Brooding 4

“Loki,” a familiar voice called, but Loki was too tired to respond. He was too tired to even tell the owner of the voice to go away. He simply lay, unmoving, in his quiet cocoon, hoping that he would be left alone.

“Loki!” the voice called more insistently. It was Thor. Loki knew his brother would not give up, but although there was a part of his rational mind telling him that it would be better to answer the thunder god and get whatever Thor’s business was over with, his limbs simply refused to comply. And the rest of his mind only wanted to sleep, to do nothing, to feel nothing – for to feel was to be in pain.

 


 

 

Thor had been asked by Frigga two days before to check on Loki, but he had put it off with the excuse that he was still needed on Vanaheim, though most of the marauders had already been rounded up. He had tarried, assisting the Vanir in constructing temporary shelters for those who had lost their homes, until Frigga had found him again and insisted that he accompany the next group of prisoners back to Asgard so he could look in on his brother.

“I worry about him, Thor,” she had confessed. “I see a dark cloud over him in my mind, and I fear it will consume him.”

“If there is a cloud cast over him, it is likely of his own making,” Thor had retorted. He felt immediately guilty for saying so, however, when his mother arched one eyebrow.

“Are you sure it is not the storm cloud of your wrath he is under?” Her piercing gaze made Thor falter in his response. “He had discovered the truth of his parentage just before you were sent to Midgard, and yet he slew Laufey, his own birth father, to protect Odin. I do not know what words were exchanged at the Bifröst, but I can imagine what utter despair must have driven him to release his hold on life. And then when we found him alive at last, rather than welcoming him back as a long-lost son, your father – and you – assumed his purposes to be evil and challenged him as a traitor!”

“His purposes were evil, Mother,” Thor protested, “and he was found in league with evil creatures!”

“Yes, but did it ever cross your mind that he might have been coerced into helping them?” The angry flash in Frigga’s eyes had silenced Thor. “He was alone and adrift in a tear in the universe when they found him – what other recourse did he have but to throw in his lot with them? Oh, he is too proud to admit it now, even to me, but if he had refused to do as they say, what chance do you think he would have had to survive? Answer me that, my son, before you judge your brother too harshly.”

Thor had hung his head, ashamed to realize that he had not even thought of Loki’s situation in such a light.

“It wears on his soul to be confined like a caged animal,” Frigga had continued after a pause. “Put yourself in his place, Thor. Is that not what I have always taught you to do? To think of how others are feeling? And despite his outward defiance and… seeming hatred towards you and your father, I know he would appreciate a visit from you. Talk to him, Thor. Let him know that he is still your brother. For I believe all his destructive behavior has stemmed from the hurts he has received. Think of the sadness you would feel if… if I told you I am not your mother.”

Thor nodded, his gaze still cast down, so he did not notice how Frigga had suddenly grown pale.

“See that he has everything he needs,” she implored him again. “A few books to pass the time, news of what has happened here… His mind needs activity, even more than his body.”

“I will do what I can for him,” Thor had promised.

 


 

 

Now as he beheld the small, rumpled mound of sheets on the bed, he could not comprehend that his brother was hidden under them; yet the guards insisted that it was so.

“He has not eaten for days,” the chief guard fearfully informed Thor, knowing how inseparable the brothers used to be. “We tried replacing his rations at first, but it seemed to do no good, and he could keep down less each day. We offered to call the healers, but he refused, saying they would not help him while the All-Father wanted him dead. We did not know what to do… I had just consulted the chief of the night guard and we had thought to inform the King himself if his condition did not improve by mid-day tomorrow.”

Thor considered what the man told him while observing the pile of white linens. Loki had not so much as twitched the entire time since Thor had arrived and repeatedly called his name. It had to be a trap. Thor sighed, for he was weary of playing these games with the trickster, but he had given his word to Frigga to help Loki.

“Lower the barrier for only a moment – just enough to let me in – and be alert in case he tries to escape. This could all be a ruse to get out of his cell,” Thor warned the guards in an undertone. Then he stepped up to the barrier, nodded once, and walked into the cell the moment the barrier was dropped. It was raised as soon as his cape had cleared the threshold.

“Loki?” he called again, quietly, trying to keep his tone neutral. “The guards tell me you are ill.”

Receiving no response, he drew near the bed, expecting his brother to startle him at any second. The deathly quiet and stillness was beginning to make him nervous; he would have much preferred to have Loki rear up at him with a snarl, even with a makeshift weapon in his hand, but Loki did no such thing. When Thor was finally close enough, he grabbed an edge of the sheet and yanked it off. It resisted for a moment from the weight of Loki’s body, then gave way. What was revealed under it shocked Thor into horrified silence.

Loki was curled into a fetal position, and although he was wearing the fine bedclothes Frigga had given him, they could not hide his rail-thin limbs and gaunt frame. His eyes opened slowly, looking enormous in his drawn, haggard face, as he registered Thor’s presence in the room. The recognition seemed to come too slowly as well, so unlike his usual lightning-fast wit, but what most unnerved Thor was the corpse-like pallor of his skin. He had always been fair, even pale, but now he looked like death itself.

Loki swallowed, the very effort obviously painful, and formed one word: “Thor.”

Thor dropped the sheet and scrambled to get closer to his brother, gently pressing back his shoulder to better look into his face. “Brother,” he whispered, his voice cracking in distress, “what has happened to you?”

“I’ve been poisoned,” Loki managed, his voice hoarse from all the vomiting he had done in the past twelve days.

“I’ll send for the healers,” Thor said, recovering from the initial shock. “Guards! Send for the healers – quickly! And… And tell my father that Loki is ill.”

A rasping sound, like a bark, issued from Loki’s ravaged throat. “He… He did it – he killed me. As soon as Mother left. There is no help for me, Thor. Not this time.”

Even though Thor could not comprehend what Loki meant by that, the hopelessness in his brother’s tone gripped his heart like a vise.

“Do not worry, Loki – I will not let you die. I promised Mother that I would help you in any way I could.”

“Help me…” Loki echoed, almost in a trance. His eyes grew unfocused for a moment before finding Thor with a manic intensity. “Then help me – Brother – and kill me. Kill me now!

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