Who: Thor and Loki What: Thor and Loki share some quiet before the storm - and then there's a storm. Including sentencing, aging back up, and Thor going after his idiot brother. Where: Asgard When: Before Loki crashed in Iceland recently. Warnings/Rating: None.
The arguments were extensive, spanning Loki's crimes from the use of the Bifrost on Jotunheim to the invasion of New York with the Jotunns, to the removal of their heat and power -- an act of aggression against an ally. For days he listened to the lawsayers going back and forth, citing their father's laws, the laws of Asgard, to Loki's rebuttals on his actions and finally they had reached the end of the arguments. Today the decision must be made, the kvidr would vote on his innocence or his guilt unanimously. Already some had brought forth their ideas on Loki's punishment, his guilt assured.
Thor yet held out hope, thin as it was, that one might yet find him not guilty and that they would live up to their promises of showing leniency in his punishment. Were Odin here, he would have been the one to solely decide on Loki's guilt and his punishment. He would not have been lenient.
Armor donned as if he were heading into battle instead of Loki's trial (but were they not the same?) he strapped Mjolnir to his waist, the heavy head to bang against his thighs with every step. In his hand he carried Gungnir, a weapon long associated with the throne of Asgard. it had been in his hands every day of the trial, held sometimes across his knees, only to have the end slam down into the floor to garner the attention when he had need of their attention.
Muninn cawed behind him, his brother silent beside him. They followed him now, watched what he wanted to be seen, remembered what he wished to be remembered. It was time. He left with both as his shadows, only to have one fly high and one to fly wide, both to meet him with him in the hall.
Though it was early, mist still hanging on the fields, already he could hear the clatter of the blacksmiths down in the city and the clang of weapons in the training grounds. Further afield, the farmers would be taking in the crops already, oxen working, old gnarled hands like tree branches working the earth beside young nimble fingers as families worked to free their bounty from the ground.
The awareness of it was still new, still quirked his mouth upwards as he walked through the hallways, footsteps loud like the thunder on the floor.
For the arguments, to hear the discussion of his fate, Loki stayed in Asgard. He was not prevented from coming and going from various parts of the palace as he pleased, but all the while he couldn't help but feel watchful eyes upon him. This was the very reason he had left for Midgard, this sensation that all were waiting to see when he would snap, when the old Loki would shine through and he would prove himself to be the same bad seed. Those kinds of expectations had a tendency to spin themselves into reality, or so it had been for the older version of himself. He did not intend to allow that to happen again.
He had things worth fighting for, now, worth staying on the straight and narrow for. He had people that he might even dare to call friends. He had an opportunity to be more than he had been once, to try again. Not many people were offered such an opportunity, and whatever the trial's outcome, he didn't intend to squander it.
Now he could only hope that the trial would not resolve itself in prison, or worse. There was no reason to expect leniency, and whether or not he actually deserved it was still a conflict even within himself.
The time had come to hear the verdict, and Loki felt fear. He had made a decision not to show it on his face, but he hadn't yet the skill to conceal it fully. His fingers drummed gently on the side of his leg as he looked opposite Thor, at the workers in the field and the wisping fingers of cool mist. The air smelled vegetal and clean. Things like this were what he had missed most on Midgard, but now they served mostly as a reminder of where he was and how much he still had yet to lose. His grip on home and family was so very thin, so very tenuous, nails clinging to the sod.
When Muninn cawed behind, he turned his head to look. It was strange to see Thought and Memory beside his brother and not their father, but Odin had been gone a long time. Perhaps he would always be gone. The thought made his stomach roil with the heartache of homesickness, and the fear of what Odin would say, were they to meet again. He swallowed, watching the bird, cock its feathered head and stare at him. He didn't know what it saw, but it didn't move, didn't preen, just looked.
Loki looked up at Thor. "They seem to have taken quite a liking to their new king," he observed. His voice was light, even where his heart was not. Hope. He would turn that concept around, and see if he could made it stick. "They'll be ready by now in the hall, I should think. We ought to make them wait a little. It isn't often a trial has an opportunity to preside over a royal prince. The audience must be beside themselves with anticipation."
For so long they'd been with his father, feathered shadows following his will, that at first Thor had been disturbed by their eyes following him, the messages they delivered. But they came as the rest of Odin's things had come, Gungnir first, then Asgard, then his ravens. Knowledge of Yggdrasil would come next, Thor suspected, though he never spoke of it. Had the Warriors Three been in Asgard, he might have eventually spoken of it with them, but there was no way to be sure.
When Loki spoke, he turned, footsteps stilling on the tiled floors to look at his brother. His younger brother. Younger than the Loki he remembered, and now he must balance Loki's needs with the rest. His anger about Loki's 'friends' offering to hide him waned, as it always did, leaving behind the knowledge that Loki had finally managed to make friends on his own. Something he had never managed to make in Asgard, as far as Thor knew. The progress he made in not becoming as his older self was had to be protected.
And so he must find the balance between his brother and the rest of the realms. "They do," he confirmed with a glance to Muninn, before it fell again to his brother. He'd felt the same before his coronation, wanting just a few more moments before he walked out amongst his people to be named before the whole of Asgard as his father's successor. Thor reached out, unthinking, and grasped his shoulder only to pull him bodily into his side. "Come now. You've enjoyed arguing with all of them these past few days." It was one of the more enjoyable parts of the whole thing, even managing to garner a few laughs from the collected citizens of Asgard.
"It will be fine, Loki." And if the kvidr did not remember their promise of leniency, Thor did.
Loki's clever tongue had often made him the topic of suspicious chatter throughout the realm, just as his tricks had, his affection for mischief and sleight of hand, both political and on the battlefield. In the days of the trial, though, it seemed to have served him well. There was still nascent respect for a deft execution in the realm of debate. They were a society of stories, after all, a people of tall tales told at feasts and by firesides before battles. It could be so easily turned to a strange and unsettling unknown, could an efficacy with language, but by using it in the realm of self-defense Loki did feel that he had won a bit of respect. He was still young, and his tongue was not sharpened to the fine edge it would be one day, but precociousness filled in the gaps. Respect. It was an unfamiliar feeling, one that had settled strangely on his shoulders and made him stand just a little straighter. "I have enjoyed it,' he admitted, with a small, sly smile.
He looked back to Thor. It will be fine. "Will it?" he asked, not just a willful contradiction, but spoken with real doubt. He was still smiling, but now it was knowing. He might not be as old as he had been once, but he had been in the court, after all. He had seen the faces of those who would decide his fate. What incentive did they have to be lenient? He was perhaps now a more sympathetic figure, but he was not a wholly different one. He was still Loki, and he had done every thing they had accused him of. To even argue the motives for those acts was a little outside his reach - the feelings had been felt then, but they no longer existed, not in the same way.
He tried to take comfort in Thor's act of faith in not arguing further with him about Remus' offer to go hide with him. It had been a kindness, and it seemed that Thor had come around to realizing what it really meant to him, particularly when he had clearly turned the offer down. Perhaps Thor's response was a harbinger of what was to come. The morning thrummed with possibility, and not a little magic. Loki had never been a seer, though he had heard of some Jotunn witches that wielded that power. The future remained as cloudy for him today as it ever had, with only the mistakes of another version of himself to light the pathway. There was a long way yet to go, and depending on the decision made today, that path might be short and dark.
"Of course it will," Thor replied with an easy faith, even if it was one that he didn't quite feel as well as he should have. He did not have their mother's gift of foresight, nor had he traded with the Norns to drink of Mimir's well as their father had. No, he had filled his cup at the Well of Urðr, and drunk so deeply that he could still feel the cool chill of the waters and taste the earthy roots of Yggdrasil whenever the demands of his choice weighed too heavily on him.
All he could taste now was the fresh mint that had been in his morning washbasin and the air laden with moisture. By mid morning, it would be gone and likely Loki's trial would be over. He glanced down at his brother. Had it been Odin instead of he to make the choice, the kvidr would likely have never been called, but he would have been sentenced and imprisoned without delay. He would have been called just do such a thing, to remove the Silvertongue and leave Loki abandoned and forgotten within their prison. But what would Loki learn there? Would it lead him back to becoming who he once was?
That was the balance he had to find. Punishment for what he had done, recompense for those that had lost something, and at the same time, without jeopardizing the possibility of Loki's future self. It was not a balancing act he wanted to have again. Yet, like that first time when they spoke after Loki had turned young again, he saw something the elder Loki was rare to show: vulnerability. Before he was King, before he ever had Mjolnir in his palm and called rain and thunder from the sky, he was Loki's brother. "They can wait a little longer," he said, mouth beginning to curve as he set Gungnir down, the spear balancing on the edge and reached for Mjolnir. "Hold tight, brother." When was the last time they had taken to the sky together? Too long ago.
Loki knew too well the fate that would have likely awaited them if the Allfather had presided over this gathering, and not his brother. It was yet another thing to be quietly thankful for, and hope might tip the scales in his favor. It was no small sacrifice for Thor, either, to allow his brother the means and opportunity to mount a proper defence. Even that might be seen by some Asgardians as weakness, or leniency in the face of justice. These were things he would mark down, and not forget.
His brother's hand on his shoulder was a rare thing, it seemed like. Perhaps not - perhaps that was only the lingering resentment and loneliness of a person he no longer was. Either way, that tight grip was more a comfort now than it had ever been in the past, and he grabbed tight hold of Thor before he took off with them both. This tasted of nostalgia, of things long since left behind. Even young as he was now, it was rare for him to fly with Thor. Flight was a gift he had never been given, but in the air there was no sense of the jealousy that might once have plagued him. There was only the weightless ecstasy of hurtling fast as thought through the cool air. "I'll try to remember not to let go," Loki said, with a hint of humor, despite it all.
In the years after he'd been given Mjolnir, this had been an escape for them both, and a challenge for him. How far could he go? How high could he fly? (And in the very first months, how rough was the landing going to be?) He'd taken them as far as he could go, to orchards and meadows where it seemed they had both escaped Odin's grip and could whittle away the afternoon however they liked, beneath trees and on beds made of grass and earth.
Those afternoons were long since past them, buried beneath the anger and misunderstandings of later years. Yet, perhaps not so far as Thor gripped his brother tight around the waist in case he should let go -- he would not see him fall like he had into the abyss -- and flew them up and out of the Citadel. He lingered there for only a moment, deciding as he looked out over Asgard and headed north toward Idunn's orchard, his cape their comet's tail. "And miss where we are going?" Thor laughed as they streaked over valleys and farms, the latter growing scarce, then fading entirely into a narrow band around a thick grove of trees.
Loki held tight to Thor as they flew. He looked down, though, and as the ground sped by, he laughed - laughed out loud. He couldn't help it. It was exhilarating, and he felt as if he'd left his stomach behind on the ground. He felt joy and nostalgia and a very present weightlessness, and he couldn't think about anything else, not at the speed they were going, not with how hard it was to even catch his breath. The ground below was a flurry of sights and sounds that disappeared past them so quickly they were impossible to identify. The world was summarized by the speed of Thor’s flight; a glimpse of a tree, a fragment of a woman’s face turned up in awe, a smooth cascade of grassy hills blending together into a rolling, verdant, smooth carpet. A mad thought spiraled in him to let go despite Thor's instructions to cling on, to feel that sensation of falling once again. Fear paired with insane desire, and there was a moment where he almost, almost let go.
Then it passed, and he held on tighter than ever, eyes screwed shut. Even now, he couldn't fully trust himself.
When they came to a stop at last, Loki stumbled a few steps, dusting himself off, and looked up at Thor. "A serviceable method of transportation," he said, with bright eyes and a crooked smile.
It had been too long since he'd heard Loki laugh like that -- out loud and carefree, without a hint of cruelty. It was worth making the men and women of the kvidr wait, if for nothing more than laughter shared between brothers. Thor grinned at Loki's declaration. Far better to fly than to teleport, blinking out of existence in one spot to blink into another. Such travel always left him feeling slightly ill, as if all his parts weren't quite where they belonged.
"It is the best way to travel if your feet are not going to remain on a flat surface." On foot, by horse, and though he did not mind traveling the Bifrost -- going through it when you weren't expecting it was almost as bad as teleportation. Far better to keep his feet on the ground or to have Mjolnir in hand.
As both feet were firmly there now, he set her down with a slight humming ring. He would not need her here, not in Idunn's grove. "Shall we see if she has begun her morning pickings, brother?" He grinned again, clasping Loki's shoulder as he began walking towards the trees. They could have waited until the baskets of apples were brought into the city as everyone else did, but eating one at the tables or even in one's own bed did not compare to eating them with the trees at one's back and sunshine in the air. It was childhood sentiment and perhaps there was no better time for it.
Loki felt the squeeze of Thor's hand on his shoulder, and felt, too, a familiar warmth. That feeling was missing from his memories of the years to come, and he treasured it all the more for that long, wintry stretch in his mind. "I suppose," he said, barely containing his pleasure at being able to put off the trial for a little longer to stay in the grove.
Loki had always liked it between Idunn's trees. Their ripe fullness, their sweet smell, the sound of the wind through the humming leaves. He had come to the orchard many times with a book to be alone, and have some quite outdoors, where he could not be found by parents, siblings and their friends, or tutors. It was a fine place to be when there was sun. Even when clouds came to water the fine trees, he might still be found there, tucked under a shady spot, shielded from the rain. And that was without even the apples, fresh and powerful as life condensed into solid form. “What will you tell the kvidr?” he asked, reaching up the touch the leaves of a tree with his fingers as they walked past. “That you let them wait for apple picking?” He grinned. “They’ll just love to know where they fall on your list of priorities, brother.”
Laughing at the suggestion, Thor shook his head, his gaze following his younger brother. What could he tell them? He had no desire to insult them but few, if any, would understand why he brought his brother out here, so far from the city. "That I required time with my brother before his sentencing." It was the truth, no matter how they would feel about it. Some would grumble, but none would challenge him on it and even criminals were allowed to see their family during this time.
"I won't mention the apples," he added with a grin as he rounded a tree, his steps slow and reverent in his place. It might be part of Asgard, but it was wholly under the blessing of Idunn -- and he had learned many years ago not to trample through here, as he had also learned that no amount of strength would free an apple from her trees. (Nor, incidentally, was it possible if he and all the Warriors Three were hanging from it.) Only for her would they come loose and as he rounded another tree, he found a basket full of fresh morning pickings and grinned again. One for each of them, the rest left to be brought into the city later. He tossed Loki's towards him with a mild, "Catch!" before finding a spot large enough for the both of them at the base of one tree. Thor sat first, one leg straight, other bent upwards.
"Have you thought about what you will do when it is over?" Once the price was paid for his crimes for Thor had no doubt that there would be an after.
Loki caught the apple with smooth aplomb. What he lacked in strength he did make up for in speed, after all, and his reflexes were preternaturally quick. He might not be able to see into the future, but he had caught an arrow in flight before, and would, no doubt, again. "You can tell them you were busy throwing projectiles at my head," Loki said, sitting down beside Thor. "They'd like that, I should think."
He settled into the grass and took the first bite of the apple, relishing the burst of juice on his tongue and the crispness under his teeth. It tasted more new and more fresh than anything in the world, and it made his troubles feel far away indeed to sit beside his brother and eat of Idunn's crop. What would he do when all of this was over? "I do not know," he said, decisively indecisive, and looked to Thor beside him, smiling briefly. The smile collapsed in after a moment, and he sobered slightly. "I might like to go back to Midgard. For a little while, at least." He did believe that Asgard could be his home again, eventually. For now, though, it represented too much bad blood, and the stares of its citizens might prove to tempt him down a bad path again. Best to start fresh. "I have made some friends there." He took another bite of the apple, but this time he looked up at Thor, vaguely apprehensive. He didn't know what he might think of that idea. Thor had his own reasons to visit the realm of men, of course, but it seemed so different, and he was the king, now. He might not approve of Loki's wish to be away from the glittering city any longer.
They'd likely enjoy it more if Thor threw him out of Asgard entirely, but he didn't say this. He was not his father and Loki was not his wayward trickster son. He had already lost Loki once and it would not happen again, not while he still stood the chance of stopping it.
"You could catch it in your mouth," he said, teasing, grinning at the image it presented. They'd likely mourn the loss of an apple, but it was a light hearted jest and not a typical trick played. Some might even find it amusing as Thor did. As Loki's smile fell, so did his. Midgard. Beyond Loki's trial, there were other things happening and while he was glad that his brother was making friends of his own, something Thor was beginning to understand that Loki didn't have here on Asgard, he still did not trust one that would offer to hide him instead of urging him to fulfill his oath. Had his friends not done the same for him though? By not stopping him from obeying Odin's order to not travel to Jotunheim, they had committed something closer to mutiny.
Troubled thoughts. Thor frowned and brought the apple up, the soft flesh crunching as his teeth sank into it. It was like the fresh dawn after a night of rain and at the vague look that Loki cast him, an apprehension he would later hide, Thor smiled and nudged his shoulder into him. Weights seemed not quite so heavy. "I would have you return here, when you are ready," he confided.
Loki pulled his knees up closer to his chest, eating his apple and peering through the grove. No one was close enough to watch them, which he appreciated. The last thing he wanted to see now, in this brief moment of peace, were watching eyes.
Mutiny and treason were bandied about on Asgard a great deal, since defying ones' king in the slightest could qualify as both or either. They had committed no small amount of mutiny, together and separately, against Odin when they were children. As they grew older, that mutiny came in journeying to places marked off limits, fighting enemies deemed too dangerous. In the end, all was always well. Until, of course, they weren't. By then the damage had much to do with Odin, and a little to do with treason, but it wasn't a game, then, not anymore, not a test.
Loki could be convicted of treason, amongst his other crimes, and there was hardly room to deny such a charge. He had disobeyed his king. But Thor was king now, a thought that was strange and a little unsettling, and he chose not to dwell on it too long. That pang of loss for something once dreamed about - he could not afford that. He could not afford himself disappointment. He could only move forward, and find something else to strive toward.
The nudge of Thor's shoulder broke his reverie. Thor's wish that he would return washed away the sensation of loss, at least for now, carrying it back out like a wave. "I would like that," he said. He smiled a little. It seemed like an impossibility, almost, that the long memories of the Asgardian people would make that possible again. But perhaps. One day.
They did have long memories, it came with living long lives, but Thor hoped with the kvidr, and with Loki's punishment that the people might finally decide that he had made his penance for his crimes and could be forgiven. Such was their way.
"As would I." For all that they had been given the same speeches by Odin about being kings and what it meant to be a king, he had rarely ever considered what would happen when they both came to age. Two could not rule Asgard. Whatever his father had intended, he was not here to ask. Thor could only guess -- and it was pointless to guess now. Asgard was his and Loki was too young now to rule. Thor snapped off another bite of the apple and let it do its' work.
The worries remained on the edges of his thoughts, but with the bite came better memories. Careless times when they would sneak out of the Citadel for no better reason than because they could, finding fields full of afternoon sunlight where they could play their games far from the guards and their parents. He laughed quietly before taking another bite. They rarely went out this early in the morning, but it was good to be here now, to be brothers for a moment, instead of king and subject.
But it could not last indefinitely. Another few bites finished off his apple and he tossed the core against the base of another tree, where it would fade and fuel fresh growth. "Before we return, you should know that I am proud of you, Loki."
Loki as polishing off his apple by the time Thor tossed his. It had gone by so quickly, ephemeral and bright as the taste and the life it conveyed, as fleeting as this morning, the quiet before the oncoming storm. Whatever the results of the kvidr might be, there was no doubting that there would be consequences. And despite the closeness, and the peace, Loki felt the weight of expectation. He never forgot their imbalanced places, Thor as king and he as subject. He was young, and his bitterness had not had the chance to crystallize into hate the way it had when he was older, but that didn't mean those feelings didn't exist at all. The difference was the opportunity to fight them.
When Thor professed his pride, Loki ducked his head, reflexively, feigning as if he needed to get one last bite of apple. With the flesh of the fruit sitting on his tongue, he tossed the core against his brother's, knocking it from its place beneath the tree. He turned back, and he grinned at Thor. "Thank you," he said, his voice as light as he could keep it. He wouldn't forget it, though. No matter what the kvidr said, he would remember that his brother could still feel pride in him.
Even with the taste of the apple still in his mouth, there was a heaviness now, the weight of expectations and consequences that hadn't been there in their youth. In a few moments, Thor would have Loki's fate in his hands and he would have to decide what was needed for the peace of the realms, what would restore what Loki had taken, and what would push his brother too far towards the man who had committed those crimes. Always a balance, only this time it was Loki that was held in the center of it and he required more care than most realized.
As he had learned too late. But he had learned it and maybe, this time, he could change it. One cloth and leather wrapped hand extended out to Loki, the other towards Mjolnir. He wanted -- and then she was there, leather bound wooden handle nestled against his palm where she belonged with a quiet, buzzing hum like metallic honey bees. When he made his decision, it would be with the taste of golden apples in his mouth, not lightning nor the battleground rinse of blood and sweat. This was right, however much the members of the kvidr might protest him flying off with Loki, this was needed and there was no room for regrets. "Ready, brother?"
Loki stood up from the ground, brushing off his armor. Everything had to be just so, and he had to appear spotless - not for his own vanity, but for the strength of image he was about to present. He refused to give the kvidr a single chink to fire through, not one vulnerability for them to exploit to justify their ruling in the eyes of those looking on. Whatever happened, he was as prepared for it as he could be. He set his jaw without thinking, and there was a little of the old hardness in his eyes. Their ruling would not change him, one way or the other.
He gave his mouth a quick swipe with the back of his free hand, the only tip off to his youth, and then he took Thor by the hand. "Ready."
He looked every inch not a prisoner, but a son of Odin. Proud, regal, unafraid. It gave Thor hope that whatever was decided today, that it would not put Loki back on the course that he had come from. That small thread of hope did not stop him from giving Loki's hand a small, reassuring squeeze where no eyes could see them and nothing was risked by the show of brotherly assurance. In a few moments he would have to be King, but here, far from the city, he was brother first.
Tugging Loki in close to his body for the flight, he loosened his grip on Mjolnir until the strap caught in his fingers and he spun her up once, twice, and they shot into the air. The trip to return to the city was slower but not by much as fields and farms passed beneath them, as even in this, when she was not being used to rend the bodies of Asgard's enemies, she was eager to do Thor's will. Yet, neither he nor Mjolnir could stop the kvidr and what must happen and eventually they had to land, her movement slowing only in the last few feet so they did not go rolling, ass over the proverbial tea kettle, across the floors of the citadel. (It had taken him the better part of a year to learn how to slow her when he first received her and until he had, it was guaranteed to hurt less if one simply let go instead of allowing Thor to land them.)
Now there was no more time to wait, though Thor looked to Loki to ensure he was ready before he reached for Gungnir, where the staff remained standing in the middle of the hall.
Loki was ready. He was as ready as he could possibly be. As they touched down after that last, all too brief flight, he felt a flash of fear, but he had hardened himself. He was still the god of mischief to some, after all. His reputation could not afford to be seen as weak or vulnerable today. His small smile was coy and impenetrable, a little proud, and unwilling to bend to the stares of the audience to the verdict. The hall, of course, was full of spectators. This would be the event of the year for many of them, something to tell their children of, the day they saw Loki brought low, made young and weak and sentenced. It was a tempting scene indeed, the kind that made him itch for a good trick, something to really make sure they would never, ever forget.
But he had promised. He had sworn to make an effort, whatever else happened today. So he pretended he was not there, was not in his own skin, and waited for Thor to take the spear with quiet, ramrod-straight reserve.
There had been many times in the months preceding this one where Thor had not been proud of his brother, but now, to see him displaying no fear, he felt a twinge of it again. He didn't ruin it by clasping Loki on the shoulder, by implying that his brother needed his strength to remain strong, but there was a certain flicker of warmth as he picked up the spear and set it down heavily on the ground, the sound amplified by the hall and signalling for silence. The whispers died down, the citizens eager to hear the proceedings.
Hrolf, chosen spokesman of the kvidr stepped forward, awaiting Thor's attention. He was a fair man, blond as most of them were, with watery blue eyes, with the bulk of a famous warrior turned farmer and years of service to Asgard written across the scars that lined both face and body and in the darkening of his skin beneath Her sun. He was an honorable man as well, to Thor's knowledge. Respected by Asgard, respected by his father when Odin had been King, and he was temperate when others ran hot or cold.
Thor trusted him, at the very least to do what was fair. Nodding to him and to the members of the kvidr that stood behind him, Thor remained on his feet as he began, "Has the kvidr decided on the methods of reparation?"
"We have, my Lord," Hrolf began.
"For the destruction of Jotunheim?" The Jotnar were an old enemy, but enemies were meant to be met on the battlefield, forces completely visible to one another. An attack, even on ancient enemies, that they could not hope to withstand nor fight against while Loki remained safely out of harm's way rankled even Thor. And destroying another planet would have upset the balance of Yggdrasil.
Hrolf glanced to Loki, as if expecting some mischief. When none was forthcoming, he licked his lips and began, "We task Loki with rebuilding the planet, to reshaping it as it was before the attack. Further, he must return the Casket of Ancient Winters to our vault once the restoration is complete."
It was nothing that Thor did not expect and nothing that he felt overly cruel. He nodded, once. "Let it be done."
The ruling was no less than Loki might have expected, an appropriate enough punishment for the destruction of so much of Jotunheim. To repair it would be no easy task, but he could manage. He hoped. He had never wielded the Casket himself, and there was no way to know whether its power would overwhelm him. But he was of royal Jotun blood, was he not? That, at least, should shield him from its sting. He was its only remaining, rightful owner, with the death of his erstwhile father at his own hand. Years ago, years in the future. He nodded, and offered no mischief. There was nothing to say, or agree to. These were mandates, not requests.
There was little response from Loki, no flicker of his hands, no tightening of the skin around his eyes. All was as it should be and thus Thor continued. "For the attack on Midgard?"
"To restore what was destroyed. To repair what was damaged." The dead could not be returned, but buildings, places, things that were damaged could be made whole again. "We further task him with creating a flame that cannot burn, but gives heat, that needs no fuel, but never diminishes and a monument in which it is kept."
Again, it was fair, a return on the things that Loki had taken from them, but not so unreasonably cruel that they were punishing a younger Loki for a future self's actions. There were a few nods in the crowd before Thor spoke, "Let it also be done."
Hrolf's shoulders went back, emboldened now. "For conspiring with the Jotunns on the attack on Midgard, we ask that he be stripped of his citizenship to Asgard." Ask, as the breath in Thor's lungs seemed to solidify and refuse to move beyond his throat. "And for the continued acts of war against Asgard and protected realms, we would see him stripped of all titles and family name." Stripped of Odinson, stripped of being a prince, and his citizenship, he would be one step from being labeled an outcast, and every citizen of Asgard charged with finding him and bringing his head before Thor.
"No." Cool and crisp, not unlike the flesh of the apples they had eaten not so long ago, the snap of teeth and the breaking of the skin. No. He could not take all from Loki.
Loki did not have the gift of prophecy. Their mother did, or so it was said, but she had always kept her predictions to herself. Perhaps there had been something of the truth to come in sad, just-missed glances, but he did not know, and perhaps he never would. Thus, he could never have predicted a day where Thor refused the Kvidr its right to strip him of his titles, his name, and of every foundation of the life he had once lived.
One could hardly say it was an unwarranted decision. He had conspired to commit treason, he had allowed a frost giant to nearly murder the king, and he had turned his back repeatedly on the kingdom. But it was one thing to know that the promise of kingship he had been raised with had been a lie. It was another thing entirely to have even that last shred of the life he had once imagined for himself ripped away.
To be exiled for many years, he had expected that. To be stripped of his citizenship and his name made him feel naked in a way that the previous mandates to mend what he had broken and create a monument to those he had killed did not. It made him feel cold, and very alone standing there, and while he did not crumble, his eyes did flare open, bright and green as they had ever been, and he felt betrayal. He knew he should not, but he did, and it cut.
Thor's refusal came down like a hammer blow to an anvil, but the onlookers were already murmuring, and Thor's refusal only set them to a higher height of chattering amongst themselves. He might be seen as weak or lenient if he denied the Kvidr in this, and still he refused. They were confused, they were scandalized, they were angry and shocked. The young prince, after all, in his other form, had been responsible for the deaths of Asgardians. Were he not the king's brother, death would most certainly have been the punishment on the table. What right did he have to deny the more lenient punishment?
The right of a king, of course. Loki pressed his fingers against the armor at his sides. If his fingers were shaking, no one need know, and he stared up at the Kvidr. His face was stony and set, but his stare was as intense, as deep, as open as anything. He said nothing. The silence was uncharacteristic, and said much. He looked from the Kvidr to Thor. He spoke to his brother, quiet as could be, in a tone that sounded so much more like the man he'd become that it was uncanny. "Don't be a fool."
Even Thor, who knew the request would come, went cold at the words. And colder still at the tone, so reminiscent of the elder Loki.
"My Lord," Hrolf began, gaze leaping back and forth between the two brothers, but before he could say more, Thor raised a hand to silence him. There was not much time to decide and his head bowed as the whispers and the chatters of the hall died, the people curious to see what their king would decide.
It was well within the rights and obligations of the kvidr to ask what they had and well within his to deny them if he saw fit. But here the balance must be struck, and he had never been good at balance, not until these last few months when Loki had turned young again and he had to find some measure which would satisfy all without hurting him.
His head raised again, gaze on his brother. Loki. His people. Midgard. "For the crime of treason against Asgard, you are stripped of citizenship and family name until you have made the reparations set forth by the kvidr. No Asgardian will come to your aid and any time you spend here, will be spent under guard, as a prisoner." Much as he was now, since the trial had begun. But there was one concession he must make, that had to be made for Asgard, and there was the thinnest sliver of sadness in blue eyes that usually held warmth as he looked upon Loki.
"And you are stripped of all titles until you have regained the trust of Asgard and her people." The harshest blow, yet, it was more hope than Odin had ever given him. His gaze flicked to Hrolf. "If the kvidr finds that this satisfies, let it be done."
Hrolf turned turned towards the kvidr and waited for their vote. Slowly, one by one, their hands went up in agreement. It was with more conditions than they had wanted, but Loki would not be able to regain the throne of Asgard until he had satisfied measures of trustworthiness. That was acceptable.
"The kvidr does so agree, My Lord," Hrolf said once all the hands were in the air. A low murmur going through the assembled crowd.
"Then I thank the kvidr for their wisdom and their time."
Loki stared back at Thor while he chiseled the sharpest of edges off the Kvidr's guidance, while still leaving enough heft for a strong blow. No title until he regained the trust of the people? That day might never come. It likely would not. It wouldn't matter to them how many good deeds he did, how much he showed the face of the reformed boy made from the wicked man to every citizen of the realm. Asgardians had long memories. They would not forget, and he would be destined to stay forever a step behind his brother as he ruled, and that would be his life.
He looked to the Kvidr and he memorized their faces, but his expression did not flicker, did not falter, did not change. Then, after a moment, he smiled, just a little, just enough of the old mischief to make the old council uneasy. That would teach them. There was defiance in his glassy eyes. He would fulfill their every mandate to the letter, but he would not come back to this place. Armed guard, lock and key, even his false birthright taken from him. There was no home for him here.
He turned and signalled to the guards that he would like to be escorted out. "I have a monument to build, I should think," he said, his back to the King as the guards parted, hands on their swords, to allow him through. He turned his head, and looked back at Thor over his shoulder. His gaze was baleful and hard at once, and that smile. "Will you come to see?"
Seeing that smile, that look in Loki's eyes -- if he had been the type to second guess himself, he would have then. But there was no room for it now, no room to recall his words or to alter what he had chosen. There was room, only, for Loki to prove who he was. Who would he prove right? Who would be proven wrong?
Thor nodded to the guards to let Loki go before his gaze settled again on his brother. He nodded, once, not out of distrust that Loki wasn't doing what he was charged with, but to see his brother working with his seiðr was not something to be missed. And easier to enjoy as long as one was not the brunt of whatever trick was planned. "I will come, Loki."
The monument would be a moveable thing. Loki thought of this even as the armed guards boxed him in. Out the small group walked, the guard’s booted feet clattering on the smooth stone floor, then silencing as they walked onto the green. The monument would be portable, created here and sent to Midgard, an example of just how deeply sorry their realm was for its part in creating the monster that had taken so many lives there. It would be neatly symbolic, and the Kvidr would like that. It was an act of calculation, but those could only help him now.
Loki ignored the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He did not hear the clatter of armor all around him, nor did he see the people in the street who watched them as they walked past. News of the verdict was spreading with their passage. Out of market squares and thoroughfares, crowds began to form, snaking around after the procession. They came draped in every color and kind of fabric, from all echelons of Asgardian society. The air was thick with the smell of the midday meal being prepared in the homes they passed. Loki could catch the scent of an oncoming snow, far away, but he might have been the only one to notice it.
Loki stopped only when they reached the edge of the water. He did not check over his shoulder for Thor, for he knew that he was there.
The water before him was clear blue, and fish darted in it, searching close to the shore for food. Above them, bifrost loomed, glittering in a panoply of color in tiny, segmented bars, flickering and pulsing with power. He could almost taste it on his tongue, as real to him as the wind and the far away sound of fishermen singing at their work. This place, a place he would not return to any day soon, and this moment. That was what he thought of as he began to wield his seiðr. He lifted a hand and white strands from the air itself began to appear, growing opaque and flowing into his outstretched palm.
Loki appeared placid and focused on his task. In reality he was anything but. He tried to tamp it down, but loss and the betrayal were like bile at the back of his throat. He burned, and he used those emotions, pouring them into the thing that was beginning to take shape under his hands. It was an orb of light, and then it began to widen. Two feet, three feet, six feet. Larger and larger it grew, floating in the air, developing a sheathe of rock. It had been a long time since Loki had any cause to call solid matter out of the air. He had always been more comfortable trafficking in illusions than realities.
The rock was melted from the sand itself. It flowed into the air in sinuous rills, shining, heating, and melting as it reached the flame, melting into black stone that reflected like a mirror. At its full size, the case for the flame was fifteen feet wide. The new stone inside it flowed and curled. As the light inside grew larger that surface acted as an amplifier, throwing it out ten times more brightly than the flame alone could allow.
The flame itself began small, just a red flicker at the center of the whirling, darkening shape, but it grew with the size of its casing. As the shape inside hollowed and spread, the flame stretched up, first blue, then green, then blinding white. Its brilliance competed with the sunlight overhead, flashing into the eyes of the onlookers, causing some to turn away.
Loki kept working, but something wasn't right. At the best of times, wielding his power was a careful balance. Now, with all of Asgard looking on, his control was faltering just when he needed it most. The gash he was forced to slice open in his being to draw so much power into the flame began to crack his reserve. Grief dripped from it, then flowed out, his expression darkening. It wasn't fair. None of it was fair. Hadn't he done everything they'd asked? Hadn't he come to the trial when he might have fled? Hadn't he become a different person entirely? Much too late, he realized that, while he had been prepared for punishment, he had not been prepared for this. He had not really steeled himself to the idea that his entire life would be dictated by the sins of someone he had never really known, and would always be expected to become.
If there had been no need for the monument, perhaps it all would have sorted itself. Perhaps Loki would have been able to leave Asgard, lick his wounds, and follow the path of retribution that he had been assigned. But another thing, too, conspired against him. In working with seiðr, one's name was always of ultimate importance, as was the name of all things important when working power within it. The place where his birthright had been was still raw at the edges, and empty as the jagged void into which he had once fallen, an imbalance in his being where doubt could edge through.
The flame grew taller. It was drawing energies from the ground and water. At the shoreline the darting fish began to slow and turn up their bellies to the water's surface. Loki could not stop, not even as a murmuring went through the crowd. The flame burst the confines of the shell he'd built to contain it. The bifrost, only a short distance away, began to crackle and sputter. The crowds began to draw back from the shoreline, and panic went through them. They became a crush, separating Loki from the guards and Thor as they tried to escape. Higher and higher went the flame, tall as a house, tall as the hall. There was no sound from Loki. No, now the energy poured from him too, carried up into the white hot flame as it boiled the sea and turned the sand to glass.
The bifrost spat and began to spin, drawing power from the flame as abruptly as if a switch had been flipped. The flame was drawn back toward the machine at the end of the bridge, and the connection between Loki and it was severed. It grew no larger, but it was much too late to stop the inevitable. There was only the briefest of seconds to realize that he had made a mistake, and for the terror to show on his face, before the Bifrost erupted in a column of light.
Loki was yanked back into the spiraling energies, and he made a sound like a scream that rattled and bounced inside the skull of anyone closeby. He curled in like a burning moth, no more than a silhouette in the blinding light, and though he was obscured, the scream seemed suddenly harsher, deeper, desperate. Then, with a burst of power, the bifrost pulled in the last of the flame, and fired the energies in it far, far across the realms.
As abruptly as it had all happened, it was over. Where the flame had been there was only a star-shaped piece of thick, smoky gray glass, the sputtering bifrost, and the growing wind of a snowstorm, rolling in from the east.
For years he had watched Loki practice with illusions, tricks that made him laugh when they were used against someone else, but creating required far more of one's self than tales spun from silvered tongue. Behind Loki's guard, Thor followed, mingling with the citizens of his home. From here he could see everything his brother did and if Loki turned it into an attack, he would be here to stop his brother. Not trusting him was a foreign thing, like a worm in one of Idunn's apples, undesired and unwanted, disliked the moment its bitter taste settled on his tongue.
But there was no attack, not in the beginning. At first it was only winding sand snakes in the air to form stone and reflect fire, promises fulfilled as the thing began to take shape in front of the crowd. He felt it before the crowd took notice, felt the power being drawn from the earth beneath their feet, from Asgard, from the Bifrost, and he stepped forward, one hand already reaching out for Loki.
It was too much power to be contained, too much being pulled in, too reminiscent of the bridge being used as a weapon. Over the gasps and the slowly rising tide of cries issued from the throats of his people, he heard the wakening scream of the Bifrost as the energy grew. There were too many people, pushing him back and back and back in their haste to flee from the impending release of power that Thor finally had to take to the air, Mjolnir in hand. He had lost Loki once, watched him fall into the abyss forged by the Bifrost's power and he would not do it again.
This time he followed, that scream like a spear of ice in his guts and just as loathsome. Thor struck him, mid-flight, no brakes, no concept of slowing down, and they both went into that swirling morass of energies, with no time for a scream to come climbing out of this throat. Those in the crowd that could look, that did look, would only have seen his silhouette against Loki's before that final burst of power.
And when it was done, Gungnir remained upright in the sand, unmovable, the only sign that the King would return.