutched to my chest and heart pounding, he let his hand fall. He swallowed hard and then before my eyes changed.

The curving patterns on his face and neck and hands seemed to melt away. The blue became lighter and lighter, gradually fading to reveal the true whiteness of his skin, and the terrifying red of his eyes receded into the black until they were that familiar pale green.

Loki continued staring at me as he took a hesitant step forwards, gradually closing the distance between us as if he feared I might turn and run. When he finally stood in front of me, I resisted the urge to take another cautionary step back.

“I am… I am not…” he fought for the words, and I studied him in an uneasy silence. “When I—when we went to Jötunheim, I was touched—I was grabbed by one and I was not burned and I suspected…” he swallowed again and his voice shook. “I suspected… I touched the Casket and I… I…” now he trailed off, grazing forlornly at me, silently begging me to understand, but I could not discern his meaning.

My mind was racing, attempting in panic to explain away what I had just seen. He said he had been touched by one of those foul creatures. Could it have been some form of a curse? Could the Jötnar do that? I had never read of it, but could decide on it as the only explanation.

“Is it—is it a curse?” I asked haltingly.

Yes, that must have been it, what else could it be?

“Stjarna…”

“Come,” I said worriedly. “We will go to Eir, she might know—”

Loki shook his head, cutting me off. “Eir cannot help me.”

“Then your mother,” I urged, grasping frantically at anything I could think of. “Perhaps she will know—”

“Enough!” he barked, gritting his teeth. “She already knows.”

“You’ve shown her?” I breathed.

Loki let out a short, harsh laugh. “Shown her? Frigga knew all along what I was, and I would not doubt that Eir knew as well.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you not understand?” Loki hissed. I let out a little yelp when he grabbed my arm and dragged me roughly away from the door, presumably to keep the guards standing outside from potentially overhearing any of our conversation.

“Loki—”

“I am Jötun.”

I stared at him for a long moment, stunned into silence. But no, it was impossible, he could not be of that vile race, he was mistaken, it had to be a curse. He was Aesir, he was prince here in Asgard and nothing else.

“But you are Asgardian, you are the Allfather’s son—”

“I am not his son,” Loki snarled, “nor am I Frigga’s.”

My lips parted in disbelief at his assertion.

“I went to the Vault that night after Thor was banished,” he explained solemnly. “Odin found me there and he told me the truth. He told me who I am.”

“Who you are…?”

“I am Laufey’s son.”

I had heard that name before, though at the moment could not hope to place it.

“I am not prince of Asgard, but Jötunheim,” Loki continued, though more quietly now. “Odin… he found me as a babe after the battle between the giants and the Aesir, and he brought me here. He had planned on using me to eventually secure peace between the two realms.”

I knew not what to say, hardly knew what to think—I could only stare at him.

“He lied to me, Stjarna, don’t you see? They all did.”

I shook my head and slowly looked down. Was that what Loki had meant before when he said the Allfather had lied to him, that he had never meant to make him king? And the queen, she had known all along, too, he said…

“Loki…” I breathed, feeling the tears stinging in my eyes.

“Do you hate me now?” he murmured.

I raised my head to look at him and oddly enough it was not his true parentage I thought of, but all he had revealed earlier—how he had let the Jötnar into Asgard, how he had inadvertently caused the deaths of two innocent men and seen it as nothing more than a mild inconvenience, how he had admitted to planning something much bigger, betrayed his realm and his family and me—and in that moment, to my everlasting regret, I found no words to say and I could only gaze tearfully at him, which in his mind wrongly confirmed my disdain and disgust for him.

I saw the moment he thought he realized and I opened my mouth to speak, perhaps to assuage him despite this tormenting doubt, but I hesitated one moment too long and by then it was too late.

“Loki, I—”

“You need not explain yourself,” he said coolly. “I understand.”

I shook my head as he pulled away, searching desperately for the words. “No, you do not—that is not it!”

“Is it not?” he hissed, and I gasped when he took an abrupt, intimidating step forward. I backed up, kept my eyes trained on his, which had within seconds shifted to that frightening red. The blue came slower, crawling up over his skin until there seemed not a trace of him left. “Why, then, do you look at me with such disgust? Why do you flinch from me?”

I opened my mouth to reply, but nothing came out, and I looked away, unable to hold his crimson gaze for very long.

“I see it in your eyes,” he growled, tilting his head to catch my eyes. “What is it, Stjarna? Can you not even look at me? Is it because you’re sickened by the fact that you’ve been fucking a frost giant all this time?”

“No!” I cried, appalled by his accusation. “If you—if you would let me explain…”

“I care not what you have to say,” he dismissed coldly, leaning back. The deep blue of his skin slowly grew fainter and fainter, as well as the red of his eyes. “Everything has already been said.”

I shook my head in despair, feeling the tears about to spill over, seeing everything falling apart before my eyes. He had it so awfully wrong, he did not understand and I certainly did not understand, but I was too frustrated and too distraught to find the right words, whatever they were.

“No, it is—it is…” but I knew not what I could possibly say, did not know the words that would just fix all of this, and I trailed off into a miserable silence.

And then, “Leave.”

My eyes flickered up to meet Loki’s. I could hardly believe my own ears.

“Loki…” I whimpered.

Suddenly, Loki reached out and I gasped loudly as he grabbed me roughly by the jaw. I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and stared wide-eyed up at him, tears rolling down my face, heart hammering in my chest.

“Get. Out.”

He violently released me and I stumbled backwards. He glared virulently at me for a long moment before turning on his heel to disappear into his bedchamber. My first instinct was to follow him, to weep and to apologize and to plead, but I stood rooted to the spot. Everything was chaotic, I could hardly form a coherent thought. I could only think of how hatefully he had regarded at me, how with such loathing he had spoken to me, and it felt as if my heart was breaking.

Not knowing what else to do, I finally turned around, attempting to swallow the sobs I could feel rising in my throat. I could not possibly confront him again, could not bear to have him look at me like that again, and I left his chambers. I did not even know where I was going—only walked aimlessly, fighting back the tears, needing somewhere to be alone and to think—and eventually found myself standing in front of my own door. I entered, closed the door behind me, and then allowed the tears to fall.

I knew not what to be more distressed at—the fact that Loki was a Jötun and he thought I hated him and I thought he hated me or that he had betrayed us all. It was so difficult to believe, but it was true. Loki was a Jötun, he was of that despicable race. But Loki was not like them not truly—he was not base and cruel like them, I knew, and yet he had done all of this…

I buried my face in my hands, hardly able to think straight.

I thought back to when he had tried to touch me and I had pulled away, and I imagined what he must have felt when I would not even allow him to touch me. I replayed it in my mind over and over, growing increasingly upset, dragging myself even deeper into this sorrow and regret. I hated myself for recoiling from him like that, for having been hardly able to look at him. We had been lovers for so long and I had reacted to him in such a loathsome and wretched manner. I certainly could not fault his anger, nor his response, but despised myself for having not been able to explain myself. But what would I have even said? That I was sorry, but I did not want him to touch me? That he frightened me?

After a long while, I moved away from the door and began to pace, wiping away the tears as they came, shaking and lamenting and crumbling.

Gods, I could not get that expression on his face out of my head, when he thought I had rejected him. But had I not essentially done that? But not because of what he was, not really, but what he had done. I could not condone his actions, nor sympathize with him. He had deceived us all and his actions had resulted in the deaths of two guards and what horrified me was that he truly could not have cared less for them.

Loki thought I thought him a monster, and I could almost believe it—not because his skin was blue, not because his eyes were red—but for what he had done and what he further planned to do. I did not want to believe Loki capable of such terrible things, but I almost had not recognized him standing before me, even before he had shown to me his true form—that cold look in his eyes, his resolve to do this which he thought he was so entitled to because he believed he had been seriously wronged.

He said he was planning to do something, something that should have been done a long time ago, and even Réttrmund had suspected earlier that something was about to happen. Whatever it was, I knew it could not be good. If he would cause the deaths of two men and then so easily dismiss them, what else might he do?

And I knew then that I must go back, but I felt this crippling fear at the prospect of facing him again after what I had done and what he had said to me. Despite all the wrong he had done, it was shame I felt for myself. But I could not let that stop me, there were much larger issues at hand. I would try once again to explain myself, now that I had had time to collect myself, and I would make him understand. I would tell him I still loved him and that I was sick at having reacted to him so. His true parentage did not matter to me and would never—he was still my Loki, and surely all of this could be solved somehow, and not by what he meant to do.

But building myself up took much longer than I anticipated and by the time I exited my rooms in search of Loki, some hours had passed and night was quickly falling. I hurried to Loki’s chambers, praying that he was still within. Upon reaching his rooms, however, I was surprised to see the two guards posted outside his door absent.

I hesitantly entered Loki’s chambers and called his name, but was met with telling silence. I left his rooms, feeling a prickle of unease in the back of my mind. I began walking down the corridor, wondering where Loki had gone, when I heard running footsteps.

I turned around and my lips parted in surprise when I saw two Einherjar sprinting down the corridor towards me. As they went to pass me, I said, “What is going on?”

One of them abruptly stopped while the other continued on.

“Lady,” he warned, shaking his head. “It is best if you return to your rooms.”

“Why?” I asked in alarm. “What is happening?”

“The Jötnar,” he replied briskly, turning to move on.

“Wait!” I cried. “What are you talking about?”

He turned back to face me, obviously irritated that I was detaining him.

“The frost giants!” he snapped. “They are here in Asgard!”

“Where is Loki?” I demanded, immediately suspecting that he had something to do with it. How could he not after everything that had happened?

The Einheri shook his head and went to leave. “I know not.”

A rivulet of terror shot through me and I decided straightaway that I must go to see the queen, despite the Einheri’s warning. She was the only person I could think of that might be able to do something—anything. I practically ran to the king’s chambers, hoping she would be there, and was dismayed upon arriving to see perhaps a dozen clearly agitated Einherjar milling about.

One of them stopped me.

“Is the queen within?” I inquired anxiously.

“Yes.”

“Please, I must see her,” I begged. “It is to do with Loki.”

He wavered, but then acquiesced and led me into the king’s chambers.

Nothing seemed terribly amiss in the receiving chamber, but I gasped and put my hand over my mouth when we entered the king’s bedchamber. On the floor, lying near the door, which was covered in a thin layer of what looked like frost, lay a huge blue being. It lay on its side, clearly dead, with a dark, thick puddle of blood pooled beneath it. A Jötun.

When I finally managed to tear my eyes away from the body, wondering at what could have possibly transpired here, I was greeted by another odd sight. There was a gaping hole torn in the wall across the room, revealing the starry sky outside. The queen stood near it, arms wrapped around herself, and was gazing stoically into the night. Her gown was ruffled by the breeze blowing in, for we were so high up in the palace.

I saw then that the king lay asleep in his bed and four guards stood grimly at its corners.

“Your Majesty,” the Einheri announced. “The Lady has information concerning Prince Loki.”

Queen Frigga turned around and my mouth fell open. Nearly the entire right side of her face was swollen and painted with a large, dark bruise, and there was dried blood on her lip where it had been split open by a blow of some kind.

“Your Majesty,” I gasped, shocked by her appearance. She did not acknowledge my surprise, however—only said my name.

I walked up to her and could not help but to first glance outside. A wave of nausea rolled through me at the sight, considering there was no railing here, but I paused when I saw what she obviously had been staring at.

Across the city, where Bifröst ended, there was a bright beam of color rising up to pierce the far reaches of the sky. The bridge itself was a vibrant line running through the city with pulsating colors coursing frantically along its length.

“What is that?” I breathed, for I had never seen the bridge open for so long.

“Loki,” the queen whispered.

When I slowly looked back at her, I could more clearly see the worry etched onto her face. She was shaking slightly and her fingers were digging into her arms. I had never seen the queen in such a harried state and I felt even more fearful than before.

“What do you mean?” I asked worriedly.

“He is down there,” she softly responded.

“Where is he going?”

She kept her eyes fixed on the powerful beam of light. “He is not going anywhere. He opened the bridge to Jötunheim and intends to destroy it.”

I gaped at her. So that was what he had been talking about earlier when he said he meant to do something that should have been done a long time ago. He would destroy the realm of Jötunheim and everything in it.

“What about Heimdall?” I asked suddenly. “Why is he not stopping it?”

I wondered if Heimdall would even be able to stop Loki. I knew they hated each other and felt ill at the thought of them fighting, at merely the thought of Loki being potentially hurt.

“I know not,” the queen murmured vacantly. “Something has likely happened to him.”

The way she said it—with such finality, with such calmness—frightened me.

“But somebody has to do something!” I cried. I was probably irritating her, but I was sick with fear and could not help it. I did not know what was going on and at the moment the queen was my only source of information, despite the fact that I had come here on the pretense of giving her information concerning Loki, which now seemed forgotten.

“Thor will stop him,” she observed quietly.

At that, I balked. “Thor?”

“Yes, he is back.”

“When?”

“Less than an hour ago.” She turned her head to glance briefly at the Jötun lying on the floor across the room. “The Jötnar came in. They were going to kill my husband, but Loki stopped them. He killed Laufey.”

“Laufey?” I whispered.

But the queen did not answer me, only continued gravely. “Thor came in, then, and Loki… Loki put him through this wall.”

I swallowed hard. Loki had attacked Thor?

“He had Mjölnir,” the queen explained, almost absently. “I doubt he was harmed. Surely he has followed Loki…”

I was bewildered by her own lack of panic, because I felt as if I was going to break down at any moment. Thor had come back to Asgard—how I knew not—and had fought with Loki. I was desperate to do something, but the queen would remain here with her husband even through it all. But then what would we do, anyway, in this fight between brothers? We were merely bystanders in all of this.

Realizing there was nothing I could do, I clasped my hands together and stood by the queen to watch Bifröst with her, for surely that was where both Loki and Thor were.

Abruptly, there was a burst of light on the bridge, almost as if lightning had struck from nowhere. My breath caught in my throat and I wondered distraughtly if that was Loki and Thor fighting.

“Frigga!”

All eyes in the room darted towards the king, who was rising up, and there was a bright golden light enveloping him. When the light faded moments later, he stood there by his bedside donned in his armor.

“The bridge is cracking,” he announced grimly, going immediately towards the door and hardly giving anybody a chance to react.

“What?” the queen exclaimed frantically, taking a step forward.

“They’re destroying Bifröst!” he shouted, disappearing through the door, and my heart skipped a beat. I turned back around to face the city lit up by the light of the bridge, and then glanced worriedly at the queen.

“Will we not follow?”

“No.”

The queen continued to gaze outside. The light in the sky was dazzling now, illuminating the city in a bright, pulsing light. Out in space, in the far distance where the black seemed to swallow up the beam, there was a giant cloud of what appeared to be light blue dust slowly rotating around the point of light. It was both mesmeric and terrifying to see, and I clutched at the broken wall, consumed with terror at the knowledge that Loki was down there somewhere in the thick of it all.

And then, just minutes after the king had woken and gone, the bridge exploded.

I let out a scream before clamping my hands over my mouth, eyes wide and body frozen as Bifröst shattered before us. The explosion trembled the very walls, and the light blossomed out into a brilliant, fiery ball of color. A wall of blue energy was emitted from the explosion and barreled towards the city, rising up to eventually encompass even the tallest of buildings.

The blast momentarily blocked our view of the circular building at the end of the bridge, but we saw the light in the sky falter and disappear, and when the remnants of the explosion faded away, I was horrified to see the building gone and the splintered bridge’s light dulled.

All of our eyes were drawn out into space, and many of the Einherjar in the room gathered behind us to watch. In the torn sky stained with color there circled a black hole, fringed by that swirling blue dust. Within moments though, just as soon as it had formed, it was gone, and all was eerily quiet.

It was then when the wall of energy from the blast hit the palace. A cold breeze gusted into the room, lifting both my and the queen’s hair off of our shoulders, and caused the air to crackle with energy and the hair on my arms to stand on end.

I was shaking violently, my heart seemingly having stopped, my blood turned to ice in my veins. Nobody spoke, only stared in horrified silence at the mangled end of the bridge.

Suddenly, the queen said my name.

“Stjarnavetr, come,” she demanded, and I gawked openmouthed at her, too shocked to even react.

She repeated herself and I forced myself to turn and follow her. Many of the Einherjar trailed behind, no doubt to afford the queen further protection for whatever we might encounter.

“Where—where are we going?” I faltered, almost tripping over my own feet as I nearly ran after her.

“The stables.”

“What? Why?”

“That is where they will return.”

Despite the massive explosion we had just witnessed, and the evident destruction of Bifröst, her words for some reason sparked in me a bit of hope. Perhaps it was that I was clinging onto anything to keep from breaking down, and perhaps it was that I had already begun to deny that anything unsavory might have happened to Loki.

As we hurried along, we could see evidence of the panic that had broken out this night—Einherjar were rushing by, courtiers hastening to their chambers or seeking shelter, but the queen ignored them all and made her way determinedly along.

Once we reached the stables, which was nearby to the entrance of Bifröst, the queen stood still with her eyes trained on the darkened horizon, even though from here we could not see the end of the bridge.

I knew not how long it was—I was wringing my hands, pacing back and forth, feeling more helpless in that moment than I ever had—when they returned. One of the Einherjar murmured that he saw something, and I whirled around, eyes searching desperately for any shadow of movement in the darkness.

I saw only two shapes, and when they came into the light of the palace, my heart fell. The king, holding Gungnir, and Thor, holding his hammer, walked slowly towards us as if broken, but I was looking behind them, searching frantically for Loki trailing after, but when I did not see him this cold realization began to creep in.

The queen’s composure broke suddenly and she ran up to the Allfather and nearly collapsed against him. She put her hands on his chest, looked up at him and even from here I could see her lips quivering and the tears running down her face.

“Where is he?” she cried, and in this dreadful silence all could hear the agony in her voice. “Where is Loki?”

The Allfather gazed forlornly down at her, and he held the side of her head and opened his mouth to answer, but then closed it, and in that moment it was as if everything slowed. I looked at Thor, whose weary eyes rose to meet mine, and everything fell away because I knew.

He was gone.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

In the days following Loki’s death, it all came out—how he had allowed the Jötnar into Asgard before Thor’s coronation, how he had conspired with Laufey king of the frost giants to murder the Allfather and then destroy the entire realm of Jötunheim.

It was because of this, I think, that few truly mourned his passing. To me, theirs was a false grief. I knew that behind closed doors, Loki’s name was not whispered with sorrow or sympathy, but with disdain and rancorous animosity. They said he would not have made a worthy king, that they had always known there was something off about the youngest prince of Asgard and that the Allfather had been right in favoring his eldest son. Good riddance, they said.

But they had not known Loki as I had—they did not know the truth—and for those following weeks, I was in unspeakable agony for his loss. My nights were sleepless, my days filled with this gnawing grief. It was a challenge for me to even get out of bed. I could not eat, I could not drink, and I felt constantly ill. I moved through my own existence as if in a fog, thinking only that Loki was not here; he would not be in bed with me upon waking every morning, he would not be in his chambers at the end of the day waiting for me. He was not here.

I think I found that the hardest to accept, that he was simply gone and he was not coming back. I thought it so unfair, similar to when my father had died long ago, and my mother before that. I had not wanted this, I had not chosen this, and I felt so helpless and useless because of it all, and there was not a thing to be done.

The awful truth of that hit me hardest at the memorial for his death, held nine days after he fell.

The entire court was in attendance, as well as thousands from the city, and all stood in a solemn silence as the Allfather spoke of Loki. He remembered Loki as a son, and he venerated his intelligence and admirable qualities, said that he had sought a worthy end in his own mind. The king was somehow able to spin Loki’s last actions into something that could be seen as slightly heroic, despite how misguided and damaging they truly had been.

What was left of the royal family stood behind the Allfather. Thor stared ahead nearly the entire time, motionless and stony-faced, and the queen stared down at the ground. Eventually she began to quietly weep and Thor moved to comfort her.

I was with the other women, among the rest of the court. Both Gullhár and Málvit stood close by me, and when I could no longer hold back my tears, Málvit took my hand in hers and Gullhár stood so I could bury my face in her shoulder.

After the ceremony, there was a feast. I did not partake, but instead listened to the hushed, half-hearted conversation, knew they were talking about him and wondering what really had happened that night. I could only imagine the erroneous rumors that would circulate, the misconceptions and the lies.

Eventually I could not stand it and I left, much like Queen Frigga who had retired early. I walked aimlessly and ultimately found myself in a little courtyard near to the great hall. At first it did not seem that there was anybody here, but then in the wan moonlight I saw a lone man sitting on one of the stone benches, head bowed down and hands clasped tightly between his legs.

Thor.

Not wishing to intrude, I turned immediately to leave, but a twig snapped under my foot and Thor raised his head.

“Lady Stjarnavetr.”

“I did not mean to interrupt you,” I apologized. “I will leave you now.”

“No, wait,” he said. He put his hand on the empty spot next to him. “Please, sit.”

I hesitated, but went and sat next to him.

“Your Highness?”

He gazed stoically at me, and I saw with a pang that his normally bright blue eyes were bloodshot.

“Please, no formalities.”

I gave a little nod, but otherwise did not speak. We had been sitting in silence for a few minutes before Thor spoke again.

“I never knew what a terrible brother I was,” he observed quietly. “I did not see, and I should have. I was too wrapped up in myself, I could not see how… how angry he had become.”

I looked down at my hands, remembering all the times Loki had gone off on Thor to me. I had always attempted to mollify him, for I knew he loved Thor and had just been upset, but I did not know what to say in that moment.

“Did you know?” Thor asked.

“I knew he was upset about your becoming king,” I admitted hesitantly, “but I… I did not know he would do something like this…”

Thor nodded and remained silent.

Finally, I whispered, “Thor? What happened out there? On the bridge?”

Thor sighed, appearing almost reluctant to speak, but his voice was gentle. “Stjarna…”

I felt a twinge when he called me that. Thor had always referred to me as Lady Vana, or Loki’s Vana, but now he called me by what Loki had used to.

“I know you think I should not hear, but I must know,” I pleaded. “I have to know, please…”

Thor appeared pained at the sorrow in my voice, and then he told me. His voice grew quiet as he described their fight on Bifröst, how he had never fought with Loki like that, how they had been intent on hurting one another. He explained to me that the only way he could have saved Jötunheim was to shatter the bridge, and when he did it exploded and sent both of them nearly over the edge and careening into space.

I squeezed my fingers, feeling ill, when Thor hesitantly admitted to me that Loki had nearly fallen, but caught Gungnir at the last moment and been left hanging over the edge. Thor said he had been holding onto the other end of the Allfather’s spear, and holding onto him was the king himself, who had just arrived from the palace and kept both brothers from going over.

“Loki… he said he had done it for Father… for all of us. But Father told him no, and Loki let go.”

I slowly closed my eyes, felt a tear roll down my cheek, and suddenly I could not hold back and the tears burst out of me. I leaned forward and buried my face in my hands. Immediately, I felt Thor’s arms go around me and I unthinkingly melted into his embrace and wept bitterly.

I was torn apart in knowing that Loki had let go of his own volition, that he had not seen any reason to remain here or continue living—not even me. But I knew why, and I began to cry even harder. I pulled away and gazed up at Thor, who appeared anguished by my sudden outburst, and the tears were running down my swollen cheeks and my lips were trembling.

“I—I hurt him, Thor. We—we fought and he—he showed me what he was and I…” I shook my head, could not help the sobs welling up in my throat, did not even know if Thor knew what I was talking about. “I hurt him and he… he hated me for it…”

Thor drew me back into his arms and I let him hold me, and I almost felt Loki in his touch. He put one hand on the back of my head as I cried and gently stroked my hair and kissed the top of my head.

“Stjarna,” he said softly, and he moved to tenderly wipe away my tears with his thumbs. “My brother was in love with you. You should have seen him when he talked about you.”

I looked down, thinking that no longer would Loki have spoken so highly of me.

“Whatever it was that happened,” Thor continued, lifting my head, “he loved you still.”

Though a part of me did not wish to believe Thor, considering everything that had happened, I gave a little nod and felt slightly comforted. Thor kissed my forehead and pulled me into another embrace and I went willingly, taking solace in the fact that other than the queen and I, Thor was the only other person to have been so close to Loki.

“If you need anything, Stjarna, know that I am here,” Thor explained. “You are as family to me and will always be.”

I nodded, feeling heartened. “Thank you.”

__

That night, long after the feast had ended and Asgard was cast into darkness for mourning, and the palace lay silent like the dead, I found myself wandering purposelessly through these gloomy corridors. I did not know where I was going, only that I was restless and tormented and could not sleep. And then, eventually, without even realizing it, I was walking down that most familiar corridor, coming to a stop in front of his door.

I had not been back to Loki’s chambers since the night he fell, but now by some chance I had come here. I pushed the door open and for some reason felt a small, imprudent hope in my chest. Perhaps Loki would be sitting at his table, or in front of the snapping fire with a book in his lap. But he was not there—the room was hopelessly dark and there was no fire or warmth here.

I stood there, motionless in this dreadful silence, noticing that nothing had been changed here since that day. After a while, I moved forward, slowly making my way towards his bedchamber. The balcony door in this room was hanging slightly open, allowing an amount of silvery white moonlight to pour in. I let my eyes rove over the murky shapes of his furniture, felt the tears begin to sting in my eyes. I walked up to his wardrobe and with shaking fingers pulled one of the doors open.

His clothes were still here, some hanging, some folded neatly and stacked on top of one another. I hesitated, almost as if I was afraid, before reaching out to lightly touch one of his folded tunics. The fabric was soft under my shaking fingers, and I grabbed it and pulled it out. I stared at it for a long moment, the green appearing almost black in the dimness of the room, before lifting it and pressing my face into it. Standing there alone in his chambers, I began to weep, great racking sobs that shook my whole body.

“I am sorry, Loki,” I cried, nearly choking on my tears. “I am so sorry…”

I leaned against his wardrobe, legs weak, and slowly slid down until I was on the floor, Loki’s tunic still clutched in my fingers. I cried and cried, kept telling him I was sorry, I was so sorry for everything he had done and I had done and everything that had happened. I had not meant anything I had said, had not meant anything I had done, and I longed to tell him that I loved him.

I sat on the floor for at least an hour, sobbing and lamenting, before I managed to drag myself up and onto his bed. I pulled the covers back on the side Loki had always slept on, slipped beneath the sheets still fully-clothed and still holding Loki’s tear-stained tunic, and lay down.

I pressed my face into his pillow, could smell him so faintly.

“I miss you,” I whispered mournfully. Though I spoke to the thin air, I attempted to visualize that he was there with me. I wanted to believe that I was not pretending, not forcing myself to imagine.

“I am sorry,” I breathed, and the tears once again burst out of me. I buried my face in his pillow, gripped his tunic even tighter, and began apologizing to him again, repeating it over and over like some desperate and despairing litany. I told him again that I loved him, wished so hard that I could tell him now and make everything alright, but of course I could not and eventually I cried myself to sleep.

__

The next several months passed slowly and each day seemed to fade into the next. Loki was gone, and yet he was all I could ever think of. When I awoke he was there in my mind, and when I lay down at night to sleep his face was the last thing I saw. I would always think back to that day when he had fallen, and I would wonder what I could have done differently; what if I had not reacted to him as I had? What if I had tried harder to stop him? But this never helped and only served to further sadden me.

It was difficult for me to find happiness in anything anymore. All I ever felt was this numb hollowness. In addition, I was bombarded by memories that I had thought lost, memories from years past. I would be sitting silently somewhere, perhaps in the queen’s chambers with the other women, and suddenly remember some happy conversation Loki and I had once had. Though most of the memories were happy, not all were, and I did not always appreciate them, for they only drove me even deeper into this chronic, crushing melancholy.

The other women saw this and at first had tried to help. They attempted to talk with me, endeavored to cheer me, but I would not be cheered. Gradually they let me alone, but Málvit, and Gullhár especially, knew how deeply Loki’s loss affected me, and they still often made an effort to spend more time with me. I appreciated their trying, but repeatedly declined their offers to spend the day together or to take a little day trip into the city, so I could instead be by myself.

The queen understood my pain better than anyone. Though it was my lover that I had so abruptly lost, and to such tragic circumstances, it was she who had lost a son. Queen Frigga visibly changed after Loki died. Though after the initial period of mourning she carried on as before, no longer was she so happy.

One night after dinner, perhaps two weeks after Loki had fallen, the queen requested I stay behind in her chambers. I waited until the other women had filed out and it was just her and I left in her receiving chamber.

Queen Frigga sat down in front of her crackling fire and motioned for me to sit across from her. I did so silently, anticipating what was to come. She had done this twice, once a few days after Loki had fallen and once after the ceremony the following week. She had inquired as to how I was, and at that time I had hardly been able to properly answer her. In truth, I had not wished to speak to anybody about Loki—even to her—but since then, despite her own loss, I knew she had been keeping an eye on me.

“Would you like some wine, Stjarnavetr?” she asked softly, and I saw a flagon of wine and some empty cups sitting on the table between us.

I shook my head no.

She was silent for a moment longer. And then, “How have you been faring?”

I slowly looked up at her, saw her gazing at me with such loving concern, and immediately felt the tears rise in my throat.

“I don’t know,” I answered in a shaky whisper. I did not want to tell her I had not been doing well at all. I did not want to relate to her my restlessness, how every single night I drowned in my own tears and sometimes could not fall asleep until the morning.

“Have you been to your stepmother’s house?”

“No,” I replied quietly.

“I think it would be wise if you went. Surely she is worried for you.”

I gave a small nod. Réttrmund thought the exact same thing. He had sought me out immediately after Loki’s fall, knowing how devastated I would be, and I had found comfort in his arms and his words, despite his previous suspicion and hostility towards Loki. He had suggested afterwards that I leave the palace right away and spend time down in the city with Konavefr and his wife and children, but I had dithered about and not yet decided.

“Stjarnavetr, have you been staying in his rooms?” she inquired, and I did not even question how she knew it—I only nodded.

“That is not good,” she gently explained. “I do think it best if you left court for a time.”

I shook my head, almost frantically. “No, no, not yet, I don’t want to leave—”

But I caught myself, for I had been about to say I did not want to leave “him.” However odd it may have sounded, this was where Loki was, this was where his memory was strongest for me and I was not yet ready to abandon that part of him, even though it drove me to despair. I was not yet ready to leave it all behind despite the agony it caused me.

“Very well,” she murmured.

And then as we sat there in the succeeding silence, I remembered what Loki had told me the last time I had seen him, about the queen having known all along what he was. I had not told anybody what Loki had shown me, other than having mentioned it to Thor after Loki’s memorial, and now here I sat with one of them who had known it all along, and suddenly, impulsively, I could not contain it any longer.

“He told me,” I stated, staring at the queen. “He showed me.”

She appeared momentarily confused. “Showed you what?”

When I only continued to gaze at her, I saw the realization dawn on her face and she glanced down at her hands.

“He said… he said the king had taken him,” I confessed. “That he was prince of Jötunheim. Is that true?”

“Yes, it is,” the queen answered, looking back up at me after a long moment.

I shook my head, not understanding. I remember Loki himself almost seemed as if he had not understood.

“Why did you not tell him?” I asked, attempting to keep my voice from trembling. Merely talking about Loki was paining me. “Why did he not know?”

“Stjarnavetr,” she cautioned, pausing to choose her words. “This is far more complicated than it seems.”

“He was not your son,” I breathed.

“Loki was my son,” she said suddenly, and I glanced up at the hard tone of her voice. There were tears shining in her eyes. “I loved him as my own. That he was Jötun did not matter.”

I could not help but to remember how I had initially reacted to Loki’s change, how I had disallowed him even to touch me. What would Queen Frigga say if she knew how I had responded to him? But now, in this moment, I would have given anything to see Loki again, for him to hold me in his arms and for me to kiss him and hear his voice. I knew that his true parentage did not matter, but I had never been able to tell him and I would never be able to now, and the thought of that killed me.

I bowed my head, not even able to meet the queen’s eyes for my shame, and bit my lip to focus on something other than the tears threatening so abruptly to spill over.

Queen Frigga, sensing that I did not wish to further the conversation, said gently, “You may go if you wish, Stjarnavetr.”

I gave a small nod, stood up, and left her chambers without looking back. I went to Loki’s rooms, as I had been doing every night since the ceremony, and continued to return here every night after. The queen ordered Loki’s rooms left alone, mostly in part for me, and every long, empty night I would lie on his side of the bed, bury my face in his pillow, and cry.

I constantly thought of our last night together, when we had made love in front of his fire. I would remember when he asked me what I thought of the Jötnar, and remember my words to him that they were no better than animals. I always attempted to think of things I could have said or done differently, wished I had been more perceptive, though I knew I could never have known had he not shown me.

Sometimes, even many weeks after Loki had fallen, I imagined I saw him. Out of the corner of my eye I would see a shadow lingering in an empty doorway, and I would turn, feeling this leap of foolish hope, but of course there was never anybody there. No reply to my calling his name, no returned sentiments or words of consolation, and when I closed my eyes I still saw his face, still heard his voice.

I even talked to him, though only when by myself in his chambers. While lying in bed, I would whisper to him about my day, how hard it was without him here, and how despite the crawling passage of time, the pain of his absence had not lessened. Sleeping in his chambers every night, lying in our bed alone every night, probably was very bad for me as the queen had said, but I continued to do it anyway. I felt closest to him when I did that, for we had lain together in this bed for the past five centuries.

I always made sure those nights that I ended with my telling Loki that I was sorry for what I had done, and that I loved him and missed him and wished I could make everything better. And though I pretended all of this, I never imagined that he forgave me. Even in my own head he would not forgive me, for deep down I did not think I deserved it. Though Loki had done many horrible things, and though I had disapproved of his actions, now that he was gone it was not him I was upset with, but myself, and I agonized over it and knew I would always blame myself.

Eventually, though, despair and grief gave way to anger. I became furious over all that Loki had done, and even more furious that he had died and left me alone like this. There were nights when I wept and raged, nights when I sat curled up on the floor rocking back and forth, arms wrapped around my drawn-up knees, tears streaming down my face, screaming my anger and frustration at Loki who could not hear me nor in his state be bothered to care.

It was not long after this that I decided to act on Réttrmund and the queen’s advice and leave court. I could not take it anymore—those lonely, endless nights that culminated in tears and miserable resentment.

I spoke to Queen Frigga who, though saddened at my departure, was grateful that I had decided to do something about my situation. She released me from her service, wished me much love, and I said my goodbyes to my friends in her retinue.

The night before I left the palace, I visited Loki’s chambers one last time. I stood there in the center of his darkened bedchamber; I did not plan to stay here tonight, and so I did not lie down, nor did I light a fire.

After a long while of lingering there in the silence, I impulsively went to his wardrobe. As I had that first night, I slowly opened it. This time, I tenderly gathered one of his green tunics and a pair of his pants into my arms, and turned around and left. I went to my own chambers, found a small chest, and emptied it. I gingerly laid Loki’s clothes into the chest, lightly ran my fingers over the soft fabric before closing it, and put it with my other things to be taken to Konavefr’s in the morning.

And so perhaps six months after Loki had fallen, I left court and all of its memories behind. Konavefr welcomed me back into her home with loving arms and though it was painful, I endeavored to begin anew, this time without Loki.

Thus the time passed, and sooner than I realized the days had turned into weeks, and the weeks to months, and the months to a year.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

“Do you remember the runes, Herlid?” I inquired, studying the young boy sitting next to me.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Good. Try it again.”

Réttrmund’s youngest son extended his arm, furrowed his brows, and focused intently on the wooden cup I had placed on the table by the wall. I had been attempting to hone both Herlid and his older brother Hjaldr’s seidr skills lately, at their mother Dreyma’s insistence. Since I had tutored in seidr before, she thought it a brilliant idea.

After a long moment, Herlid’s arm wavered and dropped and he gazed miserably up at me. “I cannot do it, Aunt Stjarna.”

“Yes, you can,” I assured. “It will just take more practice.”

I lifted my own hand and watched as the cup rose up off the table and levitated serenely in the air. I twirled it once before setting it gently back down and then laughed when I saw Herlid’s awed expression.

Just then, the front door opened and Réttrmund strode in. Today was his first day off duty, and he would be here for the next week or so. Herlid yelped in joy, jumped out of his chair, and ran towards his father. Réttrmund scooped Herlid up into his arms just as Dreyma and Konavefr, hearing Herlid’s shouting, came out of the kitchen. Dreyma smiled, wiped her hands on her apron, and went to her husband who leaned down to kiss her.

I laughed when Herlid looked at me and stuck his tongue out at his parents kissing.

When Dreyma pulled away, Réttrmund said, “What is going on here?”

“Aunt Stjarna is teaching me to levitate things,” Herlid explained, pointing at the cup on the table.

“Oh, did you do it?” Réttrmund asked, flashing me a smile.

Herlid’s face fell. “No.”

“You will be able to do it soon enough,” I encouraged.

“Hjaldr can do it,” Herlid huffed.

“He is older than you and has had more practice,” I added.

Réttrmund peered around. “Speaking of Hjaldr, where is he?”

“I am here!”

We all glanced up and Hjaldr came bounding down the steps to embrace his father.

“Dinner is almost ready,” Dreyma said. “Konavefr and I are finishing up right now.”

“Wonderful! I am starving,” Réttrmund announced, putting Herlid down.

The two boys went outside to pass the time until dinner and Konavefr and Dreyma went back into the kitchen. Réttrmund seated himself at the table as I pulled the chairs Herlid and I had been sitting in back to their proper places.

“Has Svinn come by?” Réttrmund inquired as I sat across from him.

“No,” I answered. My youngest brother, who owned a tavern in the city and lived there with his family, did not often visit and had not been here in a long while. I would almost have, at this point, considered him estranged.

Réttrmund shook his head, obviously disappointed. “That is a shame. I should go see him.”

“I doubt it will do any good,” I observed.

“It has been a while, we shall see.”

I gave a little nod and decided to change the subject. “So how are things at the palace?”

“Well enough, I suppose.”

“How is the queen?”

Réttrmund sighed. “Have you not written to her?”

I looked down at my hands on the table. “Er, no…”

“Not even once?”

“No.”

“Why not? It’s been six months since you left the palace.”

“Yes, but I…”

“It’s not like you haven’t had the time.”

“I know,” I retorted. “It is just… I know not what I would say to her.”

“I am sure she would enjoy to simply hear how you are doing.”

“Perhaps,” I murmured.

When Réttrmund only continued staring at me, eyebrows raised, I nodded.

“I will do it.”

“Good.”

Soon dinner was ready and we all sat down at the table and ate. Réttrmund updated us on the happenings at the palace, despite the fact that the news had not changed since last time, and Dreyma filled Réttrmund in on all that had happened here, including the mischief his boys had gotten into in his absence.

After dinner, Réttrmund, as always, took Dreyma’s hand and they went out of the house for a late afternoon walk. I watched them as they left, feeling a sort of remote yearning in my chest. For some reason I always grew melancholy when I saw my brother and his wife show affection to each other.

Konavefr and I sat in front of the fire with Hjaldr and Herlid while their parents were gone. The boys enjoyed hearing Konavefr and I tell stories about Vanaheim, and I loved telling them. They both reminded me of Réttrmund as a little boy, and I found their childishness both refreshing and ingenuous, considering the unhappiness I had recently endured.

When Réttrmund and Dreyma returned perhaps an hour later, and it was dark outside, the boys insisted on hearing Réttrmund speak about his training up at the palace. Both Hjaldr and Herlid wished to follow in their father’s footsteps and eventually join the Allfather’s royal guard.

It was when Réttrmund began to describe his accidentally breaking another man’s leg that Dreyma stood up and announced that it was bedtime. Herlid groaned, but begrudgingly rose off the floor where he had been sitting cross-legged and followed Hjaldr up the stairs. Réttrmund followed them up to tuck them in, and no doubt to the boys’ delight to finish his grisly story.

After they had gone upstairs, Dreyma sat back down in her chair, leaned towards me, and smiled.

“Stjarna?”

“Yes?” I responded, not looking up from one of Hjaldr’s torn shirts I was mending.

“Have you been to the candlemaker’s recently?”

“You know I just bought a new batch a week ago,” I replied, glancing up at her. “I suspect I won’t be back for a while, though. Aetlun gave me a free bag.”

“What was very kind of him,” she grinned.

I gazed suspiciously at her. “I suppose so. Why?”

“I passed by Aetlun’s on my way to the cobbler today,” Dreyma continued. “Do you know what he asked me?”

“What?”

“He wondered when next you might come by.”

“Why?”

Dreyma raised her eyebrows and Konavefr chuckled, clearly amused by my obliviousness.

“Oh,” I said, suddenly realizing. I looked down at my sewing. “Er, what did you tell him?”

Dreyma shrugged, but was still beaming. “I told him you would come back soon. He is very eager to see you again, Stjarna.”

“I cannot imagine why,” I dismissed, turning my attention back to my sewing and attempting to end the conversation there.

Dreyma laughed. “Can you not?”

“Well, then he shall be sorely disappointed,” I remarked, still not looking up.

I did think that Aetlun the chandler was pleasant and courteous; I had had many conversations with him and certainly he amused me with the funny stories he told me, and he always liked hearing about Vanaheim, but now I realized the source of his interest, and cursed myself that I had been so obtuse before.

“Why?” Konavefr interjected. “I think he is a very respectable man.”

I shook my head, frustrated. “If he is so respectable, Konavefr, then why don’t you marry him?”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted it, but Konavefr only laughed.

“I am an old woman, Stjarna, and Aetlun does not give me free candles. I think you should give him a chance. He could be very good for you.”

“Dreyma, Konavefr, I do appreciate your interest in this,” I whispered dolefully, “but I simply am not ready yet.”

Konavefr leaned back in her chair, appearing dismayed, but nodded. She understood. After my father had died centuries ago, after her initial period of mourning, she had been approached by men inquiring after her. Konavefr, however, had not shown much interest in them and elected to remain unwed.

“Well,” Dreyma sighed. “Aetlun will just have to wait, then.”

I smiled gratefully at the both of them just as Réttrmund came back downstairs. Not much later both he and Dreyma retired for the night, leaving just Konavefr and I sitting in front of the crackling fire. She was focusing on the sewing in her lap, and I now neglecting mine. I was staring at the dancing flames, my mind wandering into painful places. Finally, I looked at her.

“Konavefr?”

“Yes, darling?”

“I am sorry about earlier.”

She glanced up at me in puzzlement.

“About Aetlun,” I clarified.

“Oh, Stjarna, I took no offense. I understand.”

I was silent for a long while, picking absently at my fingers. And then, “After he… after Loki died, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t do anything.”

Konavefr gazed silently at me, allowing me to go on.

“I thought of him constantly…”

“Do you still?” she asked quietly.

I was hesitant to answer. Much to my shame, even though I knew it should not have been shameful, I did not think of Loki as often as I used to. One year ago when he had fallen, I had been consumed only with thoughts of him, paralyzed by the thought that I had to go on without him. But as the months had passed, I had slowly, albeit reluctantly, begun to move on. Sometimes, though, I still felt guilty when I smiled or laughed, and I did not think it fair that I should be happy like this. I did not feel ready yet to forsake his memory like that, even after all this time.

“No,” I finally admitted. “But I feel like I should…”

“I know you do, dear,” Konavefr murmured. “After your father died, Stjarna, I thought I was lost. I could not bear the thought of moving on and leaving him behind, of allowing another into my life as I had him.”

I lowered my head, felt the tears prickling in my eyes.

“It hurt for a long time,” Konavefr continued, “but eventually the pain faded, and my days were more happy than sad. I see that in you now. You’re coming around slowly, and I know it’s painful, and I know you feel bad about it, but it’s alright and I want you to know that you’ll be happy again.”

“Thank you, Konavefr,” I said softly.

She offered me a small smile as I rose up out of my chair, bid her good night, and headed upstairs to my room.

Once my door was closed behind me, I stood there with my back to it for a long while. I thought of what Konavefr had said, that she could see that I was moving on and soon my days would be more happy than sad and that I would be happy again. I knew I should have taken comfort in those words, but standing here alone in my darkened room, it was difficult.

I wanted to move on, but at the same time I did not want to. How could I just leave him behind while I continued forward? How could I possibly be with another, or even think of it, when he had been such a prominent part of my life for so long? Though he was dead, and had been dead for a year now, it still felt like betrayal.

I went to my bed, slowly dropped to my knees, and reached beneath it. I pulled out a small chest covered in dust and flipped the latch. The moonlight pouring in through my window revealed his clothes inside, a pair of pants and a tunic I had taken from his chambers before leaving the palace. I gently ran my fingers over the dark green fabric of his tunic, felt this familiar, hollow aching in my chest.

I had not brought his clothes out in months, but had been seized by a desire just now. I lifted his tunic out of the box, turned around on the floor, sat back against the bed, and held it to my chest.

When I had first come to live with Konavefr, I had been in much worse shape than I was now. During the day, I had moved around listlessly, helping Konavefr and Dreyma with the household chores in a plaintive silence. The nights, as they had been at the palace, were the worst. I cried nearly every night, but had always endeavored to stifle my sobs so I did not wake the others. I had always brought Loki’s tunic out and held it, but eventually could not even bear to look at it and so kept it locked away below my bed.

Eventually, though, both my days and nights had grown easier. Dreyma would often invite me to run errands with her in the city; Hjaldr would attempt to cheer me with jokes he had heard from his friends, but that could only be told once his mother had left the room; Konavefr would reminisce with me about Vanaheim, which despite my history there always seemed to cheer me.

Certainly living here with Konavefr, Dreyma, and the boys had helped, and I knew, despite my reluctance, that I was moving on.

I held Loki’s tunic a little tighter, but then sighed and turned around. I carefully folded it and put it back into the chest. I closed the lid and pushed it back under my bed before changing and lying down to sleep.

__

The next morning at breakfast, we received a visitor. All of us had just sat down to begin eating when there came a knock on the door. I offered to open it, went to the door, and was surprised to see an Einheri standing there in full regalia.

“Vigr!” Réttrmund shouted, and I turned to stare at my brother who was beaming at the guard in the doorway. “What are you doing here? Come to visit me?”

Vigr chuckled, but shook his head. “No, I’ve got a letter here for Lady Stjarnavetr.”

“A letter for me?” I inquired. “From who?”

“The queen,” Vigr answered.

I watched as he pulled out a square of folded paper and handed it to me. I broke the queen’s seal on the back, opened it, and quickly scanned the contents.

"Lady Stjarnavetr,

It has been a long time, and I pray this letter finds you well. I do apologize if it is any inconvenience to you, but I must insist on your coming to see me as soon as possible. The matter is urgent.

Signed, Frigga the queen"

I raised my head to glance at Vigr in alarm. “Has something happened?”

He raised his eyebrows, appearing surprised. “Not that I know of.”

“Did the queen give you this letter?”

“No, her handmaiden Fulla.”

I bit my lip and turned to Réttrmund. “It is a summons from Queen Frigga. She says it is urgent.”

“Then you must go right away,” Réttrmund said.

I turned back to Vigr. “Please let the queen know that I will be there as soon as possible.”

He nodded, bid farewell to Réttrmund, and left.

“What does it say?” Réttrmund questioned, and I handed him the letter. He quickly read it and furrowed his brows. “She does not say what is wrong.”

“What could it be, that she needs to see you as soon as possible?” Konavefr queried from the table.

I shook my head. “I know not. I’ve not spoken to her since I left the palace.”

“Well, you’d best get going,” Réttrmund advised.

I did not bother to even eat breakfast; I grabbed my cloak, for it had lately grown cooler outside with the change of the seasons, and Réttrmund accompanied me outside behind the house, where in the barn the horses were tethered. I went to saddle my horse, but Réttrmund insisted on doing it since he could see that I was worried.

“Will you be alright?” he asked, and I managed a smile as I mounted my horse when he was done.

“Yes, brother.”

“Be careful.”

I urged my horse onwards, headed towards the palace.

__

I arrived perhaps an hour later.

After I left my horse in the stables, I walked through the corridors, headed towards the queen’s chambers. I felt odd being here, since it was not as an occupant or ward of the queen, but rather as a visitor—as a stranger.

I was relieved to see the guards standing outside the queen’s chambers. They announced me when I entered and I could not help but to laugh when the first thing I heard was Málvit’s joyous squeal. She rose up out of her chair and came to embrace me, and then Gullhár, who had been sitting next to her, did the same.

I saw the queen sitting with another group of women playing cards, and she smiled warmly when she saw me.

I talked briefly with the other women who had come to greet me before the queen rose and announced, “Ladies, you are dismissed for the day.”

The women left, and Queen Frigga walked up to me and embraced me.

“It is so good to see you,” she whispered, and she pulled back and kissed my cheeks. Despite the tribulations of the past year, she was still so beautifully regal.

“And you as well, Your Majesty,” I replied. “But you said there was an urgent matter?”

Her expression fell slightly. “Yes, but it would be better if we sat.”

Attempting to quash the uneasiness now stirring inside me, I went to take a seat, but the queen shook her head and motioned towards her bedchamber.

“It is best if we speak in here.”

Though I thought it odd we would not discuss whatever it was in her receiving chamber, I silently followed her into her bedchamber and took a chair in front of her fireplace. She sat across from me, folded her hands in her lap, and sighed.

“Stjarnavetr, I have called you here because something has… happened.”

Despite my worry, I did not speak—only waited.

“Before I tell you, though, I must insist that this stay between us. So far only the king, Thor, Heimdall, and I are aware of it, and we are currently trying to figure out what to do about it. In truth, Odin would be incredibly displeased if he found out I had told you, but you have just as much right to know as us.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but now she was scaring me.

And then, “Loki has been found.”

I stared at her, not comprehending.

“Found?” I echoed dumbly.

“Yes,” she said carefully, watching me.

“You mean… his body?” I whispered.

“No, Stjarnavetr. Loki is alive.”

My lips parted in surprise, and I gawked at her in a sort of shocked disbelief. I did not understand, though her words could not have been plainer. For a split second, I wondered if she was lying, for such a thing I thought could not be possible, but she could not have been lying, I knew she would not be so cruel to lie to me like this.

“I… I do not understand,” I stammered. “He… he fell…”

The queen nodded. “Yes, but he was somehow transported to another… place.”

“How is that possible?” I breathed.

She shook her head. “I know not, but he survived.”

“He is alive,” I murmured, hardly daring to believe.

“Yes.”

I sat up a little straighter, feeling this warmth spread through me. “Where is he?”

“He is currently on Midgard—”

I could not help it—I smiled. I did not know how Loki had gotten there, could not understand any of it, but in that moment I did not care. All I cared was that he was alive and he was seemingly so close.

“Is he alright?”

The queen hesitated, but I did not even give her a chance to respond.

“When is he coming home?” I asked excitedly, feeling this long-forgotten elation, this new hope blooming inside. Those months of bitter misery, those long, sleepless nights spent crying his name—suddenly none of it mattered. Loki was alive! I would see him again, I would get to hold him and touch him and kiss him and it would be as it had always been and everything would be alright again.

“Stjarnavetr,” the queen uttered, and the tone of her voice stilled me.

I stared at her, lips parted in a foolish grin, but when her expression remained serious, my smile slowly fell.

“Is something wrong?”

“Loki is not coming home.”

My voice cracked. “What? Why?”

“The bridge is shattered,” she said grimly. “Heimdall cannot pull him up just like that.”

My heart fell. In my excitement, I had forgotten that Thor had broken Bifröst a year ago when fighting with Loki. With the bridge practically destroyed, Loki could not possibly come back. I looked down at my hands, suddenly feeling ill.

“We have been exploring other options, though,” the queen continued, her voice softer. “The king may be able to manipulate the Darkforce and send Thor to Midgard.”

My eyes flickered up to meet hers. “Thor might be able to bring him back, then?”

She shook her head, but I did not understand her reluctance. “Odin may not be able to successfully send Thor to Midgard. And even if he is able to, there is no guarantee that Thor will be able to force Loki to come back.”

“Force him?” I cried, distraught. “Why would Thor have to force Loki to come home?”

“Loki is not as he was, Stjarnavetr.”

“I do not understand…”

“He has killed people. Midgardians. Innocents.”

I was bewildered. “Why? Were they trying to kill him?”

“I am not sure, but it is yet unclear what Loki is doing on Midgard.”

I looked away, mind reeling. I could not believe this. Loki was alive, my prayers had been answered, but he was on Midgard and embroiled in some scheme and it was no certainty he would even come back.

“Stjarnavetr,” the queen said, drawing my gaze to hers. “I want you to stay here in the palace for a time, at least until all of this is sorted out. I think you have a right to know what is going on. I will let you know the more I find out.”

I nodded, but could not speak for the sickness I felt in my heart.

__

I had many of my belongings fetched from Konavefr’s house and Queen Frigga installed me in my old chambers, which she had kept vacant in my absence. It was not long after this that the Allfather was able to send Thor to Midgard, and by then it was known to all that Loki the fallen prince had been found alive.

The queen kept me informed of Loki’s actions on Midgard, no matter how horrible they were. I could hardly trust my own ears when she told me, much less understand what was going on—the things he orchestrated, the devastation and the mayhem he caused.

When the queen told me these things, and when I returned to my rooms in a stunned and heartbroken silence, I could not help but to remember how it had used to be. I would remember Loki and I walking hand in hand through the palace grounds, or spending a lazy day in his chambers, lying on his bed and in his arms, hearing him whisper sweet nothings to me.

It was so hard for me to accept, despite the evidence I had seen with my own eyes a year earlier. Though during that time I desperately clung to any shred of hope that Loki was as he had been, it was a fool’s hope. I would not have wished to admit it, but deep down I knew he was no longer the Loki I had known. How could he have been, what with all the destruction he had brought about?

Loki’s havoc on Midgard did not last long; one day, the queen called me to her and told me it was over. She described to me, somewhat anxiously, how Loki had overseen the alien invasion of a large Midgardian city. Reluctantly she admitted that thousands had died, and that Loki had intended to rule there as king. But it had not been, and Loki had been spectacularly defeated and captured and Thor was bringing him home.

I remember when she told me, we were sitting alone in her chambers and I was nearly in tears.

“What will happen to him?” I asked in despair.

The queen shook her head. “I know not, but he will be a prisoner when he comes back.”

I looked down at my hands, which were trembling in my lap.

“His actions are enough to warrant death,” she whispered.

“What?” I cried, raising my head. “No! The Allfather cannot allow it!”

“I have already pleaded with my husband, and I will plead and plead again, but ultimately the decision rests with him and all we can do is wait for the sentencing.”

After that, I was in a constant state of distressed torment. I wept for Loki, could not believe or understand why he had done this. I had endured this past year in anguish thinking him dead, had convinced myself it was my fault, only to find out he was alive, only then for him to come home in shackles to the very real possibility of execution.

Some part of me hated Loki for this, that he should do this to himself and to me. That he should have attempted something so dreadfully stupid, that he had caused such devastation in pursuit of such a foolish goal. And yet, another part of me longed for him. The irrational, oblivious part of me did not care what he had done; I just wished to hold him and tell him I loved him, even though I knew it could not possibly go back to how it had been, even if that is what I wanted more than anything in the world.

__

It was known throughout all the palace when Thor brought Loki shamed, beaten, gagged, and in chains, back from Midgard. He was kept in the dungeons beneath the palace until his sentencing, when the Allfather would decide his fate.

I was hysterical those few days. Loki was here in Asgard, below the palace, so close to me, and yet I could not see him. I begged the queen if I could visit him—even once fell to my knees in front of her—but she could not permit it, even though I knew it pained her to deny me so. She herself had not even been allowed to see Loki yet, which must have been agonizing for her.

The day Loki was to be sentenced, I went to the queen to try one last time to beg to see him, since I knew she would be allowed into his sentencing.

“Please,” I tearfully beseeched, clasping my trembling hands together in front of me. “Please let me see him, Your Majesty…”

“I cannot,” she said, and I could hear the sorrow in her voice. “The king almost did not allow me into the sentencing today.”

I hung my head in despair. “What is going to happen to him?”

Queen Frigga shook her head, appearing troubled. “I know not. I have done all I can to change my husband’s mind. We can only wait.”

She left her chambers afterwards, left me there shaking and in tears. I could not stand it, though. I knew in that moment that Loki was being led to Gladsheim, the king’s hall, where he would learn his fate. Even if I could not go in, even if I could not speak with him, perhaps I could catch a glimpse of him, for I had not seen him in so long and merely desired to lay eyes on him.

I quickly collected myself and headed to Gladsheim. The doors were closed when I arrived, which meant Loki was inside, and I saw multiple Einherjar standing along the rows of columns leading up to the doors. Obviously I would not be let in, but the guards did not tell me to leave when I stood uncertainly near the end of the colonnade.

I had not been standing there long, pacing and wringing my hands, when the doors to Gladsheim opened. I turned around, half-hidden behind one of the columns, and my breath caught in my throat when I saw him.

He was fettered in chains—there was a thick metal collar around his neck, two more sets on his wrists and ankles, and two Einherjar walked behind him holding the heavy chains firmly in their hands.

All breath left me as I stared at him.

He seemed paler, if that was possible, and was leaner than last I had seen him. His hair, no longer neatly trimmed and slicked back, hung unkemptly below his shoulders, and the lines on his face seemed etched a little deeper, the look in his eyes a little harder. His head was raised, but his eyes cast down to the ground, and his visage was one of what I could only describe as a sort of smoldering equanimity. He seemed to be thinking intently on something and did not see me as he passed, and once he was by I took a hesitant step out from behind the column.

My lips parted, and I faltered for only a moment, and then I said his name.

He stopped and slowly turned his head and when his callous gaze landed on me, I felt a jolt go through me. In that moment, I forgot everything that Loki had done, everything that I had been told about him, forgot that I was supposed to be worried sick as to whether he had just been sentenced to die. Though he was in chains, though he stood there a prisoner, he was finally here in front of me after so long.

Loki regarded me, almost apathetically; his expression did not soften in the slightest, nor did he speak. We stared at each other for a long, tormenting moment, and I could feel the tears rising up, brimming in my eyes, hardly knew what it was I felt fulminating inside me.

I longed to run forward, desired to throw my arms around him and take his face in my hands and kiss his lips and cheeks and forehead, any part of him I could reach. If only to feel him real and solid in my arms, to press my cheek against him and hear his heartbeat so strong in my ears, but the substantial presence of Einherjar prevented me from acting so impulsively.

I said his name again, more weakly this time, and some foolish part of me expected him to respond—to do anything—but his expression did not change, and the surprising indifference of it sent a chill down my spine. Suddenly, one of the guards tugged roughly on his chains, and Loki blinked and turned back around, and I watched in a miserable silence as he was led away without a backwards glance.

Chapter Text

Loki

Everything stopped when I heard her voice.

I turned my head and froze when I saw her standing alone by a column. Her hands were fisted on her dress, lips parted and teary gaze fixed on me—imploring me.

I did not respond when she repeated my name so softly—did not react in any way—because I knew not what to do. I had not seen her since that morning over a year ago, when she had spurned me upon seeing my true form. Even now I felt a pang when I remembered how many countless times I had thought of her afterwards, despite her rejection and the disgust I felt for myself because of it. And yet, I betrayed no emotion. I stared back, watched her face subtly fall when I stood there so unresponsively.

Suddenly, one of the guards yanked on my chains and urged me forwards. I turned wordlessly from her, that look of pained confusion etched into my mind, and walked on. I was not able to ruminate long on Stjarna, however, for too soon we made it to the dungeons.

They led me down into the darkness, the stone steps illuminated only by the torches flickering ominously on the walls, and through the large double doors. The walk to my new home was surprisingly short; my cell was the first one on the left corner, right near the main entrance. The Allfather had most likely placed me here on purpose so a better eye could be kept on me.

Upon seeing the cell, and a handful of Einherjar standing there waiting for me, a sudden, nauseating wave of fear engulfed me and I stumbled over something—probably my own feet—and one of the guards leading me chuckled. I did not deign to look at him, but was overcome by the sudden urge to kill him for daring to laugh at me. I swallowed my rage, attempted to swallow the dread rising like bile in my throat.

The walls of the cell were not raised yet and my mind raced in those precious seconds before I entered it. What could I do? I could not change shape for these damned cuffs, but then there were at least half a dozen fully-armed guards here, standing there in a stoic silence waiting for my arrival. I would most definitely be killed if I tried anything. No doubt Odin had told them to run me through should I so much as cough.

I was led to the center of the cell, and I stood there silently as one of the guards knelt in front of me and proceeded to remove my shackles. The others stood outside in a line, swords drawn and prepared to behead me if I attempted anything unsavory. I appeared bored to them, but inside my heart was pounding and my legs weak.

Much to their disappointment, I behaved well. As soon as the guard exited the cell, carrying away my chains, the walls went up and I let out a silent, harried breath. As they dispersed, I turned around, squinting slightly.

It was too fucking bright in here. The plain white ceiling, the plain white floor, these two walls of low-humming yellow energy that allowed me to see out at the other cells and the trash within, and the guards that would every so often pass by on their rounds. I studied the furniture. There was a bed placed against the wall and covered with what seemed to be a plain, scratchy blanket. There was a simple wooden chair and table, a stand with a basin on it, and a chamber pot on the floor next to it.

I clenched my fists and gritted my teeth, furious that this was what I had been reduced to.

I recalled that as a child, Odin had once taken Thor and I down here. Frigga had not wanted him to show us this part of the palace, but we were young and welcomed such exciting excursions, especially with Odin who we hardly ever saw. We had wandered through these underground corridors, and though Odin had meant it as a sort of lesson for us, we had seen it more as an adventure. We had mocked and laughed at the prisoners, and many of them had snarled and cursed at us. It had been play then, just something interesting to see, but now here I was meant to rot with the rest of them. Perhaps one day Thor would bring his sons down to the dungeons as we had done so long ago, and they would laugh and point at me and Thor would tell them about his brother estranged.

I was at least grateful that there were not Einherjar standing guard outside my cell constantly. In fact, I was somewhat surprised by the lack of supervision in the dungeons, though I assumed the supposed impenetrableness of the cells made that possible.

The guards, when they did pass by on their sporadic rounds, hardly paid any attention to me. When they did acknowledge me, however, they did not do so with courtesy. If I still had been in favor with the king, I could have had their tongues for the things they said to me, for the way they insulted and debased me. They laughed at me, and it kindled this fury inside me, but there was nothing I could do about it and so I did my best to ignore them.

In my initial boredom, I played with my magic. I learned that the magical barrier repelled any foreign energy—my seidr could not extend past it, nor could it hope to penetrate it. I knew not what type of energy was used to form the prison walls, and once when I was so foolish as to touch it, I was badly burned. I had quickly healed myself and not attempted it again.

Sometimes I would sit by the barrier, leaning against the wall, legs crossed in front of me, and would study the vermin in the cells opposite me. They did not like it when I watched them and it amused me when they cursed or threatened me, and then the guards would tell them to shut up.

The dungeons were quiet—much quieter than I had always imagined. Occasionally there was shouting from farther down the corridor, when a prisoner finally snapped or two of them got into a fight in their cell and the guards would rush to stop it, but more often than not, it was completely silent.

There was no wind down here, no birds chirping or leaves rustling. This perpetually white ceiling was my sky, this humming yellow barrier my sun, and my thoughts the only voice to be heard. I almost would have preferred the noise, for left alone in this seemingly everlasting silence with only myself for company, my thoughts wandered aimlessly and unreservedly.

When there was nothing to do but sit and think, one reflected on nothing and everything. Old memories that I would have preferred to lay undisturbed and forgotten resurfaced, often of Odin and Thor and Frigga; thoughts of my dreadful sojourn in space and what happened afterwards; thoughts of Midgard and my humiliating defeat there; and then, always, Stjarna.

My mind could never decide if it was with hate that I thought of her, or something else. Usually it was animosity, for I was supposed to detest her for what she had done to me before my fall, but that never lasted long. Always my resentment would soften, and I would lie on my bed with my eyes closed and think of her.

Every so often, when it became too much, I would cast an illusion over my cell so any passing guards would see me sitting complacently in the chair, and conjure an image of her. Sometimes she was clothed, sometimes she was not, and I would envision laying her down on this bed, kissing her through her dress first, running my hands over her body, pressing my lips to her warm skin; taking her dress off, kissing her breasts and belly and those soft golden curls between her legs. I would try my hardest to evoke the feel of her body against mine, but despite how many times we had lain together through the centuries, I could never for the life of me truly recall it. But then again, many things of pleasure had been driven from my mind this past year.

It was not just Stjarna’s body I thought of when I grew bored and there was only so much to do. Occasionally I would allow myself to reminisce some long forgotten summer day spent in the shady recesses of our grove. I could envision her lying next to me, see the dappled sunlight falling across her naked body, the way her golden hair, curling and still damp from the spring, lay fanned out over the sweet grass. She would wrap her arms around me, press a kiss to my chest, and I imagined I could hear her beautiful voice, that beautiful laugh.

Sometimes, though rarely, I would grow so melancholy in recollecting and wish I had not done any of it. When the silence and the loneliness became unbearable, I thought I would give it all up just to lie next to her again, just to watch her drift off to sleep and hear her gentle breaths. How none of it had been worth it, to be so far from her.

Such light Stjarna was, so good and pure compared to this darkness in my mind and heart that constantly attempted to paint her as the villain, to group her with Odin and Thor and the rest of them who had betrayed me.

I would recall our last night together, when we had made love in front of my hearth. I had carried her to bed afterwards, remembered how she had folded herself into my arms and told me she loved me. What if I had never gotten out of bed? What if I had given up all my plans then and just stayed there with her? What if, what if… but none of that mattered anymore for what had happened afterwards.

When she had come to me the next morning after our parting, fraught with concern, accusing me of all these things I had done and could not deny. I always felt a twinge when I remembered how she had threatened to leave me, how I had stopped her because I could not imagine being without her like that.

But then when I showed her… I did not think I could ever forget that look on her face when she saw my skin darken, when she saw my eyes turn that bloody red. She had recoiled from me, refused to touch me, and then that telling silence when I asked her if she hated me now that she knew I was not Aesir, but of that most despised race halfway across the universe.

It was then when I would feel the anger again, such burning hatred for she who I had once claimed to love. I would be able to convince myself once again that she was nothing to me anymore, only inevitably to repeat the cycle again.

Unfortunately, Odin had spared me, and so I would die here instead, eaten up with hatred and this lonely bitterness.

__

I knew not how much time had passed when Frigga’s first delivery came.

I was pacing in my chambers, contemplating what I could have done differently on Midgard and internally cursing all who had had a hand in my downfall, when I heard the guard approach my cell. I glanced up and saw him standing there holding a book in his hands.

“A delivery for His Royal Highness,” he announced sardonically, and a small square opened up in the yellow wall and he pushed the book through and it slapped unceremoniously onto the ground.

The barrier snapped shut and the Einheri turned and walked away. I went to the book, wondering who would send me a gift, and picked it up. It was a volume on the history of Nidavellir; the pages were well-worn and many of them bent now due to the guard’s lack of concern. I opened the cover and saw on the inside, scrawled beautifully in faded ink:

To my son Loki,

May this book serve you well in all your endeavors.

Mother

I swallowed and slowly shut the book. This was one of the first books Frigga had gifted to me, many centuries ago when I first had begun learning about the other realms in one of my tutor’s classes.

I sat down in my chair and opened the book to the first page. I lightly ran my fingertips over the now grayish ink—my own handwriting. Notes and observations I had taken in preparing for my lessons. I wondered why she had sent it to me down here, but it was something to do instead of staring at the wall or ceiling. I read the book in two settings, despite its tedious nature and having long ago memorized all the facts within.

It was not long after this that Frigga came to see me.

I was lounging on my bed, arms tucked under my head, staring up at the ceiling and about to drift off, when suddenly I heard my name. I bolted upright and my mouth fell open when I saw Frigga standing in the center of my cell. Her eyes were not focused on me, though, but rather wandering around as if she could not see me. I slipped off the bed and cautiously approached her.

Suddenly, her eyes landed on me and she smiled. I reached out and touched her, and was surprised when she abruptly disappeared in a shimmer of green.

I furrowed my brows, more confused than anything, for I had not conjured her.

Not a moment later, she reappeared.

“Don’t do that, darling,” she said, and my lips parted in surprise. “It breaks the connection.”

Frigga smiled again and tilted her head, and this long-forgotten warmth bloomed inside me. Despite everything that had happened, I could not deny the joy I felt in seeing her, even if it was not really her standing there.

“Did you receive your book?” she inquired.

“Yes,” I replied, and I was almost embarrassed at how rough my voice sounded. I cleared my throat. “Frigga… how long?”

Her smile fell slightly. “It’s been a month.”

I could not help it—I let out an anguished cry. One month? I had been pining here for only one month? It had felt a year.

Frigga seemed distraught at my reaction and took a step forward. Her dark purple dress rippled with the movement and I thought she looked so real. You could not tell she was merely an illusion.

“Why are you here?” I asked softly.

“To see you,” she responded, as if my question was ridiculous. “You are my son.”

Now I could not help a sly smile. “If that is the case, I suppose he will be visiting soon, as well? Odin?”

Frigga was reluctant to answer. She knew I was baiting her. “He is very busy—”

“Do not lie to me,” I snarled. “I am no fool. He could not give a fuck about me rotting down here. He wanted to execute me.”

“But he did not—”

“Only because of you,” I said venomously. “It is only because you are his wife that he did not kill me. It mattered not that I had been his son my entire life. He would have seen me dead.”

“I begged him, Loki…”

“And now I am to waste away here for all eternity,” I growled. “You think this is a mercy? Confined to this cell with only myself for company?”

Frigga appeared sorrowful. “I did what I could.”

“It was not enough,” I retorted.

Frigga regarded me for a long moment, lips pressed tightly together, but remained silent.

“Do not speak to me of Odin,” I warned. “I would not hear of him.”

“Is there anybody else you would have me refrain from mentioning?” she inquired, and I knew exactly where she was headed.

I glared at her, daring her to say her name.

“Have you not wondered?” she asked softly.

“Wondered about what?” I answered gruffly, feigning ignorance.

“Stjarnavetr.”

I gritted my teeth. At mention of Stjarna, something stirred inside me, but I remained silent.

“She misses you.”

“Does she?” I replied absently, attempting to remain impassive.

“Yes, of course she does.”

I glanced away so Frigga could not see the way my face fell. I would never admit to her how pathetically often I found myself thinking of Stjarna, how often I found myself fighting these memories of us. But despite how many times I had imagined being with Stjarna again, despite how my mind could not seem to make itself up, I hardened myself against Frigga’s words. I reminded myself of my last meeting with Stjarna, how even after we had been lovers for five centuries, she could not bear to look at me—could not even touch me. I told myself that I hated her, that she was as worthless and as insignificant as the rest of them.

“Why would she not miss you?” Frigga inquired, and I clenched my fists.

“I showed her,” I responded tightly. “That morning, she… she told me she would leave me if I did not tell her, so I showed her…”

Frigga studied me for a long moment before giving a little nod. “She told me.”

I let out a short, harsh laugh, and looked up at her. “Did she tell you how she reacted?”

Her silence confirmed my suspicions. Obviously Stjarna had not told her the whole story.

“She would not stand near me,” I remarked bitterly. “She would not touch me. I saw the revulsion in her eyes.”

Frigga shook her head, as if she could not believe it, and it incensed me.

“Do you doubt me?” I demanded.

“I know not what happened, Loki, but I do know what happened after you fell.”

I scoffed and began to pace. She was irritating me with all this talk of Stjarna.

“She was inconsolable,” Frigga explained quietly, her eyes following me as I moved. “She slept in your chambers for such a long time.”

I shook my head. It was so much easier to hold onto this anger and this resentment. I did not want to feel sorry for Stjarna, did not want to give into this sorrow I felt at the idea of her sleeping alone in my chambers without me for so long.

“So?” I snapped.

Frigga pressed her lips together and looked away, obviously disappointed by my lack of compassion. I did not care, though. I was already the biggest disappointment in Asgard, that was no secret.

“I will have more items to be brought here,” she finally said, fortunately moving away from the topic of Stjarna.

I did not thank her, though I knew I should have.

“Loki?”

I turned to stare at her. She walked up to me, and I once again marveled at how real she appeared. Impulsively I wanted to lean down and wrap my arms around her, to bury my face in her hair as I had done when I was a boy, to catch that faint whiff of roses. But she was just an illusion, and I could not hold her and she could not hold me.

Frigga smiled up at me, despite my harsh words earlier, and I felt regret when I saw her lips tremble.

“I am glad to see you, Loki,” she whispered, and then she was gone.

__

Sometime later—it could have been one day or a week, I could not tell—the furnishings Frigga had spoken of arrived.

New sheets for my bed, softer than the coarse stuff that had originally been there. The lone rude chair was taken away and replaced with a cushioned chair and footstool, and my wooden table was exchanged for one with a stone top and intricate curving legs.

Though I was still a prisoner, and still doomed to die down here, the upgrades did improve the cell, and I told myself I would thank Frigga if she ever came to see me again.

She continued to send me books. Sometimes it was just one, sometimes it was three or four at a time. Books of runes, books of other realms and peoples. Frigga was drawing from both her own library and mine, I noticed, and though I would never see them all again, I hoped my collection of books had not been damaged or altered in any way in my absence. From the sound of it, when Frigga told me Stjarna had slept in my chambers for many months after, nothing in my chambers had been touched.

At first I was thankful for the books, for at first they kept my mind occupied—kept the dark and traitorous thoughts at bay—but they could only entertain me for so long.

When there were no books to read, nothing left to do but brood in this silence, I would lie there on my bed with my eyes closed. Eventually I moved past thinking of the injustices done to me, and though I did not wish it, my mind wandered to darker places. I would recall my time in space, that crushing blackness, then hearing a voice, deep and resounding, and then pain.

I could not escape the memories even in my sleep. When I dreamed of it, I would be jolted violently awake, heart pounding in my chest and body covered in a cold sweat. I would close my eyes, attempt to regulate my breathing, try to ignore the prickling on my skin from just the memory of the things they had done.

It was because of this that I began to secretly anticipate Frigga’s sporadic visits, for it was something to distract from the memories, something to look forward to in this perpetual loneliness. The more she visited, the more I opened up to her, though I refused to divulge what had happened to me after my fall, since the nightmares were enough for me. Every now and then when she hesitantly inquired, I contemplated taking my tunic off so she could see, perhaps so she could go back to Odin and tell him what had been done to me, but I never did—the idea of hurting her like that never appealed to me for very long.

Eventually I allowed her to speak of Thor, though I still refused to hear of Odin. Frigga told me how after I had fallen, he had thrown himself even more intently into his training and eventually forgone his studies. There had been growing discord within the Nine Realms, she said, and it was after Bifröst had been repaired using the Tesseract that Thor was gone for great lengths of time helping to contain it. I never asked Frigga about that human he had mentioned so long ago after his excursion on Midgard, some little woman he had apparently fallen for—I did not care to hear of her, for she was part of the reason Thor had managed to ruin my plans.

Frigga liked to speak of Stjarna, though. She would always bring her up in the most subtle ways, but I was no fool and I told her every time I did not wish to hear of her. That displeased her, but she would do as I said and refrain from speaking of her the rest of her visit.

And so time dragged on.

__

I was not sure how much time had passed—it all ran together and I had stopped asking Frigga how long I had been languishing down here.

During one of her visits, as usual, she once again brought Stjarna up. This time, however, I did not simply roll my eyes or turn away.

“Why do you speak so much of her?” I demanded. “How many times must I tell you I do not care?”

Frigga regarded me for a long moment before venturing, “So you would not care to see her?”

At that, I paused. Something leaped inside me at the notion of seeing Stjarna stand before me as Frigga did now, but I quickly tamped it down.

“No, I would not wish to cause such discomfort to her again,” I said coldly, remembering how she had reacted to seeing my true form.

Frigga sighed, clearly exasperated. “Loki, it has been long enough—”

“No! I do not care to see her!”

“You were always such a talented liar, Loki, but you cannot lie to me,” she observed, smiling knowingly. “I know you wish to see her, why will you not admit it?”

“There is nothing to admit,” I growled, gritting my teeth.

She shook her head. “But she wants to see you.”

“She is one of the last people in this realm that I would see,” I retorted, but wondered secretly why Stjarna would even want to see me. Was she not ashamed of me? I almost could not believe Stjarna would truly wish to see me after all I had done.

“How can you say that?” Frigga asked, appalled.

“You were not there!” I shouted, taking a step forward. “You did not see the way she looked at me! Do not tell me she misses me, do not tell me she wants to see me! I care not, for she is no better than the rest of them.”

Frigga stared at me in a shocked silence, but I stood there glowering unapologetically at her. Finally, she composed herself.

“We will see.”

And then she was gone.

__

It was, realistically, probably a few days later.

I had nearly forgotten about my spat with Frigga and was leaning against the wall, arms folded, staring out into the darkened corridor, watching two Einherjar attempting to break up a fight in the cell opposite me. It was not terribly amusing, but something to watch.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a ripple of green.

I turned my head, expecting to see Frigga—and froze.

She stood there as had Frigga the first time she had come to visit me, and then her searching gaze landed on me.

My first thought was not one of hatred, nor of anger. No, my first thought was that gods, she was so beautiful. I drank in the sight of her, saw her hair spilling down over her shoulders in long, golden waves, her wide, grey eyes fixed raptly on me, her lovely, pale pink lips moving to form my name.

“Loki,” she breathed, and just the sound of her voice sent a shiver of pleasure through me.

I did not reply, I could only stare at her. I knew not what to say, but certainly in that moment I was not filled with animosity as I always believed I would be. I suppose that should have been enough evidence for me that I did not truly despise her, that I did not truly resent what she had done, but in that moment I was more shocked than anything.

Frigga obviously had planned for this, and I would not doubt if she was standing nearby watching our conversation. But no… Frigga would have left Stjarna alone to speak with me like this for the first time.

Stjarna glanced down at her hands, which were clasped tightly—nervously—in front of her, and I so badly wished she was real. I wanted to reach out and take her in my arms and kiss her.

“I did not think I would ever see you again,” she mumbled, and her eyes slowly rose to meet mine.

I remained silent, for I was not sure what would come out. That despite thinking of her constantly, I had still somehow convinced myself that I loathed her? Oh, but that was not true, how could I despise the beautiful creature standing before me? I hoped Frigga had not told her what I had said last time, I could not imagine having hurt her in such a way…

“Is it true?” Stjarna ventured when I did not speak. “Those… those things they say you did?”

“What do they say?” I asked quietly. My first words to her in so long.

“That you murdered the Midgardians. You tried to take one of their cities…”

“Yes,” I answered, carefully gauging her reaction.

“Why?” she murmured pitifully. “Why did you do that?”

I hesitated for only a moment. “To be king.”

She shook her head and glanced away, seemingly on the verge of tears. “I wish you had not done this.”

So simple was her statement, and so genuine, but I felt a flicker of irritation. Who was she to judge me? Already I could sense things were going downhill, already I was regretting Frigga’s meddling despite my earlier thoughts upon seeing Stjarna.

“You knew I was meant to be king,” I remarked, attempting to keep my voice level. “You of all people knew of the wrong done to me.”

“The wrong done to you?” she cried, looking back up at me. “You—you did this, Loki! You betrayed us, you lied, you… you lied to me…”

“I lied to everybody,” I dismissed, turning away from her.

Though I could not see her, I could hear the hurt in her voice. “But I am not everybody.”

“After a certain point, Stjarna,” I replied impassively, “you became everybody.”

She did not speak for a long moment and I turned to look at her.

Her lip was quivering, her eyes focused on me.

“Don’t you remember, Loki?” she whimpered. “You told me once that you would never lie to me. You told me once that you would never hurt me.”

“Things change.”

She glanced away and I could not help the pang I felt when I saw her eyes brimming with tears.

I cursed Frigga for having done this.

Stjarna’s voice wavered. “Do you remember that night, Loki, centuries ago? I was going to leave the palace to live with my father. It was to be my last night and there was a banquet. I had left you and I thought you had given up on me and I was glad, but then you danced with me and I wanted you to go away afterwards but you wouldn’t.”

She smiled a little as she spoke, though I had no idea why. It angered me that she should bring this up now; I was in no mood for such foolish remembrances and timeworn sentiments.

“I remember I told you I did not want you, even though I did, and you begged me to stay with you. You told me you would never lie to me again, or hurt me, and you told me you loved me for the first time and you would never let me forget it, and I never have.”

Though it exasperated me, I recalled the night she spoke of, how could I ever forget it? A small, treacherous part of me wished to tell her that I had not forgotten, but I could not bring myself to further this.

I scoffed, which visibly hurt her, and said callously, “What is the point of this?”

She gazed up at me and her voice cracked. “Do I mean so little to you now, Loki? Have you forgotten how much you loved me?”

I stared at her for a long moment before turning away. I paced in front of her, and I could feel her large, mournful eyes following me. I did not want to acknowledge how surely I must be breaking her heart—just keep thinking of what she had done, do not let the past interfere.

That night, that promise I had made to her, had nothing to do with what had occurred a year ago. Perhaps I had promised to never let her forget my love for her, but that promise had been made worthless when she rejected me as she had.

When I did not answer, Stjarna tearfully spoke again.

“Can you understand, Loki? I have never felt like that before. Not—not when my mother died, nor my father. I cannot describe to you how painful your absence was to me. Every day I thought I would die for what I did to you, and now you are here and you will not even look at me.”

I turned on her, incensed by her stupidity, and felt this fury rising like bile in my throat. She did not know what I had endured this past year, she could not even hope to imagine it. So fucking what that she had wept? So fucking what that she had missed me? Here she bemoaned her petty sufferings, and she had no idea the extent of my own.

I could not help it—I exploded.

“Then do it!” I screamed, causing her to flinch backwards. “Tell me how you suffered! Tell me so that I may feel sorry for you! Sitting here in this cell, damned to rot here for all eternity, tell me how miserable you are! Tell me how you can barely stand to go on!”

Stjarna stared wide-eyed at me, mouth fallen open in shock. Her eyes flickered down to the ground and I saw the tears rolling down her cheeks, perceived the subtle trembling of her body.

“Well?” I snapped, and still she remained silent. “How dare you speak to me of your misery, when you sleep above and I here?”

Stjarna’s head remained bowed and I could hear her quietly weeping. Used to the sight of her cheeks wet with tears would have had me feeling all sorts of regret, the echoes of her cries wanting me to draw her into my arms to kiss away her tears, especially if they were my own doing, and attempting to comfort her in any way I could.

But not now. We were on opposite sides now, weren’t we? Here she came attempting to twist my emotions, saying she had missed me and yet daring to reprimand. I would not listen to it, I did not have to. I had been right all along, convincing myself she was no better than the rest of them.

“I am sorry,” Stjarna whimpered, voice choked with tears, and I knew she was apologizing for more than just her previous words. “I am so sorry for everything, Loki…”

I scoffed, quivering with anger. “I do not want your apologies.”

She wiped her cheeks before raising her head to look at me. Her eyes were brimming with tears, her lips trembling, and immediately I felt this treacherous remorse.

“Please forgive me,” she whispered, and then she faded and was gone.

As soon as Stjarna disappeared, I turned around, grabbed the waist-high table on which I had a tall stack of books, and furiously overturned it. The books flew into the air and the table crashed loudly into the yellow barrier.

I kicked one of the books into the wall and stood there, breaths coming rapidly. My head was bowed down, fists clenched at my sides, and gaze fixed on the floor. I closed my eyes, feeling such overwhelming disgust for myself.

I heard footsteps outside. I lifted my head and saw a guard unhurriedly walk past, surely drawn by the sound of the table being overturned. I watched him until he passed and then gradually turned around.

My breath caught in my throat.

Stjarna was standing there, head tilted slightly to the side, a little-half smile on her face.

I let out my breath and slowly walked up to her.

“Stjarna,” I murmured.

She did not move, only studied me. Gods, she was so beautiful.

“I am… I am sorry for what I said,” I whispered. “I did break my promise to you, didn’t I?”

I lifted my hand to ever so lightly let the back of my fingers drift over her cheek, but as soon as I touched her, the illusion I had conjured flickered. I quickly brought my hand away, fearful to let her disappear for even a moment.

I swallowed hard, almost could not even look at her.

“Did you know, Stjarna, you’re the only thing that kept me sane…”

Though she was merely an illusion, it took everything I had to admit it. That when the Chitauri had subjected me to their tortures, seeking to break me and bend me to their will, it was Stjarna my shattered mind had latched onto.

I closed my eyes, could not help but to once again hear my own screams ringing in my ears, feel the pain shooting up my arms as my fingernails ripped on stone and dirt, smell my own searing flesh, hear it tearing. Lying on a cold stone floor, shaking and bleeding, every breath drawn pure agony, dreading when that door should open and they would come to collect me for another round, and I would close my eyes and imagine Stjarna, see her leaning over me, golden hair spilling down over her shoulders, see her smiling eyes gazing so kindly, so lovingly, at me.

I slowly opened my eyes, saw her face through this veil of tears.

Gods, why had I done this? It was as if I could not help but to tear myself down, further and further into this misery. It was as if I could not bear to let things get better, though there was not much left to improve now. Even if Stjarna had hurt me, I knew I could not just stop loving her. Why hadn’t I told her I knew she was sorry, and that I loved her? Why had I let her go again when I should have told her to stay?

I leaned forward, felt a little spark on my lips when I kissed her, and then she was gone in a shimmer of green.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

I sat on the edge of my bed, bent over and face buried in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably. It was very late—or very early now, I knew not—and I had only just returned from the queen’s chambers after speaking with Loki for the first time in over a year. Earlier, I would have assumed it to be a joyous, if not amorous occasion, despite his being imprisoned, but it had regrettably devolved into the very opposite.

Before Queen Frigga had told me there was a way for me to speak with Loki, I had given up hope of ever seeing him again. He had been imprisoned for three long months at this point in time, and I had stayed here in the palace since his return from Midgard lamenting his fate, waiting for anything and nothing, and finally realizing there was nothing left, had been contemplating returning to Konavefr’s.

But then, not two days ago, the queen had admitted something to me. She told me that she had been speaking to Loki these past months, and only now thought it safe and him ready to see me. I had been delirious with joy and filled with this foolish hope.

And so this night after dinner, when all the other handmaidens had gone, the queen had taken me into her bedchamber. She had led me to a door in the far wall, a door I had seen before but never inquired as to what lay behind it. After withdrawing a key from a small chain on her person, she had unlocked the door and beckoned me inside.

The room had only had one window and one torch to light it; it was very small and empty save for a single brazier in the center, and I suddenly realized how Queen Frigga had been communicating with Loki. I had read of such items, though never seen one, and knew using one such as this could mentally connect two people through the use of seidr, even if they were far away from one another.

The queen had shut the door behind us and turned to me with a kind smile before walking up to the brazier. I had stayed standing by the door, suddenly nervous at the prospect of speaking to Loki for the first time in so long. She had stood before the brazier and waved her hand, and a fire sprung up instantly from the dry coals inside.

“Come, Stjarnavetr,” she had coaxed, and held out her arm. I had tentatively approached her and the fire and she explained how she had linked to a particular spot in Loki’s cell and I simply had to search for him and would eventually see him.

I had stood a few feet from the fire, watching it burn soundlessly, and behind me heard the queen shut the door and leave. I had chastised myself for being so anxious. Had I not envisioned this countless times before? Wishing I could see him again, wishing I could speak to him?

And then there he was. His back had been to me, and it looked as if he was leaning against nothing, arms folded over his chest. As soon as my eyes landed on him, he must have perceived me and he turned and saw me and my breath caught in my throat.

We had wordlessly regarded one another, and all I could think of was how much he had changed in the time since I had seen him after his sentencing three months prior. His hair had been unkempt then, but now appeared fairly unclean, and he was gaunt and drained and even whiter than usual.

I had cursed myself, for despite having known for months what I might say to him if I was ever to have the chance—mostly apologizing for what I had done and telling him I loved him—in that instant everything was gone from my head and I had not known what to say, and so had quickly glanced down at my hands and mumbled something foolish about having thought I might never see him again.

Loki did not speak, which had unnerved me, and only stared at me as if he could not believe I was truly there. Finally, and stupidly, I had inquired as to whether it was true all the horrible things I had heard about him. He admitted they were, and I had been filled with sadness. I told him I wished he had not done any of it, and it was then when I believe I angered him.

After that, Loki became more heated and it had all deteriorated until I was weeping and he screaming. I had attempted to apologize, but he would not hear it and I knew he would not listen to me and so I had begged his forgiveness one final time before breaking the connection.

When I had come out of the room a little while later, the queen, who had been sitting quietly by her fireplace, saw my state and pressed her lips tightly together.

“I will speak with him, Stjarnavetr,” she had said, attempting to console me.

But I had only shaken my head. I did not think there anything she could do, especially when Loki was in the state I had left him. I tearfully thanked her for allowing me to see him and left afterwards, and now sat here on my bed consumed with grief.

How many nights had I lain in his bed, or my own at Konavefr’s, thinking him dead and wishing only one more hour to spend with him, if only a moment more to let him know I was sorry for all I had done, and to let him know that I loved him? And now by some miracle the Norns had given me another chance, but everything had fallen apart before it even began.

My weeping increased when I recalled how coldly Loki had dismissed his betrayal to me, how callously he had scorned his once-affection for me. It did not seem there was much of that left now, though, I thought miserably—perhaps he did not love me anymore. But then, perhaps I did not deserve it after what I had done.

Once I could not cry anymore, and had been staring blankly at the shadowy wall, I reluctantly lay down, not even bothering to undress or slip beneath the covers. Eventually, I drifted off into an uneasy but merciful sleep.

By the next afternoon, I had decided to return to Konavefr’s. The sooner I left, the better. There was nothing left for me here, after all—Loki was imprisoned for all eternity and obviously, much to my sorrow, no longer felt for me as he once had. I agonized over my actions of more than a year ago, believing them to be the cause of Loki’s aversion to me, but I did not think there to be a solution.

I planned to tell Queen Frigga I was leaving—this time for good—that night after dinner when the other women were dismissed. I stood there in a despondent silence as they filed out of her chambers, and right as the doors closed, before I could even get a word out, she spoke.

“I talked to Loki, Stjarnavetr,” she said, and I faltered.

“You did?”

“Yes, and he would see you again.”

“Oh…” I glanced uncertainly down at the floor. “I do not think…”

“He asked for you.”

I slowly looked up at her, hardly daring to believe it. “He did?”

“Yes. It was evident he was distraught over your meeting. He did not tell me what he said to you, and I did not ask, and I am not asking you to tell me. It is between you two, but I speak the truth when I say he wishes to see you again.”

Loki wanted to see me? I could not deny the tiny spark of hope I felt, for it could only mean one thing. Did he regret what he had said to me before? Had I been too rash in thinking he did not care for me as he once had?

I could not possibly say no.

“Yes,” I whispered.

She smiled. “Come.”

“Now?” I inquired, raising my eyebrows.

“Yes, of course.”

Queen Frigga turned and I took a deep breath and followed her into her bedchamber, and then into that little room with the brazier. She waved her hand and, as before, the fire instantly roared to life. I stood a little behind her, anxiously watching the flames.

“Loki,” she spoke quietly, and suddenly he was there as if having simply stepped into her line of sight.

He did not look at me, but of course he could not yet see me.

“Frigga,” he acknowledged, and something inside of me leapt at merely the sound of his voice.

“I have Stjarnavetr here,” the queen explained, and I felt heartened when Loki leaned forward, as if eager. She stepped away, silently indicating for me to come forward. I did so and suddenly his gaze landed on me.

I heard the door behind me close as the queen exited, but I did not turn to see, for Loki was studying me, his expression much kinder—albeit more forlorn—than last time.

“Hello, darling,” he whispered, and I could not help an instinctive little smile.

“Hello, Loki,” I replied, just as quietly. It almost felt as if we were speaking to one another for the very first time. I kept my eyes fastened on his, not wanting to look away for even a moment.

“Stjarna…”

Now Loki came across as hesitant, as if unsure of what he wanted to say, but I knew exactly what it was.

“I know Loki,” I said softly. “I forgive you.”

He seemed surprised, but only momentarily, and the corner of his lips curled up in an appreciative smile.

“I am sorry, too,” I continued, and began unconsciously twisting my fingers in nervousness. I had waited so long to tell him this, and felt I should try again because I did not think he had truly heard me last time. “It does not matter, your being Jötun.”

As soon as I uttered the word, Loki stiffened and I could already feel him distancing himself from whatever I might say next.

“I need you to know,” I implored, and I took a frantic step forward. “I need you to know that I am sorry for what I did, Loki. I need you to know that it doesn’t matter what you are. I love you, I still love you…”

Loki’s expression softened when he heard my voice tremble, and he appeared saddened.

“Frigga told me,” he murmured. “How you slept in my chambers, after…”

“Oh,” I breathed, allowing my eyes to drift off to the side. I did not wish to remember those months, those long nights spent alone and filled with my wretched lamentations.

“Why did you sleep there, if I was gone?” he gently inquired.

“Because I missed you,” I responded tremulously. “It was where I felt closest to you.”

“You thought I had died,” he mused, and it sounded as if he regretted the fact.

I pressed my lips together. I did not like talking about this and could already feel the tears stinging in my eyes at just the memory of his supposed death.

“Yes,” I answered quietly. “You left and you did not come back to me.”

Loki’s expression fell, and suddenly I was overcome with the urge to touch him—if only to hold his hand, or wrap my arms around him and feel him against me. It almost felt a physical pain.

“You’ve come back now,” I continued in an unsteady whisper, “but you’ve still left me alone.”

How poetically unjust it seemed, that after believing my lover dead and vehemently mourning his loss for so long, he should return home only to leave me alone as before. I lowered my head, attempting to swallow the tears I could feel rising up. I did not want to cry in front of him again, and especially not like this. Though a part of me desired to hold him, to kiss and hold him, another part of me was furious with him for doing this, and regardless of what had happened the first time, I could not help now but to speak on it.

“Why did you do this?” I cried. “Why did you do this to us?”

Loki was quiet for a minute before halfheartedly attempting to defend himself.

“I was meant to be king, Stjarna, I was—”

“Did you not think of me?” I interrupted, almost angrily. I raised my head and he appeared dismayed at my tears. “Did you not think of me when you led the giants into Asgard and then lied about it? Did you not think of me when you meant to destroy an entire realm?”

I expected Loki to grow irate as before, but he was silent and only stared at me and I knew it was because he did not have an answer—or rather, he did but would not admit it.

“Did you not think for a moment of all you were throwing away, including me?” I demanded tearfully, and I knew I was being selfish considering his circumstances and mine, but I could not help it. I had kept all of this inside for so long and now it was just pouring out. “Did you not care what would happen to me? You said you loved me, but you betrayed me. Did you think of me at all?”

“Every day, Stjarna,” he remarked suddenly, and he did not sound angry, but desperate. “I thought of you every day.”

I shook my head and gazed at him for a long, agonizing moment, suddenly at a loss for words. Gods, how angry I was at him for having done this, and yet I wanted nothing more than to be with him. I knew all he had done, but part of me could not believe it, or did not want to believe it. Still I so naively chose to think of him as I had known him before, my Loki who would take me out into the countryside and lay out a picnic for us under a spreading tree, my Loki who would make slow love to me on the sun-drenched grass and murmur sweet nothings to me until I drifted off to sleep in his arms.

“I miss you,” I whispered sorrowfully, and my voice cracked. I took a step forward, felt the heat from the fire on my face. Loki did not say anything, but what could he? It was not as if he could do anything about it, nor I.

I reached out with my hand, just out of reach of the flames, knowing I would not feel, even knowing it would shatter the illusion, and Loki extended his hand as well and I felt a sort of sparking heat in my fingers when we touched, and the fire died instantly and he was gone.

I stood there in the stillness, staring vacantly at the blackened coals inside the brazier. I knew I should have felt some sort of happiness for now having the opportunity to speak with Loki, but I only felt this morose discontent. It seemed almost cruel for me to be able to see him like this, to hear his voice and have him stand before me, but unable to touch or feel him in any way.

Though I did not think I could take much more tonight, I knew I wanted to see Loki again and requested the very next day if I could. Queen Frigga appeared uncertain and admitted that even she did not see Loki every day. She considered it risky, but I begged her and she acquiesced.

That night after dinner when the handmaidens had been dismissed, the queen unlocked that room in her bedchamber, allowed me inside, and closed the door behind me. I stood in front of the brazier and waved my hand, feeling the heat of my seidr in my palm, and willed the fire to light.

I took a few slow steps to the right, searching for him, and then suddenly he was there, seemingly so real and yet engulfed silently in these licking flames.

I smiled at him, almost in relief. I had been thinking of him all day.

“Loki…”

“I was not sure if you would come to see me again,” he said.

“Why would I not?” I asked softly, surprised by his comment.

“I know not. Perhaps you were angry with me, or ashamed.”

“I am,” I admitted. “I am angry with you, and ashamed. You have done horrible, unforgivable things, Loki, and because of them… because of them I will never see you again…”

I sighed and looked down at my hands. I thought it silly that Loki was sentenced to imprisonment for all eternity and I was here feeling sorry for myself. But no, not just myself—us. The needless tragedy of it all, of what now we had been reduced to.

When I did not speak again, Loki decided to shift the conversation.

“I have not asked Frigga in a while. How long have I been down here?”

“Three months,” I quietly responded.

“Three?” he echoed calmly, though I could detect a hint of anguish. “Only three… it feels much longer.”

I watched as he turned his head and it appeared as if he was gazing at something I could not see.

“I will go mad like them eventually, when I have been down here for a century. Perhaps it will not even take that long.”

“Do not say that,” I said quickly, feeling ill. “Do not say that.”

“Why not?” he questioned, turning back to me. “It is the truth.”

I could not reply; the thought of it was so unbearably painful. I could not stand the fact that he admitted it with such reserved finality, as if he did not even care and he was already resigned to the inevitability of his imminent insanity.

I wondered sadly if it would be like this every time I saw him—quiet, subdued conversations that always ended with me either sick with misery or in tears.

“Are you well, Stjarna?” he inquired, and I knew he was changing the subject for my benefit.

I shook my head. That he should ask me how I fared while he languished in the dungeons.

“I think of you,” I whispered.

“And I you,” he responded softly. “I imagine you all the time.”

I managed a small smile, but it was difficult. I took a few steps forward so I felt the heat of the fire on my skin, but not enough to burn. Loki took a few steps forward as well, and he raised his arm. It almost appeared as if he was lightly running his fingers over my cheek, had I been really standing there in front of him, and I imagined I could feel his touch.

“I wish I could kiss you, Stjarna,” he murmured, and I stared up at him, unable to find comfort in his words. I felt the exact same, but of course there was nothing to be done except yearn and lament. “I wish I could feel you… make love to you…”

That was too much. I took a step back and looked away, fighting to keep the tears at bay. “Do not say that.”

Loki slowly lowered his arm and regarded me curiously. “Why not?”

“Because it cannot be,” I answered, swallowing hard. “You should not say such things, it only… it only makes it harder.”

Loki’s eyes drifted down. He knew I was right. I could only imagine the things he envisioned, and I knew my own imaginings. Any time they surfaced, I always tried to tamp them down, for I knew it would never happen, and I did not wish to drive myself even deeper into this despair with thoughts of things that could never be.

And so the conversation once again was shifted to something as equally sad, and perhaps an hour later, I emerged from the room and saw the queen sitting in front of her fireplace, a handful of embroidery in her lap. She glanced up at me and seemed concerned when she saw my expression. Though my and Loki’s conversation had not ended badly, I probably still looked on the verge of tears.

“What is wrong?” she asked.

“I miss him,” I confessed despondently.

She studied me for a long moment before setting her sewing aside, standing up, and coming to stand in front of me.

“He wants to see you?” she queried, and I regarded her in teary surprise. Had she heard Loki say those things about wanting to see me and make love to me?

“Yes. How did you know?”

She smiled at me. “Oh, Stjarnavetr. I am his mother. I know many things he would otherwise wish to keep from me. I knew this would come, it was inevitable.”

“What was inevitable?”

“Your visiting him.”

I shook my head. I did not understand and said as much.

“You should see him,” she stated.

“You mean… down in the dungeons?”

“Yes,” she replied, as if it was of no consequence.

I balked. The very idea was mad. “That… that cannot be. The king would not allow it!”

“You are right, Stjarnavetr, he would not. I am sure it would even be considered treason. But then again, I am sure he would disapprove of my seeing Loki every week, anyway, and especially you. That is part of the reason why I waited before allowing you to see him. However, I am quite used to doing things that displease my husband.”

I was unsure of what to say. I had hardly ever heard the queen speak so.

“I may be able to let you see him, Stjarnavetr.”

“How?” I murmured, feeling a thrill go through me.

“It would be simple enough to bribe a guard,” she explained. “You would need to go at night, when security is the lowest, and return before dawn.”

The way she said it made it sound so easy, and yet I felt a foreboding. How could something not go wrong? How could we not be caught? We were talking about treason, but hope leaped inside me at the thought of seeing Loki—actually seeing him—and it was too much for me to simply ignore.

“Would you attempt it, Stjarnavetr?” she asked softly. “I would understand if you did not wish to.”

“No,” I said quickly. “I would. I would see him.”

Her lips curled up into a pleased smile. “I will try to make arrangements, then. I will let you know if I am able.”

I nodded, speechless for my gratefulness. I left her chambers and afterwards lay in my own bed, kept awake for hours after with the exhilarating thought that soon I might actually be able to see Loki.

__

A few days later, the queen informed me that all was set and I would be going down to the dungeons tomorrow night. I sat there in a rapt silence, listening carefully as she described the plan.

She had found a willing guard surprisingly quickly, she said, who would collect me an hour or so after dinner from my rooms. I would need to cast the illusion of an Einheri over myself so if we were seen initially, our presence would arouse no suspicions. The guard would lead me down into the dungeons, allow me some time with Loki, and then fetch me well before dawn and return me safely to my rooms before the palace awoke.

“I have spoken to the guard in secret,” the queen explained, leaning forward in her chair. “He will open Loki’s cell for you and—”

“What?” I exclaimed. “Open his cell?”

“Yes, only for a moment,” she rejoined. “I would not risk all of this for you to simply stare at him through that barrier. I spoke to Loki and he has given me his word that he will not attempt anything. I trust him with this, considering that if anything goes wrong, he knows for certain that it will not only be him who is severely punished.”

At that, I glanced uncomfortably down at my hands clasped in my lap.

“Stjarnavetr,” the queen said, more gently this time, and I looked up at her. “Are you sure you wish to go through with this? The risk involved here is tremendous and I would not fault you for backing out. I cannot promise what would happen if you were caught.”

I hesitated, but quickly swallowed my reluctance. Regardless of my fear and uncertainty, the thought of actually seeing Loki after so long overshadowed all disinclination.

“I want to,” I answered, albeit somewhat shakily. “I want to see him.”

The queen smiled and I was surprised when she reached over and put her hand over mine.

“Loki was always so very lucky to have you, Stjarnavetr.”

I turned my hand over and held hers, in that instant overwhelmed with this comforting sense of solidarity. Though Loki was her son, and he my lover, many of our griefs this past year had been the same. We both had lost an inimitable part of our lives, and now struggled with the fact that no matter what, nothing might ever be the same. Though it was a woeful thing to bond over, her touch brought me much consolation.

I squeezed her fingers, unable to adequately voice my level of appreciation for her and everything she had done for me.

__

Despite my supposed resolve, I was fraught with nerves the next night.

The queen, when retiring, made no mention of our plan and did not speak to me at all, and I returned to my chambers with the rest of the women. Gullhár wished me a good night, and I her, and once inside my own rooms put my cloak on and began to restlessly pace.

My mind was racing, and I kept thinking of all that could go wrong, and wondered what exactly “severely punished” meant. My own imprisonment? Exile? But I knew the queen would intervene to the best of her ability if she could on my behalf, and then all else faded away when I pictured standing before Loki and feeling his arms go around me, feeling his body so real and warm against mine.

Eventually—finally—there came a knock on my door. I quickly opened it and saw a guard standing there.

“Lady Stjarnavetr?” he inquired, and I nodded. “I am Hundr. The queen said you could change your appearance?”

“Yes,” I responded, surprised at how quickly he had gotten to the point. I swiftly and effortlessly cast an illusion of seidr over myself. To anybody who might have seen me in that moment, I would appear not as myself, but as my brother Réttrmund. I had been worried originally about appearing as him, but then reasoned not many would see us, if any, at this hour.

Hundr, who probably had never seen such a display of magic, stared at me in shock, but hastily collected himself and instructed, “Walk next to me. Do not speak unless spoken to, and if so keep it brief.”

I nodded, shut my door behind me, and followed him. I could not tell if it was trepidation or terror twisting my insides as we walked, but much to my relief we did not encounter one soul in the corridors. Soon we made it to what I assumed to be the entrance to the dungeons, surprisingly near to Gladsheim, the king’s hall. I had never been here or even given its location much thought.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw two Einherjar standing guard outside the large double doors. It was dark and two large torches burned behind them, casting their flickering shadows over the murky ground.

“Rounds,” Hundr announced, and one of them wordlessly inclined his head, almost looking bored. Hundr opened one of the doors and went inside. I followed, attempting to give the impression that I was at ease, but started when the door closed resoundingly behind us.

Stretching ahead of us was a well-lit stone corridor. We followed it in silence, and then down a large set of stone steps. I took much care in descending, fearful to slip or fall and draw any unwanted attention. Once we reached the bottom, I let out a quiet breath of relief.

The dungeons expanded ahead of us endlessly, it seemed, and I could just barely make out where other corridors branched off from this large main one. I saw a few prisoners in the first couple of cells off to the right, but they were all lying on the ground, obviously asleep.

“He is here,” Hundr said softly, and my gaze was drawn immediately to the cell he headed towards, the first one on the left. He kept glancing around, keeping an eye out for others, but there was not one guard to be seen. I supposed sometimes the Einherjar slackened in their duties and thought the prisoners capable of fending for themselves at this time of night. Certainly Hundr had chosen a most opportune moment to bring me here.

We walked up to the cell and I stopped short of the yellow barrier, heart pounding and breath caught in my throat. A shiver ran through me, but I could not tell if it was because of how cold it was down here or my nerves.

Loki sat on the edge of a large bed facing away from us, hands on either side of him, head hanging low. Within seconds, though, he realized our presence and slowly turned his head to look at us. A jolt went through my body when his eyes landed on me, but of course it was not me he saw, but my brother.

Loki stood up, studying the two Einherjar standing outside his cell, and his lips parted in surprise when I dropped my illusion. I bit my lip and smiled at him, attempting to swallow the silly sob I could feel rising in my throat.

Hundr cleared his throat and Loki’s eyes flickered to him.

“You know the queen has arranged this. Because of it, I expect you to not try anything, especially with Lady Stjarnavetr here. The queen has informed you of the potential consequences if you are caught?”

Loki remained motionless for a long while, only staring at Hundr, but then gave a short nod. He took a few steps back, as if reassuring Hundr, who now appeared reluctant. Much to my surprise, Hundr withdrew his sword before proceeding. He kept a watch on Loki as he reached over towards the corner column and touched something there—perhaps a latch or button I could not see—and a space like a doorway opened up in the yellow wall.

“I will fetch you before dawn,” Hundr whispered to me, and he indicated for me to enter. I stepped up into the cell and the barrier closed behind me as soon as I was in. I heard Hundr sheath his sword and leave, but I did not turn around to see.

My eyes were fixed on Loki’s, and whatever words I had been about to speak died in my throat. Despite having envisioned this a thousand times, in that moment I knew not what to say or do. We both stood there unmoving, letting this silence loom between us, as if neither of us could believe that the other, at long last, stood so close.

It had been so long, and it had been painful, but finally, if only for one night, we were together again.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

Neither of us spoke—we only gazed silently at one another. I saw Loki’s fingers move, only a flicker of movement, and out of the corner of my eye saw the illusion raised over his cell.

My eyes slowly drifted down to take all of him in. He was barefoot and dressed plainly—dark pants and a plain green tunic—but it was not that which ultimately drew my attention. Loki’s skin, I saw with a pang, was a terrifying white in the bright light of the cell, and his hair hung below his shoulders in lanky, oily ropes. There was a darkness beneath his eyes and a weariness in his expression that I had not been able to previously discern in his illusion.

Loki glanced down without moving his head, seeing me rendered speechless by his appearance. Was it because he was ashamed? He had always been so arrogant about his appearance, but down here there was nobody to see or care. No doubt these lonely months had aided in shattering whatever vanity was left.

But I did not care.

I went towards Loki, lifted my arms, and slipped them beneath his. I leaned against him and tightened my arms around him. He smelled of unwashed skin and greasy hair, but it did not matter, none of it mattered—when his arms went around me, my lips curled up into a trembling smile.

I could so vividly remember all of those long, empty nights I had spent in his bed and mine afterwards, curled up and in tears, yearning only for his arms around me, the sound of his voice in my ear telling me everything was alright. Though he was imprisoned now for all eternity, Loki was here in my arms and that was all that mattered.

“I am sorry,” I whispered frantically, tightening my hold on him. “I am sorry, I am so sorry…”

“Shh, darling,” he murmured, and with those words—merely the sound of his voice—the tears came. I laid my face against his chest, felt his hand on the back of my head gently stroking my hair, and endeavored to stifle the sobs I could feel rising in my throat.

“I love you,” I resumed tearfully, my voice muffled by his shirt. “I am sorry I did not tell you, I am so sorry, Loki…”

But before I could continue with my rueful apology, Loki took my face in his hands, lowered his head, and captured my quivering lips in a kiss. Immediately I lifted up on my toes and raised my arms to put my hands on either side of his neck.

Loki deepened the kiss, and I could feel the desperation and the desire behind it, could feel this delicious warmth spreading through my body all the way down to my toes. When Loki finally broke the kiss, leaving me breathless, I slowly opened my eyes to gaze up at him. His hands were still on either side of my head, thumbs stroking my wet cheeks, and his lucid green eyes searched mine, as if he was feeling me and making sure I was really here.

He lowered his head again and put his forehead to mine and I could not help a tiny laugh. I touched his cheek, stroked his skin as he had mine, and closed my eyes. We stood there for a long while in the cold silence with nothing to feel but each other, but in that moment it was enough.

And then, quietly, “Réttrmund?”

I glanced up and was surprised to see a smile tugging at the corner of Loki’s lips.

“I had to cast an illusion over myself,” I explained.

Suddenly, I wondered if Réttrmund had ever come down here to see or speak with Loki, for I knew they had trained together and generally had been very friendly with one another before Loki’s unexpected betrayal.

“Has he ever come to see you?”

“No.”

I did not voice my unsurprised disappointment. Now was not the time for that.

I slowly drew back, turning my head to study Loki’s cell. I had not paid much attention to it before, so focused had I been on Loki. His cell was more than adequately furnished, I thought—at least for what it was. He had a bed, a couple of little tables, and a chair and footstool. I smiled to myself when I saw the neatly stacked pile of books in the corner, no doubt gifts from the queen.

“It is fine, is it not?” Loki inquired, running his hand down my arm to twine his long fingers with mine. “Compared to theirs?”

I viewed the cell opposite this one and saw the prisoners lying asleep on the ground. Certainly Loki was not moldering like them.

I looked up at him, held his hand a little tighter. “What do you do?”

“Read, mostly,” he answered, lightly kissing my nose and then my mouth. “Frigga thinks the books keep me occupied.”

“Do they not?”

Loki smiled against my parted lips. “Only for a little while.”

“What else is there to do?”

Loki turned his head to trail kisses under my jaw and then down to the side of my throat. He put his hand on my chest and pulled deftly at the tie on my cloak.

“Think of you…”

He pushed the cloak off of my shoulders in one fluid movement and it fell quietly to the floor around my feet. I let out a little moan when Loki pulled me tight against him, mouth still on my neck, sending these little rivulets of pleasure coursing through my body.

“Stjarna,” Loki said breathlessly, so lustfully, and then he was drawing me towards his bed. There was only a fleeting instant of timidity, considering our tenuous circumstances, but I quickly tamped it down. In that moment, I did not want to care—I only wanted Loki. I wanted to feel him everywhere as I had not in so long, wanted to feel his lips on my skin and his hands on my body.

To Loki’s surprise, I placed my hands on his chest and pushed him back, overcome suddenly with this need. He dragged himself into the bed backwards, his smile reassuring me as I quickly kicked my shoes off and followed him in. I clambered over his long legs and straddled his waist, bending forward to capture his lips in an eager, heady kiss.

Immediately his hands were on my back, pulling roughly at the laces of my dress. My breathing became heavier, and his harsher, and I did not even pause to consider when I heard him, in his haste, rip my dress. I only deepened the kiss, hungry for more, as he tugged the top of my dress down over my shoulders and exposed my breasts to the cool air.

Loki broke the kiss and lowered his head to press his lips to my chest, and I lifted my head and let my mouth fall open in delight as he trailed wet, openmouthed kisses over my skin and down to the swells of my breasts. I put one hand on the back of his head and curled my fingers tightly in his dirty hair as he finally, mercifully, took my nipple into his warm mouth.

I gasped at the feeling and gave an involuntary shiver as he sucked on me. One hand he put on my lower back and with the other cupped my free breast, squeezing it in his hand, running his thumb over my hardened nipple. I rested my cheek against the top of his head, lips parted in pleasure, and felt this delicious heat snaking its way down to curl in my belly.

All else fell away as he touched me—the humming yellow barrier serving as our curtain, the cells outside, the guards that would inevitably pass by. It was just Loki and I, at long last nothing to keep us from each other.

Loki moved to slip his hands beneath my dress and ran his fingers up my stockinged calves, up my bare legs to my hips, and he drew me tight against him, and I whimpered when I felt how hard he was, pressing enticingly into my aching center.

“I imagined this, Stjarna,” he said hotly. “I thought of you, I imagined you here with me…”

I tugged on Loki’s hair and pulled his head back so I could crash my lips against his. I thrust my tongue past his teeth and avidly explored his mouth, every part of me thrumming with fervor. There was so much I wanted to do, and I doubted we would have time for all of it, nor the energy, but I was already frantic, I wanted all of him now. I gasped his name and he paused to look at me—his pupils were blown wide and he was panting. He knew what I wanted, and I knew he wanted it just as badly.

Loki straightened up and pushed me back so I lay supine beneath him. He nudged my legs apart and quickly pulled my dress up so it was gathered around my abdomen, apparently in too much of a hurry to take it off all the way, but I did not care, I did not care—I just needed to feel him inside me.

I shivered in delicious anticipation, watching Loki above me, and eagerly ran my hands down his sides as he bent down to kiss my neck. I felt with some unspoken sadness how thin he was; Loki had always been slender, but not like this. Pushing that thought from my mind, I slipped my fingers beneath his tunic, going to lift it off him, but suddenly Loki jerked and reached down to grab my hand and I froze.

“Loki?” I whispered uncertainly. He was breathing hard, lips still pressed beneath my jaw.

Loki remained unmoving for a long moment, but finally released my hand. He did not resume kissing me, but lay quietly above me, and it felt as if he was giving me silent permission. I resumed touching him, more hesitantly now, and when I slipped my fingers beneath his tunic, suddenly felt my blood run cold.

Loki gently kissed the top of my shoulder; he knew I could feel. There came a terrible sinking in my stomach, momentarily banishing the lust that had been brewing there. I grabbed the bottom of Loki’s shirt and pulled it up, and he reluctantly allowed me to remove it.

I sat up, Loki leaned back on his knees, and I met his eyes briefly—saw there what almost appeared to be this tired apathy—before looking down to confirm my fears.

Loki’s torso, especially sallow in the light of the cell, was crisscrossed with a gruesome intricacy of long-healed welts and lacerations. Some were like small cuts etched into his skin, and some were elongated, jagged streaks.

I breathed his name, but could not even look at him for the tears that sprang to my eyes. I faltered before reaching out to lightly trace a particularly cruel scar spanning the entire length of his chest, right below his collarbones. The skin was raised and puckered, and my fingers trembled.

Loki lowered his head to watch the movement of my hand.

“They rubbed burning ash into that one,” he murmured. “They loved their fire.”

I bit my lip, feeling ill. The queen told me that Loki had been in league with an alien race called the Chitauri, and it was with them she suspected he had been with before appearing suddenly on Midgard. Was it them who he referred to? But I could not possibly bring myself to ask for fear of reply.

As I dropped my hand to trace another scar, this one on his stomach, Loki leaned forward into my touch and buried his face between my neck and shoulder. Dreading what I might feel, I moved to run my hand over his back. I slowly closed my eyes—felt my heart break—when I discerned the abundance of scars there, evincing agonies I could not ever hope to imagine.

There was a large area of puckered skin over the top of his back that did not feel like a cut, but more like a long-healed burn, and then just a little to the left another pinched scar like the one on his chest. This one began at the base of his neck, and my shaking fingers followed it down the entire length of his spine until it ended at his lower back.

I could not help the tears that rolled down my cheeks. I knew not what to say, but then what could I possibly say to assuage this? And so instead, I tenderly pressed my lips to Loki’s skin, as if my kiss could so long after ease the hurt.

“Stjarna,” Loki breathed, and he pulled back to regard me. I gazed miserably at him, and I could tell my tears pained him. “It does not matter now.”

“How can it not?” I asked, voice thick with tears.

Loki shook his head and kissed me on the lips. He gently pushed at me, and I lay back on the bed and reached up to cup his face as he settled over me. I brushed my thumb over his lips, searched his eyes for any trace of grief or regret, but saw nothing but desire.

Loki obviously was not as concerned with it as me, but I knew deep down that it would do no good to despair over it all now. Loki was right—we were here now and that was all there was.

I kissed him, fueled now by this returning desire, and Loki lightly bit my bottom lip before lifting up to finish undressing me. He tugged my dress the rest of the way off, and then my stockings, and dropped them onto the floor so I lay naked beneath him.

He briefly cupped my breast, coaxing an appreciative moan from me, before dragging his hand down over my abdomen and belly, leaving trails of fire over my skin, down to the curve of my hip and the inside of my knee. He pulled my leg tight against him and I whimpered impatiently when I felt him so aroused.

“Loki,” I panted, squirming beneath him. “Please, please…”

Loki did not waste any more time; spurred by my begging, he reached between us, quickly untied the laces of his pants, and pushed them down over his hips. He kicked them off onto the floor and settled back on top of me. I raised up to press against him, desperate to feel his bare body hot against mine. He was hard between my thighs, and I was wet and aching for him. I wrapped my legs around his narrow waist, drew him closer, and gasped his name a second time.

Quickly acquiescing to my silent plea, Loki swallowed my whimper with an earnest kiss as he eased into me. My breath caught in my throat and I arched upwards, fingers digging into his hard back. Every part of me was alive and thrumming with this long-forgotten bliss, every sense overwhelmed with pleasure, and Loki had not even started moving yet.

Loki kissed the side of my neck and lay on top of me for a long moment, buried deep inside me. I could feel my heartbeat and what I imagined to be his everywhere—pounding in my ears and chest and belly and the spot between my legs. Desire was carving a path like fire through my veins, burning me up from the inside, and I was doing my best not to pant too loudly.

Finally, Loki rose up with a groan. He brushed the stray hairs back from my face, cradled my head in his hands and curled his fingers in my hair. He nipped at my bottom lip right before he began slowly rocking his hips against me. My eyes fluttered closed and my mouth fell open at the sensation as Loki adopted a languorous rhythm, unhurried now despite our urgency before.

Our soft gasps and broken groans mingled in the cool air, interrupted every so often by my moaning his name or him mine—sounds that despite our perilous location simply could not be kept quiet. We had been starved for one another for so long, and in that moment neither of us surely gave much thought to anything but each other.

I struggled to keep my eyes open. I was watching Loki’s face, I did not want to look away for even a second, but I could not help it, I was drowning in this pleasure. Gods, it had been so long and I had been so lonely without him. I could feel everything simply melting away—those endless months of mourning, the aching and the hurting and the unhappiness—and I was filled with this delight, forgetting for these few precious moments the tenuousness of our situation. Oh, but it did not matter and we did not care; we were finally together again, giving exquisite release to this sorrow and pain.

Our bodies moved together so seamlessly, almost as if we had never been apart; my hands roamed over his body as he moved above me, over his back and up and down his sides and arms, feeling the muscles taut beneath his skin, listening to his breath hitch every time we came together. I could feel him everywhere—his heat and his weight, every movement, every tensing muscle—and I relished it. Every thrust of his hips went straight through me, threatening to send me careening into this bittersweet oblivion, and even through this cloud of pleasure, I was trying to remember everything, I could not forget because I did not know if there would be a second time.

Soon I could feel it building inside, this tightness between my legs coiling tighter and tighter with each wonderful thrust. Loki’s breaths were coming faster and more raggedly, signaling his end, and the breathy sounds of his impending release pushed me even closer to the edge. I squeezed my legs on his sides, dragged my nails down his back when I felt myself teetering on the edge of this sweet relief.

It was when Loki thrust into me once more, and lowered his head to engulf my mouth in a bruising kiss, that it happened. I threw my head back, curled my toes when the tightness in my lower half finally, mercifully, came undone. I could not help it, I cried out, and immediately Loki’s hand was over my mouth, muffling my cry.

I arched my back, body seized with this mind-numbing euphoria. Everything went completely blank as I crested on these waves of bliss surging through me, and all I could feel was Loki above me and inside me and everywhere, feel his skin under my nails as I dug them deep into his back, his lips against my skin when he leaned down to kiss me.

Gods, I had endured so much, and languished for so long, and he even more, but in that moment, when everything faded away and it was only us joining together on this bed, only us to share in each other’s sorrow and pleasure, everything was alright.

I made a sound like a sob and my breaths came in short, rapid pants. Loki’s hand fell from my open mouth and when I opened my teary eyes, I saw him staring down at me, lips parted and eyes glassy with desire. He had watched me come undone, and I could tell by his expression, by the subtle trembling of his body, that he was close.

I shakily whispered his name and moaned when he began moving again, unhurriedly at first, but then faster when it was evident he could not hold off for much longer. Loki’s rhythm became hard and short, educing a gasp from my lips every time we came together, and soon after he succumbed.

Loki’s hips stuttered and he stilled above me, body rigid, mouth open and brows furrowed in that sweet visage of ecstasy. I watched him, lips parted and body motionless beneath his; I could still feel the faint echoes of my own pleasure in my lower half, and then a faint bloom of warmth when he spilled himself inside me.

Loki’s head slowly dropped and his hair fell around his face. He gently rolled his hips against me and made a small sound in the back of his throat. He opened his eyes, and his arms were subtly trembling, breaths coming quickly. He lowered himself onto me and I locked my ankles over his backside and wrapped my arms around him. I closed my eyes when he pressed a kiss to my temple, slipped his arms beneath mine, and relaxed on top of me.

I smiled when he sighed my name, felt him so warm against me and his heartbeat in frantic synchronization with mine. Loki lifted his head and languidly kissed me, and I combed my fingers through his hair, pushing it away from his face, and kissed him back. When Loki broke the kiss a few moments later, he rubbed his nose against mine and our parted lips brushed against one another.

“I love you,” I whispered, and he smiled against my lips.

“And I you,” he murmured affectionately.

He kissed me once more before lifting his hips to pull out of me, and then taking me into his arms and rolling us onto our sides. I squeezed my legs together, feeling the stickiness between my thighs, and nestled against him. The air was cold on our heated and sweat-slicked skin, but obviously neither of us minded. We were too focused on each other to care.

I gazed into his lucent green eyes, soaking up all this love I had been missing, wanting to hold on to every piece of this I could. Despite our precarious situation, I felt so secure enfolded in his arms like this.

I should not have felt so safe, though, considering where we were, and what wrong I had done simply to be with him for one night. Contentment gave way to gnawing uncertainty—the warmth that had been lingering in me like a cloud quickly dissipated when I realized that nothing would ever be normal again. I knew that this could not go on; there would come a time when I would never see Loki again, and I knew it would be sooner rather than later.

I scooted even closer to Loki and buried my face in his chest, distraught over my cold realization. I attempted to swallow the tears I could feel rising in my throat, but unfortunately could not hold it back for long. When I began to quietly cry, Loki did not inquire as to why—he only held me a little tighter, stroked my hair, and pressed his lips to the top of my head.

He did not speak, and neither did I, but I am sure he knew the cause for my tears. He was imprisoned here for the rest of his life and we would never be together again as we once had. Nothing would ever be the same.

__

Hours later, and twice more after we had made love, Loki and I lay entwined beneath the twisted sheets in an exhausted embrace. One arm was folded under his head, the other draped over me, and long fingers drowsily curling in my tangled hair.

Loki’s eyes were closed, lips parted, as I studied his face. Though I had long ago memorized every line and curve of his features, for some reason now I could not tear my eyes away. Perhaps it was that soon I would have to leave him, and I knew there was still a chance we could be caught. I tried not to think that far ahead, though. I only wanted for us to lie here and pretend as if we had all the time in the world, though I knew it must be getting close to dawn.

As I lay there nestled against Loki, I thought it sad that there was no fire snapping in a hearth, no cool breeze blowing through his balcony doors, no sunlight pouring into his room to signal the day’s coming—only this harsh white light and cold mustiness, and the persistent, low hum from the yellow barrier.

Gods, how everything had changed. Would I have believed a little over a year ago that instead of lying with Loki in his soft bed in his chambers, I would instead by lying with him in this miserable place, with the ever constant threat of discovery? That my entire life had been turned upside down and my lover sentenced to an eternity of imprisonment for his crimes? That we would be reduced to this for only one night together, perhaps never to see each other again?

Feeling sorrow, I swallowed hard and lightly stroked the long, pinched scar on Loki’s chest, this permanent reminder of whatever horrors had been inflicted upon him. It grieved me to consider what had caused it, and I would not dare ask him. My painful inquiry would serve no purpose.

My caressing his scar roused Loki. He slowly opened his eyes to look at me and then moved to place his hand over mine on his chest. We lay there in silence for a long while, he stroking my hand comfortingly with his thumb, before he finally spoke.

“I wanted to die,” he murmured, so softly I barely heard it even though we lay so close. “I begged them to kill me more than once, when the pain became too much, but they didn’t. They wouldn’t. They thought it funny.”

I glanced down and curled my fingers with his. I kissed his hand, afraid to look up, and he pressed a kiss to the top of my head.

“When I could not physically take any more,” Loki quietly continued, “they would leave me in a room of bare stone until the next round. That’s when I thought of you.”

I raised my head to look at him, and he seemed so forlorn.

“I thought I hated you, Stjarna,” he breathed, almost sounding detached. “I hated you for what you did, and I told myself I didn’t love you, but I still thought of you. I admit, sometimes the pain drove all else from my mind and afterwards I couldn’t remember anything, even you. I couldn’t remember your voice or what you looked like, but in the end you always came back to me.”

His eyes were shining now, and he glanced down. I wanted to tell him that I was sorry—not necessarily for what I had done, but for the hurt that had been done to him, and now for this surely agonizing solitude. But it would not mean much when all of it was already past, when these scars were already etched so deeply into his skin, and the memories burned eternally into his consciousness.

When I remained quiet, fearful to break the silence, Loki pressed his forehead against mine.

“I did not forget, you know,” he said faintly.

“Forget what?” I ventured.

“How much I loved you,” he answered in a murmur. “I lost sight of it, but I did not forget. I could not.”

I put my hand on his cheek and kissed him on the mouth.

“I love you,” I whispered. I would not forget to tell him now.

And then, suddenly, “Lady Stjarnavetr.”

I turned my head and felt despair when I saw Hundr standing outside the cell. Loki did not say anything; he only wrapped his arm around me and buried his face between my neck and shoulder.

I faced him and touched his arm. “Loki…”

“Do not go, Stjarna,” he implored softly. “Not yet, stay with me for just a little longer, please…”

“I cannot, I must ready…”

“Will you come again?” he breathed, lightly kissing my skin.

I faltered, for I knew not how to respond.

“Loki…”

“Promise me, Stjarna,” he said, lifting his head to kiss me on the lips. “Promise me you’ll come back.”

I placed my hand on his cheek and kissed him, and it was not a kiss filled with fire or longing, but one of lament and melancholy. When I broke the kiss, I put my forehead against Loki’s, silent. I would not promise him—I could not.

“I love you,” I whispered, kissing him again, and knowing very well it could be our last. “I love you so much, Loki…”

Chapter Text

9 months later
Loki

One year had passed since my imprisonment. Other prisoners had come, some had gone or died, and one guard liked to joke that I had finally obtained kingship—king of the dungeons, he said, and that I ruled over the scum of the realms. Of course I had not deigned to look at him when he said it, which had incensed him, but no matter. It did no good anymore to imagine what would have been his punishment if I had still been of some standing.

Despite the passage of time, which was only a fleeting moment in the full of it, this endless confinement had gotten no easier. I thought perhaps that as time wore on, I might be able to resign myself to the fact, or these malicious thoughts might lessen, but they did not. The books Frigga sent ceased to distract me, and the occasional flagon of wine she managed to sneak through never could get me drunk enough. I feared sometimes that I might go mad in this perpetual silence, eaten up with hate and bitterness.

The only things keeping me from it, I suspected, were Frigga and Stjarna. Frigga saw me at least once a week through the use of her seidr, and Stjarna often twice or even thrice a week. Of course I could not tell if they kept to this schedule—I was not able to accurately discern the difference between an hour and a day.

Stjarna told me Frigga did not think it wise to see me so often and she expressed confusion over it, but I knew why. It was because I was to remain in this cell for all eternity and eventually there would come a time when Stjarna would no longer be able to see me. Despite knowing Frigga’s reasoning to be sound, I did not admit this to Stjarna. Even though I knew it would be harder when the time came, I wanted to see her as often as possible.

It was when Stjarna was physically able to visit me, when the guard Hundr brought her down to the dungeons in the dead of night and allowed her into my cell—those were the moments I always most anxiously awaited.

In truth, it had surprised me that Frigga would go to the trouble of arranging for Stjarna’s secret visits to my cell. I could remember when she first told me of it, how grimly she had warned me of the risks if I was to try anything. There would be a guard when delivering Stjarna and she said he would kill me if I tried to escape. If somehow I was not immediately killed, her word would have no merit on the outcome of Odin’s decision for my punishment, and he would not spare my life a second time. And after all of it, she could not promise what would happen to Stjarna.

So I had acquiesced to her terms, but it was not as if I had not thought of it. Despite Frigga’s warning, I had imagined what I might do when the guard opened that door to let Stjarna in, but every time I got so far as slitting his throat with a seidr blade and stealing his weapons, I would pause and think, what of Stjarna? I knew my innocent and virtuous Vana would not stand complacently by while I murdered the guard, and though she loved me, certainly would not unquestioningly follow me into whatever conflict might come after.

But then, where would I go? There were portals scattered across the realm, all that led to different points within the Nine Realms, and some outside of it. I had been through them all, most of them explored during my youth, at least until Heimdall had threatened me not to leave Asgard without the Allfather’s permission. After that, I had sometimes explored them after cloaking myself in magic to block his view of me. Of the ones I knew, there existed three portals to Vanaheim, two to Alfheim, one to Nidavellir, one to Svartalfheim, and one to Midgard…

Though my time on Midgard had proven futile and humiliating, it was there I thought I could escape most easily. It was the closest portal anyway, being an hour’s ride from the palace, near the edge. Although the throne of Asgard was rightfully mine, I could not simply overthrow Odin with Thor and all of his blindly faithful lackeys here. I would be killed on the spot. No, I would have to be content with concealment for now and I could disappear most easily on Midgard. The humans were fools, and a skeptical race. My magic would go unnoticed most easily there.

But stuck as I was here in this cell, none of that mattered. And so when Hundr lowered the barrier and let Stjarna in and out, I stayed on the opposite side, every fiber of my being straining towards that open door. As much as it incensed me, Frigga knew me well. She knew I would not endanger Stjarna’s life, or potential imprisonment, for such an unlikely chance at escape.

And so now all I had to look forward to was Stjarna. Barring bloody revenge, she was what I craved most when the loneliness became too much and I feared I would go mad, so desperate was I for her—to talk and to feel.

Sometimes I still questioned how she could love me. How loyal she had remained, how loyal she was now to risk everything only to be with me for a few hours once or twice a month. I hated myself because of it; I hated that I allowed her to do this, that I demanded Frigga do this, to put Stjarna in this sort of danger, but the mere thought of her naked body against me, her warmth and her smell and her sweet, sweet voice… it overrode all else and I did not give thought to the consequences.

I would pace restlessly, sometimes for hours, knowing not how much time had passed, glancing at the doors to the dungeons to see if Hundr would bring her. And only after the dungeons had gone to sleep would she come, and I would stand back and Hundr would unsheathe his sword as a warning to me and allow her to enter.

Sometimes I could not contain myself, so pent up was I with this fire and need, and it would be over in moments, but always after I would make slow love to her, kiss away the tears she always tried to hide. When she lay beneath me, when I kissed her and tasted her and moved inside her, when she told me how much she loved me—it was then that I was truly content. I could forget everything, if only for a few hours, when she was there with me.

Stjarna occasionally liked to reminisce, though it made her sad. In truth, I could have done without it, considering it was long past and disheartening to remember, but it comforted her. Besides, I liked hearing Stjarna’s voice. I would lie there and study her as she spoke, absently twine her beautiful gold hair between my fingers, watch her lips move, hear her kind, melancholy voice whispered in the cold silence.

Eventually Stjarna would grow silent and we would not speak. She would touch me, always drawn to the scars that decorated my front and back. Slowly she would trace them with her fingertips before leaning forward to kiss them. She did it every single time.

It was only near the end, when she got that sad look in her eyes and did not want me to see, when she went to get out of the bed to get dressed, that I felt panic. I would pull her back into my arms and kiss her. I knew she had to go, and that it was more dangerous the longer she stayed, but gods, it killed me when she left because then I was utterly alone again, left here with only my own poisonous black thoughts.

After she had gone, time stretched unbearably on. Her visits through seidr never seemed enough. I wanted to touch her and feel her real against me, not have her illusion flickering before me. Stjarna never knew when she might be able to come see me again and Frigga’s answers were hardly ever satisfactory. How long until I would see Stjarna? How long until she came back to see me? And always she would say, “It is too soon, Loki, it is too risky…”

Though I knew it was true, and Frigga did it to protect Stjarna, it angered me. The longer it went, the more frustrated and restless I grew, and the visits—especially with Frigga—became increasingly strained, until one time I snapped.

I was pacing near the wall when she came to see me. Lately I could not stay still, could hardly focus on one thing; I would sit on the edge of the bed, or in the chair, and bounce my leg up and down, restlessly tap my fingers, mind racing about nothing and everything, and eventually have to stand up and wander aimlessly and agitatedly around my cell.

Out of my peripherals I perceived a flash of green and I turned, hope leaping into my chest that it was Stjarna come to tell me it would not be long until she could see me again, but it was just Frigga. It was not that I disliked speaking with Frigga, but in that moment I would much rather have had Stjarna standing before me. It did not help that I was already in a foul mood, but it seemed that I was always in a foul mood now.

She smiled at me. “Loki.”

“When is Stjarna coming?” I demanded.

“Is my company not enough?” she inquired, raising her eyebrows.

“I want her,” I answered, turning away.

“It will be soon,” Frigga assured. “You know I cannot risk her seeing you too often.”

“Yes, you always say that,” I grunted, rolling my eyes. “How long has it been?”

“Two weeks.”

I gritted my teeth. “Only two weeks?”

Frigga gazed silently at me. She had nothing to add.

“Did you enjoy the last book I sent?” she asked, attempting to steer the conversation in a less inflammatory direction.

I scoffed. “I haven’t touched it.”

“You know there is little else I can do, Loki,” she explained, appearing mildly disappointed.

“Yes, I know, I know,” I said irritably, raking my fingers through my hair.

She sighed. “Thor went to Midgard.”

I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye; a smile tugged at my lips. “What, did Odin banish him again?”

“No. He fetched Jane.”

I paused at that. Jane was the human who had somehow managed to enchant Thor on Midgard during his brief exile a year or so ago. Why had he brought her here now, though? Frigga told me lately Thor had been off playing the hero in other realms with his idiot friends, helping to quell unrest. Nonetheless, I doubted Odin was pleased with a human setting foot in the Realm Eternal.

“Why did he bring her here?”

“Something is wrong with her,” Frigga responded, sounding vaguely worried.

“She is a human,” I smirked. “Of course there is something wrong with her.”

Frigga pressed her lips together in annoyance. “They are hardly any different than us.”

My response was a dissenting chuckle.

“He loves her,” she added.

I rolled my eyes again—as if I truly cared to hear of Thor’s paramours.

Frigga laughed, such a soft, tinkling laugh. “You act as if you yourself have never been in love.”

I did not deign to reply.

“You know,” Frigga observed, “Thor would not mind to see you.”

“Well that is too bad,” I answered sardonically. “I would not care to see him.”

“Would you truly be so averse to a visit from him? It has been nearly a year…”

“I imagine he does not have the time,” I said tightly. “Surely he has been busy with feasts to celebrate his victories in the other realms, and now he shall be too occupied with that little Midgardian plaything of his.”

But even as I vilified Thor, a small part of me did wonder, did he ever think of me down here? Did he ever regret what he had done? Did Odin? But obviously my eternal imprisonment had not troubled them too much, for they had never come to see me. Not that I had ever expected them to.

Frigga shook her head, but I interrupted before she could speak, tired of this already.

“Are you truly so foolish as to think that I would care to see him?” I hissed.

“He is your brother—”

“He is the one who dragged me back to Asgard bound in chains!” I shouted.

“You know very well it is not Thor’s fault you are here.”

I snorted in derision and turned away from her, felt the anger boiling inside. It always came so easily now.

“You act as if you know,” I muttered, “but you know nothing.”

“Do I not?” she challenged, and I saw her appear out of the corner of my eye as she circled me. “I knew of your wanderings on Midgard, Loki. I saw the carnage you inflicted, and the senseless deaths—”

“And what of before?” I growled, facing her. “What of my time in space?”

“You were hidden from us, but surely it cannot excuse the lives you took.”

I laughed harshly. “The Midgardians? They are nothing.”

“They are innocents,” she stressed. “You gave not a thought to them in your ridiculous pursuit of power.”

“Power that was rightfully mine!” I retorted furiously. How could she not see? Why did she insist on arguing this with me? She knew better than anybody, being wed to the one who had dangled it in front of me for so long, only to snatch it back at the last moment.

“You had no purpose on Midgard, Loki,” Frigga firmly maintained.

“Had I not?” I snapped. Her words infuriated me. How could she say that when she did not know? How could she dismiss me like this when she had no fucking idea? “Pray tell, Mother, what is my purpose if not to be king?”

She faltered, and I could not tell if it was because of how cynically I had referred to her, or if it was my question that gave her pause.

“To be here with us,” she finally answered. “With your family.”

I laughed. “Family? You mean Odin? And Thor? And you?”

Frigga stared at me, and I knew my next words would hurt her, but then that was why I said them, wasn’t it?

“They are as much my family as the vermin in the cell across from me. They were never my family and they never will be.”

She was quiet for a long moment before saying softly, “They love you.”

“Do they? Is that why they have not been down here once to see me, because they love me? As if it is some great trek,” I spat. “Is Odin too occupied with quelling peasant matters and bloating himself on food and wine?”

Frigga was shocked. “Loki—”

“And you say Thor would see me, but where is he?” I demanded, taking a step forward. “I’ll tell you where he is. He’s too busy playing savior to a bunch of uncivilized realms, and now he’ll be too busy fucking that Midgardian of his!”

Frigga’s lips were a thin, hard line. She did not respond, only silently regarded me.

“You cannot hope to imagine what I have endured,” I continued darkly, though much more quietly now. And then, suddenly, an idea took form in my mind, and in my anger, I did not dismiss it. Despite all Frigga had done for me, I wanted to hurt her—I wanted to twist the knife even deeper.

“Do you want to see what they threw me to?”

She appeared momentarily confused before I turned around, reached up, grasped the back of my tunic, and yanked it off. The air was cool on my skin, and I stood there for a long moment, staring stonily ahead and feeling her eyes on my back.

When I finally turned back around, Frigga’s lips were parted in shock and I saw her eyes shiny with tears. Her gaze fell across the scars on my front, though they were not nearly as gruesome as the ones on my back.

“Loki…”

“They blame me for everything,” I said. “They do not know, nor would they care…”

Her eyes flickered back up to mine; she looked so sad.

“I care, Loki,” she murmured. “I have always cared.”

But her words did not move me.

“Well, that was not enough, was it?”

Frigga held my unapologetic gaze for a long while before slowly looking down.

“I am sorry, darling,” she whispered, and a moment later she disappeared in a shimmer of green and I was alone.

__

Frigga

As soon as the fire died, and Loki’s illusion was gone, I closed my eyes and let out a slow, heavy breath. I exited the little room, leaving the coals in the brazier warm behind me, and went to one of my couches set along the wall. I sat down and stared straight ahead. Thankfully I had dismissed all of my women for the day, including Stjarnavetr. I had hoped Loki might not be agitated today, but it was a foolish hope. Sometimes when I saw him he was calm and cordial, but more often than not now, as today, he was the complete opposite.

He always asked me about Stjarnavetr when I saw him, wanting to know when next she was coming. Admittedly, it hurt me when I saw the way his face fell when he turned and saw me and not Stjarnavetr. I could not very well fault him for that, though. I could hardly imagine it myself, being trapped in such a small space for so long. If it had not been for my visiting him regularly, or having Stjarnavetr see him, at this point in time I would not have put much stock in his mental state.

I only let it show when I was by myself, at night after dinner when the women were gone. Even a year later, the thought of my youngest imprisoned for all eternity still made me weep. I would sit in front of my fireplace and ruminate on all that had led up to it, wondering if I could have done something different when he was still a little boy, still so innocent and untried in the ways of the world.

Even now, over a thousand years later, I could still vividly recall the day when Odin brought him home after the invasion of Jötunheim. He had handed me a little bundle, told me he found him abandoned in a Jötun temple, and that he was King Laufey’s son.

“Do you want him?” Odin had asked, and I had studied the sleeping babe in my arms for only a moment before deciding. Of course I wanted him.

Even as a child, he had been slight compared to Thor, and much more fragile even though he tried to hide it. He would run to me when Thor hurt him or Odin yelled at him, woeful green eyes brimming with tears. I would take him into my arms and wipe his face and comfort him with a bit of magic.

I remembered what joy it had brought me to see Loki’s eyes light up when he learned something new, or when he squirmed in his chair in delight when I mentioned to Odin the praises heaped upon him by his tutors. How even though both Thor and Loki had governesses, I would make sure to sing to them every night and tell them stories. Thor’s favorite stories always concerned heroes and battles and glory, but Loki, even as a child, preferred subtlety and wiliness. One of his favorite tales was that of Nidhogg, the dragon that gnawed at the roots of Yggdrasil, and of the eagle that sat at the top, and of the crafty little squirrel, Ratatoskr, that ran up and down the tree to spread animosity between the two. Of course there came a time when Thor declared himself too old for such nonsense, and Loki, wanting to be like his big brother, quickly followed suit.

I often wondered where it had all gone wrong, but it was difficult to pinpoint any specific time. Perhaps when Loki had discovered his true parentage, but I knew his resentment stemmed from his younger years, as well. Loki had liked to follow Thor around and emulate him, but when Thor began to surround himself with more like-minded friends, Loki began to drift away from him. I could tell he was jealous of Thor, being Odin’s firstborn, though he would never admit it.

I had always noticed it, and it had pained me, but there was not much I could do to stop it. I had always endeavored to make sure Loki knew he was loved just as much as Thor. I never wanted him to feel any different from the others, but he always did. He was not like them—not as strong, not as social. That was when I began to teach him the magic of the Vanir. I had wanted him to excel at something, like Thor excelled at fighting, but though it made Loki happier, it further distanced him from the others, which had not been my intention.

Loki’s relationship with Odin had been a source of distress for me, as well. Though Odin cared for him—and always had—he just was not very good at showing it. Loki had always sought approval from Odin, but could never understand why he would not give it. How could I have explained to Loki why Odin was like he was, that he was simply too hardened, too burdened with matters he could not possibly hope to understand?

And so I had tried my hardest to be there for Loki when he needed it, but as Loki had told me, it clearly had not been enough. And to think on how it had all turned out.

The day Loki came to me, begging me to tell him why I had lied to him his whole life, had been one of the worst days of my life. I remembered there were tears in his eyes, and though he was much taller than me, and had been grown for so long, I saw in him my little boy—the one who would run to me when Thor had been mean to him, the one who would lie in my arms and let me sing him to sleep.

I had agonized over it afterwards, and especially after Loki fell and I thought him dead. There were times when I even grew angry with Odin when we were alone, and I would weep and shout, why had we not told him sooner? Why had we kept it from him? He should have known, then maybe none of this would have happened.

I blamed myself. Perhaps if I had tried harder when Loki was younger, or told him, he would not have felt so betrayed. Odin knew of my anguish, and though he had hardened himself against Loki, he did his best to comfort me. But the pain was made new, now that I had seen the evidence of how my littlest had suffered.

By dinner I had arranged for Stjarnavetr to see Loki that night. I thought it too soon, but after our heated conversation earlier today, I felt compelled. Though Loki did not often appreciate the things I did for him, I tried to imagine what it must be like for him trapped in that cell constantly. The thought of it made his thanklessness somewhat more bearable.

Throughout dinner, nearly all I could think of were those scars on Loki’s body, even though Thor’s guest, Jane Foster, a woman of esteemed profession in her home realm, sat with us at the table at my insistence. It displeased Odin, but many of the others were interested and queried her about life on Midgard.

The whole time she spoke, Thor gazed at her with a little smile on his face. He was in love with her, and she was a kind and intelligent woman, but it could never be. At most she would bring Thor a few decades of happiness, if he were to keep her longer than his mistresses of the past. But I did not think it my place to comment on her, considering the reason she was here. Odin had told me what dwelled within her, but for now, for tonight, he would indulge Thor.

In a surprising turn of events, Odin did not wish to retire immediately after dinner. Instead, he invited me to walk with him after dismissing his guards and any others who would accompany us. He took my arm and we made our way to one of the larger courtyards near the great hall. The night was unseasonably warm; a light breeze was blowing and white moonlight poured down.

“I am at unease, Frigga,” he commented.

He spoke of Jane.

“The Aether inside her?”

“Yes.”

“Will it kill her?”

“Eventually.”

“And then what? Will you destroy it?”

“It cannot be destroyed,” he answered grimly. “I must hide it as my father did.”

“Where?”

He sighed. “There are places…”

“Thor…” I said softly. Her death would hurt him. “He loves her.”

“He thinks he loves her,” Odin corrected. “Her life is fleeting. When she is gone, he will find another and he will forget her.”

I pressed my lips together at his callous dismissal. I thought it almost ironic that Loki should despise Odin so entirely, and yet they held many of the same ideals.

“Besides, he will be king soon and he will marry.”

“Has your decision for his queen remained unchanged?” I asked.

“Yes. He will wed the Lady Sif.”

I nodded. “Lady Sif will be good for him.”

“I think so. She is strong-willed, like him, and will keep him on his toes.”

“When will you tell him?” I inquired.

“I know not. He does not seem to take much interest in her. He’s been too enthralled with the human.”

I did not respond. Though everything had been awful, I was happy at least to see Thor happy again, even if only for a little while. It pained me to remember how changed he had been after Loki’s fall into space. He had become obsessed with training, and eventually forgone his studies, much to my disappointment. After Bifröst had been restored, he had been gone much of the time to help qualm unrest within the Nine Realms, and was only recently back from trouble in a part of Vanaheim that the Van king had failed to address.

And now this trouble with the Aether…

“And how is our other son?” Odin questioned, and he chuckled when I glanced up in surprise. “I know you see him.”

I hesitated. If he knew I spoke to Loki through seidr, did he know I had allowed Stjarnavetr to physically visit him? But no, he would have put an immediate stop to that if he had known.

“He is as well as he can be.”

“Does he still despise me?”

My gaze slowly drifted down as we walked.

“I will take that as a yes,” he finally said, though not indignantly.

“I tell him what is happening,” I explained morosely. “He often grows angry.”

“I would expect that,” Odin answered in a sigh.

“As would I,” I replied. “He is imprisoned for all eternity.”

“By his own doings,” Odin added gently, but somewhat defensively.

“Yes, I know,” I murmured, once again picturing those horrible scars painted across Loki’s pale skin. “He…”

“Yes?”

“He has suffered much.”

“Not half as much as the people he killed on Midgard.”

Though I was ashamed Loki had lowered himself to such atrocities, I still could not help but to feel sorrow for all he had clearly suffered.

“He was hurt.”

Odin slowed and we came to a stop. I looked up at him.

“He was tortured. He showed me the scars.”

“Were they severe?” Odin inquired quietly.

I nodded solemnly. I did not think I could describe them to him. I did not wish to recount it, knowing my littlest had experienced such horrors.

“The Chitauri?”

I nodded again and Odin sighed. “Come. Let us retire.”

Odin steered us towards his chambers and we did not speak of Loki again. The guards who stood outside his chambers closed the great doors behind us, and Odin ignited a few torches along the wall, as well as his fireplace, with a wave of his hand. He seated himself as I poured us two cups of wine from a fresh flagon on his table.

I sat beside him in front of his large fireplace, built high with sweet-smelling logs, and he took the cup from me. I leaned against him, but we did not speak. Both of us were, I am sure, lost in our own thoughts: his of Thor and Jane, and mine of Loki down below.

We sat there for a long while, eventually making small talk that had nothing to do with Thor or Loki or the realm, unwinding from the day, when suddenly the doors to Odin’s chambers were thrown open and a rather distressed Einheri entered. Both Odin and I sat up to stare—rarely did one enter the king’s chambers unannounced like this unless it was extremely urgent.

The guard bowed. “Your Majesty, there has been a breach in the dungeons.”

A chill ran through me.

Odin quickly rose to his feet. “What are you talking about?”

“One of my guards has come to me with information. He witnessed another of my guard lower Prince Loki’s barrier to allow a woman into—”

“What?!” Odin thundered.

I rose up off the couch, feeling ill. Somebody had seen, they had not been careful enough. I knew I should not have let her down there tonight, I should have waited, I should have waited…

“Where are they now?” Odin shouted.

“The prince is not escaped, Your Majesty,” the Einheri quickly explained. “The cell was closed and they are both within. The guard who allowed the breach was detained and is currently awaiting my punishment. I only came here immediately because it concerned the prince.”

“Loki is still in his cell?” Odin asked, not as furiously this time.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

I had not yet been able to fortify myself before Odin turned to glare angrily at me.

“This is your doing, Frigga.”

“Yes.”

“Is it that girl? The Vana?”

“Yes.”

He closed his eye and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Gods. Why have you done this?”

“He wished to see her,” I answered simply.

“He would also like to be free!” Odin exclaimed, lowing his arm to once again glower at me. “Would you give him the key to the dungeons next?”

I pressed my lips together, but did not reply.

“How long has she been seeing him?” he demanded.

I wavered. “A year.”

“A year,” he growled, and looked away. I could see the subtle shaking of his body.

“He gave me his word,” I added, hoping to placate.

Odin snorted in derision; his eye flickered irately to my face. “His word? He is a liar, Frigga, and this you already know. He has probably been feeding you lies the entire time attempting to garner your sympathy. I know with him you are so apt to give it.”

I stiffened. I wished he would not speak to me like this in front of the guard, or at least lower his voice. But he did not understand. Loki would not lie to me about something like this, especially if it involved Stjarnavetr.

“You do not understand—”

“It is you who do not understand!” Odin shouted, cutting me off. “He is a traitor! It is a miracle he has not escaped yet. I have already allowed you to send him books and comforts, why do you keep pushing it?”

“Because he is my son,” I replied ardently, drawing myself up, “and despite his wrongdoings, he is your son, too.”

“Do not give me that!” Odin snapped, and I flinched. “He is in prison because he attempted to destroy an entire realm! He is in prison because he mindlessly slaughtered thousands of innocent Midgardians! He committed high treason, Frigga, he is a traitor to Asgard! He should be dead!”

My lips parted in surprise at his fervid tirade as he turned to address the guard.

“Husband, wait—”

“No!” he screamed, turning on me. “I indulged you at first, Frigga, but this has gone far enough. It is over.”

“Please,” I begged, reaching out to touch his arm, but he shook me off. “Please, wait until daybreak.”

“Why should I?” he snarled.

“Give them the night,” I pleaded, beseeching him with my eyes, for surely this would be their last. “Please, Odin, if you ever loved him.”

His expression softened when he saw my anguish. “I did, Frigga. I do. But he is not the same son I knew and we must stop treating him like he is.”

And then the softness melted away, replaced by that iron fortitude. He turned to the Einheri.

“Drag the girl out of his cell if you have to. Take her to Gladsheim. I will be there shortly after I see to the guard myself.”

“And the prince, Your Majesty?”

Odin hesitated, and I held my breath.

“If he resists, kill him.”

“No!” I cried.

“Go,” he ordered, and the guard hurried out.

“No!” I exclaimed again. “How can you do this?”

He turned on me again, lips set in a hard, thin line. “Be still, Frigga! I will not hear it! I gave you a little, thinking it would appease you, but it has not. Do you not realize what could have happened?”

I could not explain to him how Loki had promised me, how he would not attempt anything in order to keep Stjarnavetr safe. Now I could only beg for their mercy.

“I am the one who allowed her to see him,” I said, attempting to tamp down the panic I could feel rising within me. “It was not by her own thought or doing, but mine.”

“I know,” he replied grimly. “That is most disappointing of all.”

I faltered at his words, but quickly collected myself. “Do not punish her.”

“As of now, Frigga,” he said coldly, “she is none of your concern.”

“Husband, please,” I begged. “Do not do this.”

“Be silent!” he screamed, and I took a startled step back. “You will stay out of this now.”

I watched silently as he turned to storm out of his chambers, and I fell back onto the couch and hung my head in my hands.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

Loki’s breaths were coming heavily against my flushed skin as he moved above me; his lips, which were dry and cracked, were on my neck, the fingers of one hand knotted tightly in my hair. I murmured his name and he lifted his head to swallow my words with a gentle kiss. I smiled against Loki’s lips and arched up into him, each fervent movement stoking this fire inside me higher and higher. I bent my legs, squeezing them on his sides, and rolled my head back. My mouth fell open, every wonderful thrust educing a soft, breathy gasp from my lips.

He had wasted no time tonight—as soon as Hundr had closed the barrier, Loki was across his cell, lips moving desperately against mine, fingers tugging roughly at the laces on my back. Within moments we had been naked in his bed and he dragging himself down my body, winding a path of hot, frantic, openmouthed kisses over my skin.

Loki kissed the front of my exposed throat and I smiled to myself, moving to dig my fingers insistently into his taut back, feeling the muscles there tense with each starved movement. I raised my hands and grabbed two fistfuls of his greasy hair, guiding his face up to mine. I thrust my tongue into his mouth and he responded eagerly.

I lifted up, never tearing my lips from his, and pushed at him. He fell to the side, pulling me with him, and I broke the kiss to sit up. Sitting astride him now, I brushed my hair out of the way and stared down at him with parted lips and heavy breaths. I rolled my hips against him, taking much delight in the way he groaned and arched his back.

“Loki,” I moaned quietly, and I closed my eyes and lifted my head. I placed my hands over his on my hips, held his fingers tightly, and began rocking against him—not languidly, but hard and deep. I was already dangerously close to the edge, I could feel it tightening inside, threatening to unravel.

Loki was just as feverish as me; he dug his fingers painfully hard into the tender flesh of my thighs, guiding me on top of him, lifting his own hips to meet me every time I came down on him. My entire body was on fire—delicious heat coursing through my veins, skin burning. My hair stuck in damp strands to my sweat-slicked back and face, my muscles ached, but I could not stop, I was so close to this sweet relief.

Just as I felt myself ready to tumble over that precipice, Loki attempted to unsuccessfully stifle a groan before his breath all but ceased. He pulled me down hard onto him so he was fully sheathed in my heat, disallowing me movement. I fell forward, catching myself on my arms, and gazed down at him through half-lidded eyes as he came. His lips formed my name, and I closed my eyes and lowered my head when I felt the warmth of his release.

I leaned down and kissed his damp forehead, then his nose and parted lips. It was only when his fingers slightly relaxed on my hips that I began moving again. He was still hard inside me and he groaned and tilted his head back as I rode him, seeking my own release.

I had already been so close—coupled with Loki’s own ecstatic visage, it did not take me much longer. I cried out, I could not help it—I froze on top of him, fingers curled with his, head lifted up and back arched as the waves of my climax washed through me.

Loki disentangled our fingers and ran them up my sides. He drew me down towards him and I let him pull me into a loose embrace. He shifted us easily onto our sides and kissed my flushed, sweaty face, peppering kisses over my brow and lids and nose and mouth. I held tightly onto him, hearing his labored breaths against my ear, feeling his body so hard and hot against mine.

Our breaths came quickly, mingling together as we lay unmoving now in the silence. I dragged my lips over his cheek, tasted the salt of his sweat on my tongue, and buried my face in his neck. When my breaths had calmed, I took Loki’s face in my hands and gingerly pressed my lips to his. I kissed him softly, but deeply, and he responded in kind.

When after the heat of our passion had cooled and the cold air became a nuisance to me, Loki drew the twisted sheets over us. I rested one hand on his chest, right below the grisly scar spanning his collarbones, and he trailed his long fingers up and down my exposed arm. I languidly traced the scar with my fingertips, feeling the raised skin. There seemed no patch of flesh unmarred upon his body. Where once had been smooth, now was patterned with these ghastly evidences of torture.

Though Loki allowed me to caress his scars with my fingertips, he never commented on them—at least not like he had that first night when they had been revealed to me. He would just lie there and gaze at me, or close his eyes and let me explore him. Even after we had coupled, I found great comfort in merely touching him, even if my fingers were drawn to his scars, since I had been without him for so long and was only afforded these brief meetings.

In truth, I had been beyond surprised when the queen told me I would see Loki tonight. It had only been two weeks since I had seen him last and she always insisted I only see him, at most, once a month. I had acquiesced easily enough, though.

“What did Frigga say?” Loki suddenly asked.

I opened my eyes and looked up at him. He was staring off, fingers continuing to move absently over my skin.

“About what?”

“Your coming here tonight.”

“Oh. She called me to her and asked if I would see you tonight. I said yes, of course. I thought it odd she should ask, though, considering it has only been a couple of weeks…”

“Yes,” he replied vaguely.

“Why? Did you speak with her?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

“I told her I wanted to see you again.”

“And she agreed?”

“Not at first. Our conversation became heated. I grew angry.”

“Why?”

“She spoke of Odin and Thor. Told me they cared for me.”

I did not reply. I did not think it would do good to tell him I agreed with her.

“Neither Thor nor Odin have bothered to see me,” Loki mused. “I know not what she is trying to prove. It is merely her own wishful thinking.”

“You should not have yelled at her, though,” I murmured.

“Why should I not have?”

“Because she has bothered to see you,” I responded quietly, tracing little patterns on his chest with my fingertips. “And she has allowed me to see you, as well.”

He was silent. Perhaps he had not thought of it like that.

But then, “It is not enough.”

I felt a pang, but knew his meaning. Even though I could bring him comfort and pleasure like this for one night out of the month, he was still confined forever to this cell.

“I hate them,” he remarked. “All of them.”

“Even your mother?” I whispered, almost not wishing to hear his answer.

“She is not my mother.”

“Do not say that,” I said firmly. “Look at what she has done for you.”

Loki snorted in derision. “What is that, Stjarna? Books and soft sheets?”

He shook his head, sat up, and moved to sit on the edge of the bed, the sheets draped over his lap. I sat up, but otherwise did not move—only stared at his pale back, crisscrossed with those terrible white scars.

After a long moment, I tentatively moved closer to him. I pressed my lips to his shoulder blade, lightly trailed my fingers down his back.

“What more is she supposed to do?” I breathed. “She has done all she can.”

Loki hung his head, fingers gripping the edge of the bed. “But she defends them, Stjarna. She does not blame them for anything.”

“Perhaps they are partially at fault,” I whispered, pressing another kiss to his back. “But they alone did not place you here. You know this.”

Loki did not reply. Perhaps he was too weary to argue with me.

“Besides, she is not lying,” I continued, kissing him again, “I know that Thor does care for you.”

Loki turned his head towards me, but did not meet my eyes. His voice was low. “What are you talking about?”

“After your fall, I spoke to Thor,” I explained quietly, reaching to thread my fingers with Loki’s. “He was anguished by the death of his brother.”

“Was he?” Loki inquired, almost inaudibly.

I nodded. I could so clearly remember my and Thor’s sorrowful conversation in the courtyard the day of Loki’s memorial service. How Thor had spilled his regrets to me, how he had not seen the change in Loki, how he wished he could have been a better brother.

Loki shook his head. “He was most apt at hiding his grief, then.”

“Loki, surely—”

“No!” he snapped. “I will not hear it.”

I bit my lip. Though I wished to convince Loki that Thor still loved him, I did not want to ruin this precious time we had together and make him angry with talk of the Allfather and Thor. Relegating myself, I pressed my forehead against him and stroked his hand with my thumb.

“This will not last, Stjarna,” Loki announced abruptly, but softly.

“What will not last?”

“This. One day you will not be able to return to me and I will never see you again.”

I shook my head and pulled at him. He fell back onto the bed and I draped my leg over his hips and slid on top of him, straddling him. I pushed my hair behind my ears and leaned down. I put my hands on either side of Loki’s face, stroked his pallid cheeks with my thumbs. He gazed up at me, eyes so green and clear in the light of the cell, and I felt this warmth swelling inside my chest. Loki closed his eyes when I gently kissed his nose and then his mouth.

“Do not speak of that,” I whispered against his lips. “We still have time…”

I went to deepen the kiss, but Loki put his hands on either side of my head and brought me away from his face to look at me. He stared at me for a long moment—only gazing silently at me.

“I do not deserve you, Stjarna,” he said simply.

I raised my eyebrows, but smiled despite everything. “No, you don’t.”

Just as he lifted his head to kiss me, I heard a sound, turned my head, and felt my heart stop.

Outside the cell there stood at least eight Einherjar.

Just as Loki and I both bolted upright, one of the guards dropped the barrier and the illusion Loki had conjured faltered and disappeared in a shimmer of green. Both Loki and I froze, only staring in a shocked silence at the guards. A few of them quietly stepped up into the cell. A chill wound its way down my spine when I noticed that they all held their swords. Were they anticipating a fight?

Loki placed his hand on my lower back, as if to maintain some flimsy façade of protection or to assuage me, I knew not.

“Lady Stjarnavetr?”

My eyes flickered to the guard on the far right. My breaths were coming faster, my heart beating so wildly in my chest I was surprised none of them could hear it.

“Please come with us.”

I glanced down, feeling the heat rise into my cheeks, and then at Loki. His eyes were fixed on the guards, but he did not seem to be ashamed or mortified like me. Rather, he appeared incensed.

Slowly I turned my head back towards the guard.

“May I dress?” I asked shakily.

He hesitated, but then gave a terse nod.

“Do not move,” the guard ordered, this time addressing Loki. “I trust you will not put up a fight with her here.”

A few of the Einherjar averted their eyes, but understandably so a few kept their gazes trained on Loki. I slipped off of both Loki and the bed, on the verge of tears, and with trembling hands hurriedly tugged my dress on. I turned towards Loki and met his eyes as I fumbled with the laces up my back. My hands were shaking so badly I could hardly tie them properly or tightly.

As soon as the laces were sufficiently tied, I leaned forward, put my hand on Loki’s neck, and kissed him distraughtly on the lips, knowing in my heart it would be the last time I would ever see him.

“I love you,” I whispered desperately, but then exclaimed when I suddenly felt a hand on my arm, pulling me away. When I instinctively tried to jerk away, Loki started. One of the guards turned his sword on him and I screamed.

“No!” I cried, stepping away from Loki. “Stop, please! I will go, I will go…”

The guard who had grabbed me yanked me after him and I stared at Loki, tears already streaming down my cheeks. He was still sitting numbly in the bed, staring at me, and then the guard roughly turned me around. As soon as we were down the steps, I heard the barrier relifted behind me and could not bear to look back.

__

I was shaking violently as we entered Gladsheim, fear coursing like ice through my veins. The Allfather’s throne loomed ominously at the end, each step towards it only serving to increase the dread churning sickeningly inside me. The very real threat of imprisonment was running frantically through my mind, or worse, exile. And then what would happen to Loki? It was not as if the Allfather could lengthen Loki’s sentence. The only other thing I could think of was death and I felt that it was entirely my fault.

Of course I had jumped at the opportunity to see Loki, and to be with him, but now we were caught. If I had said no to the queen nearly a year ago, then this would not have happened. I still could have seen Loki through seidr, but now…

When we reached the end of the hall seemingly an eternity later, the guard who had up until now silently accompanied me said, “The Allfather will arrive shortly. Remain here.”

I stood there in a terrified silence as he walked away, fingers anxiously wringing at the front of my dress, breaths coming in frightened little pants. It seemed like an hour, but it was probably only a few minutes; a pair of doors off to the left opened and I glanced over and saw the king standing there.

I immediately lowered my head and dropped to my knees, heart threatening to burst out of my chest. He walked towards me, ascended the steps directly in front of me. Then there was a terrible silence and all I could discern was my heartbeat in my ears.

“Leave us. All of you.”

I closed my eyes, heard the distant shuffle of feet as whatever guards in the hall quietly filed out, the loud thud of the doors shutting behind them. The silence stretched on and still I could not bear to raise my head.

“I am burdened with more than you can imagine, woman. This is the last thing I need.”

I did nothing—only continued staring down at the ground.

“I do not understand,” he remarked, coming unhurriedly down the steps. “Why do you see him?”

Once again I remained silent, though I was not sure if it was because I knew not the words to say or because I was too afraid to speak. Part of me was surprised he was not screaming. I had always envisioned him as the type to shout his frustrations, especially considering my lowly station.

“You know what he has done,” the king continued, and he almost sounded confused, as if he could not believe I would risk so much just to see Loki. “Surely you know what he is.”

I swallowed hard. An image of sapphire skin and bloody eyes flickered through my mind.

“What is it you see in him?” he pressed, surprisingly not sounding angered by my petrified muteness.

And still I knew not what to say. If I had not been terrified, and struck with silence for my fear, I almost would have thought it an absurd question. I loved Loki and that was all there was to it. Perhaps it was all the happy times we had shared, and then some of the bad which had brought us closer together. It did not matter his being Jötun, nor his transgressions; yes they were horrible, and yes they were wrong, but it was not that Loki which I had fallen in love with so long ago. I suppose I knew—or at least suspected—that there was still a remnant of that Loki in the one who was imprisoned for all eternity, and it was the thought of that remnant that I clung so desperately to now.

But how I could I explain that to the king, and coherently in my frayed state?

After a while, the king sighed. “You love him, do you not?”

Finally, I spoke, and only in a whisper. “Yes.”

“Despite all he has done? This mayhem and death he has caused?”

“Yes,” I breathed.

The king unhurriedly paced in front of me. I could see his boots, but dared not to look up yet. Despite my dread, now that I had uttered a word or two, I was able to muster the courage to chance more.

“There was no…” my voice quivered, and when I spoke the king came to a stop—presumably to gaze down at my still-bowed head. “There was no plan, Your Majesty. Only to see him… not—not to aid in his escape…”

“You realize, of course, that what you are admitting to me is still treason, no matter how innocent you try to make it sound?”

I did not answer—only shook my head and sniffed, trying very hard now to not burst into harried weeping.

The Allfather expulsed a heavy breath and resumed his slow pacing.

“I am sure you know I never condoned his relationship with you, Lady Stjarnavetr. Even being what he is, you are still beneath him. But… even I must admit that you made him happy. I suppose I could thank you for that.”

The king’s words shocked me; I tentatively raised my head. He was standing on the stone steps, gazing contemplatively off to the side. He appeared more regretful than furious, which puzzled me. Finally, he shook his head and glanced back at me.

“I know you cannot understand, or rather will not want to, but Loki is not as he was.”

I furrowed my brows and whispered, “What do you mean?”

“Loki’s part to play in all of this is not over,” he replied stoically, “and he will bring you more grief than anything.”

I stared at him in a sort of teary confusion, but did not have long to ponder it.

“I would punish you for treason, at least, but I am well aware of Frigga’s part in this. So here is what shall happen.”

I lowered my head again, felt my heart speed up as I prepared for the worst.

“You will no longer serve Frigga, and your place will no longer be here in the palace. You will gather your belongings and be gone from here by week’s end. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” I breathed. The week’s end was only two days away.

“And know that any trouble further from you,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “especially regarding Loki, will result in your exile from Asgard.”

“Yes,” I whimpered, so softly even I barely heard it.

“Leave me.”

Panic abruptly welled up inside me and I raised my head. “And Loki?”

The king glared at me and I felt a stab of fear for having so blatantly disobeyed him, and spoken out of turn, but I had to know what would be done to Loki, had to know he would be alright…

“Loki is no longer your concern,” the king answered grimly.

“Please!” I implored, and I leaned forward, bracing one of my hands on the cold stone floor. “I beg of you, do not kill him! I am the one who went to the dungeons, he did not—”

“Enough!” the king snapped, and I bit my lip to silence myself. He appeared momentarily angered by my disregarding his order, and speaking so disrespectfully to him, but then, much to my surprise, his expression softened, and it was not with annoyance that he gazed at me, but something akin to pity.

“He will live,” he said gently, and I closed my eyes and lowered my head, this bittersweet relief washing through me. “Leave me now.”

I sat there on my knees for a long moment, attempting to collect myself, before finally shakily rising to my feet. I kept my eyes averted as I turned and frozenly made my way out of the hall.

Once in my rooms, I sat on the edge of my bed, hands clasped in my lap. I did not weep, only blankly stared ahead at the wall, attempting to process it all.

It was almost difficult to comprehend. I could hardly believe it, that it was actually over now and everything was ended. I would be gone from the palace within two days and would never see Loki again. I would live down in the city with Konavefr and Loki would be here—so close and yet, at the same time, so far away. At least he would not be killed, though. That did provide me some comfort, however minimal.

Would the queen tell him what had happened? How the Allfather had ordered me gone? Would he be more angry or sad? And how much more he would hate the king, and perhaps even the queen…

But I did not want to think on all of this now, did not want to ruminate on how everything was changed. I slowly lay down, not even bothering to change out of my clothes. The tears came soon after—quiet and pitiful, until eventually I drifted into a fitful sleep.

__

Queen Frigga saw me the next day after having dismissed all her other women. She embraced me before even opening her mouth to speak and I bit my lip to keep from crying. When she pulled back, though, her sorrowful expression was too much for me and I blinked and looked away and felt the tears begin to roll uninhibitedly down my cheeks.

“Have you told him?” I whispered despondently, using my sleeve to wipe my face.

“No,” she answered. “In truth, I have not had the heart.”

“He needs to know,” I murmured, and she gave a small nod. “May I? I would tell him myself…”

The queen acquiesced and led me to the little room in her bedchamber, unlocked it, and allowed me inside. I stood there in front of the brazier for a long time, too afraid to light the fire and see Loki and tell him what had happened—that we would never see each other again.

Finally, after having gathered enough courage, I waved my hand and the fire immediately sprang to life. I twisted my fingers together in front of me, body gone hot with nervousness, but did not have to wait long. Loki came into view almost instantly, appearing beleaguered.

“Stjarna,” he said worriedly. The darkness under his eyes was even more pronounced than last I had seen him.

“Loki,” I breathed, and quite suddenly the sobs I had been just barely holding back burst out of me. I began to weep loudly and could not stop.

“Did they hurt you?” he demanded, but I shook my head.

“N—no, no,” I sobbed. I took a step forward, wished so badly I could reach out and touch him one last time. “No…”

“What happened?” he asked, obviously distressed by my outburst.

I swallowed hard, attempting to suppress my ridiculous sobs. “The king—the king spoke with me and I am—I am to leave the palace and…”

I trailed off, feeling sick to my stomach. I did not want to tell him.

“Stjarna?”

“I am to leave the palace,” I continued mournfully, “and I am not to come back.”

Loki closed his eyes, clenched his fists, and turned away. “Gods, I could kill him…”

I did not respond, only stared remorsefully at him.

He turned back to me. “Frigga cannot do anything?”

“No,” I replied miserably. “It is over.”

Loki gritted his teeth and slid his jaw forward in agitation. He shook his head and ran his hand over his mouth.

“You will go to Konavefr’s?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “I will be alright.”

“Gods…” he growled, and he shook his head again. I could sense the rage boiling beneath, but there was absolutely nothing he could do.

“Loki?”

His eyes snapped to mine, and then down to my trembling lips.

“I am sorry…”

He did not answer. I knew he was trying not to explode for my sake and could only imagine how furious he really was.

“I love you,” I whispered.

He shook his head again, as if he could not accept that this was the end.

“No!” he snapped. “I will speak to Frigga, she will talk to Odin—”

“It is over!” I cried, and Loki glanced at me. “It is over, Loki. The Allfather told me if I continued with this… with you… I would be exiled.”

The rage in his eyes instantly melted away and he stared at me in forlorn defeat. I could tell when the breath left his body, the way his shoulders subtly fell. I wanted to reach out and take his face in my hands, wanted to kiss his lips and smooth away those worried lines between his brows with my thumbs.

“I will think of you always,” I explained softly, taking another step closer so I could feel the heat of the fire on my face.

“Stjarna…”

He did not want to admit that this was the last time we would see each other, and it came on again, and I closed my eyes and began to quietly weep. Loki did not say anything, only watched me cry, but I did not fault him. There was not much either of us could do now.

It was over.

“I love you,” I said again, though through my tears he could hardly have understood me. Impulsively I reached out, as did he, and I felt the energy of his touch for a fleeting moment on my hand, and then the fire sputtered and died and he was gone.

I stared down at the reddened coals for a long while, tears streaming down my cheeks, lips trembling, hands fisted on my dress. Suddenly, the more violent sobs I had somehow been able to hold back earlier burst out of me. I put my hand over my stomach and bent over and leaned against the wall. I wept raucously, covered my face with my other hand, and slowly slid down the wall.

I am sure the queen heard me sobbing through the closed door, but she did not come to comfort me, which I was grateful for. I would rather have spent my misery alone.

When I finally emerged perhaps half an hour later, the queen was sitting silently by her fireplace. She looked worriedly at me, but did not say anything in response to my reddened and tear-stained face. She only stood, came to me, and embraced me. She kissed my cheek and I held onto her tightly.

“You have been as a daughter to me, Stjarnavetr,” the queen whispered, pressing her cheek to mine. I squeezed my eyes shut, but did not respond for fear of bursting into fresh tears.

Soon after I bid her a tearful farewell, for I would leave tomorrow morning, and departed for my own chambers.

It would be the last time I saw her.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

Despite having fallen asleep rather late, I awoke early the next morning. The sky was just beginning to lighten, casting its myriad of cheerful morning colors over the city below. I found it too hopeful a scene, but stood there anyway gazing out at it all on my balcony.

I knew I must begin gathering my things if I was to be gone by the day’s end, per the king’s instructions, but I found it difficult to do anything but stand here and stare vacantly off into the distance. Loki was imprisoned for all eternity and I banished from the palace. I would never see him again, nor probably the queen. It was hard to believe that the life I had managed to establish here in the palace so long ago, initially built around nothing more than a broken past, was finally over.

Fortunately, though, if it could be called luck, I still had family in the city. I would not be alone. And yet, I could not deny this anger I felt. I was angry at Loki for having gotten himself in this situation to begin with, anger at the king for his hardness, anger even at the queen and myself for being so ignorant as to try to see Loki when there had been so much risk. But there was nothing to be done now. The king knew, the king had spoken, and that was it. He had ordered me gone from the palace by the week’s end—today—and now I must leave it and everything behind me.

Still dressed in my clothes from yesterday, for I had not bothered to change out of them last night, I began to slowly gather my things and pack them into chests. I had hardly begun when there came a knock on my door. I straightened up and called out for them to enter. It could only have been one of two people.

Réttrmund entered, clad in the golden armor of the Einherjar. He was on duty today and more than likely not supposed to be here. I am sure he had snuck away this morning to see me.

“Sister.”

He quietly shut the door behind him.

“Réttrmund,” I murmured bleakly, turning away to survey the items scattered across my bed.

He slowly walked up to me, but I did not look at him for my shame. No doubt he knew what had transpired in the dungeons. Why else would he be here?

“Look at me please,” he pressed gently.

I sighed and did as he said. His head was tilted to the side and he was gazing at me with evident pity.

“They told me what happened two nights ago,” he explained. “I would have come yesterday, but could not get away.”

I shook my head, but knew not the words to say. Truly I did not wish to recount it—the embarrassment, the helpless disgrace. It had been horrible enough the first time.

“I am sorry, Stjarna.”

“It was… it was foolish to think it could go on much longer,” I finally admitted.

“I am surprised you were able to get away with it for so long,” he added, and from his tone I could tell he disapproved. “At least the king did not exile you from Asgard, or imprison you.”

I nodded and turned back towards my bed so he could not see my eyes begin to swim with tears.

But Réttrmund was my brother and he knew me well. Without a word, he pulled me into his arms and put his hand on the back of my head. I wrapped my arms around him, unable to hold back my tears for very long. I began to quietly cry, wondering how I even had any tears left in me after yesterday and the evens of the night before that.

Réttrmund held me until my weeping began to gradually taper off. When at last I quieted, he held my head in his hands and wiped my cheeks with his thumbs. His pale grey eyes searched mine, and roved over my tear-stained face.

“What am I to do now?” I whispered, lips trembling.

He appeared unsure. “I suppose the same as when you thought him dead. Just go on with your life—”

“But he is not dead!” I exclaimed ruefully, pulling away. “He is alive.”

“There is nothing you can do about it,” Réttrmund reminded me, a hint of firmness in his voice. “The only thing you can do is move on.”

“How can I?” I asked miserably. “We have been together for so long. How can I just leave him behind?”

“Because you must,” he answered. “It seems you have already forgotten all he has done.”

I glanced away, almost petulantly. I did not want to hear this now, but Réttrmund would not leave it be. I knew he told me this for my own sake, knew he only meant it to help me move on, but I was adamant about ignoring it.

“I know you love him, sister, but Loki is not the same as when you knew him before.”

“How would you know?” I demanded, but also recalled the similar words of the king.

“He has killed many people,” Réttrmund stressed, attempting to keep his voice in check. “He betrayed Asgard, Stjarna. I know not if you see it like this, but in doing so he betrayed you as well.”

I slowly looked down. I knew he was right. Had I not even told Loki that he had betrayed me, before his fall into space? Nonetheless, I found it hard to accept when all I could envision was lying in Loki’s arms, knowing what had been done to him.

I suppose what was difficult for me was the thought that, despite being banished from the palace, I would be continuing on with my life and Loki would remain stagnant and alone in his cell until his death, surely millennia from now. The thought of that tore me apart.

“I truly am sorry,” Réttrmund finally said when I remained silent. “I do not mean to upset you. I only… I do not wish for you to dwell on this. The fact is, he is imprisoned. Rightfully, I will add. But you will not see him again and you should not languish on it. It will do neither of you any good.”

I gave a small nod. The only problem was that I knew I would languish over it for an indescribably long time.

“You will survive this,” he remarked. “I promise.”

At that, I closed my eyes and shook my head. A small sob welled up in my throat and my voice was weak and pathetic. “How?”

Réttrmund pulled me into another embrace. He kissed the top of my head and held me tightly.

“He is not the only one who loves you, Stjarna. You still have your family.”

I held him a little tighter.

“Everything will heal in time,” he added gently.

In that moment, currently facing what I was, I was not sure I believed him. But it was all I had to go on and so I must do it whether I wished to or not.

“Would you like me to take you down to Konavefr’s?” Réttrmund asked.

“No,” I answered dolefully, pulling away from him. I wiped my face. “I can go. You must not leave the palace.”

Réttrmund’s lips quirked upwards in a smile. “There is nothing going on currently that requires the guard.”

“Nonetheless, you must not leave. I will be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I replied softly.

“I am off duty tomorrow. I will be down to Konavefr’s tonight, alright?”

“Yes. I will see you tonight.”

Réttrmund kissed me once more on the forehead before departing. Feeling only slightly more heartened, I resumed packing my things. I worked in quiet, solemn contemplation, and Loki was all I could think of despite Réttrmund’s words.

I wondered what he was doing right now. Lying on his bed, surely, and staring resentfully up at the ceiling. Probably thinking up all sorts of ways to take revenge on the king if he ever got out of his cell, which was impossible. I felt so horrible for Loki. Now he was truly alone and I knew he would drive himself mad, eaten up with hate and hopeless revenge, and I could not be there to qualm his anger, even if only momentarily, or remind him that he was loved, as Réttrmund had just done with me.

I began to cry again as I moved around gathering more of my things, and so the morning passed.

It was early afternoon, and I had just closed the lid of one of my chests and latched it, when I heard what sounded like an alarm. I tilted my head, straining to listen, and confirmed it was a horn sounding a warning. Confused, I left my room and walked down the corridor, wondering what was going on. I turned the corner at the end of the corridor and at the far end saw two Einherjar run past. I quickened my step, apprehension beginning to churn in my stomach.

Just as I rounded the corner at the far end, I nearly ran into one of the queen’s ladies, Gladliga.

“Gladliga,” I asked worriedly, “what is happening?”

“I know not,” she replied with a shake of her head. “I think it has to do with the dungeons, but I am not for sure.”

My heart skipped a beat. “The dungeons?”

“Yes, but it is best if we return to our rooms. That is where I am headed now.”

She swept past me, but I did not follow her. I went on, my head filled with nothing now but Loki. I thought it suspicious that an alarm should be sounded for the dungeons so soon after what had happened two nights ago.

As I walked, I passed a courtyard filled with people talking anxiously to each other. I continued on my way, and as I drew nearer to the front of the palace, I saw more people, many frantic, and Einherjar hurrying past.

“What is going on?” I inquired of a passing courtier.

“There has been a breach in the dungeons,” he answered, watching four Einherjar run by, swords unsheathed. “The prisoners are escaping.”

“Escaping?” I exclaimed.

“One of the prisoners let many others out,” he explained. “A couple of Einherjar have been killed already.”

Instantly I thought of Réttrmund and my blood ran cold. But he would not be patrolling the dungeons today, would he? Usually he was within the palace itself. I wandered away from the courtier, requesting any I saw if they knew specifics. All I could glean from multiple reports was that a prisoner thought to be a marauder from Vanaheim had escaped the dungeons, and in the process released dozens of prisoners and killed two Einherjar.

At least an hour passed and still everybody seemed confused. I was shouted at a few times to seek safety, but there were so many others out and about, inquiring the same as me, and I had not seen any escaped prisoners, so I foolishly chose to remain.

Suddenly, there was the distant sound of thunder. I was near the edge of the palace and a large balcony. Many people stood there already, but I was able to secure a spot on the railing. They were all gazing out over the city, and my breath caught in my throat when I caught sight of what everybody was staring and pointing at.

In the distance, at the edge of Bifröst, there loomed a great black ship. It was massive, long and cruel-looking and tinged with burning red at its heart. Upon the rainbow bridge lay the smoking ruins of a smaller black ship, and in the sky, headed straight for the palace, were at least half a dozen ships like it. They were thin, like blades, and fast. They moved lithely through the sky, cutting through the air and advancing purposefully, but almost erratically.

I flinched, and so did many around me, when one suddenly exploded in the air. Towers scattered through the city armed with guns shot beams of energy at the intruders, and some small Asgardian ships were flying out to meet them. Murmurs swept through the crowd that we were under attack, but who was attacking us?

The sky, which before had been clear and cloudless, now was filled with black smoke and beams of golden light. Every time a ship exploded, be it one of the enemy’s or ours, the blast was terrible to behold. The black ships were growing closer and some of the people in the crowd turned and fled back into the palace.

I, however, stood rooted to the spot, watching wide-eyed the air fight. I wondered if the breach in the dungeons had anything to do with these black ships. Somebody shouted and pointed, drawing attention away from the battle. Rising around the palace was a shimmering, golden force field. It must have been initiated during the attack, but did not seem to be rising quickly enough. More people turned to flee, but I remained, still watching.

Before the force field could converge at the top of palace, though, it faltered and began to slowly drop. Worried cries rang out as it fell, and then screams as one of the black ships snaked its way through a volley of shots fired from the palace. It crashed far below us and the balcony beneath our feet shook. More screams and everybody began to run back into the palace, myself included.

As soon as I stumbled inside and away from the flow of people, I heard my name.

“Stjarnavetr!”

I whirled around and was startled to see Gullhár. She ran up to me and grabbed my arm.

“Stjarnavetr, we must go,” she urged.

“What is going on?” I demanded, wondering if she had heard anything I had not.

“We are under attack—”

“By who?”

“The Dark Elves!”

“The Dark Elves?” I echoed, looking around. I had read of the Dark Elves before, a vile race that had been defeated millennia ago by the king’s father, Bör. Why now did they attack us?

More confused than ever, I allowed Gullhár to take my hand and pull me away when there was another loud explosion right outside the palace.

“We must seek shelter!” she cried frantically.

“Where?”

Gullhár did not reply. She opened the first door she saw and pulled me inside. It appeared to be a meeting room of some kind—there was a large table in the center with many chairs around it. At least two dozen other people had gathered in here—all apparently with the same idea as Gullhár, for most of them were courtiers and servants. There was a girl huddled against the wall, hands clasped together and tears rolling down her face, and two men were arguing about what to do, but almost everybody else just stood in a sort of terrified silence. Over the next half hour, more people trickled in, until somebody declared we must lock the door.

Gullhár and I stood in the corner. I listened to the frightened and agitated whispers around us, attempting to gather any more information, but it seemed the only thing known was that there had been a breach in the dungeons and then shortly afterwards we had been attacked by the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim.

There were more explosions, some distant and some close by, and even faint screams. Somebody hysterically announced they thought they heard the ring of metal against metal, but another hushed them and said to not make a sound. I thought it foolish to remain here, for there was no escape if the Dark Elves were to find us and decide to slaughter us all, but I also did not wish to venture outside in the middle of an invasion. I did not think there anywhere truly safe at the moment.

Eventually, we heard nothing. No explosions, no faraway sounds of combat. A man announced we should open the door, another opposed him and argued we knew not what was happening. A small argument broke out, but eventually the first man got his way. He unlocked the door and tentatively ventured outside. Eventually, people began to cautiously trickle out.

I moved to leave, as well, but Gullhár grabbed my hand.

“No, Stjarnavetr,” she begged. “Do not go. We know not if it is safe yet.”

“I doubt it is any safer locked in this room,” I responded. “Besides, my brother is out there somewhere.”

Gullhár wavered, but nodded. She cautiously followed me out.

To my immense surprise, there were more courtiers walking around than Einherjar. Gullhár and I walked aimlessly, I searching for Réttrmund’s face among those Einherjar we happened to pass by. Time wore on and I began to grow frantic when I did not see him. A few minutes later, however, by some stroke of luck, I recognized one of them, though it was not my brother.

“Vigr!”

Vigr had come to Konavefr’s house before and was a friend of Réttrmund’s. He turned towards me upon hearing his name.

“What is happening?” I inquired anxiously, walking up to him.

“You should not be here!” he snapped. “You should return to your rooms.”

“I cannot. Please tell me what has happened.”

He glanced at Gullhár, who was silent and wide-eyed, and then back at me. “We were attacked by the Dark Elves.”

“Why?”

“I know not,” he answered with a shake of his head.

“Where is Loki?”

Vigr furrowed his brows. “He is still in the dungeons, in his cell. Many prisoners were escaped, but the prince was not.”

I sighed in relief. At least he was alive.

“And Réttrmund?”

Vigr paused. “I know not. I saw him an hour or so ago. He was headed to the throne room, I to the dungeons. One of the Dark Elves’ ships destroyed it when they crashed into the palace. I have not been to the throne room yet, but I am headed there now.”

So that had been the wall-shaking impact.

“I will come.”

“No, you will not,” he countered. “You will return to your rooms.”

“I need to find out if Réttrmund is alright!” I rejoined desperately. “He is my brother.”

Vigr pressed his lips together, but nodded. “Come, then.”

I followed him, insides twisting in nervousness, and Gullhár followed. The closer we got to the throne room, the more hectic it was. I could smell smoke in the air, and much to my dread, blood. In the corridor leading to the throne room, many Einherjar sat or leaned against the wall. Eir, along with more than a dozen of her assistants, was hurrying up and down the line, tending to injuries and applying salves and bandages. I scanned the wall for Réttrmund, but did not see him.

I attempted to swallow the fear I could feel rising in my throat, tried to convince myself Réttrmund must still be in the throne room. That was where Vigr said he had gone, anyway.

We entered through the giant double doors to chaos.

Stone debris, both large and small, littered the floor, and nearly all of the columns were broken or cracked. The cause of the devastation lay in the middle of the room—a Dark Elf ship perched uncertainly on its side. Behind it at the end of the hall I could see the throne, or what was left of it.

I stood there in shock, hardly able to process the damage that had been done. It did not seem possible that such a thing could happen here, but the evidence lay strewn brazenly before me.

Einherjar milled about, helping the remaining injured and cleaning up. I searched for my brother’s face among them, but had no luck. Two guards walked past me, carrying a limp comrade of theirs to the far wall. My eyes followed them and I saw, in horror, the dead. I had not even noticed them before in the confusion; they were lined up against the wall, row upon row of golden armor—at least a hundred. My gaze was drawn immediately afterwards to the pile of bodies at the end of the rows. These were not Einherjar, for they had not been laid out with respect, but the intruders: beings in dark armor with white hair and white masks and blank black eyes.

Nobody paid me any attention as I slowly approached the line of bodies, heart in my throat and this dreadful anticipation roiling sickeningly in my stomach. I scanned their faces, saw their wounds—some with singed, gaping holes in their bodies, others with tremendous bruises or gruesome lacerations—as I walked along, but did not see Réttrmund.

Despite the dead stretched out before me, I felt a small spark of hope as I neared the end of the line. Perhaps Vigr had been mistaken, or perhaps Réttrmund had gone elsewhere after the battle.

I neared the end of the line, about to turn away to begin my search elsewhere—and froze. My eyes landed on him, lying prostrate two bodies from the end. My mind raced, attempting to excuse for it. It was not really him, just another who resembled him. His face was covered in blood, anyway, his hair and beard was matted with it—it could have been somebody else, I could not tell from here, I could not really be sure…

I went forward, walking in numb disbelief. Oh, but of course it was him, I could tell even through all the bruises and blood. I fell to my knees next to his motionless body, trying my hardest to keep my eyes averted from the terrible wound in his chest. His helmet was gone, armor dented and broken, and his cape beneath him was soaked in blood. The odor of it was so overwhelming I could discern its metallic tartness on my tongue.

I glanced up and away, almost too terrified to look closer, imploring silently for somebody to come help me, to tell me this was not Réttrmund lying dead in front of me. Through this helpless veil of tears, I saw Gullhár across the hall, speaking with an Einheri, but she did not see me, she could not help me, nobody could.

I slowly looked back down, opened my mouth to whisper his name, but nothing came out. I placed a shaking hand on his front, all sounds around me fading into nothingness. I leaned over him and cupped his cheek with my other hand, stroked his blood-stained skin with my thumb.

And it was so odd, but in that moment, it was not my grown brother lying before me, my brother who was a talented warrior, and who despite having a wife and two young sons still had endeavored to care for me, but the small, anxious boy who had hid behind Konavefr’s skirts upon arriving in Asgard so many years ago. Not a man lying here, but a brave little warrior who had run around in the sunshine waving a wooden sword and pretending to slay imaginary enemies, a curious little boy who had begged me to tell him stories of Vanaheim before bedtime—only, always, my little brother.

I tenderly pressed my quivering lips to his cold forehead and began to cry.

“Réttrmund,” I whimpered, stroking his hair as to comfort him—as if he could still feel it.

I pulled away to study his swollen face, tears rolling down my cheeks, dripping off my nose onto his skin. I wiped them away, smearing the blood there, and despite him not being able to hear me, I apologized to him, over and over and over. I brushed his warm brown curls back from his forehead, tried to smooth his hair despite its being matted with dried blood because he hated being untidy, he hated looking unkempt, he would not want to look like this…

I grabbed a handful of my skirts and shakily wiped the blood off his face, which had softened somewhat due to my tears. I had just finished when I felt a presence next to me, but I did not look up.

“Stjarnavetr,” Gullhár murmured.

I turned my head slightly, but did not tear my eyes away from Réttrmund.

“The queen is dead.”

__

The next few days passed slowly.

Réttrmund’s remains were burned with the rest of the Einherjar who had perished in the attack, for they had died honorably. Pyres were built high on the outskirts of the palace, and I, along with Konavefr, Dreyma, Réttrmund’s two young sons, and surprisingly my youngest brother Svinn and his family, stood there in silent misery with hundreds of others as the flames rose high and consumed the bodies on the pyres. Though Réttrmund was physically gone now, we would later erect a rune stone near to my father’s grave to preserve his memory.

The queen’s funeral occurred later that night. Thousands upon thousands turned out to see her delivered to the stars. All gathered on the coast, facing the expanse of water that crashed over the edge of Asgard. The ceremony began when night fell, and when the sky was blanketed with galaxies and their swirling stardust.

There were no words from the king—no chronicles of her life or accomplishments, no final rites. Perhaps he could not bring himself to reduce all she had been into a short, pretty speech. Her body was sent out onto the water on a small ship, a lantern helping to light her way. All was quiet as she floated serenely on the waves, a small dot of light against the shimmering reflection of the starry night. Once she was out a good distance, a single flaming arrow was fired. It landed on her ship and within seconds, had burst into flames.

More small boats followed, all fitted with a single lantern, and moments later, row upon row of Einherjar upon the shore lifted their bows and fired. A sheet of burning arrows rained down across the black water, igniting the little boats, and illuminating the final journey of Queen Frigga.

As I stood there in a barely-contained, melancholy silence, watching the queen’s ship grow smaller and smaller as it approached the edge, I could not help but to think back to when I had first come to Asgard. Though it had been so long ago, I still remembered being dazzled by her smile, overwhelmed by her kindness in giving me a new purpose here. I owed so much to her, for she had saved me. Though Loki and I had come together due in part to her scheming, she had ultimately created a happy place for me here in Asgard, and done so much for me and my family, none of which I could have ever hoped to repay. I could almost have considered her as a mother to me.

It was made even worse when I thought of Loki. He was without his mother now, even if he did not consider her to be that. Now he was truly and utterly alone.

Once the queen’s ship reached the edge, the king struck Gungnir against the ground and all observed in hushed awe as the queen’s body was taken up from the fire and into the sky like stardust. I mouthed her farewell, watching her ascend into the heavens above.

Afterwards, I followed the slow procession back to the city, leaving everything I had known these past centuries behind in the darkness.

__

One month had not even passed when the news came.

It was early afternoon and I was upstairs tidying Hjaldr and Herlid’s room. I insisted on doing it, and nearly every other room in the house, every day, for it helped to take my mind off of the events of the weeks previous. In truth, though, attempting to busy myself like this only helped a little. No matter how occupied my hands were, my mind could never help but to eventually wander back to that most horrible day.

“Stjarna?”

I turned around and saw Dreyma standing in the doorway.

“There is somebody here to see you. Her name is Gullhár.”

I followed Dreyma out and down the stairs. As much as I felt sorry for myself, I also pitied Dreyma, for she had not lost a brother, but a lover and the father of her two boys. I could, in part, understand the depth of her grief, but she did a much better job of concealing it than me. At least during the day—at night she could not hope to quiet the sobs that permeated the bedroom she had used to share with Réttrmund.

I managed a small smile when I saw Gullhár standing in the main room, and I embraced her. It was good to see her, considering these past weeks had not been the most happy.

“Hello, Stjarnavetr,” she said, but her smile was not terribly cheerful. I felt a rivulet of unease.

“What is it, Gullhár?”

“I do not come with good news,” she warned, eyes flickering to Dreyma. “It concerns Prince Loki.”

Immediately my insides tightened in apprehension. Dreyma excused herself and Gullhár and I sat down.

“I have heard from Father, who has been told by the Allfather,” she explained, glancing down at her hands in her lap. “I am so sorry, Stjarnavetr.”

“What happened?” I asked carefully, attempting to swallow the dread I could feel rising up.

“Loki is dead.”

At first I was not sure I had heard her correctly.

“Loki is… dead?”

But he was in prison…

I stood up. “How?”

“My father said Prince Thor helped him to escape his cell. None know specifically why, but it had something to do with the human Prince Thor brought from Midgard and the Dark Elves. They were discovered attempting to flee the realm, but had help from the prince’s friends. They were eventually able to escape Asgard.”

I turned around, hardly able to disguise the tremble in my voice. “Where did they go?”

“Svartalfheim. They were confronted there by the Dark Elves.”

I closed my eyes. I had read before that Svartalfheim had been uninhabited for millennia, just a dark, barren wasteland, ever since the wars so long ago, even before Odin Allfather had become king. That was where Loki had died?

“How did he die?” I whispered.

“He was killed by the same creature that killed the queen…”

I lowered my head, felt the tears stinging behind my eyelids. I clutched the front of my dress, needing to hold onto something.

“Did they bring his body back?”

“I know not,” Gullhár answered softly. “I did not ask Father.”

I nodded, but did not turn around. I heard Gullhár stand up and then felt her next to me.

“I am so sorry, Stjarnavetr.”

She embraced me and wondered if I wished to be alone. I bit my lip and nodded again, but quietly thanked her for coming here. She told me she would visit again soon. Shortly after, Konavefr and Dreyma inquired after me.

“Loki is dead,” I said without looking at them, heading outside. I needed to be completely alone.

Strangely enough, I did not burst into harried weeping. I walked out into the yard toward a small stand of trees. There was a stump nearby—the leftovers of a tree Réttrmund had cut down a few months ago for firewood—and I sat down and stared vacantly into the distance, my fingers absently picking at the curling bark.

I knew not why I did not cry. Perhaps it was that because within one month, I had already—barely—endured the deaths of two of the closest people to me. It almost felt as if I had nothing left to give, even for him who I had lain with for the past five centuries. Maybe because unlike the first time when Loki had fallen into space and all thought him dead, I had not been in the thick of it all. I had already begun to resign myself these past weeks to the fact that I would never see him again.

Oh, but despite my lack of weeping, it hurt. I could feel it like a dull, aching throb in my chest, spreading to all my limbs, making me numb. Before, I had been distraught over the fact that Loki would languish and fester in his cell, and now I knew not whether to take comfort in the fact that he had died outside it, probably doing something foolish or devious or a ridiculous combination of the two.

I wondered how he had died. Surely fighting with that thing that had murdered the queen. Stabbed? Beaten? Had he suffered? But the more I speculated, the more intense the pain became. The tears began to spill over now, but I did not burst into sobs. I leaned over and put my face helplessly in my hands.

I wished so desperately that Loki had not done the things he had done. Then he would not have fallen into space or gone to Midgard or been imprisoned or gone to Svartalfheim and gotten himself killed. Why could things not have stayed the same, why could we not have been happy with the way things were, why, why, why…? But it was useless to question it now, for I would never know the answers.

When the sky began to grow dark, and the air cooler, I stood up and torpidly made my way back to the house. Konavefr and Dreyma did not speak to me, much to my relief, and the boys watched me in a bleak curiosity. No doubt Dreyma had told them Aunt Stjarna’s prince had died.

I did not eat supper, but went upstairs to my room. I locked the door behind me and laid down without bothering to change out of my clothes. I knew I would feel it tomorrow, that crushing, suffocating sorrow I had become so well-acquainted with, but for now I was grateful for this momentary numbness.

The queen had died, and my brother, and now my beloved, wretched Loki.

Chapter Text

Loki

I stared down at the papers strewn before me and sighed heavily. Nothing here but petty quarrels between noblemen, and peasant matters so insignificant I was surprised—and irritated—they had made it this far to my desk and not yet been resolved by a lesser city councilman.

Not wishing to deal with this nonsense now, and thinking I could finish in the morning, I reached for the flagon of wine on my table, poured a cup, and left the papers to fend for themselves. I collapsed onto the couch in front of the fireplace, both flagon and cup in hand, and sighed again.

As usual, sitting here with nothing to do, and nobody to talk to, my thoughts began to wander aimlessly as they did every night. First to matters of the kingdom, and then to more personal things. Frigga, and the day the Dark Elves attacked, was first, and inevitably how I had told that great black creature to take the stairs to the left. In truth, I had hoped it might find its way to Odin and run him through as it later had me on Svartalfheim, but quite the opposite had occurred. It was not my fault, though; they—anybody—should have been there to protect her, most especially her eldest son or husband, or even me if I had not been imprisoned…

Naturally, Thor had not thought of it that way when I had brought it up when transporting his precious little human to Svartalfheim. Despite the fact, Thor had been quite grateful to me in the end, when I lay dying in his arms. Or rather, pretending to die. I had begun healing myself with seidr the moment I hit the ground after being impaled. By the time Thor had run over and taken me in his arms, I had fully healed, but of course I did not let him know that. In that moment, fooling him into believing I had died seemed the best route, since I most definitely did not wish to return to my cell. And so I had put on a show for him, stuttering and gasping and skin fading. The idiot had fallen for it. He had not buried me, thankfully, and as soon as he was over the hill with his Midgardian woman, I was up and pacing and thinking on what to do.

Ultimately, I had decided to return through the portal through which we had come, but before I could reach it, an Asgardian ship arrived. I hid myself and watched the Einheri depart the ship and look for evidence of my and Thor’s presence. It had not been difficult to sneak up behind him and effortlessly slit his throat with my dagger before assuming his appearance and returning to Asgard.

There had been a little run-in with Odin—nothing terribly memorable—and I had, almost laughably easily, obtained that which I had lusted after for so long. Unfortunately, though, I could not simply reveal myself to Asgard as King Loki; I was relegated to playing the part of Odin until I figured something out. Thor was not here, however, which made things easier. He was gone to Midgard to fuck his human to his heart’s content, and I left here, presumed dead to all, to rule over the Realm Eternal.

And I was thoroughly sick of it. I had been in this guise for a month now and though I did not wish to admit it, it was wearing on me, and I was tired. Constantly cloaking myself in illusion to fool them all, and then an extra layer of protection so Heimdall could not discern what was happening, and yet another constant veil on the cell beneath Asgard.

I poured another cup of wine, and then another and another.

Yes, it had only been a month, but kingship had not been exactly what I had envisioned. Dealing with paltry matters and civil disputes and idiotic courtiers took up most of my day. At first I had enjoyed the boundless control and endless blandishment, but after a while it became grating, for I could always tell a liar, and they would not leave me be, and it did not help that I was immediately inclined to hate everybody.

The youth of the palace, most of whom I had already detested, stayed to themselves when not bothering me with inane requests, and I did not care to mingle with the sentimental old fools Odin had elected to spend his scarce free time with. Despite the suspicion it might have aroused, I just could not stand to sit there and listen to Njord and the others discuss deeply the way “things used to be.”

Of course, there was one, but I had so far, with much difficulty, restrained myself. I was not sure how Stjarna would react to finding out—for a second time—that I was, in fact, not dead. Surely she had heard by now that I had perished in Svartalfheim, but I could imagine the disbelief that would arise if I brought her back to court and took her as my mistress. I was not confident that many would believe Odin Allfather had taken his dead traitor son’s mistress as his own, and especially so soon after his wife’s death.

And so, I was alone.

After draining my cup of wine—the fifth tonight, not counting the four I had downed at the afternoon feast—I stood up, finally ready to collapse into bed to begin it all again tomorrow. I looked forward to this every day, for it was the only time I could shed this illusion.

I stood up, put the empty cup with the flagon on the little table next to the couch and turned towards Odin’s bedchamber—and froze.

In the far wall, partially obscured behind a column, stood an open black doorway.

Immediately I snatched the dagger off my belt. That door had not been there half an hour ago, and to my knowledge had never been there. I quickly scanned the room, thankful I had not yet dropped Odin’s illusion. My first thought was a spy or assassin, but I discerned nobody in the room. I stalked towards the door, guardedly studying it. I could tell that when the door was shut, it would be flush with the wall. It had no handle, so unless one knew it was there beforehand, when shut, the door would practically be invisible.

“Who is there?” I demanded.

If it was an assassin, then they would be surprised when the aged Allfather could react or fight just as lithely as a young warrior. But nobody answered, of course, and I flinched when suddenly, a torch within the corridor beyond the doorway burst to life. Another door at the end was illuminated, which gradually opened to reveal blackness beyond.

I gripped the dagger a little tighter and drew closer to the doorway. A chill crept over my skin, causing it to dot in gooseflesh, and I felt a sneaking suspicion. I glanced behind me, double-checking that I was not about to be stabbed in the back, before stepping through the doorway.

I felt a curtain of energy sweep over me when I entered, and my suspicions were confirmed. It was no wonder I had never noticed the door before, for there was a spell upon it. I was apprehensive, however, because I certainly had not done anything to open the door. Somebody—or something—had revealed this to me just now.

The door behind me closed and I exhaled slowly before continuing down the narrow corridor. It was a short journey to the next open door, and I stepped into darkness. Abruptly, as before, the door behind me closed, a torch was lit, and the area was bathed in light. The room I stood in was small and circular, and bare save for a pedestal in the center and a single chair placed against the wall. Upon the pedestal sat an object, but whatever it was had a shimmery black cloth draped over it.

I cautiously circled the pedestal, knife still at the ready. When I came to stand before it, I tentatively reached out, grasped the cloth, and lifted it.

Upon the pedestal, seated securely in a golden dish, was a severed head. It was clearly male; his hair and beard were combed and neatly spilled over the edge of the plate. The flesh was paled, but not rotten, and everything about it appeared… disturbingly fresh.

I took a step back, uncertainty blooming inside me. The thought that Odin kept a severed head in a secret room in his chambers perturbed me. Who was it, and what was it for?

And then, abruptly, the eyes opened.

I took another step back, alarmed, and it stared at me, though not blankly. There was sentience in its bright blue eyes, and its gaze flickered back and forth between my own. This fact unnerved me, considering my illusion of Odin only had one eye to look at.

“Loki,” it said.

I stiffened. Its voice was deep and resonated powerfully throughout the little room—a voice made purely by magic, as it had no lungs to propel air to speak.

“You may drop your illusion,” it suggested, and unthinkingly—unquestioningly—I did so.

“Who are you?” I asked, though my voice was not nearly as strong as I wished it to be.

“I am Mímir,” it declared, and my mouth fell open.

“Mímir?” I echoed in astonishment.

I knew Mímir—or rather, knew of him.

Thousands of years ago, a bloody and violent war had raged between Asgard and Vanaheim. Eventually both sides had grown weary of fighting; a truce was called and hostages were exchanged as an act of good faith. The twins Frey and Freyja came to Asgard, and to Vanaheim went Mímir and Hoenir. The Vanir had placed Hoenir in a position of power, thinking him wise and knowing. After some time, however, the Vanir realized it was Mímir giving Hoenir the answers to all their queries, and they felt cheated. Furious, the Vanir had promptly beheaded Mímir and sent his head back to Asgard on a plate.

“He kept you?” I muttered in disgust, stepping closer to study him.

“Yes, it was rather disappointing for me, as well…”

“How is this possible?”

“It was Odin who anointed my severed head with herbs, and chanted runes over me.”

“He brought you back to life?”

“Yes, I believe I just said that.”

My eyes narrowed. “And you did this? Showed me the doorway?”

“Yes. I have been eager to meet you, Loki, ever since you disposed of Odin.”

“He is not dead,” I remarked carefully. “Not yet.”

“This I know. You will not kill him.”

I cocked an eyebrow. “And how do you know?”

“I know all, son of Laufey.”

“Is that why you’re here?” I inquired, ignoring what obviously was meant to be a slight.

“Yes, I give Odin knowledge and counsel, when it suits me.”

“When it suits you?”

“I do not like Odin, and he does not like me.”

I see why, I thought, and Mímir’s thin lips quirked upwards in a smile, as if he had heard my thoughts.

“Long ago,” he explained, “before I came to Asgard, and was doomed to Vanaheim with the idiot Hoenir, Odin found me. I used to spend my days sitting complacently beside a well.”

“That sounds spectacularly boring,” I stated, beginning to pace. Though I had heard of Mímir’s Well before, called Mímisbrunnr, it was often relegated only to legend. Supposedly it was a well teeming with water that could grant wisdom and even knowledge of the future.

Mímir continued as if I had not spoken. “Odin was then in pursuit of knowledge, and he wished to drink from my well, but I required payment.”

“What was the payment?”

“His right eye.”

I paused, lips parted in surprise. That was how he had lost his eye? I had always been told it had been lost in some great battle millennia ago.

“He gouged out his own eye to drink from your well?” I asked incredulously.

“His need for knowledge was great,” Mímir replied sagely, as if the idea of a man ripping out his own eye was nothing to balk at. “You would not understand it, Loki.”

“You are right,” I agreed, grimacing. I could not imagine tearing out my own eye simply for increased wisdom. I began slowly pacing again.

“You drank from your own well, surely?” I wondered aloud.

“Yes. Every day.”

“And so you are infinitely wise?”

“So I have been told. I tell Odin things he wishes to know, and things he does not wish to know.”

I hesitated. “You mean the future.”

“Yes.”

“So that is it? You just tell him everything that will happen?”

“I tell him what I wish to reveal,” Mímir responded, almost arrogantly. “Sometimes there are complications.”

“Complications?”

“Unforeseen difficulties,” Mímir explained. “You presented some difficulties to my prophecies.”

“How?”

“The Vana, for instance.”

“Stjarna?”

The corner of Mímir’s lips twitched upwards in a smile and he glanced off to the side, obviously amused by some remembrance.

“Odin came to me many times, furious. He questioned me about her, wondering if she would… complicate… your future.”

I pressed my lips together. The thought of Odin discussing Stjarna with this talking head did not sit well with me, but I could not help but to ask.

“Will she complicate my future?”

Mímir’s vivid blue eyes flickered to mine. “She already has, and will continue to do so.”

“In what way?”

Mímir did not answer, only gazed unblinkingly at me.

“Well?” I demanded impatiently.

“You are just like Odin,” Mímir observed dryly. “Always answers must be set in stone, you cannot fathom that the future is fluid.”

“Fine,” I muttered. “Do your predictions always come to pass?”

“Yes, though the path may change and the outcome be altered.”

“I do not understand,” I admitted.

“I see the outcomes change as the paths change. It is possible for one to veer from the path laid for them, or for another to alter their path.”

“So you see these changes as they happen, and how it ultimately alters their… destination?”

“Yes. Unfortunately for you, Loki, your destination has never wavered.”

“What is it?” I asked, feeling a sort of dreadful excitement that I may be told my future, or the solution to this secrecy I was currently trapped in.

But, in what I assumed to be typical fashion, Mímir remained silent—only smirking.

I rolled my eyes. “Does it happen often that one’s destiny is altered?”

Mímir’s smile was razor thin. “No. The Norns are most skilled in their craft.”

“Did you…” I faltered now. “Did you know this would happen?”

“Yes. I told him.”

“Odin knew I would overthrow him?” I said, staggered.

“More or less.”

I stared dumbfounded at Mímir. Odin had just let it happen? He had not put up much of a fight, I remember, the day I had returned from Svartalfheim under the guise of an Einheri, but I never would have guessed he knew of it beforehand.

“Did he know the Dark Elves would attack?”

“Yes.”

“That… that Frigga should die?”

Mímir did not speak, and this time it incensed me.

“Speak!” I shouted.

He smiled, this the largest grin of all. “You sound like him, Loki. Always needing more, always wanting to know. It is not good to know too much, you know…”

“Did he know she would die?” I demanded furiously. “Tell me or I shall knock you from your pedestal!”

“Yes, he threatened me many times, as well,” Mímir admitted, rolling his eyes. “Please… it would be a mercy.”

I glanced away, irate. This was too strange—too unbelievable. That Mímir had survived—in some capacity—for this long, and that Odin had used him to discern the future.

“I find it no wonder that you are angry, Loki, as used as you have been…”

“Used?” I snapped, glancing resentfully at him. “I was lied to my entire life, but I have finally achieved what—”

“Your mind is small,” he said sharply, interrupting me, and he almost sounded annoyed. “You think only of yourself and kingship, and it is all you have ever thought of. I know, I have always known your true purpose, and Odin has known because I told him…”

“What are you talking about?” I growled.

“You were never meant to be king,” Mímir replied, and I clenched my fists. He was enjoying this.

“Yes, I am aware,” I ground out.

“I told Odin what is to be, and he raised you to fulfill your destiny.”

“My destiny? And what is my destiny, pray tell?”

Suddenly, the door behind me swung open.

“I grow weary,” Mímir announced, and slowly he closed his eyes and all was silent.

I stared at him, livid. No wonder Odin had not liked him, I already did not. But his words echoed ominously in my mind. So Odin had known my destiny and raised me to fulfill it? If Mímir’s words were any indication, clearly my destiny was not to be king.

I picked the black cloth up off the floor, threw it over Mímir’s head, resisting the urge to knock him to the floor, and turned on my heel to leave.

I was glad now that I had not yet killed Odin.

__

I did not acknowledge any of those who bowed to me as I passed. I no longer noticed it, or took pleasure in it, because it was not necessarily to me they were bowing, but the Allfather. I made my way to the dungeons and swept past the guards without a word. I ignored the prickling on the back of my neck when I passed the first cell on the left, now filled with three marauders. Being down here made me uneasy, admittedly.

I wound my way through the corridors, until the walls became rough stone, and the floor somewhat uneven, and there were no humming barriers of yellow energy here, but thick wooden doors with locks. Prisoners were not kept this deep anymore—except for one. I finally came to stand in front of the door. There were no guards here, they were not needed. The only time one approached was when they brought a plate of food to slip through the little door at the bottom, or to take his chamber pot away. I withdrew a key I kept on me at all times—the only one—and unlocked the door.

Before entering, I peered down the darkened corridor, making sure nobody had followed me. I slipped inside moments later and as I did, the magical barrier I had erected at the doorway swept over me and I shed my illusion. It was like I had been holding my breath all this time and I gently exhaled. It always felt good to drop his illusion.

I shut the door and gazed into the dimness of the room. I waved my hand, igniting the single torch on the wall, for there were no windows this deep down.

He was where I had left him, sitting on the grimy floor, still shackled to the wall.

This was the third time I had come to see him after chaining and sedating him here. The first two times had been rather explosive; my persistent questions, concerning why he had kept my true heritage from me, why he had treated me differently all these years. I could do it now, when he was chained to the wall and I in control. His answers had not satisfied, however, and they never would. But now I had new questions.

“Are you dead yet?” I asked indelicately.

He stirred and sluggishly lifted his head. “Not quite yet.”

“I could finish it and kill you, you know.”

“Yes, you say so every time,” he answered, sounding relatively unconcerned—only tired. “But I sense you grow weary of kingship already, Loki. It is not what you imagined, is it?”

I glared indignantly at him. He was right, but I would never admit it to him.

“Is this your plan?” he continued, eyeing me drearily. “To play king the rest of your life, hiding behind an illusion, since you know they will never accept you as their true king?”

“You would be wise to hold your tongue, considering your position, old man,” I threatened, not yet wishing to acknowledge the truth in his statement.

He stared at me for a long moment, as if debating to say something else, but finally he looked back down. He was so weak now, so vulnerable, and in that moment I remembered when he had been some shining idol for me, and when I had used to desperately seek his approval, if only a smile and a nod from him to let me know he knew and he cared and he was proud of me.

I turned away from him and began slowly pacing, hands clasped behind my back. Now was as good a time as ever to bring it up, considering it was the reason I had come down here, anyway, and not for this foolish back-and-forth.

“He opened the door,” I announced.

Odin was silent, but I saw the way his shoulders fell.

“I am pleased to find that I am not the only one who despises you,” I remarked with a smirk.

“What did he say?” Odin asked warily.

“What do you think he told me?”

“Not much,” he responded, glancing up at me. “I would think just enough to enflame you. That was how our conversations always went, anyway. Since Mímir cannot do much else, he enjoys playing with me, and now apparently you. He is vague and only alludes enough to entice.”

“And yet you knew the Dark Elves would attack?”

Odin hesitated. “Eventually, yes. I knew not when.”

“What do you mean you did not know when?” I snapped.

“Mímir often only ever hints to the future. Sometimes he would prophesize to me and his predications would not occur until eight centuries later, and sometimes it would happen the next day.”

“When did he warn you of the attack?”

“It matters not,” Odin sighed.

“It does matter,” I barked, turning on him. “Your wife is dead.”

He was silent for a long while before finally admitting, “Mímir foresaw the attack perhaps a century ago.”

I pressed my lips together, tightened my hands behind my back. I almost did not wish to ask if he had known Frigga would be killed. If he had, I might murder him now. Unfortunately, though, I still needed him, though in truth I could not justify exactly why.

“Mímir said you had used me.”

Odin did not react.

“He said I had a purpose and that you raised me to fulfill it. What is that purpose?”

“You would not understand, Loki,” Odin replied quietly.

“There are many things I do not currently understand,” I retorted in a clipped tone, attempting to keep my voice controlled. “For instance, I do not understand why you even bothered to take me from Jötunheim. I do not understand why you raised me as an Asgardian prince, and why you told me all along I would be king when you knew I would not. I know not why you lied to me for so long, knowing none of it would ever be.”

Of course he had told me long ago it was to eventually establish a peace between the realms of Jötunheim and Asgard, but I no longer believed that, especially with the information garnered from Mímir tonight.

“Tell me what Mímir was talking about,” I ordered.

Odin was mute, refusing to speak, and I gritted my teeth in annoyance. I stalked up to him, crouched down, grabbed him by the throat, and slammed him up against the wall.

“After all you have put me through, you will tell me the truth,” I snarled, ignoring his gasping for breath. “I am sick of your lies.”

I eased my grip on his neck and he sucked in a breath.

“I did take you for a purpose… at Mímir’s prophesizing…” he admitted now, and I released his throat, but remained crouched in front of him, eyes boring into his.

“What was that purpose?” I pressed.

He closed his eyes, breaths coming heavily. Part of me wished he was not so old, and I had not sedated him so heavily. His trying to catch his breath was wasting my time and only serving to grate on my already frayed nerves.

“You cannot hope to understand, my son, but I… I had to do it, I had no choice…” he wheezed.

“I am not your son,” I growled. “You could never have loved me as you love Thor.”

“That is not true,” he replied softly.

I snorted in derision. “Is it not?”

“Despite everything, you are still my son, Loki, and I have always been proud of you.”

My lips parted in surprise. This was not right. He was chained to a stone wall in the depths of Asgard, helpless at my feet. Why the fuck was he blubbering on about all of this right now?

“I suppose now,” he continued gently, “would be as good a time as ever to apologize to you.”

I shook my head, almost not wanting to hear what came next. “It is too late for sentiment.”

But it was as if he did not hear me. “I am sorry for what must happen…”

“What are you talking about?” I muttered, grabbing him about the collar. “Speak!”

“I knew Laufey would abandon you,” he confessed. “I knew where to find you, for you were the reason we went to Jötunheim.”

“Impossible,” I dismissed, uncomprehending. “The Jötnar had just invaded Midgard, you were going to retrieve the Casket—”

“Retrieving the Casket was a lucky coincidence,” Odin explained wearily. “It was you I needed…”

“I was the reason you invaded Jötunheim?” I grunted in disbelief, releasing him and rising to my feet.

“Mímir foresaw it, as have the Völur…”

“What did he foresee?” I demanded irately. “He is but a severed head spewing riddles!”

Odin looked up at me, and I could see the regret plain on his old, worn face. “The end.”

I snorted. “What are you on about?”

“There is no way to avoid it,” he said, and it sounded as if he was speaking mostly to himself. “It was written from the beginning…”

“What was written from the beginning?”

“Ragnarök.”

Despite the chill that wound its way like a serpent down my spine, I laughed. “Ragnarök? That is nothing more than a horror story from my childhood.”

“It is no story,” Odin explained tiredly. “It is the fate of the universe, Loki, and you are its harbinger.”

“Mímir foresaw this?” I inquired, still not believing.

“Yes, thousands of years ago.”

So that was what he believed he had taken me and raised me for? To fulfill the prophecy of Ragnarök, the twilight of the gods? The thought of it was beyond ludicrous, and yet I could not ignore the seed of doubt sprouting already in the back of my mind. I glanced down at Odin, lips curled back in a grimace. Could it be that he was not in his right mind? Had my overthrowing him cracked that rigid mental wall of his?

“All will perish,” he continued softly. “You will be bringer of death, and the universe shall bleed and burn…”

I was unnerved by his nonsensical rantings. Surely this was all rubbish, it could not possibly be true. It was too insane, he had gone insane.

And then his voice broke.

“I deserve your hate, Loki,” he murmured, raising his head up to sadly study me in the dimness of the cell. “If I had it to do over again, and was not a slave to the whims of the future, I would take you as my son again, and raise you to be what you could have been. I wish this had not been the web spun for you by the Norns, but it is what it is, and it is for the best, you must believe me, the rebirth of the universe…”

“Enough of this!” I exclaimed. I went forward, wrapped my fingers in his thin, dirty hair, and roughly yanked his head back. I withdrew my dagger and held it to his exposed throat, but he did not resist. He sat there, breathing hard, single blue eye fixed on me.

“I hate you, gods, how I hate you,” I hissed. “I could kill you.”

“It is not by your hands that I am to die,” he whispered.

“Is it not?” I snarled. “I could slit your throat right now and end all of your precious prophecies.”

“But you will not.”

I pressed the knife a little deeper, incensed by his self-assurance. “Then whose hands is it you die by, old man, pray tell?”

“Your son’s.”

My grip tightened on the knife.

“Impossible,” I growled.

“Fenrir—”

“Who the fuck is Fenrir?” I snapped.

“I do not…” he gasped when I pressed the knife even deeper, surely drawing some blood. “I do not speak of your sons by the chambermaid…”

I gritted my teeth in irritation at mention of Sigyn.

“You lie,” I snarled. “I have no other sons than by her.”

“You do,” he responded quietly. “You knew not of those in Utgard.”

My blood ran cold at the word, and I was gripping the knife so hard now that I am sure he could feel its subtle shaking.

“Utgard?” I breathed.

“Yes. The witch Angrboda, she became with child and bore you—”

“No!” I screamed, and I shoved him roughly backwards. He fell back against the wall and gazed cautiously at me. I held the knife out, pointed at his face. “No, you are lying!”

Oh, I remembered Angrboda, how could I ever forget her…

“I speak the truth, Loki,” he replied normally. “The night you spent with her produced three children.”

My lips parted in horrified shock. He was lying, he had to be lying…

“How do you know this?” I asked in sickened dismay.

“I watched her.”

“Why?”

“Mímir foresaw it.”

It took me a moment to realize his meaning, and when it hit me, I stumbled backwards, feeling as if I’d been punched in the gut.

“Mímir… Mímir foresaw…?”

That meant… but gods, I could not even consider it, even after all he had done, it couldn’t be…

“You lie,” I protested weakly, but even I did not believe myself. My heart fell when Odin glanced down at the floor in what I took as shame, and I knew it was the truth.

I turned around, I could not bear to look at him. I stared at the wall, clenching and unclenching my fists, attempting to focus on the firelight playing off the filthy stone walls, trying to swallow the rage and hatred and humiliating grief rising up inside me. How Odin had known when he sent us to Utgard what would happen, he had known beforehand what that red-haired witch would do to me…

It had been so long ago, but I still could so vividly remember that night. I could still feel her fingers dragging across my skin, digging deep, her teeth and her black eyes and her chilling endearments murmured lovingly into my ear. I gave an involuntary shudder at merely the memory of it, but I doubt he even noticed.

“There were no negotiations, were there?” I whispered, recalling that the cause for the trip had been to strengthen deteriorating relations between the rock giants and Asgard.

“No,” he replied softly, admitting easily enough to the ruse.

“You knew she would become with child?” I breathed, so faintly it was a wonder he heard me.

“Yes.”

I resisted the urge to drive my dagger into the side of his old withered neck.

“Where are they? Are they in Utgard still?”

“No. I took them.”

“You took them?”

“I had to, you do not understand—”

I went forward, grabbed the front of his dirty tunic, and jerked him up so he was lifted off the floor. My scowling face was inches from his.

“You keep saying that,” I said darkly. “I am trying to understand. Tell me!”

“I took them from Utgard under the guise of a coup soon after they were born,” he gasped, and I dropped him back onto the floor.

“Why?”

“They are all instrumental to Ragnarök. Mímir foresaw—”

But I no longer cared what Mímir had foreseen, I was sick to death of anything to do with Mímir’s damnable prophecies and Odin’s senseless ramblings about the end of the universe.

“Where did you take them?” I demanded.

“Here.”

“Why the fuck would you bring them here?”

“I had to,” he responded. “Only a few knew.”

“Who knew?”

He hesitated.

“Who?!” I shouted.

“Myself. Týr. Another, who died long ago.”

I let out a strained breath. Týr knew?

“It was not a training accident in which Týr lost his hand, but to your son,” Odin explained softly, and I glowered at him. Much to my surprise, he let out a weak chuckle. “At least I may tell you now why Týr despises you, and has always.”

“You… you called him Fenrir.”

“Yes,” Odin answered, gazing stoically up at me. “He is a wolf.”

“A wolf?” I echoed in shock.

“You are a frost giant, Loki, who mated with a rock giant. Your offspring with Angrboda were not… normal. Your eldest, Fenrir, is a great wolf, and your other son, Jörmungandr, is a serpent—”

“Enough!” I hissed. I backed away from him, staring almost helplessly at his limp form. His words were too fantastic, he could not possibly be telling the truth…

He continued, despite my order. “Your daughter—”

“Be quiet!” I screamed. “Stop it!”

“It changes nothing, Loki,” he said. “They still exist, whether or not you wish to acknowledge them.”

I shook my head, and in spite of my attempted fortitude, I could not help the tears stinging in my eyes. I had never even acknowledged those by Sigyn so long ago, and now these three by my Jötun giantess were just being revealed to me—three children Odin had known would come to be long before I had ever even laid eyes on Angrboda.

“Did Frigga know?” I asked, and I cursed myself when my voice broke.

Odin faltered; clearly the thought pained him.

“Yes.”

I turned away from him, consumed with this silent anguish.

“Fenrir we bound and had hidden away, and your son Jörmungandr I threw into the sea of Midgard. Your daughter is called Hel, and it was to her I gave the world below Niflheim, where she rules as queen.”

I closed my eyes. I had heard stories of the land of the dead, and its queen which had only in recent living memory come to rule that barren realm. I did not even feel the strength to refute him, or continue to deny that I had sired such monsters with that fire-headed giantess.

“Did you think, Loki, that Frigga removed her women from court because she was merely troubled that you’d lain with them?” Odin asked, but not condescendingly.

I slowly faced him, saw him through this hazy veil of tears.

“It was not that,” he explained soberly. “They were taken and watched for signs of pregnancy. We could not have what happened in Utgard happening here. I could not have Asgardian women bearing—”

“Bearing what?” I snapped, cutting him off. “My half-breed bastards?”

So that was why they had not seemed to care if Thor fucked all the women he wanted, but I was watched intently. They had been afraid that my Jötun seed might produce half-monsters in the women of this accursed realm. Not to mention why Frigga had seen in Stjarna the perfect mistress for me. How excited she must have been when Stjarna had come from Vanaheim, nothing more than a broken, bloody body that would keep all of her others safe, all to hide my true nature.

I bared my teeth. My entire body was burning, trembling. The betrayal ran too deep.

“Loki…”

I shook my head, glared at him, daring him to utter another word. And through this rage surfaced a question—just one more.

“What of Angrboda?” I inquired, hardly able to mask the angry tremble in my voice.

Odin wavered for only a moment. “Angrboda is dead.”

I felt an odd pain in my chest, and the breath left my lungs.

“She was slain when the children were taken from Utgard.”

“Why?”

“She… she tried to protect them.”

“And you killed her for it?” I breathed.

Was that why relations had soured beyond repair so soon after our visit? But it was not as if Utgard could have posed any real threat to Asgard, our forces were great compared to theirs—they couldn’t have done anything to retaliate.

Odin appeared beleaguered. “Her part to play was over, Loki. I had no choice. It was necessary.”

“Necessary?” I whispered.

I knew not what to think, let alone do. It was too much to take in all at once. That my night with Angrboda had sired such monsters, and that they—my children—had been stolen from her and she killed in the attempt, trying to protect them.

“You did not tell me,” I ground out.

“How could we tell you that?”

“Stop it! No!” I screamed. “Do not say ‘we!’ She is dead, she did not do this to me! You, you did! It is all you, you did this to me!”

I grabbed him by the throat again, but he did not flinch or try to pull away. He was confident I would not kill him, but that my son—the wolf—was destined for it. I imagined it, though—saw myself running my blade deep over his soft, mottled skin, seeing his blood run thick and red down his front, splashing onto the floor and across my boots, hearing his gurgling last breaths. After all, Mímir said the future could be rewritten, even if it was nearly impossible.

“What if I refuse?” I growled. “What if I refuse to play this part you have given me?”

“It will happen in time,” he said calmly.

“I can change it.”

“Then whatever will alter it has not happened yet, and at this point, likely will never come.”

“And so you have damned me to this fate?” I snarled.

He appeared somewhat repentant. “Truly I am sorry, Loki, but it must happen. It was written long before your birth.”

I shook my head, gritting my teeth. “You will pay for this, Odin. I promise you will pay for this.”

“I know I will,” he murmured, and I roughly released him. I turned on my heel, went to the door, and threw it open. Before stepping out past the magical barrier and donning his illusion, I looked at him, staring at me pathetically from the floor.

“You want fire and death? I will give it to you.”

Chapter Text

1027 years earlier
Loki

I had been eager for this for a long time. Father, surprisingly, was allowing his two sons to accompany a party on a diplomatic mission to Utgard, stronghold of the rock giants in the realm of Jötunheim. Mother, of course, was averse to our going—especially me, citing my age—but Father had quickly overrode her, explaining that we must eventually do such things anyway and that now was as good a time as ever.

Mother did not like it when Father asserted his authority over her. She often helped to shape his decisions, but ultimately his was the final say. I did my best to assuage her of her fears; there would be plenty of Einherjar to accompany us and I reminded her of the might of our Asgardian soldiers against the ignorant brutes of Utgard, but she had not seemed convinced and said something about my being too young and naïve.

I did not agree with her. I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself, but it did not matter. Father had said we could go no matter what Mother thought.

Both Thor and I were looking forward to the trip, which was in a few days. I was more interested in the cultural variations I would be able to observe, but all Thor could talk about was the women.

“I wonder if the rock giantesses are beautiful?” Thor pondered aloud one day, lacing a leather vambrace onto his arm. We were in the training yard, preparing for a spar.

“Why does it matter?” I scoffed, finishing tying my leather vest on. “You already have a mistress.”

“That does not mean I cannot appreciate the beautiful women,” he winked.

When I appeared skeptical, he laughed. “You will understand one day, brother, when you get one of your own.”

“One of my own what?” I asked distractedly, searching for my own vambrace, which seemed to have disappeared.

“A woman.”

I rolled my eyes. Certainly I had noticed the women of the court, decked in their flashy jewels and bright, low-cut dresses, and found many of them attractive, but the times I had attempted conversation with them, I had found them too vapid to hold my interest for very long. Fortunately for Thor, intelligence—and common sense—were not qualities he actively sought in a woman.

Thor chuckled again.

“What is so funny now?” I demanded, finally spotting my lost vambrace lying complacently beneath one of the wooden benches.

“Sometimes I cannot believe it,” he answered.

“Believe what?”

“That you’ve not had a woman yet. By your age I’d had a dozen.”

I grimaced as I retrieved my vambrace. I hated when Thor got on this subject. Admittedly, I had never lain with a woman, but it was not as if I did not think of it. I did—often—even though I had never actually seen a woman naked. Not entirely naked, anyway.

“Maybe we should change your name from Loki the Trickster to Loki the Virgin,” Thor cackled, reaching over to ruffle my hair.

“Why don’t you shut up?” I snapped, pulling away and indignantly smoothing my hair back down. I knew if Thor mentioned that, especially around Baldr or Týr, they would tease me mercilessly. They already did not like me, I did not wish to give them more cause for ridicule.

“Why don’t you actually fuck somebody, then?” Thor smirked. “It’s better than using your hands.”

I glowered at him.

“Listen,” he stated, placing both his hands on my upper arms. “There’s this pretty little dove in Mother’s retinue. She’s new. Her name is Veita.”

I had seen the woman Thor spoke of. She was pretty enough, I supposed.

“I will introduce you to her at the next feast.”

“Really, it’s not necessary—”

“But you must actually talk to her, not insult her.”

I laughed, then. “But it is so difficult not to, Thor. They’re all so stupid. The last one you introduced me to wasn’t even aware that Nidavellir was one of the Nine Realms! Can you believe that?”

“It’s not about what’s between their ears, it’s about what’s between their legs,” he laughed.

“How am I supposed to get that far if they’re too stupid to talk to?”

It was Thor’s turn to roll his eyes now. He released me and we headed towards the sand pit.

“You’re not a man if you don’t, you know,” Thor remarked, more seriously now. “You’re still a boy, and you’ll be a boy until you fuck a woman.”

I did not reply. I resented his words, though undoubtedly they sobered me.

__

That night after dinner, I headed for the library. I had been, as of late, studying Jötunheim and Utgard and the rock giants. Though I knew I could not completely alleviate Mother’s worries, I hoped my increased knowledge would at least soothe them somewhat.

I spent nearly an hour perusing the shelves before settling on four books concerning the rock giants and their way of life. Satisfied with my selection, I headed towards the doors, carefully balancing the thick books in my arms. I was only halfway to the front when I thought I heard whispers. I stopped short, having previously imagined myself to be alone here. I had not seen or heard anybody come in, but then I had been rather absorbed in my search. I slowly turned the corner of a shelf—and froze.

Thor was standing by a tall window with Saela, his mistress. Thor had mentioned to me many times before that he enjoyed meeting them here, though I never knew why considering how much he disliked reading. I quickly crossed the distance to the next shelf, silently thanking the gods when they did not see me, for they were too wrapped up in themselves to notice. The last thing I needed was them spotting me and Thor accusing me of spying on them.

I continued on, determined to leave, but slowed and stopped when I heard what only could have been Saela moan. I stood there, motionless in the silence, fingers gripping the books tightly. I know not why I stopped—burning curiosity, perhaps—but unthinkingly, I turned and walked back. I stood on the other side of the shelf facing Thor and Saela, and just around the corner I could see them. If they had glanced behind and into the shadows, they would have seen me standing there half-concealed in the darkness.

In the short time I had been gone and returned, Thor and Saela had migrated to one of the large tables between the two bookshelves. Saela was seated on the edge of the table, legs thrown open, skirts pushed up to her hips, and head rolled back. Thor stood between her legs and was kissing her neck and fondling her large breasts.

Moments later, Thor reached behind Saela, unlaced her gown, and tugged it down over her pale shoulders, exposing her breasts. It was when he leaned down to take one of the erect peaks into his mouth that I immediately took a step back and glanced down, heat rising into my cheeks. I knew I should have walked away, and I cursed myself for not doing it, but Saela moaned again, and then whimpered, and I slowly looked back up.

Thor’s hand was between Saela’s spread legs, and though I couldn’t see what he was doing, I could guess easily enough; she was keening his name, loud in the silence, fingers digging into his upper arms, squirming on the edge of the table. By now my face was burning and my pants had grown uncomfortably tight.

Saela lifted her head and kissed Thor deeply on the mouth before reaching between them to fumble with his pants. She yanked them down, exposing his backside, before leaning back and bracing her hands on the table behind her. Thor grabbed her thighs and pulled her towards him, pushing her legs even farther apart, and thrust his hips forward.

I curled my fingers on the books; my mouth was dry and I swallowed hard, unable to tear my eyes away from my brother and his mistress.

Thor groaned, and then Saela, and my eyes flickered to her. The way she rolled her head back and exposed her throat, causing her breasts to protrude, enflamed me, and the moonlight pouring in through the window drenched her in silvery white light, accentuating every delicious curve and dip of her lissome body.

I pressed my hips forward against the bookshelf, attempting unsuccessfully to banish the iniquitous heat there.

Thor began thrusting languidly into Saela and she wrapped her legs loosely around his waist. She was arching against him, twisting in his arms and making these soft mewling sounds, almost like a cat. Saela was infinitely more interesting than Thor, for I had never seen a woman like this. It appeared as if she could not even breathe, she was gasping for air and panting Thor’s name almost frantically.

Eventually, Saela lay back on the table and Thor adopted a more powerful rhythm. She arched her back and moaned loudly when he paused momentarily to languidly grind his hips against hers; I could discern the thin sheen of sweat on her body even from here and wondered depravedly what it would be like to run my tongue along her heaving chest and taste her.

Thor reached between them and began touching Saela. She must have liked it, because she cried out and twisted beneath him and moments later she arched hard up off the table and was suspended there for a long, breathless moment. Her visage was one of raw, unadulterated pleasure, and then she collapsed onto the table, sweaty and gasping.

Thor groaned and shuddered and I knew he had come inside her. He relaxed on top of Saela, breathing hard. He pulled out of her, but they continued to kiss and touch and I could hear them talking to each other in hushed tones. Finally, Thor moved away and began retying his pants.

Quietly, I turned and slipped away.

As soon as I reached the safety of my own chambers and shut the door behind me, I dropped the books onto the floor, fell back, hastily unlaced my pants, and tugged them down. I grasped myself and began sliding down the door, beginning a short, hard rhythm that had me tilting my head back, mouth hanging open, and breaths coming in short, quick pants.

I was imagining Thor and Saela—no, no, not Thor, just Saela—imagining Saela and I. I envisioned her beneath me or on top of me, it did not matter, and we were kissing, and it was her hand on my cock instead of my own. I did not last long, and I bit my lip hard to suppress a groan when I came to the thought of Saela and I entwining on my bed. I shivered and lay there for a long while, allowing the heat to fade, feeling the sticky remnants of my desire coating my fingers. When my breathing had returned to normal, I went to my bath chamber, cleaned up, and crawled tiredly into bed.

I did not feel as much shame as I should have, which in itself might have been considered shameful. I knew I should not have watched them, but with how much Thor bragged about Saela, I didn’t think he would have gotten too angry had he known I’d seen. He probably would have asked if I liked it, since he was not shy about that sort of thing, anyway.

As I lay there in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling, I wondered what it felt like. Thor had said it was much better than using your hands, but it was difficult to imagine when I lay alone in my bed or, in this case, on the floor. I wouldn’t know the first thing about pleasing a woman, or making her scream, as Thor had boasted about so many times before. The thought that my body could be used to bring such pleasure to another was a foreign concept to me.

Thor had told me how to do it, how to touch and kiss their breasts, how to use your tongue and fingers between their legs… and how good it felt when they got down on their knees in front of you and used their mouth.

Of course, it was not as if I had not had the opportunity. Thor had plenty of times offered to take me down into the city to a brothel, but I had always declined. Part of it was that I did not wish to lie with a woman who had lain with a dozen men right before me, but another part of it—not that I would ever admit it to Thor—was that I was nervous.

And so, for now, I was content to lie alone in my own bed.

__

Two days later, we departed Asgard. We had bid goodbye to Father and Mother and now were headed out to Bifröst with a party.

“Excited, brother?” Thor asked, steering his horse closer to mine so we could talk.

“I suppose,” I shrugged, downplaying my anticipation.

He smirked. “This won’t be like last time.”

“I am aware of that,” I said dryly.

Father had taken Thor and I to Midgard once a few years ago, but we had been under his strict supervision. The Midgardians had been a simple people, but hospitable enough. Many had fallen to their knees before us, which secretly I had very much enjoyed. Utgard and its inhabitants, however, would be wildly different.

Utgard was stronghold of the rock giants, a hearty race more similar in stature to the Aesir than their cousins of the frozen landscapes. They were not friendly with the frost giants, and Father expressed he wished to form a stronger alliance with them in case the frost giants ever again decided to cause trouble, since he had defeated them and captured their mightiest weapon just over two decades ago. Having an ally in Jötunheim would be beneficial, he reasoned, and Thor and I would be allowed to observe negotiations.

We finally made it to the end of Bifröst and dismounted. Thor and I entered the circular building perched on the edge of the Rainbow Bridge, followed by Snjallr, Father’s most senior diplomat, and our entourage of Einherjar and belongings.

Snjallr, a grizzled old man with a hoary beard down to his knees, reminded Thor and I that this was a diplomatic mission and therefore he would tolerate no mischief from us—specifically me, given my proclivity for playing elaborate pranks. Father had given him permission to treat us as his own sons, and he would not hesitate in dragging us back to Asgard by the ears if we caused any sort of trouble. Thor agreed most heartily, but winked at me when Snjallr turned around.

Satisfied with his barely disguised threat, Snjallr instructed Heimdall to commence. Heimdall, standing tall and stoic on his golden pedestal in the center of the room, complied, and there was a loud scraping sound, and the room began to spin. We were hit with a mighty blast of air before being yanked forward by some invisible force.

Flashing colors blurred by and I could see the shadows of Thor and Snjallr and a few other Einherjar around me. My body felt tight and I could not draw breath, but almost as soon as it had begun, it ended. My feet hit the rocky ground and I only wobbled once before quickly regaining my balance.

Snjallr stood in front of Thor and I, having landed perfectly on his feet despite being ancient. We moved out of the way so the rest of our entourage could arrive behind us, and standing before us, waiting, was a small group of rock giants. One with a crooked nose, and who was dressed more richly than the others—who all appeared to be guards—inclined his head to Snjallr.

“Greetings, Snjallr of Asgard,” he declared, voice deep and resounding. “I am Drekka and I speak for King Skrýmir here.”

“Drekka,” Snjallr acknowledged respectfully. “This is Prince Thor and Prince Loki, sons of the Allfather.”

Drekka bowed to us. “Welcome, young princes. I will take you to King Skrýmir immediately. The rest of your entourage should arrive shortly and will follow.”

Drekka turned and we trailed along, leaving the stony clearing which served as the rock giants’ Bifröst site. I scanned the area and my eyes were quickly drawn upwards. We had been deposited in a mountain range—which explained the cool, wet feel of the thin air—and looming before us, built into the side of the mountain, was a large rugged castle. Mist shrouded the craggy peaks and everything was grey and desolate and murky; I would not have doubted that the castle itself was often cloaked completely in mist.

“Fear not, princes,” Drekka announced, turning to us and grinning when a few crude-looking carriages came into view around a rocky bend. “King Skrýmir would not have you walk the entire way.”

“Thank the gods,” Thor muttered to himself.

As we walked the short distance to the waiting carriages, I spotted what appeared to be small settlements on the sides of the other mountains, and larger ones in the valleys below, most obscured by low-hanging mist.

Drekka, Snjallr, Thor, and I climbed into one carriage, and the rock giants and Einherjar into the others, and we were off to the castle. The ride was short and uneventful and consisted mostly of Drekka and Snjallr discussing diplomacy, and we arrived at Skrýmir’s castle soon enough.

Drekka led us up a ridiculously large amount of stone steps, past about a dozen heavily-armed guards, and into the castle. The ornamentation, I observed, left much to be desired; crude tapestries hung on the rough stone walls, most depicting battles, and torches flickered and sputtered from drafts.

The throne room was nothing to boast about. A large, mostly empty room lined with rough, carved wooden columns. At the end, set up on a dais, was a large wooden throne. Gnarling roots sprouted from the bottom and wound their way up the chair, twisting and reaching upwards into the air above the king’s head.

He who I assumed to be King Skrýmir sat there. He wore a rough-hewn crown made of dark, tarnished metal, and his clothes were comparable to something I might wear in the training yard. His piercing blue eyes were situated below bushy orange eyebrows and above a large and lumpy pitted nose. He reclined lazily in the throne, appearing bored.

His dark gaze snapped onto us when we entered, but otherwise he did not move. Drekka led us forward until we stood before the throne.

“Your Majesty,” Drekka stated, giving a low bow. “This is Prince Thor, Prince Loki, and Snjallr.”

“King Skrýmir,” Snjallr said, bowing deeply. Thor and I inclined our heads.

The king straightened up somewhat.

“Welcome to Utgard, Asgardian princes,” he boomed, voice rumbling like thunder in his massive chest. “I pray you will enjoy your time here and that our realms may have lasting peace between us.”

“That would be good,” Thor vaguely agreed, hands clasped in front of him, eyes roving as he scrutinized the room. I bit back a snicker when Snjallr shot Thor a withering glare, which he did not see.

“Perhaps the princes would like to see the castle?” Snjallr offered, obviously wishing to get rid of us so he could speak with Skrýmir privately. Father had said we would be allowed to watch the negotiations, but Snjallr did not trust us and clearly would not allow our interference.

“Yes, that sounds like a grand idea,” the king agreed, rising to his feet. “Drekka, show the princes around.”

Drekka stared for one second too long at the king, betraying his reluctance to be left alone with us, but quickly nodded. “Yes, of course, Your Majesty. Princes, follow me please.”

Thor happily went along and I scowled at Snjallr as I turned to follow, letting him know I was aware of what he was doing. Drekka gave us a limited tour of the castle, but it was not as spectacularly boring as I would have thought. I asked some questions pertaining to the rock giants’ relations with the frost giants, which Drekka answered gracefully, and then Thor inquired inanely about the strength of their mead and whether it made the women look prettier. Drekka took Thor’s idiocy in stride and played along, boasting that the mead did indeed make the women look prettier.

Snjallr found us a few hours later and advised we should go to the rooms we’d been given and ready for the afternoon feast.

“Did the talk with King Skrýmir go well?” I questioned as we were shown to our quarters.

“Yes,” Snjallr responded, “though there is still much work to do. Did Thor behave himself?”

I cast a glimpse back at Thor, who was ogling a passing female servant who stood at least a head taller than him.

“Er, yes…”

“Good. I hope things continue in this manner.”

“Snjallr,” I muttered under my breath, somewhat in irritation. “I believe we were allowed to come along to observe, and I have yet to observe any diplomatic negotiations—”

“Yes, you were allowed to observe,” he stated firmly. “The Allfather did not further specify. My job here is to secure amicable relations with the rock giants and I will not jeopardize that simply because you wish to watch. I know how you and Thor are. I am surprised something awful has not yet happened.”

I gritted my teeth, but did not reply.

Our rooms were acceptable enough. Mine was about half the size of my chambers in Asgard, but we would only be here for perhaps a week, so I would live. Servants had to bring hot water up in buckets so I could bathe, which I thought a bit archaic.

After I bathed, I quickly dressed. Snjallr had said we must look every part of our royal status, for despite being visitors here in Utgard, the rock giants should constantly be reminded that we were the illustrious sons of Odin Allfather. I donned my ceremonial armor and golden helmet, figuring that Thor and I would be the most ostentatiously dressed tonight, if today was any indication.

One hour later found me in the great hall seated up at the high table next to Thor, who sat next to King Skrýmir. On Skrýmir’s other side sat Snjallr, and next to Snjallr Drekka. The great hall was, like the castle as a whole, not very impressive, at least compared to ours. It had a high wooden ceiling and long tables ran up and down the length of the room, accommodating Skrýmir’s small court.

I was pleasantly surprised with the meal, which consisted of smoked meat reminiscent of the venison in Asgard, and a healthy assortment of hardy but cooked vegetables. Drekka had not exaggerated about the mead—its sweet, honey-like taste could not disguise its potency, and Thor was fast on his way to becoming drunk. I could practically feel the silent disapproval emanating from Snjallr.

Unlike earlier, King Skrýmir was more talkative. He was inquiring about Asgard and how things were done there. Thor was not shy in telling him, and often paused while speaking to take a drink or let loose a belch, which amused the rock giants but further displeased Snjallr.

It was not long after this that I first noticed her.

I was glancing absently around, soaking in the lively ambience of the great hall, when my eyes landed on an odd sight. Seated at one table among all the men was a lone woman with wild red hair—and she was staring right at me. A jolt when through me when our eyes met, and I held her unflinching, piercing gaze for a long moment, seemingly unable to look away, before a servant came up and asked me if I would like my cup refilled.

I blinked and glanced away, mumbling an affirmative. After my cup was replenished, I almost tentatively sought her out among the crowd, and was somewhat unnerved to find her still staring pointedly at me. An odd prickling crept up the back of my neck.

I leaned towards Thor.

“Thor.”

“What?”

“That woman is staring at me.”

Thor squinted in her general direction, but the woman did not avert her eyes, which would have been the deferential thing to do, considering our status.

“Eh, she’s not the prettiest.”

“What?” I scoffed. “I don’t care about that.”

“Oh, in that case go talk to her,” he slurred.

I balked. “That’s not what I meant, I am not going to go mingle with her. I only meant… oh, nevermind.”

Thor shrugged and turned away to listen to King Skrýmir boast about the many illustrious battles he had fought in.

I glanced back at the woman—she was still staring at me. I tore my gaze away, attempting to shake off this unsettling feeling blooming inside me, and figured it was just a court wench curious about the Asgardian princes and without enough sense to realize staring in such a manner was insolent.

Once Skrýmir had finished relating his battlefield glories, Thor had to brag about his own victories, though they were few and far between. Things went back and forth and became increasingly competitive. Eventually, Drekka suggested some friendly competitions. Thor quickly volunteered to a drinking competition, and then much to my irritation offered me up for an eating contest.

“I don’t want to participate in an eating contest,” I muttered to Thor.

“So?” he dismissed enthusiastically. “Come, brother! You’re not going to let the rock giants insult the good name of Asgard?”

I rolled my eyes. “By winning an eating contest?”

“Please, Loki,” Thor beseeched, batting his eyes at me.

“Fine,” I bit out.

“Splendid!” Skrýmir proclaimed, standing up. He ordered some servants to fetch a vat of mead for Thor, claiming any respectable rock giant could drain it all at once, and that the Asgardian prince should likewise be able to do so, and then had a table moved and a trencher brought out for my competition. The great hall’s dull roar became a low thundering when they brought the vat, which was larger than any I had ever seen, even in Asgard, and filled to the brim with amber liquid.

“Does the prince think he can drain this vat of mead?” King Skrýmir wondered.

“Child’s play,” Thor announced, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Snjallr roll his eyes and throw his hands up.

“You’re going to die,” I told Thor, who brushed me off as he sauntered drunkenly up to the vat, which was nearly as tall as him.

There was a spout on the side which Thor had to lean down to reach. I folded my arms over my chest and watched in amusement as he turned the little lever and began drinking. From here I could not see the level of the mead inside, but figured he was making a dent with his deep gulps.

The first time Thor pulled away, gasping for air, mead dripping into his beard and down his front, Skrýmir clucked his tongue and shook his head.

“It does not look like you’ve drank anything,” he commented.

Thor frowned and began to drink again, but when he pulled away for the second time, Skrýmir said the level had practically remained the same. For some reason, the idea that magic was involved occurred to me, but I did not have time to voice my suspicions before Thor growled in anger.

“How is it not changed?” he demanded, wiping his sweaty forehead.

Skrýmir shrugged. “Perhaps it is too much for you to handle, Prince Thor.”

Thor clenched his teeth and attempted once more to drain the vat. Finally, after a particularly long and arduous attempt, he choked and sputtered and brought his face away from the spout. He lifted up to peer over the side and his mouth fell open in shocked indignation.

“What is this? Surely I have drank more than—”

“It is quite alright, Prince Thor!” Skrýmir chuckled, slapping Thor on the back. “We did not expect you to be able to drain it, so no disappointment there.”

I choked back a laugh and Thor glared venomously at me.

“Well, now it is your turn, little brother,” Thor snapped.

“Ah, yes!” Skrýmir grinned. “Come, Prince Loki.”

In the time Thor had been endeavoring to drain the vat, giants had come from the kitchens and filled the trough with cooked meat. It was the same kind of meat I had eaten earlier at the high table, and since I had enjoyed it, I did not think I would have a problem.

Skrýmir glanced around as I removed my helmet, handed it to a nearby Einheri, and took my place at one end of the trencher.

“To compete against His Highness Prince Loki, I choose… Logi.”

He who was Logi came forward. He was tall and thin and had the brightest, reddest hair I had ever seen. He inclined his head to me, but oddly enough did not speak, and took his place at the opposite end of the trough.

“Whoever shall reach the middle of the trough first wins,” Skrýmir instructed. “Ready, go!”

I reached down, grabbed a chunk of meat, and began quickly eating. It was no matter that I was already nearly full; I liked to eat, certainly, and Mother had often chastised me for overeating. I quickly finished the first piece, dropped the leftover bones, and grabbed another piece.

The giants cheered Logi on while Thor and some of our Einherjar cheered me on. I was so focused on eating that I did not notice the time, and it seemed only a minute later when I reached the center of the trencher. Logi reached the center just a few seconds later and despite the fact that my stomach felt as if it would burst, I smirked triumphantly.

“It seems I have won,” I announced smugly, but Skrýmir waggled his finger and stepped up to the trough.

“Ah, ah, Prince, but you have not finished.”

I furrowed my brows and looked down—there was nothing left except for the bones. I cast a glimpse over at Logi’s side and my jaw dropped. His side of the trencher was completely bare, even of bones. My eyes flickered up to his, which were a startlingly pale green.

“You ate the bones?” I asked in disgust, and there were snickers from the giants.

I was about to call him a savage when Thor clapped me on the back and said, “At least you tried.”

I rolled my eyes and excused myself. I had eaten too much, and too quickly, and I barely made it to a latrine before vomiting up half of what I had just scarfed down. After collecting myself, I reemerged, feeling much better. By now the feast was ended and servants finished clearing the tables as the mingling began.

Thor was beyond incredibly drunk by now—especially after his failed attempt to drain the giants’ vat—though in a fantastically jovial mood, and demanded another contest since both he and I had lost the previous two. One giant suggested a wrestling match and Thor readily agreed.

I stood off to the side, leaning against a large wooden column carved with strange swirling patterns, observing the antics, when I perceived her nearby. She was standing by the next column, holding a cup of mead in her hand, and she was gazing at me as before.

Not one to shy away from confrontation, I walked determinedly over to her. She was slightly taller than me and in truth, not very beautiful. Her hair, which was the color of fresh blood, was thick and unkempt and reached below her waist. Her eyes, situated under neat, curving brows, were black, and her skin was pale as sun-bleached bone.

“You have been staring at me throughout the night,” I remarked dryly. “Is there a particular reason?”

She smiled thinly and I was surprised to see that the tips of her teeth were pointed. “We do not often receive visitors.”

So I had been right; she had been staring at me merely out of curiosity, though that did not explain the uneasiness I had experienced, and also now felt at merely her close proximity.

“An Asgardian prince is a most intriguing distraction,” she added.

“I can imagine why,” I muttered, put off at being called an intriguing distraction, and especially by a woman of no obvious standing. “Who are you?”

“I am Angrboda,” she replied, tapping her long fingernails on the cup in her hands, “and you are Loki.”

“It is Prince Loki.”

She only smiled, as if my correction amused her.

I turned my attention back towards the center of the room, already tired of speaking to Angrboda. By this time a partner for Thor still had not stepped forward and he was standing in a cleared area, arms spread wide.

“Where is my partner?” he demanded. “Has he not the courage to show his face? Hey, why not you?”

Thor pointed at the largest giant in the room, even larger than Skrýmir. He was at least three heads taller than Thor and was thrice as burly.

“Oh, no,” the giant replied with a smirk. “It would be beneath me to wrestle with a prince of Asgard.”

Thor opened his mouth to angrily retort, but King Skrýmir chuckled and quickly interjected. “I have just the partner for you, Prince Thor. She is coming, be patient.”

“She?” Thor choked out, and moments later she came forward. She was old and bent and shorter than Thor, despite being a rock giant, and so leathery and wrinkly that she appeared to be at least ten thousand years old. She hobbled up to him, thin limbs trembling from the exertion of being summoned.

Thor threw his head back and burst into howling laughter. Once he had collected himself, he turned to a smirking Skrýmir.

“Is this a joke?”

“It is no joke, Prince Thor,” Skrýmir answered.

The rock giants gave the impression that they knew something Thor did not, for many of them sniggered as they had when Logi had defeated me. Thor, who liked to think himself a good sport, threw up his hands and decided to play along. He and the old woman began to wrestle, and much to my shock Thor did not immediately throw her halfway across the room.

“Your brother is strong,” Angrboda observed.

“And yet that old crone has him in a headlock,” I responded wryly.

Angrboda’s lips quirked upwards in a smile, and briefly I considered walking away, but thought it would be childish of me to do so.

“Who is she?” I inquired, motioning towards the old woman.

Angrboda turned her attention back to Thor and the ancient-looking giantess. Currently, it seemed Thor was losing.

“Her name is Elli. She is the king’s old nurse.”

I bit back a laugh. “The king’s old nurse? Gods, Thor shall be humiliated if he loses.”

“He will lose,” Angrboda confirmed, smiling at my laugh.

“How do you know?”

She shrugged. “Elli cannot be beat.”

“Why not?”

“It simply cannot be done,” she answered, taking a drink from the cup in her hand.

I nodded, but did not reply. I turned back to watch Thor and Elli, hoping Angrboda might go away, but she did not. Finally, I drained my own cup and walked away to find a servant to fetch me another.

Ultimately, Thor lost the match when Elli forced him to one knee. He gaped up at her in a shocked, drunken stupor. She shambled off at King Skrýmir’s dismissal and Thor stumbled to his feet. Being as drunk as he was, though, he took his defeat in stride and laughed along with everybody else, despite the fact that they were laughing at him.

A couple of hours passed; the mead flowed freely and the mood became merrier. Thor was surrounded by a group of giants, once again drunkenly comparing battle stories, which had since escalated in fancifulness.

I stood near the wall, having already drank more than I should have, as well; I was conversing with one of the guards of Skrýmir, inquiring about their culture and verifying what I had read in some of my books. The guard, a sturdy fellow named Madr, had been answering my questions in a friendly enough manner for the past half hour when abruptly his eyes landed on something over my shoulder. Moments later, Angrboda appeared from behind me. She gave Madr a look—only a look—and he quickly lowered his gaze, turned on his heel, and took up another post farther down the wall and out of sight. Angrboda turned smoothly to stand in his spot, smiling shrewdly. I stared at her in a mixture of shock and aggravation.

“I was speaking with him,” I uttered tightly.

“It is no matter,” she dismissed, outwardly amused at my irritation. “I also wish to speak with you, Loki.”

I ground my teeth together. Though she was only a rock giant, surely she knew better than to speak so out of line to me, and interrupt me as she had. But judging from our earlier conversation, obviously she possessed no manners to speak of.

“It is Prince Loki,” I crossly reminded her.

She laughed, though I could not see what was so funny.

“Yes, Prince Loki. I was curious as to whether you have enjoyed yourself thus far?”

That was why she had interrupted? To ask if I was enjoying myself? Why did she care?

“Everything up until now has been satisfactory,” I rejoined coolly.

“And how does Utgard compare to your lovely Asgard?”

I held back a derisive snort, but was blunt. “It does not.”

“I suspected. The food? The drink?”

I tilted my head. I suppose I did not mind speaking with her if I could denigrate her all at once.

“Everything.”

I hoped that would discourage Angrboda and make her go away, but instead she took a step forward and I stiffened. She should not have been so close to me, for I was the prince, but I would not retreat like I was afraid.

“Come with me,” she said suddenly.

My lips parted in surprise. “What? Where?”

“I want to show you something.”

I scoffed. “Why would I go anywhere with you?”

“You are interested in us, are you not?” she queried, raising a dark red eyebrow. “You were just questioning Madr about our life here.”

“Yes,” I admitted.

“Then come. I would show you something you have never seen.”

“I’d rather not,” I answered, though my curiously was admittedly piqued.

She smiled and leaned in a little closer, and my back hit the rough stone wall.

“Surely this does not amuse you?” she inquired, motioning to the idiotic revelry going on before us.

My lips twitched. “Er… somewhat.”

“But there are far more interesting things to see here, Prince,” she smirked, leaning forward even more until our fronts were practically touching.

I could not explain it, but the low allure of her voice seemed to be having an effect on me, and for some reason I did not push her away, only wondered why an indistinct little voice in the back of my mind was compelling me to go with her.

“I promise you will enjoy it,” she assured, and her breath tickled my ear and sent a shiver through me.

“W—what is it?” I asked uncertainly, eyes fixed on her parted lips as she pulled away.

“Just come, Loki. Trust me.”

“I don’t even know you,” I countered, tearing my gaze from her lips. “For all I know, you could be an assassin.”

At that, Angrboda laughed, exposing her sharpened teeth. I wondered vaguely why they were like that, since I had not seen any other giants here with pointed teeth. I doubted it was natural.

“A just concern, Prince, but I assure you that is not my wish.”

I cast a glimpse behind her out at the revelry. I doubted it would grow any more boisterous than it already was, and admittedly I had already begun growing bored with it all. That was why I had wandered off to question a guard. I glanced unsurely back at Angrboda, whose lips were quirked upwards in a small, inviting smile.

I could not explain it, but I could feel my resolve melting away, and something—perhaps the copious amount of mead I had ingested—was recklessly urging me to go with this woman. Besides, Snjallr was expecting me to do something stupid and thoughtless. I could not disappoint the old bear, could I?

Angrboda was still smiling, eyes searching mine.

“Very well,” I acquiesced, and her smile widened.

“Come.”

She turned and I followed. We left the great hall, but nobody stopped us and, in truth, I doubt any saw us leave. Angrboda led me through dim corridors and up darkened staircases, higher and higher until I figured we must be near the top of the castle. The farther we wandered from the great hall, the more dubious the churning in the pit of my stomach became.

“What were you going to show me?” I inquired.

“You will see,” she replied, turning a corner. “We are almost there.”

A few minutes later, Angrboda came to stand in front of a door. She opened it and I followed her in—or rather, out. A blast of cold air hit my face and I gasped, stunned briefly by the sudden change in temperature.

We were on a small balcony high up in the castle overlooking the valley. I lifted my head, struck into silence. There was no mist tonight and I could see the heavens awash in stars—not necessarily a sight I was unaccustomed to in Asgard—but it was the mountains that they illuminated that was cause for my awe. The stars and multiple moons, some a dusty, lambent purple, others a sad, greyish blue, cast their dusky light onto the range. Far below us, the little villages nestled into the sides of the mountains and in the valleys I had seen earlier appeared from here only as minute dots of flame.

I sucked in a deep breath, astonished by the crude beauty and endless silence of this landscape. I could only imagine what it might look like during the deep of winter, when snow blanketed the mountains in a cold, white silence.

Angrboda leaned against the rough stone railing, gazing thoughtfully at me, black eyes sparkling.

“Does this compare?” she asked quietly, breath turning to fog in front of her face.

I was silent for a long moment. “Asgard does have mountains, but not like this.”

“What is it like? Asgard?”

I glanced at her. “What do you mean?”

“You say Asgard does not have mountains such as this. What does it have?”

I paused to think. “Well… our mountains are much smaller than this. Hills and forests and lakes—”

“What kinds of forests?” she interrupted, just as a chilly breeze lifted her hair off her shoulders. She shivered, for she was not wearing a cloak.

“Just forests. We hunt in them. The city is quite different from here.”

“You live in a castle?” she asked interestedly, coming a little closer.

“Er, it’s more of a palace.”

“What does it look like?”

“It is located at the center of the city, which has actual paved roads, instead of your… rocky paths. It is very tall and has many towers, all shining gold.”

I could picture it easily enough in my head, bright sunlight reflecting off the towering spires, surrounded by the city, and then by fertile, rolling hills and little bucolic villages outside the city gates, but it was more difficult to explain.

“And then there is the edge,” I continued, deciding to move on since she probably could not imagine it herself, having likely lived in these dark mountains her entire life.

“What is the edge?”

“It is where the realm ends and the seas spill over the side,” I explained, no longer thinking her so annoying. With all these questions she almost seemed childlike.

“Where do the seas go?”

“I… I know not.”

Angrboda appeared doubtful, which I expected. It was difficult to picture unless one had seen it.

“But our skies look like this,” I expressed, wanting her to be able to imagine something of Asgard she had already seen. “Only they shine on a city instead of mountains.”

“Do you find this pleasing?” she wondered.

“Yes. It is much quieter.”

She smiled, baring her sharp teeth.

“I think I would like to see Asgard,” she sighed wistfully. “All I have ever known is forest and mountain.”

I did not reply, but continued studying the stars, attempting to pick out constellations I had never seen but read of. A few minutes passed—I had lowered my gaze to examine the villages below us, when out of the corner of my eye I perceived Angrboda move closer to me.

“You are not like the others,” she noted softly. “Especially the blond one.”

“Thor?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Yes. You are quieter.”

“Only sometimes,” I laughed.

She smiled, but did not address my comment. “Prince Thor would find this interesting?”

I chuckled to myself. “I doubt it. He is more concerned with your mead and your women.”

“And you are not?” she questioned.

“The mead is fine,” I returned.

“And the women?” she persisted, and I could hear the smile in her voice.

“I have seen none to compare to those in Asgard,” I answered. Certainly it was the truth—even the prettiest rock giantess could not compare to the homeliest of Mother’s women back home.

“Have you a mistress, Loki?” she wondered.

“I beg your pardon?”

She laughed, amused at my indignation. “Prince Thor was bragging of his mistress earlier.”

“I do not doubt it,” I grumbled, though personally I had not heard it.

“Surely you have got one, as well.”

“I do not,” I responded hesitantly. I did not wish to discuss this with a total stranger—and a rock giantess, no less—but I did not silence her. Perhaps it was the mead, perhaps it was curiosity at what she might say next.

“Why not?”

“I see not how that is any of your business,” I rejoined curtly.

“Oh,” Angrboda said, and she smiled knowingly. Unfazed by my brusqueness, she took another step towards me, but I did not recoil. Disquiet crept over me, and yet her dark gaze held mine, silently urging me to be still. And for some reason—I knew not why—I remained motionless when she unexpectedly lowered her head and gently kissed me. I slowly closed my eyes, feeling her cold lips on mine, the faint taste of mead still lingering upon them, the brief wetness of her tongue on my bottom lip and the warmth blooming inside me despite the cold.

I opened my eyes and stared at her when she drew away, hardly able to wonder why it was not indignation I felt, or outrage at her boldness to stand so close to me or touch me without my permission, but a sort of fuzziness in my mind, this warm and lethargic complacency.

My gaze fell to Angrboda’s smirking lips.

“You have never lain with a woman,” she announced.

My reply almost sounded drunk in nature. “You may tell that from a kiss?”

Angrboda laughed quietly, but otherwise did not respond. She lowered her head and for a second time I remained immobile. She kissed me again and this time placed her hands on the sides of my face to lift my head.

This was not an unexpected kiss like the first one, and I could not deny the small amount of pleasure I gleaned from it, despite knowing not how to react properly. The fact was, I had never kissed a woman before and I stiffened when I felt her tongue at my lips, seeking entrance. My lips tentatively parted and Angrboda pushed her tongue past my teeth to explore my mouth, and it was warm and wet and a surprisingly pleasing sensation, which spread quickly through my body and settled between my legs.

Angrboda broke the kiss, but kept her lips close to mine.

“Nor been touched,” she murmured.

I barely had time to protest before Angrboda ran one hand down my armor and over my front. I grabbed her arm, but froze when I felt her hand between my legs. I tensed and clutched at the fabric of her sleeve, astounded by the unexpected shiver of pleasure that skittered through me.

“What are you—stop!” I ordered disconcertedly as she pushed against me, and I stumbled backwards and hit the stone railing. Angrboda turned her head, kissed my cheek, and then dragged her lips up to my ear. Her warm breath tickled my skin, lips brushing against my ear.

“You don’t want me to stop, Loki,” she breathed, continuing to palm my growing arousal, and her voice was low and lurid and sent another involuntary shiver through me. I agonized for only a moment on what to do—shove her away and return to the great hall, or allow her to continue touching me, bit by bit chipping away at my misgivings? And then the reckless part of me decided of course I wasn’t going to push her away, it felt too good…

I subtly nudged my hips forward, encouraging her movements, and heard her chuckle softly. I closed my eyes and my mouth fell open as she continued rubbing me through my leather pants, alternating between using her fingers and pressing with the heel of her hand.

Suddenly, Angrboda’s hand was gone, and I blinked in confusion. She was studying me, black eyes shining, teeth white behind her grinning, bloodless lips. She kissed me again; this time I attempted to kiss her back, and then I felt her fingers slipping beneath my armor, searching out the laces of my pants.

Within moments Angrboda had the ties unlaced and she tugged to loosen them. I groaned into her mouth when she slid her fingers into the top of my pants, hand cold against my skin. I flinched when she touched me, but ignored the warning in the back of my mind and chose instead to savor these new sensations.

My breaths all but ceased when Angrboda wrapped her fingers around my rapidly hardening cock. I slumped against the railing, knees gone weak at the feeling. Stopping her was the last thing on my mind now, I could not imagine telling her to stop…

“I can tell you are untouched,” she murmured breathily, right into my ear. “I can smell it on you. The way you move, the way you speak…”

She began stroking me, drawing a pathetically trembling moan from my lips. I bit my lip hard and moved my hand under her arm and to her back, lightly curling my fingers in her wiry hair. Angrboda was kissing below my jaw, surely sucking a bruise into existence, but I didn’t care, as long as she kept touching me.

I languidly turned my head towards Angrboda and she took my bottom lip between her teeth and sucked on it, persisting with the maddeningly slow up and down of her hand. I tensed and lifted up on my toes when her fingers ghosted over the tip of my cock, pressed even harder against the rail, attempting to suppress a groan and my breaths which were becoming embarrassingly heavy.

“I can turn your blood hot,” Angrboda whispered lustily, and suddenly I was keenly aware of her body so close, her breasts soft against my chest, leg pushed in between mine, mouth so hot on my skin.

“I have no doubt,” I replied breathlessly, wishing to retain some semblance of control, despite the way I was so visibly melting at her touch.

Abruptly, Angrboda withdrew her hand from my pants and I exclaimed in protest, which coaxed an amused smirk from her.

“Do you want me, Loki?” she inquired simply.

Heat flared in the pit of my stomach when I realized what she meant—at what she was offering me—and just like that any lingering doubt was gone.

“Yes,” I admitted. I could not think clearly enough to make a rational decision—all I could feel was the unbearable tightness of my erection, this gnawing excitement in the pit of my stomach, forgetting that only a couple of days prior the thought of lying with an actual woman had invoked in me nervousness.

Angrboda took me by the hand and led me back into the castle. I followed her, back down through these empty corridors and dimly lit staircases, deep into the bowels of the castle. I wondered vaguely how when all of this was done I would find my way back to the great hall, but any remaining sensible thoughts were gone from my head when at one point, Angrboda paused in a corridor to push me up against the wall to kiss and touch me as unrelentingly as she had on the balcony.

Eventually—finally—we arrived to our destination. Angrboda stopped in a gloomy corridor; the torches along the wall barely lit up the rough stone walls and a large wooden door. She opened the door, pulled me inside, and I scarcely had time to glance curiously around at what I assumed to be Angrboda’s chambers—saw a large bed in the corner, heaped with furs, tables set up along the wall laden with glasses and vials and what appeared to be dying plants, smelled the air thick with incense and herbs and fire smoke—before Angrboda practically shoved me back against the door.

Angrboda fell to her knees in front of me and began hastily fumbling with my already loosened pants. Within seconds they were down around my knees, held up by my boots, and I gasped loudly when she took me in her hands. I sucked in a sharp breath when I felt her tongue on me—I lifted my head and arched my back, pleasure radiating up and out, filling me like a warm cloud.

She flicked her tongue over the tip of my cock and began slowly stroking up and down with her hand. I shakily brought my hands up and curled my fingers in Angrboda’s hair, not knowing where else to put them, but she didn’t seem to mind. I exhaled slowly as she took me deeper into her mouth, lips stretching around me, tongue so warm and wet. She began languidly bobbing her head, sucking lightly, and my breath hitched when her pointed teeth scraped against my skin. The filthy sounds of her mouth around my cock only served to further enflame, and my breaths became shallow and ragged.

My body was thrumming with this barely-contained pleasure and my legs were weak, but Angrboda was leaning against me, helping to keep me up. I rolled my head to the side and groaned softly when she took me even deeper, and I moaned when I hit the back of her throat, felt her tongue expertly caressing me inside her mouth.

I tightened my fingers in her thick hair and pulled her closer before glancing down, lips parted and breaths coming harshly. The sight of Angrboda on her knees before me, with my cock in her maddeningly hot mouth, and her glittering black eyes fixed on mine, sent a jolt of debauched bliss skittering through me, urging my release.

“Angrboda,” I gasped, tilting my head back, pushing my hips forward.

It was coiling tighter and tighter, threatening to burst, and I was so close, and I was silently begging her not to stop, I thought I would die if she stopped now… and she kept sucking, kept moving her hand—too much, it was too much—and then it happened, and I let out an almost strangled cry and went rigid against the door, head tipped back and mouth hanging wide open.

My mind blanked, and everything was blackness and heat and pleasure; Angrboda kept her lips sealed around me, continuing to slowly stroke up and down as she swallowed everything I gave, but I hardly noticed for the ecstasy surging through me, flooding my mind and spilling out of me in hot waves.

Too soon it ended, and when the waves had at last subsided, leaving only a warm tingling through my body, I slowly, shakily lowered my head. I whimpered as Angrboda gradually pulled back, allowing me to slide out of her mouth. She did not let go of me yet, but stuck her tongue out and gave me a final, almost playful lick before leaning back on her heels. I unfurled my stiff fingers from her hair and she rose up and grinned at me, and I noticed a wayward drop of my seed on her chin.

Angrboda wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and licked her lips before lowering her head to kiss me, but I did not pull away in disgust. For some reason, despite what she had just done, the thought of her lips on mine and her tongue in my mouth aroused me. Instinctively, I placed my hands on her waist and she moved to kiss my cheek.

“You are so eager for me, princeling,” she breathed in amusement before taking a step back. I frowned, disliking her nickname for me, and pulled my pants back up so I was not standing there in front of her half naked.

Angrboda, still smirking, took my hand and led me towards her bed. The short journey caused my insides to twist in delightful anticipation, for I could guess what was going to happen next.

“Here,” she said, and she turned around in front of me and pulled her mass of hair out of the way, exposing her back to me. I stared at the lacings of her gown for a long moment before reaching up to begin untying them. As I loosened the ties, attempting to still my somewhat shaky fingers, I revealed the undergarment beneath.

Once her dress had been sufficiently loosened, Angrboda turned back around and pulled her dress and shift up and over her head. She dropped it unceremoniously onto the floor and stood there naked, a small smile playing on her lips. Aroused by her shamelessness, my eyes roved hungrily over her bare body. The firelight cast flickering shadows over her, accentuating the curves of her taut breasts and belly and legs. She had very wide hips and her legs were encased in thick, thigh-high stockings of some rough fabric appropriate for the coolness of this climate. My cock twitched when my gaze landed on the red tangle of curls guarding the spot between her legs.

Angrboda kept her eyes fixed on me as she bent over to roll her stockings down her legs. She quickly discarded them on the floor before stepping up to me. I did not move and she tilted her head.

“Do you want to touch me, Loki?” she asked, evidently amused.

“Yes,” I replied, but my voice embarrassingly came out in a whisper, and in that moment, try as I might, I just couldn’t remember a single thing Thor had ever told me about pleasing a woman.

Angrboda laughed, grabbed my hand, and placed it over her breast. Tentatively I cupped it; it was round and heavy in my hand, and heat flared in my groin despite having just spent myself. I gently brushed my thumb over her quickly burgeoning nipple, but before I could continue, she put her hands on my chest and thrust me backwards. I fell against the bed and Angrboda pushed my legs open, grabbed my face, and crashed her lips to mine.

“Lie back,” she ordered breathlessly into my mouth, and I broke the kiss and pulled myself backwards into her bed. I gripped the furs beneath me as she crawled in, baring her sharp teeth in a wicked grin that sent a rivulet of heat straight to the spot between my legs. Angrboda wordlessly straddled my waist, wrapped one hand around the side of my neck, and kissed below my jaw. I moved my hands to her thighs, knowing not where else to put them, and closed my eyes, enjoying the sensation of her kissing and sucking at my neck.

I lowered my head, wanting more, and saw her breasts right in front of me. Something urged me forward and I wrapped my lips around her nipple. Angrboda let out a breath against my neck and moaned quietly as I sucked on her, and I knew I had done something right. I softly bit her, circled my tongue around the pink, puckered skin, and ran my hands over her back and pulled her closer. She combed her fingers through my hair and pressed her parted lips to my temple, breaths coming heavily. The sounds of her heavy breathing encouraged me and I sucked harder and she flinched.

“Switch,” Angrboda instructed, and unquestioningly I did so. However, I only had my mouth on her other breast for a few seconds before she unexpectedly rolled us over. Now she lay on her back and I was settled between her legs, holding myself above her. I stared down at her face, felt the heat between her legs against my cock through my pants, and my breath caught in my throat.

“You have never pleasured a woman,” she stated, and my face burned, but she only smirked. “I will show you.”

Angrboda took my hand and put it on her breast, guiding my fingers. At first I thought she meant I had not done a very good job of using my mouth on her and was going to show me how to better please her, but she pushed my hand down her abdomen, over her belly, to the spot between her legs. I kept my eyes fixed on hers as she directed me, lips parted and breaths coming heavily, and felt myself growing more and more aroused by the second.

I felt the wiry hairs and her soft skin beneath, and Angrboda held my wrist as I intuitively trailed my middle finger through her folds, exploring the soaking skin. Through the dips and creases, over a little bud at the top. I noticed her reaction when I touched it and did it again, slowly circled my finger around it, and she closed her eyes and exhaled a satisfied breath. Down lower until I felt her slick opening, and suddenly I experienced hesitation.

“Yes, Loki,” she murmured, and I slipped my middle finger inside and regarded her expression in lusty fascination. I pushed my finger in up to the knuckle, feeling the tightness of her around me, the slick velvetiness of her inner walls. She was so tight around my finger, I could hardly imagine what it would feel like around my cock, if hopefully she allowed me that.

By now I was in actual pain just observing the pleasured contortions of her face, hearing her make these soft little sounds as I touched her, and I felt an exalted surge of pride at being able to coax the sounds from her. I had never in my life been so aroused as I was now, and my pants, despite being unlaced, were entirely too tight.

Abruptly, Angrboda tightened her hold on my wrist, tugged at it, and I watched in desirous captivation as she took my glistening fingers into her mouth. My lips parted at the rush of pleasure I gleaned from her sucking on my fingers; the points of her teeth were sharp against my skin, and her tongue licking over my fingertips and between them evoked the feel of it on my cock earlier.

When Angrboda released my fingers, I slowly dragged them down her chin, eyes focused on hers, and settled my hand on her chest. Suddenly I was struck with the urge to taste her as she had just done herself.

Angrboda seemed to hear my thoughts and echoed it.

“You want to taste?” she inquired. I leaned down and kissed her lips. I impulsively thrust my tongue into her warm mouth and she responded eagerly, wrapping her legs around my waist and pulling me down to deepen the kiss.

“Yes,” I breathed into her mouth. “I want to taste you…”

“Then go,” Angrboda grinned impishly. She pushed at my shoulders and I lifted up to do as she said. On my way down, I paused to kiss her breast; I took her nipple into my mouth and she arched her back and tousled her fingers in my already tangled hair. She seemed to be enjoying it, more so than last time, so I was surprised when she nudged at my head.

“You take too long,” she gasped.

I released her, somewhat amused, and resumed my southwardly journey. I dragged myself farther down Angrboda’s body, skimming my nose over her warm skin, until my lips brushed against the dark red curls at the top of her legs. I glanced up as she propped herself up on her elbows and flashed me a wicked half-smile.

“Like you are kissing my mouth,” Angrboda instructed, and she pursed her lips and made a kissing sound and grinned widely. I hesitated for only another moment, drinking in the sight of her, before lowering my head. Without further encouragement I pressed my mouth to her. The slickness of her desire coated my lips as I stuck my tongue out and slowly ran it up her sex, and I fought back a smile when I heard her curse under her breath.

I had never tasted a woman before and could not say I was displeased. Angrboda did not taste sweet, precisely, as Thor had often described it, but rather pleasingly earthy, but heady nonetheless. I settled onto the bed on my stomach and wrapped my hands around her thighs. She combed her fingers through my hair as I had done her earlier, and my eyes flickered up to meet hers just as she sighed and rolled her head back.

I kissed her again and she settled her legs onto my shoulders. Angrboda’s legs were heavy, but I did not so much mind that. I licked her with the flat of my tongue, taking great pleasure in the way her breaths became shorter and heavier. Her reactions encouraged me, and though I did not know exactly what to do, she appeared to be satisfied with my investigative ministrations. I languidly explored her, noting what made her react most viscerally. Angrboda seemed to respond when I made contact with the little nub at the top of her sex—as evidenced by a loud, lilting moan—and so I took it into my mouth and sucked on it and caressed it with my tongue. She liked that the best, because she arched her back and tightened her fingers painfully in my hair.

“Use your fingers,” she ordered breathlessly.

Wordlessly I obeyed; never lifting my mouth from her, I ran my fingers over her entrance, wetting them with her soaking desire. I eased my first two fingers into her and then slowly brought them out and back in, continuing to tease her flesh with my tongue. Inside, I felt a little raised spot I had not felt before, and I pressed my fingers against it to feel, and Angrboda let out a gasp and arched off the bed, moaning her approval. Seeing that she liked it, I did it again and continued my languorous rhythm.

I had only been touching Angrboda like this for a few minutes, taking great pleasure in the way she would subtly twist or lift her hips for me, before she suddenly brought her leg up, put her foot on my shoulder, and pushed me roughly away from her. I sat back on my knees, staring at her in surprise. Why had she stopped me? Had I done something wrong?

Angrboda propped herself up on her elbows, black eyes glittering.

“Take off your clothes.”

I immediately slid off the bed, excitement welling up inside me. I quickly shrugged out of my armor and other outer layers. Before my cape had even hit the floor, I was tugging at my tunic and pulling it up over my head. Once it was discarded, I lifted each leg, balancing on the other, and yanked my boots off before pushing my already loosened pants down over my hips to my ankles. I kicked them off and stood there before her naked, unable in my enthusiasm to even be astounded at my own lack of inhibition.

Angrboda scrutinized me in the dimness of the room, eyes roaming appraisingly up and down the length of my body. Obviously she must have liked what she saw because she sat up, spread her legs, and invitingly patted the bed between.

I smirked triumphantly and climbed back onto her bed, too eager to remember I had absolutely no experience in this sort of thing. Angrboda lay back as I crawled over her and wrapped her legs around my waist. She pulled me close and I could not help a soft gasp when I felt her hot and wet against me. Impulsively I pressed my hips forward and slowly closed my eyes at the sensation. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before and I wasn’t even inside of her yet.

“Angrboda,” I breathed unsteadily, and her lips curled into a smile as she reached between us. My breath caught in my throat when she gently wrapped her fingers around my cock and ran the tip of it through her folds, coating me in her arousal. I dug my nails into the bed beneath her, body tense; Angrboda felt it and her grin widened.

Finally, Angrboda took mercy on me. She positioned me to enter her and tightened her legs on me, urging me. I pushed my hips forward, sliding so deliciously easily into her, and deeper and deeper until I could not go any farther, and I groaned softly and my mouth fell open.

I paused, breathing hard, heart pounding, heat and desire and lust coursing like fire through my veins. There was not a part of her I could not feel; I was throbbing inside her, could not discern her heartbeat from my own. Gods, I had never felt anything like this—it felt so fucking good, so much better than even when she had used her mouth on me.

My arms shook and Angrboda gazed up at me, smiling. And then her hand was on my arm, dropping down until she took my hand in hers. She lifted it up and guided it between our bodies.

“Feel, Loki,” she murmured, and I let out a heavy breath when I felt where we joined, how her softness enveloped my hardness, all coated in this slick, sticky heat, and I could not tear my eyes from hers.

Angrboda moved both hands to either side of my neck, brought me down, and kissed me. I opened my mouth, letting her tongue delve past my lips, and hungrily kissed her back. I lowered myself onto Angrboda as I kissed her, savoring the heat of her body, her breasts soft against my chest, the tightness of her legs around my waist, everything so tight…

I could not wait anymore. I broke the kiss and she licked her lips, hands falling down to lightly hold my forearms. I moved out of her, exhaled a delighted breath, and then back in, and smiled to myself, astounded that anything could feel so wonderful.

I dug my fingers into the bed beneath Angrboda as I began a slow, deliberate rhythm, closed my eyes and lost myself in the feeling of her inner walls so hot and tight around me. My restraint was fleeting, though, and within moments my rhythm became shorter and harder, hips snapping against the inside of her thighs, sticky, sweat-slicked skin sliding so smoothly and seamlessly against one another.

Each thrust was pleasure lancing through my body, this boiling in my lower belly threatening to explode, muscles in my abdomen tightening in anticipation. Every breath harshly drawn, every slick, starved movement, was heat and ecstasy, Angrboda’s halting moans and fragmented gasps, the way she arched her back and moaned my name and how I moaned hers, all culminating inside me, so close, so close…

I was not going to last long, and just as I felt it ready to explode, Angrboda dragged her nails hard down my back and pulled me as close as possible. I grimaced and groaned in pain, just as I burst deep inside her. My groan of pain transformed into one of pleasure, and I froze, muscles taut, eyes squeezed shut and face contorted in ecstasy.

The pleasure was unlike any I had ever felt, and for a few precious seconds, everything around me disappeared and all I could feel was Angrboda’s warm body beneath me and around me, the points of her nails digging into my back, accentuating the pleasure washing through my body and spilling out of me.

When the waves finally subsided, and everything around me came back into a sort of hazy focus, I slowly lowered myself onto Angrboda and slipped my arms beneath hers. I lightly kissed her temple, and then pressed my face into the side of her neck, allowing my breaths and heart to slow. My body was heavy, almost deliciously numb, and I could smell her hair, like smoke and sweat and sex. It was an intoxicating scent, and I tenderly kissed her flushed skin, letting my tongue flicker out briefly to taste.

I had never felt anything so wonderful and almost laughed to think of myself alone in my bed, pleasuring myself. Why had I not taken a woman sooner? Thor had encouraged me, told me of the pleasure to be had in a woman’s body, and I had always been too tentative, but now…

Angrboda brushed my hair away from my face and affectionately combed her fingers through it. I was grateful she did not break the silence, for I only wished to lie here for a moment and revel in the heat just beginning to fade.

After a few minutes, Angrboda wrapped her arms around me and rolled us over so I was on my back. I gazed up at her, sitting astride me now. Her hair was like wildfire in the dark, tangled and even more unkempt than before, and it was glowing red from the firelight behind her. I thought she looked like a demoness, but a very beautiful demoness, even with her bone pale skin and endless black eyes set in that white mask.

She leaned down and gingerly kissed my parted lips. I lethargically responded, reaching up to cup her cheek. Angrboda moved to kiss the side of my neck, biting and sucking and making worse the marks she had surely made there earlier, before slowly making her way back up to my mouth. She sucked on my tongue and I flinched when she bit me, breaking the soft flesh with her teeth. The taste of metal filled my mouth and she moaned and leaned back, licking her lips. I sucked on my tongue, attempting to rid myself of the bloody aftertaste.

I trailed my fingers over Angrboda’s thighs as she traced the planes of my chest with her forefinger, and a shiver went through me when she scraped her nail over my skin. She chuckled quietly before rolling her hips against me; I groaned, feeling myself responding already. I gripped her thighs a little tighter, overwhelmed by the sensation of the movement.

“Eager for me again, Loki?” she whispered, and she lifted up and then dropped back down, and I closed my eyes and tilted my head back. I was already growing hard again inside her, but wondered because I had already spent myself twice. Would it ever stop feeling like this once I’d done it enough? Would it feel this good every time?

Something stirred in the back of my mind, and I turned my head to look at the door. I speculated on how long I had been gone from the great hall. Surely they would notice me gone—Snjallr, at least, considering his eagle eyes—but when Angrboda leaned down to once again kiss my neck, all of my concerns dissolved into a cloud of blissful indifference.

“You have never been ridden,” Angrboda observed, nipping playfully at my earlobe.

“No,” I answered, turning my head so my lips brushed against hers.

“Do you want me to ride you?” she wondered curiously, black eyes searching mine, already knowing the answer.

“Yes,” I breathed, attempting to conceal the eagerness that rose up inside me.

Angrboda grinned and took my hands in hers. She dragged them upwards over her sides to her breasts, and I cupped them and she made a small sound in the back of her throat as I touched her. Abruptly, she jerked my hands away and pinned my wrists to the bed above my head. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders, framing her face in fire, and she lowered her head to kiss me. She bit my bottom lip, once again drawing blood, before turning her head to trail kisses up my jaw and down my neck.

Without lifting her head, Angrboda began rocking her hips. My eyes fluttered closed and my mouth fell open and I groaned and it sounded like it hurt. I could not decide which felt better—lying on top of her and fucking her, or lying beneath her as she fucked me. Angrboda was not delicate, but I liked it; unlike before, where she had laid there and allowed me to explore her body, now she was taking.

I opened my heavy eyes and watched her above me; I had not thought Angrboda beautiful before, but I could not deny the response she evoked in me now, sitting astride me, moving so sinuously against me; breasts swaying above me, the firelight flickering behind her and casting dancing shadows over the contours of her pale body, with little tendrils of hair sticking to her sweaty shoulders and neck and uplifted face.

She kept moving, harder and harder, and once or twice I attempted to lift my own hips to match her pace, but eventually I gave up and just lay there and let her ride me. Finally she released my wrists and I immediately moved them to her thighs. The pleasure was building again, intensified with every soft moan and thrust of her strong hips.

“Angrboda,” I gasped, digging my nails into her thighs, and I closed my eyes and tilted my head back, could feel it coming on again.

When I came, it felt just as good as the first time, if not better. I groaned loudly and stiffened beneath her, lifted my legs and pushed her slightly forward. I heard her laugh through my haze, but she kept moving on top of me, still harder, and I cried out again when I came again and gods, it felt so good, surely I was hurting her with how hard I was gripping her.

I was going to tell her to stop, it was too much now, I was too sensitive, but without a word from me Angrboda slowed her rhythm. She moved languorously now, though I suspected she had slowed of her own accord without regard to me. She moaned and rolled her head onto her shoulder, lips parted.

And then I felt her insides moving, almost contracting around me, and it felt good. She bared her teeth and squeezed her legs on me and I groaned when she dragged her nails over my chest; blood sprang up from the wounds, but it and her euphoric visage only served to heighten my pleasure. After a few moments, Angrboda let her head drop, breaths coming faster.

I sat up. Our faces were only inches apart, and I could feel her breath warm on my face as she fought to regain control of her breathing. I kissed her dry, parted lips, pushed my fingers into her damp hair as I rolled my tongue against hers, mimicking how she had kissed me once earlier. She leaned into me, deepening the kiss, and pulled us onto our sides.

I slipped out of her. Everything was wet and sticky and smelled of sweat and sex and my back and chest stung from where she had scratched me, but it was a pleasing feeling and I did not object when Angrboda nestled against me and placed one hand on my chest. I ran one hand down her back, feeling the gentle ridges of her spine, as she gazed at me, breaths still coming heavily.

We lay there for a long while in the silence with nothing but the snapping fire to be heard. I lay on my side, head propped up as Angrboda lazily explored me, playing with my hair, running her fingers over my face and chest and stomach, tracing my collarbones and ribs and the scratches she had made earlier.

I studied her as she touched me, thinking it interesting that Angrboda did not resemble the other rock giants. Her teeth were sharp and she spoke differently. She just did not seem like one of them.

“Who are you?” I inquired as she idly traced a fingertip over my chest.

I had not put much thought into it earlier, but now could not figure it out. Skrýmir did not have a wife, so Angrboda did not serve under any queen, and I had not seen any giantesses of much standing that she might perform duties for.

“I am Angrboda,” she replied impishly, and she leaned forward and planted an openmouthed kiss on my shoulder. “Have you already forgotten, Loki?”

A smile tugged at the corner of my lips, but I gently pushed her back. “No, I meant where do you come from? Are you from Utgard?”

“No. I am from Járnvidr.”

I furrowed my brows. “Járnvidr?”

“The Ironwood.”

“Oh,” I said.

I had read of the Ironwood, a vast, dark forest many, many miles from here. Images of gnarling trees obscured in rot pervaded my mind, where the black canopy was so thick the sun could not penetrate it to reach the putrid ground. Perhaps our books had exaggerated it, though, as I could not imagine beings choosing freely to live in such a horrible place.

“Do many live there?” I asked.

“No,” Angrboda absently replied, eyes fixed on my chest as she attempted to curl the hair there between her fingers. Finally, she gave up and trailed her fingers lower, approaching the thin trail of hair below my navel. “We are few and prefer solitude.”

I wondered if they all filed their teeth like Angrboda.

“How did you come to Utgard?”

“The king brought me here.”

“King Skrýmir? Why?”

“To give him pleasure,” she answered candidly, and my mouth fell open.

“You are Skrýmir’s mistress?” I asked in disbelief.

Angrboda nodded, not even looking at me, as if it was of no consequence. Suddenly I remembered earlier in the great hall how the guard had scuttled out of sight at merely a firm look from her. Obviously she was of some influence here at court, but I was not so foolish as to think this would not have repercussions, especially concerning Asgardian and Jötun relations were Skrýmir to find out. I needed to leave.

“Why did you not say anything?” I demanded angrily.

Angrboda glanced up at my livid tone. She draped a leg over my hips and said, almost playfully, “You did not need to know. Skrýmir is old, Loki. Not young like you. Not strong and hard like you…”

Her praise did not deter me; I sat up to leave, but Angrboda tightened her leg on me.

“What are you doing?”

“I am leaving,” I responded bitterly, my mood turned sour.

“I do not want you to leave,” she protested.

I did not reply, but pushed her leg off and turned to sit on the edge of the bed. I stood up, but before I could even take one step, Angrboda grabbed a fistful of my hair from behind and yanked me backwards. I exclaimed in surprise more than anything and reached up to attempt to disentangle her fingers from my hair, but she dragged me onto the bed and quickly straddled my waist. She shoved me down, sharp nails digging into the tops of my shoulders, and glowered at me, eyes blazing.

“I said,” she growled threateningly, “I do not want you to leave.”

I stared up at her in soundless astonishment.

“I want you to stay,” she added, not as menacingly this time, and then she cocked her head and smiled.

“Get off of me,” I ordered.

Her smile fell. “I do not want to. I have given you your pleasure and now you will give me mine.”

“I am the prince of Asgard and you will not—”

Before I could even finish my sentence, Angrboda drew her hand back and struck me hard across the face. My head snapped to the side and pain exploded in my cheek, four lines of fire where her nails had dug deep into my skin. I stared off to the side, mouth hanging open. I had never been struck in my life, and certainly not so viciously.

Rage welled up inside me.

“How dare you—!”

She struck me again, harder, if that was possible, and my head was thrown to the other side. I did not have time to reproach her for a second time. Angrboda grabbed me viciously by the jaw, nails digging painfully into the soft flesh of my face, and she dragged me up towards her.

Her eyes burned black, lips set in a thin line, daring me to open my mouth again. She trailed one sharp fingernail over my lips, and her voice was ugly and dripping with malice.

“Silence.”

Fear bloomed inside me. Angrboda shoved me back down onto the bed, roughly released my face, and grasped my wrists. She pinned them to the bed above my head and I blinked in confusion when I felt a coldness where she touched me. I turned my head, peering up, and saw a dull cord of light encircling my wrists. When Angrboda released me, I tugged at the glowing bands, but they held fast and my gut tightened in dread.

Angrboda laughed at my realization; she kissed me and pressed her lips to my ear. Her voice was low and dark, warm breath tickling my skin.

“You think the magic of the Vanir is the only one?”

Now all of the vials and bottles and herbs laid out on her tables made sense—they were for potions, for she was a witch.

“Now I may do with you as I wish,” she smirked, planting a kiss on my temple. I attempted once more to tug uselessly at the cords of magic, earning a harsh laugh from Angrboda.

“Do not struggle, little one.”

Angrboda repositioned herself on top of me and rolled her hips, grinding her bare sex against my cock. Despite the fact that she had just struck me twice, and threatened me, and bound me to her bed with some kind of witchery, I was astounded at the shiver of pleasure that ran through me. Angrboda noticed and bit back a grin; she continued slowly running herself over the length of my now hardening cock, bringing me quickly back to arousal. I would have been ashamed to admit it, but this dread brewing in my gut only seemed to heighten the pleasure—and she knew it.

Angrboda lifted up, positioned me at her entrance, and sank down until I was sheathed fully in her heat. My lips parted at the feeling, still wonderful despite the now precarious circumstances, and she began moving up and down on top of me. She mostly watched me, a wicked smile playing on her lips, but I kept glancing back and forth between her and the darkened ceiling, pleasure building inside whether I wanted it or not.

I gritted my teeth, part of me wanting to rebel against the traitorous pleasure I felt, and another part of me, wallowing in this depraved carnality, wishing she would go faster or harder, anything to end me already…

“Oh, Loki,” Angrboda breathed, aware of and amused at my silent turmoil.

She dragged her hand up to my throat and I stiffened when she wrapped her fingers around my neck. And she kept moving, kept moving, and she was squeezing my throat tighter, and my mouth fell open, attempting to draw breath that would not come, and I closed my eyes and arched my back. I balled my hands into fists, straining fruitlessly against her bonds.

I was just on the edge, and it felt so good but it hurt, too, and I wanted to shout for her to stop, but I couldn’t make a sound and I was glad I couldn’t because I didn’t want her to stop, not really… and when I finally came apart, everything faded to black. Wave after wave of euphoria crashed through me, this torrential numbness seeping into every crack of my strained mind. I might have screamed, or tried to, but knew not if I actually succeeded—deeper and deeper I was dragged, clawing and drowning in heat and blackness and brimming, boiling, perfect pleasure.

It must have been an hour, maybe two—but no, it could only have been a few minutes later—when I finally opened my eyes, which were swimming with tears. My head was tilted back, neck aching from the angle, and Angrboda was gazing down at me, almost lovingly. She was slowly stroking the column of my throat with the tip of her first finger.

I blinked—felt a tear roll down into my hair—and swallowed hard. It hurt. My vision was pulsing and I seemed on the verge of fainting. Everything was hot and heavy and suffocating. I heard my own breaths loud in my ears, coming harshly and shallowly. The blood was pounding painfully behind my eyes and surely there were bruises wrapped around my neck.

Angrboda dragged her finger down, increasing the pressure until her nail was digging a line into my chest. When I winced, she smiled; clearly my discomfort brought her satisfaction.

“Ang… Angrboda…” I managed to utter, and she grinned, and she looked so glorious and dark and frightening above me.

“Yes, Loki?”

But I closed my eyes and exhaled sharply, hardly able to discern the pleasure from the aching. I couldn’t go another round, though, but I knew not if Angrboda knew that. When she pressed an openmouthed kiss to the top of my shoulder and bit me, I opened my eyes.

“I want you again,” she murmured.

“I cannot,” I said, hoping she would believe me.

Angrboda only laughed, lips hovering by my ear, voice dark and brimming with promise.

“Oh, but you will for me, Prince. You belong to me tonight.”

Her words set a cloud of fear through my mind.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked, attempting pointlessly to tug at the magical cords on my wrists.

“I saw you in the great hall,” Angrboda murmured, stretching out above me. She leaned down and brushed her lips over my cheek, down to the spot beneath my ear, and I was sure she could feel my fluttering pulse on her lips. “I wanted you. I want to do things to you…”

I slowly closed my eyes, helplessness seeping through me.

Angrboda shifted above me, and when I sluggishly opened my eyes, my stomach practically leapt into my throat. There was something in her hand that had not been there before, glinting silver in the firelight. I blinked and realized with a stab of terror that she held a dagger in her hand.

“What…?” I gasped, but was silenced immediately when she placed the tip of the blade against my lips. I stared wide-eyed up at her, wondering if she was about to kill me. Slowly Angrboda trailed the knife down over my chin to my chest. My heart sped up when she pressed the tip into my chest, and then my breath caught in my throat when she broke the skin. Sharp pain radiated outwards—and something strangely akin to pleasure—and I dug my nails into my palms. I groaned and tilted my head back as she dragged it diagonally across my chest, splitting my skin open, down farther over the ridges of my ribs and finally ending on my lower stomach, right below my navel.

“Ang—”

But she leaned down and captured my lips in a bruising kiss—most likely to silence me. When she drew away I licked my lips, gaze fixed on hers. I regarded Angrboda in a sort of petrified fascination as she lifted the knife, stuck her tongue out, and ran it along the edge, collecting my blood on her tongue. My cock twitched at the sight and I shifted beneath her. The corner of her lips curled upwards in a knowing smile.

“I could use your blood, you know,” she purred, turning the knife over to lick the other side.

“For what?” I mumbled.

“To make a potion,” she said, giving the knife another long lick.

“A potion?” I echoed dumbly.

“Yes,” she answered in a sigh, dragging herself down my body and positioning herself between my legs. “I could blind you… drive you insane… kill you…”

She licked her lips and lowered her head so her mouth was inches from the weeping cut she had just made.

“Make you love me…”

I closed my eyes when Angrboda ran the flat of her tongue up the long line she had made on my front, sliding smoothly over the pooling blood and sweat-slicked skin, heard her heavy breaths, the way she quietly moaned as if the taste of my blood aroused her. Angrboda lifted up on her arms above me and kissed me deeply. She thrust her tongue into my mouth and I could taste my own blood, and though I knew it to be obscene, the thought of it somehow did not disgust me, but rather incited me, and instinctively I bit her tongue.

Angrboda must have liked that, because she gasped my name, knotted her fingers in my hair, and yanked my head back, arching my neck. She kissed and licked and bit my neck, panting her satisfaction into my skin. I heard the faraway clatter of the knife as she dropped it over the side of the bed, felt her lift up to reach between us and grasp my cock. I stiffened when I felt a coldness seep into me, followed by a burning sensation, and within moments I was hard and gods, it hurt.

I cursed when she ran the tip of my cock up and down her sex, and I slid easily into her when she dropped down. I groaned brokenly, unable to distinguish the pain from the pleasure, or if it was all some sickening combination of the two.

Angrboda leaned forward, hair falling around her face like a fiery curtain, black eyes exuding want. She began moving on top of me, clearly focusing more on herself than me, and I closed my eyes, felt everything going through me, the pain on my front and between my legs, the sting of her scratches, all culminating inside me in this pulsing red cloud of pleasure.

I was gasping and panting, but they sounded like moans and Angrboda laughed in delight, thinking I wanted more, thinking I was enjoying it, but my body was screaming for her to stop, and at the same time another part of me was crying out for her to not stop, to please, please not stop, I was so close and it hurt but I did not want it to end.

It took a long time. Despite being unable to decide whether or not I wanted it, my body betrayed me, and I lifted up as much as I could and came without actually spilling into Angrboda, and rivulets of sharp, needlelike pain lanced through me as I crested on waves of agony—or ecstasy, I knew not—and collapsed back onto the bed, struggling for air, gasping in pain, and she dropped her head and I could feel the echoes of her own release around me. Angrboda lifted her head and laughed softly, hands splayed on my chest, nails digging deep; she moved her hips slowly now, riding out the fading waves of her own pleasure.

My entire body ached terribly. Pounding headache, muscles screaming, and a tight, sharp pain between my legs, intensified with every little movement. I did not want Angrboda to touch me anymore, I did not want to be here, I should never have come here with her.

“Angrboda, stop, please…” I breathed frantically.

In response, Angrboda lifted up off me and I sighed in relief, thinking perhaps that she had finally finished with me. She lay gingerly between my legs and began kissing me and moving down my body, pausing to suck and nibble at my torn skin. I tensed when she came to the spot between my legs; Angrboda sensed my anticipation and chuckled to herself, clearly enjoying my anxiety. Much to my dismay, she took my cock in her hands and I tensed, silently begging her to stop.

Angrboda tightened her grip on me and once again came that icy burning, and it was too much, and I shouted in pain, but I was rising to it nonetheless. Angrboda moved to lie on top of me, but continued stroking my rigid cock up and down, squeezing hard, twisting her hand, sending a consistent flow of magic into me. But this was not even remotely pleasurable—I squeezed my eyes shut, mouth hanging open, breaths coming in short, frantic, tormented pants, attempting unsuccessfully to focus on something other than the pain between my legs.

“Stop, stop—” I grimaced, but she didn’t, why didn’t she stop…

The heaviness of the air, her hand tight around me, never stopping, the taste of my blood on her breath, blackness and malice and her grinning voice whispering in my ear, and I wished I hadn’t come here, it wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t worth it, and I let out a pained sob.

“Angrboda, Ang—”

Abruptly, Angrboda lurched forward and covered my mouth with her hand, stifling what only sounded like a hoarse scream when I came. The pleasure I felt was immense, the pain shattering. Red and white bursts behind my eyelids, blood pounding in my head and behind my eyes, body so tight I thought my muscles would tear and my bones break. Nothing came out of me, and yet I was coming, this white-hot pleasure licking along my nerve endings, burning me up from the inside.

Angrboda released me and I collapsed back onto the bed, panting loudly, body shaking. I opened my eyes for only the briefest of moments before closing them again, saw her pleased expression as she reached to brush my hair back from my sweaty and flushed face.

“Open your eyes, Loki,” Angrboda murmured tenderly, and I did. She was gazing down at me, almost lovingly. She lowered her head and kissed my dry, bloody lips, but I did not react, I could not even move. My head fell to the side as she ran tender, fluttering kisses over my cheek and under my jaw, down farther to again lick at the cut she had made earlier.

Angrboda did not do much more for a long while after that. She kissed me and whispered what sounded like sweet nothings to me, but I could hardly discern a thing she said. My entire body ached, the spot between my legs was throbbing in pain, and my mind was cloudy. I hoped to the gods she had at last worn herself out, but my hopes were dashed when some time later—not long enough, it seemed—she sat up and grinned impishly.

“No,” I gasped softly, pain flaring inside at merely the anticipation. “No, don’t…”

Angrboda smiled. “But we only have the night, Loki.”

“Angrboda, please…”

She playfully shook her head no, immune to my pleas. She was enjoying it, though, taking pleasure in my pain.

I groaned loudly and tensed when Angrboda took me in her hand again and I felt the iciness of her magic seep into me. Within moments I was hard again and she slowly sank onto me; the warmth of her inner walls did nothing to alleviate the coldness of her spell and I fell back onto the bed, desperately willing it to be over.

Angrboda did not ride me hard like before. She slipped her arms beneath mine and affectionately cradled my head, trailed tender kisses over my face, panted quietly into my skin, explored my mouth with her warm tongue. She rode me slowly and gently, as if she was truly making love to me. I did not respond to her, however—I could not. My body was too heavy, I could barely keep my head facing towards the ceiling.

Through this muddled lethargy I wondered vaguely if she would keep me here all night, or how much time had passed already. It felt an eternity.

I drifted off, consumed by this darkness. The edges of my mind blurred and faded into red and black pleasure and pain as I sank lower until I could not see or breathe or think—all I could discern was the pressing blackness, the smell of blood and herbs and sour sweat, the flick of her tongue, the sting of her teeth, and her voice, always her sweet, murmured voice, never ceasing, in my ear, expanding in my mind, telling me how she would miss me when they found me, and though I might never see her again, I would always belong to her, and I was so lost I could believe it.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

1027 years earlier
Loki

All was dark and still. The fire had died long ago and the only light in the room emanated from its dying embers. Angrboda lay next to me, eyes closed and breaths coming evenly. She was nestled closely against me, leg draped over my hips, one hand resting on my chest.

I would have been thankful she had at last worn herself out, but I was entirely too frayed to consider much else. My wrists were still bound and though the iciness of her magic had devolved into a nearly imperceptible burn, I still could not break the bonds. If I was being honest with myself, however, I doubted if I could have even been able to stand up and walk out of here; and so I lay silent and unmoving, head turned away from her, eyes focused on nothing.

Eventually, she awoke.

“Loki…”

Angrboda stirred beside me and kissed my shoulder. She lifted up on one arm, curled her fingers gently beneath my chin, and turned my head towards her. I could barely see her face in the dimness of the room, but it mattered not. I slowly closed my eyes as she leaned forward to kiss my swollen, bloody lips. Her fingers ghosted delicately over my cheek, which stung from where she had slapped me so viciously earlier.

“I do not want you to forget me, Loki,” she murmured, brushing my hair away from my face.

Though I did not respond, I wanted to retort that it was impossible I should ever forget her. I suspected the memory of this dreadful night would plague me for long after.

“I will think of you when you are gone,” Angrboda admitted in a whisper, continuing to caress my cheek with her fingers.

I was somewhat surprised at the gentleness of her touch, in such contrast to her rough ministrations before. I opened my eyes to look at Angrboda as she pulled away. I did not understand how after everything it was not fear I felt now, nor despair, but a sort of resigned, muddled complacency. I was almost content to lie here, when all was said and done and she murmuring endearments to me.

Angrboda kissed me again, and for some reason—other than not being able to physically resist—I did not turn my head, but allowed her to slide her tongue past my lips to deepen the kiss. She curled her fingers on the back of my head, nestled even more closely against me, and the fuzziness in my weary mind increased.

I licked my lips when Angrboda broke the kiss and turned her head to trail tender, openmouthed kisses under my jaw and down my neck. I closed my eyes and exhaled softly, feeling her lips trace the bruises and bite marks she had made earlier, and the dull aching when she pushed a little too hard.

“Angrboda,” I breathed.

She lifted her head and planted an affectionate kiss below my jaw before reaching up to run her long fingers up my arm. I let out a breath of relief when I felt her magic dissipate, but my body was still so heavy. She gingerly wrapped her fingers around one of my arms to pull it down and I was astonished when she pressed her lips to my wrist, around which there was wrapped a raised red welt.

I watched her in a sort of confused fascination as she kissed the inside of my wrist, wondering if this was the same Angrboda who had bound me to her bed and taken such wicked delight in my pain. Her dark eyes flickered to mine and her bloodless lips curled into a grin, as if she had heard my thoughts.

Suddenly, there was the faraway sound of shouting, and moments later the door to Angrboda’s chambers burst open. Firelight flooded into the darkened room and Angrboda bolted upright; I turned my head almost lethargically towards the door and blinked hard, attempting to focus on the silhouette looming in the doorway.

“Loki!”

It was Snjallr and he sounded angry. He stormed into the room, followed by two Einherjar, and Angrboda moved backwards on the bed as they approached.

“Get up!” Snjallr roared.

He reached out, grabbed a fistful of my hair, and yanked me violently out of the bed. I screamed, I could not help it—Angrboda had been yanking on my hair all night and my scalp was incredibly tender. Somehow I managed to stumble to my feet, even though my legs were shaking. I almost fell down as Snjallr dragged me towards the door by my hair, fingers desperately trying to loosen his grip on me. He kept screaming, but in my state I could not tell what he was saying, only something about disobedient princes.

As soon as we were outside in the corridor, Snjallr released me. I stood there, trembling, and glanced at the two Einherjar who exited Angrboda’s chambers holding my discarded clothes and armor. I turned around, arms wrapped around myself, and caught a fleeting glimpse of Angrboda kneeling on her bed, eyes fixed on me, right before one of the Einherjar pulled the door closed with a resounding thud.

I slowly turned back around, only now noticing Snjallr and the Einherjar were not alone—four rock giants stood there, as well, a few of them holding bright, flaming torches. A wave of embarrassment swept through me, for they were all staring at me, taking in what their king’s mistress had done to me, seeing the gouges raked deep into my flesh, teeth marks on my neck and shoulders and thighs, blood and bruises and who knows what else sticking to my skin…

What would Father say? And Mother?

I hung my head when I thought of Mother, but did not have long to despair.

“Put your fucking clothes on,” Snjallr barked, inclining his head to the Einheri holding my pants. He handed them to me, but my hands were shaking so badly that I dropped them onto the floor.

Snjallr growled in irritation, snapped his fingers at the other Einheri, and the guard quickly removed his cloak and handed it to him.

“Do you know what you’ve done?” Snjallr scowled, wrapping the yellow cloak around me and giving the cord a vicious yank. “We thought you abducted or dead!”

I knew not the words to say, only winced as Snjallr grabbed my arm through the cloak and began hauling me away. I stumbled along after him, only vaguely aware of the Einherjar and rock giants following us.

“Where is that idiot?” Snjallr hissed, head snapping back and forth as he searched for the idiot, who I assumed to be Thor.

Moments later, my brother was pulled alongside us. He was so drunk he could barely walk; I had never before seen him so inebriated as he was now and wondered what had happened in my absence. He was covered from head to toe in blood and bruises and I suspected he had gotten into a fistfight of some sort with one of the rock giants.

“What the fuck happened to you?” Thor laughed at me, oblivious to Snjallr’s blistering glare.

“Shut up!” Snjallr ordered, glancing back at the Einherjar. “Get the others, we’re leaving immediately!”

“What?” Thor exclaimed, furrowing his brows. “Why?”

“Be silent!” Snjallr shouted, grabbing both of our arms and pulling us after him. When we finally made it outside, I despaired to see light spilling over the mountainsides, illuminating the early morning mist. The horrible truth sank in: Angrboda had kept me all night.

Snjallr had us piled into a carriage along with an Einheri and we were off to the Bifröst site. Thor had passed out and Snjallr’s face was the unhealthiest shade of red I had ever seen, and so I swallowed my discomfort and stared fixedly out of the window. Upon reaching the site, Snjallr exited the carriage and yanked me out so hard I stumbled against him and nearly fell onto the ground.

“Get off of me,” I snapped, but he had already released me to drag Thor out of the carriage.

Snjallr herded us onto the swirling pattern burned into the rocky ground not a day before. He stood between Thor and I, long bony fingers digging into our shoulders, and he looked up at the sky and shouted, “Heimdall!”

Immediately the grey-clouded sky split apart and I closed my eyes as we were taken up.

I was grateful when we hit solid ground, but my legs immediately gave out and I stumbled forward. Heimdall was off his high golden pedestal within seconds and caught me before I could catch myself on my arms, but I pulled away and quickly wrapped the Einheri’s cloak tighter around me. Heimdall’s golden eyes lingered, taking in the scratches on my face and my bloody lips.

“What happened?” he asked, deep voice rumbling almost angrily in his chest.

“Did you not see?” Snjallr snapped.

“I could see His Highness Prince Thor and the fight that broke out in the great hall, but Prince Loki disappeared from my sight shortly after the feast. I alerted the king, but he said you were not to be pulled up unless you ordered it.”

I furrowed my brows. Had Angrboda cast a spell over her rooms to shield us? But how could she have known Heimdall would be watching?

Snjallr gritted his teeth and turned to smack Thor in the back of the head when he began giggling to himself.

“Heimdall, call for horses,” Snjallr ordered.

“Where are you taking him?” Heimdall inquired, glancing at me.

“The king, where else do you think?” Snjallr responded curtly.

“Look at him,” Heimdall countered. “He can barely stand, he must be taken to Eir.”

“He will go to the Allfather first!” Snjallr shouted indignantly, long beard quivering.

Heimdall stared at him for a long moment before lowering his eyes. “Very well.”

We stood there for entirely too long waiting for our horses. Heimdall pulled up the rest of the Einherjar, who began trickling out and back to the palace by foot. Snjallr had me quickly change back into my clothes, and afterwards I leaned against the wall to steady myself.

I hardly knew what it was fulminating inside me—shame, despair, embarrassment, anger… and now Snjallr was going to drag me in front of Father and probably Mother and I did not think I could stand before them like this and see their faces when they found out what I had done, what had been done to me…

When the horses arrived, I refused help to mount and bit back a groan of pain as I pulled myself roughly up onto the horse. The ride back to the palace was nothing short of excruciating, but I bit my already torn lip, drawing more blood, gripping the reins so tightly my knuckles turned white, and endured in silence. Thor almost fell off his horse a few times, until an enraged Snjallr had an Einheri ride alongside him to help prop him up.

It was still dark here in Asgard, and I was ashamed to remember we had not even been gone a full day.

Finally, we made it to the palace, and Snjallr dragged Thor and I after him towards Father’s chambers. The dreadful churning in the pit of my stomach had not lessened since we had arrived and it only increased when we came to stand in front of Father’s doors. Snjallr demanded an audience with the king, admitting angrily that there had been an incident in Asgard involving the two princes. The guards unquestioningly obeyed and went to rouse the king.

I sucked in a breath when we entered. Snjallr stood there with us in Father’s receiving chamber until he emerged from his bedchamber, dressed only in a pair of dark brown pants and a loose blue tunic. His hard gaze landed on us and Snjallr began speaking.

“Your Majesty,” he said, giving a low bow. “I regret to inform you that the princes have made worse the relations between Asgard and Utgard.”

Father did not immediately reply, much to my shock. He came forward; my legs were shaking, though I could not tell if it was because I was anticipating his bursting into screaming, or because I was still weak. I did not meet his eyes, but continued staring down at the floor.

Father put his fingers under my chin and lifted my head. My eyes locked with his, saw his one blue eye roving over the bruises and cuts and bite marks. His gaze fell down to my neck, where a particularly nasty bite was protruding clearly out of my collar. He sighed, and I could not tell whether his visage was one of regret or disappointment.

He released me and regarded Snjallr coolly.

“What happened?” he asked calmly.

“Prince Loki has lain with Angrboda, mistress of King Skrýmir,” Snjallr answered promptly.

There was a beat of silence before Thor exclaimed in surprise and punched me in the shoulder. I grimaced and stumbled to the side.

“The king’s mistress for your first?” he sniggered. “Loki!”

Father stared distastefully at Thor. He turned away from me without another word, which sent disgrace lancing through me. I lowered my head again and thought I almost would rather have had him shout or rage at me instead of this silence.

“And this idiot?” Father remarked gruffly, and it was now that I heard the faint undercurrent of anger.

“Prince Thor wrestled King Skrýmir’s elderly nurse and then was involved in a drunken fight with Drekka, the king’s right hand, and broke his arm.”

Thor snickered, obviously still too drunk to realize the seriousness of the situation.

“Do you think this funny?” Father inquired calmly.

Thor tried to stop laughing, but could not contain himself. He beamed foolishly at Father, as if expecting him to burst into reciprocated laughter.

“Er, just a bit,” Thor admitted.

Father stiffened. “Do you know what you’ve done?”

When Thor shrugged, I saw Father clench his fists. He exhaled slowly.

Without even a glance at me, Father ordered, “Take Loki to Eir. Now. I will deal with Thor.”

Snjallr gave a short nod, grabbed me by the arm, and dragged me out of Father’s chambers. Once we were out in the corridor, I jerked away from him.

“Do not touch me,” I growled.

Snjallr scoffed. “Then hurry up.”

Snjallr and I headed towards the healing ward, which was just beginning to stir for the morning. One of the healers saw us when we arrived and came over, shock plain upon her face at my rather haggard appearance.

“May I help—?”

“We need to see Eir immediately,” Snjallr muttered.

The healer nodded. “Yes, right away.”

She hurried away and moments later she and Eir came back. Eir’s incredibly observant gaze traveled up and down the length of my body once, taking in my pained stance and the bruises and scratches on my face.

“Loki, what happened?”

“His Highness got himself into trouble in Utgard,” Snjallr ground out. “The Allfather has ordered him here.”

Eir pursed her lips, not bothering to hide her displeasure with Snjallr’s tone.

“Come,” she said, and she turned and I followed. Snjallr moved to trail along, but Eir snapped without a backwards glance, “You will wait outside, Ambassador.”

Snjallr grumbled to himself, but obeyed. Eir led me into a private room with a table in the middle. This was where she conducted examinations; I had been in here many times before, usually when Thor went too far during our training sessions.

Eir shut the door behind us and turned on me.

“Loki, what happened?” she asked again, her voice having lost some of its composure.

Eir reached out to touch me, but withdrew when I flinched. I opened my mouth to reply, but faltered. How was I supposed to admit to Eir what had transpired in Utgard? To explain to her everything Angrboda had done to me… and so I only repeated what Snjallr had told Father.

“I… I lay with the king’s mistress,” I confessed, not meeting her eyes.

Eir was silent for a long moment, likely speculating as to why I was standing here for something like that.

“Go ahead and remove your armor,” Eir instructed gently. She went to the other side of the room and began rifling through some of the bottles on her table. I paused, reluctant, but knew it was for the best. I began undressing until I stood there in naught but my pants.

Eir turned around, but stopped short when she saw the large winding cut on my front, made by Angrboda’s knife. Dried blood crusted the split skin and it was evident where Angrboda had licked and smeared my blood.

“Your pants, too,” Eir added softly. “Sit up on the table for me.”

I pulled my pants off and hoisted myself up onto the table, wincing at the deep aching in my muscles. I stared fixedly down at the floor, fingers gripping the edge a little too tightly. Eir stood silently behind me, no doubt studying the various marks adorning my back.

I did not think it physically possible to feel any more shame. I wanted to sink down into the table, through the floor, ease this prickling on my skin from her clinical gaze. She could see everything Angrboda had done to me and I could hardly imagine what she must be thinking.

Eir placed her hands on my shoulders, and despite the comforting coolness of her touch, I tensed up. She made a small humming sound, encouraging me to relax, and ran her hands down my back. I exhaled in relief as I felt the warmth of her magic seep into me, healing me. The heat relaxed my aches, relieved the sharp stinging on my back, and my muscles seemed to uncoil.

“Lie down,” Eir directed, and I hesitated only for a moment before silently obeying.

Eir’s eyes flickered down to the cut on my front. She put one hand on my chest and gradually moved it down, sending more of her seidr into me. I stared up at the ceiling as my skin knitted back together, attempting not to think of Angrboda’s tongue tracing the weeping cut as Eir touched me. Her magic was so different from the ice of Angrboda’s—it actually felt good, like many fingers tenderly caressing away the soreness.

“Is that better, Loki?” Eir inquired.

I nodded and closed my eyes.

Eir moved to my face. She gently traced the marks Angrboda had made with her sharp nails, down over my lips which were torn and bloody. Soon enough, my skin was once again pale and smooth, and not a physical trace remained of Angrboda’s dark and vicious fervor.

I sat up and Eir offered me a small smile.

“You may dress.”

I slipped off the table, wincing in anticipation, but was pleasantly surprised when I felt no pain, save for a barely noticeable aching between my legs. I felt a surge of appreciation for Eir. Snjallr had screamed at me and Father had exuded disappointment, but Eir, lovely, understanding Eir…

Once I was finished dressing, Eir said my name.

I regarded her carefully; her expression told me she had gleaned what had happened between Skrýmir’s mistress and me, for she was an incredibly perceptive woman. She was not chief healer in Asgard for nothing.

“Loki…”

I was still, dreading for some reason the words that might come out of her mouth.

She hesitated, but then sighed. “If you feel anything… feel ill or have any problems, physically or…” she tapped her temple lightly, “mental, please come to me. Will you do that?”

I nodded.

“Good. You may go, Loki.”

“Thank you, Eir,” I murmured, and she smiled sadly at me as I left.

But I did not go to her again, even when I began having the nightmares.

I would bolt up in the middle of the night, paralyzed with fear, body drenched in a cold sweat, breaths coming in rapid pants, and always I was hard. I did not understand it, but did not want to. The nightmares were constantly the same—darkened, muddled images of Angrboda and I, sometimes making love, with her kissing me as she had in the last hour we had spent together, but always it turned to pain and pleasure and hurt.

In the beginning, I would get up and pour myself a cup of wine. I’d pace around my bedchamber, cup shaking in my hand, attempting to drown out the obvious desire coursing hotly through me, and to still my trembling nerves, but it kept happening and it would not stop; once a week at first, then twice, three times a week. I despaired how I could be so aroused for these nightmares, but I could take it no longer.

One night when I awoke and was painfully hard, images of her still drifting through my mind, the prickling of her nails and the scrape of her sharp teeth still lingering on my sweaty skin, I grasped myself and rolled my head back. Dread churning inside, delicious heat, imagined her kissing me, biting me, digging her nails into my skin, hurting me, and I came hard, body tight, traitorous desire spilling out of me.

I lay there afterwards for a long time on my back, staring up at the ceiling, wondering in almost bitter anguish how I could possibly feel pleasure at the thought of her and what she had done to me.

Two months passed in this manner, but the nature of the dreams eventually shifted. Soon it was not Angrboda hurting me, but it was I hurting her, making her scream, begging me to hurt her or finish her, and I savored the thought of doing to her what she had done to me.

I was eaten up with thoughts of Angrboda, even during the day, and never could decide if it was with animosity that I thought of her, or some kind of longing. Thor asked me multiple times if something was wrong, citing that I had been more withdrawn and even moodier than usual, but I always snapped at him to mind his own business.

It was maddening, however, and I desperately craved a distraction—anything to keep my mind off Angrboda, even if in some small part I came to anticipate and enjoy it—and it finally came in the form of my little blonde chambermaid.

One morning, nearly three months after Utgard, I was running late for my morning lesson with Master Elding. I was supposed to turn in an essay on the ancient military dynamics of Asgard, but had not finished it the night before—or the night before that—due to my attempt to get so drunk as to keep Angrboda away. The attempt had been unsuccessful.

I was frantically scribbling away at my desk in my bedchamber, cursing to myself when I smeared the ink or had to scratch something out for my carelessness, when I heard the door in my other room open. I knew it was my chambermaid come to tidy my rooms for the day, so I ignored it and continued writing.

A few minutes passed before I heard a small squeak.

My hand slipped and my pen scratched across the paper. I raised my head in annoyance. My chambermaid was standing in the doorway to my bedchamber, hands clapped over her mouth.

“Oh, Your Highness!” she exclaimed. “Please forgive me, I thought you had left for the day—”

“It is no matter,” I snapped. “Do whatever you need to, just don’t make any noise.”

“Yes, of course, Your Highness,” she remarked quickly, giving a little bow before coming into the room.

I turned my attention back to the paper, unable to remember where I had been going with my point. Likely nowhere, as it was of shit quality anyway and Master Hauknefr would probably make me rewrite it.

The chambermaid began cleaning, picking up clothes from my floor, straightening and wiping down the surfaces. A few minutes passed before I perceived a low humming sound. I paused, pondering only briefly if I was hearing things, before realizing with a pang of irritation it was my empty-headed chambermaid humming to herself.

I pressed my lips together in exasperation. Despite my having told her to be quiet, I figured she was lost in her own thoughts and suspected she did it every day as a habit. For the life of me I couldn’t remember her name, though I believed it started with an S. It was not like it mattered, though; I turned around in my chair, about to tell her to shut up, but stopped suddenly.

My chambermaid was bent over my bed, pulling at the crimson sheets so she could rearrange them to make the bed. My bed was high and she was short and I gazed at her plump backside, the outline of her wide hips prominent through her servant’s dress. My grip tightened on my pen when a rivulet of heat streaked through my body, straight to the spot between my legs.

I turned around in my chair when she straightened up. Her hum progressed to low singing.

“Be quiet, will you?” I snapped, staring down at my unfinished essay.

She immediately went silent, but the image of her bent over my bed lingered in my mind. When she finally finished in my bedchamber and moved to my bath chamber, I scribbled down my jumbled thoughts into a pathetic conclusion and quickly gathered my things.

Just as I left, I heard my chambermaid chirp, “Have a good day, Your Highness!”

I completely forgot about it until later that day during the afternoon feast. I was sitting there in a bitter silence, fingers wrapped tightly around my cup, brooding over Master Elding’s tongue lashing this morning, and Mother’s subsequent speech of disapproval afterwards about my being late to lessons and my recent lack of focus, when I noticed my chambermaid.

She was halfway across the great hall, standing with a small group of women who also appeared to be servants. She was laughing at something, head tilted back and hands on her stomach. I studied her, unexpectedly remembering this morning when I had caught sight of her bent over my bed.

Just as I wondered impulsively what she looked like naked, Thor elbowed me in the side.

I gritted my teeth and glanced over.

“What are you doing?” he inquired.

“What?”

“What are you staring at?” he clarified.

“Er, nothing. I’m just… thinking.”

“About what?” he insisted, taking a draught of wine.

“Why does it matter?”

Thor shrugged. “It does not. It’s just you look angry all the time.”

I drained my cup. “Don’t I usually?”

“Yes, but more as of late than usual,” he observed. “Hey, why don’t we go hunting tomorrow? Will that cheer you up?”

I rolled my eyes. “I am not in need of cheering, brother.”

“Yes you are, you’ve been sulking ever since Utgard.”

I pursed my lips. I hated when Thor brought Utgard up, despite the fact that neither of us had really been punished. In fact, and oddly enough, Father had never even mentioned the ordeal after we’d left his chambers that morning. The only good thing to come of it, I thought, was that Snjallr had been banished to Midgard for failing so spectacularly in his duties.

“Come, it shall be fun!” Thor encouraged.

“I don’t particularly care for hunting,” I rejoined.

“But you like killing things, don’t you?” he asked, waggling his eyebrow.

Admittedly I found that funny, and Thor grinned when I glanced away to hide my small smile. He clapped me on the shoulder before turning around to call for more wine. I turned my attention back to the other side of the hall, but unfortunately my chambermaid and her friends had dispersed. I quickly slid back into a gloomy mood.

That night as I lay in my bed, already half drunk in anticipation of Angrboda’s nightly visit, my disarrayed thoughts wandered casually to my chambermaid. I closed my eyes and imagined her making my bed, bent over as she attempted to reach the sheets. Me coming up behind her, running my hands over her hips, up her sides, feeling her little body pushing back against me in invitation. Lowering my head to meet her parted lips when she turned her head to moan my name, voice laced with want…

And for the first time in a long time, it was not Angrboda I thought of, nor Angrboda I envisioned and came to, but my wisp of a chambermaid.

The next morning, I made myself purposefully late for my lessons, never mind that I would be chastised by Mother for being late for the second time this week. The truth was, I desired to see my chambermaid again, despite never previously having been attentive enough to remember her name. Part of me felt foolish, for I was the prince and she nothing, but I also had never felt like this before.

This time when my chambermaid entered, she smiled widely upon seeing me seated at my table, an open book before me.

“Good morn, Your Highness,” she beamed.

I gave her a half-nod, but otherwise did not speak. She did not seem to mind, however, and turned away to begin her morning ritual of tidying my chambers. My eyes followed her as she moved and I observed with some amusement that her dress did not even fit properly—it was slightly too large for her.

Eventually she made it to the table, where she wiped up a small wine spill from the night before. When she lifted the flagon of wine and perceived that it was empty, she said, “Would Your Highness like me to fetch you another flagon of wine?”

“No, not right now,” I responded, gaze briefly drifting down to her open collar, where her pale chest peeked through. “Er, thank you.”

“Would you like two flagons for tonight?”

“Two?” I echoed, studying the light sprinkling of freckles over her nose and cheeks.

“I have noticed Your Highness finishes this flagon every night now. Would you like two so you do not run out?”

I cocked an eyebrow. “Are you calling me a drunk?”

Her lips parted in horror. “Oh, no, Your Highness! I did not mean to imply—oh, please forgive me!”

I snickered at her terrified expression as she frantically tried to explain herself, though I had taken no actual offense.

“It is just that Prince Thor keeps two in his chambers and I was wondering if you also would like two, I did not mean—”

“You clean Thor’s chambers?” I interrupted, surprised at the little flare of jealously I felt.

“Oh, no,” she replied. “Safnabrýnn cleans Prince Thor’s chambers. I am entirely yours, Your Highness.”

I knew she meant that she cleaned only my chambers, but I took pleasure in briefly imagining her repeating that last statement, except much more breathlessly and brokenly.

“Oh, er…” I paused, forgetting momentarily what I was going to say. “Yes, I’d like two flagons tonight, Ssss…?”

“Sigyn,” she finished with a smile, impervious to the fact that I had not known her name to begin with. She seemed more excited that I had asked.

“Sigyn,” I repeated, and I smirked as she moved on to continue cleaning.

I left shortly after, and while Master Elding blathered on about how disappointed Mother would be that I was neglecting my lessons like this, I fantasized about bending Sigyn over my table and fucking her until she was screaming my name.

That night, and the next few nights after, I touched myself to the thought of Sigyn, banishing thoughts of Angrboda, and realized I would not be able to move past this without resolution. Sigyn was a far sweeter thing to imagine than Angrboda, for with her it was I who was always in control, and I envisioned doing to Sigyn the things Angrboda had done to me.

I knew not why, but I took great pleasure in imagining Sigyn squirming beneath me, crying my name out, raking her nails down my back as I made her come undone, begging me for more as I emptied myself inside her. I just could not get it out of my mind—I wanted her and I was determined to have her.

I began to linger longer and longer in the mornings, making small talk with her, which she evidently enjoyed. Sigyn loved to talk, but I was never bored watching her, so I tolerated it.

Mother reprimanded me more than once about being late to my lessons, but I did not care. There was something new and exciting now, and hearing Master Elding ramble on about long dead generals did not hold nearly as much interest as my pretty little chambermaid.

I knew what I wanted, but much to my consternation, past a certain point, had no idea how to get it. I had never before attempted to seduce a woman and did not think my experience with Angrboda something appropriate to draw off of, and so tentatively I sought Thor’s help.

He demanded to know who it was I was trying to pursue before he would help me, and grudgingly I admitted it was my chambermaid.

“Your chambermaid?” he laughed, taking a draught of wine. We were sitting in his chambers, having taken our midday meal together between lessons. “What’s her name?”

“Sigyn.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve seen her. She’s very pretty. Have you been talking to her?”

“Yes.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “She just likes to talk. Usually I can ask one question and she’ll ramble on for the next half hour.”

“You probably bore her so she has to talk to keep herself entertained,” he chuckled.

I rolled my eyes. “Have you got any useful advice?”

“Yes,” Thor stated, composing himself. “You don’t want to be too forward. Compliment her. Make her feel comfortable around you.”

“I am sure she is, considering how much she likes to talk,” I replied.

“Alright, now you get her a gift.”

“A gift?”

“Yes! Women love gifts! It lets her know you’re interested.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Jewels. Dresses. Scents, things like that.”

I glanced away, unsure. “Er, alright…”

And so that afternoon I went to the royal jeweler and commissioned him to craft a necklace for my chambermaid. It was ready within a few days, and one morning soon after I stayed behind so I could see Sigyn. She was beyond pleased to see me and her blue eyes widened when I presented her with a small wooden box.

“What is that?” she inquired curiously.

“You must open it,” I said, setting the box on my table.

Sigyn suddenly appeared unsure, but she flipped the latch and lifted the lid. Upon a bed of black silk lay a gold necklace. The design was not terribly intricate, as I figured Sigyn would not like something so ornate. It was undoubtedly much nicer than the simple leather thong she wore around her neck most mornings, though.

Sigyn slowly looked up at me.

“Th—this is for me?” she whispered.

“Yes,” I answered with a little smile. “Do you like it?”

“It… it is very…”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Why did you give this to me?” she wondered quietly, and I felt apprehension. Perhaps it was time I made clear my intentions.

“It is… I think you are very beautiful, and you should wear beautiful things,” I explained, hoping I did not sound foolish. Thor had told me that women liked compliments, and I thought that sounded like something a woman would like to hear. Not that I was so absurdly sentimental, but whatever it took to have her warm up to me.

Sigyn stared at me for a long moment before slowly glancing back down at the necklace.

“I… I should begin work,” she said softly, and she closed the lid and my heart fell. I cursed Thor for his stupidity and my own.

“Do you not like it?” I asked, desperate to salvage the conversation.

She paused. “I do, but…”

I took a step towards her. “But what?”

“You are the prince of Asgard,” she answered quietly. “I am naught but a servant, it is inappropriate…”

So she knew exactly what was going on. At least now there were no disillusions—all I had to do now was get her to submit, which was turning out to be harder than I’d hoped. Sigyn puzzled me, though; I would have thought a woman of such little standing would be thrilled at the opportunity to share my bed, considering my rank.

I briefly recalled how Angrboda had practically forced herself onto me and thought I would not mind doing that with Sigyn, but with how timid she seemed, I decided that far from the best course of action. As much as the thought might have currently appealed to me, nothing would be gained with Sigyn by dragging her to my bed and forcing myself onto her.

“Will you at least try it on?” I persisted, lifting the necklace out of the box. “Surely you will not be so rude as to refuse a gift?”

Sigyn bit her plump bottom lip, which distracted me momentarily. She dithered about for only a few seconds before turning around and reaching up to pull her long braid out of the way. I grinned to myself as I clasped the necklace around her neck. She had a small, willowy neck, and I purposefully let my fingers brush against her soft skin.

Sigyn turned back around and touched the necklace, which admittedly looked odd paired with her servant’s garb.

“It is very beautiful, Your Highness,” she murmured.

“Loki,” I corrected, and she glanced up. “You may call me Loki.”

She continued gazing at me and I figured it was now or never. I curled my fingers under Sigyn’s chin, suppressing my own nervousness, and thinking this the gentlest route, lifted her head, lowered mine, and pressed my lips to hers. Much to my relief, she did not immediately pull away.

I went to deepen the kiss, but Sigyn turned her head.

“Your Highness…”

“No,” I uttered, leaning down and turning my head to kiss her neck. “Loki…”

She tilted her head, but once again did not pull away, which was a good sign.

“Loki, I cannot…”

“Why?” I whispered, letting my tongue wet the smooth skin below her jaw.

Just as I went to place my hands on her sides, she shook her head and pulled away. I controlled myself and remained still, despite my frustration.

“I cannot,” she repeated, shaking her head, but I could tell she was still unsure and I took advantage.

I lifted my arm and traced my thumb over her warm cheek.

“Sigyn, I desire you.”

Her lips were trembling and suddenly I realized she was afraid, and so I was beyond surprised when she admitted in a frightened whisper, “And I you, but…”

My lips curled upwards in a toothless smile. “But what?”

“I have never… I am not…” she whispered unsurely.

“Hmm?”

“I have never lain… with a man,” she breathed, eyes downcast as if she was ashamed. “I would not know how to please Your Highness…”

I felt a flare of desire at her admission. So Sigyn would be to me as I had been to Angrboda. The thought of that excited me—it would not be me who knew nothing and I could explore my own desires with her.

I chuckled softly, which drew Sigyn’s meek gaze upwards.

“That does not lessen my desire for you,” I assured her, feeling more confident now.

I lowered my head again and tenderly kissed her parted lips. I placed my hand below Sigyn’s jaw, lifted her face up, and pushed my fingers up into her hair, pulling her closer so she was pressed against me. Sigyn put her hands on my arms and whimpered when I deepened the kiss, languidly exploring her mouth with my tongue.

I could tell she was still anxious, and not wishing to frighten her before it had even begun, I broke the kiss and drew away. Her eyes fluttered open and she sucked on her bottom lip. Strands of light blonde hair stuck haphazardly out from where I had pulled my fingers out of her hair; I smirked in amusement at her flustered expression.

Not wasting any time, I turned smoothly around so I was standing behind her. Sigyn stiffened when I pulled her into my arms and turned my head to kiss the side of her neck. She relaxed slightly against me and tilted her head to the side. Obviously some part of her liked my attentions, otherwise she would not have allowed me to touch her so.

“I want you,” I confessed, brushing my lips over her warm skin. I placed my hands on her hips and felt relief when she did not immediately shove me away. I drew my hands upwards, feeling her curves through her dress, imagining how she would feel naked against me. Sigyn covered my hands with hers, but did not stop me, and finally I cupped her breasts, which were large and deliciously round.

“Why?” she whispered.

“Because you are very beautiful,” I answered, gently kneading her breasts, hoping she would like that. In truth, I was still somewhat unsure about all of this, and did not know what Sigyn would like or how she would react.

I pressed my mouth to the spot beneath Sigyn’s ear, causing her breath to hitch. I could feel her pulse fluttering against my lips as I lowered my hands to the front of her hips and pulled her against me, and she gasped softly when she felt my length against her backside.

“See what you do to me?” I teased, giving her earlobe a playful little nip.

Sigyn squeezed my fingers, more out of nervousness than anything.

“Your Highness…”

“Loki,” I reminded her, kissing her neck and nudging my hips against her.

“Loki,” she breathed uncertainly. “I…”

I continued kissing her, trailing kisses up and down her neck and beneath her ear, hoping I was melting away any resolve, hoping she would submit to me.

But much to my disappointment, Sigyn pulled away.

“I am sorry, Your Highness…”

My arms fell to my sides as she turned to face me. I could tell she was terribly conflicted, but if that had not convinced her, I knew not else what to do short of dragging her to my bed whether she wished it or not, and I was not prepared to do that either. We had come to an impasse and really there was no question as to what would happen next.

I watched in silence as Sigyn unclasped the necklace and placed it gingerly into the box on the table.

“Very well,” I muttered, attempting not to sound so virulent. “You are dismissed.”

Sigyn lowered her head, obviously ashamed, but departed. I stood there for a long moment, staring ahead, incensed now by the persistent aching between my legs, a bitter reminder of my failure to seduce a common fucking maid.

Anger welled up inside me and I grabbed the box on the table and hurled it against the wall, where it snapped in two. The necklace flew out of the box and its delicate links came undone and broke when it hit the floor. I fell back into one of the chairs by the table, frustrated with both Sigyn and my inexperienced self.

I could practically hear Angrboda laughing at me, that even a lowly little servant would not have me, a prince of Asgard. I almost wished I could see Angrboda again—in that moment I truly wanted to hurt her, and to satisfy this maddening want.

My desire faded soon enough, though the anger did not. I went bitterly to Master Elding’s chambers for my morning history lesson, but when for the thousandth time he began rebuking me for not taking my education seriously, I told him to shut up and that I did not have to listen to this. He stared at me, shocked, before ordering me to leave his chambers.

Mother summoned me soon afterwards, no doubt to lecture me about my behavior towards Master Elding, but I did not go to her, which I knew would also incur Father’s displeasure, but I simply did not care. All I could think of was Sigyn’s rejection of me and the only thing that could take my mind off of it was fighting. And so, I spent the whole day in the training yard, sparring with Einherjar.

When I was too exhausted to fight anymore, I returned to my chambers and tumbled into bed. I hardly cared that I would miss the afternoon feast, and as I drifted off, I decided that I would ask for Sigyn to be transferred to another position in the palace.

The next morning, I readied myself for my lessons. I was not late—rather, early—and so was surprised when I heard a light knocking on my door. I glanced over and paused when it opened and Sigyn uncertainly peeked in. She entered and shut the door carefully behind her. It was not time for her to come here, so obviously cleaning was not her intent.

“You’re a bit early, aren’t you?” I said blandly.

Sigyn bit her lip, but did not respond, and I watched her curiously as she walked over and came to stand in front of me, twisting her fingers uneasily in front of her.

“Your Highness, please forgive me for yesterday. I… I wanted to, but did not… I did not think myself ready…”

My resentment softened somewhat at her admission, and suddenly my anger the day before seemed unwarranted and almost childish.

“If it pleases Your Highness,” she whispered uncertainly, “I would not mind to try again…”

My lips parted in surprise and I felt a swell of pleasure. I smiled, though more in smug satisfaction than happiness. Sigyn lifted up on her toes, for she was so much shorter than me, and I lowered my head to kiss her. She tentatively placed a hand on my chest, as if she was not sure if she could touch me or not. I pulled her close, deepening the kiss, feeling myself responding already.

When Sigyn broke the kiss and looked down, breathing hard, I put my fingers under her chin and lifted her head.

“Do you want me, Sigyn?”

“Yes,” she answered breathlessly.

I grinned triumphantly and turned her around, not wanting to wait another minute, and began gently tugging at the laces up her back. Some part of me still expected Sigyn to pull away and begin apologizing profusely and tell me she had made a mistake, but instead she reached up and pulled her braid out of the way. Once the laces were loosened, I wrapped my arms around her waist and kissed the back of her neck and the side.

“I am sure you would find my bed comfortable,” I murmured, lightly biting her.

Sigyn turned her head so our lips were nearly touching. I kissed her, taking her silence as acquiescence. I led her into my bedchamber, still expecting at any moment for her to change her mind. I turned to face her next to my bed, excitement bubbling in the pit of my stomach, astounded that it was actually happening.

Sigyn was still outwardly anxious, so I guided her hands to unclothe me. I watched her face the entire time, a smile tugging at my lips as she gradually removed my clothing. When I finally stood there in nothing but my leather pants, my surcoat and tunic discarded on the floor, Sigyn studied me. She reached out and lightly touched my chest, trailing her fingers down as she inquisitively explored the outlines of my abdominal muscles.

She hesitated when she came to the laces of my pants, but after a moment obviously gathered the courage to undo them. I pulled my pants down, finishing the job for her, and kicked them off so I stood there naked. Sigyn’s eyes flickered down to my cock, which stood ready, and her cheeks immediately flushed. I could not help it—I laughed.

Sigyn appeared embarrassed, but I stepped closer and she raised her head to look at me. I took her hand in mine and guided it between my legs, anticipation coursing through me. Sigyn bit her lip when I wrapped her fingers around my cock, and I exhaled sharply as pleasure lanced through me; I pressed my hips forward, encouraging her to touch me.

Her hands were somewhat rough from her work, but it only served to accentuate the pleasure building between my legs. Sigyn nervously explored me, never tearing her eyes from my face; her fingers felt wonderful around my rigid flesh, unhurriedly moving up and down, lightly squeezing, brushing over my tip.

When I shivered involuntarily, Sigyn could not help a giggle and let go of me to cover her mouth. Unable to wait any longer, I pushed her hand away and leaned down to kiss her.

“Sigyn,” I breathed, and she gasped when I grabbed two fistfuls of her dress and pulled it and her underlayer up over her head. She shyly glanced away as I dropped them to the floor. My gaze roved hungrily up and down her naked body, drinking in the sight of her large, rosy pink nipples, fleshy hips, and the triangle of golden curls between her thighs.

Feeling as if I would come at any moment, I pushed Sigyn back onto the bed. She pulled herself backwards, eyes once again focused on my face as I crawled in after her. I pried her legs apart and hovered above her, hearing the heaviness of her breaths even though she tried to hide it. I did appreciate Sigyn’s beauty—her body was lusciously pale against my crimson sheets, lips a delicious red from her constantly biting them in her apprehension. Certainly she was more beautiful than Angrboda.

Sigyn stared up at me with those wide blue eyes as I studied her body, and I was struck by the similarity, how this had been Angrboda and I, except now it was I who knew what I wanted.

I quickly dismissed that thought, not wishing to think of Angrboda now, and supported myself above Sigyn with one hand, letting my lower half come to rest against her. She gasped as I cupped her right breast with my hand. I watched her face, gauging her reaction. Despite my own desires, Sigyn was not Angrboda and probably would not appreciate me treating her like my giantess.

When I lowered my head and wrapped my lips around Sigyn’s nipple, she panted my name and arched her back. Her fingers ghosted over my arms, as if she was afraid to touch me, and without lifting my head from her breast, I grabbed one of her hands and placed it on the back of my head. Her fingers immediately curled in my hair, followed quickly by her other hand.

I swirled my tongue around Sigyn’s nipple, sucking it to hardness, and scraped my teeth across her soft, puckered flesh. She squeezed her legs on my sides as I licked and sucked at her, and I could feel the wetness pooling between her thighs, practically smell her heady desire lingering in the air and driving me crazy.

One minute later I switched to her other breast, coaxing a trembling moan from Sigyn, and felt the curls between her legs tickling my stomach. As I lavished affection on her breasts, I moved my hand down her side, over the curve of her hip, trailing my fingers through the crease on the front of her thigh, until my fingers slid into the wet heat of her womanhood.

Sigyn stiffened beneath me and made a small sound of surprise when I touched her there, but her body gradually relaxed. As I kneaded that little bud at the top of her sex, I glanced up and smirked when I saw Sigyn’s head rolled back, chest rising and falling with each harried breath. Sigyn’s breath caught in her throat when I lowered my hand and slipped a finger inside her. The maddening sounds she was making—the broken moans and panting gasps that sounded like my name—were only serving to further arouse me.

I withdrew my glistening fingers from between Sigyn’s spread legs, which drew a small sound of protest, and positioned myself to enter her. I grasped my cock and ran the tip of it through her wet folds, shuddering at the sensation. Anticipation churned in the pit of my stomach, desire coursing hotly through me.

Sigyn opened her bright blue eyes and moved to hold onto my arms, realizing what was about to happen. I pressed my hips forward, groaned when I slipped inside her, felt her nails dig into my skin and her body tense beneath me. She squeezed her eyes shut and bit her lip, and I felt some resistance within. I thrust my hips forward, and Sigyn’s discomforted groan mingled with my own.

I held myself there, buried to the hilt inside her, entire body on fire. I closed my eyes, thought I could almost feel her heartbeat around me. Sigyn tightened her grip on my arms and I winced before slowly opening my eyes. She was staring up at me, nervousness evident in the tightness of her body, and I was surprised to see tears caught in her lashes.

I bent my arms and lowered myself onto her. I kissed Sigyn on the mouth, felt her bottom lip trembling against mine. Realizing suddenly that I had hurt her, I brushed a few loose strands of hair away from her face and murmured her name.

“Loki,” she whimpered.

I slowly pulled out of her and then pushed back in, eyes trained on her face. Sigyn arched her back and let out a shallow breath as I continued my languorous movements, resisting the urge to fuck her senseless, attempting to ease the discomfort of my intrusion. When Sigyn no longer appeared to be in pain, I rose back up on my arms, wanting now to satisfy this persistent aching between my legs.

Continuing to rock my hips against hers, I ran one hand down Sigyn’s side, over her hip until I hooked my hand behind her knee. I pulled it against my side, and she moaned with the change in position. When she looked up at me, and her lips parted and she gasped my name, I beamed triumphantly.

The thought that Sigyn had refused me before, but come back and given herself to me, filled me with some sense of victory. I could not help my satisfied grin as I fucked her, savoring her melodic gasps and sweet, wavering moans, the way she moved to dig her nails into my back and arched up against me.

I closed my eyes and quickened my rhythm, losing myself in the feel of her so tight and hot around me. Sigyn pulled me closer and I bit out her name before leaning down to hungrily kiss her, thrusting my tongue past her teeth to sloppily explore her mouth. Her breasts were soft against my chest, body so warm and yielding and perfect beneath me, encouraging my release.

Craving more, I lifted up, grabbed Sigyn’s wrists, and pinned them roughly next to her head. Sigyn was panting loudly, wide eyes fixed on me, and I increased the force of my thrusts. She let out a long, lilting moan, and then broken gasps every time my hips slammed into hers. Harder, faster, seeing the sheen of sweat on her flushed chest, the way she balled her hands into fists, arched her back, the slick, filthy sounds of our bodies coming together over and over and over loud in the silence of my chambers…

My release came quickly and abruptly—I buried myself to the hilt inside Sigyn, head lifted up, body frozen against hers as I spilled myself deep inside her. My mouth fell open in a silent groan as my mind blanked, ecstasy surging through me, drowning all senses in this pounding pleasure.

It only seemed a few seconds later, I opened my eyes and blinked hard. I glanced down—Sigyn was staring up at me, still pinned to the bed. I wondered vaguely if she had come, I had not even noticed. Slowly I lowered myself onto her and released her wrists. I tenderly kissed her lips, breaths warm on her face, and touched my nose to hers.

“Sigyn,” I whispered.

She made a soft sound in the back of her throat, like she could not speak. I kissed her lips, recalling how much I had enjoyed seeing Angrboda come, despite the nature of that night. I moved to kiss Sigyn’s flushed cheek, and then her jaw and the spot below her ear. She squeezed her legs on me and sighed gently.

An idea took form in my mind. I was still hard inside her—perhaps from the excitement of finally taking a woman on my own—and I rolled us over. Sigyn gasped and caught herself on her arms. I ran my hands up her sides and then back down to clutch her wide hips.

She gazed down at me, strands of her braid having come lose that now hung messily around her face. I sat up and she leaned back, as if wary of me, despite the fact she was still seated fully on my cock. I splayed my hand on her sweaty back and pulled her close so our fronts were touching. I kissed her on the mouth, lethargically pushed my tongue past her lips, and grabbed her hand and placed it on my shoulder.

Sigyn put her other hand on my shoulder, almost tentatively, and I turned my head to trail kisses up and down her neck. Her breaths were coming more heavily now and realizing what I wanted her to do, she lifted up on her knees and dropped back down. I groaned and pressed a lusty, openmouthed kiss to her chest, knowing very well I could come again if she kept this up.

I fell back onto the bed, guiding her movements with my hands. Though I felt another orgasm building, I watched Sigyn’s face intently, mesmerized by her euphoric visage. Clearly she was enjoying herself now, what with the way she kept bucking her hips against mine and gasping in pleasure every time our bodies came together.

Sigyn rode me until she came, and I soon after. Her hands were splayed on my stomach, head tilted to the side, skin flushed and chest heaving with each heavy breath. Before the waves of her release had even faded around me, I pulled her down to me and kissed her openmouthed. Sigyn eagerly returned the kiss, threading her fingers through my hair.

I rolled us back over so I was on top of her once again, and proceeded to pepper her sweat-slicked skin with kisses before rolling off of her. We lay there on our backs in silence, allowing our breaths to slow.

After a while longer, Sigyn stirred and sat up. She slid off the bed and I studied her as she pulled her clothes on. I knew I wanted to see her again, but was unsure of how to break the silence. Ordering her to lie with me again did not seem the most tactful route.

I went to get out of my bed, but paused when I saw a small bloom of red on the bed, hardly perceptible for the deep crimson of my sheets. It was only now that I remembered women usually bled when they lay with a man for the first time. Unperturbed, for my sheets would be changed before I lay in my bed again, I slid off the edge and walked up behind Sigyn as she laced her dress.

I slipped my arms beneath hers, disallowing her to finish lacing up her back, and pulled her against me. I pressed my lips to the side of her head.

“Come to me tonight, Sigyn,” I murmured.

Sigyn was quiet for a long moment. “I should not, Your Highness…”

“Are you refusing me?” I inquired, somewhat playfully, giving her earlobe a little nip.

“I have other duties in the afternoon,” she explained hesitantly.

I felt a flicker of irritation. Now that I had had a taste, just one would not do, and it was too much trouble to seek another to lie with. I was concerned that this thing with Sigyn be dragged out into something more than just this one time—though it was not necessarily that I wanted with her what Thor had with Saela.

“I am absolving you of your duties tonight,” I assuaged, and Sigyn turned her head to look up at me. “Come to my chambers tonight after dinner.”

When still she appeared reluctant, I tried again, suppressing the impatient annoyance I felt.

“I want to see you again,” I admitted, and I caught sight of a modest smile as she glanced away. I felt a burst of haughtiness—as much as she tried to resist, she liked the thought of me lusting after her. Perhaps this would not be so difficult.

“Do I not please you, Sigyn?” I asked, sounding entreating. I had no problem acting like this if it would get her in my bed again.

She bit her lip and lightly placed her hands over mine on her belly. “Yes.”

“I can do more,” I whispered alluringly, realizing it was working. Her breath hitched when I pressed an openmouthed kiss to the side of her neck. “Make you come again… with my fingers, with my mouth, whatever—”

“What?” she said, as if such a lascivious thought had never occurred to her. She turned around in my arms. “With your mouth?”

I smirked when her cheeks flushed pink.

“Come to me tonight and I will show you.”

Sigyn’s gaze drifted down and I could tell she was thinking it over. Were her duties more important than my head between her thighs? Evidently not, for a few moments later she whispered yes, and I grinned triumphantly against her neck.

That night after dinner I eagerly awaited Sigyn’s arrival. At one point I almost did not think she would come, but finally there came a soft knock on my door and Sigyn entered. Within minutes we had traversed the length of my chambers and ended up naked in my bed.

What followed that night solidified Sigyn’s place as mine; I used my mouth on her as I had promised, and satisfied a fantasy of my own by taking her from behind. It was even more enjoyable than the first time and we did not exhaust ourselves until the early morning hours, when at last Sigyn collapsed onto me flushed and gasping, her little body—peppered now with bruises and bite marks—trembling with the fading tremors of her last release.

Because both Sigyn and I had daily duties to perform—my lessons and other princely responsibilities, and her maid duties—I proposed we schedule our meetings. Occasionally I would stay behind in the mornings and we would share a few precious hours together in my bed, exploring each other’s bodies, seeing what new, depraved ways we could bring each other to peak, but usually it was at night after the palace was asleep that we met. Sometimes, though rarely, Sigyn would spend the night with me, which admittedly I liked, but typically she would depart before early morning.

Thoughts of Sigyn obsessed me and for a while I did not think of Angrboda, which encouraged me to further things with Sigyn. I would fantasize about Sigyn during my lessons—while Master Elding rambled on about ancient peace treaties, I stared out the window, envisioning my chambermaid sprawled naked across my bed, skin so delectably pale against my dark sheets, arching her back, panting, begging me to do obscene things to her…

I was constantly searching for new ways to satisfy her, and her me. It became a game, wondering if that night I would take her on my bed or my table? Bend her over and fuck her from behind, or pin her against the wall? Perhaps the floor or my balcony, where I liked to imagine that the city below us could see me fucking my chambermaid against the stone railing, hear her loudly moaning my name until she screamed it.

Sigyn was the perfect partner; she was so willing, so easily influenced. She did not question me when I insisted we try this or that, or when I wished to couple somewhere other than my chambers—unused rooms in the palace, empty corridors and sometimes even outside in scarce-used courtyards or in the gardens. She had been nervous at first, but as usual complied with me. It was with Sigyn that I discovered my enthusiasm for fucking where somebody might easily stumble upon us, for it heightened the pleasure for me immeasurably.

I loved to mark her body, to darken it with bruises and bite marks and scratches, because such marks branded her as mine. I loved the way Sigyn would wince when she pulled her dress back on after a particularly sordid session of lovemaking, and how the next night I could trace the lingering evidence of my passion upon her body with the tip of my tongue. Sigyn grew accustomed to my lack of gentleness and much to my pleasure, even came to enjoy it.

Eventually, I bound her to my bed. She had been reluctant at first, but I had talked her into it and gods, it was marvelous. When she could not reach down or do anything but lie there, unable to move as I took her—fucked her—oh, for that was what it was. I could fuck her into the bed as hard as I wanted, do whatever I wanted to do to her body—use my teeth and nails and she could not stop me. Admittedly, it was the sense of power and entitlement I enjoyed, and I loved having her at my mercy, as I had been at Angrboda’s. Thor certainly could not call me a virgin—or a boy—any longer.

Despite my having never thought of Sigyn as becoming my mistress, that is exactly what she became. At Thor’s recommendation, to keep Sigyn satisfied, occasionally I would excuse her for the day and take her out. It was I who taught her to ride a horse; we would spend a day in the city or out in the countryside. I gifted her new dresses, better than the servant’s garb she wore, and earrings and necklaces and scents and oils. She was not much interested in anything else, but I cared not—as long as we could lie together, and as long as it was she who occupied my thoughts and not my fire-headed giantess.

And as time passed, admittedly I found myself anticipating more than just the fucking. I enjoyed gifting Sigyn things and making her smile, and looked forward to the days when I could ignore my lessons and spend the day lazily exploring her body beneath a sprawling tree out in the countryside.

Sometimes the others would jest because I had taken as my first mistress a lowly servant, but I cared not. The pleasure Sigyn brought me was great and I genuinely enjoyed her company, at least until everything fell apart.

__

Things continued in this manner for nearly a year.

One morning when Sigyn came to my chambers, I was sitting at my desk finishing an essay for Master Hauknefr. I had not finished it two nights ago because I had been too occupied with seeing how many times I could bring Sigyn to peak before she could take no more (seven times, I had found).

The door in my other room opened, but I did not get up. It was only a few minutes later that I looked up, not having heard a peep from her. Sigyn was standing by the door to my bedchamber, wringing her hands anxiously in front of her. Her expression was one of worry.

“What are you doing?” I inquired when I noticed she was trembling. A sense of alarm came over me, for Sigyn had never acted like this. “Sigyn?”

“My prince,” she whimpered.

I stood up. She never called me that.

“Sigyn, what is it?” I demanded, walking up to her.

She shook her head, lips quivering, on the verge of tears. “I… I know not how to tell you…”

“What is the matter?” I asked a little more firmly. Nothing would be helped by dancing around the matter.

“I… I am…”

“Yes?”

“I am with child…”

My blood turned to ice.

“What?”

She stared up at me, tears brimming in her eyes, before bursting into loud, wailing tears. She buried her face in her hands and I continued gaping at her, all the color drained out of my face. I felt ill all of a sudden and my voice wavered pathetically.

“Sigyn?”

Did I expect her to laugh and say it had been a joke?

“I am sorry,” she sobbed. “I am so sorry…”

I did not attempt to comfort her, though; I turned around and made my way slowly to my desk. I fell back into the chair, dread sitting heavy in the pit of my stomach, feeling as if I was about to vomit.

And still Sigyn was weeping, still apologizing, and her blubbering was grating.

“Be quiet!” I snapped.

Sigyn somehow managed to calm herself and wiped at her tear-stained face with her sleeve.

“What is going to happen?” she sniveled, voice tiny.

I shook my head—I knew not how to answer. Obviously I had never before been presented with this problem. Thor had never gotten a child off of his women and I wondered bitterly how he had done that. Why had I never asked? Now Sigyn was…

I groaned, leaned forward, put my elbows on my knees, and hung my head in my hands. I was a prince, I couldn’t have a bastard off my chambermaid.

“How do you know?” I asked lifelessly.

“What?” Sigyn squeaked, sniffling.

“How do you know you are with child?” I demanded roughly, raising my head to look at her.

“I went to Eir—”

“Fuck,” I muttered, running a shaky hand through my hair. “When?”

“Yesterday afternoon… I knew not how to tell you…”

Oh. Mother knew by now. Eir would not have wasted time in telling the queen that her youngest son had gotten his lowly little chambermaid with child.

“Have you told anybody else?”

“No,” Sigyn whispered.

“Good. Keep it that way.”

Sigyn glanced down sadly, and I knew I was being abrasive, but in that moment I could not be bothered to care. It was not myself I was angry at, but Sigyn, even though I knew this was just as much my fault as it was hers.

After once more ordering Sigyn to keep quiet on the matter, and unable to even look at her, I dismissed her. I was a nervous wreck the rest of the day. All I could think of was that Sigyn was carrying my child and that I had no fucking idea what to do. I did not want to go to Father or Mother for my shame, and could not imagine the humiliation if I mentioned this to Thor.

And so I was almost relieved when that afternoon, shortly before dinner, I received a summons from Mother. At least now I would not have to muster up the courage to break the news to her—she had to already know.

I entered Mother’s chambers cautiously, attempting to maintain my barely contained façade of composure. Her women were gone, which meant she must have dismissed them early. She was seated in her receiving chamber, hands folded in her lap, eyes focused on the fire roaring in her fireplace.

When the doors closed behind me, Mother blinked and slowly turned her head to look at me.

“Loki.”

She stood up and I lowered my head, hardly able to meet her disappointed gaze.

“Eir has informed me of your… most delicate situation.”

Oh, gods…

“Your chambermaid, Sigyn…?”

I weakly nodded.

“Is with child?”

Again, a little nod. My entire body burned with humiliation.

“I will dismiss her, of course,” Mother explained. “She will be gone from court immediately.”

“Wh—where will she go?” I asked, raising my head.

“I will find a husband for her,” Mother replied, face expressionless.

By her tone, it was evident she wished me to leave it at that, but I could not.

“What about…” I trailed off, too hesitant to even say it.

She stared at me.

“What of the… the…”

Mother glanced towards her fireplace. “The child will be cared for.”

“By her?”

“Yes.”

I swallowed hard and was silent for a long time.

Finally, “Would I ever… would I ever see it?”

“No,” Mother sighed, regarding me carefully. “I do not think that a good idea, Loki. Do you?”

“No,” I answered in quiet agreement.

“I think it best we end this now. You will not see Sigyn again, nor the child.”

I nodded. As heartless as it all sounded, I agreed with Mother’s logic. Though I was loath to admit it, I was scared. I did not think myself capable of acknowledging the child, or claiming it as my own, and in that moment I would rather have pretended it had not happened. And so we would act as if I had never gotten Sigyn pregnant, and that I would not have a son or daughter within the year.

Afterwards I would come to regret how quickly it all happened, and how little thought I had given to Sigyn’s well-being.

__

Sigyn was dismissed from court less than a week later.

She came to me the morning she was to depart, knocking softly on my door, entering slowly. I surreptitiously eyed her belly, but it was difficult to tell anything under the plain brown cloak she wore. But was I so foolish as to think she would already be showing so soon?

“I am to be wed,” she said despondently.

I raised my eyebrows. Mother was quick.

“To whom?” I asked, though in truth I did not care to know.

Sigyn shook her head. “I know not. I will meet him by week’s end.”

I nodded, but remained silent. I suppose I could have tried to comfort her, but I did not, and I felt some sense of shame that after everything we had done, I did not even attempt to find the words to say.

Sigyn took a step forward and lifted up on her toes—it was the only way she could reach my mouth—and pressed a tender farewell kiss to my lips.

“I love you,” she murmured.

I froze.

When Sigyn pulled away, she gazed tearfully—expectantly—up at me, but I did not respond because I did not love her and knew not how to tell her. I saw the moment she realized, when her face fell, and I could practically hear her thoughts, wondering sadly why I did not tell her I loved her back, how could I not after everything…

But in that moment, it was not warmth I felt for Sigyn, nor a remnant of the affection I had thought I felt for her, but repulsion. How could she have been so stupid to think I would let myself feel anything more than lust for her? The notion that I could feel something so intimate with her almost terrified me, despite the fact that she was carrying my child.

When Sigyn realized I was not going to reciprocate my love for her, she bit her bottom lip and glanced down at the floor. She took a deep breath and looked back up at me, eyes swimming with tears.

“Goodbye, Loki.”

“Farewell, Sigyn.”

She gazed at me a moment longer, perhaps waiting, hoping, but the moment passed, and she turned around and left, and I almost felt disgrace for how little I felt in watching her go.

Her replacement showed up the next morning, and I thought her even prettier than Sigyn, but what had just transpired left a sour taste in my mouth, and I did not glance twice at her the first time she came to my chambers. I did think of Sigyn in the following months, though I could not admit to myself that I missed her, and I could not help but to wonder about the child she carried, and if her husband was good to her. I hoped so, for she did not deserve someone like me. At first I thought of her every day, but as time passed, Sigyn occupied my thoughts less and less, until I did not think of her at all.

Nearly a year had passed when one afternoon I was summoned by Eir.

I made my way to the healing ward, curious as to what was going on. I had only seen her last week when Thor had injured me in a training match. I suspected she just wished to see how my arm had healed.

“Eir has requested to see me,” I told an assistant.

“Yes, Your Highness, I will fetch her.”

The assistant wandered off and I stood by a window, hands clasped behind my back. The city only partially obscured the bucolic countryside from view. Mostly it was rolling hills, surely a pleasing sight for the ill here.

“Loki.”

I turned and saw Eir standing there.

“My arm has healed satisfactorily,” I remarked before she could speak, holding out my left arm. “I have felt no pain.”

“That is good, but that is not why I’ve called you here,” she replied.

“Oh.”

“Please come with me.”

Eir led me into her own private room, not far from the ward, for she disliked being too far from her patients.

The room was a pleasant little space: a tall window allowed golden light in, illuminating the numerous diagrams and charts tacked to the rough stone walls, and papers and bottles littered the desks and tabletops. I had been in here many times, mostly when I was younger and Thor and I had gotten into a fight.

“Is something wrong, Eir?” I asked.

Eir sighed heavily, evincing that something was indeed wrong. “Please sit.”

I did. She remained standing.

“The queen does not think it wise to tell you, but I think you should know, so I do this in my own good faith without the queen’s knowledge.”

I stared at her.

“It is Sigyn.”

I sat up straighter. In my mind, I quickly counted the months. Had she borne it yet? I felt a small pang of disgrace, for I could not remember the last time I had thought of Sigyn.

“Sigyn has borne twin sons.”

“Twins?” I murmured, eyes drifting down to absently study a bottle full of blue liquid on her desk.

“She almost died, Loki,” Eir said flatly.

My eyes flickered up to meet Eir’s gaze.

“The birth nearly killed her, but she is alive, and so are your sons.”

I swallowed hard. “Are they…”

“Normal?”

I furrowed my brows. I had been thinking more along the lines of healthy…

“They are normal, thank the gods,” she stated. “And Sigyn is wed and cared for, and the children as well.”

I only nodded, but felt I should say something.

“I am glad for that,” I added, feeling foolish.

Eir only silently regarded me.

And then, before I could stop myself, I asked quietly, “What are their names?”

Eir hesitated, deliberating on whether to tell me or not.

“She has named them Narvi and Vali.”

I nodded again, feeling as if that was all I could inquire about them, considering I had been pretending these past months that they did not exist. What a spectacular father I was.

I slowly stood up, but Eir stopped me.

“Loki, there is another reason I have called you here. I should have done this a long time ago, I know not why I’ve waited so long…”

I shifted uncomfortably on my feet.

“Since Sigyn’s dismissal, have you since lain with a woman?”

My lips parted in surprise, but Eir only gazed expectantly at me.

“I…”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I have not.”

“Good. I am sure you will soon get over this mess with Sigyn, though. That is part of the reason I have called you here.”

I furrowed my brows.

“How have the seidr lessons been going with Queen Frigga?”

“Er, fine,” I replied, bewildered at her random questioning me like this. Mother had recently begun teaching me seidr, the magic of the Vanir. I could not do much, but enough to satisfy Mother’s incredibly high standards. Eir was one of the few Aesir who knew seidr, for she had lived in Vanaheim for a time and learned it there.

“There is a spell used to inhibit pregnancy and I would show it to you.”

I faltered. “A spell?”

“Yes.”

Briefly I wondered how Thor had achieved this. He did not know magic, how had he kept his women from conceiving?

I echoed my thoughts. “How has Thor…?”

Eir sat down behind her desk and I followed suit, sitting back down in the chair.

“Thor came to me a long time ago asking about this. I wish you had, as well, then maybe you would not have gotten your maid with child.”

I pressed my lips together, but Eir did not notice or care.

“There are non-magical ways, of course, but they are not as effective as seidr. Women may drink potions or such to keep themselves from conceiving.”

“Oh.”

I suppose Thor had just been luckier.

“Anyway, we will not be bothered with that for you. With seidr, your magic will wither your seed inside a woman and keep her from becoming with child.”

“How do I do it?” I asked softly.

“After you have finished with intercourse,” she explained, “you must cup your hand closely between her legs and perform the spell.”

I was embarrassed at hearing Eir speak about this, but she was being professionally cool about it all. She held up her hand and uttered the runes so I could hear, and her palm glowed faintly green. I was far from the point of being able to soundlessly perform spells, so I looked down at my hand and repeated the runes, feeling the warmth of my seidr gather in my palm.

“Again,” Eir ordered, and I did it again. After the fifth time, she nodded. “This should inhibit pregnancy. I would rather not have had to show you this, Loki, but it is inevitable that you take another mistress. Better to show you this than have you get another one pregnant.”

I did not reply, but glanced down at my hands.

After a long moment, Eir titled her head. “Are you alright, Loki?”

“Yes, I am fine,” I answered, standing up to leave. “Thank you, Eir.”

She stood up, watching me as I left.

In truth, I was incredibly grateful to Eir, for fear of getting them with child had kept me from taking another woman since Sigyn. And so within the week I managed to get another woman in my bed and felt much better when afterwards I dragged myself down her body and quietly performed the spell.

And yet, something odd began to happen. I quickly realized that every woman I bedded soon after was dismissed from court, be it a servant or lady-in-waiting. Mother was the one dismissing them, for she was the one who oversaw the staff, above the ones who regulated it all, and I knew not how she knew which ones I lay with, but decided ultimately that I did not care. As time wore on, and nothing was said, I found I did not care. If they submitted to me, even knowing that they might be dismissed, who was I to argue?

I did not feel the need to tie myself to one woman as Thor did. My ordeal with Sigyn had made me weary of keeping a woman longer than one or two nights, and I did not take another mistress until centuries later when a pretty, doleful little blonde with a terrible secret came from the court of Vanaheim.

Sometimes, though rarely, I would wonder what had happened to Sigyn. Not because I missed her—it was just curiosity. I think it was because she was the first and closest thing I had ever had to a mistress; I had exposed and discovered my lusts with her, and she had so willingly indulged me. Inevitably my thoughts would always drift to my sons she had borne. It was odd to know that somewhere below in the city, I had two sons. They were as shadows to me and only occasionally would I allow myself to speculate on what they were like, and what they looked like. Did they resemble their mother or take more after me? For their sakes, I hoped their mother. But that was as far as my curiosities went and I never did seek them out, nor Sigyn.

And afterwards, always, Angrboda was with me. It was her I thought of when I took a woman, and it was as if I was constantly attempting to demonstrate to her that I was not that boy who had lain beneath her for a full night, unable to even resist her. I wanted her to see that it was I who was in control now and I thought lying with a woman every other night, coupled with my general disregard for them, would prove that to her who still lurked in the recesses of my mind.

For a brief time, I even lay with men as well. One day the thought struck me, and appealed to me, and I was not one to shy away from experimentation. Sometimes I could not decide which I preferred and I found I could take just as much pleasure in lying with a man as I did a woman. I was not particularly vociferous about it, but not secretive about it either. Though not oblivious to the things eventually whispered about me, I cared not—I was the prince and above them all.

Ultimately, though, I lost interest in men and decided I enjoyed more of what a woman’s body had to offer. And I saw Thor with his mistresses, and Týr and Baldr with theirs, but I did not want one. The women of the court bored me and were only good for one thing.

The more I took, and the harder I took, the less I would seem that Loki in Utgard that had lain beneath Angrboda, pinned to her bed, taken like a woman over and over and over until I could not even think straight for the pain and pleasure and shame. No, I would not allow myself to be that again.

And yet… always afterwards, when I fucked a woman and had her screaming my name, even when I lay next to them, bites and bruises and scratches scattered over their body, Angrboda’s words still burned in my brain, that I was hers, and even though eventually I was able to suppress it, I never stopped believing it.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

“Stjarna? Stjarnavetr?”

I blinked, drawn abruptly out of my daydreaming, and absently turned my head. “Hmm?”

“What are you doing?” Dreyma asked, coming to stand next to me.

I glanced down, only then realizing I had been kneeling absolutely motionless in the dirt for the past half hour. I had come out to work in our little garden but had not accomplished much.

“Oh, I… don’t know.”

Dreyma’s lips quirked upwards into an amused smile as I resumed pulling at the little weeds sprouting up out of the dirt.

“I came to tell you supper is ready,” Dreyma said.

“I will be in later,” I answered without looking up, tossing the weeds to the side.

“Yes, you said that yesterday but you never came in to eat,” Dreyma countered, placing her hands on her hips.

I faltered and then admitted, “I am not very hungry.”

“You say that almost every day, Stjarnavetr.”

I did not reply. Dreyma’s eyes flickered up to the palace, which was clearly visible from our home. She lowered her head, sighed, and kicked at a clump of dirt with her foot.

“Very well. I will make a plate for you and hope you will respect me by eating it before it gets cold.”

Dreyma turned around and shouted for Hjaldr and Herlid, who had been playing on the other side of the house, to come in for dinner. I continued pulling weeds, and before I even finished the row, my eyes once again drifted up to gaze at the palace, set imposingly above the city, its towering spires shining gold in the day’s waning light.

Realizing I had spent more time gazing wistfully up at the palace than tending to the garden as I said I would, I looked down and bit my lip. I often found myself staring at it, remembering. It had been two months now since everything had fallen apart: since the queen had died, and my brother Réttrmund in the Dark Elf attack, and Loki afterwards somewhere in the gloom of Svartalfheim.

Though I was no stranger to grief, the sudden loss of three of the closest people to me had dealt quite a blow. Thoughts of them—especially Loki—occupied my mind constantly. I did not find joy in anything anymore; my days bled into one another and, much to my shame, often found myself preferring solitude over the company of my own family.

Dreyma, despite having lost her husband, was stronger than me, partially for her sons. Since Réttrmund had died and there was no income, she had begun tailoring and Konavefr selling in the market. I did my part by keeping the house and garden and running errands and minding the boys.

Though it felt as if I might never again be happy, I knew I must try, no matter how much I did not wish to. Dreyma was concerned with me since I did not eat as much, and hardly slept, but I did not want to worry her. She and Konavefr had enough to worry about and the last thing I wanted was to be a burden to them. And so once I deemed the garden in respectable shape, I brushed the dirt off my clothes and made my way to the house to eat. Just as I went to open the door, the sound of hoof beats drew my eyes towards the road.

I was surprised to see an Einheri trotting down the road on a great black horse, and even more surprised when he came to a stop in front of our house. He slid off his horse, armor glinting gold in the afternoon light, caught sight of me staring, and approached me.

“Lady Stjarnavetr?”

“Yes?” I replied unsurely.

He was wearing a leather satchel and fumbled around in it before pulling out a letter.

“I am to deliver this to you,” he stated, handing it to me.

I took the letter and broke the seal, which I recognized with some trepidation as the king’s. The letter was short and to the point, and I glanced up at the Einheri in shock.

“A summons?”

He only silently regarded me.

“Why am I being summoned?” I asked in bewilderment. “It does not say.”

The guard shrugged. “I know not, Lady. I was only told to deliver the letter.”

I bit my lip and reread it, eyes drawn to the very last line.

I require your presence by tomorrow afternoon.

“Will you come?” he inquired, tilting his head. “I must give the king an answer.”

I hesitated. I could not imagine any reason the Allfather would wish to see me. When I had been Loki’s mistress he had not liked me, and there was nobody left at the palace I knew or liked or could serve. It baffled me, but I very well could not ignore the king’s summons.

“Yes,” I responded quietly. “I will come tomorrow.”

The Einheri smiled. “Very good. Thank you, Lady.”

He turned on his heel, gold cape flapping out behind him, and returned promptly to his horse. He mounted it, inclined his head to me, and rode off.

I stood there for a long while, rereading the king’s letter over and over, before finally turning to head into the house. Everybody was seated at the table eating and a plate was laid out for me. Konavefr, who had been chastising Herlid for somehow managing to drop food on the floor, glanced up at me and furrowed her brows when she saw my uncertain expression.

“Stjarna? What’s wrong?”

“I… I’ve received a summons…”

“I thought I heard talking outside,” Dreyma remarked, scooting back in her chair and standing up. She came over to me, I handed her the letter, and she quickly read it.

“Why would the king summon you?”

“I know not,” I answered tentatively.

“Perhaps it is to do with Queen Frigga?” Konavefr offered.

I shook my head. I did not see how that was possible, but supposed I would find out soon enough.

“When does he wish to see you?” Konavefr wondered.

“By tomorrow afternoon,” I replied as Dreyma handed the letter back to me.

“Well, I suppose you ought to go,” Konavefr said matter-of-factly.

I nodded and folded the paper back up. I sat down to eat, which pleased Dreyma, but ended up hardly eating anything. I poked at my food as Konavefr discussed the crowd at the market that day, and wondered about the Allfather’s summons, but could not come up with anything as to why he would call me to the palace.

After Dreyma watched me eat a small breakfast the next morning, I rode up to the palace on our only horse. Upon reaching the stables, I dismounted, let a stable hand take my horse, and headed into the palace.

Despite not knowing why I was here, I was somewhat comforted by the familiarity of the walls. I dallied longer than I should have, taking longer routes, meandering through some of the courtyards, including the one Loki and I had often used to frequent, though I avoided the corridor on which the door to his chambers sat.

I finally made it to Gladsheim. The tall double doors were shut and two Einherjar stood outside, standing erect and staring straight ahead. I walked up to one and offered him a small smile.

“Good morning. I have received a summons from the Allfather?”

I showed him the summons, but he hardly glimpsed at it before nodding.

“He is with somebody. Wait here.”

I went to stand by a column, waiting patiently, albeit nervously, for my turn. I had only been standing there a few minutes when suddenly I heard my name. I looked over and hid my displeasure at seeing the goddess Freyja standing there, hanging on her twin brother Frey’s arm.

“Lady Stjarnavetr!” she beamed. She glanced up at Frey. “You go on, brother. I will catch up.”

Frey wordlessly obeyed her, slipping out of her arm and continuing past me. Freyja came towards me; she seemed no different than when last I had seen her: long, pale blonde hair pulled back and laced with jewels, and falling down to below her knees in lusciously wavy curls. Her dress was crusted with jewels as well, and was so low-cut her large breasts were practically spilling out. And always, that effortlessly contrived smile.

I froze when she embraced me and enthusiastically kissed both my cheeks.

“Sister! It is so wonderful to see you!”

“Freyja,” I acknowledged, attempting to mask my aversion. I would not deny it—I greatly disliked Freyja. She was narcissistic and manipulative and had purposefully hurt me in the past.

“How have you been faring?” she inquired.

“Well enough, I suppose,” I answered softly.

“Where are you living now?” she asked, feigning concern.

Though I did not particularly care to converse with Freyja, it would be rude of me to walk away.

“In the city with my step mother.”

“Oh,” she said. “That is a shame.”

“A shame?”

“Yes, that you had to leave the palace.” She tilted her head, appearing saddened, and placed her hand on my arm. “I am so sorry for your loss, sister.”

I did not reply, knowing not if she meant the queen or Loki; certainly it was not Réttrmund, for she would not have known of Réttrmund’s death, much less cared.

“Thank you,” I murmured.

She lowered her arm and smiled, though I detected no sincerity behind it. Her blue, almost colorless eyes remained as cold as ever.

“What has brought you back to the palace?”

Though I did not wish to tell her, I saw no reason why it mattered.

“The king has summoned me.”

“Has he?” she wondered, quirking a neatly trimmed brow. “What for?”

“I know not,” I answered.

“Perhaps it is to do with the queen, or Loki?”

“I know not,” I repeated, a little more firmly.

“It is too bad he died,” she remarked casually, and I saw her lips twitch upwards in a smile. “I do believe you and he were meant for each other.”

I stared at her, but remained silent when she bid me farewell and walked away. Her words did not comfort, for that was not how she had meant them. As if Freyja would lower herself to sincerely console another. She had disliked Loki, anyway, and I was but dirt beneath her feet. Her only pleasure was to toy with others.

Just as I took a deep breath, attempting to banish Freyja’s words, the doors to Gladsheim opened and Týr exited. He caught sight of me and his gaze lingered as he passed, and I could see the displeasure on his face. I could not tell if it was me causing that look of distaste, or what had just transpired in Gladsheim with the king. I lowered my eyes as he passed.

“Lady, your name?” the guard queried, drawing my attention.

“Stja—Lady Stjarnavetr,” I said.

“The king will see you now.”

He turned and I stood behind him as he announced me, only catching a fleeting glimpse of the king seated on his throne at the end of the hall. I lowered my head as I entered, heard the guard shut the door behind me, and kept my eyes downcast as I approached the throne. I clasped my hands in front of me to quell their trembling and swallowed the nervousness rising in my throat, for my being here before the king had never ended well.

Seemingly an eternity later, I reached the steps that led up to the throne and bowed, but did not raise my head. I heard the king rise and slowly come down the steps until he stood in front of me. I am sure he could hear my heart racing in my chest, beating as it was, and I held my breath when he put his fingers under my chin and lifted my head. I timidly met his gaze, saw his one blue eye trained on me.

He studied me for a long moment before lowering his arm and letting out a quiet breath. I think he realized I was uneasy—no doubt he had felt my subtle trembling.

“You are afraid?” he asked softly, as if surprised.

I let out a worried breath, wishing I could get a hold of myself, but I simply could not suppress this bilious apprehension churning inside me.

“Yes,” I admitted, somewhat tremulously.

“Please do not be,” he said, and I looked up at him in disbelief. “Are you well?”

His question caught me off guard. Certainly the king had never spoken so inquiringly—or kindly—to me.

I glanced back down, too intimidated to hold his gaze for very long. “Yes…”

“And you are living with your step mother?”

“Yes.”

He moved away and was silent, as if thinking on his next words, before turning back around to address me.

“I… I am aware your brother was killed two months ago during the Dark Elf attack.”

I raised my head and was shocked by his somewhat remorseful visage.

“I am sorry it took this long,” he continued, “but I issued him a posthumous commendation. He served me well in his time in the guard.”

I blinked, surprised. I would never have expected the Allfather to acknowledge Réttrmund like that, considering he had been my brother and the king disliked me so vehemently—or so I had believed.

“I am sorry you lost him,” he added gently.

I gave a little nod, still somewhat unnerved by his lingering gaze.

“Forgive me, Your Majesty,” I finally chanced, “but why have you summoned me?”

He hesitated, as if he had not wished to broach the subject so soon. “I wish your return to the palace.”

“My return?” I asked in astonishment.

“Yes.”

“But the queen…” I caught myself and quickly trained my eyes on the floor. “Who… who would I serve?”

I could only think of a handful of women I could serve—two of which included the goddess Freyja, or Lady Sif—but I did not wish to serve either of them, and I doubted either of them would likewise wish for me to serve them.

The king took a few steps towards me and I stiffened. I felt odd standing so close to him; a prickle of unease ran over my skin, and something else I could not place.

“You would serve me.”

My eyes flickered up to his, fixed on my face. Fear twisted my insides. What did he mean, serve him? And I could only think of one thing he would require me for and I felt sickened.

“I will have your things brought back to the palace,” he explained quietly, and his gaze drifted down to my parted lips. “You will be installed in your old chambers.”

“Your Majesty,” I whispered, and I glanced down, no longer able to meet his icy blue gaze. “Respectfully I ask to remain with my step mother…”

“No,” he refused immediately, and my heart fell. “I need you here, Stjarna.”

I slowly closed my eyes, in that moment too overwhelmed to even notice what he had called me. I swallowed hard, realizing there was nothing I could do but obey.

“Yes, Your Majesty…”

__

Loki

I let out a heavy breath as Stjarna left and the doors closed behind her. I fell back onto the throne, excitement still coursing through me, this thrill at having stood so close to her, but also frustration that I could not touch her or let her know it was me.

Stjarna had changed so much in two months and almost did not look the same as I remembered. I had felt concern upon first seeing her; she was visibly thinner, and it appeared as if she had not smiled in such a long time. I felt responsible, knowing all I had put her through, and also finding out recently that her brother Réttrmund had been killed in the Dark Elf attack.

I had been anticipating this day for a long time—sometimes it was absolutely unbearable lying alone in Odin’s chambers. I knew Stjarna was close, just outside the city. I could have had her brought to me within the hour, but had held off for too soon arousing suspicion. But I was beyond caring now—it was getting close, anyway, and I needed her here with me.

And yet, I also felt anxiety. Would Stjarna be happy to see me? Relived? I knew she thought me dead and was unsure as to how she would react when she found out I was not—especially when she realized I had been impersonating Odin. I knew it was not wise to reveal myself, even to Stjarna, but I was growing increasingly frustrated living behind Odin’s shade day in and day out. The only times I allowed his illusion to melt away was at night when I slept, and even then I locked my chamber doors, told the guards strictly nobody was to enter unless by my word.

Soon, though, if all went as planned, everything would fall into place.

I was incredibly impatient the rest of the day. My mind wandered while being petitioned, and even during the afternoon feast all I could think of was Stjarna. I inconspicuously sought her out, but could not spot her at any of the tables. I figured she had taken supper in her own chambers, but did not fault her. I suspected she felt out of place here now, what with all of Mother’s women having been dismissed, and only a small handful of women left that served some of the other goddesses.

I was staring straight ahead, fingers wrapped around my half-empty cup of wine, wondering as to the gentlest way of revealing myself to Stjarna, when her name drew me out of my little reverie. A little farther down the table Freyja was commenting on how she had seen Stjarna earlier today outside of Gladsheim.

“Yes, the Allfather’s brought her back to the palace,” Baldr chimed in.

“What?” Týr asked, almost indignantly. “Why?”

“I know not,” was Freyja’s nonchalant return, but Týr’s tone annoyed me.

“Is there a problem?” I demanded suddenly, interrupting them. The hush died immediately and they all silently regarded me.

Týr faltered. “I… was only wondering, Your Majesty, why you would bring the… Lady Stjarnavetr back to the palace?”

“I do not think it any of your concern, Týr,” I said coolly, staring pointedly at him.

Týr lowered his eyes, but did not appear happy about being castigated in front of the rest of them. He had been in a fouler mood as of late and become increasingly defiant, which vexed me. I attributed it partly to the dismissal of his mistress, Stórmenska, months ago, and his now having to lower himself to make biweekly trips to the brothels in the city.

Baldr broke the awkward silence and began discussing an upcoming hunt. Their conversation continued, and it was a bit more subdued, but Stjarna was not mentioned again.

Finally the feast ended, but I did not go straight to my chambers—or technically, Odin’s.

I wandered about, hands clasped behind my back, thinking. I was desperate to see Stjarna, but despite having been thinking of this for weeks, still had not decided upon the most tactful course of action when revealing myself to her tonight. How could I do it delicately enough, since she believed me dead?

Half an hour later found me no closer to my chambers. I was still agonizing on what to do, when I happened to stumble, quite by accident, upon a potential mutiny.

I passed a sitting room I had used to frequent, especially with Thor and his friends. It overlooked the city and boasted a large fire pit in the middle, surrounded by couches. Many nights we had spent here fighting and getting drunk. I had not been here in nearly two years, though, what with all that had happened.

The doors were cracked and light spilled into the darkened corridor from within, but I did not linger. I had much more important things on my mind. Just as I went to move on, I heard talking, and then suddenly a shout from within and immediately recognized the voice: Týr.

I paused and backed up a few steps, turning my head to better overhear, and was surprised to learn that I was the subject of his heated tirade.

“—how you can’t see it, Baldr!” Týr exclaimed.

So he was with Baldr.

“I don’t know what you want me to see,” Baldr responded, sounding frustrated.

“Something is not right,” Týr insisted.

“I think you’re crazy,” was Baldr’s flippant retort.

“Have you not noticed?” Týr demanded irately.

“Noticed what?”

“Everything! Everything is different about him.”

“The queen was killed not two months ago,” Baldr countered, clearly exasperated. “Do you think that might have anything to do with it?”

“But why would he bring that Vana back to the palace? She was Loki’s whore, what’s he possibly want with her?”

I clenched my teeth, but remained still.

Baldr was quiet for a long moment, probably thinking.

“What do you think, Frey?” Týr said.

In the succeeding silence, I wondered how many of them Týr was shouting at.

“The king is acting oddly,” Frey finally agreed, voice soft and listless and unobtrusive like always, and that was it.

“Well, what are you going to do, Týr?” Baldr questioned. “Walk up to the Allfather and ask him what’s wrong, as if everybody doesn’t already know?”

Týr did not reply.

I lingered for only a little while longer, until Baldr steered the conversation in a different direction. Finally I walked away, not as concerned as I probably should have been. They would not have to wait long to find out what was going on, anyway. Hopefully by the end of it all Týr would be killed—the thought of that made me smile as I made my way to my chambers.

Upon reaching my rooms, I had Stjarna summoned. I paced restlessly in my bedchamber, attempting to subdue the uneasiness roiling inside me. Finally, the doors in the other room opened and closed, and I took a deep breath before going to stand in the doorway.

__

Stjarnavetr

His chambers were dimly lit when I entered. I fisted my dress in my hands, attempting unsuccessfully to swallow the apprehension rising up in me, and jumped when the doors shut behind me with a resounding thud. I stood there in helpless confusion, searching for the king. I did not see him, so made my way uncertainly over to the large couch in front of the fireplace, where next to it on a small circular table sat a flagon of wine and two empty cups.

I dithered about anxiously for only another moment before a sound drew my eyes to the other side of the room, and froze when I saw the Allfather standing in the darkened doorway to his bedchamber. He did not move and I faltered before bowing, unsure of what else to do.

When I straightened up, the king took a step towards me, expression almost rueful.

“Stjarna…”

I regarded him oddly, struck by his tone and what he had just called me. Loki was the only one outside of my family who had called me that…

“Please do not be afraid,” the king said gently, and just as I tilted my head and opened my mouth to speak, flickers of bright green lit up the shadows, and my eyes followed the green magic as it crackled over his body, melting away the king’s image, and leaving there standing a most familiar silhouette shrouded in darkness. My mouth fell open, but I did not—could not—believe it, even when he came slowly forward into the dancing light, as if wary to startle me.

My hands flew to my mouth and I took a step back, knocking into the table. I jumped when the flagon of wine crashed to the floor, followed by the cups and the table, but I did not tear my eyes away from him. He came to stand at the end of the couch—only stared at me, and I at him, though now my vision was blurred with tears.

His appearance was so different than last I had seen him in that bare white cell. His hair was no longer unclean and oily, and he did not appear so unkempt. He was as he had always been, hair neatly combed back, dressed as befitting a prince.

But this could not be real, he was not real, he had died…

He tilted his head, gazing affectionately, almost repentantly, at me with those lucent green eyes.

“Hello, darling.”

Upon hearing his voice, so soft and melancholy, I closed my eyes and the tears that had been threatening to spill over finally rolled down my cheeks. I heard him come closer, felt his tentative, feather light touch first on my arms, then one hand moving to my side, the other to the back of my head as he pulled me closer, and I wondered how could he be dead when he stood so real and firm against me, and I let him enfold me into his arms.

“Loki,” I whimpered, still hardly daring to believe it. I wrapped my shaking arms around him, pressed my face to his chest as he began tenderly stroking my hair. My lips curled into a quivering smile when I heard his heartbeat, gods how I had mourned the sound…

He did not speak as I tightened my arms around him, only kissed the side of my head and continued stroking my hair. I bit my lip as I finally pulled back to look up at him. He gazed down at me as I moved to cup his face in my hands. I stroked his skin with my thumb, ran my fingers over his cheek, as if convincing myself he was truly alive and here in my arms.

I lifted up on my toes to kiss Loki, and he put his hands on either side of my neck and curled his fingers in my hair. Though it was a passionate kiss, it was one also that echoed of grief and hopeless longing; I pushed against him, lips moving desperately and insistently against his, and he returned my kiss just as fervently. When I pulled away a few moments later, breathless and lips tingling, Loki planted a kiss on my forehead and then my nose and lips. I closed my eyes and dragged my hands down so they were splayed on his chest.

“Loki,” I whispered, chin trembling, and he lowered his head so our foreheads were touching. “I was told, they told me you…”

But I trailed off, hardly able to say it.

Loki kissed my nose and wrapped his arms around my middle.

“I did almost die in Svartalfheim,” he explained softly, and I thought I had never heard a more pleasing sound than his murmured voice. “I was badly injured, but managed to heal myself. A spell you taught me long ago, Stjarna…”

Loki gently moved to sit us on the couch. I leaned against him and wrapped my arms around the back of his neck, still on the verge of weeping, and buried my face between his neck and shoulder. I kissed his skin and nuzzled against him, savoring his smell and warmth and the feel of him in my arms.

“I missed you,” I breathed, and in that moment, I was so flooded with relief that he was alive, that I could not think to inquire about how he had made it back to Asgard, or the whereabouts of he whose quarters we currently occupied. Instead, I recalled these past months without him, and how wretched and lonely I had been, and I could not help it—I began to weep.

Loki pulled me closer as I cried, and my sobs were thankfully muffled by his tunic. All the pain and sorrow and misery I had somehow managed to keep inside these past months came pouring out; I wept for the queen and my brother, despite having thought I had shed all the tears I could for them, and then for Loki and myself. These long, empty nights I had endured, spent lying alone in my bed thinking I might never see him again, craving only his presence, his kiss and his arms around me, and now here he was…

“Please—please do not leave me again,” I whimpered pitifully between sobs. “Do not leave me again…”

“I won’t, Stjarna,” Loki assured, sounding pained. He brushed my hair back from my face and kissed the top of my head. “I promise.”

Though only somewhat comforted by his words, eventually my sobs tapered off, and Loki held me in silence. I twined my fingers with his on his leg and rested my head on the front of his shoulder, despite his tunic now being damp with my tears. Loki alternated between stroking my hair and back, and the only sound was the somnolent crackling of the fire.

It was once I had managed to collect myself, and finally—at least partially—come to terms with the fact that Loki was alive, that I realized the gravity of the situation.

I slowly sat up and Loki studied my tear-stained face.

“Loki…”

His eyes drifted down and I knew he had been expecting this.

“What is going on?” I asked apprehensively, voice still thick with tears. “Where is the Allfather?”

“He is safe,” Loki replied, but that did not answer my question, and I felt panic rising to replace the sorrow.

“Why have you taken his form?”

Loki shook his head. “Stjarna, we need not speak of that now…”

“What?” I cried. His avoiding my questions only served to further worry me and increase this fear. It was not as if this was something to be taken lightly—Loki had done something with the king of Asgard.

“You must tell me what you’ve done, Loki,” I insisted, dread churning in the pit of my stomach.

Loki disentangled our fingers and took my face in his hands. I closed my eyes as he leaned forward and pressed a lingering kiss to my lips.

“You must trust me, Stjarna,” he whispered.

I opened my eyes as he leaned back, gazing pitifully at him.

“How can I trust you if you will not tell me?” I inquired miserably. I remembered these words from long ago, before he had betrayed all of Asgard.

“I will,” he admitted. “I will have to…”

That did not make me feel any better.

“Everything will be alright,” Loki gently assured me.

“How can you promise me that?” I despaired, unable to keep my voice from rising in pitch, wondering how he could be acting so unperturbed about it all. “How can you say that? Can you not see what you’ve done?”

I could not even imagine the punishment for a crime this grave. Even if the king was alive, Loki had taken the throne and was impersonating him and now had dragged me into all of it, no matter how relieved I was to see him alive. I knew there was no way he could keep up with this ruse and it was becoming increasingly difficult to suppress the panic rising up in me and Loki could plainly see it.

“Loki, please,” I whimpered. “You must tell me what you’ve done.”

“Not tonight, Stjarna,” he responded, and I shook my head in frantic protest.

“Loki—”

Loki held my head in his hands, and he was gazing almost penitently at me, and I faltered when I felt a warmth suddenly spreading through me, easing this dread and ceasing my incessant questioning, and I shook my head even as I relaxed almost involuntarily against him, lulled into this false lethargy by his seidr.

“Loki, no…” I mumbled in feeble dissent, and he kissed my forehead and I felt so tired. The questions that had been racing through my mind not moments ago abruptly seemed so unimportant and melted away into nothing. Though I was angered that he should silence me like this so he would not have to explain himself, I was also almost grateful for this fleeting alleviation.

I sighed as Loki wrapped his arms around me and lifted me up off the couch. I hung onto him and buried my face between his neck and shoulder as he carried me into the bedchamber.

“No, I don’t want… I won’t sleep in his bed…” I murmured weakly when I realized Loki was carrying me to the king’s bed, resting my head against the front of his shoulder.

“You’re not sleeping on the floor,” he rejoined, depositing me tenderly on the bed, and in my state I could no longer protest.

I gazed up at him, eyes drooping, on the verge of slipping into this involuntary sleep. He leaned over me, hands on either side of me, and I placed my hand on his arm and ruefully sighed his name.

“I wish you had not done this,” I breathed as he leaned down to kiss me.

“I know,” he answered in a doleful whisper, brushing a few stray hairs away from my face.

I closed my eyes, unable to keep them open any longer, and my head fell slowly to the side and my hand dropped from his arm onto the bed. He kissed me again, and I could not have known for certain as I drifted off, but he might have told me he loved me, and that he was sorry.

Chapter Text

Loki

The room had not even begun to lighten with the day when I awoke. Stjarna was still deeply asleep. She was curled on top of the covers, face half buried in the pillow, hands tucked against her chest, breaths coming softly and evenly. I lay on my side next to her, wanting to reach out and touch her, but restrained myself. I studied her as she slept, saw the dark circles under her eyes, and thought no wonder how easily she had succumbed to my seidr the night before—it appeared as if she had not slept well in months.

I had crawled into bed shortly after she had fallen asleep. When I had pulled Stjarna into my arms, she had not even stirred, and unconsciously curled against me. I’d relished the feel of her body against mine once again, and when I closed my eyes I could almost imagine it was like old times, and I was not burdened with this terrible secret, and Frigga was still alive and I knew not of Odin’s betrayal.

Initially I’d wanted to make love to her, wishing to ease this longing in the sweet, welcoming warmth of her body, but she had reacted exactly how I suspected she would: with confusion and dread and aversion. Part of me was not surprised, for Stjarna was a good woman, and I knew I did not deserve her, and she did not deserve me dragging her into all of this, but I had to know she would be safe when everything came crashing down.

I wondered how I would get Stjarna to understand my plan, for surely upon waking she would grow upset all over again and demand me tell her. She would resist, and likely weep again because she was disappointed and ashamed of me, but it had to be done. It was the only way to make things go back to how they had been before, or at least some semblance of how things used to be, it was all I could do…

Finally, not wishing to disturb her, I got up. I quietly readied, donned Odin’s illusion, and went to order one of the guards to have a small breakfast fetched. It was delivered shortly after and the servants laid it out on the table in my receiving chamber. I did not want them to go into the bedchamber, lest they disturb my sleeping Vana and consequently arouse even more suspicion.

After the servants had gone and the doors closed behind them, I went back into the bedchamber and shed my magic. I was surprised to find Stjarna awake, most likely roused by the noise in the other room. She was sitting up in bed, knees drawn up to her chin, arms wrapped around her legs. She had been staring vacantly into the fireplace across the room, but her eyes flickered to me when I entered.

“I’ve had breakfast brought,” I told her.

She stared unresponsively at me for a long while, and then, finally, “Where is the Allfather?”

Though I had known beforehand I would have to admit part, if not all, of my plan to Stjarna, I certainly could not divulge his location, even to her—it was too risky.

“Alive.”

“Where is he?” she pressed, never taking her eyes off me.

“Stjarna,” I said in warning.

She looked down and wrapped her arms a little tighter around her legs.

“Did you hurt him?”

I did not reply.

“Are you going to kill him?” she whispered.

Once again I remained silent, which confirmed it for her. She closed her eyes and buried her face between her drawn-up knees.

“He is your father,” she bemoaned, though her voice was muffled.

I did not bother to correct her, for I did not wish to fight. I turned to head into the other room and heard her slide off the bed and follow me.

“He is your father!” she exclaimed angrily from behind me, and much more loudly.

I turned on her, attempting to quell the anger that very statement produced.

“He is not my father,” I snarled. Stjarna glared defiantly at me and did not flinch when I took a step closer to her. “He deserves to die.”

“For what?” she cried, and her fortitude abruptly dissolved in front of me, leaving behind the fear and uncertainty. “I know he hurt you—”

I laughed harshly, wondering as to her reaction if I was to disclose all that had come out the day I’d discovered Mímir’s severed head.

“If only it was as simple as that, Stjarna.”

She closed her eyes, on the verge of tears, and hung her head, which mollified me somewhat.

“I don’t want to fight with you,” I admitted, and I reached out and pulled her towards me. She came willingly, much to my relief. To fight was the last thing I wanted; I could not have Stjarna turn against me, especially now.

“Then do not lie to me,” Stjarna whimpered, voice trembling. “No more secrets, Loki, please…”

“Stjarna…”

“Am I not worth the truth?” she asked sadly, resting her head against my chest.

I held her, doubt coursing through me. However averse I was to revealing everything to her, I knew I must admit at least part of it.

“I brought you here to keep you safe,” I finally confessed, pressing my lips to the top of her head.

“What do you mean?” she murmured, pulling away to look up at me. There were tears brimming in her eyes and I regretted having done this to her, despite its necessity.

“I did not want to bring you into all of this, Stjarna, but I saw no other way…”

“You are frightening me, Loki,” she whispered, tightening her hands on me.

“Things cannot ever return to normal,” I conceded, “but it will be… somewhat like it was…”

“Loki…”

“They will never simply accept me as king,” I said, as much as I hated admitting it. But I had thought on this for so long, and though I may not have liked the fact, it was a fact, and it would do no good to further delude myself. “This I have realized, and so… I must earn it.”

“Earn it?” she breathed.

“Yes. Thor is on Midgard. The king is weak. Asgard would be open to attack.”

I could see the dread dawn on her face. “Attack from who?”

“The Jötnar,” I answered softly.

Her eyes widened in horror. “You’re going to let them into Asgard again?”

“I would be there to help repel the attack when it happened,” I quickly explained before she could speak, but it did not matter. She took a step back, now nervously wringing her fingers together.

“But they believe you dead,” she whimpered.

“Odin is adept at keeping secrets, all know it. It could be said I was found in Svartalfheim alive, and he kept me until I was healed.”

Stjarna closed her eyes and shook her head again.

“Do you not see, Stjarna?” I asked, wanting her to realize, wishing she would understand this was the only way, not only for myself, but for her, as well. “I will redeem myself.”

Of course I knew I would never become king, they would never allow it. Thor would have to take the throne, whether he wanted it or not, and I knew his disgustingly upstanding sense of duty would compel him to do it, but at least I would no longer be a traitor, nor a fugitive.

Stjarna slowly opened her eyes and sorrowfully regarded me, and I could see the fear and disappointment plain upon her face.

“No, Loki, please no, don’t do this…”

I pressed my lips together, but then had I really thought she would understand? Ultimately, though, it did not matter if she understood or not—I only needed her here to keep her safe when it all began.

“When?” she asked, so quietly I almost did not hear her.

I hesitated.

“When, Loki?” she insisted, more loudly.

“Within the week,” I responded, and her lips parted in surprise.

“That… this is mad, Loki,” she cried, voice escalating, “this is mad—!”

“I have my reasons, which you clearly cannot fathom,” I stated firmly, cutting her off.

“No! You cannot do this!”

“It is already done,” I said plainly, my tone indicating the conversation was over.

Stjarna, perhaps realizing it was no use, and appearing defeated, slowly lowered her head.

At this point it was ridiculous to think we would be able to sit down and eat together, and so I decided I would simply have to skip breakfast. Despite the fact Stjarna was here now, I could not ignore my responsibilities for the day, and so would have to leave her here. I trusted her to remain here and did not even bother asking her to do so.

“Stjarna…” I took her hand and pulled her closer. “I must go. I won’t be back until this afternoon, but I… I promise we will speak tonight.”

She gave a small nod, acquiescing easily to me. I suppose she did not have the strength to fight it anymore.

I lifted her head and kissed her cheek, hating having done this to her, but it would be over soon and everything hopefully would be—somewhat—as it had been.

“I will take supper here with you,” I explained softly. “You’ll be alright here?”

Another little nod.

I felt regret; I hated seeing her so upset, and especially knowing I was the cause, but it simply could not be helped.

“I will be back,” I assured, and I stepped away from her and her arm fell to her side.

I cast one more glance back at her as I donned Odin’s illusion, and she was still gazing tearfully at me when I shut the doors behind me.

__

Stjarnavetr

I did not leave the king’s chambers all day, and had not yet touched the small breakfast Loki had brought earlier this morning when the servants later came to clean up. They peeked curiously at me, but did not speak to me, and I did not speak to them. In my state, I could hardly bother to care their own thoughts, and how they would gossip that the Allfather had taken his disgraced dead son’s mistress as his own.

But Loki had said soon it would not matter…

The thought of that terrified me, and even more that Loki actually believed this ridiculous plot of his would work—to let the Jötnar invade Asgard, and to somehow redeem himself in fending them off. How could he have lowered himself to this, to truly believe this the best course of action? That he would sacrifice so many lives simply that he could return to what he had been before any of this had happened? And what was I to do, knowing of it, and knowing it was wrong, and yet torn by my love for him?

Part of me was still reeling that Loki was even alive, and that part of me was relieved and happy and wanted nothing more than to have him hold me in his arms and pretend as if everything was alright, but the other part of me was mortified at what he had accomplished in the short amount of time after his escape, and what he planned to do. He had done something with the Allfather, and I believed him when he told me he was alive, but I doubted he would stay that way for long. Though Loki had not admitted it, I had no doubt he intended to kill the king, for how else would he be able to get away with all of this? I knew he despised Odin, but it was too much now, and I was burdened with being the only one to know.

Much of the day I spent pacing restlessly, or staring into the fireplace wringing my hands and fretting and despairing. I thought about what had brought us here, and what was ahead, and I saw nothing but death and despair if we stayed on this course.

I did not think it possible to persuade Loki to reason, but I knew I must try. He was not thinking rationally, and yet, if I could not convince him out of this insanity, there was only one other thing I knew to do, but the very thought of it sickened me and I wished to avoid it at all costs. But ultimately I could not let Loki go through with this, both for his sake and Asgard’s.

I was still debating on what to do when Loki arrived later that afternoon. I was sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace, knees drawn up, arms wrapped around my legs. The doors opened and I slowly turned my head to see Odin enter. Once the doors were shut behind him, his illusion melted away and there stood Loki.

I stood up and folded my arms over my chest, banishing the relief I felt at merely seeing him, as he came towards me, determined to somehow sway him.

“Loki,” I said, attempting to keep my voice firm. “I must speak with you. You told me we would talk…”

He took in my folded arms, and the look of determination on my face, and the corner of his lips quirked upwards.

“I know I did,” he replied, which surprised me.

“I’ve—I’ve been thinking today—”

“So have I,” he interrupted, coming to stand in front of me.

“Oh.” I furrowed my brows, uncertain as to his behavior. “About what?”

“About you,” he replied softly, and I faltered when he gently pried my arms apart and ran his hands down until he twined his fingers with mine.

I went to speak, but wavered when he lowered his head and kissed me tenderly on the lips. I did not push him away as I should have done, and when Loki realized this, he moved to wrap his arms around my middle and pull me closer. He deepened the kiss and I placed my hand on his arm and gripped the fabric of his tunic; despite the trepidation churning inside me, and how resolute I had been only moments before, I could not deny how wonderful it felt for him to kiss me, considering how long I had been without his affection.

I let out a quiet breath when Loki finally broke the kiss.

“I thought of you all day,” he murmured, resting his forehead against mine.

My resolve weakened when he kissed me again, and then his lips drifted over my cheek and down to below my jaw. I closed my eyes and breathed his name, curled my fingers on his arm, as he trailed lingering kisses down the side of my neck to the top of my shoulder.

I leaned my head against his, taking what I knew would be a fleeting pleasure in his lips on my skin, and despite our tenuous circumstances, I could not deny how badly I had missed Loki, and for this moment, could indulge myself. I melted into his arms and leaned against him, wishing so badly I could give in to him. We had been apart for so long and I was acutely aware of every point of him touching me, his mouth hot on my skin, his hands holding me firmly against his hard body.

It was when Loki’s hands began to descend down that I had to stop him. I put my hands on his chest and he drew his head back.

“Stop,” I breathed. “I don’t… we shouldn’t…”

I hung my head, unable to meet his gaze, and bit my lip.

“I’ve missed you, Stjarna,” he confessed, and I knew he did not speak only of today, but these past months that we had been apart, and I wanted him and he wanted me, but I simply could not lie with him with all of this still hovering over us. Despite the tingling on my skin, and the heat of his closeness, I did not think I would ultimately be able to take pleasure in it.

Loki sighed, though not in frustration. “I know you’re upset, Stjarna…”

“Words cannot describe it,” I said, somewhat sharply, and I looked up at him. Part of me hated him for what he had done, that he should be so foolish to get himself into a situation like this—yet again—but then was it anything new?

Loki stared at me and then apparently decided it was best to change the subject.

“I’ll have supper brought. I doubt you ate anything this morning—”

“Do not bother,” I dismissed. “I am not hungry.”

“Well, whether you’re hungry or not, I still want you to eat.”

Loki turned to go tell one of the Einheri to have food brought, and I wondered angrily how he could be acting so nonchalantly about it all. His behavior frustrated me to no end.

“Stop avoiding it!” I shouted suddenly, and my voice broke.

Loki stopped abruptly and turned around to face me.

“I don’t—I don’t understand how you can be like this,” I continued, a little softer now, attempting to keep my voice from once again breaking.

“Quite easily, actually,” Loki flatly retorted, obviously displeased at my outburst.

I stared indignantly at him. It was almost as if I did not know him, even after all we had been through.

“Loki…”

“I know you cannot understand, Stjarna,” he stated, appearing slightly penitent as he approached me, “but I only ask you to trust me.”

“How can I trust you, don’t you hear yourself?” I whispered desperately. “I am begging you… please do not do this…”

“There is nothing else to be done,” he dismissed.

“Stop saying that!” I exclaimed, exasperated by his indifference, and unable to keep from again raising my voice in my frustration. “Stop saying that! Can’t you see? Can’t you see what you’re doing is—”

I gasped when Loki abruptly grabbed me by the arm and dragged me roughly behind him into the bedchamber. He slammed the door behind him and turned on me.

“Stop shouting!” he barked. “Do you want the guards to hear you?”

But I hardly cared in that moment. I was overwhelmed, and I felt so powerless; Loki was going to get himself and so many others killed and I loved him and was torn on what to do.

“I know—I know you’re angry with him,” I said miserably, speaking of the Allfather, “but this is not the way…”

Loki scoffed. “This again, Stjarna?”

“You cannot go through with this,” I cried. “You—you must beg his forgiveness—”

“Do you truly think he would forgive me for this?” Loki snapped, staring at me as if I was insane. And then he scoffed. “As if I would lower myself to beg his forgiveness for anything.”

I shook my head, lips trembling.

“You’re consumed by your anger,” I whispered sadly, reaching up to touch his cheek. “You do not have to let it do this… you don’t have to let it control you like this…”

“And what do you know?” he growled, pushing my hand away.

I only stared ruefully at him, hardly knowing how to respond.

“Well?” he demanded when I did not reply, and he took an intimidating step towards me. “My entire life has been a lie, Stjarna. I grew up believing in something, and just like that he ripped it from me. All my life he told me I would be king, and he knew… he knew the whole time. He used me and lied to me about everything and he has to pay for it, they’re all going to pay for it…”

“What has happened to you?” I cried, hardly able to keep my tears in check, hating that expression on his face. It was not my Loki standing in front of me, not my Loki who I trusted unwaveringly, and who I would do anything for. I did not know him anymore.

Loki scoffed and ran a shaky hand through his hair.

“What about me?” I whimpered, eyes fixed on his face. “Would you kill me, Loki, if I stood in your way?”

Loki’s expression immediately softened and he shook his head.

“No,” he said quietly. “I could not hurt you, Stjarna.”

I slowly closed my eyes. This liar, this manipulative, cheating murderer… how had it come to this, that I found myself here, the only one to yet remain unspoiled in this traitor’s eyes? Gods, how I wished he had not done this. Truly the Norns spun a tangled web.

“I… I cannot do this with you,” I admitted tremulously.

Loki furrowed his brows and I bit my lip hard to keep from bursting into weeping. When he realized my meaning, his face became stony.

“You will turn your back on me, then?” he asked, voice monotone.

I stared up at him, distraught. “Can you not see the futility of it?”

“Answer me,” he commanded.

“Yes!” I cried, and it killed me. I slowly lowered my head, as if ashamed. “I will not stand by you as you do this. I cannot.”

I felt his gaze on me, and flinched when he curled his fingers under my chin and slowly lifted my head. His expression, though strangely calm, sent a twinge of fear through me.

“After all we have been through, and you will so easily turn your back on me, Stjarna?”

My lips quivered as I gently wrapped my fingers around his wrist. “Not easily. I love you, Loki, I love you, but… I cannot… I will not… be a part of this.”

“So what will happen, Stjarna?” he asked stiffly. “Are you going to betray me?”

I was silent, I could not answer for the sorrow welling up in my throat.

“Are you going to run to Baldr? Týr? Tell them the truth and watch them drag me out of here?” he wondered, eyes flickering back and forth between my teary ones. “They would kill me, you know. Would you be able to watch them kill me?”

My chin trembled. “But you do not have to do this.”

“Oh, but I do,” he said softly.

Loki let his arm drop and a desperation rose up in me. I grabbed his hands and held them tightly.

“You hate so much, Loki,” I despaired, trying anything now to change his mind. “Do you think this will help? Even if you accomplish this, it will not satisfy you.”

“It is all I have,” he replied angrily.

“You have to let it go,” I begged.

“I cannot!” he retorted, pushing me away.

“It is destroying you!” I cried. “It is tearing you apart, can you not see it? Can you not see what you’re doing is madness?”

My words only served to further anger him and he clenched his fists.

“You cannot understand my reasoning,” he bit out.

“Then tell me!” I shouted. All he had revealed to me was that the Allfather had lied to him, but something told me there was more to it than Loki simply being denied the throne. “You say I do not understand, but you will not tell me!”

“I cannot!” he shouted back.

I could not help it now. I began to cry. I covered my face with my hands.

“What do you want me to do, Stjarna?” he demanded irately, and I looked up at him, unable to speak. “Should I reveal myself to them all and beg forgiveness? Get down on my knees in front of them and say I’m sorry, after all they’ve done to me?”

“I don’t know,” I sobbed. “I don’t know—”

“Do you think they’ll forgive me? Do you think they’ll overlook all I’ve done?” he snapped. “They would kill me on the spot! There is nothing else left but this!”

“We could—no, Loki, you don’t have to do this, we—we…”

“We could what?”

“We could—we could go away…”

Loki paused and furrowed his brows, honestly surprised, and I bit my lip, shocked at my own words, for they had come without thinking.

“Go away?” he echoed.

“Yes, anywhere but here,” I whimpered, managing now to rein in my sobs. I latched onto the idea immediately, anything to get him to reconsider his suicidal plot. “We could go away, we could leave Asgard…”

Loki smirked, as if amused, and he gazed down at me as I came forward and took his hands into my shaky ones.

“And where would we go, darling?” he inquired, though not meanly—almost gently.

I shrugged helplessly, twining our fingers together and laying my head against his chest.

“Anywhere, Loki, it doesn’t matter. Midgard, Alfheim, somewhere outside the Nine Realms, as long as we just go away…”

Loki chuckled, but I shook my head and wrapped my arms around him, which quietened him.

“So they would just get away with doing this to me?” he asked softly.

I bit my lip, unsure. With Loki it was always about revenge and I knew he would not be able to simply let it go—he would always be eaten up with it. It was hopeless.

“Loki, I… I love you with every fiber of my being, but I… I cannot condone this…”

“I do not need you to condone it,” he said. “Only to keep you safe—”

I could not hold it back and began once again to weep. I was too tired, too disconsolate, too weary to argue anymore, and I did not even fight him when he bent down and scooped me up into his arms, much like he had the night before.

“I am sorry, Stjarna,” Loki murmured, kissing the side of my head as he carried me to the bed. He laid me down and I wiped my eyes, attempting to stifle my sobs, and he crawled in beside me. He pulled me into his arms and I wondered miserably how he could be so eaten up with hate and anger and a lust for death and still find it in himself to comfort me like this.

Loki stroked my hair, kissed my forehead and wet cheeks, and told me again he was sorry, but there was no other way, and I was too distraught to fight. I nestled against him and let him hold me, almost not wishing to think of it anymore, so uncertain, wanting foolishly to pretend as if all was well.

__

It could only have been a few hours later when I awoke.

Loki was lying next to me on top of the covers, facing towards me, hand resting against my arm. I stared sadly at him in the dimness of the room; even asleep his expression was vaguely melancholic, and I studied him for a long while, feeling sick. I did not even need to think on it, I knew what I had to do, and yet I could still hardly bear to admit it to myself. Loki’s plan was absolute lunacy and I could not allow him to go through with it, but who to tell? The very notion of it tore me apart, that I should betray him so utterly, but I knew deep down there was no other way, I would not be able to convince him…

But who? Who could I tell that had the ability to stop him? Thor was the only one who came to mind; Thor would listen to me and hopefully take pity on me and therefore Loki—but Thor was on Midgard and I had no way to reach him, and there was no time to lose. I despaired, aware that next in line to inform was Baldr, and then Týr, and that they both disliked Loki. Baldr, however, seemed the lesser of two evils, and if I wanted to talk to Thor, I had to go through him.

And so, after spending another half hour gathering up the courage to even move from my spot, I quietly slipped out of bed, threw one last sorrowful glance back at Loki, and departed. The entire way to Baldr’s chambers I was a nervous wreck, and once there I dithered anxiously in the corridor. I knew after speaking of this to him, there would be no going back, and I grew distraught to even imagine Loki’s reaction when he found out, and the disappointment and anger surely he would feel. Gods, he would loathe me, but I did this for his own good, and for Asgard. And yet, that did not lessen my guilt.

There was a lone Einheri standing outside Baldr’s chambers who had been curiously watching me pace back and forth, and he stared at me as I approached him.

“I request an audience with Baldr,” I said softly. “Is he awake?”

“What is your business?” the guard asked.

Figuring that meant yes, I answered timidly, “It—it is to do with Th—the prince, Prince Thor. It is urgent.”

The guard nodded. “Wait here, please.”

He turned and entered Baldr’s chambers, leaving me standing alone in the shadowy corridor. He emerged only a minute later.

“You may enter.”

I entered tentatively, heart thundering in my chest, mouth dry and palms sweaty. Baldr was seated at a circular table, a cup of wine in his hand, and my heart fell when I caught sight of Týr leaning against the side of the fireplace, arms folded across his chest. I despaired, why was Týr here at this time of night?

“Lady Stjarnavetr,” Baldr greeted, not unkindly, before my courage could fail me. “Rjaldan said you had urgent news about Prince Thor?”

I turned away from Týr, whose cool gaze was fixed on me.

“Y—yes,” I stammered. “I… I need to speak to Prince Thor—”

Týr’s voice cut abruptly through my weak request. “Thor is on Midgard. You know this.”

“Yes, but there must be a way I can speak with him? Please, is—is there a way to call him back?”

Baldr cocked his head. “Why do you need to speak to him?”

I had anticipated this and my insides twisted in a cold fear. “It—it is a private matter, but it is very important.”

“You may tell me whatever it is you would tell him,” Baldr stated, seemingly oblivious to my apprehension.

“Why do you not tell the king?” Týr asked before I could reply, somewhat suspiciously.

“It… it is only for Thor to hear,” I finally admitted, realizing that was as flimsy an excuse as any, and hardly convincing.

Týr came a little closer, scrutinizing me.

“Stjarnavetr,” Baldr said, a little more firmly now. “You may tell me whatever you wished to tell Thor.”

“I cannot,” I answered, attempting unsuccessfully to suppress my panic, and I flinched when I saw Týr standing only feet away from me.

“Why did the Allfather bring you back to the palace?”

I faltered, caught off guard. “What?”

“The queen is dead,” Týr continued. “What use has he for you? I doubt he’s actually interested in fucking his dead son’s mistress.”

Terror lanced through me and I realized I had made a grave mistake coming here.

“Please,” I begged, looking frantically back at Baldr, who seemed the rational one. “Is there any way Thor could—”

“No!” Týr snapped, and I started when he reached out and grabbed me roughly by the arm. I froze as he leaned in closer, eyes flickering back and forth between mine, as if he was thinking.

And then his lips curled up into a thin, humorless smile, and dread filled me.

“It’s Loki, isn’t it?”

My blood turned to ice in my veins.

“What?” I whispered, hardly knowing what else to say.

“You wished to tell Thor that Loki is impersonating the Allfather,” Týr concluded smugly, releasing me, and I took a faltering step back, saw Baldr stand up out of the corner of my eye.

“I…” but I could think of nothing to say, and Týr glanced triumphantly at Baldr, who appeared surprised.

“I told you, Baldr,” Týr smirked, running his hand over his mouth. “Something was off. Now his Vana confirms it for us.”

“You must tell Thor immediately,” I begged.

“Where’s Odin?” Týr demanded, ignoring my plea.

“I…” my lips trembled and I shook my head, feeling so helpless. “I don’t know. He is alive, but Loki wouldn’t tell me.”

“It is no matter, we’ll find out soon enough.” He turned to Baldr. “Baldr, have Rjaldan fetch some more guards, we’re going to pay the king a little visit—”

“You mustn’t hurt him!” I cried, drawing Týr’s attention back to me. “You must not kill him.”

Týr cocked his head. “Why? Surely he deserves it.”

“No,” I whimpered, shaking my head, remembering when Loki had said they would kill him if they found out. “Do not kill him. Thor must see him, you cannot kill him…”

Týr’s lips quirked upwards in a smile; he stepped close to me, and I saw the firelight dancing in his dark eyes.

“You have my word, Vana. I will not kill him.”

“And Thor…”

“Thor will be summoned immediately, of course,” Týr assured, nodding to Baldr who had gone to talk to the guard outside his chambers. “He will be the one to decide Loki’s fate.”

Despite Týr’s reassurance, regret and despair and disgrace washed through me; I could not believe I had actually done it, and now it was done, and there was no going back, and gods, Loki…

I turned, but gasped in pain when Týr grabbed my arm and yanked me back against him.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he growled, close to my ear. “You think I’m going to give you a chance to change your mind and run and tell him we’re coming?”

Týr sat me in a chair while he and Baldr quickly gathered a small group of Einherjar, at least a dozen. I was shivering, on the verge of bursting into weeping, and all I could think was I had betrayed him, I had betrayed utterly the man I loved…

Too soon, they were ready.

“You’re coming with,” Týr smirked, not bothering to hide his glee as he grabbed me once again by the arm and hauled me after him. He and Baldr led the group of Einherjar to the king’s chambers, and when we finally reached them I wished to the gods I had not done this, I should not have done this, there had to have been another way…

The guards standing outside the doors had their hands on their swords, warily studying their comrades.

“None are to enter without—”

“Stand aside,” Týr announced. “It is not the Allfather you guard, but the disgraced prince Loki.”

The guards glanced unsurely at one another, and then Týr shoved me forward.

“His whore has confirmed it. Stand aside.”

I squeezed my eyes shut and bit my lip so hard I tasted blood, gasped when Týr grabbed me again, fingers digging into my arm. The doors opened and the guards drew their swords and Týr dragged me in after him.

My heart leapt into my throat when, through this veil of tears, I saw Loki standing by the fireplace. He did not even flinch when the doors were thrown open and I knew then that he had been expecting this. I could only imagine what he must have thought when he awoke to find me gone, he must have known, gods, what had he thought of me…

Loki only slowly raised his head. His eyes immediately landed on me, and then Týr’s fingers wrapped tightly around my arm, and then flickered to Týr’s beaming face.

“Loki,” Týr said, as if in greeting. He lifted my arm and for a second time shoved me forward, and I stumbled and almost fell. “Look what little birdie came to us tonight.”

I looked up at Loki, shame engulfing me, and I was staring at him, silently pleading with him, to let him know I had to, I had to do this…

Loki’s face remained expressionless.

“Loki,” I whimpered, clasping my shaking hands together in front of me, and he remained still, only staring. “Loki, pl—please forgive me, please forgive me…”

But he did not reply.

“Thor will come, you’ll speak with him and… and…”

I trailed off, knowing not what else to say, and by his expression it was evident he did not wish to hear anything I had to say. I hung my head, unable to hold his icy glare.

“Enough of this,” Týr snapped, and he brushed me to the side. Loki stared at Týr, examined the group of Einherjar with all their weapons drawn. He knew there was no escape; he could not fight them or surely he would be killed.

“Take him,” Baldr ordered, and four Einherjar came forward. I backed up against the wall, trembling violently, and watched tearfully, silently begging Loki to go easily. He did, much to my relief. He kept his eyes fixed on Týr, lips set into a thin line, as two guards grabbed his arms, and the other two came to stand behind him.

They directed him forward, grips tight on his arms, and led him up to Týr and Baldr, who stood side by side. Baldr only gazed stonily at him, but Týr was grinning widely.

“Want to tell us where the Allfather is?”

Loki remained silent, staring coldly.

“That’s quite alright, Loki,” Týr said, and suddenly he drew his arm back and punched Loki viciously in the stomach. I screamed and covered my mouth as Loki doubled over and groaned in pain, but the guards quickly yanked him back up.

“Take him to the dungeons,” Týr commanded. “I want a dozen guards on him at all times. Any hint of mischief, you run him through, understand?”

“Yes,” came the obedient reply.

The tears rolled down my cheeks as they led him away. Baldr followed the guards out, most likely to supervise Loki’s imprisonment, until it was just Týr and I. Týr glanced once more at me, that smug smile still plastered on his face, before turning to leave.

I slowly slid down the wall, shaking, and covered my face and began to weep.

Chapter Text

Loki

I was in my old cell again, though this time there were no chairs, no books, no bed, no Frigga. Only the bright white floor and the bright white ceiling and the humming yellow barrier. Odin, had he known, would have been more than pleased with my current situation.

I sat on the floor against the wall, one leg bent, outstretched arm resting on it, and stared out past the wall of energy at the Einherjar. There were twelve of them standing guard—all stupidly loyal to Týr, I suspected—with their hands poised on the hilts of their swords, eyes straight ahead. But I was not looking at them. I was lost in my own thoughts.

I could not accurately describe what it was coursing through me—some bilious mixture of black rage, so powerful it was almost numbing, and this sickening sense of betrayal—though I knew exactly who it was directed at. I could not even consider what was to come, which would have been the most logical thing to do in my position, but all I could think of was how Stjarna had betrayed me.

I had never before truly thought of hurting Stjarna, but in that moment I believe I could have wrapped my hands around her neck, had she been standing before me. And yet… despite my dark thoughts, had I not only hours ago chosen to go quietly because Týr held her and I knew he would resort to threatening her life if I resisted? She had betrayed me utterly and I still could not stand the thought of anything happening to her, most especially by Týr.

I cursed my own stupidity. I wondered what she had told them and was thankful I had not revealed Odin’s location to her, or indulged more of my plan. No, I’d not told her everything, least of all how I had handed over one of Asgard’s greatest bargaining chips. I smiled to think of their reaction when they found out I’d given it back to them, when they found out about my little trip to Jötunheim less than a month ago.

It was no problem cloaking myself in magic to shield myself from Heimdall’s magical view—I’d done it many times before—and using the portal I had used a couple of years prior to make my way to that dead, frozen realm.

They had almost killed me when they found me, but thought it amusing when I requested to meet with their leader. Their new king was an ugly brute called Hárkaldr, and he had been lazing on the throne when they dragged me before him. He had sat up straight, eyed me circumspectly with that burning red gaze, and recognized me instantly, for he had been privy years before to my bargain with Laufey.

“You are the one who betrayed us,” he croaked.

“Yes,” I’d confirmed, cocking an eyebrow.

“And you are so foolish to come before us again? Why?”

“I have a proposition for you.”

He had snarled and leaned forward in the throne. “Tell me why I should not have your head cleaved from your shoulders.”

I almost laughed to remember how his eyes had widened, and the hush that had fallen over the dank room, when I had extended my arm and unveiled the Casket of Ancient Winters, shrouded heavily in seidr. I had not come without enticement.

“I want you to invade Asgard,” I had said, gazing pointedly at him.

He’d slowly stood up and come heavily down the icy steps, scrutinizing me. He did not even glance at the Casket, probably believing it to be an illusion.

“Why should we trust you?” he had growled.

Though I’d detested it, I had allowed that cold blue to creep over my skin, and my eyes to turn red as his. Hárkaldr’s smile had widened and a low chuckle echoed through the frozen chamber.

“Laufey’s runt returns.”

I had ignored that and once again offered him the Casket, told him I had been betrayed and wished revenge. He had taken it and confirmed the relic’s genuineness, and I had spent the next few hours in talks with Hárkaldr and his closest advisors, dispelling their doubts, convincing them of my sincerity, describing the wrong that had been done to me by Asgard, and likening my cause to theirs.

It had taken some time, but Hárkaldr was a fool, and eventually I had won him to my side. I told him my only desire was to see Asgard razed to the ground, and that once their forces were adequately prepared, I would open the doors for them.

That had been a month ago. I’d obscured the Casket with seidr so Heimdall would not know they had it, but, as I knew he would, and had anticipated, he would eventually see them rousing what little forces they had left. He came to me one day and alerted me of it, that it appeared as if the Jötnar were preparing for something.

Acting the concerned king, I had informed our own forces, citing our old enemies were brewing once again, and that we would be ready if they attempted anything unsavory. When I would finally open the doors, the Jötnar would attack Asgard, and though I would take immense pleasure in watching it burn, where would that leave me? And so I would play the part, and I would finally shed Odin’s illusion and help to repel them. Odin had defeated them millennia ago and they would be defeated again. Even with the Casket, their illustrious leader had been long dead and their new one was a fool, and they had grown a feeble and pathetic race. I would redeem myself in fighting them, and how much pleasure I would take in finally slaughtering Odin, and they would think he had fallen in battle, and it would be only me to explain how I had survived in Svartalfheim and how he had kept me until I was healed.

It had all sounded so simple in my mind, so easily executed, and everything would fall into place, but now… it was all lost, and all by the hands of my lover.

I knew not exactly how long I sat there—spending a year down here had not made any more acute my perception of the passage of time—before one of the guards perked up. I raised my head when Týr came into sight, but I did not move—only stared coldly at him.

He sauntered up to the yellow wall of energy, evidently pleased with himself, and grinned.

“Nice being back home, isn’t it?”

I remained quiet, but he had been expecting that.

“I just wanted to ask you some questions before we call Thor. No need to bother him with the trivial matters, eh?”

He walked around my cell, coming to stand closer to me on the right.

“Where is the Allfather?” he asked, tilting his head.

I silently regarded him, refusing to answer.

Týr chuckled. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

I furrowed my brows, and then suddenly the barrier was lowered and six of the Einherjar stepped up into the cell. Two grabbed me before I could even stand up, yanked me to my feet, and led me roughly out. I grimaced when one came up behind me, grabbed a fistful of my hair, and jerked my head back. I tensed when I felt a blade at my throat, pressing deep.

“We’re going to take a little trip,” Týr remarked, coming to stand in front of me. “Don’t try anything now.”

I was turned around, the knife removed from my throat, and pushed forward. Týr led the way, deeper into the dungeons. We eventually turned down a corridor I had never been down, away from Odin lying half-dead in that cell. Deeper, until the walls became rougher and unhewn, and the floor was rocky.

Týr finally stopped at a rough wooden doorway, flashed me a shrewd smile before opening it, and inclined his head in mock respect as I was dragged inside.

My stomach dropped.

Torches adorned on the walls, casting a hellish, dancing glow over the small room, which was packed with various instruments, some lying on tables or leaning against walls, others simmering in coals, all clearly created only to inflict pain. My eyes flickered briefly to a man standing against the far wall, hands folded in front of him, before drifting back to focus on a couple of white-hot brands lying complacently in a smoldering brazier.

Týr entered behind me, walked to the center of the room, turned around to face me, and held his arms out, as if welcoming me. I stared speechlessly at him, wondering if he had gone insane. He ordered all the guards but two to leave and told them to station themselves at the end of the corridor. The two remaining Einherjar held my arms firmly.

“Over here,” Týr instructed, and they pulled me towards the middle of the room, where from the ceiling I just now noticed hung two irons. The unnamed man who had been standing by the wall came forward to assist, and my legs suddenly felt weak.

My mind raced, but I could think of no plausible way for me to escape this. There were four of them here now, and many more just outside in the corridor, but I knew if they shackled me, there was a chance I would not even be able to walk out of here—if Týr ever saw fit to let me leave.

Just as one of the guards reached up to grab an iron, and I tensed, ready to shove him away, form a seidr blade and attempt escape in any way I could, Týr clucked his tongue and eyed me.

“Ah, ah, Loki. Don’t forget about your Vana…”

I froze, absorbing his words.

“Don’t think I won’t,” he warned, voice low and rippling with threat.

I stared at him, realizing that if I didn’t cooperate, he would hurt her—somehow—and I had no doubt that he would. The corner of his lips curled upwards into a smile as I let them raise my arms and shackle me. I turned my head, lips pressed together, unable to stomach that smug expression on his face.

Once the cold fetters were secure around my wrists, the guards stepped away and I stood there unable to move. I subtly tugged at the shackles, unable now to swallow the dread rising up. Memories flickered through my mind, of fire and screams and laughs in the dark.

Týr smiled at the guards. “Wait outside, will you? A little farther down the corridor.”

They inclined their heads and promptly left, and I could not deny the twinge of fear I felt when Týr locked the door behind them, leaving only him, me, and the unnamed man, who did not remain nameless for very long.

“Loki, meet Alsekr,” Týr said, motioning towards the man, who was fairly unkempt. I glanced at Alsekr, affording him only a moment of acknowledgment, before looking back at Týr.

“You’re not going to summon Thor, are you?”

“Oh, I will,” Týr assured, coming closer, “but only after I’ve had my fun with you.”

It was, admittedly, difficult to keep my voice from shaking. “Fun?”

“Yes. I need some information from you that I know you will not give freely. Besides…” and now he cocked his head and grinned. “I’ve always wondered what your screams sounded like.”

“You think Thor will condone this?” I asked, somehow maintaining this nonchalant façade, but inside I was desperate to convince him out of this. Even though I had betrayed Thor for the umpteenth time, I was not so sure he would be tolerant of Týr torturing me, for that was clearly what he intended to do.

“No, but he will never find out,” Týr dismissed, and I felt ill and how confident he sounded. “Now, enough talk. Alsekr.”

I heard Alsekr, who had moved to silently stand behind me, come forward, and I tensed up, expecting something—anything—and felt him grab a fistful of my shirt. There came a loud ripping sound as his dagger tore easily through my tunic, up the back and my arms; once Alsekr had it off, he tossed it to the side onto the grimy floor, so I stood suspended there in naught but my pants and boots.

Týr’s eyes wandered down over my front and he raised his eyebrows in genuine surprise.

“Gods, Loki,” he breathed, walking around me, and I heard him tut when he saw the scarring on my back. “Did the Chitauri do that?”

I remained quiet, hands balled into fists.

Týr laughed. “I suppose you didn’t tell them what they wanted to know, either.”

Rustling behind me, the faint clink of metal, and my heart began to beat faster.

“I suppose we ought to start,” Týr sighed, coming back around to face me. He placed his arms behind his back, hiding his long-healed stump. “Where is the Allfather?”

I regarded him icily, lips pressed tightly together.

“Very well,” he said. He stepped up to me, so close I could feel his breath on my skin. “In truth, Loki, I hope you retain this foolish silence. I would love to drag this out.”

He stepped away and nodded to Alsekr behind me; I barely had time to tense up when the first crack of the whip sliced across my back, reverberating in the small room. I gritted my teeth, lifted up on my toes at the force and the pain that lanced through my body.

The second strike came only a few seconds later, leaving me no time to attempt to prepare for it, and then the third, and the fourth, and the fifth... somehow I managed not to cry out the first few times, but could not help a shout by the fourth, and by the seventh I screamed, and thought I could feel blood dripping down my back, taste it in my mouth because I had bit my tongue so hard.

I lost count after the thirteenth strike, and everything blurred together—just the sound of the whip on my back, the agony each strike brought, never ending, and I prayed it was only my strained imagination the threads I felt my skin hanging by.

And then—finally, seemingly an eternity later—it stopped. I hung my head, shaking violently, anticipating the next strike, but it never came. My breaths came in rapid, painful, shallow pants; I clenched my fists, could focus on nothing but my back on fire, the cuts sliced into my skin from the whip stinging and burning and the blood seeping out and dripping down.

Tears clouded my vision when I managed to open my eyes, could barely make out Týr’s hazy silhouette standing in front of me, arms crossed, face like stone despite his earlier saying he had always wanted to hear me scream like this. After a moment he began unhurriedly circling me, studying me.

“How does it feel, Loki, to know that your lover betrayed you?”

I squeezed my eyes shut, felt the tears roll down my cheeks, hardly able to focus on his words.

“If it makes you feel any better, I could drag her down here, too. I’m sure she has some additional information we could use.”

I tightened my jaw and slowly opened my eyes to see him come back around to face me.

“How long were you fucking her? Four, five centuries?”

My eyes drifted down to the floor, saw the dark little streams of what could have only been my blood trickling in between the filthy stones beneath my feet.

“Is she any good?”

I looked up at him, and despite my disadvantageous position, my gaze was venomous.

“Must’ve been if you were fucking her that long,” Týr continued, ignoring my glare, moving again towards the side. “I should give her a go, what do you think? Maybe I’d let you watch that, too.”

Obviously he was only trying to get me to react, but despite what Stjarna had done to me, and that it was her fault I stood chained here with my back torn to pieces, and blood running in rivulets down my body, the thought of Týr laying a hand on her, and especially with the intent to hurt, sent a bolt of fury skittering through me.

I turned my head and spit on him, and I am fairly sure blood came out, too.

Týr clenched his teeth and I stiffened when he turned suddenly and elbowed me savagely in the stomach. I gasped in pain, but could not double over. He turned back around and punched me again, and again, and again, until I could barely hold my head up, and I was gasping for air. He put his only hand on my shoulder and leaned in.

“Did you ever tell her what you are?” he growled, glowering at me. “Did she ever know what filth you came from?”

I raised my head, caught his burning gaze, and his lips curled in disgust.

“I remember when Odin brought you from Jötunheim, a runt left out on a rock to die,” Týr snarled. “He entrusted me with the knowledge, and I told him it was a bad idea, but he didn’t listen, and now look where we are. He should have just let you freeze to death in Jötunheim and saved us all the trouble.”

He paced some more, as if thinking, and the only sound was the crackling of the torches, the faint clink of the irons when I shifted, rubbing my wrists raw.

Finally, “Alsekr, what do frost giants hate more than anything?”

“Asgardians?” came the obedient reply.

Týr chuckled. “Other than that.”

“Fire?”

“No…” I breathed unthinkingly, squeezing my eyes shut, and Týr paused.

“What was that?” he asked, leaning in close. “Would you like to tell me where the king is, then?”

The very thought of fire sent fear surging through me, but some part of me suspected Týr would kill me if I told him so I did not spill his little secret to Thor when he came back from Midgard. I knew Týr would simply tell Thor he had killed me in an act of self-defense or some other nonsense; subsequently, common sense told me to keep my mouth shut, even in the face of fire. And so I did not answer, instead attempting to mentally prepare myself for what I knew was coming.

“Gods, you’re so fucking stubborn,” Týr muttered, and though I did not see, I knew he rolled his eyes. “Alsekr, proceed.”

I heard Alsekr put the whip down on a table behind me and then walk a short distance. Coals rustled behind me, causing my insides to twist in a terrible anticipation. I had seen a brazier when I’d come in, with brands lying in the fire.

The scars on my back, hidden now beneath fresh, weeping cuts, seemed to prickle in anticipation, and I could not help but to recall in a flash when I had been in almost this exact same situation, and yet it had been two Chitauri standing before me, brandishing devices too cruel even for the so-called civilized Aesir.

I watched Týr, saw his eyes follow Alsekr behind me, scraping one of the brands through the coals. His eyes flickered to mine.

“Unless the littlest prince would like to tell us where the Allfather is?”

I gritted my teeth. My only consolation was that this could not go on forever. If I could hold out a little longer… but then what? It was not as if there was anybody to save me from him. But, I truly had no doubt that if I revealed Odin’s location, Týr would slit my throat here and now, and I knew he would take such pleasure in it.

“Fuck you,” I spat.

Týr bared his teeth in annoyance, and I flinched when he took a step forward and reached up to grab a fistful of my hair. He jerked my head back and I grimaced and groaned at the pain in my neck, only serving to enflame the tender throbbing on my back.

“I despise you, Loki, I always have,” he growled, eyes burning. “Do you want to know why?”

I stared at him, lips pressed into a thin line.

He gave my head another jerk, straining the muscles in my neck.

“You’ve been a spoiled brat your entire life, never in want of anything, and yet always wanting more. You could never be satisfied with what you had.”

“So you torture me?” I bit out.

His lips curled up into a smile.

“I would never be so petty,” he smirked. “There is also the matter of this…”

And he held up his right arm, showing me his long-healed stump, and suddenly, I recalled Odin’s words to me that night I had visited him in his cell after discovering Mímir, and admitting he had enlisted Týr to help subdue my son Fenrir by Angrboda, and he had lost his hand in the process.

Despite the sharp pain in my neck, and my precarious situation, I managed a weak laugh, realizing my inadvertent part in Týr’s delicious misfortune.

Týr’s expression darkened when I smiled; he released me and drew his arm back and punched me in the jaw. My head was thrown to the side and blood instantly filled my mouth, but before I could lift my head, he punched me again, and then twice more.

He took a step back, breathing hard, glaring hatefully at me, and I groaned in pain, felt the warm blood dripping out of my nose and mouth, down my chin and over my front, mixing with my sweat. My head throbbed, blood pounding behind my eyes and in my ears and my back, vision blurred with tears.

“Do it,” Týr ordered, and my head snapped up. I knew Alsekr was going to put that hot brand on my back and fear overwhelmed me. I remembered the pain of it so clearly now, did not think I could bear to endure it again. I frantically—uselessly—tugged at the irons around my wrists, tearing my skin, dug my nails deeply into my own palms, tensing for it, and wasn’t prepared at all when it happened.

I heard it first, the sound of it searing my flesh—and then scorching, white-hot agony engulfed me. Alsekr pressed the brand on my upper back, on the fresh, bloody wounds from the whip, and I screamed loudly, I could not help it, and everything was pain, licking like fire along my nerves, beating inside and blinding me.

My voice tore with the intensity of my screaming; eyes squeezed shut, head thrown back, lifted up on my toes, trying to move forward or away from it, but I couldn’t and it didn’t stop and I couldn’t stop screaming, I couldn’t fathom anything but the pain.

Suddenly it was gone and I gasped and sputtered, but it was still there—this throbbing and burning, echoing through my body. I hung my head, limbs shaking violently, agony pulsing through me to the frantic beating of my heart. I sucked in air, each excruciating, ragged breath only serving to intensify it.

“Well?” Týr asked, as if impatient.

But I could not answer. I kept my head down, mouth hanging open, fists clenched.

Týr sighed.

Without warning, there came that sizzling, lower now on my back, and then that blistering agony. I spasmed, screamed again, louder than before, and once again attempted to twist in my bonds, but could not get away from it, and it was too much, too much, and my screaming drowned out Týr’s chuckling, nothing but this mind-numbing agony.

When Alsekr finally pulled away at Týr’s motioning, my legs almost gave out. I could not breathe, I was suffocating, but somehow managed to stay standing, though my legs were trembling and I felt on the verge of passing out, gods I wished I could have. I turned my head so my face was pressed against my arm, breaths coming harshly, and made a sound like a sob.

“Stop, stop, stop,” I panted brokenly, softly.

“Are you ready to speak?” Týr inquired blandly.

I did not respond; I was still attempting to catch my breath, every sensation dulled now save for the unbearable throbbing on my back, radiating outwards.

“Well?”

And still I was silent, and through this veil of suffering I knew it was this or death, and despite the pain, and the fact I knew it would continue, it was preferable to death. I had endured worse by the Chitauri, and as ridiculous as it all seemed, and after all I had done, now that it came down to it, I did not want to die.

Týr scoffed when I could not reply, and I was infinitely grateful when he motioned to Alsekr behind him and I heard the brand placed back into the brazier.

I slowly lifted my head, trembling, as Týr walked towards me. Every breath drawn was pure agony, fire in my lungs, on my back and in my limbs.

“Have you had enough, Loki?” he wondered.

I only stared at him, could tell by his expression he took immense pleasure in my pathetic visage. My focus was drifting in and out, I could barely concentrate—everything was red and black and blood, staining my skin, filling my nose and mouth, slick beneath my boots from where it had dripped down. I was almost grateful for the blood filling my nose, otherwise I would have been able to smell my own burnt skin.

Týr raised his eyebrows, apathetic to my distrait silence.

“Care to tell me where the Allfather is?” he asked, cocking his head.

I held his gaze for only a moment longer, decided I could not afford to spit at him again—almost did not think I physically could. I lowered my head, felt the tears roll down my face, cutting little paths through the blood caked on my skin.

“That is fine,” Týr said nonchalantly. “Surprisingly, I grow tired of this. It’s not as fun when you can’t talk back. How about we let you think on it?”

I managed to raise my head and watched as Týr headed for the door, unlocked it, and opened it. Alsekr went around the wall and extinguished every torch in the room until it was dark, and the only light to be had was from the glowing coals in the brazier behind me, and the light spilling in from the corridor.

“Worry not,” Týr assured as Alsekr went past him out into the corridor. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

I could see his dimly lit grin, hear his final, smiling words before he shut and locked the door behind him.

“Sweet dreams, prince.”

__

Stjarnavetr

I was sick with worry for the next two days; I could not sleep, kept awake with my gnawing guilt, barely ate, and fretted constantly, for I could find nothing out about anything.

Baldr told the court that the king had fallen into one of his sleeps and everything went on like normal, with him acting as regent. I asked Baldr about Loki, but he only told me he had been imprisoned and nothing more—not if Loki was alright or if Thor had been summoned—and acted as if I was a nuisance.

I would have asked Týr, but I did not see him during those two days, until late the second night when he unexpectedly summoned me. I went immediately, anxiously following his page through the sleeping palace. His guard opened the door for me and I entered his dimly lit chambers alone, saw Týr standing over his table, a cup of wine in his one hand. He was glancing over some papers strewn before him, but looked up and smiled at me when I entered.

“Good evening, Lady Stjarnavetr,” Týr greeted, and he raised his cup. “Would you like some wine?”

“No,” I dismissed, hearing the doors close behind me. I went forward, attempting to quell my apprehension. “What have you done with Loki?”

“He is in the dungeons,” Týr answered, studying me.

“Is he alright?” I asked worriedly.

“There is no need to get excited,” Týr advised, shaking his head. “Please, sit.”

I wrung my hands on my dress and sat nervously down at the table.

“I called you here, Lady Stjarnavetr, to personally thank you for what you did.”

I looked at him oddly, but then lowered my head when I realized his meaning.

“You need not look so dejected, Lady,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “You’ve done a great service to Asgard.”

Týr sat his cup down and walked around the table. I did not look up, but stiffened when he brushed his fingers over my shoulder as he passed behind my chair.

“It must have been difficult betraying him like that,” he remarked, and I glanced uneasily at him as he came to stand at the end of the table.

I did not respond, but suppressed a shiver at the look on his face.

“You may rest assured,” he continued, still smiling, “that I will get what I need out of him.”

My eyes widened at his implication, and so did his wolfish grin.

“You’re torturing him?” I cried, jumping to my feet, hearing the chair scrape shrilly on the stone floor. “You said you would not hurt him!”

Týr only laughed at my panic.

“I said I would not kill him,” he clarified. “I’ll admit we may have come close a few times, but your prince pulled through.”

I stared openmouthed at him for a long moment before looking down at the floor. It was my fault, it was all my fault, but what else could I have done… and yet my lack of choices was no consolation.

“It was rather stupid of him to call you back to the palace,” Týr remarked, slowly coming towards me. “But despite your betrayal, I suspect he would hate for anything to happen to you.”

His tone made me feel odd, and I raised my head to gaze tearfully at him, now standing right in front of me.

“I’ve wondered what he sees in you,” Týr mused, more to himself than me. “Despite what I think of Loki, I always thought him above fucking the leftovers of another man.”

He lifted his only hand, and when I realized suddenly that he was going to touch me, I slapped his hand away and took a faltering step back, glaring at him. He slowly lowered his hand, lips set into a thin, hard line.

“That must be it,” he finally muttered.

When I continued staring indignantly at him, he laughed.

“You’re not as submissive as you let on,” he observed, and the lecherous grin on his face sent a chill winding down my spine. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have betrayed him.”

“Thor is coming,” I said angrily, ignoring his previous statement. “You cannot do this.”

“It’s already been done, my dear,” he assured. “Besides, Thor’s not been called yet.”

My lips parted in surprise. “What?”

“Why should I bother him with such boring details? He will be summoned shortly, once Loki admits everything. It will save some time, you know. But… we’ll have to try a little harder now, as I think Loki’s become used to the fire.”

My mouth fell open in horror.

“You—you won’t get away with this, Týr,” I stammered.

“You think Loki’s going to tell Thor, if I even let him live that long? You think he’s going to tell Thor when I’ve got you up here, helpless without him, and he knows it?” And then Týr chuckled, as if he had just thought of something terribly amusing. “Can you imagine, Vana, how much it would hurt him… if I hurt you?”

His words sent a cloud of fear through my mind and I swallowed hard, dread twisting my insides. Týr took another step towards me, and I one back, hitting the table behind me.

“Think not that I’m above recounting to him every lurid detail,” he smirked, closing the short distance between us, and fear overwhelmed me and unthinkingly I drew my hand back and slapped him as hard as I could, seidr gathered in my palm.

Týr’s head was thrown violently to the side and he stumbled against the table. I immediately moved around him, desperate to get out of here, but before I had even taken two steps, he turned, grabbed a fistful of my hair, and viciously yanked me back.

I screamed and reached up to grab his hand, cried out when he slammed me back into the table, and dragged me down until I was bent backwards over the edge. He leaned against me and pinned me down with his other arm. I looked up into his face, saw his cheek swollen and red from where I had hit him, blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth and into his beard.

I whimpered at the pain in my neck, cold fear surging through me. He was so close, I could feel his body against mine, smell his hot breath stinking of wine.

“Now that I think of it,” he growled, dark eyes flashing, “perhaps Loki will talk with a little more encouragement. What do you think, Vana?”

He jerked on my hair even more, causing my back to arch and my neck to strain, and I groaned and dug my nails into his arm. Any little movement only intensified the stinging discomfort in my neck, and an echo of pain tingled down my spine.

I closed my eyes, biting back another whimper, and heard him chuckle darkly. I thought I felt his coarse beard brush against my exposed neck, heard his voice low and menacing in my ear.

“Let’s pay His Highness a little visit, shall we?”

Chapter Text

Loki

I know not how long Týr left me there. I might have drifted in and out, I could not tell—everything was darkness and pain. My legs were incredibly weak, and every time I tried to relax them, even remotely, the irons would cut even more deeply into my wrists, already rubbed raw and bloody. Any movement just served to amplify the tenderness of the wounds on my back, which I imagined was a torn and gory mess.

And through each excruciating breath, all I could manage to think of was what would happen when Týr came again. More whipping? Branding? I did not imagine he would be satisfied with less than that next time around. Oh, but I had endured worse, and yet the thought of more genuinely petrified me. I suspected Týr would have taken sick delight in knowing the specifics of what had been done to me by the Chitauri, and might have been interested in exploring their methods himself.

I closed my eyes, trying not to remember, but it was difficult. Flashing memories of knives, digging, skin tearing and my screaming, unable to move or even writhe, and then their guttural, maniacal laughter as they lifted their hands high, and that molten liquid streaming in silvery ribbons onto my ruined skin, into the exposed muscle, and fire, that never ending fire…

Suddenly, the door opened. I slowly turned my head to look, guts twisting in a terrible anticipation. Light spilled into the darkened room, illuminating Alsekr’s silhouette. He did not address me as he entered, only proceeded to walk around the room igniting the torches one by one.

Dread filled me, for I knew Týr would follow shortly. I did not speak and lowered my head, studied my blood dried in the cracks of the filthy stones, endeavoring to mentally prepare myself for another round.

Once the room was lighted, Alsekr stood silently somewhere behind me, waiting for his master, who arrived soon after.

Týr entered, beaming smugly.

“Loki! Aren’t you glad to see me?”

When I did not respond, merely stared coldly at him, he chuckled.

“I was going to leave you down here a bit longer, but something’s come up. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” He turned towards the door. “Bring her in.”

I glanced at the door in confusion—and my heart leapt into my throat when a guard entered, hauling Stjarna along beside him.

And whatever black thoughts I had had towards Stjarna for betraying me, any venomous feelings I had harbored against her, were gone in an instant. I frantically surveyed her form, and though I perceived in relief that she was outwardly unharmed, it did nothing to alleviate the cold trepidation that filled me, and the only thing running through my mind was this panicked, incessant litany of no, no, no, no, no, no…

Stjarna’s wide, frightened eyes landed on me, and she visibly blanched and cried my name; her hands flew to her mouth and she attempted to take a step forward, but the guard yanked her roughly back.

“Týr,” I uttered, not bothering to mask the apprehension in my voice.

“You may go,” Týr said to the guard, ignoring me. The guard inclined his head and shut the door behind him as he left.

Stjarna’s terrified gaze was fixed on me; from here I could see her large eyes brimming with tears, hands shaking. The dull, stinging throbbing on my back, and the earlier fear that Týr would seem fit to douse me in fire, seemed the least of my worries now.

“What has she to do with this?” I bit out, clenching my fists.

Týr smirked. “Nothing, but I figured you might be more apt to talk with her here.”

I gritted my teeth.

“Now, honestly, Loki, I don’t see why you care, considering she’s the one who betrayed you,” Týr remarked flippantly, winking at Stjarna, who averted her eyes in what appeared to be shame. “Isn’t that right, Vana?”

Týr reached over and took Stjarna’s arm, almost as if they were going to take a leisurely stroll in the gardens, and anger surged through me at his merely touching her. He led her towards me and then around, letting her see what he’d done to me, and Stjarna bit back a sob.

“Loki here is a bit stubborn and wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to know,” Týr explained. “That’s why you’re here.”

He brought Stjarna back around in front of me, but she did not look at me. Her eyes were cast to the floor, chin quivering.

“It’s a shame you didn’t tell her more, Loki,” Týr stated nonchalantly, glancing at Stjarna. “I don’t think she’d be able to hold out as long as you, but then again I’d hate to tear her lovely skin.”

When he reached over to touch her, and brushed his fingers over her cheek, Stjarna flinched and took a startled step back, and a bolt of fury skittered through me.

“Do not touch her,” I growled.

Týr’s eyes flickered to mine, a small smile on his lips.

“Then would you like to tell me where the Allfather is?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out, and I stared at Týr, struck for a moment by this paralyzing indecisiveness. Some part of me did not doubt that if I told him, even with Stjarna here, he would kill me. He might even be more inclined to do it since Stjarna would get to watch.

Týr’s smile grew.

“Very well, Loki.”

He turned, took Stjarna by the arm, and dragged her towards the wall in front of me, where a long table stood, and on top of which lay several torture instruments.

“Týr!” I yelled, panic flooding me, but he shook his head.

“Shh, Loki, do not worry,” he consoled, as if I was an unruly child he was attempting to placate.

I stiffened when he grabbed a fistful of Stjarna’s hair and forcefully yanked her head back, exposing her throat. She whimpered and struggled briefly, but his grip was vise like.

“Your little Vana here is too pretty to maim, I wouldn’t think of it. However…”

He lowered his head so his lips were by Stjarna’s ear, breath ruffling her hair, and his dark eyes were fastened on mine.

“I want you to know that everything that happens from now on is Loki’s fault.”

Stjarna shifted and dolefully whimpered, “Why are you doing this?”

Týr’s lecherous grin broadened, exposing his teeth. He released Stjarna’s hair and pushed at her with his stump arm, causing her to stumble forward into the table.

“I have my reasons.”

A cold dread filled me and I shouted Týr’s name, but he disregarded me. Just as Stjarna righted herself, Týr splayed his hand on her back and shoved her forward so she was bent over the table.

“No!” I screamed, and tried unsuccessfully to take a step forward, hardly noticed the irons cutting even deeper. “Stop!”

Týr glanced insipidly at me. “Is there something you’d like to tell me, then?”

I faltered, and just as I opened my mouth to speak, to tell him where Odin was, and the deal I had made with the Jötnar, and everything else in between, Stjarna struggled suddenly against him and managed to turn around and shove his arm away. Týr attempted to subdue her, but Stjarna drew her arm back and hit him, and the blow caused Týr to stagger against the wall. Before he could gather himself, Stjarna braced her hands on his chest and shoved him back hard. With how violently he stumbled backwards, it was evident she had put her magic behind the push. Týr almost crashed into another table in the corner, but caught himself at the last moment.

Stjarna stared warily at him, entire body racked with tremors.

“Stjarna,” I said, and she looked fearfully at me.

I glanced back at Týr, who stood up straight. He glared at Stjarna, blood trickling out of his nose and into his beard. Part of me was thankful she had hit him, but the other part of me knew she had just made things that much worse.

Stjarna glanced back at Týr, shock in her eyes, realization as to what she had just done. Týr stalked back over to her, and I shouted his name again, straining against my bonds, when he seized her roughly by the hair. Stjarna cried out and reached up to try to dislodge him, but she could not, he was too strong, and he turned her around and viciously shoved her forward over the edge of the table.

“No!” I exclaimed, and Stjarna struggled again, attempting frantically to push away from the table, to get out from beneath Týr’s weight.

Týr bared his teeth in frustration, gripped her hair tighter, and slammed the side of her head into the table.

“Týr!” I screamed, fear streaking through me at the sound of her head against the wood, striving uselessly against the iron fetters, eyes trained on Stjarna’s face, turned towards me, tears trickling down, blood appearing at the corner of her trembling lips. She began to cry, still struggling weakly.

Týr, still displeased with Stjarna’s resisting, growled Alsekr’s name, and within seconds I felt him behind me, tensed right before he grabbed a fistful of my hair and with his other hand pressed his dagger to my neck.

“No!” Stjarna sobbed, trying to stand up, but Týr held her down, forcing her to look at me.

I writhed against Alsekr, despite his knife at my throat. Deeper he pressed, until I could feel the blood dripping down, and I stopped, Stjarna’s name caught on the tip of my tongue, could see them out of the corner of my eye.

“Do not move,” Týr warned, pinning her to the table with his body and leaning over her. Stjarna immediately stilled, and I could see the tears rolling down her face, hear the broken sobs caught in her throat. “Or do you want to see me torture Loki a bit more?”

Stjarna’s wide, frightened eyes were fixed on me and the dagger Alsekr held to my throat.

“No,” she whimpered, and the sound of it physically pained me.

“Then be still,” Týr growled, releasing Stjarna’s hair and bending down to clutch a handful of her skirts and yank them up.

Stjarna squeezed her eyes shut and let out a little sob. Just as Týr reached between them to unlace his pants, I screamed again, rage turning to nauseating panic.

“Týr! Stop! Stop! I will tell you!”

Immediately Alsekr removed the knife from my throat and Týr paused and glanced at me, eyebrows raised.

“Well?” he asked, sounding bored, continuing to unlace his pants.

“He is in the old part of the dungeons,” I bit out, but still he did not stop, and a fresh wave of cold terror surged through me he opened the front of his pants. “There is a spell over his cell to conceal him.”

“How far back?” he asked, stroking himself.

“As far back as the old dungeons go,” I replied unsteadily, eyes flickering to Stjarna, who had turned her tear-stained face to look at me.

Týr clucked his tongue as he moved to trail his fingers over Stjarna’s bare skin, almost caressing her.

“Týr!” I shouted, and the corner of his lips quirked upwards in a smile.

“Concealed him with a spell, eh?” he mused, continuing to touch her. “I never did like that Vanir magic. It’s too sneaky. Come out and fight and face your enemies like a man. You never were much for that, were you, Loki?”

“Týr,” I warned, though I was in no place to threaten, and with the way my voice shook it could not have been very intimidating. “I told you what you wanted to know. Let her go, she has no part in this…”

Týr nodded, as if actually considering my words.

“You’re right, Loki. But since we’re already here…”

And he thrust his hips forward and Stjarna’s entire body lurched violently and her pitiful shriek, piercing in the silence, piercing my heart, was worse than all the agonies Týr had inflicted on me before.

“No!” I screamed, straining desperately against my bonds, but they were tight and I was too weak and it was too late, it was too late…

Týr clutched Stjarna’s hip with his hand and steadied her as he violated her, and every pained, disconnected sob tore through me and he only laughed. Stjarna turned her face away from me, body rigid, fingers curling, nails digging into the wooden table until they cracked and blood appeared, and Týr lifted his head, a haughty, satisfied smile on his face.

And the coward that I was, I could not bear to watch—I turned my head, squeezed my eyes shut. It was not rage churning inside me, but this deadening powerlessness. I couldn’t see, but I could hear, and every time Stjarna’s hips slammed against the table, every hard, sickening snap of Týr’s flesh against hers, every strained, whimpering cry that was torn from her lips, and each loathsome grunt from Týr, hammered home the fact that this was my fault and my fault only, my fault, my fault, over and over and over and over…

Týr groaned and increased his pace, surely nearing his end, and Stjarna’s whimpering breaths grew increasingly labored. When an eternity later his bruising rhythm finally faltered, and he groaned and began heavily panting—when she wept my name so pathetically—something shattered inside.

“Loki,” he chuckled breathlessly. “You missed it.”

Stjarna’s fragmented sobs devolved into soft, choked weeping, and I still could not open my eyes, to see her bent over the table like that, Týr’s grip bruised on her pale skin, him dripping down her thighs, and that repugnantly smug grin of his.

I heard him lace his pants, slowly opened my teary eyes, body numb.

“Alsekr, you want a go?” Týr asked, still leaning against Stjarna.

Rage welled up inside me, black and consuming, and Stjarna made a soft sound, a piteous little “no.”

Alsekr must have refused, because Týr shrugged and released Stjarna, and her skirts fell back to around her ankles. I stared at Stjarna’s limp, prostrate form in a distraught silence as Týr took a step back and beckoned for Alsekr to approach.

Stjarna kept her face turned away and I could tell the table was the only thing keeping her up. Her entire body was shivering, face obscured by her mussed hair, and I heard her fighting back sobs.

Týr whispered something to Alsekr, who nodded, face stony, and then turned to me. He walked up to me slowly, but my eyes were still fixed on Stjarna.

“If it makes you feel any better, Loki,” Týr remarked, almost casually, glancing at Stjarna, “I would have done it anyway.”

My eyes slowly drifted to his, breaths coming a little heavier, muscles tensing, and his lopsided smile grew, taking in the tears on my face.

“Anyhow, thank you for the information. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

He turned, leaving Alsekr behind, and exited the chamber. I completely ignored Alsekr and turned my gaze, blurry with tears, back to Stjarna, who was lifted up on her arms now, head still bowed down, back heaving with every sob she attempted to suppress.

I wanted to say her name—to say anything—but nothing came out, blinding fury now supplanted by this crushing, nauseating helplessness, and I loathed myself that I had not protected her, and perhaps could have stopped it before Týr had ever got the idea to bring her down here, and that it was entirely my fault—and all for my lusting after something that had long ago, and many times over, proven itself to be my undoing.

Stjarna slowly slid down the stone wall, face crumpling, and then she was kneeling, hands on the floor, head bowed down. She fell sideways, drew her legs close to her shuddering body, and buried her face between her drawn-up knees. Her weeping was quiet at first, but then turned into great, racking sobs muffled by her dress, and each raw, agonized cry wrenched at me. I lowered my head, shame engulfing me.

Of course she had endeavored to stop me, how could I have been so foolish as to think she would simply go along with it all? Stjarna was not like me, not bitter and angry and reckless… no, she was such light and good compared to my darkness, and now I had succeeded in extinguishing that light.

I knew not how long she cried, but I watched her silently through this veil of tears, lamenting and cursing myself, boiling inside that Týr should dare to touch her, to use her against me, to hurt her…

Eventually, Stjarna’s weeping tapered off and she sat there in a miserable silence, occasionally sniffing or wiping her eyes or nose. After a while, Alsekr moved; he went towards her and I stiffened, shouted when he bent down and grabbed her arm.

Stjarna cried out in fear, and resisted when he pulled her roughly to her feet. He let go of her and she fell back against the wall, eyes bloodshot, cheeks stained with tears, chin trembling.

“You know magic?” he rasped. I had not heard Alsekr speak this entire time, and the harsh, grating of his voice surprised me.

When Stjarna only stared tearfully at him, he asked again. She nodded weakly and he took her once again by the arm and led her towards me.

“What are you doing?” I demanded, thinking he was going to hurt her as Týr had, now that his master was gone, but he did not answer and they came to stand behind me.

“Heal him,” Alsekr ordered.

I let out a harried breath, stunned at his words, but then quickly realized: Týr could not present me to Thor in this state. If he had Stjarna heal me, it would appear to Thor as if nothing had happened.

“Hurry up,” Alsekr said, followed by a sniffle from Stjarna.

I flinched when I felt her feather light touch, partially from the tenderness, and just the tips of her fingers on my upper back, where the worst of it was.

And yet, I could not help a soundless sigh when her magic seeped into me, and the sweet warmth of her seidr immediately numbed the painful heat from the cuts sliced across my back, and the burns on top of them. Stjarna slowly trailed her fingers down my ruined back, over my shredded skin, knitting it back together and deeply relieving my stretched muscles and aching bones.

I leaned back into her touch as her hands began traveling back to my shoulders, and she lifted up on her toes to reach as far up my arms as she could, to alleviate the pain from being suspended above me for so long. Since Stjarna could not stretch that far, I knew I would have to heal my wrists on my own afterwards.

Suddenly, it sounded as if something heavy was being dragged along the floor, but I could not turn my head enough to see, and my insides tightened in apprehension.

“Clean him off,” came the gruff demand, and I heard the slosh of water behind me.

My suspicions were confirmed: Týr wanted me presentable for Thor, but he would not lower himself or Alsekr or even one of his guards to do it. Instead, he would further humiliate Stjarna, simply to upset me, and upset me it did. A fresh wave of rage filled me, but dissipated almost as quickly, replaced by a quiet solemnity, when Stjarna pressed a wet cloth to my back; the water was cool and ran in rivulets over my skin.

Stjarna began gently wiping at the blood and sweat, every so often pausing to wring the cloth out in the water barrel Alsekr had dragged over from somewhere along the wall. As she cleaned me, Alsekr went to fiddle with some of the instruments on a far table, back turned to us.

Once my back was clean, Stjarna hesitantly came around, wiping my sides off. She did not lift her head to look at me, and it seemed as if she was concentrating hard on her task, and I knew it was to keep herself from breaking down again. But even as she dabbed at my front, wetting the dried blood, I could hear her sniffling, see her quivering lips torn and bloody from how hard she had bit them earlier when…

Regret washed through me, and such anger that I had brought this upon her. If I had told Týr where Odin was sooner, he likely would not have got it in his head to hurt Stjarna to make me talk, but it was past, and I did not doubt that Stjarna hated me now, how could she not for having failed to keep her safe… I wanted to apologize to her, to hold her in my arms and kiss her and to tell her I was sorry, I was so, so sorry, but I knew there was nothing I could do to ease the hurt.

“Stjarna,” I murmured, but she did not acknowledge me, only continued wiping at my skin. “Stjarna, look at me… please…”

“Do not ask me to,” she whispered shakily, keeping her teary eyes downcast.

Once my front was as free of blood as she could get it, Stjarna wrung the cloth out in the barrel of water and came back around, for my face was left. She tentatively raised her head, but still avoided my eyes, and dabbed at my cheek and wiped at my jaw, which ached still from where Týr had struck me earlier.

After my skin was free of blood, Stjarna reached up and cupped my face. My lips parted when I once again felt the delicious warmth of her seidr, repairing and soothing whatever damage Týr had caused, and inadvertently calming me. I studied her sorrowful face, tenderly kissed her bloodied fingers as she pulled away and lowered her head.

“Stjarna,” I breathed, and her eyes, brimming with tears, finally flickered to mine.

She stared at me for a long moment, tears caught in her lashes, and in her pitiful gaze I saw the humiliation, the anger and the pain, and her chin trembled and she glanced down, almost as if she was ashamed to look at me.

“Stjarna…”

“Stop talking,” Alsekr snapped. “Are you finished?”

Stjarna, eyes still fixed on the floor, gave a small nod. Alsekr came over and hauled the water barrel back to the far wall.

“Over here,” he said, and I attempted to turn my head to see. There was a crude wooden chair against the wall behind me and Stjarna went to it, sat down, and lowered her head. Alsekr sat back down in his own chair, pulled out his dagger, stained now with my blood, and proceeded to clean it and sharpen it on a small whetstone.

I slowly turned back around to face the front, presumed that now we were waiting for Týr to return with news of Odin, who I suspected when he regained his strength, would take delight in finally sentencing me to death. He had waited so long for it and Frigga was no longer alive to change his mind.

As I hung there suspended in silence, Stjarna’s seidr wore off quickly, and my thoughts turned black. All I could think of was Týr, and what I would do to him if I ever got a hold of him. I wanted him to suffer for what he had done to Stjarna, to watch his face contort in agony as I dragged a knife deep through his belly, or to see that weeping, crimson smile when I slit his throat from ear to ear. If I could not have the throne, I would have him before it was all over, and savor the blood gurgling in his throat, and to watch the light leave his eyes.

I was so consumed with thoughts of revenge and blood and death, that I only noticed the door had opened when Týr entered. There were three guards following close behind, and I observed that one of them held a bundle of clothes in his arms. Týr glanced at Alsekr, who stood up and took the clothes from the guard, and then came towards me.

I was not prepared when Týr drew his arm back and punched me brutally in the stomach. I gasped in pain, heard Stjarna cry out. Before I could even lift my head, gasping for air, he hit me again, this time in the jaw, and I thought I heard bone crack, right before he drove his arm upwards and hit me a third time, harder than before.

Pain exploded behind my eyes, vision pulsing, and my head hung down as I panted, bent over as much as my fetters would allow. When I finally raised my head, a coppery tang filling my mouth and nose, Týr’s frosty stare was fastened on me.

“I should gut you right now,” he growled, swiftly taking the gleaming dagger from his belt and stalking up to me. Stjarna screamed when Týr pressed the blade up to my throat, pushing my head back and causing me to cough and blood to dribble out of my mouth. I held my breath, felt the razor sharp edge cut into my skin when I swallowed thickly.

When Stjarna cried my name, Týr snapped, “Shut her up.”

Somebody—the guard or Alsekr, I didn’t know—must have grabbed her, because her shout cut off suddenly.

Týr, who had not taken his burning eyes off me, pressed the blade a little deeper.

“The king is dead,” he announced darkly. “We found him still chained to the wall.”

A cold disbelief spread through me.

“That is impossible,” I muttered, not doubting that he would lie to me.

Týr bared his teeth in anger and roughly released me. I swallowed again and slowly lowered my head to meet his burning gaze.

“He was not to die by me,” I said, perhaps more to myself than Týr, and Týr scoffed in disregard.

“Thor will be summoned,” he told me. “He will know what unforgivable treason you’ve committed.”

I stared blankly at him, hardly hearing, realizing now he was telling the truth. Odin was dead, he was finally dead, but it was not gladness I felt as I always thought I would—but then I did not think it possible for me to feel any semblance of that emotion, not after what had transpired here—but rather bewilderment.

All I could think of was how Odin had told me he would not die by me, he was fated to die by my son Fenrir. So if he really was dead, had that changed Mímir’s prophecy, and my part to play in it all? Mímir had explained that our paths could be changed, though that did not necessarily alter the destination. Clearly Odin’s destination had changed, but had mine?

I did not have long to ruminate on destinies and prophecies, though—I was drawn back to reality when Týr slid his dagger back into its sheath on his belt and his eyes flickered to Stjarna behind me.

“Bring her here.”

I stood a little straighter, anger stirring inside as one of the guards dragged Stjarna towards Týr. Her eyes were trained on the floor, hands gripping her dress tightly. I watched him, hating how close he was standing to her, wishing my hands were free so I could wrap them around his thick neck.

“Of course when Thor arrives, I will expect discretion on your part,” Týr said, voice hard.

When Stjarna did not reply, or even raise her head to meet his gaze, Týr made a sound of impatience.

“If I understand correctly, you’ve got family down in the city?”

I saw the breath leave her body, the way her shoulders slumped even more.

Perceiving it as well, Týr remarked dryly, “I’m sure you wouldn’t want anything to happen to them?”

Stjarna was silent for a long moment, but finally shook her head no, and I clenched my fists.

“I’m glad we understand each other. Fjol will escort you back to your chambers.”

Týr motioned to one of the guards that had come in with him, and the Einheri grabbed Stjarna’s arm. She looked at me, almost frantically, and Týr chuckled.

“Fear not, Vana. You will see Loki again, though I cannot guarantee he will be in one piece.”

I gritted my teeth, hated that scared expression on Stjarna’s face as the guard hauled her towards the door. In moments she was gone and the door shut behind her, leaving now Týr, Alsekr, and the two other guards.

Týr turned back to me, visage pitiless.

“Thor will return to Asgard shortly. He will see you upon his arrival, after he has visited his father in the mortuary.”

I did not answer, only stared coldly at him.

“You will be returned to your cell momentarily. Now… when Thor sees you, I’m sure you’ll be inclined to tell him all about what has happened. Of course he will be reluctant to believe you, considering all you have done, including murdering the king—”

“You need not worry, Týr,” I assured quietly, by some miracle keeping my voice in check.

He glanced suspiciously at me. “About what?”

“I will not tell him what you have done here.”

“And why would you not?” he asked, lips curling up into a chary grin.

“Because then he would imprison you, as well, and I would have no way of getting to you to kill you myself.”

Týr stared at me for a long moment before bursting into laughter. “You’re going to kill me?”

“Yes.”

“And, pray tell, how will you do that, Loki?”

I pressed my lips together, silent.

He laughed again. “Well, unless you find some way of reattaching your head to your body after it has been cut off, I doubt you’ll have much of a chance.”

When still I remained quiet, he approached me.

“You realize, of course, that you will be tried for the king’s death? There’s no way to wriggle out of this one, Loki. You will die, and what pleasure I will take in watching you die.”

He paused, as if waiting to see the effect of his words on me—which was negligible—before taking a step back and glancing over at Alsekr.

“Let him down. It’s time.”

The two Einherjar withdrew their swords as Alsekr came forward with a key and unlocked the irons around my bloody wrists. My arms fell to my sides and my legs shook now that they were the only thing supporting me. I stood there silently, not even bothering to contemplate escape, for it would give Týr the perfect excuse to run me through right here, and I doubted I was strong enough to take down all four of them.

“I’ve brought you some clothes,” Týr stated flatly, motioning at Alsekr. “Can’t let Thor see you in those bloody things. Hurry up, I haven’t got all night.”

Alsekr brought me the clothes and I took the tunic, slipped it on, and ignored them as I attempted to get my pants off. Once I had the new ones on, and had healed my wrists and cleaned the blood off my face from Týr’s latest assault, Týr went to the door, opened it, and had me led out with the guards. They escorted me back to my old cell and shoved me inside. I stumbled forward and leaned gratefully against the cold wall, sliding down as they raised the barrier.

I watched as the guards took up position at the two outer corners of the cell, and then Týr before he turned on his heel without a word and walked away.

Chapter Text

Loki

All was eerily quiet. The guards outside my cell, facing away, stared straight ahead, and the prisoners in the other cells made not a sound, abandoning me to my own poisonous thoughts. With nobody but myself for company, and burdened with the dreadful memories of these past days, I was left alone and for it all to fester inside.

And it was only then—sitting there against the wall, eyes focused on nothing—when everything, finally, came crashing down around me.

Everything was gone. The past was done and my future sealed. This death and destruction I had orchestrated, now to culminate in my own inglorious demise. All of my meticulous scheming and tiresome tribulations… for what? For this? For shame and grief and failure and this crushing, sickening remorse?

I wondered bitterly what Frigga would have thought, to know that one day I would end up here—death inevitable for the fact that I had killed her husband, even inadvertently. I wondered who she would side with if she’d known Odin’s plans for me, that he had stolen me from Jötunheim for so nefarious a purpose? But it was not like it mattered—she was long dead and I no doubt soon to follow.

I thought of Odin having died in that cell, chained to the wall as I had left him, and was not saddened. No longer did I have to worry about him, though the satisfaction I had always envisioned feeling at his death, the satisfaction I should have felt at finally being rid of him, and all of his lies and betrayals, was lessened by all that had happened since.

Also in the back of my mind was Mímir and his prophecy, and my part to play in the end of all things. If I had not been encumbered with these dark thoughts, I almost would have laughed—I imagined I would not be alive long enough to fulfill his wretched prophecy. Perhaps Odin had been too trusting in Mímir, ever apt to believe his words and that there was some kind of order to the universe. If there was, it certainly had not played out to my favor. Had he anticipated this? Had Mímir, that I would fail them both so spectacularly? Even in death, surely Odin regarded me with regret. I, his greatest and most final disappointment.

I wished to speak with Mímir again, but at this point it was ridiculous to think I would see anything other than the inside of this cell and the silver flash of a blade as it came whistling towards my neck. Nonetheless, I had managed to formulate a plan, albeit a sloppy one. I doubted I would get the chance to carry it out. It did not include scrabbling my way to the throne, in a last-ditch effort to reclaim what I had for so long perceived as rightfully mine, nor begging Thor to spare my life. No—this time it was not power I craved, nor respect, nor acceptance. Only, before everything was over, and my life ended, that I could kill Týr. To think that a thousand years of lusting, a thousand years of plotting and hoping and wanting, would culminate not in my coronation, nor my rule, but hopefully in his death, and undoubtedly, subsequently, my own.

I almost no longer cared, as long as I could get to him before my own demise.

And Stjarna…

I slowly lowered my head, stared at my fingers resting on my outstretched legs.

I wondered sorrowfully if I would ever see her again. Not smiling, not laughing, no, never that again. I would never hold her in my arms again, never feel her body against mine or kiss her lips. Never to let her know that I loved her dearly and that I was sorry I had not been able to defend her, so sorry I had done this to her.

I could not undo my actions. I had done this, both to myself and to Stjarna, and as much as I wished I could have gone back, I could not. Nothing I had ever done, nor aspired to be, was worth this—not what Týr had done to her. That the only woman I had ever felt for, should endure such suffering only so that I may realize my own failings. How pathetic, and deplorable and despicable and inexcusable, that it had taken this to make me see the futility of it all, to bring everything into such harsh reality. But it was too late. It did not matter now that I did not want the throne, after a thousand years of coveting—did not matter that I just wanted Stjarna, just for everything to go back to how it had been before everything had fallen apart.

Thor could not have come soon enough.

I slowly lifted my head when I heard him approach. I could differentiate his stride from any other. His expression was blank, and I knew I was going to die.

“You are alive,” he said softly, stopping short of the humming yellow barrier, “and you have killed our father.”

I did not even bother to correct him. I doubted he would believe me if I told him about the severed head sitting complacently in the secret room in Odin’s chambers. Not to mention Thor did not know magic and unless Mímir opened the door for him, he would never know. Anything out of my mouth Thor would deem a lie, and surely would contradict anything Týr had told him upon his arrival from Midgard. There was almost no point to speak.

Thor stood there for a long moment, motionless, silently regarding me, and I noticed his reddened eyes. So he had seen Odin before coming here.

“How did it come to this, Loki?” he wondered, voice low, indistinct.

After a long pause, I murmured, “Does it matter anymore?”

“How could you have done this?” he asked, voice cracking to reveal the anger bubbling beneath that carefully crafted façade of control. “The man who raised you…”

“He was no more my father than you are my brother,” I retorted darkly, meeting his stormy blue eyes.

Thor’s jaw tightened.

“You’re right, Loki,” he finally admitted, now only a hint of vague melancholy in his voice. “You are not my brother. We ceased to be that long ago.”

I held his icy blue gaze for only a moment longer before slowly looking away, staring straight ahead.

“So are you going to kill me or not?” I muttered.

There was a beat of silence.

“There will be a public trial,” he said softly, flatly. “You will be punished, and surely sentenced to death.”

I continued staring straight ahead, unflinching.

“You’d better get on it, then. Týr’s slavering for my blood, you know.”

Silence, and then he turned on his heel and was gone.

__

Stjarnavetr

After the guard escorted me back to my rooms, away from that chamber of horrors, I had locked the door behind me and broken down immediately; wept for Loki and myself, and for what everything had come to and what still was yet to come.

Eventually, hurting and exhausted, I had collapsed into my bed and fallen into an uneasy sleep, tormented by bloody nightmares. I had not slept long and woken only a few hours later. Able to still discern Týr’s essence between my legs, and the stink of his sweat upon my skin, I had drawn a hot bath and plunged myself into the water, and here I sat still, many hours later.

I stared ahead at the wall, water up to my hunched shoulders, knees drawn up, arms wrapped tightly around my legs. The water had long ago grown cold, but I welcomed the numbness it brought. Though I had healed myself beforehand, and scrubbed my skin raw, I could not help the silent tears that rolled down my cheeks, drying on my skin.

I did not want to close my eyes again, fearing I would see Loki suspended there, firelight illuminating his bruised and mangled form, what Týr had done to him and then afterwards to me…

I turned my head and rested my cheek against one of my knees, wondering how it had come to this. But it seemed foolish now to even think that way. It was not like it mattered. Loki was caught, the king was dead, and Thor was coming back—perhaps he had already returned—and he would have to punish Loki, he would have no choice, he was king now and justice must be served.

Every fiber of my being urged me to seek him out, to fall to my knees before him and let spill everything that had happened—Týr’s torturing Loki, what he had done to me—but then Týr’s dark words echoed in my mind, his threat against my family.

I thought of Konavefr and Dreyma and Hjaldr and Herlid, and how cruel Týr was, and what he might do if I broke my silence. Even if I told Thor, and Týr was punished or imprisoned, I had no doubt his loyal minions would carry out his orders. The very thought of it made me ill, and I could not help it—I began to cry quietly. I felt so helpless. Loki was imprisoned, likely now to die, and I sworn to secrecy for the wrath Týr would unleash upon my family.

But, even then, would Thor have mercy upon Loki? Týr’s torturing him did not change the fact that he had killed the Allfather. Thor would speak to him, I knew, and perhaps Loki would tell him what Týr had done. But that was too much to hope for; Týr was cruel, not stupid. I could only imagine the conversation when I had left the dungeons. No doubt Týr had threatened me as well, if Loki were to mention any of it to Thor.

Finally, I roused myself and climbed miserably out of the tub. I moved slowly, almost lethargically, as I dried and dressed. After mustering up enough courage, I ventured from my rooms to see if Thor had returned. If I could not speak with him, I would try to find out what was going on, and if anything had been decided with Loki.

I learned from a passing guard that Thor had indeed returned to Asgard and had already seen Loki in the dungeons, and that Loki’s trial had been scheduled for three days from now, and would be held publicly. Feeling ill, I inquired next about Odin Allfather and learned his funeral ceremony would take place nine days from now. I heard nothing of Thor’s coronation, but doubted he thought it a priority. That would come later, surely, when all else was settled, and he would formally be recognized as the new king of Asgard.

Those next few days I spent in misery, alone, wandering, lamenting everything that had led up to this, for surely Loki would be sentenced to death. What other outcome could there be for the murderer of a king? Any remaining love Thor might have had for Loki surely had dissipated with the king’s death, and he would be obligated to treat Loki as any other prisoner.

Eventually my tears ran out, and it did not feel as if there was anything left inside. My sorrow and anger and frustration had congealed into a stagnant bitterness, though who it was directed at I knew not. Loki, for everything he had done to lead up to this; Týr, for what he had done to Loki and afterwards me; or Thor, who had not yet done what he was to do. But there was nothing I could do—I could only stand by and watch it all unfold.

On the day of the trial, I made my way numbly to Gladsheim. News traveled quickly and the crowds outside the hall were immense, those who had flocked from the city to catch a glimpse of Loki, who had been presumed dead, or even a whiff of rumor. It did not help that trials of this size, importance, and drama were rare in Asgard, which meant people were even more apt to attend.

The hall itself was full when I arrived, guards keeping a path in the middle clear, standing by columns, maintaining a vigilant eye on the crowd. I weaved my way through the throngs of people, which spilled out of the doorway and onto the steps and into the courtyard below. They were all standing, some murmuring to each other, others shouting. Most were people from the city, though some were courtiers, and I caught faint whispers about Loki's mistress as I passed.

It was difficult, but I finally reached the front of the hall. I stood near to the center aisle kept clear of people, behind the first row of onlookers. Above us loomed the empty throne, and on either side leading down the steps were ornate wooden chairs, where twelve in total would sit to hear the trial and pass judgment that had likely already been long decided. Loki would stand before them all shortly and I would be witness to my lover's final fall.

Too soon, the proceedings began.

A guard at the doors began speaking and a hush fell over the crowd.

“His Majesty King Thor.”

Thor entered the hall, standing tall, clad in resplendent golden armor, red cape fluttering out behind him with his quick step. I studied his stony face, heartsick. He looked worn, as if shouldered with some great burden, and certainly he was, for today he would surely doom his brother to death—but it was his duty now as king whether he wanted it or not.

Behind him followed the other gods who would sit below him: Týr, Baldr, Frey, Njord, Sif, Forseti, Hermod, Vidar, Skadi, Ullr, and Aegir.

I quickly averted my gaze from Týr as he passed, unease flaring within me, and lowered my head as they proceeded in their finery, silently mounting the steps, and solemnly taking their places below their new king. Once they were all seated, and a hush descended over the hall, Thor stood up, expression hard, and his voice boomed through the great space.

“We are gathered in Gladsheim to warrant justice, for grave misdeeds have been wrought upon Asgard by one amongst us. Today we would see him brought to justice for his crimes.”

I swallowed hard, clasping my hands together nervously in front of me.

“Bring him in.”

All heads turned, and a disgruntled whisper swept through the crowd when four Einherjar entered the hall, Loki at their center. Two walked ahead, and the two behind him held thick chains in their hands, connected to substantial metal collars encircling his neck and waist. As if that was not enough, his hands and ankles were also bound, clinking echoingly with every dreaded step he took.

I let out a breath when I saw him, so gaunt and worn, each step heavy with burden. He wore simple black pants and a plain tunic and I realized suddenly that Týr must have had him change into fresh clothes after I had gone. He was no longer the haughty prince, the overconfident and self-assured man I had always known, but it had been a long time since those days, and much had happened. There was nothing left there—he looked beaten now.

Loki’s head was raised, but his eyes were trained on the floor. He did not meet the eyes of the scowling Asgardians, nor acknowledge the angered or accusatory sporadic shouts. I could not read his face—vaguely melancholic, perhaps, or resigned to whatever what was to come.

Finally, he came to the base of the steps leading up to the throne and the guards pulled the chains taut, stopping him.

“Loki.”

Loki's name drew his gaze upwards.

Thor was staring down at him, lips set in a thin, hard line.

“You have been brought here to Gladsheim to answer for the crimes you have committed against Asgard. Have you any words before we begin?”

Loki did not reply, only stared coldly up at the assembled gods and goddesses.

Thor continued.

“What say you to the charge of murdering a citizen of Asgard in the realm of Svartalfheim?”

I furrowed my brows, but then remembered Loki had told me he had killed a guard in that dark, dead land to be able to return to Asgard in disguise.

“Guilty,” Loki announced, causing an indignant whisper to sweep through the crowd. Normally in a trial such as this, witnesses would be called, but here there was no doubt as to Loki’s guilt, and if he pronounced himself guilty, witnesses were not needed. Really, the trial was simply a spectacle for the citizens of Asgard to know justice would be served for the murder of their king.

“And what say you to subduing and wrongly imprisoning Odin Allfather?”

“Guilty,” came the curt response—not softly, not regretfully, but with purpose and no shame.

The person next to me scoffed in disgust, and another somewhere behind me growled something about running the prince through where he stood.

Now Thor paused, sat up a little straighter, voice hard.

“And what say you to the charge of murdering Odin Allfather?”

Loki did not reply for a long moment, staring up at his estranged brother, and the entire hall held its breath.

“Guilty.”

The hall erupted. Impassioned cries rang out, enraged shouts, screams of “traitor!” and “bastard!” They wanted to kill him now, to stab him or beat him, it did not matter, only to avenge the death of their king.

Thor jumped to his feet and suddenly it was as if the entire hall darkened.

“Quiet!” he thundered, and the walls almost seemed to tremble.

The hall fell silent and Thor fell wearily back onto the throne. He did not look at Loki, whose eyes were fixed on him and nobody else, and some of the other gods glanced up.

“Loki, son of Odin…” Thor’s voice wavered for only a moment. “I, Thor, king of Asgard and son of Odin, by your own admission, do pronounce you guilty of all charges.”

The crowd murmured, but quickly fell silent.

“Your sentence is as follows,” Thor continued, and despite the hard tone of his voice, and that expression on his face, I knew this pained him. “In nine days you shall be executed by beheading outside the gates of Asgard. Your head shall be placed upon a spike to serve as warning to those who would plot evil against Asgard or its allies.”

As Thor spoke, Loki’s face remained unreadable, body taut, and my heart was breaking.

“Until such time, you shall be kept in the dungeons, and until such time…” now Thor paused, as if gathering himself for his next words, “…your hair shall be shorn, and your lips sewn shut, so as to not poison the ears of those around you.”

My mouth fell open and a low whisper swept through the hall. Loki’s face visibly paled and I looked up in wordless horror and saw the corner of Týr’s lips curl upwards in a cruel smile.

I was stunned. Thor had not come up with that on his own, it had to have been spoken of beforehand. Something one of them—likely Týr—had come up with to punish Loki before the ultimate end, to further humiliate him. And Thor, as new king, likely had been told he could not appear weak to his subjects, and let his estranged brother off so easily for killing their king and his own father. And yet, I am sure many thought even this not enough.

Suddenly, all heads turned, and at the end of the hall a god entered. He was tall—much taller than Loki and even Thor—heavily muscled and grim-looking. I recognized him as the blacksmith of Asgard, the one who forged the armor and weapons of the gods. Slágrimmr was his name.

He approached the throne, silent, until he came to stand by Loki, who stood at least two heads shorter. Loki glanced up at him, face oddly vacant.

Thor announced, “Your shearing and muting shall be performed here in Gladsheim, before all, so they may see what happens to those who commit high treason against Asgard.”

I let out the breath I had been holding, insides twisting in dread. Normally a prisoner’s hair would not be shorn until the day before or of their execution.

Slágrimmr advised to Loki, and calmly, as if to keep some semblance of dignity in the whole process, “Kneel, please, Prince.”

Loki stood rooted to the spot, face pale. He did not kneel, though—instead, he turned slowly to face Thor.

“Thor… brother…” he said faintly. “Do not do this…”

Thor stared at Loki, unforgiving. He was silent for a long while, as if pondering Loki’s plea, but then his eyes flickered to Slágrimmr and he gave a little nod.

Loki swallowed and lowered his head, disbelief etched on his face. I am sure he had expected to be sentenced to death, but to have his lips sewn shut—and in front of a thousand people, no less—had come as a shock.

Slágrimmr placed his large hand on Loki’s shoulder and pressed down. Loki’s knees buckled and he fell to the ground, eyes still trained on the floor. The Einherjar holding his chains pulled them tighter, forcing Loki to lean back, and even from here I could discern the quickened rise and fall of his chest.

The blacksmith was being surprisingly gentle with Loki. It was obvious from his body language and his expression he did not want to do this, but likely had been forced. His hand, after all, was probably one of the calmest and most precise in all of Asgard. Even to punish Loki in this way, Thor had gotten the best for his brother, and I wondered distraughtly if Slágrimmr would perform the actual execution, for none had been executed in Asgard for so long.

Out of a small leather bag hanging from his belt, Slágrimmr pulled a pair of shears, glinting silver. He reached down for Loki, who flinched at his touch, grabbed a lock of his lanky black hair, and snipped it. The movement was almost tender, considering what was to follow. Loki’s hair fell unceremoniously to the ground and he slowly closed his eyes.

Slágrimmr worked quickly and quietly. Soon, Loki’s hair was half its length, uneven and rough, but it was out of the way now, which was the purpose—to ease the passage of the blade that would sever his head from his neck in nine days’ time.

Loki kept his eyes closed the entire time, body subtly shaking. My eyes were filled with tears, sobs caught in my throat; he looked so weak and pathetic next to the hulk of Slágrimmr. Once the blacksmith was finished trimming Loki’s hair, he handed the shears to one of the Einherjar not holding Loki’s chains.

Loki slowly opened his eyes and watched as Slágrimmr reached into the bag on his belt and withdrew his next instrument: a long needle with a length of gold thread attached. Loki’s lips parted slightly as he eyed the needle, breaths coming a little faster in his mounting panic.

As Slágrimmr reached to take Loki’s head in his hand, Loki’s eyes flickered up to the blacksmith and his composure broke. He turned his head, his body jerked—but before he could actually do anything, the two Einherjar pulled tight the chains, and the third who had been standing there observing in grim silence, hurried forward and grabbed a fistful of Loki’s hair and yanked his head back.

Slágrimmr, remaining professionally cool, readjusted the needle in his slim fingers and stepped up to Loki, who was kneeling, hands chained together in front of him, head yanked back and unable to move. He positioned the needle inside the edge of Loki’s bottom lip, pressing the sharp point into the tender, nerve-crossed flesh, and all in Gladsheim, shocked into silence and stillness, knew when the needle went in.

Loki flinched—as much as he physically could, considering his restraints—and made a sound like a short, breathless groan. Slágrimmr pulled the thread through slowly, which I thought a small mercy on his unwilling part, though it would prolong the ordeal. Slágrimmr reached the end of the thread and gave it a little tug to make it taut, and then inserted the needle into the outer edge of Loki’s upper lip. Loki let out a pained breath, eyes shut tightly.

I could not see for my tears, and when I blinked, they rolled uninhibitedly down my cheeks. My chin trembled, my hands shook, as I watched in an angry, heartbroken silence. I saw a sheen of red where Loki was bleeding now, saw the tears running down, but Slágrimmr did not slow. He reached the middle of Loki’s lips, slipped the needle into his swollen and bleeding flesh for the fifth time, and Loki made some sort of strained, sorry sound in the back of his throat.

I glanced up at Thor, sick with misery, sick with anger, who was regarding the whole scene expressionlessly.

Finally, Slágrimmr finished. He gave the thread one final, gentle tug. He took the shears back from the waiting Einheri, snipped the thread, nimbly tied the loose end, and slipped the shears and needle back into the leather satchel on his belt.

Then, almost tenderly, Slágrimmr ran the tip of his index finger over Loki’s mouth. Loki groaned through his bound lips, and from here I saw the thread glow briefly gold, and it seemed to tighten, causing Loki to moan in pain. Within seconds its glow faded and it appeared normal again.

My lips parted in surprise—Slágrimmr did not know magic, I was sure, so the thread was enchanted, likely unable to ever be broken, and I could only think of one person that would have bewitched the thread, and who would have been vindictive enough to offer it up to be used in Loki’s punishment.

Slágrimmr took a step back, finished with his ghastly task. He glanced up at Thor, face stony, and bowed low and tersely, before turning on his heel to exit the hall.

My eyes were fixed on Loki, however. The Einheri released his hair, and right before his head fell limply forward, I caught full sight of his lips. The thread was incredibly tight and gruesomely stretched the skin above and below Loki’s swollen and bleeding mouth.

Loki slumped over, still kneeling, choppy hair hanging messily around his face, hands trembling in his lap. He was a sorry, wretched sight, and anger filled me, burning away this sorrow in my chest. Rage at Thor, at Týr, at all of them.

There was a long, breathless silence, as if nobody knew what to do. Even the Einherjar cast curious glances up at Thor, waiting.

Thor spoke, voice rasping, as if there was something caught in his throat.

“Take him to his cell.”

The Einherjar yanked on Loki’s chains. He almost fell over, but struggled to his feet, looking like a beaten animal. I was sick with grief as he was led out of the hall; he kept his head lowered, and some brave enough to break the silence called slurs.

Once he was gone, I raised my head up, tears rolling down my face, and saw Thor. Suddenly his gaze found me and our eyes locked. He stared at me for a long moment, I unflinching, before his eyes drifted down and he looked away, as if ashamed.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

The succeeding week passed in a fog, each day blending seamlessly into the next. I hardly noticed when the morning came, for the days seemed just as dark now, nor when night fell, leaving me just as alone as before.

I did not attend Odin Allfather’s funeral ceremony, though I watched the procession from my balcony. Saw the great crowds, even from here, gathered on the shore, their lights illuminating the somber night. I gripped the railing a little tighter when they ignited his pyre, floating serenely out on that black, starlit water, and like Queen Frigga before him, disintegrated in the flames and was taken like stardust up into the heavens.

It was only when his pyre disappeared over the edge that I realized sadly there would be no funeral for Loki. They would cut his head off and mount it outside the gates, and leave his body below to rot to nothing—the death of a common criminal, despite being a prince. He would not rise to the stars as his mother had, nor would he burn, as befitting even an honorable death; dishonorably had he lived and so dishonorably would he rot.

But I tried not to think of that, as ridiculous as that was. Despite the atrocities Loki had committed, and all he had planned, and no matter how he might have deserved whatever fate he had been assigned, his imminent demise tore me apart.

Would I have ever suspected, centuries ago, that one day we should end up here? It all seemed so far away now—lying in Loki’s bed on a lazy morning, a warm breeze wafting through his chambers from his balcony, and a somnolent but merry fire crackling in his fireplace; arms around me, lips on my heated skin, body pressed so close… oh, that everything was gone, as if it had never happened, all blackened and twisted and rotted into this now dark reality.

Sitting alone, mourning in my chambers, these remembrances gnawed at me—would not leave me be—and eventually I could not take it anymore. Eaten up with grief, my thoughts became muddled, agitated, frantic, and one morning, I decided I could not sit here any longer, I could not let Loki die without defense, for who else but me would stand by him still? I knew not what good it would do, but I had to at least try. And so, two days after the king’s funeral, and one day before Loki was slated to die, I broke down and sought out Thor.

I was not entirely sure what I would say to him when I saw him, for surely he would grant me, his estranged brother’s lover, an audience. My mind raced as I walked—to tell him what Týr had done, despite his threat against my family? But perhaps Thor could protect my family if I told him, perhaps, perhaps…

I still had not convinced myself by the time I made it to Thor’s chambers. He was currently installed in the rooms he had occupied his whole life, for he would not move to his father’s until after his coronation, which would take place sometime after Loki’s execution.

Attempting to calm my breathing, I hesitantly approached an Einheri standing guard outside Thor’s closed doors.

“I would request an audience with His Majesty,” I said softly. “It is urgent.”

The guard nodded, taking note of my distress, entered to inquire, and came back out.

“You are admitted,” he announced, holding one of the doors open for me.

I quietly thanked him, took a deep, shaky breath as I entered—and froze.

Thor was seated at a large circular table, papers strewn before him, and standing next to him was Týr.

I faltered, feeling a terrified jolt go through me when Týr’s dark eyes landed on me.

Thor stood up.

“Stjarna.”

My eyes, however, remained fixed on Týr. His gaze, which could not have been mistaken for anything but malicious, bored into me, and he tilted his head and raised his eyebrows, almost as if he was daring me to speak. He knew why I had come.

I glanced at Thor, who was still staring curiously at me, and my legs suddenly felt weak.

“I—I would—I wish to speak with you, Your—Your Majesty. Alone?”

Týr pressed his lips together in a thin line and all I could hear was my heartbeat in my ears.

Thor, oblivious to Týr’s staring daggers at me, gave a small nod.

“Of course,” he acquiesced. “Týr, you don’t mind?”

Týr smiled at me, though not kindly. “Of course not, Your Majesty. I will wait outside.”

I stiffened as he approached, swallowed thickly, and my heart seemed to stop when he brushed past me—though he did not physically touch me, I could smell him, and my skin crawled as if he had.

Once the doors were shut behind me, and it only Thor and I, I let out a soundless sigh of relief. Thor was still studying me, expression vaguely plaintive. Suddenly, I was unsure. Now that I knew Týr stood outside, had seen him glower so venomously at me, I could not find the words to say, and knew in my heart that even if I told Thor, even if Týr was punished, he would find a way to keep his promise. What had I been thinking?

I stood there, rooted to the spot, words dying in my throat.

Thor furrowed his brows.

“What did you wish to speak to me about?” he inquired, coming around his table. “The guard said it was urgent?”

“I…” I looked up at him as he came to stand before me. “I…”

“Yes?” he insisted, though not roughly. Rather, he spoke to me gently, as if questioning a hysterical child.

Finally, realizing in despair I could not bear to tell him, and jeopardize my family, I blurted something that had been tumbling incessantly through my head this past week.

“Why did you do that?” I asked tremulously, referring to that hideous display of “justice” at Loki’s trial.

Thor hesitated, realizing my meaning, but when he spoke his voice was quiet. “I had to set an example.”

I shook my head, but I knew not how to respond to that.

“They told me he called you here,” he remarked. “He told you what he was going to do.”

I looked down at my hands, clasped together in front of me.

“You went to Baldr…”

“I didn’t know what else to do,” I whispered.

“You did the right thing, Stjarna,” he assured.

But standing here, memories flickering through my overwrought mind, it did not feel like the right thing. I recalled so vividly the ribbons of flesh his back had been hanging in, and the sheen of blood on his white skin as the needle passed through his lips, over and over.

“Please don’t kill him,” I whimpered, raising my head to gaze piteously at him.

Thor’s bright blue eyes searched mine, saw the tears brimming there. He appeared sorry.

“Please don’t kill him,” I repeated sadly as Thor took a step forward and encircled me in his arms. I did not care anymore—his embrace felt so much like Loki’s and I relaxed against him, laid my cheek against his chest, let my tears soak the dark red fabric of his tunic.

“I have no choice,” Thor said, sounding penitent.

“He is your brother,” I sobbed, leaning against him. Though they were not blood brothers, had their growing up together meant nothing? Did Thor feel nothing? Oh, but I knew it tore him apart, sentencing his brother to death, no matter how he tried to hide it. And yet, he was silent.

“Thor,” I wept, and he curled his fingers in my hair, as if drawing comfort from me, as well. “Please…”

“His crimes cannot go unpunished,” Thor admitted. “It is my duty as king now, there is nothing… there is nothing I can do, Stjarna.”

But that was not good enough, and though I discerned the pain in his voice, anger coursed through me, and all of this sorrow and this bitter animosity that had been fulminating inside me, clawed its way to the surface, that he, the king, could do nothing to pardon his own brother and my lover.

I pushed him away, caring not that I had just laid hands on the king of Asgard. But Thor did nothing, why would he… I covered my face with my trembling hands, unable to suppress the unhappy sob that escaped.

“I am sorry,” I heard him say, but it did nothing to alleviate the frustrated tears rolling down my face. He stood there helplessly while I wept, so hard for the first time in days, not like this since that dreadful morning I had returned from the dungeons.

Thor took an uncertain step towards me and I flinched when he lightly touched my arm.

I lifted my head to regard him, saw the remorse evident in his eyes.

“You may see him if you wish,” he murmured. “Perhaps that is one amenity I can grant him, and you.”

“But you will not pardon him?” I whimpered, voice thick with tears.

Thor’s lips parted and lowered his head. “I cannot, Stjarna. I am sorry.”

__

Later that afternoon, Thor had a guard escort me to the dungeons. Though the guard I was with, nor any we saw, had been there that night serving Týr, I was at unease the entire time. My heart sped up when we walked through those tall double doors, and I attempted to quash the terrible memories that threatened to emerge as we descended the stone steps.

The guard led me deep into the dungeons, away from the lesser criminals and paltry marauders. They had not placed Loki in his normal cell, near to the main doors, but farther away from the others. My heart leapt into my throat when we finally came to it—a lonely, bare white cell, guarded by one bored-looking Einheri, and Loki within, propped limply against the wall.

“The king has allowed Lady Stjarnavetr to see him,” the guard escorting me explained to the one standing watch over Loki.

The Einheri nodded and glanced back at Loki through the humming yellow barrier.

“A visitor for His Royal Highness.”

The way he said it made me clench my teeth, but Loki did not stir at all. I ignored the guards and slowly approached the wall of energy, eyes fixed on my lover. Loki sat against the wall near the barrier, legs outstretched, hands resting lifelessly in his lap. His head was bowed down, uneven, oily hair hanging lankly around his gaunt face, obscuring it. My gaze drifted down to his front, which was stained with drippings of his blood. It had been less than a week, but his skin was an even more terrifying white, and he appeared considerably thinner.

I tentatively mounted the few steps that led up to the cell and sat next to the wall, inches from the barrier. The hairs on my arms stood up from being so close to the wall of energy, but I hardly noticed—I pulled my legs up and tucked my dress beneath them, unable to tear my eyes from Loki, blurred for these brimming tears.

“Loki?” I breathed, tilting my head, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill over.

A moment passed, and then slowly he turned his head and my breath caught in my throat. The gold thread binding his lips was impossibly tight; sick, greenish-grey bruising painted the taut skin around his mouth, and lines of what might have been infection snaked their way outwards from the strained wounds. His chin was covered in a thin crust of blood, droplets that had long ago dried trailed down his throat and soaked into his shirt.

My eyes flickered up to his, at the frightfully dark circles situated beneath them.

Loki’s weary eyes followed my tears as they finally spilled over, rolling unreservedly down my cheeks, and then to the trembling of my chin. When he looked away, I thought I felt my heart break, if there was anything at all left to crumble.

“Loki… this is the only time I have been given to see you,” I murmured, leaning in a little closer, swallowing a sob—and the helplessness—I could feel rising.

Nothing.

“Will you not look at me?” I implored.

Now he slowly turned his head again.

“I… I tried to speak with Thor, but he… he will not be moved…”

Loki stared at me, motionless.

“I tried,” I whimpered, and my voice broke.

My palm rested on the cold stone, inches from the barrier, and I edged it across the floor, towards him, stopping just short of the wall of energy. His gaze drifted down to catch the movement.

“I am sorry,” I whispered tearfully, so quietly even I barely heard it. “I am so sorry, Loki…”

Loki glanced up at me and we stared at one another for a long, hopeless moment. He studied my tear-stained face, and I could not tell what it was reflecting in his eyes—disappointment, resentment, regret.

He moved his hand from his lap and placed it on the floor near my hand, as close as he could get to the barrier without touching it, and the gesture caused a fresh wave of sorrow to wash through me—he was trying to console me. I rested my head against the stone wall, searched his eyes, lucent against the red on his white skin. How badly I wished to touch him—to stroke his face, to kiss him, to hold him. Anything.

“I love you, Loki,” I breathed. “I always will.”

I knew not what else to say. In that moment, it seemed silly to continue speaking, to apologize or reminisce or wonder how things could have been. And so I sat there in silence next to him, only that thin breadth of energy separating us. But sitting with him like this, despite what was to come, brought me some small measure of comfort, and I hoped I also brought him some comfort. No words were needed now, just presence.

After a while, though, evidently the guard had thought I’d had enough time, or thought I was wasting his time by sitting there in silence, for he came up behind me, grabbed my arm, and hauled me up. I cried out, but kept my gaze fixed on Loki as I was led away, could hardly still comprehend that I would never again speak to him, never share with him another intimate moment, for the next time I would see him, would be his last.

__

I cannot say what it was that possessed me to go to the execution. Perhaps it was that I felt I must be there when Loki drew his last breath, for despite all he had done, we had shared centuries together and I would be there at his end.

There was a slow, steady procession to the site, composed mostly of courtiers. Though Thor had made Loki’s trial public, he had made his execution a little more private. He would afford Loki that small mercy, if it could even be called a mercy.

The air was still, almost somber, and the day was cloudy. Only hushed whispers could be heard, murmurs that this was unheard of, a prince being executed, and yet that it was not enough, that King Thor still had not done enough to avenge the death of his own father.

But it did not matter—Loki would die nonetheless.

I walked alone, and in woeful silence. There were none left to mourn for Loki except myself. But who else would weep for him? Who had shared with him all that had passed between us these past five centuries? The grief roiling inside me was indescribable, so strong it numbed me. My mind was in a fog, body heavy with dread, each step leaden. Even now, I still could hardly believe it had come to this, and that within the hour my lover would die.

The execution would take place near the entrance of Bifröst, off to the side. It was here where Loki’s severed head would be set upon a spike, for all who entered the Realm Eternal to see. There was an area cleared and a scaffold set up. Einherjar were placed at intervals, and Slágrimmr, donned entirely in black, stood upon the scaffold with his assistants, looking dour and staring straight ahead.

I saw another raised platform, behind where the small crowd would stand. There were chairs lined up on it, including a wooden throne in the center where Thor was to sit. Though Thor was not yet arrived, some of the other gods were there early—Týr, Baldr, Njord…

I looked away and silently took up a spot off to the side, hands clasped together in front of me beneath my cloak. I attempted to remain impassive as I studied the scaffold, saw the straw scattered there to soak up the blood.

I had only been standing there a few minutes when Frey and his twin sister, Freyja, arrived arm in arm. Freyja was dressed resplendently: jewel-encrusted dress, hair styled elaborately, laced with jeweled pins, and cascading in pale blonde waves down her back. It was obvious she viewed Loki’s execution as some sort of special occasion, for she looked even more opulent than usual. I made the mistake of staring, and Freyja’s blue, almost colorless, eyes caught mine, and the corner of her lips twitched upwards in a goading smile.

Freyja whispered something to Frey, who nodded silently, and released her to mount the platform that held the other gods. My heart fell as she approached me. Though her visage was one of pity, I doubted her intentions were so virtuous.

“Oh, sister,” she condoled, embracing me. “I am so sorry.”

I did not reply as she pulled back to scrutinize me.

“I cannot believe Loki murdered the king,” she remarked, tilting her head. “Whoever thought it would come to this?”

I lowered my head. Though her words hurt, and incensed simultaneously, I did not have the heart to refute her.

“At least his death shall be quick,” Freyja offered, as if genuinely attempting to comfort me, though I knew better. “Slágrimmr is quite skilled with the sword.”

“Yes,” I answered vaguely.

Freyja, failing to elicit the desired response, tried again.

“This must be very difficult for you, Stjarnavetr, since you are the one who revealed him. I cannot believe you betrayed him, but of course it was for the best.”

My eyes flickered up to hers, fixed on mine, just the barest hint of a smile playing on the edge of her pink lips. Her words, disguised in pity, were meant to hurt, but it was not sorrow I felt—rather, I was indignant that she should be so bold to speak of that to me.

“Frey told me His Majesty allowed you to visit Loki in the dungeons. That was very kind of him, though I imagine the conversation between Loki and yourself was rather one-sided…”

“I do not believe that is any of your concern, Freyja,” I responded coolly, somehow able to mask the anger bubbling up inside me.

“Perhaps not,” she responded primly. “Though, I cannot help but think it would not have turned out like this had Loki cooperated during Týr’s… questioning.”

My blood ran cold when she said that, and I stared at her, lips parted in surprise. I realized suddenly that Týr must have told Frey about his torturing Loki, and Frey had enlightened his sister, who had no doubt taken a sadistic pleasure in hearing it recounted. By the way she said it, however, she did not know I had been there and seen the result of Týr’s handiwork. She probably thought this was the first I had heard of it.

Freyja could not help a little smile now, absorbing with barely disguised glee my shocked expression. I slowly closed my mouth, the fury inside me flaring hotter. How dare she mention that to me, attempting to get a reaction? And she just would not stop talking—would not stop pushing—and I was already so emotional and now angry and had no idea what suddenly came over me.

“It is such a shame the disgraced prince will only be remembered for this—”

Before I even realized what I was doing, I unthinkingly raised my arm and slapped her hard. A dozen heads turned to look as Freyja’s head was thrown violently to the side, and I took a step towards her, fists clenched.

“You will never speak to me again,” I muttered darkly, not bothering to mask the angry tremble in my voice.

Freyja’s mouth fell open and she pressed the back of her hand to her pale cheek, which was turning an angry pink.

“How dare you!” she shrilled.

When I only glared at her, she pressed her lips into a thin, angry line and straightened up.

“It matters not,” she hissed. “After this you will be gone from the palace. It’s evident you’re only good for one thing, and no man would lower himself to take you as his whore after you fucked that traitor.”

Thinking she had made her point, Freyja turned her nose up and brushed past me. I did not deign to watch her leave, hardly gave thought to her venomous last words, but instead stared straight ahead, eyes fixed on the scaffold. I think at this point, considering the circumstances, I was beyond caring the thoughts of others, especially one as trifling as Freyja.

I did not have long to ruminate on Freyja, for it was not much later that they brought Loki. He was escorted by three Einherjar, and despite his sickly thinness, and the substantial cuffs around both his ankles and wrists, surprisingly he fought. All thoughts of Freyja were gone from my head as I watched the Einherjar drag him along, endeavoring to subdue him. I clasped my hands together, body tight, as they finally hauled him struggling up the scaffold, muffled sounds of distress barely heard for his bound lips.

The crowd stood stock-still, hanging with bated breath on the pitiful scene playing out before them, and I turned my head to look behind me. Thor’s throne still sat empty.

The Einherjar forced Loki down to his knees in the center of the scaffold. All heard the pitiful moan through his sewn lips, perhaps what could have been a faint, wavering “no.”

I bit my lip. Some part of me had imagined Loki would remain steadfast, even to the end. One of the Einherjar leaned down and shackled Loki’s wrists to the scaffold so he could not move, only kneel, and stepped away. He was shaking like a leaf, eyes wide, almost frantically searching, and I thought how differently he had acted before—almost diffident to his impending death. Now he appeared frightened, and his panicked gaze swept over me, but did not linger for even a moment, almost as if he did not recognize me, and a rivulet of unease—and something akin to uncertainty—went through me.

Slágrimmr, deciding it was time, turned to one of his young assistants, who held in his arms a long object wrapped in crimson cloth. Slágrimmr gently unwrapped the cloth and withdrew the sword, a great, wicked-looking thing, glinting coldly, and almost evilly, in the wan morning light. Loki tore his eyes away from those sitting on the platform behind the crowd and turned his attention to the blade in Slágrimmr’s strong hands.

“Please forgive me, Your Highness,” Slágrimmr said, inclining his head, and Loki’s pale green eyes flickered up to meet the blacksmith’s.

Finally, Loki blinked and slowly turned to face forward. Slágrimmr walked up behind him and Loki squeezed his eyes shut; he appeared on the verge of tears. Despite this, he now looked somewhat determined, as if in that moment he had accepted his fate. He was chained to the scaffold, no getting out of it now—no Thor to pardon him, no Frigga to comfort him except for perhaps when in moments he would cross that threshold.

Slágrimmr, mouth set into a thin line and face grim, made one movement with the sword, positioning it at the back of Loki’s neck for aim. He then raised it, gleaming in the pale light of one of the suns that managed at the last moment to break the cloud bank, and my heart stopped.

He swung, and the cruel blade sang its macabre song as it flashed through the air. I flinched when the whistling of the blade ceased suddenly when it met flesh; it sliced cleanly through the little bones in Loki’s neck, through the soft tissue, and burst out the front of his white throat with a great spray of blood.

There was a dreadful silence, a breathless moment, as Loki’s head tumbled forward, followed by the great crimson flow, and bounced once onto the straw. The headless trunk fell forward and met the scaffold with a ghastly thud that reverberated in the still and heavy air, and I slowly closed my eyes.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

As soon as I closed my eyes, feeling as if my insides had turned to water, screams rent the silent air. My eyes flew open and I gasped when I saw the last of the seidr dissipating in a green cloud from the headless body on the scaffold.

It was no longer Loki lying there, but an Einheri, and I immediately recognized him: it was the guard who had been watching over Loki when I had gone to see him two nights before. The head’s mouth hung open in a ghastly, silent scream, revealing that his tongue had been ripped out by the root.

People screamed, demanded frantically what was going on, where was the prince, but I could only stare in a stunned silence, even when somebody staggered into me and knocked me out of the way in their confusion.

Blood pumped out of the tubes in the cut neck in spurts, as the heart was still beating. The blood flooded the scaffold and Slágrimmr stepped lightly as he moved to briefly study the fallen head. Once he confirmed it was not in fact Loki who had been beheaded, he turned to one of his white-faced assistants.

“Inform the king immediately,” he said grimly.

The assistant nodded and scampered away.

Thor must be told—Loki was alive and escaped.

I could not tear my eyes away from the body lying limp on the scaffold, scarcely able to comprehend it was Loki who had done this, there was no other alternative. I could guess easily why he had ripped the guard’s tongue out—to maintain the illusion of silence after he had switched places with him—and likely also as revenge for mocking him that night I had been allowed to visit.

Feeling as if I was about to vomit, I turned away and sucked in a deep, shaky breath.

It did not seem real, when it had been Loki up there just moments ago. Loki being dragged up the steps, forced to his knees and chained in place… and then suddenly it was not. My most prevalent emotion was dread, and yet I could not deny the spark of relief I felt—the thrill—that Loki was still alive.

I turned around, hardly knowing what to think, and observed the reactions of the other gods.

Týr was jumped to his feet, involved in a heated argument with Baldr, and Frey was speaking in hushed tones to Freyja. Once Frey finished, Freyja nodded and descended the platform. I watched curiously as she crossed the quickly emptying field towards a group of horses some of them had ridden down from the palace on. She mounted her horse, turned to the palace, and was gone. Baldr soon followed on his own horse, likely to meet with Thor who had not come to Loki’s execution.

I stared after them, and the people who had begun trickling back to the palace, whispering excitedly about what had just transpired, and decided it best if I also returned to the palace. I began walking, but had not gotten far when suddenly somebody grabbed me roughly by the arm from behind. I shrieked, more in surprise than anything, as they spun me around, and then I was staring into Týr’s livid face.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he hissed.

“What?”

“Where is he?” Týr demanded. His face was an unhealthy shade of red, and I could see the veins practically throbbing on his forehead. His voice drew startled looks from those who still lingered, but none interfered.

“What are you talking about?” I cried, trying to twist out of his grip, but it was vise like and he was hurting me but I could not budge. “I don’t—”

“Where is he?” he screamed, shaking me once.

Fear engulfed me and all I could do was stammer my ignorance.

“I don’t—I don’t know what you’re—”

Týr scoffed and turned to look at Frey, who was quickly approaching.

“Keep her here,” Týr grunted, roughly releasing me. He left us, made his way to the scaffold, and ascended the steps. He threw a disgusted glance at the corpse lying on the blood-soaked straw and turned to speak with Slágrimmr, who conversed calmly with him.

I looked down at the ground, shaking, eyes nervously flickering between Týr and the headless body, and the blood I could see dripping grotesquely through the slats and onto the ground below.

After a while, Týr finally dismounted the scaffold and came back.

“Frey, come with me,” he ordered as he seized me by the arm again.

“Let go of me!” I cried, attempting in vain to pull away.

Týr ignored my struggling and yanked me violently after him, hauling me towards his and Frey’s horses.

“No!” I shouted as he pushed me towards his horse, and then forced me up onto it. He quickly mounted, sitting behind me, and I gripped his horse’s mane so tightly my knuckles turned white. I squeezed my eyes shut, stomach churning, as he took the reins and kicked his horse into a gallop.

I heard Frey following on his own horse, tried not to focus on Týr’s body pressed against mine, but the beating of the horse’s hooves, the wind rushing loudly by in my ears, the fact that Loki was still alive, anything but this and what he planned to do…

Finally, we made it to the palace.

I cracked my eyes open as the horse slowed to a stop in the stables. Týr quickly descended and practically yanked me off the horse. I stumbled against him, begged him to let me go when he grabbed my arm, I had not done anything, but he did not reply—only dragged me behind him with Frey following in silence. Dread filled me when I realized where he was taking me.

Once we made it to his chambers, he shoved me and I stumbled and almost fell. I turned to see Frey closing the doors behind him and a cold panic consumed me.

“I will only ask you one more time,” Týr growled, stalking towards me. “Where is he?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I said desperately hoping he would believe me.

Týr bared his teeth in anger, drew his arm back, and struck me hard across the face. I cried out and staggered, holding my hand to my cheek, which felt like it was on fire.

“Do you think I’m stupid?” he shouted. “Loki! Where is he?”

“I don’t know,” I exclaimed, frustrated tears rolling down my face. “I don’t know!”

Frey stood there, arms folded over his chest, detachedly observing Týr’s screaming at me.

“Of course you fucking know!” Týr snapped. “You’re the only one in all of Asgard who would help him escape!”

I shook my head, hardly able to form the words now for the sobs caught in my throat. I did not understand how he thought this, how would I have even helped Loki escape?

“Thor was foolish enough to let you see him in the dungeons,” Týr growled, reaching to grab a fistful of my hair.

“But I didn’t do anything!” I cried, frantically reaching up to try and disentangle his fingers, but he threw me to the ground and I landed on my side, barely catching myself before my face smashed into the floor.

“What happened when you saw him?” Týr demanded, clenching his fist.

“Nothing!” I wept. What did he think we had done? Loki’s lips had been bound, we could not have even conversed, and there had been two guards there watching.

“Do not tell me you did not use that Vanir witchery,” Týr yelled.

When I regarded him in teary surprise, he threw his arms up in frustration and spun around to bark at Frey.

“Could she have, Frey? You are both Van, tell me.”

“It is occasionally possible to communicate telepathically using incredibly advanced seidr, but I doubt she is able, and Loki certainly would not be capable,” Frey rejoined impassively. “I am somewhat able, as is Freyja, though her skills are greater than mine.”

Týr, for some reason disliking Frey’s answer, grumbled something to himself and turned back to glare down at me.

“Go get Freyja,” Týr ordered, and Frey left to wordlessly obey.

I lowered my head, fear twisting my insides at the thought of being left alone with Týr, and especially in this state.

“Do you think you are immune?” Týr growled. “Think not that you are above other means.”

I felt the blood drain out of my face as I raised my head to look at him. I knew what he meant: torture. Suddenly I could not speak, could not imagine a whip on my back, nor fire as he had done to Loki.

But I did not know where Loki was, how was I to know? Last I had seen him he had been in his cell, there was no mistaking it had been him. Something had happened between then and today, but I had not the slightest clue, and Týr would not believe me.

“If you don’t start talking,” Týr threatened, and he bent down, seizing the front of my dress, and yanked me halfway up off the floor up so our faces were only inches apart, “we’re going to take a little trip back to the dungeons.”

“Please,” I begged miserably, grasping his wrist, trying pathetically to pull away. “I don’t know how he escaped, I didn’t help him—!”

Suddenly, the doors to Týr’s chambers were thrown open and we both turned our heads to look and saw Thor standing there, likely having come to discuss Loki’s escape with his right-hand. Týr immediately let me go and I fell back onto the floor as he straightened, face stony.

“What are you doing?” Thor demanded, stepping into the room.

“Questioning Loki’s whore,” Týr retorted bitterly.

I lay on the floor, chin quivering, biting back the sobs I could feel rising in my throat. I stared at Thor, beyond grateful that he was here, and I saw his eyes narrow when he noticed my reddened cheek where Týr had struck me.

Thor walked purposefully up to Týr without a word, who braced himself right before Thor drew his arm back and punched him viciously in the face. Before Týr could recover, Thor grabbed him by the collar with both hands and slammed him brutally up against the wall, and I heard the back of Týr’s head snap against the stone.

“Questioning her?” Thor growled. “It looks more like you are beating her.”

Týr grimaced, and blood began to trickle from his nose and the side of his mouth, but he did not reply.

“You will not touch her again,” Thor growled, and the tone of his voice, low and dark and rippling with threat, sent a chill winding down my spine. “She is not your prisoner, nor is she an enemy of Asgard.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Týr submitted, though somewhat resentfully. Thor roughly released him, expression thunderous. He turned, walked over to me, and gently helped me to my feet. He sat me in one of Týr’s chairs and I bent forward, arms wrapped around myself, body shaking. But I knew now that Thor was here, Týr could not hurt me further.

“What is the meaning of this?” Thor commanded, turning back on Týr.

“She knows where Loki is, but she will not tell,” Týr explained, attempted to justify his screaming and hitting me, and dabbing at his bloody mouth with the back of his hand.

“And how do you know this?” Thor asked coolly.

“It is obvious!” Týr snapped. “She is the only one in all of Asgard that Loki would still trust. How could he have escaped without help? Specifically her help? Likely when you allowed her to see him in the dungeons—”

“And has she confessed to any of this?” Thor interrupted.

“No,” Týr admitted, “but I am confident she knows something.”

Thor scoffed, but Týr stepped closer to him.

“If you do not believe me, Your Majesty, use her.”

Thor pressed his lips together in annoyance.

“Clearly she means something to him, he kept her around for all these centuries. You know he is still sneaking around here somewhere, use her to get him to reveal himself!”

Thor was quiet, absorbing Týr’s words.

Finally, Thor muttered, voice low with disgust, “And how would you achieve this, Týr? Would you hurt her some more? Torture her?”

Týr did not reply, and I stared tearfully at Thor.

“I would not do that,” Thor stated firmly. “I will not have her pay for Loki’s injustices.”

“You must believe me,” I whimpered, and both Týr and Thor glanced at me. “I swear, I did not know he had escaped…”

“She lies!” Týr refuted, gazing at me in contempt. “Of course she knew—”

“How could I have known?” I cried, voice breaking.

“You’ve been Loki’s whore for half a millennia, there’s no way—”

“Enough!” Thor roared, glowering venomously at Týr.

But I had eyes only for Thor, silently beseeching him to believe me.

“I thought him imprisoned,” I remarked tearfully, and Týr rolled his eyes and scoffed. “I thought it him on the scaffold, I did not know…”

“Stjarnavetr,” Thor said, gently, looking at me. “I believe you had no idea of this.”

I went to respond, perhaps to woefully thank him, but my eyes were drawn abruptly to Týr’s open doorway, where Frey now stood, staring blankly ahead, and in his arms he held his sister, who hung limply like a doll, and whose entire front was drenched in blood.

Both Thor and Týr, following my horrified expression, turned to look just as Frey began walking slowly into the room.

Freyja’s head hung at an obscene angle, for her throat was slit from ear to ear and gaping wide open in a terrible red smile. Blood dripping down, from her torn throat, from her fingers, saturated her mane of pale hair, dripping thickly and silently onto the stone floor.

Frey, almost tenderly, lowered his sister’s lifeless body onto the ground, and he remained kneeling next to her, still holding her upper half in his arms. I stared in a paralytic silence at them, not five feet from me, and the stench of blood hit me like a wall and I almost gagged.

All was gruesome and red; I could not discern the milky pallor of Freyja’s skin, only a sliver of the cold blue of her eyes, bright among the crimson mask, and the white of her teeth behind her parted, painted ruby lips, blood caked on her skin, her dress, matted and congealed in her hair.

The room was completely silent, Thor and Týr still staring openmouthed. It was only when I finally tore my eyes away from her face did I notice the stab wound deep in her stomach.

Frey gently cradled the back of Freyja’s head and lifted it, closing the terrible wound slashed across her throat. In five hundred years, I had never seen such emotion on Frey’s face; always he had been cold and indifferent, callous about anything and everything—everything but his sister. It was known to all, but rarely spoken of, that despite being twins, Frey and Freyja regularly lay together.

He affectionately kissed her forehead, and I saw the tears swimming in his eyes as he curled his long fingers in her crimson-soaked hair.

“He has killed her,” Frey said roughly, voice trembling.

Thor was still staring down, lips parted in horror.

“Gods,” Týr breathed, glancing away, and it almost looked like he would be sick.

“You know he did this,” Frey rasped, sadly studying his sister’s face. “That traitor Jötun. He slit her throat.”

“Why… why would he do this?” Thor asked haltingly, still taking in the ghastly scene laid out before him.

“Her shears,” Frey answered, somewhat calmly, finally raising his head. “They were on her floor when I entered her chambers. He used them to cut the thread that bound his lips.”

“Why—”

“The thread was enchanted,” Frey replied hoarsely. “Freyja supplied Slágrimmr with the thread and her shears were the only thing that could break them.”

Thor covered his face with his hand and expulsed a sharp breath, appearing at a loss.

“I suspected, but I did not think…” Frey trailed off, and I suddenly remembered how he had spoken to Freyja on the platform shortly after it had been revealed it was a guard killed and not Loki, how she had left immediately for the palace. But he had not foreseen this outcome, and I could only imagine his guilt.

“Frey…” Thor said softly, but he could not console for this.

“He is badly injured as well,” Frey added, voice faraway, eyes slowly drifting back down to Freyja.

“How do you know?” Týr asked gruffly.

“Fr—Freyja lay in her own blood, but there was a large amount of it splattered over her vanity, a puddle of blood against the wall, and a smear above it where he slid down,” Frey explained quietly, reaching up to brush a stray, blood-soaked lock of hair away from Freyja’s vacant face.

Upon hearing Loki had been injured, and despite Freyja lying dead in front of me, clearly by Loki’s hand, my stomach tightened in apprehension.

“She hurt him?” Thor demanded.

“Yes, I taught her how to use a seidr blade, many years ago…”

Frey trailed off, closed his eyes and lowered his head, and placed his forehead to Freyja’s, quivering lips lingering against hers. His tears dripped onto her face, winding little paths through the blood on her skin, and he tightened his embrace on her limp body.

Týr sighed roughly, ran a hand over his mouth. His voice was virulent when he addressed Thor.

“And what do you say now, Your Majesty?”

Chapter Text

Loki

I walked slowly but purposefully. None paid any attention to me as they passed, for I was shrouded in the illusion of a lowly servant, and then another layer to shield myself from Heimdall’s wandering gaze. I was headed to Freyja’s chambers, for my execution would take place shortly. My goal was simple enough, and hopefully just as easily accomplished.

It was no mystery whose thread it was that bound my lips. I suspected the Vana bitch had thought herself clever, volunteering her own thread for my punishment, and enchanting it beforehand. Frey likely had been privy to knowledge of my punishment before the trial and told his whore of a sister, who had given the thread to him or Týr, who had in turn given it to Slágrimmr.

I had attempted to cut the thread in my cell with a seidr blade, for Stjarna had once informed me that a seidr blade was sharper than any made of metal, being composed purely of energy, but had merely succeeded in accidentally slicing myself. And so, it made sense that the only thing capable of breaking the thread were the shears Slágrimmr had used that day—Freyja’s shears, enchanted as well.

Anger welled up inside me as I approached Freyja’s chambers, unable to keep from recalling the day of my trial, over a week ago. Standing in Gladsheim, thousands of condemning eyes trained on me, and Thor declaring my sentence. His indifference when I’d lowered myself to beg him to reconsider, and Týr’s haughty little smile.

Kneeling there, having Slágrimmr cut my hair, had not been terrible—humiliating, yes, but I was no stranger to that. It was being held down, bound by chains like a fucking animal, biting back my moans of pain, tears rolling down my face, as he sewed my lips shut… that had been the worst. In truth, and oddly enough, in that moment, even the thought of having my head cut off had not frightened me as much as the idea of having my lips stitched together. Unable to speak, unable to scream, my last freedom taken from me—brought so low by he who I had grown up with and once called my brother.

Afterwards, when it was done and I hardly able to stand for the shock, they’d dragged me back down to the dungeons and thrown me roughly into a cell. I had stumbled and fallen against the wall, smearing my blood along its smooth surface, before turning and sliding down until I lay on the floor. Powerless to quell the trembling of my body, in agony for my bound lips, I had listened to the guards laughing, remarking nonchalantly to one another how lowly and pathetically their once illustrious prince had fallen.

Though their words had burned me, I was helpless to do anything, and the rage and bitter resentment had given way shortly to despair. It was difficult to feel much else with the pain in my lips, swollen and bleeding from the relentless tension of the thread. I attempted to heal my mouth with my seidr, but it had not helped as much as I thought it would; it became infected shortly after, and part of me suspected Freyja had enchanted the thread in more ways than one to endure my ceaseless discomfort.

Over a week I sat there, only ever shifting positions when I could no longer keep my eyes open and the pain and exhaustion lulled me into a fitful sleep. When awake I could not focus and was often delirious, helped in part by the fact I was not eating or drinking. I drifted in and out, mind assailed by obscure, fleeting images of Stjarna, and then of Thor and Týr, and blood and anger and pain.

More than once I wondered bitterly why I had not died yet, why could I not have just fucking died. After falling off Bifröst, preferably, before the Chitauri had gotten a hold of me. Wished they had killed me when they were digging into my body, laughing at my screams, or that I had died on Midgard. But then, why hadn’t I done it myself, for surely I deserved it for all I had done?

It was then when I realized, lying on the floor, staring up at the white ceiling, it was because I was a coward. I was a fucking coward and I could not stand the thought of not being. I wanted to live, to continue in this wretched fucking existence for as long as wretchedly fucking possible. At least long enough to kill Týr, for what he had done to me, and to Stjarna.

I grew solemn to remember when she had come to see me in the dungeons, tears swimming in her large grey eyes. Whispering to me in that sweet, beautiful voice of hers, telling me she loved me and she always would. Even now, as I wandered through the palace a fugitive, having ripped out a man’s tongue mere hours ago, and dammed him to my own death, I wondered what I had ever done to deserve Stjarna, and what she had ever done to deserve the misfortune and despair I had heaped upon her. But I would avenge her before the end, and ensure Týr a most painful retribution.

It was not long after Stjarna’s visit that I switched places with the guard.

Luckily, they had put me in a cell far away from the other prisoners, so the only one to witness any trouble was the jaded Einheri watching me. I had been so fatigued after my trial they had not even bothered with an extra guard. In truth, I had not been sure my plan would work or not. I was weak, but knew it was now or never, and I would have to push through my debility if I wanted to survive past the next day.

I had laid on the floor and cast a rather ghastly illusion over myself, made a strangled sound of agony—not entirely pretending—and the guard had turned around, expression one of boredom, and cried out in astonishment. Though beneath the veil of magic I was unharmed, the Einheri saw me covered in blood, a stab wound in my stomach, and a seidr blade shimmering in my hand.

Fool that he was, he lowered the barrier immediately, thinking I had tried to kill myself. Fortunately for me, he assumed me too frail to attempt escape, and had come towards me, perhaps to help, for despite his derisive attitude towards me, he was still in charge of guarding me and delivering an already dead prisoner to his execution would not bode well for his keeper.

If I had been physically able, I would have smiled to remember the look of terror on his face when I jumped up and punched him viciously in the head, his muffled scream when, after I subdued him, I held his head and reached into his mouth to tear out the means to his jeering. His pounding frantically on the wall of energy as I donned his illusion, endeavoring to scream from within the cell when I walked off to have a guard change places with me.

He would be dead soon. I regretted that I would not be there to see their faces when Slágrimmr swung the blade, when they saw it was not me whimpering like a fool on the scaffold.

Clearing my head of these thoughts, I finally reached Freyja’s chambers. I glanced around, confirming I was alone, and entered. Freyja’s rooms were rather frivolous in nature, and much brighter than mine had been, with dark woods and crimson drapery; hers was filled with pale wooden furniture, most gilt, and swathed in rich fabrics, pale pinks and frothy blues edged with gold and silver.

I had been here a few times before, though never for so dark a purpose. At one point, so long ago it was difficult to remember, before Stjarna had ever come to Asgard, I had lusted after Freyja. She was the most beautiful creature in Asgard, there was no disputing it, and I had wanted her for myself. Though I had eventually succeeded, the entire ordeal had been made bittersweet when I’d found out she had once also been mistress to Odin.

Closing the door behind me, I scanned the room, allowing my illusion to melt away. If I could relieve myself of the burden of some magic, it would be beneficial. I had been holding a particularly strong illusion over that guard all night and this morning, and I could feel him straining against it, and in my weakened state, it took everything I had to maintain it—at least until they would cut his head off.

I paused for a beat, trying to think where Freyja would keep the shears. My first instinct was her vanity, a large table with an even larger mirror situated above it, and a pale pink cushioned stool in front. I walked over to it, pushed the stool out of the way, and began rummaging through the drawers. Nothing of importance presented itself to me—only petty women’s things like brooches and trinkets and jeweled hairpins—and I growled in frustration.

I glanced up, lingering momentarily, and froze when I caught sight of myself in the mirror. Anguish swept through me, for I had not seen myself in so long. An appropriate word to describe what stared back at me would have been “ghoulish.”

Almost the entire lower half of my face was tinted a greenish black, with streaks of angry-looking infection spreading out from my lips, which were swollen against the tight thread and inflamed. Dried blood was crusted on my chin and parts of my neck where it had dripped down, and the front of my tunic was stained and dirty. My hair, though not cut extremely short, was uneven and roughly framed my gaunt face.

I tore my eyes away, almost wishing I had not seen myself, and lowered my head, attempting to focus. I had come here for a reason. I resumed going through Freyja’s things, coming to the top right drawer. I ripped it open and hesitated again. The entire drawer was taken up with crinkled white silk, and upon it lay a large, shining necklace.

Brísingamen.

I stared at it in disgust. This necklace, composed of large, gaudy jewels, was easily Freyja’s most prized possession. She’d fucked some of the visiting dignitaries from Nidavellir—small, ugly dwarves with crooked legs and dark beady eyes and straggling beards—in exchange for the necklace. It had happened long ago, even before my birth, and Freyja had been Odin’s mistress at the time. He had been furious upon discovery and it had promptly ended their dalliances.

As I slammed the drawer shut, not even bothering with the necklace, I wondered indignantly why they’d not called Freyja the Whore of Vanaheim, a cruel nickname given to Stjarna long ago when she had been mistress to Valdrlund, for surely Freyja was, and had always been, more of a whore than my beloved Vana ever was.

Having no luck with Freyja’s vanity, I turned around and spotted a trunk against the wall. I went over to it, stooped, and dug through it. Nothing. Upon her bedside table sat an opulent wooden box, which lacked my prize, and then another trunk in the corner. I even tried her bath chamber, but found nothing. The longer I hunted for the shears, and could not find them, the more prominent the despair in the pit of my stomach became.

Where would Freyja keep the shears, for surely Slágrimmr had returned them to her?

Suddenly, as I was bent over rifling through another trunk, I felt a sharp pain in my chest and steadied myself.

The guard had just been executed and his illusion brutally shattered.

I did not have much time.

I resumed my frantic search, increasing the pace, anger mounting as it yielded nothing. I was confident Slágrimmr would have returned the shears to Freyja and highly doubted she would be carrying them on her. They had to be here, somewhere.

In one trunk I found a small box with sewing supplies, and hope blossomed in my chest, but quickly died. Though I found a spool of gold thread, the same damned thread lacing my mouth shut, the shears were missing. I threw the spool across the room in a fit of rage and kicked the trunk, turning it over and sending its contents careening noisily across the floor.

If I could not find the shears, I would not be able to break the thread, and I did not want to even think about what would follow.

There was only one trunk left to search. I opened it and began sorting through the items within, had only been searching for a minute, when I heard the door behind me open. I stiffened, tarrying for only a moment before standing up and slowly turning around.

Freyja stood there, a small smile playing on the edge of her lips. She shut the door behind her, eyes fixed on me. I noticed how nicely she had dressed up today for my execution. What a special occasion it must have been for her.

“Hello, Loki.”

I did not reply as her cool gaze traveled slowly around the room, taking in the overturned trunk and her things scattered across the floor. She cocked a pale eyebrow when her eyes landed on her vanity.

“I’m surprised you’ve not found them yet.”

I clenched my fists, but she only smirked and began walking slowly towards me.

“You should have seen their expressions, Loki,” she remarked, almost casually. “When your illusion disappeared and left the guard there.”

I did not react, for I foolishly did not view her as some sort of immediate threat, but studied her circumspectly as she came to stand before me. She was much shorter than me and tilted her head up.

“I am sure you will be glad to know Týr was very upset.”

When I remained still—it was not as if I could answer, anyway—she sighed, almost wistfully.

“It is a shame it has come to this,” she murmured, and I stiffened when she reached up to lightly run her fingertips over my lips, over her own enchanted thread lacing them tight. When I flinched, more from the pain than her close proximity, she tilted her head to the side, as if saddened.

“Despite what you might think, I did not enjoy seeing this…”

If I had been able, I would have scoffed. Freyja, I am sure, had taken a wicked delight in my trial and subsequent punishment. She was a vain, selfish, and sadistic creature, and the only one she cared about more than herself was perhaps her brother Frey.

“You did please me once, you know,” she sighed. “Do you remember, Loki?”

Her fingers trailed gently over my bloody chin, down to my front, and I followed her eyes as she brushed them over my chest, down over my stomach.

Before she could continue, I caught her slender wrist, gripping it tightly, and her pale blue eyes flickered up to mine. I knew what she was doing and had precious little time to play along. Before she could even react, I yanked her towards me. She cried out, more in surprise than anything, as I spun her around and within seconds had her head pulled back and a seidr blade pressed to her pale throat. I was not playing games.

Freyja stood stiffly in my arms, lifted up on her toes, breathing hard. I raised the blade of energy formed in my fist, scraped it over her delicate skin that long ago I once had so lustfully kissed, and tapped it on her parted lips. She knew exactly what I was asking and silently lifted her arm and pointed to her vanity.

Anger flared in my chest, how stupid did she think I was, but then abruptly it dawned on me and I would have grumbled to myself had I been able to. I shoved Freyja away from me and she stumbled forward. I stalked over to her vanity, blade dissolving in my hand. Now that she had pointed it out, I wondered how much more obvious it could have been.

I kept one eye on Freyja in the mirror behind me as I yanked at the drawer containing her treasured necklace, the only contents of the vanity I had left untouched. When I picked Brísingamen up, heavy with precious stones, and tossed it carelessly onto her vanity, Freyja visibly stiffened. I grabbed a fistful of the bunched silk and picked it out, revealing the shears beneath.

“You should not have come here, Loki,” Freyja said faintly, almost in warning, but I paid no attention.

I picked the shears up, relief flooding me, and looked at myself in the mirror. Wincing, I struggled to open my mouth to reveal more of the golden thread, which felt as if it had already become a part of my flesh. I carefully slipped the tip of the shears beneath the exposed thread and held my breath as I cut it, and the thread glowed green for a brief moment before returning to its regular gold color.

I grabbed the loose end and pulled, grimacing as it slipped through the holes dotting my blood-stained lips. Since I had tried to heal the wounds, and they had become infected again anyway, it hurt, and my eyes began to water. Finally, I withdrew the last of the bloody thread and dropped it onto Freyja’s vanity. I studied my mouth in the mirror, drew my sore lips back to reveal my bloody teeth. I thought bitterly how though now I could heal my lips, there would surely always be scarring. But that was for later, there was no time for that now.

Just as I drew back, there was a soft, slick, thudding sound, and I was jolted violently forward. I gasped, pain lancing through me, and groaned as I twisted quickly around and saw Freyja standing there, something small and narrow glowing green in her hand—a seidr blade.

I blinked and looked down, saw the blood spreading rapidly to the side of my tunic, felt the warmth of it pooling and running down my leg. I slowly raised my head, disbelief etched onto my face.

The corner of Freyja’s plump, pink lips curled upwards in a smug smile.

“I told you, Loki, you should not have come here.”

Before I could even endeavor to respond, Freyja slashed at me. I barely avoided the blade, moving rapidly to the side, forming my own blade and holding it out to keep her away.

“Freyja,” I warned, but my voice was quiet and gritty, tinged with pain.

Already I could feel myself growing lightheaded. She had stabbed me deeply, on the right side of my lower back, and the blood was flowing in rivulets. I desperately needed to heal myself, but I doubted she would allow that.

Freyja laughed and confirmed my thoughts. “Do you think I’m going to let you walk out of here?”

My breaths were coming more heavily, my heart pounding in my ears. I reached behind me and grimaced when I felt how saturated with blood my shirt already was. I went to heal it, but Freyja, realizing what I meant to do, lunged abruptly at me.

Frey must have taught her at least the basics of fighting and defense. I cursed both him and her as I blocked her blow, reaching out. Pain seared through me and I cried out; if I had not been so weak from lack of food and now with my blood pouring out of me, I could have easily subdued her, but she was allowing me no time to heal myself. She was just biding her time, waiting for me to bleed out and either die or be on the verge when she proudly led Frey and the others to her catch.

Suddenly I was filled with cold panic. I was growing weaker with each passing second, and she kept coming at me, trying to stab or slash, and I was only able to defend myself, taking faltering steps back as my legs began to shake. Soon I would hit the wall. Knowing if I did not muster enough strength to overcome her—at least what little I had left—she would simply tire me out.

And so I gritted my teeth, braced my feet, and dodged her attempted attack. I slashed at her, my movement not nearly as quick had I been at full strength—but quick enough, apparently—and she screamed and faltered. Her hand flew to her arm, where I had cut her sleeve, and I saw blood trickling from between her fingers. She glared at me and came at me again, extending the length of her seidr blade, but it was a rather stupid move on her part, considering I had just injured her; despite whatever Frey had taught her, she was no warrior, and she was overconfident considering my condition.

I easily anticipated her next move, almost clumsy compared to what I was used to facing, and avoided her. Seizing an opportunity, I reached out as she lunged again, grabbed her by the shoulder, and with all my strength drove my seidr blade all the way into her stomach, until my hand hit her belly. Freyja gasped loudly, blade dissolving immediately in her hand. Her eyes flickered up to mine, wide with shock, mouth hanging open.

Wasting no time, I yanked the blade out, spun her around, placed my hand on her forehead, wrenched her head back, and plunged the blade deep into the side of her neck, right below her shell-like ear. Freyja spasmed in my arms, opened her mouth perhaps to scream, but she was already gurgling on death; I tore the seidr blade savagely across her tender white throat, opening her wide up. A bright red smile grinned from beneath her chin, vomiting its red death, and I opened my arms and pushed her forward.

Freyja was dead before her head cracked against the floor, and within seconds she was bathed in a pool of blood. I stared at her for a long, breathless moment, almost in astonishment at what I had just done, before my vision began to spin and I stumbled backwards.

I sought out the wound on my lower back, past the torn fabric, and sent a burst of seidr into myself, praying it was enough in my diminished state. I was already faint and my legs were shaking. As my skin knitted back together, and hopefully whatever damage had been done inside, I turned and fell against the wall.

Just as I leaned my head back, my legs gave out and I fell down, barely catching myself on my hands. My breaths were coming in quick, shallow pants, and I raised my head and stuck my legs out. My vision pulsed, too bright, and I closed my eyes, sucking in deep breaths to steady myself. Even sitting here I felt dizzy.

After a long moment, when everything had calmed somewhat, I blinked hard and opened my eyes. My gaze came to rest on Freyja, on her long hair fanned around her, soaking in her blood. No longer that pretty white gold color, but a dark, matted crimson.

Keeping my eyes fixed on Freyja, if only for something to focus on, I sucked in another deep breath, rose clumsily to my feet, and almost fell over. I had been here too long, surely somebody—likely Frey—would come looking for her. It was too bad my servant’s illusion would not be able to mask the overwhelming stench of blood.

On my way to the door, I paused at Freyja’s vanity to lean on it and catch my breath. I happened to look down and saw Brísingamen glinting complacently on the surface. Impulsively, despite the fact I needed to get out of here as quickly as possible, I thought it necessary to pick the necklace up.

I studied it only for a moment, holding it up in the light, before wrenching at it. The delicate chain links broke and the precious stones flew through the air and glanced off the stone floor, rolling and popping along until they came to a stop on their own, or became swamped in their owner’s coagulating lifeblood.

One last “fuck you” to Freyja.

I dropped the mangled remains of her necklace onto the floor as I made my way towards the door. I clad myself in my servant’s illusion, did not even glance back at Freyja’s bloodless corpse, and slipped outside, attempting to focus on standing without swaying. I blinked hard and began walking, occasionally using the wall as a crutch.

My thoughts were muddled and it was difficult to concentrate. I knew my seidr was barely holding, I was so weak, and a few times I even tripped on my own feet and my illusion flickered. I was on the verge of passing out and knew it would not be good for them to happen upon my unconscious, bloody form in the middle of the corridor.

Through this fogginess, I did not know where I was going or what I was doing, I was just walking aimlessly along.

I knew not how much time passed, nor where I had been, but suddenly—and inexplicably—I found myself standing in front of a door—her door. I opened it without thinking and staggered inside. She was not here, but it didn’t matter. I lurched forward, forgetting to even shut the door behind me, supported myself on the edge of her bed.

Before I could decide what I wanted to do, my legs gave out and I fell to my knees, somehow catching myself before my face smashed into the floor. I collapsed right there, but the cold stone was a sweet relief against my skin, and I sighed deeply and closed my heavy eyes, and within moments lost consciousness.

Chapter Text

Stjarnavetr

My hands were shaking as I walked. Those grisly images lingered still in my mind—Freyja’s throat slit from ear to ear, blood drenching her clothes and hair and skin. I could still smell her blood, still taste its metallic tartness on my tongue.

After Týr had asked Thor what was to be done, now that Loki had escaped and murdered Freyja, Thor had said there would begin an intensive hunt for Loki. The king was sure Loki was still in Asgard, considering how Frey had described him being injured, and it best to begin the search immediately.

Before Thor had begun preparations, he had told me gently that I should rest, seeing me obviously shaken to the core at Freyja’s bloody demise, and that if I needed anything I should just let him know, before dismissing me. In spite of all that had happened, I was touched—as much as I could be in that moment, anyway—at Thor’s sympathy for me.

And so now I was headed to my chambers, though I knew not how I would be able to rest knowing Loki was alive and gravely injured, and that he had just slaughtered the goddess Freyja, and that they would begin seeking him and when they found him they would kill him. There would be no trial this time, no mercy—he was a fugitive and to be killed on the spot if discovered.

Despite being a nervous wreck, I was thankful to finally reach my chambers, hoping to feel some semblance of security here. My relief was short-lived, however—I froze when I came to my door and found it ajar. I stared at it for a long, breathless moment, trying to remember if I had closed it this morning on my way out. Surely I had, why would I have left it open?

Tentatively, I pushed it open. I quickly scanned the room, noticing nothing out of the ordinary. I shut the door quietly behind me and began slowly walking forward, towards my balcony. Perhaps…

But I spotted something out of the corner of my eye, lying on the floor next to my bed, and I turned to look and almost screamed. I was motionless for only a second before hurrying to his fallen form and kneeling next to him, fear engulfing me at the sight of his clothes saturated in blood.

“Loki!” I cried, reaching down to touch him. He was lying on his stomach, and there was a large slice in the lower half of his tunic, but I could discern no wound on his skin beneath it, though there was certainly enough blood to tell me there had been one there recently. My first instinct was that this was the wound Frey had been talking about, and Loki had healed it himself.

I brushed his hair back, frantically surveying his face. He was breathing, but barely, and my eyes were drawn to his parted lips. The gold thread that had bound them was gone, and all that remained were nine little holes discolored with infection.

“Loki,” I repeated worriedly.

Relief flooded me when he stirred, and I struggled to roll him over so he was lying on his back. Loki blinked hard and peered up at me, eyes glazed, and it was almost as if he did not recognize me. He groaned and attempted to sit up, and I had to help him. He blinked again, struggling to focus.

“Stjarna…”

His voice was low and rough, as if there was sand in his throat.

“Loki, are you alright?” I whispered, searching his face, placing my hand on his pallid cheek. When he closed his eyes and nodded, I bent forward and wrapped my arms around him. I held him tightly, cheek pressed to his, and he put one hand on my back, still supporting himself with the other.

I could not believe it, that Loki sat here in front of me. I held him for a long time, unmoving, eyes squeezed shut and face buried between his neck and shoulder. I breathed him in, past the blood and grime caked on his skin, grateful only that he was alive, he was alive…

Finally, I pulled away and studied his face. He was incredibly pale and I knew he had lost a good amount of blood from what Frey had said earlier. I glanced up at the bed—I had to get him up there.

“I need you to stand up, Loki.”

Loki did as I requested and lifted up, groaning as he did so, and I helped him to his feet, using my seidr to help support him. He turned and sat on the edge of the bed and I lifted his legs up as he lay down against my pillows. I stood next to him and leaned forward, examining his mouth.

I raised my hand and Loki flinched, wincing as if in pain, when I lightly touched his lips. I ran my fingertips tenderly over them, allowing my seidr to flow into him, and he expulsed a soft breath and held onto my wrist as I healed him. I watched as the streaks of infection receded, and the darkness faded and the swelling went down.

The only remaining evidence of his punishment were nine, small pale dots around his lips where the needle had been inserted. The thread had been in too long, and his lips infected, and no amount of healing would rid him of the scars.

“Thank you,” Loki breathed, and I moved to hold his hand, eyes fixed on his.

He stared up at me, and I felt despair at how pathetic he looked—he was so thin, and his skin had a sickly white pallor to it, enhancing the dark circles under his tired eyes. Other than his lips, however, Loki did not otherwise appear injured, only weak.

“Loki,” I murmured, stroking his hand with my thumb. “You need food. I’m going to go get you something to eat.”

He did not even reply, only gave a small nod and let his head fall back onto the pillow.

I pulled away and left him there, casting a spell over the lock on my door before leaving, just in case, and walked as quickly as possible to the kitchens without seeming too suspicious. Thankfully, I encountered nobody on the way there. I would have had a servant to fetch it, but did not want to risk them possibly seeing or hearing Loki. I had a tray of food made, for it was close to the midday meal anyway, and took it back to my rooms.

Loki had not moved an inch when I entered. I shut and locked the door behind me and took the tray to my table, where I poured him a cup of wine from a flagon there. He cracked his eyes open and bit back a groan, pulling himself up into a sitting position as I brought the food to him and gently placed the tray on his lap.

“Do not eat too quickly,” I told him, and he managed to chuckle. The sound was so odd to me, I could not remember the last time I had heard him laugh.

I had requested extra food and Loki began immediately scarfing it down. He did not talk as he ate, but a few times I made a sound warning him to slow down, and had to refill his cup four times. He had not eaten in over a week, and very sparingly before that. I did not want him to become ill from eating too quickly.

Once Loki had finished, I took the tray back to my table and he settled against the pillows and regarded me, almost wistfully.

“Did you go?” he asked softly, and I hesitated.

“Yes.”

“I am sorry you saw that, Stjarna,” he said, gaze unwavering.

I shook my head and looked down. “I am just glad it was not you.”

Though an innocent man had died horribly—by Loki’s hand, no less—I could not deny the relief I felt that their places had been traded and my lover was alive. I did not even want to think about what that revealed about me, that the death of another brought me more comfort instead of sorrow. At one time, Loki might have been proud of me.

“How did you escape?” I wondered, walking back over to the side of the bed.

“I used my magic,” Loki explained. “I cast an illusion over myself and the guard came into the cell. He thought I had injured myself, but I caught him by surprise and overpowered him.”

I nodded, but did not reply. I dared not mention the guard missing his tongue on the scaffold.

“Was Thor there?”

“No,” I responded, reaching out to hold his hand. “He did not attend. Týr and the others were there, though. He was… he was very angry.”

At that, Loki stiffened.

“What did he do?”

“What?” I murmured, almost absently, as I twined our fingers together.

“Did he think you had helped me escape?”

When I faltered, Loki’s expression became grim and he sat up a little straighter.

“What did he do, Stjarna?”

“Loki, lay back down, you’re too weak—”

“What did he do?” Loki demanded, pulling me closer.

“Loki, please!”

“Stjarna, did he hurt you?” he insisted, intently searching my face.

I thought how lucky it was that I had healed myself on the way back to my rooms, erasing the evidence of Týr’s striking me earlier. I was not going to tell Loki he had hit me, it would not help anything, especially with him in this condition.

“No, Loki, he only… he took me back to the palace this morning, he only questioned me.”

Loki’s eyes narrowed and my heart fell.

“You’re lying to me.”

I made a sound of despair. “Thor interrupted before he could go any further, it—”

“Before he could go any further?” Loki repeated, incensed. “Did he hit you?”

“Loki, enough! It is over, Thor stopped him—”

“What did Thor do?”

I hesitated, voice quieter now. “He hit him, and commanded Týr not to touch me again.”

Loki continued staring at me, lips set into a thin line.

“Týr wanted to torture me to make you reveal yourself,” I whispered, “but Thor told him I was not to be harmed.”

“Did Thor think you had helped me?”

“No,” I replied, shaking my head. “He believed me.”

Loki glanced away, still holding onto my hand.

“Loki, you have to sleep,” I finally said.

He turned his head to look at me.

“I will bring you another tray of food tonight, but right now you need to rest.”

Loki regarded me for a long moment, as if thinking.

“Is the door locked?”

“Yes. Thor instructed Týr to leave me alone, I do not think anybody shall come…”

Though Loki still appeared incensed, he gave a small nod and lay back down. He rolled onto his side, facing away from me, and within minutes had drifted off to sleep, whether he wanted to or not. He slept almost the entire day. It was likely a combination of all the blood he had lost, as well as not having had a proper bed to sleep in for so long, and that perhaps he felt somewhat safe here where he could recuperate without imminent threat of discovery.

I did not leave until many hours later when it had grown dark and Loki was still deeply asleep. I went to the kitchens to get another tray of food, and asked once again if I could have a little extra. The servant who assisted me thought nothing of it, and gladly gave me two extra chunks of bread to accompany the large bowl of steaming venison stew.

Loki was still asleep when I returned. I locked the door behind me and set the tray on the table, next to the empty one from this morning, and filled his cup almost to the brim with wine. I walked over to the bed and watched the slow rise and fall of his back with each gentle breath, how unbelievably tired he looked even asleep. I regretted waking him, but I did not want the food to get cold. No doubt the warm stew would make him feel better.

“Loki?” I murmured, lightly touching his arm.

Loki roused and opened his eyes. He turned his head to blearily regard me.

“I brought you supper.”

He nodded and sat up and I went to fetch him the tray.

“You eat, too,” he said, but I shook my head as I placed it on his lap.

“No, you need it more than me.”

Loki stared at me. “Stjarna.”

I suppressed a sigh, crawled into the bed next to him, and took a piece of bread and dipped it into the stew. Admittedly, I was rather hungry, but there was no question as to who needed the food more. We ate in silence, I leaving more for Loki than myself.

After we had finished, I took the tray and deposited it on my table, and shortly after Loki once again fell asleep. I sat by my fireplace, often glancing over to study his sleeping form. I grew tired as well, but almost feared falling asleep.

No longer could I shut it out, and thoughts of Freyja went tumbling through my mind. Since discovering Loki, I had purposefully kept myself from thinking of her. I had not wished to imagine exactly what had happened between them, but now, with little else to ponder, I wondered why he had killed her if he had just been after her shears.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I almost did not hear him speak.

“She was one of the Vanir hostages.”

I started. “What?”

Loki was sitting up in bed, staring off. He must have woken up while I was deep in thought, and must have been thinking of her, too.

“Freyja. She was one of the Vanir hostages.”

I stared at him, and suddenly realized what he was talking about. Long ago, after the Aesir-Vanir war, a truce had been called between the realms of Asgard and Vanaheim. A stipulation of the truce included sending two hostages from each realm to the other as a sign of good will. To Vanaheim had gone Hoenir and Mímir—the latter of whom had been beheaded shortly after by the enraged Vanir—and to the Realm Eternal had come the twins Frey and Freyja, and they had been here ever since. Though they were technically hostages of Asgard, they had always been treated very well, practically the same as any of the other nobles.

“The Asgardians will not be the only ones crying out for my blood now,” Loki observed, almost indifferently.

I knew he was right. Surely there would be repercussions for Freyja’s death.

“Why… why did you kill her?”

Loki’s eyes flickered to mine.

“I had do.”

“Why?” I asked, almost in despair.

“She attacked me. I defended myself.”

He stated it so logically, so flatly, as if it was of no consequence—just something that had happened.

I slowly closed my eyes and lowered my head. Frey had said Loki had gone to Freyja’s chambers for her shears, which were the only things that could break the thread binding his lips. He had found them, and Freyja, unfortunately for her, had stumbled upon him after returning from the execution.

“I saw her,” I mumbled, so softly I am surprised Loki heard me. When I opened my eyes and looked up at him, he was staring at me. “I saw what you did to her.”

Loki’s face subtly fell. Though I knew he was not the least bit regretful he had killed her, perhaps he was ashamed I had seen the gruesome results of that other part of him, that darker, more primal side. I had already witnessed his remorseless work with the guard he had sent to his own death, long ago heard of his cruel exploits on Midgard, what he had planned to do here.

I lowered my head to gaze down at my hands folded in my lap. Why did I so unthinkingly conceal him, heal him, bring him food and make sure he was comfortable? Worry over him like an anxious mother? He had committed countless atrocities both here in Asgard and on Midgard, stolen and lied and murdered like it was nothing. He did not deserve my protection, nor my love, and yet…

It had not been disgust I felt when I first saw him lying unconscious on my floor, but worry, such overwhelming relief that he was alive. How strange was love that it could twist us into believing things we once had never considered right for us, to overlook such glaring, bloody faults? But then it had always been like that with Loki, and for some reason I had fallen in love with him. We had been together for centuries, and would always be. It was simply how I knew it to be and there was no running away from it.

I suppose it was because of this—and perhaps also because of how badly she had treated me through the years—that I simply could not find it in myself to be sorry for what Loki had done to Freyja. Horror, perhaps, and disgust, at the viciousness of it, but little else. More than anything, I was beyond thankful that Loki was still alive, despite now the terrifyingly precarious situation we found ourselves in.

“Stjarna…”

I looked up at him, but did not say anything, and neither did he. I went back to gazing into the fire, and we sat there in silence for a long while. Eventually, Loki turned to get out of the bed and I stood up.

“What are you doing?” I asked worriedly.

“I am going to bathe,” he answered, and I hurried over to him. He was able to stand up on his own, though he was still weak, and I followed him into my bath chamber, should he fall or stumble.

I helped Loki undress, concealing my despair at how thin he was. I hung his bloody tunic over the back of the chair in the corner as he fumbled with his pants, leaning against the wall for support. I ran him a bath while he finished undressing, occasionally glancing over to study his pale back and the hideous scars decorating it. When Loki eventually got his pants off, I saw one leg was covered in blood, soaked from the now healed wound that he had received from Freyja earlier in the day.

The water was hot, and I watched the steam curling in tendrils off of the surface as Loki climbed in, wincing, and slid into the water. He closed his eyes and sighed, and I fetched him some oils so he could clean his hair and a cloth so he could scrub the blood off.

“Thank you, Stjarna,” Loki said.

“Will you be alright?” I asked softly, placing the bottles on the little table next to the tub.

“I think so,” he replied, offering me a little half-smile.

Giving a little nod, I left, quietly shutting the door behind me. I sat back down in front of my fireplace, and just as I thought it upsetting that his clothes were torn and bloody, and there was no way of getting him a fresh set, it came to me suddenly.

I stood up and quickly went to one of my chests sitting against the wall. They had brought this chest from Konavefr’s the day after Loki, under Odin’s guise, had requested me return to the palace, and had had my things brought from the city. I dug through it, having not opened it since it arrived, and could not help a grin when I found what I was searching for.

I picked out the little chest and opened it: inside lay Loki’s tunic and a pair of leather pants, which had been folded complacently here for two years now. I had taken them from Loki’s chambers after he had fallen from Bifröst, and kept them all this time.

Holding them tightly to my chest, I went back to my bath chamber. I slowly opened the door and peered in. Loki was lying in the tub, arms resting on the rims on either side of him, and he glanced over as I entered.

“Is everything alright, Stjarna?” he inquired.

“Yes,” I whispered. “I only…”

His eyes fell down to his clothes folded neatly in my arms.

“I have these for you.”

He furrowed his brows and sat up a little straighter. “Where did you get those?”

“I took them from your chambers after you fell,” I explained, placing them on the chair in the corner. “They are old, but clean.”

“Thank you, Stjarna.”

“Do you… do you need help with anything?”

Loki considered it for a moment and then nodded.

“If you want.”

I went forward, knelt next to the tub, and took the cloth lying on the rim and dipped it in the pink-tinged water.

“Lean forward,” I murmured, and Loki faced forward and silently did as I said. He closed his eyes and lowered his head, arms wrapped loosely around his legs.

I ran the cloth over Loki’s frightfully pale back, submerging my arm in the hot water. Though the water had lifted most of the blood from his skin, there were still spots where it clung defiantly, and I am sure grime and oil as well, caked from his time in his cell. I gently scrubbed at his back, starting at the top with his shoulders and then descending to his lower back, for in his weakened state I did not want him to try and reach behind him.

As I washed his back, the only sound the calm lapping of the water against the walls of the tub, I could not help but to think what was to come next, for Loki could not stay here for much longer. I wondered despondently what he would do, and where would he possibly go? And if before then we were to be caught, what should happen to me, for I was knowingly and willingly harboring a fugitive of Asgard.

The uncertainty, and my helplessness to do anything about it, frightened me. I bit my lip to keep from making a sound, but could not help the tears that welled up in my eyes, that spilled over and rolled down my nose and cheeks, and plopped silently into the water.

When I finished a few minutes later, I drew back and Loki opened his eyes and looked at me. I turned my head so he would not see my tears, but moved too