“You ought to take in some fresh air,” Thor was telling his brother. “A few rounds in the Warrior's Field would do you good, I doubt not.”
“I have little appetite for sparring with the likes of you—or Fandral, or Hogun,” Loki said, not looking at Thor as he peeled an orange. “Last week's skirmish was enough to satisfy me for quite some time.”
The brothers were enjoying an unusually quiet breakfast in the palace of Asgard. Their father Odin, the king, was meeting with advisers and soothsayers. Their mother, Frigga, was surely in her garden on such a beautiful day.
“Your appetite for combat used to be heartier, it seems to me,” Thor said. “You cannot rely solely on tricks and spells, Loki. You should sharpen your fighting skills, too—by the time you need them, it will be too late.”
Loki smiled, hearing an echo of the king's words in the crown prince's voice. “If I practice too much, I may surpass your fighting skill,” he said. “You and your war-bride would not like to share my glory, I'd wager,” he added, referring to the hammer Mjolnir that, like a covetous lover, was never far from Thor's side.
The elder prince's booming laugh shook the walls of the dining hall. “Perhaps you dream of such things, brother, but I assure you that such victory shall never be yours!” He stood and took one last swig from his goblet before picking up his “bride” by its short handle. “Suit yourself, then, with your magic and scrolls in the dusty library. It is the Warrior's Field for me.”
Loki did not linger at the table long after Thor had excused himself. But when he left, it was not for the library. There, he might be disturbed, however remote the possibility. Instead, he returned to his own apartments. He kept a collection of books and scrolls in his own small study, but he had no need of them now. Instead, he sat on a couch to clear his mind in preparation for his own form of training.
The first few moments were easy enough. He was well skilled now in conjuring the orb between his palms, in which he could see across vast distances. It grew as he drew has hands apart, and the vision inside took shape. He could see mountains, fjords, and forests as though he looked down upon them in flight. He saw a structure rise up, a palace encircled by a wall.
The image drew lower, nearer, until it looked as though he could alight on the wall. He felt an ache in his temples, but he kept on, his Sight breaking through the wall and into the castle's forbidding front door. At last he was looking into the great, grand entryway of the palace of Arendelle.
A broad staircase swept up in graceful curves to the higher floors, and suits of armor lined one wall. A silent servant passed in and out of his line of vision. A portrait of a young couple hung near the stairs, draped in black mourning fabric. Loki knew them to be the late king and queen. He wondered how long the painting had been hung like that. It should have been a year gone by at least, for Midgard. In the realm of Asgard, where one could expect to live a few millennia, time moved a little differently.
Loki narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth. Here is where it got tricky. The vision inside the orb rotated, moving to the stairs as though he were turning his head to see it. As Loki concentrated, his Sight moved up the staircase, one slow step at a time. Head pounding, he finally reached the second floor and took a deep breath.
A little magic allowed him to get a bird's-eye view into other realms, but it took a great deal more energy and skill to see into cities as though he walked their streets, or to peek into parlors as though he were a welcomed guest. For months now, he had exerted all his energy to see Arendelle this way, without leaving his own home. The magic was a true test of his ability, and much of it was still beyond him. He had not yet managed to get further that this very spot.
The muscles in his neck and jaw burned as he nudged the vision one step forward. He could explore this whole castle, if only he had the training and stamina. There was a door close to the stairs—could he pass through it?
Loki heard a knock at the door—his door. The sound was soft, but it jarred him, and he lost focus. The vision in its sphere drew back, reversing its course, until it was once again a distant image of mountains and water.
“What do you want?” Loki asked gruffly. The door opened, and an older blonde woman peeked around it. “Mother,” he said, hardly more gently.
“Thor said you would be in the library,” Frigga said. “When I did not find you there, I looked in the next most likely place.”
“I hardly think it Thor's affair how I spend my time,” Loki said, waving his hands to dissolve the image between them. Or yours, he added silently.
Frigga stepped into the dim room, closing the door behind her. “Your brother is concerned about you.”
Loki scoffed. “Thor is only concerned about running out of opponents to hammer into the ground.”
“He did say you have not been on the Warrior's Field so often of late,” Frigga said. “I see you have not been idle, at least.”
“I have my own skills to practice. I have little interest in joining my brother and his ilk at their battle games.”
“I do not doubt it,” Frigga said. “But it is not only Thor who worries about you, Loki. I think you have been too sullen and reclusive lately—even more than usual,” she added with a little smile. “Do you think you have nothing more to learn, that you do all your conjuring in solitude?”
Loki sighed and rubbed his temples. “I meant no offense to your own powers,” he said. “This is none of your concern.”
“Mothers are most often curious about things that are none of their concern,” Frigga said, crossing the room to sit beside him. “Does this, perhaps, have anything to do with your visit to Midgard?”
Loki flashed her a look of surprise before he could hide it—though he already had less success hiding from Frigga than from anyone else.
“How did—?” He stopped himself. “Heimdall,” he growled. “Of course. The gatekeeper to the realm, and yet he cannot keep the smallest secret.” One way or another, I will have to find other means of traveling without the Bifrost.
“He is bound to no one but the Allfather, you know that,” Frigga said, referring to one of the king's other titles. “And he did not come to me, or anyone, with your whereabouts. I asked him where you'd been only because I had seen the change in your mood and doubted how forthright you would be.”
“What did he tell you?”
“That you'd been to Midgard—again. Long ago, I might have been surprised that you would visit a realm you hold in so little regard. But if I presumed that you were visiting your princess, would I not be correct?”
“She is hardly my princess,” Loki said. Would that she were. “Nor like to be, as unwavering as she is.”
“Loki, what have you done?” Frigga asked, in a tone more accusatory than perhaps she had intended.
He stood up and, affecting a casual impression, folded his arms and leaned against the wall. “What I tried to do was help the girl. You recall what I said of her powers?” Frigga nodded, and he continued. “I have not had the misfortune of encountering a great deal of Midgardians, but those I have seen were never capable of her skills. I went to extend an invitation. I said that I could help her practice her magic, to better control it, if she came here, as a visitor.”
“Ah,” Frigga said. “And…she is not here.”
Loki hid the scowl he wanted to make.
“Perhaps that is for the best,” Frigga went on. “You had no right to make such an offer, Loki. The Allfather would hardly allow a mortal to cross the boundaries of Yggdrasil. You should not have invited her here without his permission, which I doubt you asked for.”
Loki shrugged. “Better to ask forgiveness than permission,” he said with a grin.
“The worlds are separate for a reason,” Frigga said. Her son did not reply, and she hesitated before softening her tone to ask the next question. “What did she say, this princess?”
Looking down to feign an interest in his boots, Loki said, “She has a younger sister and will not be parted from her. I might as well tell you, I have observed the affairs of her kingdom, and I paid my visit not only to invite her here, but to give my regrets at the news of her parents' passing.”
“That was kind of you.” She smiled at him. He shifted his weight, somehow more annoyed at being caught in an act of kindness than in one of disobedience.
“The kingdom is small and remote, yet she clings to it and would not leave it in the hands of another. Though I suppose I cannot begrudge her that—her sister is the dullest of mortals, and she is hardly fit to be queen.”
“But you begrudge her her refusal? Loki, the girl has lost her parents, and she is to wear a crown. Of course she is confused and overburdened, and I am sure she gave you the answer she thought best. This is not the sorrow of a spurned lover—this is the petulance of a child who has lost his toy.”
“We are not lovers, Mother. I simply mislike the idea of wasted magic. And she is not a toy.”
“Then I hope, for her sake, you do not treat her as something even less.”
Loki arranged his features into an enigmatic expression. He knew from the queen's piercing blue gaze, however, that she saw her comment had found its mark. There was a small, tight knot forming somewhere in his middle that felt like guilt—a sentiment with which he was not overly familiar. He had been almost amused at Elsa's refusal, and buoyed by her request to wait, recognizing that it was not a complete rejection. Nevertheless, once he left Arendelle, his offense grew and three years seemed interminable, even by Asgardian standards. Frigga's scolding tone was enough to make him wonder if he wasn't being a little bit selfish.
It must have been guilt; he did not know what else would compel him to disclose further details. “She…did not give me an absolute refusal,” he said. He did not look at her, but he could feel his mother's disapproval from across the room.
“Then what did she say?”
“She asked me to wait until her coronation—three years from when I made the invitation. She will be of age then, and more at ease about her sister, she says.”
“Three years is a very little time, Loki,” Frigga said.
“It is nothing to us,” he said. Normally it was true, but it did not seem like it now. It was absurd, to the point of being laughable, but he almost missed the human queen for her company alone.
“I know that you have never been one to yield easily,” Frigga said. “Your peevishness about having to wait makes it clear that circumstances are not as you wanted them. That you mean to hold out for the appointed time—that you conceded to the request of another—tells me that you care for this mortal girl more than you wish to confess.”
She stood from the couch and approached him. He still refused to look at her, but when she placed a hand against his cheek, Loki's green eyes flickered to hers. He could allow no more than that brief moment, for fear of what she would find. She had already seen too much.
“Be patient, my son,” she said. “It is a lesson you still require. Keep your promise and wait the time you have set. The young lady is not going anywhere, if her situation is as you claim. For once, do as you say—and be all the better for it.”
“And if I go back…and still she will not come?” he asked.
“Then you will be gracious, wish her well, and let her be.”
Some time after that, Thor looked up from his defeated opponent to see Loki sauntering across the Warrior's Field.
“You've decided to join us at last, brother!” Thor said, his loud observation formed almost as a question.
“On the contrary,” Loki said, “I am asking you to join me.”
“I have no interest in sharing your tricks, Loki,” Thor said, momentarily turning away to shake hands with his friend Hogun and compliment his fighting style.
Loki rolled his eyes. “I would ask you to participate in magic only if I wanted to see the palace blown up by accident.”
“What is it you want, then?”
The younger prince smiled. This would be interesting. "What would you say to a journey to Midgard?"