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Wild Ambition Fortune's Ice Prefers

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 “This is between you and my bera now,” Loki whispers, hovering just outside the door. “I will see you after.”

“Now you tell me,” Thor grumbles, squaring his shoulders; Loki pinches his buttocks as he walks past, the minx, but it does help Thor find his smile as he enters the Council Chamber. He is not thrilled to be speaking to Laufey-King alone, and is most certainly not pleased by being dismissed so abruptly earlier, but he will acknowledge that his own manners have not been the most polished around Laufey and his children, and so he must expect a little rough handling in return. He has been treated well in his exile-cum-adventuring here, in fairness.

The door closes behind him with a muffled boom and Thor is left alone with Laufey-King, the giant he spent his entire childhood slaying in countless war games, the foe he has dreamed of vanquishing for most of his adult life.

“Sit,” Laufey says, flicking a hand at him. “Drink. You have travelled far these last few months.”

“I have seen much,” Thor replies, reluctant to take one of the high chairs and be perched there like an infant, legs dangling above the floor. He busies himself with the flagon of kumis instead, looking about the room until he spots a low bench he can reach without having the indignity of hopping up onto it. “And learnt much.”

“And what think you of Jötunheimr?”

“It is more than I ever expected,” Thor says easily. “I was a fool blinded by my own arrogance when I first came here. But now I see a realm as great and wondrous as any other, though struggling and in need of aid.”

“Not aid,” Laufey says with some sharpness. “The return of what is ours. What was taken.”

Thor will concede that, though given the damage Jotunheim has suffered, she will need aid even once the Casket is returned. Whatever fertility and power the relic will give to the land, food and supplies and outside trade will still go a long way in helping the families struggling on the edge of survival.

“I agree,” he says smoothly. “And so I have agreed to marry Loki.”

Laufey pauses. “You have spoken to the Allfather?”

“No,” Thor says, confused. “I meant I have agreed with Loki. That we will be married.”

 “And this is the decision you will take to the Allfather?”

“Yes,” Thor says, at a loss in this conversation. Laufey said they had much to discuss – does he not want to hear what Thor thinks of Loki? What he means to do about marrying him?

Perhaps he does not understand Thor’s change of heart. Perhaps he is waiting to see what Thor will say unprompted, if Thor is willing to declare his feelings about Loki to him, to gauge if his love is real? Such behaviour would not be strange in a parent concerned about an arranged marriage – though the thought is hard to reconcile with the stony-faced warrior-king looking down at him.

He remembers Járnsaxa’s words, that last night in Útgarðar. You can see why we worry, he had said. The loss of a sváss is agony. He tries to picture Laufey cradling Loki on the day he was born; thinks of him mad with grief at Fárbauti’s death, imagines what fear for his child must be buried beneath the stoic mask, what memories of his own lost love are being stirred up by all this.

“I will look after Loki,” Thor says with what he hopes is a reassuring smile. “I love him, and I will make him happy, I swear it. I will make a home with him in Asgard, but we will come here as often as we can. I will be a good husband to him.”

Laufey acknowledges this without a flicker of emotion. “Your marriage to Loki promises peace and prosperity for Jötunheimr and Asgard,” he says. “It is good that you have come to see this.”

“I am looking forward to our marriage,” Thor replies slowly, surprised by Laufey’s flatness. Surely Loki’s happiness means something to him?

“As am I,” Laufey says, sounding anything but excited. “I intend for the ceremony to take place quickly. We have been too long without the Vetrformen and I would have Ásgarðr acknowledge Loki as soon as possible.”

“Yes, I am keen to show Loki my home,” Thor says pointedly, but Laufey seems indifferent to Thor’s not-so-subtle barb.

“The Allfather and I have been discussing the terms of the marriage,” Laufey says, indicating with a sweeping hand a high stone bench littered with scrolls. “We are close to an accord. The mundr and heimanfylgia are agreed upon, but the Allfather would have you returned to him before the morgen-gifu is finalised. Loki must be equal in status in Ásgarðr as he is Jötunheimr, yet as we do not hold land as you do, there is some question over his provision. Half your income is not enough and yet what is there to be parcelled out otherwise?”

Thor can feel his jaw dropping and makes an effort to close it. He knew that the negotiations would continue while he explored Jotunheim with Loki, but he had not expected everything to be so finalised so fast, nor for Laufey’s reaction to be so…business-like. Does he care nothing for what kind of man he is giving his child away to? Would he push on like this even if Thor were still angry and mutinous and taking Loki only for duty? Doesn’t he care that Loki has found love with Thor?

No, Thor decides, and he aches for Loki, cursed with Laufey and Skrýmir as caregivers. Odin is not an easy father, but Thor has never doubted that Odin wants the best for him, though they tend to disagree on what that is, and his mother has been a constant source of love and affection and warmth in his life. He cannot wait to take Loki to them, to have him join his friends and be surrounded by his friends, and he is certain Loki will be grateful for it after centuries of the cold harshness of Jotunheim and his family.

And if he must attend to business before he can do that? Well, at least Loki has explained some of this to him: the mundr is a bride-price, paid to Laufey from Odin, in theory a payment to compensate for the loss of Loki, and thus something of equal worth. Of course, in reality, it is quite the other way around, and all the Nine Realms know what it will be: the Casket of Ancient Winters.

The heimanfylgia is a dowry, which is a common enough custom throughout the realms: Loki’s dowry, paid by Laufey and given to Thor to hold in trust. It is Loki’s security, and an expression of Laufey’s trust; if Thor or Loki end the marriage, it will return to Loki’s hands, as it will when Thor dies, or when Loki bequeaths it to his children. What exactly Loki’s dowry is in terms of wealth, whether jewels or pelts or trading rights, Thor does not know – nor does he care. To him, Loki’s dowry is peace with Jotunheim; whatever else Loki will bring with him to Asgard is between Loki and Laufey, and if they and Odin are happy with its value, so is Thor.

The morgen-gifu is something new and strange though. This is to be paid from Thor to Loki after the wedding has taken place, and will be Loki’s and Loki’s alone. Thor had thought at first they meant a gift, a token, perhaps something like a trousseau, but Loki had swiftly corrected him. He is to be given an income, a source of wealth and power independent of Thor, since otherwise, he would be entirely dependent on Thor in Asgard. It does make sense, Thor will admit, especially for the previous marriages, as Gerda and Skadi were all but abandoned in a strange land.

But as Laufey has just pointed out, it presents something of a problem in their situation, since Loki comes to the marriage as a Prince equal in honour and status. Where is Asgard to find income for a second Prince without depriving someone of what has been their’s for a millennia? Simply giving him half of what is Thor’s seems an easy solution, but in truth would be a slight: is Loki only worth half of Thor?

Thor does not know what the solution is. He has not thought on it – while it is his gift to give, he had not actually thought he would be consulted on it, since it is part of the political negotiations. Since agreeing to the marriage, he has been thinking only of Loki and his mercurial moods, not the tedious business of land revenues and the royal purse.

“Have you considered gifting Midgard to him?” Laufey says as Thor fails to answer. “I do not know what tribute you collect, but given how zealously Ásgarðr has always laid sole claim to it, its revenues would make a fitting provision.”

“We do not receive tribute from Midgard,” Thor says, scarcely believing his ears. “We have no contact with the mortals – and we do not claim the realm, only defend it.”

“Strange,” Laufey says, eyes narrowing. “I remember well the mortals’ gifts of song and mead and sacrifice to the Aesir that favoured them so. Midgard would be an excellent gift: it is a bright and delicate little world, full of variety and tiny creatures, and one that would please my Loki well.”

Thor can only shake his head: true, he and many others have occasionally snuck out to the middle realm, out of curiosity and foolhardiness, but there has been no formal relationship since the war ended, and he cannot simply offer it up to Loki as a gift. His father’s laws about the protection of that fragile world are explicit about their duty and responsibility to leave it, and its young, untried mortals, to mature in its own time.

Clearly, his confusion is painted on his face, for Laufey regards him carefully. “Speak,” he says, face implacable but tone not unfriendly. “I would know what you make of this.”

“Little enough,” Thor replies honestly. “I do not understand all your customs.”

Our customs? Marriage is not a custom of ours, Odinson.”

“But the giving away of íviðjur is,” Thor replies, careful to avoid all accusation in his tone. “In Asgard, we did away with dowries and bride-prices long ago. Now, marriages are between lovers, with only tokens given and received. I have made my gifts to Loki, in the fashion of my people, and had one from him. But all of this negotiation has been between you and my father, as is your way. I have faith in my father’s wisdom and am pledged to his will. But I would be grateful if you would explain to me what you require of me.”

Laufey regards him with a new interest. “Fairly spoken,” he allows, cold gaze lingering on the pendants around his neck. “It has been an age since any íviðja was given in marriage, and never before to an Aesir. It is as new to us as to you. But I will not sell my child short simply because one so valuable as he has never been married before. As the one who is taking possession of him, I would know that you understand his value, and the importance of what you are being given.”

Worth and value, giving and possessing…it is like bartering for a mare, not discussing a bride, Thor thinks, but it does not rankle so much as it once did. He has heard it enough over the last few months to know it is simply the jötnar way. Though Thor still thinks him a cold and ruthless King, he can see that this nitpicking over wealth is a sign of how much Laufey values Loki, even if he shows precious little evidence of caring for him.

“Loki is…precious to me,” Thor says. “I would have all know how much I value and cherish him. I cannot speak for my father, but this I can swear: Loki is worth everything that I am. He is my equal and I will treat him as such. And in any case, once we are married, all that I have will be his too. That is our law.”

Laufey nods. “And he will be known as your equal in Ásgarðr?” he presses. “The morgen-gifu will reflect his worth?”

“You have my word,” Thor says and Laufey snorts.

“Without a fixed price, such a promise is a vague and slippery thing,” he says and Thor bristles.

“You have my word,” he says sharply, “and upon my honour, I will keep it. But if you want a price for your child, then I will swear the same, before witnesses, and upon the head of Mjolnir, that she be forfeit if I fail to gift him his worth. She is proof of my worthiness. Is she sufficient for yours?”

Laufey grunts, a low rumble that tingles through Thor’s chest. He is pleased, then, for all his expression remains fixed.

“That is all I require of you,” he says slowly. “The rest will be arranged between the Allfather and I, and will be sworn at the ceremony in Asgard. All that remains is for you to choose a date for the handsal.”

Loki has not mentioned this word. “What is the handsal?”

Laufey’s concept of ‘explaining’ is far more curt than Loki’s. “The betrothal pact.”

“A formal agreement to the marriage?” Thor guesses, dearly wishing Loki was here to help him.

“A betrothal, a marriage – it is all the same,” Laufey says. “The handsal is what matters to us. You must swear to uphold the compact in front of witnesses. Under our laws, you are then Loki’s, and Loki’s is yours, and it is done.”

“And it must take place here? After the contract is agreed?”

“It can be done in Ásgarðr, so long as it is before your own ceremony. The details of the compact can be confirmed after – you have just sworn to honour Loki as he should be honoured, and I will accept it in good faith. So long as you give your word on the star-hammer, before Loki, and before a witness for each Staðr, I will be satisfied.”

Thor’s confusion clears. This is a problem of language – betrothals, weddings, marriages – the jötnar have no words of their own for such things, and the Allspeak is muddling the waters. Laufey wants Thor’s word that he will marry Loki, and he wants it done in a way that binds him under Jotunheim’s laws before Loki swears to Asgard’s. Wealth and value and status are matters for the negotiators – this is about Thor’s intentions and Thor’s honour. He can answer for that.

“Then I choose tonight,” he says, grinning.

Laufey is silent but a muscle in his cheek leaps and throbs and Thor’s grin broadens. A reaction at last.

“You understand that this is binding?” Laufey says after a long moment. “That it is not an idle promise – that you are sworn to him and all else in the contract?”

“Yes,” Thor says as solemnly as he can with a reckless fever burning through him, getting to his feet so he can look Laufey properly in the face. “The details of the contract I leave to you and my father to agree upon before the Casket is returned to you and before Loki comes to Asgard. But I will marry Loki, Laufey-King. I will swear to that as often and to as many people as you like, aye, and on Mjolnir and on my name and House and anything else you can think of. And I think it should be done here, in Loki’s home, so that all may know that Thor, Prince of Asgard, loves Loki Silvertongue, and takes him willingly as a consort and sváss.”

Laufey stares at him for a moment. “You are a strange Aesir, Thor Odinson,” he murmurs, but there is a tiny smile quirking at the corner of his lips, and his words are thick with a rumble so low Thor cannot hear it, can only just feel it tingling in his chest. “I am glad.”

He reaches out, slow and stately, and, perhaps a little hesitantly, giving Thor plenty of time to move away. Thor stands his ground, looking up at a King so terrible he robbed the Allfather of an eye and had to be punished with the breaking of his world, and he sees, for the first time, a genuine warmth in those dark crimson eyes. “I am glad,” Laufey-King says, his hand huge and heavy on Thor’s shoulder, “that my Loki has you.”

***

Things move swiftly after that: Laufey may not have been expecting the handsal to be this very night, but he spoke truthfully of his desire to see Thor and Loki married swiftly, and it turns out all the preparations for the formal ceremony are already in place, neatly stored for a journey to Asgard. It takes but a few hours for them to be unpacked and for the witnesses to be gathered, for most of the Jarls are already here, and there are representatives available for the two not yet arrived – and Gunnlöð can stand for Útgarðar in Skrýmir’s absence, something that suits Thor down to the ground.

A public swearing, a feast and some kind of brief procession is all that there will be: it is not much of a ceremony by Asgard’s standards, where even something as small as a betrothal celebration would warrant at least a full day of feasting and drinking, but perhaps that is for the best, for Thor can well imagine the reaction in Asgard when he returns and reveals he is, technically, now betrothed; if he were to admit he had already properly celebrated it without his family or friends – well, he is glad, at any rate, that their real celebration will be in Asgard in a few days or weeks. This is more a formal leavetaking, something for the jötnar and for Loki, and not worth troubling himself over.

Thor offers to help with the buzz of activity his pronouncement has caused, but is politely and firmly shooed away; not a surprise, for after all he has no real idea what is happening around him. As he meanders through the palace at something of a loose end, he can feel the gazes of the tall warriors resting on him and hear low whispers all around, but when he lifts his head to meet their eyes he is greeted with a respectful nod and the occasional smile. The southern jötnar seem dour compared to Thrymr and his Kyn, but though their faces give little away, the palace reveals the truth: everywhere he walks, every door he touches and wall he brushes past is vibrating, the stones and ice humming with the deep, subsonic rumbling of the pleased hrimthursar.

In contrast, once he has caught up to him and given him the news, Loki is openly radiating glee and his happiness fuels Thor’s, the two of them giddy with laughter amidst the quiet jötnar court. This is the reaction Thor had been hoping for when he presented Loki with the slippers, and he basks in a warm glow of satisfaction at having finally done something exactly right. Loki is even more insistent than Laufey in outlining exactly how binding the handsal is, but with every affirmation that yes, Thor understands and yes, he still wants to do it now, before he leaves, Loki’s smile grows broader and broader until he is all but quivering with excitement.

“Are you so surprised?” Thor laughs as he pulls Loki into a messy kiss, Loki squirming and nibbling at him. “Have you so little faith in me?”

“It is not a question of faith,” Loki replies. “You should be flattered. Few have ever surprised me as much as you do.”

Thor is indeed flattered, given how much he has been surprised since meeting Loki, but moreover he is thrilled by how happy he has made Loki. There is a calm in Loki there has not been for weeks, and he suspects a good deal of it comes from knowing that even if Thor were to have second thoughts after he returns to Asgard, or be lying, or whatever other nonsense has taken root in Loki’s mind, it would be of no avail.

“You must explain the ceremony to me,” he says, unable to take his hands from Loki. “What I must do and say. My first attempt at diplomacy here was not my finest. I would do right this time.”

Loki beams at him, his eyes for once entirely free of shadows and secrets, and he is only too happy to instruct Thor in what is required of him while all around them the walls sing in affirmation of Thor’s choice.

***

There is only one moment of doubt.

Thor’s fingers hover over Mjolnir’s handle as he hesitates, suddenly unsure of whether she will answer him. If you truly have need of her, Mjolnir will come to you. And she will be here to bring you home, his father had said when he sealed her in the ice. The ice will melt tomorrow, when the long season of his exile is over and the Bifrost will take him home; but today, she is still entombed, and he almost regrets his rash promise to Laufey. If she does not return to him – if he cannot lift her – what will Laufey think? And Loki? Does the handsal count as a true need?

Is he worthy of her?

Loki is watching him expectantly, waiting to see him in his full power and glory. How strange – when he stood here last with Mjolnir in hand, his only thought was for vengeance and war against the Frost Giants, and when his father locked her away in the ice, he had been furious and angry still, with nothing but hate for the jötnar in his heart. But now he wishes to have her in his hand again not to wage war but to broker a peace: to build and not break. A worthier purpose, surely.

Thor closes his hand over her shaft and grips tight.

For a moment, nothing – and then she screams for him, a pure, resonant note that judders through his bones and fills his mind with silver sparking stars, her song filling him up from the inside and exploding out of him, a song he had not known how deeply he had missed until now. The sky cracks with thunder and lightning is dancing along his skin, flickering behind his eyes, but that, he knows now, is his heart-song: Mjolnir’s is older, darker, born of the death of stars and the deep, ancient silence of the cosmos, the yawning void that births the storm.

He is himself again and he laughs at the heart of the storm, feeling his armour surging around him, and it with a great effort that he keeps his feet on the ground and stills the storm brewing overhead. The ice that held Mjolnir has splintered and cracked, and requires but one wrenching tug to shatter to dust. He cannot resist swinging her, feeling her weight and humming power, and he slams her broad head against the ice pillar she has rested on all this time and watches in satisfaction as it is utterly obliterated.

He turns, twirling her easily in hand, and holds her out, handle up, to Loki.

“Touch her,” he says, brimming over with power and joy. “Let her know you.”

Loki stares at him, wide-eyed and hungry, and then he moves, swift and sudden and without a hint of hesitation. He grabs Mjolnir’s handle, fingers flexing around her and brushing against Thor’s as he tries to take her weight, and for a moment, Thor wonders – but no, Loki cannot move her, not one inch. Loki’s mouth twists for a moment but it swiftly smoothes away and he gives Thor a wry smile.

“She is everything they say she is,” he says, and Thor feels Mjolnir hum in response, almost as if she is curious. He remembers that feeling of depth and space when they called the storm together, the sensation of being surrounded by Loki’s seidr, and he tries now to reach for him again, concentrates on the well of energy he has always sensed within Mjolnir, wondering if those two forces can meet where his hand touches both Mjolnir and Loki.

He can feel something, some kind of bottled charge, like a storm brewing, the potential for power far off in the distance but not yet rolling around him. He can also feel a skittering of sparks from Mjolnir’s heart, the odd feeling he has sometimes when he hold her, as if she truly were alive and her attention had suddenly turned to him, as if she is trawling long fingers of electricity through his mind, seeking, probing – but then it is gone and he is simply standing there with Loki, the hammer a heavy weight in his hand and nothing more.

“Your father will know what you have done,” Loki says, as if nothing unusual had happened, withdrawing his hand, and Thor wonders if he felt anything other than uru in Mjolnir. “What you are doing. The Gatekeeper will surely tell him all that is happening here.”

“Heimdall may,” Thor says, letting Mjolnir hang at his side and feeling properly balanced for the first time since he arrived. “But I trust his judgement. And besides, this is what my father wants as well as your bera. I doubt he will come here to stop me.”

“Hmm,” Loki says, sounding less than convinced and entirely too serious for Thor’s taste.

“Come,” Thor says, reaching out for him. “We have a few hours yet before the handsal. Let us make our own entertainment out here while it is still just the two of us.”

“Getting that hammer has put you in a very good mood,” Loki says, arching an eyebrow. “Something you want to share with me?”

“Many things,” Thor says with a wink; Loki’s hand around Mjolnir’s shaft has given him all kinds of ideas and he judges from Loki’s smirk that he has already thought of most of them. “But for now? There is something I have been wanting to do with you since that hunt in Thrymstaðr.”

“Oh?” Loki says, cocking a hip, but Thor steps back and lifts Mjolnir up, spinning her faster and faster until she is a blur beside him and then leaping into the air, letting her carry him aloft and oh, he has missed the freedom of flight more than he ever thought he would. He soars on the wind, still stirred up from his reunion from Mjolnir, and he closes his eyes to better feel it rushing past him, his hair streaming back, the air cold and sharp and flecked with snow which melts in tiny bursts of rain against his lips and eyelashes.

When he opens them, it is see Loki in his gyrfalcon shape hovering alongside him. It is not possible for a bird to smirk and yet Loki seems to be doing it anyway. He gives a short cry and Thor does not need the words to know a challenge when he hears one.

“Race you to the temple pillars!” he shouts about the wind, banking hard as Mjolnir tugs him forward, and then he is flying as fast as he can, eyes narrowed against the wind, keenly aware of a white blur in the corner of his eye, and though his teeth ache with the cold, he cannot help but smile in joy.

***

Between the twin spires of the temple is a platform crowned with a vaulted arch; it cannot rightly be called a room, for the space is open to the howling winds and flurries of snow, without walls or balustrade. In the centre of the space is a thick pillar, carved with the same repeating curves and lines that cover the palace and mimic some of the patterns on Loki and his family’s skin. Its top is flat and rectangular, with flared corners to hold something deeply previous in place, and there is nothing at all around it and no other decoration here. It is a bleak and lonely space, haunted by shadows and silence.

Loki had said nothing when they landed here earlier in the day, and now, here again in the presence of Laufey-King and the Jarls, Thor does not need this place explaining to him. This is the seat of the Casket of Ancient Winters, high and hallowed, built over the throne that serves and defends it, open to the sky and looking out over the sea. Asgard’s heart and highest point is their great hall, where all the people of the realm can gather at the foot of Odin’s golden throne, a place to see and be seen, its curved and polished walls designed to reverberate with the pronouncements of Asgard’s King. But Laufey’s hall is hidden deep in the stone and ice of the palace complex; it is these spires that can be seen from the assembly space beyond, and no doubt when the Casket was here, its light could be seen for miles, no doubt a beacon of faith and power for all the people of this realm.

Thor had expected the handsal to take place in Laufey’s throne room, before the Throne of Winter, or in his Council Chamber or some such state room in the palace, but no: Laufey will have it done here, next to the empty plinth at the heart of this dead and desolate space. Thor recognises a pointed gesture when it’s being levelled at him, but he shrugs it off. He may only be getting Loki because of the Casket as far as Laufey-King is concerned; Loki’s obvious and smug triumph in getting him more than makes up for it.

The ritual words opening the ceremony are mercifully brief, and all eyes turn to him as he takes a deep breath and begins to recite the speech Loki has spent the past hour hammering into his head.

“I, Thor Odinson, Prince of Asgard, declare myself witness that you, Laufey-King, do bind me in lawful betrothal, and with the taking hold of hands you promise me the dowry and the person of your child. I do swear to fulfil and observe the whole of the compact between us, and do promise you the bride-price agreed in the hearing of these witnesses here with us, and I do further swear to pay your child the morning-gift he is due. All this I do swear, without duplicity or cunning, and I declare myself bound by my word to fulfil all this, or else be an oathbreaker and all that I have forfeit; all this I do swear on my honour and on Mjolnir.”

The dry and dusty words of contract spoken, Thor would like to add something personal, something meaningful, just for Loki, but that is not the jötnar way. Instead, he holds out Mjolnir with his right hand and places his left on her head; Loki then places his hand atop Thor’s and that is his consent and sole part in this ceremony, strange as it seems.

Laufey takes a leather rope, soft and supple but thick, and twists it around their hands, tying them together where the rest on top of Mjolnir. The jötnar are not fond of symbols and trinkets: this is a true binding, and Thor would be hard pressed to break away.

“As I bind their hands with this cord,” Laufey says as he does so; “all here bear witness, that as Loki Silvertongue is my heir, so Thor Odinson becomes my heir, that as Loki is my child, so Thor Odinson becomes my son. He is Kyn as my child is Kyn, and his children will be Kyn as my child’s children are Kyn. He is of my House and my line, and all that is Loki Silvertongue’s is now his, for they are one and cannot be parted, save by death or dishonour. This I swear, and this I call upon all here present to swear.”

“This we swear,” comes the cry from the jötnar all around them, curiously flat rather than joyful, as Loki’s fingers tighten around Thor’s beneath the creaking leather. “This we have seen. Hail Thor Laufeybarn. Hail Loki Laufeybarn. The contract is made.”

Laufeybarn? Thor mouths silently and Loki gives the tiniest of nods, amusement dancing in his eyes. Brothers after all, Thor thinks, a grin tugging at his mouth, and so what if there is no laughter, no weeping, no cheering or congratulations or any of the joy there ought to be in a wedding? They will have a proper ceremony in Asgard, a real wedding with his friends and his family at his side. This is for the jötnar and it is meaningful to them.

It is something of a surprise when Laufey moves away without another word and Loki tugs at their still bound hands so that they can follow; a handfasting is not usually so prolonged. But Thor hooks Mjolnir back into his belt and lets Loki lead him down the twisting stairs and along the labyrinth corridors to the feast hall, the low central table already laden with the most elaborate feast Thor has yet seen in Jotunheim. The other jötnar file in behind them as they take their seats, a double bench rather obviously adapted to their size with blocks of ice part covered by furs. They have the place of honour, just to the right of Laufey’s decorated throne; Býleistr sits to the left of the King, and the others arrange themselves without formality along the long bench.

Because their hands are so securely bound, they have no hope of using them as the feast begins, and so must work together, Thor using his right and Loki his left hand to manage the food between them. There is strictly speaking no need for Loki to press the cuts of meats to his lips, nor for him to feed Loki the rich cheeses and peculiar red seaweed he enjoys so much, but Loki seems to expect it and Thor finds himself enjoying the touch of intimacy between them after the dry formality of the vows.

Compared to the feast at Thrymr’s, and even his first, awkward night here, it is a very dull occasion indeed. There is no dancing, no story-telling or singing, and while Thrymr gives him a broad wink and a thumbs-up when he catches the old Jarl’s eye, it is otherwise a very restrained and dignified affair. Do the Jarls not mix much? Thor wonders briefly. Is it being in the presence of their King? Or is it because of him? Laufey rises at one point and give a curt speech about the bright future to come; Thor follows with genuine thanks for the hospitality he has been shown here, but the fine words do not lead to applause or a toast or anything like a real celebration.

Ah, well. The food is good and the gleam of satisfaction in Loki’s eyes even better. And without drinking and merry-making, the feast winds down after barely an hour, the jötnar becoming quieter and quieter as the plates are cleared. Just as the silence is becoming oppressive, Loki stands, tugging Thor up with him.

 “Take me to bed,” Loki says, his words over loud in the hush, but there is a solemnity where his teasing would usually be, and Thor guesses this too is part of the handsal and not just the end of their feast.

He is right. As they make their way from the high seat to the huge doors, each jötunn they pass stands and falls into step behind them; when they reach the doors, Loki halts with a gentle pressure on Thor’s hand and together they wait as the jötnar file out before them. They form two rows stretching down the corridor, silent and watchful, and once they are in place, Loki sets off again, head held high.

An honour guard? Thor wonders, following Loki’s lead in looking straight ahead. It reminds him of the torchlit processions at Dvergar weddings, when the couple is put to bed, supposedly for the first time, though those occasions are full of laughter and jokes. But bedding is not wedding here, as Loki keeps telling him, so why this formality?

In silence they go to their chamber, flanked by the towering hrimthurs, Laufey pacing at Loki’s side and Býleistr at Thor’s, the younger prince looking grimmer than Thor can account for. Silently, all the jötnar watch as they cross the threshold together. Loki and Thor turn together, facing out, and Loki lifts their joined hands and holds them out towards Laufey.

In utter silence Laufey loosens the binding and slides it from them. He holds the leather rope high, so those behind him can see it in the dim light, and then, wordlessly and without further ceremony, hands it to Thor. Thor takes it and waits for further instruction but that is it: Loki and Laufey exchange a long look Thor cannot hope to read, and then the jötnar are leaving, moving away in an eerie quiet.

Loki closes the doors and they are alone.

“That went well,” he says as he turns to Thor, smiling brightly, and Thor hopes he is right, for he is baffled by it all.

“They did not seem – happy,” he says. “I had hoped for more joy at our coming together.”

“Joy?” Loki says, seeming puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Mirth,” Thor tries. “Cheering. You know, excitement, celebrating. Something like the feast after the hunt in Thrymstaðr.”

“Rowdiness?” Loki says, eyebrow quirking. “That is well and good for every day occasions, but this was something that has never happened before in Jotunheim and may well never happen again. A handsal between a Ríkikyn and the heir to Ásgarðr’s throne – such a rare and wonderous event is to be respected and treated with the dignity and solemnity it deserves. We and they can fuck and fight and whatever else tomorrow and every night there after if we choose. Tonight can only happen once.”

“I suppose,” Thor says. “But it seems a shame not to see you dance at your own wedding.”

“Then I will dance for you in Ásgarðr,” Loki says, smiling. “Once for your people, to tell the story our courting, and once for you, after we wed in your fashion.”

“An excellent suggestion,” Thor says with a wide grin. “You must explain another thing to me, though,” he says, offering Loki the heavy binding rope. “What does this mean? The words I understood well enough, but the rest of it I cannot fathom.”

“It means that we are seen to be one,” Loki replies. “It is an acknowledgement that we are Kyn – that your children are my children, and my children yours, no matter who bears them. For us, that means -”

“- that I will be their bera in name and law, and will have a claim to them,” Thor supplies, nodding thoughtfully. He understands the great honour in being called a bera, despite not carrying the child himself. A geta is not a father, after all. Quite why they have to be stared at as they walk to their bed he does not understand but then, traditions are traditions. At least they are not required to prove their physical union before witnesses!

Loki takes the rope and runs it through his fingers. “It is the words spoken and witnessed, and a public demonstration of willing that matter. A simple point of law,” he says. “But one that changes everything. Legally, we are a single entity. Otherwise, our heirs would inherit only what is yours in Ásgarðr, for under Jötunheimr’s laws I am being given to the House of the Odin, and becoming part of their line. But now, we are still of the House of Laufey and so our children will be of the Ríkikyn – just as you are now of the Ríkikyn.”

A laugh bubbles out of Thor at that. “So I am a Prince of Jotunheim,” he says, the title unbelievably strange on his tongue. “Prince Thor of Jotunheim.”

“Thor Thunderer,” Loki says, returning his smile. “Thor Laufeybarn.”

“Laufey’s son,” Thor says, shaking his head. “Oh, I cannot wait to see my friends’ faces when I tell them of this.”

Loki makes a noncommittal noise. “But, more importantly,” he says, putting the rope aside; “now, you are mine. In Jötunheimr at least, we belong to each other, and none can take you from me.”

“I would not be taken in any case,” Thor replies lightly, but he knows what Loki means, and for all its peculiarity, he is glad he did this here, now, and not as part of the grand wedding in Asgard.

It is done; the contract is made.

The thought fills him with a warm glow and he reaches for Loki, gathers him into his arms and kisses him softly. “My husband,” he says as Loki’s eyes darken and his lips part, and what does it matter if it is not yet true? It will be soon enough. “My sváss.”

He kisses him again, skimming his hands lightly over Loki’s flanks and hips, mapping out his Kynlines and adding lazy, random patterns over Loki’s skin. Loki is far more focused, tugging impatiently at the clasps and joints in Thor’s armour, but getting nowhere until he jerks his head back with a hiss.

“This is the stupidest clothing I have ever seen,” he says, jabbing a finger into Thor’s breastplate. “Get rid of it!”

“Not handfasted five minutes and you are already making unreasonable demands of me,” Thor says sadly, shaking his head, and laughingly catching Loki’s hand as it whips towards him. “Look,” he says, “here, and here, and then release here -” and he shows Loki how to take the armour off properly. It is not that complicated and he says so.

“You try being pressed up against it,” Loki grumbles, but he is easily distracted as Thor steps out of the last of his clothing and returns to caressing as much of Loki as he can reach.

“Am I to be the only one naked?” he sees, cupping Loki’s pert buttocks through the kjalta. Loki reaches down and unclasps the jewelled belt; the skirt slithers to his feet and he kicks it carelessly aside.

“Sensible clothing,” he says smugly, “and more attractive too.”

“On you, I must agree,” Thor says, putting a little space between them so he can admire Loki in nothing but his jewellery. Loki preens and turns for him, and Thor is more than happy to voice his thoughts, to tell Loki just how beautiful he is, and how much he wants to touch him.

“Wait,” Loki says when he tires of talking and reaches for him again. “Let down my hair first.”

“Your hair?” Thor says; he has not ever seen Loki without his mass of braids, and only once or twice without the jewels and chains he wears in them. Loki says nothing, sitting perfectly still with his back to Thor, shoulders a little stiff. Another tradition, Thor guesses, settling behind him, looking hard at Loki’s hair. Jewellery first seems the best way to approach it, and so he gingerly begins to pull at the pieces attached to the thick plaits, putting them in a pile beside him as he works. Then he looks to the bottom and releases the tiny clasps worked around each braid and slowly unwinds them, separating hair from metal, pausing many times to work out how it has all been woven together.

It takes a long time, and Thor wonders how long it has been since Loki last took all of this out. He remembers Loki saying it was tradition for the íviðja to keep their hair styled like this; he hadn’t thought much of it, but now he wonders if they ever go about with it loose and flowing. It seems a shame if they do not, for as he loosens the final braid Loki wordlessly hands him a comb, and as he brushes out the tangles, he realises just how long and thick Loki’s hair actually is. It is a waterfall of black silk, down to the small of his back, and as he runs the comb through one last time, he admires the sheen of it, and just how striking it is against Loki’s cobalt skin.

He sets the comb aside and presses a kiss to the back of Loki’s neck, inhaling his faint scent. “You look beautiful,” he murmurs.

“I know,” Loki says, turning to face him as he removes his torc, armrings and other bits and pieces and adds them to the hoard. He does look different with his hair loose and falling around his face – not gentler, exactly, but less defined, less polished. A diamond free from its setting, Thor thinks fondly, still brilliant but with fewer sharp edges.

“Do you always wear all this?” Thor asks, waving a hand at the pile of jewellery. “Or has it been for my benefit?”

Loki laughs. “All this?” he echoes. “For your benefit? Oh, Thor. You must learn to look more closely and see more clearly. Not everything is about you.”

There is no malice, no jeering in his tone, only amusement, and so Thor chooses to take the advice and does look more closely at the tangle of gemstones and fine chains – and yes, now he does see, for the first time, more than just pretty, shiny stones. Each and every one is scored with runes, the work tiny and delicate, decorating the facets and creeping along the inside of the chain links. Likewise, as he examines them, he finds bindrunes and symbols inscribed on the rest of Loki’s jewellery: the cuffs and bangles and rings he had thought merely decorative all bear a meaning, and not just pretty patterns of angular shapes.

“Did you think it vanity?” Loki says. “That the íviðja chose to wear trinkets where the hrimthursar have none solely to please the eyes of those who would be their lovers?”

“I thought it…fashion,” Thor replies honestly. “A mark of status, of wealth.” Like the ladies of Asgard, he thinks, but does not say, whose elaborate hairstyles and jewellery change from season to season according to whims he does not care to understand.

“That too,” Loki allows, taking one of his emeralds from Thor and tilting it so he can see the bindrune flickering in the light. “My torc is a mark of my blood and the honour of my Kyn; it has been worn by the íviðja of the Royal House since the time of Bergelmir, three generations back. We are Jötunheimr’s treasure, after all. But the rest? Spells and talismans, to boost my powers; protection against ill-will and ill-health; charms for all sorts of little things to help us with our seidr. The íviðja have always worn such things, but since the loss of the Vetrformen, we have needed them more than ever.”

“And yet you do not wear them now,” Thor says and Loki smiles softly.

“It is a privilege of a sváss to see an íviðja with his hair unbound,” Loki says, toying with the great mass of dark hair tumbling over his shoulders. “And an even greater one to see an íviðja without his jewels. A privilege and a sign of great trust. After all, I am at my most vulnerable now.”

“But still dangerous,” Thor says, reaching out and running his blunt fingers through Loki’s loose curls.

“Always dangerous,” Loki says, turning his face into Thor’s hand, rubbing his lips over Thor’s palm, less than a kiss but more than a touch. “You would do well to remember that.”

“I will remember everything of this night, forever,” Thor answers, and feels Loki’s lips curve against his skin.

Their loving is slow and languid, for this is their leavetaking; Loki will not take him to the Bifrost site tomorrow, will say no farewell, nor watch him leave the realm, for that is not the jötnar way. All their goodbyes must be said now, here, where they are so close their breath skitters over each other’s skin, where no-one can see or hear what might be exchanged.

Thor coaxes Loki to orgasm twice with tongue and fingers, his head buried between Loki’s thighs, Loki’s fingers twisting tightly in his hair, before he is dragged up to meet Loki’s lips with his own, Loki lapping at his own taste in Thor’s mouth, his hair falling forward and sliding over Thor like a silken shawl. Loki is slow in licking his way over Thor’s body, but there is a pent-up desperation in his touch, in his deliberate tasting of every inch of Thor.

When he rolls to his back, pulling Thor with him, his focus turns sharper still, his gaze burning as if he would scorch Thor into his memory, too sharp, too hard for a night such as this. It will not do, and Thor lifts him onto his lap instead, spreading his legs wide to make a better seat for him, easily balancing Loki just above his cock, the two of them sitting up, backs straight, pressed chest to chest and face to face.

“I love you,” Thor says, resting his forehead against Loki’s, feeling Loki’s breathing quickening.

“I love you,” Loki echoes, the words small and fragile, and even as they escape him he is biting his lip and sinking himself down onto Thor. His eyes flutter closed as his wet heat envelopes Thor and as he comes to rest they open again, and now that fiery focus is gone, his pupils blown wide and the crimson a ring around their dreamy blankness.

Thor wraps his arms around Loki and rocks up, very gently, and hears Loki’s breath hitch. Slowly, gently, they move together, their limbs and hair tangling about them as they sigh into each other’s mouths, flesh to flesh and heart to heart. Pleasure builds like a tide between them, ebbing and flowing, building until it must break, and as it does Loki gives a long, shuddering sigh, boneless and relaxed as Thor thrusts even deeper into him until his own release sweeps over him and drags him under.

After, they lie curled into each other, bowed bodies forming a perfect circle.

“It will only be a few days,” Thor promises, stroking Loki’s hair where it has fanned out across the furs. “I will bring you to Asgard as soon as I can.”

Loki says nothing, but he bares his throat and Thor feels him swallow him hard as he gently kisses his neck and nips at the hollow there.

“I will miss you too,” he murmurs, gathering him closer. “Husband.”

***

Thor wakes alone in the too-big bed, stretching and yawning in the gloomy light that passes for early morning. He is a little sad, but not surprised; he puts out a hand to the indention in the furs next to him, and feels a faint, lingering warmth. He imagines Loki lying there, watching him sleep, slipping out just as Thor begins to stir. A little dramatic, for a separation of but a few short days, but he does understand it, for Loki does not like to be seen vulnerable, even now, and more goodbyes could only lessen last night’s.

And perhaps it is for the best, for as Thor gathers up his pack and Mjolnir, he cannot help the smile blooming on his face, nor the lightness in his steps. He wishes he did not have to leave Loki behind – but by the Norns, it is good to be going home. It is a short flight to the Bifrost site, and he sees not a soul as he exits the palace and takes to the air. Loki’s doing or Laufey’s – hard to know, and harder to care, for all it means now is that he can be on his way without any delays. Jotunheim has been a greater adventure than he could have ever imagined, but all he can think about now is his city, his people and his world.

“Heimdall, open the bridge!” he shouts to the overcast sky, joy and relief bubbling up as the rainbow incandescence crashes over him almost before he can get the words out. He soars through the wild rush of colour, held aloft by interstellar winds, Mjolnir’s pleased song blending harmoniously with the ringing cry of the Bifrost, and then bright light explodes around him, the world tilting, and he steps out into warm bronze and a glimmer of sunlight.

 “Welcome home, my Prince,” Heimdall says, the faintest of smiles flickering across his usually impassive face.

Home. Thor grins like a schoolboy. “It is good to be back,” he says, clapping Heimdall on the shoulder. The Gatekeeper raises an eyebrow.

“You have been busy in Jotunheim,” he says, as ever, giving nothing away. “Your father is very keen to hear what you have to say.”

“What have you told him?” Thor asks.

Heimdall grins. “Nothing,” he says. “For my duty is to look for danger to this realm and all I have seen points to safety and security for us all.”

“Thank you,” Thor says, grateful for his discretion. He pauses, but then carries on, for Heimdall has seen much, if not all, and so there is no need to dissemble. “Will you keep watch over Loki? Until I see him again?”

“Of course, my Prince,” Heimdall says, amusement sparking in his unfathomably deep eyes. “So long as he will let me.”

That is enough for Thor; he nods his thanks and steps past Heimdall, out of the Observatory and to the glinting bridge beyond. There, as he expected, is his welcome party: the Warriors Three and a handful of Einherjar, here to escort him to the throne room and his parents in a manner befitting a returning Prince.

“Thor!” Volstagg shouts, waving madly, in case he has somehow managed to miss the heavily armoured party a dozen paces in front of him.

“My friends,” he says, smiling and waving them forward, and they surge towards him, eager and expansive in their greetings. It is so good to see them again, and he hugs each of them tightly, laughing at their barrage of questions.

“You look well,” Sif says, looking him up and down, gaze lingering on his braided hair. “Jotunheim was not that bad, then?”

“Jotunheim was exactly what I needed,” he says, grinning at their shocked expressions. “And I will tell you all of it. But first I must see my mother and father.”

They are all burning with the desire to ask him about Loki, the proposed marriage, what he has been doing – but they are kind enough to put it aside at his word. They have brought him one of his favourite horses, to ride with them rather than fly to the palace, and though it is slower, he enjoys making his way at an easy trot, surrounded by banter and gossip, the sunlight warm on his face and the air filled with the familiar tang of salt and the fragrances of Asgard’s flowers and fruits. They wind through the city, past lively fountains and babbling streams, the people shouting his name as he passes, and he basks in the simple pleasure of being back where he belongs.

“It is good to see you happy,” Hogun pronounces, and even his usually calm tone is riddled with curiosity

“It is good to be happy,” Thor reassures them. Were they expecting him back in the same foul mood as when he left? Even he would be hard pressed to maintain his anger over a whole season! But they have not seen what he has seen, he reminds himself. They will understand when he explains.

“It has been a long, dull season without you,” Fandral says cheerfully. “Why, I have only managed a dozen quests, two dozen nights of debauchery and three dozen daring romances with ravishing beauties.”

“All of which you found by looking into your own mirror,” Sif quips and Fandral pulls a wounded face.

“But now it is summer!” Volstagg picks up, waving a hand through the droning insects busy in the sunshine. “And we have many weeks of hunting and adventuring to catch up on.”

Thor makes a noncommittal noise. Loki will likely need some time to settle in before Thor takes him out adventuring, especially after all they have already done together. But Asgard’s summers are long, and his friends will just have to be patient.

“So tell me,” he says as they look at him expectantly. “What news is there of dread beasts and bandits that has you so fired for sport?”

Sif frowns faintly as he turns the conversation to gossip and not planning, but makes nothing of it. His answer to the marriage question hovers in the air, looming large and unspoken, but he cannot say anything of it, not even to his closest companions, until he has seen his parents, and they are all experienced enough courtiers to know and not press, though they are clearly making their own guesses based on his good humour.

He must shoo them away with promises of many drinks and many tales later as he reaches Idavollr. They reluctantly leave him, only too obviously to discuss how he seems, but he does not mind it. It is only with them back at his side that he realises how much he has missed them – but also, with a strange, sad pang, how used he has become to having Loki always at his side in their stead. Even the short, oft-travelled path from the Bifrost to the palace had a dozen sights he wanted to point out to Loki, things so ordinary that he had not thought to describe them in their many conversations about Asgard, but which now, seeing them after his time away, strike him as something Loki would be intrigued by.

He is led by the Einherjar not to the great hall Valaskjalf, the scene of his aborted coronation, bustling with petitioners, lord, ladies and serving folk even now, but to the smaller audience chamber beyond it, where his father holds his private interviews. Quite what the realm has been told while he was in Jotunheim, Thor does not know; there can have been no formal announcement of Laufey’s offer, not while uncertainty remains over Thor’s acceptance of it, for his mother had promised he would be free to refuse it. This will be a private homecoming for him and his parents, away from curious gazes and wagging tongues.

The guard begins to announce him, but this is not a public event, and he has no patience for formalities today.

“Thor!” his mother cries as he strides in, thoroughly confusing the guard who stumbles over his last few words and beats a hasty retreat, pulling the door shut behind him as Frigga rushes from beside the throne to sweep Thor up in a tight embrace.

“Mother,” Thor says, holding her tightly, doing a much better job of not crushing her than she is to him, despite how small she is in his arms these days. “It is so good to see you.”

“And you,” she returns, kissing him on the cheek. “I like these,” she adds, skimming her fingers over his slim braids. “They suit you well.”

 “And how did Jotunheim suit you?” his father asks, stepping down from the throne and coming to stand beside them. “Laufey has not sent a declaration of war, so I trust you return in a better frame of mind than when you left?”

His father has an unparalleled skill in making him feel a chastised boy again, trying to hide his scuffed knees and bloodied knuckles.

“I have learnt much,” Thor says, resisting the urge to fidget under his father’s stare. “And I see now why you sent me there, for I was full of foolish pride and ignorance. The jötnar have treated me well, and I am glad to call them friends.”

Frigga pats him on the arm. “I am very glad to hear that,” she says, beaming. “Heimdall has been keeping a watch, and he has told us that you have conducted yourself well with the jotnar, as befits a true Prince. We are so very proud of you.”

“You have done well in lasting the season,” Odin says. “And in repairing the damage you caused. We are on better terms with Jotunheim that we have been for a millennia. But what of the marriage? What of this Loki?”

“Oh, hush,” Frigga says instantly, still smiling but with real steel underneath. “He has just this moment returned. There is no need for a decision right now.”

“I did not send him on a pleasure tour,” Odin replies firmly, “nor simply a gesture of goodwill between our realms, whatever the people may think. This was for one purpose: to see if Thor could bear to marry Laufey’s child or not. We must have an answer, for them and ourselves.”

“We will not force him,” Frigga says, rounding on her husband. “He’s not back two minutes and you are playing the Allfather when you should be simply his father.”

“What need has he of a father with such a mother?” Odin mutters, and Frigga gives him one of her particular looks.  

“It is so good to have you home,” Frigga says, turning back to Thor and enfolding in an embrace again. “We both missed you terribly.”

Odin makes a noise as if he is clearing his throat, but Thor feels his mother’s smirk against his cheek, and cannot help a smile of his own. “I am truly glad to be home again,” he addresses to his father. “And I know now how lucky I am to have so wise a father and so gracious a mother.”

“You have proved you are on the right path once again, my son,” Odin says gruffly. “Once this marriage business is finished, we shall talk again about you taking up the regency.”

“Thank you, father,” Thor says; in truth, his failed coronation had all but been forgotten and he finds now it does not sting at all. He is not yet ready to be King, after all, and he would rather have the freedom of a Prince to settle into his marriage with Loki than the burden of the throne and all its responsibilities. He is still looking forward to taking his place on the high seat in the future, and feels he is better suited now than he was that day – but it is not yet his time, and he is curiously happy about it. “But neither of you need fret about my marriage. I have made my choice. I have agreed to marry Loki, because I love him and he loves me.”

Frigga and Odin look at him in astonishment. “You love him?” Frigga says in the same moment that Odin says, “Does Laufey know this?”

“Yes,” Thor says. “he is my sváss, mother, and I have given my word to him and to Laufey that he will be my husband as soon as it can be managed.”

“Oh!” Frigga says, shock flowing into excitement. “Oh, Thor, that is wonderful! You must tell me everything about him.”

“First,” Odin says, brows knitting together; “You will tell me exactly what you have done.”

***

It proves easier, in the end, to simply tell it as it happened, from that first day in Jotunheim, to explain how he came to know and love Loki, to skim over their time together while assuring his parents of the depth of his feelings. Frigga would have every last detail, but that will have to wait, for Odin’s countenance grows more and more stern as he comes to the end of the story and tells them of the handsal and his vows.

His parents exchange glances. “You swore on Mjolnir and before the Jarls?” Odin says, looking as he cannot quite believe it. “You were handfasted?”

“Yes,” Thor says, and now he has said it all aloud, he can see that, perhaps, he has been a little reckless in doing so – but he does not regret it, not at all.

“Foolish,” his father says angrily. “Foolish and unnecessary. What were you thinking?”

“You are all but married,” Frigga murmurs, “by their law.”

“I know,” Thor says, reaching for her hand. “It was for Loki. And it would have happened anyway, before the wedding here.”

“But after we had agreed on the contract!” Odin snaps. “In taking him, you are giving away the Casket. Your actions have consequences that affect more than just your own future!”

“You are certain this is what you want?” Frigga says, ignoring her husband to search Thor’s face. “You were so against this marriage. I understand you have enjoyed your time with him, but you are certain that you want to marry him, and be with him for the rest of your lives?”

“I am certain,” Thor says earnestly. “I want to marry him, mother, believe me. That he is a Prince of Jotunheim and this will bring peace is a great advantage, but it is not why I have said yes. I have said yes because I love him, and I will love him forever.”

Frigga stares at him, her gaze locked with his, and Thor offers her a smile. “You do,” she whispers, her eyes beginning to well with tears. “I am so happy for you, my son.”

Thor turns to look at Odin. “Father?” he says. “Do I have your blessing in my marriage?”

“I sent to Jotunheim so that you would see there why you must take Laufey’s son for your consort,” Odin says. “And to teach you some damned sense. I have been negotiating with Laufey to show my good faith in the match, and in the belief that you would see how important repairing our relationship with Jotunheim is, and do your duty to Asgard. That is why you should being saying yes to me now – not coming home to tell us of more rash deeds! That you have fallen under the boy’s spell is all well and good, but you need to learn to think like a King before you act like a boy.”

“I went there with war in my heart,” Thor throws back at him, “and rather than return resigned to a fate I desire, I come home having earned the friendship not only of their Prince, but their King and many of his people. The marriage you want so badly is going ahead with our once-enemies blessing, and I am glad to be a part of it. Is this not better?”

“We will see,” Odin says flatly. “The Privy Council has been party to the negotiations, but this news will come as a shock to the rest of Asgard. The question of the morgen-gifu remains, as does some issues around the inheritance rights of your future children. The marriage contract is not yet finalised and we have nothing in place for the arrival of the jotnar. You should have waited, and now your Loki will have to do your waiting for you.”

 “What do you mean?”

“He cannot come to Asgard for a month,” Odin says firmly. “At least.”

“A month?” Thor says, heart sinking. “I told him it would be only a few days. Why should we delay?”

“Only fools blunder in unprepared,” Odin snaps. “This is not some springtime romance, boy. You may fancy yourself a lover, but you are a Prince, and my only son and heir. We will do this properly, with the dignity and ceremony that befits Asgard. I will finish the negotiations in my own time, and only when I am satisfied with the treaty will I allow Laufey to bring his child here.”

“Then I will go back to Jotunheim,” Thor flares. “And tell Loki myself that the delay is not of my doing.”

“You will not,” Odin growls. “You have duties here, and I will not have you undermining the seriousness of this business by playing footsie under the negotiating table.”

“That’s enough,” Frigga says as Thor opens his mouth to tell his father what he thinks of that. “This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Thor, I understand how you feel. But we will only do this once – so let us do this right. You have been away a long time. Spend some time with your friends, go out into the city and talk to the people about your Loki, let them see how happy you are. Your father needs time to finalise the political details, for they are important, and I need time to organise a proper welcome, not just for Loki, but for his Kyn and his people. It is the first state visit from the jötnar in a millennium – we ought to make it a grand occasion, yes?”

“Yes,” Thor says reluctantly.

“And of course you shall write to Loki,” she adds, giving Odin a warning look when he grunts irritably. “A personal letter, explaining why it will take some time to bring him here. And, you will remember, there is the matter of the betrothal gifts. I see no reason why they should wait for the ceremony here, since you have already completed the handsal. You can help me choose what he will like, and we will send them to him while he waits.”

Odin harrumphs and Thor opens his mouth to argue, but Frigga is having none of it. “A month is not so long,” she says firmly. “Loki will understand. You have given him your word at the handsal; he knows, and his people know, that you will keep it. You have done what is right in Jotunheim. Now you must do what is right in Asgard. As we,” she adds, glancing at Odin, “will do what is right as parents. Marriage is not to be taken lightly, whether it is for duty or love. We want to make sure the two of you have the best possible start as consorts.”

Thor really does not see why he must wait a month, but his parents’ wisdom has led him down this most unexpected and rewarding of paths, and so he will trust in it a while longer. If Jotunheim and Loki have taught him anything, it is that he has much to learn, and it would do poor justice to their teachings to start shouting and demanding his own way the moment he returns home. See more clearly, Loki had said. Not everything is about you.

Thor sighs. For Asgard, he thinks. For Jotunheim. “A month, then,” he says. “And how long then to the betrothal ceremony and the actual wedding?”

“We do not mean to torture you overmuch,” Frigga says, squeezing his hand. “I should think the welcoming would last a week, and then we will hold the betrothal ceremony; another week and then Laufey and his retinue will return to Jotunheim and Loki will stay here. A formal betrothal should last a year at least, which will take us to midsummer next year. The jotnar have their great festival then – so we will hold the wedding just before, and you and Loki can go back to Jotunheim with Laufey and be presented as husbands to his people then – is that not what you have been thinking, dear?”

“Yes,” Odin says slowly, and Frigga gives Thor a subtle wink. “Yes, that seems the way to do it.”

 “As you say, dearest,” Frigga says. “Now, with all that out of the way, I think I should like to have some tea and to hear more about Loki. We will take up no more of your time, for I know you have much to do today.”

She offers Odin her hand and as he takes it to kiss, bends forward and whispers something in his ear. Thor looks away, and when he looks back, his mother looks angelic in her innocence and his father looks decidedly more cheerful.

He does not want to know.

“Come along, darling,” Frigga says, sweeping past him a flurry of gold skirts, and he follows her out of the audience chamber ever so slightly bemused and rather impressed. How has he never noticed how well she handles his father before? And why has he not learnt this skill?

 “Pay him no mind,” she says as they walk along the corridors to her hall, arm tucked into Thor’s and mischief dancing in her eyes. “He finds change hard. We had thought to find you still stubborn, or, at best, resigned; we thought to drag out the discussion with Laufey, to give you time to make up your mind. Your father hates surprises. They happen so rarely to him that he does not know what to do with them. Give him a little time and he will come round.”

“This will be a long month,” Thor sighs.

“For you,” Frigga says, laughter bubbling in her voice. “Oh, darling. Love is always hard for the young. The lonely nights, the endless sighing: how ever will you pass the time without him?”

“You make me sound like a lovesick youth,” Thor grumbles and Frigga raises her eyebrows in mock-surprise.

“Would I tease you so?”

“Yes,” Thor says, “yes, you would,” and his mother laughs aloud.

She insists on Thor removing his cape and some of his armour before they can settle into her hall, and Thor obliges but putting aside the bulk of it as her servants lay out the tea and a selection of fruit- and honey-cakes, sticky with syrup and dusted with sugar.

“Put your mind then to presents,” she says as the servants bow and leave them. “Your father will arrange suitable gifts for Laufey, but have you given any thought to what Loki would like?”

“These cakes,” Thor says with a smile. “But I fear giftgiving may not please him overmuch.”

“Ah,” Frigga says, “but this is part of a formal exchange, not a private giving. ‘Gifts worthy of his status’ were promised as part of the agreement. I think he, and his family, will be very keen to seen what we mean to give, for it will be a reflection of his worth, not yours.”

Thor looks at her in surprise. “You know about the jötnar and gifts?”

“Of course,” she says. “Before the war, back when we were close with Jotunheim, we often visited them, and they us, and we had to be mindful of such things. And you forget – when I was a new bride and a new Queen, I had someone close at hand to guide me, who knew everything about the jotnar, and who was happy to help me understand her people.”

“Bestla,” Thor says wonderingly.

Frigga inclines her head. “It is a great shame that you never met her or your grandfather,” she says. “I did not know her long myself, but she was always kind to me. I hope to be as welcoming a mother-in-law as she was. It is often hard for parents to see their children growing up and becoming independent.”

Thor tries to picture his grandmother. An íviðja in an Aesir skin, looking on at his parents’ wedding. Bestla and his mother sharing tea and spellwork together. Odin talking with her about Frigga as he is talking to her about Loki. He truly cannot imagine any of it, and he feels oddly sad at the fact.

“I had thought a trousseau would be appropriate, since it will not be part of Loki’s dowry,” Frigga continues, pressing a veritable mound of cakes on Thor before sipping at her own tea.

“What did you have in mind?” Thor asks, visions of delicate undergarments and lace filling his head for a heart-stopping moment.

“A set of armour,” Frigga says, ticking off on her fingers, “to complement yours; at least three sets of court clothing, something more casual for informal dining, something more impressive for formal dining, a set of gowns should he prefer them, and, of course, some slippers. A trousseau is rather old fashioned, but Asgardian attire will be strange to him, so having a few outfits to try in private before he comes might make the transition easier for him, and he then can choose whether he wants to keep his kjalta or wear the armour for the ceremony.”

“I have given him slippers,” Thor says, deciding not to mention that Loki is already comfortable in Asgardian clothes. “And received a token in return.”

“How lovely,” Frigga says warmly. “Very traditional. I trust you had a kiss, too?”

“Aye,” Thor says with a cheeky grin. “I said we would exchange rings later.”

“So what were the slippers like?” Frigga prompts.

“Silver and gold brocade,” Thor says, “with the softest fur for lining.”

“Beautiful,” Frigga says, gaze sharp. “And where did you find those in Jotunheim?”

Thor chokes a little on his cake and falls silent.

“I thought so,” Frigga says with a wicked grin. “That tale you told us was very pretty, but as full of holes as a child’s embroidery. What have you two been up, hmm?”

“Nothing,” Thor says automatically and winces at how defensive he sounds. “Mother…”

“You needn’t tell me everything,” Frigga says, lips pursed. “So long as you know I know when you are hiding things.”

“Nothing that matters,” Thor assures her hastily. “Only private things between us.”

“I do not mean that,” Frigga says. “Your mother does not want to know some details!”

“It has not been a smooth courtship,” Thor says in lieu of responding to that comment. “We struggled with each other for a long time. Or, I struggled with him, I suppose. He was much more inclined to me from the start.”

“I see,” Frigga says, a tiny frown flickering across her face. “But he says he loves you now?”

“Yes,” Thor says confidently. “He cannot wait to come here and be married.”

“And he gave you this?” Frigga says, reaching out to tap his pendant where it rests atop his armour, next to the small Mjolnir. He had forgotten he was wearing them, as he has had them on for so long; he loops them both over his head and offers them to her.

“Loki had it made,” he says. “It is his work at the heart of it. He said it would protect me.”

“From what?” Frigga says, laying aside the Mjolnir to inspect the strange nail pendant more closely.

“The weather in Jotunheim, I think,” Thor says. “Or just general protection. I do not know why he thinks I would need it, but it was a kind gesture.”

“Yes,” Frigga says absently, staring at the pendant. “There is something here, but it seems – it is old magic and very strange.”

“Something of his own design,” Thor says. “He said it would protect me even from him.”

Frigga’s mouth twists for a moment. “Perhaps that is what I feel in it, then,” she murmurs. “Jotnar seidr is so different from ours…”

“It is but a token,” Thor says, reaching for it, a little unsettled by his mother’s intense interest in what he had thought to be a simple pendant. “Of no great value in itself.”

“Oh, I would not say that,” Frigga says, handing it over, her thoughts still far away. “It represents his love for you, yes? That makes it precious to you – and to me.”

Thor looks at the pendant, but it remains simple and rather dull in his hand. The forging had been so fraught, and the dwarves so reluctant that he suspects there is something more to it than what Loki has said.

“There is no danger in it,” he says, with just the faintest hint of a question as he puts the pendant back around his neck.

“No,” Frigga says. “Not to you. Whatever is in it is buried deep. I think it must be a magic of Jotunheim, and will be more powerful there, or else will only come into effect when some condition is met.”

“When I am in danger?”

“Perhaps,” she says. “It does feel protective. It is so long since I felt anything of jotnar make. It should protect you from the cold and freezing touch of the jotnar, at any rate, as my pendant did.”

Thor relaxes. Loki would never harm him; the frostbite touch is probably all he was referring to. “I had hoped for a jewel or scarf or something,” he admits, “but this is truer to who Loki is.”

Frigga looks thoughtful for a moment, but presses no further. “Learning to compromise with each other is a good start to a marriage,” she says reassuringly. “As is learning what your partner cherishes and what they need. The ividjur always prided themselves on their treasures: is this still true?”

“Yes,” Thor says with a chuckle. “Loki likes his clothes and jewellery very much.”

“So he would welcome a trousseau, then. What colours does he like best? Red, to match you? Or blue, to remind him of home?”

Thor thinks carefully for a moment.

“Green,” he says, thinking of Loki’s moss-green eyes in his Aesir form, the rich colour of the forest leaves where they first came together. “And gold,” he adds, remembering the pile of jewellery and Loki’s jewel-encrusted torcs – and how he loves to touch Thor’s hair.

“Green and gold for the formal armour it is, then.” Frigga looks at him fondly. “You should see your face when you think of him,” she says. “You light up like a star.”

“Mother, really,” Thor says, embarrassed.

“Hush,” Frigga says, swatting at him. “Let your mother have her moments. Now, I want you to tell me your story over again – and fewer holes, this time, please. Let an old woman relieve the joy of young love.”

“You are hardly old,” Thor scoffs, but he does feel younger than he has for years, sitting back in his mother’s comfortable seats and talking animatedly as she sips tea and gives him her undivided attention. The more he speaks of Loki, the more at ease his mother becomes, and her faith in his faith soothes an uneasiness Thor had not known was there.

“It will be a long month, waiting to meet someone so special,” she says as he finally runs out of steam. “But it will be worth it in the end. I’ll make a start on the trousseau – no, please, let me do it,” she says when Thor half-heatedly protests. “I would have him know I am looking forward to meeting him, and besides, you know nothing of fashion or style.”

Thor groans and put his hand to his side as if wounded.

“It is true,” Frigga sniffs; “I gave you that lovely leather coverlet and I have never seen you in it.”

“I have my cape,” Thor protests.

“There is more to life than capes,” Frigga admonishes him. “And armour. I am very hopeful your husband will be more successful at dressing you than I have managed to be.”

Thor snorts, but cannot help a pleased smile at your husband.

“Now go on,” she says. “I am quite out of tea and your friends will be champing at the bit to hear from you. The city is alive with rumour, so your father and I will arrange the official announcement of the betrothal tomorrow. Do try and look nice for it, hmm?”

“Armour and cape it is,” Thor says promptly and his mother sighs dramatically.

“Shoo,” she says, flapping her hands at him. “Before I force you to help me embroider.”

Thor rises and turns to go, pausing at the doorway. “Thank you,” he says, quite serious. “For all of this.”

“I am sorry we sent you on such bad terms,” Frigga replies, just as seriously. “It was not easy for us. But it was for the best, and I hope you can see that now.”

“I can,” Thor says. “And I hope never to disappoint you like that again.”

Frigga tilts her head to the side and regards him carefully. “We only want you to be the best we know you can be,” she says. “For your sake, not ours. One day you will be King of Asgard and hold more power in your hands than any other. That is a great and terrible privilege. You must prove yourself worthy of it, as you are worthy of Mjolnir. Not for us, but for all the people who will look to you for protection and guidance. A crown is a heavy burden.”

“I understand,” Thor says, and he does. He thinks of Laufey, swallowing his pride and pain to welcome him into his realm and gift him his child; he thinks of Thrymr, holding his dwindling people together, and he thinks of Skrýmir, holding onto personal grudges to the detriment of the future. He has always found it easy to be a leader, to win support and friends and admirers in all he does. But now he has seen hardship and he has seen loss, and he sees what sacrifice might be asked of a King, and what price a throne asks.

He is lucky indeed that his heart and his duty have met and mingled in Loki. But once he is King, he will be faced with many such choices, and luck is a fickle beast at best.

“You will be a better King for having someone to share that burden with,” his mother says, as ever reading more in his face than he expects. “So do not fret over it now. You are home, my son. Enjoy yourself.”

“Thank you,” Thor says again, feeling he ought to say much more, but not quite knowing how or why. His mother has been as constant as the sun in his life, warm and illuminating, and like the sun, he has always taken her steady presence for granted. Never again will he be so complacent.

But for now, the greatest compliment he can pay her is, for once, to do just as she says, and so he bids her farewell and goes to find his friends. He would very much like to go to a tavern, for he and Loki found few in their wanderings and Jotunheim has none at all, but given the announcement tomorrow, he will be mindful of gossip and keep to his quarters tonight.

He spies a servant as he winds through the palace and calls for ale and mead and a great feast to be brought to his dining chamber to share with his friends. If he cannot go to the revel, the revel will have to come to him.

***

An hour in to the best food and drink he has had for weeks, and he has still not found the revelry he was looking. This is not quite the homecoming he had imagined all those cold nights in Jotunheim.

“You’re really going to marry him?” Sif says, and her shock is mirrored on the faces of the Warriors Three.

“Yes,” Thor says for the third time, patience beginning to slip. “As soon as I can.”

“I cannot believe it,” Fandral says, looking horrified. “You really can’t get out of it?”

“I want to marry him,” Thor says, a shade too loudly.

Really?” Fandral says and Thor slams his goblet down on the table, making the piles of food jump and Volstagg tsk in annoyance as loose grapes fountain from his plate to the floor.

“I know this is unexpected,” Thor growls, “but I am going to marry him, not because I have to and not because I think I should, but because I love him. I would marry him if he were a spit-turner in Laufey’s kitchens, or the poorest peasant farmer in the realm. He will be here in a month and then we will be formally betrothed, so you had best get used to the idea.”

“Peace, Thor,” Sif says, holding up her hands with a wry smile. “We are not your enemies.”

“No, you are my friends,” Thor says with a touch of hurt. “Are you not pleased that I bring such happy news? That I went angry and bitter and came back in joy?”

“It’s a lot to take all at once,” Sif says bluntly. “We did not know what it was like for you over there. For the first week at least we expected you back with a dozen Frost Giant heads in hand!”

“I was wrong,” Thor says. “Wrong about them, wrong about Loki and wrong about myself. What did you think I was doing all this time? Stewing in my own anger for an entire season?”

“Getting into fights,” Sif says in a deadpan tone. “Annoying your prospective bride. Being generally disagreeable so they would send you back with a note saying ‘the wedding’s off’.”

“Looking and learning,” Hogun says as Thor scowls. “But not falling in love.”

“You took us to Jotunheim to start a war,” Sif points out, exasperation creeping in. “For years it has been ‘when I am King I will lead the army to Jotunheim’, ‘when I am King those bastards will learn to fear my name, ‘when I am King -’”

“Enough,” Thor says with a wince. “I was a fool. I have said it more than once today.”

“It’s just so strange!” Fandral says plaintively. “You – and a Frost Giant!”

“Me and a fellow Prince,” Thor corrects. “Me and Loki, who is witty and daring and intelligent and beautiful -”

“And a sorcerer,” Hogun says. “And not exactly the buxom maidens you have loved thus far.”

“I have not loved before,” Thor says firmly. “I have admired and courted and bedded, aye, and enjoyed many ladies who I trust enjoyed me as well. But not like this.”

Fandral gives him a despairing look. “You sound married already,” he complains. “Are you sure this Loki hasn’t enchanted you?”

“Not with magic,” Thor says irritably. “Why such suspicion? You have fallen in love with every kind of beloved in all the realms! You were the one who wanted to woo an íviðja yourself!”

“Well,” Fandral says awkwardly, glancing at Sif, who resolutely ignores him, “it’s just – look, we just always expected you to end up with someone – more like you. A warrior and a friend. Not a stranger.”

“Loki will bring balance to my rule,” Thor explains, “for his strengths complement, rather than match, my own. He is no stranger to me, and in time, will be no stranger to you either.”

Fandral shrugs. “A prince’s answer,” he says, smiling to take the sting out of the words. “I merely worry, my friend, that you will come to regret this choice later.”

“I thank you for your concern,” Thor says stiffly. “But it is misplaced.”

His friends look slightly uneasy and Thor makes no effort to dispel the tension. He is not at fault here.

“Fandral has always quailed at the thought of marriage,” Sif says as lightly as she can. “He runs screaming from those who speak as lovingly of it as you do.”

Fandral spreads his hands wide, looking relieved at the out. “It is my nature,” he says. “I am but a honeybee, drawn to each fresh new blossom I see -”

“If you make the stinger joke again, I will put your sword through your thigh,” Sif says and Fandral quickly shuts up.

“You are but a pup who knows no better,” Volstagg says, having finally finished his enormous chicken leg so he can join the conversation. “Marriage is a wonderful thing. Having someone to come home to, who will welcome you back with open arms and a refreshing drink and a twelve course roast -”

“You are very lucky to have found Hildegard,” Hogun observes. “Truly, a fortuitous match.”

“I tell her everyday how lucky I am to have her,” Volstagg says enthusiastically. “Pay no heed to these whippersnappers. We married men have loftier concerns than they will ever know.”

Sif and Fandral roll their eyes but Volstagg doesn’t seem to notice. “I made a new home with Hildegard after we were married,” he says thoughtfully, looking about the room. “But I suppose you will remain in Bilskirnir. There are no other quarters so fine, saving your parents’ rooms, of course. Will Loki have rooms of his own when he comes or will you both move into one of the larger guest chambers straight away?”

“Won’t he just move into Thor’s room?” Fandral asks. “Seems easier.”

“A couple need far more space than a man alone,” Volstagg informs him with boundless marital superiority. “Loki will want to decorate and such, anyway. Happens to all new wives – uh, husbands. Consorts. Nesting, it is. Besides, you both need somewhere to hole up when you can’t stand the sight of each other. A room to romp in and a room to retreat to, that’s the secret of a good marriage.”

“I thought ‘happy wife, happy life’ was the secret to a good marriage?” Sif says, looking incredibly unimpressed.

“Or ‘all your ups and downs should be kept between the sheets’,” Fandral adds.

“Surely it was ‘two words: Yes, dear’.” Hogun says, straight-faced.

“There are many secrets,” Volstagg says indignantly. “You should be grateful I am willing to share them so freely. Who else can advise our Prince in matters of matrimony? Or child-rearing, when the time comes?”

There is a sudden silence at this prospect.

“I do not know how we will manage our rooms yet,” Thor says after a long pause, tearing himself away from the thought of little ones clambering on his lap, Loki fond and attentive at his side. “The jötnar share beds and living space more than we do, but Loki likes to do things his own way. I will put it to him, when he comes.”

Volstagg nods approvingly, but the others seem caught in their thoughts. “Your children,” Hogun says quietly. “Half Asgardian, half Frost Giant. An unusual legacy.”

“So?” Thor says, his blood running cold at the careful tone. “That is the purpose of the match. Our children will unite the realms. Besides, my grandmother was jotun. My children will be like my father – wholly of Asgard, but kin to Jotunheim.”

The silence, somehow, grows even busier as his friends very carefully say nothing.

“That is a long way off yet,” Sif says with a forced smile. “First, we must meet your Loki, and get to know him as you do.”

“Yes,” Thor says. “Then you will understand.” They are as he was, he reassures himself, caught in ignorance and fear. Once they meet Loki, they will see that all the tales of Frost Giants are just old war-stories, and once they get to know him properly, they will see that he is the best thing to ever happen to Thor.

“Well, we have a month yet,” he says, forcing himself to be more cheerful. “Tomorrow, I have my duties, but after that, shall we ride to Skornheim and hunt down that lindwyrm you were telling me about?”

That cheers them up no end, and the conversation turns to what they will do, and then, inevitably, to the many glorious things they have already done, which grow ever more glorious with every recounting. Their shared history helps Thor relaxes into their company, and they drink and boast and laugh long into the night, blunting the sharp edges of the awkwardness that has been born of Thor’s time away. As the mead flows, Sif begins to ask more about Jotunheim, about what the jötnar were like, what he did there, and soon the questions tumble out of all of them. What is a land without sun like? Do they really eat only flesh? Are they as savage as the stories say?

Thor explains and explains and does his best to try and share with them a whole season’s worth of new knowledge; he is not sure all the detail is sinking in, but they hang on his words at least. There is one brief moment where the questions about Loki turn personal – too personal – and he wavers for a moment between answering honestly and being offended on Loki’s behalf. He settles for pointing out that the question is an unseemly one to be asking about his future husband, which earns him odd looks but no further prying into what is beneath the jötnar kjalta.

“He does sound wonderful,” Fandral says, gaze unfocused. “You said he had brothers?”

“Hrimthurs,” Thor laughs, picturing poor Býleistr faced with an ardent Fandral. “True giants. You would like one of his friends, though. Járnsaxa is as merry a companion as anyone could ask for – and he is keen to come here and make as many Aesir friends as he can.”

“Oh?” Fandral says. “Well, let it not be said that Fandral the Dashing was ever found wanting in diplomatic skill! I would be happy to escort this Jarnsaxa around our fair city.”

“In the name of peace and friendship between the realms?” Hogun says dryly.

“Of course, of course,” Fandral says quickly. “Jarnsaxa was the blonde one, yes?”

“Oh, please,” Sif mutters. “Go back to the bit about the sparring. What was it like facing a giant in the ring?”

“A challenge,” Thor admits freely. “Fighting an opponent so much taller and with a strength closer to my own is not something I am used to.”

“I know,” she says with a smug grin. “Tell me how often he knocked you on your arse.”

“No, tell us again about the hjorth,” Volstagg interrupts. “Beasts as big as the jotnar, eh? Good rack of ribs from them, then?”

“Show us this battle-axe,” Hogun adds. “It sounds a fine gift.”

“I cannot do three at once!” Thor says. “And I need more mead. This is thirsty work!”

The mead is plentiful and now his friends are over their shock, they quickly adopt his enthusiasm about the jötnar and Loki, to the point that they begin to hatch ridiculous plans for sneaking Thor back to Jotunheim to see him.

“I can wait a month,” Thor assures them, “and so can you. We cannot disobey the word of our King just because we do not like it.”

“Nothing can stand in the way of true love!” Fandral proclaims, clutching his hand to his breast. “What is disobeying your King next to fulfilling your heart’s desire?”

“Treason,” Thor supplies, giving him a friendly shove. “Don’t tempt me, my friend. I need you to keep me occupied until he comes, not get me into another mess.”

We are not the ones who got you into ‘a mess’,” Sif points out. “We were shovelling horse shit for days.”

That sparks a list of the evermore inventive and unpleasant duties inflicted on them as punishment after Thor left for Jotunheim; Thor certainly got the better of the deal there, and laughingly agrees he owes them a great many pleasant things to make up for it, starting with the lindwyrm hunt tomorrow.

Still, he waves them off to bed somewhat earlier than he usually would for such a celebration, and makes his way to his bedroom with a heart almost as heavy as his feet. It is both comfortingly familiar and painfully strange to stretch out alone in his own bed. The linen is crisp and smells of meadow flowers; it has been freshly made today for him, a thoughtful gesture. The down stuffed mattress is wonderfully soft after the stone beds of Jotunheim, and it is far more pleasing to stare up at vibrant red hangings and the ceiling carvings than rock and ice. His brown and black furs are just as plush as those of snowbeasts and the view from his window far more appealing, the velvety blackness of the night studded with stars and dusted with bright nebula clouds, their light reflected in the thousand lit windows of the city and shimmering over the water. He is home, and all is well.

Thor sighs and closes his hand over his pendant, trying and failing to pretend that its coolness is anything like Loki’s touch. A month has never seemed so long.