Brooding 46

Clint wondered if he would ever be able to find his way around the Asgardian palace as Frigga led him back up to the royal family’s quarters. The others had left them near the ground floor to return to their usual duties.

“Um… Is there like a map or something of this place?” Clint asked, peering around the labyrinthine corridors as they walked past yet another identical intersection.

“I can arrange for a portable device to guide you,” the Queen kindly told him. “But if you lose your way, you can ask any of the guards for assistance.”

Clint did not bother mentioning that he did not want to feel like a visitor forever. His goal was to get settled in as quickly as possible, acclimating himself to Asgard so he could focus on more important matters. Being able to visit Loki was at the top of his list.

Frigga approached a door and hesitated briefly before opening it and leading him in. “This is Loki’s room, now yours. You are free to do with it as you wish. If you would like different draperies or anything…”

She trailed off when she heard the muffled thump of Clint’s duffel bag hitting the floor.

“Wow,” the Human said, turning around to survey the room. “Wow!”

From the luxurious cream-white carpeting that made him feel like he ought to take off his boots to the velvety dark-green curtains framing the open wall onto the terrace, Clint thought the entire room spoke of opulence. The wooden furniture was fashioned with exquisite craftsmanship and gleamed in the soft light diffused from many ornate fixtures. The room they had entered was obviously designed for entertainment. To the left there was a recessed seating area – piled with comfortable-looking cushions – surrounding a brazier table and set in front of a large fireplace; to the right was a formal dining table and a glass case filled with exotic wine bottles. Beyond that was a doorway leading to what looked like a pool. Through a door on the other side, Clint caught a glimpse of a bed covered in the same rich material as the drapes. And there were bookshelves and paintings on every wall, filling the space tastefully without crowding it.

“I don’t think I’ll need to change anything,” Clint said with a droll grin. “It looks great just the way it is.”

Frigga returned the smile and gestured to the bedroom. “If you leave your things here, the servants will unpack them for you… unless you would like to arrange them yourself?”

Clint laughed. “I don’t have enough stuff to make a fuss over – I can do it myself. But wow… Has Loki read all of these books or are they just for show?”

“I believe he has read most if not all of them,” Frigga answered, watching Clint walk around the room. “All of the paintings are his.”

Clint whirled around in surprise. “You mean he painted these? Himself?”

“Yes. I thought he showed a great talent for capturing the light,” she said fondly, indicating the landscape hanging in front of Clint. “It was one of many hobbies at which he excelled.”

“Wow.” Clint stepped closer to study it. “I had no idea! Did he take lessons as a kid?”

“No, he developed his own style as he practiced. Of course he had any number of masters to study from, since I’ve always been fond of two-dimensional art, and he copied several of my favorite pieces at one time. But mostly he found his own methods and worked out what pleased his eye best.”

“Looks like he knew what he was doing,” Clint remarked, squinting at the details of the trees.

“Yes,” Frigga agreed, pleased that the Human appreciated her son’s accomplishments.

After a moment Clint reminded himself that he was here to apply for a job, not just gawk at the décor, so he stepped into the bedroom to set his bags down. The furnishings there were opulent as well and the bed was enormous. He couldn’t help thinking that it needed to be to accommodate Loki’s lanky height, then very naturally imagined Loki lying there, smiling seductively at him as he so often had. Giving himself another mental shake, Clint set his case on the bed and opened it up.

“Play time’s over – now it’s time to get down to business!”

He chose his newest bow, which had been custom-designed to his exacting specifications, and slung it over his shoulder. When he reached for the arrows, however, he hesitated; he had brought the quiver with grenade tips, but he wondered whether he should take the explosives. For that matter, he did not know if he would be allowed to walk around the palace with weapons at all.

“Um… Excuse me… Your Majesty,” he began, stepping back out into the living area to find Frigga studying another of Loki’s paintings. “Is it all right if I carry around my own bow and arrows? I’m assuming the captain of the Herǫr Drengr is gonna want to see me shoot, and I’d feel more comfortable using my own gear… not that I don’t think you guys have better equipment here, but I know what to expect from my own…”

“Of course,” she answered. “Every true warrior refines his weapons to best serve him. You should take whatever will allow you to show your skill to the greatest advantage. There are some occasions, such as large feasts, when you will be asked to lay down your arms unless you are on duty, but otherwise you are free to bear such weapons as you deem necessary.”

“Oh, that’s a relief! But I was also wondering about explosives – these here are small but they pack a pretty big wallop. Uh, that is… one of them could destroy that bed and knock over everything else in the room.”

“Is there any chance of them exploding by accident?”

“No, not really. You’d have to set off a much bigger charge right next to them to set these off if they haven’t been armed, and at that point” – Clint shrugged – “you wouldn’t notice them.”

“Then it should not be of any concern. I trust your judgment, Clint. Both Loki and Thor have spoken very highly of your skills as a warrior; I believe you are capable of handling your own weapons responsibly.”

“Thank you. I should hope so, at my age…” Clint broke off as another thought occurred to him. “May I ask… I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but… how old is Loki?”

Frigga looked amused by the question. “By your reckoning, he is just over nine hundred years old. He is considered a young man by our standards: old enough to make his own decisions, but still… untried… inexperienced.”

“Wow.” Clint tried to think what had happened in Earth’s history that long ago and could not come up with anything significant. “I figured your people must be long-lived, but… I can hardly wrap my mind around it…”

“It is just as hard for us to fathom living so short of a life as you do… How precious each moment must be when you have so little time to live and love and learn!” She pursed her lips thoughtfully before adding, “I realize that every moment you are kept apart from Loki must weigh that much heavier upon your heart… which is why I will continue to ask the King to mitigate his punishment of our son – even if it is only a temporary reprieve while your child is young – so that you may spend as much of your time together as possible.”

“Thank you,” Clint said, his eyes communicating his gratitude more eloquently than his words. “I appreciate any help you can give. And I’m glad you still consider Loki your son… I know he thinks the world of you.”

The Queen’s expression turned poignant at that. “Yes… I believe, in his heart of hearts, Loki still wishes to come home and be our child. But Odin has ever been severe in his dealings with Loki… despite my many cautions that he cannot be ruled that way. He is not like Thor, where a simple rebuke is accepted and then forgotten as a matter of course; every word, every look, must be examined and analyzed in Loki’s sharp-edged mind, and so the greatest of care must be taken in addressing him… But perhaps it is not too late. Perhaps I may convince Odin that Loki has not allowed his entire soul to be darkened with hate, and perhaps I may breathe life into the embers of the happy child I remember. I have hope yet that having his own child will cause Loki to see things anew, from a parent’s perspective… and that he will then better understand his own father as well.”

Clint considered this before replying. “I suppose Odin has to be strict in his punishment of Loki, since to everybody else it’s his son – he doesn’t want to look like he’s playing favorites or letting him off the hook too easily – but by the same token he might also be going a little too far on the harsh side. Loki thinks he has been unfair, especially considering how Thor was punished: getting his powers taken away and being sent to Earth. Right now, if Odin did that to Loki, he’d consider it a favor. In fact, so would I.”

Frigga nodded in understanding. “Yes, I’m sure Loki would far rather accept that form of punishment; however, he was the first to point out that his child must be kept here on Asgard until we know what powers it might possess. He worried, when Thor insisted that he tell you about the child, what might happen to you if the child had powers like his own. Uncontrolled as an infant, the babe might injure you… perhaps even kill you.” The Queen smiled knowingly as she added, “When I heard his concern for you – despite his having attempted to subjugate your people and, in the process, killed so many – I knew that he cared for you in a special way. And that gave me hope. If he could love one Midgardian, perhaps he would realize the grievous wrong he had done to the others and repent of his schemes.”

“He… He did, huh?” Clint stumbled over the words as he tried in vain not to blush. He also failed to keep his face from contorting into a fatuous grin. “Well, that… that’s a start, yeah. But… do you really think the kid will have powers like Loki? I mean, he’s half Human, so even if he does it’s gotta be watered down, right?”

“I do not know… We will have to observe him as he grows.” Frigga regarded Clint for a moment. “Even Midgardians have these powers, you know – we call it seiðr. All races have it within them to tap into the force of Yggdrasil, but some have honed this skill more than others. The Light Elves of Alfeim, where I lived before, have taken special care to nurture it… and I taught Loki as best I know how. Unfortunately, here on Asgard, physical strength and skill of battle are esteemed more than magic, so I may have done him a disservice by teaching him the depths of seiðr… but I feared for his safety, knowing he might never have such strength as Thor and yet having to train with him as well as other, more battle-hardened warriors.”

“I don’t think Loki would ever call it a ‘disservice,’ Ma’am,” Clint told her earnestly. “If he hadn’t had that to fall back on, he might’ve been even worse off. You probably saved his ass–neck, saved his neck, a bunch of times with that.”

“I do believe you are right, Clint.” Frigga smiled and held out her hand. “It is almost time for our noon repast. Please join me.”

“Oh! I guess… I lost track of time. Thank you.” Clint took her hand and hooked it around his arm to escort her, feeling rather awkward but pulling it off like a gentleman nevertheless.

“Of course. I cannot send you to meet the captain of the Herǫr Drengr on an empty stomach, after all,” Frigga said with a light laugh as they exited the room.

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