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Mackie

Loki – Family Ties

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For now, at least, he seemed willing to let the food distract him; he even started to tell a long and involved and outrageously hilarious tale about the Allfather and a visit to the dwelling of the dwarves. As always when he put his mind to it, Loki’s tale swept his audience along, and when his description of Odin’s adventures with dwarf food, women, and etiquette turned into an irreverent rollercoaster, as drastic as it was funny, even Sigyn laughed, inspite of her shaking her head at her husband.

 

More than once, Nari saw a quick green glance, and realised that all through his tale, Loki was watching Sigyn, trying to gauge her mood, trying to see if he had successfully thrown her off his tracks. And all through the meal, Sigyn busied herself with housewifely things, but Nari had the distinct impression that she knew precisely what Loki was doing – and that she was enjoying to see him putting in the effort – without falling for it for even one heartbeat.

 

The story ended on a rather outrageous punchline, and a gale of laughter. Then Sigyn, putting a sweet dessert before each of them, asked with eyes demurely downcast, “The leaf tattoo girl you met – what is she called?”

 

Nari thought the room was holding its breath, and he noticed how Loki sat unmoving – he did not even wince, but his absolute stillness showed clearly how conscious he was of Sigyn’s suspicions. Nari, too, remained silent, but Vali, who as always hadn’t paid much attention to the undercurrents, said, “Nseri. She is called Nseri.”

 

Her eyes on Loki’s face, Sigyn said, “Nseri? Now that is a very unusual name, isn’t it?”

 

“Perhaps not where she comes from,” Vali replied with a shrug, completely unaware of the battle ground unfolding around him.

 

Calmly positioning her armies, Sigyn inquired, “Where is she from, then?”

 

“I’ve no idea,” Vali mumbled around a mouthful of sweet cream and blueberries.

 

Through all this Loki pretended to be completely absorbed with his food; and when Sigyn, thoughtfully licking her spoon, asked, “I wonder if she is from Jötunheim?”, he didn’t acknowledge that at all. But she insisted.

 

“Loki?”, she asked, giving him her own version of a guileless blue-eyed look; “Do you think Nseri is a jötun name?”

 

“No I don’t,” he said, keeping his own eyes resolutely on the last of his dessert.

 

Still blissfully unaware of it all, Vali made ready to discuss the name’s origin, but his younger brother, more perceptive to the building tension, suddenly got up and said,”Vali, you said we’d test the new spears tonight.”

 

Vali looked up, puzzled and about to protest, but one look at Nari’s face made him realise that there was something going on. His startled eyes flitted from Sigyn to Loki and back, and as a result he pushed back his chair and said, “Right. Erm … yes. We’d better be going, then.”

 

They were already at the door when Loki said coolly, “You are not going to meet that girl again – either of you.”

 

For several heartbeats the silence crackled like a sheet of ice – then the young men left the room without a reply, leaving their parents facing each other across the table strewn with the remains of the meal.

 

“So,” Sigyn said eventually, her back very straight in her high-backed chair, her face a little pale. “Has she been to Jötunheim with you, then?”

 

Loki looked up, his frown a thundercloud over slate blue eyes.

 

“She hasn’t been anywhere at all with me,” he said.

 

“Ah … she was was there, then.”

 

“No, Sigyn, she was not. Do we really have to do this?”

 

“You always seem to have to do this,” she said. “I cannot say that I have a particular need for another of your girls around, but–”

 

“She is not another of my girls,” Loki interrupted her sharply, but if Sigyn expected him to explain himself further, she was disappointed. For a moment she eyed him, seemingly dispassionate, her head tilted a little as if she was trying to solve a mildly annyoing puzzle, but was ready to give up on it.

 

“No, maybe she is not,” she said eventually. “Something is different this time; you were never very possessive with your girls. Why with this one?”

 

Loki stared at her, clearly startled.

 

“Possessive?” He threw the spoon on the table where it clattered among the plates. “I am not possessive.”

 

“Well,” Sigyn asked, “why are you warning off the boys, then? Why do you mind if they …”

 

But she never finished the sentence; her voice petered out as her eyes widened slowly, the brilliant blue flickering as realisation hit home.

 

“She is your daughter,” she whispered. “For how long have you known?”

 

Loki dropped his eyes to the spoon still spinning on the table top, and sighed.

 

“Why did you bring her here?”

 

In the dark pool of spreading silence Sigyn’s voice was almost toneless, but Loki could hear her fine. He didn’t want to have this conversation, but there wasn’t a choice about this now.

 

“I didn’t bring her here, or anywhere, for that matter,” he said, resignation and weariness in his voice and just a hint of anger. “She keeps following me around.” And when Sigyn didn’t move, but kept the burning blue of her gaze on him, “I’ve known only for a few days.”

 

She closed her eyes, shaking her head.

 

“Who is her mother?”, she asked finally, her lashes soft shadows on her pale face.

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“Her mother is the island spirit.”

 

The full impact of her blue eyes flashed at him as she blurted out, “Not true! That was only a couple of summers ago!”

 

Loki laughed without joy.

 

“Yeah,” he said, “right. That’s what I said, too.”

 

“Well? And?”

 

“She said they do not live by our time.”

 

Her eyes unwaveringly fixed on her husband, Sigyn pressed her lips into a thin line. Loki searched her face and found nothing that would encourage him to think that she would take this as just another of his antics, something to have a fight over and then move on; she seemed determined to really take exception to this. He should have strangled Nseri instead of taking pictures …

 

He looked down on his hands and said slowly, grudgingly, “You can go and say you told me so …” he shrugged. “I guess you didn’t expect this particular twist, either, but … well.”

 

Sigyn didn’t move. They were eyeing each other across the expanse of scrubbed wood and the remains of the first family meal they had shared in a long time, and eventually Loki leaned in her direction and said softly, “Sigyn …”

 

But again she gave only the tiniest shake of her head, and with a sigh of frustration he leaned against the straight back of the chair, watching her, a vertical line between his eyes.

 

When Sigyn finally took a deep breath, it was as if she surfaced from a dive; Loki’s eyes grew even more wary if that was possible.

 

“Tell me about her,” Sigyn said, “about Nseri.”

 

His eyes left her face, wandering around the room; spreading his hands palms up, he said, “What can I tell you? I do not really know her.”

 

“Is she beautiful?”

 

“Yes,” he said calmly, “she is beautiful. She is also a major pain.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because,” said Loki hotly, “she is pursuing me like a blood hound a deer.” He didn’t like this conversation, but it was much much better than having her sit there, staring at him in silence, looking hurt.

 

“Did she tell you right away that she is your daughter?”

 

“No,” he replied with a rueful grin, “she saved that until it was almost–” his brain screeched at him, belatedly, to mind what he was saying, and he finished a little lame, “she kept quiet about it for quite some time.”

 

“Loki,” Sigyn asked coolly, “before you knew – did you bed her?”

 

“No I did NOT!”, he snapped, louder than it was wise, remembering the pains he had gone to to not bed the girl, and feeling rather put-upon, and misunderstood.

 

“But you wanted to,” his wife stated flatly.

 

He opened his mouth, and shut it again without saying anything. Considering the fact that he had quite a reputation for his way with words, it was rather amazing how Sigyn could reduce him to sullen silence, he thought, and it didn’t really cheer him up at all.

 

“Do you still want to?”, she asked, and under the calm and politely interested tone of her voice he could sense the turmoil of her anger.

 

“I am never going to touch her like that, if that’s what you’re asking,” he snapped, but, “No, that is not what I’m asking!”, she hurled back at him; “and you know that well enough!”

 

He sighed again, and folded his arms across his chest, impatient to end this argument, to get away from her questions.

 

“I am going to find a way to stop her from running after me,” he said as a peace offering.

 

“You’d better,” Sigyn replied with the treacherous softness of a blade so sharp that the deadly blow doesn’t even register with the victim until it is too late. “I do not want to hear anymore of this. I do not want to hear she is in Asgard, ever again. And I do not want you here until you made sure of it.”

 

Loki suspected that if he nodded his head now, it would fall off and roll across the table to rest next to the stack of bowls at Sigyn’s elbow, severed by the sharp silent axe of her anger; he opened his mouth for a cautious reply, but his wife continued in this crystal clear voice he hated, “And I do not want to hear anything more from you now, either.”

 

She pushed back from the table, lifted the stack of bowls, deliberately dropped them on the floor, and left the room, her steps crunching across the shards of earthenware on the flagstones. Loki stared after her, his eyes turbulent with emotion. Then, in a flash movement, he sent the water pitcher hurling across the room where it exploded against the wall, adding some more wreckage to the battle ground of his family life; only then he stood, slowly, and strode out of the room.

 

***

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The early evening had given up all pretenses for real daylight, and slunk away into gathering dusk; the storm had run its course and reatreated, only occasional gusts of wind bringing up the rear. The rain had washed skies, trees, roofs and walls, so that the soft, slate grey light was covering everything like sheets of dull metal.

 

Loki had found his re-united boots and leather jacket in the hallway, with the empty plastic bag that formerly had contained his stash of weed sitting on top of them as Sigyn’s last comment. He had dropped it with an exasperated sigh, leaving it on the flagstones of Sigyn’s house, a transparent, outlandish artifact in this world of wood, leather, and stone.

 

He himself, in jeans, t-shirt, boots, and leather jacket, was dressed for a different world, too – an actor in the wrong stage set, a time traveller. But he shook these thought off – he didn’t mean to linger. As soon as he had left Sigyn’s house, he picked his way across and out of Asgard, again choosing the darker alleys, the abandoned courtyards, the shade of crumbling walls to leave unseen, just a faint uneasy stirring in the Allfather’s mind.

 

His way took him past the bramble thickets and into the wood at the foot of the mountain side until he reached the small clearing of Mimir’s well. The small spring pond lay like a quicksilver mirror, reflecting the waning daylight, the athmosphere saturated with a peaceful, lush green silence. The lichen covered boulder at the edge of the water seemed engulfed in quiet, and Loki went to the edge of the pond and squatted down, slipping into the stillness of the place like into cool water.

 

Raindrops were still making their way down the trees, dripping from leaf to leaf until they trickled down over bark and moss, or plinked into the water, soft melodious notes over the backdrop of small woodland sounds. Sitting on his haunches, Loki looked on the water of the pond for a long time without actually seeing them, lost in memories.

 

“After all the things you’ve seen when you were still wearing your head on your shoulders, old friend,” he said enventually in a far-away voice, “don’t you get horribly bored, looking at this same flipping pond day in, day out, for ages?”

 

There was a rasping chuckle from the huge boulder-shaped head, and something like an amused glint from under the mossy ridges that might have been brows.

 

“Perhaps I see more than you think, Laufeyarsson …”, Mimir’s head said slowly. “You always were faster than was good for you, in all things love and war. Sometimes slow is the way to do things …”

 

Loki snorted derisively, and sent a flat white pebble skipping across the pond, creating a chain of concentric ripples until it struck against a rock on the opposite bank with a sharp “plink!”, startling a small frog who croaked in complaint, and jumped into the green water with a splash.

 

“Look at you,” Mimir said, his tone indicating that would he have been able to shake his head, he would be doing it now; “you are fidgeting.”

 

Loki opened his mouth to protest, looked at his hands, busy finding another pebble, closed his mouth, and grinned. Then he said, “There are a few things in life that occasionally should be done very slowly; true. But most things get rather boring when they are taking too long.”

 

Another lazy chuckle came rumbling from Mimir; then silence fell again.

 

Loki was piling a few pebbles one on top of the other until the small tower collapsed, and then started again; eventually Mimir said, “One of the things I can see without moving from my spring is that something is vexing you.” He paused thoughtfully, and added, “Something beside the Allfather.” Then, at length, when Loki didn’t reply, “Is it to do with your reason for coming here tonight?”

 

A quick green glance came spearing through the dim light; then Loki’s eyes were back on the pebbles.

 

“Yes,” he said softly, seemingly engrossed in building a pyramid, “it is true. Something is vexing me … or rather, somebody.”

 

“Ah.” Mimir’s reply was like a sigh in the tree tops; then he waited in silence for Loki to speak.

 

Loki took a deep breath, and then continued to play with the pebbles, their white a soft shimmer in the dusk.

 

“Well …”; he started finally, “there is a girl …”

 

But instead of going on, he sighed, and threw another pebble.

 

The small waves had long died, leaving the pond mirror still, before Mimir said, “Hm. A girl …?”

 

Loki frowned down on his hands without a word.

 

Dimness grew into darkness until Mimir said, “A girl – or a daughter?”

 

Loki’s head jerked up at this; in the pale remains of grey light his green eyes were the only colour in his face.

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

Mimir chuckled.

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“Old friend,” he said eventually, “you do not need anyone’s advice when it comes to girls – as long as it’s just about girls. And besides, if you ever needed that, I’d be the last one to turn to. My experience in that field is a little outdated, to say the least.” He chuckled again, pleased with his joke. Then he continued, “You are not the kind to be troubled if somebody involved you in anything concerning the Allfather and Asgard’s alliances and adversaries, man, woman, or girl. And you would not talk about your family women as girls, either – not those I know, at least. So I think the girl in question yould be a daughter I do not know about. Which, when you think about it, should not be a big surprise, considering your … habits.”

 

 

“My habits, huh?” Loki snorted grumpily. “I need to check my performance; I seem to have become disturbingly transparent of late.”

 

A last chuckle from the huge boulder, and then silence tiptoed back once again to settle between pond and wood. The very last of the western light faded, giving room to cobalt blue darkness with winking starlight, and soot black shadows under the old trees.

 

Loki had grown absolutely still, his elbows resting on his knees, hands hanging relaxed, but even now, a shadow between shadows, his body had the alert readiness of a cat. The clearing was silent but for the soft whisper of the wind in the leaves, bastard child of the earlier day’s storm, and the sound of small animals in the wood. Then an owl passed overhead, a soundless silhouette before the night sky, and Loki came up out of his crouch, ran his hands through his hair, and said, as if there never had been a pause in their conversation, “Yes, well … it is true. A daughter, and a damn nuisance, too. I found out only a few days ago, in Midgard, and the silly thing didn’t have anything better to do than come to Asgard – and now Sigyn knows.”

 

“A Midgard girl, then? How did she manage to cross into Asgard?”

 

Loki heaved a deep sigh.

 

“No … not really a Midgard child. Her mother is an island spirit.”

 

Suddenly the night seemed to be holding its breath, and from the boulder came the hiss of a sharp intake of air. After a pause, with the woods returning to the small chatter of the night, Mimir said in a gravelly whisper, “A spirit …”

 

“Yes,” Loki said, a little impatient, “and as you may be guessing already, that is the problem. Not only is she a grown woman after less than two summers – she can also go wherever she wants, and fast, if her mother takes her. She also has no manners, no morals, no sense of decency – What”, he interrupted himself in a rather chilly tone, “is so hilarious, if I may ask?”

 

The pond was rippling with what in anything else but a rock, would have been a guffaw.

 

“Listen to yourself, Laufeyarsson,” Mimir huffed. “Morals and decency?”

 

“Well, I am not bedding a child of mine, whatever your ideas about that, or about my morals, might be,” Loki snapped; but then, inspite of himself, he giggled. “It might sound a little … weird,” he admitted, “coming from me. But believe me, this girl is freaking me out.”

 

“She is – what?”

 

“Sorry. Midgard talk. She is scaring me with her single-mindedness, and her total disregard of … of … Oh, you know what I mean. I cannot make her understand that it is not just a whim when I say that I won’t bed her.”

 

“So she is pursuing you.”

 

“She is hounding me. She also managed to meet – and impress – Vali and Nari, and Sigyn is very upset.”

 

“Ah …” Mimir’s voice carried understanding, empathy, and just a hint of amusement.

 

“Not funny!” Loki said, exasperation and anger in his tone. He was pacing now, a few restless strides along the pond and back, big-cat-in-a-cage mode.

 

“Not for you, that is true,” Mimir said, unimpressed. “So … what is it you are asking from me?”

 

“I need to find a way to get rid of her,” Loki said bluntly.

 

“To get rid of her …” Mimir echoed him. “Just how permanent would you want that solution, then?”

 

There was a short, brittle pause; then Loki said, “I don’t mean to kill her, if that’s what you’re asking.”

 

“Ah. You do not.”

 

“No, I do not.” Loki had stopped in his gyrations and was giving the big head a dirty look. “I am not Odin.”

 

“No, I noticed,” Mimir said peacefully. “You usually end up in the worst possible fix, and he ends up on top.”

 

Loki hissed; Mimir chuckled.

 

“He would have ended up in more than one fix himself, with his nose in the midden, if it hadn’t been for me,” Loki growled, and Mimir retorted, “Yes, but because he is always using you to get them all out of those fixes, and because you let him do that, in the end he is sitting in the Great Hall, and you …”

 

If a voice could carry a shrug, Mimir’s did.

 

It was quiet for a moment, then Loki laughed ruefully.

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“True,” he said. “But I still wouldn’t want to change places with the old runt. What’s his life like? Despite Idun’s apples he has grown spiderwebs in his beard and gnarls in his knuckles. His only joy is his power and his mead, if that … And coming home to Frigg’s bed each night can’t be much of a thrill, either …”

 

“No, but then he isn’t the one who ends up with a spirit daughter, either, is he?”

 

“Hmph.”

 

Loki took another turn along the pond: when he came back to the head, he said softly, “But Mimir, all jokes aside – I really need to be free of her.”

 

“So she is a temptation, is she?”

 

Loki rubbed his face with both hands, and ran them through his hair. Then, his arms at his sides, he stood looking at the ground, his eyes seeing something else, and he said softly, “She is beautiful, old friend. She is fun, and lovely, and bright, and completely out of bounds … and she doesn’t want to understand it. She came to me on the Fire Mountain, when I had eaten mushrooms, and we almost …” He shook his head a little. “I cannot have her do that again, it is driving me out of my mind. In many way she is like a small child; she has no ideas about the ways of the worlds. What she wants, she wants right away, and damn the consequences …”

 

“Like father, like daughter …” Mimir muttered, and Loki snapped, “I do know about consequences!”

 

The boulder was silent, and eventually Loki conceded, “Yes, well … I just decide sometimes not to heed them.”

 

Mimir snorted.

 

Silence fell again, Mimir pondering what he had heard. Loki leaned a shoulder against a tree, crossing his arms before his chest.

 

“I guess,” he said after a while, “she will understand once she has grown up a little. I don’t want her dead. I just want her … out of my hair.”

 

Then he waited with all the patience he could muster, until Mimir rumbled a little, and said, “There is a spell. I remember it from a long time ago; a spell to bind a person or a spirit to a place. But you will have to go and ask the dwarves … they are the only ones who can cast it.”

 

After a moment of silence Loki said, “The dwarves. Yes, well … I am not precisely in the best of graces with Nòri and his gang. We had a bit of a … disagreement a while ago.”

 

“There might be other ways,” Mimir said, “but I don’t know any, as I guess you wouldn’t want to ask Odin, or Freya, to do a seid spell for you … And the dwarves are the best bet when it comes to binding spells. All that iron …”

 

Loki sighed. “How do you know that spell?”, he asked eventually.

 

Mimir snorted. “I should know it,” he said. “Odin used it to bind me here.”

 

Loki tipped his head back, leaning it against the tree, his eyes closed.

 

“Any way,” he asked softly, “to undo the spell?”

 

“Oh yes … you just have to find the iron basket it has been woven into, and destroy that. Then whatever was bound, will walk free again – as long as they still have their bodies and their legs, that is. For me, it would mean that I would finally go to my death, and frankly, that would be even more boring than being a boulder in this clearing.”

 

Before Loki could reply, there was the twin cawing of ravens overhead, and he waited silently, thinking shallow thoughts of sunrise, and simple things like breakfast. The twin minds of Hugin and Munin did not spot him as they were skimming over Asgard’s sleeping thoughts, memories, and dreams. They didn’t see anything that did not belong. There was no need to raise an alarm, or to disturb the Allfather’s sleep. Their black wings brushed the night and moved on.

 

Loki released the breath he had been holding; he didn’t want a commotion just now, and certainly not Odin’s eye trained on himself.

 

 

He would be out of Asgard before the sun was up.

 

***

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Standing deep in the maze of branches of the tree Yggdrasil, Loki was looking down with some exasperation on the place where he had meant to catch a bit of sleep. It was a good place; several thick branches were crossing there, with enough twigs and leaves to form something like a comfortable nest, and also shading it a little from the unchanging mother-of-pearl light that kept the tree in a timeless haze of brightness. It was close enough to the rock wall rising next to Asgard to be considered in easy reach, and hidden enough to be a hide-out. It had been one of Loki’s favourite spots in all the nine worlds for a long time.

 

Just now, though, it was occupied.

 

The occupant, fortunately, was lost in sleep. Curled up like a kitten, she was cradling her face in one palm; her mouth slightly open, her lashes soft crescents on her sleep-flushed cheeks, her hair an auburn tangle around her face and on her shoulders, Nseri was looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She clearly had been somewhere to change into more practical clothes and shoes, but even in jeans, sweatshirt, and trainers, she was gorgeous.

 

Loki was on a branch only a few feet above her, and as he stood staring at her, his scowl slowly faded from his face, making room for a softer expression, and a slightly wary wonder in his eyes. He recognised himself in her wide mouth, the high cheekbones, the decisive jaw line. Remembering her mother, he knew where the auburn locks came from, the short, straight nose … and, of course, even though he couldn’t see it just now, the leaf. Her mother was covered in leaves, but Nseri had just the one, and it was looking like a tattoo.

 

Suddenly his brows snapped together. He realised that both his sons had seen this leaf, and he wondered just how a random meeting of three strangers in the woods of Asgard had led to the display of a tattoo that was way too low on the gir’s back to be visible when she was fully dressed. It was, he decided, a problem he would have to discuss with his sons the next time he saw them …

 

Looking at the innocent sleeper, Loki smiled. Little vixen … She clearly had intrigued the boys, and he was sure she hadn’t been getting up a sweat doing so. Seduction seemed to come very easy to this child of his …

 

A child, he found, that was much dearer to him when she was asleep, and not plotting new ways to get to him… He would leave her to her slumber, and go and find someplace else to sleep – someplace half a day’s climb away from her, preferably.

 

As he turned away from the sleeping girl, though, a twig broke under his boot, and Nseri opened her eyes with startling promptness. Like a cat, she was fully awake at once; her eyes lit up, and she said, “Loki!”, as if somebody had presented her with a lovely breakfast tray, or a nice lively mouse to play with. She unfolded from her sleeping position in one fluid movement, to stand upright, her eyes level with Loki’s knees. She reached up, but before she could touch him, he had taken himself a couple of branches further up. The frown was back on his face as he said sharply, “Nseri, stay where you are.”

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Unfazed, and looking up at him with a smile, she asked, “Were you looking for a place to sleep? This is a nice one, with plenty of room for both of us …”

 

“I know it is a nice one,” he said surly, “but I’ll leave it to you.”

 

“Why are you so afraid of me?” the girl asked, rolling her eyes. “Come down here … It would be so cosy to snuggle up.”

 

“Thanks, but no thanks,” her father replied coolly.

 

“Oh don’t be such a wimp!”, she cried, pouting, and Loki laughed.

 

“In this case, sweetheart, I actually prefer to be a wimp.” He noticed that she was scanning the branches between them, looking for a quick way to get up and closer to him, and said warningly, “Nseri, don’t. As long as you stay where you are, we can chat, but when you start pestering me again, I am gone. And I know this tree better than you do, trust me.”

 

Her mouth still folded into a pout, she sat down again, and Loki did the same, some 7 ft away on a convenient branch, his feet dangling. He started fishing through the pockets of his jacket, eventually coming up with a rather crumpled packet of cigarettes; when he blew out the first cloud of smoke, Nseri said disapprovingly, “That is a disgusting habit.”

 

He barked a laugh.

 

“I’ll remember that in case it ever bothers me what you might think about my habits, sweetheart,” he gave back. She wasn’t pleased, but refrained from entering into that particular match. Instead she burrowed through the bag sitting next to her in the nest, and when she had found what she was looking for, she asked sweetly, “Would you like some chocolate?”

 

With a delighted smile he said, “Yes, of course”; and then, when she made ready to climb up to where he was sitting, “Oh no … you throw it.”

 

She rolled her eyes again, with an exasperated groan, and threw a bar of chocolate, aiming badly enough – or mischievously enough – for Loki having to jump from his branch to catch it. And catch it he did, landing a few branches further down the tree, returning to his earlier perch with a quick upswing and an arc that took him across a couple of branches in a flash, his cigarette still in the corner of his mouth. Then he was back above the nest, unwrapping his chocolate, while Nseri was staring at him with her eyes wide.

 

“Wow”, she said. “How did you do that?”

 

“With a few hundred years of practice,” he gave back around a mouthful of chocolate.

 

“Do you always have to rub it in?” she snapped. “Yes, I am young, and yes, you do have a lot more experience with everything. It’s not my fault, okay?”

 

“I never said it was anybody’s fault,” Loki shrugged; “it’s just how it is.”

 

He looked around, and then back at the girl in the nest of leaves.

 

“Sit down, Nseri. – I never meant to wake you,” he said, his voice softer now. “How did you get here? Did you mother bring you?”

 

“No she didn’t,” Nseri replied, reluctangly settling into her earlier bed; “she cannot come here. Don’t you know that?”

 

Loki stared at her for a moment, a line forming between his brows.

 

“No,” he said eventually, “I didn’t know that. She can’t? because she is a spirit? But clearly you can.”

 

“It seems that for real spirits the tree is off limits. You are I are mutts, so we can come here.”

 

His frown got more pronounced, and he asked, “We are … what?”

 

“Mutts,” she beamed at him. “Mixes. Part this, part that.”

 

He gave her a rather green-eyed stare.

 

“I wouldn’t consider myself a mutt,” he said coolly, “nor any child of mine.”

 

“But we are,” Nseri said blithely. “You are … wait, what is it? Half jötun, half fire spirit, right? And I am more of a patchwork … half island spirit, a quarter of a jötun thanks to which I can go here, and a quarter fire spirit. That is quite a mix …”

 

She seemed rather pleased with her calculations, and eyed him speculatively.

 

“Shouldn’t you teach me some of your fire stuff?” she asked. “Because Mother has taught me a lot of her seasons and tides things, but I found that very boring …”

 

“Erm …” Loki said, caught off guard, “erm, no, I do not really think so. What would you want to do with it anyway?”

 

“Well, what are you doing with it?”, Nseri asked back, quick annoyance in her voice.

 

“Mischief”, said Loki, grinning at her.

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She laughed with delight. “I want to do that, too,” she beamed.

 

The prospect of Nseri wreaking havoc with any fire tricks she might learn from him was quite sobering to her father. Shaking his head no, he said firmly, “I am not going to teach you. You’d only get yourself into trouble.”

 

“Why would I get into trouble, when you can do it?”

 

“I get in trouble all the bloody time,” he replied in a no-negotiation tone, but she wasn’t so easily discouraged.

 

“You seem to get out of it again pretty fast, though.”

 

“Ha!” He threw his head back on this sardonic bark. “Whatever makes you think so?”

 

Her hazel eyes on his face, searching, she said slowly, “Well … you always seem to be enjoying yourself …?”

 

Loki sighed.

 

“It’s just that I am used to living with it,” he said, clearly uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going. “But it really isn’t something I would want for … my daughter.”

 

For the span of several heartbeats, the word was hanging in the soft brightness of Yggdrasil’s light, a fragile thing they both had to look at for a while to decide how they wanted to handle it.

 

Finally Nseri heaved a small sigh, and said in a little voice, “I am sorry I told you …”

 

“I’m not”, Loki said, taking the last drag of his cigarette and pitching it into the green haze of The Tree. “I really don’t like the idea of finding out after … well.” He rolled his shoulders as if he had a sudden crick in his neck. “It’s not like I meant to have a child with your mother, but I prefer to know, now that you’re here.”

 

He glanced down at her and saw with some alarm that her eyes were suspiciously close to brimming over; in the time-honoured reaction of males he said, “What’s wrong? There is no reason to cry, now, okay?”

 

“I am not at all crying,” Nseri sniffed, “but if I had known you didn’t want me, I wouldn’t have forced myself upon you.” She gave him a long water-logged look of reproach.

 

Her father stared back at her in indignation.

 

“That is really rich, you know. You have been pursuing me from the moment you met me.”

 

“But not as your daughter, I haven’t!”, she yelled.

 

“That only makes it worse!”, he roared right back.

 

They sat staring at each other darkly while around them Yggdrasil just was, a timeless, pearly-lit silence.

 

Then Loki chuckled.

 

Nseri huffed, and threw her hair back.

 

“Feisty little alley cat,” Loki said with a grin.

 

“I am not!” she hissed.

 

Then she, too, giggled.

 

“You are not any better, you know?” she said, trying to regain her dignity.

 

“No, of course not,” her father agreed blithely.

 

“But don’t you think you should be a bit of an … example?”

 

“No,” Loki said categorically, a hint of panic in his eyes. “If you feel in need of an example, you always have your mother to turn to. Don’t even dream of looking at me for that.”

 

Nseri looked at him askance and then said with a cat-and-mouse grin, “I might just go and look at your father for guidance …”

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Loki blinked once as her arrow hit bullseye; then, his gaze boring into her, he asked with treacherous calm, “My father?”

 

“Yes, your father …” She flicked her hair back, pretending to be oblivious to the intensity of Loki’s stare, but she was unable to hide the triumph in her voice when she continued, “Your father, spirit of the Fire Mountain. Didn’t you mean to find him when I met you there?”

 

While Loki was growing rather pale, a couple of red blotches appeared on Nseri’s cheekbones; and when he asked very softly, “Are you saying that you actually met my father?”, she looked down on her hands and tried to sound matter-of.fact as she replied, “Yes, of course.”

 

She had wanted so much for him to come down to her, just the moment before, but when he was now coming down through the branches in a flash to stand over her, grabbing her shoulders, she was shrinking back.

 

“Tell me,” he hissed; “Nseri, tell me about him.”

 

It took Loki a moment to realise that he was scaring the girl. He forced his hands open, loosening his grip on her shoulders, and tried to make his voice less demanding as he repeated, “Tell me,” and after a pause, “ … please?”

 

She wriggled out of his grasp, and rubbed her arms, saying, “You hurt me!”, her voice that of a child trying to hide her fear.

 

Loki wanted to shake her until she told him everything she knew about the father he so far had only been guessing about, but he knew well she would bolt, so he tried to calm down. He managed to back off, and smile at her, and when, her eyes on him like a frightened filly, she whispered, “Go back up there,” he climbed back to the branch where he had been sitting earlier. Nseri pulled up her knees, wrapping her arms around them, and looked up at Loki. Flinching from the green blaze of his eyes, she looked away, and down into the green maze of branches and leaves, and began in a voice almost too soft for him to hear, “He came down from the mountain when you had gone. When you had left me behind, all on my own.”

 

She shot him a quick glance to make sure he understood that she considered herself the wronged party in that case, too. What she saw in his eyes made her look off into Yggdrasil’s depths again, and she continued, “He was looking …” – she frowned in concentration, trying to put into words what she remembered. “Well, you have seen my mother, right? I am not sure how she is looking to you, but compared to people in Asgard, or Midgard, she is less … substantial, right? A shimmer of green and chestnut. Your father …”

 

She shot Loki a fleeting look and saw him frozen in attention, completely focused on what she was saying. She relaxed a little, and continued, “Your father is like … he is a haze of fire.” Her eyes on Loki’s face, she said, “He is looking a lot like you, do you realise that?”

 

Loki did not respond, but waited for her to go on. She could sense the power she had over him in this moment, and the fear it brought with it, because she knew he had a hair-trigger temper. Her own feelings had never been as confused and contradictory as they were at this moment, and she wanted things to go back to how they had been before – simple, clean cut desires, and a fight where she knew what she was fighting for, and what she was up against.

 

“He came and talked to me,” she said eventually, “when he realised that I could see him. I am more spirit than you, so I guess you can only see him like you see my mother, with your eyes closed – and when they choose to be seen. Most people cannot see them at all, you know.”

 

She saw the impatient twitch of Loki’s eyebrow and hurried on, “Well, as I said, he was talking to me. He asked where you had gone off to … He had been watching you, you know, when you were standing at the lava stream. And he knew I am your daughter … He said …” She shot Loki an anxious look and then looked down on her hands: “He said he gave you your looks, and your heat, and a toy, the fire, and that is all he can do for you. And then he said he’d go back to Asgard to –“

 

A small sound from Loki made her stop. She glanced up at him and saw that was white to the lips, his eyes burning green with fury in his pale face. He took a sharply hissing breath and said between his teeth, “Yes, that is a great legacy, isn’t it? Bastard.”

 

“But Loki,” Nseri blurted out, “that is what you are doing to me, too.”

 

His eyes had been going right through her while she had recounted the words of the fire spirit, but now they came back to her in a blaze.

 

“What? The only thing I have refused you so far is becoming your lover!”

 

“But it is the only thing I really want of you!” she shot back, standing up, her fury as quick as his.

 

“Well – you cannot have it!”

 

They were in each other’s face again, shouting.

 

“Am I such a fright?” Nseri shrieked.

 

“You. Are. My. Daughter!” Loki roared back.

 

She yelled shrilly, “Oh go fuck yourself!”

 

The sudden silence that followed had them both frozen in place for a moment, their eyes boring into each other; then Loki took a deep breath, and said, “Yes, I guess I’ll better do that,” took a couple of steps backwards, and simply let himself plunge down into the endless maze of criss-crossing branches.

 

Nseri rushed forwards, but when she had reached the edge of the nest to look down, all she could see was leaves and bark, and the all-pervading shimmer of light. Squeezing her eyes shut, she drummed her fists in frustration on a sturdy branch, and screamed in wordless fury into the uncaring silence of Yggdrasil; there was no reply, and eventually she retreated into the nest, curled up, and closed her eyes. The one tear that dared sneaking down her cheek was brushed away roughly; but it took a long time until her hiccuping breathing calmed, and she found back to sleep.

 

***

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Time has a weird way of passing when you travel through Yggdrasil. Sometimes it seems to be in step with the worlds it connects … you travel for what feels like two days, and when you step off the branches, two days have passed. But sometimes, a whole season has gone by, leaving the traveller feeling weirdly disoriented, and in need to catch up with his own life.

 

It was almost worse, though, thought Loki on his journey through the branches and leaves, when after two days of trekking and climbing, you arrived at your destination barely moments after you had set out. That always made him feel as if a duplicate of himself would step down from The Tree two days later …

 

It could be really confusing – but still The Tree was one of his favourite places in all the nine worlds, even though he could not shift into a different body as long as he was wandering in its light, and the fire he could call here was timid and small – enough to light a cigarette, but too weak to burn a twig. Yggdrasil did not suffer any magic within its boundaries but its own. And that, of course, was one reason for Loki to feel at ease there; he could meet Odin in Yggdrasil’s light and face to face with that master of seid, still be safe, for the moment.

 

The fastest way of reaching his destination would have been a mirror, of course, but he hadn’t meant to go back into Asgard, and the only mirror in the place he was going to was smack in the middle of the main hall, like the Mirror of Seasons in Odin’s Great Hall. And turning up out of the blue, in a hall filled to capacity with probably drunk, and doubtlessly hostile dwarves, was a really unhealthy idea, particularly when you were Loki Laufeyarsson.

 

He could have shifted into a salmon, to swim up the river that went through Svartàlfaheim and then under the mountain fastness of the dwarves, but but some of the black elves were damnably good with a fishing spear. He could have taken wing as a falcon, but birds did not live much safer than fish, and an elven arrow wasn’t any better than a spear if you were at the wrong end of it. Ending his life as somebody’s dinner was not they way out Loki was planning on …

 

His favourite animal form, the wolf, wasn’t going to work, either – there were barely any wolves left in the plains and hills surrounding the mountain fastness; too many too effective traps full of nasty crippling iron teeth had long since decimated the packs who had dared to hunt there, and now wolves avoided the land.

 

He could not even turn into a squirrel or another swift tree runner to speed up his progress through Yggdrasil, but that was not really aggravating as The Tree’s perversity, time-wise, made it redundant anyway. It might have been easier, but it would not necessarily speed him up. And so he hiked, jumped, and climbed, moving in a three-dimensional maze, with time an invisible forth dimension, out of his grasp, and hence, Loki being Loki, out of his mind.

 

So he would approach his destination in the conventional way, on foot. The Tree would take him to within sight of both black elves and dwarves, to a cliff side near one of the entrance caves, and from there on, he would have to rely on his wits to get in and out alive, and get what he neeeded, too.

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There were only few landmarks to go by, but he had spent so much time in Yggdrasil that he rarely got lost in it. Using nests like the one he had left Nseri in, he slept three times during his hike; there was no evening and no night, but since his body still carried the pattern of wakefulness and sleep from Asgard and Jötunheim, he could assume that three days had passed. Carrying no food, he had to eat of the small clusters of mushrooms – dreamless ones – and the various parasite plants living on the tree. He had to drink what dew he could find, and neither that nor the vegetarian diet were much after his taste – or very filling. If anything made the idea of getting to his destination a little bit more appealing it was the food – the dwarves loved to cook and to eat, and they were generous hosts; so if he made it through his arrival alive, he would be treated to a decent dinner.

 

After what felt like half a day after his third sleeping break, Loki walked along a sturdy branch with a familiar double knot in it, and the light, dimmed, coloured, and had a direction; the air got heavier, and damp, and seemed to be moving, and suddenly it was late afternoon, a low sun from among uneasy clouds played golden and citron on a craggy cliff face, and Loki jumped down on a narrow pathway hewn into the rock. When he turned to look back, Yggdrasil was no more than the receding shadow of a branch, lost in the play of sunlight as soon as he had taken a few steps down the path.

 

He was high up on the shoulder of a darkly looming mountain,and the land he could see spreading put under him was Svartàlfaheim – not the place he meant to go, but you could not reach the one without passing close by the other. Under the plains and hills, covered with tangles of brush and patchy, moss-throttled woodland, the subterranean home of the black elves kept its gates hidden, and closely guarded. Loki’s destination, though, was the the realm even further away from daylight, below Svartàlfaheim: Glàmhal, home of the dwarves, land under the Black Mountains.

 

This time he was not an envoy of Asgard, but was on his own, without a mantle of Aesir power to give the masters under the hill a moment of pause before they made him taste their powers. And he would have to go undisguised, too … he had to go in as himself, and try and appear as open, honest, and guileless as possible. He would have to make them believe his words – after all, he needed their goodwill, for the time being.

 

There was no time for second thoughts anyway – he was only fifty steps away from the looming entrance of one of the main caves. He’d rather go somewhere else; anywhere else. There was bound to be trouble; far too often had he crossed swords with one or all of them, and far too often had he come away the winner – or at least less the loser than they wanted him to. Nóri and his lost ring were just a minor incident in comparison, and the last in a long list of older, weightier, and still unforgiven events.

 

Loki looked around – there were no black elves in sight, but he might lose that advantage any moment. They patrolled this area, aware of the closeness of The Tree. The black elves, like the dwarves, could not enter it, and that made them even more suspicious of everbody who stepped from its branches. It would be a good idea to get out of the open as quick as possible – the black elves would not be much pleased with finding Loki Laufeyarsson so close to their lands. There had been a tiff of rather personal nature between him and their Black Princess, and the lady proved to have an inconveniently long memory, and a revengeful character … so not only would it be difficult with the dwarves – he also had to avoid the black elves.

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Loki heaved a deep sigh, and then made his way along the narrow path winding down the cliff face, barely wide enough for a single man, sheer rock on one side, a deadly drop on the other. There was no way for anyone to attack the fastness from here – it would take only very few defendants to wreak havoc with any army stupid enough to try.

 

Ahead, ripped into the montain side like a gaping wound, the cave looked unwelcoming, without a sign of life, and so dark as if light itself was not allowed in. There was no guard to be seen, but Loki had the unmistakeable itch that meant somebody was watching him. Conscious of that, he made his way without haste or hesitation, like any good neighbour sure of his welcome.

 

He knew what to expect, but as each time he had been here before, the sight of the gate hit him the moment it came into view. Set back some way from the cave entrance, it filled the roughly pointed archway from rock-strewn bottom to the high and darkly looming ceiling, a solid wall of polished black stone, carved over and over in dwarf runes, which lent it a duskily glittering appearance. Among the runes, alternating with the praise of ancient dwarf lords, were incantations, spells to repel hostile visitors.

 

Set into that wall was the actual gate, one wing of heavy black swamp oak, banded and studded with black iron, and opening just wide enough for one horse and rider to pass through. This gate was not intended for any kind of cart or vessel – there existed one single gate wide enough for the wagons bringing supplies for the subterranean princedom of Glàmhal, but that was far back in a canyon, at the end of the only road negotiable for heavy loads. It was winding its way from guard post to guard post, so that only those approved by the guards reached the gate. Unless, of course, they had been waylaid and robbed by the black elves … The neighbourship between Svartàlfaheim and Glàmhal was traditionally very uneasy; but the wagon gate had always proved impenetrable. Loki could not remember an attempt to storm that gate, ever, and even Asgard contented itself with keeping up chilly trading connections with the dwarves, and had long since given up all ideas of trying to conquer the realm under the Dark Mountains.

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Loki’s eyes had run up to the top of the black wall, and when they returned to the gate, he saw a guard standing there, the dark armour barely standing out against the wall, but white teeth flashing in a black beard in a ferocious grin, big hands lovingly hefting a heavy axe with a blade big and sharp enough to cleave a boar in half, or split a bear’s skull.

 

His smile firmly in place, Loki was inwardly cursing his luck. Did it really have to be Nóri right at the beginning? But he didn’t let his dismay show when he strolled up to the gate, his hands loose at his sides to show that he was unarmed – and he regretted that he was indeed unarmed, not even a knife in his boot … It made him feel much more exposed than he liked to be.

 

“How kind of you, Laufeyarsson,” Nóri said, still showing his teeth in that disturbing smile, “to come all the way in person to finally bring back my ring.”

 

Arrived in front of the gate, Loki spread his hands, palms up, smiling widely at the burly dwarf who was taller than he by half a head.

 

“Nóri!”, he said in the tone of one finding a long lost friend in an unexpected place. “You certainly remember that I’ve told you before? I lost it; and I regret, but I have to say it never turned up again. Perhaps there is something I can do make amends? Anything short of,” he added, his smile acquiring a certain steely quality, “handing over any of my body parts, or family members, of course.”

 

“I am not sure I’d go for anything less,” Nóri retorted, smiling ready to bite.

 

“I am sure we’ll come to an agreement,” Loki said blandly, seeing another guard coming out of the gloom beyond the gate. “I wonder – did you ever share with your friends and family how close you have become to Nola and Guna?”

 

Nóri narrowed his eyes, his fierce grin dimming somewhat. The black elves were not too popular with the dwarves to begin with, and Nola and Guna, in particular, had developped a roaring reputation for ripping off dwarf traders in as many of the nine worlds as they could find them, and for raiding the wagons meant for the halls of Glàmhal. To have his connection to them made public could cause quite a few problems … Before the other guard came into hearing distance, he hissed, “We’ll talk about this some more before you leave …”; then he asked in a louder, gruff voice, “What do you want, Loki Laufeyarsson?”

 

Loki’s smile relaxed a little as he replied, “I need a spell and have been told to come her to ask for it.”

 

Nóri was rather taken aback – he clearly had not expected such a straight-forward reply.

The second dwarf, who by now had arrived at Nóri’s shoulder, was unknown to Loki. Giving the stranger in front of their gate a cold once-over, he said, “We will lead you into the hall to present your request. You will have to agree on a payment, of course.”

 

“Of course,” Loki agreed with his best blue-eyed smile.

 

The dwarf stepped aside, and Nóri followed reluctantly, making room for Loki to walk through the gate, and into the rock and iron world of Glàmhal. He had been here before, of course, but each time the moment the the walls cut off the daylight, he had to fight the urge to make an about-turn and get out, back to open skies and free air. The rock walls were closing in on him, and he couldn’t see the ceiling of the first chamber because it was lost in the gloom. They walked down the length of the room, passed through an arch, found the spiral stairway hewn into the rock, and started on their long descent, their way lit with torches set into the walls at intervals so long that at times Loki was in almost complete darkness, having to set his feet by guess, the fingers of his left hand trailing the wall for some sense of direction.

 

It was a long way down; he knew there were several doors branching off this stairwell, but he didn’t see them – darkness and craftsmanship made them blend into the rockwall. Only once his fingers brushed over a wooden surface – but his guards kept pushing the pace, and he was losing all sense of distance in the endlessly repetitive spiral path of the ancient stairs, and the waxing and waning of torch after torch as they kept climbing further down into the black rock.

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He had counted 48 torches when they reached another gate as heavy and ornate as the first one, Loki closely flanked by his two guards. Nóri lifted a heavy iron fist sitting in a black ring in the gate, and let it thunder down on the dark oak. A small grate opened with a bang, an eye peering out at them for a moment. Then, without a word, the grate was flung shut again, the heavy gate opened soundlessly on well-oiled hinges, and Nóri pushed Loki unceremoniously into the vast and darkly glittering world deep under the Black Mountains.

 

There was no darkness here unless where it was meant to be. The flames of torches and lamps were reflected in walls and ceilings, where nature or dwarf artisans had added quartz in a multitude of shades to the black rock. Coming right after the dark stairway, it was blindingly bright. The air, inspite of the fact that they were deep under the mountains, enclosed in rock, was fresh and cold, with a noticeable draught that made the torches waver. Reflecting from all those hard surfaces, every sound echoed and reverberated, which was as disorientating as the multiple reflections of the light.

 

For the first time since they had started from the upper gate, the guard next to Nóri spoke.

 

“The Lord is not at Glàmhal at present,” he said gruffly, “but the Council is going to hear your request.”

 

Loki had no problem with that. Rági, Lord of Glàmhal, was no great friend of Asgard in general, and by association, nor of Loki Laufeyarsson, either, so dealing with the Council was actually a welcome stroke of luck. Nóri kept his silence, and Loki took that as a sign that the so far nameless guard was outranking him, which was another lucky coincidence. Without any further conversation, the three of them made their way across several smaller halls and the high-ceilinged tunnels that connected them, until they entered Glàmhal’s heart – the Crystal Hall.

 

With a ceiling so high it was lost in the shadows even when the hall was fully lit, and walls and rows of columns of the shiny polished rock of the Black Mountains, it was big enough to hold tables and benches to seat a thousand or more, but today there was only one long table right before the dais with the Lord’s empty High Chair; in Rági’s absence, his Council was dealing with daily business as it presented itself.

 

There was only one fire burning, so the hall was chilly; and only those torches close to the table were lit, which gave the vast room a gloomy, cheerless grey athmosphere. Loki had seen it in all its glittering glory, with the dwarves of Glàmhal celebrating until hardly anyone was left upright, but that had been when Grun, Rági’s father, was High Lord under the Black Mountains. Since then he had not set foot on Glàmhal’s polished black stone floors – what difficulties he had experien ced with the dwarves since then had taken place elsewhere. But now he was back, and probably facing the fallout from more than one trick he had played them …

 

They had reached the table where the Council was assembled, and Loki’s taciturn guide went and talked quietly to a greybeard who, judging by his position at the head of the table, the intricately inlaid armchair he was sitting in, and the fact that his mead horn was twice the size of everybody else’s and made of clear crystal banded with gold, was the man in charge.

 

Loki made use of the time and let his eyes wander over the group of more than twenty dwarves who made up the Council of Glàmhal.

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They were all of them at least his height, and about twice his weight; most of the long and thick hair and beards were grizzled or white, and worn in complicated plaitings. Their clothes were dark and simple, but their belt buckles, brooches, bracelets, necklaces, chestpieces and rings would have done everybody at Odin’s High Table proud. Away from their safe home under the mountains they would wear less envy-inducing jewelry, of course, intricate metal work and less precious stones showing off their craftsmanship without triggering the dagger in the dark.

 

In all this somber-clad, grey bearded, jewel-encrusted maleness, one member of the council stuck out like a flame in a bed of cold coals: a luscious mane of red tresses and plaits pulled Loki’s eyes, and then he realised that he was looking – or rather, staring – at the one female in the group. And he could well stare – it was by far not just the hair that set her apart. Her shapely, well-muscled arms were bare up to her shoulders, but she had put on so many bracelets and armlets that there was hardly any bare skin in evidence. She was wearing a tunic, belted over trousers and boots, like the men, but hers was a luminous dark red, and over it she was wearing a necklace of barbaric dimensions – gems the size of robin eggs, beautifully cut, flashing in the colours of the rainbow, and masterly set in gold.

 

Clearly a woman of means and perseverance – usually, dwarf women didn’t sit in councils, or in the Crystal Hall, for that matter – the men of Glàmhal believed in keeping their womenfolk in kitchen, bedroom, and nursery. Apparently not this one, though – she was happily flaunting her wealth and other goodies, and was probably the reason why so many of the council had a rather sour look sitting between beard and hairline. She was also young enough to be almost everybody’s grandchild, which certainly didn’t sweeten the pill, either.

 

To Loki she looked like a dish of cream and strawberries on a shelf with stale bread, and he flashed her a real smile. She, for her part, had been staring at him from the moment he had stepped out of the shadows, and now she was returning his smile with considerable wattage.

 

“Ljómi!”, the chief greybeard at the head of the table growled suddenly; without taking her eyes off Loki, or the smile off her face, the redhead asked, “Yes, Grandfather?”

 

“Pay attention!”, he bellowed, goaded by her nonchalant behaviour.

 

“I am paying attention!” she snapped immediately. “As an elected member of the Council, as a deputee of the guild of the smiths and forgers, and as an inhabitant of Glàmhal, I am paying attention when a foreigner is walking in our midst. You can hardly accuse me,” she added with a wide grin, “of overlooking him.”

 

With total disregard for the muttering and scoffing around her, and her grandfather’s patent indignation, she gave the foreigner in question another thorough once-over, and looking straight into Loki’s eyes, stated, “He looks dangerous.” There was a challenge in her eyes, and still a smile lurking in the corners of her mouth.

 

“He is dangerous,” a voice came out of the darkness of the hall; “those of us old enough to remember, know that he is very dangerous indeed. He is Loki Laufeyarsson – even unarmed, he is as dangerous as a viper, as long as he has his tongue and is allowed to use it. He should be bound in fetters, and thrown into the deepest, darkest dungeons of Glàmhal for all the Evil he has done us.”

 

The dark brown eyes of the woman had flown to where the voice came from, but Loki didn’t bother and turn his head to look into the darkness behind him. He knew that voice.

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