Lady Frigga paced her chambers, worrying her hands together, her brow furrowed. Her blue robes swirled as she turned, retracing the length of the room, her sandaled feet a whisper against the stones. The source of her distress couldn't be spoken, not to anyone, not even to her beloved son and especially not to her husband. It would not do for the Queen of the Nine Realms to be seen fretting over a war criminal, a prisoner of Asgard, a traitor.
'No,' Odin would say, 'He is not your son.' But he was. Frigga had raised the child from infancy, so small, so fragile, and though she had been told that he was not Asgardian, that he might even grow to be dangerous, in her eyes he had never been more than a child, her child, and she loved him. But now he had been taken from her, trapped somewhere in the dungeons below the stones that bore her frantic pacing, and she could not reach him. By royal decree, she could not even see him! And her heart was breaking in the silence.
Her door brushed open and she spun to face her intruder, but it was only a girl, one of her hand maidens, bearing a tray of fruit and cheese. The girl bobbed a small curtsy, her long golden curls dropping to partially obscure her face.
"My lady," the girl said, in a soft voice, her eyes respectfully locked on the flagstones.
Frigga recognized her. She was slight and pretty, even in her servants' tunic and leggings, and though Frigga could not see her averted eyes, she knew them to be a sharp blue. She moved through the room with grace and confidence, born of years of service, setting out the lunch tray and gathering up small items that had been misplaced. It gave the girl an air of strength and competence. Yes, Frigga remembered this girl, remembered the incident that had brought her into the Queen's service, remembered the unique gift she possessed. Perhaps now was the time to put that gift to good use.
The girl turned and, briefly, her eyes met the Queen's, giving Frigga a small jolt, before the girl remembered herself.
"I have a task for you."
Loki Laufeyson paced his cell, hands clasped at the base of his stiffly straight spine, sharp green eyes flitting to and fro as he walked the length and breadth of his enclosure, observing all that he could through the golden tint of his prison walls. To the guards beyond he appeared completely at ease, his doppelganger lounging calmly atop his bed. Bed, hah! It hardly deserved such a noble title! A cot more like, barely able to accommodate his long legs and boasting all the comfort of a boulder. He might as well be sleeping on the floor! But it was the only furniture he had been allowed, and so he used it to what little advantage he could, even if only to keep his guards from reporting his doings to Odin Allfather.
On his third circuit of the empty room (and in the midst of considering changing his double's position), he heard the door to the dungeons creak open. He paused and glanced toward the dim stairwell that led to the main floor of the palace, doppelganger mimicking his interest. He could not see the door, but he could hear incoherent murmurings echoed down to him on the dark stone. It was not yet time for the changing of the guard. Whoever had entered the dungeon was not a part of the prison detail. Someone from the palace. Perhaps someone he knew. He waited.
The door shut with an echoing boom, and two sets of steps descended the stairs. The guard appeared first in his golden armor, followed by a girl, clothed in the tunic and leggings of a servant. She was small, delicate, with wisps of blonde hair swirling around her narrow shoulders. What business had such a creature in the dungeons? She stepped past the guard with a curt nod, sweeping down the corridor with long purposeful strides. The occupants of the other cells she passed hissed and laughed and gurgled crude remarks, but her head remained high and her stride steady, never once allowing her eyes to stray to the side. Loki felt the twitch of a smirk on his lips. No such expression reached the face of his doppelganger, who was once again lounging on the cot with an air of disinterest. Loki eased back in his cell, leaning against the far wall and waiting for the girl to pass by. Perhaps he would say something as she passed, try to spook her into breaking stride. After all, of the many creatures locked up in this place, he was by far the most dangerous. And the most bored.
But she didn't pass by. Instead, she came to a crisp halt directly before his cell, hands clasped behind her with a sort of prim efficiency. Her eyes wandered the interior of the cell, briefly skipping over him before landing and locking on to the form of his doppelganger, whom he had not yet allowed to acknowledge her presence.
"My lord Loki," she said, her voice clear, sharp, and direct.
Loki did not allow his double to spare her even a glance, maintaining that air of cool indifference, but he allowed his own eyes to rake over her as she dipped into a perfect curtsy.
"I am come on behalf of Lady Frigga, to ask after your health and comfort, and to see to any requests you may have."
Ah, one of Mother's pets. She did seem vaguely familiar. He pushed away from the wall and slipped a bit closer. She didn't move or acknowledge his actions, but then she wouldn't. To all appearances, he had not moved from the bed where he lay, staring resolutely at the ceiling tiles. He took advantage of her ignorance and stepped even closer, until he stood right in front of her, hands behind his back mimicking her own posture. She held herself like a lady, despite her servants' garb, and he wondered briefly if that were noble blood or simply a by-product of his mother's presence.
Finally, he allowed his doppelganger to speak.
"You may tell the Lady Frigga that my health is as it ever was, and my comfort is hardly any concern of hers."
The girl did not flinch, did not even blink at the bitter words.
"My freedom?" he muttered under his breath.
"Reasonable requests?" she quipped back.
Loki and the girl both stiffened at the same time. For a long moment neither moved. It was not the words themselves, or even her tone (with its undeniable edge of disrespect) that caused the air to descend around them in a thick, heavy silence.
Loki's double had not said the words. He had said them. He alone. And she had answered him.
Slowly, the girl's head turned and her eyes traveled up to meet his, his true eyes. The bright blue grabbed hold of his brilliant green and held with unapologetic boldness. She could see him. She could see him all along.
With a wave of his hand, his doppelganger dissolved and he allowed smugness to lift the corners of his lips.
"Oh, you are good," he said, taking a step back and surveying her again, "What is it? Magic? A new spell of the Lady Frigga?"
The girl held her ground admirably, her back straight and her arms clasped firmly behind her, but he could see she had been rattled by her slip.
"I have no magic, my lord," she said, "And it is no work of Lady Frigga, though she has known of my condition since my childhood."
"And what condition would that be, exactly?" Loki asked, bending to get a better look into her bright, blue eyes. She held his gaze steadily.
"No illusion can fool me," she said, "And no magic can touch me."
Now Loki was thoroughly intrigued. His mother employed an Abjurate. And from the slight widening of her eyes, followed by a subsequent narrowing of suspicion, the child had never heard her kind named in her life. Of course, that wouldn't be in the least bit unusual if she were a normal Asgardian. Abjurates were practically unheard of. There hadn't been a confirmed Abjurate in thousands of years. Even the old cases were under suspicion. And he had never heard of anyone who'd been born with the gift.
Loki straightened and took another step back. The girl's gaze followed him. He was impressed, though he did not allow his expression to show it. She might see through his illusions, but she couldn't see his mind. And that... That left the taste of a challenge on his tongue. What could she do? What could he do? Besides, it wasn't as if he had anything else to occupy his time…
The girl's delicate eyebrows shot up.
It took all of Loki's control not to grin wolfishly. Instead he waved a dismissive hand toward the pitiful excuse of a cot in the corner.
"My current bedding arrangement. It's unacceptable. I would like to request that my own bed be transferred to me."
The girl's brows returned to their former position and she nodded decisively.
"I shall see that your request is heard by the Lady Frigga and..."
"You will oversee the transfer yourself, of course."
The girl's mouth snapped shut, and so did her expression. Her eyes bore into him and he could see an intelligence turning there, trying to read his expression, to gauge his intent. She was smart. Much smarter than Loki would have expected from a mere servant girl, even an Abjurate.
"I will do as the Lady Frigga bids," she answered, cautiously, as a mouse who knows to step lightly into a trap.
Loki shrugged and turned away, careful not to seem eager or impatient.
He could feel the girl's pause, then saw her bob a short curtsy in his peripheral vision and turn on her heel, head held high, determined. He allowed her to take three strides before he called out to her retreating form.
"What is your name?"
She paused, then turned back, fixing him with that cold, blue stare.
And then she was gone, walking so fast that if he hadn't known better, he might have thought she was fleeing. Loki watched her go, expressionless, until the door to the dungeon opened and shut once more. His eyes slid away, surveying his surroundings and finally settling on the tiny cot once more. He grimaced, but reluctantly lowered himself onto the hard mattress, propping his feet on the railing at the foot and letting his head rest on the flat pillow, his hands folded over his chest. He stared at the blank white ceiling and his finger began to tap a nervous rhythm against the back of his hand.
The truth was, he was going to be down here a very long time, rotting if Odin had his way, his mind and his body deteriorating in the slowest, most painful way possible, a death of atrophy. He needed something to keep his mind sharp, a distraction, something to pass the time. An Abjurate... what an interesting puzzle.
Loki smiled again, a toothy, sly expression.
"Klara..." he repeated in a low whisper.
Klara was not allowed to pace. She could only walk, walk as fast as her legs would carry her, through the glittering halls, between the marbled columns, past the lords and ladies who barely saw her as she passed, her servants' tunic working almost as a robe of invisibility among them. She walked until she came to the servants' wing, and the small door that led to the only place in Asgard that was truly hers. By the time she'd closed the door behind her, her legs were too weak for nervous pacing and she slid to the floor, her back against the intricately engraved woodwork, her eyes closed, taking deep gulps of air to still her pounding heartbeat.
Loki Odinson... the Usurper... she'd been made the servant of a traitor, a murderer, a would-be tyrant. For a fleeting moment, she wondered what it was she had done so wrong in her service to the Lady Frigga to merit such... but no. She knew why she'd been chosen. She opened her eyes and stared at her hands, as if they might provide answers. They were trembling and she formed them into tight fists, shutting her eyes again, dropping her head against the solid wood of the door.
The problem was not in her hands. It was in her head, in her body, in her very soul.
That was what he had called her. An Abjurate. Lady Frigga had never named her thus, but the word still rang true somehow. The queen had warned her of this, that this was how he would work to deceive her.
"He does not speak in outright lies, but in half-truths and quick slips of tongue," she'd said, "You must always be on guard. Your gift may protect you from his magic, but your wit must protect you from his words."
Klara buried her face in her hands and took a long, deep breath. There was nothing else to do. She cleared her head of the place she had been, of the words she had said, of the cold, calculating glee in his eyes. She erased the musty smell of the wet stone and the bright gold of the field that held the dungeon dwellers in check. Only one thing remained: a cot, too small for his long frame. She took another breath and stood to her feet. Lady Frigga would be waiting. And the transfer would take time.
Klara squared her shoulders and opened the door, sweeping back into the world, her head high and her thoughts aligned once more.