The first time Mother took her place on Hliðskjálf as Queen Regent, a day after Odin had collapsed into the Odinsleep, only Loki had accompanied her – even the Einherjar were kept outside the locked great throne room, doors spelled to open only to her or Loki’s touch. There, Gungnir in hand, she had taken her seat. Her eyes, already wide, had gone far-seeing, and her face assumed a grave expression.
When her vision had cleared and she focused again on Loki, she said, “I will call for a meeting with the Alþingi. We will hear their council. Laufey King is amassing his forces and building weapons. He knows quite well I will be watching him. He is not such a one to think Asgard helpless with my husband in the Odinsleep. But he would be a fool not to strike when he believes us at our weakest.”
“Will you bring back Thor from exile?” Loki was careful to keep all emotion out of his voice. His mother was always too perceptive. Inwardly – after the initial shock of Thor’s exile and the revelation of his parentage, after he’d gotten used to the idea of being without his brother – he began considering how for once fortune could well favor him. He kept telling himself he truly did not miss the great oaf. He reminded himself of his brother’s slights and insults, of the way he had always claimed all the credit for their successes in battle while dismissing Loki’s contributions to their victories.
But sometimes during the dark hours at night, he missed Thor. He tried to tell himself it was just the sex, but what he found himself remembering most often were their quiet conversations in the dark, or those moments when Thor held him tightly in his arms and they’d fallen asleep together, just as they had for most of their lives. Though he’d often sought risk or solitude, when he wanted companionship it was always with Thor. They’d had such fun! He could convince Thor to go along with almost any scheme he came up with and Thor enjoyed their escapades – if not the consequences the times they’d been caught. He missed the ease of companionship with the only other one who shared the all that it meant to be a prince of the House of Odin, the only relationship he had where no barrier of status lay between him and the other person.
Except he was Prince of the House of Odin only by the All Father’s fraud. But with Odin still asleep and with Thor gone he could step away from Thor’s shadow and into the light.
That is, unless Mother brought Thor back from Midgard.
“No,” she said. “The King’s order stands; I cannot countermand it. Moreover, I cannot remove the spell he placed. Thor will live a mortal life, with no memory of who he is, until he proves himself worthy.” For a moment her voice slipped to betray sorrow. “But…” her expression turned to steady resolve again. “We need strategy now, not the brute force which caused this problem. Much as I love your brother,” her gaze forbade him to deny that word, “I know full well that intelligence and guile are as much a part of war as force of arms. And those things,” she said as she rose, “are your gifts. Make good use of them, my son. Do as you have always done for your father.”
She fixed him with her gaze. Your brother, my son, your father. Loki, certain she knew he had been about to deny kinship, didn’t protest the words though they sent a tangled frisson of rejection and pain lancing through him.
“Work done in the shadows wins more wars than battles,” she continued. “Despite what your brother and so many Asgardians think.” She began descending the stairs. “For now, I will call for regular hearings of petitioners. All must go on as always in Asgard, lest any of our allies or enemies think us weak.”
He walked beside her as she headed toward the great doors. She gave him a sidelong glance. “You will be with me at the hearings. Listen, and give me your counsel.”
“Of course,” he said smoothly. Would you ask me thus, if you knew I was the one who let the Jötnar in? He kept his face still. Those words would never cross his lips.
No one would ever know it had been he who had been responsible for this debacle, for Thor’s exile, for the impending war. Now – with Thor out of the way – now was his chance to prove himself as worthy as Thor had ever been.
The vast doors opened at Frigga’s touch and she walked regally out, Loki by her side, the Einherjar closing protectively around them as they headed to their private chambers.
As the Jötnar ambassador and his party arrived in the feasting hall, Loki, standing behind the High Table besides his mother, kept his face aloof and proud, a careful mask concealing the chill within. He felt barely able to move, to speak, as the monsters approached. His muscles felt as locked and rigid as if he were still made of the same icy material as they. It took every bit of his will to prevent himself from looking down at his hands, to check, as he had obsessively checked over the last many days after the Jötunn’s touch, after touching the Casket, that they were still the correct color.
Frigga, standing behind him, showed a warm and welcoming face to the Jötnar as they were officially presented. Ambassador Thrivaldi bowed with exactitude to degree of tilt of head and lowering of gaze, clearly familiar with Asgardian protocol. Frigga glowed with good will as she made a pretty welcoming speech, which the Ambassador returned with thanks precisely stated in formal terms.
Savages, Loki thought, watching them closely. He swallowed, repelled by the lines snaking over their skins, their blue skin making him think of poisoned corpses. Disgusting. He kept his face carefully attentive.
The Jötnar party were shown to their table and the feast began, an event worthy of the highest nobility, with every Jötnar dish and honor Frigga knew to give.
The ambassador and his party kept to their table the entire time, remaining mostly silent even amongst themselves, and watched the Aesir closely. The Aesir at the feast kept up polite conversation at their own tables, studiously correct in their manner should one pass by the Jötnar table. The Queen had made it quite plain her sorcerous penalty for any show of animosity or offering of insult, necessary in these unsettled times, with no King on the throne, war looming ever closer, and everyone on edge. She’d softened the threat with honey, reminding them her husband would surely wake soon, and it would be best to have a plan to ensure Asgard’s victory already in place. He would be certain to appreciate their loyalty to her.
Frigga had ordered a great deal of entertainment to make sure any lapses in conversation didn’t extend into uncomfortable pauses. Dancers and bards performed old tales having nothing to do with warfare of any kind. The Jötnar watched, their faces expressionless, only occasionally trading innocuous comments among themselves, per Heimdall’s report after the feast was over.
Later, after they had been escorted to the recently re-opened palace wing meant for Jötnar guests, Loki joined Frigga in her private chamber, and at her gesture sat down at a table opposite her and accepted a glass of wine.
“Ambassador Thrivaldi – is he one of Laufey’s blood?” One of my blood, he did not say, and resented the understanding gleam in her eye.
“No.” Her affectionate expression was entirely too knowing. “He is a high noble, but none of your kin.”
Kin. That word now tasted like ash. He held himself still, resisting the urge to get up and pace. All too clearly now he understood Thor’s need for action. He wanted them all dead. But there were better ways. Subtler ways. Finally, he asked the question he’d been biting back. “The one who touched me on Jotunheim and revealed the truth to me – what if another saw?”
“They would not have withheld this knowledge for so long. No one knows.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Loki. Son. No one needs to know. Nothing has changed.”
“Never,” he agreed. “No one must ever know.” And when he found a way to destroy them all, there was no risk he’d ever be revealed for who he truly was.
Ambassador Thrivaldi presented his demands the next day in diplomatic but hard language. The Queen then presented her terms. The silence in the Council chamber was shocking after his departure. Then, all the Counselors attempted to speak at once.
Queen Frigga raised her hand. “Leave us,” she said, and they carefully backed out of the chamber. As soon as they were safely alone, she turned toward Loki. “They will not accept my offer.”
“No,” he replied. “Nor will we accept theirs.” Frigga had instantly rejected their first offer, the execution of Thor, and the execution of 10 Asgardians for every Jötunn slain on their ill-fated trip to Jotunheim. Instead she had made a counter offer to pay weregeld in the amount of ten times the weight of each slain Jötunn in gold.
“The game will be a long one,” Frigga observed, taking out a hnefatafl board. She set out the pieces, arranging the red pieces around the king piece, huddled together at the center board, with the white opposing pieces grouped equally on all four sides. “Your choice. Will you take the lesser force and the protection of the King, or the greater attacking force? The red, or the white?”
He reached for the board, his hand hovering over the red pieces, the side defending the king. In the past he had preferred playing the red, though Mother had often insisted he play the attacking force as well, as it was necessary to learn both sides in order to achieve true mastery of the game. He stared down at the king piece, then, angered at the crumbs Odin had always thrown him while Thor had feasted, he looked up at his mother.
“The white,” he said.
She lifted her eyebrows only slightly and he immediately wanted to change his choice. He should have lied about his feelings by choosing the red. But no, he told himself. He didn’t care.
They sat to play. But her assessing gaze had left him unsettled, and he went on the attack ferociously and recklessly. She, for her part, played a calm and measured game, and far too soon her King had reached the safety of the perimeter and he resentfully conceded defeat.
And thought of Thor, exiled to Midgard, his memory taken from him, now embodied as a mortal child.
And decided to pay him a visit.