Somewhere deep in Scandinavia, a brisk wind blew across an icy landscape. The sun was fading under a crisp, white horizon. On Midgard, it was the year 977. June. Midgard struggled with an aftermath of a war of the gods. Twelve years ago, when there were still two princes of Asgard and not three, the Jotuns threatened an Ice Age to wipe out the human race. King Odin of Asgard defeated the miscreant Frost Giants and saved Midgard. He confiscated the Casket of Ancient Winters, but the damage was already done. The realm of mortals suffered and starved through years without summer.
A white weasel bounded through the drifts. A hawk stared at it curiously. The weasel paused by its perch, sniffed, squeaked up at it. Follow me, it seemed to say. So the hawk did. The furry white weasel led it across frozen hills and past frozen lakes and through frozen meadows and around frozen trees, all the way down to a lonesome little tent in a clearing. The breeze smelled faintly of smoke and boar meat. The air tasted delicious on Loki's tongue.
"Did I do well, Mother?" Loki asked as the weasel crumbled away into snow. "And when is supper?"
"You did very well," Queen Frigga smiled. The hawk alighted on her outstretched arm, preened, and vanished in a cloud of golden smoke. "And presently."
"Mother!" Thor howled from the edge of the camp. "Mother, Father left without me and I cannot find Baldur!" The golden haired prince stomped up to her, pouting.
Frigga laughed. Loki rolled his eyes. The queen knelt down to level with her sons. "Your father left hours ago. He called for you, but you did not come. He was not going to wait for any naughty little boys. And Thor, have you forgotten already that Baldur is still back at home? He is not strong enough to travel the Bifrost."
"But shouldn't the oldest prince be the strongest?" Loki asked.
"Strength is not a matter of age, but a matter of heart," she smiled, "and his heart is very weak."
"Loki, do you want to play with me?" Thor said, clapping his brother's shoulder.
"May we?" The raven haired prince blinked up at his mother.
"Yes, yes, but do not stray too far!" Frigga called as they darted off. She shook her head and retreated to the tent.
The princes raced around the camp site and through the quiet forest. They were alone, save for a sparse spattering of assorted Midgardian animals. The princes sparred for a bit; Loki was unable to keep up with Thor's strength and soon lost interest.
Thor climbed a nearby tree and gazed out over the area. "Do you think Father will be back tonight?" he asked, looking down at his grounded brother.
"It is doubtful," Loki responded. "You know how Father likes to blaze a trail wherever he goes."
Thor laughed and jumped from the tree. He landed in a soft pile of snow with a heavy oof. "Teach me how to do magic," he demanded from his crater.
Loki sighed. "I don't know how. Make Mother teach you. She taught me."
"Hey!" The elder prince said, popping up and rubbing his hands. Loki did not like his tone. It meant Thor was about to suggest a game that his brother would likely lose. If Thor could not do magic, he would find something else to beat his brother at. "We should play seek-and-find in the dark!" There it was, the game. However, the raven haired prince felt he might have a chance at winning this one. As long as it did not involve tackling or hunting or sparring or any other physical activity. He was uncannily good at seek-and-find.
"Okay," Loki nodded. "What are the rules? Limits?"
Thor shook his head. "Just a classic game of seek-and-find. No funny business. Which means you are not allowed to use your doppelgängers." Loki shrugged. He rarely used them, anyway. His magic was not yet very strong, and it tired him to use doppelgängers without reason. Turning himself into an object was easier than creating another body out of smoke.
"And another thing," Thor continued, grinning widely.
Loki rolled his eyes.
"Tag!" Thor shouted, and darted off into the underbrush.
Loki counted to thirty and followed suit.
The sun sank rapidly, and it was difficult to trace Thor. There were footprints, of course, but they led in all different directions. Thor must have been planning this game for the last hour, stomping paths in the snow. He was learning how to outwit Loki. He never would, the raven haired prince mused, grinning. He pulled his eyes from the ground and searched the trees. The snow reflected moonlight into the bare branches.
Midgardian forests were not unlike Asgardian ones. Loki hoped to at least see something different. Many of the animals here were the same. Wolves, quail, squirrels, deer. . . But the only thing the young prince was interested in finding was a human. He knew stories of ancient ones, the cave dwellers that struck fire from rocks and painted in forgotten caverns. Perhaps they'd grown since Odin was last here.
Half an hour of trekking through the snow around the campsite yielded no results. The moon cast a ghostly white reflection on the blanketed earth. It was difficult to see very far ahead. Lots of trees looked like shadows of Thor-brothers. Loki had hoped Thor would have listened to Frigga. It seemed he was sorely mistaken. Loki sighed. He truly did not want to venture too far out. Straying from camp would earn a hefty disciplining from the All-Father. No one wanted that. Although, it always seemed like Thor was never punished quite so severely. Loki wondered why that was. It made his brother mean sometimes. And then there was Baldur, who never did anything wrong and was never in trouble.
Loki also wondered why his father was so known for destroying villages as he trampled through the Midgardian world. Did he not care for them? Odin was the All-Father, the protector of the nine realms. Was it favoritism? If he did not favor humans, why had he saved them from the Frost Giants twelve years ago? And, was it twelve years for humans as well? How did the aging cycle vary between the two species? Loki knew that he aged the same as a human up until the point where he started to grow into an adult. Puberty slowed down his growing cycle. By the time he would be a polished adult, he would have lived for almost two thousand years longer than any mortal. Perhaps it had been twelve years, then, since the war. It must be so frightening to live as a human, to know you only have a handful of years to live and then you fade away into the earth. Next year, his body would begin to slow down. He would stay this size for a few hundred years, growing steadily. How would the humans advance during that time?
But his thoughts were cut short. A twig snapped to his left. Loki froze. Was it his brother? An animal? Whatever it was, they could sense each other's tensing. The pressure became unbearable. Slowly, Loki turned to face the tree to his left. A bulky shadow hid from his sight. He could feel it staring at him. Its breathing was short and ragged, as if it had been running for a great deal of time.
"Thor?" Loki called out tentatively.
Suddenly, the strange creature was upon him. It leapt from the shadows and tackled him into the snow. Loki wanted to scream, but he feared his brother's taunts. Loki struggled and wrestled the furry creature to the ground. Its pelt seemed never-ending, large and shapeless like a bear. But it had spindly arms and legs, much like his own. He won out, sitting on the creature and pinning its arms above its head. This was not his brother.
Underneath him, a young girl writhed and wriggled. They both made no noise as they fought. It was a strange idea to the prince that two children fought in the snow without so much as a grunt. Loki did his best not to laugh.
"Who are you?" he murmured quietly, eyes darting across her figure. She was not Asgardian, clearly. She was not polished like an Asgardian. But her hair was dark brown, eyes a brilliant blue. They were common Aesir features. She was rather pretty. And Loki was sitting on her stomach without much care. The girl struggled under him.
"Help me!" she whispered frightfully.
"Who are you?" Loki asked again, voice rising. He was losing his playful mood. And this girl kept staring over his shoulder. What was back there?
A deep, throaty growl echoed behind them. Loki froze once more. "A friend of yours?" he asked quietly. She shook her head, trying her best to hold her breath. She whimpered fearfully. Loki stood up slowly, scanning the area. It was too dark to see. Its eyes glowed in the darkness, but the huge wolf hid cleverly in the shadows. The raven haired prince gulped. The human clung to his side, shivering. It seemed he had no choice but to protect her.
"Girl," he whispered calmly, keeping his eyes trained on the wolf. "When I say to, run as far as you can as fast as you can. I'll stop the beast."
"You can't!" she denied, gripping his hand. "It's the Fenrir-Wolf! The monster who ate Odin in the Ragnarök! You'll be eaten too!"
Loki flashed a crooked grin. "You can't possibly believe in those silly stories. Odin is very much alive." The raven haired prince summoned blue fire into his palms. In the flare, the two saw the predator. Fur matted with blood, teeth the length of Loki's hand, eyes gleaming golden. It was easily twice the size of any Aesir warrior. Loki gulped. His bravery was failing him. The girl squeezed his hand tight. 'What would Thor do?' Loki asked himself. If he was going to die, he may as well die looking like a hero.
The wolf took a step forward, snarling loudly. It snapped and pounced; the children screamed in terror. Loki pushed the young girl away. "Run!" he shouted, holding his arms up high above his head. The fire swelled; Loki tossed the cold ball of blue fire at the ground, singing the blood from the wolf's coat. The wolf reared. A line of fire split the predator and prey. It was not sure how to react to the boy with the fire. It only knew it was hungry, and if it could get past the flames, it would have two nice meals. The beast lunged again, jaws snapping as it cleared the wall of fire.
Loki hesitated fearfully. So many teeth. What was the likelihood that he would survive this situation? It was close to zero. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the wolf neared. He thought to run, but then his death would have been slow and not at all quick. He thought to defend himself, but he was running out of magic and his dagger was useless. He thought to duck and let the wolf take the human, but he was a god and gods protected the weak. All of a sudden, the wolf was upon him. There was a flash of light, and the flames died. The wolf's teeth chomped heavily on Loki's neck.
The girl screamed in terror. Why hadn't she run, like he commanded?
The wolf looked around, confused. Was the boy so small that he had been swallowed whole? Its stomach was still just as empty. Ah, but it did not matter to the hungry wolf. There was another tasty morsel before it. It smacked its jaws at her, growling. It prepared to lunge. The girl ran. Her heavy coat of pelts weighed her down, but she could not lose it. If she escaped the wolf without it, she would die of the cold. Her maneuvers were terrible at best; no matter which way she turned, the wolf snapped at her heels, at her dress, at her braids.
It was not long before the girl found herself cornered between the foot of a cliff and a circle of trees. The girl trembled, backing up to the rock face. The wolf came up fast, not even slowing to brace for the impact with the cliff. It snarled, jumped.
A sickening thud silenced the forest.
The girl looked up, tears staining her reddened face. The wolf lay dead at her feet, a boulder in place where its ribs should have been. She gagged, coughed up her empty stomach on the snow. The boulder dissolved and unfurled, revealing the raven haired prince. She screamed.
Loki pulled himself from the wolf's carcass. He was sore. A drop from so high up hurt even gods. Loki was not pleased. "Stop screaming," he grumbled, struggling to stand. "It was just a bit of magic. Nothing to it." The raven haired prince stood before her, as whole and good and beautiful as he was when she first jumped on him. He was now covered in hot, steaming wolf blood, but it did not matter to the girl. She flung herself onto him, covering his face with fervent kisses. Loki pried her off, startled. "Get a hold of yourself, girl!" he snapped. His words were harsher than he'd intended, but he dismissed himself. He'd almost been eaten by a wolf for the sake of this human, and he still did not know who she was.
"My name is Siv," she finally struggled out, catching her breath through her sobs of relief. "I saw you come through the light, a hundred of you. Earlier. When the sun was still in the sky. You are gods."
Ah, so she'd witnessed their descent. She was not incorrect about the number. Somewhere, off in the night, the All-Father led a party of warriors across vast sheets of snow and ice for the sake of vicious entertainment. And she still clung to him. Loki, however, did not feel any particular desire to remove her now. It was uncommon to be praised so highly. He secretly delighted in having her cower beside him, as long as she refrained from kissing him again. Perhaps this was why Thor was so eager to be the strongest Asgardian.
Loki collected himself quickly, searching the darkness. Still no sign of his brother. Loki began to worry. Certainly someone heard the screaming. Where was that nuisance of a brother? It was then Loki realized he was not sure where he himself had wandered to, either. Earlier in the day, when the campsite was still full of burly men, the scouts declared that there were no human villages for some distance. Where had this girl come from, if Loki had not walked all the way out to the human village? The girl named Siv brushed the snow from her pelt. She cursed under her breath quietly. Ice was under her furs, and it seeped into her skin. "Cold," she hissed, patting herself down.
"Tis snow, obviously it is cold," Loki said simply. He watched her curiously. She clicked her tongue and stamped her foot at him. He could not resist a smile. So this is how a human was, then. All fire and struggle. He liked it. He liked her, too.
He blinked, shaking his head. That was rather forward. 'I didn't mean like that,' he chided. But Loki was not sure if he believed himself.
Siv was short and frail. Her furs seemed to swallow her. Her legs were ridiculously skinny and did not appear able to hold up her body. No wonder the wolf chased her. She rubbed her face on her gloves and squatted on the ground. Loki was not sure how to react. He should be looking for his brother right now, not wandering around with some peculiar human girl.
"Can you get back to your village?" Loki tried. Obviously she'd come a long way. But she only shook her head. Her dark braids flipped side to side. It was comical. Loki dug a small cloth from his coat. Wrapped inside it was a small bit of meat jerky. It was only a snack, but he figured it would be kind to offer it to her. She quickly snatched it from him and chewed. Loki stood uncomfortably for a moment, before crouching beside her.
"Are you just going to stay here, then? Be chased by another wolf?" he asked.
The mortal stared off in the distance, troubled.
The Asgardian prince bristled and glared at her. She was not paying attention to him. His eyes followed her trail and noticed an orange glow coming from the other side of a steep set of hills. A village. It was quite a journey from there to here, Loki mused. She must have travelled since noon. Since the Aesir arrived in Midgard.
"Why can you not go back?" he asked, sighing in annoyance. "It is only just down the mountain. We can see it from here."
Once again, she shook her head. "Are you not freezing?" Siv questioned, eyeing him. Loki wore very little protection compared to her. A few layers of tunics and a light coat were not enough to protect a human from the cold. Loki shook his head. His body was more accustomed to the snow than many of his fellow Asgardians.
The human sighed, settling into his shoulder. Loki stiffened. What should he do? His initial response was to shove her away, but that would have been rude. His mother taught him better manners than that. She may have been a pathetic human, but she was still a girl. The prince eventually relaxed and tried resting his chin against the top of her head.
This was strange. This was beyond strange, this was unheard of. Loki sat in the snow with a mortal at his side and no idea where he was. She was shivering beside him. Should he hug her? He loosely put an arm around her shoulder. This was uncomfortable. His hand slipped and fell to the snow. How did he cover this? He wormed his arm between them and held her hand. That was more comfortable. It was still awkward, but he could handle this. She gripped his hand tightly. What now? She was still shivering. He had no blankets to warm her. If he could find his way back to his own camp, he would have gladly lent her one.
"You are not a protector, are you?" she whispered. Loki heard a crack in her voice. So she was crying again, not shivering. Or perhaps she was doing both.
"No," he answered, unsure. What did she mean by protector? He was obviously not some brawny, adorned warrior. But he could almost hold his own in a fight with anyone his age except Thor. He was decent at magic and knife-throwing. Not great, but decent. And he protected her from a hungry wolf. That at least was deserving of some praise.
"But you are kind," she sniffled. Loki did not respond. He flushed a bit. He was not versed in interactions with fair maidens. The only girl he knew was Sif, and she hardly counted as a fair maiden. "Not many would sit with me like this."
"I suppose," Loki muttered. "But you should really stop crying. Your tears will freeze on your face and you will likely die."
The human girl rolled her eyes and wiped her face, sniffing. "Would not be the first time I've frozen my face like this."
Loki thought to himself quietly. The human said no more, only rested her head against his shoulder and curled up to sleep. Thor was nowhere to be found, Loki decided, and he was most certainly lost. It would be better for him to stay here with this girl. The mortal slept against him.
Loki awoke with a start. A terrible feeling gripped his core. The moon was high above them. When had he fallen asleep? He was still in the snow with the human. 'The human!' Loki stood abruptly and shook her shoulders.
"What is it?" she asked, frantically looking around.
"I am not sure, but you need to go! Immediately!" he whispered.
The girl shook her head. Her eyes glazed in fright. "I cannot go back! I cannot!"
"You can! You must! I do not know what is coming, but I cannot protect you from it this time! Whatever it is that you fear down there, face it! When the sun rises tomorrow morning, I will come find you! Please, run!"
The girl hugged his neck and pecked his cheek, and in a flash she was gone. Loki refused to stare after her. If something dangerous was near, he did not want to give away her location. But she'd kissed him again. And this time it felt different. If he did not turn around, would she know?
The young prince trembled. Of course it would be that voice. "Father!" he called out, words small and weak.
A great horse with eight legs bounded through the drifts. Slepnir. Perched on its back was the All-Father. "Loki, what are you doing out here alone?" Odin asked. His eyes immediately went to the wolf carcass beside him, and the blood staining the boy's body.
"Thor and I were playing seek-and-find, and I lost him. . ." he muttered, lowering his head. Loki was amazed to hear the absence of scolding remarks.
Odin picked the boy up with one arm and sat him atop the eight-legged steed. The King said nothing to his warriors; they continued on whatever course they travelled. Even with the snow, it was impossible to see which way the shadows went. Loki hoped it was not toward the human village. The prince soon found himself approaching the Asgardian camp.
"Thank you, Father," the boy breathed, relieved to see his mother once more.
"Loki!" Frigga exclaimed, surprised to see him with her husband.
"I found him wandering in the snow." Odin cast a sharp glance at Thor. "Make sure to keep an eye on your younger brother. It is unacceptable to separate yourselves here. Loki is the youngest, and cannot protect himself as well as you can."
'But you saw I killed the wolf,' Loki frowned.
Thor nodded sullenly. "Yes, Father," he mumbled. Odin turned and was gone, back through the dark woods after his warriors.
Frigga gathered up her two boys in her arms. "Oh, Loki, I was so worried! What is all this blood? Are you alright? What happened to you, you are filthy! Thor, do try not to lose your brother out here, alright? And Loki, if you suspect Thor's gone off on an adventure, tell me before you take off after him?"
"Yes, Mother," the boys replied in unison.
Frigga fretted over Loki a while longer, cleaning him up. She sent them off with a swat and a bowl of dinner. Bedtime was shortly after. The princes retired to their shared tent; Loki crawled onto his mat with a sigh. He truly hoped that human girl made it back to her village safely. He fully intended to visit her in the morning. By daylight, it would be easy to find. As long as he could get away from the camp early enough. The Aesir tents were strewn all around this forest. One wrong step and he would be caught.
Loki fell asleep holding his cheek. The spots she kissed still buzzed with warmth, especially his lips. He wondered if it were some kind of allergic reaction to human saliva.
That night, the prince dreamt of the mortal named Siv. They played together and fought together in the snow. He felt at peace with her. Every time he asked a question she only shook her head, kissing him on the cheek once again. He was eager to know, but also became greedy with her affections. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt it was very unlike him to be so interested in anyone, let alone a human. But the back of his mind also knew this was a dream, and he let himself carry on. He decided, if it was acceptable, he would ask his mother if he could take this human back to Asgard when they returned. She would make for a nice playmate.