The winter storm delayed Thor’s return for three days. Stranded in ┌tgard, he restlessly paced the floor of his host’s home and listened to the wind howl outside. The J÷tnar were a hardy race accustomed to the blistering cold, but even they knew better than to venture outdoors during a blizzard.
“It will be clear by tomorrow,” Ingvar told him.
Like Thor and nearly half of J÷tunheim, Ingvar Skˇgb˙i had come to the capital of ┌tgard for the seasonal market. He was a trapper, dealing in furs, pelts, and leather goods, a much more lucrative occupation than Thor’s. He sat by the fire and whittled a piece of wood.
“Stop your worrying. Sit down. Get drunk. Enjoy being idle. You rarely get an opportunity anymore.”
“I am not worried,” said Thor. “I am merely eager to return home.”
“What for? To feed the pigs and milk the cows? Your slave can do those things.” Ingvar grinned, and the firelight cast a golden glow over his cobalt skin. “Unless that is the reason you are so eager to return. How is he, by the way? Is his face healed?”
“It has been ten years. Of course he is healed.”
Thor stopped pacing and went to stand before the hearth in the center of the hall. He stared into its embers and fiddled with the antler handle knife on his belt.
Ingvar frowned. “Has it really been that long? Damn. The older I get, the faster time passes.” He blew on the wood and resumed whittling. Coils of birch rained down on the floor between his large shoes. “How much did you pay for him? I cannot recall.”
Thor was tempted to lie, or at least reply that it was none of Ingvar’s business, but the man was one of his closest friends; and while Thor could not abide dishonesty, he could not begrudge Ingvar’s curiosity. The price of things was a topic of interest to every market vendor.
“Two aurar gold and ten silver.”
“I needed a worker.”
“Understandable, but surely there were other slaves the traders had to offer. Older, stronger ones. Perhaps ones who had farmed the land of their own kingdoms and did not cost a fortune.”
“I wanted Loki.”
“Ah, yes. Loki . He was one of the red tent auctions, wasn’t he?”
The back of Thor’s neck burned with embarrassment. “Aye.”
“Hm. Quite young for that, if you ask me. He could not have been more than seventeen when you won him. An inexperienced seventeen. Too soft and na´ve. I think you were swindled.”
“He was fifteen when I bought him, and he earns his keep well enough. Half my farm was built with his sweat. He keeps my house and cooks and cleans. He works the loom and tends to the animals. And we are of a similar size. I would be struggling without him.”
Ingvar winced. Size was a sore subject for Thor, for obvious reasons, and he was eager to change the subject.
“Perhaps you would have been better off to buy a female slave. At least you would have a few children out of her by now. More hands to work.”
“And more mouths to feed.” Thor shook his head. “What good is a heavy bred woman as a farmhand? It would be cruel to force her to labor at the plough as well as with my child.”
Ingvar threw back his head and laughed. “What do you think women have done for the last five thousand years, Thor? They work regardless of their wombs.”
“A sad state of things, if you ask me.”
Ingvar smiled. “You are a bloody-hearted fool, my friend. You pay too much for a young, damaged slave who was meant to be a toy and not a toiler. You coddle him and keep him in the house like a woman, cooking and minding the hearth. You believe it is cruel to force a female slave to work while she is with child. You are soft as butter.”
“Maybe I am. But my slave serves me well, and he is loyal.”
Ingvar snorted. “He is Vanir, is he not? One of the seimenn. Proud, crafty, cunning folk they are, like wolves. You are a fool if you think he would not slit your throat the first chance he got.”
“You do not know Loki like I do.”
“That is true. But do not be so eager to trust him, Thor. Keep your wits about you. I would hate to hear you have been murdered by your own slave.” He wagged his knife at him playfully. “Then I would be forced to avenge you, and I doubt Vanir skin makes good leather.”
Outside, the furious gales of winter continued to moan.
The storm passed that night, just as Ingvar predicted. Sunlight sliced through the heavy gray clouds the next morning and shone down on the snow-blanketed realm of J÷tunheim, turning it into a rolling sea of white. Thor J÷rsson thanked his host and bade farewell to his friend, hitched his cart to his horse, and set out for home.
It was several days’ journey to his farm. He led his horse through ravines and over rocky, treacherous ground, into valleys and forests, and across crackling streams where the water foamed and frothed and the banks were a slushy mix of mud and ice. He didn’t stop to make a fire at midday but ate cold, quick meals of unleavened bread and pickled fish as he walked, sleeping briefly each night to expedite his return home.
He thought often of Loki and wondered what he might be doing. Perhaps carding the last of the summer wool and spinning it into yarn; chipping ice off the surface of the well water with a pike; digging paths through the snow that connected the house, the barn, the well, the privy, the shed; mixing dried fruits and grains to make his daily porridge; brewing a new batch of ale; weaving baskets and repairing rope; shoveling the manure in the barn and drying it for fuel; churning milk to make butter and cheese; washing clothes; splitting firewood; perhaps wondering when his master would be home.
On the morning of the fifth day the trees began to look familiar, and Thor knew he was getting close. His mood brightened and he picked up his pace.
Under normal conditions it would have taken only four days to return home, but the storm had left great drifts of snow on top of what had already fallen. Many times Thor had been forced to stop and dig a path with his little hand shovel or claw his way over perilously icy hills using his pickaxe. But the weather had been fair the past few days, and it seemed the worst of his journey was over.
The virgin snow crumpled under his leather shoes, the air crisp and cold in his lungs. He puffed it out in foggy clouds through his lips. Tiny icicles formed in the hair around his mouth.
Thor was blond, a rare trait among the J÷tnar, most of whom were either dark-haired or completely bald. Thor was proud of his mane and grew it long. He plaited it, as was the fashion among his people, and wore two long, thin braids in his otherwise short beard.
He was also a runt.
At only 6’4”, he stood waist-high to most J÷tnar. By the reckoning of mannfˇlk, however, he was quite tall. A lifetime of manual labor had left him with a well-developed physique, owed mostly to his small stature. Living in a land of giants was not for the weak or frail. Every muscle in his body could attest to that.
Thor had not known his father—whether he had died before his birth or left shortly thereafter, his mother had never said—nor did he have any siblings. He had been raised alone by his mother, a farmer like her own parents and their parents before them. J÷r was wise and kind and patient, and Thor had loved her dearly. When she died of fever when he was just thirteen winters old, he had lost not only his entire family but also his closest friend and ally.
He spent his adolescence and early adulthood as a wandering laborer, following the work wherever it led, setting aside as much of his wages as he could. He dreamed of someday owning his own land and a house just his size, with furniture and dishes and tools made specifically for him. He strove to make that dream a reality, working on farms and in fields beneath sun and snow, building wagons and fences, hammering iron in smithies, always counting his coins. He even spent time at sea, raking in nets of fish and hauling up pots from the frosty, unforgiving waves of J÷tunheim’s turbulent oceans. It was dangerous but profitable work, and it was always an option if he needed money.
Thor worked twice as hard as any other J÷tunn and earned a reputation as being “a worthy hand”. But despite the good name he made for himself in ┌tgard and other towns and villages across J÷tunheim, he was still treated differently. Men were generally amicable toward him, but Thor could see the pity in their eyes if their gazes lingered too long. Despite being middle-aged, women saw him as a boy, a child to be coddled and teased—or worse, a novelty to be tried once to satisfy their curiosity before being promptly discarded. But this did not happen often. Most of the time the women simply blushed and giggled behind their hands whenever Thor attempted to court them.
It stung him deeply. A typical man would not have tolerated such insults to his masculinity, but Thor was patient and gentle, just like his mother, and he bore rejection after rejection with as much dignity as he could muster.
He knew his chances of finding a woman who could love him were slim, and each year his hope dwindled a little more. Only a guttering spark remained now.
He marched all day over forest and field, lost in his thoughts, a dark speck heaving its way across a silent white realm. Soon the sun began to sink into the west, bathing the trees and mountains with a rainbow of gold and pink and orange. The evening star appeared, pointing the way home.
It was now approaching suppertime. Thor was hungry, but he pressed onward. Home was only a few miles away now, and Loki would surely have something for him to eat when he arrived.
Thor’s blood stirred at the thought of his slave, and a different kind of hunger settled into his belly.
It had been two weeks since they had last slept together. The night before he had left for ┌tgard, in fact. He had taken Loki to bed and pretended, as he had many times before, that Loki was his loving wife, a j÷tunn woman of his size; that she had been the one who coyly pulled Thor between the quilts; that she was eager and had responded to his hand, smiling at him in the dark and whispering how much she would miss him, and would he bring back something sweet for her and the children?
Thor’s foot caught on a buried branch and he stumbled, saved only by his tight grip on his horse’s lead. He righted himself with a huff, readjusted his pack, and continued onward with a clearer head.
Loki was not his wife. There were no children. They were not wealthy, were seldom happy, and Loki certainly did not love or miss him. Thor knew this. He had known it for the last ten years, ever since he had dragged a struggling, sniveling, fifteen-year-old Vanir boy home with him and made him sleep in the straw with the goats. Loki hated him then, and he hated him now. He had learned to hide it these many years, but Thor knew his rage was still there, burning hot and fierce beneath his pale skin.
He also knew Ingvar was right; if given the opportunity, Loki would kill him and flee, even with the seir-suppressing manacles still on his wrists.
From what the slavers had told him and the little personal information he had managed to gather from Loki’s own reluctant tongue over the years, Thor understood that he had been a seirmar’s apprentice before the Asgardian army laid waste to the Vanir city of Rˇndalur. He was captured and sold, along with a few of the better-looking survivors, to j÷tunn merchants who dealt in the exotic sex trade.
The Ăsir-Vanir war supplied a steady stream of concubines and breedstock to the kingdoms of Yggdrasil. Mannfˇlk like Ăsir and Vanir were not as coveted as the beautiful Alfar, the race of elves, but they made good pets—once they were broken in. The bruises from the beatings Loki had endured took weeks to fade. Loki never talked about what his captors had done to him, and Thor never asked. He could guess, though.
He climbed to the top of the last ridge and stood for a moment beside his snorting, steaming horse, looking down at the wide valley below.
The waters of the fjord glistened at the end of the miles-long trough left behind by an ancient glacier. Farther up in the valley, at the foothills of the mountains to the east, rose a great forest, and in front of this forest stood Thor’s farm, almost a hundred acres of isolated land nestled within a cradle of rich, fertile ground between the trees and the water. The nearest village was several days’ journey away, just as he preferred. Here he was beholden to no jarl or chieftain. Here he was a free man, his own man, with everything sized according to his need, even his slave.
“Komdu , Raua,” he said, patting the mare’s neck with a smile. “We’re almost there. Let’s try to make it home before dark. DrÝfu ■ig! ”
Raua nickered and followed her master down the path.
Warm golden light leaked around the edges of the doors as Thor passed the house on his way to the barn. The smell of something savory and good was in the air—soup, perhaps potato and clam, his favorite, and fresh bread. A wave of contentment washed over him, and suddenly it didn’t matter that he was poor and puny and life was hard or that he was forty-one and still unmarried. Right now he was home. He had done well at the market. A warm supper and bed awaited him, as well as a familiar face. Everything was fine.
He put Raua into her stall, threw a sheepskin over her back, gave her some feed, and grabbed one of the sacks from the back of the cart. He would finish unloading it tomorrow. The dusk was deepening and he was ready for this long day to end.
As he approached the door, he heard a voice from within. It was Loki, and he was singing. Loki never sang—at least never when Thor was around to hear him. He paused just outside the door and listened.
“When home is far behind and ever the long roads wind,” came the smooth, melodic tone, “I keep your memory in my mind, one day I’ll repay in kind. For so long as I’ve gone, and so far I’ve wandered, the evening star has shone thus far. ”
Thor’s heart quickened. Was Loki singing about him?
“River rushing, waters wide, just north of there. Oh, would that I was home again, and home was here! And the fire was warm and the wind would whisper, you’re home again…”
The hopeful smile that had crept to Thor’s lips instantly fell straight.
Of course. Loki could never miss him. It was inconceivable. Even now, after ten years in J÷tunheim, he still longed for his native land.
Thor turned the latch and trudged in, shaking off the light dusting of snow on his shoulders.
Loki cut off his song and shot to his feet. “Master.”
Thor tried to smile again, but it hurt. “I wish you would sing more often. You have a beautiful voice. Please, continue.”
Loki shut his jaw, his teeth clicking together loudly. The scar on his lips shone white and smooth in the lamp’s light.
“Perhaps later, my lord. Your arms are full; let me help you.”
He set down the tunic he was repairing—one of Thor’s, judging by the size—and stuck the needle into a cushion. He hastened across the room and lifted the sack from Thor’s arm.
“Are there more that need to be brought in?”
“None that cannot wait until morning,” said Thor. He slipped the satchel from his back and passed this to Loki also. “I’m tired and glad to be home.”
“Shall I prepare a bath, my lord?”
Loki was tall for one of the mannfˇlk, just an inch or two shorter than Thor himself. He had matured into a handsome man, twenty-five years old now and very healthy, with the long, lean, well-muscled limbs of a dancer. If Thor were rich he would dress Loki in gold and fine clothes, green silk and precious stones to match his eyes. He would feed him sweet things and spoil him, fill his days with idle leisure and his nights with whatever delights he desired. Maybe then Loki wouldn’t hate him quite so passionately.
Maybe. Not likely.
Thor gazed at his slave’s pale pink face, so familiar to him that he no longer registered the old wound that began at his right nostril, crossed over his lips, and ended at his chin. All he saw was a face he had grown very fond of, in spite of how much it despised him.
“In a moment. I have something for you.” He reached into his pocket and produced a tiny bottle.
Loki furrowed his brow and peered at the object in his master’s hand, then looked up at his face. “For me?”
Loki timidly reached out and picked up his gift. He studied the label. There was no text on it, just a drawing of a flowering vine. There appeared to be some kind of oil inside.
“Nattjasmin ,” said Thor with a smile. “From Vanaheim. I thought you might like it for your hair. Or… anything, really.”
Loki raised his head, his eyes wide. “How much did it cost?”
Thor’s smile dropped. “It doesn’t matter. I wanted to get something nice for you, and I had the money, so I bought it. Is that not enough?”
Loki pinched his lips together apologetically and bobbed his head in gratitude. “Forgive me. It is a lovely gift, master. I only… I was not expecting a gift of this quality.”
“You are worth it.”
Loki stared at him.
“Well, go on,” said Thor eagerly, “open it. Tell me what you think.”
Loki uncorked the little bottle and put it under his nose. He inhaled in quick, shallow sniffs at first, then drew a long, slow breath. He closed his eyes. His face relaxed. His eyebrows bent upward into an expression of quiet melancholy.
It was reminding him of home, Thor realized. Perhaps his mother’s garden; the house he had been raised in; a girl he had fancied. Damn it, he should have bought something else. The last thing he wanted was to remind Loki of the place he would never see again. Now he probably thought him unthinkably cruel.
“It’s lovely,” Loki said at last. He put the cork back in the bottle and smiled. It looked painful. Or perhaps that was just his watery eyes. “Thank you, master. For thinking of me.”
“You are never far from my thoughts, Loki.”
Thor cupped the back of Loki’s head and leaned forward to kiss his forehead. Loki’s skin was warm and soft beneath his lips. It felt nice, so he tilted Loki’s head up and kissed him again, this time on the mouth. His tongue brushed the cleft in his upper lip where the scar was deepest.
Loki’s spine went stiff and straight. He didn’t respond—he never did—but he parted his lips and allowed Thor to taste him. Thor kissed him shallowly, his beard smelling of evergreen and ice. When they parted, Loki dropped his gaze to the floor.
“There is soup and fresh bread, my lord.”
“Aye, and it smells good. But the days have been long, and I have missed you.”
Thor stroked Loki’s cheek with his thumb and gazed at him needfully.
Loki lifted his eyes—pale green, like moss on river rocks, which Thor had always found pretty—and swallowed audibly.
“I will give you time to prepare yourself,” said Thor. “In the meantime I—”
“I am prepared,” said Loki, and his eyes went wide when he realized he had interrupted his master. But Thor was not a cruel man, and he had never struck his slave. There was no reason for him to look so afraid. “Forgive me. I only meant… I, I made myself ready for you earlier this evening.”
It was not like Loki to be so accommodating. He had certainly never done anything like this before. Was this a development born out of genuine feelings, a true change of heart? Or was it simply a trick? Thor’s gut was convinced of the latter, but his mind was too swept up in hope to be cautious or cynical. His frown relaxed into a gentler expression.
“Indeed? This is a pleasant surprise.” He cradled the back of Loki’s neck. “It is good to know I was missed.”
Annoyance flashed across Loki’s features before he regained his stoic mask. “I knew once the storm lifted you would be on your way. It is four days’ travel from ┌tgard to here, though I guessed it would take longer with the snowfall.” His words were crisp and businesslike.“I made fresh soup because I knew you would be home this day. And you are usually”—his mouth twitched—“in a mood when you return from the market. I am only being a dutiful servant.”
Hope fled Thor’s heart so quickly it almost collapsed in on itself.
So… duty. Not desire.
He molded his expression into one of indifference, and when he spoke, his tone was wooden. “I see. Well… good. Then we can begin at once.” He leaned forward.
Loki leaned back, dodging the kiss aimed at his lips. “A-allow me to put away these bags first, lord. And my sewing. I don’t want to lose my place.”
A true master would not have tolerated such a forward comment from his slave, especially after already being cut off, but Thor ignored the subtle insolence. It was the only way Loki still managed to defy him, and he tolerated it. Loki had ways of molding the meekest words into weapons of insult, but if Thor chastised him, he would deny the accusations and proclaim his innocence with tears in his eyes. He was one of the most convincing liars Thor had ever known. This was why he still did not fully trust him, even though it had been four years since his last escape attempt.
Thor nodded, an impatient erection already forming in his trousers. “Fine. Do as you must.”
While Loki busied himself with stashing his master’s baggage and putting away the tunic he had been mending, Thor removed his fur cloak and hood and hung them up by the door. He stripped off the rest of his clothes piece by piece—belt and antler handle knife, tunic, trousers, leg wrappings, shoes—until he was standing in just his underclothes and socks.
Loki glanced over just as Thor was pulling his shirt over his head, his eyes roaming his master’s bare torso for several long moments. Then he quickly snatched his gaze back before he could be caught.
Muscles bulged beneath Thor’s blue skin. His arms and chest were bulky, his thighs and back equally padded with thick straps of sinewy flesh. One might believe that he lived off of only butter and rich meats for the admirable shape he was in, but the truth was the J÷tnar were survivors, their bodies efficient at rendering as much nutrition from what they ate and using it to build dense, insulating muscle. Even their women were formidable.
Thor was no different. Despite subsisting almost entirely on an austere diet of vegetables and fish, and being no stranger to privation, he was as stout as Asgard’s most well-fed warriors. It was little wonder both the Ăsir and Vanir were still trying to recruit the giants of J÷tunheim for their war. The physical might of the J÷tnar was coveted by all the races of the world.
Thor balled up his shirt and tossed it aside.
Loki stood at the table, gathering up loose threads to save and reuse.
Thor strode over and stood at Loki’s back, enfolding him in his arms. He breathed in the familiar scent of his scalp and slid his hands to his shoulders, moving gently inward. He combed Loki’s short black hair to the side and pressed a kiss to his neck.
Loki’s eyes fell closed and he rolled his lips inward, suppressing any sound that might escape. He breathed deep through his nostrils and craned his head back.
Thor’s hands found their way to Loki’s belt. Moments later it fell to the floor, then Thor lifted the skirt of Loki’s tunic and began to untie his trouser laces.
“I—am glad the weather lifted,” Loki stammered. “I feared the storm would keep you in ┌tgard for at least another three days.”
“Hm, so did I.”
Thor pulled the collar of Loki’s tunic to one side and kissed the juncture of his neck and shoulder with his open mouth, sucking lightly on his skin. It did not take much to bruise these thin-skinned people.
Loki swallowed and fixed his eyes blankly on the wall. “Were you able to sell everything?”
“Yes. But let us speak no more of it. You will see for yourself in the morning.” He slipped his hand into the front of Loki’s trousers.
Loki shut his eyes and bit his lower lip.
Thor drew Loki’s tunic and undershirt up over his back and kissed his exposed shoulder blade. He pushed his hips urgently against Loki’s buttocks. Loki could feel his master’s erection through the layers of cloth.
In one hasty movement, Thor jerked the tunic and undershirt over Loki’s head and tugged them down his arms. The sleeves caught on the cuffs around Loki’s wrists.
“Your assistance,” said Thor.
Loki carefully untangled the garments from his manacles, folded them loosely, and set them aside.
He had been wearing one of Thor’s old tunics, trimmed and tailored to fit him. New clothes were rare, and, without knowing when they would be able to afford more, he was obliged to make this one last.
He raked his fingers through his disheveled hair, combing it back into place indifferently. “Would you prefer me here or on the bed?”
His words were a knuckle pressed into a healing bruise, resurrecting old pain and cooling the pleasant warmth in Thor’s belly as effectively as a bucket of meltwater.
Loki was always like this; to expect him to be anything but surly during their couplings was as much a fantasy as Thor expecting Loki to love him.
He pushed Loki down onto the table. Loki let out a startled uff but did not rise from his position. Thor kneeled on the floor and pulled Loki’s trousers and underpants down to his knees. The pale skin of his hindquarters glowed smoothly in the lamplight, and Thor’s hunger was rekindled.
He placed his hands on Loki’s thighs, kneading the fat and muscle appreciatively for a few moments. Then he grasped the soft cheeks in front of him and spread them open, revealing Loki’s entrance. It winked when the cool air touched it, gleaming with oil and perfumed with flowery herbs and honey.
Thor leaned in and licked a long, slow line from the root of Loki’s scrotum all the way to his opening, following the little seam in his skin with his tongue. He tasted both sweet and salty, the contrasting flavors blending on Thor’s tongue and bringing the saliva to his mouth. Then he pressed his face between Loki’s buttocks and slipped his tongue inside him.
Loki jolted at the first contact but made no sound as his master began to lick him. He lay on the table with his eyes screwed shut and his fists clenched, biting his knuckle to stifle any noise that might try to escape. Sweat beaded on his brow as Thor’s long, muscular tongue probed around inside him and found the place that never failed to arouse him.
The grunt that rose from his throat was cut off almost before it began, but Thor heard it, and he knew that he had found Loki’s gland. He directed all of his attention to it, at the same time reaching up to grasp Loki’s testicles. Plough-calloused fingers rolled the delicate orbs in their soft purse of skin, sometimes cupping, sometimes pulling downward, as if milking the teat of a cow.
Loki dug his fingernails into the wood and breathed through his teeth. Red-faced, he grimaced with the effort to stay silent. He didn’t want Thor to know how aroused he was. Thor was aware of this, though. He was able to gauge Loki’s pleasure from the feel of his body alone—the minute trembling, the sweating, the way he breathed and smelled, the heat that radiated off of him like a glowing coal. After ten years he knew every sign. And knowing that his slave was squirming with pleasure beneath his skilled mouth sent currents of pride rippling through him.
He unfastened the drawstring of his underpants so he could pull them down. His cock sprang out like a thick blue root, and he began to lazily stroke himself.
He lingered in this position for a time, kneeling between Loki’s spread legs with his face buried in the warm mounds of flesh, his fist pumping up and down and his tongue licking in and out. Then he pulled away and thrust his index finger into Loki, opening him like a stubborn clam. He massaged the spongy little bulb that lay just on the other side of his passage wall. Loki’s erection jumped in response, bumping into the edge of the table and leaving a silvery wet smear.
Thor swirled his finger, drawing circles around the little thing that gave men so much pleasure, pressing and prodding with increasing force. Then he pushed his middle finger in beside the first.
Loki sank his teeth into the back of his wrist to stifle his moans. His breath came in ragged gasps, tears leaked from the corners of his eyes, but he would not beg. He would never beg.
The foreplay continued in near silence, punctuated only by the wet smack of skin and the occasional gasp. Thor pleasured himself while he plunged his fingers in and out of Loki’s small red hole, watching the muscular ring suck and grasp around his knuckles like a greedy mouth. He knew if he continued to work Loki in this manner that he would eventually ejaculate, but it was far better to be inside him when that happened. As much as Thor enjoyed Loki’s bottom, his face was prettier to look at.
He rose to his feet, grasped Loki’s shoulder, and rolled him over.
Loki pulled his wrist from his mouth and opened his eyes to behold his master, a man of fierce size and fiercer countenance, chest flushed indigo and covered with whorls of golden hair, his impressive manhood framed by his own white thighs.
Thor leaned over him and placed his hands on the table beside his shoulders.
Loki bent his knees and raised his legs, aligning himself with his master’s penis.
Thor nudged his hips forward a few times, bumping around until he found the right place. In one movement he pushed inside Loki and sheathed himself completely.
Had Thor been a normal-sized J÷tunn, he would have split Loki’s bowel all the way to his navel, effectively killing him. But being a runt, he fit him almost perfectly.
Loki opened his mouth and gasped toward the ceiling, his back arching off the table. His hands, bent into claws, scrabbled and scraped against the wooden surface.
An unexpected groan left Thor’s lips.
It was so good to be home again, to be among familiar smells and tastes, inside familiar flesh, however loving or indifferent. He loved Loki. Perhaps he had loved him the moment he saw him that day in the red tent, spitting blood and vowing death and destruction to every hand that touched him; naked and helpless but full of fury and adolescent defiance; eyes blazing, muscles straining, fully aware of the fate that awaited him.
Thor pulled back and withdrew until only his crown remained inside. Then he pushed in again, and Loki’s hole stretched wide to receive him. He seated himself deeply, balls pressing against Loki’s rear. He repeated the motion once more, pulling out and pushing in, then began to move steadily.
He stared down at Loki’s face, at his tightly shut eyes and pinched lips as he endured this unwanted lovemaking. His body rocked on the tabletop from the force of Thor’s movements. His penis, sprouting from its nest of curly black hair, lay hard and wet against his belly—a physical reaction surely at odds with his mind. Thor grasped it and carefully began to stroke, bringing the foreskin up over the head and back down again, using his thumb to smear the clear, slippery fluid leaking out.
Thor increased his speed. His hand glided up and down rapidly, Loki’s balls slapping in time with the movements.
A strangled cry finally broke the silence.
It was the sweetest sound Thor had ever heard.
He bent to Loki’s throat, clasping it with his lips, and thrust with enough vigor to move the table.
Loki had been sold, like so many others, to be a concubine to the J÷tnar: a small, pretty plaything that was the staple of nearly every affluent j÷tunn household. Though penetrative sex was a death sentence some of these poor wretches ultimately faced, the majority of their masters achieved adequate satisfaction through less mortal acts or kept them for the entertainment of their foreign guests. The king of J÷tunheim had forty-six catamites and courtesans, and more than half of them were mannfˇlk.
Thor hadn’t wanted to use Loki for his intended purpose. He needed a worker, not a bedmate, and Loki had only been a boy then, frightened and angry and very small. Thor had vowed to treat his new slave decently, as he would a horse or a cow or any other living property. He would not beat him or let him go hungry, nor would he work him too hard. And he certainly wouldn’t lie with him.
But autumn had faded and winter quickly followed, and in the firelight of those cold winter nights, aching with loneliness and unmet desires, Loki became beautiful to him. Thor, who had never laid his hand on Loki with ill intent, soon found reasons to touch him more often. Patting his arm, cupping his cheek, stroking his hair. Loki grew accustomed to it, and Thor wrongly interpreted his tolerance for willingness.
The first attempt at intercourse was met with fierce resistance. Loki had fought hard, screaming in protest, biting and scratching, even pissing on himself, before Thor managed to subdue him. Even the bitter scent of urine and the stickiness it left behind had not been enough to deter him.
It was an unpleasant ordeal and not sensual at all, but Thor did not pause, did not relent. He could not allow his thrall to believe that he could get what he wanted every time he struggled and made a mess of himself. There was no going back; he had to go through with it.
He hated it. He hated the sound of Loki snarling and finally sobbing around his cloth gag, hated wedging himself between those skinny, kicking legs and thrusting into the squirming body beneath him. This was not how a man treated his livestock. This was not how a man should treat anyone, even those who stood below him, and Thor knew it. He knew it and still he did it. He raped this fifteen-year-old boy to achieve the intimacy he so desperately craved, and when the afterglow finally faded and he saw what he had done, he was horrified and deeply ashamed.
He tended to Loki as gently as he could, cleaning his tear-stained face with a damp cloth and wiping away the mess between his thighs, all while swallowing down the urge to beg for his forgiveness. Masters did not beg. They did not apologize. But this was the least Thor could do.
He later gave Loki a small piece of honeycomb and watched as the boy sat in silence and nibbled it until it was gone.
Not again, he promised. No more.
But even his overwhelming guilt wasn’t enough to keep him away for very long.
He had not known how to stop himself. Deep inside he wasn’t certain he wanted to. Trapped by his own desires, he used Loki again and again. Each time he swore it would be the last time, but each time his oath was forgotten. His need for love, for physical touch and companionship, was too great. The isolation, the despair, the feeling of being deformed, despised, and rejected, it haunted him, and Loki’s warm flesh was the siren call that promised to banish all of those things forever.
By summer of the following year, Loki had accepted that he would occasionally be the outlet of his master’s carnal desires and that it was easier for him if he complied. He stopped releasing his bladder every time Thor laid with him, realizing the strategy was ineffective and that it only made more of a mess for him to clean up afterward. He learned to disconnect his mind from his body, to lie beneath Thor like a corpse, his eyes shut or fixed somewhere on the wall or ceiling or floor, until his master had finished using him.
But it wasn’t enough, this one-sided copulation. Thor wanted more. He wanted Loki to experience physical pleasure as well, just as a husband would want his wife to be pleased. So, out of a desperate need to assuage his conscience and subtly remove the violence from their sex, Thor began to pay special attention to Loki’s needs. Kissing him, caressing him, tickling him in an attempt to evoke a smile or a laugh.
Loki didn’t want it, of course. All he wanted, apart from his freedom, was to be left alone. But his master had needs. His master had goals—a wife, offspring, a family—and until he achieved them, Loki would be forced to endure his misplaced affections.
Now Loki stared blankly over his master’s heaving shoulder, wishing once again for this to be over and knowing that Thor would get off of him sooner if he were to go ahead and let himself come. So Loki emptied his mind and allowed his arousal to take control of his body. His heart quickened and his cock jumped in Thor’s hand.
Thor knew Loki was seconds from climaxing. He threw his hips forward in a hurried attempt to catch up with him, and when Loki whimpered and quietly released his seed all over his belly, Thor let out a long, low groan, buried himself deep, and spilled as well.
They went still, bodies arched and stiff, muscles quivering. Then the tension broke and they melted like wax. Thor slumped over Loki’s body, panting for breath, his skin flushed and covered with a film of sweat.
After a few moments he stood and pulled out. His flaccid penis squelched as it left Loki’s stretched-out hole. A copious amount of semen followed, running down to collect in Loki’s crevice before dripping onto the earthen floor in thick plops.
“I will have that bath now,” said Thor.
Loki dutifully pulled himself up, dressed in silence, and went about gathering a washrag and fresh clothes for his master as if nothing had happened.
Thor watched, his warm face cooling quickly as his pleasure receded.
His flesh had been satisfied, but his heart felt as empty as ever.
The wind had picked up and was blowing snow eastward through the valley, perhaps a sign that another storm was on its way. Winter was far from over for J÷tunheim.
Thor washed himself—face, neck, armpits, groin—from the cauldron of herbs and water that had been hanging over the hearth. He dressed in clean clothes and sat down at the table.
A pot of soup squatted on the coals, simmering, with six small rye loaves on its lid. Loki served his master, poured him a mug of ale, and then took the wash pot to his little bed along the wall. He removed his trousers and underpants and cleaned himself thoroughly.
Thor observed him and sipped his ale and waited for his soup to cool. There was little privacy in this house.
Loki finished his ablutions, pulled his clothes back on, and took up his bowl and spoon. Both were the same size as Thor’s, as was the plate on which was served the cheese and bread.
He ladled out a portion of soup and tore one of the loaves in half, then returned to his bed, where he typically ate his meals.
But Thor motioned to the empty bench across from him. “Join me.”
Loki hesitated, blinking. Then: “Yes, lord.”
He sat stiffly across from Thor and ate in silence, keeping his eyes down.
It had been ten years, but still Thor could not help but gaze at Loki, admiring his clever fingers and the tidy, almost dainty way he ate, fascinated by his smallness, his handsomeness, his lack of deformity. Not for the first time Thor wondered if he might have been better off to emigrate to one of the neighboring kingdoms, where the people were closer to his size, and try to build a life there. It was difficult being small, but perhaps being a foreigner might be even more difficult.
“This is good soup,” he said at length.
“I am glad you think so, master,” said Loki.
They didn’t speak again for several minutes. The fire crackled and the cow lowed from her stall at the far end of the house. Now and then an ember popped in the hearth or a branch on one of the trees outside cracked under the weight of the snow. Wooden spoons clacked against wooden bowls, but aside from this there was silence.
Thor took a gulp of ale and set down his mug with a wooden thunk . “Would you like to have a baby?”
Loki’s head snapped up.
Thor stared back at him seriously.
Not “what, master” or “I beg your pardon, my lord”. Just “what”.
“A baby.” Thor turned his attention to his soup. He stirred it but didn’t eat. “There were slave women at the market, mannfˇlk like you. Mostly Midgardian. A few Ăsir. They were heavy bred. Their masters had them on display.”
Loki sat still, eyes wide, and said nothing.
“New mothers make poor slaves, so the babies will be up for auction at the spring market. I thought perhaps you might like one. Boys are cheaper, but I could try to win a girl if that is what you want.” He took a bite of cheese and tried to feign nonchalance. In reality his heart was racing.
For a while Loki blinked and worked his mouth dumbly, trying to locate his thoughts. “You have never asked me what I wanted before. Why now?”
“It is a big decision. I would not bring home a child unless it were wanted. It would be for you, after all.”
Loki’s face suddenly twisted with confusion. “Me ?”
“Yes. I thought you might enjoy having a little one to dote on. Someone to keep you company while I am away.” Indigo tinted Thor’s cheeks. “And it would make me happy to see you… happy.”
Thor clumsily went back to eating his soup.
Loki set down his spoon and laid his forearms on the table. His manacles gleamed in the light.
“I did not think we could afford a child.” He added softly, “My lord.”
“I did better in ┌tgard this year. The early frost ruined many crops north of the River Vimur, but not here in the south. The prices were the highest I’ve seen in years.” Thor dipped his bread into his soup. “I was able to buy everything we need for the growing season, not just the minimum. I even had a few coins left over. That was how I was able to treat you.”
Loki said nothing, moved nothing.
“We will plant a larger crop this year and bring in a better harvest for the summer and autumn markets. The yield from those will see us through to the following winter, and so on, allowing us to continue growing and earning. Then we shall be able to hire workers to help us, which will further increase our profits.” Thor leaned forward. “Don’t you see, Loki? This is the windfall we have been waiting for. I think our luck is finally beginning to change.” He smiled.
After a moment, Loki nodded. “Perhaps. But who can say there won’t be a hard winter next year? Or a blight? Or a flood?”
Thor’s enthusiasm blinked out like a spark in the wind. For a moment he resembled a child robbed of his most beloved toy.
“We live too close to the edge, master. We are but one failed harvest away from complete ruin. Why bring a child into such strife? It would be selfish and cruel. We can barely see to our own needs, much less those of a baby.”
Thor struggled for words. “Babies do not need much. Milk and warmth, that is all. We can provide those easily enough.”
“Yes, but babies quickly grow into children, and children into adults. Their needs increase with every year.” Loki straightened his back and lifted his chin. “And seeing as how I would be chief caregiver of this child, I will likely fall behind on my daily chores. I would need your help if we hope to keep this farm operating on a profit, and your days are already long enough as it is. Would you be willing to extend them even more for the sake of a child?”
Thor clenched his jaw tightly. He was infuriated—not by the practicality of Loki’s words, or his calm and sensible tone, but that he had not thought of these things himself. It was humiliating. Emasculating. He was supposed to be the provider, the lord and master of his house, yet his slave who was nearly half his age seemed to know more about managing wealth and raising a family than he did.
“We can care for a child. We have money.”
“For now, yes. But children are not livestock, nor are they trinkets. You should not be so hasty to spend what little spare money you have on things you have lived without all this ti—”
Thor dropped his fist onto the table, rattling the bowls. “Most men my age are already marrying off their sons and daughters! There are many things I cannot afford, and wasting time is one of them!”
Loki shut his mouth and hunched down.
Thor softened, though the agitation still burned in his blood. “I may not see an opportunity like this again. If the gods will not give me a family, then I will buy one myself.” He tore off a mouthful of bread and chewed it forcefully.
Loki was silent. Then he pushed his bowl aside and stretched his wrists toward Thor.
“Unbind me, master. Let me help you. I am a shapeshifter; it is my specialty. We can make a child of our own. Your seed, my womb.” He curled his fingers into weak fists. “I beg you, save your coins. Let me do this for you. Please.”
Thor stopped chewing.
The image of Loki, a woman Loki, black hair and green eyes and pale pink curves, the perfect size for him, was suddenly the only thing occupying his mind. He sat motionless, entranced with the vision.
Woman. Lover. Wife. A soft, yielding form. Breasts and belly. Wide hips, curving legs. Blood each moon. Sex. Power and mystery. Seed spilled into that dark, mysterious cradle from which all men have sprung. Heaviness. Fertility. Milk. A great feat of labor, the giving of life. A newborn’s tiny cries within these walls. What would it look like, this half-Vanir half-J÷tunn child of theirs? Beautiful, of course. Thor saw it all, this new life Loki was offering him. It passed before his mind’s eye in a tempting series of pictures drawn from every desire he nurtured as a man: family, home, belonging, love. All he had ever wanted.
When he returned to himself, he found Loki gazing at him. He looked so insistent, so desperately sad. But Thor knew it was not the plight of a stunted j÷tunn man that had brought the tears to his eyes.
“You must think me a fool, Loki. I know what you will do if I free you.”
“I would thank you.” A tear rolled down Loki’s cheek and into the crease of his scar. “And then I would use my seir to help you, to help this farm and—”
“You would help yourself by killing me. You would be gone by dawn’s first light.”
“Never!” cried Loki. He looked both insulted and bereaved. “Master, I have built this house with you—this farm, this life. I have tilled the earth and poured my blood and tears into it. I am as invested in it as you are. My home is here now, with you. I swear to you, upon all that I have ever held dear, I will not forsake you. I…”—he tried to form the words, failed, and turned his head—“forgive me. I cannot yet say that I love you, but I think that in time, perhaps… with your child in me… it will come.”
Thor wanted to believe him. He could practically taste it, so fierce was his yearning, even though every word he had just heard was undoubtedly a lie.
He sighed and shook his head. “You can offer me no guarantee.”
“You must trust me, lord. Please. You trust me with so many other things. Why not this?”
For a long time they stared at each other, one desperate to be free, one desperate to believe.
“I will consider it,” said Thor finally. “But speak nothing of it in the meantime. I will let you know my decision once I reach it.”
Loki pressed his lips together and nodded. “Thank you, master.”
They finished eating in silence.
After supper, Thor wandered to his bed on the opposite wall and sat down to think.
Loki gathered their utensils and empty dishes, washed them in the cleaning bucket, and stacked them on the shelf. He wrapped the remaining loaves in a cloth and put them away. He added more logs to the fire so it would last until dawn. He wiped down the table, swept the hard-packed earthen floor, and finally put out the lamps.
Thor observed Loki as he finished the evening chores. Thoughts rolled over in his mind like sharp stones in a tumbler, slowly wearing down until they became smooth.
He placed his hand on his breast, where a pendant, hidden beneath his shirt, was strung on a leather cord around his neck. It was simple and unassuming—perhaps a family heirloom or a personal talisman—but it was actually a key, three keys in one: three bits of flattened bronze joined by a pin, each bit carved about its edges with eight runes. These runes formed the notches and teeth of the three keys. The slaver had shown Thor how to use them shortly after he had paid for Loki.
Do not remove his manacles unless he is dead, he had warned, placing the keys in Thor’s hand, or you will not live long to regret your foolishness. The whelp nearly killed six of my best fighting men. He may be young, but he is powerful. He grinned perversely. Use him hard.
Thor remembered everything about that day. The smell of the tent. The voice of the auctioneer. The color of Loki’s blood.
The Ăsir-Vanir War had been raging for three years, and there was no short supply of slaves in the form of conquered enemies. Thor, thirty at the time, had bought his land earlier that spring and was attending the summer market in ┌tgard. He desperately needed help if he was to finish his house before winter, so he had wandered into the slave auction, hoping to purchase a strong Midgadian. They were more docile and less magical than other mannfˇlk. Thor wouldn’t mind if it were an older fellow, either. Perhaps he might have some wisdom to share. The older ones tended to have less fight in them, less will to retaliate or run away.
But the choices were slim, as Thor soon discovered, and he wandered from auction to auction until at last he came to a red tent with a sign posted at the entrance:
PLEASURE SOLD HERE
Thor had heard of such slaves but never seen them. He wondered what sort of quality they were, if they were strong and hardy. Maybe he could find a good laborer here. He entered the tent, not knowing what to expect.
It was warm and close inside, packed with J÷tnar, most of them men, bidding on a beautiful Asgardian woman with dark hair. She was naked, in fetters, her face a blank mask. She looked drugged, Thor thought, and suddenly he was overwhelmed with pity.
He was looking at someone’s daughter, someone’s sister or wife. Perhaps even someone’s mother, though her breasts were high and firm, and her nipples looked as if they had not yet known the clasp of an infant’s mouth. Was her man still alive? Thor suspected not. If he had a wife this beautiful, he would die to save her from this. Maybe hers had.
The woman sold for two aurar gold and was led off the platform. Thor was about to leave—this place was giving him a sour feeling in his stomach—when there came a ruckus from behind the auctioneer.
Presently an adolescent boy, tethered with ropes and nude like the woman before him, was dragged onto the platform by his handler. If he had been drugged, it was having no effect.
The crowd stirred, murmuring to themselves.
The boy’s face was a mess. There was a deep gash from his nose to his chin, the flesh split down to the muscle and streaming blood. His teeth were stained red. When he slung his head, drops of blood showered the crowd. He was small and slim but had enough fat on him to be pleasing. If it weren’t for his pubic hair and fully developed genitals, Thor would have guessed he was a tall child.
“Loki,” announced the auctioneer. “Male, Vanir, fifteen years old. Spirited, as you can see, sure to bring excitement to any bed that can hold him.”
The crowd laughed. Thor did not.
“He is a seirmar, but not to worry, he has been gelded.”
“What happened to his face?” someone called out.
The auctioneer gave an uncomfortable chuckle. “He, er, had a little accident just before he was brought out, but it should not affect his looks once it—”
The boy, Loki, pulled against his ropes so hard that it almost caused his handler to stumble.
“I will kill you all! ” he screamed in Allspeak. “Every last one of you filthy bastard ogres! I will destroy this pustule of a town and everyone in it! Touch me and see for yourself! I will not be bought and sold like a cow, you ugly—”
His handler stepped in and delivered a sharp blow to his head with his massive fist. The ranting ceased as Loki wobbled on his feet.
Thor held his breath.
Loki dropped to his knees, swooning. Blood flowed down his chin and dripped onto his heaving chest. The droplets lengthened down his belly. It was probably empty, Thor thought. Gods only knew the last time he had been fed a proper meal.
“We will start the bidding at six aurar silver,” said the auctioneer. “Six silver. Do I hear six—ah, we have six, what about seven? Seven aurar silver for the spirited Vanir boy—”
Thor stared desperately at Loki, willing him to get up and fight again. But all he did was stare dazedly out at the crowd bidding for his flesh. He blinked, and Thor saw tears roll down his cheeks.
That was all it took.
Thor shoved his way through a forest of legs until he stood at the front of the crowd. He thrust his fist into the air.
“Nine!” he shouted.
The auctioneer looked down at him with surprise. “We have nine! Do I hear ten? Ten aurar silver for the lovely Loki, the little sorcerer? I see ten, eleven then? Eleven—”
“One eyrÝr gold!” Thor cried.
His heart beat madly in his chest. Nothing else mattered but winning this auction. His world disappeared until only the j÷tunn auctioneer and this bleeding Vanir boy remained.
“One gold, three silver!” someone called.
Thor’s heart sank. This was getting expensive. Just how much was he willing to spend?
He glanced once more at Loki, who strangely enough was looking right at him. His eyes were pale, either green or blue. Beneath the blood he had a handsome face, one that looked easy to laugh and smile. Thor wondered if he could make Loki laugh and smile.
“Two gold,” Thor declared.
For a moment the crowd went quiet. Even the auctioneer seemed stunned.
“Two aurar gold,” he repeated slowly. “We are now up to two gold. Do I hear two gold, one silver? Two-gold-one? I see a hand. Two-gold-two? Two gold, two silver…”
Thor opened his eyes and found himself back home, sitting on his fur- and sheepskin-draped bed.
On the other side of the hearth, Loki was undressing for bed. He carefully removed his tunic and trousers, smoothed them, folded them, and then tucked them into a little cupboard, unaware of Thor’s gaze.
He had offered himself as a vessel. A vessel for his master’s deepest desires. All Thor had to do was pour himself into it.
But that required trusting him. Believing him. If he was indeed telling the truth, everything would change after this night, for Thor could not in good conscience continue to call Loki his slave if he was the mother of his child. He would be compelled to release him from bondage, returning to him not only his power but also his freedom. By elevating him to the status of a free man, Loki could very well divorce from him someday, take their child, take whatever dowry he deemed suitable, and never return. Legally there would be nothing Thor could do to stop him.
He studied Loki, standing at his bed in his ill-fitting underclothes, fluffing his pillow like he did every night. Thor knew in his heart what he must do.
Loki raised his head. “Yes, my lord?”
Thor stretched out his arm and beckoned.
Loki gulped, set down his pillow, and approached.
When he was close enough, Thor took up both his hands and held them, his blue thumbs brushing back and forth over pink skin. He heaved a sigh and studied Loki’s hands for a few moments, admiring the length and shape of his fingers. Then he looked up at his face.
Loki was rarely in a position where he looked down on his master. It unnerved him.
“I have made my decision,” said Thor, and he reached beneath his shirt and drew out the keys on their leather cord.
Loki stared in amazement, realizing that he was looking at the source of his freedom.
Wordlessly Thor began unlocking the manacles one lock at a time. There were several keyholes, each one requiring a different key, and some requiring none at all. With each emancipating click, the bonds restraining Loki’s seir fell away, until at last each cuff fell open and he was released. The skin beneath was very white, the edges marked by callused ridges from ten years of wearing.
Thor set the manacles aside and rubbed the tender skin of Loki’s exposed wrists. “There. You are free.”
Loki turned his hands over, staring at them in anticipation. He curled and stretched his fingers. His neutral expression slowly dissolved into one of worry, then fear.
“What’s the matter?” Thor asked.
“I… I feel nothing.” There was a slight note of panic in his voice. “Nothing at all. It’s as if my seir is gone. Not just faded but completely disappeared, as if I never had it to begin with.”
Thor cupped Loki’s hands inside his own. “When a man breaks his leg, he cannot walk for many months. His muscles have shrunk from disuse. When he is finally healed, he must exercise the limb until it becomes strong again. Perhaps magic is like a muscle. Yours has not been used in ten years. It could take a while for it to return.”
Loki looked at Thor as if startled by his perceptiveness. “Yes, I… suppose that might be true.” He slid his hands from Thor’s. “But what if it isn’t? What if it’s left me? What if I’ve lost it for good? I won’t be able to fulfill my promise to you or even—”
Thor rose to his feet and was once again at an equal height with his slave. He placed gentle hands on his shoulders.
“Peace, Loki. You have lost nothing but time. Your seir will surely return to you. Once a skill is learned, it is seldom forgotten.” He cupped the side of Loki’s face affectionately. “Rest now. Regain your strength, and above all, be patient. Worrying will do you no good.” He gave him a small, hopeful smile.
Loki swallowed and eventually nodded. “Yes, master,” he said. “Thank you.” He ducked his head in gratitude and turned, wandering back to his bed. He sat on the mattress, removed his shoes, and tucked himself into the covers. He curled up on his side with his back to the fire and was still.
A fierce love flooded Thor’s heart.
Things were going to be different now, he promised silently. Seir or no seir; male or female; baby or no baby. He was going to start treating Loki better. He would no longer force himself on him like he had tonight. He would ask him first. And if Loki never said yes, well… it would be no worse than before Thor had won him. He knew how to please himself. Being alone with no one to talk to or share meals with was a thousand times worse than being celibate. And someday in his old age he would count companionship more important than sex.
It would be fine. Loki would come around after a while. Then they could begin trying for a baby, and perhaps, in time, there might even be love between them. They could be a family.
Thor settled into bed and stared up at the thatched roof. His heart had not felt this light in years. He watched the firelight play with the shadows, chasing and leaping and flickering. He imagined there were figures there, a man and a woman dancing about each other, melting together and separating and rejoining again. Making love. Making a family. Making a home.
He stared until his eyes grew heavy and fell closed.
He had only been asleep a little while when he was woken by a soft voice calling to him.
Thor blinked and rolled in the direction of the voice.
Loki stood between Thor’s bed and the hearth, his body backlit by orange and red flames. He was naked, oddly, and—
Thor sat up, eyes wide.
Loki clasped his—her?—hands together nervously.
“I’m sorry.” The voice was a little higher but otherwise unchanged. “I tried to make myself a J÷tunn, but I couldn’t make it last. It was all I could do to manage this much. I haven’t… it’s been a very long time.”
Thor blinked, still unable to believe what he was seeing.
It was Loki, for certain. Same eyes, same nose, same mouth. His scar was still there; so were the white bands of sun-starved skin on his wrists. His hair was longer, falling down his shoulders and upper back in wavy tendrils, but very little else about his body had changed. Most of the differences were subtle yet still alluring. A pair of small breasts had grown on his chest, the nipples pink and pinched with cold. There was a slight nip at his waist, a curve to his hips. His arms were slimmer, his torso less square. His belly looked softer. His male parts were gone, and in their place was a soft mound covered with downy black hair. His thighs were smooth and shapely, and Thor’s eyes glided up and down them appreciatively.
“You are beautiful,” he uttered.
“You approve then?”
Thor nodded. He was already growing hard. “Aye.”
Loki relaxed a little. He approached and sat down on the edge of Thor’s bed, tucking one leg beneath himself. Thor caught a glimpse of pink skin within the dark patch of hair—parting lips, the small button of flesh that existed purely for a woman’s pleasure—before it disappeared in shadow again.
Loki gathered his hair behind his head and anxiously smoothed it over one shoulder. The ends fell over his left nipple, a plump little bud that resembled sweets Thor had seen at the market once. He suddenly longed to take the breast into his mouth and suck it, to cup the soft globe of fat in his hand and squeeze and nuzzle, worship it with his mouth. Desire burned within him, igniting the very marrow of his bones. He thought he would die if he could not touch Loki.
Loki saw the way his master gazed at him; it was a look he knew well. “Would you like to touch me, my lord?” He cupped his breasts and shifted his hips, opening his legs a little wider. Again that titillating flash of pink between his legs.
Thor’s eyes couldn’t decide where they wanted to rest. He was overwhelmed by everything, drinking in the beauty that did not come from form or flesh but from possibility. It was his future he was gazing upon now. A good future, a beautiful, fruitful future where he was no longer alone, where he would never be alone again because Loki wanted to share it with him.
At last his gaze settled on Loki’s face, taking in his eyes, his scar, his skin. He lifted his hand and caressed Loki’s smooth cheek and spoke the words for the first time:
“Do you want me, Loki?”
Loki’s nervously coy expression faded. He stared at Thor with something strange churning in the sea-green depths of his eyes.
Thor stared back at him, asking for his permission, two decades of soul-crushing rejection hovering just behind him, ready to prove what he had always known. That he was ugly. Grotesque. Utterly unlovable.
But after a few moments, Loki blinked and smiled. “Of course. How else am I going to get your baby in my belly?” Then, in a surprising display of boldness, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Thor’s.
Thor’s eyes widened. A moment later he was returning the kiss, sliding his hand through Loki’s hair and cradling the back of his head. His other hand slipped around Loki’s waist and pulled him close.
Loki crawled forward to meet him and threw his leg over Thor’s hips. He straddled his lap, and Thor could feel the heat of his vulva through his underclothes. He slid his hands up Loki’s naked back, blue on pale pink, and slid down to caress his waist, his hips, his thighs, all the while kissing him with an earnest hunger.
Receptiveness. Responsiveness. Willingness. Thor could not believe it was finally happening.
He wrapped his arm around Loki’s waist and rolled him over onto his back. He laid a path of wet kisses down Loki’s neck and sternum. He grasped the soft breasts, each one fitting into his hand, smooth and warm as little loaves of bread. He sucked the nipples until they were flushed red and Loki was moaning above him. His cock leaked against Loki’s knees and throbbed with every beat of his heart. He descended down the smooth belly and inadvertently tickled Loki with his beard; a giggle rose up and Thor lifted his head to see Loki biting his bottom lip and grinning at him with sparkling eyes.
Thor thought, I love him. I love him. More than anything, I love him.
He crawled down and pushed Loki’s thighs apart and began to explore his new anatomy with his mouth.
Loki gasped, clutched the mattress, and rocked his hips into Thor’s face.
He was sweet like springwater, as fragrant as a summer field, and more slippery than an eel’s skin. He rubbed his face all over Loki’s leaking quim, coating his cheeks with his slickness, deliberately saturating his beard and moustache so that he would be able to smell him all the next day. It might drive him mad, it might give him an erection every half hour he was awake, but coming home and being able to make love to Loki would be worth the torture.
He penetrated Loki carefully, first with one finger and then with two, and by the time he added the third, Loki was shivering with need and begging softly, “Please, my lord. Oh, please, I need you… need you inside me. Give me a child. Plant your seed in me…”
Thor’s senses left him when he heard Loki’s pleas. He obeyed—mindless, enchanted, enthralled—and when he slid inside for the first time and began to move, when Loki put his arms around him and met his thrusts, it was pure ecstasy.
At some point Loki hugged his neck and rolled him over, sat astride him like a rider atop a horse, and began to bounce up and down on his lap. Thor lay beneath him, dazed, torn between watching the bliss unfold on Loki’s face and the motion of his breasts and his own cock disappearing and reappearing to the sound of slapping flesh.
Loki climaxed first; a violent shudder raced through his body and he shut his eyes, made filthy exclamations in another language. His hips snapped back and forth on Thor’s pelvis as he stimulated himself. Thor made a guttering noise as he soon followed, coaxed into ejaculating by the fast, short strokes of Loki’s body around him.
They separated and rested briefly. Loki slumped down onto his master’s bed while Thor went and drew a ladle of water from the water bucket. He drank and brought the ladle to Loki, who drank as well.
By the time Thor was crawling into bed again, he was already half hard. Loki opened his legs, welcoming him, and Thor slid between them with the joy of a warrior returning home from the field of victory.
The fire cast shadows on their union for the next two hours until, exhausted, they sank down and were still.
Afternoon light streamed down through the smoke hole in the roof. Threads of gold lit up the deep brown shadows.
Thor lay sprawled on his bed, naked, the covers tangled beneath him. The fire had died and it was cold in the house. His breath appeared in little white mists above his face, slow and regular.
He had been trying to rouse himself for the past few hours. His body was accustomed to waking before first light no matter how late he had been up the previous night, but something was different now. He should have woken by now. His mind was aware of this. His body slowly rallied, clawing and crawling its way back to consciousness.
At last he managed to open his eyes. It was like pushing open the heaviest doors that had ever been made—the gates to Valhalla, perhaps. He lay there and stared up at the roof, not even daring to blink for fear of not being able to get his eyes open again.
Memories crawled back to him one at a time. Shards of conversation, pieces of broken images. He was too weak to move his limbs. He couldn’t even clench his fists. He could curl his fingers until they touched his palm, but that was the extent of the strength he could summon. He was paralyzed by a fatigue the likes of which he had never felt before. Even after his heaviest drinking binges he had never been so incapacitated.
Loki had done this. His mind was foggy, but that much was clear. He was certain of it. Loki had placed some sort of sleeping spell on him. It was the only explanation. And there was nothing he could do but lie here helplessly and wait for his strength to return.
His limbs reawoke like fish thawing in a frozen lake, sluggish in their torpor—a beat of a fin, a swish of gills—before gradually gaining momentum. After half an hour he finally managed to pull himself upright. He wobbled dizzily and shook his head as if that would clear the remnants of the seir floating around inside it.
He looked around the house. Everything was still and quiet. Nothing moved. In the distant forest he could hear the faint sound of ravens croaking to one another.
Loki’s bed was empty. His shoes were gone. No trace of his folded clothes in the cupboard on the wall. Thor knew that if he checked the larder he would find a few items missing.
He pulled himself to his feet and stood bare and shivering in his empty house. He located his trousers and pulled them on. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t anything. Confused, maybe. Worried. But not angry.
“Loki?” he called.
His eyes fell upon the table. He squinted and stepped closer.
The bottle of nattjasmin had been deliberately placed in the center. Beside it was his prized antler handle knife, standing upright, its point planted into the wood. The light gleamed blue on its sharp steel edge. Its sheath was nowhere to be seen.
With a cold feeling in his belly, Thor understood. Loki was gone. And he wasn’t coming back.
For several minutes he stood staring at the oil and his naked knife, too stunned to feel anything. Then it came to him, flowing in like water between the cracks of a sinking ship. The anger, the despair. Not directed at Loki but at himself.
His fists tightened until his nails bit into his palms. He clenched his teeth and breathed heavily through his nose.
He should have known. He knew it was a lie, that it was too good to be true. The love they had shared last night, the receptiveness, the warmth, the closeness, the rapture—none of it had been real. Loki had given Thor just enough hope to make him foolish, to make him believe. Then he had cast his spell over him and made his escape while Thor lay senseless and snoring.
He could have killed me, Thor thought. He could have cut my throat with my own knife, but then no one would be alive to suffer. He did this on purpose. He wanted me to live. So I could regret this for the rest of my life. And I will. I will.
Thor pressed his fingers to his eyes, where tears were beginning to form.
Perhaps he was not long gone. Perhaps he had only just departed. He might still be able to catch up to him. Perhaps if Thor could reach him, he could be reasoned with. Perhaps, perhaps.
They were foolish thoughts, but Thor let them in. He had to. It was either that or lose the last hope he had been holding on to, and if that happened there was no real point to living anymore.
He stormed to the door and threw it open, stepped out into the ankle-deep snow.
“Lokiii!” he bellowed.
A cloud of vapor left his mouth. His voice, partially muffled by the snow, echoed in the white valley. He cupped his hands around his lips and called again.
There were no footprints leaving the house. When had Loki left? At dawn? As soon as Thor had fallen asleep? Had it snowed since then? It had to have. There would be footprints otherwise, a trail leading off into the forest.
Unless Loki had turned into a bird and flown away. Maybe he was soaring over the treetops right now, free and singing his joy, the wind crisp and cold in his feathers. Maybe he was this very moment following the river to the border of J÷tunheim and crossing into Midgard, making his way northwest to Vanaheim. To home.
Tears blurred Thor’s vision. The world slanted into a blue and white smudge, sky above, snow below. For some reason all he could think of was the song Loki had been singing last night. How had it gone?
O would that I was home again, and home was here! And the fire was warm, and the wind would whisper, you’re home again…
Loki had gone home. Did Thor dare to follow? Did he dare to go and find him and bring him back? Drag him kicking and screaming and plant him into his bed and tell him for the hundredth time this is your home now. I will do my best to make it as—stop crying, boy, I’m not going to hurt you. I need you to help me…
No. He would not follow this time. This was the price he would pay for believing, for daring to hope. For thinking with his heart instead of his head. Loki did not want him. No one did. He was done pretending, through with forcing. This was the way it would be from now on.
With luck, Loki would make it home safely and live the rest of his life in peace.
As soon as the thought entered Thor’s mind, so did every thing that could possibly go wrong.
What if Loki became tired and fell from the sky? What if he could no longer shapeshift or conceal himself? His seir had been slow to return last night; what if he had used too much of it to shift his form and become stuck as a woman?
The image of Loki dressed in ill-fitting male garments, cold and hungry, hugging his (her?) coat and trudging through knee-deep drifts of snow, was so clear that Thor was certain he was experiencing a vision. He could see the redness of Loki’s cheeks, the wind blowing his hair, the miserable look on his face.
What if he was attacked? He couldn’t defend himself. He could be raped and killed, or worse, sold back into slavery and bought by a J÷tunn who would not think twice about splitting him open. Thor could see it happening now: Loki sobbing and begging, wrists bound, legs tied open for his new master. His blood, red and warm, coating the bastard’s gigantic cock as it plunged in and destroyed the womb that was supposed to carry Thor’s child. The frantic screams as Loki was brutally disemboweled, gouts of blood and viscera issuing from between his legs, while the J÷tunn laughed and grunted and spent himself just before Loki uttered his dying whimper.
Take the little slut away and dispose of the remains. I have had my fun.
Thor leaned over and coughed, gagged, and finally retched into the snow. His vomit steamed in the cold air.
Loki, his Loki, so beautiful and perfect, killed—for what? A moment’s pleasure. To satisfy a passing urge. Someone who had meant the world to him, gone, taken, slaughtered. All for one man’s sick lust.
Is it any different from what I have been doing to him for the past ten years?
Thor clapped his hands to his head and sank down onto his knees and roared. It echoed in the valley like thunder. A flock of birds took to the sky over the forest, seeking safety.
He bent down until he felt the icy wet kiss of snow on his brow. Then he sucked in a breath and sobbed. Hot tears dripped from his eyes and melted holes into the snow. He mourned, his voice a constant quavering groan, almost songlike. A dying beast in great agony, howling its last song to the gods.
For nearly half an hour he crouched in the snow, his broad blue back bent into a curve, making the sounds that can only come from the depths of the most broken soul.
Should he pursue? No, it was impossible. Loki was probably already a day’s journey or more from the valley and Thor did not want to leave the animals so long without food. He was their sole caregiver now.
One part of him, the desperate, irrational part, told him to turn them out and let them fend for themselves while he went after Loki. But they would either freeze, starve, or be killed by predators. And if he came back without Loki, which was the most likely outcome, he would have lost all his livestock for nothing.
Maybe a small part of him had wanted to let Loki go, to truly free him, and that was why he had done it. He knew Loki was miserable, that he longed for his home and his people and his seir, that he had no loyalty or love for his master.
He could buy another slave. He had nearly half of the money already.
Thor had to smile at his predicament.
The money that he was going to use to buy a baby and turn their sad little misfit couple into a misfit family. The money that now had to be put to a different use because he had been a sentimental fool and believed the silver lies of a cunning Vanir sorcerer.
Thor pulled himself to his feet and spent several minutes looking out toward the east, toward the forests and mountains beyond. His heart ached. His stomach was sick and empty. And he had work to do.
He wiped his face, grabbed the bucket by the door, and began his day.
The weeks bled together. Sˇl rose and set, and Mßni followed her dutifully across the sky, waxing and waning as he went.
The days began to lengthen now that midwinter had passed, but Thor barely reckoned them. A hollow existed where his heart had once beat, and it was becoming difficult for him to get out of bed in the morning. He did anyway, more out of habit and regard for his livestock than whatever minuscule love he still reserved for himself.
He labored long hours to compensate for Loki’s loss. He plowed and planted and chopped wood and fetched water for the animals, toiling outside for as long as the daylight lasted. He came in at night to cook and clean and wash, mending clothes and reacquainting himself with the loom. His mother had shown him how to weave on her giant loom when he was a boy, something that Loki’s mother had apparently neglected to do. Maybe they did not teach their sons such things in Vanaheim, Thor thought, or perhaps his mother had died when he was a babe.
Thor had had to teach Loki to sew and spin yarn, as well as a number of other domestic crafts. Loki learned quickly and eventually surpassed even Thor’s skills with loom and spindle. Thor was glad and proud; he had invested many years in Loki, who now possessed material worth beyond just what Thor felt for him. He was an asset, one of great value.
And now he was gone.
Thor felt his absence keenly, especially at night. He came home to a cold, dark, empty house. He had to relight the fire and prepare his own baths, fetch his own clothes, clean his own messes. Had to prepare his supper alone, eat it alone. No music, no voices, no familiar face to look at. Just the wind outside and the crackle of the fire within. He washed his dishes, did all the evening chores himself, and crawled into bed. Sometimes he masturbated, but those times were rare and few. It only made him more melancholy. Reminded him of what he no longer had.
Days passed in which he did not utter a word. He worked in silence now, lived in silence, and dreamt in silence. He had a lyre but not the heart to play it. Loki had known how to play the lyre and often entertained Thor in the evening with strange songs from foreign lands. He claimed he could play the flute, and Thor had tried to fashion one for him out of a block of wood. He never quite finished it; the task was more complicated than he anticipated. He kept the work in progress hidden away in the barn so Loki wouldn’t accidentally find it. Thor had planned to give it to him for Jˇl if he ever finished. He didn’t know if it was proper for masters to give Jˇl gifts to their slaves, but he didn’t care. Loki would have a flute even if Thor had to cut his fingers to ribbons to do it.
Or he would have had. The recipient of the gift was no longer here. Nevertheless, Thor took the crudely-carved flute down from its hiding place and worked on it when he couldn’t sleep. Little by little he finished it. He tested it, found it suitable, and laid it in Loki’s empty bed, as if awaiting his return.
Perhaps not all of Thor had given up hope; he often caught his eyes straying to the eastern horizon, wondering if one day he might see Loki’s familiar figure walking down the path. It was a foolish hope, no different from the countless other hopes Thor had collected over the course of his life.
Loki was not returning to him. No one in their right mind would willingly return to a life of slavery and servitude, or even a life of menial tasks, wedded in all but name to a j÷tunn runt with dull, unglamourous dreams like growing vegetables and making babies. Not when there was a whole continent to be explored, hundreds of adventures to be had, thousands of years of seir to be mastered.
Thor buried and exhumed and reburied his hopes in the grave they refused to rest in. He tilled the earth and planted his seeds, harvested his winter crops, and looked after his livestock. He did not attend the spring market in ┌tgard. It was a financial loss for him, but he simply could not leave his farm unattended for two weeks. To do so would mean depriving his future harvest of much-needed water at a crucial time, and the goats would overeat the spring grass and sicken themselves, and without Loki to call the cows in each evening, the stupid beasts would wander all over the hills and into the forest and be taken down by wolves and bears. Any survivors would be almost impossible to gather.
So Thor remained on his farm that spring, isolated and practically imprisoned, staying up late into the night and calculating what he needed to do if he hoped to make it through the coming winter. He must attend the autumn market, that much was certain, for it was the last chance he had to replenish his stores for the winter. He might be able to skip the summer market, or perhaps the one in winter, but the autumn market was essential. Even if he had to bring most of his animals with him and sell them, he must make the autumn market.
How ironic that selling his livestock would finally give him enough money to buy another slave—one that should have been at home watching his livestock in the first place.
Thor laughed heartily at the thought. Then he flung his ale mug across the house, broke it, and wept.
Warmth and light returned to J÷tunheim. The snow melted and budding life covered the naked valley in robes of green. Wildflowers and clover dotted the slopes and the air was filled with the buzz of bees. Lush grass rippled as the wind played over it, creating the illusion of waves on a verdant sea. Birds sang in the deep forest. Farther down, the waters of the fjord sparkled like the scales of a fish, and seabirds called to one another. The sun was warm and golden except on days when it hid behind the clouds, days when the sky went purple and it thundered and rained.
Thor did not lift his head to gaze at the beauty around him. He did not care about it.
Soon the vernal flowers dropped from their stalks and summer stepped in like a queen. The forest thickened and filled with animals: deer, elk, rabbits, foxes, birds of all kinds. Crops emerged from the ground, fish leaped in the fjord, and Thor’s life continued to unravel while all around him the world sang and mated and bore fruit, oblivious to his suffering.
He could not forget Loki no matter how hard he tried. He was the first thing Thor thought of when he woke in the morning and the last thing he thought of as he lay down each night. His grieving mind, unable to let go, entertained itself with fantasies all tuned to the same key of if, perhaps, maybe.
If he had not been so fearful of losing his expensive slave, perhaps he would have allowed Loki more freedom.
If Loki had been allowed more freedom, maybe he wouldn’t have wanted to run away.
If Loki hadn’t wanted to run away, Thor might have trusted him more.
If Thor had trusted him, perhaps he would have freed Loki sooner.
If Loki had been free, he might have stayed and helped Thor of his own free will.
And if Loki had done that, Thor would have plucked the evening star from the sky itself and given it to Loki to wear around his neck, and the beauty of his face, even scarred as it was, would have put its light to shame.
The words repeated themselves obsessively, uselessly in Thor’s brain. If, perhaps, maybe.
By the time the summer solstice arrived, Thor was working all but a few hours a day. As long as there was light to see—and there was no true night this time of year in J÷tunheim—he was out in his fields plowing, planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting.
He had been faced with two choices after Loki left him: plant the full amount of seeds and risk losing a percentage of the crop because of a lack of manpower, or plant only half of the seeds and risk the other half spoiling over the winter, as well as a depleted inventory. He decided the former was the better choice. He needed a large harvest to sell at the market in order to make enough money to cover the cost of the seeds and labor, as well as to bolster his own stores for the winter.
It proved to be too much for him. Slowed by exhaustion and a lack of working hands, the crops aged in the ground beyond their harvest dates. By the time Thor dug up or cut down the last bushels, most were old and well on their way to spoiling. He had known this, of course, and fed as much of the shriveled produce to his animals so at least it was not a complete waste.
He brought most of his cows and goats and pigs with him to the autumn market, along with the best of his crops. He was forced to undersell and haggle and barter to get rid of everything. He would rather return home with money in his pocket and an empty cart rather than fewer coins and unsellable livestock that he would have to feed through winter. The expense of retaining the animals outweighed their usefulness to him. He needed to keep his assets balanced. Loki had been able to do the figures easily; he seemed to have a mind for it. Thor did not, and it shamed him to admit that things had run much more smoothly when Loki was there to look over his numbers and make recommendations.
He should have thanked him for doing that. He should not have taken him for granted, should not have interpreted these helpful offerings as attempts to undermine his authority or threaten his fragile manhood—because it was fragile, Thor realized. It had been all his life. Always the runt. Always the child, the incompetent, no matter how hard he worked to prove otherwise; always striving to prove himself worthy to those who did not matter to him, when he should have been striving to be worthy in the eyes of the only person he cared about.
Foolish, manly pride. Thor cursed it, and he cursed himself.
By the time the trees were bare and the first snowfall was upon him, Thor J÷rsson was facing financial ruin and a very hard, bleak winter. He lacked everything there was to lack: money, food, animals, provender, provisions, and hope. He would be unable to recover after this winter unless he sold everything and went to sea. In a year’s time he might have enough money saved up to return and try again. It was the only way.
One gray afternoon around sunset, Thor looked up from chopping wood and saw a cloaked figure making its way down the eastern ridge, leading a horse. The tack appeared to be foreign, the animal burdened with boxes and satchels heaped atop the saddle, held down by many crisscrossing ropes. Heavy bags hung on either side of the saddle.
Thor stopped and straightened his back. He lowered his axe and wiped the sweat from his brow, dried his hands on his trousers.
The stranger approached without hail or greeting. A metallic jingle rose from the saddlebags. Thor could see the mud stains on the bottom of the man’s gray cloak; he had been traveling on foot for many days. There were darker brown spots flecked around his shoulders, almost black. Not mud, but something else. Something that had been spraying when it landed. Thor had slaughtered enough animals to know what it was.
The stranger stopped ten paces away and drew back his hood.
Thor breathed in sharply. Within seconds his eyes were filled with tears.
Loki stared back at him timidly, like a wolf trying to judge a threat.
Thor moved toward him, arms reaching. “Loki,” he choked.
He would have embraced him if Loki hadn’t reached into his cloak and drawn something out. He held it at arm’s length, and Thor stopped himself just short of running into his fist.
“Here,” said Loki, and he gave the pouch a shake. There came the heavy clink of coins. “It’s gold. Take it.”
Thor’s mouth fell open. His jaw worked dumbly for a few moments, groping for words. Finally he tore his eyes from Loki’s face to look down at the offering. He reached out and took it, weighed it in his hand.
It was heavy. Two hundred aurar or so. More than three times the worth of his entire farm, crops and livestock and tools and all.
Loki let his arms hang at his sides. He was wearing new clothes under his cloak, Thor saw: dark green linen and black leather; gauntlets, boots, a coat, light armor; a charred and ancient-looking amulet that held a small blue gem. He wore kohl around his eyes, which gave him a wild, almost dangerous appearance. His hair was a little longer, though not as long as when he had taken a female shape. He wore it half up, in the customary style of Vanir nobility, and it was much wavier, almost curly. His ringlets shone like a raven’s feather in the dim afternoon light.
“I…” Loki frowned, licked his lips, and tried again. He did not meet Thor’s eyes. “Compensation,” he said at last. “For my absence. I hope you… did not suffer much.”
Thor blinked and stood there.
The pouch of money rolled out of his hand and landed on the ground with a heavy clunk . Then he stepped forward and put his arms around Loki. He said nothing but began to weep upon his shoulder.
Loki stood stiffly and awkwardly, his eyes wide. He did not return the embrace, nor did he try to extricate himself from it. He let it happen as he had let so many things happen to him for the last ten years. Enduring. Waiting.
Thor drew a long, congested breath through his nostrils. He pulled back and held Loki by the shoulders, gazed at him pathetically.
“I have missed you.”
Loki gave an imperceptible nod and stepped out of Thor’s grasp.
“Why have you come? I thought you…”
Loki breathed in and kept his eyes on the ground to Thor’s left. Behind him the horse flicked its tail and grunted. Finally, after several moments, he began to speak.
“When I returned to Rˇndalur, the city was a ruin, abandoned. The academy still stood, but it had been sacked and burned, all of the artifacts stolen. I spent a week searching for the old texts. They have little value outside of seir practitioners, and few can read them. Most had been burnt, but some remained.”
He gestured to the satchels and other luggage strapped to the horse.
“I salvaged what I could, then I decided to avenge my instructor’s death and those of my peers. They were the only family I had. I let my rage take me. I became a monster.”
He clasped his black-gloved hands together.
Thor fought the urge to reach out and take those squirming, anxious hands into his own and hold them.
“I don’t remember much after that. Blood and screams. Darkness. Fire. I tried to kill only those whose faces I remembered, those who were responsible for… everything that happened to me. Many fell. Ăsir, Vanir, J÷tnar. Soldiers, merchants, civilians. Some are still out there. The lucky ones, I suppose. But I haven’t the heart to search for them anymore. That fire has burnt out. I have done all that I could.”
This was the most Thor had ever heard Loki speak. His voice was like silver even though his words were terrible.
“When I finally came back to myself, I realized there was nothing left for me. All the people I had known were gone, the only home I’d had destroyed. I was free, though”—he smiled bitterly, briefly—“finally free! And I had nothing. No one.”
He raised his eyes to Thor. They shined with moisture.
“And then I began to think of you, Thor.”
Something in Thor’s heart fluttered when Loki spoke his name for the first time.
“You are a slave and you don’t realize it. Or perhaps you do. Enslaved by your poverty, your size, your circumstances. But the point is that you are no freer than me when I was your thrall, and I am no freer now than when I was under your roof.”
Thor tried to make sense of the words. He thought he understood, but there was something else he wasn’t quite catching. Something between the words.
“What are you saying, Loki?”
For a moment Loki’s temper flared. “I’m saying ”—he stopped himself, closed his eyes, took a breath—“I am saying I… that I remember a time when we had nothing. No flour, no meat. Not even eggs. Just milk and broth. That hard winter five years ago, when I ran away and took what little food you had with me. Do you remember?”
Thor remembered. His stomach clenched as if it remembered, too.
A hard winter. A long winter. Nothing but goat’s milk and a store of onions to see them though until spring. The cabbages and potatoes were buried beneath two feet of snow in the rock-hard ground, ruined before they had a chance to grow. The ice on the fjord was so thick that it was impossible to fish. The deer were gone. Even the wolves were starving, eating each other. Eating the bark off of trees and the leather cords of the snares Thor would set to catch rabbits and squirrels.
But the J÷tnar were built for such situations. Mannfˇlk were not. Thor became lean and chiseled as his body slowly used up its stores of fat, and though his stomach was often empty, his strength endured. Loki, however, grew thinner and weaker every day. Thor watched him slowly diminish and was beset by a helpless grief. He gave Loki all of his food, went days without eating so that his slave could eat. He hunted for birds in the woods since there were no rabbits to be had. He drank the blood of those he could catch and gave Loki the meat, the organs, and boiled the carcasses to make bone broth. He wept often and prayed even more. For his slave. For his land. Never for himself.
It was a dark, desperate time.
“You came and found me,” said Loki, pulling Thor from his shadowy memories. “Half-frozen in the wood. You carried me back and sat me by the fire and rubbed my arms and legs until the feeling returned. You let me have the food I had stolen from you, even though I”—his voice cracked—“even though I deserved to be beaten to death for my actions.”
He blinked and shiny lines unrolled down his flushed cheeks. They left smears of wet kohl in their wake.
“You have done terrible things to me, Thor. Things I did not want.”
Thor’s face twisted and tears filled his eyes.
“But you also looked after me. You did without so that I would not. You nursed me when I was sick, not just that winter, but in times before and after. You did everything you could to make me happy, even though it was useless. You tried. You cared for me. You treated me, for the most part, as if you wanted me to be something more than just your slave. As if I were… as if you loved me. And I think you did. That you still do. And for that, I cannot hate you as I ought.”
He bowed his head.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. All I know is that I ache every time I think of you, and I hope you… I hope that your heart was not broken.”
Silence fell for a time. Then, a voice:
Loki looked up.
Thor sank to his knees and stared into Loki’s wet green eyes.
“I have done terrible things to you. Things for which I cannot be forgiven, though I beg your forgiveness nonetheless. I do not expect you to accept my apology, but know that I regret what I did to you. I regret that I was so weak, that I allowed myself to be so… so ugly .” He hid his face in his hands. “I am sorry, Loki. Know that. I am sorry for… for everything.”
He bent down to the ground and wept at Loki’s feet.
Loki dropped to his knees and put his arms around Thor’s blond head, stroked his gloved hands through his hair. He rested his cheek against Thor’s shoulder and closed his eyes.
“Are you going to leave me again?” Thor croaked.
“No,” said Loki. “I’m going to free you.”
He unwound himself from around Thor, stood, and held out his hand.
Thor looked at it a moment, blinking his eyes clear. Then he sniffed, clasped Loki’s forearm, and rose.
A big thank you to Liz (Estivate on Twitter and Tumblr) and Lily (Snackage on Twitter and Tumblr) who provided the amazing art for this story. I couldn't have asked for better partners. You two are the best.
A massive round of applause is owed to the mods who organized this great event. This is my third year participating and it just keeps getting better and better. Thank you for all that you do!
Two songs go along with this story. The first is Evening Star by T├Żr, which is where the story gets its title, and it's also the song that Loki was singing. (You can see the lyrics etched on Loki's manacles in Liz's art above. Click the image for the full view!) The second is Blot by M├ąnegarm, a beautiful Swedish song whose lyrics encompass the bleakness of winter and the sacrifices (blot) that must be made. Thor's theme, basically.
I hope everyone enjoyed this story. Thank you for reading!