Waiting to fall.
God of Mischief. God of Lies. Magician. For so they called him.
Loki had always been duplicitous. All of Asgard knew his nature. Better to whisper behind his back and smile behind your hand than try and talk to his face. They called him “silver tongue” but it wasn’t a compliment. Dissembler, they meant. He could charm the babe from a mother’s arms and the sweetness from a lover’s touch. He could twist reason until it sounded like madness and he could steal your own words before you knew to guard them. Such was Loki’s gift.
Clever, they said, was Loki. A master of magic (unaccountable, why a man should be so adept at a woman’s work) and a Lord of the realm. And meek though he seemed, with a voice almost too soft to belong to a warrior, there was some danger in the light of his eyes. His brother, Thor, had the eyes of Asgard’s oceans, but Loki’s blue eyes were flecked with pale gray. Like ice. And his smile did not always thaw them.
Aberrant, they did not say of him. It wasn’t safe to call a son of the Oldfather strange.
But there was something odd, Asgard silently decided, that lived in him. Something malformed about Loki.
In his early years, when he was still too young for any to condemn his peculiarities, his father would take him walking. Back then it was only said that he was strangely watchful, for a child. The whispers that passed in corners noted only what a funny thing his marvelous eloquence was. “He’ll be clever,” they said and made no mention of the ominous pallor of his skin.
Thor was not invited on these walks and Thor did not care to miss them. He was playing war and training for battle. Frowning up at the dais in the shadow of the great hammer. Thor had no thoughts for walking and listening. But Loki looked forward to it, anticipated each one, and waited with false patience for Odin to give the invitation.
In Asgard’s gardens there was always sun when his father commanded it, and warm breezes to untangle branches and vines. The bright daylight showed off the wrinkles on Odin’s forehead and the teeth behind his beard when he smiled.
Odin was kind. He never withheld a gentle touch or a loving word from his reticent son, who swallowed down his own smiles so that he could appear as wise and as regal as a king. As his king, who, with no more than the scope of a boy’s genius, Loki only knew as a father.
One day they walked to the feet of a great oak. It must have been older than the roads of the city because it made even Odin look small. The roots of the tree rose up from the ground to Loki’s shoulders, and even its smallest branches were thicker than his waist. Sturdy as the realms. Bright and sinewy as Asgard. The tree was as wide as it was tall, her reaching limbs stretching out and out. She was a beautiful old thing.
With one swing the Oldfather hewed the branches from the left side of the tree. They crashed down with a noise louder than Thor’s angry thunder. The ground shook. Loki reached out blindly in the choking cloud of dirt and clung to his father leg. Through the dust he saw the dark shape of the tree, giant and suddenly ugly before him, bow. And with a tremendous shrieking sound, she was rent from the ground, her roots ripped from the dirt as she toppled over and dirty sunlight stabbed through the air of her absence.
When the dust had settled Loki wiped the tears from his eyes and swallowed his stuttering heart. His father stared down at him, unblinking. They were both covered in grime.
“Why did the tree fall, Loki Odinson?” The king asked.
“Because it was unbalanced,” Loki answered at once, but he thought his voice sounded very weak and small. He cleared his throat and tried again, louder: “Because she could not stand without balance.” Odin nodded, and it seemed to Loki that his eye was sad. He knelt before Loki, and wrapped his big hands around the small shoulders of his son.
“Without balance, everything fails,” he said. “You are my son. And therefore fit to be a king. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said Loki. It was the first lie he ever told.
He didn’t understand. How could he? His father had just cut down a vibrant, majestic life with no other purpose than showing Loki the importance of balance, and then proclaimed Loki fit for kingship. But Odin had two sons. And Asgard had one throne.
That was not balance. That was chaos.
He lies to one of us. The true meaning of the thought would only find him later.
Thor grew up reckless and impulsive and bloodthirsty. But he was also golden. Thor had a hero’s heart inside, a heart of sun.
And he was heavy, like the oak. It would take a mighty counter-weight indeed to balance the destiny of a prince like Thor.
When Loki learned his own flesh was the stuff of nightmares, he was not as surprised as he should have been. Had he not always heard what was said of Odin’s misfit son? Had he not seen the same vague and indefinable mutation in his own reflection?
But he wondered why had he been called a son? Why raised as if he was loved when he was nothing more than a monster?
The Oldfather did nothing without reason. With Thor absent, Loki could only suppose he was meant to be king after all. Though it rang stale in his mind. What peace could be bought by exiling the favorite warrior of a country on the brink of war? What purpose meant by putting the bastard on the throne?
A monster king, who kept secrets and told untruths to keep his people safe.
A liar king, while Asgard longed for its precious, brazen sun.
Hanging above the abyss by the mercy of his brother’s hand, Loki looked into his father’s eye to beg for words. There was time, if Odin would just explain the paradox. How could two sons bring balance to one kingship? How could Loki be who they said he was; Odinson, brother of Thor, a prince of Asgard, when all the rest was only pretty lies? Odin was silent. And Loki saw the remaining answer.
Fit to be a king, perhaps. But born to be a monster. Loki had been left behind, at some point, in the hearts of his people. And now he was slipping from the hearts of his family.
And why not? For he was not what he had been told he was. And he was everything that was said of him. Aberrant. And malformed. And strange.
They will grieve, he thought. But they will not regret.
He loved them, when he let go, because he was still in some ways a child. He loved them even though they let him fall. He could not help it.
Born of ice and into ice he fell again. Into the dark and frozen places of the Universe. But not to sleep. Never to sleep. Cold though the block in his chest, sluggish though the blood in his veins.
Deceiver. Pariah. Monster. For so they called him.
Waiting to rise.
Or that is how they would tell the tale.
But Loki could feel the gaps between his ribs. He could never be a king. So a monster? Maybe. But he was still unfinished. There were parts of him yet un-grown.
Still, what other road was there for him to walk, in this moment, in this lost chapter of his life, than the one circumstance had set before him?