Hurrying across the newly rebuilt Bifrost, Loki strode purposefully towards Heimdall's observatory.
He knew he was taking a serious risk, but he had no choice and he could only hope that Heimdall would not ask too many awkward questions.
Heimdall greeted him with a bow.
"Open the Bifrost Heimdall, I have an important matter to attend to."
As expected Heimdall looked at him curiously,
"My Lord, you are going alone?"
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes with frustration Loki replied,
"Yes Heimdall I do not require any assistance...this is a private matter"
Eyeing Loki with his amber coloured eyes, for a brief moment Loki feared Heimdall's suspicion. But he would not - could not...refuse orders from the King, not again.
Because although it was Loki who who stood before him now, it was Odin that he saw and Loki even spoke with Odin's voice.
Reluctantly Heimdall placed his two-handed sword into the security control panel, using it as a key to activate the opening of the gateway.
"Where to your Highness?"
Loki breathed a small sigh of relief, then replied,
"Your majesty, those lands are vast, mysterious and still unknown to us, with all due respect, you could be putting yourself in grave danger-"
"Just do it Heimdall, I'm well aware of the risks. But thank you for your concern."
Loki snapped, barely managing to contain his temper.
The truth was he was already painfully aware that taking an impromptu expedition into a realm that was yet to be explored by the Aesir, was far from sensible.
But he had no choice. There was a prophecy to fulfil.
In the depths of the enchanted forest, a beautiful young woman was on her knees, weeping beside the small camp fire she had made.
Usually her wits were sharp but in her solemn state she failed to notice the shaft of bright light that suddenly came from the sky.
Similarly, she failed to hear the soft footfalls approaching through the undergrowth due to the crackling embers of the fire.
Then all at once she felt uneasy, as though she was being watched. Her keen instincts were correct, as she looked up to see a tall dark figure between the trees.
Filled with panic, she quickly grabbed the sword she'd brought with her, and leapt to her feet.
"W-what do you want with me?"
She demanded, stammering nervously.
As the figure came closer she lifted the sword in trembling hands. It was a lot heavier than she'd expected it to be, and required both hands to hold it steady.
"Do not point that weapon at me woman!"
Loki's smooth voice cut through the cold night air, startling her further
"You requested help did you not?"
Still shaking, she lowered the tip of the sword slightly, but did not put it down.
"Who are you?"
She asked, as he stepped into the soft glow of the fire light... allowing her to see him clearly.
Her blue eyes widened as she gazed upon his handsome features and the elaborate clothing and horned helm he wore.
He looked so regal and otherworldly to her, she was awe struck.
"I am Loki....of Asgard"
He announced with a clear air of grandeur in his voice.
The woman gasped and clasped a shaking hand to her mouth, unable to believe that she was in the presence of a God...and this particular God.
"You....you are Loki?"
She muttered in disbelief.
"Yes, the one and only....now what is it you want with me wench? You called my name in prayer did you not?"
He spoke sharply as though impatient.
Nervously she nodded,
"Yes Sir...I was in despair, I called for the help of the Gods-"
He interrupted her abruptly,
"You mean to say you prayed to several of us?"
"Well, yes Sir....firstly I prayed to Odin, then Thor...but I was desperate so I then prayed to you-"
Loki cut her off again, clearly offended by her words,
"So you only called upon me in desperation? How dare you insult me, I am a God you insignificant wench, and the ruler of Asgard!"
He could have kicked himself the moment the words left his mouth.
He noted the girl's startled response.
She had always been under the impression that Odin was the ruler of the realm eternal...perhaps things had changed since the stories she'd read had been written. If Loki really was now the King of Asgard, she had to think fast, and not displease him further.
Swallowing hard she fell to her knees before him, her eyes lowered in shame
"My Lord, please forgive me..I did not mean to cause offence, you mistake my meaning."
Staring down at the pitiful young being, Loki was suddenly reminded of the prophecy the Norn Queen had warned him of....this was the reason he was here, he had to fulfil his task.
"The Allfather has entered the Odinsleep and Thor now dwells on Midgard..."
He explained, though he wasn't sure why he felt the need to supply an explanation.
"...so you have no choice, if you need my assistance it's me or nothing!"
Not daring to move from her kneeling position she looked up at him slowly and chanced a smile. If only he knew..
"My Lord I am deeply honoured...I only called upon you lastly as I thought you'd be least likely to respond"
She admitted truthfully.
These words hit a nerve with him but he kept his temper. No matter how much he disliked her presumption he knew she was right.
All Asgardian's had the ability to hear pleas which came from the heart, a custom known universally as 'Praying' but not all of the realms were acquainted with this practice.
"It's been a long time since I heard prayers..."
"And I've certainly never known of any anyone from here praying...you're usually such an independent and capable race, with your access to magic, and enchanted trinkets."
There was a slight mocking tone in his voice.
The girl shifted awkwardly, and reluctantly admitted,
"I don't possess any magical abilities sir, I was born and raised in the palace at Avonlea, and the only knowledge I have regarding magic, is what I've read about in books..."
She hesitated slightly and took a deep breath,
"That is also how I know of you and your kind..."
"You shouldn't believe everything you read about the Gods.....there are many stories told about us, and very few are true. Now, why did you call upon me?"
Loki demanded, his curiosity growing.
The woman bit her lip nervously,
"My whole life I've read stories about distant lands, and dreamt of adventure. Yet my father keeps me here, and now I've come of age I'm expected to marry my fiancé. Gaston will never permit me to live my life, I'll be no more than a bird trapped in a cage for the rest of my life."
Loki surveyed her closely. To some extent he could relate to her situation, as he himself had spent time locked up. But the situations still differed entirely, which made him lack sympathy.
"You ought to be grateful, many would envy you being able to spend your life in such luxurious comfort.."
"Even a gilded cage, is still a cage none the less...."
She spoke sadly,
"...and it's an arranged marriage...I cannot be with someone I do not love. It would destroy me. All my life I've been completely selfless, but I need to follow my heart, and it's no longer here....please, can you help me my Lord?"
She stared up at him now, her large blue eyes searching his, pleadingly. He was forced to admit she was a pretty thing.
"And how do you propose I help you? Do you suggest I eliminate the problem by disposing of your betrothed?"
Her mouth fell open in shock, clearly horrified at the suggestion,
"Oh My God! No...I couldn't possibly allow that to happen-"
Her words trailed off as she noticed the crooked smile that had crept across his thin lips. Was he being serious or not?...She could not tell.
"So, if you don't want me to slay your intended husband, then how else do you expect me to assist you in this matter?"
He asked, folding his arms firmly across his chest.
"I need to escape my Lord.... please, can you make this possible for me?"
She answered determinedly
"And where do you suppose you could escape to?"
He challenged her, clearly unconvinced
"I could maybe go to the land of mortal men? There are many here who have been there and speak of it. I am of the same race, so perhaps I could make a home for myself there-"
"Midgard? Don't be ridiculous, once they've scoured these lands, that is where they'll expect you to be...and trust me, the place is overrated."
"But the land of mortals is so vast, they won't know where to look-"
"But eventually, especially if they enlist the aid of someone with magical abilities, they will find you."
He pointed out, his words deflating her confidence in an instant.
"Well, perhaps my Lord can suggest somewhere for me to go? Maybe one of the many realms I've read about...umm, Nornheim, or, Vanaheim, is it?"
Loki shook his head dismissively, which caused her great irritation.
"You cannot simply flit to another world, and expect them to welcome you. Whatever you have read, the reality is no fairytale. The Vanir would not accept you, you'd have to remain in hiding to avoid being driven out or enslaved."
"...and as for Nornheim, it is too dark a place for one such as you."
She frowned at him now, clearly perplexed by this,
"One such as I?!...Your Highness, with respect I am able to fend for myself...I'd manage."
Loki pursed his lips, as though irritated now,
"Oh, you think so do you? Foolish, impertinent girl. You wouldn't last five minutes alone there, the Nornlands are home to cave trolls and dwarves...their numbers are vast and if they came across a...."
He faltered for a moment, slightly confused as to why her safety concerned him,
"...well, a fair female...they would think nothing of ravaging you"
Her eyes widened in horror. She did not protest further, but hung her head in defeat.
"I cannot remain here Sir, please...you must know of some place I can go? I cannot even travel to the far North, as my fiancé has family in Arandelle. Otherwise I would."
"You wouldn't wish to live amongst such frozen wastelands anyway..."
"...It would be far too chilly, and you'd grow bored as there's not much adventure to be had, save for participating in the building of snowmen."
The girl clearly did not find his flippant comment amusing,
" If I remain here, I'll spend the rest of my life out in the cold anyway. I'm desperate, even Jotunheim with its monsters would be more appealing than marrying a man I don't care for."
His eyes suddenly snapped to hers and his expression darkened.
It was only at this, she realised what she had said, and her cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
"I...I meant nothing by that remark my Lord, please don't take that as an insult-"
He growled suddenly, visibly bristling,,
"My parentage may be common knowledge here now, but I don't need reminding of what I am by the likes of you!"
Fearful now, she fell silent and stared at the ground.
"I'm well aware that I'm a monster..."
He continued, his voice low and menacing,
"so do not try and retract your words, when they're clearly your true opinion of me-"
"That isn't so!"
She blurted out, stunning him into silence,
"I do not think you are a monster...that is the truth, and you cannot possibly know my true opinion of you, because you do not know me!"
At that Loki sprung forwards and grasped her by the arms, causing her to let out a startled shriek.
"You forget your place!"
Lifting her to her feet, he pulled her towards him,
"You say I'm not a monster, yet you clearly fear me!"
He hissed, his face now mere inches from her own.
Recovering her senses, she tried to steady her breathing and not show fear,
"You can intimidate me Sir, but I am not afraid of you..."
She gasped, and looked deep into his eyes defiantly,
"...and being a King does not give you the right to man handle me, just because you are frustrated about who or what you are!"
For a moment she thought she'd gone too far and half expected him to seize her by the throat, but to her relief he let go of her roughly.
"And what am I exactly?"
"You're you...half Asgardian and half Jotun. That does not make you a monster, it makes you unique"
He turned away from her abruptly,
"Your naive ignorance is astounding. You speak of matters which do not concern you, and you have absolutely no comprehension of. I am a half-breed at best, with a monstrous reputation. Why should your opinion differ from the rest?"
Cautiously she took a step closer to him and gently placed her hand on his shoulder.
He stiffened, both shocked and touched by her bravery, and the gentle gesture.
"It is not parentage that makes someone a monster my Lord...it is their actions."
Slowly he turned around to face the beauty, his expression softening considerably.
"I can see you're going to cause me problems..."
He spoke gently, and she could see a glint of mischief in his beautiful green eyes,
"...perhaps I should banish you myself, to Muspelheim perhaps!"
She smiled gently, and in that moment he knew that she truly was a unique individual. She had spirit, courage and spoke wise words for her tender age.
"What is your name?"
He asked suddenly, taking her by surprise.
"Yes you do have a name don't you? Or is it a secret?"
He smiled back at her now in such a way that made her heart skip a beat, causing her to blush slightly.
"Belle, my Lord...my name is Belle."
He repeated, and her heart did another little flip at hearing him speak her name.
"....so Belle of Avonlea, if you really are opposed to your impending marriage, there may only be one solution...you'll have to come to Asgard...but should you choose to, it's forever. You can never return."