There was a false king on the throne of Asgard.
And as far as Syn could tell, she was the only one who’d noticed.
She’d come to the castle of Odin as a child, working in the kitchens. She’d sliced her fingers peeling vegetables and burned her arms on pots of soup and kettles for tea. It was difficult work but she’d done it well and never complained where anyone could hear. She’d been rewarded, eventually, by becoming a handmaiden for the queen. Dresses and jewels were far less dangerous than the kitchens. She had seen a great deal of the royal family while working for the queen. She knew the king and his sons by sight and sound and even smell, though she doubted any of them would know her face.
And the man calling himself Odin the Allfather was not who he said he was.
The illusion was good, she admitted that. At times it seemed to shimmer over him, like a mirage in the heat. And certain sentences were him, through and through. Certainly he had fooled everyone else who had laid eyes on him. Thor himself had been fooled. But there wasn’t an illusion made that Syn the Truthful couldn’t see through.
Loki Laufeyson sat on the throne and no one knew but her.
She’d been sent back to the kitchens after the queen’s death, this time as a serving girl. It wasn’t nearly the life of a lady’s maid, but it was more prestigious than the scullery work she’d done before. She liked it well enough. She got to keep her larger servant room, wear a proper dress, walk freely about the palace and grounds. It was better than being tossed on the street, certainly.
It had been the first meal after the chaos has settled down. After the queen had died and Loki had disappeared and Thor had abdicated and gone to Midgard. The king had decided to throw a small dinner party for some of his advisors. She’d been carrying a large tray of smoked fish and had seen him at the head of the table. The illusion had shimmered around him as he turned and spoke to the man on his left. White hair flickered then changed to black and then back again. The eye patch ghosted on his face, dimming the blue of that eye. He’d smiled and it had been Loki’s knife blade smile and not Odin’s reluctant one.
Syn had faltered in her step, just slightly. Not even enough for the girl behind her to bump her. She’d carried her tray to the table and set it down without spilling a drop of oil or upsetting the carefully arranged fish. She’d set it down with a dip of her knees and stepped away from the table prepared to return to the kitchen for more food. No one could possibly have noticed the falter.
But he had.
She’d suspected it then, when she walked away. She thought he might have stared at her as she left. She’d returned promptly with ale jugs and had begun her rounds refilling goblets. She’d filled his once, avoiding eye contact. He was supposedly the king and she was a serving girl; it made sense for her to avoid his gaze. But he watched her. She knew he did. Watched her every move as if waiting for another mistake. She’d bobbed a curtsy passing him, forcing herself to act as if she saw nothing amiss. Everyone else was acting perfectly normal; she had to do the same.
Who could she tell, anyway? Who would believe her? Loki was supposed to be gone, dead on a distant world, redeemed in his death helping Thor. The news had actually softened the popular opinion on the young prince, turning him from traitor to tragedy. In a few decades, they’d be telling tales of him. No one would believe he had actually taken the place of the king. Certainly not if it was only a serving girl claiming it. And why should she bother? As far as she could tell he was doing his best to imitate Odin. If he started trying to conquer and kill, maybe someone else would notice anyway.
A week later, she helped serve his breakfast. He arrived before she and the other servants had finished setting up. She saw the recognition cross his face and wondered if there was something subtle in her expression that gave her away. She poured his tea and tried to keep a neutral mask on her features. At one point, he tried to catch her arm to get her attention and she dodged out of his reach before he could touch. He looked at her face and all she could do was shake her head slightly, tongue pressed against the back of her teeth to keep any words from spilling out. The moment lasted only a few heartbeats before she moved away to refill the teapot but she was certain he knew then. Knew that she knew. And that most likely she could count her life in days.
Instead he left the castle, taking a trip to one of the other worlds, ostensibly to see how repairs from the realm alignment were going. No royalty in the castle meant a lot of free time for the servants. She saw to her minimal duties, keeping the silver polished and the dining room spic and span. The rest of her days were spent sewing and reading and wondering if she should just run away and try to find work elsewhere. It felt as though a sword lingered over her head, suspended by only the thinnest of threads, waiting for the slightest touch to fall.
She knew when he returned, of course. The news swept through the servants quarters and when it reached Syn’s ears, she felt that sword loosen just a little more. She went about her business almost in a daze. The idea of running danced at the edges of her mind but it was a fantasy at best. She had nowhere to run to, that was the problem. The palace had been her home for centuries. She’d rarely even ventured to the village. The world and the realms beyond held only fear for her. So she stayed, waiting for that sword to fall.
Two days after his return, she was sent to his sitting room to set up the king’s breakfast. Now that he was the only royal in the palace, it wasn’t unusual for him to break his fast in private. It wasn’t the first time she had done the set up alone. It was the first time, however, she found herself locked in when she had finished.
She still held the door handle, desperately trying to twist it open, when the door to the king’s bedroom opened smoothly.
Syn held her breath, listening to the quiet thump of his footsteps on the marble floor. The panic that she had been ignoring all these weeks started to bubble up in her chest, giving her the urge to just scream. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to press it down.
“I know you,” he said as he grew closer to her. “You were one of the queen’s maids.”
He must have an incredibly powerful glamour on his voice, she thought. He sounded nothing like the rough grumble of Odin. She forced herself to open her eyes and turn slightly so she could track him out of the corner of her eye. “Yes, sire.”
He stopped at the sound of her voice. “What’s your name, girl?”
Insanely, her hackles raised a bit at that and she found herself straightening and looking at him more fully, though the overlapping images hurt her head. I’m scarcely younger than you, she wanted to say. Instead she replied simply, “Syn.”
He tilted his head and she had to glance slightly away before the double vision of him and his glamour made her dizzy. “Syn,” he murmured, drawing the syllable out. “Syn, Syn, Syn. Syn the Truthful, isn’t that what she called you?”
She blew out a breath, focusing just over his right shoulder. “Yes, sire.”
“Whyever would she call you that? Maids don’t usually get titles.” He was giving her the arrogant prince smile; she knew it without having to look at him.
She rolled her shoulders. “I have a curse.” He didn’t reply and she risked a look at him so she could truly appreciate the befuddled expression on his face. “My great grandfather was, by all accounts, not a very nice man. Someone cursed him and his line so that he could no longer speak a falsehood, thereby rendering all of his dealings honest. Over the generations, the curse twisted a bit so that no one in my family can withstand any sort of falsehood. We can’t lie and we know when others are lying.” She bit hard on her lip to keep more information from spilling out.
“My- the queen knew this?” He sounded thoughtful now, which was almost certainly a bad thing.
“Yes. She took me on as a maid after I told her a particular dress was unflattering. No one else had had the nerve.”
He laughed and she dared look at him again. He was studying her far too intently and smiling. Not the dangerous, knife blade smile, but a real one. A delighted smile. He took as step closer to her and she pressed her back to the door, bracing herself. “Tell me, then, Syn the Truthful, who am I?”
The panic battered against the inside of her chest, causing her to breathe quickly. It took everything she had to keep looking at him as he closed in on her. “You’re the king of Asgard.” She expected to feel the throb of pain in her brain she usually felt when trying to lie or bend the truth but it didn’t come. With Odin gone and Thor in Midgard, she supposed Loki was the king.
He braced his arm on the wall beside the door, looming above her. She could scent him now and if she hadn’t been certain before, she was now. Odin smelled of iron and leather and wood smoke. Rich, earthy scents. Loki’s scent was sharp and fresh, like pine needles and mint and the crisp chill of snow. “My name, girl,” he said quietly, face far too close to hers. “I want to hear it.”
The chill of him seeped into her, freezing the panic tearing at her, changing it to a sort of deadly calm. Whatever happened next was entirely out of her control and had been from the moment he’d suspected she knew. Fear wouldn’t change a thing.
She met his gaze, clear and blue. This close, she could barely see the illusion. “Loki Laufeyson.”
He pushed away from the wall, grinning widely. “Illusions don’t work on you,” he said, sounding amused again. The fury she’d expected wasn’t there. In fact, he’d sounded amused from the moment he’d started talking, like a child with a new toy. Probably best to keep that mood going.
“I know you have one on,” she said. “It overlaps your true form.”
He was pacing excitedly. “The other day you wouldn’t let me touch you, why?”
She sighed in annoyance that had been a long time building up. “The curse is almost a physical thing;, it soaks my skin. I can dissolve illusions if I come into contact with them. When people touch me they feel compelled to tell the truth. If you’d touched me, it’s likely others would have seen you as I do, Loki with an Odin mask. Or it could have ended the illusion entirely. I didn’t want to risk it.”
He stopped and looked at her in a new light, some of the amusement gone. She pressed into the door again, finding odd comfort in its weight. “You were. . . protecting me?”
She blinked, thrown by the question. She honestly hadn’t thought of her reaction in that way. She’d thought of protecting her own hide but in truth he would have been the one attacked. “I didn’t want to be in the middle of a bloodbath,” she said carefully, discovering the truth even as she spoke it. “I have nothing to gain by exposing you.” The truth of that seemed to surprise them both.
He strode back to her and lifted a hand. For a split second, she thought he was going to strike her, though she had no idea why. But he simply touched her arm, just above her elbow, where her tunic left it bare. His skin was shockingly cold and a crackle of electricity stung her. His glamour shimmered with gold and green light and faded, leaving him fully himself, not blurred behind his father’s image.
The other kitchen girls had always gossiped about the princes. Thor was the favorite by far. Tall and fair and a fine warrior from an early age. He could have crooked a finger at any of them and they would have joined him in bed. Possibly more than one. And to the best of her knowledge he had, on occasion, crooked his finger during a feast. Never at her, though. Which was just as well, as she’d preferred the younger prince, at least before he’d rebelled. Thor was loud and big and seemed to take up the whole room when he entered it. Even the Great Hall seemed too small to hold him. Loki had always drifted in the shadows, ignored, forgotten. She’d often passed him tucked away on a window ledge or quiet nook, usually reading some dusty tome or another. Something in that had called to her, though she’d never admitted it. She’d never been this close to him, with all of his attention on her before. She rather wished it had happened before he went evil and power-mad. Her heart was threatening to pound out of her chest and she didn’t know if it was from fear or anticipation.
He released her, shaking his hand out, then staring at it. His brow furrowed and the glamour rippled around him again, then faded. “Interesting,” he murmured, strolling away from her again. He was still studying his hand and she glanced at her arm. His touch had left a little pink weal where the glamour and curse had clashed. She rubbed it in dismay, then tried to rearrange her tunic to cover it.
Loki touched his palm with the fingers of his other hand, his back still to her. “The door is unlocked,” he said, voice neutral.
She looked at him in shock. “R-really?”
He turned his head slightly. “Yes. Go.”
She tried the handle and found it moved easily. Without taking her eyes off him, she opened the door and slipped out, closing it behind her. She strode down the hall, hand to her chest over her still pounding heart. She’d survived. She had no idea how or why but she had.
The sun set and rose again and still he didn’t kill her. Nor the next day, or the day after. She saw him at supper and glimpses of him in the halls. She heard his voice echo off the walls when he argued with his advisors. He barely spared her a glance or, she assumed, a second thought. It seemed utterly impossible, but despite knowing his secret Loki seemed uninterested in destroying her.
It was almost planting season, which meant it was time for the council meetings, when the nobles could come and request audience with the king to discuss the creation of new laws. It meant a palace full of guests, which kept her and the other servants busy. It kept her mind occupied now that the worst of her dread had faded. It was nice in some ways to be invisible again.
She was laying out the plates and cups for the luncheon while the sounds of men arguing echoed from the great hall. It was really a two person job, but the other girl had been called back to the kitchen to help finish cooking. Syn rather enjoyed the solitude, the chance to arrange everything just so.
“Did she talk to you?”
Syn jumped, almost dropping the stack of plates she had tucked on one hip. She whirled to find Loki standing behind her, lounging against the wall. She shook her head, blinking rapidly, but he was still there, though she could still hear the men arguing in the other room. “How-who-?”
He waved a hand. “They’re arguing for an illusion. I’m half paying attention. I’ll just agree with one of them at the end.”
She shook her head and went back to setting the table. “Did who talk to me?”
“My mother. Frigga.”
Syn paused and glanced at him again. “Sometimes. I was her maid for a long time.”
She finished the stack of plates she had and went to the box to gather more. “About two hundred and fifty years. I was in the kitchens before that.”
He watched her like she was prey, lounging on the wall almost casually. “How long have you worked here?”
“I came here when I was five hundred. I’m just over one thousand now.”
“Five hun- You were only a child.”
Syn looked at him and quirked a brow forgetting briefly who he was. “Not everyone lives a prince’s life.”
“Still. I didn’t think the old man stood for child labor.”
She lifted a shoulder. “Small, lots of energy, strong legs, little hands. There’s a lot of uses for a small girl in a kitchen. I wasn’t hauling boiling pots or splitting logs.” She put the last plate on the table and straightened it firmly. “Working for your mother was better, of course.”
There was a shimmer and she noticed he had something in his hands he was playing with. She couldn’t make out what it was, only that it was shiny. “What did she talk about?” he asked. It was almost sad how casual he was trying to make his voice.
“You,” she said, because it was both what he wanted to hear and the truth. “Your brother some, too, but mostly you. She was still training you in magic when I started with her. She was very proud that you had taken after her.”
He didn’t respond and she didn’t look at him, scooping up the basket of utensils to start laying out. “We would discuss politics when I had been in the position longer. Odin would tell her things that were weighing on him and sometimes she would mull them over with me. She said I was a good sounding board.” She focused intently on her task. The queen had been gone a scant few weeks and Syn still missed her greatly. She couldn’t imagine what her own son felt. He hadn’t even been allowed to attend the funeral. “She was very kind,” she added softly.
“Who are you talking to?”
She whirled to see Groa, one of the other serving girls, standing in the doorway. She was regarding Syn like she was mad. It took everything Syn had not to glance at the wall Loki had been leaning on. She bit her lip and said carefully, “Myself.” It was a half truth and caused a dull throb of pain at the base of her skull.
Groa shook her head and set down the basket of linens she’d brought up, turning and heading back to the kitchen without another word. Most likely so she could tell the other girls how strange Syn was being again.
Syn sighed and rubbed at her now sore neck. Well, what could she do. She was odd. She hid it best she could and got on with most of the kitchen staff. But it didn’t make her less odd.
“So you can lie.”
He was very close to her, no longer safe along the wall. She turned to glare at him and found him only a foot from her, looming over her like a cat inspecting a bug. “I can bend the truth some. It causes me pain, though.” She slammed a fork on the table with far too much force. “You spend a thousand years unable to lie and see if you don’t find a loophole or two.”
He straightened, hands behind his back, rocking on his heels a bit. “Unable to lie. It sounds horrid.”
“It’s seeing it in everyone else that’s maddening.” She continued setting the table with extreme prejudice. “Never believing an insincere compliment, no matter how kindly meant. Always knowing when gossip is a tall tale or true. I can’t even enjoy a play or a riddle because I always see through to the truth.” She had done all she could where she was standing and she was so wound up in her speech she pushed past him to continue her work. “Seeing through every damned illusion but having to hide it from everyone around me. Because no one likes the person who points out the strings in the puppet show.”
He got in her way again. “You’re not afraid of me, are you?” he asked, the dangerous smile on his face.
She wondered idly what the right answer was. What she would say if she could say anything but the truth. Did he like it when everyone was afraid of him? Or was he longing for someone who didn’t cower? She looked down at her basket of knives and forks and spoons, then set it carefully on the bench before looking up at those sharp blue eyes. “You’re a force of nature. I fear you the way a fisherman fears a storm in the distance. I can’t out run you. I can’t hide from you. You may sink me. You may fill the nets with fish. You may ignore me entirely. But there’s very little I can do to influence the outcome. All I can do is brace myself and hope for the best.”
He tilted his head closer to her. “Most people compare my wayward brother to storms,” he said quietly.
Syn snorted. “Thor has always struck me as more of an earthquake. Tears through with little thought to the consequences and leaves it for everyone else to pick up the pieces in the ruin left behind.”
He drew away from her as if struck. Then he laughed. Loud and deep, from his belly. She couldn’t recall if she’d ever heard him laugh that way. Without a hint of artifice. His smile when he was done was almost soft. It made him look younger. “I like you,” he said appraisingly, sounding almost surprised.
She blinked. “Because I don’t like you’re brother?”
“Well, it’s certainly part of it.” With a shimmer he was gone. She couldn’t resist rubbing at her eyes and searching for him, but even with her true sight she couldn’t see how or where he had gone.
She leaned on the table briefly. Well, if he liked her maybe he wouldn’t kill her.
And so it went for a while that he would surprise her as she went about her day and they would talk. It was usually when she was working and, fortunately, always when she was alone. She really didn’t know what she would have done if he’d expected her to chat in a room full of people. She supposed the gossip about her would increase exponentially.
Once he found her in the gardens on her day off and they spent most of the afternoon there, speaking of his mother. It was mostly Syn who spoke, telling him stories and gossip that she and Frigga had shared. It had been strangely normal. There had been moments she’d forgotten who he was and it was like they were just two friends catching up after a long time apart. When he had finally left her she’d been confused and restless, as if the world had shifted somehow and she couldn’t quite put her finger on the difference.
She was still trying to come to terms with this new reality, where the false king of Asgard bothered her regularly to reminisce about his dead mother, when she woke up to said false king lounging at the foot of her bed.
It was her day off and while she usually took that time to attend to laundry or shopping in the market, this one time she had decided to sleep in and allow herself a true day of rest. She had been looking forward to waking slowly and enjoying the warmth of her bed for a while.
Instead she jerked upright, clutching the bedclothes to her chest. “What-?”
He scowled. “You’re room is too small. There’s no room for proper pacing.”
She honestly had to resist the urge to throw her pillow at him. “Well, you’re the king. I’m sure you could give me a promotion.” He made a face not unlike a grumpy toddler. Syn rubbed a hand over her face. “Why are you in my room while I’m sleeping?”
“I have a problem and it’s vexing me. It kept me up last night.” He got to his feet and paced to the door and back in only a few steps. He was right, there wasn’t a lot of pacing room in here. Or much space for anything besides her bed and armoire. “I became a king to rule. To conquer. Not to solve problems for peasants.”
Syn groaned quietly and drew her knees up to her chest, resting her head on them like they were a pillow. “Is it grievances week already?”
“Yes,” he hissed, pacing again. She had a feeling the closed quarters were only adding to the agitation. “I’ve been listening to farmers and bickering married couples and belligerent heirs for three days. I’m going to either go mad or start ordering executions. Perhaps both.”
Once every few years, after the council meetings, the king held a grievances week, wherein anyone could come before him with a problem and he would rule on it. Frigga had often heard some as well, to ease the burden on Odin. The image of Loki listening to two men quibble over horse breeding rights was almost enough to make her giggle. But the common people often looked forward to the opportunity to end disputes.
“Rulers do, on occasion, have to rule their actual subjects.” He whirled to glare at her and she swore she felt ice down her back. “Right,” she said, striving to sound normal. She scooted back on the bed, plumping the pillow behind her. Her night gown covered at least as much as her usual tunics and dresses so she stopped clutching the covers, more interested in keeping her bare legs hidden. “What’s the problem?”
“Two farmers are debating over a boundary line. It was drawn a hundred years ago and each has a map showing a different line. I’m to decide how the boundary is actually drawn. They’re both influential men, making either of them angry is politically unwise. Or so I’m told.”
She tipped her head back on the headboard. “The obvious choice would be to draw a line between the two map lines and spilt the difference.” He gave her an exasperated look as he paced past her. “Already suggested that, of course.” She rubbed her face with both hands this time. It was far too early to be giving royalty advice. “I haven’t even had breakfast yet,” she muttered.
He made a gesture on his way past and a tray of food appeared on her bed. She glanced at him before reaching for the steaming cup of tea and a slice of toast dripping with butter. The tea was hot and strong and the toast perfectly crunchy. “This is your breakfast,” she said around a mouthful of food.
“I wasn’t hungry but they brought it anyway.”
She ate one piece of toast and then another mulling over his problem. Finally she leaned back again and cupped her tea in both hands, sipping. “How big is the disputed area?”
“Five to eight meters wide and the length of their border.”
“Tell them the disputed land is now property of the crown and that you’ll let those who can’t afford their own land to use it to grow food for their family. They’ll likely be begging you to split it down the middle.”
He had paused his pacing and was staring at her. “That’s marvelous.”
“My father always said that the best compromises were the ones that made both parties the angriest.” The cup was empty and she leaned to place it on the tray. “You have a room of advisors that would have helped you with this. Why did you come to me?”
He scoffed. She didn’t think she knew anyone who had such a range of dismissive noises. “They’re Odin’s advisors. They think they’re giving Odin advice. Which means the sit and wait for me to say something and then fall over each other to agree with me.”
She plucked a berry out of the fruit bowl balanced on the tray and popped it in her mouth, studying him and the sudden shadow that passed over him. “That’s only partly true,” she said. “And you know it.” His eyes narrowed but her mouth kept talking. “I think you’re lonely. You have to pretend to be a man you hate all the time. People call you by his name. I’m the only person alive who knows who you are. That you’re even alive. So you seek me out. So you can be yourself, even for a few moments.” She had to take a bite of orange to stop the flow of words.
He had turned from her while she spoke and she had no idea what she would see when he looked back. Fury. That knife’s blade smile. The glare that sent chills down her spine. She chewed the sweet, tart fruit and braced herself for the oncoming storm.
“I do hate him,” he said quietly, looking at his own hand. “I used to want nothing more then his approval. And now. . . I hate him.”
It was then she realized how right she had been. How very, very lonely he must be. And how strange it must be for him to have only a frightened servant to speak with. She reached for the teapot on the tray and refilled her cup. “My mother once told me she knew she loved my father by how often she wanted to throttle him. Love and hate aren’t as far apart as we’d like to think. You have to care for someone before you can hate them. Otherwise you wouldn’t think of them at all.”
He let his hand drop. “You’re really not going to tell anyone, are you? About me?” he asked finally, voice quiet. She thought he was most dangerous when he was quiet. It reminded her of what he’d lost and made her forget all he’d done. It made her want to trust him.
The truth came out of her wether she liked it or not. “There’s no reason to. If I tell people while you’re pretending to be Odin no one will believe me and you’ll have reason to execute me for treason. Or lock me up forever. And if you decide to stop acting like Odin then other people will get suspicious on their own and I won’t have to do a thing.”
He glanced at her, eyes unreadable. “That was remarkably ruthless. Especially from someone who’s not. . . me.”
“We’re all ruthless if we’re honest with ourselves.” She took another slice of orange. “I have no option to be otherwise.” She took a moment to breathe in the scent of the orange, just enjoying the sensory experience. “That’s why you like me. Because I won’t lie to you. And you’re surrounded by lies.”
His jaw twitched at the comment and she was sure that was it, the last truth she’d get to regret. She sipped her tea and watched him, wondering what mood he might have switched to next. Instead he took two steps forward and seemed to shimmer into the shadows near her door. The breakfast tray shimmered as well, leaving her alone, with only the tea cup in her hand.
My depiction of Asgardian politics is based partially on what I know of old Norse culture.
Syn's age is based on math I've seen putting Asgardian life expectancy around 5000 or so.
I am my only editor so all mistakes are my fault. :)
For the rest of grievances week he appeared in her room with problems and food. It was a painfully bad idea to let the Trickster know her weakness. But by the realms, did the man have access to wonderful food. She made a point to take an extra shift cleaning the kitchen so her clothes would continue to fit. There was no more talk of his family or feelings. He’d reverted to the slightly mad, acerbic prince she’d seen most of her life.
When the week was over the visits stopped. The palace and town seemed to empty out. It was spring, a time of hard work for the farmers and merchants. Some of the servants left the palace for more lucrative work. With only the king in residence a full staff wasn’t required. Syn didn’t mind taking on extra work. It kept her busy. It kept her from thinking that she missed him.
It was madness to miss him. She shouldn’t want him to visit her and bring her treats. He was not a gentleman courting her. He was a killer. A liar. He could still decide to kill her for knowing his secret. It was like toying with a cobra or petting a tiger. At any moment she could get bit and there would likely be no warning at all. She knew this. Every time they spoke there was a moment or two where her heart would pound and she would be sure it was over. And then the moment would pass and she’d be left on unstable ground again, not sure what was real and what wasn’t.
Because the rest of the time he was just a man. Funny and clever and offering her oranges or sweets with a teasing smile and a crooked brow. The first time she’d been surprised he’d noticed. Noticed what she’d eaten and that she’d enjoyed it. No one noticed her. She didn’t like being noticed. It lead to questions and whispers and people avoiding her. Because no one wanted to be around the girl who always told the truth. No one wanted to be friends with someone who saw through their lies.
He noticed her. He’d known her name the first time they spoke. He knew her habits, her work routines. He knew what she liked to eat and how to use it to bribe her. No one had paid that much attention to her since, well, since his mother. She’d known her weakness for oranges, too. She’d cared about her opinion. When she’d died Syn had lost more then an employer. She’d been a friend. If not a mother figure then an aunt or older sister. She missed having someone to talk to who wasn’t afraid of her curse.
He wasn’t afraid of her, though he likely should be. She melted his magic, increased the risk of him being found out just by being in the room with him. A liar shouldn’t take up with the embodiment of truth telling. One of them was going to destroy the other sooner or later and she didn’t think she had the slightest chance of being on the winning side.
It was midsummer in Asgard. The days were warm and long and oddly quiet in a palace that used to teem with life. Syn stood out in the gardens, tucked away in the deep shadow of the palace, watching the sky change color as the last of the sunlight seeped away. She hadn’t seen Loki in days, not even at meals and there were murmurings belowstairs that the king was ill as no one had laid eyes on him recently. Summer was a slow time for politics and Odin and Frigga had often used it as a sort of holiday, visiting friends and throwing lavish parties. With no Frigga (and no Odin, she reminded herself) there would be no reason to travel, no one to plan the parties. Especially not the queen’s birthday-
She heard a cry echo through the halls behind her, followed by a crash. Soldiers ran past her without a glance and she followed before she could think better of it. She passed other servants and more soldiers and tried to make herself small and unimportant so she wouldn’t be noticed. The soldiers burst through the door to the king’s chambers and she slid in with them, drifting to the side while they scanned for danger.
The room was in chaos, with broken glass and pottery on the floor, tables and chairs tipped over and a wall hanging half ripped from the wall. Over lapping it all was an illusion of the room set perfectly to rights, immaculate and clean. She stood by the ruined wall hanging, carefully keeping the illusion of it between her and the guards. If she didn’t touch it or the illusion maker directly it should hide her easily.
Odin stood in the center of the room, decked in all his kingly robes and cape and was explaining the noise to the guards. She hardly paid him any mind. Loki sat in the only upright chair left, a fragile looking thing made of wood with crimson cushions. He wasn’t wearing his leathers, only a loose blank tunic and grey breeches. Back bent, head bowed he looked sad and defeated, hands bloody and playing with something shiny she had seen him toy with before.
The soldiers filed slowly out, apparently satisfied with whatever excuse the illusion had given them. Syn stayed where she was, holding her breath as the room emptied, leaving her alone with him. In retrospect, this had probably been a stupid thing to do.
“I know you’re there,” he said quietly as the illusion melted around them with a shimmer. Her ears popped a little and she resisted the urge to rub them and settled for cracking her jaw.
She stayed against the wall a moment. “So, this is the king’s bedroom.” She glanced around. “You have plenty of room for pacing.” When he didn’t move or respond she pushed off the wall, walking gingerly through the broken glass, and tried again. “You’re bleeding.”
He made a sound that was almost a chuckle. “Yes. The mirror was rather stubborn.”
Well, at least he was pretending to be in an amiable mood. She could see shades of artifice on him but was willing to play along. For both their sakes. She scanned the room and spotted a pitcher on the floor by the toppled bedside table, a puddle growing beneath it. She made her way to it and hefted it, finding a few mouthfuls of water still inside. She brought it to his chair, carefully kneeling by his feet and used the last of the water to wet the end of her apron before carefully wiping the blood off him. “Are your hands always this cold?” she murmured, inspecting him for cuts.
“Always.” His breath stirred the hair at the top of her head but she didn’t risk looking at him.
There was a long gash on the palm of his left hand and dozens of cuts and abrasions on the fingers and backs of both. Two knuckles had split, one to the bone. She pressed his hands between hers, palms in. She hadn’t done this in a long time. She hoped she remembered how. She pulled her magic from deep within, focusing it into her hands until she felt an old, familiar heat in her palms.
She felt him take a breath, likely to ask what she was doing. Before he could form the words she pushed her magic into his hands, picturing it healing the wounds. His hands flexed in her grip but she held on until she was sure he was healed, then let him tug them away.
She left him staring at his newly healed skin as she stood, taking the pitcher with her to put back at his bedside. She untied her apron and bundled it up into a ball. She could probably sneak it down to the laundry later for cleaning. Then she surveyed the rest of the damage. First thing had to be the glass, she was going to cut her feet to ribbons soon. In the corner of the pantry was an old broom used to clean up spilled flour and the like. She pictured it, held out her hands and it appeared in them with a shimmer of gold. She began to sweep up the shards of glass.
“You have magic,” he said, voice harsh.
“Some,” she replied, keeping her tone calm and neutral, focusing on the broom and growing pile of glass.
“Only nobility carries the ability for magic. Not commoners. Not servants.”
She tried to right a chair to get to the shards beneath it. It was too heavy and she had to use a little power to help. She hadn’t used it in so long, but it came back to her easily. Almost greedily. Like an addiction she had given into after a long time sober. “You come from a long line of conquerors.” She swept the last of the glass into a tidy pile. “Did you ever think about what happens to those who’ve been conquered?”
He watched her wave a hand over the pile of glass to send it to the rubbish bin in the basement of the palace. She sent the broom back as well and got to work righting furniture. “Who are you really?” he asked after a moment.
She turned to face him. “Syn the Truthful, princess of Alfheim, daughter of Hoenir the Honest and Leikin the Gentle. Last of the royal family.” She lowered herself into a deep curtsey that would have made her mother proud. “At your service, my lord.”
They watched each other across his half wrecked room and she felt that odd sense of vertigo again. Of the ground beneath her feet shifting. But this time she knew where she stood. She was a princess as much as he was a prince. She had magic she’d all but forgotten about. She could look him in the eye if she wanted. So she pulled herself to her full height and did just that.
“I remember that,” he said finally. “When he conquered Alfheim. It was a slaughter.”
“Soldiers killed my parents and brother. I hid behind the throne until Odin found me. Even he couldn’t kill an unarmed girl. So he brought me home and put me to work.” Her smile was as sharp and bitter as any of his. “He seems to have a weakness for orphan royalty.”
He let out a bark of laughter, stepping towards her. “Well. You’re no more loyal to Odin then I am, are you?”
She titled her chin up. “I was loyal to her Majesty Queen Frigga.”
That gave him pause and she counted it as a win for her in whatever game they were playing. He stepped closer again, too close, and she had to resist the urge to step back. “And what of me?” he asked, soft and dangerous. “Where do your loyalties stand now?”
Close, he was too close. And she felt drunk on her rediscovered magic and the thrill of telling someone who she was. Of setting loose that particular truth. She stepped forward, so they were all but touching. “I’m the last of a royal line. I saw my family murdered, my people conquered and was taken from my home and put to work in the kitchen of my father’s enemy. My loyalty lies with myself and no one else.”
The knife blade smile flashed and she knew she’d finally crossed the line. She reeled away from him but he caught her around the throat with one hand and backed her swiftly into the wall with three rapid strides. She wrapped a hand around his wrist to brace herself, her toes barely touching the polished floor. His hand was cold on her skin, grip too tight to break, cutting off most of her air. She held his gaze as he leaned into her, still smiling, speaking through his teeth. “I thought of killing you when I first spoke to you,” he said, voice silky in it’s fury. “I thought you’d be amusing, if not useful. I still think of it, now and then.” His grip tightened a little and he stroked her jaw with his thumb. “I can’t decide if I want to kill you or bed you.”
A whimper caught in her throat and she scratched at his wrist ineffectually. He released her suddenly and she dropped, sagging against the wall as he flung himself away. “Why did I say that?” he rasped. “I didn’t mean to say that.” He was holding his hand away from himself as if it was a foreign thing.
She rubbed her throat, sucking in one breath, then another. “You were touching me,” she finally managed, voice hoarse. “My skin. I told you the truth come out when people touch me.”
He stumbled back another step, widening the space between them. He gripped the wooden footboard of his bed and sank slowly down to the floor, staring at the hand that had choked her. “I’m the monster they frighten children with.” It was said in a mocking, almost sing song voice.
Syn let herself slide down the wall, legs too shaky to hold herself up anymore. She leaned her head back against the wall, breathing too hard. “We’re all monsters to someone,” she told him. “The Dwarves tell stories about the Elves. The Jotun warn about the creatures from the Realm Below.” She closed her eyes, suddenly so tired. “We are all monsters.”
“Who was your bogeyman? Who features in the scary stories of Alfheim?”
She actually laughed a little, eyes still closed. “Odin and the Asgardians.”
The silence stretched between them until her breathing calmed and the ache in her throat eased. She was beginning to think she could fall asleep right there, cold marble and unpredictable man notwithstanding. Then he broke the silence. “It was her birthday. Today.” Syn opened her eyes and looked at him as he continued. “My mother. That’s why-” He gestured at the mess.
A corner of her mouth tilted up in a sad smile. “I know,” she said softly. “I remember.”
“She used to throw that ball every year. I never wanted to attend. I hate balls. But it made her happy.” He sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “I would have done almost anything to make her happy.”
“She used to say you could do anything in the realms except behave.”
He grinned, the soft one. “I heard that often growing up, yes.”
She swallowed around a lump in her throat and said, still soft, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
His eyes closed briefly and she saw his jaw twitch, but his voice was relatively neutral when he spoke. “Thank you. I’m sorry for what Odin did to you.”
The words were so unexpected they surprised tears to her eyes. She tightened her mouth in an effort to keep them from spilling over and managed to nod her gratitude before looking away.
He gave her a moment to compose herself before he started to stand. Syn forced herself to watch him, still wary of his mercurial moods. “There are guards at the door,” he said. “You shouldn’t be seen leaving this room at this hour.”
She hadn’t even thought of that when she’d come in. That seemed like an age ago, though it was likely less than an hour. She tipped her head back to look at him as he neared her. “What do you suggest?”
He held a hand out to help her up. “I know ways to get around that don’t require doors. A trick I picked up in my time between the realms.”
She looked at his hand, feeling the ghost of it wrapped around her throat. Now he offered it to her like a friend. Of course touching her meant more unpleasant truths might spill out. She reached up and took his hand. He pulled her to her feet easily, with little effort on her part. He looked at their joined hands. “It’s almost as if you trusted me,” he murmured.
“I expect you’ll kill me someday,” she said, too tired to be surprised at the confession. “But I trust you not to hurt me.” His gaze flickered to her face. “It’s a fine line, but it’s enough.”
His head titled, like he’d never considered the distinction. His other hand cupped her waist, cold even through the fabric of her tunic. He guided her to a dark corner away from the door. “Close your eyes, it can be a little disorienting otherwise.”
She searched his face for a hint of a trick and found none. He was watching her intently, though. Perhaps wondering exactly how far her trust stretched. She straightened her shoulders and closed her eyes.
There was a rustle of fabric as he leaned a little closer to her. His breath warmed her cheek as he spoke. “Think of your chamber. Fix the image firmly in your mind.” He paused to give her a chance to do so. “Till next time, Syn of Alfheim,” he whispered. There was a cool touch on her cheek that might have been a kiss. Then he gave her a gentle shove and she stumbled back a step.
She expected to hit wall but there was only opened air. Her arms pinwheeled for a grip and she opened her eyes instinctively, only to find herself in her own room, stumbling out of the shadows.
She gripped the edge of the bed, sinking onto the familiar worn blankets.
That could not possibly have happened.
She spent three days telling herself it hadn’t happened. She didn’t see him, not even at meals or in the Great Hall. It was almost as if he was avoiding her. On the evening of the third day she entered her room to find a basket of oranges. There was no note, but she had no doubts as to where it came from. It was far more then she could eat before they began to rot, but she was afraid to share with the other servants because she had no explanation as to where she had gotten them. So she ate them in the morning and evenings, alone in her room, enjoying each sweet sticky bite and trying not to think about who they were from and what that might mean.
The next week it was books. A small stack of them, on topics ranging from magic use, poetry, philosophy and fairy tales from the different realms. She didn’t recall telling him she enjoyed reading. He could have noticed the small shelf of books in the corner of her room. Or assumed that having been raised royal she would have the knowledge and desire to read for pleasure. Or he could have asked someone about her, which was a rather terrifying thought. Her first thought was to find some way to give them back. That was probably more likely to attract attention then just keeping them, though. And once she held the heavy leather bound philosophy book and the poetry volume with pages of cream colored velum she just didn’t have the heart to let them go. Her mother had had books like this at home and had read to her from them. She’d been too young to touch them, but had loved the smell and look of them.
She stayed up late reading the poetry, curled in bed. It was Asgardian poetry, so there was quite a bit of glory in war and beauty in victory. But there was a handful of love poems that were touching and oddly evocative. This time it was harder to forget where she had gotten the gift. She could easily imagine him reading these books. She’d often seem him tucked out of site with a book when they were younger. It was possible these were his favorite books and he wanted to share them with her. The thought warmed and frightened her in almost equal measures.
When she was done she climbed out of bed and found a scrap of paper and a pen and wrote Thank you. in her most elegant penmanship. Holding the paper, she pictured the gilt table that stood next to the red chair he had sat in the other night. She pictured the paper sitting on the table and with a shimmer of gold it vanished from her hands. As she climbed back into bed she tried not to think that this was the kind of present she would have loved from a suitor had her life not turned out very differently.
He didn’t acknowledge the note or her in the coming days. When the oranges were gone (once they grew overripe she was able to give some away with a very carefully worded hypothetical excuse of getting a good deal at the market) apples and summer berries took their place. Laying in bed with a book, carefully eating blackberries and trying not to get juice on the pages made her feel like the princess she’d never had a chance to be. She wondered if that had been his point all along. If he realized what a gift he was really giving her.
Her suspicions were somewhat confirmed the next week when a gown arrived in her room, hanging on the front of her armoire as if in preparation for a ball. It was lovely, shades of gold and green. She had no doubt it would fit perfectly, from the off the shoulder bodice to the gold chain belt designed to hang from her hips. And it was made of the finest fabric she had ever felt, bar none. It wasn’t the dress of a princess, it was the dress of a queen. And the fact she would never wear it was like a blade in her heart.
“You don’t look happy.”
It was a sign of something that she was no longer startled by him just appearing at her back. Best not to think too hard on it. “It’s beautiful,” she said, still stroking the fabric.
There was a creak of leather as he came closer. “I thought it would suit you.”
She closed her eyes briefly and stepped away from the dress. “You have to stop doing this. The gifts.” She looked at him. He’d stopped in midpace, hands behind his back, looking stunned and annoyed at her words. “The fruit was one thing. And I can’t tell you what the books mean to me. But someone is going to notice. Someone must know you had this dress made. You can’t keep giving me these things.”
“The king can do whatever he wishes.” His voice had gone low and dangerous. Anyone else would have taken it as the warning it was. But she was right and she knew it. And somewhere along the way, for good or ill, she’d lost some of her fear of him.
“He can. And his servants and subjects can talk about it. Worst case enough people notice that you’re acting out of character and start wondering. Best case they think you’re bedding me mere months after your wife of two millennia was brutally murdered.”
He flinched at that. “I can’t say I give a damn if the gossips think Odin is a dirty old man.”
She took a threatening step closer to him. “I don’t give a damn what they say about Odin either. But you will not disrespect you mother that way. Not when you can’t survive her birthday without destroying a room. Don’t you dare.”
The dark look left his face, replaced by one of his trickster grins. “You’re rather magnificent when you’re angry, did you know that?”
“I’m serious, Loki.” His name tripped off her tongue with far less difficulty then it should. She shouldn’t be on a first name basis with him. She shouldn’t be yelling at him for giving her gifts. She shouldn’t be talking to him at all. It was long past time to put a stop to it all. “No more gifts. No more attention. I’ll keep your secrets but you have to stop. You wanted the crown so badly. Be a king.”
He looked away from her, jaw tightening. Then he took two steps back and shimmered into the shadows, disappearing, leaving her with the dress, the books and a half full basket of ripening fruit. Syn stood there a moment, unable to believe it had been that simple. Then she tucked the dress into the back of her armoire and began to ready herself for bed.
Part of her still expected gifts to appear the next day. That she would have to have the conversation with him several times before it finally sunk in. But there was nothing the next night, or the night after. After a week free of surprises she began to think he had listened after all. That it was over. And she wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about that.
She saw him, in his Odin glamour, every now and then. She still served meals, especially when he had guests over. He would glance at her, now and then, with an expression she couldn’t read. She tried very hard not to look back at him. Not to encourage him. She read the books he’d given her almost every day. And she occasionally took the dress out to admire it. She didn’t have the strength to put it on, though. She was a bit afraid she’d never take if off again.
It had been long enough she could almost pretend it hadn’t happened at all when she found herself cornered in the dining hall by the Lady Sif.
Syn wasn’t entirely sure how it happened. She was tidying up after supper with three other servants when the other woman blocked her path. Sif and the Warriors Three hadn’t been at the palace as often now that Thor had left for Midgard. They had always been peacekeepers in the realms and with the recent alignment and return of the Dark Elves there had been enough unrest to keep them busy.
But they were here now and Sif stood before her. Syn had had very little contact with the warrior before and was a little nonplussed to realized she was slightly taller then the other woman. Her Ladyship was far more imposing in her black armor then Syn would ever hope to be, however. Especially with the intense expression she was aiming her way. “My Lady?” she asked, keeping her voice carefully neutral.
“Your name is Syn, yes? You used to work for the queen.”
“Yes, my Lady.”
“There are rumors about you. Rumors that have been brought to my attention.”
Everything in Syn went on high alert. She straightened her spine a little and put all her focus on Sif. She was almost certainly going to need to bend the truth and she would need to concentrate on the exact things asked and said to make sure she manipulated her words carefully. “About me?”
“You. And the king.” Sif watched her, eyes narrowed for a reaction. Syn kept her face as blank and confused as possible until the other woman spoke again. “It’s said he favors you. Has given you special considerations.”
Syn swallowed but didn’t break eye contact. “I was the queen’s servant for many years. He may have spoken to me about her. To reminisce.” A throb of pain began to build in the back of her head, as if all the things she wasn’t saying were threatening to burst out.
“Is it not strange for a king to speak to a servant about such things?”
“People do strange things when grieving.” Like disposing of their father and taking his place with an elaborate illusion-Stop.
Sif’s posture radiated distrust. “It’s said he gave you gifts. A gown?”
Quick as her mind was she could not think of a way to twist that into a reasonable truth. She glanced briefly over the Lady’s shoulder only to find the other servants were gone and she was alone, with no chance of rescue. She looked back at the warrior’s face. The moment had come. She had to tell the truth. Reveal Loki and send everything into chaos.
Instead, she dug her fingernails into her palms and lied for the first time in her life. “I know nothing of a gown, my lady. I have only spoken to the king a handful of times.” Pain exploded in her head, so strong she almost dropped to the floor. She locked her knees and continued. “Perhaps the rumors told to you were false.”
The seemed to set the other woman back a bit. “I’m told you never lie.”
“It’s true, my lady. A family curse going back generations.” She’d hoped a truth would ease some of the pain, but it was still pounding through her, as if someone was stabbing her brain. Pure willpower kept her standing.
“Then I’ll ask you one more time. Is there anything you know about the king? Anything odd or out of the ordinary?”
Breathe. “No,” she said and the pain lanced down her spine. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out. “I know nothing of interest to you,” she added, hoping the tightness in her voice sounded like frustration and not agony.
Sif sighed and turned with a wave of her hand, dismissing her. Syn wasn’t entirely sure she could move, but she managed to take a step, then another, out of the hall.
It was the most excruciating pain she had ever experienced. After a few more steps her vision started to grey at the edges. She kept a hand on the wall and staggered down the stairs to the servant’s quarters. She was expected in the kitchens to finish cleaning but she was fairly certain she was dying and she refused to spend her last moments in the kitchen.
Her left leg had given out by the time she reached her chamber door. She dragged herself into the room and collapsed on the hard floor. She tried to move her legs to crawl forward but they didn’t obey her. Her vision was almost gone. It occurred to her that she should find some way to warn Loki that there were suspicions, but there was no urgency to the thought. She was dimly aware of whispering his name and imagined the sound traveling through the palace to his ear. She felt the heat of her magic gather in her and wondered if it was trying to keep her alive.
It was the last thought she had before falling into darkness.
Syn opened her eyes, aware somehow that time had passed but with no sense of how much. She was vaguely surprised to be alive. Less surprised to find she couldn’t move. Breathing required focus and effort. She heard the rustle of fabric and Loki appeared in her view. His face was taut, in an expression she’d never seen on him before. Her brain was too muddled to sort it out, but she found herself happy he was there regardless.
“Syn.” Her name came out a rasp and she watched him swallow before speaking again. “What happened? What’s wrong with you?”
She took another careful breath trying to remember how to talk. “Lied,” she managed in a whisper.
“Lied. You lied?” She blinked slowly. “About me?” he asked, voice raspy again.
His mouth thinned into an angry line and he glanced away from her. She let her eyes drift shut again, exhausted. “Syn, no. Tell me how to help you.”
She forced her eyes open again. “Don’t know.” Another difficult breath. “Never lied before.” She felt oddly detached from everything, already accepting her death. But he looked so upset. Yes, that was it, he looked upset. She tried to think. “Heal?” she asked, not very hopefully.
“Mother showed me a long time ago. I wasn’t very good at it.” She managed a little smile at that shocking revelation. “I can try. Tell me what to do.”
Breathing was getting more difficult. She didn’t think he could do her any more harm. “Touch skin,” she told him. She was dimly aware of him moving closer and the cool pressure of one hand under her neck. She didn’t know where his other hand went. She thought back to her mother teaching her when she was a little girl. “Picture a broken doll. Ripped fabric. Gather the magic. Picture magic filling in the tears. Let it go.” She could see his mouth set in a grim line as he concentrated. “Loki.” His gaze flickered to hers. “Hurts.”
“I don’t care-”
“Hurts me. Hold on until it’s over.”
“How will I know it’s over?”
Her eyes drifted shut of their own volition. It was too much trying to keep them open and talk and breathe. She floated a moment before pain, worse then before, shot through her. It blazed through her head, down her back and across her ribs. Her spine arched with it and she could feel the cold weight of his hands, one clutching the back of her neck, the other flat on her stomach, trying to hold her down. She heard herself screaming and then the black took her again.
The dark wasn’t as all encompassing this time. She drifted out of it, though never for long. Once she was shaking with chills, buried under blankets. Another time she was scaldingly hot with bands of cold wrapped around her, trying to cool her down. Sometimes her body hurt so badly she wished she was dead. She had no idea how much time passed between her moments of consciousness. She was never alone when she woke. Loki was always with her. Even when she was barely aware of herself she was aware of him.
Finally the blackness let her go and she was able to wake up properly. She found herself in a bed, laying on her stomach between extremely soft sheets. She assumed it was a bed, anyway, it took her a moment to open her eyes. Every part of her ached, especially her back and head. It was like she was one large bruise. At least her mind seemed clear, finally.
Slowly she opened her eyes to find Loki lounging on the other half of the bed, reading a thick book. Not her chamber, then, her bed was barely big enough for herself. This one was huge, more then large enough for him to sit next to her sprawled out. The bedclothes were black and grey, not the colors that had been in the king’s bedroom. So she truly had no idea where he’d brought her.
He caught her attention as he slowly turned a page. “You’re awake.”
She sighed and tried to lift her head. “I’m not dead.”
“Well, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Yours, not mine. I’m far more efficient.”
She chuckled a little. Lifting her head hadn’t hurt too badly so she worked on getting her arms beneath her so she could roll over. He was pretending to read, but she could feel him watching her. “Where am I?” she asked conversationally.
“My room. Well, my old room. When I was a child.” He glanced up at the bed hangings as she managed to roll onto her back. “Odin walled it up after I. . . left.”
Right. Rolling over hadn’t been that bad. Maybe she could sit up. She planted her hands and slowly started scooting back. She paused, looking down at what she was wearing. “Where are my clothes?”
He look up at the hangings again and she swore he was embarrassed. “You were ill. They were. . . soiled.”
She looked down at herself again, plucking at the black tunic she was wearing. It had to be his because it certainly wasn’t hers. She looked over at him again. “You undressed me.”
“I assure it was nothing I hadn’t seen before.” He gave her his trickster grin, as if daring her to be upset.
She eased herself back against the pillows, too tired to sit up fully. She gave what she hoped was a decent impression of his knife’s blade smile. “And me unable to enjoy it.”
Oh, he was definitely embarrassed. He closed his book with a snap and swung his legs off the bed. “Hungry?”
She closed her eyes, listening to him walk around the room. “Famished.”
There was a thump as he set the book down, then she felt his hands on her arms. Her eyes flew open, but all he did was lift her a little so she could sit up against the head board. A tray of food appeared on the bed next to her. “Eat,” he ordered, swinging away again.
The tray had tea, toast and jam and soup of rich broth with noodles and some sort of fowl. Sickbed food. She reached for the soup, sipping some of it straight from the bowl. It warmed her core and she sighed in pleasure. Loki lounged against one of the bed posts, arms crossed, watching her. She drank half the bowl before setting it down and picking up the toast to spread it with jam. “How long have I been-” She gestured to herself and the bed. “Ill?”
She stopped fixing her toast and looked up at him. “They must have noticed I’m missing.”
“On the contrary, a very elaborate illusion of you is tending to all your duties just as an equally elaborate illusion of Odin is tending to mine.”
She took a large bite of her toast before smiling at him. “I will admit, your illusions are a very handy trick.”
His mouth quirked. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I went several rounds with your brother’s hammer. And lost.”
The quirk went higher. “As someone who’s experienced that first hand, you’ve my sympathies. Do you nearly die every time you lie?”
She sipped her tea, sighing at the strong, bitter taste. “I would assume so. This is the only time I’ve done it. The closest I’ve come is bent and half-truths which usually cause headaches to one degree of severity or another. This is the first time I’ve ever told a blatant lie, let alone more then one in a row.”
His pose was still relaxed but she could see his jaw tightening. “Who was asking questions?”
“The Lady Sif. She’d heard rumors about the king showing me favor.” She told him the gist of the conversation while finishing the toast and pouring herself more tea. “When she asked about the gown I couldn’t think of anyway to twist it. I knew I’d have to tell her what was happening and that it would expose you.” She looked into her cup, swirling the dark liquid in earthen cup. “I don’t remember deciding to lie. I just grit my teeth and did. Then when she kept asking questions I just kept going, no matter how it hurt.” Tears pricked at her eyes as she remembered the searing pain of it. She hid the memory in sipping the cooling tea.
He shoved off the bed post and came to stand beside her. His hand curled around her neck, skin to skin and he used his thumb to tip her chin up so she looked at him. He bent close before speaking. “Your heart stopped beating twice. There were long periods I couldn’t discern your breathing. If I’d been even a few moments slower in finding you. . . Don’t ever lie for me again.”
“People may ask me questions again,” she said quietly.
“I can manage suspicion. Do you best. Bend the truth as you can. But no lying. Not like this. I’d have your word on it.”
The intensity in his pale blue eyes took her breath from her. “I promise,” she managed. “No more lying.”
“Good.” He released her, pacing away from the bed.
She took a deep breath and downed her tea in one gulp, wishing it was something stronger. “How did you find me?” she asked finally. She tried to remember the moments before she passed out. They were vague and hazy, but she recalled saying his name and feeling a surge of magical power. “Did you hear me call you?”
He didn’t stop his stroll around the room, examining things as he plucked them from tables and shelves. “Yes. I was in a rather heated discussion with those warrior twits and I heard you speak in my ear. It was disconcerting to say the least. I found you unconscious on the floor of your room.”
She wondered if he’d been frightened. She thought she remembered him being upset when she’d woken the first time and he’d healed her. It was all fading in the haze of illness and pain. “I didn’t know I could do that,” she said quietly. She watched him pace. “Thank you.”
He made a noise in acknowledgement. “I have things to see to, now that you’re awake.” Without another word he shimmered into the shadows and left her.
She dozed for a while after her left. When she roused again she found her breakfast tray gone, replaced by a pile of books. She spent a few quiet hours reading. She longed to explore the room, but given all her aches and pains she didn’t trust herself to stand and walk just yet. She did tug the tunic up a bit to check for physical injury. She found only a few fading bruises on her ribs. When she held her hand against it she could see the marks of finger tips. She recalled him holding her down and winced at the thought of him having to hold her so tightly. She wondered if there were similar marks on her neck or shoulders. She tried to step awake until he came back but her lids grew heavy as she read and she drifted off again.
She woke again much later and the books had been moved. She was tucked under the silken sheets and Loki sat propped against pillows and headboard, holding what looked like the book of poems she’d been reading when she nodded off. He held it in one hand, the other twirling the shiny thing he often played with.
She watched him sleepily. “What is that? I’ve seen it before.”
His fingers stilled and she realized he hadn’t been aware she was awake. He turned his hand to show her the bauble. “A ring.”
It was a finely wrought lady’s ring. Bronze, with a bright green jewel in the center. It wasn’t a stone she recognized. The color seemed to change and swirl from a bright cat’s eyes shade to a dark forest. “It’s lovely.”
“I gave it to my mother. When I was young. She would wear it and I would feel so proud that I’d chosen something she liked so much. I founded in her room after her death.” His voice was soft and seemed to rasp against her skin like a touch.
She shifted, reaching out a finger to touch the stone. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“The man who sold it claimed it had magic in it. I imagine it’s some sort of enchantment but I’ve never been able to duplicate it.” He twirled it through his fingers and it disappeared to wherever he kept such things. “Go back to sleep,” he told her. “You need rest.”
The words were almost a spell of their own. She withdrew her hand and shifted onto her stomach, burying her face against the soft pillow. She listened to the rhythm of his breathing, relaxing towards sleep again. It occurred to her just before she drifted off that she was likely the only person in all the realms who felt safer with him then without.
Since I actually have a few minutes I thought I'd add a few housekeeping notes. Feel free to skip.
First, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for all the comments and notes. I love knowing people are reading and enjoying and seeing your feedback. I'm nervous every time I post a chapter so it's a great relief to know people are still liking it.
Someone made a comment hoping I finish the story. I actually have the whole thing written and am now just doing editing and rewrites, so rest assured this will get completed. There is even a chance of a sequel if I can get the various plot ideas in my head to sort themselves out.
If anyone is curious the title is from the Imagine Dragons song Demons which started out as one of several songs on my writing song list and quickly become "their song" and caused me to put together a soundtrack specifically for this fic.
I am always happy to answer questions about the story, characters, what the hell I'm thinking, if you have them.
Lastly, I'm going out of town next week, so there'll be a posting gap. I'll get at least 1-2 more chapters up before then and will try not to leave you on a cliffhanger when I go.
Thank you again for reading! Enjoy!
They next day was more of the same. He brought her food and more books and she spent the day sleeping or reading alone. He returned in the late evening with news that Sif and the Warriors Three had departed for more peacekeeping. The news eased tension she hadn’t known she was carrying. She fell asleep that night with him reading beside her again, his mother’s ring flashing between his fingers. She woke during the night to find herself curled against his side where he slept, sitting in the same position she’d last seen him in, a book still in his lax hand. She wondered, as she rolled away from him, if he had fallen asleep and then she had moved closer or if she had cuddled against him and he had stayed and slept so as not to wake her.
He was gone in the morning when she woke up, though a tray of food sat at a table beside the bed, the tea still warm.
After two days in bed, plus the five she had spent unconscious, she was beginning to grow restless. After eating and a round of reading she decided to try to stand and take a few steps. Perhaps she could make it to the adjacent room for a bath.
She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed and took a moment to gather her resources. She found herself staring at her feet. They were pale and looked thinner then she remembered, the bones in her ankles prominent. The sick bed had not been kind to her, she was certain. Dug into the rich carpet of Loki’s childhood bedroom, they didn’t look strong enough to hold her. Still, she’d come this far so she might as well try.
She eased herself onto her feet and pushed away from the bed. She wobbled slightly but seemed all right. But when she tried to take a step away from the bed her leg gave out and she headed down.
Until strong arms wrapped around her from behind, holding her up. “What are you doing up?”
“Are you watching me even when you’re not here?” she asked, leaning back into him. She’d always imagined his leathers would be uncomfortable and stiff but it was actually quite supple.
He sighed deeply. “What are you doing up?” he repeated.
She tried to tip her head back to look at him, but couldn’t bend far enough. “I had a fleeting thought to take a bath. I’m tired of being in bed and concerned I’m starting to smell.” Any dignity she might have had left was long gone and she really did want to bathe.
He gave a little grunt that she couldn’t interpret and turned, lifting her off her feet slightly and placing her on the bed. He strode into the washroom without another word and she flopped back onto the bed to stare at the canopy. She could hear water running in the other room and struggled to sit back up when it stopped and he returned. He came towards her with a look of such grim determination that it took her a moment to realize what he intended. “I swear I can walk-” She barely got the protest out before he reached her and scooped up with one arm beneath her legs and the other around her back. It left her nowhere to put her arms but around his shoulders.
He used his illusions and wit so often she’d almost forgotten he was a warrior as well. The arms beneath her were lean but powerful, holding her easily. She had the oddest sense he was making an effort to be gentle with her as he carried her to the washroom. His hair was soft against her arm and she gripped his shoulder to resist the urge to touch it. She had the oddest memory of being held by him before, when she was lost to the fever. There had been no leather between them then, and his skin had been cool against hers.
She dug her teeth into her lip to keep from asking him if it was a real memory or not. As it was she was pretty sure she was blushing. He didn’t comment, his own mouth still drawn in a tight line. He carried her into the washroom and set her next to an enormous tub filled with water. He watched her for a heartbeat as if worried she was going to topple over, then strode out, closing the door firmly behind him.
As much as she wanted to process what had just happened, she was far more distracted by the hot bath behind her and the large mirror before her. With a glance at the door she tugged off her borrowed tunic and folded it carefully before laying it on a table by the mirror. Then she lifted her arms for a quick inspection.
The bruises on her ribs were faded to shades of brown and yellow. A closer look revealed matching bruises on the sides and back of her neck. He must have had to grip her very tightly to finish the healing. She could picture his pale, cold hands on her skin and shook her head before the thought got away from her.
She had lost weight. Her ribs and hips were far more prominent and her face was gaunt and shadowed. Her hair had become a complete mess after a week in bed. A color caught somewhere between blond and brown it was thick, with a slight curl that tangled in a stiff breeze. She still ached everywhere, though she seemed able to keep her feet under her now. If she looked as bad as she felt she would have been black and blue all over, so overall she was relieved. Weight could be regained. Hair could be combed.
She turned and braced herself on the edge of the tub, easing one leg and then the other over into the steaming water. She sank into it, covered to her shoulders. She soaked it in for a while, feeling aches and knots ease out of her muscles. She dunked her hair under the water and went hunting for soap. She was expecting it to smell like him, fresh and cool, but what she found was an exotic floral she didn’t recognize. She washed her hair first, then the rest of her, filling the tub with a layer of suds. After she was clean and rinsed she climbed out and wrapped herself in a towel before sitting on the edge of the bath to finger comb the worst snarls out of her hair.
Once she stood to finish drying off she was pleased to discover most of her aches and stiffness were gone. Walking took more concentration then she was used to, but she could make it from one end of the washroom to the other without stumbling. Loki had left a dressing gown on the back of the door but no spare clothes. She slid into the robe which was surprisingly warm for how light the fabric felt. It was ridiculously too big, though.
She walked out into the bedroom and was surprised to find him there, sitting in a chair by the cold fireplace and playing with his mother’s ring. He looked up when she entered and she thought she saw the corner of his mouth lift. Pouncing on the sign of humor she lifted her arms to show the sleeves pooling over her hands, without even a fingertip showing. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I don’t know that borrowing your things is a long term solution.”
She wiggled her hands a bit, making the sleeves flop about. He shook his head and actually laughed, a quiet, genuine sound that made her smile in return. She was about to suggest sending her back to her room for her to retrieve a change of clothes when the air beside her shimmered and her entire armoire appeared next to her.
First her books and now the armoire. It should probably worry her that he was essentially moving her into his room. She put that in the corner of her mind with all of the other things she should be worried about and crouched to dig in the drawers for a sleeveless shift and leggings. She ducked back in the washroom to change, then found her hair brush and ribbons in the armoire and perched on the bench at the end of his bed to attend to her hair. For some reason having him watch her brush and braid her hair felt more intimate then sleeping next to him had.
When she was done she put her hair things away and went to sit in the chair across from him, feeling more like herself then she had in days. As she sat the table beside her shimmered and a tray of food appeared. There was a bowl of steaming stew, a basket of rolls, a salad of field greens and a pitcher and stein of what looked like mead. Her mouth began to water at the scent of it all. She reached for a roll, then paused, looking at him. “Do you ever eat?”
He looked mildly offended. “Of course I eat.”
“You never eat in front of me. These are your meals. They must be, ordering new ones would be suspicious. You must have barely eaten since I woke up.”
His jaw twitched and he looked at the dark fireplace. “I’m fine.”
She watched him a moment. She pictured the pantry where they kept the bowls and plates reached for a full set. They appeared on the table next to him along with a goblet for the mead and she tugged the table with her food forward so it sat between them. When he looked at her she arched both brows in her most imperious expression.
He actually chuckled and nodded, acquiescing. The ring disappeared from his fingers and he straightened in his chair, reaching for the stew. They managed to split the stew between the bowls and she poured the mead. She tucked herself up in the chair and began to eat, the stew hot and flavorful. He ate like a prince, all perfect manners and precise movements. Her mother would have been quite pleased with that. The thought almost made her choke on her mead.
“Why don’t you use your magic more?” he asked, leaning back with his goblet. “You could be quite powerful if you practiced.”
She lifted a shoulder. “I hardly know how to do anything. My mother had only just started lessons. I can heal and teleport things when I can picture exactly where they are. Childish things.” She wrapped both hands around her mead stein and took a long drink. It was stronger then she was used to and warmed her better then the stew had. “Until I healed you I hadn’t really used it since coming here.”
“Why not? I would think it would be useful to a servant.”
“I used it once. The cook had burned herself and I healed it.” She rested her head on the back of the chair. “She told me to never do it again because the other servants would be jealous if they knew I was nobility. She said it was better to be a nobody. I was a child and afraid so I did as she said.”
“Use it,” he said, almost a command. “You’re an adult now, you can hide it better.”
“Perhaps.” She sighed and closed her eyes. “I should go back. To my room, to work. I’m sure you’d like to be rid of me and I hate to impose on your hospitality.”
“Considering a bath, a meal and a few sips of mead has exhausted you I doubt you’re fit for physical labor.” His tone was incredibly dismissive and she hadn’t the energy to open her eyes and read his posture. “One more illusion isn’t any trouble.”
Her fingers were losing their grip on the mug and she cracked an eye open to put it down before she spilled on herself. “If you’re certain.”
“I am.” The was a clink as he set his goblet down, then the creak of leather as he moved. “Come. Sleeping in a chair will undo what good the bath did you.”
She stirred in an effort to get up. Before she could get her legs under her she felt his arms around her, lifting her again. She rested her head on his shoulder and this time her fingers seemed to twine in his hair of their own accord. “You did this when I was sick,” she murmured as he walked, tongue loosened by the mead. “I was fevered and you were so cold. It felt nice.”
“Hush,” he said softly, setting her on the bed. She felt him pull the covers up over her and the touch of his hand as he brushed hair off her face. Then she slept.
Thank you for your comments, they all brought a smile to my face. For those who were squeeing over the last chapter. . . this one might kill you :)
There should be one more chapter up before I go on vacation this week.
She didn’t see him the next day, which was probably for the best. She was certain she might actually die of embarrassment after what she’d said the night before. No more mead in his presence. Alcohol in addition to a truth curse was more then anyone could handle. Her meals arrived on schedule and she forced herself to eat when they did. She hadn’t much appetite, but the more she ate the faster she would heal and go back to her boring life.
The day after was more of the same. She read two books and started a third, then toured every inch of the room, exploring. There wasn’t much to see, unfortunately. Whether that was his lack of sentimentality or that he’d removed everything personal before leaving her alone she didn’t know. What she did know was that she was bored and stir crazy to a level she hadn’t experienced since she was a child.
Their talk of magic returned to her. She felt the burn of it between her shoulders, as if it had heard her thoughts and was eager to be set free. She sent books from one side of the room to another until she could do it without looking or picturing it exactly. Progress.
When that became boring she sat crossed legged on the bed, trying to recall what else her mother had taught her. She remembered the festival for midsummer and the fireworks the mages would send up, lighting the sky with every color she could imagine. Her mother had tried to teach her how to make her own, but she’d never managed more then a few sparks. She held her hands out in front of her now, palms up, and focused on sending the magic out. Golden sparks exploded on her palms then streamed off, disappearing before reaching the covers. She grinned, proud at even that small display.
She knew when Loki entered the room, shimmering out of the shadows behind her. She couldn’t say how she knew. There was just a frisson of awareness down her spine. A tightness in her skin that told him he was close even before the bed dipped under his weight. He came up behind her, settling at her back and his hands cupped her arms, bare in her shift. “Do it again,” he commanded, voice quiet and far too close to her ear.
His presence was unspeakably distracting but she focused on making the sparks appear again. This time a series of miniature fireworks exploded from her hands in a shower of light. She jump back in surprise, coming up short against his chest. She had expected his leathers but felt cool linen instead. His hands slid down her arms to cup under her hands as the fireworks increased in number and size; first green and gold but with a thought she added reds, blues and a rich purple to the display.
She heard herself laugh in delight as the last of it faded away, leaving her hands empty, bracketed by his. She hadn’t been this happy, this full of life since she was a child. She sat still for a moment, breathing fast, before whispering, “More.”
She felt as much as heard him chuckle. He shifted their hands, weaving his fingers through hers. “Try an illusion now.”
His voice in her ear was temptation itself. “I don’t think I can. Illusions and truth don’t mix.”
He didn’t answer, only flexed his hands on hers. She felt the chill of his magic pass through his hands, a green glow visible on his fingertips. Then the heat of her magic responded, rising up and pooling between her shoulders before pouring down her arms. “I’ll make it,” he said, voice low and raspy. “You shape it.” Green-gold light shimmered between their hands before coalescing into the form of a woman standing beside the bed.
Syn’s heart lurched when she recognized her. She gave a little gasp as Loki asked, “Who is that?”
“My mother,” she whispered, staring at the thing they’d made. It had been so long since she’d seen her mother. She wouldn’t have thought she remembered her so clearly. But it was recognizably her, hair a shade lighter then Syn’s and eyes the exact same green. She was more slightly built then her and shorter, with lines just starting to form at the corners of her eyes.
Syn found herself untangling her hand so she could reach out to the figure. Her mother’s arm stretched out as well. She heard Loki start to warn her, but then her fingers touched the illusion’s. It didn’t disappear. Instead it felt real, solid as flesh but cooler, the same temperature as Loki’s.
She heard him suck in a breath in surprise. She wasn’t sure she was breathing at all. Her mother’s other hand lifted slowly and touched the top of Syn’s head, stroking her hair. For an instant she was a little girl again with her head in her mother’s lap, hair being stroked as she drifted to sleep.
Grief she hadn’t felt in centuries welled up in her, escaping in a cry that seemed to tear at her throat. She thrust a hand out to push the illusion away. Magic flared and the figure of her mother went flying, shattering against the opposite wall in a shower of sparks. She covered her face, trying to block out the last few moments.
Everything was still for a few breaths. She fully expected him to disappear and leave her to her tears. Instead his arms came around her slowly, crossing over hers and drawing her back against his chest again. It stunned her, grounded her. She reminded herself that he had lost his mother not so long ago. That like her she had been taken from him suddenly and, like her, he hadn’t even seen her funeral. She leaned into him and his arms tightened on her. She was starting to grow accustomed to the chill of him.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered when she had calmed. “I shouldn’t have - I’m sorry.” She tried to move away but while he loosened his arms he didn’t let her go entirely. “I didn’t think I even remembered her properly. I’m sorry-”
“Hush.” He slid his hands to hers again and lifted them. Sparklers exploded on them again, twirling and dancing in the dim light of his room. They coalesced into the shape of a rabbit, which hopped from one hand to the other. “Your mother showed you sparks. Mine made rabbits.”
She laughed weakly, watching the little bunny bounce. “Rabbits?”
“Rabbits,” he confirmed and a second one joined the first. “If you tell anyone this I’ll strangle you with my bare hands.” The threat lost a bit of sincerity when the first rabbit pounced on the second, sending them both tumbling.
She couldn’t stop giggling. “I won’t tell a soul,” she vowed. The rabbits frolicked together a few more moments before bouncing away and fading, leaving her, if not happy, at least somewhat at peace.
She turned to look at him. “Thank you,” she said softly. He was very close, closer then ever before. For once there was no anger or artifice to him. His hand came up and curled around her throat and this time it felt like a caress. His thumb stroked the line of her jaw and she saw his gaze flicker over her face, before settling on her mouth. Then he closed the distance between them and kissed her.
His hand was cold but his mouth was warm, almost hot, on hers. She twisted further to wrap an arm around his shoulders, flattening her hand on his back. The hand on her throat flexed and shifted, gripping the back of her head to hold her to him. The kiss deepened and she shivered as this tongue stroked the length of hers. He shifted, looming over her a moment before moving her to lay back. He was so strong and it sent a flicker of alarm through her that seemed to only increase her urgency in kissing him back.
He held himself above her, braced on his elbows, one hand still buried in her hair. She stroked his back, twined her fingers into his hair, breathless. He released her mouth to press a kiss to her throat, then stopped, breathing hard against her skin.
Without warning he pushed himself away from her, off the bed. She sat up and reached for him. Then the world seemed to spin around her and when it was still she was in her own room, alone. Her armoire was in it’s place, as was the pile of books at her bedside. It was as if none of the week and a half had happened.
Except she could still feel his hand on her throat and the taste of him on her tongue. Her heart pounded in her chest, slowing reluctantly as she calmed.
She sank slowly to her bed, running her hands over her face and through her hair. Just once she’d like to leave his presence voluntarily and not completely confused.
This will be the last chapter before I go out of town and is also right around the halfway mark of the story. I think I'm leaving you in a pretty good spot :)
Updates will resume in February.
Going back to her duties was a shock. She felt as if she was in a dream or fog for the first few days. She told everyone who asked that she’d been ill, explaining away her odd behavior lately. The truth sometimes wanted to spill out. I spent almost a fortnight in the bed of Loki the Trickster. He taught me how to do magic I’d all but forgotten. I think he was about to seduce me but stopped abruptly and is now avoiding me. That would almost certainly get her sent. . . somewhere.
He was avoiding her, though. The complete absence of him in every room she entered could only be deliberate. She was torn between relief and fury. She practiced yelling at him during her chores. In her mind she called him every epithet and black name she knew, but always came back to coward. It was the only reason she could think for him to stop as he had. But even as she tore her imaginary version of him to shreds she knew she’d never really have the strength to ask. No one really wanted to know why someone didn’t want to them.
She shouldn’t even care. He was dangerous. Dark and damaged. She wasn’t the one to heal him. If he had finally gotten over in his interest in her it could only benefit her. She had almost died protecting his secret. The less she was in contact with him the better.
And so she went around and around in her head while remaining calm and neutral on the outside. She did her work, smiled and chatted with the other servants. She pretended to be the same Syn she had always been, despite feeling irrevocably changed inside. She even practiced her magic, graduating from sparks to percussive blasts that could knock a pile of books down. Sometimes she swore she could feel it gathering between her shoulder blades, as if eager to spill out. Using it pained her, though, causing another round of circular arguing with the Loki in her mind. She didn’t know if she would ever be able to use her power without thinking of him.
The summer waned and it was time for the harvest festival. In Alfheim they had celebrated midsummer but here the major holiday was for harvest time. It was the first true celebration the palace had hosted since the queen’s death, which meant far more carousing then in previous years. Syn and the other servants spent the afternoon, evening and most of the night filling cups, running food from the kitchens and cleaning messes of all kinds. Slowly people began to stumble home or to their chambers and it was time to clean up so everything would be perfect for breakfast whenever people were able to roust themselves. Some of the servers when to bed early to be ready for the morning chores while the rest cleaned into the night.
Syn was one of the night shift. She carried trays and baskets of trash down to the incinerators and stacks of plates to the kitchen for washing. Her legs and arms ached and she found herself using glimmers of magic to hold the overflowing stacks steady.
It was unspeakably late by the time everything was cleared form the Great Hall. What had started as almost a dozen people running up and down the steps had come down to Syn and one other girl. She sent her to help with the dishes and stayed in the Hall alone to sweep and wipe the tables and walls. Alone she could use magic to help her, but it was still slow going. In the silence of the Hall it almost felt like she was the only person awake in the entire castle.
She stopped to look inspect her work, pushing stray sweat damp curls out of her eyes. Almost done. She stepped onto the balcony for fresh air, shivering at the hint of chill. If she leaned over the rail she could see the horizon starting to turn silver with the light of predawn. She’d worked the whole night through. She stretched her hands out, framing a clump of stars with her fingers. She’d missed the fireworks display earlier, too busy pouring mead and dodging drunken hands.
With that rueful thought her magic poured out of her fingers, sending up a shower of sparks. If there was anyone awake a looking out she was going to have to answer some questions, but the sparks never ceased to make her smile. Though she’d never managed a display quite as grand as the one Loki had helped her with.
She felt the tug of his magic a breath before she saw the shimmer and he appeared in the shadows to her left. Her hands closed into fists, snuffing the lightshow, but she refused to look at him.
“Don’t stop on my account,” he said, strolling towards her. His voice was silky, quiet in the still air.
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping off your revelries?” she asked.
“I don’t sleep much. As I imagine you remember.”
He was coming closer. She swore if he touched her she was going to blast him back to Jotunheim, but he stopped and leaned on the rail an arm’s length away. She risked a glance at him. “Have you stopped avoiding me, then?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” He said it easily, but she saw the shadows of a lie coalesce on his face.
She opened her hands and sent a blast of magic at him. He deflected it easily but the look on his face was priceless. “That was a lie,” she told him in the sweetest tone she could manage. “I can tell, if you recall.”
He grit his teeth, staring her down. “You attacked me.”
Somewhere along the way she must have lost all sense of self preservation. “If I attack you, you’ll know.”
They glared at each other until he shook his head. “You’re angry with me.”
All right, now she was going to blast him back to Jotunheim. “Of course I’m angry with you. You saved my life, woke up my magic-” Don’t mention the kiss. Don’t mention the kiss. Don’t- “Kissed me.” Blast it, Syn. “Then sent me away without a word, ignored me for months. And now you want to chat as if nothing was wrong when I’ve been working all night for a bunch of drunken, lecherous Asgardians. And you’re surprised I’m angry with you?” She shook her head, exhaustion sweeping her. “Come stick pins tomorrow, I won’t be any fun tonight.”
His face darkened and she braced for that hand to go around her neck. “Lecherous. Did someone touch you?”
She could not keep up with the mood swings, it was as simple as that. “I’m a young, female servant. You’ve seen these parties. What do you think?”
She took a step towards him, voice low and sharp. “No. You don’t get to puff up and play protective like you’ve some sort of claim on me. You sent me away. I could be lifting my skirt for half the guards and there is not a damn thing you could say about it.”
He bent closer, jaw tight, voice dangerous. “I assure you, there are several things I could say. Would you like to hear them?”
She raised her hands, magic glowing in her palms. “Would you like to see if I can get you through that wall?”
The knife’s blade smile flashed. “Dear heart, if I’d known you needed your itch scratched so desperately I wouldn’t have given your virtue a second thought.”
She widened her eyes in mock innocence. “Are you certain it was my virtue and not your own performance that concerned you?”
She saw his hand coming up at that. She flattened her hands on his chest and despite the power heating her palms she simply pushed him away. They were both surprised when he staggered back a step. He reached for her again and this time she wasn’t quick enough to stop him. His hand wrapped around her throat but he didn’t choke her, simply pulled her closer to him. She gripped the lapels of his coat, crushing the leather in her fingers. She felt her feet leave the ground as his mouth came down on hers.
The kiss was rough, demanding. His other arm came around her waist, holding her against him, feet dangling. She kept his coat in a death grip, supporting herself. The hand on her throat bordered on too tight, but his fingers stroked a sensitive spot behind her ear and she shuddered, groaning. He spun them around. She felt the shadows close around her and then she was slammed against what felt like a narrow pillar.
She broke the kiss with a gasp, blinking to find them in his room, the room she’d healed in, and him holding her against one of the bed posts. She looked at his face, feeling stunned. He studied her and she swore she saw the faintest flicker of uncertainty in his eyes. She uncurled the fingers of one hand from his leathers and stroked her knuckles along his cheek. Heat flared in his eyes and she grinned, digging her fingers in his hair as she kissed him again.
She lost track of how long they stayed there, kissing and exploring each other’s mouth, her pinned between his lean muscle and the hard wooden post of the bed. There was an intensity to it she had never felt before, bordering on madness. She knew it was madness to be doing this. But there was nothing in all the realms that could have made her stop.
After a while she let her hands started to roam his armor, but she couldn’t find any sort of fastening. Not a clip or buckle or hook. He started to chuckle against her mouth as she grew more impatient. Finally she lifted her head to inspect him visually. “How?!”
He grinned and she felt his arm tighten on her. There was a shimmer, a chill of his magic and the armor was gone, leaving him bare to the waist and her pressed against his cool, pale skin. She stroked her hand across his chest, tracing the line of muscle, then down his ribs and across his abdomen. “Much better,” she said, voice thick.
“So glad you approve,” he murmured in her ear and she closed her eyes at the arousal she could hear in the words.
She opened them again when he set her down on the bed. His hands went to her hair and he efficiently removed pins and ribbon until the style unravelled fully, sending her hair around her shoulders like a cloak. He found the tie of her dress and undid it next, tugging the fabric to bare her shoulders. A quelling look from him kept her from helping as he dragged the dress down her arms to pool in her lap. He made a noise of exasperation when he saw her shift and stays and she responded with an arched brow. She could see him deciding whether to use his hands or magic to continue undressing her.
Apparently he was enjoying unwrapping her, because his fingers went to the tie of her stays and slowly unlaced her, loosening it. He tugged her to her feet and let the dress and stays fall, leaving her in the shift and leggings, much as she’d worn the last time she was in this room. She tilted her head to look up at him. She’d lost her shoes somewhere along the way and he still had on his boots, increasing the difference in their heights. He hesitated and she gripped the edge of her shift and tugged it up and off.
His eyes roamed her intensely then went down to one knee, hands bracketing her hips to hold her still. He dropped a kiss on her stomach, just below her navel and she heard him murmur, “Beautiful,” so softly she might have imagined it. His fingers slipped beneath the fabric of her leggings and he slowly tugged them down her long legs until she could step out of them. He pressed a kiss to one hipbone, then the other, his breath hot against her skin. Anticipation tightened in her as he tugged her legs further apart. Then he brought his mouth to her center and the world spun.
She had to grip at the bedpost to keep her feet under her. His tongue teased and explored her secrets, sending pleasure through her in sharp stabs. His mouth was hot but the hands holding her hips were cool against her skin. The dichotomy addled her senses, adding to her pleasure. He found the little nub at her center and sucked and her knees wobbled at the intensity of it. He teased her there and and she whimpered, digging the fingers of her free hand into his hair. “Loki, please.”
He released her, standing in one fluid motion. He lifted her easily, tipping her onto the bed before coming down on top of her. “Again,” he murmured, kissing her throat. He nipped her skin. “Say it again.”
She arched into the weight of him. “Loki,” she repeated. “Please.”
His magic chilled her legs and then his breeches and boots were gone as well, leaving him as naked as her. She bent her leg to bring him closer to her. He kissed her roughly, with even less restraint then he’d had before. She moaned into his mouth, arching again. He lifted his head to look at her and she saw that uncertainty again. “Tell me you want this,” he said softly.
She had expected all manner of reactions from him. Doubt had not been one of them. She lifted a hand and stroked his throat in a gentle mimic of his preferred hold on her. “I want you,” she told him.
He smiled and took her hand, kissing the palm before weaving their fingers together. He pressed her into the bed, shifting his hips until he could slide into her heat.
It was all a bit of a haze of pleasure and sensation after that. His movements began controlled and almost precise until she found a particular spot on his neck that, when bit, shattered his control. His passion was a wild thing and she lost herself to it, crying out as she came, clutching at him as he followed.
They lay tangled together for a very long time. She had to admit, this was an excellent way to end an argument. She dozed off to the feel of him sifting her hair through his fingers.
When she woke the sky had lightened but it wasn’t yet full morning. He wasn’t beside her and she had a moment of panic before rolling over to find him standing at the window, hands behind his back, clad in his breeches and nothing else. She studied the lines of his shoulders, the dent of his spine as it disappeared into his waistband. She’d left marks on his shoulder, tiny scratches from her fingernails. She felt a tiny sliver of pride at the sight, which surprised her. Maybe he was starting to wear off on her.
He turned a little and noticed her attention. He strolled to the bed and she was immediately wary, unable to divine his mood. He crouched next to her, gaze flickering over her face. “Why are you here?” he asked softly.
The immediate, obvious reason came to her, but she knew he wasn’t in the mood for a flippant answer. Leave it to him to interrupt post-coital bliss with a request to define her affection. She sat up slowly, holding his gaze. She was tempted to just open her mouth and let the truth spill out, but she was actually a little afraid of what it might be. So she spoke carefully, planning every word. “You noticed me. You listened to me. You remembered I liked oranges. You gave me books. You cared for me when I was ill. And when I was sad you made me rabbits.”
“I noticed you because you were a danger to me. I gave you the oranges and books as bribes. You were only ill because you had to lie for me.” He lifted his hand and cupped her throat. “I am a monster,” he said quietly.
She curled her fingers around his wrist. “You do monstrous things,” she admitted. “But you were only a man last night.” She smiled crookedly. “I did a thorough check.”
He chuckled and bent forward to kiss her. It was shockingly tender. “May I see you again?”
“I would be furious with you if you did not.” She rested her forehead on his. “You should show me how to walk through the shadows. I can come to you here.”
“You are always welcome here.” He kissed her forehead before releasing her and standing. “For now I should get you back to your chamber so you’re not missed.” Before she could speak she felt a chill and her clothes were back on. Even her hair was braided and twisted up against the nape of her neck.
She was going to tell herself that was how he changed her clothes when she was ill. Save her a bit of dignity. She got to her feet and found him dressed as well, in his leathers. She ran a hand over one of the lapels. “Do you wear this when you want to be imposing?”
“Never underestimate the importance of dressing the part, dear heart.” He took her hand and kissed it. Then he gave her a gentle tug and she found herself in her room.
I'm back! Vacation was . . . I'm going with eventful. Have a chapter edited while I fought jet lag. I apologize if there's more errors then usual.
She would not have imagined sex would simplify matters between them. Somehow, though, the promise of seeing each other, of spending the night together, made it easier to keep their public interactions casual and indifferent. Any special attention he wanted to give her now occurred in the privacy of his room. Which was fast becoming their room. Her armoire now sat beside the washroom door, small and plain next to his ornate furniture. Her books stacked neatly on the table by her side bed or jumbled up with his on shelves or the chairs by the fire. He taught her to walk through the shadows, though it still made her a little dizzy when she did so, and she had slowly gotten used to arriving without blatant invitation. If anyone noticed she no longer slept in her bed the gossip didn’t make it to her ears.
Fall stretched on, the days growing shorter and the nights colder. She discovered that his cold skin meant he was impervious to cold in general. He found her ever growing pile of blankets and furs incredibly amusing. “You’re going to be kicking me out of bed soon,” he commented after a particularly chilly evening when she actually got redressed after they made love.
She tugged a thick quilt up to her chin. “I tell myself that if we make it to summer you’ll be refreshing in the heat.”
“Pity I don’t feel the weather. I could steal your warmth.” He slid a hand between the gap of her shift and leggings and she squealed, trying to squirm away. It was no use, he was far stronger then her, so she just went limp and let him drag her over for a kiss. His hand went around her throat as usual. She was growing used to the weight of it there.
“What do you mean, if we make it to summer?” he asked when he lifted his head.
She cocked a brow up. “I try to take nothing for granted when it comes to you.”
His thumb stroked her skin idly, back and forth. “Do you trust me?”
She watched his face. “I know you won’t hurt me.”
It was his turn to crook a brow. “But?”
Suddenly the hand on her throat wasn’t nearly as comforting. “I trust you not to hurt me,” she said again. “I even trust you would protect me if someone else tried to do so. But I know, with every bit of me, that I am not more important to you then your ambition. If a time comes when I stand between you and your goals you would kill me. I think you would regret it. You might even hesitate. But you would do it.”
His eyes had gone stark and intent and when he spoke it was a soft, dangerous tone she hadn’t heard in a very long time. “And what goals do I have, do you suppose?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But this isn’t enough for you. A stolen crown and play acting as Odin. You want more. You’re clever and you’re playing a very long game, but sooner or later you’ll act. And I don’t know what happens to us when you do.”
He studied her, gaze searching every inch of her face. She stayed very still as he did so, waiting. Then he smiled, an odd blend of his real smile and the knife’s blade. “I think you may be the only creature in the realms that truly understands me.”
She let out the breath she’d been holding and smiled. “I told you I was good with riddles.”
He chuckled softly and released her before kissing her forehead. “Sleep well, dear heart.”
Despite the soft command she found she didn’t sleep well at all, the conversation weighing heavily on her mind. She dozed on and off and slipped out of bed as the sky began to lighten, preferring to start work early then to toss and turn further. She was fairly certain he was awake and watching as she changed into a work dress and sat at the foot of the bed to brush and braid her hair. She had yet to sneak out of bed without waking him. He didn’t say anything, however, and she left for the kitchens without a word.
That evening she found their room empty, a note waiting for her on her pillow. His handwriting was spiky but neat, with no unnecessary flourishes. Come and find me.
Well, this was new. It shouldn’t surprise her that the Trickster would want to play a game. She tucked the note in her pocket and went hunting.
He wasn’t in the king’s chambers or her room or the gardens. She stayed out there for a bit, thinking it through. It was going to take all night for her to check every room in the palace. She didn’t think he’d intended for her to just guess, anyway. So, there must be a way to find him precisely. She had grown able to sense him when he entered a room, perhaps that could expand to include tracking him down as well.
She closed her eyes and settled into herself, feeling her magic gather hot between her shoulders. She let it filter out, searching for the familiar chill of him. She pictured it winding through the halls of the palace like mist, under doors and through walls until it found the bright green glow that was Loki. It took barely a thought for the magic to tug her to him. She didn’t even need the shadows.
She did stagger a little when she got there, sucking in a deep breath after the journey knocked the wind out of her. Cold hands were holding her before she could even open her eyes. “Oh, that was poorly thought out,” she whispered, then gave what was a reassuring smile. “Hello.”
“I expected you ten minutes ago,” he said lightly, but she didn’t miss him giving her a once over before letting her go.
She glanced around the unfamiliar room. It was the plainest room she’d ever seen in the palace, long and narrow with weapons lining one wall. The wide windows looked out on one of the back gardens, high hedges and trees making it quite private. “Where are we?” she asked.
His mouth twisted a little as he followed her gaze. “I suppose you could call it a play room. Thor and I learned to fight here as children.” She arched a brow at him. “Well, with weapons, anyway.”
That was the first time she’d heard him speak of his brother with anything but contempt. “Why are we here?”
He strolled away from her. The man hated to be still. “I thought you might learn to fight.”
Her brow arched so high she thought she might strain something. “Me? Fight?”
He gave her a canny smile. “A pretty female servant might find it advantageous to fend off drunk and lecherous Asgardians.”
“I said young, not pretty.” He shrugged easily but didn’t otherwise respond, still watching her. He was up to something. He wasn’t lying exactly, but there was something else going on under the concern for her safety. She could think of a few reasons he might want her to be able to fight, especially after the confirmation last night that he had plans beyond the Asgardian throne. None of the options boded particularly well for her or the realms in general. Still, if he was going to teach her to fight maybe he was hoping to avoid her death. Or, maybe he wanted it easier to kill her by knowing her skill and style. She rubbed her head. No, she was no match for whatever schemes he had in the works. Best to roll with it for now. “How do we start?”
He grinned and gave a little flourish, two swords appearing in his hands. “With these.” He tossed her one and she managed to catch it. It wasn’t as heavy as she’d thought it would be, though the hilt felt awkward in her hand.
She sighed and face him. How bad could it be?
Even worse then she’d imagined, as it turned out.
“How does one even stab herself in the leg?” Loki paced the width of the training room as he ranted at her. “How? That takes a certain level of, well, I don’t think skill is the right term-”
Syn grit her teeth and ignored him, studying the wound in her leg as he continued to pace a few yards away. The sword had cut her across the front of her thigh, deep into muscle. There was quite a lot of blood but she didn’t think she’d hit bone. It had been a remarkably clumsy move. But she’d pointed out in the first five minutes that the sword wasn’t weighted right for her. She’d pointed out in the first three that using actual weapons to learn on wasn’t the best idea either.
“You owe me a new pair of leggings,” she muttered, tearing the fabric open so she could get to an uninjured patch of skin.
He paced closer to her, peering at her leg. “I knew Alfans were more fragile then Asgardians but this is ridiculous. No wonder Odin conquered you so quickly.”
That earned him a glare so dark he actually stopped talking. She turned back to her leg, bracketing the wound with her hands. Healing herself was harder then doing it to someone else and often left a scar, but at least she’d be able to walk in the morning.
“Are you all right?” he asked quietly, now right behind her.
“Now you ask?” She shook her head. “I’d be fine if you’d let me concentrate.” She pictured the magic filling the injury, stitching it back together. Gold light flowed through her hands, gathering in the gape in her muscle. Air hissed through her teeth at it began to burn.
His fingers touched the back of her neck and she felt a surge of his magic rush through her. She gasped as it slammed into her leg and pain jolted down the limb. Then it faded and her leg was as good as new, without even the faintest line of scar.
She lifted her hands and stretched and bent her leg a few times, surprised at the complete lack of pain. She was still too grumpy with him to thank him, but she let him help her back to her feet. “Why can’t I just use magic to fight?” she asked, taking a few cautious steps away and back. “I’ve been practicing.” She sent a blast of magic at the sword she’d dropped after hurting herself. It sent the blade skittering across the floor and she created a barrier for it to bounce off of to cement her point.
“There are enemies that are immune to magic.”
“Not in Asgard, there aren’t.” If he was going to pretend this was about protecting her from grabby hands she was going to make him stick to it.
“It requires concentration. Focus. As you just demonstrated. Fighting should be fluid, instinctive. Magic is a tool, weapons keep you alive.” He made the oddest expression as he finished speaking. A blend of horror, surprise and resignation. She had to comment. “What?”
He scowled. “Nothing.”
“Did you just hear Odin’s words come out of your mouth?” she asked with a grin.
“No,” he snapped, turning away from her. He scooped up the sword she’d sent flying, inspecting it. She could see a line of blood on it, which he wiped on his leathers before sending both blades back where they came from. “What did they teach you in Alfheim? I knew how to properly hold a sword before I could walk.”
She looked up at the ceiling and dug deep for more patience. “I was a princess. And, as you pointed out, we were not exactly a warfaring culture. I learned how to host a ball and make polite chit chat with diplomats and how to keep up with court gossip. My brother was the one out in the yard learning how to fight.”
“And he never came in and showed you what he learned? Thor and I-” He stopped, mouth pressed in a hard line.
She was silent a moment, waiting for him to continue. When he didn’t she said gently, “I won’t think you’re any less frightening if you have fond memories of your brother.”
“I don’t have any fond memories of him,” he growled but his face was covered in the shadows of lies.
She sighed softly and turned away to give him privacy, strolling along the wall of weapons. “Boe hated when I tried to tag along,” she said. If he wasn’t going to reminisce she could certainly fill the silence. “I think it’s different for brothers with sisters. Much as he might have wanted a playmate he wasn’t sure he wanted to be seen with a girl.” She thought she heard a little snort of amusement at that. “His friends would go out in the woods to play at war and I would follow them, begging to play too. He used to tell me I was never going to be a lady if I kept liking boy things. Then I’d promise him my dessert or threaten to tell Mother something he’d done and he’d let me join in.” She stopped in front of the rack of staves and reached out to touch one, the metal smooth under her fingers. “He’d have warned you not to put a blade in my hand. I was always getting bruised.”
Silence stretched. “They were Thor’s words,” he said finally. She half turned to look at him but kept silent. “About magic being a tool. I was determined not to learn how to fight. I was smaller then him and I thought it was embarrassing to have to learn when he was already so much better. He took to ambushing me in the palace halls to convince me that magic wasn’t enough. When I finally agreed to train with him he used to let me win every fifth sparring match. Exactly every fifth. So I wouldn’t get discouraged.”
He’d started to smile a little at the end of the story. Not much, just a hint at the corner, but it was his genuine, fond smile she saw every so often. She had to admit, the thought of little Thor carefully counting matches to make sure his brother won often enough was rather adorable. If she said that, or anything else about his brother, he would almost certainly shut down again, though. So she looked back at the weapon rack, thinking of the sticks she used to swing around with Boe and his friends. She pulled one of the staves from it’s stand and tested it’s weight. She put a hand on each end and slid them towards each other to find the center of gravity before giving it a twirl. Now this felt natural. “Can you fight with one of these?” she asked over her shoulder.
“A staff? Of course.” Well, indignant pride was probably a good sign.
She plucked another one from the rack and tossed it to him. “Good.” She walked back to him, staff on her shoulder. “Let’s try this again.”
Took a break from post-vacation laundry to do some editing and finalize my chapter breaks. We're almost there! It's actually 13 chapters and an epilogue and chapters 12 and 13 are pretty lengthy. Not sure exact posting schedule but I'd imagine we'll be done by Valentines day.
Here's an extremely coupley chapter before we hit the home stretch. :)
The staves were much better. She had no form to speak of, which he was happy to tell her at every opportunity, but she was far more comfortable with the weapon then she’d been with the sword. He showed her defensive positions first and some of them were holds she’d learned on her own, fending off boys bigger then herself. When they were done her arms ached and she was sweating in a most unladylike manner. But the look he gave her was something that almost resembled pride. And that almost made it worth it.
She met him there the next evening, training well into the night, stopping only when enough blisters had started to bloom on her hands that she could no longer hold the staff. He helped her heal them, mocking her all the while at Alfan weakness. If she turned her head and squinted it resembled the friendly teasing of her childhood. The next night she came with her hands wrapped in cloth. She marked that night as the first time she actually landed a hit on him. She’d carry the image of his stunned face to her grave.
“You should learn a second weapon as well.”
She sighed and shook her head. She was on the floor of his chamber, leaning against the bed, carefully unwrapping her hands. “You’ve taught me the staff well enough I can tap you after only three days and now you want me to pick a second one?” She flexed her hand, then started on the other. “Are you never satisfied?”
“Satisfaction’s is not in my nature.”
She swore he had those quips written down somewhere. “You’re just grumpy I hit you.”
“I am not grumpy.”
She neatly folded her hand wraps and pulled herself to her feet to tuck them away in her armoire. “Well you’re not happy.”
“You are,” he said quietly. She turned to find him watching her carefully from his perch against the headboard.
“You make it sound like an accusation.” She crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall. “Am I not allowed to be happy?”
“I just meant that you’ve smiled more while training then in the entire rest of the time I’ve known you. I hadn’t expected it to please you so.”
She shrugged a little. It didn’t seem appropriate to point out that up until a few months ago she had been terrified of him. “It reminds me of home,” she said finally, the confession paining her. “Of my brother. You’re like him in some ways. Same sense of humor. He liked to mock me, too.”
That earned her a trickster grin. “It’s nothing personal, I do it to everyone.”
“I’ve noticed.” He didn’t seem to be setting a trap with his words and her legs were starting to ache so she pushed off the wall and went to join him on the bed. “I never thought of home or my family much. It was easier to forget. Just be the servant, like there had never been anything before it.” She sank onto the soft mattress, sitting on the edge with her back to him. There was an odd ache in her chest and she wondered if she hadn’t found a trap of her own making. “Then we started. . . talking and it all started to come back. As if it were new again.” She looked down at her hands, red and lined from the wrappings, knuckles bruised from raps of his staff. “You ask me to be something more then I’ve been. It frightens me if I think about it too long. But I suppose it makes me smile as well.”
There was a creak of his leathers and the bed shifted as he moved. His arm came around her waist, tugging her back into the cool wall of his chest. “Do I have make you more rabbits?” he asked gruffly, muffled by her hair.
She laughed. “No. I’m sorry. I was thinking out loud.” She leaned against him and he resettled, taking her weight. “I’m just tired.”
“And here I was going to suggest a bath for your sore muscles.”
Oh, he did know exactly what to say.“I could muster the energy for a bath. If you insisted.” She struggled to sit up, groaning, as he chuckled in her ear.
She slept like the dead that night, no dreams, no awareness of the rest of the world. When she woke she was sore from her toes to her neck and had to send a pulse of healing power through herself just to get out of bed.
She could feel Loki watching her as she dressed and sat on the bed by his feet to brush and braid her hair. He liked watching her fix her hair, thought she doubt she’d ever get him to admit it. She had a feeling he had something he wanted to say, so she purposely worked slowly to give him time to work up to it.
“You could join me, you know,” he said quietly, eyes following the motion of her hands.
“Join you where?” she asked, twisting her head to finish her braid and pin it up.
“When I act. When I move on from here to find more kingdoms. You were right the other day, I do have plans beyond Asgard. There are so many more worlds to conquer.” He shifted, coming to the end of the bed so he could see her face. “You could be a queen, as you were born to be.”
She finished her hair and let her hands drop. “That’s why you wanted to teach me to fight,” she said quietly, pieces of a mental puzzle falling into place. “I knew you couldn’t just be concerned for my safety.”
“We would be unstoppable together,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “Our magics compliment each other. We made an illusion you could touch, that had weight. With that kind of power we could have anything we wanted. No one could stand against us.” He touched a stray lock of her hair, winding it around his finger. “I never thought to have a partner in my schemes.”
It occurred to her that coming from Loki this was probably an incredibly romantic offer. He looked so excited at the idea. She tried to be gentle when she replied. “You know what happened to my family, to me. I don’t think I could do it to someone else. I couldn’t be a conqueror.”
“Well I wasn’t planning on having you on the front lines,” he teased. “Magnificent as that might be.”
She touched his cheek briefly, then took her hand back to give him the freedom to lie. “I know what the offer means, coming from you. I do. But I can’t.”
He shifted, lounging on his side on the bed. “Just be queen, then. I’ll do the conquering. You can wear jewels and gowns and convince the people to adore you.”
He was temptation incarnate sometimes. Shockingly, a part of her wanted to say yes. To live his life, his dream and see where it took them. But she knew, as she always knew the truth of a matter, that it wasn’t the right path for her. “I don’t want to rule. I don’t want to be queen.”
“Well what do you want?” he asked.
She tried desperately to think of something light hearted to say. Something to make him chuckle and drop this. But the truth was too strong to hide this time. “This,” she said quietly. “Just this. You. Us. To be happy.”
His lip curled. “Such sentiment. What sort of romance have you created in your mind? I know you can’t think you’ll change me.”
Well, if he was going to act like an ass it would make this easer. She aimed for a tone as mocking as his but it still came out a little sad. “No, my darling. I can’t lie, not even to myself. We’re no romance. We’re a tragedy, you and I. There’s no happy ending for us.”
For just an instant he looked heartbroken. She wondered if it had even occurred to him how completely impossible they were. Then it was gone, the mocking trickster back in it’s place. “Then whyever are you here?”
She stood, smoothing out her gown and inspecting her leggings and boots. It bought her a moment to tame her expression. When she was confident she could speak without breaking down she looked back at him. “Because I love you,” she said simply. This time he couldn’t hide his emotions as quickly. She saw stunned surprise and the saddest mix of pleasure and fear. She bent close and kissed his cheek. “Have a good day, your majesty,” she told him, before turning and walking into the shadows.
She returned later when she was sure he would be otherwise occupied and retrieved a change of clothes and her brush so she could avoid going to him that night. The problem with dramatic exits was she had no idea how he had reacted to her moment of sentiment. It seemed prudent to let him make the first move.
He did so two nights later. She was helping the cook make dough for pies when she felt a sudden weight in her apron pocket. As soon as she had finished the lattice work on an apple pie she ducked into the pantry to fish it out.
There among the cleaning clothes was a note wrapped around a pretty blue stone. Are you coming tonight?
Well, it wasn’t a plea on bended knee, but for Loki it was practically a marriage proposal. She found a nub of charcoal in her pockets and wrote on the back of his note. Several times, I would hope. She wrapped it back around the stone and sent it to the pocket inside his leathers. She knew the exact smile he would have when he saw it.
She did not expect the response a few moments later. She was back in her room before she could dig it out and read it. Well, I’ll do my best.
A frisson of anticipation went through her at that. She took the time to wash her face and hands and brush the flour out of her hair. She also changed into a shirt of his she had stolen to sleep in, rather then her usual shift and leggings.
When she stepped into the shadows of his room she found him already there, waiting. He was in a loose linen shirt and black pants and boots. Much as she liked his imposing leathers - and she did like them and how dangerous they made him look, though she would never, ever admit it to him - outfits like this did her in. He looked so. . . normal. Like an ordinary man that she might have been able to make a life with.
Or maybe she’d just missed him. It had only been three nights but she found she craved the touch and scent of him. He looked braced, as if he feared she might want to talk to him about their last conversation. But when she crossed the room to him all she could do was cup his face in her hands and bring his mouth down for a kiss.
He groaned, arms coming around her with crushing strength. Maybe he’d missed her, as well. With his boots on he was just slightly too tall to kiss comfortably and he seemed far more interested in running his hands over her then lifting her up to him. So she simply stepped onto his boots to bring her close enough. He laughed against her mouth and lifted his head a fraction, looking down at her with unhidden affection. He was touching her skin and she was afraid he was going to blurt out something he’d regret, so she kissed him again, burying her hands in his hair.
Cool hands stroked her thigh just under the hem of the shirt, then beneath it. He cupped her rear, lifting her a little. He shifted his grip, then she felt his slim fingers touching her already damp folds. She gasped against his mouth, whispering his name as he eased her down onto the blankets he’d spread before the fire.
Apparently he had taken his teasing note as a promise. Between his clever fingers and talented mouth she lost track of her climaxes. She was weak and spent and begging for him by the time he rid himself of the last of his clothing and entered her. He braced himself on one arm so he could touch her skin with the other as he moved, his strokes deep and almost maddeningly slow.
He was generally silent when they were together this way. With so much skin touching all manner of awkward truths could spill out. As such occurrences had ruined encounters with previous lovers she didn’t begrudge him his silence. Tonight, however, he seemed unconcerned with what he might reveal because she could hear him whispering against her skin, his voice deep and low, with a rasp that sent shivers through her.
“Soft, so soft,” he murmured, hand roaming her, rough and cool. “My fragile Alfan.” He stroked the underside of her breast then reached down to grip her hip, shifting her so his next thrust went deeper.
She gasped, back arching. He gripped her tighter, fingers digging into her and his pace quickened. She ran her hands through his hair, down his back, clutching at him as the start of yet another orgasm began to stir in her. She could feel him smile against her skin even as he kissed her throat, dipping his head to drag his lips along her collarbone.
“Syn,” he whispered. She loved how he said her name, drawing the syllable out like he was savoring it. “Once more,” he commanded. “Just once. I want to feel it.”
She whimpered, beyond words, as her body eagerly obeyed him. Pleasure twisted inside her then seemed to explode outwards. She clung to him as he buried himself deep within her, all but growling as he released. His breath was ragged and harsh in her ear and he slid his hand beneath her, holding her to him in a crushing embrace.
Afterwards she lay by the fire, stretched out on her stomach and soaking in the heat like a cat. He sat beside her, away from the flames, tracing patterns on the skin of her back, his fingers a delightful counterpoint to the heat. She could feel his gaze on her, knew there was something he wanted to say. But she was far too content to press him.
When he lifted his hand she knew he’d worked up the nerve to say what ever it was. “I can’t say it back,” he said quietly. She kept watching the fire. If he was lying he deserved the privacy to do so. “I don’t even know if I can feel it any longer,” he continued and she felt actual pain at his words, as if her heart was breaking for him. “I don’t know why you’re here. I don’t know why I let you-” He was silent a moment. “I wanted to let you go. But I couldn’t.”
He didn’t say anymore, so she turned her head to look at him. He wasn’t looking at her, but what she could see of his face was vulnerable and young. She had expected him to ignore that it had ever happened. A painful admission that he didn’t know if he was capable of love . . . she didn’t know what to do with that.
She pushed herself to sit up and faced him. He finally looked at her. He’d closed his face off somewhat, but there was still far more pain there then she’d ever seen before. “I didn’t mean to say it. Ever. I try very hard to not blurt things out. But you asked me a hard question and I can’t lie.” She touched his cheek, stroked his jaw. “I wish I could lie to you. I don’t want to hurt you.” He was still uncertain, so she said what she knew he wanted to hear, though it cost her the last sliver of hope she had. “You don’t have to love me. I knew who you were from the beginning.”
She felt his fingers at her throat before he even reached her. He used the grip to draw he close for an almost chaste kiss. She settled against his chest, surprised to discover the fire had made him warmer then usual. He stroked her back with a still cool hand. “I liked hearing it,” he admitted into her hair.
When she glanced at him he looked mortified at the confession. She wrinkled her nose and drawled, “Sentiment,” in her best impression of him. It surprised a laugh from him and earned her another kiss.
The first snow came a week later. Loki had to travel to Vanaheim for some traditional meeting of the realm leaders. Syn had no gift for foresight and gave little weight to premonitions, but she had a growing feeling that something was going to go horribly wrong.
“It’s only for a week,” he told her the night before he left. He’d grown remarkably good at reading her moods. Not that she was hiding her worry very well.
She was standing by the window, watching the snow drift down, hands wrapped around her arms, hugging herself to ward off the chill. And the dread. “I know. I’m sorry, I’m being irrational.” She sighed, leaning her head on the window frame. “Perhaps it’s the change of weather.”
She heard him come closer. “You don’t enjoy the winter?”
“On the contrary. I love the snow. It reminds me of home. Alfheim has a long winter, most of my happy memories are of playing in the snow with my brother and the other children.”
His hands curled around her waist. “Ah. Is that why you don’t mind sharing your bed with a frost giant?”
She settled her back against his chest at his gentle tug. “By now I find your chill rather comforting.” She tipped her head back to look at him. “Though I think, technically, the frost giant is sharing his bed with me.”
“And isn’t it kind of me to never complain about your unnatural warmth, dear heart?”
“Yes, my darling, you’re the picture of benevolence.” Love remained a forbidden subject between them, but slightly mocking endearments were acceptable. Sometimes she thought he even enjoyed being called her darling.
“I suppose if you enjoy the cold I needn’t give you this.” His hands slid from her waist and after a shimmer of magic her wrapped a cloak around her shoulders.
“Loki!” She whirled to face him. “The last time you gave me something-”
“Hush.” He fastened the clasp at her throat and settled the fur lined hood around her face. “It’s customary to bring gifts for the other rulers at this summit. I simply had this made along with the others.” He flashed her a mischievous smile. “I told them it was for the Alfheim representative. It was hardly even a lie.”
She shook her head, soft black fur tickling her cheek, then looked down at the cloak. It was heavy on her shoulders, covering her completely and pooling behind her like a train. She took a few experimental steps to watch it drag behind her dramatically. The outside was a green so dark it was almost black, with black lining and fur and a bright gold clasp at her throat and shots of gold accent thread at the seams. She took hold of the edges to wrap it around herself. “You like dressing me in your colors,” she murmured.
“They suit you.” She stopped in front of him and he lowered the hood, arranging it on her shoulders like a collar. “You like it.”
She gave the most exasperated sigh she could manage, but couldn’t hide her smile. “Yes. I like it very much.” She stretched up to kiss him. “Thank you.” He slid his arms around her, under the cloak, and tugged her close. She wound her arms around his neck, fingers teasing through his hair. “What’s next? A set of leathers to match yours?”
His eyes lit up. “Careful, dear heart, you’ll give me such ideas.”
He left in the morning before she woke. She was dimly aware of him kissing her goodbye but when she opened her eyes he was gone. The week stretched out before her, lonely and dull. Her cloak lay draped across a chair where he had thrown it the night before after unwrapping her. She took a moment to appreciate the soft, heavy feel of it before tucking it in the back of her armoire.
She went about her chores and slept in his big, empty bed at night. The sense of dread only increased, though she could find no reason for it. By the last few nights sleep became difficult and she spent a great deal of time at his window, wrapped in the cloak he’d given her, hoping to see the light of the Bifrost indicate he had returned home.
She was elbow deep in dirty pots and pans when word came that the king had returned. Relief flooded her, so strong she almost collapsed. She half expected a note to appear in her pockets, perhaps a flirtatious invitation, or teasing at her inability to make the bed properly. But there was nothing. She told herself he would be busy with his advisors after a week away and focused on her work as a distraction. Night would come soon enough and she could see him then.
She didn’t even stop at her room after her work was done, simply found an empty hallway and strode through the shadows into his chamber. He was there, in his leathers and while she thought he would be waiting for her eagerly he didn’t even look up when she entered.
The dread that had finally released her came back with a roar. She stopped halfway to greeting him. “Loki. What’s wrong?”
A muscle twitched in his jaw but when he finally faced her he had his knife’s blade smile in place. “What’s wrong is a certain kitchen wench thinks she may enter a king’s chamber without invitation.”
She kept herself very still, as she would have if spotted by a serpent. “You told me I was always welcome here.”
He waved a dismissive hand. “Men say all manner of things when trying to get a particular pair of legs open.”
If she’d been anyone else she would have thought he was an impostor. An illusion meant to hurt her. But it was him, real and in the flesh. “Why are you talking like this?”
“Our ill advised liaison is over. You’ve been quite entertaining, but I’ve no need of you anymore.” He gave a bark of laughter, pacing away. “Did you really think I couldn’t have my choice of women in my bed? I only dallied with you as a distraction.” He swung to face her again. “I enjoyed corrupting the little truthteller.”
Shadows flickered over his face with everything he said. “You’re lying,” she said, voice thick. “Why? What happened at the summit?”
“I simply realized what a mistake you were.” The shadows swirled darker and thicker. “You’re beneath me and I’m done sullying myself with you.”
“You’re lying!” she shouted at him, even as something snapped inside her at his words. She lifted a hand and started towards him. “Stop lying or I will force you to tell the truth.”
He caught her wrist, gripping her tight enough to bruise. “This is the truth. Stay away from me. I don’t want to see you anymore. Don’t come back here.”
She reached for him with her other hand, touched his cheek. “Loki-”
For the barest instant his face changed and he looked as heartbroken as she felt. Then he gave a roar of pure rage and pushed her away, hard enough for her to stumble. But when she fell it was the floor of her simple servant’s quarters she landed on, not his. She was in her room, with her armoire back against the wall, as if it had never been anywhere else.
She scrambled to her feet and threw herself at the shadows, intending to go back to him. Something sent her bouncing back, the path now closed to her. She sunk down the wall, tucking her knees to her chest and burying her face in them. Very quietly she began to weep.
Syn cried most of the night. If she slept she didn’t recall it. When she didn’t report for her work one of the other girls came looking for her. She told her she was too ill to work and didn’t even feel the ache of a half-truth. She felt torn to shreds and put together again with pieces missing. She told herself it was for the best. A broken heart was a far better outcome then her death. But what her head knew to be true and what she felt were entirely different things.
The worst part was she didn’t understand why he had done it. He’d been lying, every cruel thing he’d said had caused shadows on his face. Something had happened in the week he was gone, something terrible. And whatever it was had made him push her aside. And now she couldn’t even confront him to find out what.
Whatever it was it had been bad enough he thought she needed to be away from him. That hadn’t been a lie. She tried to find comfort in the idea he was protecting her from something. Perhaps when whatever he feared had passed he would come groveling for forgiveness. Maybe there were weeks of presents in her future.
That frail, unlikely hope got her out of bed the next day. She plead fatigue and illness when others asked if she was all right. She wasn’t all right, she was tired and heart sick and apparently that was enough truth for the questions to stop. She cleaned and carried and pitched in where she could, avoiding any possible contact with the king or even any room he might be in.
In the interest of not seeing him until he was ready to be civil, she volunteered to take a last minute trip to the market for eggs when the cook was in a panic. She had to wear her old, worn coat and the chill cut through it. She wondered if she was ever again going to be able to feel the cold without feeling sad. She dawdled a little at the market stalls, but the fear of Cook’s wrath put her feet back on the road to the castle before she was ready. Halfway there she saw the Bifrost flare to life and the sky darkened with the crackle of thunder.
Dread filled her, leaving no room for her heartache. She gathered her skirts up in her free hand and began to run. Snow soaked her leggings, sticking them unpleasantly to her skin. She didn’t recall the last time she had run so fast or so far and she was panting for breath by the time she reached the kitchen door.
The room was chaos and she was almost trampled by two fleeing girls. Syn caught the cook’s arm. “What’s happened?”
“Thor has returned. The king is an impostor.” The older woman shook her hand off and hitched a pack over her shoulder. “Thor and his brother have been battling in the throne room and the whole palace is set to come down around our ears. We’re leaving before it gets worse, I suggest you do the same.” The cook pushed past her, moving as fast as Syn had ever seen her.
She stood frozen a moment as others rushed around her. Above her, in the distance, there was another crash. “Oh, that bastard,” she whispered, glancing at the ceiling.
She found herself heading for her room, honestly planning to pack up and let the two testosterone fueled idiots fight it out between themselves. But when she pulled her armoire open the first thing she saw was the green and gold gown he had given her. She reached out and touched it, letting the fabric slip through her fingers. She’d never worn it. Not even for him. She’d thought it would hurt too much, dressing up at the queen she would never be.
“Never underestimate the importance of dressing the part, dear heart.”
Oh, she was mad. Absolutely, stark-raving, mad. He must be contagious.
The gown shimmered and she closed her eyes, feeling the silky weight of it wrap around her, settling on her like a second skin. She looked down at herself, doing a little twirl to watch it swirl around her legs. A stray thought pulled all the pins out of her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders and down her back. The cloak was probably overkill, much as she would have liked it. She glanced in her mirror and saw, if not a queen, someone to be reckoned with. It wasn’t leathers, but then, she wasn’t truly a fighter.
A crash rocked the building and she braced herself on the wall. Right, no more stalling. She might already be too late. She smoothed her hands down her front, tapped into the magic that was now so a part of her and strode through the shadows.
You can thank my son's erratic sleep cycle for this early installment. (Don't ever take a two year old with sleep problems on vacation. The jet lag is just. . . it's bad, people.) I wasn't expecting to get this out until mid week but a couple of late nights increased my editing time. Happy Monday!
She had been in the throne room only once, rushing to bring Frigga replacement earrings after she had lost one at a state event. She had entered through a narrow side door, slipped to the queen’s side, traded good earrings for bad and slipped out again with barely a chance to look around. When she appeared this time it was in the shadows near that same side entrance, but the room was in far less splendor then it had been that the last time.
The throne was cracked in half, hunks of shattered marble surrounding it. Several pillars were buckled or cracked and a glance at the ceiling told her they really were in danger of bringing the building down. She took a hesitant step forward, rethinking her sudden bravery, when Thor came crashing through one of the previously undamaged pillars, ending up in a heap at the foot of the throne. Loki came storming after him, brandishing dual swords.
He was in his full armor and leathers, helm included. The knife’s blade smile was on his face as he approached his brother. There was a shimmer and she saw the ghosts of several more Lokis surround him. Illusions. Based on Thor’s reaction they must have been far more substantial to him then her. He swung his hammer out at one of them while the real Loki lifted his swords.
“Loki, stop!” Doubt gone she leapt easily over a bit of rubble, racing towards them.
Her cry made him hesitate, just long enough for Thor to zero in on the real threat. He lifted his hammer and Syn sent out a blast of magic, separating them with enough force to send them both flying back.
She reached Loki before he got to his feet and got between him and his brother, hands up, shimmering with magic. “Stop.”
He heaved himself to his feet, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Get out of the way, Syn,” he rasped.
“You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Something happened at the summit and you knew you were found out and he would be coming. That’s why you said those things. To push me away.”
“Not the time, dear heart.” He stalked towards her and she backed up, hands still up, but she couldn’t bring herself to blast him again.
“I won’t let you kill him, Loki.”
“MOVE!” he roared, brandishing one of the swords.
She stopped and dropped her hands, creating a barrier behind herself, blocking them off from Thor. She planted her feet, tipped her chin up and stared him down. “No.”
He stopped a few paces from her, hands fisting on the sword handles. The muscles in his shoulder bunched and she braced herself, wondering exactly how much it would hurt to be stabbed. Probably not as much as lying had, if she was comparing. Of course, she doubted he’d be healing her this time.
The sword didn’t come for her, though. He dropped his hand to his side and said quietly, “Not you too.”
She took a breath, though it felt like there was no air left in the room. “Loki-”
“My father disowned me. My brother fights me at every turn.” He stepped toward her, voice rising dangerously. “Even my mother left me. But you saw me for who I am. You knew what I could do and you trusted me despite it. And now you stand against me, too.” His eyes were bright and despite the anger - the fury - in his voice he looked utterly lost. “You said you loved me,” he screamed and she saw tears spill onto his cheeks. “Do not stand between me and my vengeance.”
She struggled to swallow around the lump in her throat. “Loki,” she said softly. Carefully, well aware of the swords and what was likely several hidden knives, she stepped towards him. He flinched when she flattened her hands on his chest, but he made no move to hurt her. “Loki, I love you.” She put all her power of truth in the words, praying he’d believe them. “I am with you. I would forgive you almost anything.” She ducked her head to catch his eyes. “But if you kill your brother, you will never forgive yourself.”
He scoffed, but the shadows gathered on his face as he spoke. “I rather think I’d get over it.”
“You’re lying,” she told him gently, with a sad smile. “Do you even know when you’re lying anymore?”
His jaw twitched and she braced for another round of shouting. Or possibly the sword. But he simply gave a roar of anger and whirled away from her, pacing.
She sagged a little, letting out a long, slow breath. She heard Thor move behind her as she lowered the barrier and spared him a glance. He was studying her with a furrowed brow, hammer loose in his hand. “Who are you?” he finally managed.
“It’s complicated,” she said at the same time Loki snapped, “Don’t talk to her.”
She rolled her eyes, looking back at him as Thor rumbled, “It’s over, brother.”
Loki was stalking back and forth like a caged animal, twirling his swords idly. “It isn’t over until I say it is.”
Syn crossed her arms. “The servants are fleeing. Your people are in revolt. The palace is structurally unsound.” Out the corner of her eye she saw the Bifrost blaze. “And I imagine that would be your brother’s warriors come to aid him in battle.” Loki gave her a sour look. “I’m the only ally you have, my darling. And I don’t fight. I won’t conquer with you.”
He twirled a sword idly. “You would. If they were going to kill me, you’d fight. Like a bear for her cub, I imagine.”
“You would,” he repeated, stepping towards her again. Thor shifted and she waved him off, standing her ground as Loki stalked her. “If it was between my death and your principles, you’d choose me. Admit it.”
She hated him a little right then, smiling down her smugly. “Yes,” she said finally. “I would protect you. Together we might even win. Then what?”
“Then we rule Asgard.” He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand and she stayed very still, wary of the sword he still held. “Together.”
She shook her head slowly. “No. Not together. If you forced me fight for you - kill for you - then it would be the end. That’s our tragedy. You, alone on a stolen throne.”
He snatched his hand back. “It’s not stolen. I’m the son of a king,” he snapped, turning his back on her again.
“And I’m the daughter of another,” she shot back. “What good has it done either of us? You want too many kingdoms and I want none at all.” He glanced at her as she strode towards him, taking her turn to stalk him. “What then, Loki? Say you’ve defeated your brother and his warriors. Lost me. Now you rule Asgard in a ruined castle with a people who hate and fear you. Sounds like a grand place from which to start your conquering.”
“Shut up,” he said, pacing.
She moved as well, keeping his eye so the circled each other. “Where will you start? Midgard? That didn’t end well for you last time and I’d wager they know you’re coming now. What of Alfheim, we’ve been conquered before so you shouldn’t have any trouble.”
“Not my realm, then? What else is there? I hear Jotunheim is lovely this time of year.” That earned her a black glare and she gave him her version of his knife’s blade smile. “None of the nine realms? You’ll travel to the worlds beyond them. Excellent plan. Surely there’ll be nothing there stronger then one man and his ambitions.” He stopped his pacing and squared off with her, fury in every movement. “Then what?” she asked, voice so hard and sharp she barely recognized it.
“Shut. Up,” he growled.
“When you’ve conquered everything there is, every world you can reach, what will be left for you, Loki? Do you think you’ll be happy? Or will you weep with no more worlds to conquer and no one to share your glory?”
“I said be silent.” He charged at her, swords at the ready. Thor leapt forward as if to protect her and she used a blast of magic to throw him to safety. She heard the clatter of metal as Loki dropped one of his weapons and then his hand closed around her throat. His momentum propelled her backwards until shadows surrounded her and she slammed back against a bedpost, now in his chamber.
They stood there, breathing fast, him pinning her to the wood with a grip that was just shy of too tight. He gave her a little shake. “Well? Anything else? Any more clever words?”
She glanced upwards at the golden horns arching above her. “That is a ridiculous helmet,” she said in a deadly serious tone.
His mouth twitched almost imperceptibly. “This is the traditional helm of the Asgardian prince, handed down for countless generations.”
“That doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.”
He laughed softly, sounding tired, and the helm shimmered and disappeared as he bent his head to rest his forehead on hers. The grip on her throat softened to a caress “You are magnificent when you’re angry,” he murmured. “Especially in that gown.”
“Someone once told me to dress the part.” She flattened her hands on his chest, armor cool and hard beneath her palms. “I like the rest of your outfit, for what it’s worth.”
He closed his eyes. “I wanted to kill you.” His voice rasped painfully at the confession.
“I know,” she said gently. “I’ve always known you could.”
“But I couldn’t.” He lifted his head to look in her eyes. “Furious as I was I could not bring myself to do it.”
She lifted a hand to touch a bruise blossoming on his jaw, using her magic to heal it. “Well, then that was a surprise for both of us.”
He sucked in a deep breath through his nose and stepped away, hand dropping from her skin. “Thor will find us here soon. He always found me when I hid here.” He glanced around the room. “It is over, isn’t it?”
She crossed her arms, hugging herself. “I’m afraid so, yes.”
“What do I do now? Let them capture me? Throw myself on Thor’s mercy?”
“We run,” Syn said firmly. “Now, together. Run somewhere he won’t find us.”
He looked at her, face sad and unguarded. “He’ll follow. He’ll chase me wherever I go.”
“Then we keep running. Until he gives up. He can’t give chase forever.”
Loki shook his head slowly. “You won’t rule with me but you’re willing to cower and hide with me.”
She pushed off the bedpost and went to him. “I will live with you. Together. I’d go to the prisons with you, too, if it came to that.”
He tilted his head, studying her and she couldn’t read his expression at all. He looked away after a long moment, staring out the window. She was lifting her hand to touch him when there was a crash from the hallway, making them both jump. He sighed. “He appears to have found us.” He looked from the door to her and smiled, but it was strained and false. “Before we go, perhaps I should try once more to make peace with him. Would you go and tell him? I rather think he’d take it better from you.” He gestured to the door. “I’ll wait right here.”
She saw the faintest flicker of shadow on his features and knew it was a lie. He wouldn’t be here when she returned with his brother. He was leaving. Without her. The accusation was on the tip of her tongue, but she stopped when she saw his eyes. He hid it well, but there was fear in his eyes.
She swallowed the words. If she forced him to tell the truth then she would have to tell it to Thor and the warriors. They hammered at the door again. She took a step towards the shadows, then stopped. “Sometimes, I wish I could have been the queen you wanted.”
A smile flashed across his face. “I think you were exactly what I wanted.”
She felt a chill on her hand and glanced down to see a bronze ring wrapped around her third finger. “That’s your mother’s ring,” she whispered.
He stepped forward and touched her throat, bending close to her. “Now it’s yours.”
She took a deep breath and another crash came, shaking the door. She needed to go quickly, but tears were threatening to overwhelm her. “Loki-” She stopped herself, then shook her head. “No, never mind.” She wrinkled her nose. “Sentiment.”
“I know,” he said quietly. “Go.”
She took one last look at him, in his imposing leathers and his trickster smile. This time it didn’t quite reach his eyes. For an insane instant she wanted to say yes, let’s do it together. Fight them. Win. Conquer everything we see. As long as we’re doing it together. But she didn’t say it. She turned and walked into the shadows, away from him.
She stepped out into the hallway outside the room. Sif noticed her first and put a blade to her throat between one breath and the next. Thor stopped in mid swing to regard her. “Loki sent me,” Syn said as calmly as possible. “He knows he’s beaten.”
He lowered the hammer very slowly. “What does he want?”
“To make peace,” she said and her head throbbed at the half truth.
“It’s a trick,” Sif said. To her credit the blade didn’t move a fraction of an inch.
“Of course it’s a trick, it’s Loki.” That was the big one, Volstagg.
Thor glanced at his comrades, then back to her. “Why should I believe you?”
She wondered if Loki needed her to stall. No, he’d likely been gone the instant after her. “I saved you life a few minutes ago,” she said. “I’m not sending you to a trap now.” She waved her hand and the remaining stones blocking the door disappeared. “It’s unlocked.”
Thor looked at the door a long, tense moment. “Sif,” he said finally and the blade was removed from Syn’s neck. Thor opened the door and Sif gave her a shove to force her inside the room.
It was, as Syn had expected, empty. She let her emotions show, grief that made her stagger a little. Thor stood in the center of the room, hands fisted. He looked at her and whatever he saw in her face must have been convincing because no one stabbed or shackled her.
The five of them argued for what seemed like forever. Syn found herself perched on the edge of the bed. She could have walked through the shadows half a dozen times but it seemed like too much trouble. She had nowhere to go and wasn’t entirely sure Sif wouldn’t stab her before she could make it, anyway. She had found one of Loki’s shirts tangled in the bedclothes and she held it in her lap, crushing the fabric between her fingers. When he’d pushed her away with those hurtful words she had felt such pain. Not all she felt was numb. She knew they were discussing what to do with her, but she couldn’t muster up the energy to care.
Finally, Sif and the Warriors filed out and Thor came to stand beside her. “Sif thinks we should execute you for treason.”
That was utterly unsurprising. She continued playing with the black linen in her lap, not looking at him.
“Hogun thinks I should lock you up to see if Loki rescues you. Volstagg thinks my brother bewitched you in some way and you’re as innocent as a lamb. And Fandral thinks you were truly in love and may be writing a ballad about it later.”
She risked a glance up at him. “And what to you think?”
He blew out a breath and sank onto the bed next to her. “I don’t know what to think.” He studied her. “Did you know he had gone?”
She lifted a shoulder. “I suspected. I offered to go with him. To run and hide from you.”
“But he left you here.”
She smiled and smoothed the shirt over her lap. “I believe, in the end, he preferred to be alone that to have me share his fate.” She looked at Thor. “I believe he was trying to be kind.”
“You do love him, don’t you?” She nodded. “He’s done horrible things,” he continued.
“He killed. Hundreds of people.”
Syn took a breath. “Your father and his army slaughtered my people. Killed my family in front of me. You and your warriors fight constantly. Do none of the people you kill count? Do none of them have families who miss them? What is the number where a person no longer deserves love?” She looked around the room. “He told me he was a monster. To me he was just a man.”
He looked down at the shirt on her lap. “Did he love you in return?” The question was very quiet.
“He told me he didn’t think he was capable of it.” Thor’s gaze returned to hers. “I don’t know if that’s true. He cared for me. He saved my life once. He made me laugh. It was enough.”
Thor looked away from her, off into a middle distance. He was silent for a while. “I’ve never seen anyone talk to him the way you did.”
She rubbed her head where it had hit the bedpost. “I don’t recommend it.”
He chuckled, shaking his head. He ran a hand back through his hair with a groan. “I don’t know what to do with you. Would he even come for you? If you were imprisoned?”
She hoped that was a hypothetical, but she answered anyway. “Maybe. If he knew. But I don’t think he would have left me here if he thought you were going to be cruel.”
He studied her again. “You did save my life,” he said thoughtfully.
“Rather heroically,” she agreed.
He looked away, mouth in a hard line, then gave a firm nod. “As such, I’m going to pardon you for any wrong doing. You’re free to go, though I suggest leaving Asgard.” When he looked back at her his expression was almost kind. “Where would you like to go?”
She blinked and looked away. The thought of leaving, striking out on her own had never appealed much. It was even less attractive now. But she couldn’t stay here. She’d be in danger once people found out her connection to Loki. And there would be nowhere that wouldn’t remind her of him. So, with all of the realms at her disposal, where did she want to go? “I’m from Alfheim originally,” she finally said, half surprised at herself. “I think I’d like to go home.
He stood. “It will be done. Heimdall will see to your safe passage.” He glanced about the room, ending up on the shirt she still held and the ring gleaming on her finger. “Take whatever you like,” he said gently. “It won’t be missed.”
“Thank you,” she called out as he strode to the door. He stopped, one hand on the door frame. In that moment he looked old and tired. With the weight of all the realms on his shoulders. “Thank you,” he said, turning his head back slightly. “For loving him when the rest of us could not.” With that he left, leaving her along in the empty room.
Posting this and the Epilogue at the same time because said Epilogue is so short. More notes at the end of that.
Editing this chapter is when I realized Pages spell check recognizes Asgard but not Asgardian or any of the other realms. I guess we know who has the best PR of the realms.
She was greeted in Alfheim if not with open arms then at least as a beloved prodigal. The current ruler, a steward appointed by Odin and reporting back to Asgard, was a noble she had known as a child, as were several members of his council. They were understandably shocked to see her alive and well after all this time. Explaining what she was doing back here now without getting into Loki and her dealings with him was a struggle that left her head throbbing. But she managed to make it through with enough dodges and half truths to keep everyone happy.
Once she had assured them that she had no designs on the throne and no army with which to start a revolution they got down to the question of what, exactly, they should do with her. She expected a pat on the head and to be sent on her way to sink or swim on her own. Instead they managed to track down an old property of her mother’s people, out in the countryside near a small farming town far from the capital. No one was entirely clear on how it was connected to her mother and based on the shadows on their faces when they spoke of it she suspected it was a ruse to get her as far from them and their politics as possible.
The town of Lakefire had been named for the particular trick of the light the sun caused on the nearby lake as it set behind the mountains. Apparently, it lit the water up in such an array of reds and oranges that it looked like it was aflame. Her new home overlooked said lake, less than three miles walk from the town itself. It was dusty and sparsely furnished, but the stones were in good condition and there were no holes in the roof. Her father’s old friends looked nervous as they showed it to her, as if waiting to see if it was enough to make up for their serving their conqueror. She smiled and told them it was perfect and would it be possible to get some furniture moved in? And they all sighed in relief and assured her they would see to everything.
Her first few weeks there were quiet. The nobles brought her furniture and gowns and some coin and promised to visit and then disappeared back to the capital hoping she forgot them as quickly as they had forgotten her. She was content to leave them there. She didn’t need their guilt and she didn’t want their politics. So she cleaned her new home with rags and water from the lake and set about starting her new life.
The townspeople didn’t seem to know what to make of her. She went to market every week for food and supplies. She smiled and made small talk and knew they spoke of her in whispers as soon as she moved on. She was a mystery and people did love to talk about a mystery.
She’d been there just shy of three months when she came across a group of children on her road looking for help for their injured friend. She knelt in the dusty road and healed the boy’s broken leg and the group of them went running back to town, spreading word that she was a witch and magic flowed from her hands. That evening the injured boy and his mother knocked on her door with a jar of homemade jam, a hand drawn thank you card and a gentle inquiry as to whether she was open for business as a healer.
She rarely spent a day alone after that. People came for healing and paid in coin or food or favors. Her garden doubled in size by the fall and before winter’s first snow she had a chicken coop and two content hens. On a whim she wrote to some of the nobles asking if any of her mother’s books had survived the coup. To her great surprise a crate arrived a week later, full of books on every topic she could think of, including healing and herbs and cooking. She unpacked them while sitting in the middle of her living room, torn between crying and laughing at the connection to her past she’d thought lost forever.
When spring came she found herself a booth at the market selling lotions and liniments, sharing in the gossip rather then being the subject of it. Acceptance was hesitant but sincere. On mid summer she showed them a fireworks display the like no one had ever seen. And if they still called her witch on occasion at least they had decided she was their witch.
It was a struggle, finding herself after so many centuries. As the seasons passed and she settled in she found herself most comfortable somewhere between the simple servant she’d been and the queen Loki has professed her to be. She liked getting her hands dirty in her garden and tossing seed to the chickens. She enjoyed the little magic tricks she did for the children when they gathered enough courage to visit her. She was surprised but happy when people began to come to her for advice as well as spells. She carefully maintained the glimmer of mystery that still surrounded her. And if, on occasion, she stood out by the lake studying the night sky, soaking in the chill and wondering what might have been, well, mysterious witches surely had mysterious pasts.
It was midwinter, just a few months shy of the fifth anniversary of her return. The snows had been record breaking and since Syn was the only person on her road it meant a lot of trudging through knee deep drifts if she wanted to go to town. She received several invitations to stay in spare rooms until the snow let up. But she assured them all she liked the cold and continued the trek back and forth.
She was on her way home one still night, returning from aiding in a birth. Birth was not really her specialty and as a witch she didn’t generally get invited to them. But Hilde, the blacksmith’s wife, seemed to think she was good luck and had insisted in the way only a very pregnant woman could that she make an appearance.
Holding the tiny, shrieking thing had been. . . oddly nice. A girl, with a headful of her mother’s red curls. She’d stopped fussing for a few moments when Syn had held her and they had just stared at each other. For an instant she’d wished she was a proper sort of witch. One that could give blessings for a happy life or great beauty or the like. All she could do was take her turn at cuddling her, assure her parents she was the most precious baby in all the realms and start on her slow walk to her lonely house. She tried not to think about how unlikely it was she’d ever have a baby of her own. Most of the time she wasn’t even sure she wanted any. She liked the idea of children and some of the ones in the village were very sweet. That didn’t necessarily mean she wanted one around all the time.
She leaned on her staff, hiking through a particularly high snow drift. It was just a bad time. The cold made her melancholy more often then not now. She was not looking forward to reaching her dark, empty home. If she was lucky the fire still had some life to it and she would be able to warm up quickly. There was plenty of time for a cup of tea and some reading before she slept.
She came around the last bend in the road and caught sight of her home. It was not as cold and dark as she’d expected it to be. Light shone in the main windows and smoke curled out of the chimney. She stopped, staring a moment, before scanning the road ahead of her. No sign of another’s tracks. It wasn’t entirely unheard of for people to wait for her to return if they needed her. But it was extremely unlikely for someone to do so at this time of night and in this weather. It was almost certainly impossible to have done so without leaving any sign of their arrival.
Her staff was icy cold in her hands, the wrought metal a gift from the blacksmith she’d just left given after she’d healed his hand from a crippling burn. She shifted her grip on it, ready for battle and made her way up the path to her door. It had been a very long time since she’d had to fight. She hoped the muscle memory was still there because she doubted anyone was coming to help her. She shoved her door open and stepped inside.
It was like going back in time, for a moment she didn’t know if she was home in Alfheim or back in Asgard. Loki looked just the same as he had then, tall and lean, wrapped in imposing black and green leathers. He stood in front of a blazing fire, arms crossed, staring into the flames. He looked so out of place in her simple, homey stone cottage, with the mismatched furniture and handhooked rug. He looked up at her when the door slammed behind her, tugged out of her numb fingers by the winter wind. He grinned and it seemed to morph through every one of his particular smiles. From the knife’s blade to the trickster grin to the soft, fond one only she ever saw before fading away into uncertainty when she didn’t immediately react.
It took her a moment to remember to breathe, shock freezing her more surely then the nasty weather had. She had stopped thinking he would come. In the first year she had expected him at any time, sure he was going to come sweep her away once he thought it was safe. The second year she was worried for him, sure that he had planned to come but that something awful had happened to him. The fear had changed to anger that had threatened to consume her and she had tried to bury it. To not think of him at all. Because it was the only way to heal and find pleasure in the life she now had.
And now he was here, standing in her home, waiting to see how she would greet him.
She strode towards him, dropping her staff halfway across the room. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to do until she reached him, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
His arms came around her, almost painfully tight, lifting her off her feet. He actually spun her around, though she was fairly certain it was only so he could press her against the wall next to the fireplace. He grinned widely when she lifted her head. “I thought you’d be angry.”
She arched a brow, digging her fingers into his hair. “I am furious,” she assured him.
Somehow the grin got even wider. “Good.” Her brow arched higher. “You’re magnificent when you’re angry,” he added, bringing her mouth back to his.
Much, much, much later she finally got her cup of tea. They sat on opposite sides of the fire, him in his breeches, her wrapped in a robe she’d fetched from her bedroom. His teacup dangled from his fingertips while she cupped both hands around hers. She enjoyed the way the firelight played on his pale skin, though she noticed there was a new scar on his shoulder. “I’m not entirely sure how long it’s been,” he finally said, breaking a rather lengthy silence.
“Five years,” she told him, struggling to keep her voice neutral.
He had the good sense to look chagrined. “In my defense, I wasn’t entirely sure where you’d gone.”
“Yes, with my limitless resources I’m sure you had to hunt quite extensively.”
He sipped his tea. “I thought you’d be in the capital, reclaiming your throne.”
She looked away. “Thrones are your obsession, not mine.”
“Still. You were born to royalty. Syn the Truthful, last princess of Alfheim. Tamer of the Trickster-”
“This is you tame?”
“Who faced down both princes of Asgard and lived to tell the tale,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “Reduced to living on the outskirts of a farming village, setting broken bones and curing cuts.”
She finished her tea in one gulp. “I also put on a fireworks display at midsummer you can see three towns over.”
“You claim not to want the throne but surely you want more then. . . this.” He waved a hand to indicate the little house. “You should be-”
“You left me, Loki,” she said quietly, finally silencing him. She let him stew on it a moment. “How long have you been watching me?”
He looked into the flames. “A few days. Less then a week. Why do they call you the Winter Witch?”
She leaned back against her bookshelf, stretching her legs out towards him. “Legend says when the first chill of fall touches the air I go out on the lake and tell the winter wind whether or not he’s welcome. And as the winter wanes I go back out and tell him when to leave.” He gave her a skeptical look over the rim of his tea cup. “I go out and stand by the lake at night,” she explained with a smile. “Apparently, they noticed.”
“No conversations with the wind?”
“None I’d repeat to you.” She smoothed the folds of her robe to give her hands something to do. “I used to look for you,” she said, wincing as the truth came out. “Now I just like the chill. It reminds me of you.”
She saw on how much that meant to him before he rearranged his face into something more neutral. “Has my idiot brother come to visit?” That, too, was carefully neutral.
“Once, a year and a half ago. He had business in the capital and came all the way out here to say hello. Asked me if I’d seen you. Talked a bit about Asgard.” She paused, studying him. “I always assumed you’d killed Odin.”
He scowled. “It was my intent. But the old man had to fall into his blasted Odinsleep. I suppose my reappearance was one shock too many. I had expected a rather epic fight, not stabbing a sleeping opponent.” He glanced at her. “Apparently I’m not a complete monster. Has the old bastard finally awakened?”
She nodded slowly. “Back on the throne while Thor acts as part ambassador, part army general. I don’t know how much he knows about what happened while he slept. Though apparently there’s a ballad about us.”
His head snapped up to look at her, horrified. “No.”
“Yes. It’s awful. They got my name wrong. And you don’t get away at the end. Thor throws you in some dungeon or cave and I go with you. I think there’s something about a snake.” They shared a quiet chuckle until she finally asked, “Why did you leave me?”
He glared at the fire again. “I made a deal with someone, when I tried to conquer Midgard. When I was defeated I lost the ability to hold up my end of the bargain. I knew once I was back between the realms he would find me and likely use you against me were you with me.”
She could tell that was only part of the truth, likely the part he thought she’d most sympathize with. She wasn’t surprised he had more the one reason. She was a little surprised she’d gotten an answer at all. “And now?”
“Our dealings are done.”
“Good. Because I’m coming with you this time.”
He shook his head. “Syn-”
“It wasn’t a question. You’re right, this isn’t enough. Living here was good for me. I’ve learned who I am, without parents or a king or even you to try to shape me. I’m stronger then I was when you left. But I’m tired of my world being so small. And I’m tired of being alone. And I think you are, too. Or you wouldn’t be here.” The furtive glance he gave her was answer enough. She pressed her advantage, scooting away from the wall to get closer to him. “You said once you never thought to have a partner in your schemes. Have you changed your mind?”
He tipped his head back, regarding her through half closed lids as she climbed into his lap. “Have you changed yours about conquering?”
“How much conquering have you been doing in my absence?” He scowled and she wound her arms around his neck. “Why don’t we try traveling first? And if you find somewhere that desperately needs conquering we can discuss it.” She watched his scowl slowly melt into his trickster smile and she matched it with one of her own.
Maddy had been a waitress half her life, mostly in diners like the one she worked in now. She’d seen all manner of folk come through, from regulars to weirdos to guys she’d had to call the cops on. But she didn’t think she’d ever seen such a mismatched couple as the one currently sitting at one of her tables.
She hadn’t seen them come in, just noticed them sitting there with menus. The guy was a pretty common sight in New York. Handsome, well dressed, obviously wealthy. Little overdressed for the weather and her diner, but she’d seen worse. Kinda familiar looking, too, like one of those models her daughter had pictures of taped up in her room and the back of her school binders. They all looked the same to Maddy and this one was no different. She looked away from him for half a minute and she couldn’t recall a single feature. He glared at the menu like it had wronged him some how and maybe it had. No caviar or lobster on it, after all.
The girl with him didn’t fit at all, though. She was dressed in a long fluttery summer dress of greens and pale yellows. Her dirty blonde hair was a riot of curls and waves framing her heart-shaped face. She looked like what Maddy’s mother might have politely called a “free spirit.” Some one too good to work for a living, who expected everything to be handed to her. The dress looked tailored to her, her manicure was immaculate and her shoes looked like they cost more then Maddy made in a year. She didn’t wear any jewelry except a simple ring on her left hand. The guy didn’t have a ring on and Maddy couldn’t figure out if that meant they weren’t married or were just engaged or maybe she was married and stepping out with this one.
She couldn’t help but overhear some of their conversation when she was cleaning up nearby tables after lunch rush.
“. . uncomfortable we could have gone somewhere else.” The free spirit was spreading butter on her pancakes with a relish usually seen in five year olds.
“You wanted coffee and something to smother in syrup,” her man replied. His accent made it sound vaguely disdainful. Or maybe he just didn’t like syrup.
“We could have gotten that anywhere. You wanted to come to New York.” She gave him a canny look, like she could see right through him. “You’re dragging me to the opera, aren’t you?”
“You like the opera.”
“I love the opera,” she corrected. “Especially the ones starring you. You get all riled up afterwards.” She popped a piece of pancake in her mouth and gave him a searing look that should have melted the paint off the wall behind him.
Maddy headed back to the kitchen with her dirty dishes before she could hear his response. The opera comment hadn’t made much sense, but she thought she had them pegged now. The free spirit had to be his kept woman. She’d heard about them on TV and in magazines but didn’t think she’d ever met one. This was New York, though, there had to be tons of them floating around. No guy like him would stick with a woman like her for very long, but if they were having fun Maddy supposed it was no harm done.
By the time she got back to finish refilling napkins and swapping out empty ketchups and cream pitchers their conversation seemed to have cycled back on itself.
“. . . you think I was uncomfortable?”
Free spirit had finished her pancakes and leaned back on the booth bench, one foot tucked under her. She was holding her coffee cup in both hands, like it was the Grail itself, a common pose for the true caffeine addict. “You’re in your imposing clothes,” she told him matter-of-factly.
“There’s nothing wrong with my clothes.”
“You’re in a suit and coat in the middle of summer. Not to mention the scarf.”
He glanced down. “For decoration, not warmth.”
“Just once I’d like to see you in denims and a tight t-shirt. Just once.”
He shook his head but was grinning like he enjoyed the teasing. “Never going to happen.”
Maddy got busy with other customers but she did notice the couple when they were getting ready to leave. The guy put a small stack of bills on the table and at a glare from his woman added a couple more before standing up. Free spirit unfolded herself from her side of the booth and in a move Maddy couldn’t really follow snagged her man’s green silk scarf and used it to tie her hair back, ends trailing down her back. She gave him a positively impish smile. “It looks better on me.”
He just looked at her for a few beats before reaching up and curling his hand around her neck. Maddy had the awful thought that she was going to have to call the cops over a scarf, but all he did was tug his date closer so he could kiss her. A kiss that was a little too long and far too intense for public. It was probably a sex act in some states.
Maddy glanced away and when she dared look back they had separated and the expressions on their faces made her take back everything she’d decided about them. There was far too much heat and affection for it to just be some sort of business transaction. He looked like he’d move mountains for the woman with wild hair and she, in return, looked ready to walk through fire for him. The look they shared was the stuff of epic romance and black and white films.
He released her throat and rearranged the scarf so the ends trailed over one shoulder. “You’re right. It does look better on you,” he said with indulgent affection. He placed a hand on the woman’s back to guide her out of the diner. “Where do you want to go after the opera?”
She looked up at him and smiled. “Somewhere new. Somewhere I’ve never been. I feel like an adventure.”
So, this is the end of Where my Demons Hide. It is not, however, the end of Syn and Loki. Yeah, what started out as an idle Google search (I wonder if the Norse have a god of truth?*) became the longest fan fic I've written alone and is now the first story in what will eventually be a trilogy. (What is it with Marvel properties and trilogies? I guess three is a nice, neat storytelling number.)
I've finished the first draft of part two and am now in the middle of the first round of editing. Part three is mostly plotted and a few scenes have been written. I am hoping/expecting to get the first chapter of part two up this weekend.
I want to thank you all for reading and commenting and kudoing and just generally being awesome. I am so glad you've enjoyed this story and hope you'll join me for what's to come. If you're happy to leave the story here (and as a reader I think that is always your right) then farewell and thank you for taking this journey with me. If you're eager for more then I thank you for your faith in me and I'll see you soon with Hellbound.
*Syn is actually the goddess of trials and doorways. She was a maidservant of Frigga and guarded her door from unwanted visitors. She was often invoked by the Norse during trial or debates and when something was vetoed it was declared that "Syn was against it." Her name is sometimes translated as "truth" and sometimes as "rebuttal." Loki's canon wife, Sygin, was the goddess of loyalty, but the fact she's easily tricked by his illusions if kind of a plot point in their myths, so I didn't think she worked for my purposes.