Author's note: Well, what can I say, after writing Poetic Justice I thought I was more than done with the whole Slave!Loki, Master!Tony thing. But after reading some great stories on that same theme, I realized there was still some Slave!Loki and Master!Tony left that wanted to get out. So this story is the result.
Comments are treasured! :D
His knees are aching – and other body parts too – but he doesn't let up. Doesn't dare to. He's far too familiar with the consequences of laziness, so he trudges on, inch by inch, scrubbing the hard marble tiles beneath him until they shine from his efforts. The dull pain in his wrists from the repetitive motions are still there even after all this time, but it's more in the background now, easier to ignore. He's learnt that there are far worse pains to be had; the minor discomfort in his knees and hands is nothing. Or should be nothing.
Sitting back on his haunches, he dips the dirty brush into the bucket next to him to rinse it out. The water is murky, too full of floating, swirling grime for him to see the bottom. He wipes a hand across his forehead to remove the annoying sweaty strands that stubbornly insist on clinging to it. But he shouldn't be bothered by such a tiny inconvenience, because at least it means that he still has his hair. Unlike the Aesir, the Vanir don't shave the heads of their slaves. They don't need to. The clothing, posture, and general demeanour of slaves in Vanaheim are more than enough to visually set them apart from free men.
Still, he had expected the head-shave as his sentence was finalized; even if a shorn scalp carries no special connotations here in regards to a person's status, surely they were all aware of the private humiliation someone of Asgard, and a former prince no less, would have suffered at such treatment. But they had left well alone, whether because no one could be bothered or because they saw it as more subtle but potent form of humiliation – we don't even acknowledge your way of seeing things, it only matters how we, your masters, see them – he can't tell. But it's one of the very few, of the almost non-existent number of things he's grateful for these days. Well, apart from being let out of the dark Vanir dungeons, those damp and bone-chillingly cold cells, and away from the lengthy tortures he was forced to endure in that place.
The tortures that broke you, a sinister voice whispers inside of him.
No, not broke, he inwardly shouts back at the voice, but it only cackles at him before going silent, retreating to the corner of his mind it has made its own, from where it will resurface time and again to mock him. He loathes that voice with his entire being.
He shudders at the memories that have been stirred up, chilling him despite the relative warmth of the draft coming from the courtyard. It is no use of thinking of that now, better to focus on the here and now and fulfilling the task at hand. Better to focus on what will avoid further pain.
His eyes have not left the filthy contents of the bucket, he realizes, still staring into the water as if it held all the secrets of the universe. Perhaps he should go empty the bucket and return with some clean water. If nothing else, at least his knees will thank him for the short respite.
Ignoring the twinge in his back, he makes to stand up but quickly falls back into his previous hunched-over, humble position as he hears footsteps and accompanying voices come floating from around the corner. Swiftly, he grabs the bristly brush and continues to scrub at the tiles, eyes down, hoping that whoever is coming will pass him by.
No such luck.
The sharp clacking of heels against stone abruptly come to a halt, close enough to his face for the pointy ends of a couple of leather boots to be visible at the edge of his circle of vision, despite his downcast eyes. For a moment there is only silence, as he holds his breath in anxious anticipation of what is coming.
"Well, what have we here." The voice from above is laced with scorn, and he recognises it as belonging to Lord Veidar, the arrogant courtier with the foppishly curly hair and mouth far too wide for his narrow face.
"Filth scrubbing filth. How appropriate." He doesn't recognise that particular voice, but it's every bit at disdainful as that of Lord Veidar.
One of the boots withdraws from his field of vision and he steels himself for the anticipated pain. But the cracked leather doesn't connect with his ribs as expected, but instead with the bucket next to him. It topples over from the impact, soaking him with cold, dirty water. Having spilt its inglorious contents all over him the bucket nosily rolls around on the ground a couple of times, before coming to a pathetic halt next to the wall where it proceeds to gape emptily. Drippingly wet, he closes his eyes, willing his tormentors to go away and leave him alone.
"Oh my, how clumsy of me!" Lord Veidar exclaims with fake consternation, and his companion laughs heartily as if this was the most brilliant and creative display of humour imaginable. As if this particular form of mockery isn't something that Loki has already suffered what feels like a hundred times already.
He swallows down the anger that is rising in his throat. The anger that is only dangerous to himself nowadays. At least it wasn't his ribs suffering the kick this time.
Hands shaking with indignation, he makes a grab for the bucket, putting it into an upright position. Pretending that nothing has happened, that everything is as it should be. Next he goes for the tattered cleaning rag lying some distance away, but as he reaches out on his hands and knees, the hand supporting his weight loses its hold in the slippery water. It is only his speedy reflexes and a stroke of luck that allow him to regain some sense of his balance and spare him the fate of smashing face first into the floor, as opposed to merely sprawling ungracefully in the grimy layers of water slowly spreading across the stone tiles.
"Yeah, you better mop that up, slave, or someone of importance might slip and fall," Lord Veidar mocks, clearly pleased with Loki's disgraceful display.
Bile rising, he curls in on himself, preparing for further abuse. But the voices are retreating now, mercifully taking their owners with them, chatting about this and that as they go. They have things to do, places to be, and he's only good for so much fun nowadays, most of the nobles having grown tired of the short-lived amusement his presence here has provided them with.
There are words forming on his tongue, Vanir filth, honourless ergi, sons of dogs and swine, and their vehemence surprise him, that his heart is still able to draw forth such venom. That it wasn't all ripped out from him in those dungeons, by those red-hot tweezers, those metal-studded whips, those razor-sharp metal blades.
But of course, none of those words will ever leave his lips, even if he were to find the courage and the stupidity to speak them out loud. He's been rendered mute, as effectively as if one of his former torturers had had his tongue cut out. But it's not a knife that's responsible for his inability to form spoken words, no, but a magic spell, woven out of Vanir magic drawn directly from the branch of Yggdrasil where Vanaheim is situated on the World Tree, a ward so elegantly simple that he can't help but admire it, so effective and powerful in its simplicity. Nothing like the flowery spells he liked to weave himself when he still had access to his magic.
His magic. There is nothing elegant or simple about the spell that is keeping that part of him firmly bound, though, well out of his reach. Three aged and wizened Vanaheim sorcerers had been called upon to work their spells on him, to draw forth the most ancient and powerful magic from the very roots of Yggdrasil. Not even the slightest of tendrils is able to slip through those bonds. Sometimes he thinks he can sense the power pulsating at an arm's length, see the tantalizing green glimmer before his inner eye. But whenever he tries to reach out, there is only a wall of indeterminate darkness, like swirling smoke, yet with all the solidness of the earth's bedrock. Impenetrable.
He doesn't try to reach out often these days. There is no point.
Just like there is no point in dwelling on the past, on what used to be. Resolutely, he picks up the discarded cleaning rag and starts to wipe up the mess left by Lord Veidar. His pants are already soaked all the way through, so the water that keeps seeping into the fabric as he works matters little.
He settles into a steady rhythm of mopping and wringing, wringing and mopping. The water chills his hands, making them reddish and wrinkled, like an old man's, but he focuses on the monotonous repetitiveness of his work. He's found that it's the best way to clear his mind, a simpler form of mediation. The emptier he can make it, the better.
A group of warriors approach through the domed archway behind him, weapons clinking and armour jingling, and Loki freezes, but they walk briskly past him without sparing as much as a word for the pathetic sight he is offering them. A former prince, mopping the floors like a simple slave.
Not like a slave. You are a slave, have you forgotten that? that sinister voice whispers in his head.
Be gone, he tells it. Despite the absence of conversation that his lowly station and enforced muteness have thrust upon him, he has no desire to engage in any bantering with that persistent annoyance.
Floor as dry as it gets, he finally scrambles upright on cramping and shaky legs, back creaking as he picks the bucket up by its rusty handle. How long ago was it that someone lifted the spell rendering him mute to force him to choke out words of regret or abasement or apologies, or whatever it was his counterpart wanted to hear at the moment? The simplicity of the weavings makes even the most humble and inexperienced of magic users able to temporarily lift the spell and then replace it as they please. And in Vanaheim a lot more people can use magic, at least on a basic level, than in Asgard.
While he'd still remained in the dungeons, he'd been allowed to keep his voice. Probably so his tormentors could hear him beg and plead for mercy that didn't come and repeat the self-incriminating words they wanted him to repeat. But once his final fate had been brought down upon him – to serve for the remainder of his days as a slave of Vanaheim and its people, which in practice meant serving in the Royal Palace, the Crown a symbol for the realm and its inhabitants – his voice was taken, too.
Silvertongue, they had said. You don't deserve your voice. So let every word you speak from hereon be a gift from your betters.
In the beginning of his sentence, plenty of Vanir had liked to enjoy bestowing that "gift" upon him, even if it was only to hear him beg or debase himself. But now he sometimes wonders if they have forgotten that ability, or if they have merely grown tired of his voice, preferring him mute and silent.
Perhaps it's just as well. Hardly anything he has been allowed to say was voluntarily spoken anyway.
He trudges down the arched hallway, keeping to the walled side and not the one facing the open courtyard. It's still early in the day and few people are up and about yet, but the habit has been firmly ingrained into him to always make himself as inconspicuous as possible, to skulk in the shadows and stick to the walls. It's better, safer that way.
A couple of servants scuttle by on nimble feet, neither of them acknowledging his existence. They carry covered trays whose contents are spreading the most heavenly of smells in the crisp morning air and he tries to ignore the mournful knot forming in his stomach, knowing that he will never get to taste as much as a crumb of it.
He turns his head away from the smell, the movement causing a little bit of water to slop over the rim of the bucket and wet his already soggy shoes. Glancing around for potential threats and seeing none, he deftly crosses the courtyard to the drain at the other side and empties the bucket over the moss-covered grating.
"So there you are," an all too familiar voice huffs gruffly behind him. Loki stiffens. Overseer Ulfgrimm. The man has the most uncanny ability to seemingly apparate from nowhere, despite his impressive bulk. If Loki hadn't retained the ability to sense the workings of other people's magic, despite having none himself, he would have sworn that magic was responsible for Ulfgrimm's stealth.
But it's not. The man doesn't have a shred of magic powers in him.
Loki looks at his feet, trying to look humble and cowed, the safest course of action as the man strides up to him and comes to a halt just inside what used to be Loki's private sphere when he was a free man. As big as he is ugly, Ulfgrimm towers over his charge, beady eyes no doubt trying to find fault or signs of rebelliousness in the slave before him.
He hates Ulfgrimm. And Ulfgrimm clearly hates him in turn. Not that the overseer has ever mentioned anything of the sort, but Loki suspects that the man had family that were killed when a squadron of Chitauri, meant for Midgard, went astray in the teleportation vortex that was to take them to the realm of intended conquest and ended up in Vanaheim instead, where they, full of battle fury and bloodlust, proceeded to attack its unprepared people.
Of course, that news had not reached his ears when he made his daring escape from the cell he'd been stowed away in once he had been returned to Asgard after his inglorious defeat in Midgard. He had been naïve enough to believe he could find shelter in Vanaheim, that smallish, inoffensive realm on the outskirts of Yggdrasil's branches. No one would ever find him there.
But he was found out. And Vanaheim had no intention of returning him to Asgard, no, they decided to meet out their own brand of justice for all the death and destruction caused by the rampaging Chitauri, ultimately sent on his orders.
He had never imagined the Vanir as a particularly vindictive people, not until he ended up spending what felt like eons subjected to the most creative tortures imaginable.
But he'd rather not think about that. At least his current situation, no matter how lowly, is preferable to being back there. Especially now that most Vanir in the royal castle seem to have lost their interest in personally taking part in his torments and humiliations.
Well, apart from Ulfgrimm, that is, who still seems to revel in it.
A meaty hand on his shoulder roughly pushes him forward and he stumbles, grateful that at least the bucket is empty now. "Make yourself useful and go help the stable slaves," the overseer orders, his foul breath noticeable even at this distance. "Lazy ingrate."
Resigning himself to another long day of toiling and dirt and sweat, Loki hurries in the direction of the royal stables, cursing Ulfgrimm inwardly as he goes.
End note: Well, that's the first chapter, hope you enjoyed (Loki sure didn't)! More should be coming soon…